Tough Enough(9)

By: M. Leighton






SEVEN


Katie

Seconds after Mona’s timely interruption, one of the director’s assistants came to escort Rogan off to the set of his character, Diamond Drago’s, steamy underground club. As I clean my station and get ready for my next job, Mona stands beside me, gripping my cup of coffee and staring at Rogan as he goes. Her mouth is still hanging open long after he’s gone.

When I finish tidying, I ask, “Did you bring that for me? Or did you just need something to molest?” I tip my head toward the cup that she’s practically massaging.

She glances down at the steamy brew and then grins up at me, handing over the mug. “Sorry. I just . . . I mean, I can’t . . . He’s just . . . Wow!” Her eyes round even more. “And ohmigod, Katie? It looked like he was about to kiss you. Did you notice that?”

Did I notice that? How could I not notice? But surely that couldn’t have been what he was about to do. Surely not . . .

I frown. “Do you think?”

“God, yes! For sure!”

“I thought maybe he was just . . . I don’t know.”

“Well, I know. He was definitely about to kiss you.”

“But . . . but that makes no sense. I mean, why would a guy like that¸ surrounded by women like Victoria, have the slightest interest in me?”

“I told you this morning, silly. Most. Wanted. You just don’t see it.”

And I still don’t. Nothing Mona can say will change my mind. I’m scarred. Damaged. No man in his right mind would want me. And if Kiefer Rogan does, it’s only because he hasn’t seen the real me yet. The bad parts. The ugly parts.

Mona tilts her head to one side, her expression softening. “I wish you could see how beautiful you are.”

Reflexively, I smooth the wave of hair that falls over my left shoulder, concealing the source of my unease, the evidence of my past. “I know exactly how beautiful I am and exactly how beautiful I am not. We work in a forest of exotic creatures, Mona, but I’m not one of them. I’m no different than grass or moss or the leaves on the ground. Unimpressive, something most people walk by every day and pay no attention to. I’m invisible.”

“You’re so crazy, Katie! You don’t—” Mona argues, but I interrupt her, taking her hand and jiggling it to get her attention.

“Hey, I don’t need a pep talk. You forget that I like it this way, that I want it this way.”

“But why? Just because you aren’t . . . Just because you don’t look like every other bimbo around here, myself included, doesn’t mean that you don’t shine. Because you do, Katie. Maybe even brighter than the rest.”

I smile at my sweet, well-intentioned friend. “That can be our little secret.”

Mona sighs, her eyes a little sad. “One day someone will make you see how gorgeous you are. And that day might not be too far away.”

I shake my head at my friend’s unflappable optimism, irrational though it is. “You’re such a romantic, but Rogan isn’t interested in me, Mona. And even if he was, it wouldn’t last more than a few heartbeats. Maybe he thinks I’m a challenge because I didn’t fall at his feet. I don’t know, but whatever it is, it won’t take him long to realize that I’m not a challenge. I’m nothing. I’m not worth his interest. His time. His attention. I’m nothing special. When he sees that, he’ll move on. If he’s even interested at all, which I doubt.”

She cocks her head and considers me. “You ever gonna tell me what happened to make you this way?”

“What’s ‘this way’?”

“So . . . alone. And so content with it.”

“I’m not alone, Mona. I have you. And Dozer. And Janet, my nosey neighbor.”

Mona pushes her bright pink bottom lip out in a pout. “Dozer’s not even a person. He’s a cat. And cats don’t count. Besides, that doesn’t make me feel any better.”

“Well, it should.”

“I just want you to be happy, Kitty.”

Somewhere along the way, Mona started calling me “Kitty” as a term of endearment. She began with Kat, but I couldn’t let her continue with that. It made my chest feel tight and the room spin every time I heard it. Kat was another girl from another life. A life that ended in tragedy. Kat died a long time ago and I want no reminders. Mona took it well, though. That’s when she started calling me Kitty. I let her keep that one.

Kitty.

I shake my head.

Some days it makes me feel like a porn star. Some days it makes me feel like I should have a hip holster and a gun so I can go around shooting up saloons. But other days . . . days like today, it makes me feel loved, something that I haven’t felt very much in the last few years.