"It should only be a few more minutes now," the well-dressed blonde who had been introduced to them earlier as Lisa said, adjusting the wireless headset she was wearing. "If anyone needs to make a last minute trip to the bathroom, it's right across the hall."
"Thanks, but I'm fine," the sandy haired seventeen year old sitting in the easy chair to her left said.
Lisa turned to the equally young couple on the couch to her right to check with them, but they seemed oblivious to her presence. They'd been canoodling practically from the moment they'd gotten here and seemed not to hear, or care, as twice, Lisa loudly cleared her throat. Thinking they were hardly the worst she'd seen on her six months on the job, she shrugged and turned back to her left.
"If you have the chance you might want to hose the two of them down," she smiled at the cute young man. "Otherwise just relax and I'll be back in a jiffy."
Nicholas Porter watched as the Administrative Producer stepped through the door and out into the outer hall. He couldn't help but contrast the way she dressed and acted with that of Hillary over on the couch. He at least had made sure he brought a suit with him for tonight, while the dark haired brunette was dressed as if it was just another Friday night at the local clubs.
After taking a brief moment to consider how much fun it might actually be to dump a bucket of cold water on those two, Nicholas took another long look around the room to try and permanently record every feature of his surroundings to memory. Part of him wished he had brought his camera with him, but another had decided that would only mark him as a hick from the sticks and he'd left it back at the hotel.
The room was actually rather ordinary, he had to admit, resembling a living room much like the room in his parent's house back in Cherrywood Falls. Aside from the chair he was sitting in, a duplicate of which sat just across the way, there was a large couch and an equally long coffee table. The latter of which doubled as a sort of buffet table and was filled with snacks and drinks. None of which Nicholas had dared to touch for fear he'd spill something on his suit. Hillary and Roger, the couple on the sofa, however, had devoured a large portion of the repast as if it were a last meal.
To the far left of where Nicholas sat stood a wide screen television monitor, tuned not to any station but to an area elsewhere in the building. It was the image on the screen that made this simple room important.
In a week of pretty amazing events, it was the call from the booking agent for "The Midnight Hour" that really stood out in Nicholas's thoughts. The Tonight Show it wasn't, but the syndicated talk show was seen nationwide and constantly ranked among the top five in the ratings. Even before he had said that he would appear on the show, the agent had promised that, even thought he only lived a few hours drive north of Los Angeles, they would fly him down to the city. In addition, they would put him up at a hotel for the entire weekend, even though the show they wanted him for was on Friday night. With an offer like that, it was almost impossible for Nicholas to say no. Which of course he didn't.
Then, the other shoe dropped and they told him the price of the ticket. Once he had agreed to come, the booking agent mentioned that they were also going to ask Hillary Parks to come as well. It wasn't so much having to put up with his co-worker that bothered him, it was the fact that she would undoubtedly ask Roger Mills, her boyfriend, to come along too. To say that Roger, whom he had known since grade school, and he didn't get along, would be the biggest understatement of the year. Still, not even that prospect was enough to cause a change of heart.
Arriving at the hotel from the airport shortly after lunch, Nicholas had been surprised to find a message that said they had to be at the studio by five o'clock to tape the show. Evidently, even though it ran at midnight, it was taped six hours earlier. In retrospect, that made a lot of sense but Nicholas wished he'd know that earlier. In anticipation of having to stay up half the night, he'd done so the night before and only gotten out of bed a half hour before they had to leave for the small county airport outside of town. With the show over at eight at the latest, he was going to have a hard time getting to sleep tonight.
On the television monitor, Billy Lee Young, the host of the show, was wrapping up the previous segment with some actress promoting her new movie. Nicholas hadn't really been paying that much attention to what they'd been saying until the white haired entertainer announced to the studio audience who his next guests were. Even after all the places his name had appeared this last week, it gave the teenager a rush to hear it on television.
As if on cue, which was precisely what it was since she'd been listening to the show on her headset, Lisa appeared at the door and said they should follow her to the soundstage. That, Hillary heard loud and clear, quickly disengaging herself from Roger and rising to her feet. In a flash, she produced a small compact mirror and checked her face. Confident that all was as perfect as it should be, she snapped it shut and headed for the door. Right behind her followed Roger, until he was stopped short as Lisa stepped in between him and Hillary.
Guessing that he expected to go along with the dark haired girl, Lisa had been ready. After physically blocking him, she said he would have to wait here in the green room.
"You'll be able to watch the taping here on the monitor," Lisa assured the young man.
"But I thought, was hoping, that he could come with me," Hillary implored once she realized that he wasn't.
"Sorry, but that would be against the rules," Lisa said with a patented smile. "Only guests actually booked on the show are allowed on the set."
Truth was, that only applied to non-celebrities, but she wasn't going to tell them that. Just like she wasn't going to mention the other waiting room down the hall with more elegant trappings and buffet for more important guests.
Hillary pouted for a moment, then deciding that she wasn't about to miss her chance to be on nationwide TV, kissed Roger good-bye. At the same time, she shot Nicholas a nasty look that said she wished he were the one staying behind. Not talking into account the fact that if not for him, she wouldn't be here at all. Or anywhere else for that matter.
Stepping onto the soundstage, Nicholas continued his interest in the world of television, taking in every little thing. He found it fascinating the way they took a set that was not much larger than the room they'd just come from and made it look so much larger on the screen. Even the backdrop curtain, where Young did a short monologue at the start of the show, was only a few feet from his desk, whereas back home it had always seemed to be on another stage entirely. The magic of television he mused.
A stagehand took over from Lisa and, after clipping small wireless microphones to their clothes, guided them where to sit. Hillary was a little miffed when she was relegated to just window dressing for Nicholas's story and assigned a place on the couch next to the actress from the previous segment. Nicholas, had been placed in the chair between the couch and the desk.
A minute later, Billy Lee came back from offstage where he'd had a quick readjustment of his makeup. In the few moments before they resumed taping, he welcomed the young couple, telling them to just relax and enjoy being on the show. As a casual remark, he said they made a cute couple, causing Hillary to immediately say that they weren't anything of the kind. Billy Lee didn't seem to hear as the director yelled five seconds at the same moment and the host quickly moved back behind his desk.
After welcoming his as yet non-existent home audience back from a commercial break that would later be inserted, Billy Lee began to talk about how the only time you seem to hear stories about teenagers these days was when they were in trouble or did something particularly bad. Well, the other day he was reading the paper, he told the studio audience, which was at least real, and came across a story quite the opposite. That an intern whose job it was to look for interesting stories in small town papers had brought the story to his attention was left out of his narrative.
The story, he went on, told of how a young man in a small town upstate had, at the risk of his own, saved the life of one of his co-workers. A propane gas explosion in the kitchen of the dinner where they both worked had, in an instant, filled the small restaurant with flames and smoke. Patrons and staff quickly fled to the safety of the street, but once they were all there, a headcount showed them one short.
Hillary Parks, who had been working the register right next to the kitchen, had evidently been left behind. With the local Fire Department not yet on the scene, and the smoky inferno growing worse by the minute, Billy Lee went on to say, Nicholas Porter, who had working at the diner as a waiter during his summer, took in upon himself to brave the flames and rescue her.
The veteran host paused for a moment to let the camera pan over to Nicholas so that everyone at home would be able to get a good look at him before he finished the story. To both the studio, and later the home audience, the young man seemed an unlikely hero. Standing only five six and a hundred and forty pounds, he looked more like the kid next store who mowed your lawn. Then again, as Billy Lee was quick to remind them all, what was a hero but an ordinary man propelled into extraordinary circumstances, and rising to the occasion.
After a few more beats, he again picked up the story and told how Nicholas, despite the choking smoke and heat, found Hillary unconscious on the floor beside the register and carried her to safety.
The camera panned over to Hillary, the damsel in distress as Billy Lee referred to her, giving her the fifteen seconds of glory that was all she was going to get. A brief span that she wasted as bored by all the talk about Nicholas, she hadn't really been paying attention. Finally, she realized that her face was on one of the monitors spread around the stage and she opened her mouth to say something, hoping to draw herself into the narrative. However, the moment was already past as the camera panned back to Billy Lee and then pulled back to include Nicholas too.
"First of all, I have to say it really is an honor to meet a brave young man like yourself," the fifty-eight year old said as he reached over the desk to shake the younger man's hand.
"I really don't consider myself that brave," Nicholas replied as he shook hands, feeling a little embarrassed by all of the attention. It was one thing for people he grew up with to say that, it was another to have it said on national television he realized.
"Well I'm sure our audience would disagree," the host responded.
As if to agree with him, the studio audience burst into applause. Taken by surprise, Billy Lee thought it a nice touch that the director had the foresight to light up the "applause" sign at that moment. Standing on the other side of the set, the director thought that would've been a nice touch too, if he had thought to do it.
"I know I would've had second, or even third thoughts about running into a burning building like that," Billy Lee added. "I think most people would."
"That's just it, I really didn't think about it," Nicholas tried to explain. "If I had, I probably would've waited outside with the others for the fire department. That would've been the smart thing to do. But all I knew was that I couldn't wait there while Hillary might be hurt or worse. I acted without thinking, that doesn't make me a hero."
"Well," Billy Lee smiled, "since from what I understand, the ceiling over where Hillary had been came crashing down less than a minute after the two of you got out of the building, I'm going to have to really disagree with you there. She's really lucky to have a caring boyfriend like you."
"He's not my boyfriend!" Hillary abruptly cried out from the couch.
"Excuse me?" Billy Lee said, not used to being interrupted on his own show.
"I said he's not my boyfriend," she repeated with a tone that said, as if she would ever date someone like him. "My boyfriend is back in your green room and he..."
"My error," the genial host apologized. Before they went on the air, he'd heard Lisa say that Hillary and her boyfriend were quite a pair and had mistakenly assumed that Nicholas was the one she had been talking about. Then, just as quickly, once again to Hillary's disappointment, he turned his attention back to Nicholas, picking up where he'd left off. "The bottom line, however you see yourself young man, is that you are indeed a genuine hero and I just wanted to have you here so that people could see that not all today's kids are what some parts of the media like to portray."
Not wanting to offend the host, and mindful of the fact that they did bring him down from upstate and arranged for him to stay the weekend, Nicholas decided not to belabor the point. They continued to chat for a few more minutes about other aspects of his life, and then before he knew it, his segment was over as well.
"You did good, kid," Billy Lee said as the red light on the camera's went off after he told the invisible home audience that they'd be back with their final guest of the evening after a few words from their sponsors.
At the stagehands direction, Nicholas relinquished the chair and headed for the couch. Still miffed at being overlooked, Hillary refused to move over, wanting to stay in the coveted spot next to the chair within camera range. Feeling almost a little sorry for her, Nicholas moved to the far end of the couch and sat at that end instead.
"I agree with Billy Lee," the actress who'd been his earlier guest said to Nicholas after he sat down next to her. "You are a hero, even if you are a bashful one."
"Oh my God, you're Tiffany Adams," Nicholas exclaimed as he finally realized who had been sitting across from him during the short interview.
"If you say so, then I must be," the black haired woman smiled warmly.
"I've seen every movie you ever made," Nicholas gushed.
"Then you must've started when you were still in diapers," the forty-year-old actress laughed.
"No, I really mean it," Nicholas retorted.
Actually he hadn't, since Tiffany had appeared in nearly seventy-five films, a large number of which were B Movies or ones in which she'd only had a bit part. But the voluptuous actress had played pretty much the same character in each of them, a not too bright bimbo. It was a role she had raised to an art form, one she'd made so much her own that she could list an Oscar nomination among her credits. Well aware that she wasn't the most versatile of actresses, Tiffany had parlayed a little girl voice and a very grown up bust into a career that outlasted most of her peers. One still going strong with Tiffany convincingly playing roles written for much younger women.
"Well if you're really that much of a fan, then I'm even gladder to meet you," Tiffany offered as she took Nicholas's hand in hers.
Sitting so close to her, and now reminded of all the times he watched her on the tapes and DVDs piled up in his room, Nicholas couldn't help but be painfully aware of how much of her celebrated cleavage Tiffany had exposed in the tight fitting dress she was wearing. The pain aspect resulting from the fact that her anatomy had a highly noticeable effect on part of his. With the advent of years, the actress had certainly put on a few more pounds, but they seemed to fall in all the right places.
"I can't believe how stupid I am," Nicholas went on, trying to divert attention away from his predicament. "How could I be sitting a few feet away from you and not recognize you?"
"You were nervous," she reassured him, "it happens all the time."
Tiffany paused for a moment, then leaned even closer and whispered low enough that only he could hear her.
"It's okay, you can look if you want," she smiled softly, "everyone does. I don't mind. If it wasn't for these babies, I wouldn't be where I am today."
Nicholas was saved from further embarrassment by the director's unexpected announcement that they had a small technical problem and they were going to have to delay taping the last portion of the show. He said for everyone to just stay where they were and they should be back in business in a few minutes.
His admonishment for everyone to sit tight didn't apply of course to Billy Lee, who promptly walked off the set to wait out the delay in the comfort of his dressing room. As he crossed the stage, he made eye contact with one of the interns working for the show over the summer and a wordless exchange passed between them. The girl waited until Billy Lee passed her by, then after passing her clipboard to one of the other girl's, followed after him.
The exchanged had been caught by the director as well as he swore under his breath that the taping was now going to be delayed even longer. His only consolation was that these days, Billy Lee's mid-show dalliances didn't last as long as they used to.
The host's abrupt departure from the set proved a disappointment for Hillary as well. She had hoped the delay might give her a chance to talk to the star. The man might've been even older than her father, but he was, after all, still in show business. Given a chance, she was sure she could've convinced him of her worth.
Deciding that the big-boobed actress on the couch was better than nothing, she turned to talk to her instead, only to discover that she was already engaged in conversation with Nicholas. Well she could put a stop to that easily enough.
Unfortunately for Hillary, Tiffany didn't seem to be that interested in talking to her. Not even when she flashed her own not unimpressive bust practically in the woman's face. She couldn't understand it, hadn't she read that that most of these Hollywood types went both ways.
Angry that she was being ignored, Hillary fell back on her previous complaint that Roger had to wait backstage during the show. Moreover, as she did with so many things, she twisted it around so that somehow it was all Nicholas's fault.
"You could've at least insisted they let Roger come out too," she said, interrupting Nicholas in mid-sentence. "After all, he did come all the way down here with us."
"He came all the way down here with you," Nicholas pointed out, finally losing his patience with Hillary for possibly blowing his only chance to talk to a real live actress, "not me."
"Roger would be the boyfriend you mentioned before?" Tiffany asked, having already gotten the message that he wasn't any friend of Nicholas.
"Yes he is."
"Well it's a pity that he wasn't there the day of the fire," Tiffany said, "then maybe Nicholas wouldn't have had to risk his own life to save yours."
It was only at the last second that Tiffany thought to substitute "yours" for "your worthless ass."
"Oh Roger was there," Hillary boasted. "In fact he was standing on the other side of the counter talking to me when the kitchen blew up. He..."
"Wait a second," Tiffany said, cutting short anything else Hillary was about to say. "He was standing right next to you and he didn't make sure that you were okay before getting his own ass out of there?"
"What are you saying?"
"What I'm saying," Tiffany said in a tone far removed from the quiet, sultry voice she normally used, "is that he doesn't sound to me like much of a man, much less a boyfriend if he just left you and ran."
"My Roger is all man," Hillary protested, "and he did save me. He called the fire department as soon as he was outside."
Nicholas smiled as he watched the verbal exchange between the two women. That Roger Mills, football star and all around jock was a horse's ass before he decided to save himself above all else was something Nicholas well knew. It was nice to see Tiffany come to the same conclusion without ever even meeting him. If it wouldn't seem like gloating, he would love to mention that when they realized that Hillary was missing, Roger declined to go with him back into the diner to find her.
Later on, after the fire department had arrived and administered oxygen to Hillary, Roger did nothing to dispel her first thought that he had indeed rescued her. At least not until the next day after she had been released from the hospital and thanked him properly. By the time she found out it had been Nicholas who carried her to safety, Roger had already reworked the story so that it seemed like the smaller teen had actually endangered her life by rushing in there rather than wait for the fire department.
"Alright folks," the director called out as he spotted Billy Lee reappearing on the set, "lets get back to business and put this puppy to bed."
As Billy Lee settled into his seat, the director also spotted the intern who had followed him into his dressing room. He had to suppress a laugh as he watched the girl she had left her clipboard with pull a tissue from her pocket and wiped the corner of the intern's mouth. Then, holding the tissue with two fingers, she dropped it into a nearby wastebasket.
Then last guest turned out to be the author of some book that Nicholas had never heard of, but evidently one Billy Lee had enjoyed. Whatever it was about went right by the teenager as he spent the entire interview torn between the choice of watching Hillary stew or checking out Tiffany's boobs. In the end, he decided that he'd always have plenty of future opportunities to again see the former and concentrated on the latter.
Finally, after a few more minutes of conversation with his last guest, Billy Lee brought the show to a close. As soon as the director yelled clear, he stood up and thanked first his guests and then the studio audience. Then, just as quickly, he was off to his dressing room to change. This time, the intern knew better than to follow.
Tiffany took Nicholas by the hand and said it had been very nice to meet him. Then she too was gone.
Still curious about how the show ran, Nicholas watched attentively as the crew broke down the set and hoped he might get the chance to ask a few questions. A chance he wasn't going to get as Lisa reappeared from off stage and said she'd walk them back to the green room. The implication was clear if unspoken. It was time to go.
Reluctantly, Nicholas followed Lisa and Hillary back through the long corridor to the green room. Roger was standing outside in the hall and as soon as Hillary saw him, she ran up and jumped into his waiting arms.
"Baby, did you see me on TV?" she gushed as she kissed him deeply.
"I sure did, honey," Roger said as he returned the kiss, making a grab for her ass at the same time. "And you really looked hot!"
"You think so?" the brunette asked as she playfully pushed his hand away.
"Really hot," Roger repeated, knowing that being told that really turned his girlfriend on. "In fact, I doubt anyone even noticed that old actress on the couch after you came on."
"Oh baby, you say the sweetest things," Hillary purred as she pulled Roger closer, pressing her breasts into his chest.
"Well I hope you enjoyed your visit to the Midnight Hour," Lisa said as she hid her amusement at the juvenile dialogue, "and as soon as you're ready, the car will be waiting outside to drop you off back at your hotel."
"In other words," Nicholas thought with a smile, "don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out."
Nevertheless, the young woman was only doing her job, he reminded himself and he took the time to thank her for her time and attention. Roger and Hillary failed to do so as they bumped and ground against each other.
"Hey Nick," Roger finally said as he came up for air, ignoring the fact that Nicholas hated being called that. "Do you think you could find your way back to the hotel on your own? Hill and I would really like to ride back by ourselves, have a little privacy. You can get a cab, right?"
If Nicholas hadn't always thought Roger had a lot of nerve, this would certainly convince him. Asking if he wouldn't mind trading a ride in a plush limousine for the back seat of a cab, just so Roger could ride alone with Hillary was a pretty lousy thing to do. Especially since he was the reason they were there and more so why they had the weekend in the city. Something one of the people on the show had went out of the way to tell him wasn't the way it was normally done. Billy Lee had been genuinely impressed by what he'd done and had arranged for mini-vacation as a sort of reward.
"Okay, you two can have the car," Nicholas replied, as much to his surprise as theirs.
"Thanks pal," Roger said in a voice oozing insincerity.
Hillary didn't bother to even thank him, whispering instead something in Roger's ear and then racing down the hall toward the parking lot. Roger just sort of smiled at Nicholas, then ran after her, quickly disappearing around a turn in the corridor.
Taking a deep breath and slowly shaking his head, Nicholas wondered why he had done that. The answer came quickly enough. He simply couldn't put up with the two of them pawing each other in front of him another minute. If he didn't see them before it was time to leave on Monday morning, it would be fine with him.
With that behind him, Nicholas considered what now. He could head back to the hotel himself, or ask someone to suggest a nice restaurant in the area. The quiet rumble in his stomach reminded him he been too nervous to eat at all today. Then after dinner, maybe a little sightseeing.
"What do you think," a soft voice behind him asked, "do you think they'll make it back to the hotel first or is she just going to get down on her knees and blow him in the back of the limo?"
Nicholas turned to find Tiffany Adams standing behind him. He'd been so lost in thought he hadn't heard her come up behind him.
"Excuse me?" Nicholas asked, sure he'd heard her wrong.
"For my money, I'd bet on the blow job," Tiffany smiled, proving he had indeed heard her right. "Hillary doesn't strike me as the kind of girl who has a lot of patience, much less self control."
Nicholas wasn't sure how to answer, even though he knew the actress was right on the money. He'd lost track of all the times he'd watched Hillary and Roger, and a few boyfriends before him, sneak off into the back storeroom in the middle of the day. Hillary always claimed he was helping her with the inventory, but the sounds coming out of the room when he was curious enough to put his ear near the door were unmistakable.
"So what are you going to do now that you've given away your ride?" Tiffany asked, sensing that Nicholas wasn't going to give an opinion on her first question.
"I'm not sure," he admitted. "I thought I'd ask if there was a nice restaurant I could go to in the area. That or just go back to the hotel and order room service."
"Either way, it hardly seems such a great way to spend your first night in LA," Tiffany commented, knowing too well what kind of hotel the show had probably put Nicholas up in. Nice enough, but definitely low budget. There were limits to the show's generosity. "Not much of a reward for a hero."
"I really wish everyone would stop calling me that," Nicholas said, the impatience in his voice coming through. "It was bad enough back home, but here it's really beginning to bother me."
"Then why did you say you say you'd come on the show?" Tiffany asked out of curiosity.
"Well, it was a chance to see how a TV show was made and, well I guess I really didn't think that much about it. It all happened so fast."
"That's understandable," Tiffany smiled, having been on the end of the full court press of a determined booking agent herself. "But if you don't mind my saying, you shouldn't throw off that mantle too readily before you see what you can get out of it."
Nicholas gave her a look that said he didn't quite understand.
"Well for one thing, some women find things like that really sexy," Tiffany grinned. "Maybe not your friend, Hillary, but again, she doesn't strike me as the appreciative type. At least not towards those who really deserve it."
This time, Nicholas understood half of what she meant but before he could ask her to clarify it, Tiffany changed the subject.
"Do you like Italian?"
"No, sports cars," Tiffany quipped.
"Yes, I like Italian."
"I was planning to swing over to this really great place down in Marina del Ray that makes the most incredible Abbacchio alla Romana," she went on. "It's only about a half hour from here, would you like to join me?"
"Are you kidding?" a surprised Nicholas asked.
"Honey, do I look like I kid about food?" Tiffany laughed.
"I'd love to," he finally managed to say, thinking that none of his friends back home were ever going to believe this.
"Great," Tiffany replied with a smile that could melt butter. "I'm parked in the private lot on the other side of the building, shall we go?"
Whatever lingering disappointment Nicholas might have felt over giving up his last chance to ride in that luxury limo totally faded when he saw the car Tiffany led him to. It was a 1967 Ferrari 275GTS in mint condition. His jaw dropped when he saw the cherry red, two-seat convertible.
"This is your car?" he asked in disbelief.
"What can I say," Tiffany grinned. "I grew up with four brothers and a Dad who owned a car restoration business. Some of that sort of rubbed off."
"Can I drive it?" Nicholas said without thinking.
"Maybe we should leave that until later," Tiffany offered, mentioning the value of the car should the newly licensed teen damage it.
"I think you might be right," Nicholas admitted as that number hit him like a bucket of cold water.
"Well just don't stand there, climb in and I'll show you what it can do," Tiffany laughed.
The traffic on the 405 was just light enough at this time of night for Tiffany to do just that, much to Nicholas's delight. With the setting sun disappearing beneath the Pacific only a few miles away, they raced down the Interstate and made it to the restaurant in what had to be considered record time.
"Wow!" Nicholas exclaimed as he looked out on the magnificent vista as the last rays of sunset faded beneath the horizon, its last remnant painting hundreds of boats a golden yellow.
"I take it you don't have anything like this back in Cherrywood Falls?" Tiffany asked rhetorically, watching the sheer enjoyment on his face. "Well we'll have to see what else we can find to make your trip memorable."
Once the sun had finally set, Tiffany led Nicholas across the road to a small, out of the way bistro. It didn't look like much from the outside he thought, but once they were inside, it was as if they'd been transported to a small village in Italy. At least from what he'd seen of pictures of such places.
There didn't seem to be an empty table anywhere, but Tiffany remained unconcerned. She patiently waited for someone behind the small counter in the corner to spot her, then smiled as a short, rounded man came rushing up to her.
"Buona sera, Miss Adams," the middle-aged man said with great enthusiasm. "It's so nice to see you again."
"Good evening, Mario," Tiffany smiled back. "I can see you have what looks to be a full house tonight, but do you think you could manage to find a small table somewhere for two hungry travelers?"
"For you, anything," the restaurant owner smiled back, "if you'll just follow me."
Much to the chagrin of the long line of people waiting in line behind the velvet ropes, Mario opened one of those ropes and let the pair thought the first floor of restaurant and up a flight of stairs to a small balcony. There were a few tables spread across the terrace and half of these were still empty. He showed them to one at the far end, one with a perfect view of the marina.
"I'll have someone come right up to take your order," Mario said after they'd taken their seats. "Might I send up a nice red wine in the meantime?"
"That would be fine," Tiffany answered, "and perhaps a Coke for my guest."
"Excellent," Mario said, relieved that Tiffany had taken the initiative and ordered a non-alcoholic drink for the young man who was obviously under the legal drinking age. Not all of his celebrity patrons were that understanding and expected deferential treatment.
"I guess it must be great that you don't have to wait on lines and such," Nicholas remarked after Mario went on his way. "One of the advantages of being a celebrity."
"Oh, that's not why we didn't have to wait," Tiffany laughed in that helium filled voice that had made her career. "If you took a good look, there were plenty of famous people on that line. Just being in the movies doesn't count for a lot from Mario."
Surprised, Nicholas gave Tiffany a look that seemed to ask why then.
"The one thing a man like Mario values above all else is loyalty," Tiffany replied to the unspoken question. "He's very old world in that regard. I've been coming to his place since almost before you were born, back when he was just trying to get his business going. Eventually, the right people discovered just how good the food here really is and it's been wall to wall guests ever since. But Mario had never forgotten the people who came here when he was still struggling and always holds a place for them."
"That's pretty cool," Nicholas replied.
"Yes it is," Tiffany agreed.
As Mario had promised, a waiter appeared a few moments later, carry both their drinks and ready to take their dinner order. Tiffany ordered for both of them, asking Nicholas to trust her on that one. To which he readily agreed.
The food was indeed as good as Tiffany had promised and at one point, she even surreptitiously refilled his soda glass with some of the wine. Their conversation over diner proved even more enjoyable.
Tiffany asked about his life back in Cherrywood Falls, commenting that it didn't sound all that much different from the small town in Indiana that she'd grown up in. They also talked about his plans for the future and she seemed genuinely impressed that he had won a full scholarship to California Southern State.
"So what are you planning to study once you're there?" Tiffany asked.
"I'm not sure yet," Nicholas replied, "but if I can make the grades, I've been giving some thought to teaching."
"You're kidding," Tiffany laughed.
"Why is that so funny?" Nicholas asked, thinking that she was making fun of him.
"Oh I'm not laughing at you," she quickly corrected him as she correctly interpreted his tone. "I just thought that was funny that's all."
A long moment passed then she explained why.
"Air-headed bimbo typecast to the contrary," Tiffany said, "I have a bachelors degree in education science. Before I got the acting bug, I was working as a junior high school teacher."
"I never knew that," Nicholas said in surprise.
"Well, that's not the kind of sexy secret that usually makes the gossip columns." Tiffany grinned. "Believe me, the image most people have of actors actually being the characters they play is rarely true."
"I guess not," the young man agreed.
"Now, wasn't this better than room service back in that box they call a hotel?" Tiffany asked, changing the subject.
"Most definitely," Nicholas agreed.
"So what's the story with you and Hillary?" she asked unexpectedly.
"What do you mean?"
"You have the hots for her, don't you?"
"Well..." Nicholas hesitated, "yes and no I guess."
"Yes and no as in, she's a girl you really want to fuck but can't stand her otherwise."
Nicholas turned bright red with embarrassment as in one sentence Tiffany summed up what he had thought was a complex relationship.
"Don't be embarrassed," Tiffany said understandingly. "You're hardly the first young man to feel that way. Bad girls attract, it's that simple. If it wasn't I wouldn't have a film career." she added with a small laugh.
"I guess not," Nicholas laughed as well.
"You'd think she'd be more appreciative of the fact that you'd saved her life," Tiffany remarked. "I know I would've been."
"Well, like you saw back at the studio, Hillary doesn't always see things the way other people do."
"Well that's not hard to do that when you're always looking up at the ceiling," Tiffany retorted, leaving no doubt as to what she meant by that.
Their conversation was interrupted right then as an older, blonde haired woman walked up to their table and said hello. If Nicholas had to guess, he'd say she looked no more than sixty and would be surprised to discover that he was a decade short in his assumption. Standing right behind her was a smartly dress brunette in her twenties, who had obviously just finished dinner with the seventy year old.
"I hope I'm not intruding, Tiffany," the woman, who also seemed familiar to Nicholas, said, "but when I saw you I just had to stop and thank you for all the help you've given the foundation in raising money for the East LA Education Fund."
"Not at all, Abigail," Tiffany replied, making it clear that she knew the woman. "I'm always glad to help good causes like that."
"Well if I had a few more helpers with drive like yours, we could double our contributions," Abigail replied. "So I just wanted to thank you personally and hope we can count on you in the future as well."
"Think nothing of it," Tiffany insisted, knowing that the only reason Abigail even acknowledged her contribution was that she wanted her to devote even more time to the cause. The actual cause being the adoration of Abigail Anderson, not helping some poor kids get a better chance in school. "Might I introduce you to my escort for the evening, Nicholas Porter."
"It's nice to meet you, Nicholas," Abigail said as she finally acknowledged the young man's presence.
"Nicholas and I were guests on "The Midnight Hour" earlier this evening and I thought I'd see to it that he at least had a really good meal on his short visit to LA," Tiffany offered in way of explanation.
"Well you certainly brought him to the right place for that," Abigail remarked. "What did you do that earned you a place on Billy Lee's couch?" she asked, familiar with the way the show operated.
"Why don't you just tune in tonight and find out," Tiffany quickly said, seeing the look of discomfort that flashed across Nicholas's face. "It's a very interesting story, believe me."