“Does it bother you…people asking you for autographs and selfies?”
“There you go again,” Riley said. “Answering my question with a question.”
He smiled. “But you didn’t ask a question. You were wondering out loud if this would be the time to ask me if I’m famous.”
He shrugged his shoulders. He’d stopped eating and Riley wondered if being recognized had somehow ruined his appetite. “Fame is relative. That woman may have recognized me, but then many others in this restaurant haven’t.”
“So you are famous,” Riley said. “Does it bother you that some people don’t recognize you?”
He shook his head. “No, and in fact, I prefer they didn’t. That way, I get to eat my noodles in peace and not worry about somebody taking unflattering pictures of me as I eat. Hopefully not with a noodle hanging from my mouth.”
“I’m sorry,” Riley said.
“It’s not your fault that some people can’t help themselves.”
Riley took a deep breath. The conversation seemed to drag his mood down. The smile was completely gone. “So, do you like it? Acting?”
“I do, yes,” he replied, the smile returning to his face. “I’ve been doing it now for the past ten years or so.”
Three giggling teenagers walked past them and Riley thought they were about to line up in front of him and ask for autographs. But the teen-agers were more engrossed in what was on their phones than the people around them and had settled themselves at the next table.
“Is this the part where I’m supposed to ask you what shows you’ve been on?” Riley asked.
He chuckled. “This is the part where you get to ask me whatever you want.”
Riley took a deep breath and thought for a moment. What would she ask, she wondered? She wondered if it bruised his ego, meeting someone who had no idea who he was. Perhaps Gareth felt the same way when someone didn’t recognize him. Back then, no one did.
“People usually answer questions more truthfully when they’re under pressure,” Riley said. “So now it’s rapid-fire question time. I’ll take the first answer that comes to mind. Ready?”
Ashe frowned, as if he didn’t understand what she meant. But Riley didn’t want to give him time to think. He could improvise if he had to, lie if necessary.
“Morning person or night person?”
“Night person,” he replied, a smile forming on his lips.
“Are you funny?”
“Do you consider yourself serious then?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” he replied, frowning. “In fact, tonight, someone just called me an old fart.”
“If you could be any cartoon character, who would you be?”
“Pepe La Pew.”
Riley giggled, imagining him batting his eyes like the lovable skunk.
“You’ve got to keep going, Riley, or it’s my turn to ask questions,” he warned. “And I have to warn you – I don’t take prisoners.”
“If one song were to describe your life, what would it be?”
“I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing.”
“Aerosmith! That’s my favorite band! And did you know that they’re playing in Atlantic City – ”
“Next question or it’s my turn,” Ashe warned, arching an eyebrow.
“What do you like best about your job?”
“Being someone I’m not – for a time.”
“What don’t you like about your job?” Riley asked.
“That you’re only as good as your last movie.”
“When did you last get laid – No! I mean, when was the last time you lied? Lied! Lied, not laid!”
Ashe chuckled, then forced himself to be serious. “Just before I got into that elevator with you.”
“Was that an answer to the first question or the second?”
“Second,” Ashe replied, his eyes never leaving her face.
Riley blushed. Goodness gracious, his eyes. And his voice. She focused and cleared her throat, serious again. “Do you see yourself in ten years’ time still doing the same thing you’re doing now?”
“Yes, but I’d like to produce more, too. Even direct. After all, what’s hot in Hollywood right now may not be so hot next year, or in five, or ten years.”
“You never know,” Riley said. “You could still be hot. I mean, look at you! You’re hot right now, so why not in ten years?”
“If I’m really that hot, then how come you don’t know who I am?”
“Just because I don’t know who you are doesn’t mean I don’t know real-life hot from not.”
This time, it was Ashe who paused before his face broke into a wide grin, his blue eyes twinkling.
“You’re good – even though you did get distracted for a moment – though that was entirely my fault,” Ashe said, taking a sip from his beer. “Debate team in school?”
His eyes narrowed. “Auctioneer?”
“Definitely not,” Riley replied, laughing.
“I give up. What?”
“I have three smart-aleck nephews and, whenever they’re around, you need to have your game face on all the time. They’re relentless. And you?”
“I’ve only got one niece, so obviously I can’t compete with three.”
His phone beeped, the third time since they had sat down though he’d ignored every single call or text message throughout dinner. Riley remembered how it had beeped in the cab as well, but he hadn’t answered it that time either. But this time, Ashe pulled out his phone from his jacket pocket and glanced at the display.
“Is that your manager, by any chance?” She asked.
“Yes, it is. And she’s wondering – in full caps, no less – where I am,” Ashe said, and began typing a message on his phone. “I’m not supposed to leave the hotel.”
“You’re in big trouble then.”
He drew a deep breath, and took another sip from his beer. “You could say that. She’s probably a nervous wreck right now. But then, she always is.”
“Are they sending a car to pick you up?” Riley asked. Ashe made a face but didn’t answer her. “I gather that’s a ‘yes’, then. Well, I need to get going anyway.”
Despite Riley’s insistence that she pay for dinner, Ashe took care of the bill and together they stepped outside. Riley shivered, a cold wind ruffling her hair. They looked up at the sky, shrouded by heavy clouds.
“It’s going to rain,” Riley said, rubbing her forearms. “It must remind you of London.”
He shrugged. “Just because I’m English doesn’t automatically mean I’m from London.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Riley chuckled. “The posh Englishman who’s not really posh!”
“Right,” he laughed as his phone beeped again. This time, Ashe excused himself and answered it.
Riley tried not to eavesdrop but it was difficult to avoid. Ashe had such a deep voice it was easy to hear what he was saying. He was in Chinatown, he was telling someone. Of course, he was fine. Why wouldn’t he be? He’d only been trapped in the elevator for half an hour, no big deal, really. He was in good company at the moment and didn’t need any help. But he told his caller that he was standing outside the restaurant, in case they were racing through Manhattan to rescue him.
Riley glanced at her phone, too, checking the time. It was half past ten and she needed to get back home. As Ashe turned to face her, she gave him a mock salute. “Well, thanks for joining me for dinner, and for talking me off that ledge of getting back into bed with the ex.”
“You talked yourself out of it long before I met you,” he said, slipping his hands inside his jeans pockets as he walked towards her.
“You still made me feel better about what I would have ended up doing – or rather, not doing, for that matter.”
“Why would you feel anything but better about it?” Ashe asked, frowning. “Did you really want to see him again?”
“Him? No, I mean, I had a few questions for him, but in the end it wasn’t worth it.” Riley exhaled. She really had to go. “Anyway, it was nice meeting you, Ashe. Dinner was fun.”
“Thank you, Riley,” he said. “But it’s late. I can have the driver take you home.”
“No, thanks,” Riley said, shaking her head. “I’ll take a cab.”
“Can I call you some time?” he asked, taking another step towards her.
She stared at him, unable to believe her ears. She would love to give him her number, but then what? He’d just be another Gareth, only this time, he was already at the top of his game, whoever he was. Gareth had been a nobody back then. She’d paid for everything just so he could go to his acting classes and his auditions, and Riley never complained because she loved him.
Three years later, she just might not be over Gareth at all if she ended up dressing in the skimpiest dress she owned and buying a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes — on sale — that would probably end up returned or never worn again, all because he sent her a text saying he missed her.
You always fell for his lines, Ri, her older sister Paige had told her more than once. That’s why he’s an actor. What other job gives someone the perfect excuse to lie?
No wonder Riley had stopped watching movies the moment Gareth left her three years ago.
“I had a wonderful time, too,” Riley said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. “But suppose I don’t give you my number and say that I did. Or let’s say I did give you my number and you lost it, misplaced it, or maybe deleted it by accident. It happens all the time.”
“That would be lying, and I hate lying. But I understand what you’re saying,” Ashe replied as thunder rumbled overhead and a large drop of rain fell on Riley’s nose. “Are you sure you don’t want a ride home?”
“I’m sure,” Riley said, just as a limousine stopped right in front of Ashe and an older woman with long blonde hair leaped out of the rear door, calling his name. And just then, as Riley waved goodbye and turned away, the skies opened up.