Dorian "Dolly" Dingle has been footloose and flighty for long enough. At last, she's resolved to focus on her showbiz career and move out of the Magdalena Arms. Then landlady Mrs. DeWitt breaks her hip, and Dolly reluctantly agrees to fill in as temporary housemother. While she grapples with home repairs and holiday preparations, Dolly tends to the needs of her diverse tenants, including:
Jackie – The aspiring actress always puts on an impressive performance
Kay – Dolly's old friend is an accomplished clarinetist--and she's hoping they'll make sweet music together. . .
Arlene – She's a buxom theater designer with some very dramatic secrets
Ramona – The former bad girl is back in Bay City and making tongues wag again
When the high-spirited residents learn of a scheme to shut down their beloved rooming house, they rally together to raise funds. Can a Christmas variety show save the only home Dolly has ever known? And will she finally find the perfect girl to occupy her heart?
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Dolly Dingle, Lesbian Landlady
By MONICA NOLAN
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Monica Nolan
All rights reserved.
In the Wee Hours
"Ho, ho, ho," chortled the girl in the corridor, like a female Santa Claus.
Dolly startled awake from an uneasy sleep. She'd been dreaming she was in bed with a naked woman who wouldn't stop kissing her. In the dream she'd been torn between lust and a lassitude that made her eyes close, despite the affectionate attentions of her naked friend.
She stared blearily into the dimness of her room on the fifth floor of the Magdalena Arms and wondered what time it was and who was making that racket. But when she lifted her head to take a gander at the clock, the room spun dizzyingly around her.
Dolly let her head fall back on the pillow with a groan. She'd had quite a bit to drink at the farewell party for Lon, earlier that evening.
Her pajamas were twisted uncomfortably around her midriff. Dolly tried to straighten them and discovered she was wearing her girdle, and nothing else. She put a hand on the soft flesh under her jaw. Good lord, she must have been far gone when she fell into bed! She hadn't even put on her chin guard.
The girl in the corridor giggled again, and the sound went through Dolly's head like a chainsaw through an old hickory stump. "Don't make me laugh," said Dolly's unseen tormentor. "I have the hiccups!"
Was she one of Netta's students? The girls who roomed on the fifth floor of the Magdalena Arms were quiet types—Dolly excepted. This rowdy character in the corridor must be some delinquent protégée the dedicated teacher across the hall had brought home from her job at the Eleanor Roosevelt School for Troubled Girls.
A bass voice responded to the giggling girl, murmuring something unintelligible that made her laugh even harder. Why of all the—Dolly sucked in her breath in indignant astonishment. Netta's protégée had a man out there! A man on the fifth floor! Hadn't Netta told her troubled teenage friend that men were off-limits at the Magdalena Arms Residence for Women? Noise was one thing, but a man—
The hungover girl struggled to sit up, feeling for the clock on the bedside table.
But there was no bedside table, with its clock and clutter of bobby pins, reading glasses, and throat lozenges—only air. Dolly's flailing hand struck the brass rails of the bed's headboard—which was confusing, since she didn't have a brass bed. She peered into the darkness, dazed.
This wasn't her room on the fifth floor of the Magdalena Arms! Where was she?
She collapsed back onto the strange bed, cudgeling her aching head for clues. She didn't even notice when the giggling finally receded down the corridor.
Maybe that naked woman hadn't been a dream after all!
Tentatively, she felt through the tangle of sheets and blankets until her exploring hand encountered a soft, warm body. Fragments of memory came back to her, like the flickering pictures of an old movie. Someone was unbuttoning her shirt—she was sitting on the edge of the bed, kissing someone—someone pushed her playfully down on the bed—someone's voluptuous breasts swayed just above her face ... she remembered a voice too: "Don't fall asleep on me, Dolly!"
But who was the other actor in this half-remembered drama? That cute brunette she'd bought a drink for, after Lon and the gang departed? The serious blonde who'd told Dolly all about her dog-walking business later, when everything began to blur?
Damn that bouillon and celery diet she'd been following! Damn Jerry, her agent, for insisting that if she reduced she'd get better roles! This was what came of drinking on an empty stomach: waking up in a strange room with your head hammering and a mouth like cotton wool.
Dolly sat up, swung her legs over the side of the bed, and pushed herself to her unsteady feet. Stumbling a little, she bumped into a lamp and groped for the switch. Light flooded the room, and Dolly blinked as she took in the bed, its other occupant buried under blankets, the bureau, the cheap landscape on the wall, the fire exit diagram on the door. I'm in a hotel room, she deduced, pleased with her acumen.
There was a murmur from the blankets. The shape under the covers turned over, and a disheveled head emerged. "Dolly, honey," said a sleepy voice. "What are you doing?"
"Sylvia," breathed Dolly. Oh, cripes! She wished she could hide under the covers and pretend she was still unconscious. She'd much rather have found herself in bed with a stranger than playing this intimate scene opposite Francine's perennial barfly!
It wasn't that the woman, sitting up in bed now and lighting a cigarette, wasn't attractive. The black lace negligee she wore showed off her well-preserved curves and even after an evening of steady drinking, with her makeup smeared and her hair tousled, she exuded a certain louche charm.
But Sylvia had been a fixture at Francine's for almost a decade, coming in once or twice a month, escaping from her dreary life in the suburbs for a weekend and parking herself at the ladies-only watering hole. How many times had Dolly passed Sylvia, leaning moodily on Francine's jukebox, listening to some out-of-date song? How many times had she watched this perennial visitor to the twilight world try out her unhappy housewife story on any girl who hadn't heard it before, until she landed a playmate for the length of her stay? Why, Sylvia was practically a rite of passage at Francine's! Dolly herself had spent a weekend with the hot-to-trot housewife back in '58.
But a repeat performance—that was strictly from hunger!
The dismayed girl spotted her clothes, tossed untidily over a chair, and reached for them. She had to escape this stuffy hotel room—it must be the Prescott, which was where Sylvia always stayed—into the fresh air of the street.
Sylvia blinked as Dolly pulled on her gray slacks. "Where are you going? It's the middle of the night, and I have the babysitter until noon tomorrow! We could spend the whole morning in bed."
Dolly tried to conceal her instinctive recoil at the prospect of an entire morning with the mixed-up mother. Had she truly gone with Sylvia to this room at the Prescott of her own free will? She couldn't think of a tactful way to frame the question.
"Does your daughter still need a babysitter?" she asked instead, as she fastened her bra and pulled on her orange turtleneck. She looked around for her socks. "Isn't she in high school now?"
"She's only twelve." Sylvia looked offended as she stubbed out her cigarette.
"Sure, twelve, I remember now. Well, gosh, I'd love to do breakfast in bed," Dolly fibbed, "but I've got to be at the studio very, very early." She buttoned a brown and yellow Pendleton plaid over her turtleneck. Where on earth were her socks? Her feet would freeze in just her loafers. Ah! There they were, coiled like two brown snakes, halfway under the bed.
"The studio?" Sylvia furrowed her brow. "Oh, your television show, The Jarvises. I'll have to tell the girls in my bridge club I spent the evening with Julie Jarvis. Of course, I won't tell them what we were up to!" She winked.
"Meet the Jarvises," corrected Dolly. "I was Judy Jarvis. But it's been off the air—"
"Judy Jarvis!" Sylvia said. "You were always having trouble with your steady Fred. 'Nice girls don't pet!'" she trilled in a falsetto, then ruined her impersonation of teenage Judy with a phlegm-filled cough.
Dolly was used to girls imitating Judy Jarvis, the wholesome, apple-cheeked, all-American teenager she'd played for five years. "But, Daddy, I'm almost sixteen!" a pickup might mock-squeal before tossing back her drink at whatever dimly lit bar Dolly found herself in. Or, "Mother, you simply don't understand," a forty-year-old executive would murmur as she led Dolly to the bedroom. Some girls could quote whole scenes between Judy and her boyfriend Fred, especially the "I don't pet" episode. "I'll be Fred," more than one eager girl had told Dolly, as they slid under the covers, imitating the teenage boy to wheedle, "Then why do you have to be nice?" Thus cued, Dolly would oblige with a shocked, "Why, Fred!"
But those faithful fans who knew the show by heart were a thing of the past, and the number of girls who still recognized Dolly as a one-time television star had dwindled considerably, ever since reruns had gone off the air. Dolly eyed Sylvia in the bureau mirror as she ran a comb through her mussed hair. Even the middle-aged housewife seemed hazy on the details.
"I'm on a new show," she said, wondering who she was trying to impress. "A Single Candle."
"Really!" Sylvia perked up when Dolly named the popular daytime drama. "Why, I love that show. I watch it every day. Who do you play?"
"Nurse Hamilton?" Sylvia looked puzzled.
"The night nurse," Dolly helped. "Remember the scene where Linda is brought to the hospital after Steve crashes the car just as they're eloping? I'm the nurse who said, 'She's still unconscious, doctor.'" She watched Sylvia hopefully, but no sign of recognition lit the unhappy homemaker's face. A little cast down, Dolly shrugged on her camel-hair coat.
"Wait," Sylvia begged, but she no longer cared about extending their tryst. "You've got to tell me, when is Linda going to come out of her coma?"
"I'm not allowed to say," said Dolly. She didn't tell Sylvia she didn't know anyway. She slipped her feet into her loafers and picked up her handbag. "I've got to run, Sylvia. Thanks for—everything."
She hesitated a minute. Should she kiss Sylvia goodbye? But the fence-jumping femme was already flipping through a black address book she'd fished out of her purse. Dolly left, closing the door softly behind her.
Her relief at extricating herself from the awkward scene dissolved into a wave of melancholy as she made her way down the deserted hotel corridor. Who was she to be snooty about Sylvia? She wasn't so different. They'd both been kicking around Bay City's sapphic scene far too long. If they were cartons of milk, they'd be past their sell-by date—positively curdled!
She hurried through the lobby past the dozing night clerk and pushed open the door to the street.
Hunching her shoulders against the bitter November cold, Dolly realized she'd left her wool scarf behind. She turned up her collar and plunged her hands deep into her pockets—she certainly wasn't going back to Sylvia's hotel room to hunt around for it while Sylvia phoned her next conquest!
Time, which had stood still all those years she'd played a fifteen-year-old, had suddenly sped up. In the two years since the Jarvises had left the airwaves, Dolly felt like she'd aged twenty years at least. She was thirty-five now, and whenever she opened a magazine, some beauty columnist was warning women her age to stay away from short skirts or long hair—"if you're over thirty-five, these styles are too young for you!" the magazines said sternly.
Where had the years gone, and what did she have to show for them? The over-the-hill actress frowned, as she reviewed her pitiful resume since The Jarvises. Some radio work. A girly calendar. A guest spot here and there. Even her once-thriving, fetish-photography modeling career had petered out. All she had was a job plumping pillows as the forgettable Nurse Hamilton.
And wasn't it a little sad that while so many of her friends paired up and moved out of the Magdalena Arms into their own apartments, Dolly had stayed on, the perpetual single girl, roaming the half-empty halls of her old rooming house, looking for a Ping-Pong partner?
And now this—a one-night stand with someone she wasn't even attracted to!
The actress passed Francine's, shuttered and dark, the blue and pink neon sign with the down-pointed arrow switched off. She frowned at the scene of her recent blunder—the misplaced, alcohol-infused friendliness that had landed her in Sylvia's bed. If only she'd gone home at a reasonable hour, like the rest of her friends.
The gang got together so rarely these days that Dolly had wanted to make the most of the occasion. Yet it seemed like they'd scarcely sat down before the departures began. Netta had said her "bon voyage" to Lon first, claiming she had some cause-y meeting to attend. Rhoda and Janet left next—they were still in the honeymoon phase; ever-helpful Phyllis departed with Lon, the guest of honor, explaining, "I promised to help Lon pack." Lon at least had an excuse: She was catching an early flight to Paris this morning. Pam and Lois had stayed a little longer, but gregarious Dolly had grown bored with their conversation, dominated as it was by domestic problems, and had gone looking for new friends. She'd been dancing with a dark-haired girl when Lois tapped her on the shoulder to say that she and Pam were going home.
That left Dolly, keeping the party going in a bar full of girls who looked younger than Judy Jarvis.
It's time for a makeover, Dolly resolved. She was going to start acting her age. No more late nights at Francine's. No more breaking her diet with Swedish pancakes at Swenson's. No more going home with strange—or not so strange—women when she was tipsy. From now on she would be mature, serious-minded, career-focused.
The cold air was invigorating. It cleared the hungover girl's head like a plunge in an icy mountain creek. Dolly's natural optimism reasserted itself as she walked briskly through the dark, deserted streets. Thirty-five wasn't so old. She could still make that comeback she'd been working on. First order of business: Persuade the soap's producer to build up her part. That meant sticking to this awful diet until she slimmed down into the shapely sort of nurse television viewers expected. Then her stalled career would start moving again—bringing bigger parts, game show appearances, maybe even her own show!
And as soon as the money started flowing, she'd move into her own apartment, maybe in a doorman building in Lakeside. She shivered. It sounded kind of lonely—after all, she'd lived at the Arms for fifteen years and she was used to the camaraderie and company of two dozen other girls.
But she wouldn't be alone, Dolly reminded herself. She'd get a steady girlfriend, maybe someone in showbiz, who could help her climb the ladder. Look at the way advertising executive Lois and sportswear-buyer Pamela kept each other current with the latest trends. And wasn't corrections administrator Rhoda in the perfect position to provide clients for her lawyer girlfriend Janet?
I can certainly do better than Sylvia, Dolly told herself firmly.
Her step took on a jaunty swing as she thought back to last week's shoot. Hadn't there been hints on the set that she was due for a juicy scene? Oh, nothing definite, but she felt it in her bones, as surely as she smelled snow in the air. It was the way the wardrobe mistress had measured her so carefully for a new uniform, and the fact that the producer herself had appeared to watch that unimportant bit last week, where Nurse Hamilton plumped the comatose Linda's pillow. To clinch it, she'd overheard the director and his assistant talking about the difficulties of a scene where someone's uniform was ripped—"we want a little skin, but we can't overdo it," the director had mused.
Dolly turned the corner, her mind filled with rosy pictures of Nurse Hamilton being attacked by a lustful patient or doctor. Maybe even troubled Dr. Dwight!
A frightened cry drove the soap opera's plot twists out of her head. Dolly stiffened as she spotted two figures struggling on a stoop at the end of the block, the streetlight casting sinister, swaying shadows. A girl's voice said, "Let me go! Let me go or I'll scream!"
As Dolly quickened her pace, the girl opened her mouth and made good her threat.
Excerpted from Dolly Dingle, Lesbian Landlady by MONICA NOLAN. Copyright © 2014 Monica Nolan. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Good book. Kept me interested.