Lightstorm, Chapter 1: On Display to the World

 

Chapter 1: On Display to the World

 

She took his hand as they waited backstage for their introduction. Any moment they would be whisked through that curtain and applauded by hundreds of strangers under the flood of lights. He swallowed hard as he checked off his talking points in his mind. Some topics were fair game. Some were not.

He was looking for a familiar anchor for his thoughts, and somehow found himself staring at her neck. After all these years, it was still slender. She had maintained her youthfulness and her vitality, even as she neared the age of fifty, and in his mind, she was still the lovely sight she was when he’d first laid eyes on her. Her neck was what had kept her head on her shoulders, and her head was had kept him out of trouble for so long. Inside that head of hers, he was sure that she knew it. If anyone would get him through the night, it was her and that beautiful head of hers.

He looked at her eyes. They were sparkling from the anticipation of what was coming. She had her talking points, too, and she was going to try hitting them all. As usual, their idea of what the people would find more interesting was under debate. Everything he wanted to avoid, she was eager to discuss in front of the millions who might be watching. But they had reached a compromise.

He smiled as he thought about how far they’d come.

He was lucky to have her. There were plenty of times he had nearly blown it, but somehow, by miracle perhaps, he had managed to win her over. Now, after all of these years, she was still with him, and she was moments away from doing all she could to keep him out of trouble again. It was for the best because the two of them had a whopper of a story to share tonight. He needed that head of hers to do again what it had always done best.

She leaned over and whispered in his ear.

“You ready?”

He squeezed her hand.

“As long as we keep off that one topic, I’ll be as ready as possible.”

She kissed him on the cheek.

“I want to keep your secret as much as you do,” she said. “But millions will be watching. Someone out there is bound to be smart.”

He kissed her back.

“Let’s hope not.”

Ladies and gentleman, let’s give it up for Jake Kelly and Kate Riarton!

“We should be careful tonight, just in case.”

The whoops and hollers from the crowd erupted as the blue curtain rose before them. They were now standing at the back of the shiny stage inside the cavernous, spectacle-driven theater, listening to the house band serenade them with an electricity-filled instrumental version of Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film.” The television host was stepping off his platform and dancing over to them to the beat of the music. Once he reached them, he shook Jake’s hand and kissed Kate on the cheek. Then he led them to the plush sofas beside the desk.

When the music died down, the host introduced his guests to the world.

“Thank you for coming,” he said. “Nice to finally meet you. I want to say I’ve seen the biopic, and, wow, it’s amazing. The two of you have quite a history behind you.”

“You could say that,” said Kate. She reached down and squeezed Jake’s knee. “This one has nearly killed me, er, let’s see…”

She rolled her eyes up toward the rafters.

“Maybe fifty times in the last twenty-some-odd years.”

She glanced over at Jake, who was trying to give her his attention, but was also busy studying the audience, wondering which of them would figure out what it was he was trying to keep under cover.

“That sound about right, honey?”

Jake shrugged.

“Probably.”

The audience laughed. Jake didn’t think it was funny. Everything she’d said was true. Countless times he’d come close to losing her. These people were terrible.

“That’s crazy,” said the host. “Must’ve been some wild moments.”

“Oh definitely. We began on a wild moment. When Jake and I first met at the end of the eighties as photojournalists for competing magazines, we were assigned to cover a football game in Dallas. We met at the mouth of the player’s tunnel and talked a little before the game. We kept the conversation mainly about the job, but he snuck a few personal questions in there. I could tell off the bat that he was smitten, but I wasn’t about to open that door. Working for rival magazines had the potential for a toxic relationship, as I’m sure you could imagine.”

“Of course.”

“So, I didn’t play into his charms, what little he had.” She rubbed Jake’s shoulder at that comment. “But it didn’t stop him from trying. Once the game started, we moved over to the photographer’s box. Now, I was there to photograph the softer side of the game, things like the coach’s reaction to plays, the grandstands and their collective team spirit, and things like that. The magazine I worked for was well-known for its human approach to savagery. Jake, of course, was attracted to violence, but he was still very much the pacifist when it came to how he observed it. He had been playing it safe for those first five years in the profession, but thanks to my shutting him down, he was no longer satisfied. He wanted to get my attention, and on that day, oh did he get my attention.”

“So, what happened?”

Kate glanced at Jake and smiled. He smiled back, and then looked at the audience, awaiting their reaction. The energy in the air suggested that they were primed for an explosive response.

“He decided that snapping pictures from the photographer’s box wasn’t enough. He decided to run out into the middle of the field during a play and get photos of the carnage up close.”

The audience laughed. They must’ve forgotten the news his action had generated near the end of 1989.

“Hey, I got some awesome shots of a tackling up close,” he said.

“I remember hearing about this story when it happened,” said the host. “You made national news.”

“Yep, that’s my Jake,” said Kate, “making a fool of himself on national television. They threw him out of the game and considered pressing charges, but his editor came to his defense.”

“Our magazine was number one that month,” said Jake.

The audience laughed again, as did the host. This time, Jake laughed with them. It was funny to him back then, too.

“You lost touch with each other after that event,” said the host, “but you briefly reconnected two years later at a fundraiser for Save the Penguins.”

“Yes,” said Kate, “this was more my event than Jake’s, as the night was focused on getting shots of people in formalwear discussing social things over martinis and cheeses, and he couldn’t have been more bored of the assignment. But our paths crossed again and we laughed over the Dallas Cowboys snafu, and we agreed to stay in touch. Then he went his way and I went mine. And it looked like that was going to be our relationship—fall in and out of touch depending on the assignment.”

“But, it wasn’t, obviously.”

“Obviously.”

“So, I wanted to talk about the first time the two of you really found your stride. Call it the origin story if you will.”

Kate smiled as she dipped her head forward and tried to make eye contact with the audience, which was impossible given how dark the stands had gotten now that all the lights were on the two of them.

“Yes, you’re referring to our Greenland assignment,” she said.

“Yeah, here, let me show a clip from the movie first, and then tell the audience and viewers at home your story.”

The host looked toward the center camera. A flatscreen television slid across the floor and stopped within his eye line.

“Folks, check out this clip from the new Kelly-Riarton biopic, Calendar Rivals.”

The screen flashed on, and a thirty-second clip from the Hollywood version of their Greenland story played out. The scene took place on an icefield where the actor playing Jake was riling up a herd of muskoxen and the soundtrack, which Jake hadn’t had the luxury of listening to during the real life event, was pumping out a guitar-and-drum-centric tune. The audience clapped when the scene finished.

“Oh man, tell us about that,” he said. “You were both taking freelancing jobs on top of your paid jobs in the early nineties, when you were commissioned by the same magazine to create two calendars of competing styles, ‘The Motion of Greenland’ and ‘The Nature of Greenland.’ I guess this was for the ‘Motion’ calendar. What was that moment like, trying to capture those creatures at their angriest?”

Kate smiled as she gestured Jake to respond. Jake gestured her right back.

“The question’s for you, honey,” Kate said to him.

“I trust you,” he said back.

She shrugged and looked at the host.

“Well, to clarify,” she said, “the magazine commissioned us to photograph for one calendar, which we were to simply call ‘Greenland.’ The editor wanted us to work on it together since he was so impressed with our solo work and was curious how a collaboration would play out in the market. It was thanks to our inherent rivalry that we decided to ignore him and make it into two, originally called ‘Icy Wonders’ and ‘Greenland’s Fury,’ which the magazine changed to the current titles when it decided to recycle our ideas and pictures for the following year and the years to follow that one. The editor, of course, relented when he realized he could get double the sales, even if he wasn’t about to change the budget. The clip you showed was one of Jake’s early attempts to capitalize on his new photography method, which he’d adopted after the success of his daring move at the Dallas game.”

Kate glanced over at Jake and rubbed his knee.

“In those days,” she said, “he was reckless, and it would’ve been easier on me if he’d gotten himself killed, so I couldn’t say it was frightening when I heard about it later. But he didn’t, and now I’m happier for it. Twenty-two years does a lot to a relationship. But to answer your question for him, he was pretty fearless. Stupid, but fearless.”

Jake winked at her. The audience chuckled.

“Awesome,” the host said. “So, the two of you married in nineteen ninety-four, but you had a heated rivalry going into that relationship, thanks to the assignment you were given a year after Save the Penguins.”

Kate laughed.

“Oh boy did we. Yes, we were what the kids might call ‘frenemies.’ Oh, but I think our love was brewing. Sort of. Poor Jake here still had the worst kind of crush on me, in that he was terrible at showing it. But in fairness, I was too busy trying to win our bet to notice any effort he might’ve given.”

“Your bet was sort of what launched the rest of your careers,” said the host. “Without it, you might not have broken out beyond the isolated event in Dallas.”

“Well, I think we would have eventually. The bet was more instrumental in our personal growth, I think.”

Jake was getting nervous. His wife was hovering a little too close to the secret.

“Tell us more about the bet. What prompted it?”

She slapped Jake’s knee.

“I think Jake tells this part of the story better. I’ll let him explain it.”

Both Kate and the host were now looking at him, as were each member of the band, the host’s announcer, the camera crew, and the studio audience, as was, he was certain, the millions of people who were going to watch him on television later that evening.

“Go ahead, honey,” Kate said. “I’ve talked plenty. It’s your turn now.”

He adjusted his tie and cleared his throat. He wasn’t used to sitting down for so long, and now he had to tell a story of action and adventure, danger and simmering romance, while sitting motionless on a damp couch. Then he shrugged. He had probably earned his right to rest a little.

“Okay,” he said. “Here goes. Hope your audience doesn’t mind a long one. The year was nineteen ninety-two, and Kate and I were freezing our butts off in Greenland, trying to prove to each other that we had the better idea for a successful calendar shoot. As you saw in that clip, I was busy trying to get the shot for February when…”

 

Read Chapter 2

The stuff that keeps me awake at night.

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