EXPOSURE

Parental Advisory Rating: L

Break out those V-Chips, everyone!

Credits:

Created, Produced, Directed and Written:

XWPFanatic, TNovan and Tonya Muir

 

Episode Twelve: Kiss and Make Up

Gail places my tea in front of me and hands me the remote to my TV’s. "I saw you on the news last night with Erik. You two looked great! Your dress was magnificent. I bet you made it on one of the best dressed lists."

I smile as I think of the awards ceremony. Erik was all decked out in his Armani tuxedo and I wore a long, tight, forest green gown by Vera Wang. It was the type of dress that made me grateful for my constant workouts and dieting. With Erik’s height, broad shoulders and good looks and my all-American girl persona, we managed to capture a lot of attention last night. It was a great night for my best friend. "We had a really good time."

"I know that the Popular Picks Awards aren’t considered the biggest thing in the world, but I think it’s really cool that Erik won for Best New Actor."

I fight down my irritation at Gail. Nothing like a backhanded compliment to start off the day. "Hey, one step at a time," I say, forcing a breezy tone into my voice. "He’s very proud of that award. It’s a popular poll of the people who see his work. He’s walking on clouds today."

"I’ll bet he is. Did you go to any cool parties after?"

"Yeah, we hit two or three."

"Oh, I’ll bet you were rubbing all kinds of elbows last night."

"We ran into a few familiar faces. It was also a good opportunity for Erik to make some important contacts. The guy who runs Camelot Pictures simply fell in love with him." Quite literally, I think. It was kinda fun watching them both check each other out, without seeming to.

I smile when I consider that.

"Any chance he’ll be by today?" Gail asks, trying to not sound too hopeful. All the women here are in love with him.

"Actually, yes. He’s coming by to take me to lunch. So you can drool over him for a few minutes when he gets here." And slip him your phone number again, bitch. Did you really think he wouldn’t tell me?

"Oh, I won’t be the only one. You have no idea how many women in this place envy you."

You wouldn’t if you knew the truth. My life is a fucking mess, but a good-looking one.

I’m about to reply when there is a knock on my door. I glance up to find an office messenger carrying a dozen roses arranged in a crystal vase. "These came for you, Miss Stanton."

I’m a little surprised before I realize they must be from Erik. He tends to go overboard when he’s in a good mood, and, boy, is he in a good mood right now. I wave the messenger in and he places the vase on the corner of my desk. "Anything you need me to take, Miss Stanton?"

"Actually, yes." I hand him a file. "Could you take this to Ms. Kingsley for me? Tell her it’s my notes on the Omaha story."

Omaha.

A fucking fiasco professionally. And personally, if the truth be known.

However, if I am nothing else, I am a professional. I simply have no damn desire to see Harper right now. I notice him glance across the hallway into Harper’s office where she is sitting at her desk. He knows something is wrong, but is smart enough to not comment.

"Is there a problem?" I ask as I reach for the card stuck among the rose stems.

"No, ma’am, Miss Stanton. I’ll take care of it."

"Thanks so much." I give him my anchor smile. That’s a dismissal and he takes the cue, leaving my office and heading straight for hers. I pull the card from the envelope. I’m surprised to discover the flowers are not from Erik. "From a secret admirer" is all the card says.

I look over into Harper’s office. They couldn’t be from her, could they? We’re barely speaking to each other and it’s been nearly two weeks since we came back. Surely she wouldn’t be ballsey enough to send me roses. I watch as she takes the file from the messenger and glances my way with a smirk.

Maybe she would.

I take my tea and the card and cross over to her office. I enter as the messenger leaves, who gives me a strange look. Tossing the card down on the desk in front of her, I take a sip of my tea as she reads it.

"Aww, now ain’t that sweet?" she sneers as she shoves it to the corner of her desk.

"Cut the fucking crap. Don’t play around here, Harper."

"What? I’m sitting here minding my own goddamn business in my own goddamned office. You’re the one who blew in here with the fucking attitude." She leans back in her chair, folding her arms across her chest.

"You sent the roses."

"Yeah, right." She shakes her head and gives me a disapproving look. "Hate to disappoint you, Kels, but if I were going blow that kinda money on a woman, it wouldn’t be you on the receiving end."

"You didn’t send them?"

"I just said I didn’t. What more do you want from me? A signed statement?" She picks the card up and holds it out for me as she leans on her elbow. "Maybe they’re from someone you met while you were out with your boy toy last night."

I snatch the card from her hand. "Bite me." I hiss as I turn to leave her office.

"I think I’ll pass on the offer," she calls after me. "You left a bad taste in my mouth last time."

To think not long ago some part of me actually wanted her. Ah, shit, I still do, but it’ll be the day hell freezes over before I let it happen now.

Returning to my office I turn the card over to look at it again. I have work to do, I don’t have time to figure out this ‘secret admirer’ shit. I toss it in my top desk drawer and open a file.

The knocking on my door brings me out of my research. I look up to see Erik’s smiling face. I glance at my watch. "God, is it lunch time all ready?"

"Yup, it sure is. We still on?" He grins as he crosses over and places himself on the corner of my desk closest to me.

"Would I stand the People’s Poll Best New Actor up?" I get to my feet and wrap my arms around his neck as his arms wrap around my waist. "Do you have any idea how proud of you I am?"

He gives me a kiss on the cheek. "Kelsey, you’ve been with me every step of the way." His voice drops a bit as he whispers into my ear. "If things were different for us, I swear I’d marry you. I love you, Kels."

"I love you too, Erik."

To anyone looking through my office window right now, we look like two lovers who can’t get enough of one another.

Appearances mean nothing. Surely ten years in Los Angeles have taught me that by now.

You know, I deserve my life: the only person who truly loves me is a gay man. Still, it’s nice to know that there is at least one person in this world who does love me. Some days it’s the only thing that keeps me going.

Okay, Kels, cut out the maudlin stuff. I mentally shake myself and tilt my head back to look up at him, forcing a smile to my lips. "Hey! Question for you, stud. Did you by any chance send those?" I wave to the roses.

He cranes his neck to look without releasing me. "No, but, boy, I wish I had. They’re beautiful. I gotta get the name of the florist before I leave."

"Oh, who’s the lucky guy?"

He chuckles. "It never hurts to be prepared. You don’t know who sent them?"

"Not a clue."

"Maybe Beth…"

I shake my head. "No, I spoke to Beth day before yesterday and she would have signed the card." She did send flowers, but that was right after the hostage incident, and they were sent to my home.

"Well, hell, beautiful, you were all over the news last night. It’s a wonder you don’t have dozens and dozens of flowers in here today."

"No, no, last night was your night." Funny enough, Erik is the only person I have never felt competitive with. Even with Beth there’s still a one-upmanship between us, each of us trying to out-career one another. But with Erik, all I want is for him to have everything he’s ever wanted. And more.

"Funny," he says as he draws me tighter into his arms. "I haven’t gotten any flowers today."

"Want those?" I grin as I flick a finger at the ones on my desk.

"Umm … Kelsey Stanton’s sloppy seconds. Nah, I’ll pass. You can buy me lunch though."

"Deal. Let me get my purse."

He kisses my forehead as he releases me.

As we make our way out of my office, I pull my door shut and glance back to Harper’s office. She’s one the phone now, leaning back in her chair and laughing. It galls me that she seems to be quite fine with everything. Omaha doesn’t seem to have affected her in the least. I was simply another conquest for her. Well, if we actually did anything. She’s never said what she remembers. Or doesn’t remember.

Damn it all.

A few people want a minute or two with Erik. He is more than happy to oblige my co-workers. He makes sure to keep me close and Chambers is eating it up from across the room. Christ, his heart would explode if he had seen Harper and me in that hotel room.

"Ready, sweetheart?"

"After you, handsome." God, we’re sickening. But it plays well.

"Gotta warn you," he says as we are about to emerge from the station. "There are people with cameras following me around today, so be prepared."

"Ooooo does this mean I’m gonna get my picture in the paper too?" I laugh as I poke him in the ribs.

"More than likely it’ll be The Tattler or whoever will pay the highest price for it."

"Ah, you mean…"

"Un-huh. Tabloids."

He knows how I feel about the subject, but now is not the time for me to show my feelings. So we’ll stop and I’ll smile. I am, after all, the supportive girlfriend.

Some days, I really hate my life.

 

* * *

 

I park my Harley next to the door of The Rio. It’s good to be back. Of course, I was here last night, but, damn, it was a hard day at work. Kelsey is still acting like a pole has been rammed up her ass, threatening to come out her throat.

Jesus. All over the stupidity in Omaha.

She acts like it was all my fault. Like I took her out and got her drunk and then tried to do something. Or did something. Whichever the case was. Kelsey isn’t saying, so I’m thinking it happened. Why else would she be so upset?

Come on, Harper, focus. You’re not at work. You’re about to join friends, and relax a bit.

I roll my shoulders, loosening them, and hang my helmet off the handlebar. I pat my Fat Boy tenderly and head over to the door.

Snake, the regular bouncer, smiles at me. "I’ll take good care of her for you, Harper." He will too. Snake is a small mountain of flesh encased in leather. No one fucks with him.

I push a twenty dollar bill into his hand. "Thanks, Snake. Anyone inside worth noticing?"

He smiles, a gap between his two front teeth makes him look friendlier than he would otherwise. "Oh yeah. There’s a little blonde in there that’s real easy on the eyes."

I nod, considering the possibilities. "Last time you mentioned someone, they had come in with a date. Am I gonna have someone trying to kill my ass for flirting with this little blonde?"

Snake chuckles, remembering the incident all too well. He had to give up his watch over my beloved bike to stop a brawl in the bar before it began. Fortunately, my bike had been unharmed in his absence, or there would have been another fight on his hands. "Nah, she came in alone. Can’t promise she wasn’t meeting someone though."

"Fair enough. Later, Snake."

I push my way in the heavy door and take a deep breath. God, I love it here. This is the smell of a real place, real people, real liquor, real smoke. The Rio doesn’t have room for bullshit or mind games. Here, if you want to get laid, you can get laid. If you just want to drink, you can drink unharassed. If you want to just relax with friends, you do what I’m gonna do.

"What’s an ugly son-of-a-bitch like you doing in a classy bar like this?"

Gary gives me the finger. "They let you in again? Damn, this place is going downhill. I may have to find me a new hangout." He presses his hands to the bar and pushes up, as if he might actually leave.

"Yeah, right. Most of the respectable bars have banned you." I take a seat on the stool next to him, my back to the bar. I’m looking for the cute blonde that captured Snake’s attention. Despite his ill-conceived moniker, Snake has good taste in women.

Gary laughs and claps me on the back. "How the hell are you, Harper? How are things down at the station?"

The bartender puts a beer down by me. "Sent by the woman at the end of the bar."

I glance down and see the blonde I had last night. I raise the glass to my lips and smile at her. Doesn’t hurt to be polite.

"I don’t want to talk about work, Gary."

"You haven’t want to talk about work for two weeks. What the hell happened up in Ohio?"

"Omaha, you idiot. Nothing."

"You sure?"

I put the glass down a bit more forcefully than I should. "Nothing happened. Just drop it."

"Ice Bitch getting to you?" he asks, teasing me.

"Don’t call her that," I growl.

"What’s wrong, Harper?" Suddenly, Gary is all serious and sincere. "Something’s eating at you."

"I wish," I mutter.

"What?"

"Nothing. Look, Gary, it’s been a long couple weeks. I nearly had my fucking head blown off in Omaha and we’ve been pushing it hard lately."

"Has she been able to do much? I saw her parading around with that actor boyfriend of hers last night. They were on all the news broadcasts – even your rivals."

"I don’t want to talk about her, Gary."

"Because you can’t have her?"

"Goddammit!" I slam the mug down on the bar, sloshing some of the amber liquid onto the counter. Heads turn our way, but I don’t care. "Enough about her! Jesus H. Christ, since when did you become so interested in my sex life?"

"Since I can’t seem to have one of my own," Gary replies softly, realizing he’s been an asshole of first rate.

"Well, Gary, you gotta stop wearing those fucking plaid shirts. Jesus, man, you look like a lumberjack. People will think you come complete with Babe the Blue Ox."

He guffaws, nearly snorting beer out his nose. "God, what an image."

"Tell me about it. Scares the crap out of me." Then I join him in the laughter.

We’re all right now. That’s what I like most about Gary. He’s so much like my brothers. We give each other shit all the time, but it never lasts long. So different from women. They hold grudges. Forever.

Forever and ever.

And Kelsey is all woman.

I spy the little blonde. Ooo … she is sweet. She’s small, but not in the important areas, and she has a nice smile. She looks friendly. I could use friendly in my life around now.

Imagine Kelsey thinking I sent her flowers.

Yeah right.

Maybe dead roses. I hear there are places in LA that will send them. Perhaps I’ll look into that.

But, now, I have better things to look in to. The blonde’s blouse is cut low. And I am quite tall. "Excuse me for a bit, Gar."

"But of course. I’ll just sit here by my little lonesome. Again."

"Change the shirt, I tell ya. It would do wonders." I give him my parting advice as I amble over toward the blonde.

 

***

 

As I climb out of the Mercedes and make my way into the studio, I take stock of everything that’s going on in my very screwed up life at the moment.

I saw Erik off at the airport this morning. He’ll be gone for over a month filming on location in North Carolina. The press showed up at the airport so we were required to share a rather intense little kiss at the gate. Whoever taught him to kiss really should receive a thank you note.

I miss him already.

Maybe I really am straight.

Oh, I don’t think so. All evidence is certainly to the contrary. I mean, I do have witnesses.

Maybe I just need more friends.

Bingo! Give that woman a cigar. Or some other phallic shaped device.

I shake my head, wondering what has gotten into it. God, Kels, you’ve been alone too much lately. And you’ll be alone for Thanksgiving, too. Yet another holiday spent in the movie theatre eating popcorn instead of turkey.

Well, at least I did receive one bit of good news: the judge who is hearing my parents’ case pushed it back on his docket until after the first of the year.

I love it. Make them suffer through the holidays, too.

I had Beth handle that mess for me. She told me I owed her "big." I look forward to paying her back when I fly to New York in January for the hearing. That’s the only up-side to that trip. No matter how bad it might get, Beth will make it better.

And seeing Martha will make it better as well. I smile at the thought. I wish I saw her more often. My parents’ retired housekeeper was my one constant friend growing up. And even then …

I need to send her flowers.

And stop being so damn melancholy.

My thoughts betray me and stray to Harper.

Jesus, she’s been pushing us hard lately. The NRA had its executive meeting here in LA for the last three days. Of course, that sparked protests three days before, during and after. We covered the protests, the meeting itself, NRA advocates, and more. Of course, the shooting of a child a block away from the meeting took on epic significance. In one day, I think we did almost 100 cut-aways for our affiliates nationwide. We’re all exhausted from the pace we’ve kept for the last two weeks. Not that I mind, it’s been nice to be focused since Harper and I don’t seem to be speaking to each other yet.

As I consider that fact, I sort of feel a little bad. I wish she’d come clean about what happened in Omaha. I know she knows. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have laughed at me like that when I asked her. She would have admitted it. Right?

I asked her to be honest with me. She promised me she would. Then she laughed at me. That hurt worse than anything else. She laughed at me.

As I make my way into the building, I see Harper ahead of me in the hallway. She’s waiting for the elevator. I take a deep breath and enter through the glass door. As I take my place beside her waiting for the elevator, she glances down at me.

"Good morning," she says as she resumes her stare at the door.

"Good morning. What’s on the agenda for today?" I am proud of myself for being so civilized and polite.

"The guys are going to do some final editing on a couple of the pieces. Then we’re gonna sit down and talk over a few story ideas. Is that all right with you?"

"Un-huh."

"Good." We have just had this conversation without ever looking at each other. I follow her onto the elevator with a sigh. No words are spoken on the trip up. As the doors slide open and we exit, the office messenger meets me.

"This came for you this morning, Miss Stanton." He hands me a medium-sized, stuffed, white teddy bear holding a rose. "I was going to put it in your office, but the door was locked."

"It was locked?" I echo. I never lock my door. I glance at Harper, immediately suspicious. "Did you lock it?"

She makes a face. "Hardly."

The messenger kid pipes up, trying to diffuse the tension he can feel between us. "There’s a new janitor working the third shift. Maybe he locked it."

"I’ll have to leave him a note about it. I tend to leave my keys in my desk drawer. Which would be bad if he locks the door." I explain all of this unnecessarily. I realize I am babbling because I know I was just a bitch to Harper.

What is wrong with me?

"Do you need me to take anything for you, Ms. Stanton?"

"No, thanks."

He smiles shyly and leaves.

I risk a glance at Harper who still looks annoyed at me. "Sorry."

"It’s nothing," she replies, but I know it isn’t.

I notice the card attached to the rose as we continue our walk toward our offices. I open the card up and read, "From your secret admirer." "Oh no, not again," I groan.

"What’s up?"

I’m surprised she asks so I decide to answer her, and to try to be friendly about it. We’re both feeling annoyed enough at the moment without it getting any worse.

"You remember the roses day before yesterday?"

"Yeah."

"Well, yesterday it was Godiva chocolates and today this." I shake the teddy bear at her. "All from someone claiming to be ‘A secret admirer’."

"Isn’t that sweet?" she offers as she stops to make herself a cup of coffee.

I lean against the wall. "I mean, does he really think this is going to make me fall in love with him?"

Harper smirks. "How do you know it’s a man?"

She’s right. I don’t know for sure. "Just a gut feeling."

Harper sips her coffee. "Sure the stuff isn’t from Erik or Beth?"

"Nope, I already asked them both. They aren’t doing it. That’s why I asked you about the roses."

Her back stiffens. "You didn’t ask, you accused."

"Yeah, I know. I’m…"

She waves it off. "Whatever. Water under the bridge, right?"

I suppose. But I still don’t completely believe her denials.

We’ve arrived outside my office. I try the doorknob. It’s definitely locked.

"You got the key?"

"Hold on." I hand her the teddy bear and start looking through my purse for the key.

As I lay a few things out on a desk, I hear her laugh and I look up. She’s grinning down at me holding a diaphragm case in her hands. "This is priceless. What do you do, keep mints in it?" She laughs again as she shakes her head.

"It’s for show. In case I lose my purse."

"Everything you do is for show."

Ouch. "Yeah, I know. Disgusting, isn’t it? Not everyone can be so open about things as you are. Do you know what I would give for just one day of being allowed to be myself?"

She doesn’t answer, but I didn’t really expect her to.

I finally retrieve the key from the bottom of my purse, cram everything back into it, then turn and unlock my door.

"Everything look okay?" Harper asks from the doorway.

"Seems to be." I glance around the office, nothing seems out of place. In fact, everything seems cleaner than normal. I like the new cleaning guy, if we can just skip the door locking in the future. "Your office or here for the meeting?"

She shrugs. "Doesn’t matter. Ah hell, let’s do it here so we can take a look at the morning news too. Chambers still hasn’t installed TV’s in my office yet. Let me get my notes." She tosses the teddy bear at me and then the diaphragm. "Here you might need this."

"Ha, ha, very fucking funny," I call as she turns to go to her office.

Gail comes in. She’s in an absolute panic as she lays a few files on my desk and hands me my tea. "I’m sorry. I’m running a little late today."

"Relax, I just got here too." I settle into my chair and turn on the TV’s. I sip my tea and watch the morning news while I wait for Harper. She finally comes back in and takes a seat on my couch. She glances up at one of the screens and gestures to it.

"Turn that up. That’s Ted Brice. He’s a detective on the LAPD and a buddy of mine."

I raise the volume on the TV and Harper scoots forward watching and listening to the report about a body that had been found in one of the parks.

Ah, real news.

 

* * *

 

Tonight I’m sitting at a table in The Rio, not at the bar. It’s Wednesday. Poker night.

To my left is Gary. For all his failings with women, he’s a terrific poker player. He always has the same damn expression on his face no matter what the hand he’s dealt. He’s sitting with a majority of the cash in front of him right now. I intend to rectify that situation soon.

To my right is Bear, a.k.a. Ted, the one who was on television earlier today. He got his nickname because he’s a big fella and quite hairy. Teddy Bear. He’s a pretty good poker player, but he tends to whistle when he has a really good hand. None of us have ever bothered to point out that fact to him, though.

Our fourth is Justin, another detective. He’s another good player, but tends to be a bit overly aggressive. But, his money is good and I like taking some of it every week.

We’ve been playing for about an hour already. Justin pulls out a cigar from his jacket pocket and takes an appreciative sniff. "Anyone?" he asks, offering another wrapped one out to us.

"Sure," I say, taking it. I don’t smoke cigars often, but tonight I really want one. "Thanks." I remove the wrapper, bite off one end, and light up.

"That was a helluva thing today, Bear," Gary says dealing out the next hand. We play five card draw. Nothing wild; no weird shit like deuces wild if you hold a one-eyed jack. Simple and pure poker.

Bear nods solemnly. "Yeah, pretty girl. Kinda like the ones you go for, Harper: blonde, all-American, athletic. She was a grad student at UCLA."

"Boyfriend do her?" I ask. Most women know their murderers intimately.

"He’s got a rock solid alibi. Was in a lecture hall with two hundred students at the time of her murder."

"It’s easy to slip out of a lecture like that," Gary observes.

Bear chuckles, "Not when you’re giving it." He calls Justin’s opening bet.

"Well, maybe not," I counter. "I remember my art history professor slipped out one time. He pre-recorded his comments on the slides he was going to show us. He gave some opening remarks, then he had a grad student put in the tape and work the projector." I call as well, tossing a Susan B. Anthony into the pile.

"God," Gary interrupts, "you Louisianians are corrupt even in education."

"Well, hell, yes. We require it. I don’t trust a man I can trust."

We all laugh at the absurdity of the statement. Gary folds, and looks to Justin to see if he wants any new cards.

"Nah, he was right in front of the kids the entire time," Bear tells us. "He’s a grad student in the math department. Teaching calculus. He was standing by a chalkboard in clear view of a couple hundred witnesses."

"Two," Justin says, laying down two cards and picking up the two new ones that Gary deals him. He puts them in his hand and almost reorganizes them.

Hmm … a good hand, at least something matched up or fit in.

"Three," I say, holding on to the two aces I was dealt previously. In turn, I receive another ace and two eight’s.

Bear takes two cards. "The murder seemed personal though, like the perp knew her, had a grudge against her."

"An ex-boyfriend?"

"We’re looking into it, but, that’s what it seems like." Bear looks around and then leans forward. "None of this is public," he warns.

Over the years, our foursome has developed a strong code of silence. All we have to say is something isn’t public and none of us will repeat what we know. Gary and I have enjoyed the insight into investigations, and the scoops when we can go public. In return, Justin and Bear have heard comments from witnesses they wouldn’t have otherwise. In this strange world we live in, people would rather talk to a reporter than a cop. Go figure.

"He cut her hair before he killed her."

"This is a makeover gone bad?" I joke, although it isn’t funny. Sick fucker killed a vibrant twenty-four year old. "He shave it off or something?" I add two more dollars into the pot, calling Justin’s new bet.

"No. She had it long, almost to her hips. He cut it shoulder length. We’re trying to find out if she wore her hair shorter in the past. See who her boyfriend was then. Maybe he was trying to recapture the past."

"Bastard."

"Yep, that he is," Bear agrees. He folds.

"Straight, jack high." Justin reaches for the pot.

"Keep your hand off my money. Full house." I lay my cards down and begin raking in the money.

Bear looks at my cards. "Dead man’s hand. Not a good sign, Harper."

I snort, "I don’t believe in signs."

That’s a fucking lie. I’m from New Orleans and grew up with a blend of Catholicism, voodoo and good old superstition. If it is a sign, I’m fucked.

Some weeks, nothing seems to go right.

<fade out>

 

Scenes from Next Week’s Must Read TV:

<fade in>

The mourning news. That’s what I call the early broadcast because they routinely just recap all the murders which took place the night before.

<cut to>

I glance to my left as a very attractive woman steps onto the treadmill there. She looks over and smiles at me as she sets her timer and the machine comes to life.

Oh, she could make me come to life too.

<cut to>

She holds up her hand and nods. "I’m sure of it. I know how the business works, Kelsey. Okay, let me try to simplify your life. I’m attracted to you. I think you’re attracted to me, and I would very much like to spend the night with you. I’m not asking for a commitment or a long-term relationship. But I do hope to see more of you."

<fade out>

 

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