Jersey Fields sat in the chair in front of the window of his 11th floor hotel suite gazing out at the city and harbor before him, watching the sparkling lights and the ship traffic on the harbor in the night.
Beattie was passed out on the bed, knocked out by too many drinks at dinner and whatever it was she took while in the bathroom a while ago. She was his agent, manager and lover but recently Jersey was beginning to realize that she couldn't be all three. His career had been in transition for a while and with movie offers becoming less frequent, Jersey was ready to make his way back to television but Beattie was adamant that such a move would kill his film career and she was holding out for the meaty choice leading roles that he had been accustomed to in the past.
Jersey had just wrapped up the on-location exterior shots for 'The Lighthouse Keeper'. Production was now complete but he and Beattie stayed behind for a few extra days of R and R and they were flying back to LA in the morning. Beattie was hopeful that Jersey's starring 'Lighthouse' role would bring him other leading roles but 'Lighthouse' was a small independent film that wouldn't even be released for another year and Jersey wasn't sure if he could wait that long if nothing else came along in the meantime.
Beattie had already turned down several television offers for Jersey to headline in and with the exception of a few featured parts in a handful of major motion pictures in the past few years, Jersey really hadn't been working much. Beattie insisted that 'Lighthouse' would be Jersey's comeback vehicle but Jersey had his doubts and he was becoming increasingly frustrated, defeated and depressed about the downward direction of his career (not to mention Beattie's management choices). He was thinking of making a change in the management department but he knew that would also mean the end of his personal relationship with Beattie. It wasn't as if Beattie's agency was doing great lately either. Jersey had been Beattie's biggest name and if he left the agency that might spell the end of her business.
Jersey was in his early forties and the leading man parts were beginning to dry up. He had starred in romantic comedies, buddy movies, and action films before accepting the co-starring role as pop sensation MeMe's father in the teen tear jerker 'Last Summer'. Beattie felt the movie would be a block bluster hit but it died at the box office (MeMe could sing but not act) and the movie proved to be a major bust for Jersey who had to wait a long time before 'Lighthouse' finally came his way. Now Jersey wondered if the latest movie might be too little too late for his marketability at the box office which is why he felt a return to television was the way to go.
Jersey's cell phone rang and he answered it, surprised to see the name 'Cass Wainwright' on his screen.
He'd known Cass for twenty-five years. She played his sister on his first series 'The Sandersons'. They briefly dated and then remained friends after the series ended.
"Cass?" Jersey asked. "What's up?"
"I wanted to let you know before it hit the wires, Jersey," Cass replied with a sigh. "Michael Lablond died of a massive stroke in Montana a couple of hours ago."
"Shit," Jersey groaned, a wave of emotions engulfing him.
"I know, it's terrible, I'm devastated," Cass said with a breaking voice. "I wanted to be the one to tell you."
"I appreciate that, Cass," Jersey said heavily.
"He really did love you, Jersey," Cass told him.
"Thanks for calling, Cass," Jersey said, choking up with emotion. "I'll call you back."
"Sure," she said with understanding. "Take care of yourself, Jer."
The call ended and Jersey sat in the chair staring dumbly and numbly out the window at the beautiful night scene in front of him, his head spinning with nostalgic memories, warm thoughts and even a couple of regrets.
Michael Labond was an established movie star when he accepted the role of the Sanderson patriarch on the television comedy-drama series that became a big hit. It was Jersey's first steady acting job after several commercials and a handful of small parts on other series. There were six teenagers in the cast and Lablond became a great mentor and role model to all of them. Jersey was especially appreciative of Lablond's tutelage, advice, and support during the series' run. Jersey knew he became a better actor because of Lablond's influence and guidance.
After the fourth season of 'The Sandersons', Jersey won the lead role in a low budget teen comedy called 'The Hot Rodder' which became a sleeper cult hit and catapulted Jersey into stardom. He became an instant teen star celebrity, a heartthrob and sex symbol and 'Sanderson' producers expanded his role on the show, eventually making Lablond's starring presence less of a factor.
To his credit, Lablond was a true professional and a veteran actor who understood the ways of the game.
"I'm still getting my paycheck, Jersey," Lablond told him after Entertainment Tonight ran a hit piece claiming petty jealousies were plaguing the 'Sanderson' set because of Jersey's catapult to stardom and popularity.
Jersey never forgot Lablond's gracious attitude during a difficult time. He starred in two more teen comedies and then made the decision to leave 'The Sandersons' before the series run was over. The ratings tanked after Jersey left and the show was cancelled eighteen months later, although Lablond insisted that Jersey be brought back for the series finale.
Jersey's career was off and running. He stared in an average of a movie a year while Lablond's career began the slow fade and after five years of guest staring roles the veteran actor retired to Montana but continued to be an influence in Jersey's life by publically defending him during a few controversies that unfolded over the years.
Now Lablond was dead and Jersey was feeling as though he was totally alone even with the passed out Beattie ten feet from him. Jersey realized that Lablond was around Jersey's current age when he took on the role of Sheppard Sanderson all those years ago. It was Lablond's stature and credibility that gave the show its initial standing and carried it to its early success. Jersey felt guilty when his celebrity overshadowed the great actor's work, talent and contributions even though Lablond never held it against him.
Jersey remembered asking Lablond once why he left film for television.
"Kid, it's better to jump before being pushed," Lablond told him.
When Jersey returned for the final episode and reprised his role as Sammy Sanderson (even though he was now an established movie star), it was Lablond who gave him the best advice.
"Enjoy the ride, Kid, do what you want for as long as you want but know when the ride is over and be sure to jump before being pushed when it's time."
As Jersey sat in his chair staring out the night view, he wondered if now was the time to jump before he was pushed. He glanced at the passed out Beattie and sighed. She'd never listen to him. She wouldn't understand – or even care – about what Michael Lablond had meant to him in both his personal and professional life and she would argue that television is why Lablond ended up in Montana in the first place.
"You need to get out of here right now." Jersey heard the voice in his head as clear as if it came from the television across the room and he believed it to be true.
Jersey stood and emptied his pockets, leaving everything behind on the table except for the $1500 in cash he had in his possession. He walked out of the hotel suite and rode the elevator to the lobby. He had grown his hair out and wore a beard for the part of the lighthouse keeper and that helped him go fairly undetected in public although some of the locals who knew he was in the area recognized him. He gave the waitress at dinner tonight his autograph along with a fifty dollar tip.
It was midnight and the lobby was empty except for the front desk associate who waved at him as he walked toward the front door. Jersey nodded but kept on walking. Once outside, Jersey wandered along the city streets for a few blocks trying to clear his head of career problems, dead heroes, and dying relationships. He just wanted to forget everything for a while and gather the courage to fire Beattie, leave her, and call Producer/friend Digs Martin and tell him to accept the first series that was offered on his behalf.
Jersey heard the distance echo of a train whistle and he walked toward it although he really wasn't thinking about anything specific. He just felt the need to escape and run away, leaving Jersey Fields behind at least for a little while. He reached the train tracks and saw a slow moving fright train passing by. Several of the box cars had opened doors and Jersey had done enough stunt work to know that he could easily jump the train. He watched the passing train and when he noticed that the end of the train was in sight it suddenly occurred to him that he had nothing to lose taking a little get away.
"Hop on the train." It was that voice again – the same voice from the hotel room.
Jersey didn't think twice. He successfully jumped the train, crawling into the open door of a box car and lying on a roll of canvas watching the city go by outside the door until the view gave way to the suburbs and eventually the countryside and he drifted off to sleep, lullabied by the sound of the train on the tracks.
The sun in his face awoke Jersey in the morning. It took him a moment to realize where he was and what he had done and he scampered to the open door of the box car to take a peek outside. The train was passing through countryside with the occasional farm house and barn, but mostly pastures, fields, and meadows. He had no idea where he was but he thought it might be wiser to jump the train now instead of risking being spotted by workers at a train yard.
"Jump now!" It was the same voice, speaking to him inside his head for the third time.
The train didn't seem to be moving that fast and the ground looked soft along the track beds so Jersey decided to emulate his now forgotten action movie stunts and he took a leap from the train (before he was pushed as Michael Lablond might say!). Unfortunately, Jersey turned his ankle upon landing on the ground. He toppled, fell, and rolled, surprised by the force and speed of the moving train and caught unprepared for his flopping fall.
Jersey realized that he had jammed his ankle pretty good. It was throbbing and he could barely stand on it. He was alone in the middle of a field but he noticed a road on an embankment about fifty yards away so he limped as best he could toward it although the ankle became more painful with each step he took. Once he reached the road, Jersey sat on the rail of a fence on the opposite side of the road and waited for somebody to come by. Nobody did for a while and Jersey began to wonder if anybody ever would.
Finally, a fire red 1951 Chevy pick up truck passed by. A woman in her early forties was driving and she glanced at Jersey sitting on the fence as she passed.
Twenty minutes later, the same pick up truck approached from the opposite direction. It slowed as it passed with the same woman staring at Jersey as she passed. Jersey saw the brake lights flash on and the truck stopped. He heard the gears shift and the truck backed up, stopping in front of him with the woman glancing out the window at him. She had brown hair pulled back under a yellow bandana.
"Are you okay?" She asked, squinting at him.
"I hurt my ankle," he said.
"Can you walk?" She frowned.
"Not very well," he admitted.
"Should I call for help?" She offered.
"Nobody to call," he replied.
She studied him for a long moment. "Are you in trouble?" She finally asked.
"The cops aren't looking for me if that's what you mean," he replied.
"Are you in some sort of other trouble?"
The woman hesitated for a moment, glanced around, and finally turned the truck engine off before climbing out of the truck's cab. "I'm a nurse," she revealed. "Let me take a look at that ankle."
The woman stepped up to him and squatted in front of him where his feet dangled from his spot on the top fence rail. She carefully pulled off his designer sneaker and sock and Jersey let out a small yip.
"It definitely swollen," the woman said as she examined his foot for a few moments. "But I don't think it's broken."
"That's good," Jersey replied with relief.
She stood and glanced at him one more time. "I don't suppose there's any point asking you a whole lot of questions," she realized.
Jersey shrugged again.
"Am I supposed to just leave you sitting out here in the middle of nowhere?" She wondered.
"I thought you said you weren't going to ask any questions," he smiled.
The woman shook her head with a look of uncertainty on her face. "Why don't you come with me?" She suggested.
"Okay," Jersey agreed, knowing he didn't have any other options.
He carefully got off the fence and he gingerly walked toward the truck with the woman giving assistance as she carried his sneaker and sock in her other hand. She helped into the passenger's side of the cab before walking around the truck and sliding in behind the steering wheel.
"I haven't seen one of these in a long time," Jersey remarked as he studied the truck's unique interior.
The woman started the truck, put it in gear and began driving down the road. "You have a name?" She asked.
"Jim," he replied. "Jim Tatro."
That was his real name. His first agent changed it to Jersey Fields at the start of his professional career to give him a more unique identity.
"I'm Veronica Brunski," the woman replied. "People call me Ronnie."
She was wearing tight Levis with boots and a billowy orange tee shirt. She slowed the truck and turned into a driveway that ran along a white farm house. There was a huge red barn behind it and a second barn behind that one. There were several corn fields and a few other fields with other vegetables growing. There was a farm stand off to the right and several cars and pick up trucks were parked in the lot behind the house.
Ronnie parked the truck among the other vehicles and she helped Jersey once he was out of the passenger's side of the cab.
"Limp this way," she said, directing him toward the side porch that was near the rear of the house and Jersey spontaneously smiled at her humor.
She helped him into a chair on the side porch. "I'll get you an ice pack for your ankle," Ronnie said before disappearing into the house.
Jersey breathed in the fresh country air and glanced around the surroundings, noticing the acres of corn and other vegetables growing in the fields. Ronnie emerged from the house and used adhesive tape to secure the ice back to Jersey's ankle.
"How does it feel?" She asked.
"Like I've been stabbed," Jersey replied.
"Are you hungry?" Ronnie asked. "I could make you some French toast."
"I wouldn't want to be bother," Jersey said.
"I'm making some for the boys," Ronnie clarified.
"My two sons and my father in law should be coming in from the fields on first break soon," she explained.
"Oh," Jersey said. "I don't want to get in the way or intrude."
"You're already here, Jim," Ronnie pointed out. "A few more slices of bread in the frying pan isn't going to break the bank."
"Okay, thanks," Jersey smiled politely.
Ronnie nodded and disappeared into the house again while Jersey sat enjoying the rising sun on the warm summer morning. After a few quiet minutes, he heard the bark of a dog and a moment later a white and brown hound came around the corner of the first barn along with three men: an older gentlemen and two younger guys.
The three noticed the stranger sitting on the side porch with his leg propped up on the rail and they gave him a look.
"Who are you?" the youngest of the three asked when they reached the porch.
"Jim Tatro," Jersey answered.
"What happened to you?" The older guy asked, gesturing to the stranger's iced ankle.
"I fell," Jersey explained.
"So, are you like a stray my mother brought home?" The middle guy laughed.
"Something like that," Jersey replied.
Ronnie appeared in the screened door. "Be nice," she warned. "Jim, this is my father in law Paul but we call him Pops. And these are my sons, Chuck and Todd."
"Nice to meet you," Jersey said as the four exchanged handshakes.
Pops wore his hair long for a guy in his late sixties. It was white gray and fell to his shoulders and with his bulky appearance he looked a bit like Titus. His two grandsons were equally as muscled-tone and tanned, the older (Chuck) having shaved his head to make himself look like a football linebacker and the younger Todd wearing a short crew cut. All three men wore Levi jeans and green tee shirts with 'Brunski Farm' stamped on the chest.
"Why don't you all come in for breakfast?" Ronnie suggested.
Todd helped Jersey to his feet and the four men followed Ronnie into the kitchen with Jersey hobbling like an old man. Jersey followed the lead of the others and took a seat at the large round table in the modernized open kitchen. Ronnie put a huge stack of French toast on the table and she poured four tall glasses of orange juice before returning to the stove to prepare more French toast.
"So, who's your stray, Ronnie?" Pops wanted to know.
"Ask him, not me, Pops," Ronnie replied, throwing Jersey a look.
Jersey knew he needed to come up with a plausible story to satisfy the Brunski's curiosity. He went through his mental rolodex of various plots and scenes from his movie experiences that might apply here.
"I had a fight with my girlfriend," Jersey said. It really wasn't a lie – he and Beattie had been having difficulties of late.
"What, she dumped you off on the side of the road?" Chuck asked.
"Threw me out of the car, actually," Jersey replied, figuring it would make for good drama. "That's how I hurt my ankle. She drove off before I was even out of the car."
"Do you think she'll come back looking for you?" Ronnie wanted to know from her spot at the stove.
"I doubt it," Jersey said. "I think I'm on my own now."
"What was the fight about?" Pops asked as he wolfed down his French toast.
"She didn't want me to quit my job," Jersey revealed.
"Why do you want to quit your job?" Ronnie asked.
"It's time for a change," Jersey replied.
"What do you do?" Chuck inquired with a full mouth of French Toast.
"I….make things," Jersey said.
"Well, you're welcome to stay here as long as you want while you trying to figure things out," Pops let him know. "Doesn't look like you can go anywhere on that ankle for a few days anyway."
"Thanks," Jersey said with appreciation.
"You kind of look like that guy," Todd observed, giving Jersey a long look.
"What guy?" Chuck wondered.
'You know, that guy," Todd said. "What's his name? From the movies."
"We're a long way from Hollywood," Pops laughed.
Ronnie put another stack of French toast on the table and then she took a seat of her own and put a few slices on her plate. Jersey listened in on the conversation while Pops gave an update on the crops in the field and Ronnie told them what vegetables they would need to bring in from the fields for the farm stand. Jersey glanced around the surroundings and noticed that the interior of the old farm house was updated and handsome, simply stated and full of modern furniture mixed with older pieces, like a handsome grandfather clock and an old rollaway desk.
"We're a working family farm," Ronnie explained to Jersey. "Chuck and Todd are fifth generation. Chuck goes to Green College and Todd's at Blue County Community College. We hire summer help but we do most of the work ourselves. Pops retired from the Sheriff's department a few years ago and does this full time."
"Sounds great," Jersey replied with a smile.
"You're welcome to help out when your wheel gets better," Pops said.
"If you're between jobs or whatever," Ronnie added.
The one horror movie Jersey made was Scarecrow set on a Midwestern farm. "I have a little experience," he said.
The group finished their breakfast and Todd helped his mother with the dishes before heading back out to the fields with his brother and grandfather.
"Chuck's girlfriend Molly runs the farm stand for us with my help when I'm not at the hospital," Ronnie told Jersey when the kitchen clean was completed. "You could sit out there with us if you wish until your ankle gets better."
"I think there's an old crutch downstairs in the cellar," Ronnie recalled. "Let me go look."
Jersey waited in the kitchen, resting against one of the chairs until Ronnie returned from the cellar with an old wooden crutch in her arm.
"This should make it a little easier to get around," she said, handing him the aid.
"Thanks," Jersey replied. "I appreciate everything you're doing to help me out."
"It's our pleasure," Ronnie replied. "Sounds like you're going through a challenge, personally and professionally."
Jersey nodded and followed Ronnie out of the house while getting accustomed to the crutch. He hobbled alongside Ronnie across the driveway to the large farm stand at the foot of the driveway. It was red, with an open front and inside were several troughs for vegetables and fruits for sale. There was a long counter in the back of the stand with several chairs, a cash box and several pads of paper. A radio and small television was also in the area.
"Molly, this is Jim," Ronnie said as they entered the stand structure.
"Hello," Molly smiled.
She was an attractive young woman with blonde hair and tanned skin wearing jeans and a yellow Brunski's Farm Tee shirt along with a Boston Red Sox ball cap.
"Nice to meet you," Jersey replied.
Jersey knew he ran a risk of being recognized even with the long hair and beard. He saw a green and white Brunski's Farm ball cap hanging from a nail on the wall and grabbed that to wear, hoping that would help shield his face. Todd seemed to recognize him (even if he couldn't place him) but Jersey hoped most would have the same reaction Pops did – what in the hell would that guy be doing on a farm in the countryside, three thousand miles from Hollywood?
Jersey took a seat in one of the chairs and watched Ronnie and Molly greet customers, bag fruits and vegetables and help Chuck unload the flatbed coming in from the fields with replacement supplies. Apparently, Chuck made the deliveries to be able to say hi to Molly each time.
"He doesn't say hi to me, of course," Ronnie deadpanned.
"Don't worry, he still likes you better," Molly smirked
Later, Pops made an appearance and Jersey could see that he definitely had a command presence among the customers, all of whom called him 'Pops" and treated him with revered respect. Ronnie also seemed to have a fan club following and she enjoyed a good back and forth with most of the customers. Jersey spent most of the day observing, enjoying his ability to hide in plain sight in the farm stand, largely unnoticed by the visiting customers who were pleasant, friendly and polite in saying hello to him but uninterested in engaging in extended conversations. It was a welcomed change from being hounded for autographs and semi harassed by idolizing fans who rarely respected his personal space, boundaries or privacy.
Ronnie left the stand several times throughout the day to perform other errands and chores, including replenishing Jersey's ice pack and bringing him a sandwich for a late lunch in the afternoon. He made small talk with Molly when things were slow, repeating his fabricated story about being dumped off by his girlfriend and thinking about leaving his job while asking a few questions about the Brunski's and the farm. He learned that Ronnie was a widow for about two years now, her husband Eddie (Pops son) killed in a freak accident when a dosing milk truck driver smashed into the back of Eddie's tractor one early foggy morning.
Molly explained that she still lived at home a few miles down the road but that she and Chuck would marry as soon as he was done with college. She worked on the farm from May to October and also worked as a school bus driver and a waitress when the farm was stagnant. She had known Chuck and his family all of her life and she enjoyed being a part of the family.
"You look familiar for some reason," Molly noted during another conversation. "Have you been around here before?"
"No," Jersey said. "I guess I just have one of those common faces."
"It's your eyes," Molly replied. "They're very unique."
Jersey asked Ronnie if there were any extra pair of sunglasses lying around and Ronnie brought a pair to him during one of her comings and goings. Hopefully, the shades would help hide his movie star eyes.
When the farm stand closed for the day, Jersey limped back to the house with Ronnie, taking a seat on the side porch again while Ronnie and Molly went into the house. The guys eventually returned from the fields, dirty and sweaty and glad to be done with a day's work. When supper was ready, Jersey hobbled into the kitchen using the crutch. The others had showered and cleaned up and Molly joined them for the spaghetti meal, several conversations taking place at the same time.
"You spending the night?" Pops asked Jersey during a lull in the table conversation.
"If it wouldn't be too much trouble," Jersey replied. "I could sleep in the barn even."
"Don't be ridiculous," Ronnie replied. "There's plenty of room."
"You can stay in the back room," Pops told him. "Grandma used it when she couldn't get up the stairs anymore."
When the meal was over and the clean up complete, Ronnie walked Jersey through a back door and down a small back hall past a pantry and another storage room. The hall ended at another room, slightly bigger. Ronnie turned on the light and Jersey could see that it was a small bedroom with a small attached bathroom.
"This was converted when Pops' mother couldn't make it up the stairs," Ronnie explained. "We sometimes use it as an extra guest room for big holiday family gatherings but its empty most of the time."
The room featured a queen sized old bed and a small bedside table, a rickety dresser, and a soft easy chair. A small black and white television was on the dresser and a battered boom box radio on the nightstand.
"I hope you'll be comfortable enough here," Ronnie said.
"Its fine," Jersey assured her. "Thanks for your kind hospitality."
"Let me get one more ice pack for that ankle," Ronnie said. "Sit on the bed and I'll be back in a minute."
She left the room and Jersey took a seat on the side of the bed, glancing around the room and noticing the framed photos of the farm in its earlier years hanging on the wall. There was also a portrait of a couple from the 1930s and Jersey guessed it was Pops' parents. Ronnie returned with a new ice bandage and a handful of magazines which she put on the night table. She spent a few minutes replacing the ice back while Jersey stared at the line in her scalp where her hair was parted.
"Do you need anything else?" Ronnie asked when she was done affixing the ice pack to his shin and stood. "Some beer? A snack for later? Aspirin? Is your ankle bothering you at all?
"I'm fine," Jersey insisted. "You've done enough. Thanks. I appreciate everything. Have a good night."
"I think there's an extra toothbrush in there," she said, gesturing toward the bathroom. "If you're going be staying a few days, maybe I can bring you to town for more clothes or something."
Jersey felt the large wad of bills in his pants pocket. "That would be good," he said.
"Well, good night then," Ronnie said warmly. "I hope you sleep well."
"Thanks," Jersey replied, watching as his hostess left the room, closing the door behind her.
Jersey made himself comfortable on the bed, kicking off his other shoe. He glanced at the magazines Ronnie had left – a Sports Illustrated, The Smithsonian, and an Entertainment Weekly which made him laugh out loud although he had no desire to read it. He wondered if Beattie had notified the authorities yet. Did she cancel her flight to wait and see if he'd show up? How long would she delay before she headed back to the west coast? Would his disappearance (or absence) become a national story? Would Todd put two and two together if his name was all over the news? Or would Beattie be so pissed off, frustrated and disgusted with him that she'd simply head home and keep her mouth shut, waiting for someone else to report him missing? He really didn't have anything else scheduled in the coming weeks so it might be a while before somebody pushed Beattie to the point of having to reveal his disappearance if she didn't say anything up front.
Jersey was amused that he felt totally calm, relaxed and at peace. He liked the serenity of the farm and the kindness of Ronnie and her family. It felt good to be incognito and to be able to just 'be' for a change instead of always having to be 'on' or fake trying to please others while placating Beattie. He fell asleep with a smile on his face.
Jersey ankle didn't feel as bad when he awoke in the morning. The swelling had gone done and while the ankle was stiff and sore he could put more pressure on it without shooting pain racking his body. He freshened up in the bathroom and then made his way (carrying the crutch instead of using it) to the kitchen down the hall where Pops and Ronnie were seated, drinking coffee at the table and reading the Sunday papers.
"Are you cured?" Pops asked, giving him a look.
"Getting there," Jersey replied.
"Have a seat," Ronnie said. "You still shouldn't walk on it too much."
She got Jersey a cup of Joe, a glass of orange juice, a banana, and a Danish and he read the Greenville News and Dispatch Sunday edition while seated at the table with Ronnie and Pops.
Jersey was able to figure out where he was without asking his hosts any stupid questions just by reading the paper. He saw Michael Lablond's obituary in the national entertainment section with a photo that was about ten years old. A wave of guilt rushed over Jersey and he wondered if he should abandon his ruse and head for Michael's funeral but he knew he was better off taking care of himself for a change. Michael would understand.
When he was done with the paper and eating the light breakfast, Ronnie gave Jersey a quick tour of the house, showing him where the dishes were in the cupboards, where the washing machine was, and how to operate the remote.
'I work three twelve hour shifts at the hospital Monday through Wednesdays so you won't see much of me," Ronnie explained. "You'll have to fend for yourself although I'm sure Pops will keep you busy."
Jersey nodded and followed Ronnie to the farm stand just as Molly arrived to open for the day but business was slow at the start.
"Most sane people are in church," Ronnie quipped.
She told him that there was a Walmart about ten miles south and the old fashioned Donovan's Department Store about ten miles north in Greenville if he was interested in purchasing some supplies.
"I think Donovan's opens at noon on Sundays," she said. "We could drive up there and have lunch too if you wanted."
"Sure," Jersey agreed, liking the idea of spending some time with Ronnie away from the others.
Jersey was still wearing his shades and the Brunski's Farm Stand ball cap. He noticed the Brunski's Farm Stand tee shirts for sale and bought three of them – one red, one green, and one yellow.
"Now you're a member of the team," Ronnie joked.
He unbuttoned his two hundred dollar silk shirt that was dirty from the train ride (and fall) in the back room of the shack and put on his new green tee shirt.
Ronnie went to the truck and retrieved his shoe and sock from the previous day.
"Why don't you see if you can get this on?" She suggested.
Jersey was able to get the sneaker on without much trouble.
"Don't walk on it too much," Ronnie advised.
Jersey watched Molly and Ronnie work the farm stand with the same commitment, friendliness and personable neighborly customer service as the previous day. Once again, folks said hello to him but otherwise didn't pay much attention, most likely assuming he was a Brunski cousin or friend or visitor.
At about 11:45, Ronnie told Jersey that they could head for Donovan's if he was still interested and he said sure. They took a late model Volvo station wagon this time instead of the antique truck or any of the other modern pickups parked behind the house, Ronnie explaining that this was the vehicle she took to work which was also in Greenville – The Blue County Regional Medical Center.
Jersey enjoyed the scenery during the ride and they didn't talk much, other than Ronnie explaining some of the basics of the farm stand and their loyal customers that returned year after year after year.
"There are old ladies who remember Pop's grandmother when they were little kids," Ronnie marveled. "I think that's fascinating and I'm always asking questions about the history of the area as far as families and farms go."
"You're not from around here?" Jersey asked.
"No, I met Peter at Green College freshman year," Ronnie smiled. "I became what Molly pretty much is now."
"A part of the family," Jersey smiled.
"It feels like I always belonged," she replied. "Pops is like my own father."
Greenville looked like a normal New England town with old buildings, many of them modernized. There was a lovely town common, a historic town hall, several old churches and more store front businesses. Donovan's was hard to miss – it was a large building with an old fashioned store front and Jersey felt like he was walking into the 1940s when Ronnie led him inside.
Jersey picked up a pair of work boots (anticipating he would be joining Pops and the boys in the field), a couple of pairs of jeans, some underwear and socks, four shirts, a package of socks, some toiletries, his own pair of sunglasses, and a couple of books.
He paid cash ($394.92) for his purchases and they brought the bags back to the station wagon for safe keeping, hidden on the floor underneath the blanket used for the dog.
"The Greenville Café is nice," Ronnie said. "How 'bout lunch there?"
"Sure," Jersey agreed, hoping his ball cap and shades would give him enough cover not to be noticed.
The waitress seated them in a corner booth and Jersey sat with his back to most of the customers. Ronnie ordered a tuna melt and Jersey went with a Cobb Salad with a glass of water.
"Did your husband farm full time?" Jersey asked to make conversation.
"No, he was a teacher," Ronnie revealed. "That freed up most of the summers and Pops and his brother and a few other family members filled in around that too. They'd hire part timers too to help out. A lot of Chuck and Todd's friends grew up working the summers on the farm and I met a lot of Peter's friends who told me they did the same thing."
"What are you going to do when Pops gets too old?" Jersey asked.
"We'll deal with that when we get there," Ronnie replied. "I've learned to take life one day at a time since my husband died."
"I imagine being a nurse helps maintain that philosophy too," Jersey said.
"For sure," Ronnie agreed. Then she gave him a long look. "I don't suppose I get to ask you any real questions yet, huh?"
Jersey shrugged. "I don't have a lot of answers," he said.
"How does a guy wearing a two hundred dollar shirt, designer jeans and sneakers, a Rolex, and a gold medallion necklace end up on a farm in Blue County of all places?" Ronnie wondered.
"I don't know," Jersey answered.
"Why kind of guy walks around with a couple thousand dollars cash in his pocket?"
"A foolish one," Jersey realized.
Ronnie put her chin in her hand and her elbow on the table to hold it up as she continued to peer at him. "I don't suppose you would tell me who you really are anyway, huh Jim Tatro or whatever your real name is."
"That's my real name," Jersey grinned. "James Madison Tatro."
"My father was a history buff," Jersey said. "What was your maiden name?"
"Bower," she replied. "Veronica Rose Bower."
My father was Mayor of a small town in the eastern part of the state."
"My father was a Professor."
"What about your mother?"
"Housewife, mostly," Jersey replied. "Did a good job raising us four kids."
"Won't they be worried about you?" Ronnie wondered.
"I'm not twelve, Ronnie," Jersey laughed. "It's not as if I missed bedtime last night."
Ronnie smiled. "Well, eventually won't they be worried?"
Jersey had his mother living in a nice condo in Phoenix. His older brother Blake was a California politician, his sister Lizzie was a fund raiser coordintor, his kid sister Salon was a former actress turned model who got most of her gigs through Jersey's connections, and his kid brother Bill drove truck. His dad passed away several years ago having divorced Jersey's mother long before that.
"Maybe," Jersey answered.
"Feel free to use the phone whenever you want," Ronnie told him.
He smiled. "Thanks."
"My mother's still working," Ronnie said. "Real Estate Agent back home."
"Good for her," Jersey beamed.
"So, what are your plans?" Ronnie asked after a lull in the conversation.
"I don't have any, actually," Jersey confessed. "Maybe hang around here for a little while. If that's okay with you."
"Don't you have to call anybody?" Ronnie inquired. "Your boss? Your girlfriend? Somebody?"
Jersey shrugged again. "Not really," he admitted.
"Must be nice," Ronnie teased.
"Not always," Jersey replied, feeling the loneliness he often felt.
Ronnie looked at him as if she saw him for the first time. "I don't know how I would have managed without Pops and my boys in my life after Peter died," she said with understanding. "But even with them, I still feel incredibly lonely sometimes."
Jersey didn't say anything in reply but he had a deep appreciation for what Ronnie had been going through, especially when he thought about poor Michael Lablond.
He paid for lunch and they drove back to the farm, Ronnie giving him an abridged tour narrative of the various sights as she drove. When they arrived at the farm, Jersey stowed his purchases in his room and then rejoined Ronnie and Molly at the farm stand. His ankle was still stiff but he was able to maneuver well enough to help customers with their buys, even helping several by carrying their fruits and vegetables to their cars which greatly impressed Ronnie and Molly.
Jersey helped close up the stand at the end of the day. Molly joined the rest for supper in the kitchen - soup and sandwiches. Ronnie turned in early because she had to work in the morning but Jersey stuck around and watched the Sunday night baseball game with Pops and Todd for a few innings before retiring for the evening.
Ronnie was long gone when Jersey got up in the morning. He had coffee and a doughnut with Pops and volunteered to help in the fields as needed. Molly had a couple of high school kids helping in the farm stand during the week and with Ronnie not around there was no reason for Jersey to hang out there.
Jersey didn't see much of Ronnie the next three days but he put in a long, full, and hard day of work under Pops and Chuck's tutelage. Although he was sore and exhausted at the end of the day, Jersey felt complete and fulfilled. He liked being on his own and independent with no producers and publicity agents and personal assistants and especially fans surrounding him all the time. Not having Beattie talking nonstop advising, managing, suggesting and ordering him around was freeing as well.
Jersey couldn't remember the last time he felt as personally satisfied as he did when he came in from the fields after a long day's work. He often got a high when he knew he nailed a scene or he and another actor were working in perfect sync but this was different - this was just him working alone in the peaceful surroundings of the corn fields and other vegetable fields.
Jersey could tell that he had earned Pops respect and Chuck and Todd started including the new guy in on their goofing around, sarcastic comments and inside jokes when they realized that the guy was for real and keeping up with every task assigned without complaint, even volunteering for more chores when there was a lull in activity.
Jersey also helped out in the kitchen during Ronnie's absence, assisting Pops and Molly with some of the meal preparation and clean up. He tried to stay awake at night when Ronnie spent time with the family in the living room, watching the Red Sox games on the television with her and Pops but he was dozing by the third inning and usually went to bed by nine o'clock - which was pretty much Ronnie's bedtime when she worked her hospital shifts.
"Geez, you're only around for like two hours when you work at the hospital," Jersey noted.
"Yeah but then I get four whole days off," Ronnie replied. "I don't mind the trade off."
"Only you really don't get any days off," Jersey pointed out. "You work here."
"I don't consider what we do here work," Ronnie told him.
"It's a labor of love," Pops said taking a sip on his beer.
When Jersey came into the kitchen on Thursday morning, Ronnie was there dressed in her jeans and Brunski's Farm Tee shirt (instead of her hospital garb of the last three days) scrambling eggs at the stove. Jersey thought about the cold cereal and donuts they'd been eating in Ronnie's absence and he smiled at the thought of her cooking food for her 'men' when she was home.
When breakfast was over, Jersey started following Pops and the boys out the door but Ronnie stopped him.
"I have a chore you can help me with, Jim," Ronnie said. "If you're interested."
"Sure," Jersey replied, although he felt a little guilty abandoning the guys who gave him whistles, Bronx cheers and laughs as they left.
When Ronnie was done cleaning the kitchen, Jersey followed her to the old Chevy pick up truck which she drove down the road, turning onto a dirt road that cut through some of the cornfields and came out in what she called the lower pasture.
"A storm a few weeks ago knocked the tree down," Ronnie explained, pointing toward a fallen tree that had crushed about twenty feet of fence. She gestured to two chain saws in the back of the pick up. "Ever used one before?" She asked.
"No," Jersey admitted sheepishly.
Ronnie gave him a quick lesson on the proper way to use the chainsaw along with a couple of important safety tips.
"You don't want to be cutting anything important off," she deadpanned when she finished showing him the proper operating procedures.
Ronnie handed him a pair of goggles and some ear protection and they spent the morning cutting off branches until the trunk lay alone.
"Good work," Ronnie announced proudly when they finished with the first part of the project. "We'll go do lunch and then come back and chop the trunk up into pieces."
Jersey was quite pleased with himself having accomplished a task without injury or issues. It was also fun working by Ronnie's side. They had barely said a word to one another (how could they over the noise of the chainsaws and their ear protection!?) but Jersey still felt like they made a good team.
They returned to the house and Ronnie made a dozen sandwiches after she washed up. The 'men' (and Molly) arrived and the sandwiches disappeared along with a huge bag of Doritos and a pitcher of iced tea. The various groups of workers returned to their assigned duties and Jersey found himself once again by Ronnie's side chain sawing the tree trunk into manageable smaller sizes. Ronnie showed Jersey how to cut the larger sizes into fire place (and kitchen stove) usable pieces. It took them the rest of the day to stack the cut wood into several small piles.
"We'll come back tomorrow and move it to the wood shed," Ronnie said. "Thanks for your help, Jim. You saved me at least a day's work!"
"You guys are amazing," Jersey said with appreciation.
He often worked long days on the movie sets but a lot of it was hurry up and wait stuff, sitting around waiting for shots to be set up and other technical issues to be resolved. He spent plenty of time lounging around his air conditioned trailer and goofing off with crew members and cast mates. Here on Brunski's Farm there was no rest for the weary and there was always something else to do.
Ronnie drove them back to the farmhouse where she started supper - marinated steaks and potato fries with corn on the cob from their own fields. It was easy to chow down after a long and active day's work and by now Jersey was an accepted member of the table crowd, easily poked fun at and quite willing to give it back. There was a sense of closeness and accomplishment, of familiarity and enjoyment, and mostly of belonging as they all worked together to achieve success. Movie making was a lot like that but the production always ended and people moved on to new projects.
After clean up, Jersey tried to watch a few innings of the Red Sox game but he found himself drained. Working all day in the hot summer sun was exhausting. He was stiff, sore and beat - and he loved it.
"See you in the morning," Ronnie said cheerfully when Jersey dragged himself off the couch and headed for his room in the back of the house.
"You walk like an old man!" Pops laughed after him.
In his room, Jersey had a chance to think as he lay in his bed in the dark listening to the crickets and other summer sounds outside his window. He had barely given Beattie or his real life a second thought although when he had time to think he thought about the late great Michael Lablond and wondering if he was wrong not to attend his mentor's funeral.
Jersey had little trouble sleeping at the farm. Not just because he went to bed physically exhausted from the long days of work but because he was feeling so serine and tranquil that he slept like a baby. It seemed that he just lay his head on the pillow and it was already time to get up – sleeping through the night in a deep sleep bliss.
Jersey made his way into the kitchen to begin his fifth full day on the farm (sixth overall). It was the best vacation he had ever experienced – and he'd been to the most exotic and expensive resorts and getaways in the world. Ronnie was making the gang pancakes and Todd challenged Jersey to a pancake eating contest, Todd winning handedly as Jersey was out after eight of the rounders (with homemade maple syrup from the trees on the farm, boiled in a vat in the back barn.
When breakfast was cleared and the kitchen cleaned, Ronnie led Jersey to one of the tractors parked next to the front barn. "Ever drive one of these before?" She asked.
He had been on one a couple of times in his role as the hero father in Scarecrow but that was all staged, choreographed and faked.
"Want to give it a try?" Ronnie smiled.
Jersey felt a little weird because he knew Ronnie's husband had been killed in a tractor accident but he didn't want to bring that up.
"Sure," he said, climbing up to the driver's seat.
Ronnie climbed onto the tractor too, standing on the platform and resting her backside against the back fender wheel while giving Jersey instructions on how to start, brake, stop, power, and steer the vehicle. The large flatbed wagon was already hitched to the tractor which Jersey successfully managed to fire to life and with Ronnie's guidance he was able to carefully steer the machine out of the yard, down the road to the dirt road, and down the slope between the corn fields to the stacked wood that was once a tree.
"Good job, Ronnie smiled when he pulled the tractor to a stop in front of the wood piles.
Wearing gloves, Jersey and Ronnie moved all the cut wood onto the flatbed wagon, chatting some but not really carrying on a conversation of significance beyond small talk, focusing instead on their work and conserving energy. When the wood was finally all snuggly placed on the wagon, Ronnie climbed onto the tractor, telling Jersey that with the heavy load she should drive. Jersey climbed up on the tractor and stood next to her as she drove the wood back to the farm, pulling up to the large opened ended wood shed where she and Jersey did it all over again in reverse - taking the wood off the wagon and stacking it in the shed. It was physical work and Jersey was covered in grime and sweat by the time they were done unloading the stack but it felt good to have accomplished something he could see completed – unlike The Lighthouse Keeper that wouldn't see the light of day for a year.
"I'll remember this day in December when we use the wood," Ronnie smiled as they walked toward the house to prepare lunch.
Ronnie made 'lazy man's Chili' (sloppy joe mix combined with Hamburger Helper!) with French bread for lunch. The guys came in from the field and Molly from the farm stand (her hired help brought their own lunches, stored in a small refrigerator in the back of the stand). The guys were full of razz as usual while the more business conscious Molly gave a report on the morning sales and Ronnie bragged that the fallen tree was no more.
"Wow, Lumberjack Jim!" Chuck grinned.
"I was there too," Ronnie added sarcastically.
After lunch and clean up, Ronnie loaded the back of the antique pick up truck with wood planks and slats and some round fence posts, along with a tool box and Jersey joined her for the ride back to where the tree was to repair the damaged fence. Jersey mostly observed and assisted as Ronnie did most of the work, but it was slower paced and that gave them a chance to converse some in the hot afternoon sun as she put the fence back together again.
"You're very versatile," an impressed Jersey commented. "A Nurse. A mother. A farmer. A handyman. A terrific cook."
"You do what you have to do," Ronnie replied. "Pops and my late husband taught me everything I needed to know to be a good farmer."
"You can obviously handle yourself," Jersey said.
"Yep," she bragged.
When they finished the project, Ronnie took a seat on the opened tailgate of the truck and drank from her canteen, offering Jersey a swig when she was done.
"You don't mind sharing?" Jersey checked before taking a sip.
She shrugged her shoulders. "Why, you contagious?"
He smiled and took a swig from the canteen. The water was cool and refreshing.
"Can I start asking you questions yet?" Ronnie asked.
Jersey took a seat next to her on the opened tailgate. He was used to starlets with heavy perfume and make up, fancy hairstyles and expensive outfits but he could smell Ronnie's body odor. Her hair was soaked with sweat. Her face and hands were dirty.
"I don't get you," Ronnie remarked after a moment.
"What do you mean?" Jersey wondered.
"You're obviously far off whatever reservation you came from," Ronnie told him. "You're the first guy I've ever met with a manicure when you got here."
Jersey glanced at his fingernails, now ragged and dirty – a far cry from his Hollywood pedicures.
"But you haven't complained once," she noted.
"I like it here," Jersey told her. "I enjoy the work."
"But you don't belong here," Ronnie observed.
"I know," he sighed.
"What's the big mystery?" She wanted to know.
"No mystery," he insisted. "I just want something to do."
"Well, you're doing it," she grinned.
"Thanks for letting me," he replied.
"I really thought you'd leave once your ankle got better," Ronnie admitted.
"I really think that you 're very pretty," Jersey blurted out, surprised that he let slip what he had thought from the moment he saw her peering at him from the truck window that morning.
Ronnie stifled a laugh, caught off guard by the compliment. "Thanks," she smiled, running her hand through her hair underneath the red bandana she was wearing and it was the first time Jersey noticed her appearing vulnerable.
"You sure your name's Jim?" She tested.
"It's on my birth certificate," he replied.
"Okay, let me ask you this, is it the name you go by now?"
Jersey cocked his eyebrow, wondering if she was on to him. "It has been this week," he smirked.
Ronnie put her hands up to his chest and pushed him back onto the truck bed, pinning him by lying her body across his. She looked into his eyes, their faces nearly touching. She breathed heavily before placing her lips on his.
"Ronnie," Jersey said through the kiss.
"I know," she sighed, though she kissed him again. "I couldn't help myself."
"No it's not," she groaned, lifting her lips ever so slightly off of his.
"Because you'll be leaving," she said, still staring into his eyes. "Maybe not today, but tomorrow or next week or whenever. You'll go back from where you came." She glared into his eyes and he couldn't deny her theory.
"I could always come back," he offered lamely.
"But you won't," she said, tears starting to form in the corner of her beautiful eyes.
"I like it here," he insisted. I like you. It feels right being here."
"But you don't belong here," she sighed.
"I don't look the part?" He asked.
"Are you playing the part?"
"No, this is real," he told her. "It's the most real thing that's happened to me in a long time."
"So what, Jim?" She asked. "What do want? Why are you staying?"
"I'm staying for you," he revealed.
"I don't like mysteries," she let him know. "You've seen my life for a week now. You know everything about me but I know nothing about you."
"I just need a little more time," he said, trying to figure out in his head where all this might take him. He did have a career and a life elsewhere, after all.
"You're the first man I've been attracted to since Peter died," Ronnie confessed sadly. "Figures I'd fall for somebody I can't have."
Ronnie rested her head on his chest and he wrapped his arms around her shoulders. "Know that I care," he whispered.
They rested – dozed even – in the sun for a while until Ronnie finally stirred and climbed off of him, hopping off the truck onto the ground. Jersey sat up and looked at her.
"We should get going," she told him.
"Okay," Jersey reluctantly agreed.
He slipped off the truck and they both climbed into the cab, driving back to the house. Ronnie prepared a huge salad, throwing in steak slices leftover from last night's supper and the group reviewed their day at the kitchen table, although Ronnie seemed more subdued than usual.
Later, when the kitchen was all cleaned, Ronnie and Jersey joined Pops in the living room for that evening's ballgame. The national news was still on as they waited for the game to start.
"And finally," the newscaster said into the screen. "Veteran movie and television actor Michael Lablond was lay to rest today at a private cemetery on his ranch in Montana. Lablond spent more than thirty years in Hollywood making movies with the best of them. He was one of television's best known Dads on The Sandersons from a generation ago and he was active in environmental causes once he retired from film."
Several still photographs of Lablond through his career flashed across the screen, followed by videotape of his outside funeral service on his ranch. Jersey recognized several individuals, including Cass and a few other co-stars from The Sandersons.
"In a bizarre twist to this story," the newscaster continued. "Michael Lablond's teenaged co-star on The Sandersons who left that series for a gigantic career of his own was reporting missing by his agent manager and girlfriend Beattie Bates today."
A ten year old studio shot of Jersey Fields appeared on the screen just as Todd walked through the room.
"Hey!" He said with wide eyes. "That's the guy!" Then a publicity photo of Lablond and Fields together from the middle of The Sandersons' run was shown.
Jersey chewed on his bottom lip, knowing the gig was up. He could feel everybody's eyes on him.
"Jersey Fields went missing last Friday, last seen in Portland Maine where he had just completed filming a new movie," the newscaster said.
Beattie appeared on camera. "I woke up and he was gone. I can only guess that he was very upset learning the news of Michael's death. He adored that man and credited him with the success of his career. Honey, if you're watching, come home, please," Beattie practically sobbed with her fake sincerity. "We miss you and love you."
"She really could have been an actress," Jersey observed.
"Wait, that guy really is you?" Todd asked with surprise.
"What guy?" a confused Pops asked.
"Jersey Fields," Ronnie said.
"You're Jersey Fields!?" an excited Todd asked with disbelief.
"Who's Jersey Fields?" Pops frowned.
"An actor, Pops," Ronnie explained.
"You knew?" Jersey asked, slightly amused as he glanced at Ronnie.
"Jim Tatro?" Ronnie rolled her eyes.
"That really is my name," Jersey said defensively.
"I know," Ronnie said. "I looked you up on Wikipedia. And IMdb although I already knew most of your movies."
"How long did you know?" Jersey wondered.
"Long enough," She blushed.
"Why didn't you say anything?" He asked with fascination.
"I wanted to respect your privacy," Ronnie shrugged. "I figured you wanted to maintain the mystery."
"I'd appreciate it if everybody kept it on the down-low," Jersey requested.
"You're staying?" Ronnie asked with surprise. "Now that your secret is out?"
"I'm in no hurry to leave," Jersey smiled giving Ronnie a long look.
"Fighter Pilots was the best military movie I've ever seen!" Todd gushed as he stood gawking at the actor. "And we used to joke about The Scarecrow around here all the time!"
"Oh, that movie!" Pops exclaimed, finally placing the actor. "Took you long enough to set the stupid thing on fire!"
Jersey laughed. "I know. Took my character two hours to figure out what should have taken five minutes!"
"What the hell are you doing here?" Pops wanted to know.
"Did you really flip out because your Dad...friend...whoever...died?" Todd asked.
"No, I was flipping before that," Jersey admitted. "That just sent me over the edge," he joked.
"How'd you end up here?" Todd wondered.
"Jumped a train," Jersey admitted.
"And I'm guessing jumped off a train too," Ronnie remarked.
Jersey lifted up his recovered ankle and grinned. "Should have used a stunt double!"
"I want to hear everything there is to know about every movie you made and every babe you kissed," Todd said. "But right now, I've got a date."
"Have a nice night, dear," Ronnie told her son as he left the room. Then she turned her attention to Jersey. "Isn't there somebody you should call if you're thought to be missing?" She wondered. "Family?"
"Yeah, I should call my mother in Arizona," Jersey realized.
"You can use the phone in the front room," Ronnie told him.
Jersey called his mother and assured her he was fine, safe, and in good spirits. She commented that he sounded relaxed and they had a nice conversation. Jersey felt good when he hung up the phone and he was even more at peace when he returned to the living room.
It was just like it was on any other night. Ronnie, Pops and Jersey watched the Red Sox on the television for a few innings until exhausted and fatigue did them in. Pops turned in early since the Sox were down by six runs in the fifth. Ronnie had been sitting on the couch with Pops with Jersey in the easy chair.
"Why don't you come sit over here with me?" Ronnie suggested once Pops was gone.
Jersey smiled and did as she requested. Ronnie was wearing pajama bottoms and a clean Brunski Tee shirt having showered earlier. Jersey was wearing a pair of gym shorts he purchased at Donovan's and a red tee shirt after his shower.
"How'd you figure it out?" Jersey asked once he was settled on the couch.
'Those eyes, of course," Ronnie admitted. "The hair and the beard couldn't hide the eyes."
"It was night when I left," Jersey sighed. "Didn't need the sun glasses then."
"The shirt too, of course," Ronnie added. "And your designer everything. Can't buy that stuff anywhere around here."
"I didn't plan ahead," Jersey admitted.
"So, why did you leave?" Ronnie wondered.
Jersey gave her the abridged edition of his woes. A career drying up. His desire to return to television for consistent work but Beattie being convinced it would kill his future in the movies. His increasing dissatisfaction with Beattie professionally and his lost interest in her personally and romantically. Michael Labond's death just made him miss the young, innocent carefree days all the more.
"I loved The Sandersons," Ronnie revealed but then she covered her mouth with her hand. "Sorry," she said with embarrassment. 'The last thing you need for me to be is another stupid fan fawning all over you. I've just never met anybody famous before."
"I'm not that famous," Jersey replied.
"I may be nothing more than a Farmer's wife but I know that's not true, Jim," Ronnie rebutted and he was flattered that she called him Jim instead of Jersey. "Todd recognized you right away and he's hardly a big movie buff."
"You're much more than a farmer's wife, Ronnie," Jersey told her.
"Actually, I'm not even a farmer's wife anymore," she sighed. "I guess I'm just a farmer's former daughter in law."
"Do you think he'll want me out of here now?" Jersey worried.
"If he let you stay when he didn't know who you were why wouldn't he let you stay now that he knows you're a big deal?" Ronnie asked.
"Because he thinks The Scarecrow is smarter than me," Jersey replied.
Ronnie laughed and squeezed his arm. "For the record, I hated that movie."
"Me too," Jersey smirked.
The Sox were down by eight now and Jersey wasn't a big fan anyway not being from New England.
"I guess I'll turn in," he announced.
"Yeah, me too," Ronnie replied, forcing a smile.
Jersey started to get off the couch but a sharp pain in his sore back nearly doubled him over.
"Ouch!" He groaned.
"What's wrong?" Ronnie asked with concern.
"Ah, I'm just out of shape, that's all," Jersey smirked. "My back tightened up because of all that manly work you put me through!"
She smiled. "Go lay down on the bed," she suggested. "I'll give you a quick massage."
Jersey was too tired and sore to argue and he didn't protest when Ronnie followed him down the hall to his back room.
"Lay down on your stomach," she ordered.
Jersey did what he was told and she straddled his legs, kneeling on her knees and she lifted up his shirt and went to work on his lower back.
"Jim?" She asked after several minutes of massaging, fearing he had fallen asleep.
"You're doing a terrific job," Jersey told her. "That feels great."
"I don't know what's gotten into me," she sighed. "I don't want to be a groupie."
"You could never be a groupie," he laughed.
Ronnie leaned over so her face was near his ear. "There's not really a mystery to you, you know," she whispered.
"I know," he agreed.
"I getting a little crazy, aren't I?"
"No," he said.
"I'd better go," she realized her hair falling over her face and rubbing against the back of his neck.
"You don't have to go if you don't want to."
"My husband's the only man I've been with since I got to college," she said quietly.
"It's okay," Jersey said, turning his head and searching her face.
"Is it?" She questioned.
"If you want it to be," he replied.
"You're still going to leave."
"Not for a while," he assured her.
"But you will eventually," she sighed falling off of him and landing on her back next to him, the back of head squashing into the pillow.
"I'm sorry," he sighed as he turned his head and looked at her.
"I know," she said "So where does that leave us?"
"Right here, right now," Jersey answered.
"That's not good enough, Jim."
"How far is New York City from here?" He asked.
"About three hours," she replied.
"Maybe I can get work there," he said. "Plenty of shows shoot there."
"You don't really want to be a farm boy," she warned.
"It could be the best of both worlds," he said. "Like you and nursing."
She studied him. "Really?"
"Have you ever been to New York?"
"Once on a bus trip," she revealed. "Are you really going to break up with that woman?"
"She's one of the reasons I left," he answered.
"You aren't very happy, are you?" She realized.
"I am now," Jersey smiled.
"Maybe you just think you are."
Ronnie ran her fingers along the side of his face. Jersey turned onto his side and placed his arm around her waist.
"Brunski's Farm makes me happy," he said. "You make me happy."
"Yeah, but for how long?" Ronnie worried.
Jersey rubbed his hand along her stomach. "As long as you'll have me," he answered.
Ronnie leaned in and gently kissed him. "You're from a different world, Jim," she sighed
"But what we feel for each other is nothing new or different from what people feel for each other all the time," he said kissing her in return.
"I don't know if I can handle the craziness," Ronnie sighed.
"How will you know if you don't give it a try?"
"Are you thinking this will be your Montana?" Ronnie asked, staring at him. "That's where Michael Lablond went in search of a normal life. You think you're going to find that here?"
'Yes," he answered truthfully. "I jumped that train because I knew there had to be something more for my life out there," he told her. "I don't know if its fate, chance or destiny that made me jump off the train when and where I did so I would be on the side of the road when you passed by. All I can tell you is that I've felt something very special here."
"Oh, God," Ronnie groaned.
Jersey reached over and flicked her hair out of her face,
"I just don't know, Jim," she fretted. "I don't need to get caught up in drama and weirdness and celebrity and long distance romances. Let's face it, you're different. This is different. You'd be different from every other guy around here, Different from every other guy I could possibly be with."
"But how do you feel about me?" Jersey wondered.
"You're a fantasy come true," she confessed openly. "I've never had this feeling before."
Jersey pulled her into him and hugged her. "Me either," he whispered.
Ronnie stirred in the pre-dawn lightness spilling into the room.
"Where you going?" Jersey asked.
"I don't want the others to know I spent the night here," she whispered, sitting up on the bed.
Jersey reached out and rubbed his hand along her naked spine, tracing it down to her bare backside resting against the mattress.
"For how long the secret?" Jersey asked.
"Just until they get used to the idea," she said, glancing over her shoulder and smiling at him. "This is going to be unbelievably weird for everybody."
Jersey sat up and leaned into her. She turned her head and let him kiss her.
"Good morning," he smiled.
"Good morning, Jim," she grinned. "Welcome to the rest of your life."
She stood and went to the window, standing naked in the pre-sunrise light with her back to him. Jersey smiled and watched her happily, knowing farm living was the life for him.
She peeked over her shoulder and stared at him. "I'm really too old for this," she told him.
"Love will keep us both young," he assured her.
She rolled her eyes. "How can this forty-something body compete with the trophy women you know?" She sighed, turning to face him.
"You are more beautiful than any woman I've ever known," Jersey told him. "The farm has been good to you."
She smiled before picking up her discarded clothes from the floor. "Get dressed, Farm Boy," she said. "I'll make you breakfast."