“I’m forgetting something,” Geoffrey Royce said. “Something important.” He leaned forward in his seat and began to shuffle the papers on his desk. His make-up girl, Arnessa, chased him to continue dabbing at his deepening crow’s feet.
“Cue cards?” she suggested.
“No, nothing like that…” Royce held up the cue cards and dropped them again. “Something… bigger…”
Arnessa placed a hand on his shoulder and pulled him back to dab under his eyes. “Could be your mind playing tricks on you,” she said. “You obviously don’t get enough sleep.”
Royce gave her a wry smile and sighed. The door to his changing room opened, and Brecklin bustled in.
“Five minutes,” he said, handing Royce a bottle of water.
“I’m forgetting something.” Royce accepted the water and gulped half of it down.
“Amie’s birthday is today,” Brecklin said.
Royce’s eyes went wide and he pitched forward. “Shit.”
“You sent her an orchid—very rare—and tickets to Spring Awakening.”
“It’s a musical, Broadway. Swept the Tony’s.”
“Oh.” Royce settled back down, smiling. “Well, she’ll love that.”
Brecklin nodded and checked his phone.
“Thank you, Brecklin.”
Brecklin looked up, a smile crossing his face at the rare show of gratitude. “You have three minutes, and—uh—I’m not supposed to tell you, but the guys are planning on pulling you onto Lunchbreak.”
Brecklin shrugged. He stood by the door and peered out. Arnessa took Royce’s face and turned it from side to side to check her work.
“You know how you can reduce this puffiness?” She tapped the cheek just under his eye.
“Stop drinking so much,” she hissed.
“Thank you, doctor.” He stood, pulling the napkins from his collar, and kissed her cheek.
“Cards,” Brecklin reminded him as he stepped away from the desk. Royce gathered them hastily and swept out of the room.
“Today we grabbed Geoffrey Royce of Sports in Celsius for a special Lunchbreak.” Nick Hunter smiled broadly for the camera, then turned to nod at Royce. “Welcome, Geoff.”
Royce smiled awkwardly. “Thank you. This is… quite a surprise. There I was thinking I was going to eat my lunch during Lunchbreak.”
“Well, all things should come clear. A little bird told us today is your daughter’s birthday, the beautiful Ambrosia Royce, or Amie—”
Pictures of Amie appeared on the screens behind them. They were larger-than-life, and so pristine, so unlike Amie in the flesh, Royce barely recognized her. Nevertheless, his awkward smile broadened into a beam of pride. “Why, it is. Yes, She’s twenty-seven.”
“Twenty-seven? Really? Well, she is growing up lovely.”
“She gets that from her mother,” Royce said, dipping his head bashfully, his hand darting to the lines at the corner of his eyes.
“She gets other characteristics from you, though. For example, her sense of charity—” He turned toward the screen behind them, which changed to a photo of Amie with a stack of colorful books. “Last year, she bought the Harry Potter box set for every inner-city school in New York, as part of a library development project. The year before, she created a network to foster every single cat and dog in her local shelter, a notoriously high-kill shelter.” The picture changed to Amie cuddling an elderly blue pit bull mix—which she adopted and named Tug. “This year, she is planning a to live-stream her surprise.”
Hunter turned his chair to face the screen, and Royce followed his gaze. The photo of Amie and the dog went blank, making them squint at the brightness, then a video flickered on. Amie appeared walking down a sidewalk wearing sunglasses and a t-shirt, with no idea how effortlessly glamourous she looked. Someone with a cell phone camera walked by her side.
“What time is it?” Amie asked. Royce frowned; She sounded a bit nervous.
“Twelve thirty-four,” a female voice behind the camera said.
“Right on time.”
“Can she see us?” Royce asked Hunter.
“I think it’s just one-way,” Hunter replied.
“Hello, my lovelies!” Amie said, glancing at the camera. “As most of you know, today is my birthday! On top of donating a computer lab to the local women’s shelter—Yay!—I’ve decided to give myself a huge present, and do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but… I’ve just been dragging my feet on.”
She pursed her lips anxiously, and a sense of dread began to creep up Royce’s spine. Amie and her camera woman walked up to a small sidewalk café, where the tables were crowded with suits at lunch and couples mooning over coffee. He recognized the back of one of the men and frowned.
“Uh-oh,” Hunter breathed, also recognizing him.
“Hey, Mitch!” Amie called.
Mitch Campbell, star pitcher for the Chevy Spokes, Royce’s soon-to-be son-in-law—or so he had believed—looked up. His hand was still caressing the neck of the young woman sitting next to him. Royce’s face flushed with anger. The camera panned from Campbell back to Amie, who was now smiling broadly as she approached the table. The camera woman backed away until she framed both Amie and the table. Campbell jerked his hand down and twisted in his seat, glancing from Amie to the camera. The young woman he was with pushed her seat back with wide eyes.
Amie pulled the two-carat engagement ring off her finger and tossed it with a skilled underhand. It plopped right into his coffee, splattering dark drops across the table cloth.
“What the fuck, Amie?” he demanded, looking at the coffee now staining his crisp trousers.
“Enjoy the rest of your life,” Amie replied. She waved to the young woman. “He’s all yours now.”
Campbell shot to his feet, knocking the table over. Royce jumped up with a shout as Campbell punched his daughter in the face. She spun with a hand over her bleeding nose. Campbell jumped the partition, raising his fist again, but Amie spun, hitting him squarely between the eyes with her elbow. He staggered back and landed heavily on his ass.
The video feed died. Royce continued to stare in horror.
“Geoff…” Hunter said, reaching for him.
Royce looked down at him, then spun to stare at Brecklin, standing by the camera. Brecklin’s eyes were also wide with shock, his hand over his mouth. Royce huffed, gasping for breath. He looked down at Hunter for a cue, but he had none.
Royce staggered down and ran off set.
Brecklin snapped out of his shock and grabbed his phone as he followed. “Yeah, I need to book a flight for two direct to New York.”
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