Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Young adult or teen  ➡  Romance

The Princess of Shiloh

 

The Princess of Shiloh

 

CW. Johnson

 

Copyright ©2016, Charles W. Johnson

 

Shakespir Edition

Table of Contents:

Chapter One[+:+]

Chapter Two[+:+]

Chapter Three[+:+]

Chapter Four[+:+]

Chapter Five[+:+]

Chapter Six[+:+]

Chapter Seven[+:+]

Chapter Eight[+:+]

Chapter Nine:

Chapter Ten:

Chapter Eleven:

Chapter Twelve:

Other Books Written by This Author:

Contact Info:

About the Author:

Excerpt from The Son of Man:

 

Thanks to my mentor, Fran Porretto.

http://www.Shakespir.com/books/search?query=fporretto

~~~

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Chapter One

 

Abigail Warren dumped her actor boyfriend, Brock Morgan, after a cache of personal photos wound up plastered all over the internet. The paparazzi were on the hunt. It was a game these seasoned flash jockeys knew only too well. They had the playbook down pat.

Miss Warren would have her security.

They would try and hustle her into the hotel lobby as quickly and uneventfully as possible.

The paparazzi would crowd in pushing, shoving and hampering the opposition’s progress at every turn.

The moment she presented herself they would begin hurling allegations, personal questions and even insults.

It was all part of the game; trying to illicit a response; trying to catch her off guard.

A pained expression was worth thousands. Tears could be worth tens of thousands. Then there was the million-dollar shot: an all-out mental breakdown.

Abigail Warren seemed to be fairly hinged so even though she only recently suffered a possibly devastating, if not humiliating, breakup, the chances of her having a breakdown was slim but that certainly wouldn’t keep them from trying.

Abigail stepped from her limo surrounded by staff and security. She waved, smiled, ducked her head and as expected briskly moved towards the lobby door of the Loews Hollywood Hotel.

“Abigail!” The paparazzi yelled. “Abigail! ABIGAIL!”

“How are you feeling after the breakup?” an aggressive paparazzi hollered after bumping into and being soundly pushed away from one of Abigail’s security personnel.

“Do you blame Brock for the posting of those nude pictures?” yelled another.

Abigail managed to dodge another who somehow breached the secure perimeter.

“How does your family feel about Brock posting naked pictures of you on the internet?” he yelled in passing.

“Has your father seen the naked pictures of you on the internet?”

“Is it true that your management is pressuring you to lose weight after the nude pictures of you were released?”

To the paparazzi’s chagrin, Abigail and her team managed to muscle through the melee and into the hotel lobby with her sanity still intact.

The paparazzi were prevented from entering the lobby, but the world’s most recognizable movie star was certain to cause a stir. People stared and pointed. Camera phones appeared from nowhere.

Again, Abigail waved and smiled as her team ran interference throughout the entire length of the Lobby and into a kitchen entrance, through the bustling kitchen and finally to the safety of a freight elevator.

Malorie Nilsson, Abigail’s personal assistant, pulled a phone away from her ear just as the elevator door whispered to a close.

“They want you in makeup at five.”

“Why five?” Abigail asked.

“Because they’re shooting Sterling first thing.”

“So…if they’re shooting Sterling first thing, why do I have to be in makeup at five?”

“Because Sterling won’t show up till eleven; if then.”

“When is he in makeup?”

“Five.”

“We’re both in makeup at five?”

“Yeah, you’re there in case he doesn’t show up…which he won’t.”

“Why don’t they just fire the son of a bitch?”

Bevaun Gibson, Abigail’s business manager, grunted. “They can’t fire him. He’s all the rage right now.”

“I’m supposed to be the star and I get yelled at for dropping a line.”

“That’s because you’re not a squeaky wheel.”

“No,” Abigail said moving forward as the elevator doors opened to the tenth-floor custodial quarters. “Rich is scared of Sterling.”

“The man rose to stardom as a professional wrestler in the WWA!” Bevaun said. “He’s six foot…whatever… with three hundred pounds of muscle! Everyone’s afraid of him.”

The entourage moved through an overgrown closet space passing a Hispanic man holding a dinner tray.

“Hey Jose!” Abigail said, breaking formation to exchange fist-bumps with the custodial worker.

“Sup Abby?” the man answered in passing.

Abigail’s manager considered the janitor before turning his attention to Abigail. “You know that guy?”

“That’s Jose. He and I play cards.”

“When do you have time to play cards with the janitor?”

Abigail stopped mid-stride. “I have time when you and Malorie and everyone else are out living your lives and I’m locked in my hotel room.”

Malorie shook her head “Oh, give it a rest,” she said under her breath.

Abigail shifted her attention to Mallorie. “You said something?”

“No, sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt you.”

Abigail considered Mallorie a moment before she and the entourage continued down the hall. The group came to a stop at Abigail’s hotel room door. Abigail bumped Mallorie with her elbow. “You’re disrespectful.”

“You’re right,” Mallorie said. “I overstepped. Sorry.”

Abigail sighed and shook her head. “Call me at three.”

She turned, opened her hotel room door and entered leaving her entourage standing in the hall.

 

~~~

 

Travis Taylor knelt next to the bed of his four-year-old daughter wrapping up the last leg of what was becoming a nightly tradition. For the fifth time, he’d finished reading the final pages of Charlie’s favorite book in the world: ‘The Princess of Shiloh.’

He waited patiently for her eyes to begin drooping before leaning forward to tuck her in. With any luck her eyes would give in and close allowing him to slowly sneak out of the room.

“Daddy?” she said.

Travis froze in place. Her tiny voice was little more than a sleepy whisper. “Read it again.”

He moved back to his position beside her bed and took a knee. “Again?”

She nodded in the animated way of a child.

From the moment she watched the movie she’d been obsessed with all things Princess Shiloh. Travis presented her with a miniature replica of Princess Shiloh’s dress, but was beginning to question his decision. She’d refused to take the thing off even to sleep.

“But you’re almost asleep,” he said softly.

“Nu uh.”

“Yes you are. Look, your eyes are drooping.”

“No they’re not. They’re just blinking.”

“Tell you what?” Travis said, leaning back. “If you go to sleep now, I’ll pick up The Princess of Shiloh tomorrow after work and we’ll make some popcorn and watch it together; Just us two.”

Charlie pondered the notion a moment. “Kay,” she said flopping on to her side.

Travis rubbed her shoulder. “When are you gonna’ take this dirty ol’ dress off?”

“Never,” Charlie grunted before finally drifting off.

After a lengthy quiet time, he finally, ever so quietly, stood and backed out of the room.

As much as he adored her, it was nice to have a few hours to himself.

He moved to his computer, logged on to Facebook and surfed through his news feed.

He laughed at Benny’s posts—his friend since grade school. They were always funny. Benny had a million Facebook friends all sharing a million posts daily and almost all of them were hilarious.

He went to his home page and pulled back, shocked. The video had over a thousand views. Up from just a little over a hundred the night before. He wished Charlie was up so they could see it together.

Charlie wouldn’t understand, of course; not even if the video went viral. God knew he’d taken his share of ribbing at work. Rarely a day went by without someone making a smart-ass remark about the video. He didn’t care all that much. Most of the time what they said was funny and everybody, without exception, loved little Charlie. So much so, the superintendent insisted he bring her around the office at every opportunity.

Which reminded him. He had to set the alarm on his phone; help him remember he had to pick up that video.

 

~~~

 

As far as Abigail Warren was concerned, hell was sitting on an oversized stool at five AM having someone paint her face with something called ‘Erase Paste’.

The ride over from the hotel had been a little bit of a break, however. She was able to leave the confines of her car without a paparazzi explosion. She’d even managed to wander unattended into an all-night McDonalds, belly up to the counter and order black coffee. A total of three McDonalds employees completely fell apart in response, but other than that, it was all relatively uneventful.

After several more agonizing hours in the makeup chair she would emerge entirely shrouded in a silicone body suit. It was hot and itchy. She was forced to wear yellow, cat-eye contacts that required hours to acclimate and if they weren’t paying her fifteen million dollars she would have been nowhere near this place.

She was a month into this project. It was a franchise; a super hero franchise and she had an option to pick up the final two. But this damn morning routine was making her question if she wanted any part of it.

A casual running conversation with nearby, Brenda Morrison, another actress undergoing makeup hell, was pretty much all that kept her from going insane.

“When I finally got to the car I was still asleep,” Abigail rambled. “I didn’t even have time to get coffee. I had Jerry stop at a McDonalds. He wanted to go through the drive through, but I had to wake up so he just parked and I went in.”

Brenda laughed. “I bet that caused a commotion.”

“Not really,” Abigail said. “There were just a couple girls and a guy. They seemed surprised but…it was pretty low key.”

“I love being recognized,” Brenda said. “It still happens every now and again but not that much anymore.”

The room quieted for a time before Abigail finally responded. “It can be pretty paralyzing not being able to show your face without causing an uproar. Having to plan every move you make. Everything you do; everything you say; every one you talk to…scrutinized.”

“Oh, I bet,” Brenda said.

Brenda’s makeup artist snorted.

For the first time it dawned on Abigail she was being mocked.

She sat quietly through the remainder of the process feeling humiliated. It was obvious others in the room sensed it and responded by offering silly, unsolicited encomia. Abigail knew what was happening. They were wondering if they hadn’t takin it a bit too far. Abigail was a super-star. One word from her and the lot of them would be on the street.

Finally, Abigail was asked to stand. At last she was in the final stages of her makeup routine.

Her assistant, Malorie, met her leaving makeup and two earpiece wearing stagehands escorted them to their trailer: a portable, rolling sanctuary provided for the high-level cast members.

Abigail no sooner entered when she dropped onto a nearby couch.

The trailer was relatively sparse and woefully under-decorated, especially considering it was currently being used by someone widely regarded as the world’s most recognizable movie star.

Creamed colored, fake wood paneling covered the walls from floor to ceiling, front to back. The living area, sectioned only by a love-seat to the front; dressing area to the back. A wall with a counter separating the two areas.

Upon the counter sat several cabinets supporting a coffee maker and microwave. Non-distinct prints in frames hung on the wall and flanked a blank flat screen.

“I’m so tired,” Abigail moaned. “I hardly slept last night, about slept through the alarm.”

Malorie sat in a matching chair across from her. She immediately unfolded a laptop and sat silently waiting for it to boot up. “Me too,” she said. “If Sterling shows up at all, I’m gonna kill him.”

“I didn’t see him anywhere near makeup,” Abigail said. “Bet he isn’t here.”

“If he doesn’t show up the studio is gonna kill him.”

“Why?” Abigail said, sitting up from her slouch. “I’m here… in my itchy suit. Ready for the cameras like an idiot.”

Malorie stopped scrolling through her Laptop notes and glanced up “Work ethics,” she said. “You have work ethics and he doesn’t. He’s just a stupid kid.”

Abigail grimaced back at her. “He’s ten years older than us!”

“You ready to go over these lines?” Malorie asked, changing the subject.

“I know the lines. I went over them yesterday in the car.”

“Should go over them—“

“Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation,” Abigail said interrupting, “and all of a sudden everything goes kinda’ quiet and you wonder if you said something wrong?”

“Just about every day,” Malorie said without looking up. “Sterling’s gonna demand you be on his right side so his dimple shows. Is that gonna throw you off—“

“We were talking about stopping at McDonalds this morning,” Abigail interrupted again. “I was saying how nice it was to not me mobbed and then everyone just clammed up.”

“Who was there?”

“Jan and Patricia, you know, makeup. Brenda and some other girl was there.”

“Brenda? The one playing Sibyl?”

“Yeah, I think it was her.”

“She’s been doing this for over twenty years. Can’t catch a break. No wonder she got a little pissed when you started… when you mentioned how nice it was to not be treated famous for a change.”

Abigail raised her head from the cushion and considered Malorie. “It pisses you off too, doesn’t it?”

“What pisses me off?”

“I’m famous. It pisses you off.”

“Of course it doesn’t piss me off! I work for you, remember? I gotta’ cush job because of you—“

“You’re pissed off.”

Malorie folded her laptop and directed her attention to Abigail. “Only when you complain. It only pisses people off when you complain about being famous.”

“Oh, so you admit it. You and others are pissed off because I’m famous!”

“Because you complain about being famous! There’s a difference!”

“Maybe you should go work for someone else!”

“No, I’m happy here.”

“Maybe I’ll fire you! Maybe I don’t like the idea of someone working for me hating me because I’m famous!”

“No, you won’t fire me! And who says I hate you?”

“What makes you think I won’t fire you?”

“Because I’m the only one who doesn’t treat you famous!”

“Oh shut-up!”

Malorie pulled her laptop open again. “Sure you don’t want to go over—“

“I can’t believe you don’t see it!”

Malorie glanced up, considered Abigail for a moment and closed her laptop again. “I see it,” she said softly. “I know it must be hard. But it was what you wanted. It was what we both wanted. Since we were in fourth grade. That’s all you talked about.”

Abigail leaned in. “Yes we did. We imagined sitting in a café and being asked for autographs, not getting mobbed. We imagined having cute boys fawning all over us. The only cute boys fawning over us are either screaming and acting like idiots or they’re in the business and so full of themselves they leak.

We never dreamed of being locked away in a hotel room for weeks at a time or being shuttled around having to advance every stop we make. Having to smile and wave while crowds and paparazzi mob us! Having tabloid rags invent entire scenarios about us, the uglier the better. Whatever sells their magazines. We didn’t sign up for this!”

Malorie Chuckled. “We? You’re including me in this? This is you, baby.”

Abigail sighed and stood. “You’re right. It’s just me. I’m alone in this.”

She turned and walked towards the back.

“Are you crying?” Malorie asked.

Abigail closed the door behind her without answering.

“If you’re crying,” Malorie yelled through the door, “makeup is gonna kill you! No, makeup is gonna kill me.”

Someone rapped on the door and hollered. “Ms. Warren? They’re ready for you on set.”

 

~~~

 

Electricians working under the banner of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (the IBEW) were a unique lot. Rather than being employed be a single firm they were, for the most part, made up of a pool of highly skilled and educated workers. They worked until a project was completed and then would return to their point of distribution known as ‘the hall’, and from there reassigned.

Because of their high skill level and work ethic, along with being able to fill a job site on practically a moment’s notice, they tended to man huge projects, some of them billing out at millions, employing an army and manning a single project for years at a time.

As with any other work force, the more knowledgeable members tended to rise in ranks to foremen usually running a crew of seven to ten men and women, and if they were very exceptional they would rise to General Foreman running four or five crews. This was Travis Taylor: General Foreman, AKA: GF.

His office consisted of a corner in a large room, a desk and a computer. Five oversized copy-machine, printers in the center of the room. Four more make-shift offices made for a formidable maze to be traversed on a daily basis. Travis’ immediate superior was Kenny Hatch: the job superintendent. This was their third project together and they had become close friends.

Like most mornings, Travis had been the first to arrive; usually around five AM. He was sitting at his desk, leaning back and eying a spreadsheet taking up the computer screen in front of him. Kenny passed on his way to his private office. He was softly singing the theme song to the movie: ‘Princess of Shiloh’. It was meant to goad a response out of Travis, but Travis didn’t take the bait.

“That reminds me,” Travis said without looking up. “I gotta’ stop at a red box and pick that movie up tonight. Promised Charlie. Remind me on the way out, will ya?”

Kenny grinned and circled back. “You got over ten thousand views.”

Travis pulled his attention from the computer screen and spun his chair to face Kenny. “You serious?”

“Check it out, dude.”

Travis reached for his phone and pulled the Facebook video up. “I’ll be damned,” he grunted. “Last night it topped a thousand. I was surprised by that.”

“That’s a cute kid you got,” Kenny said. “Sadie loves that video. You’re not a bad opera singer, dude. You should go on America’s got Talent.”

“I’m a terrible singer,” Travis said.

“Yeah I know. I’d just like to watch Simon tell you.”

Travis laughed.

“My wife’s friend saw that video,” Kenny said. “She’s in lust. And she ain’t bad looking.”

“Because of the video?”

“Oh yeah. Like I said before, the wife loves the thing and her and her little sister says you two, you and Charlie, are adorable or something. Bet you could take Jana, my sister-in-law out too.”

“Yeah, that’s just what Charlie and I need right now,” Travis said, “a grownup hanging around.”

“Just sayin’, bud,” Kenny said walking away, “they’re out there.” He stopped and turned. “Need a full material rundown and two week forecast on D6 before noon. GF meeting at 10. See ya there, bud.”

Travis pulled his attention back to the spreadsheet he was working on. Damn, he thought. That silly little video has taken off. It was something completely off the cuff. Charlie couldn’t stop talking about the movie so Travis ordered a miniature Princess Shiloh dress off Amazon. One thing led to another and the next thing he knew, he’s reenacting the Prince and the Princess scene in front of a smartphone duct-taped to a chair.

Lucky for him the scene didn’t require an Amazon outfit for him since the Prince, in this scene anyway, was disguised as a woodsman. Travis rolled a blanket around the dirty driveway and it seemed to appease Charlie just fine.

The scene wasn’t hard for either of them. They both, especially Charlie, had their lines down pat. Charlie threw herself into the part as if it were a Spielberg production as Travis belted out his theme song using his best vibrato-laden opera voice. He had to admit. Charlie was a heart-melter and he was pretty damn funny.

He sent the video to Charlie’s grandmother and she insisted he put it up on Facebook. Travis was reluctant, wasn’t sure it couldn’t affect Charlie in a negative way, but then again, he was always a little paranoid when it came to Charlie. Still, the video thing was kinda’ fun and despite what he’d said to Kenny, he wouldn’t have minded all that much hanging around someone special again. God knew it had been a while. Between the job and Charlie there wasn’t a whole lotta’ time left over.

~~~

 

On set catering was anything but glamorous at least for the crew and extras hired on to be background. The A player’s such as Abigail Warren and Sterling Jones had the option of taking their lunches in their quarters but quiet often Abigail, Malorie, a few of the bolder B actors would take up a place at one end of a favored folding table.

Sterling Jones, Abigail’s co-star, made a habit of sauntering in and around giggling, red faced female extra’s and crew like an ego vampire unable to resist his daily gorging.

For the most part, the extras kept a distance only staring and goggling when not observed. The seasoned crew, on the other hand, stayed mostly unimpressed.

Abigail sat tugging at the corners of her turkey sandwich trying to formulate a strategy for getting it eaten. Malorie sat nearby, her face in her laptop going over the business of the day.

Abigail glanced to her left and spotted Brenda, the actress she’d shared the makeup room with. Brenda noticed Abigail looking her way and quickly broke eye contact.

She really does hate me, Abigail thought, making yet another silent vow to never speak of her isolation with strangers…or Malorie…again.

“Are you gonna eat those?” Malorie asked pointing at Abigail’s pile of fries.

Abigail pulled out of her reverie and pushed the plate towards Malorie. “I’m not hungry…and no, it’s not because I’m a star and used to eating scallops and caviar.”

Malorie pulled back. “Boy, I really set you off didn’t I?”

Abigail sent her a black look. “Well you didn’t exactly help!”

Malorie folded her laptop and pushed it into a nearby backpack. “You’re right,” she said finally. “I was being pretty cynical. Pretty uh…I wasn’t being understanding…”

“You were being an asshole!”

“You’re right. You’re right. I just….”

“You’re jealous.”

“Well damn right I’m jealous! You and I went to High School together, left school to do the modeling thing together. Lived in a one bedroom apartment eating ramen noodles together. Went to auditions together only you got the damned parts! Do you really think this is how I envisioned it?”

She pushed her chair back, turned to face Abigail and took both her hands. “Do you really think the success bothers me? The money? The fame? No! None of that. It’s when you have the audacity to actually complain! That just… that drives me insane! Look! Maybe it’s time we part ways. Maybe it’s…” she glanced up and groaned: “Incoming, six o’clock.”

Abigail felt hands land on her shoulders and instantly knew who they belonged to: Sterling Jones.

“What are you two up to?” He asked, towering over Abigail.

Abigail watched him pull up a chair and sit beside her.

“We’re fighting,” Abigail said. “What are you up to?”

“That was a pretty steamy scene this morning,” Sterling said, dismissing Abigail’s answer. “It was hot.”

Abigail couldn’t help but giggle. “It was acting.”

Sterling grinned back, unfazed by the rebuff. “I think you’re acting now.”

“I think you’re acting like an idiot,” Malorie said, breaking her silence.

Sterling glanced up at Malorie as if noticing her for the first time.

“You and I should go out,” he said shifting his attention back to Abigail.

“My entourage or yours?”

“So I was right. You want to go out with me.”

“No.”

“Changed your mind already?”

“Nope, never wanted to go out with you.”

“After that kiss this morning?”

“Acting.”

“Oh come on—“

“Acting, I was acting. I don’t find you attractive. I had to conjure up Zac Efron just to force myself to kiss you. That’s why it seemed passionate…I was pretending you were Zac Efron.”

“Efron? That kid?”

“He’s my age. You’re old. leave me alone.”

“Ooo, you’re hard,” Sterling said, backing off.

He stood and pushed the chair back under the table. “I’m not that into you either. Just wanted to see if the tabs are right, see if you’d sleep with anybody.”

He turned to leave but Abigail called him back. “Let me ask you a question.”

Sterling grinned. “Oh… now that I’m leaving you wanna’ talk—?”

“What do you think of this life?”

Sterling pulled back, obviously agitated by Abigail’s complete dismissal of his witty put-down. “This what?”

“This life,” Abigail said. “This…fame. Is it what you expected?”

“Expected?”

“Is it what you wanted? Doesn’t it all just drive you…insane?”

“What, are you crazy? I busted my ass for this life. I love it! Of course, I love it. What are you saying? Two academy awards, three movie franchises, being able to work with…” he paused to put both beefy arms out to his sides, “Sterling effin Jones? That’s not enough for you?”

Both girls laughed.

“What?” Sterling barked dropping his arms to his sides. He pointed a finger at Abigail and dropped his thumb mimicking the hammer on a pistol. “You just assed out, girl! Don’t even come lookin’.”

He turned and wandered off towards a giggling group of female extras.

“Wrong question for him,” Malorie said as she watched him go. “This whole…shallow…attention thing is all that guy lives for. I predict the moment he loses his beauty he commits suicide.”

“So, you at least admit it’s shallow?”

“Of course,” Malorie said, “but some people are fine with shallow. let me ask you this: did you notice that Sterling never even noticed I was sitting here? At least not until I insulted him and then it was just a glance.

I used to be pretty. I was just as popular in high school as you were. Now no one notices me and do you know why? It’s because I still live in the un-shallow world you miss so badly.”

She sighed and leaned back. “You keep acting like I don’t notice how weird things have become for you, that I’m blind to your struggle, but you have never seemed to even notice mine.”

She stood and pushed her chair back. “I’m serious. I’m really thinking about going back home. Do you mind if I leave the set now? I really want to think.”

Abigail drew quiet. “If you leave I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Malorie threw her a stern look.

“I know…I know,” Abigail said before Malorie was able to respond. “I’m being selfish but…you’re right. You’re the only person in the world who doesn’t treat me famous. What can I do?”

Malorie reached and squeezed Abigail’s hand. “We’ll talk later, okay?”

Tears filled Abigail’s eyes as she watched Malorie walk away. “Hey!” she yelled.

Malorie stopped and turned.

“You’re dreaming. You were never as popular as me in High School.”

Malorie grinned, waved Abigail off and exited the building.

 

Chapter Two

~~~

 

The Pullman limo pulled away from historic Paramount Pictures and turned right on Melrose Avenue.

Abigail sat alone in the back seat. Malorie had gone on before and Abigail couldn’t blame her. Malorie was right. Abigail had been so absorbed in her own world she hadn’t even notice Malorie’s distress.

In the beginning, when Abigail landed the sit-com, Malorie was ecstatic. It was almost as though her career was exploding rather than Abigail’s. Then came the franchise: a film adaption of the most popular book series seen in years. Abigail won the starring role and was proclaimed the ‘it’ girl overnight.

It all seemed so clear to Abigail as she sat watching the stores and shops go by on Melrose. Abigail’s meteoric rise to fame was so sudden and intense it completely overshadowed Malorie.

How could she have been so complacent not to have even noticed her best friend fading away. She’d been so comfortable with Malorie by her side she hadn’t lifted a finger to help her the way she’d been helped.

She made a mental note. She was going to let Malorie go. And after letting her go, she was going to pull every string; call every favor; threaten and bribe anyone she could to see to it that Malorie received the push she’d always dreamed of.

A dress in the window of a small shop caught her attention and pulled her from her thoughts. “hold it, Jerry,” she said, leaning forward to get the ear of her driver. “Go around the block and stop in front of Mims. I want to check something out.”

She decided then and there to buy Malorie something. She’d buy her a personal gift, a peace offering, and fill her in on her plans for going forward. The driver circled the block and pulled up in front of the store. Abigail sat for a time looking out her tinted windows at the storefront display. Without notice she reached and opened the door.

“What are you doing?” her driver yelled. “You can’t go out there!”

“No one’s in there,” Abigail said stepping out of the car.

The driver quickly shifted to the passenger side, rolled down his window and grunted in as loud a whisper as he could muster. “Abby! Abby! We don’t have anyone here! We have no security!”

“No one’s even in there,” Abigail said. “It’s just like McDonald’s. I won’t be long.”

The driver barked an unintelligible plea as Abigail left the car and wandered into the shop.

Before she reached the second isle of clothing the driver had rushed up behind her. He quickly jerked a pair of sunglasses out of his pocket and pushed them towards her.

“At least put these on!” he barked.

She glanced at them and grimaced. “I’m not wearing those. Those are hideous.”

She looked up and found herself face to face with a young, female costumer. She was standing directly across an isle of displayed clothing. The girl’s eyes widened and her chin dropped. Abigail quickly spun to face her driver, yanked the glasses from his hand and put them on her face…but it was too late.

The girl across the aisle yelped and jumped back. “Abigail Warren!”

Abigail threw her a quick smile and wave. “Hi,” she said softly.

“Oh my God!” The girl yelled. “I love you!”

Abigail could practically visualize the ‘I told you so’ subliminal message her driver was sending her way.

Abigail put her finger to her mouth. “Shh,” she said softly, “I’m just…I’m in a little bit of a hurry.”

The girl was now scrambling through her bag. Within moments she came up with an iPhone and pushed it at Abigail? “Just one picture?”

“She’s in a hurry,” the driver said, obviously concerned.

“Sure,” Abigail said, to the driver’s dismay, “but let’s keep it quiet. I don’t want to….”

She glanced up and noticed six, maybe seven faces staring at her, all with the same wide eyes and open mouths.

“We’ve got to go,” the driver said, taking hold of Abigail’s arm.

He pulled her towards the door but they were stopped by several costumers who quickly moved into their path.

Within moments everyone was shouting. phones where coming out of bags and being pushed in Abigail’s face.

The driver tried to physically drag Abigail out the door but she resisted.

“Yes!” she yelled over the commotion. “We can take a few pictures.”

Within moments she was surrounded and separated from the only security she had.

She took the phone from one of the frazzled fans, leaned into her, smiled her radiant smile and snapped the picture. In a flash a half dozen smart-phones were in her face.

“Hold on!” she said as loud as she could, “we’ll get them all.”

But the group wasn’t listening. She glanced around for her driver and spotted him standing nearby making a phone call. He was obviously very concerned. He was downright scared. As she looked around she noticed several people running head on into the store.

Across the street, she spotted the familiar form of a faceless, camera wielding paparazzi racing towards the store. The word was out. Abigail Warren had been spotted in a little, out of the way shop on Melrose. She began to panic.

With the commotion came more and more people pouring into the store. She was being jostled. She could see her driver desperately trying to wade into the Malay. Someone else, likely the store manager, pushed, shouted and shoved but it was to no avail.

“Abigail, Abigail! ABIGAIL! ABIGAIL!” The paparazzi screamed over the widening crowd. “IS IT TRUE THAT YOUR BOYFRIEND, BROCK ABBYSON, POSTED NUDE PICTURES OF YOU ON INSTRAGRAM?”

“ABIGAIL! HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BROCK DATING AGAIN?”

“ABIGAIL! HAS YOUR FAMILY SEEN THOSE NUDE PICTURES BROCK POSTED ON INSTRAGRAM?” “WHAT DOES YOUR FATHER SAY ABOUT YOU POSTING NUDE PICTURES ON INSTAGRAM?”

One of a dozen flashing paparazzi cameras struck her face just above her left eyebrow. She became terrified. She lashed out at the offending camera. The paparazzi, smelling a money shot, converged, pressing her into a corner.

She screamed for her driver and spotted familiar faces. It was her security; all of them. They were pushing their way through the mallei and wasn’t being gentle about it.

Within seconds she was surrounded and the entire group bulldozed their way through the door, out into the clamoring sidewalk where she was shoved through the open door of her waiting car. Malorie, already in place, reached and pulled her in beside her.

The paparazzi surrounded the car. Cameras flashed. faceless people yelled, everyone pushing and shoving. Finally, the car was able to nudge its way through the crowd, onto the street and within moments they were once again traveling west on Melrose.

“Son of a bitch!” Abigail wailed, tears painting her cheeks in mascara. Her signature red hair was frazzled and she was bleeding slightly from the bang on the forehead received from the paparazzi’s camera.

“What’s….” she coughed through bouts of sobbing, “what’s wrong with those people?”

The car with the paparazzi in pursuit raced back to the hotel. They were rushed through gates leading into the underground parking effectively cutting off the ever-perusing paparazzi.

The troop finally made their way up the express elevator and found a crimson faced Bevaun Gibson waiting for them in Abigail’s private room.

He seemed to pay no attention to how disheveled Abigail looked. He just began yelling.

“Could you please explain to me what the world’s most recognized movie star was doing all by herself strolling nonchalantly around a clothing store smack in the middle of Hollywood?” He immediately shifted his attention to the bedazzled driver standing nearby. “And you! You get your belongings and get out! You’re fired!”

“It wasn’t his fault,” Abigail said sheepishly. “It was my fault.”

“I don’t give a shit about that!” the manager raged. “It’s his job to get you from point A to point B without getting you killed! It’s not a difficult job—“

“I just wanted a damn gift. I didn’t think anyone was even there—“

“There’s always someone there…and, you’ve got a room full of people who could’ve gotten that gift for you! If you wanted to go shopping, we could have made arraignments and…” the manager pointed a finger at the driver. “Why are you still here?”

“He’s not going anywhere!” Abigail yelled.

The uncustomary response brought silence to the crowded room. She was often sullen, but none had ever seen her truly angry.

“It was my fault. I wanted a gift and SHUT UP!”

Abigail was screaming now.

“GET OUT! GET THE HELL OUT OF MY ROOM!”

Her staff’s collective response was to stop in place and stare at her.

Abigail felt herself boil over. She began shoving.

“GET OUT! GET OUT! GET THE HELL OUT!”

Bevaun, obviously unnerved my Abigail’s behavior, began herding everyone out of her room.

The moment he cleared the room Abigail hollered: “Bevaun! Stay! We need to talk.”

“I know, sweetie. You’re unhappy. But you’ll get used to it—“

“I want you to find representation for Malorie.”

Bevaun frowned. “Malorie…your assistant?”

“No, Malorie the actress.”

“Since when?”

“Since right now.”

Bevaun smirked and shook his head. “Sweetie, that’s not the way it works—“

“Why not?”

“Because she’s never even made it through a screen test. She’s never had a part. You can’t just demand that the people in charge take a chance on her.”

“They took a chance on me!”

“They saw something in you. That’s what they do. These people know what they’re doing—“

“You know what?” Abigail interrupted, “I call bullshit! Every other person in Hollywood is somebody’s son or daughter. Everybody knows it’s not what you know, it’s who you know and I want Malorie to start benefiting from who she knows.”

Bevaun sighed. “I’ll do what I can, but I don’t see—“

“If you don’t help her, I’m gonna personally start shopping for her… and maybe for me.”

“Sweetie…come on, you’re not taking this—“

“If you call me sweetie once more I’m gonna throat punch you!” Abigail yelled. “I make your company millions! You’re gonna start treating me that way. Find Malorie representation! I expect things to start happening for her…fast. Now get out of my room!”

 

~~~

 

Travis reached his home before remembering Charlie’s video. By the time he returned with the video Charlie had spent ten minutes vigilantly watching out the living room window. Her tiny face beamed as he pulled into the driveway.

He stepped out of his company truck and slowly pulled the video out from behind his back.

Charlie giggled and clapped her little hands. Amy, Charlie’s babysitter, appeared at the window, pulled Charlie away and the two of them appeared at the door.

“Told you I’d bring you a movie,” Travis said as he moved up the small landing of stairs leading onto his porch.

“You forgot,” Charlie said.

Amy laughed. “She saw you pull up and leave.”

“No I didn’t forget!” Travis countered, “I just decided I didn’t want that dumb ol’ movie. I got one about the news instead.”

“Nooo!” Charlie wailed in mock anger. The grin on her face gave her away. “You got Princess Shiloh. I already saw it!”

“Oh crap!” Travis barked. “I guess I must have got that movie instead—“

Charlie had already snatched the video from Travis’ hand, pulled away from her babysitter and was moving head-long towards the DVD player.

“Wait, where you going?” Travis yelled. “We have to eat first.”

He smiled at his babysitter. “Sorry I’m late,” he said quietly. “I spaced it.”

Amy giggled. “I wonder if she’ll ever outgrow that movie…speaking of which, your video has fifty-thousand views.”

Travis’ mouth dropped. “Are you kidding?”

“Nope, it’s going viral.”

 

~~~

 

Charlie was anything if not predictable. Dinner had been the same as it always was prior to a Princess showing: Macaroni and cheese with chopped hotdogs. Thank God Amy, the babysitter, had her buffaloed. Otherwise that’s all she would eat.

Travis knew there would be a day of reckoning, a time when he would have to stop being a pushover and start being a dad but he hoped to at least have a few more years. Charlie would have plenty of time to get angry and rebel but for now he was perfectly content to remain putty in her little hands.

They chatted as they munched and once again Travis was surprised at how much a four-year-old and her dad had to talk about.

Apparently, Charlie had seen a spider in her room. Amy couldn’t find it, so she let Charlie nap on the couch. A big red fire truck went right by their house but didn’t have the whistle on. “You mean siren?” Travis asked, but Charlie had already changed subjects.

“Do you know that ants have queens?”

Travis raised his eyebrows, “really? I wonder if they have princesses?”

“No,” Charlie answered wiping her mouth with her forearm. “Just queens.”

“Maybe you could be their princess.” Travis said, “you already know how.”

“Maybe,” she answered, her legs swinging under the table. “I already know how.”

“Let’s watch the princess movie and you can practice being a princess even more.”

Her eyes widened. “Yeah! I’ll practice!” she said, bounding off the chair.

“Hold up, we have to clean the dishes first.”

Dinner officially ended with Travis rinsing, handing the dishes down to Charlie, who haphazardly place them in the dishwasher.

Finally, father and daughter settled down to watch the Princess of Shiloh for at least the tenth time. Charlie, sitting in Travis’ lap, leaned back against his chest and watched, enraptured until their scene came on and both reenacted their parts at the top of their lungs. When the scene was finished, Travis reached for the remote and paused the movie.

“Do you know how many people have seen the video we made for grandma?”

Charlie looked up at him and shook her head.

“More than fifty thousand people!”

Charlie glanced back at the TV screen, obviously unimpressed.

“That’s enough people to fill a whole football stadium.”

Again, Charlie seemed completely unfazed.

“Do you want me to turn the movie back on?”

Charlie gave him a quick nod of approval and the movie resumed.

A half hour later the video ended as it always had: Princess Shiloh rescued by the prince and Charlie snoozing in her daddy’s arms.

 

~~~

 

Abigail answered her phone on the third ring.

“Mind if I come over? I’ve got something I want to go over with you.”

“Malorie, hi. Yeah, we need to talk.”

Malorie occupied a hotel room two doors down so the knock on the door came almost immediately.

Abigail no sooner opened the door when Malorie surged past, laptop open in her hands.

“I think I might have an idea,” she said. “I think I may have figured out an outlet for you.”

Abigail giggled. “Hi Malorie. Won’t you come in?”

Malorie moved to one of three luxurious couches and dropped her open laptop on the coffee table in front of it. “Look what I’ve done.”

Abigail joined her on the couch, leaned in to better view the laptop and pulled back. “Facebook?”

“Yeah, Facebook. Look, I’ve created a bogus page for you. No one will have a clue who you are.”

“What’ll be the point in that?” Abigail asked.

Malorie flipped her hands. “It’s obvious you want to get a break from this life. You don’t want to quit; you just want a break, have some time and just chat with people—“

“Why would I want to chat with strangers? Hell, why would they want to chat with me?”

“I’m constantly talking to people I don’t know on Facebook. People who post things that come up on my page; people I don’t know responding to posts on my page…’ I’ve made friends with people that way.”

Abigail leaned back and shook her head. “I don’t know, every time I get on Facebook I come across something about myself that pisses me off, and it’s a nightmare trying to communicate with people.”

“That’s because they know who you are. Look: I’ve put together a ‘Friends’ list, and an ‘About’ section. I found a very normal person and stole her profile…well her pictures anyway.”

“What? You can’t do that!”

“Why not?” Malorie said. “It’s not like you’re planning anything malicious. This girl…these pictures will never come up because this girl is so average, and even if they did, we’ll just delete the profile. It’s not like you’ll be doing it a long time. You just need a break, remember?

Just go on there and strike up a conversation or two. It’s a chance for you to go completely unnoticed. Isn’t that what you want? If only as a break?”

Abigail blew out a sigh. “Well you’ve obviously put in a lot of time. I’ll give it a try.”

“Good!” Malorie said. “I mailed you the address. I’ll give you a week before the mundane-ness drives you insane.”

Abigail smiled, reached and pulled Malorie in for a hug. “I love you, you know. You’re still the best friend I’ve ever had in the world.”

Malorie patted her on the back. “I know. I love you too. Just…got a little emotional today. I didn’t mean—“

“Yes you did,” Abigail interrupted. “And you were absolutely right, and I absolutely needed to hear it.”

Malorie pulled away. “Anyway,” she said, obviously trying to change the subject, “what you got going tonight?”

“I don’t know,” Abigail answered. “I thought maybe you and I could watch a movie, have some popcorn or something.”

Malorie frowned. “I gotta date.”

Abigail was surprised by the unreasonable rush of jealousy that suddenly overwhelmed her.

Had it come to this? she thought. I’m jealous because she has a life other than mine?

“Really? With who? Anyone I know?”

“It’s nothing,” Malorie said. “Some guy I met at the eatery in the lobby.”

“Here?”

“Yeah, just today. We’re going to the Spence. Probably won’t be long.”

“Cool. Go have fun.”

“I can’t believe you’re gonna be in tonight. Aren’t there about a thousand guys you could call…have somebody call?”

“No,” Abigail said. “After today I just want some peace and quiet.”

Truth was, after the over publicized breakup with her jerk, movie-star boyfriend she hadn’t so much as considered associating with a man, especially a man in the business and the wall of fame pretty much prevented her even meeting anyone normal.

Maybe Malorie was on to something with this make-believe Facebook profile.

“I’ll play around with your Facebook page,” Abigail continued. “That should keep me busy for a while.”

 

Chapter Three

 

~~~

 

Within an hour of Malorie leaving, Abigail was surfing her new Facebook page. Malorie had done a pretty convincing job. Apparently, Abigail had around 300 make-believe friends. That used to be about average, but it had been awhile.

The picture that was supposed to be her was perfect. Nothing bad, nothing good. Pretty but not too pretty…just a person. She surfed over her make-believe friends list wondering if there could possibly be any actual connections. Not much of a chance of that, but she wanted to be sure.

Also, it seemed reasonable to see if any haters were in her supposed list of friends. She paused a good ten minutes before finally making the move; the move that always seemed to ruin her day.

She went to: search Facebook/Abigail Warren. She’d never been blessed with the hardest skin, but her curiosity got the better of her.

The moment the results appeared she was sorry she’d gone there. Her own official Facebook page appeared, of course, followed by never ending streams of anyone mentioning her on a post for any reason.

“What am I doing?” she asked herself aloud. Still she scrolled. There was a lot of positive posts. She made a mental note to try and remember those when she came across the inevitable hateful posts. Several streams revolving around one related subject caught her.

It was a video featuring a father and tiny, adorable daughter. It caught her eye because the little girl was dressed in a miniature version of the very distinct dress she’d worn in her movie: ‘The Princess Of Shiloh’, a Disney production she’d been involved in just prior to the big franchise.

She clicked on the video and instantly smiled. This child was adorable. She was so intense, her large, flashing eyes, perfect little dimples and overplayed expressions were simply irresistible. And she could sing.

When it came time for the adult holding her on his lap to sing — obviously, her father—Abigail found herself laughing in a way she hadn’t laughed in a long time. The father pushed his chest out and began belting out his part in what could only be described as a caricature of an opera singer.

What brought Abigail to laughter was the little girl’s adorable response. She gazed up at him, her tiny face tilting to and fro, beaming her dimpled smile of adoration. She was clearly into the part.

The moment the short video ended she had to watch it again, and again. Each time the father sang, she broke into laughter.

The fourth time through, she found her attention turning to the dad. He was dressed in a dark, grimy tee shirt that looked like it had been rolled in dirt. Over his broad shoulders an equally grimy blanket rested. It was obviously the duo’s attempt at representing Prince Randolph’s Woodsman costume worn by her douchebag co-star, Bobby knight. The father was relatively tall and well built.

He was young, probably mid-twenties. She noticed that he filled the chair he was sitting in quite nicely. He had sandy, blond hair that was short, and a nice face. It was obvious where the child’s dimples came from.

By far, the father’s most attractive, even endearing feature was his obvious adoration for his little daughter.

Abigail wondered if they’d made any more videos. She followed the link to the father’s Facebook page.

The video had over a million views. No wonder; at least ten of those views had been of her making.

This might be just the place to start, Abigail thought. A tiny green dot signified he was currently online. I’ll message this guy. At least we’ll have something to talk about. She brought up his message board and began typing.

 

~~~

 

As with most nights, Charlie awoke during the lap-to-bed transformation. After much deliberation, Travis was allowed to read from a ‘Winnie the Pooh and friends’ book in place of The Princess book. Maybe Charlie was finally moving on. Travis was grateful.

One cold beer and half a Marlin’s rerun later, Travis settled in front of his computer screen. The video had exploded in only a few hours. Over a million views and that might have only been a tip of the iceberg.

People had shared it. Several people had put it up on YouTube. Unexpected was the sudden gush of female attention the video garnered. Not that he didn’t enjoy it. It didn’t take a genius to realize this sudden burst of attention was, at the most, a passing fancy.

He decided to go with it. His message board and friend requests were bulging. The clear majority of messages read like sex adds on sleazy web sites. Maybe it was simply the convenience of not having to read more than a full sentence that caused him to answer the message that simply said, “hello.”

“Hi,” he typed back.

A thumbnail in the top left of the post told him he was speaking with a female.

“Hello,” an answer came. “Are you the guy with the adorable daughter?”

“That’s me,” Travis typed. “That’s my little girl.”

“Love the princess dress.”

“Amazon. 20 bucks.”

“Do you mind talking? I could use someone to talk to.”

He took a moment to go into the stranger’s Facebook profile. Her name was Sandy Allen. He considered her profile picture a moment. She was pretty…something about her face seemed familiar…and then he realized. This woman had an amazing resemblance to a girl he’d had a mad crush on in third grade. Clearly, it wasn’t her, but the resemblance was jarring. He scrolled to the: ‘About’ icon.

Sandy was a student living in Chicago. Her taste in music was eclectic ranging from hip-hop to soft jazz. Her tastes in books appeared to be young adult romance. She was not religious and was studying accounting.

He scrolled back to the messages and typed: “don’t mind at all. Are you by chance related to Becca Davis from Utah?”

“Not that I know of. Why do you ask?”

“Just somebody I knew a while ago. You remind me of her.”

“Nope, no relation.”

“What would you like to talk about?”

“Can’t get enough of that video,” Sandy continued. “It always makes me smile. Do you mind if I friend you? Make it easier to find that video when I’m feeling down and need a smile?”

“Better yet,” Travis replied. “I’ll go friend you.”

He went back to her page and clicked the ‘Friends’ icon, ‘friended’ Sandy, and returned to his message board.

“Okay, we’re friends. What would you like to talk about?”

“We could talk about the video. Your wife must love it.”

“I’m not married.”

“Then I bet Charlie’s mom loves it.”

Travis pulled back. “How do you know my daughter’s name?”.

“Her name is all over the video’s comments.”

“Oh, of course. Far as I know, Charlie’s mom doesn’t know about the video, Long story. You’re a student?”

“You trolled my Facebook profile?”

“Wanted to know who I’m walking to.”

“Yeah student. How about you?”

“I’m an electrician.”

“I had a hard day today.”

Hmm, quick change of subject, Travis thought. Must be boring her.

“Oh, I could tell you about hard days,” Travis answered. “What do you want to know about them?”

“How to avoid them.”

“you got me there. I haven’t a clue how to avoid them.”

He waited a moment and then resumed.

“So… tell me about your bad day.”

“It’s my work. I just had a lot of pressure today.”

“So, you’re a working student?”

“Yeah.”

“See now, I know I can help you. I’m the king of pressure.”

“Really?”

“Yup.”

“What do you do that brings you so much pressure?”

“I’m an IBEW electrician general foreman.”

“Mm, sounds impressive. Who pressures you?”

“The superintendent, the owner of the company, the Union, the project supervisor…it goes on and on, but mostly I apply the pressure. I’m the pressure applier. They call me the pressure cooker I apply so much pressure.”

“Oo, you sound scary.”

“I’m very scary.”

“You don’t look very scary on that video with your little girl.”

Travis pulled back. This person seemed to have a real interest in his little girl. He decided to proceed with caution.

“That video was just a little thing we did for my mother. I should take it down.”

“Oh no, don’t. It’s going viral and you’re… and little Charlie is adorable. I’ve watched that video ten times.”

Travis decided to delete the video the moment this conversation was over.

“Do you have any kids?” He continued finally.

“No, no kids.”

“What do you do for a living between classes.”

After a reasonably long pause the texts continued: “I’m a, I’m an accountant.”

“What does an accountant do?”

“We…account for things.”

“What things?”

“Budget, payroll things.”

“Tell me about the pressure.”

“Hope I don’t scare you away with that video thing. I’m harmless. Honest I am.”

Travis was surprised at how transparent he was apparently being. He felt a little foolish for his mistrust.

“I think I’m gonna delete it.”

“Please don’t. I won’t look at it anymore.”

“What do you like so much about that video?”

“I don’t know,” the answer came. “It’s just so tender. You two have this magic. You’re very lucky, you know. So is Charlie. A lot of people don’t have magic.”

“You don’t have any magic?”

“No magic.”

“It’s kid’s, you know. The magic comes with kids.”

“Is that the secret?”

“That’s it.”

“How am I supposed to get a kid?”

“I’m probably not the one you need to talk to about that. Just talk to any grownup.”

“LOL, that’s not what I meant, dork.”

“You’re young,” Travis continued. “Magic will come. Don’t be in such a hurry.”

“But I’m lonely.”

Travis paused a moment. This conversation was suddenly getting heavy. Finally, he continued.

“You’re young; you’re pretty; you have a lot of friends. Why would you be lonely?”

“Sometimes a crowd is the loneliest place a person can be.”

“I wouldn’t know about that. I spend as little time as possible being in crowds.”

Travis waited a half hour for the next message but it never came. Too bad, he thought. He was starting to feel at ease with this stranger.

 

~~~

 

The conversation was getting a little too person for Abigail. It wasn’t the guy, it was her. She made a mental note to keep it light going forward. The guy seemed nice enough. He seemed confident. She liked that. Except for her sudden slip into the dark side, she’d had fun.

She was surprised at how comforting it was to simply have a normal conversation with a normal person with a normal life. She found herself wishing she’d stayed on with him.

She returned to the guy’s page and hovered over his ‘Friends’ for a time. He had a lot. He had a few friends she thought she might share a common interest with. She made a mental note to contact a few of them in the future. She was starting to get into this.

As she continued to scroll she found herself searching out and watching the guy’s video again. Travis was his name. Up until then she hadn’t bothered to check. For some unexplainable reason, halfway through watching the video the second time she began to cry.

 

~~~

 

It was a beautiful Saturday morning and as promised, Travis packed up their pickup truck and headed out for Hogle Zoo, located just east of downtown Salt Lake City. Amidst Charlie’s strong objections, he’d rented a large stroller. Charlie reminded him several times that she wasn’t a baby, but Travis knew a half hour hiking the twists and turns of the zoo would take its toll and Charlie would be wanting to hitch a ride.

For the time being, the stroller was serving as a drink and cotton-candy transporter.

“What’s that?” Charlie asked pointing a chubby finger at a bizarre looking creature appearing to be closely inspecting the ground in its cage.

“I think that’s a…” Travis paused long enough to glance at the nearby plaque, “an anteater.”

Charlie flopped her head back and looked up at her dad. “Why do they call it that?”

“I’m betting because it eats ants.”

Charlie looked back and took a moment to closely inspect the creature before returning her attention to Travis. “That big thing eats little ants?”

“It probably has to,” Travis answered deadpan. “Have you seen the price of hotdogs in this place?”

Someone nearby giggled.

“Does it bite you?” Charlie asked, unfazed by her dad’s attempt at humor.

“I don’t know. Should we go in there and find out?”

Charlie jerked her head up again. “No way! I’m not going in there.”

“Good call,” Travis said. “I didn’t want to go in there either.”

“Let’s go see the efilents!” Charlie yelled pointing in the direction of an entirely different path.

“Elephants, not efilents, and we should see what’s up ahead on this path instead of walking back and forth all over the place.”

“What way is up ahead?” Charlie asked, her tiny face pulled up in confusion.

Travis pointed. “Up ahead’s that way. They’ve got gorillas up there.”

“What’s a gorilla?”

“You’ll see.”

They slowly made their way up a winding path towards the gorilla enclosure. Charlie trotted along, one hand guiding the stroller as they went.

Without notice, she broke rank and sprinted towards a gorilla display; a life-sized, outline of an adult Gorilla’s form. Its long arms were extended out away from its sides.

Charlie reached the display, spun and put her arms out.

“Look Daddy at how huge a gorilla is!” she hollered.

Travis chuckled. The life-sized display absolutely dwarfed her.

“Let’s go see the real thing,” Travis said, slowly moving away.

Charlie hopped several times and broke into a trot quickly catching up.

They moseyed towards the front of the enclosure and stopped at a walled barricade.

Travis lifted Charlie onto his shoulders.

“Wow!” she hooted. “Look how big, dad!”

A huge, silverback Gorilla sat squatted on a flat rock heavily shaded by foliage. It appeared to be playing with its bellybutton.

“Hey big gorilla!” Charlie hollered. She leaned forward to get Travis’ ear. “He’s fat, dad!”

the gorilla responded by reaching up and picking its nose. Charlie broke into peals of laughter.

People all around giggled and cooed at the sound of it.

Travis lifted Charlie off his shoulders and placed her on the concrete walkway.

“Let’s go see the bears,” he said as he prepared to push the stroller.

“You’re a cute dad,” a nearby woman said.

She was wandering past in a small family group.

“Hey!” a teenage girl in the group said pulling to a stop. “You’re the two in that video!”

The group stopped and collectively turned in Travis’ direction.

“That guy’s the one who is singing with that little girl!” the teenager yelled.

Another woman in the group stepped towards Charlie and leaned forwards. Charlie backed off slightly.

“You are that little girl, aren’t you?”

Charlie backed off and put a bear hug on Travis’ leg.

“Oh,” the lady groaned standing up. “I scared you.”

“This is Charlie,” Travis said, slightly irritated by the intrusion. “She’s a little shy—“

“And you’re the dad.”

“Yeah, Travis said. “It was just a video we made for my mo—“

The teenaged girl squealed, interrupting Travis mid-sentence. “I knew it was you!”

“Come on guys!” an older man in the group barked. “Leave ‘em alone! You’re scaring that poor little girl to death!”

After a little more prodding, the group reluctantly moved on chattering and glancing back as they went.

Charlie slowly turned loose of Travis’ leg and looked up at her dad. “Who was that?”

“Those were some people who saw the video we made for grandma. I guess we’re famous.”

“I guess we’re famous,” Charlie repeated, nodding her head.

“Is it time for you to rest in the stroller?”

“Yeah, time for me to rest. But are we still gonna see the lions?”

“Sure,” Travis answered. “Let’s just give it a minute; let those people get out ahead of us far enough so that we won’t see them again.”

 

~~~

 

Two months until the project was behind her and Abigail was dutifully sitting through another monotonous makeup session. As a result of overlapping schedules Brenda, the actress who occupied the same chair the morning prior, was also there.

The usual gossip and chatter filled the small, overly lit cubical as the morning dragged on. Not surprisingly, since only females occupied the room, a good part of the chatter centered around Abigail’s co-star, Sterling Jones.

This puzzled Abigail. Yes, he was attractive. Anyone could see that, but five words out of his mouth and it was clear he was a self-absorbed, under-intelligent adolescent in a behemoth body. Still, they all swooned.

“Abby,” Brenda asked, leaning forward in her chair, “have you seen that YouTube video? That one where that cute little girl is singing your song?”

“What song?” the makeup artist working on Brenda asked.”

“The Princess song; the princess of Shiloh song…that Abigail sings in the movie.”

“Yeah,” Abigail said, trying not to move her mouth and destroying her makeup. “Isn’t she a cutie?”

“Dad’s not bad either,” Abigail’s makeup artist added.

Abigail turned in her seat. “You’ve seen it?”

The artist moaned “No, try not to move. Oh yeah, I’ve seen it. It’s all over YouTube.”

Abigail found herself enjoying being the subject of the gossip; the kind she used to be a part of in high school, sleep-overs or sitting under a beauty solon dryer; a part of the everyday banter her stardom had robbed from her. She couldn’t help but dive in.

“You guys,” she began, “you have to promise me this won’t leave this room.”

Everyone slowed their pace and leaned in. Abigail knew she could be reasonably certain they would keep quiet. It was an unwritten rule in the business, especially among the crews and B-list actors. What was talked about on set stayed on set. “I talked to the guy.”

“What guy?” Brenda asked.

“The guy in the video. The guy with the little girl.”

“What do you mean you talked to him?”

“Well, I mean…I didn’t talk to him. It was online. I went to his Facebook page.”

“Did he flip out?”

“No. he didn’t know it was me. Malorie set up a fake account. I was incognito.”

“You catfished him?” Brenda asked.

“No… I didn’t catfish him. We just had a talk. I’ll probably never talk to him again—“

“What’s he like?” Brenda’s artist interrupted.

“He seems nice enough,” Abigail answered. “We just talked for a minute.”

Brenda laughed. “Bet his wife likes that.”

“No, he’s a single dad. He’s an Electrician, boss, or something. Charlie, the little girl, doesn’t even know her mother. Not sure how that went down. But yeah. He seems like a nice enough guy.”

“Between me and you,” Brenda said, “I wouldn’t bring this up again.”

“Why not?”

“Can you imagine if it got out that Abigail Warren was catfishing some dude?”

“That’s why you gotta’ promise to keep it in this room,” Abigail said, wishing she’d never brought it up. “And I didn’t catfish him. We just talked.”

The gossip eventually gave way to the more everyday complaints and after what seemed like a millennium the morning ordeal was over. Malorie met Abigail at the door as she exited makeup. “Bevaun wants to talk to you as soon as possible,” Malorie said. “Something’s up.”

 

~~~

 

Travis, and the other GFs flanked the superintendent as he methodically pressed the importance of safety on the three hundred plus electricians manning the job. It was Monday morning and the weekly safety meeting was coming to a close. As the crowd dispersed two of Travis’ Forman approached him.

“Your video’s gone nuts!” One of them said. “You’re everywhere.”

“I know, dude.” Travis answered. “Charlie and I got cornered at the zoo. People are recognizing us. It’s weird too. I took the damn thing down two days ago.”

“That’s not the way it works, dude,” the other foreman said. “People share it. They copy it. Put it on YouTube. It doesn’t just go away.”

“How the hell does that even happen?” Travis said. “We made a damn video for my mom.”

“Hey, it gets you girls,” Kenny the superintendent said coming up behind them. “What ya’ bitching about?”

“Not that many,” Travis said.

Kenny laughed. “Bull! You said they’re coming out of the woodwork. He got recognized at the zoo. He’s famous.”

“Charlie’s famous,” Travis said. “I’m just the dad.”

Kenny threw his arms in the air. “Yeah whatever. We got a building to wire. Let’s get it done.”

The two foremen went on their way. Travis caught a ride back to the office with Kenny.

“I told you my sister-in-law has the hots for you, didn’t I?” Kenny asked as the company truck rumbled along the dirt road.

“Yeah you did. I just don’t think there’s room for anyone else in Charlie and my life.”

“That won’t last. Charlie’s gonna grow up faster than you think. Everybody needs their own special person.”

“Kenny, I’m twenty-five years old. I gotta’ little time.”

“You know what I mean. A man has needs.”

“I know what you mean.”

They pulled up to the office and Kenny switched the key off. “The wife wanted me to invite you and Charlie to dinner Wednesday.”

“Sounds fun,” Travis said. “Charlie would love a good home-cooked meal for a change.”

“The wife invited her friend. Just thought I’d warn you.”

 

~~~

 

“This is horrible,” Abigail said as she sat looking over pictures published in a popular magazine, one that’d been a positive force for her till then. “First the nudes and then this.”

“You look like a raving lunatic,” Bevaun said.

Abigail threw him a stern look. “By all means don’t spare my feelings.”

“Well what do you expect? You just wander into a store— “

“You’ve made yourself clear on this,” Abigail barked, “move on.”

Bevaun leaned forward and tapped the magazine Abigail was holding. “I’ll love to move on, but clearly the media has other plans.”

Abigail continued to stare at the worst photo she’d ever taken; her face in a tight grimace lashing out at the photographer.

“I just look horrible.”

Bevaun grunted. “You look like you’re unhinged.”

“I was hit in the head by that camera!” Abigail yelled. “I was pinned against a wall by a screaming mob!”

“Your fans don’t know that! The public doesn’t know anything about that! And the paparazzi and media are gonna’ spin it to generate the most readers and the way they generate the most readers is to make you out to be a raving, drug rattled lunatic.”

Abigail sighed. “They got what they want. I look like a raving, drug rattled lunatic.”

Bevaun blew a breath through his pursed lips and leaned back. “It’s not something we can’t handle. It’ll take a little time but people will forget. We just need to be media savvy from here on out. We need to deal with the paparazzi on our terms, never theirs’, and most importantly, we can never, ever let this happen again.”

Abigail put her hands up. “Downloaded loud and clear. It will never happen again.”

Bevaun stood and glanced at his wristwatch. “I’ve gotta’ go. The wife wants me home in New York tonight.”

Abigail managed a weathered smile. “Go. Tell Your wife hi.”

Bevaun turned and moved towards the door.

“Do you have anything for Malorie?” Abigail asked.

“I’ve put out a few feelers. These things take time.”

“Thanks. She’s gonna surprise you all.”

The manager sent her a half-hearted wave before exiting.

Minutes later Malorie tapped on her door before pushing it open. “Hey babe,” she said, peaking her head in. “You needed me?”

“What are you doing tonight?”

“Nothing,” Malorie answered quickly. “Why, need something?”

“You’ve got plans again tonight, don’t you?”

“I may have, but that’s okay. What’s up?”

“You’re seeing that guy you met again tonight aren’t you?”

“I was, but you’re the priority here. You’re the boss.”

“No need to get pissy,” Abigail said. “Go if you want to. I’m a famous movie star. I’m completely surrounded by fun loving people hanging on my every word.”

Malorie sat next to Abigail. “This is me…here…hanging on your words. What do you want to do?”

“Want you to tell me about this guy.”

Malorie sighed, obviously considering her response and then conjured a sly smile. “He’s cute. I like him. Not sure if he likes me. Must not repulse him too much. He asked me to meet him again tonight.”

Abigail threw her arms out. “Well get the hell out of here! What are you waiting around here for?”

Malorie smiled. “You sure?”

“Of course, I’m sure. You go have fun for a change. Tell him I said hi.”

“uh, no. He doesn’t even know I work for you.”

“Why not?”

“Because I want him to keep noticing me.”

Malorie scooted off the couch and let herself slide to the floor. “What are you going to do tonight? You want me to see who’s around? I could send someone over—“

“No, you go. I’m fine.”

“We’ll be going home right after wrap,” Malorie said. “It’ll be better there. You gotta’ have cabin fever after two months in this room.”

“Ah, ain’t that bad. That Facebook thing is kinda’ fun.”

“Did you talk with anyone?”

“A few people. It’s kinda’ cool. You go. I’ll be fine.”

 

~~~

 

A half hour of cable Television was enough for Abigail. She snagged the remote and switched the TV off. How did people do this? It wasn’t this bad when she was with Brock even though, despite the tabloids, she never really cared for him. At least she’d had someone to go out and party with every now and again.

Malorie was right: when this damn project was over and they could go home it won’t be as bad. But that did little to help her now.

She pulled out her iPad and logged in to Malorie’s make believe Facebook page. It didn’t take long to find someone who might be willing to chat.

“Brian Jackson,” she said aloud, reading the ‘About’ section of the profile. Not married, that’s Good. Don’t want to make a wife mad. According to the little green dot he was currently online. She tapped on his messages and tapped out “hi.”

She sat back a moment waiting for a reply.

“Hi,” the reply finally came. “Who are you?”

“Just looking for someone to talk with. You busy?”

“You’re hot. Are you looking for company?”

Abigail quickly left Brian Jackson’s private message board and went back to searching.

Hmm, Janna Davis, a woman. Maybe I’ll check this out.

She went to the message board and typed: “Hello. You up for a chat?”

She patiently waited. No reply. She looked closely, making certain the person was online before continuing. “Hello? Anyone there?”

“Kiss off!” The reply came quickly. “Whatever you’re selling I ain’t buyin’!”

Hostile much? Abigail thought as she left Janna Davis’s message board.

 

~~~

 

“Oh, do you have an owey?” Charlie said inspecting Travis’ bandaged finger. She was sitting in her customary spot on Travis’ lap leaning back intently inspecting the fresh cut on his finger.

“I cut it at work,” her father answered.

She pulled her head back and stared as if to ask: how could you possibly bare such a thing?

“Ow!” Travis barked, laughing. “Don’t push on it.”

“Does it still hurt?”

“It hurts when you push on it. It’s time for you to go to bed.”

“Oh,” Charlie moaned, “already?”

“Already? It’s almost nine o’clock!”

“I’m not sleepy.”

“Come on Kiddo,” he said lifting her off the couch. “I’ll read you a story from your brand new Winni the poop book.”

Charlie giggled. “Daddy! Winnie the pooh, not poop!”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Travis said, as he pulled her covers back.

He plopped her down and went in search of ‘Winnie the Pooh.’

Ten minutes later Charlie was tucked in and fast asleep.

Travis crept out of her room, found his sweet-spot on the couch and pulled out his phone. This whole video business was down-right bizarre, but he couldn’t help being a little curious.

He went straight to YouTube and tapped out ‘Princess of Shiloh’ in the search box. At least a dozen videos flashed up, all copies of their video. Some had thousands of views while others only a few. One of them had over two million. How weird was that?

The one with two million views had thousands of ‘Thumbs up’ and over a hundred ‘Thumbs down’. Come on, he thought. What’s not to like? He proceeded to read some of the comments and quickly changed his mind. Some folks just go online to find somebody to hate on, he decided.

He left YouTube, went to his Facebook account and pulled back astonished. He had thousands of messages and friend requests.

He tapped the ‘Message’ icon and the messages quickly scrolled in front of him. He’d never had more than five-hundred Facebook friends and most were family and co-workers. He now had more ‘Friend Requests’ than he had friends.

He began glancing over his messages.

“Hey baby! Wanna talk?”

“Love your video. Let’s talk. I have nudes.”

“How much for the little girl?”

Funny stuff, Travis thought. One more crude mention of Charlie and he’d erase the whole damn page.

As he scrolled a new message appeared. “Hi Travis. Me again. Feel like chatting?”

He noticed it was Sandy, the girl who reminded him of his crush.

He sat for a time considering the text still not entirely convinced he shouldn’t delete the page entirely.

Another message appeared.

“I noticed you were online. Hope I’m not bothering you.”

Travis considered the message for another moment. He didn’t want to be rude. She seemed normal enough last time they talked.

“Hi,” he answered finally.

“I’m bored,” came the answer. “Could use someone to chat with.”

Travis tapped the girl’s picture and her profile came up.

This is a scam, he thought. This girl is pretty. She has a bunch of friends and no one to talk to? It’ll take her five minutes to start asking for my bank account and pin.

He went back to the messages deciding to play along, if only to make her work for it.

“Sure, we can chat. What’s on your mind?”

He waited a moment, no answer. Must have decided I wasn’t a mark.

He was about to sign off when another message appeared.

“Your video has gone crazy.”

“I know,” Travis responded. “Who’d a thought it. I deleted the thing a few days ago, but I guess I didn’t realize how it all works.”

“Why did you delete it?”

“It’s getting crazy. Charlie and I were recognized yesterday. Kinda’ freaked her out.”

“Really? I bet that was weird.”

“Thought we might have to sign autographs.”

“Better get used to it. Someone I know mentioned it today.”

The conversation hesitated before Sandy continued.

“How did you happen to choose that song?”

“It’s from a movie.”

“What movie?”

“That Princess of Shiloh movie. Charlie loves it. She watched it twice and completely had the song down. She’s a smart one.”

“Obviously. I’ve seen that movie.”

“You watch Disney movies?”

“I’ve been known to. Would I be out of line if I asked you about Charlie?”

“long as you’re not asking for her address.”

“Lol, no I won’t ask anything personal, just wanna’ know what she’s like. What it’s like having a little girl. What it’s like being a single father raising a little girl.”

“Charlie’s my favorite subject. We can talk about her all night.”

“How old is she?”

“four.”

“Boy, she is smart. I had no idea she was that young.”

“She’s a project, that one.”

“Why Charlie? The name I mean. Kind of an unusual name for a little girl.”

“She’s named after my dad. He was killed in the Middle East somewhere.”

“You don’t know?”

“Officially he was killed in Mosul, Iraq, but a couple of his friends said he didn’t die there. They couldn’t say where. Some kinda’ secret or something. He was special forces.”

“So he was a hero?”

“Yes he was.”

“How about Charlie’s mom…or is it too soon?”

“She and I were in high School together. She chose to Carry Charlie but that was about it. She and her family fought to give her up for adoption. Me and my family fought to keep her. We won.”

“She doesn’t keep in touch at all?”

“No, but that’s mostly on her family. They pushed her to terminate and then to adopt. When I won custody they pretty much lost it. They wanted the baby to go away so Chase—Charlie’s mom—could just go on with her life.

Not sure I can blame her parents. I’d just about do anything to keep Charlie happy and healthy. Right after we got Charlie, Chase and her family pulled up and took off. I haven’t heard a thing from them since.”

“Doesn’t that upset Charlie?”

“Not yet, but it will.”

“I wonder if Chase and her family have seen the video.”

“Yeah…I’ve wondered.”

“Are you a little bitter over them abandoning Charlie?”

“No, not at all. It’s their loss. I can tell you this, no experience you’ve ever had could possibly prepare you for how you will feel about your own child.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Tell me about it.”

“It can get pretty corny.”

“Men are weird. Talking about how much they love their little girl is corny?”

“Well I get corny. Can’t help it. Charlie brought so much love with her it was almost painful. The only way I can describe it is a surface, almost violent love. A day never goes by that she doesn’t do, say or act in a way that just floods me with all this love. Told you it was corny.”

“It’s not corny. It’s sweet.”

“Sweet is corny.”

“Lol.”

“Tell me about you,” Travis tapped after a pause.

“I’m single. I’m a working student studying accounting. Twenty-five, my musical tastes vary.”

“Lol, you sound like you’re reading your ‘About Me’ page.”

“What would you like to know?”

“I’d like to know the corny stuff.”

“Yeah… that’s corny.”

“Lol”

“I’m someone who worked very hard to achieve something. And now that I have, I’m finding it’s nothing like I’d expected.”

“Are you talking about your collage major?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“Why not just change your major?”

“It’s not that easy. A lot of people are counting on me and to be honest I don’t know what I want at this point.”

“My boss told me something once I thought was important. He said happiness is the grand prize. Most people go whizzing past happiness chasing after things they think will make them happy.”

“Wow, kinda’ hits home.”

The conversation turned increasingly casual. They talked about their jobs, their friends and their lives, though at times the stranger seemed a little disinclined. Probably had to be expected, after all, they’d never laid eyes on each other; only pictures and a video. Even so, Travis was starting to like this person.

He’d told her that Charlie was all he needed, but the truth was, he was a little lonely himself. It was nice having someone to talk with; a woman to talk with as opposed to his construction buddies. Sandy already knew more about his life than guys he’d been working with for years. A lot of things you just don’t tell your buddies.

“Whoa,” Travis tapped, “it’s three in the morning. Where did the time go?”

“I know,” Sandy responded. “It’s only 2 here. Can’t believe how long we’ve been chatting.”

“Two there? Where are you?”

“I’m on the west coast.”

“I thought you were in Chicago.”

“Why did you think that?”

“Because your Facebook profile says you live in Chicago.”

“Oh that. I’m just here in LA for a few weeks.”

“On vacation?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“I hope we do this often,” Travis said, unsure if he should go there.

“Me too,” Sandy responded.

Chapter Four

~~~

 

Pre-daybreak and Travis was sitting in his pickup truck sipping cold coffee and thinking about Sandy. He couldn’t believe how much he’d been thinking of her. How lame was that?

He was starting to have an internet thing which is only supposed to happen to teenage girls. He had to get this into perspective. he wasn’t an idiot. They were Facebook friends. They weren’t dating.

If she caught wind of how much he was thinking about her she’d probably block him and they’d never speak again…which would really be bad.

He was surprised to find the door to the office unlocked. A quick check and he spotted Cory, another GF working in the back area, standing over the office coffee station.

“What the hell are you doing here so early?” Travis asked as he approached.

“The parts in the yard are a mess. Kenny wanted me to straighten it up. What are you doing here?”

Travis moved to the counter and poured his cold coffee down the sink before answering.

“The usual. Fifty-four’s about finished and I— “

“No, I mean what are you doing here? I thought that video woulda’ started paying off by now. It’s like trending all over YouTube.”

Travis took a moment to pour fresh coffee into his cup before continuing. “Paying off? What do you mean?”

“Dude, people make buckets of money with those videos, especially if they go viral.”

“How would they even know? I didn’t exactly put my name and address on it.”

“You don’t have a YouTube channel?”

“Why would I have a YouTube Channel?”

“How did the video get on YouTube?”

“Don’t know, dude. I put it up on Facebook for my mom. All this other crap just happened.”

Another GF noisily entered, followed closely by Kenny, the superintendent.

“Hey Jim,” Cory said. “Sup Kenny. Travis here didn’t even know he coulda’ made a killin’ with that video.”

“You didn’t know?” Jim Jarvis said. “How could you not know that?”

“Oh bullshit!” Kenny barked moving towards the coffee station. “You didn’t know it either. Why? How much could he have made?”

“Nothin’ now,” Cory said. “He gave it away to a bunch of dicks who posted it on YouTube.”

Kenny shook his head. “None of that matters. Travis here’s gotta’ be getting a whole lotta’ female attention off this. He needs to go for that while the gettin’s good. My sister in law—“

“Yeah, I know,” Travis interrupted. “It’s not like I’m completely ignoring it. I’ve been talking.”

“To women?” Kenny asked surprised.

“No pterodactyls. What do you think?”

“You getting any?” Cory asked.

“What? In a week?”

“Why not? You’re single.”

“What do you think? I’m gonna’ go get a room? Find a baby-sitter somewhere? Maybe do the deed with my four-year-old in the next room. It’s not like I’m a kid. I got a kid. She doesn’t need me bringing strangers in and out of her life.”

“What’re you gonna do?” Cory asked. “Wait till she’s eighteen?”

“Maybe,” Travis answered quickly. “Or maybe find somebody she likes too before things get serious.”

By then several other personnel had entered the office and were gathering around them.

“You should know,” Kenny said, patting Travis on the arm with the back of his hand. “The guys in the plant are gonna give you shit. Just a head’s up. The video’s a big deal now.”

Travis shrugged “I’ll just fire’em.”

“No, don’t fire ‘em,” Kenny said chuckling. “It’s all light hearted. Just some ribbing.”

“Like the time you went to the lake and came to work with your face practically sunburned off?”

“Shut up about the sunburn!” Kenny barked. “I almost had to go to the hospital over that…Come…walk me to my office.”

They moseyed to Kenny’s office; the only actual, enclosed office on the premises. Kenny skirted an oversized print table, pulled a chair from behind his desk and motioned for Travis to take the only other chair in the room.

“You’re still coming over Wednesday, aren’t you?” Kenny asked sitting down. “The wife’s making goulash and Jamie, the sister-in-law’s, coming.”

“Oh yeah,” Travis said. “Charlie and I are planning on it.”

“Good. What do you mean you’re talking to women? You mean on line?”

“Well yeah,” Travis answered, wishing he hadn’t mentioned it. “I just…you know… chat with people who wanna’ chat with me.”

“You mean like on the message thing?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, that could be kinda’ dangerous.”

“Dangerous how?”

“Those people have ways of getting your banking info or anything else they want. They can get right into your computer and take it over.”

“Well, maybe if I was Bill Gates or something. Wait! You don’t s’pose they’re after Charlie’s lunch money?”

“Yeah, you laugh now. No matter what, don’t give anybody you’re bank info.”

“What dya’ think I’m stupid?”

“No, they got ways. These are professional people. They know what they’re doin’.”

“I’ll be careful.”

“Yeah like you was with that video? It went viral and you didn’t get squat.”

“That’s different.”

“And are you sure you’re even talking to a woman? I watched this show called ‘Hooked’. There was this guy fell head over heels for somebody he thought was a woman; turned out he was a man. Used pictures of a woman and everything.”

“I know,” Travis said. “I’ve seen that show. It’s not like that. She’s just somebody to talk to—“

“Just one?”

“One what?”

“Just one woman? You’re talking to just one woman?”

“No…I mean, yeah but there’s a lot of women…on the message thing. I just haven’t answered them yet. Most of them are whack-jobs.”

“How do you know they’re whack-jobs?”

“Oh, just the things they say, things they talk about…you know.”

“You be careful.”

 

~~~

 

“You’re not gonna’ believe what happened!” Malorie yelled as she stepped into Abigail’s trailer. She moved to the couch and dropped into it.

Abigail whirled in her swivel chair, pushed back from her makeup mirror and put her hand over her heart. “You scared the hell out of me!”

“Broad-day management just called me! They want to represent me. I have two auditions next week! This could be it for me, Abby.”

“That’s fantastic!” Abigail said. “We knew it was just a matter of time.”

Malorie left the couch and began pacing in front of Abigail’s counter. “I wonder how they found out about me?”

Abigail shrugged. “Who knows? How did they find out about me?”

“You got parts.”

“Well yeah…and now you’ll get parts.”

“They must have heard how pretty and talented I was,” Malorie said, dropping onto a nearby stool. “Maybe some of the guys on set called them and told them that Abigail Warren’s assistant might be interested in being a movie star. You should give her a call.”

Abigail shook her head. “Maybe—”

“Abby I’m not stupid,” Malorie interrupted. “I know you had Bevaun set it up.”

“That bastard!” Abigail barked. “Did he tell you?”

“No, he didn’t tell me. It’s just too obvious.”

Abigail frowned, stood and moved to the stool next to Malorie. “Are you mad at me?”

Malorie pulled her eyes away and shook her head. “Of course, I’m mad at you. How could I possibly say yes when I know it was all a setup? I just…feel so used.”

“Seriously?”

“Are you kidding? No! I love you. Thank you! Thank you! I won’t let you down.”

She reached and gave Abigail a colossal hug before pulling back. “I know this is hard for you,” she said, her eyes welling. “We’ve been together forever, but I’m really gonna go for this, Abby. I can’t be around as much. I’m gonna enroll at CMU. I’m gonna study. I’m gonna work my ass off.”

She paused and considered Abigail a moment before continuing. “Thank you for this, Abby. How can I ever thank you enough?”

Tears pooled in Abigail’s eyes as she returned the hug. “Get lots of work and we’ll sit next to each other at the Oscars.”

Malorie pulled away. “I gotta’ go. I gotta’ get some cloths. I’m so excited. I never thought I’d feel this rush again; you know…when we were just getting started… do you mind?”

“Of course, not,” Abigail said. “You go. I’ll have Bevaun get me somebody today. and tomorrow we’ll just see how it goes.”

“Love you!” Malorie said as she bounded out the door.

Abigail sat focusing on the place she last saw Malorie. A lump was growing in her throat. It was all so bitter sweet. She and Malorie had been an unstoppable, inseparable team since fourth grade…until now. On the other hand, time for Malorie to spread her wings was well past due.

She was sincerely happy for Malorie, and broken-hearted at the reality of her moving on. Her boyfriend breakup, involvement in this damn project, fame in general and the isolation of being away from her base had created a perfect storm.

For the first time in in a long time she felt completely alone. Even her dad; her home town of Bedford had changed. They, along with the rest of the planet, had become spectators. The only person in the world, other than an internet stranger, who didn’t treat her famous had just walked out her door.

When the pressing sadness finally faded, she called Bevaun.

“Thanks for setting up Broad-day for Malorie,” she said. “What’s going on with that?”

“She has a couple of auditions,” Bevaun said, “but it’s on her. You and I both know the chances of her filling the bill for exactly what these people are looking for are next to none.”

“I know.”

“And it doesn’t matter who she knows, Broad-day won’t waist resources on someone who doesn’t produce.”

“I know, but she’s throwing herself in. I’m sure she’ll do great.”

“If you say so.”

“I need for you to do something for me,” Abigail continued. “I need a new assistant. Someone to take Malorie’s place.”

“Temporarily?”

“Well, until LA is finished.”

“Anyone in mind?”

“No.”

“Would you consider working with someone from the project? Better still, could we wait till you get home and find somebody more permanent?”

“I want someone now; someone normal.”

“You mean someone out of the business?”

“Yeah. Just a regular person.”

“Hm,” Bevaun grunted. “That might be kinda’ tough. It’s not like we’re looking for a secretary. We can’t just call a temp agency.”

“Why not?”

“Because…they’re not in the…they don’t know the business.”

“Good. Let’s do that.”

“You’re the boss.”

“One more thing, put me in touch with Broad-day.”

 

Chapter Five

~~~

 

Twenty-seven-year-old Kelli Martinez graduated top of her class. She only recently joined the ever-growing mob of millennials unceremoniously dumped onto a thinning job market.

Her Long days and nights living in her parent’s basement, working in a grocery store and studying had finally come to an end.

But instead of encountering a teeming workplace hungry for anyone armed with a snappy-new associates degree, she found a gloated, cynical market. Months of rejection had managed to curb her momentum to nearly a stand-still.

She was not an attractive person; never had been. Always slightly overweight no matter what she tried. She still wore a second-cousin’s hand-me-downs; was raised by Baptist parents to be religious enough to feel guilty but not enough to commit; which according to her parents, was sort of a misdemeanor sin in itself.

She was presently employed off and on through the services of ‘Reliable Temps Agency’, and had spent the past month and a half, eight hours a day, typing endless words into a computer belonging to the ‘Starling-Strand company.’

An hour before she was due to finish up her Friday, management buzzed her.

She pulled her hands off the keyboard and pressed a button on a multi-button business telephone sitting on her desk. “Yes, Ms. Montoya?”

“Could you step in here, Kelli? and log out… You’ll be finishing up the day.”

Kelli went about logging off and straightening up before heading off to her current supervisor’s office. She knew what this was concerning, just didn’t expect it so soon.

She stepped in the office and her supervisor pointed to a chair before reaching for a small stack of papers on her desk.

“The project is ramping down,” the supervisor said. “We’re sending a few temps back to the agency. Sorry. You’ve done an exemplary job. I’m sure we’ll be in need of your services in the future.”

Kelli wondered if they all followed the same playbook; saying exactly the same things.

She smiled, excepted the paperwork and repeated the words she always said when being sent back to the agency. “Thank you. I loved it here. Looking forward to coming back.”

As was customary, Kelli called in to the agency the moment she reached the parking lot.

“Hi Jan. I just got my papers. I’ll come in Monday and file them. You have anything at all? I was off two weeks last time.”

“Hold on Kell,” her representative said. “I’m putting you on hold.”

Kelli started her car and sat waiting.

The representative finally picked up. “Do you have a preference on the hours you work?”

“Not really. What’s up?”

“We have something but it says here the hours vary…whatever that means.”

“Sure, I’ll take it.”

“Can you go out tonight? Right now?”

“Now?”

“Yeah they want someone as soon as possible. If you don’t want it I understand, but we’ll have to send the next person who comes up.”

“No, I’ll take it. Where do I go?”

“Swing by the office. We’ll get your paperwork ready. You’ll be working at the Paramount lot.”

“Paramount? You mean the movie studio?”

“Yeah. We send temps out there every now and again.”

“Cool.”

Two hours later Kelli pulled through the iconic Bronson Gate and up to the guard station within the Paramount lot on Melrose Avenue.

She handed her paperwork to one of three uniformed guards. He looked the paperwork over and pointed to a nearby parking lot. “Park there,” he said, “and come back here.”

Kelli did as she was told and returned to find the guard who had checked her papers sitting in what looked to Kelli to be a golf cart.

“Get in,” he said. “I gotta’ take you from here.”

Kelli hopped in and they putted away out of the parking lot. They made a quick right and then left before the guard pointed the cart due-North and throttled it up to ten miles per hour.

“Ever been here before?” The guard hollered over the noise.

“No, never.” Kelli hollered back.

The guard pointed in a northwesterly direction. “Right over there is the famous New York Street Backlot. To Kill a Mockingbird was filmed there; Thoroughly Modern Millie…a bunch of them. Another famous spot: The Prop Warehouse is right over there.”

The guard pointed and motioned as the cart trundled along. “Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made movies there, Gary Cooper… Elvis Presley walked those very sidewalks.”

Without notice the cart pulled to a sudden stop just outside a chain-link fence surrounding a tight group of what looked like trailer houses.

“Show your paperwork to the guard at that shack over there,” the golf cart driver said, “and he’ll get you where you need to go.”

She stepped out of the cart and watched it rumble away back from where it came. For a moment, she loitered imagining what it would be like if this was all some kind of a mistake and she was left at this late hour to try and figure out how to find her car.

She charily wandered to the shack and flashed her paperwork. The guard slid open a side-window. “Where to?” he asked.

“The guy who dropped me off said you’d know.”

“Let me see.” The guard reached for her papers. He inspected them a moment. “Hold on.”

He produced a cell phone, talked for a quick moment, replaced the phone to his pocket and returned her paperwork. “Yup,” he said, pointing out the window at one of the trailers. “Go there.”

She walked the short distance to the trailer and knocked on the door.

“Come in!” A man’s voice barked.

She stepped into the trailer to see a tall, well dressed black man lifting a raincoat off a couch.

Upon seeing her, he glanced down at his wrist watch. “You’re late.”

“I know,” Kelli said, “I was working—“

“You a felon?”

“Uh…no. Here’s my paperwork—“

“Can you keep your mouth shut?”

“About what?”

“About what we tell you to keep your mouth shut about!” the man barked.

“Uh, I don’t know. I guess it depends on—“

“Nothing illegal,” the man interrupted again, “more along the lines of non-disclosure.”

“Oh sure…here’s my paper—“

The man stepped forward and pushed out his hand. “I’m Bevaun. Welcome to the team.”

He stepped to the door and turned back. “Your boss has been held up a while. You got a problem with sticking around? You’re on the clock.”

“So…I got the job?”

“She’ll be here as soon as she gets here. Take a seat. Coffee’s there, cold drinks there. TV’s there.”

He turned and walked out the door.

 

~~~

 

“Tell me when,” Kenny’s wife, Sadie, said as she dropped a ladle full of steaming Hungarian Goulash into Travis’ bowl.

“Mm,” Travis grunted. “This might take a while.”

Sadie giggled. “I know you love this. That’s why we’re having it.”

“Usually we get nothing but bread and water,” Kenny said, obviously trying not to smile.

Sadie leaned and poked at Kenny’s bulging belly. “Yeah that’s why you’re so skinny!”

Everyone at the table laughed.

Charlie along with Kenny’s little son, Gary, were in the living room sitting across from each other on couch cushions. A food covered coffee table stood between them. They were pulling faces and laughing hysterically. More than once they’d been told to quiet down, but that seemed to only last a moment or two.

The grown-ups would take full advantage of the intermissions to exchange broken conversations. Irritated glances from Kenny and Sadie’s additional guest didn’t go unnoticed. Few things triggered the proverbial red flag quite like intolerance of Charlie, or any other child for that matter, and Travis could spot it a mile off.

Jamie was her name and she’d been invited as a blind date. At first, she seemed absolutely enchanted with Charlie, and Travis too, but as the night wore on Travis could see her patience beginning to crack. Travis was almost certain that Kenny and Sadie noticed it too.

By the time the meal was consumed, it seemed pretty clear to everyone involved that a love connection had not been made. Travis was glad to finally get it out of Kenny’s system.

A half hour later, Jamie had already found a reason to leave. Travis and Kenny were working the counter scraping and rinsing dishes before placing them in the dishwasher.

They could hear the Princess video Travis made playing in the living room and Charlie blissfully singing along.

“Sorry,” Kenny said. “I could tell it wasn’t exactly magical. Sadie could too.”

“No, no,” Travis answered. “She seemed nice enough.”

“Just not a kid person.”

Travis grunted. “Yeah apparently.”

“Which begs the question:” Kenny continued, “why did she want to meet you two so badly?”

“I get that a lot. Most young single women aren’t into kids. Not the ones I know anyway. They think they’re cute…at first. But in time it comes out. That’s why I do it.”

“Do what?”

“Let Charlie loose. Let her stretch her legs and get noisy and obnoxious. I call it the Charlie test.”

“I noticed. You were goading Jamie; see how she reacted to Charlie.”

“Why should I waste my time on somebody who can’t tolerate my kid?”

“Maybe you were being too hard on her. Give her a chance to get to know Charlie. And no, I don’t mean Jamie necessarily, I mean all women. No point in making it harder than it is.”

Travis placed the last dish on the tray.

“I could spend night and day with Charlie and I’d love every minute of it. You know why? because on her worst day she’s the sweetest little soul I know. So, the way I see it, if somebody can’t tolerate Charlie at her worst, they don’t deserve Charlie at her best.”

Kenny grunted his approval, threw his hand on Travis’ shoulder and the two wandered into the living room together.

“Oh no, not that video!” Travis yelled. “I’m so sick of that thing!”

Charlie turned and produced her best fake pout. “You’re sick of me singing?” she said, her little arms akimbo.

Travis picked her up and pointed at the TV with his free hand. “Not your singing! That guy’s singing!”

“Me too!” Kenny said.

Charlie giggled. “That’s you, Daddy!”

“Kenny watches this video all the time,” Sadie said laughing. “Don’t let him kid you.”

“Yeah, but I turn it off when Caruso here starts singing.”

Sadie waved him off. “Kenny shows it off to everybody. He’s the one who downloaded it and put it on that DVD.”

“Why don’t we give it a break and put on a Briar rabbit movie?” Kenny said.

“Yeah!” the children hollered in unison. Charlie wiggled out of Travis’ arms and scrambled to join little Gary on the floor in front of the TV.

In minutes the movie was loaded and the two children sat engrossed.

“I’m thinking about letting you pick your own girl,” Kenny said, leaning back into his favorite lounge chair.

“let me know when you’ve reached a final decision,” Travis said.

“No. You’re pretty smart. You’ll probably find somebody stupid enough to marry you all on your own.”

Sadie pulled her attention away from the TV. “What in the world are you two talking about?”

“Kenny was just talking about how smart I am,” Travis answered quickly.

Kenny grunted. “I told him we’ve decided to let him pick his own wife.”

“Have we now?” Sadie said.

“Just as long as it’s not one of those internet dating things—“

“You did not tell Sadie about that!”

“It’s no big deal,” Sadie responded. “That happens all the time.”

“People get ripped off all the time too,” Kenny said.

Sadie sent a quick frown at Kenny before returning her attention to Travis. “So how is it going? You talking to somebody special?”

“I was, she stopped. Must’a got sick of me.”

“You can’t message her? Maybe she’s waiting for you to message her.”

“Yeah maybe. It’s just that… she kinda’ started the whole thing. She ought to be able to decide if she wants to keep it up or not.”

“How would texting her back change that? How do you know she’s not feeling the same way?”

“Yeah you’re probably right. Maybe I’ll try it tonight.”

“I can tell you like this girl,” Kenny said.

“Yeah I do.”

“What’s her name?”

“Sandy Allen. She lives in Chicago.”

“Chicago? How’s that gonna work?”

“We’re just talking.”

“I think I know what this is all about,” Sadie said.

“What what’s all about?”

“This relationship you’re having here? It’s all your own. There aren’t any rules or restrictions. You don’t have to share Charlie and Charlie doesn’t have to share you. There’s no need to put your internet girl to the Charlie test because an internet girl isn’t in Charlie’s life at all.”

“You know about the Charlie test?”

“Well it was pretty obvious tonight…and… I overheard you talking to Kenny.”

Travis sat for a time considering Sadie’s words.

“I think you’re right,” he said finally. “Maybe that’s why talking to Sandy seems so easy and natural.”

 

~~~

 

Kelli jumped in her chair at a sudden commotion on the other side of the trailer door. She glanced down at her wristwatch. She’d been sitting there waiting for nearly an hour. Not wanting to appear too relaxed she’d opted to sit on a hard stool taken from in front of the bar.

The man had offered her free run, but it seemed too late for coffee and since she hadn’t eaten since noon a soft drink seemed out of the question. More than once, she had cussed herself for not stopping and getting something to eat.

At the sound of commotion, she stood up from her stool and brushed her skirt down. Thinking she might appear too rigid, she quickly sat back down.

The door opened and a woman entered but quickly turned around in the doorway, obviously addressing someone outside the trailer. She was dressed in some sort of smock the color of peaches and talking to someone just outside the door.

False alarm, Kelli thought. Someone using the trailer to get dressed or something. She made a mental note to give it ten more minutes before setting off in search of her car. She wasn’t going to wait forever.

“Give me a half hour and I’ll be ready,” the woman at the door said. She turned and seemed startled by the intruder in the trailer.

“Sorry,” Kelli said. “Didn’t mean to scare you. I was sent—“

She noticed the woman at the door looked extremely familiar…and then she was on her feet.

“OH MY GOD!” she squealed. “You’re Abigail Warren!”

Abigail considered Kelli a moment before responding. “Oh, you must be the temp—“

“I LOVE YOU!”

“Oh well, you’ll get over that. I’m running late. I’m sorry. Damn makeup.” She stepped forward and pushed her hand out. “I’m Abby, and you are?”

“I’m…uh….”

Abigail grabbed Kelli’s hand and shook it. “Tell you what,” she said. “I need a quick shower and some clothes. Did Bevaun fill you in?”

Kelli, unable to communicate verbally, nodded.

“Good,” Abigail said. “You busy tonight? Got anything going on? I know this is new.”

Kelli shook her head.

“Okay good. I’ll be out in a minute. We’ll catch up.” She whirled and disappeared through a door at the end of the room.

Kelli stood staring at the closed door. Her eyes were wide; her mouth agape and she didn’t seem to have any control over them. What the hell had just happened?

Did the world’s most popular movie star just walk in here, talk about…who knew? Who could remember? and then just disappear behind that door?

She heard the shower come on behind the door. She blew out a breath and tried to gain control of herself. She’d lived in and around LA her entire life; had seen a lot of movie stars’ but Abigail Warren? She was in a class all her own. She was everyone’s sweetheart.

Not only was she staggeringly beautiful she had a golden personality. She was every boy’s dream date and every girl’s dream best friend and she was taking a shower behind that door.

The shower stopped.

Kelli felt the blood rush to her face. She suddenly thought of her best friend Kiara. She fumbled into her bag, pulled out her cell phone and dialed.

“Hello?”

“Kiara! Listen to me! You’re never gonna—“

The door opened.

Abigail stepped into the room. Her signature red hair hung loosely over her shoulders framing her smolderingly beautiful face. Her dress was black, adorned with barely noticeable creases or…texture or something. It was low cut and slim fitting covering the most perfect body Kelli had ever seen.

Kelli noticed a strange sound.

Abigail had turned away and was applying makeup. She slowly turned her head back to Kelli. “You gonna answer that?”

Abigail Warren was talking to her.

The noise was back: “Hello? Hello? Kelli?”

Abigail was still looking at her.

Suddenly Kelli remembered the phone in her hand and put it up to her ear.

“Kelli? What the hell’s going on?”

“I’ll,” Kelli stammered. “I’ll call you back.”

“Kelli, are you alright?”

“No problem,” Kelli said, finally finding her voice. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

She fumbled for the opening to her bag and dropped the phone in.

“I know this is new,” Abigail said, still putting on her makeup.

“If you want the job you’ll be my personal assistant. You’re replacing my best friend so by personal assistant I mean my companion, confidant…sometimes gofer. I can’t mingle or go out into the public so some of your duties will be simply being my arms and legs. Get in that drawer and hand me my brush will you, hun?”

Kelli rushed to the drawer, snagged the brush and pushed it at Abigail.

Abigail pulled away from the mirror, smiled and raised her forearm. “Here,” she said. “Pinch me…no don’t pinch me. Just feel my arm.”

Kelli gingerly rubbed her hand across the top of Abigail’s arm.

“See,” Abigail said. “I’m just a person. I know this is all new. I used to be you, so I know what you’re thinking when you look at me but it’s all bullshit. We’re two girls in a weird trailer. We’re gonna be friends for two more months. Two months from now we’ll be laughing about this…oh, do you know what would go with that jacket?”

She moved to the drawer Kelli had retrieved the brush from and pulled out a small, felt covered box beveled on each corner. She popped it open and pulled the most splendid necklace Kelli had ever seen and held it up to her jacket.

“Perfect,” Abigail said moving to put the necklace around Kelli’s neck.

She moved out of the way and invited Kelli to stand in front of the mirror. “Check it out? Was I right, here’s the earrings. Try those on.”

Kelli put the earrings on and stood staring at the reflection of Abigail Warren standing next to her in the mirror.

“Are you sure you’re not busy tonight?” Abigail asked. “Because I understand if you are. It’s not like you had notice. I’m sorry about that, but everything I do has to be hush hush and top secret. You’ll see. Since this is all so new I thought we’d go out tonight.”

Kelli shook her head; still trying to process. “Of course,” she said softy. “Where do you want to go?”

“No, where do you want to go?” Abigail said. “I’m new here and I’m starved. Bet you are too. Where’s a good place to eat around here?”

“Uh,” Kelli stammered. “There’s a… a Sizzler over on Melrose. I think they’re open till—“

“No I was thinking more of a place with music and dancing. I’m so sick of my damn hotel room. Bevaun will hook us up. Do you have a car?”

Kelli paused a moment. She knew she had a car but couldn’t remember where it was.

Oh, the guard’s parking lot. Yes,” she said finally. “I’ll go get it… if I can find it… and pick you up.”

“No,” Abigail said. “We have to take my cars. Security and all that. I had a bad experience a couple days ago. We’ll take you to your car and one of my guys will take it to your house. We’ll follow him. Will that work?”

Abigail moved to the door and opened it. Three gleaming black limos sat idling just outside the door. “Are you ready?” Abigail asked

Kelli slowly moved to the door and looked out on the surreal scene. She expected cameras to roll out at any moment. A loud disk-jockey type would run out and yell: ‘you’re punked!’or ‘we got you!’or ‘you really believed this was real, you idiot?’

“Oh,” she said turning to face Abigail. “I got paperwork.”

 

~~~

 

The Lex Club on Ivar Avenue, with its fifty-thousand-watt sound system and dazzling Kinetic light spheres was a major attraction for Hollywood heavyweights.

Abigail and her entourage were taking up a good portion of a dim-lit corner away from the fifteen hundred capacity crowd revelers. Kelli was stuck like Velcro to Abigail. She’d watch wide eyed as crowds swarmed them and beautiful men lined up for a chance to dance with Abigail. It was obvious the experience was about to overwhelm her.

Early in the evening, Abigail began politely avoiding the men eventually having her security wave them off entirely. Several times she’d tried to strike up a loud conversation with Kelli but it was clear she was so far out of her zone she may never come around. Finally, Abigail leaned in close to Kelli’s ear. “You’re not having fun, are you?”

“Yes!” Kelli said, a little too emphatically. “It’s just loud. Do you want me to get you a drink or something?”

“No, “Abigail said. “They have people who do that.”

“Okay,” Kelli yelled over the commotion. “Do you want me to just sit here?”

Abigail found herself longing for Malorie’s company. Maybe Bevaun was right. Maybe bringing someone unfamiliar with the business hadn’t been fair to neither her nor Kelli. For Abigail, felling lonely amid a crowd was becoming her life, but it was almost painful watching Kelli’s level of angst.

“Mind if I ask you a question?” Abigail asked, once again leaning in towards Kelli, “who were you talking to…on the phone back at the studio?”

“That was my best friend, Kiara. I should call her again. I think she may’ve thought I was in trouble.”

“You should call her,” Abigail said. “Invite her.”

“What?”

“Invite her to come and keep you company. It’s on me. Have her tell the door she’s with me; I’ll have Bevaun leave a message.”

“Oh, my God, she’s gonna die. Are you sure?”

Abigail nodded, “call her.”

Kelli quickly retrieved her phone and bounded off.

Within forty-five minutes a new face arrived and after the wide-eyed introductions she and Kelli found a space away from the teeming masses.

Abigail watched from afar. Kelli had transformed into a perfectly normal person; laughing with her friend and animatedly yelling over the crowd. That’s what having someone close does to a person, Abigail thought. It makes you normal.

Abigail watched for a time before calling Malorie. She let it ring until prompted to leave a message but decided to hang up instead. She had to learn to let Malorie go.

 

Chapter Six

~~~

 

The upside? Charlie was finally moving away from her Princess of Shiloh obsession. The downside; Travis had to stretch to find ways to lull her to sleep. This night he’d had to read a chapter from pooh and close the deal by singing a fragmented version of a lullaby.

After several unsuccessful attempts, he was finally able to sneak out of her room.

He pulled his phone from his pocket, logged on to Facebook and went straight to the message board. It was still bulging with messages but there was only one stream he was interested in.

The last time he chatted with Sandy they made a connection. He had anyway. They talked way into the night and he came away feeling a fondness. One he was at a loss to explain.

Then, she simply stopped communicating.

A quick look at his messages showed this night would be no different.

He was beginning to feel foolish. She’d obviously moved on with her life. He may have made her mad, said something stupid or triggered some sort of red flag without even knowing.

He made one last visual sweep and was moving to log out when a message from Sandy appeared.

“Hi.”

“There you are!” he responded. “Thought you’d gone away.”

“You busy? I saw you were in Facebook again. Am I driving you crazy?”

“Absolutely not. I was disappointed when you stopped chatting with me.”

“Don’t think I’m a stalker anymore?”

“What makes you think I thought you were a stalker?”

“I could tell.”

“Maybe a little. I gotta always think of Charlie.”

“I really like that about you.”

“Tell me about your day today,” Travis tapped.

“Actually, it was a terrible day. I’m losing my best friend. My best friend since fourth grade.”

“Ow. That’s tough.”

“And the person I hired to replace her isn’t working out.”

“She works for you? Are you a supervisor?”

“I guess, sort of.”

“Must be hard to be a supervisor and a student at the same time.”

“It is.”

“We have something in common then. Tell me about this new employee.”

“She’s so star struck she’s completely locked up.”

“I get that sometimes.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. I get these Pre- apprentices who get overwhelmed.”

“I should have known better. I was trying to hire someone to replace my best friend. Bevaun tried to warn me, but I wanted someone normal, you know? I’ll never find anyone else like Malorie.”

“Malorie?”

“My best friend.”

Travis suddenly realized he may be completely misreading this thing. Was Sandy in love with this Malorie person? He felt a pang of disappointment.

“I’ve had a lot of people work for me,” he continued finally, “but I’ve never had an employee who couldn’t be replaced, not even a best friend. What is it about Malorie that makes you think she can’t be replaced?”

“She’s the only person in the world who doesn’t treat me like a star.”

“Lol, you must be a great boss.”

Travis sat a while waiting for a response. He was beginning to wonder if she hadn’t stopped communicating again when another message came in.

“Sorry. I’m a little tipsy. Don’t pay any attention to what I say.”

“That’s okay. You can always talk to me. I promise I won’t treat you like a star.”

Again, there was a pause before the texting continued.

“Thank you. I just now realized that.”

“Realized what?”

“That I can really talk to you.”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

“So, what do you suggest I do about my new girl?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“On how badly her problems impact her job performance.”

“Oh, you are good.”

“You say she gets rattled or something?”

“More like… out of her element.”

“I can tell you what I would do. Don’t know if it would work or not.”

“You’d fire her ass?”

“No not at all. I’d sit her down and ask her what it is that makes her feel so intimidated.”

“Then you’d fire her ass?”

“No, I’d ask her what we could do to help her settle in, offer to walk her through the problem areas or areas she finds frightening.”

“Actually, that’s really good.”

“I’d take a day or two to evaluate her strengths; point out those strengths and use ‘em to bolster her self-image. Truth is, with a little coaxing, employees like that often make the best workers. They’re usually conscientious; overly conscientious. That’s why they tend to get all worked up in the first place.”

“That’s fantastic advice.”

“Good,” Travis tapped, “now If I ask you something personal will you go away and never come back?”

“Not likely.”

“It’s really none of my business.”

“Ask away.”

“Are you in love with your friend?”

“Why?”

“Just wondering.”

“If I am, will you be sad?”

“Maybe a little.”

“Will it break your heart?”

“You are tipsy.”

“Yeah I love her. She’ll Always be my best friend, but no I’m not gay, and I like you too.”

Travis smiled and continued. “Where are you?”

“In a hotel.”

“That’s right, you’re on vacation.”

“Some vacation.”

“You’re getting tipsy in a hotel all by yourself?”

“How do you know I’m all by myself?”

“I just know.”

“Would you be sad if I wasn’t alone?”

“Stop already.”

“How do you know I’m all alone?”

“Because it’s late at night and you’re texting nonstop.”

“You got me. Okay I’m alone now, but I went out tonight.”

“All by yourself?”

“No, with about thirty people.”

“Was your best friend there?”

“No, for the first time in forever.”

“Sounds like you had a crowd.”

“As I said before, a crowd can be the loneliest place in the world.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“Sorry, I’m boring. Let’s talk about you and Charlie for the rest of the night.”

“You’re not boring. What would you like to know?”

“How’s the video doing?”

“I think it’s finally run its course.”

“Is that bad?”

“No that’s good.”

“Fame didn’t suit you?”

“We’re not exactly famous. Maybe a little, for a minute or two.”

“How did Charlie take being a little famous for a minute or two?”

“Oh well, you know, Charlie just takes it for granted that everyone in the world knows and loves her.”

“Lol, I can see that.”

“Does Charlie still love that movie?”

“What movie?”

“The Princess of Shiloh?”

“It’s starting to ware off. She wore that princess dress for a week. She finally took it off and let me wash it.”

“That’s adorable.”

“Yeah, she’s a project.”

“Bet you’re tired of the Princess of Shiloh.”

“I kinda’ like it, even though I’ve seen it a hundred times and it’s a kid show. Abigail Warren isn’t bad to look at, that’s for sure.”

“Don’t you know you should never compliment another woman when you’re talking to a woman?”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“So, you don’t think Abigail Warren is bad looking?”

“I thought I wasn’t supposed to talk about other women.”

“Women can talk about other women.”

“So I have your go ahead?”

“Yeah, go ahead.”

“Well yeah. Abigail Warren is a movie star.”

“What does that have to do with it?”

“I’m just saying it only follows that she’s beautiful.”

“I’m upset with her. She disappointed me.”

“Abigail Warren?”

“Yeah. That melt down at that store in LA. She could have handled that differently. I didn’t think she had that in her.”

“I’m sure there’s a lot more to that than meets the eye.”

“Really? In what way?”

“Imagine what it must be like to be mobbed wherever you go. To have restrictions on things you and I take completely for granted every day.”

“Hmm. Never thought of it that way.”

“I know Charlie and my little brush with fame can’t compare, but I gotta tell you, it’s a little unnerving to be noticed out of the blue and approached by complete strangers. It only happened a few times to us but, let’s just say I’m glad the video is losing steam.”

“I bet Abigail Warren would like you.”

“Why do you think that?”

“You seem to go out of your way to try and understand people.”

“I don’t understand any of that. I’m just imagining what it must be like to be her. Kinda’ dumb since she lives in a completely different reality than the rest of us.”

“Really? You think so?”

“Pretty sure.”

“If you could talk to Abigail Warren what would you say to her?”

“Am I still covered under the go-ahead?”

“Yeah, go ahead.”

“Well, I guess I’d tell her my little girl loves her and thinks she’s a real princess.”

“And you?”

“She’s just a person. Just a very rich, pretty, famous person.”

“That’s very astute.”

“I got a friend, He’s a bareback rider. He made it all the way to the National Finals.

I don’t know if you know anything about rodeo, but going to the National Finals is kind of a big deal.”

“It sounds like it.”

“He used to get a lot of attention. I guess you could call him famous in those circles. Guess I got a little glimpse of fame from that. It’s not something I’d want.”

“You really are a very understanding person.”

Again, the texting paused for a time.

“Must be hard,” Sandy texted finally

“What must be hard?”

“Must be hard being a single parent of a four-year-old.”

“Not at all.”

“You don’t miss being free?”

“I’m free with Charlie.”

“I didn’t mean to sound like that. I didn’t mean to sound like Charlie wasn’t worth staying home on the weekends.”

“I know. Don’t worry about it. I actually get that a lot.”

“You do?”

“Just a week or so ago, I stopped off at a cafe after work and ran into an old girlfriend. She wanted to get together that weekend. She didn’t know about Charlie. When I told her I’d have to go home early because I had a little girl I might as well have turned off a faucet.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“No, she wanted nothing to do with a kid; told me so.”

“No!”

“Put me off a little, I won’t lie. I mean, what made her think I’d let her into me and Charlie’s life anyway. Kinda’ jumping the gun if you ask me.”

“I knew that happened to single moms, but I didn’t know it happened to the men too.”

“Oh yeah. We’re a lot more alike than people think, that’s what I think. Men and women, I mean.”

Another pause.

“You’ve never told me about your family,” Travis tapped.

“Oh well, not a lot to tell there. Just have a dad…somewhere.”

“Somewhere? You don’t know?”

“My dad’s a truck driver. We were close when I was little but not anymore.”

“Really? Why not?”

“Mom and dad divorced when I was little and dad took us. It was great at first, but then he met Jessica and that was the end of that.”

“You didn’t like Jessica?”

“No, the other way around.”

“She didn’t like you? How old were you?”

“I was six.”

“Whoa, that’s horrible. What kind of a person doesn’t like a six-year-old?”

“She was ten years younger than dad. When he was home she was Mother Theresa. The moment dad hit the road she turned into Dracula…can’t believe I’m telling you this.”

“Didn’t you tell your dad about her?”

“Oh of course, but he didn’t want to shake things up. It was easier to ignore a six-year-old than it was to pick a fight with Jessica.”

Travis considered his response before continuing. “Can’t imagine what that must have been like; to deal with that kind of betrayal at six years old.”

“God, I can’t believe I went there,” Sandy responded. “Let’s talk about something else.”

Travis pulled back. For the first time, he thought he understood why his and Charlie’s video touched Sandy the way it had. He paused, trying to think of something he might say to lighten her mood but another message appeared before he could respond.

“I haven’t talked about that in years. Do you think it’s weird that I feel more comfortable talking to you than anyone else in the world right now?”

“I don’t think it’s weird at all,” Travis answered.

“But I mean, we’ve never met; not really.”

“They tell me this is the going thing.”

“What is?”

“This on-line thing.”

“I think that might be simplifying it just a little.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m betting most guys on the internet aren’t like you.”

“Same with you. I gotta tell you. Because of the video thing, I got loads of messages and you’re the only person I wanted to have a conversation with. After the last time we talked I found myself looking every night for messages from you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I think about you a lot.”

“Do you know that we’ve talked practically all night long again?”

“Geeze, I just now noticed.”

“I don’t want to go.”

“I don’t either.”

“Can we talk tomorrow night?”

“That’s a good idea. Let’s talk tomorrow night. Should I give you my phone number or do you want to give me yours?”

“Phone numbers?”

“How about it? It’d be great to have a voice to go along with the pictures.”

“Have you been trolling my Facebook pictures?”

“Haven’t you looked at mine?”

“Only every night.”

“Lol.”

“I’m not sure.”

“Not sure about what?”

“Not sure about the phone thing.”

“There really isn’t a lot of difference.”

“I suppose you’re right. Why don’t you give me your number and we’ll take it from there?”

 

~~~

 

Kelli Martinez set her alarm for five AM, but it hadn’t been necessary. She’d already showered, dressed and was sitting on a chair in her bedroom. In truth, she hadn’t slept at all. The previous night ended at 1 am, when she and her best friend, Kiara, were dropped off at her house from the back seat of a limousine.

It had been the culmination of an evening spent with none other than Abigail Warren and her huge entourage. Kiara was taken completely off guard. Out of the blue Abigail Warren invited her. Kelli insisted that Kiara not approach Abigail Warren. It just seemed like the thing to do but it didn’t stop Kiara from staring at her the entire evening. Kelli couldn’t blame her. She’d spent the night staring at Abigail too. Luckily Abigail didn’t seem to mind. She was probably used to it.

Kelli’s only regret at having to leave for work so early was that she hadn’t had time to tell each and every one of her friends about her evening and she desperately wanted to tell everyone. She still had no idea what her new job actually entailed. She only knew it would last another two months and she was to be at the Paramount lot at seven sharp.

Someone knocked on the bedroom door. “Kelli? Are you up?”

“Shh Mom,” Kelli hissed, moving to the door. “Kiara’s asleep.”

“I’m awake,” Kiara groaned sitting up in the sleeping bag Kelli had rustled up the night before.

Another knock and the door opened. “You decent?”

“Sorry if I woke you,” Kelli said. “Kiara spent the night. I have to go to work.”

Kelli’s mother sent a small wave to Kiara. “I heard you come in last night,” she said. “It was so late and then when I heard the shower I just wanted to come down and see if everything’s alright.”

“Did I wake up dad?”

“You couldn’t wake your dad. I smell alcohol. Were you girls out partying last night?”

Kelli and Kiara locked eyes and laughed.

“Yup, we were!” Kelli said laughing. “You might just say that.”

Kelli’s mother responded with her familiar look of concern. “It’s a work night,” she barked. “What are you doing partying on a work night?”

“Mom!” Kelli said. “You’re not gonna believe who I’m working for now.”

“Aren’t you still at Starling-Strand?”

“No, they laid me off, but the temp agency sent me to a new client. Guess who.”

“I have no idea.”

“Abigail Warren.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m personal assistant to Abigail Warren, the actress!”

“How did you get that job?”

“Mom, aren’t you freaking out?”

“You’re not, actually working around her are you?”

another round of giggling from both girls only seemed to aggravate Kelli’s mother.

“We were out with her last night,” Kelli continued. “We were at the Lex. I saw Joe Jonas and Rihanna and tons of other stars. It was amazing!”

“But, why…what…I’m confused.”

“I know. Me too. But I have to go to work.”

“Maybe Abigail Warren’s gone crazy.”

“Mom why would you say that?”

“Don’t you read the inquisitor? She had a nervous breakdown.”

“When?”

“About a week ago.”

Kelli turned towards Kiara, still sitting in the sleeping bag and shrugged before moving towards the door. “Seemed fine to me. kinda’ sad towards the end, I suppose, but I gotta get out of here.”

“You be careful!” her mom hollered as Kelli moved up the stairs. “Don’t let her talk you into going to any more of those parties!”

 

~~~

 

Another grueling morning in the makeup chair but this morning Abigail was floating. Her uncharacteristic jovial mood hadn’t gone unnoticed. She knew her silly little online crush made absolutely no sense but decided early on the reality of it all wasn’t going to ruin her mood.

She’d even had a nice word for Sterling Jones on the way in. She no sooner left makeup when she literally ran into Malorie in the tight, adjoining hall.

“Malorie!” she shouted moving in to give her friend a hug. “I missed you so much!”

“Yeah, I’ve only been gone one day,” Malorie said, “but I can’t stay all day. I have to get ready for another audition.”

“You’re gonna make a huge splash.”

Malorie sent Abigail a severe look. “Oh, my God! What’s wrong, you’re happy!”

“Oh stop. Tell me about your audition.”

“This is the third one. I’ve got to be ready by tomorrow. Could you help me?”

“Love to, but I need your help too. You’re not gonna believe what’s going on.”

The two friends walked together passing into the Blue-Sky- Tank lot.

“What’s going on?” Malorie asked as they walked.

“You first. How can I help you?”

“I’ve got a script. Could you critique me?”

“Yes, of course I will. Tonight, at the hotel, but I might have to break it off a little early.”

“Perfect! Okay your turn,” Malorie said. “How can I help you?”

“I’ve got two problems, actually. I hired another assistant.”

“Already?”

“I thought it might help.”

“Help what?”

“You know, the best friend moving on thing.”

“Okay.”

“This girl I hired isn’t in the business.”

“Where did she come from?”

“I had Bevaun hire a temp from a temp agency.”

Malorie considered it a moment and nodded. “Kinda’ makes sense. You been bitching so much about how bad you miss being normal you wanted to hire someone Normal. I get it.”

Tears welled in Abigail’s eyes. “See, that’s why I miss you so badly already. You understand me.”

“That’s because you’ve bitched at me nonstop for 10 years.”

“Yeah, but the problem is, I don’t have ten years to bitch at Kelli, I’ve only have two months. I don’t want to fire her or anything.”

“So just…can’t you just put up with…what’s wrong with her?”

“She’s out of her element. She’s a secretary or something. They didn’t even bother to tell her what she would be doing. Bevaun didn’t want a big fuss.”

“What can I do?”

“You can talk to her. See if you can get her to relax a little.”

“I’ll try.”

They left the studio and wandered into the early morning yard. “I’m supposed to look for her strengths.”

“Strengths?”

“Things she excels in. I’m supposed to use that to bolster her confidence.”

“Says who?”

“That’s problem number two.”

“Okay.”

They moved past security and into the fenced area housing Abigail’s dressing room.

Within moments they had moved into the dressing room and straight to the coffee catering had placed on the counter.

“Her name is Kelli,” Abigail continued. “She’s supposed to be here in a little while. Could you just hang with her during the shoot? Watch for strengths?”

“Okay,” Malorie said, emptying several back-to-back bags of sugar into her freshly poured coffee. “Tell me about problem two.”

“You’re not gonna believe it.”

“I know. You said that already.”

“Don’t you dare tell me how stupid I am or how I should know better or—“

“You met someone on line.”

“His name is Travis. He’s the guy in the video with the little girl. Her name is Charlie.”

“You’re stupid and you should know better. How long has this been going on?”

“Since the day you made the make believe Facebook page…so basically it’s your fault.”

“So, how has this become problem number two? Because, I gotta tell you. This is the happiest I’ve seen you in months.”

“I know. We’ve been texting for a couple weeks, way into the nights. He’s just the smartest, nicest guy, and his little girl is to die for.”

“I’m still waiting for the problem.”

“The problem is: he wants to take it to the next level.”

“He wants to get married?”

“He wants to phone me.”

“Oh boy, he is a pushy one.”

“I know. He might recognize my voice.”

“That’s one point, but I don’t think your voice is that distinguishable.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“Katherine Hepburn would have had a problem. Abigail Warren, not so much.”

“The other issue is, I can’t give him my phone number. I told him I live in Chicago. He’s smart. He might notice the New York area code—and why did you say make-believe Sandy was from Chicago—?”

Without warning, someone tapped on the other side of the bathroom door.

“Sorry,” Kelli said, poking her head into the room. “Someone named Bevaun told me to come in and wait. I had to pee.”

“Kelli,” Abigail said, visibly shocked by the unexpected appearance. “I see you survived the night.” She motioned to her left. “This is Malorie.”

Malorie smiled and waved her finger tips. “You’ve got my old job. What do you think of it?”

“Oh I’m,” Kelli stammered. “So… honored.”

Malorie shifted her attention back to Abigail. “You’re right, she is new.”

“Did you happen to hear our conversation?” Abigail asked.

“No,” Kelli said. “I didn’t hear anything.”

“Okay… I’ve spent the morning in makeup. You might have noticed I’m a super hero now, a green one.”

Kelli giggled.

“They’ll be starting the shoot pretty soon,” Abigail said. “You’ll be hanging around Malorie today. She’ll show you the ropes.”

“Oh, I’d love that,” Kelli said, “And there are basically two ways to handle your phone problem. You can get a phone through Google Voice, or you can physically buy service here in LA, being in New York or Chicago won’t make a difference to the service provider. Either way, the area code would be from here in LA.”

Malorie raised her eyebrows. “I think we can check off one of Kelli’s strengths.”

 

Chapter Seven

~~~

 

“What is it about this person you think is special?” Kenny asked. “I mean all you’ve got is texts on your phone.”

Travis and Kenny were sitting in a café located not far from the job sight they supervised. This had been a weekly thing since the project opened up nearly two years prior.

“I don’t know,” Travis answered. “She just seems open, and she seems to take a real interest in Charlie. We just have an ease in our conversations. Just…we just seem to be completely comfortable. I don’t know. It’s hard to put into words.”

“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. You might be talking to a man. You might be talking to some yahoo working on the project trying to get a laugh at your expense. Could be somebody trying to rip you off. You’ve only texted.”

“She has a sadness about her—“

“Red flag, red flag, you’re thinking she needs to be saved and you’re gonna ride out and save her.”

“No, it’s not that. It just reflects a certain…endearing…maturity.”

“You’re too philosophical to be an electrician.”

“Must be intimidating.”

“I was thinking more wussy. How long are you two gonna keep texting each other before she gets bored with you?”

“Not for long. I gave her my phone number. She says she’s gonna call me tonight.”

“Well that’s something.”

“I’m nervous.”

“I’ve never seen you nervous around a woman.”

“You just didn’t know.”

“What have you told Charlie?”

“About Sandy? Nothing.”

“If she finds out you have a girlfriend and never told her she’s gonna be mad.”

“She’s four.”

“Doesn’t matter. She’s a female and your only daughter and she’s gonna want to feel like she had a part in it. It’s in her DNA.”

“Sandy’s not my girlfriend and Charlie is already a part of it. Doesn’t matter whether she knows it or not.”

Kenny glanced down at his watch and snatched the bill off the table. “We better get back…

oh, I almost forgot,” he dug into his shirt pocket. “Sadie saw some advertisement somewhere. She got these for you and Charlie.”

Travis considered Kenny’s offering. “What’s this?”

“Tickets to Comic con. It’s to see actors up close and personal from Charlie’s princess movie. She can dress up and everything.”

“Cool!” Travis said. “Tell Sadie thank you. Charlie’s gonna love this.”

 

~~~

 

Abigail broke for lunch and as was her habit wandered to her familiar catering table. Malorie sat alone waiting.

“Hey,” Abigail said, sitting down beside Malorie. “You’re still here? Where’s Kelli?”

“She left a while ago.”

“Really? Where did she go?”

Malorie shrugged. “Don’t know. She was here all morning. You’re right. She’s completely star struck. Sterling wandered over. She lost it.”

“Sterling came over and talked to Kelli?”

“Yeah. He graced us with his presence.”

“Not to sound rude or anything but Sterling never talks to girls who are…you know, plain.”

“He doesn’t hang around girls who are plain but he rarely passes up the opportunity to approach any new female that comes around, if only to watch them pee their pants.”

“Really? Guess I’ve never really paid attention to Sterling’s comings and goings.”

“Lucky you.”

“So what?” Abigail continued. “Kelli quit?”

“I guess it’s entirely possible, but kind of a surprise. She was flying, eyes as big as pancakes. All she could talk about was how honored she was to be working with you. She’s bought into the whole star thing. Maybe she had a panic attack or something.”

“Poor girl. It’s kinda’ my fault. Pretty dumb thinking someone from a temp agency could just drop in.”

“Do you want me to stick around for a while? At least until you can find somebody else?”

“No, no,” Abigail answered. “You’re busy working on your own life. I’ll have Bevaun find someone in studio. It’s only for another couple months. Speaking of that, tell me about these auditions. Anything good?”

Malorie sent her a nervous grin and sighed. “They’re all good at this point. I’ve been spending night and day just trying to catch up on the basics.”

“Give me angry,” Abigail said.

Malorie squared her shoulders and glared at Abigail. “Listen you bitch! I’ve been spending night and day just trying to catch up on the basics. ALL FOR YOU!”

“Give me sad.”

Malorie leaned away slightly. Tears welled in her eyes. Her face became a mask of pain. She took a deep sobbing gulp. “Abigail,” she moaned. “I’ve been spending night and day just trying my best to catch up, but still…you don’t love me.” She collapsed into a sobbing heap over the table.

“Okay, too much,” Abigail said.

“Yeah,” Malorie responded popping her head up from the table. “I felt that—“

“Mm, what’s going on?” a deep, intrusive voice sounded behind them. They both turned to see Sterling standing over them. “We got us a cat fight happening? Don’t let me interfere.”

“No such luck, stud,” Abigail said. Malorie’s going for a part. She’s working.”

“Going for a part? You’re in the business now?”

“Always have been, darlin’,” Malorie barked. “And what did you do with Kelli?”

“Who?”

“Kelli, the girl sitting with me this morning. Where is she?”

“How the hell would I know?”

Abigail frowned up at him. “Do you mind, Sterling? We’re trying to work here.”

Without another word he turned away and wandered off.

“Okay, where were we?” Abigail said. “Give me…funny.”

Malorie tossed her head back, laughed and said, “I’ve been spending every night and day just trying to catch up on the basics!” She let out another whooping laugh and slapped the table three times.

Abigail winced. “Yeah… you need to back off a bit. You’re acting—“

“I’m so sorry!” another voice sounded behind them. “I hurried as fast as I could.”

Again, the women turned. It was Kelli, still looking thoroughly rattled, gripping a box in her hand.

Malorie glared at Kelli and slowly raised to her feet. Kelli immediately backed off but Malorie pushed ever closer. “How could you do this to me?” Kelli groaned through her teeth. “You left me here to fend for myself! You didn’t care a whit about what I might be going through. You only think of yourself!”

Kelli recoiled even further. “Wh..what?”

“Don’t Mind her,” Abigail said. “She working on a part. What’s that in your hand?”

“Oh my God,” Kelli breathed. “You could have fooled me.”

Malorie grinned, “really? You don’t…” she rolled her hand in front of her, “you don’t think It’s a little…pressured?”

“Yeah,” Abigail said, answering for Kelli. “I still think you need to work on ramping it down a little.”

She pointed at Kelli’s hand and repeated. “What’cha got there? Whatever it is, you’re hanging on like it’s gonna run away.”

Kelli dropped her eyes to her hand as if noticing the box for the first time. “Oh this?” she presenting it to Abigail. “It’s an iPhone. That’s what I’ve been doing. It’s registered here locally and since you’re going to use it exclusively to talk to your internet friend, it can’t be traced to any other person or place, as long as you…you know…never call anyone else on this phone.”

She handed it over to Abigail. “Oh and also…” she dug into her bag, pulled out her personal phone and showed the screen to Abigail. “I found this app. It allows you to adjust the pitch of your voice. You can lower it or raise the pitch without slowing or speeding it up, all in real time…so he won’t…you know…recognize your voice.”

 

~~~

 

“Daddy? Daddy!” Charlie whined tugging on Travis’ sleeve. “You stopped reading again.”

Travis pulled his concentration off his phone and turned to consider his tiny daughter lying beside him tucked under a pink comforter.

“I’m sorry baby,” he said reaching for the Pooh book he’d dropped on the bed beside him. “I’m just waiting for a phone call.”

“You always wait for phone calls.”

“I’ve never, ever waited for a phone call at reading time. You’re making that up.”

She grinned and threw her arms up over her head. “I don’t want you to. I want you to read the story.”

“Okay,” he said lifting the book, “where were we?”

He thumbed through it a bit and dropped it back into his lap. “Can we talk for a minute?”

She paused to take in a deep yawn before nodding. “Sure. What should we talk about?”

“Well, you know,” Travis began, considering his words carefully. “Your mommy doesn’t live with us. Does that make you sad?”

Charlie produced an artificial frown and nodded.

“Really? It makes you sad?”

She allowed her face to return to normal and shrugged. “Sometimes.”

“Are you a happy little girl?”

She rolled towards him and threw her tiny arm over his chest. “Um hm, I’m happy. We don’t need a mommy.”

“I know,” he said. “We don’t need a mommy, but if we could find one, would you want her to be your mommy?”

she repeated another deep yawn before responding. “I don’t know. I’d have to see her…and she has to love us.”

“Oh yeah,” Travis said quickly. “If she doesn’t love us we’ll say, no thank you. We don’t want you for a mommy, thank you very much.”

“Yeah,” Charlie said, obviously struggling to keep her heavy eyelids open. “We don’t want you. Go away.”

Her eyelids fluttered to a close.

Travis froze long enough to avoid disturbing her before gently rolling her arm off his chest.

He moved off the bed, leaned over and kissed her forehead before quietly tip-toeing out of her room.

The moment he reached his Living room he checked his messages.

Sandy had texted him: “okay if I call you at 9:00 your time?”

He glanced at the time on his phone: 8:52.

Fear coupled with excitement tingled in his chest. He went to his lounge chair dropped into it and sat for a moment going over what might be said; what he would say; what she might say. They’d been getting on nicely. He’d developed feelings for her and he was sure she felt something for him.

But there was a certain anonymity that went with the texting thing. A comfort in knowing thoughts could be pre-considered and reconsidered. Texts could be censored and edited but a phone call rendered him completely at the mercy of his own unfiltered responses.

His voice alone could ruin the fantasy for her. His laugh might put her off. He might say something stupid.

The phone rang.

He lifted the phone and pushed the button.

“Is this Sandy?” he asked, trying to harness as much confidence as he could marshal.

“Yes, it is,” the answer came, “and you must be Travis.”

“I am.”

The voice sounded a little deeper than he expected. A disturbing thought popped into his mind. Oh, my God, Kenny might have been right. He might be talking to a man.

 

~~~

 

Abigail was shaking. It didn’t help when she realized she had set her voice too low on the voice app Kelli installed on her new phone. She quickly adjusted the app before continuing her first ever actual conversation with Travis.

“It’s weird how nervous I am right now,” she said.

“Me too,” Travis answered.

His voice was just what Abigail expected: strong and straight forward. Just like his texts.

“I’ll ask you the first question you usually ask me,” Abigail said. “How was your day?”

“Not a lot to report.” Travis answered, “Charlie’s into Winni the Pooh now. Can’t wait till she’s into Clancy and Patterson.”

“Don’t like Winni the Pooh?”

“Not the tenth time.”

Abigail giggled.

“Of course, with Charlie and me,” Travis continued, “it’s not about the book, it’s the company.”

“All moms and dads should know that,” Abigail said.

“Okay, your turn. Tell me about your day.”

“That reminds me,” Abigail said. “I tried what you suggested. I found my new employee’s strengths and you’re right. I think she’s gonna work out just fine.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“And my friend came to visit. She’s helping her.”

“You said your friend stopped working for you? What’s she doing now?”

“Oh, she’s… actually she wants to be an actress.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah, she’s working really hard on it.”

“She should go for it.”

“You think so?”

“Uh, not really.”

Abigail giggled again. “Why not?”

“I mean…I suppose it depends.”

“On what?”

“I’m just saying that anyone wanting to go into the arts, acting, writing, modeling, that sort of thing, should realize that just about everybody wants those things in one way or another and making any kind of splash is about as likely as hitting the lottery.”

“So…they shouldn’t even try?”

“There again, it depends. Does she have responsibilities she won’t be able to take care of when things go south? And most important of all: does she have a backup plan?”

“She’s in a pretty good position. She has no real responsibilities and she’s got a nest egg.”

“Oh, well…she should go for it. Definitely.”

“Charlie wants to be a princess, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah, but she understands she might have to start out as an elf and work her way up. And her backup plan is to be a ballet dancer…so, she’s covered.”

Abigail laughed.

“How about you?” Travis asked. “Is a career in accounting your dream or backup plan?”

Abigail paused for a moment before answering. “I do know that sometimes the dream isn’t always how it’s advertised.”

“How do you mean?”

“Let’s just say, as far as dreams go: they’re rarely as good, or bad as you think they’re gonna be.

“Truth is,” Travis said, “as dreams go, I don’t know much. My choice to go to trade school, join the Union and become an electrician had nothing to do with dreams and everything to do with backup plan.”

“You had Charlie didn’t you?”

“Yup. She was my little High School graduation gift.”

“And you became a supervisor right out of your apprenticeship,” Abigail said. “See, I do my homework.”

“I’m impressed.”

“Wasn’t hard. I just googled how long it takes to complete an electrical apprenticeship.”

“I like that you wondered.”

“Why?”

“It shows you were thinking about me.”

“I think about you all the time.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re strong and gentle and understanding and you love deeply.”

“You know this from our texts?”

“Sure. I know You’re strong because you’re staunchly responsible and you excel in your work. I know You’re gentle because you try so hard to understand your employees. I know you’re understanding because you didn’t just dismiss Abigail Warren when everybody was saying she was crazy and I know you love deeply because of Charlie.”

“Wow,” Travis said after a short pause, “I’m quite a guy.”

“I’m just curious what you see in me,” Abigail said.

“I know you’re a deep thinker. I know you’re a great friend. I know you’re fair and open to input and most importantly you like Charlie…which is a huge one.”

“Sounds like I’m getting a job,” Abigail said.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because my description of you was much deeper.”

“I said you’re a deep thinker.”

“You borrowed that from my love deeply.”

“No I didn’t. I was thinking you’re a deep thinker before you said that.”

“Okay dork, why do you think I’m a deep thinker?”

“You just called me dork.”

“You didn’t answer me.”

“I know you’re a deep thinker because you don’t seem to get caught up in the glitz.”

“Wait? How do you know that?”

“Because you went home early from your party and spent the night texting with me. I Know you’re a great friend by the way you described your best friend. I know you’re fair by the way you treated your new employee and I know you’re open to input because you were open to my advice.”

“Still sounds like I’m getting a job. You’re gonna have to make it more personal if you want to win.”

“Okay,” Travis said. “I know you’re a sweet person with an open heart and I know you have a very…endearing way of looking at life and I know I spend a lot of my day thinking about you and talking to my boss about you. I know I sort of brought you up to Charlie tonight. I know I really hope this turns into something really big.”

“Okay…that’s pretty good.”

“I know, huh?”

“What do you mean you sort of brought me up to Charlie tonight?”

“Well, I mean…it just. I was just trying to get her to sleep. I go through this every night.”

“Yeah but why did you bring me up?”

“Well not you…so much, more like a….”

“I’m listening.”

“I was just kinda’ trying to get a feel for… you know…how she might go for…someone else in our lives.”

“You want me in you and Charlie’s life?”

“Well…yeah, but… I realize it’s…it’s not….”

“You’re beginning to crack.”

“I just. It’s really soon….”

“You’re showing weakness.”

“No I’m not….”

“You want me in you and Charlie’s life.”

“Yes, yes I do. But I don’t want to scare you away.…I’m willing to wait as long as it takes. I’m not rushing anything here—“

“Travis,” she said interrupting. “I feel the same way. I want to be in your lives.”

 

~~~

 

In what could have been the most surreal moment in the midst of a week filled with surreal moments Kelli Martinez stood considering the packet of mints still sitting on its shelf. Abigail Warren had sent her to a nearby Quick-n-go specifically to purchase it.

As described in her bizarre and compact job description, her main function was to be the extension of Abigail’s arms and legs. If this bizarre week had taught her anything it was that this sort of “luxury” was absolutely necessary.

Adele once said: ‘the more famous you are, the smaller your life is’. She couldn’t have been more right. In the last week, she’d learned that Abigail and those of her station were people after all and what often appeared to be luxuries were, in fact, everyday necessities.

Kelli had less than two months before this Alice-in-Wonderland world would come to an end. As the days came and went, she wondered how she’d ever be able to return to the life of a toad.

She lifted the mints off the shelf and moseyed to the counter where a sour faced woman in a red vest waited. Kelli wanted desperately to tell the sour faced woman that she would never believe who she was buying these mints for, but managed to keep it to herself.

She knew the sour faced woman probably wouldn’t believe her or wouldn’t really care about who the mints belonged to. Not to mention, a Quick-n-go this close to Paramount Pictures probably witnessed more than a few celebrities in its day.

Half an hour later Kelli was pulling up at the Paramount lot. She hopped out of the golf cart, moved to a door and stepped into the Blue-Sky-Tank-lot

Abigail and Malorie sat within a small group of chairs huddled together on the floor of the massive blue screen set; one designed and built specifically for the benefit of Abigail’s soon to wind down project. Another equipment burdened crowd went about filming another scheduled scene, one of the few Abigail wasn’t taking part in.

“You said what?” Malorie said, as Kelli approached.

“I said I wanted to be a part of their lives,” Abigail answered, receiving the pack of mints from Kelli’s hand.

“How do you plan on doing that?” Malorie asked.

“I plan to make it happen; to at least give it a chance to make it happen.”

Malorie stood and stretched. “I gotta go. I got an audition.” She turned and walked away leaving Abigail and Kelli sitting together.

“Did the phone work out?” Kelli asked softly.

“It was perfect, Kell…do you mind if I call you Kell?”

Kelli beamed. “Of course. I’d be honored.”

“We talked all night long, Kell. This is the sweetest guy. I can’t believe I found him.”

“He doesn’t know who you are?”

“No…but you have to understand. I needed a break—“

“I understand,” Kelli said.

“You do?”

“I might not have before this week, but I understand now.”

“It’s just that, when you break into this life people around you change and that change works to separate you from everyone else. They just become—“

“Like me?” Kelli interrupted, smiling softly.

“Well….”

“I know I’ve been a…I’ve been star struck. I still am. I can’t help it.”

“So you really do understand?”

“Aren’t you worried that once this person finds out who you are he will turn into me?”

Abigail shrugged. “I don’t know, I don’t think so. He’s so grounded. He has a little girl he worships and he has this uncanny ability to understand people.”

“He sounds incredible.”

“You think I’m crazy.”

“I think it’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Do you think I should tell him who I am?”

“Has he asked you to take it to another level, start skyping or…meeting in person?”

“Not yet. He told me he wanted me in their lives but he said he didn’t want to rush it.”

“Then if I were you, I’d leave things the way they are, see if the relationship grows and deal with the real life thing when the time comes. If he’s the real thing finding out who you actually are shouldn’t matter to him.”

Abigail smiled. “You’re very smart do you know that?”

“Oh, thank you.”

“Truth is, when Malorie moved on, I wanted to replace her with someone not in the business. Right afterwards I thought I’d been unfair to you by dropping you into this world expecting you to immediately assimilate—“

“I understand,” Kelli said. “I was so star-struck I couldn’t function. I’m sorry—“

“No you don’t understand,” Abigail said. “You didn’t react the way I expected but your strong points immediately came out and you’ve turned out to be everything I’d hoped in an assistant and more.”

“Really?”

“This project is coming to an end in a few months,” Abigail continued, “and I’ll be going home to New York. Malorie will be available but she plans on staying here in LA and work on her career.

I’d like to offer you this position on a permanent basis. If you decide to except, we’ll set you up in an apartment in New York and I can offer you a good salary. Does that sound like something you’d be interested in?”

Kelli’s hands jumped to her mouth. Tears filled her eyes. “Oh, my God!” she groaned. “Yes, yes!”

 

Chapter eight

Two months later.

 

~~~

 

 

Travis ended the call and let the phone drop onto his chest. He glanced at his alarm clock: 3: AM. Laying on his bed he turned his attention to the ceiling just as he had every night that week.

He and Sandy had been talking nonstop each night from the moment Charlie dozed off till the early hours of the morning. His work had suffered. At times, he was afraid he might doze off at his desk. Each morning waking up, he vowed to be more sensible, but there was just something about their conversations that never grew old or redundant. As ridiculous as it might sound, he thought he might be falling in love with her…someone he had never physically met.

He wanted to take it further. At the very least skype, and eventually meet but he was hesitant to push the matter. It didn’t help that she never brought it up. At times, it seemed she had no intentions of taking it any further. That in itself, was puzzling.

He was certain she had feelings for him; deep feelings. They flirted and played the game. In any other situation, they would have been an item; lovers if it were up to him.

Even Charlie was getting irritated with him, constantly checking his phone and dozing off on the couch. He had to make some changes, if only for Charlie. He was surprised when the phone suddenly sounded. At this hour? He lifted the phone and read the incoming text.

“I miss you already,” the text from Sandy said, “and we’ve only been off the phone for a few minutes. I know you can’t talk any more tonight. I know you have work in a few hours but I just wanted you to know that I really, really like you.”

Travis quickly texted her back. “I really, really like you too, Sandy.”

“Good night,” came the answer. “Go to sleep.”

Travis dropped the phone back to his chest and smiled up at the ceiling. He decided then and there…they were going to meet.

 

~~~

 

Abigail stared into her phone and shook her head. What the hell am I doing? she thought. Really, really like you? Seriously?

Truth be known, as irresponsible and unexplainable as it was, she loved him; she was certain.

The obvious problem being: where could it possibly go from there?

The project in LA was completed. She and her team would soon be back in New York. She would finally be home amongst her friends, family and associates. She would be in her comfort space. Everything she was certain would pull her out of her funk. But in truth, she couldn’t bear the thought of going through life without Travis and Charlie.

And so, she would simply continue the rues. but it was obvious things couldn’t go on the way they were. At some point Travis would want to meet, at the very least skype. He hadn’t even tried to go there and she knew why. He’d said as much. He didn’t want to rush her.

What would she say when the inevitable question arose? Her phone was broken? She felt insecure? He had a trove of pictures of a random girl no one knew and Malorie had chosen a pretty girl. One that appeared outgoing with many friends.

She knew Travis was smart. Had he gone into her make believe Facebook page and tried to contact her make believe friends? How long before that entered his mind?

She imagined what a meeting would go like:

 

…”Oh, so you’re not Sandy, the person I love. You’re Abigail Warren? Why did you pretend to be someone else?”

“My associate created a page because I was bored. You came up, so I lied to you.”

“Did you lie to me when you said you really,really like me?”

“No.”

“Why would I believe that? You’re a liar.”

“Yeah but, I got to know you.”

“I thought I got to know you too, but it turns out you wasn’t you. You were pretending to be someone else because you were bored. You’re a horrible person. Never talk to me or Charlie again!…”

 

She winced and tossed her phone onto the bed beside her. Something had to be done. She would try and sleep tonight. She had a big day coming up. She would give it all some serious thought and do something tomorrow.

 

~~~

 

There was only one major event left to attend before Abigail headed home to New York City. The 88th annual Academy Awards being held at the iconic Dolby theater on Hollywood Blvd.

Unlike the previous two years, she would not be receiving the Oscar. She would be seated in the opulent theater along with everyone else witnessing the grandeur first hand.

She was presently occupying the rear seat of a Bentley automobile as it glided soundlessly North on Wilcox Avenue.

Across from her, sitting in the facing seat, Kelli stared out the window still obviously stunned by the life she was now living.

“Look,” Abigail said as they went. “My hands are shaking. I don’t know if I can do this.”

Kelli pulled her attention away from the window and considered Abigail. “You told me not to let you talk me out of it.”

“I know, I know,” Abigail answered. “But I have so much going on today—“

“You said you needed to get it done before you go home.”

Abigail grimaced. “What if he tells me to go to hell?”

“He won’t tell you to go to hell, you’re Abigail Warren.”

“That’s worse,” Abigail groaned. “What if he becomes a crazy, lunatic fan?”

“Well that’s probably what will happen—“

“Kelli!” Abigail barked. “You’re not helping.”

“I’m just saying, the chances aren’t good that he’ll say something like: ‘Oh, you’re Abigail Warren? I thought you sounded familiar. So how about dinner and a movie?’”

“What do you think he’ll say?” Abigail asked, grimacing.

“I think he’ll say: Oh my God! I’m your biggest fan. I’ve seen all your movies. I love you. Will you sign my child? You know…stuff I said.”

“Oh God no,” Abigail moaned. “This is not good.”

“What do you hope he says?” Kelli asked.

“I hope he says he understands. He told me once he didn’t think the Hollywood thing was all it was cracked up to be. Maybe he’ll say it’s okay. He’ll say I fell in love with you…it doesn’t matter if you lied through your teeth…oh God…”she dropped her head into her hands. “This is not gonna be good.”

“Do you want me to talk to him?”

Abigail looked up. “What would you say?”

“I’d tell him that the girl he knew as Sandy had something to say to him and then I’d say, please hold for a call.”

Abigail shook her head. “How is that gonna help?”

“I don’t know, it might just…forget it, bad idea.”

Abigail sighed and leaned back in her seat. “It’s gotta be done, we’ll be at the Dolby in twenty minutes. I’ve got to do it now.”

She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths before pulling her phone from her lap.

The phone range twice. With each ring, she fought off the overwhelming desire to disconnect and put the whole thing off.

Travis picked up. “Sandy?”

“Trav,” she said softly. “I hope you don’t mind me calling you at work. You busy?”

“Never too busy for you,” he said. “What’s on your mind?”

“Uh,” she stammered. “I need to talk with you about something.”

“Okay,” he said, obviously confused by her tone.

“Uh, we’ve been talking for quite a while, you and I…and…well I’ve grown to…well as I said I’ve grown to really, really like you but I… this is a little hard—“

“I’d like to meet you in person,” Travis said interrupting.

Abigail caught her breath.

After a moment Travis continued. “Or, we could Skype or something. I think it’s time to take it to the next level.”

“I do too Trav, that’s kinda’ why I called you. It’s just that…well you know that video you and Charlie put out?”

“Yeah?”

“The one where Charlie is dressed up as The Princess of Shiloh?”

“Yeah…the only video we’ve ever made.”

“I’m… actually I’m….”

Her mind went blank. She panicked and changed the subject. “How’s Charlie?”

She desperately needed to run, but knew this call had to be completed. She had to muster up the courage even if it meant keeping Travis on the line until she did.

“She’s excited,” Travis answered.

“Why is she excited?”

“Kenny, my boss and his wife got her tickets to Comic con. We’re gonna go see the Princess of Shiloh booth. I guess there’s gonna be a few of the stars sitting at a table or something. Charlie’s freaking out. I guess she can dress up and all that so Charlie made me pull her Princess dress out of the pile. She’s gonna wear it tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Yeah that’s the…that’s when the Comic con thing is gonna happen.”

Abigail paused another moment before continuing. “Gotta go, we’ll talk tonight.”

She pulled the phone away from her ear and sat contemplating.

After a short time, she shifted her attention to Kelli. “What’s on the list for tomorrow?”

Kelli pulled her iPad up and made a few commands. “Nothing, just the move—“

“Change of plans. I need you to get me info on Comic con happening in Salt Lake City tomorrow. They’re having an exhibit there. Then I need for you to contact the Big Door sound stage wardrobe department and see if they by chance have the dress I wore in the woodsman scene. See if we can buy it or borrow it for a while. If so, send someone to pick it up. We’re going to Comic con.”

 

~~~

 

The Salt Palace Convention Center, located downtown Salt Lake City, was abuzz with milling, costumed people. Every super hero ever portrayed was represented along with Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, Disneyland, just to name a few.

Charlie toddled along at her father’s side clasping his hand as they went. Travis was certain she was excited about meeting some of the cast members, but he also knew it was a bit beyond her four-year-old understanding. He wasn’t even certain she’d make a connection with the low-level actors representing her beloved Princess of Shiloh movie.

Travis tried to explain as best he could while dressing her in her well-worn princess costume.

For the most part, she seemed to be taking it all in stride…that is until they actually arrived at Comic con. Then it was all Travis could do to keep hold of her hand as she skipped and trotted amidst the wonderland of cosplaying nerds. Her head swiveled; she pivoted and ran; jerked and stopped. To Travis it felt more like walking an overanxious dog than a four-year-old.

More than once, they seemed to catch the eye of someone and Travis was certain they’d approach Charlie over the viral video but to his relief that never happened.

Travis wanted to spend time watching Charlie explore until she dropped in her tracks, but first they would visit the basketball-court-sized room set aside specifically for the Princes of Shiloh exhibit.

As they strolled, Travis spotted a billboard-sized poster situated just outside the Princess exhibit. He gently guided Charlie through the crowd and soon the two were standing directly beneath it. Charlie’s eyes grew wide as the panoramic poster caught her attention. There they were in Panavision: Princess Shiloh along with her prince, surrounded by dwarfed woodsmen and friendly forest creatures. She howled and pointed her tiny finger.

Travis went to one knee. “I told you we were gonna see big pictures of Princess Shiloh,” he said. “And I think we’re actually gonna see dumbledo and Cheyanne.”

He pointed towards the characters on the poster as he named them.

“Twinkle bear and Briar bear. They’re gonna be right in there!”

He shifted and motioned towards the looming exhibit hall. “They’re all gonna’ be sitting behind that table right there.”

Within the exhibit hall, rows of chairs were facing a table situated on a small stage. Behind the table a ceiling-to-floor backdrop bearing the movie’s logo sectioned the hall off.

Charlie pulled her attention away from the poster. “Are we gonna see Princess Shiloh?”

“No,” Travis said. “Only her pictures, but Dumbldoo and Cheyanne will be here. Maybe you can talk to them and even get your picture taken with them. Would that be fun?”

She nodded unconvincingly and went back to admiring the poster.

“Aren’t you that little girl?” someone in the surrounding crowd said.

Both Travis and Charlie turned to see a couple dressed as Batman and Batgirl standing over them.

“You’re the dad!” Batgirl yelled. “We thought it was you!”

Travis grinned. “Oh, yeah, that video—“

“That’s why you’re here!” Batgirl yelled again. She went to one knee in front of Charlie. “You’re all dressed up and everything. I love your video. You’re just the cutest.”

Travis was surprised. Charlie wasn’t retreating as was customary around strangers.

“We came to see Princess Shiloh,” Charlie said, “but daddy says she’s not here. We’ll see Dumbldoo and Cheyanne though.”

“No, she’s here.”

“She’s what?” Travis asked.

Batgirl stood. “Yeah she’s here, haven’t you heard? She came in this morning.”

“Abigail Warren?”

“Yeah, Abigail Warren. It’s all over the news and radio. I guess she just popped in unexpected. Surprised everybody, so we hear,” She motioned towards Batman. “Huh honey. This is my husband, Rob, by the way.”

Batman leaned in and shook Travis’ hand. “Love the video,” he said. “A guy at work said you were from around here. Never expected to see you here though. Course it stands to reason. This is the Princess of Shiloh exhibit.” He giggled loud enough to draw the attention from more than a few passersby.

Travis leaned down to talk to Charlie. “Did you hear that? Princess Shiloh is gonna be here after all.”

Charlie, apparently not paying attention to the chatting grownups, threw her head back and looked up at Travis wide eyed. “Really? she squealed.”

“Really,” Batgirl said.

Batman patted Travis with the back of his hand. “Hey, let’s go in together. Abigail’s gonna be at the table with the rest of the cast.”

He glanced down at Charlie before returning his attention to Batman. “Sure,” he said. “That’d be good. I’ve never been to anything like this before. My boss kinda’ set it up.”

The crowd entering the exhibit was beginning to thicken. Travis, Charlie and the Bat couple joined them, wandered into the hall and took the first four empty chairs they could find.

“This is gonna be cool,” Batman said after taking a seat next to Travis. “Who knew Abigail was gonna be here? Probably a good thing. If they’d of spent the past week advertising we wouldn’t a been able to get in here.”

“Are you excited?” Batgirl asked leaning in to Charlie. She had taken a seat on the opposite side of Charlie.

“Is the princess gonna be here?” Charlie yelled, ignoring Batgirl. “Is she here now?”

“Do you want to stand in my lap?” Batgirl asked. “That way you can see the princess when she comes out.” She made a move to pick Charlie up, but Charlie squalled and recoiled.

Travis snickered. “She’s a little shy. That’s a good idea though. Do you want to stand on my lap?”

Charlie nodded, bounced from her chair and jumped into Travis’ lap.

Batgirl quickly took up her vacant seat.

“Are we the only ones who recognized you?” Batman asked.

Travis nodded. “So far anyway.”

“It’s a wonder you two aren’t mobbed,” Batgirl said. “Especially here at the Princess of Shiloh exhibit.”

Batman leaned in. “They’ve probably noticed you. They probably just think you’re part of the show.”

Travis nodded and grinned, God, I hope not, he thought to himself.

“Oh look at this!” A voice boomed from a podium set up next to the table.

Travis noticed for the first time that placards had been placed in front of microphones at five locations on the cloth covered table, each emblazoned with the names of cast members. The marker on the far right was labeled: ‘Abigail Warren.’

“What a bunch of nerds!” the man behind the podium hollered.

The crowd yelled and clapped wildly.

“I gotta say, it’s great to be here! And ladies and gentlemen welcome to Comic Con Salt Lake City!”

The crowd went to their feet in a raucous standing ovation.

After nearly a full minute the crowd mellowed and took their seats.

“It’s almost like you heard someone very famous has ascended onto your city!” he yelled.

The crowd responded with another round of boisterous applause.

“It’s almost as if you’ve come to see a two time Academy Award winning star of film and stage!”

The applause continued as the man yelled.

“Almost like you’re expecting the one and only star of the Moonshot trilogy!”

The crowd continued screaming their approval.

“That’s right, that’s right!” the man said as the manic crowd began to mellow.

“Trust me! it’s a surprise for us too.”

Each time the crowd screamed Travis covered Charlie’s ears, a move that clearly irritated her. If he would have known it was going to be this loud he’d have brought ear protection for her.

She was standing in Travis’ lap clapping dutifully each time it seemed appropriate but for the most part, at least it appeared to Travis, she was bored, or simply confused. She stood, patiently scanning the area for the one thing she’d come to see: the princess. Everything else was just noise. Travis began to wonder if this had been a good idea.

The man behind the podium began introducing the actors who played supporting roles in the movie. Charlie seemed unimpressed.

To the annoyance of Travis and others in the crowd the B-listers were given the forum for what seemed like an hour. Clearly, the venue was trying to delay their crescendo for as long as they could get away with. Just about the time Travis was contemplating taking Charlie out of there, the announcement came.

“Ladies and gentlemen! May I present to you, two-time Academy Award winner… Miss Abigail Warren!”

The crowd was on their feet! The noise was deafening.

Travis stood, pulled Charlie onto his shoulders and quickly covered her ears with his hands.

Even before he saw what was happening on stage he felt Charlie’s reaction. Suddenly she was screaming along with the crowd, bouncing atop his shoulders. Travis leaned slightly to get a better view and there she was: Abigail Warren in the flesh.

Abigail had moved out and was standing in her place behind the table. Everyone around her was standing and applauding along with the screaming, raucous audience. She waved and smiled. God she’s beautiful, Travis thought as he stood watching her. He’d seen her in films a hundred times but in person she was an absolute angel.

Travis was a bit surprised that Charlie seemed to recognize her instantly, even though she wasn’t wearing the iconic princess gown.

Instead she wore a loosely form-fitting dress; mid-thigh length floral with a collarless neckline and sleeves just below the elbows: simple, conservative and elegant.

After many attempts at influencing the audience to take their seats, it became obvious the crowd had no intention of sitting, which irritated Travis immensely.

The audience began shouting questions and Abigail answered each one in their own time.

Travis checked on Charlie periodically. She seemed to be having a great time. He’d changed his mind. He was glad they came. He made a mental note to let Sadie know what a great time Charlie was having.

And then it was over. Travis hadn’t even paid attention to Abigail’s closing comments. Even Charlie seemed to notice the anticlimactic end.

People all around them began shuffling towards the isles.

“Well that was fun,” Batgirl said. “Odd ending but it was fun.”

Travis began nudging Charlie towards the isle. Batgirl who was taking the lead of the procession scooted along sideways allowing for a broken conversation as they went.

“Did you have fun?” she asked, poking a finger at Charlie’s chest.

Charlie didn’t respond. She seemed troubled.

Travis noticed and bent down as they walked. “What’s wrong, baby? Didn’t you have fun?”

“She didn’t even notice me,” Charlie said, her face downcast.

“Oh, I’m sure she noticed you,” Travis said kneading her shoulders. “She’s just very busy. She has to get back to her kingdom.”

They reached the isle and shuffled along with the river of people making their way towards the exits.

Without notice a young woman dressed in the distinctive clothing of venue employee stepped out from one of the isles, stopped in front of Charlie and bent down to speak to her. “Are you a princess?” she asked.

Charlie immediately popped out her slump. “Uh huh,” she replied nodding.

“Are you the princess in that video?”

Charlie hopped in place. “Yup.” She turned and pointed up at Travis, “That’s my daddy. He was in it too.”

“He was?”

“Yup.”

“Well guess what? Another princess saw you in the crowd.”

Charlie stopped wiggling and pulled her face up in confusion. “Who?”

“The Princess of Shiloh.”

Charlie squealed and threw her arms in the air.

The woman looked up at Travis and winked. “My name is Panda,” she said. “I’m with the venue. Abigail’s having a little meet and greet and photo op with the kids before she has to get out of here. She really did notice your little girl in the crowd. She’s seen the video and especially wants to meet you two.”

Batman gave out a whoop, startling Travis. He’d forgotten Batman was even there.

“Can we go too?” Batgirl said. “We’re all together.”

Panda seemed surprised. She looked back at Travis.

Travis raised his eyebrows, “uh…yeah. They’re with us.”

 

~~~

 

Panda led Travis, Charlie and the bat couple through an enormous, empty convention hall. She stopped at a set of double doors. Travis could hear children laughing just inside.

Panda pushed the doors open.

Abigail Warren, dressed in full princess regalia sat on a folding chair in the center of the room surrounded by a half dozen adoring children. Their parents were happily standing nearby.

Even Travis; a grown construction worker, found the sight of her absolutely enchanting. Her iconic floor-length dress flowed out around her. Her red locks cradled her small shoulders and cascaded down her entire back. Atop her head a golden tiara sparkled and flickered.

Travis thought she was beautiful before but now, this close, she was stunning; without a doubt the most perfect woman he had ever laid his eyes on. Abigail glanced up as they came in and threw her arms out. “Charlie!”

To Travis’ chagrin, Charlie broke loose from him, bounded towards Abigail and jumped in her arms.

“Charlie!” Travis hollered. He stepped forward. “Sorry, she loves you.”

“And I love her,” Abigail said kissing the top of Charlie’s head. “I’ve loved Charlie ever since I saw that video.”

Charlie pulled back and sat gazing up at Abigail in rapt adoration.

“I heard you sing,” Abigail said. “You have a beautiful voice.”

Charlie nodded, “uh huh.” She turned and pointed at Travis. “That’s my dad.”

Travis felt his face redden. He glanced up and noticed the parents who had brought their children earlier were leading their children out of the hall.

“They’re bringing the kids in in small groups,” Panda whispered. “That was the third and last group. Abigail wanted time to be alone with the video girl.”

“I take it that’s how she knows Charlie’s name?” Travis whispered back.”

“The video,” Panda said nodding.

“Hey daddy,” Abigail said, motioning for Travis to approach. “Why don’t you come up here and join us?”

She turned her attention back to Charlie. “I was hoping you two would sing that song with me.”

Travis moved up. “Uh, no,” he said. “I don’t sing. I just did that little video. It was kinda’… a joke.”

Abigail looked wide-eyed back at Charlie. “Your daddy doesn’t want to sing. Should we make him?”

“No,” Charlie said. “He won’t. He never wants to sing.”

“But we’re princesses! We can just command him to sing.”

“Charlie grimaced and shook her head. “He still won’t sing.”

Abigail pulled back looking perplexed. “Well then I guess it’s just up to you and me. But we still need a prince. Who will be our prince?”

Charlie pointed at Travis.

Abigail sent Travis her dazzling, signature smile. “Okay, even if he won’t sing to us, we’ll sing to the prince Daddy…are you ready?”

Charlie swiveled in Abigail’s lap. “Ready.”

On cue, the two broke out into song. Charlie’s tiny, and surprisingly boisterous voice along with Abigail’s. Again, Charlie played her part to the hilt, sending dramatic expressions of love and devotion Travis’ way perfectly in line with the song’s inflections. The song ended and the Bat couple, along with several stage hands enthusiastically applauded.

Abigail smiled softly at Travis. Their eyes held and they stood for a moment connected almost as if she was trying to tell him something. Travis had the distinct impression there was real emotion in those stunning, mysterious eyes.

Abigail broke her gaze and looked back at Charlie.

“You must be so proud of this beautiful little girl,” she said glancing back at Travis.

Travis smiled, reached and gently squeezed Charlie’s shoulder. “That I am,” he said.

To their obvious delight, Abigail turned her attention to the bat couple. “She’s a natural, wouldn’t you agree?”

Both Batman and Batgirl nodded earnestly. “Yeah, oh yeah.”

Abigail leaned towards Charlie. “You could be a movie star; do you know that?”

Charlie nodded, “uh huh.”

The bat couple laughed.

“I used to dream of being in the movies way back when I was little like you,” Abigail said. “Do you ever dream of being in the movies like I did?”

“Yes,” Charlie said quickly, “and I want to grow up to be a princess and a movie star just like you.”

Abigail chuckled.

She turned to Travis. “How about it dad? What are the chances of you moving off to LA, or New York? Give her a real shot at making her dreams come true?”

Travis grinned and shook his head. “No, we’re simple folks, Charlie and I. I don’t think the big city life would suite either of us.”

Again, the gaze lingered. This time Travis could almost see pain, disappointment.

Abigail pulled her gaze away once more. “I have to get out of here,” she said. “I have to be in New York.”

And then she did something Travis found completely perplexing. She reached and hugged Charlie one more time before stepping forward and placing a gentle, lingering kiss on Travis’ cheek. Travis felt his face flush. The moment seemed surreal, that lingering feeling that Abigail Warren was trying to tell him something, almost as if they had met in another time and place.

Travis couldn’t hide his confusion and he knew it showed.

Abigail responded to his obvious dismay. She reached, gently took his hand and held it for another lingering moment.

“It was wonderful to finally meet you,” she said softly.

 

Chapter Nine

 

~~~

 

The hypnotic hum of the private jet cruising its eastward route offered little help in calming Abigail’s melancholy mood. She’d spent the last thousand miles with her forehead pressed against the window looking down at the passing world Beneath her.

She had jumped at the chance to finally meet the man and little girl she’d been dreaming about for months, but now it all seemed so juvenile. Did she really invite Travis and Charlie to New York? In front of people? Did that really come out of her mouth? For bad or for worse the ridiculous notion had garnered an answer. A terrible answer.

A tear escaped her eye and slid down her cheek. Damn, she thought glancing up. Kelli saw that tear. Kelli sees everything. That’s why she’s so damned good at her job.

As expected, Kelli left her nearby seat and knelt next to Abigail. In a way, Abigail wanted to turn and yell at Kelli: can’t you see I want to be alone? And the other part desperately needed a shoulder.

“We have a little over two hours before we touch down at Kennedy,” Kelli said. “Wanna’ talk?”

Abigail wiped her eyes with the balled tissue she’d been clutching since leaving Salt Lake City. “I’ll be fine,” she said. “I just need a little time.”

“Okay,” Kelli said turning away.

“He’s a handsome man isn’t he?”

Kelli stopped in place and returned to her spot. “Yes. Very handsome.”

“And that little Charlie. Is she to die for?”

Kelli giggled and nodded.

“I wasn’t just talking, you know,” Abigail continued. “That little girl has a spark. She could go far.”

She turned to face Kelli and grimaced. “You don’t think Travis thought I was trying to lure them into coming away with me do you?”

Kelli shook her head. “What? No…why would they think—“

“Oh, I’m such an idiot!” Abigail groaned. “This whole thing was just so stupid! How could I have ever imagined something like this could ever work out?”

Kelli sent her a puzzled look. “It isn’t working out because…?”

“Because they’re too perfect.”

Kelli pulled back and cocked her head, “I’m not following—“

“He’s not one of them, Abigail said, he’s real. He wasn’t the wild-eyed fan, he was there for one reason. He was making his little girl happy! He’s the most amazing man I’ve ever met.”

“And… that makes you feel…bad?”

“No Kelli! It made me fall in love with him! Don’t you understand?”

“But you haven’t really met—“

“You know what I mean, Kelli!”

“I…think so. He is very attentive. For a moment, I didn’t think I would be able to find them in that crowd, until he put the little girl on his shoulder.”

Kelli sat silent for a time.

“I still don’t understand,” Kelli continued finally. “Why are you upset? How does this change anything?”

Abigail sighed. “He stood there and told me he was a simple man; one who had no interest in the glitz of the big city. He’s obviously perfectly happy right where he’s at.”

“Well, I mean…” Kelli said haltingly, “he may have said that, under those conditions, but he didn’t exactly have all the facts.”

Abigail closed her eyes and shook her head. “No this can’t possibly go anywhere. It’s only going to get worse. I can’t even show my face to him. How can I continue carrying on this reuse? It isn’t fair to either one of us.”

“You can’t just tell him who you are? Let the chips fall and all that?”

“No,” Abigail repeated. “He’s not affected by the hype. He’s gonna’ see someone who lied to him over and over. The only thing he’s gonna feel when he sees my face is disappointment because I’m not Sandy…and I couldn’t take that. I just couldn’t.”

“But,” Kelli interrupted, “how can you be sure—?”

“I want you to take this phone and destroy it,” Abigail said, reaching into her bag. “Thank you for setting it up. It worked perfectly, but I won’t be using it anymore.”

She considered the phone for a brief moment before handing it over to Kelli.

 

~~~

 

Travis stood going over a set of blueprints atop a table. He was standing in a crowded hall surrounded by the bustle of construction; hard-hatted, safety vested workers going about their business.

he lifted a walky-talky from its place on his belt and was clarifying a hot project when Kenny approached from the side.

“So how did it go?” he asked.

“It was incredible,” Travis said. “Charlie actually got to meet Abigail Warren.”

“So I heard.”

“Check this out,” Travis said, lifting his phone from his pocket. He scrolled to the pictures and showed them to Kenny.

“Whoa,” Kenny said, “how did you get these?”

He took the phone from Travis and began scrolling through dozens of pictures showing Charlie’s interaction with Abigail Warren.

“They’re from the bat couple. They took the pictures and mailed them to me.”

“The bat couple?”

“Man and wife Batman Batgirl couple. Everyone had these weird costumes.”

“These are grownups?”

“Oh yeah. If you call ‘em nerds they consider it a compliment.”

“No kidding?”

“Charlie had a great time. Thank Sadie for me, will you?”

“So…what’s going on with your on-line thing?”

“Are you telling people about that? Because that makes me sound like such a wierdo.”

“Well, if the shoe fits.”

“She hasn’t called,” Travis said. “Not for a few days.”

“Is that normal?”

“Not at all. We used to talk every night. Maybe she got sick of me.”

“Yeah, probably.”

“You know, you don’t always have to be so agreeable.”

“Have you tried really looking into this thing?”

“I’ve tried texting her; tried leaving her messages; goes right to voicemail.”

“You didn’t give her any of your personal information, did you?”

“Yeah, I gave her some top secret White House info I had laying around and something called The Pentagon Papers—“

“I’m serious. These hackers have ways of getting into your bank accounts and stuff.”

“Yeah, you’ve told me that before. All we did was talk. It was always personal, just not…money stuff personal.”

“So what are you gonna do now?”

“Now that what?”

“Now that your on-line girlfriend has dumped you?”

“You’re jumping to conclusions. It’s been a few days is all—“

“Sadie has another friend. She has both flesh and blood and she wants to meet you.”

“Oh, not this again.”

“You like Sadie’s fried chicken, don’t you? What do you got to lose?”

“I love Sadie’s fried chicken but why are you trying so hard to set me up with somebody? I thought we agreed—“

“Because you’re a kid who’s starting to act like an old man.”

Travis grunted, “An old man who has to have the seismic done on the rack in r-10 by inspection on Monday.”

“Okay,” Kenny said. “I hear you. I’ll leave you alone and let you get it done.”

He turned and walked a short distance before looking back and hollering over his shoulder. “Fried chicken, Wednesday night, no women.”

Travis offered Kenny a thumbs up as he left.

 

~~~

 

A crowd of hundreds filled a non-distinct Downtown LA warehouse and poured out into the surrounding sidewalks and parking lot. This could have been a rock concert, a hit theatrical event or even black Friday, but this happened to be one of the entertainment industry’s infamous cattle-calls.

One mention of an up-and-coming role on any one of hundreds of google adds and would-be actors swarmed hoping to be the next sensation, or maybe just pay the rent. They often waited hours before parading past bored, non-responsive industry reps, shuffled out and sent on their way.

around halfway between the front and the end of the roiling, crowded line Malorie stood holding an umbrella intended to deflect the California mid-day sun. this was her third cattle-call in as many weeks and the futility of the process was starting to take its effect.

The auditions Abigail arranged had come and gone. The auditions were obviously a formality; the kneejerk, response to a request made by Abigail through Bevaun: two very respected members of the industry. It was all too clear. No one really expected her to make anything of herself. They were all appeasing Abigail.

How could she have been such a fool? Did she really think the industry would fall at her feet? All that made her exceptional was her friendship with Abigail Warren, the industry’s current ‘it girl’.

She’d had the plush job; the life in the spotlight, a damn good living and she blew it; replaced by a temp secretary who was positively rocking the job. She was right back where she started only there was no Abigail Warren to pull her out this time.

Another thirty minutes passed by before she unceremoniously turned away and left the crowd behind her. She folded her umbrella, tossed it at one of the fools still standing in line and walked fast as she could.

The tears began to fall as she went. The lump in her throat felt as if it would strangle her. People stared as she rushed along the sidewalk towards her parked car.

Her cell-phone sounded.

She slowed and stopped under the first shade she came to and checked her phone: ‘Osborn Talent.’

“Hello?” she said, desperately trying to pull herself together.

“Malorie Nilsson?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Can you be at Broad-day Agency within an hour? We’d like to do a screen test.”

“Uh…a screen test? For what part?”

“We can discuss it when you get here.”

Malorie put her hand to her forehead trying to take it all in. “I’m sorry, did you say screen test?”

“We’ll go over everything when you get here. See you soon.”

The call ended.

Malorie checked the time. They want me within an hour?

She was at least five minutes from her car. She began to run.

 

~~~

 

Malorie made one final rear-view-mirror makeup check before exiting her car and briskly walking into the office of the Broad-day agency. She moved to a receptionist.

“Hello I’m—“

“Malorie Nilsson?”

“Yes. I have a screen test—“

“Right down the hall and to the left.”

Malorie turned to leave but turned back. “Restroom?”

The receptionist pointed towards the door Malorie had walked through. “Out into the hall on your right.”

“Thank you,” Malorie said as she exited the waiting room. She moved into the restroom and stood looking at herself in the mirror. ‘You can do this,’ she said aloud. “This is your time! Grab it! You’re smart! You’re beautiful! You’re exactly what they’re looking for—“

The door to a stall behind her opened and a meticulously dressed woman stepped out.

Malorie gave a nervous giggle. “Sorry, I’ve got a screen test.”

The somber-faced woman moved past her, washed and dried her hands before moving to the door. “I’m sure you’ll do fine,” she said as the door closed behind her.

“Oh my God,” Malorie breathed.

She made one final inspection before leaving the restroom and moving back into the lobby.

She felt the blood rise in her face as she walked down the shallow hall and tapped on the door.

“Come,” someone on the other side of the door said.

She stepped in and immediately spotted the very woman who had left her in the rest room. The woman was sitting in the center of a table flanked by another woman and a man. A white screen had been pulled over what appeared to be a chalkboard covering an entire wall.

The area behind the table was draped in black, floor-to-ceiling curtains. Cameras on tripods along with their handlers took up both corners of the room. Sitting on both sides were several men and women in folding chairs.

Malorie nervously moved into the room. I’m Mal—

“We know who you are,” the bathroom woman said. “Please stand there.” She pointed to the center of the large white screen.

Malorie did as she was told.

The people at the table huddled, obviously discussing something very important.

Minutes went by. From time to time one of the people behind the table would glance up at her and back down. The people sitting on the folding chairs calmly sat looking her over.

Finally, after what felt like an hour, a man at the table left his seat, moved to Malorie and pushed a sheet of paper into her hand. “I’ll be reading with you,” he said, moving off into the shadows.

Malorie lifted the paper and scanned over it barely able to make out the words. “You want me to read this?” she asked, lifting the paper.

Everyone at the table pulled out of their huddle and sat staring at her.

“You’ve never had a screen-test before?”

“No,” Malorie said sheepishly.

The bathroom woman made no attempt to hide her irritation. She sighed, glanced at the man to her left and shook her head.

“Yes, yes,” she said flipping a hand. “We want you to read the paper. You can read, can’t you?”

“Yes, I can read—“

“Well then read…and try to look… try to stand up straight! You look as if you’re bored. Are you bored?”

“No I’m just…I’m just nervous.”

“Yes, well it’s a wonder. Read the line, Harvey.”

The man standing off in the shadows lifted his paper and began reading: “You stupid woman! What did you think would happen?”

Malorie lifted the paper, desperately trying not to cry. She wanted to run. These people hated her. She didn’t have a chance.

“You think I wanted him dead?” she read, trying to muster any nuance of emotion. “Is that what you think?”

“You’re reading!” the bathroom woman yelled. Malorie jumped in her place. “We’re not looking for readers, we’re looking for actors. Can you act?”

“Yes,” Malorie answered softly.

“Good! Read the line again, Harvey.”

Again the man in the shadows raised his paper. “You stupid woman! What did you think would happen?”

Malorie pulled her best grimace and yelled: “You think I wanted him dead? Is that what you think?”

“What was that?” The bathroom woman barked. “You’re supposed to be overwrought, not hollering for a hot dog at a baseball game! Do it again!”

“You stupid woman,” the man in the shadows repeated. “What did you think—“

“I don’t need this!” Malorie yelled. She tossed the paper towards the bathroom woman. “To hell with you people!” She turned away and bolted towards the door.

“Miss Nilsson!” the bathroom woman barked in a commanding voice.

Malorie stopped at the door and looked back.

“Wait in the lobby. We have some things to discuss. Give us fifteen minutes.”

Malorie looked back dumbfounded. “Uh…okay.”

She slowly opened the door, left the room and took one of the empty seats in the lobby. The receptionist glanced up before returning her attention to her computer screen.

Malorie sat steaming. Where do those people get off talking to people that way? she thought.

She’d never been treated that way before. No one had ever been treated that way before. “Ass holes!”

Only after the receptionist glanced up did she realize she’d spoken aloud.

The receptionist snickered and went back to her business.

“What’s wrong with these people?” Malorie asked. “They hated me. I tell them to go to hell they tell me to go wait in the lobby!”

“Means you probably got the part,” the receptionist said.

“No… they hated me, and I don’t blame them. I got so flustered I could hardly read, much less act. How could anyone cope with that! Meryl Streep couldn’t act under those conditions.”

The receptionist leaned forward and spoke under her breath. “The woman in there: That’s Marjorie Talbot. She’s the biggest bitch in the business. She’s a failed actress in her own right and she loves to see people squirm. Makes her feel important, I guess.”

Malorie snorted. “She had me squirming.”

“There is a method to her madness, though,” the receptionist continued. “They didn’t care about what you were reading. Those were just words. They wanted to see how well you’d respond to direction. They wanted to see if they could make you flustered if and when they want you to play flustered. If they wanted scared they’d have been scary. Does that make sense?”

The door in the hall opened.

“Don’t tell anybody I told you that!” The receptionist whispered.“You’re not supposed to know.”

The bathroom woman walked to the desk, dropped off some paperwork and turned to face Malorie. “We begin shooting by the end of the year,” she said. “Sometime between now and then we’ll get with you and go over the details.”

Malorie’s mouth dropped open. “Wait…I got the part?”

“Of course you got the part! Abigail Warren has the starring role! That’s why you got the part. Now don’t blow it because I gotta tell you: that in there was terrible!”

Malorie watched thunderstruck as the woman disappeared back into the room from which she came.

Without looking up the receptionist shook her head and spoke softly. “Asshole!”

 

~~~

 

Going by the New York City elite standards, Abigail Warren’s apartment was relatively small and cozy. Except for the grand view overlooking beautiful downtown Manhattan, her eclectic tastes in furnishings could have been equally at home in Kansas.

Grey walls highlighted by heavy, white molding made it feel more spacious than it actually was. A comfy couch, loveseat, coffee table combination was placed strategically on one end of the Livingroom.

The other end of the room hosted another couch, miniature table and ultramodern lounge chair, all strategically placed to take full advantage of the wall to wall windows.

The entire scene had been designed with one theme in mind: to turn the magnificent view into a utopia when the sun went down.

Abigail’s expectations that all would be well once she returned home had struck a heavy hitch. She was in love. As expected, her usual hotspots, her inside friends, her money, her fame: none of it seemed to have any importance. She’d go out for the purpose of being out. Beautiful men flaunted themselves. Waiters and waitresses showered her with attention. Plastic friends surrounded her yet all she could think of was a country-boy electrician and his adorable little girl.

And the truly alienating part: she could tell few people how she felt. Malorie maybe, Kelli yes, but in their eyes there was no real understanding. They were waiting for her to snap out of it, to come to her senses, to lose interest and just get back to her life.

What she wouldn’t give to be able to call him. Just the sound of his voice would’ve made it alright again. Nights reminded her of him; their long evening chats lasting into the mornings.

She used to love the nights but now they made her cry. Even Bevaun and the agency were starting to wonder what had gotten into her.

They seemed to reluctantly understand that life in the spotlight never really sat well with her, but this was different. She had started canceling things; important things. She didn’t laugh much. She didn’t go out much.

This night she was sitting on her love-seat staring out at the Empire State Building when her phone rang.

“I know what you did!” Malorie barked the moment Abigail picked up.

“Malorie?”

“You set this whole thing up!”

“What are you talking about?”

“The movie deal. You agreed to do a movie with Broad-day if they hired me!”

“And you have a problem with that?”

“Of course I do, Abby! They hate me. They hate having to use me. They told me so.”

“Who told you so?”

“The casting director.”

“So?”

“What do you mean, so?”

“So, why do you care what they think? Just do the movie.”

“I’m not doing the movie. I turned it down!”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because I don’t want to do it that way!”

“What way do you want to do it?”

“On my own.”

“I can’t keep up with you, Mal. I thought you wanted me to help you.”

There was a pause before Malorie answered. “I did…I do want you to help me. But all it does is make them hate me. The casting director told me I sucked but they had to use me because of you. How do you think that makes me feel?”

“Well I don’t know who this person I’m talking to feels, but the Malorie Nilsson I know would use the opportunity to skull-stomp them all by making the part her own and nailing it.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You can walk away now and let the bastards win, or you nail that part and make them eat their words!”

“God Dammit Abby, I can’t act!”

Abigail let the silence go for a moment before answering. “I guess you have a bad memory. I guess you’ve forgotten that it was you who inspired me to get into this business. I admit, you’re going through a phase right now, but back when you and I were hitting the streets, hell even back in high school, you were fantastic.

You were so real. You were able to go deep and conjure feelings instead of pretending like you’re doing now. You need to give it some thought. Find your strengths, figure out what it is that changed you and fix it. If you do, Mal, you’re gonna’ be one of the greats. I promise you.”

Abigail heard Malorie sniff and wipe her nose. “Do you mean that?” she said finally.

“You know I mean it.”

“Well it’s too late anyway. I told them I wouldn’t do it.”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll fix it. What do you mean they hate you? Who said you sucked?”

“The casting manager: Marjorie Talbot.”

“I’ll fix this, Mal. You gave them your contact info didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Do you still want this?”

“Yes! Yes I do. You’re right. I can nail this.”

“Okay then. I’ll make a call, you show up and we’ll sit together at the Academy awards.”

Abigail hung up and redialed.

“This is Abigail Warren. I’d like to speak with Lyle.”

“I’ll put you right through, Ms. Warren.”

“Abby! so good to hear from you. What’s up?”

“The movie we’re doing, ‘Happenstance’, did you cast Malorie Nilsson?”

“No, I’m sorry Abby. She turned it down—“

“She didn’t turn it down she was bullied out of it. If she doesn’t get the role, I’m gonna lose interest.”

“Abigail,” the director said, “she’s bad. She’s really bad…and I hate to say it, but you signed a contract—“

“So that’s it?” Abigail said. “You thought once you locked me in you could renege on our deal.”

“Abby look…we love being able to work with you, but this is a business, and you did sign a contract.”

“Do you think I’m new? Don’t you think I had my lawyers go over that contract with a magnifying glass? You don’t think I knew you were gonna try and pull this shit? If you look closely, I purposely had my lawyers include a little something hidden deep within the fine print. It specifically stipulates that if Malorie Nilsson is not involved, my contract is null and void. Page twenty-three, stipulation seven! Why do you think I practically gave this thing to you?”

An uncomfortable pause ensued mixed with the sound of shuffling paper.

“Okay Abby,” the director said finally, “we’ll fix this. Just give me—“

“Who is Marjorie Talbot? Is she the casting director?”

“Yeah, but she’s—“

“I want her gone.”

“No problem, Abby.”

“And Malorie Nilsson is going to contact you. I suggest you cast her.”

Abigail pulled the phone away and ended the call.

 

Chapter Ten

~~~

 

3 months later

 

The sound of muffled, live country music emanated from an adjoining room: a fitting backdrop for the conversation Travis and Kenny had fallen into. The bar was a hotspot for the locals and had become a place of solace for Travis on those nights his mother made herself available to watch Charlie.

Travis wasn’t much of a drinking man. He enjoyed the buzz but not the fog. At some point between the time Sandy stopped communicating and the present, he realized he needed a life outside of home and work.

This night he was joined by Kenny who was spending entirely too much time pointing out possible suitors.

“How long’s it been now?” Kenny asked.

Travis finished off his beer and placed it on the table. “Since Sandy?”

“Yeah, how many years?”

“Three months.”

“Really? Seems like years. You haven’t been the same since, you know that, don’t you?”

Travis blew out a breath. “I’ll get over it. I don’t know why it’s such a big deal anyway. I’m at work every day. I take care of Charlie. The world hasn’t ended. I know I was stupid. I won’t do it again, I’m moving on, problem solved…there. See how easy that was?”

“What do you mean the problem is solved?” Kenny barked over the din. “You need a woman! You’re a young man moping around all day long feeling sorry for yourself. It wasn’t even real!”

Travis sent Kenny a black look. “Do you think you’re enlightening me here? You don’t think I know it wasn’t real? Just give me some time and just…let it go, will you?”

Kenny reached and took a tug from his beer bottle, placed it back on the table and sat looking out at the crowd. After a time, he returned his attention to Travis. “Have you even tried to find her?”

“A little bit.” Travis said.

“What do you mean a little bit?”

“I went to her Facebook page. It’s been deleted.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah.”

“So it was a scam all along?”

“You know…every time I talk to you, it’s always the same thing: she’s scamming me, she’s ripping me off—“

“What about the phone number?” Kenny continued. “Did you check that out?”

“I tried to call her, leave her messages. What else could I do?”

“No you can track those things. Haven’t you ever seen that TV show ‘Hooked’? They can track those phones down and find out who it is. They have computer programs that can look at a picture, scan all over the internet and find the matches. They can do anything these days.”

“Why would I want to find her? She knows exactly where I’m at. She doesn’t seem to show any interest in me, so why would I want to find her?”

“To put an end to it all.”

“How would that put an end to it all?”

“It’s called closure.”

“What is that even supposed to mean?”

“You know. Close off… all those emotional feelings and stuff. Point is, you gotta get back to normal. I miss you buddy.”

 

~~~

 

Growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles, Kelli was accustomed to the big city, but New York City was on a different level.

So many things about the city struck her as odd: Mammoth buildings flanking relatively narrow streets; rivers of yellow cabs with their incessant honking sounding like an ever-present gaggle of geese, wide open vendors within never-ending crowds with rarely an item snatched. It’d been intimidating at first, but she soon acclimated. It didn’t hurt that she’d been set up in the very building Abigail was living in.

Despite her expectations to the contrary, she felt quite safe. Cops seemed to be stationed on every corner. A doorman stood guard day and night beneath a gazebo outside her building’s entrance. One of her favorite perks was watching the reaction of normal folks coming into contact with Abigail, most times planned, oft’ times, not so much.

It was always surprising to see how many children remembered her iconic role as The Princess of Shiloh. Their reactions were always priceless, ranging from joy, to mystified.

She’d also grown to truly appreciate her boss and was proud to be one of the very few privileged enough to know Abigail Warren as a person.

Only months prior, Kelli would have neatly fit into the crowd assuming Abigail was a beautiful, rich party girl; demanding and used to getting her way, but she’d come to know that this caricature couldn’t be farther from the truth. In Reality, Abigail Warren was one of the loneliest people Kelli had ever known; someone with insecurities and faults and never quite comfortable in her milieu.

Kelli’s cab pulled to the curb in front of her building on Sixth Avenue. She stepped out, retrieved two plastic sacks containing items Abigail requested and moved past the familiar doorman. He touched his hat and bowed slightly. “Good evening, Ms. Martinez,” he said as she passed by.

An elevator ride later she knocked at Abigail’s door and was greeted by Malorie.

“I got a part!” Malorie yelled the moment she opened the door. She gasped, stepped forward, took hold of Kelli’s shoulders and held her at arm’s length. “Whoa!” she said, looking Kelli up and down. “I love this dress! This looks perfect on you…and that makeup. You’re Cinderella.”

Kelli beamed. “I couldn’t very well move to New York looking like Orphan Annie. What do you mean you got a part?”

“Abby and I are going to be making a movie together.”

“Hi Kell,” Abigail hollered from the couch in the living room. “Did you get everything?”

Kelli moved with Malorie and entered Abigail’s apartment. “Everything except noodles.”

“You couldn’t find noodles in New York City?” Malorie asked on her way to the loveseat.

“They’re not noodles,” Abigail said. “It’s Main lobster on Tagliolini over black truffle from Bianchi. Costs over two thousand bucks a plate. They didn’t have any?”

“They’ve had a busy night,” Kelli answered.

“What did you end up getting?”

“Something called—” she pulled a receipt from the bag and read: “Bucatini Alla Carbonara. They said it’s almost as good, that you’re gonna love it.”

“Did you get five orders?”

“Yeah, I didn’t think I was going to get it though. You should have seen the way they looked at me when I said it was take-out. They almost tossed me to the sidewalk. I had to drop your name.”

“Did they give you paper napkins?”

Kelli pulled the bag up and gave it a look. “No! Cheap bastards!”

“That’s it,” Abigail said. “I won’t be going back there again.”

Kelli moved to the coffee table and began spreading the food out. She glanced up at Malorie. “What role did you get?”

“It’s a movie called ‘Happenstance’. Abby’s got the lead. I’m playing her little sister. We’re starting next month.”

Kelli nodded. “That’s right…‘Happenstance’… It’s on the schedule.”

She scooped up a plastic-fork load of Carbonara, pushed it into her mouth and rolled her eyes, “Oh my Lord!” she groaned. “That’s delicious.”

Within minutes all three were deep into their supper.

“Do you have a project here in the city?” Kelli asked glancing up at Malorie.

“No, I just wanted to visit with you guys.”

Abigail smiled, reached and squeezed Malorie’s hand.

“And I’m a little worried,” Malorie continued.

Abigail finished a sip of wine and sat the glass on the coffee table. “Worried about what?”

“I heard things.”

“Things like what?”

“Things like you’ve been miserable. Things Like you’re love-struck. You’re not yourself—“

“Where did you hear those things?”

“Just gossip.”

“From who?”

“From around. From people.”

“People named Kelli?”

The room became quiet.

After a frozen moment, Kelli swallowed her food and responded. “Well…I’ve been worried too.”

Abigail pulled back and sighed. “It’s nothing. It’s just something that got out of hand. I just have to…let it ware off.”

“It’s been months,” Malorie said. “I heard you went to Comic con and met him and his little girl.”

Abigail took another deep sip of wine and replaced it on the table. “That’s what really did it,” she said finally. “I met this man, talked with him and little Charlie for five minutes and now he’s the only man I see. The only man I can think about and he has no clue who I am.”

Her eyes pooled with tears as she continued. “We used to talk way into the night. We talked about absolutely nothing and I was…enraptured. God I miss those talks so bad.”

Malorie let the silence run its course then said: “why don’t you tell him who you are?”

Abigail shook her head. “I have nothing to offer him.”

Malorie noisily planted her empty wine glass down on the coffee table. “I’m sorry, did you just say you have nothing to offer him?”

“I know it sounds like I couldn’t possibly know this guy the way I do,” Abigail said, “but I’m telling you he would have no interest in this.” She motioned towards the magnificent Manhattan skyline on the other side of her wall-to-wall picture window. “He’s real and he’s…simple. Straight forward.”

“Well that’s one thing you two have in common,” Malorie said.

“What do you mean?”

“Neither of you see any value in”—she motioned towards the windows— “this.”

Abigail shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m not following.”

“I’m saying you bought into this yourself. You’ve developed this hatred for the glam, glitz and phony and then somehow concluded the glam, glitz and phony was who you are. You’re convinced this guy would reject you because of it, but that’s not you. You’re not this, you’re him.”

Abigail leaned back and considered Malorie a long moment before responding. “You’re smart. Why the hell do you want to get into this business?”

“That’s easy,” Malorie said grinning. “I love the glam, glitz and phony.”

 

~~~

 

“You did what?”

“I didn’t do it!” Kenny barked. “Sadie did!”

“Why didn’t you tell her not to?”

“Because I think it’s a good idea.”

“Why don’t you wait till I think it’s a good idea?”

Travis and Kenny were taking up their usual spot at the café near their project.

“It’s just a TV show.”

“I don’t want to be on a TV show!”

“They get to the bottom of things. Don’t you want to find out what all of this has been about?”

Travis lifted his coffee from the table and began swirling it. “I know what this is all about. Sandy lost interest. She moved on. She found somebody else—“

“How do you know she’s not doing this to somebody else? How do you know she hasn’t been doing it for a long time?”

“I don’t care!”

Kenny sat quietly considering Travis before responding. “Come on, buddy. I know better than that.”

He waited for a response and when none came he continued. “Tell me you don’t want to talk to this person. Find out why she did this? Tell her how much she messed you up. Wouldn’t that at least be something?”

Travis turned in his café booth and leaned against the wall.

“So, Sadie just called Hooked?”

“No, she sent an email. Nobody calls anymore.”

“What did she tell them?”

“She told them about your online thing…pretty standard stuff. She thinks the video helped.”

“The video?”

“You know, your video…the viral one.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“I don’t know. You know…Hollywood…always looking for a twist.”

“There’s gonna be all these cameras and people in and out of the house; Charlie’s gonna be wondering what all of this is about and I’m eventually going to have to explain it. Everybody on the project is gonna know—“

“Most of them already know,” Kenny said.

“What?”

“Well, you know…one person tells another person and on and on—“

“Gosh, wonder who that first person was?”

“Yeah, my bad.”

“When do you think this thing will happen? How’s it gonna go down?”

“So, you’ll do it?”

Travis sat looking deep into his coffee cup. “I admit,” he said finally. “I’d like to look her in the eye and ask her what the hell she was thinking.”

 

~~~

 

Travis watched Charlie working diligently on a puzzle splayed out on the floor in front of the TV. He was wondering what sort of impact a camera crew would have on her little world along with the vulnerability of having his personal life opened for all the world to see.

The producers of the Hooked television program had made an appointment and they were due to arrive at any moment. They assured him there wouldn’t be cameras. This was to be a discussion about the process. His feelings on the matter ran the gambit from vulnerability to anger to deep sadness, and surprising enough, a sense of shame for possibly sending the hounds against the person he once knew as Sandy.

Even in the grips of his darkest hours he found it hard to believe that at some level Sandy, or whoever she was, hadn’t been touched by those tender, heartfelt conversations they had shared.

Someone knocked on the door.

Amy, Charlie’s baby sitter, responded by quickly scooping up Charlie’s puzzle and nudging her towards the bedroom.

Travis opened the door to see a casualty dressed, middle aged man flanked by a younger, attractive woman.

“Mr. Taylor?” he asked, shuffling an iPad out of the way and pushing out his hand. “I’m Benjamin Pulley, and this is Ivonne Morley.”

Travis shook his hand. “You’re from the Hooked show?”

“That is correct,” Benjamin said. “May we come in?”

They moved to Travis’ living room. Benjamin took the couch along with Travis. Ivonne took the lounge chair across from them and settled in.

“How is all this gonna go down?” Travis asked.

“Can I assume you’ve seen the show?” Benjamin began.

“A time or two.”

“So you know we usually open it up with the hosts discussing the details of your situation amongst themselves, followed by them skyping you, followed by a visit wherein they compile your relevant info, research the data and hopefully uncover the shady party, yada yada….”

Travis nodded, “okay, I guess so.”

“Barring circumstances beyond our control that’s pretty much the way it’s going to be presented as happening. In reality, however, this is a TV show and the sequence of the events may not occur as presented.”

Travis shook his head. “Sorry, not following.”

“The Skype scene will be filmed at the end of the process even though it will be presented as happening at the beginning. The actual research will be done by Kelli and myself not by the hosts as presented—“

“Events may be discussed, re-scripted and reenacted for the cameras,” Ivonne said, breaking her silence.

“So, I’ll be acting?” Travis asked.

Ivonne flipped her hands. “Sometimes…not always. Just follow our lead. We’ll walk you through it.”

“Okay,” Travis said, “what do you need from me?”

“Right now we need access to the texts, phone numbers…things of that sort. As I understand it, the person you were talking to deleted her Facebook page. Did this person have other social media accounts such as Snapchat, Instagram, that sort of thing?”

“Not that I know of,” Travis said. “We started out on Facebook messenger and went right to the phones.”

“You don’t have a picture of this person, do you?”

“I actually do,” Travis said. “I saved her profile picture before she deleted it.”

“We’ll need a copy of that.”

“Not a problem.” Travis said.

“Okay,” Benjamin said. “Good enough. Can we collect that information now then?”

 

~~~

 

Kelli prided herself in being a good employee. She was also very much a romantic. While she agreed there was little chance of success for the over-the-top relationship Abigail and Travis had fostered she refused to believe all hope was lost. For this reason, she had indefinitely postponed Abigail’s instructions to destroy the telephone and account she’d created.

Throughout the months since Abigail broke off their communications Kelli had monitored the messages coming in from Travis. Several at first, and then dropping off to nil after the first few weeks.

For this reason, the distinct ring emanating from the bottom of her bag came as a surprise. She dug the phone out and checked the screen. The number was coming from Travis. She waited for the ringing to stop and the sound signaling a message had been left before accessing it and putting the phone to her ear.

 

“Hello,” the message began. “This is Benjamin Pulley, from the MVR television show, Hooked. I’m calling you about your friend Travis Taylor. We know you’re not Sandy and we just thought you might want to come forward and face Travis. He has many questions and I think you really owe him some answers. Please contact us at your earliest convenience.”

 

Kelli felt her face flush. They’ve traced the phone to me, she thought. That wasn’t supposed to happen. This can’t be good. She thought about telling Abigail but quickly changed her mind. Not only had she been told to get rid of the phone, she also didn’t think Abigail was in the right state of mind to deal with it.

She took a deep breath, put the phone on the table in front of her and sat staring at it for a time. Finally, she pulled her own phone out of her bag and dialed a number.

The phone range and a receptionist picked up.

“Yes, this is Abigail Warren’s personal assistant. Is Bevaun Gibson, Abigail’s manager, available?”

 

~~~

 

For the second time in a week Travis answered the door to a Producer of the Hooked television show. This time, however, only Benjamin was standing on his doorstep.

“We’ve made a few discoveries,” Benjamin said. “May I come in?”

Travis motioned for him to make himself comfortable. “Are we gonna start pretty soon?” Travis asked, “Because I’ll need a little notice in case I have to miss work or something.”

Benjamin shifted in his chair. “We won’t be continuing,” he said. “It happens. We don’t turn every potential story into an episode and with this story we’ve run into a little snag.”

Travis nodded, “too boring, huh? It is a little cliché. I tried to tell Kenny—“

“Truth is,” Benjamin interrupted, “the whole thing has taken a very surreal turn; a very interesting, surreal turn. Normally if we determine we can’t go with a particular scenario we simply make a phone call, but in this case we…I wanted to follow up, just to satisfy my own curiosity.”

“Really?” Travis said. “What are you curious about?”

Benjamin retrieved a laptop from a bag he’d placed on the floor next to him, placed it on the coffee table and opened it.

“If I may,” he said scooting himself and the laptop closer to Travis.

“Basically, we started with the picture of Sandy you provided us,” Benjamin began. “We ran it through Google Image Search and came up with this:”

A Facebook page appeared with Sandy’s profile picture.

Benjamin clicked on the ‘pictures’ icon and more pictures appeared, all belonging to whomever Sandy had taken the pictures from.

“Obviously,” Benjamin continued, “we contacted the owner of this page. Her name is Breanna White and she has no idea who this Sandy person is, or why she would be using this picture…so we went right to the phone number she gave you and this popped up:”

Travis watched as a program called: ‘watchem.com’ showed an association between the phone number Sandy had given him and someone named Kelli Martinez living in Los Angeles California.

“We immediately went to Kelli Martinez’s Facebook page and this came up:”

the Facebook page belonging to a twenty-seven-year-old woman appeared.

She was a little overweight, Hispanic and a recent graduate of Los Angeles community College.

“Is this Sandy?” Travis asked.

“We’re not sure,” Benjamin said, “but this is where it really gets weird. It turns out a few days after your ‘Sandy’s’ phone account was created, this girl took a job as a temporary assistant to Abigail Warren, the actress. Okay… that in itself doesn’t say much, but there’s more.

This Kelli girl, friended not only Abigail herself, but also several of the cast and crew working on ‘Resurrect’, Abigail’s latest movie. We checked the newsfeed on all of Kelli’s acquaintances connected to that movie and this person came up:”

Again, Travis watched as another Facebook page appeared, this one belonging to someone named Brenda Morrison.

“This woman happens to have been a member of the cast in that movie,” Benjamin continued.

He went to her newsfeed. “We had to go back a ways,” he said as he scrolled. “We went all the way back to about the time this Sandy person contacted you.”

He stopped on a post in her newsfeed. It was a link to his and Charlie’s princess video.

A comment had been tagged to the video. Travis leaned in to read it.

‘Shared makeup this morning with none other than miss Abigail Warren. She said she’s been talking to this guy. He’s cute.’

Travis pulled back. “So, what does this mean?”

“May not mean anything,” Benjamin said, “except that this happened next.”

Travis pulled back from the computer screen and turned his full attention to Benjamin.

“We left a message with Kelli, the girl who set up the phone account,” Benjamin continued, “and never got a call back.”

Travis nodded. “Okay.”

“Obviously,” Benjamin continued. “We wanted to run with this, I mean, what if we find out that Abigail Warren—“

“I get it,” Travis interrupted. “Why didn’t you run with it?”

“Because only hours after we made that phone call we were shut down.”

Travis shook his head. “I’m still not following.”

“It goes like this: NBB owns MVR who in turn owns all rights to Hooked productions. Abigail Warren is under contract with Rainway Management who are owned by…you guessed it, NBB.

Apparently, the powers that be came to an agreement. Abigail Warren caught catfishing some guy on Facebook wouldn’t go well for her PR. They pulled the plug.”

Travis pulled back confused, “If you’re not gonna do the episode why are you even here? Why are you even telling me this?”

Benjamin shrugged, “I don’t know, I guess I just wanted to see your face when I told you.”

“I think maybe you’re making way too much out of a few coincidences,” Travis said.

Benjamin pulled back and folding his laptop. “Very possible, and if anyone asks, that’s what I’m gonna tell them I told you, but I’d very much prefer it if you told anyone who asks, that I never came here in the first place because I also work for NBB.”

 

~~~

 

“Travis, can I talk with you in my office?”

Travis glanced up from his Power Point presentation to see Kenny looking over his shoulder.

“Sure,” he said. “What’s up?”

“Nothing big. Let’s go in my office.”

Travis left his chair, followed Kenny to his office and closed the door behind him. “What’s going on?”

“So, how did it go?” Kenny asked the moment Travis sat down.

“Huh?”

“The uh…Hooked thing. You said they were meeting with you yesterday. What happened?”

“Oh…they decided not to do it.”

“They did?”

“Yeah, too boring. I told you.”

“Hmm,” Kenny grunted turning in his swivel chair. “Sadie’s gonna be disappointed.”

“Yeah well, I wasn’t all that happy about having my stupidity broadcasted all over America anyway.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

“Really? You couldn’t see that when you were setting the whole Hooked thing up?”

“I was trying to help. Besides…that was Sadie’s Idea, not mine. What are you gonna do now?”

“Gonna get back to business. Get back to wiring this project.”

“Good to hear,” Kenny said. “How did the rack in A-5 turn out?”

“Finished, ready for inspection.”

“Good deal. Tomorrow I want—“

The telephone clipped to Travis’ belt sounded. He glanced down at it and lifted one finger.

“Sorry Kenny, mind if I take this? It’s from home; Charlie’s babysitter.”

“Of course,” Kenny responded, obviously concerned.

“Amy?” Travis said the moment he picked up. “What’s up?”

It became immediately apparent that Amy was crying.

Travis rose in his seat. “Amy! Amy! What’s going on?”

“She was right next to me,” Amy groaned. “We were going to the park. She ran. I tried to grab her—“

“Amy!” Travis shouted. “What happened? Where is Charlie?”

“She was…she was hit by a car! They’re taking her to Children’s Hospital. They wouldn’t let me go with—“

“When did this happen?” Travis yelled.

Kenny stepped up beside Travis, his face a mask of concern.

“If anybody asks I’m on my way!” Travis barked as he slammed his phone back to its place. “I gotta go!” he shouted. Charlie’s been hit by a car!”

Kenny reached, pulled a drawer open and snatched up a set of keys. “I’m going with you.” he said. “We’ll take my Dodge!”

 

Chapter Eleven

~~~

 

Travis barely allowed the elevator doors to open before bounding through and rushing to the nurse’s station. Moments after he arrived Kenny came up behind him.

“My little girl,” Travis said, winded from the rush, “she was hit by a car.”

One of two nurses at the station remained seated as she reached for a clip board. She handed it up to the counter in front of Travis. “What’s your little girls name?” she asked.

“Charlie Taylor, she was hit by a car, they said she was here in emergency—“

“Please fill this out and the doctor will be right with you.”

“You can’t let me see my daughter?”

“We need your info, sir. The doctor is going to need you to sign a few consent forms—“

“Where’s the doctor?”

“The doctor is attending to your daughter, sir—“

“Travis?” a woman’s voice called out from behind him.

He turned to see Amy, Charlie’s babysitter, charily approaching.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, breaking into tears. “It just happened so—“

Travis went to her and joined her in a hug. “Nobody’s blaming you,” he said. “Kids just…bolt. Trust me I know. Thank God she’s still with us.”

He motioned to the waiting area. “I have to take care of this. You go sit down. I’ll find out what I can and fill you in.”

Amy moved away and Travis turned back to the Nurses station. “Where’s this paperwork?” He said. “And tell the doctor I need to talk to him as soon as possible.”

“I’ll do this,” Kenney said, breaking his silence. “I know way more than I want to know about this guy. I’ll leave out the parts I don’t know. Just tell the doctor, or anyone who knows what the hell is going on to come and talk to this man before his head explodes! I mean, my God! Do any of you people have kids?”

The nurse sent Kenny a glower before handing him the clipboard and reaching for the phone. “The doctor will be right out,” she said finally.

Kenny moved to the waiting room and sat next to Amy while Travis paced in front of the nurse’ station. Within minutes a white suited woman rounded the corner. She was middle aged and appeared to be competent. “Mr. Taylor?”

Travis moved forward. “Are you taking care of Charlie?”

“Yes, I’m Doctor Nance. Charlie has a broken leg. She appears to have internal injuries but nothing we consider to be life threatening.”

“Oh, thank God,” Travis breathed.

“As soon as we can get the paperwork we can get her into surgery, the sooner the better.”

“Can I see her now? My friend is handling the paperwork.”

“Yes, but she’s unconscious.”

Travis pulled back. “She’s in a coma?”

“We’ve induced a coma. It’ll help her heal and alleviate any pain. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

She motioned towards a hall behind them. “I’ll take you to her.”

“Call my mom,” Travis said turning his attention to Amy still sitting in the waiting room.

The doctor lead him a short distance before moving through a set of double doors.

Several white shrouded patients atop gurneys separated by fabric partitions lined both walls.

At the end of the room and to his right a tiny form tethered to monitors and intravenous tubes lay motionless atop a hospital bed. Travis moved to her and gently cradled her limp hand. Tears welled in his eyes as he took in the sight. Charlie had an open wound on her forehead shrouded in a deep, purple bruise extending down over a swollen, blackened left eye.

“Hi baby,” he said softly, “daddy’s here.”

He knew her leg was badly broken and God knew what else. He was thankful the rest of her tiny body was shrouded and out of sight beneath a blanket.

The doctor moved up. “I’m sorry, but we really must get her into surgery.”

Travis nodded, gently rolled his hand over her arm and left the room.

He moved back to the waiting room where the nurse presented him with the final paperwork.

Moments later he approached Kenny and Amy who stood to meet him.

“How is she?” Amy asked quickly.

Travis shook his head as tears escaped his eyes. “Her little face is so…banged up.”

Kenny reached and grabbed his shoulder. “Is she gonna be okay?” he asked.

“The doctor thinks so. They’re gonna operate. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

The three took seats and sat together without speaking.

After a time, Travis fished his phone from its place on his belt, punched in Sandy’s number and began to text:

 

“I don’t know who you are, but I think you should know that Charlie was hit by a car. She’s in critical condition. Wish I could talk to you.”

 

~~~

 

“Do you remember what Mr. J taught us in ninth grade?” Abigail said, after taking a sip from her Pina colada.

“Spiritual realism, emotional memory recall, and self-analysis,” Malorie recited, recalling it from memory. “The Stanislavsky’s technique.”

“He was the best teacher I ever had,” Abigail said. She pointed a finger at Malorie, “and you were his star pupal.”

Abigail, wearing a bikini, was sitting on an umbrella shaded beach chair in front of her private hot tub Malorie was currently occupying.

“He was a high school drama teacher,” Malorie said. Rolling her hands over the surface of the warm, roiling water.

Abigail placed her drink on a small table next to the chair. “Doesn’t matter. I’ve had a lot of coaches and a lot of directors, but Mr. J taught me more than any of them.”

“Have you ever told him that?”

Abigail sat contemplating. “You know, I never have. Remind me to—“

Kelli suddenly swung the patio door open, walked briskly across Abigail’s patio and stopped in front of her.

“Abby,” she said, pushing a phone towards Abigail. “You’re gonna want to read this text. It’s from Travis.”

 

~~~

 

“Hey bud,” Kenny said softly. He quietly moved into the hospital room assigned to Charlie.

“Thanks for bringing this stuff,” Travis said taking a box from Kenny’s hands.

Kenny leaned over Charlie’s bed. “Is she still unconscious?”

“No,” Travis said. “She’s asleep. They just gave her some medication. They want her out for a while.”

“Is she doing better?”

“Yeah, everything went fine. She was awake earlier. She doesn’t even seem to be in much pain; of course, that could just be the medication.”

“Your mom’s at your house,” Kenny said. “Have you been here all night?”

“Oh yeah,” Travis said. “I didn’t want Charlie waking up alone wondering where she is.”

“You’re a good dad, bud.”

“Everybody on the project says hi,” Kenny continued after a pause. “They’re takin’ up a collection.”

“Why are they doing that?”

“They’re doing it for Charlie, knucklehead! What do you think?”

“Tell the guys thanks.”

“They know. Any idea when Charlie gets to go home?”

“About a week. They have to keep an eye on her for a while. I’ll be camping out here for as long as it takes.”

“How are you eating? Are they feeding you?”

“I have the cafeteria. It’s not bad.”

“It’s gonna get pretty old.”

Kenny turned and moved to the door. “I gotta go. We have a pour tonight.”

“A-16?”

“Yeah. We’ll finally get that behind us.”

“Tell the guys hello for me.”

Kenny left the room. Travis scooted his chair next to Charlie’s bed, dug into the box Kenny delivered and pulled out an outrageously colored children’s book. He opened it to the first page and began reading:

“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who lived in a kingdom known throughout the land. The name of that kingdom was Shiloh…”

 

~~~

 

The Dodge truck rumbled into the parking lot and came to a rest in a spot near the lobby door. Kenny exited the vehicle, joined his wife and together they entered the Children’s Hospital.

“Do you think it’s silly to give flowers to a four-year-old?” Sadie asked as they moved into the hospital lobby. Kenny glanced down at the small vase containing petite yellow daisies. He was carrying them along with several wrapped packages.

“I think the Xbox might be a bit of a stretch.”

“She’s gonna be laid up for a while,” Sadie said. “She’ll need something to keep her mind engaged.”

“She’s only four-years-old.”

“Well, she’s not gonna be playing Grand Theft Auto! We got her kid games. Trust me, she’ll love it.”

They moved together into the elevator and pushed the 3rd floor button.

“I hope she’s awake,” Sadie said. “Is she pretty banged up? I hope she’s not in pain.”

“She wasn’t yesterday,” Kenny said. “Travis says she’s doing better, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up about how she’ll be feeling today.”

They left the Elevator, moved to Charlie’s room and tapped on the door. A strange noise was emanated from the room. Kenny slowly pushed the door open. Charlie was sitting up in bed looking over a book. Her head and left eye were covered in a wrap-around bandage. A nurse going about her duties glanced up and smiled. The strange noise returned, like a buzz saw.

Charlie glanced up, put her finger to her mouth. “Shhh,” she said, pointing at Travis. “Daddy’s sleeping.” Kenny shifted his attention to Travis. He was slouched in a chair, his head back, mouth agape, snoring loudly.

Kenny looked back at Charlie and pulled a face.

Charlie giggled and quickly covered her mouth.

Travis stirred. “Hey,” he said sitting up straight. “You’re here.”

Sadie smiled at the nurse, moved around the bed and sat next to Charlie. “Hi precious,” she said. “Feeling better?”

Charlie nodded. “Lots better. I got runned over by a car.”

“I know. We’ve been so worried.”

“We came to take you out of here, buddy,” Kenny said.

Travis stretched and blew out a breath. He stood and leaned over Charlie. “Hi baby. Everything ok?”

Charlie nodded without looking up.

“Kenny and I are gonna go get a few things from home and I’m coming right back. Sadie will stay with you okay?”

“Okay,” Charlie responded.

 

Chapter Twelve

~~~

 

As they rounded a corner in his neighborhood Travis noticed an unfamiliar car parked in front of his house.

“Who’s that?” Kenny asked.

Travis shook his head. “No idea.”

They pulled into the driveway.

“This shouldn’t take long,” Travis said. “I’ll just get a few things.”

They left Kenny’s truck and moved to the door.

“Did your mother rent a car or something?” Kenny asked.

“No idea,” Travis repeated, moving through the front door.

He stepped into his house and stopped short. Kenny, following close behind, plowed into him.

Travis’ mother was sitting on Travis’ lounge chair, a strange, confused smile on her face. Abigail Warren, flanked by two women, was sitting on his couch.

Abigail stood and moved towards Travis. “How’s Charlie?” she asked.

Kenny snorted. “You look just like—“

“Kenny,” Travis interrupted. “This is Abigail. Abigail, this is Travis, and I guess you’ve met my mother.”

His mother offered a flick of her hand.

“Charlie’s fine,” Travis continued. “She has a broken leg. She’s pretty sore. Bruised up but…she’s gonna be fine.”

“Oh, thank God,” Abigail said.

An uncomfortable hush filled the room.

“So it’s true?” Travis said, breaking his silence. “You’re Sandy?”

Kenny moved forward, “Wait…no she’s—”

Abigail nodded and sighed. “Kelli thought you might be on to us.”

Kenny batted Travis on the arm with the back of his hand. “Hey bud,” he said, his voice oddly high pitched. “Can we talk?”

Travis turned to him. “Just give me a minute—”

Kenny snagged his arm, moved his face closer to Travis’ ear and spoke in a hoarse, whispering sound: “You don’t understand! that’s Abigail warren…the movie star.”

Travis nodded. “I know. We’ll talk later.”

Kenny backed off, pursed his lips and slowly nodded, his face a mask of confusion.

Travis returned his attention to Abigail. “Would you like to see Charlie? She’d be so stoked.”

Abigail shook her head. “I’d love to. It would just cause a ruckus. No one knows I’m here. Not even my manager.”

“How long can you stay in town?” She’ll be home by the weekend.”

“We can’t stay, Malorie and I…oh I’m sorry.” She turned her attention to the two women still sitting on the couch. “This is my associate, Malorie and my assistant, Kelli.”

“Kelli Martinez?” Travis asked. “You’re the one who created the phone account?”

Kelli raised her eyebrows and looked away. After a brief moment, she quickly turned back.

“I have an idea,” she said. “I think I know a way you might be able to visit Charlie.”

 

~~~

 

“What do we have here?” a nurse said as Abigail and Travis approached the nurse’ station.

“Uh,” Travis said. “She does those little…princess parties the kids have.”

Abigail leaned towards the nurse. “He hired me.”

Abigail, wearing her Princess of Shiloh dress complete with a white Lone Ranger mask, waved the palm of her hand.

“I get it,” the nurse said grinning. “The video, right?”

“Right,” Travis said.

“She’s awake,” the nurse continued. “She’s such a little sweetheart. We’re gonna miss her when she gone.”

Travis lead the way and Abigail, Malorie, Kelli and Kenny moved to Charlie’s room.

Travis lingered at the door and turned to face Abigail, “let me set this up before you go in.”

Abigail nodded.

Travis tapped on the door and entered.

Sadie looked up from her place at the foot of Charlie’s bed and smiled. “She’s been asking for you.”

“Hi Daddy!” Charlie said. “You took too long.”

“I’m sorry, baby, but I brought you a surprise.”

“What is it?”

“You’re never gonna guess.”

Sadie, widened her eyes and dropped her mouth in mock surprise. “Ooo, what did daddy bring you?”

Travis moved to the door and opened it.

Abigail entered.

“Oh,” Sadie groaned. “How adorable.”

Kenny, Malorie and Kelli entered.

Sadie turned her attention to Kenny. “So cute,” she silently mouthed.

Abigail moved to Charlie’s side, sat on the bed and lifted her mask.

“Do you remember me?” she asked.

Charlie squealed and threw her arms around Abigail. “You came to see me?”

Sadie’s face fell in genuine shock. She ever-so-slowly moved around to get a better look at Abigail.

A nurse bounced in unceremoniously.

Abigail glanced up at her.

“Oh, look at this,” the nurse said. “How cute is this? Don’t let me bother you. I’ll just be in and out.”

Sadie, still staring at Abigail, turned her head like a curious puppy. “Aren’t you—“

“The Princess of Shiloh!” Kenny interrupted, grimacing and shaking the palms of his hands.

Sadie looked up at him.

“Shhhh,” he whispered placing a finger to his lips.

Sadie’s expression morphed into muddle.

Abigail turned her attention back to Charlie. “Oh, look at that eye! Have you been fighting?”

Charlie giggled. “No. I got runned over by a car.”

“You did?”

Charlie nodded. “Yup.”

“Are you feeling better.”

“Yes. I’m feeling better. Daddy said I can go home in…she held up three fingers…these many days.”

“Are you excited?”

“Yes.” Charlie said. “Do you want to come with us?”

“Oh,” Abigail said, pouting. “I can’t. I have to get back to my kingdom.”

“Will you come back?”

Abigail reached and plopped a finger on Charlie’s nose. “You never know. Princesses like us come and go all the time.”

“Okay,” Charlie said.

“Should we sing our song?” Abigail asked.

Charlie’s eyes brightened. “Yes!”

Abigail began singing and Charlie joined in.

The nurse paused in her duties, looked up and smiled.

The song came to an end and Abigail took hold of Charlie’s hands. “You have such a beautiful voice,” she said.

Charlie nodded. “Uh hm, I know.”

Everyone in the room laughed and clapped.

“I have to go, sweetheart,” Abigail said.

“Oh,” Charlie said, dejected. “Okay.”

Abigail stood and gave Charlie’s hand another gentle squeeze, before turning away and moving to the door.

She returned the mask to her face and stepped out of the room. Malorie and Kelli joined her.

As they began moving away the nurse who had been attending Charlie followed them out of the room. “You’re very good,” she said, moving up. “Do you do any other Disney characters?”

Abigail turned to face her, glanced at Kelli before returning her attention to the nurse. “No, I…pretty much specialize in the Princess of Shiloh character.”

“Oh,” the nurse said, obviously contemplating. “Mind if I give you a little constructive criticism?”

Abigail raised her eyebrows. “No, not at all.”

“Lose the Lone Ranger mask. The Princess of Shiloh doesn’t wear a mask.”

Abigail smiled. “You know, I think you might be right about that.”

“My niece has a birthday coming up,” the nurse continued, “Do you have a card?”

Abigail glanced up and noticed Travis leaning in Charlie’s doorway looking back at her.

“I’ll tell you what,” she said looking back at the nurse. “I don’t have a card, but I’ll see to it Charlie’s father gets one and you can get it from him.”

She returned her attention to Travis still leaning in the doorway.

He tilted his head, motioning towards an outgoing hall.

“Excuse me,” Abigail said, moving away. “Kelli proceeded to join her but Malorie reached and caught her by the arm.”

Abigail went to Travis and the two wandered down the hall together. Soon they were alone in a small Hospital chapel.

“I visited this place a few times the last few days,” Travis said.

They sat beside each other in one of four pews.

“Thank you for this,” Travis continued. “You made Charlie’s year.”

Abigail took her mask off and placed it in her lap. “She’s so sweet Trav. You must be so proud.”

Travis sent her a curious look. “You called me Trav. I almost forgot. We know each other.”

Abigail dropped her eyes. “Sorry. It’s just a habit.”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Travis said. “I meant I almost forgot the…Catfish thing.”

I’m sorry, Travis,” Abigail said. “I never intended for it to go this far.”

“Yeah, about that, what happened there? Surely someone like you doesn’t need to Catfish—

“I don’t like that word,” Abigail said interrupting.

The conversation paused for a short time.

“Your friend, Kellie, created the phone account,” Travis said. “Your other friend was obviously in on it. Were you all just having a laugh?”

Her eyes widened, “Trav no! This is me. Why would you think something like that?”

The words hung in the air for a time.

“I guess I thought you understood,” Abigail continued finally. “You told me you had a friend; a rodeo friend who felt under a microscope. Times that by a thousand and you have my life. At first I was just looking for someone to talk to. Someone normal.”

“Normal?”

“You know what I mean. Someone not in the business.”

“And then you were disappointed?” Travis asked.

“Of course, not. What do you mean?”

“We were fine until you actually met me.”

“Oh God no, Travis, where is all this coming from?”

“Because that’s when you stopped talking to me. Right after Comic con.”

“No Trav, you don’t understand. When I became successful, especially after the Moonshot madness, everyone in my world just…changed. I felt completely isolated. I felt like an animal in a cage with a constant parade of gawkers. The last person in my life who seemed to hang on to sanity needed to leave and that’s when I found you.

You were everything in the world I ever dreamed of but the Comic con thing, that’s when I knew you weren’t one of them. I fell for you that day, Trav. I knew we couldn’t continue the way things were and knew I couldn’t tell you who I was—“

“Why not?” Travis interrupted.

“I was…afraid.”

Travis shook his head. “I still don’t understand. Why did you think I wasn’t one of those; one of those people who make you feel isolated?”

“Because, Travis, when we were back stage at Comic con everyone in the room had their eyes on me. Everyone except you.”

I’m….I’m not following.”

“Your eyes were on Charlie, Trav. You never took your eyes off of her.

Everything you were doing that day centered around Charlie and you couldn’t have given a hoot about the glitz and glamor. That just did it for me. I fell in love with you.”

“How do you know?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve never seen me when I come home dirty. You’ve never been around when I’m in a bad mood or sick. You’ve never known me when I’m eighty years old.”

“What are you talking about?” Abigail barked. “You’re telling me you felt nothing for me? All those nights I meant nothing to you?”

“Of course you did,” Travis said. “I felt something I thought had a real chance to grow. I thought there was a spark. Whatever I felt I felt for Sandy but Sandy wasn’t real—“

Abigail stood and began to move away.

“Wait,” Travis said, rising from his seat. “I’m sorry, I just—“

Abigail stopped and spun. “Do you remember when I said I was afraid to tell you? This is what I was afraid of.”

Travis watched as she walked into the hall and disappeared.

He stood for a time contemplating the moment and finally returned to his place on the pew.

Damn, he thought. Wish I could do that again.

He hadn’t been prepared for his own anger. If only it would have been more tempered. Clearly, Abigail never meant to hurt him. Her feelings seemed genuine. Obviously, why else was she there? She seemed to genuinely care for Charlie.

He sat for a time going over in his mind all that had gone on over the past few months, all the conversations. He realized she’d never really lied to him. Not with the important things. Not with her feelings. In the light of afterthought, he completely understood how someone in her position could feel isolated. God, if only he could start that day all over again.

After what seemed like an hour he heard footfalls in the hall outside the chapel. Kenny and Sadie turned the corner.

Travis stood to meet them. “Who’s with Charlie?” he asked.

“Your mom came. She’s with her.”

“Is she okay?”

“She’s fine,” Sadie said. “Abigail came in and said goodbye. Charlie was thrilled.”

“Is she still here?” Travis asked quickly.

“No,” Kenny answered. “She’s gone. She seemed sad; no, she was sad. Very sad. What happened there?”

Both Kenny and Sadie took a seat on one of the pews.

“We had a few words,” Travis said. “Personal stuff.”

“Uh, no…I don’t think so,” Kenny said. “We have questions.”

“About what?”

“Oh I don’t know; why don’t we start with why did the world’s biggest movie star just show up at your little girl’s bedside after Catfishing you for six months?”

Travis grunted. “She doesn’t like that word.”

“Was that the dress?” Sadie asked, “from the movie?”

“I guess,” Travis said. “She had it on her plane—“

“She has a plane?”

“They all have planes,” Kenny said.

Sadie sent Kenny a black look. “How could you know that?”

“So, when are you two gonna get together again?” Kenny asked, ignoring Sadie’s question.

“We won’t.”

Kenny frowned. “Why not?”

“I blew it.”

“What did you say to her?”

“I got mad; said some stupid things.”

“You said stupid things?”

“Well I was mad. She lied to—“

“Did you even notice how beautiful that girl is?” Kenny yelled, interrupting.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Sadie barked.

Travis blew out a long breath and leaned back in his seat. “I noticed.”

“You know,” Kenny said, “I just now realized that whole Comic con thing makes so much more sense.”

Travis snorted. “Ya think?”

The conversation hushed.

“So what now?” Kenny said breaking the silence.

Travis sighed. “I’m gonna get my little girl well and get back to my life.”

“Wait,” Kenny said. “You’re not going after Abigail?”

“I’m pretty sure that’s no longer an option.”

“How the hell would you know that?”

“It’s not like we had a real relationship,” Travis said. “I only just met her today.”

“She wants a relationship,” Sadie said.

“No, I’m pretty sure I put a nail in that coffin. She was pretty pissed.”

“She wasn’t pissed,” Sadie said. “She was heartbroken. Take it from another woman. Her heart was broken.”

“You don’t understand,” Travis said. “After I blew up on her she told me why she never told me who she actually was. She said the way I reacted was the very thing she was most afraid of. Let’s face it. She’s gone.”

 

~~~

6 months later

 

“Kenny’s been trying to get you on the radio,” Russ Peterson said. Russ was one of Travis’ Forman recently chosen since taking over a large part of Kenny’s newest project.

Travis, sitting in an idling golf cart reached for his radio. “Ken?” he said. “You looking for me?”

“Yeah bud. I need you back at the office ASAP.”

“On my way.”

Travis aimed his cart towards the office. He rolled past one of seven buildings he and his team were charged with transforming from a shell to a powered, fully functioning office building. He bounced along the potted dirt road quickly closing the distance and pulled to a stop outside of the mobile office only recently brought in for the purpose.

He hopped out, took the makeshift wooden staircase and entered the building.

“Kenny’s looking for you,” Justin Baker, one of seven fellow General Forman said.

“I just heard,” Travis answered. “Is he in his office?”

“Yeah,” Justin said in passing.

Travis moved to his own office, pulled his hard hat, orange safety vest and safety glasses off and deposited them in their places.

The new office trailer was a definite step up from the previous one. Unlike the maze of office spaces at the old location, separate, isolated offices now lined two of the four walls. Shared equipment was positioned in a single room allowing room for a lobby effect freeing up the entire center of the trailer.

Travis tapped on Kenny’s door.

“Come!” Kenny hollered.

Travis stepped in. “Sup boss?”

“Took you long enough to get here.”

“I didn’t hear the radio. I was in the cart.”

“That was fun last night,” Kenny said.

“It was. I swear your wife makes the best goulash ever.”

“I know, right? Charlie’s growing like a weed. She’s not even limping. No sign of a scar on her forehead. Man, the things doctors can do these days.”

Travis took a chair. “What did you need me for?”

“You know that girl who came with Abby?” Kenny said, ignoring Travis’ question, “the one who came to the hospital’ the pretty one?”

“Abby? You’re calling her Abby now?”

“Hey, we’re friends. In case you haven’t noticed we Twitter all the time.”

“Yeah I noticed.”

“Anyway, Abby said that girl who came to the hospital might be nominated for an academy award. Abby says her friend, Malorie, absolutely nailed the part. Blew everybody away. She really got noticed.”

“That’s good,” Travis said. “She seemed like a nice person. Why did you call me here?”

“Yeah she did.”

The conversation hesitated.

“I never thanked you and Sadie for not telling anyone about Abigail and I,” Travis said, breaking the silence. “That whole thing would have only been spun to embarrass Abigail. It really wasn’t anybody’s business anyway.”

“We knew.”

“I know how hard it is for you to keep a secret,” Travis continued.

“Hey!” Kenny barked in mock anger.

“Okay,” Travis said. “What’s going on?”

“I’m stalling.”

“What do you mean?”

Kenny’s phone sounded. He reached and picked it up. “You here?” He nodded and said: “come in the front door. Travis and I will meet you.”

Kenny put his phone on his belt, stood and moved to the door where he stopped and motioned for Travis to join him.

Travis sent him a puzzled look, stood and moved with Kenny into the lobby.

The office front door opened.

Abigail, along with her assistant, Kelli, moved into the office.

Travis glanced at Kenny before returning his attention to Abigail.

He moved forward. “Hi.”

Abigail smiled warmly. “You look great. It’s good to see you again.”

One by one, office doors began to open. Confused, wide eyed coworkers began moving out staring at Abigail.

After a moment someone finally broke the silence and asked the question: “are you Abigail Warren?”

Kenny rounded on them. “What are you doing? We have seven buildings to wire!”

People quickly retreated back into their offices. Office doors closed.

“I’m sorry about the way things ended,” Travis said. “I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t know how—“

“I don’t know what you think this is,” Kenny interrupted, “but this is strictly business.”

He motioned towards Abigail. “We have a little conference room. Shall we take it there?”

Abigail and Kelli followed Kenny towards the conference room.

Kenny pulled the conference room door open and motioned towards Travis. “You too.”

“You want me in there?”

“Yeah!” Kenny said, irritated. “You too.”

Travis followed and the group took their places around a makeshift conference table constructed of plywood and sawhorses.

“Great news about Malorie,” Kenny began. “I bet she’s jazzed.”

“Oh yeah,” Abigail answered. “She’s waited a long time. Worked hard. She just needed someone to evaluate her strengths…” she shifted her eyes to Travis and continued, “…point out those strengths and use them to bolster her self-confidence.”

Travis smiled softly and sat silently considering Abigail.

“Did you thank Sadie for that recipe?” Abigail asked, turning her attention back to Kenny. “I’ve never tasted pork chops that delicious. She needs to—“

“God you’re beautiful,” Travis interrupted.

Kenny glared at Travis. “She knows that Trav! She’s a freakin movie star! This is a business meeting, Do you mind?”

Abigail sat, obviously trying to suppress a smile.

“I’m sorry,” Travis said. “What business? What’s this about?”

“Management is pulling you off this project. They want you to oversee a new residential project in Park city. It’s gonna be your baby.”

“Residential? We don’t do residential.”

“We do now. You’ll be expected to work very closely with the owner. It’s expected to take at least six months.”

Travis turned his attention to Abigail.

“What?” she said, “don’t get cocky. This is a beautiful area. Utah is the ski capital of the world—“

“Do you ski?” Travis asked, “because I’ve never heard you mention it.”

“I plan to take it up.”

“Abigail has to get out of here,” Travis said, changing the subject. “I need for you to wrap things up here. You and Abby can work out the details later.”

He glanced around. “I guess this meeting is over.”

He stood and accompanied everyone out of the room. Abigail and Kelli moved to the door and left the building.

Travis paused in the middle of the office watching Abigail go until Kenny noticed and quickly rounded on him. “What the hell’s wrong with you?” he growled. “Get out there and walk her to her car! Do I have to do everything?”

Travis contemplated for a moment before bounding for the door. He caught up with Abigail just as she reached her car.

“I’m glad you came,” he said softly. “I miss you.”

Abigail turned to face him. “I need for you to know, Trav, this isn’t as pathetic as it seems. I need a stop-off closer to LA. New York is a hub and I’ll need to keep—“

“I really miss our nights,” Travis interrupted.

“I told Kenny I was thinking about moving west,” Abigail continued, “and he sort of set this whole thing up—“

“I love you,” Travis interrupted again.

Abigail smiled up at him. “I was hoping we could start all over again.” She put her hand out and took his in a handshake. “It’s good to meet you, Travis Taylor. I’m Abigail Warren.”

 

Other Books by CW Johnson:

The Son of Man, now available everywhere.

 

The Son of Man 2, Elders of Zion, now available everywhere.

 

The Son of Man 3, The Heylik, now available everywhere.

 

The Son of Man 4, The Golden Calf, now available everywhere.

Contact Info:

[email protected]

 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Son-of-Man/155018934527615

About the Author:

My name is Charles William Johnson but I’ve been known as CW, C-Dub and Bill, depending on the hat I chose to wear at any given point in my reasonably long life. I’ve spent most of my time as a country musician privileged to have worked for and played alongside the iconic world champion bareback rider and country legend: Chris Ledoux and his Western Underground Band.

The Princess of Shiloh is my first foray into the ‘Adult Romance’ genre, and my fifth novel to date. The first four (soon to be five) are a Christian based, end-times apocalyptic series entitled:

The Son of Man.

The Son of man Two, Elders of Zion.

The Son of man Three, The Heylik

The Son of Man Four, The Golden Calf.

 

The following is my Bio piece for that series:

 

In the year 1997 I was a traveling musician. 1997 was the year my travels took me to an ancient town in Germany called Rothenberg… more specifically, the Cathedral of the Holy Blood Altar.

It was there I witnessed with my own eyes a very interesting relic; a capsule said to contain three drops of Christ’s blood. This immediately piqued my imagination. What would happen if they actually found DNA within the capsule and cross-matched it with tissue found on the Shroud of Turin? What if it matched?

This little flight of fantasy was the beginning of a journey that took me through dozens of false starts, years of writing and eventually through the never-ending editing process. The tale that emerged was as much a surprise to me as to anyone. It was very much like a story breaking free and escaping from my computer.

I sincerely hope that you will find my novel entertaining and that you will continue the journey on through the next three books in the series.

 

CW Johnson

 

Excerpt from

The Son of Man

CW Johnson

 

“We haven’t had a chance to talk much about what it will be like to be the parents of such a…unique child.”

The bride pulled her eyes away from the groom and considered the priest. “I thought the Vinces wanted the baby raised in as normal an environment as possible.”

“Yes, that is true, and for that reason you must never tell anyone who the child really is.”

“They covered that when I was being interviewed,” the bride said, “but I never really understood why.”

The priest stood, walked around his desk and sat on the corner. “Ok—a hypothetical situation—we go right to the media and tell them about the baby—”

“I know we can’t go to the media,” the bride said. “Human cloning is illegal.”

The priest held up his hand. “Please hear me out.”

“The whole damn world would be camped in our front yard,” the groom said, breaking his silence. “That’s what would happen.”

The priest pointed at the groom. “Yes, and imagine what it would be like for the child.”

“So, we can’t tell anyone at all?” the bride said.

The priest ignored her question. “Ok, say you tell your neighbors, parents, friends, that your little boy is the clone of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. First of all, they’re gonna’ think you’re crazy, or maybe they just might believe you. Imagine how they would then react to the child.”

“Think of it this way,” the priest continued, rearranging himself on the corner of his desk, “there are roughly around—oh, let’s see—seven billion people in the world today. About a billion of those people are gonna’ believe your little boy is God’s own clone, and some of those folks can be pretty radical. There will be the crazy fringe bunch: those who will look upon the child as an abomination, or maybe a threat to their particular belief system. What I’m telling you now is not hypothetical. We know for a fact these people exist.”

“But, what about the baby?” the bride said. “How can we expect a little child to keep such a secret?”

“Easy, we don’t tell him.”

 

 


The Princess of Shiloh

Jennifer Warren, a two-time Academy Award winning actress is at the apex of her game. A recent celebrity breakup along with the isolation of life behind the wall of fame foster deep sadness and disillusionment. A friend’s council leads her to the anonymity of the internet, from there an encounter… and the last thing in the world she expected.

  • Author: CW Johnson
  • Published: 2016-12-17 09:05:14
  • Words: 45758
The Princess of Shiloh The Princess of Shiloh