The love she longed for which closed its eyes and opened its heart felt like some kind of hidden cave of gems waiting deep in the Appalachian mountains they drove by. Allie was the passenger and slowly sifted out of her seat into rolling hills smothered with memory.

Allie first fell in love with the film “Charmingstance” five years ago when she saw it on her thirtieth birthday. She had seen it with a man she had dated for a couple of years, and the film strangely signified the end of their relationship. The two of them were all wrong for each other even if the sex was great. Allie had always been in search of this deeper sort of thing and that was the night when she finally figured out that Luke would always be shallow water. The movie put an exclamation point on it, especially when Luke walked out of the theater bewildered and complaining about having wasted the last two hours of his life.

That’s what I’ve done for the last two years of mine, she had thought.

So ended one relationship and so began another one. The true word to call it at the start was an obsession, and it was centered solely on this mystical and poetic film made by one Bernardo Donati. This American-born young and quite handsome director who had made a couple of indie films before blasting to stardom with “Charmingstance”. Bernardo was the only son of Italian mega-millionaire businessman Antonio Donati and his fashion mogul wife Stella Donati. How Allie could have ever dreamt or conceived of being part of that life still astounded her. But the very film was built on the idea of transforming yourself, of changing the person you saw in the mirror. At her very core, this was what Allie had longed for in her three decades of life. Somehow, it seemed, Bernardo Donati knew how to speak to her heart and soul.

The movie world would end up speaking to that very heart and soul, but the words it would use would be harsh and cruel, and most would come from Sir Donati.

“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul,” Marilyn Monroe once said.

Allie knew that now, but had no true idea that could have been the case five years ago. So deluded and foolish and driven simply to try to meet this man. She did. Now she dreaded the day they had met. Now she hated herself for every second afterwards, and how easily she had been sucked up into this scalding vacuum. A dark place where you couldn’t breathe and could only hear the noisy engine of another man’s nightmares playing themselves out on you. Literally on and over and through you.


Her day-drifting out the passenger seat window stopped as Allie blinked and looked back over at Morgan. “Yeah?”

“I’m going to stop at the grocery store in Mars Hill.”

“That a real name?”

“Yep. Tiny little town, the last one before we get to the resort.”

“Do I have to go in?” Allie said with a smile, stretching her arms and legs.

“Didn’t sleep well last night, did you?”

“Not exactly.”

Morgan flicked her hair like she always did out of habit. It was great when the guys were around because they loved that sort of thing, but Allie simply found it amusing.

“I think you have some big story to tell,” Morgan said.

“Maybe,” Allie said.

“What would get you to spill the beans? Margaritas or wine?”

“Both,” Allie joked. “Actually, your short ribs would make me tell you anything. And then some.”

“Ooh,” Morgan said with a grin. “Well, I’ll have to look up the recipe on my phone, but I think that’s possible. With the margaritas and wine, of course.”

“Of course.”

“You do know I stole that recipe from Tom Colicchio?”

“The Top Chef guy?”

Morgan gave her a nod.

“Haven’t watched that show in a while,” Allie said.

“I don’t think a new season has been on for a couple of years. Just like—just like everything.”

The painful truth Allie not only knew but carried scars for. Not emotional scars but the literal kind, the wrinkled flesh kind. All because Hollywood and the film industry had suddenly stopped.

Two tsunamis wiping out the west coast can do that.

She had once even uttered this to Bernardo in anger. This had been before she knew the depths of his . . . issues. This had been before she realized that a tsunami didn’t necessarily have to manifest itself in water but could be in human rage as well.

Morgan started to switch lanes and then jerked the car back not realizing she had almost plowed into a truck in her blind spot. The guy laid on the horn to get her attention.

“Oops,” Morgan simply said with a giggle. “You know—if you want the ribs we’ll probably have to pick up some items to cook it in too. Not sure what the cabin will have. Not sure if it will have hardly anything.”

“Maybe just a big fire pit in the back,” Allie said, still glancing at rippling hills they passed that seemed to go on forever.

“There,” Morgan said, pointing to the sign. “Mars Hill.”

“You sound too New York. You need the twang. Like ‘Marrrs Heeel.'”

“Maybe we’ll find you a nice sweet Southern boy while you’re down here.”

Allie kept watching the scenery as she agreed with her friend. “Sweet sure does sound nice. Just make sure the Southern boy doesn’t have a name ending in ‘iti’.”

“Yes, definitely,” Morgan said. “No Italian men.”

“No Italian anything,” Allie added. “Men, food, wine. Nothing.”

“I think that might mean I won’t be able to wear a couple of my shoes.”

“Look around us,” Allie told her. “What do you need fancy shoes for?”

“For the big, handsome strapping Southern boy who knocks on our door asking to cut some wood. Oops—here’s the turning lane. Almost missed it.”

“I think you’ve read too many Nicholas Sparks books,” Allie said.

Morgan flipped her hair again. “Nope. Just Fifty Shades Carolina Style.”

Allie howled out loud. It was great to just yell for no reason other to be silly.

“Nothing about that sounds good,” Allie to Morgan.

“Speak for yourself, sister.”