Jesse was burnt out, run down, and tired. He hadn’t been this tired in years. He was tired of Hollywood glam, politics, noise and people.
Todd, his agent, attempted to reason with him. It was no secret in the film industry that Jesse put his all into his films. He became the part. After filming his third film in less than a year he battled fatigue and a weary mind. It would take time for him to find his normal self.
Jesse wouldn’t listen. He wanted to find a place where no one knew him or cared to know him; he wanted a place to hide. Todd had stood by and patiently waited as Jesse had stormed about his extensive library of books he never had a chance to read. After a few minutes of searching Jesse pulled out an Atlas and laid it on the table. Todd had watched in horror and amusement as Jesse closed his eyes, whipped open the book, and thrust a finger at the map.
Jesse remembered Todd laughing uproariously when Jesse peered through a cracked eyelid and saw he’d pinpointed northern Minnesota. Todd didn’t laugh when Jesse threw an uncharacteristic temper tantrum. Against his better judgment Todd purchased a house on a little lake in a relatively remote area of northern Minnesota.
Jesse suspected Todd only agreed because he didn’t believe Jesse would actually set foot on the property. Within a day and a half after the purchase was made things were set in motion. His private jet dropped him at the Duluth Airport and managed to have a security escort to his new vehicle that waited for him. He followed the directions his assistant had scribbled in passionate pink pen to the house.
Once turning off the highway he’d driven down a narrow dirt road. Knife sharp corners forced him to drive even slower as the road meandered around the little lake. He came to the driveway and turned down it.
Initially he’d been disappointed by the lack of color in the yard. Most of the grass to the sides of the driveway still appeared brown. At the end of the long driveway the dark brown and white house was flanked on the left by enormous dark green pine trees in structured rows. To the right the yard opened up and empty flowerbeds with dark dirt lay empty and solemn.
As he climbed from his vehicle and got a closer inspection of the grass he could see a few small shoots of fresh green coming up through the lawn. He made his way around the back of the house to where a glass porch overlooked a large back yard and a slope to the rim of the little lake. Huge shade trees that drooped over the water’s edge along one side of the property almost completely obscured the guest house. Meandering down to the dock he walked out on its narrow, worn space and stood for a few minutes until the bite of the April wind across the lake drove him inside.
Now that he was here and saw some of the desolation he considered going back to those things familiar to him. This cool bite of air, the wind through the trees, and the call of birds in the trees welcoming spring seemed strange, foreign, and made him feel small. He realized though that he’d left behind the stress of work and a place that he couldn’t even force himself to call home. The thought of going back to nothing kept him rooted to the spot.
For the next three days he did absolutely nothing. He ate from his rapidly dwindling supplies when he felt hungry. He wandered the house and yard when he got bored. He slept when he was tired. He didn’t have a schedule, and he didn’t have to answer to anyone.
He’d just gotten up from an afternoon cat nap to find something to eat. As he passed the kitchen window something caught his eye. Propelled to the window, he peered in horror and fascination at the creature that stood nearly on his front porch step eating off what looked like a rosebush.
There seemed a good possibility that it was some sort of domestic animal owned by his neighbors. He pulled on a long overcoat and a stocking cap and then slid a pair of dark sunglasses over his eyes. He slipped slowly out the door and turning sideways made himself as thin as possible as he maneuvered down the stairs. Once past the animal he dashed for his vehicle. The creature raised its head and curiously watched him drive away.
He immediately tried the first place he came too. They were neighbors with adjacent lake property. No one was home there. He headed for the next house across the street. On each side of the driveway were row upon row of thick pine trees. Whomever settled this area had a fondness for planting pine trees. A short distance up, the driveway opened up into a wide open expanse of a yard where a small rambler style home with a two car attached garage stood.
Getting out of the vehicle he headed for the door. He’d climbed the short staircase to the porch of the home before a deep throated growl stopped him in his tracks and drew his attention to the big dark grey dog that lay on a bed at the far corner of the covered porch. The white hair that decorated his muzzle denoted old age, but the teeth he bared looked strong and large. Jesse found he couldn’t pull his gaze away from the hypnotic blue eyes of the dog.
“Don’t look him in the eye.”
He swore and spun to face a dark haired beauty who’d come up behind him as he’d locked gazes with the dog. She wore black leggings that seemed to encase a mile of leg and a fitted pink fleece jacket. Her hands were planted on her narrow hips. One sleek brow rose as she tipped her head quizzically and regarded him with startling silver eyes. “Can I help you?”
“Ummmm…I’m not sure. There’s a strange animal in my yard. I’m wondering if it’s yours.”
“What kind of animal is it? The only things I own are dogs.”
“Honestly? I haven’t a clue what it is. Four legs, long neck, shaggy hair.”
She couldn’t help but laugh her voice a musical tinkle. “Is it brown and white?”
“Yes!” That’s it!” His quick response spooked the old dog at the corner causing it to start growling again.
Raven watched as the man tilted his head at the dog. He appeared poised to run. Raven smiled at the stranger’s obvious discomfort. “Don’t worry. I have a feeling you could run faster than Cecil anyway.”
From her position at the bottom of the stairs, it was difficult to estimate on his height. She guessed he was just less than six feet and athletic looking despite the bulky long jacket he wore. He wore a stocking cap in the light April air and she could see his dark hair peeking out from under it. Dark sunglasses obscured his eyes.
“So you know this…llama?”
“Harriet belongs to the old couple that lives across the road.”
“That’s the first place I tried. I knocked on their door already but no one was home.”
“They’re probably at the casino.”
“There are casinos in Minnesota believe it or not. Surely not the Las Vegas caliber if that’s what you’re imagining. The casino is a prime activity for people their age- well for people any age around here.” The casinos provided a different form of night life for those who didn’t want to sit at a bar every night.
“When do you think they’ll return?”
“I couldn’t begin to imagine. They have more stamina when it comes to the casino than just about anyone I know. Do you have somewhere over there to put her?”
His question sparked a grin from her. “Would you like some help?”
“Please,” he entreated, clapping his hands together. Raven sighed. Why couldn’t her new neighbor be a dashing, handsome, non-gay man?
Once again, Jesse watched her raise her eyebrow in surprise. She didn’t seem to thrilled with him. The girl dashed up the stairs and walked past him, a whiff of wild flowers caught his nose as she moved past him.
“Let me put the dogs away. “Cecil, Aramus… come.”
Jesse spun to find another dog had flanked him from the other side and had stood quietly behind him. No wonder she wasn’t afraid to admit the her one guard dog was geriatric, she had another one waiting in the wings. The dogs obediently moved into the open house door. Cecil, the crotchety old fellow, moved with an achingly slow pace hampered by arthritis.
Without a backwards glance to see if he followed she skipped lightly down the stairs and climbed into his black Lexus SUV. Jesse watched as she waited patiently in the passenger’s seat of his truck. In his experience the only women who threw themselves into his vehicle were ones who wanted something. Shrugging, he walked down the steps and climbed in.
“It would’ve been smarter to buy a different color if you were going to spend this much on a vehicle.”
Obviously she hadn’t failed to notice the registration sticker taped to the rear window or the brand of car. Jesse didn’t know how to respond. People rarely criticized his taste in person. Sure he might see it spread across the tabloids, but normal people didn’t say it to his face. Clearly, she hadn’t recognized him yet.