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PARTY

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Act Four

Scene: The book store. Harper is putting new books on display around a table Christmas tree. Menetre is baking behind the coffee shop counter. Christmas carols play overhead.

HARPER: So, Mama, help me understand what it is you plan to do in your "retirement."

MENETRE: I was thinking of quilting.

HARPER: ...Quilting?

MENETRE: Yeah, I've been quilting and I really enjoy it. I've even sold a few.

HARPER: Well good for you, Mama. That's great. But what about the store?

MENETRE: Harper Lee, honey, I've run my course with this store. It's been my life - all of our lives - but I'm done. I really am. I know that's hard for you and your brother to accept, but it is so much work. And I'm always worrying about the money and if I'm making enough to pay for keeping it open. It's exhausting.

HARPER: But Mama, this store is Poinsettia history! It's been a part of this town for decades. We can't just let it disappear.

MENETRE: Oh, honey, please don't make this harder than it has to be. Did you think this could last forever?

HARPER: Yeah...I...kinda did.

The bell on the door rings. Enter Beau.

BEAU: Hello, Delahoussayes!

MENETRE: Why, hello, Beau! (She comes out from behind the counter and hugs him, kisses him on the cheek.) To what do we owe this pleasure?

BEAU: I got some items on my Christmas list. I thought maybe Harper Lee could help me fill them?

MENETRE: Why, of course she can! Harper Lee! We have a customer!

Harper looks at her mother like, Seriously?

HARPER: Yes, sir? How can I help?

BEAU: Well we have a secret Santa at the school and I got Mr. Ladner.

HARPER (laughs): Senior English?

BEAU: Yes, so can you help me?

HARPER: This is harder than it sounds. I would imagine he already owns all the classics. Let's look at our contemporary southern authors shelf.

Harper and Beau disappear down an aisle. Menetre smiles smugly to herself.

HARPER: Jesmyn Ward is really good. Or Greg Iles - the Natchez Burning trilogy. For nonfiction, I can personally recommend anything by Rick Bragg...Julie Reed...Roy Blount Jr...

BEAU: Have you read all these?

HARPER (sheepishly): I mean, most of them.

BEAU: How do you have time to read with your high-powered government job and all?

HARPER(shrugs): You make time for the things that are important to you.

BEAU: Can I...Will you go to dinner with me while you're home?

HARPER: I'm...sorry? You know I...I'm with someone...

BEAU: Oh...no...I know...I'm sorry. I wanted to ask you - when our good Senator goes on those Sunday morning talk shows, do you, like, prep her for that?

HARPER: Media training. Sure. I do that.

BEAU: Do you think you could do that for...me?

HARPER: You're going on Meet the Press?

BEAU: Hey! I do interviews!

HARPER: You do Buddy's radio show.

BEAU: Well the school wants me to do some speaking engagements around the Parish. I could use some help.

HARPER: Okay, I can help you with that I guess.

BEAU: Dinner then?

********

Scene: The book store. The lights are dimmed. Menetre is behind the counter cleaning up. Harper enters from the stairs.

MENETRE: That'a what you're wearing?

HARPER: Mama, it's not a date.

MENETRE: It's not a crime to dress nicely when you go out at night. And your hair is so pretty down. Why do you insist on wearing it twisted up on top of your head like that?

HARPER: I like my hair out of the way, Mama. (She kisses her mother on the cheek) I won't be late.

MENETRE: I won't wait up!

********

Scene: Small restaurant on the Town Square. Enter Harper. She spots Beau at a table and advances to him. He's wearing a sports coat. She's in an untucked plaid shirt and skinny jeans.

HARPER: Oh...we're...(She looks down at her clothes) I'm sorry...I thought...

BEAU: No, no, no. It's fine! I didn't want to be underdressed. You can always take a jacket off. (He doffs the jacket and hangs it on the back of his chair.)

They sit. The waiter approaches. Beau orders wine.

HARPER (to the waiter): Club soda for me, please.

BEAU (to the waiter): Of course. Club soda for the table, please.

HARPER: So tell me about these speaking engagements and media interviews you have coming up.

BEAU: Pfft, that. I mean, it's Buddy's radio show. How hard can it be? We talk football!

HARPER: So...you brought me here under false pretenses?

BEAU: I know...I'm sorry. Look, it's not often a new face pops up in Poinsettia. Ever since I saw you at Sugar Cane's, I've been thinking that it might be nice if the only two single young people in town could hang out a bit.

HARPER: Hang out?

BEAU (hands up in a "don't shoot" pose): Hang out.

Harper smiles at him.

Cut to same table, same night, Harper and Beau are laughing and drinking wine. Beau is wrapping up a story about a student.

HARPER: I'm not gonna lie, Beau. I kinda needed this tonight. I'm so stressed out about Mama.

BEAU: What's going on with your mom?

HARPER: She's going to close the Sound & Fury if she can't find a buyer by the end of the year.

BEAU: Ahh, yes. I had heard that. Seems to be a trend on the Square lately. Time marches on.

HARPER: Well, Miss Melba didn't have to sell her place in the end, did she? How many shops do you think can get that happy ending?

BEAU: At least one more if I have anything to do with it. Again.

HARPER: What are you saying?

BEAU: I'm not a miracle worker, Harper Lee. Please don't think I have a direct line to Santa or anything.

HARPER: Did you have something to do with saving Miss Melba's?

BEAU: I wouldn't say I "saved" it so much as I helped convince Mr. Lattimore that a change of career was in order.

HARPER: Really. Okay. So who, exactly, do you think we can convince to change careers and take over Mama's shop?

Beau looks at Harper unflinchingly.

HARPER: No. NO. Is this a joke? Did Will put you up to this?

BEAU: Harper, this is about your family. But it's more than that - It's about your town. It's about tradition. It's about all the things that used to be important to you.

HARPER: I know that, Beau. And I want more than anything for Mama's shop to live on. But this is absurd. I don't live here anymore. I have a job - I have a life! I can't just give all that up because some people in small-town Louisiana don't want life to change!

BEAU: It's not just about change, Harper. It's about keeping our town alive. It's about surviving and thriving. You work for a Louisiana senator - don't you care about the people in your state?

HARPER: Well of course I do, Beau. But I'm trying to help our state on a larger scale. We can't move our state forward by personally sacrificing ourselves for one small business at a time!

BEAU: You've changed, Harper Lee. You're no different than those crooks in Washington. You don't care about your home. It's all about money and politics and re-elections to you now.

HARPER: That is not fair! I love my town, Beau. I just believe I can make a bigger difference on a national level. You have to respect that!

BEAU (getting up to leave): No. No, I don't.

Fade to black.

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