Prior to the Drifters premiere in North America, Jonathon set up a press junket followed by a small tour for his lead cast. Although they were on a tight schedule, Jessie and her friends had a great time hanging out together. The show was already the most anticipated drama premiere of the season so the interviewers were, for the most part, on their best behavior. Jonathon stressed to his own marketing team that the interviewers needed to adhere to a certain code or he’d pull his cast. He was, of course, referring to questions about the newly public relationship between Jessie and Josh. He wanted to ensure that his two lead cast – his son, in particular – were treated with respect. The media hadn’t been kind when they initially got wind of the romance. The usual questions were posed – when had the relationship burgeoned, and what impact did it have on the break-up between Jessie and Charlie? Was it fly-by-night, as in the case of many lead cast whose characters were hooked up, or was it deep enough to survive the challenges life could throw towards new couples? Jessie and Josh knew the answer – they knew their feelings were genuine. Jonathon trusted them, and hoped they would survive. But he, like Charles and Dee, also understood the pitfalls of celebrity romance. As well, Jonathon wanted Drifters to succeed on its own merit, not on the curiosity and gossip of news-hungry interviewers.
The most exciting interview of the press tour was with an enduring afternoon daily talk show host, Shawna Coupland. She was also the most daunting. Jessie had met the sophisticated Asian lady before, and they connected instantly. Both survived difficult childhoods, and both were dealing with fame and success on the highest level. They had a lot in common and often enjoyed dinner, usually with Deirdre in tow, when Jessie was in New York. Shawna was gutsy enough to ask the difficult questions on camera and this discussion with the cast of Drifters was not likely to escape her prodding.
The dialogue commenced with Carter, Sue-Lyn, Maggie and Stephen. Drifters’ two leads were then introduced fifteen minutes in, after some introductory footage courted them on the video screen at the back of the stage. Jessie and Josh entered together and sank down into Shawna’s velvety peach furniture. Initially, Shawna adhered to her script and inquired politely about Jessie’s involvement in the period show, and how she maintained her busy schedule, etc. Then Jessie stepped to the right of the stage and performed a song written for Drifters, a dreamlike ballad that would soon become the drama’s secondary theme song as well as a popular hit in its own right. After her performance, Jessie took her seat again next to Josh.
As always, entranced by her music, Josh found her breathtaking. As Jessie casually laid a hand on his thigh – her cheeks blazing cherry red in response to the standing ovation and voracious cheering of the audience, which she always found surreal and even intimidating – Josh adjusted the black cowboy hat he wore for the occasion, and then he slipped an arm protectively around her shoulders. He turned his head slightly, nervously, and leaned in to his girl. So beautiful, he whispered in her ear, eliciting a sweet smile from Jessie just for him.
Shawna didn’t miss a trick as the rest of the cast, cheering loudly along with the audience in genuine admiration for Jessie’s surreal songwriting and singing, hunkered down on stools set up behind the peach chaise.
“So there’s not much point in beating around the bush here,” Shawna started roguishly, as she glanced down at cue cards in her lap. “You two are obviously a couple.”
Blushing to a new level of crimson, Jessie looked down to where her long fingers rested comfortably against Josh’s thigh. She pulled away a little, as if she hadn’t even realized where she’d placed her hand. Josh glanced over at Jessie and wondered whether he should respond to their hostess, or just take his cue from Jessie herself. She met his eyes and he could see fear there, which surprised him.
Shawna filled in the pause. “It hasn’t been easy for you. Josh, you’ve got to admit, you’ve had a bad rap in the past. Jessie was supposed to marry Charlie Deacon; a lot of people think she made a bad choice by ending that relationship. How are you dealing with the negativity from the press? That must be difficult.”
Behind Josh and Jessie, Stephen wriggled on his stool and bit his tongue.
Jessie shifted her position on the comfy chaise. “There are a lot of reasons why my relationship with Charlie ended the way it did. At the same time, I’m crazy about this guy,” she gestured to Josh, “and soon, when Drifters has its run, the rest of the world will be as well. He’s a tremendous actor and one of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever met. I don’t see the need to explain my relationship with him to the world. They’ll just have to accept that we’re together and leave it at that.”
Not unkindly, Shawna scrutinized Josh as if she was trying to get a stronger sense of him as a person – as a man, perhaps – and then she glanced back at Jessie. She narrowed her eyes and leaned forward. “Last week someone spit on him at a coffee shop in Detroit. Why do you think that is? And how is any new couple supposed to survive that kind of bullshit?”
Eyes narrowing at Shawna’s audacity to bring up the recent personal attack, Jessie reached over Josh’s lap and wrapped her fingers over his right hand. She knew how much that very public assault diminished Josh’s sense of comfort in their relationship. She was aware that he desperately needed her reassurance.
As she squeezed his hand, Josh marveled at the fact that he was able to sit there next to Jessie in this very public arena and not get up and run away. Embarrassed though he was, he trusted her. Yet he could not bring himself to look up and meet the eyes of their famous interviewer.
Jessie shifted in her seat and dove in. “We knew when we got together that the image of Josh conveyed by the gossip rags would be misconstrued and misinterpreted. We have always known we would have to be strong, that there would be criticisms by the media and by the public of our choice to be together. But the thing is Shawna, and you guys, too,” she waved her hand to include the audience, “I love this guy. He is sweet, and real, and it breaks my heart to look at him sometimes and realize how lucky I am to have found him. These guys,” she twisted around to look up and behind at her fellow cast, “they love him too. So does the crew of Drifters. There’s a reason for that. You guys need to give him a chance.”
She could sense Josh squirming beside her. He couldn’t look up. It was killing him to have to sit there on international television and be defended by his girlfriend, who had been walking next to him when some disgruntled thirty-something in Detroit chose to convey his feelings about their relationship by spitting on him. Josh chanced a brief glance up at Shawna and could tell that she sensed his discomfort.
To her, Josh seemed to be pleading for this interrogation to stop. But Ms. Coupland had one thing left to say.
“Josh,” she said, looking straight at him so he’d have to meet her eyes, just for a moment. “You have to admit. You’ve got a history of violence. Drug abuse. The world out there loves Jessie. They’re not going to put up with any shenanigans from a guy who has been arrested for beating up his own father.”
It was as if she were challenging him on behalf of the world. Josh felt his heart sink. It seemed that this battle to gain acceptance would never end. He had no idea how to respond. The chips were stacked against him, and it seemed all God’s creatures would turn fully against him on a dime, should he ever have the misfortune of taking a wrong step where Jessie was concerned.
“Ma’am,” he heard coming from behind him as he sat there stiffly, aching to disappear, unable to respond. “I beg your pardon, but I can’t sit here and watch my friends sit on the hot seat like this. I have to have my say.” Stephen put a hand on Jessie’s shoulder as she sank a little in her seat. “If anything, the world should be celebrating. It’s not often you see two people so closely connected as Jessie and Josh. No matter what life throws at them, they will survive. Whether or not the world approves. Whether any of us approve. Which, for the record, we do. Highly. I’ve never seen Jessie so happy. I’ve never heard such beautiful music from Jessie. Being in love agrees with her. Being in love agrees with Josh. And since I’ve already dived in, let me just add that I, too, don’t know a better guy than Josh. You would be wise to get to know him,” Stephen added, looking towards the audience. “Get to know him, watch Drifters, and your lives will be forever changed by the magic you see between these two.”
“No bias there!” Shawna was amused.
“Well yeah, sure, I want all of you to watch the show, but I seriously love these guys!” Steve bent forward and wrapped one arm around Jessie and another around Josh, trying unsuccessfully to lighten the mood.
Maggie, Carter and Sue-Lyn started poking fun at Josh from behind. As he pulled his cowboy hat over his face, chagrined, Shawna had to raise her voice to bring the little group back under control. “Okay, okay, I get the picture,” she said. “Bullying is not acceptable whether it’s on behalf of the media or,” she eyed Josh, “between family members.”
Jessie cringed and resolved to skip her planned dinner with Shawna tomorrow.
“Josh,” Shawna added as she steered her show towards a conclusion. “I will give you a chance, and I will ask the rest of world to do the same. You are obviously held in high esteem by your fellow cast and, if Jessie loves you, which it appears she certainly does, then you deserve some time to prove yourself, if nothing else. Because,” she added, “like it or not, the two of you are in the public eye, and your relationship is about to become even more public since my understanding of Drifters is that you are also a couple on screen. So,” she pointed a finger at Josh, “be beyond reproach and we will be on your side. But mess up, and you won’t get a second chance.”
It was rare for Shawna to voice her opinion so strongly that it came out as a threat. Jessie was mortified, Josh was embarrassed and, watching from his home in Vancouver, Jonathon was incensed. But Shawna was secretly pleased. She adored Jessie, she had no time for bullies, and she didn’t know Josh. She gave the world a clear message – accept him if he behaves, condemn him if he doesn’t.
And when Shawna Coupland spoke, the world listened.
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