The smell of her hair filled my senses. It was blonde and loose around her shoulders. The way she tossed her head back and laughed when I spun her around the dancefloor intoxicated me. How many other people were there in the room? I didn’t care. I couldn’t care, as long as I was there with her. I moved my hands down her waist, tracing the shape of her, the curve of her hips...
And then I woke up.
When I opened my eyes, I found myself staring at the ceiling in my apartment, the dream so fresh I could almost feel it. Someone shifted in the bed next to me, and I turned to see if it was her – if this time, I had woken up next to the right woman. But my heart sank when I saw a mess of dark hair strewn over the pillow. It wasn’t her. It never was.
I pulled myself out of bed and went for a shower, trying to scrub the memory of that dream off of me once and for all – as though that would do any good. I hadn’t been able to shake her in all of this time, and a shower wasn’t going to change that.
As the warm water cascaded over me, I closed my eyes and returned to the night we’d met. I had been at some industry party. I’d meant to schmooze this up-and-coming director and convince him to cast me in his newest family flick, but he didn’t seem to be having it, and I had swiftly grown tired of everyone talking down to me like they thought I was as dumb as the characters I played. So I had headed out for a scotch at the hotel bar, the whole while keeping my head down and hoping nobody would notice who I was.
Of course, I had caught a few people looking in my direction as I ordered my drink and slunk to the opposite side of the small dance floor to find a booth of my own. It wasn’t like I could get away from the attention. I’d hoped that, thanks to the “who’s-who” of Vegas populating the hotel that evening, I would get away with it, but there were still a few people clearly trying to remember where they’d seen me before.
But there was one woman there who didn’t so much as give me a second look. Which I would have been grateful for, if I could have pulled my gaze away from her. I’d spotted her when I’d sunk gratefully into my seat; I had peered around and noticed her in the booth opposite me. She was short and curvy, with messy blonde waves that fell down over her shoulders and green eyes and small hands that couldn’t seem to stop fiddling with the straw in the cocktail in front of her. She was sitting alone, scanning the room as though she were looking for somebody, and I silently urged her to make eye contact with me. It wasn’t often that I wanted to be noticed, but there was nothing I desired more than this woman catching my eye and coming over to introduce herself.
I sipped on my drink and pretended that I wasn’t totally checking her out as someone approached her table – I glanced up, half-expecting it to be her date, but it was a woman, and they seemed to have a friendly chemistry between them. Her face lit up as her companion joined her again, and I drew my eyes away, not wanting to intrude. Occasionally, the glint of her earrings in the soft light of the bar area would catch my eye, and I would have to fight not to stare again.
Suddenly, I noticed the glint getting closer. I figured it was a trick of the light, so I didn’t bother lifting my gaze from the dregs of my drink below me – until I saw a pair of high heels approaching the table and looked up. And there she was.
She was wearing a red velvet dress – old-fashioned and clinging to her curves like it was hanging on for dear life. She smiled down at me a little nervously and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
"You want to dance?" she asked. I stared at her for a moment, wondering if this was some kind of a joke. I looked beyond her to the booth and saw her friend watching the two of us with a grin on her face, clearly keen to see how this was going to turn out. She turned away, giggling, when she saw me looking, and I turned my attention back to the woman in front of me. Hell, how long had it been since I was actually nervous in front of a girl? I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind and got to my feet, running a hand over my hair to make sure it was in place.
"I’d love to," I replied. I took her hand, the connection of our skin sparking like two ends of a locked circuit, and led her onto the dance floor. And with that, she imprinted herself into my memory for good.
I had been with plenty of women before – danced with them, kissed them, hooked up with them…all of it. But nothing like this. She wound her arms around my neck and looked into my eyes, and just like that, the music and the chatter and everything else seemed to fall away. I hadn’t even gotten her name yet, but it felt as though the two of us fit together like jigsaw pieces. Something about the way she was smiling at me, soft and sweet, was shifting something inside me, like a seismic movement of the plates of the earth...
And that was right where my memories decided to cut out. Because after that, I knew that there was nothing better to recall about that night. I had danced with her for what felt like hours, forgetting the party in the hotel, forgetting the people who had noticed me, forgetting everything but the way she had felt against my body and how badly I just wanted to get her up to my hotel room already. But as I’d headed off to grab another drink, she had vanished. And I had no idea where I could find her again.
Trust me when I say that I’d tried. I had really given it my all, taking every opportunity I had to go back to Vegas, and to that hotel, in the hopes that I would run into her again. I had checked out the guest list for the party, hoping that she might somehow be on it, but she’d had nothing to do with them. Chances were, she was nothing more than a tourist heading through town with no intention of getting caught up in anything serious. And I’d had to accept that.
But I had never been good at accepting when things didn’t go my way. That was why I had made it so far as an actor – you didn’t end up where I did in the industry just by hoping. And I applied that to my personal life, too. But this woman had firmly gotten away from me, and that was beginning to get under my skin. Where was she? Who was she? And what kind of a spell had she cast over me that had gotten me so addicted to her so quickly?
I wandered out of the shower to find some clothes in the bedroom, paying little attention to the woman sprawled in my bed – she was a model, I was pretty sure, or at least I would hazard that guess judging by her skinny proportions and height. Hopefully, she would get the message and clear out of here soon enough. There was nothing worse than these women hanging around my apartment, assuming that those heroic characters I played were reflected in the man I was in real life. They were soon disappointed, either way.
As I rummaged in my drawers for a shirt and some jeans, I heard a small “click”. I stopped what I was doing and peered over my shoulder as casually as I could. Another click. And another. I turned around to find the model in the bed with a camera in her hand, pointing it at me.
"What the hell are you doing?” I shouted. She quickly tossed the phone onto the bed and shrugged.
"Nothing," she replied.
"Let me have that," I demanded, holding my hand out for the phone. She glared at me for a moment and then pushed it toward me. I grabbed it, went to the photo reel, and quickly deleted the half-dozen naked photos of me off of her memory card. It wasn’t the first time someone I had slept with had tried to pull shit like this. Maybe I should be used to it by now, but I still felt that stab of betrayal, of anger at being compromised. I knew these girls would sell the pictures to the tabloids as soon as they got the chance, and the thought of my body being out there for everyone to see got me seriously pissed.
"Alright – out," I ordered, but she just raised her eyebrows at me.
"Just like that?"
"Just like that," I snapped back, quickly getting dressed. "You really think I’m going to let you stick around after that?”
"No need to be so sensitive," she sighed, rolling her eyes at me as she dressed herself.
I didn’t reply. I had to be careful what I said – one wrong word, and I could wind up on the front cover of a magazine in a cheap expose about what an asshole I was. Which was true, but that didn’t mean I wanted the whole world to know about it.
She lingered even after she was fully dressed, and I gave her a pointed look as she hovered near the edge of the bed, clearly hoping that I would slide back into it with her and forget about this whole thing.
"You forget where the door is?” I asked, just the right side of sharp. She sighed and took her cue to leave, grabbing her bag from the floor and sliding out of the place at last.
As soon as the door was shut behind her, I sank down onto the edge of the bed and closed my eyes. Finally, a little time for myself. I had been filling my hours with as much as I could lately, mostly to keep my brain off of the woman I couldn’t shake from my memory, but I was starting to get overstuffed with human contact. I needed a little time to unwind.
Suddenly, I heard the front door open again – it just opened right up, and whoever was on the other side walked right on in. Was it that model again? I got to my feet to shoo her out for good, but before I could even step out of the bedroom, a familiar voice came slicing through the still morning air.
Ugh. It was my mother. I headed across the room to greet her, trying to keep any blatant irritation off my face.
"Hey, Mom," I greeted her. She was dressed in something crisp, stylish, and no doubt insanely expensive to boot – her crop of brown hair was coiffed, her signature red lip a slash across her pale skin.
"This place is a dump," she muttered, casting her eye around my apartment like it was the most hideous thing she had ever laid eyes on. As usual, my mom was overstating how bad it was: my apartment was minimalist, and any mess looked worse than it was.
"It’s not so bad," I replied. "If you’d called ahead—"
"You should get a maid," she told me, an order rather than a suggestion. "Maybe one you don’t fuck."
"Mom, come on," I sighed. I wanted to remind her that she’d been going through pool boys like candy recently, but that would just start an argument, and I had no time for that right now.
And besides, my mother was the last parent I had left, and I wasn’t going to drive a wedge between us, no matter how often she came sweeping into my apartment like she owned the place. She was the reason I was in this industry, after all. I had a legacy, thanks to her.
Back in the eighties, she had been a cover model for pretty much every major fashion magazine in the business, walking runways in Paris, Milan, London, and Los Angeles. Alicia Burke, as everyone knew her. When she’d met my dad, their wedding had been covered by every salivating tabloid in the country. And she had been determined that I was going to live the same life of luxury.
At first, I’d thought it was because she wanted me to experience everything she had – all the glamour, all the fame, and all the fun. But as I grew older, it had become clear to me that it was about more than that. My mother was a personal tactician, always thinking ahead. When she had married my father, it had been just as her professional career was beginning to drop off a little, and she knew that she wouldn’t be able to pout in swimsuits for the rest of her life. Well, not for money, at least.
And she knew he wasn’t going to last forever, so she had turned to me to support her lifestyle when the time came. For a long time, I didn’t even realize I was doing it. She would drops hints about dresses and jewelry and what not, and I, being the dutiful son, would leap to try and make them happen. With her status in the industry, my mother could have kicked off a business of her own, but why bother with that when there were family members to mooch off? When my father had passed the year before, I had stepped up to take care of her. Not that she had given me much of a choice.
"Yeah, well, I’m happy living like this," I finally finished up, and she raised her eyebrows at me, heading to the kitchen to make herself a coffee without asking.
"Really?” she questioned, blunt as ever.
"Yeah, really," I shot back, trying not to get too defensive. If she smelled a hint of weakness, she would pounce on it at once, and then there would be no getting her out of this place any time soon.
"So, how’s work going?” she asked, peering at a few of my mugs and wrinkling her nose. She had been looked after by staff pretty much her entire life, and any hint of anything that wasn’t up to her glimmering standards usually earned that withering look of derision.
"Fine," I shrugged. Truth was, I was starting to get a little frustrated at my job. I had been acting in action movie roles for pretty much my entire career, playing the hard man, the hero, but I wanted something a little more real to sink my teeth into.
"How did those auditions for the other movies go?” she asked, finally finding a mug that was up to her standards.
"Uh, I don’t know yet," I shook my head. "I haven’t heard back from Haven about them."
"You’ve been playing warriors your entire life," she reminded me. "In every time period. You know that they’re going to run out of period pieces for you to take your shirt off in, right?”
"Right," I agreed through gritted teeth. As though I needed reminding.
"You need to find something more diverse," she advised, although I hadn’t asked her and never would. "You need more credits to your name. Maybe you should think about the kind of thing your father did—"
"With all due respect to Dad," I lifted my hand to stop her, "I don’t want to do infomercials."
"Yes, but everyone liked him when he did those," she reminded me. "Maybe it would make you a bit more approachable?”
"Yeah, maybe," I muttered. I was already rounding on her, hoping she would get the message and get out of here. After that woman had tried to snap my picture while I wasn’t looking, I felt as though I needed my privacy now more than ever. Not that my mother had ever been much good at giving me that.
"I actually have to call my agent," I lied to her. "Maybe we could catch up later?”
"I’ll come by tomorrow," she responded, eyeing me as though she knew I wasn’t telling her the truth.
"See you, Mom," I replied, seemingly in agreement, hurrying her toward the door and hoping she would forget about the meeting tomorrow. I needed some space from her. In a city this big, you’d think I could find it. But you would be wrong.
After planting a kiss on my cheek that branded me with a mark of her blood-red lipstick, she was gone. And I figured that I might as well give Haven a call and follow up on those auditions I had been trying out for. Now that the festive season was approaching, I had been trying out for a few low-budget, warm-hearted, little indie Christmas movies, in the hopes that I could pick up a role that was a little less extreme for once. Maybe get in a button-down and play a dad or something – even though I was pretty sure I didn’t have a fatherly bone in my body.
Haven picked up after a couple of rings, her smooth, confident tone coming down the line and washing away some of the stress of the day thus far. I had been with her for almost ten years, and she was by far the best agent I’d ever had. Smart, experienced, and with a sense of humor about herself and the industry that helped keep us both sane.
"How’s my favorite client?" she greeted.
"Not bad," I lied, rubbing my hand over my face. "Hey, I was just wondering if you’d heard anything back from those auditions I did last month."
"Uh, I haven’t heard anything yet," she replied apologetically, and I heard her tapping away on her omnipresent laptop on the other end of the line.
"You think you could follow up with them?” I suggested, and she let out a sigh which reached my ear as a rush of static down the line.
"Look, Morgan, I’m going to be honest with you," she told me. "I think you could do well in a lot of those roles, but I don’t think anyone else would believe it."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," I sighed. I had a bit of a reputation around the industry – not just for the roles that I took, but for my behavior off-screen, too. So what if I didn’t like the paparazzi getting up in my face? And so what if I wasn’t afraid to tell them to fuck off when I wanted them out of my way? It’s what anyone else would do, too. But still, I kept on finding myself plastered in the media as angry, volatile, and a little dangerous.
"So if you really want to change up your career, we need to address that issue," she continued, businesslike and determined.
"And how exactly do we do that?”
"Well, we start by making sure you don’t get into any more trouble in public," she suggested. "No more screaming at the press and no more anger management courses that the studio has to send you to, alright?”
"Yeah, yeah," I agreed in a mutter. I was still sure they had just sent me to those courses to make a point, but the only point they’d made was that I was a dolt-headed fury-magnet who couldn’t do anything but yell, fight, and stay at eleven percent body fat.
"And maybe we should start looking into getting you set up with some charity gigs?" she continued.
"What sort of charity?”
"I don’t know yet," she muttered, tapping away on her computer again. "I’ll see what I can organize, alright? We’ll come up with something."
"Great," I replied. "Thanks, Haven. I appreciate it. I really do."
"We’ll get you those roles yet," she assured me cheerfully, and I thanked the show business gods once more that I had managed to find myself an agent with the most minimal level of bullshit imaginable.
"I’ll speak to you soon, alright?" she replied. "Don’t get in any more trouble. Straight and narrow, okay?”
"I’ll see what I can do," I promised, and we said our goodbyes and hung up. And even though I should have been thinking about my career and where the hell it was going to go from here, in the quiet of my apartment, all I could think about was the woman I’d danced with all those nights ago. The woman who just wouldn’t get out of my head. The only person I wanted to play opposite right now.