State Fair Date Dare

A Flynn's Crossing Seasonal Novella

Movie director Mac Smythe can’t help it if sometimes he’s jinxed.  The premiere of his film at the State Fair?  A wild idea.  Turning it into a special date night with the love of his life, chef Roxy LaFollette, seemed the perfect way to cap off a great event.  Unless, of course, Roxy receives a dare.  Knives flashing, she can’t help but say yes.
This seasonal novella features Mac’s first person account of the tension, drama, and yes, love, that only a state fair setting can bring.  Want to know more about Mac and Roxy’s story?  Check out “Tastes and Consequences”, Book 4 of the Flynn’s Crossing Romantic Suspense series.

Chapter 1

I don’t believe I’ve ever been this uneasy. Queasy, even. Jitters make my skin crawl, sweat soaks through my cotton shirt, and I can’t stop darting my anxious gaze between the circle of people surrounding me.
“It will be fine, you know.”
The calm voice in my ear with the ideal hint of sexy promise makes me settle. My Madeleine always does. Her alter ego Roxy, on the other hand, is more likely to kick me in the butt to keep my head on straight. I know the movie is good, but I want it to surpass perfection.
You see, this film is important to me. It started out as a documentary about a year in the life of rural America. Flynn’s Crossing celebrations, its crises, the ups and the downs. It ended up being a love poem to a town and its inhabitants. Along the way, things gathered energy faster than great buzz on a blockbuster opening weekend, until the topics and stories took on lives of their own.
‘A Year In Their Lives’, funded, produced and directed by me, Mac Smythe, brought out the girl tribe and wolf pack in force. The bakery is crowded with well-wishers, a breakfast pre-premiere party of sorts, organized by the mayor. The room is too small to hold everyone, and festivities spill out into Main Street.
“Nah, it’s going to kick some major a – ”
“Vince? You’re not helping. Time to shut up,” Dane said.
Men who had become my closest friends flank me on either side. They did their parts. Yes, there was grumbling involved, but I hope to make that up to them tonight.
“I want to reiterate that the movie is great. Really, Mac, no one could have done it better. And of course, with yours truly,” Vince pointed to himself, “and yours truly,” he pointed to Dane, who bowed with a courtly air, “helping you out, how could you go wrong?”
Roxy chuckled beside me, shaking her head at our friend’s antics. Vince’s wife DK also shook her head, though she didn’t appear to be as amused.
“Your head is going to swell so big, Vincent, you won’t be able to fit through the front door anymore,” she said in a flat tone, and her red hair seemed to flame a little brighter in a pixie halo around her head.
Immediate placation was a good idea, and my friend is no dummy. “But I’ve done my part, darling, haven’t I? I mean, I was a judge and everything.”
Ah yes, the judging. The California State Fair is no different from others around the country, and from food to the arts, creative endeavors to tests of skill, there are contests in enough categories to fill a manual the size of our town’s phone book. Dane judged photography. Rick the engineer judged high school drafting. Gabby the romance writer helped with creative writing, along with Vince. They called on Powers for his architectural know how and Tess for floraculture displays. The whole population of our slice of heaven might have received a call. I owed them all, big time.
Ergo, nerves.
“Okay, everyone, let’s get this show on the road.” I use my best big-time director bellow to gather their attention. They keep talking, and fresh chills run down my neck. Organizers would delay the movie’s screening, but only for so long.
“Guys? We need to haul it or we’re going to be late. We have an hour’s drive ahead of us.” I try waving to accompany the words. But conversations around me continue with barely a hesitation.
Beside me, Roxy grins and shakes her head. She raises two fingers to her lips and winks at me. Then she takes a deep breath, doing wonderful things to her dress, I might add, and she blows.
The piercing whistle she produces might have stopped traffic on surrounding county roads. Everyone freezes in their tracks. Then some of them shake their heads as if to clear residual buzzing in their ears. I wasn’t sure, but I think mine might be bleeding.
“We’re in the weeds, folks. Time to hit the road and hit it fast.”
Roxy smiles at me with sweet satisfaction as the room clears faster than a new movie star’s fifteen minutes of fame. She links an arm through mine to draw me through the door and says, “That, my love, is how you clear a room in Flynn’s Crossing.”
I should have known she’d have the magic touch.
It began innocently enough. I was shooting a movie in Flynn’s Crossing. My agent wanted me to do an interview about my transition from big name actor to big name director. Journalist Vince has since become my good friend, along with the photographer from that day, Dane. Once I decided to set down deep roots here too, I kind of sucked them into producing the documentary with me. Vince is a wizard with words, and Dane’s eye for unique perspectives that highlight a story, combined to make magic on the screen.
Of course, the county employee in charge of attracting movies and such to the area, one Ms. Campstrom, was more than happy to help with a detailed schedule of celebrations, events and interesting locations. “Mr. Smythe,” she’d all but purr into the phone, “I have the perfect activity for your film. The wagon train has been coming through town for generations.” And of course, I filmed it, along with holiday parades, sports rallies, tributes to firefighters and law enforcement, and everyday life.
She’d scored a major coup in supporting my plan. For the most part, people in the area got on board and loved the concept of showing off our little town and the beauty of its surroundings. Most of all, though, their kindness, generosity and spirit became the focal point for my lens.
I intended our first screening to be private, friends and family only. You know, to get their take on things and make sure I hadn’t offended anyone – or left anyone out. But we could never get everyone together. Someone was either traveling, or buried in work, or having a baby or a honeymoon. You’d think we were trying to coordinate the schedules of world leaders for a summit on a global crisis.
They are all here today, though. The afternoon sun beats down without mercy, though a gauzy fabric fluttering in the Sacramento breeze protects arriving guests. Hollywood premiere-worthy decorations line a path from the main gate to the theater. Even Roxy, who should be used to this sort of display by now, is impressed.
“Who knew we’d be walking down the red carpet at the California State Fair?” Dane’s wife Serena didn’t bother to whisper as she shares this with DK. They lag behind Roxy and me by a couple of paces, their men trailing and trying to look cool.
“Mac, I promise to try to avoid embarrassing you by ogling any big names who show up.” DK’s eyes flit across faces, and I could almost hear brain cells firing as she catalogs the who’s who of celebrities milling around the entrance.
“Hey, I’m here. And I am a big name, after all.”
DK reaches up and pats Vince’s cheek with a condescending smile before her eyes dart back to a limo pulling up at the curb. Her startled gasp turns into a sigh as she recognizes the leading man exiting the back. Vince frowns and wraps a possessive arm around her. Ah yes, true love.
Roxy’s hand tightens in mine and her fingers squeeze harder. “This is really something, and I’m so glad you made it happen.” Her quick kiss reassures me. She is the only one outside of production staff who has seen the whole film. When the final credits rolled at that very private, up close and personal debut, she’d had tears in her eyes and wrapped herself around me while names were still scrolling. More true love, and I have to admit we were inspired that evening.
“Mr. Smythe? Mac. Hey, this way please.” I stop for the first wave of press shots, pulling Roxy closer when she would have stepped out of the frame. She tended to do that, saying it was my star-power face they were after. Since she’d turn heads covered in tent cloth, I don’t doubt they were more interested in her stunning blonde looks than my weathered gray ones.
“What about your role in this?” I whisper the words in the delicate shell of her ear. I feel the shiver move through her. I enjoy the fact that even after all this time, I still have this effect on her. She can turn me into a fumbling fool with a mere smile and tilt of her head.
Her smile slips into a frown as we turn away from the flashes, and I know what she’s thinking about. You see, the ever-helpful Ms. Campstrom felt compelled to tell her State Fair counterpart – bragging, I think – that world-class chef Roxy LaFollette happened to be my other half. Really, said the State Fair organizer, with an enthusiastic uptick in her tone. Or so said Ms. C. The Fair was sponsoring a live cooking competition in the youth category, and they were looking for judges for the final round, the competition between the winners of each age group. Perhaps Chef LaFollette would be willing…?
Of course, gushed Ms. C, though she tried not to present this as a fait-accompli. In fact, she begged, fawned, and generally acted like every other huge fan of Roxy’s gourmet food until my Madeleine caved and agreed. That took about five minutes. The griping when my dear love later read the rules took up an evening.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for children of different ages and with different levels of skill development to compete against each other. It might discourage the less successful ones. All kids should know how to cook, at least for the basics.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this argument. Along with everything else she did, my Madeleine ran a free summer cooking camp for kids in our community. They came to the restaurant or store kitchen and learned food safety, knife skills, and myriad other things I know next to nothing about. I leave the cooking to Roxy. She leaves the movie business to me.
I said, “Come on, it’s the State Fair. Plenty of kids compete in the fair, and they all know they can’t win first place or a ribbon. The reward is in participating. Didn’t you ever enter a competition?”
A storm cloud settled on her face during that discussion. I knew that look. The memory my comment conjured up for her was more recent than childhood.
“Never mind, never mind,” I said as fast as I could. “You’ll do your judging and then we’ll have a date night. A State Fair date night. What could be better?”
For the record, I do not know how to leave things alone when I should.
Two hours later, I allow relief to flood through me at the applause of the general audience, and hoots and catcalls from my Flynn’s Crossing friends. The movie is a resounding success. I exhale, realizing this might be the first time I had taken a full breath since announcing the movie’s premiere.
Not exactly true. There were other times. Lots of times, and they all involve Roxy. One needed to catch one’s breath after spending up close, personal and intimate time with her. My heart rate speeds up just thinking about it.
“Great job, man, great job. You are one lucky son-of-a – I mean, a lucky guy.” Vince claps me on the shoulder as he shoots his wife a laser glance. He’d promised her he’d clean up his language. It remains a work in progress, even after long months had passed. I won’t tell DK how many times he still slips up when she isn’t around.
Dane pumps my hand, saying, “Excellent visual presentation.”
Roxy frowns at him. “You shot a large amount of that video, Dane. Busy patting yourself on the back?”
“I think he’s admiring the final result, glad that most of his work didn’t end up on the cutting room floor,” Serena says, wrapping an arm around her husband’s waist. Her own had expanded to near bursting proportions. I couldn’t keep track, and I didn’t want to earn myself a dirty look by asking again when their baby was due. It looked to me like that bun should have popped out of the oven months ago.
Roxy huffs out a sigh that is part exasperation, part humor. “Sorry, I do realize that. I guess my mind is on my upcoming duties.”
“But that isn’t until tomorrow, and tonight is still a date night. I have more in store for us, for all of us.” My eyes sweep our group, noting the various expressions. Anticipation, because I never do things half way. Curiosity, because they knew I was up to something. Laughter from the guys, which I couldn’t initially figure out.
Then I look back at my Madeleine. She is definitely not in a Madeleine mood. Her real name was reserved for times when she felt soft and loving toward me. At the moment, her arms cross her chest, her fingers tapping in time to the toes of one foot, and her scowl would make any actor sit up and take notes, trying to mimic her example.
“Why do I think we should worry about this?” Her question hung in the air, even as I grin in expectation.