Eye of the Storm
“Ooh, ooh, Taryn, turn it up!” Marie pointed frantically in the air while making a gin and tonic with her other hand.
Her sudden excitement caught me off-guard and made me jump. I quickly grabbed the television remote, fumbling to adjust the volume of the evening news. I should have known better; there was only one thing Marie or any of the other women in town felt was newsworthy these days, and it wasn’t that the mall was having a shoe sale. I don’t even think “free shoes” could have been more exciting to them.
Soon after my thumb hit the button on the remote I became slightly perturbed, but it was too late to correct my mistake. The damage was already done.
“Looks like the obsessive fans caused another traffic jam today,” I said, laughing lightly, trying to pretend as if I actually cared.
For a moment, I thought I was watching a repeat of yesterday’s news report. The camera panned a large crowd of frantic girls who lined up alongside the road—again. They were trying to spy on the movie crew as they filmed on one of our local beaches—again, hoping for the random chance to get a glimpse of “him.”
Between all of the cars that were parked haphazardly and the girls running back and forth across the street, traffic on Ocean View Drive was almost at a standstill. The police were trying their best to move the chaos away from the area, inadvertently creating more chaos in the process.
“I’m sure all of their ‘I Love Ryan’ posters will capture his attention,” I stated jokingly, rolling my eyes at the absurdity of it all.
From what I had seen and heard about him, I presumed he didn’t care the slightest bit about the teenyboppers and their childish signs of love and adoration. Still, their actions perplexed me to no end. What possessed these girls—many of them grown women—to take the time out of their day to decorate poster board and stand alongside a busy roadway? Do they actually think he may just stop one day?
“Darling, your sign with my name written in fluorescent pink with silver hearts is such a brilliant artistic representation of my life. It validates my existence and makes me so hot. Please . . . come . . . run away with me . . .” I tugged on Marie’s arm, pretending to be “him.”
A few of the patrons sitting at the bar laughed at my theatrics, while the girls who were being interviewed by the news reporter on TV screamed just a bit louder. I pointed the remote back at the television and quickly lowered the volume of their ear-piercing shrieks; I really wanted to change the channel.
“Hang on a sec, I want to see this,” Marie defended quickly, dismissing my actions with her hand. Her eyes stared intently at the screen.
“Ah, see, he’s on again,” Marie squealed with excitement. Several ladies sitting at the bar lurched off of their stools to get a better view of the television.
“Hey—watch what you’re doing.” I pointed.
Marie was so preoccupied watching the news, she speed-poured vodka on the outside of the glass.
“Damn, look at him. He’s so freakin’ gorgeous,” Traci, one of my regular customers, shouted.
A group of businessmen sitting at one of the tables nearest to the television booed loudly and then requested that I turn ESPN on instead.
Unconsciously, my eyes flashed back to the television to see what the big deal was, but I only saw part of his head as he climbed into the backseat of a car.
It had only been about two weeks since “he” and “the cast” descended on our town, but I was already tired of hearing about them. The local news and radio stations talked about the actors incessantly, to the point of overkill. I tried desperately to remember what life was like before they landed, but it was difficult.
I quickly diverted my attention to more important things, such as the two well-dressed young men who’d just sat down at the bar near the first cluster of beer taps—customers. One of the men caught my eye as he loosened the knot of his brown paisley necktie, taking a moment to unwind after a long day at the office no doubt. I had seen him once before in the pub, and now he was smiling brightly at me.
I let out a tiny sigh while waiting for the stream of amber beer to fill the glass mug in my hand. My fingers gripped the large wooden handle, and with a quick flick of my wrist, I cut the flow from the beer tap.
I slipped the ten-dollar bill out from under his fingers and went on with my day.
“He’s cute,” Marie muttered privately.
I punched the keys on the register to ring in the sale. “He’s married.”
Marie looked back at him. Her eyes examined my assessment.
“No ring,” she whispered, appearing slightly puzzled.
She obviously didn’t look hard enough. “You can see the indentation.”
I carried his change back to him. Marie looked astonished that I’d noticed that. What she didn’t know was that the last time this particular man was in my pub, he was wearing a gold band around his left-hand ring finger. Poor man . . . somehow his wedding ring must have accidentally slipped off before he sat down.
While I mindlessly washed some dirty glasses in the sink, the setting sun beamed its final rays, casting beautiful hues of pink and purple through the large windows that dominated the front of my pub.
My pub—I could say that now with absolute authority, although the heartache that I was put through to be in this spot would never, in a million years, be worth it. It was not worth the personal loss. But then again, when has life ever been fair?
I had prepared myself properly . . . college education with honors, plans for a master’s degree to follow. Still, despite my best efforts, fate apparently had some other future in mind for me, and it wasn’t to worry about other people’s financial situations.
I gazed at the windows, imagining that the view of the evening sky over the Atlantic Ocean was even more breathtaking. I thought about running upstairs to the rooftop to watch the sunset over the water but I couldn’t; customers were already filtering in for happy hour.
Even though there was an enormous influx of new people in our little town of Seaport, Rhode Island, recently, my customer count oddly remained the same—probably because all of the mayhem was located at the other end of town.
It had been almost two months since the tractor-trailers loaded with expensive cameras and filming equipment first rumbled through our streets. An extensive production crew immediately followed. They came in droves.
In the blink of an eye, police barricades blocked off selected roads, and huge, white tents were erected in the empty parking lot next to the vacant warehouse by Pier Seven. Towering lights were brought in to illuminate the entire lot and several large mechanical cranes were parked on standby near the new fence.
Long, white camper trailers were arranged in rows, and it reminded me of the times when the carnival would come to town. The only thing missing was the Ferris wheel.
Everything, for the most part, was calm; that was, until the big-name Hollywood actors arrived. With them came the news crews, photographers, and mobs of obsessed fans. It was like having rabid dogs unleashed in the streets. Everyone was in a tizzy.
The biggest commotion, however, was caused by a twenty-six-year-old actor turned mega-star overnight…
Six foot two, dirty-blond hair, blue eyes, incredible body from what I’ve seen in the magazines that Marie keeps stuffing in my face, and reportedly single again.
Oh, how they all swooned—everyone, except for me.
Marie and several of my female customers were completely flustered just from getting a quick glimpse of him on TV. I was relieved that they didn’t behave like the mob of screaming fans who were shown on the news.
I could never understand what drove women to the point of hysterics when they saw a famous singer or movie star. I remembered seeing video clips of women going out of their minds from seeing Elvis or The Beatles—screaming, crying, and passing out from getting their glimpse. I knew it was thrilling, but there has to be a limit before you lose control of your emotions and behavior. I just couldn’t relate.
Growing up, it wasn’t in my personality to hang pictures of teen heartthrobs on my walls. By the time I was in my teens, I had discovered fine art instead. My bedroom was covered in the classics, with my own artwork dotted in between. That was more my style, more . . . realistic, tangible.
I slid a fresh pitcher of beer over to my current customer. “That’s five-fifty please.” I smiled in return, dancing slightly to the song playing off my iPod over the pub’s sound system.
One of the firefighters from the Seaport Fire Department, who was sitting with a group of co-workers at the large, round table in front of me, raised his empty beer pitcher in the air to get my attention.
“Phil really likes you,” Marie whispered.
“Who’s Phil?” I asked, pulling my long blond hair back to remove the few strands that annoyingly stuck to the corner of my mouth.
Marie rolled her eyes at me. “Taryn!” she scolded.
“Sorry, but I don’t know who you’re talking about.” I honestly had no clue who Phil was.
“Fire Department?” She motioned the direction with her eyes. “The cute guy smiling at you? The one who is recently divorced and now on the open market?”
“Him?” I pointed with a tilt of my head. “I thought his name was Todd.”
“No, it’s Phil,” Marie corrected, laughing at my confused expression. “He’s been asking about you.”
I opened a new bottle of vodka, wondering where I ever got the name Todd.
“Well?” Marie asked impatiently, waiting for my response.
“Not interested,” I muttered while I prepared a dirty martini. Sandy had asked for three olives in this one.
Marie put her fist on her hip, just like she always does when she feels the need to lecture me. I started laughing at her stance; it reminded me of when we were teenagers, leaning on our school lockers and talking about boys.
I was thankful that she at least kept her voice down this time to reprimand me, so all the people sitting at the bar wouldn’t hear her every word.
“Taryn, what’s wrong with him? He is freaking good-looking.” Marie whispered.
I sighed. “Nothing is wrong with him.” I quickly hurried down the long bar to deliver the martini. It didn’t matter how handsome he was; I did not want to be any man’s second choice for a wife.
“What about Dan over there?” Marie suggested. “That poor guy asks you out at least once a week. He’s adorable too. Or Jeff, or Kevin, or Andy?” She pointed inconspicuously around the pub.
I glanced around at the faces of the men that she was referring to. Several of them had asked me on a date at one time or another and I had lied to each and every one of them, telling them I already had a boyfriend.
“You need to give a few of these assholes a chance . . . you just might find one that fits,” Marie teased me. “Besides, if I had a body like yours, I’d be putting it to good use every day.”
She didn’t need to shake her butt for me to grasp her innuendo.
I rolled my eyes. “No you wouldn’t. And you’ve known me long enough to know I’m not like that either.”
“Tar, it’s been like eight months. This existence you’re in is not healthy.”
“Healthy in comparison to what?” I asked. My chest still had a lingering, dull pain from the last man who shattered my heart into a million pieces. I didn’t need to explain further; Marie knew exactly what I meant. “Besides, I like my existence,” I informed her with an exaggerated grin. It was safe—predictable—painless.
“I just want to see you happy again,” Marie uttered in defeat.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.” Actually, I had grown quite accustomed to lying to her, too. Little did she know, I had another stupid dream, or should I say nightmare, about Thomas again this morning.
“I don’t need some divorced guy on the rebound to make me happy,” I said to her in passing.
“Ehem, Taryn?” I heard a man’s voice call my name. Phil the fireman was standing at the bar.
Instinctively my shoulders hunched from the fear of having been overheard. I hoped like hell that he didn’t just hear my comment; I would feel awful if he did.
I looked at Marie for confirmation. Her eyes opened wider and she shrugged the slightest bit, which was absolutely no help. I started to panic a little inside; the last thing I wanted to do was to hurt his feelings.
Phil waved a twenty at me and gestured for the new pitcher of beer I still held in my hand. “I wanted to ask you if you’ve tried that new steakhouse over by the mall yet?” he mumbled nervously, almost to the point that I didn’t understand him. As I processed his question, my eyes closed briefly and I took a deep breath through my nose. This was his opener to ask me on a date.
“No, I haven’t, but Marie has.” I hurried away to the cash register with his money in hand and punched the keys slowly, trying to figure out how to let him down easy. I could sense what was coming.
“Do you, I mean, maybe sometime, can I take you there for dinner?” It was hard for him to ask. I felt really bad for him and for what I was about to say next.
“Phil, that’s very sweet of you to offer, but I’m already seeing someone. I’m sorry.” My candy-coated lie sounded so convincing I almost believed it myself.
“So who are you dating these days? Your right hand or your left?” Marie jeered after Phil walked away.
I couldn’t help it—some juvenile instinct made me react. I stuck my tongue out at her.
“You know what your problem is? You need to get laid,” she mumbled under her breath. “And I’m not talking about the do-it-yourself kind of laid, either. Just pick one of these guys and go have meaningless, mind-altering, sweaty sex already.”
I retaliated for her snide remark by snapping her in the butt with my damp bar rag.
“So is that what you would do if you weren’t already married?” I laughed. “I just want to be clear about this wonderful advice you’re giving me, because I don’t recall you selecting Gary from the masses here.”
“Ah . . .” She waved a disgruntled hand at me. “You’re hopeless.”
I let out a loud, agreeing sigh.
“Why don’t you go over there and be nice to him? I heard the Fire Department was called out to the movie set this morning. Maybe he could get us in?” Marie shrugged; a glimmer of hope infused her voice.
I wrinkled my nose and countered her suggestion with one of my own. “Why don’t you go be nice to him then? I have no desire to go flock around some movie set like a pathetic groupie.”
“Speaking of groupies, did you hear that the police had to escort his limo to his hotel last night?” she asked, tapping one of her long fingernails on Ryan Christensen’s picture in today’s newspaper. “Article says there was a mob of women there; they had his hotel surrounded again.”
I rolled my eyes and continued wiping the bar with a towel. I really could not be bothered with the trivial, but it was hard to ignore. Everyone wanted to know the most minuscule details about him and his fellow actors and their glamorous lives. The photographers and reporters hunted them down daily.
It was all too absurd for my taste, but Ryan Christensen was a drug that everyone seemed hopelessly addicted to.
“Girls have been trying to sleep out on the sidewalk and everything . . . cops had to tell them to leave,” Marie babbled to a few female customers sitting at the bar as she shuffled the newspaper into a neat pile.
I shook my head while trying to imagine what the payoff would be to even consider sleeping on cold concrete in 50-degree weather. It was still nice out during the day, but it was the last day of September and the evenings were chilly.
“That’s ridiculous,” I muttered.
“They’ll have to sleep down on the beach now,” Sandy, our local beautician, chimed in. She took another sip of her martini while everyone waited in anticipation for her to explain.
“One of the girls who work at the Lexington Hotel was in the salon this afternoon,” Sandy babbled, like the information she had was no big deal.
“She said it was all hush-hush, but the hotel staff was informed that all of the actors were being relocated there today. Apparently the Lexington has better security and private garage entrances. I don’t know—whatever. Anyway, it sounds like they’re going to be right down the street from us now.”
“No shit!” Marie screeched excitedly. “You mean to tell me that Ryan and the entire cast are going to be only three teeny blocks down that street?” She pointed out the window in the direction of Mulberry Street.
“I still can’t believe they’re filming the second Seaside movie right here in our town. This one is going to be even better than the first,” Marie gushed.
“Okay, that’s like the hundredth time you’ve said that,” I teased.
“Well, maybe if you bothered to watch the first movie you’d know what all of us are so excited about,” she snapped back.
“I read in one of the magazines at the salon that he’s sleeping with the girl who starred in his last movie . . . what’s her name, Suzette, Suzanne something?” Sandy said.
“No Sandy, that’s not true,” Marie shot back, shaking her head in disagreement. “He was dating Lauren Delaney from that TV show Modern Times, but they broke up.”
Marie’s tone was almost sympathetic. She tossed her long chocolate-brown hair off her shoulders, looking as if she felt sorry for this man she didn’t know personally.
“I heard that someone stole some of his clothes from the hotel last week and tried to sell them on eBay,” Traci said.
“Oh, that’s just wrong,” I blurted out, trying to imagine what type of sicko would buy some guy’s used shorts. The thought made me shudder. “Why on Earth would someone do that? Well, whoever did it, I hope they got arrested.” My mind could not rationalize the actions. “It sure is a twisted world we live in.”
“If I had the chance, I’d twist on him several times,” Marie growled. I laughed when she wiggled her hips.
“Why don’t you twist your way over to the big table with this pitcher for me? Please? Our fire department looks like they still have fires to put out.”
I felt bad for turning Phil down, so I was trying to make it up to him with a free pitcher of beer. Secretly, though, I didn’t want to go anywhere near him.
“Why don’t you take it over and at least talk to him? He’s a really nice guy, Taryn.”
“Marie, I’m not interested, okay?”
“Well, since you seem to have sworn off men . . .” she muttered, “here, I’ve got something for you. It’s not porn, but it’s close enough.” She laughed while rummaging in her huge purse.
She held out another gossip magazine with a big, glossy picture of Ryan Christensen on the cover. The caption under his picture read:
The truth about Ryan:
His ex-girlfriend tells ALL!
I pursed my lips and turned away, slightly disgusted that anyone’s ex-girlfriend would have the audacity to “tell all.” He was probably better off without her.
“Hey, let me see that,” Traci yelled, reaching for the magazine.
“What’s your problem, Taryn?” Marie grumbled and stamped her foot. “Don’t you think he’s hot? I mean, look at him.”
“It doesn’t matter. He’s just another guy who is all full of himself. Besides, I have better things to think about—like why George and Ted look mad because I’m not bringing their drinks fast enough.”
“Yeah, like those two old farts are in a hurry. The only place they’re going to is their next alcohol-induced coma,” she declared.
I gave her my most dramatic, horrified look. “Who are you all going to gossip about once the celebrities leave town? You’ll need to find someone else to talk about.” I couldn’t help but laugh.
“We’ll just talk about you, Tar. We’ll sit around and reminisce about how much fun you used to be while using the cobwebs growing between your legs to knit hats for the poor.” Marie nudged me.
“You’re such a bitch.” I snickered at her.
“Yep!” She grinned, pretending that she was going to spray me with the soda wand. “But you’ll never fire me because I’m your best friend and you love me.”
Damn her for being right.
The next day I woke to the sun beaming brightly through my window. I yawned while my fingers carelessly fumbled to shut off the alarm clock. I contemplated going back to sleep, but it was already nine o’clock and there were things I wanted to get done today.
With a groan, I tossed the covers off and landed my bare feet on the cold wooden floor of my bedroom. “Brr,” I muttered as frigid oak planks sent a shiver through my body.
Outside my window, truck brakes screeched very loudly, causing me to flinch. Curiosity made me tiptoe across the floor to find the source of the noise.
Ah, Maggie is getting a delivery, I noticed, peering out the window at the back alleyway behind my building.
I lingered in the hot shower next, my mind focused on creating my agenda. The longer I thought about it, the longer my to-do list got.
I picked my favorite jeans out of the basket of clean laundry and slipped a white T-shirt over my head, tousling my long blond hair with my fingers to separate the waves.
After adding the final touches of makeup and mascara, I skipped down my stairs and through the door that led directly into the pub.
“Good afternoon, my lovely bar,” I said out loud to no one. “Time to wake up and greet a new day.”
I opened each of the window blinds, watching the microscopic dust motes float in the sunlight. I thought about cleaning the windows again—they were looking a bit dirty. I’d have to remember to ask my friend Pete if I could borrow his extension ladder.
That would have to wait. It was Wednesday already and I still hadn’t updated my entertainment sign for the weekend. First things first.
I dropped the piece of chalk back into the box and carried the updated slate-board sign out to the sidewalk.
I had to squint; the sun was bright—even more so since I’d just emerged from a darkened pub. Wow! It’s beautiful out here.
I leaned back against my open door, taking a deep breath and closing my eyes for a moment to feel the warm sunlight on my cheeks. Even the air smelled better today.
Perhaps if I open late today I could enjoy this nice weather up on the rooftop with a good book in hand? Oh, that thought was very tempting. Reasons to goof off were starting to outnumber my to-do list, but the responsible part of my conscious quickly snuffed that. No, I have a lot to do inside. Better get at it . . . in a minute . . . the sun feels so nice . . .
My reluctant eyes popped open when I heard the frantic sounds of women screaming. My vision was blurred by the sun and it took my eyes a moment to adjust to the pandemonium headed straight for me.
That’s when I caught sight of him—what appeared to be Ryan Christensen—running full speed down the sidewalk. His body was on a direct collision course with mine.
“Back door?” he asked in a panic as he almost knocked me to the ground. I stumbled backward awkwardly into the open doorway, grabbing the frame to keep myself from falling down.
“Door,” I quickly answered, my shaky hand pointed in that the direction, but he was already running through the pub.
Instead of escaping through the kitchen door around the corner, he flew through the first door he saw.
“No, not that door,” I breathed out, tripping over my own feet as I followed him inside. It was too late; he’d disappeared through the door that led up to my apartment.
“Damn it!” I cussed.
A split second after he vanished from view, the front door flew open and smacked loudly into the wall. A small group of women barged in; behind them were men with cameras, but oddly they stayed outside.
“Whoa, hold on there. Wait! Oh no, no!” The words were just spilling out of my mouth as I ran toward the door. Instinct told me I had to stop them before they got too far into the bar. It was obvious that they were what he was running from.
“We saw him come in here,” one of the crazed-looking women barked as she tried to press past me.
“No, he’s not in here—he ran out the back door,” I shrilled, blocking her advance with my arms. “If you run down the street you might catch him.” I hoped my lie sounded convincing.
“You all have to get out of here. NOW! Don’t make me call the police,” I yelled as I herded them back to the door.
The instant they were out, I locked the door behind them and hit the light switch. Shit, what do I do? I started to panic. There was a large crowd of photographers and people starting to pile up on the sidewalk. Many of them were already mashing their faces to the glass, trying to look in my windows.
I moved as quickly as I could, sliding on my knees across the wooden bench seat at the first booth by the door. I felt like the hapless human, the last survivor, who has to fend off the attacking zombies all by herself. My heart was pounding in my chest when I dropped the blinds down on their intruding faces.
My thoughts spun in circles as I ran from window to window. I was so preoccupied with obscuring their view that I hadn’t even noticed where he was.
I tried to replay the last sixty seconds in my mind. Was he still inside, or did he manage to make it out of the building after all?
Did he slip out the back door when I was distracted?