Tucker: Opening Scene (version 3-ish)

So, sometime last fall I decided to dust Tucker off and take another whack at it. 5 whacks, actually. The results are… not going to be shown here. 3 are incomplete and the 4th is an experiment I was attempting – a hybrid of prose and screenplay formatting. Not pretty. Though I’m not convinced it couldn’t work in a different setting… but I digress.

So, Tucker. Thing wasn’t working so I whined to JB who came back with something to the effect of, “Change your setting for the opening scene. Just because you want it set in the bar doesn’t mean that’s actually where it has to start.” In other words: kill your darlings. Oi.

New setting and POV (and the 5th whack), enter stage left:

Tucker Smith snapped rubber duck yellow latex gloves onto her hands and prepared to do battle. Hands fisted on hips, she surveyed her enemy – a precarious pile of crusted dishes and pots to the left, sink-full of hot soapy water in front of her, gravity defying stack of empty chinese take out containers and pizza boxes to the right above an overflowing trash can. Doable, she decided. With a hazmat suit and a flame thrower.

She sighed. To the casual observer the place looked like a horde of frat boys tanked on The Dew and freedom from parental supervision had roosted in the tiny bungalow in Venice Beach, California. The casual observer would be shocked, no doubt appalled, to find that a moderately successful businesswoman and her teenaged daughter were the authors of this tragedy. Screwing up her courage, Tucker stepped to the sink and forcefully took up a small pot. Time to get scrubbing before one of her neighbors peeked in the window and called Child Protective Services on her.

Bon Jovi pumped from the iPod docked on the kitchen table behind her, declaring “We’ve. Got it. Going. On.” She gave herself over to the backbeat and began powering through the dishes. The iPod shuffled through a vast and eclectic range of music compiled by both herself and Emma. Strangely enough, all the long hair and bad girl rock belonged to her, while the classical, jazz and show tunes came from her daughter. To each her own, she supposed.

Movement out the window caught her eye and she glanced up in time to see an urban stealth mobile – compact, silver, four door sedan – drive slowly along her street in the late afternoon sunlight. No one drove that slow, even in a residential neighborhood, unless the were lost or looking for a lost pet. Frowning, she watched the passenger pull a camera with a huge lens up to his eye.

A tiny chill laced up her spine.

Tucker shook it off. She was being ridiculous. This was Venice – if there wasn’t a film crew or three on the street on a day ending in “Y”, something was catastrophically wrong – like the Big One had finally hit and turned Las Vegas into beach front property. Clearly these were lookee loos, star hunting. She chose to ignore the car and got back to work.

Once she got started, she found she couldn’t stop. Within an hour she’d found not only her kitchen counters, but the kitchen table as well. She wasn’t sure that it’d been seen since the Clinton administration. She noticed the afternoon out the window had edged to dusk. It’d been a while since she’d seen that, too.

Tucker was the sole proprietor of a local bar and grill a few blocks over in a small stretch of surf, occult and trendy second hand clothing stores. The Last Call had been in that location for longer than she’d been alive and her first job upon arriving in Los Angeles had been waiting tables she now owned. Seven years ago she’d broken open her piggy bank and mortgaged the bungalow to the hilt to buy it when Jake, the owner, decided it was time to retire Jimmy Buffet style.

That’s when her meager housekeeping skills and gone completely to rust.

Life as they’d known it ceased and became a never ending routine of waking up, getting Emma to school, going into the Call’s tiny office to try and knock some sense into the bookkeeping, open for lunch, rush out to pick Emma up and drop her off at a friend’s, piano lessons or haul her back to the bar and work like a dog through the dinner rush, the after dinner rush, and the midnight snack rush. It was grueling and she loved every minute of it. Well, almost every minute.

Somehow she and Emma survived and thrived through it all. Her baby was blooming into a royal pain in the ass – thirteen years in the making – but Linda, her honorary mom, assured her it was par for the course, and all things considered, Tucker was getting off easy. Sydney, Linda’s actual daughter and Tucker’s best friend, just laughed her ass off and pulled Emma out of harm’s way whenever she found exactly the wrong button on her mom.

It was no secret that without Sydney and her family, she and Emma would never have made it this far. Recently “this too shall pass” had become her mantra. So much so, Emma’d set it to music and liked to play it for the regulars on the stand up piano Tucker had managed to squeeze into the Call. Smart ass kid.

She couldn’t live without her.

The phone rang, startling her out of her reverie. She scrambled to pick it up before the machine caught it. “Hello?”

“Whitney Fields?”

Tucker froze. The caller was a man, a voice she didn’t know. One that couldn’t possibly know her.

“Hello? Is this the residence of Whitney Tucker Fields?”

With no capacity for speech, Tucker shook her head. No. This couldn’t be happening.

The voice got impatient. “Hello? Lady, you there?”

“No,” Tucker said softly. Then she cleared her throat and found her own voice. “No. I’m sorry, you have the wrong number.”

“Are you sure?”

Tucker stifled a hysterical giggle. “Yes, I’m quite sure – there is no… Whitney Tucker Fields at this residence.” She slammed the phone into its cradle and shook for a moment, letting the wall support her. What the hell was going on?

The phone rang again and she jumped out of her skin. Then she got mad. This wasn’t happening; she wasn’t going to let it. She snatched the phone on the second ring and barked, “Wrong number! Stop calling!”

“Mom?”

Oh shit. Emma.

“Mom? What’s going on?”

Tucker took a deep breath. “Nothing, baby. Just a prank call. Got to me is all.”

“Oh, ok.” Just like that, the lie was accepted, digested and set aside. Emma had more important news. “Mom, we found The Dress!”

Tucker managed to smile at the excitement in Emma’s voice. “Fantastic, baby. Now we just have to keep it in pristine shape for the next six weeks until you actually need to wear the thing. I’ve seen your closet – that’s no easy task.”

Emma took a superior tone. “Syd says that it’s never too early to shop. Finding the right dress for a solo performance at the Disney Music Hall is a delicate matter that takes planning and precision.” And shoes and jewelry and the “right” handbag – Tucker knew the drill. Shed been on the receiving end of Syd’s shopping prowess too many times before. The woman made Rachel Zoe look like an amateur. She cut to the chase.

“How much?”

“Um…”

Oh that did not bode well for Tucker’s bank account. She pinched the bridge of her nose trying to stave off the headache creeping up behind her right eye. “Emma, don’t you remember the budget we talked about? You’re an “A” student in geometry so I know the math didn’t throw you.”

“Algebra II, mom.” Tucker could hear the eye roll through the phone. “Syd said not to look at the tags, she had it covered.”

Oh god. “Put her on.” Emma sighed and Tucker could hear the phone passing hands. “Syd.”

“Tucker.” Sydney mimicked her menacing tone.

“What have you done?”

“Nothing you wouldn’t have if you’d been here with my credit limit and total disregard for parental instructions.”

“Sydney!” Tucker wailed.

“Lighten up, T. The dress didn’t break the bank. Neither did the shoes. That handbag might – isn’t that fabulous?”

Tucker heard Emma coo in agreement. Before she could snap an order to unhand the handbag Sydney continued, “Look, sweetie. This is my treat. One day the kid’s gonna be super famous and I’ll be able to say that I shopped for her way back when.”

Knowing she wasn’t going to win this argument – at least not over the phone – Tucker decided to let it go. “Uncle. Are you headed home?”

“I thought I’d take the kid to dinner, unless you need her home now?”

Tucker sighed, feeling suddenly exhausted. The euphoria of a clean kitchen had popped like a soap bubble and now all she wanted was a hot shower and a fat glass of wine. Feeling only slightly guilty about not wanting to share the evening with her precious only child she said, “That’s fine. But not too late, Syd. I think she’s got a test tomorrow.”

“Pffft. I’ll have her back in time to dance with the prince before it all goes to hell and the pumpkin repo crew shows up.”

“Nice.”

“See ya.” And on that note, Sydney clicked off her cell.

Tucker replaced the handset, managing to not slam it this time. She regarded the phone for a thoughtful moment and then deliberately pulled it off hook. She wasn’t up for any more phone calls this evening. If there was an emergency, she rationalized, Emma, Syd and the bar knew to call her cell.

Determined to write the first call off as a prank, she basked in the cleanliness of her kitchen. Then she spied the two bulging black trash bags leaning against the door. Once the trash was out she could have that shower and that glass of wine – maybe even simultaneously. Now that sounded like dinner plans.

Grabbing both bags, she hipped the back door open, then jogged down the steps and made her way around the corner to the trash cans. Dark had made it’s entrance and she’d forgotten to flick on the porch light. Normally that wouldn’t have fazed her, but tonight she was feeling a little edgy. Stupid prank call. The bags went into the can with more force than necessary. She had to calm down, this was ridiculous.

“Whitney Tucker Fields?”

Tucker jumped and spun around. There was a man just a few feet from her – she never even heard him come up behind her. Suddenly a camera flash blinded her and it was followed by more. “She’s over here! It’s her!”

Tucker threw an arm up to protect her eyes, but it was too late. Less than ten feet from her house she would have been hard pressed to reach out and stumble into it as a mob of paparazzi descended on her, snapping pictures and yelling questions.

“Were you abducted? Was there ransom? If you ran away with a European prince, how did you end up in Venice Beach? Is it true you had a sheik’s secret baby?” And more similarly ludicrous scenarios. Tucker tried to push her way past them, in to her house or out into traffic – she didn’t know or care, she just had to get out of there. Now.

Someone got a solid grip on her arm and pulled her out of the paparazzi mush pot. She tried to break loose, but found it impossible. Still blinded she felt herself being dragged up the back porch steps and then shoved through her own door. Blinking rapidly in the dim light she scurried to a kitchen drawer, yanked it open and found a large, and newly clean, chef’s knife. Whirling around she faced her abductor… savior?

A tall well dressed man stood by the door. He locked his eyes on her briefly before half turning to throw the deadbolt behind him, locking them in. He raised a brow in amusement at her knife but didn’t say a word as he quickly moved to the window over the sink and pulled the shade down. Tucker stood rooted to her spot stupefied as he left the kitchen. She could hear him moving around the house repeating the process. Holy mother of god, this could not be happening. Not. Be. Happening.

But it was.

The man came back in and flipped the light switch, flooding the room with fluorescent light. He watched her a moment and then smiled his slow wicked smile. Tucker’s heart stopped.

“Hello, Tuck.”

And that was how Whitney Tucker Fields Smith reunited with Joshua Campbell, III, the boy who’d gotten her pregnant and then vanished without a trace thirteen years, eleven months, and ten days ago.

So you may or may not have noticed that I changed more than the setting. At some point I decided to royally muck things up simplify things by giving Josh and Tucker a connected past… and a secret baby. Hey, this thing was written as a target to Harlequin so it really seemed like a good idea at the time. However my natural inclination (and JB’s ultimate wisdom) have lead me to revert back to Tucker and Josh being relative strangers, connected by the future rather than the past.

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