The Biscuit | Jette Harris

Josh Percival, Mr. Fahrenheit himself, stared at the photo in his live feed. The moment sprang clearly into his mind. He felt no shame or guilt, but the journalist’s words appeared to presume that he should.

This is going to be published in tomorrow’s edition of The Biscuit, the journalist warned. Feigning objectivity, he tagged his victim: Josh Percival, care to give us your side of the story before we go to press?

The journalist hadn’t even had the decency to send it via PM. The photo was posted on his wall for all to see: Percival in a record store with his arms around a young woman, not his wife, whispering into her ear. To say that she looked uncomfortable would have been an epic understatement (Her heart had been pounding, her hands shaking). Jeff Callahan, a colleague and friend, was walking in the door, looking fretful (In Callahan’s defense, he often looks fretful).

The journalist, so caught up in his big fish, probably did not know the girl from Adam, but her name was Kelli Lavender. She was one of the screenwriters for the show Percival and Callahan headlined. They were both extremely fond of her. She knew that they were attached to their characters, and enjoyed including personal shots and jokes in the dialogue.

It took Percival all of two seconds to decide not to delete the photo from his live feed. If he didn’t respond, it could potentially cause a small scandal (or a big one, depending on what mood his wife is in when she sees it). He decided to tag Callahan and Lavender in his reply:

You mean to tell me what happens in DC doesn’t stay in DC? Jeffrey Callahan, Kelli Lavender, I really think it captures us in our natural states. What do you think?

Percival expected one of Callahan’s “What the fuck are you doing?” calls in a few hours, but received a reply on the post instead.

I think, Callahan replied, that the most important detail of this event does not appear in this photo.

That was true. The photo was taken at such an angle that no one could see behind Percival, outside the front window. Callahan had chosen his words very carefully, as he always did when addressing the public.

Much later, Lavender replied. Percival had been eager to see how she would respond. Her reply made him snort in amusement.

Three things: 1) JP smelled like cigarettes. 2) What JC said. 3) Domestic violence is bad.

And that was all she had to say to The Biscuit on the matter. The journalist made repeated attempts to re-engage them, with no success.

The photo was published in the next day’s issue of The Biscuit. Only the most popular and attractive male celebrities graced the pages of the scandalous tabloid. Percival bought a copy of it for his wife, who was in a fantastic mood when he presented it to her.

The photo came up often in interviews. Upon Callahan’s advice, Percival repeated what Lavender herself had said: Domestic violence is bad, followed by a pitch for a variety of domestic violence charities.

End of discussion.

*

The day had been cold. It was rare for them to get a chance to venture out in the daylight, but they had an early afternoon reading, followed by an evening shoot, with time to kill in-between. Percival and Callahan walked on either side of Lavender as they trekked the uneven DC sidewalks in search of food. They must have been an amusing sight: both men were around six feet, while Lavender was a fun-sized 5’2. Percival and Callahan were exchanging their favorite memories of Rome. Having never been, Lavender listened, star-struck and envious. 

One moment she was there, the next, she was not. She stopped short. Callahan turned, concerned she had stumbled. Percival followed his gaze. Lavender was planted to the sidewalk a few paces behind. Then she bolted into the closest shop, a record store.

The men exchanged a look. Percival shrugged and took the opportunity to light a cigarette. He offered Callahan one, which was refused. Percival knew his friend was trying to quit, and never passed up a chance to tease him mercilessly for it.

“What do you think that was about?” Callahan asked.

They peered through the window. Lavender had her back to the door, head bowed over the bargain CD bin. She was staring into it. She didn’t seem to be looking at anything specific. In fact, she didn’t appear to be looking at anything at all.

“Maybe she’s feeling ill?” Percival suggested.

Surrendering, Callahan beckoned for Percival’s cigarette and took a drag. He noticed another smoking man passing by, heading in the direction they had come from. At first he thought the man was smoking a joint, but the smell told him it was a hand-rolled cigarette. The man glanced through the record-store window and froze mid-step. He stared at Lavender’s back. Her hair was long and thick, so black it looked almost blue. Recognition etched his face.

Percival sensed trouble. As the man began to brush the cherry from his cigarette, Percival flicked his own to the sidewalk and pushed inside. Lavender flinched visibly at the sound of the door, but she didn’t move otherwise.

“Don’t turn around,” he said, wrapping his arms around her waist, as if surprising her with an affectionate embrace.

Callahan followed him inside. Percival’s body obstructed Lavender from view, practically enveloping her. The man looked confused by the sudden invasion. He stood there for a full minute, hesitating.

Shouldering around Percival, Callahan feigned interest in the bargain CD bin. He could hear Percival murmuring words of comfort into Lavender’s ear. Her hands were clutching the bin so tightly, her knuckles were white. Her face was pale, her eyes closed, and her breathing uneven, as if she had to force herself to inhale.

Beyond the window, the man re-lit his cigarette and continued down the sidewalk.

“He’s gone,” Callahan said.

Percival gently loosened Lavender’s hands from the edges of the bin. They were shaking. He steered her toward Callahan, then went to the window and looked out.

“Let’s go back,” Callahan suggested, taking one of her hands and wrapping it around his arm. “We’ll order in or something.” He smoothed her hair down where it had been pulled out of place by the buttons on Percival’s coat.

Stepping out the door, Percival looked up and down the sidewalk. The smoking man was nowhere in sight.

Now the three friends crowded closer to each other, Lavender again flanked by Percival and Callahan like a treasure they were guarding, as they walked back the way they had come.

“Sorry,” Lavender apologized weakly.

“No, no,” Percival told her. “Don’t be sorry.”

*

Lavender did not hide her past from those around her; she simply did not share it unless it was relevant. When they returned to the studio, she gave Callahan and Percival a brief explanation, in a small, shaking voice. They did not learn the details, however, until they witnessed Lavender attempting to illustrate the realism of such a scene to a skeptical producer. She was incredibly convincing. Her audience was unfazed, thinking she was fabricating the details.

No one noticed the rapt and mortified expressions Percival and Callahan wore.

————
Jette Harris is a metro-Atlanta native who graduated from Mercer University with degrees in English and German. After three years of teaching, she now considers herself a “recovering teacher.” Her dream is to focus on writing, but her reality is far less focused. She is a survivor of domestic violence.

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