Sandra Bunino and I have collaborated to bring you a FREE holiday blog serial that runs in 18 parts of usually less than 1000 words for each post—easy reading on your lunch break.
Prefer to read on a Kindle or Nook? No problem, just head over to Smashwords every Wednesday to download the first week’s posts (parts 1 – 4), last week’s (parts 5 – 9) and this week’s posts (parts 10-14), FREE! I also post the volumes on ARe on Thursdays. Really, there’s no excuse not to read this serial!
And now, PART 14 of Second Chance Layover (Click title to read a quick summary of the story.)
We were treading in dangerous territory, but if we were going to have any sort of relationship, she had to know where I stood and why. “Your magazine ran a story about Renata.”
“When was this? I don’t remember any stories about her.”
“Probably not. She wasn’t major news, was only one of about ten women featured in an article about how the entertainment industry chews ingénues up and spits them out. The article ran about a year ago and had been relegated to the back pages. It hurt Renata. It hurt me.”
Charli’s face fell. “Oh my God. I am so sorry. Really, I am. But do you understand this is just a job. It’s not personal. We aren’t deliberately being malicious; we aren’t trying to harm anyone. Our stories are moral or cautionary tales, however, intended for the greater good.”
“How can you say that so calmly? This is Renata we’re talking about. Not some corn-fed homecoming queen who’s disappointed she didn’t get the lead in the latest Martin Scorsese flick.”
She stared at me, her lips parted as if gingerly picking through her brain for her next words. After diverting her gaze to the window and blinking a few times, she focused on me and in a soft voice said, “I do realize, but do you?”
“Cal.” A soft sigh preceded a drop in her brows, a downturn in her lips.
We continued to stare at each other, neither of us yielding. I didn’t want to argue with her anymore, but I didn’t see any common ground for us.
“I guess I’d better get dressed and back to my room to grab my stuff. We have our flights to catch pretty soon,” she murmured pushing past me toward the pile of her clothes I’d made.
She dropped the coverlet and stepped into her underwear. “Look. I think we need to agree to disagree.” Next came the bra. The sexual tension so thick and powerful the night before it had swallowed us whole in a single gulp, now coughed us back up like a phlegm ball. I had no answer for her. The bone-crushing pain of Renata’s death flowed too close to the surface of my emotions for me treat this as a simple disagreement, a bygone to be put aside. I couldn’t fathom the concept of her continuing to promote and profit from stories like the one they wrote about Renata, like the ones they wrote about a lot of famous people, many of whom I knew and respected.
“I don’t think I can,” I said without emotion.
All motion ceased. Charli’s jaw tightened and the light reflected off her eyes. “I see. This is not negotiable for you; no matter how incredible last night was, what I do for a living is a deal-breaker?”
I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut. “I’m not saying that, Charli, but every time I think about… Every time I’m reminded of the machinery that ground Renata beneath its boot—”
“So I’m guilty by association of causing Renata’s death?”
“No! God! No! I didn’t mean that.” What the hell was I doing…saying? I scrubbed my hand over my face searching, stalling for time to find the eloquence so maddeningly out of reach, to find the words to make her understand but not drive her away. “Right now, the wounds are too fresh, too deep. I don’t think I can handle…. Your job is like sandpaper…” My head fell back and I silently cursed my utter lack of any persuasive arguments. What kind of lawyer was I if I couldn’t win what could be one of the most important arguments of my life? Think, Caleb, think. “There are other jobs, better jobs, for someone with your talent. Have you ever considered changing gears slightly? Maybe go into book publishing? With my new job, I’ll be working with the top literary agents and publishing houses in the country, in the world, even. I’ll bet tons of opportunities are at your fingertips. You’d still be writing fiction. It just wouldn’t be harmful.”
“That’s really insulting. I don’t think what I do is harmful. The world is a tough place, and those who thrust themselves under the public’s noses understand what they’re signing up for, or they should. Hell, do you know how many story tips actually come from the subject’s publicist? Sordid tips, embarrassing stories, stories that might result in jail time even.” She threw her hands up, eyes wild. “Doesn’t matter. Any publicity is good publicity, not that I write those sorts of stories. The Culture Spy is not on that level. We look for stories of interest to the general public. Yes, sometimes they are about glitzy, jaded celebrities, but most of the time, they’re about regular people in extraordinary circumstances with fantastic stories they want told! What’s so wrong about that?”
I ground my molars. How could she be so naive? “Do you think Renata wanted the story of her failed shot at fame showcased?”
Charli’s shoulders fell, and she closed her eyes, her forehead etched with trouble. “I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Isn’t it possible Renata’s story was intended to make that teenager in Kansas, who’s thinking about dropping out of school and driving to Hollywood because she’s always been told she was pretty, reconsider?”
“My sister should never have been a public service announcement. Please, Charli. Think about the downstream consequences.”
She stared at me, and as I studied her face, the shutters slowly dropped into place, closing off the Charli I thought I knew. “I guess there’s nothing more to be said here,” she murmured more to herself than to me.
Lips pressed into a smile, she walked silently to gather up her clothes and pull them on, while I watched. After she dressed, she raised up on her tiptoes and placed a soft kiss on my lips. Before I could reach out to draw her close, hold her in my arms and feel our hearts beating together, she slipped away and breezed out the door.
I stared at the closed door. A throbbing ache grew with each second ticking by on my wristwatch. When had the damn thing grown so loud? When had it become so fucking rigid and disapproving? And why did I have the crushing sense I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life?
Please be sure to come back tomorrow for Part 15!