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His irresistible charm brings sparkle to her mundane existence. She offers him hope and healing. So when Hollywood heartthrob Jack Harrington marries girl-next-door Grace Winslowe, the scene is set for a picture-perfect romance. But as tabloid biographer Jada Eastman investigates the golden couple, painful secrets emerge that threaten to bring down the curtain on their future. Will love survive both Tinseltown and the truth?
Some Decisions Change Your Day. Some Will Change Your Life.
While the headlines screamed “Hollywood Heartthrob Marries Girl Next Door,” the public relationship of Jack Harrington and Grace Winslowe never revealed the private struggles that threatened to pull them apart–and when celebrity biographer Jada Eastman starts digging, she discovers that there's more to this couple than anyone could guess.
Their relationship began like a scene from one of Jack's movies. Leaving behind a dead-end relationship and the bitter Chicago winter, Grace had moved to Southern California to start a new life. Meanwhile, Jack had established himself as an up-and-comer with considerable acting talent, and a private heartache. When a fateful accident pulled the two of them together, they couldn't avoid their initial attraction or the vast differences in their values and lifestyles.
Now, against the backdrop of Beverly Hills and the 24/7 nature of the entertainment world, Jada grapples with her own beliefs as she encounters the spiritual chasm of this famous couple. Can Grace and Jack face the consequences of their own personal histories–and can the biographer avoid being affected? As the three of them examine the couple's bittersweet story, it becomes clear that everyday decisions can carry lifetime consequences when individual worlds collide.
Alison Strobel is a novelist and former elementary educator. Her father, bestselling and award-winning author Lee Strobel, instilled her with a love of stories at a young age. Alison and her husband live in California.
I've always been a firm believer that celebrities are just like the rest of us. I've had my fair share of star encounters, and for the most part I was never that impressed. But even I have my weaknesses, and Jack Harrington has always been one of them.
He first became popular when I was in high school. When I practiced my interviewing skills in the mirror as I dressed for school, Jack Harrington was always my subject. “Mr. Harrington,” I would say in my best no-nonsense reporter voice, which I'd been cultivating through my position on our school's newspaper, “your new project is quite a departure from your previous work. Tell us what seduced you into taking such a controversial role.” I always imagined myself pinning him with my penetrating stare, silently daring him to bare his soul. I admit there was some melodrama in my imaginings; I had always been a love-story junky and hopeless romantic. Of course my fantasy would always end with Jack falling for me, Jada Eastman, the astute and charming reporter who had finally enticed him to explore his deeper, emotional side. Such excitement was hard to find on assignments for the Central High Herald.
I found myself in California after college, working as a fact checker for the entertainment department of the LA Times. I kept my writing skills honed by joining a writer's guild downtown, where I met a biographer who took me under her wing. She hired me to help her on her current project: the biography of a prominent director. This experience was invaluable, and it started my interest in writing life histories. She mentored me for the next three years before I finally got my big break: the opportunity to write an “instant book” on a Hollywood scandal.
It seemed like a smarmy thing to do at the time–two actors' lives were already ruined forever by the revelation of their secret affair and manipulation of various high-up producers and directors–but I'd learned over the past couple years that, to eventually get what you want, you had to temporarily take what you could get. I earned brownie points with the publishing company, though, when I broadened the book's coverage through a creative use of my old fact-finding contacts, and not long after the project was completed, I received a call for another book.
Sheer luck seemed to catapult me into the paths of some pretty famous people, and by the time I was thirty, I had written three biographies and assisted two celebrities in writing their memoirs. But these experiences shed light on sides of human nature I didn't really want to see. It was my job to get them to dump their stories, and I soon discovered the path to fame is paved with a lot of pain, both suffered and inflicted, and a lot of decadent and twisted living. Secrets kept hidden for decades would surface unexpectedly in the middle of an interview, as if the teller could no longer contain them. It was often obvious the story wasn't being told to be part of the biography, but just to ease the weight of the person's conscience. It was my job to sort the tellable from what was best kept hidden, to know what to reveal and what to return to the vault of memory. But all the information remained in my head, and I could never look at those people, or others like them, in the same way again. Disappointment in discovering the tarnish on the stars of Hollywood left me with a marked disdain for celebrity and fame, and though I continued to accept work from them, I developed a resentment toward them that slowly ate away at me and left me jaded.
It was in the depths of this cynicism that I received the call from Jack Harrington's assistant asking me if I would consider helping him and his wife tell their story.
Now, you have to understand that even though I had come to pretty much despise celebrities, Jack still held a special place in my heart. The tragedy of his girlfriend's death, the storybook quality of his marriage–they saved him from the disapproval I harbored toward his colleagues. Plus there were rumors floating around about an illness, as well as some spiritual fanaticism, which made me all the more curious about him. Not that rumors carried much weight with me. I'd heard too many and seen how few were true. But still, they fueled my interest. And of course, some schoolgirl crushes just refuse to go away. I accepted the invitation to meet with the Harringtons and discuss the project.
I didn't know much, just the same stuff everyone else did: his start in television, his girlfriend's death, his social activism, the truly Hollywood-like events that led to his marriage, and his absence from the public eye for nearly five years. But I'd also heard stories recently that linked him and his wife with what sounded to me like some religious cult. I hoped my childhood crush wouldn't turn out to be a wild-eyed groupie of some self-proclaimed prophet of the God of who-knows-what. I was tired of interviewing people who gave me even more reason to hope Hollywood would someday meet a catastrophic end.
When I first met Jack and Grace at their home in Pasadena, Jack had only just begun to show signs of the illness I'd heard rumors about. His wife, Grace, whom I'd tried not to loathe before even meeting her (how was he going to fall for me if she was there?), exuded a warmth and authenticity that, I had to admit, drew me in at once; I understood immediately how one of Hollywood's brightest stars could have so easily turned his back on the pretense and shallowness of so many industry women to marry a “commoner.”
Their daughter, Bree, just a few weeks past her seventh birthday, had her father's extroverted charm and intense blue eyes, along with her mother's kindness and even-keeled personality. Her kindergarten art hung everywhere in the house, having been given the treatment usually reserved for original Picassos. Within a few minutes of my arrival I was pulled along on a tour of her work by the young artist herself.
I'd been there over an hour before Jack, Grace, and I finally sat down to talk about the book. I steeled myself for in-your-face zealousness, televangelist fervor and sheen, but instead I found myself drawn to this down-to-earth couple who neither took lightly nor exploited the influence they had. So far they were what I'd hoped they would be, yet I had a hard time believing they wouldn't eventually turn out to be die-hard religious nuts. I wondered how long they could keep up their facade of normality during our conversation. Despite my hopes, I was convinced this type of kindness and guilelessness would never last; they would probably try to lull me into a false sense of security so they could suck me into their cult. I found myself warming to the thought of exposing them through my hard-nosed research and reporting. The schoolgirl crush was finally fading. My interest was piqued.
I'm the kind of person who can't resist a challenge, and to me their charm and easy conversation were the throwing down of the gauntlet. I accepted the job then and there, signing on to write the story of a couple whose romance and lifestyle were already the stuff of legend in their corner of the world. I broke out the minirecorder and, over the next six months, became like a fourth member of the Harrington family. We'd sit together in the living room, on the deck, or in the kitchen–wherever they felt like being at that moment–and I would listen to their stories.
More fascinating, though, was the way they listened to each other's side of the story, as if they'd never heard it before. Watching them together became an education in intimacy: their undivided attention to each other, their respect for each other's version of events, her unobtrusive actions to make him more comfortable as the illness wore him down over the following months, and his tender gestures of unabashed love for her and Bree. I worked hard to keep myself from falling in love with these people, but it didn't take long to realize it was impossible.
I didn't know it at the time, and I don't always like to admit it now, but this job eventually changed me–my views, my beliefs, my life.
There is one particular morning that seems like a good place to start my side of the story. I was awakened by keys being fumbled into the lock on the front door of my apartment. Still half asleep, I rolled to face the nightstand, where the clock glowed some way-too-early time. The front door creaked as it was finally opened, and I jumped when it slammed a second later. The drunken shuffle of Dylan's feet through the living room was all the warning I needed; in a heartbeat I had the shower running and the bathroom door locked safely behind me. I watched the second hand on my Seiko make its rotational trip–once, twice, three times, four times, five–before I finally opened the door to find Dylan sprawled on the bed–shoes, clothes, and all–passed out cold.
Dylan was my boyfriend at the time. We'd been friends in college and settled in the same area after graduation, which is when we really hooked up. After a few months of serious dating he moved in with me, not because our relationship was so deep, but because rent was killing me and I was lonely without a roommate. Our relationship progressed down a weird road where we were comfortable together but not really in love: a relationship of convenience. There were occasional times of mushy affection, and they were nice while they lasted, but even so they seemed a bit contrived, like we needed to indulge in them now and then to make it seem as though our relationship was really going somewhere.
But lately things had been off-kilter with him. He was distant, preoccupied. Where we had once shared the responsibility of keeping our place presentable, now he was shirking his roommate duties and leaving me with all the grunt work. The biggest change, though, was in his sudden attraction to alcohol. He had never been a big drinker, but he went from having one or two beers a week to having enough to render him disgustingly drunk on a frequent basis, and then coming home sometime around dawn. I didn't appreciate sharing a bed with someone who smelled as though he'd gone swimming in Guinness, and I appreciated even less his drunken advances; thankfully, I was usually awake in time to hide out in the bathroom until he had passed out on the bed.
On this particular morning, I arrived at work about an hour after awaking to Dylan's stumbling entrance, bearing my usual breakfast from the café down the street. On my desk was a small stack of invoices left from the day before–data entry was one of the many dull facets of my job–but I ignored them as I ate, polishing off my donuts and tea with ritualistic devotion.
Dana, my cubicle-mate, showed up around nine with more donuts. She was younger than me, only twenty-two, and just out of college with an oh-so-marketable degree in Italian Renaissance Music. She was working here while she figured out what to do with her life–like the rest of us. “Happy Monday, my friend!” she sang. “And how was your weekend with Dylan, the king of charm?”
I laughed around a mouthful of donut. “Oh, just grand. Cleaned the castle–by myself, you know, since these days the king himself barely stoops to tie his own shoe, much less pick up his own trash.” Dana laughed. “Leftovers for dinner–twice–and the big, comfy bed all to myself since he didn't come home until past five a.m. both nights.”
Dana's face fell as the fun left the conversation. I hated to bring it down, but I didn't want to lie, either. The whole thing was really ticking me off, and Dana was the only one to talk to. “Oh, Grace. Where was he?”
I shrugged and rolled my eyes as I polished off the dregs of my tea. “Beats me. I didn't ask. I'm getting sick of his excuses. He was drunk as a sailor this morning, and I couldn't bear the thought of him breathing beer down my throat, so I got in the shower before he even made it to the bedroom.” I didn't bother mentioning how rough he had been Saturday morning; I didn't want Dana to think it was worse than it was. I knew perfectly well this relationship was heading downhill; I didn't need anyone quoting battered-women statistics to talk me into ending it. I just needed some time to figure out what to do with myself.
The day passed as it usually did: work interspersed with the occasional game of Free Cell, vending-machine lunch, idle chat with Dana, and switching off my computer at four. “I wish I had the energy to get here as early as you do,” Dana pouted. “I was ready to go home an hour ago, and I still have an hour left.”
“Aw, poor baby, you have my sympathy,” I cooed. Dana swatted at me and chuckled as I stepped out of the cube. “See you bright and early tomorrow.”
I walked out to my car, realizing the last thing I wanted to do was to go home. I didn't particularly want to see Dylan, because he had been unpredictable the last few weeks, and I did not deal well with unpredictability. So I drove instead to the Barnes & Noble down the street.
I bought a mint hot chocolate and settled at a table in the café with a Newsweek. As a rule, I never watched the news on TV or read the newspaper; it always depressed me, and I knew anything really important would make its way to me eventually through conversation or rioting mobs. But every now and then I would check in on the world, and the safe, cozy environment of the bookstore café seemed a good place to do it.
I sipped my cocoa, reading every article except the ones on politics, which never interested me under any circumstances. Toward the back was an article on national housing trends. I scanned statistics on popu-lation flux and other dull subjects until reaching one which stated that more people moved to California last year than to any other state in the union. I had never been to California, but the article made me wish I had. It was in the seventies in Southern California right now, and here I was drinking hot chocolate and scraping frost off of my windshield in the mornings before work. Unfortunately, it sounded like the cost of living was way more expensive than I would have ever guessed; I wondered briefly what a job like mine was worth out there.
After finishing the magazine, I returned it to the rack and wandered the aisles of the store. I loved reading, but I hadn't been doing much of it lately. A display in the center of the main aisle held a number of books that looked good, and I made a note of some of the titles for later.
My stomach rumbled audibly; apparently it was time for dinner. I made my way back to my car, pulling my coat tighter against the bitter wind. I hated winter. I'd grown up here in Chicago and endured nearly twenty-five bitterly cold seasons, and every year I wondered how much longer I could put up with window scraping and ginger walks over icy sidewalks.
On the way home I swung by the library and ran in to check out a couple of the books I'd seen at the bookstore. As I drove home I mentally planned the evening: make a quick dinner, then change into my pajamas and curl up on the couch with a book and another hot chocolate. Then I pulled into my space in the parking lot and saw Dylan's truck. It was the first time in weeks he'd been home early. It made my stomach drop.
This knee-jerk reaction angered me. How dare he cause me to feel like this? He was supposed to love me, or at least act like he liked me. Even if we knew things weren't really going anywhere, that wasn't an excuse to act like a jerk. If he wanted to break up with me, then fine, do it, but don't put me through this emotional turmoil. This was my place, it was my furniture inside–I was letting him live there because we were committed to each other, but if he wasn't going to act committed, then he could just pack up and get out. In a sudden and uncharacteristic fit of assertiveness, I decided to tell him as much.
Having worked myself up into a strong and righteous indignation, I gathered my books and marched up to the apartment. As I ascended the stairs I went over the various ways he might respond: ignore me or pretend nothing had happened, yell at me for something he had no business yelling at me about, plead for me to forgive him, and so on. For each of them I came up with a response that would show him I was not one to be kicked around. In fact, I marveled that I even had to do this; we were a good couple. Granted, he did some things that drove me mad, but I was sure there were things about me that irritated him too. But there wasn't anything we couldn't work out. We just needed to spend some time together, to sit down and talk about how weird things had been lately and why, and figure out what we could do to fix them.
I reached the apartment and, with a final deep breath and squaring of the shoulders, opened the door and went in.
Three plain brown boxes sat in the middle of the living room. What had he bought? I closed the door behind me and set the books on the entry table before shrugging off my jacket. “Dylan?”
I heard him curse softly from the bedroom. “Back here,” he barked. I had started toward the bedroom when he appeared with a fourth box in his arms. He set it atop one of the others, deliberately avoiding my eyes, and then grabbed his jacket from the back of one of the kitchen chairs.
“Finally getting rid of some stuff?” I asked. It was the only explanation I could think of, that he'd gotten around to going through his side of the closet and his boxes in the storage closet on the balcony, something he'd promised to do for months.
He zipped up the leather bomber he'd been wearing since we'd met and hefted one of the boxes, still not meeting my gaze. “No. I'm moving out.”
I blinked. I blinked again. Then I remembered to breathe, and eventually I remembered how to speak, but by that time he was out the door with the first of the four boxes. I stood in place, not knowing where to move to, and watched silently as a few minutes later he returned and took down the second box, then the third, then the fourth. Then he didn't come back up. I finally stumbled to the balcony and walked out to the railing, staring over to the parking lot. I saw my car, its windshield already frosted, and the empty space next to it, a rectangle of blacktop stark against the snow where his car had sheltered it since that morning.
I stood with the door open behind me, staring down at his vacated parking space for ten minutes before noticing how cold it was. I went back inside, sliding the balcony door closed and locking it behind me, a habit Dylan had always mocked since no one could get up there from the parking lot anyway.
I walked to the bedroom and changed out of my khakis and blouse, dropping them onto the floor, and pulled on my pajamas. My stomach was grumbling even more loudly, but I didn't want to eat. I didn't really want to do anything. Even so, I walked back to the living room, locked the front door and turned off the lights, then picked up one of the library books from the entry table and walked back to the bedroom. I lay down in bed, pulled the comforter up to my chin, and opened the book, but after staring at the page and not comprehending a single word, I dropped it to the floor. Out of habit I set the alarm and turned out the light, and only then, enveloped in darkness, with the scent of Dylan's cologne emanating from his side of the bed, did I cry. My shoulders shook, and my throat constricted and ached; I felt like I was choking. He had left his pillow, because it was mine, really, and not his, and I curled myself around it, squeezing the life out of it, demanding that it tell me why he left. I realized then how much I'd grown to love him.
“What a jerk!” I exclaim with more force than necessary. Her experience echoes one of my own just a little too close for comfort. “Did you ever hear from him again?”
Grace laughs and shakes her head. “No, and good riddance, frankly. But it was just what I needed, and God knew that even though I didn't. If he hadn't left I never would have moved, and coming to California was one of the best things I ever did. It never would have happened if Dylan had stuck around.”
I try to contain my sarcasm, but some leaks out despite my efforts. “What–God made your boyfriend wig out and get abusive?”
She shrugs. “I can't speak for what God will and won't claim responsibility for. But I know that He had a plan for me, and it required me to be here. Maybe something else would have brought me out, but how can we know what might have been?”
I cringe inside. There it is, that religious chalk-it-up-to-Providence crap I'd hoped so much not to encounter. So far she sounds more levelheaded than most religious people I've talked to, but that probably just means she's good at playing this game. I try not to let this count against her and ask her to continue.
It was hardly a restful night; sleep came in bouts. My alarm beeped me awake, and for three blissful seconds I was without the memory of the evening before. But then I rolled over and saw the empty space beside me, and everything came back in a wave so strong it nearly washed me off the bed. I felt as though I'd been hit by a truck; the last time I'd looked at the clock it had been 4:36. I didn't have any tears left, and there was a vacuum in the center of my body sucking at my insides.
I stayed in bed for a full ten minutes, trying to decide whether to go to work. What I really wanted to do was call someone and spill my guts, go through a box of tissues, and eat an entire box of Godiva chocolates. But then I realized I didn't have anyone to call, because Dylan had been the person I had spilled everything to.
Dana was the closest thing I had to a friend those days, and she'd be at work. And since I'd need as much money as I could get now that Dylan wasn't paying part of the rent, I knew I should probably go to work, too. Not the conclusion I'd been hoping to reach, but I was too responsible to do anything else. I pulled on my khakis–still on the floor from the night before–and a sweater lying crumpled on the floor of my closet. I threw on some makeup, but not enough to fix any of the damage that a sleepless night of crying had caused, and left.
I still beat everyone to the building, but instead of putting work off until after breakfast, I grabbed a bagel and dove into my in box. The last thing I wanted was downtime that would force me to think. I'd finished all the leftover invoices by the time Dana came in, but once she was there I let myself fall apart, and neither of us got anything done for an hour.
“He just left without saying anything?”
I shook my head, dabbing my eyes with a crumpled tissue. How much crying could one person do? “Nothing. He just moved all the boxes down, and I stood there staring at him like an idiot. I kept expecting him to say something, but he didn't.”
Dana sat back in her chair, shaking her head. “Where is he now? Did he tell you where he was going?”
“No, and I have no idea where to even look. Not that I would bother. I certainly don't want him around if he's going to be like that.”
“Absolutely; he's not worth the time it would take to even start thinking about where to look. It's his loss, honey; he doesn't de- serve you.”
Both of us were silent awhile, and after a few minutes I straightened in my chair and tossed away the tissue. “I've wasted way too much time on him already. Enough of this. I have work to do, you have work to do, so let's just work. Okay?”
Dana nodded, her face mirroring the resolve I had mustered. We turned to our computers, and until lunch neither of us spoke or played a single game of Free Cell. At lunch Dana invited me to join her and Carrie, another office girl, but I declined, saying I wasn't hungry (which was true, despite the fact that the hot chocolate at the bookstore had been the last thing I'd consumed) and that I wanted to get some more work done (which was a lie). The truth was I didn't want to stop focusing on something, because I knew the minute I did I would crumble again. So I worked like a woman possessed until quitting time, then got in the car and drove to the bookstore. I couldn't bear the thought of going back to the empty apartment.
I bought a hot chocolate and a sandwich, my hunger having finally caught up with me, and flipped idly through another magazine. I had chosen one on interior decorating because I'd decided on a whim to redo the apartment; I wanted nothing to stay the same and remind me of Dylan. The focus of that particular issue was on California homes. They looked so airy and open and bright and colorful–a sharp contrast to the gloominess outside the bookstore window. I loved the bright, warm colors and mountain views. I tried to imagine my apartment painted in Spanish yellow and sunset red, but it just didn't seem like it would fit.
I finished scouring the magazine for ideas and returned it to the rack after polishing off my drink. My mind felt unsettled, and as I drove home, I mulled over some half-thoughts that were starting to coalesce into a full-fledged idea. When I got home I was so preoccupied with what was running through my head that I wasn't disturbed at all by Dylan's absence. I made a quick dinner and planted myself at my laptop, scouring the Internet for the information I wanted until I hit a wall. I crawled into my pajamas and was asleep within seconds of getting into bed. I slept like a rock until my alarm went off the next morning.
For the first time in months I didn't beat everyone to the office. By the time I stumbled in I was actually looking forward to the day, thanks to the research I'd done the night before and the decision I'd made.
“California?” Dana was staring at me as though I'd grown another head. “You've got to be kidding! Why California? You'd have no job, no home–what would you do when you got off the plane?”
I leaned back in my chair and began to count off the reasons. “Look, I spent all night thinking about it. Number one: I hate this weather. I stopped enjoying snow once I outgrew sledding. It's nothing but a hassle, and it's depressing. Two: nothing is tying me down here. Three: no man to worry about, no family to be with. And four: this job isn't what I plan on doing with the rest of my life. I mean, come on, you'd leave too in a heartbeat if you had a better offer, right?”
Dana sighed and nodded, but she was far from convinced. Not that I blamed her. I was probably one of the most unadventurous, unexciting people ever born; packing up and moving across the country wasn't very me. “I'm just worried about you, that's all,” she finally confided. “You've had the week from hell, and anyone would tell you that making important decisions in the midst of an emotional crisis isn't the wisest course of action. I mean, shouldn't you wait till spring or something? Give yourself time to get over Dylan and look for a job and a place to live.”
“My lease is up in December; I'd never find a place to live for just three months! And I've got some contacts in Southern California that can help me with the details; it's not like I'd be totally on my own.” I was exaggerating this last bit just slightly; I had a contact, but I hadn't talked to him in years, and I had no guarantee he'd even be willing to help me. But at this point I was working just as hard at convincing myself as I was at convincing Dana, and I wasn't about to examine every little statement I made. I was building a good case so far; I didn't want to ruin it with reality.
“So what are you going to do, then? Hop off the plane, find this guy, and beg him to find you a job and a house?”
“Um…something like that.” Dana groaned, and I laughed. “I'm kidding! I'm going to write him, tell him I'm moving out there, and would he happen to have any advice as to where I ought to look for a place to live? And California is desperate for teachers, so I'd actually be able to use my college degree. Novel idea, eh?” I smirked wickedly at Dana; I took every chance I could to rub in the fact that I was at least marketable. I hadn't been in a classroom since my student teaching days, but I knew I could find a job if the market was as wide open as California's seemed to be. The Chicago suburbs were saturated with teachers; my only option had been Chicago public schools, and those kids would have eaten me alive.
Dana was silent for a minute before speaking again. “I'm not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?” She knew the answer as well as I. “Well…you'd better let me sleep on your couch when I come to visit, then.”
“Of course!” I laughed. “We'll hang out on the beach, drive into LA and Beverly Hills, and go celebrity hunting.” We snickered until one of the other administrators walked by and plopped two massive stacks of invoices on our desks, at which point we decided it would be best to earn our paychecks and get back to work.
My body may have been working, but my mind was sorting out details for my move. I had five weeks before I'd be homeless, which meant I had five weeks to get myself out to and successfully settled in California. I'd never made a major move like this before, and I didn't have the foggiest notion where to start planning, although getting the California end of things figured out seemed pretty crucial.
Over my lunch break I composed a letter to my “California contact,” Gary Rosebaum. He was supposedly my godfather, although our interactions over the years had had nothing to do with God. When my parents had divorced at the end of my high school years, he'd made me promise to come to him if I ever needed anything. I had a feeling he was just trying to make up for the fact that my father had pretty much abandoned us, but throughout college he sent birthday and Christmas cards, so I felt like I could at least ask him to help me find a roof to live under.
After posting the letter I jotted down the list swimming in my head: find a moving company, cancel next year's lease, polish up my résumé, let Mom know I was moving. I mentally winced at this last item; I hadn't talked to her in six months, because we'd argued over my “dead-end job and dead-end boyfriend” after I'd turned down a job in her firm. She'd never forgiven me for not going into law like her, and when I'd flat-out refused to work in her office, she'd exploded. I decided to tell her I had broken up with Dylan and not the other way around; I didn't want to endure the “I told you so” speech I was sure I'd get if I admitted he'd left me, which she said he'd do from the beginning. I hated it when she was right.
Dana returned from lunch and we chatted a bit as we worked. Having moved from Boston to Chicago, she had a bit more experience in the whole relocation thing, so she gave me some ideas of where to start. At the end of the day I went back to the bookstore, a habit I was beginning to enjoy, and browsed through the travel section looking at books on California. Gary lived in a small town in Southern California called Rancho Los Lagos; it seemed as good a place as any to start my search for employment, so I took down some notes of nearby town names, and then went home to spend the evening in front of my computer.
It didn't take long for my bubble to get close to bursting. California was way more expensive than Illinois. Moving in and of itself was more costly than I'd anticipated. But it was the thought of leaving the state I'd grown up in for a place I'd never even visited that was really starting to scare me.
Now, I am usually a smart girl. I tend to lean toward logic and reason when dealing with problems, and for the most part I have a lot of common sense. But there are times when, for no apparent reason, I make decisions that don't seem to make any sense at all. One might look at all the evidence I am faced with, and then look at my response, and think that I must not have studied the evidence to begin with. For instance, downing six mixed drinks in an hour on my twenty-first birthday after a full seven-course meal. Or staying with Dylan. I know what the logical choice is, but the fact is, I just don't care.
This proved to be one of those times. I threw caution to the frostbitten Chicago wind and dared fate to take me on. By the end of the night I had called my landlord, canceled my lease, and purchased my plane ticket to California. I was throwing myself into this decision and not looking back. California or bust.
Jack grins at his wife and snickers. “California or bust, eh? That's so Hollywood of you.”
Grace thwaps him on the arm as she rises from the sofa to pour more iced tea for Jack and me. “I have my fair share of melodramatic moments.”
“So you just left?” I am impressed with her moxie and tell her so.
She waves it off, and I fear more God talk. “Just one of those instances in life where–well, haven't you ever done something out of character and amazed yourself, only to find later it was one of the most life-changing decisions you'd ever made?”
I have to admit I had. My whole career is based on such a decision. “From Bedford, Virginia, to Los Angeles, California,” I confessed. “I'd never been out of the county before that move.”
“Aha! Then you know what I mean,” she says with a triumphant gleam in her eye. “And now look where you are.”
Look where I am, indeed. “And you, Jack?” I ask, trying to shift the focus from myself. I'm not used to having the interviewer-interviewee roles reversed. “Any out-of-character decisions that changed your life?”
He laughs. “One or two here or there,” he grins. “Although my journey out here was just a matter of time, and everyone knew it. Reily, Vermont, is hardly the home of theatre and film.”
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