Home Again by Mariah Stewart
The Chesapeake Diaries #2
July 27, 2010
ISBN-10: 0345520351
ISBN-13: 978-0345520357

HOME AGAIN

Chapter One

At the precise moment Dallas MacGregor was picking up her son, Cody, from his pricy summer day camp out near Topanga State Park, the home video starring her soon-to-be ex-husband and two of the female production assistants from his latest film had already been uploaded to the internet. By the time she arrived at her Malibu home — she’d stopped once on the way from the set of her latest movie promo shoot to pick up dinner - the one-thousandth viewing had already been downloaded.

The phone was on over-drive, ringing like mad, when she walked into her kitchen.

“Miss MacGregor, you have many messages. Two from your Aunt Beryl.” Elena, her housekeeper, cast a wary glance at Cody and handed her employer a stack of pink slips as the phone continued to ring. “About Mr. Emilio...”

“Would you mind answering that?” Dallas slid the heavy paper bag onto the counter. “And why are you still here? I thought you wanted to leave today by four?”

“Yes, miss, I...” Elena lifted the receiver. “Miss MacGregor’s...oh, hello, Miss Townsend. Yes, she’s home now, she just arrived. Yes, I gave her the message but...of course, Miss Townsend...”

Elena held the phone out to Dallas.

“It’s your great-aunt,” she whispered.

“I figured that out.” Dallas smiled and took the cordless receiver from Elena. “Hello, Berry. I was just thinking about...”

“Dallas.” Her aunt cut her off sharply. “What the hell is going on out there?”

“Not much.” Dallas paused. “What’s supposed to be going on?”

“That numbskull you were married to.” Berry’s breath came in ragged puffs. She was obviously in a lather over something. Not unusual, Dallas thought. At eighty-one, it didn’t take much to rile Berry these days.

“What’s he done now?” Dallas began emptying the bag, lining up the contents on the counter.

“Not what as much as who.” Berry was becoming increasingly agitated.

“Mommy.” Cody tugged at her sleeve. “Why are all those cars out there?”

“Berry, hold on for just a moment, please.” Dallas glanced out the side window where cars were lined up on the other side of the fence that completely encircled the gated property, cars that had not been there five minutes ago when they drove through the gates. It wasn’t unusual for paparazzi to follow her home, but she hadn’t noticed any cars tailing her today. She raised the blinds just a little, and saw more cars were arriving even as she watched.

“I don’t know, Cody. Maybe the studio put out something about Mommy’s new movie. Maybe we should turn on the television and see.”

“No!” Elena and Berry both shouted at the same time.

“What?” Dallas frowned and turned to her housekeeper, who stood behind Cody. She pointed to the child, then raised her index finger to her lips, their silent code for not in front of Cody.

Keeping a curious eye on Elena, Dallas asked, “Berry, why don’t you tell me...?”

“Are you saying you don’t know? Seriously? You haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?”

“That idiot ex of yours...”

“Not ex yet, but soon, please God...” Dallas muttered. “And it’s long been established that he’s an idiot, so anything he’s done should be viewed with that in mind.”

“...managed to get himself filmed doing...all sorts of things that you will not want Cody to see...” Berry was almost gasping. “And with more than one person. It was disgusting. Perverted.”

“You mean...” Dallas’s knees went weak and she sat in the chair that Elena wisely pulled out for her.

“Yes. A sex tape. Not one, but two young women. I was shocked. Appalled!”

“Wait! You actually saw it?”

“Three times!” Dallas could almost see Berry fanning herself. “It was vile, just vile! You know, Dallas, that I never liked that man. I told you when you first brought him home that I...”

“Berry, where did you see this?”

“On my computer. There was a link to a site...”

“Hold on for a moment, Berry.” Dallas put her hand over the mouthpiece and turned to Elena. “Would you mind cutting up an apple for Cody? Cody, go wash your hands so you can have your snack.”

After her son left the room, Dallas took the phone outside and sat at one of the tables on her shaded patio.

“Dear God, Berry, let me get this straight. Emilio made a sex tape and it was put on the internet? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“Yes, and not just any sex tape. This one had...”

“Wait a minute, they allowed you to download the whole thing?”

“No, no, not all of it, just a little peek. You had to pay to see the whole thing.”

“And you did? You paid to watch...” Dallas didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The thought of her elderly aunt watching Emilio and his latest conquests burning up the sheets — and paying for the privilege - was horrifying and crazy funny at the same time. “Wait - did you say three times?”

“Yes, and it was...”

“Berry, why did you watch it three times?”

“Well,” Berry sniffed. “I had to make sure it was really him.”

The rest of the evening went downhill from there.

Dallas made every attempt to remain calm lest Cody pick up on the fact that she was almost blind with anger at the man she’d been married to for seven years.

Seven years, she repeated to herself. Seven years out of my life, wasted on that reprobate. The only good thing to come out of those years was Cody — and Dallas had to admit that she would have weathered a lifetime of Emilio’s amorous flings and general foolishness if she’d had to in order to have her son. When she filed for divorce three months ago, following the latest in his long line of infidelities, Emilio hadn’t even bothered to beg her to reconsider: they’d done that dance so often over the years that even he was tired of it.

She managed to have a normal evening with Cody and ignored the cars that parked beyond the protective fence. They had a nice dinner and watched a video together, then Cody had his bath and Dallas read a bedtime story before she tucked him in and turned off the light.

It wasn’t until she went back downstairs, alone, that she permitted herself to fall apart.

There was no love lost between her and Emilio. She’d long since accepted the fact that he’d married her strictly to further his own career as a director. For a time, she’d remained stubbornly blind, insisting that her husband be signed to direct her movies, and for a time, she’d been equally blind to his affairs. Lately it occurred to her that she well might be the last person in the entire state of California to catch on to the extent of Emilio’s indiscretions.

For the past five years, she and Emilio had battled over the same ground, over and over until Dallas no longer cared who he slept with, as long as it wasn’t her. Looking back now, she realized she should have left him the first time he’d cheated on her, when the tabloids had leaked those photos of Emilio frolicking with a pretty up and coming Latino actress on a sunny, sandy beach in Guatemala when he’d told her he was going to scout some locations for a film he was thinking about making, but it had been so much easier to stay than to leave. There was Cody to consider: Emilio may have been a cheating jerk, but he did appear to love his son. Besides, Dallas’s schedule had been so hectic for the past three years that she’d barely had time to read the tabloids. She’d had the blessing — or the curse — of having had wonderful roles offered to her, roles that she’d really wanted, so she’d signed on for all of them, and had gone from one set right onto the next, leaving her time for nothing and no one other than her son. It had only been recently that Dallas admitted to herself that perhaps she’d been deliberately overworking herself to avoid having to deal with her home situation.

Well, avoid no more, she told herself as she dialed her attorney’s number. This time, Emilio had gone too far. When the call went directly to voice mail, Dallas left the message that she wanted her lawyer to do whatever had to be done to speed up the divorce.

“And oh,” she’d added, “we need to talk about that custody arrangement we’d worked out...”

While she waited for the return call, Dallas logged onto the computer in her home office. She searched the web for what she was looking for. The link to the video appeared almost instantaneously, along with a running tally of how many times the video had been watched — all thirteen thousand, four hundred and thirty-one viewings. Her stomach churning, she clicked on the link and was asked first to confirm that she was over eighteen, then for her credit card number.

“Great,” she murmured. “For the low, low price of nineteen ninety-five, I can watch my husband...that is, my soon-to-be ex-husband, perform daring feats with his production assistants.”

The video began abruptly — “What, no music?” — and while the lighting could have been better, there was no question who was the filling in the middle of that fleshy sandwich. As difficult as it was to watch, she forced herself to sit through it, commenting to herself from time to time (“Emilio, Emilio, didn’t anyone ever tell you to always keep your best side to the camera? And, babe, that is decidedly not your best side.”).

When the phone rang before it was over, Dallas turned off her computer and answered the call.

“Hey, Dallas, it’s Norma.”

“Thanks for getting back to me right away.” Dallas leaned back in her chair and exhaled. Just hearing her attorney’s always cool and even voice relaxed her.

“I just got in and I was going to call you as soon as I kicked off my shoes.” Norma was not only Dallas’s lawyer, she was also her friend.

“So you heard...”

“Is there anyone in this town who has not? So sorry, Dallas. We knew he was a colossal shithead, but this latest stunt even beats his own personal best.” Before Dallas could respond, Norma said, “So we’re going to want to see if we can move the divorce along a little faster and we’ll file a motion to revise those custody arrangements we’d previously agreed to.”

“You read my mind.”

“I’ll file first thing in the morning. If nothing else, I think we should ask for sole custody for a period of at least six months, given the circumstances, which of course we’ll spell out for the judge in very specific terms.”

“Would it help to know that that little forty-two minute production was filmed in his house? The same one Cody and I moved out of just six months ago because he refused to leave?”

“Really?” Norma made a “huh” sound. “Are you positive?”

“I picked out that furniture,” Dallas replied. “Along with the carpets and the tile in the bath and the towels that were dropped around the hot tub.”

“That was really stupid on his part. Now you can say you don’t want Emilio to have unsupervised custody because you don’t know who will be in the house or what they’ll be doing. Or who might be filming it.” Norma paused. “How are you doing?”

“On the one hand, I feel devastated. Humiliated. Nauseated. On the other, I feel like calling every reporter who chastised me for being so mean and unforgiving to poor Emilio when our separation was announced and yelling, ‘See? I told you he was a jerk!’.”

“Anyone you want me to call for you?”

“No. I’m not making any statements to anyone. This is strictly a ‘no comment’ situation if ever there was one.”

“You know you can always refer people to me.”

“I’ll have Elena start doing that tomorrow. Thanks.”

“How did Cody react?”

“He hasn’t. He doesn’t know what’s going on.”

“You didn’t tell him?”

“Of course not. Why would I tell him about something like that?”

“Do you really think you can keep him from finding out? Isn’t he in camp this summer?”

“He just turned six. He’s only in kindergarten.” Dallas frowned. “How many of the kids at his camp do you think caught Emilio’s act?”

“They could hear their parents talking, they could see the story on TV. It made the news, Dallas.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.” Dallas bit a fingernail. “At least, I hope it won’t be. But if he hears about it, I’ll have to tell him...something.”

“Well, good luck with that. In the meantime, if you think of anything else I can do for you, you know how to reach me.” Norma’s calls always ended the same way, with the same closing sentence. She never bothered to wait until Dallas said goodbye. She just hung up, leaving Dallas to wonder just what she would tell Cody if he should hear something?

She didn’t have long to wait to find out. When she arrived at camp the following afternoon, the Cody who got into the car was a very different child from the one she’d dropped off earlier that morning.

“How was camp, buddy?” she asked when he got into the car.

He looked out the window and muttered something. “What did you say?” She turned in her seat to face him.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Well, how was camp? Did you have your riding lesson today?”

He shook his head but did not look at her.

Uh-oh, she thought as she drove from the curb. This doesn’t bode well...

“So what did you do today?” she asked.

“I don’t want to talk.”

“Why not, baby?”

“Because I don’t and I’m not a baby,” he yelled. He still hadn’t looked at her.

Oh, God. Her hands began to shake and she clutched the wheel in an effort to make them stop.

She did not try to engage him in conversation the rest of the way home, and once they arrived, she drove in through the service entrance at the back of the property to avoid the crowd that was still stalking the front gate.

“Those cars out there, they’re all there because...” Cody said accusingly. “Because...”

It was then that Dallas realized he was crying. She stopped the car and turned off the ignition, then got out and opened his door. She unbuckled his seat belt but he made no move toward her.

“Cody, what happened today?” When he didn’t respond, she asked, “Does it have something to do with your dad?”

“They said he did things...with other ladies. Justin’s big brother said his dad saw it on the computer and he heard his dad tell his mom.” Huge, fat drops ran down Cody’s face and Dallas’s heart began to break in half. “Justin’s daddy said my daddy was a very, very bad man. The big kids said he...they said he...” He began to sob.

Dallas had never felt so helpless in her life. She got into the back seat and rubbed Cody’s shoulders, then coaxed him into her arms. How could she have been so naïve as to think he wouldn’t hear something from the older kids at camp? And how could she possibly explain his father’s actions to her son?

“I’m never going back to camp, Mommy. Not ever. Nobody can make me.” He hiccoughed loudly. “Not even you. I’ll run away if you try.”

“All right, sweetie.” Silently cursing Emilio for his stupidity and his carelessness, Dallas held her son tight, and let him cry it out. “It’s going to be all right...”

But even as she promised, Dallas wondered if, for Cody, anything would ever be right again.



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