Read The Last Thing You See Online

Authors: Emma South

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Military, #New Adult & College, #Sports, #Teen & Young Adult

The Last Thing You See

The Last Thing You See

Emma South

 

Published by Emma South

 

Copyright 2014 Emma South

 

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License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Disclaimer

All characters and events are entirely fictional and any resemblances to persons living or dead and circumstances are purely coincidental.

Chapter 1: Harper

“Harper!  Can I have a photo?”

That’s the danger with these meetings in public places, the ones that last long enough anyway, they’ll always find you.  I’d just stepped out of the café and hadn’t even had time to put my sunglasses on before the first girl, who had been waiting patiently on the sidewalk for God only knew how long, wanted a picture with me.

Normally I’d be happy to. I believed in giving as much back to my fans as I could.  My career would be nowhere without them, after all.  Today though, I wanted to let go of the carefully crafted public image and throw a tantrum. I wanted to fling myself to the ground, kicking and screaming like a child.

I put my sunglasses back in my handbag and smiled.  “Sure!”

“Omigodomigodomigod!  Thank you!  I loved you in The Last Perfect Day!” she said.

The Last Perfect Day was an action-adventure-zombie-apocalypse movie that was a definite milestone in my career.  Before that, people would always tentatively ask me if I used to be Princess Sundancer, or if I played Bella from The Wych Elm.  After The Last Perfect Day, people would come up in the street and ask me if I was
Harper Bayliss
, and life was never the same.

“Aw!  Thank you so much.”

I leaned in close and we both looked at the camera held in her extended arm while my brother, Orson, hovered close by in case somebody got too grabby and my mother waited a bit farther back, engrossed in something she was reading on her smart phone.  The camera made a little clicking sound and the girl turned it around to make sure it was a good shot before beaming at me so brightly I felt my rage go down a few notches.

“Could you sign this?” her friend asked, holding out a photo of me in my Dark Fox outfit, a promotional shot for the movie-adaptation of the comic book, along with a felt pen.  I took the pen and signed the photo as she held it.

“And this?” another girl held out a blank piece of paper.

“Sorry, that’s enough, we’ve got to get going,” my mother and de-facto manager called out.

My brother stepped in and gently guided me back in the direction of our car, much to the disappointment of the third girl.  I wasn’t supposed to sign blank pieces of paper anyway, in case somebody then printed some kind of contract onto it afterwards.  It’s a crazy world.

“Sorry!  Bye!” I called over my shoulder, thankful that the news about my location had only travelled as far as a few fans, not a bunch of paparazzi.

I reached back into my handbag and put the sunglasses on, big ones that covered a significant portion of my face. It was a surprisingly good disguise.  My cloud of anger darkened again and I pulled out a bottle of water to suck back while I tried to collect my thoughts.

Mom tapped away at her little screen, seemingly oblivious to the daggers I was shooting at her from behind the sunglasses.  The whole meeting, I’d tried to get a word in edgewise but I had been shushed and ignored, and now it looked like I was going to be signed up for a movie I had little enthusiasm for.

Orson walked slightly behind, earning his keep as a sort of bodyguard for me.  At big events and at television studio interviews, where there were lots of people, we had to rely more heavily on the security of those event organizers and studios, but for the most part Orson was deterrent enough.  

My mother had decided that full-time bodyguards were sometimes too heavy-handed and often only solved the extra problems that they themselves created.  Besides, it was good for my brother to have a job, to be a cog in ‘our little machine’ and keep it all in the family.

“You should be able to read for that in June then,” she said, apparently looking at my schedule.

“I don’t want to be Estella.” I said.

“It can’t be
all
zombies and superheroes, honey,” she said, as if that was even close to the truth or enough of a reason.  “We’re not having you typecast, not at this stage of your career.  Don’t be silly now.”

My face burned at the phrase, the same one she’d used when I was a kid and didn’t want to pick up my toys instead of a twenty-year-old woman talking about my own job.  The role of Estella, a girl in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, hit a little too close to home for me and I wished I could tell her why, but that was a conversation I feared more than the role itself.

“Besides, it’s all done now.  It’s basically a formality, he wants you in and we’ve agreed.  You don’t want to get a reputation for being flaky in this business,” she finished.

I sighed, feeling deflated, and looked up the sidewalk a little bit as the dry heat beat down on us.  Standing in front of a restaurant, just outside the ropes that cordoned off an outdoor seating area, was somebody that looked like trouble if ever I’d seen it.

Head and shoulders over most of the people around him, I could already see the tattoos, the huge arms, and the scruffy clothing.  If he was in one of my movies, he’d be a henchman for sure.

“Look out for that one,” I said quietly to Orson, who nodded and moved in front and to my left so he would be between myself and the big guy when we walked past.

As we closed the distance I could see that he had plenty of scars too, all kinds of cuts on his arms as if somebody had tried to scribble out his tattoos with a knife.  Violence, all kinds of bad things, probably followed this man wherever he went.

He looked up from some pamphlet in his hand, first straight across the sidewalk, and then at me.  Right at me.  Despite my misgivings, my heart fluttered.  He had far too much presence for a mere henchman.

Under the stubble, the tattoos, and the scars, or maybe even
because
of them, was a hell of a handsome man. 
Every girl needs a bad boy in her past
, I thought, and he could be my bad boy any day.

I dropped my gaze to the ground and fought back a goofy smile. Now I really
was
being silly.  When I looked up again, I was sporting no more than a calm and collected Mona Lisa expression, but I kept my eyes on him from behind the privacy of my sunglasses.  Only a few more steps and he’d be just some hot guy that I saw one time.


You made me do this, you bitch!

The scream came from the right, the road side of the sidewalk, and caught me completely off guard.  I flinched and then froze on the spot as a man in a cheap-looking blue tracksuit rushed towards me with something in his hand.

Orson, who had been concentrating on the big guy almost as much as I had, was taken equally by surprise, hearing the yell but not where he expected trouble to come from.  The world seemed to go into slow motion as I heard my mom gasp in fear, but I couldn’t make myself react. I was a deer in the headlights.

A cup.  It was some kind of cup in his hand and he was pulling it back as if he meant to throw it right at me.  Was it coffee?  Was he going to burn me?

Please don’t burn me
.

I would have sworn the liquid, clear not black, was flying through the air before anybody moved, but maybe I was wrong.  Whatever it was, I was going to get drenched.

Moving faster than a man of his size had any business doing, the guy with the scars jumped in the way, taking a splash in the chest that would have hit me full in the face.  Sparkling droplets of the liquid hung in the air and caught the sunlight like crystals before the world returned to normal speed.

The man in blue took off like a rocket and a few drops of the liquid, water presumably, landed on my forearm.  The big guy who took the hit for me faltered as he recovered from his nearly headlong dive and then sprinted after the fleeing man.

I watched them go, feeling the cold grip of fear still squeezing my heart like a balloon it wanted to pop but wasn’t quite able to.  Something was stinging my arm and I looked down, expecting to see some kind of giant wasp there, but there was nothing like that, just the few droplets glistening there.

The pain quickly got worse, like these small beads of water were boiling hot or something, and I screamed as I pulled at the top of my water bottle and doused my arm.  Still, however badly I was hurting, the man who saved me had it much worse.

Before he could catch up with the man in blue, I saw him stumble and then fall to the ground, screaming and pulling at his clothes, which looked to be literally
smoking
and melting off.  Everybody was just
watching
as if this was some kind of street performance.

“Water!” I screamed.

Leaning over the rope in front of the restaurant, I grabbed a bucket off a table that had once held ice cubes and a bottle of wine but now held mostly water with a few tiny scraps of ice.

“Call an ambulance!  Police!” I yelled at the closest person as I arrived and dumped the water on the writhing man.  “Tell them it’s acid!”

I went back for more water, bringing my hand to my mouth as I ran and tears of shock started flowing from my eyes.  The noises he was making, so much pain being forced through a throat that sounded like it was almost clamped shut, I’d never heard anything like it.  I never wanted to hear anything like it again.

Chapter 2: Harper

“How about on social media?  Anything unusual been happening there lately?  Threatening messages on Facebook or Twitter?”

The police detective had his notepad and pen at the ready and was fixing me with a disinterested expression, like he was working on a production line in a factory rather than investigating an acid attack on a Hollywood actress in the middle of L.A.  If it weren’t for the modern clothes, I would have expected him to be talking about dames and dive bars and to be smoking a cigarette to pass the time until he could get back to the whiskey in his office.

“I don’t know, I don’t think so.  It’s usually not me running my public accounts directly anymore, a couple years ago they just got too many people following them for me to handle, so we have Jenny, Jenny Wilson, to log in and post as me.  My mom tells her what we want to put out there, Jenny writes the draft, and then my mom OKs it.”

“Where can I find Jenny to speak to her?” he asked.

“Here are her contact details.” My mom pushed her phone over the table, where the detective copied Jenny’s details into his notepad.

“But there’s like, a torrent of filth and threats that come in on those accounts, I already know that much.  People ask me to come visit them in their countries and to make sure I come alone, others say they’ll kill me because I didn’t play Dark Fox right.  There’s just so much of it,” I said.

“Mmmhmm,” agreed Detective Ridley, “people tend to blow a lot of hot air on the Internet.  I’m sure a lot of thirteen-year-old boys will piss their pants when I knock on the door and there’ll be a lot of wild geese being chased, but I’ll follow up on everything, I promise you that.”

“How does somebody just disappear in the middle of the day like that?  How did he not get caught already?” my mom asked.

“What probably happened was he had other clothes under that tracksuit, and he tore it off as he went around a corner before making his way to wherever his car was parked.  As far as we’ve been able to find, he didn’t drop the cup and he didn’t ditch the tracksuit anywhere near where the incident took place, which obviously gives us less to work on.  That was clever on his part but, on the other hand, he did this in an incredibly public place and that was pretty stupid.  In my opinion, he’s thought about what he was going to do a lot, but he’s more than a little unhinged and desperate.  He’ll have made enough mistakes for us to catch him, I think.”

“I hope you find him fast,” said my mom, accepting her phone back from the detective.

Detective Ridley nodded.  “That’ll be all for now, if you can’t think of anything else that might be relevant?”

I shrugged, my mom shook her head slowly, and the policeman flipped the cover back over on his notepad before standing up.

“Oh, one other thing,” he said, “Maybe you should look into some kind of bodyguard, somebody more full-time than Orson.”

“We’ll definitely look into it,” said my mom.

We both accompanied him to the front door, where he left us with a nod and a ‘Mrs. Bayliss, Miss. Bayliss’, before heading towards his car.  The door clicked shut behind him and I rubbed at the bandage on my arm.

“How’s it feeling, honey?” she asked.

“It doesn’t hurt, just kind of itches a little bit every now and then.”

“Is it going to… scar?”

I rolled my eyes and walked away.  She was worried about my marketability.  At a time like this.

“Harper?  Where are you going?  I asked you if it was going to scar.”

My mother followed me to the kitchen, where I grabbed my car keys off the hook.  When I turned around she was right there in front of me, a look of confusion on her face, and I took a deep breath to calm myself, grasping at the hope that I might have misjudged her.

“They said probably not, it was only a few drops and was washed off really quickly.  That poor man, though.  Nick.  Nobody has told us what’s going on with him, if he’s going to be alright.  He got hit by a lot more than I did.  I’m going to the hospital to thank him.”

“We can’t go now, Harper, we’ve got to record an interview with Jay and Maria.”

I gave her a blank look.

“For The Breakfast Show?”  My mom held her hands out at the sides, palms up, in exasperation.

“I know who Jay and Maria are, Mom.  We’ll have to reschedule.  It’s been two days already and I haven’t thanked him.  He might have saved my
life
.  Without him, there wouldn’t be any more interviews, no more movies, no more anything.”

“But… Pandora Rising isn’t going to promote itself.  I’ve already had flowers sent to his room.  Don’t be silly now.”

“Flowers? 
Flowers
?  Did he look like somebody who cares much about flowers?  Mom…”

The woman who raised me put her hands on her hips and gave me ‘that look’, the one that used to warn me how close I was to being grounded or having my phone taken away for a month.  I felt so small next to her, even though we were the same height now.

I was a fraction of a second away from muttering ‘OK’, but then in my mind I heard the sounds Nick had made on the sidewalk.  He took a bullet, of sorts, for me.  How could I live with myself if I didn’t even thank him?

I clenched my fists at my sides, one on my keys and the other on nothing, and forced myself to look her in the eye.

“I’m going.”

*****

I didn’t believe I had actually resisted my mother until I was safely parked in the hospital car park.  I’d never done anything like such blatant in-your-face defiance in even my most rebellious teen moments.

But she had changed too.  When things started getting
really
big, when the contracts started having that many zeroes in them, she changed.

Nobody had ever done more for me than her.  Until two days ago.  Maybe that was what gave me that last little bit of strength to get those words out and edge past her in the kitchen.

With my trusty sunglasses and a cap, I hoped for the best and made my way inside the hospital as quickly as I could.  The lady behind the reception gave me the room number for Nick Martell along with a quizzical look, but I left before she could ask whether I was Harper Bayliss.

I walked down the corridor on the sixth floor, looking up at the numbers over the doors until I arrived outside room six dash eighteen, glad that everybody seemed more intent on rushing around with clipboards than looking at me.  A sudden wave of nerves hit me as I took off my sunglasses and hat and stuffed them both into my handbag.

What if he was angry about what had happened to him?  What do you say to somebody who’s in the hospital because of you?  I realized I should have thought about that before I arrived.

Still, I was here now.  I ruffled my hand over my head to take care of the hat-hair and tentatively walked in.  It was a room with just one bed in it, drab and clinical except for a single bouquet of flowers on a table by the window, which at least let in some bright sunshine to warm up the décor.

“Hello?” I said quietly.

Nick was asleep, with an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth, and apparently shirtless under the hospital sheets.  His skin looked hot and red where the acid had burned him, further distorting tattoos that were already crisscrossed with scars from older cuts.

Even if I didn’t get a lasting mark from my exposure to the acid, I couldn’t imagine Nick would get away unscathed.  Scars on top of his scars.

His muscles occasionally twitched and strained as he dreamed.  His breathing, at times, came fast and ragged.  It didn’t look like a good dream.

I stood at the side of the bed and wondered what to do. How long could I wait here?  Then the sleeping man did something I never would have expected from somebody who looked like him.

He was tall enough that he barely fit in the bed, muscular enough that he must work out every day.  Some tattoos, like the one on his shoulder, looked like they might have something to do with the army.  It was hard to tell with all the scars though.

He was crying.  A lump rose in my throat and I reached out to hold his hand as I stood by his bed.

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