“You’re serious?” Mia stared back at me in shock. “You’re not shitting with me?”
I sighed. “I’m totally serious.”
After spending several painfully long days agonizing over the news that I had received at the fertility clinic, I had finally decided to come clean about my pregnancy to Mia; my co-worker and resident best friend in Vegas. I had unloaded every single disastrous detail onto her slender shoulders in one fell swoop; including, the fact that my plan was still to go ahead with the pregnancy and raise the baby on my own.
“You don’t look pregnant.” Mia shook her head. She dropped her hand to my stomach and pressed her fingers lightly against the fabric of my tank top. “You don’t feel pregnant.”
“The baby is like the size of a jellybean!” I playfully smacked her hand away and criss-crossed the fabric of my cardigan across my stomach. “What do you expect; for baby to be kicking away in there already?”
Mia laughed. She gathered her long dark hair between her fingers and quickly pulled it into a high ponytail. “I still can’t believe that the baby isn’t Brayden’s! I have to say that you seem to be handling this whole thing exceptionally well. If I were in your position, I would be looking into hiring a lawyer not an OBGYN!”
I shrugged. It was hard to explain my lack of anger when I didn’t quite fully comprehend it myself. I was understandably devastated that the baby wasn’t Brayden’s, yet I still couldn’t fathom terminating the pregnancy. It had been almost a week since Dr. Hoeg and Dr. Bridgewater had informed me of their mistake and, although I still resented them for what they had done, I no longer wanted to tear their respective eyeballs out of their sockets.
“I guess I just know that I’m running out of time.” I settled on an answer that was at least partially true. “This is likely the only chance that I’m going to have to become a mom. I doubt that I’m ever going to find someone to replace Brayden. Hell, even if I do manage to find a new man and fall madly in love with him, I’ll probably be too old to conceive by the time we even get around to start talking about having a family.”
“You’re thirty-four!” Mia admonished. “You make it sound like you’re pushing fifty. When you find the next love of your life, you two will still have plenty of time to make a whole gaggle of gorgeous brunette babies.”
“So says the woman who’s only thirty-one and getting ready to walk down the aisle in, like, nine months.” I shot back. “At thirty-five you’re considered a high-risk pregnancy. So, I really don’t have any good years left as far as having babies is concerned. Besides, I haven’t even been on a date since Brayden passed away. Where is this new completely perfect man going to come from?”
Mia let out a long laugh. “I fully offered to set you up with a Tinder profile.” She winked playfully at me as she collected her papers from the table. “I just hate to think that you’re going to be doing all of this by yourself.” She added; growing serious again. “Brayden would be okay with you moving on. You know that, right?”
I shuffled my own papers together and stood up from my chair. “I’m not doing it alone. I have you, and my other friends, and my parents. Well, at least I’ll have my parents’ support once I actually get around to telling them about the pregnancy.” I paused; thinking back to Mia’s earlier light-hearted comment. “Why do you assume that I would only have a brunette baby? What if the father is blonde?”
“You do like blondes.” Mia acquiesced. She paused, likely picturing Brayden’s mop of naturally light blonde hair in her mind. “What do you have on the go for this afternoon?”
I quickly glanced at the time on my iPhone as the two of us left the cafe area of the lower lobby. “I have to check in on the Backstreet promo shoot. They should be about two hours into it by now. I haven’t actually met with any of the guys since they all came back into town yesterday, but Bill told me that one of them showed up late and held up his production meeting by almost an hour last night.”
Mia rolled her eyes. “So, the Backstreet time rumours are totally true, huh? I’m so glad that I didn’t get put on their residency team. My OCD wouldn’t have been able to deal with their lateness.”
I snorted. “You act like Brit-Brit is any better. Besides, the boys have been super easy to get along with; totally down to earth and completely lacking in the drama department. If all I have to police is their punctuality than my first stint at co-ordinating a headlining act is going to be a cake walk.”
“I guess the fact that they’re all pretty easy on the eyes also helps.” Mia grinned. “I’m convinced that Britney hates me simply because I’m the only one on her team who doesn’t bend over backwards whenever she bats her eyelashes.” She lowered her voice as the two of us entered the main lobby and headed towards the elevators. “Who knows; maybe you’ll get to live out the fantasy of every teenage girl who grew up in the 90s and be swept off of your feet by a Backstreet Boy.”
It was my turn to roll my eyes. “Mia, they’re all married men with children now. I’ll consider myself lucky if they all remember my name when I walk into the room.”
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” Mia giggled her way through the over-used cliché. She pushed the ‘up’ button on the elevator panel and checked to make sure that we were the only ones waiting before she continued. “I’m about to be a married woman and you would still have to literally hold me back from tackling AJ McLean.”
“That’s because you have absolutely no will-power.” I teased as the elevator dinged its arrival.
Still laughing, the two of us stepped into the elevator. Mia pushed the button for the second floor offices, and I hit the button for the penthouse suite. The boys were having a series of different promotional pictures taken, and the photographer in charge of the shoot had left me explicit instructions about requiring private access to the exclusive suite for the entire afternoon. Based on the way he had spoken to me on the phone, I seriously hoped that the guys hadn’t added to his overall displeasure by failing to show up on time. He had made it quite clear that his time was precious and that anyone who wasted it was guilty of committing a heinous crime.
“Me?!” Mia feigned innocence. “I’m not the one who keeps talking about how nice a certain southern Backstreet Boy is.”
“Brian is super nice!” I defended myself. “He’s a very nice, very married man.”
“He bought you one coffee, Abs.” Mia wiggled her eyebrows as the door opened onto the second floor. “You’re really going to have to raise your standards if you’re hoping to get back into the dating world.”
“You’re terrible!” I informed her as the doors started to close. “And don’t go starting any crazy rumours. He’s not my type!”
“That’s right; Nick is!” Mia shouted her final comment through the crack in the door. “Go get em’, girl!”
I shook my head at the tightly closed doors. At this point, I had no time for Tinder, or dating, or for anything that wasn’t related to the baby or, in a purely professional sense, to the Backstreet Boys. Between the constant feeling of nausea that I was starting to experience at the beginning of every day and the overwhelming sense of fatigue that was starting to settle over me pretty much all day long, it was quickly becoming a massive accomplishment to simply get out of bed in the morning.
“Are you Abigail?”
The elevator doors slid open into the penthouse suite, and I visibly started at the man with the clipboard. He was quite possibly the thinnest human being that I had ever laid eyes on. He had an intense poof of black hair, eerily pale skin, and sunken green eyes that were currently shooting daggers into my soul.
“Yes.” I was almost afraid to answer. I stepped out of the elevator next to the waif of a person and forced a smile. “Can I help you with something?”
“You’re the Abigail who’s in charge of all of this?” Stick Man waived his twiggy hand in the general direction of the activity that was taking place behind him.
I felt my smile waver. “Yes.”
“We have Abigail!” Stick Man screamed; his voice reaching a pitch that I had never witnessed another man achieve. “Abigail is on site, people!”
I winced; bringing my hand up to my ear to make sure that it wasn’t actually bleeding. “Is there a problem?” I addressed my question to Stick Man, but he was already several paces ahead of me and motioning wildly for me to hurry up.
Having no other choice, I trailed after Stick Man’s miniscule denim clad backside. The room was buzzing with people scurrying madly about in every direction. Lighting techs, wardrobe personnel, hair and makeup artists, and a random assortment of people who I assumed to be the other, more important, people’s personal assistants were taking up what appeared to be every single inch of available space. I actually found myself blinking more than usual as I struggled to take it all in.
“Finally! Are you Abigail?”
I recognized the photographer’s voice from the phone. I looked past Stick Man and directly into the eyes of, yet another, very angry looking man. Although larger than Stick Man, Miles Hemmingworth, celebrity photographer extraordinaire, barely existed. He was dressed all in black; the skin-tight pull of his clothing accentuating the fact that he was painfully thin. He had a camera slung around his neck, and a startling assortment of lenses were hanging from his waist by a belt that I was entirely positive weighed more than he and Stick Man did put together.
“So, you’re the one who’s responsible for this disaster then, are you?” Miles narrowed his already squinty eyes into slits. “You do realize that this is going to put us severely behind schedule, and I believe that I’ve already explained to you that my time is very valuable.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand what’s wrong.” I dared to look away from Miles to assess what was happening around me. Everyone appeared to be busy. “What’s the problem exactly?”
“So, is my bit done or what?”
My eyes followed the sound of Nick’s voice. He was shirtless; sprawled out on the oversized king bed with his arm draped lazily across a scantily clad blonde model. Despite his words, he didn’t appear to be in any hurry to get up; his gaze firmly planted directly at the woman’s ample chest.
I did a double take. What was happening? The guys were supposed to be doing promotional photos for the inside of the Axis and for the new billboard ads. They were not supposed to be doing anything that involved half-naked women.
“You, don’t move!” Miles snapped his fingers at Nick. “We still need to get the second shot.” He turned back to me. “I’m missing a model; the one who’s supposed to be paired with McLean. I need you to find her.”
“The one who is supposed to be paired with AJ for what?” I stared back at Miles; dumbfounded. “I thought that you were doing the billboard photos. Why are the guys not wearing suits?! Why is that woman barely wearing clothes?!”
I flipped open the file folder that was clutched between my fingers and began to rifle through the pages. Even as I went through the motions, I knew that I wasn’t going to find the explanation. I had already read through every single piece of paper associated with the promotional photo shoot. I knew that there was no mention of female models or lack of clothing.
Miles flicked his hand in my face as if I were completely stupid. “Oh, we’ve already finished with those boring photos. You’ll have lots of the standard pretty-boy shots to use in your marketing materials. But, this – this is what you hired me for!” He whipped his hand in the direction of half-naked Nick. “I bring the sexy without the trashy! Jenn is a genius for thinking this up, and I’m even more of a genius for bringing the concept to life!”
“The sexy without the trashy?” I couldn’t help myself. I parroted his words back at him; incredulous. “Do you have any paperwork authorizing you to perform – to execute this genius concept?”
Miles rolled his eyes. This time, he snapped his fingers at Stick Man. “Wyatt, give the lady the paperwork.” He then smirked at me. “Once you’ve confirmed that my creative genius has been authorized, I trust that you’re going to look into finding me my missing model?”
I opened my mouth to protest, but Miles had already returned his attention to Nick and the busty blonde. He ordered them back into position and I actually let out a small gasp as the woman swung herself up and threw her legs across Nick’s body. She tossed her neck back and stuck her breasts out. The two of them looked like they were about to shoot the cover for an adult video. Of course, Nick didn’t seem at all bothered by the situation; he dug his fingers into the blonde’s waist as a wicked expression overtook his face.
I literally snatched the papers out of Wyatt’s bony fingers. My eyes started to hurt as I feverishly scanned the two page document. To my complete amazement, the current situation actually appeared to be legitimate. Miles had, indeed, been contracted to produce a series of images that were going to be used for none other than a ‘What Happens in Vegas ... Stays in Vegas’ promotional run to hype up their pricey VIP packages. The overarching concept was to place each of the boys in two different ‘sexy’ situations with a female model. When the ads went to print, the faces of the female models would be cut-out in order to allow members of the general public to imagine themselves in the shots. The ads would be run with the tag-line: ‘Wanna get up close and personal with the Backstreet Boys? Remember, what happens in Vegas ... stays in Vegas.”
I shook my head before glancing at the signature line at the bottom of the second page where the boys’ manager, Jenn, had scrawled her name in her big loopy handwriting. Her signature gave Miles not only permission to proceed with the shoot, but complete creative direction as well. I flipped back to the first page of the contract to confirm that Jenn had also arranged for five female models to be on set for the duration of the shoot. Apparently, Miles had sent her a special request that the models were to have been selected to match each boy’s height.
“So, are you going to find me my model?” Miles took a break from barking orders at Nick and his half-naked co-star to address me. “This needs to be finished today.”
I gritted my teeth and turned away from Miles without answering his question. I needed to talk to one of the other guys; one who didn’t currently have his happily-married fingers crushed into the flesh of some twenty-something model. After a few seconds of searching, my eyes finally settled on Howie. He was perched on the arm of a sofa in the adjoining sitting area of the suite; talking to AJ who was sitting in a make-up chair.
“Howie!” I took off in his direction; waving the contract papers in the air to get his attention. “Howie!’
“Oh, hey, Abigail.” Howie immediately stood up as I approached. He set his bottle of water down on the back of the couch and stepped forward to envelop me in a friendly hug. “We were just wondering when you were gonna pop back into our lives.”
“I’ve been here for a few minutes actually.” I returned Howie’s hug with my own; the gesture helping to lower my blood pressure. I couldn’t help but notice that he smelled distinctly of women’s perfume as I pulled away. “I would have come up to check on the shoot sooner if I had known about this – about this situation.”
“Yeah, Jenn kind of surprised us with this one.” Howie rubbed at the back of his neck. “I mean, the concept seemed okay when we all signed off on it, but this Miles dude is a bit ... a bit intense.”
“Yeah, just a bit.” I agreed. “So, you are all okay with what’s happening here? Why did I not know about this?” I paused; considering Howie’s slightly anxious expression. “Have you already done your pictures?”
Howie let out a nervous laugh. “I was the first one to go. Kevin went second. My wife is not going to be very happy ... even with the chick’s face cut out ...”
“You didn’t know this was happening?” AJ spoke up in-between his powder application. “Jenn is supposed to be communicating everything with you. We’ve all told her that like a hundred times.”
“Well, she definitely failed to mention any of this to me.” I struggled to keep the annoyance out of my voice. “It would have been nice to know that you guys were going to be doing more than just the standard promotional pictures today. Ya’ll are supposed to be in another production meeting by five o’clock. I don’t even know when all of this is supposed to wrap now ...”
“We’re not wrapping any time soon if you can’t locate my missing model.” Miles stopped snapping pictures of Nick and the blonde woman just long enough to yell at me.
“I didn’t know anything about this until five minutes ago!” I snapped back. “How am I supposed to find some random model when I didn’t even book her in the first place? I don’t even know her bloody name! So, I’m terribly sorry, Miles, but you’re going to have to figure this out for yourself. I realize that you’re time is very valuable, but I’m sure that you and your creative genius will be able to come up with an amazing solution to preserve every single second of your precious time.”
“Damn!” AJ laughed loudly at my outburst. “Remind me never to piss you off. Shit just got real!”
Miles fully lowered his camera. The activity in the room continued, but everyone had grown quiet. It was abundantly clear from the deafening silence that I had just committed a massive blunder. Nobody challenged Miles Hemmingworth; nobody.
I licked my lips and steeled myself for the words that Miles was about to unleash. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Brian and Kevin standing off to the side. They were each holding a tray of Starbucks cups, and they were both watching the situation unfold with an eerily similar expression of confusion and apprehension. It was obvious that they had just walked into the room and that they had, subsequently, missed my earlier remarks.
“What are you, like, a size four?” Miles abandoned his position and took a step towards me. His eyes were flashing with satisfaction. “How tall are you?”