"Lena," she groaned, rubbing her temples. "Lena!" She yelled a bit louder, immediately sorry as her own voice echoed loudly in the chambers of her apparently completely empty after last night's drinking, mind. Giselle twisted, trying to reach the phone and winced as her eyes ached from within as the sun practically molested her with its brightness.
"Shit!" She gritted. "Is it 12 already? My signing." She rolled to the side of the bed and swung her legs down, hitting the floor too early for her comfort. "What the..." She winced again, realizing that it was a low bedframe.
She crumpled a note on the bedside table, while grabbing it and bringing it up to her face to read aloud, "Get up, you are late! I got your clothes ready. Make up is in the bathroom. Take a shower. Ryan is at work, but if you need anything, call him. You know how nice he is. Oh... Since you were too drunk to remember last night, that 'skanky slut' as you put it, is actually a very nice young lady, who works for your boy. She is not competition. Relax. Take a deep breath and run."
Giselle followed the instruction for breathing and giggled with excitement. Of course, that little girl could not be with Tae Soo because... She could not come up with a logical reason, so the one her friend gave her sufficed. In twenty minutes she was running out the door with her bag and her phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in another. The sunny day was annoying, but she hoped that the medicine she grabbed for her throbbing headache would kick in any minute and then she could actually enjoy the bright weather.
Tae Soo was dressed casually in a t-shirt and light grey cardigan and jeans. He had a pleasant brunch with the producer and probed about the reading, just to get an idea of how long it might go and whether he could gracefully avoid attending it. No such luck. Apparently, it was a big deal. Some sort of a tradition. So he looked to Angie for saving him.
"Don't worry, boss," his trusty assistant assured him. "I will deal with it. You do your job, I do mine and then you can give me good references, deal?"
"Deal," he smiled from the corner of his mouth. Her youthful optimism was somehow contagious and his mood went from cautiously worried to cautiously hopeful. Just to prove how invaluable she was, Angie ushered him into a changing room to switch into a crisp white shirt. "I think you look sharper in it." He did as she suggested, after all the shirt she picked him for him the night before did not deter Giselle from speaking to him and he even noticed some admiration in her eyes as she clearly checked him out to her satisfaction.
The reading went on for the next hour and a half. Not once he glanced at his wristwatch, trying to be respectfully inconspicuous. The hands of the clock mocked him, playing a dangerous game of borrowed time. Sometimes when he checked, the time seemed to jump forward faster than possible, but at other instances it froze. If he was not so good at controlling his emotions, he would be swearing, but instead he smiled mildly at the actress across from him and twiddled with the script in his hands.
"Tae Soo, page 9 from the top," directed him Gangitano, his nose in the script.
"I'm not who you think I am. You don't want to get to know me," Annunciated Tae Soo in his pretty accent, eliciting approving nods from around the table.
The actress to the right chimed in, "You are wrong!" She spoke forcefully, looking over to meet his eyes, but his eyes were glued to the page in front of him. He was actually counting the lines, wondering how long it would take to finish.
"Excuse me," Angie stuck her head inside the room. "I'm so sorry to interrupt," she mumbled innocently flapping her lashes.
"Do not disturb sign is there for a reason," barked at her Gangitano. "We are in the middle of a scene."
"It's an urgent call," she held out a phone, "for Mr. Lee."
"Urgent?" Tae Soo turned, perplexed. Was it a part of a rouse or real?
"It is personal, sir." She took a long intense pause. "From your ex."
"My ex?" His brows twisted in a knot. Giselle could not possibly...
"Your ex –wife."
A ruffle of knowing murmur moved along the room. People looked at Tae Soo with genuine sympathy. It seemed the topic of exes was something that everybody could relate to.
"Did she say what it was about?" He asked trying to read Angie's eyes. A small tinge of an actual concern passed on his expressive countenance.
"No. She did not say. She said it was urgent that you speak with her right now." She put a particular emphasis on 'right now' and approached him.
"Is it my son? Is there something wrong with my son?" His voice trembled and the actresses in the room sighed in chorus, casting him looks of pity and men gave him eyes full of understanding.
"Go, just go and take care of the call," finally permitted Gangitano.
Tae Soo leapt off his seat and grabbing the phone, rushed to the exit, "Yoboseyo?"
There was silence on the other end. "Yoboseyo?" He sounded urgently, pulling the phone from the ear to check on connection as the door behind him was securely shut.
"We did it," gleefully smirked Angie. "It's the excuse, remember?"
Tae Soo took a second to readjust his reaction, his was quite bewildered and amazed at his assistant's performance. Even he believed it was real. But then it was the point, was not it?
"You earned your reference," he said, exhaling loudly. "For a minute there, I was scared. She never called me like that before. We don't talk ever, unless it's about my son and only if there is something wrong. We just exchange e-mails or texts, it's very business like and..." He stalled, realizing he was spilling very private information to somebody who should not have access to it.
"Don't worry, my lips are sealed," confirmed Angie. "I will let them know that you had to attend to this personal matter and would not be able to return to the reading in about... 5 minutes. Go, run. Aren't you late?"
It was already 3pm and his legs moved as if the ground underneath was lit on fire. At first he hurried his steps to the elevator, knuckles tapping on the doorjamb, he shifted readying and as soon as the doors were ajar, he was inside, impatiently pressing the button to the garage level.
Angie was efficient and the rental car was already parked and ready for him. The only problem was – he did not know where to go. He was not familiar with Los Angeles to just jump behind the wheel and drive. He nervously opened up map on his phone, but the reception was bad and the picture was garbled. He called Angie, but his ping went unanswered. In sheer panic, he rushed up the stairs to the lobby level and grabbing the first person in a security guard uniform, ordered hoarsely, "I need help with directions. I'm out of town."
The guy stepped back a bit stunned, but then smiled pleasantly and inquired, "Where to, sir?"
"To this place. It's called... 'Barnes and Noble', I guess. It is somewhere in Sherman Oaks? Where is it?"
"Ahh. Let me see."
Why did everybody and everything moved so slowly - Tae Soo heard the words stretch through the air, like in one of those sci-fi movies with time travel through black hole or worm hole or whatever the heck it was, where there was a lag after somebody pronounced a sound before the sound was actualized; you could call it a sort of a word - drag.
While he pondered on the sound-wave-drag experience accosting his senses, feeling nauseated to his stomach, Tae Soo realized that the cause of his queasiness was disgustingly strong and clammy fear. It dawned on him that he was genuinely scared to miss this chance, a once in a life time chance to get Giselle back in his life and to tell her that he never wanted to let her go again. That's why all of his senses were in overdrive. It felt finite – if not now, then never.
"Sir, sir, are you listening?"
He snapped out of his spiraling out of control anxiety and willed his mind to focus on the man in front of him, who was pointing at the phone.
"Here are the directions, sir. It will be about 40-50 minute ride with traffic. It seems that the freeway is moving, you might be lucky and make it in 30. This is the link for the GPS in your car." The man pleasantly smiled again and handed over the phone to the actor.
"So, when I get out of the parking garage, do I turn right or left?" He was still a bit lost.
"Right and then after the first traffic light there will be a freeway entrance. Stay in the right lane, once on the freeway, just let your GPS guide you."
Tae Soo frowned at his own lack of common sense – of course his car could give him directions. What was wrong with him? "Thank you, thank you very much," he grabbed the man's hand, startling him, and shook it excitedly.
"Shit! I spilled coffee on my keyboard again," she groaned as the sticky liquid coated her fingers, frantically picking up the mess with a piece of toilet paper she had nearby out of old habit instead of a napkin. "Shit, shit!" She ran into the bathroom, pulling the whole roll of the toilet paper with her, while unwinding and rearranging it like a band over her palm. She soaked up coffee with a few applications, pushing the wet mush of the disintegrating paper aside and finally turned her laptop upside down and blew between the keys, trying to catch the drops that hid underneath.
Like some of the 20th century writers who preferred pen and paper to the technological marvels of word processors, Giselle still enjoyed the use of her outdated laptop with a physical, not a virtual keyboard. With a few modifications, it functioned like any other modern one, but she enjoyed the feel of the keys giving under the pressure of her flying fingers and the joyful clicks released as if she was communicating with the letters coming alive on screen. She shut down her laptop and let out another aggravated groan.
Cursed. I'm definitely cursed in love.
Yesterday was a complete disaster. She waited for Tae Soo and he never showed up. She stared at the dark screen of her phone and then scrolled through the many messages from Tae Soo from last night.
"I'm sorry. I'm stuck."
"Running late, be there."
"I can't get out on time."
"Are you still waiting? Because if you are, I'm on my way."
"I got to the store, but the event had ended. Where are you Giselle? Why aren't you answering?"
"Sorry, don't wait for me. I will see you tonight."
"Giselle, call me."
"You are probably mad, so good night, sweet dreams. Yours, Tae Soo."
Imaginary messages, she might add. She was desperate enough to scroll through the imaginary messages from him. Her mailbox was tauntingly empty. She had no way of reaching him or him reaching her. In this day and age of social networking, electronic communication and god only knows what, they acted so childishly, relying on setting only time and a place. She was sure he had a good reason, but how would she find him?
She angrily turned the phone over and the machine apologetically chimed, "Sorry, no new communication delivered, Ms. Rodriquez."
"I can see that, I'm not blind!" Giselle spewed sarcasm on deaf ears and before the psychologically attuned voice gave her another apology, ordered preemptively, "No voice response needed."
Left alone with her thoughts, Giselle suddenly regretted mistreating her friendly virtual assistant. Yesterday was full of high highs and low lows. It started out miserably, quickly escalating to euphoria and then plummeting back to misery and through all of that, her little electronic friend offered helpful suggestions with positive affirmations, relaxation exercises and tactile soothing of special vibration mode. Her hopes soared and then crushed with the wings cut midflight.
At first she was busy. After an obligatory reading session, she had Q and A and then was finally free to take a bathroom break and look around. Tae Soo was not in the hall. She secretly hoped he had arrived at the end because he was the kind of guy who kept his promises. And he sure seemed eager to find an excuse to see her again. The crowd slowly dissolved after another hour of giving each of her readers extra attention; following informally chatting with a few ladies, who obviously had nothing better to do and were full of questions, she felt good to hear feedback about her writing skills and how the story affected others. She felt proud to have finally arrived at a point where she was a recognized author and her journey was of interest to others. But her mind kept darting to his absence and her eyes kept scanning the room impatiently every chance she got. He was 2 hours late. Why did not she give him her number?
Soon, Giselle found herself in a bathroom stall, sniffling as bitter tears leaked all over her face, dripping with black from diluted supposedly waterproof mascara onto the toilet paper she clutched. She felt offended, deeply offended, even injured by the fact that he stood her up. Never mind the rational thinking that he probably had a reason and knowing him, was running across town just to try and make it here even if late...
She felt hurt.
It was not fair: She looked good, she just had another successful event and if he only had shown up, then she would be on cloud nine. Instead, she was crying her heart out on the toilet.
Her phone buzzed with an unread message, sent an hour ago.
"Hey sweetie, how is it going?" Lena
"Lena!" She dialed, impatiently tapping her foot, the phone rang till it went to voice mail. Giselle hung up frustrated, not leaving a message. What's the point of whining? She dialed again, this time leaving a message, with a few sniffles and sobs in between, "I'm so upset, I can't talk. I can't believe he did this to me. I have no way of calling him either. Why am I so stu-piiiid?"
And then she thought of Shklovsky. He knew Gangitano, and Gangitano knew Tae Soo, and if she could find out his contact info, then she could call and scream at him not to ever bother and show his face in front of her again, raising her hopes! Yes. That was a great idea... not! It would look weird, right? She needed to have somebody to talk to and make sure her thinking was straight, but she somehow doubted that any of her ideas made much sense now.
She wiped off her nose with the back of her hand, staring at her phone, as if it would give her an answer, but the screen remained dark.
Foaming like a horse in a lather, Tae Soo stormed the bookstore, his usually perfect hair messy, his eyes glowing with a crazy light, lips chapped from dryness and from him biting them ceaselessly, the upper button on his shirt open and sweat soaking through the fabric at the armpits. "Excuse me," he yelled, drawing attention not only from the sales staff, but the customers, "where is the signing?" He stood in the middle of the wide open entrance - his jacket clasped in one hand, his shirt bunched up around the waist, but still tall and handsome enough to make the heads turn and stay that way, at least of many female patrons.
He was pitiful, but gorgeous, and that was his charm that saved him. A woman in her mid forties approached him, wiggling her hips a bit too vigorously and breathed out in a husky guttural voice, "Are you lost, dear?"
He looked down at her from his height, eyes of a man who just lost someone very precious, trying to be brave in the face of an imminent crisis. "Do you know where is the signing for Ms. Rodriquez? She had it here today at 1pm."
"No, there are currently no events that I know of." The woman looked at him sympathetically, "But you seem like something bad happened."
"Yes, I lost her. I need to see her," he explained, as if the woman could even begin to comprehend the back story of his obvious desperation that began ten years ago and was coming to a pathetically miserable ending, as far as he could see.
"Is it your child?"
He looked confused.
"You look like you lost your child, you have that frantic look that parents get when their kid is missing."
"No, not my child. The love of my life."
"Ahh." The woman smiled. "Then you will find her. If she is indeed the love of your life, she would not disappear so easily."
A shy smile crept on his glistening with sweat face, he suddenly grabbed the woman into a tight hug and whispered, "Thank you."
She was so stunned, she did not move, but the observers noticed a sly smile on her face. The cougar got her five minutes of a younger and hot man pressing her to his chest.