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Courtney Bennett heard the voice of her press agent, Yolanda, as she let herself into the hotel suite. Yolanda always said ‘knock, knock’ instead of just knocking, an irritating habit that Courtney had long ago learned to accept.
“We’re here to help you get ready!” Her voice had a sing-song quality today, meaning that she either met a man or she had bad news and was pretending everything was fine.
“Good morning, ladies.” Courtney poked her head out of the bathroom just long enough to give Yolanda, and her assistant, Dawn, a warm smile. “I’m just out of the shower. How are you both today?”
“Just fine, although I can’t sleep here. It’s too quiet. And the air is funny,” Yolanda answered, her voice growing louder with each word as she neared the bathroom.
“You mean clean?”
Yolanda wrinkled up her nose pretending to be disgusted. “Exactly. Not a hint of smog. It’s unnatural.”
“I like it here. It reminds me of home.”
“Eww. Canada is like this?” Yolanda waved her hand dismissively.
“The parts in the Rockies are.” Courtney dabbed at her face with a cotton pad soaked in an outrageously expensive toner. She could see Yolanda watching her in the mirror.
“Did you sleep okay?”
“Why? Do I look tired?” Courtney adjusted the collar on the plush white hotel robe so it was less revealing.
“No. Of course not. You look divine. You’re every bit People’s most beautiful woman.” Yolanda turned and hissed ‘coffee’ to Dawn.
Dawn mumbled something as she made her way to the bar on the opposite side of the suite. She was always mumbling. Yolanda made all kinds of sounds—hissing, yelling, gushing. But Dawn only seemed to mumble. Sometimes, Courtney imagined the two to be a mini-orchestra of human instruments.
Yolanda handed her the bottle of photo finish serum. “So, how are you feeling about the junket so far?”
“You mean since we talked about it at supper last night?” Courtney gave her a quizzical look. “Is something going on?”
Yolanda gave her a too-bright smile and smoothed back her black bob. “What? Nothing. Everything is just fine.”
Courtney hardened her stare and waited.
“Here’s your coffee, Courtney,” Dawn muttered, handing it to her gingerly.
“Thanks, Dawn,” Courtney said. “What isn’t Yolanda telling me?”
Dawn’s eyes grew round. She swallowed. “Nothing. Things are great.”
“Now I’m getting worried. I actually heard that.” Planting a fist on her hip, Courtney gave Yolanda her best ‘you better tell me, bitch’ stare.
“Okay, so it’s really nothing. But it looks like something. I’ve already spoken with Ted and he’s all over it like white on rice. The whole thing will be dead by supper time.”
“Why would my husband’s publicist need to be brought in?”
“Again, it’s really…”
“Spill it, Yo.”
“Apparently, some photos were taken of Brock and Tiffany last night. They haven’t gotten out yet because the photographer is holding out for a big payout from one of the tabloids. He’s claiming it’s proof that Brock is cheating—”
“Oh, God. That.” Courtney waved it off. “Yeah, he texted to tell me they were going for dinner. She’s been having some trouble with her role and he offered to talk her through it. I guess they’ve been shooting the same scene for three days and she’s still not getting it.”
“She’s getting it, all right,” Dawn mumbled.
“What?” Courtney’s head swiveled.
“Nothing. I was just… nothing.” Dawn hurried to the desk in the far corner of the room.
Yolanda rolled her eyes in that ‘young people are so irritating’ way. “Anyhow, as usual, don’t let it concern you but do expect the reporters to ask about it. I’m going to prime them all before they get in to see you, so they’ll know the real story. If anyone brings it up, you go with the standard line, ‘everything’s wonderful, it’s a marriage made in heaven, what I’m really excited to talk about is this amazing movie…’”
“I know the lines, Yolanda,” Courtney said, feeling slightly irritated. She picked up her Dior eyeliner and began to draw a careful line along her eyelashes.
“Of course you do. I’m just jittery today. They must put extra caffeine in the coffee here.”
Courtney chuckled. “They must. Plus, they add extra oxygen in the air, too.”
“The bastards.” Yolanda stared at Courtney as she continued with her makeup.
Glancing at her, Courtney knew that her press agent had more to say. “What?”
“Well, since you asked, I noticed that you squint a little when you apply your mascara, and it occurred to me that maybe you need to use your face less. You know, to avoid wrinkles. You’re very expressive all the time and—it’s not happening yet, you still look superbly young—but it will start to show soon.”
“Use my face less?” Courtney stopped and turned to her. “Is this about that part from Universal?”
“Well, a little, yes. I mean, it was for a mother of teenagers.” The word teenager came out of her mouth as though it were acid. “Plus, we found out you didn’t get Elektra.”
“I didn’t?” Courtney’s face fell.
“No, honey. They went with some new Australian tramp. Kelly said she blew one of the producers.”
“Hair Kelly or makeup Kelly?”
“Damn. She’s pretty reliable.” Courtney sighed as she felt her heart drop to her knees. She stared at herself in the mirror, suddenly seeing every tiny line on her face amplified. “Maybe you’re right.”
“Oh, I am definitely right about this.” Yolanda pointed at her and nodded. “You’re always smiling and laughing and making goofy faces. Save that for the big screen. Otherwise, go for Angelina-stoic. I bet you could get at least another four years out of your original face.”
“My original face?” It was moments like this that made it very hard for Courtney to believe that this was her life. “Thanks for the tip. I’ll definitely give it some thought.”
Yolanda nodded. “Good. Just don’t wrinkle your eyebrows together while you’re thinking.” She laughed in the high-pitched cackle she used after saying something insulting. Courtney knew it was meant to soften her comment, but it really had the opposite effect.
Courtney turned back to her reflection in the mirror. Her face looked normal to her again. She didn’t look bad for thirty-nine. Sure, there were some tiny lines around her eyes, but wasn’t that to be expected? She stayed out of the sun, wore a ridiculously huge hat when she was outside, and doused herself in serums and lotions with SPF 50. She went for monthly laser peels and skin resurfacing. She hadn’t gone the Botox route yet, but she knew it was just a matter of time. For almost a decade, she’d resisted her cosmetic dermatologist’s urging for her to start with fillers for ‘preventative maintenance.’ Somehow, looking her age was slightly less terrifying to her than sporting that ‘not quite human’ look that she saw everywhere she went in L.A.
“Anyway, it’s nothing to worry about today, it’s just food for thought. And let’s not worry about the Elektra thing. It wouldn’t have been right for your brand anyway.” Yolanda unzipped the case containing her tablet and began going over the schedule.
“So, I checked and the premiere will end at ten fifty-two, we’ll have a limo waiting to take you to the jet. You’re scheduled for four days with Brock, then back home for your appointment with Dr. Debaggio. I want to call Zephyr to start doing your power yoga every morning again. You were really so firm when you were training with him. Dawn, don’t you think she was incredibly firm?”
Dawn nodded without looking up from her phone. “Very firm.”
“What do you think? Zephyr? Or do you want to try something else? Maybe back to Pilates? Barre? It’s really up to you.”
“Wait, can we back up? I was planning to spend a month in the Bahamas. I told you that. Brock and I really need some time together.”
“But I got Dr. Debaggio to squeeze you in. I think you should definitely come home, even if it’s just for a few days. You can always fly back after your appointment.”
“No, cancel it. I’m not rushing home for a laser peel. And if you’re suggesting I’m getting flabby, fine. I’ll…” Courtney waved her hand in the air, “… run on the beach every morning. And I can do yoga myself. Okay?”
“I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. You know that, right? This is my job. To help you eke out every last minute of your career.”
Courtney let her shoulders drop. “I know you are and I appreciate it. I think I just need a break for a few weeks, then I’ll get right back to my routine. I promise. And don’t look so worried. It’ll give you wrinkles.” She gave her a half-smile to let her know they were okay.
Yolanda beamed then went for an overly stoic look, her humor restoring the peace between them before she glanced down at her tablet. “Glad that’s settled. First up is Gordon Hughes from Entertainment Hourly. Then Nikki from CBN, then Karlee, then that new one from WBC, Kristyn, then a quick break for lunch.”
Gasping, Yolanda shut her tablet case. “I didn’t realize how late it was getting. We’ll go make sure the room is ready and prep Gordon.”
“Sounds good. Thanks, ladies. See you in a bit.”
And then they were gone, leaving Courtney alone again in silence, the symphony of humans over. She made her way to the closet, finding her blue jersey-knit dress waiting. She de-robed and stepped into her dress, pulling it up over her hips, then shimmying into it. Her tan Coach pumps were next, followed by a chunky bracelet and earrings. Finally, a quick scan of herself in the mirror. Something caught her eye. Was that…? Dear God! A gray hair. Her heart sank. Another one had popped up overnight right where her part-line was. Why did they always appear right up front and center? “Son of a…”
Wes Young wiped his brow with his forearm to stop the sweat from getting past his eyebrows. He was out on the back deck of his cabin, working his punching bag like he did every morning. First the bag, then he’d go for a long jog around Cobalt Lake. Even though it had been over two years since he left the Marines, he was still a staunch believer in keeping his body combat-ready. To Wes, becoming lazy or weak would be worse than death. He let his breath slow as he removed his boxing gloves then took a long drink of water. As Wes stretched his muscular arms, he watched a golden eagle soar over the lake, looking to make an early morning feast out of a trout.
He loved it here at his home, twenty miles outside Aspen, Colorado. Wes still found it hard to believe that this calm, tranquil corner of the world belonged to him. Each day, he had to remind himself that land-mines, tear gas, and semi-automatic weapons were no longer part of his life.
Well, he did have two Glocks, an M11, and an AR-15 assault rifle, but of those, he would only need to bring the M11 when he put on his black suit and went to work later. No more fatigues for him. Now he wore Armani. Not that he gave a shit what the label said. He’d bought what the salesman had told him was on sale at the time.
Wes retied the laces on his trainers, then looked over at his orange tabby cat, Trip, who was dozing in a patch of sun on the grass. Trip was a stray that had appeared at his door a year ago. Wes had reluctantly started feeding him, then as winter closed in, he and Trip seemed to both come to the conclusion that the cat would need to start coming inside to get out of the cold. Now the animal followed him everywhere, even on his morning run. The cat stood and stretched, preparing himself for their journey.
“You ready, boy?” Wes asked, still a little shocked at himself for talking to a mangy cat. “Let’s go!”
And the two were off, racing each other down across the lawn to the gravel trail that followed the water’s edge. Here Wes was free. After over twenty years of following orders and giving them, of living each day knowing it could be his last, he now woke up knowing how lucky he was to be alive and whole. He had a few scars, scattered circles on his shoulder and upper chest where he had been shot, but he had all of his limbs, which was nothing to take for granted.