“Upton Josephs,” said Grant.

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Genevieve stare at him.

“I want a career like his. And they say you helped him.”

“Who says?”

Grant gave a little shrug. “You know how things get around. Especially in this business.”

Genevieve looked away, privately hating how easily her cheeks colored. Until Upton, Genevieve had never gotten close to those she’d decided to favor. Instead it had been discreet business conducted at a distance. But Upton had ducked under her defenses, and though she hadn’t walked carpets with him and had always been careful to maintain a publicly cool demeanor . . .

“How do you decide?” Grant asked, cutting into Genevieve’s thoughts.

She felt her face grow even hotter. “What do you mean?”

“How do you choose who . . .” He groped for the words. “Will benefit from . . . Whatever it is you do?”

“They call me fickle,” she told him, blinking rapidly to try and stop the tears that were threatening. “And maybe it’s true. It’s only ever a whim.” She gathered herself; suddenly the evening felt unseasonably chilly. “I think you should take me home now, Mr. Owen.”

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Taking a different tack, Andra

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gave David a few moments to gather himself then followed quietly out of the bedroom and into what he called the “lounge.” It was really just a combined living/dining with a tiny kitchenette, all of it pale and colorless so as not to offend any potential occupant. The place had no life, in Andra’s opinion; it merely served its purpose. And sometimes that was fine, but at that moment Andra found it depressing. She suddenly wished to be away from there, to take David’s hand and drag him out into the heat and sunlight and find someplace with personality, with meaning.

He had taken a seat at the tiny, round table, and his eyes were closed. Andra tried to imagine the struggle within him but came up short. She’d grown up infused with purpose and always knowing what she was—though, admittedly, Memam had left out the part about being a personification of Hecate. Servant, sure, but to actually be a human representation of the goddess? That, somehow, had been omitted. It had taken Alfred Keenan to tell her, but it had all made sense when he had. Andra had not suffered at the imparting of such knowledge; in fact, it had seemed as if she’d always known.

Not so for David, whose mother had sheltered him. Janus hated being human; most physical manifestations of him were driven to mental illness and suicide. By Juno’s account it had taken her centuries to cultivate David’s personality, only to have it shattered when Andra had appeared on the scene.

He’d have been better off without me. Not the first time Andra had thought it, and it wouldn’t be the last. She was used to be everyone’s good luck; for David, however, she seemed to be quite the opposite.

Andra went to sit on the arm of the couch, and at the sound of her movement, David opened his eyes. Just David, she saw; the eyes were a clear and brilliant blue, no hint of Janus’ darker blue gaze within them.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

His eyes slid to the carpet and faint lines appeared between his brows. “Will you still go?”

“I don’t think I can without the key,” said Andra. “Though . . . It’s not like I’ve ever tried.”

He gave a small bob of his chin. “Then you will go.”

“I don’t want to.”

He looked at her then. “It will never stop, will it?”

Andra could only shrug. “I don’t know. If I never have children . . .” Her voice trailed. They hadn’t talked about kids; they could barely make time for each other much less anyone else.

“If you never have children, the power will remain with you. You’ll be ninety and still running off to . . .” He made a gesture with his hand.

Andra stiffened. “It’s a sacred duty.”

“What? Spoiling wannabe actors and singers and—”

“And I suppose you, as an actor, have a higher calling?”

David scowled. “It’s what I’m meant to be.”

“And it’s what these people are meant to be, too. I’m just helping them get there.”

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Stars vied for their chances

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to shine within the spotlight of the moon, the glaring glass of the houses along the beach cliffs, the twinkling lights of Pete’s. It was the story of Hollywood: There would always be something or someone bigger and brighter.

“Stars last longer, though,” Genevieve said to herself, and Grant jerked his head in her direction; he’d been off in his own thoughts, his own distant places.

“Hm?” he asked.

But Genevieve only shook her head. “Thank you for dinner. But . . .”

Grant continued to gaze at her somewhat vacantly. Then, rousing himself, “Early day tomorrow?”

“Late night tonight, more like,” she said. “I still had work on my desk when you came knocking.”

“I’ll be sure to confirm my appointment next time.”

“You didn’t have an appointment, Mr. Owen.”

“What will it take to get you to call me Grant?”

She only blinked at him.

“And I can call you Genevieve?”

“Points for persistence,” she muttered, then sighed. “Why don’t you just out with it? What is it you want?” She glanced around at the deserted patio. “And why isn’t anyone else out here?”

“I asked Pete to give us some privacy,” Grant told her, and Genevieve didn’t know whether she found that thoughtful or impertinent.

“Do you often get approached while you’re out?” she asked.

Grant shook his head. “Not too often.”

Genevieve eyed him speculatively. “Not as often as you’d like.”

And now Grant leaned forward, and his childlike eagerness came off him in a wave stronger than any beating the shore beyond his shoulders; his hazel eyes lit with a zealous glow. “This is it. I’m here, in Hollywood, and it’s make-or-break time. I’d just like to be sure I land on the make side of things.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Genevieve asked. It was an honest enough question. Grant was talented, handsome in a boyish way that had launched him from soaps to rom-coms without any trouble.

“Why doesn’t anyone?” Grant countered. “Perfectly good actors . . . There are so many of us . . .”

“Sounds like a crisis of confidence to me,” said Genevieve. “But I still don’t see how you expect me to help you.”

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Ribs so tender they fell off the bone . . .

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Genevieve couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten that way: food that was messy and all-American and wonderful. She was used to such an ordered life, neat and elegant; the feel of sauce on her hands . . . She couldn’t decide if she loved it or hated it.

Beside her at their little round table, Grant grinned. “Food is so much better here,” he half groaned with pleasure as he leaned back in his chair, sated, and lifted his bottle of Durham, which he’d assured Genevieve Pete kept on hand just for him. “We do beer better, though,” he said.

“A fair trade,” said Genevieve, more for something to say than anything. She sipped at her (very sweet) iced tea. The talk thus far had been only of the differences in culture: food and drink and accents and terrible tourists. They’d touched on sensibilities, too, and how Grant had got his start on a BBC soap opera. That was the closest they’d come to discussing why Grant had come to see her, and Genevieve found she was having trouble enjoying the evening despite the good food and lovely ocean view because she kept waiting for Grant to pitch himself to her, try to convince her to take him on as a project.

But he hadn’t. And now as he tilted his head back for a look at the stars beyond their decidedly unnecessary table umbrella, he didn’t seem inclined to either. Instead he said, “We don’t need this, do we?”

Genevieve was startled out of her meandering thoughts. “What?”

But Grant was already on his feet and fighting with the umbrella catch. “Let’s look at the stars.”

Abruptly, the umbrella collapsed, revealing the clear, early summer night sky.

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“Quite the, uh . . .”

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but Genevieve’s voice was lost in the general hubbub of the restaurant.

She picked her way gingerly across the uneven floorboards, careful not to let her heels get caught in any knots or gaps. Patrons glanced as she followed Grant through the mass of tables toward the bar, but no one looked twice; Genevieve wasn’t sure whether she was relieved by or miffed at the lack of interest.

Catching up to Grant at the bar, Genevieve stood uncertainly behind him as he’d wedged himself between two empty stools and was chatting with the bartender. She could only catch a few words. “Pete!” (So this was Pete? Grey-haired, bearded, Hawaiian shirt, cliché.) “. . . friend—” and here Grant gestured in her direction, and the next word she managed to decipher was “dinner.” And then Pete, whose hands were occupied as he dried a hulking glass stein, nodded his head in the direction of a screen door on the far side of the bar.

Grant grabbed her hand and began towing once more, and as Genevieve worked to not stumble, she suddenly found herself outside as the sun dipped beyond the water and the stars were coming out. And all around the thatching hung tiny white lights, adding their own twinkle to those of the heavens.

The fresh air felt salty and sandy and heavy and sweet. It was oddly perfect.

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Pete’s Beachside Bar & Grill

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was little more than an oversized cabana with a thatch-covered patio facing the ocean. The tables were scuffed and stained and plastic leis hung from the ceiling. The wall art was surfboard chic, if there was such a thing.

When he’d first come to L.A., Grant had done the requisite tour of all the hot spots, the places to see and be seen. He’d tired of them pretty quickly, though. They all looked alike, and it was the same set of faces night after night.

But then he’d stumbled upon Pete’s—Pete himself worked the bar most nights—and had fallen in love with its very lack of class and pretension. Pete didn’t care who Grant was, and neither did anyone else there. And Pete mixed a damn fine old-fashioned.

Grant loved Pete’s so much, he didn’t think twice about taking Genevieve Monti. So he was surprised when he climbed out of his convertible and she didn’t.

“Oh, did I lock you in?” Grant asked.

But Genevieve was staring at the hand-painted sign that identified the establishment. “What is this place?”

Grant thought the sign did a fine job of answering that question but decided it would be better form to roll with it. “Pete’s. I know it doesn’t look like much, but I promise you, it’s fantastic.”

For good measure, Grant went around the car to open Genevieve’s door for her. She stepped out—high-gloss heels, trim pencil skirt. “I feel over dressed.”

“Nah,” said Grant, who himself was in a button-up and nice trousers. “No one here cares. That’s the beauty of it, really.” And like an eager child, he took Genevieve’s hand and pulled her toward the entrance.

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“Oh, he always was a difficult child,”

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Juno had told Andra once it became clear Janus and David didn’t entirely get along. There had been a time Andra was sure they were integrated, but the two personalities seemed to be like oil and water—or maybe more like oversaturated sugar water. Stir or shake it up enough and it would mix for a while, but before long the excess sugar would fall to the bottom. Maybe, for whatever reason, David in his human form simply couldn’t hold all of Janus.

Some days Andra was sure she’d ruined David’s life rather than having made it any better.

Sorry to be so short today, but I fear there may be a bit of A to Z fatigue setting in for my readers and I don’t want to “oversaturate” all of you either! For those only just joining me, my A to Z theme is explained here. You can also start from the beginning by using the A to Z post index.

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“Not here, either,” said Andra

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as she slammed shut another drawer.

“Why would it be in a drawer?” David asked.

Andra threw up her hands. “Why would it be anywhere except where I left it?”

David had the uncomfortable feeling he was supposed to know the answer to that question. He didn’t. Something in him didn’t want him to know.

“Don’t mock me,” Andra hissed.

Startled, David looked to her. “I didn’t even say anything.”

“I’m talking to Janus.”

“Well, it’s no use talking to him, is it? He’s not here. I am. Must be nice for you to be all in one piece, but this two-faced bastard,” David pointed to his own chest, his voice rising in frustration, “likes to play hide and seek.”

Andra stepped over to him, took his face in her hands. “I’m sorry. I know it’s difficult.”

David looked down into Andra’s beautiful green-gold eyes. Then suddenly drew out of her embrace with a huff. “You’re looking for him again.”

“He knows where my key—”

Your key?”

David saw the quick flash of consideration cross Andra’s face. If she worked Janus up enough, tried to claim the key as her own as opposed to just on loan, would he come out?

With another snort of disgust, he turned away. “Who would you rather have, I wonder? Me or him?”

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The sleek grey cat landed with a thud on Genevieve’s desk, causing Grant to jump several inches out of his seat, and for the first time since he’d arrived, Genevieve smiled.

Collecting himself, Grant said, “Well, you have a cat anyway.”

“And she isn’t always happy to see me. Are you?” she asked as the cat bent its neck appreciatively under Genevieve’s long finger nails.

“My understanding is cats more or less tolerate rather than love,” said Grant.

The cat turned her head in his direction and narrowed her brilliant blue eyes.

“You sound as if you’ve never owned a cat,” Genevieve remarked.

Grant felt the need to tread more carefully than ever. Now that Genevieve seemed more relaxed, he didn’t want to set her back up again. Insulting her cat might do just that. Tentatively, he reached a hand toward the animal.

The cat let out a low warning growl.

“Emi!” Genevieve scolded, and the cat leapt from the desk to the floor.

“Sorry,” Grant said to the feline as she strolled past his chair. She flicked one ear in his direction but otherwise showed no acknowledgement of him. Like owner, like pet.

Emi stopped in front of the closed office door and sat.

“Oh, she wants out. Do you mind?” Genevieve asked.

Grant most certainly did mind; he didn’t want to get close to the creature again. But he said, “Of course not,” and rose to do as requested.

The cat did not strike, merely exited with tail and head high. Grant eased the door shut again behind her.

“She’s probably just upset I mentioned getting a dog,” Genevieve said, and Grant paused, unsure whether she was joking.

“Well, you know how, uh, cats . . . Have you eaten?” Grant asked abruptly. “Not to change the subject, but . . .”

“But you did change the subject,” said Genevieve. “My cook will have put something in the fridge for me to heat up. But thank you.”

Sensing a softening, Grant pressed a little harder. “You won’t want that. It will keep until tomorrow at least,” he added quickly, not wanting to insult her cook any more than her cat. “And I’m sure you wouldn’t send me on that long drive with an empty stomach.” He gave her his trademark smile, the one that had won him the romantic lead in two comedies in just sixteen months, though he was dying to do a drama.

Genevieve tilted her head as if contemplating. Taking his measure. Then she took a deep breath and gave what Grant perceived to be a resigned nod. It was all he could do not to whoop and pump his fist in victory.

Instead, he merely stretched his smile a little further. “Brilliant,” he said. “I know just the place.”

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The Problem with Perfectionism

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Cross posted from spooklights. A to Z post for the day is below this post.

I went to make myself a waffle this morning and got annoyed. There were crumbs in the butter. I work hard not to have crumbs in my butter or cream cheese, but we had guests this weekend, and let’s be honest: Crumbs in butter are a relatively common occurrence, one that is difficult, even almost impossible to avoid.

But these crumbs made me consider the nature of perfectionism. Because I am a perfectionist, and I’m not proud of it. While on the one hand, being a perfectionist does at least mean I give everything my very best effort and cannot bring myself to knowingly hand in shoddy work, the flip side is that in truth nothing is perfect and I therefore live a life of continual disappointment and dissatisfaction.

As a writer, being a perfectionist is debilitating. It takes me ages to eke out anything because I cannot bear for it to be less that perfect. It’s like mining for gemstones that have already been cut and polished—these things do not occur naturally. It’s agony. (Though I’ve found the A–Z Challenge helps me get over that, and so I thank it for introducing me to a new way of writing that may prove far more useful to me in the long run.)

And then, of course, once you think it’s finally finished—and perfect—and it’s all printed or published or whatever . . . You find that typo. Or you realize you wish you’d have used a different word here and there. Or you think of an even better scene. This is why I almost never go back and re-read any of my own work. And why I can’t stand to watch myself on film. I’m never happy with the results.

Being a perfectionist sets one up for a lifetime of not being happy with, well, just about anything or anyone. So I’m trying to lose that. I’m trying to learn to look at the positive aspects of things instead of searching for flaws. To see beauty, no matter how small. I’m trying to teach myself to forgive mistakes—my own and others’. Life will be so much lighter and more pleasant if I can learn this lesson.

So. Crumbs in the butter? Fine, whatever. I’ll admit it’s going to take some adjustment, this new perspective on things, but the perfectionist in me is determined to succeed.