From the glitter of Los Angeles to exotic and idyllic European locales, best-selling author Jacqueline Briskin takes readers behind the scenes of Hollywood’s hottest scandals—to a world where passion is power, money buys everything, and...Dreams Are Not Enough.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Who is Alyssia Del Mar?
To Desmond . . . she is “the last movie star”—and the last chance to save his studio from ruin.
To Maxim . . . she is temptation in the flesh—and salvation for a price.
To Barry . . . she is the perfect wife—until her success outshines his own.
To Hap . . . she is the inspiration he needs to become the world’s greatest director—unless their torrid affair explodes in scandal . . .
DREAMS ARE NOT ENOUGH
“All the necessary ingredients are in place: glamor, fame, wealth, travel, romantic complications and danger.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Jacqueline Briskin keeps the plot simmering.”
—New York Daily News
“There’s more intrigue and suspense in this tale than in most Hollywood novels, and you’ll love the surprising conclusion.”
Also by Jacqueline Briskin
Everything and More
Too Much Too Soon
Dreams Are Not Enough
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
BEVERLY HILLS, 1986
It had rained before dawn on that particular Wednesday in December of 1986, but by nine o’clock sunshine spread like warm butter through the green, landscaped folds of the overpriced Beverly Hills canyon.
A woman stood at a bedroom window, gazing at the sunlit morning. Even unadorned with her black mane of hair pulled austerely back, a peignoir hiding her apparently felicitous curves, she was lovely. For a moment she closed her eyes and her thoughtful expression altered to one of haunted dread. Then she shrugged as if reminding herself of a task, and moved briskly to a long, narrow dressing room. Behind a professional strew of cosmetics, the front section of the Los Angeles Times was folded and propped to show a photograph of her. With her artfully tousled head thrown back and her lipsticked mouth open in a breathless smile, her image on black and white newsprint appeared far tougher, that of an aggressively sensual woman. The caption read: ALYSSIA DEL MAR, THE RETURN OF THE RECLUSIVE STAR.
Alyssia del Mar hadn’t made a film in six years. For long months at a time she vanished completely. Her reappearances were noted by television newscasts and the press—the Star and the Inquirer routinely sold out when they printed a rumor that she had been secluded in an exotic Katmandu palace, a Moorish castle, or a viceregal estância in the Brazilian jungle with some billionaire, say Adnan Kashoggi, or a notable like Prince Rainier. Legends have never thriven on the rocky soil of truth and Alyssia del Mar had transcended her own myth. What is more intriguing than a star—an international star of the first magnitude—who quits at the height of her beauty and fame? The public, who had suffered with her through illness, tragedy and lurid scandal, snatched at clues to the enigma.
Alyssia switched on a surgical array of lights, leaning forward to study her reflection. Her nose and chin were rather too delicate, but in the manner that exacts homage from the camera. Her upper lip was fractionally narrow for the lower, a flaw that made her appear provocatively vulnerable. It was the large, dark blue eyes, though, that one noticed—the eyes dominated her face and had mysterious depths.
During her lengthy, patient application of makeup, she kept tilting her head, listening for a sound that by her expression she anticipated with fear.
• • •
At precisely ten thirty, three cars turned in at the steep driveway on Laurel Way, following one another up the snaking curves of the long driveway to park near the sprawling bungalow whose pink stucco was in need of a painting crew.
Barry Cordiner didn’t move, but sat fiddling with the keys of his dusty BMW. Beth Gold’s lined but still pretty face was anxious as she peered into the mirror on the sun visor of her Cadillac Seville to straighten the impeccably tied bow of her slate-gray silk blouse. PD Zaffarano’s expression proved a wary reluctance to get out of the Rolls with the personalized license plates AGENT 1.
Simultaneously, as if summoned by an inaudible bell, they left their cars. Calling out greetings in loud, overcordial voices, they merged in an awkward troika. Before they could reach the front door, a plump, middle-aged black woman in a maid’s uniform emerged from the pink fencing that hid the service entrance. “Miss del Mar says will you please come this way to the backyard,” she said. They followed her along the side path, Beth cautiously avoiding the huge, serrated leaves of overgrown birds-of-paradise.
The level area of the garden was taken up by a large patio and heart-shaped swimming pool—this coy pool had achieved a notoriety of its own in Andy Warhol’s much reproduced portrait of Alyssia del Mar with her breasts rising bountifully from its blue water.
The early rain had washed away every trace of smog and the threesome could therefore decently ignore one another in the pretense of admiring the panorama that stretched from the faraway, snow-topped San Bernardino Mountains across the endless sprawl of city to the Pacific, where for once Catalina Island was visible, a lavender hump on the horizon.
Beth broke the silence. “Did either of you know she was back?” Even though her hands were tensely clasped, her voice retained its soft-pitched, melodious quality.
“It wasn’t in the trades,” PD said.
“I knew,” Barry said. As the others turned expectantly, he rested a Dunhill tobacco pouch on his plump stomach, taking his time to fill his meerschaum, a writer’s ploy to enhance suspense. “It was on the front page of this morning’s Times.”
PD and Beth sighed with disappointment. After more inhibited silence, they heard a car snaking up the driveway. In due time, Maxim Cordiner emerged onto the patio.
Seeing them, he shrugged his wide, bony shoulders and formed a caustic smile. “Well, if it isn’t the Widow Gold; Paolo Dominick Zaffarano, superagent; and that well-known American author, Barry Cordiner. The four of us.”
Beth, thinking of when the four had been five, murmured, “Do you have any idea what she wants?”
Maxim lowered his thin, elongated self into a chaise. “The place gives off a distinct aroma of hard times. Possibly we’re here to have the bite put on us.”
“The run-down condition isn’t significant,” Barry said. “She’s been renting it out. Besides, she never cared about maintaining a house.”
“Well, I can hardly argue with you about that, Barry-boy. After all, you were married to the lady.”
Their styles were completely at odds. Maxim wore an unpressed work shirt and Levi’s so old that they were white at the knees, Barry a double-breasted navy blazer with unfashionably narrow lapels and brass buttons left open to accommodate his paunch, PD a black suit superbly tailored to his well-exercised body, while Beth’s sedate gray outfit was adorned with pearls so large that most people believed them costume jewelry, but in actuality were from the waters off Ceylon and insured for a sheik’s ransom.
In spite of their dissimilarities, a certain line of jaw proclaimed them kin.
Beth and Barry were twins, the only two on anything remotely resembling speaking terms, and their infrequent conversations inevitably centered on the care of their bellicose octogenarian father. Neither had seen Maxim or PD, their first cousins, in nearly two years.
Yet once, when there were five of them, they had been so inseparable that the Cordiner clan had nicknamed them Our Own Gang.
Beth persisted, “Waiting’d be easier if we knew why we’re here.”
“I don’t know about you, Beth.” Maxim fished a crumpled letter from his jeans pocket. “For myself, I’m on hand because a couple of hours ago a messenger brought this to my place.” He read the ink-printed words, “‘Imperative you be at 10895 Laurel Way at ten thirty, Alyssia.’”
“I got one like that.” Beth’s delightful voice rose shrilly. “Except I was told to bring Jonathon. But he’d already left for school.” She said the last sentence tremulously, as if begging their exoneration for her son’s absence.
“I had to put off a meeting with Spielberg.” PD glared at the sliding glass windows, which were coated with a substance that repelled sunlight and turned the glass into greenish mirrors. “What’s keeping her?”
Maxim formed his mordant smile. “When did the lady ever put in an appearance on time—or keep a commitment?”
Beth and Barry jerked, twin brother and sister acknowledging in this single unguarded motion that whatever had caused their umbilical cords to be untangled, they still shared memories of one secret time, sweet for both, when Alyssia had followed through on her promise.
“Given a choice, we’d all be schmucks to show,” PD said. “Let’s face it—she wrecked our lives and—”
“PD!” Beth interrupted, her face contorted with horror.
“Yes, PD,” Maxim said, “let’s merely count the minor wounds the lady inflicted. Breaking it up between you and Beth. Dropping Barry into the bottom of the bottle—it sounds like a fabulous miniseries.”
PD nodded glumly. “Maxim, I can get you a major deal if you want to produce it.”
In the sixties and seventies, Maxim Cordiner had been a startlingly innovative producer. Critics applauded him, the box office rejoiced in him, and his movies had brought him nearly as much fame as his glamorous marriages and affairs, yet, in 1981, after tragedy had engulfed his brother, he had abandoned filmmaking.
Barry got to his feet. “While we await Alyssia’s purpose, anybody for liquid refreshment?”
Beth lowered her dark glasses, querying him with a somber glance.
“Not to worry, Beth,” Barry said. “If there’s one lesson the doyenne of this manor taught, it’s that alcohol is a poisonous substance for me.” The bar in the den had a Dutch door onto the pool deck and he opened it. “Still the same for everybody?”
It was. And the bottles on the otherwise empty shelves showed a care for these preferences. A chablis spritzer for Beth, Polish vodka for Maxim, Campari and soda for PD. Barry opened himself a Perrier.
Drinking, the men began to relax, and soon were talking shop. Barry’s upcoming espionage novel, which would be published in hardcover the following April, was being auctioned off to the paperback houses. PD was closing a deal for Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek. Maxim had recently worked with his longtime friends, Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden, on a human rights committee.
Beth remained silent. The others feared disclosures from their past. She, however, was the only one with anything current to surrender. Jonathon, she thought with a shiver. Why does she want him here?
Barry poured fresheners. At a metallic screech, they all froze. The window of the master bedroom was being slid open.
Alyssia emerged. She wore her favorite color, red. In her tightly belted crimson cotton dress that displayed dazzling white cleavage, her face made up, her gleaming lips parted in a tremulous smile, she was a different woman—no, not a mortal woman. As she came toward them, back arched, hips swaying, she was the ultimate screen love goddess. Even at close range in the clear sunlight, she appeared to be in her mid-twenties, yet they knew that she had begun working at Magnum in 1960, twenty-six years earlier.
“I appreciate you coming here on such short notice,” she said. Her voice was small and slightly husky.
“The question is, why?” Maxim retorted.
She gave him a little smile, then looked inquiringly at Beth. “Where’s Jonathon?” she asked.
Beth paled until the freckles that covered her cheeks were clearly visible. “In school,” she said pleadingly to her former sister-in-law. “When your note came, he’d already left for school.”
PD, glancing around at his cousins, realized for the first time that Alyssia had gathered together the perfect group for him to package with her. Barry with a hot property, Beth with the financing, and Maxim the producer. He asked with atypical bluntness, “Have you got comeback in mind, Alyssia?”
“Isn’t it possible I might like to be with family again?”
“Such a thought has occurred to me, yes,” Maxim said. “After all, you have, shall we say, an overview of a certain episode that we Cordiners feel is best left in the shadows.”
“Is that what you think?” Alyssia asked. “That I’ve invited you here to blackmail you?”
Maxim’s mordant expression was gone. “Tell us what you want,” he snapped. “Then we can get the hell away.”
Without a word, Alyssia turned. Though something about her posture and walk suggested dismay, even sadness, the little group heard the click of her stiletto heels as ominous. She slid the window shut after herself.
Maxim narrowed his eyes at the uncommunicative, green-hued glass. “She comes out, she says nothing, she leaves. What the hell is that all about? Barry-boy, you and the lady shared many years of matrimonial bliss. Let’s hear your theory on why she’s called this chummy pow-wow.”
Barry walked to the pool, frowning reflectively at a dead eucalyptus leaf afloat in the chlorinated water. Why are we here? He couldn’t pursue the thought. His reasoning power had fled. Coming face to face with his ex-wife, disturbing enough after so many years, had fluttered the pages of his authorized history of their disastrous marriage, the version that laid blame for all their woes at her slender feet. Now, after being in her presence less than two minutes, it didn’t seem so obvious, did it, that she had eternally done him the dirty?
On October 8, 1959—a blazing hot Saturday—three weeks into his senior year of pre-law at UCLA, Barry Cordiner took by far the most daring act of his twenty years. He eloped to Las Vegas with a girl called Alicia Lopez whom he had met exactly seventeen days earlier.
Barry couldn’t remember his mother ever actually informing him in her rather nasal voice that, not being rich like his cousins, he had to earn top grades, be prompt and avoid the troublemakers at school. Neither could Beth. The twins therefore agreed that their obligations must have been genetically programmed: the ultimate requirements were that Beth graduate from college, then marry a Jewish professional man who had either already made it or would soon make it, while Barry must propel himself into a lucrative law practice before picking an equally suitable mate. Neither of them rebelled. How could they? Clara Cordiner bought her own clothes on sale at cheap stores like the Broadway while taking her children into Beverly Hills to outfit them at Saks or Magnin’s; she prepared them nutritiously balanced meals. She taught them manners, for she had been gently reared.
Clara Friedman Cordiner’s father had owned a large shoe store, and she, an only child, was cosseted. Right before her twenty-second birthday, she had been window-shopping along Hollywood Boulevard when Tim Cordiner, hurrying along, possibly a bit loaded on bathtub gin, bumped into her, knocking her down. He apologized by taking her for tea on the veranda of the nearby Hollywood Hotel. He was very tall, and his laughter rang loud and hearty. Being in the movie business, he knew Gloria Swanson, Tom Mix, Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer, Art Garrison, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Clara had never met such a dashing man. Of course her orthodox parents would never let her date a goy, so she invented excuses to get out. Less than a week later she lost her virginity on Tim’s Murphy bed. The following month, she missed her period. Tim, who was equally nuts about her, said, “We’ll go tell your folks about us.” In her large, immaculate home, Clara wept and vowed to rear her future offspring as good Jews, with Tim concurring—his virulently antisemitic Hungarian peasant forebears must have been twisting in their graves. After disowning their daughter forever, the Friedmans also wept, then sat shiva, the traditional seven days of mourning, counting her among the dead. Clara’s missed period turned out to be a false alarm, and she took eleven years to conceive the twins. Early in her marriage she discovered that her husband, a studio grip, spent his days shifting heavy props: his knowledge of the Hollywood famous was garnered from his older brother, Desmond Cordiner, a bigshot at Magnum. Tim drank; he cheated on her. Yet when the chips were down—and in the Tim Cordiner household they often were—the couple clung together.
Barry understood that it was his obligation, as the only son, to make it up to his mother for his father’s shortcomings.
During the long, hot drive through the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas he had been unable to entirely block the vision of his frail mother’s impending horror; yet, standing at the gaudily painted altar with Alicia at his side, seeing the tears on her luminous, flushed cheeks, his heart seemed to swell, and he accepted there had been no stepping back from the madness that had overtaken him the first time he’d seen her sipping a Coke at Ship’s Coffee Shop in Westwood.
Love at first sight had been accompanied by the classic symptoms: sleeplessness, loss of appetite, inability to think of anything but Alicia, a constant semi-erection. They had made out vigorously in his 1950 De Soto coupé, but hadn’t gone all the way. Barry held Alicia in reverence, and also feared failure—his one experience with an aging pro on Main Street had been an unhappy one.
Barry was exceptionally thin: standing at the altar in his rumpled gray suit, he gave the impression of a malnourished adolescent who had grown too quickly. As he shifted on his storklike legs, he could feel the sweat running down from his armpits despite the extrastrength Mitchum’s he had applied the previous night before setting out for his date with Alicia—it wasn’t until they were embracing that he had seriously entertained the idea of elopement. The hairs on his neck prickled with awareness that his cousins and sister were staring at them, and he had a momentary surge of regret that he’d invited them. Alicia brought out a hitherto dormant protectiveness in him. During the six broiling hours in his un-airconditioned car, she had worried about looking a mess at her wedding—and from the guests’ vantage point, she did. The rear of her scarlet crepe dress was puckered into ugly creases, causing its miniskirt to ride yet higher in back of her slim, shapely thighs.
Glancing sideways at his bride, Barry found himself unable to look away. He considered Alicia gorgeous, but he wasn’t positive whether others did. From the heads swiveling in her wake he knew that most people found her riveting. True, her skirts were unfortunately short and her tops a shade tight so that the buttons pulled between her full, peach-shaped breasts, but this didn’t fully account for the zephyrs of attention that trailed her: women turned as often as men.
Ignoring the justice of the peace, who was rumbling on about the duties of matrimony, Barry gazed at Alicia’s profile, attempting to convince himself that he wasn’t moonstruck, that she was indeed gorgeous. As usual, he was incapable of analyzing her face. Her skin assuredly was unique. Other women possessed faultless complexions, but he’d seen no other skin with this velvety incandescence. Light was not an external quality for Alicia, but appeared to emanate from within, as if an electric current flowed with the blood that now was pulsing rapidly in the subtly blue vein at her throat.
He realized she was clutching the wilted bridal bouquet (he had just purchased it in the wedding chapel’s tiny vestibule) so tightly that the baby’s breath trembled. Edging closer, he let his arm rest in moist reassurance against hers.
At noon, the temperature in Las Vegas was well above a hundred, and the chapel lacked air conditioning. The justice of the peace’s bulging, magenta cheeks appeared to be melting into the creases of his double chin.
Hap, Maxim, Beth and PD were equally miserable.
The cousins had all been born in 1938 or 1939, the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood. Hap and Maxim were sons of Desmond Cordiner, the family emperor. Long before their births Desmond had been a major wheel in the Industry, second in command to Art Garrison, founder of Magnum Pictures, and after Garrison’s death he had taken over as head of the studio. PD’s father was Frank Zaffarano, the director whose sentimental, flag-waving films had made a bundle for Magnum. Barry and Beth’s father, Tim Cordiner, never rose higher than a grip. The cousins, therefore, belonged to the top, upper middle and bottom of an industry with a well-defined hierarchy. This had not prevented the friendship forged between them in early childhood from binding them yet closer during adolescence and adulthood.
PD’s button-down shirt collar had wilted into shapelessness and large globules of sweat showed on his face. The fresh handkerchief he took out to mop his classically handsome features was impeccably ironed: his mother, Lily Zaffarano, nee Lily Cordiner, had a live-in maid and cook as well as a laundress who came in on Tuesdays to iron the voluminously skirted little dresses and petticoats of her daughters, Annette and Deirdre, but she personally attended to her husband and son’s linens. Frank Zaffarano, who had left the hilltop town of Enna in Sicily at sixteen, kept the old Italian belief that a woman’s purpose in life is to serve the men of the household.
Hap and Maxim appeared less uncomfortable, though the blue of Hap’s sport shirt had a growing splotch between his broad shoulders.
The brothers were both six foot three, but here the similarities ended.
Hap, the older by thirteen months, was large-boned. He had thoughtful gray eyes, a wide forehead and a nose that once had been broken during football practice, leaving him with a rugged look.
Maxim spotted a sheet of old newspaper on the floor and he retrieved it. As he fanned himself, his narrow, well-shaped lips curled down in an acid smile. He had inherited a smaller, handsome version of his father’s thin scimitar of a nose; his attenuated height was elegant. Women fell all over him—among the Cordiners, he had the reputation of being a cocksman.
Beth alone seemed cool, until you noticed the moistness where her silky brown page boy curled toward her throat. Her delicate, unflushed face was lightly tanned as were the round arms bared by the sleeveless, powder-blue chemise that she wore with a strand of small cultured pearls. With her slightly too-thick legs tucked under the pew, she was the ultimate California coed.
She showed none of the inner anguish that she felt as her twin was severed from her and joined in wedlock to this cheap-looking girl, a girl whom Beth had not known existed until five thirty this morning when Barry had tapped on her window, whispering that she should dress and come to Las Vegas for his wedding. “Beth, no noise,” he had warned through the window screen. “I don’t want Mom and Dad in on this.”
Beth had a far more deeply ingrained sense of responsibility than her twin. As she sat on the hard wooden bench she was thinking up ways to ease the blow for their mother, who suffered from a coronary condition.
The justice of the peace was inquiring in an orotund tone, “Do you, Barry, take Alee-sha to be your lawfully wedded wife to cherish and protect?”
“I d-do,” Barry stammered.
“And do you, Alee-sha, take Barry here to be your lawfully married husband and promise to honor and obey him?”
Alicia murmured assent.
The justice said that by the power vested in him by the state of Nevada they were man and wife.
Alicia turned. Her lashes fluttered as Barry bent for the traditional kiss.
The justice of the peace clomped over to lean on the front pew, assailing PD, who was closest to the aisle, with odors of rancid sweat and raw onion. “Can I bother you and the little lady here to be witnesses for the happy couple?”
“Come on, Bethie,” PD said.
Now a faint flush did show on Beth’s smooth throat. Nobody, not even Barry, who was closest to her in this world, was aware that she was mad for PD. Her greatest childhood treat had been to stay overnight at Aunt Lily and Uncle Frank’s house, occupying the small room adjacent to PD’s. Her adoration had turned distinctly physical during her eleventh year, when she had simultaneously attained her menarche and learned about the Italian renaissance. In her secret thoughts she called PD by his baptismal name, Paolo Dominick, visualizing him as a Medici duke clad in velvet and satin. Beth knew her love was hopeless—she was irrevocably Jewish, PD a devout Catholic, and besides they were blood relations, first cousins. Being sensible as well as pretty, she dated many boys, thus becoming the most popular senior in USC’s Alpha Epsilon Phi house.
She and PD waited while the justice of the peace with painful slowness readied the license for them to sign. Afterward PD linked his moist-jacketed arm companionably in hers and they went outside.
The others were waiting in a clump to take advantage of the sliver of noontime shade cast by the parody of a church steeple that topped the wedding chapel.
“Where’ll we go for the wedding breakfast?” Hap asked. He was Our Own Gang’s unofficial leader, originally because he was the largest, later because they respected his unerring instinct for fairness.
“This is a no-frills elopement,” Barry replied stiffly.
“My treat,” Hap said.
“Ours,” Maxim added.
Hap and Maxim took it as a given that, as the ones with trust-fund incomes, they would foot the bill for group extravagances. PD was able to accept the largesse because his father was well known as a director, Beth because as a female she was accustomed to checks being picked up. Only Barry felt a poor relation with his manhood threatened each time he was treated.
“Not that I don’t appreciate it—” he started.
“Come on, Barry,” Hap said. “Alicia deserves some little celebration.”
“It’s not necessary,” Barry said awkwardly. “We’ll—”
“Jesus Christ, will you guys quit arguing in this oven?” PD interrupted, “I’ll sign Dad’s name at the Fabulador. He has privileges there.”
• • •
The Fabulador, with its top-rank entertainers, opulently appointed rooms and five gourmet restaurants, was considered the best hotel on the strip. Dapper Uncle Frank must have dropped considerably more in the Fabulador’s colossal casino than the family suspected. PD led the way to the Champs-Elysées, the most expensive of the eateries, and when he explained whose son he was, the beaming captain escorted them to a large booth. Flipping open stiff white napkins for Alicia and Beth, he suggested that they start with the blue points.
While the others tipped on horseradish, tabasco, red sauce, Alicia gripped the damask of her napkin. Noticing, Hap picked up the tiny pitchfork to pry the fleshy mollusk free, eating it without any doctoring. She watched, and followed suit. Swallowing the first oyster with a gulp, she hastily covered her mouth with her napkin. She played with the rest, twisting her fork.
At first the cousins were a little stiff, as if Barry’s marriage had somehow elevated them all to another generation and they weren’t yet certain of the ground rules. Even Maxim’s sarcastic humor was blunted. But the champagne—a vintage Mumm’s—did its work, and by the time the eggs benedict arrived, the five cousins were back to their usual bickering jests and digs.
“So tell me, Barry-boy,” Maxim asked, “how do you intend breaking the news to your parents?”
“Quite simply. I’ll point out that they eloped, too,” Barry said.
“Alas, that’s not the type of logic Cordiner parents accept,” Maxim retorted.
Beth turned to her new sister-in-law. “And what about you, Alicia?” she inquired with the attentive smile she employed at rush teas. “How will your family feel?”
Alicia looked down at the table. “They’re in El Paso.” She spoke too rapidly.
At this nonsequitur there was a silence.
Then PD asked, “You’re a Catholic?”
After a fractional hesitation, Alicia nodded. “Uhhuh.”
“That makes two of us, then, and we both know there’ll be repercussions. You’ve married out of the Church.”
Her soft, full mouth quivered, her eyes looked a yet darker blue.
“Hey, they’ll get over it,” Hap said.
PD asked, “Barry, where’ll you guys live?”
Currently, Barry lived in his parents’ tract house, which had three tiny bedrooms, one bathroom and thin walls. “We haven’t decided,” he said, unable to repress his shudder.
Alicia touched his hand. “I’m pretty sure my boss’ll let us have the cute cottage in back that I told you about,” she said comfortingly.
“Cottage?” Maxim asked. “Do you tend sheep or bake bread or what?”
“Housework,” Alicia replied.
Barry’s flush was so deep that his freckles disappeared. He dropped his napkin on the table. “We better get a move on, Alicia,” he said abruptly.
“Good idea.” Maxim grinned. “I hear tell there’s a great shortage of motel rooms in this town.”
“Really?” Alicia asked.
“He’s kidding us,” Barry said, embarrassment forgotten in a surge of masculine superiority. “PD, thanks.”
“For what?” PD replied expansively. “The Fabulador’s paying.”
The newlyweds moved around the linen-draped tables, Barry putting his arm around Alicia’s narrow waist as they reached the lobby.
Maxim said, “There goes Barry Cordiner with the hell shot out of his legal career.”
His brother Hap retorted, “I didn’t hear anything about dropping out of college.”
“What was so wrong with skipping the ceremony and taking the fabulous little knockout directly to a motel?” PD wanted to know.
Maxim shook his head. “Jesus, a Mexican live-in!”
“He’s cuh-razy about her,” Beth said, her despair hidden by a jocular tone.
“If this doesn’t kill your mother, nothing will,” Maxim said. “Face it, Beth, on humane grounds, for Aunt Clara’s sake, your twin should’ve foregone the legalities.”
“One thing Mother isn’t,” Beth said hotly. “A bigot.”
“Ahh, but she wants her half-Hebe chickadees to fly high,” Maxim said.
Maxim, PD and Hap joked about PD’s Catholicism and Desmond Cordiner’s rise from nothing to Episcopalian, never catching on to Beth and Barry’s invariable hasty changing of the subject when it came to their Judaism.
Beth looked down at the remains of her eggs benedict. “If it weren’t for all the goop,” she said, “I’d have guessed Alicia to be way younger than eighteen.”
“You got that impression because she’s a mite low on the brainpower,” Maxim said.
“It’s her wedding day. And she was too terrified of us to say anything,” Hap said, leveling his gray eyes on his younger brother.
“We all know you rise to defend the underdog,” Maxim retorted. “In this case, there’s no need, I mean, with an ass and boobs like that, who needs an IQ?”
“Maxim, please,” Beth murmured. “She’s my sister-in-law.”
PD gave Beth that warm smile, flashing white teeth. “That lust you hear from Maxim, Bethie, is pure envy.”
Hap raised his glass. “To our new cousin,” he said. “To Alicia. And Barry.”
One eye cocked for a suitable motel, Barry cruised slowly along the gaudy strip.
“I’ve never been inside a place like that before,” Alicia said.
Though scornful of the huge neon outline of a woman on the hotel’s façade, Barry had also been awed by the Fabulador’s grand scale. “It’s crass,” he said.
“Your family sure gave us a classy send-off.”
“They have style,” he said, nodding.
“Style,” she repeated slowly, as if to imprint the word on her memory.
For a moment Barry relived that excruciating humiliation he had suffered when Alyssia had announced her occupation. Then, as she shifted across the frayed upholstery, her side snuggling against him, his anxieties and doubts fled. When he was alone with her and the world didn’t impinge, another Barry Cordiner emerged from the skinny, insecure original: a man of the world, suave, assured.
His bride, he knew, came from a large, close-knit family in El Paso. Though she had mentioned them only sketchily—Mr. Lopez drove a big rig, Mrs. Lopez fixed sensational albóndigas soup—Barry’s mind had developed a keenly precise snapshot of Alicia’s dark and plumply pretty mother with one arm around the lean waist of the tall Lopez, their numerous offspring lined up in front of them. At eighteen, Alicia, the eldest, had no chance of college unless she earned the money herself, so she had left home to find work in Los Angeles.
Alicia’s poverty made it unimportant that he was starting out married life with a five and two ones in his wallet. As a matter of fact, at this moment his lack of cash exhilarated him.
Through the dusty windshield he spotted a long, narrow motel dwarfed by a clump of tall, dusty Washingtonia palms. The trapezoidal shaped sign was emblazoned: $3, $3, $3, $3. The lowest-price accommodations that they had spotted. Slowing, he asked, “How does that place look?”
“Perfect . . .” She trembled as she spoke.
He drew her closer to him, wildly excited by what he would soon do to her, yet remorseful. He knew for certain that she, a good Catholic girl, was a virgin. Parking, he kissed her, a kiss that turned ardent.
Reluctantly he pulled away. “I better make the arrangements.” Wiping the lipstick from his mouth with the back of his hand, he put on his jacket despite the heat—he needed to hide his hard-on.
The small office was empty. Pressing the bell on the counter, he looked out the full-length window. Alicia was putting on lipstick. He smiled. What a female female she was, smearing on that junk when the minute they were together he would kiss it away.
There were no sounds coming from behind the closed door with the brass sign: MANAGER’S OFFICE.
“Hey,” he shouted, pressing on the buzzer again.
Again no response. Going behind the counter, he rapped on the door. “Anybody home?”
No answer. He lifted a key from its hook, assuaging his law-abiding soul by scribbling: Nobody around, so I took the key to #7. Pay you later.
Parking in front of number 7, he reached for the brown paper bag containing two new toothbrushes and a small tube of Pepsodent, their total baggage. (The Trojans he’d purchased at the same Thrifty were discreetly stashed in his jacket pocket.) He carried Alicia across the warped wood threshold.
The heat trapped inside smelled thick, as if the place had been unoccupied a long time. Kicking the door shut, he turned on the air conditioner before setting down his bride. He kissed her thoroughly, his tongue thrusting deep into her open mouth, both hands cupping the firm, gorgeous butt to bring her closer to him. With a small shoving gesture against his chest, she pulled away.
“Barry . . .” she murmured. “First can we shower?”
Disappointed, yet recognizing that after the desert drive in an un-airconditioned car, she was right, he touched his lips to her forehead. “I should’ve thought of it.”
As the water began running in the tiny bathroom he felt the champagne combine with the previous night’s lack of sleep. Sprawling on the dust-odored chenille bedspread, he lit a Tareyton and examined the barren, ugly cubicle. He imagined a future anniversary when they would clink their crystal wine goblets and chuckle at the crazy kids they’d been. By then he would be the main partner in a prestigious law firm (Cordiner, Etc., Etc., and Etc.) with a white streak in his hair and a couple of exceptionally fine novels under his belt. Alicia would be even more stunning in a long black sheath, the simple, elegant kind that his aunts wore to display their diamonds.
The shower was turned off. He stubbed out his cigarette expectantly.
Ten minutes passed with excruciating slowness before the door opened and she emerged, makeup complete, black hair atumble over her shoulders, a skimpy towel hiding the torso of that astonishing body.
“Your turn,” she said.
Resisting the urge to yank off her towel, he stepped under the shower, rubbing the sliver of soap under his armpits, not taking time to dry himself. In deference to his bride’s innocence, he wrapped the other threadbare towel around his waist.
The spread was folded onto a chair. She lay with the sheet pulled up to her throat.
Sitting on the edge of the double bed, he said, “Hi.”
She managed a small, nervous smile.
Kissing her, he slowly drew down the sheet. Necking, he had become acquainted in a tactile fashion with her body. Seeing it took his breath away—no figure of speech, he felt as if the air had been suddenly forced from his lungs.
That astonishingly luminous flesh seemed to collect all available light in the dim motel room. She was all slender, supple curves, the young breasts full and firm with nipples the pale pink of tea roses, the waist deeply indented, and the black leaf of hair startlingly explicit between the white hips. Gazing at her, his mind filled with names and images of love goddesses: Astarte, Venus, Aphrodite. . . .
He found himself kneeling at the foot of the bed, kissing each of the crimson nails of her small, soap-scented, high-arched feet.
Stretching out next to her, he pulled her nakedness to his own. He was incapable of holding back to put on the rubber. Moving on top of her, he forgot every technique he’d studied in sex manuals.
Penetrating her, he moved back and forth three or four times, sweat pouring from him as he ejaculated.
He held her, gasping. In a few minutes he’d calmed enough to reach for another cigarette. “Everything okay?” he asked tenderly.
“Fine . . .”
“I didn’t hurt you?”
“Now I’m truly yours.”
Her murmur held the emotional intensity of their exchange of vows.
Smiling, he closed his eyes.
• • •
For a full five minutes after his breathing lengthened into the steady rhythm of sleep, she lay very still, then slowly disengaged herself from his loosened grasp. Getting out of bed, she brushed a kiss on his forehead. He stirred. She poised, scarcely seeming to breathe until he rolled over to clutch a pillow with a long, contented, snorelike sound. Reaching for her large, shiny new imitation patent purse, she tiptoed into the bathroom, locking the door.
She unzipped the largest of the interior pockets, taking out a half-finished tube of contraceptive foam. She squatted to use it, her expression intent.
She was rinsing herself free of the medicinal odor when the hammering blows started.
“Open up, damn you!” shrieked a female voice from outside. “This is the manager!”
Alicia wrapped the towel around her nudity, running into the other room, where Barry was hastily skivvying into his shorts. His face was pale and guilt-ridden.
“What’s going on?” she whispered.
“In the office nobody answered, so I took the key,” he mumbled. “How am I going to explain?”
“Don’t worry.” Alicia yanked the covers into a semblance of order, lying down and pulling the sheet over herself. “I’ll help you.”
The shouts and hammering grew more overwrought.
Barry unlocked and unchained the door. The manager, whose platinum hair was wound around pink curlers, stood there, the sags of her face set as if in one of those primitive masks of rage.
“You punk bastard!” she shrilled. “Don’t you know there’s laws against breaking and entering? I got friends in the sheriff’s department! You’ll get six months!”
“Nobody answered the buzzer. I left a note for you.” Grabbing his trousers, he drew out his wallet. “Here, let me give you the money.”
“You damn rich suck-ups, you think you can wave a buck and get away with everything!”
“Please?” The tremulously unhappy girl’s voice belonged to a stranger.
Barry turned to ascertain that only Alicia was in the unit.
The manager stared at her. “Jesus, and you got a kid with you. For that you can do life, buster.”
“She’s my wife,” Barry said.
“We are married,” Alicia said, holding up her left hand with its shiny new sterling ring. Then she raised up the sheet around her, whispering, “My parents wouldn’t think we’re married either. We went to that wedding place up the road. A justice of the peace did the ceremony. No . . . priest. . . .” She buried her face in her hands.
“Hey, no need to carry on like that.” The manager’s voice had softened.
“It’s . . . a . . . a mortal sin. . . .”
“Dearie, it’s okay, okay.”
Alicia’s head remained bent. Unconsolable little sobs drifted from the black veil of tousled hair.
The manager touched Barry’s naked arm. “Pay me later,” she hissed. “Go make it up to the kid.”
When the door closed, he stared at Alicia. Her body shuddered as if with sobs.
“Hon, don’t, please don’t. I know how you feel. Remember, I told you my mom’s parents disowned her because Dad wasn’t Jewish. Listen, if you want, I’ll become a Catholic. Religion’s a big deal to Beth, but it means nothing to me.”
Alicia looked up. She was convulsed with laughter. “The old bag,” she managed to gasp out.
For a moment he was devastated that she had fooled him so completely. After three UCLA creative writing classes he considered himself possessed of a seasoned author’s acute powers of perception.
Then he was realizing that Alicia, naked and unprepared, had gotten the witch manager off his back. He never could have pulled it off. He was fairly certain that few girls could have done so superb an acting job.
“You deserve an Oscar,” he said. “Can I count on you to always come to my aid like that?”
“Of course,” she said happily. “Aren’t you my husband?”
Her remark aroused him. He was her husband. Pulling back the sheet, he lowered himself onto that lush body. “Barry Cordiner and Alicia Lopez Cordiner,” he whispered.
Her name wasn’t Alicia, her father hadn’t been a Lopez, she didn’t come from Texas and she wasn’t eighteen but barely fifteen.
Her earliest memory was of endless rows of strong-smelling celery. “Now don’t you go straying off,” her mother had said with a slap. The pickers and packers had no time to smile even when she did her little dance. As the great yellow sun rose to the middle of the sky she felt like melting into tears, but she was nearly four, too old to be a crybaby. A distant clump of eucalyptus promised shade. Forgetting her mother’s warning, she went toward the trees. A line of ants carrying fragments of green distracted her, and she knelt to watch. She was too absorbed to hear the footsteps. A heaviness on her head was her first inkling of the man.
“Ain’t you the prettiest little tad of a thing with this black hair and them big blue eyes.”
She had never seen him before. He had no teeth in front and his smile frightened her.
“I have to get back to my momma,” she said as politely as possible.
He laughed in a funny, rusty way, squatting near her. “I buy my friends things. How’d you like a nice big cold Coca-Cola?”
She hardly ever got so much as a sip of Coke, and she was remembering how hot and thirsty she was. “Where is it?”
“First you gotta show we’re friends.” He stroked her leg. His breath smelled like doody, and his fingers felt slimy, terrible, as they crawled up her thigh.
“I’m not your friend!” she said in the tone her mother deplored as her Miss Snotty voice.
“Ain’t long before you will be,” he said. Now he was fingering his grubby pants. “Then you’ll get your Coke.”
She tried to move, but he gripped her leg tighter, and pulled out his pee-pee. The men often relieved themselves in the field, but they always turned away decently. This thing was an ugly red, fat and stiff as a baseball bat.
“First, you gotta stroke this.” He grabbed her hands, pulling them to that ugly thing.
She used the only weapon she had, her even white milk teeth. Leaning forward, she bit him hard.
He gave a high squeal, releasing her. She ran as hard as she could in the direction of the truck and her momma.
• • •
Her mother, May Sue Hollister, wasn’t sure where to put the blame for her younger daughter, Alice, but she’d had the hots for a looie in the tank corps, one gorgeous hunk of man with big baby blues. Whoever, you only had to look at Alice to see he hadn’t been some Mex like Juanita’s old man. “God, that older gal of mine looks pure pachuco, don’t she?”
May Sue was one of the migratory farm workers who shifted up and down California in rattletrap trucks or ancient, trembly yellow buses that had been declared unsafe for schoolchildren. She worked the fields, stoop labor, twelve or fourteen hours a day of it. Many ranches had a row of plumbingless shacks for the seasonal labor, but others lacked even these minimal facilities, and then May Sue, with her girls, would cover the bare earth with corrugated cardboard and hang a makeshift tarp. She shopped at shabby, badly lit grocery stores, paying exorbitant prices for stale, fat-laden hamburger and white bread whose soft crust occasionally was green with mold. On payday she splurged on dago red or beer or candy bars or milk. Clothes came from cavernous Goodwill shops. (Decades later Alice would see a rerun of Harvest of Shame through a blur of tears: she knew only too well the way of life Edward R. Murrow had been exposing.)
Despite the grueling life that was reflected in her sagging body, May Sue retained a yen for pleasure. Traces of her girlhood prettiness remained and men were still drawn to what she called a little party-party. She had no energy left for her daughters. Alice’s remembrance of her mother was not visual: Momma meant the mingled smells of beer and sweat and cheap perfume, the sting of a slap.
It was her half sister, Juanita, eight years older, who supplied the hugs, the warmth, the soft lullabying. “Nita, Jua-nita,” she would croon, pressing her cheek against Alice’s soft, black hair. “L-i-ingering falls the Southern moo-oon.”
Other than the thick, lustrous black hair, the half sisters had no feature in common. Alice could have posed for a Gerber’s ad with her enormous blue eyes, glowing pink and white skin, cute button of a nose, her wide smile that soon displayed perfect milk teeth. Juanita’s face was too wide, her complexion large-pored and sallow, her teeth crooked. Her one good feature, beautiful dark eyes, were set in a perpetual squint because of uncorrected nearsightedness and astigmatism.
When Alice was five and Juanita thirteen, May Sue found herself in need of yet another abortion. The old woman with the pink wart on her nose required a ten-dollar bill in advance and Juanita’s assistance. Both of May Sue’s daughters witnessed the gush of crimson that bore away the mouselike creature, their half sibling, saw the blood spread and spread, dripping between the planks of the old table as May Sue’s cries grew feebler.
After May Sue’s death, Juanita earned their living. The other pickers helped her as much as possible, telling her where the crops were coming in, whom to see about being hired. During the height of the strawberry season the younger children picked too, and Alice labored under the summer sun. At these times, foremen often refused to pay a child who didn’t pick steadily. Alice would grow dizzy and the endless, plastic-shielded fields would shimmer and waver in the blazing sun, but she never quit.
Local authorities paid lip service to California’s educational laws, not supplying teachers for the children of migratory workers but insisting they enroll in school. Neither Hollister girl attended any one school for more than three successive weeks. Juanita, with her feeble eyesight, never did learn to make out more than a few simple words, and May Sue’s demise ended her education. Alice, though, was a quick study. She learned to read more fluently than most of her classmates, to spell with reasonable accuracy, to add and subtract so rapidly that she astounded her teachers. Otherwise her education showed startling gaps—she did not know George Washington had been the first president, she never learned cursive writing, she believed Spain to be located south of Mexico.
School personnel understandably disliked having these transients foisted on them.
• • •
The fourth grade marched along the pergola to the classroom marked LIBRARY. The pretty blonde librarian demonstrated how to make out their cards, how to sign the slips glued to the inside of every bookcover. Alice, excited by the incalculable wealth of books, couldn’t wait for her turn. “I’m checking this out,” she said, extending The Secret Garden.
“Alice, you haven’t written an address on your card.”
“It’s Harrow Ranch.”
“Are your parents picking Mr. Harrow’s lettuce?”
Alice nodded. She always lied about her orphaned state: telling the truth, Juanita warned with an anxious squint, would get her hauled off to what the pickers commonly referred to as facilities.
“Then you’ll need a signature from Mr. Harrow.” The librarian, no longer pretty, yanked away the book as if Alice might infect it with cooties.
“Thanks a whole big bunch.” Alice threw back her shoulders and stamped away.
Though teachers, cops, foremen and people like this librarian terrified her, she’d die rather than let them know it. Most of the other workers kowtowed to the authorities. Much as she loved Juanita, she despised that head-bent humility of hers.
• • •
The men stared at her a lot, so she stuck close to Juanita. (The pickers were a decent lot, and though they glanced at the luscious Alice, they would never consider molesting a child.) Juanita took her fostering seriously.
“Listen,” she said when Alice was around seven, “if any man tries to do things to you, touch you, don’t let him.”
“That kind of thing? Don’t worry. Yech. It’s repulsive.”
“If anybody tries, hit him hard here.” Juanita pointed between her ample hips—at nearly sixteen she was short and sturdily built. “Then run as fast as you can.”
• • •
When Alice was ten Juanita took up with a very short man called Henry Lopez.
From the start Alice loathed Henry passionately. He was forever cuffing her for having a big mouth, and a few times a month he beat up on Juanita, which in Alice’s eyes was far worse—Alice’s loyalties would always be greater than her self-interest. Henry, however, possessed one admirable feature. When he and Juanita were going to party-party—he called it have a bang—he would drive Alice in his rattly pickup to the nearest picture show and give her ten cents. She saw approximately three double features a week.
Adoring movies, she learned to do sharply honed imitations of Kirk Douglas, Ingrid Bergman, Rain Fairburn, Burt Lancaster. Sometimes during intermission a boy would buy her a Coke or an Uno Bar, and she felt an obligation to repay these munificent gifts by permitting a hot hand to cup the shirt over her blossoming breasts. But no more, nada más. In the spring before Alice was fifteen, Juanita’s method of contraception failed. Henry Lopez, miracle of miracles, came through. They were married in Santa Paula. It was from the officiating priest that Juanita learned about a vacancy for a couple at the nearby Taylor Ranch.
For their full-time services, the Taylors gave the Lopezes $200 a month plus a furnished frame cottage with a working refrigerator, a real stove and, treasure of treasures, a black and white television with a wavery ten-inch screen. The Hollister sisters had stepped up numerous rungs in the social scheme. They were now permanent people, they belonged. Juanita, now called a housekeeper, held her head high as she hurried up the dirt road to the big, two-story white ranch house—Mrs. Taylor was unaware of the pregnancy.
Juanita would have done the work at the frame cottage, too, but Alice insisted on cooking, cleaning, doing a share of the Taylors’ enormous pile of ironing as well as fixing a home lunch for Henry.
It was now that his attitude toward her changed drastically. He began following her as she moved between the stove and the refrigerator, stroking her arms, casually touching her breasts. She learned evasive tactics; he grew more impossible. To Alice, her brother-in-law’s mauling demeaned Juanita and therefore was infinitely more painful than his casual blows had been.
She dreaded the lunch hour.
• • •
“Feel what you do to me,” he said, grabbing her wrist.
“Cut it out, Henry!”
But Henry’s large, dirty hand was extremely strong. Inexorably he drew her small hand downward, forcing her fingers around the hardness beneath his jeans. “Bet you’d like some of that.”
With a violent effort she yanked away. “Your beans are on the stove!” she shouted, slamming out the front door.
• • •
“Here, baby, isn’t this something?”
“Just button your fly, Henry. I’m warning you.”
“You want me to tell Juanita you been making eyes at me?”
“She wouldn’t believe it.”
He gripped her shoulders, pressing her until she was kneeling. “Suck me off, you little cunt.”
Her early memory surfaced. “I’ll bite you, Henry.”
“She’ll throw you out on that pretty can of yours. Baby, come on, a little blow job. Who’ll it hurt? You’ll still be cherry.” He pushed himself at her mouth.
For the second time in her life, she bit a penis. Not as hard as she could have, but sharply enough for him to sag back, whimpering, “Jesus!”
• • •
One July morning the thermometer sheltered by the nearby barn read 113. Alice sprawled on the big bed in the front room, wearing white shorts and halter that were hand-me-downs from the youngest Taylor daughter, reading the same girl’s discarded Seventeen. Absorbed, she didn’t notice Henry watching her from the doorway until the sound of his breathing grew audible.
The instant she looked up, he was a blur. Before the screen door closed, he was on top of her, mashing her with his wet, odorous, squat, strongly muscled body.
“Mr. Taylor says it’s too damn hot to work,” he panted. “The perfect day to have us a wonderful bang.”
She struggled to escape, panting and gasping, but his hard-muscled thighs and one of his arms held her down.
“You’re going to love it.” His free hand fumbled with her shorts.
“No!” she cried.
He reached under the waistband, popping the button, which spun onto the floor as his fingers wriggled downward on her flat, silken skinned stomach.
She attempted to squirm away. “Get off me!”
“Been like a father to you,” he muttered. “You owe me this.”
He gave her halter a yank, tearing the strap in the back. Thrusting his face between her bared breasts, he dragged down her shorts and tore at the riveted buttons of his jeans. His engorged penis sprung out at her.
While she twisted violently, his fingers plunged inside her. Ragged nails cut the soft flesh. Parting her vulva, he thrust forward his erection. Alice thought frantically of gouging his eyes, then Juanita’s long-ago advice presented itself. Her knee went up.
He grunted loudly, rolling off her, curling in a half circle as he clutched at himself.
“Puta,” he whimpered, continuing to clutch his groin.
His pain cut through Alice’s panic. Retreating to the curtain that separated the rooms, her top dangling between her breasts, her shorts around her thighs, she asked, “Can I help? Get you some aspirin?”
Henry hunched on the edge of the bed, his dark, narrow-jawed face assuming the same righteous cast as when he beat up on Juanita. “You been begging for it ever since I known you,” he muttered. “Only one thing worse than a puta and that’s a prick tease.”
As he lurched heavily down the uneven steps of the narrow porch, Alice began to shake uncontrollably.
She knew where he was going. To tell Juanita that she had made a pass at him. The thought that Juanita, who was everything to her, would believe this, increased her shakes. Sobbing, she changed her clothes.
• • •
At five Juanita came down the road, her flapping sandals raising puffs of dust around her bare brown ankles. She held one hand to the small of her back. Alice, going to meet her, concluded that the Taylors must be blind not to realize that their housekeeper was pregnant.
Juanita said nothing as they moved through the hot afternoon to the cottage.
Alice, filled with dread, chattered aimlessly about how she had started the lamb burrito mix and had put the refried beans in the oven. Then she heard herself ask casually, “Seen Henry?”
“I seen him.” Juanita pushed open the screen door. Spicy aromas vibrated in the day’s accumulated heat. “He came by the house. Said you was giving him the eye, and rubbing up against him.”
Alice blinked rapidly, not denying the allegation. She wasn’t about to hurt Juanita by telling her that her husband was a liar and an attempted rapist.
Giving a small shrug, she said, “I’ve been thinking of going to LA, getting a job, maybe an education.” Then held her breath, praying that Juanita would nix the plan.
Instead, Juanita said, “Sounds like a good idea.”
Alice’s hands were shaking as she changed to her good outfit, a tight-topped red sun dress with a matching stole, and packed her possessions. Everything fitted in one large brown grocery sack.
Juanita, who was at the stove, fished a wad of bills from her apron pocket. “Here,” she said.
“Nita, I can’t take that, you’ve been saving it for the baby doctor.”
The sweat on Juanita’s face highlighted the dark splotches under the eyes as she made a sad smile. “A girl that looks like you needs a little cash to stay good in LA.”
Here was her admission that she knew Henry had lied.
After a long moment Alice reached for the money, hugging her sister. She could feel the hard knot of the unborn infant. “Nita, it’s going to be awful without you.”
“Alice, look, I got something you oughta use.” Reaching to the top shelf she came up with a partially used tube of vaginal foam. “Squeeze it into you.”
Alice was too miserable to explain what actually had transpired. And besides, what if Henry had pushed it in far enough to start a baby? She retreated to the bathroom.
• • •
In Los Angeles, Alice tried for waitress jobs. After three days and fourteen turndowns on the justifiable grounds that she had no identification to prove her age was indeed eighteen, she started riding the RTD busses to answer the ads listed under Help Wanted, Domestic.
Matrons examined her at their front doors, not allowing her across their threshold. “Oh, thank you for coming out, but the position’s already filled.”
The toll calls and fares to fancy suburbs, her slit of a hotel room, the chili dogs and Orange Juliuses that were her meals, rapidly depleted Juanita’s money.
On the morning that Alice set out to answer the lowest-paying job in the column, she hadn’t eaten in a day. The fumes and heat in the bus giddied and nauseated her. An old black woman wearing a shiny reddish wig plopped down next to her. Opening a paper sack, she said, “Have a donut.”
“I just ate a huge breakfast, but thanks.”
“I done did that big breakfast routine myself. But you looks like you’ll pass out. Go ahead.”
Faced with simple kindness, Alice broke down. Devouring a chocolate donut, she confided her problem.
“You ain’t going to get no kind of housework, girl. You too pretty. And they sees you’s very young. Now, they ain’t so fussy about Mexicans and us colored.” The kind, bloodshot eyes examined her. “Mmm, you is very light. But with all that pretty black hair, you could pass as Mex. Can you speak it?”
“Sure.” Who couldn’t, in her line of work? “But what about my blue eyes?”
The face wrinkled into a smile. “You ain’t got a thing to worry about. Talk that to them, and they’ll never look you in the eye.”
That morning Mrs. Young, mistress of the small, Mediterranean-style house in Brentwood, hired Alicia Lopez. Because of her lack of ingles, Alicia was underpaid and overworked.
Alicia had been with the Youngs two months on September 23, her fifteenth birthday. Since it fell on a weekend when the Youngs were out of town, she treated herself to a burger, fries and a Coke at Ship’s in Westwood. Everyone else in the big coffee shop was laughing with their companions or deep into a conversation. Alicia, wearing her new red mini and five-inch red heels, felt even more miserably lonely than she did on the job. Quite apart from this devastating loneliness, Alicia missed Juanita in a manner so deep it was a constant, arthritic ache in her bones. Most nights she cried herself to sleep.
When the tall, skinny, redheaded man sitting next to her smiled, she smiled back. He had a class look, and she decided, correctly it soon turned out, that he was a college man from nearby UCLA. She pursed her lips around the straw.
“You don’t look like you’re enjoying that hamburger,” he said.
She glanced down at the almost untouched bun. “I guess I don’t have much appetite today,” she said, discarding the Spanish intonations she put on with the Youngs. “But the food here’s terrific.”
“For hamburgers,” he said authoritatively, “Tommy’s is the tops.”
“You’ve never been there?”
“I’ve only been in LA two months,” she admitted softly.
“Where are you from?”
After a long moment, she said, “El Paso.” She had been reading about Texas in the National Geographic, which the following month would be in Dr. Young’s waiting room.
“I’m Barry Cordiner,” he said.
Another slight pause, and then she said, “Alicia Lopez.”
Intuitively she accepted that disclosing the truth of her childhood would prompt him to pick up his check and leave her to her icy loneliness. Besides, hadn’t she left Alice Hollister and the sickening smells of over-ripe crops far behind? Besides, she already liked this college man with the freckles and curly red hair.
He took her to see Room at the Top at the Bruin. He arranged to dine with her on chili-burgers at Tommy’s the following night, which she had off since the Youngs were away. When he kissed her goodnight, she felt all warm and happy. Was this love?
• • •
On her wedding night she lay awake, the lusty whir of the air conditioner drowning out the gentle, regular breathing of her sleeping spouse. She knew she should feel guilty and rotten about deceiving him—but what choice had there been? He had led her from that awful, lonely pit, and she could not risk being thrust back there.
I’ll make it up to him, she thought lovingly as she touched his bony ankle with her toe. She had already considered him immensely rich and knowledgeable, an “almost” lawyer who wrote wonderful stories, a creature so far superior to her that it was impossible to ever bridge the gap. And today she had learned that his family owned Magnum Pictures! Magnum, where they made so many of those double bills she’d seen in fleabag theaters.
Thinking of his sister and cousins, she sighed. Only that large blond one, Hap he was called, had looked at her with any degree of warmth. The others had been snooty and superior. Hap, she thought. What a funny name.
Then she reached her arms around Barry’s thin body. His even breathing continued.
You’ll never be sorry you married me, she thought fiercely. I promise that you’ll never be sorry.
Alicia Cordiner was making a sacred vow. She was giving her husband her loyalty, which was boundless.
As Barry turned onto his mist-shrouded block, a jet roared overhead. This tract of modest bungalows, identical except for their gingerbread and clapboard trim, lay directly on the flight path into Los Angeles Airport.
He pulled into his driveway, parking behind his father’s eleven-year-old Onyx sedan. Alicia slipped her comb in her purse. When they had entered the Los Angeles sprawl, she had turned on the interior lights and ever since had been combing and recombing her hair, wiping away pale lipstick to reapply it, attempting to finger-press the creases from the red fabric of that horrendous dress. Her jitters had heightened Barry’s own uptightness about the coming encounter. Gripping the steering wheel, he wished that he’d been flush enough to take her shopping in Vegas, buy her a sweater and skirt and thus tame her exuberant beauty. By free association, he saw an image of Beth, so cool and conventional, the classic coed. Bethie, he thought. Thank God she’ll have already broken the news.
Alicia intuitively caught the drift of his thoughts. “Barry, will your sister be home?”
“Sundays she usually is. She lives at the AEPhi house.”
“Is she at UCLA, too?”
“No, USC.” He didn’t elaborate that his Uncle Desmond was paying his twin’s tuition at the private campus as well as her sorority dues. Drawing a deep breath, he touched Alicia’s arm. “Let’s go in,” he said.
Since there was no vestibule, they stepped directly into the living room. Beyond the pair of wing chairs and couch—all covered with the same worn maroon early American pattern—was the dining ell. Tim and Clara Cordiner sat opposite each other.
Clara’s hair, dyed an uncertain shade between red and brown, had been brushed back rather than carefully ratted into a bouffant, and she wore a navy housedress. Tim had on his old blue tee shirt with the bleach fade.
As his parents looked up questioningly, Barry’s stomach plummeted. They don’t know.
“Where’s Beth?” he asked stupidly.
“She stayed over at Uncle Frank and Aunt Lily’s,” Clara replied in that unfortunately pitched, nasal voice. “Dear, if you’re not coming home, I do wish you’d call. I was awake nearly all night listening for you. Saturday morning I found Beth’s note saying she was off to Las Vegas with you and the others.”
Tim’s eyes were going up and down Alicia’s curves. “Aren’t you going to introduce us to your friend?”
Barry grasped Alicia’s fingers. “Sh-she’s quite a bit more than a f-friend,” he stammered. “Mom, Dad—this is Alicia, my wife. We were married yesterday in Las Vegas.”
He might just as well have jabbed them with one of those electric cattle prods being used by Mississippi sheriffs against civil rights workers. Tim’s leer was replaced by slack-jawed surprise. Clara’s loud gasp faded into a drawn-out moan and her veined hand went to her chest. Since her coronary she had been preoccupied with the flurries and splutters of her unreliable heart.
Alicia broke the silence. “I’m very happy to meet you, Mr. Cordiner, Mrs. Cordiner,” she said softly.
Tim pushed to his feet. This being Sunday, he hadn’t shaved; his gray-blond hair had receded to the back of his pate, his belly bulged out in his faded tee shirt. Yet his height and the breadth of shoulders made him an impressive physical specimen, and now, in his anger, he was downright intimidating. “The hell you say,” he growled.
“Married?” Clara whispered, the tendons of her thin neck straining. “You’ve never mentioned her. How long have you known her?”
“A month,” Barry exaggerated.
“Alicia? What’s her other name?” Clara addressed Barry, as if Alicia were a mute.
Alicia said, “Cordiner. But it was Lopez.” Her voice held a note of defiant humor, but the hand that Barry held was shaking.
Clara went gray. Tim moved around the table to pat her thin shoulders with awkward tenderness.
Barry asked, “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“It seems to me you’ve said it all, buster!”
“Please, Tim. . . .” Clara murmured warningly. She knew that the Cordiner temper was at its most unregulatable in her husband. When the twins were nine, he had gotten into a fight with another grip, knocking him cold. The man had died on the way to the Magnum infirmary. It had taken all of Desmond Cordiner’s considerable influence downtown to get his brother off without a prison term.
“Please what?” Tim bawled. “He barges in with some wetback chippy and tells us he’s married to her. What the hell does he expect us to say?”
Barry had inherited a small share of the family temper, and at this moment, brown eyes glaring, thin shoulders hunched, the normally invisible resemblance between him and his father showed. “Something along the lines of good wishes and congratulations.”
“For that, buster, you have to get married properly!”
“Like you and Mom did?”
A rumble came from Tim’s chest as he took a step toward his son.
Clara’s hand pressed tighter against her flat bosom. “Please don’t the two of you start again.”
“What do you mean, again?” Tim demanded. “When has this snotnose ever brought home a pachuco tramp that he’s married to?”
“Come on, Alicia,” Barry said tightly. “We’re getting out of here.”
The Cordiners’ rejection filled Alicia with desolation, yet she said placatingly, “Barry, we took your folks by surprise.”
“You!” Tim turned on her. “If you’re expecting a free ride here, just forget it. We aren’t the millionaire Cordiners, we’re just plain, ordinary people.” He lowered his head like a bull at Barry. “And as for you, if you’re so damn grown-up, you don’t need any more bucks from me.”
“I work at the Student Union,” Barry said.
“That money goes on books and gas. You pay your own room and board and we’ll see how long you keep on with that fancy education of yours.”
“Tim, he’s got to finish!” Clara cried.
“Clara, you keep out of this. You’ve spoiled him long enough. It’s time Mr. Bigshot Married Man here learned what life’s all about.”
Barry’s nails dug into Alicia’s hand. “At least I know it’s not about picking up women in bars and passing out in their beds!”
“You little turd!” Tim shouted at the top of his lungs. “Get the fuck out of my house, and take your Tijuana hooker with you!”
“Tim,” Clara whimpered. “Tim, please. . . .”
Barry didn’t hear the rest. Grabbing Alicia’s upper arm, he propelled her down the short, unlit corridor and into his bedroom, where he yanked down the cordovan leather suitcase that had been a birthday gift from his Aunt Lily and Uncle Frank and began throwing in clothes. Alicia sat on the desk chair, her shaking hands clasped in her lap. The scene had destroyed what little there was of her self-esteem, yet she couldn’t repress a ripple of sympathy for Tim. Not Clara—she’d never liked or respected whiners. But there had been something infinitely pathetic about the infuriated bull of a man in his old tee shirt. She wanted to urge Barry to go in and make up with his dad, but in Alice Hollister’s world it was infra dig as well as downright dangerous to come between two furious men. She began folding the clothes that Barry had tossed into the suitcase.
The pencil jar jumped on the desk as the front door slammed.
“There goes Dad,” Barry said, his brown eyes glittering with tears.
“Barry, we’ll fix it up with them.”
“After the way he insulted me—and you?”
“We are not crawling.” His boyishly angular face set, he began pulling books from the shelves. “Never.”
The door opened. Clara stood in the narrow hallway, her longish face like a white egg suspended in the dimness.
Studiously avoiding glancing at Alicia, she said to her son, “Dear, you mustn’t take Dad seriously when he gets upset. We don’t want you to leave.”
“This time Dad’s right,” Barry said stiffly. “I have my marital responsibilities.”
“Your, uhh, wife, could stay here, too. You’ve got the trundle bed.”
“I refuse to sponge off of you.”
“But how else will you finish school? Barry, you must finish school.”
“I’ll get that law degree, don’t you worry.”
“I can’t bear any more of these family ruptures. . . .” Clara’s jaw trembled. “It’s ruined my health, you and Beth not knowing your grandparents. You will visit, won’t you?”
“That’s up to Dad. He’ll have to apologize to my wife.”
Clara blinked uncertainly.
“Barry, it’s okay,” Alicia said.
“I categorically refuse to enter a house where my wife’s been insulted,” Barry said sternly.
“You know Dad, dear,” Clara sighed. “He means well, but he’s never apologized to anyone in his life.”
“Then it’s about time he did.”
“You used to be such a good boy,” Clara said, and tottered away. She had not once permitted her gaze to rest on Alicia.
Barry shut the door. “So they’ll let us have the cottage, the people you work for?” he muttered.
“Sure,” she said, covering her uncertainty with a smile.
• • •
The Youngs were so shocked when they learned that their maid was married, and to a “white college student” (yes, Mrs. Young actually said it), that neither of them noticed that she had lost her accent. When Alicia asked if she could continue on the job and have the cottage for her and Barry, both Youngs put on grave faces, and Mrs. Young sank onto the slick plastic that covered the brocade upholstery, her somewhat protuberant eyes fixed on her husband.
He said obligingly, “Alicia, while Mrs. Young and I discuss this, will you and your husband step outside.”
Alicia and Barry waited on the front step.
After a long ten minutes, they were invited back inside. Dr. Young did the talking, extolling the construction and plumbing of the room in back. “In a neighborhood like this we could get top rent for it,” he said, neglecting to mention that the local zoning was R-1, restricted to single-family dwellings. “But Mrs. Young and I are very, very fond of Alicia, and so are Ronnie and Lonnie. And you seem like a sensible sort of young man, not wild or noisy. So we’ll let you have it—on a trial basis, of course.”
“You won’t regret it,” Barry said diffidently.
“Naturally we’ll deduct a little from Alicia’s salary. Does fifty dollars strike you as fair, Alicia?”
Alicia knew that at one twenty-five she was already being underpaid. Fifty dollars less? But what choice was there?
She nodded. “Fine.”
“After you’ve done the dinner dishes, you’re absolutely free to go out there,” Dr. Young said. “Unless Mrs. Young and I have a date. Then, of course, you’ll baby-sit in the house with the boys. Your husband—”
Barry coughed, repeating his name. “It’s Barry Cordiner, sir.”
“Yes, Corder. You understand of course that this arrangement doesn’t include food.”
Mrs. Young said, “I won’t tolerate Alicia feeding you from my kitchen.”
Alicia leaned toward Barry, anticipating some of the hot temper he had displayed with his parents. But he nodded docilely. “Of course.”
In parting, Mrs. Young said, “Alicia, we expect you here at six thirty, sharp.”
• • •
They checked into an ancient motel on Pico. A radio blared the music of Argentina on one side, on the other a drunken marital argument rose and fell. When Barry climbed on top of his wife’s luscious body his erection turned to marshmallow.
The evening had reached its final defeat.
Neither of them slept much. The next morning they arrived at the Youngs’ well before six thirty.
Leaving Alicia whipping Birds Eye frozen orange juice to a froth in the Osterizer, Barry went into the small backyard. Alicia’s word, cottage, had roused in him visions of a vine-draped setting for Werther or somesuch rustic romance, so it took him a full minute to accept that she had meant the room stuck behind the garage.
Yanking open the unlocked, warped door, he was blasted by the pungent aroma of fertilizer. Dr. Young, a gardening enthusiast, stored his weedkillers, trowels, clippers and other equipment on the rough redwood shelves, using the floor space for huge plastic sacks of Bandini steer manure. Moving gingerly around the bags, Barry opened a plywood door, gagging involuntarily at a toilet whose interior was a stygian brown.
He had to straighten the garage before he could begin shifting tools and those endless, heavy, odiferous sacks. At ten thirty, when Mrs. Young drove off in her two-tone Dodge, Alicia came out.
“What a fabulous job you’ve done!” she exclaimed.
She dumped an entire bottle of bleach in the toilet, leaving it there while they scrubbed walls, windows and the warped floorboards. Mrs. Young had granted them certain furniture stored in the garage loft. After making the box springs and mattress, Alicia surveyed their quarters. “When I hang a sheet in that corner to rig up a closet and put your books on the shelves, it’ll be perfect.” Her face glowed with a light film of sweat and happiness.
Barry didn’t know what to say. His requirements, to his own mind, were modest; he hadn’t been reared in architectural splendors like his cousins, but God knows one needn’t have grandiose expectations to want better than a scuzzy lavatory and the ineradicable stink of manure.
• • •
That night she returned after nine, bringing with her the scent of hand lotion. He was at the table studying for the following day’s poli-sci quiz. Bending over him, she circled his throat with her arms, drawing his head back against those voluptuous breasts. He got up for a welcome-home hug, not intending anything sexy—he still had to learn several more points of the Volstead Act—but she pressed her palms to his buttocks, crushing against him as she made small whimpering sounds. Her passion astonished him. Previously she had responded with shy pleasure, never taking the initiative.
“Make love to me, Barry,” she pleaded hoarsely. “Make love to me.”
He responded with an instant hard-on. “Let me get a rubber.”
She was pulling him down onto the mattress, guiding his hand beneath her short uniform and under her panties to the hot, slick wetness.
Summoning every ounce of willpower, he pulled away from her embrace. “Be right back.”
The sight of the toilet bowl, now a paler but equally evocative brown, demolished his erection.
He returned to find their one lamp dimmed by a scarf and his wife stretched naked on the bed. The nipples pointing up at him were the palest pink while the vulva exposed by her spread thighs was deep rose. Again he thought of goddesses, but this time of the ancient ones before civilization began, the deities served by fertility rites.
His hardness reasserting itself, he fell on top of her, grasping the full curves of her breasts so tightly that she cried out.
“Is this what you like?” he demanded hoarsely.
“Yes,” she whimpered.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Make love to me.”
“No, say the word.”
“Fuck. . . .”
“Fuck me, please fuck me.”
His own hoarse breathing filling the universe, he entered her, pumping deeper and deeper into her rosy mysteries, coming so intensely that it ached far up in his balls.
When his gasping ceased, he kissed her ear. “Hey, when you’re hot, you’re hot.” Wishing he were uninhibited enough to tell her of those favorable comparisons with goddesses, he fell asleep almost instantly.
Alicia pulled the blanket over his shoulders, then began to cry. But why was she crying? Hadn’t she accomplished what she had set out to do? Hadn’t her husband just made love to her?
Alicia, too, had brooded about the previous night, deciding the failure was hers. I’m just not sexy, she had thought miserably. Maybe he can’t make it because he senses I’m not leveling with him.
But honesty was out of the question.
When she’d first spoken to Barry Cordiner at Ship’s Coffee Shop, an infallibly sure intuition had informed her that he might be educated and say things she’d hitherto only read in books, but he was utterly naive about one word: poverty. He had no comprehension how deep and shameful a thing poverty could be. He believed that being poor meant having a father named Lopez who was occasionally laid off from his trucking job, scratching together the mortgage payments and maybe eating beans at the end of the month. He didn’t know about sleeping on the damp earth, going hungry until you were giddy, peeing in the fields. The reality would assuredly send him packing.
She knuckled her eyes dry, tiptoeing into the bathroom to use Juanita’s vaginal foam. It probably would have been safer if she could have squeezed it in before and after as she had in Las Vegas, but this time he’d had on a Trojan, so she guessed it was okay. She wished Juanita were here to discuss the problem with. She doesn’t even know I’m married. Then Alicia thought, I wonder if she knows anything about Barry. Alicia had written glowingly about him, but Juanita, humiliated by her functional illiteracy, might not have asked Henry or anyone to read the letters to her. Alicia, barely fifteen, longing for the half sister who had been a mother to her, began to cry again.
• • •
The following morning, when everyone had left the house, Alicia walked the mile and a half to San Vincente Boulevard to the nearest pay phone. She called the Taylor Ranch.
Mrs. Taylor answered. Juanita and Henry, she said in a clenched tone, were no longer there. Mr. Taylor had been forced to fire Henry. The Lopezes had left no forwarding address.
Of course they hadn’t left an address. Pickers don’t have addresses. There was no way of telling Juanita anything. No way of finding her. Ever.
Dropping the phone so it dangled by its cord, leaving the little pile of coins on the shelf, Alicia blindly left the booth.
• • •
Three weeks later Barry and Beth sat drinking coffee on the broad, crowded flight of steps in front of Ackerman Hall. Barry, who had not spoken to anyone in the family since the disastrous night he’d left his parents’ house, was surprised and delighted when Beth showed up just as he was getting off work at the Student Union. Since it was lunch hour, all available tables inside and out were taken, and students were eating on the red brick steps. Over the roar of laughing conversation and the clashing of crockery, he boasted about the fabulous cottage and about the three articles he was writing for the Daily Bruin on John Hersey’s The Child Buyer. He needed to prove to Beth—and the entire Cordiner clan—how excellently he was managing.
“Barry, listen,” Beth said. “Things haven’t been going well since you left. Mom’s been in for an EKG. And Dad’s gotten into a running battle with the head grip.”
“Now tell me what I’m meant to do about it? Come crawling back to beg their pardon for marrying a terrific, fine girl I happen to be crazy about?”
“How are her parents taking it?”
Barry’s defensive truculence faded momentarily. When Alicia had told him she’d phoned her family, her huge blue eyes had been wet. She didn’t say anything about the call, but he was positive the Lopezes were coldly unforgiving about her marrying outside the Church.
“You see?” Beth said. “Everybody’s upset. Uncle Desmond, Aunt Rosalynd, Uncle Frank, Aunt Lily—”
“Stop laying a guilt trip on me!”
“I don’t mean to.”
“Why else’re you here?”
Playing with her narrow gold bangle, she said, “PD asked me to talk to you.”
“PD? How’s he in on the act?”
“He’s invited us all down to Newport.” Frank and Lily Zaffarano owned a bayfront house there. “This Sunday.”
“Us?” Barry asked. “Define the word ‘us.’”
“You, me, PD, Alicia, Hap, Maxim.”
“Give PD our regrets,” Barry said. “Beth, you might as well be aware of this for future reference. Until Dad apologizes to Alicia, I’m not exposing her to the family.”
“PD wants us to get together, that’s all. Us. Not Dad and Mom—or any of the aunts and uncles.”
“Well, let me see how Alicia feels about it.” Barry used a stern tone. But as far as he was concerned, a Sunday away from the dreadful room was one notch below paradise.
Newport curves along a narrow spit of land across from Balboa: the paired resort towns cuddle around a large, boat-filled bay. During the summer Angelenos flock down, clogging traffic for miles. In mid-November the roads weren’t jammed, but nevertheless Barry concentrated on his driving. This morning they’d had their first spat. Barry had suggested Alicia wear shorts, but since she owned only the Taylor girl’s hand-me-down white ones, ancient and mended, a too graphic reminder of the Henry Lopez incident, she’d put on her red sundress with the stole. Barry had not commented, he had simply remained silent. Since then he had responded to her attempts at conversation monosyllabically. She was anxious enough about an entire day with his sister and those rich cousins, and his silence made her stomach twitch.
In Newport, Barry turned left, crossing a short, humpbacked bridge. “Lido Isle,” he announced. “The most exclusive of the exclusive.”
“It’s nice,” she said, grateful that he had spoken, yet unsure why these houses jammed so close together were considered special.
Barry parked, leading the way to a two-story, white-shingled Cape Cod. As they walked along the side path, Alicia realized how deceptive the frontages were. The Zaffarano house went back at least a hundred feet. In the bright noon sunlight, the acres of fresh white paint gleamed, blurring in front of her eyes. She reached for Barry’s hand. His fingers dangled, limply unresponsive.
They turned a corner, emerging onto a planked deck. A brisk breeze shimmered whitecaps across the azure bay. The big Chris-Craft with the royal blue canvas cover that matched the house’s royal blue shutters bobbled and banged its bumpers against the swaying dock. The deck was protected by high glass walls, and in the still warmth, PD, Hap and Maxim were stretched out sunbathing. Beth, fiddling with a camera, wore a sleeveless yellow blouse and matching shorts.
Barry called, “Hi, guys.”
The others looked up.
Alicia, acutely conscious of the tightness of her sundress top, and of the black patent shoes with the killing pointed toes and stiletto heels, formed a smile.
PD pushed to his feet. His compact, well-muscled, dark-tanned body agleam with Coppertone, he strode toward them. “Welcome,” he said, smiling. “So you finally made it.”
Maxim raised up on one long, thin arm, giving Barry and Alicia his acid smile. “Hell, PD, you know these horny honeymooners, they probably pulled over for a quickie.”
Beth held up her finger, smiling. “Hold it.” Bending her smooth head, she aimed her camera at PD, who was standing between Barry and Alicia.
After the click, Hap moved into the group. Alicia, who even in her heels was nearly a head shorter, couldn’t help noting that the curly blond hairs covering his chest became brown as they cut in a narrow line down to his navel, turning almost black where the line disappeared beneath his faded madras trunks.
Hap punched at Barry’s shoulder in greeting before he kissed Alicia’s cheek. The light touch of his lips caused a surprising tingle of pleasure and her sense of being on enemy territory dwindled.
“Beth’s made guacamole,” PD said. “Her one big specialty.”
“Yeah,” Maxim added, “and the bitch refused to serve it up until her twinnie-twin-twin arrived. So hurry and suit up before we starve.”
Barry glanced down, his lips pulling into a line that wasn’t quite a smile, an expression that Alicia had come to dread: it meant she had somehow embarrassed him.
She said quickly, “I forgot to bring a suit.” Actually she didn’t own one, and hadn’t been able to sneak off for an hour to buy one at any of the intimidatingly smart little boutiques lining San Vincente Boulevard.
“No sweat,” PD said. “Mom keeps a slew in the dressing room for all sizes and shapes.”
On the other side of the house were twin doors with bright brass silhouettes designating the sex of the users. Alicia found herself in a kind of sitting room approximately twice as large as their cottage and furnished with wicker and bright plaids. A row of swimsuits hung from wooden pegs. Three cotton-ruffled numbers for little girls. Two outsizes with skirts to cover dimpled, matronly thighs. She tried on the remaining four. The red and the pink bikini were both far too loose. The black one-piece knit was too tight on top. The white Lastex, also one-piece, fitted to perfection. It dipped to a deep V between her breasts, while cutouts revealed the curves where her waist met her hips. Turning this way and that on her bare feet to view her image in the mirror, she had to admit that the suit was a knockout on her. Then she frowned uncertainly. Would Barry get that embarrassed little smile when she emerged?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved this book! Each famiky members personality is fully explored. Deep rich characters