LET ME LOVE YOU
Zac Davies peered at his co-star through a haze of dancing spots that reminded him of his grandparents’ staticky old television. He still managed his lines, but they were flat, even to his own ears. He took a step toward Lydia and stumbled.
“Cut!” The director called.
Zac ducked his head, raking his hand through his hair before he thought better of it. The Vicodin had held the headache at bay—so far—but these dizzy spells were another matter…
“Zac, I want to see you in my trailer,” the director said in her usual no-nonsense demeanor. “Everyone else, take five.”
Being summoned to the director’s trailer was akin to being sent to the principal’s office.
Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad; in the three-plus weeks they’d been shooting, Gina Devereaux had shown herself true to her reputation: tough but fair. Not to mention damn good; with her guidance, he’d done some of his best work yet.
This is what it’s like in the big leagues.
At twenty-nine, the golden window of opportunity was closing fast. This was his big break. He couldn’t afford to blow it. He owed it to his parents.
Sweat trickled down his back as he followed Gina into her trailer.
“Have a seat.” Gina pointed to a cot across from the director’s desk that dominated the small space. She pulled two water bottles out of a cooler and handed one to Zac. He opened it and took a sip.
She pulled a chair out from behind the desk and sat so that she faced him.
“Are you okay?” she said.
It was not what he’d expected to hear, and he hesitated. “The heat’s been getting to me,” he said. “Maybe I’m dehydrated.”
Her eyes narrowed and he braced himself for anger or frustration.
“You’ve been really solid up until the last couple days,” she said. “Have you been partying with the crew at night? Drinking a lot of alcohol?”
“No.” What he had been doing was trying to sleep with not much success.
“Of course not!” he said. “I don’t do drugs.”
“Well, then, what’s your explanation?” Irritation crept into her voice. She was under as much pressure as he was. Maybe more. “You don’t go from giving above-the-cut performance to what I’m getting from you now.”
He grimaced inwardly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I think I’m coming down with something. I’ve got cold medicine in my bag.”
She leaned back in her chair, studying him in a way that set his nerves on end.
“Gina!” The voice outside the trailer was unmistakable.
“Shit,” she muttered. “Sylvester.” The film’s producer was a crotchety industry veteran who had a penchant for hanging around the set and scowling at everything they did.
“I’ll be out in a moment,” she called.
“I’ll be fine,” Zac said, even as the beginning of what promised to become another ferocious headache snaked across his temples.
I have to get to the Vicodin before this turns into something worse.
“I think you need to rest,” she said, still watching him in that unnerving way.
“Just let me get my bag.”
She stood. “You stay here. Lay down for a few minutes. I’ll send someone with your bag.”
It was only a matter of minutes before a production assistant showed up with his bag. Zac rummaged at the bottom, found the Vicodin and popped two of them.
He tried to relax, but he was overly warm even here with the rudimentary air conditioning. He ran a hand across his forehead; it was sweaty too.
When Gina came back, she looked none too happy. “I’ve been overruled,” she said. “I need you back on the set in five.”
“I’ll send Suzie in to touch up your makeup.”
Gina Devereaux stood behind Camera Two, squinting at the actors. She had serious doubts they’d get any usable footage this day, and it was becoming harder to keep her frustration in check. If they didn’t get it this time, she was calling it a day regardless of Sylvester’s opinion. “Action!” she called for the fifth time.
Had she been wrong about Zac’s ability? Wrong in thinking that she’d be able to bring out the best in him? Maybe those first weeks of shooting were too good to be true?
She watched him closely. She may have been the only one to notice the slight slur on his first lines. Then he sharpened. He took his co-star, Lydia Grant, by the hand as he spun off his lines.
Damn, we just might get this.
Lydia took over with her lines as they moved between the trees as scripted. The cameras followed, and so did Gina.
The script called for Lydia to stumble and Zac to catch her, but it didn’t go as planned.
Instead, Zac got dragged down with Lydia.
Gina didn’t call a stop to the action; rather, she waited to see what the actors would do. She knew her camera people would follow her lead. If it wasn’t good, they wouldn’t use it; that’s what post-production was for. But experience had taught her that every now and then, while deep in character, the camera would catch something in the actors’ performance that just worked. Sometimes better than the script.
Zac stayed down as Lydia got to her knees. “Aaron?” she said, staying in character. “Are you all right?”
Gina was focused on the small movements of Zac’s hand, face, and eyes as he pushed Lydia’s hand away and struggled to his feet.
Good; he’s still in character.
But then Zac’s face went pale and his eyes rolled back in his head. In slow motion, his body crumpled to the ground.
For a moment there was silence, as if everyone was waiting to see if this was part of the act. But Zac didn’t move, and Lydia turned a stunned expression to Gina.
“Cut!” Gina rushed forward and dropped to her knees. “Zac!”
Lydia was beside her on her knees now too. “Did he hit his head?”
Gina placed one hand behind Zac’s neck. “Zac, can you hear me?”
“Get the set medic.” That was Dale, her assistant director and close friend.
She placed her other hand flat against Zac’s chest. To her relief, his breathing was regular and his heartbeat strong. She brought her hand up to his forehead; she couldn’t tell if he was running a fever or just overly warm from the sun and exertion. “Zac, if you can hear me, open your eyes.”
“Oh man.” Lydia’s voice shook. “What’s wrong with him?”
Gina heard Dale ask the camera operators to review the footage they’d just shot. It was a good idea; perhaps one of the camera angles would show if he’d hit his head.
The medic knelt next to Gina. “What happened?” she said.
“I think he fainted,” Gina said. “He may have also hit his head.”
The medic performed an assessment, taking extra time to palpate Zac’s head. She flashed a small light in his eyes. “Pupils look good,” she said. “No head trauma.”
“He was obviously out last night partying too hard.” Sylvester’s voice cut over the murmurs of the crew. When Gina looked up she was surprised to find that the producer stood less than ten feet away.
“I don’t know about that,” Gina said. Of course, Sylvester didn’t know what Zac had told her. “I think we should have him checked out.”
“Gina, he fainted.” Sylvester glared at her. “A hospital visit would bring the tabloids on us like flies on shit.”
“Then bring a doctor in to look at him,” she said.
“The medic can keep an eye on him, and you can work on a scene that doesn’t require him,” Sylvester said.
Gina looked at the medic; she just shrugged.
Sylvester narrowed his eyes at the cast and crew. “Not a word of this to anyone outside the set.”
Gina looked at Zac, then up at Sylvester. Everything inside her screamed that something was very wrong. “No.”
Sylvester’s gaze swung back to Gina. She stood, hands on her hips. “I let you push me into pushing him. If you want him looked after here, I’m going to personally make sure he’s all right.” She addressed the crew and cast in a firm voice: “That’s a wrap for today, folks.”
She turned to Dale and the medic. “Can you help get him to my trailer?”
Dale nodded and motioned to one of the production assistants.
“Gina—” Sylvester started.
“Damn it, Syl,” She cut him off with a murderous glare. “Get off my set.”
Zac was dimly aware of a wet pressure on his forehead.
My full name…no one but Aunt Trudy calls me by my full name…
He inhaled a careful breath. Licked dry lips. Swallowed to get some moisture in his throat.
“He’s coming around.” The same voice. Not Aunt Trudy.
“How long has he been out?” Another voice. Male this time. The squeak of a chair hinge.
“About fifteen minutes, I think.” The wet pressure retreated.
“Still running a fever?”
A lighter touch on his forehead. “Still.”
He opened his eyes and tried to make sense of the woman who perched on the edge of the cot next to him. Long dark hair. Dark eyes brimming with concern—
Holy shit! His left hand pressed against the cot in an attempt to raise himself.
“Take it easy, Zac.” Gina’s hand went to his other wrist. He fell back as a sudden pain sliced into his temples and darkened his vision.
When he could see again, his eyes left Gina and wandered the trailer—yes, he was in the director’s trailer (again)—then went to Dale (who stood next to the chair) and back to Gina. This doesn’t look good. “What happened?”
“You fainted in the middle of a scene,” Gina said.
He groaned and ran a hand behind his head. That meant the entire crew had seen it. And Sylvester.
“Do you want me to get the medic?” Dale asked.
“No,” Gina said. “I want to hear from Zac first. How do you feel?”
How he felt was like a fleet of carpenters had taken up residence inside his skull. “I have a raging headache,” he muttered. “I need Vicodin.”
“Vicodin?” Gina’s eyebrows raised.
Damn. What am I thinking, saying that out loud?
“Nothing else was working.” He rubbed his temples. “It was from a back injury I had last year.”
“You should have told me you were feeling that badly.”
“I didn’t think that was a good idea,” he said. “Not given our conversation…”
Gina’s face took on a stricken look.
“Besides,” he continued. “I thought it was just the flu.”
A wave of nausea washed over him. Oh, no. This could not be happening…
“Not again,” he muttered. He waved toward the small garbage basket that sat by the chair.
Gina swiped up the basket and handed it to him just in time. He leaned away from her as his stomach twisted in on itself and he heaved into the basket.
“Sorry,” he rasped when he could catch his breath. “The headache makes me nauseous.”
He was surprised to find she hadn’t left her perch next to him. Her face was a mask of concern as she asked, “What do you mean by ‘not again’?”
She noticed Zac’s hesitation. “No acting, Zac. Please. Just the straight-up truth.”
He sighed; he didn’t have the energy to act his way out of this. “I woke last night with stomach cramps. I threw up a couple times.”
“That’s it.” She stood and moved toward the desk. “We’re taking you to the hospital.”
Before Zac even opened his mouth to protest, Dale spoke. “Ourselves?” he said. “Without the medic?”
“We’ll use my car.” She tossed Dale the keys. “You drive.”
“Sylvester won’t like it,” Dale said.
“Screw him,” Gina said. “We should have taken him when this first happened. You know how to get there?”
“Bring the car as close to the trailer as you can,” she said. “If we’re quiet about it maybe I won’t have to deal with Syl until after we find out what’s wrong.”
Gina picked up Zac’s backpack and slid it onto her shoulders. Then she slipped her own purse over her head so that it hung across her chest.
“You really don’t have to go to all this trouble.” Zac struggled to a sitting position, eyeing his backpack. “I’m sure if I got a couple days rest—”
“Come on.” Gina held her hands out to him. “I’ll help you. Just go slow.”
Zac put his feet on the ground and his hands in Gina’s. Slowly he got to his feet. He stood there, swaying slightly as the room swirled around him.
Gina’s arm came around his waist. “You’ve got to let me help you,” she said. “I’m not strong enough to catch you if you fall.”
He let his arm come down around her shoulder.
“Better,” she said. “Now I think we’ll make it.”
The moment the car started moving, Zac was sick again. And he didn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. Damn it all, he was spread across his boss’s lap with a bucket in his face.
Then it was difficult to care where he was; as dry heaves wracked his body and blackness buzzed at the edges of his vision, he could only pray that the hospital was close and the movement would stop.
I am in hell.
Then he was on a gurney in a hospital room, still curled up and clutching the bucket. Gina’s voice floated somewhere overhead. He tried to concentrate on the doctor’s words: Food poisoning. Pump his stomach. The prick of a needle in his arm.
The doctor’s face hovered over his. “Relax, Zac, relax.”
Who was the doctor kidding? He wasn’t the one with a tube being shoved down his throat!
I am in hell.