Of Damsels and Dragons
© Nona Mae King
Inspired by Aeris, Sephiroth
and other characters from
Final Fantasy VII © SquareEnix
Published by Mintfield Books at Shakespir
Cover design by Nona Mae King
Discover other titles by Nona Mae King at :
To Save a Soul
My Fair Princess
Searching for Sara
Bookworms and Booya (series)
The Reluctant Knight
A Rose by Any Other Name
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to the site and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
The following fanfiction is inspired by events during Final Fantasy VII by Square-Enix and fulfill a request to write a romance between Aeris and Sephiroth.
Glossary of [*:*]
Amy Burke (playing the role of )—a recent graduate from NYU hoping to break into the film industry. Currently works at a coffee shop and rents a small apartment with her friend Renee. She has long been a fan of thespian legend Garret Harrison.
Vanessa Heron (playing the role of [+)+] -- a childhood friend of Mark and a world-renowned actor/thespian. She was involved with Garret Harrison at one point, but now she and Mark are secretly dating.
Mark Frasier (playing the role of )—an “action flick legend” who performs his own stunts. Childhood friend of Vanessa, who he is secretly dating. He fancies himself a heart-throb, though he only has eyes for Vanessa.
Garret Harrison (playing the role of ) -- Recognized as the most accomplished and talented actor/thespian of all time, he is now one of the foremost Executive Producers of both Hollywood and Broadway. A cynic when it comes to relationships, he nevertheless views it as a personal goal to seduce and bed the heroine in all his acting endeavors.
Amy turned the page of her novel and adjusted her feet on the flower-print couch as she took another sip of her coffee.
A finger teased a brunette curl. She nibbled her lower lip and turned a page.
The newspaper once again grabbed Renee’s hazel gaze. It bristled as she snatched it from the kitchenette counter. “But it’s a movie!”
Amy’s emerald eyes drifted with lazy calm from the thick, hard-bound novel. She could never quite give up the feel of paper for an e-reader. “I told you I would not go to another one of those – whatever you want to call them – again.”
“I call them auditions, and I already said I was sorry about the last one. I swear I didn’t know.”
Amy lowered her eyes back to the book and took another sip of coffee. “I accept that, but I’m not going to another one. I’m not meant to be—”
“Don’t start that again, Aims. Of course you are! This could be the one. Promise.”
“That’s what you said the last time, Renee.”
“This is the last time.” She crossed her heart. “Or I’ll quit eating chocolate for a whole month.”
Amy gauged her friend’s pleading expression. Renee’s lips blossomed into a pout, her brown-black eyes almost glimmering. No wonder she is an actress. Few could play the guilt card as well as Renee. Amy lowered her focus to the novel once again and turned the page. “Let me finish my coffee.”
“Yes!” Renee disappeared into one of the small bedrooms to change.
“I don’t understand why you’re so insistent.” Memories of the last fiasco teased Amy’s lips into a reluctant smile.
“I am because you won’t, that’s why!” Renee growled about her apparent lack of anything to wear and then popped her head around the corner of her bedroom door. “One last try, Aims. There’s good karma in the air today. Swear!”
“You should remember what happened the last time you commented on the karma.” Amy set aside her book. “I believe he said I should continue my duties as a coffee barista rather than auditioning as a—”
“Don’t say it! Anything but that. You’ll jinx the whole thing.” Renee ducked back into her room, huffing and puffing as she struggled into her super slim slacks, her push-up bra, and her almost-sheer black blouse.
Amy chuckled as she allowed herself one last luxurious stretch. “Fine. I will behave myself and not utter a word that will bemuse the silver screen gods into failing me.”
“Now you’re being ridiculous.”
“It’s humor. It’s how I cope.”
“Cope shmope. You’re the most grounded person I’ve ever met. You don’t need to cope. It’s bad enough I know you’re just humoring me— which I appreciate!”
“I know you do, just as I know you’ll be good for it later on. Especially if you land a nice part.”
“Stop talking and get dressed! I’ve already changed twice to your nothing.”
The snaking line of glamorous ladies and gentlemen outside the office doors hinted at a pending defeat, but Renee refused to turn tail. Instead, she took a firm hold of Amy’s arm and strode into the fray. She even bullied her way through the crowd and into the front office. Amy recognized the determination of her roommate’s raised chin and allowed Renee to drag her along, apologizing to those pushed aside.
Finally, Renee acquired the position she wanted and they settled to wait. “This is so exciting!”
Amy wiped Renee’s hiss out of her ear as she cast a glance around the office. Truth be told, the excitement of a pending audition had waned weeks ago, regardless of how much of a bit part it could be. Now she only wanted to limp home, to Illinois, and away from the ego bruising lights of New York City. At least for a few months until she persuaded herself back into the ring.
Renee nudged Amy just as her attention drifted to the door of the inner office. Shadows teased the glass and raised voices tickled their ears from unknown persons within.
“Do you think they’re arguing about who should get the part?”
The mumbles and voices rose to a crescendo when the door slammed open. All eyes fixated on the lithe man with platinum hair and granite profile. His hawkish nose could have been inspired from a regency period romance. Had Amy seen a more startlingly attractive man before?
The vision of sex appeal halted at the threshold of the office and turned on his heel. “If you truly wish me involved with this production, then you will rethink your decision regarding her.” His crisp English accent exuded malice and breeding combined. “I refuse to work with the trollop.”
“Harrison, Fiona is the only one who can handle the role.”
Harrison? Amy blinked at the enraged persona of Sir Garrett Harrison. He could be considered a prince among men when it came to thespians and theater.
“I wager I could find at least five young women more apt to the role than Fiona Whitman.”
“I still say an inexperienced actor can’t handle it.”
“And a woman with the morals of a Madam cannot be expected to portray innocence.” His sneer did nothing to detract from his startling features.
A blood vessel erupted from Director Max Richards’ previously smooth forehead. “Harrison—”
“If I do not have the final vote on who is cast, Max, then I shall walk. This is your final warning.” Garrett navigated his way through the occupants of the audition office toward the main entrance.
Amy watched his escape with wide eyes. “That’s Garret Harrison.”
“Sir Garret Harrison. From the Royal Shakespeare Company.” Amy cast Renee an annoyed glare. “Don’t you know anyone outside of those tabloids?”
“Cut me some slack. The name rings a bell, okay? Now, what movie is he from again?”
“Oh for the love of….”
Renee’s eyes focused over Amy’s head, and her mouth dropped slightly open. Amy’s glance over her shoulder revealed the aforementioned Sir Garret Harrison directly behind her. She stepped aside, forcing an easy smile. “Pardon me, I’m blocking progress.” Just don’t whimper!
Garrett didn’t respond, nor did the scowl lessen. He simply motioned to her folder. “May I?”
Amy stared down at her portfolio, cursing its measly contents before willing yet another smile and offering it forward. “Of course.” No, I will never make it in New York. You needed connections to survive here, and those she simply did not have.
Mr. Harrison opened the folder and glanced through each page. Once he raised those startling blue eyes to examine her face, as well as the rest of her, but he did not ask a single question. Then he slapped the folder closed, stalked to Max still standing in the doorway of the inner office, and smacked the folder against his chest.
“What? Harrison, you can’t—”
“Do not test me, Max. If you do not cast her, I wash my hands of this picture.” Then he strode from the room.
Max shifted hard silver eyes to Amy, who gulped. “Congratulations, young lady. You’re now the tragic heroine of our movie, Iris Gainsborough.”
Renee squealed. Amy stumbled into the nearest chair.
The sets were huge. Amy could tell immediately that the movie must have been on the scale of Gone With the Wind or Titanic. Several lots specifically set aside for special effects had hinted at that. When she’d received a copy of the shooting schedule, she’d seen even more proof. Special effects and cinematics were going to carry the movie.
Amy stopped and turned a full circle as she took in the sights of cables, lights, scaffolds, cameras, people, sets, and so many other things. “Oh my,” she whispered under her breath. And she felt that was an understatement.
“This is Mark. He will be playing the role of ‘Cloud’. You’ll be doing most of your scenes with him.”
Amy flushed and hurried to catch up with the director. A man with blonde hair, blue eyes, and an athletic build stood beside him. She smiled and extended a hand. “How do you do? My name’s Amy Burke. Nice to meet you.”
“Mark Frasier. Hi.” He looked to the director. “And we’ve got to do something about that name. ‘Cloud’? You’ve got to be shitting me.”
The director ignored him. “You’ll meet ‘Tifa’ later. Her role will be played by Vanessa Heron.”
Amy’s eyes widened as she looked to the director. “The Vanessa Heron? From Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables?”
Mark chuckled and put a fist on his hip. “Hey. Where’s my wide-eyed look of wonder?”
The director laughed. “You think your action flicks’ll rate you one of those?” The director shook his head. “Come on, Miss Burke— Oh, never mind. Here comes Harrison.”
Amy turned. Sir Garret Harrison’s stunning good looks were hardened with an intense expression, and his blue eyes were angry and annoyed.
“Is he always in a bad mood?” Mark asked.
“Only recently,” the director muttered. “A woman…”
Amy stepped toward Mr. Harrison and away from what was likely more gossip than truth. “Good morning, sir,” she said with a genuine smile.
Mr. Harrison halted and faced Amy. “Miss Burke, it isn’t necessary for you to bow, scrape, and smile. You have the role. Now do your best in the performance of it.”
Amy’s smile vanished as she blinked in shock. Before she could say anything, Mr. Harrison moved forward to stand opposite Mark and the director.
“Where is Vanessa?” he asked harshly.
“She had issues with her wardrobe and went to take it up with—”
“Blast,” he hissed. “Am I to be surrounded by amateurs and infantile prima donna’s?”
The director’s face hardened. “Harrison, don’t be a damn ass. We’ve got a hell of a good cast here, even with your questionable contribution of Miss Burke. The last thing we need is your attitude. Suck it up.”
Mr. Harrison said nothing in response to that. He only turned and addressed Mark and Amy. “As you may or may not realize, my name is Garret Harrison. I am both the Executive Producer and the character named Sephiroth. I do not answer to ‘Lord’, ‘Sir Harrison’, ‘dude’, ‘boss-man’, or any variations of the kind. You will either call me ‘sir’ or ‘Garret’ or ‘Mr. Harrison’ or simply ‘Harrison’.”
He sent Amy and Mark both an intense frown. “I have certain expectations of my cast and crew, and they are as follows: 1) No parties on days of or days before your scenes are scheduled to shoot; 2) No fraternizing outside rehearsals of scenes; 3) No drugs, alcohol, or other substances allowed on premises or near your person during the shooting schedule. If you are even suspected, you will be dismissed and a replacement found; 4) No tardy arrivals and no missed days. If you are scheduled, you are here; 5) Scripts will be memorized when shooting commences. Understood? Good. Then we will see you bright and early in two weeks.”
He turned to go. Amy followed after him. “Mr. Harrison?”
Mr. Harrison sent an annoyed frown her direction. “What is it?”
“I hoped I could meet with you regarding my role.”
He halted and fully faced her. “The interpretation of the role, Miss Burke, is your responsibility.”
Amy nodded. “I realize that, but you’ve so much more experience on stage. I hoped you could let me know if what I’m wanting to portray is coming across.”
He regarded her with what Amy could only call suspicion. “Miss Burke, as I told you before, I will not tolerate obvious attempts to gain my favor.”
“I’m not,” Amy protested.
But he’d turned to stride from the building. Amy frowned and put her hands on her hips. Then she smiled and gave a shake of her head. I suppose it did come across a little more pathetic than I wanted. I’ll have to work on that. Amy decided to consider their conversation lesson number one.
“Miss Burke? Shall we?”
Amy turned back to the two men and sent them an apologetic smile as she approached. “I’m sorry.” She motioned over her shoulder. “I suppose I deserved that. I always come across as a brown-noser. I don’t mean to.”
Mark laughed as he and the director walked on either side of Amy.
The director sent Amy a look. “If you have any questions about anything, Miss Burke, I would suggest you don’t go to Mr. Harrison directly. He doesn’t have the patience.”
Mark gave her arm a nudge. Amy changed her focus to the young man with the pretty blue eyes. “I’ll help with your lines and stuff. I’ve been in loads of movies.”
“Mark,” the director warned.
“Thank you,” Amy told him, “but I’m sure I’ll be okay.”
Mark shrugged with a slight smirk as he looked away. “Just wanted to help.”
The director scoffed. Amy hid a smile with a clearing of her throat. “And I appreciate it,” she said, serious enough to be truthful, “but I think I’ve been in enough off-Broadway performances to get the job done well enough.”
“Off-Broadway, huh?” Mark asked as he examined her profile. “Hm. I did commercials for condoms and cereal before landing my first big break.”
Amy laughed. “What a combination!”
Mark chuckled. “Yeah. Tell me about it.” He glanced back over at her. “This is supposed to be one of the best movies of the year. What are you going to do with your fame and fortune?”
Amy continued to smile. “Fame and fortune is overrated. I’m going to go back home.”
Mark raised an eyebrow. “And do what?”
“Teach drama at the local high school.”
“Hmm. Sounds… fun.”
Amy chuckled. “For me, yes. For you? Not so much.”
Mark smiled. “I think you and me are going to get along great, Amy.”
The director rolled his eyes. “Since when did you and a skirt get along great?”
Amy laughed. Mark smirked. The director shook his head.
Amy adjusted her hold on the bulky script as she attempted to turn the page. She looked at her watch in between juggles and moaned. The bus was late. I’m going to miss the transfer, and then I’ll have to walk. Amy sighed with a slight shrug of her shoulders. Oh well. More time to read and study. She didn’t have that many lines to memorize, but one scene had her very nervous.
There was a honk. Amy looked up. “Hi, Mark.”
“So you’re what a public trans person looks like,” he said with a charming smile as he draped his arm across the back of the Corvette seat. “I always wondered.”
Amy’s lips twitched. “Nothing glamorous, I hate to say. Just normal people who don’t like hassling with traffic.”
“But that’s the best part.”
Amy chuckled and motioned for the street. “Help yourself.”
Mark’s lips lifted upward in a slight smirk. “So, can I offer you a ride?”
“That’s all right.” She lifted up the script. “I’m using the time to study.”
Mark laughed. “You are a brown-noser, aren’t you?”
“No. I just like knowing my lines beforehand. A good habit, I say.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about good habits.” Mark checked the traffic in his rearview mirror. “Are you sure you don’t want a ride? Last chance.”
“Positive. Thanks for asking, but I’ll take the bus.”
“Suit yourself. See ya later.” He gave a wave moments before peeling away.
Amy changed her focus back to the script. She stopped reading when a shadow fell over the words. “You’re blocking my light.”
The shadow moved. “Miss Burke, what are you doing?”
Amy blinked and looked up. She smiled. “Hello, Mr. Harrison.” He didn’t return the greeting, and the stern expression on his aristocratic face didn’t lessen. Amy let it slide without a feather ruffled. Instead, she gestured to the post that said ‘bus stop’. “I’m studying while waiting for my ride.” Amy motioned to the space on the bench beside her. “There’s plenty of room if you care to have a seat.”
“No. Thank you.” He studied her. Amy didn’t look away. “Do you not have an auto?”
“Oh sure I do,” she said as she closed the script. “I just don’t like fighting with traffic and getting yelled at and cursed at and flipped off.” Amy shook her head with a continual smile. “Too much stress in daily life as it is. I take the bus and use the time to read, or write letters to my family, or just enjoy the peace.”
“I see.” Mr. Harrison looked away as he adjusted his beige, calf-hide trench coat over his arm. A moment later an attendant of the studios drove up in a cream-colored antique roadster.
Amy whistled. “Lovely. I bet she drives wonderfully smooth.”
“I seldom have the opportunity to drive her beyond 10 miles per hour, but she handles nicely enough.”
Amy arched an eyebrow at the surprisingly civil conversation shared. She decided to continue as much as possible. “My dad had one similar, but I think his was American. Yours is English, right?”
Mr. Harrison raised his gaze from his trench coat and moved it to hers. “Correct.”
Amy nodded. “A lot of difference. American roadsters have their plusses, but those English ones…” Amy shook her head. “Pieces of art.”
Mr. Harrison’s eyebrow twitched as he accepted the keys from the attendant. “Thank you.” He changed his attention back to Amy, regarding her as he seemed to debate with himself a possibility.
Amy changed her gaze to her lap and opened her script again, not wanting him to feel obligated when she would have been happy either riding the bus or in his lovely roadster. “Have fun on your drive, Mr. Harrison. Hopefully traffic isn’t too bad.”
He remained silent for a moment more before moving toward his roadster with a civil “Good day, Miss Burke.”
Amy watched him out of the corner of her eye until he drove away. Then she lifted her head with a slight smile as she watched the car fade into the traffic. “Good day, Mr. Harrison.”
Renee wilted into the seat cushion beside Amy on the couch. Amy read her script while making notations in the margins between occasional sips of coffee. She adjusted her feet under her, clothed as she was in her simple flannel loungers and ‘Illinois’ midriff T-shirt of white.
“Come on. It’s a movie!”
“That’s what you said last time. I don’t know what you classify as a movie, but sexual situations every five minutes surrounded by a plot that can barely be called that is not what I call a movie.”
Renee crossed her arms with a deep breath. “You’ve been studying that script all morning, Aims. Don’t you want to get out and do something?”
Amy set aside her coffee mug onto the felt-bottomed brass coaster on the antique coffee table. “Not until I know I have it down pat. Then, and only then, I might step out to catch the bus to the studio.”
Renee sat up. “Can I go?”
Renee sat back again. “You have all the fun,” she pouted.
“I can’t help that. The rules of the studio prohibit any visitors,” Amy said absently as she turned the page of the script. “Apparently Mr. Harrison wants this movie to be top-secret.”
“I know, I know. Geez. What a tight ass.”
Amy frowned, raising her eyes long enough to look over at her roommate. “He is not a ‘tight ass’, Renee. He takes his job seriously, is all. Do you have any idea how stressful it is to be Executive Producer of a sci-fi/fantasy film?”
Renee scoffed. “Yeah? Well how hard can it be to smile once in a while?”
Amy arched an eyebrow. “You’ve been looking at those pictures on the gossip mags again, haven’t you?”
Renee looked away, adjusting her crossed arms. “So what if I have?”
Amy sighed, turning her focus back to her script. “I’m not even going to honor this conversation with a comeback. You know how I feel about those columns.”
Renee sent Amy a sidelong glance. “Did you know he always has an affair with the heroine?”
Amy’s throat tightened, and her eyes lost focus on the page. Then she blinked and purposefully made a note of something nonsensical in the margin.
Renee adjusted her position on the couch, sitting tailor-style to face Amy. “His last girlfriend, Fiona?, was the heroine in his most recent Broadway performance ‘Legaia’… or something. Anyway, the only thing was, she actually married the guy she’d been engaged to during their whole fling.”
Amy turned the page, even though she couldn’t remember anything that had happened in the scene. “Renee…” she warned.
“And when he played the phantom in ‘Phantom of the Opera’? Guess who played opposite? Vanessa Heron. And guess who got intimately involved during its run? Mr. Harrison and Ms. Heron. Only then Mark Frasier came on the scene – fresh from Hollywood and labeled the ‘sexiest man on film’ – and broke them up. I guess action/adventure heroes are more attractive to stars than Broadway names.”
“I’m not listening,” Amy said in a sing-song voice.
“Fine. Don’t listen. Just remember that each and every movie or musical or drama he’s been in, he’s gotten involved with the heroine only to break it off once the rehearsals end, or the run peters out, or the lady gets too clingy.”
Amy slapped the script closed, finally raising her eyes to meet her roommates’ gaze. “So what, Renee?”
Renee gave a one-shoulder shrug. “So, Miss Prude and Morality, I wanted to give you a heads up. He likes his women, sure, but he likes them disposable.”
Amy frowned with a flash of temper as she stood. “Don’t worry about me, Renee,” she snapped. “I’ve got both feet firmly planted on the ground.” She strode to her room and slammed the door closed.
Renee arched an eyebrow. “Sure,” she called, “but I know you, Aims. You go for these high-culture English types with their fancy accents and their manners and charm. He’ll have you in his sheets in less than a week.” Renee smirked when she heard a crash and a slam within Amy’s bedroom. “Just go with it. You only live once. Besides, it’ll give you something to talk about when you go home.”
Amy stormed from her room dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, script in hand, purse over shoulder, scowl on face, and daggers in eyes as they glared at Renee. “I’m going out.”
“Kind of figured you would. Chicken. Bock bock bacaw.”
Amy slammed the front door shut. “Oooo,” she growled as she strode to the elevator. “Gossip columns! Not giving them a bit of privacy or a shadow of a doubt. Just spillage of sop and exaggeration of details we don’t need to know!”
The elevator dinged, the doors opened, and Amy stalked inside to press the button with a little more force than necessary. The elevator closed and headed down from the fourth floor. Amy adjusted her hold on the script, glaring down at it while wishing it could be the face of the latest gossip columnist who’d bashed a man that worked hard and didn’t get any breaks because of it.
“Ooo,” she growled again. “I’d like to ring your neck!” And she gave the script a vigorous shake. Her temper sparked hotter at the remembered comment-- “Between his sheets in a week?!” Amy scoffed.
Amy pressed her lips together, all the while wishing she could have brought herself to slap Renee hard across the face. But Renee had been her friend for years, hence the reason they were both so open and honest with each other.
The elevator dinged and opened its doors, ignoring her continued fumes and rants and raves as she strode forward. She grunted a returned greeting to the desk clerk/security guard and then gave a tight-lipped nod to the doorman as he offered her a genuine “Good afternoon, Miss Burke. Lovely day.”
It was a lovely day, sun shining and pigeons flying while dropping their goods on unsuspecting statues and benches and the occasional car.
Amy grabbed her temper before it had a chance to bolt away from her and took in a deep breath. She released it slowly as she acknowledged the lovely day, the smiling doorman, the pretty trees outside her apartment building’s front door, and the somewhat peaceful Sunday afternoon. She gathered another breath and then sent the doorman another attempt at a greeting. This time she smiled.
“Yes, it is a lovely day, Oliver. Thank you for reminding me.”
“Having a bad day, Miss Burke?” Oliver asked.
Amy grimaced. “A little.”
Oliver smiled. “Maybe you should stop by the park for a little R & R. Helps me every time. It’s a nice walk, too.”
Amy looked down at her script. “I think that’s a good idea.” She lifted her gaze to meet his. “Is there a coffee shop on the way. I think I need a triple.”
Oliver laughed. “Yes, there is. Red tent. Mobile cart. Tell Randy that Ollie sent you. He’ll give you a free coffee cake.”
Amy smiled. “Thank you, Oliver. I appreciate it.”
“Sure thing, Miss Burke. Enjoy your walk.”
Amy set off at an easy pace, occasionally taking the time to look at the window dressings and displays in the shop windows on her way. She shook her head with another deep breath. I didn’t need to know that. She kicked at a pebble and adjusted her hold on the script. People had faults, Amy knew that, but she didn’t believe they should be everyone else’s business. Besides, now I’ll be suspicious and untrusting, not giving him the chance he needs to be who and what he is. I’ll question every little thing he does or says. Amy sighed again. Darn it, Renee. You and those gossip columns… and calling me a prude? Sheesh. That’s hitting below the belt. I can’t help it if I have certain ideas on things.
Amy wrinkled her nose as she lifted her gaze-- she halted in shock. Sir Garret Harrison was purchasing coffee at the previously mentioned red-tented mobile cart. He paid for his coffee and then turned away, looking both ways before hurrying across the street to the park. Amy blinked and began absently gnawing her lip. She tucked a long stray lock of brunette hair behind her ear before hesitantly moving forward to the mobile cart for her promised triple mocha.
She cleared her throat and dug her coin purse from her little wallet strapped across her. “May I have a triple vanilla mocha. No whipped cream. Whole milk.”
“Thank you.” Amy paid for the coffee, left a tip, and then stepped slightly away to wait.
Amy continued to gnaw her lip as she looked toward the park. She tapped her foot. I was headed that way anyway. Why should I not go just because I saw him head over that way, too? Amy shook her head and turned back to the mobile coffee-cart. He’ll be suspicious, thinking I’m stalking him or something. Amy wrinkled her nose. It isn’t my problem what he thinks. I’m trying to get some peace and quiet so that I can study my script and be ready for shooting my scenes.
Amy gave a curt nod, accepted the coffee from the vender while remembering she was supposed to have told him ‘Ollie’ sent her, and then shrugged it off as she proceeded to the crosswalk to head to the park. She pushed aside all plans and plots and reasons and excuses to tell him in case their paths did cross, and resigned herself to simply enjoying the scenery and the peace and quiet—’he’ll have you in his sheets in less than a week’. Amy frowned and pressed her lips together just as the signal turned to ‘WALK’.
“Oh for pete’s sake,” Amy murmured as she headed across. She wasn’t a wide-eyed, star-struck newbie to the star-studded scene.
Amy adjusted her hand hold on her coffee and her script as she chose a trail into the deeper section of the park. Then, when her arms began complaining that she carried too much, she made her way to the side and set herself down very carefully on the grass. Renee, you did it on purpose. You knew I would dwell on it, thereby ruining my study time and giving you a bit of revenge for ignoring you. Amy pressed her lips together as she nestled her coffee in the lush grass beside her. She opened up the script. Renee did things like that all the time just because she knew she could. It was a mind game she liked to play. Push the right button and see the reactions fly. She’s sick, I tell you. Absolutely sick.
Amy sighed with a slight shake of her head. “And I stepped into it with all the grace of an elephant,” she mumbled.
Amy looked up at the shocked tone of the question. She blinked, and then she remembered seeing Mr. Harrison come this way. He looked quite normal in his wrinkle-free Dockers and deep red Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, his long white hair neatly combed and occasionally tickled by the very slight breeze. Holding his coffee in one hand and a leather-bound volume of Shakespeare’s Hamlet made him look anything but a villain.
Amy offered him a smile. “Hello, Mr. Harrison. Do you escape here too?” ‘He’ll have you in his sheets—’ Amy pushed the thought away, hiding it in the corner of her mind and stuffing a box over it.
Mr. Harrison changed his gaze to the leather-bound book without a twinkle in his eye or a twitch to his lips. “‘Escape’ is a bit dramatic.”
“Yes, well I can only call the horse by its name,” Amy responded, attempting to draw out his sense of humor. “I don’t blame you at all for trying to hide from everyone and everything. In fact, I’m doing a bit of hiding myself.” She lifted her coffee with a twitch of her lips. “My trusty triple mocha my only conspirator.”
To that Mr. Harrison surrendered a slight smile. “Ah. Trustworthy friends, our coffee cups and sippy lids.”
Amy’s smile broadened. The idea of Sir Garret Harrison saying ‘sippy lid’ nearly did her in with laughter. She took a careful sip of the steaming coffee as she watched him examine the leather-bound book. Amy couldn’t tell if he wanted to retreat or not. Up to that point, it seemed he stormed off if he needed to be somewhere. Maybe he’s waiting for the invitation?
Amy lowered her gaze as she nestled her coffee cup back into the grass. “I have grass here, there, and everywhere if you’re still looking for a place to enjoy your book.” She looked up to catch his gaze. “I promise I don’t mumble or talk while I study,” Amy told him with a small smile.
“While the invitation is appreciated,” Mr. Harrison said carefully, “I’m afraid I received a call from the director a moment ago and must return to the set.”
“Ohhh. You want to escape but take the cell phone in case of an emergency.” Amy gave a slight nod. “Right.”
Mr. Harrison’s lips twitched again. “Yes, well…”
“The duties of an exec are never over,” Amy finished for him, and then she wrinkled her nose at him. “Don’t you feel special?”
Mr. Harrison actually chuckled. “Again. Thank you for the invitation.”
Amy smiled up at him, freeing her coffee from the grass to give him a fellow coffee-lover salute. “You’re welcome, Mr. Harrison. Have a pleasant day. And I hope those ‘emergencies’ settle down to give you a free moment to enjoy Hamlet the way Shakespeare intended.”
“Thank you, Miss Burke.”
Amy smiled her response before lowering her gaze back to her script. When she didn’t hear the expected sounds of his Italian leather loafers on the cobble walk, she raised her eyes. Mr. Harrison continued to stand there, but this time he had gone to the chore of balancing his coffee and Hamlet in one hand while dialing a number on his cell phone with the other. Amy arched an eyebrow.
“Harrison here. Regarding the item discussed, use your judgment…” Mr. Harrison’s expression darkened to annoyance. “If I am required to hold your hand through each and every decision regarding this movie, Max, then I shall find another gentleman to do the job… I recall quite clearly what I said the other day thank you, Max. Your question, however, is not within the realm of my attention. Handle it.”
Mr. Harrison pushed the appropriate button to disconnect the phone and then tucked the itty-bitty thing into the pocket of his ‘trousers’.
Amy, ever the teasing imp, began to softly applaud. “Congratulations, Mr. Harrison. You have taken the first step in controlling your own life. What do you plan to do next?”
Mr. Harrison stepped forward and sat beside Amy, much to her surprise. “Stain my trousers,” he said in a tight voice.
Amy leaned slightly back to regard his frowning face with wide-eyed amazement only partially real. “Well aren’t we going all the way in the realm of adventurous irresponsibility?”
Mr. Harrison actually positioned himself tailor-style before nestling his coffee cup into the grass in front of him with a curt nod. Then he opened Hamlet to the ribbon-marked page. “Dash it all,” he remarked sharply, “I deserve a moment to breathe.”
Amy chuckled and then said “Yes, you do” as she changed her gaze back to her script.
Mr. Harrison replaced the ribbon bookmark within Hamlet with a deliberate action. Amy finished her thought on the script, nearing the ending scene of the first act of the movie, and then changed her gaze to his profile. He is definitely a handsome man. Like he stepped straight off a Barbara Cartland novel. She smiled. Leave it to the English.
“Miss Burke,” he began as he closed the book, “I want to apologize for my attitude yesterday.” Mr. Harrison moved his startling blue eyes to meet Amy’s gaze. “You have been more than civil, considering.”
Amy gave a slight shrug. “I suppose I have, in your field of experience. But my philosophy has always been to let bygones be bygones. Not only that, I shouldn’t judge a person until I walk a mile in their shoes.” Amy chuckled as she pointed at his Italian-leather loafers. “I think I would step right out of yours, so I’ll just be content with my size 7 and leave you to your… 11?”
Mr. Harrison changed his thoughtful expression to his shoes.
When he didn’t respond, Amy’s smile faded. She tilted her head as she watched his profile. “Are you okay?”
Mr. Harrison looked back to her with a serious expression. “Yes. Thank you.” He stood to his feet and offered her a hand.
Amy smiled again and handed him the script instead of the expected hand. Then she stood of her own accord while gathering her purse and empty coffee cup. She discarded the coffee cup in the available trash, strapped her purse across herself, and then accepted the script. Mr. Harrison looked a little surprised.
“Normally I would ask if you wanted to come up for a refill on your coffee, but I don’t think you would appreciate my roommate’s attention,” Amy said, still smiling. “She has less-than-glorious opinions of you.” Amy lifted a hand, turning her head away. “Don’t bother saying anything. I’ve already told her that she shouldn’t believe everything she reads in those papers. I’ve also told her that you are a busy man who takes his job seriously. Renee knows that if she wants to say anything more, she better do so to a brick wall.”
Mr. Harrison slightly chuckled, drawing Amy’s attention as she lowered her hand. “I am quite familiar with negative judgments, Miss Burke. I doubt your roommate’s opinion shall cause any damage to my ego. Max claims I have enough to spare.”
Amy laughed, then she motioned ahead down the trail. “Well then, if you don’t mind glares and daggers from her, you’re more than welcome to stay for dinner.” Mr. Harrison didn’t move down the trail, so neither did Amy. He did change his gaze down it, though. “Mr. Harrison, you don’t have to come. I’m just doing the neighborly thing and inviting you. I understand if you don’t want to accept. After all, you wouldn’t want to break your own rule about fraternizing.”
“No, I suppose I wouldn’t,” he admitted absently. Mr. Harrison regarded the trail a moment more before changing his gaze to hers. “Miss Burke, thank you again for the invitation; both of them.”
Amy nodded. “You’re welcome, Mr. Harrison. And call me Amy.”
Mr. Harrison presented his hand. Amy accepted it this time. He gently gripped it. “If you have questions… Amy, don’t hesitate to ask.”
Amy smiled. “I won’t. Thank you, Mr. Harrison.” They released hands. “You have a nice evening.”
He nodded with a slight twitch to his lips before moving away down the trail. Amy stared after him, still smiling, and hugged the script to her chest. He’s a nice man, when given the chance. Probably has a reason to be defensive. Just look at his life. Women throwing themselves at him, audience demanding his full performance each and every night, no retreat to rediscover who he is… Amy shook her head and lowered her gaze to the cobble walk at her feet. Poor guy. He needs a vacation.
Amy took in a deep breath with a slight rise to her shoulders before stepping forward toward home.
“Well it’s about time,” Renee scolded when Amy stepped in the front door. “I was beginning to think you’d gotten mugged or something.”
“Serves you right for doing what you did.” Amy turned from the door with an ‘I’m not talking to you anymore’ look as she made her way for her bedroom.
“Doing what? Telling the truth?” Renee asked, hands on hips.
“Repeating gossip,” Amy chided. She closed the bedroom door behind her.
“Oh brother.” Renee sat back on the couch and picked up her magazine – they didn’t have a TV – to search through for the interesting tidbits she loved to read. “Gossip is based on facts, Aims. Deal with it.”
Amy emerged a few minutes later in her flannel loungers and same sweatshirt, novel in hand. “Sorry, no deal. Everyone deserves a second chance to be who they are without gory details being embellished just so that a person bored with their own life can have a bit of excitement.”
“Ugh,” Renee complained with a roll of her hazel eyes. “Puh-lease.”
Amy chuckled as she sat on the other side of the couch. “I’ll step down from my soap box now, Ren. Sorry.”
Renee smacked Amy’s socked feet with her magazine. “Don’t worry about it, Aims,” she said with a smile. “And sorry for stepping over the line. You know me.”
Amy opened her book with a smirk. “Yep.”
“Do you have to go to the studio tomorrow?”
“Nope. Shooting doesn’t start for two weeks, but I do need to talk to the director soon about my final scene. I’m a little nervous about it.”
“And I know you can’t tell me about it. Top-secret.”
Amy sent Renee a regretful smile. “Sorry, Ren.”
Renee grimaced, not raising her eyes from the magazine. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll just find out with everyone else.” And she sounded really put upon.
Amy chuckled. “I’ll make it up to you. Promise.”
“Only if you get me a date with Mark Frasier, but since he’s on some big top-secret project and you’re only a nobody in an itty-bitty role… that won’t happen.”
Amy’s smile twitched.
The first week passed as any other week, with the exception of Amy having to tell her boss at the coffee shop near the University that she had to quit. He took it pretty well, considering the short notice, and gave her a dubious expression when she told him she had landed a role in a movie. That, in NYC, was the most common excuse for being a flake. Or so he said.
Studying the script was fun for Amy. Not so much for Renee, due to the fact Amy refused to read her any part of it.
Amy had qualms with certain aspects of the character she played, such as her tendency toward insensitivity and the fact that she practically threw herself at the lead hero – Cloud – instead of staying true to an existing relationship with a young man by the name of Zack. Amy forced herself to excuse the girl, though. After all, Zack had been missing for nearly 5 years when Aeris met Cloud. The girl was probably lonely. And people would do normally out-of-character things when that was the case.
The Sephiroth character intrigued Amy. She felt torn on whether to consider him a true villain or a tortured soul. After all, he had been used and abused, his soul twisted and tainted with untruths about who and what he was. How does a person handle something like that? Amy could see the reasoning behind the character’s desire to control and rule the world. After what he had suffered through his 30-something life, that form of control would probably be the only way to give him some semblance of sanity and stability.
The Monday morning of the second week, Amy dressed in Levis and a nice pale-pink cable sweater her mom had made the Christmas Amy had left for New York. Then she gathered her script and rain jacket, strapped her purse across herself, made sure she had her bus fare in hand, and announced to Renee that she was heading toward the studio early. Renee mumbled something while on the way into the bathroom for a shower and then closed the door firmly behind her. Amy chuckled and locked the apartment after her before making her way to the elevator and then the street outside.
“Good morning, Miss Burke,” the doorman greeted.
“Good morning, Edward,” she greeted the tall and thin man in his late thirties. “How are you?”
“Doing well, Miss Burke. Yourself?”
“Good. Thank you.”
“Off to the bus stop?”
Amy looked at the rain and grimaced. “Yes, and it looks like I’m going to get soaked.” She slipped into her rain coat and then gave Edward another smile as she raised the hood. “See you later.”
The bus was actually on time, which Amy couldn’t understand because of the rain, and dropped her off in front of the studios a full five minutes before the expected time. Traffic had been surprisingly light, with the bus only being honked at once. It’s bound to be a good morning, even with the rain. Which had stopped a few minutes before arriving at the front gate of the studio.
Amy stepped off the bus, missed the puddle with a smile at her good fortune, and then headed toward the front gate. As expected, she was stopped by the security guard there.
“State your name,” he ordered as he retrieved his clipboard.
“Amy Burke,” she offered as she opened her purse and dug out her ID.
“You’re not on the list.”
Amy looked up. “Excuse me?”
“The list.” He lifted the clipboard for her to see. “You’re not on it.”
“Oh. I take it that if I’m not on the list, I don’t get in.”
The security guard stepped back into his booth. “You got it.”
“Hm. Well this is certainly a predicament. I needed to talk to Mr. Shepherd about—”
“Throwing names around won’t impress me, Miss. Move along.”
Amy placed her ID back into its appropriate slot. “You don’t need to be rude about it,” she told him. “I’m just telling you what the problem is so you could offer me a suggestion on how to fix it.”
“Come back when you’re on the list,” he told her with crossed arms.
Amy made a face. “Now why didn’t I think of that?” She turned away with a frown, a shake of her head, and a “for Pete’s sake.”
A familiar red Corvette pulled up, squealing to a stop with all the grandeur and attitude expected of an action-flick hero who believed himself to be God’s answer to Adonis. Mark stepped out of the sports car, tossed the keys to the studio attendant that appeared, and then made his way toward Amy.
“Hey there, you. What’s the matter?”
Amy forced the frown away. “Nothing really. They just won’t let me in. I’m not on the list of expected guests today.”
“If you’re not on the list, what are you doing here?” Mark asked as he came to stand by her.
“I’m a little nervous about one of my scenes. I wanted to talk to the director about it.”
Mark gestured back to the security gate. They headed toward it, Amy falling into step beside him. “Which one?”
“The death scene.”
“Oh. Yeah, I can see why you’d be nervous.” Mark glanced over at her. “I’m sure Shepherd will put a stunt double in for you.”
Amy met his gaze. “But it’s a head-on shot. Otherwise the dramatic effect is lost. You can’t do that with a stunt double.”
“Hm.” They arrived at the security gate. “Mark Frasier.”
The security guard checked the list. “ID.”
Mark pulled his wallet out of the back pocket of his black jeans and showed the appropriate ID.
“You’re clear.” He pointed at Amy. “You’re not. Move along.”
Amy frowned. Mark did too. “Look, mister, she’s with me. I don’t care about your rules. She’s got a question—”
“I don’t care,” the security guard interrupted with a shake of his head. He crossed his arms. “She’s not on the list. She doesn’t go in.”
Mark swore as he pulled a cell phone off his hip. “We’ll see about that damn list.” He hit the speed dial and brought the tiny phone up to his ear. “Yo, Shepherd. Some ass here at the security gate won’t let Amy in because of some damned list … Yes, I know shooting isn’t scheduled for another week, but that’s not why she’s here … What do you mean you don’t have time for anything outside the schedule? … Sure I get that, but-- ... I know-- ... Fine. Be an ass.” Mark disconnected and jammed the phone back into his hip holster. “Sorry, Amy. No can do. Shepherd’s anal about his schedules. I forgot about that.”
Amy smiled. “It’s okay, Mark. I appreciate the effort. I’ll just go home and try and come up with some different ideas on how to do the scene without dying.”
Mark smirked. “I used to do some stunt work myself. In fact, I’m doing my stunts in this flick. If you want, I could come over and give you some pointers or something.”
I’m sure you could. “That’s alright. You’ve got enough on your plate without having to baby-sit the newbie. Thanks for the offer, though.” Amy gestured toward the studio beyond the gate. “You better get going. I don’t want to be black-balled because I held you up.
Mark chuckled. “Yeah. I’d be heart broken because I couldn’t see you anymore.”
Amy’s lips twitched. “I’ll see you later, Mark. And thanks again for trying.”
Amy turned and walked away, very conscious of Mark’s appreciative examination of her retreat. Oh well. Where there are chicks, there are wolves. She snickered at the good joke and sat at the bus stop bench. Wolves and flirts and teases had long ago become expected and dealt with in truly unique ‘Amy’ fashion. Quite simply, she ignored them. Not so much their entire person, just their obvious lines or come-ons. She treated them as a person and that was it. It had been the best way to keep from making enemies. Instead she gained friends, which were more important than anything else. At least in Amy’s opinion.
Amy pulled her script onto her lap to open it to the last scene of the first Act, nibbling her lower lip as she read and reread what she had already written in the margins. The more she thought about the scene, the more she knew that she would be better off if she did talk to Mark about it. I just won’t invite him over to my apartment. We’ll do it in a less personal setting. Renee would be irritated if she ever found out that Mark Frasier had been denied the opportunity to come over, but what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.
There was a door slam and Amy looked up. She smiled. “Good morning, Mr. Harrison. Lovely drive today, I hope.”
Mr. Harrison halted his progress around the roadster with an expression of mild surprise. “Miss Burke? I don’t recall seeing your name on the schedule for this morning.”
Amy grimaced as she set the script beside her. “So I found out the hard way.”
Mr. Harrison finished pulling off his driving gloves as he made his way toward her. He wore yet another pair of flattering Docker-type slacks and what was likely a Ralph Lauren Polo cable-knit sweater-vest of emerald green. The crisp white collar of his freshly pressed Perry Ellis shirt peaked up over the ‘crew’ neck. Wow.
“Was there a problem?” he asked.
“I had a question about my final scene,” she confessed as he came to stand in front of her. He smelled of Hugo Boss, always a favorite of Amy’s when it came to men. “I have to say I’m more than a little nervous.”
Mr. Harrison sat on the bench beside her after taking up the script. “I believe I understand the hesitation,” he said as he flipped through the pages in search of the mentioned scene.
“Mark said something about a stunt double, but that would take away from the dramatic effect.” Mr. Harrison found the scene, and Amy leaned toward him slightly to point to the appropriate section on the page. “See? The culmination of action and conflict up to that point just screams for a dramatic death. If we put in a stunt double…” Amy shook her head as she pulled herself back. “It will ruin the entire scene.”
Mr. Harrison adjusted the script in his hands, apparently reading the notes Amy had written within the margins. “What are these?”
“Oh.” Amy flushed and reached out to take the script. “Just notes to myself. It’s nothing.”
Mr. Harrison pulled the script out of her reach. “Hm,” he commented absently. “Interesting.”
Amy gnawed her lower lip. Then Mr. Harrison closed the script and handed it to her. “Thank you.” She self-consciously adjusted it on her lap. “Anyway, I thought maybe I should take some stunt classes or something. That way Mr. Shepherd doesn’t lose anything in the delivery of the scene.” Amy finally raised her gaze to meet his. She smiled. “I don’t want you to look bad, either. After all, you… suggested me for this role.”
Mr. Harrison’s lips twitched upward. “Yes. So I recall.” He gestured to the script. “Continue to study what is written, Miss Burke. In the mean time, I will ask Max what he had in mind. Believe me, I would rather not risk life and limb simply for the performance of a scene.”
Amy’s smile broadened. “No, I don’t suppose you would. Mr. Shepherd would be a little peeved if the villain and the ‘sacrificial lamb’ died at the climax.”
Mr. Harrison chuckled, and Amy found it a luscious baritone. Then he stood. “When your time comes to perform, Max and myself require 110%. I suggest that until then you enjoy your respite from the grueling shooting schedule.”
Amy nodded, looking into his handsome face with an absent smile. “I will.”
Mr. Harrison gave a slight bow, his eyes still twinkling as his lips twitched upward. “Good morning, Miss Burke, and enjoy your ride back.”
He moved away toward the security gate, Amy staring after him with a continued smile.
The phone on the end table to Amy’s right chirped. She absently reached over to pick it up, nestling it into her shoulder with a distracted “Hello” as she turned the page of her novel.
“Good day. Might I speak with Miss Amy Burke?”
“Speaking,” Amy confessed with disinterest.
“Ah, Miss Burke. Harrison here.”
Amy blinked, the words on the page lost to her as she smiled into the phone. “Well hello, Mr. Harrison. How are you?” Amy closed the novel and set it beside her as she tucked her feet up under her.
“Quite well, thank you. Yourself?”
“Just relaxing with good ol’ Charles Dickens.”
Amy’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “What? You expected Sweet Valley High or something?” she asked with a chuckle.
“To be quite truthful…”
Amy laughed. “I suppose I deserved that. I have a tendency of being a little too perky for people to believe I prefer literature to contemporary works. That and I look 16 rather than 26. Oh well.” Amy thought she detected a slight chuckle, and her eyes twinkled. She changed her position on the couch, stretching her legs out as she leaned her back against the couch arm. “So to what do I owe the honor of this call, Mr. Harrison?”
“I’ve spoken to Max regarding the scene.”
Amy’s smile faded to an expression of astonishment.
“It seems that he has already planned a meeting with one of the top stunt companies,” Mr. Harrison continued. “Max intends to gather different options and opinions on how to best handle the situation before making a decision regarding it.”
“Wow. Thank you, Mr. Harrison. I appreciate it.” Amy started picking at a loose string on the couch. “I didn’t tell you to manipulate you into doing something about it.”
“Of course not, Miss Burke. I had already intended to speak with Max regarding the scene, simply at a later date. Your attention to detail and preparedness – which is much appreciated – simply brought it to the forefront of the conversation earlier than intended.”
Amy’s smile returned. “Thank you again, Mr. Harrison. If only all villains and execs could be as helpful… it would definitely be a lot easier to be persuaded to stay in the movie business.”
“You don’t intend to continue on screen?”
Amy wrinkled her nose as she rested her forehead in her left hand, her elbow pressed into the back of the couch. “Nope. I went to the audition because my friend asked me to. I never actually thought I would get a role, especially not a leading one… although I would call Aeris a supporting role more than a lead. Anyway, my love is the stage, not the screen. Always has been.”
“‘Indeed’, Mr. Harrison.” Amy chuckled. “I continue to shock you, don’t I? I think that’s four times now. Twice just in this conversation.”
Mr. Harrison cleared his throat. “I do apologize. I seem to have placed you in an inappropriate category since the first.”
Amy waved it away. “Don’t beat yourself up about it, Mr. Harrison. I did sound pathetically similar to a ‘yes-man’ that first day at the studio. As I told Mark and the director, I brown-nose without meaning to.” Mr. Harrison actually laughed. Amy admitted that it had to be the sexiest sound ever heard from a man. “Anyway, thanks again. You didn’t need to bother about it, but I’m glad you did.”
“Again, you are quite welcome. Also, If you are so inclined, I could meet with you to choreograph different possibilities.”
Amy’s smile vanished as the statement ‘he’ll have you in his sheets in less than a week’ hit her upside the head. True, it had been more than a week, but not if she counted the actual days they had met with each other. She cleared her throat. “Mr. Harrison, you’re so busy… I hate to have you bother with something like that.”
“It is no bother, Miss Burke, due to the fact we will be working together on that particular scene at a later date. With that in mind, I would have likely recommended we meet before actual shooting commences. It reduces the need for retakes of the scene.”
Amy rubbed at her forehead with a single finger. Suspicion battled with her eagerness to work with a legend in his own time. Dang it, Renee… “Well… when did you have in mind? Your schedule looks pretty wild.” Geez. Just give him the benefit of the doubt, girl. “Saturday was my last day at the coffee shop, so I’m free all week.”
“Perhaps we could meet today to discuss possibilities of a rehearsal schedule?”
Amy swallowed hard. “If you’re sure it won’t completely mess up what you’ve already got planned, that’s fine with me.”
“What time should I expect you?”
Amy cleared her throat as she turned in the couch to sit with feet flat on the floor, adjusting the phone to her other shoulder. “Um… well, that depends on the bus schedule. Probably a couple of hours.”
“I see.” Silence. “Would you be available in forty-five minutes?”
Amy blinked. “Pardon?”
“I should be able to arrive at your apartment complex by that time.”
“Mr. Harrison, you don’t have to do that.”
“Nonsense. What is your apartment number?”
“Right. Forty-five minutes, then.”
“Mr. Harrison,” Amy pressed in her most firm tone available, “this is going a little bit beyond the Executive Producer’s call of duty.”
“Yes, it is,” he agreed, “and such is the reason I am not currently wearing my Executive Producer shoes.”
Amy reluctantly smiled. “No Italian loafers today?”
Amy laughed. “Alright, alright. No more complaints and whining. I’ll be ready in thirty minutes.”
“Excellent. Barring any quote-unquote emergencies, I shall be there shortly.”
“I thought you weren’t wearing those shoes?” she ribbed.
Mr. Harrison’s smile could almost be heard through the phone. “Unfortunately, I must always carry them with me.”
Amy laughed again. “Point taken and admitted. How about I say I’ll see you when I see you?”
“Good enough, although for the record I do prefer punctuality or early arrivals.”
“I already suspected that,” Amy said with a slight sound of a laugh.
“Ah. Then the warning wasn’t necessary.”
“Very well, then. I shall see you… when I see you.”
Amy smiled wider with a shake of her head. “Sounds like a plan. Bye.”
Mr. Harrison clicked off without a returned statement, and Amy wondered if he had grown so accustomed to hanging up on people that he didn’t even think about saying ‘good-bye’ or ‘toodles’. Amy laughed. She couldn’t hear him saying ‘toodles’ or ‘ta-ta’ or anything else. A simple click as all she could picture. I’m sure he doesn’t mean to. And Amy wasn’t going to ask, either.
“Okee dokee,” she sighed as she pushed herself to her feet. “A meeting with Sir Garret Harrison. Wow. Don’t look now, Amy girl, you’re on your way to… well… to something.”
Amy shook her head with a chuckle as she made her way to her room to change from her flannel loungers and midriff T-shirt to something a little less… provocative? Amy laughed aloud when she thought of wearing her baggiest and least flattering jeans with her dowdiest sweatshirt. The guy would pass-out from horror! Instead, she dressed in her favorite pair of medium blue Levis and the dark blue sweatshirt that said ‘Oliver’ across the front; one of the many dramas involved with while studying drama at NYU.
Amy washed her face and brushed her teeth, then reapplied her make-up and ran a brush through her waves of brunette. She put the side and front portions up in a barrette to keep it out of her face, and then she gave it a couple spritzes of Aussie hairspray to keep it from flying every which way and tickling her nose into a sneezing fit. That would not be very attractive. Then she left the bathroom while pulling off her socks, leaping on first one foot and then the other on her way to her bedroom.
Amy grabbed a fresh pair of socks from her dresser, scooped up her outlet-store Addidas from the corner by her bedroom door, and then padded to the couch. She looked at her watch. Cool. Fifteen minutes. Gives me thirty before he shows up. She slipped into her socks and shoes as she chuckled over their phone conversation. So he is human after all. I’ll have to tell Renee ‘I told you so’, which caused another flow of sniggers and shakes of the head.
Deciding to make sure there was juice, freshly filtered water, or soda pop in the fridge ready and waiting for their guest, Amy made her way into the kitchenette and opened the fridge. Sure enough, there was a half gallon of juice from concentrate, a half pitcher full of filtered water, and a half case of diet cola. Amy wrinkled her nose. Mr. Harrison probably doesn’t like cola, and definitely not diet. So, wanting to be the appropriately prepared hostess that her mother had trained, Amy set some water to heating on the stove for tea – herbal and not black – and then brought her grinder down from the cupboard to make coffee.
Amy had just set the coffee to percolating in her trusty Mr. Coffee coffee-maker when there was a firm knock on the door. Amy glanced down at her watch. She smiled. Fifteen minutes early. Good for you. Amy tucked the grinder up and away with a shout over her shoulder of “Just a second!” before hurrying to the door. She unlocked the deadbolt and chain and opened it.
Mr. Harrison was dressed in his same slacks and cable-knit sweater with a schedule book the size of a notebook in one hand while wearing a somewhat serious expression on his face. Amy smiled and stepped back as she opened the door wider. “Come on in.”
He did so, taking in a minute scrutiny of the small apartment and the furnishings/decorations therein.
“I didn’t know how soon you wanted to scoot out of here, what with traffic and everything,” Amy continued, “so I’m making coffee or tea. Your choice. If you’d rather a cold drink, I have freshly filtered water, diet cola, and juice. No alcohol. Don’t drink.” Amy closed the door, refastened the locks, and then made her way back to the kitchen when she heard the teapot begin to sing. “Go ahead and have a seat,” she offered as she passed.
Amy heard the schedule book go onto the couch but heard his steps cross the hardwood floor toward her collection of books. Amy smiled as she placed the teapot onto the available hot pad before opening the cupboard above the stove in search of the box of teabags. She had never been ashamed of her reading preferences, and now she was even a little proud of her selection. Especially with Sir Garret Harrison looking over it.
Mr. Harrison’s loafers click-clicked back over toward the bar and the stools of the kitchenette. Amy found the wanted box of Earl Gray and Chamomile teas and set them onto the counter without turning around. “So what’s the verdict: tea or coffee?” she asked as she stepped to the left cupboard near the sink for the mugs.
“Coffee. Thank you.”
Amy heard him sit at the counter as she set the tea boxes aside and carried the mugs over to the coffee-maker. “Honey or sugar?”
“Cream or not?”
“Is it non-dairy?”
“Yep,” Amy said as she made her way to the fridge. “I’m lactose intolerant. A bummer when I crave ice cream, but what can a person do.” Amy retrieved the creamer from the fridge and turned to show it, vaguely noticing how well Mr. Harrison fit with her decor. “It’s French Vanilla. I hope you don’t mind.”
Mr. Harrison’s smile was slight and continual. “It doesn’t matter.”
Amy made her way back to the coffee-maker. “I usually put a teaspoon or two of chocolate powder in mine, making it a mocha you know. Did you want to try it?”
“No. Thank you.”
“Sure.” Amy finished the concoction and turned to place it on the counter with a napkin and a saucer and spoon. “There ya go.”
“Uh-huh.” And then she went to work with her own coffee.
There was the slight tinkle of spoon on china as he stirred his coffee. “Quite an impressive library, Miss Burke.”
“Thanks. It was a bit of a chore to get them on a student’s limited income, but I shopped garage sales, estate sales, eBay, and who knows where else.” Amy put her mug into the microwave and hit ‘30 seconds’. She turned back to Mr. Harrison and gestured to his coffee. “Is it hot enough? I could reheat it.”
Mr. Harrison set the spoon onto the saucer and took a testing sip. “It’s fine. Thank you.”
The microwave beeped, and Amy retrieved her coffee mug. Then she gave it a stir with her own spoon before sipping it as she leaned a hip against the bar counter across from Mr. Harrison. “I love books as much as I love reading. A person can’t have those types of adventures nowadays. Well, not unless you’re on stage or screen. That’s probably why I went into Drama. I loved the adventure.” Amy smirked. “The applause is nice too.”
“Yes. I have found the applause to be worth the agony of the performance.”
Amy nodded. “Applause is like a drug. Maybe that’s why actors stay in the biz so long. They’re really addicts,” she finished with twinkling eyes as she sipped her coffee.
Mr. Harrison chuckled. “Yes, I suppose we are.”
Amy regarded Mr. Harrison over her coffee cup. There was something different about him. Yeah. He’s actually relaxed. “What made you go on stage?” Mr. Harrison’s relaxed expression tightened, and the smile became forced. Amy pounced on the obvious warning of dangerous territory with a genuine “I’m sorry, Mr. Harrison. Forget I said anything. Just enjoy your coffee.”
Mr. Harrison stared into his coffee cup on the bar counter a moment before raising his gaze to meet hers. “Call me Garret.”
Amy smiled to hide the relieved sigh. “Okay, but you have to stop calling me Miss Burke. Makes me feel like I should be wearing my hair in a bun with army-issue glasses and a dowdy blazer/skirt combination.”
Mr. Harrison-- Garret’s expression relaxed into a smile as he chuckled. “I do apologize.”
Amy straightened and headed around the bar to the living room, coffee and saucer in hand. “Don’t worry about it. Habits die hard.” She set her cup and saucer onto a coaster on the coffee table and sat in the couch. “Alright. I guess we should-- Oh wait.” Amy looked over at Garret. “Were we going somewhere else?”
Garret stood – Amy hadn’t realized he was so tall – and made his way to sit beside her. Hugo Boss clung to each article of clothing he wore. He set his cup and saucer on a coaster beside hers. “It isn’t necessary. We should be able to compare schedules as easily here as elsewhere.”
“Okay. Just wanted to make sure.” Amy leaned back in the couch with a fast breath as she crossed her arms. “Like I said, I’m free all day and all afternoon. Except for Sunday mornings. Church, you know.” Garret unzipped his schedule book and opened it to the appropriate week. Curiosity got the best of Amy, so she leaned slightly over to take a gander at his… life… “Oh my gosh! How do you stay sane with all that going on?”
Garret looked over at her with an expression of surprise. “This?” he asked as he motioned to the week. It was nearly black and blue with all the notes and meetings and places-to-be at certain times. “This is a mild week; due to the fact I have shooting schedules.”
“B-But… You barely have 15 minutes to yourself!” Amy pressed, wide-eyed. She met his gaze. “No wonder you escaped to the park last week. If you hadn’t you probably would have killed someone!”
One side of Garret’s lips tilted upward. “Yes, well, last week was a touch harsher than what is normal. There were certain critical miscommunications.”
Amy scooted closer and tapped on the weekly schedule, motioning to each day and bringing to his attention the fact that there was no free space. “But look. Meeting, meeting, scene shooting, luncheon date…” She looked up to meet his mildly amused expression. “This isn’t healthy. Do you want to have a stroke?”
“While the doctor has warned my blood pressure is a trifle higher than what he would like, I’ve grown accustomed to the constant demand for my attention.”
Amy shook her head and scooted a little back. “I’m sorry, but there is no way I’m going to add to that mess. If you free your schedule at all, you should take the time for yourself and not for me.”
“Nonsense. I enjoy my work.”
“Oh, is that what you call snapping people’s heads off—” Amy’s eyes widened as she slapped both hands over her mouth. Garret simply raised an eyebrow as he met her gaze. “Oh my gosh,” she said, muffled by her hands. She shook her head and lowered her hands. “I’m sorry. I can’t believe I said that.”
His lips twitched with a smile. “It’s quite all right. I believe I deserved the reprimand. To have it vocalized by a lovely lady such as yourself rather than Max is an added bonus.”
Amy let the line slide. “I still shouldn’t have said it. Mom brought me up with more tact than that.”
“Yes, well, tact has its place. I have a tendency of ignoring anything but bluntness.”
Amy smiled. “I’ve met a few people like that,” she confessed.
Garret motioned to his schedule. “All right then. This meeting can be rescheduled to next week… no, I believe I will cancel until after shooting is completed. I haven’t the time for another project, as you’ve so adeptly pointed out. And this luncheon… Hm. No, I suppose I should keep that appointment. Charity and whatnot.”
Garret continued on for nearly half an hour as Amy watched in horror and amazement as he completely and totally rearranged his schedule to free 3 hours each day of that week just for rehearsals with her on one scene. She could hardly believe it possible. Not that she would be rehearsing with Sir Garret Harrison, but that his schedule would move like that. But he made phone call after phone call on his tiny cell phone and canceled, rearranged, rescheduled, and shortened meetings and appointments until Amy’s name was penned in every day that week.
When Garret ended the last phone call, Amy leaned back into the couch with an exhalation of breath and a shake of her head. “I’m exhausted.”
Garret smirked as he tucked the cell phone into the appropriate corner of his schedule book. “Come, come. Rearranging my schedule didn’t deserve that quip.”
Amy reluctantly smiled. “Not from your point of view, but definitely from mine. I’m of the philosophy that we should have at least an hour or two each day just to ourselves.”
“And what would you do with this treasure trove of availability?” Garret asked as he turned a little more toward her. One arm draped around the back of the couch as the other rested comfortably on the arm.
“Are you kidding?” Amy asked, wide-eyed. She brought up a hand to count off the activities on each finger. “Read, write on that script I’ve been tinkering with, go to the movies, hang out at the coffee shop and just watch people, go watch a play in the park, just take a walk in the park…” She lowered her hand and met his gaze again. “There are a million things I could do.”
Garret watched her expression with a continual smile. “You certainly give it an air of excitement.”
Amy’s lips twitched. “Life should be exciting. But it’s important for me to have some down time to relax and rediscover who I am, what I’m doing, and where I’m headed. If I don’t, I might forget why I want to be on the stage in the first place.”
“And why does Miss Amy Burke want to be on stage?”
Well that was smooth. “When I was a kid, I loved the idea of performing and making people laugh or cry or whatever. Something about… providing this alternate reality just appealed to me. It was fun, to put it simply. As I grew up, it became more of a…” Amy pushed her lips to one side of her mouth as her eyes focused on the bar counter behind him. Then her eyes focused back on his as they intensely scrutinized her expression with that same, continual, and very attractive smile. “I’m not really sure what to call it. I just couldn’t think of doing anything else but live these roles and perform these people that had such fascinating stories to tell. Each time I do, it’s like I discover a new part of myself.” She smiled, and her eyes twinkled. “Isn’t that odd? That we discover parts of ourselves through fictional characters because we’re not afraid to be true to their character?”
“Indeed,” he acknowledged softly. Garret regarded her a moment. “What have you discovered of yourself through Aeris Gainsborough?”
Amy began to feel the affect of his gentle gaze and tender tone and cologne and intoxicating… Amy cleared her throat and changed her gaze to her fingernails. “Actually, she’s a little annoying, but probably only because I would handle situations a little differently than what the writer has. Who knows, maybe she’s annoying because her personality is very similar to mine?” Amy chuckled and risked changing her gaze back to Garret. “Does that mean I’m annoying too?” He has gorgeous blue eyes—
“Definitely not the word I would have chosen,” Garret intoned in the perfect tone of voice to be a type of…
Amy moved her gaze away, leaning forward to take a sip from her previously forgotten coffee. “But it does give one cause to wonder, you must admit.”
“I wonder only how you have remained so fresh and cheerful among the usual skepticism of New York City.”
Amy blinked before taking up the spoon and stirring the caramel colored liquid. Renee wasn’t kidding about the charm. “My dad says I’m a continual optimist with a humor streak the size of the Mississippi.”
Garret chuckled and crossed his right ankle onto his left knee, which of course caused the sole of his foot to brush Amy’s leg. Amy couldn’t help but smile. None of the men in her entire experience of high school and college and every day working at the coffee shop had ever been this smooth. She rather enjoyed it.
Amy took up her cup and saucer and leaned back into the couch. “Sometimes I have problems with inappropriate sarcasm, but I’m always quick to apologize.” She took a sip of coffee and then gave a slight shrug. “Well, most of the time. There are those times when they either deserved it, or I was too clueless to realize I was out of line.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
Amy smiled as she kept her eyes from his face, attractive and inviting as it was. “I guess that means I’m a good actor.”
Garret chuckled as he very smoothly adjusted his seating to move slightly closer to Amy. The excuse in doing so was, of course, to gain a better position to retrieve his cup and saucer from the coffee table. I wonder if he’ll try to kiss me? It wasn’t an unpleasant prospect to say the least, but Amy wasn’t that type of girl. A bedpost mark? I don’t think so. Amy was a prude, and she wasn’t ashamed of it, either.
“I propose a challenge, then.”
Amy blinked and looked over at him. Garret met her gaze with the same attractive expression of flirtation that wasn’t as painfully obvious as the men in her life before. “Excuse me?”
Garret leaned forward to place his cup and saucer back onto the coffee table. “I shall begin a scene with what I believe is the appropriate amount of dialogue lead-in, and you are to continue with the appropriate response.”
Amy arched an eyebrow as she very slowly set her cup and saucer beside his. “Hmm. I think I’m in for a humiliating experience.”
Garret chuckled as he stood to move opposite the coffee table. “Nonsense.” He gestured her forward. “Come, come, Amy.”
Amy released a deep breath as she stood. “Alright, but you better promise not to ridicule me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I shan’t.”
Garret’s blue eyes twinkled as she came to stand opposite him. Then his expression and entire persona changed. Amy could see a touch of distress and intensity within the expression and stance. It rose to a type of fervor as he stepped slightly toward her, lost within the role.
“‘Madam, is there here any armor within your chamber that I might cover my body withal? And if there be any, give it me, and I shall soon stop their malice, by the grace of God!’“
As he delivered the lines with such complete and total immersion into the character, Amy instantly knew where he quoted from. In fact, she had chosen this scene as a Final her second year at NYU. It was a scene from Morte Darthur, from the section known as ‘The Conspiracy against Lancelot and Guinevere’. Garret, of course, played Sir Lancelot. In the scene, Sir Lancelot had been caught within Queen Guinevere’s chambers. It had all been used as a conspiracy by certain other knights to prove Sir Lancelot traitor.
Amy had always loved the scene because of its passion and intensely emotional dialogue.
Amy, in full character and anguish that her love was in danger, took hold of Garret/Sir Lancelot’s arm. “‘Now, truly I have none armor neither helm, shield, sword, neither spear, wherefore I dread me sore our long love is come to a mischievous end.’“ Amy/Guinevere gestured behind her to the imaginary hall which held the men thirsting for her love’s blood and calling him traitor. “‘For I hear by their noise there be many noble knights, and well I woot they be securely armed, and against them ye may make no resistance.’“ Her expression became pained as she held his arm with both hands. “‘Wherefore ye are likely to be slain, and then shall I be burned! For if ye might escape them I would not doubt but that ye would rescue me in what danger that ever I stood in.’“
“‘Alas! In all my life thus was I never beset that I should be thus shamefully slain for lack of mine armor.’“ And Sir Lancelot’s aggravation at his apparent helplessness at defending his love as well as his person was masterfully portrayed by Garret’s expression. “Ah, Jesu mercy!’“ Garret/Sir Lancelot continued. “‘This shameful cry and noise I may not suffer, for better were death at once than thus to endure this pain.’“ Then Garret/Sir Lancelot took Amy/Guinevere into his arms and kissed her.
Amy had been kissed several times throughout her life, but nothing had ever come even remotely close to the complete and total mergence of passion, intensity, and tenderness. It moved her as nothing else had ever done.
Then Garret/Sir Lancelot raised his head and said, “‘Most noblest Christian queen, I beseech you, as ye have been ever my special good lady, and I at all times your poor knight and true to the utmost of my power, and as I never failed you in right nor in wrong sithen the first day King Arthur made me knight, that ye will pray for my soul if that I be slain. For well I am assured that Sir Bors, my nephew, and all the remnant of my kin, with Sir Lavain and Sir Urry, that they will not fail you to rescue you from the fire.” Garret/Sir Lancelot caressed Amy/Guinevere’s face with a tender touch that brought tears to her eyes as her gaze was held so completely by his. “And therefore, mine own lady, recomfort yourself, whatsoever come of me, that ye go with Sir Bors, my nephew, and Sir Urry and they all will do you all the pleasure that they may, and ye shall live like a queen upon my lands.’“
Amy/Guinevere shook her head. “‘Nay, Sir Lancelot,’“ she said in a cracked and broken voice, “‘wit thou well that I will not live long after thy days. But if ye be slain I will take my death as meekly as ever did martyr take his death for Jesu Christ’s sake.’“
Garret/Sir Lancelot’s expression became resigned and tender. “‘Well, Madam, sith it is so that the day is come that our love must come to an end, wit you well I shall sell my life as dear as I may.’“ His expression held clear anguish. “‘And a thousandfold I am more grieved for you than for myself! And now I had rather than to be lord of all Christendom that I had sure armor upon me, that men might speak of my deeds ere ever I were slain.’“
Amy/Guinevere reached up with both hands to caress Garret/Sir Lancelot’s face. “‘Truly, if it might please God, I would that they would take me and slay me and allow you to escape,’“ she said softly, tenderly.
Garret/Sir Lancelot shook his head. “‘That shall never be.’“ He stepped away from her with a clear expression of purpose and determination. “‘God defend me from such a shame! But, Jesu Christ, be Thou my shield and mine armor!’“
Then Sir Lancelot disappeared to that realm of fiction and imagination that existed in all actors. Amy was still in such a daze from the kiss and the scene and the complete joy to act in such a work of literary wonder that she barely noticed the transition.
“Well done,” Garret said with a smile in eyes and on lips. “Your portrayal of Queen Guinevere was… superb.”
“Thank you,” Amy said in a tone that seemed a little lost, but she did have presence of mind enough to offer “I’ve always loved that scene.”
Garret stepped a little closer, but Amy was so intense on the duty of gathering her wits from the edges of her sanity that she didn’t notice. “Such a statement doesn’t shock in the least,” he said, stepping closer still. “Especially with your convincing performance of love and tenderness. Magnificent. Breathtaking.” Garret surrounded her with his arms and drew her closer. “Enchanting,” he whispered.
Amy blinked up at him, her green eyes lost in the depths of his blue ones. Some part of her mind desperately tried to remind her of something very important, but then he was kissing her and the warning was lost amidst the scene and the characters and the wondrous emotion of attraction.
Reality dropped like a lead weight when the intensity of his kiss heightened, bringing with it a remembered comment of ‘he’ll have you in his sheets in less than a week’.
Amy pulled back, stepping away from Garret’s kiss and cologne and warmth with a slight gasp. “No,” she said with a shake of her head, eyes wide.
Garret followed with an easy smile, his hands catching hold of hers as he said “‘Oh mistress mine, where are you roaming? / O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming, / that can sing both high and low.’“
Amy shook her head again. Shakespeare… Oh my gosh. Sir Garret Harrison is quoting Shakespeare… “M-Mr. Harrison…” And she took another step back.
Garret followed still. “‘Trip no further, pretty sweeting; / Journeys end in lovers meeting, / Every wise man’s son doth know.’“ He drew her closer, his gaze holding hers as his smile made Amy unable to say a word. “‘What is love? ‘tis not hereafter; / Present mirth hath present laughter; / What’s to come is still unsure: / In delay there lies no plenty;’“ Garret very slowly lowered his head, drawing his lips ever closer to hers. Amy watched in shock and horror as her mind lost control of her body. “‘Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty, / Youth’s a stuff will not endure,’“ he whispered.
Amy closed her eyes as his lips gently met hers. Oh my gosh… this can’t be happening… And her mind felt as if she were drowning on a wave of so many things and thoughts and emotions that she was lost among them. ‘he’ll have you in his sheets ’-- Amy pulled back with a scowl, shoving Garret away a little more forcefully than she probably should have.
“No,” she said firmly, “I am not going to be another mark on your bedpost!” Amy scowled up into Garret’s surprised expression.
The easy, attractive, flirtatious smile returned as he enfolded her hands in his. “Amy—”
“No,” she said again, pulling her hands free. She put fists on hips. “Mr. Harrison, this is exactly what Renee warned me about. You want to know what I told her? I told her that she shouldn’t believe those gossip columns because they never know the full story.” Hurt and tears began to glitter in her eyes as Garret’s smile slowly faded. “I was doing my best, my best, to give you a chance to be yourself. In fact, these meetings with you have been a lot of fun.”
A tear escaped, but Amy ignored it. “You had no right to trample all over that in my home and take advantage of a passionate situation. And I would rather not think you planned it that way. If you want to start a relationship, Mr. Harrison, then you could at least have the decency to talk to me about it. I wouldn’t have said no. You’re a very attractive man, brilliant on stage, and a pleasant human being when given the chance. In fact, I had begun to like you as a person, and not as what some people would call a meal ticket to the bright lights of New York City’s inner-circle.”
Garret said nothing. He only straightened and held her angry, hurt, and tear-filled gaze.
Amy sniffed, and her tone and expression softened as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I’m a person, Mr. Harrison, with feelings and views and thoughts on life and living. I am not someone or something to be conquered. It hurts me to think you believed I was.”
This time Garret lowered his gaze. Then he turned and moved toward the couch, taking up his schedule book before making his way to the door. He unlocked the deadbolt and slid back the chain. Once he had opened the door, he turned back and said very softly “I apologize, Miss Burke,” while not meeting her gaze.
Then he closed the door after him. Amy sniffed and slowly made her way to the couch. She sat on the very edge and covered her face with her hands.
When Renee had returned from work a couple hours later, Amy had been soaking in the tub while listening to Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman, something Renee knew Amy only did when upset. Renee of course had pelted Amy with questions, but she hadn’t wanted to add to the already horrendous mountain of gossip stacked against Garret. As usual for Amy, she wanted to give him another chance. Like she had said to his face, she was beginning to like him as a person. If he wanted to start a relationship, she would.
Amy didn’t sleep that night. She felt bad for Garret. Not because of what she had said, but because she thought he might have really believed the only way he could get ‘love’ was through his fame. Amy didn’t ever like reading too much into situations, but she had seen and heard it all too often.
Amy sighed now, sitting as she was on the couch while trying to study her script before her scheduled rehearsal time with him later that afternoon. I wasn’t too hard on him, was I? Amy had done her best to be honest, just like her mom and dad had taught her, while being as tactful as possible. The only problem being that Amy had this inkling no one said ‘no’ to Sir Garret Harrison very often. Didn’t I have a hard enough time? Amy sighed again, giving a shake of her head just as there was a knock on the door.
She unfurled herself from the couch, gave the waistband of her flannel loungers a gentle pull upward, and then headed over to the door. She unlocked the deadbolt but kept the chain. When she opened the door, Garret stood on the other side dressed in pressed Calvin Klein jeans and a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt of dark blue.
Amy blinked. “Oh. Hello. Just a sec.” Amy slightly closed the door, unfastened the chain, and then opened it the rest of the way. She motioned inside with an outstretched arm. “Come on in.”
Garret hesitated a moment before stepping over the threshold and standing quite uncertain in the middle of the living room.
Amy motioned to the couch. “Have a seat.” She gathered up her script and set it on the coffee table; then she headed for the kitchen. “Coffee?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“I’ll set it to brewing and then change into something a little more… appropriate.” Amy had already ground some coffee beans earlier, so she put the appropriate amount into the basket, filled the machine with water, and then turned it on. “It should only take a couple minutes. Be right back.”
Amy closed the door to her bedroom and leaned against it with a sigh. Just don’t try any approach but the right one, Garret. Please? Give yourself a chance. Amy pushed away from the door and changed into her favorite jean/sweatshirt combination. When she headed out of her bedroom, she heard the clunk and clink of Garret in the kitchenette preparing a mug of coffee. The idea of Sir Garret Harrison in her kitchen making coffee settled well, but she supposed the idea of any eligible bachelor as good looking as Garret Harrison in her kitchen would have settled well.
Amy sat on the couch tailor-style as she said “The chocolate powder is in a glass container to the left of the coffee-maker.”
A few minutes later, Garret emerged with two cup-and-saucer combinations in hand. He set both on the waiting coasters on the coffee table and then sat beside her on the couch. Garret began absently stirring his coffee. A few moments later, he set the spoon aside and cleared his throat, staring down at his hands before turning to meet her gaze. He looked about to speak several times, but then he pressed his lips together and faced forward again.
Amy drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. “I’m not mad, you know,” she said quietly. “You apologized, and I believe you meant it. I’m not one to hold a grudge.” Garret didn’t acknowledge her statement, so Amy smiled and said “‘No more be grieved at that which thou hast done: / Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud.’“ Garret’s lips lifted in a slight smile as Amy continued. “‘Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun, / And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud. / All men make faults.’“
“‘And even I in this,’“ Garret finished. He looked over at her. “Yet another bit of proof that you have actually read those books I see rising up behind you.”
Amy examined her knees with a slight smile. “What else are you supposed to do with books?”
“Many own them to impress the appropriate crowd.”
Amy raised her gaze to meet his. Her expression was truthful. “The only people I’ve ever wanted to impress were my parents, and my grades did that.” Then the smile returned. “Although I must admit I’m glad you liked my Guinevere performance.”
Garret cleared his throat and looked away.
Amy chuckled. “I’m sorry. That was hitting below the belt.”
Garret released a long breath. “Miss Burke—”
“Amy,” she softly insisted as she watched his profile.
He reached forward to take up the action of stirring his coffee again. “Amy,” he corrected, “my actions last night have put you into an awkward situation, to say the least. If you wish to bow out of your role within this movie, I do not blame you in the least.”
Amy retrieved her cup and saucer to take a sip. Then she simply stared down at the slightly wavering caramel-colored liquid. “Do you want me to?” Garret didn’t answer, so Amy changed her gaze to his profile. “I’ve never run away from anything in my life, Garret, but if you want me to quit… I will. This is your movie.”
Garret finally turned his head to meet her gaze. “You’re an odd one, Miss Amy Burke,” he said simply.
Amy slightly smiled as she sipped her coffee. “And why’s that?”
“You do not take advantage. You do not chase fame and fortune as a parched man chases mirages for a taste of non-existent water. You are unlike any young woman previously met.”
Amy chuckled. “And that’s a bad thing?”
“Intriguing, yes. Bad?” Garret shook his head, still gauging her as she sipped her coffee. “No. I don’t believe so.”
Amy ran a finger lightly around the rim of her coffee cup, watching its trail around with twinkling eyes. “Thank you. I like being intriguing.”
Garret continued to watch her. “I believe choosing you as Aeris Gainsborough to be the best choice made thus far.”
Amy actually flushed. “I appreciate that, but I think your Sephiroth will make the movie. He’s a wonderful character, and you’re just the man to carry the role.”
“Flattery has just earned you a pay-raise.”
Amy laughed, her eyes crinkling at the corners as she looked over at him. “The only pay-raise I need is to hear you recite more.”
Garret’s lips twitched as he regarded her. Then, much to Amy’s surprise, he began to softly quote “‘A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted / Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion; / A woman’s gentle heart but not acquainted / With shifting change as is false women’s fashion; / An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling, / Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth…’“ Garret continued to watch her face.
Amy sniffed and whispered “Thank you for choosing that one. It’s one of my favorites.”
Garret faintly smiled. “Shakespeare. Always the tool to a woman’s heart.”
Amy chuckled. “Oh, I don’t know. Sir Philip Sydney has some wonderful works. And I know of a poem by Queen Elizabeth that I love to death.”
“On Monsieur’s Departure?” Garret asked.
Amy nodded while taking another sip of coffee. “That’s the one.”
Garret retrieved his coffee with one hand while motioning with the other. “You must recite it.”
“After your performance of Shakespeare?” she asked, wide-eyed.
Garret chuckled, motioning again for her to recite. “Come, come.”
Amy set down her cup and saucer and then wiped her palms on her jeans. “Alright,” she whispered. “Let’s see.”
Amy cleared her throat before taking in a deep breath to set the inner mood. Then she softly and intensely quoted “‘I grieve and dare not show my discontent, / I love and yet am forced to seem to hate, / I do, yet dare not say I ever meant, / I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate. / I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned, / Since from myself another self I turned.’“ Amy closed her eyes as her spirit searched out the words, lifting her hands to her chest in movement and mood of the poem. “‘My care is like my shadow in the sun, / Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it, / Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done. / His too familiar care doth make me rue it. / No means I find to rid him from my breast, / Till by the end of things it be suppressed.’“ Amy shook her head, sadness blanketing her expression. “‘Some gentler passion slide into my mind, / For I am soft and made of melting snow; / Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind. / Let me or float or sink, be high or low, / Or let me live with some more sweet content, / Or die and so forget what love ere meant.’“
Garret lowered his cup and saucer to the coffee table with a slight clink, making Amy give a startled jump as her eyes focused on his face. He softly applauded. “Bravo, Amy. Bravo.”
Amy flushed and quickly retrieved her coffee. “Stop. It wasn’t that good.”
“On the contrary, absolutely wonderful,” he contradicted as he again took up his cup. “Have you recited in public often?”
Amy shook her head. “Not recently. I did when I still studied at N.Y.U.. It was required as part of my grade.”
Garret nodded, and then he suddenly looked to his watch. “Blast.” He set down his cup and saucer as he stood.
Amy watched him with wide eyes. “What’s the matter?”
“I’ve a meeting scheduled 20 minutes hence.” Garret made his way to the door, Amy following after him. “Now I haven’t the time to change,” he mumbled.
“I’m sorry. You should have told me.”
“Nonsense. You aren’t to blame.” Garret opened the door and turned, his expression thoughtful. “Let us postpone this afternoon’s rehearsal until tomorrow. Then I shall inform you of my decision.”
Amy nodded, holding his gaze. “Drive carefully. It’s getting about the time the crazies are out.”
Garret continued to look down at her with an odd expression. “‘They that have power to hurt and will do none…’“
One side of his lips twitched upward. Then he stroked Amy’s cheek with the back of a finger before turning away to stride toward the elevator with long steps, long white hair streaming behind. Amy stared after him, eyes wide. When he entered the elevator, he sent her a smile as he slightly bowed. Then the elevator closed.
Amy closed the front door and leaned against it with a slow breath. Then she smiled and lowered her gaze to her feet. A part of her knew his change of heart could only be another avenue taken to get what he wanted – after all, who said ‘no’ to Garret Harrison – but Amy had dedicated herself to thinking the best of people. She wasn’t going to do any less than that for him—
Amy gave a startled twitch and turned to open the door, which she hadn’t chained or locked yet. Garret stood on the other side. Amy blinked and then smiled. “I seriously doubt you’re back from your meeting already. And I refuse to let you flake out of it just so we can recite more poetry to each other, fun as it is.”
Garret sent her his usual attractive and inviting smile. “No, no. I haven’t become as irresponsible as that.”
Amy leaned against the door jam and crossed her arms, her lips still tickled with a smile. “Then what can I do for you, Mr. Harrison?”
Garret’s eyes twinkled with what must have been mischief. One side of his lips twitched slightly higher as he leaned against the same side of the door, barely four inches from her. “‘Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss: / Her lips sucks forth my soul, see where it flies! / Come Helen, come, give me my soul again. / Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips, / And all is dross that is not Helena!’“
Amy could better control her wilting resolve now that she was more prepared for Garret’s charm and flirtation. Although his aroma of innate passion and intensity was intoxicating. “Dr. Faustus; Scene 13,” she named softly. “I think I liked the play better than the opera Faust, although the songs are wonderful.” Amy reached out with a single finger, which she pressed against his chest to push him gently out of her personal space. “Now, seriously, what can I do for you?”
Garret chuckled as he straightened. “I have returned with an invitation to accompany.”
Amy arched an eyebrow. “‘Accompany’ you to what?”
“Your—” Amy straightened while her arms went swiftly to her sides. “What?” She shook her head. “I couldn’t. It’s… That’s… Isn’t it private?”
“I suppose they might construe it as such,” he acknowledge with a slight nod, “but I have enjoyed our conversations too much to wish an end to them.”
Amy flushed at the compliment but continued her protest. “Garret, I… While I appreciate the offer, I really don’t think that would be a good idea. I would feel as if I were barging in on not only your private life, but theirs too. I couldn’t do that.”
Garret leaned against the door jam yet again, arms crossed as he slightly smirked down at her. “Even though the attendance may mean an assurance of the pinnacle to your career?”
Amy’s eyes widened as her mouth dropped slightly open. She sputtered less than gracefully before finally saying passionately “Especially then! I can’t accept special favors from you, Garret.”
“And why is that?” he asked, still smiling.
“If there’s going to be any kind of ‘pinnacle’, I would like to earn it on my own.”
Garret accepted the point with another slight nod. “Yes, I acknowledge the importance of that, but who is to say you haven’t earned this opportunity? Amy, I can very easily consider these shared meetings a type of ongoing audition.”
Amy shook her head. “But they weren’t,” she insisted with a bit more intensity than she wanted. Amy cleared her throat. “Garret, I would never use you like that.”
Garret regarded her a moment, the upward lift of his lips a bit more prominent than before. “No, I don’t suppose you would. Perhaps there is the attraction?”
Amy blinked as she leaned slightly back. “What?” she asked carefully.
Garret’s eyes traced her features as he whispered “‘Who will in fairest book of Nature know / How Virtue may best lodged in beauty be, / Let him but learn of Love to read in thee, / Stella, those fair lines, which true goodness show. / There shall he find all vices’ overthrow, / Not by rude force, but sweetest sovereignty / Of reason, from whose light those night-birds fly.’“ He adjusted his crossed arms as his gaze again met hers. “Yes, Sir Philip Sydney has the appropriate words… You continue to intrigue and surprise, a surprisingly sensual aspect I had forgotten existed of a woman.”
Amy stared up at him in muted shock and disbelief before a smile blossomed onto her face. She shook her head with a chuckle, and then she reached out to take both of his upper arms in her hands and push him a step back from her door jam. “You have a meeting to get to, Mr. Harrison. Punctuality, remember?”
Garret embraced her face in his hands, Amy’s smile vanishing with the motion, and said “‘But, ah, Desire still cries, give me some food.’“ And then he tenderly kissed her.
Amy’s heart danced at the gentle passion of it, but she still pulled his hands from her face and her lips from his – much strength drained with the effort – and shook her head slightly. “Garret…”
Garret gave a bit of a nod with a whispered “‘My lips are sweet, inspired with Stella’s kiss.’“
Amy reluctantly smiled as she pulled her hands free from his. “You know all the lines – Shakespeare and Sir Philip Sydney both – that make a girl’s heart flutter, don’t you?”
Garret smirked. “Too many years of practice with gaining a lady’s favor.”
Amy nodded, and then her expression became serious. “But what does Garret Harrison say to woo a lady?” She reached out to gently touch his chest where his heart/soul was. Garret’s gaze lowered to the action. “What’s in there?” Amy asked softly.
Garret stared at her finger touching his chest for a long moment before lifting a hand to pull her touch away. “I had best go,” he said as he met her gaze. “Until tomorrow.”
Amy nodded, submerging her hands deep into her pockets when he released his hold. “Alright. Have fun,” she said softly.
Garret turned away and headed slowly for the elevator.
“Garret?” Amy called suddenly.
Garret stopped and turned. “What is it?”
Amy cleared her throat. “You can call me whenever you want. Or stop by… Or… whatever.”
A slight smile lightened Garret’s serious expression. “While I doubt my schedule will permit, I appreciate the offer.”
Amy nodded as she lowered her gaze to her toes. She rocked back onto her heels. “I know, I… I just wanted to… to let you hear the invitation, I guess.”
Garret remained quiet for a moment. “Thank you, Amy,” he finally said.
She peeked up at him with a slight smile. “Sure.”
And then Sir Garret Harrison gave a slight bow and turned again for the elevator. The door closed, sealing away his smile and releasing Amy’s heart. She let out a slow breath. “Where’s Garret Harrison?” she whispered. Then she turned and entered her apartment, closing the door softly behind her.
Amy looked up from her notebook computer at the desk in her room when there was a light tap on her bedroom door. She turned slightly in her chair to look over her shoulder. “It’s open.”
Renee opened the door and leaned against the frame. “I’m heading to work, Aims. I’ll call in sick if you need to talk or shop, or even just walk in the park.”
Amy smiled. “Sorry for ignoring you lately, Renee.”
“And moping, and mumbling under your breath, and staring out the window sighing and looking pathetic.” Renee stepped into the room and sat on Amy’s bed. Amy turned to look at her. “I’m kind of worried about you, Aims. And you won’t talk to me about what’s bugging you.”
“I’m sorry, Ren.”
“You don’t need to be sorry, Aims, just let me know what’s got you down.”
Amy smiled. “I’m just a little distracted, Ren. Promise.”
Renee released a deep breath as she gave a shrug of her shoulders. “Alright, but promise to talk to me if whatever it is gets worse. Okay? We’ve been friends too long to stop talking to each other now.”
Renee smiled as she stood. “Alright, well I better scoot. Maybe we can see a movie tonight?”
Amy nodded with a smirk. “Only if I get to choose.”
“Deal. See ya later, Aims.”
“Bye, Ren. Have fun at work.”
And a few seconds later Amy heard the front door close and the deadbolt lock. Amy didn’t like the feeling that she couldn’t tell Renee about everything going on with Garret – whatever ‘everything’ was – but Renee wouldn’t have understood. Renee already had a set idea of what Garret was like.
Amy sighed as she saved what little work she’d done on her script. The phone on her desk twittered. Amy picked it up as she set to work shutting down the laptop. “Hello.”
“Hi, Aims. Did you want to have pizza for dinner tonight? I could pick up a pie on the way home.”
“How about Chinese instead?” Amy asked as she closed the laptop. “We haven’t had Chinese for a long time.”
“You know, that sounds pretty good. Anything special, or just whatever?”
“Whatever, but can you get pork fried rice instead of chicken?”
“Sure. See ya later, sweetie.”
“Bye.” Amy replaced the receiver with a sigh. It immediately rang again. “Hello.”
“Sorry, Aims. Forgot to ask you about the dry cleaning. Can you pick it up? I’ll pay you back. Promise.”
“Sure, Ren,” Amy said with a smile.
“Bye.” Amy shook her head with a chuckle as she set the phone down. It rang and Amy laughed. “Hello.”
“I swear this is the last time.”
“It’s okay, Ren. What did you need?”
“Can you drop the bills off at the mailbox? I meant to grab them, but I completely spaced it.”
“Don’t worry about it, Ren. I’ll take care of it.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it. See ya.”
“Bye, Ren.” Amy chuckled.
Amy replaced the receiver, waited for it to ring again, and then made her way out of her room. The phone rang just as she made her way to the couch. She sat with a quick breath and picked up the phone. “Hello.”
“Good morning, Amy. This is Garret. Have I called too early?”
Amy blinked as she sat up. “No. Renee just left for work and I was about to make myself breakfast. What’s up?”
“I’m afraid I shan’t be available to meet after all. Something has come up.”
Amy arched an eyebrow. “That’s alright, Garret. I completely understand. I had a few errands to run myself.”
There was a moment or two of silence before Garret spoke again. “I will call if there is a change in my schedule.”
“Sounds good to me. I guess I’ll talk to you later.” Amy waited for the click, but it didn’t come. “Was there something else?” Like why you’re giving me the brush off? Then again, Amy didn’t blame him. First she’d said ‘no’ to his advances, then she had practically dared him to reveal himself to possible rejection by being true to Garret Harrison and leaving Shakespeare and other poets out of the picture. “Garret? Hello?”
Amy looked down at the phone with a raised eyebrow before thoughtfully replacing it on the receiver. No rehearsals for you this week, I bet. Amy sighed and went to make breakfast.
Amy was rinsing out her bowl and setting it in the sink when the phone rang. Amy shook the water off her hands, wiping them on her flannel trousers as she hurried to the phone on the end-table by the couch. “Hello.”
“Hey you. How’s it going?”
Amy arched an eyebrow at the male voice. “It’s going fine. Thanks. What can I do for you?”
“I thought maybe we could get together and rehearse some of the scenes. I’m bored, and I think I’ve got them memorized enough for us to work on timing and stuff.”
Amy sat in the couch with a smirk. “Mark, how in the world did you get this number?”
“I looked it up in the phone book. How else? You think Shepherd’s going to give me the phone number of the best looking girl in the flick? Hell no!”
Amy shook her head as she pressed a hand up against her forehead. She released a deep breath. “Well as a matter of fact, I was wanting to get some pre-shooting rehearsal in.”
“Great! Where do you live?”
Amy gave a shrug of her shoulders with an expression of ‘sure, why not’ and gave him her address and apartment number. “Just don’t forget your script.”
Mark laughed. “Of course not. That’s the only reason I’m coming over.”
Amy arched an eyebrow. “Whether that’s the case or not, that’s all we’re going to be doing.”
“Alright. We’ll see you in a few.”
Amy replaced the receiver very slowly, staring at it as her instinct told her what she’d agreed to was a very bad idea. Mark was likely just as much – or more of – a wolf than Garret had turned out to be. Amy sighed and looked away from the phone. She hated thinking of anyone that way. Especially when they’re usually always plugged into that category anyway. So why wouldn’t Mark and Garret and anyone else continue to act that way? It was expected of them. And it’s definitely easier than trying to be in a relationship with someone.
Amy sighed again, resting her head back on the couch as she stared at the ceiling. “‘Love what art thou? A vain thought / In our minds by fant’sy wrought. / Idle smiles did thee beget, / While fond wishes made the net / Which so many fools have caught.’“
Amy shook her head. Then, refusing to be pathetic and miserable, she stood and went to change.
The knock announcing Mark’s arrival sounded after Amy had finished her shower, changed, and brewed a fresh pot of coffee. She set her honey-covered spoon into her mug before making her way to the door. Mark looked very sexy in his black Tommy Hilfiger jeans and same-brand T-shirt with the American flag across the front.
Amy stepped back with a “Come on in” and then closed – but not locked – the door behind him. She motioned to the couch. “Have a seat. Coffee?”
“No, thanks.” Mark set his script on the coffee table as he looked around. “Hey. You’ve got a nice place. A little small, but nice.”
Amy smirked as she finished making her coffee. “Thanks. Ren and I like it.”
“It kind of reminds me of the first apartment I had in L.A..”
Amy returned from the kitchenette with her coffee and sat beside him – not too close – as she set the coffee onto the waiting coaster. “Yeah, those first apartments hold a lot of memories, don’t they?”
“Sure do. Good and bad.” Mark spread his arms along the back of the couch, as Amy knew he would. “So, how long you been in New York?”
“About five years,” Amy told him as she gathered her script and leaned back.
“Really? I’ve only been here about 18 months. You should show me around and tell me what’s what.”
“Oh. Doesn’t Vanessa have the time to do that?” Amy plugged without looking over at him.
Mark laughed. “Oh no. Don’t tell me you believe those gossip rags. Vanessa and I are… friends.”
“Uh-huh,” Amy said in a tone that clearly said ‘suuuure’.
“Oh come on, Amy. You know I only have eyes for you.”
Amy shook her head with a chuckle. “And every other pretty girl that walks just the right way.”
“Ouch. That hurts.”
Amy laughed as she looked over at his feigned expression of pain. “Don’t try the smooth works on me, Mark Frasier. I’ve seen and heard them all, and I’m not moved or in the least bit atwitter. Let’s just be friends and do the best we can as the roles we have. Deal?”
Mark’s expression melted to a smile. “Sure, but you can’t blame a guy for trying, can ya?”
“Sure I can, because you used less than unique material,” Amy teased, laughing.
Mark’s smile vanished as he stared at her, open-mouthed. “That’s so mean,” he said in a hushed voice.
Amy laughed harder, her eyes watering as she leaned forward with a shake of her head. “It’s the truth, and you know it,” she accused when she could speak. She reached for her coffee. “Now come on. We’ve got to get some work done.”
Mark crossed his arms with a surprisingly boyish and cute expression of pouting. “I don’t want to anymore.”
Amy set aside her script and moved back into the corner of the couch, tailor-style. “Fine. I’ll just enjoy my coffee and stare at you, all the while making funny faces.” It was like hanging out with her younger brother.
One of Mark’s lips twitched, and then he changed his gaze to Amy’s, who was performing one of the silly faces promised. He laughed. “I wish I had a camera. I’d post that on the internet and get Bo coup bucks from the tabloids for the story.”
“Fine. I don’t care in the least. After all, I’m going home after this.”
Joking and teasing vanished from Mark’s expression. “Are you serious about that? I know you said it before but… Why not make the most of the fame and—”
“And do what?” Amy interrupted with a slight wide-eyed expression. She watched him from over her coffee cup. “Dread reading the paper and the magazines because of the newest bit of untrue or exaggerated gossip printed about me and a friend? Put up with the droves of newspaper reporters, photographers, and overzealous fans that’ll track me wherever I go? Sacrifice my privacy to the fickle world of film and screen?” Amy shook her head. “Sorry. I’m not going to do that. Sure, all the attention is great at first. But year after year, month after month?” She shook her head again. “I don’t want to lose who I am to that.”
Mark studied her with a thoughtful expression. “Then why the movie? Why even start the ball rolling if you weren’t going to pick it up?”
Amy shrugged as she changed her gaze to her coffee. “I only went to the audition because Ren asked me to. I figure there’s a reason I got picked, so I might as well follow through. I’ve never quit anything in my life.”
“So even if you make it big, and win awards, and get instant recognition, you’re still going to go back home to teach?”
Amy smiled and met his gaze again. “Hey, if I get all that, maybe the kids will actually listen to what I have to say and learn something? Maybe that’s why I’m here? Maybe a kid needing purpose and direction will get that when he or she enrolls in my class?”
Mark smiled. “You know, you and Nessie think a lot alike.”
Amy arched an eyebrow. “Nessie?”
He laughed. “Whoops. I wasn’t supposed to say that. She’s going to kill me.”
Amy’s mouth dropped open. “You’re talking about Vanessa Heron, aren’t you? You are more than friends!”
Mark grimaced. “Stop. You’re giving me the creeps.” He sat forward and grabbed his script. “Let’s just rehearse.”
Amy chuckled as she unfurled herself from the couch and set her coffee on the table. She took up her own script. “Okay. What scene did you want to do? You want to read through them all, in chronological order?”
“Sure. Let’s see… Scene 10 is the first one. No, wait. The first one’s earlier, in Scene 3 after I bomb the Reactor.”
“You’re right. There’s only a couple lines, though.”
“We should still make sure they flow.”
And that’s what the two did most of the morning. They decided to pass the scenes where she only had one or two lines, focusing instead on the bulkier ones that would be more pivotal to the movie. Amy laughed and teased Mark during the rehearsal of the scene titled ‘Miss Cloud’. Then Mark was able to get a little back at her when they did their best to rehearse the scene titled ‘Midnight Date’, opting to kiss the non-existent Evil Dragon King rather than her as the Princess. All in all, they had a blast.
Amy glanced at her watch as they neared the ‘Temple of the Ancients’ scene. “Shoot. It’s already noon.”
“I thought I was getting a little hungry.” Mark set aside his script. “Let’s go grab a bite.”
Amy shook her head. “Sorry, Mark. I can’t. I’ve got errands.”
“I’ll drive ya.”
Amy smiled. “Thanks, but I like having the time to myself. You’d just be bored to tears anyway.”
Mark and Amy stood, and Amy followed him to the door. She opened it. “Thanks for the fun, Mark. It was like hanging out with Adam again. My brother.”
Mark grimaced. “Brother? Damn. Not a chance in hell, huh?”
Amy laughed. “Sorry, Mark. Save that for ‘Nessie’.”
“Don’t you dare say that in front of her. She’ll skin me alive.” Mark gestured down the hall. “Why don’t I escort you to the front at least?”
“Okay.” Amy grabbed her purse and the mail from the knickknack table beside the front door and then scooped up her keys. Then she closed and locked the door behind her.
They chatted about the scenes they rehearsed, which lines needed to be changed to make it easier to say, and which ones should be scrapped altogether as they descended in the elevator and proceeded through the lobby to the entry. Amy dropped her and Renee’s mail off with the desk clerk and then exited the building. Mark bid her farewell, but only after telling her he’d call her that evening to tell her whether or not they’d be able to rehearse the following day. Then he jogged across the street, piled into his red Corvette, and squealed away. Amy watched him with a shake of her head and a slight smirk before exchanging pleasantries with the doorman and turning away toward the dry cleaners.
Rehearsing with Mark had been fun, but she had really looked forward to rehearsals with Garret. After all, he was only in one or two scenes with her throughout the entire movie. One of which happened to be the scene where his character killed her. Amy had even hoped to persuade Garret to rehearse some of his more dramatic scenes for her, with her reading for whatever other character was involved. At least I’ll be there to see them during shooting. I guess that’s better than nothing. Better than nothing, yes. Better than reciting plays and poetry with Sir Garret Harrison? Amy sighed. No.
Amy gave a shrug. Oh well. It wasn’t like I was in his league or anything. Apparently I was just the newest thing. But she had truly hoped that hadn’t been the case. In fact, yesterday she had really felt the click. She had even thought that he had spoken to her with respect. Now she didn’t know what to think.
Amy released a slow breath. Well if he calls to bow out of tomorrow’s rehearsal, I’m going to ask him what the problem is. Honesty and communication was always the best policy in any kind of relationship. Even in friendship… Shoot. Amy knew she needed to tell Renee. Alright. I’ll do it tomorrow after I’ve had a chance to talk to Garret. Amy gave a nod and then turned into the dry cleaners.
Amy checked her pockets for her keys, frowning as she stepped off the elevator with dry cleaning in hand. “Shoot,” she mumbled. “Don’t tell me I stuffed them in my purse…”
Amy slung the dry cleaning over her arm and tried to use both hands for the search of her keys as she stepped down the aisle toward her apartment. When she heard a clearing of the throat, Amy halted with a blink and slowly looked up. Sir Garret Harrison stood outside her apartment door with a somewhat serious expression. He was dressed in what must have been the best hanging pair of silk slacks and a pin-striped Perry Ellis dress shirt under a gray cashmere sweater-vest.
Amy started forward again, key search forgotten. “Well hello,” she greeted with a smile. She came to stand across from him, he smelled of something wonderfully musky, and held his gaze as she gave a slight chuckle. Garret silently stared down at her. “It’s times like these that I really wish I had a cell phone or a pager,” Amy said with a continued smile. A very welcome feeling of giddiness brought a twinkle to her eyes. “Then you could have called to tell me you were here and I would have hurried a little faster than I did.”
One side of Garret’s lips slightly twitched upward, but he still didn’t say anything.
Amy was attacked by an unwelcome emotion of uncertainty and anxiety. “Are you up to rehearsing that scene then?” she asked as she passed him, again searching for her keys. She found them in the furthest pocket and moved to unlock the door. “Mark and I read through most of the others this morning, so—”
“Uh-huh,” Amy said, all-the-while very aware of the slightly taut tone of Garret’s voice. She didn’t turn from her duty of unlocking the front door, though, because she didn’t want him to think there was anything to Mark’s presence there at her apartment but rehearsal. “We read through the longer scenes, reworking phrases and things here and there so that it flowed better. It was fun. Like hanging out with my little brother.”
Amy opened the door and stepped in, placing her keys and purse on the knickknack chest to her left. “Please excuse Renee and my breakfast dishes in the sink. I didn’t have a chance to do those before stepping out on my errands. Rehearsal with Mark made it kind of impossible, too.” She faced Garret with a smile, noticed that he had followed her into her apartment, and then motioned behind her to the couch. “Have a seat. Coffee? Or not?”
“No, thank you.”
Amy gave a nod, her face apparently permanently decorated with her slight and very welcoming smile, and made her way to the kitchen. “Good idea if we’re going to be doing more speaking. I think I swallowed all my spit this morning with Mark.”
Amy heard the wonderfully relieving sound of Garret’s chuckle as he made his way to the couch.
Amy retrieved a couple tall glasses, filled them from the filtered water in the fridge, and then made her way back to the main room. Garret looked delightfully comfortable nestled in the corner of the couch with his arms along the back and the arm. Amy set a glass onto the coaster on the end table to his left with a smiled ‘you’re welcome’ before going around to sit in the middle of the couch beside him.
Amy took a sip of her water as she stared at her script on the coffee table. Mark had accidentally left his. Oh well. At least it will be here for tomorrow’s rehearsal… Amy cleared her throat before looking over at Garret. He stared at the glass of water in his hand. “Why the brush-off this morning?” she asked.
Garret’s expression was serious, yet not. “I apologize for that. I suppose I wanted to regain some semblance of control.” His lips twitched. “I have always been the instigator of my relationships and their direction.”
“I’m not trying to control you, Garret,” Amy assured softly.
His brow lowered in a very minuscule frown. “I believe you, yet a part of me feels that in itself is the manipulation.”
Amy nodded, still watching him. “I can understand that.”
Garret moved his eyes to catch her gaze. “I believe I would trust you more if you had allowed me to make love to you.”
Amy smirked and looked away. She traced the rim of her water glass with her index finger. “Garret, when we recited together yesterday and the day before that… we were making love. You were captivating every little bit of who I am. I let you see me. I don’t do that with just anyone, you know.”
Garret’s expression seemed thoughtful as he examined her profile. “No, I don’t suppose you would.”
Amy gave a slight shake of her head as she sighed, turning her gaze back to him. Garret continued to watch her, his expression guarded and withdrawn in the protection of something she didn’t understand. Maybe…
“‘I look at you across the room and watch,’“ Amy began in a soft voice, and she immediately recognized the glint in his eyes as his mind searched for the poet. “‘You stroke your chin and lip as you think, your mind working wonders which you write on a blank stage. Soul hidden behind guarded eyes yet brightly shining, through me. The timbre of your voice sending shivers, splinters through my heart. I look at you, across the room, and just watch.’“
Garret’s mind gave up the search. “From what have you quoted? Its simplicity hides an unexpected depth and… almost a bittersweet agony.”
Amy looked away to set her glass back on the coaster. “It’s one of mine.”
Garret blinked. “Yours?”
Amy nodded, and then she turned in the couch to face him. His eyes held a twinkle of intrigue and surprise. “That came from here.” She raised a hand to her heart. “From Amy Burke and no one else. Me. Plain and simple.” Amy lowered her hand as she continued to hold his gaze. “Who’s Garret Harrison?” she asked quietly.
Garret didn’t respond, but he didn’t lower his eyes from her gaze, either.
Amy sighed deep. “That’s what I was talking about yesterday. What hides in your heart? What makes you sad? What makes you angry? What moves you? What makes Garret Harrison Garret Harrison?” He still didn’t respond, so Amy lowered her gaze to her hands. She lightly rubbed them together. “That’s what I want to find out about you, Garret, because I really want to know. I also know that probably scares you to death,” she finished softly.
Amy felt as if she’d confessed to a mouse that she would do her best to eat them.
Garret cleared his throat, drawing Amy’s attention. He stared at his tight grip on the water glass. “I find that your complete interest heightens my attraction.”
Surprise colored Amy’s expression, muting the brightness of his confession. “Hasn’t anyone ever been interested in you before?”
“In my talents as a performer?” Garret responded carefully. “Yes. In my fame and title? In the poetry and plays I recite at will? Again, yes.” He finally met her gaze. “What else matters?”
Amy regarded him intensely, silence her only response. When Garret looked away, Amy reached out to cover his hand that rested on the back of the couch. He met her gaze again. “Garret, your intimate knowledge of literature is definitely your greatest attraction. The way you submerse yourself so completely into its performance. The tones and expressions. I know I’ve never seen anyone else live it the way you do. That’s why I want to get to know what drives you.”
“Yet how will you discover what even I do not know?”
Amy smiled, her eyes crinkling in the corners as she tightened her clasp on his hand. “You know. If you didn’t, you couldn’t draw on that passion and intensity for each performance. You just don’t look very closely because… well, I think you’re a little afraid of what you’ll find.”
Garret pulled his hand from hers and stood, but he didn’t step away from the couch. He only stood there with his back to her, staring at the door with his arms at his sides. Amy stared up at him for a hesitant moment before pushing herself from the couch and moving to stand in front of him. With his height, he easily stared over her head at the door behind.
Amy examined his blank expression. She pushed her lips to one side of her mouth as she watched him, and then she took his face in her hands and directed his gaze downward. It seemed that he met her gaze reluctantly. “Garret, describe the attraction.” Garret’s eyes flashed with a touch of anger as he drew her hands from his face. “Do not patronize me.”
Amy shook her head as she carefully pulled her hands from his. “I’m not. I promise. I’ll prove it.” She held his face in her hands again and looked straight into his eyes. “‘I gaze at you with warmth, do you feel me? I speak to you with smiling tones, can you hear them sing? Petals of fragrant feelings float about me to wither and die, unshared. Should you reach out your hand my delicate petals will soothe the surrender. My soul will lull your agony. My gaze will warm your loneliness.’“
Garret stared down at her with bright eyes for a long moment before shaking his head and pulling her hands from his face. “I cannot. The words that come are not mine.”
Amy nodded as she refused to let him release her hands. “I know, Garret, but try. Push past those words to what you see and then describe how you feel.” Amy saw the helplessness in his expression… She raised a hand to cup his jaw. “The helplessness I see… It chills my heart that I cannot rescue you from that which you fear. A surrender to self. An escape from the path you have traveled so often.”
Garret held her gaze in silence, and Amy could see the painstaking search to find the words she so wanted him to say.
Amy caressed his cheek with her thumb and whispered “Come, poetic heart. Follow me, your muse, and speak from your soul.”
Garret’s expression remained serious and almost pained until, finally, something fell away and his countenance softened. “This soul has never ventured into the brightness of what I see glimmering in thine eyes,” he said. “Darkness has been my escape, long since chilling the words of love and creation into the walls of stone and suspicion.”
Amy’s lips lilted upward. “And yet my brightness beckons you still. Come and live within the warmth of my gaze to hear the song of my soul. Come, poet of shadow, into the morning of adventure I so eagerly offer. Delight in my simplicity and I will rest in your intensity.”
Garret moved his hands to cup her face. “Such falsely labeled passion, sweet muse, alights my soul with wings. Your warmth causes me to forget my humble and mortal state, flying as I am on the petals of your emotion to that pedestal which serves as my sun.”
“Then fly higher still,” Amy whispered, tears gathering, “and free this muse from the… from the…” Amy shook her head as she closed her eyes.
“Open thine eyes that my inspiration might return,” Garret said as he pressed his lips against her cheek. “Return thy warmth lest this coldness invade my very soul.”
Amy’s laugh merged happiness and tears as she pulled back, her eyes bright and her cheeks glistening in the light of the room. “Peace, poet, peace that your muse might rest,” she said through the tears.
Garret’s lips rose in a hint of a smile as he brushed stray hairs from her cheeks and forehead. Amy continued to smile up at him, enjoying the closeness and the simple touch so much more than a passionate embrace.
Then Amy reached up to take his hand from her face, holding it in both of hers. She changed her gaze to stare at the palm. “See? I knew you could do it,” she whispered as she caressed it. “And now this is where my heart is. I don’t know how to take it back. I don’t want to take it back.” She raised her eyes to meet his gaze again, and her expression was serious and almost pleading as her lips tilted downward. “Don’t hurt me, Garret. Please?”
Garret cupped her face in his other hand. “Such was never my intent, sweet muse.”
Amy looked at her watch. “Renee should be home soon.” She looked over at Garret as he sat close beside her on the couch. “Are you sure you want to stay for dinner? She can be pretty harsh.”
Garret looked up from where he studied the script to send Amy a reassuring smile. “If you remember, I also have a tendency toward harshness.”
“I know. That’s why I think you should go home tonight and then stay for dinner tomorrow.”
Garret’s eyes took in her expression before he spoke. “If such is what you want, Amy…”
“I want her to like you,” Amy said as she lowered her eyes to the script in her own lap. “Right now she doesn’t exactly hold a high opinion of you. If I can have a chance to talk to her…” Amy met Garret’s gaze again. “Although she’ll probably still accuse you of trying to get me in your sheets.”
Garret chuckled as he closed the script and placed it on the coffee table. “Yes, well, that approach has already failed miserably. I doubt I shall attempt it again.”
“That’s a depressing thought,” Amy complained. “You just have to wait for the right moment is all.”
Garret raised an eyebrow as he looked over at her. “And pray tell when is that?”
Amy shook her head. “Sorry, that’s your problem. I can’t take away all the mystery.” Garret laughed and Amy smiled. “I think you’re the sexiest when you laugh.”
“Yes, such a statement has been mentioned before, I believe.”
Amy’s eyes widened. “Not by me.”
Garret stood. “No.” He offered his hand. Amy took it this time, accepting his help to stand. “Yet you are the first I have believed.”
Amy’s smile twinkled in her eyes as she gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “Wow. That makes me feel nice.”
Garret’s eyes traveled her face. “What is it about you that holds me?” His blue gaze met her green one. “Amy, how am I to play a villain bent on your destruction when I find myself falling in love with you?”
Amy blinked, her smile fading. “What did you say?” she whispered.
Garret’s serious expression remained. “I have met my match in this role, Amy, and I am at a loss. This man has lost all hope, and yet I have found it. He has lost all sense of who he is, and yet you have opened my eyes to who I am. How can I return to the shadow of my previous life for this role when I want to live in brightness with you?”
Amy continued to blink up at him.
Garret’s face softened with a smile. “It seems my muse is silent. Ah well. Perhaps that is best.” He placed a kiss on each of her cheeks. “Good evening, sweet muse. I will return tomorrow afternoon with a better understanding of the choreography of the scene. Be prepared to work hard.”
Garret headed for the door, Amy still silent and unmoving as he unlocked and opened it. When he had nearly completely passed through, Amy blinked and hurried forward with a whispered “Garret, wait.”
Amy arrived at the door as Garret turned to face her, smiling. “Yes?”
She blinked up at him. “Did you just say…” She motioned behind her. “Over there. Did you just say… Y-You’re falling in love with me?”
Garret chuckled as he leaned against the door frame. “Wasn’t that your intent when first you tickled my attention?”
Amy’s eyes were slightly wide. “I just wanted to get to know you better.”
Garret caressed under her chin with a finger. “Yes, and there will be plenty of time for that now, won’t there?”
Amy absently nodded.
Garret watched her face a moment longer before leaning close, his lips hovering very near to hers. He closed his eyes. “Speak here the promise of a kiss, to be taken on the morrow,” he said softly.
When Garret began to pull back, Amy embraced his face with her hands and touched her lips to his. “I freely give it now, that you might have the promise through the cold night,” she whispered against them.
Garret took the promise, and the second and third that she also gave. Then he pulled very slowly back, their lips lingering as their eyes slowly opened to meet the others gaze. “Good evening, sweet muse.”
Amy caressed his face with her hands before lowering them to her side. “Good evening, poet mine.”
Renee entered to find Amy sitting content on the couch, softly smiling as she twirled a lock of hair around her finger and read her usual novel. Something about the smile made Renee suspicious. She put the boxes of Chinese food on the bar counter, relieved herself of her shoes, coat, keys, and purse, and dropped down beside Amy with a deep breath.
“So, who did you kill and where’s the body?”
Amy lowered the novel with wide eyes. “Kill? Body? What are you talking about?”
“Yesterday you were moping. This morning you were distracted and still moping. Now? For lack of a better cliché, you look like the cat that ate the canary.”
Amy closed her book and hugged it against her chest. “I have.”
Renee arched an eyebrow. “I am severely creeped out now.”
Amy chuckled and leaned forward to place the book on the coffee table. “Renee, what I’m going to tell you will likely shock you right to death.”
Renee crossed her arms. “Try me.”
“Sir Garret Harrison is coming for dinner tomorrow.”
Renee’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“For one, we’ve set up rehearsal times all of this week. For two, I invited him.”
“Because I would like to get to know him better,” Amy said patiently. “And I think you should too.”
Amy laughed. “Because believe it or not, he’s a nice man. I think you two would get along great, if you gave him half a chance.”
Amy gave Renee’s arm a gentle shove. “If you promise to be nice to him tomorrow, I’ll ask Mark Frasier to stay for dinner too.”
Renee’s arms went fast to her sides as her eyes widened. “The Mark Frasier? You’re kidding!”
Amy shook her head. “Nope.”
Renee pulled Amy into a tight embrace. “Oh my gosh! Mark Frasier!”
Mark didn’t call like he had said he would, but Amy figured he forgot. Men had a tendency to do that. Well, wolfmen anyway, Amy thought with a snigger. Renee was persuaded to go to work, much as she wanted to call in sick so that she could meet and drool over Mark Frasier when he arrived for rehearsal. Amy told Renee there was no guarantee he would show up, because of the fact he didn’t call, and so it would be best if Renee went to work.
Renee pouted the entire way from the apartment.
So Amy was finally left to enjoy her coffee, her morning devotional, and her reading of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, which she had begun to think she would never finish.
The phone on the end table behind her twittered, and Amy smirked as she picked it up. “Good morning, Mark.”
“Hey. How’d you do that?”
“This is about the same time you called me yesterday, only you were supposed to call me last night.”
“Sorry. Nessie and I-- Damn. I mean Vanessa and I went out for a movie.”
“If Gar-- Mr. Harrison catches you two, you’re going to get into a lot of trouble,” Amy teased, knowing full well that Garret couldn’t penalize them. After all, weren’t they doing the same thing?
“Why? Vanessa and I are just friends.”
“So. You were still fraternizing.”
“Nah. We were doing research for the characters in the movie.”
Amy arched an eyebrow, and then she laughed. “Whatever. Are we on or off for rehearsal this morning?”
“Good. Can we go through scene 86? ‘Aeris’ Wood’? Some of the line’s just aren’t clicking.”
“Oh, and Mark?”
“I don’t suppose you’d want to have dinner with me and Renee this evening?”
“Are you kidding? Of course I would!”
Amy laughed. “Don’t say ‘yes’ so fast. Mr. Harrison is invited too.”
“Because we’ve been rehearsing that death scene.” Well, we’re supposed to be rehearsing that death scene, Amy thought with a light smile. “I thought it would be nice to have both of you stay for dinner as a way to thank you for helping me out. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
Mark hemmed and hawed before saying “If he stays out of my face, then I’ll come over.”
“Alright, but you have to promise not to get in his face either. I understand you two have a bit of a bad history, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to be civil.”
Mark grumbled. “Alright, sis.”
Amy chuckled. “Thank you. Now get your butt over here so we can rehearse.”
Mark laughed. “Okay, okay. See you in a bit.”
“And so the shadows of night are banished with such a whisper.”
Amy’s eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled into the phone. She nestled into the corner of the couch, Charles Dickens forgotten as she hugged the novel to her chest. “I will whisper more if you but be forever my knight of shadow.”
Garret chuckled. “Good morning, Amy.”
“Good morning, Garret. Getting ready to start your wild day?”
Garret chuckled again. “Yes, and much as I wish I could say I have called only to hear your voice, I’m afraid such isn’t the case.”
Amy’s smile wavered. “You can’t come to rehearsal or dinner tonight, can you?”
“No. Max has requested my presence at the meeting with the stunt company.”
Amy sighed. “That’s alright, Garret. You are the Executive Producer. I’ve got to expect you to bow out of the not-so-important meetings.”
“My time with you is never considered ‘not-so-important’, Amy. The only reason I have agreed to attend the dinner meeting this evening is due to the fact I know it will likely affect your very life.”
Amy closed her eyes to picture his face, his flowing white hair, his magnificent blue eyes… “Thank you for that,” she said softly.
“Ah,” Garret whispered, “my muse sighs and I am content.”
Amy chuckled as she opened her eyes. “Come, come, sweet poet, give your muse rest.”
“What rest does she need whom controls the singing of my very spirit?”
Amy’s eyes twinkled. “Sing, then, that your muse might relive your presence while you are so far distant.”
Garret released a deep breath. “Much as I wish I could, Amy, I’m afraid I must go.”
Amy nodded with a sad smile. “I know. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
There was a moment of silence. “Amy, tell me that you will miss me.”
Amy’s eyes misted. “I’ll miss you, Garret.”
“No, softest and truest muse. Tell me.”
Amy sighed as she closed her eyes. “Sweet poet, my world will be gray until once again your voice is present to color my sky. Return swift, that the delicate petals of my soul might again embrace you to the heart you hold within the palm of your gentleness.” Amy’s voice cracked, and she sniffed. “I fear I die if your return be tardy even one breath. So please, sweet sweet poet, tarry not in the presence of damsels and dragons.”
“Surely I cannot tarry when my soul and heart are held captive within your song and warmth. Be assured, sweet muse. Fare thee well.”
“Nay. Say not so. I beg of thee, sweet poet, bid me ‘until our dreams’, for I shall surely seek you there.”
“If so doing gives comfort… until our dreams, dearest muse.”
Amy replaced the receiver with a deep sigh. “Until our dreams,” she whispered.
knock knock knock
Amy opened the door with a smile that faded into a surprised blink. “M-Ms. Heron!”
Ms. Vanessa Heron smiled a genuine greeting as she gracefully motioned to Mark beside her. “I’m afraid I begged and whined until Mark promised to bring me. I missed our meeting that first day on-set and just had to set it right.”
Amy shook her head. “No, no. It’s fine! Come in. Please.”
Vanessa passed with an air of both refined sophistication and welcoming interest. Her long, dark brunette hair was simply braided, and beneath her long London Fog coat she was dressed in a pair of casual black slacks and a silk blouse of dark blue. To Amy’s delight and surprise, Vanessa Heron seemed as normal as any other person Amy had met.
Mark sent Amy a boyishly guilty smile that clearly said ‘sorry’. Amy waved it away with an expression of ‘don’t worry about it.’ “Can I offer you something? Coffee? Tea? Water?”
Vanessa faced Amy and started slipping out of her coat. Mark made his way over to help, and Amy found the entire scene adorably amusing. “Do you have decaffeinated tea?”
“Better. I have herbal. Would you like some?”
“Yes. That would be wonderful.” Vanessa sat delicately on the couch, still examining the furnishings and the decor as Mark sat close beside her. “Oh Amy, I love your apartment. It feels so much as a home should.”
Mark jerked a quick motion over his shoulder. “And check out her library. You’d love it. She’s got everything you and Garret read.”
“Oh how wonderful,” Vanessa said with smiling eyes. She focused her attention back on Amy, who busily prepared the teapot to put it on the stove. “I understand from Mark that you and Garret have begun rehearsals?”
Amy smirked, but didn’t turn. “Yes, but he’s got a meeting this evening, so we’ll have to postpone until tomorrow.”
“Great. I think we need to work on the ‘Cloud’s Sin’ scene. I can’t remember which scene number it is.”
Vanessa laughed, and the sound was musical and genuine. “Mark, you can’t occupy all of Amy’s time. I have scenes to rehearse with her as well.”
Amy smiled wide as she moved to lean on the bar counter. “There’s only three more days until shooting starts. I don’t think I have enough time to rehearse with everyone.”
“Which majorly sucks because Shepherd’s filming your scenes first. He probably wants to get you out of his hair.”
“Mark,” Vanessa chided. “That wasn’t necessary.”
“It’s the truth, though.”
Amy arched an eyebrow. “Why? What did I do to Mr. Shepherd?”
Vanessa looked from Mark to Amy. Her expression was muted regret. “You weren’t his first choice for Aeris.”
“First choice? She wasn’t even close!”
Vanessa sent an attractive scowl to Mark beside her. “Mark Frasier,” she scolded, “what have I told you about tactless phrases like that?”
Mark ignored the scold as he held her gaze. “It’s the truth, and Amy knows it already.”
“That is beside the point,” Vanessa pressed.
“It’s alright,” Amy said.
Vanessa looked back over to Amy with an apologetic smile. “It’s hardly that, but thank you. I find his tendency to blurt truths his greatest attraction most of the time.”
“Hey. ‘He’ is in the room,” Mark protested half-heartedly.
Vanessa reached over to rest a hand on Mark’s knee as she looked over at him. “Yes, dear,” she said in a clearly patronizing tone.
“Hey now. None of that. You promised.”
Vanessa laughed with a tilting back of her head. Amy smirked. The woman knew exactly what to do to look beautiful. “I’m sorry, Mark.”
Mark moved aside her braid to give her back some gentle rubs. “We’ll have words later,” he told her with a meaningful look.
Vanessa chuckled before looking back over at Amy, who had set herself to work at preparing Vanessa’s tea. “I would love to participate in the readings and rehearsals today, Amy. If you don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t mind,” Amy said as she brought out the tea cup and saucer. She set it on the coaster in front of Vanessa. “I’d love to have you join us. You don’t care, Mark, do you?”
Mark shook his head. “Nope. I just wish she’d have brought her costume.”
Vanessa frowned as she slapped Mark somewhat firmly on the arm. “Mark!”
Mark and Amy laughed.
“For heaven’s sake,” Vanessa complained with fists on hips. “To be ridiculed by you of all people, Mark. You know they cast me as Tifa just to spite me.”
Amy sat on the couch beside Vanessa. “Don’t believe that, Vanessa. Tifa is a wonderfully complex character, and I think you’re the only one who can draw that out onto the screen.”
Vanessa changed her gaze to Amy. “She is complex, that I don’t deny, but a bartender? Why couldn’t they have written her as an innkeeper or an armorer? Instead, I must traipse around in a too-short skirt with a padded bra – that is simply ridiculous in size – and do my best to be taken seriously.” Vanessa sighed deeply as she lowered her head and pinched the bridge of her nose.
Mark gently rubbed her back. “Sorry, Nessie,” he said. His tone clearly conveyed he felt like a jerk.
“Vanessa, it won’t be that horrible,” Amy consoled.
Vanessa sighed again as she lowered her hand. “Yes, I know, but to think the casting might be a plot to sabotage my career… It breaks my heart.”
“Your fans won’t let that happen,” Mark assured her.
“Mr. Harrison won’t either,” Amy added.
Vanessa looked over at Amy with a patient smile. “Amy, Garret is the one who suggested me for this role.”
Amy blinked as shock grabbed her by the throat. “What?”
“Garret and I were intimately involved at one time, he’s quite the charmer you know.” Vanessa raised her hands in a helpless gesture. “I’m afraid I didn’t handle the break-up very well, as in I didn’t word it correctly. I’m sure he went away hurt and insulted. This is his revenge.”
Amy shook her head. “B-But… But I’m sure he wouldn’t do something like that. He wants this movie to be a success as much as the director does. After all, it’s his reputation on the line.”
Vanessa nodded. “I’m not saying that casting me as Tifa will jeopardize the success of the movie. If anything, my name will attract a certain amount of attention from critics. However, in casting me as Tifa, he is assured of attention while slurring my reputation with an unspoken criticism to my personal character.”
“And why do you think he wanted me as Cloud, Amy?” Mark put in. “Cloud’s a puppet controlled by the villain. He doesn’t have a clue about it, either. He’s just a soldier who hurts the people he loves because he’s doing what he’s been designed to do: follow orders.” Mark scoffed. “Garret’s made it painfully obvious he thinks I’m just a robot doing what I have to do to get the money and the attention I want.”
Amy shook her head again, eyes wide. “I don’t… I can’t believe that. He cast the people he knew would do the best in the role. There wasn’t a subversive motive.”
Vanessa smiled. “You’re welcome to give him the shadow of the doubt, Amy. After all, even the invincible Garret Harrison needs that every once and a while. However, I know him too well.”
Amy lowered her gaze to her clenched hands as her mind reeled, her heart nearly drowning under the wave of negative information. I can’t… I can’t believe it. I won’t. Amy shook her head yet again, and she suddenly felt sick to her stomach. Amy stood to her feet just as Vanessa leaned forward to say “Are you all right? You look pale.”
“If you’ll excuse me,” Amy whispered. “I need to take a second.”
Mark and Vanessa exchanged a curious expression. “Did you need for us to leave?” Vanessa asked gently.
“N-No. It’ll only take a minute. I-I just need to be alone.”
Amy went to her room, closing the door softly behind her before turning on her stereo – Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman already cued and ready – and lying back on her bed. She stared at the ceiling of her room with an arm over her forehead, blinking as thought after tenacious thought attacked her view of Garret.
Amy’s throat tightened, squeezing in on itself until she thought it would choke her. Then she closed her eyes and softly cried.
It only took Amy a couple of minutes to cry out her frustration and her initial feelings of shock and disbelief. Then her feelings for Garret and her obsession with seeing the best in people took firm hold of the information and shoved it in the corner for a later conversation with him. Once done, she exited the room, assured the two she felt better, and promptly led the them into rehearsal of shared scenes.
Rehearsal went smoothly, with only a few changes in the wording here and there, and the trio’s chemistry jumped off the page. Vanessa did an awesome job portraying jealousy of Aeris’ obvious attraction to Cloud, and Mark did a spectacular job being ‘concerned’ for both of them. To say the least, Vanessa, Mark, and Amy all had fun.
Then Vanessa reminded Mark of an appointment, Mark bowed out of dinner that evening, and Amy wished them a pleasant good-bye while accepting their promise to return the next day for more rehearsal. Amy leaned against the closed door with a deep breath. Renee would be furious that dinner with Mark Frasier had been cancelled, but Amy wasn’t in the mood. I’ll just have to make it up to her later.
A backstage pass would be the only ticket.
As expected, about the time Garret and Amy would normally begin their rehearsal, Garret called.
“Hello,” Amy greeted, and she could hear the reserved tone in her voice. After all, she didn’t want to start crying over the phone.
“As always, I have arrived too early and have forgotten my PDA.”
Amy reluctantly smiled. “I’m sorry.”
Silence. “Amy, there is no song in your voice,” Garret observed.
Amy traced the pattern of her flannel loungers on her knee, sitting as she was tailor-style on the couch. “Nope.”
“What has happened?” he asked carefully.
Amy cleared her throat. “I would really rather not talk about it over the phone. Not this.”
Silence. “The meeting may go quite late.”
“I know,” she said as she nodded. “Can you stop by afterward anyway? I’ll nap on the couch, that way I’ll hear your knock and you won’t wake Renee.”
“I don’t want to talk about this over the phone. It’s too impersonal.” And Amy’s voice caught in her throat.
Garret released a long breath. “What have I done?” he asked, his voice colored by dread.
Amy shook her head and closed her eyes. “Please, Garret. Just come by later. You deserve that.”
Silence. “Very well.”
“Thank you, Garret,” she whispered.
Silence. Deep breath. “Did rehearsal go well with Mark?”
Amy reluctantly smiled. “It did. He brought Vanessa, so we were able to rehearse the scenes we share. It was a lot of fun. Vanessa is such a wonderful actress.”
“Yes, she is. I am relieved Vanessa accepted the role. I had begun to believe Tifa’s complex character would be doomed to a stereotype of her outward appearance. No one seemed to understand her inner workings.”
Amy blinked, her smile fading. “Yes,” she said slowly, “the death of her mother and father really hit her hard, didn’t it?”
“As did her unrealized attraction and connection to Cloud Strife. So many of those whom auditioned could not see her true nature. They did not understand her history and how that would so completely affect her present.” Garret chuckled. “I do apologize for going on. The role of Tifa caused me no end of frustration. I truly believed I would need to cast Nicole Kidman until I remembered Vanessa’s contract was soon to end. Thanks be to God Vanessa accepted the role. I greatly feared she wouldn’t, due to Tifa’s occupation and unfortunate choice of wardrobe.”
Amy laughed. “I remember. Wasn’t she taking up those issues with the head of wardrobe that first day at the studio?”
Silence. “Yes,” Garret said slowly. Silence. “Amy, there is a bit more song in your tone than before. Should I take that as a sign a bit of your troubled spirit has left?”
Amy closed her eyes with a slight nod and a small, hesitant smile. “A bit. Talking to you has a tendency of doing that.”
Deep breath. “I am glad. You worried me.”
“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “Can you still come by? I won’t keep you out too late. I promise.”
“Of course I will come, Amy.” Silence. “Max is here. I had best go.”
“Thanks for calling, Garret. I needed it.”
Silence. “Amy, there are many things I have done which have pelted my conscience to no end. Please do not judge me too harshly by them.”
Amy wiped a tear away. “Garret, you know I give everyone as many chances as possible,” she said softly. Amy sniffed. “I wouldn’t give you any less.”
Garret chuckled. “Then my soul is safe-- Ah. I have just received the evil eye from Max. Until this evening, sweet muse.”
Amy’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Until this evening, poet mine.”
chuckle beep click
tap tap tap
Amy stretched and gave a slight, sleepy moan.
tap tap tap tap “Amy” came a whisper.
Amy’s eyes snapped open. She sat up, scooting off the couch to hurry to the door. She unlocked the chain and deadbolt and opened the door a little way. Garret smiled a greeting, but he looked tired-- no, he looked exhausted. Eleven o’clock at night, after a day full of meetings and arguments and intense business decisions, he still came.
Amy stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind her. Then she stepped forward and wrapped Garret up in a tight embrace, squeezing her eyes shut as she pressed her cheek against him. Garret released a slow breath and enfolded her within the warmth of his heavyweight wool coat.
“I haven’t been able to focus on a single item of business since our conversation,” he whispered. “Max became quite furious.” Garret chuckled and pushed gently back. “Come, come, sweet muse, tell me now what has troubled your song.”
Amy took hold of Garret’s hand and led him to the wall opposite her apartment. Then she sat on the floor with her back against the wall, tugging him down beside her. “Garret, why did you want Mark to play Cloud Strife?”
Garret examined Amy’s profile in silence before speaking. “To be quite honest, I didn’t. A friend suggested him.”
Amy absently nodded, staring at her bare feet. “Why didn’t you want him?” Garret didn’t answer, so Amy faced him. He had looked away. “It’s because of Vanessa. Right? You wanted to try again with her, didn’t you?”
Garret picket at a non-existent piece of lint from his black slacks. “I did.”
“But they had a history. You didn’t want him getting in the way again.”
Garret straightened the crease. “No. I didn’t.”
“So then why did you?”
Garret released a deep breath and crossed his arms with a slight frown. “Their history was the key.”
“Because of Tifa and Cloud and you.”
Garret nodded as he let out yet another breath.
“You wanted to make sure the chemistry was there.”
He grunted slightly. “He’s a pompous bastard, but he has a talent for action. That and the bloody cameras love him.”
Amy smiled. “You had to eat humble pie all over the place, didn’t you?”
Garret met her gaze, and then his frown melted with a reluctant smile. “To offer this movie the future it deserves? Yes.”
Amy held his gaze with a slight smile, though her eyes glimmered. “I’m sorry, Garret.”
He reached out and caressed her lips. “And for what must you apologize?”
“For doubting you.”
Garret raised an eyebrow. “Doubting me in what?”
Amy looked away. “Your motives for choosing the people you did for the roles they have.”
“I don’t understand.”
Amy nodded. “I know, but that’s alright.” She looked over at him again, and the smile returned. “Thank you for coming by, Garret.”
“Of course,” he said absently, still examining her expression.
“Rehearsal tomorrow?” Amy asked. She watched his face and eyes with a smile, absorbing their beauty and expressiveness as he spoke.
“Yes. I have told Max that I am strictly unavailable. However, dinner may be an impossibility.”
“That’s alright. Maybe breakfast or lunch?”
Garret smiled his most beguiling and flirtatious. “Breakfast would be delightful.”
Amy chuckled. “Be here by 7 am and I will have it waiting for you.”
“You mean I must sleep elsewhere?” Garret asked, shocked.
Amy nodded with a smile. “Unless, of course, you don’t mind sleeping on the couch.”
Garret leaned close, pressing his lips lightly on hers. “Only if you were there with me.”
Amy returned his light kiss before pulling back. “I have my own room,” she told him with a smirk, “and it hasn’t yet had a boy in it.”
Garret chuckled. “One day,” he promised.
“Maybe, but you have to say the magic words.”
Garret chuckled again. Then he looked to his watch. “I had best away, Amy. Morning comes earlier each day.”
He stood and helped her to her feet, taking both hands in his. “Sleep well, sweet muse.”
Amy smiled up at him. “Only should you promise to await me within my dreams, poet mine.”
“Would that I could be there always,” he whispered. He kissed her cheeks. “Good night, Amy.”
Amy kissed him softly on the cheek before he pulled back. “Drive safely, Garret.”
“With the wings of my muse upon my soul? I shall fly.” Garret gave each hand a gentle squeeze before moving toward the elevator. Once inside, he turned and gave a slight bow as the doors closed.
Amy sighed and leaned against the wall.
Amy sighed as she took another bite of her cereal. Renee sat beside her at the bar counter in the kitchenette, pouting. “I didn’t do it on purpose,” Amy said.
“That’s what you always say. You did it to get back at me for something.” Renee played with her cereal for a silent second before plunking down her spoon and facing Amy with a frown. “I can’t believe you cancelled! You knew I wanted to meet Mark Frasier, and you let him slip through your fingers!”
Amy faced her, eyes wide. “I didn’t, Renee! I swear! He just couldn’t do it!”
Renee scoffed as she turned her attention back to her cereal. She plunked her elbow onto the counter and picked up her spoon. “You owe me big, Amy.”
“Why? I didn’t get to have dinner with Mr. Harrison.”
“Yeah, like that’s a loss. He’s probably the one that made it impossible for Mark to come.”
Amy sighed and turned back to her breakfast. “You don’t have to be mean, Renee. You don’t even know him. In fact, you don’t know either of them. Maybe Mark didn’t want to come because he didn’t want to meet another crazy fan.”
“Well that was uncalled for.”
“And so was your crack about—”
Knock Knock Knock
Amy and Renee stared at each other wide-eyed, mid-word. Then Amy looked over her shoulder at the door while Renee leaned to her left to do the same.
Knock Knock Knock
Amy and Renee tumbled off the bar stools, squealing and pushing as they both scrambled up and over and around furniture to get to the door first. Then Amy and Renee both fumbled and fought with the chain and lock, still giggling and protesting when the other supposedly played dirty. Finally, Amy got the door unlocked and opened, shoving Renee out of the way.
Amy blinked up into the amused expression of Garret as he stood with arms crossed and eyebrow raised. “Have I come at a bad time? Or have you finished murdering your roommate?”
Amy smiled. “Hi.”
Renee shoved Amy out of the way. “Cheater,” she complained. Then she faced their guest and blinked. “Aren’t you that Garret Harrison guy Amy was so wild about at the audition?”
Amy met Garret’s glance with a wink as she righted herself from the knickknack table used to rescue her from falling.
“Yes, I am,” he said in his most charming voice. Garret produced a hand. “And who might you be?”
Renee took the hand and gave it a firm shake. “Renee Adams.” She examined Garret’s expression and then, when he had released her hold, she motioned behind her and stepped back. “Come in.”
Garret did, and then he reached out to take Amy’s hand too. “Miss Burke. How are you this morning?”
Amy’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Good. Thank you. Yourself?”
Renee turned away, moving toward the bar counter to pick up their breakfast dishes. Garret used the opportunity to lift her palm to his lips. “Better,” he whispered. Then Garret straightened, releasing Amy’s hand as he said “Very well. Thank you” in a louder voice.
Renee returned from taking their dishes to the sink. “What can we do for you, Mr. Harrison?”
“I had heard from Mr. Frasier that he and Ms. Heron were to have a rehearsal this morning with Miss Burke.” He looked to Amy. “I had hoped to participate, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t mind,” Amy said. “You’re more than welcome. Would you like some breakfast?”
“What is offered?”
“We’ve just had some granola.”
“Coming right up.” Though she couldn’t imagine Sir Garret Harrison eating granola. Amy smiled and headed toward the kitchenette. She noticed, though, that Renee watched the pair with crossed arms and a suspicious expression.
Garret sat beside Renee on the available stool. “So, Miss Adams. What is it that you do?”
“I’m a receptionist.”
Amy set a bowl in front of Garret and then turned to retrieve the carton of granola.
“Yes. Why the shock?” Renee asked, clearly annoyed.
“I do apologize. I forsook you for a model.”
Amy withheld a snigger, wiping her face of all but a simple smile as she turned back to the bar counter and poured out some granola. Garret had just gained about 100 points in his favor.
Renee adjusted her crossed arms after gesturing to Amy for a mug of coffee. “Nope. I don’t have the right connections.”
“Connections? With a physique such as yours? Bah! The agent that told you such was a fool.”
Amy took down a coffee mug.
“If you would be so kind, Miss Burke.”
Amy sent a smile over her shoulder. “Sure thing.” She retrieved mug number two and three. Then she retrieved the creamer and the milk from the fridge. She poured the milk over Garret’s granola and then dipped a spoon into it.
“Many thanks, Miss Burke.”
“Uh-huh.” Amy turned to prepare the coffee once she had returned the milk to the fridge.
“Tell me the name of the agent representing you, and I will personally run him out of business.”
Renee wasn’t sure whether to believe Garret or not. Amy could tell by the way she silently regarded him before speaking. “I don’t remember his name.”
“Then he must not have been a very memorable character. Miss Burke, might I have a little honey for my granola?”
Amy brought the three mugs over, setting them beside the creamer. “Sure.” Then she turned and gathered the honey and the coffee pot. “There you go.”
“Thank you.” Garret spooned some of the honey onto his granola as Amy poured some coffee into each mug. “Miss Adams, allow me three days and I will have you a modeling position for Allure or Vogue. Have you a portfolio?”
Amy’s eyes twinkled. Garret had just hit a homerun, and Renee would likely offer to have his children.
“I haven’t updated it recently,” Renee said, dazed.
“I will have a photographer give you a call to set up an appointment to do so, if that is acceptable?”
Renee didn’t say a word. Amy chuckled. “Just say ‘yes’, Renee.”
“Yes.” But Renee’s tone made Amy doubt if Renee believed she’d said anything at all.
Garret smiled. “Excellent. I would suggest that you give your employer notice. I doubt you will be working there much longer.”
“I will,” Renee said, still dazed. “Thank you.”
Amy pushed a mug of coffee toward Renee. “Renee, you better drink this in a hurry. Or you’re going to be late.”
“…Late? Late!” Renee stood to her feet and rushed to the door, coffee forgotten as she grabbed her purse and keys and coat. “See you later, Amy!” she called as she did. Then she froze with her hand on the doorknob. Renee turned and looked at Garret. “Thank you, Mr. Harrison. I appreciate it.”
Garret smiled, lifting his coffee mug toward her in a salute. “Don’t mention it, Miss Adams. My pleasure.”
Renee smiled, which brightened her entire face, and then turned to leave the apartment. Amy leaned her arms against the counter across from Garret, eyes twinkling as she watched his face. Garret faced her, watching her over his cup of coffee as he took a sip.
“You didn’t really think she was a model, did you?”
One side of Garret’s lips lifted as he set down his coffee mug and again stirred his granola. “Come, come, Miss Burke. You don’t trust me?”
“Oh I trust you, I just don’t believe you.”
Garret chuckled and then took a bite of his granola.
Amy sniggered when a drop of milk lingered on his chin. She wiped it away. “What am I going to do with you?” she asked.
Garret gathered another spoonful of granola as he watched her face with the ever-recognizable smile of flirtatious possibilities. “I could offer a list of suggestions.”
Amy laughed. “Eat your granola. I’ll just watch you and enjoy my coffee.”
Amy did watch him eat his granola, but as she talked about her life in Illinois and her dream fulfilled of studying drama at N.Y.U.. She relived anecdotes of rained-out monologue performances in the park, of midnight adventures performing various works on the sidewalk with her friends, and of less-than-popular plays performed at run-down performance halls that had been the best experiences of her life. She laughed over stories of impetuousness involving her brother, which had always resulted in a week’s worth of grounding and extra chores, and of Christmas dinners and Thanksgiving lunches when her entire family would travel to reunions.
Garret listened to all with a continual, lopsided smile as he finished his granola and watched her varying expressions. Then he took up his coffee and listened more, chuckling here and there but offering neither comment nor question. Then he finished his coffee and stood, bringing his dirty dishes around and placing them in the sink as Amy told of her first experience of the subway, of getting lost when she tried to transfer, and of having to spend the night in a strange hotel because of it.
Then Garret stepped up to her, placed a hand on the counter on either side of her as she smiled up at him, and leaned in close while not saying a word.
“I wouldn’t recommend kissing me,” Amy said with a mischievous twinkle. “I’ve got granola in my teeth and coffee on my breath.”
“A kiss can be placed in a multitude of areas with much the same affect,” Garret said quietly.
Amy’s smile faded, and she swallowed hard. “Yes, I suppose it can,” she whispered.
Garret’s lips twitched. Then he pulled back, taking her hands in his. “While I would very much enjoy the prospect, I believe I will do my best to behave this morning.”
Amy released a deep breath. “Thank you.” She gave his hands a couple of squeezes as the smile slowly returned. “You know what? I can totally see you and Vanessa as a couple. You and her probably did this same exact routine each morning. Except she probably sang love songs to you – she’s a wonderful soprano – and you probably quoted monologues and sonnets to her.”
Garret’s smile faded to nothing as he stared down at their clasped hands. He cleared his throat. “Yes, well, in retrospect, Vanessa and my relationship was mainly physical. There was the initial romance and pursuit of course…” Garret turned Amy’s hands over to stare down at the palms. The action seemed a little self-conscious. “I believe we both may have been a bit too eager to experience the other.”
Amy softly smiled as she watched his inward examination of his past history with the women of his life. “Oh no,” she said quietly. “I’ve given you a guilty conscience.”
Garret reluctantly smiled as he met her gaze. “Our relationship is so very far removed from what my others have been, which causes me to look back with a bit more intensity than I should. I suppose due to the fact ours is so much more… satisfying.”
Amy’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “That just earned you a bunch of brownie points, Mr. Harrison.”
Garret laughed. “And what might I purchase with said ‘brownie points’, Miss Burke?”
“A poem left on your voice mail? A bunch of flowers delivered to a meeting?” Amy asked with a twinkle.
“What? No romantic evening of caresses?”
While Amy’s cheeks did color a bit pinker than normal, she simply continued to smile. “Sorry. Not on the list. It will take a little more than a statement, lovely as it may have been, to get that.”
Garret chuckled as he pulled her slightly closer to place a kiss on her cheek. “How came you to be so pure in a society such as ours, Miss Burke?” He stared down at her with a slight smile. “Do you not know the truest display of affection is a night spent in the arms of a lover?”
Amy’s smile twitched. “And why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Garret raised an eyebrow. Amy laughed. “Oh come on, surely you’ve heard the expression before?”
“I can safely assure you I haven’t.”
Amy chuckled with a shake of her head before again meeting his gaze. “You understand what it means, though, right?”
Garret’s lips twitched. “I have a vague inkling.”
“Well, Mr. Harrison, this jersey cow wants to be bought and paid for before releasing her milk to anyone, no matter how rich or charming or wonderful he may be.” Amy smiled up into his amused expression for a little bit, but then her smile faded and her gaze drifted to the button on his royal blue Polo shirt. She released his hands to pick at it. “I’m a romantic, I always have been, and this romantic doesn’t want to give up her virginity until she finds the right knight on his shining white steed.”
Garret blinked, staring down at her in silence before taking her hands in his. “Amy, you are… You have never been with a man?”
Amy’s lips were tickled with a smile as she slightly shook her head. “Nope. My own choice, too.” She looked up, her smile widening when she saw the shocked expression in his expression. “Yeah. I guess I should expect that reaction. You don’t get that much around here I bet.”
“Haven’t you ever been in love?” he pressed.
Amy chuckled. “Of course I’ve been in love, Garret.”
“Why not have sex with him?” Amy smiled softened as she held Garret’s gaze. “Garret, sharing that part of myself with a man… that really means something. I don’t want to give that to a man who isn’t as devoted to me as I am to him.”
“So you have never been in a long relationship?”
Amy’s smile twitched. “I didn’t say that. Just because we last more than 3, 6, or 12 months doesn’t mean I should have an intimate relationship with him.” Amy suddenly chuckled. “I’m sorry. I feel like I’m lecturing you.”
Garret shook his head. “No, Amy. I want to understand. No one has ever thought that much of their future…”
Amy’s eyes twinkled. “Husband?” Garret nodded and Amy continued. “I wouldn’t say that. They just haven’t been raised with the same view of a sexual relationship that I have. My parents are staunch Baptists, you know. While I’m not nearly as conservative as they are on relationships and what is and is not acceptable, I do draw the line at certain points. Sex being one of them.”
Amy regarded his expression for a second. “Let me ask you a question. Think back to your reaction when I told you I’m a virgin. Now, imagine finding that out on your wedding night.” Amy watched as he processed the information. He blinked, and Amy’s smile widened. “See? Makes you feel pretty wonderful that she saved herself for you, huh?”
Garret intensely examined Amy’s face and eyes and expression before lowering his gaze to their clasped hands. He released them and took a step back from her.
Amy’s smile faded. “Garret? What’s the matter?”
Garret lifted his eyes to meet her concerned expression. His was guarded and serious. “Do you realize how many women I have been with?”
Amy shook her head. “No, and it doesn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t matter?” he asked, incredulous. “Amy, how can that fact not matter?”
“It doesn’t matter because that isn’t who you are,” she said simply. “That isn’t why I enjoy spending time with you. That isn’t why I care about you.”
“Garret, do you really think I didn’t already know you weren’t a virgin? Abstinence is accepted, sure, but it isn’t widely practiced. I know that.” Amy gestured to the front door. “Renee isn’t a virgin either. Does that make her not my friend? No. We just have different views on things. She thinks sex is part of the normal boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. I don’t.” Amy shrugged. “Who cares? I love her anyway.”
Amy motioned to Garret standing across from her. “You’ve had sex with women throughout your career. It was a choice you were fine with. A choice that you still consider. Alright. It happens. I don’t care about you any less.”
“Our lovemaking won’t be as special—”
“Garret, why even worry about it?” Amy asked, arms outstretched. “We’re building a friendship and a relationship right now. We’re not planning a wedding. We’re getting to know each other. We’re finding out what makes the other tick. We’re seeing the good and the bad and dealing with it while asking ourselves if we want to take another step forward. I know about your past, and I don’t care…”
Amy wrinkled her nose, lowering her arms to her sides. “Well, some things annoy me, but we’ll deal with that little by little. I like you. I want to get to know you better, and I want to tell you all about me. I don’t worry about how special our first night together will be because, you know what, if we do share a night together it will be after I’ve said ‘I do’. To me, that will make the moment special.”
Garret stared at Amy with a somewhat dazed and astonished expression.
Amy smiled and stepped up to him, taking his hands in hers to give them a squeeze. “Stop trying to be Executive Producer of your life, and just live it a day at a time.”
Garret’s facial expression relaxed into a slight smile that warmed his eyes. He released her hands and cupped her face. “The attraction I feel for you, sweet muse, will surely drive me mad.”
Amy’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Just don’t kiss me. I’m telling you I’ve got bad coffee breath.”
Garret chuckled. “What do I care of that?” he whispered as his lips lightly touched hers. “So do I.”
“Just warning you,” she sighed. Amy pressed one, two, three more gentle kisses against his lips before pulling his hands from her face and holding his gaze. “So… Are you alright?”
Garret’s lips twitched. “A trifle dazed, but yes. I believe I will survive.”
Amy smiled. “Don’t you worry about this anymore either. If you do, talk to me about it. Okay? I’m serious.”
He brushed a lock of her long hair behind her ear as his eyes traveled her entire face, his lips lifted in a smile. “Banish the worry with another taste of your honey, sweet muse.”
Amy chuckled and then touched each side of his lips with hers before placing a slightly more intense one on his mouth. Garret’s lips responded to the intensity with a welcome touch of passion and gentleness. As before, Amy hadn’t ever been kissed like that before. That difference and intensity spoke to her… but then his hold on her arms tightened, drawing her closer, and Amy forced herself to pull away. She clearly felt his resistance. It mirrored her own.
Amy cleared her throat and held his gaze. “I’m sorry, Garret,” she said unevenly. “I shouldn’t have kissed you like that. It feels way to good, and we both know it leads to something more.”
Garret cleared his throat as well, lowering his hands from her arms as he gave a slight nod. “Yes,” he said in a gruff voice.
Amy looked down at her watch. “I think we have about 45 minutes before Vanessa and Mark get here.” She looked up again and motioned over her shoulder to the door. “Let’s go take a walk. I think the cold air would do us a lot of good.”
Garret nodded again. “Yes, I believe it would.”
They gathered their coats and keys and made their way from the apartment. Amy locked the door behind them and then faced Garret to give him a smile as she tucked her keys into the pocket of her coat. They headed toward the elevator. Once inside, Amy noticed that Garret stood carefully away from her.
Amy smiled. “It is a little cozy in here, isn’t it?”
Garret’s eyes met her gaze. He reluctantly smiled. “Much as the knowledge will shock, I have an… intimate knowledge of what is and is not plausible to accomplish within a lift.”
Amy’s jaw dropped. “Garret Harrison,” she breathed.
Garret cleared his throat and clenched his hands behind his back. “Be careful, Amy. I may take your expression of disbelief as a dare to prove what I say.”
Amy shook her head. “Please don’t. I just can’t believe… in the elevator? What about the other people in the building? What if they’d stopped it?”
Garret lightly rubbed at his temple. “Such was the… attraction of the…” He cleared his throat.
Amy blinked, eyes still wide. “Garret Harrison,” she breathed again.
Garret laughed as he looked over at her. “Do not judge me so harshly, Miss Burke. Perhaps one day I will have my way with you in a lift?”
Amy’s eyes crinkled as she smiled. “Don’t be so sure you won’t be the one shocked, Mr. Harrison.”
Garret laughed again, taking a step toward her just as the elevator dinged and opened its doors. “Saved by the bell,” he whispered.
Amy’s lips twitched before she turned and exited. Garret fell into step beside her as they made their way toward the front exit. “If Executive Producer Harrison finds out about us, we’re going to get into a lot of trouble. You know about his ‘no fraternizing’ rule, right?”
Garret chuckled. “I had heard some mention of it.”
“Maybe we should confess and take our punishment?”
“Perhaps he will revoke the rule?”
Amy looked over at Garret with a bright smile as they exited her apartment building and turned left toward the park. “You think he would?”
“I doubt the rule referred to him in the first place.”
Amy laughed. Then she put on a serious if reproachful expression. “Well that isn’t very fair. We should talk to him about that.”
“I will make an appointment as soon as rehearsal is finished.”
“Really?” Amy asked as she turned twinkling eyes to meet his gaze. “You’d risk his wrath for me?”
“Especially for you.”
“How sweet.” Amy wrapped an arm around Garret’s as she changed her gaze to the sidewalk at their feet. “Joking aside, Garret…” She released a deep breath. “I can’t believe this is happening. It seems like we’ve known each other forever.”
“Yes, it does.” His voice was soft and thoughtful.
Amy remained silent for a moment, thinking of all that Renee had said so many days before. “Garret, you know that I’m not looking for a ring, right?”
Garret remained quiet.
Amy looked over at him. He watched her. Amy reluctantly smiled. “Kind of an odd statement for me to say, huh?” She looked away again. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t be thrilled if you offered, I’m just…” Amy grimaced. “Geez. It’s Renee’s fault. She said that you’d take off the minute I got clingy, or the rehearsals ended. She said you like your women ‘disposable’, and like an idiot I’ve started to let that bother me.” Amy shook her head. “Gossip. I hate it.”
“Amy,” Garret said softly, “Vanessa broke off our relationship when I proposed.”
Amy looked up sharply, halting their progress to the crosswalk that led to the park. “What?”
He held Amy’s amazed gaze. “I asked Vanessa to marry me. I fancied myself in love with her, believing she felt the same. I did not realize she had been seeing Mark Frasier during our relationship. When I proposed, she looked quite taken aback. Shocked, for lack of a better word. She explained that she wasn’t ready for marriage, apologized that I had believed otherwise, and said she felt it would be wise if we didn’t see one another once the play finished. After our finale performance, I didn’t.”
Amy blinked up at Garret in stunned silence for several seconds before smiling. “Do you have any idea how wonderful that makes me feel?”
Garret raised an eyebrow. “Wonderful?”
Amy giggled and stepped into the folds of his wool coat to give him a firm embrace. “You believe in marriage.”
Garret chuckled. “And that is the first time I have heard you sound such a charming laugh.” He returned her embrace before pushing back and caressing some hair from her face. “Come, come. Surely you didn’t believe me to be such a rogue as to not wish to marry one day.”
Amy gave a one-shoulder shrug. “It happens.”
Garret smiled with a slight nod. “Yes. I suppose it does. I should also admit that many of the ladies I have wooed have hoped for a ring only to receive a letter and a bushel of flowers bidding them adieu. Unfortunately, they were relief from the boredom.”
Garret stared down into Amy’s quietly smiling face, brushing yet more hair from her cheeks and forehead. Then he caressed her lips with his thumb. “Yes, Amy. I believe in marriage. And yes, I know you are not hunting me for a ring. You simply desire a discovery of Garret Harrison.” He shook his head and kissed her cheek. “Continue the search,” he whispered, “lest I be lost.”
Amy looked at her watch and then sent Garret a smile. “Finally. Only 30 minutes late.” She stood and moved toward the front door. “You’ll have to be leaving soon, right?”
“Unfortunately I only have until ten.”
“I guess that gives us enough time to run through the ‘Cloud’s Sin’ scene. We might be able to run through the ‘Aeris’ Wood’ scene, too. If that’s alright?” Amy opened the door with a smile at Vanessa and Mark. “Hey you guys. I expected you earlier.”
“Sorry,” Mark grumbled as he entered the apartment. “Traffic.”
Vanessa followed. “I could use some tea, Amy,” she said.
“Sure.” And Amy headed for the kitchenette.
Mark and Vanessa looked from Amy to the couch and stared.
Garret raised his gaze from a scrutiny of his script and gave each a nod and a slight smile. “Mark. Vanessa. Good morning.”
Mark didn’t say anything. He only frowned. Vanessa, however, moved forward to offer Garret a welcoming smile as she sat beside him. “Good morning, Garret. What a pleasant surprise. How are you?”
Garret’s expression didn’t change from the slight smile of before. “Very well thank you, Vanessa.”
Amy set the water to boil for the tea, noticing with a raised eyebrow that he didn’t ask how Vanessa was doing.
Vanessa took it in stride. “I hope all is going smoothly regarding filming schedules.”
“There haven’t been any unalterable mishaps, no.”
Mark moved toward the couch to sit on the far end. He still didn’t say anything.
“Mark?” Amy asked from the kitchen. “Did you want a soda or something?”
Amy raised an eyebrow. Then she grimaced. This is ridiculous. She came around and sat on one of the bench stools, resting her feet on the bottom rungs as she leaned back against the counter. Amy met Garret’s gaze and sent him as meaningful an expression as she could manage. One that she hoped clearly said, ‘you’re not being very helpful to the situation’.
Garret lowered his gaze to the script. Amy briefly frowned. Fine. I’ll do it myself. “Vanessa, Mr. Harrison and I were talking the other day about you and Mark’s roles in the movie.”
Vanessa, Mark, and Garret all looked over at her. Garret raised an eyebrow. Vanessa looked surprised. Mark looked suspicious.
“Oh?” Vanessa asked.
Amy looked over at Garret. “Mr. Harrison? Did you want to tell her what you said? I wouldn’t want to put words in your mouth.”
One side of Garret’s lips twitched upward as Vanessa looked over at him. Garret met her gaze. “Miss Burke had mentioned that she enjoyed the opportunity to rehearse with you the other day, telling me also that she was glad you had been chosen to play ‘Tifa Lockhart’. I made the comment that I had specifically chosen you for the role due to your ability to bring out the intensity and depth of the character, which was so often overlooked by those others that auditioned.” Garret gauged Vanessa’s slightly startled expression. “Has there been confusion as to why I suggested you for the role?”
Vanessa recovered quickly enough, sending Garret a reassuring smile. “No, of course not.”
Amy rolled her eyes. Garret caught the expression. “Are you certain, Vanessa? I don’t wish for you to believe I cast you for any reason other than your exceptional talent.”
At that, Vanessa seemed to get a little flustered and self-consciously said “Of course I wouldn’t, Garret.”
Mark noticed her discomfiture, and Amy could see his hackles rise. She sent Garret a meaningful look, sending her gaze quickly to the back of Mark’s head.
Garret looked to Mark. “Mark, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had doubts as to my reasons for casting you. We haven’t ever been anything but pleasant enemies, have we?”
Amy gnawed her lower lip, sending an expression of ‘Be careful’ to Garret. He intercepted it smoothly enough.
“I have never sought to be subtle regarding my belief that you’re a pompous ass, but that has nothing to do with your position as ‘Cloud Strife’. You’ve an exceptional talent when it comes to action films, Mark,” Garret said as he set aside his script, “and that is what I wanted for this movie. That and you have a previous – or perhaps continuing – relationship with Vanessa that will add to the chemistry felt on stage. Or rather on screen.” Garret looked up. “There is also the fact that I don’t like you. That chemistry is also important for this movie, making it easier for your character to be believed in his obsessive hatred of Sephiroth.”
“And why should we believe you?” Mark asked darkly.
Garret clenched his jaw. “You can believe or disbelieve what I have said, Mark. It matters little to me. I have simply set the record straight. Now, I have limited time before I must be off to a meeting scheduled at ten. Miss Burke had hoped to rehearse certain scenes, if you are up to the task?”
Amy sent Garret a ‘Don’t be a jerk’ expression as she stood from the barstool to rescue the boiling water from the stove.
“I apologize.” Amy heard Garret say. “That last quip was uncalled for.”
Mark’s only response was silence.
“Garret? Did you want some tea?” Amy grimaced. Crap! I just called… oh well.
Silence. “Yes, please.”
Amy brought down a second cup and saucer, all the while shaking her head and scolding herself for making a big deal about it. If Mark or Vanessa noticed, they noticed. “Give me a couple minutes, you guys, and I’ll be out. If someone knows the cue line, they could start.”
Then Mark muttered “Why the hell not?” and spoke the opening line of the scene. “‘That’s the Black Materia…’“
Garret left a little before ten in order to make it to his meeting at a restaurant a little ways down the street. Amy escorted him to the door with a pleasant “Thank you for coming, Mr. Harrison. Have a nice meeting.”
To which he responded “Thank you, Miss Burke. Good day.”
Then, when Amy went back into the living room, she noticed that Garret had left his wool jacket on the back of the couch, so Amy had to hurry after him. She caught him by the elevator doors, holding out his wool coat with a smile that accused him of doing it on purpose. Garret drew her and the wool coat into the elevator with him just as the doors closed.
He pulled her close, wrapping her up in the wool coat so that she couldn’t escape. He looked down into her face with a slight smile. “You were superb. In the scene as well as in so adeptly showing the personal conflict Mark and Vanessa had with their roles. Thank you.”
Amy smiled. “I thought you would want to know.”
Garret glanced up at the floor indicator for the elevator. “Hm. Not nearly enough time. Ah well.” He looked back down to her, and his smile twitched upward. “Bestow upon me a touch of your warmth, sweet muse, that I might remember your presence here so close and tender.”
“Take what you will, poet mine, that you might never feel the chill of my absence.”
Garret pressed his lips gently against hers… again… and again… and then again before lifting his head and caressing her cheeks and eyes with his lips. “Amy, Amy, Amy…” he whispered as he pressed his lips against her throat. “Never cease captivating my mind and heart. Never cease being true to that self I find so intoxicatingly unique.”
Amy pressed her lips against his soft and warm skin, squeezing her eyes shut tight in an effort to hold back the tears. “I promise.”
Garret pulled back, sent a quick glance to the floor indicator, and then kissed her again. “Until our dreams,” he whispered in a rough voice as he stepped back.
Amy nodded slowly as she watched him shrug into his wool coat. Then the elevator doors were opening and he stepped toward the exit. “I love you, sweet muse,” Garret whispered as he passed.
Amy blinked after him, the elevator doors closing off any response. She leaned back against the elevator wall with a deep breath.
When Amy arrived back at her apartment, Mark and Vanessa were talking intensely amongst themselves. They looked up at her entrance. She smiled and motioned over her shoulder. “He had already made it to the elevator. I had to go down.”
Mark stood, and his frown clearly showed he was upset. “Why’d you tell him what we told you, Amy? Geez!”
Amy blinked. “I didn’t. I simply asked him why he cast you as ‘Cloud’.” Amy looked to Vanessa. “I didn’t even ask him about you. He volunteered it, and that was before I asked about Mark.”
Vanessa changed her gaze to her hands, which tinkered with the hem of her dark rose blouse.
Amy looked to each of their faces. “You don’t believe him, do you?”
“And you do?” Mark scoffed. “I knew he was a good actor, but he—” Mark swore.
“That was uncalled for,” Amy said as she arched an eyebrow and crossed her arms. “I’m a lot of things, Mark, but I’m definitely not gullible. I’ve seen and experienced my fair share of smooth-talkers, liars, and con-men.”
Mark opened his mouth for a retort
“Don’t even go there. I have both feet firmly planted on the ground, thank you very much, and he hasn’t been in my pants, skirts, shorts, or sheets.”
Vanessa raised her gaze from her hands. “Amy, are you sure he hasn’t manipulated you?”
Amy bit back a retort and said “I’m not sure of anything, Vanessa, but you said I was more than welcome to give him the benefit of the doubt. So, I am. And I don’t think it’s asking too much for you to do the same thing.”
Vanessa looked over at Mark. “Mark?”
Mark threw up his hands. “What the hell.”
The last days of rehearsal went by too fast for Amy.
Garret continued to stop by at or near seven in the morning to share breakfast with Amy and Renee, proving to Renee that he wasn’t a ‘tight-ass’ at all. Just a workaholic as Amy had suggested for so long. Renee kept Garret up-to-date on her portfolio revision and on the find of her new photographer and agent. Garret promised to spread the word of his inside track to the ‘newest and freshest face’ in modern modeling, thereby assuring her of continually growing interest until her agent was ready to act. Renee was thrilled. Amy was relieved. Garret was amused.
Then Renee would rush out the door to work, excited to be at last trapped within her dream of modeling, and leave the two to a continued discovery of the other. Garret began to share stories and anecdotes hesitantly at first, and then with more ease as he saw Amy’s interest and answered her eager questions. He confessed to adventures in London with neighborhood boys, often ending in being chased by the ‘constable’. He described school productions of A Midsummer’s Night Dream or Romeo and Juliet that had Amy wishing she could have been there. Then Garret would perform select scenes from them, thereby giving Amy a small taste of who Garret Harrison was.
Amy loved it.
Garret wove tales of independent productions that caught public attention; his acceptance into the Royal Shakespeare Company; performances in front of royalty; and an eventual interest in the big screen that brought him at first to Los Angeles and then to New York and Broadway. Which of course led to a reminiscence of Broadway productions, ones where Garret had performed the starring role while Amy had watched awestruck. Garret would ask if she had seen a particular production, and most often Amy would enthusiastically reply ‘yes’ and then give a detailed account and synopsis of her favorite scenes, thereby encouraging Garret to do the same.
Oftentimes the reminiscing led to an attempt at acting out their favorite scenes, Amy doing her best to recall the lines of those roles opposite Garret while he did his best to prompt her. The two would often laugh so hard that they couldn’t do anything but gesture the lines. Then they would surrender the attempt and go back to the couch to sip their coffee and begin another visit to memory.
Mark and Vanessa never asked how much earlier Garret arrived at Amy’s apartment. Amy wouldn’t have lied to them if they had asked, and she requested that Garret be honest as well. Luckily, Mark and Vanessa never inquired about the pair’s growing relationship. Instead, all focus was on the scenes in the first act, honing and tightening them until Garret was certain they would enthrall the audience.
Then the rehearsal week was over, the weekend was coming to a close, and Amy was setting her alarm for the early arrival at the studio the next morning. Nervousness and anxiety battled with eagerness and anticipation at the prospect, scaring sleep right out of the picture. Then of course there was the knowledge that she would be receiving tutoring and choreography instruction for the final scene in Act I. Her death. Garret assured her that he had gone over the plans and possibilities too numerous to count. He had also told her it would be easier then a few Broadway stunts he had done.
That had relieved Amy’s mind more than anything else.
So Amy bid Renee goodbye, finding it very funny that now Renee was left at home alone, and then made her way out to the bus stop. The bus ride, as usual, was quite the experience with people. Amy enjoyed it, snickering here and there at the funny things people said in response to bus driver quips aimed at the other drivers’ tactics at cutting him off. Then Amy was dropped off at the studio lot and heading toward the security booth.
Amy wasn’t sure if she should be happy or annoyed that the same man as before stood guard.
“Amy Burke.” And she went about the duty of freeing her ID from its specific pocket within her purse.
“You’re not on the list.”
Amy blinked and then looked up. “What? Give me that.” She swiped the list from him before he could protest. “Oh for pete’s sake! This is ridiculous! How am I supposed to get any work done if they don’t put me on the list to get in in the first place!” Amy shoved the list back at the guard. “Can I use your phone please?” she asked, frowning.
“Sorry. Not allowed.”
“What? How am… Oh forget it.” Amy heard a car door shut. She turned, and her face brightened. Garret looked spectacular dressed in his charcoal silk slacks, cashmere vest of the same color, and antique-white Perry Ellis dress shirt with a gray silk tie. Amy moved toward him. “Good morning, Mr. Harrison.”
Garret smiled. “Miss Burke. What a pleasant surprise.” He came to stand opposite her, and his smile faded to a concerned expression. “What has happened?”
Amy gave an exasperated sigh as she motioned over her shoulder. “You won’t believe this. I’m not on the list.”
“How can that be possible? Shooting schedules begin this morning.”
Amy nodded. “I know, but I’m not on the list.”
“Well this is very odd, I must say.” Garret smiled. “Come. Let us see what can be done, shall we?”
“He’s not a very sociable fellow,” Amy warned as she fell into step beside Garret.
“Yes, well I pay his salary.” The pair came to stand opposite the security guard, who didn’t seem to be at all impressed with Garret’s role as Executive Producer. “Good morning. Might I see the list?” The security guard handed it over. “Thank you.” Garret searched each page before looking up and slightly raising the clipboard. “This is an incomplete list.”
The guard blinked. “What do you mean?”
“There is no mention of those scenes scheduled for shooting in Studio 10. Where are the remaining names?”
The guard shrugged. “That’s all I’ve been given.”
Garret raised an eyebrow as he handed the clipboard back to the guard. “How odd.” He retrieved his phone and pressed a number. “…Max, we seem to have a misunderstanding at Gate 12…. Yes…. Studio 10’s schedule isn’t among them…. I see…. No, that won’t do at all…. Can you fax it?… Thank you.” Garret disconnected the call and gestured behind the man to the compact fax within the booth. “A fax holding the remaining names should come through shortly.” Then Garret motioned for Amy to precede him through the gate. “Miss Burke. After you.”
Amy sent the guard an uncertain look. “Are you going to let me go through?” she asked him. “Or should I get my mace out?”
The guard pressed his lips together and frowned. “Go on. Git.”
“Gee. Thank you so much.” Amy followed beside Garret with an exasperated breath and a shake of her head. “Someone should sell him some personality.”
“Nonsense. Shane is our best asset. He simply takes his duties a bit more seriously than what others appreciate.”
Amy smiled. Then it faded as she sent a quick glance over her shoulder. To her surprise, no one was around. She stopped Garret with a gentle hold on his arm and took his hands in hers as she smiled up at him. “Do you realize you just arrived in your shining white horseless carriage and rescued me?”
Garret’s lips twitched upward. “Did I? It was quite unintentional.”
Amy’s crinkled at the corners. “Unintentional or not, the knight always gets a kiss.”
Garret brought each hand up to his lips. “Unfortunately, sweet muse, I would rather not take the risk. My reputation would taint yours.”
Amy released a hand and caressed his cheek. “I don’t care about that, but it makes me feel nice that you do.”
Garret took her hand and kissed the palm. “Come, sweet. Max and the men from the stunt company wait for us.”
Amy smiled and reluctantly released his hands. They started forward to Studio 10 again. “Will you be coming over for dinner this evening? I was going to make lasagna.”
“I will do my best to arrange my schedule, Amy. What time?”
“Seven. If you need it later, just let me know. Or I could bring it here, if you’re working in your office.”
Garret reached out to briefly caress Amy’s hand. “Thank you, sweet, but that wouldn’t be wise. The tabloids would eagerly put their own story to the innocent meeting.”
Amy looked over to meet Garret’s gaze. “Garret, when this movie is over, will you come with me to Illinois? I want you to meet my parents. They’d love to meet you, I’m sure, and you could use a vacation.”
Garret smiled. “The invitation is appreciated.”
Amy smirked. “But how plausible is it?”
“That depends on how tenacious I want to be with my schedule.” Garret touched her hand again. “And where you are concerned, sweet, I am always tenacious.”
Amy chuckled. “Good. I’m glad you’ll at least try. I think you’ll have fun. It’s not Chicago, but Aspen Grove is a really nice place.”
“It sounds delightful.”
“Especially since it only has a population of 1500.”
Garret chuckled. “This I must see.”
Amy smiled up at him. “Believe me, if you go I’ll show you each and every square inch of it.”
Garret stopped outside of the door leading into Studio 10. “Do I have your word on that?” he asked with a smirk.
Amy nodded, still smiling. “You certainly do.”
Garret stared down into her face for a long moment before placing a kiss on her lips. “Then my schedule be damned.”
Rehearsal, choreography, and scene shooting went as smooth as silk… for the most part.
The choreography for the death scene made Amy nervous at first. Then Garret and Mark both gave her an encouraging pep talk, telling her that as long as she took it one step at a time, the flow would come eventually. Amy gave it her all. She listened intensely to what each stunt choreographer had to say, asked questions if she wasn’t sure she understood, and then demonstrated what she believed they wanted. All in all, Amy picked it up fast.
Garret would, luckily, have the most difficult portion of the stunt planned. The scene constituted the villain, Sephiroth, to descend from what seemed a great height with his sword drawn. Upon his descent, he would then pierce Aeris Gainsborough’s character with the sword, she hanging suspended from the slightly curved blade until he withdrew it from her person. Then she would fall forward and Cloud would, of course, mourn and argue with Sephiroth before the villain vanished and Aeris was laid to rest in the water surrounding the altar.
Garret would wear a harness that would control his descent and speed. The sword would show only as an empty haft and pommel, as the blade would be rendered in the later editing of the film. The most difficult and dangerous portion of the stunt would be as Garret descended. If the harness gave way, or even the arm that controlled his fall, either he or Amy could be seriously injured from the fall and the resulting impact. Max assured both that the harness and the arm that would hold Garret suspended would be thoroughly checked and re-checked before the scheduled shot.
Shooting the scenes scheduled for that day was fun after the stress and concentration of the stunts. Garret’s scenes with Amy weren’t scheduled until later in the week, so he left shortly after the choreography of the death scene had come to a close. Amy and he had exchanged slight smiles and nothing more. Amy didn’t have a problem with the less-than-romantic parting because she’d planned on calling his cell phone later to leave a romantic message on his voice mail. There was no telling how stressful his day would be, and she reasoned that anyone would enjoy receiving a pleasant message.
That and she wanted to remind him of her invitation to dinner that evening.
The scenes went smoothly enough. There were the occasional bloopers, as in anything on screen, but the troupe dealt with it and moved on. Vanessa was brilliant as Tifa, for lack of a better word, but the relationship between Tifa and Cloud didn’t necessarily jump out at the watcher. It was more of a subtle intensity that the camera easily picked up. Amy enjoyed watching it, doing her best to learn what she could from each performance and apply it to her own.
Time flew as Max pressed them to shoot scene after scene. He turned out to be more the taskmaster than Garret. Max demanded perfection from her; no foibles, no stutters, no hesitations, and no diverting from the set blocking of the scene. Amy took it all in stride, even though she noticed he wasn’t nearly as demanding on the others. She just chalked it up to the fact she was a ‘newbie’ chosen by the Executive Producer and moved on with the scene and what he demanded of her.
Then Amy had a brief respite from shooting when Mark was called upon to shoot some of his solo scenes in ‘Miss Cloud’. Amy excused herself to one of the soundproof rooms with a phone and dialed Garret’s cell phone. She sat in a chair around a small table and drew circles around an ink stain with her finger as the call attempted to connect. To her surprise, it didn’t go to voice mail.
Amy’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Hi, Harrison. Burke here.”
“Hello, Amy,” he said in a much gentler tone. “How fares rehearsal?”
“Good. It’s definitely different than the stage, all those cameras staring at me. And sometimes we have to reshoot a scene just because the camera angle wasn’t right or something. It’s a little frustrating, but I’m having fun.” Amy’s smile twitched upward. “How fares your schedule?”
“The same as usual,” Garret said vaguely, “but I would much rather talk of you.”
Amy smiled. “That makes me feel wonderful.”
Garret chuckled. “Do you still plan on dinner this evening at seven? Or does Max plan on keeping you later than first planned?”
“I don’t know. I’m afraid to ask.”
“Afraid to ask? Why?”
Amy’s smile faded as she picked at the side of the table. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.” She forced the smile back. “I had a lot of fun last week, Garret. Thanks for clearing your schedule and coming over. It was really nice. Especially all the stories.”
“Thank you for the invitation, Amy. I have never before so enjoyed laughing with a woman.”
Amy released a deep breath as she closed her eyes, playing back the myriad of happy moments. “Garret, if you can’t make it for dinner, that’s okay. You can just give me a call between meetings or something.”
“Ah, sweet muse, should I be content with the song when my soul thirsts for the warmth of the laughter within it? Say not that you give me leave to be absent, for that shall cause the death of my spirit.”
Amy smiled, eyes still closed. “Poet mine,” she said in a voice slightly colored with tears, “come then that your muse might rest within the intensity of that spirit. My warmth is created for yours; my song sung for your lips; my life empty without your spirit to give it wings. Come then, that I might live.”
Deep breath. “I shall come, sweetest muse. I shall come that your life and mine be shared as one breath and song. Cry not, lest your tears break this very heart.”
Amy sniffed, wiping the tears from her face with a tremulous smile. “I cry, but for the joy found in the safety of your intensity.” Amy sniffed again. “Love has blossomed within that intensity, poet mine… accept this warmth as your very own. Accept my song as yours. Your muse shall wither if the petals of my love are not accepted by that of your spirit I adore.” Silence. “Poet mine, speak that I might hear the tones which replenish my breath.”
Deep breath. “I speak, muse, but what words to say when a confession of love has stolen my breath?”
Amy smiled. “Then let my words return it to you,” she whispered, “I love you.”
Deep breath. “I need to go, Amy, but I will come this evening. Wait for me at the bus stop. I will take you home.”
“Alright. Until this evening.”
“Until this evening.”
Amy took the phone from her ear and very slowly replaced the receiver. She released a deep breath.
Amy looked up from her small book of poems. She smiled. “Hi, Vanessa.”
Vanessa sat beside Amy at the bus stop, turning slightly toward her. “Amy, I need to ask you a personal question.”
Amy closed the book of poems, nodding as she held Vanessa’s concerned gaze. “Sure.”
“It’s about Garret.”
Amy arched an eyebrow and adjusted her hold on the book of poems. “Oh?”
Vanessa examined Amy’s open expression, absently biting her lower lip. “Amy, do you remember that I told you Garret’s quite the charmer?”
Amy nodded. “Yes,” she said with a slight smile, “but I knew that already.”
Vanessa looked down at her clasped hands for a moment. “Yes, well,” she looked up, “he’s also quite the accomplished and believable actor. He has played so many tortured souls that he knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what to say and do that will melt the heart of any young woman.”
Amy felt a spark of defensive temper. She lowered her eyes to her hands as she lightly rubbed the leather-bound volume of poems with her thumb. It had been a gift from Garret on Friday. Sir Philip Sydney.
“I believe you when you say you haven’t been intimate with him,” Vanessa continued, “but I’m still concerned that he might be playing your heart. Garret loves women, and he loves a challenge even more.” Vanessa sighed and reached out to cover Amy’s hands with hers. “Don’t be angry, Amy. I know how wonderful Garret can be, with his quoting of Shakespeare and Marlowe and others. His accent. His charm. His manner. That sexy smile and laugh.” Vanessa sighed again as she gave a slight shake of her head. She squeezed Amy’s hands. “Garret could charm an intimate moment out of a nun, Amy, and I’m afraid that’s what he’s doing with you.”
Amy pulled her hands out from under Vanessa’s. Then she cleared her throat and pressed her lips together before knowing for certain that she had her temper under control. That was when she faced Vanessa. “Mr. Harrison did try to ‘charm an intimate moment’ out of me, Vanessa. I said no. Well, I actually said a great deal more than that, but ‘no’ was the basic idea. After that first time, he tried again. Again I said no. While it felt wonderful to have Sir Garret Harrison attempting to seduce little old me, I’m not one of those women who enjoy short-lived romps in the bedroom, satisfying as that might be to view Garret as a feather in my cap.”
Amy grimaced. “A feather,” she said, and her tone was very near a sneer. “Garret is a human being who deserves to be thought of as more than a rung on a ladder to the top. These past couple of weeks I’ve treated him just like that. I’ve shown him respect and he’s done the same for me, respecting even my decision to keep our relationship limited to intense conversations and the occasional good-bye kiss. And that,” Amy said with a finger in Vanessa’s face, “is to stay between us.”
Vanessa blinked and leaned slightly back.
Amy lowered her finger as she continued. “I’m sure he could be acting this ‘tortured’ and ‘misunderstood man’ role simply to eventually get me in his sheets, but I like-- No, I love the Garret Harrison I’ve discovered. He’s a poet, an actor, and a philosopher – much to his own surprise. I appreciate the concern, Vanessa, and I know it comes from what happened in your own relationship with him, but I’m not going to be suspicious because of something that happened in the past. We all deserve better than that.”
Amy felt her passion and intensity begin to swell out of control and yanked them back with a clearing of her throat and a tightened grip on her book of poems. “Garret knows how I feel about sex before marriage. He also knows how I feel about him, just like I know how he feels about me. You might think it another plot, but like I said before: I don’t care. I’m going to take him at his word. If you’re right, then I’ll chalk it up to experience and move on. If I’m right, then I hope you’ll come to the wedding.”
Vanessa blinked again, eyes wide as she regarded Amy in stupefied silence. Then the shocked expression melted to a slight smile. “I hope I am wrong, Amy. I really do. Garret needs someone like you to keep him in check.”
Amy released a deep breath, ushering the passion into a far corner as she reluctantly smiled. “You know what, Vanessa? It’s me that needs someone like him.”
Amy heard the recognizable sound of Garret’s English roadster as it pulled to a stop. She and Vanessa stood. “I really do appreciate you looking out for me, Vanessa. It’s nice to have a big sister. That was always my job.”
Vanessa reached out to give Amy’s arm a squeeze. Then she looked over toward Garret, who very slowly exited the roadster. She smiled, waved, and then turned to go back to Studio 10 to finish those scenes scheduled that day. Amy released a deep breath and then stepped toward the roadster. Garret opened the door for her, helped her in, and then absently closed it with another slight frown Vanessa’s direction. Then he went around to his own side and merged the roadster into traffic.
Amy released a deep breath as she leaned back in the leather seat. She looked over at his profile – he still had a slight frown – and smiled. “You’re probably dying to know what we were talking about, huh?”
Garret glanced toward her, and his frown faded when their eyes met. “Yes, I suppose I am,” he admitted once his gaze focused on the road. He gave a shake of his head as he chuckled. “Chalk such a reaction to a guilty conscience. How nice to actually discover I have one.”
Amy chuckled, still watching his profile. “Well, Mr. Garret Harrison, she told on you.” Garret glanced toward her, eyebrow raised. “She’s sure all your charm and attitudes of a tortured individual are dedicated to the single goal of getting me into your sheets.”
Garret sent her a sharp look. “What?”
Amy nodded, her expression mock seriousness. “She made a very convincing argument, too, and I’m sure it was only because of your relationship with her before. I told her I wasn’t going to be suspicious of you just because you have a somewhat colorful past. We’ve already dealt with that.”
He regarded her a moment before looking again to the road. “Yet what if her concerns are proved true?”
Amy looked ahead out at the taillights of the cars, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “Just promise to let me know before my mom asks if I have plans to marry you. That I’m actually considering it with the famous Sir Garret Harrison will probably do her in. I’d rather not risk giving her a stroke if you’re just charming me for my body.”
Garret sent her a sidelong glance. Then he reached over to take her hand in his, bringing it to his lips for a long kiss. “Amy…”
Amy’s smile wavered. “What’s the matter?”
“Amy, I feel I must confess…”
Amy’s stomach twisted. “No,” she whispered.
Garret gave a slight nod, still holding her hand as his eyes didn’t leave their examination of the road. “I know. I’m a cad.” He glanced toward her again. “You’re an intoxicating woman, Amy. I couldn’t bear the thought of being told ‘no’ when I wanted you so completely. Such didn’t happen to Garret Harrison.” He released a breath. “I am so sorry, Amy.”
“So… even the poems? You did the hesitancy and uncertainty just to seduce me?” Amy pulled her hand from his with a shake of her head. “Garret…”
Garret pulled the roadster off to the side. He faced her with a serious expression unlike any she’d seen. “Yes. The hesitancy. The uncertainty. The unique poems. Even confessing the reasons for Mark and Vanessa’s placement, although what I told you was indeed the truth.”
Amy stared down at her clenched hands. “And the first breakfast with me and Renee? And the confession of the proposal to Vanessa? And saying ‘I love you’ in the elevator?” Amy’s voice cracked. “Lies? Acts?” Amy’s glimmering eyes rose to meet his gaze. “You didn’t mean any of it?”
“I don’t recall at what point I ceased acting and actually became engrossed and enthralled with the tales and heart of Amy Burke,” Garret began carefully. He lowered his gaze with a deep breath and a shake of his head. “Perhaps, at the time…” He raised his eyes again. “Amy you do inspire those poetic words. I am attracted to you. I do care for you in a different way than I have for any woman.”
Amy stretched out her hands. “How can I believe you, Garret? You just told me it was only for sex.” Her voice choked on the word.
Garret nodded. “I know, and I believed that at first. Yet I continued to come. To listen. To laugh. To surrender a snippet of myself to your memory. I haven’t done so with any other woman, Amy.”
Amy covered her eyes with a hand, fighting back the tears.
“Amy, I did not want for you to find out. I wanted to save you this pain.” Garret reached out to hold her upper arm, tenderly caressing it with his thumb. “Amy… I will not blame you if you choose not to see my face again.”
Amy lowered her hand from her eyes, and her eyes sparked. “Do you have any idea how stupid I feel, Garret Harrison!? You had me completely fooled!”
Garret nodded. “Please, Amy. Forgive me. I swear I have uttered nothing but the truth—”
“Since when?” Amy’s expression was pained. “Since when, Garret? Since I asked you not to hurt me—” Her voice choked, and she looked away.
Garret watched her, expression haggard. He breathed deeply. “Amy,” he said softly. Garret leaned toward her. “Amy, I confessed so that I would not lose you. If the confession has separated you from me, can we not pretend there was no confession of a darker intent?”
Amy didn’t answer.
Garret cautiously reached out to take her hands in his. She didn’t pull away. “Sweet muse, bestow again your warmth. Sing again your song, lest I perish alone, lost and unloved. Unknown. Half a man, with my muse the holder of my spirit.”
Amy clenched his hands tight, and then she pulled him close to bury her face in his neck. “Catch me, poet mine, lest my heart break and be lost,” she choked out.
Garret held her tight against him, releasing a long and slow breath as he closed his eyes. “Forgive me, sweet muse. Please, please forgive me.”
Amy sobbed as she adjusted her hold around him. “Remove this pain, poet mine. Its depth terrifies me.”
Garret pressed his cheek against her hair. “I never intended to pierce my muse with such pain. Give it me that you might be free of its torture.”
“It burns still, as does the spark of my love; your warmth.” Amy pulled back, tears glistening on her cheeks and in her eyes as she examined his face. “If this be the lie, show me not the truth. I love them both.”
Amy kissed him.
(Cloud and the others stand outside the Temple of the Ancients. Watching. The camera pans up to the top of the Temple, as a great black ball of energy consumes it, sparking. When it fades, there is nothing left of the Temple but a great pit. Cloud goes to the edge of it; there is a small black sparkle at the bottom.)
CLOUD: That’s the Black Materia…
TIFA: I’ll wait here.
CLOUD: (makes his way to the bottom of the pit, followed by Aeris. He goes over to the Black Materia.) As long as we have this, Sephiroth won’t be able to use Meteor. (Cloud picks up the Black Materia.) Mmm? Can you guys use it?
AERIS: Nope, we can’t use it right now. You need great spiritual power to use it.
CLOUD: You mean lots of Spiritual energy?
AERIS: That’s right. One person’s power alone won’t do it. Somewhere special. Where there’s plenty of the Planet’s energy… Oh yeah! The Promised Land!
CLOUD: The Promised Land? No, but…
AERIS: Sephiroth is different. He’s not an Ancient.
CLOUD: “He shouldn’t be able to find the Promised Land.”
(The screen flashes white. When it fades, Sephiroth stands at the edge of the pit.)
SEPHIROTH: “…Ah, but I have.” (He floats up, over the pit.) “I’m far superior to the Ancients. I became a traveler of the Lifestream and gained the knowledge and wisdom of the Ancients. I also gained the knowledge and wisdom of those after the extinction of the Ancients. And soon, I will create the future.”
AERIS: I won’t let you do it! The future is not only yours!
SEPHIROTH: (floats higher.) Ha, ha, ha… I wonder? Wake up!
(The scene fades back in, to the bottom of the pit. Cloud clutches his head and falls to the ground.)
CLOUD: Sh… shut up!
(Sephiroth floats to the ground. He kneels down.)
SEPHIROTH: There, Cloud… good boy.
CLOUD: The… Noise…
(Cloud begins to run, in slow motion, to Sephiroth. It takes almost half a minute for him to make the few feet to Sephiroth. Cloud’s double just stands where Cloud once had. Cloud gives the Black Materia to Sephiroth. Sephiroth stands up and begins to laugh.)
SEPHIROTH: …….Well done.
(The screen goes white as Sephiroth rockets skyward. The camera moves to above the pit. Cloud falls and clutches his head, trembling. Aeris goes over to him.)
AERIS: “Cloud, are you all right?”
CLOUD: …I gave the Black Materia to Sephiroth…?
(Cloud straightens for a brief moment, then falls at Aeris’ feet.)
CLOUD: Wha… what did I do… tell me, Aeris.
AERIS: Cloud… be strong, OK?
CLOUD: (Cloud starts writhing on the ground.) Urrrrrrgh… What have I done!?
AERIS:: (kneels down by him.) Cloud… you haven’t done anything. It’s not your fault.
(Cloud stands up slowly… and punches Aeris. She falls backwards and Cloud falls onto her, landing blow after blow.)
CLOUD: I…! I’m——!
(Cloud continues to beat Aeris.)
TIFA: Cloud, what are you doing?
CLOUD: Everything is white… What did I do? I don’t remember anything… My memory… since when…? If everything’s a dream, don’t wake me.
(The screen goes black.)
Mark laughed and looked over at Amy. “You okay? I think I got you with one of those smacks.”
Amy punched him in the arm with a mock frown. “You nearly took my block off, you big goon. Sheesh!”
Mark flinched away. “Hey, hey. Stop beating me up. I just followed the script.”
He stood to his feet and helped Amy to hers as Vanessa came over to them, smiling. Garret hung back, leaning his hands against the back of the Executive Producer chair. Amy briefly caught his gaze as she stood with Mark’s help, intercepting Garret’s wink with a slight smile.
“Good job, people,” Max grudgingly admitted as he came over. “Two more scenes, and then Harrison has to go to a meeting.” Max motioned them to the forest set. “Alright. Now we shoot ‘Aeris’ Wood.’ Places people.”
“Did you want to come over for dinner this evening?” Amy asked Mark as they make their way to their set marks. “I figured you and Vanessa and Mr. Harrison, and maybe Vincent—”
“Are you kidding? The guy’s a mobster, Amy. Why the hell would you want to invite him?”
Amy’s mouth dropped open. “Vincent is an actor, Mark,” she scolded with fists on hips. “So he used to be in not-so-glamorous circles. At least he’s trying to put that behind him. You could at least make it easier.”
“Yeah, say that when you find a—”
“Mark!” Max shouted. “Cut the gab and get in character!”
Mark sent Max a dirty look and then did as he was told. Amy stepped behind a tree and waited for her cue.
(The scene fades in… a calm green forest. Aeris pokes her head around one tree.)
AERIS: Cloud, can you hear me?
CLOUD: Yeah, I hear you. Sorry for what happened.
AERIS: (comes out from behind the tree; we see her profile as she faces to the side.) Don’t worry about it.
CLOUD: …I can’t help it…
AERIS: (goes back behind the tree.) Oh…
(She jumps out from behind another tree on the opposite side of the forest, not visibly walking the distance between them.)
AERIS: Then, why don’t you REALLY worry about it? And let me handle Sephiroth.
(She starts giggling, turns pure white, and disappears. She comes out from behind yet another tree.)
AERIS: And Cloud, you take care of yourself.
(She walks back behind the tree, off-handedly leaning back so that we just see her head.)
AERIS: So you don’t have a breakdown, okay?”
(She goes behind the tree. She drops down from the sky, slowly, puppet-like, landing very softly on the ground. Cloud also floats down, closer to the camera. He looks around.)
CLOUD: What is this place?
AERIS: This forest leads to the City of the Ancients… and is called Sleeping Forest. It’s only a matter of time before Sephiroth uses Meteor. That’s why I’m going to protect it. Only a survivor of the Cetra, like me, can do it. The secret is just up here. At least it should be. …I feel it. It feels like I’m being led by something. Then, I’ll be going now. I’ll come back when it’s all over.
(She turns and runs off into the forest, getting smaller and smaller, until she disappears into the bright green sunlight. Cloud starts to run after her, slowly, but does not go anywhere, just as in a dream. Eventually he stops, and Sephiroth speaks, from somewhere.)
SEPHIROTH: Hmm…….. She’s thinking of interfering? She will be a difficult one, don’t you think?
(Sephiroth floats down from above, just as Cloud did. He lands, kneeling, where Aeris stood moments before.)
SEPHIROTH: We must stop that girl soon.
(The screen flashes white, then goes completely dark.)
Amy stepped out from behind the back matt painting of the ‘Sleeping Forest’ and came to stand by Garret and Mark. She slightly touched Garret’s elbow with her arm as she spoke to Mark. “That was fun.”
Mark smirked. “What part? The floating? Or the fact you got all the lines?”
Amy smiled. “Not telling.” Then she frowned. “And besides, I’m only in one more scene, and I don’t even get to talk in that one. I just have to look all ethereal and holy.” She jabbed a finger in Mark’s chest. “So don’t complain about me getting all the lines. You have the whole rest of the movie.”
“Now, now, children,” Garret said with a slight smile. “Let us play nice.” Garret looked over at Max, noticed he was flipping through the script, and deftly caressed Amy’s back with a hand. “Well done, Miss Burke. If you continue such as you are, you will find yourself the newest addition to the male pin-up collection.”
Mark laughed. Vanessa shook her head as she sipped her water. Amy chuckled, sending Garret a eye-crinkling smile. “Only one pin-up allowed,” she said softly.
Garret raised an eyebrow. Mark stopped laughing, and his jaw dropped. Vanessa shook her head again.
There was a clap. “Alright, people. Hardest scene of the day. Let’s get to it.”
Garret’s fingers lingered on Amy’s back a moment more before he turned to make his way to his position on a cat-walk above the ‘Forgotten City’. Amy and Mark and Vanessa all made their way to their respective positions on the ‘Forgotten City’ set; Amy on a circular platform while Mark and Vanessa would be on a platform several steps away. Amy took up her kneeling position, adjusted her dress around her, and then motioned to Max that she was ready. So did the others.
“Quiet on set! And… Action!”
CLOUD: Aeris’ voice…… Coming from here?
(He reaches a huge, elegant, crystalline city, suspended in space. Continuing on, he finds a small shrine. Aeris is kneeling inside it.)
(There are five columns forming a path to the shrine, no wider than Cloud. Below them is a pool of pure, blue water. Cloud leaps onto the first column. The others move as if to follow, but Cloud waves them away. He leaps across the other columns and reaches the shrine. He steps onto the stairs leading up to the glass platform where Aeris kneels. The screen goes red for a moment. Cloud shakes his head and reaches for his sword… then shakes his head again and continues. He stands before Aeris. She does not move. He faces away and draws his sword. She still does not move. He turns to face her. He lifts his sword above his head. She still does not move. Cloud brings down his sword.)
TIFA: Cloud! Stop!
CLOUD: (shakes his head and steps back.) Ugh… what are you making me do?
(Aeris continues to pray in the small shrine. She looks up for the first time and sees Cloud. She smiles. Beautifully. The camera pans up. Falling from the bright white light from above comes a black figure. It falls faster and faster. Sephiroth. Faster he falls, straight for Aeris. His ‘sword’ pierces Aeris’ body. Sephiroth just stares at Cloud. His eyes glitter, cat-like, a sly smile on his lips. With a great noise of grating metal, he makes the motion of pulling his sword from her body. Aeris falls forward, her eyes wide open in shock… but the smile does not leave her face. Then her eyes close. As she falls, her hair ribbon comes undone and a small materia, glowing a pale green, falls from it. It bounces once, emitting a small, pure sound against the glass floor. It bounces again, and again, until it falls off the platform into the clear water below.)
“Cut!” Max stood, clapping as he stepped forward. “Great job, people! That’s a wrap!”
Mark handed the plastic sword to the prop person as he sent Max an inquisitive look. “Hey, Shepherd. Any idea what the pop was as Garret came down.” Mark looked to Garret as he came to kneel beside Amy. “You heard it? Right?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” Garret said. He placed a hand on Amy’s back. “Well done, Miss—” He lifted his hand and stared at the deep red. “Oh my god.” He looked up at Max. “Call 9-1-1!” Garret turned Amy over onto her back, cradling her in his arms. Her eyes opened and she took a gasp of air, eyes wide as they focused on Garret’s. “Be still, Amy. Be still.”
Max and Mark both frantically keyed 9-1-1 on their cell phones, rushing toward the exit to wave the ambulance in when it arrived.
Amy swallowed hard and gripped one of Garret’s arms as it held her. “D-Did you get the sh-shot?”
Garret grabbed the towels from Vanessa’s outstretched hand and pressed them against the growing stain of blood in her abdominal area. Vanessa knelt beside Amy, taking her hand in hers. “Shh. Don’t speak, Amy. Just be still. The ambulance will be here shortly.”
Amy slightly nodded, gasping with pain as she squeezed her eyes shut tight.
The ambulance was there shortly. Less than two minutes, thanks to the fact the studio had already arranged for one to be on call in case anything happened. They loaded her up onto the gurney, keeping the towels pressed tightly against the wound as they heaved her up into the back of the ambulance. Garret was reluctantly allowed to ride with her on the way to the hospital. So he sat at her side, holding her hand as the EMT set about informing the hospital of what to expect on their arrival.
Amy tried to speak, but both the EMT and Garret shushed her. She didn’t try again. She only tightly clasped Garret’s hand as he watched her paling complexion with growing dread. Once they arrived at the hospital, Garret had to wait in the waiting room while Amy was rushed to the ER.
All Garret could do was stare at the swinging double doors in stupefied silence. The blood. That’s all he could see. Her blood. Garret looked down at his hands… and his clothes… her blood. Her life. Garret swallowed hard, backing up a step as he continued to stare at his bloody hands.
Garret looked sharply at the nurse.
“Sir, if you’d like to get washed up,” she motioned to the far hall, “you can do that in the bathroom down that hall on the left.”
Garret moved toward them without a word. He scrubbed and washed and dried and scrubbed again, but all he could see and feel on his hands was the vision of her blood. Finally, hands rough, raw, and peeling, he stepped from the bathroom to make his way to the waiting room. Mark and Vanessa were there, and they stood at his arrival.
“Well?” Mark asked. “Anything?”
Garret shook his head, jaw clenched tight.
“Damn.” Mark sat. “Max’s at the studio,” he said as he ran a hand through his spiked blonde hair. “Trying to find out what the hell happened.”
Garret gave an absent nod before turning to stare again at the double doors leading to the ER.
“How is she?”
Garret looked back from where he stared out the window onto the hospital parking lot. “She is still in surgery,” he said evenly.
Max grumbled under his breath as he came further in to the waiting room. Vanessa was napping fitfully against Mark, who had an arm around her shoulders. Mark stared ahead of him with a blank expression. Garret changed his gaze back to an examination of the cars coming and going.
Max came to stand beside him. “It wasn’t your fault, Garret, just so you know. We found a missing rivet in one of the girders that supported your descent. The metal had apparently weakened, and somehow it missed inspection. When the metal snapped, it acted like a bullet.” Max raised his eyes to Garret’s profile. “I’ll have someone’s ass for that screw up.”
Garret absently nodded.
Garret looked over at Mark, who motioned up to the entry of their private waiting room. The doctor entered. Garret stood and stepped forward. “Doctor?”
Mark and Vanessa came to stand behind Garret as they waited for the answer.
The doctor’s expression was serious as he slightly shook his head. Vanessa turned into Mark’s comforting embrace with a gasp and a cry. Mark’s complexion yellowed. The doctor looked to Garret, whose stricken expression paled. “Are you Garret?” Garret wordlessly nodded. “She’s asking for you. This way.”
The doctor motioned for Garret to pass. He did, and then he wordlessly and thoughtlessly followed the doctor’s slow steps toward the recovery room. The doctor held the door open for him, closing it after Garret passed through. Garret halted when his eyes focused on Amy’s form in the hospital bed. Pale. Unmoving. Pained expression… and then she opened her eyes and smiled.
Garret’s eyes burned and his throat nearly wouldn’t let him breathe as he moved toward her bed. He slowly sat in the nearby chair and reached out to take her hand in his. His eyes couldn’t lift from her hand to her face. “Amy…”
Amy’s eyes crinkled at the corners as she tightened her hold on his hand. “Garret Harrison,” she whispered, “you’re speechless.”
Garret brought her hand to his lips. “I am afraid to speak lest that breath deplete from your own,” he said softly. Garret couldn’t meet her gaze. “Do not make me face this world without you, sweet muse.”
Amy’s smile faded as her eyes glimmered. “Poet mine, you shall always have my presence within you,” she said in a tight whisper. “Do you not know I have bestowed it upon your very heart and spirit?”
Garret pressed her hand against his lips again, and then his cheek, and then his forehead. He closed his eyes. “Yet I have given you that which I have always hidden within. My very self.” He slightly shook his head. “Should you leave… I would not survive the parting.” His voice cracked on the last word.
Amy watched his face as her tears escaped. Her lips tipped downward. “Sweet poet,” she whispered, “my world will be gray until once again your voice is present to color my sky…” Amy’s voice broke.
Garret shook his head again, opening his eyes to meet her tear-filled gaze. “No…”
Amy’s thumb lightly caressed his cheek where he held her hand against his face. “Remember me, poet mine, that the delicate petals of my soul might again embrace you to the heart you hold within the palm of your gentleness.”
Garret leaned forward, holding her hand tight against his chest as he pressed his lips against hers, and her cheeks, and her forehead. “Amy… please do not leave me.”
Amy took in a slow breath and released it. “Garret,” she said in a broken voice, “please don’t ever regret our time together.”
Garret lifted his head to meet her tear-filled gaze. “How can I regret that which gave me life, Amy?” he asked, tears glistening.
Amy’s smile faded between one of pain and happiness. Then a tear escaped Garret’s tenacious hold and dripped down his face to drop onto her hand. Amy flinched. “I never wanted to hurt you, Garret. If I knew this was going to happen…” Amy blinked the tears from her eyes so she could see him. “Garret, I-I’m sorry.”
Garret shook his head. “Do not be sorry, sweet muse,” he whispered. “Just live. Live and be my muse forever and always.” He pressed his lips against her hand. “Live and marry me, sweet.”
Amy choked out a laugh as she raised her other hand to cover her face. She gripped his hand and whispered. “I will marry you, Garret. I will…” She lowered her hand from her face and gazed up into his face. “But I fear I die, forever separating me from your intensity…”
Garret caressed her face, Amy smiling sadly up at him as he did his best to comfort her. Words were no longer enough. Then Garret felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. He looked to his left. The doctor stood there.
“She needs her rest,” he said quietly.
Garret slightly nodded as he deftly wiped the tears from his cheeks with his free hand. Then he turned back to Amy with a slight smile. He pressed a gentle kiss against her forehead. “I shall return, sweet muse,” he whispered against it.
Amy took in a broken breath. “Please… sweet sweet poet, tarry not in the presence of damsels and dragons.”
Garret’s throat tightened. “Surely I cannot tarry when my soul and heart are held captive within your song and warmth.” He pulled slightly back, kissing her hand as he held her gaze. “Sleep now. Replenish that warmth and song I adore.”
Amy slightly nodded, a choked sob escaping. “I beg of thee, sweet poet, bid me ‘until our dreams’, for I shall surely seek you there,” she whispered.
Garret tucked her hand under the blankets. “Until our dreams, dearest and most tender muse. Until our dreams.”
“And the Oscar for best supporting actor goes to…. Amy Burke from The Reunion!”
The audience roared, applause reverberating through the grand hall as Sir Garret Harrison stood to make his way down the carpeted aisle to the stage. Ms Vanessa Heron, Mr. Mark Frasier, and Mr. Max Shepherd watched from their seats, somber and silent. Vanessa hid her face in a kerchief, and Mark wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Max looked down at his clenched hands.
Garret accepted the shining trophy from the presenting host and then moved to the clear crystal podium as he stared down at it. After another moment of applause, Garret lifted his gaze, and the audience quieted. “As many of you know,” he began in a rough voice, “Amy Burke is unable to be here tonight due to a tragic accident during filming of her final scene.”
Garret’s throat tightened on the words. Words disappeared, lost again to the wave of grief he felt at her loss. Garret lowered his gaze to the Oscar, adjusting his hold on it as the memories of that day gripped his soul. Remembering the doctor’s soft words “She may never walk again…”
Garret cleared his throat. “Amy is an actor such as I have never seen. She continues to strive for that utter and complete understanding of her role, thereby doing her utmost in the performance of it. She continues to strive toward an understanding of those characters which interact with her own, thereby deepening her own understanding of what needs to be portrayed. Amy…” Garret swallowed hard. “Two years ago, Amy imbued a passion and intensity into The Reunion. Today, she continues to imbue passion and intensity into our lives as well. Accepting us at our word. Pushing us to strive harder to understand ourselves and those around us.”
Garret raised his gaze again, not caring that tears had escaped his hold to rest on his cheeks. He slightly lifted the Oscar. “This is not only a testament to that ability, but a showing of your appreciation to her effort. Amy thanks you, as do I.”
Garret turned to exit the stage, smiling when he heard the roar of the crowd as they stood to their feet.
Garret closed the door of his English roadster with a deliberate action, slowly turning to view the quaint cottage with the barn and the old Chevrolet station-wagon in the driveway. On the mailbox were painted hummingbirds and the name Burke in cursive white letters. A story-book white picket fence decorated with vines of painted ivy and an occasional pale blue blossom surrounded the lush grass of the front yard. A miniature gazebo embraced by blooming roses as well as a lilac tree on one side had been set in the back left corner of the yard led to by a brick walkway branching from the main.
The effect was perfect.
Garret took in a deep breath and released it slowly. Then he smiled and stepped forward. He passed through the gate of the white picket fence, accepted the greeting of the old German shepherd that licked his hand, and made his way along the walkway border of pansies and primroses to the covered verandah with the pine bench-swing and white screen door.
Garret’s smile widened as he stared past the screen into the house full of memories and stories. The home was filled to the brim with adventures and anecdotes he would soon discover, Amy’s smiling face and soft voice beckoning him into that special place of shared moments. The thought of being together with her within her home’s walls of warmth and songs and love and happiness soothed his aching spirit at her loss, but it was enough that she lived. It would be enough that she could teach at the high school, such being her dream all these years.
Garret knocked. A petite woman appeared in the hall at the sound. She had white hair, slim glasses, and an eager smile. Mrs. Burke was a vision of aging loveliness such as what Garret envisioned Amy to be in the future. Now he would have the chance to witness it.
Mrs. Burke pushed opened the door and motioned into the house. “Mr. Harrison!” she greeted. “You’re a day early!”
Garret chuckled as he stepped into the hall. Mrs. Burke took his wool coat and driving gloves. “Yes, Mrs. Burke, I am. I could not stand another day of letters, phone calls, and the sobs of those executives who simply cannot understand why I would leave the life of New York for Aspen Grove High School.”
Mrs. Burke laughed, and it encompassed warmth, encouragement, and the song of happiness. She hung his coat on the rack fastened to the wall, set his gloves on the hall table, and then gestured toward the back patio. “She’s out getting some sun and reading the latest book of sonnets you sent her. She’ll be thrilled to see you.”
Garret placed a kiss on his soon-to-be mother-in-law’s cheek. “Thank you, Mrs. Burke.” Then he made his way down the hall to the French doors leading onto the deck made by Amy’s father.
Garret quietly closed the door behind him, leaning against it as he watched her profile and the loveliness and intensity of her face and eyes that would now forever be his. Amy turned the page and began to softly nibble her fingernail. Amy had been carefully placed within a specifically designed lounger to keep the pressure to her back and spine to a minimum. While the doctors did not want to hold to the hope that she would walk again, Amy was determined to do all she could. Garret loved her more because of her tenacity at not relinquishing her hope.
Garret smiled and stepped quietly forward, leaning down to place a kiss on her throat. “I have not tarried in the caverns of dragons nor listened to the murmurs of damsels. I have come to be with you, sweet sweet muse.”
Amy looked up, her green eyes twinkling. “Then come and stay, poet mine, that we might rest in the warmth of the other.”
Garret looked to the clock from his leather-bound volume of Hamlet. He closed the book, smiling as he changed his gaze to the teens in the lecture room at Aspen Grove High. “Ladies and gentlemen, it seems our time has come to a close,” he said as the collection of 15 students began gathering their paraphernalia. “Finish reading the scene. Then be prepared for class discussion Monday morning. Also, have those journal entries typed and ready to turn in to me next week. Wednesday, I should think.”
Garret straightened from where he leaned against his old wood desk at the high school. “Have a wonderful weekend, ladies and gentlemen. When I see you Monday, I will be a married man. I do apologize, ladies.”
Girls and boys alike laughed as they bid him farewell, filing out of the small lecture room with well-wishing, congratulations, and/or promises to attend the reception that evening. Garret returned each with a nod and a smile as he gathered his class notes, books, and papers he needed to somehow correct over the special weekend. Any student that lingered with a question, worry, or something similar, received an appropriate response and a card that held his cell phone, home number, and email. The students had long-since become accustomed to these cards and loved receiving them. It made them feel important.
To Garret, they were.
Garret retrieved his briefcase from the desk and exited the classroom to the hallway, talking with other students from his varying classes along the route out of the school. At Aspen Grove High School Garret taught Literature, Drama, and Poetry. Amy hadn’t been allowed to take up her teaching position, per doctor’s orders as well as lack of time due to her rigorous physical therapy schedule. Garret had stepped into the position instead, and after six months at the small high school, he didn’t regret the decision. Encouraging and teaching the students at Aspen Grove never failed to teach him something new of Literature, Poetry, and life in general.
They gave him a new perspective.
Garret exited the high school, made his way down the brick steps, and then along the walkway to the faculty parking south of the main administration building. It was a remodeled house separate from the old brick building of the high school. He tossed his briefcase into the backseat of his roadster, put the top down – the early spring sunshine just beckoned for it – and then started up the roadster to an accompaniment of hoots and hollers from the students. Garret chuckled with a slight shake of his head as he backed out of the parking lot and squealed toward home.
The cell phone in his jacket pocket on the passenger seat of the roadster blared Toccata & Fugue. Garret took up the earpiece, which he always inserted into the phone when he drove, and tucked it into his ear before hitting the ‘talk’ button. “Harrison here.”
“Hi, Harrison. Burke here.”
Garret smiled. “Hello, Amy. How was your day?”
“Great,” she answered in a bright tone. “How about you? Did you keep the kids busy until the last bell?”
“Would I do that?”
Amy chuckled. “Yes. You do it every day.”
Garret checked his rearview mirrors before passing a tractor on its way home from bailing the fields of alfalfa hay. “I have yet to hear a complaint.”
“That’s because they love you to death, you big softie.”
Garret chuckled. “Yes, dear.”
Amy laughed. “Anyway, I wanted to let you know that mom and I picked your tux up from the cleaners. Dad’s gone to get extra chairs for the backyard, and he’s going to pick up Pastor Gary on the way back. Oh, and did you get a confirmation on that Bed & Breakfast?”
“I really appreciate it, Garret. Thank you.”
One side of Garret’s lips twitched. “I am honored you called upon me to help. Here I was terrified I would only be in the way.”
“You’re never in the way,” Amy said in a soft voice.
There was a moment of silence, and then she released a slow breath. Garret could almost visualize her lying on her stomach on the couch flipping through a bridal magazine as she held the phone to her ear. Then she would push the magazine aside and tuck her hand and arm under her as she smiled into the phone.
“The silence beckons my spirit home,” he said softly.
Amy sighed. “Garret, I feel like I’m stuck in a dream. Are we really getting married today?”
Garret’s smile softened as he turned down the somewhat graveled driveway. “Yes, dearest muse, we are to be married today.”
“And you really don’t regret leaving New York? Not for a second?”
“When I do, I have but to pack you off to the symphony or the opera for a weekend, sweet. That will be enough to remind what I have escaped.”
Amy sighed again, and Garret could nearly see her very carefully positioning herself onto her back – a strict no-no that she sometimes forgot. “Dad wanted me to tell you that he’s giving you a 5-acre plot of land for a wedding gift. He’s hoping you’ll build a house on it, complete with dog house for Bernie.”
Garret pulled up to Adam Burke’s home two miles south of the elder Burke’s residence. Garret had been living there since moving to Aspen Grove nine months previous. He turned off the ignition. “I am honored, Amy, and you and I can begin choosing a house design as soon as we return from our wedding weekend. Will you tell him?”
Garret could hear the broad smile in her tone. Adam stepped out of the house onto the front porch – he was nearly 6 foot 4 with a brawny build and tousled caramel curls that never stayed out of his face – and waved a greeting.
Garret returned the wave and then leaned back into the leather seats of the roadster. “I must away, sweet muse, but only until this evening.”
“Alright. I love you.”
“As I love you.”
Silence. “So… I’ll see you later?”
Garret smiled. “Yes. You will.”
“Good bye, Amy.”
Garret tucked the phone away, leaving the rest of his paraphernalia in the roadster as he climbed out and headed toward the house. “Did your mother perchance bring my tuxedo?”
“Yup. Hanging in your room. She wouldn’t let me touch it.”
Garret chuckled and passed into the house to change.
Garret looked down at his Rolex with a slight smirk as he waited by the pastor at the end of the carpeted aisle in the backyard of the Burke home. He actually enjoyed the feelings of nervousness that mercilessly rolled his stomach into a knot. When was the last time felt nervous? Definitely when he had awaited any type of good news regarding Amy’s accident more than two years before. Definitely when he had finally decided to reiterate his proposal last year. Definitely when he had decided to teach at Aspen Grove High more than six months ago. But previously? No. Not for many, many years.
Garret checked his watch again, immediately feeling a firm nudge at his elbow. He looked to his left to intercept Adam’s grin. Garret reluctantly smiled, giving his soon-to-be brother-in-law a partial shrug. Adam chuckled, shaking his head as he moved his gaze to the grass at his feet.
Garret had enjoyed the chance to get to know Amy’s family over the past nine or ten months. Garret had found Adam Burke to be a ‘trouble-maker’ who enjoyed practical jokes and roughhouse play. Much to the entire family’s surprise, Adam and Garret had instantly clicked. Adam had so reminded Garret of his own brothers, men that Garret hadn’t seen for years, that the instant connection with Amy’s brother had been an unexpected blessing.
So had the connection to Amy’s father, Richard.
Richard Burke was a no-nonsense Baptist who only respected a person when they earned it. Garret had fallen victim to many an intense, philosophical, and often religious discussions with the nearly sixty-year-old man. Garret, who had never backed down from a challenge in his life, had answered Richard Burke’s questions as succinctly and honestly as possible. Many of the conversations had become a little heated, as much as a Baptist on-fire for the Lord could get, but such a response only reminded Garret of his own roots in Catholicism. His mother had been as devout as Amy’s parents.
The love Garret felt for Amy’s mother, Elizabeth, had been almost instantaneous upon his meeting of her nearly twelve months before.
While completing the filming, Garret had personally taken Amy to any and all professionals, specialists, and therapists suggested. While many of their opinions had been negative, a great many of the others had eagerly taken up treatment, offering suggestions of stretching/strengthening exercises, surgeries, and other remedies that would help in the lowering of the inflammation/swelling/accumulation of scar tissue within the injury near Amy’s lower spine.
Shortly after the movie was released to theaters, Amy received word of a physical therapist in her hometown who had expressed interest in her case. So Garret had organized Amy’s move back home, unable to accompanying her due to the demands on his time. Then, after Amy had received the Best Supporting Female Actor Oscar, Garret had traveled to Aspen Grove to not only present it to her, but to finally take the promised vacation Amy had suggested while still filming.
Garret’s first impression of ‘Liz’ Burke encompassed welcome and compassion. Later, as Liz took him on tours of small Aspen Grove after hours, the two had talked of philosophy, ‘why’s, and the meanings of life. Garret hadn’t realized that grief and confusion had given rise to a carefully controlled rage until Liz had carefully peeled back the layers keeping it in check. Then she had encouraged him to voice the rage.
Amy had obviously learned the art of communication from her mother.
Vacation over, rage released, and newfound purpose discovered, Garret had promised to return in three months’ time to live in Aspen Grove on a more permanent basis. True to his word, he had even arrived a day earlier than expected—
Garret caught the tail end of the cue given to the pianist just as Adam nudged his arm. Garret straightened his tuxedo jacket as the processional began. Several of the students from his different classes caught his eye to give him the ‘thumbs-up’ or a wink or grin. He responded with a distracted smirk as his gaze continued to focus on the silk tent set up at the extreme end of the carpeted aisle, which was all of 10 meters long. One of Amy’s cousins as well as a student from Garret’s Drama class had been chosen to pull the tent flaps aside when Amy was ready to emerge. They received the signal from within and nodded to each other to pull the silk aside…
…Amy emerged dressed in white satin, long flowing veil, and white roses in hand as she walked down the aisle supported by her father. Garret’s throat tightened as tears of relief and awe burned his eyes. He smiled and just barely kept himself from rushing forward to envelope her in a tight embrace.
Amy and Garret as well as her parents had been diligent in performing her daily routine of strengthening exercises. The physical therapist and doctor had kept close eye on the swelling and scar tissue, giving encouragement whenever it was needed. Amy’s determination had inspired Garret’s hope that she would indeed accomplish what she wanted: to walk at their wedding.
Now, although her gait was a trifle sluggish and uncertain, she those 10 meters to his side, beaming the entire way.
“Who gives this woman to this man?” Pastor Gary asked.
Richard Burke cleared his throat of the emotion Garret saw in his eyes. “I do. Her father. Richard Burke.”
Then Amy was steadied as her hand transferred from her father’s arm to Garret’s. Garret covered it with his and smiled down at her. “You will never cease to amaze me, sweet muse,” he whispered.
Amy looked up at him with tear-filled eyes, which also glistened on her cheeks. “Good,” she whispered in a choked voice. “Now let’s get married. We have those lists of suggestions to exchange, remember?”
Garret withheld a laugh.
The Reunion - The epic film critics repute to be on par with the most memorable and grandiose productions of past generations. English thespian Sir Garrett Harrison harbors no qualms with utilizing the power his name holds, especially in regard to the wooing of his leading ladies. Yet his ambition on total domination both on and off the screen is squelched when he chooses an unknown for the role of heroine. While he is confidant the conquest will be short and sweet, Amy Burke, shows herself as anything but a paper doll susceptible to his flair of style. To Garrett's surprise, her resistance sweetens the chase. But when she finally surrenders to his charm, will he admit to his own defeat?