The gold “Sharpie” paint marker in her hand is hot, and the fumes from it are strong in the 90-degree heat, and the repetitive motion of signing her name -- no, her autograph, so very different from the signature on the backs of her credit cards -- is giving her sharp, lancing pains in her wrists. She looks at the sea of faces, thousands, tens of thousands, and the forest of hands waving books and pictures and magazines for those few quick, agonizing strokes of the smelly pen. They love her, after a fashion, all of them do, they’ve waited here in this urban plaza, almost a week, some of them, because they love her. There’s no place she’d rather be.
She reaches, again and again, steadying books with her left hand, sweeping the swirling, swift strokes with the marker pen, smiles, says, “Thank you, thank you so much,” and turns to the next person, does it again. Sometimes, she pauses, poses, face pressed against an anonymous stranger to whom she’s just unbelievably grateful, even after ten years, while they reach out with a camera and she can barely hear the artificial shutter-click. When she can, she exchanges a few words, asks a name so she can thank by name, answers quick questions -- “Bottega-Veneta, isn’t it amazing?” “I can’t really say anything about Incarceron, I’m sorry.” -- and tries, knowing she will, she must, fail, not to leave anyone feeling disappointed, not leave anyone feeling slighted or left out.
Does the last one, all the way back at the back of the crowd, realize how much she loves her, how grateful she is that she’s come here to catch this distant glimpse? She winks at her, smiles, raises a hand, just for you!
She turns and reaches, and there’s no book there, no poster, no magazine, no sketch or pad. She glances up, no time to register more than a broad, solid body, salt-and-pepper beard and grey-brown hair and very blue eyes surrounded with gentle crow's feet.
“No autograph?” she asks.
“I always thought that was kind of weird,” he says. “There’s a story about Steve Martin--” he interrupts himself. “Never mind, no time.” he offers his right hand. “May I shake your hand?”
She blinks. “Really?” She smiles. “All you want is a handshake?”
“Well, no,” he allows, “But I’m thinking the crazed weekend in Vegas is overreaching.”
“Good thought!” she laughs, taking his hand. His hand is large, hot, sweaty -- unsurprising in the july heat -- and squeezes hers softly, his left coming to clasp her hand to his right as well.
“I’ve been so impressed watching you grow these years,” he says. “I just want you to know that. There’s nothing you can’t do, and I’m really rooting for you.” He actually flushes at that. “Er... In the American sense!”
He releases her and steps back, his blue eyes on hers, tender, smiling. “Go get ’em!” he says, hoarsely, and fades back into the crowd.
She stands a moment, silent, still, then smiles, turns to the next person, the next book, looks the young woman in the eyes. “Thank you so much,” she tells her as she signs the frontispiece of her book. Tom and Rupert and Matthew have already signed it, and David and David and David, and she glances through the crowd at Dan, whose eyes meet hers, and, when her head tilts a fraction of an inch, takes in the young woman, and nods, his own motion fractional. She knows he’ll get there, sign the book, and this young woman will treasure those names on the paper for the rest of her life. "Thank you," she tells the woman again, and moves on.
As they mill together in the lobby later, she asks Dan if he’s heard a story about Steve Martin and autographs.
“Oh, yeah, yeah, it’s hilarious, and it’s true, too, John was telling me about this, actually. For a few years, there, Steve Martin wouldn’t give autographs. Instead, he’d had these cards printed up, and he carried them with him, everywhere. They said, This is to certify that the bearer has met a bona fide celebrity, Steve Martin, and is therefore entitled to all perks, privileges and bragging rights appertaining thereto, or something like that!”
She smiles, feeling it deep behind her breastbone, like she’d just taken a long draught of hot cocoa on a Winter’s day.
Rupe tilts his head, his startling blue eyes acute on her. “Did you know that bloke? Big one, older fella, wearing braces.”
She has no idea why she flushes, or feels something like embarrassment at the question. “What do you mean?”
“I dunno. You stopped and chatted for a bit. You seemed... Different.”
She stares at him for a moment, her mouth open and working, and in the corner of her eye, she sees Dan’s posture change, there’s a microphone nearby, and Dan is saying, as if it’s been their topic all along, “Are you kidding? He looks awesome! He looks like James Bond, really, doesn’t he?”
Rupert’s with him effortlessly, “Yeah, Matt, it’s crazy, innit, he’s really got that Connery vibe tonight.” He drops into a startling good impression of Sean Connery: “The name’s Longbottom. Neville Longbottom.”
She’s laughing by this time, as Dan begins singing the James Bond theme, “DUNduh-duh-dun-Dun, dah-dah-dah, DUNduh-duh-DAH-dun, dah-dah-dah” and Rupert’s suddenly joining in with the Trumpet part, “Wah-wah-WAH-WAAAAH, wuh-WAH-WAAAH....” And then David Heyman’s mock-scolding them for advertising for the wrong franchise, and it’s time to go inside.
She summons with a motion of her head, and Louise comes close, eyes wide and attentive. She speaks softly in her ear for almost a minute, then leans back to take in her eyes, then smiles, and thanks her, and Louise steps briskly away.
She’s sort of subdued as they walk out of the cinema. She’s seen it a few times, now, and each time, it hits her harder and harder, because each time, it’s one more time over with and done, one time closer to there being no more, one time closer to Rupert and Dan and Tom and Matt and the Davids and James and Oliver and Evanna and Bonnie, everybody, everybody, being somebody else, someone doing something different, someone leading a separate life. Glad to see her, of course they would be, happy to chat, to share, to catch up, but the idea of catching up with her family seems as alien and wrong as breathing soup.
Louise approaches, hands her the small rectangle of carboard, good thick play, lavender with eggshell borders and printing. She reads it, smiles, and turns it over. Louise has a biro ready for her, and she quickly jots down ten familiar digits, and a few words, and hands pen and card back to Louise.
“Suppose he’s gone home already?” Louise asks.
She looks at her with blank expectation. “Has he?”
Louise’s shoulders sink a bit. This is a bad idea
She smiles back. My mistake to make, if it is one.
He’s standing at a distance, watching the crowd, flashbulbs like a silent lightning storm as the Great and the Good and the incredibly beautiful make their way back out into Lincoln Center in the muggy July darkness. My brush with glory. Well, what of it. It was great fun, and she was very kind. The memory of her tiny, slender hand between both of his is still vividly tactile, and he smiles. Well, good night, my love. He steps back into the shadows. It was a privilege.
As he turns, the woman is standing there, blonde, maybe his age, maybe a little younger, forty-five or so, possibly, pleasant-looking, with slightly careworn features and very sharp eyes. He recognizes her, he’s seen her in the background of countless paparazzi shots.
“Louise Lacroix?” he asks.
She blinks at him, surprised.
“It was a lucky guess,” he offers. “I’d run across the name google searching for her PA, because you’re in so many pictures.”
She looks at him steadily. “Well, you won’t be a lucky guess. I know who you are. I know where you live, when you last worked, and how many times a day you search for her pictures online. So behave yourself, right? Don’t be stupid.”
“I--” he’s baffled. “I’m just heading home. It’s a long drive.”
“Probably not,” she tells him. She holds out her hand. A small lavender rectangle. “Go on, then.”
He takes the card, and she tells him, “Remember what I said.”
She turns and is gone.
He looks after her into the darkness, brow furrowed, then glances down at the stiff cardboard in his hand, angling it so the streetlight illuminates the eggshell borders and gold lettering:
This is to certify that the bearer has met a bona-fide celebrity, Miss Emma Watson, and caused her to smile rather a lot. If you are the bearer, you may turn the card over.
On the back, in blue ball-point, is scrawled a ten-digit telephone number, and, below it, six words, the last looking very different, untidier, more casual, happier, somehow, than he’s seen on dozens of eight-by-ten glossies being sold on eBay, “Care to try it again? Emma.”
He smiles down at the card in his hand, and reaches into his pocket for his phone. Maybe he’s not driving back to Vermont tonight after all.