Nina Dolbrite stared dispassionately around the room. Everywhere she looked she saw her old classmates talking excitedly to each other – the men gathering in groups to dredge up past notorieties, the women actively seeking out old cliques to gossip among, all finding a way to play the ‘my-stick-is-bigger-than-yours’ game everyone learnt as they grew up; none seemed genuinely interested in gaining more than a few titbits to gnaw endlessly on until the next class gathering. Nina was fucking bored.
She had placed herself determinedly next to the bar upon arrival, openly asking the bartender to refill her wine glass to the brim twice already which had gained her equally open judgemental looks from the old ‘popular girl’ clique. To be honest, Nina was more offended by their ridiculously made up faces and after the fifth judgemental stare, graced them by flipping them off. She laughed aloud at their righteous shocked faces and then looked away to find someone in the room she did not have the urge to immediately set on fire. She was relieved to see Jake Albert entering the room seemingly looking for someone.
“Jake!” she called out, waving him over when he looked up. With a quickness that befitted his lanky build he strode over to her, a broad grin on his face. They hugged comfortably and he kissed her cheek.
“Fancy a drink?” she asked, gesturing to the bartender who was attentively waiting for him to place an order.
“Just a beer, thanks mate.” As the bartender turned to pour him one of the house beers, Jake noticed the absurdly open scrutinizing looks the group of women standing opposite Nina were giving him. Once he had his beer in hand, he steered Nina outside to the grounds to find a quiet place to talk.
“You really like pissing them off, don’t you?” he said amusedly, sipping his beer and enjoying the beginning warmth of spring.
Sitting on the bench beside him, Nina snorted. “And you don’t? Jackal?”
“No idea what you’re talking about,” he said breezily, continuing to sip his drink.
“Oh, come – on!” She turned to face him, her wine sloshing a little onto her jeans, her usually pale face flushed and blue eyes bright with barely concealed excitement. “Rickie told me you had some huge scoop on an actor! He was being fucking vague about it, of course,” resentment crept up on her face, “but,” and she quickly rearranged her look back to one of excitement, “he told me to ask you today evening, which is what I’m doing now! Fucking tell me already!” Her voice had become loud and demanding, the alcohol allowing a clear glimpse at her desperation.
Jake could not contain his pleasure at holding this ‘scoop’ over her head. His huge grin was back on his face and he let Nina stew in silence for a few seconds. For all her distaste in the women from her boarding school and country club who gossiped endlessly, Nina immersed herself in gossip about celebrities from any source she could get, enjoying the sometimes incredible stories that sprung up around them even though they were mostly just tabloid nonsense. Jake knew she relished the idea of others going through the invasion of privacy but hated when she became the subject of those kinds of talk. She liked it only when they spoke jealously of her, never when they gloried at her downfalls. Finally, when Nina’s face resembled the colour of a cherry tomato, he said, “It’s about Grant Burke.”
She nodded knowingly. “It’s about that wife of his, isn’t it! That gold digger bitch!”
“Would seem like it, wouldn’t it? The way she just waltzed in out of nowhere and married a big time star,” said Jake, “But no, actually it’s about him and Anita Renkins – apparently they’ve been messing around for a couple of weeks now!” He smiled a little maliciously.
Nina gasped loudly and interjected, “But he’s married!”
Jake, who had been about to continue with his news, stopped short and looked at her incredulously, “You’re not starting to pity her, are you?”
“What? No. Not – not really – I…“ she stuttered.
“You’ve been bashing on her for weeks – well, since Grant Burke announced that he had eloped with her – and now you’re defending her?” he continued looking at her disbelievingly.
“Well it’s sad, isn’t it?” Nina said, looking defiant. “You’re supposed to be committed to each other, fucking monogamously, and the bastard just ups and fucks someone else when he’s ‘weak’ or ‘vulnerable’, or whatever his excuse his, and then they come running back to you with their tail between their legs, expecting you to take them back because of love and memories, or whatever shit.” She took a deep breath when she finished her tirade.
Jake looked at her curiously. “Everything okay with you and Rick?”
“Shut the fuck up, Jake, stop prodding for gossip. This is about Grant Burke and Seraphina what’s-her-face and Anita Renkins,” she said angrily, rolling her eyes and turning away from him.
Jake continued to look at her for a while and then said, “He’s not staying with her.”
“What?” Nina snapped.
“Grant Burke is leaving Seraphina Wilhelm for Anita Renkins,” Jake announced a little dispiritedly. He had hoped his news would have invited the usual malicious dissection that occurred every once a week during one of those celebrity gossip sessions he and Nina had. But this session had turned sour. He supposed Nina had had another fight with his brother. He didn’t want to talk about that when they had such a juicy piece of news, but he guessed he would have to hear all about the latest transgression committed by his fickle brother.
Or, maybe not. Nina seemed to be perking up, her overall expression brightening and her mouth agape in shock – the look she usually had when he had delivered gossip that had not yet hit the stands. Jake immediately perked up as well.
“No – way. No – fucking – way. How’s that possible? They’ve been married for like two months!”
Jake grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “72 days, to be precise.”
“But – what – for Anita Renkins?” Nina was so taken aback she could hardly formulate a sentence. “He’s leaving his – what did he say to everyone – his “one love, a love beyond his comprehension” for – for her? I mean, Anita Renkins? Why’s he leaving Seraphina Wilhelm for her? And after seventy two – wait,” she turned to face Jake again, “did you calculate that?”
Jake smiled widely and turned to her excitedly. “Okay so this is what happened – Remember Rufus (Jake’s boyfriend) said his boss had someone digging up stuff on Seraphina Wilhelm since she turned up?” Nina nodded eagerly. “Well, I mean, so far they just got that stuff about her mum being a slut, dating anyone who’s been famous. But Grant Burke didn’t seem too concerned about that, waving off anyone who said that stuff to him. So Rufus’ boss apparently gave the order to spy on them – you know, see if they can get any dirt on the relationship itself. I mean, it’s all been so sudden and they’ve been married a while so hopefully,” Jake crossed his fingers, “something would have come up by now. And boy, oh boy, did something come up!” Jake clapped his hands together enthusiastically.
“Today morning – well almost afternoon – Grant Burke came home and had this huge row with Seraphina Wilhelm.”
“In his home? How the hell did anyone hear that?”
“The cheating bastard opened a window and the guy spying heard everything, of course. So anyway, he told her straight out that he’d been hooking up with Anita Renkins for two weeks now and he realised he loved her and he wanted to be with her.”
Nina cringed. “Oh jesus, that’s harsh.”
“Tell me about it. Apparently she was so shocked she just let him ramble on about Anita Renkins and the ‘relationship’ for like 10 minutes without saying anything. Poor dear,” Jake said with a somewhat sympathetic frown. “But then,” he paused dramatically, “she came to and said just five words – “We’ve been married 72 days”.”
“Yeah, that’s it! Just that one line after he’d said all his shit. She didn’t plead with him to stay or anything – I guess she was really shocked. But those five words were enough, I think, to sum up his idiocy.” Jake laughed.
But Nina remained solemn. “Hmm. But do you think maybe he had to leave her? I mean we don’t know her, she could be a complete bitch.”
Jake gave her an incredulous look. “Have you forgotten how crazy Anita Renkins is? The drugs, multiple rehabs, the cancelled show just because she had a pimple, the bloody tantrums…” Jake said, counting off on his hand.
“Yeah,” Nina interrupted. “So, I mean, for him to leave Seraphina Wilhelm for all that,” she shook her head slightly, “she must be a crapful of awful, huh?”
Jake pondered on what she had said. “Hmm. I don’t know. I feel somehow like if she was that awful, she’d have said more to stop him or to make him feel bad. She just said that one sentence, it seemed like she was really shocked. And then for her to let him walk out, she must have not known what to think or do. It doesn’t feel like she’s that crazy.”
Nina nodded. “You know, I think you’re right. It is such an asshole thing to cheat on your new bride and leave her 72 days into the marriage for another woman. I mean, Grant Burke’s great, but I don’t know how he’s going to come out of this looking good.”
At the same time in a cosy apartment in Los Angeles, Seraphina Wilhelm sat on a bold red egg chair staring at a replica of Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ against a pristine white wall. Grant had bought it for her a week after they had gotten married. It had been given to her with beautiful words – words of unwavering love, of steadfast loyalty, and of everlasting commitment. She tilted her head slightly. The swirls seemed to be taunting her now, a cruel visual representation of her delusions of her now failed marriage.
72 days. That’s all it had taken. Well, less than that if you considered how long he had been sleeping with the singer. So 58? But how long before that had he fallen out of love with her (as he had so cruelly stated that he had before walking out)? Optimistically, a week before he had started seeing the singer (she did not want to even think that woman’s name), he had felt distant from her and started looking for a new woman. 51 days. But it could not have been a sudden urge; it would have been coming on a while. So optimistically (she sure was using her depleted optimism rather liberally) a couple of weeks before Grant had truly felt separate from her? 37 days.
Seraphina’s eyes moistened. So she had had a month of marital bliss. Well, it was not entirely blissful, what with the amount of unknown people constantly calling her a “gold digger slut”. But it had been good, really good, with Grant. He had showered her with everything she could have possibly wanted – the house, the dog, the love. “And now,” she said softly to her Golden Retriever, Adaline, “it’s just you and me, baby. Just you and me.”
She shut her eyes and let the tears escape and fall silently. She felt Adaline nudging her leg and licking the spots where the tears had fallen on her white cotton pants. She had felt Grant pulling away from her. She had noticed the distance he had been maintaining between them. But she had believed him when he had said he was stressed about the new projects his agent was pushing him to do. He had gotten angry when she had asked him to talk to her about it, asked her to give him his space. She had accepted because, after all, what did she know about acting and an actor’s process. Oh, why hadn’t she questioned it! Why hadn’t she followed her suspicions!
A phone was ringing in the distance. Adaline barked. Seraphina opened her eyes and was met with abstract swirls of starry vision. Sighing, she got up and walked toward the intercom for the gate. She wondered vaguely who Grant would have already told about the separation (or was it impending divorce?) and would therefore be calling on her for details.
“Yeah?” she said, her voice thick.
She closed her eyes to steady herself from the wave of pain that hit her from that unexpected jab to her chest. “Yes, speaking.”
“Ma’am, my name is Lieutenant Peter Ward from the Los Angeles Police Department. I’m accompanied here by Sergeant John South. We need to talk to you. Could you let us in?”
Seraphina’s eyes flew open. She automatically pressed the second button to check the video of the driveway. There was a man in blue standing by the intercom at the gate next to a police car, where another man was sitting and looking out at the camera. She quickly buzzed them in. “Thank you, ma’am.”
She hurried out of the door to meet them, shutting the eager Adaline in the house. Her mind was completely blank. She did not want to think about what the police were doing here. Wrapping the shawl tightly around herself, she watched as the police car slowed to a halt in front of her. Two police men came out. They introduced themselves again and showed her their official badges. She nodded mutely and stared at them, terrified.
The police man called Peter took off his hat and looked straight into her eyes. “Mrs. Burke, I have some bad news to tell you. Your husband was involved in a car crash and I am sorry to have to tell you he’s dead.”
Seraphina’s eyes widened. She could not speak. Lt. Peter Ward continued, his voice gentle, “He was travelling with a female companion, Ms. Anita Renkins, who I’m sorry to say, is also dead.”
“They’re – they’re dead?” Seraphina whispered. Her face was a ghostly white.
Lt. Ward’s expression was compassionate. “Yes Mrs. Burke. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Seraphina turned away from them slowly. She stared at the distant setting sun, a fiery glow touching every surface of the town. “Where were they going to?” she asked, not looking at the police men.
“We don’t know for sure. But they crashed into a U-Haul on State Route 91.”
She looked back at them now, her eyes wide but dry. “That’s where we going to move to,” she whispered. The police men looked at each other. Pain, grief and anger crashed inside her, wave after wave, weaving together, forming a snake – a thick, poisonous snake.
“THAT’S WHERE WE WERE GOING TO MOVE TO!” She screamed at the top of her voice. She fell to the ground, clutching the sides of her arms; and she kept screaming those words again and again, unaware of the world moving around her.