“Have you decided what you want yet, kiddo?”
I bit my lower lip. “No, Dad. Don’t rush me.”
He was attempting to buy me a present, albeit to a I-feel-sorry-for-you present, but nonetheless his heart was in the right place. We had perused the vendors for about ten minutes while waiting for Joseph to resurface and I couldn’t decide between the sweet little cherry tree statue or a snow globe with a three-tiered chocolate raspberry cake.
Suddenly, I found myself showered in pastel rose petals.
“Sugar!” I exclaimed, turning to greet my friend dressed in a long pink sweater, short shorts, and cowboy boots. “Your style never ceases to amaze me.”
“What style?” she shrugged. “Are you surprised?”
“By you or by the petals?” I plucked one from my shoulder.
“They’re good luck, I’m told,” Sugar added. “But I say, make your own luck.”
“Then why did you throw them at me?” I laughed.
“Because…” she shrugged. “It’s fun. I’m getting into the spirit.”
“You’re back in town again?”
“Yes, I’ve returned from Windenburg, and with news,” she replied. “But first, I need to go get changed. This isn’t the best dress for the occasion.”
“Naw… wear whatever you like,” I waved my hand. “Dad, you remember Sugar Maple Bough, right?”
“Yes, it’s great to see you,” my father said, reaching around me to shake her hand.
“Nice to see you too, Mister Green,” Sugar replied, and planted a quick kiss on my cheek. “I’m super jet-lagged, but I’ll be back down shortly, okay? Don’t blow away.”
“Blow away?” I made a face, just as the wind kicked up. “How does she do that?” I looked at my dad, puzzled.
“Dunno,” Eddie waved his hands in the air. “Let’s go find your husband and your mom.”
Twenty minutes later, Sugar returned in a stunning pink leather zippered halter and a pink and white floor-length skirt. She ordered a drink, a berry sangria, and settled at my picnic bench. That’s when I heard she had a friend in Deutchsimland who read my book, Twilight Boulevard, and wanted to do a movie.
“I don’t know,” I winced. “Isn’t that a lot of work?”
“Nonsense, you wouldn’t be doing much,” Sugar said. “At least not much more than giving them the rights.”
“But that’s just it,” I frowned. “Giving up my rights to the book? Is that a good idea?”
“Well, you could ask for creative control, but there’s always going to be room for poetic license and interpretation,” Sugar replied. “This is a good company. My cousin works there. They’d do your movie right.”
I sighed. The idea sounded lovely. In fact, I was excited someone was interested, especially an international movie company. That was big stuff. But the timing felt funny. I wasn’t sure I was ready to go back on the literary scene, and that’s what I’d have to do if I requested creative control.
“I know a good lawyer,” Sugar said. “And of course, your agent would need to be involved.”
“Holland?” I grimaced. “I’ll have to reach back out to her again. I kinda blew her off.”
I didn’t do it on purpose. I just didn’t feel like writing lately, and without writing, I didn’t need publicity. It was difficult to write when I wasn’t fully myself.
“Understandable, honey,” Sugar laid a hand on mine. “You went through a rough time of it. I’m sure Ms. Chambers will understand.”
“I hope so,” I sighed.
“Okay, get excited,” Sugar ordered. “Embrace the moment. You’re about to hit the big time, baby!”
“Yeah,” I said, a smile spreading across my face. “This is big time.”
“It’s a big deal, Lizzie,” Sugar assured me. “Do you feel that?”
“Yeah,” I said, feeling the excitement grow.
“Channel that emotion,” Sugar advised. “It’s the only way to stay sane in the business.”
“Really?” I said, feeling a little deflated and I had barely started.
“No, no, channel it,” Sugar repeated. “Feel it. You are a powerhouse, Elizabeth Green, and if anyone is going to cause you grief in this world, it’s only because they’re jealous of your amazing talent.”
“Aww… Sugar, you think so?” I said, my eyes shining.
“I know so, sweetie.”
“That’s my little starlet,” Essie clapped her hands.
I had just told my parents about my stroke of luck, my big break. Of course, they were thrilled. Dad went to call Lee in Windenburg. She had planned to move to the Nation, but since the doctor deemed her a high risk pregnancy, she was put on bed rest. He wanted to arrange a visit to see Lee and Sammy, and also for me to fly to the Union to meet with the movie producer and director interested in bringing my novel to the big screen. I told him he was getting ahead of himself. I needed to meet with the industry people first, speak with my agent, hire a lawyer, and sign a contract. Then it was a long way to developing the script, finding the shooting location, and hiring actors.
“Mom,” I laughed. “I’m not starring in my own novel.”
“Why not?” Essie smiled, leaning in until her cheek touched my own so we could take a selfie. “You are a thousand times prettier than most actresses out there.”
“Mom!” I flushed. “I don’t have acting chops.” I snapped the picture. “Nor do I have any desire to star in a movie.”
“Ah… bummer…” Essie stomped her foot in false annoyance. “I was going to brag to your Uncle Jude.”
“Go ahead and brag away, but maybe we should wait to tell everyone under the sun until after I’ve signed the contract,” I suggested, knowing how she was with news.
“Oh yay!” Essie squealed, plucking her cell phone from her dress pocket, walking away as she dialed the number. As the line rang and she waited for my uncle to pick up, she came back and embraced me tightly. “Oh honey, I’m so proud of you.”
After ten minutes of wandering, pondering, and looking for Joseph, I stopped to call my agent and left her a message. Then I found my mother talking with my landlady.
“I’m just so excited that she is going to make it to the big screen,” Essie was saying.
“Mom,” I interjected with a twinge of irritation. “You told Geeta?”
“Loooovvvvvve Guuuruuuu,” Geeta corrected.
“Right,” I shrugged.
“It’s wonderful news,” Geeta said. “The stars are aligning for you… though…” she trailed off.
“Though what?” I frowned.
“Nothing. I should not have said a thing,” Geeta replied, looking uncomfortable.
“Have you seen Joseph?”
“Uh… your husband?” Geeta said, scratching the back of her head.
“Yes,” I smiled. “I want to tell him the good news.”
“Honey, he might not be in the best frame of mind to hear this news right now,” Geeta winced.
“Why not?” I frowned.
“I told him some bad news.”
“You did? What do you mean?”
“Bad misfortune heading his way. And I read his palm so I sensed things. Bad things.”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” I swallowed hard while my mother shot me a nervous look.
“I… just… he loves you… that’s all you need to know… but he had a moment… of weakness… forgive his soul,” Geeta pleaded, pressing her palms together.
“He what?” Essie shouted.
I blanched. This was the second time I heard rumblings of my husband possible unfaithfulness. That was the last thing I needed to hear tonight. Somehow I saw a vision of neon green and purple, a shirtless upper half, and lips meeting. I covered my mouth as my knees began shaking, but I quickly maintained my calm as best as I could.
“It’s fine, Mom,” I assured, running off as fast as I could in my heels.
I grabbed a small glass of strawberry lemonade and returned to the picnic tables where my husband was sitting with my dad, furiously attempting to eat stuffed bell peppers with chopsticks. Something happened. I could sense he was upset. I was upset too.
“There you are,” I said in a huff, plopping at the adjacent picnic table.
“Hello,” Joseph grunted.
“Uh oh… I’ll go find your mom,” my father said, sliding from the bench, sensing the tension.
“We need to talk,” I said, forcefully.
“About what?” Joseph grumbled, shoving a half a pepper in his mouth.
“About your affair!” I said, plainly, hoping that spitting it out would make things easier to stomach.
“Gawd! Lizzie! I didn’t cheat on you,” Joseph slammed his chopsticks down on the table. “And tonight of all nights, I learned I’m taking a pay cut.”
“Then why does everyone keep planting that idea in my head?” I wailed, feeling a sense of helplessness. “And wait…” I frowned. “You’re losing your job?”
“Do you want to know the truth, Liz? A vampire screwed with my head! There! Are you happy?” he huffed, ignoring my question about his job.
“What?” I gasped in disbelief.
“Some vampire planted ideas in my head… ideas about you cheating on me,” Joseph flung an accusatory finger in my direction.
I paled. “What? No! I didn’t…” I shook my head. “I would never.”
“And then he planted ideas in my head about a woman… another woman… cuz he figured if he could break us up, well, then…” Joseph slammed his fist into the table, startling a nearby pigeon. “Then he could have me all for himself.”
I was almost afraid to ask. “What about this other woman?”
“She meant nothing!” Joseph yelled.
“So you did sleep with her?” I felt a clawing pain in my chest.
“You really don’t remember, do you?” Joseph snapped.
I swallowed hard, feeling incredibly hurt. “Excuse me,” I slipped away from the picnic benches and ran off behind the festival. I couldn’t believe my suspicions were right. All this time, I was worried about remembering, but that was just a smokescreen for my real worry. The truth was I had a sneaky suspicion that my husband had cheated on me before or after I became all ghostified. Everything else was a bit hazy. It made it impossible to look at him the same. To touch him the same way. To let him touch me. The floodgates were open. I cried, soft, muffled tears as I sank exhausted to the bench behind the restrooms.
Joseph called to me. I swiped at my tears as I saw him lurking by the bushes.
“What do you want?” I asked, tiredly.
“I’m so sorry,” he said stiffly as he walked up and sat down. “I’ve been a fool.”
“That’s what happens when you’re with another woman,” I said, bitterly.
“Elizabeth?” he tried again, this time more softly. “I didn’t sleep with another woman. I only… well, she… kissed me… and I kissed her back… a brief moment of weakness.”
“That’s it?” I cried, disbelieving.
“Do you want to hear the whole story?” Joseph asked.
“I don’t know. Do I?” I huffed.
“Lizzie, I’m with you. I want you. I don’t want anyone else. Plummit!” Joseph waved his arms. “You died and I lost it. I thought I couldn’t go on without you. This vampire screwed up my head and I thought because I let him, you died. You became a ghost. I went to the Hollow and back to fix my mistake.”
“You what?” I said, tears forming in my eyes to hear the words.
“I made a deal with a vampire…” Joseph balled his fists as if feeling angry about his choices, and seeing my panicked look, he added, “A different one. A doctor.”
“Oh okay…” I sniffled.
“You’re back because of him. Your memories are wonky because of him. He helped raise you from your ghost state… your in-between state… and everything is messed up because of it…but at least you’re alive,” Joseph explained. “I did all this for you. So you would be alive. Because I want you, Lizzie… no one else.”
Joseph continued to tell me everything that happened in case I forgot with the hopes that I would forgive him and that we could move forward. When he finished, I was in shock, relived, but still shocked. I couldn’t believe this man went through hell for me.
“I’m alive,” I repeated, breathing hard. Standing, I pulled him up next to me.
“Let’s go home, Joseph. I’m tired. We can see my parents tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” he asked. “I’m sorry for ruining your night.”
“I’m sure,” I replied. “Take me home,” I leaned into his shoulder. “Joseph.”