Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chapter 1.2–Settling In


They’d been at it for about a half hour when quiet sobbing caught James’ attention.
“Hey, Starla…don’t cry. Everything’s going to be fine!” James said. It didn’t matter how irritated he got at her; the sight of Starla in tears still set off James’ protective streak.
“Look, I can finish up here. Why don’t you go get cleaned up, then head to the studio and check in with your new boss. There’s 20 simoleans in the outer pocket of my suitcase. Maybe afterward you can treat yourself to lunch and explore the town. By the time you get home tonight, This will be an entirely different place.”
Starla’s tears tapered off to a sniffle. She nodded, then stood up and brushed the dirt off her knees before heading inside.
James sighed as he watched her go. “I love you, Starla – stubborn, obstinate woman that you are,” he muttered.
As it turned out, checking in with the studio was one of the best things Starla could have done. She had been overjoyed when she landed a paid internship on the backlot itself…but apparently not as overjoyed as they were. She had met most of the office staff that afternoon, and it quickly became obvious that they were severely short-handed. When she had hinted that she didn’t have a problem working outside of regular business hours, the receptionist looked like she could have kissed her.
Starla hadn’t quite made it to the sidewalk yet when her phone buzzed. It was Liz, the receptionist she’d met earlier.
“Hey, Starla. Listen, I hope you meant it when you said you wouldn’t mind putting in extra hours. One of the screenwriter’s assistants just walked off the job…something about him being a stuck up SOB with no sense of humor. Anyway, she was supposed to be doing some research for an upcoming project of his, but by the looks of it she hadn’t even gotten started. Would you mind taking over for her?”
“No problem!” Starla replied, trying not to sound too eager. “Email me the details and I’ll get right on it.”
“You’re the best, Starla. I’ll send you the notes right away. Kevin wanted the preliminary report by tomorrow morning, but if you can’t manage to finish by then, it’s fine. I’ll let him know what happened. Thanks again!”
Starla flipped the phone closed, grinning from ear to ear. So they didn’t think she could finish the quitter’s research overnight? Well, she’d show them! After all, she was Starla Nightingale, future superstar, and there was NOTHING she wouldn’t get done in order to further her career.


James washed the dirt off his hands one last time, double checking that all the pipes were connected correctly and that everything was running smoothly. He’d discovered that there was already pluming in the back portion of the warehouse, so he’d relocated the sink and spent the better part of an hour scouring it clean. Then he’d installed the second-hand stove and fridge (found for a steal on Greg’s List) and the old cabinets a construction buddy of his had salvaged from a recent demo site. They weren’t Starla’s style, and he knew she’d hate them. But James figured they’d work well enough until they could afford something else, and besides, he was the one who did all the cooking anyway.
Upstairs, a couple of professional plumbers and the aforementioned buddy were doing their best to get a rudimentary bathroom built. The good news was that they were volunteering the labor. The bad news was that they were volunteering the labor because James’ “friend” felt he owed it to him.
Starla had always wanted to be an actress…James knew that. But there were other, better known studios and plenty of other cities where she could have gotten a better start. In fact, Starla had her heart set on LA…she’d only agreed to move to Jericho because one of James’ old school pals had promised him a job with his construction company. As it turned out, the job had been cut…AFTER James had spent almost every simolean they owned purchasing this dump.
James hadn’t found the courage to tell Starla he was jobless yet. He could just imagine how she would react, and that was a conversation he didn’t relish having. So he decided to keep it to himself for now. Starla would be busy settling in at the studio, anyway, and James was sure he could find something before it really became a problem.

Starla was relieved to find that her new neighborhood had a library, and that the library also contained a computer with internet access. It was an antique, and filthy, but Starla had been too embarrassed to admit to Liz that she didn’t own a computer anymore. Back home, she’d had a really great laptop. But she’d pawned it (along with anything else of value that didn’t technically belong to her parents) to help finance her elopement and honeymoon with James.
Starla loved James. But married life…well, it wasn’t what she’d thought it would be. If she was honest with herself, she’d romanticized the whole “for richer or poorer” bit in her head. Having never been poor, she hadn’t really realized what she was getting herself into.
Still, actresses were rich, weren’t they? So it was just a matter of working her way up through the ranks and into the money. Starla was afraid of lots of things…like bugs and dirt and discount clothing chains. But she was not afraid of hard work, if it meant realizing her dream. And that was something James had promised her that her family absolutely would not.
Her father was a very successful business man, and her mother was a professional socialite. While her mother loved to gossip about celebrities, heaven forbid her daughter become one! Starla’s mother wanted her to marry a nice business man (or maybe a politician, so long as he was the kind that got on well with businessmen) and follow in her footsteps. Starla’s father wanted her to become the first female CEO in Sunset Valley’s history. Neither had approved of James, the dashingly handsome young handyman who did maintenance around the house.
Thinking over it, the whole thing was rather cliché. But it would make a great story for the media to gobble up one day. The pauper and the princess, head over heels in love, running off to Lucky Palms to get married after her father discovered their romance and fired the poor handyman on the spot.
The only thing that would have made it better was if they’d gone straight to LA. But James had an old friend who’d promised him a job here in Jericho, and Starla had managed to land an internship with the up and coming film studio here in town. She supposed they did need to eat every once and a while, so the practicality of gainful employment had outweighed her dream of a more exciting city. For now, anyway.
James spent a good part of the afternoon patching the loft floor and helping the other men finish off the bathroom. James’ “friend” could hardly meet his eye the whole time. Afterward, he told James about a local pick-your-own which provided free, fresh produce in exchange for a little labor. His good deed done for the day, the other man hurried out to his truck and took off. James doubted that they’d ever speak again.
While he harvested their groceries, James tried to come up with ways to make a little extra cash on the side. While he could have beaten the snot out of his supposed friend for getting him into this mess, he WAS glad for the tip. At least he wouldn’t have to explain to Starla why they couldn’t afford to buy groceries.
That night, James listened as Starla told him all about her day over Autumn salad and cheap nectar. She was so excited about the research project she’d finished that she forgot to throw a fit about eating off the floor. In fact, she was so excited that she didn’t complain once…about the kitchen, or the lack of furniture, or even about James’ practically visible man stink.

Starla’s excitement carried over to bedtime…she even complimented James on the bathroom and the patchwork He’d done. But when she finally stopped talking long enough for James to whisper sweet nothings in her ear, she pulled away.
“James Nightingale! Do you really think that I’d be interested in woohooing in a sleeping bag on this old, half-rotten floor?”
James gave a long suffering sigh and tried to look as pitiful as possible. “No, I suppose it was silly of me to hope…”
“Yes. Yes it was. I’m a lady, and ladies NEVER woohoo on dirty floors.”
“Now, that new shower, on the other hand…”
James grinned, returning Starla’s embrace. They’d gotten off to a rocky start, and it didn’t look like they were out of the woods just yet. But James had a roof over his head and the love of his life in his arms. Things were going to be okay. He just knew it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Chapter 1.1 - Humble Beginnings

James grimaced slightly at the tremor in Starla's voice. He knew what was coming...had known since the cab pulled into this less-than-nice neighborhood and the smile had slipped from Starla's face. But he'd still hoped for a miracle.
"Why have we unloaded all of our things in front of this old, abandoned building? Why aren't we going to the house?"
The innocent sing-song in Starla's voice was fake, of course, but James doubted even Starla realized it at the moment. The less Starla liked something, the more childlike and helpless she became. The need to protect her was what had drawn James to Starla in the first place, and it certainly wouldn't hurt her acting career. But at times like this, it grated on James' last nerve. 
"This *is* the house, Sugarplum," James replied. He managed to keep his tone even, despite the sarcastic endearment. Starla just folded her hands in front of her and looked at her feet. Never a good sign.
"Oh Starla, look at me," James coaxed, bringing his wife's gaze back to his face. "It's not as bad as it seems. Loft conversions are all the rage these days, and this one is only ten minutes from the studio. The neighborhood has seen better days, but it's safer than it looks. We'll have the place fixed up in no time. Best of all, we own the property outright...which means we don't have to worry about making rent while you pursue your career."
"The convenience isn't worth this, James!" Starla exclaimed, some of the sweetness gone from her voice. "When we talked about a 'nice little fixer-upper in the suburbs' I thought we were talking about a *house* not...not some old factory with holes in the roof and rats and bugs and..."
Starla's voice rose an octave with each exclamation, and James could tell a fit of hysteria was just around the corner. When one of her hands swung a little too close to his face for comfort, he grabbed her wrist, speaking to her as he would a child.
"Starla, calm down. First of all, this was an old warehouse, not a factory. There are no rats, and any bugs will be gone by this evening, I promise. The holes you're so worried about are in the loft floor, not the ceiling, and I'm going to patch them this afternoon."
Starla jerked her hand away, but she didn't say anything. 
"Honestly, what did you expect? I had just shy of eighteen grand in my trust fund, and we left Sunset Valley with two suitcases full of clothes, a couple of sleeping bags, and my dad's old tool box. I know this isn't what you're used to, but you can't say I wasn't upfront about the "for poorer" part before we said our vows. You knew I couldn't give you the lifestyle you're accustomed to yet. We're going to have to build our life together from the ground up."
"I never asked you for the Ritz!" Starla fumed. "But when you said you would take care of finding us a place of our own, I wasn't expecting this. You can't just drop an abandoned building on a girl and expect things to be all sunshine and daisies!"
James sighed, then brushed past Starla toward the door. She'd calm down eventually, and in the meantime they had work to do.
"I've got a few deliveries and a couple of hired hands coming this afternoon. I need to get the worst of the brambles out of the yard so the truck can pull up to the door. I'd appreciate your help." He didn't allow himself a backward glance, but he let out a breath he hadn't realize he was holding when the front door closed and her quiet footsteps followed behind him.