I normally didn’t get this upset when a resident of the senior’s home I worked at passed away. It was expected and while it was sad, it had happened often enough that we’d all learned not to get too attached.
But Madelyne West had been more than just a resident to me.
The television flickered gently in the darkness of the living room, more a light to keep me company than anything else. I had the sound turned down, because my niece and nephew were sleeping down the hall and I didn't want to wake them on a school night. A commercial was showing at the moment, an animated toothbrush dancing gleefully with a tube of toothpaste.
"Lew, aren't you on the morning shift tomorrow?" my mother called gently to me.
"Yeah," I called back quietly.
The light coming from the arched doorway dimmed slightly and when I looked up, I found her watching me with sympathy. "
You don't have to go to the visitation if you think he'll be there."
I shook my head. "I'm going." I'd loved old Maddie, even after I'd stopped loving her grandson.
Oh, who was I kidding? I'd never stopped loving Micah West, not even after he'd dumped me for a career in Hollywood. I just hated him now too.
It was complicated.
Mom sighed and turned away, and moments later I heard her footsteps heading down the hall. She was probably going to bed. I should go to bed too.
At least get off the main floor of the house so that I wouldn't wake anyone up if I got stupid.
Wouldn’t be the first time.
I turned the television off and told myself I wouldn't hurry down to my little suite in the basement. But my feet had minds of their own and I was downstairs just in time to catch the end of the opening monologue of the late night talk show I'd been telling myself I didn't need to watch.
Mike’s was the first interview of the show.
Damn, he still looked good.
Around here, everyone knew why I wouldn't go see a Micah West movie. It was like local legend, sunk deep into the bones of the town. They all thought I was still mad at him.
They were half right.
Oh, I was mad all right, but it had worn down over time, like a rock in a river. And underneath it, the thing that still fed my anger and kept it simmering along, was the love I couldn't carve out of my heart, no matter how hard I tried.
But no, it wasn't so much that I was mad. I was afraid. Terrified that the anger I nursed, that kept me from collapsing under the rejection, would disappear if I saw him again. Heard his voice.
Woke those memories.
God, he was beautiful. The perfect Hollywood romantic lead. Dark hair, chiseled jaw, eyes you could fall into for days. He still looked like Mike from high school, but sharper, more polished. A new, improved Mike. I slumped on my bed and stared at the screen, mesmerized.
I couldn’t see him.
But I also couldn't miss Maddie's funeral. I wouldn't. She'd been a rock the past five years of my life, even more than my parents had been. She'd understood, in a way that my electrician dad and store manager mom couldn't.
But then, she'd been one of the big names when Hollywood itself was still only a little one.
I watched Mike being charming and funny, the devilish grin, the shape of his hands sparking off memories of how the feel of them against my skin had made me beg.
Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore and I turned the television off, then rolled over to bury my face in my pillows and scream until I cried, and then cry until I slept.
I got off the plane at the Longwood airport and went straight for the bathroom. Not that I needed to go. I was just going to lose my mind if I didn't get a few minutes out of sight of other people. Really, I loved my fans—they were my lifeblood and my bread and butter. But dammit, I was on my way home for my grandmother's funeral and I just needed to be alone in my head for a while. I needed to be Mike again for a while, not Micah West, ™. So I hit the bathroom and folded myself into a stall so I could just...sit, and let the pleasantly neutral smile on my face fade. I was tired. And scared. I hadn't been home since...
Since I'd been a fucking stupid, selfish asshole.
You can't hide in here all day.
With a sigh, I pushed myself to my feet and gave up the security of the stall. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I came out—I looked like shit, but that wasn't surprising. I was getting close to forty-eight hours without sleep and about half of that fighting back tears. Which started up again as soon as I thought about it, so I dropped my bag on the floor beside the sink and turned the water on, washing my hands and splashing some on my face to try to hide the evidence.
"Hey," said the guy washing his hands at the sink next to mine. "You're Micah West, aren't you?"
Shit. "Yes, I am." I grabbed a couple of paper towels and dried off before shaking the man's hand.
"I loved you in Two Days in Tripoli. You were fantastic."
"Thank you. I enjoyed that one." No I hadn't, but it had been work. And, I should feel a little grateful—it had been a breakout that no one had expected and that film's critical and financial success had led to me getting a bunch of other roles. Which had led to this—small talk in the men's bathroom at Longwood airport.
"So, what are you working on now?" he asked, all chatty now.
"Nothing at the moment." I'd told my agent to make it work, that I was going to take a couple of weeks off to be with my family. She hadn't been happy about it, but I'd made it stick. They could work around my scenes for two weeks—it had been done before for other actors. I didn’t mind working long days after to make up the time. "I'm on vacation."
“Yes, right, I heard about your grandmother. My condolences."
I smiled, working far too hard to make it not look as tired as I felt. "Thank you." And now to disengage and get out of this suddenly claustrophobic space. "I better go, someone's coming to pick me up."
"Oh, sure, sure," the man said.
I made it as far as the door before the question I'd been dreading hit me from behind. "Hey, before you go, could I get a picture? No one's going to believe me."
My hand tightened on the handle of the bathroom door. I watched my knuckles go white and forced my hand to relax. "I'd rather not. I'm here for my grandmother's funeral." Then I rudely yanked the door open and made my escape out into the suddenly welcome noise of the crowd.
I found my mom waiting right at the end of the corridor and let her fold me into a tight hug with a feeling of relief.
"Mike, it's so good to see you." She stroked my hair and let me hold onto her for as long as I needed. She'd always been good at knowing when what I was projecting on the outside wasn't what was going on inside.
"Hey, Ma," I said and surreptitiously wiped the tears from my eyes. "Thanks for coming to get me."
"I'm always your mother," she said with another hug. "No matter how big a name you are in Hollywood now."
That made me laugh—I really wasn’t all that big, but hopefully getting there. "Thanks." I glanced around and noticed that we were already attracting attention. "We should maybe go. I'm not in the mood to play the actor tonight."
She nodded. "I sent your father down to find your bag so we could go right out to the car." She put her arm around me and started leading me out of Arrivals and toward the front door. I could already see the headlines in the trash mags tomorrow—Devastated actor comes home to mourn dead starlet grandmother. Well, I hoped they got paid well for the pictures.
It felt weird, coming home. Sitting in the back seat of the family car, the familiar smells taking me back to my teenage years. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the headrest.
"I set your old bedroom up for you," Mom said. "There's leftover Chinese in the fridge if you're hungry."
"Thanks. I'll probably go right to bed. It's been crazy." Not that I thought I'd sleep anyway, but I could at least rest. Let my body relax a little. My brain certainly wouldn't.
The memory of my last conversation with my grandmother kept cycling through my thoughts. I promise you, Grandma, I'll come home to visit next week. I just need to finish post prod and do a couple of appearances, then I'm going to take a few days to visit my favorite starlet ever. I almost snorted in disgust at my own selfishness. I could have moved that schedule around, made a couple of days to get home to see her. She didn't often ask me for anything. Never asked me to do anything that would keep me from working—she knew the business.
I should have known when she called that night and complained, in a way that was entirely out of character for her, that she hadn't seen me in ages and could I please come to visit her soon? She'd been so insistent, like somehow, she'd known what was coming, and I'd put her off like the self-centered young idiot I was.
The sound of the trunk opening made me sit up, and then Dad slammed it closed and came around to get in the driver's side of the car. "It's good to see you, Mike."
"You too, Dad."
Dad started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. "Saw you on the talk show last night. You sure that was a good idea?"
"Graham," Mom said in a tone of warning.
"What? I'm just saying that it didn't look respectful, his Grandma just passed and he's on TV talking and joking?"
"I didn't know, Dad. I didn't get your voicemail until after the show. It was filmed a couple of days ago." Like I wasn't feeling guilty enough already. But Dad had never quite forgiven me for Lew.
Of course, I hadn't quite forgiven myself for that either. Which didn’t make this any easier. But maybe I deserved it—after all, I’d blown off my grandmother for my career in Hollywood, and the omega I was supposed to have loved, I had dumped because the optics of big Hollywood star with small town omega didn’t fly. I couldn’t really tell myself anymore that I hadn’t been an asshole when I’d broken off my engagement to chase the spotlight a little harder. Sure, it had been good for my career, but the last couple of days had made me realize that ambition had turned me into someone I didn’t much like.
Hardest of all, I still loved him.
There was nothing I could do to make it up to Grandma.
My eyes flicked up to the back of my Dad’s head. He and Lew had been close—I’d sometimes thought he liked my fiancé more than he liked me.
Maybe he had a point.
But would he help me try to make it up to Lew? At least apologize? I was going to have to eat a lot of humble pie, but I could get used to that. And maybe—damn, no. That was a stupid idea. I’d dumped him, in the cruelest way possible. There was no way he’d ever take me back.
I sighed and closed my eyes, wondering how I’d get through these next two weeks.