At The Point
Rating: PG 13
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on the characters established and defined in the movie. It is strictly for entertainment purposes. Please do not copy, publish or alter this work in any way without the written permission of the author.
“There are worst ways to spend a day, you know?” Roberta said after thanking Rick for her Coke.
“What do you mean?” Ilaria asked from the other side of the booth.
“Did you ever think that this place has probably the world higher rate of gorgeous men per square mile? Even without mentioning all Russell’s incarnations, we also have a handsome doctor and a very good-looking waiter. I can grow accustomed to this.”
“But Rick is Jeff’s soul-mate.” Evelyne objected.
“I know, but taking a good look at him is not against the law or his religion.”
“No, I don’t think so,” the French woman replied smiling.
“Trisha, I remember you once wrote that you were a fervent admirer of Bud’s thighs and this made me think to something….. Do you think that ‘Chelle would object if we’d promote a law forcing the Boyz to only wear shorts and vests?”
“That would be COOL!” Stef said, thinking to a hot-looking Hando in shorts.
“Yes.” Trisha added grinning and a bout of laughter exploded in the Tavern.
Arthur who was passing by, busy in some errand, was puzzled but decided not to ask. The ladies were nice, but he wasn’t too accustomed to face so many new people at the same time. He was walking by a booth, when one of them suddenly got up and avoided to run into him for mere chance.
“Sorry, Arthur, I wasn’t looking. It wasn’t my intention to stomp your feet.” a tall dark-haired woman told him.
“No problem, Roberta” (he remember her as one of the Italian contingent), he replied politely. “You didn’t” he added blushing. The woman bent a bit toward his ear and whispered :”Don’t worry, I don’t eat babies.”
Arthur stammered and got beet-red, while she walked toward the bar.
“Andy, would you please bring something to eat to our booth?”
“Back in a tic, Roberta. Nice shirt.”
“Thank you, Andy.”
Cort who was lost in his thoughts in front of a beer looked at her. Having overheard his brother’s words he took a look at the shirt and laughed.
“Thank you Cort. But what are you doing all alone here?”
“I was thinking at the wedding.”
“But aren’t the bride and the groom those supposed to be nervous? Not a guest.”
“I’m not a guest, I’m the officiant.”
“Now I know why you were so concentrated.”
“Yes, this would be a first for me and I’d hate to ruin everything.”
“I don’t think this would be possible.”
“Thank you. You’re kind.”
“You, too. And I wanted to let you know that I really loved your movie.”
“You did? It isn’t exactly one of the most famous.”
“Yes, but I always loved western movies and RC was great portraying you.”
Cort blushed and Roberta smiled.
“Don’t thank me so much, I’ve not collected my halo from the laundry so I cannot let myself go. See you soon.”
“I hope so.” he replied, watching her returning to the booth.
“Roberta, what were you plotting with the Preacher?” Trisha asked grinning.
“Nothing, just talking.” was the reply.
“I like your shirt and I think Bud is going to like it, too.” the English woman said.
“I hope so.”
“What am I going to like?” the cop asked coming closer.
“Hi, Sweetheart. Take a look at her shirt.”
His eyes went to the shirt that read “Treat me like a lady! My best friend’s name is Bud White!” and a pic of him holding a shotgun.
“That’s cool. Really nice.” he said with a broad smile brightening his features.
“I loved your movie. One of the best I’ve ever seen. Together with Gladiator and The Quick and the Dead.”
“We know, we know,” Ilaria offered, hiding a laugh and Roberta stuck out her tongue to the Italian friend of hers.
“So, Ladies, what were you talking about?” the cop asked with a charming face.
“About gorgeous men and wonderful legs. Did you ever considered to borrow a short tunic from Max’ wardrobe?” Trisha asked innocently and he blushed profusely.
“Gotcha!” Roberta said and they all laughed, Trisha and Bud included.
“You’re going to freeze your tits swimming in that cold water.” a male voice said, startling her a little. She took a look and seeing the light of a cigarette and the unknown accent she guessed that she had met Hando.
“I’m moved by your concern about my well-being but you’re too young to be my mother, not to mention that you’re wearing the wrong underwear to apply for the job. And my tits are fine, right now.”
“Smart-ass, aren’t you?” the young man asked with a laughter in his voice.
“That was impolite, Hando,” an older voice replied and the woman in the water swam toward the poolside.
“Sorry General,” the skinheads said and Roberta smiled recognizing the newcomer.
“General Maximus, glad to meet you.”
“Same here, but please, just call me Maximus or Max,” the Spaniard said helping her to climb out from the water.
“Thank you very much, Maximus,” she replied smiling at him. She tried very hard not to stare at him, not too much, anyway, but he was so handsome that it wasn’t easy and he was wearing a tunic! She grinned at the thought of earlier suggestion.
“What makes you grin?” the general said, catching her smile.
“Nice painting, it’s a real tattoo?” Hando asked as she turned her back to him, to grab her towel.
“No, it’s painted with henné. Do you like it?”
“Yes, it’s good. But – generally – sheilas don’t like this kind of drawings.”
“A winged dragon? Yes, I think so, but a romantic little rose is not for me.”
“Judging by your size, probably you would have needed a whole bush.”
“Keep this on and you’re going to taste by yourself is the water is cold or not, Hando.”
“Wow, the sheila is touchy.”
“No, why do you think so?” she asked innocently, before turning in a flash, shoving the skinhead into the pool.
The splash was loud, echoed by Hando’s cursing when he emerged from the water.
“Ops, I thought I made him angry. Sorry, general, I’ll see you later. I think this is the right time for a grand exit before he comes out from there,” she said giggling and started to run toward the tavern. Max’ laughter followed her in the night.
She was near the door when she nearly collided with two people coming out. It was a couple, dressed in deep black clothes and she recognized them from the descriptions she had read over the Internet.
“Glad to meet you, Dark Lady.”
“Glad to meet you.”
A gentle cough interrupted their hug when Lady’s companion starved for attention.
“Oh, sorry. Roberta this is Sid, the one and the only.”
“I’m so glad to meet the nicest android of the planet.” the Italian replied with a bow. “I’ve a question for you that’s bugging me: Do you dream of electronic sheep?”
Sid looked at her puzzled, and then began to laugh out loud.
“But the replicants weren’t exactly androids, just genetically enhanced humans. I AM A TRUE ANDROID.”
“Yes. And you look great in black, better than in purple even if I admit that your walk in the shopping-mall was just great.”
“Did you like it?” Sid asked nearly purring.
“Of course I did. My favorite in the whole movie. But please forgive me but I must go or either I’m going to freeze or get clubbed by an enraged Neo-nazi coming this way. If you meet Hando, tell him that you didn’t see me.”
“But why?” Lady asked.
“Long story, see you later.” Roberta said hurrying to her room.
Sid looked at her before stating: “Nice legs and a very good taste in movies.
“I’ve reasons to be.”
“I know. Let’s go out, Sid.”
“Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà…”
The other words got lost while John was closing the door. He didn’t recognize the singer, but the music resembled to the Italian Operas that Tina loved so much, so he guessed it was something like that. It was a strange kind of music for an ice ring, but the woman who was skating in time with the music seemed not to care. He hadn’t meet her yet, so he could just guess. A few particulars told him that she could be Roberta.
“All’alba vincerò……” the singer was yelling from the loudspeakers and even if he didn’t understand the words, he recognized the power in the music, beginning to understand why Tina loved Operas so much. He went on looking at the solitary skater until she ended of her knees singing together with the unknown tenor. He clapped and the woman turned to him.
“I didn’t know I had an audience,” she said turning in his direction. “Please be kind with your judgment because I’m not a good skater, but I like it.”
“Do you like skating?”
“Yes, despite the nearly total lack of cohordination and balance.”
“Do you like hockey, too?”
“I’m afraid not, but I always watch Dance Skating. An Italian couple won the last gold medal.”
“Wow, that’s good.”
“I hope that this would convince Italian TVs to show some sports different from soccer.”
“Judging from the TVs the one and the only.”
“You are Roberta, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and you must be John, the groom. My compliments for the wedding.”
“Thank you. I’ve heard about your feat yesterday night at the pool. Why did you throw Hando into the water? That’s not the wisest thing to do.”
“Yea, Daddy. That’s what people keep telling me but he was teasing and I hate being teased. I’ll offer him a VB to try to bury the hatchet.”
“Smart move. An Aussie beer is something that could talk to his heart. Why are you skating so early in the morning?”
“There are so many things to watch, that I didn’t want to waste a minute of my stay here. I was going to leave, I leave the ice for you.”
“No need to go, we’ll share the space.”
“No problem, I was ready to go. I must prepare for the bridal shower. English is strange, you know. I’ve always been convinced that a shower should involve water and soap, not gifts and getting dressed.”
“You have this sort of thing in Italy, too?”
“Yes, but we don’t call them showers.”
John laughed while she unlaced her skates and headed back to the hotel.
“John, a last thing,” she said before leaving the rink. “When you’ll see my present, bear in mind that it was meant with good intentions in my mind.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“You’ll know quite soon.”
Roberta was entering the Hotel when she saw Cort going out with a cooler.
“Hi Cort, going for a party?”
“Hi Roberta. As a matter of fact I was going at Max’ training area with some refreshments for the “warriors””.
“Would you mind if I join you? I just have to go back to my room and change clothes.”
“Not at all. I’ll wait for you here.” he answered smiling and she thought that it would have been easy getting lost only looking at him. She hurried toward her room, changed clothes at the speed of light and returned where Cort was waiting for her.
“I’m back,” she said breathless from the run.
“You were fast. I wonder why they say that women take ages to change dress.”
“Probably because the majority uses stockings, high heels and make-up which I don’t.”
“I don’t think you are in desperate need of high heels,” he replied, restraining himself from paying a compliment about her legs that could have sounded impolite even if not willingly.
“Thank you. I don’t like them because my feet aren’t fond of being squeezed in those expensive little torture devices. I think I have one of the biggest collection of sport shoes outside the Adidas’ show room.”
They both laughed and started to walk toward the training area. They chatted all the way, making the path seemed shorter and they were welcomed by the sound of weapons colliding.
She could nearly hear the notes of Hans Zimmer sounding in the clearing and she admired the fighters’ skills with envy. When the “duel” between Hando and Kaz was over she clapped enthusiastically. All the people in the training area turned toward the newcomers smiling, apart from Hando that was scowling.
“Before killing me, Hando, bear in mind that you have witnesses and a murder by the sword would be hard to justify. And I brought Aussie beer.”
The younger man’s frown lessened a bit, while his lips tried to hide the smile that was tugging them.
Roberta opened the cooler and produced a cool VB.
“I’m forgiven, Mighty Tattooed Warrior?”
Much to everyone surprise Hando laughed and accepted the beer, gulping it in moments.
“I take this as a yes?”
“Yes, Smart-Ass Sheila.”
She joined him in the laugh toasting his beer with her coke.
They walked back toward the Tavern without hurrying and Roberta thought over how easy was to listen to Cort talking about the life at the Point. The English-speaking girls called his way of talking “Western drawl” but she just liked the way he spoke. All RC incarnations shared the warm voice of their creator and this added a lot to their considerable charm. They arrived where some of the Boyz were playing rugby, or since they was most Aussies, footie, and decided to stop and take a look. They found a seat on the bleachers and followed the game for a while, where Terry and Bud were also watching.
“Are you enjoying the game?” Bud asked her after a while.
“Until now I haven’t understand how it works but they seemed to be having a lot of fun so I suppose I like it.”
“You don’t have rugby in Italy?”
“Yes, we have but I don’t watch the games. I must confess that I’m not so interested in watching grown-up men trying to knock each other’s flat on their asses and getting paid for it.”
Bud laughed and so did Terry and Cort.
“That’s unfair. Rugby is a renowned sport all over the world.” the Aussie said smiling.
“Sure, playing in the mud without your mother telling you to stop and wash for dinner. That’s why you Boyz love it so much.”
“Of course. That’s the idea under the spirit of the game,” Terry replied and when Roberta grinned back at him she saw Steph looking at her with a strange expression. She was thinking to ask her what was wrong, but an oval ball arrived from the field and she had barely the time to duck, before the projectile could hit her full in the face.
“Hey!” she said when the situation was safe again “Who’s trying to get rid of me so soon? This was attempted murder.”
“Sorry,” Colin said walking toward the bleachers. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Are you OK?” he added looking contrite.
“Those puppy-dog eyes will get you far, O’Brien, but please be careful. I would hate to attend at the wedding in a wheel chair. And bandages don’t go with my outfit.”
“What are you planning to wear?” Bud asked. He was curious to know what the ladies were going to sport at the wedding and some advance information was welcome.
“Swear on Trisha’s head that you’re not going to say this to any of the girls,” Roberta whispered in his ears.
“On her head and my honor.”
“Well, this should be enough. Black leather trousers and a coral turtle-neck pullover.”
“That sounds great.”
“I hope so. Not a word, you promised.”
“Yes, but may I say something to the Boyz?”
“Yes, but not to Andy or Sid. I don’t want an announcement from the roof top of the Tavern.”
“You know Andy?”
Arthur was close to panic. He had been happy and more than ready to help Michelle in organizing the wedding, but there was so much work to do and so little time that he doubted about his ability in doing everything that he had been asked to. And now he had to prepare the invitation cards for the evening supper and the computer had started to acting up. For once in his life, he thought he was going to swear in frustration. He rubbed his bloodshot eyes from too many hours staring at the screen and got up, headed to the Tavern for a drink. He needed a short break and things weren’t likely to go worst than they already were. Andy wasn’t there so he helped himself with an orange juice and prepared to return to the office.
“You look tired. Need help, Arthur?” Roberta asked and he was very proud of himself because he didn’t jump in surprise finding out that he wasn’t alone, as he had supposed to be.
“Nothing. Just the computer started to acting up when I need it the most.”
“Computers tend to do so, they love attention. This sort of reminds of Sid. Would you mind if I take a look? My work-mates often say that computers seem to respect me.”
“But you’re a guest here, you’re not supposed to be working.”
“No worries, Mate, as the brothers’ of yours from OZ would say. I’ll just take a look.”
Arthur smiled a little and she thought how different he was from most of his brothers, so young and sweet. They went back to the office where the stubborn machine was. She sat down in front of the screen and tried the first moves to teach a computer to behave. At first, it seemed reluctant to accept to be tamed, but soon it began to answer to her ministrations and the acting-up ended with the machine purring like a patted pet.
“I think it’s fixed. What were you doing before it began going astray?”
“I was trying to prepare the invitations for the evening supper, but I’m more into accountancy than in graphics. And I must be careful not to forget someone.”
“Arthur, I don’t want to seem a meddler, but would you mind if I help you with this? I’m no good at accountancy but I like computer graphic.”
Arthur pondered about her words, it was his job, not hers, but she had been able to fix the computer, so she probably could probably help him.
“If you want.”
“All right. Let see what we have here to play with,” she said taking a look at the programs in the machine. She spotted some things that she knew and started to whistle.
“What did you have in mind for the cards? Classical or Trendy?”
“Michelle told me that Tina’s stationery for the wedding is classy, so I think we should follow the same path.”
“All right. Do you only have white paper or something colored?”
“We have a sort of vellum-paper that had been ordered for the celebration after the Oscars.”
“That’s a start and do you have somewhere a list of all the people attending?”
“Yes, it’s in the database of the hotel.”
“Even better. Now let’s start to invent something.”
They worked together for a while, using some features offered by the computer whose existence Arthur would never had guessed and soon they had very nice cards for everyone attending at the dinner, in alphabetical order, too.
“That was great, Roberta. This allows me to be in time with my schedule and I can devote myself to something else.”
“I was happy I could help. And if you want a piece of advice: never let a computer scaring you. They’re just fast idiots.”
“I’ll bear this in mind.”
Arthur saw her walking away and when he returned to look at the screen he said.
“Until this moment, my friend, you’ve been playing. Now it’s just the two of us, so I’ll teach you some manners.”
The machine buzzed, apparently concerned by the change in his tone.
Colin looked with some dejection at the small pile of chips in front of him, compared to the one in front of Bud and the even bigger one in front of Roberta.
“It’s not that you teamed with Bud, is it Roberta? You two seem having a lot of luck.”
“O’Brien, this afternoon your tried to kill me and now you’re accusing me of cheating. That’s highly unfair. And you cannot say that I have aces up to my sleeves because I’m not wearing sleeves at all. It’s just that we play better, so stop whining and go on playing.”
“But where did you learn to play like that?”
“At home. When I was 7 my father taught me to play cards. Many different games and I was a fast learner.”
“I see,” the Aussie replied, muttering something about sheilas playing poker.
“Swearing won’t help you, Mate,” she added grinning and the mechanic reddened. Bud laughed out loud and Roberta gave him her most innocent smile. She looked up, seeing Cort coming in the game room. For a moment, she looked distracted. Colin noticed the look and hoped that the preacher could stay around for a while, just to give him time to recover from his losses.
After a while, Roberta left the poker table, replaced by Terry, to join Cort who was playing pool with Jeff and Rick. She looked at the plumber and his soul-mate, feeling that it was a nice thing that they had found each other. Things must have been rough in the beginning for Jeff in a place full of brothers and girls and nobody for him. They looked happy and this was the true magic of the Point. It was obvious that they were in love and their happiness was catching.
Cort was trying a hard shot and when he succeeded she complimented with him.
“That was great. An amazing utilization of physics.”
“I never thought about pool this way, but you could be right.”
“Is it difficult? It looks so easy when I see you, but I suspect it wouldn’t be the same for me.”
“I can teach you, if you want.”
“Of course, but I will have to “pluck” Colin more frequently to pay the carpet on the table if I destroy it with a bad move.”
“It’s the translation of the Italian word. I don’t know the US expression, so bear with me. It could be “fleece””
“Probably,” Cort added laughing. “So do you want to try?”
“Of course.” Roberta replied and she just missed the huge smile plastered on Colin’s face.
“Long live to the inventor of pool and Sam Raimi,” he said to Bud, while he shuffled the cards.
Roberta and Cort were so concentrated on the “lesson” that they didn’t notice when Rick and Jeff went to the bar for some refill.
“Boring game?” Zack asked.
“No, but the other player got distracted,” Rick said grinning and the bearded man turned toward the table. As a matter of fact Cort was just showing to a tall woman how to hold the cue and to do so he had come very close to her.
“I see. He looks taking his ‘mission’ really seriously. Cort’s nearly draped over her.”
Jeff smiled inside thinking at when he was trying not to fantasize about Rick and he had discovered much to his surprise that pool could be a really interesting game, depending on who was playing it.
“He’s preacher, not a monk,” the plumber said. “She’s one of the new arrivals for the wedding.”
“She’s the one who shoved Hando into the pool?” Zack asked.
“Yea. I’ve heard that she was taking a midnight bath and Hando was there. They spoke and he ended up into the water, dressed,” Rick added, reminding Hando passing by dripping water and cursing like a sailor.
“And she’s alive to tell? Hando’s becoming a softie.”
“It must be Trisha’s influence,” Jeff said and the three of them laughed.
“Ciao Roberta, tutto bene? (Hi Roberta, everything’s alright?)” a female voice asked and the Italian raise her head to greet Ilaria and Massimo.
“Sì grazie, Ilaria. Cort mi stava insegnando a giocare a biliardo.” (Yes, thank you, Ilaria. Cort was teaching me to play pool.)
They continued to speak in English in order not to cut Cort off, who was listening to their exchange, trying to sort our what they were saying. The preacher greeted the newcomers and they chatted while he continued his explanation.
“Do you speak Latin, too?” Cort asked to Roberta when he noticed that Italian looked quite similar to some words in Latin he had heard.
“I used to study Latin when I was young and I can recognize some of the words, but I cannot speak it. The only thing I remember is a joke I read once in my book. There was the warder of the graveyard what was taking a walk among the tombs and reading the stones observed ‘Hic jacet, hic jacet et ego solum laboro” or something like that, that means ‘here lies, here lies and I’m the only one who’s working.”
He laughed out loud and she soon joined him.
“I never thought that pool was so hilarious,” Zack observed from the bar.
“Who knows. You learn new things everyday,” Jeff said and raised his glass in a toast for the preacher and his ‘pupil’.
The Tavern was empty early in the morning and Roberta was enjoying a heavenly breakfast with white coffee, bread, butter and strawberry jam. Someone entered the room and she raised her head. Lachlan, the airman.
“G’day, Mate,” she greeted him.
“G’day. You are?” he asked with the sweet smile she remembered having seen in many picturesfrom his movie.
“Roberta. From Italy. I arrived for the wedding.”
“What are you doing up so early?”
“There are so many things to do here, that my internal clock keeps waking me up at the first lights.”
Lachlan smiled a little, before asking: “Do you like flying?”
“Yes, the only thing I hate is going to the airport. Driving to the terminal, passing the check-in, waiting hours to leave.”
“Would you like to go for a flight without waiting?”
“In your biplane, you mean? Wow! That would be great. But I’m not spoiling your plans, am I?”
“No, not at all. I was just going for an early morning flight.”
“If you’re patient enough to wait for me to finish breakfast, I’ll come with you.”
“Meanwhile I’ll drink my coffee.”
“Yes, I’m growing accustomed to it. Why are you asking?”
“Because I think that what they call here coffee is not what I call it. They’re both liquid and dark, but they belong to different kinds of reality.”
“Italian coffee is stronger, isn’t it?”
“Not only stronger. It’s completely different. Also what they have the impudence to call espresso, such as at “Starbuck’s”. I went there once or twice and I felt as if I was living a sit-com or a Monthy Phiton movie. In Italy when you ask for an espresso they return to you with a cup of coffee thirty seconds after your order. At Starbuck’s it looked like the launching of the Titanic and with the same results. First you have to figure out how to make the cashier understand what do you want because even if the “specialties” have Italian names, nobody seems to know how to pronounce them. When you think that the struggle is over you have to go and collect the coffee. This usually takes 10 minutes, because those who are preparing the coffees have usually 8-10 outstanding orders yelled by the cashier and they’re trying very hard not to make a mess since all the disposable paper cups look exactly the same. If and when you’re finally in possession of the prize, you discover that what in Italy would have been a cup of coffee is a tank full of a dark hot mixture, so hot that you cannot hold the cup without screaming in pain. And last but not least you have to use local sugar.”
“What about sugar?”
“In the States they use cane sugar which has a completely different taste from the one we’re accustomed to in Italy and continental Europe, for that matter.”
“Really? I didn’t know.”
“Yes. We use beet sugar. It’s a think dating back to Napoleon. When he started to make a war against England there was an embargo against France and this prevented the supply of sugar. To show to the rest of Europe that he didn’t need their products, he urged scientists to find a replacement for cane sugar and they discovered that sugar beets produced a very fine white sugar.”
“Yes. One point for Napoleon.”
The ride with Lachlan’s bike was fun, but just the sight of the hangar, made her heart beat faster.
“It’s really amazing,” she said looking around like a girl at her first ride on a carousel.
“We’re going to fly with the biplane.”
“That’s great,” Roberta said climbing into the small plane. “I feel like the Red Baron in this.”
“Baroness Von Richthofen, ready to take off.”
When the small plane began to move, Roberta gave up talking, just enjoying the sensation of the engine under her back. It was so different from flying on a big modern plane, but the emotion was the same. Lachlan piloted the plane, using all the skills he had acquired over the years to scare the daylight out of his companion and when she didn’t respond he thought that maybe he had exceeded and that she had fainted. When he tried a tentative look toward her, he discovered that she had a beatific smile on her face.
“Are you all right?” he asked into the radio.
“Yes, of course. I was just enjoying the ride. Very relaxing, really.” was the astounding reply.
Going back took her a long time, since Roberta decided to walk instead of hitching a ride again. The flight had thrilled her, but now she wanted some time to think. All what was happening seemed just a dream, too good to wake up and she decided to let the magic of this place going under her skin. Without knowing how, she found herself near a shore. She removed her shoes and stocks, enjoying the sensation of the sand under her feet. The sound of the sea was mesmerizing and she was a little startled when she understood she wasn’t alone anymore. Cort was sitting near the shoreline, looking at the water.
“Hi Cort, what are you doing here, all alone?” she asked and when he turned to her she saw a smile in his eyes.
“Listening to the wind.”
“I like to do it myself. Listening to the wind. I often think that I was born in a windy day, to enjoy it so much.”
“It’s so different from where I came from. So much water and sand, not dust.”
“I can understand. Where I live there are green covered mountains and a deep, dark lake. I feel strange when I’m far from the water. I’ve seen different places, big cities and prairies, but I still feel connected to the water.”
“I don’t think so. I cannot sing.”
Cort laughed and his laugh was good to her ears, probably because she had never heard him laughing in his movie. His movie. It was kind of strange thinking that he was the creation of a bunch of people working at Tinseltown. But they did a very good job, despite that the movie wasn’t exactly a masterpiece. But somehow it had managed to reach her heart.
“It’s good to hear you laugh. You hadn’t many choices in your movie, had you?” she revealed her thoughts aloud.
“No, really. Did you really like it? Many seem to barely remember it. Tina said she recalled fast hands and chains.”
“I already told you that it’s one of my favorite ever.”
“Did you see many of the Creator’s movies?”
“Most of them, save for the very old ones and even if I loved him in everyone of them I don’t like all of them. The Insider – for example – is a really good one but I thought it was utterly boring. Russell was unbelievable in it, but I was tempted to commit suicide after thirty minutes of it.”
“Don’t let Wendy listen to this.”
“I know. Dr. Wigand was a very nice person, but I prefer action movies. Always.”
“A little blood-thirsted lady?”
“Something like that. I never loved romantic comedies. I must be one of the two people on the planet who never saw Titanic. Even when I was a little girl I simply hated the “girls’ books” such as Little Women and the like. Boring, lecturing and always reminding you that girls are supposed to be kind, sweet, patient and dumb. I preferred pirate stories.”
“But when you’re not throwing teasing skinheads into cold pools, you look very kind to me.”
Roberta looked at him, moved by his words, more that she would have liked to admit.
“I think I earned myself an odd reputation here, by that. I hope Trisha and Stef aren’t going to have revenge against me for my actions.”
“I don’t think so. And you didn’t damage him. Just his pride.”
“Next time he will know better than teasing a were-mermaid.”
“A lycanthropic mermaid.”
“After Lady’s, Kaz’s and yours arrivals, this place is becoming a little weird. I think I’m going to ask to Michelle to add to our library some books about vampire, werewolves and other creatures of the night.”
“Afraid of the darkness?”
“I wasn’t, until some of you ladies began to tell stories of strange creatures lurking in the darkness of the night.”
They both laughed at Cort’s pretended fears.
Being at the Point was, for Roberta, a sort of never-ending daydream. First the flight with Lachlan, then the walk on the beach where she had found Cort.
Cort, a dangerous thought.
She had sensed sadness behind his deep blue eyes and she didn’t know what to do about it. And yet it was so sweet just to be in his vicinity. It felt good.
Yes, more than good.
Back at the hotel, she reminded that someone had mentioned a gym and she decided to give a look to it. She changed into a green tracksuit and headed there. She opened the door and the room looked like many of the gyms she had seen before, probably more roomy than most. Terry and Zack was doing some weights and she didn’t want to disturb them, so she just began to walk among the different equipments to decide what to try first. In one corner she saw something she had wanted to try from the first time she had seen Batman. A sort of swing from where you could hang, upside down, thank to a couple of “ankle bracelets” with hooks. She wore the bracelets but when she felt also like Richard Gere in American Gigolo, she realized that if she had to use her abdominal muscles to pull herself onto the thing, this was going to be ridiculous. But she really did want to try, so swallowing up her pride she went toward the other two occupants of the gym. She waited for them to look at her and she smiled.
“Hi, Mates. I’d have a request, but promise me not to laugh.”
“Why should we?” The Aussie asked grinning, a similar expression on his brother’s face.
“Well. I’d like to try that swing, I don’t know how you call it, but I’m afraid of being a tad out of shape to put myself upside down. So, would you mind helping me?”
“Not at all. But do you really want to hang from that? I never tried it.” Zack asked in disbelief.
“Yes, I must be Libra with Bat as ascendant.”
“All right, Girl. Let’s go there,” the FBI’s agent said and they returned to the swing.
“Three, two, one, …zero.” the two men said and they hauled her up until she was exactly where she wanted to be: hanging upside down. She smiled beatifically, as she sensed her spine stretching and releasing the tension from her back.
“That’s really great!” she purred and she saw two pair of equally blue eyes looking down at her.
“If you need help to come down, just whistle,” Terry said and she promised to just to so. As for now, she was going to enjoy the relaxing sensation of being weightless.
Later, Roberta was lost in thoughts as the door opened again and someone got in. She had her back toward the entrance so she waited for the newcomer to announce his or her presence.
“Feeling good?” a deep voice answered and she recognized as Maximus’. Smooth as silk, yet strong as steel. And frightening, like when he had threatened Commodus in the arena. She had nearly felt sorry for the brat Emperor. Nearly. It had been difficult to think this way, considering that she had wanted to strangle him from the first time he had appeared on the big screen.
“Yes. Definitely. This gives you a totally different point of view.”
The Spaniard laughed and she joined him, stopping when the position she was in made her cough.
“Need help?” he said, sounding worried.
“Would you like to help me to go down from this? I’m afraid that – right now – I need to feel the ground on its intended place, under my feet.”
With seemingly no effort, he helped her to her feet, steadying her when she swayed. She was dizzy, but after few deep breaths she regained her stance.
“It was my pleasure.”
“You know that when I saw your movie it was the first time ever I was a fan of the Romans?” she added smiling.
“Really? Why so?”
“I loved studying history, but I sort of preferred the Etrurians. And I despised the Greeks with all my heart.”
“What did they do to deserve this?”
“They were bloody male chauvinists, used to treat women less than animals. I know that things were different back then, but I’d also never been able to understand how could their philosophers speculate about freedom and keeping slaves. Every human being deserves respect and freedom, not only the rich and fortunate ones.”
Maximus’ eyes softened at her passionate speech.
She remembered having seen them in his movie, dreamy as he had looked the small bird flying away over the burnt ground, hard during the battle, exhausted after it. They had an uncommon color, but it wasn’t only that. It was what they revealed.
*Mr. and Mrs. Crowe, whatever mixture you used to produce your baby you did a darn good job.* she thought and smiled back.
“Here they say ‘penny for your thoughts'” Maximus asked.
“I was thinking how much you talk with your eyes. You and your brothers, alike. Apart from Sid, it isn’t hard to know what you’re thinking, unless you want to hide it, of course.”
“You can do the same, I think. I think I saw sparks the first time we met.”
“Expressive eyes make up for the fact that they’re neither blue, green or big. My eyes are brown, with brown sparks and brown light. Like a strong coffee.”
“Warm and tasty,” he answered and she prayed not to blush too much.
The most important sound in the Tavern was the buzz produced by the small talk. People were chatting in the booths, drinking, laughing, and smiling. Roberta was at a table with Maximus, Laura, Ilaria and Massimo. It was disconcerting watching the two men so close. Sometimes, it made her sniff her coke, to be assured she hadn’t taken a Cuba Libre, instead. But they were real and they were there. The chatting was held mostly in English, with touches of Italian and Latin. It was delightfully confusing. She was laughing at a joke when, raising her eyes, she saw Anthony coming in.
*Not the best of timing*, she decided and rose to meet him, before he came in close vicinity with the two Spaniards. She whispered something in Ilaria’s ears and when her friend saw what she meant, nodded her agreement.
Roberta intercepted the doctor, steering him in a place that could not be seen from her former place and after a greeting she said: “I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to come closer to them. As far as I know Max isn’t exactly fond of you and Massimo had yet to meet you. I’d stay here, if I were in you.”
The young man smiled sadly at her words.
“I know that they have reasons to hate my features, but it hurts me to know that they feel so,” he replied.
“Give them time. They are both good men, just need time. And the likeliness is really amazing. But your eyes are kinder, though. Just don’t go around yelling – am I not merciful? – and everything should be fine.” she said, trying to lighten the doctor’s mood.
“I hope they won’t need my help anytime soon. It’s not the best thing in the patient-doctor relationship when you hate the doctor.”
“Better than mine who, last time I went for a visit, nearly told me to s…….. Well to manage it by myself.”
“That’s not the way.”
“I know, but please explain this to him,” she replied grinning and took another sip of her drink, while Anthony’s smile became a little softer.
-Yes, definitely kinder- she thought watching the man’s expression.
She smiled in return.
The morning after the stag party was unbelievably quiet at the Tavern.
“Well, not so unbelievably,” Roberta added to herself with a smile, thinking at how much alcohol had been consumed the previous night. She had been a little sorry that Cort was so drunk that he hadn’t recognized her, but he had seemed so lost that she wasn’t going to chide him for that. She only wondered what could have made him drink himself into oblivion. She hadn’t drunk that much, so she was fairly good, but at the same time she was hungry. The kitchen was empty so, daring to face Annabella’s rage, she decided to fix herself something to eat. She rummaged in the drawers and fridges and this reminded her of Jack Torrance being shown the Overlook Hotel’s kitchen by the cook. She laughed to herself. Hearing steps she momentarily stopped her researches and went out. Terry was arriving together with Kaz.
“Hello, you two. Want some breakfast?” she asked.
“Yes, if you please,” Terry replied, “This is Kaz, in case you hadn’t meet her yet.”
“I did. At the training area. When she was dueling with Hando. They day when I presented the pipes of peace. Or rather, the beer of peace.”
“Yes. The better road to an Aussie heart.” the Scotswoman said grinning.
“I’m offended,” Terry said pouting.
“I was joking, Soldier.”
“I hope so.”
“About that breakfast?” Roberta said again.
“Well. What were you going to prepare for yourself?”
“Waffles, vanilla ice cream and strawberries.”
“Light breakfast to keep calories low,” Terry joked and Roberta laughed out loud.
“Yes, definitely. I do go crazy for waffles. And now that you make me think, I could add vanilla cream, too.”
“That sounds good. One for me, too. And you Kaz?”
“Another here. I have suicidal tendencies this morning.”
They joked during the preparation of the breakfast and they ate talking about the previous evening. When they all had cleaned their plates, Roberta asked what she really wanted to know.
“How’s Cort? He looked bad last night.”
“We hauled him back to bed. I bet he’s going to have a hell of a headache this morning.”
“Do you an idea why he behaved that way?”
“I’m not sure, but I didn’t ask. He was already feeling like shit and I didn’t want to dig into it.”
“You’re right. I won’t do either, but I had something in mind. Would you help me in a rescue mission?”
Roberta explained briefly and the soldier and his soul mate agreed with her.
– Knock! Knock! Knock! –
The awfully loud sound hammered painfully on Cort’s brain.
“Please stop it,” he begged, but the weak protest was muffled by the fact that he was completely covered by the quilt.
– Knock! Knock! Knock! –
“Torturers…” he muttered but didn’t even attempt to rise. He was sure that he was in any shape to stand, so he just hoped that the disturbers gave up. The ruckus ended and he tried to return to sleep, but his doze was interrupted by the sound of steps in his room.
“Something alive down there, Mate?” a male voice asked and Cort’s fogged mind had to concentrate to put a face over it. Terry. What the hell was doing Terry in his room?
“No. Let me die in peace,” he said.
“Not a chance,” another voice said. A woman’s and when he tried to sort out who she could be, someone removed the quilt from his head, replacing it with something cold. He moaned as the throbbing headache eased a little.
“What are you doing here?” Cort asked while the ice pack worked its magic.
“I don’t want to be rescued.”
“But you’re going to be, so face your destiny,” the woman voice said.
“Roberta…” Cort realized aloud.
“I’m glad you remember my name. Last night you had problems.”
Cort hoped that the blush on his cheeks would be blamed to the hangover.
“We brought coffee. Sit up and drink some.” Terry said and the preacher attempted unsuccessfully to resist to his brother’s arms helping him to lean on the headboard.
“I didn’t ask for room service,” he tried again, but a light kiss silenced him.
“Stop pouting, Cort. You’re too old and handsome for this. Please don’t start to resemble to Sid. Drink this.” Roberta said and he was just too stunned to refuse the steaming mug that she put in his hand.
“Drink it,” she ordered gently and he complied.
The coffee burned but felt good and the world stopped to spin. Not completely, but a great deal. He smiled and Roberta smiled back.
“Did I do something really stupid, last night?” Cort asked after Terry and Kaz had left the room and the caffeine had done its job on his shaken nervous system.
“As far as I know, nothing worst than drinking tequila until you passed out. I saw people doing worst,” Roberta replied grinning like the Cheshire cat.
“Like Zack and Colin lap dancing dressed and painted as hookers.”
“I wish I could remember. Or probably not.”
“You better not. But I think that someone took pics of the event so you’re going to see what you missed.”
The idea of his brothers lap-dancing put a small grin on Cort’s face, before he remembered why he had drank so much the previous night. Roberta saw the changing on his face and guessed why his expression had turned into a sad one.
“Cort, I’m not going to ask you why you drank so much because I think it’s personal, but if you feel like talking, you know where to find me.”
She grabbed his hand and instead of clenching it as the preacher thought she was going to do, she just stretched her fingers to match his. Her skin was softer, but the hand was nearly as big as his, just thinner. She remained like that for a moment, then entwined her fingers among his and squeezed gently.
Their eyes met and Cort felt his sadness gently falling away.
Going away from Cort’s room hadn’t been easy, but she didn’t want to rush things and she returned to the Tavern. There she saw Bud sipping coffee from a mug and she greeted him.
“Good morning, Officer White. You, Terry and me are probably the few ones without a hangover this morning.”
“Add Maximus, he didn’t drink that much and he stands alcohol like nobody I saw before.”
“Probably all this exercise paid out.”
“Probably,” the cop said, putting down the mug and heading outside.
“Are you going somewhere specifically?” Roberta asked, unwilling to be alone that morning.
“At the rifle range. I know that it’s safe here, but I do like exercising.”
“Would you mind if I come with you?”
“Do you shoot?”
“Only at the shooting galleries at the amusement park.”
“And were you good?”
“I’ve tons of stuffed animals to prove it. I have a lobster, a cat, a couple of frogs and a giant banana.”
“A giant banana?”
“Yes. Yellow and blue but I won it together with a friend of mine.”
They laughed and talked until they reached the rifle range. Bud showed her the weapons he kept in an armored closet and she chose a rifle. It was heavier that those she used at the amusement park, but not too much and she tried her aim. The cop gave her suggestions on how the handle the weapon without hurting herself with the recoil and she fired.
“You’re a bloody good shot, Hon. Sure that your middle name is not Calamity Jean?”
“Jean surely not, but I cannot swear against Calamity…”
The both laughed then Bud did his training with a gun. Roberta tried a .38, too, but she was better with the rifle and they both continued to fire in a friendly banter. Many bullets after, they collected their paper dummies and returned to the Tavern, comparing the shots.
“I want you to sign it,” Roberta asked Bud and he complied grinning. His signature was a rumpled scribble and when he asked her to return the favor, she signed with a huge “R” before her name and a smile above it. They parted with a friendly goodbye and she returned to her room. As she reached the door she couldn’t resist and stick the paper dummy on the outside of the door.
“Beware the shooter” she added and went inside.
She met Cort the next day while he was heading to the stables.
“Do you feel better today?” she asked trying to politely ignore the pink tint coloring his face.
“Yes, thank you. I was going for a ride. Care to come?”
“I’d love but ….. I’ve never been on a horse in my whole life.”
“This won’t be a problem, it’s easy once you’re on,” a known voice said from behind their backs and Roberta recognized Ilaria’s.
“Easy for you to say, you were born on a horse. On the other hand, I was born on a windy day and this isn’t going to help.”
“You could ride with me,” Cort offered and she decided right in the moment that she was going to have her first riding lesson. Her smile was so obvious that Ilaria whispered in her ear before going out “Che decisione sofferta. Vero Fanciulla?” (Oh, what a pained decision, isn’t it, Lass?)
“Continua così e troverai la tua stanza tappezzata di foto di Alvaro Vitali nudo.” (Keep this up and you’ll find your room covered with pics of Alvaro Vitali, naked.)
“Questa è una cattiveria. Neppure Commodo avrebbe osato tanto.” (This is cruelty. Even Commodus wouldn’t have done something like that.).
Roberta grinned and Ilaria grinned back.
“Before we go on, remember that if I look stupid, it’s just because I never rode before this morning,” Roberta said watching how big and tall the horses seemedfrom such a short distance.
“We’ll be kind. Just climb on. Everything will be better from that point of view,” Massimo added and against her better judgment she awkwardly put a feet in the stirrup and started the movement upward. Thanks God Cort helped her, unless she would have remained helplessly bound to earth. She envied the lightness and skill with which he, Ilaria and Massimo reached their positions onto their beasts.
“Now we can go,” Cort announced and she clung to his waist when the horse moved.
“This is going to be a really nice morning,” she said to herself hiding the huge grin that was trying to surface to her lips.
The group began the ride at a slow trot.
During their ride, Cort explained the off geography of the Point and Roberta was mesmerized both by his voice and the magic of this strange place. She looked at Ilaria and from the look she had back, Roberta surmised that she was feeling the same.
The happiness of the moment lasted until Roberta tried to dismount. Here abused muscles decided to show her their displease and she took a few careful steps to stretch them after having gone down from the horse.
“Something wrong?” Cort asked watching her moving awkwardly.
“Not really, just a little riot from the lower part of my body. Nothing that a warm bath couldn’t cure.”
“Any programs for dinner?” Cort asked after a beat.
“Would it be too predictable being curious about why are you asking?”
“I’d like to have supper with you, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all, at what time?”
“I’d be ready.”
“I’ll be there.”
“If you aren’t, I’m going to chase you down the whole estate.”
“So, I think I’ll better keep my word.”
They parted with a kiss that made her toes curl and she returned to her room whistling quietly.
She really liked the huge tube in her room. Plenty of space for her, the water and the bubbles of her honeysuckle bath foam. The stereo was loudly supplying a list of her favorites songs, from Queen, Tofog (quite mandatory here, she thought), Ultravox, Jon and Vangelis, The Alan Parson’s Project and Metallica. She felt so good reading a computer magazine she had bought at the airport that she didn’t want to go outfrom the water but she decided to take that hard step when she realized that she was going to turn into a wrinkled duck.
Getting ready for her date, Roberta thought that she really would have like being like Wonder Woman who could change dress just spinning around. She hated to decide what to wear and the fact that her escort was a 19th century preacher (not to mention gunslinger) didn’t help. After a while she decided for a dark green high-necked sweater with a black chenille miniskirt, black tights with a spiral design and pumps. She brushed her hair until it shone, put on a silver necklace with matching earrings and looked at the watch that only confirmed her that she was early and she was surely going to get nuts if she had to wait. In order to avoid to climb up to the walls (she knew she wasn’t really good at waiting) she switched on the computer and started to take a look at her e-mail box. Unsurprisingly it was quite empty, probably because most of the “culprits” for fatting it were at close range. She deleted useless advertising of US companies (she never understood why they kept offering her things she was unlikely to buyfrom so far away, even if her addy was clearly foreign), laughed at some jokes and when she heard a rap on the door she nearly jumped in surprise. She abruptly switched off her computer, praying that it would boot again the next time despite the abuse and went to the door.
Cort was dead on time and she had to refrain from producing herself in a wolf whistle. He was dashing in dark brown jacket and trousers and what she had always thought was a typical John Wayne’s white shirt. She once had read the definition “eat someone with a spoon” and she thought it suited her present mood.
“Good evening,” he said gently, distracting Roberta from her dangerous thoughts. “You look great,” he added and she replied with a smile.
“I can say the same for you, Cort.”
His eyes widened at the unexpected compliment and she thought that it was so sweet knowing that he didn’t realize how handsome he was, with his blue gaze and the long hair that begged to be touched. She didn’t resist the temptation and pulled out her hand to brush his honey brown hair. When Cort looked at her puzzled she replied truthfully: “Sorry for being so forward, but I always loved men’s hair and yours is just wonderful. Please don’t blush because it’s the truth.”
Cort grinned and reproduced her move, carding her hair with his fingers.
“Raven’s feathers, or rather crow’s” he joked and they headed smiling for the Tavern’s restaurant.
Cort had chosen a table near a window with a candle into a glass pot that glimmered. “Thanks God not a fiddler,” Roberta thought. In her opinion candles were romantic, listening to sad music “sawed” on a violin wasn’t. The sounds in the big room came from people speaking quietly, just the way she liked. The preacher moved her chair and she sit down, observing him taking his seat with grace.
They chatted leisurely for a while, then one of the waiters came into view and they ordered their meal.
“May I ask you something personal, Cort? You can refuse to answer if you think I’m nosy.”
“I don’t think you could be, but if you see me blush, you’ll know the answer.” Cort answered and his voice was so sweet that Roberta nearly blushed herself.
“What’s the thing or the things you like the most in this new world you found yourself in?”
“The cleanliness. Everything is clean here, it smells good, too. And we have running water cold and warm. It’s something I would never have dreamed about.”
“That something I thought sometimes too myself, when someone speaks about good old times. I’d like to tell them: once was wonderful if you were rich, not if you were poor or just ‘normal’. Living is still hard if you’re poor, now but we have more choices.”
“I remember working in the orphanage near Hermosillo, life was so hard for the children. We had little food and since the locals were so poor it was difficult to have more. I used to work day and night to provide something, but there wasn’t much I could do. And there was always dust, that glued to your heated skin and never went away. Sometimes I dreamed about the rain, just to feel its coolness on my body.”
“I guessed you changed your mind when they took you back to Redemption?”
“Well, dreaming of a shower is somehow different from being chained under a heavy rain.”
“Yes, I thought so. Were you still hurt when you arrived at the Point? I mean you didn’t die at the end our movie like some of the others, but you were wounded.”
“I healed before arriving here, but the scars remained.”
Cort’s right hand moved unconsciously to hold his left wrist and Roberta put her hand on his.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t. I’m alive and this is something I hadn’t hoped to be for long, when they dragged me from my mission. I was welcomed here by Michelle and some of the younger Boyz and for the first time in my life I felt myself home. Like never before.”
“The magic had healed your soul, as well as your wounds,” she guessed and he smiled a little smile in return.
“Yes, I think so.”
“I’m glad you found your place here. And I’m glad I found my way to arrive here.”
“I should have to thank Max for this.”
“You should have to thank yourself for what you are. Gladiator did a good job to promote Russell’s carrier, but he was a good actor long before it and he was great in each and every one of his movies, despite the quality of them.”
“I guess you’re a fan, aren’t you?” Cort said grinning.
“Guilty as charged, your honor.”
“The Court will be merciful this time.”
“I’m so relieved.”
They shared a laugh and Roberta could see Cort relaxing. She couldn’t help smiling at him and for a moment they both were lost in each other’s eyes.
Rick had spotted their empty dishes and was going to reach them to clean their table, but when he saw their expression, decided to neglect his duties for a little more. He was pretty sure they weren’t going to complain about.
The soft words of “You treat me like chocolate” were unrolling through the dancing room, while the couple moved following the slow rhythm. Tina looked at Roberta and Cort with a smile. She knew that the Italian had always had a soft spot for the preacher and watching them together so at ease was a nice plus to her happiness for the wedding. Roberta had made her laugh when she had declared that she wasn’t going to cry at the ceremony, but now that she knew her a little more, Tina decided that this was in character, like the way she walked or talked. The bride-to-be decided that she and the taller woman shared something else: they both had a connection with someone who didn’t “jump out” the silver screen like Maximus, Terry or even Sid, but whose strength was undeniable. If John was her Teddy Bear, Cort reminded her of a cougar, full of power under the soft fur. Tenderness and fury.
Seeing Cort going closer to Roberta whispering something in her ear, she wondered if he was purring.
Terry was watching them, too, and felt a pang of envy. His mind and heart were so much in a quandary lately that he wondered how he had managed to walk up right. He was going crazy because of this thing about connections. He didn’t want to feel connected and suffering. He didn’t want to suffer.
He didn’t know what he wanted.
Maybe – he wondered – he just didn’t want to feel.
Bud was dancing with Trisha against his chest and all he could think of, was that he was so relieved that the things had gone better after the summer. He saw Cort dancing with Roberta and was glad that his Brother seemed having found a way to sooth the pain in his heart. Cort was somehow different from the other Boyz, with his shyness and kindness that – however – sometime vanished in an ice-cold blue gaze when something wrong happened. He had seen him deal with Sid when the cyberfreak was in a bad mood, or speak to Hando when nobody seemed eager to do so, especially before Max’ arrival at the Point. And now he looked ready to get lost in the brown gaze of a stranger with a sharp tongue and a wicked sense of humor.
Bud just grinned, wishing them well.
Stepping into the English Garden so dear to Tina and John, Roberta asked: “Where is Your place at the Point?”
“What do you mean?” Cort said.
“The place that appeared together with you. John has his pond, Max his poplars and Tina this garden. Where is the place dear to your heart?”
“Nobody ever asked me that. Many of those coming here recognized the Pond and even pieces of East’s and Colin’s Australia or Max’ villa near Trujillo, but I don’t remember someone asking questions about me.” Cort’s tone didn’t seem sad, merely exposing a fact when he continued: “My place is not so far, we can walk from here.”
“This would be wonderful.”
They walked in silence, leaving the sounds from the Point. The sky was dark but clear and it was easy following the path. After a while they reached a small garden, but a strange one. It was a desert garden, with cactuses sporting colored flowers rising from very thin sand. A movement caught their attention, just in time to see the vanishing shadow of a night creature.
“Would you mind if I walked barefoot over it?”
“Why should I?”
“Would you like to join me?”
Cort looked at her with an unreadable expression, then nodded. They both got rid of their shoes and socks and reached the soft and cool surface.
“What would be your special place, if you’d desired it long enough?” the preacher asked watching her enjoying the ticklish sensation of the sand through her toes.
“A lake, perhaps. A dark deep green lake surrounded by white mountains.”
“Yes, where I live we have these mountains made of a light-colored stone. They were the coral cliffs of an ancient sea and they’re edged and proud against the sky. They shine in the sun, golden at noon and violet at dusk.”
“It sounds wonderful and strange. I mean the idea of mountains who were born as cliffs.”
“That’s why they’ve that strange color. There are others like them in Italy and they were called the Mountains of Glass. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the Dolomites.”
“I’m not sure. I think I’ve heard the name but not when.”
“They’re magical, too. Inhabited by fairies, giants and witches.”
“With dark eyes to bewitch the poor souls wandering through those mountains?”
“Would you have surrendered to such a call?”
“What do you think?”
She looked at him and the spark in his aquamarine eyes.
When they kissed, she didn’t know who really had bewitched whom and she didn’t really care.
Walking back barefoot had been Roberta’s idea, but Cort wasn’t going to argue, as long as she was so close to him. They had kissed and talked and kissed and talked and he still felt foolishly happy. Being with her was easy, and yet it was challenging because she always asked questions and expected him to answer. He wasn’t accustomed to this, neither in his former life, nor at The Point. His unobtrusive nature had caused many people to take him somehow for granted. Sometimes he felt as if, while they appreciated this quality of his, nobody was really interested in knowing him. He remembered Ellen, her hatred and her beauty. She had used him, not like Herod had done, but had taken what she had needed, nonetheless. He knew her motives, probably better than anyone else, but she hadn’t really cared for him. At first he had been saddened by the thought, but now he didn’t mind anymore. She didn’t existed in this world and he was happy to be far from her and the coldness of her revenge. She couldn’t have been different and the same was probably true for him, too, but now he was in a better place and he was glad for his second occasion.
The sand first and the flat stones leading to the Tavern weren’t warm under her feet, but even if fall was coming, Roberta didn’t feel uncomfortable or cold. She grinned to herself thinking that the warm calloused hand holding her own had something to do with her sensation.
Absentmindedly she brushed her thumb in the soft center of his palm and was rewarded when he gently squeezed her hand in return, with enough force to let her know that he was aware of her touch, but never to hurt.
She smiled a silly smile.
Sid was staring outside the window, waiting for Lady to end her shower. His first thought was to join her there, but the steam misting the mirrors prevented him from indulging in his voyeuristic tendencies and he preferred his own room. He saw Roberta walking back with Cort at her side.
His oh-so-perfect lips contracted in a pout.
She had shown better tastes in the past expressing her admiration for Virtuosity, and himself, but – probably – since the best was already taken, she had resorted to another model who wasn’t half as much astounding, but who – at least – had a better taste in clothes than Sheriff Tubby and his flannel shirts.
After the bridal shower, Bud, Colin and Jeff were moving the gifts for Tina and John.
“Who’s that guy?” Bud said spotting a huge teddy bear with a friendly face.
“Roberta’s gift, together with a basket of Ocean’s products.” Colin replied.
The former cop grabbed the toy and kept if at arm length to see him better.
“You know, this one looks a lot like John. The same built and the same love for the cold. Tina could take him back to the Real World to warm her nights when she’ll be at home,” he concluded, cradling the big stuffed animal with a rapt expression on his face. The three of them started to guffaw and their laughter covered the sound of a shutter.
Some time later, Bud was back in his room, switching on his computer. He logged in with the password he had resolved to change day-in day-out, mindful of Sid’s hacking abilities and checked his e-mail. There was a new message from an addy he didn’t recognize, with an attachment. He hoped it wasn’t the usual porn advertising and as a matter of fact he saw a pic of himself hugging the Teddy Bear.
Puzzled, he read the message: “Dear Bud, I gave the Teddy Bear to John and Tina as a gift of friendship and I don’t want to see him teased about it. Say something about it less than nice or tease John about the bear and I’ll send a copy of this pic to all your brothers, with a special delivery to Sid, giant-sized with a dedication. If you think that this is blackmail, well – Officer White – you’re bloody right but it was for a just cause. As for now, I’ll just send one to Trisha. Love, Roberta.”
Bud looked at the words on the screen in disbelief.
He was going to talk with her and …..
He never finished the thought because he caught the funny side of the situation and began to laugh out hard, until his sides hurt.
Cort was busy with the preparations for the wedding, so Roberta decided to continue her exploration of The Point. She liked being in the company of the other girls, but she knew that they had little time to stay with their companions, that she didn’t want to intrude. She found herself reaching the training area. Max and Massimo were already there and they were sparring. The only difference was the color of their tunics, black for Max and red for Massimo. She observed them for a while, admiring their skills in handling the wood weapons. When they finished she applauded.
“Thank you, Roberta. We seldom work with an audience,” Max said.
“You should and you should sell tickets, too. You’re just amazing.”
“Grazie (Thank you).” Massimo added and she smiled.
“Would you mind, showing me some of your moves? I know I’m not trained for this, but I’ve always wanted to try and use a sword. I suppose I’ve seen too many action movies.”
The two men grinned, gesturing her to come closer. Max handed her his sword and she waited the weapon in her hand. It was a training weapon but it was heavy and she realized with a grin where the two men had “taken” their wonderful arms. Slowly, waiting for her to understand their instructions, they explained the basic of the Roman sword handling and when they finished, Roberta’s arms were protesting for the abuse, but she was really happy.
On her way back to the Tavern, she met John.
“Hi John, everything’s alright?”
“Yes, Roberta, thank you.”
“As for the gift, I hope you liked it.”
“Yes, I did, even if I’m afraid I’m going to pay for it. Especially when Bud will discover what I received.”
“I don’t think so. They’re nice guys, most of them at least. And as regards Bud, I wouldn’t bother.”
“What makes you think so?”
“I have my ways…” was the cryptic answer, accompanied by a smirk.
“Are you hiding something, Roberta?”
“Hiding? No. Plotting would be a better answer. By the way don’t worry about the Teddy Bear. Think to the wedding and enjoy it.”
“I intend to.”
“You’re lucky. Tina is such a sweetheart.”
“I know. I know.”
John’s smile was so sweet that Roberta didn’t resist the urge to kiss him on the nose.
“Remain like this forever, Sheriff Biebe, and your luck will hold,” she said before walking away whistling softly at the stunned expression on the groom-to-be’s face.
Days went fast and it was the day before the wedding. Roberta took part at the final “test”, trying desperately not to giggle. It was such a happy moment that she never understood why people used to cry at the ceremonies. She saw Tina and John listen to Cort’s explanations, some of the other girls helping her in her dress and her mind wandered. After a while she returned back to earth with an idea for a surprise.
That night at the tavern was very quiet. There was a lot of chatting, some dancing, and some drinking but not heavily as if the celebrations were kept for the following day. Roberta was sitting with Ilaria, Massimo, Bud, Trisha, Jeff, Rick, Lisa, Lachlan and Cort. The former cop sometimes threw strange looks in her direction to which she replied with an angelic smile. Jeff who was at her left side caught one of it and asked: “What’s going on between you and Bud?”
“Nothing. What’s a little blackmail between friends?”
“Forget this speech or I’ll be obliged to kill you and bury you under the floor.”
“My tell-tale-heart will haunt you.”
“Not when I’ll be home. Please forget what I said, I need something from you. Would you mind asking to Rick to ask me to dance, please? I’d like to prepare a surprise to Cort and I don’t want him to discover my plan too soon. I promise I’ll be a good girl and I’ll keep my hands to myself.”
Jeff laughed a little.
“You’d better mean it, Sheila, or I’ll kiss Cort’s life out of him in the middle of the tavern.”
“You won’t do something like that, Mitchell. First he’s your Brother, secondly I’d club you.”
The young man laughed louder and said something in his mate’s ear. The blond waiter looked puzzled, but didn’t say a word. He just nodded and took a sip of his drink. After some time he got up, asking to Roberta to dance. His move wasn’t going to raise questions, because it wasn’t the first time he had done something like that and this was something she had planned on. He led her toward the dance floor and when they were swaying following the soft music Roberta explained her plan. He smiled and agreed.
“Didn’t you mind dancing with me, Rick, did you? I didn’t want to be a bother.”
“No problem. I like dancing both with girls and boys, even if I prefer the masculine variety of dancers.”
“I bet. Especially the ones with honey-brown hair and aqua eyes.”
“Yes, definitely yes. I have good tastes, haven’t I?”
“Yes. I saw Cort’s movie only once and I liked it.”
“More than “The Sum of Us”?”
“Of course not, you Tease. But it was nice and I liked Cort a lot. He’s a sweet man.”
“I definitely agree. I must admit that you’re not just another pretty face. That blond mop of yours hides a nice brain.”
“I’m flattered and now I know why Hando calls you Smart-Ass-Lady.”
“Always better than some of the names I’ve been given in my life. Such as ‘Big Ben’ or ‘Great Ape’.”
“Didn’t you notice, Little One, that I’m a six-feet woman? In some circles this is considered a crime.”
“Yea, I noticed that you’re tall but I don’t think why this should be a problem.”
“In my opinion it’s not, but sometimes people tend to think otherwise.”
“Yes. I agree on this, too.”
At that point the music ended and Rick escorted her back to her place at the table. He thanked her for the dance and she smiled. Her smile widened looking at Cort.
Before he could really think about it, it was the day of the wedding. Cort had read a lot, made tons of preparation and still he was as nervous as a cat in a dog’s house. He knew the words, the psalms and everything else, but he was afraid that he was going to forget everything with Tina and John, all his Brothers and their companions and friends looking at him.
A knock at the door startled him.
Opening the door Cort saw Rick with a tray covered by a cloth.
“Hi Rick, what are you doing here? I was going to come down to have breakfast.”
“Someone ordered this to be delivered to your room.”
“Someone with dark hair and eyes and very long legs?”
“Yea, looks like that. Enjoy your breakfast and good luck for the wedding.”
“I’ll need it, Rick. Thank you very much.”
Cort brought the tray on his table and looked under the cloth. There was a coffeepot, a jug containing milk, sugar, sweet-rolls, jam and butter. Near the cup there was a little angel woman with dark hair and a mischievous smile standing on a green paper envelope. He took the toy, smiling at the similarities with someone he knew, then the envelope.
“Cort” was written in big adorned letters occupying nearly all the space.
The sheet inside was green, too, and the calligraphy just as adorned. He was stunned to recognize the mark of a fountain pen with blue ink.
“Dear Cort, knowing that today you’re going to be just as busy as Tina and John I wouldn’t want to disturb, but I thought that some attentions might help. A good breakfast is important to start a new day and I hope that this little friend of mine will look after you while I’m getting all dolled up, just like you. I’m looking forward to see you do you job and help the two lovebirds starting their lives together. Love Roberta.”
Her signature had a little smile over the last letters.
Trisha was just making the last adjustments to her garb when she heard a light rap at the door. She went there, but when she opened the door, no one was in sight. Looking down she spotted and envelope. Fleetingly she thought that it resembled to the one in LA Confidential that Sid Hudgens had used to show to Bud the pics of Exley and Lynn. Puzzled she took it and when she ripped it open, she laughed out loud at the picture of Bud hugging the big teddy bear.
“Quanto pensi che il National Enquirer pagherebbe per alcune foto dello spettacolo? (How much do you think that the National Enquirer would pay us for some pics of the show?)” Roberta asked to Ilaria when all the Boyz and significant others had arrived at the Point’s chapel in their finest.
“Abbastanza da pagarci un Lear Jet e fare avanti e indietro dall’Italia, ma credo che Tina vorrebbe la nostra pelle. (Enough to buy us a Lear Jet to travel back and forth from Italy, but I think that Tina would have our hide),” her friend replied.
“Temevo qualcosa del genere. Ma valeva la pena provare. (‘Fraid so. But it was something worth a try).”
“Sì decisamente. (Yes, definitely)”.
The ceremony was very nice, even if a bit on the Titanic side (hopefully only on the size point of view) and Roberta had to giggle when Maximus and Massimo sang their song to Tina and John. Her Latin was rusty but from what she remembered the words were a tad “x-rated” for a religious wedding.
“Well. Also the fact that you’re going to date the officiant, would be considered strange in a Catholic wedding,” she added to herself.
She had grinned and smiled a lot during the ceremony. It was so good watching two nice people on their way to happiness. Tina looked like a happy dove in her fancy dress, her face shining with joy, just like John’s. John was such a sweetheart, and a nice one, too. His tenderness added a lot of charm to his handsome features.
They say that Sid was the most handsome of his Brothers, but she didn’t agree with the statement. The android was definitely gorgeous (and with such a creator it would have been difficult otherwise), but like a Greek marble statue, he was cold and basically useless from her point of view.
A peacock wasn’t her idea of a companion.
A soft-spoken, warm feline, will do so much better.
Her grin widened.
“Since everybody’s kissing the bride, do you think that someone would object if I kiss the preacher?” a voice asked from behind his back and Cort smiled.
“I don’t think so. They would never notice,” he replied hugging her for a kiss.
“You look even taller today. How’s that?” he said when they both reminded that breathing was a healthy thing to do, from time to time.
“High-heeled torture devices that I’m going to take off as soon as we reach the car. Otherwise, I think you would be obliged to take me back at the hotel, draped like a sack of potatoes over your shoulders. Well, not that I would mind, but it could ruin the elegance of this marriage.”
Cort laughed his low laugh and Trisha turned to the sound. She had to smile at the happy look on his face. She felt a little tinge of jealousy, even if she knew that she had no reason.
When everybody moved toward the cars, Roberta and Cort went to a huge limousine.
“Wow! That’s the first time I climb into one of these. Limos are so funny,” she said when they were comfortably settled in the unusual car.
“Funny? Don’t you have limos in Italy?”
“I don’t think so. As a matter of fact I never saw one. We have wonderful cars, but not of this size. Most of Italian cities are ancient ones, made to be easily defended, not to cruise with huge vehicles. I keep picturing one of these behemoths hopelessly stuck into a corner.”
“It’s kind of strange thinking at such a past. I know I belong to the past, but not so far away. Europe must be really full of history.”
“Sometimes it amazes me thinking how many people had walked all over the streets where I walk when I go and work. At Maximus’ times, Rome was a metropolis, even for modern standards and she wasn’t the first town becoming so big. And they already had traffic problems!”
“Like Maximus riding a chariot, quarreling at a corner with some other fellow because he arrived first?”
“Something like that. The only difference is that now they use horns.”
They both began to laugh out loud at the idea.
“John, you really look gorgeous today. You’re great in your knitted sweater but today you’re dashing. Tina had gotten herself a real beauty.”
John coughed self-consciously at the compliment.
“Roberta, do you know that guys are those supposed to pay compliments to the girls, don’t you?” he replied to his dancing partner.
“Yes, of course, but I don’t see I cannot do the same. You’re handsome, so why staying silent?”
“I’m not handsome. I’m just healthy.”
“Yea, a healthy hunk. Please, don’t start blushing or Tina would think that I’m making indecent proposal and she’d kill me, using her skills to make it look an accident. Why do you Boyz, Sid excluded, are so shy? You must know how good you look.”
The blush deepened and Roberta took pity of John and simply smiled while the music went on.
Roberta had left the middle of the dancing for something to drink when a young voice asked politely: “Would you like to dance with me?”
She turned and saw a really cute Arthur looking at her.
“Of course, just let me drink something or I’ll die by dehydration.”
The boy actually smiled and she decided that he must do that more frequently. That suited him very much. She finished her drink that she allowed him to lead her to the dance floor where they began to dance.
Roberta returned Arthur to Savannah’s attentions as the music finished. He was a good dancer and she wondered who had taught him. She approached to the console and after having made a request she went to Cort who was talking with Bugdog and Zack.
“Would you mind if I steal this man from you?” she asked and acknowledged Bugdog’s smile and Zack’s smirk.
The notes of the Rebel Waltz by the Clash sounded in the room and she and Cort followed the easy rhythm. The music was magic and she hadn’t problems picturing herself in a Gone-with-the-Wind dress, while Cort was sporting a Southern uniform. Thinking better, a Northern uniform, the blue would suit his eyes so much better. The dream ended too soon and she returned down to earth with some problems.
“Did you love this music, don’t you?” Cort asked.
“Yes. From the very first time I’ve heard it I had fantasized to dance it dressed like Rossella O’Hara and a man in a uniform.”
“I had never heard it before, but it was good.”
“Glad you liked it.”
“This place is getting hot. What about taking a walk outside?”
They clasped their hands, heading for the doors.
“This could be one of the nicest birthdays I ever had,” Roberta said when they were comfortably seated on a bench.
“I didn’t know. Why didn’t you say it before?”
“Don’t worry. You had so many things to think about and this isn’t important. Or rather it is, but only for me. I guess that I won’t have problems remembering to send greetings to Tina and John for their anniversary.”
“I suppose not. What would you like as present?”
“A kiss would do just fine. What do you think?”
Instead of answering with words, he demonstrated his agreement.
“You have something for doing things at night, haven’t you, Sheila? Swimming, smooching and who knows what else.”
“Do you know better things to do under the moonlight?” Roberta replied to Hando, without disengaging from Cort’s arms.
“One point for her, Hando.” Stef said and the skinhead gave her an attempt of a smile then they walked away.
“You weren’t joking when you said that you had gained a reputation.” Cort said smiling. “I’d never seen Hando like this before.”
“I don’t know how he used to be before my arrival. I just answered very politely to his taunts. And as far as I can see, he doesn’t mind.”
“He had changed a great deal after Max’ arrival. He found someone to respect and that was good.”
“Did you change after Max’ arrival?”
“No, I don’t think so, unless you’re talking about all the people that came after Gladiator. The Point has changed growing bigger with every new soul leaving a trace.”
“Do you mind?”
“Never. This is a place of peace and despite the occasional problems, I’m glad of being here.”
“Me, too. As you said there’s peace, but there’s also a lot of life bubbling under the surface. I love the electricity I feel here. This place is alive. Everyone living here or coming here from time to times leaves a mark that cannot be forgotten.”
“Will you return here?” Cort asked after a moment of silence.
“As soon and as often as I could.”
“Good. I’ll wait for you.”
“Me, too. Now would you think I’m too forward if I ask you to give more memories to bring back with me?”
“Not at all, Little One.”
She smiled against his lush mouth.
“This place suits you.” Cort said stepping into Roberta’s room.
“Do you think so?”
“Yes.” He confirmed taking in the movie posters on the walls, the heavy cotton curtains, the colored quilt on the bed. He spotted a Gladiator poster, close to one of L.A. Confidential. Another wall sported one from a movie called Ladyhawke and one of a 007’s movie.
“I didn’t have one of your movie, because you weren’t on it, so I didn’t see the point.”
“For what? For thinking that you’re a gorgeous, sweet, wonderful person? It’s the truth.”
“You’re sweet, too.”
Words failed to both of them as they kissed, but it didn’t seem to matter. The room was warm and cozy, just like the both of them wanted it to be. They took their time in discovering each other’s taste, the softness of lips, the beating of hearts. When the need for air became urgent they parted just a little, to stare at each other.
Reading the invitation in her eyes, Cort started to strip her, with such a care that made her feel like a long awaited present. When she was dressed only in her skin, she return the kindness, with a little more urgency.
“I’ve always loved to unwrap my gifts as fast as possible.” she said grinning and he smiled back.
“Fine by me and my present is something, someone to treasure.” he replied and after that there was not a lot said between the two of them as they felt gently onto the bed to share a night of love and passion.
The night was still young. A night bird’s cry woke up Cort from a pleasant dream, where he was holding Roberta in his arms. As soon as he was full awake, he realized that it hadn’t been just a dream and that she was actually sleeping next to him. Her skin has the warmth of deep sleep and a faint smile curled her lips. He looked at her form under the fluffy quilt. She occupied quite a fair share of the bed and he loved the idea of having so much of her to look at, touch, love. He just liked the way their eyes met when they were close and the long legs hidden by the covers.
“I must have something that attracts tall ladies,” he said to himself and for the first time the thought of Helen didn’t hurt.
At last, she had become a part of his past, together with Herod, Kid and his previous life. This was the Point, a place where magic refused not to be believed and happiness occurred. With a little help from a raven-haired woman with a sharp tongue and a warm heart.
Still smiling, he got closer to her, basking in the feeling of her closeness.
Sleep took him again gently.
The first feeling creeping through her awareness was warmth.
A warm body pressed against her back and a warm arm around her middle.
“If I were a cat, I would be purring by now.” Roberta said feeling that her companion was awake.
“What about making starfish paws on me, instead?”
She turned into Cort’s embrace and decided to show him how she had taken his suggestion seriously. Her long finger traced patterns on his chest, relishing the soft feel of his skin, the texture, and her nostrils sensing his scent.
“You smell good, you know?”
“I’m wearing no perfume.”
“That’s what I meant. You smell of cleanliness, warmth and man. Best ever.”
Cort smiled his sweet smile.
“You are one of the few people I know able to pay compliments without making them look like flattery.”
“You deserve compliments and a lot of good things.”
“Do you think I deserve you?”
“I won’t use the word ‘deserve’, but I’m glad you’re here with me now and I won’t change this moment for anything else.”
“Good, same here. Now, my lady, would you like to have breakfast in bed?”
“It’s the same if we make it a breakfast with room service. I wouldn’t want turn the bed into a crumbles pit.”
“That can be arranged,” he said grabbing the phone.
“Hi, Rick. This is Cort speaking. Is it possible having breakfast in bed for two?”
“Yep. Am I too curious if I ask you where?”
Roberta overheard the question and began guffawing, adding aloud: “Smart kid that blond.”
“I think that I have a clue where. What would you like to have, your ‘mysterious lady’ and you?”
“Milk and coffee and something sweet going with them.”
“Everything will be ready in a tic.”
“Thank you Rick.”
Minutes later there was a knock and since Cort was in the bathroom, she went answering. Before reaching the threshold she grabbed the long t-shirt she hadn’t used the night before and when she deemed to be decent enough to have guests opened the door.
“Thank you very much, Rick.”
“It’s part of the service. And I agree with you.” the blond waiter said with a grin.
She had a moment of surprise, then she recalled the print on her garment and started laughing, waving him good-bye.
“Cort, breakfast has arrived.”
He emerged freshly shaven from the bathroom and watching her nightgown started to laugh, too at the picture of a very sleepy-eyed girl and the words: “They say the early bird catches the worm. Wait a sec, who wants a worm, anyway! Call me after noon.”
“Do you think that if I continue to repeat “I’m so happy to go home tomorrow” I’ll start to actually believe it?”
“I’m afraid not.”
The grimace on Roberta’s face was just a bit too sad not to show that her attempt to levity had failed. Cort was sad, too, and they both remained silent as they watched the sunset from the beach.
“I didn’t think it would have been like that, you know. Being here, knowing you in person, the marriage, everything. I often wrote and said that you were my favorite character, but – believe me – falling in love with you wasn’t in my Top Ten List of things to do At The Point. Not that I mind, but it’s so strange and we live so far away.”
“I know, but love is not something you can plan.”
“Thank God it isn’t.”
“Yes, thank God because this is such a precious gift.”
Cort ended his phrase with a light kiss on her hair, rocking her gently as the light dimmed.
“I could stay like this forever, listening to your heartbeat,” she said without moving her head from the place on Cort’s torso.
He sensed her words resonating from inside, more that listening to them and didn’t answer. He felt good, more than ever before in his life and he thanked once more the magic that had brought the two of them in this strange place where reality mattered, but dreams mattered so much more.