Jenni Ann age Twenty-Three
The first calls came to me through the gallery.
“Jenni,” drawled Angela. “You have another message from that boy.”
“What boy?” I asked, knowing I had no other messages that came through the gallery but customers and vendors.
“He says his name is Ashton, like Ashton Kutcher, and if it is that hot Hollywood boy, you just send him over to me!” she cackled in her raspy high-end manner. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the reason they came up with the term ’cougar’.
”Ashton!” I thought, my pulse quickening.
“Let me see those messages Angela!” I requested quickly. “How many times has he called?”
I had not been in the gallery for over two weeks since the big show. In that time he had left three messages.
“He is not interested in speaking with me, nor anyone else here. He was quite specific. I think he likes more than just your art, darling,” she said with a sly wink.
I took out my cell phone and stepped outside. I was tingling as I pressed the numbers.
When Ashton answered it was with a blunt, “Ashton Parker.”
“Um, hello, Ashton Parker” I mimicked back, all business. “This is Jenni, Jenni Benson, from the Jackson Gallery, returning your calls.” This seemed too formal and I began to feel foolish for believing Angela. I was pacing and reminding myself to breathe at the same time. Did he want to talk about my artwork? Was he interested in me for something more, as Angela suggested?
“Wow, Jenni!” he softened, now sounding like the Ashton I’d met almost two weeks ago. “I am so glad you called me back.”
“Yes,” I exhaled, “Angela mentioned that you had called, a few times, actually.”
“Oh, no,” he lamented, “please don’t think I’m a stalker. I just wanted to be sure not to miss you, you know, in that you don’t exactly have a set schedule to be in the gallery or anything.”
“Well, all of my stalkers usually call a lot more than three times to get that kind of status,” I said, easing the conversation along so that we both laughed.
“Good to know,” Ashton continued. “So, tell me how the show went?”
“Well,” I started, “it was great! I’ve never had such a whirlwind of media in my life!”
I lied. Way back then, when I’d moved to my aunt and uncle’s, the media had hounded us for weeks. I pushed that thought away, back away where it belonged.
“By the time we said goodbye to the last media-mutt,” I rambled, “I was exhausted. But Angela is amazing. I mean, she does this like she is having tea and scones with the Queen of England. Everything always falling in place.”
“Yes, Angela is really something,” Ashton said. The way he hovered over the word “something” made us both laugh.
“So,” he asked, “do any of these ‘stalkers’ you speak of get to take you out to dinner or is that reserved for the ones like me who aren’t quite up to stalker status?”
I stopped pacing altogether. I had not gone out on dates very much and, even when I did, I had no desire to further any relationship beyond the most casual. It was very hard for a damaged girl like me to find my prince out there. This one seemed different. I could feel it in my bones.
“Um, well,” I stammered for a second, “why yes, that would be nice. Yes, dinner would be nice.” And our first date was set.
”Great,” I thought, “I lied in the first conversation I’d ever had with Ashton.” Maybe he wasn’t going to be so different after all, so it seemed almost all right. Almost.