Any Time. Any Place. Any Day. Getaway.

Reluctant Reunion
by Ruth J. Hartman

Product Information

Genre: Fiction/Short Story

Length: 60 pages

Heat Level: 1

eBook Price: $.99

Print Price: $5.99


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Kennedy Cooper tries everything to stay away from her father’s alpaca farm. Being an actress in New York seems to do the trick. Until it doesn’t. When she fails to get enough acting parts, loses her part-time job, and breaks up with her boyfriend, she has no choice but to return. Seeing her father again is tough, but having to meet his new love interest reminds Kennedy why she’d vowed never to go home.

Chapter one

I wanted to die. Not die, actually, but maybe turn to liquid and slip down through the tiny crack in the old wooden floorboards. Yet another commercial audition. Sure, I’d been through hundreds, at least, but this had to be one of the worst. Dressed as a fluffy sheep did little for my self-esteem. The fact that I was supposed to portray constipation nearly pushed me over the edge.
Since I couldn’t come out and say or bleat my affliction, I was supposed to show it in my actions. Not easy. So, while I waited my turn beside the rest of the hopeful flock, I mentally went over facial expressions I could use to convey it. Long ago, I’d discovered that practicing expressions, words, or actions only gave the other people vying for the part more ammunition to use against me. Especially if they got called before I did.
The first time it had happened, I’d been in near shock. There I was, ready to strut my stuff on the stage, trying for a part of a show-girl in an off-off-off Broadway western play, when the girl ahead of me did the exact same walk I’d been planning. She smiled my sexy smile and had even tugged her low-cut top even lower — also my intended move — until her boobs nearly hopped out on their own.
I’d been livid. And devastated. I went ahead and tried out, but I knew. She’d already stolen my thunder. I’d learned my lesson. Keep my intended audition details inside my head until show time.
It took some practice, thinking about my expressions and actions, without moving. And I closed my eyes while I did it. Less distraction that way. Even though there was supposed to be quiet on the set, like some professional golf course, it never was. No matter how many times the production assistant shushed those trying out, somehow, whispers and giggles always happened.
I’d always wanted to be an actress but spent more time working in a shoe store than acting. In several years’ time I’d had the grand total of nine commercials. One had been a non-speaking part where I’d stood in a group of people at a party. Another had been a speaking part, but I’d played the part of an angry tomato, which hadn’t been hard because I had been angry. And tired of the bit parts and what it took to land one. I’d first gotten the notion of being an actress from my fourth-grade teacher. She’d praised my efforts when I’d been a talking tree in a class play. Had she been wrong? Maybe I didn’t have talent after all. Maybe all this hoopla I’d been going through had been a waste.
But it was all I had. Auditions, working in the shoe store, and Jerrod. Was it enough?
I opened my eyes and twisted my fingers together in front of me. That was hard, though, considering my wooly tummy fluff stuck out a good ten inches from my body. How had it come to this? Me, standing there, waiting my turn to be a plugged-up farm animal, when all I’d ever wanted was to be on a stage. I glanced down. Not this stage — old, creaky and past its prime for auditions. But something in downtown New York. A shiny, glittery new stage filled with possibilities and answers to dreams.
“Kennedy Cooper?”
I sucked in a breath. My turn. With a confident smile I had to dig deep down inside to get, I practically marched to center stage. The usual laughter came from my right, those yet to audition, as well as whispers from my left, those who’d already had their turn. The only good thing about this try-out was that there was no dialogue. At least I hadn’t had to spend a couple of hours last night trying to memorize words I didn’t care about.
“All right, Miss Cooper,” said the director. “Whenever you’re ready.” By his slumped shoulders and heavy sigh, it was obvious he was worn out from having to witness people’s stupidity as they vied for the coveted spot in his commercial.
You can do this. I slumped my shoulders, much as he had done, and hung my head down just enough to convey sadness, but kept my chin lifted enough that he could see what I was doing. Then, I tried to think of something that I found unpleasant.
The alpaca farm.
I hated that place. That’s one reason why I’d fled Indiana right after high school. I pictured the hairy beasts, their fluffy fur and large eyes. It wasn’t lost on me that I somewhat resembled them right then.
The director looked positively bored as he watched me.
Do your thing. Look upset. Distraught. Peeved. Anything to catch the man’s attention.
I focused on my alpaca memories again. The weird noises they made. The way they trampled my feet.
Their smell.
That did it.
I scrunched up my nose. My lips pursed in distaste. And my eyes were half-closed.
There. That should do it.
He waved his hand in dismissal. “Thank you, Miss Cooper. We’ll be in touch.”
And just like that, another audition complete.
I had no illusions that I’d get it. When my agent had sent me my time slot to show up, I knew then it was probably a lost cause. The further into the day it went, the less of a chance the director would still be alert enough to give proper consideration.
I stepped past the other sheep who’d already auditioned and hurried to the changing area. No way was I going to wear the stupid costume on the subway home. A couple of my weirder fellow actors often did that. Wore audition outfits out in public. They did it on purpose to catch people’s attention, hoping someone would take notice. Maybe somebody who was connected with the theater. They also had to pay a cleaning fee if they’d worn it outside.
Not me. Parading around in front of the director and other candidates was humbling enough. I returned the costume to the stage hand, glad to be in my normal attire. Time to head home. Jerrod and I hadn’t gotten to spend much time together lately, and I was determined that since he was off from work, we’d finally have a chance to reconnect. You’d think living in the same apartment, I’d see my boyfriend a lot. However, we were rarely home at the same time. At least it seemed that way, especially lately.
I took my normal path to the subway, dodging other people who were in a bigger hurry than I was. New York City seemed to never take a breath. Never calm down or relax. No, always moving, always hustling. Get to the next thing that would change someone’s life, make it better, brighter, bigger.
Was there such a thing?
I nabbed a narrow seat on a subway bench right before a man a little younger than me got there. I was rewarded with a glare and an obscene finger gesture. Whatever. That was nothing new. At least not here. Move it or lose it. Eat or be eaten. Sometimes this place wore me out. It was nothing like I’d envisioned when I’d first arrived. I thought it would be glitz, excitement, never-ending parties, and fun.
Not even close.
The reality barely resembled my assumption. In its place were drudgery, competition, discouragement, and loneliness.
Gee, who would sign up for that?
You did.
I let out a sigh and tried to ignore the unpleasant odor emanating from the older woman next to me. Unfortunately, I was squished between the vertical bar right beside the edge of the seat and the lady’s ample hips. I swore, with every breath she took, she scooted that much closer to me.
I was glad to be out of the sheep costume. It was itchy — probably wool, of course, to which I was allergic. It would be a miracle if I got a call-back for the part. However, me breaking out in hives from the wool was inevitable. A woman across the aisle holding a newborn eyed me warily. That was when I realized I was already scratching an itchy spot on my neck. I lowered my hand to my lap.
Must. Not. Scratch.
A loud squeal came from somewhere beneath me, the subway car screeching along worn down rails. Loud laughter came from a few feet away as two teenage girls hunched over a video on a phone. A hacking cough erupted from just behind me. All normal sounds. Happened most times I rode public transportation. Normally, I tuned them out, concentrating on whatever audition I’d just completed, or the next one I had scheduled. Not today. Every little noise grated on my nerves. I couldn’t wait to get to the apartment. To some quiet. And to take a shower and rid myself of the remnants of wooly sheep.
That brought back memories of the alpacas back home. Loud, hairy, smelly, and messy. I shuddered. That was something I never wanted to experience again. Ever. It was what I told my dad and siblings every time they bugged me about going home for a visit. While I used that as my excuse, it went much deeper. Deeper than I wanted to tell any of them. Would they even understand if I tried?
I’d been devastated when Mom had died shortly before high school graduation. Had it really been ten years? Everyone had come home, of course, for the funeral. Dad had so much going on. You could tell by his face that his heart, his whole insides were shattered. He’d told me once that when he met Mom, he knew she would be his. That something about her just clicked. And that he’d never love anyone else.
Now, there was Laurie. Apparently, Dad had been seeing her for a short while. While I’d never actually met her, I’d seen pictures texted to me by my brother. It was through him I’d first heard Dad was seeing someone. It had upset me so much at the time that I stopped checking my texts from anyone in the family. I didn’t want to see a picture of her, or hear any details of her relationship with Dad. No thanks.
While I hadn’t wanted to return home to the insipid alpacas, it was the fact that Mom was gone that kept me away so long. Her mark was on everything in the house. Hand-painted wooden plaques with quotes from her favorite authors. The crocheted throws on the backs of the living room couch and chairs. And the kitchen. That room was all her. She’d loved alpacas, not just the ones outside behind the fence, guarded by the resident donkey, but the whimsical ones on decorations, either in ceramic form or pictures. Had Dad left those items where she’d placed them? Or had he moved them, unable to see them day after day, thinking of her? Though how he could work with the animals and not think of Mom didn’t seem possible. I couldn’t do it anymore.
When I might have, finally, wanted to return, Dad started seeing Laurie. How could he? I know the love of his life was gone, and he must be lonely, but…
After what he’d told me about meeting Mom, how they were each other’s soulmate, I couldn’t stand the thought of him with someone else. Had everything he’d told me about my mom meant nothing to him? Had he already forgotten her laugh, so happy and infectious you couldn’t help but laugh too? Or the way she always made time for whoever needed her, even with so many kids to take care of? The way she…
Stop. It wasn’t doing me any good to dwell on it. The lady next to me edged closer, the side of her wide hip now crushing the edge of my thigh. Good grief! And the smell… I concentrated on breathing through my mouth until we finally came to my stop.
Grateful to get away, I jumped from the seat and squeezed through the open doorway with a clump of people who all wanted out at the same time.
When I reached street level, hot air blasted my face, wilting my hair in the process, though since it had been covered in an open-faced sheep’s head, my hairstyle had left a lot to be desired from the get-go.
I kept my arms close at my sides, purse hugged tight beneath my arm. I’d heard too many stories of people getting mugged. Thankfully, it hadn’t happened to me. Yet. There was always that fear every time I left the apartment. I’d gotten in the habit of walking very fast, trying to stay away from everyone else who was doing the same.
I frowned, having to step around a homeless man lying on the sidewalk. I wished I had some extra money to give him, but there was nothing. I barely squeaked by as it was. Jerrod had been kind enough to let me slide on the rent for the last two months, but I couldn’t let that continue. And one of these days, when I finally found a good acting part, I’d pay him back.
Why did a part of me, okay a big part, think that might never happen? I’d been living in New York for years, going to every audition I could find. Doing my best to stand out from the rest of the hopefuls. Still, I was barely making it.
The fragrance of just-cooked sausages floated up. My stomach growled. As inviting as stopping at the sidewalk vendor sounded, I couldn’t spare the cash. Would have to make do with a box of crackers and some generic peanut butter. At least that was protein.
I jumped at the shrill blare of a truck horn. Believe me, it had to be loud to affect me after all these years. The stupid idiot driving must have had a horn that was hopped up on steroids. Just as my heart had settled down from the fright, a large man stomped down hard on my foot. He kept on going, either not knowing he’d trampled me as he shoved his way through the crowd, or he didn’t care.
Foot throbbing, body sweating, hair straggling, and tummy grumbling, I finally reached my building.
Just inside the lobby, I grabbed mail from our mailbox and then checked my cell phone. I always kept it off during auditions. Directors exploded if they heard a phone go off, and I needed all the positive vibes I could get for the director to decide he liked me for the part.
I checked my missed calls. One from Dad. What was up? He rarely called and I called even less. He’d left a message. With a sigh, I listened, frowning more with each second I listened to his voice.
A reunion? On the farm?
Didn’t sound like a good idea to me. Being back with all the painful memories. Mom’s influence was everywhere. That combined, with Laurie being there…
Nope. Not gonna happen.
I stuck the phone and the mail into my bag and climbed the steep set of stairs up to the small apartment that Jerrod and I called home.


Ruth J. Hartman spends her days herding cats and her nights spinning sweet romantic tales that make you smile, giggle, or laugh out loud. She, her husband, and their three cats love to spend time curled up in their recliners watching old Cary Grant movies. Well, the cats, Maxwell, Roxy, and Remmie, sit in the people's recliners. Not that the cats couldn't get their own furniture. They just choose to shed on someone else's. You know how selfish those little furry creatures can be.

Ruth, a left-handed, cat-herding, Jeep driving, farmhouse-dwelling romance writer uses her goofy sense of humor as she writes tales of lovable, klutzy women and the men who adore them. Ruth's husband and best friend, Garry, reads her manuscripts, rolls his eyes at her weird story ideas, and loves her in spite of her penchant for insisting all of her books have at least one cat in them. Or twelve. But hey, who's counting?

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