You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.
Brendan loved visiting his mother,but his amusement always faded when he realized it was inevitable they’d have to slog through some sort of open-air market, art show, or street fair. He let himself enjoy the fine California weather, trailing along after her as she worked her way through the tony Laguna Beach crowd. Between the efforts of some very famous Southern California artists and the donated offerings of local, high-end restaurants, his mother’s favorite breast cancer charity was certain to bring in big money toward the cure.
He moved briskly when she darted past him to clasp the hands of a handsomely dressed, seventy-something matron in a white caftan-like dress. What did it say about him that his mother made him feel old? She was still a girl, really, one of Hollywood’s glorious moppets, wearing torn blue jeans and a silk peasant blouse with layers of chiffon scarves that framed her enchanting face. She wore her curly dark hair long,in defiance of her age. At fifty-four, her face still said thirty loud and proud. As far as he knew, the only thing she did was Botox between her eyebrows and a tiny bit of collagen to plump the lips. The rest was just genetics and a loving God.
Standing next to his mother only served to emphasize that today he lacked his usual exotic flair. He looked like her accountant or a lawyer; not a flashy lawyer either, but the kind who sits benignly behind expensive desks all day doing revocable trusts. He’d thrown on a sport coat and tie because he’d taken her to a nice place for lunch, but he forgot that in California a nice place meant exchanging flip-flops for cross trainers and putting on a shirt.
This wasn’t to say they didn’t make a fine picture together. Brendan knew they stirred things up wherever they went: the aging starlet and her well-heeled executive son. They were both at the top of the game in their respective worlds, hers being celebrity for its own sake and his as the fashionable, independent minded, and charitable CEO of B2 BioEng.
Morgan Blankenship schmoozed, and he followed along after her as she led him through the stalls of the many artists she called friends. He waited patiently while she introduced him and responded politely when they asked him questions.
Entirely too many of the photographs and canvases featured her face in its youth, when she’d been the star of several cult horror films. Some displayed her more mature beauty; looks that catapulted her into her current tenure as patron saint of the cougar movement, because she dated a twenty-million-dollar-a-picture summer blockbuster action-star half her age.
Earlier that day, Brendan had stumbled into a ten by ten foot space that held his worst case scenario-her nude body, tattoos and all-displayed in various poses too erotic for anyone to have to see their mother in without oxygen and a Freudian psychiatrist standing by. He winced while he tried not to see them, these blowsy living color and artistic black-and-white reminders that his mom flew her freak flag regularly.
“Brendan?” She called him over to a stall with colorful serigraphs that seemed harmless enough from a distance. “What do you think of this one?”
Before he glanced over, he asked, “Are you in it?”
“Not this time, dear.” Was she laughing at him? “Meghan only paints fruit, so you can look, if you feel like it.”
He glanced over and did a double take. “Oh, shit.” Meghan might only paint fruits, but those fruits were engaged in some hot fruit-on-fruit action.
“Where do you find these people, Mother?”
“You’re such a prude.” She put the canvas back on the display table and waved gaily at the woman who had painted it. Like everyone on earth, the artist lit up under the intense focus of Morgan Blankenship. “That’s wonderful, Meghan. I’ll catch you later.”
“Thanks, Morgan. Will I see you at the auction?”
“You bet, darling.” Morgan blew her kisses. As they walked away, she leaned in to whisper, “She’s a treasure. Such whimsy. The world needs her kind of fun. People are entirely too serious.”
“I don’t know. Whimsy is vastly overrated. Toby is whimsical.” Maybe he said that just to get her going, but it derailed her train of thought from art to his brother, Evan, who had only recently hooked up with the supreme pontiff of whimsy, his hot new chef partner, Toby, in and out of the kitchen.
“Speaking of which. As my serious son, how do you perceive your brother’s new partner?”
“Do you mean in life or at the restaurant?”
“Both. Evan called me the other day. He said you made mischief on his opening night? Shame on you.”
“Still a snitch, is he? In my defense, I can honestly say it wasn’t my fault. Toby thought I was Evan, that’s all. Slight misunderstanding.”
His mother raised an eyebrow, a move that perfectly conveyed her doubts. “But I hear you didn’t set him straight right away…”
“In all fairness, my mouth was rather busy at the time.” Brendan bit his lip. “And my hands.”
“You were not exactly pushing Toby away, to hear Evan tell it.”
“Oh, all right. I said I was sorry. What do you want to do, put me in time-out?”
“You know Evan’s not as…adept as you are at social matters. If he’s found someone, you should be glad for him.”
“I know.” Brendan wasn’t about to mention that the way Evan looked at Toby made him feel envious-lonely, even- for the first time in his life. “I am glad.”
She peered at him thoughtfully. “Then what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong.” He glanced away and caught sight of his mother’s slim back-and ass-sketched in charcoal, complete with her highly recognizable “Scream My Name” tattoo. “Mo-ther. Why can’t you drag me out to meet ugly girls like all the other little gay boys’ mothers?”
“Just think how much worse it’s going to be. I will be like Cher, still flogging my shit at, what is she now…sixty something? This is for charity, darling.”
“But couldn’t you just… I don’t know. Bake something?”
“Yes, dear, I could, but then we’d have all the corpses to deal with and the coroner’s inquest… I’ll leave cooking to your brother. And yes, we’ve returned to the subject you so neatly tried to avoid. Good thing too, because I noticed a vaguely disturbing something distant-ish in your eyes when you talked about him. What is it?”
“Nothing at all. I’m glad for him.”
“And nothing. Toby’s nice. They’re good together. I think it will probably even last. Love of his life and all that.” He smiled faintly. “If you believe in that sort of thing.”
“And you know I do.” She continued to frown up at him, so he shrugged. “It’s so odd that while he’s not adept at social interaction, he’s completely in touch with his heart, whereas you, my dear, have yet to find yours-if such a thing actually exists.”
“You’ll love Toby. I suggest you go for a nice long visit.” Brendan hid his irritation that she was once again spot-on in her knowledge of him and didn’t spare him from a close examination. “Stay right there at Toby’s place with them. Take your time and see all the sights. They’ll be thrilled. Everyone loves a long-term house guest.”
“You are the evil twin. You know that, right?”
“It’s quite likely.”
Morgan put her hand in the crook of his arm, almost like a real mother, he thought wryly, and led him toward the tasting tables, where someone had thoughtfully left a cheese and fruit buffet. A passing waiter offered his mother a glass of white wine, and she lightened his load by two, giving Brendan one.
“You’ll find someone, sweetheart,” she told him, causing the food to turn to ash in his mouth. “And Evan will always, always be there for you, even if it seems like Toby is his number one now.”
He winced. “You make me sound like such a turd.”
Morgan saw someone she knew and started toward them but glanced back at him. “Yeah. Well, if the poo fits… Okay if I go say hi?”
He waved her off. “Go. Chat. I’ll be over here, drinking and getting a complex from looking at your naked ass pictures.”
She shot him a wink. “Don’t ever say I never gave you anything.”
Her dainty feet crunched the fallen leaves as she walked away.
Maybe it was the crystalline perfection of the fall day, the blue sky, the deep, fast-moving, fleecy white clouds, the breeze that brought both the salty tang of the sea and the earthier, richer loamy smell of the leaves that lay decaying in piles along the sidewalk, but time stood still while Brendan savored the last drop of chardonnay in his glass. He watched idly as a small bird hopped from a tree branch to a spot not far from his foot, where someone had dropped a cracker. He heard his mother’s laughter, probably for the millionth time, yet still consciously thought it was one of his favorite sounds.