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I have died and gone to Mooreville, Mississippi.
I knew things were bad when that peroxided, collagen-enhanced, nubile nymph Susan Star stole my role as the reigning TV goddess in Love in the Fast Lane, but I didn't know I'd be killed off for real and sent to the backside of nowhere. Good lord, just because a woman turns forty-five shouldn't mean she gets tossed out and consigned to life without long-stemmed roses and Godiva chocolates.
Trying to make sense of things, I close my eyes, but when I open them again I'm staring at the same wide expanse of cloudy sky slashed with a sign that says, Welcome to Mooreville. Plus, I have a lump on my head the size of California. "Is anybody here?"
Expecting Saint Peter to answer, I ease up on my elbow and spot my powder-blue Ferrari Spyder. Or what remains of it. They don't let you take cars to the hereafter, no matter which way you go, so this means I'm not dead.
To some people that would come as a relief, but the mood I'm in, it just makes me mad.
It also makes me remember swerving to miss a cow, then clawing my way out of the airbag in an adrenaline-propelled panic, which explains why I'm in a ditch. My purse is upside down an arm's-length away so I scramble for my cell phone to dial 911. Alas, it's smashed into pieces against a rock. To add insult to injury, the big black clouds that have been hovering overhead let loose a flood that nearly washes me away.
Spotting a little convenience store down the road, I lurch upward intending to walk for help, but a pain rips through my ankle and throws me back down. They shoot horses with broken legs, don't they? It's not enough that my twenty-year career is over: I'm going to get shot or drown in a ditch.
When I left Hollywood and headed to my childhood home in Jackson without even telling my agent, I expected headlines to read, Famous Soap-Opera Actress Disappears. I expected buzz in the biz would be that Gloria Hart had eloped to Paris or moved to a villa in the south of Italy or at the very least was last seen in a Piggly Wiggly filling a cart with Almond Joys and double-chocolate pudding.
Instead I've wrecked my car, maimed my cell phone and crippled myself, and there's not a single reporter around to turn this drama to my advantage. The situation calls for a major pity party.
I'm good at tears. Lord knows, I've had enough practice. After the writers put me in a fiery plane crash that killed off my fictional husband and swiped my fictional memory, I wept the Pacific Ocean on daytime TV and was flooded with sympathy letters from fans.
Now I try to work up a few tears, but all I can see is how ludicrous my situation is: done in by a cow and my crazy urge to drive Mississippi's back roads. I start laughing and can't stop.
Somebody get the net. I've gone completely crazy and sirens signal the men in white are coming to take me away. "Are you all right?"
Oh, my lord. A drop-dead-handsome man in a fireman's uniform is talking to me. Either I bumped my head harder than I thought and am hallucinating, or Mooreville just started looking a whole lot better.
"That depends on how you describe all right." I laugh again, probably teetering on the edge of hysteria, and the man who could be a Playgirl centerfold looks at me as if I'm from another planet. In a way, I guess I am. Hollywood is about as far from Mooreville as you can get. Beyond the man is an honest-to-goodness picket fence. And what looks like a black-and-white cow but just might be a big dog. The one that ran in front of my car and caused me to straddle a light pole.
And there's not a sidewalk in sight.
The hunk kneels over me and pops the blood-pressure cuff on while an older fireman and a paunchy state trooper scurry around my mutilated car.
"I'm Rick Miller, ma'am, and we're going to get you to the hospital over in Tupelo."
Now that makes me mad. My goodness, I'm not that badly injured.
The hunk, who is now checking me for broken bones, is wearing a wedding ring. Now maybe I will cry.
Not that I'm looking for a husband or anything remotely resembling one. But when a big chunk of your life gets ripped away and you don't have another person in this whole world to turn to, suddenly it feels as if you have nothing at all, as if you're teetering on the edge of a cliff in the middle of a deserted jungle screaming for a net, and there's not even a slim chance anybody will hear. It's times like this that make me long to have a good man who will hold me close and say "Everything is going to be all right."
"Listen, Rick, thanks for your offer. I'm a little rattled. It's not every day I run into a light pole. I don't know what I'm going to do about my poor car."
"I'll call Tuck's Tow Service. Jackson Tucker's the best mechanic in this area." He wraps his fireman's jacket around me, then he and the other fireman lift me onto a gurney. "Is there anybody else you want me to call?"
"No," I say.
Shouldn't women my age have at least ten best friends on tap for situations like this? Both my parents are dead and nobody in Jackson was expecting me. The only person I can think of to call is my maid/personal assistant/jill-of-all-trades Roberta, and I sent her on vacation so I could make my getaway undetected. "There's no one."
"Don't you worry, Miss "
"Gloria. Gloria Hart."
"Miss Hart, I'll be right there with you."
My lord, I'd forgotten how sweet Southern hospitality can be.
I wonder what else I've forgotten. I've been caught up for so long in the world of daytime television drama, I don't know the first thing about the real world.
He didn't have me at hello.
I'm up to my elbows in pie crust when the phone rings. Rick's cell phone number pops up and I refuse to answer it. There was a time when a phone call from Rick Miller would send me into a hormone-fueled tizzy, but now all I can think about is the passing of years that have left me Considering our track record of the last few months, there's no way he's calling me in the middle of the day to propose something kinky or even mildly flirtatious. He's probably calling to see when I'll have the pies ready.
When he's not parading around in his volunteer fireman's uniform, Rick's running his little log-cabin restaurant under the hill and waiting for me to supply pies for the dessert menu.
I'm tired of pies. "Up yours," I say, and my testy tone sends Rollo and Banjo scurrying under the table. Well, good. I'm also tired of keeping two dogs of dubious heritage happymy other major daytime activity.
The phone keeps on ringing, so I finally give in and wipe the dough off my hands.
"Jenny, I've got a problem."
What happened to 'Hello, how are you?' I have problems, too, but I haven't lost my manners over it.
"Hello, Rick. How're you doing? Listen, I'm working on the pies, but they won't be ready for another hour."
"I'm not calling about pies. There was a wreck at the intersection."
"Who was hurt?"
I hope it's not a neighbor or one of my cousins. And though I've often said I wish she'd jump in a lake, I wouldn't even wish an accident on the mother-in-law from the Black Lagoon, Lulu Miller, who has hated me since Rick got serious. At every opportunity she opines I'm not good enough for her son, not smart enough and certainly not pretty enough.
Now Rick is telling me, "Some woman from California. Gloria Hart."
"Oh my gosh."
"Jenny? Are you all right?"
"Do you know who Gloria Hart is?"
"Yeah. I just told you. She wrecked her Italian sports car and banged up her leg."
"She's Jillian Rockwell from my favorite soap opera. Get her autograph."
There's a huge, deafening silence, and I wonder if Rick's cell phone has gone dead.
"Rick? Are you there?"
"This woman from California is in the emergency room without a single friend, and you want me to go up and ask for her autograph?"
"When you put it that way look, I'm sorry, Rick. I wasn't thinking."
"Listen, her left ankle is bruised up and sprained and she'll be on a crutch a few days. There's no way she can manage alone in a motel. I was wondering if we could invite her to stay with us."
"Stay with us?"
The biggest soap-opera actress in Hollywood in my house, with a noisy, angst-ridden teenaged daughter, two spoiled hairy dogs and pie dough all over the kitchen counter?
"If you don't want to, maybe we can help her find a sitter."
"No. No, wait! Tell her she can stay with us. Oh my gosh!"