Authors: E. M. Lilly
Emily didn’t bother responding, and they didn’t say another word to each other that evening.
Emily soon settled into her normal routine of working long hours and spending her evenings in the den reading manuscripts. Winston would lay by her feet, and Jack would either putter around the bookshelves searching for an interesting volume to read, or when he had a book in hand, hover in the air as if reclining on a chaise longue. They didn’t talk much to each other during this time. Some nights would go by without a word being spoken, and they would simply greet each other with a nod.
Over the next three months as summer faded away and the fall months bled into the bitter cold of winter, Emily seldom went out other than for work or to take Winston for long walks around Washington Square Park, sometimes venturing into other neighborhoods within Soho and Greenwich Village. She did meet Sally a few times. Sally had found herself a new boyfriend. A tall, lanky fellow with a scruffy beard named George Crider. He was three years older than Sally, had kind eyes, a soft but wicked sense of humor, and worked as a Broadway theater musician. Emily felt comfortable around him and she liked the way he’d look at Sally and the way he treated her. It was during a Saturday evening when Sally had invited Emily over for dinner that George mentioned he had a friend whom he thought Emily would like. Emily thanked him for thinking of her, but told him she wasn’t interested in meeting anyone right then.
“Come on, Em,” Sally cut in, a big grin on her face. They’d been drinking wine, and Sally was a little sloshed. “He’s a really nice guy, and cute too.”
Emily started fidgeting, and after mumbling about how late it was getting and that she needed to get back to Manhattan, she left the table, slipped the leash back on Winston, and left as a stunned Sally and George watched as she nearly fled the apartment. Over the next month Sally called Emily several times to invite her out, but Emily found excuses each time. After that month, Sally stopped calling.
One particularly bitterly cold November evening Emily was sitting in the armchair, a goose down comforter wrapped around her, when she felt Jack staring at her. She looked over and saw that he was peering at her, a strained expression on his face as if he were trying to smile at her but was too concerned to do so.
“Yes?” Emily asked.
Jack shook his head. “I’m noticing how gaunt you’ve gotten,” he said. “It’s not healthy for you to be this thin. You need to eat more.”
Emily wasn’t often sarcastic with Jack. Seldom, actually. The few times in the past when she’d make a sarcastic comment, no matter how slight, it would be enough to get him to drop the subject. Not this time.
“Miss Mignon, you’ve changed,” he said.
“No, you’re not. Ever since I brought you back from that godforsaken wasteland, you’ve been anything but fine. I can feel the sadness emanating from you. I can see it weighing you down. And when you smile now, it’s seldom for very long. And it’s such a sad smile.”
“There’s really no need to worry about me. I’ll be fine. I just need more time.”
“Miss Mignon, I’d hate to suggest you use a wish on something this frivolous, but perhaps a vacation will cheer you up? The type of vacation you’ve always dreamed of, but would never be able to afford?”
Emily shook her head and stared back at the manuscript she had been holding. Jack looked on helplessly for a minute before accepting there was nothing he could say to change her mind. As with most evenings that they spent together, they didn’t say another word to each other for the rest of the night.
Three weeks later Emily was walking home from work with Winston ambling along next to her when she saw a commotion further up Wooster Street. At first she couldn’t tell exactly what it was, just that the whole area had been lit up and a crowd had gathered. Curious about this, she continued on past her building, and as she got closer she saw that huge flood lights had been rolled into the street and that was what was making it so bright. When she was within a block of the area, she realized they were filming a movie. It made sense. Wooster Street and its quaint cobblestones and lack of traffic would be the perfect spot to film a quaint street scene in Manhattan. Even more curious now, she continued on, but the crowd gathered in front of her blocked her view and she couldn’t make out much of anything. She tried asking an older man bundled up in what looked like a mink coat and wearing a big raccoon fur Russian-style hat what movie they were filming, but he gave her an annoyed look and shushed her. Winston didn’t appreciate that and started barking loudly. Before Emily had a chance to quiet him, a man shouted loudly, “Will someone please shut that dog up!”
The crowd parted in front of Emily so that she could see that standing in front of her by a set of movie cameras were two men. One of them was pudgy and bald and stood with his hands on his hips as he glared imaginary angry daggers Emily’s way, the other was maybe the most gorgeous-looking man she’d ever seen. Rugged and gorgeous. He had long, sandy brown hair, rich, blue eyes that crinkled good-naturedly as he grinned at her, and the start of a beard that covered his strong jaw from not having shaved for several days. He was at least a foot taller than Emily, and although he wore a leather bomber jacket, faded blue jeans, and ankle-high boots, it did little to hide his athletic build or broad shoulders or that his body tapered into a narrow waist. Emily blushed as she recognized who this man was. Derek Cole, one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood.
The bald, pudgy man who stood next to Cole continued to glare his hate at Emily, his mouth pushed into a nasty oval. “Lady,” he yelled, “we’re trying to film a movie here. Can you please get that animal the hell away from here!”
Derek Cole signaled for this other man, who must’ve been the film’s director, to be quiet. This angry, pudgy man didn’t like it, but went along with it.
“Ah, what an ugly bastard,” Derek Cole said as he stared directly at Winston, mischief twinkling in his eyes. Very casually, he sauntered over to Winston so he could crouch down and roughhouse with the dog. Winston’s rear-end immediately began wiggling as he wagged his tail enthusiastically.
“I love these ugly bastard dogs,” Cole said as he wrestled Winston onto his back, with the dog appearing to love every second of it. The actor looked up so he could wink at Emily, which made her blush deepen.
“The beauty and the beast,” Cole said with a laugh. “Nothing I like better than these ugly bastard dogs than a breathtakingly beautiful young lass.” He jumped to his feet and held his hand out to Emily. “Derek Cole at your service,” he said.
Emily felt her heart flutter as she took his hand and looked more deeply into his stunning blue eyes. She stammered out her own name in response. Her cheeks burned red as she did so.
“A name befitting such beauty,” Cole said. “And the ugly bastard’s name?”
Winston at this point had pushed himself back to his feet and was panting excitedly. He jumped up so that his front paws were leaning on Derek Cole’s leg, clearly wanting round two of their wrestling match. Cole complied, kneeling onto the pavement and wrestling Winston once more onto his back.
“That would be Winston,” Emily said, her stammer a little less noticeable, although her blush deepened even more as she realized the crew and everyone in the crowd were staring at her.
“Ah, a good name for him. I can see the resemblance,” Cole said as he looked back at Emily and gave her another wink. He then turned to the other man, who was still standing petulantly with his hands on his hips. “Jerry,” Cole said, “how about a forty-five minute break? We been at this for a while, you know? I could use a cup or two of strong coffee, mate.”
“Sure, Derek,” the director said, his tone and the surliness of his expression showing he wasn’t happy about this. “I need to see if we can filter out that dog barking and salvage the last take, or if we have to reshoot. So go ahead, take forty-five.”
Cole effortlessly went from kneeling to jumping back to his feet, and was once again smiling directly at Emily. “Do you know of any good coffee shops nearby?” he asked. “And even more important, would you do me the honor of accompanying me? Not only would it give me a chance to make up for Jerry’s rudeness, but I can’t imagine a more splendid way to spend forty-five minutes than gazing into your eyes over a cup of good French Roast.”
“I live three blocks away,” Emily said. “And I have a top of the line espresso maker that can make anything, and I’ve got some very good French Roast.”
The way Derek Cole grinned at her made her knees weak. “But I’m only inviting you for coffee,” Emily added hastily.
“Of course, my lady, your honor will be protected by me at all costs,” Cole said with a hearty laugh. “Shall you lead the way?”
Emily could barely believe that she had invited Derek Cole to her apartment for coffee, and as she walked with him she rambled on about how much she enjoyed his movies, which Cole seemed to find amusing.
“Are you from Ireland?” she asked. “You always sound so American in your movies, but tonight you’ve had this Irish brogue, and you’ve been using these more Irish expressions.”
Cole laughed at that. “Born and raised in Chicago,” he said. “The last movie I did before this was in Dublin, and I guess some of that brogue stuck with me. Add to that, we’ve been filming since six this morning. After over twelve hours, you tend to get a little punchy.”
“Chicago, huh? Des Moines, Iowa, myself,” Emily said.
Cole gave her a suspicious look. “Bears fan?” he asked.
“Nope, Packers all the way.”
He shook his head. “You’re too beautiful to hold that against you. And anyway, that makes us almost neighbors. Pleased again to make your acquaintance, Emily Mignon.”
Cole held out his hand again, and this time their handshake lingered long enough that Emily’s cheeks felt as if they were on fire, but she held her gaze on his.
“I’m only two doors down,” Emily said in a near breathless voice.
When they arrived at the apartment, Emily gave Cole a quick tour of the living room, den, and finally the kitchen, while Winston waddled along with them, all the while panting happily. Cole let out a long whistle. “A stunning place,” he said. “For a Des Moines girl, you’ve done good.”
“Thanks, but I’m only house-sitting here.”
Cole looked around the kitchen admiringly, then took a closer look at the espresso maker. “A DeLonghi,” he noted. “Very nice. A hell of a gig you’ve got here, Emily.”
“Someone must’ve been looking out for me. So what’s your pleasure? Espresso, cappuccino, latte, coffee?”
Emily directed him to take a seat at the granite countertop while she busied herself making coffee for the two of them. “I don’t have much to offer outside of this,” she said, “If you’d like some doughnuts, I bought a box yesterday from a pretty good bakery, and they should still be good.”
“After breathtakingly beautiful young women and ugly bastard dogs, there’s nothing I love more than a good doughnut. I do believe I hit the trifecta here.”
“What do you think about pizza?”
“Fourth on my list.”
Emily was near floating on air as she got the doughnuts out and poured coffee for the two of them. “I really do love your movies,” she said. “I think you’re a wonderful actor, even if you’re a Bears fan.”
Derek Cole made a face at that. “If you can call what I do acting,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned they use me as if I’m little more than a flesh and blood G.I. Joe action figure. They have me sit around until they’re ready to position me the way they want me. Sometimes they have me utter a few lines. Sometimes they tell me to act a certain way. Like ferocious.” All at once Cole’s expression changed to reflect ferociousness. “Or stoic.” And then he became the picture of stoicism. “Or fearful.” Cole then exaggerated his fearful expression to something almost comical, like the way a silent movie star might’ve acted. “Anger.” He looked so bizarrely angry right then, as if steam were about to pour out from his ears, that Emily almost spat out hot coffee laughing. Cole smiled at the reaction he got.
“Of course, I’m nothing but a complainer,” he said. “It pays the bills, after all. And with this movie, we’re on location, so at least there’s no blue screen acting. I actually get the luxury now to be able to act against real actors as opposed to imaginary CGI characters. And it’s a romantic comedy, so for this one I get to be used as a flesh and blood Ken doll instead, which allows me to express a completely different range of emotions.”
Derek Cole rattled off a list of potential emotions and expressions more common for romantic comedies: obliviousness, annoyance, confounded, consternation, interest, desire, and finally, horniness. After announcing each of these he proceeded to act out the word in an exaggerated manner, which got Emily giggling. He seemed pleased by this, and when he finished his demonstration he polished off the chocolate glazed doughnut he had picked and took a long sip from his coffee mug, emptying it. “Real acting is the stage,” he said, “not what I do. But enough of such matters. Tell me about yourself. You must’ve been a cheerleader back in high school breaking dozens of boys’ hearts. And how exactly did such a delightfully beautiful girl from Des Moines end up here in Manhattan?”
Emily was feeling increasingly comfortable around Cole, but his last comment still got her to blush and she took his coffee mug to refill it so that she could hide from him exactly how crimson her cheeks were becoming.
“I was never a cheerleader,” Emily said, her back turned to Cole as she poured more coffee into his mug. “I had other interests back in high school. And I don’t think I broke too many hearts either, at least none that I was aware of.”
Emily shrugged. She turned back to him and handed him a fresh cup of coffee. Derek Cole’s smile turned wicked seeing how deep her blush had become. Emily found that she didn’t mind. On the one hand, it seemed unreal to her that she was sitting in her apartment having coffee with a world-famous actor, on the other, it felt so natural being with him. His smile was infectious enough to make her start grinning herself.