San Diego Ritz Carlton Hotel, Room 1109. 10 pm, Sunday October 5.
"I can't believe we've gone this long without anyone finding out about your immigration status," I said as I dropped my suitcase on the floor and flopped onto the couch. "The Ritz certainly has a nice interior decorator," I thought as I looked around the large hotel room. "Now what was it that I was going to tell Nick?" I shrugged, hoping I would remember it later.
"Who in the world do you think is suppressing the information?" I asked as Nick came into the room.
"Dunno," Nick mumbled. He sighed, setting his own suitcase down next to mine. I looked at my gubernatorial boyfriend: His face was drawn, and despite my efforts to the contrary, he had a rather disheveled look about him; this disheveled look, as I have discovered to my chagrin in recent weeks, is quite appealing to many women.
"Back rub?" I asked him, scissoring my legs. Nick shook his head.
"Good thing the election is in a few days," he commented. And it would be good to see who would win this election. I'm not quite sure who'd I'd vote for if I weren't voting for Nick. I would vote for Bustamante, perhaps, but even at this late date, I am not sure any one of the remaining 134 candidates is a right choice for me. Except Nick. I know he's right for me.
Sighing, Nick straightened, and placed his hands on the small of his back. Just where I'd like to place my own hands. I slid one of my shoes off and pulled my knee towards my chest, hoping to attract his attention.
"A foot rub, then?" I next offered Nick. He shook his head again. He was so tired, he wasn't even noticing my efforts.
"I'd offer to rub your feet for you, madame, but I myself am pooped," Nick said to me as he carried the rest of our luggage into the rather striking hotel room. His eyes were shadowed with fatique from the grueling campaign trail. Nick grunted when he bent down to set the luggage on the floor.
"There is always the tub," I said coyly, sliding my other shoe off and rubbing the newly released foot. Was it my bleary eyes or was steam rising off my foot? I decided it was my bleary eyes. "A hot bath always makes you happy," I finished, the hope in my voice raising the word 'happy'. At that remark, Nick straightened.
"Not tonight, dear. I really do have a headache," he told me. Striding into the bathroom, I heard him drawing the bath water. Did this mean he had been teasing and was issuing a invitation?
I started to get up off the bed when the bathroom door shut firmly. I had my answer: when Nick shut the bathroom door, he meant he wished to be alone. Groaning, I leaned back onto the couch when I heard the snick of the bathroom door opening.
"Rae, could you get me my bath kit?" Nick asked. His face was obscured with steam.
"You bet," I said, trying to hide the disappointment in my voice. But hey, I signed on for this impromptu campaign trail and tiredness was part of the package.
"Thanks," Nick told me through the steam and shut the bathroom door again. Ah! He wanted a sauna to relax before bed. I glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Just after 10 pm. In less than seven hours, Nick and I would be awake, with breakfast rolling into the room.
By six thirty, the two of us would have to be lipstick perfect, ready for the car to take us to the day's events. Just a few days to go.
Opening Nick's suitcase, I took the toiletry bag--a handsome one and I wondered where Nick had obtained it, for I certainly didn't give it to him--and carried his toiletries to the bathroom. Softly rapping on the door, I entered the steamy room.
"Where are you?" I asked.
I glanced around. The room was thick with steam and I could barely see the toiletry bag in my hand. "Where?" I asked again, reaching out my free hand. It encountered what felt like the vanity and sink. Other direction, I told myself.
"The tub is on the left," Nick responded. I decided I'd slide first one foot then the other foot. After a few steps, my foot encountered the bathtub.
"There," I said. "I'll unzip it for you. What do you need from this?" I asked him.
"Um, the bath gel you gave me," Nick replied. In the steam, I smiled. I unzipped the toiletry bag and set it down on the floor. Nick claimed the lavender scent of the bath gel calmed his frazzled nerves and helped him get to sleep. Secretly, I had to agree. I liked the bath gel for the softening effect it had on Nick's skin. I found the bath gel, opened the lid and squirted some in what I thought was Nick's direction.
"Hey! That's cold!" Nick said. I thought he had raised a hand but through the steam I couldn't be sure.
"Can't help it."
"Just as well. I'm sorry about tonight, Rae. I didn't know the campaign trail was going to be so rough and tumble."
I shrugged my shoulders then remembered that Nick couldn't see me. Hell, I could barely see the tub. The last of the bath gel squirted out of the tube with a loud pfffzzzzzt!
"More fiber in your diet, dahrling," was Nick's reply. I love the way he says dahling and I grinned to myself.
Without warning, I giggled. "Twas the tube, m'love. I'll get some more bath gel tomorrow. Or today. Or yesterday, or whatever day it is now. Tuesday or Friday?"
Nick chuckled in response and I put the top back on the empty bath gel tube. "Seems like everyone is wanting to contribute to UMC's coffers," I next told him. And boy, was that true! Although the press still hadn't discovered Nick and Matt's non-citizen status, my two favorite men had changed the focus of their campaign towards charitable fundraising. In the past month, Nick and Matt have raised more money for charities than most of the City's socialites raised in a year.
As if reading my thoughts, Nick inquired, "When does the media discover that I'm not a citizen?"
"Hopefully, not until after October 7," I replied, perhaps a bit too cheerfully for Nick sat up and leaned close to my face. "Oh! You're there," I told him. And there he was, not six inches from me.
"What do you mean, not until October 7?" he asked, his dark eyes serious. The space between his eyebrows was furrowed with worry.
"It's just two days away," I said but I could see that he might be a bit concerned about any legal consequences of his gubernatorial campaign. "What I meant was, was, that, uhm, weeeelll," I began, knowing that I was stumbling over my explanation.
"Well, what? The election is on October 7th. Matt and I need to be off the ballot, luv," Nick told me.
"But the campaigning is going so well," And Sean is so jealous! I thought to myself, then bit my lower lip.
"What sharp comment are you biting back?" Nick asked, swirling his left hand in the steamy bathwater.
"The one where I tell off my soon to be ex and ask him, jealous yet, Sean? Well, bite this!" I told Nick. Traces of a smile curled his lips.
"Did you realize that Sean is covering Arnold's campaign?" I must have shaken my head no, for Nick continued. "Sean has got scored a major interview with the Terminator himself. That interview is going to be running in the next issue of People."
I snapped my fingers, remembering what it was that I had forgotten to tell Nick. "Did I forget to tell you that Jane phoned?"
Nick looked confused. "Huh?"
"Jane magazine. Harmony mentioned it over dinner."
"Jane? I'm not familiar with that magazine."
"You're gonna love it. Jane herself wants to do the interview."
"I thought Jane was the name of the magazine."
"It is. Jane is also the name of woman who runs the mag."
"Ah. Like Oprah?"
"Yes. No." I giggled. "I'll get a copy at the newstand on the way out in the morning."
"All right. I'll finish soaking, then come to bed. Do you want the tub refilled or are you going to wait until the morning to shower?"
"I'll shower in the morning," I replied, knowing that Nick liked to shower at least twice a day.
Nick smiled, then leaned back. I watched his face disappear into the steam and I felt a momentarily flash of disappointment. The flash of disappointment melted and I stood up.
"Ooo," I said.
"Head rush?" asked Nick. He was totally obscured with steam.
"Did you know you have a form of high blood pressure?"
This I didn't know. "No."
"It's called hypotension. A leading cause of falls in the elderly. See you in a bit, luv," Nick told me. I gingerly felt my way out of the bathroom into the much cooler air of the hotel room. Shutting the door behind me, I next found my way to the nearest chair and wiped the sweat from my brow. Then I realized what Nick was doing.
"That scamp!" I exclaimed. Nick kept me in the steamy bathroom long enough so I'd break out in a sweat, thus guaranteeing himself a freshly showered bedmate. I didn't like to go to bed when I was all sweaty, although I didn't mind getting sweaty while in bed. I chuckled to myself. Surgeons!
Leaning back on the couch, I saw letter and a parcel sticking out of my briefcase. Norman had overnight expressed the letters to me and I couldn't possibly figure out what could be that important to cause Norman to overnight express these letters to me here in San Diego. Sean wasn't currently suing me, nor was anyone else I knew about suing me. There were no creditors trying to dun me.
Curious, I took the mail out of my briefcase and looked at them. The first letter was from CURE, a monthly cancer magazine geared more towards the layman than the researcher. CURE stood for: Cancer Updates, Research & Education and I had submitted two articles for the Q&A section: one on Charles Grayning's scare with gynecomastia, a condition which can be easily confused with male breast cancer.
The second article Q/A dealt with 12 year old Tangie Grayson Miller's on-going bout with multiple myleoma and her subsequent entry into a clinical trial using Thalomid, better known as thalidomide.
"Oooooo! Goodies!" I said to no one and ripped open the envelope from CURE. Scanning the contents, I let out a shout of "whooo, hooooo!" One of the articles were going to be published in upcoming issues; it was the Q&A on multiple myleoma & I had used Tangie's case to highlight some of the recent developments in treating MM. Gynecomastia had just been covered in the fall issue of CURE. I held the acceptance letter to my chest and grinned hugely. "Nick!" I called, then frowned. He couldn't hear me with the water running. I just had to share my news.
I got up and went to the bathrrom door, knocking before I entered. "Nick?"
"Come in!" he called back. I opened the door and stuck my head in. I heard splashing sounds and figured that he was in the midst of soaping up. "CURE magazine accepted my my Q/A article on Tangie."
"That is great! Can I read it first?" he asked me through the dense steam.
I giggled. "Yep. Now that it's in the publishing process, I don't see the harm." See ya in a bit, babe," I told him then shut the door so he could have his steam bath. I fairly skipped back to the couch. Sitting down, I set the letter aside and took the parcel from my briefcase. I turned the parcel over looking for a postmark. There was no postmark.
Now I was getting a bit concerned. The parcel was done up in plain brown packaging, with packing tape. On the back, there was a surprisingly good hand drawn picture of a man's profile. I frowned a moment, thinking the profile looked familiar, but I couldn't place the face. I then carefully opened the package.
Out fell a videotape, and a photo with a letter clipped to it. The letter was written on pale pink stationery. I looked at the photo of a well-maintained fortyish woman and glared. When I read the second letter, hot anger welled up inside me. I clenched my fists, crumpling the letter and threw the wadded paper across the room.
I ripped the photo in half and tossed it down on the couch. I didn't need to look at the videotape because I knew damn well what (and who) was on that damn videotape.
In the steamy bathroom, Nick smiled to himself as he rubbed a loofah over his feet. He was reallly glad about Rae's magazine article and he thought that perhaps its publication would give her a bit more confidence in herself, something she had lacked in the last several months.
He also hoped his ploy had worked and Rae would take a shower before retiring. He really was getting a bit fussy as his 34th birthday approached. Nick sincerely hoped he wasn't having a mid-life crisis while still in his thirties; he wouldn't know what to do with himself if he had a mid-life crisis right now. How else could he react to a a mid-life crisis? Nick had already moved halfway around the world to be closer to Rae in the hopes her marriage would end (a prize he'd gotten despite Rae's asking him to return to Greece so she could work on her marriage).
Despite his mild protests in private, Nick was really enjoying doing the charity fundraising circuit. The circuit was exhausting when done on a daily basis but thrilling when Nick considered the benefits. He'd never done anything like the efforts he and Matt were expending on the fundraising effort this past month. To date, he and Matt had helped raise just over two million dollars for various causes, both for UMC-backed charities and for charities like the Humane Society. Nick was rather proud of his efforts and Nick knew that Matt was feeling good about himself as well.
Like the rest of the world, Nick did think it strange that no American media hounds had discovered the fact that neither he nor Matt were US citizens and thus ineligible for to run Governor of California. Yet two days before the election, the two men were still on the ballot.
As he had explained to several members of the Greek media, Nick suspected that with all the attention focused on Arnold, those candidates with less than 1% of the vote weren't really high on the American media's to-follow list.
And speaking of Greek, Nick knew his parents were quite proud of their son. They sent him packages with newsclippings and video footage. Rae liked to thumb through the clippings while Nick translated for her. She had decided to begin Greek language lessons and Nick promised to spend an hour a day teaching her Greek.
Now Nick focused his loofah efforts on his left heel, a particularly nasty spot as of late. As he scrubbed, a worry line appeared between his dark eyebrows. He was still a bit worried about possible legal consequences resulting from this campaign and he knew he should have checked with legal counsel before beginning the campaign.
However, UMC's regents were more than satisfied with Nick and Matt. Since UMC would have checked with legal counsel, the regents' reaction indicated to Nick that he and Matt were in the clear.
Happily, Nick's worries about legal consequences would be remedied quite shortly. Tomorrow, at the end of the day, he and Matt officially planned to withdraw from the recall race.
Nick finished with his bath and stood up. With his foot, he opened the drain then turned the shower on to cool, allowing the water to flow over his body.
San Diego Ritz Carlton Hotel, Room 1204. 10:30 pm, Sunday October 5.
"Did you know that all our expenses for room and travel are being paid for by contributors?" Harmony asked as she set her suitcase down next to the bed. The suitcase obligingly thumped on the floor and promptly sprang its buckles.
"Buggers!" Harmony cried as her carefully packed clothes spilled out onto the floor. "I'll just leave it. I'll deal with it in the morning." She was a bit cross from the long day on the campaign trail. Being a gubernatorial candidate's girlfriend was simultaneously thrilling, tiring, iritating, and boring. Harmony liked all the travel and was thrilled to meet so many people.
But she was bored to tears hearing all the same phrases over again, especially "It's so nice to meet you, Miss Zimmerman." Harmony was positive that there was a sarcastic tone to that particular phrase, most often said by people who made politics their lifeblood. While en route to their next destination, Harmony had spent the better part of the travel time debating with Matt over tonal inflections.
And she was just as positive that these women were being catty because Harmony was so much younger than they. "And with patent applications in, even!" Harmony thought smugly to herself.
"What's buggers?" Matt asked, entering the room with his own suitcases. He grunted. "Why did I ever pack so much?" he complained to the room in general.
"My suitcase popped. I think the buckles are busted," Harmony told him. "And you need all those clothes," she added.
"We'll get you another suitcase, luv," Matt replied, smiling at her. "And if I need all these clothes, why didn't the contributors find us some bellhops?"
"They did, but you gallantly turned away the bellhops," Harmony reminded him with a sweep of her hand.
"Grrrrrr," was Matt's only reply. He stooped to place the suitcases on the floor. "Remind me to call for bellhops in the morning, else I might strain my back," he said, then looked at Harmony. "Now there's a good lass," he commented, a smile filling his face.
Harmony was gleefully jumping up and down on the bed, a huge grin on her face. "Kinda helps relieve the tension of the day. You should try it," she offered her hand.
Matt hestitated a moment, glancing around. He bit his lip.
"Silly! There's no one here but us gooby birds," Harmony teased. Her hair was flying up and down.
"Gooby birds?" Matt asked, a grin suffusing his face. "Is that anything like Rae's boo-birds?"
"Mmmm, I suppose. Goobies are gubernatorial candidates. Someone's new slang terms that I picked up on the train this afternoon," Harmony replied. "Come on! This is fun!"
Matt thought a moment, then decided to throw caution to the wind. He climbed up onto the bed.
"Can't jump too high, else I bump me head," he told his girlfriend. "But it's fun!" Matt admitted, and jumped a bit higher. "You sure have a lot of energy!" he said. The bedsprings began to squeak rhythmically.
"Comes from all the cafe Americanos," she replied. "Large cafe Americanos," she corrected.
"You had three today that I noticed."
Matt's jaw dropped. "You're going to be up all night!"
"True," Harmony conceded. "But there's only tomorrow to get through."
"And at the end of the day, Nick and I will be officially off the ballot."
"Yep," Harmony responded cheerily. "Hey, do you know that Rae thinks you and Nick are going to be on the ballot and that she'll get to vote for you two?"
Harmony nodded. "She does."
"Hasn't she figured out that we're withdrawing as of tomorrow evening?"
Harmony shook her head and bounced higher. "Nope."
"Should we tell?" Matt inquired.
"Nuh uh. Let her be surprised. She thinks we're going on Good Morning America on Tuesday morning. Uhhhhhh!" Harmony slipped on the comfortor and fell sideways. Her head hit with a loud thump on the nightstand next to the bed.
Immediately, Matt stopped jumping and got on his knees. "Harmony?"
She moaned and raised her hand to her head and kicked her legs, trying to get some purchase on the comfortor. Harmony managed to roll over on her back.
"No spinal injuries," Matt observed as he watched Harmony roll on her back. Her face was harlequined with blood. "Don't move, luv," he cautioned her. "Let me see." He inspected Harmony's wound, then moved her to a more comfortable position.
"I'm going to get a towel and then get Nick up here. That needs stitches. Hold the pillow case, like this," he next instructed Harmony.
"I feel sick," Harmony said.
"Sudden blood loss can do that to you," Matt said as he pulled Harmony's knees up to her chest. He held her hand tightly against the pillowcase that was quickly becoming soaked in blood. "Nick will be here shortly."
"Make it quick. I really don't feel well." Matt reached over and picked up the phone receiver. He dialed Room 1109 and waited for someone to pick up.
"It will be all right," he told her, wiping her sweaty and bloody temple. "Pick up the phone," he muttered as the phone rang and rang. "For God's sake, I hope they're not googling!"
"Hello?" Matt heard Rae's cautious voice ask.
"It's Matt. Harmony's got a gash on her temple she needs stitched."
"Harmony? How did she hurt herself?" Rae asked. Then Matt heard, "Nick? Harmony needs your stitchwork, babe. Matt, how'd she hurt herself?" Rae asked again.
"Just get Nick up here," Matt said, annoyed at Rae's question. "We'll fill you in when you get here." Matt hung up the phone then pressed his hands over the wound. Very pale now, Harmony just moaned in response.
With the dial tone sounding in my ear, I hung up the phone.
"How bad is it?" Nick asked as he grabbed his doctor's bag. I shrugged.
"He didn't say. Can't be too bad, else he would have phoned 911," I replied.
"Come," Nick ordered. I jumped off the couch and followed him out the door. Following after Nick, I noticed that he hadn't put on any shoes and he was dressed in what he referred to as his lounge clothes: a very soft pair of pale grey thin flannel sweatpants and a white tshirt. A odd mixture of fabrics, I mused as we took the stairs two by two to the next floor.
Moments later, we were at the door of 1204. Nick knocked first. "It's us!" he called. Inside, we heard a murmuring, then heard Matt's footsteps coming towards the door. He opened the door.
"That was quick!" he told us.
"Surgeon on call!" Nick said as we entered the room.
I blanched a little when I saw all the blood. Despite my being an oncologist and performing surgery, I prefer that blood be seen under the microscope. "Good God!" I exclaimed.
"What happened?" Nick asked as he headed towards Harmony. He placed his doctor's bag on the bed and sat down. I went over and stood next to Matt.
"I fell," Harmony softly replied. Nick glanced at Matt.
"You look sheepish," Nick said to Matt. Matt looked away. "Here, let me see," Nick told Harmony as he gently removed her hands then lifted the pillow case to examine the wound. "Ah, easily fixed. Hold this," he told her as Harmony pressed once again on the wound. He glanced at Matt.
"Bed jumping," Matt finally offered. Nick nodded and went into the bathroom. He turned on the hot water and began to scrub his hands.
"Bed jumping?" I asked. Matt nodded. I continued. "Aren't you..." but I stopped when I saw Matt shaking his head and holding a finger to his lips. I furrowed my brow, then remembered that Harmony had been taking a lot of chiding this last month regarding her age. I had to admire Harmony not only for her grace under pressure but also for her witty comebacks when someone mentioned her relative youth.
"Stress relief," Matt said. Then he grunted. "I'll get some hot water and a washcloth. He'll need to wash the blood off." Matt looked around the room, then spied the plastic ice bucket. "There. That will do just fine!"
"Good idea," Nick replied, returning from the bathroom, holding his hands up. He moved sideways so Matt could enter the bathroom. I felt useless, so I just remained where I was standing.
Somehow, Nick knew what I was thinking. He looked at me. "Rae, could you get some gloves out of my bag?"
"Of course! I should have thought of that myself," I nodded, rummaged in his doctor's bag and withdrew a pair of surgical gloves heremetically sealed in its own packaging. I helped Nick with the gloves.
While Matt gently sponged the blood away from the wound, Nick took out a suture kit and began his preparations. "I'll have you fixed up in a jiffy," he told Harmony. She moaned and moved her legs closer to her chest.
"This isn't going to affect the last day of the campaign trail, is it?" Harmony asked.
"Last day of the campaign trail? What do you mean the last day? Tuesday is the last day!" I exclaimed. With a sinking heart and rising panic, I noticed Matt and Nick glancing at each other.
"Luv, Matt and I are withdrawing from the recall as of tomorrow evening," Nick quietly commented.
"Withdraw from the recall? Why?" I inquired more forcefully than I had intended. "No one's found out about your immigration status!"
"We...we were thinking it would be a good idea to withdraw tomorrow. In case of legal problems," Matt informed me. I looked at Nick but he was avoiding meeting my gaze.
"We are supposed to go on Good Morning, America on Tuesday!" I sputtered, throwing my hands up into the air. The panic rose hot and fast in my throat. This couldn't be happening to me a second time.
"Could you lower your legs, Harmony?" Nick asked her. Matt went around and sat on the end of the bed. He pulled Harmony's legs straight, then leaned on them so she wouldn't try to raise them and bump Nick.
"GMA has been lined up since forever!" I said futilely, hoping that I could avoid the inevitable realization that I wouldn't be on Good Morning, America, an unrealized dream that I had carried since I was in college and my newly-acquired sculptor slash photographer boyfriend Barry Brinks had been showcased sans moi on a GMA segment.
Now I noticed Nick glancing in my direction. He apparently sensed my train of thought. "Well, depending on what the producers think, we may still get on GMA," Nick commented as he lowered the needle towards the gash in Harmony's forehead.
Nick glanced at me. "Rae, I know you were expecting to go on GMA, but Matt and I really think it's better if we withdraw from the recall. This way, California can also avoid a recount if someone is disgruntled that we didn't withdraw in time, thus causing votes to be cast for us."
Given the current discontent in California, I had to admit the recount option was a distinct possibility if Nick and Matt didn't withdraw from the recall. I tried to hide my disappointment but I knew Nick was correct. I was fuzzy on the law, and election law is especially confusing.
I had had enough of election law back in 2000 but I knew that if someone disagreed with the California recall election results, they could demand a recount. Under California's law, that disgruntled voter would then have to pay for the recount on a daily basis, a potentially huge cost and a huge disincentive to not demand a recount.
Then I realized that there was also another possibility. If Nick and Matt were still on the ballot and since they were not citizens, then someone--or a political party--could try to challenge the recall election results in a court of law, further complicating things. If the election office failed to pick up on the fact that two recall candidates were not citizens, then the recall election results could be thrown out.
"I understand," I said, as I shuffled my feet. I then decided to make the best of things. "At least we raised a lot of cash for charity!" I commented brightly. Seeing that my assistance wasn't needed, I went to sit down on the couch.
"That we did," Nick murmured. "Matt could you reach into my bag and get my penlight? I need more light on the wound."
Matt got the requested item and held it so Nick could see better. "Ah, luv. That's gonna heal just fine," he reassured Harmony.
"Hey, could you tape cotton balls to my eyelids?" Harmony asked.
Nick paused in his ministrations. "Cotton balls?"
"Yeah. I don't want to see the needle. I hate needles," Harmony replied.
"Can't you just close your eyes?" I asked.
"Nuh, uh. I could, but I think it's going to take a while to stitch me."
"She's right," Nick said. "It's an inch-long wound."
Monday, October 6, Ritz Hotel, San Diego. 6 pm.
"Whew! What a day! I'm pooped!" I remarked as I sank gratefully down into the chair. The hotel bar was crowded with people and I had chosen a private corner remarkably located just beside and slightly behind the entrance. An equally weary Harmony eased herself into the chair across from me so she could get the fellas' attention when they came in. Harmony held her head in her hands. I peered at her more closely.
"You all right?" I inquired.
"Yeah. No headache but the stitches hurt," she replied. Sitting up, she opened her purse and rummaged through it for the painkillers Nick had prescribed. It had taken Nick an hour to stitch up the wound.
When he let her look at his stitchwork, Harmony was quite impressed with Nick's handiwork and told him he should consider going into practice with Jackie. Nick had smiled at the compliment; a surgeon is usually noted for their incisions, rather than their stitchwork and like many surgeons, Nick allowed the OR nurses to close wounds.
Matt had told her even without Mederma, the resultant scar would be hardly noticeable. Harmony had managed a wan smile before dropping off in a mild sedative induced sleep. As a result less sleep last night, today had been especially tiring for the four of us (and somewhat annoying for me).
I had been miffed since I learned that Nick and Matt were pulling out of the recall race but I agreed with the reasons. The recall election results could have been challenged in a court of law and voided, necessitating a second recall election. It was this line of reasoning which induced Nick and Matt to pull out of the recall race.
And much to my annoyance, I strongly suspected that the four of us would not be appearing on Good Morning, America on Tuesday. My annoyance is more to do with revenge on an aging adversary than a desire of plastering my beautiful face all over morning television.
I had been in college, liberated and fresh out of a summer romance with one of my professors when I had met the fast-rising sculptor and photographer Barry Brinks. Within days, he'd bedded me and photographed me to my utter delight.
At the time, one of Barry's sculptures, Rising Dawn, recently had been placed in the lobby of New York's Chelsea Hotel. As people were a bit weary of the oil crisis, Carter and things in general and America was in search of lighter fare, GMA producers had phoned Barry, arranging for a film crew to come in and film him at work on his latest sculpture: a Greek style nude sculpture in chocolate. The nude chocolate sculpture was Barry's gimmick.
I was to be his sculpture model for the GMA clips, and thrilled, I had told everyone I knew to watch GMA on September 26th. But before the clips could be aired, Barry and I had broken up when I caught him with another woman.
Sherry Chalkey was my adversary and twenty five years ago, she had usurped my place on GMA when I had broken up with our mutual boyfriend Barry Brinks. Thing was, while Sherry knew about Barry's duplicity, I did not know, and to exact revenge for my breaking up with him, Barry had asked GMA to refilm the segment showing Barry sculpting the chocolate into the form of a nude, nubile young woman.
As I mentioned, the model was supposed to have been me but my big mouth enabled Sherry to snag the spot on GMA and have herself a happy little modeling slash acting career. All these years I had taken secret joy in the fact that Sherry's twin careers melted down by the early eighties. Barry fared rather well on the arts scene until New Year's Day, 1988. At the start of a cross-country car trip that he planned to videotape, Barry Brinks had died in an unexplained, lonely late night car accident near the Hollywood Reservoir.
I knew Sherry Chalkey was still out there and after twenty five years, she was still lording her GMA film clips over me. I knew all of this because the letter I had crumpled up last night read:
I know you remember me and I certainly remember you.
Enclosed please find a copy of the Good Morning, America segment on our late boyfriend Barry Brinks.
Had your big mouth not gotten in the way, it could have been you posing artfully in the buff. I've also enclosed a recent photo of me. I hope you like the pose!
ALL my best on your newest boyfriend's election campaign (and by the way, Doctor K's quite a hottie! Mind if I cut in again?)
And now Sherry Chalkey was trying to make a move on my boyfriend. I was prepared to go to battle with her; Nick was a prize worth fighting for. Harmony nudged my arm and I came out of my reverie. "Huh?" I asked her.
"Drink?" she inquired and indicated the waiter patiently awaiting my order.
"Champagne, brut," I replied. I looked at Harmony. "You having a drink?" The waiter left with our drink orders.
She shook her head. "Not with these painkillers. Plus, Matt's done some sleuthing and discovered that my extreme reaction to alcohol is known as acute alcohol intolerance where I get the giggles, my face turns beet red, and I get a thunderous headache. It's otherwise known as the Asian flush."
I raised my eyebrows. "Interesting."
"Sure is. I'm having some testing done to see if I have the deletion of the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 enzyme."
"Okay," I said but I wasn't understanding. I was hoping Harmony would fill me in.
She did. "If the ALDH2 enzyme is deleted, there's an accumulation of acetaldehyde in the liver which increases the intoxicating effects of alcohol."
"So that's why you didn't drink wine when we were campaigning in Napa," I commented. And Harmony hadn't drank wine or any other alcohol at all during our time on the campaign trail. She didn't like the side effects of her drinking alcohol, so she drank very small amounts of alcohol in private. Only rarely did she take her whiskey in public.
Harmony nodded. "Depending on your source of info, up to 50% of Asians have the deletion of the ALDH2 enzyme. This is especially interesting to me because I'm adopted but don't know my full lineage. Irish, yes because of my birth surname origin, but the deletion of the enzyme would point towards someone in my recent ancestry as being of Asian descent."
"You think you're part Asian?"
Again, Harmony nodded and fiddled with a cocktail napkin. "That's what the geneticist thinks." She looked up at me. "Matt was sure surprised. He'd always wondered how come I could have such extreme physiological reactions yet within six hours, I'd have no hangover symptoms."
"A fast metabolism."
Harmony smiled and looked at me. "A fast metabolism is why the geneticist encouraged me to have further testing done. So now I am awaiting the results...hey, Matt, Nick! Over here!" Harmony waved her hand and Matt and Nick made their way through the crowd. Several people pointed at them and smiled in recognition. Matt and Nick waved as they passed by..
"Umpf! What a day!" Matt said as he approched our table. "Evening, luv. How's the head?"
"Stitches hurt, but no headache," Harmony replied.
A waiter seemed to appear out of thin air with Harmony's and my drink orders. "How do they do that?" I thought to myself. He also placed on the table a tray filled with appetizers.
"Mmmmm," I said, reaching for a fried mozzarella stick.
"Glass of Chardonnay," Nick told the waiter.
"Same here," Matt said. The waiter left.
Nick bent down and kissed my cheek. "Evening."
"Evening to you, babe," I told him. Nick sat down and watched as Matt lifted the edge of the bandage and examined Nick's handiwork. "Very good," he informed us and sat down.
Thinking better of himself, Matt stood up. "Time for the gents," he informed us and weaved his way through the milling crowd. He stopped several times to greet someone and I noticed he didn't shake hands. Seems the man has gone germ-phobic in the last several months.
"How was it?" Harmony enquired of Nick. She meant "how did the press take the announcement of the sudden withdrawal from the recall race?"
"Those questions just kept coming!" Nick told her. He leaned over and pulled the appetizer tray closer to him. "But seriously, with all the attention focused on Arnold, the press kept asking questions, but didn't seem to be that interested in lesser candidates such as Matt and myself."
"That's rude!" Harmony told him. "We're interested in you." Smiling at Nick, she took a beef stick and dipped the beefy end in the hot mustard sauce.
Nick chose a spinach and feta cheese mix wrapped in a wonton wrapper. He smiled at Harmony. "I know and that's much appreciated, Harmony." He bit into the appetizer. "Mmm, these are quite good!"
Matt accompanied the waiter back to our table. He took his seat as the waiter placed the Chardonnay in front of him. "That's soda?" he asked her.
Matt reached for a mozzarella stick and I pushed the marinara bowl towards him. Some of the sauce spilled out on the table.
"When does our train leave?" Harmony asked, trying to stifle a yawn. Matt and Nick glanced at each other, small smiles on both their faces. I grew suspicious when those two got together and I wondered what else they had planned.
"Do you two have something up your sleeves?" I asked them. I leaned on the table and ended up getting marina dipping sauce on my sleeve for my trouble.
"It's a surprise," Matt said as I wiped the marinara sauce off my sleeve. I looked at Nick.
"I, well, actually both of us, have arranged a surprise for the two of you," Nick told me. I looked at Harmony; she looked first at me then at Nick.
"An early birthday prezzie, perhaps?" she asked Matt.
He shook his head. Then his brow furrowed. "It could be an early birthday prezzie. You'll find out tomorrow evening."
"Tomorrow? Can't you tell us today?" I implored. Nick and Matt shook their heads. "Please?" I gave Nick my best pout, one I usually reserved for the bedroom. He was unmoved.
"Tomorrow," he said firmly. "All will be revealed tomorrow."
Tuesday evening, October 7. Los Angeles, California.
Yesterday evening, I discovered part of the surprise the fellas had for Harmony and myself: they were the guests of honor at a black tie charity fundraiser. We ladies, naturally, were their dates. After we left the Ritz's bar, the fellas had taken the four of us to the airport instead of to the train station as we had expected.
At the airport, we discovered that
our host had sent a private plane to fetch us to Los Angeles. Once we touched
down at Santa Monica airport, we were whisked off in a limo to the Beverly
Hills Hilton. This morning, instead of appearing on Good Morning, America,
Harmony and I were taken to a spa, where we were worked on, shampooed (Harmony
had to keep reminding the staff of her injury), prodded, massaged, oiled,
and loofahed for several hours before we were given our choice of evening
Next, we ladies were hustled into another
limo and we went a round about route to our destination, taking a scenic
route towards Santa Barbara (I saw the road signs) then the driver swung
the car about. I had no idea where the four of us would ultimately end up. Slowing a bit, the limo pulled into a driveway leading
to impressively large home. There were no other cars and no sign of guests.
Either we were the first guests or else the other guests were dropped off.
"Niiiiice house," I murmured, pressing my nose to the glass. I felt someone gently swat my behind. I turned around and Nick was trying to hide a smile."Nick! Stop that!"
"Only if you kiss me," he told me playfully. Smiling I scrambled up onto his lap and did as he requested.
"It is a large home," Harmony said, then she squealed. "Horses!" She pointed out the opposite window at two horses which were complacently grazing the front lawn.
"I didn't know you could board horses in this part of LA," Matt said, adjusting his bow tie.
"Neither did I," Harmony said. "They're beautiful! Appaloosas," she informed us as we passed by the horses. Harmony opened the window and neighed loudly. The two horses raises their heads and looked towards us. Harmony neighed again and both horses tossed their heads and neighed back.
"Back in the car, luv," Matt said as he pried Harmony away from the window. She sat back in the seat, a huge smile on her face. Matt reached over and adjusted Harmony's hair to that it covered the bandage on her temple.
"Can we go horseback riding?" she asked him. He looked at her, then at Nick. Nick raised an eyebrow, a silent communication going between the two of them.
"After the stitches get taken out," he told her. She did not need to reply for her smile said everything. I thought that horseback riding sounded good and I made a mental note to ask Nick to take me to a dude ranch for my upcoming birthday--my first birthday since I had asked Sean for a divorce.
"Nick, how about taking me to a dude ranch for my birthday?" I found myself suddenly asking Nick. I was surprised. I hadn't meant to think out loud. Nick smiled.
Harmony picked up on this interplay. "Matt, me too! Please? Please?" Harmony begged. She made puppy dog eyes at Matt. From his expression, I could see that Harmony got her prize. I decided to use the same technique on Nick.
"Babe, please?" I pleaded and ran a finger down Nick's cheek. He tried to bite back a grin but the corners of his eyes crinkled. "Your eyes are crinkling. Does that mean what I think it means?" Nick nodded and I kissed him again. The limo stopped suddenly, and I nearly fell off Nick's lap.
"Hey!" I called. "Watch the driving!"
"Luv," Nick said, placing me on the seat next to him. The limo next lurched forward some distance before stopping again.
"Must be new to driving," I muttered as I ensured the car was really stopped. The rear passenger door opened and I collected my evening bag. Taking the proffered hand, I stepped out of the limo. Nick followed me, then Harmony and Matt exited the limo. The butler shut the car door and indicated to the driver that he could go.
We were escorted into a huge marble floored two story foyer lighted by a striking crystal chandelier. Nick whislted in appreciation. There were large photographs displayed in the foyer and through the doorways to either side of the foyer, there were apparently more photographs on display.
As the evening's benefit was to promote the Santa Monica Center for the Photographic Arts, it was not surprising there would be a large number of photos on exhibition. Through the door, I could see other guests mingling and admiring the photographs.
"Who is our host?" I asked Nick but he put his finger on his lips and shook his head.
"Surprise," he told me as the four of us slowly walked down the foyer, admiring the photographs. There were lots of surprises for me these past few days. Looking at the photo information, I saw some well known names underneath and I wondered who would be exhibiting this evening. Shortly, the doors to the back of the foyer opened and we got a look at our host.
Harmony's jaw dropped as she took in the identity of our host. "I can't believe it," she stage-whispered, her voice full of awe. "It's him! It's really, really him! I've always wanted to meet him, ever since I was a little girl!"
Our host smiled at us as he approached our little group. He needed no introduction. "Miss Harmony Zimmerman," he said to her. "Latin first name, of course. I am honored to make your acquaintance."
Harmony blushed and stammered out a hello but she was too excited when our host kissed her hand. "Charmed," he told her.
"Likewise," Harmony managed to say. She tried to stifle a nervous giggle and Matt must have thought Harmony was going to faint for he put his hand under her elbow to steady her.
Our host turn his attention to me. "Doctor Rae Brennan," he said pleasantly. His voice was mellow, and I felt a momentary dizziness. My reaction was surprising to myself because I certainly have met a large number of people during my career, both in and outside the medical field.
My next coherent thought was, "I'm going to swoon," I thought wildly, smiling as the host gently took my hand and kissed it. "Now I know how women felt when they met Ol' Blue Eyes."
"Charmed," was all I could stammer and mentally I thumped myself on the forehead. After years, decades even, pining to meet this man, I finally get the chance and all I could say upon meeting him is "charmed?"
I believe our host noticed Harmony's and my own nervousness for he turned his attention to Nick and Matt.
"Doctors Slingerland and Kokoris, I presume?" he asked the fellas. Nick and Matt shook his hand in turn. "I am honored that you accepted the invitation I extended last month. It's quite a wonderful thing you two have done managing your charitable campaign."
Last month? This benefit was arranged last month? I looked at Harmony in surprise and she returned my expression with a slight shrug of her shoulders. What other secrets did Nick have up his sleeve? I suddenly noticed that I had missed part of the conversation and when I turned my attention back to the introductions, I heard Matt saying,
"...it is indeed true that the American media didn't pick up on certain small, but highly relevant facts," Matt said, a bit of a chuckle coming at the end of his sentence. Tearing my eyes from the benefit's handsome host, I glanced at Nick and saw a small smile playing at the corners of his smoky eyes. That sneaky scamp! He knew I had always wanted to meet our host and he arranged all of this for me! I would have to thank him later.
Our host laughed. "I have some of the more interesting international articles about this campaign, if you care to look at them," he offered congenially.
"That would be a pleasure," Nick replied.
Suddenly I found myself looking into our host's eyes. "Control yourself, Rae," I cautioned myself. "Breathe, breathe, breathe," I silently told myself as I held our host's gaze.
He spoke before I did. "If I'm not mistaken, I believe there are photographs on exhibition that were taken by an old friend of yours, Doctor Brennan," he told me.
"Old friend?" I inquired. Puzzled, I looked at Nick. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
"I was told his name was Barry Brinks," our host told me.
I hoped I was successful in holding
back a choke. I glanced at Nick. This
time, it was Nick who quizzically looked at me, one eyebrow cocked.
"Ah, yes. Barry Brinks was a friend of mine," I told my host. "He exhibited his photos and sculptures frequently in the 1970's. Barry died in, uhm," Damn, I was stammering! "in 1988 if memory serves me correct," I added nervously for my companions' benefit.
"I gathered that Barry was a rather close friend," my host mysteriously said. Now Nick gave me a sharp look that meant: "what is going on?" I gave him a look back that I hoped translated into "Trust me. I'll tell you later," but I'm not sure if I managed to get that thought across to Nick.
Our host cleared his throat. "If you'll follow me, I'll take you to the Barry Brinks exhibition." He motioned for us to follow him. I looked around at my companions. Nick nodded and we trailed after him. We entered the large room to the left of the foyer and our host smiled and nodded to other guests as we moved through the room.
"Wow!" Harmony said. "These are good!" She paused momentarily to look at large black and white photograph of sunbathers. "Good contrast," she commented. Matt paused with her.
Nick and I continued to follow our host and shortly I found myself standing in shock, gazing at a small, tastefully arranged and lighted photo exhibition. Nick was at my elbow and I was glad I couldn't see his immediate reaction. People were motioning at us. Personally, I was hoping that the people were recognizing Nick and not myself.
For what in front of my wondering eyes did I see but a highly selective Barry Brinks exhibition. The subject of the tastefully posed nude photographs? Yours truly.
The photos in front of me were some two dozen or so photographs of the six rolls of film that were taken to my utter delight a few days after meeting Barry Brinks. I had forgotten about these particular prints and their existence simply because I have never seen the prints. After our breakup, Barry never showed me the photos and I never heard about a Barry Brinks exhibition using those particular photos. So they slipped from my mind. Until now.
My host smiled at me. "I am afraid I did not know the identity of the lady in these photos until this evening. But I must say, these are magnificent photos of you, Doctor Brennan," he told me. His tone was warm and sincere. Somehow, I managed to look at him and smile.
After a few heartbeats, I managed to find my voice. When I spoke, my voice sounded raspy and very small. "Barry was a wonderful photographer," I said, trying to remain outwardly calm. I noticed Nick had silently moved off and was looking at each photograph in turn. From my vantage point, I couldn't read the expression on his face as he moved through the exhibition.
"What does Nick think of me now?" I silently asked myself. Any damage was already done and I hoped that Nick wouldn't think of me too badly. I knew I had kept a secret from my beloved, a secret that might have had some impact on him, had he remained on the recall ballot. Bleakly, I wondered how Nick was going to react.
"Tasteful," aren't they?" a woman's voice sounded behind me. I turned around and got the second shock of the evening.
"Sherry," I said, pressing my lips together until they formed a pale line despite the deep red of my lipstick. "Sherry Chalkey." Apparently, Sherry had already exchanged introductions with our host for she nodded at him. He nodded back.
"A pleasure, I'm sure," Sherry replied tartly, smiling at me. "Fancy meeting you after all these years, and fancy meeting you here," she chirped at me. I didn't bother to reply. Mentally, I regressed to a twelve year old girl and began hoping that Sherry would pop out of existence with a bang, or an alien spaceship would zap her atoms into outer space. It was possible that Sherry would show consideration for her fellow humans and take a deep dive into the La Brea tar pits.
While I was dreaming of ways to rid myself of Sherry Chalkey, she said, "Interesting that I'm the executor of Barry's estate, yes?" Sherry next inquired and waved her hands at Barry Brinks exhibition.
"I see," I said through the red haze that was forming behind my eyes.
"They're really very good photos, Rae.
You shouldn't react so badly," Sherry told me. A catty expression moved onto
her face. "Miranda Silver isn't that shocked," she cooed at me and turned
to our host. Thanks to Sherry, I received my third shock of the evening.
Barry's mother was here at the exhibition? Good god! What does she think
of me? I had never met Barry's mother, but I had spoken to her over the phone
when I had learned about Barry's death. I looked around the room, trying
to figure out which older woman was most likely Miranda Silver. There were many older women from which to choose.
To our host, Sherry said, "Thank you so much for having these photographs on exhibit. Barry Brinks was way ahead of his time with photography." She smiled at our host, who appeared puzzled at my angry reaction. Someone called his name and he inclined his head towards us.
"Enjoy the exhibition, ladies," he told us and shortly Sherry and I were left alone in a corner of the exhibition area.
"You god damn bitch," I told her, not bothering to hide the anger I felt. "How could you do this to me?" I spit the last word and waved my hands around in mock imitation of Sherry's earlier gesture. "How could you do this to Doctor Kokoris?"
Sherry shrugged her shoulders. "You know, I really didn't see what Barry saw in you, Rae."
My mouth dropped. What was she getting at? Sherry moved a bit closer to me. I could smell her perfume. "Like your perfume, you're still cheap, Sherry."
She appeared to be offended. Taking a step back, she theatrically put a hand over her heart and said, "Ouch. You haven't changed either, Rae. You're still ruled by juvenile emotions." Then she brushed a wisp of long blond hair behind her ear and looked at me triumphantly. "I might as well tell you that I fixed things so you would accidentally walk in on Barry and myself that night."
This revelation really stunned me. My heart was thumping so hard, I wasn't sure if I would not need to be air-lifted to the nearest hospital for cardiac monitoring. "You did what?"
Sherry smiled at me. "Barry didn't have any idea what I was up to. He was as innocent as a lamb. I told him that you had stolen my boyfriend from me and I wanted you to feel the same hurt that I felt when I 'accidentally' walked in on you and Mark. Poor Barry never suspected a thing," she said. She rubbed her right hand fingernails across the flimsy fabric of her bosom. Sherry's expression grew hard and again she stepped closer to me. "I was the one who should have been the model for the GMA segment, so I fixed things. You walked in on Barry and me just as I planned. And you reacted the way I wanted: you immediately dumped Barry. I then lobbied for the modelling job." She smiled smugly at me.
"You troll," was all I could sputter as I took in Sherry's smug expression. "You smelly troll."
"If I recall correctly, Rae," Sherry now informed me. "It was me who had the movie career."
"A blessedly short movie career," I retorted, tossing my head. Slowly, a horrifying thought occurred to me. I pinned Sherry with a hateful look. "Did you also 'fix' Barry's car accident?" I watched Sherry's face closely. Although Barry's death was deemed accidental, the police couldn't come up with any other theories except that just after 1 am, New Year's Day, Barry ran his car off the road near the Hollywood Reservoir.
"No!" was Sherry's reply. I wasn't an expert on tonal inflections but I thought Sherry's voice sounded a bit insincere. Or maybe it was my imagination. Or maybe it was the champagne. "How could you even think I'd do such a thing?" Sherry asked me, a hurt look coming across her face.
"Considering how you planned my exit as Barry's girlfriend, I thought your trollish mind would concoct such a plan," I replied hotly. Enjoying her shocked reaction, I continued. "What did I ever do to you?"
Sherry snorted but didn't answer.
I decided to try a different tactic. "Barry's been dead since January 1, 1988. Why are you doing this to me now?"
In reponse, Sherry shrugged her shoulders.
"Well?" I pressed. A glimmer of an explanation came to me. I decided to go for it. "Were you perhaps a bit...jealous of my campaigning and of my being on tv?" I spit the last word out and was rewarded when Sherry visibly cringed.
Sherry looked away and although she
was in profile, I knew she was biting her lip. I was quick to realize that
I had hit her where she hurt. Her twin careers had been short--very short--and
apparently she was jealous and angry. To her, I must seem like a prize right
now, with a handsome boyfriend, a handsome male friend, tv coverage, a nice
career. All things she obviously doesn't have and wishes she did have.
Sherry looked back at me, her gray/blue eyes hard as flint, and said, "It's not fair that you got a second chance, and I didn't! I was flayed by the movie critics, Rae, flayed! I was thought of as just another pretty face on the B list and when I auditioned for serious roles, not one role was offered to me," she hissed.
I wa incredulous. "So you decided to get back at me for your career failures?" I asked. "Why me?"
Sherry sniffed. "Despite our differences, Rae, these photos are absolutely stunning. There's talk of taking this exhibit around the country."
Now I was understanding. Sherry was feeling a career pinch and as the executor of Barry's estate, there was a possibility of her earning cash. "And a nationwide exhibition of never-before-seen-photos-by Barry-Brinks would bring in some cash," I offered glibly.
"Not some cash," Sherry corrected. "A lot of cash. Though half of it would go to Barry's mother, the other half is mine."
"So you decided to try and bring me down to boost your own financial prospects," I commented drily. "And by bringing me down, you stood to bring Doctor Kokoris down as well. And Miss Zimmerman and Doctor Slingerland." If there had been a window nearby, I would have happily thrown Sherry out of it.
Sherry merely shrugged her shoulders again. "Seemed like a good idea," she said. "Unlike a lot of other California voters, I didn't care one way or the other about your precious boyfriend's political career. I heard he's quite popular on the charity circuit. Him and Doctor Slingerland."
I gritted my teeth and then saw Matt and Harmony walking towards us. "Damn," I muttered. "Just what I need now." Harmony paused to look at one of the photos, then she did a double take and looked at me.
Matt approached and from his expression, I could see the questions forming in his mind. Matt was raised up with manners, and I knew he would attend to introductions before satisfying his curiosity as to how I became the subject of the Barry Brinks exhibition.
"And who might this lovely lass be?" Matt inquired brightly as he took Sherry's proffered hand. Instantly, Sherry changed her personality. Apparently, years of acting lessons have paid off.
"Sherry Chalkey," she replied, her voice thick with honey. "The executor of Barry Brinks' estate." Sherry gave me a sideways glance. "And, a college classmate of Rae's." She would have to add salt to my wounds.
"Doctor Matthew Slingerland," he replied. For some reason, I was shaking my head and Sherry noticed as Matt let go of her hand. Sherry's eyes lingered on Matt's handsome face.
She batted her eyelashes, flirting with Matt. "Absolute pleasure to meet you, Doctor Slingerland," she purred. I barely restrained myself from slugging her. Confused, Matt looked from Sherry to me to my clenched fist then looked back to Sherry. I raised an eyebrow and I hoped that Matt picked up on the tension between Sherry and myself.
"Fascinating," he told her. "Just fascinating." Matt gave Sherry his Slingerland smile, a smile guaranteed to melt any woman in her shoes. I know; Matt's used that smile on me when he wants a special favor and despite my attachment to Nick, I'm not immune to Matt's charms.
Noticing the silent exchange between Matt and myself, Sherry turned her attention to me. "Now come on Rae, you know you agreed to these photos when Barry took them. Remember? You signed a release form." Sherry informed me. "I found it amongst his papers during probate."
I bit back a sharp comment. "We attended the same college, yes, but we didn't know each other." Damn, you Rae Brennan!" I told myself. "I think you just gave her the opening she was looking for."
"But we both knew Barry, Rae," Sherry said sweetly.
Matt must have thought it would be a good time to intervene before hair started flying. "Did you sign the release forms?" Matt inquired of me. I nodded and sighed. Might as well face the music. Matt continued, "Rae, the photos are smashing. You kept your modesty while allowing the camera to play over the beauty of the female body."
Sherry grinned hugely. "That's what Barry said about these photos. I was over at his studio one evening after he developed them. Despite everything between us, Rae, I had to admit they were excellent photographs."
Barry certainly did not show me these photos. "He showed you these photos?" I asked Sherry.
"Mmmm, hmmm," she replied cattily. "Now, dear, don't look so upset. Like yourself, I plumb forgot about them until our gracious host put out the request for any Barry Brinks photographs. Whoops. Look at the time! I've got to mingle!" Sherry batted her eyelashes at Matt again. "Pleasure to meet you, Doctor Slingerland. You were wonderful during your charitable campaign. Quite an original concept. I hope you'll introduce me to your charming lady friend."
"I shall bring Miss Zimmerman around to meet you, Miss Chalkey," Matt said agreeably. Sherry smiled at Matt then walked off without a backward glance at me.
"What...may I ask, was that about?" Matt inquired of me when the two of us had some measure of privacy.
"And a story I'd like to hear. Really, Rae. Don't be so ashamed of these photographs. They are simply smashing," Matt told me, smiling in reassurance.
I sighed. "It's not the photographs.
It's the circumstances under which I'm seeing the photographs at this time,"
I told him and sighed again. "And the timing is really bad. The other day
and totally out of the blue, Sherry sent me a nasty note which dredged up
an old memory." I heaved a deep breath and out of the corner of my eye, I
spotted someone carrying a tray of drinks around. I motioned her towards
I looked up at Matt. "The last person I wanted to run into again was Sherry Chalkey. And tonight, she told me some things I didn't know before. And then, this," I waved my hand to indicate the exhibition.
"I take it you and Sherry didn't have a very good relationship?" he asked softly, pulling a glass of champagne off the tray. He handed me the glass and took a glass for himself. "Thank you," he smiled at the lady. She smiled back and moved away. I took a sip of the champagne.
Taking a glance around the room, I noticed that Nick was sipping champagne, and walking slowly from one Barry Brinks photograph to another. He occasionally tilted his head and smiled at people who recognized him from his campaign.
"No," I finally replied. I decided to be honest as this exhibition might affect Matt as well. "Expertly played for the fool by Sherry, Barry was two-timing me," I bluntly told him. "When I found out about the duplicity, I dumped him for it. At the time, I didn't realize that Sherry had intended for me to catch her in bed with Barry. There's more, but I don't want to go into it now." I didn't know who to be more angry at: myself or Sherry. All these years I thought Barry had been scum by two-timing me when all along he had been played for the fool by Sherry.
"Mmm," Matt murmured.
"It's good. The champagne, I mean," I commented and sipped again, hoping some of the edge would be taken off of my anger. Matt suddenly smiled and I looked in that direction. Harmony was approaching with a glass of soda in her hand. As with all her formal public appearances, Harmony was laying off the alcohol.
"These are really good photos, Rae. When were they taken?" she asked me, a smile on her face. I looked at her and with a start, I noticed that Harmony her smile was genuine. She really thought the photos were good. I felt some of the anger melting.
"When I was in college."
"The images are quite compelling. I like the way Barry flaunted the nude female body while maintaining total decency. The wispy scarves give an added touch of mystery. It's as if Barry is asking: "who is that woman hiding behind the scarves?" You should be really proud of them, Rae," she told me, the warm sincercity showing in her voice. She smiled and I knew she really meant what she said.
"Thank you." I was suddenly glad for the friendship that had developed between Harmony and myself this last month on the campaign trail. I really needed a friend at this moment.
Over Harmony's shoulder, I spied Nick coming towards me. Noticing that he had my attention, he merely looked at me steadily. His face held no expression. Without realizing it, I found myself holding my breath. "Here comes judgment day," I said to myself. "Breathe, breathe, breathe." Thankfully, I remembered to breathe.
I watched Nick approach. As he neared, I thought I saw him slow his steps a bit. "There's only two outcomes: either Nick hates me, or he's going to stand by me. And he has excellent control over his facial expressions. How does he do that?" I wondered and nervously waited for his judgment, thinking how Nick had kept his secret about this fundraising bash for a month. I had kept my secret for twenty five years.
And I had kept my secret from Nick since the day I had met him. Nary a mention had I made of the photos I had posed for when Nick and I had attended other photography exhibitions. What would he think? I watched him approaching and knew that in moments, I would have my answer.
"Well, well, well," he said. He looked around at Harmony and Matt; both of them were trying to hide smiles. "Seems like someone's been hiding secrets from me," Nick told me playfully, then leaned down and kissed my cheek. "These," he indicated Barry's photos, "are very well done. Couldn't have taken better photographs myself." Placing a finger under my chin, Nick tilted my face up and looked into my eyes. "You have nothing to be ashamed about, luv."
I couldn't help myself; I giggled softly. "Thanks." Nick leaned down again.
"And you look as good today as you did twenty five years ago. I heard the history from our host," his voice whispered in my ear. "This is a wonderful surprise and my only question is: why did you wait until now to let me know about this? You know I appreciate art." He kissed me.
I must have smiled because Matt smiled, then Harmony smiled. Matt offered Harmony his arm and Nick offered me his own arm. "Shall we?" Blushing, I accepted his arm and leaving Matt and Harmony to wander around the rest of the exhibition, Nick and I began to mingle with the crowd.
I felt the warm glow of acceptance. My man loved me, and was willing to forgive my secret. With a start, I realized that I wasn't angry at Barry any longer and I was feeling so good I was almost ready to forgive Sherry for her part in bringing Barry's photos to exhibit. For the first time since Sherry had sent me that spiteful letter, I felt happy. I wondered if Sherry realized that her plan to publicly embarass me had backfired. Then another thought occurred to me. What if Sherry had planned things to turn out this way?
Off in the corner, I noticed Sherry chatting up our congenial host; the poor guy looked ready to bolt. Noticing my long glance, Sherry narrowed her eyes, and looked daggers at me. I immediately scratched out my latter thought. There was no possible way that Sherry Chalkey arranged a Barry Brinks exhibition for my pleasure.
As Barry's executor, Sherry stood to
make a boatload of cash from any exhibitions...wait just one darn moment!
Was Sherry Chalkey Barry's executor or was she Barry's executor?
Depending on the syllable stressed, the word executor means different things.
Of course, one definition of the word is obsolete, but still, how had Sherry
pronounced the word? For the life of me, I couldn't remember.
I nudged Nick. "I'd like you to meet
someone." Without waiting for an answer, I pulled Nick towards Sherry. Hearing
footsteps, Sherry turned. Her smile was so huge, her face nearly cracked when she saw Nick. She
held out her hand.
"Doctor Kokoris," she said.
"I'm sorry, as a surgeon, I never shake
or kiss hands," Nick said quite seriously. "Must keep my babies safe," he finished. Sherry looked stunned for a moment, trying to regain her composure at being snubbed in a roomful of onlookers. I tried to snuff a smile but I must not have been successful
for Sherry glared at me before turning her attention back to Nick.
"I'm Sherry Chalkey," she informed
him. Seeing as how Sherry already knew his identity, Nick didn't respond.
I wanted to get the answer to my question
then go mingle with the other guests. Behind Sherry, I saw Matt pause with
Harmony. They were going to watch the exchange between Sherry and myself. "Sherry, Nick and I were
just arguing about something. "
Sherry raised her eyebrows, inviting
me to continue.
"He says that as next of kin, Barry's mother would
have been named executor her son's estate."
Sherry shook her head. "I, Rae," she
told me nasally, "was named executor." She pronounced the word with the stress
on the first syllable, thereby giving the word executor a somewhat sinister
Matt chose this moment to wave Nick
over. "Charmed, I'm sure," Nick told Sherry. He pulled me away. Glancing
over my shoulder, I saw Sherry pout then turn back to continue chatting with
our host. But our congenial host had used the opportunity to slip silently
away. I gave a silent three cheers for him. I could just imagine the look
on Sherry's face.
As we walked towards Matt and Harmony, Nick said, "If she thinks this exhibition is going to embarass you, luv, she's dead wrong," Nick told me. Surprised, I looked up at him and he smiled down at me. "Our host told me the two of you nearly got into a cat fight. And," he softened his voice. "in the motel room, I saw the ripped photo she sent...and the letter. And the video. She's a nasty one, she is."
I tried to hide my emotions but wasn't quite successful. Sherry glared at me, then turned her attention to our host. From the way she was behaving, I think she was hoping to score an audition from him. Nick patted my arm, and grinned at someone who called his name.
A woman carrying a drinks tray passed by. Nick took the opportunity to replace our champagne glasses. He raised his glass in a toast.
"To the most beautiful woman I know," he told me. I did the best thing I could under the circumstances. I blushed. Then I raised my glass.
"To the most understanding, intelligent, witty, mysterious, wonderful, handsome man I know," I replied. I must not have been happy looking, because Nick leaned down, and kissed my cheek.
"Forget about Sherry Chalkey. She's not worth your time," Nick told me. I shook my head and a puzzled expression came across Nick's face. He raised an eyebrow in question.
"Nick," I said slowly. "I think Sherry may have been involved in Barry's death."
Nick sucked in his breath. "You think?"
Nick looked at Sherry, who had moved to the other end of the exhibit area.
She was chatting up our host again. By this time, he was looking everywhere
except at Sherry.
Nick looked at me. His face showed
concern. Looking him straight in the eye, I nodded and a tear slipped out
of my eye. Nick wiped the tear away. "You're upset because of what Sherry
sent in the mail, and by what Sherry did tonight. It unnerved you."
I shook my head. "No, Nick," I said,
another tear slipping out of my eye. "She stressed the first syllable of
the word executor." Nick looked confused, so I clarified. "Stress on the
first syllable and the word means executioner. Stress the second syllable
and the word is a legal term meaning a person who is appointed by a decedent
to carry out the terms of the decedent's will."
"And that word stress makes her a murderer?"
"No. She said something to me when
the two of us were alone just a while ago. She said she fixed things so she
would get the Good Morning, America modelling gig with Barry. That gig was originally mine. GMA filmed
me and when I caught Barry sleeping with Sherry, I dumped him and he dumped
my part in his segment and used Sherry. And," my voice was choked with tears.
"And you think Sherry might have had
something to do with Barry's death," Nick finished.
"She said she fixed things, Nick. She
said she fixed things. I want to know what that means. And I want
to know what else she happened to fix. Barry's death in the one-person car
accident was unexplained."
Nick looked at me for a moment. A mixture
of emotions played across the planes of his face. "You sure about your intuition?"
I snuffled and Nick reached into his
pocket, pulling out a handkerchief. I accepted his offer and wiped my nose.
"You heard her say she's also Barry's executor and I know Barry happened to
do quite well for himself after the GMA gig."
Nick took my free hand. "You're going to need some hard evidence, Rae. You
know that, don't you?"
I nodded. "And I think I know just
where to get it." Nick cocked an eyebrow at me. "After all, Nick, Barry does
have a mother and don't mothers like to store their children's belongings,
especially if their child dies?" Nodding, Nick put his arm around me and
I leaned against his comforting chest. "Thank you, Nick. Thank you."