“CHANGING MENTAL CHANNELS (So You Don’t End Up in Podunk When You Wanted Emerald City)”
by Glenn Younger
Creating a story from reader’s input—rough first draft.
Chapter 17: Fundraiser Fallout
The ballroom reeks of new money, filled to capacity with men wearing various styles of evening black, and women wearing their labeled colored finest. Tandy wears the Cleopatra wig and one of Marc’s bridesmaid’s dresses, a deep purple with cinched waist and flowing skirt. Her only accessory is the camera she’s using with studied effort to get the perfect shots that’ll prove her worth the Mimi.
The concert has finished to enthusiastic applause, and networking is going strong. Business deals are being made. Ever present social connections are being jockeyed for. All the while, AUM colleagues are trying to get precious contributions for the greater good of the Foundation. And Tandy is stuck behind her camera, unable to charm her way to donations thanks to her stupid pride.
It started when Mimi saw Tandy’s attire at the beginning of the evening.
“Well, this is a twist.” Mimi draws herself to her full height and towers over Tandy even more than usual. “Where did you ever get the idea this was a costume party?”
“I thought—” Tandy blushes and spouts her pre-thought out lie. “I’m dressed to support tonight’s headline song, “Cleopatra Spirit.” It’s all for the cause, right?”
“Not bad.” Mimi falters for a split second before waving Tandy off with a quick hand clap. “Well chip-chop. Pictures won’t take themselves.” As Tandy turns to leave, she adds, “Out of curiosity.”
“Yes?” Tandy asks to fill the silence.
“In your estimation, if you were the only photographer here tonight, do you think you could handle all you’d have to do this evening to get the job done properly?”
“Yes,” Tandy says with her chin lifted in defiance. “I do.”
“Good,” says Mimi, “because you are the only photographer tonight. So let’s see what you’re made of.”
“But,” Tandy’s voice weakens. “You told me there’d be another photographer.”
“Are you up to it or not?” Mimi lets her words sit between them in accusation of Tandy’s incompetency. “I can always call in Piergiuseppe at the last minute if you’ve changed your mind.”
“How am I going to be responsible for photos AND get donations?”
“My dear, you should have thought of that before you offered your services as photographer.”
“I suggest you first concentrate on photos, and then try to pitch to someone you already know.” Mimi shakes her head in false regret. “You really must learn to think things through before you commit to them.” With that, Mimi turns to greet one of the guests.
Fortunately, Tandy still has the back-up plan that she and Edwina cooked up the night before—with Marc’s very reluctant warning to be careful with Mimi, and for God’s sake don’t do anything to the matching bridesmaid’s dresses.
Where is Edwina?
Tandy uses her camera lens to scout the crowd, and still get a few shots in.
“Psst! Tandy!” Edwina’s forced whisper catches her attention. “Over here. Behind you!”
Tandy gives a furtive look around her and catches a glimpse of Edwina’s black wig peeking out from behind a nearby column.
“Where have you been?” Tandy keeps her voice low. “You’re not supposed to be on the same side of the room as me. It’s too dangerous.”
“I know, but people have been drinking enough, they’ll mark it up to seeing double.”
“Not funny, Edwina. What if we get caught?”
“We won’t.” Edwina pulls the bangs of the wig further down on her forehead. “Besides, this is important.”
“You signed a donor?” Tandy’s face lights up with hope.
“I almost had one,” Edwina says. “But then Spir-bit came up, so I had to split quick when she asked me where my camera was.”
“Oh my God! What did you say?”
“I mumbled something and got out of there pronto.”
“Good.” Tandy lets out a sigh of relief. “You haven’t spilt anything on the dress, have you?”
“Spot free,” Edwina says. “Except of course, the one the model made on the shoot. That Marc is a cool cucumber. Didn’t blink an eye, and got a matching one delivered in no time.”
“He’s too old for you Edwina.”
“Time and age are not always linear, you know.”
Tandy rolls her eyes, and says, “So what’s so important?”
“Relax your stomach muscles first.” The sudden look of concern on Edwina’s face underneath her black wig makes Tandy’s muscles clench.
“What is it?”
“You’re not going to believe who’s here.”
“Tandy!” Mimi’s voice calls out. “Over here dear. We need a picture.”
“Spir-Bit!” Edwina’s eyes are two round saucers.
“Maybe she didn’t see you. Go!” Tandy hisses.
Edwina darts away, and melts into the crowd.
Tandy slaps her camera to her face to make it look like she’s been working. She turns. Mimi’s beaming social smile is tainted with a hint of malevolence. Tandy gasps when she locks eyes with Karl’s shocked ones through the camera lens. Click. Rebecca has her arm interlinked with Karl’s on one side, and Mimi’s on the other. Click. Karl’s smile for the camera doesn’t hide the plea for forgiveness in his eyes. Click.
“I don’t believe you’ve ever met Rebecca Morley,” Mimi says. “She was one of the first members of AUM back in Berkeley, before we had an official name.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Tandy says mechanically.
“And this is her fiancee, Karl Cramer.” Mimi puts a small emphasize on the word fiancee. “Do you two know each other?”
What an evil bitch, Tandy thinks. Aloud, she falls back on well-ingrained social skills of the South. “Yes, we have. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I was wondering what you’d gotten up to.”
“We’ll have to catch up,” Karl says in a tight voice. “Soon.”
“Not too soon,” Rebecca says with a cheerful tone and a calculated look as her eyes scan Tandy from head to toe. “We’ve got all the wedding plans to make, you know.”
“Where are those Southern manners of yours?” Mimi’s voice drips saccharine sweetness. “Aren’t you going to congratulate them?”
“Of course,” Tandy says without making eye contact with Karl. “Congratulations. When’s the big day?”
“Next month.” Rebecca squeezes Karl’s arm.
“Have you booked your wedding photographer yet?” Mimi asks. “Tandy might be looking for freelance work soon.” She turns to Tandy. “Why don’t you send them your portfolio to help them make a decision? I’ll give you Rebecca’s contact info tomorrow.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Karl cuts in with practiced ease. “I’ve already booked one.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Rebecca gives Karl a warm smile. “You’re getting involved after all. You don’t know how happy that makes me.”
They make polite excuses to move on, and Mimi gives Tandy’s back a small pat with one last parting shot. “Always looking out for you dear.”
Tandy wants to scream out every swear word she’s ever known at Mimi’s sweeping departure, even make up a few of her own combinations that would make a sailor on shore leave blush to the roots of his Navy buzz cut. She doesn’t, of course. Instead, she makes a beeline to the open bar with the heavy metal music of Clenched Fist raging in her head. She’s always hated their music, but now it makes sense to her.
“Scotch. Neat,” she says to the bartender in a shaky voice.
“Any brand in particular?” he asks.
“Good taste,” he says with an approving nod. When Tandy sets her camera on the bar, he adds with a wink, “Taking advantage of the open bar?”
“Something like that.” Tandy downs it on one go. “I’ll take a sequel, please.”
“It’s not often you see a lady who goes for scotch,” he says, ready to take advantage of the lull. “They usually prefer wine or the punch bowl.”
The lyrics, “Desperate times for desperate measures, things could be a whole lot better,” play in her head. They spur Tandy onwards towards some yet unnamed mission. She knocks down the second shot, grabs her camera, and leaves without further comment.
The next twenty minutes pass with the camera glued to her face. Tandy makes her way through the crowd photographing people with one furious focus in mind: Photograph the lies and power games around her. Click. Click. Click.
The smiling couple with the wife clenching her hand. Click. The two men in negotiations, chests puffed out over swollen guts. Click. Three women with heads thrown back in laughter, and the fourth one wearing a puzzled frown. Click. A bored waitress carrying a half-filled tray of hor d’oeuvres. Click. Karl looking away from Rebecca with a look of longing on his face. Click.
Tandy swings her camera to follow the object of his attention. Edwina’s back is to him. Click.
The thought crosses her mind, He thinks Edwina is me.
Turns the camera back to Karl. Click. The group has pulled his attention back in. Click. Close up on Karl. Click. Click. Click.
Her heart catches in her throat. Now, “The Rose” is playing the soundtrack in her head. Once again, it’s Karl’s song. Click.
His back straightens and his head turns towards her direction, like people do when their instincts say eyes are on them. Tandy turns on her heel and heads towards the crowded area of the buffet and punch bowl.
The effects of the scotch have fortified her, but not quite enough. She pours a glass of punch and welcomes its cold sweetness.
“Tandy.” Karl’s voice is low in her ear.
She stiffens against his familiar energy at her back. “Don’t talk to me,” she says with a telltale catch in her voice and a rigid backbone.
“Let me explain,” he says.
The smell of his aftershave is so achingly poignant, it clouds Tandy’s mind. He’s saying something about a drunken one night stand. Pregnant. The alcohol fuzzed his thinking. That’s why he doesn’t drink without food anymore.
“So I will be true to you,” he says. “Please. Give us chance.”
“Why?” Tandy says quietly.
“Because I love you. Only you.”
“No.” Tandy turns. “Tell me why it happened the way it did.” He’s so close, she feels his intensity emanating in dizzying waves of familiar sweetness. She holds onto the table behind her for support, rather than fall into his arms like habit tells her to.
“You have to understand.” Karl scratches his nose, and steps to his left to hide Tandy from the rest of the room with his larger frame. “Men are compartmentalized thinkers. It’s like our sex drive is in the rhythms of Miami and our rational brains are in the bustle of New York. It was the alcohol that fuzzed my thinking,” he reminds her. “Not my heart.”
“So.” Tandy swallows. He’s saying the same thing that Marc had gotten so angry about. She shakes off the thought. “Then why did you deny knowing me in the park?”
“I’m trying to do the right thing. Fix it. I can’t upset her until the lawyers legally work out custody arrangements and visiting rights.” He touches her arm. “You’ve got to believe me.”
Tandy wants to believe him. His oh-so-familiar touch almost convinces her. Almost.
“Why didn’t you call?” She takes a small step to her left.
“I lost my phone.”
“You could’ve used someone else’s,” Tandy accuses him even as she’s sighing with inner relief. Good. This explains it. And maybe he never got my message.
“Honey, I wanted to give you time to cool down. God knows cool heads always prevail. You’re the most important thing in the world to me, Tandy. I didn’t want to blow it more than I already have—” His phone rings. “Dammit. I’m so sorry, it’s Tokyo. Give me just one minute.”
When he puts the phone to his ear, Tandy sees the small gold star embossed on the back. She’d gotten that gold star engraved as a surprise six months ago.
You cheating two faced liar. You’re going to pay for this.
With pursed lips, Tandy coolly takes the phone from Karl’s unsuspecting hand, and holds it behind her over the punch bowl.
“You,” she says in even tones, “are a liar.”
“Give me the phone.”
“You want it?” Tandy gives a defiant smile that dares him to argue. “Make a fat donation to AUM. Right here and now.”
“Tandy.” Karl’s voice is calm, but firm, like he’s giving a command to a trained dog. “Give me the phone.”
“Write the check,” Tandy counters in the same tone. “Twenty-thousand dollars will do.”
“I’m on a business call.” Karl’s eyes dart left and right to make sure they aren’t being noticed by gossiping eyes. “And you’re making a scene.”
“Write the check, Karl.” Clear warning is in Tandy’s voice. “Now.”
Tandy shrugs. “Have it your way.” The phone makes a splashing plop when it hits the liquid sweetness. As Karl leaps to retrieve his precious phone, Tandy leaves with two curt words. “We’re done.”
The one driving thought on Tandy’s mind is escape. As she’s weaving her way through the crowd to the coat room, she comes face to face with Mimi. They both stop in their tracks.
“Excuse me,” Tandy says, ready to keep moving.
“Have you had success with donations?” Mimi asks archly. “The others have.”
“Not really.” Tandy lifts her camera to her shoulder, and aims the lens in Mimi’s direction. Click. “My camera and I have been busy.”
“I saw you talking with Karl Cramer. Any luck there?” Click.
Tandy looks back at Karl who’s drying his phone off with the edge of the table cloth.
“He’s considering a twenty-thousand dollar donation,” she says.
“Oh, that’s a shame.” Mimi’s laugh has a shrill edge to it. “Rebecca just made a donation of thirty on their behalf. Looks like that fountain is dry.”
“Looks like,” Tandy says through clenched teeth. I need to get out of here. Escape. Now. You can’t, though. You need the money.
“There is always your mother, you know.” Mimi poses with red lacquered nails around the stem of her champagne flute with practiced elegance.
She looks like a hungry panther with claws extended, Tandy thinks as she straightens her back in determination. Click. No, by God, I WILL NOT let her. When a half-formed idea comes to her, one that promises escape and fight at the same time, Tandy speaks before it’s fully formed.
“As a matter of fact, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Tandy says in well-mannered tones. “It’s just an idea—about my mother—but I think you’ll like it.”
“Oh really? You have my attention.”
“Mom’s going to be in Cincinnati at a Spiritual Arts Fair.” Tandy doesn’t bat an eye at the bold-faced invention she hears coming out of her mouth.
“Going back to her roots where she got started?”
“Something like that.” Tandy squares her shoulders to face Mimi head on. “I think it’s best that I have a face to face with her, don’t you think? After all, it’s you who taught me that negotiations are always better face to face than on the phone, right?”
Mimi takes a studied sip of champagne. “Are you asking for a plane ticket to Cincinnati?”
“Actually, I think it’d be better to drive.”
“You’re going to burn a good chunk of your last eleven days on a road trip?” Mimi’s nostrils quiver with a suppressed smile. “Really?”
“Whatever it takes to get the job done.” Tandy inclines her head towards Mimi. “Isn’t that what Master Mimi teaches?” The calculating tilt to Mimi’s head is almost imperceptible, but enough for Tandy to recognize how it is in her best interests to pull back with a warm smile. “So would a piece of Mom’s art be interesting enough for you to invest in a rental car? That way I can warm her up to the idea on a drive through her favorite areas of Kentucky. You know, some good mother and daughter time where I can plead the value of AUM and all the good work we do here.”
Mimi holds eye contact with Tandy over the rim of her champagne glass for a full minute before she says, “I’m not in the habit of investing money with little guarantee of return. However, as a token of my belief in you, I will loan you one of the company cars.”
“Well, that’s a wonderful option,” Tandy says with equally false warmth. “I think it’s best I leave tomorrow morning early. Where can I pick it up?”
COMMENTS are open for business. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and ideas. Or just cheer me on in this NaNoWriMo challenge of getting a rough draft of a new novel finished by November 30.
**What are your thoughts on Tandy’s approach to her problems at hand?
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