Brush With Fame

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Chapter 7

The next morning, Taylor and I go to a local diner for breakfast. She wants to make sure I’m not having any second thoughts about kicking Craig out. I assure her that there is no way in hell Craig is getting back into my life.

While we are waiting for our food, I feel like I am being stared at. I glance around the diner. There is a younger, decent looking guy sitting at the counter trying to discreetly watch me. I’m startled at first. I quietly tell Taylor about the guy and she inconspicuously checks him out. Both Taylor and I suspect that he’s a reporter and is just trying to get more info on me. The guy leaves after a while without talking to me or taking my picture. So maybe he is not a reporter. Maybe he just recognizes me from the tabloids.

I finish my breakfast first, so I start looking around the diner, making sure the guy didn’t come back. I don’t see him but I do notice a woman sitting by herself, not paying particular attention to anyone. She looks like the rude woman from Las Vegas who pushed me out of the way when Ryan and I were at the mall. I quickly turn back to Taylor. She’s still talking and eating her breakfast and doesn’t notice my startled look. That can’t be the woman from Las Vegas, can it? She looks exactly like her. It can’t be. I dismiss her as a look-a-like, besides what are the chances that the same woman is in Kansas City.

But both experiences leave me feeling creeped out and uncomfortable. I try to ignore the feeling. It’s not like either of them did anything to me at the diner. The woman did not even look at me. As much as I tell myself it’s nothing, the nagging feeling of ‘something’s wrong’ sticks with me.

Taylor and I get back to my house, walk up the porch steps to the front door and find a single red rose laying on the welcome mat in front of it. There is no note and no one is around. Both of us are baffled. I assume it is from Ryan.

“Aww, Ryan’s so sweet,” I say.

“Would a florist really deliver just a single rose?” Taylor wonders.

“I guess so,” I answer. “If that’s what they were paid to do. And I bet he tipped them a lot, too.”

Taylor snorts. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

Picking up the red rose, I shrug, take a deep sniff of it and take it inside to put into a vase. I will have to ask Ryan about the rose when I talk to him later.

To keep myself busy while I wait for Craig to call or try to stop by, I decide to clean the house. It’s a mess from trying to pack up everything of Craig’s so quickly yesterday. Taylor insists on staying with me until I hear from Craig. And informs me that at that point she will decide if she’s staying the night again. Apparently, my opinion doesn’t matter, unless I ask her to stay. Since she is here, Taylor helps me clean up, too.

A while later, I tell Taylor I am surprised I haven’t heard from Craig. I’m sure Marc has told Craig by now. Plus, his flight landed almost two hours ago, barring any delays. A couple minutes later my phone rings. I know before I even look that it that it’s Craig. Taylor is right there when I answer. I put it on speaker so she can hear him, too.

“Hello Craig.”

“Sssso thisss is how it’sss going to be?” he slurs.

Oh, great. I roll my eyes. He is drunk and mad. This should be pleasant. Too bad.

”You’ve been drinking,” I say.

“I had a few when I found out that you kicked me out of our house,” he answers defensively. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“It’s my house, Craig. It was never our house. But, yes. This is how our marriage is ending.”

“I need to come by to see if all my stuff got over to Marc’s.”

“Trust me. It’s there. I don’t want any of it.”

“Why’d you have to toss out all my ssstuff?”

“First, I didn’t toss it out. I probably should have. Second, did you really think I would let you back into my house after all the crap you pulled - in Las Vegas and throughout our marriage?”

“What…what do you mean, throughout our marriage?”

“Don’t play coy with me Craig. I found your stupid, little, secret cigar box.” I can just picture his face turning white. “You had me totally fooled. Bravo. Well, I should say fooled up until a couple months ago.”

Craig is quiet for a few seconds. Most likely he’s trying to figure out how to put the blame on me. He then surprises me and starts laughing.

“Sorry, Babe” he says. “You caught me.”

I snort. “Yeah, you sound really sorry – not” I mumble. But his blunt admission still surprises me. “You’re a real ass, you know that Craig. I hope fate comes back and bites you in the ass.”

“I’ve made it so far without any problems. I plan on keeping it that way.”

I cannot believe what he’s saying. Who is this person? It certainly isn’t the person I thought I married. Obviously, he was never that person. I must have been completely blind to the real Craig.

“Well, you’ll be getting divorce papers soon.”

“Oh well. Can’t get anything anyway since you made me sign that stupid pre-nup. Shouldn’t have even married you after you made me sign that. Smart move on your part, though. My first wife wasn’t so smart. But it doesn’t matter anyway. I don’t want any of your shit.”

My eyes bug out. Craig keeps rattling on but I’m not hearing him. I’m stuck on the “first wife” comment. First wife. He had a wife…before me…that he never told me about.

Did I hear him correctly? He had a first wife? I look to Taylor for confirmation. But her mouth is hanging open. Ok, so I did hear correctly. Oh my god!

“First…first wife?” I stammer.

“Oh, yeah. Never did tell you about that, did I?” he laughs and laughs.

I put my hand over Taylor’s mouth because I know she is about ready to blow. Her face has turned red and I swear I see a little bit of steam coming out of her ears. What an arrogant, conceited excuse of a person Craig is. Thank God I am divorcing him and will not have to deal with him anymore. And really, my lawyer can take care of that.

“Good-bye Craig,” I hang up on him while he is still laughing.

I drop the phone on the counter, pull my hand away from Taylor and just stare at her. Craig was married before. Holy cow! I realize I had been staring at Taylor without focusing on her. When I do focus, she is staring dumbfounded back at me. I actually cannot believe she hasn’t said anything yet. Craig totally shocked her. She keeps opening and closing her mouth without any words coming out.

“Taylor?”

“He…he was effing married…before! OH MY GOD! I don’t know what to say. Why aren’t you freaking out?”

“I guess it hasn’t really hit me yet. Or maybe I’m so done with him and I’ve just let it go. He was being such a jerk.”

“I know, the bastard. What an ass! I can’t believe him! He’s the one who was screwing around. And does he feel even remotely sorry for it? NO!”

We talk about it for a while. I am not feeling as stupid as I was earlier. Now I know Craig played me and I wouldn’t have found out anything he didn’t want me to know.

Taylor is prepared to stay the night again. I talk her into leaving. I tell her that I will be ok with the new locks and there is always the alarm. Eventually Taylor leaves, making me promise to call her if anything is weird or if I am just uncomfortable by myself.

Later that night, Ryan calls, which cheers me up immensely. Again, he tells me he misses me and didn’t have anything to do without me there to keep him company. It makes me smile and laugh to be able to call him a liar. I tell him about Craig’s call. He’s furious with Craig. He cannot believe that Craig hadn’t told me about being married before. Ryan is so sweet. He’s concerned about me having to deal with Craig. I assure him that I will call Marc if we missed any of Craig’s stuff. And that my lawyer will handle everything with the divorce.

Ryan asks what else I had been up to today. I tell him about the diner this morning and the two incidents that made me uncomfortable. He is worried when I tell him that I think the rude woman from Las Vegas is here in Kansas City and warns me to be careful. Just before we hang up I remember to ask him about the single rose. He denies sending it and again warns me to be leery about it. I blow it off, maybe one of my friends left it hoping to cheer me up. He says he has heard some weird stories and makes me promise him that I will be extremely cautious.

I’ve been so tired while talking with Ryan, yawning in his ear the whole time. But when I lay down to sleep, I am wide awake. My brain will not turn off. I think about Ryan, then end up switching to Craig and end up getting all pissed off. I keep thinking about how Craig was married before and didn’t tell me. Why wouldn’t he have told me he’d been married before? How bad was his first marriage? Did he take advantage of her, too? Craig probably didn’t want me to talk to his first wife and find out what he had done to her. Or to find out what he was really like.

I try to clear my mind so I can fall asleep. But then the guy from the diner pops into my head, wondering if he is a reporter like we suspected. Of course, then I think about the woman and what a coincidence it is that this woman looks just like the woman from Las Vegas or if in fact she is the rude woman from Las Vegas. I finally fall asleep but have weird dreams that leave me feeling exhausted.

I decide to go to the grocery store the next morning. I get ready and open the door to leave and in the driveway is Craig. Crap! He is up early for a Sunday.

What does he want?!

He is not getting in the house. I quickly close and lock the door, inhale a gulp of air, then turn to face him. Craig gets out of his truck and walks to the edge of the porch.

“Can we talk?”

Seriously? He wants to talk now? I should tell him no, tell him to stay the hell away from me. But I am morbidly curious. What can he possibly have to talk about with me? I am silent long enough that I can visibly see he is uncomfortable.

Good, be uncomfortable, you jerk!

“Look, Olivia. I’m really sorry about how rude I was yesterday on the phone. I was drunk. Please let me explain,” Craig pleads.

Oh, shit. He actually calls me Olivia, not Livey, which means he really wants my attention.

There is no way I am going to talk to him here in front of the house - it is too cold outside and paparazzi might see us and cause problems. And he definitely is not getting in the house. I want neutral ground.

“Alright. I’ll meet you at the coffee shop just down the street.”

He nods in agreement. He gets in his truck and backs out of the driveway. I close my eyes for a second, telling myself I can handle this and it hopefully is the last time I have to talk to him. I get in my car and follow Craig to the coffee shop. I walk into the shop, not caring whether Craig follows or not. But of course, he does. We order, get our drinks and find a corner, hoping to be inconspicuous.

“Ok Craig. Just say what you’re going to say. I don’t want any more problems.” He looks like he is trying to figure out how to say whatever it is he wants to say. He opens his mouth a couple times to start but then abruptly stops.

“I wish you….”

“Why did you….”

He looks embarrassed. Good. I let him squirm.

He thinks for a moment, then starts again.

“I know after how I talked to you on the phone yesterday that you think I’m a complete jerk. And I was - am. I totally deserve that. First, I want to say I’m sorry for how I talked to you. And I owe you an apology for our marriage.”

Ok – what is he trying to pull? He must want something. There is no way he’s sorry. Everything he has done and said in the past leads me to believe he wants something.

“I can see you’re skeptical. I don’t blame you. And I’m not trying to change your mind about me. I just want to explain… me… or my behavior, I guess. Marc and I had a long talk last night – after I sobered up - and made me see what I was doing, what I had done to you. I’ve been a complete ass to you. Contrary to what you may believe, I didn’t go into our marriage thinking ‘how can I screw over Olivia’. I was going to try hard to do good by you. Since my first marriage failed - and yeah, sorry for not telling you about that - I wanted to do good with the second.”

He won’t look at me. He is staring at something on the coffee table that sits in front of us.

“Then came my bachelor party and I was totally shi… um, drunk and had no clue what I was doing. And I…well, I assume you saw the picture and note on the back. Almost confessed that to you, but at the last minute decided that it was just a lapse and I wouldn’t do that to you anymore.”

He shifts uncomfortably in his chair, glances at me then quickly looks away.

“About 3 months after we got married, we had that big fight about your house and I went out and got drunk and met Elizabeth. That lasted a couple weeks until we made up and things got back to normal.

“Stop! What the…. Please stop! I don’t want to hear this, Craig.” I put my hands up to my face and rub. Why does he think I want to hear about any of the times he screwed around on me?

“I know it’s too late for you to forgive me. But I want to finally be honest with you. I wanted to be good for you. I tried. I swear I tried being good for you at first. I mean seriously…look at you, Olivia. You’re gorgeous, nice, and smart and took a chance with me. Everyone was jealous of me because I got you. They didn’t understand why you were with me. Of course, they didn’t know that I had been lying and fooling you the whole time.”

Oh my god. He is admitting that he has lied to me the whole time. He was pretending to be the person he thought I wanted.

“I didn’t tell you I’d been married before because I thought you deserved to have someone without baggage. She was trash that I didn’t want you to be involved with. By the time I felt guilty enough that I hadn’t told you, it was way too late to say anything.”

So, who the hell is Craig? Well, he is not honest. He is not monogamous. Hell, he has probably even cheated on Annabelle already.

“Craig, you can’t pretend to be someone you’re not. You have to be yourself.” I threw my hands up out of sheer loss of words. What was he thinking? “Ok. So… what was with the Las Vegas trip? Why spend the money?” I ask.

“Yeah, Vegas. Didn’t turn out like I wanted at all. Um… ok honest. Don’t be mad.”

He winces and fidgets with his coffee cup.

Good Lord. What now?

“I didn’t spend any money on the trip. Actually, you… uh, you won the trip. I happened to answer the phone and took all the information for you. I was able to set everything up. It made me look good – giving you a trip for your birthday. I needed to go out and bet on the college football championship game. I owed this guy some money and was going to win it out there. But I lost a shi…um, I lost a lot of money on that stupid bet. Annabelle was not supposed to be there. She surprised me out there that first night. She got jealous even though she knew the only reason I was able to go out there was because you won the trip.”

Why am I not surprised? It is so like Craig. I knew he wouldn‘t spend money on a trip. He could seduce the stingiest person. So why wouldn’t they allow the winner’s husband to set everything up. And it explains why he was so agreeable before our trip. He needed me to go in order for him to go.

“Can we be friends?” Craig asks.

I snort out a laugh. Is he joking? I look at him to see if he is sincere. He looks like he means it.

“Oh! You’re not joking,” I say.

“No, I’m not,” Craig answers, with a hint of hurt in his voice.

“No Craig. We can’t be friends. You’ve hurt me too much. And I would never be able to trust you again.”

“Yeah, I figured,” he replies, sheepishly. He picks up his cup and finishes it all at once. “Well, thanks for talking with me. I know I didn’t even deserve that.”

“You’re welcome. Why did you tell me all this? Are you feeling guilty or something?”

“Yeah, something like that. Marc really yelled at me last night. I figured you deserved an explanation. You’ve been nothing but nice and sweet and classy. I’m the one who fucked up. I also didn’t want you thinking that you did anything. It was all me.”

“You know Craig,” I said, “if you had been more like this throughout our marriage, things might be different.”

Craig sadly shakes his head in agreement. He stands up to leave, pats his pockets, I assume looking for his keys and pulls something out.

“Oh. I believe this belongs to you” he says, handing me the necklace that Annabelle took from me in Vegas. “Sorry. I didn’t know she took that until you commented on it.”

“Thanks.”

“I guess I’ll see you around.”

I hope not, I think to myself.

Craig walks out the door, gets in his truck and drives away. Good riddance.

“I seriously hope not to see you again,” I mumble out loud. I continue to sit in the coffee shop to finish my drink. My head hurts horribly from the stress of the past few days. My marriage has been a complete lie. I was some…accomplishment to him. How could he even think that was ok?

After finishing my coffee, I opt to forgo the grocery store and drive home. I walk up to the front door and laying there is a very pretty, very light lavender rose. It is the same as yesterday, no card and no one around. The roses are lovely but they are beginning to worry me.

I take the rose inside and place it in the vase with the one from yesterday. I call Ryan to leave him message to call me when he lands. Next I call Taylor. She is irritated that I didn’t call her to have her meet me at the coffee shop, too. But she would have just gotten into a fight with Craig. It was better that I met with him on my own.

After Taylor, I called Sarah. Sarah was worried about all the information Craig told me and how I am dealing with it. Either it has not hit me yet or I have already pulled away from Craig enough that it’s not affecting me as it once would have.

To pass time, I try to read a book but just end up staring off into space thinking about Ryan and Craig. Then I try to pay some bills, but I am too restless. I find myself meandering around the house when the doorbell rings. I freeze. I’m not expecting anyone.

Apprehensively, I peek out the window, let out a little scream of joy and am utterly surprised. My parents came for a visit! I throw the door open and fly into my dad’s arms. Their visit could not have come at a more opportune time. I need them. Letting my dad go, I hug mom fiercely, too.

I help them take their suitcases to the guest room. Once they get settled, they request that I tell them everything that happened with Craig. I fill them in on packing up Craig’s things, his phone call telling me that he had been married before and finally the meeting at the coffee shop this morning. Finally, while telling my parents all this, reality hits me. I break down. They just let me cry and tell Craig off and call him names. After I purge, I feel better and am able to calm down.

We talk about what I plan to do next. I just want to get Craig out of my life and never have to deal with him again. My parents also want to know what is going on with Ryan since they have been hearing so much about the two of us. I am reluctant to tell them, afraid they will see how much I care for him already. But I cannot lie to my parents. I tell them about Ryan’s comments about us and my feelings and fears. I tell them I am trying to just be friends with Ryan.

My phone interrupts us. Glancing at who it is, I can feel myself brightening but I try to control my emotions. I peek at my parents and know I have not been successful in hiding my feelings. I see them exchange a knowing look between them.

“Just friends,” I reiterate to them as I get up from my chair.

I’m pretty sure I hear “sure just friends” as I walk back to my office to talk to Ryan.

“Hi, Beautiful. I’m back at my house. I seriously thought about changing my flight to Kansas City. I had to keep reminding myself that I have interviews and appearances that I need to do this week, along with flying to New York for a couple of them.”

Then he tells me about the interviews and late show appearances he has scheduled, which ones he does not mind being on and the ones that would really dig to find out everything about us.

I tell Ryan about Craig’s visit earlier. Ryan cannot understand what kind of guy Craig was to do what he did to me, and call him a total loser for deceiving me about the trip.

“He is a loser,” I agree, “but I got to benefit from the trip. I would never have met you if he hadn’t gotten me out there.”

“Oh bloody hell! I owe that prick. If it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t have been in Las Vegas. And if he hadn’t been such an ass, he wouldn’t have pissed you off enough to go storming out into that hallway, right into my arms.” He laughs, then he turns serious. “I should have changed my flight. God, how I wish I was there with you right now. Better yet, I wish you were out here with me. Then you wouldn’t even have to be in the same state as him.”

“That would be nice. However, my parents surprised me with a visit. We’ve been talking and…uh… everything kind of hit me this afternoon.” I know he will say something about that, so I rush on. “It was good. Therapeutic. I’m calmer now. I feel raw but better.”

“Olivia, please promise me that you’ll call me, or text me, whatever, if you need to talk? I feel useless out here. And I know you have your friends and right now your parents to talk to. But maybe I can give a different perspective. I am a guy you know.”

“You are? I don’t know about that,” I tease. “I think you might be a fantasy.”

“Nope, I’m not a fantasy. Well, I hope I’m your fantasy. But I am real. And I really want to help with anything you need.”

“How do you know what I need?” I taunt.

“Because, beautiful Olivia, we are supposed to be together,” he says quietly, sounding smug. “I know you. I complement you; you complement me. We are perfect for each other. You have yet to figure that out.”

I think that I have already figured that out, but I am too scared to act on it. I want to have a little more time for everything to percolate. I’m still not too sure how serious he is about me, about a relationship – and a long distance one at that. I will just have to let time pass and see how serious Ryan acts. I just can’t see him being serious with me. He should be having fun with all the people out in Hollywood.

“Oh, Ryan. You’re young and a major celebrity. You should be dating, having love triangles, and partying and being reckless, causing lots of gossip. Not comforting a married woman whose marriage is ending.”

“Honey. I am causing lots of gossip. We are causing lots of gossip and love triangles. Haven’t you seen the reports? You’re right there with me” he laughs. “I’ve done all that dating and partying since I was eighteen. It gets old really fast. I still do some partying. But, now, I’ve found the girl I want and I’m willing to wait until you’re mine.”

I am speechless. Holy crap!

“What?” Ryan asks when I don’t reply. “No response to that?”

How can I respond to that?

“Um…I…I need time.”

“I know you need time. You need to heal and you need time for me to prove how serious I am about you. Sooner or later you’ll realize that we’re perfect together.”

I just cannot see how Ryan can be so confident, so sure that we are supposed to be together. Of course, he does not have an ex and he has not lost confidence because of that ex.

Changing the subject, I tell him about the second rose I received and that neither of the roses are from any of my friends. He’s worried about me and tells me to be careful because he had an eerie feeling about these roses. He lets me go and tells me to tell my parents “hi” and that he cannot wait to meet them.

I stroll back out to my parents, ready for the teasing that is bound to come. Both of them watch, smirking, as I walk in the room and sit down in my chair. I tell them that Ryan says “hi” and that he cannot wait to meet them. Mom wants to know when they are going to meet him. I am thankful that Ryan is currently tied up with interviews and has no plans to visit. To my surprise, my parents don’t say anything else about the phone call.

Later we go out for dinner. During our meal, a girl comes up to me because she recognizes me from the TV gossip shows. She asks for my autograph and wants a picture with me. It’s just crazy, people wanting my autograph and picture. Mom tells me that it will probably die down, that it is too new and fresh in everyone’s mind. She tells me that I am a link to the celebrity life that everyone is so fascinated with because I am just an ordinary girl that got and won the attention of this well-known actor. People seem almost in awe of me. I give hope to all the ordinary people.

The following week goes by fast since I have so much work to catch up on from being on vacation. I don’t mind being busy. It keeps my mind off Ryan and Craig and everything else going on. I talk to Ryan almost every day. Contrary to my biggest fear, he is not forgetting about me or ignoring me. We always have plenty of things to talk about - our childhoods, work, dreams, what has happened that day. I find that I can talk to him without pretending to be someone I’m not or feel like I’m talking to myself. Ryan listens to me and responds to me. We get to know each other very well. I feel like I can (and do) tell him anything. I realize I’m depending on him more and more.

Taylor, Dhara, Claire and Ally gang up on me to get me out of the house Friday evening. I admit it is good to get out and be distracted. I keep reassuring the girls that I’m doing ok. I know they are just concerned about me but it is getting kind of annoying. At one time during the night, a guy with a camera comes by, snaps a photo and takes off. I wonder when that’s going to stop. I am very conscious of the people around me the rest of the night. I am exhausted by the time we’re ready to go home.

When I get back to my house, I find another pretty rose laying in front of the door, a bright pink one this time. I ask my parents if they heard any noises outside. They didn’t. These roses are freaking me out now. I don’t know who they are coming from or why. I am not sure what I should do about them.

My parents are scheduled to leave on Monday. I am a little nervous about them leaving and having no one in the house. I know I will be ok, but it still makes me apprehensive. Sunday night my parents ask if I want them to stay longer. I assure them that I’m fine and that I need some time alone to heal.

Monday morning arrives, gloomy and rainy. It matches my mood exactly. I take the morning off from work so I can see my parents off. As I wave bye, I am suddenly overcome with sadness. For the sake of something to do, I go strip the guest bed of it sheets. I am interrupted by the doorbell. I’m not expecting anyone. I get paranoid and think about not answering the door. But then I tell myself I’m being silly and to not let these weird things rule my life. I go out to the kitchen and peek out the little window that looks out over the front porch and see that it’s a flower delivery.

Cautiously, I open the door and sign for the beautiful bouquet he’s holding. I thank him and close the door. There are two dozen, dazzling red roses, my favorite. I find a card attached.

Just a little reminder that I miss you.

Call me when you get these.

R

A huge smile grows on my face and I bury my nose in the roses. I love their smell. Grabbing my phone, I call Ryan.

“Hi Beautiful!”

“Thank you so much for the roses. They’re gorgeous.”

“You’re welcome. I knew your parents left this morning. I thought you could use a little pick-me-up. And I wanted you to think about me.”

“You don’t have to send flowers for me to think about you. I do plenty of that all on my own,” I reply.

“I like to hear that, because I think about you all the time, too, Olivia.”

My smile grows even more. It warms my heart to know he thinks of me a lot. “Good.”

“When do you have to go to work?”

I look at the clock and groan. “I have to leave in about twenty minutes. Hopefully I’ll be busy again this week and it will go by fast.”

“Yes, being busy does make time seem to move faster, doesn’t it? Speaking of time moving fast, have you thought any more about the awards show?”

I will have going to have to decide soon. I’m probably hurting Ryan by not giving him an answer. “I have thought about it, but I still don’t know.”

“Please come with me. I can show you around Los Angeles. Take you shopping on Rodeo Drive. We can go to the symphony. We can just be together,” he tries to persuade me.

“That does sound nice. Let me think about it a little more.”

“Alright, but I’m not going to let it drop. I will convince you, somehow.”

We talk a little more then say goodbye. I sit there thinking about him, staring off into space with a big, dopey smile on my face. I feel giddy after talking to him. I love how wonderful and considerate he is. I love talking to him about anything and everything. I love how I feel when I’m on the phone with him or am physically with him. He makes me feel special.

Holy shit! I freeze. I am in love with Ryan. No! I cannot be in love with Ryan Paxton! I barely know him. Where is the effort to try to love him like I had to with Craig? Where are the months of debating whether he’s good for me? This…this just snuck up on me out of nowhere. I am one hundred percent head-over-heels in love with Ryan Paxton.

No, no, no. This is not good. Insecurity consumes me. I’m terrified of being that vulnerable again. Could I survive another broken heart if Ryan leaves? Can I deal with the Hollywood-crap? Will I be jealous all the time? I’m close to hyperventilating thinking about all this. I need to calm down.

Deep breath in, blow it out. Deep breath in, blow it out.

I need to think rationally about this. Ok so, I’m in love with Ryan Paxton. No big deal. He doesn’t have to know, right? I don’t have to tell him. And that will give me time to figure out what I am going to do.

I’m still lost in thought about it later at work. I jump when Sarah walks into my office, leans against the door jam and clears her throat.

“Sorry, catch you daydreaming?” Sarah laughs. “Get your parents off ok?”

“Yeah, uh, thanks,” I reply.

Sarah studies me. “Are you ok, Olivia? You don’t look so well.”

“I’m fine. Just got lots on my mind and I’m having trouble concentrating.”

“What’s wrong? Is Craig bothering you? We’ll get a restraining order if we need to.” She comes over to my desk with a determined look on her face.

“What? No. It’s not Craig. I haven’t even heard from him.” I wave that off.

“Then what’s wrong?” Sarah insists, visibly growing more concerned. “Tell me. What’s going on?”

“Ok, but close the door.”

Sarah gives me a bewildered look, but turns around, closes the door and sits down opposite me. I can tell that she’s running through a list of things.

“Alright. What’s going on Olivia?” Suddenly she catches her breath and covers her mouth the both hands. “Ohmigod! Are you pregnant?” she whispers.

“What?! No! I’m not… pregnant!” I whisper the word. “I can’t believe you said that. You have to have sex in order to get… pregnant.”

“Well, I thought maybe you didn’t tell us the whole truth about what went on in Vegas with Ryan. Sorry. Can’t blame me though. That would be pretty awesome.” She gives me a sheepish grin and shrugs as I just glare at her. “Ok. You’re not pregnant. So, what has you so distracted?”

“I don’t know if I can get past the pregnant comment. That has me completely distracted. Shish!” I shake my head. The comment has thrown me for a loop. Not that I would mind being pregnant with Ryan’s baby. Ohmigod! What am I thinking? I have truly lost my mind.

“Olivia!”

“Sorry! Well, after my parents left, I got some flowers from Ryan and I called him to thank him and we talked for a little bit. After I hung up, I started thinking about him and how I felt when I talked to him and when I was with him in Vegas.”

“Oh!” Sarah gives me a smug smile. “You realized you’re in love with him.”

“What? Why didn’t you tell me?” I insist.

“Thought you should figure it out on your own. I mean it’s your heart.”

“Well, I know now. Yes! I am in love with Ryan Paxton.” I fold my arms on my desk and rest my head on them.

“Ok. I give. What’s the problem?”

I swing my head up to look at Sarah. “What’s the problem? He’s only the hottest actor in Hollywood. Look at all the beautiful women he’s around all the time. He can have anyone he wants. Why me?”

“Why not you, Olivia? I know Craig’s horrible behavior and deceit gradually disintegrated your self-esteem. But have you looked in the mirror? I mean really looked in the mirror. You talk about the beautiful women out in Hollywood, but you’re right up there with them, honey. Plus, you and Ryan have a special connection. You talk about Ryan like you’ve know him forever. You two had fun being together in Vegas. You’re comfortable with each other. That helps, too.”

“I know, but I can’t get past him being this huge celebrity.”

“No one’s forcing you to say anything to him about your feelings. Just be friends with him right now. Get to know him even better. Things will work out in their own time.”

“Yes, I know. But Sarah, I’m terrified of what it would do to me if he would leave,” I confess.

“I know. But you’d survive. You’re a strong woman. Also, the girls and I would make sure you survive. How about this ‘what if’ - if you want to play the what-if game. What if…he doesn’t leave you and the two of you live happily ever after?”

She pauses to let me think about that for a bit.

“You can’t live in the ‘what if’ world. You have to deal with whatever life gives you – the good and the bad. You’ve had the bad. I think Ryan might be the good.”

I cannot disagree with her.

“I also think you should go to the awards show with him,” Sarah says.

I grimace but don’t say anything.

“You know you want to,” Sarah says adamantly.

I sigh. “Taylor thinks I should go, too. I just don’t know. I’m still thinking about it.”

“Ok, but don’t take too long. You might discourage him. Then you would end up hating yourself.”

“I don’t think anything would discourage him.”

“I’d take that as a very good thing,” Sarah laughs and stand up to leave. “Oh, by the way, Maria said she had some woman call her asking for information about you. Maria didn’t give her anything and told me about it as I passed her office. She thought you should know.”

Wonderful. Probably another reporter looking for more info about me. I feel confident that our HR administrator, Maria, would never give out any information.

“That’s strange. I wonder who she was and how she got a hold of Maria.”

“I don’t know. Those reporters can be sneaky. Anyway, I’m going to let you get back to work. Think about what I said.”

That night as I pull into my driveway, my neighbor Bill is outside. It looks like he’s been waiting for me. He comes right over to talk to me. He tells me that he caught a gal sneaking around my house. He thought she was trying to look in my windows. Bill asked if he could help her, but she just ran off. I thank Bill for letting me know and to keep me informed if he sees anything else suspicious.

Deciding that all this stuff is a little too creepy, I go inside and write down all the strange events that have been taking place lately.

Later I call the police to see if there is anything I can do about this woman. There isn’t much they can do since I have no idea who is doing this to me and this woman hasn’t actually done anything yet, except be creepy. They tell me to keep track of the strange things that keep happening and to let them know if the occurrences start getting worse.

The rest of this week proves to be hell. I should have known by the way Monday started. On Tuesday, a tabloid reported that Ryan had snuck out of Leslie Day’s house early this morning with a picture of him clearly sneaking out the back door. There are rumors flying about Ryan and Leslie being a couple. As soon as I hear this, I am devastated. It seems like my worst nightmare is coming true. I didn’t think Ryan would do this to me but what else am I supposed to think? Ryan’s not answering his phone and not calling me back. Reporters are stalking me again to get my reaction. I try to ignore them and not say anything.

Sarah and Taylor tell me to talk to Ryan before believing anything those stupid tabloids say. I try to not let it bother me, but I can’t help it. I’m not used to it.

Finally, Ryan calls me. I am very stand-offish when I answer.

“Hi Sweetheart,” he says. “What a rough day.”

“Yeah, I heard,” I state.

“I’m so sorry, Olivia,” he apologizes right away. “The rumors are not true. Well, I did stay over at Leslie’s, but nothing happened. Leslie’s boyfriend was there, too. We are and have only been friends. I had to leave early for an interview.”

“Ok” I say, sounding dejected. It is hard for me to believe him.

“Olivia, please don’t shut me out. Tell me what you’re thinking – feeling. Be honest. Just let it out.”

“You said nothing happened,” I say quietly.

“Damn it, Olivia. You’re shutting me out. Tell me!”

“I…um…I’m not sure I believe you. I mean, this has already happened to me and it was true. So, what else am I supposed to think? I heard the news right away this morning and I was so devastated Ryan.” Tears ran down my face. I sniff. “I’ve had reporters after me all day asking if I heard the news and what I thought. You wouldn’t answer your phone. Didn’t call me back until now.”

He growls and curses under his breath.

“I’m so sorry, Love. It was a stupid mistake on my part. I’d gone over to Leslie’s because I was upset and needed a girls’ point-of-view. I talked to her about you all night. I think I might understand a little more because of her. But it was 2 am when I was ready to leave. Leslie wouldn’t let me drive because I had a few glasses of scotch. Please, Olivia. Please, don’t let this come between us. I can’t lose you.”

Should I believe him? I have no reason to not believe him. He’s pleading with me, desperately. He told me about Leslie before. Just friends. Plus, what right do I have to be upset. I am the one who wants to just be friends. I haven’t told him that I love him. So, I should not be upset. I choose to believe him and move on.

“I do believe you Ryan. It just hit me hard. I’ve been through this already and hard not to let it hurt me.”

“Oh, thank god, Olivia. I swear nothing happened and nothing ever will. I’m truly sorry for putting you through that hurt all over again.”

We talk some more. Ryan gets me to talk about how I felt when I heard what was reported this morning. I think it helps me move past the whole mess.

However, a couple days later, I have a total melt-down. Between both of our busy schedules, I haven’t talked to Ryan for a few days. I have a couple of bad days at work. Then I find out that the creeper girl has been sneaking around my house again, going through my trash. To top it off, Craig calls to tell me that Annabelle’s pregnant and he doesn’t want me to hear it from someone else.

All it takes to break me is to hear Ryan’s voice when we finally connect and I start crying hysterically.

“Hey, hey. Olivia, baby, what’s wrong?”

I try to talk, but only jumbled words come out.

“Calm down. Take some slow, deep breaths.”

I breathe for half a minute. “Why aren’t you closer Ryan? I need you,” I whisper.

“Oh Sweetheart. I can be one the next plane, if you really need me, but I’d like you to tell me why you’re so upset,” he whispers back.

I start crying harder again because he’s being so nice to me.

“Olivia! You’ve got to calm down and tell me what’s wrong. This is driving me crazy!”

“Give me a sec,” I manage to mumble.

I take a little time to relax and get my emotions under control again. I cried so hard that now I have the hiccups. Finally, I’m able to tell him everything that has been going on - my stalker, my bad days at work and Craig’s phone call.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up. You have a stalker?” Ryan spits out. He is livid.

“Y…yes. I…I think it’s that girl from Las Vegas. I told you I thought it was her that morning Taylor and I went out for breakfast. My neighbors have been seeing a woman sneaking around my house trying to look in the windows and going thru my trash.”

“Shit, Olivia! Why haven’t you told me about this before? I want you to tell me this stuff. Have you called the police?”

“Yes, the police are involved. But right now, there’s not much they can do. She hasn’t been caught, always runs off. We don’t know who she is. We don’t even have a picture of her. I’ve been writing everything down that’s strange that happens.”

“I don’t like this, Olivia.”

“I don’t either. It’s stressing me out a lot, but she hasn’t done anything violent or threatening. Right now she’s just being nosy. Hopefully it will stay that way. I’m being extremely cautious. And my neighbors are watching out for me, too.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before now?”

“I didn’t want to worry you,” I say. Ryan makes an aggravated sound, but I ignore it. “And it really just came out in the open these past couple days. Before that I would just see her out at some of the same places I would be. I didn’t think anything about that. And we don’t know for sure that the stalker is this woman. I’m also wondering if the roses are from her. If she isn’t the stalker, then there is someone else out there giving me the roses.”

“Dammit! Let me get you security.”

“No Ryan. I don’t want another person following me around.”

“Olivia, please be careful. I don’t want anything to happen to you. I just found you. Damn it. Why do you have to be so far away from me?”

Ryan and I talk about the other troubles I’d mentioned that were stressing me out. He calms me down about Craig’s baby saying that if I and Craig would have had a child, I would never truly be rid of Craig. Because I did not have a child, I can sever all ties with Craig. As for my work issues, everyone makes mistakes. He was sure I apologized profusely and probably already corrected the mistakes.

“What a crappy week you’ve had. Not that everything you told me isn’t enough to stress anyone out, but is there anything else causing you stress?”

It’s weird how well he knows me already. I’m trying to hide my worries about him from Ryan. But he can ‘see’ right through me. I still try to cover it up. “No. That’s it, just the divorce and normal work stress.”

“I don’t believe you Olivia. You can tell me anything. Please.”

“Fine. Well, I guess I’m stressed over you.”

“Me?” he asks shocked. He’s quiet for a little bit before he added, “I thought we had that all cleared up a couple days ago. There’s nothing between Leslie and me. I guess I could let you go and you’d never have to talk to me again.”

“What?! No!” I practically scream at him. “I meant I’m stressing myself out over you because I like you way more than I think I should. And I don’t know how to handle it.”

“Oh, thank God,” he exclaims. “So…you’re stressing yourself out instead of sitting back and seeing where this goes?”

Yes, it sounds silly when he says it. But I cannot help who I am.

“I shouldn’t like you as much as I do. I shouldn’t miss you as much as I do, at least not this soon after meeting you,” I whisper, knowing this comment would irritate him.

“Why not?” he demands.

“Because we hardly know each other.”

“God damn it. That’s bullshit, Olivia. We’ve been over this. We know each other. Sure, we only met a few weeks ago. But we got to know each other very well out in Vegas. And even better talking almost every day since. What’s next?”

I know I am making him angry, but I’m trying to be honest, like he wants me to be, and without telling him I love him.

“You’re this big actor who lives out in Los Angeles.”

“So I’m an actor. I’m still a human being who has feelings. Quit making excuses and tell me what’s really bothering you.”

“I’m scared. My feeling go really deep for you and I’m scared of you not feeling the same. I’m also terrified of what I have to face because you’re you.”

I hear him sigh. He’s quiet for a moment.

“Sweet Olivia. I wish I was there to hold you. Olivia, I have feelings that run really deep too. You’re not alone there. I can’t stop thinking about you, always wishing I was with you. I can’t do anything about who I am and what you might have to deal with and THAT scares me. I’m worried that you won’t be able to handle all the attention and prodding and hounding and I’m afraid you’ll run screaming away from me. I’m not sure I’m worth all the headaches and gossip and intrusion that will inevitably follow us,” he laughs nervously. “We both have our fears, but I don’t want to lose you over them. Can’t we take things one day at a time and see what happens?”

I feel so much better knowing he has similar concerns, too. And it makes me hopeful that he does have strong feelings for me. I think I can maybe just relax a little to take things one day at a time.

“I will try to take one day at a time. I think you’re worth it. I’m not going to run away from you. I might have a melt down every now and then but not run away.”

“I can handle melt downs. I just can’t handle not having you in my life. Now, I do have a couple days free. I was going to go out on the ocean with some friends, but I could come for a short visit if you’d like.”

“Oh hell, no. You don’t need to come out. I mean, if you want to you can. But I’m not asking you to come. I’m ok. I’m sorry I freaked out on you. I feel like an idiot.”

“Don’t be sorry. I’m glad I know what’s worrying you,” Ryan says. “And look at what we found out. We now know that both us have strong feelings for each other. We just have to figure out what we’re going to do with those feelings.”

“Yes. I do feel much better after talking with you. With everything that’s happened and me missing you so much, I felt like I was drowning.”

“You know, I miss you like crazy, too, don’t you?” he asks.

“Probably not as much as I miss you,” I counter.

He starts to say something, but I cut him off.

“We could argue about that for a long time. I should let you go. I’ve kept you from whatever you were going to do.”

“I have no plans. I don’t do very much that’s not work related. I haven’t dated since I met you.”

“Ryan…”

“Don’t Olivia. My friends are mostly busy with filming their own movies,” he bulldozes on. “Leslie and I will go out for a drink now and then, but she goes out on lots of dates. Look Olivia. I just want you to understand how serious I am about you,” Ryan says. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before you. And I’m going to be worried about you with that stupid stalker. But I’m going to trust that you’re doing everything the police tell you and you will be keeping yourself safe.”

My heartbeat is thudding loudly from Ryan’s words. “I am. And I will let you know if anything more happens.”

“Then I will let you go. Goodnight and get some sleep. You need it. I miss you like crazy Olivia.”

“I miss you, too.” I almost add ‘I love you’.

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