Hollywood Dirt Page 2

That’s right. Our quiet town of seven thousand residents holds more than Southern manners and prize-winning fried chicken recipes. We also hold discretion, the biggest indication of which lies in our bank’s coffers and buried in our backyards’ dirt. Stacked in freezers and attic eves.

Cash. Lots and lots of it. In our small town, we have forty-five millionaires and three billionaires. That’s a rough guess, the best estimate our whispered calculations can attest to. It may be more. It all depends on how stupid or smart the generations have been with their Coca-Cola stock. That’s where it all came from. Coke. Say the word Pepsi in this town, you best watch your back on the way out.

So Cole found out Quincy’s wealthy little secret. Was fascinated by it, by our little town of such little pretense. And so he assembled a team. Hired a writer. Stayed out of the tabloids long enough to build a three-hour movie around a seventy-two page book. And now… thirteen months after Caroline Settles started the buzz, they had arrived. Hollywood. A day early. I told them to arrive on Monday, told them all of the things wrong with a Sunday arrival. I watched the madness and wondered how many other hiccups awaited us.

I followed the crowd onto the church’s lawn, watched Main Street become invaded, men hopping from buses and trucks, a swarm of shouting and pointing as everyone ran in different directions that seemed to make no sense. I smiled. I couldn’t help it. This expensive fat bully, pushing its way in on a Sunday. Thinking they were in control. Thinking that this was suddenly their town.

They had no idea what they had just walked into.

SIX MONTHS EARLIER

CHAPTER 2

My mother was a beauty queen. Miss Arkansas 1983. She had me in ‘87, the circumstances which I haven’t been privy to and haven’t really cared about. I have vague recollections of my father—a large man, one who smoked cigars and lived in a big house with shiny floors. One who yelled and hit and shook me when I cried. The day after my seventh birthday, Mama woke me up in the middle of the night and we ran. Took his car, a big sedan with leather seats and a Garth Brooks cassette tape that we listened to all the way to Georgia, the only break coming with the whirring of the rewind. Those are my last memories of my prior life. Garth Brooks, leather seats, and my mother crying. I had lain across the back seat, her coat over my body, and tried to understand her tears. Tried to understand why she was doing something if it made her so upset.

We left the car in some town along the way. Drove it ’til it shuddered, then abandoned it and walked, a magazine gripped tightly in my mother’s hand. I snuck peeks at it while we moved, tried to focus on the cover, which swung with each swing of her hand. When a man stopped, offered us a ride to the bus stop, his hands lifting me into the back seat, I got a better glimpse, my body stuffed against hers, our suitcase crowding beside us on the seat. The headline read: COCA-COLA MILLIONAIRES. And there, on the front, holding out a glass bottle of Coke, was a bald man, his smile beaming.

Eventually, I met that bald man. Johnny Quitman. He hired my mother as a teller in his bank, a position she still holds to this day. He was one of Quincy’s third generations of millionaires, a newbie who still got in early enough to hit it big, hence his enthusiastic cover grin.

For a while, when pondering our late-night escape to this tiny town and the worn magazine clutched in my mother’s grip, I thought she was looking for a new husband and hoped to move here and snag one of the rich men mentioned in the article. But she never did. Never even tried. Best I could tell, we moved to town, she settled into work, and never flirted with another man again. Maybe her love for my father was too great to overcome. Or maybe she just needed a safe haven to grow old and die. That was all she seemed to be doing. Waiting to die. A sad end for such a beautiful woman.

I sat on the porch, hot air floating under the edge of my skirt, my bare feet propped on the railing, and watched her. On her knees, a towel down to protect her light slacks, she dug at the roots of an azalea bush, the sweat on her arms glistening in the afternoon sun, a big hat shielding her face from me. She and I were alone in this house, the fireflies more active than our souls. I sat in the heat and watched her work. Contemplated offering her lemonade, though she’d already turned me down twice.

I would not be my mother. I wanted, in some way, to live my life.

CHAPTER 3

“In Hollywood a marriage is a success if it outlasts milk.”

~ Rita Rudner

Cole Masten walked slowly down the length of the car, an ice-blue Ferrari, his sunglasses tilted off his face enough to hide his features but give him uninterrupted sight.

“It’s a beautiful car,” the salesman before him twittered, making an unnecessary hand gesture that encompassed the car in one pretentious gesture.

Of course it was. For three hundred thousand dollars, it should be. He tilted a head at the suit who stood to the left of the car, giving him a quick nod. Justin, his assistant, stepped forward. “He’ll take it. I can handle the paperwork and payment. If we can just give Mr. Masten the keys…?”

Cole caught the keychain mid-air and slid behind the wheel, the dealership staff scurrying to unlock the large glass doors that made up the right side of the building. Through the glass, along the street, stood the crowds of people. Of women. Of worship. He clenched his jaw and tapped an impatient beat on the gearshift, waiting. The crowd undulated, hands waving, bodies jumping, a living, breathing thing, one that could love as easily as it could hate. When the glass parted, Cole revved the engine and slowly pulled forward, his glasses back in place, nodding to the crowd and smiling that trademark smile, the one he’d perfected a decade earlier.

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