Shared by the Cowboys: An MFM Romance Novella

1

Audrey

“Come on, girl.” I caress the steering wheel. “Please, I promise we’ll stop for a bit if you get me into this next town,” I coax my 1996 Volvo, trying to ignore the bright orange check engine light. It’s been on for the last hundred miles or so. It’s not like I have the luxury of being able to stop and get her looked at.

The last time I checked, you need time and money to get a car fixed. And I have neither.

The old gal manages to chug up the hill and I pass the welcome sign for Ironwood Creek. How can there be less than five hundred people living here? Blinking, I can almost see the movie set I practically lived on as a child. That huge Hollywood hit must have had at least five hundred people working on it.

The difference being, in Ironwood Creek I’m nobody. I doubt anyone in this small town gives a rat’s ass about me and my problems. On the set, I was the star. It was the pinnacle of my childhood career. Playing Cinderella in the huge box office hit was a blessing and a curse.

On the upside, having a massive movie deal bought me time with my mother. Literally. The scads of cash forced my father to back off for a bit. Normally he’d drag me from audition to audition.

Those rooms were filled with girls who looked so eerily similar, it reminded me of one of those fun houses full of mirrors. The kind that turned your own reflection back on yourself, making it look like there was an endless army of lookalikes. And just like that optical illusion, you felt like you knew that line of girls in the mirror, but at the same time couldn’t shake the creepy feeling that you were staring into something empty and soulless.

Those rooms were exhausting. And lonely.

None of those girls ever wanted to play a game or just talk. They were too busy studying lines or sizing up the competition. It was an ocean of bright blond curls making waves against the drab gray walls. I’ve always thought it was funny that those Hollywood movies that grip your imagination and fill the world with so much color are born from bleak, bland, and boring audition waiting rooms.

Back before Dad locked up my mother, she made life colorful. She actually introduced me to acting. I bet she wished she could take that decision back. I was only one year old when she landed me a gig as a cute girl toddling around on chubby legs in a Pampers commercial. After that, she took me to a few other auditions, but they were different when I went with her.

Mom lived in her own world. A place full of beautiful possibilities. It only existed inside her mind, this perfect, sparkling utopia. Somehow, she brought me inside. Through her eyes, I could see the magical places she traveled to. When we went to auditions, there were no boring waiting rooms and the other girls in there were never lifeless, creepy dolls all scrounging for the same roles.

No, Mom’s world was an Amazonian jungle. A place where we had to swing on long vines to cross the dangerous river between the reception desk and the treetop home we built in the waiting room chairs. With her, the floors were flowing rivers filled with equal parts beauty and danger. Sometimes it was tropical fish we’d see under the crystal clear surface of the water and sometimes it was scary piranhas.

She never cared about the hostile stares we got from angry stage moms. Sometimes at auditions, you wait half the day just to get in and do your song and dance for thirty-seconds. With Mom, there was no such thing as waiting, only another epic adventure.

A sad smile tugs at the corners of my mouth the same way these memories tug at my heartstrings. Sniffling, I coast down the winding dirt road and try to forget. But the pain will always be there. And my hatred for my father will never die.

What I saw as a playful and artistic imagination, Dad used as an argument to have my mother committed. As a child, I could never understand why adults did things. Mom was the only exception to that rule. She did everything with the same love and purity of a child.

If she laughed, it was because she was bubbling over with joy. If she cried, it was because she hurt. Unlike the Hollywood types I was surrounded by, Mom wasn’t phony. Her world was real to her. As real as this boring thing we call reality is to us. If she let you visit her there, you were instantly drawn in.

It took me years to understand that my mother had been institutionalized against her will. It took even more years to realize that the real reason was so Dad could have total control.

Mom was only interested in getting me in commercials or television shows when that was something I enjoyed. When I began complaining about the long drives and longer wait times, she was ready to walk away. Unfortunately, I got casted as the baby sister on an up-and-coming family sitcom. Dad figured it was the big break that would make him rich. He practically had cartoony dollar signs in his eyes when he imagined that sweet sitcom cash. There was only one problem. He needed Mom out of the way.

Six months.

That’s all it took to rip my mother from my life. She was gone and I practically lived on set. Of course, when he took away her freedom and shoved her into a facility, he had no way of knowing the television show wouldn’t take off. We were never signed for a second season, so that big money he was willing to destroy his entire family over went up in a puff of smoke.

Not that it stopped him. There was always another audition. Some days several. With Mom gone, they weren't fun anymore. They were lifeless, meaningless, and empty. Just like my reality. My entire existence.

Struggling to breathe, I blink away tears and pull into a diner. She’s happier now, right? I know she is. When I laid her to rest last week, she finally got to go live in her perfect, quirky world forever. Hopefully the end of her life marked the beginning of her peace. I know it changed everything for me. Without being able to blackmail me with my mother’s care anymore, I abandoned Dad and hit the road.

I didn’t know where to go, just that it had to be as far away from Hollywood as possible. My father lined up some new huge movie deals for me, but I don’t give a damn. The only reason I kept working as long as I did is because of his threats.

“It’d be a shame if you lost visitation rights,” he’d say coolly when I whined about not wanting to go to another audition.

When I was a kid, that was enough to keep me in line. Once I grew up, and I realized I could visit her without him, he upped the ante.

“That’s fine. If you don’t want to take this job, you don’t have to. I’m sure we can make ends meet. Maybe if I move your mom to a less expensive place. It might be farther away, and I don’t know if the care will be very good, but we’ll get by.” His eyes would narrow down as he trapped me, using my mother as a bargaining chip like some kind of fucking terrorist.

I throw the car in park and cut the engine, breathing deep, like they teach you in yoga, until my body stops shaking and I get my wits about me. I wish I didn’t have to worry about that monster anymore.

I hate living like a fugitive on the run, but what else can I do? If I know anything about the man I’ve been unfortunate enough to call my father, it’s that he’s not going to just lie down and accept I’m missing. He’s going to try to find me and force me to take that role one way or another.

He’s lived off my money this whole time. With the way he blows cash, it’s a miracle that he set some of it aside for me. But it’s locked in a trust fund I can’t touch until I’m twenty-five. And that might as well be a lifetime away. So basically, I’m the richest broke girl in the world.

He can’t survive without my movie money. I bet my life he’s trying to track me down to get me on set. He doesn’t want the gravy train to stop. But I’ve got news for him: that train has left the station and it’s never coming back.

This is my chance for a new start. I’m not sure how I’ll manage to get by. Dad still has control of my money. My car is broken. I’m flat broke. And the only job skill I have is pretending to be other people. The possibilities aren’t exactly endless here.

I shut out the world outside my windshield and bow my head. “Mama”—my heart aches as I whisper the word—“what am I gonna do? I can’t do this on my own. I need you to help me out here.”

Tears spill over my cheeks and my throat is raw as I try to swallow the lump in it. “I’m on a real adventure now. You’d love it. Everything looks different in Texas. The dirt seems redder, the sky spreads wider, the sun is hotter.”

I sniff loudly. “Can you guide me through this place? Like you did when I was a kid? ’Cause Dad, he pulled me out of your world and locked the door. And I know this place isn’t magical, but it’s a fresh start. Maybe I can learn to live my life here. So, if you can hear me, please help. I love you, Mama.”

I hunch over the steering wheel and bawl like a baby. I can’t stop the hot tears falling from my eyes. I can’t heal the gaping wound losing her has ripped back open. It takes a while, but eventually my tears do dry. I manage to open my eyes and scan the dusty diner. I swear this place looks like it was stolen from the set of a cowboy movie. But, unlike a movie, I can’t just audition for some role.

A sign in the window catches my eye and a smile spreads over my face. In big black marker, someone has handwritten “Help Wanted. Apply Inside.”

Then again, maybe I can do one more audition after all.