Since that shoot had happened on a Friday, Jessie had two agonizing days to spend wondering what Josh was really thinking so, instead of waiting like a sensible professional actor, she filled in all his thoughts herself. By Monday, she figured he likely had a pretty good hate-on for her.
Begrudgingly, she spent Saturday shopping for the wedding with Dee and Lydia, Charlie’s mother. Saturday night, after interminable hours with designers pitching wedding dresses to her - an international star with mucho influence in the fashion game despite the fact that she preferred hoodies, jeans and boots - they went off to dinner at La Brasserie, a Franco-German restaurant in the west end, where they met up with Charles and Jack. Charlie arrived late. He had supposedly been playing cards in the upstairs glassed-in office of his club. Jessie’s weren’t the only raised eyebrows when he came up with that excuse as the others were digging into their steak onglet and frites in the warmth of the dimly lit dark wood interior.
Sunday was a day of rest; time to study lines for the upcoming week. Jessie was relieved to discover that the planned scenes were much less intense than those of the prior week. She motored up to UBC in the ’66 Mustang and popped into her favorite cafe - Rebel on a Mountain Coffee - where one of Vancouver’s best baristas, tall skinny Chris with dark-framed Buddy Holly specs, made her a Flat White to die for. She sipped it there where nobody would bother her. The owners and staff were accustomed to Jessie visiting their hip establishment. She ordered a homemade apple cinnamon muffin just out of the oven to accompany the perfect coffee.
Sitting in the sunny cafe, Jessie went over her lines, aching to call Josh and coerce him into joining her. She figured he would be learning his dialogue as well, and she knew from past experience that the Drifters friends often spent Sunday afternoons there too. The staff of the cozy bright cafe, which most folks called ROAM instead of the lengthier Rebel on a Mountain, got a kick out of Jessie Wheeler’s presence again, and wondered if she was learning lines for that new period show, Drifters, or something more exotic. Little did they know that she couldn’t focus on the scripted dialogue at all, and instead her head was spinning with wedding plans and dresses and designers and dinners and seating plans and guest lists. Over and above them all, the only face she could see was Josh’s, shocked and confused and betrayed.
She gave up the ghost and put her head in her hands, forgetting where she was for a moment. Then Chris glanced at his counterpart, Zev, the cute Australian with dark curly hair, and at his nod made her another Flat White, this time on the house.
* * *
The next few weeks on set were tense, although not all of the cast and crew really understood why. All they knew was that something was off with Josh, and it seemed to be in relation to Jessie. Jonathon was slightly concerned, but not overly – he was over the moon with the footage that was coming off the RED camera. Its images were beautiful, regardless of any tension between the cast, with 35 mm shallow depth of field and dazzling high-resolution shots. He had a super crew on board this season, and it showed. The art department had done an extraordinary job pulling the set dec and props together, in particular. Their nineteenth century version of ‘Gassy Town’, from which the name Gastown in Vancouver had eventually evolved, was an intricately detailed extravaganza and, in combination with the artistic lighting, supported the actors perfectly. Thus, Jon was so happy and upbeat in those first few months of shooting – plus so incredibly busy writing and re-writing and managing the umpteen thousand minutiae that are part and parcel of a huge production– that any hard feelings that seemed to exist between Josh and Jessie slipped off his back like water off a duck.
Jessie’s life was flowing along like the St. John River when the ice melts in April, hurried and fast and overfull, when she arrived on set early one morning two months into the shoot. It was almost Christmas by then, and there was a light frost on the ground. It matched her temperament that day. Charlie had been unreachable all weekend. He was off filming in Europe, in Belgium at the time – an Oliver Stone World War II epic. He and Jessie often had trouble connecting, as their schedules and the world’s various time zones played havoc with their lives as a couple, but this time they had set specific protocol and had aligned their schedules. Jessie was trying to be more dedicated to her impending nuptials and subsequent life with Charlie. After the fiasco with Josh, and his cool demeanor over these past few weeks, she tried to push him to the back of her mind and write him off as just a crush during a low time in her relationship with a feisty playboy.
On this particular day the production team had brought a stuntwoman on set to double for Jessie during a scene when Kate had to move from her galloping horse onto the back of Billy’s horse, which would be running alongside. In the episode, Kate was on a runaway and Billy was her rescuer. She had rolled her eyes when she read the script – not because it was a little cliché (but would make great drama on TV), which she readily acknowledged, but because her life felt like that – like she was on the back of a runaway horse and couldn’t stop.
Jessie was more than a little upset as she climbed out of her SUV – as much as she loved the Mustang, the larger vehicle was warmer and she resorted to it during the winter months. Charlie’s whereabouts were a mystery, Josh wasn’t talking to her (could barely bring himself to look at her, in fact), it was freezing, she hadn’t slept well, and the producers didn’t trust her to do the stunt. She had been an avid rider since she’d met Charlie, as Jack and Lydia owned a big equestrian ranch in Southlands. She always rode Western, and felt that she could do this stunt with her hands tied behind her back. Hell, the producers were letting Josh do the stunt – mind you, he wasn’t the one climbing from one mount to another while galloping full tilt, and he had been riding from the time he was a small child, but still…Jessie was a solid actor who believed in doing as much of her own work as possible, and she was just cranky these days anyway.
“It’s just about that time of the month,” she caught herself muttering under her breath as she trudged through the gate over to her own trailer before going to hairy make-up to start the process before blocking. She was usually on such an even keel that it disturbed her to attribute her bad mood to anything so banal as the onset of her period, but things seemed to be really flying out of control these days, and that downward spiral was sucking her in, so she did what she often heard the hair and make-up girls did – made her monthlies the target of her irritability. You learned a lot in hairy make-up.
From the south side window of the hair and make-up trailer Sonia, base camp’s fiery make-up crew, a gal who wore different colored stripes in her hair each week, was watching Jessie progress up the trail with her head hanging. She frowned. Even though it was only 7 a.m., a time when most folks were bad-tempered regardless of what was going on their lives, she rarely saw Jessie unhappy. Quiet, yes. Disconnected, yes. But depressed – no. An upset actor was generally a portent for a difficult day.
Sonia turned to her friend Hilda, base camp’s attractive, elegant plus-sized red-maned hair gal. She grabbed a magazine out of Hilda’s hands and threw it upside down, behind her, on the counter.
“Get rid of that,” she hissed. “She’ll be here in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”
Sonia set about getting things ready for Jessie – various powders and creams. She didn’t do a lot of make-up on this period show, but television always required at least a little boost. Hilda settled into her chair to wait for Jessie, her brushes and sprays already in place. The girls were accustomed to early mornings, yet Hilda yawned deeply, and glanced at the frost outside. It really was pretty, with the early morning sun rising and reflecting its pale yellow light off the crisp blades of grass, turning them to lovely, colorful rainbow water droplets.
Jessie’s eyes cottoned on to a prism’d droplet ahead of her. She slowed down and stared, glumly.
“Hi Dad,” she said quietly.
Then she turned her head the other way, and moved on. She was super tired this morning. She couldn’t even face her dad, not today. As she set about putting a water bottle and backpack away in her trailer, she let her mind wander a little, and wondered if he was disappointed in her. Sure, he’d be proud of her music, but could he see that she was still unhappy? The whole world was excited about her wedding to Charlie Deacon, why wasn’t she? What was wrong with her? She could see her dad shaking his head at her. She had everything – money, fame, success – what right did she have to be so dejected? Little did he know that she would give it all up for a cuddle from him again, to play guitar and bellow traditional melodies at a Prince Edward Island campfire with him just once more.
Ducking into the tiny bathroom for a quick pee, Jessie avoided looking at herself in the mirror; and then she stepped down the metal stair and headed over to hairy make-up.
As Jessie entered, Sonia waved, her hand on a cell phone glued to her ear. Hilda had run to the bathroom as she waited for her first cast of the day, so Jessie grabbed the magazine on the counter and plopped down in Sonia’s chair. She didn’t usually waste her time with these magazines, and wondered why the girls bothered with them, but today she was in no mood to be held hostage by her thoughts. But her mouth fell open when she saw what – who – was on the front page. It was Charlie - red-eyed, obviously drunk, shirtless, the top button of his jeans open, a drink in his hand, and a buxom girl on either side. Jessie’s picture, a headshot thumbnail, was alongside. The headline read “Fun in the Sun”, and the subtitle was “Charlie’s Angels”.
Coolly, she closed her mouth and then thumbed through the magazine until she found the corresponding article within. As she read, Hilda exited the bathroom and suddenly stopped short. Jessie never read those magazines. Hilda had no way of knowing today would be the day she’d grab the one she herself had been reading – the day Jessie’s fiancé was on the front cover being accused of infidelity yet again. Hilda looked up at Sonia as the blood ran from her face.
Seeing Hilda’s suddenly piqued look, Sonia glanced at Jessie. The hand holding her cell phone dropped from her ear. She stared hard at Hilda. If looks could kill, Jon would have had to hire another hair stylist on Drifters.
Jessie took her time. She read the entire article, although her eyes were suddenly blurred. Then she got up and thrust the magazine at Hilda, who took it with a shaking hand as she peered surreptitiously at Jessie in a useless attempt to gauge how she took the news.
“I think I’ll go to blocking first today,” Jessie whispered quietly, before turning and unsteadily stepping down the two steps that would let her out of the trailer. It was suddenly closing in on her.
As she stumbled back to her own sanctuary, she noticed that her dad’s prisms were disappearing as the day warmed. She often felt alone in her life, but had thought those days were coming to an end.
Josh, just arriving at base camp, knew instantly that something was up. He glanced towards the hair and make-up trailer, from which he’d seen her exit, and wondered why she didn’t have her hair done before blocking, as usual. Pier greeted him, but then turned curiously towards Jessie as she entered her trailer and gently closed the door.
“Humph,” the young AD muttered. “What the hell?”
He glanced inquisitively at Josh, and then sauntered over to hair and make-up, where he found the girls sitting in their chairs in utter shock and disbelief. Hilda’s face was buried in her hands.
“Shit, girls, what the hell did you do?” Pier asked incredulously, and moved a hand down to his walkie to flip it off so as to be certain nobody could accidentally hear.
Outside, Josh made his way over to his own trailer. He noticed that Jessie had shut the inside door to hers, and not just the screen, as was her usual custom. He had a sinking feeling. What was going on, and where was this day going to land?
* * *
Pier usually enjoyed the early mornings on a set. There was a comfortable stillness in the air before everyone else arrived, a serenity that he had grown to cherish before the chaos inherent with a ninety person cast and crew. Generally one of the first people to arrive, he welcomed everyone and made sure his day was organized. He liked compartmentalizing, and putting things in order. As an AD, he was part of the team that kept things running smoothly. Stationed at base camp, he was usually faced with some sort of jigsaw puzzle each day as he put the actors through the process and sent them to set when they were needed. Most times, at least on this show, things ran very smoothly, although occasionally there was a persnickety guest star that was considered high maintenance.
This morning though, he suddenly felt underpaid and fearful. An AD’s job at base camp often involves smoothing ruffled feathers and cajoling finicky actors out of their trailers, but he’d had no such experiences with Jessie. Nor did he want any. As he sat in hairy make-up and pondered his next course of action, Pier knew that the bottom line was that they had a schedule to adhere to, a very strict timeline in order to get the day’s shots in. Plus, of all days, there was a big stunt today, scheduled for later in the afternoon. Still…Jessie had just received a terrible blow. As Hilda pleaded with Sonia to recognize that Jessie would have found out anyway, Pier made up his mind. He would try to talk to Jessie, offer some comfort, some hot coffee, perhaps. Then, if he failed, he would have to call in the big guns. Jonathon would want to be apprised of what had happened, and would likely come and talk to her. Perhaps Deirdre Keating would even be called.
As Pier got up and nervously left the trailer, he flipped the walkie back on and cranked up the volume. He cringed at the first AD’s voice from set, where the keys were planning the blocking. “How’s it going up there, Pier?” he heard. “Blocking in five.”
The young AD made his way across camp to Jessie’s trailer and, watched by Hilda, Sonia, and Josh, who was now at the craft trailer awaiting a plate of hot eggs and salty bacon, he took a deep breath, raised a fist to the door, and knocked.
Jessie heard the knock and knew she would have to deal with it. She had been sitting there suddenly pondering how to get out of this big wedding that in truth, in her heart of hearts, she knew she had never really wanted in the first place. The funny thing was, though, that a few months ago she hadn’t really cared all that much. Most of her emotions were buried so deep that, for many years, she had only allowed herself to feel on some peripheral level. But the first time she’d looked into Josh’s eyes that had begun to change. She felt so alone. But she pushed those thoughts aside.
At Pier’s second knock, she jumped up and whipped open the door.
“Hi Pier.” She was always courteous, this girl. Given the circumstances, Pier was amazed by her. Maybe everything would be okay.
“Tell Jonathon I am doing the stunt today.”
Pause. Beat. Pier took a breath, tilted his head, looked away for a moment, tried to speak, and then looked her in the eye. She was deadly serious. She raised her eyebrows at him. “Capiche?” she asked firmly.
He felt his shoulders sink. He nodded, gulped out a hesitant “Yeah, no problem,” then turned and walked away, watched by the eagle eyes of everyone at base camp – the hair and make-up girls (who he would like to really shoot, about now), the grips and electrics gathered around craft eating their eggs and bacon, and Jonathon, who had just arrived back up from set for a cup of fresh joe.
Pier hesitated, and then stepped over to Jon to give him the good news.
* * *
Besides the obvious safety concerns with Jessie doing this particular stunt was the fact that the insurance company for the production was going to freak. There were certain activities, even during her time off, that she was discouraged from doing. After all, she was carrying a lead role in Drifters. Even with the insurance, if she got hurt and couldn’t participate in the shooting, the show would lose a lot of money and cache. Jonathon was less than pleased. He popped into her trailer immediately after his brief chat with Pier.
“Jessie, what the hell,” he said bluntly. He wasn’t known for beating around the bush. He was a busy producer, and he didn’t get to the top of his game by pussyfooting around.
She was waiting for him, perched on a small bench seat at the little dinner table in the trailer, with her hands clasped in front of her as if she had been praying. Jessie looked up, and he noticed that her eyes seemed a little black underneath, as if smudged by kohl. He wasn’t sure whether she had been crying, although Pier had given him the brief story about her discovery while in hair and make-up. He looked closer at her, trying to ascertain her feelings, to see why she would insist on being difficult. At set, the crew was waiting for blocking to begin, so he had to make this visit short and sweet, no holds barred. Jon adored Jessie, and would do anything for her – she was his secret ingredient, his cherry on the top of a hot fudge sundae. But she could be stubborn, and to talk her out of this decision, on this day when Charlie had royally fucked things up for the cast and crew of Drifters, would take the right amount of cajoling and sucking up. Briefly. He had to go in hard and get right to the point, but at the same time be cautious, as if he was running barefoot on a glass covered beach on a hot summer day and had to get from his blanket to the waves in five seconds flat.
She was patient, but determined. “I can do the stunt, Jon,” she said stubbornly.
Oh, hell, she wasn’t wavering. He knew her well enough to know that she’d made up her mind. And when a woman made up her mind, well…
So much for running across the sea glass. He pretended it was the kind that had been in the ocean for a while, softened and smooth at the edges. He could walk a little slower. One way or the other, he would get to the cool ocean and rest his weary, sore feet. He was just going to have to get there a little differently than he had planned. Slower. More cautiously.
At least she was confident. He nodded, got up, and went to the door, where he stood there and looked at her firmly, and spoke sharply without the fear he felt in his gut edging his voice. He had to establish parameters. That was also a producer’s job, otherwise the actors would run all over you.
“You get two tries,” he said. “Then we’re bringing in the stuntwoman.”
He turned to leave, then paused and looked back, softened. “Charlie’s a dick,” he said. “You deserve better.”
She looked so small, sitting there on the nondescript little beige bench seat, looking up at him. He could see the anger in her eyes then, just a flash, something neither he nor Charles nor Dee had ever really been privy to. It surprised him, but it left him with the feeling that there was hope, that she still had some fight left in her yet, after the horrid start to her day.
He walked away thinking she was crazy, but he admired her will to try not just the stunt, but also some kind of hapless marriage with Charlie Deacon.
“What a day,” he murmured, cursing. “What a fucking day.”
He pulled out his iPhone to text Charles and Dee, and saw that it was only 7:32 a.m. The day had barely begun.
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