Taylor Kettering is at the top. Fame, money, and good looks. But then...
(By Cindy Renee Miller)
The air was sticky and hot, and the sun glared down on her- helping to add some natural highlights to her chocolate brown hair. The walkway was neat, and she found it easy to bring in her boxes as she walked up to the house. It was big. And when I say big, I actually mean HUGE!
But, Taylor Kettering could afford it. After all, at only twenty-five, she had already done everything that most people only dream about. She was a celebrity. It seemed a little funny to her- that she had become that-after all, her parents had died when she was five. But before they died, they took her to an audition for a soup commercial, and she got the role. After a few more commercials, she got noticed by a big time producer at CBS who put her in a sitcom as the daughter of the single mother trying to make enough money in tips to be able to get out of a small town. Then came the car accident. Taylor’s parents were killed by a drunk driver. Taylor was sent to live with her aunt and uncle who kept taking her to her job as a child star. She was in a few B movies during that time, but then, when she was thirteen, she starred in her first big role. She was a young version of a female rocker. The best part was that she got to sing and play the guitar. It was so well received that Taylor’s performances were singles on the radio, and she was offered a record deal, and parts in two more movies.
Taylor walked into the house with her big box of kitchenware and decided to make a sandwich. Luckily, she had thought this through and bought bread and lunchmeat, and some mayonnaise.
As she stood there at the granite counter of her new home on Sunset Boulevard, she took a deep breath for everything that had happened in the past year. She thought of all the roads she had traveled to get there… Heartbreaker had been the title of the movie and her first album was called Call Me. She had later laughed about it when she realized that she had picked the titles of her work and they were both from the 1980’s or late 1970’s. Her first CD was multiplatinum in it’s first month and stayed at the top of the Billboard Top 40 for a good month and a half. Even after that, it remained on the list for a good year anyway. Her first single, Hot lived up to it’s name, and was a top-requested chart-topper at all the popular radio stations. Her video retired off of TRL. She won two Grammy’s for her album and one for her song- and then an Academy Award for her movie. Already, Taylor Kettering was a household name. By the time she was fourteen, she had been on the covers of People, Us Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and all the teen magazines. Then, piggybacking off of THAT success, she went and did another two movies and another album. She toured. She sang at coffeehouses before she was even thirteen, but by fourteen, she was playing at Madison Square Gardens, and The Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall. She became well-respected for a young star, because she didn’t let fame get away from her. She wasn’t all stuck on herself. And, she only listened to the advisors that she thought would help her along. She had a very strong opinion for such a young person. Her fame grew and grew. She remained faithful to her fans. She was smart with her money-even at a young age, because her aunt and uncle instilled good habits in her. Taylor gave money to charities, and she faithfully attended church. She stood up for people who didn’t have a voice. And because of that, she made fans that were the parents of her fans. It was a good place to be in. Taylor kept it up. And then, that night…. never would she forget how her entire life turned topsy-turvy and through the looking glass. Her life hadn’t ever been the same.
(A year ago)
The music was pulsating through the room and shaking under her silver platform heels. Her body was tired now that she was dancing in the middle of the floor with all the other girls and guys at the party. If truth be told, Taylor wasn’t much of a party girl… Sure, she liked to have a good time-she even liked to drink a little. But, nightclubbing wasn’t something she would pick for herself. This was for a 21st birthday party for her friend, and country music star, Hailey Hunter. Hailey was a good friend and they had already been through a lot together. They had both been dating guys they worked with on various projects, and none of it had worked out, so they were both faced with those challenges at around the same time-and somehow, got through it together. So, when Hailey wanted to rock out at Club Fate, Taylor really had no choice but to go and bring her fun-loving self with her.
Now, she was in the middle of the floor, dancing, her heart racing, and her blood pumping. Her shoulders were glistening with sweat, pressed near to so many people. Her brown tresses, she tossed back over her shoulder. Her other pop star friend, Lindsay Ravenscraft was next to her at the moment, nursing another Cosmo. She was a little more on the wild side, so Taylor wasn’t always sure she wanted to be a part of all those adventures LR got herself into. “Your outfit is divine, Tay!” Lindsay told her, slightly slurred.
“Thanks, I love your’s too.”
Taylor had dressed in a short, hot pink, metallic skirt and a silky silver top with a lovely necklace-funky and cool-with guitars and cassette tape charms on it. She had dangly silver and pink earrings and silver and pink bangles on her wrists. Her nails were manicured and she looked gorgeous. Lindsay was in a royal blue mini dress with chunky bracelets and necklaces. She was nearly toppling over in her black Jimmy Choo platforms. Of course, that was the alcohol more than the shoes…
As Hailey hugged her goodbye, Taylor barely heard her say-over the loud, blaring music, “Be careful, Tay! Thanks so much for coming to my party. I know you aren’t big on clubbing-so- I am very touched that you came.”
“I had a good time, Hailey, thanks for inviting me.”
“Did you have at least one drink?”
“I had two cosmos, sweetie. You had three.”
“Alright… I’ll see you, Tay.”
“Happy birthday, Hail’ Be safe.”
“I will. And thanks again.”
Taylor walked away with a smile, knowing that her friend was having a good time. She fumbled in her hot pink clutch for her cell phone. For some reason, she couldn’t get a hold of her limo service, so, she decided to call a cab. She wasn’t even buzzed, but she didn’t drive there because she didn’t want to risk it. It only took her a few minutes to hail a cab, and she got to the street before her condo on Wilshire Boulevard –that was all she remembered. She didn’t remember the accident. When Taylor woke up in the emergency room at UCLA she was unsure of what had happened. She was just in a lot of pain. So, she knew that something was very wrong.
When she was with it a little more, the doctors told her that she had a broken leg- her head was banged up pretty bad from where she went through the windshield. She was cut all over her torso and arms from the glass. She had a few small burns and some contusions. She would need to be there for another week or two. She recovered from the broken bones and the burns, and the cuts-except from her face. It was puffy and scarred and didn’t heal for months. She had an album pretty much ready to release, but she felt so ugly with her cuts and scars that she refused to have the pictures taken for her upcoming album. She held them off. But then, one day, she had an epiphany after answering an email from a young fan in Florida who had been scarred all over her body when she was in a fire. That struck Taylor and she finally took a deep breath, called the producer, and had the pictures taken. She had also been working on a new album during all this, which she decided to release as a double feature. They both skyrocketed. She made sure she thanked the little burn victim. She made sure she thanked the doctors who helped heal her- the nurses that tended to her wounds. She thanked the friends who visited her and brought her flowers and cards. And she thanked God for giving her the strength to carry on. She was a tough one. Her aunt and uncle had always told her that before they passed away when she was eighteen. They died one after another. Her uncle died of Leukemia and her aunt died of a broken heart. Taylor had always admired the two of them, and how sweet they were together.
After all this, she needed a change, deciding to buy a nice house and a nice car (a Camaro that she had painted hot pink). It was a splurge, she knew, but it was worth it. And now, she was eating her sandwich in her new kitchen, thinking to herself how lucky she was.
3: Meeting and Disbelief
Jake Stewart was up in his room at the house his foster parents had left him a few months ago. It was a huge house with lots of windows. Jake was amazed that they had left it to him, since he wasn’t really family- they had only adopted him a few months prior to their deaths. Bob and Sally Jones had taken good care of him, unlike all the other people he had stayed with over the years. They were scriptwriters in Hollywood, and each of them had become legends in their own rite. Jake felt blessed that he now owned this gorgeous home on a nice street in one of the United States’ most recognizable cities. After all, he was just an orphan. His parents had died when he was five, and he had been passed around to his family members until his grandparents finally took him in. Unfortunately, they passed away when he was thirteen and again, he was passed around to his family until they could no longer take care of him- or didn’t want to anymore. He was put into foster care and was sent to live with some pretty awful people. His “siblings” beat him. His “parents” burned him with cigarettes, and would treat him like garbage. He was haunted by the memories of his fellow foster children who were so mistreated that later in life, they committed suicide, or became druggies. Jake got out just in time. He was about to get kicked out of the house he was living in, because he did something that made his “dad” mad. He went to the local high school, and on Career Day, there was booths set up all around the gym. One of the booths was being occupied by Bob and Sally. They were representing the Screenwriter’s Guild. Jake loved their informational brochure and said he wanted something interesting like that for a career. After talking to them for a few minutes, it had already been said that Jake was in foster care, and somehow, in the ten minutes they talked with him, Bob and Sally wanted to get to know him better. When they found out that he was about to be homeless (he was only 16), they were appalled and decided to rescue him. It was no ordinary rescue though-they wanted him. They truly liked him, and wanted to have him in their home, even if it was just for a few years. And they brought him out to sunny California to live in their palatial home. Things were finally great. They treated him well, they actually fed him, and they taught him a lot that he never thought he would learn. And most of all, they loved him. He hadn’t been loved in a long time.
Now, Jake was twenty-five. His parents had died (both sets) and he was alone. But, he was happy that he had made it through all kinds of trials and tribulations to get where he was now. Jake had recently joined the Guild and was currently working on a screenplay. He had published a book recently, and was sending his most recent finished screenplay to all the big name producers. He heard singing coming from nearby and wondered who it was. Whoever it was knew all the words to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and had perfect pitch. He stood by his desk, and looked out to see if there was anything interesting going on outside of the four walls he had been in all day. And he saw something he would never forget- something that he never thought he would see- the owner of those terrific pipes- the famous Taylor Kettering.
His breath caught in his throat, and he felt his jaw go slack. He hadn’t ever actually seen her in person-only in concert, on TV, and on the covers of magazines. Jake was amazed at the beauty that was Miss Kettering. He liked that her bedroom was right across from his-although he knew that if he were to say that out loud, he would sound like a creeper. She was in a short black silk robe and her brown hair was wet, wrapped in a towel. She couldn’t be lovelier, even simply dressed as she was now. She couldn’t have lived there long because he had never seen her there before. She was unpacking a tub of clothes, putting away a pair of jeans, and he heard her voice-so melodic and beautiful. When he first heard her voice that day, he knew her voice sounded familiar, but now everything made sense. He knew he would have to be neighborly and go over to welcome her to the neighborhood. He liked to do that. He was used to it. His recently departed foster parents had always gone to the new neighbor’s house and brought some wine or some cake or something. It was just being friendly. Taylor Kettering was one of the most famous people of her generation-he was a little nervous, but he knew he had to talk to her. There was something pulling him to her and he didn’t know what it was. Jake sat at his computer- shooting off a few emails, and finishing the scene he was working on. He gulped down some coffee and all the while- enjoyed listening to Taylor singing sweetly over at the house next door.
Taylor had been unpacking for most of the day and now, she decided to run out and get the mail. She needed a break. She looked a bit rebellious at the moment, in her black leather mini skirt and a hot pink halter top with shiny black-metal earrings in her ears, and a guitar necklace. She had a black leather bracelet that went perfectly with her black sandals. She wondered why she had decided to look so rebellious, yet hot to go to the mail box. It struck her as uncharacteristic. She shrugged and continued to go outside. When she got to her mailbox, she happened to glance over at the mailbox to the house next door where a very cute guy was opening his own mailbox. He grinned at her, and then surprised her by saying, “You’re new in town.” And then he shrugged a little, “Or at least, you’re new here.”
“Right. I just moved in.”
He walked over and Taylor’s heart skipped a beat. He was ridiculously hot. She could hardly believe it. He had sandy blonde, short hair, with perfectly faded blue jeans and a crisp white button up shirt that made his bright blue eyes stand out. “I’m Jake Stewart. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Taylor Kettering. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” He grinned, blushing. I wonder why he did that. “I heard someone singing and saw you unpacking…. I wasn’t trying to peak, honest. I just had to find out where that voice was coming from.”
“You heard my singing?” She tilted her head to the right.
“You have a lovely voice, Taylor.”
“Thanks.” She blushed. Great, now I’m doing it. The crazy thing was that she was used to people telling her that she was good at things. She was used to being complimented and doing well at her job. Why was it so flattering that a stranger (that was adorable) complimenting her was something different entirely? Why was she so fluttery and nervous? You like him, idiot. It was as if her mind was rolling it’s eyes at her in disgust.
“Do you need any help unpacking? Or any help moving anything?”
She had to fumble for a response because she hadn’t expected anyone to be so nice to her for no apparent reason. She wasn’t used to people just offering to do something for her without it being something that they did just to get her to do something for them. Jake Stewart seemed very nice, and she already felt very comfortable with him.
“You don’t mind?”
“Of course not. I offered, didn’t I?” He looked a little confused at why she was so surprised.
“Yes, I’m sorry-it wasn’t that… I just, I’m not used to people just offering to do things to help me without asking something in return.”
“Well, princess, get used to it. You’re living next door to someone who just likes to do nice things for people.”
Jake was surprised at his own bluntness and flirtation. He wasn’t really a flirt. He had actually never been out with a girl before- even at 25… Sure, he had liked people, but enough to actually ask anyone out… Why was flirting with a pop star so easy? Why was she making it so easy? He kind of expected to be disappointed when he met her- like the girl he lived next to wasn’t anything like the sweet girl he saw on TV… But he wasn’t disappointed. Not one bit.
Taylor was very surprised and charmed by the fact that Jake had been so upfront about his flirtation. She was curious about something. Does he know who I am? She thought to herself, curious.
“Do you know who I am?” the words flew out of her mouth before she could stop them. She didn’t say them as if she was appalled by something; she just said it in a small voice that let him know how vulnerable and normal she was feeling right now. Jake, the charming stranger grinned and said, with a funny lilt to his voice, “Everybody does, honey.”
“Oh. And you offered to help me unpack-without asking me to pay you, or get you in the movies, or a record deal or something… You just want to help your neighbor move in, even if she’s a pop star?”
“Of course. Do you want the help or not?” He was trying not to laugh.
I look like a complete ditz who doesn’t trust anyone. Smart move, Tay.
“Yes… Sorry about that. I’m being childish.”
“I understand the disbelief. But you can believe that I’m not trying to get something out of this. And I’m not trying to take advantage of you or your fame. I truly just want to help. If all we do is unpack and get to know each other-that’s fine with me. I don’t want anything else out of the day. I’m not asking for you to hear a song or watch me act, or even to read my screenplay- which is what I actually do…You don’t even have to feed me or give me a beer. I just want to help you. That’s all.”
“And you’re not trying to get in my pants?” She actually smiled because she could tell that he found her attractive.
“No. I am one of the few straight guys who would rather wait until I’m married to the girl before I sleep with her.”
“Well ok then.” She laughed, showing Jake inside, loving the way he opened the door for her even when it was her house.
“You’re a real gentleman.”
“You act surprised.”
“I am. They don’t make guys like that anymore.”
“I’m definitely different.”
She led him up the staircase and to her bedroom, which felt a little dangerous to her, but he had just finished telling her that he wasn’t looking to sleep with her, and all he really wanted was to help her unpack. She knew somehow that she could trust him, but she was wondering why for the first time, she was having a hard time trusting herself around someone. I keep saying the stupidest things. He probably thinks I’m stupid… Like a dumb blonde- even though I’m a brunette… It’s like the movie Clueless where I keep doing really dumb things. She thought all this as she put away some clothes and watched Jake take a stack of books out of a box, put them on her bookcase, and then heave an even heavier box up on his tan shoulders (which she was imagining and not actually seeing). She watched his muscles ripple even beneath his shirt and she felt dizzy just looking at this beautiful man before her. She had never seen anything like Jake Stewart before, but yet, somehow, she felt as if he was calling her-he had known her all along, and they meant something to each other. Taylor couldn’t explain it, or why she had to constantly keep reminding herself to breath.
When they were unpacking a box of her CDs and DVDs, he was thumbing through them, smiling, and all Taylor could do was stare at him. And within a second, she was daydreaming and it took only a few more seconds before she heard Jake say, “Something wrong?”
“Oh- No.” She shook herself. Stupid. “Sorry for staring-you’re just –well, you’re very attractive and a girl can’t help but notice.”
He smiled and blushed. “Well, Taylor, you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen… honestly.”
“Well, I’m glad you think so. I’ve been a bit unsure of myself since the accident.”
“Scars take a long time to heal. Some never do. Many times, the physical scars disappear before the emotional ones.”
“Yeah. That’s very true. What makes you so smart?” She asked, hanging a dress in the closet.
Jake sighed a little-collecting himself. For a moment, Taylor was sorry she asked, but then he said-with a voice that was clear and strong, “My parents died when I was five. I was with family for a while but then I went into foster care.” He told her the rest of the story, and her eyes filled with tears as he showed her burn scars from cigarettes, and marks where he had been stabbed by steak knives by his foster siblings. He showed her a spot where glass had scarred his back when his foster mom threw a vase at him at age fifteen.
“You’re so nice that I never would have imagined all that stuff happening to you.”
“Well, I knew that my parents loved me. And my grandparents… And Bob and Sally. I never quit remembering that somewhere, at some time, I was loved-so I had to be good, and I had to do what I had to do to stay that way, even though everyone was trying to make me be otherwise.”
Taylor knew all this was hard for him to admit, and it was time that she shared something about her life-for reciprocity’s sake. She pulled up her shirt and showed him something she had never showed anyone but her doctors- a scar running under the bottom of her lacy pink bra. She knew that this was dangerous- but she didn’t care. She had been hiding it from everyone, but Jake was hiding nothing from her. He didn’t even know her and he bore his heart and soul to her. He showed her his scars, so she showed him hers’.
Jake was surprised that she showed him all her scars. He had been shocked when she showed him the scar at her bust first. She was gorgeous, and he loved the way she looked- he appreciated her scars. He loved this new relationship-whatever it was. And that night, she ordered a pizza and got him a beer even though he said that he didn’t need her to give him anything. “Nonsense.” She replied. “You have to eat, and I don’t want to send you home yet.”
“Ok, that’s reason enough for me.”
“Good, she smiled, dialing the number for the pizza place.”
Now, they were sitting on the couch in her entertainment room, eating pizza and watching a movie. They were sitting fairly close together, and after they were finished eating, they cleaned up, and began to talk on the couch again. They fell into each other’s eyes, and she knew what was coming. She was about to get a kiss.
Her lips tasted like the cherry soda she had just drunk, and he felt his heart flutter. She was good at kissing. He wondered how much experience she had at the subject for a moment until he realized that it didn’t really matter. This was now, they were together. He could tell that she was happy here. He was happy being here with her. And when he kissed her, she kissed him back. “I had a big crush on you all afternoon and evening.” She smiled.
“it’s been a few years for me-with you.”
“So, does this live up to your expectations-after all that time?”
“Yes, and it’s better… I’m so glad that you live next door to me.”
“Oh, me too. When I bought this house, there was really no particular reason for me to buy it, and there wasn’t really anything overly special about it- for all intensive purposes… I just liked it. I don’t know. Something just drew me to it- and now I know- I was put here because I needed to meet you.”
“You believe that?” he smiled, brushing a hair out of her eyes.
“Yes. I believe things happen for a reason. I believe we’re sent where we’re supposed to be, and I was supposed to be here-so we could meet…” She took a deep breath- hoping that she wasn’t rushing into anything, but she said, “The truth is- you’ve already changed my life, and I already feel something so strong for you… It doesn’t even really make sense… I mean-we just met, but I feel like I’ve always known you-like we were friends a long time ago or something… And even though I don’t believe in it- I almost feel like we were once some famous romantic couple-reincarnated in this age to show people once again how to love or something.”
“Dramatic.” He said, smiling. He loved listening to her speak, and she could tell, which made her feel good, especially when she was telling him how she felt about him.
“Yeah, it’s the cross I bear as an artist.”
“You know what- I feel the same way about you. When I heard you sing, I knew I had to come over and meet you.”
“I’m glad that I didn’t disturb you.” She said, kissing him softly on the neck.
“You couldn’t do that with that voice. It’s angelic.”
“You’re too nice.”
“Well, I have to be. Only nice guys deserve you.”
She was rocked to the core by that statement and almost couldn’t believe it, but she was glad that he said it and he meant it. She was glad that someone cared about her and wanted to be with her. She was glad that someone respected her and held doors for her. And she knew that Jake was just a really good guy. It didn’t hurt that he was gorgeous either. And Taylor was grateful that Jake had just said that she was a good girl. A lot of people just assumed that because she was a starlet, that she was a slut. It was nice that someone saw her for who she really was even before he really knew her. How strange it was that they had just met, and already, he seemed to know everything about her, and she already knew that he was the kind of man you keep around. She knew that Jake Stewart was the marrying kind, even before they were anywhere near being ready to even THINK about the M word. They had kissed only once. They had unpacked boxes all day, and today was the first time they had even SEEN each other, and she already knew that he was someone worth her time- someone that she could get to know. She knew that he was someone she could trust and count on no matter what. How was it possible that she already knew all these intense heart things about him, and she didn’t know simple things like what his middle name was? So, she asked him, and he said, “Christopher.” And kissed her tenderly. Second kiss. “What’s your’s?” He asked, taking her small hand in his bigger one. “Angeline”.
“You are an angel.” He smiled, his eyes washing over her. He seemed to be a tad embarrassed at the moment, but he said, “I know it’s too soon, but um, I know that I just met the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with… I’m sitting right next to her, holding her hand, hoping that she doesn’t think I’m insane and ask me to leave.”
Taylor’s breath caught again. “I’d never do that, Jake. Not to you…” She rested her forehead against his and said, “I met the man I’m going to marry today, and I served him pizza and beer after he helped me move in… kind of embarrassing.”
“Well, only a little. I didn’t mind… At least we’re on the same page. I really didn’t want you to think I was some crazy lunatic that has a mad crush on you and some crazy delusion about you that started even before we met.”
“I know better than that.” Taylor laughed, giddy as ever. She liked having someone to joke and laugh with. So much of her life had been spent in seclusion- hiding away, and being alone. But now, everything had changed. She had someone who cared about her. She had someone to share the details of her life with-no matter how mundane they were. For the first time, she didn’t just have a date- she had a boyfriend.