Don't Look at Me

By: J.P. Grider

I dedicate this book twice:

Once...





To my beautiful mother, Leanne, who is nothing like the mother portrayed in this story.

Mom, thank you for loving me unconditionally...warts and all.





And twice...





To my children and grandchildren.

May you always see the inner beauty in yourselves and others.





Gauge your beauty by the reflection in the eyes of those who love you. They are the best mirrors.

– Mike Naundorff





DON’T LOOK AT ME





1.





HAVEN





IF A MOTHER’S LOVE is truly unconditional, I wouldn’t be sitting behind this second-rate news desk at the ungodly hour of two a.m. striving to attain “the most sought after newscaster” title on television just to impress her. Sometimes, when I’m alone in my car, or under the shower’s hot stream of water, I can almost taste the idea of living a life where Hannah Quinn’s appraisal is of no consequence to me. It’s overwhelmingly satisfying. Incredibly sweet.

“Wrap it up,” Eric says, circling his two fingers from his floor-manager’s spot in the center of the small studio and plummeting me back to reality.

I close the segment the same way I have for the past two weeks. “Please be safe out there, Stratford. Our slasher is still roaming the streets, so buddy up. Especially at night. From my lips to your ears, this is Haven Quinn giving you your red-eye news. Thanks for staying the course.”

“It’s a wrap,” Eric announces to the crew. To me, he says, “Wanna get a drink?” right before Devin barrels into him and says, “I’ll come, too.”

“Watch it, Randolph,” Eric tells him, addressing him by his last name. “And you’re not coming. You’re not invited.”

“Let me get my purse,” I say to Eric, who became my friend when his girlfriend came into the studio, saw me, and insisted on meeting me. Eric was so embarrassed by her impertinence that he’d bought me a cupcake from the local bakery as an apology. All three of us have since become great friends.

“Great job, Haven,” Devin says, aiming a middle finger at Eric. “You get more comfortable in front of the camera every night.” Devin, our one and only cameraman compliments me nightly. We’ve gone on two random dates, but I think he’s trying to charm his way into a third.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable in front of the camera, but thanks for saying so.”

He tips his wool flat cap, which promptly replaces his headset, and straps on his backpack. Dark circles are evident on his sculpted face, but he’s still generous with his smiles, even after pushing around the camera for the past several hours; he also serves as cameraman for the station’s cooking show and two automotive segments.

Eric follows me to my makeshift research desk—two rolling metal carts and an old talk-show stool I found in props. “What the hell is this?” He holds a picture of Deanna Emerson, an actress whose rocker husband sliced her from ear to ear.

“It’s my next big story. I’m trying to draw in a bigger audience.”

“We’re on in the middle of the night. No one’s watching us, they’re watching Netflix.”

Taking the picture from him, I place it back on top of my pile. “I’m researching stories about women who’ve suffered facial disfigurement at the hands of an assailant.”

“Why would you wanna do that?”

“It’s apropos, don’t you think? Besides, I’d like to understand why these men do it.” I sling my purse over my chest and take out my keys.

“Why us men do it?” Eric riffles through my pile and pulls out another picture.

“She was a model back in the Eighties whose landlord slashed her because she wouldn’t go out with him,” I say of the picture in his hand. “And I didn’t mean you specifically, but you have to admit, it’s usually a man who does the attacking.”

“Yeah, well, those are the sick bastards. We’re not all like that,” he says, tossing the picture back on my desk.

I put the photo back in its place in the pile, but Eric is already heading into the control room.

“Eric, you can’t leave.” WSES’s production director is yanking on his collar and speaking on the phone while signaling for Eric to get into the editing room.