Becky was seven months pregnant when she met Felix Callahan. She was on her first trip to California that didn't include Disneyland, and by a twist of luck, selling a screenplay.
"So, you haven't found an agent?" Annette the producer asked, thrumming through the dozen bracelets on her wrist. She was wearing a striped scarf, hoop earrings, white blouse, and shin-length full skirt. The outfit was a little disconcerting in a sleek Los Angeles high rise, a good three weeks before Halloween, and on the body of a fifty-year-old woman.
"Nope, no agent," Becky said. "Frankly, I wouldn't know how to get one."
"Uh-huh, that's fine, we'll just deal woman to woman." Annette smiled, and Becky was reminded of the myth that gypsies carried off babies into the night...or was it a myth? She had a crawly suspicion Annette would claim the life of Becky's first born if given the chance. Baring loss of offspring, Becky wasn't too concerned about the details of the contract. After all, what were the odds that a stay-at-home mom from Utah would sell a screenplay in the first place? Why look luck in the mouth?
"Here's our boilerplate contract. Just sign the last page, and we'll get this ball rolling!"
Becky hefted the pile of paper. "Okay, it'll take me a minute to read through."
"Mm-hmm," said Annette. Clink-clink-clink, went her bracelets. "Take your time." Clink-clink-clink. "I'll just wait."
Becky tried to sift through the legalese, keeping an eye out for such phrases as "the life of your firstborn," but it was a beast of a contract. All the while she was mindful of the diabolical pings of the bracelets, and the gypsy woman staring, staring...
Becky was about to just sign and get it over with when Annette's door opened and in walked Felix Callahan.
(according to the celebrity magazine Exclusive!):
Exclusive! heartthrob #14
Build: British sexy
Resides: London and Los Angeles
Marital status: Happily married (sadly for the rest of us!) to French model Celeste Bodine
Memorable roles: Calvin the sexy pet shop owner in Rattled Cages and Edward the alcoholic pilot in the twisted comedy adventure, The Stabbist
Best features: Those dark, bedroom eyes and that kissable dimple on his chin
Readers' rating: Super fine!
"Annette," Felix said, "Matthias isn't in, and I need--"
"Whoa," Becky said, because the baby kicked her hard in the bladder.
Felix startled, backing up and nearly falling over a chair.
"Sorry, I was whoa-ing because right when you came in the baby kicked, not because you're Felix Callahan. Oh, you know what it reminded me of? When Elisabeth's baby kicks just as Mary greets her? Isn't that funny? As if I had some spiritual sign when I saw you."
Annette smiled, her eyebrows raised. Felix glared handsomely. Becky stamped down a desire to squirm.
"No, it's not terribly funny," Felix said, "particularly as I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Elisabeth, wife of Zacharias, cousin to Mary, mother of Jesus? No? Nothing?"
Felix looked at her with careful lack of amusement.
"Oh, maybe you don't have the Bible in England. See, there's this guy named Jesus and his mother is named Mary, and well, it's a really interesting read if you don't mind parables."
Okay, Becky was not on her best form here--see, she was trying to be funny to relieve the tension, but the nerves and Felix Callahan and the clicking of gypsy jewelry and all made a mess of her head.
"So, do you already know Felix?" Annette asked, confused.
"Yes," Becky said, because she felt she did know him. She'd watched Rattled Cages an embarrassing number of times. "I mean--"
"No, we've never met," Felix said.
Becky couldn't stop a laugh. She faced Los Angeles like an anthropologist in the field--observing and taking notes in order to amuse her husband later. Between the producer-in-gypsy-attire and this conversation, Mike was going to be thrilled. "That's true, I just meant that I knew who you--whoa! You must be important! Baby just kicked again hard."
"Ah," Felix said. "By 'baby' I assume it's one in your womb, meaning you're pregnant. That is something of a relief as I thought that you were just fat."
Becky readjusted her smile to something that felt more caustic. "Don't be so hasty. I might be fat too." (Sans baby, she hovered between a size 10 and 12, if you were wondering.) "Now that I hear your accent I realize that you actually are British. What a relief. I had assumed that you were some actor performing a caricature of a British jerk."
Becky did her very best not to wince after saying "jerk." Besides being rude, it was just so pedestrian.
Annette stared between them, then rose to her feet, bracelets quarreling. "Felix, happy to help you, but Becky here is--"
"You know a lot of British people, do you?" Felix kept his eyes on Becky, his gaze boring through her skull. "You're an expert?"
"Oh, I know enough," she said, enjoying herself much more than she knew she should. "'Ello, love!" she said in a really horrible English accent, then explained to Annette, "That's how all British talk. 'Ello, love! Spare me a coppa? Copper--that's what they call their money."
"Interesting," Felix said. "So if they call money 'copper' what do they call a policeman?"
"Then what do they call Bobby?"
At that point, Felix Callahan pressed the back of his hand to his mouth. At first Becky suspected he was trying to push a laugh back in, but when he spoke, there was no humor in his voice. "You are by far the most fatuous woman I've met today."
"Hey, enough with the fat commentary already!"
He started to scoff, saying, "I didn't--" then noticed her amused expression. "You're teasing me."
"All part of being fatuous! Annette, my flight isn't until tomorrow, so I'm going to take the contract back to the hotel to read and bring it by in the morning. Thank you! I mean, cheers, love!"
She gathered her purse, glasses, and contract in an awkward bundle and saw herself out the door.
The offices of Bub and Hubbub Productions sat a couple dozen stories above Los Angeles, the windows squaring off with other high rises against the grayish tint of polluted air. She'd been expecting something fancy, being the movie biz and all, but the offices evoked a high school teachers' breakroom. She supposed movie folk saved all the razzle dazzle for the screen.
Becky had to use the ladies' room, so she waddled across the hall to a law firm. They looked pretty posh, and Becky wagered their bathrooms would be nicer.
She was doing her very best not to panic.
Felix Callahan. Felix Callahan! She'd just met him, and insulted him, and walked away! She waved to the law firm's young, blonde receptionist, entered the ladies' room, and paused in front of the mirror to see if the humiliation of having a horrible encounter with her favorite actor mixed with pregnancy hormones could make her cry. She squeezed her eyes, held her breath, and... nope. Well, given her temperament, it hadn't been likely, but it would have made the story even better. She might have been able to squeeze out a little moisture if she hadn't been so distracted by the bathroom itself. Endless chrome, olive colored walls, tile at eight dollars a square foot--and not a single place to set her purse.
Stupid, narrow-minded male architects, Becky thought.
It took her some time to relieve her squashed bladder, wash her hands (holding her purse between her knees), and toddle back down the corridor. By then, Felix Callahan was at the elevator, his finger pressing the down button.
She squeaked to a stop and had started to back away when he turned and saw her. Caught. Oh-so-casually she pushed that backward step forward, suddenly excruciatingly aware of her outfit--canvas-like maternity shirt/tent in a luscious shade of rotting plum, and khaki-ish pants leftover from her first pregnancy nine years ago. Mmm, baby.
Felix pretended she wasn't there. The baby kicked again. Becky stifled a laugh.
The doors opened, he let her enter first, and the doors closed, sealing them inside the plummeting box. It was going to be a long ride if she didn't speak.
"I'm sorry for calling you a jerk," she said, keeping her eyes on the ticking floor numbers. "I didn't mean it."
He spoke blandly, also not looking at her. "I thought it showed you had some bottle."
She suspected "bottle" had a different meaning to the Brits, but she didn't ask. "What kind of a mother would I be to tell my kids they shouldn't call people names then go ahead and label a perfect stranger as a jerk?"
"You'd be a hypocritical mother."
"Though surely not a perfect stranger. Didn't you claim to know me?"
She ignored that. "It would've been one thing if the insult had been clever, but I very happily retract the word 'jerk.' In any case, my reaction to attack was uncalled for, and I apologize."
Now he looked at her. "You're serious?"
"Of course I'm serious."
"Where are you from?"
"Oh. You're from Utah, and you just sold a screenplay to Annette--without an agent?"
"She seemed pleased that I didn't have one."
Felix shook his head. "Most producers will only deal with agents. There's no doubt Annette plans to wipe the floor with your face."
She shrugged. "I assumed so. It doesn't matter, so long as she doesn't take one of my children in the deal. Which, as you know, gypsies are wont to do."
"Right. The baby-napping is a habit that would be too horrible to ignore, if they weren't so inhumanly skilled at fixing pots."
"Yes, you have to give them that. And they can fiddle the moon down onto your tongue."
His lips played with the idea of a smile.
The elevator opened and he held the door for her. She mumbled thanks and hurried on, hoping to outpace him--or out-waddle him at least. Mike was going to enjoy this anecdote, and she really should keep chatting to get as much story fodder as possible, but there was only so much insane heart pounding she could take before going into labor.
She went to the curb and looked left. And looked right. And put a hand on her hip (or where her hip had been before she'd morphed into Prego Beast). She could hear footsteps behind her. It was him, she knew it was him. She wasn't going to turn around. She looked left again. Right. Left.
"What are you doing?" he asked behind her.
"Waiting for a cab."
"Did you call one?"
"No, but I took one here from the hotel and I thought--"
"Utah," he muttered.
She stiffened, and her mind began to grope for a suitable insult...something about his smell perhaps, those digs were always popular among her children's friends. No, no, no, Becky! She was not going to stoop to that. She'd make her kids proud.
A short black limousine pulled up, and the driver hopped out to open the door. Felix stood beside it for a few moments before sighing dramatically.
"I am headed to the Parkside on Ocean. Where are you staying?"
She blinked. "The Parkside."
"Really? What a coincidence."
"I'm not making that up, if that's what you think. Annette made my reservation and--"
"You know if you give her half a chance, she will come for your first born in the night, her bracelets tinkling, her voice cackling, her toe bells sounding alarm..."
"Er, don't Gypsies wear toe bells? Didn't I hear that somewhere?"
"As in 'rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,' that nursery rhyme?"
"She will have music and babies wherever she goes. Look, it doesn't make sense for me to leave you pregnant and clueless on the pavement when I am headed for your very hotel."
"I can manage to find a phone and call for a cab. I graduated from college and everything."
"You don't say? Can you major in Child Bearing in this country?"
"That was my minor--my major was Social Grace with an emphasis on Tolerating the Obnoxious--Ack! I did it again! I keep telling myself, be nice, don't insult him, then you say something and out it comes."
He stepped back from the door. "Hop in, my gravid lady. I have no doubt you could rustle up a horse drawn carriage if you wished, but this ride is on me. It would seem the proper way to absolve myself of the fat comment--my wife would not approve. She is passionate about eating disorder awareness."
Felix swished his hand, inviting her in. She didn't move, but she was looking at him, which was risky. For one thing, he was abnormally good-looking. It was just wrong, looks like that. They could confuse a person. And for another thing, looking at him made it very hard to pretend he was someone else, which is precisely what she would need to do in order to turn him down. If he had been anyone else, no matter how impressive his resume or photographic his face, she would have said, "Thank you, but I'm married and I don't get into cars with strange men." She had drawn strict moral lines around herself and never crossed them, didn't so much as prod them with her big toe.
But this was Felix Callahan. The man who had been her unattainable crush, her occasional just-before-sleep daydream for the past twelve years. She'd spent so much time with his movies (one in particular), he didn't seem like a stranger. And they wouldn't be alone, she reasoned, what with the driver there to chaperone. Besides, it was just too surreal. It couldn't actually be happening. And if it was, could she in good conscience pass it up?
So, okay, she said yes. It was an incredibly un-Becky-like thing to do, but can you blame her? She had a weakness, and there he was.
Excerpted from The Actor and the Housewife © Copyright 2012 by Shannon Hale. Reprinted with permission by Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved.