Cant let you go, p.9
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       Can’t Let You Go, p.9

           Jenny B. Jones
 
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  “Why are you waiting tables?” Ian asked.

  “Isn’t it what all starving actresses do?”

  “You were hardly starving before you quit and deserted our production.”

  “Well, now I produce eggs and bacon. And you cut me from the show, if you recall.”

  “I gave you a break. You needed one. You should’ve been thanking me instead of—”

  “Thanking you?” The nerve of this man! “You are the most arrogant, egocentric—”

  “The fact of the matter is I’m here to help you,” Ian said.

  “Do I even want to know what she’s here to help with?”

  “We both quit Much Ado. I’ll be directing a Samuel Beckett production on Broadway next month. Felicity will continue to be my assistant.”

  “I’m sure she’ll give you a lot of. . .help.”

  “What happened to your forehead?” Ian asked.

  “Remains of my lobotomy. Now why are you two in In Between? And more importantly, what time does your flight leave?”

  The door behind us opened and out came Frances. “Got my card.” She extended her perky smile to the two interlopers. “Hi.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Frances. Friends of Katie’s?”

  “No,” I said.

  “Yes.” Ian slowly shook Frances’s hand, and I could see his charm already reaching out like invisible tentacles. Nobody was immune.

  “This is Ian.” His name tasted like a bitter berry on my tongue. “My ex-boyfriend. And this is his. . .his. . .”

  “This is Felicity.”

  Frances’s mouth hung in a small oval. “I don’t think I understand.”

  “Kind of defies logic,” I said, my narrowed eyes on Ian.

  “Your grandmother asked me to help your town,” he said. “Theater preservation is a passion of mine.”

  “Are you seriously trying to tell me you flew all this way for that?”

  Felicity wrapped her hand around Ian’s bicep. “He didn’t fly here for you, if that’s what you’re asking.”

  Ian put a halting hand on my shoulder before I could wrap my fingers around Felicity’s throat. Or at least get in a good hair yank.

  “You clearly have some strong feelings, Katie,” Ian said. “One could only expect that. Things didn’t end well, and I know I hurt you deeply.”

  “A mere paper cut.”

  He looked at me with such pity in his eyes, like I was three steps away from throwing my sad self off the nearest bridge. “No matter your anger,” he said. “I have a job to do here, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

  “What job? Seducing the skirt off every woman in town?”

  He laughed, a throaty sound that had once all but made me float on air, but now made me want to claw his face with my nails. “Your grandmother needs help saving your theater, and I can be of use. I have many connections, and we can create a PR storm the likes those Thrifty folks have never seen.”

  “And what’s in it for you?”

  “You screaming across the stage as you tackled him during the intermission of your last show.” Felicity put a bracing arm around her dear Ian. “Does that ring a bell?”

  “Yes,” I snapped. “I envision his black eye every night as I say my prayers and give thanks to the Almighty.”

  Ian sighed. “It’s just like you to act so irrationally without any thought to anyone else.”

  “Were you thinking of anyone else when you had your hands all over your assistant during the show? You couldn’t even wait ’til it was over? Until we were all gone?” The curtain had just gone down for intermission, and I had ran back to Ian’s office to tell him that a major critic was in the fourth row and found him and his perky, skinny, skanky assistant entwined on his desk. Had I walked in just a few minutes later, I would’ve seen something straight out of a Rated R movie.

  “You humiliated me,” Ian said. “That critic absolutely crucified us all in her review.”

  “You probably dated her once too.”

  “If you can’t keep your personal life off the stage—quite literally—then you are not cut out to be an actress.”

  It was a rusty scalpel to my heart, and Ian knew how to twist it until it hit a critical vein. There were lots of reasons I wasn’t stage material. And we both recognized it.

  “Katie is a brilliant actress,” Frances said.

  Ian merely smiled.

  “This has been such a refreshing conversation,” I said. “I love how you still spin the tale and cast me as the evil villain. And now that I’ve heard it—again—you can leave. We don’t need your help. The very idea that you could save my town is just laughable. We’d have more luck shining a bat spotlight into the sky.”

  “I already have press lined up,” Ian said. “A writer from the Huffington Post contacted me yesterday. Fox News, CNN, the Today Show. I’ve had bites from all of them. Even a few across the Pond. You need someone with connections, and that’s me. And you need someone who speaks theater as a director and a businessman. Also me.”

  “Why would you do this?”

  “Investors breathing down my neck. Your intermission show was an absolute scandal. Videos on YouTube, articles in the papers, our production made into a mockery.”

  “Kind of like our relationship.”

  “Oh, grow up, Katie. You had to know it wasn’t working between us.”

  “No, actually I didn’t. We’d been together nearly a year. You know what I expected from you? Integrity. I expected to be able to trust you.”

  “And all of that’s in the past,” Felicity said. “We’re over it, so you need to move on. It’s not like we appreciated being shoved on a plane to Texas.”

  “Arrangements could probably be made to shove you elsewhere.”

  “I don’t want to be here anymore than you want me here,” Ian snapped. “If we save your little homespun theater, then I’m taking the glory back with me. Call it humanitarianism, call it a PR stunt, but I call it a job. And I’m going to do it. The same money that’s fronting Much Ado is also behind the New York production. I’ve lost all credibility with the London theater community, and they need time to forget our little intermission sideshow.”

  “And New York has yet to hear of it?” I could fix that.

  “And they’re not going to,” Ian said pointedly.

  “Please go back to London before you mess this up even more.”

  Ian took a step, his tall form leaning way too close to mine. Geez, he still smelled good.

  No! Stop sniffing! That was the scent of cheating and lies.

  “Don’t think you won’t be seeing me often while I’m here.” And then Ian’s tone shifted, softened, and he sounded more like the man I had fallen for. “Face it, Katie. You need me.”

  “You know, I’ve come to realize I never needed you. Today is no exception.”

  “Let’s go home,” his new girlfriend whined, her voice hitting an octave known to set off choruses of yipping dogs.

  “Go to the car, Felicity,” Ian commanded.

  “But—”

  “I’ll be there shortly.” His gaze locked on mine as his companion huffed then sashayed away.

  “You need me to help save your theater,” Ian said. “Just like you needed me to turn you from a spare cast member into a star.”

  There it was, that poison dart right to the throat. I wanted to deny it, to tell him he was wrong. That I was a good actress, that I did have what it took to be on the Great White Way or the West End.

  But I couldn’t form the words. Not any that I believed.

  Ian shook his head. “I thought we were going to be so good together.”

  I swallowed and looked away before he could see the singular tear. “Sorry for having such unreasonable expectations.”

  “You’re nothing without me. Your career is dead, and—”

  “Nothing?” Frances bowed up like she was about to show Ian how she’d earned her black belt her senior year. “Katie’s already so much better without you. Do you s
ee that bag in her hand?”

  Oh, no.

  “Do you know what that is? Do you?”

  Ian shrugged a careless shoulder. “I do not.”

  “It’s a wedding dress.”

  “No, Frances,” I warned.

  “It’s her wedding dress. That’s right, Katie is getting married.”

  Ian slid his piercing stare to me. “To whom?”

  “The love of her life, that’s who,” Frances said. “The boy she dated in high school and college.”

  “Is that so?”

  I just frantically shook my head. “Frances—”

  “That’s right. They reunited on an airplane that nearly crashed. You’re welcome to Google that. He carried her unconscious body to safety, and they realized they never wanted to be apart.”

  “Very touching,” Ian said. “That’s quite a story. And just who is this dashing hero who’s asked you for your hand?”

  “Everything okay here?”

  I could not contain the groan as I turned around to see Charlie standing behind us.

  “That’s him.” Frances pointed a finger at Charlie. “That’s Katie’s fiancé.”

  Chapter Twelve

  It wasn’t every day your best friend announced your impending nuptials.

  To a groom you weren’t even dating.

  There were perfectly acceptable things to fib about. How many doughnuts you’d really eaten. That you would never deign to watch that reality show about arranged marriages and obstacle courses. Your bra size.

  But this? This was bad.

  “What just happened?” Charlie asked as Ian walked away.

  “I can explain.” I sounded just like Maxine.

  “Is that your ex-boyfriend?”

  “Yes,” I said.

  “The one who lives in London?”

  I nodded weakly.

  “Funny story,” Frances said, her perky smile replaced with one as plastic as her father’s Visa. “The guy shows up out of nowhere, harasses Katie, and I just. . .”

  “Told Ian Katie and I were getting married.”

  “It just came out,” Frances said. “The guy’s a total jerk.” She gave Charlie the Cliffs Notes version of the exchange.

  “I’ll fix it.” I checked the time on my phone. “I’ve got to get back to Micky’s.” I had five minutes before I had to clock back in. Before I had to spend the rest of my afternoon waiting on tables like my ex hadn’t outrageously hopped a plane out of London, and like Frances hadn’t just betrothed me to Charlie.

  “Katie, I’m sorry.” Frances eased the dress from my death grip. “Will you forgive me? If you want me to talk to Ian, I’ll clear it up. I’ll talk to him and—”

  “Nobody’s talking to Ian,” Charlie said. “Not yet.” Fists settled on his hips, he glared in Ian’s direction. “Just hang on, okay? I need to think about this.”

  What was I going to tell Ian? How in the world did I explain this? I’m sorry my friend lied, but she gets a little psychotic when you talk to me like I’m a worthless nobody?

  “I’ll go find him,” Frances said. “I’ll make it right.”

  “I’ll take care of this.” Charlie put a strong arm around my shoulders. “Frances, you run back to Micky’s and tell Loretta Katie will be a little late.”

  “I’m sorry.” Frances looked as miserable as I felt. “I’m so sorry.” She clutched her dress and ran down the sidewalk.

  I watched the street long after Frances had rounded the corner. Seeing nothing but images of London replaying in my mind.

  “You okay?” Charlie gave me a little nudge.

  “I’m not really sure.”

  “A few minutes of being engaged, and my fiancée already regrets it.”

  “What am I going to do?”

  “Pick out a dress?”

  I turned anguished eyes to Charlie. “This stuff doesn’t happen to anyone else. Just me.”

  “Why don’t you sit down for a bit?” Charlie led me to a nearby bench, his hand at my back. “Take a few deep breaths.”

  “It’s just that Ian showed up, and Felicity was there. And she’s so skinny, Charlie. I mean, she seriously needs a burger. And she’s beautiful and—”

  “Tell me why Ian the Ex is here and not in England.”

  “I don’t know! I mean I do know, but it makes no sense.” Right now nothing did. I briefly filled Charlie in on Maxine’s scheme to enlist my ex-boyfriend for help. “He kept saying he knew I was hurt, that I needed him. And Miss Slutty Britches was all like, ‘You owe him for coming here. You couldn’t hold onto him, and I’m better than you.’”

  “She said all that?” The man all but cracked his knuckles and rolled up his sleeves.

  “No. But she communicated it.” I massaged my temples and closed my eyes. “With silent girl telepathy.”

  Charlie stretched his arm across the back of the wooden bench, pulling me to him. He kissed the top of my head. “Do you want me to beat Ian up?”

  “No. Well, maybe just bust a kneecap.”

  Charlie’s head rested on mine, and for a moment, he said nothing. This had always been one of my favorite spots, his chin resting on my hair, fitted so close, safe. Besides my parents, nobody made me feel as secure as Charlie. He was a protector, a defender. And not just on spastic airplanes. I tried not to analyze the status of our relationship. We were friends. Very good friends.

  Very good friends who now frequently made out.

  Birds sang in the trees lining the street. A young mother pushed her baby in a black running stroller down the sidewalk toward the pharmacy. Three white-headed men went inside Foster’s Hardware, and I knew they weren’t going in for hammer and nails, but conversation and coffee. How could a corporation want to take all that away?

  “Katie, do you still love this guy?”

  I let this question roll through my head like a tumbleweed in the vacant space of the desert. “We’re over.” How did I explain what Ian was? “I would never take him back. He said. . .” I stared at my hands in my lap. “He basically said I didn’t have enough talent, and I had gotten where I was because of him. I just felt so. . .” The words gathered and formed a lump in my throat. I blinked past the tears, angry with myself, furious at Ian.

  “Talk to me, Parker.”

  It was like opening a diary page of your most pitiful day and handing it over. I so wanted to tell Charlie how I felt, but it was embarrassing. Humiliating. “When I was fifteen the police knocked on my door.”

  May nineteenth at six-fifteen p.m.

  I had been alone for most of the week, my bio-mom on one of her benders. I had assumed she was with one of her Boyfriends of the Week.

  “They told me my mom had been arrested for the drugs, then they took me and whatever I could stuff into a plastic grocery bag to the group home.” My mom hadn’t wanted me. Her family couldn’t have picked me out of a lineup. Even surrounded by an entire facility of girls, I’d never felt more alone. “I never wanted to feel that way again. But when Ian stood there just now saying all that stuff, it threw me right back. I was that kid again.” Hot tears of shame slid down my face. I’d never told anyone this. Ever. “When you’ve lived that, you have this stupid need. . . to be wanted. And to never let anyone see that.”

  “It’s not stupid.”

  “But it is. I have the best family in the Scotts. They’ve shown me what real love is. They’ve always taught me I could do anything I set my mind to.”

  “You can. Ian can’t take that away from you.”

  “Ian didn’t have to.” I was seconds away from having to use my shirt to wipe my drippy nose. Some girls cried prettily. I looked like I was having an allergic reaction requiring the stab of an EpiPen. “In the last month I’ve had such a good dose of reality. It’s one thing to be a star in a college production, but it’s quite another to be anything out there with the pros.”

  “Are we talking about your career or your relationship with Ian?”

  “Both pretty much kicked me str
aight to the curb.”

  “You can’t let a breakup convince you you’re not worth loving. Ian cheated on you. Do you really want to be with someone like that?”

  “Of course not. We were falling apart way before that. It’s not so much the cheating.” But the old voices whispered if I’d been enough, he wouldn’t have strayed. “It’s mostly how he treated me after. It’s the things he said today. I wanted him to know he hadn’t hurt me. That I didn’t need him. That I wasn’t this discarded girl who could fit her meager belongings into a bag from the Piggy Wiggly. So when Frances blurted out that I was engaged to you”—Maybe this was the most terrible part—“I didn’t stop her.” I looked at Charlie. “I could have, and I didn’t.”

  “Like the spirit of Lies and Matrimony just took over your body.”

  Amen and testify.

  “I don’t like that this guy is here, but in inviting him, you grandmother was just trying to help,” Charlie said. “She had no reason to think Ian would abandon his production and travel across the globe to help In Between. If that’s what he’s truly here for.”

  “I doubt Ian believed my sudden declaration. I mean who gets engaged two weeks after breaking up with your boyfriend?”

  “Two people who used to love each other.”

  Oh, my.

  When a man looked at you like Charlie looked at me now, it was hard to form complete sentences. He made me want to believe in true love and fidelity and happiness. He made me want to believe that I was worth it.

  That I was somebody’s first choice.

  And not someone just tossed away. Again.

  “Do you think he’s really sticking around?” Charlie asked.

  “Yes. It’s a big PR stunt to appease his play backers. I kind of made a muck of things before I left. Before I got benched.”

  Charlie’s lips curved. “Do tell.”

  “I might’ve added an extra scene in Much Ado About Nothing. Let’s just say Beatrice went sprinting across the stage chasing her rat-fink boyfriend, screaming out every insult that came to mind.”

  “Shakespeare would’ve been proud.”

  “The theater community was not.”

  Even if I wanted to, I would never work in London again.

  I stood up, pulled Charlie to his feet, and gave him a hug, letting his scent fill my senses. “I’m going to go find Ian. Tell him the truth.”

 
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