"Millions of dollars are invested in these huge productions by people who expect to make a substantial profit once the movie is released. You have absolutely no professional experience whatsoever. Do you really believe you have enough talent to make this film a success?”
While her drama classes hadn’t included instructions on how to handle impertinent journalists, she had been raised never to back down from a fight. She squared her shoulders, smiled, and returned the reporter’s blunt stare. Her father’s favorite saying came to her mind in this brief moment: “Smile, my dear. Your friends will love you all the more for it, but it will drive your enemies crazy. When they discover they can’t get under your skin, they’ll get bored and leave you alone.”
Charity had inherited her grandmother’s Irish temper so while she was smiling, she was also mentally plotting the reporter’s gruesome death. "While I don’t mind you questioning my abilities, I do take great offense at you insinuating that Mr. Bennett didn’t know what he was doing when he hired me. He has a proven track record of only signing the most talented people in the industry. He believes I’m ready to costar in this film. That should be all you need to know regarding whether or not I’ll be able to live up to the investors’ expectations.” She had to shut her eyes against the onslaught of cameras flashing. Just as she had almost blinked away the bright white spots from her vision, and was able to see again, someone stumbled into her, almost knocking her down the steps. The crowd had separated her from her mom and Mr. Bennett. One minute they had been exiting the airport lobby, and the next thing she knew, she was being surrounded by this crowd of over-eager reporters.
Mr. Bennett’s rich, baritone laugh rang above the loud chatter of the media surrounding them both. It was a relief to hear and a good sign he was satisfied with how she was handling the mob. The twitch above her right eye stopped, and after a moment or two, she finally relaxed her wrought iron stance.
At five feet nothing, Charity had always been small and had learned at an early age to take up for herself, but this was the first time another adult had tried to bully her. Her short stature, big green eyes, red hair, and freckles may have given the reporters a false impression, that she was nothing more than a wilting flower, but she had never been a push over. While her defiant answer may have went over well with Mr. Bennett, it only served to stir up the crowd even more. Soon questions were being fired from all directions, but instead of letting the chaos befuddle her, Charity focused on the hawk-eyed guy leaning directly into her face. Bits of saliva hit her chin every time he spoke, repulsing her, but she continued to hold her own, and stand firm. He could have been mistaken for a true Texan with his faded jeans and western styled shirt except, for the heavy New York accent that gave away his northern roots.
The Texan in disguise took advantage when she made eye contact. "David Warren is one of the most popular leading men in the movie industry today. Don’t you think you might be outclassed? Tennessee isn’t exactly the movie capital of the world."
Charity just barely managed to keep the irritation out of her voice, “I hope you’re not insulting my home state. You obviously haven’t done your homework very well if you don’t know about all of the talented people who were born in Tennessee, and have succeeded in the movie industry. You make it sound like we’re a backwards group of people. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As far as working with David Warren, I’m looking forward to it.”
The reporter accepted her challenge and leaned in even closer. He shot back, "That might be true, but do you really think he feels the same way about working with you?”
It had been very naïve of her to believe that saying goodbye to her new husband was going to be the worst thing that happened to her that morning. The faces in this crowd were a strange combination of leers and amusement, but instead of letting that put a dent in her self-confidence, Charity took a deep breath and jutted out her chin. "You should ask David Warren about his feelings, not me.” All she had standing between her and this mob was her pride and confidence. She refused to be intimidated by a group of people she had never met before, and would probably never see again.
Fortunately, before any more questions could be asked, Mr. Bennett pushed through the crowd to be by her side. "Ladies and gentlemen, 1966 is going to be Bennett Brother’s Productions best year ever! I would love to stay and chat longer, but we have people at the stadium waiting for Charity’s arrival. I promise to make all of the cast and crew available for interviews while we’re out here in Dallas filming.” With only a few toes getting trampled and a few precisely timed elbow jabs, he managed to pull Charity and her mother through the crushing reporters with brute force, elegant grace, and old world charm. Even on the way to the limo, the reporters and cameramen followed closely on their heels. The fake Texan managed to jump in between them and the limo door, but Mr. Bennett’s driver had the moves of a ninja. With a cordial smile and a quick push, he had the reporter out of the way and the door opened before the reporter even knew what had taken place.
Once in the quietness of the limo, Charity had trouble catching her breath and her heart felt as if it was going to pound right out of her chest. She was so angry that she felt sick to her stomach. She was going to have to work on curbing her tongue if she was going to last very long as an actress. There had been so much she would have liked to have said to the rude reporters, but the days of speaking her mind without thought were over. She had chosen a profession where she was constantly going to be thrown into the public eye. Charity lifted her hair and let the car’s air conditioning wash over the dampness along the edge of her hairline. She closed her eyes against the refreshing chill and thought about Johnny’s last words to her at the airport. When faced with telling him goodbye, she had thrown her arms around his neck and begged him to come with her. Of course, Johnny did what he always did and remained practical. She appreciated his gentle reminders of all the reasons he couldn’t join her in Dallas, but more so, how he spent their last few minutes together; him so sweetly telling her again and again, how much he loved her. He had always been her biggest cheerleader and had been the one in the end to insist she take her first acting job. Her first impression of Johnny had been that he was larger than life and a very attractive blonde hero since the first time they met in the seventh grade. It had been love at first sight for both of them. The memory of his lingered kiss in the middle of Nashville’s Airport made her smile. When she found the energy to reopen her eyes, Mr. Bennett was busy giving the limo driver instructions, and her mother had her eyes closed and her head back against the headrest.
When the limo began moving, Mr. Bennett turned and settled back in the cushioned leather seat. His excitement was obvious as he spoke, "I can't wait for you and David to meet. The two of you are going to work so well together. I feel certain there’s going to be wonderful chemistry between you. Even with the age difference, you have so many similar traits. I haven’t been this excited about a project in years.”
He leaned forward and touched Judy’s arm. She responded by opening her eyes and smiling. “I tried to warn you that becoming Charity’s manager wasn’t going to be easy, but you handled the situation just right.”
Judy shrugged and pushed a strand of blonde hair out of her eyes. “But I didn’t do anything. I wanted to protect my daughter but couldn’t.” Her tone betrayed her frustration, and anger with herself and the reporters. With a quick sigh she straightened her wrinkled blouse before leaning back again, as if surrendering.
He winked and said, “I could see you were thinking about jumping to protect Charity, but it’s better if she defends herself. If they see any weakness at all they’ll become a constant thorn in her side. Now they know she has plenty of backbone and won’t be browbeaten.”
Mr. Bennett turned his attention to Charity. “You handled the crowd perfectly. They were testing the waters, trying to see if you had any backbone or not. You have to have a thick skin to work in this business. You proved that even though this is your first movie you’re not afraid and you have the confidence to get the job done.”
Charity wiped her moist palms on the edge of her short skirt and said, “I was worried you might think I was coming across as too tough. It was a surprise to be face to face with such severe disapproval before I’ve even begun filming yet.” She tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear. While the entire experience had been unsettling, it had also been empowering. Now that it was over, she realized she had passed her first major test of being thrown out into the public eye.
“I’ve been so worried about not having enough experience and letting you down. Hiring me had to be a big of a gamble for you, but it never occurred to me that there were other people thinking those same things. What if they’re right?”
Mr. Bennett stretched his legs and crossed his ankles. He was very attractive for a man of his advanced years. His silver hair was groomed to perfection, and his choice in clothes set him apart from the average man. But it was his kind expression that had made Charity trust him from the moment they’d met. He was a man who smiled often and always with sincerity. “I’ve been in this business a long time. This isn’t my first time at the rodeo so just trust me. I know talent when I see it. You have it. It oozes from your very pores, so stop worrying.”
He took a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and dabbed at his forehead. Once it was returned to its rightful place he focused on Charity again, “I've made arrangements with the Dallas Cowboys to use their football field. David and the extras are there working through the football scenes. I have a cheerleading coach there for you and the other ladies. You’re going to love Kim. She has a lot of energy.”
Charity exchanged looks with her mom. They had both been hoping to settle in at the hotel and change into more comfortable clothes before heading out again. Her mother smiled during the short-lived exchange, but she couldn’t hide the fact that the day had already been a huge strain on her. Her mother’s once tidy hair was now a bit frazzled, and her neatly pressed clothes were wrinkled and damp with sweat. Charity was relieved that she seemed calmed by Mr. Bennett’s reassurances.
"David arrived early this morning. He should be out on the field when we arrive.” Mr. Bennett said as he drummed his fingers on his knee. He was doing his best to make the ladies feel more at ease as they began this whirl wind adventure, but was ever focused on the business of it all.
Charity caught Judy’s grin as she heard this last and gave her a knowing glance. Her mom was David Warren’s biggest fan. The man did have the most perfect set of dimples.
"I can't help but be nervous about meeting him.” Charity said as she picked at the threads on her jacket.
Mr. Bennett shook his head as he spoke. “A lot of people in this industry let their fame go to their head, but not David. He's a fine person. Very down to earth.”
Charles noticed her plucking at the loose thread. "I’ve arranged for more appropriate clothes for you at the stadium. We have been trying to decide between three different designs for the cheerleading costumes and today seemed like a good day to finalize that. Three fourths of the movie, that’s what you’ll be wearing, so we want to see how they’re going to look on you before making the final decision.”
At that very moment the huge stadium came into view through the tinted limo windows. Charity leaned over to see it better, she was astounded by its size. Johnny loved the Dallas Cowboys. He was going to be so jealous when he found out where she was going to be spending the rest of her day. She glanced back at her mother to ask, “Do you mind calling Johnny and letting him know we’ve arrived safely? Tell him I’ll call him later tonight.”
The moment the limo pulled into the lot and parked, Mr. Bennett scooted over to the door and said to Charity, “I’ll find you a phone and you can call Johnny from the stadium. There’s no point in waiting to talk to him tonight. I want your mind completely on the cheerleading coordination’s this afternoon. You have a lot to learn in a very short time.”
Stanley jumped out of the driver’s seat, came around to the passenger door, and opened it. Mr. Bennett smiled and offered his hand to Judy, "Come on ladies. I’ll show you around the stadium.”
Leaving the comfort of the car and already tired from the trip, Charity and Judy struggled to keep up with his quick pace and take in all the new sites and sounds of the big stadium. Mr. Bennett’s idea of showing them around was a brief hand wave in the general direction of a few areas of interest on the way to the nearest office with a phone. There’d been little time to absorb the grandness and get past their awe of being in such a famous location for filming, before he gave instructions on how to find the dressing area and the clothes she would be changing into. Then he was leading Judy away before Charity even realized fully all that he had just said to her. For the first time that day, Charity was alone with her thoughts.
Events were moving much too fast. She was just a little country girl from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. One moment, she had been starring in a play for a drama class at the university and out of the blue, Mr. Bennett had emerged from the audience and hired her to be his leading lady. She had never doubted her ability to carry the role, until the journalists pointed out how much money was riding on her ability and unproven talent.
Charity shrugged those feelings off and focused on calling her husband. The phone only rang once before the garage’s office manager answered, “Field and Son Automobile Repair, Cindy speaking.”
It was good to hear a familiar voice even if she didn’t particularly care for the garage’s office manager. Charity sat on the edge of the nearest chair. She leaned forward and pressed the phone closer to her ear as if that would be enough to bring Tennessee and Johnny into the room with her. She drew in a long breath before speaking into the handset. “Cindy. This is Charity. Is Johnny too busy to talk?”
Cindy gave a hoot that could have punctured a car tire. “I’m so glad you called! That man of yours has been driving everybody crazy. He’s only asked me a hundred times if you’ve called yet. He’s out in the break room with a soda right now. I’ll go get him. Hold on.”
Charity could picture Cindy in her poured-on jeans with the skimpiest top she could buy, wear, and not be arrested for wearing in public. When Johnny had first started working with his dad at the repair shop, she had been jealous of Cindy’s flirtatious style, but Johnny finally convinced her that was just Cindy’s way around everyone.
Johnny was out of breath when he answered, "Charity? I didn't think you were ever going to call. You alright? The flight go okay? You all settled in?"
Charity laughed, "How about only one question at a time? I'm alright. The flight was fine. No, I’m going to work before I get to settle in at the hotel.”
"I’m not surprised. Mr. Bennett strikes me as the type of man who always gets his money’s worth out of everything and everyone."
Charity nodded even though Johnny couldn’t see the gesture. With a sigh she said, "Mom and I both thought we would have some time to get settled into our rooms and have time to rest up a bit, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
She let Johnny’s slow southern drawl sooth all of her ruffled feathers. He always made her feel better, no matter what madness was going on. She listened to him ramble on about what had been happening since dropping her off at the airport. When there was finally a pause in the conversation, she jumped in, “You’ll never believe where I am this very minute. I bet you’ll never guess in a million years.”
Johnny laughed at her excited tone. “Well tell me then.”
Charity giggled first, then said, “The entire cast is at the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium! This place is huge. You would love it here, but of course there aren’t any of the real football players or cheerleaders here. If I see any, I’ll try and get an autograph for you.”
Johnny’s laugh was deep and rich. It was one of his most endearing qualities. “You’re going to be okay, baby.”
Charity sighed as she slouched backwards, then said, “I’m that obvious, huh?”
There was silence over the phone line. After a long pause, Johnny finally said, “I could see how nervous you were this morning.” And then with excitement in the tone of his voice, “You can do this. You just have to keep believing in yourself. I believe in you.”
“I really needed to hear that, and to hear your voice more than anything else. As soon as mom and I walked off the airplane we were surrounded by reporters. It was brutal. They hated me right off the bat. I realized just what a dog eat dog world the movie industry is.” She twirled the phone cord around her finger, the sick feeling in her stomach slowly dissipating the longer she sat there.
Charity ran her free hand through her hair and crossed her legs. Her skirt inched up with the motion, but went unnoticed while her focus was on each and every little thing about Johnny’s voice and words.
"I already miss you so much.” She hoped he heard the deep sincerity in her voice.
Johnny blew a kiss into the receiver. "You call me anytime you need to talk. I don’t care what time of day or night it is. I’m not going to be able to sleep until I know how your day went.”
Charity’s voice trembled with emotion, "It's going to be a long six months. Isn't it?"
He didn’t answer immediately, but then said, "We knew it from the start. I love you. Everything will be okay. Just remember, don’t let other people bring you down. They’ll see how good you are, and then they’ll have to eat crow for ever doubting you.”
Charity cupped both hands around the receiver and sat forward to say, "I’ll try, but it’s hard. I love you too. I'll call you later.”
The moment she replaced the receiver in its cradle, she leaned back and rested her head on the chair. The sound of Johnny’s voice had been all it took to restore her confidence and to calm her jangled nerves. It was funny how she could still see him the way he had looked on his first day at her school. He had been tall for his age and it hadn’t taken long to discover he had a big, gentle heart.
She had been standing three students behind him in the cafeteria line when the class bully threw a bowl of lime Jell-O. The slimy mess had hit Johnny square in the back and slid all the way down his brand new white shirt. Any other seventh grade boy would have gotten into a fight over the assault, but Johnny had simply pulled the leftover Jell-O out of his collar, placed it onto his food tray, and turned to introduced himself to the other boy. As soon as they had shaken hands, he’d looked up and caught her staring at him. The moment he smiled, her heart melted, and they had become inseparable from that day on. While he had always been her biggest fan, there was no doubt she was his, too.