Part 2 – Jasmine


                Like many things in the cell phone era, Charlotte’s decision to move back home began with a text. She was growing restless after hour two of the meeting. After 20 years in marketing, Charlotte was bored out of her mind. The pay was great and her commute wasn’t horrendous, all things considered. But for the past few years she had hated every minute she was at work.


At first she thought her job was impossibly glamorous. She was working for a major studio, making distribution deals for superhero movie tie-in merchandise. When she first got her job, Charlotte was thrilled to become a member of the of the elite Los Angeles caste working in “the business.” She was even happier when she was promoted to the head of the Ultra Super Homicide Team franchise. She’d finally gotten everything she wanted.


Charlotte’s initial excitement soon wore off. The movies she promoted were typically loud and silly. The meetings could be more ridiculous than the movies. Each miniature hero, sidekick, and villain was produced again and again, in several different sizes and colors. Each tiny plastic face had several different expressions, which had to be matched and compared with facial expressions from the actors.  The actors would then have to approve their plastic likeness. Charlotte though getting the Treaty of Versailles negotiated was probably easier than getting actor approval.

After the preliminary size, color, and expression was decided on, there would then be several more meetings to determine which third-world factory would be blessed with the manufacturing contract. After deciding on the factory, she then had to determine which fast food franchises would be the best fit to relentlessly plug both the movie and the food. After 20 years, Charlotte felt her sole purpose in life was to distribute choking hazards to the future obese of America.


Her cell phone buzzed on her lap. It was a text from her brother John. The room was silent. Charlotte looked up. Apparently everyone at the meeting was waiting for some sort of response from her.


“I think it mostly looks good,” she said. “But we have a long way to go on Blobbo and Putty Pants. I’m just not feeling it, especially with Putty Pants.” Charlotte looked at her phone. “I think that’s it for the day. I’d like to see everyone back here tomorrow morning at ten with a new idea. This movie is supposed to make money. I’m thinking with this project, we have more than a sequel people. I’m thinking spin-off.” She smiled briefly, got up and left.


“Was she really even listening to us?” she heard someone whisper. “It’s like she doesn’t even care.” This didn’t make Charlotte mad. Instead she was pleased that at least someone on her team was paying attention for once.


She got to her car and read John’s text. “Call me as soon as u can has 2 do with mom.” Charlotte’s heart raced. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, not today,” she thought. “I don’t want to deal with this right now.” She looked at the text for a minute and decided to respond when she got home. She checked her traffic app. As usual, it was going to be a nasty commute. Charlotte decided to skip the freeway and take the long way over Mulholland. It would give her an extra half hour to think.


It was getting dark by the time Charlotte pulled up to her house. The sky was purple and dark green from the haze. She looked up at the sky by force of habit, even though she hadn’t seen stars since she moved to Los Angeles from Lancaster. The city lights were much too bright. The incessant traffic white noise to her now. Spotlights criss-crossed the sky, and a helicopter droned. It was a typical Los Angeles night, busy and loud.


Charlotte got out of her car and walked up the sidewalk to her house. The jasmine was just starting to bloom, and the smell was overwhelmingly cloying and sweet. She loved that smell, except when it got too hot for too many days in a row. Then Charlotte thought it smelled like cheap perfume or embalming fluid in a funeral home. “Funeral home,” she thought. “I have to call John.”


She threw her briefcase and purse on the sofa, poured herself a glass of wine, and headed through the French doors to her back yard. She walked around the perfectly round pool, which was probably built at the same time as the house in the early 20s. It had a little cupid fountain, no filtration system, and lighting that would burn out after six days of constant use. Charlotte still loved it. She sat down on a chaise lounge, punched in John’s number and watched the little cupid spit a steady stream of heavily chlorinated water out of his little pursed lips into the pool.


The phone rang once. “Finally,” John said. “What the hell. I texted you four hours ago. What if it was an emergency?”


“Thank god it’s not,” Charlotte said. “That text scared the hell out of me. Next time do you want to add a few words, something like ‘hey, I have a question,’ or ‘hey, it’s not an emergency.’” She took a sip of wine. “What’s the deal?”


She knew damn good and well what was coming next, but she still dreaded it. She and her sisters all knew that John staying with Mom was a temporary fix at best, a stop-gap measure to delay the inevitable. Mom still had decent days, but for the past several months the bad days outnumbered the good. Her mom rarely recognized Charlotte most of the time, and often confused Charlotte for her own sister who had died several years ago. It was unnerving.


“OK” John began, “OK Charlotte, OK. You’ve got to listen to me, I’m really serious, I’ve got to get out of here right now. I have too many things to do. I haven’t been able to get anything done. I’m running a business; I’ve got to take care of that business. Katy can’t take care of everything herself. She needs me to help her.” He stopped to take a breath. John talked faster than anyone Charlotte knew. She’d be able to get a word in when he was forced to come up for air.


“Also, it’s not like Mom even recognizes me anymore these days,” he continued. “Most mornings when I walk in her room she stares at me and starts screaming. She thinks I’m breaking in or something. The worst thing she’s been screaming lately at the top of her lungs is that a strange man is coming in to rape her.” John inhaled, then continued.


“How do you think I feel when Mom starts screaming that I’m about to rape her, yelling for someone to call the police every time she sees me, the rapist. You’d be totally freaked out, that’s what. Also, you’d get sick and tired of the neighbors running over and wanting to know what’s going on. Most of these people are bored out of their minds and can’t wait to find out who’s trying to rape our Mom. Speaking of being bored out of your mind, do you think this is fun for me here? Do you think…”


“John, stop for minute” Charlotte said. “John. I’m listening to you, just drop the whole incest thing for a minute.”


She was torn between teasing John about the important business matters that he had to attend to immediately and not making him angry. It was a delicate balance that was challenging to maintain with John. On some days, a few well-placed comments would make him so mad that he wouldn’t speak to Charlotte for months. On other days, John would happily agree that he somehow managed to cruise through life with no steady employment and a wealthy girlfriend, while mocking her about how hard she worked.  Charlotte decided he sounded too worked up to be teased.


“What do you need to do?” she asked. “And how long will it take?”


“OK, so here’s the thing,” John said. “Me and Katy and a bunch of our friends want to take this sort of camping surf trip bike trip thing down the coast to Cabo. You know those board shorts we designed last year? I figured out that we could start selling board shorts and the new bike shorts at the same time at all the places we camp and hang out, also maybe start designing some rash guards that can take the changes in the ocean, like the different kinds of salt and seaweed in both California and Mexico.” He took a quick breath. “Also, we thought we could meet some people in places that we camp that we could hire to sell our stuff, you know, like Torrey Pines, Rosarito, La Paz. Wherever.”


Charlotte thought it would be best not to share her opinion right this minute if she wanted him to come back and stay with Mom after his trip.


“So, when are you leaving?” she asked. “And are you going to be gone for very long?”


“Well, we’d all be meeting up at Leo Carrillo, stay there for a few days, then start working our way down  the coast to Baja. Maybe I’ll be gone a couple of months. Four, five months at the most.” John paused. “Are you pissed at me?” he asked. “I’ve been here for a couple of months now. I know you’ve been giving me breaks on the weekend. It’s been really cool, we appreciate it. But I’ve got to get this business going. Spring’s the perfect time.”


“It’s not a great time for me to quit my job right now John,” Charlotte said. “We’ve got the movie coming out, opening weekend’s the Fourth of July. I can’t just take off and leave my job. Look, we haven’t even figured out how to market Blobblo yet, and don’t even get me started on Putty Pants…”


“You hate your job,” John interrupted. “That’s all I ever hear from you; how much you hate your job. Why don’t you just quit, or take a leave of absence, or call in sick, or whatever you wage slaves do. You’ve got enough money. Besides, Mom still recognizes you.” He paused, listening for a reaction from Charlotte. She was silent. John waited a few seconds, then continued.


“Tell you what, I’ll make you a deal,” he said. “Why don’t you move back home with Mom for six months. You get a break from your job and LA, I get the chance to get my business going. After six months, I’ll come back. We both win.”


“John, quit talking for a few minutes,” Charlotte said. “I’ll do it. I’ll put my house on Air BNB and move home. Six months. We’ll figure out what to do after that. I’m hanging up before I change my mind.”


About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on October 26, 2016, in Fiction, Seattle, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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