Thursday, November 27, 2014

I Call Him Brady - And so it begins...

I walked as fast as I could without breaking into a jog while I maneuvered my way through the terminal. I’d always hated airports. Today, I hated them even more than usual. It was only a matter of time before someone would recognize me and the last thing I needed just then was a slew of fans following me all the way back to the check-in counter, not that I wasn’t grateful for their admiration. After all of the years I’d spent in LA, I knew better than anyone how fickle fame could be. Although, it wasn’t ever the fame I was interested in.
The only son born to an award winning film director and a former super model, I was practically Hollywood royalty. My face had been plastered on the covers of magazines since before I could walk. By the time I was old enough to understand what it all meant, it had become so second nature to me that I didn’t think twice when my then model turned fashion designer mother handpicked me as the new face of her up and coming clothing line for the fashion forward teens of America. Having inherited my mother’s good looks and my father’s charm and work ethics, I guess I was the obvious choice.
From there, the modeling gigs just kept rolling in until one night when I was seventeen and out with a bunch of guys. We were on our way to a game when we passed a billboard displaying none other than yours truly wearing next to nothing along with my mother’s signature pout. It was the same pout I’d seen her practice in front of the mirror since I was in diapers, the same pout I had inadvertently and unknowingly copied. My friends were kind enough to ignore the abomination hanging some forty feet above us, but I don’t remember ever feeling more humiliated in my entire life.
I gave up modeling shortly after and then took off the second I graduated. I had foolishly believed that I could run away to some obscure part of the world and backpack my way from Point A to Point B while enjoying what would have been my very first taste of actual privacy. However, it was too late. The fame monster of Jack Cole had been brooding for nearly two decades and there was no escaping it. So, I reluctantly boarded the private jet my father had sent for me and did the next best thing to hiking in Europe…doing charity work in South Africa.
Initially sick of people, I signed up to volunteer at a Big 5 Wildlife Conservation in the Limpopo Province. Honestly, it was to date, one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I became addicted to this simple and isolated way of living where I gained a completely new and unexpected perspective.
When my stay on the Conservation came to an end, I was nowhere near ready to leave and head back to the life I had left behind. However, I was ready for more human contact, and so I volunteered again, this time dedicating myself to orphanage education in Cambodia.
I was only nineteen at that point, so my teaching skills were limited. This left me to pass on the only knowledge I had acquired growing up with parents who had the combined knowledge of all things photography, given their vast experiences from both behind and in front of a shutter. So, after hitting up every one of my parents’ socialite friends and accumulating a large variety of cameras and lenses, I started my new journey as a teacher.
It wasn’t long before I was seeing more life from behind a camera than I was without one. Things just looked different when viewed through that tiny window and its red square center. I was able to focus in on the most remarkable details and see new aspects of the world I had missed before. I discovered the beauty of the human face and each intricate perfection visible through its most vulnerable expressions. I unveiled treasures that had been buried only by my own ignorance and obliviousness. In short, I found myself and I learned far more from the children I taught than they ever could have learned from me.
When I returned home, I was twenty-one and I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life. Photography had given me an intimate look at people and their emotions and I had been fascinated and touched by what I’d seen. So much so that I wanted to learn to emulate those feelings, to someday touch others. I wanted to act.
While I preferred theater, I learned early on that the money wasn’t on the stage but in front of the camera. And given my father’s connections, frankly, there were too many offers to turn down. So these days, much to my disappointment, most of my acting took place without a live audience.
Now, as I was scurrying along the crowded halls of the airport, I was eager to avoid an audience all together. Ducking while talking to my buddy Crisco on the phone, I only lifted my head as much as I needed to in order to keep track of where I was going. When I spotted the doors closing on an empty elevator, I jumped at the chance for temporary seclusion.
I slid my hand inside just as the gliding door was about to touch, setting off its sensor and causing it to retract its motion instantly. I took one step in and paused. The elevator wasn’t nearly as deserted as I had thought. A woman and her daughter were standing on the inside corner, where they had been previously hidden from my view. Oh well, it was too late now. I barely glanced at either of them as I joined them inside the elevator, still  mid-conversation on my phone.
“...No, man. That's what I'm trying to tell you. I get here thinking I'm going to surprise her, only I'm the one who ends up surprised when the old friend from college she came to visit turns out to be her ex!” I was still reeling from that conversation. Thank God I had called her the moment my plane landed, otherwise I probably would have walked into her hotel room and seen things that could not be unseen.  
“Yeah...well, whatever. It's done and over with now...No, I'm still here at the airport. Yeah, I'm just headed there now.”
The elevator had already stopped again. Reacting without thinking, I looked up just as the doors slid open revealing a group of people, two of whom seemed to recognize me right away. In spite of the evidential sparkle of excitement in their eyes, neither of the newcomers said anything to me, but repeatedly exchanged knowing glances with one another as though they were communicating via their brainwaves.
I quickly averted my eyes and turned inward toward the corner.
“Shit, I gotta go,” I blurted into the phone and hung up. Attempting to look busy to avoid interacting with the people now standing within a two foot radius of me, I continued to play with the screen of my phone as though there were some incredibly interesting things happening there. I was so engulfed in this ploy to appear distracted, I didn’t even notice when the woman and her daughter exited the elevator.


Holy Shit. That’s freaking Jack Cole! What do I do? Nothing. I do nothing. Shit. Am I blushing? Don’t blush. Do NOT blush. What am I talking about?! Forget blushing! Don’t faint! I could already feel the telltale signs of a full blown anxiety attack announcing themselves via the heart pounding out of my chest like a sledgehammer and the cold numbness setting in around my ankles.
My first instinct was to shut my eyes and take several deep breaths, but then I realized how insane I’d look and squashed that plan immediately. Instead, I focused all of my attention on the silver metal doors ahead. Still slightly maniacal, but then Mr. Cole seemed too wrapped up in his own problems to take notice of mine.
With my eyes steadily staring straight ahead, my ears were free to drop in on his conversation with unconscionable ease. My frantic heart froze the moment my brain registered what my wandering ears had heard. Jack Cole had dropped his model of the month girlfriend. He was single! I had to remind myself that in all reality, this information – however exciting it seemed – actually would have no bearing on me or my relationship status.
In the midst of forcefully hiding all of my Jack Cole madness, I had forgotten one minor detail. The tiny person to my left, who at any given moment could glance up and recognize the man of my every fantasy and sell me out faster than a girl scout peddling cookies to a pothead.
My daughter was no evil genius, but she was five with no inhibitions and a knack for listening in on my grown up conversations. She wouldn’t think twice before blurting out his name and asking him to marry me. In fact, I’d once had a daydream just like that, only in my warped and lonely mind, he had found her so adorable he had said yes on the spot. To be fair, my daughter didn’t hear ‘no’ from people often, something I hoped would work in my favor one day, but I digress.
I carefully lowered my gaze from the safety of the elevator doors to take a peek at Jessa. Much to my relief she was far too involved in chatting with Mermella the mermaid to pay attention to anything else.
Just as my eyes re-centered themselves on the shiny metal ahead, the door slid open revealing a large group of people eager to board the elevator. This was my floor. I had two choices. Either stay on and ride the elevator aimlessly in hopes of basking in Jack Cole’s presence a moment longer like a stalker, or get off.
Before my head had a chance to decide, my body took over, moving on autopilot and taking me onward as I had originally programmed it to do when I first boarded the moving metal box.
I said a silent goodbye to my once in a lifetime opportunity with each painful step I took. It wasn’t until I had safely removed myself from what had been loaded with potential for the most humiliating scene of my life, that I finally turned around to look at Jack full on.
I was still mesmerized by the sight of him when I watched as one of the new passengers opened his mouth, about to talk to Jack.
“Hey, aren't you Ja-” the words never fully formed before I interrupted him.
“Brady, are you coming?”
Unaware that he was being spoken to, Jack maintained his iron clad focus on the screen of his cell phone, while I began to panic. What the hell was I doing? This was insane. Not only that, but if I wanted to avoid looking like a complete ass at this point, I would have no choice but to fully commit and hope it didn’t end with me being hauled off in cuffs by airport security.
“Brady!” I repeated, this time more sternly.
At last he looked up. Still not entirely sure what was going on, his eyes darted back and forth between myself and the strangers beside him.
“Come on, this is us.” I was looking directly at him. Jack was about to say something when I gestured for him to follow me, now with a slightly annoyed expression to go with it. I watched as he took one more look at the guy who had been about to chat him up and then quickly fell into step behind me just in time to avoid the elevator doors closing in on him.
“Thanks. I really appreciate that.” He was looking around like a nervous animal trying to figure out his next move.
“No problem. I just got the impression that you didn't feel like being on display at that particular moment.” Instantly realizing how it had sounded, I quickly added, “not that I was eavesdropping.”
He looked at me and chuckled, clearly amused by my suddenly frazzled exterior and uncomfortable smile. “No, it's fine. I was standing two feet from you, of course you heard.”
Another crowd was headed for the elevator and so I gently led my daughter over toward a corner and out of their path.
“Anyway, where did you need to go? I'm sure we can get you there without you getting mauled by a bunch of crazed fans.” I nodded at the most recent group of twenty something women clearly here on spring break and anxiously waiting for the heavy sliding doors to open.
Jack barely dared to glance in their direction. “Oh yeah? How do you plan to do that? Keep calling me Brady?” he whispered, sounding as though he was half joking, half hoping it was a viable option.
I shrugged. “If it works...but I was also thinking we could be a couple of Euro tourists here from Germany for the next go around.” I lifted the hand still clutching my daughter’s and pointed onward as I began to move again. It seemed almost automatic that Jack fell into step beside us.
“Hm, not sure that's going to work,” he said shaking his head. “My German's not quite believable.”
I had to bite back a grin remembering the movie in which he had played an international assassin. His German had been borderline pathetic, and I had laughed hysterically every time I had heard him utter another butchered line. Now hardly seemed like the time to bring that up though.
I leaned in toward him, feeling confident. “No worries, mine is pretty good. As long as you can nod and add a few 'Uh-huh's' in there every so often we can totally pull it off.”
“You’re telling me you speak German?” His disbelief was only slightly hidden by the fact that he was now clearly intrigued. “Why?”
“I’m German,” I replied very matter of fact. “It’s kinda my thing.” I looked up and spotted another wave of people coming our way. “Meanwhile, let’s start by blending in with all the families on vacation.” I bent down to whisper to my daughter. “Jessa, baby, do you think you could hold Brady's hand?”
Her little nose crinkled as she knitted her dark brown brows in confusion. “But Mama, his name isn't's Jack Cole!” she whispered back loudly.
And there it was.  I quickly lowered myself down to be face to face with her, in hopes that Jack wouldn’t see me turn beet red, or worse, express an interest in hearing why my five year old had recognized him. His work, while extensive, had yet to include a family friendly project.
“I know his name is Jack,” I explained quietly, “But we're playing pretend, okay? So, his new name is Brady. What name do you want?”
Jessa thought it over for a moment. Then her eyes lit up as she announced, “Ooh, I want to be Rapunzel!”
I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. “ about Jasmin instead?” It was a solid compromise.
“Okay! What about you Mama?”
“I think I'm going to stick with Mama.” I gently tucked a long strand of dark blonde hair back behind her ear and kissed her cheek before I stood up again.
“Is that what I'm calling you, too?” Jack was smirking.
I’d seen that look on his face a hundred times, but on screen was nothing compared to seeing it in person. It set off a storm of butterflies in the pit of my stomach and the jackhammer had returned to my chest. Then I watched as Jessa reached up and clasped his hand and I nearly lost it.
I swallowed hard, trying to force down the flutter now rising into my chest. “No, you can call me Embers.”
Desperate for a distraction, I searched our surroundings for the arrival monitors. When I spotted them just a few feet away, I made a beeline for them, dragging the other two along as I went.
My mind was still whirling from the onslaught of inappropriate feelings that had hit me after being on the receiving end of Jack Cole’s trademark smirk. No amount of daydreaming could have ever prepared me for that.
I had to scan the large screen in front of me three times before I was actually able to absorb any of the information.
“Okay,” I glanced up at the clock above the monitors. “Aunt May's flight is on time, but we were early so it shouldn't be any problem to get you to the ticket counter of your choice and make it back to the gate in time to meet her.” Halfway through my statement I had redirected it at Jack who seemed surprisingly less enthused by the news than I had expected.
He was waving his hand, already dismissing the idea. “Oh, I don't want to screw up your plans.”
Not understanding, I insisted, “Not at all. It's just my sister. And she doesn't expect me to be on time anyway. So, where are we headed?”
I had already started walking again when I felt myself jerked to a stop by Jack who was still standing in place.
“You know, I just spent the last six hours on a plane, I'm in no hurry to get back on one. Let's just go and meet your sister and I can figure things out after.” As he said it, he took several steps into the opposite direction headed toward the arrival gates, gently tugging Jessa and me along as he did so.
“But wouldn't you rather just hurry up and get out of here?” I hissed as I scurried to catch up with him. “I mean, the longer you hang around, the more likely someone will recognize you sooner or later.”
“Nah, I think I'm in good hands with you.” He turned back to wink at me. “Besides, I kinda want to see you break out the German tourist routine.”
I shook my head, laughing. Partially because the thought of breaking into German improv sounded downright hilarious, and partially because this entire thing was so entirely bizarre it was either laugh or black out…and blacking out seemed like an ineffective move just then.
So, the three of us made our way to the arrivals, doing our best to blend in with the multitude of other travelers being shuffled along the large corridors of the airport.
When we reached the gate, Jessa wasted no time in pulling us over to the wall of windows from where she was able to watch the airplanes as they came and went.
It wasn't long before two women standing close by began to take notice of Jack. Huddled together closely, I overheard them whispering excitedly to one another. I peered over at Jack. Even with his face somewhat hidden in the shadow of his fedora and his trademark tats covered, he was entirely too recognizable.
Swaying any diehard female fans would require total dedication to my cause.
“Das Wetter hier ist echt toll, oder?” I nodded at the window as I spoke. “Wenn das jeden Tag so ist, wird das ein echt toller Urlaub, meinst Du nicht?”
This time I directed my attention back to Jack and waited for his response. Without skipping a beat, he fell right into character, a minor part all things considered, and replied with a confident sounding ‘Uh-huh’ as though he had understood perfectly.
“Ja, denke ich auch!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as the two women walked away looking sorely disappointed.
Jack leaned in and whispered, “Nice.” Adding an appreciative nod at the end.
“Thank you, thank you.” I bowed playfully. When I stood upright again, I saw Jessa’s hand fly up into the air. She waved it around with excitement.
“There she is!”
Buried in the sea of people marching toward us, a small pink Mohawk could be spotted bobbing up and down as the flood of passengers came streaming in through the arrivals gate.
I felt Jessa slip out of my grip as she launched herself a few feet forward and began jumping up and down shouting with elation.
“Aunt May! Over here!” Her little hands were still flapping back and forth above her head when May caught a glimpse of them and began to veer away from the crowd and in our direction. I watched as my sister’s eyes traveled from Jessa to me and then over to Jack where they did a clear double take before jumping back to lock eyes with me in search of an explanation.
Try as I might, even as a twin, I had yet to master the skills of telepathy. So, I simply reverted to my standard crooked grin and shoulder shrug, reserved for situations such as these.
“Hello...” May’s tone was tentative at best as she knelt down to catch Jessa who sprinted forward.
“Hi!” Jessa’s sweet enthusiasm was still bubbling out of her as she loudly whispered in her aunt’s ear. “We're playing pretend. My name isn't Jessa, it's Jasmin. And Jack Cole is Brady. Who do you want to be?”
“Um, I don't know. How about you pick?” May pulled back to look at her niece with an unwavering confusion still lingering on her face.
Unaware of the unusual circumstances of her current situation, Jessa beamed back at her.
“Okay, you can be Mother Gothel.”
May snorted. “Gee, thanks.”
I leaned down in an attempt to help move the conversation along.
“Or, she can be Ariel.”
Jessa seemed perfectly fine with that.
Meanwhile, I noticed Jack hadn’t said anything since May showed up. I turned back to make the official introduction when I saw him curiously studying the two of us. I’d seen that look plenty of times before. May and I were identical. Well, our faces were anyway. Something people tended to only become aware of after they saw everything else. Like May’s pink hawk and various tats or my long jet black and purple locks and the fact that I wore a wardrobe that looked like a mixture of painting attire and beach wear.
Suffice it to say, there were plenty of things about us that people found distracting before they had the chance to look close enough and realize we were each other’s mirror image.
“Twins,” I mumbled stupidly. I always felt the need to confirm what was pretty self-explanatory.
“Yeah, I got that,” Jack grinned. “Ariel, nice to meet you.” He held his hand out toward my sister and she took it, moving like the tin man from Oz after he had begun to rust.
“Yeah, you too...Brady?!” She was staring directly at me.
“I'll explain later.” I completely ignored the impatient look in May’s eyes demanding I start talking now. “Where to next?”
“Baggage claim?” Jack offered.
May was too busy still boring into me with her stare to realize she had been spoken to. When she finally became aware of it, she smiled awkwardly.
“I only have my carry on.” As if the words alone hadn’t been explanation enough, she lifted her bright fuchsia duffle bag decked out in all things Beatles, for everyone to see.
Brady took it from her and started walking. “Cool. Let's get out of here then.”
Wait. What?
“Don't you want to try and get another flight?” I called after him, still frozen in place beside the wall of windows.
“You know, I can just take care of that later. It'll probably be easier by phone anyway.” He had barely even slowed down. Apparently, the California stop applied to more than just driving. “Besides, I'm starving. How about I take you ladies out for lunch? As a thank you for saving my butt earlier.”
May nodded, “I could eat.”
Then Jessa took things up a notch by jumping up and down and squealing, “Yes! Yes! I want to go to lunch!” Seriously, the kid was acting like she’d just been offered a free trip to Disney World.
“Looks like we're going to lunch then.” I finally followed the rest of my party, but at a considerably slower pace. This whole thing had just gone from surreal to alternate dimension and I needed a little distance to regain some sort of perspective. Only there was no distance great enough to help me fully comprehend how Jack Cole had jumped from my TV screen and into my life.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Unhurt - And so it begins...

            “Yo, Bobby! There’s some fine ass looking woman outside trying to get in,” I heard some guy yelling from inside. The double glass doors may have been locked but they were hardly soundproof.
            I smirked. Not because some douche thought I was hot, but because I was anticipating the disappointed look on Bobby’s face when he came out from the back and realized the fine ass woman was just me.
            I saw his head pop out from the beer cooler, his eyes squinting. It was gorgeous out, but the sun was probably blinding him considering he lived the life of a mole…or a bat. Whatever. Either way, owning a bar meant Bobby rarely saw daylight.
            “Here, let her in.” He tossed the keys to the other guy. So far this mysterious stranger had stayed just far enough in the shadows for me to make out zip about him, aside from the fact that he was tall. Really tall. And broad.
            “You know her?” The guy shook his head. “I need to get out more.”
            Meanwhile, I was out and it was getting fucking hot out here.
            Finally the door opened.
            “About time,” I mumbled as I burst in past him and went straight for the back of the bar where Bobby was busy fumbling around with one of the beer taps.
            “I thought you were coming by earlier. What happened?” He wiped off the tap and threw the rag onto the counter behind him.
            “For starters, you took the wrong keys when you left last night and I had to spend two hours hunting down my set of spares just so I could start my truck to get here.” I tossed a bundle of keys at him. “Must be nice having roommates who leave the door open for you.”
            He grinned. “Probably helps that I keep my car keys with the bar set as well.” Just then the other guy came up beside me and slid the lanyard holding all the bar keys across the bar top back to Bobby.
            “Yeah. Probably.” Bobby made me crazy sometimes. I was about to tell him so for the millionth time when I noticed the other dude just leaning up against the counter beside me, watching Bobby and me interact.
            “Please don’t tell me you’re dating this guy.” He pointed at Bobby when he said it, an expression of disbelief to go with it.
            “Ew.” I made a face. “I wasn’t going to.”
            Bobbly laughed. “I keep forgetting you two haven’t met. Derek, this is my sister. Joss, meet Derek.”
            The previous look of disbelief was still there as he shifted his gaze back and forth between myself and my brother, only now it was accompanied with a touch of surprise. “You two are related?”
            “Believe me, I’ve had my doubts about it, too.” I shook my head. I’d yet to see any resemblance between Bobby and me either and there were days I wondered if my mother’s jokes about the milkman had been all that funny. “So, Derek, is it? Don’t you think it’s a bit early in the day to be getting shitfaced?”
            “I thought we talked about not judging my customers,” Bobby said dryly.
“And I’m not here for some unofficial happy hour.” Derek nodded over at the adjoining room where half of the floor had been pulled up. “I’m his contractor.”
“Oh. You’re that Derek.”
That Derek? What does that mean?” His brows were knitted in confusion.
“Just means she thought you were an asshole before she met you and now she’s feeling stupid about it,” Bobby piped up from behind the counter where he was now putting away a tray of clean glasses.
“I didn’t think you were an asshole. I just…didn’t understand what was taking so long.” Up until recently my brother’s bar, The Flying Monk, had been fairly small, but with business doing well, he’d been ready to expand the place. So, he’d acquired the adjoining store and then hired Derek, apparently, to do the build for him. Which was all fine and good, but in my defense, Bobby had hired me to do a job as well, and I couldn’t do shit until Derek was done. Also, it was worth mentioning that I’d pictured Derek to be about twenty years older and a hundred pounds heavier…you know, like every other contractor I’d ever dealt with. But apparently my brother had access to the special ‘contractors-who-could-easily-pass-as-Ryan-Gosling’s-body-double’ pool when he did his hiring.
“You didn’t under – “ Derek straightened up from where he’d been comfortably leaning against the counter and started walking toward his mini construction zone. “Come here. I’ll show you what’s been taking so fucking long.” He kept mumbling as he went. “Understand what’s taking so long. You’ll understand in a minute…”
Next thing I knew I was standing in a pile of rubble, but I still didn’t get what I was looking at.
“What’s with all the pipes?” They looked like they were sprouting out of the ground every two feet like some sort of iron weeds. It was obvious what the problem was, but simply conceding that Derek had a point and that it was clear to me now why the renovations weren’t moving at the speed of light just seemed like a missed opportunity for easy entertainment. So, I kept my face blank and, using my most matter of fact voice, said, “I thought this was going to be a dance floor. Won’t those fuckers be a little hazardous for dancing? I mean, the word lawsuit is basically flashing in my mind as we speak.”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Derek do a double take between myself and the flooring. His hands came forward to gesture something and then fell to his sides before he even got started. Finally he managed to formulate some words.
“It’s not like I put them there!” His one hand made a reappearance as he waved it at the minefield of pipes before us. “I’m trying to get rid of them all!”
My lips gave way to a crooked grin as I reached up to pat his shoulder. “Damn, getting you riled up is way too easy. Almost takes the fun out of it.”
His face fell. “You were fucking with me.”
“I was fucking with you.” I stepped further into the wreckage. “But seriously, what is all this shit? What was this? A gym shower room or something?”
He chuckled. “Close. Dog spa. Fucking mini bathtubs everywhere. Took me three days just to get them all out of here.”
“What did you do with them?” I had a sick addiction to other people’s trash. Not like, gross trash, but basically anything I could repurpose in some way. For some reason mini-bathtubs just screamed gardening to me.
“Right now they’re all loaded up in my trailer. Haven’t gotten much farther than that. Been too busy here.” I felt his hand touch my elbow. “Come on, we better get back to solid ground. I can still hear you saying the word lawsuit in the back of my mind.”
I laughed. “If I promise not to sue anyone, can we talk some more about those tubs? Because I could totally take them off your hands. You know, as a favor to you. My way of making it up to you for hassling you about how long you’re taking with this job.” The words were practically shooting from my lips at high speed in hopes that I could get Derek to take me up on my offer before we reached my brother again.
“Why would you do that exactly?” Judging from the suspicious way his eyes were squinting, Derek hadn’t bought it.
“I told you, to help you out.” I shrugged my shoulders, demonstrating how meaningless it all was, but in reality I was frothing at the mouth. I wanted those tubs. I wanted them bad. It had taken me all of thirty seconds to envision my backyard lined with those suckers all filled with dirt and fabulous little veggie plants sprouting over the top. Oh, and herbs. Fresh herbs. Yes. “I mean, look at the mess in there. When will you possibly have the time to deal with them yourself?”
Just then Bobby showed up again. “Them what?”
“Them tubs.” Derek nodded toward what was left of the dog spa. “Apparently your sister is itching to make a dump run.”
It was all over now.
“Yeah, right. She doesn’t even know what that is. Unless she thinks of her garage as a dump.” Bobby lifted his brows and nodded to himself. “And some days it looks like she does.”
“Would you stay out of this?” I refused to even face him and instead kept my eyes locked on Derek. “I’m serious though. I want the tubs. What’s it gonna take?”
What had started out as curiosity had quickly turned to pleasure. “What are you? One of those hoarders or something? You know, they have professional help for people like you. There’s no shame in it.”
I could hear Bobbly laughing behind me but continued to ignore him.
“I’m not a hoarder, you jackass. I just like to recycle.”
“Is that what you’re calling it? You know, denial will be your biggest obstacle in reaching a successful recovery.” Derek’s blue eyes were sparking with pure delight, taunting me. If he hadn’t been a complete stranger I would have slugged him for it. And here I had felt bad for screwing with him earlier.
“That’s fine,” I nodded. “It’s cool. Go ahead and make fun of me. But this job is going to take you a while, so I’m going to have ample opportunity to come back and torture you. And now that I know you’re down to play, I’m not going to go so easy on you.”
Derek smirked and glanced past me, over at my brother. “Should I be scared? Because that sounded like maybe I should be scared.”
“To be honest, I got a little scared for you.” They were both having way too much fun on at my expense, which Bobby apparently realized when he saw me scowling at him. “Hey want to sample some booze and call it a truce?”
“You’re bribing me with alcohol? Have you met me?”
“I have. This is a coffee flavored liqueur.” Damn, if ever there was a type of booze that might be of interest to me. “The rep brought it in as a sample. Guess it’s new so they’re pushing it on everyone.”
“And now you’re pushing it on me?” I pulled up a stool and had a seat. “Okay, one tiny little sample. But mix it in with something. I don’t want that shit straight.”
Derek had a seat beside me, but gave Bobby a dirty look when he held the bottle out toward him. “Yeah, I’ll pass. Pretty sure men aren’t allowed to drink anything with the world liqueur in the name.”
I shrugged. “I don’t see why that would be a problem for you.”
He clutched his chest dramatically. “Damn, girl.”
Meanwhile, Bobby still seemed to be pleasantly entertained by our antics from his side of the bar.
“Here we go. One coffee flavored girly drink and one very manly beer.” He set both down in front of us. “Now then, I’m going to finish doing inventory in the cooler. Try not to kill each other in my absence, would ya?”
I watched him disappear in the back and then took a sip.
“Damn, that’s tasty. Now if only it came caffeinated.”
Derek chuckled. “You’re one of those, huh?”
I didn’t follow. “One of what?”
“You know, one those people who think enough coffee can take the place of sleep.”
“I happen to know for a fact that it can.” I took one last drink and then pushed the glass away even though it was still filled three quarters of the way. I’d never been a big drinker. Even less now. “Speaking of, I think I’ll hold off and have the real deal when I leave here.”
Derek didn’t seem to be making much headway with his beer either. Probably a good thing considering he was working with power tools.
“What brings you down here today anyway? I mean, I’ve been on this job for a month now, and you don’t seem to make a regular appearance.”
I’d completely forgotten. “Shit.” I jumped down from my barstool and went to walk around the bar. “Bobby! I totally spaced it, but I’ve got all your stuff in the back of the truck. It’s all wide open. We should probably go unload it before someone else comes along and does it for us.” I turned back to Derek. “And you’re right. I don’t come out this way much anymore, but while you’re working on fixing up the new space, I’m working on stuff to fill it with. Brought the first load of tables and chairs today.”
Bobby came out of the cooler a second later. “Ready?”
“I’m waiting on you, asshole.”
“Well, let’s do this then.”
Together the three of us headed for the front door and outside, where my old Bronco was parked on the curb. The back door was still open, revealing several chairs and tables I had skillfully crammed back there. Thankfully everything seemed to still be just the way I had left it. Of course, it would have taken some serious skill to untangle everything I had so carefully fit together like a 3D puzzle in my trunk.
One by one, I pulled each piece out and handed it off to the guys.
“Wow. This is nice. You did this?” Derek was inspecting my work on one of the chairs.
“Yup.” I handed him a second one.
“Maybe sometime you could come over to my place and check out my bedroom. I could show you some stuff in there I think you’d really like.” It was obvious the second he quit talking that hearing the words out loud hadn’t sounded quite the same as it had in his head.
I lifted my left brow suspiciously. “I don’t know, are you about to bribe me with a piece of candy to take a ride over there in your sketchy looking van?”
He laughed, clearly embarrassed. “Yeah, that didn’t come out right. What I meant to say was, I just picked up a whole set of bedroom furniture at another job. It’s old and worn, but it’s solid wood with some amazing detail work on it. I think you could really turn it into something beautiful. If you wanted to.” Then he turned back, glancing up the side of the street lined with cars. “Oh, and I drive a truck. Not a van. But I do have a box of Mike and Ikes in the glove compartment I’d be willing to share if that sweetens the deal any for you.”
“That actually doesn’t hurt.” I unloaded the last of the pieces, a table, and jumped out of my Bronco just as Bobby came back for another set of chairs, leaving Derek and me to bring in the table together.
Once everything was set up inside, it only seemed natural to take a seat and have a test drive of the new furniture.
“I dig it.” Bobby nodded, peering around the room from his spot. “They’re comfy enough, but not bulky. Nice to look at, but not girly. These will work. How many more you got coming for me?”
I shrugged. “Depends on how much room you’ll have over there and how much of it will be designated for a dance floor. I did score three different pub style tables and barstools when I went garage sale-ing last weekend, which I think will go really well up along the wall. So, you know, those for sure.”
He ran his hand across the table’s surface. “And this shit is waterproof, right?”
I rolled my eyes. “Obviously.”
Derek chuckled. “I’m starting to see that brother sister thing. It’s actually pretty clear now.”
My attention shifted back to him as he said it. When our eyes met, he flashed me a smile. Not a cocky, hey baby what’s happening smile, but a genuine, sweet and almost familiar smile that gave me the tinglies in the pit of my stomach. For a moment I thought maybe the sushi I had for lunch had given me food poisoning. Then I remembered what those feelings were. I was attracted to him. Fuck around.
“Well, I think I’m done here.” I stood up from my chair rather abruptly.
“When can I expect the next load?” Bobby asked, tipping his seat so far back, two of the legs were no longer touching the floor.
“When you have some solid ground to put it on.” I tipped my head at Derek. “So, hurry that shit up, would you?”
He grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Hm. Alright then.” I turned to make my exit.

            I looked over at Bobby. “What?”
            He was thoroughly amused with something. “No, it’s just Joss is going to be pissed when she realizes I still have her keys.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a key chain that appeared to have a spoon dangling from it amidst the keys.
            “What the fuck is that?” I reached for them to have a better look.
            “She wasn’t kidding about liking old shit and finding new ways to use it. Guess she scored a whole silverware drawer at some yard sale a while back. You don’t even want to know all the different things she’s made out of forks and spoons. Pretty sure my aunt has a necklace and earing set that could come in handy the next time she goes camping.”
            I laughed, flipping the spoon around in my fingers. She had a quote stamped into the medal.
            “I shall not weep. I shall not disappear in sleep. I shall not accept defeat. Not as long as I have promises to keep.” I glanced back at Bobby. “What does that mean?”
            He shrugged. There was no sign of the previous lighthearted grin. “Just means I should probably get those keys back to her before she leaves.” Bobby stood up and held his hand out.
            I dropped my arm to my side, keeping the keys out of his reach. “I’ll go catch her. I was going to ask her about something anyway.”
            Bobby made a face like he wasn’t happy, but he didn’t argue. “Cool. But hurry. She really needs those.” He nodded toward the door, but I was already on my way.
            I caught Joss just as she was locking up the back of her Bronco and preparing to climb into the driver’s seat.
“I think you forgot these.” Standing behind her I dangled the set of keys over her shoulder.
She grabbed them and spun around slowly. Suddenly we were standing closer than I’d expected.
“No problem. Hey, about that bedroom furniture. Did you want to come by and take a look at it sometime?” I was smiling. I could feel it. It wasn’t intentional, it just kept fucking happening.
“Sure.” She sounded hesitant, but for some reason that didn’t stop me from pushing the issue. After all, it was strictly a business deal from which we both stood to benefit, right?
I leaned my head back slightly in the direction of my truck. “I’ve got some time right now…”
“Now works.” As soon as she said it I had to run down the list of things I had to do that day. Now was not a good time, which Bobby would likely confirm if I consulted him. Of course I didn’t plan to. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but wonder what parts of my body were currently not on speaking terms. Clearly my mouth had been communicating with some part other than my brain when it opened up.
“Cool. I live just up the road. You wanna just follow me up there?”
Joss made face. “I thought I would have access to Mike and Ikes.”
She caught me completely off guard. “Oh. Well, yeah, you can obviously ride with me. I didn’t think you’d be comfortable with that.”
“Dude, I’m going to your house to check out your bedroom. Getting a ride sort of pales in comparison.” She smirked. “Besides, Bobby seems to think you’re okay.”
“Bobby likes everyone.” I said it slowly. I knew I wasn’t helping my case.
“I know.” She pointed up ahead. “So, which one’s yours?”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lost Avalon - And so it begins...

Somewhere in the black abyss that surrounded me, I heard my phone ringing.
Silence. I sat up and blinked several times trying to wake up and adjust my eyes to the darkness.
“Is anyone there?”
I heard someone swear under their breath.
Then, “Ava? I’m lost. I need you to come and find me.”
Automatically my eyes swept the room until they caught on the bright red numerals of the standard hotel alarm clock.
“Shit, Blaise. It’s fucking four o’clock in the morning.” I was already peeling back the warmth of my comforter and swinging my legs over the side of the bed. This was so typical. “What are you looking at right now?”
“Um, there’s a big green stripe on the wall. It’s really fucking ugly.” He was doing his wheezy drunk laugh, the one I hated. On the plus side, at least I knew he was in the building. The halls of the hotel were lined with a thick olive colored band over a shimmering champagne. It was tacky as hell and reeked of expensive, but then those were the types of places we were staying in these days.
“Are there any doors around? Any numbers on the walls?” I was busy pulling on a pair of sweats more suitable for roaming the hotel at night than the boxer shorts I was wearing.
“No, no numbers.” Then he groaned loudly and I heard the distinct sound of rushing liquids.
“Are you taking a piss right now?!” I slid out of my sweats again. I knew exactly where he was.
“No.” Then the undeniable sound of a zipper followed.
“Just don’t move. I’ll be right there.” I was already making my way through the penthouse suite we were staying in and headed straight for the doors. When I pulled them open, there was Blaise looking all kinds of busted and standing right beside one of the two extremely large flower pots placed on each side of the double doors.                                                                                                                                                              
I glanced up at the security cameras and gave an apologetic smile before turning my attention back onto Blaise.
“You’re pathetic,” I grumbled as I held the door open and stepped aside for him to stumble in.
“You’re amazing.” He grinned sheepishly as he went by.
“Too bad you won’t remember that in the morning.” I sighed. “Come on. You need a shower. You smell like a fucking whorehouse.”
I took Blaise’s hand and started to lead the way to the bathroom. Considering he’d been standing right outside of the suite and had been unable to find it, it was highly unlikely he’d be able to locate the shower if left to his own devices.
“Careful,” I hissed, snatching away the floor lamp he had randomly selected to use as a walking stick on his way through the living room. “Keep it up and you’ll wake the guys.” After all, the penthouse suite had been booked for the entire band. Not just the lead singer.
It had all started in my garage seven years ago. This was after nearly three years of my pushing Blaise to bring his crazy brilliant talent out of hiding. When he finally did, he found three guys to do it with. Derek Sills on the guitar, Royce Lemmi on Bass and Angel Hollis on Drums. Together they made up what was now known worldwide as Finding Nolan.
The name was laughable really since it was a running joke that Blaise was always missing. Back in high school he’d get lost in thought and wander off track somewhere and wind up sitting on some bus stop bench with no recollection of having walked there. These days it was mostly due to alcohol. Either way, it seemed that as long as I could remember, I had been stuck with the task of finding Nolan. Blaise Nolan that is. People had been finding the band all on their own ever since word of their music started making the rounds back in our junior year.
Nights like tonight I wondered if fame had really been a good thing for Blaise. Music, sure. Music was a part of him, the best part probably, but celebrity and success had proven more challenging than I’d expected. Maybe because I’d foolishly believed that a future worth looking toward would keep Blaise from always facing back. I’d been wrong. If anything, his past seemed to haunt him more the closer he got to getting everything he’d ever wanted.
“Stop that.” This time he was holding a glass candle holder up to his mouth like a trumpet. I caught him just before he was about to blow. “Hands in your pockets, now!”
“I’d rather put them in your pockets.” He leered at me, his eyes dropping down to my ass.
“You’re shit out of luck. I don’t have any.” I shook my head in disgust. Booze brought out the worst in him.
“No problem.” Before I knew what was happening, I could feel his cold clammy hands slide into the back of my pants.
“What the fuck, Blaise?” I spun around and shoved him hard in the chest. He lost his balance and went tumbling over the edge of the couch, over the cushions and then rolled onto the floor where his face made impact with the coffee table and brought him to a stop.
“Shit, Avalon. I think I’m bleeding.” He was cupping his left eyebrow with his hand.
Fucking fantastic.
“Come on.” I reached for his free arm and started dragging him to his feet. It was a fucking miracle Royce hadn’t woken up yet. He slept about as soundly as a fireman on duty.
Then, finally, we were in the master bedroom with the door shut behind us. I gently moved his hand to check his eye. He automatically went to put it back and I slapped it out of the way. “Let me take a look at it, you big baby.”
He frowned, but stopped moving long enough for me to see that it was a minor scrape.
“You’ll live. Now then, let’s get you hosed down.” I pointed toward the attached bath. It had a huge walk-in shower with multiple massaging shower heads I’d been looking forward to exploring. Only I had hoped it would be under very different circumstances.
Blaise tripped his way through the doorway, gradually stripping out of his clothes as he went. The pants came off easy enough, but his shirt wound up stuck around his head. He looked like a four year old still learning to undress himself.
“Hang on,” I grumbled as I went to yank the impromptu blindfold off of his head. I’d seen him naked about a million times, so it wasn’t the sight of his bare ass that struck me when he turned around to step into the shower. It was the long, bloody scratches trailing down his back.
“Have a good time tonight?” I asked dryly as I reached in to start the shower for him.
“Uh-huh.” His eyes were closed as he let the hot water run over him.
Now that he was standing still, I also noticed several red marks on his chest. Teeth marks. Why the hell he always sought out women who drew blood for pleasure, I’d never understand. It was an even bigger miracle that the frequent checkups he required due to his non-stop extracurricular activities, continued to come back clean. Apparently even in the midst of a drunken stupor, Blaise always remembered to strap on a condom.
Tired and wasted, his remaining energy was draining fast and he was already resting the back of his head along the tile to keep him steady.
I quickly pulled off my own t-shirt and climbed into the shower still wearing my bra and boxers. The steam and water made the materials cling to my skin almost instantly, a feeling I didn’t particularly care for.
“Hold out your hands.”
He followed orders and I squirted a huge dose of shower gel into both of them. “Alright, now wash. Start at the top.” At least that way, even if he wasn’t thorough, the soapy water would travel down and wash the rest of him by default.
While he busied himself with running his hands in small circles over his chest over and over again, I reached for the shampoo. His hair always smelled the worst after nights like these. The stale smoke from the bars, mixed with whatever rancid perfume his groupie of the night was drenched in and the traces of liquor combed into his hair via his fingers, made for a wretched combination.
            I massaged his scalp and dark brown hair thoroughly, all the while checking repeatedly to make sure he was still awake. Then, after the final rinse off, we were done at last.
            With a towel draped around his hips, I walked Blaise over to the king sized bed and laid him down on top of the covers. He’d get hot in two seconds flat and kick them off anyway if I bothered tucking him in. Blaise was asleep before he even hit the pillow.
            I kissed the top of his head, which once again smelled like only him, and proceeded to tiptoe from the room. I had barely taken two steps when I felt his hand clasp my wrist.
            “Stay,” he whispered. “Please, Ava.”
            I looked down at my wet shorts and soaked bra and exhaled loudly. “Okay, I’ll stay.”
            He scooted himself backward, making room for me. I reached into his suitcase closest to the bed and pulled out the first T-shirt I could find, slipped it over my head and then shimmied out of my wet bra and boxers. The wet panties I’d just have to live with.
            I settled onto the bed beside him while he wrapped both arms around me tightly like I was his security blanky. Which, essentially, was exactly what I was to Blaise.
            I took a deep breath of surrender and reached up to softly stroke his hair the way I knew he liked it. Then I watched as he fell into the same restless sleep that plagued him night after night.
Between both of our addictions, neither one of us ever seemed to be at peace anymore. The only question was, which one of us would get sober first? And how would the other survive when we did?

                        Ava. God she smelled good. Why didn’t all women smell like this? Melissa definitely had not smelled like this. Or had it been Melanie? Shit. Who fucking knew? I could barely remember what her face looked like, much less her name. But I definitely hadn’t forgotten the stench of her perfume or the cigarettes. Why did they all fucking smoke anyway?
            None of that had mattered though. It never mattered. Not until after. Not until Ava showed up to clean me up again. One of these days she wouldn’t show and I knew it. Maybe that’s what I was waiting for. Maybe that’s why I was doing it.