Dark Hunger


Part One. DEMO Chapter Nine


Cilla grew so accustomed to the cars that slowed or stopped at the end of her driveway she barely registered them. The lookie-loos, gawkers, even the ones she imagined took photos, didn't have to be a problem. Sooner or later, she thought, they'd grow accustomed to her, so the best solution to her way of thinking was to ignore them, or to toss out the occasional and casual wave.

To become part of the community, she determined, she had to demonstrate her intent and desire. So she shopped at the local supermarket, hired local labor, bought the majority of her materials from local sources. And chatted up the salesclerks, the subcontractors, and signed autographs for those who still thought of her as TV Katie.

She considered it symbolic, a statement of that intent, when she took Ford's advice and followed her first instincts and had the gates removed. To follow up, she planted weeping cherry trees to flank the drive. A statement, Cilla thought, as she stood on the shoulder of the road and studied the results. New life. And next spring, when they burst into bloom again, she'd be here to see it. From her vantage point, she looked down at the house. There would be gardens and young trees as well as the grand old magnolia. Her grand old magnolia, she thought, with its waxy white blooms sweetening the air. The paint on the house would be fresh and clean instead of dingy and peeling. Chairs on the veranda, and pots of mixed flowers. And when she could squeeze a little more out of the budget, pavers in earthy tones on the drive cutting through lush green lawns.

Eventually, when people slowed down to look, it would be because they admired a pretty house in a pretty setting, and not because they wondered what the hell the Hollywood woman was doing with the house where Janet Hardy had swallowed too many pills and chased them with vodka.

She stepped back toward the wall at the sound of an approaching car, then turned at the quick beep-beep as the little red Honda pulled to the shoulder.

It took her a moment-and brought on a twist of guilt-to recognize the pretty blonde in cropped pants and a crocheted cami who hopped out of the car.

"Hi!" On a bubble of laughter, Angela McGowan, Cilla's half sister, rushed forward to catch Cilla in a squeeze.

"Angie." The fresh, sassy scent enveloped her as completely as the arms. "You cut your hair. Let me look at you. No! Don't hug me again. I'm filthy."

"You really are." On another bubble of laughter, Angie pulled back, met Cilla's eyes with her own enormous hazel ones. Their father's eyes, Cilla thought. Their father's daughter. "And you smell a little, too." Beaming, just beaming, Angie gripped Cilla's hands. "You shouldn't still be so beautiful, considering."

"You look amazing." Cilla brushed her fingertips over the very abbreviated ends of Angie's hair. "It's so short."

"Takes two seconds to deal with in the morning."Angie gave her head a quick shake so the sunny cap lifted, ruffled, settled. "I had to practically have a blindfold and a cigarette to get it done."

"It's fabulous. What are you doing here? I thought you were at college?"

"Semester's done for me, so I'm home for a while. I can't believe you're here. And this." She gestured toward the house. "You're actually living here, and fixing it up and... all."

"There's a lot of all."

"These are so pretty. So much prettier than that old gate." Angie touched one of the curved branches with its blossoms of soft, spring pink. "Everyone's talking about what's going on here. I've only been home for a day, and already I've had my ears burned by all the talk."

"Good talk or bad talk?"

"Why wouldn't it be good?" Angie cocked her head. "This place was an eyesore. So yeah, it's not so pretty right now, either, but you're doing something. Nobody else has. Is it hard? I don't mean the work, because obviously... I mean is it hard being here, living here?"

"No." But Angie would ask, Cilla knew. Angie would care. "In fact, it's easy. It feels right, more than anything or anywhere else. It's strange."

"I don't think so. I think everyone's supposed to be somewhere, and the lucky ones find out where it is. So you're lucky."

"I guess I am." The bright side of optimism, Cilla remembered, was where Angie lived. Her father's daughter. Their father's daughter, Cilla corrected. "Do you want to come in, take a look? It's in serious flux right now, but we're making progress."

"I would, and I will another time. I'm on my way to meet some friends, but I detoured, hoping to see you for a minute. Didn't expect to see you on the side of the road, so I guess I'm lucky, too. So if... uh-oh."

Cilla followed the direction of Angie's glance, noted the white van that slowed and pulled to the shoulder across the road.

"Do you know who that is?" Cilla asked. "I've seen that van pull up out here before, several times before."

"Yeah, that's Mr. Hennessy's van. His son was-"

"I know. One of the boys with Janet's son, in the accident. Okay. Stay here."

"Oh God, Cilla, don't go over there." Angie grabbed at Cilla's arm. "He's just awful. Mean son of a bitch. I mean, sure, what happened was terrible, but he hates us."

"Us?"

"All of us. It's a by-association kind of thing, Dad says. You should stay out of his way."

"He's in mine, Angie."

Cilla crossed over, met the bitter eyes in the thin, pinched-mouth face through the windshield as she crossed to the driver's-side door. A lift van, she saw now. One designed to handle his son's wheelchair.

The slope of the shoulder put her at a disadvantage-slightly off-balance and several inches lower than the man who glared out at her.

"Mr. Hennessy, I'm Cilla McGowan."

"I know who you are. Look just like her, don't you?"

"I was sorry to hear you lost your son last year."

"Lost him in 1972 when your worthless kin crushed his spine. Drunk and high and not giving a damn about anything but himself, because that's how he was raised. Not to give a damn."

"That may be. I know those three boys paid a terrible price that night. I can't-"

"You're no better than she was, thinking you're better'n anybody else 'cause you've got money to spend, and expecting people to kowtow."

The well of Cilla's sympathy began to dry up. "You don't know me."

"Hell I don't. I know you, your kind, your blood. You think you can come here where that woman whored around, let her kids run like wolves, where she cost my boy his arms and legs, his life?" His anger slapped out, bony fingers, in short, brittle blows. "You think you can buy some wood, some paint and use it to cover up the stink of that place? Shoulda burned it down years back. Burned it to the godforsaken ground."

"It's a house, Mr. Hennessy. It's wood and glass."And you, she thought with no sympathy at all, are a lunatic.

"It's as cursed as she was. As you are." He spat out the window, barely missed the toe of Cilla's boot. "Go back where you came from. We don't want you or your kind here."

He pulled out so fast, fishtailing, that Cilla had to scramble back. She slid on the slope, lost her balance and went down on her knees as Angie ran across the road.

"Are you okay? Jesus, Jesus, he didn't hit you, did he?"

"No. No." But her eyes were narrowed, iced blue, on the speeding van. "I'm fine."

"I'm calling the police." Quivering with indignation, Angie pulled a hot pink cell phone out of her pocket. "He spat at you! I saw him, and he nearly ran you over, and-"

"Don't." Cilla put a hand to the phone as Angie flipped it open. "Let it go." She sighed, rubbed at her knee. "Just let it go."

"Are you hurt? You went down hard. We need to look at your knee."

"It's okay, Mom."

"Seriously. I'll drive you down to the house, and we'll see if you need to have it checked out. That old bastard."

"The knee's fine. I'm not hurt, I'm pissed off."

As if to stabilize, Angie took a couple of whooshing breaths while she studied Cilla. "You don't look pissed off."

"Believe me. Whoring around, wolves, cursed, your kin. Asshole."

Angie laughed. "That's more like it. I'm driving you down to the house, now don't argue."

"Fine. Thanks. Does he act that way to you?" Cilla asked as they crossed to Angie's Honda.

"He snarls and sends what you could call burning stares, mutters. No spitting. I know he's gone off on Dad. And I mean, God, do you know anybody with more compassion than Dad? Just because he was friends with Mr. Hennessy's son, and the rest of them, doesn't make him responsible for what happened. He wasn't even there that night. And clue in, you weren't even born."

"He's got the sins-of-the-father thing going, I'd say. If he wants to drive by, stop and glower and think bad thoughts, let him."

At the end of the drive, Cilla opened the car door. She took a breath herself now, and realized she felt better, more level, she supposed, with Angie there. "Thanks, Angie."

"I want to look at your knee before I go."

"The knee's fine." To prove it, and to change the mood, Cilla swung into a quick tap routine on the patchy lawn, and ended with a flourish while Angie giggled.

"Wow. I guess it is fine."

"Nice stems, doll." Steve stepped onto the veranda, tattoos and tool belt. "And who's your friend?"

"We're not friends," Angie said, "we're sisters."

"Angela McGowan, Steve Chensky. Steve's a friend from L.A. He's giving me a hand for a few days."

"Maybe longer." Steve smiled, big and bold.

"Angie's just home from college, and heading out to meet some friends."

"I am. I'm late. You tell him about Mr. Hennessy," Angie ordered, climbing back into her car.

"Mr. who?"

"I will. Have fun."

"That's the plan. I'll be back. Nice meeting you, Steve." With a wave out the window, she did a neat three-quarter turn and drove out.

"Your sister's hot."

"And barely legal, so hands off."

"'Barely' would be the key word. You gotta love that McGowan DNA."

"No. No, you don't. How's it coming in the attic?"

"It's fucking hot. They need to finish getting the AC up and running. But it's coming along. Get your tools, doll. Daylight's wasting."

"I'm right behind you."

HE'D BEEN RIGHT about the heat. Cilla calculated she'd dropped a couple of pounds in sweat alone by the time she unhooked her tool belt for the day. She treated herself to a long, cool shower in her one nearly completed bathroom. Paint and light fixtures yet to go. And thought about fixing herself an enormous sandwich.

She ate it in solitary, pig-out splendor on her back veranda, and imagined the blooming shrubs, ornamental trees, the colorful plants in place of the hacked overgrowth. She imagined a rugged stone bench under the spread of the big sycamore and pictured the new slates and bricks on the patios and paths. The drip of willows at the pond, the shade of red maples, the glossy beauty of magnolias.

Not cursed, she thought, rubbing lightly at the knee that was a little stiff and sore. Ignored, neglected for too long, but not cursed, despite the accusations of a bitter old man.

She'd put up a martin house, and hummingbird feeders. And the birds would come. She'd plant a cutting garden with her own hands-after she researched what should be planted-and draw more birds and butterflies that would wing about as she harvested blooms for vases.

She'd buy a dog, one who'd chase sticks and squirrels and rabbits, and she'd have to chase him when he dug in the gardens. Maybe she'd even see if she could hunt up an appealingly ugly one, like Spock.

She'd have parties with colored lights and music with people wandering through the house, over the lawn, filling it, filling it with sound and movement. Pulses and heartbeats and voices.

And she'd wake up every morning inside a home. Her home.

She looked down at the paper plate in her lap, watched the tear plop. "Oh God, what's this?" She rubbed her hands over her wet cheeks, pressed them to the tightness in her chest. "What's this, what's this?"

On the sagging veranda facing the ruined gardens, she sat alone while the sun slid toward the mountains. And gave in to the sobs. Meltdown, part of her brain thought. Had to happen.

Dogs, people, colored lights? Failure was a lot more likely. No, the house wasn't cursed. It had good bones, good muscle. But wasn't she cursed? What had she ever done that mattered? What had she ever finished? She'd fail here, too. Failure was what she did best.

"Stop it. Stop this crap."

She choked back the next sob as she pushed to her feet. Grabbing the plate and the half-eaten sandwich, she marched inside, tossed them away. Breathing slowly, she splashed cold water on her face until it was drown or suck it up. Steadier, she went upstairs, deliberately applied makeup to conceal her pity bout, then picked up the copy of Gatsby.


She carried it across the road and knocked on Ford's door.

"This is handy," he said when he came to the door. Spock stopped his aliens-at-the-door trembling and raced forward to press his body to Cilla's legs. "I was just going over a short list of excuses, deciding which one to pick that covered going over to your place. I was sitting out back so I wouldn't appear to be obviously casing your house."

She stepped in, handed him the book. "You said I could keep this here."

"Sure. The letters?"

"Yeah." Because the dog looked up at her with love shining in his protruding eyes, she crouched for a moment to scratch and rub him into ecstasy. "I'm in a mood. I don't want them in the house right now."

"Okay."

"Would you read them sometime, when you get a chance? I think I'd like someone else's take."

"That's a relief. Now I don't have to fight a daily war between curiosity and integrity. I'll put them in my office. Do you want to come up a minute? I've got some sketches I think you'll like."

"Yeah." Restless, she thought. She felt restless, itchy, a little headachy. Better to keep moving, keep doing. "Yeah, why not?"

"Want a beer, some wine?"

"No, no. Nothing." Alcohol wasn't the best idea after a meltdown.

"Where's Steve? I thought I heard his bike a while back."

"He went out. He said he wanted some action, maybe he'd play a little pool with some of the guys on the crew. I think he's hoping to get lucky with one of the landscapers. Her name's Shanna."

"Shanna and I go back. Not that way," he said quickly. "Been friends since we were kids. Me, her, Bri, Matt."

"Nice. Nice to have friends you go back with. Oh. Wow."

He had two boards loaded with sketches. Action poses, she thought. Mid-leap, mid-stride, mid-spin. In all she looked-there was no mistaking her face-she looked strong, fierce, bold and brilliant.

Everything, she realized, everything she didn't feel at that moment.

"I'm thinking tattoo. I got hung up on that. Now I'm figuring out what and where." He tucked his hands in his back pockets as he gave the sketches a critical study. "Small of the back, shoulder blade, biceps. I'm thinking small and symbolic, and somewhere people wouldn't notice it on Cass. Or better, it's not on Cass, but forms when she changes to Brid. That way, it's not just a symbol but part of the power source."

He narrowed his eyes as he scanned the sketches. "I need to figure it out before I start on the panels. The story's outlined, and I like it. It holds up, but..."

Because Spock had begun to whine, Ford glanced over. And his trend of thought snapped into tiny pieces. Tears streamed down Cilla's face.

"Oh man. Crap. What? Why?"

"Sorry. Sorry. I thought it was finished. I thought I was done." Backing up, she swiped at her cheeks. "I have to go."

"No. Uh-uh." There might have been a hole spreading in the pit of his stomach, but he took her arm, and his grip was firm. "What's the matter? What did I do?"

"Everything. Nothing."

"Which?"

"Everything's the matter. You did nothing. It's not you. It's me. It's me, me, me. That's not me." She gestured wildly toward the sketches. The tone, the gesture had Spock slinking over to his bed. "I'm nothing like that. I can't even gear myself up to have sex with you. Do you want to know why?"

"I'm pretty interested."

"Because I'll end up messing it up, ruining it, then I won't have anyone to talk to. I don't make things work. I screw up everything, fail at everything."

"Not from where I'm standing." Baffled, he shook his head. "Where's this coming from?"

"From reality. From history. You don't know anything about it."

"So tell me."

"For God's sake, I was washed up at twelve. I had the tools, I had the platform, and I screwed it up. I failed."

"That's bullshit." His tone was matter-of-fact, and so much more comforting than soft sympathy. "You're too smart to believe that."

"It doesn't matter that I know it's not true-exactly. But when you're told you're a failure over and over, you start believing it. That goddamn show was my family, then bam! Gone. I couldn't get it back, not the family, not the work. Then it's do concerts, live shows, and I can't. Stage fright, panic attacks. I wasn't going to take pills."

"What pills?"

"God." She pressed her fingers to her eyes, grateful the tears had stopped. Spock slunk back over, dropped a half-chewed stuffed bear at her feet. "My manager, my mother, people. You just need something to smooth the edges, to get you out there. So you can keep bringing in the money, keep your name in the public consciousness. But I wouldn't, I didn't, and that was that. So there's bad movies, horrible press-then worse from some viewpoints, no press. And Steve."

Wound up, she tossed out her arms, paced the room. "I jumped into marriage two seconds after I turned eighteen because finally, finally, here was someone who loved me, who cared, who understood. But I couldn't make that work.

"I tried college, and I hated it. I was miserable and I felt stupid. I wasn't prepared, and I didn't expect so many people to actually want me to fail. So I did. I matched their low expectations of me. One semester and I was out. Then there were voice-overs and humiliating bit parts. I'd write a screenplay, no, couldn't do that, either. Photography, maybe? No, I sucked. I had income, thanks to Katie-and the fact, which I found out years later, that my father went to the wall to make sure my income was legally protected until I was of age.

"I was in therapy when I was fourteen. I thought about suicide at sixteen. Hot bath, pink candles, music, razor blade. Except after I got in the tub, I thought, this is just stupid. I don't want to die. So I just took a bath. I tried things. Maybe I could manage someone else, or do choreography. Name it. Tried it. Bombed. I don't get things done. I don't stick."

"Take a breather," Ford ordered, in such stern, authoritative tones she could only blink at him. "You were a cute kid, a cute, talented kid on TV."

"Oh hell."

"Just shut up a minute. I don't know how these things work, exactly, but I'd have to guess the show had run its course."

"And then some."

"But nobody took into account there was a kid involved, one who'd grown up on that show and who had to feel as if she'd been ripped away from her family. Orphaned. Who might feel it was her fault."

"I did. I really did. I know better, but-"

"Anybody who offers much less pushes tranquilizers on a fourteen-year-old girl to get her to perform ought to be shot. There's no gray area there, not to me. You're not going to be able to claim those events as your failure. Sorry, they're off the list. Actually, it's a clean sweep," he continued as she stared at him. "College didn't work, writing, photography, whatever. It's not failing, Cilla, it's trying. It's exploring. You had a marriage that didn't work, and you've managed to remain friends-real friends-with the ex? That's a failure? See, that comes up strong in the plus column for me. And how about the houses back in California that you fixed up and sold? If you've hit a snag across the road, you'll just have to unsnag it."

"I haven't." She pushed at her hair, managed to take a clear, easy breath. "Things are actually going really well. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I can't believe I dumped all this on you. I had a meltdown earlier, and I thought I'd finished it off. For some reason the sketches opened the floodgates again."

She bent down, stroked Spock as he continued to look at her with great concern. She picked up the tattered little bear. "This is disgusting."

"Yeah. He's had it awhile. He only gives it to people he loves."

"Well." She leaned forward, kissed Spock on the nose. "Thanks, baby. Here, you better have it back."

His tail wagged as if to say, Crisis over, and he took the bear back to his bed.

"What brought on the meltdown in the first place?"

"Oh boy."

She walked away from Ford, from the sketches, to the window. The sun had dipped down behind the mountains so its light haloed their dignified peaks. The sight of them-distant, a bit aloof-was comforting.

"My half sister stopped by today. Angie, who I often think of internally as my father's daughter. I don't often think of myself that way, or didn't. It was easier not to. She's so there. Happy, smart, pretty. A nice girl, but not so nice you can't stand being around her. I haven't made any particular effort there, or with my stepmother. Cards and an appropriate gift at Christmas and on birthdays. I didn't recognize her for a minute, she's cut her hair, but that wasn't why. Not really. I just blanked at first. I felt stiff and awkward, and she didn't. So I have to feel guilty about that, which makes me feel more stiff, more awkward, and she's just bubbling over, happy to see me. No pretense, no agenda."

She sighed now, irritated with herself. Big whiny baby, she thought. Just can't stand that everything's going well. "I'd been congratulating myself on having the gates taken down-the symbol of it-and planting trees. Opening things up, putting in roots, looking to the future, and she made me realize I keep skimming over people and relationships, like a stone skipped over a river. Don't want to sink in."

"Maybe you're more treading water awhile now."

She glanced back. He looked so damn good, she thought, in the ancient sweatshirt, torn jeans, ragged hair. "Maybe I am. Anyway, while we're standing there talking, and I'm trying to figure it out, Mr. Hennessy pulls up across the road. I've seen his van out there before, just sitting there. Angie recognized it."

She turned around. "Did you know he's slapped out at my father and his family?"

"No. Maybe. He's a hard man, Cilla."

"So I found out when I went over to talk to him. He pretty much blames me and all my kin, as he put it, for what happened to his son. The house is cursed, I'm a whore like my grandmother, and so on. He actually spat at me."

"Bastard."

"I'll say. Then he pulls out so fast, I lost my balance, and Angie's all mother hen."

"You should call the cops. They'll talk to him."

"And tell him not to spit on my shoes? Better if I just make sure he doesn't have the chance to do it again. I'm done feeling sorry for what happened to him before I was born. I thought I was just pissed off, went back to work and sweated it out. But later, I guess it just all hit, resulting in the massive pity event I've just shared with you."

"I'd call it a more medium-sized event, and that it illustrates you're way too hard on yourself. I don't know anything about building houses, but I do know the person in charge of what's going on across the road. She's no screwup. She's smart and bold and she works for what she wants. She may not have the mystical powers of the goddess but..." He tapped one of the sketches. "That's her. That's you, Cilla. Just the way I see you." He took down one of Brid, gripping a two-headed hammer in both hands, her face alive with power and purpose.

"Take this one, put it up somewhere. You feel one of the events coming on again, take a look at it. It's who you are."

"I have to say, you're the first person to see me as a warrior goddess."

"That's not all she is."

Cilla looked from the sketch up into his eyes. There was tightness in her chest again, but not the sort that presaged tears. It was the flexing, she thought, of something starting to open again. "Thanks for this, and for the rest. As payback..."

She turned, had his pulse bounding when she lifted the back of her shirt, bent just a little at the waist so her jeans gapped at the spine. And there, at the base, in deep blue, the three lines of the triple spiral curved.

He felt the punch in his libido even as it hit the intellect. "Celtic symbol of female power. Maid, mother, crone."

She glanced over her shoulder, eyebrows cocked. "Aren't you smart?"

"I've been researching." He stepped closer to study the tattoo. "And that particular symbol was top of my list for Brid. That's freaking kismet."

"It should be on her biceps."

"What? Sorry. Very distracted."

"Biceps." Cilla turned, flexed hers. "It's stronger there. Not as sexy, maybe, but stronger, I think. And if you go with the idea of having it form when she transforms, it's a bigger statement."

"You were listening."

"So were you." She lifted a hand, touched his cheek. "You're good at it."

"Okay. We need to get out of the house now."

"We do?"

"Yeah. Because I could talk you into bed now, and I really want to. Then we'd both wonder if it was because you had a bad day and I was just here. Angst and awkwardness ensue. So... let's go get ice cream."

Another key word had Spock deserting bear and bed and leaping up.

Smiling, she stroked her fingers down to Ford's jawline. "I want you to talk me into bed now."

"Yeah. Shut up. Ice cream. Let's go."

He grabbed her hand, pulled her along. The dog passed them at a run in a race for the front door.

"You're a confusing man, Ford."

"Half the time I don't understand myself."

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