PERFECT EVENING – Karen Uffelman
Cole had never experienced a moment of self-doubt or an instant of compassion. How ridiculous, then, to find himself worrying that Gloria might be uncomfortable and that he might look ridiculous at her side. He had offered to accompany her in a moment of weakness, and now they were both in trouble.
“That’s my old producer,” she hissed into his ear, “I’m not ready to see him yet.”
Gloria hesitated as a very tan, pot-bellied man turned in their direction. Cole grabbed her arm and led her away toward the bar. He ordered them both doubles and looked around, seeing if he recognized anyone. There was a floor-to-ceiling mirror that went the length of the bar, showing off the ballroom, the other attendees and the city in the distance beyond the balcony. The room wasn’t yet full. They had arrived a little too early – neither of them having anything else to do.
“How’d that fashion shoot audition go?”
“Never got a second call, Gloria.”
“Those photographers are so shallow, you know. You’re still so young and handsome! You’ll get the next one.”
“How’s Julie? I mean, the two of you?”
Cole eyed Gloria trying to gauge if the question was in earnest. He couldn’t tell.
“She’s fine. Everything’s fine.”
“I’m so glad. I really like you, Cole, and want you and Julie to be happy together.”
Cole was about to role his eyes, when a skinny bald man with the face of a baby grabbed Gloria’s arm.
“Gloria Bergen? Is that you?”
Gloria’s smile tightened, “Harry? Harry? Oh my god, look at you! You haven’t changed a bit!”
Harry had a girl on his arm that could have been his granddaughter but Cole assumed wasn’t. He wondered how he compared as Gloria’s escort. The girl looked at Cole and smiled.
“This is my fiancé Gina,” Harry pulled the girl toward him and extended his hand to Cole after kissing Gloria on the cheek.
“Oh aren’t you sweet,” cooed Gloria, “Harry and I go way, way back, you know. You’re a lucky girl…and let me introduce Cole. This…is Cole.”
The hesitation and vagueness of the introduction made everyone flinch slightly, except for Gina who didn’t miss a beat.
“I love meeting Harry’s friends,” Gina put a hand out to Cole and then held on for a little too long. Cole considered asking her if she’d like to walk over and see the view from the balcony. But Gloria put her arm through his and he let her lead him away.
“Please don’t abandon me, okay? I know things have been rough with Julie and I understand the appeal of an unavailable 20-something starlet in a strapless cocktail dress, but this is really scary for me and I can’t handle it on my own. Okay? Okay?”
Gloria kept her voice down, but Cole could tell she was on the edge.
“Listen, Gloria, you look great, and you were invited here to accept an award for Christ’s sake…these people like and admire you. Don’t stress. And you really do look good. Honest.”
Not entirely honest. She didn’t look great next to Harry’s “fiancé” or most of the other scantily-clad younger women posed around the room. Gloria had that slightly starved look that comes from too many black coffee and greyhound diets. Upper arms a little too skinny and skin a little loose. The caps on her teeth were probably due for replacement. But for a 50 year-old woman…
“Like a million dollars, Gloria…really.”
Whoever did Gloria’s dye job was a pro, and the dress she was wearing made the most of her figure (and was recently purchased at great expense, Cole happened to know, with a credit card “borrowed” from Julie). She had an impressive bust line, despite her skinniness. Even Julie, who was generally not a defender of her older sister, insisted that Gloria’s breasts were the real deal. He wanted to compliment them now – they really looked good, the skin at her cleavage very smooth – but then thought better of it. Any mention of breasts might bring up the last movie she made, which was just-this-side-of-bad-porn, and ruin the evening. Tonight was supposed to be about something else – Gloria’s debut, not her disappointing finish. Cole put his arm around her.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Someone snapped their picture. Gloria smiled her big toothy grin. Cole kept his arm around Gloria but couldn’t help thinking how pissed Julie would be when she saw this photo in some tabloid. As she certainly would, because Gloria wouldn’t be able to resist showing off her picture in the papers. Particularly after such an epic dry spell.
“What a handsome couple you two make!” A young woman with a gigantic camera took another couple of shots.
Cole could see the headlines now: Gloria Bergen, celebrating the 25th anniversary of ADONIS RISING with young boyfriend in tow.
Julie would be out-of-her-mind furious.
Some of the other stars from ADONIS RISING were now joining them in the limelight, along with the portly producer. Cole saw his chance for escape.
“Listen, Gloria, I’m going to refresh my drink. You need anything?”
Gloria shook her head happily, putting her arm around another co-star who hadn’t aged as gracefully and continued posing for the cameras.
He heard someone mention how good Gloria Bergen looked as he made his way back to the bar, and smiled to himself. Gloria had been mostly a pain in the ass as long as he had known her. She drove Julie crazy, always needing money (and since that was his own gig with Julie, he didn’t appreciate the competition), and always coming on to Cole when she was drunk, which was often. On rare occasion the come on was welcome, or at least flattering, but mostly just fueled Julie’s jealousy, which Cole really couldn’t afford, and which was mostly wasted on Gloria. Julie should have been more jealous of her personal assistant Lindsay. Or Jodie, the Tuesday morning barista at their local coffee shop. But being jealous of older sister Gloria came naturally to Julie, even when Gloria was flirting with the boyfriend that was 16 years her junior. And unlikely to reciprocate except when he really wanted to get even or felt like slumming.
Except tonight didn’t feel like slumming and he was kind of hoping that Julie would forgive him for this kindness to Gloria. He felt sorry for Gloria, and a little hopeful on her behalf – even proud as he watched her navigate the social scene with other ADONIS RISING cast members.
Someone made an announcement and the lights were lowered. ADONIS RISING began rolling at the far end of the ballroom, and suddenly there was Gloria’s face. Big and luminous – she looked younger than 25 on the screen, more like 18. The murmuring voices in the room fell silent and everyone listened. Gorgeous lines – the writing was beautiful, as was her delivery. The room exploded in applause at the end of the scene.
Cole felt himself getting choked up.
“How long have you and Ms. Bergen been an item?” the young woman with the big camera was suddenly at his side.
“I’m sorry?” Cole wiped the tear that was running down his cheek, only to feel another.
“The two of you – you and Ms. Bergen – when did you become a couple?”
“We’re, um, not a couple.”
“Really? But I just interviewed Ms. Bergen earlier and she definitely said you were.”
“Well,” Cole bit his lip, “the truth is that I am madly in love with Gloria but she’s shy of commitment…so, you know, it’s hard with such a beautiful and talented woman…”
“Ah – I understand.”
Cole was glad that the reporter did. He was positive that Julie wouldn’t. But if he could do anything to make Gloria’s evening perfect, this was it, and somehow the sacrifice seemed worth it.