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Maiden's Prayer

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As Ella Dodge climbs out of the pool, Terrence Bledsoe can't help but remember the first time he saw her. Almost thirty years ago, he watched her sway out of the ocean, night surf lapping at her ankles, and look up toward the cliff-side where headlights drifted off Highway 101. He remembers the faint sound of two car doors opening, then all noise quickly lost to the sea's roar as the shadow of a gun cast large over the ragged coast consumed everything else.

The average viewer, if they had even seen Maiden's Prayer, remembered the winding car chase toward Santa Teresa, the rise and fall of the car engines, the high beam flicker and Ella's striking eyes large in the rearview. The intellectuals spoke only of the director's use of color as overarching metaphor or stuck with the obvious significance of the religious imagery, particularly as it pertained to the two killers. The plotters, on the other hand, acknowledged only the twist in the last act and the ambiguity of the final scene. But for him, it was always that first unbroken shot of her climbing from the water that meant everything.

Now, here she is, padding over to him, leaving wet footprints on the concrete. Smiling, she plucks the towel off her deckchair and lightly dries off before wrapping it around her waist.

"Have a nice swim?"

"I did," she says, reclining and closing her eyes. "You have a very nice house."

"Thank you," Bledsoe says and stares at her. Ella is older now, but still beautiful. Her hair long and thick, a color some reviewers insist is blond but he's always considered brunette. Neither age nor current Hollywood standards have thinned the sweep and shape of her curves. "Dinner?"

Bledsoe likes the little noise she makes in the back of her throat, before answering, "I can eat. Movie—after?"

"Whatever you want."

"Have you seen The Sunset Squadron yet?"

"No," he says, turning his gaze to the pool. "I hadn't planned on it."

Ella hears things in his voice. She opens her right eye and squints in his direction.

Bledsoe feels the look, says, "What?"

"I think you must be the only one not interested in that movie. Don't you like summer blockbusters?"

"I don't dislike them. They're just not at the top of my to-see list. I don't actually see too many movies."

"But you're in the business."

"I'm connected to the business," he says, walking over and adjusting the large umbrella's shade.

"That's better. Thanks," she says. Then, "Do you even like movies? I dated a guy once who was in the business and he hated movies."

"A producer?"

"Yeah."

"Figures," Bledsoe says and she laughs even before he can add, "I love movies. That's why I don't see many of them."

"So, you're a critic?"

He shrugs. "What gets released now? Mostly bad scripts. Bad directing. Then there's all the remakes and the endless stream of sequels. And, anymore, most actors—let's be honest, they do a workman like job at best. They arrive and hit their mark to show off their memorization skills."

"Is that why I don't get work?" Ella sighs melodramatically, then swoons in her deckchair. "My..." she twists her mouth and chews the corners of her lip "...memorization skills..." her eyes roll to the upper right "...aren't that great."

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