"Just a little to the left. A little more. Yes, like that. Daddy, pull mommy a little closer. Annnnd perfect! ... Alright now, happy family, smile!"
"Smile," Grace echoed the photographer's directions through gritted teeth.
"I am smiling," Jamey hissed back. "I've been smiling for twenty minutes. My cheeks hurt!"
"We all have. Is it too much to ask to put in a little more effort?"
"Oh, so I don't work hard enough, is that it?"
"That's not what I--" Grace stopped mid-sentence, interrupted by Huxley's deafening wail.
"Great. Look what you've done," Grace spat, all pretense gone. "You've made her cry!"
"How is that my fault," Jamey shot back.
"It's the damn beard! She doesn't recognize you like this. It scares her."
"Here we go again." Jamey threw up his hands in an overly dramatic gesture. "You hate my beard, we get it. What about that weird blob on your head, huh? I don't tell you to change your appearance just because something looks stupid."
"You've never complained about my bun before." Grace reached for her hair, still rocking the screaming Huxley with the other arm. But the look of hurt on Grace's face quickly changed to one of rage again. "The beard makes you look ridiculous, and don't even get me started on that hat!"
"Oh, so now she has an issue with hats," Jamey scoffed. "I seem to recall a certain someone who wore a dumb hat all throughout high school and college."
Grace's outraged retort was interrupted again, this time by Jamey's phone.
"It's my editor," Jamey said curtly. "I need to go over there, it's urgent."
"Of course it is," Grace fumed. "Sure, fine. Leave. Whatever. It's not like we had to book this appointment here for months in advance!"
But Jamey was already out the door.
"Don't tell me you're a one hit wonder," the editor had joked. Pah. Who did she think she was? Calling him into her office like he was a naughty schoolboy, giving him an ultimatum... Preposterous! How was anyone supposed to work under that kind of pressure?
Back home his wife would be waiting for him, wanting to 'talk things over' to 'clear the air' as she always did after a quarrel. Jamey didn't have the energy for that right now. He needed a drink.
He'd walked a few blocks, then picked a bar at random. Jamey had never been to this place before, but it was empty, which was just what he needed right now.
"Coming right up," the bartender said. She barely glanced at her only customer as she set down the drink before him.
Jamey took a gulp of his drink and grimaced at the burning sensation in his throat. It really was strong. He took another mouthful.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, kind of." Jamey sighed and and sipped his drink again. "My editor's being a jerk, is all.”
“So you’re a writer,” the bartender said, not looking up from the glass she was polishing.
Despite his foul mood, Jamey's lips twitched into a smirk. “A novelist, actually.”
He was pleased to see the bartender turn to look at him when she replied, “Oh, really? Do I know any of your books?”
"Well, have you heard of The Man in the Ironic Mask by Jamey Mason?"
"Wait..." She put down the glass and stared at him. "Jamey?!"
She hurried over and leaned on the counter, bearing a bold smile. "I almost didn't recognize you with that beard."
Jamey's hand shot to his face reflexively. He furrowed his brow in confusion, taken aback by the intense stare the attractive bartender was giving him. Was she a fan? He was sure he would have remembered someone like her if he'd seen her at a book signing.
"You don't recognize me, do you," she grinned.
Jamey shook his head slowly.
She laughed, then leaned in closer, giving Jamey a good look at her... face. "What about now?"
Jamey studied her features, searching his memory. Then his eyes grew wide and he blurted, "Calista? Calista Montgomery?"
"Bingo," she said with a wink.
He gaped at her. "You've... changed."
She giggled and flicked her long blonde hair back. "Yeah, I decided to change up my image. It feels like so long ago that sometimes I forget there was a time before this. But that's what Bridgeport will do to a girl."
"Oh, so you really went to Bridgeport to pursue acting? How'd that go?"
Calista let out a derisive laugh and gestured around. "Well, fabulously, as you can see."
Jamey winced, embarrassed at having hit a sour note, but Calista smiled.
"Hey, no harm done," she said. "It's not like I was expecting much of a career with a degree in film... everyone just took that major so we could goof off, smoke herbs, watch movies and call that studying. It's not something anyone was serious about--well, except for Grace of course." Calista sighed. "You two still together?"
Jamey, who had been staring at Calista, mesmerized by her transformation, was jolted back into reality by the sound of his wife's name. His gaze immediately went to his wedding ring. "Uhm, we're... married," he mumbled. He didn't mention their child. "Grace works at Plumbob Pictures."
"Wow." Calista righted herself up. "Well, of course. Good for you! But wow, how time flies! It just feels like yesterday when we were living the wild life on campus, with a juice keg in the hallway, always partying... and now look at you. Married, a best-selling novelist and..." she grinned mischievously, leaning back down on the counter. "...a goatee."
Jamey reached for his beard again self-consciously. "You don't like it?"
Calista shrugged. "It makes you look older."
Noticing Jamey's pained expression, Calista quickly changed the subject. "Oh, one thing," she said. "If you don't mind, please don't tell Grace that I work here... I'd be kind of embarrassed, you know? What with her actually making use of her degree and all." She laughed nervously.
Jamey cocked his head and let his gaze wander over her stunning appearance. "Why would you be embarrassed? You've made something of yourself! You're obviously a very attracti--er,
She laughed, flicked back her hair again and leaned in closer, smiling. "Well, I'm nothing compared to a famous best-selling author!"
Jamey tried--and failed--to suppress a foolish grin. "Oh, I wouldn't say famous..."
"Are you kidding me?" She beamed. "Just last week I saw your novel at the bookstore on display! I loved it, by the way. That is to say..." Calista's pink tongue ran smoothly over her full lips. "I devoured it."
Larissa had always been fun to hang out with, but now Freddie enjoyed their time together even more. His friendships were numerous, long-lasting and true, but being the center of another person's life was an entirely different feeling.
It gave him a sense of belonging and safety, motivating him to envision the future in a way his hedonistic lifestyle never had.
Freddie didn't know how to put these emotions into words, however, so he contented himself with simply returning Larissa's affection.
It was a hard blow when she left him.
Heartbroken and alone once again, Freddie took great solace in his granddaughter.
He just had a way with her, getting through to the headstrong little girl when no one else could. Huxley adored her grandfather and Freddie loved watching her grow and learn.
It was good that Freddie enjoyed babysitting so much, because lately Jamey had taken to doing his work at a coffee shop instead of his home office.
He said it helped with his inspiration.
Calista was Grace's college roommate, in case you're new here and don't know! And if you didn't remember, I can't blame you either, since it took me so long to get the story to this point :O