The place was a humdrum coffee place on the corner of a busy road. Nothing remarkable about it. It was one of those franchise places. He used to grab his coffee here a long time ago. He approached the coffee place hesitantly. He reached into his pocket and felt for the cold metal of his smartphone. He had received an email and arranged a time. If he’d been born in an earlier time, the summons might have come as a letter. Through the glass windows of the coffee place, he could see the inner workings of the coffee shop. Baristas working behind the counter, brewing beverages for twenty bucks an hour. He crossed the street and entered the door on the main street. The cold chill of Melbourne’s winter weather left him as the warmth of the climate-controlled coffee shop coalesced around him. He queued behind the rows of busy business types waiting for their coffee. He ordered a flat white and waited for his order.
As he waited for his order, he looked around for the person he was to be meeting. He saw her, sitting at a table that he must have walked right past. Had she been there the whole time? She was almost exactly as he remembered her. Like him, the intervening years had granted her faint wrinkles on her forehead and crow’s feet around her eyes. She flashed a brief smile and a soft wave. He responded in kind. Perhaps he had remembered her farewell more harshly than it had actually been, or perhaps the old adage was true. Maybe time really did heal all wounds.
‘Flat white for Scott,’ the barista yelled.
She placed the piping hot coffee down on the table. She left him to decide how much sugar was appropriate for a thirty-five year old man. He decided on one. He placed a cap over his coffee and made his way to the table. He took a seat, sitting the coffee on the table in front of him.
‘I didn’t think you’d show,’ Connie confessed. ‘Word is that you’re a recluse. You won’t even attend book signings anymore,’
Behind her head, he noticed the giant poster for his latest book. He thanked every divine power that his face was nowhere on it. Just a picture of the book and some marketing drivel.
From the New York Times bestselling author Scott Darrow comes a brand tale of romance and betrayal ‘Miller Road’.
Scott realised that he’d been distracted by his own book and hadn’t answered Connie. She would hold that against him. She always had a memory for perceived slights.
‘I was never any good at celebrity, you know that. I just wanted to write,’ he told her.
He pointed to the poster behind her head. She turned.
‘You see that, New York Times best-selling author. Sounds impressive. In truth, my publisher knew how to get me on that list. I was there for a week, and yet marketing keep using it,’ Scott told her.
Scott never much liked talking about himself, but that didn’t stop others from asking. He got out of Hillside, and Hillside had been trying to pull back their claim to fame ever since. Connie had known him before all that.
‘So, why’d you call me here today?’ Scott asked.
‘Why’d you agree to come?’ she retorted.
Her response was slightly frosty. Enough dodging questions, he thought. Time to tell the truth.
‘I wanted us to leave each other on a happier note. Repair, but not repeat, the past,’ he told her plainly.
‘So you have regrets?’ she interrogated.
Of course he had regrets, he thought, Didn’t she?
‘Doesn’t everyone? I’m not special for having a past,’ he defended.
‘But you are special for writing about it,’ she noted.
Was this her grand master plan? Lure him out with talk of repairing his mistakes and then to ambush about his first book. He had taken elements from his life to craft Midnight Theatre but it wasn’t some secret autobiography. Every author draws from their life.
‘Did you think I wouldn’t work it out, Scott? Daniella was based on me, Ruby was based on Jess, your brother Francis bragged about how he was Dave, and you were John. Pretty cowardly move making yourself the protagonist,’ she accused.
‘So what Connie? You want some of the royalties? You should’ve asked ten years ago when I released the damn thing. You want to sue for defamation? It’s a work of fiction. Did you just come here to pull receipts on me or do you have something of value to offer?’
Scott raised his voice loud enough to make a point without making a scene.
‘You think I’m some small town demon, chasing you after you’ve made it big? I’m not. You think I’m some vindictive bitch who is out to get you? Maybe I came here for myself. Maybe I came here to show you that letting the past bleed onto the world stage like that leaves a mark. We break up and one year later, you release Midnight Theatre? It doesn’t take a genius, Scott,’ she ranted reservedly, refusing to disturb the other customers.
A thought crossed Scott’s mind.
‘We broke up two years before Midnight Theatre. I’m prolific, but I’m not Stephen King,’ he informed her.
Connie should’ve known that. Connie always remembered the dates, all the anniversaries, every milestone they met she remembered. Connie wasn’t one to get dates wrong.
‘Connie, what was our anniversary date?’ he asked her, prodding.
She gave him a bemused look.
‘What? How should I remember? June, I guess?’ she deflected.
This was the final nail in the coffin.
‘You’re not Connie. Connie knew all the dates. June was a good guess. You’ve done your research. Now, who are you?’ Scott confronted.
She smirked, clearly amused that it had taken him this long to work it out. She reached through her hair and pressed two fingers to the right side of the back of her neck. Connie’s notable ginger locks of hair disappeared as deep brunette tones took over. The hair shortened to a more professional bob of brunette hair. Connie’s features shifted on the woman’s face. The hazel eyes that had belonged to Connie transformed into shrewd grey-blue eyes. The crow’s feet around Connie’s eyes softened slightly and the wrinkles on her forehead disappeared completely. As the shift happened he recognised the face beneath the face he’d initially recognised.
Now he understood the slip-up. Dawn was the last girl he dated before leaving Hillside. Half of their dates he had to cancel because he was writing Midnight Theatre. He had drifted from her while trying to escape his hometown. He was never serious about Dawn. Francis mentioned that Dawn used to call after him at home while he was in New York chasing his dream. He’d never written about Dawn. Why did she come after him now?
‘What are you doing here Dawn?’ Scott asked.
She chuckled nervously. He noticed tears welling in her eyes.
‘Didn’t you hear? No, of course you didn’t. Whenever you got back to Hillside you’d always ask after Connie. Why should I matter to best-selling author Scott Darrow?’ Dawn said, fidgeting nervously with her fingers.
She was right there. He had often asked after Connie. He was always worried Connie would find him, with a fight to pick and a lawyer in tow. That never eventuated though. Connie left Hillside not long after him and nobody had a follow-up address. Her folks assured him that Connie was fine and had moved closer into the city, to be near her work.
‘I’m a reporter these days. For The Age. Times were tough for the papers twenty years ago. They’re just as bad today. My editor heard I had an in with Scott Darrow, a past to exploit. I pitched my story. The story behind Midnight Theatre. I mean, why not? We all knew that the book was based on you and Connie. I could get in close and get a story out of you,’ Dawn laid all her cards on the table in her confession.
‘But you couldn’t get me out of my hidey-hole as Dawn. You had to come as Connie,’ he realised.
‘Naturally,’ Dawn was beginning to regain composure ‘You’ve heard about these new face masks. Not exactly legal, but the legislation is years off. I figured I’d be in and out with my interview before you realised,’
Dawn revealed a smartphone. The screen displayed a microphone. Dawn had been recording everything. He was an idiot. He didn’t like celebrity and yet he just handed a scandal to a reporter without realising.
‘But you got your dates wrong. You used you own timeframe instead of Connie’s. Connie was particular about dates,’ he revealed her mistake to her.
‘I just wanted you to see how your writing can hurt people,’ she told him.
‘But I never wrote about you,’ he responded.
‘Exactly. You didn’t write a single line about me. Not one emotion on the page that represented me. It was all Connie. Biographers came to visit, but once it was clear that Connie was the real hometown girlfriend of Scott Darrow, I was merely a footnote. You cut a bloody mess through your past and you didn’t care who got hurt along the way’ she condemned.
With that final confession, Dawn dashed. She had paid for her coffee. Dawn left him staring at a copy of his own book poster.
Scott dashed after Dawn. He hadn’t even touched his coffee. It was left there cold. What was a five-dollar coffee anyway? He ran after Dawn, chasing the short brunette through the busy CBD streets of Melbourne. He spotted her at a distance. She walked briskly, her heels clopping loudly as she abandoned the scene of her crime. Scott caught up to her. They were a block away from the coffee shop.
‘Dawn!’ he called to her.
She turned around, a dejected frown on her lips.
‘What do you want Scott?’ she asked.
‘I want to offer you an exclusive interview, with me,’ he told her.
‘Why?’ she asked.
‘I spent so long trying to repair the past with people who I wrote onto the page. I guess I forgot the people I omitted. Let me pay for my sins.’