Machine by Normandie Alleman
I did not stepon that man.
Yes, the video looks like I did, but I didn’t.
I stepped over him. There’s a difference.
The media takes footage and turns it into what they want it to be.
A voice in the back of my head pipes up. Isn’t that exactly what you and your family do with your reality TV show? Control the message that the public sees?
Ugh. This was exactly the kind of ruminating that resulted in me having a car wreck last week.
I was heading over to the auto shop where they were doing the bodywork on my busted up Escalade. My sister Ivy said I was lucky to only get a bump on the head, but having a headache for three days didn’t feel all that lucky.
Rolling to a stop at a red light, I pulled down my sun visor, flipped open the mirror in my loaner car, and studied the bump on my head. It was definitely healing, but that goose egg had cost me a modeling gig I’d really been hoping for.
In fact, that cosmetics company had been all hot and heavy to book me a few weeks ago, so I couldn’t believe it when they cancelled on me.
They said it was due to my injury, but they could fix that with Photoshop, couldn’t they? Staring at my head, I thought I was doing a pretty good job covering it up myself with makeup. You couldn’t even see the yellowish-green bruise that ringed the bump.
Then it hit me—what if they were just saying it was because of my injury when it was really because of that incident with the homeless vet? Most of the time I’m aware of people with their phones out, but I was down in Austin, away from the paparazzi I’d thought, and somebody caught me saying that wrong thing at the wrong time.
People were so sensitive these days, and they had no interest in cutting me any slack. It was the price I paid for being the daughter of a rock star, the star of my mother’s reality show, and the sister to a couple of pop stars and a professional basketball player.
People thought my life was perfect, and therefore, I needed to be perfect.
Except I’m not. Not even close.
Like when it looked like I was asking why the homeless guy didn’t have a job while I was stepping over him.
Only it turned out he was this brave veteran and it looked like I was stepping on him. The whole thing went viral and trended on Twitter for over thirty-six hours, a record for me, our publicist said. I guess my fans usually had a shorter attention span than that.
Crap. So now I was losing jobs over this fiasco. I wasn’t all that surprised, but it made me feel worse.
Some days being in the spotlight sucked.
I don’t mean to sound like a privileged butthole, but until you’ve lived under that pressure, how can you judge?
Someone in a car behind me beeped their horn, alerting me that the traffic light had turned green without me noticing. I stepped on the gas and flew through the intersection, taking advantage of the pep of this little car. It might be fast, but I still missed my clunky old Escalade. Driving the little car made me feel short and unprotected from the world. I’d be glad to get back my big old tank of a vehicle.
I pulled up to the garage where my Escalade was being repaired and inched into a parking space only meant for small cars. Flipping down the mirror again, I checked my lipstick then went inside. My brother Nick had recommended this place to me. When he’d gotten his first contract, Nick had gone through a phase where buying cars was his biggest vice. Along the way, he’d picked up enough mechanical problems that he needed a good mechanic. Once he’d found Sal, he recommended him and our family had used his garage ever since.
The only catch was that Sal didn’t believe in cell phones. He used a landline, but getting him on it wasn’t always an easy feat, which is why I decided to show up instead. With no modeling job today, I didn’t have anything else of great importance to do. I pushed open the door to the office and chirped at the man behind the counter, “Hi, is Sal here?”
The guy was redheaded and dressed in a gray jumpsuit. I looked for his name. “Peter” was embroidered on a white patch over his heart. Black grease stains covered him from fingertip to elbow, several slashes of it making their way to his face.
“No, Sal wasn’t feeling well. He went home earlier. Anything I can help you with?”
Recognition was starting to lighten his face. He knew he’d seen me somewhere before, but he couldn’t place me. This happened to a lot of men. Their wives, mothers, or sisters watched our show, but since they didn’t pay attention to “girl TV” they had no idea who I was. Either that or they’d seen me on the tabloid magazines lining the grocery store checkout aisles.
“Aww, I’m sorry to hear that. Hope he feels better.” I really meant that. Sal was a nice man. “Yes, hopefully you can. Last week I dropped off my Escalade for some bodywork, but then I was talking to my brother and he mentioned that I might want to tell you guys about some squeaking that I’d been hearing and maybe you could fix that too while it was in here.”
I heard the question mark at the end of my statement, a byproduct of the fact that I knew next to nothing about cars and this environment was not exactly one where I was comfortable. Being in this testosterone-filled, grimy place always made me feel a bit off balance. Sal offset that with his calm attitude and nice manners, but now that he wasn’t here for me to talk with, I was starting to wish I hadn’t come.
“You’re Miss Barnes, right?”
“Yes. Dynassy Barnes.” I flashed him my most charismatic smile and his cheeks splashed a shade prettier than Estée Lauder’s newest blush.
“Yes, ma’am. Let me get somebody who can help you with that.” And with that, he skittered off to the back, leaving me alone to figure out how I’d gone from making him blush to a “ma’am” in less than ten seconds. I shuddered at the title. Hell, I wasn’t even twenty-five yet.
Alone, I looked around and tried to ignore the single ant that crawled across the dingy white tile floor. A baseball game played on the TV in the adjoining lounge, and I zeroed in to find the score was 0-0. I yawned and was about to pull out my phone when one of the sexiest men I’d ever seen walked through the door.
The vibe that entered the room with him was so intense that I almost giggled out loud like a schoolgirl. His sandy-brown hair had just enough curl to give it a mind of its own, and make him look like he’d spent the day surfing. Or maybe doing something more naughty to mess it up.
To my disappointment his navy blue coveralls didn’t have his name scrawled on them, but I did notice a line of tattooed blue stars trailing down one side of his neck, and it made me wonder where that tattoo ended and what other ones he was hiding beneath his clothes. He moved with the grace more common of an athlete than a mechanic, and his green eyes had a soulful intensity that made my heart skip a beat.
“How can we help you today?” The Adonis spoke, startling me from my thoughts. His voice was deep and sexy and I wanted to hear more of it.
“Um, I dropped my car off last week, but before I wrecked it, it was giving me some problems.”
“What kind of problems?”
“Like a squeaking problem.”
“Were there times it did it more than others?”
Now I felt stupid, and I wished I could drive the car for him and let him hear it for himself, but I jacked it up pretty good when I hit that tree.
There I went sounding tentative again.
“It’s probably a belt. We can fix it.”
The confidence in his voice made me think this man could take care of any problems a girl might have.
I let out a big sigh. “That’s a relief. Thank you.”
“You know, you could have just called,” he said, taking me in and shaking his head.
I was accustomed to men looking at me from head to toe, but it was usually lust I saw in their eyes—in this case, it was disdain. He was looking at me like I didn’t belong here.
Glancing down at my white slacks and sky-high heels, I had to agree with him, but I straightened my shoulders and stood up to my full height. “Sal doesn’t believe in cell phones, and since I was passing by, I thought I’d just stop in.”
It was clear he knew I was lying. I wasn’t “in the neighborhood” but he nodded, allowing me to save face.
“That’s cool, but next time you can just call. I’ve got a cell. Here’s my card.”
He extended an arm inked with a thick chain and handed me a card. It said, “Whiteside Auto Repair” at the top, and underneath it “Bridger Thompson.”
“Bridger?” I couldn’t help but want to say his name out loud, this gorgeous man who had my heart racing.
“I’m Dynassy Barnes,” I said, extending my hand.
He looked down, and suddenly I was aware of my impeccably manicured nails.
He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think you want to shake my hand.”
I inhaled sharply then noticed his hands were almost black with grease, a stark contrast to my creamy fingers dotted with a beige polish.
I laughed awkwardly. “Alright. Anyway, nice to meet you, Bridger.” My eyes scanned for a wedding ring but didn’t find one. That didn’t have to mean anything. I couldn’t see a wife wanting to get a ring as dirty as his hands were now. Maybe there was one tucked safely in a bureau drawer at home, but hey, the naked ring finger was a promising sign.
“Yeah, you too,” he said. “We’ll call you when it’s ready.”
“And if you think of anything else you need, you can call me.”
Oh, I was already thinking of some things I needed. Naughty things. Things that would involve him naked in a hot tub…
I must have gotten lost in fantasy land. I swallowed hard. “Oh, sorry. The heat today, it’s got me a little off.” What was with the “Ms” and “ma’am’s” in this place? “You can call me Dynassy.” I tilted my head in a shamelessly flirtatious manner.
“Dynassy,” he repeated and walked me to the front door.
He held the door for me. I stepped outside and turned to give him a big smile. “Thanks. Goodbye.”
“Bye,” he said, and surprised me with a wink.
I was sweating by the time I got back into my loaner car and started it, cranking up the air conditioning to full blast. Damn, Bridger Thompson was hot. I looked down at his card then grasped it in my hand like it was a golden ticket to paradise. Hell, maybe it was. They said mechanics were good with their hands.
I’d never dated a hard-working guy like that. Correction, I’d never dated a blue-collar type of guy. The men I dated fell into three categories. First, there were the money guys who worked behind the scenes. These guys were very impressed with themselves and thought you ought to be too. It usually turned out they wanted me for arm candy and didn’t take the time to get to know me. They were good for escorting me places because they usually had private jets and lots of connections.
Second, I dated other models. This was convenient, and let’s face it—models are attractive, so it was an easy trap to fall into. But once these guys realized I wasn’t going to put them on TV and make them a star, jealously would set in and things often got ugly. The third kind of guys I dated was athletes. I have a strict “don’t fall in love” policy with these fuckboys. The nature of their job makes most of them cheaters. My brother appears to be the exception that proves the rule on this, but most of them can’t keep it in their pants so that’s always a concern.
The one thing all my relationships have in common is that they’re shallow.
One person using the other for something.
I like it that way because it makes me feel safe when I know what to expect. As long as I know someone wants something from me—and I know what that thing is—I’m okay with it.
I’ve never dated “a regular guy,” but three minutes in a room with Bridger Thompson made me wonder what it would be like to be a normal girl dating a normal guy—going home to my suburban home, maybe making dinner for my man, waiting for him to come home. Asking him about his day. Dealing with our normal people problems.
I imagined that after the delicious dinner I cooked, he’d brush the dishes onto the floor with a clatter (ridiculous I know, but it was my fantasy), pull up my skirt, rip off my panties, and take me right there on the table.
Just thinking about having a man that passionate rendered me wet and needy.
I reminded myself to focus on driving. I didn’t need to wreck my loaner car too.
But maybe one day I’d have a man like that…
But it wouldn’t be Bridger Thompson.
I doubted I’d ever see him again.