Once and Again...Once Again
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Summary of Where There's Smoke
by Angela Stockton
edited by Elizabeth Eccher
Lily and Rick are in his bed, dozing off after making love. An old black-and-white mystery movie beams a soft glow from Rick's television, but Lily is too spent to care about its plot. Next thing she knows, light is streaming through Rick's window and he's holding her and asking, "Can you stay for breakfast?" She asks the time and, hearing that it's 5:30 a. m., playfully pushes Rick out of bed, groaning, "Oh, no, you're one of those morning people!"
Later, she is rushing around the apartment, hurrying to get dressed. Rick stops her long enough to offer her another bite of pancake. "Mmm, you are the pancake king," she acknowledges while chewing.
He backs her against the wall for a good-bye kiss, confessing "I am so happy." Eager to set up their next get-together before she leaves, he asks if he can take Lily and her daughters to dinner the next night. Although worried at first that it's too soon for him to meet the girls, she agrees.
Arriving home, Lily is alarmed to see a fire truck parked in front of the house and Grace, Zoe and Jake on the lawn. "Where have you been?" Grace demands, but in the confusion, Lily avoids answering. Jake explains that he saw no flames, but smelled smoke and called the fire department as a precaution. A fireman approaches and tells them that the fire was caused by faulty wiring.
Lily wants the wiring repaired right away, while Jake insists that they should save money by waiting until he can fix it himself. Jake's cell phone rings, interrupting them. After hanging up, he tells Lily he has to go to the restaurant, but before leaving, he agrees that she can get an estimate.
Later, while an electrician evaluates the necessary repairs, Lily extends Rick's dinner invitation to the girls. Zoe is willing, but Grace is aghast at the prospect of being seen in public with Eli Sammler's father and petulantly objects, "I don't see why we have to go on your dates with you."
"It's not going to kill you," Lily coaxes.
"I might as well agree to it now, because eventually you'll force me to go," Grace says, sulking.
Presented with the estimate, Lily is taken aback. She tells the electrician that she'll have to show it to her "husband" and get back to him.
At Karen's house, Eli leads Rick to the basement, explaining that he wants to remodel it as his bedroom. Though Rick declines to support this plan before Eli discusses it with his mother, he nonetheless starts sizing up the situation in a way that makes Eli hopeful. Hearing voices, Karen follows them downstairs. She learns of Eli's plans from Jessie and is annoyed that he told Rick first. Nor does she buy her son's explanations that "it'll be good for my sense of independence," will allow him to study in private, and will allow him to play his favorite music at high volume without disturbing her.
[In black-and-white, Karen says a mother has to expect moments like this, "but they still hit you like a brick."]
Although she reluctantly agrees, Eli throws a tantrum and storms out when she suggests that the project wait until spring break, three months later. Rick insists that he told Eli to ask her first and that he came over only to see if the remodeling is feasible, but Karen is convinced that Eli appealed to Rick because he expected Rick to take his side. She says, however, "I'm not going to be the bad guy this time. If Eli wants to move down here, fine." Rick offers to help, and promises that the move won't interrupt their son's studies.
In the entryway of Lily's house, Grace brings Jake a sandwich while he labors over the wiring. Zoe comes down the stairs and asks Lily if this is the night they're having dinner with "your friend." As Grace silently mouths "not in front of Dad" to her younger sister, Jake excuses himself to take a telephone call. Thanks to his raised voice, Lily hears enough to deduce that the call is business-related.
[Addressing the camera, Lily says that Jake always had secrets, which made him seem mysterious until she realized he was just hiding things. He wouldn't open up and confide in her. "I wanted him to need me at a deeper level, but he just wasn't willing to do that," she recalls. "Maybe he didn't trust me. Or maybe he talked to someone else."]
Jake hangs up and gives Lily an evasive answer when she asks if everything is all right. He shrugs off her offer to bring him back some food when she goes out.
Rick is helping Eli in the basement when Karen comes downstairs. She offers to take Eli shopping for carpeting the next day, but he replies that he doesn't want carpeting. When she frets that the concrete floor will be cold and it isn't rational to not want carpeting, he retorts that it's his decision to make.
[Karen laments, "I can't even ask him a question without him accusing me of trying to run his life."]
Karen embarrasses Eli when she finds his old blue teddy bear and fondly recalls for Jessie that he called it "Boo Bear" because he couldn't pronounce "blue." When Jessie asks Eli if she can have his bed, Karen is somewhat dismayed to learn that he plans to obtain an old sofa bed from his friend Coop. Karen agrees to Jessie's request that they order pizza for dinner and starts upstairs to order it. She leaves Eli at work in the basement, but when she looks back, she "sees" Eli as a little boy of about eight, pounding nails at his dad's workbench.
At the Italian restaurant that night, Grace rolls her eyes as she sees Rick and Lily smile at each other from behind their menus. When Rick tries to ask Grace about her soccer team's season, nervous Lily answers for her before Grace can even open her mouth. When he turns to Zoe, she responds to his overtures by pointing out that he has lettuce stuck in his teeth. As he tries to remove it, Zoe spills sauce on her dress. Rick suddenly finds himself sitting alone while Lily and Grace go with Zoe to help her clean up.
When Rick brings Lily and her daughters home, the girls climb out of his car with nothing more than a quick good-bye for Rick. "That went well," he comments dryly; "Yeah, let's do it again tomorrow," Lily answers in kind.
"They think I'm the world's biggest dork," Rick says ruefully.
"No, that distinction is reserved for me," she corrects him.
Inside the house, Jake stops his rewiring long enough to put Zoe to bed, while Lily thanks Grace for the evening. "Well, I can be surprisingly mature," Grace answers archly.
Alone together, Jake and Lily sit on the stairs, looking and sounding deceptively like a happily married couple as they talk about their children. Lily comments on Zoe's increasing intensity, prompting Jake to reminisce about the two-week period when the girl lived in red shoes and insisted everyone call her Dorothy. Grace overhears the conversation and, on her way to bed, kisses them both good-night. Jake leaves minutes later, ignoring his ringing cell phone. As Lily herself prepares for bed, she looks in on Grace, who pretends to be asleep but is actually awake and crying silently.
Next day at the bookstore, Lily talks to Judy about Rick and the girls. Judy notes "the cosmic chain of events": Lily had her first sleepover with Rick, and the next day her house caught on fire. She wonders if Lily is sleeping enough and advises her that Grace and Zoe would resent any man she dated. "How can I go out with a guy my kids hate? I should be more sensitive. Clearly Grace and Zoe were not ready for this," Lily replies, not listening.
[In black-and-white, Karen reminisces about how Eli would hide in cupboards when he was little, then jump out and "scare" her.] When Karen brings a lamp downstairs, she "hears" a little boy's voice but doesn't see him; instead, Rick emerges from under the stairs. She asks where Eli is. Rick points to a door which the remodeling has opened up, saying he left through that door to go buy paint.
Karen is upset that Eli can come and go without her knowing and suggests that Rick bolt the door shut; Rick protests that this would create a fire hazard. Rick treats her concern lightly, reminding her that if Eli wants to sneak out, he can. She insists she's not overreacting since Eli is barely passing in school and is only sixteen, and complains that she's tired of having the same old conversation. She reminds Rick that it's their duty as parents to set boundaries for their son, and accuses him of trying to be Eli's pal.
Losing patience, he barks, "I think you drove him to the basement with that tone of voice."
Heading back up the stairs, she pauses and shouts in disgust, "Rick, sometimes you can be just such an ass!"
Grace, Zoe and Lily return home from shopping to find Jake and another man on the front lawn, shouting and shoving each other. When the stranger leaves in a smoldering rage, Jake explains that he is a contractor named Cliff. In spite of his bleeding knuckles, Jake assures the girls that he and Cliff were "just goofing around."
Lily sends the girls inside, then tries to question Jake about the fight. The more she persists, the more defensive he becomes, even accusing her of not having enough compassion for what he has to go through every day. When he stalks out of the room, Grace emerges from behind the wall where she has been eavesdropping, and exchanges worried glances with her mother.
Moments later, Rick drives up unexpectedly. Lily heads out to the curb to meet him and learns he has brought gifts for the girls: candy for Zoe, and a book about the U.S. women's soccer team for Grace. He tries to invite himself inside, but Lily tells him Jake is there and it's not a good time for him to visit.
As they talk about Rick's attempts to become better acquainted with her daughters, he realizes that she considers the Italian dinner a mistake. She explains that the girls need time to adjust to her relationship with him. "Of course we should consider how this will affect our children's lives," he remarks. "But I don't think we ought to let our kids run our lives."
"Is that what you think I'm doing?" Lily asks indignantly. "To an extent -- from what I can see, I think you coddle them," he answers with more honesty than diplomacy.
"I only do what I sense they need. You couldn't know what my kids need," she retorts. She storms back inside the house, leaving Rick standing at the curb.
Back at Karen's, Eli thanks Rick for standing up for him. Ignoring Rick's insistence that Karen supported his project, Eli complains that his mother is trying to control his life. When Rick continues to defend Karen, Eli says sullenly, "C'mon, Dad, you know what she's like. Lucky for you, you don't have to live with it any more. I totally know why you divorced her."
Irate, Rick snaps, "Your mother is a terrific person, she's completely there for you, and you know it!" He interrupts Eli's "But, Dad --" with, "I don't want to hear it. You fight your own battles from now on." Subdued, Eli apologizes. Father and son call a truce.
Lily is cooking dinner when Grace walks in and sees the soccer book on the kitchen island. Picking it up excitedly, she quickly loses interest when Lily explains that it's a gift to her from Rick. Grace heavy-handedly maneuvers Lily into inviting Jake to eat dinner with them. Lily reluctantly does so, only to hear Grace snipe that she didn't ask him nicely enough.
"Grace --" Lily says.
"Lily --" Grace sneers.
"I will not be held hostage. I will not put up with this!" Lily warns her.
"Fine," Grace says insolently. She flips the soccer book into the kitchen garbage can and stalks off, ignoring her mother's shout of "Grace Manning!"
At that moment, Rick calls. He's at his own dinner table, alone. When she apologizes for not calling sooner, he replies, "I don't mind being the one who caved." He agrees that her children have to come first with her, and he's willing to give them all the time they need. But, he insists, he's not willing to let anything stop their relationship from moving forward.
Lily calls his words "incredibly sweet" but adds that she feels he's putting pressure on her.
"We're going to make it through this," he promises her.
"I know," she says, near tears.
He promises to call her in the morning and they say their good-nights. But when he hangs up, he is still so uneasy that he pushes away his plate untouched.
Karen is cooking her family's dinner when Eli walks in. [In black-and-white, she recalls that when Eli was six, he cut his own hair. It looked ridiculous, but he was so proud, she had to leave it that way.] They make cordial, though stilted, conversation. Karen says she wants him to feel that he can talk to her, and to understand that not everything she says is wrong. He says he knows that, but maybe she doesn't need to say it all the time.
[Karen mourns that he's going to leave her soon, and in some ways he's already gone.] She turns back to the stove, but when she hears Eli's voice, she looks behind her. She again "sees" him as a small child.
That night, Lily overhears Jake in her bedroom, again on the phone, sounding discouraged and exhausted. [Lily tells the unseen interviewer that Jake's father was not a nice person, and wanted to make everyone around him as miserable as he was. He told Jake he was worthless. When they were first married and visited Jake's father every Sunday, he would watch TV and never speak to them. They stopped going after Grace was born.] She's horrified when Jake hangs up the phone and then beats his head against the wall. When she begs him to tell her what's wrong, he's evasive at first, but for once she persists until he finally explodes, "I'm a schmuck -- a failure and a schmuck! Is that what you wanted to hear?"
Finally he breaks down and blurts out that he's going to lose the restaurant because he can't pay his creditors, some of whom are going to file liens against him.
"How did this happen?" Lily asks, stunned.
"I don't know. Things got away from me. It's my fault, I screwed up, like I screw everything up. You're the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and I screwed that up too," he says, distraught.
He admits that none of it seemed real until Grace and Zoe caught him fighting with Cliff. Now he realizes that they know he can't take care of them and that Lily is the one who does. He bursts into tears, saying, "I'm sorry," again and again. Lily hugs him as her own tears begin to flow, and they begin to kiss like lovers brought together by shared adversity.
Grace, in her pajamas, emerges from her bedroom into the dark hall. She hears crying and gasps coming from her mother's bedroom, tiptoes down the hall, and peers through the crack between the door and the jamb. Her eyes widen.
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