The impromptu script meeting had gone shockingly well, especially since it had been called just as everyone was leaving for their much-deserved two weeks off. The fairy tale idea had come from so far out of left field that nobody was inclined to complain about it, especially since it involved no "romps", and no music except "fairy tale" stuff. There was only one point of contention... everyone wanted to play the Princess Gwen, and the writers had Mike in mind.

"How come Mike gets to be the princess?" Micky whined. "I can do more voices than he can dream of!"

"Well YEW don't have the proper in-toe-NAY-shun," Mike delivered in a Texas-twang falsetto that sounded like it was filtered through ground glass. "THAT'S why." He finished with a sweet smile, finger pointed under his chin.

Davy was pounding the table in hysterics, and Peter had almost fallen out of his chair. In the end, even Micky couldn't hold it together.

The three writers nodded and smiled mildly in agreement. They weren't given to raucous displays of enthusiasm. All of the unbridled wit and surreal circumstance in the universe may have dwelt in their heads, but it seldom made its way outside except on paper. Bob, who had barely sat down for the time it took to outline the episode, smacked his hand on the table.

"Done. We'll go into more detail when we get back from the break. Genie will be working on a few costume ideas, right?"

The head of wardrobe nodded grimly. "I will be slaving by my candlestick in my garret, night and day." Then she burst out laughing. "Tall Boy, I am going to enjoy this so much I might feel guilty for getting paid."

"I heard that," Bob called over his shoulder as he headed down the hall.

"Yeah but Bonnie's not here to witness it, and we didn't hear nuthin," Micky yelled. This brought Bob running back.

"That reminds me, when are you guys getting back from New York?" he asked Mike.

"Beats me… she's the master planner, remember?"

"Yeah, that's what I was afraid of… shit. Where you staying?"

"Are you kiddin'? If I told you that you'd be looking for a new princess. She said 'anyone who tells Bob how to find me will be singin' soprano on the next album.' And man, we believe her." Three other heads nodded readily in agreement.

"Don't worry Bob," Peter reassured him, "If they're not back on time I'll go looking for them."

Bob grimaced. "Wow. That makes me feel all better. I can see this is going nowhere. See you in two weeks." And he left for real.

As they passed the reception desk on the way out of the studio building, the receptionist waved a couple of message slips at Mike.

"Your service called, there's two more messages today."

He took them from her with a mumbled "Thanks" and stuffed them in his jeans pocket after barely glancing at them. He knew who they were from, and he intended to ignore them for as long as reality would let him.

Peter caught up with him as he stalked to the parking lot.

"What's up, man, you look like you just got your draft notice."

"Nuthin. I gotta get home, Bonnie's doin' her laundry and if I'm not careful she'll be washing everything that isn't nailed down." He slid behind the wheel and had cranked the engine up when he saw Peter was still with him, the tenacious bastard. "What? Gimme a call and we'll get together before break's over." To his surprise, Peter jumped in the passenger side. Mike killed the engine and turned to glare at his uninvited copilot.

"Bull. Shit." Peter said simply. "If you stuff any more paper in your pants the chicks are gonna have you for lunch." No smile was forthcoming from his friend. "Seriously, man. Every time you get handed another message the clouds over your head get darker."

"Busted. But I'll figure it out."

"What is it, money?" It had been coming in pretty steadily, and he knew Mike was getting additional royalties for songs on the albums, not to mention stuff he'd written previously that was being covered by other musicians. But he also knew Mike had a taste for the "finer things", like fast cars and that fancy music studio at his house, and high-priced wines. Everything that was the opposite of his dirt-poor childhood. Not to mention that mind (and wallet) blowing night on the town he'd rigged up for him and Bonnie that last night in Paris last week. So it wasn't too far out to think he might have spent himself into a hole.

"Money?" Mike laughed out loud. "Man, money is easy." Then he looked thoughtful, and then angry. "Shit, that has to be it! We're raking in the dough now, and she wants in!"

"Who wants in?"

The anger in Mike's face was diluted to annoyance, and not a little disbelief.

"Phyllis, man. Six messages in the past three days. She keeps calling the service, sayin' we need to talk about something to do with the settlement. Now I'm thinking she wants a bigger cut."

Peter sat back hard in his seat. He'd been friends with Mikes' ex, as much as he'd been with Mike, in the very early days after the show had been cast, when the salary and royalty advance checks had them all running to the nearest realtor. There had been some outtasight barbecues at his place and Mike's, just the guys and various girls-du-jour, some staff. It was before anyone knew Bonnie very well, when she wasn't even seen outside of the studio. Good times… but they hadn't lasted for long. Mike's taste for the young (and younger) women who came with their very newfound fame was developing fast, as was his rage at discovering that the musical limits of his contract were, in fact, real. The two combined to burn his marriage to the ground. No, not burn… it exploded like napalm on dry grass. The ink was barely dry on the bill of sale for the glass-faced house on Crescent Drive when Phyllis Nesmith packed her bags and split, lawyers in tow. To everyone's surprise she didn't clean him out, though his repeated, casual infidelities and black moodiness gave her plenty of ammunition. It was "mental cruelty" in court and in real life, but nothing more on paper. Oh, he'd never raised a hand to her… he didn't have to. In the end she was beaten down by her need to get out, and his apparent indifference. She applied only for enough alimony to support her at the level they'd lived before he got the show, which was nothing to write home about. Mike agreed without complaint, though Peter had the feeling at the time that Mike didn't really understand why she was leaving. He was so involved in his own head that nothing outside of it made much of a difference to him anyway.

"There's no room left there for anyone but Michael and his anger," Phyllis had confided to Peter in despair the week before she left. "The girls, the groupies, I know they're no more to him than vodka is to a drunk. But there's no room there for me, not in that house, and not in Michael's life. Peter, I'm better than this." She'd broken down and cried as she admitted it, and Peter had hugged her and told her she was right, and to take care of herself. He had never seen or heard from her again in the year and a half-plus that passed. Though he found it hard to believe she'd turned gold digger, he had to admit he couldn't guess what that kind of painful struggle, and admission of defeat, could do to a woman who had been through all of the "worse" of her marriage only to be left in the dust when things were turning better.

Not that Peter credited Mike's new relationship with turning him around. Even Peter, the philosopher of the bunch, wasn't naïve enough to believe that one person can work that kind of magic on another. He'd been able to see Mike's rage for foxy strangers and for, well, rage, burning itself out gradually in the guy who'd turned out to be a natural, if difficult, friend. He really thought that Mike and Bonnie had just crossed paths at the right time, which he figured was magical enough for any two people. What it seemed to bring out in both Mike and the woman who had first seemed to be determined to run from any close connection looked like a good thing for both of them. Even the jagged parts of them seemed to match each other where they couldn't match anyone else. He knew Bonnie well enough by now to know that she hoped that some of what Mike was able to find in himself when they were together would make the leap to his attitude in general, but that seemed to be slow in coming. All the same Peter could see his two friends were far more than the sum of their parts, and for that kind of thing no one person could take credit. It just happened as it would, and nothing could explain its presence or its absence, or its timing.

"Why don't you just call her and find out," Peter suggested at last. "I'm not sure why she called your service, anyway. Maybe she's trying to give you some space here, not to ambush you, you know?"

"You think too much, Pete. I changed the number after I signed the papers. The studio won't give it to anyone lower than God, and even then they ask for a password." He pounded the steering wheel in frustration. "Damn! Things are just starting to hit a groove with the show, with the Grammy and Emmy, and that music we played in Paris." He calmed down then, and his voice got quieter. "And me and Morris, Pete I think I finally have a chance here to get it right, y'know? Not perfect, not God's gift, but sometimes there's this look she gets, and it just tells me. Man, I don't need this trouble!" Peter looked at him with steady eyes, and he couldn't look away.

"You want to do it right? Then call her. Wanting to do it right doesn't mean shit. And where Phyllis is concerned, you discovered new ways of doing it wrong that experts still want to study."

"Well gee, Pete, thanks for all of that peace, love, and moral support."

"Just telling it like it is. You want bullshit, you can go to anyone outside of this car. Except Bonnie, I mean. What does she think?"

"Haven't told her, man. We're just getting' ready to go to New York so she can meet up with her friend Ari again, maybe make some peace with those pieces of her past she left behind. Now here comes my past to bite me on the ass. Peter there is no easy way to tell her about this, no matter what Phyllis wants. Morris knows I was married, and she knows I was probably lucky to get out alive being the kind of sorry excuse for a husband I was. But she's still figuring things out, she still worries about what it all is, and what she's riskin', and whether I'm worth it. Man, there is no easy way to do this."

"Maybe not. But if you meant what you said, if you want to get it right this time, maybe you gotta do it the hard way."

Bonnie was just about finished stuffing her sorted laundry back in her duffle bag, glad for even this diversion in exchange for having to go to work. She'd turned Nesmith down the couple of times he suggested she could move in. She wasn't ready to give up her place, still feeling the ice was a little too thin yet to trust it with the whole weight of her life. But free laundry using top-shelf Italian machinery… for that, she was in. The only rule he had was… don't touch his stuff.

"Nesmith I have done things to you that could get me arrested in several states, but you're freaked about me handling your undies?" she'd asked with a laugh.

"That ain't it… I just know how to do everything just the way I like it. It's not something you can learn or memorize."

"You mean like Zen."

"I mean like fabric softener and rinse cycles. So hands off."

She was beginning to learn what a closet fuss-pot Nesmith was in certain respects. But she could deal with it. Not, so far, inclined to live with it, though. She'd dropped the full duffle on the floor with a thud and was smoothing the massive dent out of the chinchilla bedspread when she heard the door close downstairs.

"Hey cowboy!" she hollered out the bedroom door, "I starched your shorts, now you can really hit them high lonesome notes!" She waited for the requisite reply of "I ain't no cowboy!", lately amended to "Goddammit Morris I ain't no fuckin' cowboy!", but heard nothing except the halt of footsteps near the front door. A harder sound than his high-topped moccasins, yet lighter than the Cuban heels of his boots. Oh crap. She crept to the bedroom door, and listened. Not another sound. Wishing mightily she knew where Nesmith kept the antique Colt revolver he'd mentioned more than once (and knowing it didn't work anyway), Bonnie made her way to the top of the stairs.

"The owner is gonna be back any minute," she called out in her most threatening voice. "And if he doesn't kick your ass, I sure as hell will!"

"Hello?" came the questioning reply. A woman's voice, with a genteel touch of Texas.

Bonnie cautiously descended the stairs, and stopped dead halfway down. Standing just inside the front door was a stunning blonde. No, not stunning, drop-dead, cover-girl, Vogue magazine gorgeous. Tall, blue-eyed, with long smooth golden hair and a figure and an outfit that made Bonnie feel, dressed as she was in cutoffs and one of Mike's dozen or so Triumph t-shirts, like Raggedy Ann descending on Glamour Barbie.

"Do you live here?" the blonde asked her.

"No. I'm just doin' laundry." She figured it was safer at this point not to say too much.

"You're the housekeeper?"

"Hell no." She padded barefoot the rest of the way down. "But I have a key."

"What a coincidence," the blonde said mildly, "so do I." Then she seemed a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I didn't expect anyone to be here."

"Then why did you come in?"

"I was going to leave a note. Michael hasn't been returning my messages. It's important I talk to him."

Something was coming together in Bonnie's head. It twisted into a tiny crystalline knot that promptly descended to her stomach.

"Well I work for the studio, I can pass on a message. Can I tell him who came by?"

"Tell him Phyllis came, because he wouldn't return my calls and I need to speak with him."

"Okay. Does he have your number?"

"Yes, but here's my card." The woman fished a business card out of her her zillion-dollar purse and handed it to Bonnie.

"If I don't answer it will go to my service. Tell him that I return all of my messages. I'm sorry if I disturbed you. I'll let myself out." And she left, closing the door behind her.

Bonnie wasn't entirely surprised as she looked at the card, except by the deepening chill in her gut. Beneath the words Floral Horizons, no-doubt a high end florist, was a name in elegant script:

"Phyllis Nesmith, Assistant Manager"

It had to happen sooner or later, she figured. No, no it doesn't. But it was happening now, ready or not.