“Take a deep breath and relax,” Elijah says calmly. I obey, but it does nothing to settle my nerves. I open my eyes and look into his hazel-grey orbs.
“I can't do this, Elijah,” I tell him, my voice shaking.
He sighs and rubs his hands up and down my arms briskly. “Sophie, you can do this. You'll be fine. I'll be with you the whole time.”
“But, what if I say something I'm not supposed to? This is TV; you can't take it back.” I groan as my stomach lurches. I think I'm going to be sick.
“Mr. Stone, you have two minutes,” a small woman with a clipboard and headset tells him. He nods then turns back to me.
“Parker, suck it up. You can do this,” he says with authority. It makes me smile. To the world, Elijah Stone may seem like a quiet and reserved guy, but to those who know him, he's a total goofball who likes to think he's in control of his world.
“I'll be okay. You better get ready,” I tell him, smiling to let him know I'm really okay. It doesn't fool him, though.
“Listen, my little green-eyed girl, you can do this. You have nothing to fear. I'll help you. I'm here for you. Shit, I'll even hold your hand out there if it will help,” he says, tucking loose wisps of hair behind my ear and kissing my forehead. I love it when he does that.
“You don't have to. I agree our private life should be private. We're hounded enough as it is.” I lean up on my tiptoes and kiss his lips lightly.
“Mr. Stone, we have thirty seconds,” the same girl says.
“Go, Mr. Stone. I'll be with you soon.” He smirks, cups my face, then leaves me to head out on stage.
I suppose you could say this is my debut into the world of television. I wrote a few books not long ago, and somehow they made it onto the New York Times top ten bestsellers list. I've won a few awards for them as well. I'm really shocked by all my success. I didn't think they were that great, but apparently America disagrees, and I couldn't be more thankful. So, I find myself now on the verge of going on my very first TV interview. Of course, Elijah will go on first–he has a movie coming out soon–then I'll come out and we'll discuss my books and them becoming movies. It's simple. Easy. Yeah, I'm not so sure.
“Miss Parker?” I look to see a young girl with brilliant blonde hair, standing at my dressing room door.
“I'm Stacey, I just need to do your makeup for the set.”
“Oh, okay. Come in,” I tell her. We shake hands, and she sets to work.
After a few moments of silence, Stacey says, “I read your books. They're wonderful!”
I take a steady breath. Not that I'm nervous about speaking to her about my books; no, I do that all the time. I'm just so nervous about being in front of a billion people. “Thanks. I'll sign them for you, if you want.” I don't totally understand the whole signing thing, but I do it. It just blows my mind that having my little Jane Hancock on my books makes them more valuable.
“Oh, really? That would be so awesome! Mr. Stone signed my makeup kit. He's so sweet. You guys make a great couple. I don't care what anyone says, you're way better than that other chick,” she says in off-handed conversation.
I sigh. “Um … Stacey, I'm really not comfortable talking about Mr. Stone, or his relationships,” I say politely.
“Oh, gosh, I'm so sorry. Forgive me.” She looks genuinely abased, and I feel badly for crushing her mood.
I clear my throat awkwardly. “Sure.” It doesn't take her long to finish up and leave me to fret until it's my turn. I catch the tail end of Elijah's interview. He really does look great out there. He's so tall, he almost looks to be wearing the chair he's sitting in. He's such a natural. He has Gail Winters eating out of his hands.
I understand, why he suggested her for my first interview. She's friendly and funny with the perfect amount of seriousness. Plus, she has a genuine interest in me. She had contacted me not long after my books came out for an interview, but I wasn't ready. She wanted my life story, more than to promote my books. I didn't want my life to be what pushed me to fame. However, it seems to have done that anyway.
I look back at the screen where Elijah is sitting listening to Gail explain about his new movie before they watch the clip. His dark hair flops into his face and he brushes it away. I absolutely love his hair. It's long and slightly curly and almost pitch black, with a little bit of skunk spot white, in the front. He hates it, but it's just him. It plays perfectly with his lightly tan, Scottish/Italian complexion.
“Miss Parker, we're ready for you,” clipboard girl tells me. I nod quickly then follow her to my spot behind the curtain.
Stacey checks me over again then squeezes my arm. “You'll do great.”
“Thanks.” I smile warmly. She is sweet even if she rambles about things that are none of her business.
I barely hear Gail announce me; clipboard girl shoves me out into the spotlight. I did a walkthrough before the show. I know just where to go and what to do. However, I didn't ask how I was supposed to greet my boyfriend. We've not confirmed or denied anything to the public. It's not that we are trying to hide anything; it's just not their business.
I walk over to Gail, and she hugs me and kisses my cheek. I do the same then smile uneasily at Elijah. He's clapping and smiling brightly. Gail motions me into position beside Elijah. He must sense my unease, because he wraps his arms around me in a slight hug and says, “You're doing great. You look beautiful.” He kisses my cheek then we settle into our seats. I feel more relaxed sitting. Everyone is cheering. I know they're told to, but it still makes me more at ease for some reason.
“Thank you, thank you. Let's get this show on the road,” Gail says, laughing. She takes a sip of her water then turns to me. “Sophie, nice to meet you.”
“You as well,” I say, smiling. I adjust my skirt, then cross my left leg over my right. Elijah is sitting close to me on the couch. I can feel his warmth, but he's not actually touching me. It's comforting.
“Aw, so polite. You look gorgeous. I love your outfit!”
I blush. “Thanks.”
“Who's the designer?” she asks.
I look down embarrassed and smooth my skirt out a little. “Um … me?” I don't know why it comes out as a question.
“You? You designed your outfit?” Gail asks. I think she's impressed.
I nod. “Yeah, my grams was a seamstress, and she taught me everything she knows. So, I've been making a lot of my clothes since I was a teenager.”
“Wow! Multi-talented. I'm impressed. It looks beautiful.”
“Thank you.” My skirt is black with a lacy overlay that comes to the bottom of my thighs, with a zigzag silver, slightly glittery, belt, with a ruffled purple sleeveless top. My deep auburn hair is left down and stick straight.
“I'm excited to have you on the show today! As you know, I've been trying to get you on here for a while,” Gail says and smiles teasingly.
“I know,” I say, faux wincing.
“Well, you're here now, and it seems like I have even more info to get out of you.” She laughs loudly. I chuckle, but my insides are doing summersaults. I know what she'll ask as the whole thing is scripted, but Elijah warned me that sometimes they go way off script, and it has me worried.
“Oh, no,” I murmur genuinely nervous, but laugh. I can feel Elijah brush my hip with his finger. I relax slightly. I know he won't let her get far without stepping in on my behalf.
“I want to talk about your book and movie, but I'd like to start with telling everyone a little about you.” I nod. “You did a magazine interview not long ago, where you talk about your family. I have to say it was one of the reasons I wanted you on my show. I think there are quite a few people who can relate and even learn from your experiences.” I nod again as I listen. I'm beginning to forget about the audience. It's more like I'm having a conversation. “Tell us a little about your upbringing.”
“Okay. Um … I grew up in Helena, Mississippi. My parents were killed in a car crash when I was about ten. Then my grandparents raised me.” It sounds pretty normal.
“You always lived with them?” she asks.
“Yes. My parents were teenagers when they had my twin brothers, fifteen to be exact, then I was born when they were eighteen. My mom's parents kicked her out of the house when they found out she was pregnant. Not because of the baby, but because of the father. They didn't like the fact my dad was raised by two gay men.”
“So your grandfathers took her in and helped with the babies?”
“Yes, and my grandma as well.” I clear my throat and smile. “I think this is sometimes more strange than having two grandfathers, but my grandma was married to my grandpa Cliff, and they had my dad. They never divorced, but grandpa knew he was gay. My grandma tried for years to get him to accept who he was, but it just wasn't talked about back then. When my dad was about thirteen, Grandpa Cliff met Grandpa Bill. They eventually started a relationship, and since Grandma had nowhere to go and was okay with them, they just all moved in together. They raised my parents and us kids. It never occurred to me we weren't the average family, until one of my friend's mom's pointed it out.” I chuckle.
“So, you never felt different or made fun of?” she ask.
I shake my head. “No, not really. I don't think anyone realized our situation until I was about sixteen. I had a sleepover, and one of the girls went home early; her mom realized my grandfathers were gay from the family pictures they had hanging up.”
“Was that tough for you?”
I laugh. “No. I think I'm a poor example of growing up in a non-traditional family, because I was very sheltered. I was also taught from a very young age people's opinions are their own and should have no effect on me whatsoever.”
“That's wonderful! I think since non-traditional is becoming so common here in America, more people should share their experiences. I'm glad you had such a loving environment to grow up in .” Gail turns to the audience then says, “We’ll take a short break and be back in a moment to talk to Elijah and Sophie about their movie project,” Gail says. We go to commercial.
Elijah leans over to me and whispers in my ear, “You're doing great, baby.”
I look over to him and smile. “Thanks. I don't feel as nervous.”
“You're doing wonderful!” Gail confirms. We chat for a bit about nothing, then the cameras are rolling again.
“We're back with Elijah Stone and Sophia Parker. Now, I've heard that you two had an interesting 'Meet Cute'. Will you tell us about it?” Gail asks.
I look at Elijah and laugh. He smiles warmly. “Go ahead, tell the world how head over heels you were for me.” He laughs then winks at me.
I giggle. I straighten my skirt. “Um, I like to refer to our meeting as a 'Meet Stupid', not a 'Meet Cute',” I say firmly.
Gail's eyes grow wide. “Oh, do tell!”
I laugh again. “Oh, okay.” The crowd cheers loudly. I look out and shake my head. I lean in to Elijah. “I can't believe they care.”
“I know, baby. I know,” he says, chuckling.
“So, we were both on the same flight to Australia, about a year ago. I was running a bit late and was rushing to get to my seat. Oh, and I'm terrified of flying.” The crowd laughs. “So, of course, I trip and fall. I'm not sure how I managed it, but my laptop bonks Elijah in the head and my overnight bag goes soaring off in front of me, as I sprawl in the aisle. The attendant helps me up as I hear him,” I point to Elijah “ordering two tequilas. I think nothing of it and finally get settled in my seat. I don't bother looking at him or anyone. I'm mortified by this point. I'm breathing really deeply and counting and chanting to myself that I'll be all right. I can hear him laughing beside me, but I pay him no attention, until he sets the little bottle in front of me and tells me to drink.”
“I don't drink!” I say offended.
“Just drink it,” he says, encouragingly.
“I can't. I don't drink,” I say adamantly.
“Why, are you pregnant?” he asks.
I huff obviously offended. “What? No, of course not. I just don't like how it makes me feel.” I push the little bottle back to him.
He pushes it back in front of me. “Trust me. It will help. Unless you have Valium.”
“Then drink it. It will help you calm down. I don't think I can listen to thirteen plus hours of you chanting.”
“Fine,” I snap and chug the bottle. After about three bottles, I'm very loose and relaxed. I don't remember take-off or much of anything.
“Hey,” I say to him.
“Yeah?” Elijah answers with a smile.
My head lulls over, and I look at him then down to the tray in his lap. “That's my book.” He looks at me puzzled and picks the book up, examining it.
“Um, no. I'm pretty sure this is mine. I bought it in the airport bookstore.”
I laugh. “No, silly. I wrote it.”
“You're Sophia Parker?”
“Yep!” I pop my 'p' loudly. “But call me Sophie. Sophia is too formal.”
He puts his hand out to shake mine. “Nice to meet you, Sophie. Hey, would you mind signing this?” he asks.
I shrug. “Sure, I guess.”
He laughs. “I don't mean to put you out.”
I wave him off. “No, it's nothing. I just don't understand why an autograph is so important. I mean, yeah, to sign checks and stuff, but to sign it for a stranger is weird to me.” I have his book on my tray and have it open to the first blank page. I sign my name then sarcastically say, “You want my phone number too?”
“Yeah.” I can hear the laughter in his voice as I begin to write not only my phone number but my address, parents', brothers', and animals' names. My height, weight, and measurements, and a little blurb about how I think autographing for fans is stupid. I close the book and hand it back to him. He's amused, and I smile sloppily at him.
“There you go, tiger,” I say with a wink. “What do I get for my troubles? You gonna sign something for me?”
His eyes crinkle with laughter. “I thought you just said it was stupid?”
“I did, but you know tit for tat and all that.” My words may slur a bit, but I still know exactly who he is.
“Why would you want my signature?” he asks.
“You're famous. Why not?”
“So you know who I am?” he asks. I nod slowly with a big motion.
“Course, everyone does. That's you on the screen, right?” I point to the in-flight movie. It's the movie that sent him to stardom, ‘Shift’. He plays a half vampire, half werewolf. It's highly unrealistic and all around badly directed, but he was good and teeny boppers everywhere loved it and him.
“Yeah,” he groans slightly.
“Doesn't it annoy you? I mean, all the fans and paparazzi hounding you? It must be exhausting. I don't know how you handle people prying into your life. You know, the other day I was on Facebook and there were like ten posts about you in a row. It gets old. I don't know how you do it. And to top it all off, they pry into your private life. I thought I'd never be able to get on the internet again after that whole cheating debacle. I mean, shit, how many times are they going to post those pictures and speculate about something they clearly know nothing about? I feel so bad for you.” I ramble. He sits there amused as he listens to my slurry mantra.
“It does get old, but I signed up for this job. I knew what could happen.” I notice then he has a faint Scottish accent. I'd noticed it on TV interviews, but in person, it's different. He hands me a signed napkin and I lay it on my tray.
“Yeah. I bet you didn't know it'd be like this, though.”
“No, not really. I never expected to make it as well as I have. I'm grateful,” he tells me. I sit up with great effort and look at him.
“You know what? I think you're an all right person. Not a stuck-up prick like others I've met.”
He laughs. “Thanks. I think.”
“Hey,” a voice comes from beside us, and I look up.
“Damn, you're big,” I say to the man looming over us. He's very tall, with dark blond hair and the bluest eyes I've ever seen. His muscles look like they're trying to rip their way out of his shirt.
He looks down at me and smiles. “You want to trade seats?” the big guy asks Elijah.
“No. I'm good. Thanks, Hutch.”
“Okay, boss. Just let me know.”
“Sure,” Elijah says, then Hutch leaves us.
My head lulls back over to Elijah. “Does he think I'm harassing you?” I ask.
“Probably. But you're not. It's refreshing to hear someone honest for a change. Most people try to kiss my ass. I like someone who seems to be on borderline hatred.” He laughs.
“I don't hate you. I told you I felt bad for you,” I defend myself.
“But not bad enough to want my signature,” he says, pointing to the napkin he's signed; I've put my drink on top, ruining it.
I laugh. “Oops, I guess my napkin's worth just went down.” I take an exaggerated breath. “Isn't it stupid if we sign something, it makes the value of the item increases?”
He nods. “It's pretty crazy.”
“Do you use a fake signature?” I ask him in a conspiratorially low voice.
He seems rather amused with me as he laughs again. “I do. How about you?”
“No, not really. I'm pretty lazy about signing my name anyway. It never really looks the same way twice. You gotta keep 'em guessing.” At some point, I drift off to sleep, only waking when the flight attendant informs me I need to buckle up. I also realize I've been asleep on Elijah's shoulder and have drooled down his shirt, and now that I'm once again sober, I'm mortified. After assuring me it's all right and signing a new napkin for me, Elijah and I depart the plane.
“So, do you still have the napkin?” Gail asks.
I smile. I haven't told Elijah this before. “Um, no. I don't,” I say sheepishly. Elijah snorts.
Gail gasps. “Did you throw it away?” she asks in shock, putting her hand over her heart, frowning.
I shake my head. “No. As I was waiting on my bags, he and his group walked by. A little girl, maybe ten, started freaking out, saying he was her favorite actor. So, I gave her his signed napkin and told her I sat by him on the plane. I thought she'd faint, she was so happy.” Gail gushes about how sweet that was, and Elijah squeezes my hand.
“So then the rest is history and you guys are in love and getting married,” she says laughing.
We both just chuckle but say nothing. “So, we all know that Mr. Stone here is notoriously private. Have you adopted the same philosophy?”
“I don't know if I'd call it a philosophy, but I think your personal life, at a certain point, should be separate from your work life. I've always believed that.”
“So you wouldn't tell us if you had a boyfriend or who he was?” she tries.
“Probably not. Not that I'd be ashamed or anything. I just, like I said, think work and home should be separate.”
“Oh, honey. I totally understand. So let's talk about this new movie! Where are you in the process?”
I look at Elijah, hoping he'll take it from here. He moves his left arm to rest on the seat behind me. He's still not touching me, but I feel like he's wrapping himself around me. It's comforting. “We're still in the early stages. We have the studio, a few directors, of course, Sophie and I are producers, and we'll be looking into some actors here shortly.”
“Do you have any preferences, Sophie?”
“No, not really. I'd like to have someone who's relatively new, or maybe on TV at the moment. I like the idea of helping someone further their career. Kind of a pay-it-forward effect. I feel so incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, and I don't know I'd have it, had I not been on that plane to Australia at the right time.”
“Nah, you'd still have it. Your work is awesome,” Elijah tells me. The audience 'awes' loudly. I blush, but thank him for the compliment.
“You guys are just so sweet together! Aren't they the sweetest?” Gail asks the audience, they agree, clapping and cheering. Elijah pulls me closer to him and kisses my hair, causing the spectators to go off again. I look up at him and shake my head, smirking. Even though it was a gesture any good friend could have done, to the viewers, it's as good as outing our relationship status.
“So, how has it been working together so far?” Gail asks as the crowd settles.
“It's been great. I've learned a lot about the business. I couldn't do this without him,” I explain.
Gail smiles warmly. “What about you, Elijah?”
He chuckles and scratches his chin. “It's been … an experience,” he says teasingly. I elbow him in the ribs lightly, sending the audience into laughter again. “Okay, okay.” He holds his hands up in surrender. “Seriously, it's been great. She has a brilliant mind. Even though she doesn't have experience in this business, she has incredible ideas I think will translate to film well.”
I smile and mouth 'thank you' to him. He winks then looks back at Gail. “Do you think all of your books will be made into films?” she asks.
“I hope so. It is a series, so I'd hope my fans would love to see them all put to film,” I say.
“I have every intention to see they are. The series is great and will make a spectacular movie franchise,” Elijah says.
“Wonderful. Thank you both so much for being here. Good luck on your projects. I know I can't wait to see Marshall and Alyx brought to life. Thank you, viewers, for tuning in and please be back here tomorrow to see the cast-off from Teen Idol and the cast of the new hit movie Turbulence. Have a blessed day, America!” She blows a huge kiss and then we're off the air. She turns to us as stagehands rush over to take our mics. “Thanks, guys. This was really great,” Gail says, her voice returning to her normal pitch.
“Thanks for having us,” Elijah says. His microphone is off so he stands and offers me his hand. As soon as my microphone is completely off, I take it and stand as well. He kisses my lips softly. “You did great, sweetheart.”
“You guys are just so stinking cute together. I think you're quickly becoming America's new 'it' couple. Even if you never admit you're together.” Gail says.
I cringe. “I hope not.”
Elijah chuckles. “I'm afraid they'll be disappointed once they realize how utterly boring we are.” I nod my head in agreement. We exit the stage, gather our things, then head to our waiting limo.
“Where to, boss?” Mike asks.
“I have another interview to film. The Dave Harvey Show, lot 24,” he replies. Mike nods and closes the door behind us.
“Little Miss, do you need to be dropped off somewhere?” Mike asks as he takes his seat. He always calls me little miss. I have no idea why, but I don't mind. He may be a huge dude, but he's really sweet.
“No. I'm going with EJ today,” I tell him. Most people who know Elijah call him Stone, but his mom and I call him EJ. He absolutely hates it. He prefers I call him Stone, but I just can't do that unless I'm goofing around, or when he calls me Parker. I'm not completely sure what this group's thing is with calling most by their last names, but it seems to be the trend. Take Mike, for example. His last name is Hutchins, but just about everyone calls him Hutch.
Elijah leans in and kisses my neck. “God, I've missed you,” he whispers.
I turn to face him slightly. “EJ, I've been with you all morning.” I roll my eyes.
My overly affectionate boyfriend sighs and says in a low sexy voice, “You know what I mean. It's been over a week. I want to skip this fucking interview and take you back to your hotel and do unspeakable things to your little body.”
I blush and my breathing deepens. “Whose fault was that?” I tease.
“My damn managers,” he says and chuckles huskily. “He sent me to New York for a damn week. I only needed to be there for two days.”
“Hmm, well let's fire the bastard and run off to a private island so we can do unspeakable things for as long as we want,” I murmur before straddling his lap and tangling my fingers into his dark locks.
“God, baby. I need you.” He pulls me closer to him and I feel his bulge press into me. My skirt, though not tight, is short and easily pushed up to my hips.
“Close the partition,” I whisper. I hear the faint chuckle of Mike as the window rises.
“You were so fucking hot out there talking to Gail. You looked so confident, baby. Just thinking about when we met makes me so hard. You drove me crazy on that flight. I didn't know whether to fuck you or have you thrown out.”
“You like me feisty?” I tease.
“Oh, honey, I love you feisty. I love you in every way.” Suddenly our teasing sexy atmosphere changes to soft sensual love.
“Oh, EJ. I love you so much.” I cut off any response as I press my mouth to his in a heated kiss. His hand trails up my thigh to my butt and squeezes. I press myself closer to him, rubbing against his erection. He groans and pushes me back.
“Baby, we can't. I don't have protection.”
“I don't care,” I tell him seriously, moving back in to kiss him. He kisses me a little more then draws back once more.
“It's too much of a mess. I have to be on set in twenty minutes.” I can see the regret in his eyes. I sigh and flop back in my place and right my skirt. “I'm sorry.”
“No, you're right. Besides, I'm not sure if the antibiotics are out of my system. We shouldn't risk it.”
“I'll make it up to you,” he promises. He brushes my hair from my eyes and kisses my lips softly.
We pull up to the curb and Mike exits the car. He taps on the window and Elijah lowers it about three inches. “The crowd has already started to gather. Let me get security to handle them and then we can enter.”
“Okay. Take Soph through the back,” Elijah orders.
“Yes, sir.” Mike disappears through the crowd. I look out the window and notice Daniel Brody, Elijah's other bodyguard, stationed towards the back of the car. Daniel, or Brody as everyone except for me calls him, is almost the same build as Mike, but he's bald with brown eyes. He's handsome, but the permanent scowl on his face makes him look scary as fuck, which is mostly due to the tattoo on his scalp. He's a sweetheart, though, and loves me to death. He reminds me of my brother, Jared. Huge with a heart of gold.
Elijah squeezes my hand, and my eyes trail back to him. “Are you staring at Brody again?”
I blush. “No. Of course not,” I defend myself.
He laughs. “You so were. I'm going to have to fire his ass just so I can get more of your attention.”
“Mr. Stone, you have my attention more than anyone else.” I lean in and plant a sweet kiss to his lips.
“I love you, Miss Parker.” He kisses me again. “Will you be all right waiting for me?”
“Of course! I told you my college roommate works here. I haven't seen her in ages. It'll be nice to catch up.”
“That's right. What's her name?”
“Right. Makeup artist?”
“Yes. We've kept in touch through the years, but once she moved out here, it was hard to visit. I've been trying to see her since I moved here, but everything's been so crazy,” I explain. Krystal and I were college freshman together. We roomed together second semester after my first roommate left. We got along so well that we eventually got an apartment together, where we lived until we graduated. She moved here, and I went home to my family. Krystal's a lively, energetic person who talks way too much and has one too many tattoos on her body. She's not like anyone I've ever met. Up until her, I hadn't really had any girlfriends to speak of. We were complete opposites, but we somehow make a great pair of friends that have lasted through the years. We used to talk almost every day, but it's gotten less and less over the years. I'm looking forward to being in the same city for a while.
“Crazy because of me,” Elijah teases, but I can see he really believes this.
“EJ, my life would be boring without you,” I tell him. He opens his mouth to reply, but the door swinging open stops him.
“We're ready,” Mike tells him.
“Good luck. See you in a few.” I smile and give him a little wave. I watch as Mike escorts him into the building. He stops to sign a few autographs and greet his fans. He's such a good guy. Daniel climbs in the driver's seat and we pull off into traffic.