OCTOBER 5. 1995, BEVERLY HILLS, 9:00 AM
Sara decided to abandon any further punishment. She got off the treadmill and sat on the bench, trying to catch a breath. It occurred to her a number of times that if she gave up smoking, keeping fit could become rewarding. Nonetheless, she was neither quitting her objectionable habit nor throwing out her gym gear- in fairly good shape, Sara was relatively content with the status quo.
She buried her face in the towel for a few moments and, having reclaimed her breath, walked out of the gym-formerly-guest-quarters, crossed the sizeable, well manicured lawn and entered the kitchen via the back door. She brewed a cup of tea and while at it, scooped up the leftover breadcrumbs from the nook. Done tinkering, Sara climbed a flight of stairs and entered her bedroom. She slipped out of her sneakers, sank her bare feet into the plush, high-pile, tan colour carpet and strolled towards the balcony which, combined with the bedroom, represented her favourite part of the world. Sara found the rest of the five bedroom mansion terribly dreary so she seldom ventured beyond her realm. She purchased it three years earlier and lived to partially regret it even though, in principal, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the house or the entire one acre estate for that matter. Actually, her only gripe with the property was its enormous size that quite effectively managed to accentuate her loneliness- Sara had no doubt that her home would have seemed ordinary had more people occupied it. Having been confronted with the certainty of solitude during the first few months, she came to realise that acquiring a large property that would subsequently service only one person was a bit of an oversight. Nonetheless, Sara learned to live with her grievances over the years since the pros significantly outweighed the cons- the house was comfortable, it was recently built, its design was exceptionally pleasing and probably the most relevant was the fact that such an asset was finally hers- she aspired to Beverly Hills since she was a teenager, living with her parents in North Hollywood.
By the age of twenty nine, Sara Whitley had a substantial resume that consisted of roles in a large number of movies, TV series and several theatre plays. She had also taken part in commercials that promoted beauty products and thanks to the introduction to the industry, started her own, very successful line-up. However, as the years went by and the effects of success and fame subsided, Sara often pondered over her humble beginnings, reminding herself of the key ingredient that was ubiquitous in the early projects- passion. Recording TV commercials for a handful of dollars at nineteen had been so much more satisfying compared to any current work that was carried out for spectacular amounts. Like many others, Sara realised in due time that her professional apathy was nothing but a by-product of her own exploits which, in consequence, bred severe discontent in her private life. ‘Fantasy is a fantasy only while you chase it; once you get hold of it, it becomes a run of the mill’, was the concept she would brood over time and again. And if anyone had a fantasy that was worth dollars, it was Sara.
Both working as office clerks for the same, perpetually underperforming company, her parents struggled from one month end to another, scraping just enough to keep their family afloat as well as meet the demands of their only child. In return, Sara had never abused their efforts and therefore demands were fairly scarce. Moreover, she deeply respected her parents’ hardship, determined from a very young age to rid all three of it permanently. Throughout her high school years she was extensively involved with drama, having become one of the most prominent members of the club. Her pledge to fulfil the mission reached fever pitch towards the conclusion of her schooling and, as soon as the last bell rang, she began auditioning, certain that the question wasn’t ‘if’ but ‘when’. Apart from her acting gift, Sara was blatantly aware of her good looks and was intent on exploiting it to the fullest.
As anticipated, it didn’t take long and she landed a fifteen second role in a simple, breakfast cereal commercial. A spoonful of corn would open the floodgates and from that point forward, her ascent was a matter of constant progression. Whether it was due to her talent or her looks, or both, she didn’t care. Though, concerning her looks, Sara’s beauty was nothing short of magnetic. Her most attractive feature was probably the one that was the most obvious- her warm, tan skin tone. Within the same palette, gracefully complementing it was her long, brown hair with a hint of rumple to it. High cheekbones and full, perky lips as well as her shapely, well-proportioned body that fitted flawlessly into her five foot seven frame, radiated a breathtaking appeal.
In view of Sara’s physical charm, there has never been a shortage of philanderers in her presence, however, for some reason the quantity has never transitioned into any quality whatsoever. Over the years, her romantic life became a string of pointless, damaging relationships and she began giving up on her girlish dream of a passionate, meaningful connection with an honest and generous type of a man. Eventually, her dream faded and Sara turned indifferent. Or perhaps not altogether indifferent- rather than to allow for the same mistakes to recur, she was, if necessary, prepared to wait for the rest of her life to rendezvous with a man she pictured as ‘the one’.
An aspect of Sara’s life which, in fact, functioned properly, was related to her supplementary, humanitarian activities where she found her definite purpose as well as relief from the pitfalls of her professional and private life. She has been an element of numerous charitable campaigns and fundraisers for the best part of her career, generously contributing to various causes- Sara firmly believed that the world could become, if not a better place, than at least a more liveable one within the lifespan of her generation. She also mused that the momentum required to get the wheel turning should be produced by an individual. Sara knew that one person wouldn’t be able to make much of a change in that respect but would definitely make some of it in collaboration with countless others. The problem with her reasoning, and she was well aware of it, lay in the fact that all the difference she made to date came from the comfort of her cheque book. The idea of a ‘hands-on’ approach had taken root in her head.
THE SAME DAY
As she promised, Linda arrived at seven and the two of them settled in the lounge.
“Usual?” Sara asked.
“Anything interesting to tell?”
“I’m working myself to death, if that qualifies as interesting,” Linda said and heaved a huge sigh of relief, silently thanking God the day was over. She laid her head on the backrest and looked towards the ceiling, seeing nothing in particular.
“Hm, your success is topping the charts. Would you… give it up?”
Slowly, Linda straightened up and ponderously looked at Sara. “Maybe… No… not a chance,” she replied and had a sip of whiskey. “What about you?”
“Well, I’m proud to say I’ve done nothing today and have nothing to tell.”
“Ha?” Linda chuckled, a tiny bit stupefied. “You and the house got along?”
“Yeah… pretty much.”
“If you have any doubts I’ll easily take care of those.”
“That’s not gonna happen even if you beg. I’m settled,” Sara replied, laughing.
Linda Sutton was the owner of a thriving Los Angeles real estate agency that facilitated Sara’s property purchase back in 1992. Often pitching in when a notch above the rest clients turned up, she personally conducted the entire deal, having seen to Sara’s absolute satisfaction. Even though the sale had mainly been handled by Sara’s attorney, the two women still had to occasionally interact and in the process seamlessly transform their business transaction into a lasting friendship. The longevity of their relationship was based on the principle of uncompromising loyalty since neither of the two had oodles of dependable friends. Throughout the years they would confide in each other, cry on each other’s shoulders and shamelessly request an opinion or guidance.
That evening Sara was neither in need of solutions nor did she want to confide or cry- the plan was to inform Linda about the forthcoming events. Sara kept her friend out of the loop until the last minute simply because a distraction was the last item on her list and Linda would have used all the means necessary to discourage her.
“You know… I wanted to run something by you,” Sara said.
Linda squinted, expecting something untoward. “That sounds serious…”
“No, it isn’t really,” Sara replied with a grin.
“Ok… what is it?”
“You do watch news; you know what’s happening in the world, right?” Sara asked, implying the answer at the same time.
The only response she received was more of the squinting.
“Have you seen what’s happening in Europe? Bosnia for instance…”
“Well… I do catch a glimpse of it on television, now and then…” Linda replied as if dazed.
“Then… you must’ve seen the trouble that’s brewing over there; all that devastation? Thousands of needy, destitute people…”
“What people? I mean, I have no idea who is who in that part of the world.”
“You see, I’ve been following for quite some time everything that’s happening over there and… I just couldn’t anymore. So… I decided to get involved and help financially as much as I can, for one. And two, I thought that my presence over there could raise a bit more awareness about their situation so that you and many others would become more familiar with who is who, as you say. Hopefully… more awareness would bring some more aid into that ruined country.”
"Your presence over there? Are you telling me that you’re going to Bosnia?”
Stunned, Linda gaped at her friend for a few seconds. “Sara, I know all about your frustrations and… whatnots, but isn’t this a touch irrational? That’s a war zone over there as far as I can tell. For heaven’s sake, do you know what you are getting yourself into?”
“Linda, there is nothing to worry about. I’m going to Sarajevo, the capital. Until recently that city was probably one of the worst places in the world you could find yourself stuck in but not any longer, it’s over. NATO has taken care of it. I’ve done my research, believe me. I wouldn’t be rushing headlong into something… stupid. If I knew that someone would be shooting at me up there, in the mountains or wherever, I wouldn’t even think of leaving my bedroom. I already made all the arrangements for this trip with key people over there and to be honest, I don’t think this operation could have been better organised. I’ll be protected by my own security and the local detail and if I’m not with either, I’ll be attached to the UN corps. So, I’ll be taken care of at all times, there is nothing much to worry about,” Sara said matter-of-factly as if involved in expeditions of the current type on regular basis.
“You know, I’m so shocked right now that I actually have no idea what to say to you. And even if I try to put few arguments forward in order to discourage you it still won’t work, it’s too late. That’s why you dumped all of this on me only now,” Linda said, feeling somewhat betrayed.
“You’re right. If I did it earlier, you might have been the only person capable of putting me off.”
“Sara, at the risk of your getting very upset with me, I’m gonna ask this. Are you sure you’re doing this for the right reasons? Is this truly a humanitarian mission or are you just bored out of your mind? And now you can throw me with that bottle over there, I said it.”
Sara didn’t expect such a question and was hurt by it but not to a large extent- she was well aware that, as a friend, Linda was genuinely concerned and concerned on a very short notice at that. Regarding her true, sincere motives for the trip, Sara knew exactly what those were. Yet, there might have existed a tiny, inconspicuous worm of uncertainty that was hidden in one of the corners of Sara’s brain, nibbling at the validity of Linda’s question. Hence the few seconds pause preceding the reply.
“How can you ask me something like that? Of course I know why I’m doing this,” Sara replied calmly, without a hint of irritation in her voice.
Linda sighed. “I’m sorry, Sara, I didn’t mean to upset you. You just didn’t give me any time to think it through. I really didn’t mean to discredit your efforts, I’m sorry.”
“I know very well you didn’t. And I’m not upset nor do I feel discredited,” Sara responded, smiling.
Despite her concern, Linda had to conclude that she didn’t have the right to play a role in the matter. “Whatever you do, please take good care of yourself. And, regardless of how ‘easy’ this trip is going to be, I’ll remain anxious until I see you again right here, in L.A.”
“Ok… From my side, I can tell you that I’ll do my best to stay in touch while over there. And thank you, I really, truly appreciate your support.”
“So… when are you leaving?”
“In three days, October 8.”