So that was a great couple weeks of vacation, for both of us, but now we‘re back! Yes, that’s right, a new Curtain Call right after the break.
I wish I had something witty to say here like I usually do, but I’m afraid we’re going a little overbudget on that with this project. We already had to cut a car chase scene and a cameo by superstar David Hasselhoff.
Sarah studied herself in the mirror, twisting just a little to make sure that her dress hadn’t wrinkled during the makeup session.
She knew that by the end of the evening, at least four or five unexpected things were bound to have happened, but she had learned early on to do everything she could to make sure none of those things involved her appearance. And all eyes would be on her tonight. There was no mistaking that. She didn’t even know what Harmony and the Bees was about, but she knew the stars weren’t as famous as the studio liked, which meant Neil had stepped in. Sometimes she felt like a monkey dancing to Neil’s tune, but she couldn’t complain too much. He had latched onto her after Call of Midnight and was determined to make her into a world-famous star. Who was she to say no to that?
A lifetime of barely scratching by, moving from town to town after con after con, had taught her not to ignore a golden opportunity when it tapped at the door.
She sighed and brushed some hair behind her ear. It was time. Hopefully it would be a short night. While the stunt work earlier in the day had been exhilarating, it was also exhausting and she wanted to sleep. It seemed like that was all she did most days: work and sleep.
At least she had a boyfriend now, as odd as that was. She exited her bedroom and walked across the den to her guest bedroom. Chuck should at least make the night interesting, and with that thought perking her up, she knocked on his door.
There was no answer.
“Chuck? Are you ready? The car will be here in ten minutes.”
The door was unlocked, so she poked her head in. No sign of her erstwhile bodyguard. That was odd: she’d figured he’d be hiding in his closet or rocking himself on his bed in fear of the premiere.
She heard the front door open, which made her raise her eyebrows and head downstairs. Chuck was standing in the entry way with a delivery man, which made her pause midway down the stairs.
“Thanks,” Chuck told the delivery man, not noticing her at all. He had a package under his arm, just about the right size for a script. Late in the day for a delivery, Sarah thought, trying to get a better look at the label.
“Bullworth also says that your request for a surveillance suite is still pending, so you’ll have to make do with what you’ve got right now,” the delivery man said.
“Great. That’s excellent...” Chuck must have sensed her presence, for he looked over his shoulder at her and then just stared. “News,” he finished.
Like clockwork, his eyes glazed over and he seemed to forget what he was doing. If it wasn’t for the ego boost she got from seeing how much she affected him, his constant fading in and out of reality would have probably been really awkward. As it was, it just amused her and, for some strange reason she couldn’t explain, made her want to preen.
“Sir? Is there anything else?”
Sarah smiled at Chuck as he slowly blinked himself to awareness, the flush already shooting up his neck.
“Uh, did you say something?” Chuck said, turning abruptly away and facing the delivery man again.
“I said, is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”
“No, thank you, I think that’s all. I’ll make my report to Bullworth later tonight.”
The man nodded. “Of course, sir. You two have a good night.”
Before the door had even shut, Sarah asked, “What’s in the package?” She joined him on the bottom floor, her heels and bag in her hand.
“The mission loadout I requested finally arrived.”
“Your what?” What was a mission loadout? That sounded like a term from Sydney Dunham’s world, not like something a security agency would use.
But Chuck didn’t answer; he just walked into the kitchen. She wanted to pester him until he answered her, but maybe it was better to wait on that. The Sarah Walker of her early acting days had learned that lesson all too well. Chuck put the box on a counter and opened it up.
“Oh man, this is great!”
“What? What is it?” Screw waiting and being mature. She stood on her toes to look over his shoulder, but he was blocking her view.
“I know we’re not really dating,” Chuck said, turning around, “but here’s something for you anyway.”
He held up a simple bracelet with a single green stone in the middle. Sarah didn’t know what to say. It was pretty; not necessarily her style, but—what was Chuck doing? “It looks very nice, Chuck, but like you said, we’re not really dating. I can’t accept this.”
“I know that we’re not. But even so, do you like it? I really don’t want to have to send it back.”
His eyes were so bright and eager that even if she’d wanted to, she couldn’t have told him no. So she smiled. “I do.”
Chuck’s smile broadened. “Excellent! I designed it myself.”
“You designed it?” She gave the bracelet a closer look. It looked like just a piece of jewelry to her. She couldn’t see anything that needed to be designed.
“I didn’t actually design the bracelet, just the circuitry.”
“Circuitry?” Now Sarah blinked and studied the bracelet again. It looked like just a simple piece of jewelry.
“Yeah, I had some of my guys back at the office take care of the casing. It’s a passive GPS tracking device. That means even when people are looking for it, they won’t be able to find it. And this,” Chuck paused and pressed the green stone twice, “is your panic button. Just press it twice and I’ll come running.”
She really didn’t know what to say. This was all so sudden. He wanted to put a tracking device on her? That seemed a little excessive. “Hm,” was all she managed to say.
He smiled at her as he carefully placed the bracelet in her hand. “I know you’re probably not crazy about this, but it’s to help me protect you.”
It really was a decent piece of jewelry, she thought. She could get used to wearing it. Probably. If it made Chuck happy.
Before she had time to analyze that thought, the doorbell rang.
“Alright, I’ll wear it for now, but we should probably talk about things like tracking devices,” Sarah said, putting the bracelet on. “Unfortunately, it’ll have to wait.”
“Yeah.” Chuck leaned over and tapped the laptop he’d installed on the kitchen counter at some point while she had been getting ready. It looked far more high-tech than her half-assembled kitchen. “Our ride’s here, it looks like. That your regular driver?” He pointed at the monitor, which showed video of Sarah’s driveway.
“That’s Garcon, yes.”
“Your driver’s name is—”
“We’re going to be late,” Sarah said, and swept out of the kitchen.
“Okay, okay. I’ll read the rest en route.” Chuck grabbed the box and scrambled out after her. “You, uh, look great, by the way.”
“Thank you,” Sarah said, and led the way outside.
# # # # #
“I wish I could wear full body armor,” Chuck said.
Sarah chuckled and peered out the window of the limo. It was almost their turn to get out and make their way down the red carpet. “It’s not an actual firing squad, you know.”
“Sure feels like it.”
“Wimp,” she said with a grin.
“I like to think of it as a healthy dose of self-preservation.”
The car came to a stop. It was time. She locked eyes with Chuck and tried to appear as calm as possible. She knew he was nervous: he’d been babbling the whole drive. She just wasn’t sure if he was nervous about the paparazzi or pretending to be her boyfriend.
“Not even slightly.”
She reached across and grabbed his hand. It strictly wasn’t necessary, but she felt like it was the right thing to do. He squeezed back, and with a deep breath, opened the door.
There were only a few pops of light and she almost laughed at the surprise on Chuck’s face. He had probably expected a tidal wave of light to assault them as they got out of the car, but she knew most of the paparazzi waited until they actually posed for photos.
While he was helping her out of the limousine, he said, “That wasn’t so bad.”
“This is nothing. The real fun starts over there,” she said and pointed at a large grouping of people ahead of them. “Don’t worry, all you have to do is smile and look pretty.”
“I’ll try not to embarrass you.”
“Just don’t pick your nose on camera. You should be fine.”
Chuck gave her a sour look, possibly for the least helpful advice on the planet, but she just laughed and let the PA currently wrangling stars toward the red carpet guide them away from the limo. Movie premieres actually varied very little in the grand scheme of things. There was always some sort of red carpet, a long corridor to the lobby where the publicists had set up shop. Sometimes they hustled you down the carpet, eager to get you through and inside, if you were a smaller name star. Sarah’s work on Call of Midnight and the rom-coms she did to pay the mortgage meant that she’d be leisurely walked down, people shouting her name, press hoping to get a sound byte. She’d checked the IMDB page for the stars of the movie on the way over, but she didn’t know either Owen D’Arcy or Jacqueline Tate personally. She’d probably be introduced later on. But an old costar from Throw It Down had a moderately big role, so she could talk about being excited to see Damien again, if she had to.
Chances were, she wouldn’t get a chance. They’d want to know who she was wearing, how her current project was going. If she was excited for May December Bromance, which was only a month from theaters according to the last call from her publicist.
She reaffixed her smile and, keeping Chuck in the corner of her eye, strode forward to face the red carpet. And then, of course, the mania began.
Photographers had the ability to become animals in a blink, she’d discovered. She worked her way down the cordoned-off line, keeping up her company smile while they fought over and around each other, shouting her name so that she would look at them. Flashbulbs erupted, one on top of the other so that it was almost like permanent white light, burning into her face.
She heard Chuck let out an oath or two, mild ones, in surprise, and turned to smile at him, almost self-deprecatingly. Instead of backing away in fear, however, like a sane person, he edged a little closer to her. She would have expected a surprised or terrified look from him, but he seemed to be scanning the crowd, his face sober.
“Sarah! Hey, Sarah! Who’s the boyfriend?”
“A new beau for Miss Walker? Does that mean the rumors about you and Kyle Longfield aren’t true?”
“Hey, buster, you got a name?”
Chuck’s eyes tracked back to the hellhounds on the other side of the ropes. “Uh, yeah,” he said, remembering to smile now. “It’s Chuck.”
“How’d you meet?”
“Was it love at first sight?”
“Sarah, who are you wearing tonight?”
The questions poured over each other, hard and fast. Sarah grabbed Chuck’s hand and gave the press her best flirtatious grin, but kept silent. When the PA appeared at Chuck’s elbow to wrangle them down the line, she shifted, looping her arm through Chuck’s instead of holding his hand.
“You realize I’m going to be in every single picture of you now, right?” Chuck murmured to her, leaning in close.
She’d always been photographed alone, as she rarely brought dates to these things. “So?”
“So, I’d say that diminishes the quality somewhat. Oh, hey, look. More flashbulbs.”
“And we’re not even halfway there yet,” Sarah said, nodding at the door, which lay at the end of an everlasting stretch of red carpet.
Chuck groaned. “Poke me when it’s over. I’m blind.”
Sarah was laughing as she encountered the next round of rabid journalists. This time, Chuck gave them a demure smile and slipped into the background, sidling up next to their PA. Sarah took on the press herself, answering questions this time and keeping mum about Chuck’s identity as much as she could. Though she couldn’t resist the urge to see Chuck blush, so she answered one reporter’s question with, “I know! Isn’t he cute?”
She glanced back, hoping to see at least a flush, but Chuck had his hands in his pockets, chatting amiably with the PA. He’d struck a friendship right up with Jaime, too, she recalled, and even Vanessa had made remarks about him. For a self-proclaimed nerd, he definitely had a way with people that she couldn’t help but envy a bit. She had people in her life from the minute she left her house and until the second she returned home, but it was never that easy for her to strike up a casual friendship, as Chuck seemed to be doing now.
“Sarah! Sarah Walker!”
“Hey, Sarah, you didn’t forget about us, did you? I’m hurt!”
Sarah turned back sharply to face the reporters, hoping that she hid the automatic guilty expression well. She forced the company smile. “Sorry, guys, long day of shooting. What was the question?”
“It must be love,” one of the E! reporters commented.
Sarah had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. If they only knew even half of the story, these reporters would be selling their souls to get an exclusive. For once, she had to thank the studio and its airtight seal on anything scandalous, up to and including three people trying to jump her in the course of two days.
“I’m really sorry,” she said, “but I can’t wait to get inside and see the movie. Maybe next time.”
Ignoring the calls of “Sarah! Just one more!” and “Sarah! Tell us more about Chuck! How’d you meet?” and “Is this a Princess and the Pauper tale?” she looped her arm through Chuck’s again and nearly hauled him off the red carpet with her.
He was laughing, albeit nervously, when they finally made it to the relative safety of the lobby. Once inside, he extracted his arm from hers and shook it out. “Whoa, whoa, easy there. I’ve only got two of those, and I need that one for vanquishing foes.”
“My hero,” Sarah said, but didn’t have time to say anything more before they were being ushered through the lobby—where people gawked, as usual—and to their seats. She settled back with a sigh as Chuck scanned the surrounding areas. “I hate these dog and pony shows.”
“Really? I couldn’t actually tell until you tried to use me for Stretch Armstrong.”
“Uh, never mind.” Chuck frowned when the strains of the Mexican Hat Dance sounded, and fumbled for his pocket. “Uh-oh,” he said.
That expression never meant good things. “What? What is it?”
“Nothing much, just—you know—the apocalypse.”
“The apocalypse? Sounds bad.”
“A small one, if anything, but still an apocalypse. Do you mind if I...” Chuck gestured at the phone.
Chuck put the cell phone to his ear. “Hi, ah, Ellie. How’s it going?”