Reality Road Kill (work in progress!!!!)

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CHAPTER 20 -- BACK IN THE MIX

“I thought you didn’t trust Joel,” Maggie says.

“I don’t,” Paul says, “but I don’t trust Hank, the head of the tape vault, either. And I think I’d rather get screwed over while editing a network special than screwed over while working as a tape librarian.”

“Sounds shady to me, if you want my opinion.”

Paul does want her opinion, as long as it matches his. He watches her unload groceries from a line of paper bags on the kitchen counter. She tosses soup cans on shelves, milk in the refrigerator and garbage bags under the sink, while her hips and feet shut drawers and slam cabinets.

“Do you need help?”

“No, I have a system. Isn’t it nice to finally have decent food in the house? And to have the time to enjoy it?”

“God, yes. I never want to see macaroni and cheese or Top Ramen again.”

“And I have a special surprise to end the evening...”

She tears open the last two bags and reveals two orange pumpkins.

“Ta Da! We can carve them for Halloween,” she announced. “It’s in two days.”

“We live in an apartment with a gated courtyard. We’re not going to get trick or treaters,” Paul complains.

“I bought them for us,” she points out. She walks around the edge of the counter and tugs on his shirtfront. “What else were we going to do tonight? Watch TV? Go to another movie? Let’s do something real, in the here and now. Come on, it’ll be fun.”

Paul smiles and kisses her. “I’ll lay out newspapers.”

She’s right, Paul thinks. In the last few weeks he’s fallen into a rut:

1) Wake up, shower, coffee, dress.

2) Bus ride to the video facility, arrive at 8:30, breakfast bagel and cereal at work.

3) Prep the tape carts to either hard rock or Mexican Banda music until 1:30.

4) Step outside for the first time in five hours and notice the weather.

5) Quick trip to Thai Garden, Teriyaki Bowl, or El Pollo Loco. Bring food back.

6) Eat in the lunchroom and hope you don’t get paged over the intercom.

7) Stock the fridge with goodies for the clients and move boxes off the loading dock.

8) Work the tapes in the vault until 6:30.

9) Bus ride home, maybe get off a stop early and rent a movie.

10) Eat whatever food experiment Maggie is trying that night, then watch TV and try to obliterate the memory of your lousy day.

He passes through each day with his thoughts on some distant place in his future where everything will be different, when all his dreams will be realized.

Today is different, however. He didn’t get back from his meeting with Joel until 3:30 in the afternoon, and Hank caught him walking in the door.

“I had a dentist’s appointment,” he lied.

“You haven’t worked here long enough to have dentist appointments. Do it again, and you’re fired.”

Paul almost quits right then to take Joel’s offer, but decides to think things over before he jumps back into the raging ocean of TV production. He is proud of himself for maintaining composure for once.

Maggie digs through the kitchen drawers. “A small blade with a serrated edge works best. I remember that from when I was little.”

“Yeah, almost like a grapefruit knife.”

Maggie brings two small steak knives to the table, along with two sharpies and a stack of paper. “Which way do you swing for your jack o’ lantern? Funny or scary?”

“Scary.”

“You go scary, I’ll do something funny.”

They ruin a half tablet of copy paper testing and rejecting ideas, starting with the traditional face with the triangle eyes and nose. Then they move through the sexy girl winking, the shocked face with the open mouth, the lecherous face with the leering grin, and the bashful face glancing to the side.

“Who does this look like to you?” Maggie asks, holding up a design. The face is smug, with a raised eyebrow and tiny smirk. Paul shrugs.

“It’s Joel.”

Paul laughs. “That’s perfect! When did you ever see Joel?”

“I found his picture at TheHollywoodReporter.com.”

“If you’re going to do Joel, then I have to do Dwight.” Paul scribbles out a screaming face with bulging eyes and with flame trails coming out of his nose, ears and mouth. He holds it up for her assessment.

“Ouch, scary! I think we have our designs!”

They carefully copy their designs onto the orange skin of their respective pumpkins and then carve out the tops. They jam their hands into the gooey white fibers inside and dribble out the guts and seeds onto the newspapers, filling the apartment with a sweet pumpkin scent. Paul threatens to touch Maggie with a slimy hand.

“Don’t you dare,” she warns him, but he goes ahead and sticks a wet seed to her forehead. She laughs and slimes him with a hand across his cheek.

When they’re done carving they drop votive candles inside each pumpkin and Paul lights them with a kitchen match held between tongs. He goes to the light switch. “Ready?”

Maggie leans back on the couch. He flicks the switch, sending the apartment into pitch darkness except for the eerie glow from the pumpkins. He joins her on the couch and they admire their handiwork.

“They look great,” Maggie says. “One looks like he’s really thinking and the other looks like he’s really screaming.”

“I guess we should call them Joel ’o lantern, and Dwight ’o lantern.”

Maggie snuggles close to him. “Are you really going to take this job?”

“I think so,” Paul says. “I’m too old to be working in a tape vault. Besides, the money’s too good to pass up. This way I can pay you for everything.”

“Are you going to work crazy hours again?”

“Probably. But if I work six weeks I’ll end up with enough money to pay my share of the rent and the bills, I can pay off the rest of the car payments, and enough of my credit card bill that I can pay off the lab and get my film back. I’ll be at square one.”

Maggie sits up on the couch and faces him. The orange light from the jack-o-lanterns dances across the right side of her face, while the left is in pitch darkness.

“Square One isn’t moving forward. I want you to get a real job, one that doesn’t end in six weeks. That’s what grown-ups do.”

“This could lead to a real job.”

“You believe that?”

I’ll tell you what. I’ll save all my money, and when this job is done we’ll take a two-week vacation, and when I get back I’ll stop all this madness and get real job. You can ask for vacation time at work tomorrow.”

“You promise?”

“You said taking a vacation proves we’re grown-ups, right? We’ll go to Cabo San Lucas or Hawaii, wherever you want.”

She kisses him long and hard and pushes him back against the couch. They make out in the candlelight. Her hands creep up under his shirt and across his stomach.

“Hello, Mr. Six Pack. When have you been working out?”

“It’s all the boxes I’ve been lifting at work.”

“You sure you want that editing job? I think I like you better this way.”

His hands creeps up under her shirt, unsnaps the front of her bra, and strokes each nipple. She pulls back quickly.

“Your hands are cold.”

“Let’s warm them up in the bedroom,” he says, and starts to pull her off the couch. She stops him.

“I only have one question about this job, and then I’ll shut up. You said you’d never ever work with Dwight again.”

“I won’t be working with Dwight. I’ll be preparing work for him to edit.”

“So, you’re assistant editing, you’re not editing.”

“I’ll be assistant-editing for Dwight for just a few hours a day, prepping footage in another edit bay. Then Joel will have me edit a different version for him on the sly in another edit bay on the other end of the building.”

Maggie pulls her hand away and sits back down. She stares at Paul. “You and Joel are going behind Dwight’s back?”

Paul shrugs. “I guess so. But I don’t care about Dwight, It’s not his show. He’s not paying for it, the network is. And Joel’s the producer. I’m working for Joel now.”

“Dwight’s no dummy. He’ll find out what you’re doing. And when he does, he is going to be pissed.”

“Good,” Paul says. “I’ll be looking forward to it.” He blows out the candles and falls back onto the couch, pinning her against the cushions. He kisses her forehead. He can barely see the outline of Maggie’s face in the darkness.

“Just be careful. People like him turn crazy really quick.”

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