A Story by Deborah Benson



Sound Check

And without trust, there can be no love

It wasn’t until light began to pour in through the floor length windows that the pair began to stir.

They had spent until the early hours of the morning together, fumbling around through the empty theater up to Kimberly’s flat. Their need for one another overcoming any concern about the numerous boxes still packed that they had shoved out of their way to allow them to be together in nearly every room in the penthouse.

The chaos of the previous night slowly came into view as the light continued to break through the curtains much to John’s disdain.

He considered getting up to close the curtains fully seeing as they must’ve been pushed ajar sometime during their trip from the living room to the bedroom, but before he could convince himself to move off the bed a small mutter of protest came from below him. Slowly through the early morning haze he became aware of Kimberly’s small body tucked against his own, his arm easily hooking itself around her waist as she slept peacefully.

No amount of light pouring into the room could bring him to stir her from her sleep. He had lost his chance to hold her the last time they slept together and there was very little that would have convinced him to give the opportunity up now that he had it. She looked far too at peace for him to bring himself to stir her anyway. His stomach on the other hand, had different plans.

Within five minutes of his waking his stomach awoke as well, growling in protest of having gone so long without being satisfied. Unlike the rest of his body the night with Kimberly had taken it’s toll on his stomach seeing as getting to eat out and eating Kim out didn’t quiet add up as far as it was concerned. And without Mark walking around the flat there was little he could do but wait to wake up his sleeping partner.

The constant rumbling from his stomach continued for several more minutes before Kimberly began to wake up of her own accord.

John would tell himself the lights had woken her in order to keep away the guilt of stirring her but there was no denying she felt his stomach nearly as much as he did.

“You can’t just be quiet can you…?” she asked, her eyes still closed. “The snoring was one thing but this is just annoying.”

Her sweet sleepy voice made the words sting a little less than she might have intended, but he had heard far worse from Mark.

“I do not snore.” Kim laughed. “It’s not like I can help it anyway. It just happens.”

Slowly opening her eyes Kimberly rolled over without moving his arm from her waist, her forehead tucked neatly under his chin as she kissed the top of his bear chest. Her thin arms wrapping themselves around his easily before she pulled herself up to kiss his chin; if he had known her to be so affectionate in the morning he would have woken her sooner.

“You snore. I considered smothering you with a pillow after you fell asleep,” she said as she placed another kiss along his jawline. “What’s your excuse for the stomach?”

“Well I had been planning on taking you to dinner but we got distracted.”

A small smirk played across his face before Kimberly shoved him away playfully. She too was smiling at the memory but he doubted she had been as foolish as to go without eating before they met up. It wasn’t as though she needed as much to keep running as he did, she was almost half his size, he could have eaten enough for the both of them easily.

“Well what do you want to do about it? Mark says you’re a lousy cook.”

“But you’re a good one, aren’t you?”

“I’m not making you breakfast. You’re the one who skipped dinner.”

John stuck out his bottom lip slightly, his eyebrows rising to finish off a well-practiced pout that could even convince Mark to wash his socks. Within a matter of seconds Kimberly too caved, her laughter filling the room with a wonderful melody.

“Fine, but you have to help. You’re not getting breakfast in bed in my bed. Hell you should be the one getting me breakfast.” With a light kiss Kim wormed her way out of John’s grasp, climbing off the bed to cover herself with a large shirt that barely passed the top of her shapely thighs. A sight in its own that could convince John to do whatever she’d like.

He had his pout, but she had her entire being to command him with. There was simply no competition to be had between the two. He was hers, no contest.

“Next time you’re over I’ll have Mark bring us breakfast in bed as many times as you’d like.”

John moved from the bed, reluctantly pulling his boxers back on before following Kim to the kitchen. “He’s rather fond of you so the real challenge would be to make sure he’d bring me the food too.”

Her smile was simply dazzling in the morning light as she began to get out different ingredients, ordering John to pick up certain items stashed away in the cupboards simply because she could. There was a simple domesticity to the process that John adored. It was more than a break from his responsibilities at work, it was a compilation of actions so simple as holding her waist as she cooked that made him believe that just for a moment they could stay together without any outside interference for as long as they wished.

If his promise to Serena a held through and Kimberly returned home with him then maybe, just maybe, it was a vision of what their lives had in store for them after the theater.

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It wasn’t until a quick set of knocks from the front door broke through the quiet sizzle of bacon that either of them became aware of the outside world. John had half a mind to order the intruder away but Kimberly seemed far more shaken by the jolt of reality than he was comfortable with. It was then that he remembered being pulled back down to earth for her was a far grittier picture than it was for him.

“Stay here, eat but stay quiet,” Kim said as she slipped away from the kitchen, her hands pulling at her hair to cover the collection of marks he had left on her neck. “If it’s Dakota you hide in a closet for all I care.”

He wanted to write the comment off as a joke, but as she left to open the door he knew she was serious. He had never known Dakota as one who liked to share her things.

“There you are, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all morning.” A voice that thankfully didn’t belong to Dakota said from the doorway.

“You have? I’m sorry I misplaced my phone.

What time even is it?” Kimberly was surprisingly good at feigning innocence.

“Almost noon. You’re lucky I came by or you’d have to deal with Dakota on your own. She’s going to be watching you like a hawk before the dinner.” Slowly John recognized the voice as Serena’s as she walked into the apartment. She was no threat but he was too hungry to leave his fresh breakfast so soon.

“I almost forgot that was today.” A hint of sadness obvious in Kim’s voice. “Are you positive I can’t cancel?”

“Positive. Luscious might understand but Dakota would be suspicious. As far as she knows you don’t have a reason to want to avoid him.” Before John could bother sitting down Serena strode into the kitchen with a confidence that only slightly faltered at the sight of him virtually Unclad. Somehow he doubted she thought to find him there so soon.

“…I can explain,” Kimberly said, putting herself between the two.

“Oh Kim….. Oh you’ve gone and done it now,” Serena’s voice held no anger to Kim’s obvious surprise, only pity.

“Done what?” John asked, finishing his bite of bacon easily. “You knew I cared for her.”

The icy look Serena shot John was enough to stall his appetite for a moment. She pitied Kim and though she had promised to help them he somehow felt as though she was blaming him for any trouble their being together might cause.

“It’s one thing to care for someone but to fool around with them when so much is on the line is just irresponsible! Do you have any idea what could happen  if Dakota knew Kim wasn’t exclusively Luscious’s? Or even worse if he found out himself! This isn’t some petty problem of who’s allowed to date who, these men are just as rich as you with half the moral compass.

You’re both putting yourselves in harms way and you aren’t even trying to hide it!”

Both Kimberly and John are left speechless, their peaceful reality shattered harshly as Serena easily found the marks he had left across Kim’s body. Neither of them had considered anyone but each other the night before and now it seemed as though they’d risk paying full price. Which at the lasted addition to the show was now well above a hundred thousand dollars, not to mention the cost Luscious would be paying to have Kimberly for an entire evening.

“I’ll give you an hour here Kim then you come down and we’ll start getting you ready. I’ll help as much as I can but you have to want to get out of this too,” Serena said, the frustration slowly ebbing away as she headed back to the door. “And John, if you really want to help us just stay out of this for tonight. We can handle Luscious on our own. Just leave it at that.”

He nodded as Kim walked Serena back to the door, a quiet reminder to take her pain medication passing over his head as he contemplated his meal. He wanted to help Kimberly more than anything and if doing as Serena asked would do so then he felt the need to comply.

He was just never good at waiting for someone else to fix his problems for him.

___
It seemed the longer they spent in production mode the higher the price went, both for Kimberly and the show. If someone had told Dakota nearly half a million dollars was on the line during any other show she would have called them mad. But Luscious wanted two things more than anything, one being a show that with a little effort they could move to Broadway by the end of its run, and the second being Kimberly.

She couldn’t have wished for better luck but despite her good fortune she had been in the game long enough to know she wasn’t out of the woods yet. The entire show relied on Luscious’s compliance to finance and his compliance relied on Kimberly’s affection.

There was only so many times she could reassuring her client that she was just as enamored with him as he was with her before he demanded to see proof.

Everything she had worked so hard to secure was relying on the success of the dinner to continue. If Luscious left her now she would risk having her side business found out, or even worse having to acknowledge her failure to Collins Grey himself.

She had worked too long to separate herself from him to be willing to go back now. The last thing she wanted was any Grey coming to do her job for her.

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The sooner she could set the deal with Luscious in stone the better.

This would be much easier if Serena would stop meddling too , she thought, the piles of paper in front of her carefully laid out with the woman in question’s resume on the top.

She had placed so much faith in Serena that she did not consider the possibility of her turning against her. The promise of fame and fortune had kept her in line for a while but as soon as she had replaced her she knew her hold was lost. The only thing keeping Serena from reporting what she knew to the authorities was her one ace in the hole.

Serena may have tricked her old competition into crossing Dakota but at the end of the day only one person really had the ability to remove someone from the theater. A debt collector that ensured anyone who kept the theater from losing any money if a client fell through or if a dancer was let go was the only person above Dakota in rank. While Dakota kept the theater running he kept it safe, taking care of any threat to her businesses wellbeing.

After all, with a name like Morgan it didn’t take much to scare people back into line. She couldn’t have asked for a better fit for a partner.

He was the power behind any of her threats and the last straw if Serena continued trying to come between her and Luscious’s deal. She had only used his services once before to deal with a man who refused to pay for Serena’s time out of some strange notion that her feelings for him were genuine. Thankfully Serena had taken so many of Owen’s pills that she could not protest Morgan’s disposal of the man.

With any luck she wouldn’t need to call him in again, Kimberly seemed far more compliant than Serena had and Luscious was far more obedient than the previous investor. As long as Serena didn’t meddle too much there would be any need to call Morgan for anything more than to be her plus one for opening night as usual.

Chris helped the show but he held no real power like she or Morgan did. It was her theater with his protection. If Serena attempted to cross her she’d be crossing him as well.

And no one would question anyone’s disappearance if Morgan told them to forget about it.

She could even remove John if she wanted. He was simply an inconvenience at the moment as well as the annoying reminder that until she could move a show from the resort to a bigger venue she would remain in the Grey shadow. His vacation couldn’t end soon enough as far as she was concerned, but she’d deal with him later.

At the moment she had a lead actress in need of a pep talk and an orange bottle of bite size insurance to make sure things went according to her plan. The only call she wanted to make to Morgan was a friendly one, but she was not above tying up loose ends. Not when so much was on the line.
____
The past three hours had been spent in front of Serena’s old dressing room with enough tugging and pulling at Kimberly’s face to last her a month. At her departure from the comfort of her penthouse there hadn’t been a single drop of makeup on her face but within the first ten minutes of her seeing Serena she could scarcely recognize herself. Her lips and eyes painted like an old Hollywood star to match the bouncing curls she had never imagined she would be able to wear naturally. She may not like very much about how the theater was run, but no matter how hard she tried there was nothing she could say against the makeup skills Serena seemed to have learned.

Even the marks on her neck had been expertly covered up through layers of foundation and a setting powder.

Serena had managed to turn Norma Jean into Marilyn in a matter of hours. She wanted to thank her, to tell John and show off her hair, to be able to enjoy the new get up, but knowing everything had been put on simply for Luscious managed to kill all it’s beauty. She barely wanted to see him, much less spend four hours in a chair getting done up for a man she didn’t even know.

She wanted out.

“I can’t do this,” Kimberly said for the third time since her hair had been let down.

“Pretending with you around is one thing but staying on my own with him for that long—”

“Kimberly listen to me, as long as you do what I say everything will be fine. Keep him distracted, talk about the show, or his job, anything but the two of you together.” Serena had managed to keep Kim from throwing up so far, but her calm reassurances only lasted so long.

“What if he wants more? Kissing on the cheek maybe, if you really want to push it a peck but I can’t even pretend to be interested in Paul, how on earth can I pull this off?”

“Because you have to.” Serena’s face was stern, a sad tiredness taking over her frail frame in a matter of seconds. “You tell him no, and I swear I’ll have someone there to make sure nothing happens, but you have to make him believe there’s only him. At least until I can get you out of this for good.”

Kimberly wanted to protest but their conversation was quickly interrupted by the quiet buzzing of her cell phone on the countertop, John’s texts popping on the screen for the third time that day before Serena cleared the screen. John’s presence simply made the task at hand more difficult to accomplish and judging by the amount of uncertainty Kim was already having he was the last influence she needed around.

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“Everything will be okay. I’ll be covering you at rehearsal tonight and you just have to smile at Luscious until the dinner’s over. Just say you don’t want any distractions until opening night and get him to keep the ending where you stay with the owner. Make that seem more important than your relationship with him and he should have no reason to push any further.”

“Is that how you dealt with your investors?”

“Kim, I barely remember being with any of my investors. Keep your head clear and it’ll be fine.”

Somehow that wasn’t very reassuring.

Before Serena could continue a set of knocks came from the door with a demanding presence that could only belong to one person. The pair didn’t even have time to separate from each other’s side before the door was pushed open and the tell tale click of Dakota’s heels on the tile floor became the only sound in the room.

Serena seemed to stand taller as the two women regarded each other with ferocity of dozens of accusations left unsaid before Serena removed her hand from Kimberly’s chair. The only reason for her surrender being the fact she couldn’t have an angry Dakota storming around with the problem of Luscious still hanging in the air.

“If you need anything just call,” Serena instructed Kimberly before leaving the room, purposefully bumping Dakota’s shoulder on her way out.

The gesture was small and barely noticeable, but Kim knew Dakota wouldn’t forget it. She was merely waiting for the right time to strike and unfortunately for her remaining civil was necessary a little while longer.

“You look wonderful,” Dakota said as though the encounter with Serena never occurred.

“How do you feel?”

Kimberly couldn’t have kept her mouth closed if she wanted, her anxiety eating away at any composure she had left. “Sick. Please, can’t we just tell him to reschedule? This isn’t going to work…”

“Of course it is!” Dakota’s smile was almost too sincere, her hands holding onto Kim’s shoulders with a possessiveness that surprised her. “Luscious already adores you, all you have to do is look pretty and smile. He’ll pay for your retirement if you asked him.”

“And what if I tell him I don’t want to be with him?”

The question sounded innocent enough in her head but the added pressure to her shoulders was a clear sign she had crossed the line.

Dakota’s eyes closed, her well-manicured hands doing the best they could to keep from digging into the Unclad skin underneath them as she knelt down beside Kimberly. A dangerous energy radiating from her like fire as she released her shoulder’s to hold Kim’s face with one hand, locking eyes after taking a moment to tone down her anger.

“Let me tell you a little something about the world, Kim. This isn’t some fairytale with a prince and a white horse who loves you because you’re the fairest in all the land. This is the real world, and it’s gritty and it’s dirty and we take what we can get. What you want is a stage perfectly lit and a theater full of people loving you like the world never has. Right?”

Despite everything Kim found herself nodding, Dakota’s piercing stare breaking down her resolve slowly.

“Well Luscious is the man offering it to you on a silver platter. His offering you everything you could ever want and all he’s asking for in return are a few kisses and sweet words. He’s the best man you can be hoping to get Kimberly.

You can’t afford to lose him.”

Dakota hands now rested on top of Kim’s, quieting her urges to scream in protest that she was worth so more much than money and some promises. She had John and he loved her. He was worth so much more than Luscious could ever be worth. He was the one she couldn’t afford to lose.

But none of her protests managed to escape her lips as long as Dakota kept their gazes locked.

“Everyone is nervous their first time meeting an investor, but nothing will happen. He cares far to much about you to let you worry.” There was the vague sensation of something being pushed against the palm of her hand as Dakota stood up. “You’ve just let Serena get inside your head. You wont repeat the same mistakes she did.”

Kimberly found herself nodding as she looked back into the mirror. The woman staring back at her seemed a complete stranger from the red smile to the sultry black eyes. If there was any consolation to the deal it was that this woman would be meeting Luscious and not the Kimberly who had spent the morning by John side.

“Good. Now take a few of these and you’ll be fine. It’s just a little stage fright.”

Slowly Kimberly lowered her eyes to her open palm. The unmistakable shape of the pills she had specifically elected to avoid now calling to her. She counted four, twice what Mark had deemed safe on an empty stomach. She doubted any were safe to take on top of pain medication.

But she knew it was even less safe to cross Dakota a second time.

Her phone buzzed, a desperate cry from John to talk to him. Dakota’s hand clamped over her own, lifting the pills to her mouth. The woman in the mirror closed her eyes.

Kimberly swallowed the pills.

The woman smiled.

…to be continued

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