'Breathe Into Me' - Chapters One and Two

There were three things Quinn Baxter had always wanted to change: her nose – a well-known, very discreet plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills had sorted that one. Her accent – twenty years in America had managed to smooth out the harshness of her northern English twang. And lastly – this was the one Quinn struggled with; the one she was always going to struggle with – she wanted to change the past. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t do that. Nobody could. Not unless someone had suddenly invented a time machine.
“You got a meeting with Harry this morning?”
Quinn turned around and leaned back against the huge, plate-glass window that ran the length of the kitchen in her Malibu beach house. “He's taking me to lunch.” She threw her husband – her hot, handsome, slightly younger, super-famous husband – a smile.
Aaron Rogers took a sip of his coffee and raised a perfectly groomed and extremely sexy eyebrow. “Anywhere nice?”
“It better be. I'm driving all the way into Santa Monica to meet him.” Quinn folded her arms and glanced quickly back over her shoulder at the view outside – miles and miles of aqua-blue ocean, white sand; the Malibu coastline. She loved it here. This place, it really was her dream home. Her haven. Her escape. “Mind you…” She turned back to face Aaron, “it better not be anywhere too nice. I’ve been with Harry Franks long enough to know that, when he pushes the boat out, it usually means he’s got bad news.”
Aaron took another sip of coffee and threw Quinn a wry smile. “You’d rather it was Burgers on Hollywood Boulevard, then.”
Quinn laughed and pulled herself away from the window, walking over to her husband and kissing him quickly. He tasted of mint toothpaste and coffee beans and there was a part of her that wanted to forget that lunch meeting with her agent and stay home with Aaron, because they very rarely got a chance to do that – spend any real time together. They very rarely got to be husband and wife. “There’s nothing wrong with burgers on Hollywood Boulevard. In fact, that was one of our first dates, remember?”
“Yeah. I remember.” Aaron caught her by the waist and swung her into his arms. “You don’t have to go just yet, do you?” 
Aaron Rogers – one of Hollywood’s most high-profile actors, and at thirty-six years old a man who, over the past few years, had consistently appeared in every ‘World’s Hottest Men’ list there’d ever been. Tall and handsome in the conventional sense of the word, with dark-blonde hair and the most incredible green eyes Quinn had ever seen, they’d met ten years ago on the set of a movie they’d starred in together. They’d got to know each other pretty well over the course of filming, striking up a controversial relationship that, in the end, became way too messy, but ultimately everything Quinn had needed, at the time. Two years later she and Aaron were married in the grounds of their brand new Beverly Hills home – a ceremony that had been carried out in the full glare of the Hollywood spotlight. It was the way it had had to be. It wasn’t what she’d wanted – she’d wanted a quiet, private wedding – but she’d had to pretend it was everything she’d dreamed of. She’d had no other option. So she’d spent her wedding day playing the leading lady, because that’s what Quinn Baxter was, a working-class girl from the north of England turned movie queen. A real rags-to-riches story. But not one Quinn had ever spoken about in any great detail. There was no need. The reason she’d come to America all those years ago, it had been a painful but necessary decision, one she didn't feel needed explaining to the world. It was nobody’s business but hers, and those closest to her. Those who’d needed to know.
“No, I don’t have to go just yet.” Quinn smiled, sliding a hand around the back of Aaron’s neck, her fingertips lightly stroking his skin.
“Come back to bed,” he murmured, his mouth almost touching hers, his voice low and so full of everything Quinn ached for.
“I can’t,” she sighed, pulling away from him. The mood had changed, just like that, and that was her fault, nothing to do with Aaron. “I need to get ready for this meeting with Harry.”
Aaron poured himself another cup of coffee. “You expecting some big news?”
Quinn cocked her head slightly as she looked at her husband. “No. Why do you say that?”
Aaron shrugged. “You tell me. You’ve been a little on edge this past couple of days, that’s all.”
“I’m fine.” Quinn sat down on one of the stools that lined their pristine white marble-topped breakfast bar. “It’s just, you know – it’s been a while since I got the kind of role I could really get my teeth into. And let’s not forget, I’m about to turn forty soon. And you know as well as I do what that can mean for a woman in Hollywood.”
Aaron leaned over the counter and planted a kiss firmly on Quinn’s forehead. “Baby, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Everyone out there, they love you, almost as much as I do.”
She couldn’t help but smile, and she allowed her stomach to turn the kind of somersaults it always turned when Aaron touched her; when he kissed her. “Things change very quickly in our world, Aaron.”
He frowned and watched her as she walked back over to the window, crossing her arms over her chest as she stared out on to the wide tiled terrace that ran the entire width of their Broad Beach home. “Quinn? Is everything OK?”
She nodded, keeping her eyes fixed on a couple in the distance walking hand-in-hand along the sand, their two dogs running ahead, leaping into the ocean, bounding through the surf like it was the first time they’d experienced it. And maybe it was, she didn’t know.
“You sure?”
She finally turned around, uncrossing her arms as she walked back over to him. She took his cup of coffee from him and placed it down on the counter, standing on tiptoe to kiss him, slowly. “I’m sure. I guess turning forty is just getting to me a little bit more than it should. Especially as my extremely hot husband is a few years younger than me.” She ran her fingertips over the stubble on his chin and smiled, kissing him again. “Look, baby, it’s just that… I’ve had almost twenty years of living this dream and I’m not ready for it to end, not yet.”
Aaron held her waist tightly, pulling her closer against him. “It isn’t ending any time soon, honey. And you better believe that. Hollywood loves you, I love you.”
She laughed quietly, letting the sound of his low Californian drawl wash over her. It was one of the sexiest things about him, in her eyes – that accent of his. Oh, he could do any accent he set his mind to, and she’d heard him do everything from mid-western to downtown New York. He was an amazing actor; an incredible man. And she loved him, too. In her own way. The only way she could love him. For ten years Aaron Rogers had been there, in her life, right by her side, trying his best to fulfill a job he wasn’t even aware he’d undertaken – helping Quinn Baxter move on, from the one man she was never going to forget.

Twenty years earlier…

Quinn clasped her hands together on the table in front of her and swallowed hard as she tried her best not to look star-struck, but in the space of ten minutes she’d spotted three well-known movie stars, a rock star she knew was in the middle of a very messy divorce, and a talk show host she’d been watching on TV only last night when she hadn’t been able to sleep for the nerves.
Lifting her head slightly she took a quick glance around. The table she was sitting at was outside on the patio of the world famous Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel. Quinn could scarcely believe she was here, but she was, although getting her head around it, and everything else that had happened over the past few weeks, was something she was still finding hard to do.
She lifted her head a touch more as slivers of the warm Californian sun streamed down through gaps in the branches of the trees that afforded the diners out here some shade, the swathes of stunning bougainvillea giving the place an almost Mediterranean feel. It was the most beautiful setting, somewhere Quinn had always wanted to visit, in her dreams. And now those dreams were becoming  a reality. She only wished the circumstances could have been different. Still, it was pointless dwelling on that. She was here now, and what was happening to her, it was beyond anything she could’ve imagined. But it was all happening way faster than she’d anticipated, and the biggest job she had right now was making sure she kept her nerves in check, and hope that everything else fell into place because she wasn’t about to throw away a chance she might never get again. She really didn’t want to go back home. Going back home would destroy her. So this, it had to work.
Looking back down at the crisp white linen tablecloth, she reached over to the pile of stapled pages by her side. The script she’d been asked to look through. Just a few lines, a short scene, but something she needed to be sure she got right. Which was why she hadn’t slept all that much last night. She wouldn’t call herself a perfectionist, but she wanted to get this right. She wanted this to happen.
Gripping the pages between her fingers she realized her hands were shaking, and that needed to stop. There was no time for nerves, not anymore. In a couple of hours she was going to be standing on a sound stage at Grayson Studios. How the hell had that happened? She’d been in the right place at the right time, that’s how. Fate had been her best friend.
She closed her eyes for a second or two, letting the low hum of mingled conversation, the clinking of glasses, the sound of birds chattering amongst themselves in the trees above wash over her. It caused her stomach to take a nose dive, and she felt physically sick, but throwing up wasn’t an option. She wasn’t sure there was anything left to throw up, anyway. The tiny breakfast she’d managed to force down a few hours earlier had already made a reappearance before she’d even left her apartment. If you could call it an apartment. Two rooms above a sandwich shop in West Hollywood, that’s what it was. But it was home, and one she could afford – for now, anyway – in a country she’d only arrived in a few months ago, full of hopes and dreams of a life that could only be better than the one she’d left behind, no matter how it turned out. But these nerves – they had no place here now.
“You holding up OK there, princess?”
Quinn opened her eyes and smiled at the man who was about to change her world. Harry Franks. Her guardian angel. “I’m fine.”
“You’re nervous as hell, but that’s only to be expected.”
Harry leaned back in his chair and dug his hands into the pockets of his dark gray pants, his eyes never leaving Quinn’s. Harry Franks did relaxed and casual like nobody else. One of Hollywood’s newest and most dynamic agents he already had a reputation for finding new, undiscovered talent, but he still hadn’t found the kind of star that was going to take this town by storm. Until he’d met Quinn Baxter. Harry had a good feeling about Quinn. A very good feeling. And when Harry Franks had a good feeling about someone, he was usually right.
With his dark, just-long-enough-to-brush-the-back-of-his-collar hair, deep brown eyes, and the kind of smile that could light up a room before he’d even entered it, Harry had style, charm and ambition – in spades. And Quinn liked him. For a lot of reasons, not just because he’d bagged her this screen test. Harry made her feel safe. He gave her confidence. And, more than anything, she trusted him.
“Do you think I can do this, Harry?” She hadn’t actually meant to ask that out loud, but her mouth had seemingly disobeyed her brain, and now she was sounding like some wet-behind-the-ears amateur. Which is exactly what she was, of course, but there was no need to make it quite so obvious.
Harry fixed her with a no-nonsense look, before letting that smile of his take over. “Do you?”
“Yes.” She hadn’t even left a beat before answering him, and that was good. That was how it was supposed to be. Quinn Baxter was here to take on the world, to show everyone just what she could do. Quinn Baxter believed in herself, because if she didn’t, then who the hell else was going to?
“If I didn’t have faith in you, Quinn, you wouldn’t be sitting here. I haven’t got time to be dealing in duds.”
Quinn looked back down at her hands, realizing suddenly that they weren’t clinging on to the script for dear life anymore. And the shaking had stopped. The nerves had disappeared.
“You’re allowed to feel nervous.” Harry leaned forward, his voice carrying an almost soothing tone to it now. “But knowing when to let those nerves go, that’s what separates the could-be-incredible from the most-definitely average.”
Quinn frowned. She didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but what did it matter? Her confidence was rising. She was meant to be here. It was just that, the circumstances that had brought her here, to Los Angeles, she was always going to wish they’d been different.
She’d been seventeen years old when it had happened; the day that had changed her entire life. She still remembered it like it had only been yesterday, even though two years had gone by now. She’d just passed her driving test, and she’d wanted to take her parents out in the new car they’d bought her; drive them to this little country pub they loved to go to, to say thank you  for all the help they’d given her over the years, all the support. She was an only child, so their life had revolved around Quinn. Her life had revolved around them. She’d wanted to say thank you, but instead, she’d killed them.
It had been a beautiful day, the sun had been shining and the roads pretty quiet because it was a Wednesday lunch time. Most people had been at work or school or… But this one car, it had been driving on the wrong side of the road, apparently; swerving all over the place, and Quinn – she just hadn’t seen it coming over the brow of the hill. She hadn’t seen it coming, not at first, but once she did… it had been too late, she hadn’t been quick enough, and the car she’d been driving – the collision caused it to overturn, rolling over and over until it had come to a stop in the middle of the road. Although, that was something Quinn didn’t remember, because at some point she’d blacked out, woken up in hospital. And her parents – her parents were gone. Both of them. Just like that. They were gone. Because of her.
Everyone kept telling her it had just been a cruel and tragic accident, it hadn’t been her fault. It hadn’t. She hadn't done anything wrong, but she’d always felt that guilt. It never went away, and staying there, in that small market town she’d lived in all her life, with all those memories – she couldn’t do it. It was too painful. She’d had to get away. To the place she’d lived in inside her head ever since she’d been a little girl, when she’d dreamed of becoming an actress, living in Hollywood, dining in the Polo Lounge; walking the red carpet. Big dreams. Unrealistic dreams, and she hadn’t thought for one minute that anything would ever happen, she’d just wanted - needed - to get away. So she used the money her parents had left her to start again. To try and move on. To find something to focus on that gave her a reason to feel something other than guilt and sadness. She’d come here. To Hollywood. To the city of dreams. She’d come here…
“You OK?” Harry asked, and Quinn looked up, tearing herself away from those memories that still hurt like hell.
“I was just thinking. About mum and dad… Would they have approved of me using their money to come here? To chase some ridiculous dream?”
“It’s not so ridiculous anymore, Quinn.”
“I haven’t got the part yet, Harry.”
“It’s yours. And I’m rarely wrong.  Believe me, you’re gonna kill it, kid,” Harry sighed, raking a hand through his already messed-up hair, but he somehow got away with the unkempt look. It worked. On him.
“Yeah. I’m gonna kill it,” she said quietly, her eyes suddenly drawn to the archway to the left of her, her heart immediately picking up a rhythm that was making her slightly breathless, and she didn’t know where those feelings had come from; she had no idea what was happening. All she was aware of was her stomach flipping over like a thousand butterflies had just been let loose in there. It was the weirdest feeling. The strangest experience. But as her eyes met those of a man she’d never seen before in her life; a glance so brief it almost hadn’t happened, she knew, right there and then – she just knew that she’d never been more certain of anything before.

Quinn Baxter had just seen her future.

© Michelle Betham 2017

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