feel-good film: usually a light-hearted, upbeat comedy or romance that ends with an audience-pleasing conclusion.
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.
The last nine days had been an absolute whirlpool. From signing contracts with Eugene Aaron’s film production company to taking a paternity test and waiting for results already known, touring schools of the rich and famous’ offspring, overseeing professional movers pack up and cart off her belongings, and table reads with the rest of Forget Me Not’s assembled cast, everything was happening in a blur and she couldn’t properly make out what she was seeing. Now, she sat in the back of a town car instructed to take her and her son to some family arcade in East LA. She leaned her forehead against the sun-warmed glass window to give herself a chance to relax. Though she predicted co-parenting with her ex-husband would be a successful collaboration, she anticipated living him would be anything but easy.
When the town car arrived in the arcade’s parking lot, Milo flung open his car door and darted out, running straight in squatting Nick’s awaiting arms. His father put him into a headlock and gave him a noogie. Nick’s “down-low” outfit was pretty effective. He wore a dark baseball cap, a jacket, a simple shirt, dark jeans, and work boots. If bystander stared at him long enough, they’d might think their eyes were deceiving them.
She got out the car and sauntered up to the bonding moment. Nick skillfully tossed the boy over his shoulder and rose up to meet her, a charming grin carved itself on his lips.
“Evening,” Tallulah greeted back before she cleared her throat, glancing around the parking lot nervously.
“You’re not going to find what you’re looking for,” Nick stated. “People like that are real good at playing hide and seek.”
He meant the Hollywood Laundry photographer that was a part of Juan’s master plan. She shifted her attention back to him.
Nick nodded toward the arcade’s doors. “You ready?”
“I am,” Milo piped up, earning laughs from his parents.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Tallulah said.
Once inside the colorful family arcade, they purchased two gigantic cups of tarnished game coins that had seen better days. Milo ran ahead of them, stopping at a hoop game. Tallulah handed him two coins to play. He only made the basket twice, but he wasn’t upset about getting a high score. He seemed just happy to have his parents rallying behind him.
His lane spat out a few tickets.
“Now, it’s your turns,” Milo announced with a wide grin.
The two of them stepped up to their respective lanes and feed the game their coins. Nick stretched his arms over his head, cranking his neck from side to side with a loud dramatic groan. Milo laughed and Tallulah bit back hers, rolling her eyes in lieu.
Nick posed, “You ready to lose?”
“In your dreams,” Tallulah snorted.
They grabbed their first basketballs and shot toward their baskets. Tallulah’s baseball sunk through the net, earning a red-digit score. Nick’s ball danced around the rim before it fell off, his score still a blaring zero.
“It’s OK, Dad. You tried,” Milo encouraged, patting the man’s back as if the game was already over and the winner was declared.
A giggle burst from Tallulah’s lips at Milo’s sympathetic gesture as she reached for another basketball and shot it like a basketball pro to which she scored. In the end, she had the highest final score and won the most tickets, having successfully gotten all the balls through the hoop except one. She stuck her tongue out and did her victory dance, which consisted of shimmying shoulders and whipping the air.
She cupped her ear as if she were hard of hearing. “I’m sorry, but was that the sound of defeat, Nicholas?”
“You win this round,” he said, jerking his head toward a multi-player arcade game a few feet away, “but test your luck at Race Car Mania.”
In the end, she won that one too.
When all the purchased coins were nearly gone, dozens and dozens of games were played, the family of three acquired a huge plastic bag full of tickets, they made their way to the prize counter and waited in line.
Milo grabbed his mom’s arm and jumped up and down, pointing excitedly to a shooting arcade game in the distance. “Oh, can I play that game? Please, please, please?”
“Just that one and come right back,” Tallulah conceded, forfeiting the last few coins.
He scurried off and she cranked her neck to keep an eye on him.
“You were a worthy adversary tonight,” Nick said.
“Translation: you really suck at arcade games,” Tallulah laughed, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. “But it’s oddly comforting to know I can best you at something.”
“You’ve bested me more than once.”
She rolled her eyes. “Like?”
“You’re the better actor. Even after all these years, you outshined me at the audition. Gene and the producers couldn’t take their eyes off you,” he said.
She glanced at him bashfully and leaned close, whispering teasingly, “Says the three-time Oscar nominee.”
Reaching the prize shop’s counter, Nick handed over the bag of tickets and the employee weighted the tickets. They won a few thousand, but it wasn’t enough for the big green dinosaur plushie that Milo wanted, which sitting on a high shelf top alongside his brethren. Nick pulled out his wallet and plucked out a few hundreds, discreetly sliding it across the counter to the perplexed teenaged employee.
“Nicholas.” Tallulah gaped and slapped his shoulder, glancing around to ensure no one—especially Milo—witnessed him trying to cheat the system.
Nick ignored her, pointing to the stuffed toy his son wanted. “We’ll take that one. Two Benjamins should cover it and you can keep the rest for yourself as a token of thanks. Got it?”
By the time Milo came back from his game, Nick had the green dinosaur waiting for him. Their son’s eyes lit up like fireworks and he hugged the toy with all his might. The sight warmed her heart. Maybe, it was alright to cheat the system every once and a while, if it meant the reward was a child’s genuine happiness.
It was well after dusk when they emerged from the arcade, walking across the parking lot and down the street. Nick offered to carry the dinosaur that was over half the size of Milo, but the little boy refused.
They walked two short blocks to get to a pizzeria, the waitress seating them at a booth by a wide window. Milo wanted to sit with his new green friend and claimed one side of the booth, which meant his parents had to sit on the other side.
Tallulah slid in first, deciding to take the window seat. The waitress came back with menus and cocked her head, squinting her eyes at Nick’s incognito efforts. However, she shook her head as if she didn’t believe herself. She took their drink orders and left the family be as they looked over the menus.
A bubbly giggle drew Milo’s attention from his menu and toward the young chipper couple in the booth across the way, huddling up to take a cutesy selfie.
He then glanced in between his parents. “Dad, did you leave Mom because you weren’t happy with her anymore?”
Tallulah nearly choked on air. “Milo.”
Nick eyed his son for a long moment with a cocked head before he folded his hands on the table, tilting in. “No, that wasn’t the reason why I left your mom, Milo. I was very happy with your mom.”
“Then why did you leave?”
His blue eyes cut to her for a brief moment, he answered carefully, “Because I thought she deserved someone much better than me.”
Tallulah’s breath hitched softly. Just then, the waitress came with their drinks before she pulled out her pad to scribble down their food orders. After the woman walked away, Milo announced that he had to use the restroom and he hopped out of the booth to do so.
She took her straw and stirred it around her soda. “Nice answer. He believed it. I almost did too.”
“It’s the truth, Desiree.”
A sad smile curled onto her lips. “Or it’s a lie you made yourself believe to not feel so guilty about what you did, Nicholas.”
Nick scooted closer to her, lying an arm along the booth’s lip. He used his free hand to gently grasp her chin and navigate her head to face his, their contrast gazes locking.
“I had my reasons for doing what I did,” he said.
She licked her lips and returned softly, “And I did too.”
His blue eyes flickered down her mouth before they settled back onto her chocolate brown eyes. He wanted to kiss her. His gaze told her so.
“Not here, Nicholas,” she replied.
He grinned evocatively. “Is that an invitation to redeem one later?”
She fought back a smile of her own. “I’m not a prize booth at an arcade.”
He leaned over her shoulder to whisper in her ear, “True, but we can still make a game out of it.”
A gush of arousal pooled in between her legs, pulsing hungrily there. She noted Milo coming out of the men’s restroom.
“Behave. Our son’s coming back,” she said. Nick pulled back and settled back in his original spot two inches away. She smiled innocently at Milo as he settled back in his seat.
Tonight was going to be a long night.
The night of their first family outing was also the first night living together. Days before, Nick let Milo pick his room. The boy wanted the one closest to his fathers. The interior designer made quick work of transforming the sophisticated bedroom into a Prehistoric jungle fit for a boy. Even going as far as to commission an artist to paint an intricate dinosaur mural on the non-glass walls. He had his own computer now, a flat screen TV, and a plethora of game consoles. Milo nearly died and went to heaven when he saw his new room, jumping on his head and screaming his excitement.
However, Nick managed to calm him down and get him ready for bed.
Tallulah pried herself from the doorway to give them much needed father-son bonding time. She plucked off her shoes, making the trek from the top floor to the ground floor. Her bedroom was the farthest away from Nick’s and Milo’s. A place edged along the foothill’s drop-off point.
A perfect view of Los Angeles for her to sit and admire from her cream, gray, and green oasis.
At first, Tallulah thought personalized bedrooms were a tad excessive for a temporary arrangement, but then she reasoned that she and Milo would spend the night often, so why have bedrooms of their own?
She changed her pajamas, a silk tank-top and shorts combo. She retrieved her script and padded over to an armchair that faced the city she had a bizarre love-hate relationship with. She lounged sideways in the comfy chair, her legs dangling over the armrest while she flipped through the pages to review her lines.
Tallulah came upon a particular scene with her role and the main character’s love interest, Rosalind. Naomi Barrett, one of Eugene Aaron’s many godchildren, was tapped to play her. Naomi, also, happened to be an ex of Nick’s. A steady ex as a gossip blog so eloquently put it. In four years, they got together for a few weeks and broke up like clockwork at least twice a year. The last time they were together was fairly recent. Like the all the other times, it ended almost as quickly as it began. Naomi then started dating a country singer and Nick global-trotted with an Australian billionaire heiress/supermodel.
Yes, that kind of recent.
The very last thing she should have felt was jealousy because her ex-husband didn’t owe her anything. It wasn’t like they were in a relationship. They lingered in this murky territory of whatever-the-fuck where they flirted and teased nowadays, but it never went beyond that. It could never go beyond that. Nick broke her heart and she’d be an idiot to trust him with it again.
She tried to stay firm with the one-and-done thing. She didn’t want Milo getting confused about where his parents stood. She didn’t need him getting his hopes up when Nick inevitably went back to his steady ex Naomi.
Being on set was often the perfect place for rekindling romances and if Naomi was to play his love interest, they’d be stuck like glue over the next few months during Forget Me Not’s press tour. Interviews where interviewers would slyly ask questions about their turbulent relationship and photoshoots where they’d be dramatically entangled in each other in one way or another. After all, if you pretended to be into someone for the sake of a film’s success eventually you might convince yourself to have feelings for that someone.
“And you shouldn’t give a fuck,” Tallulah grumbled to herself, aggressively flipping the pages to the next scene. Pushing away those thoughts, she focused on reading the script and practicing her lines.
Getting a headache from absorbing and processing all the inked words, she gazed out the windows to give herself a break. In the windows’ reflection, she witnessed her bedroom door open and Nick’s head pop through the crack, his knuckles rattling on the door.
He asked, “You busy?”
She lifted her script in the air. “Just reading my lines. Do you need something?”
“Yeah, I need help finishing this off,” Nick said, shaking a bottle of whiskey. There wasn’t much left in it. It could easily be easily polished off by two mouths.
Tallulah cocked an eyebrow and teased, “Are you trying to get me drunk, Nick?”
“I’m offended you would insinuate such a thing,” Nick replied. “Now, are you in or naw?”
“I could do for a nightcap,” she conceded.
He entered her bedroom, kicking the door shut with a nudge of his foot. She pried herself off her armchair and laid her script down, stretching her arms above her head. She strolled over her bed with a soft yawn and climbed onto it. Nick sat on the edge, unscrewing the cap and taking a deep swig.
She then asked, “You think the photographer got enough?”
“More than enough,” he answered, passing the bottle off. “They always do.”
She laughed. “Speaking from experience?”
Tallulah gulped down the brown liquor, her face twisting as it seared her throat on the way down. She handed him back the bottle.
“Lots of fucking experience,” he snorted before he drank some more then gave the bottle back to her. Was that disdain she heard in his voice? Slowly and surely, Tallulah was beginning to think that Nick Bryant despised his fame or at least, the troubles that came with it.
She stared at the alcohol for a lingering moment, chewing on her bottom lip. “I can’t stop thinking about the reason you gave Milo as to why you left me. You told me it’s all true and yet I don’t know all the truth, Nicholas.”
Nick leaned over, propping his elbows on his thighs and weaving his fingers through his brown hair. He chuckled sadly.
“You wait until I’m tipsy to ask me a question like that, Desiree?”
“If that’s what it takes,” she said.
He hung his head. “You want the truth? The truth is I lied. When we were together, I wasn’t making money from gigs in LA like I made you believe. Not when we were still living together. Not when I moved up here.”
Tallulah’s eyes grew wide and she shook her head, trying to comprehend what he was saying. “If the money you were sending back to me wasn’t from gigs then what in the hell was it from, Nicholas?”
He wouldn’t speak.
She climbed off the bed and stood in front of him, grabbing a fistful of his hair and yanking his head up to look at her. “Tell me what, Nicholas.”
“We were low on money and Thibault had connections in LA.”
Her head jerked back at the mention of that name. “Thibault as my father who’s in prison for life for killing an undercover cop in a drug bust for millions of dollars in coke? That Thibault?”
Tallulah let go off his hair, backing away from him. “What did you do for him?”
He closed his eyes, unable to look at her. “What do you think I did for him, Desiree?”
“That slimy piece of shit is the reason why my mother died, Nicholas. She overdosed on his product for Christ’s sake.” She squeezed her eyelids shut, tears bubbling up behind her closed eyes. “And you’re telling me that you were one of his mules?”
“I wanted to provide for us. We were barely making ends meet in San Diego. He offered me the opportunity and I took it. It was only supposed to be for a little while,” he said as he rose up, closing in on her.
He cupped her cheeks, brushing away her spilling tears. “I hated myself for doing it, but I wanted to give you everything. Driving back and forth from LA, lying to your face every single time…I convinced you it was best if I moved to LA. I still went back and forth to San Diego, but you had no clue. I was doing auditions, but they weren’t going anywhere. I knew you’d never forgive me if you found out the truth.”
She bit her quivering lip to swallow back a sob, shaking her head.
He went on. “Guilt ate at me and when Thibault’s got busted, I took it as a sign to walk away for good, but I couldn’t go back to you, Desiree. You deserved a husband much better than me. So, I sent you the divorce papers. You wanted to know why I couldn’t look you in the eye during the proceedings? I was disgusted with myself. I couldn’t look you in the eye because I didn’t deserve to. If I had, maybe I would have noticed the important changes your body was going through.”
She grasped his wrists and wretched his hands from her face, glaring at him with her teary eyes. “Get the fuck out of my room, Nicholas.”
He lingered in front of her for a long moment, apprehensive to grant her demand. She hurled the bottle in her hand across the room and it shattered against a wall. “Get the fuck out!”
She turned sharply on her heel and marched to the armchair in front of her windows, plopping down and cupping her wet face, wailing uncontrollably.
Tallulah rocked back and forth.
Why was hearing the truth more excruciating than the lie she had made herself believe for all these years?