Christmas at the Beach (Novella)
An Excerpt From
Christmas at the Beach (Novella)

Having your own personal pack of paparazzi gives you sympathy for hunted animals and is nowhere near as exciting as people think. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if they kept regular business hours—you know, showed up around nine and clocked out at five. But celebrity stalking is a twenty-four seven occupation with no time off for good—or bad—behavior. Because if they don’t get pictures that make you look nasty, stupid, or even less attractive without makeup than the average tabloid reader, they don’t eat.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to become a celebrity today than it used to be. You can be famous now for the size of your boobs and butt, a five-minute cameo on a reality TV show, doing a below-average tango on Dancing with the Stars, or dating and/or marrying someone who’s done any of the above. The celebrity bar has dropped so low that if it were being set for a game of Limbo, that bar would be ankle-height.

You can even become a celebrity by accident. I happen to know this because that’s what happened to me.

My name is Kyra Singer, and I became famous for falling in love with a movie star named Daniel Deranian while I was working as a production assistant on my first feature film, believing him when he said he loved me, and then getting pregnant with his child.

I might regret this more if Dustin, who just turned one last month, weren’t so incredible. And if Daniel’s movie-star wife, Tonja Kay, were a normal human being whose head doesn’t do a 360 when she gets pissed.

If Dustin is the best thing in all of this, and he is, the worst is the extra burden it put on my mother, who was handling a lot already when I got booted off the set by the head-spinning Tonja Kay and then sliced and diced in the tabloids.

Unlike a lot of other ankle-height celebrities, I’d way rather be behind the camera than in front of it. But today, which is Christmas Eve day, when I get out to the curb at the Tampa International Airport with my son, his car seat, our suitcase, and my film gear, a bunch of paparazzi are waiting at the curb. My mother and her minivan are not.

I’m careful not to make eye contact with any of them while I try to figure out what to do. I’m considering turning around and going back inside to regroup, when a text dings in. It’s from my missing mother. It reads Sri. My fats in fyre.

I read it twice, but it doesn’t get any clearer. My mother, Madeline, is fifty-one, and she’s impressive as hell in a lot of respects, but I think she communicated way better before her phone got so smart. Her next text reads Sree. Mint tries flit.

IMHO, most people over forty don’t have control of their thumbs and shouldn’t be allowed to text.

“Kyra, over here!” The accent is British and I recognize the voice. Every once in a while you’re forced to realize that there are real people behind the cameras. People who barge into your life uninvited and then become strangely familiar.

I look up and see Nigel Bracken at the front of the pack. As always I try to shield Dustin as best I can, but he’s one now and not a baby that I can hold in any position I want. Plus he’s a veritable clone of his movie-star father, with the same golden-skinned face, dark brown eyes, and curly hair. The paparazzi can’t get enough of him. A couple of weeks ago a crazed Daniel Deranian fan stole one of Dustin’s dirty diapers out of the trash and tried to sell it on eBay. That’s how weird it gets sometimes.

“Over here, Kyra!” another one of the paps shouts. His name’s Bill and he has bad teeth and a potato shaped nose. They are their own League of Nations—American, British, French, and lots of Heinz 57s. They’re tall and skinny, short and round, and everything in between. Some of them are good-looking enough to walk the red carpet. Others, like Bill, have faces only a mother could love. You rarely see women doing this. I like to think it’s because women are too smart and sympathetic to view stalking celebrities as gainful employment, but it could just be that, like the movie business, it’s a good old boys’ club that women have to work twice as hard and be twice as talented to break into.

“Just give us a couple shots and we’re out of here!” Nigel shouts.

This is a lie. One clean shot will madden them like bees whose hive has been swatted. When I don’t respond, they surge closer.

An airport security guard passes by and warns them to keep out of the traffic lanes.

The transportation line is downstairs and so are the car rental desks. What I really need to do is call my mother and find out why she’s not here, but I don’t want to do this on-camera. Most of these guys can read lips better than an NFL coach with a pair of binoculars trying to decipher the other team’s plays.

“Come on, Kyra, luv! It’s practically Christmas! Give us a smile!” I’m not sure who died and elected Nigel spokesman, but at least they’re not all yelling at once.

Dustin’s arm loops up around my neck, and he lifts his head from my shoulder. “Krimas!” he says. The camera drives whir and the digital flashes explode.

I feel the pack moving in, and I fall back a step, not wanting to be surrounded. I turn and move quickly—I prefer not to think of it as running—into the terminal. I head for the only place I might be safe: the ladies’ room.

In a locked stall I check the floor on either side to make sure there are no size-twelve shoes. I drop our suitcase and my camera bag on the floor, stand the folded stroller in a corner, and perch gingerly on the edge of the toilet seat with Dustin in my lap. I could text my mother—she reads texts better than she sends them—but then she might text me back and if I can’t read it it will be another big waste of time. I hit speed dial for her number.

“Mom?” I keep my voice down when the phone is answered just in case. And because it’s always kind of gross when you hear someone making a phone call from the toilet regardless of what they are or aren’t doing there.

“Oh, Kyra, thank goodness.” My mother sounds agitated and out of breath. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. I had a flat tire on the Bayway and I’m still waiting for AAA.” I can picture the beige-gold minivan on the side of the causeway that leads from Pass-a-Grille Beach, through Tierra Verde, to the interstate, while Cadillacs and old Chryslers putter past. The population of St. Petersburg and its environs is largely elderly. The joke goes if you leave a glass of water sitting out someone will put his or her teeth in it. My mom hasn’t even made it off the beach. Even if she got the tire fixed in the next five minutes, which is unlikely, she wouldn’t be here for another thirty-five minutes after that.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll rent a car and meet you at Bella Flora.”

“Are you sure?” My mother has witnessed the paparazzi up close and personal from the day they first found me while we were desperately trying to restore Bella Flora, which is a really cool Mediterranean Revival–style home that was built in the 1920s and was all my mother and the equally unfortunate Avery Lawford and Nicole Grant had left after they lost everything to Malcolm Dyer’s Ponzi scheme. That’s where I’m headed right now.

“Absolutely. Who’s at the house?”

“Avery, Deirdre, and Nicole are there. Chase and his sons are joining us tomorrow morning to open presents. Your dad and Andrew are driving down from Atlanta today.”

“Okay. I’m going to pick up a car. I’ll take the Bayway from 275 so I can stop and help if you’re still there.”

“Be careful. I don’t want them chasing after you and Dustin.”

I know from the way she says this that she’s thinking about what happened to Princess Diana. But I’m not a princess, and the Howard Frankland Bridge to St. Pete is not a Paris tunnel. Still, it will be better if I can just disappear. I don’t want to lead the paparazzi to Bella Flora, even though I’m sure they all already know that Dustin and I are headed to Ten Beach Road.

“We’ll be fine,” I say because we’ve had this conversation before. Or at least we will be, once I put on my disguise.

* * *

The car rental agent looks at my driver’s license and then up at my face. Or rather what can be seen of my face, namely my eyes. “Eees there a problem?” I ask in what I would like to believe is a decent Middle Eastern accent.

“I’m, ah, afraid I need to ask you to uncover your face for just a moment, Ms. . . . Singer.” It’s unfortunate that my disguise, politically incorrect as it might be, comes with a veil but not a fake ID. I’ve worn the burqa before because it’s easy to slip on over whatever I’m wearing. Unlike some of my other disguises, it covers almost all of me. From the back, which is all anyone including a photographer walking by right now can see, the only thing it gives away is my height. My son has Armenian blood courtesy of his father and can pass for vaguely Middle Eastern. I’m a hundred percent white-bread, and while I’m not a dog or anything, nothing about me is the least bit exotic.

When we were working on the house in South Beach and shooting the first season of Do Over, Daniel used to come in disguise to see Dustin. Honestly, he looks just as good in a miniskirt and heels or doddering on a cane as he does on the big screen. But then he was in Miami shooting a film and had a whole makeup and special effects department at his disposal.

I look to both sides and behind me before I undo my veil from the headscarf and hold it slightly away from my face so the agent can compare it to my driver’s license photo, which, let’s face it, is virtually unrecognizable and completely unflattering.

He looks up and down a few times just to be sure, taking in my gray eyes and pale skin. He’s clearly registered that I’m not Middle Eastern and that I’m traveling without a male family member. I hope he doesn’t recognize my name or my child. Any one of the paparazzi would pay good money for this information. I hide a smile at the idea of them chasing after every woman in the airport wearing a burqa, but the sooner I get us out of here and on the road, the better.

“What size car would you like?”

What I really want is something built like a tank and with darkened windows, so that if I mow down a few photographers no one will see the satisfaction on my face, but I just ask for a midsize, which I understand is what used to be called compact. The weather is gorgeous—all pale blue sky and puffy clouds and what feels like a perfect seventy degrees. It’s convertible weather—but it wouldn’t do to whip by the waiting paparazzi with my veil flying in the breeze. Would it?

Once I’m safely out of the airport grounds and lost in traffic, I unzip the burqa, drop the veil in the back seat next to Dustin, then open the windows so I can feel the air on my face. When I hit the bridge the air takes on a salty tinge and I can see the Courtney Campbell Causeway, which leads to Clearwater, on my right. The Gandy Bridge stretches north and south on my left. I spent a long, sweat-soaked summer while I was pregnant with Dustin working on and shooting the renovation of Bella Flora, so the Tampa Bay area, and especially St. Pete Beach, feels almost as much like home as Atlanta. At the time I was posting snarky comments and video of the renovation online while I waited for Daniel to come whisk me away on his white horse. He did show up, but only to offer me a position as his mistress—a position I declined. My video and the audience my posts drew led to our Lifetime TV series, Do Over. Which is almost as much about fixing our lives as it is about fixing the houses the network has started throwing at us.

Dustin is asleep by the time I get off the bridge and onto 275 heading south. His long dark lashes cast minishadows on his golden skin. I look for my mom’s van when I turn onto the Pinellas Bayway, but it’s nowhere to be seen so I assume she’ll be waiting at Bella Flora. The waterfront condos and a golf course whip by. In minutes I’m over the final bridge and stopped at a red light in front of the Don CeSar Hotel—a huge pink and white castle-like structure built in the same Mediterranean Revival style as Bella Flora. I turn left onto Gulf Boulevard and the road narrows as I enter the historic district of Pass-a-Grille, which occupies the southernmost tip of St. Pete Beach.

Cutting over to Gulf Way, I get my first full on glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico and the wide white-sand beach that bounds it. I draw in another breath of salt-tinged air and drive slowly to drink it all in. Little mom-and-pop hotels slide by on my left. It’s all beach and dunes and boardwalks over them on my right. The blocks are short and the avenues, which stretch between the gulf and the bay, are barely longer.

The streetlights are garland-wrapped, with great big red bows tied at the top. There are lots of blow-up Santas and palm-tree trunks wrapped in Christmas lights. I pass the Paradise Grille, the beach trolley stop, and the Hurricane Restaurant, which has been around forever despite a name that seems to be just asking for trouble.

Eighth Avenue is Pass-a-Grille’s “main street,” with its shops, restaurants, and galleries, and I see that someone has strung lights across it. I grew up in Atlanta, which isn’t exactly the frozen tundra, but it’s still weird to see people walking around in shorts and T-shirts on December 24. The soundtrack, courtesy of Mother Nature, is all palm fronds stirring in the breeze and waves washing gently onto the sand. Seagulls caw loudly as they zigzag through the sky.

 

Christmas at the Beach (Novella)

Christmas at the Beach (Novella)