Undressed: 1 (The Manhattanites), page 24
“Monster Bull Energy! You need to be ‘up’ for these shows, and this caffeine will have you talking as never before.” Taddy reached into her purse and pulled out an Excedrin bottle.
“Gonna pass, Taddy, but thank you.”
“Suit yourself. It’s not as if I’m giving you a cocaine bump or anything.” She popped two headache relief white tablets in her mouth and swigged the drink. “I don’t want to ask this because but you’re going to have to work on an answer. Did you have a four-way and group sex party at The Milan Art Auction with two women named Ottavia and Scilla with Massimo?”
“My answer will be the truth. The photographs are a setup, a scheme to sell them to the tabloids. Vive is working the same angle too.” She hesitated, debating whether or not she should see the press. “Can you show me what the Times published today? I need to see what I’m getting into.”
“No, Lex. It’s for your own good.”
“On a scale from one to ten, how bad is it?”
Her friend’s lips twitched. Perhaps Taddy had second thoughts. “I guess the interviews you’re going on will throw this in your face. Poppy promised she’d tread with care on this topic.” She blinked. “It’s an eleven, Lex.” Taddy removed her iPad from her purse and handed her the screen.
Lex had prepared herself for it all day, but it wasn’t anything she’d ever expected. The article was titled, “Fashion Designer Lex Easton Dead by 30?” She reread the title again. “I don’t get it.”
“The Times implies at the rate you’re going, based on your genetic makeup you won’t make it to your thirtieth birthday, hence the question mark,” Taddy said.
The article showed her father in an open casket. It should be illegal to show such photos, but there Eddie Easton was, face up, casket open. “I’ll never forgive my cousin for taking a picture during Daddy’s funeral—and selling it.”
Next to Eddie’s funeral photo sat Birdie’s mug shot from an arrest where she’d beaten up a groupie at Madison Square Garden. To the right, blown up larger than life, blared the picture. “Wow! Jemma’s dress makes me look naked.” Lex held the iPad out in her arms to ensure she saw the article as it appeared. “Why did they put black boxes on my nipples? You didn’t see them in person. I swear.”
“I’ll be with you all day today and tomorrow.” Taddy scooted over to sit next to her on the car bench. We’re all here for you. We’ll get through this. Poppy’s promised to keep your segment light and fun. We’ve known her for years. She’ll do right by you.”
She wrapped her arms around her. “I don’t know how we’re going to pull this off.”
Taddy spoke over her backside and pulled her close. “A year from today we’ll look back on this and laugh. Brill, Inc. will turn this media around.” She withdrew her hug and nudged her nose, giving Lex her a famous Taddy Brill smile.
“I never expected it to be this bad.” Daddy, if you’re watching, please give me strength today. I need your help.
How You Doin’
Massimo noted forty-eight hours had passed and he’d not heard Lex’s voice. She’d texted when she landed and mentioned Taddy booked her back-to-back with meetings and she’d be in touch. He also did press interviews. The second Lex boarded the flight, he went to the local TV station and demanded air time to tell his story—the truth. He issued a one million dollar reward to bring in Scilla and Ottavia. Both ladies turned themselves in within fifteen minutes, with the balls they’d receive the payment. Aftr they were arrested for assault and battery, Massimo agreed to drop the charges if they went on TV and confessed to the world what they’d done. The girls would tell reporters the image was staged and photoshopped. And Lex didn’t do drugs.
It wasn’t Brill, Inc. that had saved Lex’s reputation but Massimo’s persistence. Ottavia and Scilla agreed and the interview aired. Picked up abroad and fed out on all networks, the world heard their confession. Celebarazzi Magazine printed a retraction and was deemed an unworthy media source.
Tonight he kicked everyone out from the Milano mansion. Jemma and Luigi offered to stay in and have dinner with him but he declined and sent Rocco and his entire wait staff, kitchen servers, two butlers, chauffeur, two security guards and the bodyguard home.
Alone is what he wanted, but he didn’t expect lonesomeness. He cherished his quiet time before, but without Lex to talk to, for the first time ever, he felt lost.
He thought after the interview aired he’d be better. Massimo felt worse. In an uncertain state, he’d done everything in his power to turn the situation around. Was it enough?
Massimo sat in the hot tub and soaked in a honey-oatmeal concoction. Rocco insisted the bath would lift his spirits. It didn’t.
In the kitchen, he made a panino, a sandwich filled with his favorites—salami, cheese and mortadella. It took him a few minutes to figure out where everything was. He wasn’t used to waiting on himself, but he stuffed his tummy in hopes it would fill his emptiness. It didn’t.
Nicolo, Nino and Noe crawled in to bed with him as he buried them together under the covers to watch TV. Massimo flipped past the news. Every show played Lex images. It made him sad she wasn’t with him. He needed a good laugh and decided to turn it on something entertaining.
“Talk about it, cry over it, get it out.” The theme song for The Poppy White Show played through the TV’s speakers.
“Hello and welcome to The Poppy White Show. How you doin’? We have a great show planned for you today. To kick off Fashion Week here in New York City, we’ve booked as our special guest an American fashion designer. You may know her late father, rock ‘n’ roll legend Eddie Easton, and her eighties glam metal mother Birdie. Her last TV interview was on Barbara’s Private Portrait at twelve years old, take a look.”
He sat up against the pillow.
The TV came up to a video. The caption below read, “Eddie, Alexandra, Birdie Easton.” Barbara sat back in a chair and asked, “Alexandra, how does it feel when you see yourself in the tabloids?” Barbara held up The Enquirer showing a very round little girl eating an ice cream cone by a Mister Softee truck. Young Alexandra’s eyes filled with tears. Birdie’s hands fisted, maybe to punch Barbara. Little Alexandra put her fingers over her mother’s. “How do you think she feels, Barb!” Eddie blasted. The audio bleeped again and again blocking Eddie’s curse words.
The video came back to Poppy, “That interview eighteen years ago didn’t go well. Let’s hope today at The Poppy White Show it’ll be a better experience for our guest. Please give it up for Lex Easton.”
The audience clapped as the camera panned, shooting the crowd wearing “I heart Easton Essentials” t-shirts.
My principessa is loved. It made him happy to see her getting positive press.
The camera cut to Lex walking out onstage dressed in a black pantsuit, her long blonde hair pulled in a ponytail.
Poppy continued speaking into the camera while Lex found her way up stage. “As everyone knows, Easton Essentials is sold at all the major department stores and we’ll get to the fashion bit in a sec. But we’re more interested in the salacious rumor Lex is engaged to Prince Massimo Tittoni.”
The audience cheered louder.
“What?” Massimo said out loud.
“You know the hot royal in the Mediterranean. Meeeeeeow!” Poppy made a cat claw with her hand and motioned pawing movements toward the camera as she curled her lip. The TV showed Massimo shirtless on the beach.
We didn’t talk about marriage, not yet. Massimo could taste the sourness in his mouth return. He wanted to talk about their future with Lex. She remained focused on leaving.
“Right, ladies?” Poppy acknowledged the crowd.
Lex looked better than ever as she sat on the plum-colored sofa and Poppy hugged her. “How ya doin’?”
Massimo turned up the TV. He wasn’t going to miss this. He wanted to hear her voice.
“Thank you for having me here today, Poppy.” She waved out to the crowd with
“Girrrrl, bahfore we talk fashion, I wanna dish with yous.”
“Okay,” Lex replied. But her tight smile gave away her nervousness to what questions the talk show host might ask.
“So, Daddy Eddie who I’ve known and loved through his career dies and leaves you and your mother with nothing, you two start this rockin’ clothing line and you head off to Italy to buy the fabrics.” Poppy held up People Magazine. There was Massimo embracing Lex at The Fashion Ball on the cover. The title read, “Calm before the Storm”.
“So you and the prince become fast friends. In those photos we showed our viewers at home, you two look smitten.” Then the camera pulled up a shot as they walked from the parking lot. His coat thrown over her face at the Milan Art Auction. “What the hell went on?”
Lex recited the events. She spoke at a scripted pace. Poppy did a good job helping her along when she got stuck. The segment must’ve taped before Scilla and Ottavia confessed. Lex didn’t exude nervous TV jitters, but he could tell she’d rehearsed what she meant to say. My bella is a professional.
“Thank you, Lex, for coming here and sharing your story with us.” Poppy added, “We noticed no ring on your finger when you waved to the audience.” The studio audience sat on their chair edges, not a peep could be heard. “We have to know…are you engaged to the prince?”
Massimo felt his chest tighten as if a rubber band bound his chest. Why hadn’t he asked for her hand in marriage? Why hadn’t he given her a ring?
She responded, “No, I’m not engaged.”
Even though he knew it was coming, when Lex answered no, a sinking apprehension flooded his conscious.
Poppy’s face contorted as the camera zoomed in for her candid response. “We’ve heard otherwise.”
The audience cheered and Poppy smiled.
Massimo felt his heart skip faster.
“Lex, where did these rumors come from?”
“I have no idea,” she answered in a matter of fact tone, not annoyed with the idea.
“Did Prince Massimo Tittoni ask you to marry him?”
“No, he never came out and asked.”
The audience booed and Poppy frowned.
“Guys, stop.” Poppy motioned her palms to quiet the crowd. “Let her tell us what’s going on. Lex?”
“I went to Italy for my company, to work on my designs and pick out new fabrics.”
Lex continued, “I met the prince, we went to a few events together, and before the Milan Art Auction everything seemed a dream. But that lifestyle is not for me.”
“That lifestyle?” Poppy’s painted on eyebrows arched up.
“That lifestyle!” Lex repeated.
“Errrr,” Massimo grumbled.
“Woof! Woof, woof!” Nicolo, Nino and Noe barked.
“You two look much in love in this photo at the Milan Art Auction, Lex. Before we break for a commercial, I have to ask you one more question.” Poppy paused, choosing her words. Massimo recognized her interviewing technique. “Eddie would want to see you happy. You know I played your daddy’s music on my radio show for over a decade and interviewed him many times.”
“Yes, I know.”
Massimo hated when people manipulated him into replies while being coerced on the subject by mentioning his father. He knew firsthand how it made Lex suffer. Poppy dove in for the jugular using the “I know your father” card. His heart went out to her. He wanted to put his arms through the TV and hold her and love her. Why were they doing this to her?
“We want to see you happy. Regardless of what the press writes today or tomorrow, it’s what we all want for you.”
The audience cheered.
“Thank you, Poppy!”
“My question is—are you in love with the prince?”
He edged the mattress. The dogs were glued in silence to the TV as if waiting for the answer. Massimo sat Indian style, angry he wanted to protect her and be with her.
“I love him and I’m very much in love with Prince Massimo Tittoni.”
I love you too, my principessa. He noticed she smirked when speaking as if she played his full name game. Massimo wondered if she’d known he’ be watching.
“What if I told you he is backstage in the greenroom and wanted to ask for your hand in marriage, what would you say?”
Her face lit up in surprise. Lex turned her back to the camera maybe expecting Massimo to come out from backstage.
Why is Poppy taunting her?
“Lex—your prince isn’t here today.”
The audience grumbled.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” Poppy defended. “But do you know what you would say if he asked you to marry him?”
The camera came in tight on Lex’s face. He could see she’d expected him to be there, to surprise her. As her skin flushed, her chest rose up and down. “I have an answer and I’d love to share it with him if he asked me—in person.”
Poppy waved her cue card over her face. “You’re going to make me cry. Okay, girl! We’ll talk more after the break.” The camera zoomed to Poppy. “Coming up after the commercial, we have Debauchery magazine’s editor in chief Viveca Farnworth with us.”
The audience screamed.
“Viveca is here to give you viewers at home a sneak peek at over one hundred shows taking place inside Lincoln Center from Michael Kors and Betsey Johnson to Marc Jacobs—Miss Viveca has Fashion Week covered.
The audience screamed louder.
Poppy continued, “Miss Farnworth will show three models and looks sampled from the Easton Essentials fashion show scheduled later this week at Lincoln Center. We’ll also be giving away two tickets to sit with me at Easton’s show. Stick around! We’ll be back in two minutes.” The music faded out… Talk about it, cry over it, get it out.
* * * * *
Taped when she arrived back to New York, the day before last, Lex’s fashion show ran tomorrow. Mid-afternoon in the States. Lex’s words echoed in his head. He glanced at his dogs with hope. “I love him and I’m very much in love with Prince Massimo Tittoni.”
Massimo reached for his phone on the dresser and called Lex’s office.
She picked up on the fourth ring and said, “This is Lex.”
Hearing her sweet voice filled the hole pitted in his stomach. “Lex, it’s Massimo. Ti amo, and I miss you. Please—”
Lex cut him short. “Thank you for fixing the press, Masi. I’m impressed you put the skanks on TV to confess.”
“Anything for you, bella,” He rested his back against the pillows, satisfied he’d gained her attention.
“I’m sorry I haven’t called sooner. No moment to breathe, the last two days have flown. I’m happy to hear your voice but I can’t talk right now.” He noticed her voice grew low.
“Mi scusi? Another fucking but.
“I have a room packed with people. My show is in less than twenty-four hours.”
“I see…” He sat back up.
“I’m being rude to a blogger who is sitting with me.”
“Principessa, please give me a few minutes. We have to talk. I have to ask you—”
“If you wanna talk, you may do so in person, in New York.”
“What?” He stood up off the bed.
The phone went silent. Did she hang up?
Massimo heard the worst sound—a dial tone. Then he remembered his call with Lex a few days prior. Such a brat—she’d given his behavior right back to him. Must he always meet Lex halfway on everything? Is this what his life would entail after they married?
He knew what he needed to do. Massimo called information and asked for Brill, Inc., who put him through to Kiki’s executive office. She put him on hold to check Taddy’s availability.
“Get fame, get glam, get Brill, Inc.” The hold music played in his ear. Tad
“Prince Massimo Tittoni, to what do I owe this honor?” Taddy inhaled a puff over the phone and huffed, “Now before you lay into me—let me apologize for my earlier email.”
“I assumed Girasoli PR’d this courtship. I was clueless to your love for one another, until I saw Lex and she confirmed her feelings for you.”
“Sì.” This made better sense to him now. “It is nice to speak with you, Signorina Brill. I am happy to accept your apology in person.”
“I will be leaving the airport in a bit for New York.”
“Fierce news! You’ll make Lex so happy. She’s under the assumption your schedule remained committed to other engagements.”
“Lex is my commitment. And she does not know I am coming. The reason I am calling is—I need your assistance with a surprise I am planning for her fashion show.” This was a revelation he never dreamed he’d attempt in his lifetime—until now.
“Honey, seeing as how I love surprises, something tells me we’re gonna become fast friends. Also, I adore what you did with the press in Europe. Many kudos. And anyone who puts my bestie Lex on a pedestal has my utmost respect. Am I understood?”
“Sì.” He seemed to have rubbed the pit bull’s belly.
Taddy giggled and asked, “So—what did you have in mind for Easton’s fashion show tomorrow?”
* * * * *
The next day Massimo checked into Pierre Hotel on the Upper East Side and walked over to Seventy-fifth Street. The afternoon brought many nannies struggling to push oversized baby strollers down Madison Avenue’s sidewalks. He stood for a minute admiring the block. Between the Whitney Museum and Christofle silver store sat a tiny boutique. The storefront’s black and gold awning read, Paloma Tittoni’s Gems of Distinction.
Crossing the street, he let a Rolls Royce pass by before he stepped up and peeked into the window. Glass cases merchandized dangling rubies, emeralds and sapphires set against velvet. An elegant woman stood in the boutique with her hand to her mouth. Massimo heard a gasp from the outside.