The frosty air leaves my lungs aching as I round another corner. Pounding the pavement has become one of my favourite things since I came to New Zealand to film this movie. The chilly morning will soon give way to a glorious day full of sunshine, and that’s the payoff to my early start.
We’re about to start filming after several weeks of rehearsal, and my routine will change again as I’ll be on set by this hour most mornings.
Every day I’ve taken a different route around the neighbourhood. I’m enjoying the variety as I pass different houses, and today’s route ends in a park I discovered on the map last night.
At one end of the park is a children’s playground, but more importantly, benches to stop and stretch before I turn back to my rental home.
Brightly coloured playground equipment glistens with dew, but I’m so heated from my run, I barely care as I sit on a wooden bench nearby.
Leaning forward, I stretch out my calf muscles and roll my shoulders. I’m no fan of running, but it helps clear my head for the day. And I need to be clear on what I’m doing. I’ve been building up to this movie, and even though it’s a smaller role, it’s the first one I’ve had big press for.
Name recognition is hard in this game, but I’m so close to something big, I can smell it.
I stretch my legs out and close my eyes as I raise my face to the sun. It’s around seven in the morning, and that sun’s already warming everything up.
I’m sure winter gets colder here, but right now I’m enjoying this.
My eyes fly open as someone grips my arm.
Turning my head, I see an angel. The sunlight gives her blonde head a halo of light, and her big blue eyes drink me in. Her lips purse, and her light coloured eyebrows knit as she stares at me.
“Hi.” I smile.
Her mouth forms a big o. “Daddy?”
I shake my head. “No, honey. Where did you come from?”
“Casey Maitland. What have I told you …”
Before I know it, my little angel has crawled around me, and slipped onto my lap, her arms around my neck. I’m not sure how old she is—maybe three? But as I turn to look behind me where the voice came from, I catch my breath.
This has to be Casey’s mother.
With the same big blue eyes and blonde hair, it’s her turn to be haloed in the morning light. She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
“Mummy. It’s Daddy,” Casey says.
The woman’s cheeks flush bright red, and she shakes her head. Reaching us, she holds out her arms for Casey. “I am so sorry. I’ve told her a million times not to be so friendly with strangers.” Her eyes widen. “Not that I’m saying you’re dodgy or anything, it’s just …”
I chuckle and loosen the tight grip around my neck, taking the girl’s hands in mine. “I get it.” I cock my head. “I’m Alex Stone.”
“Yes.” The woman presses her lips together in amusement. “I mean. I know who you are. Lana Maitland. And this is Casey.”
“Hello, Casey. I’m going to give you back to your mother now.”
“Daddy.” She wails.
Lana face palms, running her hand down her face. “No, Casey. We have to get going now. It’s time to see Maria at daycare.”
Tears—really big drops of tears stream from this kid’s eyes. It’s bewildering, but also a little amusing.
“Casey. We need to go.”
She’s not out and out telling the kid I’m not her father. What on earth is this all about?
“Here you go.”
I stand, swinging Casey onto my hip and then handing her off to her mother. All she does is let out a louder cry and kick her legs.
“I’m so sorry. She’s just a little confused. Thank you for not getting too upset.”
I shrug. “She’s only young. I’d love to know why she’s calling me Daddy, though. There’s a story, I’m sure.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone so mortified. Her mouth drops, and her eyes dart from me to Casey and back again. While her cheeks aren’t quite as red as they were, they’re still a shade of crimson.
“She’s just got it really wrong. Sorry to have bothered you.”
She turns and walks away, heading toward a large building in the corner of the park. I guess that’s where the daycare is.
I’m glued to the spot, unable to take my eyes off the two blonde angels walking away. Why does that little girl seem to think I’m her father?
She’s almost a park length away from me before her cries become inaudible. She’s inconsolable, thrashing in her mother’s arms all the way.
What the hell is going on?