Teaser 280: What the Heck is Serena Doing Here?


It was still September, the documentary had been available for viewing in theaters for only two weeks, Omar and I had yet to seriously start to evaluate and discard the non-contenders for possible acquisition, when there was a determined knock on the door of our small room at Hotel Shanti. Both Lena and I, since it was earlier in the morning than we considered time to get up and go, still sat against the headboard of the bed, and I yelled, “Who is it?” I didn't need Omar bothering me this early.

“Open this door, Al-Barrak, the former Gregory Hess, or you will really piss me off!” Serena shouted behind the locked door.

I turned quickly to Lena and asked, “What the heck is she doing here?” I got up quickly, throwing on some pajama bottoms Lena had recently bought for me, and walked the few feet to the door. I noticed the mat at the threshold was pushed away, so I opened the door, bent down to grab the mat, said, “Let me fix this,” pushed the mat even with the door, and I started to rise up. Serena cold-cocked me with a thoroughly delivered right upper-cut, which knocked me over, off-balance, and I sprawled onto my back on the floor, noting Lena's look of surprise as I passed her view until I laid out fully. Lena was naked with the blanket and sheet covering her in bed to her waist and Serena burst into the room, stepping over my sprawled body, and saw Lena sitting up in bed.

“Come in, my love, and sit down at the table and get comfortable. I'll bet it was anything but an enjoyable trip from Los Angeles. Would you like some tea, dear? Al, please get the door.”

“Thank you, Lena, my love,” Serena replied, stepping over me on the floor and walking to the table to sit down at the only chair next to it, though flipping it around toward Lena. “It's so nice to see a familiar face around here, one that's civil and welcoming. Though, I can see a little more than your face, Lena, dear.”

“It doesn't bother you, does it, Serena, my love?”

“Heavens, no, my love! I've seen that many times, and you do have an attractive body, Lena. I suppose I'll see the rest once you climb out of bed to serve me tea?” Serena chuckled and Lena laughed. I struggled to my feet to close the door, trying to focus through the stars dancing in my vision, when I glanced to Serena as she winked at Lena. Silently, rubbing my jaw, I rose to my feet and closed the door.

Lena immediately popped out of bed, completely naked, and prepared tea for Serena, while I climbed back onto bed, nursing my aching jaw. “Well! What brings my favorite Mexican actress to India besides the severe need to fracture my jaw?”

“Oh, I think after tea and exchanging pleasantries with my dear friend, Magdalena, I'll prob'ly be leaving,” Serena replied, her sarcasm anything but hidden. “You don't seriously think I came to engage you in any kind of interaction, now, do you, Al, sweetie?” Serena puckered and gave me a couple of disingenuous kisses from her seated position at the table. She turned to Lena, who was standing with her back to her at the kitchen preparing the tea kettle. “You do look absolutely gorgeous, Lena, my love, despite being married to that husband of yours. I'm sure he does nothing to help you keep your fine figure. It's all your handiwork. True, my love?”

Lena turned her head around to catch Serena's gaze. “I know my husband well, Serena, my love, and you do, too.” With the tea now ready, Lena grabbed a cup for Serena and brought it all to the table and poured Serena a cup of tea. When she finished she rose after leaving the tea kettle on the table. “Sugar, my love?”

“That would be wonderful, my cherished hostess. I see what you bring to this marriage.”

Lena walked back to the kitchen for the sugar bowl with spoon inside and brought it to Serena at the table. Lena stood above her, reached for her right shoulder and settled her left hand on it and squeezed. “My dearest Serena, we once talked to each other regularly, but when you stopped calling me, I thought you had no interest in any relationship with me. Things had changed in our lives, Serena. I married the mutual love of both our lives and you became involved with someone else. I agree with my husband, dear, your personal life, when you are away from all of us, is none of our business and you should be left in peace to pursue your personal life. While you're away from us, you have to keep us in your life if that's what you want. When you don't, it speaks volumes, my love.”

Serena took a sip of sugared tea. “I never wanted to exclude you or Esperanza, Lena.”

“But you never took steps to keep us included, Serena, and we were the ones who took the step with Al-Barrak to marry him before you did.” Lena removed her hand from Serena's shoulder, walked around the bed, and climbed under the sheet and blanket next to me. “Esperanza and I both know marrying Al before you married him has hurt you, and you know it, too. You and I have both talked about it. Are you going to tell me different, Serena?”

Serena hung her head slightly, shook it, and raised it back to Lena's gaze. She smiled wickedly. “I think if my choice to marry were either of you, I'd marry Magdalena.” Both laughed, from deep below I recognized.

In a very serious tone, Lena stated, “I used to swing that way, Serena, but I don't feel it any more. I honestly feel less and less desire for any of it, and Esperanza? She was never that way so she would feel less receptive than me. Either way, it doesn't have any bearing on anything, except you could never share your desire with Al, Serena, and I know you still have it. Both you and Esperanza have a year more experience with Al than I do, but I know from what Esperanza has openly shared with me, her desire for this man never died, while her love grew for him in all that time. What Esperanza and I learned was that, should we have any desire for a man, it should be for one for whom our love grows above desire. In both our lives and experience only one man meets that criteria, that need, and he's the same man for whom that same criteria meets your needs, or do you not see your need to be with a man for whom your love grows as your desire diminishes?”

Serena was lost in contemplation of Lena's argument while I remained silent. A thought suddenly occurred to me. “Is Sofia with you, Serena?”
With some resentment, Serena frowned and stated, “Of course she's with me. She insisted on coming, though I don't know how long we're staying. We may just turn around and leave.”

“Where is she now, Serena?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“She's outside waiting in the taxi.”

You left her out in the oppressive heat in the taxi, alone? What's wrong with you?” I rose from the bed on Serena's side and started to move past her.

“Oh, she's fine. They're parked under the big tree anyway.”

“It's gonna be a hundred degrees again today, Serena, and extremely humid. Taxi drivers turn off their taxis when they have to wait like that. Don't you know that?” I turned quickly to Lena. “Will you please put some clothes on, my beloved?” I ignored Lena's huffing and puffing.

Shaking my head vigorously I walked past Serena to the door. “We may not even be staying, Al-Barrak,” Serena complained as I reached it. I ignored her, walked through the hall, down the stairs, out through the lobby to the waiting taxi, in the bottoms of my pajamas only. The taxi, as I suspected, was not running, the windows were all down and the heat and humidity was becoming oppressive. Stepping out from the lobby and onto the lot, as I got closer to the taxi, the driver saw me and stepped out from the driver's seat. “Is the lady coming soon to pay me?”

“I'll pay you from the cash in the lobby. Where's their luggage?”

He started to walk to the back of the taxi. “In the trunk.” He opened the trunk and I saw Sofia looking out through the rear window and smiled to her. Her expression was guarded uncertainty.

Between the two of us we pulled out all six pieces, setting each on the pavement behind the taxi. I looked at two of the bigger pieces and glanced to the driver. “If you would take those two into the lobby and wait while I bring the little girl in, I'll pay you and you can be on your way. I'll then take care of the rest.” The driver frowned mightily, but soon lifted both pieces, struggling a bit on his walk to the lobby entrance. I walked around the passenger side with Sofia sitting behind the driver's seat, still wearing her guarded expression. I smiled as I opened the door across from her. “Will you accompany me, Sofia, into the lobby where it's cooler and get out of this heat and humidity, please?” She displayed no reluctance, scooted a couple times closer to me as I leaned in farther, then leaped toward me and wrapped her arms around my neck in a stranglehold. I struggled for breath lifting her out of the taxi and left the door open.

Sofia buried her head against my shoulder, still strangling me, and asked, “Why is Mama so mad at you, Papi?”

“I'd answer but you're strangling me, little squirt,” I managed to mumble. Sofia lifted her head and eased her arms around my neck with a giggle. Her eyes were fixed on mine and she smiled and suddenly kissed me on the lips. When she leaned away I replied, “Your mother and I have hardly spoken lately, Sofia, and just that tends to push people apart who once were close.”

Sofia displayed a determined, knowing air. “Mama and you should fix that, Papi. You've hardly spoken to me recently but I'm not mad at you.”

I carried her to the lobby door and set her on her feet as I reached for the door and opened it, feeling the welcome rush of cool air. “You know, little squirt, you're probably right. We should fix it. We should act like adults, agree?”

Sofia beamed with accomplishment and put out her right hand. “Agreed!” I shook her hand and she threw our hands down to seal the deal.

Omar and Darshana were both behind the counter, staring at me with disapproving disbelief, often glancing down at pajama bottoms. Darshana preferred to avoid looking at me at all, her husband's business partner standing in the lobby of their hotel shirtless in his pajamas and bare feet. I asked the driver how much. I relayed the amount to Omar and asked him to draw it from the register, which he promptly did. I handed the rupees to the driver, focused on Sofia, stepped to her and caressed the right side of her face. “Stay in here where it's nice and cool while I bring in the rest of the luggage.”

Sofia stepped to me and hugged me tightly. She stepped back and started to walk to the lobby door, glancing back with a smile. “I'll help. I've got muscles, too.” She lifted her right arm, sleeveless, and flexed her bicep for me. The driver held the door open for her and I followed them out. Between us we brought the last of the luggage inside in one trip and Sofia carried one of the bigger pieces with considerable grit. The driver closed the door, the trunk and drove off. We set the luggage in a corner of the lobby.

“So, you have visitors, partner?” Omar asked smugly. Darshana, behind him, shook her head.

I stepped to the left side of Sofia, slipped my right arm around her neck and set it on her right shoulder. “Omar, Darshana, meet Sofia Dominguez, an old and dear friend.”

Sofia slipped from under my arm and stepped to the counter, reaching across it with her right hand, and said, “Pleased to meet you, Omar.” Omar chuckled as he grasped her hand lightly and shook it. Sofia turned to Darshana with her hand still reaching out. “Pleased to meet you, Darshana.”

Darshana smiled widely and grasped Sofia's hand. “Pleased to meet you, young lady, and such manners, too.” Omar and Darshana laughed together.

“Sofia's mother is in my room at this moment, and I don't know exactly what her plans are, so I'm going to leave their luggage in the lobby until I do know, if you don't mind.”

Darshana suddenly became wide-eyed. “Was that Serena Dominguez?”

Sofia smiled. “Yes, that was my mother. Was it quite the entrance?”

Omar and Darshana laughed and Omar squeezed out, “I should say so.”

“She had quite the entrance prepared at my room,” I advised, rubbing my left cheek, which still stung. “Greeted me with a right uppercut and laid me on the floor. Apparently, this is her idea of how a Mexican greets an old friend in India.” I turned to Sofia. “Come, little one. Lena would very much like a hug from you again.” We walked out of the lobby leaving Omar and Darshana laughing.

I knocked on the closed door since all the hotel rooms locked automatically. We would never change it for any of the rooms so any could be used for guests. Lena opened the door wearing plush cotton gym shorts and T-shirt. Her smile was forced and her eyes, I noted, were narrowed when she caught my gaze. “Welcome, Sofia. Come in,” she greeted Sofia. The two immediately hugged.

We stepped in and I closed the door. “It's very small, Papi,” Sofia remarked, looking back to me.

“Home is what you make of it, little squirt.”

“And I would imagine Lena has made that most of it, prob'ly despite you,” Serena added.

“Mama, please,” Sofia admonished.

Serena rose from the chair. “We should be going, Sofia.” She turned to me quickly. “Did you send the taxi away?”

Before anyone else could say a word, Sofia sat on the edge of the bed and looked up at her mother severely. “I just got here, Mother. Sit down!”

Serena wore an expression of astonishment which I rarely saw on her face. “Don't talk to me-”

Sofia folded her arms together across her chest and repeated with more emphasis, “I just got here, Mother. Sit down!”

Serena briefly looked at all of us, one after the other, with her same astonished look, now turning to embarrassment. She suddenly sat down violently in the chair and it rocked with her movement. She turned her head to avoid looking at any of us and drew her purse to her chest.

Sofia sucked a deep breath which she exhaled loudly. “There,” she announced, glancing to Lena, then me. She turned her head to face Serena. “Mama?” She waited until Serena turned to face her. “May we all talk now and try to suppress our anger?” A moment later she added, “Please?”

I looked down to the floor and didn't notice Serena's severe expression eased a bit as she stared at her daughter. She looked up at Lena standing before the kitchen, wearing her smile. Serena smiled back, re-engaged her daughter. “Would you like to serve as referee?” That brought some chuckles. “Apparently, you want to be in charge.”

Sofia uncrossed her arms, set them on either side, and scooted onto the bed so only her feet slipped beyond. “I think we need no referee, Mama. We're all adults here. I happen to be the youngest, that's all.” With great satisfaction, as we all laughed, she leaned back on her elbows across the bed.

“If I say, 'welcome to India, Serena,' you're not gonna cold-cock me again, are you?”

“I think once is enough. I wanted your attention. I suppose I got it?”

“Considering I could see Lena's face as I passed her on the way to the floor, you certainly got her attention.” Even Sofia laughed loudly.

Lena climbed on the bed close to Sofia, reached for her and stroked the opposite side of her face, with Sofia's smile of approval. “Please don't run off, Serena. Stay here for a while, though not here. The hotel's completely booked, but there are hotels in Kapurthala and Amritsar, they're all close, there's plenty to do and see here. You'll enjoy it. Extend your stay, too. I enjoy living in India. Al loves it here. Even Heinz our driver prefers it over Germany.”

“You brought enough luggage for an extended stay, Serena. You must have been thinking something.”

Serena's smile was thin and her tone was exasperated, but her severe expression had diminished. “I wanted to see Lena.” She glanced to Lena with a smile and turned to me. “Yes, I wanted to see you, too. And, no, I don't see my 'billionaire boyfriend,' as you call him, any more. I heard that from John. It seems it's the only way I ever hear anything from you, through John.”

I walked past the bed, past Serena's chair, avoiding touching her, and pulled out the chair before the desk, turning it toward Serena and sat down to face her. “So, what are you thinking, Serena? Why did you come here? And, please, don't run off, now that you're here. I want you to stay, just as you told me once. I want you to stay forever.”

Serena smiled but her eyes were narrow. “Forever's a long time, Al-Barrak, and you and I have a lot of catching up to do.” Her lids opened and she smiled widely to Lena. “You're married to an Arab who's a rock star now, wearing a toga!” Laughs and she turned back to me. “You are surely conflicted, Al-Barrak! You have a lot of explaining to do!” More laughs.

“I'll tell you what I did miss in all of it, Serena. I sorely missed not having you out there shaking it on stage as one of the Maenads!” Laughs again, and Serena's smile opened wide. “I missed that, Serena. There were many times when I would imagine you up there with us. It would have been a very pleasing sight, to watch Lena in her skimpy little costume, and turn to you and watch you in your skimpy little costume, the two of you shaking it to no end. It would have taken a great effort to wipe the smile from my face.”

“I thought about it when I watched your movie, being up there with all of you. I would have enjoyed it, doing it all on stage before a live audience.” Serena shook her head and her smile faded. “It's a very long flight to India from California, Al, and I had little else to do except think about everything, you, me, Sofia, Lena, Esperanza, your movie, what John has told me, all of it. Sometimes, it made me mad. You don't seem to care about me any more.” She fixed her gaze on me, assured, strong, confident. “Over and over I would hear you tell me, 'If I considered you the most desirable woman in the world, that would put you up there pretty high in my opinion of women, wouldn't it?' But I'm not there any more, am I, Al-Barrak? I'm nowhere near the top, am I?”

“I have always wanted you beside me, Serena. I have never wanted you anywhere but beside me. I told you once over the phone you have my full attention and Lena sat right beside me and heard me say it. When the call was over Lena certainly reminded me I said it. I told her, in all truth, it was embellishment, you have never needed my full attention, only when you crave it, and when you do you get it. Lena has never needed my full attention, only when she craves it, and she gets it. Esperanza is exactly the same. She craves it and she gets it. None of you need my full attention all the time, only when you crave it, and the craving becomes less and less frequent, because it has become all of us. Every one brings talents, abilities, an attitude, a behavior, a demeanor, all of which is appreciated, cherished by all others, and the craving becomes less and less important. There is room for you here with us, Serena, and when you crave that attention from me, you will get it, because we all want you here. This is where you belong, with all of us. There is no one out there who will welcome you and everything you bring with you like we will. No one.”

Serena lowered her head briefly, lifted it to fix her gaze squarely on my eyes, and asked, “Do you remember when we last slept next to each other, Al? The last time I felt your body snuggled up against me?”

I smiled. I never forgot. “Well, I should be unable to remember. It has become less important, but I do remember, in a bed we had never slept in before, at Kendall's shack. And I remember the following day, how you made the whole week so memorable, and I remembered that you said I better make it memorable for you, too, and I reminded you you had said that.” I paused as I searched Serena's face, watching her eyes moisten, glisten, become so liquid, and I could see her expression tighten because she was remembering that moment in her bedroom the day I left for Africa and how everything changed between us. “'If you don't come and hold me like you will never let me go, I will never want to see or hear from you again.'” Her eyes were becoming even more liquid...

From her left eye, a single tear accumulated until it became large enough to swell beyond the bottom of her eyelid, and slowly rolled along the side of her nose down her cheek. Serena made no effort to wipe it. I watched it roll down until it reached the top of her lip. When it did her lips quivered slightly. With some effort she stated, “But I miss that, Al-Barrak...I'm not where you're at, where Lena's at, Esperanza. I miss it because I still enjoy it.” She suddenly drew up straight and proud, wiped her face quickly, and burst out laughing. When it passed after a few moments, she remarked, “I would have to marry Al-Barrak to have that, wouldn't I?”

“We would, my beloved, but it doesn't have to be anything fancy. We could be married today.”

All laughed, even Sofia, and Lena sat up on the bed. “It wouldn't take much, Serena,” Lena advised. “A simple promise from you, a simple promise from Al, you're married...Esperanza, though, would be very disappointed. I believe you promised her she would be your maid of honor, my love.”

Serena laughed. “Yes, that's true. She wouldn't take that very well.” She laughed again.

Sofia sat up in the bed next to Lena. “So, there, see? That wasn't so hard, was it, Mother?”

Serena smiled. “No, that wasn't so hard.” Serena frowned slightly. “You're not even a teenager yet and you're already ordering me around.”

Sofia crossed her arms. “You weren't acting very adult like, Mother.”

All laughed and I looked to Serena and she returned my gaze while biting her lip. She turned her head and placed her purse on the table, turned back and set her hands in her lap. I was watching her hands and I noticed her right hand, the one she used to put me on the floor, seemed bigger than her left. I rose from my chair toward her. “Let me see that hand.”

“Which hand?” Serena asked facetiously.

“This one,” and I reached for her right hand. She sat motionless and assured as I gently lifted her right hand from her lap. I rested it in my right hand. It felt puffy. I gently squeezed it, looking in her eyes, and she grimaced. With my left hand I reached for her left hand and gently squeezed it, while she smiled. “This hand is swelling, Serena, and it hurts a little, doesn't it?” I lowered them both to her lap and released them.

“It's nothing,” Serena scoffed. “De nada.”

“I'm going to get some ice for it,” I said, rising.

“I'm fine, Al-Barrak.”

I stared into her black pearls, noting her inviting smile. Leaning closer I raised my right hand slowly to her left cheek and caressed her as her smile widened. Slipping my hand under her chin I lifted her head, leaned closer until my lips reached hers and kissed her for a few moments. I leaned back, locking again onto her black pearls. “Yes, you are fine, as attractive as ever,” and Serena flashed a very wide smile, “but I need to get some ice for your hand. Let me do it now.”

“As you wish, Al,” and she displayed a frown, “though I will survive. Your jaw's not made of steel. I can swear to that.” She glanced around me to Lena and Sofia and winked.

I went out to the hotel's ice machine with a bowl. When I returned Lena had already laid out a towel on the counter and I let her pour some ice on it, wrap it and take it to Serena sitting next to the table and the two worked it around her hand. Serena turned slightly and set the hand wrapped with the towel on the tabletop. “What are you doing here in India, Al? Is this really where you want to live?”

I sat on the edge of the bed closest to Serena so we could see each other easier. “This is where I want to live for now, yes.”

“Yes,” Serena uttered with her famous sultry tone, “and there's hardly room for you and Lena. You'll have to do much better than this if you want me with all of you.” To make her point she swept her head to glance around the room and added, “Much better!”

“As a matter of fact, Serena,” Lena stated, “we were all going to look at properties today for our next acquisition, mostly apartments.”

This is what you want to do here, be a landlord?” Serena's face was disappointed.

I grinned widely. “You have no idea what we started with here, Serena, but we took many pictures as we progressed and I'll show them to you later. This was a hotel, below average, but even with only sixteen units and in one of India's most popular vacation areas, it was rarely booked completely. Is this not a gorgeous wood floor?”

I watched Serena's gaze drop to the floor, admiring it. “It is quite attractive.” She glanced up to me. “Did you put it in here?”

“It was already here, Serena, covered by a gaudy carpet, done by a previous owner. The man from whom we purchased this property didn't even know each room had carpet covering a perfectly elegant teak wood floor. We added kitchenettes to each room, and Lena designed all the small rooms like this one. Yes, it's small, it's cramped, but each room is an entire and complete living space. The village granted us the right to offer rooms as apartments and we have four permanent residents, one of whom is an older man about my age, with relatives who live nearby, he has no permanent occupation, he has a crippled left foot from an accident as a youth, he does odd jobs, sometimes even begging, though he does it in very unique ways, he has some artistic skills which he uses to make exceptional paper creations, but he pays his rent on time, every month, in rupees, he is quite the conversationalist and respectful of all the guests. He would be living under the stars today, like he was before he heard about this place, Serena. It's true he can barely afford to live here but he makes do. Sometimes we find him odd jobs. This is what I'm doing here, because I can do it here, the Indian people are letting me do it here, there's no rancor, vindictiveness, no contention. In fact, most who know about this, about Omar and me and what we're trying to do, are quite anxious to see what we'll do next.” I stood up and walked past the table to the sliding door leading to the balcony. “What you will discover, Serena, as you look for your hotel today as your place to stay for a while, is most, and almost certainly the one you choose, has plenty of rooms available. They're not completely booked. We haven't had a single room open on any night since before May, dear, not one.” I turned to face her as Serena had turned to face me. “All at a reasonable price just about the least in all of India can afford. I'm not there yet. I've only started, but I'll get there. You watch me.”

Serena shook her head. “Why don't you make movies, Al-Barrak? You're damn good at it, in case you didn't know.”

I stepped behind Serena and placed my hands on her shoulders. “Like to be in my next one?”

Serena leaned her head way back against my stomach, looking up into my eyes. “The last movie I did was your movie, Al. Think I don't remember how special it was?”

“That wasn't my movie,” I remarked, patting her shoulders. I sat in the chair next to the desk facing Serena.

Serena turned all the way around to face me. “Yes, we all know the convention, Al. A movie belongs to the director. That's the convention. Who in the business is the unconventional one? Who writes a screenplay, a western, set in eastern Mexico performed entirely in English? Who meets with another screenwriter to transform a weak story into a compelling and captivating one? Who produces a live stage performance and enhances it for the movie version, which was an entire musical performance, no less? Who produces a documentary about an experiment in Africa which he himself organized? Who else is that unconventional, who can do all that?” Serena smiled widely, watching my smile widen. “One! There's only one who is that unconventional, and he prides himself on it. Do you not, Al-Barrak?”

“Well, when you put it that way,” I smiled while everyone laughed.

“Where are you with Andrea's script?”

“I'm about halfway through,” and I shook my head, “but I don't know how I want to finish it, yet. It's heading in the direction of a typical romantic ending, like hundreds of other stories, and that has no appeal to me. I'm struggling with it.”

“Well, figure it out, Al-Barrak, and find a place for me in it, too, please. I haven't been on a set in years and I miss it, but the set I would like to be on is your set. I know what it would be like. I've been on a set with you before and it would be even better with you as director. And Andrea on the set? With Drake, too? I wanna see it!”

I rubbed my wounded jaw, not because it still hurt, which it did, but because I was thinking, contemplating a future in which I would be, once again, bound inextricably. “Well, let's think about this.” I started rubbing my chin, then let my fingers drift through my unruly beard. “If we spend a few days looking at properties and find the one suitable, I could turn Omar loose while working with Lena on design possibilities, which she has shown a very capable talent to perform and seems to enjoy doing it at the same time. Am I correct, my beloved?”

“I do enjoy designing these rooms, my beloved,” Lena responded with her effervescent smile. “I had no need before, no opportunity, but when I got here with your need, I really enjoyed doing it. I especially enjoyed working to put it all together. I love doing that.”

I smiled widely remembering. “You should have seen it, Serena. She and Esperanza assembled most of the cabinets in these rooms. It took days and days. They never complained. Most of the time they were laughing while they were doing it and they installed many of them, put them up against the wall and screwed them into place perfectly.”

“It was far less stressful than criminal psychology, let me tell you, Serena.” We all laughed.

“So, let's think about this...Find the property we all want. I'll dream up an ending for Andrea's script.” I turned to look into Serena's beautiful black pearls. “You start arranging our wedding in California-”

“Now, hold on there, vaquero!” Serena interrupted.

“No, Serena, listen to me for a few minutes. Listen.” I waited for her acquiescence. She became quiet and attentive. “For years, you and I have talked about commitment and we both know what it entails. There has always been some roadblock to keep us from a full commitment, but every time we've faced these roadblocks, you and I, together, separately, have implored, pleaded, with each other, 'Don't quit on me.' You and I have said it many times to the other and have had this very discussion many times, too. Take the time while you're here to arrange the wedding. Go back to California if you need to. Recruit Esperanza to help. She's your maid of honor so she'll jump at the opportunity. Invite 'em all. Make it as big as you want. I have no objection because I want you to plan the wedding you want, except avoid the legality part of it, okay?” Everyone laughed, even Serena. “I have two wives already. I'd prefer not to arrive in the United States of America to be eventually arrested for bigamy. I could do without it.”

“It is another thing to consider, Al-Barrak,” Serena interjected. “Marriage introduces the idea of sharing everything. You've said it yourself. It takes two lives and twists them into one and with all your wives, it complicates everything.”

“Do you trust me, Serena, trust me completely?”
“You know I do.”

“As my wife, everything I own belongs to you, too. You have a considerable amount which you own, which you control, more than I have, which I think is fair to state. Keep what you have if it's what you wish. Keep it separate. I have no interest in it. I don't want your property, what you own. I want you! If it makes you feel more secure in our impending marriage, write up a legal document to that effect and I'll sign it. I don't want your property, Serena. I want you.”

“It would be different than...” Serena let it drift away.

“Of course it would be different than what we've all agreed previously. So what? Do you really think it's why we all want you with us, to have access to your property? Really? Is that how you've interpreted the many conversations you have had with Esperanza, with Magdalena, all those conversations which never included me? Those two want your property?” I looked at Serena somewhat severely.

“Okay! Settle down, Al. Don't look at me like that!” Serena smiled. “If you did sign something like what you propose, it would make us different, wouldn't it?”

I smiled big and wide as I engaged Lena's gaze. “Hmmm. Different. Serena would be different, Lena. That's what we're lacking! We're not all the same. I'm different from you. You're different from Esperanza. She's different from me. We need to be all the same. How can we do that?”

Lena turned to Serena. “Serena, my love, you must keep your stuff away from Al. He'll only squander it, you know.” Lena and I laughed loudly. Soon, Sofia joined us and Serena finally laughed.

“Okay, so you've drafted the legal document to protect yourself, I've signed it, no one has an objection, can I move on, please?”

“All right!” Serena loudly proclaimed, glanced to Lena, and both laughed.

“We have the wedding. Lena leaves everything in Omar's capable hands for a few days and flies in, Esperanza stands beside you as your maid of honor, the ceremony takes place, everyone, even your unique family members, enjoy themselves, but,” I paused for a moment. “Instead of taking off for some honeymoon destination, we report on the set of my movie, though I have already begun to address it as our movie since it involves all of us, and we'll shoot it under the very capable and watchful gaze of Jeremy and David and maybe even Conrad, and we'll wrap the movie and gather together for possibly the most bizarre wrap party the business has ever had, because you can imagine the kinds of conversations we'll have at that wrap party after that movie. Jeremy will take the recordings to Germany and start the editing process, you and I will come to India, and for our honeymoon, we'll go to work on preparing the new property, and we'll take occasional breaks so I can show you some of the sights and sounds and treasures surrounding you in India, and we'll plan and prepare for our futures, our lives together.” I sat up straight and smiled triumphantly, noting Serena's wide and pleasing smile. “Now! Do you have any real objection? It is not conventional, yet you love and are in love with anyone but a conventional man. It seems to meet every hope, desire and aspiration you have ever expressed to me, my beloved.”

“Well, I do love an unconventional man, so, yes, it does seem to fit.”

“And think of this, too, Serena,” Lena added, smiling at me widely. “If it doesn't work out, having your legal document, all you have to do is tell Al-Barrak, 'I divorce you,' four times in one sitting, and you're on your merry way.”

Serena turned to me. “That easy, huh?”

“You'll tell me three times easily, Serena, but I'll be glaring at you waiting for the fourth one. When I hear it, you'll be clearing out immediately, because I will never wish to see or hear from you ever again. When I marry you, it's for life. This ain't no game.”

That he does mean, Serena,” Lena advised her.

“If it doesn't work out for you, if you find yourself unhappy and discontent, I do not want you to be trapped in such a marriage. There is your easy and faultless way out of it, but if you invoke it, we will have no relationship after. We will be through and you will live every moment of the rest of your life without me in it. I promise you that.”

...

I noted Sofia's horror, Lena's shock. Calmly, I asked, “Have you sought counseling, Serena, as I have always suggested?”

Serena suddenly brightened and looked to me cheerfully. “As a matter of fact, Al-Barrak, the former Gregory Hess, who initially suggested it, yes, I have. You wouldn't believe what she told me.” She paused, fixed on my face, my eyes, searching them, with a victorious expression. “She wanted to know everything about it, and then she asked, who knew? I told her everything about you, Al, everything I could think of about our relationship, our very intimate past, even your insistence I should seek counseling or it wouldn't last between us. Do you know what she told me? Can you imagine it?” I simply smiled warmly. I had a feeling what she was going to tell me. It was exactly why I had insisted she seek counseling. “She said rape victims often recognize a man who truly loves them beyond the desire, they see it and recognize it, but they have little recourse than to hold on to that man desperately, and in their desperation, they often surrender themselves, surrender their own bodies, because they find it difficult to think a man's desire for them to be anything more than physical, than for their bodies. The counselor said it, said what I knew when she said it has always been true for me, and you knew it, too.” Suddenly, no warning whatsoever, tears streamed from her eyes and ran down her face freely. “You knew about me the whole time, you have always been right about me, and I both hate you and love you at the same time...and I don't...think I can live without you.” I thought about Serena's past regarding this traumatic event, how it had shaped her and she had suppressed it, repressed it, for over thirty years and was still doing so, except for this moment of unveiling before those who would never judge her. I rose from my chair, took the two steps to her, and dropped to my knees to place my head in her lap. I heard her try to laugh, felt her rub her hands over my head, even try to lift it, but I kept my head tightly against her legs, and she continued to rub my head. “If we marry, Al-Barrak, will I still be your equal, your partner, instead of just one of your wives?”

Lena laughed, and Serena forced a laugh, as I lifted my head to catch her gaze. “I said I never want to consider you as only my wife and I still don't. I have always wanted you beside me, not in front to show you off, not behind me because I'm the leader, I want you beside me, my partner, my equal.”

Serena gazed at me intensely and suddenly got caught in one of those physical moments where one chokes and shudders uncontrollably, and her entire body shook under me. She was still streaming tears but her gaze never wavered, fixed entirely onto my eyes as I looked up unblinking at her. When it had finally passed, she stated emphatically, “Marry me, you nutball, and never leave my side again.”


- Just Desserts, Segment Thirty-FourDebut of a Movie Mogul” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

contact me, as always: schussprose@gmail.com