He shrugs and grins. ‘What can I say? I’m a popular guy.’ Snatching two champagne flutes from the bar’s countertop, he hands them to us. ‘Welcome, Dori. I hear you’ve made an honest man of my bro, here.’
I take one glass while Dori shakes her head infinitesimally. ‘Oh – I don’t –’
Deftly separating her from me, John smiles and leans close, pressing the glass into her hand. ‘Just hold it. You can sip it. Or not.’ His hand at her lower back, he says over his shoulder, ‘I’ll return her in a bit, dude. Maybe.’ His brows waggle and I glare at him.
‘John …’ My voice has an edge, but he’s set on ignoring me, damn him.
Stopping at the first huddle of people, he asks, ‘Claude and Nichole – have you met Reid’s girlfriend? This is Dori. LA native, Cal undergrad, way too smart for him. I’m just waiting for her to wise up so I can swoop in.’
Eyebrows rise, eyes widen, and a couple of mouths fall open. I hear my name whispered, along with the repetition of the word girlfriend and speculations of Who is she? John is strategically blocking Dori’s view of a couple of girls whose eyes run over her, one whispering to the other, their joint scorn palpable. I’m pretty sure I’ve slept with at least one of them. Shit.
The couple he addressed, though, smile and recover quickly. They’re both semi-working actors, each patiently awaiting a turn in the spotlight, and it’s standard John to keep his eye on up-and-comers like that. Just as he did with me.
‘Oh! Dori? So nice to meet you,’ Nichole says.
‘Thank you.’ Dori smiles, holding that glass of champagne like an ornamental shield. John’s still got her opposite arm tucked into the crook of his elbow.
‘I didn’t know Reid had a girlfriend,’ Claude says, addressing her with curiosity. ‘This is recent?’
‘Not only recent, but virtually unprecedented,’ John answers, proud to be the one to divulge this newsflash. As he escorts her to the next group, she throws an amused glance over her shoulder, and I’m convinced she can handle just about anything.
Kathryn offered to drive in and pick me up, but the flight is due to land close to midnight, and I have a downtown appointment at 9:00 a.m. There’s no reason to trek out to the sticks just to turn around in a few hours and come right back, in rush-hour traffic, no less. I set up car service and a hotel with an open-ended checkout instead – something my agent or manager would normally do, but I’m not even telling either of them I’m leaving LA, let alone the reason why. They’d freak out and blow up my phone with all the reasons I shouldn’t go.
What’s that thing they say about apologizing later instead of asking permission now? That could be the official Brooke Cameron motto.
My favourite part of flying first class is that I’m first on and first off – which means little to no interaction with my fellow passengers. That’s a luxury I’m happy to pay for. Tonight, my rowmate is some musician’s kid. I vaguely recognize him, but can’t recall which legendary lead-man-whore fathered him. He ogles me with interest, but I’m not sure if he recognizes me. I check him out while he’s engrossed in an argument with the flight attendant over whether or not he can be served alcohol (‘But this is first class!’ he whines, as if she isn’t aware of that), and my short perusal leads to the conclusion that he can’t be a day over sixteen.
I slip my earbuds in, stare out the window and ignore him. Soon he’s playing an all-boobs-and-blood video game on his laptop, confirming his probable age.
By the time we land, all the airport shops are closed and the linked seating outside every gate is empty, the wide expanse of polished floor reflecting the methodical dots of yellow lighting in the main concourse. A large metal sign under a colourful collection of guitar art declares my hometown the ‘Music Capital of the World’. Pieces of this collection stand watch over empty baggage carousels, all but one of them motionless – probably my flight. I didn’t check a bag, so I don’t have to stop. I’m creeped out in such a huge, nearly unpopulated place, and my absurd imagination – courtesy two hours’ worth of gory video game imagery – suggests a zombie apocalypse.
I hightail it through the nearly deserted airport to the appointed exit, where a car waits at the kerb to transport me into the city I used to know so well. I’ve only been back three times in the past six years – the first to give birth to River, the second to film School Pride and the third to do a photo shoot promoting the film. Austin and I have grown and changed since I lived here, whether we welcomed those transformations or not.
I might be able to retrace my steps, but I can’t go back and choose an alternate path. Far too late for that.
I was fifteen when I went on location without parental supervision for the first time. Reid, a year younger, was the only cast member near my age. As minor characters, we had few scenes and were too often left to our own devices. We quickly formed an alliance against being bored out of our minds.
One afternoon during the first week, I sat on my trailer steps and watched as he attempted to perform a routine trick on the longboard he’d brought along. Over and over, he glided across the concrete, hooking the edge of the board and jumping simultaneously, but never quite landing it. He was so pretty. So cocky. So determined. So doing it wrong.
The fifth time he screwed up, he fell on his ass and I chuckled. Scowling, he swiped blood from his elbow and dared, ‘Why don’t you try it, if you think it looks so easy?’