unreliable narrator: a protagonist or narrator whose perspective is skewed to their own perspective, producing a portrayal of events that may or may not be accurate or truthful.
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Tallulah adjusted her dark shades before her personal bodyguard, Christophe, opened the boutique’s entrance door, ushering her into the chaos of flashing cameras, eager paparazzi, and a gathering public. He stepped in front of her, clearing a path to get to the tinted SUV awaiting her at the curb. She smiled weakly and bowed her head, trying to remain calm and focused. The last time her focus went astray in front of the paparazzi, she lost her balance on her four-inch heels, causing an unfortunate tumble to the ground like an elephant shot by a poacher.
As Christophe opened the rear passenger door, she turned halfway and gave a kind wave before she entered the vehicle. When the door was shut behind her, she let out a sigh of relief. Even after two months of this kind of life, she still struggled to endure the sheer intensity of being in the public eye and the target of glistening camera lens. Once her bodyguard eased into the front passenger seat, the SUV emerged into the traffic flow.
Lanya, her very own personal assistant, asked, “Enjoy your shopping spree?”
“I only bought one dress and a pair of shoes for four hundred dollars. I hardly think that constitutes of a shopping spree,” Tallulah said.
“Tally, only you would get an allowance of ten grand and only spend four percent of it,” Lanya sighed. “Stop being afraid of going all out.”
Tallulah rolled her eyes. “I’m not afraid. I just…hate spending money for the sake of it. Plus, it’s a movie premiere to a kid movie. I think that hardly constitutes a ten-grand budget. Now, let’s move onto more important matters. What’s your mother taking my decision?”
Lanya was Tammy’s youngest daughter, a recent college graduate with a B.S. in Business Administration under her belt. She needed a chance and Tallulah needed an assistant. It wasn’t surprising that they were a match made in heaven.
“Not… so great,” Lanya said hesitantly. “She thinks you’re wasting good opportunities.”
With a growing pile of auditions on her plate, Tallulah made the mistake of entertaining each one. Though she by no means thought a minor role was beneath her, she also no longer wanted to be type-casted as a black woman in a servitude or outspoken role with an itty-bitty speaking part. It just so happened most casting directors and producers offering her a chance to show off her acting chomps wanted her to play just that. Nor did it help that Tammy passed along every single request.
No longer were the days where any opportunity was better than nothing at all. Where an audition was the only thing that stood between paid bills and being out on the street.
Things were different now.
She was in a different place now.
After yesterday’s umpteenth audition, she left Tammy a carefully worded voicemail message this morning, requesting that she no longer wished to play boisterous or obedient black roles. She figured her talent agent wouldn’t take the news well, but she had to lay down the law.
Though her eyes weren’t set on an Oscar or any accolades with her performance in Forget Me Not, she had to establish herself as a serious player in this industry. If not, she’d be nothing more than “Nick Bryant’s baby mama who co-starred with him in that one Eugene Aaron film”. Even if becoming a big Hollywood star would never be in her cards, somewhere down the line she could proudly say that her selective filmography was admirable choice.
Tallulah situated her shades atop of her head to get a good look at Lanya, arching a delicate eyebrow. “Be honest with me. Do you agree with her?”
“I firmly believe in quality over quantity,” Lanya said, “but I’m no expert in Hollywood politics. My mom has been in this industry for nearly twenty years. So, it’s safe to say her experience and advice is invaluable, but she’s never managed someone of your caliber or unique situation, Tally. Maybe, you should talk to Nick about it. I’m sure he’ll have some great advice for you.”
She sighed softly at the suggestion and shielded her eyes once more with her shades, peering at the window.
The last person she wanted to go to was Nick over something like this. He already had enough on his plate. In the span of two months, he was pushed into the highs and lows of fatherhood, went a weekly session with an eight-hundred-dollar-an-hour therapist, and went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings twice a week. And sometimes, if it was a crappy week, he’d go three times a week.
With Forget Me Not’s production and reshoots completed, they both had nearly a year before their contractual obligations kicked in and a worldwide premieres and press tours for the film consumed every bit of their lives.
However, that didn’t mean they were completely free from Hollywood until then.
It was November now and January’s Oscars nomination season was a mere stone’s throw away. Nor was it a secret the studio behind Nick’s record-breaking spy thriller, Wicked People, had invested in a pricy campaign for him to be considered for a Best Actor nomination from the Academy.
While others worried about whether Nick would take home a shiny gold trophy that night, Tallulah worried about how he would react once when she once told him she wasn’t going to be his plus one on Oscars night. She couldn’t wear Lane Bryant on the red carpet. All the major names in the fashion industry wouldn’t dare touch her or her size-eighteen behind with a ten-foot pole. Lanya recommended trying to find a lesser known designer and though that was a wonderful idea, Tallulah wasn’t exactly sure if she had the nerve to hunt for one bold enough to put her into a dress worthy enough for the red carpet.
She even considered allowing Milo to go in her stead while she remained at home in cozy pajamas to watch everything from the comfort of a couch.
But for tonight, she needed to bring her A-game even if it was a premiere of a children’s film.
Tallulah closed her eyes and sucked in a breath to steady her nerves before she accepted her ex-husband’s warm hand, allowing him to escort her out of the black limousine. Her crimson-hued suede peep-toe ankle boots stepped onto the intimidating stretch of red carpet. Immediately overwhelmed by the legions of paparazzi armed with their brightly-flashing cameras and hordes of ecstatic fans screaming. All held back behind velvet ropes, collectively exuding a raw palpable energy that Tallulah struggled to endure.
Milo took well to it all, waving to the eager masses who called out his name. After all, he was the one who was invited to the premiere of Fish Tales, his parents merely his plus two. Now that Hollywood—and the entire world—knew that Nick Bryant had a son, it was only natural to properly induct him into the ranks of Hollywood royalty and offer perks fit for little princes.
Merging into the trickling stream of Hollywood’s finest headed toward the famous Grauman’s Chinese theater, the family of three strolled down the red carpet, pausing ever-so-often to pose for the cameras. In every instance, Milo stood in front of Nick and Tallulah with a wide grin, tugging confidently at his dapper suit’s lapels. Occasionally, she gazed down at her son in those moments, a proud twinkle in her eye and a soft smile curling. She, also, ignored the odd feeling of Nick’s hand holding hers.
When it was time to move on, they barely walked a few feet before a brunette TV reporter slyly approached them with an inviting smile; her small production closing in.
She greeted, “Good evening, Bryant clan! Could you spare us a few moments of your time?”
Nick smiled. “Only since you asked nicely, Donatella.”
The reporter blushed and bashfully rolled her eyes, squatting down to Milo’s level to interview him. Insecurity prickled at Tallulah after witnessing the exchange between Nick and Donatella when she remembered once upon a time five years ago, they were an item. And though a glitzy 6-carat princess-cut diamond ring graced her pale finger to show her martial commitment to a sixty-two-year-old husband/boss, it bothered Tallulah at how easily Nick could slather on his signature bachelor charm for the woman.
Even if she had to remind herself it was all an act.
Even if a slither of her believed underneath the façade there was a nugget of truth.
Donatella stood up and aimed a microphone in Tallulah’s face suddenly, catching her off-guard. “And you look utterly gorgeous tonight, Tallulah.”
A crimson illusion lace sheath dress she purchased from the boutique earlier that day hugged her body. But coupled with the shoes, it was probably the least expensive ensemble on the red carpet. However, coupled with the crimson lipstick and smoky red eyeshadow as well as the 4-thousand ruby drop-dangle earrings that Nick surprised her with, she was the best she’d ever looked.
“Thank you so much,” Tallulah said with a brilliant smile.
“Give everyone a twirl, Mom,” Milo encouraged.
Tallulah widened her eyes at the request, a nervous smile stretching across her lips. She looked pleadingly at Nick to defuse the situation, but he grinned at the idea.
“You heard the boy, Ray,” he said as he lifted her hand above her head, steering her into a slow turn for the camera. Halfway into the twirl, Tallulah caught sight of Naomi Barrett sauntering down the red carpet in a flowy emerald-green dress and matching bejeweled heels holding the hand of a young tan girl in emerald-green dress with realistic petals as its knee-length skirt.
Any confidence she may have felt for herself evaporated as she noted how stunning the redhead looked.
She looks like a Hollywood goddess, Tallulah thought, and I look like a no-name brand imitation.
A pleasant surprise rippled across Naomi’s beautiful face as her piercing blue eyes locked onto Tallulah’s gaze.
The little girl peered over as well and gasped loudly, “Milo!”
Then she let go of Naomi’s hand and darted over as Tallulah came back full circle.
“Hi, Julissa,” Milo said with a shy smile.
Tallulah’s eyebrows knitted. Julissa as in Milo’s little-friend-from-school Julissa?
Julissa crossed her arms and arched an eyebrow. “Did you ask your parents if you could sit with me and Mimi at the premiere like you promised?”
“Uh, not yet,” Milo whispered loudly.
“Well, isn’t this an adorable coincidence,” Donatella said into her microphone. “It seems as though Nick Bryant’s son and Naomi Barrett’s sister are best friends.”
Julissa frowned at Donatella’s commentary and reached out her hand for the microphone. Donatella blinked at the girl’s boldness but offered it to her.
“We’re not best friends. We’re boyfriend and girlfriend. Thank you very much.”
Tallulah’s eyebrows shot upward at the announcement and she let out fleeting shocked laugh.
What in the ever living—
“It’s time I crashed this little party,” Naomi replied as she approached the gathering with a dazzled smile, giving Tallulah a friendly cheek kiss as a greeting. “You look beautiful tonight, Tally.”
“As do you,” she said politely, accepting the kind gesture.
Naomi pulled back and blew Nick a kiss before she turned her attention to Donatella. “What did I miss?”
The reporter extracted the microphone from Julissa’s and informed the actress of her younger sister’s televised announcement.
Naomi tossed her head back and laughed brightly. “I suppose it was bound to come out sooner or later. Right, Nicky?”
Her brain scrambled to comprehend all the details she hadn’t been privy to know until now.
1. Nick sent their son to the same school as his ex-girlfriend’s sister.
2. For months, he had an opportunity to fess up as to who Julissa was but chose not to.
3. Apparently, both he and Naomi knew the two children were “dating."
4. Nick didn’t immediately nip that “boyfriend-girlfriend” shit in the bud.
5. She had no idea Nick and Naomi still spoke to each other in non-work-related capacity.
Tallulah held back the urge to shoot a what-the-fuck look at Nick.
After the red-carpet interview was over, Milo then took the opportunity to ask if he could see the movie with Julissa and her big sister Mimi to which she swallowed down her protests and gave her consent alongside Nick. It took everything in her not to snatch her hand out of her ex-husband’s grasp as they strolled down the red carpet’s final stretch, posing ever-so-often for the paparazzi childless. Her camera-ready face once soft and beaming with a smile, now unsmiling and runway-fierce.
Inside the theater’s lobby, free food and drinks awaited them. Tallulah wanted to slurp down a soda and stuff her face with buttery popcorn, but she noticed it was only the children who gravitated to the complimentary treats. Most likely because typical movie snacks weren’t in a Hollywood star’s recommended diet.
Her stomach twisted in hunger as Nick escorted her past the taunting display and into the screening.
It would be a long night.
As Tallulah tucked her son into bed, he asked gently, “Mom, are you mad at me for not telling you about my girlfriend?”
“Of course not, Milo,” she sighed, “but you’re much too young to have a girlfriend yet alone worry about me being mad at you for having one. You’re eight years old and you have your whole life ahead of you. Julissa is your friend and she’s a girl, but she’s not your girlfriend. You feel me?”
He frowned. “Just about everybody’s got a boyfriend or girlfriend at school. Their parents let them go on dates and have sleepovers.”
Tallulah arched an eyebrow and pursed her lips. “None of those kids at your school are my son. You’re my only concern. There’s nothing wrong with a parent-supervised playdate, but an actual date is a no-go and sleepovers are out of the question.”
She cut him off. “But Dad what?”
“I asked him if…I could take Julissa out…on a secret date and he said…OK,” Milo admitted hesitantly.
Tallulah blinked. “So, you wanted your father to keep everything a secret from me?”
Milo casted his eyes downward. “I knew you wouldn’t let me date Julissa. I’m sorry, Mom.”
Masking her disappointment and hurt, she leaned down and kissed his forehead. “Get some rest. It’s been a long day. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
After making the trek to her personal wing, she sauntered into her room as Nick emerged from the bathroom in nothing but his sleep shorts. She gave him the silent treatment as she disrobed and marched into the bathroom to remove her ready herself for bed.
As she erased her makeup, he filled up the doorway, leaning against the frame with crossed arms. “Is it safe to assume I’ve done something wrong?”
The woman in the mirror narrowed her eyes. “Something would apply it’s only one thing. You’ve done a fuck-ton. When exactly were you going to tell me, Julissa was Naomi’s sister or that the school you sent our son to just so happens to be the same school your ex’s sister goes to?”
Nick closed his eyes and sighed, running his fingers through his hair. “I put Milo in that school because it’s one of the best, but Naomi’s…past endorsements of the place…did influence my choice. You and I only had a few days to get everything in order. I figured it was best to pick a school I was familiar with.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you concealed the little girl’s identity from me for two months, Nicholas,” Tallulah huffed.
He shook his head. “I didn’t think Milo and Julissa would gravitate toward each other. When he started gushing about her to us, I pulled him to the side to have a talk with him about how he felt about Julissa and he told me they’d be dating since the second day of school. Then he begged me not to tell you because you’d shut that shit down. He was happy and I wanted to keep him that way, so I kept the secret.”
Tallulah clenched her jaw but said nothing.
“A few days later,” Nick continued, “Naomi reached out to me about the whole dating thing and said it would be good for the kids. Julissa struggles with making friends because she…tends to be bossy and Milo needed a friend at his new school.”
“Milo is too young to have a girlfriend, Nick. He’s eight. Not eighteen,” Tallulah vented. “He should be worrying about being a kid and completing his studies, not going on secret dates with an eight-year-old girl. Furthermore, I’m hurt you kept all this shit from me, and I had to find out during a goddamn televised interview along with everyone else.”
He pried himself from the doorway and approached her, wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing at her neck. “I take full responsibility for my actions. I should’ve told you everything from the beginning.”
Momentarily, she bit her bottom lip, her eyelids fluttering shut as his affection slowly worked on her. “Where’s Julissa’s parents in all of this?”
“Steven and Maria couldn’t have a say even if they wanted to.”
Tallulah’s face scrunched in confusion. “And why is that?”
“Julissa’s not their biological daughter.”
“So, what she’s adopted. They still have parental—”
Nick locked eyes with her in the mirror. “She’s Naomi’s biological daughter.”
Her jaw dropped. “I beg your pardon?”
“Naomi got knocked up by a Mexican gardener. Steven wanted to sweep it under the rug, and she wasn’t already for a child. Naomi went overseas to hide out during her pregnancy and when she gave birth, her father and stepmother turned around and adopted Julissa,” Nick enlightened. “When Julissa was two, Naomi wanted full custody, but it would’ve been this big scandal. So, to the public, she’s a hands-on protective big sister, but behind closed doors, she’s the boss.”
A secret for a secret.