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Authors: Jane L. Rosen

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BOOK: Nine Women, One Dress
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CHAPTER 5
Eye of the Tiger
By Jeremy Madison, Movie Star

I woke up late, with a smile on my face, thinking about my night with Natalie. Since my good mood was unlikely to survive any form of social media or interactions of any kind, I decided to remain unplugged. Except for the delivery man from Three Guys, who brought me my usual Sunday morning double stack of banana–chocolate chip pancakes, I spoke to no one all day. There was a
Rocky
marathon on and I fell asleep somewhere after Adrian traded in her glasses for contacts. I woke up once to see Mickey die, at which I shed a perfunctory tear, and fell back asleep until the buzzer woke me. By this time Rocky and Apollo Creed were doing their ultra-eighties frolic through the waves. No one called
them
gay.

I hit the intercom and my doorman announced, “A Hank and an Albert are here to see you.” I almost tossed my pancakes. Hank and Albert. Together. They never went anywhere together. I reluctantly told him to send them up and ran to my computer to Google myself to see what had sparked such a rare occurrence. By the time my doorbell rang I had pieced together the whole story.

They stormed in like gangbusters. Hank was on fire, as if he were on his ninth espresso, and Albert, poor Albert, looked like he had spent the entire day nibbling the tips off Xanax just to keep calm. I had seen him do that before. It's like he thinks it doesn't count if he just takes a little bite off the top, but eventually those little bites add up to god only knows how many pills. They handed me a printout of a TMZ.com story, as if they thought I didn't own a computer, and acted like my turning off my phone was a criminal offense. They were quite the combination, my agent and my publicist. When it came to me and my life, they usually had the instinct of a lioness protecting her cubs. Today they were like tigers on the hunt. Hank would shout out a solution and Albert would point out all that could go wrong with it. In the end, they agreed that the TMZ headline “Gay or Straight? Who's Jeremy Madison's Mystery Girl?” was better for my career than just “Gay!”

This bothered me for a few reasons: one, the paparazzi will now have even more reason to follow me to try and find out who the mystery girl is; two, I feel bad about my brother, I really do. He has been out and proud since we were kids and probably could care less about all this, but I feel as a good brother I should speak out against this kind of public outing of celebrities. And there was also a third reason: now it would be assumed that I was just a cheating louse who broke everyone's favorite Victoria's Secret model's heart. Truth? I really didn't want to be that guy.

But my advisers, whom, as I told you, I'm scared I would be nothing without, thought differently. Hank especially wanted no part of my gay-advocacy campaign.

He was adamant: “Pick another cause, like the rain forest or puppy mills. And whatever you do, don't get caught kissing any dudes.”

They decided our best bet would be to answer the question “Who's the mystery girl?” with a few staged red-carpet photos of Natalie and me, thus answering the gay-or-straight question as well. Of course this meant finding the girl again.

They were so anxious I thought they might explode—how would they convince her to go along with it, would they have to give her some kind of hush money, how would they make sure
that
never came out in the press, and on and on. The only thing worse than the two of them pacing back and forth across my living room would be the two of them detonated into little pieces and splattered all over my walls, so I gave in, agreed to their plan, and told them I thought the mystery girl would be more than willing to go along with the whole thing. They were so relieved they both hugged and kissed me.

“No kissing dudes!” I shouted, laughing, as I swatted them away.

I really agreed to do it for Natalie, so she could make Flip Roberts sorry. So that he could spend the rest of his life thinking about the girl that got away. I was sure he would, because I hadn't stopped thinking about her just from the one night. This plan also gave me a great excuse to see her again right away with no vulnerability on my end.

Albert snapped back into his usual state of despair. “Wait. How do you know she'll do it?”

I alleviated their worry with one sentence. “There's a guy she's trying to get back at.” Revenge—that they understood.

I put on the suit and pink tie that I'd worn the night before, and Hank and I headed to Bloomingdale's while Albert went to his office to arrange the photo shoot. Natalie had told me the night before that she was working today and I was excited to see her again, though I said nothing to Barnum and Bailey about it. God only knows what kind of media circus they would create with that information.

As we reached 59th Street I began to get nervous, and Hank must have noticed. “What's up with you? You're doing that thing you do before a big scene where you chew on your lip.”

“No, I'm not.” I sounded like I was responding to my mother. I've been chewing on my lip like that when I'm nervous for as long as I can remember.

He dropped it and went back to his phone. I was nervous about seeing her again, nervous because I liked her. She was sweet, and had that I'm-not-going-to-eat-you-up-and-spit-you-out smile. Plus she was normal, so normal, which was refreshing. She didn't seem to care that I was famous. In fact, she spoke to me like I was one of her girlfriends or something. Suddenly it hit me. I hadn't had this experience with a woman in a very long time: she didn't like me. At least not in the way I liked her. This normal, pretty, sweet girl who acted like she didn't care that I was a handsome movie star
actually didn't care
that I was a handsome movie star. I would have to win her affections as Stanley Trenton. I felt anxious and awful. Maybe this was just some post-walking-in-on-your-fiancée-in-bed-with-her-trainer insecurity. Maybe I would realize that I didn't like this girl so much after all.

Hank shouted at me, “What the hell, Jeremy, you're going to bite right through your lip! We're here, let's go.”

We got out of the car. I wished it were Albert with me so I could ask for a little nibble of a Xanax. Hank slapped a baseball hat on my head and pulled it down low as we headed up the escalator to the third floor. I wanted to say something cute to her and ran through funny lines in my head, but I had nothing. My insecurity grew, and I wished I had brought a screenwriter with me instead of an agent.

We approached, and as soon as she looked up and saw me I went with a quick-to-backfire joke. I held up a red dress and said, “Do you have this in my size?”

She seemed not to get it and answered as if I was really asking. “Um, I don't think that would fit you.”

“I was joking,” I said, somewhat defensively.

“Oh—sorry. I…didn't want to be politically incorrect.”

I didn't know what the hell she was talking about, but she followed it with her pretty smile so I chalked it up to awkward attempts at humor on both sides and moved on to explaining the situation. She agreed to the photo shoot, but there was one problem. Tomás, her associate, had just sent the very last Max Hammer small out for delivery to a customer. She called him over, and for some reason, which he refused to explain, he said he was almost certain the dress would be exchanged for a bigger size by Tuesday at the latest. Hank wasn't happy about the delay but texted Albert to set up the shoot for Wednesday. He told Natalie and me that under no circumstances were we to be seen together before then, and left mumbling something about his three wasted years at Harvard Law.

“I'm kind of disappointed,” I confessed to Natalie. “I thought maybe we could've had dinner together again.”

She seemed thrilled by the invite. “We can—let's go back to Queens! No one will be looking for you there. You could even hide out. I'm off work until Tuesday. We could be incognito till then—just in time to get the dress.”

Tuesday!
I thought.
Maybe she does like me after all.

I was in the suit for the photo shoot, so I went down to the men's department to buy something more casual for my furlough in Queens while Natalie finished up her shift. She said that she would meet me down there and we could blend right in with the crowd on the subway. I kept my baseball cap on the whole time, and there was something exciting and clandestine about the whole thing. Plus I hadn't been on the subway in such a long time, and never to Queens. When the tracks rose aboveground and I saw the outside world from the train, I felt like a kid. Natalie said I looked like one as well.

We walked the few blocks from the Ditmars Boulevard stop to her garden apartment. It was so nice to be away from Manhattan again. I imagined the paparazzi camped outside my building and loved the idea that they would be waiting for me all night. I didn't want to think about going home.

Her apartment was tiny and charming. Like her. One L-shaped room with a white fluffy bed filling the shorter arm and a long couch along the other. A big-screen TV hung in the corner, making it visible from either the bed or the couch. Natalie handed me the remote. “Here,” she said, “entertain yourself while I get ready.” The
Rocky
marathon was still on, and somewhere around the time Dolph Lundgren shot his first dose of steroids, Natalie changed out of her work shirt and into another right in front of me, as if I were her college roommate. The brief view of her sexy lace bra and belly-button ring threw me.

“What do you feel like eating?” she said. “Let me give you the whole neighborhood rundown. We've got nearly every type of ethnic food you could ask for.”

“Surprise me,” I said, mostly because I hadn't heard a word she'd said. It's hard to get the full audio when the visual is so…distracting.

She seemed to love that answer and happily skipped to the bedroom, where I imagined her finding something to cover up her very sexy lace bra and her boy-pants underwear, which barely grazed the sweetest little belly button that I had ever seen. Never in my life had I met such a free spirit, and never in my famous life had I met someone so uninterested in me. This Flip Roberts must be something else.

She came out fully clothed, ran a wand of lip gloss across her lips, and clapped her hands together twice. “Let's go!” I followed her like a puppy dog to a Moroccan restaurant where we sat on the floor and ate with our hands. She gushed, “It's just like that scene in
Sabrina
, the new one, not the old one with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, remember?” I didn't. She was surprised that I'd never seen either of them.

We talked about everything you can imagine, including how badly I didn't want the night to end. When I realized what I'd said, I bit my lip and added somewhat fraudulently, “Because of the paparazzi at my apartment, of course!” She confirmed that I was genuinely invited to stay over.

When we got back to her apartment, she hunted through a collection of what looked like every romantic comedy ever made and found the original
Sabrina
. “You have to start with this one,” she said gleefully, handing me the DVD. She dug through her T-shirt drawer and pulled out the biggest one she could find and tapped on her bed. “This is my side. I'll just be a few minutes.” I got undressed and climbed under the covers wearing my boxers and a T-shirt that read
I don't sweat, I sparkle
. I tried not to let it add to my insecurity and waited to see whether she would reappear in sexy or BFF mode. She came out in sweats and a tank, plunked a big bowl of popcorn between us, climbed in, and turned on the TV.

“I haven't had a sleepover in ages. How fun is this?” she said.

This girl was definitely not attracted to me. I couldn't take it anymore—I had to know more about this ex-boyfriend, who apparently so eclipsed me in every way that she was completely uninterested.

“Before we start the movie, I'm curious. Do you have a picture of Flip Roberts?”

She laughed. “I burned them all!”

I looked at the cover of the DVD. Audrey Hepburn with a man on each arm: Humphrey Bogart on one, William Holden on the other. “Okay, if one of these men was me and one was Flip, who would be who?”

“You'd be William Holden, of course! Humphrey Bogart is practically old enough to be her father in this movie, and he's not half as dreamy as William Holden.”

I looked at the picture again. “Well, who does Sabrina choose?”

“You'll have to watch and see!”

I awoke the next morning knowing two things that I had not known the night before: first (spoiler alert), Sabrina/Audrey Hepburn chooses Linus/Humphrey Bogart, and second, that I could sleep with a girl without sleeping with a girl. I watched her sleeping for a minute as I consoled myself with the thought that she most definitely had daddy issues and I simply wasn't old enough for her. I lost myself in her simple beauty. Her parted lips and tousled hair. I wondered what sorts of things she dreamed about.

Eventually I snapped out of it and made enough noise for her to wake up, but not enough for her to know that I'd woken her. As soon as she was coherent I said, “So, you spoke a lot over dinner about your mother, but I noticed that you never mentioned your father.”

“Good morning to you too!” She swung her legs out of bed. “My father left when I was six. I was sitting in the living room playing Barbie dolls and he just walked out.” Now I felt bad for asking, though also relieved that I was right about the daddy issues.

“He just left? Just like that, no goodbye?”

She paused. “Kind of. He said, ‘Goodbye, sweet girl,' and I said, ‘Where are you going, Daddy?' and he said, ‘I have to see a man about a horse.' And then he left. That was the last time I saw him.”

She went about her morning business and I felt horrible. Here I was dragging up her emotional baggage just to satisfy my own stupid ego. I apologized as she plopped on the bed to put on her socks.

BOOK: Nine Women, One Dress
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