PART III: AFTER // Chapter Nine: How He Got Back Again: 4

The next thing of which he was even somewhat aware was a persistent ringing sound somewhere close at hand. Cautiously he opened one eye a fraction of a millimeter, discovered that it was light wherever he was, probably natural light, and he decided he liked the dark much better and closed his eye again.

  He was just at the point of rousing himself to try to do something about the ringing noise when a very sleepy but very feminine voice muttered, “Ummm…” A short time later he heard a most unfeminine grunt and then a peevishly muttered, “You too,” followed by a bang which he now interpreted—because he had practice in such things—as a telephone receiver being returned to the telephone in a rather violent manner.

At this point the identity of the owner of the voice was not immediately known to him, as he still wasn’t quite sure where he was. Even in the voice’s incoherence and peevishness it was softer and more feminine than Natalie’s. The puzzle was soon solved, however, as a hand grabbed hold of his shoulder and began to shake it.

“Wake up, Gil!” the voice said in a rather peremptory but friendly manner.

He opened his eyes a slit and within a few seconds a face came into focus. Now he remembered. “Rosie,” he called weakly, “is that you?”

“Of course it’s me,” she said briskly. “Who did you expect, Sophia Loren?” Then she added disapprovingly, “How much did you have to drink last night, anyway?”

He began to rouse himself a little. “More than enough, apparently,” he managed.

She clucked sympathetically, then said, “Well okay, you can have another half hour. I’ve gotta take a shower and get myself dressed anyway.” Then, more kindly, “Can I get you anything?”

“Yes,” he muttered, “I think my sports bag is over there somewhere.” He raised a hand and pointed vaguely towards the door of the bedroom. “There’s a bottle of Excederin in it I always carry for emergencies. Just give me the bottle and some water, will you?”

“Sure thing,” she said brightly, and scampered over towards his open bag. God, he thought, how can she be that perky at this time of the morning? Then he remembered that she was only twenty-two, which pretty much answered his question. He remembered vaguely that once, back in the remote mists of time, he had also been twenty-two, but at this point it hurt his head to think about it so he gave it up.

By then she was back with the bottle and small plastic tumbler in hand. She bent over and handed them to him. He took them gratefully and, quickly unscrewing the cap, tossed several into his mouth and gulped down the water. “More,” he croaked.

Apparently unfazed by this simple request, she hurried into the bathroom, filled the tumbler once more, and brought it back to him in somewhat less than a trice. “Thanks,” he said, and waved a hand imperiously. “You may go now.”

“Gee thanks, your majesty,” she quipped, and hurried into the bathroom. Within seconds Gil could hear the sound of running water and he could swear that she, or someone, was singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music…”

This gave him some time to take stock of himself. Making some effort, he reached down over the side of the bed and felt around until he located his lucky brown corduroy jacket, took the gold Rolex out of its pocket, put it on, and stared at the dial. According to the watch, which had always kept perfect time, it was now about eight-forty AM on Saturday. He stared at it for a few seconds in disbelief and then felt a wave of relief, and even joy washed over him. He felt somewhat like Scrooge when Scrooge had muttered, The spirits must have done it all in one night. His joy, however, was diminished by the presence of the Hangover from Hell. When he had awoken, he had felt like there was a particularly noisy and violent construction project going on inside his head. His eyes felt as if some unknown person had inserted a copious amount of gravel under the lids. The same malevolent person, he thought, must have slipped a well-worn and unlaundered wool sock over his tongue. His throat felt like a rusty drainpipe that had not seen a drop of rain in months, and his stomach felt as if someone were desperately trying to churn its contents into butter. However, now that the several Excederin were beginning to take effect, he was beginning to feel much better. He was still, he realized, totally confused. He remembered his weekend—if that’s what it had been, in fact—only as a blur of movies, booze, and some weird woman that he had fancied for a moment (why he couldn’t remember) and with whom he was falling in love. There was also an old man, apparently his future self, who had laid down the law to him as to what he must do when he got back. How much of this was fact and how much was just some kind of fantastic dream he was still trying to decide, when Rosie emerged from the bathroom wearing a fluffy pink bathrobe and vigorously toweling her long black hair.

She looked at him teasingly. “Uh uh,” she said. “Can’t fool me, I can see you’re awake. Now, for heaven’s sake, hurry up and get ready. I don’t want to miss breakfast. If it’s anything like the dinner last night, it ought to be something special. They stop serving at ten, you know, and it must be after nine now. So get a move on!” she concluded firmly. Then without waiting for an answer she grabbed some clothes and went into the bathroom to dress, emerging a scant few minutes later fully dressed and looking great.

How does she do it? he wondered. “Yes, ma’am,” he said humbly and then, with perhaps more difficulty than usual but less than he had figured, he levered himself up to a sitting position and stood up. Like a blind man walking on eggshells, he slowly and gingerly made his way to the bathroom. About ten minutes later he emerged, having washed his face, finger combed his hair, and had made some effort at straightening out his rumpled clothes. “Well,” he informed her, “I guess I’m ready. Mind if I don’t shave till later? I don’t feel quite up to it yet.”

“Okay,” she agreed, “but don’t you think you should actually put on your shoes?”

He looked down at his feet in surprise. He vaguely wondered why the floor felt so fluffy. He complied, and then she took him by the hand whistling merrily, and led him out the door.

As they walked down the hall toward the stairs, Gil glanced around nervously but was relieved to see no apparitions or shimmering set of extra stairs. Shaking the memory off as if it had been (and maybe was) a bad dream, he took Rosie’s hand and, resolving to get more into the spirit of things, walked with her briskly down the stairs and into the dining room.

Looking around, they noticed that the dining room was as nearly empty of people as it had been the evening before, with only a few of the dozen or so tables occupied. As they sat down, the same waiter promptly appeared and took their orders. In a few minutes he had returned with their coffee and their breakfasts.

Without ceremony Rosie began wolfing down mouthfuls of toast and bacon while Gil, though feeling somewhat better after the large quantity of Excederin he had consumed, contented himself with drinking about a gallon of black coffee, all the while staring uneasily at his fried eggs which seemed to stare back at him accusingly. Finally he pushed him off onto Rosie’s plate.

She looked at him questioningly, but when he made no comment she shrugged her shoulders and began devouring them as well.

Gil, for his part, contented himself with a few thick slices of Texas toast and about four rashers of thick-sliced hickory smoked bacon. Feeling better, he pushed his plate away and turned to Rosie, asking her conversationally whether she had had a good night’s sleep.

“You know,” she said between mouthfuls of fried eggs and country ham, “it’s the strangest thing. It’s been a long time since I slept in a strange room and maybe that accounts for it. But I had the strangest dream.”

“Oh,” said Gil, looking up a bit uneasily. “Want to tell me about it?”

“Sure,” she replied. “It was really weird because it was not like most of my dreams. Most of my dreams are just sort of, you know, bits and pieces, kind of like, you know, episodes of something.” She chewed a mouthful of fried potatoes thoughtfully. “But this one,” she continued after she had swallowed, “was different. It was not only continuous but there was a lot of detail and, unlike most of my dreams, I was in this one, not just, you know, watching stuff.”

Gil grinned nervously. “Now you’ve got me intrigued. Do go on.”

“Well, it started with me just waking up, you know, like I did this morning, except I looked over to the other bed, you know, your bed, and you weren’t there. And then, it seemed like I went downstairs and ate, and all the time expecting you to show up, but you never did. I went around, asking everybody if they had seen you, but nobody did. Finally I went back up to the room and called Ms. Jordan ’cause I didn’t know what else to do. And then she drove up here and we looked all over for you. We even talked to the desk clerk and the manager and, well, it went on and on like that until finally we just drove back on Sunday afternoon and that was it. Weird, huh?”

“I’ll say,” said Gil with a little laugh that was not as hearty as he had hoped. Goddamn those Norns, he thought to himself. Are they trying to send me some kind of message, like what would happen to me if I didn’t play ball? I mean, some on, this isn’t Soviet Russia. They can’t, like, disappear me—or can they? He noticed that Rosie was staring at him strangely.

“Well Gil, what do you make of that, anything?”

“I wouldn’t take any notice of such things,” he said, attempting a light and jovial mood which he didn’t feel. “This is a strange hotel anyway. You probably just picked up on the vibes, like they say.”

“Yeah,” she brightened. “I bet that’s it.”

Returning to the room, Rosie settled herself on the couch and picked up her pen and steno book, which were still where she had left them them previous night. “Well boss,” she said in a businesslike tone, “I’m ready when you are. Want to give me your thoughts on Raising Ezekiel?”

At the mention of that dreaded name, Gil gave a little involuntary shudder. “What I really want to do,” he quipped, “is go back to bed and sleep for about another twelve hours.” He looked at her as if pleading for sympathy. “I had a rough night last night, you know.”

“I’ll say,” she said, trying to keep the disapproval out of her voice. “In fact, you were apparently so loaded you woke me up by falling out of bed.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said, hanging his head. “Sometimes I do that. I get a little carried away when I go on a trip and sometimes the temptation is too much for me. But,” he continued, a new resolve coming into his voice, “it wasn’t all bad. I had…something—what do you call it when you, like, realize stuff?”

“I dunno,” she said, looking at him thoughtfully. “An epiphany.”

“Yeah,” he replied, snapping his fingers. “An epiphany. You know, a moment of real clarity. And here’s what I got from it. Here’s what I figured out. We’re not going to bother with Raising Ezekiel. We’re just gonna let it stand or fall on its own merits. What do you think of that?”

She responded by sighing heavily and putting down her pen and steno book. “Well,” she said, “if you don’t want to work, what are we going to do the rest of the weekend? I mean, you’ve already booked us through tomorrow night, right?”

“Sure,” he said, “but I didn’t tell you all of the, watchatcallit, the epiphany. It suddenly came to me in the middle of the night.”

Now he had her interest. “What came to you in the middle of the night?” she said, leaning forward eagerly.

“I got an idea for a really terrific screenplay.” He proceeded to tell her the general outline for Water Over the Bridge, even as he did it sounding to himself as if he were pitching an idea to a studio rep.

As she listened to him she studied him carefully. After a slow start, she noticed that his manner had somehow changed from what it had been the day before. Since she had only met him less than twenty-four hours ago, she wasn’t sure which, if either, was the real Gil, but she knew instinctively that this one was the new and improved model. As he talked, she opened her steno book and began to scribble notes fast and furiously. When he finally concluded he couldn’t help saying, “Well, whaddaya think? Pretty good, huh?”

“I think it has definite possibilities,” she said carefully, “but it’s got to be written in, shall we say, a more organized and coherent form, don’t you think?”

“Sure, sure,” he said, waving his hand at her as if to wave away her objections. Then he fixed her with a meaningful stare. “That’s where you come in,” he said. “As you may have noticed, I’m not really what you would call very good with words. I’m much more of a visual guy. An idea guy. I guess,” he concluded more humbly, “that’s why I’m a director and not really a screenwriter.” He let that sink in for a moment then continued, “That’s kind of, uh, what I’m counting on you for. You’re obviously bright, intelligent, well-spoken—”

“Why, Mr. Hall,” she interrupted and preened herself suggestively. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”

“Seriously,” he said, “you’re real well-spoken. I found that out right away. I mean, the way you told me that story about your family, you know, coming up here, I mean, sounding like, I mean, you know, a real movie… So what I’m asking you is real simple. I’ll give you the concept and the sequence—what’s that called?”

“The chronology?” she supplied.

“Yeah, that’s it. And we’ll work on the dialogue together, I think I’m pretty good at that. But you’ve got to help me with all the screen directions and stuff, okay?”

“Gosh,” she said, “that sounds terrific. And I think I can do it. I mean, in acting class I’ve studied and read so many plays that I think I really know how to do this. It’s the best way to help you. I mean, after all, screen directions can’t be all that much different from stage directions, can they?”

“No,” he said, “not really. But here’s the thing. See, for business reasons I can’t give you any screenplay credit, any writing credit on this. But what I can do, and I will do, is give you your choice of any part in Raising Ezekiel. That way you can get your SAG card and we’ll take it from there, okay?”

“Sure,” she agreed, “I mean, what I want to be is an actress anyway, not a writer.”

“So, do we have a deal, then?”

“You bet, boss!” said Rosie. “Now, where do we start?”

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