Concentrating on her newest marketing campaign was super hard for Ella when all she wanted to do was stare at the picture of the actor from yesterday’s poster and check her phone. She knew it seemed ridiculous to think that Rome would actually call her back, especially so soon after he had called the first time, but that didn’t make her any less anxious to hear his voice.
She had his number from the caller ID. In fact, she’d memorized his number. She couldn’t call him, though. Teresa might not actually do all of the things she threatened to do, but Ella did believe that she really did check the outgoing call logs. So if she called Rome, it would have to be out of desperation, as a way of getting herself rescued. Since she didn’t even know him, chances were he wouldn’t believe her and would think she was crazy if she tried to tell him that her stepmom had her locked in the attic twenty-three hours a day.
The new marketing campaign was for an animated film, which wasn’t at all as interesting as the poster she’d been working on the day before. It was still her job, though, so she worked as diligently as she could, hoping to get the majority of the main concept designed that day so she could do the perfecting the next day.
The fact that she’d cropped the handsome actor out of her assignment from the day before and had his picture in the corner of her computer screen while she worked was only a slight distraction.
Around lunchtime, Mary came in, carrying a plate with a sandwich and chips on it for Ella’s lunch. She set it down on the table next to her elbow and snuck a bottle of Coke out of her apron. Putting her finger to her lips, she said, “Shhh!”
Ella was only allowed to drink water, so anything other than that was a real treat. “Mary! You shouldn’t have. What if you get caught?”
“Are you kidding? They’re all laying out by the pool again, and the rest of the staff is too busy trying to get all of their work done before Mrs. comes in and yells at them that they’re not doing it right. At least she never comes up here to see what I’m doing.”
Ella took a long drink of the refreshing soda and let the bubbles tickle down her throat. It was amazing. It wasn’t quite as good as an alcoholic drink would’ve been, but it was definitely better than water.
“Oh my gosh!” Mary exclaimed, almost making Ella choke on her soda. “What is that in the corner of your computer?”
“Huh? Oh, uh, nothing. It’s nothing.”
“Really?” Mary asked as Ella turned and closed the picture of the gorgeous actor. “Cause it looks like a little somethin’ somethin’.”
“No, it’s not. It’s just something I was working on yesterday that I forgot to close, that’s all.”
“Uh, I saw what you were working on yesterday, and there were a lot more people in the picture than just one hot dude.”
“Right. But that was a piece of what I was working on yesterday, that’s all.”
Mary giggled and turned around to get busy with her broom. “Whatever, Ella. I may not have known you that long, but I know you pretty well. I can tell by the color in your cheeks someone’s got a little crush. It’s okay. He’s a famous movie star, right? I bet a million girls are crushing on him.”
“Honestly, I don’t even know who he is,” Ella admitted. “I just saw him yesterday and thought he looked… interesting.”
Mary did a little more sweeping up and then said, “Good for you, girl. If you’re not gonna actually be out there in the real world, you may as well have some vivid fantasies about it.”
“Vivid fantasies?” Ella felt her face getting red again. “No, I just wanted something more interesting to look at while I am working on these animated animals, that’s all, Little Mouse.”
“Whatever you say, girlfriend. Just remember, if you could actually go out into the world, you could probably meet him. I’m pretty sure he lives around here. As a matter of fact, I bet your cousin knows him.”
“Wait--do you know who he is?” Ella felt her heart flutter in her chest. It would be great to have a name to go with the face.
“Of course I know who he is, sister. I haven’t been living under a rock--or locked in an attic--for the last few months.”
“Well, who is he?” Ella said, spinning her chair around to face her friend.
“Oooh, so now you want to know!” Mary giggled and went back to sweeping.
“Mary! You’re awful!” Ella picked up a chip off of her plate and tossed it at her friend.
“Hey! Don’t make a mess! I’ve gotta clean that up!”
Before she could even get her broom over to where the chip had landed, a mouse came scurrying out of the wall, grabbed it, and went back in.
“You’d better run, you little bastard!” Mary went chasing after it, waving the broom in front of her.
Ella couldn’t help but laugh, even if she was still waiting for Mary to answer her question. As soon as the mouse was out of harm’s way and Mary was done cursing at it, she turned back around. “One of these days, I’m bringing a cat with me! I swear to God, I’m getting that bastard.”
“Ah, Little Mouse, he can’t help it. He’s just doing what mice do.”
Mary went back to shaking her head and sweeping the floor, mumbling under her breath.
As desperately as Ella wanted to know the name of the man in the picture, she didn’t want Mary to know how badly she wanted to know. When Mary started humming, she knew she hadn’t forgotten--she was teasing her. “All right, Mary, just tell me already!”
Mary started laughing hysterically. “What? I thought you didn’t care.”
“All right--well, I guess I do. A little. I’m just… curious.”
Coming to stand next to her, Mary put a hand on her hip and said, “I can’t blame you. He sure is handsome. Who wouldn’t want to stare at Rome Verona all day?”
All the blood in her body seemed to stop flowing as Ella’s jaw dropped open. “Wha--what did you say his name is?”
“What? Rome Verona. Why? Oh, that’s right! Your dad--I forgot.”
Ella had no idea what Mary was talking about. She was just hung up on the actor’s name. Granted, there wasn’t much of a chance that the Rome who had called her yesterday was actually the man in the picture. That would be an impossible coincidence. Or fate. She wasn’t that lucky.
“I’m sorry, baby. Just because your dad and his dad are archenemies, that doesn't mean you can’t crush on him. So… hey, whatever wets your whistle.”
“Archenemies?” Ella repeated. “What are you talking about, Mary?”
“Girl, don’t you know? Your dad and Monty Verona had a falling out years ago, and now Verona Productions, one of the biggest production agencies in the world, won’t do business with Sinders Cinema Marketing. So… your dads probably wouldn’t be so happy if the two of you dated.”
Ella absorbed all of that and then said, “Well, I guess it won’t matter anyway since all I have is a picture of Rome Verona, and I seriously doubt the man is going to accidentally stumble into my father’s attic.”
Mary gave her a small, sympathetic smile. “It doesn’t have to be that way, my friend.”
“Yeah, it does. For now.” Ella took a deep breath and turned back to her work, done with talking about things that could never be. Whether it was Rome Verona who had called her or someone else, she was pretty certain she’d never hear from that man again anyway. She was just as alone now as she was before she’d found out the name of the actor, maybe even a little more so. At least before she had her imagination. Now, she felt like that had been taken away, too. Some things just weren’t meant to be.
He had waited until almost 4:00 in the afternoon, but now that his audition was over and he had nothing standing in his way, Rome sat down on the edge of his bed and purposely called the number he’d accidentally called the night before. He prayed Ella was working and that she was the one who answered. For all he knew, Sinders had a whole bunch of customer service representatives.“Sinders Cinema Marketing. This is Ella.”
Dinner was almost over, and Ella hadn’t heard a word anyone had said at the table, she’d been so lost in her thoughts. Rome knew who she was. He wanted to meet her. In real life. That was both amazing and terrifying at the same time.Ella wasn’t that pretty. She had been told for most of her life that she looked like her mother, who happened to be a famous model. But she knew now that she hadn’t inherited her mother’s beauty. Her stepmom told her all of the time that she had a witch’s
Rome called Ella every day, sometimes twice a day if he didn’t get to talk to her too long the first time. Some days she had more time to chat than others. Every time he talked to her, he became even more fascinated with the girl. Within days of meeting her, he knew how extraordinarily special she was. He wanted to be with her so badly, but every time he asked her out, she said she was busy.“What about your aunt’s birthday party tonight?” Rome asked Friday afternoon. He’d called her a little earlier than normal because he wanted to see i
Ella hung up the phone and then went over to the dress she’d been working on all week. She had no idea how this would work. If Tim came to get her, and she was locked in the attic, she’d be screwed. Her stepmom would just tell him that she wasn’t there. If he didn’t come to get her, she’d look ridiculous coming to dinner in her dress. But… she didn’t really have a choice. She needed to put it on now in anticipation of her stepmom coming to let her out. Would she just shove her back into the attic and lock the door when she realized Ella intended to go to the party?
In the half-bath, Ella hung the bag Tim had handed her on a hook on the back of the door and unzipped it. She gasped at what she saw hanging there. The gown was gorgeous. A crystal blue color, with lovely gem embellishments all down the bodice, the skirt was full and flowy, and she knew it would look lovely on anyone--even her.Quickly, she took her soup-covered gown off and tossed it in the garbage, thinking there was nothing anyone could do to get that stain out. As carefully as possible, she slipped into the blue gown, which fit her like a glove. He’d even go
Rome stepped out of the shadows once he was certain they were alone. There she was, standing by the fountain, her gown flowing around her, the moonlight casting a silver hue around her dark hair and making her skin glow in a soft light. She had spoken as if she were ordinary, perhaps even ugly, but even with the mask on her face, he could tell that Ella was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.They’d spoken to each other several times over the phone; he almost felt as if he knew her. Yet, as he approached, the ordinary words that would’ve normall
Tim’s fingers seemed cold compared to Rome’s warm ones, and even though her cousin was a graceful dancer, Ella couldn't help but think about what it would be like if it were Rome twirling her around the dance floor.She’d stolen his phone. She hadn’t meant to. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. She had meant to. But only because she didn’t want Tim to see it. And also because it had occurred to her that if she could sneak the phone into the attic, her stepmother wouldn’t know she had it. Then, Rome could call her whenever he want
Blinding light had Ella covering her face and blinking. “Where is it!” her stepmother screeched, pulling the chain to the bare bulb above Ella’s bed but continuing to shine the flashlight in Ella’s face. “Where the hell is that gown?” she demanded.Ella hadn’t fallen asleep yet, but she had been on her way. Her thoughts had been on Rome, of how peaceful it had been to stand in the garden with him, to hold his hand, to kiss his lips. She’d been so relaxed; it had been like floating on a cloud, in the world’s best dr