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Chapter 4: "Harriet Meets Love"

June 10, 2008|By EVA NIESSNER / Pulse Correspondent

"You move awfully fast. Are you sure this is a good idea?"

Mindy addressed her cousin Harriet Hertz, former teen pop music queen Sugar Flower, with such schoolmarm-ish anxiety, Harriet pulled a face.

"It's because of you I work at Ellington, right? And Thomas is nice. It's not going to kill me to have dinner with him once." She turned from the mirror to Mindy. "How do I look?"

"You were a 21-year-old pop singer. Do you ever look bad?"

"Yes, like when I get fired. That looks pretty bad."

* * *

Thomas took Harriet to Lord Lyon, a place sort of like a pub that was a far cry from the strobe-lit clubs Harriet was used to. Still, it had a dingy kind of charm, with a little stained-glass lamp at every table and the pleasant odor of cooking food and worn leather all around. To a rich girl, it was ... exotic.

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"So tell me what kind of entertainment you were in," Thomas asked as they waited for their food. "It wasn't anything ... you know ..."

"No, no ... It was just ..." Harriet was at a loss for words, so she stared at the black-handled steak knife she was spinning around on the wooden table. "Well, you might freak out or something. Or think of me different."

"Your secret can't be as damaging as mine."

"Oh, yeah," she said, smiling, now stirring her soda with the bendy straw. "The skeletons in the family closet."

"More like weirdness than skeletons, when you stop to think about it."

Harriet stared at him, at his eerie green eyes and sweet little smile. "How weird?" She had spent the last 10 years working in exhausting normalcy and wasn't quite sure she was ready to leave it.

"You first," Thomas replied as their steaks were set down before them.

She sighed and tossed her hair in a very pop-queen gesture. "Ever heard of Sugar Flower?"

"Who hasn't?" Thomas flashed another prizewinning smile. "My little niece is obsessed. I bet she'd be thrilled to meet Sugar Flower." He looked knowingly at Harriet.

Harriet's jaw dropped. "You knew?"

"I baby-sat little Erin a lot," Thomas told her, fork poised in the air the way one would hold a cigarette in the old movies. "I knew I had seen your face a million times."

She took a sip of her drink. "Then you know about what happened to me, huh?"

"I never expected you to wind up here, though. You said you live with your cousin now? What about your parents?"

Harriet scowled into her soda. "One's a senile fisherman in Canada, the other's too busy handling Vegas divorces to notice the label has dropped me." She gave Thomas a meaningful stare. "I think she thinks my 12th birthday is in a month."

"Oh."

They didn't say anything for a few more minutes, simply ate and snuck glances at each other, lapping up each other's faces like cats drinking water - in short, constant increments. He's so handsome, Harriet thought. I don't deserve a man this good.

"What about you?" she finally asked.

"You'd never believe me," was all he got to say before a hand clapped down on his shoulder, grabbing his attention, a bite of steak almost to his mouth.

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