INT. SOUND STAGE. (CONT’D)
It barely registered in Peter’s brain when the take started. He automatically recited his lines and went through the motions, but his thoughts were elsewhere. He was probably the only person on set to barely notice when one of the mechanical crocodiles malfunctioned and its tail wouldn’t stop whipping around hitting anyone who came near it.
As soon as the director finally yelled cut, Peter was off like a shot. He was in his car and pulling out of the studio lot, before any of his costars were out of costume.
He pulled a scrap of paper out from the glove compartment and held it up to read the address scrawled across it. The writing was faded and the page crinkled, but he could just make out the words. He exited onto the highway and started driving north out of town. As he neared the outskirts he took another exit and turned into a large storage complex right off the highway. He glanced back down at the paper to confirm unit number. He drove slowly through the rows of units till he reached 15-K. He pulled to a stop and took a key out from the glove compartment. Getting out of the car he bent to unlock the storage door and then pulled it up.
He fumbled along the wall for a few seconds for the light switch and then surveyed the mass of boxes piled inside.
He supposed he was just lucky it was all here, and that was all down to Matt. When Peter had moved out of his apartment five years ago, after the trial, he hadn’t cared what happened to any of the things, Layla’s or even most of his own. He would have just left it there if he could. He’d called the movers and told them to dump it all into the cheapest storage facility they could find. Matt, who had argued that someday Peter might care about some of these things again, had personally volunteered himself to locate and pay for a reliable storage unit and had watched the movers while they worked.
Still, as Peter noted when he slit opened a box with a pocket knife and pulled out an old TV guide and a couple of very old fortune cookies, literally everything had gotten boxed. This was going to take a while.
Each box had been marked by room but nothing else. He waded in, towards the back of the unit, where a large stack of boxes read ‘Master Bedroom’. He pulled down the box on top and opened it. A sparkle of deep green greeted him and he pulled out one of Layla’s evening gowns. In a faint, musty way, it still had the scent of her perfume on it. He reached down through the box, digging under layers of clothes, searching, and then stuffed the dress back on top and pushed the box away, pulling another towards him.
He found her jewelry box in the second. Matt had suggested once, when money had been particularly tight, that he sell some of her jewelry. As logical as it would have been, he’d rejected the idea out of hand. Peter snapped the lid shut and continued to dig.
He searched through three more boxes. He was sure it was here somewhere. He remembered burying it away in a dresser drawer in the bedroom…along with her wedding ring.
He slit open a fifth box. Something gold caught his eye and he pulled out his Oscar statuette. He barely glanced at it as he tossed it aside but dug deeper into the box, a vague recollection of the statue resting on top the dresser raising his hopes. His hand closed around something, square and small. He pulled it out to reveal a black cellphone and let out a sigh of relief.
He hesitated, looking at the box he’d taken it from, and then reached back inside, digging through the contents remaining. He found the ring the very bottom of the box and held it in his hand a moment, staring at it, before slipping it into his pocket.
He rose to his feet, and leaving the opened boxes and their strewn contents, shut off the light and pulled down the door. He got back in his car and plugged the phone into the car’s charger.
INT. RECEPTION HALL. DAY.
The room was huge. Over fifty round tables were set up, groups of ten chairs around each. There were cream colored table clothes over each of them and large potted plants had been set up against the walls, while a small handful of people milled around, with clipboards, cellphones and a general sense of busyness.
Nikki, followed by Vanessa, crossed over to one end of the room, where a large stage had been constructed. Nikki climbed up on it and turned to survey the room stretched out in front of her. She felt a jolt of alarm.
Below her Vanessa crossed her arms and studied her. “I can send a stylist over tonight to go over what you’ll wear.”
“I already have something selected,” said Nikki, taking a few steps around the stage, trying it out.
“And I suppose Morgan picked it out for you,” said Vanessa icily.
“I picked it out, he just advised me,” said Nikki, only half paying attention.
“With all the people you’ve ignored, when you finally start listening to someone, and it has to be him!”
Nikki rolled her eyes, and tried to ignore the sick feeling building in her stomach as she mentally started counting the tables.
An older woman, a BlackBerry in one hand that she kept glancing at every few seconds, crossed over from a huddled group of people and approached the stage.
“Nikki Steele,” she said with a quick smile and an authoritative air. “I’m Gloria Strasburg. I’m the coordinator.”
“Gloria! I’m Vanessa Francis. We spoke on the phone.”
“Of course. I’m glad to meet you in person.”
Nikki got off the stage and came to stand beside the two women.
“Ms. Steele we’re so glad to have gotten you and we’re all greatly looking forward to your performance. Now,” continued Gloria. “We’ll need you to go on at exactly eight o’clock. Can you do this?”
“It’s very important, everything has been timed exactly. Lateness is not acceptable.”
Nikki had a flashback to grade school and a lecture she’d received on punctuality after consistently coming to class ten minutes late for two weeks. The teacher hadn’t found her excuse that she’d been waiting outside her locker every day to chat with a boy a grade above her, a very good one. Gloria even looked a little like a teacher, her grey hair pulled back in a tight bun, her gold rimmed glasses small and round…
“I’ve already assured you that Ms. Steele will be on time,” Vanessa was saying.
“Hmm.” Gloria was clearly unconvinced. She consulted her BlackBerry. “Will she have a track for her vocals?”
Vanessa looked expectantly at Nikki.
“No. I’ll be performing live.”
“Nikki,” cut in Vanessa. “Maybe we should talk-”
“I’ve already made up my mind,” said Nikki firmly. “Drop it.”
Vanessa pursed her lips in disapproval.
“Very well,” said Gloria, “I let the sound people know. I-” Her BlackBerry started buzzing. “Oh excuse me. One moment.”
As Gloria walked away, Vanessa lowered her voice and turned to Nikki.
“You can’t be serious about a live performance!”
“Vanessa I told you-”
“Morgan doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I do! And this is absurd! This could be the single most important performance of your career. Very big people will be watching you. And you’re gambling with that because some two-bit photographer told you to?”
A wave of panic washed over Nikki, but she pushed it back and tried to keep her voice calm as she answered, “Yes. And that’s finale.” She got back up on the stage and ignored Vanessa.
The phone buzzed to life ten minutes out from the storage facility, but Peter forced himself to wait till he was back home to look at it. He shoved a stack of books off the couch and sat down, flipping open the phone. It seemed to have lasted alright, despite having been switched off for five years.
He went to the call history. It was bizarre and almost depressing to see the calls dated five years ago, the last ones Layla ever made…there was one to him the day she died. He hadn’t picked up. He flicked back. There were a lot of calls. Layla had been a very outgoing person, always moving, always busy. But there was one number that seemed to come up more than the others, a number that she seemed to have called at all hours of the day, 310-555-80668.
He copied down the number and checked the text messages. Over half of the most recent ones had been sent and received, to and from the same number…310-555-80668. He started opening them.
There’d definitely been a relationship. Some of them were flirty, some explicit, some (those sent to Layla) were romantic. None of them had a name. He read through dozens, but none of them gave one. He cursed in annoyance.
As he reached the newest messages however Layla’s texts became more formal. She used less endearments, there were several times she made excuses for not seeing the person, and then, her very last one, sent very late on the night before she died, she wrote one simple line:
We have to talk – Layla
Peter snapped the phone shut and stared off ahead of him. That would have been sent right after their argument at the charity event. Had she really wanted to break up with 555-80668? Had there really been a chance for their marriage after all? Why couldn’t he, Peter, have just talked to her, woken her up when he came back that night, waited for her in the morning?
He shook his head, pushing the thoughts away angrily.
He looked down at the paper on which he’d copied the phone number. No name, but it was something. He’d need the list from Matt.