Collision

Hollywood heart-throb Cab Stone has it all fame, fortune, and the adoration of millions of women across the globe. When the constant attention from fans and expectations from his handlers becomes too much, Cab escapes the craziness of press junkets crammed into hotel rooms, movie sets, and blacked out Suburbans. Safely hidden away in Asheville, North Carolina, he expects peace, quiet, and solitude. What he doesn't expect is to meet a fiery redhead who changes everything he knows about the world.

 

Kei Sallee has little, expects less, and helps heal the hearts of thousands in Uganda. When she finds herself staying in the same guesthouse as Cab Stone, Kei vows to ignore his Greek god good looks and spend the summer as she had planned - in peace, quiet, and solitude.

 

Cab and Kei's lives couldn't be more different...or more the same. Despite their vastly different, yet startlingly similar backgrounds, Cab and Kei strike up an unlikely friendship that could blossom into something more. When two completely worlds experience a Collision, can they exist as one?

Chapter One

Seven minutes inside a hotel room with a total stranger.

A friendly greeting where we pretended to be great friends who genuinely liked each other, and then straight to business. None of the interactions held a special meaning. The friendships weren't real.

I'd rehearsed, choreographed, and expected every second of the encounters. We faked the "inside jokes," and my responses to questions rolled off the tongue as if it weren't all an act. 

Then, as fast as the meetings started, the questions came to an end. Quick handshakes followed polite goodbyes, and the visitors rushed out of the room, passing the next appointment as they arrived for their seven minutes of allotted time. Once a new body entered the room, the entire process started all over again.

I did not live my life. Like a circus animal, I performed. My existence not even my own anymore. I went wherever my team told me to go. I put on the show. I sold movie tickets. Got butts in the seats.

I've come to realize that my crazed daily existence is what brought the chaotic dreams that tormented me each night. In each nightmare, I searched for or chased after something, and I never understood exactly what or why. 

In the madness, all I could discern was that I was desperate to find something. Anything that might bring some peace. 

I searched. In my dreams and my life. And until I met Kei, I never figured out what for.

Chapter Two

The annoying ring of my cell phone woke me up out of a dead sleep. I wanted to ignore it, roll over and fall back to a night of sleep so thick that I returned to the setting of the dream from moments before. It was a parking lot, and I raced up and down each level looking between every car. It searched for something, but I didn't know what. I woke up to the buzzing drenched in sweat. My heart was pounding like I'd completed a mile run.

The dark room only made the anxiety worse because it took me several seconds to remember where I was and why I was there.

"Australia," I muttered, catching my breath. "Press junket."

The heavily lined curtains did a great job of hiding the fact that the sun rose outside and a new day started while I searched the parking garage.

My hand fumbled around the nightstand until I found my cell phone and brought it to my ear. "What?" I heard a gruffness in my voice.

Proof that I'd had a rough night.

"This is your wake-up call," James said. His voice as groggy and angry as mine. "Plane leaves in a few hours."

"Yeah."

I jammed another pillow under my neck and slapped myself in the face. Early mornings and I hated each other. We became mortal enemies and the early dawn hours managed to kick my tail every time we went into battle.

"Where am I going now? I've lost track."

"Come on, Cab. Get with it. You're done promoting. No more press junkets for a while. You're heading to Asheville to hide out at Oliver's. Remember?"

"Oliver?"

"That producer I told you about. The one I've been trying to get you to meet with for over six months. That Oliver."

"Oh, yeah." I scratched my head and slapped myself again.

"Are you hungover?"

"No. I told you I wasn't doing that anymore."

"Since when?"

"Since almost four months ago when I originally told you that I wasn't drinking anymore. Do you ever listen?"

I rubbed my eyes, more from irritation than a lack of sleep. My manager drove me crazy at reasonable hours of the day but hearing him so early in the morning affected me even more. 

"You sound hungover."

"I'm not. I'm worn out. I sat and did interviews for nine hours yesterday. Interviews your team set up, by the way, so don't give me any grief if I sound bad."

"Hey, I was just checking." He sounded disappointed. James lived by the adage that bad press was better than no news and nothing got tongues wagging like a celebrity hovering near rock bottom - or laying under it.

"Whatever. What time is the car coming?"

"Ten."

"I'll be ready." I hung up and threw the comforter off the bed. The cold air on my skin helped me wake up to the point that I managed to swing my legs over the side of the mattress, sit and try to form a complete thought.

I'd been in Australia for two days. In three hours I'd be on another plane, and in twenty-four hours, on another continent. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I looked over at the space next to me. It was empty and cold to the touch. Sofie must've left after I fell asleep. We never spent the night in each other's rooms, and if our routine continued, I wouldn't see her again before my plane took off, which I found to be a relief.

We'd fought the night before. All over the world, gossip tongues wagged. They announced our secret engagement. Again. Another flat out lie, but one that sold the magazines and brought viewers to the entertainment news shows. Sofie started showing signs that she wanted the news to be real just as much as the reporters did. She wanted an engagement, but I never wanted anything less, and Sofie realized it.

"Take a few days to think about it," she'd said as she laid next to me on the large bed. "It's time. It's what everyone expects."

Everyone but me.

I rolled over without responding. For the first time, my dreams would be a welcome distraction.

James rambled on as I rushed around to find my clothes. With the room dark, the search failed so I gave in, threw the curtains open and found myself momentarily blinded by the bright light. Outside, cars honked, traffic roared, and my name rolled up the forty floors in a near cultish chant. "Cab... Cab... Cab..."

I spotted my jeans on a patio chair and realized I had no choice but to walk onto the balcony. I unlatched the door, slid the door open and walked to the edge of the balcony which brought on a wave of screams.

The bright sunlight limited my vision, but I didn't need to see over the balcony. I knew exactly what I would find at the ground level. A crowd of fans with photographers mingled throughout. A different group appeared wherever I went, and the noise they made rumbled at a near roar on a timeless loop. Much to their delight, I gave a quick wave before I dashed back into the room and threw the curtains shut behind me.

I knew better than to walk outside, but in my grogginess - and to the delight of those waiting below, I failed to think things through. Pictures of my messy morning look would zip around social media before I counted to ten. Worse, I addressed the crowd shirtless and wore nothing but a pair of boxers. It would look like a staged photo op to anyone in the industry, but my mother would be horrified. My publicists, thrilled. 

A brief knock at the door caught my attention. "Room service," a voice announced.

I quickly pulled on the jeans while checking through the peephole to make sure the visitor was the waiter. If not, it wouldn't be the first time a fan managed to gain access to my door. They could be sneaky and damned near brilliant when they put their minds to it.

Through the peephole, I saw an older gentleman with wire-rimmed glasses and a large nose that only looked more pronounced through the fish-eyed lens.

I opened the door as I buttoned the jeans and watched him wheel the food cart into the room and neatly place the plates, silverware, and glasses on the dining room table. He executed a perfectly placed table. Impressive enough, but I would've been just as happy with a breakfast biscuit served in a paper sack.

The room service attendant pulled the lids off the platters of food like he presented a magic trick and expected me to be left speechless. His grand gesture revealed an egg white omelet, turkey bacon, and perfectly toasted wheat bread with no butter. The same meal I ate every morning for breakfast, but he didn't need to know that.

"Looks amazing," I offered.

"Wonderful, Sir." He picked up the pot of coffee and started pouring. "Have you enjoyed your time in Australia?"

"Honestly, dude, I didn't leave the hotel."

"Oh." He set the carafe down and motioned toward the chair for me to take a seat. "Then you'll have to come back for a proper visit."

"I'd like that," I said but didn't sit. People controlled every aspect of my life so when I had the opportunity, I took control back, even over something as small as when I wanted to sit down for a meal. 

He bowed slightly before he snuck out the door and left me alone in the vast, overly decorated room.

I took one look at the food and put the covers back on. I was sick of hotels and room service food. I wanted Lucky Charms with two percent milk. Even if it meant I'd have to work out an additional two hours my next time in the gym.

Once the door closed behind him, I sat in the chair, put my shoes on and finally made a breakfast sandwich out of the food laid out in front of me.

An hour later my exit from the hotel was as well choreographed as a dance number in a hip-hop video. Three minutes out, the limo driver called to announce his imminent arrival, at which time I threw on my ball cap and sunglasses, tossed my sweatshirt hood over my head, and jumped onto the elevator with Andrew. He'd been my security detail since early in my career and became one of the few people I trusted.

We exited the elevator, and I made a detour from our planned path and walked straight to the reception desk. My appearance in front of her left the small brunette standing behind the counter startled.

"Hello," I said, leaning on the counter.

"Uh... uh... h-hh-hello. How can I help you, Mr. Stone?"

"I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the hotel and staff."

"We-well thank you," she stammered.

"No, Thank you. I-"

Andrew shoved me toward the exit before I finished my statement. We raced through the lobby, out the front door, and into the screaming masses. I scribbled my signature on the photos people held in front of me, said a few 'hello's' and 'thank-you's,' but avoided returning any 'I love you's.' As obsessed as some fans acted, if I said those magical words, they might believe I meant them.

The three words had zero effect on me. How many times can someone be told "I love you" before every voice starts to sound the same and the words themselves become meaningless?

I often wonder if hearing “I love you” from someone I want to hear it from would have any effect on me. Would I ever be able to let the words into my heart and mind while at the same time keeping all the other proclamations of the same thing from others, outside?

Could I believe that someone loved me and accepted it back while ignoring the statement from the masses?

In truth, fans didn't know me enough to love me. And if they got to know the real me, they wouldn't love me at all. They loved the idea of me or the characters I portrayed. Me, on the other hand, they didn't know a thing about me; and I'm not sure I did either.

"Alright, that's enough," Andrew announced, bringing on a universal groan and panic from the crowd.

They pressed in closer and yelled my name louder. "Cab! Cab!"

"He's gotta go." Andrew placed his arms on my shoulders, pulled me from the grasp of three middle-aged women, and pushed me toward the giant, black Suburban. Once inside and cloaked behind the tinted windows, I let out the breath I'd been holding since I walked away from the reception desk.

We drove off, leaving the screaming mob to run after us until the driver gained enough speed to leave them in our dust.

The process repeated itself as soon as I climbed out of the vehicle at the airport. More screaming fans lined the airport entrance, and paparazzi snapped picture after picture as I placed my bags on the conveyer belt at the security station. Again, I tried to ignore them as they yelled my name in hopes I would look their direction.

The sound of camera shutters increased in speed and intensity when I trigged the alarm on the metal detector and had to pull everything out of my pockets, hold my arms up, and spread my legs in preparation to be searched by a civilian employee wielding a metal-detecting wand.

I'd seen my picture splashed across enough magazines to know what type of shot they looked for. They wanted bare feet. Barebacks and stomachs. They wanted pat downs and underwear. And at that moment, they captured it all. 

I spread my legs to shoulder-width apart, raised my arms over my head and immediately felt my jeans start to slip past my waist. I hadn't worn a belt because I wanted to be comfortable on the long flight and didn't think about the possibility that I might be felt up by a security guard and have my jeans falling to the point that the elastic band of my underwear would appear like a billboard over Times Square. Ralph Lauren would be getting some extra free advertising.

The pictures would be a hit, and the paparazzi would be able to feed their families for months because I got stopped and wanded at the airport.

Once through the security barrier, I found myself in the clear. When I lowered my cap over my eyes and kept my head down, I managed to remain unknown until safely on the plane. In regular clothes and with my head covered, I blended in with everyone around me and devolved into nothing extraordinary. And with everyone around me preoccupied with the issues tumbling around in their worlds, they became oblivious to anything going on around them, and I grew invisible. 

I waited for the plane to arrive by hiding out in the airline VIP lounge and once the final boarding announcement bellowed over the loudspeakers, I boarded the plane, strapped myself into my first-class pod, and stretched my legs out.

I couldn't wait to escape the madness.

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