We fell naked into bed, finally. For weeks, meaningful glances and flirtatious remarks anticipated the day we each knew would come. His hand on my breast, rough beard against my cheek, and hot breath in my ear—heaven. I wrapped my arms around him. “I love you,” I whispered. In his eyes, I saw he loved me, too. If only his touch could last an eternity …
“Cut.” Morgan Breedlove approached. He covered us with a blanket and sat on the edge of the bed. “That’s fine, except you’re rushing through it. Remember, you’re trying to make this moment linger. Erica, darling, you look great. Chad, you’ve never been better. Okay, let’s try it again, only slower. Stretch it out like you want it to go on forever.”
I did want it to last forever, though without a film crew looking on. Briefly, I considered flubbing my lines, requiring additional takes. On the other hand, what would Chad think of me if I no longer remembered my dialogue? He was being the model of professionalism. I had to be a pro and stay focused.
Chad lay beside me, his eyes glazed over as if in a fantasy. I wondered what dreams churned through his mind. I hoped they meshed with mine. As usual, the lighting tech made a few adjustments before the next take. The crew murmured in a smattering of French and English. Filming on location in Paris was sheer pleasure.
Morgan had wisely scheduled the intimate scene for the final week of shooting. The tension had built slowly over the weeks. I felt it. Chad did, too. There was an oddness to it, though. Our breakup had been filmed several days ago. When the finished production hit the theaters, that would be the final, bittersweet scene—a guaranteed tearjerker.
“Quiet on the set.” Morgan motioned for the clapper. “Okay, take two. Action.”
I put all my effort into loving Chad. The world and time faded. Only Chad and the passion between us remained. His lips, his hands—
“Cut.” Morgan’s sharp command shook me from my performance. It took a few seconds to unlock my eyes from Chad’s.
Morgan brought over our robes. “I’m sure we got it on that take. Let’s wrap for today. Erica, darling, we’ve got the café scene with Betty Hammond in the morning. It’s your final mise en scène.” The pretentious term rolled off his tongue. “Don’t be late.”
I frowned but couldn’t blame him for the admonishment. Mornings did not suit me. Chad stood, in his robe, talking to one of the lighting technicians. Had he lingered in hopes of hitting on me? I hoped so. I pulled on my robe and sauntered over—didn’t want to appear too eager.
“Erica, you were superb.” He gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. The lighting tech discreetly withdrew. “That second take was great.”
“No better than you. Been working out, haven’t you?”
“Got to stay in shape for these sex scenes.”
Was that how he saw it? I thought of it as a love scene.
He continued, “I must say you look mighty fine with or without your clothes. Can’t say that about everyone.”
“Everyone?” I raised my eyebrows. “Have you seen everyone naked?”
He laughed. “You know what I mean.”
“I’m going up to my room and get dressed. Join me. I have a bottle of wine. We can celebrate making it through that scene.”
“I’d love to, dear, but I have to do one of those damned promotional interviews. Got to stay on good terms with the media. They can make or break us.”
“Sure. I’ve got your number. I’ll give you a buzz.”
Chad took his leave, and I motioned for Stacy.
“You were fine, Ms. Lake. It’ll be your best film yet.” Her perky persona often annoyed me.
I waved off her praise. “We’ll see. I want a shower and some rest before dinner. Take my extra key card and wake me when it’s time.”
Up on the fourteenth floor, we parted. Her room, directly across from mine, allowed for a quick response when I wanted her, but enough distance for privacy when I desired.
The shower relaxed me, but as I toweled off, anxiety intruded. Had I been too forward with Chad? Too transparent? Didn’t want to come off as desperate. Had I? Shit. Perhaps I had spoiled my chance. No, that couldn’t be right. I felt the attraction when the cameras were rolling. And the crew could tell. How embarrassing if he didn’t show up. Goddammit. I slipped on a t-shirt and sweatpants and sent a summoning text to Stacy.
“Find out what floor Chad is on,” I snapped as she entered.
How did she already know? I found her efficiency both irritating and valuable. “Check with Chad’s assistant. What’s his name?”
“Ah … Dirk.” I remembered him—a young, dark-eyed guy with enough sex appeal to be a movie star himself. I wondered what his future held. “Let me know what’s on Chad’s schedule for tonight.”
After she departed, I tossed restlessly, dozing off and on. The clock on the nightstand advanced its digits slowly. I had finally achieved a decent descent into sleep when a knock at the door woke me.
Stacy slipped in and spoke softly. “Sorry to wake you, Ms. Lake, but it’s six-thirty. Should I make dinner reservations?”
“Give me a few minutes,” I groused. She turned to leave. “Wait. Where’s my phone? Oh, here it is.” Damn. No message from Chad. Probably tied up with promo interviews. “How’s the hotel’s restaurant?”
“Not memorable, but decent.”
“Okay. Let’s do that. We’ll dine together unless you have other plans.”
“That’s fine. I’ll probably go out later if that’s okay.”
There were times I envied Stacy. She didn’t have to worry about attracting the Paris paparazzi. I dressed casually and stuffed my hair under a hat.
Stacy had arranged a secluded table in the far corner of the restaurant. I ordered the salmon. Stacy had a salad. Damn her. She always looked trim. I couldn’t exist on a salad.
“What did you find out about Chad’s plans? Did you talk to him?”
“He’ll call later.”
“It’s what Dirk said.”
We dined quietly. Stacy knew when to keep her mouth shut. I lapsed into a sexual fantasy, replaying my scene with Chad. He must be having the same dreams. I couldn’t wait to feel his hands on me.
As we rose to leave, a middle-aged man rushed toward us. Stacy alertly blocked him. He craned his neck around her.
“Ms. Lake, may I get a picture? You’re my favorite movie star.”
Damn. Too many Americans overseas. Couldn’t work anywhere without running into them. I smiled, though, and allowed him to take a selfie with me.
“Thanks, Ms. Lake. Join me for a drink, won’t you?”
It’s amazing how fans hit on me. They don’t really know me, and I don’t know them. They live in a dream world. I politely refused, citing my need to memorize tomorrow’s script. Can’t alienate your fan base. That guy will likely imagine a fantasy in which we end up in bed. When the movie comes out, he’ll probably envision himself in Chad’s role.
I got back to my room around eight o’clock. Chad would call soon. I slipped into my sweats, clicked on the TV, and surfed. An old Tracy/Hepburn film played with French subtitles on a classic movie channel. They always ended up together.
I must have dozed off. When I awoke, Tracy and Hepburn had been replaced by a sci-fi flick. Aliens were taking over the bodies of earthlings. I switched it off. Ten-thirty. Damn. Where was Chad? I decided to give him until midnight. He probably got caught up in the publicity machine. The minutes crawled. Midnight came and went. A little after one o’clock, I turned off the light and spent a restless hour or two before dropping off.
My phone chimed at the ungodly hour of seven-thirty. I groggily answered.
Stacy’s cheerful voice prompted, “Time to get ready for your scene.”
I groaned. “Call me in a half hour.”
“Okay, but we’ll have to hustle.” Stacy managed to inject a slight urgency, without crossing the line into nagging.
I pushed back anyway. “They can damn well wait. Can’t start without me.”
I ignored Stacy’s next call and finally rose at nine-thirty. As always, she knew when to stay her distance. We arrived at the café two hours late. Morgan scowled and muttered under his breath.
Betty Hammond gave me a friendly smile. She had been acting forever. Never a star, but a steady, reliable character actress. Morgan seated us at a table and began to direct the lights and camera into position.
Betty gave my arm a squeeze. “Don’t let Morgan get to you. We’ve all been late at one time or another.”
I smiled. So refreshing to get a little sympathy. “When did you get in?”
“Last night. Late. Flight got delayed. Ran into Chad at the airport.”
“Yeah. He said you were great.”
What an asshole, promising to meet me last night. He had no intention of coming.
Betty sensed my disappointment. “Chad said he regretted he didn’t have a chance to spend more time with you.”
What a lie, but I appreciated Betty’s intentions.
She squeezed my arm again. “Let’s have a drink later.”
Morgan’s voice rang out, “Quiet on the set.”
The scene dragged through numerous takes. Morgan seemed especially irritable, but we finally wrapped the shoot. What a relief to be done. Couldn’t wait to head home tomorrow. A short layover at JFK and then on to LA.
At the Paris airport, Stacy bought an American newspaper for me. She knew I liked crossword puzzles to pass the time while flying. I tucked it into my handbag.
Aboard the plane, I took the window seat. Not much to see, flying over the ocean, but I longed for the New York skyline to appear on the horizon. I pulled out the newspaper. In the entertainment section, a picture caught my eye—Chad with a young woman at an exclusive Parisian restaurant. Damn him. How could he? It should have been me. She looked barely legal. To hell with him. I searched my handbag for a sleeping pill.
“God, Jim, I’m weary of these roles. I want some good parts before I’m relegated to playing somebody’s mother. I turned thirty this year. The clock is ticking.”
“Erica, trust me. Just do this one. It’ll expand your options.”
“Bullshit. You said that two years ago with My Summer in Paris.”
“It did wonders for your career. Your fans and Chad’s turned out in droves, and it’s still popular on streaming sites. You two make a bankable pairing.”
Why did he have to mention Chad? It had taken months to banish him from my daily thoughts after he stood me up in Paris. “So, what’s the name of this one?”
“Uh … An Aspen Affair.”
“Can’t we have a more original title?”
“You know how the marketing folks think. Short, familiar-sounding titles are best.”
“Can we negotiate the nude scene?”
“It sells tickets. And you look good.”
“I’m thirty. I don’t have an eighteen-year-old body anymore. Maybe it helped me get started, but …” I took a deep breath and exhaled. “I have no regrets, but I want to move on.”
“Morgan Breedlove is slated to direct. You should be comfortable with him by now. It’d be your third with him, right?”
“Fourth. Yeah. He’s seen me naked more often than some of my lovers. Look, Jim, I won’t commit to it.”
“They’ll need an answer soon. If you don’t take it, someone else will.”
“I have to think about it. I’ll get back to you.”
Jim reclined in his chair and looked up at the ceiling as if contemplating the demise of my career. After a moment, he leaned forward and asked, “You doing the photoshoot for that magazine cover today?”
“It’s tomorrow. I need a day to rest up. It’s amazing how tiring just sitting can be.” I checked my watch. “I’m going to grab some lunch.”
A chilly wind whipped down the street as I ventured out onto the sidewalk. New York looked gray, as usual … and dirty. Much worse than LA. Couldn’t wait to get back there. I crossed the street to The Phoenix.
At my request, the hostess seated me by the window. A cute young waiter brought a glass of water.
“Good afternoon. My name’s Joey. What will you be having today, Ms. Lake?”
I loved it when young boys recognized me. “What do you recommend?”
“Our Reuben is very popular.”
“Okay … and a margarita.”
He was good. He didn’t blink at my ordering a drink at this hour. While I waited, I fantasized about him fantasizing about me. In the dream, the boy suddenly morphed into Chad. Jim’s mention of him revived the hurt from two years ago in Paris. The attraction had felt so strong. Then he ran off with that girl. Underage, some said. The hot pain and black nights that followed tortured me for months.
“Excuse me, Ms. Lake.” A chubby, balding man stood by my table. “May I get your autograph?”
I flashed my celebrity smile and signed his notebook. Before he withdrew, he laid his business card on the table. An investment banker. He had scribbled “call me” and his phone number on the card. Why did I draw the attention of middle-aged men and Chad attracted girls? Why couldn’t it be the other way sometimes?
Joey brought my lunch and drink. How nice it would be to get him into bed. If he wasn’t gay, that is. You can’t tell these days.
I took a rideshare back to the Madison. At the hotel, the desk clerk waved me over. She positively vibrated with excitement, her blond ponytail swinging to and fro.
“Ms. Lake, you have messages.”
I glanced through the stack of notes. None were of any consequence—just another form of spam.
“Ms. Lake, are you making another movie with Chad Harte? I loved My Summer in Paris. I cried at the end.”
“Thank you. We’ll see.” Being forever linked with Chad had become tiresome and, after Paris, painful. “Our schedules don’t always mesh.”
“Are you seeing him while you’re here?”
“What? Is he here?”
“Not here at the Madison, but he’s doing a talk show in the city.”
Damn. I gave her a smile and crossed over to the elevator. As I waited, a bespectacled, fiftyish man hastened toward me, sporting an unabashed lovestruck expression. Dammit. I brushed him off with a quick autograph.
Up in my room, I summoned Stacy. “Is Chad in town?” I asked as she entered.
“Yes, so I’ve heard.”
Goddammit. I quickly concocted a scenario of cursing him out, followed by his heartfelt apology. Then his arms around me and a gratifying session of lovemaking.
“Find out where he’s staying. Call his assistant, Dick.”
“He’s at the Clarion.”
She was a goddamn mind reader. “Find out if he’s with someone.”
Stacy opened her mouth as if to reply, but closed it and then said, “Yes, Ms. Lake.”
She knew. She knew he was with someone. Probably some aspiring starlet. If he called, I wouldn’t answer. No need to go through that torture again. His assistant, Dirk, was hot. Seducing him might be revenge, though I couldn’t exactly say why. At least it would be pleasurable, without expectations for a long-term affair.
Restlessness prevented napping. The TV offered no satisfaction either. I had just switched it off when my phone buzzed. Chad’s number flashed.
In spite of my intentions, I affected a cheerful nonchalance. “Hey, stranger.”
“Hi, darling. Just found out you were in town.” His voice brought back memories of Paris and our love scene.
“Yeah. Met with Jim Chandler this morning.”
“Still with him? You should get an LA agent.”
“Yeah, maybe.” An uncomfortable few seconds of silence passed. “Hey, I don’t forgive you for abandoning me in Paris.” I kept the tone light.
“Sorry, darling. Things came up. When you’re doing promotion, your time’s not your own. You have to satisfy your fans.”
“Satisfy. Now that’s a word that can mean many things.” But the way he said “darling” melted my resentment. “Saw your picture with that girl.” Damn. Shouldn’t have gone there.
“Oh, the press exaggerated it. She’s the daughter of a friend. She wanted a ‘date’ with a movie star. No romance involved. If it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else.”
I let his lie stand. “You’re doing a talk show, I hear.”
“Yeah. I despise those things. You have to do a million of them. You run out of things to say.”
“How about dinner?” I hated that he made me ask.
“I don’t know. My schedule’s tight. I can drop by for a few minutes … after dinner, maybe. Dirk says you’re at the Madison. Is that right?”
“Yep.” I struck a playful ambiance. “You’d better show up, or I won’t forgive you this time.”
He laughed. I did, too, and gave him my room number.
Stacy’s knock woke me from my nap. She entered, looking effervescent. Didn’t she ever sleep? Got to keep Chad from seeing her. He might—
“I wasn’t sure about your plans,” she ventured. “So, I’ve made dinner reservations for us. I can cancel if you have other arrangements.”
“No. It’s fine.”
“Sorry about Chad. Dirk says he’s dining with someone.”
“Who? Do you know?”
“The one from Paris, I think. I didn’t get her name.”
What a goddamn liar he was. If I had a gun, I’d shoot the motherfucker.
“Listen, Stacy, I won’t need you this evening. You may go out or stay in, just give me some space.”
The glass of wine at dinner and another in my room dulled my anger. I had just given up on Chad and poured one more when a knock on my door quickened my heartbeat. There he was, looking like a romantic hero.
He smiled and kissed me on the cheek. I wasn’t about to let him get away. Pulling close, I gave him a deep wet kiss and reached for his belt. He hesitated for a moment and then surrendered. We fell naked into bed just like in My Summer in Paris. But as a real-life lover, he rushed to his own pleasure.
Afterward, I lay in bed while he dressed. “Stay a while.”
“Can’t, darling. Duty calls. I’ll be in touch.”
“You’re a beautiful liar.”
He took it as a joke and smiled. He blew me a kiss and departed.
Finally, I had gotten him into bed. I counted it as a success. No desire to repeat it, though. On film, he performed like the greatest lover in the world, but in my bed he had been selfish. Now I could put him behind me. Hopefully, the next one would be a better lover. Couldn’t be much worse.
I arose in the morning, thinking of An Aspen Affair. Perhaps I should accept the role. It would perpetuate my sex symbol image. That aspect of my career couldn’t last much longer. Had to take those roles while I could get them.
I showered and dressed for the photoshoot. Hadn’t heard from Stacy. Normally, she would have buzzed me by now. I decided to go over and wake her for a change.
Just as I exited my room, her door opened and out stepped Dirk.
“Good morning, Ms. Lake.”
He looked damn good. “Having fun with Stacy?”
“Yes, Ms. Lake. I, uh, have to rush. Nice to see you.”
He gave a tilt of his head and made his way down the hall. Stacy glided out of her room, looking radiant.
“How long has this been going on?” I asked.
“Our paths cross every now and then.”
She suppressed a smile and nodded.
I agreed to do An Aspen Affair. The powers that be got Chad to sign on, too. It promised to be another hit. But I had wised up. His on-screen lover image had always been fake. I would resist his charms, no matter how badly he wanted me. Stacy, no doubt, approved of my decision, though she kept her pleasure to herself.
Ken Wetherington lives in Durham, North Carolina. He was the first runner-up for the 2022 Harambee Literary Prize. His stories have appeared in Ginosko Literary Journal, Remington Review, Lowestoft Chronicle, and others. His first collection, Santa Abella and Other Stories, was published in 2020. He may be reached through his website: https://kenwetherington.com or on Twitter: @KenWetherington