Once and Again...Once Again

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Written by Angela Stockton

Edited by Milton Boyd

Lily's kitchen is the site of a whirlwind of activity on a weekday morning. [In black and white, she comments, "Be careful what you wish for, they always say. I haven't been careful. It's pretty radical for me, considering what a chicken I've been most of my life. So how did I get so lucky?"]

While Lily fries eggs and Rick, finding no cream cheese in the refrigerator, wonders how to make plain bagels palatable, they hear Zoe and Jessie snipe at each other about sharing their cramped bedroom. Judy arrives with exciting news: a bookstore owner in Boston has heard about her Booklovers concept and wants to license the name for use in his chain. The deal will be highly profitable for her. "I got out just in time, didn't I?" Lily comments dryly. "You can come back any time you want," Judy assures her.

Rick notices that Eli is not up yet, and he's not pleased when Jessie scornfully remarks that Eli never wakes up before noon. He has no time to deal with this problem, however, since he must take the girls to school and go on to his office. While preparing for her own workday, Lily, clad only in a towel, steps outside her bedroom and almost bumps into Eli, who's wearing only boxers. Eli's friend Coop, also in boxers, suddenly emerges from Eli's attic bedroom. The self-conscious threesome make stilted conversation, the boys mentioning that they were practicing their music until 4:00 a.m., until Lily signals for Eli and Coop to step aside. "That's your stepmother? My God!" awestruck Coop whispers to Eli.

Arriving at pagesAlive, Lily sees her co-workers somberly packing boxes and dismantling the furnishings. "Did somebody die?" she asks in alarm. Christie breaks the news that the magazine has been shut down, effective immediately. "I guess I can tell you now-- you weren't much of an assistant, but you made one hell of an older sister," Christie tearfully tells Lily as they embrace.

Lily returns home to find Eli on the sofa, eating potato chips and watching Jerry Springer. He tells Lily that the dysfunctional families on Springer's program make his own look normal, and complains that Karen is always nagging him about school or work. "I'm still looking for work," he claims, nestling against the throw pillows. Belatedly he realizes that Lily is home earlier than usual and asks why. "Looks like I'm going to be looking for work too," she answers as she sits beside him on the sofa and accepts his offer of a potato chip.

Later, when Grace arrives home from school, she hears a rap CD blaring and follows the sound to the living room. She's dumbfounded to find her mother seated before the stereo, keeping Eli company while she listens to The Vibe with evident enjoyment, and explaining why she's home early with a blithe, "I got fired."

While Lily and Rick prepare for bed that night, Rick wonders aloud how he can motivate Eli and marvels that Lily is taking her unemployment so serenely. Lily invites Rick to "jump me," but their foreplay is interrupted by the raised voices of Jessie and Zoe, followed by the slamming of a door. "One, two, three," Lily sighs, just before someone knocks on her own door. "Come in, Zoe," she calls.

Zoe enters, with Jessie close behind, to complain that she can't sleep while Jessie is doing her homework on the computer in their bedroom. To Rick's dismay, Lily invites Jessie to use the computer in the master bedroom. While Lily walks Zoe back to her room, Jessie tells Rick that she doesn't like living there and wants to live full time at her mother's. Rick pleads with her to give the shared arrangement a chance.

In the morning, Jessie and Grace are en route to school in Rick's SUV, Eli at the wheel. Beneath the passenger seat, Grace finds a jacket which Eli identifies as Coop's. As she holds it up, a sandwich bag filled with marijuana falls out of the pocket. Eli is so startled that he takes his eyes off the road and fails to notice a wheelchair-bound woman in the crosswalk; when he finally sees her, he has to swerve and slam on the brakes. The SUV is struck from behind by a tailgating car.

A police cruiser arrives at the scene. Under questioning by one of the officers, Eli appears flustered. Grace tries to answer for him, but her adversarial tone and Eli's furtive manner arouse the officer's suspicions, and he asks permission to look inside the SUV for its registration. Seeing no alternative, Eli reluctantly assents. The officer finds the marijuana and arrests Eli.

Lily and Rick arrive at the police station to find Karen already there and feverishly mapping out a "structure" for Eli's life. Ignoring Rick's reminder that they had agreed to let him take the summer off, she declares that Eli needs to go back to school or find a job immediately.

Once Eli is released, Lily herds Jessie and Grace into her car, Rick heads for the impound lot to retrieve his SUV, and Eli is left with Karen. "Eli, you know things are going to have to change now," she begins. "Mom, it's pot! I'm not a junkie and I'm not a dealer!" he protests. "Are you telling me you haven't smoked pot?"

Rather than answer, Karen states that the issue is not whether or not he uses pot, but his life in general. "I can take care of my life," he claims. "I'm not so sure you can," she answers, and lists her conditions: he must get a job or go to community college; she and Rick have to know where he is at all times; and he has a ten o'clock curfew. Finally, she decrees, "No music. No sessions, no gigs, no rehearsals, not until you put the rest of your life together."

After dinner that night, Lily, Grace, Zoe, and Jessie clear the table and discuss Eli's arrest. Grace argues that the police search of the SUV was unconstitutional; Zoe pipes up that a classmate of hers has smoked pot. Lily is dismayed not only by her mental image of eleven-year-old potheads, but also by Grace's casual remark, "Pot is all around, that's just the way it is."

"If everybody around you was jumping off a cliff, would you..." Lily begins. "Mom, pot doesn't kill you!" Grace scoffs. Lily's concern deepens. "Are you saying you use it?" she asks.

Cornered, Grace fumbles for an answer. "If I said no, you'd think it's because I think it's wrong, and I don't know if I think it's wrong, and frankly, I have to make that decision, not you," she babbles. "And if I said yes, you'd kill me."

"Well, I haven't smoked pot," Jessie offers. "Me either," Zoe adds.

Rick and Eli enter the kitchen. "Well, I'm starved," Eli says to break the strained silence.

That night, when Rick and Lily are alone in their bedroom, he pulls her toward him. "I don't know if I can have sex with you, you raised a drug addict," she jokes. "And your daughter's his dealer," he teases her. Seconds later, they hear the sound of a door being slammed down the hall. "One, two, three," Lily sighs.

Their door opens. "Mom!" Zoe whines.

In the morning, Lily finds Eli hunched over restaurant listings in the yellow pages, unable to bring himself to call any of them. He complains that he doesn't want to be a waiter anyway, and that his parents won't let him do what he wants to do, which is play music. "How about a job in the music business?" she suggests. "Like working in a guitar store, or for a music publisher, or in a recording studio?" She volunteers to drive him to interviews.

Later, she waits in her car outside a recording studio. Eli emerges downcast after his encounter with an unfriendly receptionist. While commiserating with him, Lily notices several young men unloading musical instruments from a truck. "Come with me," she orders Eli. With Lily in the lead, they stroll over to the truck.

"Hi, guys," Lily says, flashing her friendliest smile. "What's the name of your band?"

"Planet Suicide," one replies.

"Oh, I saw you guys! Didn't you play at Ground Zero?" she continues, as Eli listens in disbelief. But she praises the band as "edgy" and once she has their undivided attention, she nudges Eli forward. Taking his cue, he starts helping them unload their equipment. "He's very helpful," Lily says by way of introduction.

Lily and Eli return home to find Rick, on kitchen duty, futilely searching for an entree that both Jessie and Zoe will eat. Eli announces that he has a job and recounts how Lily impressed the band's manager with her tale of having been in a band herself. Modestly, Lily explains that she learned the jargon while dating a musician years before.

At that moment, Karen calls and Jessie tells her that Eli has found a job. Pleased, Karen asks to speak to him. While talking to her, he tries to skim over specifics, but she won't be dissuaded, and he's finally forced to admit that the job is in a recording studio. "You got a job in a recording studio after we talked about music?" Karen asks sharply. "Whose idea was this?"

"Actually, it was Lily's," Eli confesses. Karen slumps over her phone, her face lined with fatigue and annoyance.

On another day, Rick, Karen and Eli meet with criminal-defense attorney Stephanie Arlyn. "If you say the pot wasn't yours, I believe you. But the judge won't," she warns Eli. Given his assurance that it's his first offense, she advises him that if he stays clean for two years, the misdemeanor conviction can be expunged; but if there's a second offense, he'll go to jail. She says that the hearing will occur in four weeks, and at that time he's to appear in a suit, and be employed or "in a graduate program in particle physics at Northwestern," she quips.

Outside Stephanie's office, Karen tells him that appearances matter in court and he'll have to find another job because "the perception of the music business is that it is filled with drugs." When Eli scoffs at her generalization, she insists that she knows what judges think. "They weren't my drugs!" he protests.

"So you're saying you didn't use them," she replies coolly. Eli rolls his eyes.

That night in their bedroom, Lily is appalled at what she hears from Rick: he and Karen have decided that Eli has to be up at 8:00 every morning and on the telephone by 9:00, looking for another job, and he must make five calls before taking a break. Furthermore, since Eli will be making his calls from their house, they want her to monitor him. "Even though you and your wife didn't even ask me my opinion of it?" she snaps.

"You...are...my wife," he reminds her tersely.

Lily points out that job hunting is terrifying for Eli and that his parents should give him some guidance. She also objects vehemently to being expected to enforce his restrictions when she doesn't agree with them. Rick begs her to let him and Karen handle Eli.

To lighten the mood, Lily jokes that Rick should have married a submissive little girl who wouldn't give him a hard time; Rick jokes that he thought he was marrying someone like that. Playfully, they begin to make love and for once, they're not interrupted.

Next morning, Grace visits Eli in the attic. She offers her sympathy over his uncomfortable situation, and he thanks her for sticking up for him with the police officer. Further conversation is drowned out by their sisters' screaming at each other over a missing notebook. Grace and Eli go downstairs to the girls' room, but they're ignored by Jessie and Zoe and fail to defuse the tension. Soon afterward, Jessie is with Lily in the kitchen, pouring herself the last of the orange juice, when Zoe walks in and pointedly asks, "Mom, can I have the orange juice?" Exasperated, Lily declares that she, Rick and the girls will have a talk that night.

Jake arrives, cheerfully caroling, "Good morning, all girls." Jessie sets down her untouched glass and leaves the kitchen. Jake responds to Lily's "How are you?" by sardonically pronouncing himself "pretty wonderful." When she asks if he's heard from the bank, he replies that he always hears from the bank and asks, "You don't have a hundred thousand lying around, do you?"

Grace enters the kitchen and declares that she's ready to leave for school. Jake asks her to "round up the twisted sisters," then helps himself to the orange juice. He tells Lily that as far as the restaurant is concerned, he expects to have another month "before the ax falls."

Later, when Eli takes a break from cold calling, he finds Lily on her own job hunt, researching magazines online. He complains that every job looks boring--every job, that is, except the one at the recording studio--and asks Lily what she'd do if she were in his position. Initially wary of becoming involved, Lily finally responds that it doesn't matter what she thinks, because in the end he will have to make his own decisions. Raising a child to grow up and think for himself is what being a parent is about, she says.

After school, Jessie goes to Karen's house, where she again complains about having to live part-time with her father. While Karen is explaining that they can't change the custody decree, she hears Eli strumming his guitar in the basement. Rushing downstairs, she warns Eli, "No music until you have a job."

"I have a job," he reminds her. Karen asks if he understands that the decisions he makes will affect his future. She's infuriated when he replies, "It's my future," and adds that Lily thinks he's right. Heading for the door, he promises sarcastically, "I'll try not to succumb to the influences of the evil world of music."

Next time Karen delivers Jessie to Rick and Lily's house, she asks Jessie to send Rick out. Rick is shocked and skeptical when he hears Karen's shrill assertions that Lily told Eli to take the recording-studio job, and that Eli should live with her full-time because he needs supervision. "Are you saying he's not getting that here?" he asks indignantly.

When their raised voices carry to the house, Lily strolls out to join Rick and Karen. Not disarmed by Lily's pleasant smile and greeting, Karen asks if she advised Eli to take the job at the studio.

"I didn't, actually," Lily replies. When Karen seeks clarification, Lily explains that she told Eli that eventually he'll have to make his own decisions.

"His father and I decided that he shouldn't take the job, so I'm confused why you would say that," Karen says testily.

"That eventually he'll have to make his own decisions?" Lily asks incredulously. "It's true, isn't it?"

Karen calls Eli "a boy who's looking for any way to avoid facing his responsibilities" and brushes aside Lily's plea that "he's also a boy who has a very real passion for something," saying that another adult's opinion may only confuse him.

"Do you want me to keep my mouth shut and let you and Rick handle it because you're his parents?" Lily asks.

"Well--I guess since you put it that way, for the moment, yes," Karen answers.

"Then consider it shut," Lily says coldly, turning to go back inside the house. Seething, Karen returns to her minivan. Rick, who has listened to their barely-civil quarrel in impotent silence, looks skyward.

In the evening, while Eli packs a bag, Rick and Lily meet with Zoe and Jessie. Zoe suggests that since Eli will be living with Karen full-time, Jessie can move into the attic. Rick and Lily reluctantly agree.

Later, in the master bathroom, Rick remarks that Lily seems "ready to burst into flames" and urges her to say what's on her mind. What's on her mind is Eli. "Do you think it's a good or bad idea for Eli to wake up every morning and have his mother map out his day?" she asks him. "She wants to treat him like he's five."

"He's acting like he's five!" Rick argues.

"No, he's acting like a scared eighteen-year-old who needs some help and guidance, who should follow his passion," she corrects him. She asks Rick to put himself in Eli's place and say what he feels about Karen's draconian rules.

"I didn't get busted for dope," he protests.

"No, you just drank yourself silly," she answers bluntly. Stung, Rick asks what she means; she retorts that he knows what she means but doesn't want to admit it because then he'd have to stand up to Karen. "She is his mother, but she is wrong. And I am his stepmother, and I don't know what that means. I don't know what the relationship is supposed to be like, and I may be completely messing it up. But I will not keep my mouth shut to spare you and her a little discomfort because there's too much at stake for that boy!" Lily says fiercely.

Rick gazes at her for a long moment. "I despise you," he murmurs.

"You're welcome," Lily replies, smiling affectionately and stroking his cheek.

Next day, as Rick and Eli pull up in front of Karen's house, Rick asks Eli to wait in the SUV. He meets Karen on her front porch and informs her that he wants Eli's living arrangements to stay the same. Taken aback, Karen suspects that Lily is behind his about-face. Rick denies that Lily influenced him and reminds her that they have always made decisions about the children jointly. "No, now apparently it's a democracy and I'm outvoted," she replies heatedly. "This is my son!"

"He's our son!" Rick shouts, and dares her to take the custody issue to court. Wearily, Karen reminds him that Eli is eighteen, no longer subject to the custody order. "But he is still my baby, and he's falling off a cliff, and there's gonna be nobody there to catch him!" she says, distraught.

"Are you saying I'm not gonna be there to catch him?" Rick asks. Gently, he assures her, "He's going to be fine."

Eli interrupts them, saying he needs to use the bathroom. Apprehensively, Karen informs him that his living arrangements are going to stay as they have been. Eli is surprised but receives the news with equanimity, and when Rick recommends that he stay with his mother that night, Eli agrees. "C'mon, I'll take you to a movie," he promises.

"What movie are you going to take me to?" she asks.

"Oh, I'm sure I'll find something you hate," Eli tells her wryly. Karen manages to smile and Rick, satisfied, returns to his SUV.

Next time Rick, Lily and their daughters gather in the kitchen, Rick announces that he and Eli will fix up the garage and Eli will move in. "It was Rick's idea," Lily adds. Eli enters the kitchen and, joining the conversation, brags, "It was my idea." Out of the others' earshot, he thanks Lily. As the family members go about their routines, Lily smiles contentedly.

The End

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