Dark Bowers, Ch. 5

Lawrence

Anna had brought Ted and Kore back with a wry smirk on her face. Lawrence wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. The two hikers had been gone for a while, and they’d obviously been swimming and in the sun for a while. Maybe they’d gotten up to something other than just hiking and swimming, but then, that was kind of the point of the whole exercise. Lawrence had brought them out here to enjoy themselves, of course, and whatever form the others wanted that to take was perfectly fine with him. Hell, he had a few ideas of his own on the subject.

Ted hadn’t paid Lawrence much mind at all upon their return, but then, that was nothing out of the ordinary. Ted was a quiet lumbering giant. Lawrence had known plenty of jocks and athletes over the years, but never one quite like Ted. There was a humility to him that most of the rest had lacked, and it manifested as a certain thoughtfulness. Anna announced their return, Ted saw the food preparation that Lawrence and Madison were doing, sniffed the air, and said, “Smells good, guys. I’m going to take a shower.” Nothing unusual about that.

Kore, though, had regarded Lawrence with a look that made him uneasy. Something he didn’t quite have a word for, oddly enough. She walked through the kitchen with her eyes fixed on Lawrence, her lips pursed, a slight frown playing at the edges. Was it disappointment? Disgust? Fear? All of those things seemed unlikely, but what else could it have been? “Yeah,” she’d said. “Smells amazing. I’m going to shower, too.”

“Don’t take too long, you two!” Lawrence had called out, making sure he had the cheerful voice and the gracious smile of the good host. “If you don’t hurry, we’re starting without you!”

* * *

The five of them sat at a pine dining table big enough to seat twice their number, two to each side and Lawrence at the head. He’d envisioned the whole dining experience in his head while he’d peeled and whipped and cooked and seared the meal. It would be the perfect summation of the man he’d become in college. He would serve his friends to show them how humble and down to earth he still was. He would take their orders and build their plates for them to show them what he’d learned about service. And he’d be serving them decadent food, more than they could hope to finish in a single meal to show them that he was a classy motherfucker, to boot. It would be perfect.

Dinner was an exquisite spread. Mixed greens with a balsamic vinaigrette. Pan-seared rib eye steak with rosemary butter. Garlic mashed potatoes made with heavy cream. Pale ale, stout, cabernet, merlot, riesling, scotch, bourbon, rye. Butterscotch pot de crème for dessert and port to wash it down. It had taken a week of planning, all afternoon to prepare, three people working in the kitchen (although to be fair, he had done most of the work. Anna and Madison had helped some, sure, but mostly they had just distracted him. Albeit in the best way possible.)It was a decadent repast to be shared with four of his best friends, the model, the artist, the activist, the athlete, and he, their king, the entrepreneur.

There were a few hiccups once the food was actually on the table. Kore had looked at the steak like it was a dog that might bite her. Oh, goddamnit. She’s probably a vegetarian. Hell, that didn’t even occur to me.

“Not a fan of steak?” Lawrence had asked as playfully as he was able.

“Oh, no, it’s not that. I just try to eat sustainably.”

Larry leaned forward, pointing with his fork. “Well, you’ll be pleased to know that that’s pastured, grass-fed beef before you. From a farm within this state, I might add.”

Kore smiled at that. “Well, look at you! A gourmet and an environmentalist!”

“You have to be! There’s only so much Earth to go around, after all. Doesn’t do anyone any good to ruin the planet with feedlots.” Lawrence paused for dramatic effect, cupped a hand in front of his mouth, and stage-whispered, “Besides, this tastes way better.”

“Larry, this is all so rich!” Madison said with a light, high laugh, half-compliment, half-complaint. “It’ll ruin my diet!”

“Just try a little bit of everything. You can always work it off by hiking or swimming in the lake. Or other ways.” Lawrence winked. “And if nothing else, your diet can wait just one week, can’t it?”

Ted and Anna, thankfully, ate graciously and without complaint.

They finished the food and poured another round of drinks. They laughed, they smiled, they shared new stories, they reminisced over old adventures. Madison talked about Europe, about traveling, her plans to move to Los Angeles and break into the entertainment industry. She knew a group of people from college, she said, who had moved out there immediately after graduation, writers and directors and producers, and she would join them, and together they would be rising stars. “I mean, they don’t do anything big, you know? Short films, little comedy sketches, video reviews. You know, stuff like that. But they were asked to move out there. A producer had seen their work, and he liked it so much, he asked them to come work for him. And then Brad, that’s the guy who’s, like, the brains of the whole thing asked me to come work for them.” She grinned, the wine she was drinking loosening her tongue and bringing an easy smile to her lips.

Lawrence smiled too, smiled at her energy and the raw happiness she exuded in that moment. “That’s amazing, Mads. I’m so happy for you. Hell, I didn’t even know you acted.”

“Oh, I don’t. I mean, I’ve done a few shorts and some student films and stuff, but I didn’t, like, do any theater or anything in college.”

Across the table, Kore frowned. “Wait, how are you going to be an actress without any real acting experience?”

Madison pouted. “I have acting experience. I just don’t consider myself an actress. It’s a matter of humility, Kor-Kor. I don’t consider myself an actress the same way…” She paused to gather her thoughts, swirled the wine in her glass, took a small sip. “The same way that, if I were trying to be a writer, I wouldn’t consider myself one until I was published.”

Anna frowned at that. Lawrence was only dimly aware of her displeasure, being principally focused on nodding in agreement to the wisdom pouring forth from Madison’s lips (and being principally focused on her lips in general.)

“And besides,” Madison continued. “They’re not just hiring me for my acting skills. Every production house needs a gorgeous blonde on retainer, after all.” She grinned and laughed softly at that, as if it were a joke and not the gospel truth.

“Yeah, but this is Los Angeles we’re talking about.” Anna said. She picked up her glass, absinthe louched with cold water and sugar, because Lawrence had thought of everything, and held it before her, considered its mysteries. “I mean, isn’t the city just full of… Oh, nevermind.” Madison’s eyes narrowed to slits, her mind undoubtedly finishing Anna’s sentence for her. “Good for you, Mads,” Anna went on. She smiled. “Really. Don’t forget us little people once you’re living the good life.”

Madison smiled at that, although Lawrence couldn’t rightly say if it was because she’d accepted Anna’s snark as a momentary lapse in civility brought on by alcohol, or if it was just that thing women did where they were catty bitches to each other. The female equivalent of a pissing contest. Or a dick-measuring contest. Some kind of contest, at any rate.

No matter. It was Lawrence’s God-given duty as the host to steer the conversation onto something more polite. “So, Anna. We know Madison’s going to be a big movie star, and Ted’s obviously going to get a multi-million dollar deal with some pro-football team. And of course, I’m only a few years away from starting a tech company, getting some venture capitalist money, and selling out faster than you can say, ‘Michael Birch,’ but tell us, what kind of shenanigans and glory are in your future, hm?” Before Anna could respond, Lawrence cast a glance sideways at Kore and winked. “Don’t worry. You’re next.”

“New York,” Anna said. “Or San Francisco. Or Portland. Austin. Paris.” She sipped her absinthe. “Maybe Los Angeles,” she said dragging out the word maybe for a few extra syllables. “Maybe. But ugh. Los Angeles.”

“And what, exactly, is wrong with Los Angeles, hm?”

Ah. Catty bitchiness it is, then.

Anna opened her mouth, closed it. Another sip. She was considering her words carefully, deciding whether to return the serve and get a good rally going. “Too much traffic. Too spread out. Everyone has to drive everywhere. There’s no good public transit system.” She gave an exaggerated shiver, as if the very idea was physically repellent. Which, honestly, it kind of was. Ugh. Los Angeles. Lawrence would take San Francisco and Silicon Valley any day of the week.

“Don’t all those cities have traffic problems, though?” Ted said, his words ever so slightly too liquid in his mouth. He wasn’t quite slurring his words yet, but after five beers with a sixth in his hand, he was getting there. “I mean, cities suck. Can’t drive anywhere in any of them.”

“Yeah, but at least you can walk in the others. Can’t walk in LA. And besides, how many great writers and artists come out of Los Angeles compared to a place like New York?”

“Charles Bukowski,” Ted replied immediately. Lawrence arched a single eyebrow at that. Even Madison and Kore seemed surprised that he’d been able to pull that out of nowhere.

Anna snorted. “He was a drunk.”

“Raymond Chandler,” Ted shot back.

“The hard-boiled detective guy? Genre fiction doesn’t count.”

“What about Ray Bradbury?” Kore offered. “They named that building after him.”

“Genre fiction doesn’t count!”

“Plus, the building wasn’t named after him,” Lawrence interjected. “They just had the same name.” He drew back in his seat, blinked in confusion. “Why do I know that?”

“Wait, what are you guys even talking about?” Madison asked.

“The Bradbury building. You know, the one at the end of Blade Runner.”

“Is that a movie? I’ve never seen it.”

Lawrence’s eyes went wide at that. “How have you never seen Blade Runner? It’s a classic!”

“I don’t know. I’ve never really been into sci-fi nerd stuff.”

Lawrence frowned. That made sense, of course. Madison hadn’t been into science-fiction or fantasy or anything like that back in high school. No reason that should have changed in college. But still, it stung to hear her say “nerd stuff” like that.

She probably wasn’t into computers either. Or apps, or programmers, or engineers, or startups, or disrupting entrenched technologies, or making the world a better place, or any of that. She wasn’t into the things he was into, and why not? She was fucking gorgeous. She’d be a professional model, a budding actress before the year was out.

Jesus Christ, man. What are you doing to yourself?This wasn’t happening four years ago, and it’s not happening now.

Lawrence shook the thought from his head. That was, of course, quitter talk. No one broke new ground and carved out a niche for themselves by being a quitter.

“Well, I don’t care. LA is the heart of the entertainment industry, and that’s where I’m going to be.”

Lawrence nodded and raised his own glass, scotch, in Madison’s honor. “Amen, sister. Never quit.”

Madison turned to Lawrence and smiled at him. God, she’s beautiful. Green eyes and blonde hair and that smile and that body. “Would you move to LA, Larry?”

“Oh, no. I hate Los Angeles. Silicon Valley or bust, baby.”

The table erupted into laughter at that. Or rather, Ted, Anna, and Kore did. Madison blushed from embarrassment (or possibly turned red with anger,) and Lawrence went pale from the realization of what he’d just said and how she’d interpreted it. Scotch, you have betrayed me. Save it! Save it! “I mean, maybe in a couple years, who knows. Maybe once my company’s founded and done its IPO, but you’ve got to put your career first, right? That’s why you’re going to LA, I’m going to Silicon Valley, and Anna’s going to New York so she can be Basquiat or whatever.”

“Or whatever,” Anna said, sticking her tongue out.

Lawrence turned to Ted and Kore. “I mean, that’s why you’re doing training camp, right, Ted? And Kor, you’re going to…” He trailed off. Invited her to finish the thought Instead, she just looked down at her half-eaten steak.

“I don’t know yet. I’m still figuring it out.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that, Kore,” Ted said. He put his arm around her, patted her on the shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, Lawrence saw Anna frown. Madison was still pouting, undoubtedly still felt as though she had been ganged up on.

“So!” Lawrence said, a bit more loudly than necessary. “Who wants dessert?”

 

Word Count this Post: 2,206

Total Word Count: 13,189/50,000

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