• Sheila & Swede

The Hills Have Lies - Ep. 20


The Hills Have Lies © 2018 Lili Grouse

Until last night, I guess I hadn’t really admitted to myself that I would sleep with Cole at some point in the future. But now I know for sure. I feel safe with him, I trust him, and I can’t think of anyone else I’d want to have my first experience in almost five years with. Heck, it’ll probably feel like the first time ever, making One Night Stand Guy a distant, sad memory.


“Honey?”


I blink and realize I’ve been lost in thought, probably with a goofy smile on my face, while Mom and Dad have been trying to talk to me.


“Sorry?”


“Did you not sleep well, sweetheart?” Mom asks, studying me with a concerned look on her face. “You look tired.”


“Oh. No, I guess I’m still getting used to the quiet here. Back home, there are always car alarms going off or sirens passing by in the distance.”


“That sounds awful. Are you sure your neighborhood is safe?”


“Yes, Mom. I’m perfectly safe where I am.”


“So you haven’t considered moving back home? Or at least back to the state?”


“I’m pursuing my dreams, Mom. I have to be in L.A. to do that.”


“The school has a whole drama department now, not just one class. You could teach.”


“Maybe one day, Mom.” After all, who knows what will happen in the future? I hope to be working as an actress for a long time, but it’s not an easy job to keep – or to make a decent living from. And if there’s one thing certain in life except death and taxes, it’s that bills need to be paid.


“Seth’s sister works for the school, you know.”


“No, I didn’t know that. Good for her.”


“I’m sure he could introduce you,” she continues and I resist the urge to roll my eyes.


“Really, Mom, that won’t be necessary. I’m only here for a few weeks, and I’d like to make the most of my time with you and Dad.”


“Well, of course we love having you here, but-“ Mom starts, but then Dad cuts her off and pats my shoulder.


“That’s our girl. What do you say we go check the fences in the pasture? It’s time to trim the weeds.”


“Sounds good, Dad,” I say, jumping at the opportunity to get out of the house for a few hours.

I often went with Dad when I still lived at home to cut weeds along the fence line and to test the electric fence. Some farmers use chemicals to keep the weeds from short-circuiting the electric fences, but Dad has always insisted on doing it manually. Growing up, I thought it was tedious and inefficient. Today, I don’t mind one bit.

Dad and I are headed back to the house after hours in the scorching sun when he pulls the truck over to the side of the road all of a sudden and climbs out.


“Dad?” I swing my door open to see what’s going on and I find him by the back of the truck, throwing up. “Dad!”


He waves me off. “Just too much sun. Get back in the car.”


I grab a water bottle and hand it to him. “Drink. You’ve probably got heatstroke. We should

get you to the hospital.”


Dad scoffs. “I don’t need that kind of hassle – who can afford healthcare these days?”


My gut twists. I didn’t know my parents were struggling financially. I can’t believe how self-absorbed I’ve been. “We should at least get you home. I’ll drive.”


Dad reluctantly gets into the passenger seat of the cab and I climb into the driver’s seat. It’s been a while since I drove Dad’s truck and it’s a bit shaky at first, but we get back to the house without any trouble. As I help Dad out of the truck, Mom comes out of the house.


“What’s going on?”


“Dad is sick.”


“Don’t listen to her,” Dad grumbles. “It’s just a bit of sunstroke.”


“He was throwing up,” I tell Mom. “I think he needs a doctor.”


“No doctor,” Dad immediately objects.


“I’ll call Seth,” Mom says, hurrying into the house.


“He’s a vet. What do I look like, an old goat?” Dad protests, but I don’t engage. Some medical knowledge is better than none, right?


I get Dad a towel soaked in cold water for his head, and make sure he drinks ice water, and while he grumbles about me fussing over him, he lets me. About half an hour later, Seth arrives at the house.


“Hey, Ed, how you doing?” he asks, taking a seat on a chair by the couch Dad is resting on.


“They’re making a big fuss over a bit of sun.”


“Well, I’m afraid I can’t do anything for you that your daughter hasn’t done already,” Seth says, smiling at me. “I’m not licensed to treat humans, except to administer CPR. Clearly you’re still breathing.”


“Well, thank heavens for that,” Mom pipes up.


“Does he need to go to the hospital?” I ask Seth, hoping he might convince Dad.


“I’m sorry, I can’t diagnose your dad,” he says, shaking his head. “I could lose my license and then some if I give any kind of medical advice or treatment to a human. My opinions are no better than yours.”


“But-“


“Sweetheart, relax,” Dad says. “I’m feeling better already. Some water and a nap will do the trick – and maybe a slice of apple pie afterwards? What do you say, Doc?”


Seth smiles. “Pie sounds like a good idea any day.”


“Hannah, why don’t you get Seth a slice of pie?” Mom says and places a fresh wet towel on Dad’s forehead. “I’ll keep an eye on your father.”


I sigh and head for the kitchen, Seth following a few steps behind.


“I’m sorry I couldn’t be of much help,” he says as I get the pie out of the fridge. “The law is pretty strict here.”


“So if my dad was bleeding to death, you couldn’t do anything for him because you’re a vet?”

I slice the pie with a bit more force than strictly necessary, trying to cover my anxiety and frustration.


“Have you heard of Good Samaritan laws?” he asks, leaning against the kitchen counter.


I frown. “I know what a Good Samaritan is, but-“


“Well, it’s a law that offers legal protection for those who help other people, so that even if the injured person dies, the person trying to help won’t be sued or prosecuted.”


“Okay?” I’m not sure where he’s going with this.


“Here in Minnesota, you have to help if you come across an accident, but a veterinarian can’t do more than offer first aid or emergency assistance. So, if your dad was bleeding, I could attempt to stop the bleeding while waiting for paramedics to arrive. But I couldn’t give him any kind of drug or do anything invasive that isn’t absolutely necessary. Does that make sense?”


I think about it. “I guess. But if you suspect there’s something wrong, can’t you call 911 then?”


“Well, sure, just like anyone else.”


“I’m worried about Dad.”


Seth reaches out and puts his hand on my shoulder, bending his knees slightly so I’m looking into his reassuring eyes. “Of course you are. That’s only natural. But if it makes you feel better, I don’t see anything that suggests he’s suffering from anything other than heatstroke.”


I shake my head and take a step away from him, grabbing a plate from the cupboard. “He’s gotten so old and frail.”


“That also happens,” Seth says quietly. “But your dad is spryer than most, and he still has his appetite. That’s a good thing, Hannah.”


I bite my lip, feeling tears prickling behind my eyes. I refuse to cry in front of some stranger – or in front of my parents. That’ll only cause them more distress. I wish Cole was here.


“Hey…” Seth says and I slowly turn around. “Maybe a change of scenery will help. I could show you around the clinic?”


“No, I-“


“What a wonderful idea, Seth,” Mom exclaims and I look over to see her in the doorway, positively glowing. “Ed doesn’t need you two hovering about, he’s napping now and looking much better. I called Doctor Hartley and he’s going to pop around later just to make sure nothing’s amiss.”


“Dad agreed to that?”


“I called when he’d dozed off. Now, you two get going. Oh, unless you want to finish up that pie first?”


Seth looks down at the plate in my hand with the as yet untouched slice. “We can grab something in town,” he says. “Save that for Ed for when he wakes up.”


“Uh, okay, I’ll just change into something that’s not… well, dusty,” I say, looking down at my plaid shirt and jeans.


“Oh, wear that cute red dress I put in your closet,” Mom says enthusiastically, as if I’m going to prom or something.


I roll my eyes as soon as I’m out of sight and head upstairs. The red dress is indeed hanging in my closet; the only dress I have that’s neatly ironed. Mom must have done that while I was out in the pasture with Dad. It’s a button-down dress with large white and yellow flowers on a red base, and I haven’t worn it since I was home last, meaning it’s several sizes too big for me now. Granted, it was a bit tight back then, so I can probably get away with wearing it with a camisole underneath.


I check my phone for a text from Cole, but there’s nothing. I’d hoped he’d be done with his photo shoot by now so I could talk to him, but I guess it’ll have to wait until tonight.

“I like your clinic,” I say to Seth as we finish up the grand tour. “It doesn’t feel… clinic-y.”


He chuckles and grabs a stethoscope to put around his neck. “How ‘bout now?”


“You know what I mean,” I roll my eyes. “It’s comfortable, welcoming.”


“I’m glad you think so. That’s what I was going for.”


“Do you enjoy it? Veterinary work, I mean.”


“I do. Being the only vet in town, there’s always something for me to do. People love their pets, and the farms are well-stocked.”


“It doesn’t get lonely, though? Not having co-workers?”


“Not yet,” he shrugs and hangs up the stethoscope again. “I think I’ve always been something of a lone wolf.”


“Really? You’re so sociable.”


“Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the company of others, but mostly in small doses. This life suits me just fine.”


“You’re lucky, then,” I tell him as we head out. There’s only one diner in town, so there’s no debating where we’re going next.


“How so?”


“Finding a place where you belong, where you can be yourself.”


“I take it you haven’t found that yet,” he says knowingly.


“It’s hard to be yourself when you’re constantly playing the role of someone else.”


“Then why do it? Why stay?”


“Because it’s my dream. It’s what I’ve wanted since I was a kid.”


“And now you’re finding that the dream isn’t all that dreamy?”


“No… well, in a way. I still love acting, it’s the other stuff that I’m having a hard time with.”


“Maybe television isn’t the right medium for you. You could act in movies, or in stage performances.”


“I could… and I have. I just… I want to do this. I want to do well at this.”


“I understand. In a way, I can relate.”


“How do you mean?” I ask as we enter Suzy’s Diner and take a seat at a table by the window. There are still a couple of tables free, but the dinner crowd is definitely starting to build. Suzy herself is behind the cash register, waving at her waitress to take our orders.


“Well, I-“ Seth starts, but the waitress appears with menus and hands us one each.


“Hi, Seth,” she beams at him and I can’t help but think she might just have a crush on the vet. She’s younger than I am and has blonde hair in a ponytail high on her head. The diner’s red polo shirt is stretched tight over her chest and I look over at Seth, expecting his eyes to be glued there, but he’s browsing the menu.


“I’ll have today’s special, please, Danielle,” he says easily and smiles at her as he hands back the menu. “What about you, Hannah?” he turns to me and I see Danielle’s eyes land on

me with a light frost in them.


“Same,” I say without giving the menu another look. Today’s special is a pasta dish, and I

should be steering clear of carbs, but I just can’t be bothered right now.


“You were saying?” I say once Danielle is gone.


“Sorry, what were we talking about, again?” he frowns.


“Oh, I see,” I say teasingly, “Danielle got you all distracted, even though you tried to hide it.”


He looks over to the counter, where Danielle is passing a note to the kitchen. “She’s far too young to be a real distraction.”


“Age has very little to do with attraction.”


“Hm. I don’t know… I’m very old.”


“Oh, come on, if you were born in the 80s, that makes you 38, tops.”


“I’m 31.”


“See? And 30 is like 20 these days, so that makes you younger than me by two years. You’re barely legal.”


“Danielle is 17. My sister teaches her class. So, no, I’m not looking. No matter what hypothetical age I might be.”


“Okay, okay. Subject dropped.” I put my hands up. Danielle chooses that moment to return with a pitcher of cucumber water and two glasses.


“It’s a hot one today,” she says, focusing on Seth. “Make sure to hydrate.”


“Will do. Thank you.”


“I’ll be back with your order in a bit.”


“So…” I try to remember what we talked about before I started ribbing him about Danielle, and after a moment or two it comes back to me. “You said you could relate to what I was telling you about my acting?”


“Right. Well, it’s going to sound silly now, because I had this throwaway line that was going to be pithy and funny, and the waiting has made it all seem so huge and important.”


I smile and pour some water for us both. “I know the feeling. Go on, I promise I’ll keep my expectations low. Sub-zero.”


“Much obliged. Yeah, I was going to say that you sometimes have to take the good with the bad. I love being a vet, and I love animals. But I’m terrified of parakeets. And Mrs. Coulson loves her parakeet. She’s a hypochondriac, and projecting all her fears onto her bird. I have to examine the thing once a week. Every single time, I’m convinced it’s the day it kills me.”


I try really hard not to laugh. I don’t want to poke fun at him over his phobia, but he’s telling it in such a way that my mouth is twitching uncontrollably.


“It’s okay, you can laugh,” he says and I erupt, my hand the only barrier to keep me from sputtering all over the table.


“I’m sorry. You’re just telling it in such a way that it’s funny even though it’s really not.”


“Well, I always prefer laughter over tears,” he shrugs.


“You’re one of the good guys, aren’t you?” I muse as my laughter fades.


“Sorry, what?”


“No, I just meant… you seem like a really nice guy. You remind me of someone.”


“Your mystery boyfriend?” he says and takes a drink of water. Before I can answer, Danielle appears with our order – two steaming plates of Spaghetti Bolognese.


“Let me know if I can get you anything else. If not, just pay up at the counter before you leave.”


“Sure thing, Danielle. Thank you,” Seth smiles and she walks off with a matching grin on her lips.


“He’s not my boyfriend,” I blurt before I can think better of it. I sure hope he doesn’t think I’m hitting on him. Mom would have a field day with that. “I mean, like I said before, it’s complicated. We’re good friends, though, and he is a good guy. Those are hard to find.”


“Maybe you’ve been looking in the wrong places?” Okay, that sounded like a pick-up line. “I mean, there are plenty of charities around, I’m sure the people working there have good hearts. Not to mention the firefighters in the world. My sister has a whole calendar of them.

Although, I’m not sure she bought it for their good deeds…”


“What about vets?”


Seth shakes his head. “Oh, no, horrible people. Puts their hands up cows’ butts. No-one’s putting that in a catalogue.”


I laugh. No, I’m not getting a flirty vibe from Seth, and I’m relieved. With his sense of humor, I might actually fall for him if there had been a spark of attraction between us.


The pasta looks great and several minutes pass in companionable silence as we both stuff our faces. I’m wiping sauce off my face when Seth clears his throat.


“I have a confession to make,” he announces and I freeze with my napkin over my chin before I snap out of it and put the napkin down on the now empty plate.


“What?”


“I Googled.”


“You… Googled?” This could mean any number of things. I’m going to need details.


“After our last outing, I Googled the show, and the cast.”


“Oh.”


“I have to admit I was curious about the people you work with. I saw some photos of you with one of your cast mates. I’m assuming that’s the not-quite-boyfriend?”


“And here I thought you weren’t computer savvy,” I click my tongue. “That’s some major invasion of privacy there, Buster. Well, second-hand degree, at least.”


“Sorry,” he says sheepishly but doesn’t look too torn up about it. “If it’s any consolation, it was my sister who talked me into it.”


“Uh-uh, that excuse ceases to be valid when you start high school.”


“Figures… well, can I plead that 30 is the new 10?”


“Nope.”


“Darn it.”


“Okay, so let me hear it,” I sigh.


“Hear what?”


“The lecture, or the questions, whichever comes first.”


“I have neither. I just wanted you to know that I invaded your privacy, so feel free to scold me.”


“Well, I’m sure my right to privacy is long gone. Everything that’s on the Internet is public knowledge. I can’t really blame you for being curious.”


“I just feel guilty having you think I’m a good guy when I’ve been cyberstalking you. But not in a creepy way,” he adds quickly.


“Isn’t that what all stalkers say?” I mock. “And I still think you’re a good guy. At least you

admitted it.”


“So… not to sound like I’m fishing for gossip here, but… you and this Derek person look to be getting along well. What’s complicated about it?”


“Uh…” I look around the diner. No-one is eavesdropping, there are no camera phones directed my way, and I highly doubt anyone here even recognizes me, but it’s instinctual now. To always be on the lookout so you’re not caught unawares. “Well… it’s complicated because… I wasn’t seeing Derek.”


“Oh. So it’s someone else, one of the regular cast members?”


“Mm-hm. His name is Cole. But that can’t become common knowledge, okay? So please don’t tell your sister, or anyone else, for that matter.”


“Why? Why do you have to hide? It’s your life, not anyone else’s business.”


“In a way, it is their business. The viewers like romance, not just on-screen, but off screen, too. If actors on a show date, it can affect ratings. In either direction. Right now, people want to see Cole with Crystal, and that’s what they’re getting.”


“So he’s pretending to date someone else while he’s seeing you?”


From the look on Seth’s face, I can tell he thinks this is appalling.


“Like I said, it’s complicated.”


“I don’t mean to judge. But it’s definitely a whole other world you’re describing. It’s hard to imagine living like that for any period of time.”


I nod. I’m having a hard time imagining it, too.



To be continued...

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