Authors: Lavyrle Spencer
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Forsaking All Others
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Electronic edition: January, 2005
Titles by LaVyrle Spencer
FORSAKING ALL OTHERS
THEN CAME HEAVEN
SMALL TOWN GIRL
THAT CAMDEN SUMMER
NOVEMBER OF THE HEART
A HEART SPEAKS
With love to my friend Dorothy Garlock
Star Agency,” answered the voice on the phone.
Allison Scott crossed her ankles, rested a heel on her desk, and leaned back in her ancient, creaking swivel chair. “I need the sexiest man you’ve ever seen and I need him right now,” she said, smiling.
“Hey, who doesn’t?” came the glib reply. “Allison, is that you?”
“Yes, Mattie, it’s me, and I mean it. I need the man to end all men. He’s got to be handsome, honed, with hair the color of waving wheat, blue eyes—but I could get by with brown—a jaw like Dick Tracy’s and a nose like the hand of a sundial, a body like—”
“Hey, hey, hey! Hold on there, girl. What are you using him for anyway, a screen test?”
“Not quite. A book cover.”
“A book cover.” Allison’s voice became exhilarated. “I got the offer about a month ago, and I said I’d see what I thought after reading the book. It came in yesterday’s mail, and I took it home last night, read it from cover to cover, and decided to give it a try. I just called New York and—oh, Mattie, this could be the break I’ve been waiting for. They’ll be sending a contract within the week. Now all I need from you is Mister Right for the cover.”
“Let me get his vital stats on paper and look through the files and see what I can come up with. Okay, shoot.”
Allison’s feet hit the floor as she reached for the manuscript, flipped to the right page, and followed the words with her finger. “Blond, blue eyed, virile, handsome, about twenty-five years old, six feet, sinewy . . . God, Mattie, can you believe they really believe men who look like that are worth anything?” Allison slapped the manuscript closed in disgust.
Mattie’s voice came back critically. “Were you hired as a book critic or cover artist?”
“All right, I deserved that. It’s really none of my business what these star-struck authors put between the covers. This is a chance I’ve been waiting for, and if they want me to give them a picture that’ll convince the
readers people fall in love at first sight and live happily ever after, that’s what I’ll give ’em. You just send me the raw material and watch me!”
“Okay. So describe the woman.”
“Ah, let’s see . . .” Again a slender finger scanned a page. “Oh, here it is. Early twenties, ginger-colored hair, blue eyes, tall, willowy. And listen, Mattie, hair color is important, seems the readers tend to notice if it’s wrong, so shoulder length and ginger, right?”
“Ginger it is. Let me see what I can dig up, and I’ll get the photos over to you in tomorrow’s mail.”
“Okay, Mattie, I appreciate it.”
A brief silence hummed before Mattie asked guardedly, “Is he back yet?”
Allison Scott’s back wilted. Her elbow dropped to the desk, and she rubbed her forehead as if to ease a sudden shooting pain. “No, he’s not. I’m really not expecting him anymore, Mattie.”
“Have you heard from him?”
“Not a word.”
Allison thought she could hear Mattie sigh. “I’m sorry I asked. Forgive me, huh?”
Allison sighed herself. “Mattie, it’s not your fault Jason Ederlie turned out to be a first-class bastard.”
“I know it, but I shouldn’t have asked.”
“My skin’s gotten a lot tougher since he disappeared.”
“I know that, too. That’s what worries me.”
“What do you mean by that!”
Mattie backed off at Allison’s sharp tone. “Nothing. Forget I said it, okay? The glossies will be in tomorrow’s mail.”
The click at the other end of the line ended any further questions Allison might have posed, but her ebullient mood was gone, snuffed away at the mention of Jason Ederlie’s name. Pushing his memory aside, she swiveled abruptly, rocked to her feet, and thrust belligerent hands deep into the pockets of her khaki-colored jeans. Standing with feet spread, she stared out the ceiling-to-floor windows that overlooked downtown Minneapolis. The building was old and drafty but spacious and bright, thus well suited for a photography studio. At one time it had housed the offices of a flour-milling company that had long ago turned to carpets, subdued lighting, well-insulated walls, and piped-in music.
But as Allison stared out unseeingly, the only music she heard was that of aged water pipes overhead, the clang of the expanding metal in ancient radiators that heated the place—but never quite adequately, it seemed.
The January cold had condensed moisture on the north-facing panes. Now and then a rivulet streamed down and joined the drift of ice that had formed at the corners of the small panes. With the edge of a clenched
fist Allison cleared the center of a square, but the view beyond remained foggy.
Her fist slid down the cold glass, then rapped hard against an icy frame.
“Damn you, Jason, damn you!” she exclaimed aloud. Her forehead fell to her arm and tears trickled down her cheek as she indulged in the memory of his face, his voice, his body, all those things she had learned to trust.
Abruptly her head jerked up and she tossed it defiantly, sending her hair flying back in a rusty swirl of obstinance. She dragged the back of one wrist across her nose, sniffed, dashed the errant tears from her eyes, and swallowed the lump of memory in her throat. “I’ll get over you, Jason Ederlie, if it’s the last thing I do!” she promised the empty studio, the skyline, herself. Then Allison Scott turned back to the balm of work.
was a simple book, an uncomplicated story of a man and woman who meet on vacation on Sanibel Island, look at each other while sparks fly, make their way into each other’s arms within fifty pages, out of them by a hundred, right their misconceptions some fifty pages later, and regain bliss together as the book ends. Perhaps because the hero’s description matched that of Jason Ederlie, Allison had found herself lost in the pages.
Maybe that, too, was the reason she’d at first been reluctant to accept the contract to do the cover art, for without Jason to pose, something would be missing. But realizing what a boon it would mean to her career and her finances, she’d accepted, even though it galled Allison that women readers sopped up such Cinderellaism as if it really happened.
Allison Scott knew better. Cinderella endings were found only in paperback romances on the shelves of the grocery store.
At the end of the day, reaching for a can of spaghetti and meatballs at the PDQ Market, she felt the bluntness of that fact all too fully, for she hated the thought of walking into the emptiness awaiting her at home, now that Jason was gone.
Home. She thought about the word as she drove from downtown Minneapolis around “the lakes,” as they were loosely called. There were five of them—Calhoun, Harriet, Nokomis, Lake of the Isles, and Cedar—forming the heart of the beautiful “City of the Lakes.” Allison lived on the west side of Lake of the Isles, in a second-story apartment in a regal old house that had been well preserved since the turn of the century.
She could barely see the first-floor windows as she turned in the driveway and threaded her Chevy van to the detached garage at the rear, for the snow had been
inordinately heavy this year, and the banks beside the drive were shoulder high. She closed the garage door and glanced at the frozen surface of the lake. Shivering, she tucked her chin deep into the collar of her warm jacket as she headed for the private stairway running up the outside of the house.
Home. She turned the key but dreaded going in, a feeling she’d been unable to overcome during the last six weeks. As she moved inside and shut the door on the subzero temperature, her eyes scanned the living room that she’d carefully decorated to bring a little bit of summer into the Minnesota winters—gleaming hardwood floors, the old kind they don’t lay any more; the Scandinavian import rug she’d searched so long to find, with its clever blending of greens, yellow, and white in an unimposing oblique swirl of design; airy rattan and wicker furniture with fat cushions of a green-and-yellow print that brought to mind warm, tropical rain forests; a multitude of potted palms, scheffleras, philodendrons, and more, flourishing on windowsills, tables, and on a small white stepladder in front of four long, narrow windows; lime-and-white Roman shades of woven wood that added to the tropical air; a pair of French doors leading to the summer sun porch overlooking the lake; a hanging lamp with a white wicker shade that matched the floor lamp behind her favorite renovated wicker rocker with its rolled arms and thick
pillows. And everywhere an impression of light and space.
Yes, it was like a breath of summer. Oh, how she’d loved this place . . . until Jason.
But now whenever she returned it was only to remember him here, slouched in the enfolding basket chair that hung from the ceiling, in one corner, his heel resting on the floor as he made the thing go wiggly-waggly, all the while teasing her with those gorgeous grinning eyes or that sensuous pair of lips that photographed like no others she’d ever caught in her viewfinder.
Jason . . . Jason . . . he was everywhere. Leaning over his morning coffee at the glass-topped dining table with its chrome-and-wicker chairs, often as not with one leg thrown over a chair arm, foot bare, swinging in time to the music he always seemed to hear in his head, whether it was playing on the stereo or not. Jason . . . sprawled diagonally across the squeaky old bed, studying the ceiling with fingers entwined behind his neck, talking about making it big. Jason . . . digging through the clothing that had hung beside hers in the closet, searching for just the right look that’d finally catch some producer’s eye. Jason . . . blow-drying his razor-cut hair in the bathroom, nothing but a towel twisted around his hips, whistling absently as she leaned against the doorway watching him . . . just watching. Jason . . . spread-eagled on the living room floor, teasing, tempting, while
The Five Senses sang, “When I’m stretched on the floor after loving once more, with your skin pressing mine, and we’re tired and fine. . . .”
Jason, with the face and body of Adonis. It had never ceased to amaze Allison that he should have chosen such an ordinary looking girl as herself. He was beauty personified, a spellbinding combination of muscle, grace, and facial symmetry that spoke as poignantly to the artist in Allison Scott as to the woman in her. With Jason before the camera there could be no poor shots—his face wasn’t capable of being captured at an unflattering angle. So while she’d had him, business had soared. Sport coats, leather goods, candy bars, road machinery—it seemed there was no product Jason’s face could not sell, or so thought Twin Cities ad agencies.
Meanwhile, the portfolio of photos grew, and they made plans for a fashion layout in
magazine. It had been Allison’s dream. But to sell to
, to even approach them, Allison needed between three and four thousand photos. So she shot him everywhere, in every light, in every pose, against every background, learning with each click of the shutter to love him more.
And then six weeks ago she’d returned home to find half the closet empty, the razor gone from the bathroom, a damp towel over the sink, and the entire collection of negatives gone, too, and along with them, her dreams. He had left one thing—their favorite photo of him,
blown up to poster size, on the four-foot easel in the living room. Across the bottom of it he had scrawled, “Sorry, babe . . . Love, Jason.”
The easel stood now at the far end of the room, in the opposite corner from the hanging basket chair. Its pegs were empty, for when Allison had finally admitted that Jason wasn’t coming back, she’d taken that overblown ego symbol, with all its memories, and stuffed it behind a bunch of unsold works stacked against the bedroom wall. She could hide the photo, but it seemed she could not hide the hurt. For it was back as keen as ever, resurrected by a simple thing like a two-dollar romance for which she’d agreed to do the cover.
Only she needed Jason to do it.
She turned away, toward the small kitchen alcove where she heated the spaghetti and ate it standing up, leaning against the kitchen cabinet, for she dreaded sitting at the table alone with Jason’s image shimmering again as if he were still there, opposite her, as he’d been for the better part of a year.
Damn that story! Damn that hero who had to bring Jason’s memory back all fresh and vibrant! Damn Mattie and her innocent questions!
The spaghetti tasted like wallpaper paste, but it filled the hole, and that’s all Allison cared about anymore. Mealtimes were to be endured now, not savored as when there’d been the two of them together.
The way the apartment was arranged there was little
to distinguish where the kitchen stopped and the dining area began. They ran together, then on to become the living room. Leaning now against the cabinets with a kettle in one hand and a fork in the other, Allison studied the empty easel, wondering where he was, who he was with, if he was modeling again. As tears filled her eyes, she thought: Damn you, Jason Ederlie, if you ever come back expecting to find your gorgeous face and body still haunting me from the corner of the living room, you’ll be sadly disappointed!
But the fork dropped into the kettle, the kettle into the sink, and her head onto her arms as despair and regret welled up in her throat.
following day was one of those grim efforts to make a living. Working with a pre-set camera, Allison spent six hours taking elementary-school pictures of gap-toothed second-graders, measuring the distance from camera to nose with the string that dangled from the tripod. It wasn’t art, but it paid the rent on the studio.