Secrets Collide

Kathleen Brooks


Many thanks to the hilarious Robyn Peterman (Pick up Fashionably Dead to see what I mean!) for her insight and to my Krew for their support.

And thank you to Chris, Lauren, Milo, Marcia, Craig, Pat, Mike, and Doe for all their love and hard work. And for not looking at me funny when I start talking to my characters.


Gemma Perry gagged as she mistakenly breathed in through her nose. Her muscles were cramping and the smell coming from the dumpster in the small back alley she was hiding in was strong enough to knock out a water buffalo. How did she get herself into this mess? Gemma found herself asking that question a lot recently. Unfortunately, she knew the answer all too well: She hadn’t been serious like her older sister, Gia.

Nope, she had been bitten with the party bug instead. When Gia made her appearance into the world a full ninety seconds before Gemma, she looked around at the doctor and nurses and decided she had a world to make better. When Gemma came out, she looked around the room and went straight for a drink at the bar. Their time at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Journalism was very much the same.

Her identical twin sister ate only organic food, went running every morning, and never ever used sugar or drank caffeine. Gia had never once stayed out past curfew, gone to a frat party, or called in sick to work. As a result, at the age of thirty, her sister had the body of an eighteen-year-old and a very impressive job as an investigative reporter for International Press. On the other hand, Gemma, with her more sultry curves, was sitting behind a dumpster in her size ten jeans with a very sugary coffee concoction waiting to get a picture of Hollywood heartthrob Tatum Evans and his married-not-to-him costar, Ginger Coach.

Gemma had finished school on the party program and gotten the perfect job at Inside Peek magazine while Gia went to Africa to cover an outbreak of a virus in the jungle. They were night and day, but they loved each other and spoke almost daily. The only time Gemma didn’t talk to her sister was when Gia was investigating a big story and didn’t have access to a phone or the privacy to talk.

Lately Gemma had been taking stock of her life and felt it was time for a change. She used to tease her sister about being so serious, but Gemma was starting to realize life was more than hiding behind dumpsters. While being an investigative journalist for Hollywood’s hottest gossip rag was perfect when she was twenty-one, she felt she had finally outgrown it.

Her job was to hang out at the hot clubs and talk and listen to everyone there. She hit the jackpot when she could work her way into the VIP rooms to hear the industry gossip and investigate it. When she was younger, it was exciting and she was flirty enough to pull it off. But as the years passed, the job was just making her feel old. Hollywood fought age as if it were a disease and Gemma was tired of trying to be an ageless, no wrinkles, size zero knockout in order to flirt her way into the VIP section of that week’s hot new club. She was especially tired of hiding in bathrooms and behind dumpsters.

Two weeks ago, she had tried to talk to Gia about a more serious job, but Gia was distracted by a story she was investigating. Gia had only made encouraging noises like hmm and uh-huh. With no guidance from her sister, Gemma decided to try Gia’s way of life and to see how it felt. As a result, her quads where killing her from running, she was suffering from caffeine withdrawal, and there was a very high probability of her hijacking a donut truck.

Gemma took another deep breath through her mouth and gave her large canvas bag a rub. Fred, her small white Maltese, nuzzled her hand in response from the safety of his travel bag. At least her dog was spared the stench of the dumpster. She would give it a couple more minutes and then try to bribe one of the waiters at the restaurant to sneak her in to catch a glimpse of Tatum and Ginger.

One of her informants had called and told her the hunky playboy actor was with his squeaky clean, never-in-the-tabloids costar eating at Oak Hill, the newest, swankiest restaurant in Los Angeles. She’d make a fortune on this photo and storyline if she got it. Her story would be on the front page of Inside Peek and she’d get a huge bonus—enough to let her quit and find a better job.

Gemma froze as she heard the back door open slowly. She waited until she heard heels clicking on the pavement before she leaned around the dumpster. Bingo! Tatum and Ginger were locked in a passionate kiss as a black SUV with dark tinted windows approached. She hid her excitement as she snapped pictures of Tatum squeezing Ginger’s perfect butt and opening the door of her SUV for her. She switched her camera to video and kept as still as her quivering leg muscles allowed her to.

“Thank you, Tatum. I had a wonderful evening. Edward just doesn’t do anything for me anymore,” Ginger pouted. Her overly injected lower lip was sticking out in a cute pout as she threw her much, much older director-husband under the bus.

“That should be illegal. Meet me at my place in two hours and I’ll show you what a man should be doing for a woman with your body.” Gemma tried not to gag as she recorded the illicit affair. Ginger giggled and Tatum slapped her ass as she climbed into her chauffeured car.

Finally the alley was empty and Gemma stood up and stretched her cramped body. Fred poked his little black nose out of the bag and then quickly disappeared again. “Don’t worry, we’re getting out of here right now.” Gemma picked up the bag and hiked it over her shoulder. She needed to get to the office and start researching Tatum and Ginger’s love lives.

“One last time, one last time . . .” Gemma repeated as she headed for her parked car. Most of her stories had been celebrity sightings, or inside scoops about which actors were getting parts, getting fired, or heading to rehab. And she hated every word of it. She once submitted a feel-good piece about a Hollywood hottie spending his weekend visiting sick children and watched as her editor tossed the piece into the trash. She had a pile of those stories on her computer but had been told not to bother emailing them to the editor.

Gemma reached her car and placed Fred into his tiny seat belt on the passenger seat of her silver Mazda Miata convertible. She placed her camera gear on the floor by Fred and was about to start the car when a pain like no other gripped her heart. Fear raced through her and Gemma gasped as she fought wave after wave of panic.

She blindly reached for her phone and hit speed dial. Something was wrong with Gia. She didn’t know what, but she knew with certainty Gia was in trouble. She had only felt something like this once before when Gia had broken her leg while investigating a story in Iraq almost eight years ago. But the feeling Gemma had then was nothing like what she was experiencing now.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she listened to the phone ring. “Pick up, Gia. Please pick up,” Gemma begged her sister. Gia was here in town—there was no reason for her not to pick up the phone. Gemma hung up and dialed again as she gasped for breath. The feeling of dread smothered her. It enveloped her so much that the outside world disappeared and all she heard was Gia’s voicemail picking up. Something was terribly wrong. She didn’t know how to explain it; it was just a feeling she knew with certainty.

Gemma pulled into traffic without even looking as she headed for Gia’s apartment. Traffic at ten at night was light for L.A. so she was able to speed down highway 101. She didn’t hear horns blowing or see middle fingers being raised as she wove in and out of the lanes. Instead, she felt a numbness that scared her more than the pain did.

She hit the exit ramp at ninety miles per hour as she flew toward Gia’s apartment. Eight minutes later, she skidded into the underground parking complex and headed straight for Gia’s parking space. Her eyes took in all the cars as she slowed to a stop and stared at the empty space. Her heart started beating faster and harder as the panic almost overtook her.

“Hi. This is Gia. I’m not here right now, but I’d love to talk to you. Leave a message,” her sister’s happy voice rang out as her voicemail picked up again.

“Gia. Call me, please call me. Are you okay? I just need to know you’re okay,” Gemma cried into the phone. Despair replaced panic as she raced out of the parking garage and back down the 101 to get to Gia’s downtown office.

Thirty-five minutes later, Gemma’s tennis shoes hit the ground running as she sprinted toward the large glass building. She pushed open the front door and rushed toward the guard sitting behind the information desk in the large lobby. Marble stairs went to one side of the lobby and a shiny bank of silver elevators stood looming behind the information desk.

“Sorry, the offices are closed for the night, ma’am,” the guard announced as he stood up. Gemma was sure he was taking in her brunette hair roughly pulled back into a sloppy ponytail and her black peasant top that smelled like garbage with slight confusion since she looked almost identical to her sister.

“I’m looking for my sister. She has to be here. Her name is Gia Perry. Please, can you tell me if she’s here?” Gemma begged.

The guard must've seen the panic in her eyes as he softened his voice. “I’m sorry, Gia left almost two hours ago.”