Five years ago when he traded me in for a new, compact, European model I thought it was over. No one would employ me. He had too much power. No one would want to upset him by giving his ex-wife a job. This isnt even my country. Id forgotten, you see. Forgotten the world of film beyond and untouched by the action blockbuster. Shame on me, forgetting where I started.
The year after the divorce Sam Sartori - my agent - sent me every script that hit his desk. He did it to distract me. I never fail to thank him for it.
One day he calls me:
"Hey, Kid. Guess what?"
"I dunno Sam. What?"
"Why dont you ever play?"
"OK. Let me guess: youve got a great script that will make me a superstar in my own right."
There was stony silence at the end of the line. Any silence from Sam is stony because normally he never shuts up.
"Well, yes," he says sounding defeated. "But theres more."
"The Duchess wants to talk to you about it, Blue Eyes."
"The Duchess?" I ask hearing my voice normally something Im in complete control of - rise of its own accord.
The Duchess is what the rest of us call The Gold Standard. She is the best screen actor ever. Even in Tinsel Town where no one compliments anything for free this is a recognised given. If the Duchess wants to talk to you its likely youve just done something excellent or you are about to become involved in a project of magnitude. Unless shed rented a video or been surfing channels late at night shed not seen anything of mine recently.
"She wants me?"
"Seems like," Sam said and I could hear his grin.
"Im almost there with it."
I hung up and walked to the door swinging it open as his car purred smoothly up the drive. He pulled in behind the SUV. As he approached me he slipped off his sunglasses and looked back at the cars. He kissed my cheek distractedly and handed me a thick envelope.
"I still cant believe he let you have the Lexus," Sam said. "Hes such a tight ass with money."
"He let me have the Lexus because I asked for the Jeep," I said.
"No. I wanted the Lexus."
"How on earth did you stay with him so long?" Sam said sadly shaking his head.
"A question I ask myself every day. So, will I like this?" I ask holding up the bulky parcel hes handed me.
"You read," he said, "Ill make lunch."
We part company in the hall. Sam goes directly to the kitchen. I hear him rattling about even before I close the study door behind me. I open the envelope and pull out the script inside.
Its wrapped in bubble wrap secured with slatherings of tape. I shake my head, amused. Writers. Like its going to break. For kicks I lay the wrap on the floor and run over it with my chair. Sam appears at the door clutching his chest, eyes popping. Unsuccessfully I try to hold back my laughter.
Two hours later Sam finds me moved but puzzled. There are seven great roles for women, three of them huge parts.
"Clare?" I ask as he sets a sandwich before me I can fully believe took two hours to make.
"Thackery," he says and smiles as he watches my eyes widen.
"Its the lead," he nods.
"Shes gay," I say.
"And what? You have a problem with playing our people suddenly?"
"Of course not. Youve just never seemed to want me to play gay before thats all."
"That wasnt me, Kid," he says with weighted meaning.
"Bastard," we say together then smile at each other.
"The Duchess is the mother?" He nods. "So whos got April?"
"Britt Cassidy," he says watching my jaw drop with glee.
"Holy crap. Beverly Hills royalty. The Duchess, The Princess. And me. Why?"
"The Director asked for you."
"Where do I sign?"
Thus my career was reborn with a role that garnered me awards from everywhere. But more importantly the time spent with that bunch of people and inside Thackerys head made me go from feeling like a half wrung out rag to ten feet tall and bullet proof. And, unexpectedly, made us all a truckload of money.
Now, its Academy Night again. The Duchess, The Princess and I are all nominated in the same category. The Princess wins. My smile in response to the announcement is genuine and broad. On her way to the stage she grabs both the Duchess and I by the hand and drags us up with her. She accepts the Award from Mr Hanks, turns to each of us and kisses us on the cheek, looks straight down the barrel of the camera and says:
"In the end, the measure of your worth is not trophies on the mantle but who will call you friend, who will stand by you when the tabloids scream, who will hold your hand and wipe your tears, who will let you watch them cry. This," she continues, waving the trophy, "is nice and I thank you. But I already had everything I need."
After a brief, stunned silence in the auditorium The Duchess and I began to applaud. Every woman in the place stood and joined us. Most of the men sat frowning, puzzled. We watched and applauded proudly until she was off stage then resumed our seats on the floor. To her credit, the host refrained from making fun.
Sams driver dropped me home around six the next morning. Id given up drinking years before when I realised I was incapable of having just one and that Id lost a substantial chunk of life to the subsequent hangovers so I was dog tired but not untidy. Two hours later when the phone rang I was still less than thrilled.
"Its me," The Duchess said. "You need to get over here now."
"Wheres here?" I asked already pulling on jeans.
"No the fun park."
"Its the Princess."
"Hey there Tall and Dark," The Duchess greeted tiredly as the nurse showed me into the Princess room.
"What the hell, Duchess? Where is she? Is she OK? Do you need anything?"
"She fell off a mezzanine."
"Is it bad?"
"Shes pretty broken up."
"You saw it?"
"I was talking to her. She stepped back to let somebody past. He was drunk, a big guy. He lurched into her. There was nothing I could do."
"Of course not. Wheres her folks?"
"Have you talked to the doctor?"
"Shes still in surgery. The nurse said to wait here. The doctor will come with when they bring her in."
"OK. What sort of surgery?"
"I think so."
"OK. Could be worse. How long have you been here?"
"Not long. An hour. Two," she corrects looking at her watch.
"You want to go home? Ill wait."
"No. The boys know where I am."
We settled in. Both exhausted we fell asleep in the unusually comfortable chairs. I woke when someone shook my shoulder.
I opened an eye to see a green one staring at me. It was in the socket of a cute little blonde nurse still in her surgical scrubs. I smiled.
"Yes?" I asked the eye.
"Shes out. Ms Cassidy. Out of surgery. Could you wake " here she simply motioned silently toward the snoring Duchess.
"She doesnt bite," I said smiling but rose to wake my friend. "Hows The Princess? Ms Cassidy?"
"Thats a conversation I should have with family." I fixed her with what is referred to as my steely gaze. "But Ill make an exception in light of her extraordinary speech last night."
I smiled my approval.
"Will the doctor be coming?"
I discovered she had her own steely gaze.
"I am the doctor," she said.
"Oh. Sorry. You seem too " I could tell by her look I had better not be about to say young "cute" I finished giving her the full force of my most charming smile.
She stepped back and blinked a few times. Perhaps Id overdone the wattage on the charm. I shook the Duchess.
"The doctor is here," I said gently.
"How is she?" The Duchess asked the doctor.
"Shell be fine. Shes young and healthy. It will take some time, though. Shell need home care for weeks at least."
"Im not doing anything until June. She can come to my house."
"Thats very generous Ms Barker, but shell need constant attention."
"Ill hire some nurses. Will you be overseeing her recovery?"
"If she likes. I dont usually "
"Youll do fine. Who can I talk to about nurses?"
"Ill get reception to print out a list of agencies we trust. Also, theres equipment "
"Sure. Ill get one of the guest rooms fitted out. Can someone let me know what Ill need?"
I pulled out my wallet and handed her a card.
"Here are my numbers. Call me if theres anything."
"Are you sure ?"
"You arent going to sell them to the highest bidder are you Doc?"
"Of course not."
"Well then take them. Dont hesitate. I mean it. Shes very special to me."
"To us," The Duchess finally chimed in. "And thank you Doctor ?"
"Dr Jennifer Martin to Emergency. Dr Martin to Emergency Stat!" the voice on the PA was calm but urgent.
The woman before us grimaced in apology and pointed up.
Her pager went off and she read it.
"Thats me." She stuck out a hand to me. "Pleasure to meet you both. Big fan. Huge," she said now turning to The Duchess. "You can go home to rest if you like. Shell be under for a while yet."
"Im a fan of your work now too," The Duchess gestured towards our unconscious pal.
Blushing Dr Martin raised her hand in farewell as she moved swiftly out the door.
"Quite a grip shes got there," the Duchess commented as we moved to Britts bed.
"Mmm," I agreed. "She looks so young."
"Obviously shes in her thirties at least. To be a surgeon."
"I was talking about The Princess."
"Oh. She likes you."
"No. The Doctor."
"Shes a fan."
"You liked her," The Duchess shrewdly surmised.
"Shes cute," I acceded.
"How long you had this girl thing going on?"
"Oh, always, off and on."
"Why dont I know this?"
"Because you dont pay attention."
She took my arm.
"Lets go get some sleep and meet later to decide how well handle the recuperation."
"You go ahead. Ill wait until she wakes. Someone should be here."
"OK. Call me."
Again someone was shaking me.
"Sam?" I moaned forcing my eyelids up.
"The Duchess said youd need coffee."
"That smells great," said a weak voice from the bed.
"Princess?" I asked rushing to her side.
"I feel awful," she said. "And on second thoughts that coffee makes me feel kind of sick."
Sam was already on his way out the door. I rang for the nurse.
"What happened?" she asked.
"You went over a railing."
"Right. Im thirsty."
I poured her a glass of water from the jug on the bedside stand.
"Dont give her that," Dr Martin ordered from the door.
I turned her way. She looked shattered, tired beyond knowing. But still cute.
"Shell throw it up if you give her too much right now," the good doctor cautioned.
"I didnt know," I apologised.
"How are you feeling, Ms Cassidy?" she asked her patient.
"All the better for seeing you, Doc," Britt winked weakly.
"Flirtings a very healthy sign," Doc Martin said smiling down at her. "Im Dr Martin. How do you feel?" she repeated.
"Awful," The Princess said pouting. I took her hand. "Hey T&D," she greeted.
I realised she was still heavily under the influence of the anesthetic. She didnt remember our conversation of moments ago. Her hand went slack in mine. Shed fallen back asleep. Dr Martin caught my eye and tilted her head towards the door. I followed her out.
"Shell be in and out for a while. Why dont you go get some rest," the doctor advised.
"Yeah, Kid," Sam chipped in from behind. "Go. Ill stay."
I nodded. I was completely knackered. The Doctor and I walked to the lift together in silence.
"What about you?" I asked.
"What about me?"
"When do you get to go home?"
She looked at the clock on the wall, seeming not to believe what she saw.
"Huh. Three hours ago."
"Would you like a lift?" I said.
"That isnt necessary."
"You cant ride your bike home in this state."
She looked at me curiously, cautiously.
"How do you know I ride a motorcycle?"
"You can see the tattoo when you move," I said. "And I asked about you. That was merely one thing communicated to me in tones of awe. I havent spent the whole day sleeping."
"I see. Checking up on me?"
"Of course. Making sure The Princess has the best."
"The Princess, The Duchess and what was that she called you?"
"T&D. Tall and Dark. Sometimes just Tall. What do people call you?"
"Depends which people. Doc mostly although my family and old friends are more likely to use Jen or Jennifer in my mothers case. You?"
"Tess, mostly. Sandy to my old friends and family. Sandra Jean to my mother."
"Both names? You must have been a bad girl."
"Can I give you a ride home, Doc?"
"OK, Tess. Im too tired to say no. Wait in Admissions. Gotta get my stuff."
I had to help her into the SUV. Shes diminutive. And she was very tired.
"This car costs my annual wage," she says.
"Does that bother you?"
"Yes. Sell it and give the money to one of the hospitals in this city your friends dont have to use."
"No. I was just being a bitch."
"No. Youre right. This is a town of appalling wealth and poverty. Where to?"
I start laughing and she joins me. We get to her house far too soon for my liking.
"Would you like to come in?"
I look up through the windscreen at the mansion before me.
"This is Graham Martins house Hes your husband?"
"Brother. He couldnt stand me slumming it."
"Surgeons surely dont slum?"
"Depends what youre used to," she said indicating our surrounding.
"Can I see you tomorrow?"
"Sorry. Day off. Ive got something planned."
"Of course." Of course she had someone. Look at her.
She read me.
"No. Its something I do every once in a while. A thing."
"Oh, a thing," I repeat, relieved.
She leans over and kisses me on the lips. I wasnt ready and she got away before I could respond.
"Thought Id get that out of the way. I was getting nervous. Big movie star and all."
I tug her back and gave her a more thorough demonstration. She pulls away gently, licking her lips.
"Maybe after the thing?" I ask hopefully.
"Dinner? My house. Ill cook. You can check out Britts room."
She smiles and struggles out of the cab to the ground.
"How about coffee at six at Castilles and well see?"
"You hitting the brakes, Doc?"
"Just lifting the accelerator foot, Sandra Jean."
She moves towards the house lifting her free hand over her shoulder in a wave. I watch her all the way to the door. I like the way her short golden hair moves in the afternoon breeze. I like the purposeful stride, the strength of the hand holding her helmet, jacket and bag over her shoulder. I like uh oh.
I call The Duchess, tell her The Princess woke briefly, that I drove the Doc home.
"Mmm. Tall and Darks crashing hard. Dr Martin to Emergency, Stat! Is it the heart, Doc? Im afraid so "
"I have no idea why I bother with you."
"Should you be messing with a civilian?"
"Shes Graham Martins sister."
"Hmm. Producers sister. Still tenuous, Tall. So Sams with The Princess?"
"Have you slept yet?"
"Not in a bed."
"Go," she commands.
I hang up and point the car towards home. My phone rings.
"Somebody need a doctor?" she asks.
"Yes," I say simply.
"This is too quick, Famous Girl."
"You think its too quick?"
"My hearts pounding."
"Get some sleep."
"Is that a prescription?"
"No. A warning. You should store up, youre going to need it."
"When the patient moves in."
"Youre teasing me."
"Yes I am."
"Because I can. See you tomorrow evening."
I wake the next day, refreshed. I call the Duchess immediately.
"Bout time you rejoined the living, Tall."
"How is she?"
"Fine. Eating like a horse."
"Ill come down. No. Wait. Ive got the War thing."
"The softball game. Fund raiser. I forgot."
"Ah. Jock. Who you playing?"
"No idea. Id better get going. The Girlsll be here soon."
"Who are they?" I asked Chandra pointing with my chin in the direction of the opposition bench.
"Uh something French. Ey Elise? Who are they?" she calls to the umpire.
"Medecins sans frontiers. Doctors without borders."
"What she said," Chandra nodded.
"Wow," I say, impressed. "Those guys are full on. Theyve been in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Anywhere theres a war injuring civilians."
"Cool," Chandra says and I can see respect in her dark eyes. "They could kick our ass. Whoa!"
I turn to see what shes looking so appreciatively at and meet a pair of green eyes staring at me from under a faded MSF baseball cap. I feel my face break into a grin.
"You know her?" Chandra asks.
I nod and head towards the Doc. Shes moving too and we meet awkwardly near home plate. She looks me over.
"You got some sleep," she says.
"Thats a pretty buff team youve got there," she says peeking around me.
"We do OK."
"So youve been overseas with these guys?"
Again I find I have to re-appraise the woman in front of me. And my praise-o-meter is already topping out. I clear my throat.
"Good crowd," I say looking over the packed bleachers.
"Thats the point," she says.
Elise blows on a whistle and the Captains face up in front of her. Chandra wins the toss and, as usual, chooses to field. She has a complex theory about being last at bat.
"You wanna pitch it, Tess?" she asks as she suits up in her catchers gear.
I nod and walk out to the mound. Elise flips her a ball. Chandra sends it like a rocket towards me. Nonchalantly I stick out my glove in the vicinity of its trajectory. It hits the pocket with a satisfying smack and stays.
I throw down a few warm-up pitches. It feels good today. My eyes stray to the bench. The Doc has her head bowed, listening as her captain speaks earnestly in her ear. When she finishes speaking they both look at me. The captain gives me a respectful nod and the Doc gives me well, lets just say the next pitch was a little wild. I wonder what that was all about.
They kick our ass. Chandra points out that we look better. Its a small consolation and not altogether true. Ive been asked to draw the raffle. I make my way to the stage where Im invited to unveil the secret prize that stands as tall as me and square. The audience gasps as the cloth falls. I step back to get a better look.
Juxtaposed across the diagonal are the famous Bond stills of Halle Berry and Ursula Andres emerging from the sea, big dive knives strapped to the hip of each. Its the classic Bond chick scene that Berry has redefined forever. The signatures of Berry and Sean Connery sprawl across the blue, blue sky of each. A very happy guy from Fox enlists his buddies to help him get it to his van.
"So," the Doc says from behind me. "Coffee still on?"
"Sure. I need to go check the Princess."
"I should too. Lets do that first."
"You love her," the Doc shrugs. "I get that."
I cant stand it any longer. Grabbing her hand I drag her into the deep shadows under the bleachers and kiss her soundly. I gather by her response that she doesnt mind.
"Not that Im complaining," she says leaning against me moments later, "but what was that for?"
"I just realised Ive fallen in love with you. Totally. Thought Id mark the occasion."
She steps back so she can look into my eyes. She stares and stares.
"OK," she says just before my nerves would have shattered.
"Yo! Tess?" Chandras voice is near.
"Yep?" I say stepping out still holding the Docs hand.
"The French team wants you over there for something."
"Really?" I ask heading off in the direction she points.
"The French team?" the Doc asks trailing along.
I shake my head never mind.
The captain of the team comes out to meet us.
"Ms Barker," she says warmly shaking my hand with a firm grip. "When we realised youd be here today we decided we couldnt let the opportunity to thank you personally pass."
"All I did was come along to play. The Committee "
"No. Not for today. For everything."
"There was something about the phrase "anonymous donation" you guys didnt understand?" I ask, embarrassed almost to the point of anger.
"No. And wed never reveal it publicly. We just wanted you to know."
She hands me a small, perfectly wrapped gift. I open it ready to protest but it dies on my lips. Its a small, framed photograph of the reunion of mother and child amongst a city of the injured. The hug is tight and intense, the emotion plainer than the detail.
"Thank you," I say.
I shake all their hands, sign anything they want.
Finally, I turn to find the Doc watching me in wonder.
"In my spare time," I say, "I dress up in a koala suit and fight crime."
"It wouldnt surprise me."
They let me spring the Princess two weeks later. My ground floor guestroom is chock full of equipment to meet any anticipated problem or need. The nurses come and go in a shift rotation that mesmerises me but seems straight-forward to the Princess. The nurses are celebrity proof and that pleases me.
The Doc is a constant visitor. That pleases me also. The freelance press buzz about in the street. The Doc doesnt like that part so much. We discuss it and one morning I walk her to her bike and in full view of the vultures at the gate kiss her goodbye. Instantly we were old news and the newly mobile Princess becomes their focus.
"Hey, Tall?" the Princess calls from the deck one day near the end of her rehab.
"Yeah?" I yell from the kitchen.
"Maybe its time I went home."
I move out to sit beside her.
"Because Im better."
"I like having you here."
"I have to go sometime."
"Well, for one thing, you and the Doc "
"Have gotten along fine with you being here."
"Look. Youll be weak for a while yet. You dont cook, your family is less than useful and I like not living alone."
"But wont the Doc ?"
"The Doc wont move in. Yet, anyway. She wants to see how it goes when Im working."
"Smart chick. You got a shoot date for the Perry Cross thing?"
"Wow. Thats close."
"Tell me about it. Id appreciate some help. Ive been kind of "
The sound of two wheels on the gravel drive catches my attention. I rise like an automaton and begin moving in that direction. I hear The Princess laughing but I dont care. I make the front door in time to open it for her. She flings herself at me, wrapping her legs around my waist, crushing my lips under hers.
"Hullo," she says still so close our lips touch when she speaks.
"Hi," I say, smiling.
The rays of the setting sun stream in the doorway bathing us in a golden light. The Doc turns us slightly so we were looking at ourselves in the entryway mirror.
"Cute couple," I comment.
"Yes we are," she agrees.
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