As August ended, the King family prepared for L.A. Brooke was going to miss the kids, Dexter and Ivy, and their movie-star father, Matthew.
She took pride in flattering Sasha, the wife and mother. Nothing was too overt, too grand, or ostentatious. Sasha thought Brooke was clever and liked to “brush wings” with her.
Matthew usually vanished before his wife said a word to him. From behind a tree, he watched her and fifteen-year-old Brooke in amusement, and then hurried to his office.
Brooke showed no shame.
“That handbag makes you look adventurous, as if you’re going someplace risky and strange.”
“You really think so?”
Brooke said Sasha “coined” the best phrases—“Can I quote you?”—and certainly led the vanguard; fashion, of course, but more than that. “You’re so far ahead of the curve. There’s always a curve. But somehow you know exactly what’s ahead.”
Sasha, her crew, and the kids headed home September first. Matthew stayed and saw Woodstock’s summer theater—Hamlet performed by a regional troupe. The director, who didn’t exert himself when the actors knew their roles, had put Brooke in charge as assistant director.
Seeing her take the curtain call, offering thanks and praise to “Mark Fletcher, who regrets he cannot be here tonight,” surprised Matthew, who had intended to stay and congratulate her.
But after the stirring performance, and then watching Brooke accept flowers, and bow, Matthew needed to leave immediately. The local girl who took care of his kids from breakfast through “lights out” all summer had preoccupied him before the performance. Funny and scary-smart, she would be extraordinary anywhere, compared to anyone. He was used to feminine beauty. But Brooke seemed more compelling every hour. She ran through his mind more than he admitted.
He hadn't recognized the danger; it hadn't seem real. Now he was afraid he’d gone too far every time he had interacted with her. So he sneaked away between curtain calls.
The next night, the night before school started, Brooke's mother, Connie, meditated as she did every Monday with the Gallery regulars, from nine until sunrise. Beforehand, she performed stretches, burned incense, and practiced mantras while Brooke and her sister,Tara, made dinner.
“Come on, Connie,” Brooke called, “before it congeals.”
In the A-frame’s tiny kitchen, they ate tuna fish sandwiches on thick homemade bread. As a treat, Brooke had bought blood-oranges mixed with beets, ready-made from Maria’s, an expensive habit she’d picked up from the Kings.
More sulky than usual, Tara asked her mother, “What would you say constitutes a date? A man and a girl watching a movie alone together?”
“Tara,” Brooke interrupted, “nobody’s doing that. But if I ever plan to watch a movie with a man, I'll invite you.”
“No, you won't. You wouldn’t.”
“Yes, I would. Who knows more about movies, you or me?”
“The reason you wouldn’t invite me, Brooke, is that you watch people in the dark instead of the movie.”
“How do you know?”
“What are you girls talking about? Brooke do you have a date tonight? One, it’s a school night and two, you’ve always hated the idea of dates.”
“I still hate the idea. Either I’m friends with someone or not.”
Tara said, “Pop’s rule is no dating till we’re eighteen. What’s that mean?”
“Don’t tell him I said this,” Connie said, pushing her finger into a bit of bread. “I think he means no sex.”
“Does ‘no sex’ mean no kissing or no fucking?”
“Brooke,” Connie said, “if your father heard you say that, he’d knock you unconscious. He stays away but you need to make a habit of being civil. The way you look—without trying; I'm not saying that—is provocative enough. You cannot afford to talk dirty.”
“And Tara looks nice but talks like the devil.”
“You’re the devil,” Tara said. “Now Connie, what if Pop found out Brooke was watching movies with a married man?”
“Is this happening?” Connie asked. “Because Brooke, my God! Don’t people in this town gossip about you enough?”
“That’s the danger, tons more gossip about me?”
“Of course not,” Connie said. “But if you’re even thinking about this—I’ve got to stop you. I’ll have to skip meditation.”
“I forgot about that,” Brooke said. “Guess I’ll have to tell this hypothetical married man, ‘No movie tonight, because of Connie’s meditation.’”
“Forget I mentioned meditating or gossip,” Connie said. “I don’t know what to say! You are not even sixteen, Brooke. And Tara, don't joke about a married man. Are you trying to send me into a frenzy?”
Brooke began clearing the table. “Tara, since you brought it up, do you want to answer? Are we aiming for a family frenzy here?”
“Go meditate,” Tara said. “Sorry for mentioning the unmentionable.”
Connie said, “I never know with you girls. You’re both too smart; I can’t keep up.” She was halfway upstairs to change her clothes. “And please clean the kitchen. You’ve no idea how depressing it is coming home to dinner dishes in the morning.”
When Connie had disappeared upstairs, Brooke grabbed Tara’s hair. “What are you trying to do?”
“If you’re watching a movie with Matthew King, you sure as hell better invite me, Brooke.”
“I’m not watching a movie with Matthew! And if I were, you have no right to drive Connie crazy.”
“Look at it this way, Brooke. I’m on your side. That movie star’s got no business with the babysitter. Especially since his wife and kids left town two days ago.”
“How do you know?”
“My mistake then.” Brooke stepped outside and carefully did not slam the kitchen door. She hopped on her bike. When would people stop calling Matthew a movie star? He was a great actor.
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