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 Brady...it'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. “Huh...how 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.”
“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.