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Plaster of Paris; chapter four, part three

“Holy shit!”  I blurt out, pressing my hand to my mouth.  Immediately, I feel like a damned ingénue in a cheap novel and drop my pose.  “You’re Ursula Meadows.”  Talk about fucking coincidences!  This is a big one.

“Yes, I am.”  Ursula smiles and stands up, holding out her hand.  She didn’t do herself justice with her self-deprecating description.  Yes, she’s middle-aged with frizzy blond hair and wide hips, but what she forgot to say was that the hair reaches the middle of her back and the hips are accompanied by a generous bosom and a slim waist.  She is wearing a black dress that shows her assets to their best advantage.  She also forgot to say that she has porcelain skin with dark blue eyes and a ready smile.  This is a woman comfortable in her own skin, and what beautiful skin it is.  “You must be Rayne and?”  She dangles the sentence attractively, waiting for me to fill in the blank.  She stands up, showing off her nearly six-feet in its full glory.

“Uh, Rayne.  Paris’s best friend.”  I suddenly wish I had gone home to change.  “This is Lyle.  Paris’s partner.”  Not a flicker from the cool Ms. Meadows.

“It’s so good to meet you, Rayne,” Ursula says, clasping my hand warmly in hers before doing the same to Lyle.

“Ms. Meadows, it’s an honor to meet you,” I say reverentially.  “They were just talking about your upcoming book at Dog Eared.”  She was a waitress before she hit the bigs.  When And San Francisco Wept burst onto the scene, it shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller’s list.  Critics gushed about her being the ‘trenchant observer of our postmodern, weary days’.  They compared her to everyone from Bukowski to Stein, from Henry Miller to Flannery O’Connor.  She’s been hailed as ‘a refreshing antidote to the ennui displayed by today’s youth’.  She’s a local icon.

“Please, I am only Ursula.”  She laughs and gestures to the seats across from her.  “I’m so glad you brought Lyle along.”  Lyle and I sit down, too awed to speak.  At least, that’s my excuse.  “How is Paris?”  A frown creases her forehead.  Lyle and I glance at each other, wondering how much to reveal.  Though I instinctively like this woman, she is virtually a stranger.

“He’s in the hospital,” I say hesitantly.  “Recovering from surgery.”  That seems safe enough to say.

“I can’t believe the horrible hands of fate,” Ursula muses sadly, sipping on what appears to be a sangria.  Our server miraculously appears out of nowhere to ask if we want anything to drink.  He has a ready smile and dark skin that contrasts marvelously with his white shirt.  I order a dry martini, not wanting to appear uncouth by having a Bud Light or something so horrible domestic.  Lyle asks for a shot of Jack.  Ursula orders us an appetizer consisting of goat cheese and bread before turning back to us.  “It’s utterly ironic that I contact Paris yesterday afternoon, and hours later, he’s had an accident.  So cruel.”

“How did you know it was hours later, Ms., uh, Ursula?”  I ask curiously.  I am fairly certain I didn’t mention when the accident happened, just that it had.

“I was guessing,” Ursula says ruefully, fiddling with her glass.  “I talked to him late afternoon yesterday, and I just assumed it wasn’t this morning.”  Probably true, but it’s hard to say.  She tosses her magnificent mane of hair back, and smiles at us benevolently.  It’s hard to believe this woman is in her mid-forties, but she must be if she’s Paris’s birthmother.  “Well, kiddies, shall I tell you a story?”

Without waiting for a reply, she launches into her tale of woe.  She grew up in Philly.  When she was a teenager, she was a frump who had no social life.  Worse, she was tall and gangly which did nothing to increase her appeal to boys.  She spent Friday nights studying and Saturday nights crying in her bedroom.  Her parents were loving, but distant as they were professors with full lives of their own.  They liked her, were fond of her, but had no idea what to do with a spotty, stuttering girl who had no friends.  Ursula turned to books, especially romance novels that promised a Prince Charming and a happy ending on the last page.  She devoured them like candy, determined to have her romance one way or another.  She dreamed of her own prince, and even had a name picked out for him.  Nicholas.  She thought it was regal without being stuffy.  He would have dark brown hair and flashing brown eyes—she was partially to flashing brown eyes.  He would be the end of all her miseries.

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Plaster of Paris; chapter four, part two

“Geez, I can almost feel sorry for her,” Lyle mutters once we make it safely outside.  “Her whole fucking life is falling apart.”

“At least she has her husband,” I say lamely, pulling the phone out of my purse.  “God, I would give anything for a cigarette.”  Lyle silently pulls a pack out of his shirt pocket and hands it over.  I look at him in surprise.

“Paris’s.”  That’s all he says, but it’s enough to crack his façade.  The tears start flowing again.  I allow him to cry as I open the pack of cigarettes—American Spirits—which, thankfully, carries a lighter as well.  I pull out one and light it up gratefully, allowing the nicotine to enter my system.  I flick on Paris’s cell and stare at the number.  Lyle is still crying.

“Lyle, listen to me,” I say softly.  While I am sympathetic to his pain, I can’t have him falling apart on me.  “You want to find out who did this, right?”  Lyle nods his head, gulping back his sobs.  “Then help me.  Do you recognize this number?”  With those well-chosen words, Lyle sucks it up and stares at the phone’s display.  He shakes his head before holding out his hand.  I’m puzzled until I realize what he wants.  I light up a cigarette and hand it to him.  He falls upon it as a starving hyena would a carcass.  “I didn’t know you smoked.”

“I don’t.  Quit years ago.  Only once in a while.”  A social smoker like me.  I puff on my cigarette before dialing the number on the screen.

“Hello?”  A delightfully husky voice answers.

“Um, hi.”  I am at a loss, feeling like a telemarketer making a cold call.  “Ma’am, you don’t know me, but—”

“Are you going to sell me something?”

“No, ma’am.”

“You from a charity?”

“No, ma’am.”

“I just wanted to get that out of the way.  Proceed.”  She laughs exuberantly, her personality practically spilling through the phone lines.

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