Authors: Rebecca Royce
His phone vibrated. Or maybe it was his entire body buzzing and not the phone.
“I could use a few minutes.”
Ian turned his back on Marie hoping, she’d take the hint. When he heard the door close, he was glad she had. He stared at his lifeline—he would never lose it again—and looked at the fifty text messages from his assistant and his publicist. They wanted confirmations on the pictures taken, a game plan, some plan to spin who Teirney was to the press.
He had no answers at the moment. Among his missed calls was the number he hadn’t expected to see. Teirney herself had phoned him. Emotions swept through him, ranging from happiness she had reached out to horror at the possibility she had somehow, in the midst of all her grief, seen the news report and wanted to let him know she found his life too complicated and he should go fuck himself.
Manning up, he put the phone to his ear and listened to her message. Elation filled him at her words, though his stomach twisted to think she felt the need to apologize to him given the kind of day she must be having.
It was almost time to go on stage. He had to put his head in the game so he didn’t blow his performance. Then he would figure out what to do about his situation. Teirney and the press would have to wait a few hours.
She didn’t hate him. Until after the show, her voice message would have to be enough.
The lights beat down on him and he waited for the applause to cool so he could say his first line. The spot seemed brighter than usual, and he wondered if something had gone askew with the lighting since Teirney wasn’t there to supervise it.
Maybe he was getting a headache.
Damn it, he shouldn’t be thinking about any personal shit at all. He was live on Broadway, which meant he wasn’t Ian Mackenzie. He was Buddy Vane, owner of a not-quite-making-it comic book store at the turn of the century. His wife had left him, and he was being pushed by local politicians to sell the store his father had opened years before Buddy had been born.
“I don’t know what it was that spring.” He spoke his line directly to the audience.
Ian had said the same words for months. With an occasional flummox, he could state them all rote. Usually, he loved it, lost in the moment. Tonight he was barely present on stage. Although he doubted the audience noticed.
Ian could always fake the shit out of acting when he needed to.
“The millennial spring. Months before the world would wait to see if Y2K would destroy us all. What happened was before then. I wasn’t worried about my computer crashing. No.” He shook his head and walked stage left. As he moved the spotlight followed. They really needed to dim it before he burned his corneas.
“All I knew was my dad had opened this place and it had always belonged to us. They say politics is always local. Well, I was about to find out how true those words truly were.”
“Buddy.” Kate, his co-star and love interest in the show until her character left him for a banker, stormed onto the stage. “Who are you talking to again?”
“No one, sweetheart. How was your mom?”
He hardly noticed the rest of the show. The audience laughed when they should. By the end, they were crying. Ian must have done his job right. But his mind was in Brooklyn, thinking of his girl.
“So who’s the girl?”
His assistant’s voice rang in his ear from his cellphone as he navigated around fans to make it to his car. For the first time since the show opened, he intended to avoid signing any autographs or posing for pictures.
He dodged a woman holding her iPhone and practically had to dive into the backseat of his waiting car. His driver slammed the door, and he took a deep breath. Unless the fans were superhuman, they weren’t getting through his locked car door to him tonight.
“I don’t know who she is. I mean, I know who she is. I don’t know yet what she is to me, and I need you to not make me answer questions about her yet. I’m not sure she knows she’s made it into the news with me yet.”
Or if she would kick him to the curb, again, when she found out. He had to go to Brooklyn and speak to her in person. But not tonight. He would go home and sort out his own head. Teirney was dealing with her grandmother’s death. He wouldn’t corner her and ask for answers until she’d had some time to process.
All he could do was hope he was making the right decision.
“I have to tell them something.” His assistant huffed. She was clearly repeating what she’d been told by his publicist. The two were often in cahoots. Both at their job, he usually appreciated it. Not tonight.
“Tell them Ian said to leave him alone.”
He disconnected the phone. There was someone who could tell him if he was doing the right thing. Austin was an hour behind New York, which made it only ten thirty local time for his sister. Plus Conner never slept. He had something called colic, whatever that meant, and she and Mason were apparently pacing the hallways of their house most nights.
Ian would hate to wake her if she happened to be catching some sleep. Yet she was the only person he trusted to tell him the truth.
He dialed her and waited. His sister answered on the first ring.
“I saw you on a gossip show today.”
“Why are you watching trash? Shouldn’t you be, you know, reading great literature to my nephew?”
Ian heard her groan over the line.
“He doesn’t know how to find his own thumb yet.”
“Don’t say such slanderous things. Conner is very advanced. And he looks exactly like me.”
She whispered her answer. “If Mason hears you talk about him resembling you again, he’s going to get his nose out of joint. He and his entire family think the baby looks exactly like him.”
New parents were such funny creatures. Maybe someday he would play one. Or…perhaps he might be a dad himself. Not that Teirney had reacted very positively to the picture of Conner. He couldn’t let his head go there yet. A single step at a time. Oh, who was he kidding? He never lived in the here and now. Teirney was a baby person; she didn’t know it yet. An entire person she could shape into an organized, on-time fanatic.
“I assume you saw the footage of me getting pulled away from the crowd.”
“Yep. That was it. Who was the girl? New fling?”
He closed his eyes. “Presley, she is so much more than a fling, and we’re still in such new days. I think I’m fucking the whole thing to hell.”
“Wow. I’ve never heard you sound so cut up about any girl before, big brother. Who is she and why are do you think you’ve made a mess of things?”
“She’s the stage manager of my show, which basically means….”
She interrupted him. “I know what stage managers do.”
“Okay, well, her name is Teirney. I’ve been watching her for a while. When I came from visiting you, I knew it was time to be real about things. She’s not the kind of girl you pursue if you aren’t willing to be serious.”
“First off, pretty name.”
“I know. It really is.”
He opened his lids. They were blocks from his apartment and traffic was bumper-to-bumper. He wasn’t moving anywhere fast.
“Second, there’s a type of girl who you date knowing you won’t be serious about?”
What was the matter with his sister?
“Do they know you’re thinking of them as a non-serious relationship?”
She really needed more sleep.
“Could you stay on topic?”
“Fine. So then what is the problem? She pulled you out of the rain. They made a huge deal on television about your girlfriend hating your fans. All I could see was the potential of you getting sick from being soaked.”
“She didn’t want me to catch a cold.”
His sister snorted. “I approve of her already. And….”
“And I blew it. Well, I didn’t mean to. She was taking care of her sick grandmother; the woman was dying. I kind of pushed, not terribly hard but pushed nonetheless, for her to take a night off, leave the woman with a caregiver, and come to my apartment.” He swallowed. “Granny died while we were sleeping.”
He heard a baby wail and Presley spoke to Mason before she returned to him.
“Mason is reaching his limit. Listen, you made an error. Probably should not have asked her to do anything while she was so heavily involved with her family. Although it’s not as if you knew what would happen and forced her to make a poor decision. At your point in this game, you need to retreat. A little space with women goes a long way. Let her cool. Then approach gently. I don’t believe you made a fatal game-ending error.”
When his sister went into video-game creator talk, it was time to end the conversation. Any second she’d be speaking code, and he wouldn’t follow any of it. She was brilliant and he was really proud. Just not as smart as she was.
“Love you. Kiss Mason. Or Conner. Hi to Mason, kiss Conner.”
“Pull it together, big brother. Love you, too.”
Presley wanted him to give Teirney space, which was exactly what his gut had told him in the first place. In a few days, he’d make contact again. Hopefully by then she would have missed him. He knew for sure he’d be longing for her.
“Would you sign this for Teirney?” Kate waggled a card in front of him. “You know, our stage manager who the press thinks you’re dating.”
“I know who Teirney is and I know what the media is saying,” he answered his co-star.
“What am I signing?” He took the card and the outstretched pen.
“It’s a card. Her grandmother died. The funeral is today. We’re all signing it and it’s getting placed with the flowers the crew is sending over.”
Ian handed her the card without his name on it. Kate hadn’t noticed the absence of his signature; she was looking at herself in the mirror. He sometimes wondered what took so much attention from her. She was pretty enough to attract a lot of guys. Not him, per se, because his heart was engaged elsewhere. Why did she look at her reflection for so long?
Oh, the strange oddities of his day-to-day life.
He wasn’t putting his name on a generic card. “The funeral is today.”
“Yes. In about two hours. Obviously none of us can go. It’s matinee time.”
Shit. She was right. Granny’s funeral fell in the middle of the show. He walked past Kate, and she didn’t look from the mirror to see where he went.
“Marie? Anyone seen her?” He cried out to the crew. “I’m not feeling well. I’m sick.” Cough. Cough. “Someone call my understudy. I’m sick.”
“Oh, God.” Kate called after him. “I wish you’d told me before I came in your dressing room. The last thing I need is a cough.” She gripped her throat. “I think I might have already come down with it.”
“Marie?” He had to leave.
Ian had planned to give Teirney lots of space. His sister thought it was best. But there was a funeral to go to for the person Teirney had loved so much she had moved in to care for her on her deathbed.
Surely his need to be there for her had to mean something. Afterward, he’d leave her alone if she wanted him to, for a while. But today was her grandmother’s funeral. He planned to be there.
“Oh.” He whirled around to Marie who came behind him. “I’m sick. Can’t act today. Sorry. Do you also happen to know where Teirney is having her grandmother’s funeral?”
Marie raised a dark eyebrow. “Sick, huh?”
“Yeah, horribly. I think I might throw up.”
Behind him, Kate shrieked. “Yes, me too. I think I’m also about to puke. I’ve caught it from you. What will the show do if I become sick?”
Marie shook her head. “Do you have a pen to write the address?”
“No, but I have my phone.” He waved it at her as she had done to him the day before. “Cough. Cough. Oh, no. I might have a fever. Hurry and give it to me.” And for good measure: “Please.”
Teirney hadn’t expected a large crowd at her grandmother’s funeral, and she didn’t get one. Most of her Granny’s friends had preceded her to death and, well, the fewer thoughts about her family the better, perhaps. Managing to smile at a kind neighbor who had stopped by, Teirney felt bone-weary. She needed to sleep for days.
She really had no idea how long Ian had stood waiting for her attention before she saw him. Before she could think better of it, she threw her arms around him. He wore a dark suit with a red tie and perfectly shined shoes, which glowed in the light of the sun flowing through the window. His presence was both so right and so completely foreign for her current circumstances.
Teirney let go and stepped away. Ian released her, his hand immediately moving to his head to brush his hair away from his eyes, a nervous tick she had seen him do on occasion, mostly when he had to speak to reporters. Everything Ian did was so sexy, she doubted anyone else ever noticed the nerves which went along with his particular movement.
“What are you doing here?” She checked the clock on the wall. “It’s show time.”
He mock coughed into his hand. “I’m sick.”
The smile, which hit her fast at his joke quickly faded as she remembered what happened when the star was out from a show.
“Does Marie have it all under control? Did they call David in to play the part? Did….”
Ian cut her off. “I don’t know. I assume so. And, right this second, it’s not our problem.”
“You’re right, of course.” Teirney would have preferred to have anything to think about except the current circumstance. Obsessing over the workings of
seemed tamer than death.
Ian pointed toward the front of the room. “I think they’d to start.”
And so they did. She sat at the front of the room by herself. Her parents’ very large, ostentatious white floral arrangement they had sent from whatever online flower shop they had found, partially blocking her view of the coffin. The dozen or so mourners attending were strewed out in various rows.
Ian—she was acutely aware of his presence the entire time—sat toward the rear. She didn’t hear any particular buzz in the room. If Granny’s elderly friends knew he was there, they either didn’t care or weren’t remarking. She tried to breathe and concentrate. The minister’s words moved right over her head. Time crawled, and then it was over.