With the sadness and tragedy behind her, Bella began focusing fully on promoting her career. The one-car garage at her new home became her workout studio, and Arthur’s old car sat in the driveway instead. Every Sunday evening, she performed at Verde Park and every show, Rog sat in the audience in awe of her showmanship. Bella also had managed to pick up steady gigs at the coffeehouse and Mick’s Karaoke bar. Pleased with the direction her career was headed she took some time to have fun in the evenings she wasn’t performing.
The new dance club which opened across from a shady business operation was a risky place to visit. But she had some financial stake in the success of the club as she owned a decent percentage of it. So on her nights off she could be found dancing or helping out with bartending and DJing at the club. On one such night, Rog came seeking Bella as she spun the newest tunes at the DJ booth. He walked up to the booth and requested a song, and she was genuinely surprised to see him there.
“I was hoping to find you here, Bella,” Rog yelled above the music.
“Well, you found me!” Bella didn’t quite know what to say to him.
Bella announced she would be taking a break and set the music to auto. She stepped out and they went upstairs to find a quiet place to talk.
“What’s on your mind, Rog?” Bella sat down with a drink and handed one to Rog. “It must be pretty important if you came all the way out here.”
“You are. Bella, I-I can’t get you out of my mind. There, I said it.” Rog rubbed his hands on his pants to remove the sweat from his palms.
Bella didn’t know what to say. She liked him professionally but never really gave a thought to pursuing a romantic relationship with him. Now that she knew his feelings she was excited about it. Rogelio St John was the first man interested in her since the awful breakup with Estevan years ago.
She smiled at him and took his hand. “Really?” she replied and then cringed. “I’m sorry, let’s try this again.” Bella cleared her throat and a rainbow of butterflies danced in her stomach. “Wow,” she finally said. “I guess I’m nervous, too!”
Rog laughed uneasily. “I’ve said too much, haven’t I?” He started to get up to leave but Bella squeezed his hand tighter.
“Please stay. I haven’t handled this well.” Bella blushed. “Let’s go grab some coffee somewhere much quieter.”
Hand in hand they left The Grind together and drove to the coffeehouse. They sat and talked for hours and by the time the sun was coming up, they had planned a dinner date together. They shared a kiss before they parted ways and there was undeniable chemistry between the two.
“I’ll see you tonight,” Bella told him as they broke a hug.
“I’ll pick you up at seven.” Rog blew her a kiss and walked toward Verde Park. His work shift was beginning soon and he hadn’t slept at all.
Bella walked to her home across the street. She showered and climbed into bed and slept until 4 pm. Sleepily, she slid out of bed and checked her messages. 1 Missed Call, Maria Best. She sighed and dialed the agency’s number.
“Maria Best,” she answered.
“Hey, Maria it’s Bella. You called?”
“Oh, hi Bella. It was nothing important, I’m just checking in on you. I hear you left the club last night with Rogelio St John.”
Bella was stunned. “Yes, I did. Is there a problem, Maria?”
“Be wary of personal relations with the proprietors, Bella. You want to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” Maria stated.
Bella was not pleased. “There is nothing to worry about, Maria. We are friends.” She remembered their sweet kiss and her cheeks flushed. It was a good thing this was not a video call.
“Alright, I’ll take you at your word Bella. We’ll talk soon.” They hung up the phone and Bella was furious. “Impropriety?” she grumbled out loud. She looked at her watch and noticed she only had an hour and thirty minutes to get ready for her date. And then she questioned if she should even go at all if Maria was going to have spies following her around town.
At 6:45, Rog knocked on Bella’s door. He looked exhausted but perked up when he saw her at the door. Bella was dressed in a red, floor-length gown that was elegant but not terribly formal. Her thick hair was pulled into a loose ponytail and her face glowed with excitement.
“Wow, you look incredible,” Rog stammered.
Bella blushed. “Thank you.”
Taking her arm, they walked to his car and he drove them to a quaint little restaurant just off the main strip. It wasn’t fancy by any means but it was homey and one of Rog’s favorite places. Suddenly, Bella felt overdressed. They sat and ordered a bottle of wine, which Rog poured and toasted to new beginnings. Picking up where they left off that morning they talked about nearly everything. Rog was not very familiar with Bella’s family, so she had a great time talking about Destiny and her amazing career, the way she got into show business herself and that her father had once been a proprietor.
Rog mentioned that he had been born in Riverview and moved to Starlight Shores as a child. The Shores was really all he ever knew. His job as a proprietor was not a career and he hadn’t meant it to be a stepping stone into show business. No, Rogelio dreamed much smaller, wanting a career in medicine. What he did wish for, however, was the right mate and there was something about Bella that intrigued him.
About halfway through dinner, Bella noticed Estevan and his sister, Abigail enter the restaurant. Abby waved at her when she spotted Bella and then she turned her attention back to her brother. Rog noticed the distraction when they entered.
“Who is that?”
“Oh, it’s an old classmate and her brother.” Bella left out the part where Estevan was her ex, but it was so long ago she didn’t think it was necessary to mention.
After dinner, she invited him back to her place for a nightcap but Rog hadn’t slept in two nights so he politely declined. He kissed her goodnight at the front door and drove himself home. Bella wasn’t in the house for longer than two minutes when she noticed a text message from Maria. I’ll deal with her in the morning, Bella thought. She turned her computer on, navigated to the online dating registry she and Bree belonged to and deleted her profile.
The phone ringing woke Bella the next morning. The caller ID said Maria Best. Bella sighed.
“Hi Bella, this is your agent, Maria.” Bella was starting to get annoyed with her rote greeting.
“What is it, Maria?”
“Nothing important, I’m just checking in with you.” Bella knew it wasn’t true. The phone call meant she had information on Bella and wanted to scold her for something.
“What did I do now, Maria?”
“Well, since you asked,” she began, “I hear you were out with Rogelio St John last night at the little restaurant off the strip. I hear it was a romantic date.”
Bella had enough. “Maria, I don’t know how you are finding out about my love life, or what I do in my free time, but this needs to stop, or I will change agencies. Are you hearing me?”
“I’m just trying to protect your interests, Bella. There is no need to be rude.”
“And I’m tired of your spies watching me for every little thing and reporting back to you. Who is watching me, Maria?” Bella was angry, and she didn’t care about her tone anymore.
“I’m not at liberty to say,” Maria snapped. “You need to watch yourself, Bella.”
“I’m not having this conversation with you. Stay out of my personal life!” Bella ended the phone call, steaming mad. Well, there goes my plans for the day, she thought. She went to the computer and began researching talent agencies.
Bella hadn’t seen Rog since their dinner date, but she would see him at the park that night. Her steady gig was scheduled that afternoon. At this point, she was not looking forward to her gig knowing he would be there. As much as she hated to admit it, she was afraid to be seen in public with Rog. Worse was the fact she had no idea who was spying on her. Nevertheless, she arrived early for her gig. Rog was at his post reading a book.
Bella approached him cautiously. “Hi, Rog,” she said.
He barely looked up from his book. “Hey.”
Bella looked at the ground and glanced at him. His icy glare was piercing. “Look, I don’t blame you for being upset with me. I haven’t exactly been available to you this past week.”
“It’s no big deal.” Rog’s voice was chilly. “Have a good show.” He had wrongly believed there was something between them. But she was like every other town socialite, snooty and self-absorbed.
Feeling defeated, Bella walked to the stage and began prepping for her show. When the lights came up and she walked on stage, there were only three people at the show. She tried to do her best, but trick after trick failed miserably. Her heart wasn’t in the performance that night.
After the show was over, she spotted Estevan sitting at a table pretending to play chess. Suddenly, everything made sense. He was the common factor in every instance where Bella had been spotted with Rog. He was at the club. He was at the restaurant. And now, here he was making sure that she behaved herself around Rog. She walked briskly to where Estevan was sitting.
“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing, Estevan. Stop following me, and stop spying on me!” Bella spat at him. “And stop getting me in trouble with your sister.”
“That’s not MY doing. YOU are the one whoring around the city with this proprietor so you can be JUST like your mother, sleeping your way to the top.” Estevan looked at her with pure hatred, but he crossed his arms, sat back in his chair and smirked at her.
Bella’s anger burned deep and hot. “If I ever see you again, Estevan, it will be way too soon.” She walked away before the desire to beat the snot out of him took her over. She jogged back to where Rog sat and plopped herself next to him. She was flushed and she trembled and he noticed.
“Are you okay?” He asked her. Sensing she was not, he moved his chair closer to hers and put his hand on her shoulder.
“No, and I owe you a big apology, Rog.” Bella sat for a moment while her anger subsided. She drew a deep breath, exhaled slowly and began to speak. “The man we saw the other night at the restaurant with his sister. He is my ex-boyfriend but we have been apart for more than 10 years. It was a high school thing and he was a nasty, terrible, spiteful man. His sister, Maria, is my talent agent—”
Rog stopped her. “You mean your ex is stalking you?”
Bella nodded. “Maria would call me or text me every time you and I were out in public together saying she knew we had been together. She told me I needed to avoid the appearance of impropriety but we have only been together a few times in public. And personally, I don’t know where this is heading with us, Rog.”
He ignored the last part of her comment and addressed the issue with her agent. “You realize this is not okay, right Bella?”
“Of course I do! I’ve been looking for another agency, but I’m afraid if I leave this one on bad terms, I’ll be blacklisted.” Bella trembled with anger, still stewing over Estevan’s comment about Destiny.
“If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about that right now. My first priority would be safety, and this man is obviously trying to harm you.” Rog moved closer to her and put his arm around her. “What I can’t wrap my head around is a talent agent actively participating in this nonsense. And why are you trembling?”
“I’m just so angry, Rog. You have no idea what he said to me.” Bella’s voice quivered, on the verge of tears. The stress of the encounter was too much for her and it was something she could have never foreseen.
“Let me take you home.” Rog rose to his feet and picked up Bella’s bag. “We’ll figure this out together.”
She didn’t protest and she let him drive her back to the bungalow. Feeling right at home in her kitchen, he made a cup of tea for her, drizzled a little honey in it and brought it to her. She took the cup from him and sipped it. They sat and looked at each other for about half an hour, saying very little. The silence was a bit too awkward for Rog and he stood to go.
“I’m going to head out. Are you okay?” Rog asked as he turned to leave.
Bella did not want to be alone. “Please, stay.”
“I will,” answered Rog.
Up Next: Chapter Four, Generation Three