Authors: Kristen Lane
Bancroft and Ford
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Table of Contents
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Leigh had one job: get to her shoot. With a tote in hand, a hat the size of Montana to shield her from the paparazzi, and her self-confidence tucked in her back pocket, she slinks her way through John F. Kennedy International in New York City. With security handled, a healthy lunch bought and the latest Vogue in arm, it seems that things are going smoothly, that is, until she runs into Nigel Ford, internationally acclaimed photographer and personal heartbreaker. Leigh is confident she can make it through this horrendous past encounter with her former lover with poise and grace, but her plans of polite salutations followed by stern ignoring are derailed by the announcement of a severe terrorist threat. When JFK is hijacked, Leigh must find it in herself to forgive Nigel for long enough to survive this...
Leigh hated flying. Everything from checked baggage, to barefoot pat downs to those little baggies they forced people to put their liquids in drove her to the edge. She hated how all the employees were either awkwardly nice or unnecessarily rude. She hated when people who didn’t fly very often got confused in the middle of the corridor, or inflamed the TSA agents by asking questions that had already been answered. She hated the limited variety of food and the overpriced cigarettes, an interesting irony considering you couldn’t smoke in an airport or plane, which had to be, one of the most annoying things of all.
She hated leaving places behind, or touching down in new lands with the stink of the old one still lingering on her hair. She hated the automatic sense of duty, the uncertainty of the destination, the settling period.
Isn’t there a word for that? The frustration at the time it takes to get to know a person, a thing, a place. She loved her intimate relationships with cities like Paris, Milan, Berlin, but hated the weeks of awkward mistakes it took to get her there.
With a grunt, she dropped her hat down so that it covered her face, slowing her walk so that she could double check to make sure her long, thick hair, recently dyed gray, was properly tucked underneath her hat.
After making sure she looked like a proper hobo, she pushed her way into the United Plus rewards gate, standing just inside of the gold doors to scan the room for a seat. She winced, adjusting her duffel bag filled with six lounging outfits for her shoot and one, nice cocktail dress for the inevitable date with whoever she would be working with. As she looked for the perfect place to unwind for the next thirty minutes, her eyes fell on the rather skimpy contents of the room. From the gray-haired business man in the back corner on his macbook to the career woman with the cocktail in her hand, the room was a stark change from the bustling, chaotic gates she had walked past on the way there.
With some deliberation, she decided on the leather couch that sat right in front of one of those large bay windows children are always looking out of to see the planes. She pulled out her ipad and opened the novel she had been working on, a chick lit about a journalist far too involved in a murder trial. She had only progressed three or four more paragraphs before the hat started to grow uncomfortable.
She took one more look around and, judging her over aged crowd to be devoid of the tweens who followed her on Instagram and copied all of her looks, she decided it was safe to take her hat off and her sunglasses down. With a sigh of relief, she settled back into her book.
Not another paragraph had passed before she felt a bright flash snatch her vision away. “Eugh!” Her hand flew to her face as her back curved forward, a precise and learned response due to almost eight years of being courted by paparazzi. When her vision settled, she looked up, but the man who had stolen that picture of her was not the sleazy photojournalist she had expected.
He towered over her, his Nikon dangling towards her, his tall, lean body draped in a distressed leather jacket, his hazel eyes lined, ever so lightly with liner. His lips, thick and full, curled into a smirk.
Leigh’s heart skipped a beat. Her blood ran cold but her skin burned hot. The memories. Oh the memories. She took one look at this man and all at once, they were on the orange-sanded beaches of Malta, climbing up to Calypso's cave, riding buses across the island for one euro, cavorting with the neighbors and drinking cheap Old Fashions. All at once, she found herself drowning in all the emotions she spent over two years trying to repress.
Anger, grief, fear, frustration, anxiety. All it took was one look at Nigel Ford, her once photographer, her once lover, and she was falling…
He squinted his eyes to get a good look at the photo he had supposedly just taken. “You always were a good shot.”
Leigh had forgotten that talking was the norm in situations like this. “Glad to see you haven’t lost your sticky fingers.” Just looking at him made her want a cigarette.
“Ah well… some things never change.”
He slumped down into the chair next to her, his face going all screwy at the sound of the shifting leather. “I hate these goddamn lounges.”
Leigh narrowed her eyes at him, secretly wondering if her heart was ever going to stop pounding. There were so many things she needed to say to this man, so many things she needed to make sure she never said. She could still taste the sea salt in her mouth. “So why are you in one?”
“Because I followed you, baby.”
Oh, but that voice.
Leigh couldn’t resist a glance. Already, her mind had gone into overdrive: Where was this going? Did he have a girlfriend now? Would she even ever consider him again? And just as that thought came to mind, another, more crushing thought annihilated it: could she let herself be hurt again? “Why the hell would you do a thing like that?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” He shrugged. “I missed you.” Exactly what she needed to hear, two years too late.
Before Leigh could muster up the sense to respond, she noticed a TSA agent barge into the lounge. She didn’t say anything to any of them but went right up to the attendant at the gate, all the while her walkie-talkie spewing out the words of frantic orders. She whispered excitedly at the attendant, her brow furrowed in worry.
Leigh lowered her tablet to listen in. Eight years in the modeling world taught her how to catch the whispers swirling in the air behind her back. Being nearly twenty feet away from the two women, she couldn’t catch very much other than the fact that there was some sort of pressing security matter.
After less than a minute of this, the agent left. Then, as soon as she had shut the door behind her, the attendant turned to address the room. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I regret to tell you that John F. Kennedy airport has been put on lockdown.”
Her heart sunk.
She could feel the tension rising in the room as the professionals realized their tight schedules were being shit on.
“Not much information is available at the moment, but we can say that a substantial security threat has been established. I will let you know as information flows in.”
Nigel and Leigh: stuck in airport for God knows how long.
She didn’t know if she’d survive it.
Leigh had moved to the other side of the room. She knew it was a little childish to geographically separate herself from a man who simultaneously terrified and excited her, but what choice did she have? She waited at least twenty more minutes while listening to her stomach growl before she permitted herself pull out her salad.
She could just hear Nigel’s voice in her head. “What the fuck do you get out of balsamic dressing?” She watched the dark, brownish gray liquid pour onto her wilted salad leaves. “It’s so goddamn oppressive.”
She could deny herself a look in Nigel’s direction no longer. She glanced up at him. There he was, sitting right where she left him with his iphone in one hand, but his dark eyes trained on her. She hated the way his stare could make her feel alive, validate her.
He stood up and made his way towards her.
“I’d rather stare at you from close range.”
Leigh caught another healthy whiff of his cologne. “I’d rather you not stare at me at all.”
He chuckled, pulling his leg up so that it rested on his opposite knee. “That’s hardly true.
Leigh had lost her appetite. She caught sight of something on his ankle. Her heart swelled at the Namaste tattoo. It looked like someone had slashed right through it. The fine lines were disturbed by a gash lifting the swollen, pinkish skin. It looked bad enough to have needed stitches.
Leigh blinked. It was strange how time could destroy any and everything. Not even things as resilient as permanent ink could be absolved from its influence. A kind of sadness arose in her from just looking at it because she had remembered the first time she saw it in Gozo.
From the second floor of that small rented warehouse, Leigh could see a surprisingly large amount of things. The buildings, made of clay and stucco were erect pieces of stone playthings that contrasted with the sharp green brush that threatened to take-over. Beyond that were the rolling hills, covered in sharp green and gray brush, dotted with wildflowers and varying IN density the higher things got. Leigh could see where a dirt path had carved through it and wanted nothing more in that moment than to ditch her poor manager and the rest of the crew and just hide there.
Before she had hardly any time to ruminate on this, before her makeup artist snapped his fingers. When they were done, she stared at herself, taking in the way her dark hair had been curled and then hacked up, covering half of her face in a mess she didn’t even want to think about having to deal with later. She took in the way her eyes looked twice as big, the dark liner making them pop, while her lips remained a nearly ghostly white.
In the middle of her dealing with this, the man responsible for the mess that was her hair placed his hands on her shoulder and his lips on her cheek. “You look gorgeous, love.” Of course he was British. “I’m gonna go check on the rest of the locals.”
Leigh gulped. “Locals?”
But before she could get an answer out of him, he had turned and was leaving the small room. She clenched her teeth and stared at herself in the mirror again, but as she tried to do her face exercises, she felt more like she her makeup was wearing her, like she had been handed a pair of nine inch heals and was somehow expected to own them.
The longer she stayed in that dressing room, the longer she wanted to continue to be there. She could hear the muffled sound of voices from the other side of the wall. It sounded like the entire world waited anxiously for her to emerge. That was the worst part of the job, feeling like she was expected to have all of her shit together upon walking on set.
Her hairdresser yanked the door open and peaked his head in. “Come on, love.” He sounded breathless as if exhilarated by whatever the hell was going on out there.
Leigh nodded and stepped down. Just don’t think about them.
But, as she stepped out onto the roof, thrust into the whirlwind of activity, locals mulling about with plastic cups in their hands, crew members combing through the crowd, fixing this belt here and that lapel there.
Leigh could feel the attention shifting on that rooftop and she pressed through the crowd. Against the back wall, she saw the director’s setup. It was a mess of camera’s and equipment, lighting devices dotted the stage, but no backdrop.
That was going to be the biggest difference. Leigh had always been so accustomed to the dark backdrops and the artificial lighting. Now she was expected to tell a story. How?
The next thing she knew, he was looking at her. She froze where she stood.
"Get me a light." Nigel stepped up to his camera like a king to his throne.
A woman with short hair the color of a faded rainbow and a skirt with its hem hanging somewhere around her crotch. “Thank you babe,” He said as he lowered himself to light his cigarette.
“Babe?” Leigh muttered as she watched him. He was exactly the kind of guy she dreaded becoming her photographer. Despite the fact that she hated his self-confidence and the way he seemed to draw people in without hardly trying, she felt that the only way to best him would be to impress him.
God, what an awful thought.
Her makeup guy stepped up to join her on the podium.
She shifted her bangs out of her face as he touched up her forehead. “You gotta stop sweating honey. It’s not even that hot out.”
Leigh gave a quick nod. It really wasn’t. In fact the sporadic wind was a little too harsh for her liking. “I know I just…” She made the mistake of glancing at Nigel, who stood with the director, making arm movements and puffing his black cigarette.
Makeup Man followed her gaze. “Oh. Don’t worry about him. He just wants everyone to care as much as he does.”
Leigh looked back at the man, cocking her head to one side as she watched him take a woman by her arm, one of the extras, and guide her to her place. He stepped within three yards of Leigh and her heart skipped a beat. She gasped, forcing herself to take in another deep breath. That’s enough. Get ahold of yourself.
“Care about what?”
Makeup man stepped off the platform to take one last look, his nose upturned and his eyebrow raised. “Stunning. Don’t fuck it up again.”
Leigh sighed, but the sound of a child’s pointed wail cut into her mullings. By the time she sought him out in the small collection of people, Nigel had made his way to the woman who held the toddler. Her eyes flashed wide, a look of true horror on her face.
“Don’t worry, love,” He said as he heaved the toddler right out of her hands.
Leigh couldn’t believe what she was witnessing. With each passing second, he did one more thing to make her feel that she didn’t understand men, or artists at all.
“Babe!” He barked at the woman with the dress.
Leigh wondered if they were dating.
“Get me something for this little guy to play with.”
She nodded and bounded across the roof, disappearing behind the door.
Nigel bobbed the toddler up and down. “Hello you…”
But he kept on crying, reacting to some sort of invisible and awful harm done to him.
He stepped right by the camera. “Test shot!”
Leigh wondered if these people had worked with him before as they began to assemble. The woman the child had belonged to wandered around the back of the platform, her face glowing with sun the way only a makeup artist could produce.
Nigel held the toddler’s hand, guiding it to the camera. “Here, press this button.”
A flash nearly blinded Leigh. She sucked in a sharp breath and straightened her posture, assuming a move most people would call a pose.
Nigel shifted his gaze from toddler, who had lowered his tone to a mild whimper and Leigh.
She glanced around while she awaited his judgement, making eyes at all the little ones crawling around. The director hopped onto the platform. Leigh stepped aside as he whispered instructions to the extras.
“You know what… I have a new idea.” Nigel stepped away from the camera and hopped onto the platform… with the toddler. “Here.”
Leigh froze, losing all control of her facial expressions as she watched herself take a child from him. He was heavy, but moved from the inside out. Leigh had never really held anything under the age of 9. She felt like she had been plucked out of a warm pool of water, her swimsuit ripped off and her red confidence wiped right off of her lips. “What is this?” She practically ejaculated those words.
Nigel smirked, an eyebrow raised, his pink lips folding as he shuffled his cigarette around. “A person. Don’t drop it.”
Leigh’s heart fell as she took her place in the center of the podium. Be confident and terrifying. This child, it must be a symbolize something like innocence? She glanced behind her at all of the fresh-faced women. She was supposed to be the villain in this story. All she was missing was a gun, but she had a child.
She tried, wading lost in the pool of possibilities as the camera kept flashing, becoming reduced to just background sounds a noise.
She pressed her lips together. On the bright side, she was becoming more and more comfortable with the child. He was like those earrings you put on that feel really heavy at first, but then, you eventually get used to them. “Yes?” She hated how eager to please she sounded.
“Give me something.”
“What do you want?” The words slipped out of her mouth before she could stop them.
The director laughed. “A model should never have to ask that.”
Nigel didn’t even look in his direction as he stepped from around the camera. “She isn’t a model, she’s an artist. And between two artists, that is as valid a question as any. As for what I want….” He placed his hands on her shoulders, a look of reassurance in his deep, gray eyes. It seemed so out of place, it caught Leigh caught off guard.
“I want you to look like you’ve done something amazingly terrible.” He turned her around, forcing her to stare at all the extras behind her. “They all bright eyed and terrified… and presumably you’re the reason. I want you to like it. I want you to enjoy the fact that you are holding this stolen child.”
His face was so close to hers that she could feel his breath on her cheek. She felt herself leaning in to him. “Why would I ever do that.” All sixty people on that roof disappeared right in that moment. She knew he was leaning into her as well but she hardly wanted to believe it.
He placed a hand on her cheek, his fingers tracing circles in her skin. When he spoke again, their lips brushed together. She could feel herself melting inside. “Because it feels so good to do something you shouldn’t.” With that he stepped away.
Leigh couldn’t pinpoint what had changed, but she suddenly felt like she had been tethered to him. The rest of the shoot went along with her doing whatever it was Nigel wanted before Nigel even realized what he wanted. Eventually, the child went back with his mother and extras shuffled, and then shuffled again and then shuffled again. At one point, Leigh found herself holding a man by his neck. She wasn’t sure how Nigel had brought this secret person out of her, one she had been dying to meet all along.
Just when he was about to grab his last few shots, the director stepped up beside him. “I gotta tell you, Nigel you’re a fucking genious.”
He nodded, his lips stretching into a mischievous smile.
Their voices came to her as if they were observing her from outside of a fish boat.
“Don’t look so surprised. The almost kiss always gets them.”
The director smirked. “All you gotta do is get them to feel a little scandalized.”
They both looked at her.
Leigh was seeing red. All of the sudden, she felt dirty just from being touched by him.
“Like they have a secret.”
Nigel let out a dark chuckle. “Of course.”
Leigh gripped that man just a little bit harder. Four minutes later, the shoot was over. That was it. Leigh stormed off of the platform, making a line for the roof door as quick as she possibly could. She streamed right by her manager. Usually, she would have stayed behind, probed for some general feedback, put herself in the running for more connections, but not today. That afternoon she was more concerned with keeping her head on her shoulders and her eyes dry.
She was so close to the door. No one seemed to have even noticed…
Oh God, it was Nigel.
She had to smile at him. He was practically her boss. “Did I do something wrong?” It came out aggressive and shrill.
He cocked his head to the side. “I’m beginning to think I did.”
Leigh sucked in a deep breath. Stick up for yourself. This was the moment she had trained for. “Look, I don’t know what kind of plans you have for me, but I’m not really into… what you seem to be in to.”
He narrowed his eyes. “If that’s producing great art, I must have been mislead.”
Leigh set her jaw. “Directors have been using that line for decades.”
He nodded, a knowing look on his face. “I want you to stop thinking you know about me. You don’t.”
She scoffed. Something about him made her feel she could say anything. She was no longer afraid of what he’d think. “Only you know about me.”