Once and Again...Once Again
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Summary of Love's Laborer's Lost
by Angela Stockton
edited by Elizabeth Angela
Judy is at work in her bookstore, alone. [She tells the interviewer, "I've spent a lot of time alone. I've judged people who couldn't be alone, like my sister, as if she wasn't brave enough or as evolved as I was. Lately, though, I'm not so sure that alone is such a great thing. The older you get, the harder it is for people to fit into your life. It feels like they just don't fit."]
Lily arrives with takeout food for herself and Judy. Looking around the courtyard, she asks Judy whatever happened to Will Gluck. "I think he has his own talk show," Judy answers dourly. Lily asks for his telephone number, explaining that her house needs a lot of work which Rick, swamped with the Atlantor project, is unable to do.
Examining the Booklovers bulletin board, Lily notices Judy's photo among the snapshots of hopeful singles. Judy mentions that she has met someone, a commodities broker named Paul, and that they have a date that night -- their third. Lily is impressed that Judy has reached this milestone with anyone, especially someone whom she describes as so handsome and articulate.
That afternoon, Carla and Eli go to Rick's apartment, where, as Eli strums his guitar, Carla studies family photos on a bookshelf. Tiring of that, she takes the guitar away from Eli, sets it aside, and straddles his outstretched legs. Between kisses, Eli warns her that Rick may walk in at any minute, but Carla mockingly "reminds" him, "That's why they invented doors." But she tires of this game also, and when Rick comes home moments later, he finds her examining the nearly empty refrigerator, pouting because there's nothing to eat.
Eli puts on his coat, intending to take her out. "What about homework?" Rick asks him; Eli answers that he'll do his homework later. Rick reminds him that they have an agreement -- Eli doesn't go out on school nights unless he has done some studying and he won't accept his son's rationalization that looking for food is not the same as going out. Carla jeers, "You may not have dinner outside the designated eating area. If you are found outside the designated eating area, your brain will be removed," before leaving alone.
Over dinner with Paul, Judy prompts him to relate his accomplishments, starting with his becoming a concert violinist at the age of twelve and continuing through the founding of his business. "And the Olympic gold medal was that before or after the Pulitzer?" she teases him. [In black and white, she marvels, "He's so normal!" For her, she explains ruefully, a third date usually turns into a twelve-step meeting, filled with "purging and confessing" that, three dates later, sends both parties running away in terror.] But when she probes for specifics about his business, he changes the subject to dessert.
While Eli is studying in his room, Jessie brings him the phone. The caller is Carla, who is "hangin' around" with her cell phone on the sidewalk below. Although Eli offers to come down, or to smuggle her up, she hangs up and walks away.
Next day, when Judy goes to Lily's house, she finds Will in the kitchen. While watching him wash his hands at the kitchen sink, Judy is so engrossed that she loses her train of thought. Will notices her preoccupation, but before he can say anything, Lily and Zoe enter the kitchen, carrying grocery bags.
Zoe is delighted when Will agrees to let her "help" him hang a door. On his way out of the kitchen, he tells Judy, "It was good seeing you."
Will declines Lily's invitation to dinner, and Judy declares that she can't stay either. When she lets herself out the front door, she's startled to come face to face with Will, whom she had assumed was upstairs. He tells her that he tried to call her once, but didn't leave a message, and asks if it's OK for him to call her again.
"This is really complicated," she answers uncomfortably, which baffles him. For some reason, she's reluctant to explain that she's seeing someone else. "You look so beautiful," he tells her, flustering her even more. She quickly leaves without encouraging Will to call her.
Karen visits Booklovers to select a book for her book club. While examining the snapshot collection, she notices Judy's photo and asks if Judy has met anyone. Blushing, Judy describes Paul, who's accomplished, well-read, and well-dressed; and Will, who's not right for her -- but when she looks at him, she forgets to notice how he's dressed because she always sees him naked.
"Naked is good," Karen reminds her.
"Yes, but I've done a lot of naked, and it's a well-known fact -- eventually you have to get dressed," Judy replies wryly.
From her kitchen, Lily calls Rick at his apartment, and they discuss when they can get together again. He offers to fix her closet door when they do, "and you can repay me with sexual favors," he quips.
"I thought we'd go to a movie and I'd render sexual favors just for fun," Lily banters in return. When she realizes that Will is directly behind her, she is suddenly mortified.
Paul and Judy meet again over dinner, this time at Phil's, where she initially warns Jake with her eyes to keep his distance. Undaunted, Jake smiles his approval of her date. Judy questions Paul about his romantic history. With a c'est la vie attitude that she finds incomprehensible, Paul confesses to being a veteran of a recent broken engagement.
"I know what it feels like to find a person you want to spend your life with and then have them walk away," Judy says sympathetically. "You don't need to hide with me." She's confused and chagrined when, after offering him a glimpse of her heart, Paul reacts with amusement. "Who made you so funny?" he asks with a goofy grin.
When Jake finally approaches their table, Paul makes a lame joke about his chicken entree, "complaining" that it's not heavy and greasy like his mother's. Jake promises that next time, he'll personally overcook Paul's chicken for him.
At school the next day, Carla pounces on Eli in the locker hallway, then picks the lock of a faculty women's lounge and pulls him inside. When Eli worries that they could get suspended, she merely replies that it's a good reason to get suspended. But before she can unbuckle his belt, they're interrupted by a teacher who walks in and angrily orders them out. Back in the hallway, Eli gasps that he needs to go to his next class. Carla smirks that he needs to regain his composure first, and saunters away.
Will drops by the bookstore at closing time. He tells Judy that he wants to see her again and to hold her. "I don't think we're a good idea," she tells him. "We have nothing in common." People invest themselves in other people in the hope that they can be something more, she explains; but in the end they can't be more, and she's done that so often, she doesn't want to do it again.
"How do you know that we don't have anything in common?" Will challenges her. "I think you're wrong." He kisses her and although she doesn't resist, when they pause for breath, she blurts out that she's seeing someone else.
"Someone you have more in common with?" Will asks, crushed, and walks out without another word. Judy sadly watches him leave.
Karen returns to Booklovers the next day. While buying books for her book club, she asks again about Judy's love life. Judy laments that dating two men at the same time would have been easier when she was twenty-five. "So pick one," Karen suggests.
Judy answers that it's easy to pick Paul, even if he's being cautious about opening up to her. "So why am I so attracted to the other one?" she wonders. She answers her own question, theorizing that it's because she's afraid to go after Paul.
At school, Eli and Grace run into each other in a classroom. While they talk, Grace casually mentions that Carla has been in rehab. Though this is news to Eli, he lies that he's known all along about Carla's past. Nearly choking on her words, Grace agrees with Eli that Carla is "cool."
That night, Paul comes to Judy's apartment. While he's preparing their dinner, Judy cuddles up to him, but he's too intent on his cooking to respond. In desperation, she says that she's surprised to feel connected to him because she doesn't often connect with people anymore, and asks if he feels connected to her.
Instantly, Paul pounces on her, but seemingly out of a sense that she's expecting it of him rather than out of genuine affection for Judy. Caught off guard, she pushes him away, saying that she meant that they should talk.
Talk leads to sex. But immediately afterward, Paul exclaims, "Oh, man, am I hungry now!" and bounds out of bed. Judy is left behind, stunned by his insensitivity.
[To the camera, Judy says that she figured out long ago that a woman can have sex and a man has to have a reaction before it can happen. She says it's not OK when the goal is so important that one person forgets that the other is even there.]
Lily drops by Judy's apartment the next day and when she asks Judy about Paul, Judy admits that she has slept with him. Their relationship is "superficial disconnected noncommunication," she says in discouragement; he has no interest in talking.
"Well, that's good for you -- you analyze everything to death," Lily answers bluntly. She describes Judy as too critical of men, too inclined to jump into bed right away. Judy is indignant, reminding her that Lily herself didn't jump into bed with Rick, she flew. "That was different! We're still together, aren't we?" Lily counters. "We knew we wanted each other, we knew it more than anything we've ever known. Judy, do you even know what you want?" Judy has no answer.
That evening, upset that she hasn't seen Eli for two days, Carla drops in on him at Rick's apartment. Sensing that he's not thrilled to see her, she demands, "Are you blowing me off?" She accuses him of being afraid to cross his father, and claims that Rick hates her and would love for her to disappear. Eli snaps, "The only way you can be happy is if you're fighting somebody!" and orders her to stop taking "stuff" out on him.
Carla's bravado crumbles and she starts for the door, wailing, "You have people watching out for you. You don't have to fight!" He pulls her back and they cling to each other.
At the same time, Judy drives to Lily's house, where, as she expects, Will is working late. She tells him that seeing herself with one person or another is not about anyone being better than anyone else, it's only about how she sees herself. He tells her, "You have all these ideas about the way things are supposed to be."
"I don't want to anymore," she replies. They start to kiss and move to Lily's bed, where they make love. Judy enjoys herself, except for a niggling doubt. [To the camera, she shares it: "Why does it have to be good? There are times when bad sex is the right thing. Bad sex with your ex, that's good. Bad sex with someone who's wrong for you, who you're not gonna be with..." Her voice trails off.]
"What do you want to be twenty years from now?" Judy asks Will as she lies curled in his arms.
"Somebody who doesn't think about that question," he replies.
Lily surprises them by returning home; in turn, Will startles her when he rushes down the stairs, barely acknowledging her. Lily sees Judy behind him, still putting on her clothes, and when she walks into her bedroom and sees the bedcovers rumpled, she turns on Judy, appalled: "You slept with him in my bed?"
"You and Rick did it in my apartment. I invited you," Judy answers defensively.
"That was a relationship. This is...? I don't even know what this is!" Lily exclaims in frustration as she begins to make the bed.
Although Lily calls Will great, when Judy mutters about "the big architect," Lily wonders if Judy is competing with her. "Are you going to keep jumping from one person to the next because you're disappointed? Pick one person and just stick with it. Make it work with Paul if it can't be Will. Just make it work," she exhorts. Judy stares at her coldly and says nothing.
On another day, while they walk together along a crowded sidewalk, Paul proposes to Judy that they go away for a weekend with a group of his friends. While she's open to spending a weekend with Paul, she's not at all interested in having others around, especially people who, even Paul concedes, sound like immature party animals.
When Judy tries to explain that she needs a lot of intimacy, he rolls his eyes. "Do you want a therapy session? Can't we get though a single date without a giant inquisition?" he asks cruelly.
"You have no idea how much I wanted this to work," Judy answers, adding that she now sees no point in their continuing to date each other.
Paul savagely calls her a tease, sneering, "You're not a nice person. You think you're a nice person, but you're not."
Shocked at his transformation from genial, shallow charmer to menace, Judy hurries away. "You're gonna call me!" he yells after her. "Go ahead, walk away! Keep walking!"
Carla calls Eli from the street again. When he suggests that she go to the front door, she instead climbs the fire escape and crawls through his bedroom window. Rick looks in on Eli, sending Carla scrambling for cover behind the door. As soon as he leaves, Eli insists that he has to study. "And so you shall," Carla snickers as she and Eli fall on the bed.
[Judy says she always a believer in romantic fate, as if people cannot control being in love because something bigger was at play.]
Judy finds Will again working in Lily's kitchen. Happy at first to see her, he's devastated when she tells him that she can't keep seeing him. "I have to take responsibility for twenty years from now, for my life," she explains.
"And you already know I don't fit into that?" he asks, his voice trembling.
[Judy says she has lived for being swept away by passion.]
Lily, Grace and Zoe enter, Zoe eager to share with Judy a story about a friend who has dyed her hair pink. Will takes advantage of the distraction to pack up his tools. He discourages Judy from seeing him out and urges her to call him if she needs him to do something at the bookstore. Although she says "OK," they both know she's saying good-bye.
[Judy says she made a choice to take her time looking for what she wanted and needed, certain that it was out there. Now, she admits, she may be alone all her life as a result.]
Lily's kitchen is a scene of affectionate domestic chaos as the girls and Lily tease and play with each other while preparing dinner. Still no closer to having a family of her own, Judy gazes misty-eyed and enviously at the only people in her life whom she genuinely loves, and who love her in return.
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