"You couldn't let a girl know that Jake Hurst was resurfacing?" Audrey says.
I smile into my phone, lean my elbows onto my grandfather's desk. I knew she wasn't mad at me for being me (often oblivious), but she was a little annoyed about it. "I'm sorry Audrey. I didn't even think about how or why Jake's trip to New York might be of interest. But in my defense, I'm living in the backwoods remember? Words like, 'paparazzo' and 'hot tips' are foreign words around here."
She sighs, and I can imagine her standing in front of her office windows overlooking Wilshire Blvd, the perfect blue sky before her splashed with jungle green palms, the cheery pink and yellow awnings of cafes and boutiques lining the street below. "It would have been nice to know," she says. "Have you even seen the pictures?"
I lift the lid of my laptop and type-in Jake's name, and then add "NYC," my heart racing as my eyes latch onto Jake's steady gaze, his jaw tight with displeasure as he stares squarely into the camera lens, one hand clasped by a model I recognized from the cover of this month's Vogue. Beneath the vertical shot of them: Playboy Jake Hurst in Tom Ford and supermodel Fernanda Sousa in vintage Celine seen last night leaving The Grill. Hurst did not respond to questions about his current dating status, but this is the first time he's been photographed with anyone since his public breakup with Sarah Abelman, daughter of steel magnet Michael Abelman five months ago.
The mention gets half the page, with another shot that is a close up of their interlaced fingers, and then a photo next to that of Cesar with two women, one of them apparently a reality star: Chef Cesar Perez of the prestigious Hurst Hotel in LA gets cozy with actress Alina Schultz from the hit show, 'Mad Moguls in Manhattan,' and model Marcia Romero.
There's nothing more. The purpose was clearly to splash the pages with gorgeous people living their glamorous lives and let the readers draw their conclusions about the significance of any of it.
"Have you heard Jake talk about Fernanda?" Audrey asks.
I sigh and close my search window, knowing I could get lost for hours if I continued clicking around. I'd decided after I'd first 'done my research' on Jake last year, I'd try to stick to what I knew about him and ignore what I read, but with vivid images like this in my face, it was difficult.
"Never heard him mention her," I say, wondering what would have been so difficult about slipping in the fact that he was dating a supermodel during one of our many conversations.
"The woodwork in this theater is gorgeous," he might have said. "Just like my gorgeous supermodel girlfriend." Running his hands seductively over the surface, "Do you think this is Brazilian pecan wood? Because it reminds me of my hot, perfectly proportioned girlfriend's rich skin tone."
Sometimes I amused myself.
I did feel slightly foolish now, for having allowed myself to replay the moment Jake had kissed my cut finger in my grandmother's kitchen, his gaze making me feel as if he saw his entire world in my eyes, as if, he wanted to lean down and kiss my lips, next.
My heart is not racing; I tell myself as it races.
But even if it were, it couldn't be helped, because, "the man could get anything he wanted with a wink and smile," as Therese would say.
"Do you think Fernanda's his girlfriend?"
"I doubt it," Audrey says, her tone teasing, "not everyone feels the need to define and commit as you do. They probably hook-up when they're both in LA or New York, keep it casual."
"You’d know better than I do," I say.
"So... guess who's coming to Tomahawk Hill the week before Christmas?" Audrey says, switching gears.
"Really?" I squeal into the phone, thinking about how it really would be like old times then. "A whole week?"
"I have hosting duties for the New Year celebrations, but I get Christmas off for the most part. I'll see you, then go see my parents for the obligatory days."
My excitement wanes a little at the thought of what Rich might think about spending Christmas with Audrey. I wanted to be sure we got plenty of time alone, and after our last conversation, I didn't want to make any assumptions about what would or wouldn't be okay with him. "Mind if I..."
"Sorry Liv, I didn't even think about the fact that you haven't seen Rich in a few weeks. Yeah, of course, ask him first. Although," she says wickedly, "You could just feign surprise when I show up?"
I laugh, "better not. I think he's still a little mad at me about some things I said earlier this week."
"Really? What's going on?"
"Off the record, okay Audrey?"
"Ooh," she says, the air practically crackling around her, "off the record of course. So, this has to do with Jake too?" but I can hear her sitting down at her desk so she can take notes.
I tell her about Jake's plans for a soda fountain across the street from the diner, selling my grandfather's malt-mix, wanting to incorporate the restaurant into the hotel and my personally investing in both. And then I tell her about Rich's reaction to all of it. "I didn't even know he wanted anything to do with the restaurant business."
Audrey surprises me with, "Okay, we can talk about Rich’s crassness later. Right now, I want to talk about the fact that Jake Hurst doesn't need you to invest in anything. You know this, right? He's inviting you to benefit from his Midas touch because this was your project in the first place, and he wants you involved. It's sort of amazing how hard he's trying to make sure of it."
I sit back in my chair as the weight of her words sinks in. She laughs. "Seriously, you are the most oblivious person I know. He doesn't need you, Liv. He wants you."
In bed, I can't stop thinking about what Audrey had said. Of course, she'd meant it in the plutonic sense. Jake wants you, as in, wanted my involvement in the project; just as he wanted Marty's bar to become the best version of itself, the way he wanted the same for Bud's theater and the town market and the Tropical Palm.
My grandmother would have adapted the diner to fit with the town's makeover, and it would have done well when Jake's resort opened, but Jake was offering to pull us into the fold and ensure it.
He wants you.
A soft kiss on the tip of my finger, a hug that felt a little long, but a lot nice, the way he looks at me until our eyes meet, and then pulls goofy faces that make me laugh or throw things at him.
I'd sent Jake a picture of Maverick every day since he'd been gone, typing a few additional lines of text, then promptly deleting them because I had questioned my motives. If I was sharing anything with anyone, it should be my fiancé.
A glance at my phone reveals that it's eleven o'clock in LA. Rich might be out, but he'd be awake.
Hey. I miss you.
I place my phone down as I wait for a response, play with the diamond ring on my finger.
Miss you too. I'm sorry I've been so busy the last few days. Want to talk? At Ace with the guys but can step out for a sec.
I call him, pushing aside the thought that if he wasn't working, why hadn't he called me already? Surely, he knew I wasn't busy partying it up on a Thursday night in Tomahawk Hill? When we talked for a brief moment yesterday, he'd sounded as though he barely had time to stop for a cup of coffee between meetings.
I can practically feel what it's like to be out in downtown LA late at night as I hear the buzz of conversation, clinking glasses, cars making a fuss in the distance. I miss it.
"You're up pretty late," he says.
"I couldn't sleep. Having a good time? Who are you with?"
"Just the guys; Ryan, Justin, Conrad. Cash was here for a bit. We're closing on his building next week." He sounds victorious.
"That's great, Rich."
"Yeah, so we thought we’d celebrate a little early. So, what'd you do today?"
"I wrote three chapters," I say, feeling happy as I say it. "I'm resolving all of the conflict now, so the story is coming pretty easily at the moment."
"That's great babe... hey, get me some truffle fries, would you?" And then back to me, "anything else?" The noise around Rich shifts and I wonder if he's already back at his table or if he's moved further away.
"Therese and I taught Maverick to sit? We had to bribe him with treats of course, but he sat for like three seconds without getting up. And oh! And Marty looks like he's shaved ten years off his life since the materials started arriving for the bar renovations. I think he even got a haircut this week!"
"Now there's a man who could use a full makeover. I've always wondered what he'd look like if he went for something more like Sam's moustache."
"I like his beard," I say, thinking the hair comment had nothing to do with the point I'd been trying to make.
"Know what? He'd probably be one of those guys who'd look like he was growing a misplaced eyebrow." He laughs. “Maybe the beard is just the lesser of two evils. I can’t imagine what he’d look like with no hair.”
"He'd be cute," I say, trying to tamp down my annoyance, "Anyway, I was trying to tell you how excited Marty is about his new bar. He’s a new person. He and Jake are renaming it too. It'll be called 'Sundance Saloon,' you know, like..."
"As in, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid... yeah, I figured. Isn't that what you and your grandfather had wanted?"
"Yeah," I say, smiling for the first time since we'd begun our conversation. "That's pretty great, right?"
"Uh huh, yeah."
Except the level of engagement is about the same as when I ask him for an opinion on a piece done by an artist he's never heard of or when I talk a little too long about the goings on in Tomahawk Hill. I frown, feeling a little hurt. "Well... I'll let you get back to your night. It was nice to hear your voice."
"Oh yeah, glad we could catch up a little. Love you, babe. Talk to you tomorrow?”
"Yeah," I say, wondering if there was any real reason to touch base again so soon.
The plastic banner stretching across the front of Marty's says, "the Future Home of Sundance Saloon," in an old-timey font. Beneath that is a sign that says, "Coming Soon."
"Let's take a picture and send it to Jake," Marty says.
I prepare to take a photo of Marty with my phone, but he pulls me toward him. "No, one of those self-photos of the two of us."
I laugh. "The word you're looking for is 'selfie'."
"Get over here," he says by way of response.
"I'll take the photo," Eli says. "You'll never be able to get the sign and your faces in the picture at the same time." He grins. "I can't believe we're going to start changing town history tomorrow. Too bad Jake's going to miss it."
I frown. "What do you mean? Is everything okay?"
This morning, I'd woken up feeling as though it were my birthday, the entire day ahead filled with favorite people and fun things. At the news that Jake isn't returning, it vaguely feels as though a surprise party I'd known about has been cancelled, the planners still clueless that I'd known about it in the first place.
"Everything is okay," Eli says reassuringly. "Hey, scrunch closer together."
Marty and I adjust our positions and smile as Eli takes a few. "Do you want me to watch Mav for a bit? My mom says it's okay."
I shake my head, "we’d love to keep him, but, how much longer will Jake be gone? And how much longer are you going to be living with your mom?” I tease.
"He’ll be back after Thanksgiving,” Eli says, and then somewhat bashfully, “I thought I’d save a little more money before leaving my mom’s. Jake says he’ll fire me if I so much as look at Alejandra again before I have my own apartment so… I’m thinking after Christmas I’ll be ready.”
“I’m just giving you a hard time. I think you’re smart to save up before you move out.” I give Eli a side hug. "What happened to Jake’s Nashville trip?" I ask, thinking that either everything had gone fantastically right in New York or it had all gone terribly wrong.
"He didn't tell me much, just that there had been a change of plans and that he'd explain more when he came back. He wanted to make sure we were all set for demo tomorrow and to make sure Mav wasn't outstaying his welcome at your place."
I think about the surprise Therese and I had been working on for Jake's return. We'd been checking the progress daily, anxious to get it finished in time, but now, I wonder if I could finish the project myself, save Therese a little money and give myself another creative outlet.
Marty walks out of the bar with two more boxes. "This is it," he says. "Blue Moon is officially closed."
I take another photo of Marty as he stands very still, contemplating the building. As annoyed as I had been with Rich for criticizing Marty's appearance last night, I smile, picturing a beardless Marty.
There is no doubt in my mind that he would look like a twenty-year-old prematurely covered in old man skin without one..
"The future home of Sundance Saloon," he says, beaming. And I think Marty is more that twenty-year-old, with a whole life in front of him, rather than that man in his sixties with a couple of good decades left.
I’m so overwhelmed with happiness for Marty I give into the impulse to call Jake, suddenly needing to share this moment with the person responsible for giving my dear friend so much.