We last left our dashing hero hanging from a cliff and our breathtaking heroine tied to a railroad track. The fair lady Ellie was unconscious, the Captain of Awesome rendered immobile and tied to an anvil that could fall and strike his awesome head at any moment. All looks hopeless for our merry band of renegades; will Chuck Bartowski save the day? Or will evil and the vile Mr. Shaw win once and for all? Stay tuned for the next episode of—waaaaaaaaaaait a second. None of this really happened. Shaw?! In a Maximus and Frea story?* What noise is this, Frea?
You're right, of course. Either I've been imagining Curtain Call as Sand Pirates of the Sahara**, or I'm out to cause trouble, like Max constantly worries I will (he told me yesterday that he spends a lot of time worrying about the havoc I've created and how long it can be until he gets online to minimize the damage....I have no idea why). But the good news is that the new edition of Curtain Call, our Lazy Summer Serial entry for 2011, is here at last! And it's a doozy.
Quick recap: Sarah's an actor. Chuck's besotted. There's bad people in the world. Ready? Go!
PS — Don't forget to join us on the blog at 7:30 CST tonight to chat about Fringe!!!
*Yes, I'm aware that both of us have written stories with Shaw in them. Shut up, you.
** If you got that without googling, you now know one of the entries in Frea's top five movie list.
She’d expected it to be more awkward.
And it was awkward, certainly. There just wasn’t any way letting a total stranger into your life as a bodyguard could ever be considered a smooth transition. Letting a total stranger who was obviously a fan, no matter how cool he tried to act—and he was a terrible actor—into her life was worse. And letting said stranger in without any advance notice whatsoever made the whole situation vaguely hellish, like the time she’d spent shooting in southern Louisiana in a mansion with no air conditioning...in August.
But it could have been worse, and for that, she was grateful. Chuck at least seemed polite. The fact of the matter was, neither of them appeared to have the first clue what was going to happen now. She herself was still a little shaky from the brief and furious fight that had had no stuntmen involved, and as for Chuck, well, it was hard to get a read on him. They’d made it out of the studio lot without any major incidents, and out to her home.
“So this is it,” she said, pushing open her front door. She didn’t bother to turn on the light to the front entryway, as the wiring didn’t really work in there, anyway. “Home sweet home.”
To his credit, Chuck didn’t immediately speak. She held the door open for him to come inside and then closed it after him, setting the security panel by the door out of habit.
After a minute, Chuck finally did speak. “So, you’re in the process of moving, or...”
“Nope. C’mon in, I’ll give you the ten cent tour.” Sarah dropped her keys on the unfinished table by the front door and strolled into her house, which still looked depressingly similar to the way it had been when she had bought it. And her realtor had called it a “fixer-upper.”
Boxes, tarps, buckets of paint and painting supplies lay like fallen soldiers all over her foyer, leaving a small path open from the living room to the dining room, which led to the kitchen. All three rooms shared the same depressing state of emptiness and lack of personality. She’d intended to start the actual fixing up of the place upon moving in about fourteen months before, but the first Sydney Dunham movie had been a smash hit, and she hadn’t had a day off since.
“So this is the dining room,” she said, leading Chuck through.
“Um,” Chuck said.
“Well, uh, how can you tell?” His eyes swept over the piles of boxes and the raggedy sofa that had somehow managed to follow her from her very first apartment after her father’s arrest.
“That it’s a dining room? There’s no table.”
“I don’t really eat in,” Sarah said, and headed into the kitchen before he could follow-up on that comment. “In here’s the kitchen.”
“I see you’re a master chef,” Chuck said after a few seconds of staring around at the dusty countertops.
Sarah bristled. “I gave the maid the year off.”
“That wasn’t—I didn’t actually—that wasn’t a comment on your housekeeping abilities, I promise. I can barely work the microwave without something exploding, myself.”
“I’m really not home a lot,” Sarah said. “Through that doorway’s the garage, and I use that if I’m taking the bike out.”
“I’m sorry, the bike?”
But Sarah barreled on with the tour, leading him into the breakfast dining room, which would someday be a beautiful area with French doors and a lot of natural light—if she ever got a day off. She pointed out the back patio and the pool, currently drained. From there, they headed into the living room, and Chuck’s jaw dropped.
“What?” Sarah asked.
“Do you realize you’ve got room for a basketball court in here?”
“I do not.”
“Half-court, then.” Chuck turned slowly on the heel of one of his namesakes. “And not a single stick of furniture.”
“There’s a piano.”
“Oh. Right. Do you play?”
“No, it came with the house. The upstairs is a little better, I promise.” After all, she’d managed to get at least one room semi-finished—a great old kick-back room—before her unexpected bout of fame had taken off. “More actual furniture, for one thing.”
“I see you’re very sentimental,” Chuck said, glancing at the blank walls. “You don’t, like, collect things from your sets, do you?”
“So, you didn’t even take home the golden chalice of—”
Chuck did that thing where he started choking in the middle of his sentence. He’d done it three or four times already, which was the only reason Sarah didn’t immediately think of the Heimlich anymore. She wondered if he would do that the whole time, or if this would be another thing he’d get over. He hadn’t broken like he had in the beginning in nearly two hours. So far, it was a record.
“What I mean to say is that you should maybe think about some paintings or something for the walls here? Seems a shame with all this space. Maybe some lilies would be nice.”
“Lilies,” Sarah said, her tone dubious.
“Or roses. I’m told those are pretty, too. You know what? I’m going to stop putting my foot in my mouth any moment now, I swear. Um, how tight is your security here?”
“My agent had the system installed when I insisted on getting this place. He swears it’s top of the line.”
“Do you have the manual lying around anywhere, by chance?”
Sarah stopped in the middle of the staircase and turned to give him a strange look. “You want to read the manual.”
“I’ve never met anybody who’s ever read the manual. To anything.”
Chuck flushed and scratched the back of his neck. “Well, uh, now you have. I read the manual for everything I own. Up to and including my washing machine. The one for my toaster was kind of dull, but the blender? Now that was, uh, riveting stu—look, I’m just going to come out and say it before I screw it up anymore: I’m a nerd. I play video games. I can quote ‘Wrath of Khan’ backwards and forwards. I kicked so much ass at Scholar Bowl that my team went to state both years I was part of it, and yes, I helped out on Stanford’s electrical car team. Bullworth and Neil may have sent me out here to, uh, follow you around, but I’m not exactly orthodox. I’m a nerd that does nerdy things.”
“Like read the manual,” Sarah said, blinking. They were still standing in her stairwell, and thanks to the faulty wiring and the fact that evening was fading fast, it was mostly dark, so that she could only make out a few details about Chuck’s face, but he seemed earnest—and worried—enough. He was a couple of steps below her, so his neck was craned to look at her, or right next to her, as he couldn’t seem to look at her without thinking he was staring, apparently.
“Among other things. And I’m going to keep embarrassing myself over and over, so it’s probably best you know all of that up front.”
“What’s ‘Wrath of Khan?’”
Chuck actually whimpered, like he was in pain.
Apparently, Sarah thought, she wasn’t the only one who had some adjusting to do. After all, he couldn’t even look at her properly. She had actress friends that complained about their bodyguards, that hated the restrictions. She’d never really been there herself, but she didn’t think any of them had ever been in this sort of situation.
“So you’re a nerd,” she said, turning and heading up the stairs.
Slowly, Chuck followed her. “I, uh, yes. That’s correct.”
“Are you good at your job?”
“At my job?” Chuck looked puzzled when she glanced over her shoulder at him. “Well, yes. Actually, I’m the best at it, which is why I’m...still there. And probably why I’m here right now.”
“Then who cares if you’re a nerd?” Sarah led the way into the den, the room where she spent ninety percent of her time at home. It was situated between two of the bedrooms upstairs, a common room of sorts. She’d carpeted it and had bought considerably nicer furniture for the area: sofas, a divan, and an old-fashioned writing desk that she’d seen on set once and had bought from the owner on the spot. There was a dusty flat screen along one wall; her agent had insisted that she have somewhere to watch movies, though she liked sneaking anonymously into a theater for those. “The den.”
Chuck’s eyes lingered on the desk. “It’s nice.”
“The guest bedroom’s through here,” Sarah said, crossing the room and pushing open a door. “My agent stays here occasionally, so it’s fully functional. There’s a bathroom through there, and fresh sheets in the closet.”
“Awesome. I thought I’d just be bunking on a couch or something. Where, ah, where is your...”
Wordlessly, Sarah pointed to the other door. “And it will be locked.”
“Of course. I, ah, that’s very smart. I would expect nothing less.” But Chuck frowned. “That could be a problem in the event that you’re attacked, though.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure something out. I’ll give you the code for the security system and dig up the manual. Anything else you need? There’s some snack food in the fridge, help yourself. We’ll leave about four fifteen.”
Chuck’s eyes bulged. “In the morning?”
“I have an early call time tomorrow, and with half of my scenes today cut, it’s going to be a long day, so I need some rest.” And she needed to think, and decompress, and get away from this whole crazy situation for a bit, even though Sarah was well aware she wouldn’t sleep for hours yet. “So here’s where I’ll say good night.”
“Oh. Okay. Um, good night, then.” Chuck paused awkwardly, as if he wasn’t sure whether to shake her hand or pat on her on the shoulder or something. In the end, he evidently decided to just turn on his heel and march into the guest bedroom. Sarah waited a few seconds before she headed into her own room, which shared a bit of the same depressing state as the rest of the house.
Until, that was, she heard Chuck ask, “Sarah?”
Fortunately, he’d relaxed enough around her to stop calling her Miss Walker every time he addressed her. This situation was strange enough without adding that to the mix.
“Yeah?” She stuck her head out into the den.
He had his hands shoved deep into his pockets, his shoulders up around his ears: sheer nerves. “I’m, um, I’m glad you’re okay. And not because I’m a fan or anything, but because I just am. Nobody should ever have to go through what you did today. Good night.”
And he vanished.
Well, Sarah thought, oddly touched. That was interesting. She closed her bedroom door behind her and even though the threat about the locked door had mostly been an empty one, locked it. After all, she was sharing her house with a virtual stranger, even if he came with Neil’s blessing. Her first priority was to hop in the shower and scrub away her day: the long hours of shooting, residual makeup and that annoying fake sweat, the residue of the real sweat from her actual attack, the pollution and smog from Los Angeles. She took care of her nightly beauty regimen, which was always a little dull, but necessary since her face paid the bills. She printed out call sheets, reviewed the script pages for the next day's list of scenes. And finally, she checked her phone, expecting that word had probably gotten out about the attack by now.
She had only two missed calls: one from her agent, probably just checking in, and one from a friend who wanted to do lunch on Saturday.
Yeah, right, she thought. Not if she still had a bodyguard tagging along. She was going to wait awhile if Chuck stuck around to introduce him to any of her friends.
Maybe if filming didn’t go until four a.m. on Saturday, they’d head out to a winery or something, get away from the bustle and grind of L.A. It was probably as much alone time as she was going to get, with another person shadowing her 24/7.
What a weird, weird situation.
As if answering her thoughts, Chuck’s voice drifted through and she glanced toward the double doors that led off to the balcony shared between the two rooms off the den. Was he talking to himself? She pulled a bathrobe on over her nightgown and wandered closer until she could hear better.
“Yeah, Ellie, I’m really sorry about that. Do you want me to talk to him?” A pause.
Oh. Chuck was on the phone, apparently.
“Wait, he’s still there? He never left? Oh, God, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Yeah, put him on the phone, I’ll talk to him.” There was a pause. “Morgan, buddy, we’ve talked about this. Yeah, no, I know, but the rules were if I’m not there for two hours... Yeah. Is she giving you the look? No, I won’t be back soon, I got called in to work. No, not back in DC. I’m still out here. No, I can’t. Work’s got me tied up, I can’t get away right now. In fact, I won’t be able to, not for awhile. Bullworth’s got me on something special.”
There was another long pause. “Well, I guess my vacation just got cut short. Not a lot I can do about it at the moment. Look, you can take anything you want you from my room, but you should probably get out of there before Ellie calls the cops. And give her phone back to her before you leave.”
What on earth? Did Chuck have a kid? And who was this Ellie? The only thing Chuck had mentioned about his life was that he was a nerd; she hadn’t even considered that he might be giving up something to shadow her.
It unnerved her a little bit, but she didn’t move away from beside the door.
“Yeah, Ellie, I’m sorry about that. And I am really, really sorry for missing dinner. You probably should just toss the plate you left for me. Bullworth...yeah, I know, I know, I need a new job. This time it’s a little different, but I’m not going to be home for awhile. I know. I’m sorry. Can you give my ticket to somebody else? No, not to Morgan, I wasn’t suggesting that. I wouldn’t do that to you. I’m in L.A., yes, but it’s going to be hard to get away. I’ll call you if I can, though.”
Another pause, this one the longest so far. “Yeah, I know. I get it, I do. And I’m sorry, but there’s not a lot I can do about it at this point. I’d better go. I’ll call you when I get a chance? Okay, love you, too. Bye.”
From her vantage point, Sarah heard Chuck sigh, and then finally, the creak of one of the patio chairs she’d left on the balcony a few months back. A few second later, there was the unmistakable tap-tap of laptop keys. He’d driven them both to Sarah’s house, a good way to avoid the stalkerazzi that wouldn’t know to look for Chuck’s rental car, so he had a few things like his laptop, but...
She was going to have to get the man some clothes, Sarah saw. If he was going to be tailing her 24/7, any time he needed something, she would probably have to be there until the studio lifted this ridiculous injunction against both of them.
Forget awkward. This was, she realized, going to be a pain in the ass.