I wasn’t her, and I hadn’t been her since the day I left Kentucky.
“Name please?” the airline agent asked over the phone as I booked my flight home. I’d have asked my intern to book it for me, but my producer had her knee-deep in research on some upcoming fluff piece on fitness in the workplace.
“Coco – sorry, Dakota,” I said, running my fingers over the plastic raised imprint of my name as it was printed on my credit card. “Last name is Bissett.”
“Please read off the numbers on the front of your card, ma’am,” she said.
I rattled them off one by one, speaking slowly as if it could possibly prolong the inevitable. I didn’t want to go home. I fought long and hard with Harrison about it, but any fight with him was a losing battle.
I scribbled my confirmation number along with the flight details on thick cardstock with my monogram across the top; a “B” in the middle that stood for Bissett flanked by a “C” on the left for Coco and an “E” on the right for Elizabeth.
“You’re doing the right thing, Coco.” Harrison christened me with the nickname “Coco” when I landed my first news-anchoring job. At the time, it was nothing more than a nickname, but over the years it had morphed into a brand. Coco Bissett was officially a household name.
Harrison slipped his hands over my shoulders and rubbed the knots out as if he were still my doting husband. We’d been divorced for two years now, but the lines between us remained hazy and blurred.
“As your producer and your biggest fan, I can assure you this is going to take you to unimaginable heights. This interview will secure your chair on the weekday show,” he said, his words flavored with ambition.
“I know,” I breathed. No one ever aspired to be a weekend anchor. The big stories and the interviews worth watching happened on the weekdays.
“They’re so close to making their decision.” Harrison released my shoulders from his grip and pinched his fingers together. The network had been quietly discussing my promotion for months, but Harrison insisted I needed to prove myself a little more before they were willing to replace America’s sweetheart, Susannah Jethro, with a fresh face like myself. “Do you know how many people were scrambling to land Beau Mason’s final interview? And he handpicked you. You of all people. I don’t understand your reluctance, Coco. I really don’t.”
Perhaps it was because I neglected to tell him that Beau and I had a history. One that spanned years. A past defined by young love, dashed hopes, and scar-tissue pain. We were forever tied by an invisible thread and marked by an unrequited kind of love that refused to fade away no matter how many years had passed.
Beau Mason’s name was a permanent tattoo across my heart, and I hated the hell out of that fact.
“Oh, forgot to tell you that I won’t be joining you on this trip,” he added. “I’ve got nothing but meetings all next week, and since you dragged your feet on doing this interview, I can’t reschedule any of them.”
I released the breath I’d been harboring. Harrison usually accompanied me on all my work trips, but I’d been trying to figure out how to explain why I didn’t want him to come this time.
“I think I’ll survive,” I assured him. Only a small part of me knew I was really trying to convince myself.
In every dark night and every lonely moment, my heart ached for Beau and what might have been. My thoughts scattered in every direction all day long, but in the still, quiet moments, they always went to him and that burning August night and the months that followed when everything changed.
“Just so we’re clear,” Harrison said, “it’s four full days on Beau’s ranch, just the two of you. That was his requirement. You’ll get your quotes and material. And I’ll work on setting up a time for the crew to go out and film some stills and get some shots of the farm before you do your final sit-down interview.”
“Yes.” Harrison’s brows scrunched as he studied my uneasiness, as if he couldn’t understand it. “His final show is at Madison Square Garden in two weeks. He’ll fly into town and do a sit-down with you the night before. We’ll use clips and footage from his farm as segments in your special.”
My hand trembled slightly as I gripped my coffee mug and brought it to my lips. I’d interviewed hundreds of people over the span of my career. None of them had that kind of effect of me. The hot liquid scalded my mouth, though I barely felt it, and the second it reached my stomach, it wanted to turn around and come right back up.
“I’d like to review your questions before you leave. Make sure you’re asking the right ones. His fans want to know why he’s walking away from all this. There’s got to be a reason. Until now, he’s never given one. It’ll be your job to extract that reason from him and share it with the rest of America.” He hovered over me, speaking fast. Of all the interviews he’d booked for me, I’d never seen him so doubtful of my journalistic prowess until now. “Promise me you’re not going to back out of this.”
“You got your way, Harrison. I’m doing the interview. We don’t need to keep talking about it.” My words were bitter as I pulled my chair back up to my desk to turn my attention to my emails.
“You’re going to thank me someday.” He backed away, letting his hands fall to the sides of his tailored navy suit. Harrison always dressed for the job he wanted, and, in his case, he wanted to be a network executive so bad he could taste it.