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Sweet Love and Country Roads
Author: Camilla Isley

 

Dedication


 To all long-distance couples, may you find your happily ever after…

 

 

One


 Bitter Pills May Have Blessed Effects


 Dread fills me as I ask my boss to repeat himself because I can’t possibly have heard him right.

 See, certain things are annoying. Bad hair days. Not enough vanilla syrup in my latte. Pen clicking. Hiccups.

 Then there’s the truly hateful stuff. Cars that take up two parking spaces. People who read over my shoulders. Slow Wi-Fi. Humblebraggers.

 And finally, there are the things with the potential to ruin my life forever, like the words about to exit Winthrop Cargill-MacMillan’s mouth.

 The head of Denouement Studios, the movie production company I work for, is presently holding my happiness in the palm of his hand and he’s about to close his fist and squeeze.

 Winthrop flares his nostrils. “I said I want you to move to Emerald Creek for the duration of filming, not fly over for a quick fix.”

 Yep, I’d heard him right the first time.

 “But shooting will last at least three more months,” I protest. “If I can settle things in a few days, I don’t see why I should stay on location. I can always return should other issues—”

 Winthrop bangs a fist on his desk so hard even the sturdy window panes of his Manhattan fiftieth floor office might’ve rattled. “We can’t afford anything else to go wrong!” he shouts. Then, taking a steadying breath, he adds, “Three months is all it should’ve taken to wrap up the project. Instead, we’re already a month in and still deep in the weeds. For goodness’ sake, they haven’t shot a single scene in the past week.” He points a finger at me. “Samantha, I’m tired of hearing excuses. You can either pack your bags and move to Indiana or pack your office.”

 I’m so shocked by the finger-pointing and by Winthrop’s threat to fire me, I don’t know what to say.

 Thankfully, my boss seems to realize he went too far and backtracks right away. “Sorry, Sam, I didn’t mean to threaten you. But we’re hemorrhaging money on this movie and we can’t afford to lose another penny. Not after the last couple of years,” he says, referring to the global pandemic that stopped movie productions worldwide, kept movie theaters’ doors shut for months, pushed new movie releases forward by one or two years, and left many film studios with serious cash flow issues. “Please,” Winthrop continues, “I need you to make sure everything goes smoothly down there.”

 The carrot always works better than the stick with me… I swallow hard and regretfully agree to a three-month sentence in hell.

 “Oh, come on,” Winthrop says as I’m about to leave his office, “Emerald Creek isn’t Siberia, and a few months of country life might even put a little natural color in those cheeks of yours.”

 Ah, easy for him to say when he’ll still be living within walking distance of a Nobu. And what does he have against my Too Faced Papa Don’t Peach blush, anyway?

 ***

 Dazed, I stumble on my stilettos as I walk down the hall toward my office. The temporary relocation is making me dizzier than a third round of Cosmopolitans would.

 As I reach my door, I beckon Celia, my assistant, to follow me inside. She eagerly scurries up from her desk and comes in behind me.

 “Please close the door,” I say as I collapse on my white leather swivel chair.

 Celia eyes me with a worried expression—as she should—awkwardly standing a few feet from the desk.

 “Please sit down.” I gesture at the two empty chairs in front of her.

 I sigh, ready to relate the awful news, when she anticipates me, “Oh my gosh, you’re firing me.” I close my mouth as she goes on, “I know the company isn’t doing well. I have a friend in accounting,” she explains. “But I never imagined layoffs were a possibility. Are the studios going under? Is everyone fired? What am I going to do now? I’ve still got a ton of student loans to pay—”

 Before she can drive off a tangent, I raise a hand to stop her. “Celia, you’re not fired.”

 She fans herself. “Oh, thank goodness.” Still a little out of breath, she adds, “Okay, tell me what it is then, because this is the first closed-door meeting we’ve held since you hired me three years ago.”

 I don a reassuring smile. After a job-loss scare, a transfer to Indiana will sound marginally less horrific. Or at least so I keep telling myself.

 “It’s about Sweet Love and Country Roads.” Celia nods intently, hanging on my every word. “Winthrop has asked me to bring the filming back on track. And he feels the only way to achieve that goal is if I’m on-site for the entire duration of shooting.”

 Celia’s hand goes to her chest. “You’re moving to Indiana?”

 I give her a steady look. “We are moving to Indiana.”

 The expression of horror on Celia’s face deepens, and she couldn’t have a more sympathetic audience than me. But the decision is made, and I don’t allow her time to hope she might get out of coming with me. Instead, I carry on to the practical aspects of organizing the move.

 “Do you have anything major planned in the next three months?”

 Celia swallows. “My sister’s baby shower is in two weeks.”

 “Then you’d better give her your present sooner.” Before she can protest, I add, “You can take the day of the shower off and follow the event on Zoom. Everyone’s used to digital events. Your sister won’t even notice you aren’t there in the flesh. Anything else?”

 “No.”

 “Good. I need you to book the plane tickets and hotel rooms.”

 “When do you want to fly out?”

 As expected, she has heroically accepted her destiny and turned businesslike.

 “Sunday, the earliest flight you can find. We’ll need half a day to settle in before we tackle the production team on Monday.”

 “You mean this Sunday, like in three days?”

 “Yes, why? Did you have plans?”

 “A Tinder date, but I can cancel.”

 “Great,” I say. “Take tomorrow off to pack or sort anything else you might’ve planned outside of Tinder and say goodbye to the city. I sure will. The sooner we leave, the quicker we can return. And, Celia—” Here comes her carrot. “You want to be a producer one day?”

 “Yes.”

 “Great, this will be a unique opportunity to gain in-the-field experience and build up your resume.”

 ***

 As I walk home from work, I search Emerald Creek, Indiana, on my phone. I usually take a cab, but today I’m skipping the ride in favor of a last stroll among the streets of my beloved New York City. I wait expectantly for the search results to load, but even the map app has trouble finding that speck of dirt in the world. To find a major nearby city, I have to zoom out six or seven times, and the closest result is Indianapolis.

 What’s in Indianapolis? Are they famous for anything other than the race track?

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