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California Dreaming

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When the cab let her out in the looping driveway beneath the white, sun-dazzled walls of the California Stark mansion, all Angie could do was stare. She figured she'd probably looked like a yokel on the whole drive, just like some bumpkin from Ohio on their first trip to the big city, but she didn't really care. Look at this place! All this sunshine, those amazing palm trees she'd only ever seen in pictures ... and now this. She'd thought the townhouse in New York was a swell place, but this was like a movie star's mansion.

"Miss?" the cab driver said, handing her the scuffed suitcase with its fresh new Pan-Am sticker (the only travel sticker Angie had ever gotten; she'd never flown before, let alone coast-to-coast).

She tipped him good. She didn't take cabs much, but she was a girl who worked for tips and she knew how it was.

After that, she stared at the mansion for a little while longer. She hadn't let on to Peggy the last time they talked that she was planning on coming out. Oh, they'd talked about it; the whole time Peg was out here, they'd talked about it, "what if" and "maybe someday" and all that. But they hadn't made plans. And now, why, she had Maggie and Lynette covering her shifts for two whole weeks, and she'd dumped more money on a plane ticket than she'd ever spent on a single thing in her life. And she'd done it all without talking to Peggy. She wasn't sure why. It felt like Peggy might laugh at her, maybe, even though Peggy wasn't the laughing-at-people type. Or maybe she just felt shy about dropping herself in the middle of Peggy's life ... like she was about to do, without a by-your-leave.

"Come on, Angie, you took your lumps on Broadway and you can take your lumps here," she muttered to herself, and marched up to the door of the mansion with her shabby suitcase clutched in one hand. Her dress seemed suddenly too downscale for a place like this ... and too hot, too, come to think of it. She was gonna need a whole new wardrobe just to avoid melting for the next two weeks.

She knocked before she lost her nerve.

There was something going on inside. Voices and whatnot. While she waited, Angie watched a big pink bird stroll past on the lawn. "Flamingo," she identified to herself. She'd seen 'em in the National Geographic magazine, but never thought she might see one in person. Oh, wasn't Ma gonna flip her lid when she heard about this. Angie thought maybe she'd get herself one of those Kodak cameras, the color kind. She'd never taken a snapshot of anything in her life, but it couldn't be too hard, could it? Lynette's sister had one, and she said you just pushed a button and took a picture, easy as pie. And you didn't have to develop the film or nothin'; you mailed it to the Kodak Company, and they mailed you back snapshots.

She distinctly heard Peggy's voice yell "Howard!" and grinned to herself. Sounded like things weren't too different here from back home. She knocked again, harder.

The door opened and Mr. Jarvis stood there, dressed in shirtsleeves. Angie had never seen him without a suit on. "Hi," she said, a little embarrassed. It hadn't occurred to her that by showing up without warning Peggy, she might inconvenience other people too.

"Miss Martinelli!" His look of vague, polite irritation changed to a smile. "Miss Carter didn't mention you were coming. Are you here for a holiday?"

"Uh, yeah, I guess." She stepped into the ... was it called a foyer? Peg had told her the names of all the parts of the other mansion, but it was just in one ear and out the other unless she used the words every day. Her shoes clicked on the tile floor. You'd think living in the other mansion would'a got her used to it, but now she felt out of place all over again.

But Jarvis was super nice like always, taking her bag and taking her around the corner to a guest room. (Not the guest room; she knew from the other mansion that there were probably a bunch of 'em.) Somewhere out of sight, she could still hear Peggy raising some kinda ruckus with Howard and somebody else. She could also smell something burning.

"Is everything okay?" she asked.

"Oh, fine. Proceeding as per normal." Jarvis had a slightly long-suffering air as he said it. "Would you care for a drink, or something to eat? You must have had a long trip."

"You don't know the half of it. Well, I guess you do. I'm beat. I hardly even know what time it is. You got something with booze in it?"

"We have many things that fit the description. Many, many things, with Mr. Stark in residence."

"Or coffee," Angie corrected herself, rethinking the idea of drinking this early in what was only early afternoon on this coast. She kicked off her shoes beside the bed -- her dogs were killing her; she'd kept the shoes on for the whole flight, and it was almost as bad as working a full shift -- and then she followed him in stocking feet into the kitchen. Or a kitchen. No telling how many of them there were.

There was a faint scent of scorched metal hanging in the kitchen and a pall of smoke drifting in the air, a half-melted coffeepot in the sink, and someone Angie had never seen before at the kitchen table, with papers spread around him, on which he was scribbling notes. "Oh hi," he said, glancing up as Jarvis came in. "For the record, I am not responsible for the disaster you see before you, it was entirely Howard's idea to modify my completely functional design for an autonomous and self-cleaning coffee -- oh, hello."

"Hello?" Angie ventured, while Jarvis looked even more long-suffering and went to remove the coffeepot from the sink. "Um, I'm Angie. Friend of Engl-- of Peggy's."

"I'm Jason. Also a friend of Peggy's." He scrambled to his feet and shook her hand, and Angie tried to decide on a tactful way to ask how close of a friend and whether he was living here and if so, for how long, but gave up.

"Nice to meetcha," she said instead.

"You look like a woman who would appreciate a self-cleaning coffeepot."

"I would," she said. "I'm an automat waitress. Lemme tell you, a coffeepot that cleans itself would be the bee's knees."

"See?" Jason appealed to Jarvis. "The lady likes it."

"Yes, sir," Jarvis murmured, and dumped the half-melted coffeepot in the trash.

"Is that coffee I smell?"

A new individual wandered into the kitchen, and Angie recognized him, to her surprise, as Peggy's boss, Thompson. She didn't know him well; she'd only actually met the man once, and that was when he and his colleagues were trying to arrest Peggy. She'd glimpsed him occasionally while meeting Peggy after work in the months since. Today he looked not at all like the man she remembered; he was shockingly thin and pale, wearing an oversized sweater despite the heat of the day.

"No, what you smell is Howard and Jason setting the coffee on fire, along with part of the house," Peggy's voice said tartly from somewhere just out of sight. "Why are you out of bed? Did we not have an understanding after you separated eight stitches and collapsed on the lawn yesterday?"

"I did not collapse," Blond and Irritating said in a tone that suggested this was an ongoing argument. "I tripped and fell down."

"You did not; you turned white and passed out. Daniel had to practically carry you back to the -- Oh my heavens, Angie!" Peggy had just come into the kitchen and spotted her.

There were hugs and greetings, interrupted in the middle when Peggy turned around to redirect Thompson out of the kitchen -- "At the very least, if you won't go back to bed, sit down before you fall down and bleed all over us again -- go sit on the patio and someone will bring you coffee at some point when the kitchen is not on fire. It's sunny out there. Sun is good for invalids, I hear."

"I'm not an invalid," Thompson muttered, slouching out.

"I'm sorry, my mistake!" Peggy called after him. "It must have been all of the fainting and bleeding that caused me to make the error!"

"I did not faint!" drifted back from around the corner of one of the house's many hallways.

"I'm confused," Angie confessed.

"Me too! What are you doing here?" Peggy ushered her to the table, unceremoniously sweeping some of Jason's papers out of the way and ignoring his annoyed "Hey!" "I didn't know you were coming out! Is something wrong?"

She looked genuinely worried.

"No, no, I'm fine, English. I wanted to see your new digs out here, and see L.A."

Jarvis cruised by and unobtrusively placed a cup of coffee in front of her. He remembered exactly how she liked it: cream, three sugars on the side, and a spoon. "Thanks, hon," she said absently as he breezed off on some butlery errand, and then leaned close to Peggy and whispered urgently, "Is it always like this."

"Like what?" Peggy asked, looking genuinely baffled.

While Angie was stirring the sugar cubes into her coffee and trying to figure out how to answer that question, a red-haired woman came into the room, clasping her hands together. "Miss Carter," she began.

"What are they doing now," Peggy said, in a tone that rivaled Jarvis's for long-suffering exasperation.

"I am not entirely sure, but I believe the swimming pool is involved."

"Are they swimming? I cannot -- I don't --" Peggy rose, then turned to Angie, recovering her poise as a hostess. "Please, let's continue this discussion outside. And you can say hello to Daniel." She turned pink on the last word.

Interesting, Angie thought, very interesting, and followed her outside.

Here they found Thompson along with Peggy's Daniel in a shady place beside the pool, lounging in chairs and trying to flick bottle caps all the way across the water.

"Ha!" Daniel crowed triumphantly. "That's a buck sixty you owe me, Thompsssss -- Hi, Peggy."

"I am going to ban you two from contact with each other," Peggy said, sitting down beside Daniel and leaning into his side. Angie watched this with great interest. Her Peggy, her neat and proper Peg? Surely not. (It was amazing.) "Is there nothing you can't find to bet on?"

Daniel pressed a bottle cap into her hand. "Ten cents a throw."

"Oh really?" She made a clever flick with her fingers, and the cap zinged across the pond and pinged off a beach chair on the far side, caroming underneath the azalea bushes.

"Buck seventy," Daniel said.

"What is this, teaming up against me now?" Thompson asked with lazy and patently fake annoyance.

"Give me another bottle cap," Peggy said.

Daniel put an arm around her and pressed one into her hand, then caressed her hair as she lined up a shot.

"Completely unfair."

"Buck eighty!" Daniel announced as the bottle cap rattled across the tile edge of the pool.

"I hate you both."

Angie knew how Peggy could get -- she might not manage to pull her head out of the game until she won ... and there was something weirdly comforting about it, about the entire madhouse nature of the place. She wandered around the pool, padding in her stocking feet on warm tiles, and found the red-haired woman at the far end with a handful of bottle caps.

"Mrs. Jarvis?" Angie ventured, having figured out in the meantime who she probably was.

"Yes, I'm so sorry! Are you a friend of Peggy?"

"I am," Angie reported, and was caught up in a hug. She hugged back, vigorously.

"We're going to pick those up, Mrs. Jarvis!" Daniel called down the length of the pool. "I mean, the loser is, which means Jack is."

"They will cut someone's foot! You are terrible."

"We need more bottle caps," Peggy announced. "Oh, Angie!" She managed to pull herself visibly out of the competition back to her social-hostess self. "I'll give you a tour -- just a moment --" She began to unwind herself from Daniel.

Angie waved her off. "No, you gotta defend our honor, English. Go show 'em. I think I have a guide already, right?"

Ana beamed at her with sunny charm. "Of course! Let me show you around! Any friend of Peggy's is welcome to stay for as long as she, or he, should like."

"I'm getting that impression," Angie murmured as they went into a sunroom off the pool deck. She sipped idly at her cooling coffee. They passed Howard Stark, who was scribbling on a notepad and almost bumped into them without looking up. A faint whiff of chemicals trailed him.

"I hope you don't think we are terribly strange," Ana said, dropping the bottle caps into a potted plant as she passed it. "They will never look for them there," she whispered.

Angie decided she was going to like it here. At the very least, she would never be bored.

And she definitely needed to get herself a camera.