Chapter X: The press conference

It was showtime. The old showroom that had previously belonged to Spectra Fashions and, later, Jackie M had been made ready for what promised to be a sensational press conference. The news that Eric Forrester was starting a new fashion house had caused a great deal of buzz throughout the industry, and even though the press conference wouldn't start in another twenty-five minutes, people were pouring in.

Watching the crowd from behind the curtain, Thorne couldn't believe how many from the national and international fashion press were present.

"Jarrett from Eye on Fashion is here", he reported to Eric and the others. "And surprisingly, so is Karen Spencer. I thought she wasn't that involved in Spencer Publications, but I guess she just couldn't contain her curiosity. After all, we are her daughter's competition now. Oh, and there are people from New York, too, as well as Paris and Milan. And Fashion TV is here to cover everything live. This is going to be big!"

"Dad, can I see?" Alexandria asked excitedly, moving forward to take a peek.

As she had spring break this week, she had pleaded with her father to let her come and watch all the action, and he had agreed, on the express condition that she had to stay backstage and not wander off on her own. Thorne remembered from the brief periods of time he had worked in this building how easy it was to get lost in the corridors. And at one point in time long ago, when Bridget had run away from home as a teenager, she had even been able to hide in a corner at Spectra for quite some time before she was discovered. It was like a maze down here.

Brooke was standing by herself in a corner, a bit away from the rest of the family. These past few weeks hadn't been easy for her - working so closely with Ridge to achieve a common goal could have been the perfect opportunity for them to overcome their differences and forget about that stupid argument over Deacon. But it hadn't happened that way. On the contrary, Ridge had avoided speaking directly with her whenever he could, and most of the time he had even tried not to be in the same room with her.

But now here they were, all of them together in the very small space backstage, and Ridge was standing by himself, going over his speech one final time. Brooke decided to seize the chance to talk to him, even though it would be only a very brief conversation.

"Ridge…" she began, walking up to him.

"Not now, Brooke", he answered. "I'm busy."

She was Brooke to him now. Not Logan.

"Ridge, we need to talk", Brooke persisted. "I want us to talk about this. We need to do something, anything to make it right again between us. I swear, I will do whatever it takes to fix this - we've worked too long and hard to be together to give up now."

"Maybe that's just it, Brooke", Ridge said. "Should we really have to work this hard for a relationship to work? When will it end? When can we just sit back and enjoy what we've accomplished?"

"Right now!" Brooke said. "We have all of that already. If we could just move past this one last hurdle…"

"Just one more obstacle", Ridge replied bitterly. "And then another one, but that will surely be the last one. And then…"

"It's not like that this time and you know it!"

"Do I?" Ridge said, looking thoughtfully at her. "How will I ever know? How will I ever trust you again?"

"So you're just giving up?" Brooke asked, with tears starting to well up in her eyes.

"No", Ridge said. "I'm letting go. What we had was wonderful, but I want to step off the roller coaster now. It's not that I don't love you…"

"Well, then", Brooke insisted, "love is all that really matters!"

"Maybe for you. But I want more. I want something real. Something that lasts. And we never managed to achieve that. I'm sorry, Brooke. I can't talk any more right now."

With those words, Ridge left Brooke and turned his attention towards the press conference which was about to start. Brooke remained standing in the corner, confused. What Ridge had said to her seemed so unreal, not at all like the man she used to know. Ever since he had come back to LA, he had almost been like a stranger to her, nothing like the Ridge she had spent her whole adult life loving. Could this really be the end of their relationship? She thought about how she had seen Ridge and Taylor talking a few months ago, and how connected they still seemed.

"Mom? Are you all right?"

Hope's voice cut through Brooke's thoughts and called her back to reality.

"We're starting in just a few minutes", she said.

Brooke wiped her eyes carefully and got ready to face the press.

Meanwhile, Thorne had moved to the entrance and was greeting the last-minute arrivals, marking them on the guest list and showing them to their seats. He was just about to return to his family when he felt a hand on his arm.

"Hi", Karen Spencer said, smiling at him.

"Karen!" Thorne said, surprised. He knew that she had been back in town for almost a year, but they hadn't really had a chance to talk.

"I just wanted to wish you good luck", she continued. "And it would be nice to have dinner with you sometime. I hear you live just a bit further down the beach from Dani and me, so we're practically neighbors."

"Sounds nice, I'll take you up on that one of these days!" Thorne said cheerfully. "Oh, I have to get back now, the press conference is about to begin!"

Pearl was standing in the nightclub's small kitchen. She had just begun preparing lunch, and was chopping onions while watching the small TV on the wall. It was still quite early, and the club was closed.

"Hey Bob", she called out to the bar, where the bartender was busy cleaning the counter, "how about some chili? Remember I told you I'd cook for you one of these days."

"Sounds great!" Bob called back. "I can't wait!"

"What sounds great?" Diana asked, coming down the stairs. "Oh, is someone cooking?"

"Don't worry, honey", Pearl shouted as she had heard the girl, "there's plenty for you, too! And Barbie, if she's up yet."

"I don't know", Diana said, "I haven't seen her or Luigi today."

That very moment, Barbara entered the room followed by Luigi, whose hand was resting possessively on Barbara's back. They didn't speak.

"I have some errands to run", Luigi declared. "Barbie, you stay here with Bob and the others until I return."

Barbara nodded silently. Luigi grabbed his coat and left.

"Is something wrong?" Diana whispered to Barbara, who just smiled and shook her head.

"Too much of a good thing last night?" Pearl asked, coming out of the kitchen.

"Don't be silly, Pearl", Bob replied. "You know as well as I do that Barbie could drink anyone under the table. No, this looks more like the lady has a lot on her mind. Am I right?"

Barbara looked at him absentmindedly, then made a gesture to indicate that he was right, but that she didn't really want to talk about it.

In fact, there was not much to talk about - she wouldn't know what to say. It was just a vague feeling of unease she had had lately whenever she was alone with Luigi. She had a feeling that he was observing her more closely than usual, and with a look in his eyes she didn't quite understand. Or maybe she was just extra vigilant because she knew she was planning to leave, the moment she had saved enough money.

"Why don't you ladies help me out in here?" Pearl suggested hurriedly, looking at Barbara and Diana.

Both of them were eager to join Pearl and within a few minutes, they found themselves in the small kitchen, all three of them bending over what would become their lunch chili. Diana threw a glance at the TV screen.

"What's that?" she asked.

"Oh", Pearl replied, "I was just flipping through the channels, and I ended up watching Fashion TV for a while. Apparently there's this huge live press conference because Eric Forrester is starting a new fashion house."

"Who?" Barbara asked.

"Eric Forrester", Pearl explained with authority. "He's only, like, the guru of fashion in LA. Everybody knows about Forrester Creations, they make clothes for all these celebrities and royalties around the world, you know, the kind of clothes people like us can only dream of wearing. Seriously, Barbie, you didn't know? Sometimes I swear you must have been living under a rock in the desert for the past few decades or so."

"Pearl!" Diana objected, stepping in to defend her friend. "I didn't know that either."

"I mean no harm, but it's true, honey", Pearl continued, turning to Diana. "You know, when I first met her, she didn't even know the name of the President."

Barbara didn't answer. Instead, she turned her attention to the TV. The Forresters' press conference had started. Eric, Ridge, Thorne and Rick Forrester declared the opening of a new fashion house, E F Couture. There were a lot of flashing cameras and reporters eagerly asking questions. She had to admit it was more interesting than she had expected.

"They're quite a handsome family, aren't they?" Pearl said. "Rich, too. I wouldn't mind it one bit if one of them came in here and just swept me off my feet. Rumor has it they are all unmarried at the moment, imagine that!"

Pearl laughed, and Diana couldn't help laughing with her.

"So, which one of them would you pick as your knight in shining armor if you could choose?" Diana inquired.

"Tough choice", Pearl said thoughtfully. "I'd have to say Thorne, though. I always go for the tall blonde guys. What about you, Barbie?"

"I don't know", Barbara said, with a hint of annoyance in her voice. "I don't really see the point in daydreaming about something that is never going to happen."

"Oh, don't be such a kill-joy!" Pearl objected. "A girl can dream, right! Speaking of which, how are your Hollywood plans going, Laura?"

Diana froze and threw an anxious glance at Barbara. The latter shook her head almost imperceptibly.

"Very well", Diana said, trying to sound like she was joking, "I am going to model in these guys' very first fashion show!"

She pointed at the TV. Now, they were showing a single gown, a preview of a future collection by Eric Forrester. It was a beautiful yellow dress, simple but sophisticated.

"Wow, I can see myself wearing that one!" Pearl said, her eyes glowing.

"The fabric must have cost a fortune!" Barbara exclaimed. "And look at that lace…"

"I think the chili is almost done!" Diana interrupted.

Pearl tasted it gingerly, then agreed that it was indeed finished. Barbara and Diana grabbed spoons as well and tasted a little.

"That's really good!" Diana said approvingly.

"Yeah, maybe we could try adding some cinnamon?" Barbara asked. "I think that would make it even better."

Pearl looked at her suspiciously. She didn't like it when her authority as a cook was questioned. But just as she was about to challenge Barbara's suggestion, a sudden cry of surprise from Diana stopped her.

"Oh! What was that?" the girl gasped, feeling her stomach.

"What?" Pearl asked, surprised.

"I don't know", Diana said, "I feel like I have a goldfish inside me. There it is again!"

Pearl and Barbara looked at each other, then they started smiling as the truth dawned on them.

"Honey", Barbara began, "you don't think it could be the baby moving?"

Diana's eyes widened.

"Do you really think so?" she said, incredulously, looking at the women.

"He obviously likes my chili", Pearl joked.

Diana grinned. How little it takes to be happy, she thought. Here she was, in a place most would consider hell on earth, constantly worrying about her future, and yet now she was smiling and feeling warm inside, all because of chili, Fashion TV and a small, almost imperceptible flutter inside her.

"Let's eat!" she said.