Could This Be Love? (13)

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A Story by Deborah Benson

Ticket Price

Today’s the day when dreaming Ends

Time seemed to slow as Kim was moved from the balcony to her flat. The blurred outline of the two men she had to thank for her rescue never strayed from her vision. Drifting in and out of consciousness they were the one constant as her body jostled back and forth.

She assumed it was the taller man who carried her, seeing as she the smaller didn’t seem to have the muscle for the job but she lacked the strength to check.

All she knew was she was safe. A notion frequently repeated by one or both of the men until she was placed down on top of a vaguely familiar mattress.

Before she had time to listen to either of the men speaking the medication had taken its hold, forcing her to sleep off the remainder before she could bother with thinking properly. She had no dreams and had no recollection of stirring to pull herself under the covers. She could barely even remember when her eyes closed.

It was only when the weight of the bed below her began to shift that she found herself waking up, the last of the medication leaving her mind in favor of a piercing headache and vague memories of her actions. With a tilt of her head she saw the unmistakable silhouette of a scrawny man with rather large ears fussing over her hair.

A small tug at a lock of hair pinned behind her head elicited a groan to signal that she was still capable of feeling pain and managed to startle the man at the same time. If she had the strength she would have hit him.

“You’re awake!” Mark’s voice broke through the remaining fog with ease.

“You’re loud…” she managed in response, garnering a chuckle from the corner of the room.

As Kimberly’s mind began to clear both Paul and Mark came fully into view. Their face’s softened in relief over her waking but the toll of the past night was obvious even to her.

Bags under Mark’s eye’s from lack of sleep and the worry lines etched into Paul’s forehead only fueled the feeling of guilt building up in the pit of her stomach. She had cost them both precious hours of sleep and had nothing more to show for it than a guilty conscious and a small hangover.

But the guilt the pair inspired was nothing compared to the guilt brought on by John.

For a brief moment she hoped her condition had gone unreported and life would resume to normal without her, but as fate and one eagerly placed phone call from Mark would have it, she had no such luck. In a matter of seconds John burst through her apartment doors with Serena in tow. A rushed synopsis of the night passing overhead from Mark to the two on their way to the bed.

It wasn’t until the mention of the position she had been found in that John seemed to pay attention, his face dropping as he sat beside Kim.

“Paukl knocked him out, but we just really knew she had to leave and—”

“What happened?” John cut Merlin off without care, his blue eyes locking onto hers urgently.

With as much strength as she could muster Kimberly pulled herself upright in her bed, her hands clasping onto his to pull him close.

Finding the right way to answer him was taking up too much time. Worry began flooding through the deep blue she had come to cherish as the words refused to form properly. In an attempt to by herself more time she shook her head weakly, finding the simple task difficult with the growing hangover.

“N-nothing,” she finally managed, having her small frame wrapped int John’s arms automatically. “I couldn’t, I couldn’t lie to him. I tried b-but he saw you and I just couldn’t pretend…”

John’s arms tightened around her, his hand gripping the back of her head to pull her close as if he feared she would disappear the second he let go. Quiet mutterings of how everything was okay found there way to her ear to slowly lift the guilt sitting heavy on her heart.

By the time her guilt had washed away fresh tears began dripping down her cheeks. Her arms finding the strength to wrap around his shoulders as she reveled in the fact she had not lost him. There was still a chance they could both walk away from things unharmed.

As long as she had John she could pull through.

“Leave with me, please,” John muttered quietly, his grip never loosening.

“What?” she asked afraid the headache and tears had started to affect her hearing.

“Leave with me. Away from here! I can get two plane tickets by tomorrow and we’ll be hundreds of miles away before anyone even notices.”

John reluctantly let Kim go, his hands cupping her face to ensure she can hear him properly. “You and me both, we’ll leave and never come back.”

The offer was almost too good to believe. While she loved the stage and the company she had gotten to know the chance to run away with the man she loved even more sounded like heaven. Even Serena seemed eager for her to accept.

There was no way she could have brought herself to say no.

“I’ll start packing,” she said as a smile broke out across her face.

A relieved laugh from John punctuated his pulling her into another tighter hug. Smiles donned across the room as the pair shared one last heavy kiss before Kimberly was helped off the bed. Had it not been for the three onlookers present she doubted they would have stopped at a simple kiss.

But before they could go any farther Serena’s hand on her arm pulled her away from John as quickly as she could manage.

“I’ll take you down to the dressing rooms, we’ll be back as soon as everything’s packed.”

Serena pulled gently until Kimberly was standing on her own. The two both smiling eagerly for their own reasons.

In a final temporary goodbye John kissed her forehead hard, having every intention to kiss her properly when she returned.

They’d have all the time in the world to make up for her rushed exit once they were together.

They could write to Serena and see how Dakota reacted to their departure once they were safely far away.

For the first time since she had arrived a sliver of hope had found it’s way back into Kimberly’s heart as she headed back to the dressing room for what she hoped would be the last time.


“I will not be humiliated like this.”

“I can assure you it wont happen again I swear, just give it some time.”

“Why would I need to give it time? I’ve given you more than you’ve asked, this should have never happened!” With a pointed gesture to the lump on the back of his head Dakota knew she could do nothing to change is mind. “I want what we agreed on or you’ll owe me over half a million dollars. I did not invest simply out of charity!”

Only three people had filled the small backstage office easily, seeing as any deals made in the past had never really needed bids to be placed in person. The current group of Dakota, Luscious, and the debt collector posed caused the room to feel incredibly claustrophobic. The fact Dakotaa was caught having to call her partner in did little to help the building worry as well.

The last time he had been called in the investor was found months later in some ditch miles outside the city.

The only difference in this visit was that it wasn’t the investor who had failed to live up to their end of the contract, but her.

“We understand that, but none of us had any idea about her going around behind our backs!

We’ll fix this; it’s probably nothing serious. Just give us a little time,” Dakota pleaded.

To her left Dakota stood silently observing the situation. His young demeanor and clean cut suit a stark contrast to the hostler on his waist.

The corner of his jacket pushed back to hold the gun in plain view.

“All the same, she would rather have him than me. I’m the one offering her everything! I will make her a star and I can take her far away from here, he’s just using her and I wont let you use some familial excuse to cheat me out of what’s owed to me,” Luscious held to his convictions. “You know as well as anyone that he’s just using her. Do them both a favor and get him to leave her for me. He can find some ten dollar slut the second she’s gone anyway.”

“Lu, I promise you’ll get what you’re owed. Just give me time to fix this!”

“I want him gone! Do you understand that?

Gone! And if you don’t deal with this fast I’ll have to take my business up with your partner.”

Morgan shifted his weight beside the desk, his hand resting on the hilt of his gun with ease.

Underneath his childlike exterior there was a dangerous amount of skill at what he did. Had he wanted to he could have taken care of both Dakota and Luscious without anyone even realizing he had been in the same room.

Thankfully for them his loyalty to the theater kept him from making a move against them.

As far as Kimberly and John were concerned however, they had no such protection. “How much money have you invested so far?”

Morgan asked, his calm voice quieting the others easily.

“It was at sixty thousand for Kimberly and a half a million for the show last I checked. If we moved it to a bigger theater the price would’ve gone even higher.”

“Can we refund that money, Dakota?”

The only sound in the room was the rustling of papers as Dakota desperately tried to find some way to get out of trouble. Piles of bank statements and bills formed on her desk as she tore through everything from the start of the show.

“No… That money is locked into building sets and costumes and the technical equipment. We can only pay you back after we open.” Even Dakota couldn’t escape from her own business.

But she refused to sink with her ship, and Morgan knew that.
“Then it’s settled. We’ll get you what you are owed Mr. Du Lac. You were promised exclusivity and you will get it,” Morgan said with a smile. “We’ll have the distraction removed and Kimberly will only need a little coaxing to remember what’s best for her.”

Luscious’s rigid demeanor softened, a small smile coming across his face as he turned back to Dakota.

“For business reasons I think you should start going by your maiden name from now on. The Grey name isn’t much help if it’s heir gets himself into this kind of trouble,” he advised, straightening his jacket before heading out. Dakota nodded slowly, knowing very well she had worked too hard to build her company to just let John throw a wrench in the production.

One way or another she would make sure he left her theater alone for good.


“Do you think it’s cold in London this time of year? What will I tell Wilson when he comes home? How are you going to handle her without me?” Kimberly’s parade of questions had been nonstop since she regained control of her senses.

The dressing room had nearly been emptied into one large suitcase with the help of Serena. The fact there was very little placed in the room to begin with only made the job quicker. Anything that fit went into the suitcase, anything for the show was left, and any special gifts from Dakota or Luscious found their way into the trash.

“Calm down, you’re giving me a headache!”

Kimberly laughed, tucking the last of the clothes into the suitcase before closing it up for good. “Everything will be fine. John and I have talked about this before. He’ll take you back to where he lives and you can stay with him as long as you like, and if you want to leave he’ll help you move out. Everyone wins!”

“Everyone?” Kim cocked an eyebrow, sitting back on the now empty vanity.

“Yes. You and John have each other, Mark gets a new friend, and I take your role up for you.” Serena smiled faintly, folding part of a costume over in her arms carefully. “Everyone.”

“…Were you always planning to take my role?”

Kim asked faintly.

Serena’s eyes dropped, her smile fading as she ran a hand over the costume delicately. The question hung in the air while she tried to find the best way to word her response. She showed no remorse over her actions, that much was certain, but the small hesitation made it clear that she knew her motives would come into question no matter what.

But she was far better trained at dealing with people than Kim could ever have hoped to be.

She wasn’t about to trip over her own words when she finally spoke.

“Yes. I have. From the second Dakota told me you were my replacement I wanted you gone. Kim, I’ve given up everything to be here! I know you understand what it’s like up there but you haven’t even seen a full audience yet.” A smile returned to her face as she walked up to Kim slowly. “It’s the feeling of so many people loving you that makes all the poo Dakota drags us through worth it. I’ve always wanted this and I was so close to having the real thing when you showed up. Girls like you have shown up before but none of them could stick around long enough to actually have a shot.”

“Then why are you being nice to me if I’m your competition?”

“Because, you reminded me of what it was like when I started. I couldn’t stand seeing Dakota turn you into something like what I had become… I had a boyfriend for a while when I started, and one day he decided to pretend to be my investor to see me, but he couldn’t pay. I was so doped up I couldn’t stop them from getting rid of him and before I knew it he was gone. It ruined me.” Gently Kim rested a hand on top of serena’s, tears brimming in the paler woman’s eyes. “I wont let that happen to you and John. I’d give anything to have someone love me like he loves you, but the theater is the closest I can get. Do you understand that?”

Slowly Kim nodded, her hand tightening around Serena’s earnestly.

“Just make sure you save us seats for the first show you do out of a real theater, okay?”

Kimberly smiled.

The second Serena saw her smile the tears began to flow down her cheeks despite her bubbling laughter. Her perfectly applied makeup smearing as she dropped the costume to pull Kim into a hug. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt such compassion for another dancer. She couldn’t have stopped her tears if she wanted too.

For a moment the two stayed together, laughing at the change in their circumstances and at the fact they may just have beaten Dakota without causing themselves any harm.Serena’s makeup stained Kim’s shirt, kim’s arms creased Serena dress, but neither of them seemed to care.

They were almost free and they still had the things they loved. It was almost too good to be true.

So naturally, it was too good to be true.

Just as quickly as their world seemed to fall back into place it shattered with a simple knock on the door. Their hug being broken in order for Serena to clean off her face before allowing their guest in. The smile on her face dropping the second a pair of black heels crossed over into the dressing room.

A chill running through the air as a pair of leather oxfords followed suit.

Neither Dakota nor her partner looked the least bit conversational.

“Going somewhere?” she asked, pointedly eyeing the suitcase beside Kim.

A day ago she would have backed down, apologized, remembered her place. A day ago she didn’t have something to fight for and the countless amount of medication in her system wouldn’t have allowed her to think properly anyway.

But with the freedom of her moment with Serena still running through her veins, she found herself doing the thinkable.

In one simple motion she slid from the countertop, heading to pull on a jacket before going to her suitcase.

“Yes,” she said as she worked the jacket on. “I’m leaving.”

The shock o Dakota’s face couldn’t have been greater unless she had slapped her herself. She had heard all kinds of nonsense from her dancers, but never once had one dared to leave of their own volition.

Kimberly however, made it very clear she meant business.

“What are you talking about?” Dakota demanded, attempting to pull the suitcase away before it was yanked from her reach.

“I don’t need you anymore!” Kimberly said, moving from her vanity to the door in one fluid motion.

Her path guarded as Serena stood between the women, allowing Kimberly to speak for them both.

“The entire time I’ve been here you’ve treated me like I’m only worth what a man will pay for me and I’m through!” With one final tug she secured the jacket, glaring at her boss with steely resolve. “But John loves me. He loves me, Dakota. He. Loves. Me.”

At the sound of her declaration she found herself standing taller, finding strength behind the words and with John. Despite herself, she began to smile almost mercilessly back to the shocked woman.

“And that is worth everything.”

Dakota was left speechless, unable to stop either woman from walking out the door. She couldn’t drug someone so determined into submission. She had no more cards to play.

It was Morgan on the other hand, who could deliver the final blow.

“He’ll die if you leave here,” he said bluntly, freezing Kimberly in her tracks.

Her small victory fell flat underneath her feet as she turned back to look at the smaller man, her knuckles paling from the tightness of her grip on the suitcase. She could beat fight Dakota but hearing such a threat from a man she had never seen before shocked her more than she had ever thought possible. Just when she had thought she had the chance to win, there was still something stronger working against her.

And that something stronger just happened to push his jacket back enough to make the gun on his side very, painfully, visible.

“If you leave here with him, he’ll have to die. No one steals nearly seven-hundred thousand without making a few important people angry,” he reiterated, never once losing his calm.

“He could pay… He’s a Grey, he wouldn’t just let me go,” she said weakly, trying to find a way to fight the man as effectively as she had Dakota.

But even the strongest of words died before the weakest of bullets.

“You aren’t his to take. He can’t just buy you from Mr. Du Lac. There is a contract in writing promising you to him exclusively. I can guarantee you it’s not the money your investor is after, Grey money means nothing to him.” As if to prove his point the man reached into his pocket, brandishing a single bullet to load his weapon. “If you leave this building with anyone but Mr. Du Lac, I’ll have to make sure there is no one on any end to report missing money. That means you, John, your friend and your investor would all have to be taken care of.

And lets face it, who is going to miss the poor girl pretending to be a star?”

His words stung worse than anything she could remember. Serena’s resolve weakening as the man took a step forward. In a matter of seconds both women forgot about the open door and reverted their gazes back to the ground.

Serena knew the man meant every word he said and for the life of her she couldn’t speak up. He had already cost her happiness one time; she couldn’t risk him taking it away again.

Even Kimberly understood the new situation.

There was no way she could end up leaving without costing herself something dear. The only thing she could do was to ensure that John had a chance to return to his life before they had ever met.

“He won’t just leave me,” she muttered, clutching the sleeves of her jacket tight, looking back to the man who stood only a few inches taller than herself.

“I know, so you’ll have to make him leave,” the man smiled, putting his free hand on her shoulder as if to comfort her. “Convince him you’ve changed your mind, that you want this life with Luscious. Hurt him, Kimberly. Hurt him so I don’t have to.”

She looked away, her stomach churning the longer she felt the man’s hand on her shoulder. Every bone in her body was screaming for him to take it back, but the gun in his hand never strayed far from her line of vision. Serena’s deep brown eyes swelling with tears again as she bit back the urge to rush to Kim’s side. The faintest of nods being sent out in her place, Kimberly knew then that there was nothing she could do.

One way or another, they were both destined to wind up where they stood.

She could only hope destiny could find the mercy to allow John to survive. For him to leave the theater and never know the pain having his life taken before his time. “Hurt him, to save him.”

…to be continued

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