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Exercising the craft—January 20, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: She had an unfortunate moment of weakness.

https://promptuarium.wordpress.com/2020/01/18/unfortunate/

*****

The alarm clock blared, and Alisha jolted awake. She pushed herself to a sitting position and regretted it right away. Was that last round of shots really necessary? And where had Nathan found that bar? He didn’t even live in LA.

Oh, my head…

The curtains flung themselves open, or at least it looked that way. Alisha couldn’t tell, because the sun from that stupid east-facing view she’d fallen in love with blazed straight into her eyes. She held up a hand to cover them and groaned.

“Rise and shine, duck!”

“Go away, Ronnie,” she muttered.

The bed bounced, and her manager yanked down her hand. “You’ve slept about five hours. That’s, like, a decade in social media time.”

Alisha dropped onto her pillow face first. “I don’t care. I won last night; I deserve a day off.”

“Sorry, duckling. If the paps don’t get a day off, neither do you. They’ve been hanging out by the front gate ever since that video of you and Nathan went viral.”

She winced. “So that wasn’t a dream? Oh, god…”

“Nope, not a dream,” Ronnie said, and Alisha could tell without seeing his face that he was peeved. “What were you thinking, Ali?”

Squinting her eyes, she turned toward him. “Can I say it was too much celebration champagne?”

Ronnie rolled his eyes and went to her dresser. He started rummaging around in the drawers. After a few moments of searching, he pulled out her favorite pair of shorts and tossed them onto the bed.

“I’m going into the closet for a cute top,” he said, “and when I come out, you better be up and moving. You’ve got that video chat in an hour.”

“An hour?” Alisha said. She pushed herself to sitting again and this time turned her squinting eyes to the clock on her nightstand. “Who made that idiot decision?”

“You did last night after your acceptance speech. The Red Carpet bloggers approached you first, and you said you’d talk to them today. Get up.”

She whined as she dragged herself from bed and went to the oversized en suite bathroom of her apartment. She kept complaining as she went through her morning routine, and the griping didn’t stop when she came back to her room. Ronnie handed her the bright fuchsia top, and she blew a few strands of hair out of her face with a huff.

“Think of it as something to help the hangover and to keep you awake,” Ronnie said. He went to a free-standing mirror in the corner of the room and opened its front to reveal a long, shallow jewelry case. “Now, we’ve got to pick something that says celebratory but not gaudy. Happy but not punchy.”

Alisha covered her mouth as she fought a yawn.

“Penny and Tom will be here in ten minutes, by the way.”

“Why?” Alisha asked. “It’s just a video chat. I can do my own hair and makeup.”

Ronnie curled his fingers through a few chunky bracelets. “Because everyone saw that video last night, Ali. Everyone. You’ve gotta look your best when The Red Carpet asks about it, and they will ask. You can’t handle that look on your own.”

She stifled another yawn. “Well, isn’t this kind of good? I mean, I won the award, and I’ve got a butt load of publicity that people are going to talk about in addition to the award and my amazing look last night. Win-win.”

This time her manager’s expression went flat. If someone asked her to guess, she would have said he was pissed off but trying to hide it. But this was Ronnie. He always rah-rahed her through any situation.

Before he could say anything, a timid knock at the bedroom door announced the arrival of her stylists. She sat at the makeup mirror in the bathroom and let them work their magic. Penny, Tom, and Ronnie had been with her since her first big movie, and they all knew how to make her look amazing.

Within minutes, Alisha’s face looked bright and fresh. Even she had trouble finding the dark smudges under her eyes that bore witness to the late night/early morning celebrations. She wondered whether Nathan had checked out of his hotel or if he was in town for a few more days. She had a vague sense they’d discussed it between the post-awards party show but before the third bar.

God, I can’t even remember that much. It must have been some kind of night.

“And…I’ve logged in,” Ronnie announced from the hall. “Come on, Ali, you’ve only got a few minutes before the producers start buzzing me with texts.”

She thanked Penny and Tom who both made it a point not to look her in the eye as they murmured “your welcome” in return.

Maybe last night was a bigger deal than I thought. What exactly was on that video anyway?

With a grateful smile at Ronnie, Alisha sat in the small bedroom-turned-studio she used for video chats and other online interactions. She waved with a touch too much enthusiasm when the hosts of The Red Carpet welcomed her and tried to nod with seriousness as the producers talked her through the rundown of the show.

“Welcome to The Red Carpet awards wrap-up!” the perky blonde host said into the camera to her millions of viewers. “Last night we got lucky and snagged best actress winner Alisha Mehta right after her big win. She agreed to talk to us first today, and, boy, Alisha, do we have a bunch of questions for you.”

“Thanks, Casey,” Alisha said with her camera smile. “I really appreciate you giving me time today. This win means a lot to me. The film broke so many boundaries, and I’m thrilled that the audiences and the guild deemed it worthy of this recognition.”

“Speaking of recognition,” Casey said with that nosey smile, “it seems like your ex, Nathan, got quite a bit of it last night. I’m sure you all at home saw the video.”

It started to play behind Casey, and the fragments of the previous evening and her meeting with Nathan came back to Alisha in a blinding burst of clarity. She just managed to suppress a groan as the video showed her drawing Nathan close and clutching his sides with both hands. Their foreheads touched as Nathan whispered to her, and then she tilted her head for a kiss. It didn’t involve any tongue; it wasn’t vulgar in any way. In fact, it was an incredibly intimate, sweet moment.

And a private one. Or, at least, that’s what Alisha had thought. Now she knew she’d have to find the dummy with the cell phone.

“Now, Alisha, I know it’s been a whirlwind since the announcement on stage last night, but you know our audience is going crazy wondering this, so I have to ask. Have you heard from Nathan’s wife this morning?”

Alisha wanted to slap her forehead. Jamie. How could she have done this to Jamie?

But then, how could Nathan have done this to her? Shown up, unannounced, at her apartment building. Telling her in that Nathan way that he wanted to be there for her that night. She’d asked about Jamie; she’d asked. He said they were on a break, that he and Jamie had argued nonstop since getting married eight months earlier. She kept accusing Nathan of still being in love with Alisha, and he had come to tell her that, yes, he was.

Never mind that he was the one who walked away. Once. Twice. So many times. Through the years, they’d found one another and left one another so often, it was starting to feel like the script of a rom-com, the kind of script Alisha studiously avoided in her professional life. The last time, she’d told him she didn’t want to see him again. If he couldn’t get on board with the reality of her life—shooting schedules; late nights; PR events; interviews; not wanting kids for a long time, maybe ever—then he needed to find someone who would be a better partner than she could be. Clearly they had set different goals for themselves. They were running parallel, their lives not on track to intersect, ever.

She thought they’d settled it. Then he showed up the previous afternoon, and she’d had an unfortunate moment of weakness. She’d let him in, yet again.

“Alisha?”

She rearranged her face and offered some vague reply then fluffed her way through the rest of the interview. When it ended a merciful ten minutes later, she shut off the computer, folded her arms on her desk, and dropped her head them. A tap on her shoulder made her lift one hand, and a chilled glass slid in her hand. No doubt the tomato juice non-alcoholic cocktail Ronnie made every time she had a hangover.

He patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Ali. We’ll figure it out. It was just a weak moment.”

A weak moment.

This time she did groan aloud.

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