A Movie Starlet
Chapter Eleven: Morgan Explains

 "Rora should be here by now."
Morgan paced across the set, pausing to cast Travis a thoughtful look from across the big hall. "Travis, I don't suppose you have anything to do with her not showing up for work on time today?"
"Did you address me?" Travis turned from where he had been examining his reflection in a small, portable mirror he kept entirely for that purpose.
"Yes, bonehead, I addressed you." Morgan marched across the set, putting her hands on her hips. "I know Rora went out with you last night, to some engagement or party or other. Now she's not here this morning - what did you do to her?"
"As if it's any business of yours where I take a date." Travis's tone became scornful. "But for your information, Morgan, I have no idea where Aurora might have got to. I dropped her home last night around midnight. That was the last I saw of her."
"Are you sure?" Morgan narrowed her eyes. "I know the sort of man you are, Travis Banning, and it wouldn't surprise me..."
"I told you that I dropped her off." Travis interrupted, getting to his feet and glaring at her. "Now, leave me alone. I have lines to go over and I don't need your blathering. Maybe Aurora realised that the pace of this lifestyle is too much for her. Either way, I hardly care."
"If Aurora isn't here, moron, we don't have a movie." Morgan snapped. "She's your co star, unless you'd forgotten."
"Amateur." Travis flicked his hand dismissively. "She can sing, but that's about all. We can replace her."
He cast Morgan a condescending look.
"Even you can put on a better performance than she can. I'm surprised you're so worried. Knowing how sweet Milton seems to be on your performances, why don't you move in for the lead part?"
"What, and have to kiss you again? Never in this lifetime!" Morgan shook her head. "Besides, Aurora's a plenty good enough actress for this film. If you've done anything to her..."
"I told you, Morgan, I've done nothing." Travis was getting impatient. "And if you don't stop this childish wailing, you'll be hearing from my lawyer. There is nothing between Aurora and myself. I'm merely giving her some guidance in the business - which let's face it, to be a credible actress she needs. If she's stupid enough to take me for more than that, well, that's her problem. It isn't mine."
He flashed her an infuriating smile.
"I've about got bored of her company anyway. I think it's time that the press knew how unprofessional and difficult she's been all along, to be honest."
"Unprofessional?" Morgan opened her eyes wide. "Travis, Aurora has more professionalism than you've ever had! If you ask me you have a problem with her because she's way more natural in front of the camera than you'll ever be! You spend ages preening and primping and fussing about camera angles, whereas she gives it all from the heart and gives it real. I don't think you can deal with that. In fact, Travis Banning, I wouldn't be surprised if she upstaged you all the way when this show hits the big screen!"
"Will she?"
Travis glanced casually around the room. "If that's so, Morgan, where is she? You can't be a professional in this business and not show up for rehearsals."
Morgan opened her mouth to retort, but what she was going to say remained a mystery, for at that moment Milton emerged from his office, a troubled look on his face.
"Everyone, Aurora won't be filming with us today." He said quietly. "We're going to have to work on other scenes and go on without her."
"Is she all right?" Morgan cast Milton an anxious look. "Nothing's happened to her, has it?"
"Aurora is quite well." Milton nodded. "However, her daughter was taken sick last night, and I understand it's quite serious. The infant has been taken to hospital and naturally Aurora wants to be at her side."
"Her daughter?" Travis's eyes almost popped out of his head. "Milton, what kind of show is this? A nursery wing?"
"I've given her the rest of this week off." Milton continued mildly.
"Pah. How are we supposed to film if our lead 'actress' isn't here?" Marina demanded from across the set. "Some show this is gonna be!"
"We can manage. There is plenty to do." Milton said firmly.
"If she had anything about her, she'd quit the production." Travis' lip curled. "I might have known something like this would happen."
"She offered to, but it's too short notice to find anyone else." Milton shook his head. "Besides, I believe that Aurora is the right girl for the part. I'm determined that we will finish this film, and that Aurora will play Isabel, but it might mean reshuffling the schedule a little."
"But Milton..."
"I am decided, Travis." Milton held up his hands, and there was something in his tone which prevented even the egocentric Travis from arguing any further. "We're professionals, and we'll work around it."
"Dammit if we will." Marina muttered. "Play up to some stupid rock star who's gonna ruin the whole movie?"
"We don't have much choice, but trust me, she'll pay." Travis returned quietly. "I already have DeMarco taking notes on everything that goes on here. Once the press find out how unreliable and flaky she is, noone will ever employ her in the film industry again. She'll be ruined, and that'll pay her back for daring to mess with one of my films. The ingratitude of it, when I've spent so long cultivating her!"
"I told you she was bad news." Marina remarked. "Rock singers always are."
"Well, this one will regret messing us around." Travis' eyes glinted. "Tomorrow morning, I'll have DeMarco call the local press. It's time we had an expose on the real truth behind Aurora Stapleton! I don't suppose it'll look good when it comes out that she only took this job to fool immigration and stay in the United States, and even less good when people realise how she can cut rehearsal any time to fuss over some stinking brat."
"I think you'll find any good mother would do the same." Morgan interjected cuttingly at this point, having overheard much of the conversation. "Even yours, although I think she would've done the world a greater kindness, Travis, if she'd just left you to die."
With which cold remark she turned on her heel, marching across the set to where make up was situated.
Inwardly, though, she was worried about Travis's threats. He was an arrogant man who hated to be shown up or taken for a fool, and whenever he planned a press "revenge", the local media usually flocked to his banner.
"If he has his way, she'll never work in California again." She murmured. "And I was worried about her falling in love with him! But I never saw him going this far. There's only one thing for it. I'll have to go to the Hospital tonight - if I can find out where the baby is - and tell her what's going on. Maybe she can at least think herself up some kind of rebuttal. The way Travis will phrase it won't be pretty, and the least I can do is prepare her for what's coming."

Across town, in a small, sterile white side-ward of Intensive Care, Topaz's thoughts were on anything but the production. Hollie's condition was serious, although for the time being the child was stable, and as the doctors had worked to give the infant a chance of pulling through, Topaz had had nothing to do but reflect upon the events that had led her to this point.
"I hate if onlies." She murmured, gently stroking the tiny fuzz of reddish gold hair. "But if only I had listened to Cynthia last night! We could have had a doctor out, and you wouldn't have needed to come this far. Now the doctors are frightening me with words like pneumonia and bronchial infection and heaven only knows what else. You're so tiny - how can you fight off so much? But you must, Hollie. You must. I don't know what I'll do if you don't."
She bit her lip, swallowing the tears that longed to fall. She must be strong, she knew that. Strong for the baby who, when awake, depended on her mother for comfort and reassurance.
But she felt anything but strong.
"I'm a child trying to raise another child, and failing utterly." She told herself bitterly. "Jetta warned me that it was hard work, and she was right. Why didn't I listen to anyone? Hell, what kind of a mother am I, when I'm willing to try and pretend you're not there in order to hang out with, well, with an arrogant jerk of an actor who could bore for America talking about himself. What's wrong with me? Am I really so desperate to go back to how life was before that I put someone like him before my own little girl?"
"Harsh criticisms indeed."
A gentle voice came from the doorway and she turned, seeing Cynthia watching her.
"What are you doing here?" Topaz asked softly. "The doctor said that..."
"I can get past strict doctors." Cynthia's features morphed into that of one of the nurses, and then back into her more familiar guise. "You know that. I understand that the child should not be crowded, but I promised Syl, Copper and the others that I would come see you both and report back."
"Oh, I see." Topaz frowned. "Not much to report, Cyn, except that I'm a godawful parent who let her baby get sick. I wish I'd listened to you last night!"
"Perhaps you should have." Cynthia acknowledged slowly. "But you are entitled to make mistakes, Topaz. I do not believe that you are a terrible mother. I believe you have become distracted, that is all."
"It's not that, Cyn." Topaz shook her head. "I've had nothing but time to think about it since the doctor left and it doesn't make pretty reviewing."
She bit her lip.
"When I got pregnant with Hollie, I wanted her so badly. You know that." She murmured. "And I still do, Cynthia, so very much. But I don't think I ever took into account how hard it was going to be to adjust. I've always been so...well...social! Going to parties, meetings, public engagements - you know that. Syl and I used to shop till we dropped all the time, and...well, I knew where I belonged. Where I fitted in with things."
"And now?" Cynthia asked gently, coming to sit beside her friend. Topaz sighed.
"And now, I don't know." She admitted. "Loving Hollie isn't enough, somehow. Sometimes I really don't know how to cope with what she needs. I can't understand her, and I'm so afraid of doing something wrong - of hurting her and making her hate me. It would kill me, Cyn, if she wound up fighting with me the way I fought with my mother."
She stroked the baby's cheek.
"You know the worst of it?" She asked. "If Cameron had been here last night, he wouldn't have just shrugged this off. He's a medical student, and he's smart - he would've known what to do and she'd be fine. Not like me. Hollie got stuck with the braindead side of her genes and she's paying the price for it. What kind of an idiot ignores the fact their baby has a fever and comes home drunk five hours late anyway, when she has other things to do?"
"It is a hard lesson to learn, perhaps." Cynthia said solemnly. "But you are too hard on your own ability. I have seen more than the others in your struggles since Hollie was born, and I know that sometimes her needs overwhelm you. That doesn't make you a bad mother, Topaz. All mothers have moments when things seem beyond them, and it is especially true for you, being a single mother."
"But what if she dies, Cyn?" Topaz whispered. "What then?"
"What have the doctors said?"
"She's stable, but it looks like pneumonia and they won't know her chances of shaking it off for a day or two yet." Topaz said quietly. "I offered to quit the movie but Milton told me he wanted me in the film and that he quite understood. He's an angel, but to be honest, I don't know if I do want to finish the thing. It's only causing me hassle."
"Is it?" Cynthia raised an eyebrow. "Surely you know that whatever work you do from now on, it must be arranged with Hollie in mind? Perhaps this was a test."
"Well, if it was, I failed it." Topaz groaned, burying her head in her hands. "And you assume she will get well."
"She looks less flushed now than she did last night, and she is sleeping peacefully." Cynthia glanced at the small crib. "I believe she will be fine."
"I hope you're right." Topaz grimaced. "In the meantime, I have to work out what I'm going to do. What you said about work is true, Cynthia, and it means I have to...well...come to some serious decisions about my future, doesn't it? Assuming Hollie lives - and I think it'd kill me if she died - I have to work out my life so that she comes first, no matter what else is going on."
She swallowed hard.
"And if that means going back to Canada, so be it."
"Drastic, perhaps?" Cynthia looked taken aback. Topaz nodded.
"Yes, very much so." She agreed. "But at the end of the day, I can't lie to immigration and I can't stay in Los Angeles if I'm not working. Unless I can work out some other solution, returning to Canada is something I seriously have to look at."
"I understand." Cynthia said gravely. "And of course, you must do the best for Hollie."
"Right." Topaz nodded. She reached over, squeezing Cynthia's hand.
"Thank you for not saying 'I told you so." She murmured. "You're always a good friend, even if I don't deserve it."
"I think you deserve more than you realise." Cynthia said gently. "But I must go, Topaz. I have to work today or I will lose my job, and we will both be in difficult situations!"
"Of course." Topaz nodded. She stretched, stifling a yawn. "Thanks for coming to see us, Cyn. It's not entirely nice when you're alone with your thoughts."
Once the hologram was gone, disguising herself once more as one of the nurses, Topaz stretched, getting to her feet. After casting her daughter a long look to ensure that the baby's condition had not changed, she headed to the door, intent on finding coffee to bolster her through the long vigil. It had been some hours now, since Hollie had been admitted, but it seemed like days already, and the young mother was drained.
"And who knows how many days I'll have to be here for her." She murmured, reaching the doors of intensive care and hurrying down the corridor towards the vending machine.
A voice stopped her in her tracks and she turned, greeting Morgan's wave with a confused smile of her own. The actress was soon at her side, casting her a smile.
"I tried to come up to the ward but they wouldn't let me in." She said, by way of preamble. "I wanted to make sure you were okay - Milton told us Hollie was sick."
"Well, I'm hanging in there." Topaz admitted, pressing the button for coffee and grabbing the steaming mug. "How did you know where to find me?"
"Milton. I told him I wanted to wish you well, and he told me where you both were." Morgan shrugged. "How is she?"
"Hollie? Stable. Too soon to say how things will go." Topaz's voice shook slightly, and Morgan put a comforting arm around her shoulders.
"I'm sorry." She murmured. "It must seem like everything hitting you at once, huh?"
"Something like that." Topaz rolled her eyes. "There are press prowling about, which is one reason why noone is allowed up to the ward bar me, at present. It'll be okay, though, if you come in with me. I...I'm grateful for the company."
"No problem." Morgan fell into step with her friend, eying her keenly. "I have to be honest, though. I didn't just come as a well wisher - I came to warn you."
"Warn me?" Topaz looked confused. "About what?"
Slowly Morgan related all that Travis had said.
"He's a jerk, but he'll do it." She concluded. "I wanted you to be prepared."
"I don't care what he does, to be honest." Topaz admitted, pushing open the door of her daughter's sideward and leading the way inside. "The way I feel, I'd happily quit the production and take Hollie back to Canada, if it meant she was fit and well and I didn't have to go through this. It's teaching me that I'm not as good a mother as I thought I was...and that hurts."
"She's a precious little mite." Morgan leant over the crib. "She doesn't look like you, though."
"No. She looks like her father." Topaz sighed. "Which I suppose is a large part of the problem."
"You and he don't see each other, huh?" Morgan asked. Topaz shook her head.
"No. He doesn't even know about her." She replied. "He's in England - he's a student. This was the best way to resolve things without the mess."
"But you miss him?"
"More than I ever imagined I would." Topaz bit her lip. "And even if I wanted to forget him, I couldn't. Not with Hollie growing up to look like him."
"Well, I suppose I was silly to think Travis might seduce you with his dubious charms, then." Morgan looked sheepish. "I'm sorry I gave you hassle about that."
"No...it's okay. You were right in some ways - I shouldn't have let him talk me into doing so much. I've neglected what's important and that's just as bad."
"Well, maybe you were right too." Morgan sat down in a vacant seat. "About my issues with Travis, I mean. I suppose I should be straight with you, since you've been straight with me."
"Marina said you fell in love with him, and he didn't return the affections." Topaz said. "Is that what happened?"
"Probably." Morgan spread her hands. "I don't know if he ever loved me or not. Probably not, because Travis only seems to love Travis and that's that. But I met him first a few years ago, and at the time I was hitting it big in Hollywood. I'd just finished shooting a movie which went on to win three oscars - one of which was my role as best leading female. I was one of the biggest stars in California that year, if the press and critics were to be believed. I couldn't put a foot wrong. Directors were queuing up to sign me onto their productions and I had scripts thrown at me from every angle. It was exciting."
"So what happened?" Topaz asked, momentarily distracted from her infant's plight by Morgan's solemn account.
"Well, I wound up doing this picture with Travis as the leading male." Morgan pursed her lips. "It was a civil war classic, all dresses and frills and romantic, dramatic scenes...one of those tear jerker types that people always flock to. Travis was a big name then too, and he took it upon himself that if he and I were an item, perhaps it would boost his popularity even more. Well, I'm guessing at his motive, but I can't think of anything else."
She glanced at her hands.
"I was only young, then. Twenty, or twenty one, and naive." She continued. "I fell madly in love with him, and for six months or more we were the perfect couple. Then he was working abroad, on a film shot on location in Japan. He was there for four or five months and I heard from him only a couple of times. When he got back, things were different. People were saying in the press that he was seeing one of the girls from that movie, but I wouldn't believe it. Didn't believe it."
She frowned.
"We didn't speak for a while, and I suppose I resigned myself to us not being together." She said slowly. "But then I got a part in one of the biggest hit movies around, and I was the talk of the town again. Suddenly Travis was calling me again, and despite my better judgement I went back to him. We dated for about two months and, the same night I was nominated for a second oscar, he asked me to marry him. I accepted."
"He proposed to you?" Topaz stared. "But..."
"I know, it seems impossible now, doesn't it?" Morgan laughed bitterly. "And I still find it hard to forgive him for what came next. I know as well as the next actress that in oscar terms you win some and you lose others. This one wasn't my year, and it went to another actress."
She paused.
"The next thing I knew, the LA press were reporting that Travis and this actress - Tina Belli - were having a passionate romance. He told me not to listen to the papers, that they were just messing around because Tina had just signed a contract to work with Travis on his next film. But I was paranoid, and I...I did a bit of snooping."
She grimaced.
"I saw enough to realise that the press were right, let's put it that way. I guess I flipped out - I lost my temper. The next day he and Tina were making some press appearance at the Red Rock Restaurant to promote this new cowboy flick, and I went all out for revenge. I don't remember much of what occured, except for tipping seafood sauce all down Tina's designer dress, and tossing my engagement ring at Travis, among other things. It was all caught on camera, that's the worst part. The Food Fight at the OK Corral, they named it."
Despite herself, Topaz smirked.
"I bet he loved you for that." She remarked. Morgan sighed.
"I regret losing my temper in public." She admitted. "Travis has a way with the press and it damaged my public image quite badly. People think I'm volatile and childish and a liability to have on their film - Travis even got them thinking I was using drugs, which I don't and I never would. If it hadn't been for the fact that Milton and I are old friends and he never reads tabloid press, I wouldn't have gotten this role. I'm hoping to put all of that behind me...but I don't want Travis making a victim of you, too. I was dumb to behave how I did, but in the circumstances..."
"You were provoked." Topaz said quietly. "I would have done the same, and more, I expect." She shrugged. "I appreciate your warning, too...I just find it hard to be too worried about my reputation right now. My image was the thing that led me to ignore Hollie in the first place. Maybe it deserves to be taken down a few pegs."
"I don't think so." Morgan shook her head. "It's a hard world to get into, acting. Even with the background you have. There are always people like Marina and Travis who are stuck on themselves, and even though not everyone is like them, they tend to wield a lot of power in the industry."
She sighed.
"As I know to my cost."
"Well, I know from first hand experience not to believe everything they say in the press." Topaz said simply. "And this film will prove to everyone that you are a good actress, and you can be relied upon."
"We'll see." Morgan shrugged. "Takes more to build a reputation than it does to destroy one, sadly."
"Milton told me he wanted me to finish the picture, and I will." Topaz said quietly. "I owe it to you as much as anyone not to let people down - it's struck me that there are folk who believe in me and it'd be wrong to screw them over."
"I'm glad about that." Morgan smiled. She glanced at Hollie.
"And then?"
"I don't know." Topaz spread her hands. "I guess we wait and see."


Chapter One: A Surprise For Topaz
Chapter Two: Make or Break
Chapter Three: Audition
Chapter Four: First Day
Chapter Five: Travis' Plot
Chapter Six: Making Choices
Chapter Seven: Jewel...and Jack
Chapter Eight: Topaz Shines
Chapter Nine: Trouble
Chapter Ten: Crisis
Chapter Eleven: Morgan Explains

Chapter Twelve: Topaz's Future