He bends over the paper again and starts to discuss his vision in more detail. Basically, he wants his collection of images on the app and for sale as digital postcards into which people can insert themselves. But on top of the fun factor, he’s envisioned a little store. With mouse pads and mugs and T-shirts made from the various images. It’s not a bad idea, actually, and the kicker is that when he shows me some of the photographs, they’re stunning.
“These are amazing,” I say. “You have an incredible eye.”
He beams. “That’s very kind of you to say.”
“I love photography,” I admit. “I’m nowhere near as talented as you, but it’s been my hobby since my sister gave me a camera when I was in high school.”
“Your sister,” he says, and I’m sure I’m projecting, because to me he actually sounds a little sad, as if he knows that she’s gone from me forever.
I clear my throat. “At any rate, I think we can make this work, Mr. Dunlop.”
“Please, call me Frank.”
“Only if you call me Nikki.” I press my hand to his tablet. “Can I keep your notes for a day or two? And maybe we could plan to meet again on Friday? I should have something rough for you to take a look at by then.”
“That would be great,” he says. “I’ll spend the time between now and then looking for a space.”
“Are you familiar with Los Angeles?”
He shakes his head. “Not really. But I know I want to be near the beach.”
“You and everyone else in the city. That’s going to be significantly more expensive. I could probably hook you up with a commercial real estate agent who might know of a sublet or—oh, I have a brilliant idea.”
I hold up a finger as I reach for my phone with my other hand. “I have a friend who’s looking for someone to share space with. He’s in Santa Monica, and just a few blocks off the beach. Shall I call?”
“Well, I—yes. Yes, why not?”
“Great.” I dial Wyatt Royce, a photographer Damien has known and worked with for years, and from whom I’ve taken a few photography classes myself. He answers on the first ring, and when he picks up I explain the situation, and he assures me that he’d love to meet Frank.
“I haven’t seen you or Damien in a while,” he adds. “Why don’t we all meet for drinks. That’ll give Frank and I a chance to see if we feel like we could share a space.”
I check with Frank, and since he’s enthusiastic about the plan, I ask Wyatt where we should meet.
“I’d love to check out Q,” he says, referring to a trendy bar and restaurant in Santa Monica that’s just a block from his studio. “But it’s a bitch to get into.”
“Damien can manage,” I say with certainty. I smile at Frank as I add, “Damien can manage pretty much anything.”
Q is jam-packed when we arrive, and it’s clear that this is the current place to see and be seen in Los Angeles. Wyatt and Frank show up within minutes of us, and as we wait, the two of them immediately start talking about composition, contrast, and various editing tools. They’re so deep into their conversation that I have to tap Wyatt’s elbow when the hostess arrives to show us to our table in a quiet corner of the bar.
I recognize at least two television stars as we navigate the room, and since I rarely watch television, that’s saying something. As usual, camera phones surreptitiously snap Damien and me as we navigate the maze of tables and decor, finally ending up at what is clearly one of the best locations in the bar.
This, of course, instigates another flurry of people turning to look and whisper and point. I’ve actually gotten used to the attention, but when Frank leans over and asks if it bothers me, I’m suddenly aware of being in the spotlight all over again.
“It used to,” I admit. “But I’ve made peace with it.” Damien takes my hand, and I smile at our joined fingers. “It’s worth it.”
“You two seem to be a good match,” Franks says.
“They are,” Wyatt agrees. “About as perfect a couple as you’ll find.”
Since I can’t argue with that, I raise my water glass in a silent toast of agreement, then clink it with Damien’s as he leans in to steal a quick kiss.
Q has become famous for its triple martini flights, and Damien had ordered one for each of us as we arrived. Now two waiters arrive and put a small tray with three different martinis in front of each of us—a classic gin martini, a dirty vodka martini, and a Mexican martini.
I start with the olive from the dirty martini, enjoying the mix of flavors, then take a long, slow sip. I have to admit, it’s pretty perfect.
Across from me, Frank tries the Mexican martini, then nods in approval. “You know, I should probably confess that I read up a bit on you both—I wanted to have a sense of who I was meeting with before this afternoon, and then I read some more before dinner—and everything I’ve seen suggests that you two have a strong marriage. That’s good.”
“Are you married?” I ask.
“I was once, but…” He trails off with a shake of his head, then looks pointedly at Damien. “How about you? You must be used to the media attention by now. You’ve spent your life in the spotlight.”
“Used to it and liking it are two different things,” Damien says. “And believe me, if I could shut it down, I would. For my sake and for Nikki’s. Neither one of us enjoys the attention. Unlike some people I can think of.” He nods toward a secluded two-top on the far side of the room. I hadn’t noticed it as we’d entered, but now I see that Dallas is there, and across from him is a woman who looks familiar but I can’t quite place.