The first shimmering rays of the sun finally break through the morning clouds, bouncing against the storm dappled puddles on the streets of New York.
With business always uppermost in her mind, C.C. Babcock leaned her svelte frame against the heavy wooden desk waiting for her business partner’s reply to her question, not noticing nature’s wonderful display.
“I don’t know C.C. The man seems off his gourd half the time,” the handsome Broadway Producer rubs his chin thoughtfully as he considers her idea. His eyes were watery and he searched for a tissue, quickly feeling a sneeze coming on.
“Maybe so, but he’s worth millions Maxwell. I will not let this one get away.”
“You mean one of your traps actually worked and you finally caught a man?” Niles says with a grin walking in with the tea tray gripped firmly in his hands.
Giving him her usual look of disdain as he approaches the desk, “I’m talking about Jackson Lantz Burnett. The multi-millionaire who owns half the stores in New York.”
“Oh.” Turning towards Maxwell, “Sir, we better help him. With his dentures he can’t possibly chew his foot out.”
C.C. glares at Maxwell, catching him as he quickly tries to cover his escaping grin behind his hand. Clearing his throat to cover up his chortle, “Ahh well…why don’t you meet with him C.C. and work out the arrangements.”
“Fine, consider it done.”
“I thought you like your road kill rare - yeeowch!”
C.C. spikes her heel on his foot as she makes her way out.
“C’mon kids, we can’t miss this sale!” Fran herds Maggie, Brighton and Gracie out of the limo as quickly as possible.
“Fran, don’t you have enough clothes?” Brighton asks peevishly. Annoyed because he wanted to attend the Victoria Secret Fashion Show at the other end of town.
Maggie and Gracie gasp in astonishment at their brother’s question, waiting to see how Fran would react.
Tapping her foot on the sidewalk,
her arms folded in front, Fran snaps her gum as she stares at the sullen teenager.
“Listen you. I have this adorable fuzzy green sweater with a matching skirt at home that is in desperate need of a cute belt with just the right buckle. And you can never have enough clothes.” Wagging her finger back and forth for emphasis.
“But Fran…I brought my camcorder to tape the Fashion Show. How am I suppose to do that if you schlep me all over New York looking for a stupid belt?”
“First of all, belts are not stupid. Unless of course you’re talking about those belts that those Pilgrim women wore when they got off the Mayflower. What a fashion disaster! And those hats! What were they thinking?! If I wore something like that my whole poof would be flattened within seconds…”
“Huh? Oh…as I was saying…second of all, you’re too young to go to that Fashion Show.”
“I have an I.D.” Brighton pulls it out of his pocket and shows it to Fran.
Grabbing it out of his hand, she looks at it. “Julio Inglesias! Unless you slap a beard on Gracie’s face, call her Willie Nelson, and take her with you-this I.D. isn’t going to cut it.” She shoves it inside her purse.
“Hey, that’s my I.D.!”
“You can have it back.”
Brighton smiles in relief. “When we get home?”
“No, in four years.”
Maggie and Gracie laugh as they
follow their excited Mom and their depressed brother into the store.
“But Mr. Burnett, we’re doing really good. The clothes are practically flying out the door.” The harried employee tries to convince his boss.
“Well, I say we need a gimmick!” Chomping hard on his Cuban cigar the silver-haired tycoon yells for emphasis. In his mid-70’s, here was a man highly competent in the business world. A self assured industrialist with a keen mind. Two characteristics that helped him ascend the corporate ladder quickly. He may not know fashion, but he knew how to sell it. Pounding his fist into his hand, he stressed again, “I don’t want those clothes to just fly out of here. I want a stampede of women fighting and clawing over them. And for that we need a smart marketing campaign.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Burnett?”
He turns around, spotting a tall blond woman smiling at him. “Yes?”
“I’m C.C. Babcock, Mr. Burnett.” Reaching out to shake his hand.
Taking his cigar out, he grasps her hand in his, nodding approvingly at the firm hold. “Right on time Miss Babcock. I like that.”
Her smile widens at his regard.
“Aren’t I important enough to have an audience with Maxwell Sheffield himself?” He grumps, looking over her shoulder and noticing that she came alone.
“He has come down with a cold this morning and sends his apologies. But I can assure you as his business partner, I am quite competent to handle our venture.”
Squinting his eyes at her as he moves his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, Lantz Burnett likes what he sees. He gestures for her to walk ahead of him towards his office.
Before taking one step, their attention
is quickly pulled towards the front of the store where a ruckus is heard. With
a slight nod of his head, he indicates to his underling to investigate the commotion.
After a moment of consideration he decides to follow and with a spryness that
belies his years, he quickly overtakes and passes his employee. C.C. shrugs
her padded shoulders and follows the two men.
“Gracie sweetie, go get that belt off of that mannequin for me - it’s perfect!”
“Fran, that belt doesn’t look like it would even fit Gracie!” Brighton comments incredulously.
“Excuse me,” Fran pirouettes, “but this was recently chosen as Weight Watchers Waist-of-the-Month.” Suddenly feeling dizzy she puts her hand out to lean against the mannequin.
“Fran I wouldn’t…” Maggie tries to warn her and together with her siblings stare in fascinated horror as one mannequin hits the one next to it and so on in domino fashion.
“Oh my god!” Fran’s eyes widen in shocked disbelief. “Quick help me stand them up! I don’t want to be barred from this store too!”
“Someone’s coming!” Gracie warns.
“Oh no! Hide them, hide them!!”
Brighton and Maggie start tossing plastic bodies behind racks of clothes.
“But they’ll notice that there isn’t anything in the window!” Gracie says in a panic.
Hearing footsteps approaching, Fran starts pushing the kids towards the window. “Pose, pose!”
The employee looks around, scratching his head in consternation. He knew something was wrong. He just didn’t know what it was.
“What’s going on here Addison?”
Turning towards his boss. “I’m not sure Mr. Burnett.”
All three look outside as they notice a crowd forming in front of one of their display windows. Most of them were looking on in open amusement and pointing. Others were holding their sides in mirth. And still others, all of them men, were not merely watching, they seemed to be ogling in the same direction - left. A camera crew from the local news is spotted approaching the store.
“What the…” Mr. Burnett pushes the door open and strides outside.
There in his display window were people, real people, posing! A pretty girl with long brown hair had her hands over each ear, her mouth wide open - looking like Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. A blond boy standing straight as can be, was holding a camcorder pointed discriminately outside towards the big bosom of a ravishing redhead in spandex pants and high heels. And then next to him was a beautiful young lady with short blond hair. She had her arms folded in front smiling uncomfortably at the people outside, trying to be as still as can be.
But the one who was attracting the most attention was a very sexy brunette. Her hair piled atop her head, ringlets dangling next to her cheek. Her arms were up and out, weight shifted to her right, a left knee slightly bent. How she kept her balance with those 4 inch heels was a mystery to him, but his eyes couldn’t help but follow the bare legs up to a very short skirt. It stopped momentarily at the belly button peeking provocatively under her crop top. And continued on to the generous amount of luminescent skin upon her chest and neck. His eyes hypnotically rising until finally they connect with eyes the color of soft milk chocolate.
Despite the fact that she had a fly on her nose, that she tried to twitch off while still trying to be as still as a statue, an aura of charming appeal emanated in waves from this woman.
Her face finally relaxes as the insect flies away, but then immediately became one of comic proportions as she tries to withhold a sneeze. Her eyes bug out, then narrowly peer as her face screws up as if she was trying to hold her breath. The crowd waited in anticipation as if they were witnessing the dramatic conclusion of an action packed Mel Gibson movie. Her lips were tightly shut and soon so were her eyes as her head rears back and then snaps forward with the loudest sneeze to splatter across his window.
Three young heads swivel to their left, not knowing what to do and waiting for a clue.
While outside, some laughed, others cheered, and all of them clapped as they watch her daintily pull out a tissue from her purse, wipe her nose, smile and mouth “Excuse me.”
“Nanny Fine-I will kill you!” C.C. slams her hands against the big picture window, her face scrunched up in anger.
Fran’s eyes widen in panic as she shoos the kids down and away from impeding disaster.
Jackson Levitz Burnett looks around and listens to the jubilant applause. “Great show!” a couple men remark. He then overhears a conversation from some women who pointed at the brunette’s outfit as she turned away.
“Isn’t that the cutest thing? Let’s go inside and see if they have it in our size.”
Watching them enter his store and then seeing more and more of the outside crowd pushing their way inside, the wealthy businessman grins to himself.
He quickly follows Miss Babcock inside as she mows her way through the throng and grabs the sexy brunette by the shoulder.
“Why do you always have to ruin everything?!” She yells as Fran pouts up at her, a denial ready to spring from her lips.
“C.C. do you know this person?”
“Her? No…no, never saw her before in my life.”
“Ah, I was hoping you can introduce me to this ravishing creature.”
“Oh, you mean her? Yes, of course I know her! This is Fran…Franala, my close dear friend. Fran, this is Jackson Lantz Burnett.”
“Hi!” Fran smiles.
A nasally voice intrudes his senses, clearing up his sinus congestion.
“Wait a minute. You’re Jackson Lantz Burnett? The Jackson Lantz Burnett, owner of half of the best stores in New York?”
He nods, smiling, extending his hand.
“Oh my god! “ Fran wasn’t sure if she should genuflect or kiss the tasteful diamond ring on his pinky.
Jackson’s eyes twinkle in amusement at her excitement, grasping her warm hand and gazing at her in pleasant acceptance.
“That was quite a display you and these beautiful children gave us.”
“I can explain…”
“I enjoyed it immensely.”
Fran looks aside in surprise. “Uh…that’s
good. I’m glad. I was hoping you would. I have to take these kids home now.”
Grabbing Maggie’s sleeve, she pulls her to the door. Then stopping, she turns and asks, “Where’s your brother?”
“Last I saw him he was heading over to the dressing rooms,” Maggie replies.
Looking in that direction, she spies him, camcorder in hand slinking away.
“Brighton Millhouse Sheffield - freeze!”
“Adorable,” Jackson comments as his gazes travels from child to child.
“Yes, aren’t they,” C.C. agrees, a phony smile pasted on her face.
“Excuse me, Mr. Addison. We’ve been getting deluged with inquiries concerning the outfit that the…umm…she was wearing.” The saleswoman points towards Fran.
They all turn as Fran smiles broadly, sliding her hands down her side, smoothing her clothes. Her ensemble was unique. A short white blouse with small heart-shaped pink buttons. The top three undone enticingly. Her tiny frame was also clothed in a matching short skirt. But what made them both so distinctive were the colorful hands printed all over it in various shades of the standard pack of Crayola crayons.
“What is that hand suppose to mean - ‘hang ten’ like the surfers use to do in those Gidget movies?” Mr. Burnett smiles inquisitively.
“Oh no. When the pinky, pointer and thumb is up and the other fingers are bent down, that’s the international deaf symbol for ‘I love you’. You like?”
“Thanks. I bought it in one of your other stores.”
“Did you hear that Addison? Find out which store has this little number and make orders for it.”
“Right away Mr. Burnett.”
“I’ve got a proposition for you Fran.”
“That’s very flattering, but I’m married.” Wiggling her ring finger for emphasis.
Laughing. “That’s not what I meant…but who is your husband?”
“Him,” spotting Maxwell walking towards them looking very sickly. “Honey, what’s wrong? When I left this morning you just had a slight sniffle,” Fran looks at him worriedly as she feels his forehead.
“I was lying on the couch watching the Donny & Marie show when Niles comes in and changes the channels. And who do I spot on the news,” he becomes more agitated, “but my wife and children acting like a bunch of bloody dummies!”
“Hey - we prefer the term mannequins.” Smacking him on his shoulder.
Max rolls his eyes.
Open amusement upon his face as he witnesses this exchange, Jackson reaches out for a handshake. “Mr. Sheffield - a pleasure to meet you and your charming wife.”
“Ah…Mr. Burnett, please call me Maxwell. Has C.C. smoothed the way for you to invest in our next play? It’s a sure fire mega hit.”
“We were just about to discuss that when we were interrupted by your wife.”
C.C. stands to one side, out of Maxwell’s and Mr. Burnett’s vision. Miming like she was getting a noose wrapped around her neck and tugging up on the rope in full view of Fran. And then holds her sides in pain as she tries to hold her laughter in.
Fran scowls at her and glances anxiously at her husband. Just past his shoulder she recognizes the man entering the store and stalks over to him, smacking his shoulder. “What’s the big idea changing channels and getting me in trouble with Max!”
“I didn’t mean to. But I was in a panic trying to watch my soap and I didn’t see him lying there.”
C.C., listening in to their conversation interrupts. “Ooo - did you see it?!”
“Yes. I watched it in the limo on our way over here.”
C.C.’s eyes bug out. “What happened? Did Carmencita marry Ricardo?”
“She was just about to say her vows when Diego bursts into the chapel.”
“Diego?! I thought he was lost at sea trying to hide from the murderer who he witnessed killing Carmencita’s half-sister’s nephew Pepe’?”
Niles eyes twinkle excitedly as he retells the story. “He was! All these years he had amnesia and was hawking maracas to tourists when…”
“Will you two stop already! Max is mad at me again and you’re talking about a stupid Spanish soap opera!”
They both glare at her and walk
away mumbling something in Spanish to each other.
“Fran, can you come here please.” Maxwell smiles through gritted teeth.
“Sure honey.” Whispering in Gracie’s ear, “I’m going to need your dimples for this one.” Taking the girl’s elbow and making her follow.
“LB would like to put money into the play,” Maxwell smiles tightly, his eyes going back and forth from his wife to his investor.
“That’s great!” Fran exclaims.
“…you live in his display window for two weeks.”
“Fran you were fantastic this morning!” Jackson Lantz Burnett says excitedly.
Nudging her husband. “Take notes. All you said to me when we were in bed today was, ‘Fran I’ve got phlegm.’
“I wasn’t feeling well,” Maxwell replies rubbing his sore throat.
“Oh sweetie I’m sorry. I need to get you into bed.”
He looks at her warily.
“To nurse you back to health. Even I wouldn’t attack a man who’s sick. Although when you wore those footsie pajamas of yours when you had the mumps, you were so adorably sexy…in an Osh Kosh B’gosh kind of way.”
“It was a present from my Nanny Mueller,” Maxwell retorts defensively.
“Does this mean you won’t be able to honor our deal?”
“My apologies LB, but having my wife on display is not something I can agree on.”
“Very well,” sighs Mr. Burnett.
Hearing a familiar cackle, Fran’s face glows with inspiration. “Mr. Burnett…LB, Miss Babcock would be perfect for the job!”
As C.C. comes closer, she notices their 3 pairs of eyes watching her intently. “What?”
“C.C., LB has agreed to give us 4 million dollars!”
“4 million dollars!!”
“…you live in his display window for two weeks.”
“Are you one hinge short of a nuthouse door?!” C.C. glares at the multi-millionaire.
Fran interjects, “She means that in the nicest, most possible way.”
Jackson laughs. “Here is my proposal C.C. Fran’s antics drove the customers in here better than any marketing idea ever invented. My idea is to design the windows to look like an apartment with different rooms. A kitchen, a family room and a bedroom. This will allow us to advertise a variety of things that we sell.”
“And you want me to live in this ‘apartment’?”
“Yes. I need you to be a moving mannequin. You will fix your meals in the kitchen using our fantastic electronic gadgets. Relax in the family room on our very comfortable furniture and lounge in a romantically decorated bedroom.”
Fran stands behind the men, waggling her fingers next to her ears at C.C.
C.C. scowls at her.
“And of course you will be changing into countless designer clothes that we will tailor to fit you and that you can keep afterwards.”
“What?! You didn’t mention clothes to me!”
“Fran!” Maxwell chastises.
Now C.C. was torn. On one hand, Nanny Fine was kicking herself and we could get 4 million dollars. On the other hand, me, C.C. Babcock would be a living mannequin! The girls at the Country Club will never let me hear the end of it. And I won’t see Niles for two weeks.
“I’ll do it.”
“Splendid!” LB shakes her hand. “One more thing would make this idea perfect.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Sheffield? I’ll be waiting for you in the limousine, ‘The Price is Right’ is almost on.”
LB’s eyes alight with unabashed glee at the sight of the gentleman before him. Picturing him in some fitted suits, athletic wear, and a chef’s hat.
“You! You’re the one! Who is this man Maxwell?”
“This is Niles, my butler.”
“Oh, this is just too good to be true!” His eyes finally focus on the puzzled faces surrounding him. “I want him!”
Niles’ eyes widen as the man looks at him hungrily. “Uh…sir,” whispering, “I don’t know about this.”
“It’s just for two weeks old boy.”
“But sir…this is going above and beyond the duties of a butler. Didn’t you learn your lesson with Mrs. Sheffield and Brock Storm?”
“What?” Maxwell looks at him in confusion. Then his eyes roll up in annoyance. “I’m not trying to pimp you old man! He wants you to live in his window.”
Fran looks over at C.C. who was
standing there in a catatonic state.
“Okay mister you go right up to bed. I’ll be there in a second to take your temperature.”
Maxwell looks at her guardedly. “Are you sure you know how to?”
“Sweetie, I was your children’s nanny of course I do. Maggie where does Niles keep the meat thermometer?”
At Maxwell’s wide-eyed look, “I’m
kidding! Oy, will you go to bed already!”
As he wrote his name in his long flowing script, Niles couldn’t believe what he was doing. This ink might as well be blood, because I’m signing my soul away. Two weeks with C.C. Babcock! Niles looks up into LB’s smiling face as he lights another cigar..
C.C. stares at her contract. Then she looked at Niles, watching him sign his. I could back out. So what if I said I would do it. But then that would look like I’m scared of Sir Clean-a-lot. Sighing, CC picks up her pen and signs on the dotted line.
“Excellent!” LB rubs his hands.
“Tomorrow, bright and early at 8 a.m. we will unveil you to the public. It will
be a sensation! I’ve already hired a top-notch designing crew from one of the
theaters to come today and work non-stop so that it will be ready on time.
“Good morning Sweetheart.” Maxwell rolls over and gives Fran a swift hug, before jumping out of bed.
“Oh honey you feel better!”
“I sure do. Your tender loving care was just what I needed.” Whistling a tune, Max grabs a towel and heads toward the shower.
Twenty minutes later he bends over to give his wife a quick kiss good-bye. Still lolling in bed, Fran sleepily wraps her arms around her husband’s neck, bringing him in for a deep kiss. “Don’t forget we have reservations for dinner tonight.”
“I won’t.” As he adjusts his tie, he pauses at the doorway. “Reservations for where?”
“Zorba’s. You promised me weeks ago!”
“Oh right, right - okay, so long darling,” Maxwell walks away only to return a few seconds later. “What time?”
“Eight! Oy, don’t cancel out on me again!”
“I wouldn’t do that!” Blowing her
a kiss, he finally leaves.
Niles stares at the apartment within a window.
“Aah, there you are! Welcome. How do you like it?” LB gestures at the various rooms inside. An enormous plate glass window in front of every room. With curtains on the side when privacy was needed.
“It’s incredible,” Niles comments. “But two weeks! It’ll be like being a fish in an aquarium.” Seeing C.C. entering the store. “And here comes Shamu.”
Striding over towards her, LB misses the remark. “C.C.-perfect!”
“Two words never before spoken in the same sentence,” Niles adds dryly.
She glares at him before turning her smile towards LB.
“This looks great! What would you like me to do first?”
“Addison has made up a schedule that we would like you two to follow. For instance this morning you and Niles will be in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Like a typical American couple getting ready for a new day.”
Turning quickly to look at Niles, seeing him begin to open his mouth, “Don’t say it. Not one word. We’re going to be stuck with each other for two weeks - truce?”
Surprised at her question and squinting his eyes at her in mild apprehension, Niles gives a slight nod.
“Is there going to be a problem?” LB asks looking back and forth at the two.
“No, no problem.” C.C. replies. Four million dollars riding on this venture, smile! She gives LB a dazzling toothpaste smile as she follows him to the back of the store for her wardrobe change.
Watching them walk off, Niles shrugs as he looks at his new home.
There was a slight smudge on the top corner of the mirror and Niles suppresses an urge to wipe it off as he stood there looking at his reflection.
They dressed him in a striped blue and white oxford shirt with a button down collar, the top three undone to convey a relaxed look. His pants were light blue, casual but dressy with a European inspired fit. Cuffed bottoms and soft to the touch.
The very first thing they did with him yesterday after the signing of the contract was to style his hair. Cutting it and shaping it in a way that took years off his face. Highlighting his blonde locks and keeping it slightly long, allowing it to curl around his neck.
Putting his left hand in his pocket and leaning to one side, Niles poses. Pretending to be one of those runway models that he sees every now and then as he turns the channels on the TV.
“Oh look it’s Oscar De La Grouch!” C.C. blurts in glee as she catches him admiring himself.
“That was a short-lived truce. I should have known you didn’t mean it.”
“Oh I do, I do.” C.C. smiles. “It’s just you look so different.”
Not sure if that was a compliment, he brushes past her and calls back, “C’mon we’re late. I’m suppose to be reading the paper while you whip up an omelette.” He smirks.
“What?! No way am I cooking for you!”
“You signed the contract and that’s what Addison has on the schedule,” Niles waves the paper in her face.
“Let me see that!” Grabbing it out of his hand, she peruses it quickly. “I can’t cook, I’m a Babcock.”
“Oh please spare me. For the next two weeks you’re window dressing. I don’t know what convinced you to accept this job.”
Throwing the paper over her shoulder, C.C. stalks to the kitchen. “I thought it would get me away from you!” She spats.
Chortling, “Looks like my birthday wish came true.” Taking a bowl down from an upper shelf and setting it down on the counter.
“Let me guess, you wished for an opportunity to torment me?” She opens the refrigerator and pulls out a carton of eggs.
“You know me so well,” Niles grins at her as he hands her a whisk and turns the stove on for her. “Ahh,” snapping open the newspaper and putting his feet up on the counter as he leans back on the bar stool. “This is going to be fun.”
C.C. glares at him as he relaxes in front of her as she tries to crack the egg. “Oh, ick,” getting yolk all over her fingers.
Peering over the newspaper, Niles rolls his eyes. “Here.”
Taking another egg from the carton he deftly cracks open three in succession. Then he walks back to his seat.
Noticing a slight clinking noise as he tries to read the funnies, he peers over once again. The corners of his mouth rise as he watches her using the whisk on the eggs like a plunger.
“Not like that. My stomach is starting to grumble, I better show you how to use that thing.”
Walking behind her he places his hand over hers and together they stir the whisk around the bowl, the eggs becoming a mixture of yellow and white froth.
“There, now all you have to do is pour it into the pan.” He says as he steps away from her.
Following his instructions, C.C. smiles as she watches the eggs start to turn golden from the heat.
“Now take this cheese and rub it on the grater over the pan.”
Once again she follows his coaching and watches in hidden glee as the cheese sprinkles down onto her egg.
“Okay, now just use the spatula and turn one side of the egg over, covering the cheese.”
“Spatula?” She questions, looking at him and then at the utensils on the counter.
“Yes, that one,” Niles replies, as he points.
“Oh, the flat thingy.” Picking it up, she envelopes the cheese within the egg.
Smiling, “Yes, the flat thingy.” Niles couldn’t help but grin at his ‘student’.
C.C. waits a few seconds and turns the omelette over, cooking it evenly. Then picking it up carefully, she balances it on the spatula. Turning to Niles and showing it to him, ecstatic over her accomplishment.
“Looks great, let’s eat!” Taking a couple of plates down he hands one to C.C.
As he halves up the omelette, he glances outside. “We have company.”
Following his gaze, C.C. notices a few people outside the window watching them. A couple men smile and wave at her admiringly.
Noticing those looks, Niles watches C.C. as she picks up a forkful and places it in her mouth.
She was also dressed casually in a cardigan of pink and white. A floral printed crepe skirt that stopped just above her knees. “Nice. Very nice.”
“What?” C.C. asks in surprise as she catches his admiring gaze.
Clearing his throat. “Umm…the omelette, it’s very nice.”
“You haven’t even tasted it.”
Niles stares down at his plate.
“I meant it smelled very nice,” taking his fork he begins to eat rapidly.
The maitre’ de fawns over Maxwell as he seats him and Fran at the best table. Sipping Chablis from tulip-shaped glasses, Fran enjoys spending some quality time with her husband.
“This is just what I wanted. A night out with my handsome husband and no business to intrude.” Leaning over, she places a light kiss on his lips. “Is there anything you want?” Fran asks seductively.
Draining his wineglass, Max pours more from the bottle. “Nothing sweetheart. This evening is perfect.” Although it was a Monday night the restaurant was pleasantly crowded.
“Oh c’mon. I know that you’re hiding something from me.” Fran urged.
“Well, to be perfectly honest…I just need you to be more patient with me. With C.C. a store mannequin right now, it’s all up to me to control the whole play. And I’m sure it is going to be a blockbuster. I need to focus on it practically twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes I feel like I’m being pulled in a dozen different directions at the same time.”
“It’s just that we’re still newly married and you’re rarely home with me.”
“I know and I’m sorry. But this won’t last forever Fran. You just need to bear with me a little while longer and then I will definitely be giving ‘us’ the priority it deserves.”
Twirling her wineglass, “You mean time won’t always be sandwiched between backer’s meetings and connecting flights?” Looking up at her adoring husband, Fran tries not to whine. “Okay, I’ll try to be more supportive.”
His eyes twinkling at her, he reaches over with his wineglass and clinks it against her own. Kissing her lightly.
They both lean back on their chairs, enjoying the dimly lit, ethnic atmosphere. A trio of musicians sat near the dance floor. They begin to play softly adding their lilting rhythm to the ambiance.
“You know, I’ve answered your question and now it’s your turn. What would you like to change about me?”
Leaning over and giving him a swift kiss, Fran answers. “There are two things I need from you sweetie. I want you to share your emotions with me. Not just when you are happy, but also when you’re sad or angry with me.”
“I am never angry with you.”
Rolling her eyes. “That is just not possible Maxwell Sheffield.”
Chuckling, “What is thing number two?”
“The opposite of what you were asking of me. I want all of your time. I want to dominate your every thought.” Batting her eyelashes at him, “All Fran, twenty-four hours a day.”
“Ahh…FTV…a channel worth surfing to.”
Stretching his hand across the table, he feels her fingers slip into his grasp. “You’re right, I’ve missed this.”
The music began to permeate their senses as the sensual drumbeat and the melody from the lute-shaped bouzouki filled the room. A belly dancer undulates her way across the dance floor. The crowd begins to clap along with the music.
“I would love to dance like that,” Fran shouts to Max.
“Go ahead, plenty of space on the floor.”
“No, I’d be too embarrassed.”
The belly dancer weaves her way through the audience, randomly picking out partners to dance with. As her first partner finds his own belly dance rhythm, she looks about the room. Maxwell gazes up and catches her heavy-mascara eyes staring back. Beckoning to him, Maxwell protests.
Fran eyes the big and voluptuous woman, noticing that her dancing was more athletic than sensual. Feeling no threat there, she urges her husband to go for it. “Don’t be a scaredy-cat.”
“Scaredy-cat?” Max rises up to the challenge. “I’ll show you.”
In a fluid and dramatic movement he strips off his suit jacket and claps his hands over his head as he dances over to the belly dancer.
Laughing and enjoying herself immensely, Fran claps to the rhythm. She watches as he attempts to follow the dancer’s sinuous movements, looking very sexy in his clumsy efforts.
Finally he gives up and starts doing jumping-jacks and toe-touches in time to the music, making the audience laugh uproariously.
When the exotic dancer walks over to pick another partner, Max smiles, dazzling Fran as he held out his hand to her. Demurring for an instant before she allows him to goad her up. The music seemed to be following her movements instead of the other way around as she shimmies and swings her slender hips with glorious abandon. Waving her arms and moving her body in graceful gestures, seductively enchanting the male audience at once.
Fran laughs and stamps her feet as the music switches to a slower, gentler tempo.
“Hey!” The room yells in unison, clapping their hands over their heads.
Max grasps her firmly around the waist and lifts one hand above his head. She imitates his pose and gracefully they circle one another in an unchoreographed, but perfectly synchronized dance.
Their performance ends as the couple become even closer on the dance floor, their lips scant inches apart. The moment was perfect and he kisses her emphatically amid the wild appreciative applause from the crowd.
Fluttering her eyelashes at him, Fran is enchanted, until she sees him glance down at his watch.
“I hate to do this Fran, but I need to make a phone call to Los Angeles.”
“Now? Max, please don’t, not now.”
“I have to, I’m sorry sweetheart. This is the only time I can be sure I will catch this guy. I’ll be back in a minute.”
As she watches him slip through the crowd towards the lounge section of the restaurant, her vision blurs. Tears? Why? She blinks and focuses on the dance floor where three men had linked arms to form a chain. How could Max do this to me? She felt as if she’d been raised to the brink of ecstasy, then dropped flat.
The dancing ends and the waiters come out to serve dinner. One of them complimenting Fran on her potential as a belly dancer and still Max had not returned.
Picking up pieces of black olive from her souvlaki and tearing off a piece of pita bread, she looks over to where she last saw her husband disappear. Be patient. It won’t be like this forever.
This could be the one for Max. The one ultimate blockbuster play that will blow Andrew Lloyd Weber out of the water. His dedication was perfectly understandable, even admirable.
She sighs. But why couldn’t life be the way it was in plays.. Why can’t the leading man be competent and romantic, too?
Half an hour passes. Fran turns down advances from two men who offer to keep her company while she eats. And she discourages the amorous bouzouki player who insisted on serenading her.
This is enough, she thinks as she rises and meanders through the crowded tables. There was a limit to what could be expected and Maxwell had just passed it. Steeling herself, she walks swiftly past her husband sitting in a quiet corner of the restaurant, cell phone to his ear in rapt conversation.
“Hey!” he calls to her.
“Hey, yourself. I’m going home.”
Go on to Part Two