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Butterfly Tattoo by Deidre Knight - Romance>ContemporaryJust when the darkness seems permanent, fate flips a switch.
Michael Warner has been drifting in a numb haze since his lover was killed by a drunk driver. As the anniversary of the wreck approaches, Michael’s grief grows more suffocating. Yet he must find a way through the maze of pain and secrets to live for their troubled young daughter who struggles with guilt that she survived the crash.
Out of the darkness comes a voice, a lifeline he never expected to find—Rebecca O’Neill, a development executive in the studio where Michael works as an electrician.
Rebecca, a former sitcom celebrity left scarred from a crazed fan’s attack, has retreated from the limelight and from life in general, certain no man can ever get past her disfigurement. The instant sparks between her and Michael, who arrives to help her during a power outage, come as a complete surprise—and so does her uncanny bond with his daughter.
For the first time, all three feel compelled to examine their inner and outer scars in the light of love. But trust is hard to come by, especially when you’re not sure what to believe when you look in the mirror. The scars? Or the truth?
Warning: This title contains a three-hankie redemptive romance, a man with a complicated past, a heroine who’s stronger than she knows, and tender, explicit sex scenes that may just break your heart—and make you believe in love once again.
Reader Rating: 4.8 (6 Ratings)
Excerpt:Chapter One: Rebecca
Ben McAllister carried a knife, my name burned into the handle like a cattle brand. Oddly enough, I remember noticing that fact while he was stabbing me with the thing. The police showed me his weapon months later, and that’s when I realized it wasn’t just my first name—he actually had my picture embossed into it. A kind of stylized representation of me, one that matched the tattoo on his forearm. Rebecca O’Neill as cartoon character, not the professional actress I was at the time.
It seemed, according to the police, that he’d named his knife after me, in true devoted stalker fashion. How nice of Ben. It was a butterfly knife, and I’m convinced that something so destructive shouldn’t bear such a beautiful name. Killers are like that, though. They find the poetry in violence.
When you work with writers for a living like I do, life’s little details are an herb garden, and you pluck a few ripe things here and there to give away. Right now, sitting in a script meeting, I decide to borrow this tidbit from my own personal history for the greater good of Hollywood. I’ve been giving notes to a screenwriter for an hour, when this brilliant inspiration comes my way.
“You could have the killer carry a knife,” I suggest, arranging my pens on the desk in front of me so I can avoid meeting Kelly’s eyes. “A knife with the victim’s name on it.”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean.” She leans forward in her seat. “How can a knife—”
“Imprinted in the handle.” I hold up my Montblanc pen to demonstrate, pointing to the company logo. “He could’ve named the knife after the object of his obsession.”
“Hmm.” Kelly isn’t convinced. Clearly, she hasn’t made the connection with my own, well-publicized past—and she hasn’t made the connection to this clever idea of mine, either. Kelly’s young; too young, which means she’s quick to see things in bold colors, not subtle shades.
“You have to realize, if he’s been stalking her for such a long time, he’s consumed.” I dare to lift my eyes upward as I talk. “What better reflection of that than naming his weapon after her.”
From beside Kelly, my assistant Trevor expands on the idea, his upper-class British accent automatically lending it more weight. “It’s a classical idea, really.” He pushes his expensive wire frames up the bridge of his nose as he talks. “Many of the great bandits throughout history named their guns. I believe Billy the Kid’s shotgun was Big Betty and Jesse James called his rifle Bertha.”
Even though he stares at me earnestly as he talks, I have to avert my eyes to keep from smiling. He’s the real writer in our midst, capable of spinning a tale faster than anyone I’ve ever met.
“Okay, sure.” Kelly nods enthusiastically, buying into Trevor’s fictitious history lesson. “This gives the killer an almost anti-hero quality.”
“That’s not really what I was going for.” I hold out a staying hand. “Our killer can’t be sympathetic. I mean, he’s the baddie. He’s got to be bad. Big Bad. I’m more looking to convey his obsession with the heroine. I think the knife does that job very well.”
Ed Bardock, V.P. of Development and my boss, stands by the window, blowing cigarette smoke through the small open casement. But he’s listening and paying much closer attention than he lets on. I won’t allow him to smoke in my office—not with my asthma—and he refuses to endure a one-hour script meeting without a little nicotine jiving through his bloodstream.
“I’m not sure I buy it,” he answers in a gravelly voice. “How come a killer like that goes to so much trouble? He’d stab her, The End.”
“But, Ed, he’s a stalker.” My pulse skitters nervously.
“So?” he insists without meeting my gaze. Dang it, he knows all about Ben and what happened to me. I live with this pain; I should be able to mine it, mold it, and reinterpret it whenever I want.
“Ed, it’s real.” I lift my eyebrows, tossing my long blonde ponytail back over my shoulder. I make sure my facial scars come into clear view for him, illuminated beneath my desk lamp, a small reminder that I know exactly what I’m talking about.
Seated across my desk, Trevor and Kelly squirm in their seats, but not before blessed Trevor manages to offer me one of his kind smiles. He loves me. That’s why he’s here in this job—not just because he’s got fantastic story instincts, but also because he’s the one person in my life who can consistently truss me back together. Even though he’d be happy passing his days at Starbucks sipping lattes, writing and living off his trust fund, he spends them here working at the studio with me.
“So it’s real,” Ed says finally, extinguishing his cigarette in a Styrofoam cup of cold coffee. “But does it add to the story?”
“I think so,” Trevor pipes in. “I think everything Kelly can do to show how this killer’s obsession has escalated over time is key to the script.”
Then, without meaning to, I leave the room. Not physically, of course, but my mind flutters away. I’m eight feet high, pasted against the ceiling, floating there. Bobbing above them all, listening in. I’m watching her, down there; that girl at her desk with the Montblanc pen and the ruined face, lost in a company town, in her remote corner of an oversized studio lot.
This is what it’s like to almost die. The way you see yourself below, only there’s no warmth to what’s happening here right now. All that roaring golden power, that love from the other side, it’s always missing when I feel like this.
“Rebecca?” Trevor’s black eyes grow wide. He takes hold of me, tugs me by my feet back down into my body. I was a balloon, ready to drift away, and he held me tight, tethered me to this world.
Trevor pins me with his dark gaze. “Rebecca, what do you think about the killer dying at the end?”
I’ve told him how these anxiety attacks work, the way I feel disembodied, the floating sensation. If I’m lucky, the asthma that I feel tightening my lungs won’t overtake me.
“The killer dying,” I repeat, my whole body numb. Kelly looks at me, nodding, and I realize it’s her idea to change the way we’ve conceived the whole story. But Ben McAllister didn’t die. He’s up at Chino serving life plus twenty. And more important, he’s here; I live with Ben every day, all wound up inside of me like a ball of hard twine.
Ed’s BlackBerry rings, and he begins talking, already moving toward my office door. “Go with whatever Rebecca says,” he announces loudly, making his way past my desk. “It’s her baby. Time to wrap this one up.” Then, just like that, we are dismissed from his consciousness.
Kelly tries following in his wake, calling after him. Totally uncool, but she’s still a newbie. “Just think about it and let me know,” she insists, looking back at me.
But I know exactly what I think of an ending in which the heroine wins, the stalker dies, and everything is wrapped up neatly with a bow. “Too easy,” I murmur, staring at my Montblanc. “It doesn’t work because it’s way too easy.”
* * *
Reaching into my pocketbook, I retrieve a small medicine bottle of what my mama would call “nerve pills”. Anything to stop the out-of-body stuff for a while; I dispense a couple of tablets onto my desk. It’s been at least six months since I’ve needed these, and I say a quick prayer that I won’t need them again after today. Coughing, I dig around for my inhaler, too.
Trevor leans in my office doorway, slipping his headset back on. “Since when did development hell become worth that?” He gestures at my prescription bottle with a concerned expression.
“Since we started nudging up against my past in story meetings.”
“Ah, right. The Britney Spears solution,” he says. “Perhaps you could add head-shaving to your repertoire as well.” He laughs, but then his expression grows more somber. “But tell me, should I be worried?”
“Worried?” Such a ludicrous suggestion, even if I did nearly die in his arms three years ago. “Trevor, I am fine. Fine, fine, fine. So very fine.” And I mean it; the asthma didn’t even kick in this time, so something must be improving. “I’ve been feeling really good lately. Honest.”
His dark eyes narrow. “Which must be why your mother’s been phoning me weekly to check up on you.”
“No, she’s just convinced that one day you’re going to realize you’re straight and decide to marry me.”
“Well as your future husband, perhaps you won’t mind me saying it’s time you got out again. Started dating, making new friends.”
“I make friends every day.” I kick back in my chair. “After all, this is L.A.”
“Talent agents and struggling screenwriters don’t count, darling.” Then his dark eyes widen with irrepressible excitement. “Look, I know this really cute guy from my writing group—”
“I’m not sure a date with one of your friends is the answer, Trevor.”
“He’s straight, Rebecca!” he cries, not bothering to disguise his frustration. “The fellow just moved here from Boston to sell copiers or ATMs or something useless and industrial like that. Does he sound gay to you?”
“Yee-ha. Maybe he’ll take me to a trade show.”
“Since when did you get picky? Let me fix you up with him.” Again, my hand moves to my face, feeling the harsh scar tissue with my fingertips. Of everyone in my life now, only Trevor truly understands. After all, he was there to see the damage firsthand.
“I’ll think about it.”
“He’s a real hottie,” he promises, “in that computer salesman sort of way.” I’m about to make a dubious remark about his taste in men when the whole room goes black without warning.
From down the corridor, Ed shouts, “Damned electrical department! They’ve screwed us again.” When Ed shouts, it’s more like divine thunder, and Trevor snaps to his feet without wasting a moment.
“Happy Monday to me, strapping lads in tool belts on their way,” he sings to himself. There goes Trev with his recurring Ty Pennington fantasy again.
His shadowed outline moves past the shuttered bank of windows, toward the hall. Moments later I hear him at his desk, phoning over to the electrical construction department.
After a few minutes of darkness, Ed bellows, “Anybody working on this yet? It isn’t brain surgery, people! Give me some damn light!”
Light. When all I’m thinking is that I can’t read my phone messages without it. Funny, because otherwise I’m never more at peace than I am in the dark.
It seems forever before electrical construction sends somebody over to deal with our crisis. I guess Brad Pitt’s latest blockbuster takes precedence over our development staff figuring out the next blockbuster for the studio to bankroll. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not an executive in charge of production or anything; I’ll leave that up to Ed and his team. It’s just about tracking hot projects and trying to land them for the company. Frankly I’m in it for the reading. Lord knows I’m not looking for a producing credit, since unlike most everyone else in this town, I actually want to stay put in my job, not ascend the power ladder.
I’m on my cell phone, returning a call to a literary agency back east, when a huge shadow lumbers past my desk. I glance up, mid-discussion about the viability of translating a bestseller to the screen, when the shape stops in front of me, hesitating, obviously a man shadow, what with the size factor involved and all. In an effort to remain focused, I spin my chair in the opposite direction, toward the wall, continuing my conversation.
There’s quiet mumbling from the stranger, then a flashlight illuminates some control panel on the lower part of my office wall, right beneath the covered windows. “Look, I’ve got to run, okay?” I say, wrapping up the conversation. “We’re in the middle of a blackout here or something.” I snap the phone shut, and sit in the dark, perfectly still. Slowly I rotate my chair in his direction, although I’m not sure what to say to a shadowy stranger, not like this. Finally I give it my best effort.
“You must be the electrician,” I say, tugging nervously on my ponytail.
“You must be from the South.”
“Geez, is it that obvious?” I ask, trying to make out the guy’s face as he lifts the flashlight to eye level, tinkering with the control panel.
“Subtle, but the accent’s still there.” Guess all the dialect coaching in the world won’t rid me completely of my Dorian, Georgia roots.
There’s the metallic clanking sound of a fuse box or panel opening as he settles on the floor until he’s leaning low on his elbows. In fact, from what his flashlight allows me to see, he’s now stretched out on his stomach like a cat sunning itself, and I’m mildly curious about a guy who can make himself so at home in my office. “You figuring out the problem?” More enlightened commentary from yours truly as he aims the beam of light into the open electrical panel.
I’m met by silence, until he gives a long sigh. It’s an exhausted kind of sound that actually surprises me. “The problem, Ms. O’Neill, is the antiquated wiring system in this building. Been patched and whatnot for about half a century, but what it needs is a complete overhauling.”
Ms. O’Neill? How does he know my name?
“Your assistant told me this was your office,” he continues, answering my unvoiced question. “Not trying to spook you or anything. Seeing how it’s dark in here and all that.”
“Now look who sounds southern,” I tease, feeling a strange familiarity rise between the two of us. The kind you get talking to someone you’re intimate with on the phone late at night—in your bed, well past midnight. Or maybe trading e-mails at three in the morning, when neither of you can sleep.
“Virginia, if that counts.”
“Not to a Georgian.”
“Reckon not,” he says with a throaty laugh. “Might as well be a damned Yankee in your book, right?”
“Great, he mocks me.”
“I mock not, Ms. O’Neill. I simply speculate.” Okay, it’s definite. This guy is flirting with me. A nameless, faceless stranger is right here in my office, flirting with me for all he’s worth, and I’m not sure what to make of that. Suddenly, I’m blushing despite the darkness. And I’m running my fingertips along the left side of my face, praying he won’t see my freakish scars once the light comes back on.
Then I’m unclasping my ponytail, hurrying before he does somehow see the horrible scars on my face. Or that strangely twisted half-smile of mine, because the problem is, I can’t stop smiling at absolutely everything he says. Next, I shake my hair out, so that it cascades loose along my shoulders and then comb it forward with my fingers. Not only does my hair provide good camouflage, but it’s also my most attractive feature these days. Golden, honey-colored and long, with natural highlights. Thick and wavy, too. At least there’s still one good thing that Ben McAllister didn’t manage to steal from me.
His outline is highlighted by thin shafts of light that filter through the blinds, and I can tell he’s maybe even six foot three or so. “I’ve gotta go get something from next door,” he announces, brushing off his hands as he rises to his feet. “I’ll be back.”
I nod nonchalantly—as if he can see anyway—and remain calm despite the way my heart is dancing some kind of wild jig inside my chest. He vanishes into the dark hallway, then a moment later there’s the sound of the main door opening and shutting to the parking lot outside. Only then do I realize that I’ve been holding my breath.
* * *
“Look, sweetie, he’s not the one,” Trevor advises me in the dark. We’re sitting in my office—darker than the others in this bungalow because it was once a screening room for daily rushes. In fact, Ed still uses it for that purpose which is why my wooden blinds are drawn closed today, just as they are most of the time.
“Why not?” I ask in an arch tone. After all, Trevor’s the one always pushing me to date someone. Anyone at all.
“Because he plays for my team. Gay-dar Central, I assure you, my dear.” He taps his fingertips on the window for emphasis. “Ding, ding.”
“That guy is not queer.”
“Why not? Because he’s macho and manly?” He laughs, drawing out the last word for emphasis.
“No, because he…” Flirted with me? I’m not about to tell Trevor my interpretation of events.
“I just thought he seemed straight, that’s all.”
Trevor places a comforting arm around me. “Sweetie, sometimes we gay men can read a moment, all right? There’s kind of a current that passes, a look, if you will. Subtext.”
“That happened?” I ask, feeling small and defeated. “You heard subtext? It was dark!”
“But our eyes met at the front door of the bungalow.” Crap, that’s right. With the power off, Trevor had to let him in manually.
“Was he cute?” I ask, even though my hope is fading fast.
“Ah, yes,” he nearly growls. “Quite the sexy lad, but taken for sure. It’s in the vibe. Clearly off the market, so it’s a no-go for me, as well.”
So much for my own ability to read a moment, I think, stumbling through the blackness toward my desk chair. That’s the last time I decide I’m experiencing an emotional connection with a stranger in the dark. No, that stuff’s just reserved for stupid sixties songs, not for me or my bungalow.
I drop into my seat and feel inexplicably tired. Beyond exhausted, really, as I wonder if there’s someplace else where I can go until our development meeting, somewhere I can hide before the gay electrician returns.
But I don’t leave. My cell phone rings, and it’s the New York agent phoning me back about the bestseller, suggesting something of a compromise. Next thing I know we’re discussing an offer, and then the strapping electrician lumbers right past me again before I can begin to plot my escape.
Once I’m done with the call, I fold the phone shut and begin straightening the manuscript on my desk into a neat pile. I’m ignoring the shadowy flirt, determined to tune him out as I stand to leave, when he says, “Sounds promising.” Why do I immediately think he’s talking about far more than the deal he just heard me negotiating?
“What?” I ask, rising to my feet. I have to get out of here before this guy weakens my steely resolve.
“Sounds like you’re shutting down the competition, Ms. O’Neill.”
I clutch the manuscript against my chest, feeling the need to protect myself.
“I like that killer instinct.” He’s got a throaty voice that I find very arousing.
Then I nearly snort with laughter because Trevor’s just plain wrong. He has to be. This guy keeps striking up conversation with me, expressing interest. I may have been off the market for a long time, but I still know when someone’s a kick-ass flirt. And he’s flirting, big time.
“Killer instinct, right.” I laugh, and it comes out sounding self-deprecating and dismissive. If the lights were on, I’d wave my hand, swatting the notion away with an easy flick of my wrist.
“Well, what would you call it?” he asks genuinely, half-groaning as he maneuvers low on his belly again. He’s got the flashlight balanced against his shoulder, and I can see it’s a tough juggling act.
“Doing my job. And it’s Rebecca, by the way.” I step closer and get my first partial look at his face. He’s got short spiky hair, dark with a little curl and attitude to it.
“Nice to meet you, Rebecca.” As he looks up at me, I find myself staring into an arresting pair of brown eyes. Not that I can see them all that well, mind you, but enough that I’m sure I won’t forget them anytime soon. Just gorgeous, with long, fluttery lashes. Eyes like that can melt you on the spot, especially when accompanied by a smoky-toned southern accent, so I vow to proceed with caution.
“Can I hold that for you?” I gesture at his flashlight with a quick toss of my hair, ensuring that my scars are concealed from his line of sight.
“Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks.” He smiles as I reach for the light, glancing up at me again, and Lord, it’s a beautiful thing.
His fingertips brush against mine, rough, obviously calloused from long-term physical labor. They’re large and something about their generous size makes me think of whoever it is he loves. Hands like that can protect you when you need it most; keep harm at a safe distance. Can hold you tight when the nights get long and the devouring nightmares won’t keep away.
Now this is subtext: the simple brushing of his hand against mine, the resulting cascade of uninvited fantasies. I’m about to ask his name when a soft voice pierces the pregnant silence threading between us.
“Michael, can I have some money for the commissary?” Startled, I turn to find the outline of a young girl standing behind us, right beside my desk. She’s about seven or eight years old, nine at most.
“I can’t take you there right now, sweetheart.” Michael. So he’s no longer a stranger or the ponderous specter. He has a name.
“But I can walk over there on my own,” she suggests, stepping closer. “I know the way.”
“Not by yourself, you can’t.” Michael’s voice has shifted from its semi-charming timbre, and become the authoritarian vise of a parent.
“I can’t just sit around and watch the guys wire things,” she huffs into the dark. Her voice is early-morning innocent, the kind that smells like dreams and comforters tucked around your face.
“Andrea, I’ve got to work,” he says, kneeling there on the floor. “You know that.”
“Are you gonna help me get on the Evermore set?”
“Maybe, if I can get you a pass,” he explains. “But right now—”
“But you said!” she cries, and it’s not a harsh sound, just a plaintive, frustrated one.
“I said I’d try. Now, go. Back over to the electrical department.”
“So can I walk to the commissary then?”
Long, weary sigh, followed by an exasperated breath. “No. You just heard me say no.”
“But it’s only around the corner.”
“Not by yourself.”
“But you said—”
“No, not by yourself!” Only, it comes out more like “yoursailf,” as his voice kind of snaps, revealing a whole underbelly of tension in that soft twang of a word. Maybe they’ve been at this all morning, or maybe they don’t get along. It’s hard to be sure.
Poor man. He’s obviously quite familiar with the “wear ‘em down” negotiator tactic because this little kid knows it well. In fact, she belongs in my line of work. Just don’t let the agents around here find out about her—she’d make one lethal weapon in the hands of the wrong enemy.
“You know, I was thinking of heading over there,” I suggest helpfully. “To the commissary, I mean.” I’m not sure why I feel so eager to mediate their crisis, but I don’t question my motivation.
“Really?” The girl turns to me, her sweet voice breathy as a sigh.
“Yeah, you know, I was going to go for some breakfast. I could take you. That is, if your…” I hesitate because I’m not sure what to call Michael. After all, she’s called him by his first name, so he must not be her father.
“Michael,” she finally adds after a long, impenetrable silence.
“Well if Michael doesn’t mind, we could walk over together,” I say, still curious about their undefined relationship. Only then does it occur to me that if I were a parent, I’d be suspicious of someone like me, a stranger expressing unsolicited assistance like I am. I try searching Michael’s face to see if he’s uncomfortable, but the office is just so dark, so sheltered by shadow, even with his flashlight providing scanty illumination.
“You sure?” he asks, a husky-voiced sound of uncertainty, as he rubs a tired hand over his eyes. It’s not like he’s worried that I can’t be trusted, that’s not it. Instead, it’s almost as if he assumes Andrea’s an imposition.
“Of course. It’s all dark in here anyway,” I explain. “We’ll just go get some breakfast and then come back.”
“Andie, wait.” Michael digs in the pocket of his blue jeans, producing his wallet. “Let me give you some money.”
“Oh, no, I’ll take care of it,” I rush to say. “Don’t worry.”
“No, really, here.” Michael presses a ten-dollar bill into my hand. For a brief, incendiary moment, our fingers brush together, and without even meaning to, I step backwards, embarrassed by the unsought intimacy passing between us again.
I’m not sure if he even notices, because he turns to Andrea, reaching for her hand, but she pulls away sharply, so that he’s left just standing there. Grasping for her and something about that image makes me feel unspeakably sad.
“Andrea, please be good for Ms. O’Neill, okay?”
She nods, dutifully clutching a small backpack in her hands like a lifeline. It looks to be some kind of Barbie contraption, fluorescent pink vinyl covered with glittery pictures.
“Thank you,” Michael says to me in a fierce near-whisper. “I really appreciate this.” His gratitude for such an easy gesture unnerves me in a way I don’t fully understand, so I just nod, and without even meaning to, smile at him again. I swear, I can’t stop smiling at the man.
“Come on,” I say to Andrea, leading her down the hallway lined with countless awards and framed film posters. When we head out the front door, there’s an explosion of morning sunlight so startling that I feel like someone has lifted the creaky cover off my sarcophagus. Like dust motes and cobwebs are drifting away from me, toward the piercing light.
Maybe this is what Trevor’s been talking about, I think, squinting upward at the clear spring sky. For a fleeting moment, I even wonder if it isn’t all some fabulous omen. If maybe the darkness in my life isn’t about to finally end.
The little girl has about the most amazing red hair I’ve ever seen. It’s not the garish red of a carrot top, yet far more than a simple auburn. It’s like a deep burnished amber color mixed together with ruby jewels. As we walk across the asphalt parking lot, stepping onto the dew-soaked grass of Chaplin Park, sunlight catches bright strands of color in it, sparkling like fairy dust.
The shimmering red color is striking, especially contrasted with her creamy, translucent skin and blue eyes. The importance of skin like that is lost on little people. Not a blemish or a mark. Just purity dusted with golden freckles, like oranges in the snow, across her nose and cheeks. She shoves her hands in her denim overall pockets, tossing me a shy, reserved smile, and I can’t help thinking of a china doll. A fragile little thing that I need to protect; no wonder I ache to reach for her small hand and hold it tight within my own.
We come upon several long wardrobe and makeup trailers parked outside Stage 30, marked Evermore, and she stares intently.
“So you like that show?” I ask, interrupted when a loud buzzer blasts from within. “That means the camera’s rolling, so nobody can go inside.” I gesture at the flashing red warning light beside the door, and she nods, obviously familiar with the production process.
At my leading, we dart down a side alley and wind up right in the Bronx—only in Hollywood, I think with a faint smile. Though really, it’s only at this particular studio, which has the best re-creation of New York City streets outside of the Big Apple. We’re strolling down the deserted avenue when Andrea announces in a quiet voice, “Evermore’s my favorite show.”
“Here, go this way.” I tug lightly on her backpack, and then we’re heading back between more sound stages. “Really? Your favorite, huh?”
“Do you watch it?”
“No, I never have. Should I?”
She only shrugs, and it’s clear that I won’t get any further with her on the topic. I make a mental note to check with Trevor for the pertinent details. I know a little, like that the male lead is pretty hot. My good friend Cat Marin read for the show, but they wound up casting someone else—someone I don’t particularly like, as a matter of fact—and since we’re not in series development, I’ve always ignored it.
“Michael never gets me on the good shows,” she says as we walk toward the commissary. “He forgets stuff too much, so he can never get the passes. My daddy was better about stuff like that.”
I’m wondering again about the nature of their relationship when she blurts, “Evermore is critically acclaimed.” You can tell this child has been raised in the bosom of Hollywood.
I keep a straight face, although it’s tough. “Really?”
She nods. “It’s a ‘revelation’, that’s what the ads say.”
Andrea’s got me curious now, and I need to know the facts. After all, it’s my job to keep my finger on the pulse of America. You never know where you’ll find great stories—sometimes they’re right where you’re not looking. Maybe a lot of things are.
Once we’re settled at the cafeteria table, I learn that her full name is Andrea Lauren Richardson. Michael is her stepfather, she says, but then reveals nothing else. So I guess Trevor was at least partially right—he’s clearly off the market. She doesn’t mention her mother; I want to ask about that, but something stops me, something in the vague way she answers my question about Michael. “I live with him,” is all she says, gazing down at her doughnut.
“You going to eat?” I ask after watching her poke at the Krispy Kreme’s icing for a while.
“Are you?” She points to my own untouched bagel and I feel like my old semi-anorexic tendencies have just been shoved under a microscope.
“Yeah, probably me, too.”
After a moment I ask, “So how old are you, anyway?”
“Third grade?” I probe, determined to learn more, and she nods in agreement.
I flash momentarily on my own experiences at that age: Girl Scouts, dance classes, and horseback riding. I spent that summer on my parents’ farm with nary a concern in my mind. “Second grade’s really cool, isn’t it?”
She shrugs, frowning slightly. “I guess so.”
We fall silent, Andrea’s eyes constantly searching the busy commissary. This is the place to come if you want to see weird aliens, vampires, or even plain old character actors here for a meal. It’s also a good spot to land spoilers for upcoming television shows if you eavesdrop successfully on the right producers’ conversations, but Andrea seems oblivious to all of that. Her auburn eyebrows arch upward, and she cranes her neck, scanning the whole of the room repeatedly.
“Looking for anybody in particular?” I finally ask, but she doesn’t answer. She only stares down at the table again, picking at the doughnut some more. “Nobody at all?”
For a moment she opens her mouth to answer, but then snaps it shut again. Instead, a melancholy expression darkens her face as she stares out the tall windows into the spring sunlight. Something’s going on inside her mind. I just can’t tell what it is.
When she looks back at me, she whispers under her breath, “I have one, too.”
I think hard, certain I should understand this cryptic statement, but since I don’t, I lean close and ask what she means.
“A scar. Only you can’t see mine.” She gazes up into my eyes with an intense expression, and for a moment I fear she might cry. Then just as quickly she stares back down at her doughnut, silent.
Her remark makes me feel self-conscious, but it’s not the usual deep shame that such comments elicit. Maybe that’s why I brush back my hair so she can really see the marks along my face and jaw line. She responds to the invitation, peering upward for a closer look, then asks in a small voice, “Do they still hurt?”
“Sometimes. Especially the ones you can’t see.”
Her clear blue eyes widen in surprise. “How many do you have?”
“A few.” I leave out the brutal details about my chest and abdomen because she doesn’t need the violent truth about my past. “You?”
“Only one. On my leg.” I know she must be burning with as many questions as I am. Dozens instantly speed through my head—like why there’s such a sorrowful expression in her eyes. Or what happened to her that left this hidden scar.
We fall silent then, the revelations apparently finished for the moment. I spread cream cheese on my bagel; she gives me a tentative grin and says, “So you are eating, huh?”
“Yeah, think I am.” Gesturing with my knife I ask, “What about you?”
She reaches for her doughnut and licks some of the warmed chocolate off the top. “Yeah, me, too.”
Subtext, I think with a smile. That’s what my little red-haired friend and I are speaking. Volumes upon volumes of it, without any need for translation at all.
If only grownups felt so safe—and so easy to understand.
Reader Reviews (1)
Submitted By: pivoine on Feb 10, 2012Magnificently written, beautiful prose, superb descriptions, well-paced plot and believable characters. Also, the theme is unusual and well-tackled, with no awkwardness whatsoever. It's the first novel I've ever read about a bisexual person, and I found it insightful and inspiring. I highly recommand it!
Butterfly TattooBy: Deidre Knight