With the hospitalization of their parents, Chuck Winters functioned as public relations man and buffer between the three siblings and the media. The sudden reappearance of Emily Keeler was big news. People who had turned their backs on her years ago when she abruptly left Hollywood had filled the papers in less than twenty-four hours with fond reminiscences. Max despised them all. Whatever Chuck Winters wanted, he would get. Including a speedy pick-up of his phone call. It wasn't quite nine a.m. in Hollywood. What was he doing at work so early?
"Hi, Chuck." She settled into the sagging corner of a couch in the cavernous living room, which also served as the costume shop and Green Room for the Homespun Theater.
"How are you three holding up? How's Joel? What do the doctors say about Emily?" His sympathetic smile came through the phone.
"Dad's more alert. Dr. Holland is threatening to take the phone out of his room if he doesn't stop trying to run things from flat on his back." Max congratulated herself on keeping her voice steady. "We're doing okay. Rehearsal tonight. You're coming for opening night, aren't you?"
"Haven't missed it in seventeen years. Certainly won't miss it now." He sighed.
Max heard a multitude of unspoken messages in that sigh. Chuck Winters had been friend, critic and supporter to her parents when they first established Homespun Theater. He had given away the bride when Joel and Emily married. He had spirited away talented new actors Joel and Emily had nurtured, to careers on both coasts. When Max began writing, he had hounded and harassed her until she improved it enough to be saleable. She blamed him for her current misery, caught in a book she no longer wanted to write. She would be lost without him.
"Got some good news today," he said after a few moments of sympathetic, comfortable silence. "Pelican wants an option on your Gabrielli script. You'll get just over eight thousand after my fee, but it's a start. They want a bio piece before they make a final decision."
"They heard about Mom and made the connection, didn't they?" Max wondered how she could feel so elated, and then two sentences later feel like a lead weight had settled into her stomach. "They don't want a family comedy script. They want something written by Emily Keeler's daughter."
"Son." Winters chuckled. "For some reason, they think you're a boy."
"We're getting hounded here, people asking about Mom. If everybody thinks Max is a boy, that'll be some protection for us, won't it?"
"And when you have to go to L.A. for meetings? If they're expecting a man, and a woman shows up..."
"For now, could we leave them in their ignorance?" Max sighed and pushed her problems aside. This was no time to feel sorry for herself. Future problems would just have to be handled in the future. She had her brothers and parents and the theater to worry about.
"All right." Winters sighed too. Max wondered what kind of rotten day he had been having. Probably woken at dawn by reporters. "I'll send a safe, unisex biography. I hope you won't be too proud to accept the option check, even if all they do want is something from Emily's kid."
"I'll take all the money I can get right now. Insurance doesn't cover everything." Max leaned back over the swayed arm of the sofa and stared at the ceiling.
The spider web of crack marks across it had four new arms. Someone would have to climb up and spread tarpaper and sealer on the former firehouse roof before it rained again. With the hospital bills that weren't covered by insurance, and no real hope of getting restitution from the drunk truck driver who hit her parents, how could she find the money for this new expense? It was all resting on her. It seemed to Max that every hour brought some new responsibility and pressure. For the last two days, her prayers had mainly consisted of "Help!"