From Here to Home
By MARIE BOSTWICK
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP. Copyright © 2016 Marie Bostwick
All rights reserved.
People often remarked on Holly Silva's resemblance to her mother. Considering her line of work, it was a fortunate inheritance.
But what people usually failed to recognize was that her father's features were equally in evidence. She had his sharper jaw and dark brown eyes flecked with gold, and his generous eyebrows, which Holly dyed dark and tweezed into a wide arch, providing stark contrast to her blond hair and the ivory and pink complexion she shared with her mother. The melding of these parental traits came together in a face that was lovely, arresting, and slightly exotic, like a warrior princess from an ancient land. But because her father, an Argentinian actor turned independent film director, had died of a drug overdose before his daughter's third birthday, most of the people Holly met had either never known Cristian or forgotten what he'd looked like years before, so the similarities between them went largely unnoticed.
Holly was introspective, too, like he had been, and sensitive, had unusual insight into and empathy for the feelings of other people, but was surprisingly obtuse when it came to her own emotional state. And, like her father, Holly was unfailingly kind and well liked by almost everyone, yet she constantly worried that people did not, in fact, like her or that they would come to dislike her before long. Cristian had been just the same. She had his addictive personality as well. But food, and not heroin, was Holly's painkiller of choice.
Unlike Cristian, Holly had managed to control her addiction, losing more than seventy pounds in her last two years of high school, which explained why few noticed how much she looked like her mom, which is to say how beautiful she was, until she was almost eighteen years old.
Besides her mother's good looks and in spite of the anxieties she'd inherited from her father, Holly had a kind of spark, an energy that made her stand out from the crowd. She was genuinely interested in other people and cared about and for others, and that trait shone through in all she did. When Holly applauded for a contestant who'd just won a new car she'd never dreamed she could afford, she did it with all her heart, as excited for her as if she'd been the one getting a new set of wheels. When she put her arm around the shoulders of another who'd embarrassed himself by having just given a bonehead answer to an obvious question on national television, then said she was sorry while escorting him off the stage, she really was sorry. If the contestant started to cry, sometimes she did too.
There were five other models on the game show with Holly, yet she was the model people on the street were most likely to recognize and want to take a picture with. But coming home from the gym on a Saturday afternoon, dressed in yoga pants and a gray T-shirt, with no makeup and her shining blond hair in a ponytail, Holly Silva looked like any other single twenty-five-year-old enjoying the weekend.
She pulled up in front of a big Tudor-style house in the Beverly Grove section of West LA, set the parking brake of her Jeep, then jumped out the door, ran across the lawn, and bounded up the stairs to her apartment, trying to extend the metabolic impact of her morning workout.
Still puffing, she unlocked the door and entered, bending down to greet Calypso, her calico cat, before filling and then gulping down a glass of water. When she was done, she opened the door of the refrigerator and surveyed the contents. Calypso got up from where he was sitting on the floor and started winding around her ankles, emitting a series of chirruping half meows.
Holly tilted her head to one side. "What do you think? Leftover moo shu pork and pancakes? Or coconut Greek yogurt and a pear?"
Calypso chirruped and bumped his head against her calf. Holly looked down at him and reached for the container of leftover Chinese food.
"Good idea. Leftover moo shu — no pancake — for you. Yogurt for me."
By the time Holly sat down with her food, Calypso had already wolfed down his shredded pork and was looking for second helpings. He hopped lightly onto the sofa, butting Holly's hand with his head, trying to push his face into her bowl of yogurt.
Holly pushed him away with one hand and hugged the bowl to her chest. "Knock it off. I swear, you're a bottomless pit."
The cat gave her a disgusted look, jumped off the couch, and slunk off to pout under the coffee table. Holly's cell phone buzzed. She glanced at the screen before putting it to her ear.
"Amanda? I thought you were supposed to be in Beijing."
"En route," said Amanda Grimes, Holly's agent. "Changing planes in Seattle. I've only got a minute before they make me turn off my cell, so this has to be quick. Remember that infomercial job I booked you for a few months back?"
Two years in, the luster had worn off her game show gig. Though she appreciated the security of a regular paycheck, she couldn't see spending the rest of her life grinning into a camera as she held up boxes of dishwasher detergent or bottles of furniture oil.
She was bored, trapped, and unhappy. When Amanda asked what would make her happy, Holly wasn't sure. Sometimes she just wished she could wake up and be someone completely different, but she knew that kind of talk would just elicit an eye roll from Amanda, so she'd said, "Maybe ... a talk show host? Something where I could talk but wouldn't have to act?"
Amanda got her a job hosting an infomercial for a juice machine — one of those things that looks like a talk show but is really just a long commercial with frequent entreaties for viewers to order now. It didn't seem like an upward career move to Holly, but when she voiced her doubts, Amanda said, "Trust me, okay?" So Holly did.
Now, apparently, something had come of it.
"I booked the infomercial to get some decent video of you actually speaking," Amanda said. "I didn't say anything because I didn't want to get your hopes up, but I've been using the tape to pitch you for real talk and information shows. It was a long shot, but I figured we might get lucky."
Hearing the smile in Amanda's voice, Holly felt her breath catch in her throat. If Amanda was calling her en route to China with the results of a pitch that she'd been keeping secret, that could only mean ...
"And did we? Get lucky, I mean?"
"Maybe. Don't pop the champagne cork just yet. But if he likes you and things shake out the way I hope, it'd be an incredible break. You'd be the ... co-hosting ... House and ... Network. It's ... replacement ... but if ..."
Amanda's voice kept cutting in and out. Holly was getting only every third word, but enough to understand that, miraculously and unexpectedly, she was being considered as a co-host for a program on the House and Home Network, a national cable channel.
But what show? Before Holly could ask, Amanda's voice cut out completely. Holly pressed the phone closer to her ear. "Amanda? Can you hear me? Amanda?"
Apparently not. When the connection resumed a few seconds later, Amanda was speaking quickly and loudly, racing to finish the call before takeoff. "... issues, but that's my worry," Amanda said. "I'll work out the details with him. The only catch is, you've got to go out there to meet him on Monday."
"Jason Alvarez, the new VP for programming — or he will be, if the rumors about the reorganization are true. Don't say anything about that to anybody, okay? It's not supposed to be announced for a few weeks yet."
"But how am I ..."
"Somebody from the office is reserving a flight for you first thing Monday morning. They'll e-mail you the confirmation number."
Holly sat up straight on the couch. "Flight? To where? Amanda!" She held the phone directly in front of her mouth and shouted. "Amanda, what's the show?"
Amanda kept talking as though she didn't hear a word Holly said. "Listen, lovey, they closed the doors. I've gotta go. Call when you get to Texas, okay?"
"Texas? Amanda, do you ..."
The line went dead. Amanda would be unreachable for the next twenty hours.
Holly barked out a frustrated yelp and threw the phone across the sofa and into a pile of throw pillows, startling Calypso, who skittered out from under the coffee table and into the kitchen. Holly grabbed her phone again, tapping words into a search engine until she found what she was looking for.
She was already familiar with some of the programming at House and Home Network, which, not surprisingly, focused on home, gardening, cooking, and lifestyle shows, with an emphasis on do-it-yourselfing. Holly was a semi-regular viewer of Sizzle!, a cooking show hosted by a celebrity chef who was pretty sizzling himself. She'd also seen several episodes of Flippin' Fabulous, hosted by three attractive sisters in their mid-twenties to early thirties who renovated old houses and sold them for a tidy profit. Perusing the Web site, Holly learned that even though the network was headquartered in Los Angeles, many of the programs were filmed in Dallas. Holly guessed the production costs must be lower in Texas than in California.
The phone pinged to alert her to an incoming e-mail. There it was — a message from the network saying she was scheduled to meet with Jason Alvarez in their Dallas offices at one o'clock on Monday and that confirmations for her Monday flight were attached.
That was all.
Holly hit the "reply" button, asking for more information about what show she would be hosting and where it filmed. Within seconds, she got an out-of-office reply. The person who'd made her reservation was now on vacation and would not return until after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Great. Just great.
Now what was she supposed to do?
Holly put aside the phone, grabbed a throw pillow, and hugged it to her chest while chewing on her right thumbnail. Who could she talk to about the unsettling situation she found herself in? Who could help her understand all the up- and downsides to this potentially golden but still unconfirmed opportunity that was making her stomach clench and her head ache?
Only one person.
Holly picked up the phone but stopped mid-dial, remembering what day it was. Her mother wouldn't be home for hours. But Holly knew where to find her.
Mary Dell Templeton voluntarily ended her short-lived career as a beauty queen at the age of thirteen, but like so many true daughters of the Lone Star State, she was still a devoted fan of pageants.
She loved the sparkle of them, the hot lights and rhinestones, the Lippizaner-like dance numbers with scores of grinning girls prancing and wheeling around the stage surrounded by plenty of flags and flash and shot at multiple camera angles to disguise the fact at least half of the contestants had never taken a dance class. But more than all that, Mary Dell loved the possibilities of pageants, the fact that on any given day any one of those girls — even those from the tiniest, most no-account, underdog towns that nobody had ever heard of — might suddenly have the best day of her life and, illuminated by an unprecedented and unexpected spark, shine as she never had before and, at the end of the night, be crowned the Queen of Everything.
That was what made pageants so exciting. Because you never knew what might happen or who might come out on top.
Of course, the downside was that the reign of a Queen of Everything was so short, limited to a single, flashbulb-fast year. Once it was over, the queen had to yield her crown and scepter to a new monarch and get off the stage. That part was sad, and the sort of thing that had been on Mary Dell's mind lately, especially after spending the afternoon reading figures on the slipping viewership for Quintessential Quilting, the HHN-TV show she co-hosted with her son, Howard. Those ratings would definitely be a topic of discussion during her meeting with Gary Beatty, the head of programming, who was flying to Dallas from Los Angeles on Monday.
It was time to renew her contract — or not. Gary forwarded the ratings to her late on Friday afternoon deliberately, Mary Dell was sure, so she'd spend the whole weekend stewing over them, softening her up so he could get more favorable terms. Gary always had been a tough negotiator. Usually, Mary Dell enjoyed the battle, but this year she wondered if she was up to the task. Was it time to get herself an agent? Maybe. But she couldn't hire one before Monday. She'd have to go it alone.
A swell of applause came from the television as Miss Nebraska, who had given a flawless performance of a Brahms piano sonata, rose from the keyboard and sank into a graceful curtsy. Next, the camera turned to Rachel McEnroe, a singer/actress whose star had burned brilliantly in the nineties but who was now rarely seen aside from appearances doing color commentary for pageants and parades, as well as the occasional mouthwash commercial.
Miss McEnroe flashed a smile and informed the viewers that, after a few messages from the sponsors and a musical interlude by herself, it would be nearly time to announce the top ten finalists. "So stay tuned, America! We'll be right back!"
Mary Dell lowered the sound and slid her feet into a pair of black marabou slippers, the heels adding another three inches to her nearly six-foot frame.
"Where are you going?" Howard asked, turning toward his mother. "Rachel McEnroe is next. She's your favorite."
"I'm going to get a Dr Pepper. You want one?"
Howard shook his head. "You okay, Momma?"
Mary Dell hadn't said a word about her worries or emitted so much as a sigh, but Howard, always so empathetic, had picked up on her mood. Worry gave way to pleasure, as it always did when she looked at her son's face.
Nearly thirty years before, when the doctor informed her that her baby had Down syndrome, Mary Dell had fallen into a deep but temporary despair. If only she could have known then that Howard would grow up to be such a capable young man, unfailingly honest and kind, and possessing not an atom of guile or meanness but more than a usual share of artistic inclination, color sensitivity, and showmanship.
But who could have predicted that? When Howard was a baby, who could have seen what a bright light he would grow up to be? How he would change the world's perceptions about people with Down syndrome? And who could have foreseen how the gift of being Howard's mother would define and enrich her, bringing her unspeakable joy, boundless love, and completion, filling the empty places in her heart? She wouldn't be who she was without Howard.
It was like she always said: You never knew what might happen or who might come out on top. The sun rose anew every morning, and when it did, you might be about to have the best day of your life. Even on days when it was too dark to see clearly, there was a plan, and if you just kept going, you were bound to find it.
Those few words pretty much summed up Mary Dell's approach to life. It wasn't a complicated or particularly profound philosophy, but it had gotten her through some very dark times, including years of infertility, the shock of being told that her baby had Down syndrome, the heartbreak of being abandoned by her husband, career derailments, financial woes, and more.
In short, like Hamlet, Mary Dell had suffered the heartaches and "thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to," but unlike him, she had survived — perhaps because she was less philosophical and prone to introspection than the melancholy Dane. Through it all, Mary Dell endured, even when tragedies came on so relentlessly, one after another, as they had during that time she had named "the worst bad year."
In comparison to the worst bad year, her current career concerns were practically inconsequential. Things would work out in the end.
"I'm fine," she assured Howard. "I am a little worried about Miss Texas sliding off-key during her song," she said, "but I bet she made up points in the swimsuit competition. That girl has more curves than a Coke bottle."
Mary Dell tottered on feathered heels toward the door but was stopped by the sound of Howard's voice.
"Momma?" His question was strangely sharp, as though he had suddenly remembered something he'd been meaning to bring up for some time.
"Yes, baby? What is it?"
"Do I hafta ..." Howard's voice became an indecipherable mumble, which was unusual. Years of speech therapy had ensured that Howard could speak with clarity. The only times he lapsed into mumbling was when he was ill, overtired, or upset.
Mary Dell frowned, examining his face to see if he looked pale or flushed, ultimately concluding that he must be tired. It was getting late. (Continues...)
Excerpted from From Here to Home by MARIE BOSTWICK. Copyright © 2016 Marie Bostwick. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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