Exiting the limo, Roche raised her hand and pressed her slender fingers tight. She managed to block the majority of the blinding flashes as cheers crashed upon her from all sides.
“Put your arm down,” whispered Gil, emerging from the car’s front passenger seat.
Grimacing, Roche lowered her hand.
The flanking crowds pressed in, their swell making the barricades rattle. Looming before her, Stan held out his arms, pushing back the tide and gaining a circle of breathing room. Roche hurried on in Stan’s wake as he pushed forward.
Gil trotted behind her, keeping his prodding demand close. “Quit squinting,” he whispered.
Mindful of his tirade about the wrinkles they might deepen, Roche forced her eyes wider. She swept her gaze up and over the crowd splayed against the corridor leading to the hotel’s entrance like bugs on a windshield. She smiled as her aim avoided the ceaseless snap and pop of flashbulbs and camera phones.
The cheers roared on, until she thought the ground should shake. Shouted phrases or questions bombarded them, the words lost in the torrent.
“Wave,” whispered Gil.
Roche strode behind Stan’s monstrous bulk, and lifted her arm like a fluid ribbon up into the afternoon heat. With her cheeks burning from her stapled smile, she spun once, the stilettos providing two trivial pivot points. The motion swirled her dress’ cyan-hued skirts and earned another surge of cheers.
The hotel’s awning provided a crisp edge of shade and Roche settled back into the parade route. Those flanking their passageway thinned as the terrain shifted from public sidewalk to private property.
At the other end of the red carpet, a leather faced bellhop opened a glass door. His grin quirked to the side, and he straightened his shoulders beneath his uniform’s weight.
“Thank you,” said Roche.
“Miss,” said the bellhop adding a tip of his hat.
Roche winced as Gil’s sigh expressed his irritation. He shuffled her through the entrance before her courtesy for the normal folk led her into any unplanned conversations.
The dearth of noise within the lobby’s expanse left her feeling hollow, and her stride staggered as if a crutch had been taken away. Roche steadied as the clack of her heels and the slap of Gil’s loafers provided their own blare. Eerily, Stan’s shoes never made a sound.
He hovered like a massive shadow as they arrived at the elevator bank. Gil pecked the button half a dozen times, none of which made the lift arrive any sooner. He checked his watch, the golden band glittering in the chandelier’s glow, and tapped his similarly shiny loafers.
The elevator dinged, and the doors split, revealing an elderly couple dressed for the evening.
“Excuse us,” said the snowy-haired gentleman, a thick Russian accent warming the air.
Gil sputtered, but Roche nudged him aside with a grin for the husband and wife, not to mention the surprising anonymity. The older woman adjusted her shawl as her companion prevented the doors from closing, and then they glided as one into the early evening.
Darting into the elevator, Gil stabbed at the penthouse button, grumbling under his breath about increased advertising in the European markets.
Roche listed against the back wall as the elevator doors closed, and shut her eyes, blocking the reflection of her standing between the bookends of Stan and Gil. Their presence lingered like annoying flies, ones she couldn’t bat away.
After passing stories punctuated by Gil’s toe tapping and the lifts electronic hum, the doors hushed open. Again, Gil stormed through, already digging out the suite’s card from his suit coat pocket.
Stan motioned for her to precede him, and Roche sighed.
“I’m going, I’m going,” she whispered.
Gil had the door wide and his PDA in hand by the time Stan had her herded into the penthouse.
The crisp scent of clean sheets, towels, and vacuuming hung in the air. Pinned drapes revealed the coastline, the surf rolling in on the beach mottled with tiny blots of color for each tourist or local catching the last of the sun’s rays. With a click, the suite’s entrance closed, cutting off the hallway and the route back into the world below.
Roche perched on the couch’s arm rest, crossed her arms, and stared down at the view.
Gil paced through the sitting area, tapping at his screen. “Good crowd huh?”
“Yeah,” said Roche. “I guess staying under the radar was too much to ask.”
“You’re a celebrity now, people want to know what you’re up to, where you are, what you’re wearing. You gotta want that, right?”
“What I really want is a car,” whispered Roche.
“Sure, sure,” said Gil, staring into his PDA. “We can probably do a voice over, an endorsement, or something. What were you thinking?”
“I’m not talking about an endorsement,” said Roche. “I want one for me.”
“We might be able to swing one in the deal.” Gil halted and quivered as his thoughts churned. “Yeah, I bet they’d agree. I mean every time you drive around it’d be like free publicity.”
“No,” said Roche. She swiveled and caught him with her gaze. “You’re not getting my point. I want a car so I can get away from this, at least for a little while. Something every day, something that’s not going to stand out, with plates people won’t recognize.”
Gil’s eyes bugged as if she had punched him in the gut. “But….”
“Gil, please. I’m going to burst if I don’t get some quiet time, some time alone.”
“You get plenty in here. Not like Stan and I are always around.”
Roche dropped into the couch’s cushions and drew a stiff pillow into a close hug. “I want to go someplace real and just…be me for a while.”
“You’re famous now, kid. Being alone is kind of out of question.”
“It is if I don’t fight for it,” whispered Roche. She set her chin on the pillow’s braided edge and stared up at Gil.
Gil shook his head but she saw his stubbornness begin to waver. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Gil’s mouth flashed with a half-grin, one that softened the aggressive glint in his eye. “Get some rest, kid. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
“You said that yesterday.”
Gil smirked. “They’re all big now.”
“Goodie,” said Roche. She sank deeper into the couch.
“See you at 7,” said Gil, “remember to wear that blue number so you don’t clash with Mr. Denabrio at breakfast.”
“That was serious?”
Gil shrugged. “Verbatim from his people: only the Director wears warm colors.”
“Wow,” said Roche, “that’s insane.”
“I don’t make the rules.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Roche.
“The blue one, okay?”
Roche rolled her eyes and landed back in the view. “I’ll remember.”
Gil finished with his PDA and then started for the door. “You need anything else?”
“No,” said Roche, “but thanks.”
Stan moved to follow Gil as if silently beckoned.
“Night, Stan,” said Roche.
“Miss,” said Stan, the word emerging like a primordial grunt.
The two exited the suite, the door clicking shut again. Gazing out the windows, Roche sank into the couch’s squishy embrace, and daydreamed about cooling sands between her toes.