A man, like Pete Phillips, should not say he’ll love you forever and then turn and walk away when he feels like it. But what the heck can you do about it? Nothing. Just watch him go. That’s all. Say ‘goodbye’ and watch him go.
This is what happened to me a few years ago. Yeah, I cried. I screamed and yelled. Felt cheated and all alone for a while, until my intellect rose up and overtook the sorrow that my heart had spread throughout the core of my being, throughout my veins, and the memories ran through me like a melting piece of peppermint candy. A hard nugget of minty sweetness which I was holding on my tongue and occasionally pushing from side to side while the saliva of my taste absorbed the spicy enjoyment of it. Until it was gone. Absorbed by my worldly being as a part of me, forever, but finally fading and becoming just passing thoughts of a life’s adventures lived.
Then I could move on. To better and sweeter candies. Longer lasting tastes of pleasure.
Then, I met Kevin in a park. I had been sitting there enjoying the warmth of an early spring sun on my face, my arms, my legs. All exposed to the openness of public view for the first time since the recent passing of an icy winter. The paleness of my skin feeling unattractive yet enjoying a freedom from the confines of layered wool blends under the synthetic microfiber purple jacket, which I favored as protection from the cold.
“May I sit?” he asked when he approached me and the bench which I purposely sat centered on as to discourage any sexual predator types and the aged men who liked to hit up on young women who were all alone. Prevent them from joining me by invading my public park space.
Looking up through squinted eyes, I could see the shadowy chisel of a manly face darkened by the brightness of sunshine behind his figure, akin to the imagery of a dusking halo. The sun was beginning its drop behind the tall structures of the surrounding landscape, taking its warmth along on its evening’s descent.
“Sure,” I reluctantly said as I pulled in my sprawl over onto one side of this sitting facility which was there to serve all who may be seeking such an amenity in this public place. I felt an almost ‘Forrest Gump’ type of moment, as I, for personal protection, moved into a more erect posture as though I was waiting for a bus which was going to take me to visit my love, my masculine version of ‘Jeanie’, who would present me with an offspring of which he had given birth without my knowledge. My offspring.
“Enjoying the warmth of this nice day?” the stranger asked.
Geez, I thought. I said he could share the bench, not a conversation.
“It’s nice,” I said, without even glancing up but keeping my eyes on the pages of the paperback novel that I was beginning to develop a slight interest in. I was already on page twelve having forced my mind to get there despite the distractions of the goings-on around me as well as the not so great skill of the author to reach out and grab me into the world that he was attempting to create.
“What you reading?” he asked.
‘I’m trying to read this.’ I said, silently to myself, with an irritated emphasis on the word ‘trying’ as I held the front cover out to meet his gaze. I then turned a little away from him and placed my eyes back on the page in front of me. Body language which plainly suggested that there was no interest here and he should move on down the line. Find another lady sitting all alone and try his corny pickup technique on her. It wasn’t working on me. As a matter of fact, I’d say its chances of working on me, on a scale of one to ten, would be zero. A big, fat zero. And how stupid can he be not to have picked up on that by now?
Rude? Yes, I was, but I’m a New Yorker and I’m expected to be rude when approached by strange men in a city park.
The weather, having felt so warm at the beginning of my outing, had now become somewhat overcast with the passing of the sun’s brightness and was bringing a coolness to the air. I shivered just a little and decided to gather my belongings, dog-earing my place in the book, and head back to my apartment.
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee? Warm you up?” the man asked. “There’s a shop right across the street.”
I looked up, shielding my eyes with a cupped hand, and determining that the stranger looked decent enough, and as to how, for fear of being mugged, I never brought more than a little pocket change with me here, and never in a purse, just a pocket, along with my apartment key and cell phone, I decided to give it a chance. I knew the workers in the shop well, and they knew me, as I had become an almost daily customer since moving into the neighborhood.
We entered the shop, which had already become crowded by the coffee lovers who were also feeling the change from the earlier heat. Only one table was open, sited up against the farthest wall. My male companion, showing the traits of actually being a man of manners, a man of good upbringing, saw me to be comfortably seated while he, himself took the seat facing the wall, and I, for the first time, was able to look clearly into his face, into his features, which had a handsome familiarity about them.
“Have we met before?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” he replied. “I would remember if I had met a beautiful lady like yourself who likes to read on park benches yet will willingly share her bench with a stranger when she clearly does not want to.” He smiled. A smile with charm.
A group of young women, appearing to be of the age of recent college grads, intern and entry level workers, had taken notice of my escort by this time and with much sidelong peering and whispering had come to the consensus that one of them would approach our table. As the chosen one stood and nervously came, she held out a menu and a pen while gushing, “Mr. Wills? Kevin? Could I have your autograph please?”
“Of course,” Kevin replied as he swiftly signed across the printed page which detailed the choices of flavors of hot caffeine-laden beverages to be had.
Kevin Wills! My heart skipped a beat or two. That’s why he looked so familiar. He was Kevin Wills! One of the biggest movie stars of the current roster of A-listers and had just completed the last film of a trilogy about a motorcycle riding, fist-fighting, juice drinking crime fighter. An old-style hero, not one of those future world or super power types, but a real human with real dreams of saving the human race from the evilness of ourselves.
“Wow! Mr. Wills.” I said as the young lady returned to her table and all the friends began the fanatical passing around of the signature amid giggles and lovelorn glances in our direction. “I’m a little embarrassed that I did not recognize you.”
“No apology needed nor accepted.” he said. “I like that, that you came with me based purely on my natural magnetism, not on my fame or fortune.”
“What if I told you that I came here with you, a stranger, just to get you placated and off my back and because I wanted a cappuccino and had only …” I paused as I reached into my pocket, withdrew a paltry sum of coins, and counted them, “seventy-nine cents. Not enough after an earlier buy here today.”
“That’s still okay. I offered to buy you only a coffee, not a Park Avenue condo!”
“So now that you know my name,” he continued, “may I know yours?”
And, so it began. Our relationship based on what I believed to be a rare and glorious love. Except for the constant distractions. The scale of his popularity was epic. Everywhere we went, we were stared at, our meals were interrupted by autograph and photo seekers, and even a stroll down a residential street or in the park, was not safe from fans and paparazzi, like pesty little gnats. Gnats who just keep coming, shoving microphones into his face, then writing cheesy stories about the star who could have anyone but had chosen me. Me, a nobody. A lowly editor working a nine to five.
I was soon learning how to handle it all though. How to ignore it and, sometimes, how to just sit back, have another glass of wine, and wait it out when our dinner was yet again disrupted by other diners who didn’t think it rudely intrusive to interrupt our meal. But Kevin never seemed to mind and I can understand that because, as they say, gotta get all you can while you can for it may all be gone tomorrow. As soon as some other handsome and younger man steps in to take away the Hollywood spotlight, and the million dollar film roles. It was all akin to being a pro athlete, I suppose, who, one day, might get sidelined with an injury and never recover. Then it’s over. Maybe he’d still be a good player or actor, like Kevin, but no longer the big money draw and he finds himself relegated to smaller supporting roles on the field or in the film. Hopefully he has invested well, has not lived on an over-priced plateau and ends up near poverty when the ride is over.
And that was one of the best things about Kevin. Though generous, he was not one of those show-off spenders, and he had chosen me. Modest-living me. Poor me who was still struggling to pack away a hundred bucks, now and then, into my emergency nest egg. Me, who still turned off lights when leaving a room for the sake of electrical conservation and who compared products on store shelves to learn which had the most economical value based on the unit contents.
And Kevin didn’t seem to mind. He liked me for me, I felt, and I felt that he was as comfortable at my studio walk-up as he was at his own Hollywood mansion.
My prior relationship with Pete had none of these obstacles, as he was still an unknown writer hoping to score big one day but, in my opinion, he just wasn’t that good considering the array of talented competition in the city. But who am I to judge? I’m just a creative editor at a struggling magazine, which, like Pete, is hoping to make it big someday and attract some investor funding so it may garner a larger readership beyond the online boundaries that currently restrict it. Pete had submitted a few times, and since he lived in the city, I had invited him to come by my office for an in-person chat about one of his short stories that we were interested in. With a few re-writes, imposing more of himself on an emotional level, it could have been good but he was balking at such an idea and eventually refused to do so. So, this is how we met.
Our editorial differences may have been large but our personal differences were very much in sync with each other and soon we were talking marriage one day. Talking honeymoon. Children. And after our split-up, I would have sincerely wished him luck with his career, but he was just such a jerk about it all. He may have never become a successful writer, but that had not mattered to me. He was steady in his other work as a night manager at an upscale inn in midtown. A job that paid a decent wage and afforded him time to work at his writing. He was admirably ambitious about his art, but he was just too stubborn to listen to a good analysis and act upon it.
Pete had loved me, I believed, very much. But finally, in a period of feeling so rejected, he realized that he may never make it good in his career and a trial residence in L.A. may be just what he needed in a last ditch effort before giving it up forever. I was right about that critique, which he felt was an insult to his artistic merits and I don’t think that he ever quite forgave me for it.
Valentine’s Day was on a Wednesday that following year and I was at my office when the flowers starting rolling in with the standard “Thinking of You” or “Happy Valentine’s Day” printed messages and hand signed, presumably by my admirer, the movie star, but really signed by store personnel at the direction of the purchaser. So many flowers delivered that my small office was soon overcome with the beauty and the scent of them and, as more arrived, I directed my assistant to start removing the cards and placing the bouquets on the desks of the clerical workers who had not, as of yet, received any of their own.
“This card is different,” she said, pulling one from the deck as she was placing them on my desk and added that it had come off of the smallest bouquet of them all. A simple but lovely arrangement of a half dozen dark pink roses, my favorite. A favorite known only to one other.
‘Love you always, P.’ the inscription said. And it was not signed by a floral worker. It was in Pete’s handwriting which meant that he was in town. Meant that he was back from his sojourn to the West.
“Can I take you to dinner?” he asked when he called just before quitting time. It was no secret that Kevin was abroad, deep in the vineyard villages of Italy, filming several scenes for the honeymoon segment of the romantic comedy that he was working on. Very intimate scenes which were often known to set the gossip rags and television shows into an uproar of reports that always seem to end with the question of ‘do they or do they not?’ Questions which were in reference to Kevin and his hot starlet co-star.
Pete and I had talked about such a trip for our honeymoon and I, admittedly, felt a little jealousy to know that Kevin was the one living that dream, even if it was only make believe for him. Or was it? Could the stories be true? Could he be really enjoying the intimate tryst that the media alluded to? Could this be the reason for the over-abundance of flowers that he sent to me? This needless and out-of-character spending on so many? Was it simply because he was across an ocean and missed me and wanted to be sure that I knew it or was it guilt?
“Sure,” I replied in answer to Pete’s invitation. There could be nothing wrong with sharing a casual dinner with an old friend, could there? Catching up on his life adventures? I had nothing much to share of my own as my life was already an open book spread between the covers of supermarket tabloids.
“How is your career going?” I asked after the waiter had taken our order and poured our wine. We were at a quaint little place in our old neighborhood that we used to frequent a lot.
Pete had kindly asked for a back table and had seated me with my back to the room in the hope that I would not be recognized by any intruders with cameras. This would make great content for the inside pages of their rags. ‘When the Star is Away, Will the Nobody Play?’ the headlines would scream.
“Fairly well,” he replied. “Had a story bought for a film adaptation of it. Almost as soon as I got out there. It’s being filmed right now. That’s why I needed to see you. I don’t want you to be mad.”
“Mad?” Now he had my full attention. My curiosity.
“Yes, because it is, in the most part, based on us. You and I. Only I did change a lot. And our names, of course.”
“Well, that’s okay. All writers use their own relationships and experiences, I believe.”
“I think that was my problem before. I was afraid to reach inside myself. To expose myself like that. You were right back then. My stories had no depth. No realness to them.”
“Congratulations, Pete,” I said with sincerity.
“There’s one other thing,” he continued.
“Yes, this film. It’s the movie that Kevin Wills is filming. The honeymoon that he is shooting is the honeymoon that we had planned.”
“Are you sure?”
I felt a little faint, a little sickened at this revelation. Kevin truly was living my romance but with someone else.
“Yes. I’m sorry,” Pete added. “I never dreamed that he would be offered the part. And I don’t think you had met him yet when the producers did.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Well, he asked me a lot of questions about you. A lot of questions about the real Laura, as you are known in the script. And the next thing I know, I see you on the front pages of the gossip papers. I see pictures of you two everywhere. See you on the red carpets as his date. Walking on Rodeo Drive, arm in arm.” He hesitated for an awkward moment before continuing. “I could be wrong but I think it started out as research, on his part.”
“Yes, I think he looked you up, in the beginning, to get to know you. That’s how he is known to work. But then he fell in love with you. Just like I did.”
“I left you, and New York because I had to find direction,” Pete continued as we walked slowly back to my apartment. I had to learn to write from my soul and I couldn’t do that here. I loved you but I had nothing real to offer then. Couldn’t have you married to a glorified desk clerk for the rest of your life.”
“I never needed fame and fortune, Pete,” I assured him. “Love was all I needed and I didn’t care if you were an inn manager, a desk clerk. If you never sold a story or script, it would not have mattered.”
It’s now Valentine’s Day, three years since the one in which the revelation was given to me that I was once the inspiring subject of a literary work by a now famous screenwriter, Pete Phillips, which was destined to be shown in theaters around the world. I was, as well, an object of artistic research for the great actor, Kevin Wills, who starred in that movie as my pursuer and lover. Two men who loved me but men that were both serious about their work and full of ambition for their new or continued successes.
Both men in my relationships, Kevin and Pete, seemed to have had similar but opposite fears. While one was afraid of never having success at all, the other was afraid of losing it all.
Only one bouquet was delivered to my office this day. A bouquet of dark pink roses. Sent by an admirer who had signed the card with his own hand which meant that he was in the city. That he was waiting to take me, a woman of simple tastes, out to an intimate dinner at a small neighborhood restaurant.
“Happy Valentine’s Darling,” I said as I placed my handmade card into his palm when he arrived to pick me up at five. The card was drawn and signed by myself with the last line being, ‘I love you my husband, my Kevin. Forever!’
Like sweet peppermint candy.
C. Billingsley Adams is a playwright, a novelist, and a writer of short stories. A resident of rural Georgia, Ms. Adams has authored three novels and numerous stage pieces, some of which have been produced on stages in Georgia and New York. Her short stories have been included in such literary publications as “Edify Fiction”, “One Person’s Trash”. the “Morsels From the Chef” Anthology by Zimbell House Publishing, “The Charles Carter Anthology” of the University of North Carolina, “Voices From the Unknown” published by Maïa Veruca Books of Norway, and “Savannah Anthology 2016”, in which she has received both Honorable and Notable Recognitions.
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