Absolute Convergence

Chapter Fifty-two

By John Yager

This is the fifty-second chapter of an ongoing series. This chapter continues the story of Rob Ballinger's life after his arrival in Los Angles in the summer of 1972.

Thanks again for all your comments on this series. I always appreciate hearing from readers and try to answer all messages promptly. If I'm slow at times it is only because of the pressure of work or my somewhat demanding travel schedule.

Andrew has continued to give much needed proofing and editorial help, for which I am sincerely grateful. I could not post chapters as quickly as I've been doing without his invaluable assistance.

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Over the next couple of weeks my life settled into something like normal, or at least normal by LA standards.
It was clear that things weren't at all like Mississippi and I was often reminded of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz saying, "Toto, we aren't in Kansas anymore."

I certainly wasn't in Mississippi anymore as was becoming increasingly clear each day. Life in LA had a different pace, a sort of energy and urgency, which was new and exciting. It seemed as if everyone I met was doing interesting and important things. A waiter wasn't just a waiter. He was an author or an actor in the making. Even the kid working at the grocery store was thinking big thoughts and dreaming big dreams. If only a few of those dreams came true it was still a charged atmosphere. Anything was possible. The sleepy life I'd know in Spring River, Mississippi, was an entirely different life, an entirely different place.

On Wednesday morning of my second week in LA, I ordered a new 1972 Firebird, black with a black interior and a 300 horsepower engine. I figured if it was good enough for Jim Rockford, it sure was good enough for me!

There was some sort of labor trouble at the time and I didn't get delivery for three weeks, and then only because a close friend of my father, who owned the GM agency in Spring River, pulled some strings. He actually got me a slight discount so with all the extras I paid just under $4,000 and got the use of an older model until my car was delivered. I used one thousand dollars from my settling in money as a down payment and financed the rest through the studio credit union.

That Firebird was one amazing car and I drove it for nearly four years. I was talking about cars with a friend recently and mentioned the Black Bird, as I always called it. He couldn't help kidding me. "No gay guy ever drove a Firebird!" he grinned. Well, I can tell you, this is one gay guy who did and, with wheels of my own, life began to take on a sense of order. LA is not a town you want to live in without personal transport.

That afternoon I went in to the infirmary at the NSB studio to be examined by one of the company doctors. First, of course, a nurse asked me a bunch of questions and took a lot of notes. She asked me about childhood diseases, any history of surgery, etc., etc., etc, and asked a lot of questions about my leg injury.

When she'd asked all her questions, she had me strip to my jockey shorts so she could weigh me and measure my height. She drew blood, took my temperature and checked my blood pressure. She did step out while I peed in a plastic cup and then returned to pick up her trophies and go happily off to the lab, leaving me to wait in a little examination room for the doctor.

I sat there for a few minutes along, looking through an old magazine and reading the diplomas on the wall. Andrew R. Watson, the framed documents said. He'd done his undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Biology at UCLA and then earned an MD degree in Houston, Texas.

"Mr. Ballinger?" the doctor said when he finally came into the room. He appeared to be in his thirties and was obviously in great shape, muscular and tanned. He wasn't wearing the traditional lab coat most MDs wore, but rather a pair of khaki slacks and a good looking sport shirt which showed off his muscular arms and his massive chest. He had dark brown hair and dark eyes and the way he looked me over made me suspect he enjoyed men.

"That's me."

"I'm Andy Watson," he said, looking up from a clip board on which the nurse had put the sheet she'd prepared. "You certainly look like a health specimen." He looked over the chart and then said, "I need to take a look at that injured leg. Is it giving my any trouble?"

"No, none. I do everything I want to do and it doesn't bother mea at all."

He sat down on a little stool and had me stand in front of him. He ran his fingers gently over the area and traced the scar left from the surgery. His touch was soft and very sensual and I began to feel aroused despite all my efforts to stay calm.

When he finally stopped feeling my leg after running his warm hand all the way up my enter thigh to the elastic around the leg opening of my jockey shorts, he looked up at me and smiled.

"Well then," he said, "I guess I should listen to your heart and do a little poking and prodding. Then we'll just wait for the lab results to come back next week. If they're all okay that will be the end of it for a year. If anything looks odd we'll call you back in for some further tests." He read further down my the chart and said, "it looks like they did some complicated surgery to repair your leg. It must have been a bad injury."

"Football," I said, not feeling like giving him the long answer.

He looked me over, had me set on the exam table and used the little rubber hammer on my knees and elbows. He felt my stomach and then lowered my underwear so he could feel my balls and give my cock a good looking over. His touch was gentle and there was a sensual element I didn't expect from a doctor. He had me stand on the floor with my elbows on the exam table so he could shove a finger up my ass. I always hated that part but Watson made me feel as if he was making love. I became instantly hard and made no pretense of hiding my erection.

"Very nice cock," he said with a grin when I stood up and turned around.

"Thanks, Dr. Watson," I grinned back.

"Call me Andy," he smiled as he made some notes on the sheets. "Dr. Watson is a character in the Sherlock Holms stories.

We both laughed.

Eventually Watson seemed to have exhausted his repertory of trick and let me get dressed. Interesting, I thought, but no big deal.

At my first meeting with Martin Basingstoke he explained my duties and the schedule he expected me to keep. I was given an outline of Call the Dark Waters, from which he and his team were working and asked to develop one section and come up with ten pages of dialog over the next week.

Basingstoke wanted me to be in his offices at the NSB studios for two or three hours on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for working meetings with his team. Other than that I was free to work there or anyplace else I preferred. I was assigned a cubicle in a large work area with my own typewriter and phone but I found for the most part that working at my apartment was more efficient. I didn't think well with all the activity of the office going on around me.

I couldn't believe how easy the assignment seemed to be and how little time Basingstoke expected me to keep anything like regular office hours. His only further instruction was that I would need to sign up with an answering service or buy a telephone answering machine. Such gadgets were not yet common in Mississippi at that time and they seemed a little pretentious to me. Subscribing to an answering service seemed even more ostentatious so I opted for the machine. I figured Basingstoke wanted to be able to leave messages when I was out so he or his secretary wouldn't have to keep trying to reach me. I had no idea what a critical part of life in LA such gadgets had already become. I bought one that evening and had it ready for my new apartment when I moved in.

The work on my apartment at Alvarado Court was completed on schedule, just as Nita had predicted, but I didn't actually move in until the following Friday. Billy Bowen had asked if he could help me move. Since I couldn't get the loan car until the following week, I let him know on Wednesday after my meeting with Basingstoke that I expected to move on Friday afternoon and would really appreciate his help. I didn't have all that much to move but I did need a vehicle.

In addition to the luggage I'd brought with me on the plane, I'd received two footlockers I'd left for my folks to ship. There were still all the boxes of books and a few other personal items which my parents would send directly to my new apartment once I was settled in.

Billy arranged to pick me up from the hotel at two o'clock on Friday afternoon and take me and all my stuff to Alvarado Court. Everything went as planned and Billy stuck around just long enough to help carry my bags up to the apartment before he had to leave to return the studio van.

I spent Friday night getting things arranged. I sorted my clothes and got things more or less organized. Everything from the kitchen cabinets had been removed and stored in boxes while the painting was done so I tackled the task of washing all the pots, pans, dishes and silverware, putting them back where they belonged.

As I moved things around I realized that the furniture was really not all that nice and there wasn't all that much of it. I figured over the next few months I'd buy a few things of my own and ask Nita to have the old pieces stored once I no longer needed them. I finally got to the new phone answering machine and plugged it in before calling it quits. Around midnight I showered and went to bed for the first time in my own place.

The apartment was cool and I luxuriated in the big bed, naked, alone and very horny. Thinking about Steve and Daniel and Sammy, I couldn't help feeling a little deprived. It was hard to go from my life with them when great sex was available pretty much whenever I wanted it, to a life on little or no sex at all.

I thought about the guy I'd fucked the previous Saturday. I still felt soiled and realized I also felt a little guilty about that whole experience. I told myself I wouldn't do that kind of thing again. It was too risky, for one thing, but it also left me with a sort of nagging void in my gut.

Finally, after thinking of the others, it was Rick who filled my mind and my heart. It was his beautiful body and his even more beautiful soul which I remembered as I slowly massaged my weeping cock, running my left hand over my chest and then on down to knead my balls. It was Rick's cock I thought of as I stroked my own, his body I thought of as I flexed the muscles of my chest and felt the hard flesh under my own warm skin. I felt my body tense and traced the valleys and ridges of my abs as I pictured him, his hot body always so much warmer than my own. With a memory of his astonishing eyes gazing into mine, I brought myself to a raging climax and then slipped into blissful, peaceful sleep.

I've never liked solo sex all that much, but I guess it was as good a way as any to initiate my new apartment. It would have been so much more wonderful to have had the real Rick there with me instead of images of him floating through my weary brain. I realized, too, that if I was really going to avoid the sort of casual sex I'd had with the guy at the beach, I'd probably better learn to enjoy masturbation. It was likely to be my most frequent sexual outlet, as much as I longed for the pleasures of another warm body next to mine.

The next day I started what quickly became my regular Saturday routine. I went to the gym in the morning for a hard workout followed by some time in the sauna and then a long, cooling shower. The place was packed with both men and women. I was surprised at the age range and began to see that the Hollywood cult of physical beauty was not restricted to the young.

I also soon realized that everyone was openly checking out everybody else. There was no shame! Guys were checking out the women and the other men and the women were no less bashful in their open appraisal of each other and any guy who caught their interest. As I'd already discovered, the most common greeting, at the gym and everywhere in LA, was a friendly "looking good."

After my workout I went into the locker room, stripped, wrapped myself loosely with a towel and ventured into the sauna. There were a dozen guys in there already, not crowded to the point of sitting leg to leg, but definitely close enough to study the wares. Most of the guys had folded their towels so they cushioned their rears on the hot wooden shelf-like benches, leaving their bodies completely exposed. Well, I had nothing to be ashamed of, so I did the same.

There was less than a foot between me and the men on either side of me and the guy on my left stared long and hard at my flaccid cock. In the extreme heat my scrotum relaxed and spread, resting comfortably on my terry cloth cushion. My cock slowly expanded, lying in a gentle arch over my testicles below. I just leaned back and relaxed, enjoying being seen and admired.

After twenty minutes or so my body was purged, covered with sweat and I was feeling on the edge of hyperthermia. I stood, slung the towel over my shoulder, and walked naked and proud to the equally crowded showers.

Afterwards I visited a couple of antique shops on the way back to the apartment. That first day I found a small oak writing desk and a matching chair which seemed right for my new living room. I didn't know much about furniture styles then but I later learned that it was a very good example of the Mission Style, a variant of the Crafts Movement style, which was popular in California about the time Alvarado Court was built.

The shop owner, a slender, well dressed man in his thirties, told me the set dated from 1919, pointing out the dated manufacturer's label inside the desk drawer.

"You have very good taste," he said. I assumed he told all his customers that. "It's Stickley, quite a good piece." It was too expensive, a real extravagance, but I bought it and have enjoyed it ever since. It was the first of many pieces of that style which I've collected over the intervening years.

I asked the shop owner about getting the desk and chair delivered. I'd walked to the gym and had no way to get my purchases home. When he asked for an address and I told him I'd just moved into Alvarado Court, his eyes shot open and he said he'd be glad to bring the pieces by himself later that afternoon after he closed, just to get a look at the place. I told him I had cash to cover the purchase and would pay him when he brought the desk.

"I don't mind taking a personal check," he said.

"My checks are on a Mississippi bank," I told him. I'd found that I could open a checking account through the NSB credit union but my new checks hadn't yet been delivered.

"Well, cash is fine then," he smiled. "You know Alvarado Court is famous," he added. "There was a notorious murder there about fifty years ago."

I didn't know that, but remembered Nita had said the place had quite a history and that she'd tell me more about it sometime.

From the antique shop I walked on to get some lunch and then to buy groceries, limiting my purchases to what I could easily carry.

Getting my apartment the way I wanted it, even the simple task of shopping for groceries, was still a novelty and I found I really enjoyed it. I thought through some light meals for the next few days, bought the things I'd need as well as a few staples. A bigger shopping trip would have to wait until I had a car.

Back at the apartment I sorted everything out and put my purchases away. I moved a small table from the east wall of the living room to the small bedroom, leaving the space free for the new desk. I then got into my bathing suit, left a note on the door, and went down to loll for a while by the pool.

There were only a few people there, two girls about my age and a young couple who appeared to be in their thirties. I laid claim to a lounger at the opposite end of the pool from the others and then dove into the tepid water for a few quick laps. My muscles were tight from my morning workout but the water felt wonderful and swimming quickly loosened me up.

Out of the water, I dried off and spread suntan lotion over my legs and chest. Lying on the warm lounge, I began to realize that the sun in Southern California could be deceptive.

At home in Mississippi the summers were very hot and very humid. You were aware of the intensity of the sun and were careful not to get too much too quickly and end up very red. In LA, however, it could be cool enough for you to forget just how intense the sun really was, and before you knew it you had a serious burn. With care, though, I learned it was possible to develop a great tan.

I'd brought home a copy of Call the Dark Water from the studio and, lying by the quiet pool, began to re-read it. The passage I'd been assigned to work on was about a third of the way into the novel, the point at which Marge, the central character and narrator, had begun to move from sorrow into anger over the loss of her lover.

I wanted to be sure I was remembering the context properly but as I read I was caught up in the lyrical beauty of the prose. How, I wondered could the power of Bell Corley's words ever be conveyed to the screen? It was a dilemma which, while working on one book or another, has occupied much of my adult life.

"Oh, there you are," I heard a man say, waking me from my unintended nap. I sat up and looked around to see the man from the antique shop coming along the side of the pool. He`d changed from gray slacks and a blazer to causal khakis and a polo shirt which showed off his lean, muscular body. "I saw your note," he explained, pointing back over his shoulder toward my apartment. All the others who'd been around the pool had gone and the sun has moved west to a point where the entire area was in shadow.

"Are you early or did I doze off?"

"It's after five," he said, looking me over with some interest. "My name is Hank Shear, by the way. I failed to introduce myself at the shop."

"I`m Rob Ballinger," I said, shaking his extended hand.

"Well, Rob, maybe you could help me with the desk."

"Sure," I said, following him back toward the carport, where he'd parked. I was only wearing a pair of Speedos and felt a little exposed but, after all, it was California, I reasoned, as I helped him lift the desk from the back of a big dark brown van. I was surprised by its weight and concluded it must be well made. For its small size, it really was quite heavy.

We carried it back along the side of the pool and up the stairs to my apartment. I had the space ready for it and while Hank went back for the matching chair, I ducked into the bedroom and quickly pulled a clean pair of gym shorts and T-shirt on over my completely dry swimming suit. By the time I got back to the door, Hank was coming up the stairs and I was waiting with the cash.

He looked over the apartment and pointed out several of the things I'd already noticed, the rough, exposed beams in the living room and the quaint glazed tiles around the fireplace.

"These walls are very heavily textured plaster," he noted. "They would have been trawled on over lath. You can't really get that effect with modern plaster board. You could really play up the texture by giving them another coat of paint in a slightly different color, either lighter or darker would work, and just rolling it on to hit the high spots."

"I noticed the beams, of course, and the tile," I said, "but I didn't know about the walls. Maybe the painting would be a good project, but not any time soon. I think I`ll have my hands full just getting settled."

"I guess some elements of the original architecture survived the remodeling," he said. "Your apartment has a lot of possibilities," he added. "The light walls will be a perfect foil for some good pictures."

I didn't have much in the way of refreshments but offered to make coffee or tea.

"I'd love to stay," he smiled, "but really must run. Maybe another time."

"Well, thanks for bringing the desk," I said. As an afterthought I gave him my phone number. "I'd be interested in other pieces if you find something I can afford."

"I'll keep a lookout," he said as he shook my hand again and left.

That evening I fixed my first real meal in the new apartment, a stir fry with rice and a lot of vegetables, which turned out quite well. Over the next few months it became one of my favorite meals and a sort of Alvarado Court tradition. In its simple form it was perfect for a meal alone. In more elaborate forms with shrimp or chicken, it was a meal I wasn't embarrassed to serve to guests.

After eating I made a round of phone calls to people at home. I called my parents, Steve, Daniel and Sammy and then Rick and Deb. The excuse was to give them my new phone number and address and to let them know that I had actually moved into my new apartment. In each case, the sound of their voices filled my heart with a sense of loneliness. I was loving my new life in LA but my heart was still in Mississippi.

I didn't call Joyce, figuring it was better to leave her alone. If she wanted to make contact she could call my folks for my address.

I also realized that it was time to find a church. Now that I was in my own apartment I could see which congregations were closest and perhaps find one I'd want to join. During my four years in Oxford, Mississippi, I'd attended St. Peter's occasionally, especially after Steve took a liking to the services. He always seemed happy to go along whenever I decided to go. He never really prompted our attendance but would mention upcoming events on the church calendar and seemed to most enjoy going at Easter, the two years that we were actually on campus when it occurred.

I can only remember three or four times when all four of us, Steve, Daniel, Sammy and I attended St. Peter's together. I think the liturgical service was too foreign to Sammy's experience for him to feel all that comfortable there, but when we went as a group he would come along.

Daniel, I had eventually learned, had sometimes attended an Episcopal church in Memphis with his maternal grandparents and he had an obvious knowledge of the liturgy.

Daniel's father's family had been belonged to a Reform Jewish congregation and had been generous contributors when a new synagogue had been built in the years just after World War II. But despite their support of the construction effort, he said he had no memory of his father or his paternal grandparents actually attending synagogue services and he felt they saw their Jewish heritage as largely ethical and cultural, but not as religious.

At Daniel's mother's insistence, he'd been baptized as an infant at the Episcopal church her family attended. Daniel's father, whom he said was not at all religious, had no objection and would occasionally attend the Episcopal services.

Like many college students, though, I was anything but regular in my church attendance and I never really took an active part in the special programs for the university students, as I`d done in the programs for high school students when I was at home in Spring River. Now that I was more or less settled in LA, I figured it was time to reestablish my youthful enthusiasm for church and reaffirm my own commitment.

It wasn't that my own faith had lapsed. It was just the hectic schedule at the university and my tendency to let other things take precedence over getting to church services.

That night, my second in the new apartment, all these thoughts were drifting through my mind as I stretched out in my big bed. I slept peacefully and woke the next morning ready to strike out and explore my new world.

On Sunday morning I found a church, looking up several listed in the phone directory and then locating them on a big city map. The one I settled on was a bit of a walk but I was very impressed by the service as well as by the warm, welcoming congregation and by the amazing architecture. I felt a sense of amazed delight at the church I'd visited, seemingly by chance. As I sat in the magnificent Romanesque nave of St. John's on Adams Boulevard in Los Angeles that morning I knew I'd found a place where I wanted to belong.

Architecturally it was completely unlike the churches I'd known and loved in Mississippi, but I felt at home with the familiar liturgy and the music. The sermon that morning seemed to have been planned specifically for me.

The preacher talked about daring to venture into new and challenging places, to risk discomfort with the unknown, to dare to follow God's leading, even when we felt as if we were being led into an uncharted wilderness.

It was at such times and in such places, the preacher said, that we often drew closest to God as we admitted our dependence on Him and accepted His love. It was there that we could truly receive His love and then become the reflectors and transmitters of that love. We could learn to love the unlovable, the forgotten, the ones our society shunned, and that was not only the mission of the Church, but the real mission to which every Christian was called.

I felt welcomed there and soon settled into a long and happy association. St. John's served the local community but also had an active ministry on the USC campus. As a result there were a lot of young members.

After the service, I took a slow ambling walk back to Alvarado Court, stopping for lunch at a little Italian restaurant and then a detour through Macarthur Park. It was a beautiful afternoon and the park was filled with people enjoying a relaxed Sunday. By the large pool which nearly fills the south side of the park, I sat for a while watching children playing with model sailboats and older kids on the large lawn tossing Frisbees.

Young couples lay on blankets on the grass and a few older folks sat with their newspapers enjoying the gentle sun. Life seemed easy and relaxed and I felt increasingly comfortable in my new home.

The next day, Monday, I picked up the loaner the car agency was letting me use until my own car arrived. The loaner was a 1970 Firebird, bright yellow and in reasonably good shape. It actually looked great but had a few mechanical idiosyncrasies which I soon got used to. The most annoying one was its tendency to stall until it really got warmed up.

After limping through a few crowded intersections I learned that LA is not a city known for its patience and took the car back to the agency and had the idle advanced. From then on it ran well enough but it sounded like I was ready to peal out whenever I was stopped for a red light. Fortunately I only had to drive it about three weeks before my own Firebird arrived.

With an apartment of my own, mobility with a car at my disposal and a job which was increasingly occupying my mind, I soon felt as if Los Angeles had truly welcomed me. Over the next few weeks my life took on a pattern and then patterns within patterns. I established a routine and began to know a few people.

The waiter at the little Italian restaurant on Wilshire knew me. "Ho lo, Robe," he'd say with a big smile and point me toward the corner table he knew I liked. I had become a regular.

The Mexican guy who tended the lawn and cleaned the pool at Alvarado Court became a buddy. He'd come by when I was doing my laps and watch me swim.

Later, while I lay on one of the loungers reading, he'd spend an inordinate amount of time trimming the bushes by the pool, all the while telling me about his wife and kids in Guadalajara. He was a striking guy with a lean, hard body and a face that looked like some Mayan ritual mask. He talked about his family but his gaze suggested more interest in me than he probably intended to reveal.

I got into the habit of making two big glasses of iced tea and taking them to the pool with me, one for myself, one for Emmanuel. He seemed surprised that I would do such a simple thing for him and was always very appreciative. He was a nice fellow and I enjoyed his stories but I couldn't help wondering what this straight guy really wanted. Maybe he was just practicing his English, I thought.

The Rector at St. John's knew my name and greeted me each Sunday as if I were a charter member of his congregation. I started staying after the services for coffee in the parish hall and soon knew half a dozen members of the church, both men and women, who were "in the business," working in one capacity or another in the film industry. When I told them I was at NSB and a Nathan Fellow it was as if I'd said I'd won an Oscar. It wasn't long before I was being asked to go on from the church with a group of them for lunch. That little group became significant in introducing me to an even larger circle of friends over the next few years.

I soon learned that the few hours required each week at Basingstoke's office, his "shop," as everyone called it, were only the tip of the iceberg so far as my own work was concerned. The assignment he'd given me was far more complex than I'd first imagined and it soon seemed as if my every waking hour was in some way taken up with it. I worried over the dialog and began to see that words were only a small part of the process.

For a film version of Call the Dark Waters to succeed, some way had to be found to convey the mood of Bell Corley's book. It was her descriptions of life in a dreary Midlands industrial town which carried the story, not the few passages of dialog it included. Trying to invent additional dialog which imitated her writing style seemed wrong as well as futile.

At the second meeting of Basingstoke's team which I attended I tried haltingly to make that point.

"Exactly, Rob," a woman named Peg Solanski said. Her tone suggested that the rest of the group had figured that out long before I, as the upstart kid, arrived on the scene.

"I heard you already have people in England looking for locations," I said, not willing to be deterred.

"Yes," Basingstoke himself said. "We've had a team there since March."

"Have you considered who you'll ask to write the musical score?"

"That's not our job, Mr. Ballinger," Basingstoke fired back. "The producer and the director will make those sorts of decisions. Our task it to produce a script."

I was silent. At a later meeting or in private conversation with Basingstoke I'd try to learn more.

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and on many Saturdays I spent a couple of hours at the gym. My routine on the weekdays was to get there early and be back to Alvarado Court in time for a light lunch before leaving for the NSB studios and Basingstoke's team meetings. The physical exercise helped me cope with the frustrations of those sessions.

Working out when I did, I never saw Billy Bowen at the gym but Sandy, the day manager, often looked on as I did my routine. There weren't many clients around on weekday mornings and Sandy seemed to enjoy watching me, often giving me a few pointers or spotting for me when I did bench presses.

On Saturday mornings the gym was packed and the routine which took me an hour other days often took nearly two. I enjoyed the time there though and began to spot a few regulars with whom I eventually became friends.

Even though I was rarely at the gym when he was there, I did see Billy at the NSB studio. He was always friendly and never failed to say he hoped we could get together. I assured him that at some point we would, once my life settled down a little.

On Monday I got through some of the routine things I was discovering were part of the reality of living alone. I'd found the laundry room at end of the carport and done my washing for the week, stripped my bed and washed all my dirty clothes. While the clothes were drying I did a quick cleanup of the apartment. There was a vacuum cleaner in the closet and I pulled it out and gave the place a going over. The odd odor of the new carpets was finally almost gone. When the clothes were dry I remade the bed and folded and put away all my clean clothes.

There was a sort of comfort in the small tasks of life. Even the ones I didn't really enjoy gave my existence purpose. I realized that in the quiet moments and even in those simple tasks that I was still very lonely. I missed my family. I missed Steve and Daniel and Sammy. I knew Joyce and I had grown apart and that we'd never again be more than good friends. Most of all, there was a great void in my heart where Rick belonged. It was the first week in July and at least I was finally feeling that my life in LA was taking on some sort of order.

Little did I know!

Later that morning I got back to my apartment after a hard workout at the gym followed by some morning errands to find three messages on my phone answering machine.

The first was from Hank Shear, the antique dealer, saying that he'd found a great Stickley library chair and matching footstool he knew I'd want. He said he'd hold them for a few days so I could see the pieces before he put them in his shop.

The second message was from Dex Cohen's secretary asking me to stop by his office that afternoon about four. I hadn't expected to go into the studio that day but quickly changed my plans. When the great man calls . . .

The third message was from Nita Ball. I'd not seen her since I moved into Alvarado Court and had been meaning to drop by her office to thank her for all her help.

"Hi, Sweetie Pie," she said, her friendly voice booming from the little speaker on the message machine. "I've been thinking about you and hope you're happy as a lark in your new little nest. How about dinner? My place. Give me a call."

To be continued.