By J.L. Fecarotta, January 2020
Author note: This was another entry into NYC Midnight Contest, orginally called Dia. I had made some errors late in the submssion process, otherwise I’m sure I’d won it 🙂 I did add a few grammatical changes, taking this about 15 words over the 2500 word limit. This is a story about a guy who flies too close to the sun, aka his beautiful ex-girlfiend Margo, all for a raise at work. Meanwhile, his wife is home pregnant with their first child. Hope you enjoy it!
Troy Martinez prayed over his dead 2000 Honda Civic as steam billowed from its hood like a ghost, vaporizing in the dry California air. The heat and CA-94 traffic were too much for a car that was only ten years younger than he. The smell of burnt rubber and hot metal filled his nostrils as he watched the massive tow truck lift the corpse onto the back of its flatbed like a dead soldier from the battlefield.
There’s no way I’m taking my niñita home from the hospital in this.
He grabbed his phone and texted his wife, Carla.
“Can you believe my car died? Fun Monday morning!”
No response, then he remembered she had an appointment with the obstetrician, the due date less than four weeks away, a little girl that they hadn’t picked a name for yet. Can’t think about that now.
He looked at his phone: a nineteen-minute walk to MaxwellFisher Publicity Partners offices. Troy grabbed his computer bag out of his dead Civic, waved to the tow truck driver, and started down Harbor View Drive in the early California sun. He told himself that working seventy hours a week was worth it, that someday his wife and the new baby would have a house, and a yard, maybe even a dog.
He got a text, this time from his boss, Liz Fisher.
“Troy, where are you?”
“I had car trouble. Almost there.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m walking down Harbor now. I’m almost to Park,” Troy lied. Park boulevard was still over a football field away from where he was.
“Just stay there. Margot Cruize called, and she wants you to run a PR program for her.”
Troy stopped walking, stunned. He’d gone from imagining unemployment lines or standing with the homeless in line for soup, to a new account.
“I know you have some history with her, but she’s a star. We need you down there for just a couple of days. Three tops. This is a chance of a lifetime for you.”
He and Margot had dated years ago when she was a young actress, and Troy was a new college graduate. It ended very poorly. She’d hit it big; Troy not so much.
“Troy, are you there?” Liz said, her voice rising.
“Of course, I can take this, Liz.”
“Excellent, because I already called you an Uber. It’ll take you straight to the airport.”
“Airport?! I can’t leave town. My wife-”
“I know Carla is pregnant, but isn’t the due date weeks away?”
“Yes, but…I’m not packed.”
“Margot said she has a whole wardrobe down there for you.”
“Gotta go, Troy, talk to you soon.” And she was gone.
Realizing she was sending the Uber to where he said he was going to be, Troy broke out into a sprint, his backpack flailing. Dripping, he barely arrived in time to catch the Uber, a jet-black Mercedes Benz sedan. Once he opened the door, a wave of frosty air-dried his forehead. It felt wonderful. He jumped in, and then his phone vibrated again. Carla. She’s not going to like this. He explained everything to her, leaving out the part about this client being Margot. Instead, he tried to emphasize it was about the bonus, money they sorely needed.
All she said was, “Money isn’t everything, Troy,” and hung up.
This job is going to kill me.
Once in LA, a limo picked him up at the airport, which was a nice touch, and before long, he was standing in front of Margot’s Hollywood villa. It wasn’t quite a mansion, but close, with a giant fountain in front, a grand staircase leading up to two enormous doors. Troy entered the great room, with couches and chairs everywhere. Dotted along the room’s ceiling were small orbs, security cameras everywhere, a sensible precaution for a wealthy, single woman. He walked through the cavernous room, eventually spotting a pair of legs sticking out from behind a chair.
Margot stood up. “Troy, you’re here! It’s so good to see you!”
Troy nearly gasped. She looked lovely, wearing a one-piece swimsuit that accented her shape perfectly, with a transparent shawl that flowed in the breeze. Her hair was long and blonde, cascading down around her shoulders.
“It’s great to see you too. You look great, Margot.”
She embraced Troy tightly. Her perfume was intoxicating.
“Thank you, Troy, you look…good too.” She winked; her hazel eyes glistened.
“Sure, I do,” he said, laughing.
“Let me get you some sparkling water and dry clothes. While I get that, maybe you could help me? I need to practice this script. Check it out,” she handed him some paper, and whisked away, her bare feet padding on the soft carpet.
His phone rang. Carla again. Everytime he hung up he felt more and more guilty about leaving, but he had to focus. He put the phone on silent mode, and quickly read the script. A few scenes were dark and violent, but whatever could make her happy, and get him out of here as soon as possible. Margo floated back into the room with two large glasses and some clothing under her arm, her shawl swinging behind her.
“Here you go, Troy,” she handed him his drink and then the day-pants and a dark tee-shirt. You can change here if you’d like; I’ll close my eyes, promise,” she purred.
“No, that’s okay, Troy said as he slinked away from Margot. The bathroom was enormous, almost as big as his entire apartment. Troy stared at his reflection in the ornate mirror. Why is she doing this? Surely she knows I’m married, and expecting a baby.
Upon his return, he found Margot sitting on a copious loveseat, looking picturesque, holding a script. She patted the seat next to her, but he took his drink and sat across.
“Clothing fit okay?” she asked, looking at him a beat too long.
“Yes, actually, very nice.”
“They’re yours. Now drink up.”
He was parched and took a large draughet from the glass – it burned like fire.
“This isn’t water…it’s a Gin and Tonic!” he coughed and spat.
“Oh, I drink them like water, you should know! Besides, it’ll set the mood for our script,” she laughed, a delightful, songbird chirping, a sound he long had forgotten.
“Margot, what can I do for you? Liz only told me a bit.”
“Oh yes. I have all sorts of plans for a social marketing blitz, but first, could we work on this script? I audition in a few days.”
“It’s difficult material. Violent.”
“Life can be difficult sometimes,” she said, a shadow drifting across her face.
Hours and hours passed, a blur, as they worked on her lines. It was a violent scene but stimulating. Troy had acted in college and missed it. Acting was a passionate, primal act. There was nothing like it. Afterwards, he and Margot sat in two oversized lounge chairs by her pool, watching the sunset. They had fallen into sync again – their chemistry, passion for entertainment, it was all there. He hadn’t had so much fun in a long time, or that much to drink.
Margot moved over to Troy’s chair and sat close.
“Can I ask you a question? Why did you do it, Troy? Why did you cheat on me? Was I not enough?”
“We fought all the time, don’t you remember? I was lonely and miserable.”
“I loved you.”
“I should have broken up long before I had. I made a mistake, but I was young.”
“What if you had a second chance?” she said, and leaned in quickly, kissing him hard, a kiss he didn’t avoid. He was overwhelmed as if she pulled him into it with a magnet. She moved to take his shirt off. Troy was paralyzed. He stood up and she got in his face.
“You cheating bastard!”
Margo stopped, and her face went cold. She shoved him hard.
“Stop it! Don’t do this!” she screamed.
Troy fell back, confused. She now stood tall, and tears started streaming from her eyes.
“Get out of my house!”
Troy left hastily, leaving his clothing behind, and reactivated his phone and quickly called an Uber while he walked down the street. Immediately after, his phone lit up with an unwelcome face – Liz. There were 23 texts waiting for him. He ignored it all and shut off his phone. I need time to think.
Once on the plane, he despaired. His career was over. It was certain that the minute he left, Margot would call his boss, teary-eyed, and claimed to have been assaulted. Maybe even the cops. All he could think about was how was he going to explain all of this to Carla?
Once he landed, he was relieved that the police weren’t waiting for him. He built up the courage to turn on his phone again. To his astonishment, he had 620 texts, and the Twitter app showed 22,012 notifications. That must be a mistake, some sort of glitch.
First he Carla’s, scanning quickly.
How could you?
Where are you?
What have you done?
His brother Ryan had sent only one text:
Dude, you better get on Twitter fast. I’m waiting for you outside of baggage claim.
His phone was vibrating crazily, but he managed to open Twitter. #ImWithMargot was trending! He scrolled and clicked – the video was him…assaulting Margo! It looked like security camera footage. Somehow she’d taken scenes out of their evening and mashed it up. I was on stage the entire time. It was a giant set up.
The video, the script, all of it made sense now.
He scrubbed the video back and forth. “You look great, Margot.” went to “Carla was a mistake; she’s awful.” Scenes from her so-called script were for the movie she was making, with Troy as its antagonist. He threw her on the couch, she screamed and ripped his shirt. How is this possible? He checked his shirt, and there were no rips. He yelled profanities, horrible words. Somehow, she edited the paper out of the video, modified his face to say words he’d never said, mixed with words he said, but in a different order. It was an astonishing editing job. He even would have bought the performance, had he not been there.
She had help. This was coordinated. His phone was blowing up, a stream of alerts and rings from numbers he didn’t’ recognize. He had gone viral. Troy shut it off once he got into Ryan’s car.
“Ryan, what’s going on?”
“I could ask you the same thing, big brother.”
“You know I didn’t do any of that.”
“Look, brother, I want to believe you, but that video. Carla couldn’t even finish it.”
“I don’t know how she did it, but I didn’t’ do half of the thing in there. I rejected her, Ryan!”
“Right now, we need to focus on getting you to your wife before she has your baby.”
The ride to the Airport was silent. Ryan was a kid that you could always tell his emotions by looking at him, and to Troy, he looked like he was thinking rather than angry.
He looked at his phone. There was one message from Liz.
“Don’t come into the office. You’re fired. And you better find a lawyer, ’cause you’re going to jail!” Troy resisted the urge to throw his phone out of the window. Once in the hospital, he bolted to Carla’s room. His mom was standing in front of the room.
“Am I too late?”
“Nope, I think you’re right on time, ” said Mom, a look of concern clouding what should have been a time of celebration. “Go be with your wife,” she said and left.
When he entered, Carla had a contraction. The nurse moved out of the way, and Troy sat next to her, grabbing her hand.
“I’m here, baby, I’m here.”
She looked at him, tears and sweat clouded her face.
Then another contraction, this one a larger one. Carla screamed, and the doctor came into the room.
“It looks like we’re ready. Sir, are you going to cut the umbilical cord?”
Troy looked at Carla. She nodded.
The labor was long hours of sweat and then blood. In what seemed like a lifetime and a mere minute, Troy was holding the smallest, most fragile thing he’d ever seen – his little girl. More hours past, and then it was just the three of them, the Martinez family.
“Troy, tell me one thing. Are you still in love with her?”
“My God no, Carla. I left her for you. She’s just getting revenge. I didn’t do any of the things in that video!”
Just then, Ryan walked in.
“Carla, Troy, I’m sorry, but I could help but overhear, and I think I can help.”
“What are you talking about?” Troy asked.
“I did some online research. Have you two heard of deepfakes?”
“No,” they answered in unison.
“Deepfakes are a process where one can edit a video by putting someone else’s head on a body. You can make very convincing videos of people saying, or doing, things that they never did.”
“But she only had hours.”
“Troy, you made it easy. All she had to do is edit the script out of your hands, and a double come in after you were gone to do the rough stuff.”
“Yes. Margo provided your clothing; she likely had an exact duplicate there for your stunt double.”
Carla looked concerned. “I get that she wanted Troy hurt, but why do it this way? On social media?”
“Have you looked at her follower count?” Ryan asked.
“Three million new followers? Is that possible?”
“It’s salacious, and she’s rich and beautiful,” Carla said, tears leaking from her eyes.
Troy moved close to her, intercepting a sunbeam streaming through the window. Night had given way to a new day.
“Carla, listen, you are my world. My life,” he paused to gather himself. “And now, with our little one, I hope you can see that I would never do this. I rejected her again. There is no one else but you, and our little seniorita.”
She looked into his eyes, her dark eyes searching him for truth. He welled up, hoping she would find it. The sunlight shifted and spilled onto their daughter. Troy rose to close the shades, but Carla pulled him back.
“No, I like it. And I know what we’re going to name our daughter now.”
Three months later.
Bahía de Kino, Mexico.
Troy was out on his porch, playing with Sonny, their new dog, just a puppy. Soon, he saw his old Honda Civic pull up. I’ll never be rid of this piece of junk. From the car emerged Carla and his baby girl, Dia. Dia – daughter of the morning. New mornings. New chances.
He picked her up with a flourish. “How are you doing, my little Dia?” Troy asked, tickling her.
“She loved the market. We got some fresh tomatoes,” Carla said. Dia leaned over for her mother, who took her and headed twoards the kitchen door.
“Coming in soon?”
“Yes, I’ll be right in.”
The relocation was his only option. It was too expensive to fight Margot in court, and in the court of public opinion, it was a war of attrition. Fortunately, she’d announced on social media that she’d forgiven him, and wouldn’t be pressing charges. They all knew that she was merely trying to avoid the scrutiny that a trial would certainly bring. Moreover, she got what she wanted, a perfect strike. Troy lost his job, and she was at the top once again.
Beside it all, Troy that was just fine. He had a simpler job, a simpler life, but it was his. Troy could spend time with his girls, and grow a life here. He watched them through the window, the warm Mexican sun on his back. Life is purer now, with all the meaninglessness filtered out, leaving only that which mattered the most.
(c) J.L. Fecarotta, 2020