Chapter Title: Chance of a Lifetime
Rating: PG (adult language).
Word Count: ~4,039.
Characters: Patrick Westfield, Maraina Stratten, Jeremy Rylon Lucia Stratten, Riley Stratten, Noel Cruz, Dave Farley, Robert Barker.
Rating: PG (adult language).
Word Count: ~4,039.
Characters: Patrick Westfield, Maraina Stratten, Jeremy Rylon Lucia Stratten, Riley Stratten, Noel Cruz, Dave Farley, Robert Barker.
Warnings: Unbetaed (possible grammatical errors).Synopsis: An opportunity of a lifetime lands squarely on Mari's lap, but she must overcome her own insecurities to take advantage of it. Riley Stratten returns home unexpectedly. This time to stay. And Robert Barker expands his net of spies in the attempt to thwart Sterling's coup.
““With my luck, it will be unhappily never after.”
“So…you’re going to take the job, right?” Sterling asked Mari.
“Of course she is,” Jeremy responded without looking up from his notepad. “She’s not stupid.” He paused and looked at her. “Are you? Because if you are, this is going to make me look bad and I don’t like looking bad. If you have any doubts, just think of it this way. This is a once in a lifetime chance and you’ll probably make more money in six months that you’d otherwise make in five years unless you’re doing something illegal.”
Mari tapped her pen on her lip thoughtfully, then looked from Sterling to Jeremy. They were the only ones left now from the impromptu brainstorming session. It had turned out to be one of the most exhilarating nights of her life, although a little bit weird, too. She still couldn’t quite figure out where she’d screwed up so royally with Patrick Westfield but other than that, she felt like she was back with her high school friends, goofing off and creating massive role-playing adventures. Now, it looked like the nerd gods were smiling down at her giving her an opening to play with big time Hollywood nerds. Only one thing kept her from falling down to her knees and saying, ‘yes, a thousand times YES’. She glanced over at her mom.
“Anna and Lucia are getting along quite well,” Sterling said.
Mari nodded. “I just can’t leave Mom in a lurch, especially with her boss. Papa Joe has been really good to both of us.”
“No, of course not.” Sterling held her hand in his patting it gently. “You’re not abandoning your mother and we can insure that there are no burned bridges with your boss.”
“And if I’m just a one trick pony? What if I crash and burn in three weeks? How do I beg for my old back?”
“That’s easy,” Jeremy piped in. “That’s what contracts are for. Whether you work for an hour or one hundred, he can promise you a year’s salary when you accept the position.” He ignored Sterling’s narrowed gaze. “If I were you, I’d insist on it because like you said, you could totally go Chernobyl on us at any minute.”
“I…” Mari shook her head and started to pull her hand away but Sterling held tight.
“A contract is an excellent idea,” he said. “It protects both of us. You don’t have to decide now. Talk to your mother, sleep on it and then we’ll talk. There’s no rush.”
“Yes, there is,” Jeremy said. “We’ve made a start but if you want me to get this in working condition we’ll be working overtime for a while. I’ll need her tomorrow.” He scooped up the discarded notepads, then stopped and tilted his head, before dropping them back on the counter. “Here. You don’t mind do you, Sterling? You’ll want to chaperone your little chick, here, anyway.” He turned to Mari. “You wouldn’t go to the hell pit I call a home anyway. So I’ll see you tomorrow bright and early. Like ten. Make that eleven. See you tomorrow, o captain my captain,” he saluted Sterling, “and don’t lose those.” He pointed to notepads, before turning and hieing off to where Anna and Lucia were sitting.
“Why do I feel like I’ve been slammed by an unstoppable force of nature,” Mari asked.
“He does take a little getting used to.” Sterling chuckled when she snorted. “But he’s an amazingly talented storyteller and the two of you work well together. Will you be here tomorrow?
Mari looked into his earnest blue eyes and couldn't help but nod.
“Terrific.” Sterling leaned in and gave her a big hug. “I’ll have your contract written up and ready before you leave tomorrow. You can take a few days to go over it and to give your boss your notice.”
“I feel like I’m about to step foot inside an insane asylum.”
“True,” he said. “But at least the inmates run it.”
“Are you sure Mom?” She glanced at Lucia before turning her attention back on the road.
“Of course I am,” Lucia responded. “This is an incredible opportunity for you, Cara, and I trust Anna. She’ll watch out for you when I’m not there.”
Mari smiled. “She’s pretty amazing. They all were, but this thing is still so unbelievable. Things like this don’t happen to people like us.” She pulled the car into their driveway and parked it, before leaning back on the seat.
“What do you mean, people like us?”
Mari’s eye twitched. She knew that tone from her mother. The best way to defuse the situation was to use brief sentences with certain key words, otherwise - boom! Her mother would go off on one of the ‘isms’.
“I just meant norm—”
“We are law-abiding, perfectly normal, everyday people. Why shouldn’t good things happen to us. Just because I wasn’t born in this country? Just because you and your brother are biracial? Because we aren’t rich? What’s people like us. There’s nothing wrong with us.” She yanked at the door handle and got out of the car.
“Ma! You know what I meant,” Mari said, following. “Things like this only happen in bad Lifetime movies or telenovelas which always end up with a stalker in a hockey mask carrying a machete.”
Lucia stopped in her tracks. “You had to go there? That only happened in one telenovela and the guy was actually a hockey player so it made sense.”
Mari crossed her arms and arched a brow, but she was fighting off a smile.
“Look, Cara, everyday people win the lotto all the time. Good things happen. Why not you?”
“I know, I guess. It’s just—” she stopped and stared at the windows. “Why are all the lights on? Noel usually crashes out when he’s done with work.”
Lucia shrugged and pulled her out her keys. With a quick twist she opened the door and stepped in, only to gasp in surprise, hand pressed tightly to her lips.
Mari rushed in. “Mom, what—” She turned the same time her mom pointed to the man slouched on the sofa. The slightly inhuman squeal that came out of her mouth was quickly silenced by her hand. “He’s here. How can he be here? Did you know about this?” she whispered furiously to her mother.
“Oh thank god, Cara. You see him, too, so he can’t be ghost or a hallucination, right? And shh, don’t wake him. He looks exhausted. Of course, I didn’t.” Lucia pursed her lips and blinked away tears.
Mari put her arms around her mother and hugged her tight. “He’s home, Ma. He’s here and he’s safe. I’ll go grab some blankets and pillows to make him comfortable until morning then we’ll squish him.” She turned but stopped short when a sleepy Noel came out of his room.
“Hey, you’re home,” he mumbled the words between yawns. “Did you have a good time with old man Chuck?”
“Don’t wake him!”
Noel looked at Lucia and Mari then at the slumped up Riley. “You two ain’t buying that big ol faker are you?” He yawned again and headed for the kitchen to grab some water. “We were totally watching the movie when I decided to finally change into something more comfortable.” He wiggled his eyebrows and laughed. “But dude, I’m toast. I have got to get some sleep.”
Riley propped up his head on his hand. “Wimp. And they totally bought it.”
A high pitch shriek erupted from Mari’s mouth before she launched herself at Riley.
“God, girl,” Noel complained, “you'll wake up the dead.”
Mari bounced on the sofa and threw her arms around Riley, squeezing himtight. It had been so long since he’d been home and the last time had been too brief and worrisome so this time it didn’t mater how short this trip was going to be, she was going to spend it with her brother. A painful grunt broke through her elation and she quickly released him.
“You’re hurt? Where?” She started to gently pat the chest she had been squeezing like an anaconda.
Lucia came around the sofa and sat on the coffee table in front of them, grabbing Riley’s hand. “You got hurt, filho? Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t the Army tell us?”
“You owe me ten bucks, dude,” Noel said from the kitchen. “I said you wouldn’t last five minutes trying to hide anything from the ahmazing Stratten women.”
Riley snorted. “Kiss ass.” He held on tight to Lucia’s hand and grabbed Mari’s. “I got hurt. I was in the hospital for a while, but I’m much better now and I’m home.”
“For how long?” Mari asked.
“A funny thing happened on the way to the combat zone,” Riley started, then shrugged. “I’m officially separated.”
“What does that mean?” Lucia asked.
“I’m home,” Riley answered. “For good.”
“But why?” Mari asked. “Not that I mind, but why?”
“I can’t do my job anymore—”
“Because of the injury?” Riley nodded slowly. “But Rangers get injured all the time.” She stopped and really looked at him. There were dark circles under his eyes and the overall specter of exhaustion clung to him like a wet leaf on pavement. He smiled but it never reached his eyes. That was when she knew he was lying. There was more to his sudden and permanent return home, but she couldn’t call him on it. Not with their mom in the room. “Well, whatever. There loss. I’m glad you're home.”
“Me, too.” Lucia leaned over to him, kissing his forehead. “What are you going to do now? Have you made any plans?
“Ma! Can you give me a day or so to enjoy my non-Army life? Or are you kicking me out already?”
Lucia huffed and playfully slapped at him. “You know what I mean and of course you can stay.”
“Great,” he said with a wink and a smile, then turned to Mari. “How about those pillows and blankets?”
“Yeah, I’ll get them for me,” Noel said, “and you can take my old you room.” He moved into the hallway and grabbed what he wanted from the supply closet.
“No, it’s okay,” Mari said, hurrying to Noel. The last thing she wanted was for him to feel he was being discarded just because Riley was home. Noel had been through that enough with his family. “Take my room and I’ll sleep with Mom.”
“Whoa, there Nelly,” Riley started. “There’s no need for everyone to play musical beds. This sofa and I have good memories together. I’m fine here.”
“Are you sure? I can—”
“Cara, stop! He has a mother,” Lucia scolded. She cupped his face and smiled warmly. “Get some sleep and we’ll talk tomorrow.” She turned to Mari and Noel. “All of us need sleep. We’ll catch up tomorrow and Mari can tell you all about her new job.”
“Wait,” Noel started, “what new job? What aren’t you telling me? Tell me now!”
Mari opened her mouth, but Lucia held up her hand. “No! Bed. Sleep. Now. Tomorrow we’ll share and plan and seer were all of this is going.”
“Well,” Noel pointed out, “tomorrow is already today so why put it off? Besides, you know I love gossip.” He turned to Mari. “If you’re leaving Papa Joe, he’s totally going to freak.”
Lucia grabbed the blankets from Noel’s arms and gave them to Riley, then pushed Mari and Noel down the hall. “Bed, children. Besides,” she told Noel, “she’s delirious and can barely tell which way is up.”
Mari stopped. “I’m just afraid if I go to sleep, this whole thing will have been a dream and waking up will suck hard.”
“Ooh,” Noel’s eye’s widened, “was it that good. Then you have to tell me. It’s a guy, right? Hot? Sex on a stick?”
Mari couldn’t help but think of Patrick Westfield because he definitely fit that description. He’d made her heart skip a beat or twelve and at least for a few minutes he had made her feel sexy and cool. If nothing else, there was plenty of fodder to fuel her battery induced fantasies.
“Sex on a stick? Where do you kids come up with that?” Lucia shook her head. “No sex period. Ever, in fact. All of you will remain untouched and unsoiled.”
“Unsoiled? Really, Ma.” Riley bit off a laugh. “That’s a good one.”
“Including, you!” She said. “Now don’t ever let me hear about sex and any of you again, because there is not enough therapy in the world to help me heal that trauma.” She shuddered. “Now, off. Tomorrow is a brand new day.”
... DAH DA DA DA DA DUM DUM, DAH DA DA DA DA DUM DUM …
“You aren’t actually going to get that now, are you?” The blonde asked Dave Farley when he stopped kissing her.
“Let it ring.” The brunette said making a grab for his shoulders when he slid out from between them.
“Sorry, ladies. This is how my bread gets buttered.”
“Aren’t you an actor?”
Dave looked at the confused women. Well, women in the most general sense of the word as in being female. They were barely out of school or barely in college. He forgot which, but at least they were legal. He’d made sure of that. He took a second to admire the naked, nubile bodies. It was what he was in the mood for tonight and it helped his reputation to no end to have the sleazy paps take tons of pictures of the three of them leaving the club. The girls had loved the attention. In the end they’d served their purpose, but sometimes, he wished they were a bit smarter. He snorted at the errant thought.
Who was he kidding? Smarter was dangerous and conversations were overrated. The point of this was just a quick, entertaining fuck and then he’d send them on their way with his agent’s card. Anything more meaningful was just stupid, especially at his point of his career, but next time he was going to hold out for someone who’d at least understand idioms when they heard them.
“This is about money, ladies. My money.” He grabbed his phone. “What’s up, boss?”
“Took you long enough,” Robert Barker said. “I don’t like to be kept waiting.”
Dave leaned back on the dresser, naked as the day he was born and winked at the women. He motioned for them to continue, “Go ahead and enjoy yourselves. I like to watch, too.”
“I bet you do,” the brunette said, then leaned in towards the blonde, capturing her mouth.
“You did make sure they were legal, right?”
Dave stopped fondling his cock mid stroke. There was just something about Barker’s voice that was deflating despite the incredibly hot visual. “Ladies, could you tell my boss here that you’re legal?” He held out his phone.
Dave smiled at the girls and motioned them to continue. Maybe the sight of two hot young babes satisfying each other would get him back in the game.
“At least this time they’re women.”
“What can I say, I’m an equal opportunist.”
“Don’t let the press get wind of that or you’re career is over.”
Nope. It was really going to take a miracle for his cock to want to play again.
“What do you want, Barker. I’m busy.”
“What happened at Sterling’s tonight?”
Dave pulled the phone away from his ear and glared at it. “How the hell should I know. I wasn’t there.”
“Then find out.”
“Don’t you have errand boy’s to do your dirty work?”
There was a pause on the other end and Dave could actually feel Barker smile. Which was really creepy because anytime Barker smiled it reminded Dave of that movie when the shark smiled.
“And you’re my head errand boy. Find out who was there and what Sterling is planning.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to rat out Patrick, but for something changed his mind in the last minute. It wasn’t loyalty to Patrick. It was more hatred for Barker. Pompous, overbearing prick.
“How am I supposed to do that? I’m not exactly Sterling’s favorite. You made sure of that.”
“Charm someone or blow them. It’s what you’re good at. Just make sure you get me something useful or you’ll find yourself back on that second rate cable soap opera.”
Dave hit the mute button on his phone and put it on the dresser. He watched the girls still going at it, but his heart wasn’t in it. He really needed to get out from Barker’s thumb, but that wasn’t going to happen tonight. He started stroking his cock again. He wasn’t in the mood to play bad boy Lothario, but he didn’t have much a choice. On the other hand, he was an actor and this was a familiar role.
Mari waited an hour just to be sure before opening her door. The house was quiet, as it should be since it was almost two a.m. She glanced down the dark hallway, then tiptoed towards Noel’s room. With a slow twist, his door opened without a sound. Of course, the half can of WD40 they had used on their doors probably had a lot to do with the newfound silence of the door hinges.
“I was about to give you five more minutes before coming over to smother you if you were actually asleep,” Noel whispered. He sat up and patted his bed. “Now spill and this better be earth shattering for me to lose sleep over.”
Mari closed the door and hopped on the bed. “Okay, so you remember the charming old rogue I told you about?” He nodded and waved his impatiently. “Turns out it was Sterling Mitchell.”
Noel nodded enthusiastically, then stopped. “Who?”
“Huh?” But he smiled. “That science fiction show of yours. Yes, I know that but only because you don’t let me forget it.”
Mari glared, then sighed before telling him all about Sterling and Jeremy and the whole night with one teensy little exception.
“Holy shit!” He leaned over and pinched the fleshy part of arm hard.
“Ow. What was that for for,” she complained rubbing her arm.
“I just wanted to make sure this wasn’t a dream.” He leaned back on the pillows, his hands cupped behind his back. “This is better than sex on a stick guy. You are going to become famous and I’m going be part of your entourage. You have to promise to take me to the Oscar’s with you. I am so going to rock the red carpet.”
She smacked his leg. “You dork. Writers don’t become famous. That’s actors and skinny ass pretty girls who become models.”
“Eh,” he shrugged, “you’re not bad for a girl. If I was straight, I’d probably be into you.” His head tilted and eyes narrowed. “Except now I know you and you’re family which makes you that hot second cousin just out of reach.”
She ignored him. “Besides, you have no idea if I can even manage to keep this job. I might crash and burn the first day and make a total ass of myself.”
“Get over yourself, negative Nelly,” he scolded. “You've never blown anything in your life.” His eyes narrowed. “Or anyone, right?” She glared. He shrugged. “Just checking and remember when you do finally blow a dude, go easy on the teeth because that can really freak us out.”
“Thanks for the advice, Dr. Ruth. I haven’t blown anything because as you so eloquently put it, I haven’t done anything or anyone. But I’m so out of my league here with these writers it’s not even funny.”
“This is a chance of a lifetime and so what if you crash and burn. At least you tried. Why do we fall, Mari?”
“Seriously? You’re quoting Batman now? Isn’t that copyrighted?”
“His father. At least get it right and who cares, it’s the point that counts.” He leaned forward and wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. “Even if you never make it to the Oscars, this is kick ass awesome. So much better than any sex on a stick dude.”
Mari bit her lip and dropped her gaze to the floor. “Well…”
“Wait, there was a sex on a stick dude? JFC! Who do I need to blow to get your luck?” He arched his brow and waited for her to spill more details, then snapped his fingers when she remained silent. “Who was it? Don’t make me tickle torture you.”
Noel whistled. “That man is all kinds of fine.”
“Wait, you don’t remember the show but you remember Westfield?”
“Sweetie, I always remember the fuck able actors. So spill. Is he as hot in person?”
Mari shrugged and looked down at her nails, then squealed when Noel lightly ran his fingers down her foot.
“No! I’ll talk. I’ll talk.” She laughed.
“You are so easy.”
“He’s hotter in person.”
“I knew it.” He clapped his hands together and waved his fists in glee. “Did you remember to be a normal girl and talk to him? Dare I hope, you remembered to flirt, even a little bit?”
“Maybe a little,” she confessed. “He was really sweet and flirty, but I think it was just because he was being nice since Chuck is his boss.”
Noel wiped a non-existent tear from his eyes. “They grow up so fast.” Then he slapped her leg. “Darling, he’s a single, straight man. I’m sure he wasn’t being nice to you because of his boss.”
Mari shrugged. “For a brief second or two, when we were alone in the office, I really thought he was flirting and that there was a connection but..”She shrugged again.
“Quit shrugging. You’re going to get shoulder wrinkles. You guys were alone?”
“There’s no such thing!”
“Yes, there is. I saw it on Oprah. You guys were alone for a while?” He looked at her carefully. “What did you expect? That he’d push you against the wall and ravage you?”
Mari remembered the feel of Patrick's gaze on her body. In her fantasy world, he would have been overcome with lust by her beauty and wit and would have done exactly that; ravaged her against the bookshelves. Kissed her until her eyes crossed, made her scream in ecstasy until she was hoarse and fucked her blind.
The reality of sex against bookshelves for the first time with a stranger, in someone else’s house, with her mother just a few feet away never entered her fantasy world because dammit it was her fantasy and she was going to enjoy it without those pesky reality details getting in the way.
“Sweetie, you need to stop watching late night Cinemax. Real sex isn't like that. It’s usually manic groping in the back of some old Chevy and over in thirty seconds. Forty five if you don’t have to worry about campus security.”
Mari laughed. “Oh god, that’s rather awful. Did that really happen to you?”
“The first time is just weird period. Don’t rush punching your v-card just to get it over with. Wait until it’s someone you really trust because then it will make a world of difference.”
Mari reached over and gave him a hug. “I’m sorry Steve moved.”
“Eh, it’s not like we were in love or anything,” Noel said. “We still exchange the occasional emails. He’s doing really good in Columbia. But my point is that with the right person, sex is pretty awesome. Even if it’s never going to end up being happily ever after.”
“With my luck, it will be unhappily never after,” she said. “Boys are kinda stupid and sloppily gropey.” She looked at him and cringed. “Present company excluded.”
“Boys are kinda stupid, but you’re also picky which is good especially in high school but college is not so bad. What you want is an experienced love with a capital L. Maybe you can seduce Patrick Westfield.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
“Right,” she said. “I’ll have sex with him when hell freezes over or he’s bludgeoned with the stupid stick.”