"MATTIE, COME LOOK AT this," Bodine called from the living room where he was watching television.
He was taking a break from touring to promote his new album, the first one he'd produced on his own label in the new studio next to the bird sanctuary. He'd been home two days, most of which they'd spent in bed, and Mattie had done zero studying. Tomorrow was her mid-term in mathematics. Why someone who wanted to be an ornithologist and do fieldwork in land management and wild bird conservation had to take math was beyond her, and so was most of the mathematical theory.
"I'm trying to study, if you don't mind."
"No, really. You've got to see this."
He was really starting to piss her off. She had a career too, or at least was trying to have one.
"Hurry, it's coming up right after the commercial break."
Mattie slammed the textbook shut, pushed back the chair and stormed out of the kitchen.
"Look, Bo, just because you've come home after three weeks on the road promoting your career doesn't mean I can drop everything–"
The fifty-two inch screen showed a reporter standing in front of The Reptile Refuge in Surrey. The parking lot, filled with police vehicles, was cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape.
"Information is coming out about a suspicious death here at The Reptile Refuge on 184th Street in Surrey." The reporter turned and pointed to the sign. "RCMP arrived on the scene about noon today and shortly after confirmed they found one body and the death was being considered as suspicious."
The screen showed members of the coroner's office wheeling a gurney out of the front entrance and loading a bagged body into a van.
"For the past four years The Reptile Refuge has been owned and operated by Leborg Kovacevic, who rescues and rehabilitates exotic reptiles like snakes and lizards. According to the refuge's website they also provide hands-on educational experience for schools, expos, birthday parties and corporate events."
A film clip showed a young woman with a four-foot long, yellow and black python draped over her shoulder. She cradled the snake's neck in her hand, its black, forked tongue flicking in the air while nervous grade-schoolers stroked its head.
"That's Liz," Mattie said. "I know that girl, we went to high school together, at least for a while."
"Really? She doesn't look like your type."
"She was really nice, kind of weird, but always friendly." Mattie studied the larger than life face on the high definition set. "She hung out with this group who dressed totally in black, had unhealthy complexions and unnaturally vibrant colored hair." Liz had been weird for sure, but at least she had friends at high school and wasn't a complete loner like Mattie.
"She looks like a Seditious fan," Bo said, referring to the bad-boy rock band he'd been lead guitarist in. "She's more exotic than the snake."
Evidently the cameraman had thought so as well, the footage being more of the snake handler than the snake or the school kids.
"The purple hair is different and the ring through her lip is new."
On the screen the kids jumped back as the snake made a sudden move. Liz smiled, bent down, whispered something to the reptile and kissed the top of its triangular head.
"Slash had a pet python," Bodine said. "It was huge. I saw it once when we were jamming at his place."
The talking head was back on. "The refuge is closed on Mondays and police are not saying what alerted them. It will remain closed until further notice as the investigation is ongoing."
"What's going to happen to the animals, Gavin?" asked the television news anchor.
"The SPCA is taking charge of them, but as you know these animals need special care and the Society is anxious to find good homes for them or at least appropriate foster care until they can be permanently placed."
"That's Gavin Perry reporting from The Reptile Refuge in south Surrey." The anchor looked to her co-host. "Want a pet python?"
Bodine turned off the television. "Speaking of pythons, I could use a squeeze." He reached for her.
Mattie stepped away. "Those poor animals."
"Don't worry, Mattie, they'll get good homes."
"Are you joking? The SPCA can't can't even find homes for all the cute and cuddly cats and dogs they take in." The desperation Mattie felt for her birds when they were at risk she now felt for the reptiles. "What kind of people buy animals without any consideration for how they'll care for them when they double or treble in size?"
"How about going out for dinner?" Bo said.
"Didn't you hear me say I needed to study?"
"We'll go for sushi. We'll be back in two hours."
"If I study all night I'll be lucky to get a passing grade. Besides, it's too much hassle."
The only people who acted normal around Bodine were those who were just as famous and in Delta, British Columbia that was nobody. When he was away Mattie counted the seconds until he returned. When he was home it was only a few days until she couldn't wait for him to leave so life could return to normal.
From the time they'd got together Mattie had never been comfortable in the spotlight and went to considerable inconvenience to avoid it. But it was impossible to go out with Bodine and not end up with your picture on E-Talk, on the front page of a tabloid or part of viral social media frenzy. She hated it.
Even when they stayed in the paparazzi, camped outside the compound, could capture almost everything with their powerful telephoto lenses. Like the time she went to the bird sanctuary building very early in the morning to see how some new arrivals had settled in.
A week later, while waiting to check out some groceries at Super Store there she was on the front page of a tabloid in her ragged flannel nightie. The headline read, "Bird Girl flees Bodine's love nest". The story quoted unnamed sources "close to the couple" who said they often had violent differences of opinion.
The violence was a lie, the difference of opinions wasn't.
The fans, the paparazzi, most of his friends, the overall frenetic-ness of his life, it all was driving her crazy. Mattie knew she needed to do something, she just didn't know what.
"I'll order in then," Bodine said.
"No, you go. Your prowling around makes it impossible to study."
Shit, now his feelings were hurt. "Look, just go. I promise I'll be in a better mood when you get back."
"I hope so."
Mattie watched Bodine drive away in the Land Rover with Bobby and Franco, two of the Big Four, as they called his four-man personal security contingent, then returned to the kitchen table and her textbooks.
"Nasty." Pickles was on her perch in her cage by the window.
"Do you want to spend the night in the sanctuary?"
Pickles shrieked and flapped her wings. That woke up Manny and the two Macaws had a noisy conversation, likely about what a bitch Mattie was. Finally she had to cut up an apple and feed it to them before they settled down.
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