Sweeney Pale, Luther’s celebrity girlfriend, still lived at home with her parents in Jersey, but frequently came to Luther’s compound to swim and hang out when she was in town. Darwin had met her three times but only to say hello.
Granny knew all the details about Sweeney. Sweeney loved Luther beyond reason. Almost two years ago, her manager had arranged with Luther’s manager to have Luther escort her to the Country Music Awards because it was beneficial to both their careers. They were an instant celebrity couple. After many months and repeated public appearances together, although no ring had ever been detected, it was roundly believed by the press that they were engaged. Neither of their managers advised confirming or denying, which seemed to hold them on the gossip page indefinitely and fueled thousands of pictures by paparazzi. Darwin was surprised when Sweeney sought him out for a favor. He was working out in the basement gym next to the rec rooms when Sweeney opened the door at the top of the stairs and descended to walk straight toward him.
“Luther’s not here,” she said as she approached the elliptical, “and I’ve got something to give him.” He dismounted. She was much shorter and he smiled down on her.
“I’ll give it to Mrs. Thomas,” he said.
She couldn’t hide her annoyance. “Could you give it to him? It’s personal.”
“I never know when I’ll see him. You can put it in a plastic bag and leave it at the front gate. The guard handles personal stuff. And it’s his job to get things to Luther.”
“I’m not just a fan,” she said. Maybe she didn’t think so, but that was how Luther seemed to treat her. “Please. Do it for me,” she said.
The next day Darwin had to wake Luther just before Luther had to leave. Eugene, the bodyguard, would have the limo waiting. It was another one of Luther’s random, spontaneous, unnecessary demands to justify Darwin’s allowance, which was still not being paid. Luther told him he would learn him good about how to make money, and Luther began to tip Darwin each time for valet services. Tomorrow Darwin had special instructions to be sure Luther’s stuff was in the limo and a cup of coffee placed in his hand. Darwin would shake Luther’s shoulder to wake him, Luther would put on yesterday’s jeans, probably keep wearing the tee shirt he slept in, grab the cup of coffee and be in the limo in two and a half minutes.
“Sure,” he said to Sweeney.
Sweeney reached into her shoulder bag.
“Look,” she said, holding out and opening a folder with a photo of her and Luther holding hands and posing on the red carpet. She turned over the photo and there were handwritten verses on the back.
“It’s a good picture,” Darwin said.
“Not the picture. On the back. The words to my new release. It’s coming out Friday.”
“That’s great, Sweeney.”
She leaned forward a little to be confidential. “He inspired them.”
“I want him to know.”
She was anxious with hope.
“Okay. It’s really a nice gift,” he said. “You’ll do it? Tomorrow?”
He smiled. “Sure . . .”
“Do you think he’ll really like it?” she asked. “I mean, you don’t think it’s silly, do you?”
“It’s a very nice present, Sweeney.”
She lowered her eyes, embarrassed by his words. “And tell me what he thinks.”
“It will be all right. He’ll love it.”
She stepped up on a treadmill with one foot and kissed him on the cheek. He backed away, surprised. She left quickly.
She was a strange girl, loyal to Luther in the extreme. Her fans treated her like an accomplished celeb they loved and thought her ready for a family, incessantly looking in the tabloids for a hint of a telltale bump distorting her costumes. Luther never seemed to appreciate that Sweeney had any value. It was probably ignoring her that made her so insecure, and she twitted around Luther like a prepubescent girl sometimes. She was almost always alone at the house and alone almost anywhere except in public. Her fame seemed to isolate her like a butterfly larva in a cocoon. Oddly, Luther failed to be her guide out of the wilderness celebrity status created, and Darwin, as he got to know about Sweeney, began to feel sorry for her. She was perpetually lonely and seemed doomed for inevitable hurt.
The next morning, Darwin entered Luther’s suite of rooms without knocking and went to the bedroom. Luther was in his jockey shorts in a fetal position. The covers were wadded on the floor. Darwin shook Luther’s shoulder. Luther jerked awake, opening his eyes then squeezing them shut. Darwin waited until he sat up and handed him a cup of coffee.
“Eugene’s ready,” Darwin said. “I put your bag in the limo.” Darwin stood back and waited as Luther slowly got out of bed and groped for his jeans, which he slipped on. He got a clean tee shirt from a dresser drawer and stumbled to the bathroom as he slipped it over his head. He brushed his teeth. He walked back into the room and slipped his feet without socks into a pair of laceless sneakers. “Let’s go,” he said.
“Here’s a gift from Sweeney. She brought it by yesterday.” He handed it to Luther who threw it on the bed. The photo slipped out half exposed.
“It’s a photo of you.”
Luther slapped him lightly on the arm with the back of his hand. “Leave it.”
“It’s got the words to her new song on the back.”
Luther was out the bedroom door into the living area. Darwin took the folder with the photo with him and followed.
“I’m not going to look at it now,” Luther said. “So leave it here.”
“It meant a lot to her . . . for you to see it,” Darwin said, holding the folder up.
They were close to the elevator that went to the garage. “Okay,” Luther said, and he took the folder on the way down but
didn’t open it. The doors opened. Eugene was in uniform. Luther handed him the photo folder without a look. “Give this to Mrs. Thomas to hold for me when you get back.”
“Yes, sir,” Eugene said.
The folder would go into fan mail; the chances of Luther ever reading Sweeney’s lyrics were zero.
“And tip the kid,” Luther said to Eugene.
“Tell her you liked her song,” Darwin said.
“Stop giving me advice,” Luther said. Eugene opened the rear door of the limo for Luther and then handed Darwin ten dollars.
Two days later early in the morning Sweeney arrived for her morning at the mansion before she went to rehearsal; Darwin worked with Eugene, the bodyguard and chauffeur, cleaning the Mercedes when Sweeney waved to him from the drive.
“Did you give it to him?” she called. Darwin gave her a thumbs up.
“Did he read them?”
Darwin said nothing and was careful not to project a yes or no, or even an I-don’t-know.
Sweeney was closer to him now. “Did he say anything?” she asked.
“There was a smile all over his face,” he said. “Thanks, Darwin. I owe you.”