antagonist: the main character, person, group, society, nature, force, spirit world, bad guy, or villain of a film or script who is in adversarial conflict with the film's hero, lead character or protagonist; also sometimes termed the heavy.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Only four days remained before the Academy Awards. An obnoxious tick-tick-ticking sounded in Tallulah’s head the moment the pilot of their homebound flight turned off all the NO CELLPHONE USE signs as the plane wheeled to its designated gate. A flood of notifications of text messages, missed calls, voicemails, and emails sent their cells into a fit of buzzy hums once airplane mode was switched off. An informational overload she tried to choke down.
A voicemail assured her that House of Spire’s team of dedicated seamstresses mended the snags that nearly unraveled her sanity. A text message informed her that Lanya scheduled a pre-Oscars spa day as a massage and tame her nerves. The beauty team consisting of a hair stylist, a nail technician, and a makeup artist sent an email confirmation of the appointment. Her personal shopper, Wilks, texted her photos of cobalt blue heels, labeling each with the names of luxury shoe designers she had no clue even existed.
Nick held her hand as they journeyed to baggage claim. Well, more like he walked ahead of her, guiding her through the crowds while her attention remained stuck to a group text message. When he stopped to give an elderly couple the right-of-way, she accidentally bumped into his back. The collision knocked the device out of her possession. She squatted to retrieve it and looked up at him.
“Sorry.” She gave him an apologetic look.
He offered his hand to help her up and she accepted the gesture, depositing her phone in her purse. They strolled side by side with his arm around her waist and her hand in his back pocket. She felt his phone vibrate and vibrate and vibrate, but he made no attempt to acknowledge it.
Her brows knitted together. “Aren’t you going to answer that?”
“I’ll answer it on my time. Not theirs,” he said. “You should do the same, Ray. I promise the world won’t end.”
Tallulah sighed, “No, the world won’t end, but the world will definitely be watching us on the red carpet four days from now.”
Waiting for me to fuck up and for you to act up, she added internally. The last time Nick made a public appearance was on Extra Late Live Show where he defended her honor on national television and backstage. The host, Jarrett Spencer, made a public and private apology. Not wanting to escalate the matter, she forgave him, but Nick hadn’t and wouldn’t which proved to be an issue when it was announced Jarrett would be a red carpet interviewer.
Before she bumped into Nick earlier, the Galentine Gang sans Valerie had texted her on the matter:
Sonya: Sis, keep Nicky away from that jackass.
Alexandra: The screenwriters I intern for have a running bet Jarrett will shit bricks if Nick just so much as looks at him.
If Tallulah had a taste for gambling, she would’ve betted all her money on that too.
“Which means you’ll have to behave and keep your hands to yourself,” Tallulah said before letting out a tiny gasp as Nick pinched her ass slyly.
“Behave? Sure. Keep my hands to myself?” He chuckled. “Outta the question, Ray. You need to make peace with that.”
“I don’t mean me, Nick. I meant a certain late talk show host,” she said whispery-like, witnessing his smile wane.
He grunted a hm and she blinked a pair of puppy-dog eyes at him.
“Don’t give me that look, Desiree,” he said.
“Why, Nicholas? Is it working?” she probed, pouting to enhance her little act.
“I’ll give you a lesson on what’s working and what’s not when we get home,” he said slightly gruff as they reached the carousels of moving baggage.
She bit her bottom lip to keep her smile hostage as she gave his left asscheek a good hidden squeeze before relinquishing his pocket. “I’d love to know where that falls.”
A playful wickedness glint in his eyes as he looked at her, going to retrieve their luggage. A chauffeur waited for them in the pick-up zone. While their driver handled the luggage while they sat in the town car’s backseat.
Next stop: Finn’s.
Finn lived in a two-bedroom upscale condo in Venice with all white walls, all polished wood floors, and an ocean-breezy balcony to die for. While they were away on a romantic getaway, their kid’s godfather ensured all his wants and needs were met. From the texted photos and daily phone updates, Milo Lachlan Bryant was well-fed from the local Venice eats, well-tanned from his afternoons on the beach, and had became a little cinephile binging on Nick’s, Tallulah’s, and Finn’s filmographies all thanks to his godfather’s impressive collection.
When Nick rapped his fist on the condo’s door, Finn answered.
“Right on time,” he said, gesturing for them to enter. “How was Mexico?”
Nick smirked, “We weren’t there for sightseeing if that’s what you’re asking.”
“It was sunny and lovely,” Tallulah said with a roll of her eyes, resisting the urge to punch him in the ribs.
Finn matched Nick’s smirk, glancing between the couple. “Will we be expecting a new addition to the Bryant cast in—say—nine months?”
Tallulah blinked in surprise before snorting out a laugh. “Absolutely not.”
“Keep an eye out.” Nick’s answer overlapped hers, sucking all the humor out of her. It took everything not to gawk at him. Luckily, Milo came charging out of the guest bedroom, tugging his two-wheel dinosaur carry-on. She rewired all her focus onto him as he gave her and Nick big I-missed-you hugs.
After giving Finn their thanks and saying their goodbyes, the trip down to the waiting car featured Milo excitedly giving them his recap of the last few days, unknowingly ratting out his godfather. Bedtime at midnight. Cereal sprinkled over ice cream for breakfast. After-dinner walks to a cupcake shop to flirt with the pretty baker.
The clogged traffic made the drive home agonizingly long, but in the backseat situated between his parents, Milo had more stories to share until he was all storied out. Once home, the family of three unpacked. Tallulah and Milo occupied the pool while Nick cooked dinner with the groceries Aishwarya and Lanya delivered the day before.
While Milo swam and splashed, Tallulah relaxed on a drifting pool lounger floatie. Or at least, she tried to relax. Keep an eye out. That’s what Nick told Finn. Four simple words that carried too much weight to be a joke—to be ignored. Never once in the months since they had rekindled their relationship did she consider having another kid or the idea he might want to.
Keep an eye out.
“Dinner’ll be ready in twenty minutes,” Nick announced, prompting her to loll her head in his direction. Through her violet-tinted shades, she observed a wet Milo climb out of the pool and grab his towel, draping over his head. Nick gave him a fatherly grin, rustling the boy’s towel over his hair playfully.
After Milo went inside to take a quick shower, Nick rounded the pool, following along her pool lounger. “You’ve been quiet as a mouse since you’ve got back from Finn’s and dare I say avoiding me.”
A mild breeze pushed her toward the tiled pool’s wall.
She propped her shades atop her head to lock eyes with him. “When Finn joked about us having a baby, what you said to him was a joke right?”
Nick squatted to address her, his shadow casting over her. “Do you want me to say it’s a joke?”
She raked her teeth across her bottom lip, a nervousness tightening her throat. “So, you weren’t kidding then.”
“I didn’t know it was a bad thing to want to build a family with the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
“You don’t need to build something you already have, Nick,” she countered. “Aren’t me and Milo enough?”
He shook his head, threading fingers through his hair. “That’s not fair, Desiree. And you know it.”
“What’s not fair? Being content with what we have?” She frowned.
Nick rose, an unreadable flashing in his eyes. “It ain’t got nothing to do with contentment.”
“Then what?” she asked.
“There’s a time and a place for everything and right here and now ain’t it,” he said as he walked away.
Dinner was overtly tense. Luckily, Milo didn’t notice as he scarfed down his first homecooked meal after days takeout and desserts. Afterwards, Nick recruited him to help clean off the dinner table and do dishes, once again leaving Tallulah behind.
“Need an extra hand?” she offered while Milo stood on a step stool and washed the dishes, pots, and pans with a soapy sponge while Nick dried.
“We’ve got this, Mom,” Milo assured, invested in his chore.
Not bothering to look back at her, Nick said, “You heard the boy, Ray.”
“I’ll just leave you to it then,” she replied, retreating to her bedroom like a villain having lost a war.
To ease her nerves, she whipped out some candles and lit them, chose a jazz station from her integrated stereo system, and ran a bubble bath in her clawfoot tub. She turned off the lights, pinned her hair up, and climbed in, sighing as her body slid underneath scented bubbles and hot water. Now back after a getaway of sun and fun, she never anticipated she’d feel like a stranger in her own home.
Behind closed eyelids, she played that poolside conversation:
“Aren’t me and Milo enough?”
“That’s not fair, Desiree. And you know it.”
She shook her head softly, whispering to herself, “I don’t get it. What did I say wrong?”
More importantly: What did she say that wasn’t fair?
Tallulah heard the bedroom door open and shut. She heard footsteps nearing the bathroom door. Then the doorknob twisted slowly. She kept her eyes closed, pretending to relax as Nick approached.
“You ready for me?” he questioned.
She nodded once. “Yes.”
He stripped down to nothing, the amber glow of the candles partnering with shadows to highlight his handsome face and fit physique. He settled in on the opposite in and pinned her with a come-hither look. She obeyed, crawling in between his legs. He seized her nape and reeled her into a kiss. A tiny moan in her throat as his tongue tasted hers.
It took every ounce of her will to pull back. His lips chased after hers, but she shook her head softly.
“We need to talk about that conversation we had at the pool,” she said. “What did I say that wasn’t fair, Nick?”
He draped his muscular arms along the tub’s rim, his eyes flashing with displeasure. Whether it was due to her denying a kiss or her question, Tallulah wasn’t sure. Or maybe, it was a little bit of both.
A silence grew between them, thickening as the seconds ticked by.
He casted his eyes elsewhere.
“I want what was taken from me, Desiree,” he said. “I want to watch your belly grow week by week. I want the doctor visits and the ultrasounds. I want you to pick any room in this house so we can turn it into a nursery. I want to hold your hand when you’re in labor. I want to hear those first cries. I want to cut the umbilical cord. I want the sleepless nights and midnight bottle feedings. I want to see those first steps. I want to hear those first words. I want to be there for all of it.”
He pinned her with an unreadable expression.
“You resent me, don’t you?” she asked, tears prickling her eyes. One rolled down her cheek.
“No, I don’t,” he said as he crooked a finger to brush it away. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to. The night I met my son, I was mad at you, but I was madder at me for not noticing the changes to your body at the divorce proceedings. I was madder at me for checking in on you even if you didn’t want anything to do with me. I tried to forget you, Desiree.”
He leaned forward, closing the narrow sliver of distance between them.
“I tried so goddamn hard, but I couldn’t,” he breathed, capturing her lips. Her eyelids fluttered shut and her wet hands cupped his bearded face. She melted against him, their mouths working in heated tandem. She couldn’t forget him either. Every time she looked at their son Milo, she saw Nick in his eyes.
Bathwater sloshed as she straddled him. He wrapped his arms around her, his soapy hands caressing her bare back. She shivered, loving the way his fingers tenderly gazed trails up and down her backbone.
She broke the kiss to cock her head back, savoring his touch.
“For nine years, I dreamt and reminisced about you. I know the industry hardened us, but it didn’t change the plans we had for us, Desiree. We wanted a big house and a big family,” he said, pecking the column of her throat. “We’ve got the big house now, Ray, which only leaves…”
Nick trailed off, kissing the tops of her breasts.
She threaded her fingers throat his hair.
“You still want a big family with me, don’t you, Ray?” he questioned huskily, sliding his hands to cup her ass under the bubbly bathwater. “Hm?”
“Now, look who’s not being fair,” she sighed jokingly. He was playing hardball and she was losing.
He didn’t look amused as he gave her ass a delicious squeeze. “I asked you a question, baby.”
“Yes, Nick. I still want a big family,” she whispered, giving him little pecks at his lips, “but I love our little family too. Is it selfish of me to want to enjoy just the three of us for a little bit longer? Plus, I don’t know how Milo will feel about sharing you with a baby. You just came into his life. Maybe, he wants you to himself.”
“On multiple occasions, he’s informed me he’d like to be a big brother,” he stated.
Tallulah dropped her jaw, her eyes widening. “And what did you tell him?”
“To be patient,” he answered. “That’s two against one, Desiree.”
She un-straddled him and turned to rest her back against his chest, afraid he’d witness her worries and fears. She grabbed her washcloth, but he took it from her with ease, taking it upon himself to bathe her.
“Tell me what’s wrong, Desiree,” he ordered calmly, dragging the washcloth across her knee and up her thigh.
She closed her eyes, trying to relax. “I had a rough pregnancy with Milo, Nick. The divorce proceedings made my blood pressure as hell. The doctor put me on bedrest, but I still went into labor two months early. I was able to have a natural birth, but he couldn’t breathe. They had to resuscitate him. Then he spent a month-and-a-half in NICU.”
Her voice cracked and she inhaled deep to erase the tightening pains in her chest.
“I want you as my partner even if it means being in the spotlight, but I don’t want history to repeat itself because the industry, the paparazzi, the blogs, the magazines and your rabid fans would stress me the fuck out,” she sniffled, shaking her head. “I refuse to let them watch me go through another difficult pregnancy.”
“I’m here now and I’ll protect what’s mine, Desiree. You hear me?” He abandoned the washcloth and clasped her chin, steering it so their gazes could meet.
She nodded slowly, drawn in by his brilliant eyes. “Loud and clear, Nick.”
Moaning softly, Tallulah stirred from her sleep as the ringtone assigned to Lanya filled the air. She blinked sleepily at the phone on her nightstand, lifting her head off the pillows.
“Don’t answer it,” Nick grumbled behind her as the big spoon in their sleeping position. They fell asleep with his hand blanketed her tender breast, but now that he was half-awake, a thumb lazily toyed with her nipple. She winced slightly. After all, he enjoyed sucking, licking, biting, and tugging at her nipples any chance he got on their romantic getaway.
“It’s Lanya. She wouldn’t call this late if it wasn’t important,” she said tiredly, brushing off his fingers.
She reached for the phone and answered it. “Hello?”
“Oh, thank god, Tally. I just off the phone with a friend and he told me your sextapes is trending,” Lanya said frantically, breathlessly.
Tallulah sat up immediately, shock gripping her throat. “My what?”
“At midnight, a site of your sextapes went live. It’s called NallyVacay.com,” Lanya informed. Nally was the celebrity couple name his approving fanbase called them and as for the vacay, that couldn’t possibly mean…
She quickly got off the call with Lanya and went to the website, all the air evaporated from her lungs as she read the introductory summary:
Welcome to our site, little voyeurs!
Here you'll have free acess to a collection of hot-hot-hot videos starring the King of Hollywood, Nick Bryant and his queen consort, Tally Edmonds. As you know, Nicky is no stranger to sextapes, but Tally is a talented newcomer. Watch as Nicky fucks her like the dirty little sluy she is.
Videos of the intimacy they shared in the bedroom of their Mexico penthouse filled the page like a grid. A real-time visitor counter resided at the bottom of the page, its numbers churning fast. The site had only been live for three hours and the count just broke eight-hundred thousand.
Her tears blurred everything and she choked out a sob.
Nick sat upright, alert. “What happened? What’s wrong?”
Unable to look at him, she passed him her cell with a shaky hand then got out of bed. She darted for the bedroom door and flung it open. Her bare feet clapped against the cold marble floors as she raced to the mansion’s nine-car garage.
She climbed into the driver’s seat of the silver Land Rover and slammed the door shut. Her hands shot to the steering wheel and strangled it as she screamed like she was an impending murder victim. She pressed her forehead against the steering wheel, her body quavering as cries poured out of her.
The front passenger door opened and Nick claimed the empty seat. She didn’t have the energy to lift her head to look at him. And even if she did, he’d be a watery blur.
“Did you see the camera angle?” she panted out.
“Yeah, I did,” he answered.
It was stationary and focused solely on the bed. None of their intimate moments beyond the master suite was captured. She squeezed her eyelids shut, more tears cascading down her cheeks. She imagined the layout of the room again.
“That means,” she trailed off, her voice cracking.
“It means the V-day teddy bear was actually a teddycam,” Nick concluded.
She nodded in agreement, letting out a sad laugh. “I almost took it with me too as a souvenir. Maybe, if I had then—”
“It wouldn’t have mattered, Desiree. They’re wireless and can be transmitted to any device,” he informed coolly. “I’ve called Juan and Tammy. First thing in the morning, we’re having an emergency meeting to address to resolve the matter.”
As you know, Nicky is no stranger to sextapes…
Nick had five and even though she had admitted to watching one, she had seen all of them. Not all the way to the end, but a minute or two—or three or four—to convince herself he was better living his best life fucking actresses, supermodels, heiress, and popstars than trying to be a father to Milo.
She was one of the millions of little voyeurs of his sextapes and now, by daylight, a million and more will have seen theirs. Tallulah supposed this was a form of karma for not minding her goddamn business. She could only imagine how many of those videos were being downloaded and spread across the endless internet like wildfire.
“Even if you take that site down, those videos will be on the web forever, Nick,” she whispered tearily, looking over to him.
“I know, but whoever did this will pay for this, Desiree,” Nick said, reaching over to brush away a salty droplet.
She shook her head, dodging him. “You can’t guarantee that.”
“Yes, I can,” he said, his tone serious. “I have my ways, Desiree.”
Tallulah tilted her head back to gaze up at the ceiling, wanting gravity to push her incoming tears back inside. “I want to be alone right now.”
He stared at her, refusing to budge.
She snapped her attention to him, slamming her palms against the steering wheel in sorrow and frustration. “Please, Nick. Leave now.”
Then with desperation, she whispered, “Please, please, please.”
He clenched his jaw tight and his nostrils flared as he granted her wish, leaving her behind. She reclined the driver’s seat and cried herself to sleep. After three hours of a dreamless slumber, she roused from the Land Rover and padded back into the house.
Once inside, she stood at a crossroads. If she went left, Nick would be waiting for her in their bed. If she went right and upstairs, then she could be with Milo.
So, she traveled upstairs and pushed open his ajar door, crossing his prehistoric bedroom to crawl into his bed. She snuggled against him, watching his eyelids twitch as he slept so peacefully and innocently while her world burned to ash. Seeing him at peace inspired her to nod off.
When Tallulah woke again, she awoke alone. Groggily, she deduced Milo must’ve snuck out of bed and got ready for his Thursday at school. A headache drilled into her skull and cradled her temple with her palm as if it’d alleviate the agonizing pressure.
She went to Nick’s old bedroom and plucked a bottle of painkillers from his medicine cabinet. She tossed two into her mouth and turned on the faucet to slurp from the cool stream. Then she splashed water onto her bothered skin to wake her up.
After patting herself face with a nearby towel, she went downstairs to find Nick, Juan, and Tammy discussing the matter on the poolside patio. Looking a hot mess, she went to join them.
They grew quiet as she sat down.
“What’s the damage?” she asked tiredly.
“You two are trending across all social media platforms. The celebrity gossip blogs and tabloids are having a field day. There will be a lot of television coverage too,” Tammy informed as she reached for Tallulah’s hand and gave it a sympathetic squeeze.
“What’s the visitor count now?” she asked, holding an intense starting contest with Nick.
Juan paled, scratching his nape nervously. “As of thirty minutes ago, it’s at 1.5 mil.”
She had cried so much she had no more tears. All she could do was nod and stare at the morning sunlight dancing cross the blue waters of their pool.
“On Nick’s instruction, we contacted the resort and threatened them with legal action if they did not investigate who had access to that penthouse before you two arrived and after you two left. Because the site has an US web host and it’s categorized as revenge porn which is illegal, we’ve given them 24 hours to shut it down or they’ll have to deal with the authorities,” Juan continued.
“And what happens if they find the culprit? They can’t be extradited from Mexico for their crimes,” Tallulah said, bouncing her knee nervously underneath the patio table.
“I called in a favor to tech-savvy associate in law enforcement and he traced the site’s IP address to LA which means either the culprit is using a VPN to disguise the fact he operates in Mexico or he has a inside contact at the resort and he operates here in LA,” Nick replied. “Either way, we’ll find him, Desiree.”
She rose from her seat. “Seems you all have everything figured out. I need some time to process this…matter.”
She walked back inside, aching for a shower to scrub her skin. The skin 1.5 million little voyeurs and counting saw on that website. She yanked her nightgown over her head and took off her undergarments with a quickness. Twisting the shower knobs, she got in, not caring ice-cold water rained down on her.
Tallulah tilted her head up, letting it baptize her. As the water went warm then hot, she wanted an empty mind. She wanted to simply exist, but she looked to the claw-footed tub through the steamy shower door, remembering the conversation had.
Nick (and Milo) wanted to turn their family of three to a family of four. How could she possibly want to bring another child into a world of voyeurs? Unless she imprisoned at the mansion for her entire pregnancy, ducking in and out of alleyways into tinted cars for gyno appointments only, she’d always be stressed out.
Hell, she had been so stressed out lately, she missed two periods and after this debacle, she’d probably miss a third. She smoothed a hand over her belly, her brow furrowing as she considered her symptoms.
Tender breasts and missed periods.
The bathroom opened and closed. Nick’s silhouette approached the steamed glass, shedding his pajama bottoms. He entered, approaching her from behind. He wrapped his arms around her waist, sliding his calloused hands up her curves. He nuzzled his bearded face against the crook of her neck, kissing her cheek.
He breathed in her ear, cupping her sore breasts gently. “I couldn’t sleep at all. If you’re not in my arms, I’m restless as fuck.”
“I’m know. I’m sorry, Nick,” she whispered, wincing at his touch.
Overwhelmed by a what-if, she detached herself from him and got out of the shower. He stayed in the shower, seizing her wet arm.
“Don’t run away from me, Desiree,” he pleaded, his eyes full of pain. “Don’t.”
When he looked at her like that, how could she deny him?
She returned to the shower and shut the door. He pulled her into a tight hug, burying his face into her shoulder. They stayed like that for what seemed like forever. She stroked his nape tenderly, realizing he was hurting just as much as she was.
As you know, Nicky is no stranger to sextapes…
But this time was different because it was them.
I protect what’s mine, he told her last night.
A task he believed he failed at.
“Thank you for protecting me. For protecting us,” she whispered. He said nothing, only coiled his arms tighter around her as if she’d spiral down the shower drain if he let her go.
Tell him, a little voice in the back of her head nagged.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Nick, I’ve missed two periods and…I’m starting to think it’s…not due to stress.”
He lifted his head off her shoulder, nailing her with his intense eyes.
“I think I need…a pregnancy test,” she admitted hesitantly.
Without a single word, he led them out of the shower dripping wet and over to the bathroom sinks. Confused, she watched as he squatted and opened a cabinet door, retrieving a pregnancy test.
“Take it now.” He offered it to her.
Tallulah glanced between him, his audacity, and it.
“Are you seriously giving me a dusty pregnancy test left behind by one of your exes?” she snapped, pointing an accusatory finger at the pink-and-blue box.
“No, I bought it after you missed your first period,” he informed, rising to stand over her again. “Now, take it.”
She gawked at him, her jaw hanging wide open.
“I—” Her words shriveled in her throat. She accepted the box, ripped it open, and got out one of the two pregnancy tests. He watched her like a goddamn hawk as she sat on the toilet and peed on the stick. Then she stuck the cap back on and laid on the counter delicately like it was the most fragile thing she ever handled.
After she washed her hands, he wrapped her in a fluffy towel.
“I still can’t believe you bought a pregnancy test after I missed my first period, Nick,” she said in disbelief, shaking her head.
“And I can’t believe you didn’t consider pregnancy a possibility after you missed your first period,” he said. “I believe I told everyone on national television, loving on you is sensational. And when it’s sensational, you’re doomed.”
She punched him in the chest, fighting back a slight smile. Underneath her knuckles, a chuckle of his vibrated through. For a moment, they weren’t victims of a revenge porn site. They were them. He captured her wrist and brought her fist up his lips, kissing each knuckle.
“What happens if it’s positive?” she asked.
“I’m gonna kiss the fuck out of you,” he answered, his warm tickling her knuckles.
“And what happens if it’s negative?” she asked.
“I’m still gonna kiss the fuck out of you,” he said.
Tallulah reached for the stick and looked at its little digital window, reading the word pregnant. Her heart leapt in her throat.
She gasped out, “Holy sh—”
Nick smashed his lips against hers.
It's been a whiiiiiiiile. I hope you enjoy this new installment. Our next chapter will focus on whether or not Tally will go to the Academy Awards with Nick now that everyone's seen them sex each other up. It'll also focus on how differently Nick and Tally are taking the news to her pregnancy. I've really missed these characters and this story. Feedback greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much for your patience and understanding. It's been a wild year. Between teaching face-to-face during a pandemic to getting a literary agen and getting a book deal for a project I've worked on for a long time.
Shout to KittyOh48 for the Nally celebrity couple name! <3