Take Two (Page 53)

Take Two (Lights, Camera #1)(53)
Author: Laurelin Paige

Maddie cocked her head to look at Micah’s profile. Was this the reason he was so convinced he couldn’t have a girlfriend now? Because of a silly breakup when he was a kid? It was a ridiculous idea, but a bubble of hope began forming in her chest. “But you were in high school. Kids are selfish and self-centered. Most teenage relationships end for those sorts of reasons with or without acting involved.” Surely he could see that.

“It’s not just because of that girlfriend. There were others after. And then there’s my parents.”

“Your parents?” She was taken aback. What did his parents have to do with anything?

“All my life my mother tried to be an actress and it always put a strain on my parents’ marriage. When I was twelve, she realized that all the compromises she’d made to be a wife and mother had kept her from being as successful as she’d dreamed of being as an actress. So she left my dad.”

“Ouch.” The bubble of hope burst as pieces of the puzzle were beginning to make sense. Lulu had chosen career over family. No wonder she was so eager for Micah to do the same.

“It destroyed my dad. He loved her so completely. He couldn’t understand why Lulu had to give up on their marriage. I didn’t understand either until later.” He paused and gave Maddie a quick side glance. “Now I understand completely.”

Her body tensed, but before she overreacted, she needed clarification. “Are you saying you still have no faith in Hollywood relationships?”

“I’ve never said any differently.”

Tears sprang to her eyes. All the time they’d spent together, she’d thought it meant something. And now he was saying it didn’t change anything. “Then what are we doing, Micah?” Her voice was choked. “We said no preconceived notions about where we were going, but clearly you’ve already decided we’re doomed. So was I just something to fill your time?”

“No! Of course not, baby.” He took one hand off the wheel and ran it through his hair. “When we take one day at a time, yeah, it seems possible. But long term? I just…I still haven’t seen any evidence to change my mind.”

She closed her eyes and swallowed, stemming the pain before it could overwhelm her. Didn’t he realize how much his words hurt? Or was that his intent? Was he breaking up with her?

No, he couldn’t be. Or, if he was, she wouldn’t let him without a fight. She opened her eyes again and she slid her glasses on top of her head, turning to face him. “There are people who make it work, Micah. Successful people. Look at Angel and Brett. Didn’t Roberta Jules marry her cameraman? They’ve been together for ages.”

“But Angel and Brett do a whole lot fewer movies than they used to. And Roberta practically retired.”

“They chose to scale back.”

“Exactly. They chose their relationships over their careers.” Micah’s knuckles went white as he gripped the steering wheel. “Everything I say and do, Maddie, is a choice between my career or not my career. From deciding to take a shoot in another country to answering a question in an interview to sending a tweet on Twitter to whether or not I send flowers for Valentine’s Day.”

“If you send flowers to a woman, your career will be affected? Come on, Micah. That’s dramatic.” She didn’t even bother to hide her eye roll, she was so annoyed.

His eyes narrowed and she could feel his frustration rising, fueling her own. “It’s reality. If sending those flowers initiates a scandal, the director on the next film I want might say he doesn’t want to deal with that type of drama.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“It’s how it is. You don’t know.” He gestured between the two of them. “This little life we’ve been living? This is a fantasy, Maddie. This isn’t how it is all the time. It’s not this easy. If I want to keep this career, the choices I have to make are hard and they’re painful.”

“Why do you have to choose your career every time? There has to be room for compromise without throwing away your career goals.”

“Not in this business. You have to fight every day. Even when you’re on the top.”

He was breaking up. Or he might as well have been. Every word that fell out of his mouth said he could never believe in them. That he didn’t choose her. She wiped at her damp face with her palm. “So you’re telling me that every day you choose your career? Every day you’d choose that over me?”

He didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. Because as Maddie curled up against the door and stared out the window she noticed the landscape for the first time in several minutes. The mountainside they’d been following had ended, opening to an enormous field that was empty except for a van, three men, and a huge hot air balloon with a rainbow chevron pattern.

Micah slowed the car.

A hot air balloon.

“Oh, Micah!” Emotions whirled and warred inside her as the full realization of his surprise settled in. Her movie. Freedom through flying. His questions about fear of heights. He’d done this for her. Today, he’d chosen her.

Too overcome with emotion, Maddie couldn’t speak. Micah pulled the car next to the van and turned off the engine. Eyes focused on the colorful balloon, she stepped out, chewing on the knuckle of her hand to keep from crying again.

Still silent, Micah got out and came to her side. She met his eyes and he took her hand and squeezed it. “I’m scared,” he said quietly, and she knew he didn’t mean about flying.

“I know,” she whispered.

The next half hour was a blur of emotions and sensations. The quick thrill at the balloon’s lift off, the fire hot at her back, the pull in her stomach as the basket skimmed the South Platte River, the pounding of her heart as they soared higher and higher. All of it intensified by the feel of Micah’s arms around her.

When she’d finally gotten her air legs and was no longer overwhelmed by the spectacular view, her mind drifted to the possibilities that lay between her and the man embracing her. Micah had taken a lot of risks to allow for their flight to happen. The crew that set up the balloon, the pilot…any one of them could spread news of the star’s morning adventure, even though he’d required all of them to sign a confidentiality agreement. What did it mean for them that he’d done this? Because he’d chosen her that day, did it mean he’d be willing to choose her again?

Eventually, at almost two thousand feet in the air, riding the wind, the silence was so stark that the noises in her mind struggled to be voiced. Finally, she couldn’t hold them in any longer. “Micah,” she said, not turning to look at him, hoping that the pilot truly couldn’t hear anything with his thick headphones on. “Please, tell me the truth. Are you even considering giving us a chance after this shoot is over?”