So it began with an affair, they used to say at the supermarkets, at the restaurants, on the street corners, and in the beauty shops. The people of Gracia, California, devoured the articles in the tabloids while standing in line to pay for their cheese and Dexatrim, or while they were getting their hair done in a plushy chair. Jessica Thomas knew that, every time she walked into a room and the conversation stopped, the discussion was about her. But in her own insolent way, she kept her head up high and ignored it.
When she got home by herself, however, she found that the scrutiny was a bit disconcerting.

That as a sign of the times, though. She started to believe that people were going to keep talking about it, even if little green men landed and started to ravage everyone. Reporters vied for the best morsel of info and wouldn’t stop until they’d left a slew of messages on your answering machine. Not to mention the public pestering. So on a perfectly good Friday night, Jessica sat in her living room in jeans and a T-shirt, getting ready to watch Coming to America, one of Nicole Smith’s Picks of the Week.

No, she wasn’t retreating. Of course not! She was having some “Me” time.

Well, at least that’s what she told herself.

And she was perfectly justified. The last few months of her life had been filled with unnecessary stress. She had to admit that having her sisters and cousins (well, in any case, they were all like sisters to her) around brought her strength, but she figured that another Friday night of male bashing would be redundant. And it would only rub her failure in that area in her face, no matter how much she tried to deny it.

About seven, she curled up on the couch, ready to laugh and forget her worries. It was only fitting.

It took her a minute to comprehend that someone was knocking on her front door.

Dammit, she thought. She settled into the couch. Maybe if I sit here, they’ll go away.

Unfortunately, she was wrong. After a while, she figured whoever it was couldn’t leave until they saw her. So she got up to answer it.

Standing on her doorstep, was a severe blonde with sharp hazel eyes. She wore a black button-down blouse and black pants. A black bag was slung over her shoulder and her long hair was pulled back into a ponytail.

As if there wasn’t enough irony in her life, the gods had to send the Queen of the Tabloid Mania that Fucked up Her Life to her doorstep.

Jessica crossed her arms over her chest and stared at hatefully at Claudia Miercoles. She tried to suppress the urge to explode and was barely successful. She was a civilized human being, but if provoked, she could turn uncivilized.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Jessica demanded tersely.

Claudia lifted her palms in a gesture of surrender. She’d heard of Jessica’s reputation and didn’t feel like sporting any black eyes for her venture. “Look, Ms. Thomas, I’m sorry. I really am. I know most of this is all my fault.”

“Don’t you mean all of it?”

Claudia didn’t answer that.

Jessica shook her head. “Look, Ms. Miercoles, I know you have some strange and misguided goal to malign me—and it looks like it’s worked.”

“That’s why I’m here. I want to make amends. I think we have gone too far with things and I am willing to try to change my readers’ minds about you.”

Jessica laughed sardonically. “Are you serious? Why on Earth would you want to do that? Wouldn’t that decrease your popularity and potentially cost you your job?”

Claudia’s serious expression made Jessica stop and think. “Ms. Thomas, I have a conscious, even though you might not think I do. I am willing to risk my notoriety and my career to set things right with you. Your relationship with—”

Jessica held up a hand. “Let’s not go there.”

“That’s fine. But you do realize that we’re going to have to cover that bit of information.”

“Yes, I know,” Jessica muttered, feeling down again.

Silently, Jessica appraised the young woman on her doorstep. It could be said that Claudia could be a good actress, but Jessica guessed that she was sincere. Without any preamble, Jessica turned and walked into her living room. Frowning, Claudia assumed that this was an invitation and strode inside warily, closing the door behind her.

Jessica was sitting in the living room on the couch. She placed a popcorn kernel in her mouth as Claudia took a seat in a chair beside the couch and noticed that the identical chair across from her housed a teddy bear with a red bowtie and a maroon throw pillow. Claudia looked at her, then the television, on which Eddie Murphy was ordering his betrothed to bark like a dog.

After a moment, Jessica looked to her. “I assume you’re going to ask me questions. Unless you’re a psychic or something.”

Claudia silently took out her legal pad and tape recorder that she kept in her bag for such occasions. Jessica didn’t move to turn the movie off, so Claudia figured she had to reckon with it. Jessica surprised her by turning the volume down on the TV.

“Alright,” Jessica began. “Where do we begin?”

Claudia turned on her tape recorder. “How about the day you met Kevin Richardson.”


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