I removed many, many pairs of shoes from the closet and sure enough, I was able to pull up some of the floor boards. Inside was Ashlyn’s passport, her most recent diary, various paperwork, a couple of dvds, a folder of photographs, a SAG (screen actors guild) card and five hundred dollars in cash.
The folder of photos was all of Ashlyn in sexy poses. Ashlyn in bikinis, Ashlyn in lingerie, Ashlyn in nothing at all. The photos were professional quality, I wondered why they were taken, and by who.
I set the pictures aside and picked up the SAG card. I knew a little about these, in my previous life I worked in television commercials.
In Hollywood they won’t hire an actor unless they are a member of the screen actor’s guild—it’s a union, it’s a strong one, and not easy to get into. Ashlyn probably had to work very hard to get the SAG card. I wonder why she wasn’t pursuing her acting career? By becoming a SAG member she had already overcome one of the biggest hurtles for professional actors.
The money was kind of a mystery as well. When I took over Ashlyn’s life, she had less than fifty dollars in her bank account. Why would she hide five hundred in her closet?
Lastly, I flipped through the diary. A few entries before the last, Ashlyn wrote why she broke up with Josh. Apparently a friend of Ashlyn’s worked in a jewelry store—and Josh had come into the store to look at engagement rings. Josh didn’t know this person, but they knew Josh, and they called Ashlyn with the “good news” right after Josh left the store. It wasn’t good news for Ashlyn. She liked Josh—maybe even loved him—but she had no interest in marrying him. She decided to break it off before he could pop the question.
The last entry mentioned that she and Liz were going on a little trip to a place called The Trading Post Inn. She planned on starting a new life, one without Josh, when she got back.
Christmas Eve morning Josh showed up at our doorstep, gifts in hand. He had emailed me previously that he was going to Colorado with friends on a Christmas ski trip. There has been little to no snow in New England so far this winter, so local skiing was out.
“Last chance. The skiing is going to be great; I would love for you to come.” He says to me.
I love skiing, but I decline. “Sorry, I have plans in Providence with my parents.”
“Next time then.” He put several gifts under the tree—they were for my roommates. One he hands to me.
“Merry Christmas Ash.” I knew this was coming. I had decided to not make it a big deal. I was even prepared. I ran over to the tree and pulled out a present, ready to give it to him.
“Merry Christmas to you too.” I say to him. We stare at each other awkwardly for a moment until I realize he was waiting for me to open his gift.
I pull off the wrapping paper and open the gift. Inside the box was filled with vanilla flavored tootsie rolls.
“Oh wow.” I was surprised—confused, and surprised.
“I know how much you love those things.” He waits, watching me. “Look underneath the candy.”
I dig through the candy. I find something and pull it out.
It was a chain necklace with a silver pendant. The pendant was circular and flat, with Gaelic words “anam cara” on one side and a spiral design, also Gaelic, on the other.
Ashlyn has an Irish heritage, so this gift was extremely well thought out.
There was another awkward pause and I realized he wanted to see me wear it. I handed him the necklace, turned away from him, and I held up my hair with both hands. He puts the necklace on me.
“Anam cara?” I ask him.
“It means soul friend.” He says softly.
I hand him my gift to him. I purposely tried to give him something that he couldn’t read too much into. We were just friends exchanging gifts. So when he takes off the wrapping paper and breaks into a huge smile, I was a little surprised.
“I can’t believe you remembered.” He hugs me.
I had given him a bunch of used DVDs. Nothing special, but films I liked and thought he might not have seen. Films like “Run Lola run” and “The commitments”.
“I’m glad you like them.” I say, slightly mystified. This guy had it bad for Ashlyn, I wondered if he would’ve been excited about anything I got him.
Then he asked me out for New Years Eve.
I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I already have plans. I’m going up to Montreal for a few days.”
“What’s in Montreal?” He asks surprised.
“A big party—and an old boyfriend.” I say it quickly, like ripping a band aid off.
He was obviously hurt. “Have a good time.” He says to me, and leaves.
Christmas was much like Thanksgiving but this time there were presents. I took the train to Providence, and had Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my “parents”. It was good to see them again. Ashlyn’s parents were so uplifting and positive; it felt good to just hang out with them. I know they are not really my parents, but I find they really fill something that was missing in my life.
It took some effort, but I was able to find people to cover all my shifts at the lounge. So on the day before New Year’s Eve, I found myself on a Delta flight landing at the Montreal-Trudeau airport.
Ashlyn was picking me up. I had seen Jean-Michel on the dvd letter that was left for me at the Trading Post Inn. I reviewed it once or twice so I would recognize Jean-Michel when I saw him in a crowed airport. More than likely, Ashlyn would find me—after all, she definitely knew what I looked like.
I was supposed to be “arm candy” for Jean-Michel, so I went all out. I went to the salon and got my hair done, and dressed in a red turtleneck sweater that hugged my upper body. I also wore a short black skirt and the boots I had received from the secret admirer. I definitely looked the part of arm candy.
Ashlyn found me as I was waiting for my luggage. I hear an “Oh my god” right behind me, and I turn to see who it was.
Jean-Michel was a rugged, handsome man with short dark hair and dark brown eyes. He had a day or two beard’s growth which added to his tough look. He was nicely dressed, but all in black.
There was awkward silence as the man before me stared. “It is so weird to see yourself standing in front of yourself.” He says.
“I know what you mean.” I tell him. “I’ve gone through the same experience myself. I am guessing we can talk here?”
“Yes. Even if they are around, they should not be able to overhear us.” He gives me a look. “I should kiss you in case they are watching. Help establish that you are a girlfriend.”
He closes the gap between us and wraps his arms around me. He took his time with the kiss. I was surprised to enjoy it, the kiss was nice.
We separate and he points to luggage coming down the chute. “Here comes your bag.” Of course Ashlyn would recognize the luggage; she owned it not long ago.
He grabs the luggage and we head out. As we walk to his car he tells me to be careful what I say inside—it might be bugged.
Just before we get to the car he stops. “Are you comfortable with staying at my place? I know it must be awkward for you and I want you to be comfortable. I could get you a hotel room, but it might look odd. Jean-Michel is known to be a ladies man.”
Living in Ashlyn’s life the last few months has given me a unique understanding of the girl. I’ve read her diaries, know her parents and her friends are now my friends—she has her problems, but I trust her. I tell her as much.
“Thanks Jake. That means a lot—we should be careful what we say at my place as well. I sweep for bugs on a regular basis, but I might miss one. Here’s my car.”
Jean-Michel’s car was a Viper roadster. I guess organized crime paid well. He put my luggage in the trunk and we were off.
We went into character inside the car. I talked about “my roommates and family” giving Ashlyn a little picture of what I have been doing the last few months. He had tons of questions, and I answered them all.
Jean-Michel owned an expensive downtown condo—another sign he was doing alright financially. He handed the keys to his car to the doorman and asked that someone retrieve my luggage. The doorman was obviously nervous around Jean-Michel; he said he would have the bags sent up right away.
In the elevator I turn to Ashlyn “The doorman was afraid of you.”
“I’ve been nothing but kind to the man. I always tip him well.”
We go in and Ashlyn puts on some music and gets us drinks. The condo was well decorated and even better—clean. Cleanliness is something the old and new Ashlyn share.
“This is a nice place.” I tell him, “You ought to see the condo I share with four roommates. They are not the neatest of people.”
“Stuff like that drives me crazy.” He tells me. “I’ve got to go out for a couple of hours—business reasons. Why don’t you relax here and when I get back I’ll take you out for dinner, and we can catch up.”
He steps in close again and kisses me again. It was good a second time.
“Wear the red dress for dinner. It will be perfect.” He takes off.
I wondered how he knew I would pack the red dress.
I’ve got to go to work; I’ll have to do a part 4—probably tomorrow will be the end of my holiday recap.