Once and Again...Once Again

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Summary of Learner's Permit

by Debbie Marshall
edited by Elizabeth Angela

Grace enters the kitchen and begins apprehensively rifling through the mail. "YES!" she exclaims, causing Lily and Zoe to jump and wonder "What?" "I got my learner's permit," Grace answers with restrained enthusiasm. Lily's half-hearted, "Great," barely masks her trepidation.

Grace's first driving lesson with her mother is marked by Lily's nervous gasps and braced body position. Lily assures Grace, "I'm not trying to make you nervous. It's just that there's a lot to think about. There's so many things that can go..." Grace cuts her off and tells her she needs to "act like a normal human being" because they'll be doing this for the next six months.

"I can't do this," Lily tells Jake on the telephone after returning from her initial skittish effort. Jake proudly reassures her, "I want to do it. It's a father/daughter thing." As he hangs up the phone and beams, Tiffany wonders aloud "what's a father/daughter thing?" Tiffany begins to recount her early driving history, including stealing a friend's father's car at the age of 15 and drinking 2 quarts of vodka along the trip. Mercifully, Jake recognizes some customers coming in and hastily exits the conversation leaving Tiffany mid-sentence.

Pulling up a chair alongside an attractive woman, Jake begins the skillful banter he does so well. [In a black-and-white interview, he brags: "I like people. What can I say? You just talk the talk. You schmooze them a little bit. And you feel that moment when you've got 'em."] Tiffany looks on, knowing the "routine" all too well. ["And if they happen to be female...so much the better."]

In the hall at school, two boys named Spencer and Pace jostle about, bumping into Grace as she stands with Carla at the pay phone. [Grace's black-and-white details her feelings for Pace: "It was like when you have a fever. I could hardly swallow."] Spencer casually teases Grace while she and Pace attempt to discuss her learner's permit. As the bell rings, the boys continue their ribbing while they make their way to class leaving the girls alone to discuss male behavior. "So you like Pace?" Carla intones, stating the obvious. Carla asserts that Spencer is obsessed with Grace and that the best way to get Pace to notice her would be to go out with Spencer. Her theory continues, "Grace, guys have this huge highway like right down the center of their brains. They can either think or feel - but not both at once." "That explains a lot actually," Grace realizes.

Rushing into the house, Grace scarcely acknowledges Lily and Rick as she races to answer a call from Carla. "It's a done deal. He totally likes you," Carla informs Grace. "You called him... for ME? You made a date?" Grace asks in disbelief.

As Carla has arranged, Grace and Spencer meet outside the library. "We're supposed to be going to the movies or something," Spencer tells Grace, stating his unsuspecting part in Carla's grand plan. Grace tries to beg off tactfully but Spencer feels the proposed event is "public knowledge" and therefore "pre-determined." Trying to make his case, he rambles on, "It's like a whole insane ritual. Like the group has spoken. Like it demands some show of loyalty. It's like an animal sacrifice or something. Like we're pawns in their game."

"Can't we just look at it like we're going to the movies?" Grace deadpans.

Jake's more carefree driving lesson is tempered by the insight: "A car is two tons of steel - held on the road by 20 square inches of rubber. Your working assumption is that everyone else on the road is either completely insane or else an idiot drunk," striking fear in his daughter as only fathers can. Sensing an appropriate moment to wangle a favor from her dad, Grace wonders if Jake can drop her off at the movies with "a bunch of kids." Recognizing the obvious manipulation, Jake questions her a little further. "O.K., there's this guy who..." Grace reluctantly offers when Jake is interrupted by his cell phone. Grace listens attentively as her father works his personal brand of charm. Clearly recognizing the flirtatious tone to his voice, she nervously bites her lip.

At Phil's, Zoe is behind the bar, ready and waiting to offer Jake a drink. She deftly prepares him a "cola... on the rocks... with a twist." Tiffany skates in (literally) broadcasting, "Well, it's all set." Unbeknownst to Jake, Tiffany has called in a favor and arranged an exclusive interview on the restaurant with the Evanston Review. Overwhelmed by the gesture, Jake pulls Tiffany affectionately toward him before she exits. Grace disdainfully looks on but ever starry-eyed Zoe asks, "Daddy, are you and Tiffany going to get married?" Jake barely chokes out a laugh but Grace perceives his discomfort.

[Grace: "Carla says being pretty can be like a decision that you make. You just sort of hold your face really still. And then you open your eyes a little wider - like this. And then you just kind of go... blank."] As she practices this vacuous stare in the mirror, Grace is interrupted by Lily's call. Zoe and Lily make their way down the stairs as Zoe matter-of-factly informs her mother: "She won't be ready for a while. She's got a date tonight." "She does?" Lily answers with an astonished tone.

Lily calls Jake and is stunned to find the dating revelation is no surprise to him. "Have you met him?" Lily questions. Jake assures her, "Hey, Lil, take it easy. I will meet him, ok?" Shaking his head as he hangs up the receiver, he hears Tiffany ask, "Grace has a date?" Jake seems at ease with this new stage of adolescence but unsympathetically assesses Lily's dismay as "(signaling) the end of life on earth." Tiffany playfully teases Jake who half-heartedly offers the delivery of tablecloths as a reason for departing. She suggests they continue the romantic encounter that evening but Jake begs off again with an equally lame excuse that "I've got to meet this guy I'm doing a deal with." "All night?" says the obviously crestfallen Tiffany.

[Jake: "I think I was in college when I realized that women are always disappointed no matter what you do. So finally it doesn't matter. I guess in some way they need to be disappointed."]

Uncertain of her place in Jake's life, Tiffany recounts his responsibilities: restaurant, two kids, an ex-wife who's still basically (his) wife. Attempting to dig himself out of this hole, Jake protests, "We've talked about this so many times." Tiffany's not letting him off so easily though. "Uh-uh. Jake, we talk AROUND it."

[Jake: "If a woman loves you, you basically you exist to make her happy. Not that I don't want to make anybody happy. I'm just tired of always failing at it."]

Continuing his apology, Jake stumbles to explain his difficulty in telling her how he feels. "When you're married so long, it's hard to go back to that place where you're... you're vulnerable. You gotta know that..." "Shut up," Tiffany grins as they begin to kiss.

As Jake's car pulls into the mall parking lot, Grace unsuccessfully attempt to avoid the inevitable meeting between her father and Spencer. Jake makes a valiant effort to appear interested in Spencer's non-stop tale concerning his initial experience with coffee before arranging a time to meet after the movie. As Spencer continues his inexhaustible babble, to the chagrin of the fellow moviegoers, Grace grows uncomfortable and does her best to ignore Spencer. She succeeds, at least, until he puts his hand on her thigh. [In black-and-white, Grace shares her unexpressed reaction: "Uh, excuse me, your hand is on my thigh. WHY IS YOUR HAND ON MY THIGH?"] Spencer carries on with his limitless gift for gab until confronted by a disgruntled moviegoer.

"I've never actually been asked to leave a movie before," says Grace, disgust discernible in her voice. Walking down the street, Spencer discusses the disappointment inherent in movies. "Your life will never be that," Grace says, finishing Spencer's thought. For the first time during the evening, they have found something in common. The spell is broken, however, when Spencer begins talking about his love for Japanese anime as he inches closer toward her with each sentence. Unable to stop the inevitable, they kiss. [Grace's black-and-white reveals her true thoughts: "I kept saying to myself, 'Just turn your head away. Just turn....'"] As she pulls away begging thirst, Spencer suggests they go to a nearby coffee shop.

Inside the coffee shop they spot Jake with a woman other than Tiffany. Surprised by the unexpected interruption, Jake looks at his watch wondering if "the movie (got) out early?" He hastily introduces Ronnie, a friend from the restaurant, as Grace gives them an awkward half-grin.

Staring out the car window, Jake disrupts Grace's silence with questions about the date with Spencer. Clueless as to the true cause of her diffident hush, Jake presses on, "Did something happen"? "Boys are just weird," she responds. Still thinking they are talking about Spencer, Jake teases, "Well, in my experience, only matched by the weirdness of girls." Grace vehemently disagrees: "Girls are so not weird. Except what they have to do to themselves for boys." Trying to bring the conversation around to what is actually bothering her, she asks, "Where's Tiffany tonight?" Jake's contrived explanation registers as distrust and pain on Grace's face.

Zoe is proudly making a "volcano" in Lily's kitchen before a hoped-for audience while Lily inquires about Grace's date. She is met with a sarcastic response: "Mom, just because I tell you about something, doesn't mean I want to talk about it all the time." Zoe adds the final ingredient, causing an eruption of large globs of red ooze, as she beams with her success. The flow continues from the volcano, to the table, onto the floor, and finally, something that's REALLY important - Zoe's shirt. Zoe exits to change clothes and Lily uses the temporary privacy to find out about the date. "Grace, was he nice? Daddy said he really liked him." Grace is stunned that her mom and dad have spoken already. Lily progresses with her assumption that having left the mall early, they were having a good time. ""Where did he tell you we were?" Grace hesitantly wonders. "The coffee shop. Why?" Lily says. "No reason," Grace labors to cover both her deceit and her father's.

Jake leans on the bar at Phil's as a shaggy reporter from the Evanston Review questions him about the restaurant's history. In the background photographers are busily setting up their equipment. They stroll toward a table as the reporter asks, "How long have you been going out?" "About a year," Jake replies. "Is this for the article?"

"Only if you want it to be," the writer answers. Tiffany enters the conversation by stating the dismal state of the restaurant prior to Jake's upgrades and improvements. Uncomfortable, Jake sends her away with a dubious task. Asserting that the restaurant has always been great, Jake humbly says it's just "a great restaurant for today." Continuing his praise, "I mean Phil Brooks," looking over his shoulder loving toward a picture Phil on the wall, "he taught me everything I know. This guy defined the word 'restaurateur.' He was also one helluva guy," he adds, exchanging a smile with Grace.

Finally ready to begin the photo shoot, Jake stands behind the bar with Grace and Zoe on either side. "Tiffany, you wanna be in this, don't you?" the reporter remarks off-handedly. Jake's sudden, "Oh!" stops Tiffany cold. "Maybe we can do a couple different versions," he backpedals. The message is not lost on Tiffany, however, as she begs off. "I'll be in it another time." As the camera flashes, Tiffany does her best to hold back the tears. "One big, happy family," the photographer encourages.

Back at Jake's apartment, Tiffany attempts to put Zoe to bed but acknowledges to Grace that she "lack(s) a certain moral authority with (her) sister." Their conversation is interrupted by Jake's phone call wondering if Tiffany would mind staying longer with the kids. Tiffany reluctantly agrees but insists they talk when he returns. Upon hanging up the phone, it immediately rings again. Grace excitedly jumps up to talk with Pace who wonders if she'd like to "hang out." With a pleading look in her eyes, Grace gratefully accepts Tiffany's offer to baby-sit Zoe.

Walking up the stairs together, Pace questions Grace's intentions toward his friend, Spencer. "So that's why you came over?" Grace shyly asks. His concern for Spencer is only part of his agenda however, as Pace asks about Carla, "Does she ever mention me?" [As Grace realizes Pace's motive for meeting, the scene moves to black-and-white: "Sometimes I wonder why I ever hope for anything."]

Jake removes his coat as he enters his apartment and gently awakens Tiffany with his kisses. "I thought I heard Grace," she says sleepily. Practically jumping out of his skin with anger, Jake demands, "What do you mean? It's 11:15 on a school night. Tiffany, where's Grace?" Tiffany explains the details she knows but unfortunately they don't include the minimum parental requirements: "who" and "where."

Grace's return interrupts their argument, which shifts toward her despite her apology. "Your mom and I both agreed you'd tell us where you were and who you were with," Jake challenges. "And where were YOU and who were YOU with?" Grace snaps as she storms away from her visibly stunned father.

The next day, pain is evident on Tiffany's face as she enters the restaurant and walks toward Jake. He casually offers her a seat but she insists she can't stay. He attempts to apologize pleading "busy"(ness). "It doesn't have anything to do with being busy," Tiffany retorts. "Why does it feel like I've been breaking up with you since we met?" she hesitantly continues to Jake's surprise. "Is that what you're doing?" he asks with astonishment. Trying to gain her composure to carry on, Tiffany explains that she "got it in the beginning. I was the exact opposite of your wife and that was fine. I didn't want anything from you. I still don't - but I might some day."

"Just not from me," Jake realizes out loud before extending a sincere apology. Stumbling over the words, Tiffany presses on: "It was fine in beginning when it was just about sex. But unfortunately this has become a relationship, and you don't like being in relationships." With disbelief in his voice, Jake implores, "You're just doing this?" "Yeah, I am," Tiffany bluntly replies. "So, I need to kiss you now, and then I need to go." Leaning forward she puts her hands on his face and gently kisses him on the lips before turning to leave.

Grace is reading and pacing as Tiffany opens the door to Jake's apartment. Surprised to find she's not alone, Tiffany cannot contain her distress any longer and blurts, "I just broke up with your father. I came by to get some stuff of mine while he's not here." Grace follows her into the bedroom, unsure of what to say, before extending a heartfelt "I'm sorry." Tiffany acknowledges the discomfort she's caused Grace. "It's hard to see your dad with somebody who's not your mom. I know."

She explains that Jake is attractive and that women want to be around him. Unfortunately as they both know, this makes it hard to be his daughter -- and hard to be his girlfriend. She's uncertain that Jake ever really saw her. It was all about him and his "dream of (her) breasts and (her) legs and (her) body and I'm not even in the room. So it really doesn't matter who I am." Tiffany poignantly confesses being used by men so they can "make themselves feel more attractive or bigger or more." Grace turns away as she painfully recognizes her similar behavior toward Spencer. ["OK, I did NOT do that to Spencer... I don't think."]

In school the class bell rings, disrupting Grace's and Carla's bored stares. While filling her backpack, Carla asks what Grace plans to tell Spencer. She is awed that Grace would suggest "the truth." Carla's version being "that you were like completely manipulating him and lying about liking him at all? Guys expect rejection. It's part of their genetic code." Spencer enters the classroom before Grace has had time to consider Carla's parting advice. Trying fruitlessly to interrupt Spencer's continual chatter, she's taken aback when he suggests she not "worry so much if guys are going to like (her)." He insists he knows what goes on inside her head and begins to second-guess her current thoughts: "Oh God, he likes me. Now that's a disaster. How will I get a really cool guy if HE'S my boyfriend?" Speechless from the insight, she tries to cover by changing the subject, "You're not my boyfriend." Spencer jokingly retorts: "I just want to use you and discard you like some toy," as they stroll from the room together.

Later, as Jake instructs Grace on parallel parking, he is pleased that she nails it on the first try. With a coy tone, Grace asks, "So you and Tiffany broke up? ...She told me." Noticeably disquieted, Jake elaborates that "Tiffany's a great girl. I don't think there was ever really much of a future with us," quickly changing the subject by asking about Spencer. Grace's hesitation causes him to express his concern that his relationships with other women, as well as with Lily, might be giving her a false impression about men and women. "I hate to think being around me would make you reluctant or scared or something."

While verbally extolling love as "the most amazing feeling in the world," his black-and-white confessional tearfully addresses his innermost fears. ["The problem is... I don't know if I've ever really been in love. Or if I'm even remotely capable of anything resembling it."] Looking at Grace lovingly, he continues. ["But then I think to myself, I have been in love, real love, twice in my life. And it never went away, and it wasn't questioned or difficult. So I don't understand why, if I'm capable of it, why I can't let anyone touch me the way my two daughters have? They're women - just like the ones I can't deal with. I mean, is this what my life's going to be like? 'Cause what's the point of that?"]

The end.

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