A Journalist Crosses the Line
a short story by Johi Jenkins
I am literally crossing the line, the journalist reflected with a final shred of doubt as she let go of the last of her inhibitions and jumped the fence into her target’s private property.
Emma was not one to cross lines, especially not ones that were clearly drawn and mandated by the law, but today her inquisitive side won over her rational, rule-abiding side, and she found herself scaling the concrete fence that shielded A-list celebrity heartthrob, Finn Holland, from would-be intruders such as herself. By crossing his property line she went from regular old intrusive paparazzi to full-on trespasser. And in celebrity journalism that was saying something. Her line of work blurred the ethics line big time, but property trespassing was definitely, indisputably, on the wrong side of the blur. This blatant disregard for his privacy would classify as downright obscene.
She had a compelling justification for her felony, though. His life might be in danger.
Last night, Finn posted some weird shit on his social media page: a poem, a message to his dead brother, and a black and white picture of himself as a teenager, smiling. The poem—about letting go—was received positively by his ten million followers, who all cheered for him in letting go of his cheating ex-girlfriend. The message to his brother was sweet, a reminder of his sensitive side; a guy who’s not afraid to show his love for his dearly departed ones. And the smiling teenager picture was adorable; there was nothing else to say there. His soft brown hair was a little bit longer than he wore it now, combed to the side in the fashion of the first half of the decade. The guy was hot then and he was hot now. His three posts got instant likes and reactions in the thousands, as usual.
Emma, however, was triggered by all of it.
A month ago, at the start of the summer, his fandom (the “Finnfatuated”) had all been shocked and thrilled when his girlfriend and fellow actor Megan Sheriff had been caught cozied up with veteran actor William Ardell. Finn’s page had been flooded with support.
How dare she? What a slut!
You don’t need that weasel, Finn! You’re better off.
Megan’s only doing Will for the money!
He’s producing her next movie!
Wow, she’s fucking her way to the top.
In response, Finn had posted a plea on his page to respect his privacy during this difficult time. It was ignored, of course, as everyone wanted to hear how he was handling the break up. Then he had shut himself in his large house, and celebrity journalists and paparazzi had flooded the gates despite his request, but after a few weeks their interest had abated. Now only some were still camped outside his gates, those who were placed there by top celebrity gossip magazines that could afford round-the-clock surveillance in the quest for that one elusive picture of Finn Holland crying his eyes out. Or destroying some property in a fit of rage. Or just ordering Thai food. Whatever he chose to do, whoever reported it first would get the money. His misery was their paycheck.
After a long month of not even stepping outside (how did he even eat? Was he like, living off of canned food and frozen dinners? The poor guy couldn’t even leave his house to go to the supermarket) Finn had finally posted again on his page last night, and his fans had gone wild over the poem, the loving tribute to his brother and the picture of him. They were relieved to hear from their obsession and excited that he seemed to be moving on.
But this fan—Emmanuelle Garza, celebrity reporter for top gossip magazine CSE (Celebrity Style Entertainment), was not convinced. She was not relieved. In fact, she was alarmed.
Was she the only one who saw it? The poem about letting go felt more about letting go of life, of everything in general, not just of a cheating ex. The loving tribute to his brother, to her, hinted of the possibility of reuniting with him. This brother, Phil, had died years ago (prior to Finn’s ascent in Hollywood and therefore something not widely known), and Finn had hardly ever mentioned him before. Why now? And the picture—it was a picture of a smiling Finn, sure, but it was a Finn from the past. A happy time when his brother was alive. Before the fame hit him like a speeding truck. Before his heart had been broken.
Finn had to be depressed. He sounded like it. He hadn’t left his house in a month. He was alone in there. And he shouldn’t be.
Emma was on the way to him now.
She shook her head to clear the dangerous images of finding Finn dead inside and hurried to cross the yard under cover of darkness. The lights were off in his house and it looked like there was no movement within. But she knew he was in there, thanks to fresh intel from a coworker who was getting paid right now to sit outside Finn’s house and watch his every move. Thanks to her job, she knew so many details about Finn. She knew what his house looked like inside; at least, the floor layout and major rooms. It was a dramatic one-story house surrounded by lush gardens and a concrete fence cast to look like stone. She also knew where best to jump said fence, as she had so easily done just now. And by having observed him for a long time, she knew that the kitchen sliding doors would be unlocked because Finn just didn’t care to ever lock them. She advanced to those doors now and silently prayed as she attempted to slide open one of the panes.
The door opened.
Emma was sure there must be a surveillance system currently recording her from some angle, there had to be, but she was also pretty sure that Finn Holland wasn’t currently sitting in front of the live feed and therefore would not see her. Or so she hoped.
The kitchen was not lit but there was enough light coming in from outside that she could see her way around. She stepped inside and crossed over to the hallway that would take her to the master bedroom. Her heart was racing but she kept on going. Everything was quiet except for the loud thump thump of her heart. What had she been thinking? That she could just waltz in there and that he’d be okay with it? She just wanted to check on him assuming that he was passed out or depressed, but she hadn’t really stopped to consider that he might just be perfectly fine and would throw her ass in jail for trespassing. The thought turned her blood to ice. She was next to his bedroom door now; another step and she could look inside. But she was still safe. She could still turn back. Maybe, if she was lucky, he wouldn’t even see the camera feed, if he never even guessed that someone had been inside his house.
She moved her left foot one step back. She started turning around—
And then she heard movement within.
Light footsteps, then the sound of a cabinet or shelf opening. Low light flooded the frame of the door ahead of her, as though it was coming a room inside the bedroom. From a bathroom, maybe? The footsteps were faint, and she hoped the person, Finn or not, was indeed inside the bathroom because now she was pretty sure anyone would be able to hear her heart and stitched breathing.
Leave, she told herself. Go back go back go back!
But she didn’t. And then she heard an indiscernible mumble. A soft pop. Water running. And the sound of … pills??
Without another thought, her feet pushed her forward and she entered the bedroom. Her eyes zeroed in on his form. He was inside the bathroom leaning over the sink with one hand in a fist on the counter top, and the other clutching an open orange pill bottle.
“Finn!” she called.
“Fuck!” he jumped, straightened up and looked up at her. “Who the fuck are you?” His eyes went briefly down to his hand holding the bottle, then back at her. “What are you doing in my house??”
“I’m-I’m … I’m Emma. I’m just … I just want to know if you’re okay.” Her face rose in flames as the mini speech she had practiced earlier today didn’t come out. Whatever came out of her mouth was doing so without her conscious input. “I-I just … I just wanted to see if you were okay,” she repeated softly.
Again he looked down at his hands, and slowly opened the left hand which he had in a fist, and put down the bottle he held in the other.
“I’m not okay.” He turned over his left hand and a bunch of little pills fell on the polished granite of his bathroom countertop, scattering around.
“I’m sorry,” she said, from the entrance to his bedroom where her feet had taken her and then frozen her in place.
He looked up at her, from the twenty feet or so that separated them. It’s like he was seeing her for the first time. “How did you get in?”
“I jumped the fence by the palm trees. I came in through the back door by the kitchen.”
“I wanted to … check on you.” She was aware that she was repeating herself, but she couldn’t do anything about it. It was like someone else was saying the words that were coming out of her mouth. “Those things you posted last night. Was that you? You … sounded like you could use a friend.”
He snorted angrily. “And you’re that friend? I don’t know you at all. I’m … I should be calling the cops.” He straightened up and looked around as if looking for his phone.
“Wait!” Emma cried, holding up her hands in front of her, as if that could keep him from calling the cops. “I’m sorry I came in here like this. I’m sorry people just assume they know you, just because we know about you. I know I’m not supposed to be here. I know you don’t know me. But I was worried about you after you posted that, and I thought maybe something had happened to you.” Her arms dropped limply by her sides.
He was silent for a moment, then he advanced on her. She was still frozen to the spot and couldn’t move an inch as he approached. He lifted an arm and she cowered before his tall frame … but he only reached behind her to turn on the bedroom lights.
Now clearly lit, she could see the room was a mess. There were piles of clothes thrown about, empty glasses everywhere, and a … was that a bong upturned next to the bed? But of more immediate concern was the loosely-clothed man in front of her. It was truly him, Finn Holland, dressed in a sweaty t-shirt and boxer briefs. Her heart hurt for him, seeing him like this. She made herself look up at his face. He hadn’t shaved in weeks, she noticed, and possibly not bathed in a long while too, considering the smell coming off him. His light brown eyes were tired, and his dark hair was longer than the last time she had seen it, falling a little over his eyes. Eyes that were staring at her just as she was staring at him.
“I was about to kill myself,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’m not sure I would’ve really done it, though, when you distracted me. I guess I’ll know soon enough.” He grabbed her upper arm as if to drag her through the house and kick her out, and get on with his sinister business. But he didn’t attempt to move her. He just looked at her. “Why are you crying?”
“What the fuck, Finn,” she whispered, not realizing her eyes were full of unshed tears until he pointed it out. Hearing her suspicions confirmed—he had really considered suicide!—had twisted her insides with pain. She looked away and blinked, and a tear fell down her cheek. She hastily brushed it away. “Please don’t do it. Why would you even say that? Please don’t. Don’t!” She looked up again into his eyes, pleading. “You can’t. Not like this. You have … so much to live for. You have ten million followers. Ten million people who love you, who would give anything to be here, where I am, telling you the same thing. Don’t do it … please.” She blinked and another tear fell out.
He let go of her arm and took a step back, then sat on his bed. “Those people don’t give a shit about me. I don’t belong to them. My choices are mine. I’m not your zoo animal that you put in a cage and observe for your entertainment. I have feelings. I have …” he trailed off. He took a deep breath. “I have nothing. I’m in this cage and I have nothing.”
“That’s not true. You have everything. You’re so talented, and so … compassionate. You truly inspire people. I have a little brother who loves you. A couple of years ago I took him to Comic Con because he wanted your autograph. We waited in line for hours, but he didn’t care for the wait because he really wanted to see you. He was in a wheelchair and was so weak from chemo, but I took him anyway, because you were his favorite superhero …”
Finn had starred in several movies as a teenager, but he had really catapulted to stardom with his role as Balthier, the intergalactic superhero. All three Balthier movies had been box office hits. Four years ago, the Balthier cast had appeared in Comic Con promoting the second movie; Emma had taken her brother Jackson, who had been ten years old back then, and very sick, just to grant his wish of meeting Balthier in real life. She had paid a lot of money just to get Jackson a VIP thing which really only meant a picture with Finn Holland and an autograph. As they waited in line, she saw Finn smile for each photo op ahead of them. She had snorted each time thinking those smiles were super fake and that his job probably sucked. But when it was finally their turn, his fake smile at her only lasted a split second before his eyes settled on Jackson. And Finn’s face transformed—his smile became so genuine and sweet. He showed concern and honest interest in the little bald boy in the wheelchair. And he did something for Jackson that he didn’t do for anyone else. He talked to the boy. He asked Jackson whether he was okay, whether he could walk, that sort of thing. And even though Jackson didn’t mention the cancer, Finn hugged him and whispered in his ear, “You’re way stronger than I could ever hope to be.” As he bent down to hug her brother, Emma saw sincere affection in his eyes. She had loved Finn Holland ever since.
“Jackson,” Finn whispered now, as Emma inhaled in shock that he remembered not just her brother, but also his name. “His name was Jackson.”
“Yes. He … he’s okay now,” she added quickly, because she could see in his eyes that Finn was remembering her brother’s frail form and had assumed the worst.
Finn’s eyes lit up at the positive update. “Really?”
Still shocked, she sat down on the bed without thinking, a few feet away from him. “Yeah. He got a bone marrow transplant and he’s in remission now. He almost didn’t make it, though, and I’ll never know if it was you, but he was so different after meeting you. That’s why I know you’re a good guy. Because of how you chose to make him feel so special when you could’ve easily chosen to treat him like anyone else.”
“Wow,” Finn said, visibly relaxing and running a hand through his unkempt hair. “He made it. I’m so glad for him.” He looked sideways at her, the corner of his lips turning up in a ghost of a smile. “I’ve been regretting ever being in that stupid film. But now I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.”
Emma thought she knew why he would say he regretted it. Balthier’s love interest was the human Cherise, played by rising actress Megan Sheriff. The two actors met on set and started dating. They were what everyone ever talked about, and for years they couldn’t go on a date without people following them and speculating whether they’d get married soon.
Until she got caught with her lips locked around William Ardell’s, the super famous actor, heartthrob for two decades, now producer and power player in Hollywood.
“Was it … that bad?” Emma whispered now.
He looked up briefly at her, then down at a spot in his dirty shirt. He was still smiling a bit, but the smile was sad. “I loved her. I thought she loved me, too.”
“I’m sorry.” She thought about putting an arm on his shoulder, comforting him, but she didn’t. “Just know, a bunch of us love you, and you don’t love us back. And we’re okay with that. You can’t control who loves you.”
His smile widened and he rolled his eyes. “Forget Megan, I’m over her. The thing that hurt, what really got to me, was how the media made such a circus out of it. Like I’m not a real person. And when I sat down to think about it, I realized that in the greater scheme of things, it really didn’t matter if I lived or died. But to me, I wouldn’t have to endure them, if I was dead.”
Emma cringed at the word dead. “The greater scheme of things is what doesn’t actually matter here. Our individual lives do. Our happiness matters to us, and that’s why we stay alive. To find happiness. If your current situation doesn’t make you happy, switch it and find something else that does.”
He made a sound that might have been a laugh, but he didn’t reply right away, so she continued.
“I know you probably think I’m just a creep snooping around your business, and you’d be right, but I just wanted to show you some perspective. That to me, you’re a great guy, and you deserve to do what makes you happy. You don’t deserve to be living like this.”
He followed her gaze around the room and then snorted, a half amused, half embarrassed sound.
“I’m a mess, aren’t I? Maybe I should clean up, and shave, so they don’t pity me when they find my dead body.” He looked at her face, and suddenly burst out laughing. “I’m joking! Dude, you should see the look on your face.”
Emma balked. “Dude. Don’t joke about that,” she all but yelled at him, this guy who could terminate her career and put her in jail with a quick phone call. “I mean … please don’t joke about that.”
He ignored her chastising tone. “So, you said you loved me?” His voice was still playful.
“You said, ‘a bunch of us love you.’ Did you mean like, love love me?” There was definitely mirth in is voice and a glimmer in his eye that wasn’t there before. “I’m thinking, I don’t want Megan to be the last person I fucked before I die.”
Emma stood up in a flash and looked down at him, a reproachful look on her face. “Please stop saying that!”
Finn stood up as well, now very close to her, clearly enjoying making her angry. “Saying what?”
“The thing … about dying.”
“I’m going to die eventually. You want me to live for a while, right? Should I not have sex with anyone ever again?”
Emma looked down at his bare legs. They were nice legs. “No, I meant … the part where you said …”
He took a step forward and put his arms around her, but held her six inches away from him. She froze. She had not anticipated this.
His voice turned husky. “Help me forget.”
What the F—Finn, she thought.
Okay, time to reassess.
Was he asking her to have sex with him? Yes, it was very possible that that was what he meant. Was he serious? Maybe, maybe not. Hard to tell. If he was serious, the real question was, what was she going to do about it? Finn Freaking Holland, her obsession of the past four years, a huge celebrity hot star, asking her (offering?) to have possibly empty sex. Okay, definitely empty sex. She had zero chance of actually meaning something to him, other than a person who conveniently showed up in his house with a vagina and other fun body parts.
What if she said yes? So what if she felt like he was asking to use her? It’s not like he was lying, charming her trying to get in her pants. He was being upfront about it. He wanted to fuck someone else to help him get over his ex. If she agreed, she could potentially be helping him. And, she could forever say that she’d had sex with Finn Holland! But should she promote the stigma that celebrities can have anyone they ever want, without any regard to the other person’s feelings? Or was it okay if both people knew they were sort of using each other?
The thoughts took too long to form into any semblance of resistance, and her body had already moved closer to him. He was so tall. Her lips reached his shoulder, and she bent forward to press them against his shirt.
She would’ve stripped right then and there, but for the formidable scent that was rolling off him. Yes, she wanted to fuck him and be fucked by him, no matter the inevitably painful outcome that she knew, deep down, would follow; but she also knew she would doubly regret it if it was like this. Sad, quick and dirty.
She lifted her head and smiled. “Guy, buy a girl some dinner first.”
She felt his chuckle resonate through his chest. He let her go and took a step back. His flirtatious smile was a sight to behold. “Maybe I will. But first …” he lifted his arm and brought his nose to his armpit, then made a face. “I need a shower.”
Emma didn’t respond other than smiling encouragingly. She didn’t want to say Yeah boy, you stink, but she also didn’t want to say something completely fake like, No, I love your smell, you smell like roses.
He turned to go back to his bathroom and stopped mid-step, turning to look at her just as she was looking around the room trying to figure out what to do. “What … do I do with you?” he asked. “I mean … what are you going to do, just … wait here?”
“I was wondering the same thing. Do you, uh, want me to go?” The words came out strained. Yes, she was a total stranger in his house and he should feel awkward leaving her alone in his bedroom. She would’ve agreed with him if he told her to wait outside and locked his door. But she also didn’t want to leave him alone.
“Keep me company?” he offered. “You can just … sit there and talk to me. If you want.” He pointed behind him through the door of the bathroom. She looked and saw that there was a lounging chair next to a window. “That’s where I smoke when I need to blow off some steam,” he explained.
“You smoke cigarettes?” she asked, horrified, then immediately regretted the judgment in her voice.
“Who said cigarettes?”
“Um, you don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” he said a bit sheepishly, and she thought he sounded adorable although she couldn’t tell if he was telling her she didn’t have to smoke or go sit there while he took a shower.
“I’d love to talk more with you,” she replied.
“Awesome.” He smiled, and took off his shirt.
Holy shit! She looked away, blushing. Of course, she’d seen him shirtless plenty of times on the screen, but there was something awfully intimate about seeing his bare chest, seeing him standing in just his underwear, not five feet from where she stood. In real life.
“Are you being prudish?” he asked, and because she refused to look up, she couldn’t see the smile he offered her, but she could tell it was there from his teasing tone.
“No,” she almost stuttered. “I’m just giving you some privacy.”
“I’m beginning to feel that with you, I’m not sure I want privacy. But thanks. I don’t get much of that around here.”
With a soft thud, she saw the boxer briefs follow the shirt to the floor as her blush deepened. Oh, boy. She could’ve looked. She so wanted to look. But her eyes remained glued to the floor. Then a second later his feet turned around and headed into the bathroom, and he disappeared inside the shower.
“Alright, Miss Emma, I’m in. Come on back,” he called, as he turned on the jets in the shower.
Her insides turned to jelly at his mention of her name. Had she told him her name? Yes, she had, only once, and she hadn’t been sure he was even listening to her. But then, he remembered Jackson’s name from years ago. Maybe he was one of those people who are good with names.
She crossed the door into his bathroom and was halfway into admiring how amazing it was—charcoal granite, white marble, chrome finishes, glass—like, not frosted but fully see-through glass!—and had to avert her eyes because his ass was right there for her to see, in the shower. She practically ran to the lounging chair and sat on it deliberately looking the other way.
“Are you usually this trusting with everyone you meet?” she asked, of his being naked in front of a total stranger.
“No, just with the ones that break into my house and save my life.”
Saved his life? Is that what she had done? He had said he wasn’t sure if he’d really do it. But he had considered it, at least. She looked to the countertop where the empty bottle of pills sat like a depressing reminder. She wanted to get up and grab all the little pills scattered around and throw them down the drain, except she had read somewhere you shouldn’t discard medicine down the drain because the wastewater treatment plants didn’t filter out drugs, and they would end up in the waterways.
“How did you know?” His voice was soft, muffled by the sound of running water.
“I didn’t really know …”
“Oh come on. You broke into my house just to say hey you, cheer up?”
“Okay, no. Yes, I strongly suspected.” She took a deep breath. “It was your posts. Your poem was so sad. It sounded like you meant to let go of everything. The bit about the sun setting was what got to me, what made me think, oh wait, this sounds more than just sad. I felt you were trying to hint … something. But I wouldn’t have thought of breaking into your house on that alone. Your message to your brother … then the picture …”
She couldn’t finish her sentence. She couldn’t say out loud that he sounded suicidal for fear it might trigger those same thoughts again. She waited for him to reply, but he didn’t say anything. For a while there was only the sound of the water running, and then that stopped, and he still didn’t say anything. She dared a sneak glance to him, and saw he was lathering with some soap.
Finally he spoke. “Emma?”
“Will you tell me about yourself?”
“Oh, I’m … so boring.”
She smiled to herself. “Okay but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
And so she gave him some unexciting facts about herself: about her normal childhood and her normal life. She had been born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, very middle class, and had only the one little brother. She listed her favorite TV shows and books; the things that might tell him her likes and dislikes. Every now and then she paused and asked him if she should stop now, but he seemed engrossed in the details of her average existence and asked her to go on. She told him she was a year younger than him (twenty-three), and had graduated college only the year before. Her parents were dentists and she could tell they were a little disappointed that she didn’t follow in their footsteps. She had gotten into journalism in high school, and gone that route in college, getting a bachelors degree in journalism at USC (University of Southern California). She wanted to report the news but quickly got disenchanted with her career, as she was only able to find a job at celebrity magazine CSE. And though she shouldn’t complain because she had an okay job and lived in a good neighborhood, she was twenty-three and living with a roommate, and still had to occasionally sell pictures of celebrities to make ends meet.
At this point Finn laughed in sudden disbelief. She turned to see him stepping out of the shower, his lower half wrapped in a towel. He had shaved in shower, and looked like the Finn from Hollywood—hot rich guy, unreachable. His whole demeanor had changed. He didn’t look happy. “So wait. Are you telling me you’re a freaking paparazzi?”
“Journalist,” she corrected under her breath, completely embarrassed. She looked down, feeling trapped. Of course he would assume she was there just for the story. She felt her picture ought to be under the entry for hypocrite in the online encyclopedia. The one thing he had avoided for a whole month, and he was currently half naked in front of one of them. Except she wasn’t really one of them—but how to convey that to him so that he believed her? “The pictures are just as a side gig to help with my living expenses,” she tried to explain. “I live only thirty minutes from here, and I come to Hollywood a lot for work, so I bought a camera and I’ve gotten some photos.”
“Why are you really here?” He was defensive, way more detached than he had been twenty minutes before.
She stood up from the lounge chair and made herself look at him, despite her sudden urge to run, to get away. But she had to tell him. “I promise you—I swear—I’m not here for a story. I’m here for the reason I told you; I’m here for you. I’m not here for work. I write stupid articles about fad diets and dating for CSE, and I don’t even diet or date. I hate my job. The pictures I’ve sold have all been girl celebrities walking around town doing normal person stuff like getting coffee or getting their hair done.”
He was silent for a moment. Then he walked toward her as he asked quietly, “Did you ever take pictures of me?”
She looked away, embarrassed. “Yes.” Her voice almost broke, along with her heart. She was the bad guy here, and she felt so ashamed. And so, so afraid. Afraid of losing him, whatever little thing this was that they’d shared tonight. “I’ve been … into you”—she didn’t want to say the correct word, obsessed, because it sounded so negative, so she settled with into you—“since I met you in person at Comic Con four years ago. You barely even glanced at me, but I loved how you surprised me being this whole different person than I had presumed you to be. I just thought you were cool, so I read up on you, became your fan.” She smiled sadly. “I guess being your fan I just assumed I could take pictures of you, but now that I think about it, I shouldn’t have. No one should. I’ll delete all of them. In front of you, if you’d like. I wouldn’t even mind; I don’t actually like any of them.” She was rambling, she knew, but she was so mortified and sad and angry at herself and her whole profession. “I don’t think of myself as a creep. I’m here because I just like you. I kinda love you. Oh, wow, shit, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry. I’m going to—I should just—”
“It’s okay.” His voice was low and calm, and right next to her.
“Huh?” She turned to look at him, and his face was absolutely nothing like she had expected.
He raised his hands and placed them gently at her cheeks. “It’s okay,” he repeated. Then he bent down and kissed her.
Ohh … Finn.
Her brain came up with reasons why he’d kiss her, ugly ones, and tried to point out all the reasons why this was wrong. But nothing stuck; her thoughts scrambled and she responded on pure instinct. She wanted this for herself as much as she wanted him to be happy. She brought her hands to the back of his neck and pulled him closer to her; pressed herself against his naked chest. His kisses were so soft and deep and very passionate. Almost desperate. But there was also a genuine sweetness to them, to the way he held her. As if she meant something to him. Something good.
He stopped kissing her for a second, and whispered against her lips. “You scared me.”
“I scared you?” she repeated him, confused.
“For a second there, I thought you were here for … well, for business. I’m sorry if I was weird a minute ago.” He stepped back a few inches, but dropped his arms to her waist, keeping her near.
“I’d understand if you were angry,” she said.
He shook his head and brought his forehead down to hers. “I wasn’t angry. I was just scared. Emma, I don’t know what stroke of luck it was that you came into my life at my lowest point. It can’t just be a coincidence that you came in right as I was trying to end it. Maybe I did die, and I’m just living some weird afterlife fantasy.”
“Ughh please don’t say that.” She stepped out of his arms. She didn’t mean to push him away, but every time he talked about dying, her gut churned. “The part about dying, I mean. The other part … well, I did stand outside your bedroom door for a minute, considering turning back.”
“What made you come in?”
“I was about to turn back when the bathroom light turned on. And I heard … the bottle popping open.”
He looked up at the ceiling and took a deep breath. “Jesus. I meant to do it yesterday, but I didn’t. I don’t know why, but I waited. Then I spent the entire day today feeling like there was no way out … I told you, like it didn’t matter anyway whether I lived or died. So … I made the decision, got out of bed and grabbed the pills. And then you were just there. Isn’t that strange to you? You could’ve jumped my fence half an hour after you did, and you would’ve found me dead. But it didn’t happen that way. You were meant to save me. You’re my hero. And I feel like … I don’t know. Like I don’t ever want to let you go.”
Did he really just say that? She blushed deeply, and stepped back into his arms, placing a cheek on his shoulder. He held her tightly. “Whatever it was, fate or coincidence, or even God, I’m so glad it didn’t go the other way,” she said.
She could’ve stayed like this forever. But his bare skin shifted her thoughts elsewhere. “Please get dressed,” she said playfully. “I’m kind of freaking out here, with you this naked.”
He laughed and took a step back. “Prude,” he joked, turning to go into his closet (which was huge, of course, and had two doors, one of them directly inside the bathroom).
She walked back to his bedroom, trying to admire its size and furniture past the mess, when she heard his voice from inside the closet. “You don’t have to delete the pictures.”
“I can. I should. I really don’t like any of them.”
“What, I look like an asshole, or …?”
She chuckled. “No. It’s just … I don’t have a single picture of you alone.”
On three occasions she had seen Finn out and about, but he had always been with his ex. Emma had taken several pictures but didn’t like any of them. Megan was always so perfectly casual but so ditzy. And Finn never smiled while they were out together.
“Oh,” he said, understanding. “Yeah, you can burn them.” He stepped out of the closet in a fresh t-shirt and jeans. “Ready to go outside?”
“Outside?? I thought you meant dinner like popcorn or something.”
“I think I need the fresh air. I need to get over this fear of showing myself to others. I don’t think I was meant for Hollywood. I kinda suck at this fame thing.” Then he paused, looking at her, as if considering her. “But what about you? If we go outside together … you’ll get dragged into my drama.” He sighed, a trace of annoyance in his eyes. “I suspect Megan will come back. Balthier is done so luckily we don’t have to work together anymore, but she’s power hungry and she knows this gossip thing only fuels her publicity, good or bad. I’m going to tell her to go to hell, but the stupid press—no offense—”
“—will do whatever they can to make us look like we’re back together, no matter what I say or do. So I should warn you. I don’t give a fig about her, and I don’t care to even pretend to be back with her for publicity, but they’re likely going to make it seem that way. And if they see you with me, they might portray you in a negative light. You know how it is. They don’t even care about the legal consequences of defamation.”
Emma thought about it. She certainly didn’t like drama and she wasn’t ready to have people scrutinizing her life. But worst of all, she feared that she’d fall in love with him absurdly fast, and then have her heart broken if it turned out badly.
But she wanted him. She closed her eyes and for a second dared to contemplate a life with him. And she wanted it. Even if it was just a chance at being with him. She was willing to pay the price.
She walked up to him, and grabbed his hands in hers. “I don’t mind. Besides … it’s just dinner, right?”
He looked down into her eyes. “Right. Just dinner.” His voice was melodious.
“But it doesn’t have to be just dinner,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed talking to you. I’d like to … get to know you more.”
“That would make me … so happy,” he said, bending down to kiss her once more.
This time they didn’t stop for a long time.
The bed was like, right there. Emma figured, why make out standing up when they could do so more comfortably sitting on his bed? So at some point they transferred their make-out session to the bed and were now lying side-by-side, staring in each other’s eyes, dinner forgotten.
“I was thinking,” she started.
“What if we go outside and we get hit by a car?”
“Yeah and then we die and Megan would’ve been the last person you fucked.”
He burst out laughing. He lifted his torso and propped himself on an elbow, and stared down at her, eyes twinkling. “Yeah, that would be awful, right?”
She was smiling coyly. “Yeah, awful. So, we could do something about that, if you wanted.”
“If I wanted!” he repeated, laughing again. “Trust me, I … wanted … since I put a hand on your arm.” He traced his fingers on her upper arm where he’d first touched her, in what seemed like hours ago. “Or maybe it was right after I turned on the bedroom light and saw your face clearly.”
“Yes way. I even asked you, but you weren’t interested. Sorry I asked, by the way. I shouldn’t have assumed you’d be okay with that.”
“Oh, but I was. It’s just that … you just smelled … so bad.”
He inhaled sharply in mock offense, then rolled on top of her, grinning. “Oh no you didn’t. You … crossed the line!”