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A Rose and Peter meet in Berlin

June 8:
1. Drunken Angel

A grating metal sound pierced the early morning calm when the heavy gate of the Los Angeles Century Jail for Women opened. Two tall, hunky uniformed corrections officers wearing sunglasses flanked petite Rose O'Rourc.

Instead of her usual glamorous outfit, the young woman wore faded blue jeans, a grey T-shirt, no makeup, and had her long, fair hair tied in a pony tail. She hugged her large tan leather handbag for comfort, while keeping her big dark brown sunglasses fixed on the ground.

The odd line-up silently walked to a black SUV standing outside the heavy concrete walls. Alice O'Rourc stood waiting with open arms, in a plain, cream summer dress.

The two sisters hugged and kissed without a word. Rose savored the warmth and soft touch she had sorely lacked.

 “This feels so good, you know. All these weeks in isolation…surrounded by those dreary walls,” she whispered.

Tears streamed down her cheeks. She quickly wiped them away.

Before she entered the passenger side, Rose turned to the guards, smiled, and waved good bye. No reaction in their stern faces to the gesture—but they waved back.

Paparazzi noisily besieged the SUV standing in front of “Bella Rosa,” Rose's home. She tried to shield her face with her arms and handbag, but the cameras came from all directions. Alice inched the car forward in fits and starts, waiting for the metal gate to open a breach in the adobe wall surrounding the compound.

Goading shouts went out from the crowd.

“Show us that pretty smile, Rose, come on.”

"How was jail?"

“Did you make any friends?”

The SUV pulled in and stopped in front of the main door. Two middle-aged women, Rosemary O'Rourc and Patricia Annapapas, formed the “Welcome Home” committee. After more long exchanges of compassion with their mother the sisters made their way into the house.

“I'm never, ever going back to jail. Nevah!” Rose drifted into her office and threw her handbag and sunglasses on the big conference table.

Alice followed close behind. Her meek voice underscored the three-year age difference to the dominant bread-winner of the family. “You want to talk about it?”

“No, sis! It was horrible.”

A sexy brunette rose from the big, leather office chair behind the black metal desk topped with a glass plate. Brenda Lancer embraced her younger colleague from their days at the Walt Disney Company.

Rose clung to the tenderness she so cherished after the forced isolation. Her hands stroked across the backs of the casual white blouse and pink hot pants “So good to see you after all those psychos in… well, you know.”

“What are BFFs for, right? Luckily, I'm in town.” When Rose let go, Brenda handed her one of the three cocktails from the glass plate. She offered Alice a tumbler, who waved off. “Forget the past. Let's celebrate your return, girl.”

Rose slumped into her comfortable leather chair and buried her head in her hand. A whiff of ammonia cleaner irritated her further.

Brenda found her place on the desk and looked at the trophy wall behind it. A shelf full of MTV Movie, Teen Choice, BAFTA, and SAG Awards formed the centerpiece, flanked by gold and platinum records and oversized pictures of Rose on the cover of magazines and movie posters. “So, you're doing that thriller with gorgeous Johnny?”

Rose sat up straight and set down her glass. “Let me call Jim Schwartz.”

She hit a speed dial button on the speaker phone. Her film agent answered on the second ring with a bellowing voice.

“Helloooo, Rose!”

“Jim! Wow, on first try. Give me the good news.”

“Sorry, Rose, AE broke off talks. Too much uncertainty.”

“What d'ya mean?” Rose played with the paperclips on her desk.

“Word's that you're toxic. Drunk all the time, late for shoots, unprepared. Crews say you have this diva attitude, impossible to work with.”

Rose slammed her fists into the soft armrests and screamed at the phone. “Lies, Jim. You know me!”

“Doesn't matter. You are a court-certified drunk—on probation—without a driver’s license. No one can get production insurance on you.”

Rose's face turned to stone as she listened in stunned silence.

Those creeps! I brought donuts all the time. So I was late a few times. Every one parties on set.

He let reality sink in for a moment. “The majors won't touch you. The mini-majors won't touch you. Even the independents are backing off.”

“Like, hello, Rob put away more Glenfiddich on that shoot than I did. And threw temper tantrums like the best diva. But he's a man, of course. Totally unfair.” Her arms flew through the air.

Brenda looked at the opposite wall behind the conference table with photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Jane Fonda, Michelle Pfeifer, and Meryl Streep hanging over a big, black leather sofa. She pointed to Marilyn's picture. Her hushed voice mixed with the noise of people chatting coming out of the phone.

“Don't worry, Ro. Temporary setback. Marilyn was drunk on set and nobody cared.”

“Didn't Marilyn overdose at 30?” Alice whispered.

“Thirty-six.” Rose closed her eyes and rubbed her temple. “She made it to 36.”

Jim interrupted the side conversation. “Flip through the morning news. You're everywhere. Now they're showing the wrecked Mercedes. Not helping at all. You need this stuff to disappear.”

She grabbed the remote from her desk, turned on the flatscreen next to the door, and channel surfed. A video of her and Brenda at their blond friend Helen Batton's wild 29th birthday party appeared. Footage of Rose's black Mercedes hugging a tree next to a Malibu road followed. The news reel of police cuffing her and pushing her into a squad car preceded her mug shot.

The sound from the phone overlaid the TV noise. “Keep a low profile for a while. Hell, get out of town. Somewhere they don't show your court dates on live TV. Let this blow over and we'll try again.”

“Like, thanks, Jim. Bye.” Rose hung up and stared through the spotless glass plate at the polished, black granite floor.

Brenda leaned over and gently caressed her friend's hair. “I know the perfect place for you to chill, Berlin.”

Rose looked at her with wide eyes. “Germany? I don't speak German. Don't know anybody there.”

“Trust me. Berlin is in now. Cosmopolitan feeling, great new party scene. The Berlinale film festival's red hot. I saw Renée Zellweger, Leonardo DiCaprio,  and Pierce Brosnan there.” Brenda sat up straight and waved furiously. The drink in her other hand sloshed dangerously close to the rim. “Lots of celebs in town, and they don't speak German. Kids there flock to my concerts and sing along. They all know English, noooo problem.”

“Maybe you're right. Change of scenery. Like, forget the crap here. I'll weasel out of court-ordered rehab  somehow.”

“Great! When you're back, finish your third album. I can help. Maybe do a duet. The music industry is, like, easy. You know, sex, drugs, Rock'n'Roll. Doesn't Jimmy Buffet go on stage drunk? Hasn't hurt Amy Winehouse or Whitney Houston either. She went platinum again after all her troubles.”

Alice joined the conversation in her usual subdued way. “I heard her tour's terrible. Cancelled shows—“

Helen pointed her glass at the baby of the group. “How often have you gotten drunk, little one? What do you know about life?”

Rose downed her drink. She stared at Monroe's picture. A tear ran down her cheek.

Dear Marilyn, tell me I won't end up like you.

July 14:
2. Ain't It Funny

She made me dress up for this cheap tourist??!!

Peter shook his leg to relieve the pressure on his foot. Portly Mrs. Hamilton strolled down the sidewalk in an elegant navy-blue suit and high-heeled pumps next to a smaller woman in simple clothes.

Massive and lightweight. Fancy and plain. It struck him how the unequal pair mirrored the contrast in the surroundings. Sixty-five years after the end of World War II the capital city of Germany showed the checkered marks of the brutal shelling. Modern high-rises adorned with steel and glass stood amid hundred-year-old Art Nouveau buildings heavy with wood trim.

The young real estate agent stood at the agreed upon meeting point in front of the door of the freshly renovated building. Each wave of traffic shoved a burnt odor through the air. His iPod Nano, playing Madonna's “Angel”, fought valiantly, though hopelessly, to drown out the noise.

Peter brushed back a stray lock of dark hair and shifted his weight from one foot to another. He had only worn the black Rockports twice before, so they felt stiff and tight. The discomfort sent his mood into the gutter. He could have come in his trusted white adidas sneakers. The ones Mrs. Hamilton despised. So what if they were scuffed and frayed from overuse. At least they were comfortable.

Memories of the embarrassing moment last week brought an uncomfortable rush of blood to his face again. The older woman had inspected the recently built penthouse apartment and given unsolicited advice on his casual attire. Considering her maternalistic tone, the image of the diminutive wallflower at her side looked like an embarrassing joke, if not an insult, to Peter.

The plain, high-necked, white blouse could have escaped straight from a Dress For Less store. An ill-fitting, iridescent skirt in an ambiguous brownish-green color reached down to her knees, followed by unremarkable flat slippers. The hat topped it all, though. A white mosquito net, molded over her tied-up hair, flared out into a useless huge brim unable to shade her face.

The vibrations of the mobile phone in his pants pocket caught his attention. His hand scrambled to retrieve the old Nokia model. The display showed “Office.”

“Oh, damn, worst timing possible,” he cussed. Peter inserted the earplug's jack into the phone, hit the green button, and bellowed into the microphone, “Ja, was?—yes, what?”

“Bad day, Peter?” The pretty office manager's sweet German accent coping with the traffic noise calmed his brain.

“Sabine, what a nice surprise. I'm still standing in the loud street waiting for the customer and these damn dress shoes just nerve me. They're not broken in yet.”

“What, you are not wearing your adidas sneakers? Unbelievable.”

“Yeah, this agent looked at the apartment last week.” He mocked Mrs. Hamilton's heavy Southern German accent. “Said: ‘My American customer cares about appearances. You look better in dress shoes.’ You should see the impending fashion disaster. All this dressing up...for nothing. Could have done that as an actor in L.A. .”

“Well, maybe you can do that soon. Herr Schmidt said you must meet with him today or he will hang you up the next tree. He needs the Abgeschlossenheitsbescheinigung for the five apartments he bought.”

“What does that old fart want?” Peter cussed. “I'm not Gandalf, the great wizard. No magic to get the building department to move faster!” He sighed as he looked at his orange and blue Swatch Flik Flak watch with cartoon characters on the band. “Alright, I'll squeeze him in after this. Won't take long. We're talking the absolutely biggest and absolutely most beautiful condo in the building. The trashy buyer can't afford it.”

Peter sighed as he pictured her 34 B bust. “Please, Sabine, deliver the message in person and save me from this drudgery. We can lie naked at the river bank and play with each other.”

“You think of one thing. You know the boss' old-fashioned dating rules.”

“Forget him. You're already practicing your English with me. I can tutor you in anatomy, too.”

Sabine let out a dismissive chuckle. “You may not care about your job, but I do.”

 Peter focused on the smaller woman a few houses away and noticed her dark brown sunglasses with pink plastic rims and her curvy, feminine figure. “Nice legs! At least the customer's eye candy. Younger than I thought. Hang on, something's happening.”

The two women stopped to talk to a ragged man standing with his German shepherd in the carriage way of the neighboring nineteenth century house.

Peter looked at his Swatch again. 11:58. “C'mon, c'mon, I wanna get out of these lousy shoes.”

A gust of wind made the loose fitting blouse hug the pronounced profile of the smaller woman.

“What, 36 double-Ds? Natasha!” The thought of his lost love sent a sting through his heart. His hand reached out for the stranger in the distance.

Sabine interrupted his fantasy. “What?”

“I thought I saw my old girlfriend, but that's impossible.” His arm fell limp to his side.

The young lady rummaged through her small, cream-colored handbag. She placed a folded bill on the beggar's outstretched brown, haggard hand. The older woman's eyes widened in surprise.

Peter screamed into the phone. “No!”

“What now?”

“She's a bleeding heart do-gooder. Appearances, sure. Need the appearance of a homeless person to score with her! Damn, I look like a rich guy.” He pointed his hand at the group. “Should have worn my scruffiest garb. Thanks, Mrs. Hamilton! They're almost here. Gotta go, Sabine. Bye.”

He put away his phone and inserted the earplugs in the iPod in his shirt pocket,

The two women reached Peter. Whereas Mrs. Hamilton towered over both of them, her petite customer could just about look him in the eyes. Natasha's height.

He shook their hands in turn. His grip clung to the young American's warm, soft skin while he struggled against the bright light to discern her eyes in the shadows behind the dark glasses.

“Would you prefer the tour in English?” Peter asked. “Makes no difference to me.”

The lady said, “Sure.” A beautiful smile flashed across her lips, as she withdrew her hand. “Nice shoes.”

“Thanks,” Peter replied surprised. “Your voice sounds familiar.”

She smiled again.

They rode up in the typical small retrofitted Berlin elevator. Although the plate on the wall indicated a capacity of four people, three already made for a tight squeeze, and Mrs. Hamilton occupied space for two.

“I call them Kuschelaufzug,” Peter told them while pushing up against the young woman's heaving bosom. “A ‘cuddle elevator.’ You really get to know your neighbors.”

The pleasant scent of a flowery perfume filled the cabin. Getting weird. Smells like Natasha's favorite. He pinched himself. Ouch.

To kill the time on the ride up, he gave his usual spiel about the building. On the top floor, he led the way into the empty apartment.

In the living room, Peter walked up to the southern glass front. The noon sun hung just right for his show. He loved to act out Kate Winslet's iconic moment at the bow of the ship in Titanic. With outstretched arms, he would look out over the rooftops of Kreuzberg, the hot bohemian district of Berlin, the sprawling metropolis.

“The south side—practically all glass, hence sunny, sunny, sunny,” went his line. He would then swing around and face the customers with the perfect backdrop of sunlight flooding the area behind him. A fitting intonation and broad, dramatic gestures turned every sales pitch into an exciting movie production, even though he felt like he had done a million already. Maybe two million.

I could have been an actor. I should have been an actor.

Fate had intervened to deny him his Hollywood dream. Instead, Peter wasted his time giving presentations to customers and their brokers. The young American looked penniless to boot. Nevertheless, he had to give it a shot. If nothing else, the tightness he felt in his pants demanded a stunning, impressive performance.

Titanic time. He spread his arms and turned around to face the women. “Sunny, sunny, sun…” Peter froze. The sun now fell directly on the young lady's glasses, penetrating the dark tint to reveal her beautiful eyes. He knew those eyes! He knew those eyes! And that smile of hers! Natasha had them. So did her on-screen lookalike.

No way, absolutely no way! Get real! Rose O'Rourc looking for an apartment in Berlin?

Only last week he had seen her picture again, in the news on the subway TV. She had left the rehab clinic earlier than scheduled. Her doctors said she had already fulfilled all the requirements of that portion of her sentence.

The display showed an older picture, not the horrible mug shot used during her incarceration. Beautiful, big, vivacious eyes framed by long, thick eyelashes dominated her girlish face. Her full, fair hair fell down to her shoulders. And her smile radiated warmth, friendliness, and charm.

The acting talent she had shown as a teenager had made many of her movies blockbusters, hence quickly establishing Rose Sinéad O'Rourc as one of the hottest young actresses among the Hollywood in-crowd. Her fans did not have to remember that long Irish name. They knew her just as “Rose,” or affectionately “RoRo.”

Labels without relevance to Peter. He worshipped her resemblance to the best friend he lost so tragically. Pined for a moment, a minute, an eternity with her.

Mrs. Hamilton had not introduced her customer by name. The hideous outfit confused him. A fashionable young star in that? But those eyes and that smile. He would recognize them anywhere. If she wanted to hide from paparazzi while going to rehab, the camouflage worked. Did the city even have a clinic? Could it be? Though his heart raced, his well-rehearsed script allowed him to continue.

“So, Natasha, um, I mean, Miss O'Rourc, you can, um, have an American-style open kitchen here.” He had outed her! “IKEA starts around 4,000. Sky's the limit, of course.”

He pronounced the name the German way, a habit by now. Peter looked at the pretty woman with hopeful anticipation, but she just stared through the sunglasses at the empty wall of the imaginary kitchen. No reaction at all.

His infatuated hopes crushed, he lowered his eyes, pointed to the concrete below, and gave his usual spiel.

“The builder can install wood flooring everywhere. Starts around 8,000 euro.”

Europeans love wood floors. Maybe the lady would too. The three strolled past bare walls and windows to the terrace, where he mentioned green technologies like air heat exchangers, solar panels, and the subsidies available.

In the last room, the young woman turned to her agent.

“Could you measure out the kitchen, please?”

“Of course, my dear,” Mrs. Hamilton said, as she whipped out her laser measurer and left.

What an odd request. He had sent the architectural drawings via e-mail. She only had to read them.

From halfway across the room, the brown lenses in pink frames seemed to size him up. Quiet words, almost whispered, drifted across the empty space.

“So, you recognized me?”

Behold, the goddess had spoken! Made herself known to a mere mortal. His heartbeat quickened, followed by sweat staining his blue dress shirt.

Peter had seen all her movies. They made the long, cold, lonely winter nights more bearable. After all, Berlin, Germany lay as far north as Hudson Bay, Canada. Around Christmas what little sunlight made it through clouds and snow vanished by four in the afternoon. Her radiant smile helped him through those depressing times without Natasha. Now, he faced her reincarnation in the flesh.

He desperately sought a witty answer to impress Rose, but his brain failed. Don't say something stupid now. Peter looked out the window at the blue sky to calm down and stuttered, “I…I recognized your eyes, um, that beautiful smile of yours. You're the prettiest actress around.”

His mouth felt dry. “I own all your DVDs and albums. I mean, I even have your picture on my iPod.”

Sudden silence…followed by a choking sound. I didn't just say that, did I?

“Don't say?” Rose replied.

No way out. Have to go down that “long and winding road,” as the Beatles would say. After some fiddling Peter retrieved the iPod from his shirt pocket, earplugs and all. He clicked through the menu.

Cooked by the hot sun or his boiling blood, sweat flooded from his every pore. His shirt clung in spots to his arms and back. Although his wet fingers slipped on the iPod wheel, he managed to pull up the picture of a juvenile Rose during her brunette phase with straight shoulder-length hair held together in a ponytail, the same style as his beloved Natasha. Peter only managed a half-broken “here,” as he pointed the display at her.

Rose took two cautious steps toward him, pushed her sunglasses onto her forehead, and gazed at the picture. Her smile appeared again.

“Barely legal back then, you know. Longtime fan, I see. Why so bashful? No autograph wishes?”

Peter felt like dying. Two steps and he could reach out and touch his goddess, but he could not move. Despite his gaping mouth, he could not breathe. The lightness in his head added to the feeling of fainting. He closed his eyes for a moment and gasped for air, while trying not to hyperventilate. Her flowery perfume teased his nose.

“This is my Notting Hill moment,” he mumbled. “You know, I dream about this, but it's not real. I mean, I know, I'll wake up any moment and you'll be gone, and, and, you are my customer, and I want to keep my job, and —”

“Notting Hill moment?” Rose interrupted, amused.

Blood shot into Peter's face. His head wanted to explode. No rocks to hide behind. Not even furniture. The safety of another room also out of his reach. The Rockports stuck to the floor. A morass of embarrassment sucked him in deeper and deeper. His mind had lost all sense of coherence; except for some movie quotes; floating around; as in Play It Again, Sam.

Whatever. She must think I'm a jerk. Typical, starstruck fan. Natasha, please, help me. Don't you recognize your best friend?

“Um, Notting Hill, you know, the movie. Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant. Big screen actress meets small bookseller. ‘I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.’”

Over. Finished. Done. She'll think “stalker” now for sure and run out screaming. Or call the cops.

Peter stood looking straight at her, and Rose looked straight back. Suspended animation. She opened her mouth to say something, but Mrs. Hamilton came into the room and asked, “Watching videos of some other apartment?”

Only then did Peter notice that he still held the iPod in Rose's face and dropped his arm.

The older woman gestured toward the door. “Tja—well—my dear, I don't want to rush, but we have to head to the next appointment. We have to find a parking place on Kochstraße. That will take a while.”

Peter was relieved, literally and figuratively, until Rose talked to him again.

“You said you can do the interior, right? Do you have an estimate? Can we discuss this further? Like, five o'clock at my hotel?”

“Can we do it at four?” Mrs. Hamilton said with a frown on her face. “I have to pick up my children from soccer at five.”

Four eyes stared at him. Peter saw through Rose.

She knows me, she knows me not. Should I, should I not?

Rose shrugged and said, “Well?”

He whispered, “Sure. I have no kids to pick up.”

 “Anna will give you directions,” Rose said.

“Anna?” Peter asked.

“Oh, right, Mrs. Hamilton. Americans are on a first-name basis, you know. It's, like, mostly, more formal here,” Rose said.

Mrs. Hamilton scribbled on her pad and handed him the paper. He waved goodbye as the women left. Peter did not want to ride the elevator with them. His body yearned to be at close quarters with his goddess, but his mind trembled at the thought. For a while, he stared longingly at the door frame through which she exited.

This is not happening. This can't be happening!

Since he downloaded the picture on his iPod years ago, Peter dreamt about Rose; imagined meeting the woman for him: a safe, unreachable mirage of Natasha, despite all her failings and foibles. A controlled dream that forgave his past transgressions, ignored the horrible pain he had caused his best friend.

Now, his certain fantasy transfigured into unpredictable reality. The lingering scent of Rose's flowery perfume reminded him of the woman that had turned his ordered existence upside down.

Jennifer Lopez sang “Ain't It Funny” in his head—the part about how a moment changed his life when he did not want to face the truth: the same big eyes, the same warm smile, and the same addiction that had led him on a disastrous path before.

Rose's downfall followed the usual pattern. Like so many other young stars out of the Disney stable, her life had spun out of control. A meteoric Hollywood-fantasy rise descended into a disastrous Greek-tragedy fall.

It began during her teenage years with reports of trouble in her family. Stories and photographs about parties, alcohol, and drugs soon filled the tabloids. A series of ex-boyfriends badmouthed her. Feuds between Rose and her parents leaked to the press. The blame game went public. Finally, arrests, rehab, jail.

In his dreamland Peter clung to Rose's futile denials and her desperate claims that her career remained on track. Closed his eyes to the many hazy, shaky amateur videos on YouTube. Pretended an innocent girlfriend in his arms. The sun had stripped away the fictitious veneer. Revealed what lay behind pink sunglasses.

He searched in vain in the bright light outside for the perfect world his mind had inhabited just moments ago. A creepy cold evaporated the heat from his skin. Peter heard his prior deadly failure knocking on the door. She demanded satisfaction. If he destroyed the life of another woman, he surely must forfeit his own. His rational brain told him to run, to forget his fascination with Rose.

Peter closed his eyes and inhaled her sweet-smelling remnants. Chivalrous dreams of rescuing Rose wrestled with brutal memories of the previous catastrophe.

For how shall unworthy me slay thy demons, where knights of greater valor failed thee, my goddess.

He was no psychiatrist or psychologist. He sold apartments in a city with its name-giving bear adorning its crest and flag, far, far away from Hollywood. Two places that the universe had suddenly folded together.

He opened his eyes and pointed to the spot where she had stood. Right there. Like Arsenio Hall in his talk show pointed out the spot that superstar Michael Jackson stood on.

No way. Peter made excuses. Out of his league. Only fantasy. Just a dream. Stars never fall for nobodies like him. Deep down he knew this must end in tragedy. Like the last time this perfume seduced him. He slowly walked away in his soaking wet shirt. When he passed the door frame, he muttered, “Natasha, Natasha.”

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