Episode Two - Love, Chicago

Episode Two - Love, Chicago

Sasha & Jack

“So what’s your story, Sasha?” Jack leaned against the kitchen counter with his wine glass and inspected the decor of Sasha’s loft. Framed black and white photographs hung on the marbled interior walls. The exterior wall was an unfinished brick with long, thin windows facing the north side of the city. “Trent says you’re some sort of stylist?”

“Something like that.” Sasha pulled out a chair at the dining table and sat down, leaning on her elbow. “I rep for a designer but I also have personal clients, so I consult on hair, makeup, clothes, and so forth.”

“You tell people what to wear.” His gaze fell on a vase of fresh flowers next to the sectional.

“I help people create a look, especially if they’re in the public eye.”

“What would you do with all this?” Jack held his arms out, presenting himself to her.

“Where do I start?” Sasha laughed, bringing her arm up from the table to set her chin on the heel of her palm.

“Wherever you’d like.”  Jack’s voice was husky and produced exactly the look he expected from her.

Sasha looked away, blushing. Oh my, well, not necessarily my type but I’ll admit you’re kinda hot. And kinda arrogant. “I think your look is fine. For what you do.”  She shrugged.

“Well, gee, thanks for your approval,” Jack mocked. He pulled out the chair across from her and sat down.

Sasha looked at her watch again.

“I was sure Trent would beat me here. I offered to pick up all the food, thinking it would kill time. He was supposed to come straight from the airport.”

“So you said you work together? Is Trent doing okay?” Sasha sat back and crossed her arms in front of her chest.

“He’s doing great.” Jack’s face lit up briefly then he narrowed his eyes at her. “You don’t look convinced.”

Sasha looked out the window, distracted.

Jack leaned forward. “If you watched it on television, you’d know how he’s doing.”

“I don’t…I’d rather not.” Sasha crinkled her nose.

Jack sat back, studying her face and body language. “Oh, I get it. You don’t approve.”

“I didn’t say that.” Sasha’s head snapped to look at him, her brows furrowed.

“But you had different plans for young Trent’s future.” He said it as if he knew.

Sasha shrugged and her words came slowly. “I just thought he was going to be a lawyer.”

“A lawyer.” Jack slumped in his chair. “Jesus, that’s so…safe.”

“What’s wrong with safe?” Sasha straightened.

“It’s fine. Safe is just…fine.” Jack grimaced. “It’s not necessarily fun.”

Sasha stood and went to the window. She peered over ledge, looking up and down the street in front of the building. She turned around and noticed the disapproving scowl on Jack’s face. The corners of his eyes creased as the sunlight hit him directly in the face. Sasha could see the olive tint in his pupils. She inhaled as she considered her words. “Let’s just say, I don’t see this as being a long-term career for my brother. I mean, how long could this phase he’s going through last before he realizes that? Or before he gets seriously hurt?”

“A phase?” Jack sputtered. “And playing dress-up with rich old women couldn’t be considered a phase?”

“I have a degree and I only have one old lady client. I just don’t think getting your ass beat on a weekly basis is a permanent way of life.” Sasha walked back to the table and picked up her glass.

“Professional wrestling isn’t something you can physically do forever, I’ll give you that much. But even when you stop, there’s still the appearances at conventions and the sponsorships.” He sneered at her. “It is a legitimate business. Maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to judge something you obviously know nothing about.”

Sasha backed down. She knew she’d just chastised the livelihood of the man sitting in her home. She instantly softened. “But he’s doing okay?”

Jack’s expression changed from contempt to compassion. “He’s doing great. I don’t let him out of my sight if I can help it. Trent and I have really bonded over the last couple months.” Jack looked down at his glass, wistfully.

Sasha didn’t miss a beat. “You’re not telling me my brother is gay now, are you?”

“No, sweetheart, he’s like a brother to me. That’s all I meant.”  Jack smirked. “We watch out for one another. With the schedule we keep, being on the road every week, it’s good to have someone you can be yourself around. Someone to keep you focused and keep you out of trouble.” Jack considered that statement and smiled. “Or go with you to find trouble.”

Sasha looked over the man at her table. There was a sudden softness about him, peeking from under the muscles and ink and hard jawline. “Where are you from?”

“Here, Chicago. South side.”

“No family here?” Sasha watched as Jack stiffened and knocked back the rest of his wine.

“They’re here. I don’t talk to them.” He stood and took his glass to the sink. “They don’t approve of my lifestyle either.”

Sasha met him at the sink. “It’s not that I don’t approve,” she paused, “I just worry about Trent.”

Jack faced her, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

“I guess I feel obligated to take care of him since we only have each other now.”

Jack took a deep breath and nodded. “He told me.”

Sasha turned away but Jack caught her arm. She blinked away the burn that formed behind her eyes as she thought about her parents.

“It sucks. I’m sorry.” Jack squeezed her arm and let it go.

“Thanks,” Sasha said before walking back to the table.

“So, what do you need me to do, since Trent’s not here yet? I’m not the best at peeling potatoes but I can give it a try.” Jack went to open the refrigerator.

Sasha’s cell started to ring inside her purse. She retrieved it, frowning when she didn’t recognize the number.

“Miss Brennan, I’m calling from Northwestern Hospital. You’re brother, Trent Brennan, has been in an accident and we need you to come to the hospital as soon as possible.”

Sasha’s stomach dropped and she put her hand to her chest. “Is he okay?”

“I don’t have any information at this time, I’m sorry.”

Sasha’s hands began to tremble. “I’ll be right there.”  She hung up and dropped her cell into her purse. “Trent was in an accident, I have to go to the hospital.”  She looked around her place as if she were lost. Jack retrieved her coat from the coat tree and held it out to her. She stared at him, as anguish spread across her face.

“Come on, I’ll drive you.” Jack pulled a set of keys from his pocket.

***

Devyn & Todd

“Now, isn’t this better than going out into the world?” Todd Whitmore slowly ran his fingers over Devyn’s bare shoulder.

Dev pulled the sheet up, covering most of her naked body, feeling guilty for so easily falling into his bed. There was no denying Todd was good in the sack - not that she had many comparison options. Other than a high school boyfriend who took her virginity senior year, a few flings in college, and a previous boyfriend that didn’t work out, Dev wasn’t as seasoned as Todd seems to be.

Todd reached over for the remote on the bedside table, turning on the flat screen that hung on the wall across the room.

His gold coast condo was a two bedroom on one of the higher floors and Dev was on a first name basis with the security guard in the lobby. She was spending more nights at Todd’s these days but still hadn’t kept anything personal there nor did she have a key to the place.

“We could go for a walk now.” Dev shifted under the sheet, her leg entwining with his.

Todd shushed her, propping himself up on his elbows. “Holy shit, look.” He motioned with the remote toward the television.

Dev frowned and pulled her leg away.

Todd increased the volume on the local news. The older male newscaster stood at a modern news desk along with a female newscaster, who looked significantly younger. Dev knew “standing” was new look for the news and the first place her eyes fell were on the female newscaster’s high heels. Then she noticed the image behind the two newscasters’ heads.

Three of Dev’s photographs were being projected behind the newscasters.

The male newscaster spoke. “So production has stopped for a few days so both parties can fly home and well, I guess, deal with the consequences.”

“How do we know for sure this wasn’t a scene being shot, or maybe they were rehearsing?” The female newscaster shifted her weight from one foot to the other.

“Windy City Scandalous stated in the commentary that their photographer took these pictures and it was not a scene or rehearsal,” the male newscaster replied.

At the mention of WCS, Todd cheered and sat up straight, reaching for his phone.

Dev sunk lower under the covers, not quite as thrilled.

The female newscaster straightened. “Well, here’s hoping they can continue production soon. I know fans are really anticipating the release of this movie. Up next…”

Todd clicked off the sound and spoke into his phone. “Jimmy, yeah, I saw it. Did they call you direct?”

Dev slid out from under the sheet and pulled on Todd’s dress shirt that had been draped across the end of the bed. She walked toward the hallway and Todd covered the phone with his hand. “Grab me a beer out of the fridge, would ya, babe?”

Dev didn’t answer. She heard him; she was just too lost in thought to acknowledge him. She walked through the dark condo into the kitchen, pulling a bottle of water out of the stainless steel fridge.

Taking it to the ash-colored living room sofa, set against the floor to ceiling windows, Dev sat down sideways on the soft microfiber cushion, looking over the back of it.

The view over Millennium Park was always breath taking, especially at night. Dev could make out the people walking around the Bean, like tiny ants congregating around a peanut they plan to bring back to their underground city. Dev rested her chin on her outstretched arm, her fingers wrapped around the cold bottle in her lap.

Hardly a minute passed when she saw Todd’s trim reflection in the window behind her. He had put on his boxers and walked toward her from the bedroom.

“Babe? You okay?” He stopped in the kitchen, pulling the beer from the fridge she had neglected to get him.

The fridge light briefly obscured the view of the park below and Dev grimaced.

“Dev? What’s wrong?” Todd walked over to the sofa and took a long drink from the beer.

“Doesn’t it ever bother you?”

Todd sat down next to her, his shoulder brushing against her arm. “What’s that, babe?”

Dev straightened. She glanced down at the water in her lap and ran her thumb across the ridges of the bottle. She shrugged and looked up at Todd, his face absent of any real concern.

“Hey, did you hear me talking to Jimmy?” The corner of his mouth turned up in a smug, narcissistic smile as he ignored the fact Dev hadn’t answer his question. “He said the news outlets are totally jamming up his phone tonight.”

“That’s what I mean. We ruined so many people’s lives within hours of me taking those pictures.”

“Sweetheart, their lives were screwed up long before you came along with your camera, trust me.” Todd shook his head.

“I know, but I feel bad for the people on the receiving end, you know? The husband or wife that didn’t see it coming. Maybe there are kids.”

Todd reached up and cupped her cheek, his thumb brushing over her cheek. Dev frowned.

“I’m serious, Todd, don’t you ever feel like you’re just creating a shittier world by advertising all the shitty things people do to one another?” Dev shrank from him slightly, pushing across the cushion until her back was against the armrest, her leg extended like a barrier across the cushion between them.

Todd cocked his head. “Is this about us not taking that walk?” His tone was patronizing.

Dev rolled her eyes.

“Devyn, we’ve talked about this. You like the money you make, yes?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “You like your little car, the rubbing elbows with the stars and politicians, your designer clothes.”

Todd reached out and touched her bare leg, his fingers were cold from the beer bottle and Dev flinched. He downed the rest of the beer and set the bottle on the coffee table, while his hand slid higher up her leg.

“And I think you like me.” Todd took the bottle of water from her, setting it on the floor. His hand slipped up the tail of the dress shirt as his knee pushed her leg apart. He crawled over her, his lips parting as his head dipped toward her neck.

Dev tipped her head back, allowing him to kiss her, cursing herself for carnally surrendering to him yet again.

***

Ashleigh & Ryder 

He’s really leaving.

Ashleigh sat on the floor of Ryder’s bedroom. She was seventeen and it was after midnight. They had just gone to their last party summer together.

After high school graduation, Ashleigh and Ryder had lived out their last months of freedom lounging by the Jones’s pool, taking the train into the city to see Cubs games, or hanging out with friends in town. Although Ash and Ryder never officially dated, and claimed to everyone they were just friends, there were a few kisses over the summer. Albeit they were friendly kisses, but they always left Ashleigh wanting more. It started with prom. That night, after the dance, and a few spiked lemonades, there was a lengthy make out session in Ryder’s car. One that was never mentioned again but it solidified an even bigger place for him in her heart.

As the summer was winding down, Ashleigh preferred to talk less about the road ahead. It was getting harder for her to accept that soon Ryder would be leaving her. It was definitely getting harder to play it cool in front of him. Once, he almost caught her crying about it. It was the day they’d gone to the beach, but she pretended sand blew into her eyes.

Now the cold, hard truth of the matter faced Ashleigh as she looked around Ryder’s room for the last time. Tomorrow, Ryder was leaving for California and by next week, Ash would be in the complete opposite direction at college. Ryder had taken down all of the posters except for the framed movie poster of “Jailhouse Rock” he intended to give to his mom.

They had left the party earlier than Ashleigh expected. Ryder claimed he’d had enough and just wanted to go back to his house to hang out with her. Ashleigh was fine with that, even if it meant sitting in a room together watching television until the very last second before he had to leave.

Both sets of parents were in Lake Geneva for the weekend and Ryder’s older sister had already left for her third year of college, so Ryder blasted music from his stereo.

It wasn't the first time she had stayed at Ryder’s house. Many nights, Ashleigh had stayed in the Jones’s guest room and Ryder had his share of sleepovers at the Taylor’s place. Lately, she’d been wishing for him to make a move. She fantasized that he’d knock on the guest room door, and tell her he had a confession to make. Then he’d slide into bed with her. Ashleigh was pretty sure her folks didn't know how she really felt about Ryder - that over the last two years she’d developed feelings that, if pushed on the subject, Ashleigh might have admitted was more than just a simple crush. Had her parents even suspected that, it might have changed things, specifically allowing her to sleep over.

“You thirsty, Ash?” Ryder brought two beers into his room, snaking through the stack of packed boxes.

Ashleigh shrugged and tugged lightly on the shag carpet, her legs drawn into her chest.

Ryder set one of the cans next to her on the floor. “Hey, I have something for you.” He stepped over to his closet and pulled out a denim jacket, or as Ash always referred to it, the denim jacket.

Ashleigh swallowed hard. This was the symbol of finality, the parting gift. It was like a checkered flag indicating the race was over and all the losers should go home. He was giving her one of his most prized possessions.

Tears began to form and Ashleigh let he head drop into her hands.

Ryder dropped to his knees next to her, tossing the jacket onto the bed. “Hey, what’s wrong, doll?” Doll was Ryder’s tribute to 50’s slang but also an endearing nickname he used for Ashleigh. He reached up and pushed strands of hair from her face.

Ryder pulled her into an embrace. “If I thought the jacket was going to do this to you, I would’ve waited.”

“It’s not the jacket.” Ashleigh sobbed. She composed herself and pulled back from Ryder. She wiped her cheeks and sniffled.

Ryder searched her eyes for an answer.

Ashleigh was sure after all this time, Ryder must’ve had some clue how she felt. She rolled her eyes and pushed off the floor, picking up the jacket.

Ryder pulled it from her hands. “Ash.” He tossed the jacket on top of a box.

Ashleigh took a deep breath. “I can’t even begin to find the words to say what I want to say to you.” She looked down at her hands, wringing them together as she swallowed the lump in her throat. She looked up at Ryder, whose small smile usually cheered her up. It faded into a more serious line then his lips parted.

“Then let’s not talk.” He leaned in and kissed her, slowly and deliberately.

At first, Ashleigh stiffened, shocked by the feel of his lips on hers. Then, as his arms encircled her waist and pulled her closer, she softened, melting against his kiss.

This was what she wanted. This was what she dreamed about. But when his tongue parted her lips, Ashleigh pulled away.

“What are you doing, Ryder?” Ashleigh could only stare at the faded pattern logo of a band they’d seen in concert years ago.

Ryder’s hand went up to her cheek. He brushed the long, auburn hair from her shoulder.

Ashleigh felt her heart race under her peplum top, her skin started to warm as his hand ran across the open neckline.

“It’s our last night together, and we don’t know what the future holds.” Ryder’s hand rested on her shoulder. “Ash, you’ve been a part of my life as long as I can remember. We’ve gone through a lot together, we’ve shared so many experiences. I was hoping we’d share one last thing.”

Ashleigh’s gaze lifted and met his. She parted her lips to speak. She knew she wanted this. No matter what happened - if they never saw each other again or it turned into something, someday - it all made perfect sense.

Ashleigh wanted Ryder to be her first.