It had been surprisingly easy to talk to Lina, far more than she would have expected after five long years. Stacey asked her all kinds of questions about Kyle (no one could really be that hot, could they?), about the little town she’d returned to in northeastern Pennsylvania (several feet of snow in the winter and sweltering heat and humidity in the summer?), and about the multi-colored tattoo that ran the length of her back (did it hurt much?). Lina was candid and funny, and only too willing to answer Stacey’s inquiries, sometimes in shockingly vivid detail.
Ever the author, Stacey made mental notes here and there, already forming her next main female character in her mind. It certainly wouldn’t be the first one she’d based on one or more aspects of her old friend.
The most amazing thing of all was, the more she talked with Lina, the more she felt like the old Stacey – wild, carefree, living life to the fullest. Despite everything that had happened, Lina still saw her that way.
Maybe that’s why she’d agreed to fly out to see her. To see if it was possible a tiny piece of the old Stacey remained, buried so deeply that not even Stacey herself could find it. If anyone could uncover it, it would be Lina.
After the accident, all Stacey wanted was to be left alone. After several years of pushing people away, she finally got her wish. No one called anymore, just her agent. No one stopped by to visit or offer false encouragement. The “Get Well” cards and “Thinking of You” notes had stopped too, eventually. Even her mother’s check-ins had been reduced to once a week, on Sunday afternoons. Those calls were the most dreaded fifteen minutes of Stacey’s week.
The now-Stacey liked solitude. She didn’t need people feeling sorry for her. Couldn’t stand their looks of pity or murmurs of sorrow on her behalf. She preferred her self-imposed seclusion, living a life of a different kind of adventure. She had her books - the ones she read; the ones she penned herself. And Stacey – or rather, Stacey’s alter ego Salienne – was hot. She was curvy and sexy and decidedly sensual, and her life was built upon the adoration and documentation of interaction with hard-bodied, mischievous hero-types. Through her, Stacey lived, even if it was only in her imagination.
In some ways Stacey’s heroes and heroines were more real to her than her family and her neighbors, and their company was undoubtedly preferable. Even her agent had to admit that her reclusive nature added to her mystique as an author, which in turn translated to some large profits. She only gave phone interviews and agreed to web chats, avoiding personal appearances like the plague. Stacey Mallory was a wealthy, successful woman, but she was also a very lonely one.
Only one friend had refused to give up, had refused all attempts to be pushed away. Lina Connelly, now Lina McCullough. The only one who still called and left long, rambling messages about what was going on in her life, as if the old Stacey still existed. Stacey therefore knew all about Lina’s move to the northeast. About Jamie, the handsome exec/part-time prof she dated for a while. About what Johnny and Michael, her overbearing, overprotective big brothers, were up to. And, of course, about Lina’s whirlwind romance and subsequent marriage to a hot, sexy biker.
Stacey couldn’t help but smile. Lina knew her well enough to know that she listened to each and every one of her messages over and over. Knew that Stacey would pick up the phone one of these days and actually talk with her, ask Lina all of the questions burning through her mind. Honestly, Stacey thought, shaking her head while smiling, that girl either had the patience of a saint or the heart of an angel. Maybe both.
And it had happened, just like that. In a moment of weakness, Stacey picked up the phone and the two women chatted like they had never been apart. Even more shocking, Stacey had agreed to get together. She refused to allow Lina to fly out to see her, suggesting instead that she make the trip to Pennsylvania. The truth was, she didn’t want Lina to see her empty, sterile, apartment with its white-walled, black and chrome decor. Or her empty, sterile life, which currently consisted of her sitting in front of her laptop for hours on end, broken up by daily PT sessions with her sadistic therapist (when she managed to go).
Stacey needed to get away from the white walls and deafening silence interrupted only by the light clicking of her nails against the keys. She wanted to hear laughter and feel the warmth of her old friend’s hugs; hang out in a chopper shop and maybe even get a tattoo of her own. The icing on the cake was when Lina told her about her cabin up in the mountains. It sounded like a great way to dislodge the writer’s block that had been plaguing her as of late. A few days with Lina, then a trip to the mountains with her laptop, a few bottles of wine, and hopefully, some inspiration for her next book.