Six Years Later
“Stay together!” I shouted above the crowd noise. “Dustin—you’re going the wrong way!”
“I’m just looking at the food!” Dustin replied over his shoulder. “Can I get a hot dog?”
“There’s free food in the suite,” Rogan replied. “Let’s get there first, and then you can decide if you want something else.”
We were walking through the Staples Center before the Los Angeles Lakers played the Milwaukee Bucks. Sometimes I felt like a shepherd keeping her flock together. Everyone wanted to wander around and do their own thing—especially the triplets, who were on the cusp of their teenage years.
“I want a hot dog too,” Micah said to my left. His face was at the same level as mine—he’d had a growth spurt that summer, and now towered over the other two children.
“Like your father said, we’ll get to the suite first,” I replied.
“They’d better have hot dogs,” he muttered.
We showed our tickets to the man standing in front of our suite, who then opened the door and let us in. The kids made excited noises as they ran inside. There were stainless steel trays of piping hot food, and a dedicated bartender in front of a variety of liquor bottles. And at the far end were the seats overlooking the court.
Maurice stepped up next to me with his baby, LeBron, in his arms. “Remind you of anything?”
“The chaos reminds me of the trip we took to Cabo last year,” I replied. “I swear I spent more time chasing the kids than I spent sitting on the beach.”
Maurice gave me a patient look. “I meant does it remind you of anything else? Like, from six years ago?”
It took me a moment to realize what he meant. When I did, I chuckled. “Wow. I had almost forgotten about that.”
“I would never forget,” Maurice insisted. “I almost had a heart attack that night we snuck into the suite! Excuse me, bartender? Do you have Mezcal? I’m in the mood for a margarita…”
Jason shrugged at me while following his husband and baby toward the bartender. I patted him on the arm.
“Mom!” Dustin whined. “They don’t have hot dogs!”
“These are better than hot dogs,” Brady replied. “This is filet minion. That’s French for fancy steak. I think. Point is, it’s better than a hot dog.”
“I don’t want fancy steak,” Micah said. “I want a hot dog!”
I was preparing to tell them to eat the food that came included with our suite, but then Mark whirled and looked at me with his big eyes. My son was only six, but he had mastered the ability to get whatever he wanted with just a look. Asher and Brady said that I babied him too much. They were probably right.
“You want a hot dog, too?” I asked.
Mark nodded. “Please, mommy?”
How could I say no to that?
“Want me to get it?” Brady asked.
I gestured to the open court. “No, you relax and enjoy the game. I’ll go get them.” I raised my voice. “Taking hot dog orders now! Who wants one?”
All four kids raised their hands—including Cora, although she barely looked up from her book while doing so. Maurice raised Little LeBron’s hand in the air too. I gave him an exasperated look.
“What?” Maurice demanded. “Little LeBron wants a hot dog with mustard and onions.”
“I’ll be back.”
I walked out of the room and across the suite level. One universal truth to having children was that the kids didn’t appreciate what they had until they got older. An expensive suite with all the food they could eat? Nope, they wanted hot dogs that had probably been sitting under a heat lamp for three straight games. A trip to Cabo with a boat tour of the local reef? The kids preferred to play in the hotel swimming pool because it had a spiral slide.
But my annoyance was only a fleeting thing. They were kids, my kids, and I would give them whatever they wanted within reason. I loved them with every ounce of my heart, and I would walk to the end of the earth to get them their hot dogs.
Fortunately, I only needed to walk about a hundred feet. The line for the concession stand was long, and I began reciting the order in my head. Five hot dogs, one with onions.
Before I reached the front, I heard a voice behind me: “That’s her. That’s the intruder!”
A security guard grabbed my arm. “Ma’am? Please come with me.”
I whirled away from him. “Excuse me?”
The woman who was pointing at me was a hunched little woman with white hair pulled up in a tight bun. She wore yellow slacks and a purple polo shirt, the uniforms of a Staples Center usher. And I recognized her.
“Granny?” I murmured.
“She’s the one with her face on the board,” Granny insisted. “I’d recognize her anywhere!”
For a fleeting moment, I was afraid that I had forgot my ticket. But my suite pass was hanging around my neck, and I held it up defiantly. “Hah! Here’s my ticket!”
The security guard didn’t even look at it. “Ma’am, let’s discuss this in the office.”
I was tempted to make a scene. To yell and scream and demand that someone help me. A younger Hearth Hart might have done that. A Heather Hart that had nothing to lose.
But that wasn’t me anymore. I had a lot to protect: my family, my career, my reputation. So I held my head up high and let myself be guided to the end of the suite level and into a security office.
“See?” Granny said, pointing. “That’s her! The ticket is a counterfeit.”
Above a security desk were a row of headshots thumb-tacked into a bulletin board that said: “WANTED: BANNED FOR LIFE.” My face was the third one. The fourth, I saw with a smile, was Maurice’s.
I bit back the urge to ask if she knew who I was.
“We’ll verify the information on the ticket,” the security guard said. He pulled the ticket over my head and said, “This will just be a moment.”
He got on the phone while Granny stood watch over me. She looked awfully satisfied with herself.
“I liked you more six years ago,” I said. “You were friendlier back then.”
A few minutes later, Asher came walking through the door. He smiled politely and showed the guard the ticket information.
“Her headshot is on the wanted board,” the guard told Asher.
Asher frowned at the board. “Doesn’t look like her to me. And like I said, she’s with us, and her ticket is legitimate. If I need to contact someone higher-up…”
The guard gave me back my ticket and apologized. I nodded at him, then gave Granny a victorious look as Asher and I left the room.
“I’m surprised at you,” Asher said when we were out in the hall. “I expected you to make a scene about how they falsely detained you.”
“I’ve grown a lot since becoming a mother,” I said. “Besides, they didn’t falsely detain me. That was my photo on the wanted board. Guess they keep a look out for offenders even after six years.”
“Guess so,” Asher said with a smile.
We got in line at the concession stand and retrieved the hot dogs. On the way back to our suite, I saw two teenagers peering out from an elevator, a boy and a girl. Their entire demeanor screamed I don’t belong here. They looked in both directions, then came walking out on the suite level with a too-calm stride, nervously glancing in all directions.
I turned toward them, intercepting them a few seconds later. “Excuse me. You don’t belong on this level, do you?”
Both of them froze. Their fight-or-flight responses were kicking into gear, and right now it looked like flight was winning.
“Our seats were so high up,” the girl quickly said. “We couldn’t see anything.”
“It was all I could afford, Angie,” the boy insisted.
“I’m not going to get you in trouble,” I told them. “I wanted to invite you to our suite. We have plenty of room—it seats twenty-four, but there’s only twelve of us.”
They looked at each other. “Is this a trick?’
“She’s entirely sincere,” Asher said. “Trust me. She was in your position once upon a time.”
“That’s real nice of you,” the girl said while following us back to the suite. “Hey, aren’t you, like, somebody?”
“Everybody is somebody,” I replied with a grin.
“No,” the boy said. “She’s right. You’re somebody famous. You’re the lady from that new action film! Hart something…”
Yeah, that’s right. I was a movie star now, famous in my own right. After a year of earning my keep doing commercials, I jumped onto a Netflix show. Three seasons of that led to my first feature film. Since then I had done three more, starring in two of them. Yeah, I was kind of a badass now.
But I liked flying under the radar.
“I have one of those faces that people confuse with others,” I told them. “Come on. This is our suite up ahead.”
The children all jumped up and came running over to me to retrieve their hot dogs. They were all polite enough to thank me for them before running down to the seats overlooking the court. There was a roar from the crowd—one of the Bucks players just missed a free throw.
“What took you so long?” Brady asked me. “You get busted by security or something?”
“As a matter of fact, I did,” I replied.
Brady laughed like it was a funny joke. I shared a look with Asher, who only shrugged.
“That’s definitely somebody too,” the invited boy was whispering to his date. He was pointing at Maurice. “I know him. Excuse me? Sir? You’re on that TV show, right?”
Maurice was famous in his own right, bouncing around three different television shows on CBS and Fox. He hadn’t yet made the jump to movies, but his agent—who was also my agent—was currently working on getting him a supporting role on a romantic comedy.
Maurice frowned at the two teenagers. “TV show? You think I’m on a TV show?”
“Sure,” the girl said. “The one in Boston, with the paranormal stuff…”
Maurice let out a disgruntled scoff. “What, you see a gay black man and think I must be the same gay black man from TV? Are you saying we all look alike? Huh? Are you?”
The two newcomers quickly apologized and hurried out to take two seats overlooking the court.
I frowned at Maurice. “You take way too much pleasure in that.”
“It never gets old.”
I got a drink from the bartender and a heaping plate of food—good food, expensive food—and went out to take a seat. It was noisier out here thanks to the crowd, and the rapid back-and-forth action on the court below. The speakers boomed with music, and a voice shouted, “DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!”
Cora had put down her book and was watching excitedly. “Mom, do you think I could play basketball?”
“Absolutely, honey,” I replied. “Especially if you get a growth spurt like Micah.”
Brady put an arm around Cora. “You know how you get a growth spurt?”
“By eating good, wholesome food. Not junk like hot dogs.”
Cora looked at her half-eaten hot dog, then abruptly got up and went inside to get a plate of steak and mashed potatoes. Brady cackled to himself and wiped his hands together like his job was done.
To my left, Mark tugged on my sleeve. “Mommy? Who’s winning?”
“The Bucks are winning by three points, but it’s early,” I replied.
“It’s very early,” Maurice insisted from the row in front of us. “Bron Bron may be forty-two, but he can take over a game at the drop of a hat.” He bounced Little LeBron in his arms. “That’s who you’re named after. I used to think he was my future husband, but then I had to settle for your daddy.”
Jason raised an eyebrow at him.
“And I’m so happy I did!” Maurice quickly added. “Your daddy is the love of my life.” He lowered his breath and added, “Even if he can’t fly through the air and dunk a basketball.”
Jason leaned over and kissed him. “That’s what I thought.”
There was a timeout, and both teams huddled together on the sidelines. Suddenly the crowd noise changed, and people started cheering.
“Mommy, look!” Mark said next to me. “I’m on the big TV!”
I saw that he was right: the two of us were currently being featured on the jumbotron. The text underneath said, “Heather Hart, star of International Assassin.” I was so surprised that my hand slipped on the fork and steak sauce smeared on my arm.
I ignored it, put on my best smile, and waved to the crowd. They responded by cheering even louder.
“Hey!” the teenager behind me asked. “I knew you were her!”
“Huh,” I said. “I guess I am. Crazy, huh? I’ll be right back, sweetie.”
I made sure Asher was watching Mark, then walked up into the suite to wash off my arm in the bathroom. As I turned to dry my hands on the paper towels, someone bumped into me from behind. Based on the intoxicating scent, I knew who it was immediately.
“Remember the first time we bumped into each other in a suite bathroom?” Rogan whispered deeply.
I turned around and smiled up at him. “I forget. How did it go, again?”
He took me in his arms and gave me a long, deep kiss. With four kids around, we didn’t get a lot of those these days, so when we did? We had to make them count.
“I want to do more than just kiss,” he told me, “but I think I’m going to save it for later.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?”
“There’s some chocolate sauce in the fridge I want to use,” he said. “I seem to remember you enjoying that in the Four Seasons.”
I pursed my lips together. “That doesn’t ring a bell. You’re going to have to jog my memory.”
He leaned down close and put his lips next to my ear. “Tonight, after the kids are asleep, I intend to.”
As the two of us went back out to the suite to get another drink, I thought to myself: I can’t believe how lucky I am.