Out of Character
By Molly Zenk
Copyright 2015 Molly Zenk
Published by Anaiah Romance
An imprint of Anaiah Press, LLC.
7780 49th ST N. #129
Pinellas Park, FL 33781
This book is a work of fiction. All characters, places, names, events are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any likeness to any events, locations, or persons, alive or otherwise, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form. For inquiries and information, address Anaiah Press, LLC., 7780 49th ST N. #129 Pinellas Park, Florida, 33781
First Anaiah Romance ebook edition August 2015
Edited by Kara Leigh Miller
Book Design by Laura Heritage
Cover Design by Laura Heritage
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Two Years Ago
“So which did you like best?” I ask Patrick as we drive home from college tours. “We probably saw the music and drama departments of every state school this side of the Pacific Ocean. Did any stand out or are you going to let them fight over you some more before officially deciding?”
“Which did you like best?” Patrick asks. His text message alert goes off, but he ignores it. He is always such a careful driver. Mom never worries about us when Patrick is driving. “The most entertaining thing about today was their spiels. I mean, come on, do people actually fall for those sales pitches? ‘You’ve seen the rest, now see the best.’ Who writes this stuff?”
“Really desperate recruiting guys?” I take off my wedge sandals and prop my feet on top of the glove box. That’s the last time I wear new shoes when we’re walking about a million miles. “It’s your fault for being such a catch. Everyone wants the teen violin virtuoso. I’m just window dressing. These places will take me if it means getting to you.”
“You are not riding on my coattails. You’re a fab actress.”
“If I’m so fab, how come I never get any of the parts I audition for?” I rub at an angry red blister on the back of my heel. “I can’t even get a commercial. Remember that Bright Smile toothpaste audition?”
Patrick shrugs. “So you threw up in the trash can after you brushed with it. Big deal. It’s their fault for making such a nasty tasting product. I say you’re doing the toothpaste buying public a favor by exposing the sordid underbelly of Bright Smile.”
“Sordid underbelly?” I laugh. “I’m cutting you off the next time there’s a Mobster Confessions marathon.”
“I could say the same with you and 1700s Life.” Patrick swats at my feet when we stop at a light to get me to move them. I do so… grudgingly. “Between you and Mom that show is on a 24/7 loop. Why don’t you send in an audition tape already? Mom would pee her pants with glee if you land a role on her favorite TV show.”
I shake my head. “They wouldn’t want me. I’m not good enough.”
“What are you talking about?” Patrick scrunches up his face. “They’d be crazy not to want you. You’re going to be famous someday. You’re going to be famous, and I can say I knew you when.”
“Yeah, you knew me when I was headlining at the local dinner theater. Coming to a stage and table near you — Harmony Jones!”
“You’ll make it. You’re too good not to.”
“In LA, it doesn’t matter if you’re good or not. Talent doesn’t matter. Not really. It’s all about who you know and what you’re willing to do to get ahead of every other good, talented actress out there.”
“So jaded for someone so young. What about those open casting call deals?”
I roll my eyes at the thought. “Cattle calls? Please. I’d rather not hang around in some hotel conference room all day just to be told no.”
“It only takes one yes,” Patrick reminds me. “I’m telling you, send in a tape to 1700s Life.”
I shake my head again. “I told you, they wouldn’t want me. I’m a nobody.”
“Every somebody starts out as a nobody, Harmony.”
“Yeah, I know.” I lean forward and fiddle around with the radio dial to try to hide the fact I really, really want to be on 1700s Life but, at the same time, I really, really don’t think I have a shot. The producers always make a big show over asking for auditions tapes from all over, but when it comes down to it, the casting director goes for experience over raw talent. It happens every time. They ask for tapes, I think about sending one in, I don’t want to be rejected, so I watch other people season after season on 1700s Life instead of being on it myself. I even went so far as to make an audition tape after my crazy popular run as Abigal Williams in our high school production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible but chickened out and never sent it in. In drama club, I’m a big fish in a small pond. No matter how much I want to be a real actress on a real show, I don’t know if I’m ready to be a small fish in a big pond. My head shot may be impressive but my resume is not. I have the kind of blonde, blue eyed beauty that is common enough in California. Nothing special there. My supposed beauty landed me some child modeling gigs and beauty pageant crowns, but being the face of Lil’ Junior Miss when I was ten isn’t going to open any doors now.
“What are you thinking about?” Patrick asks.
“That this whole actress thing is just a pipe dream.” I prop my feet up on the dashboard again, but Patrick smacks them down just as quickly. “Maybe I should just accept that I’m never going to be anything more than a high school drama club darling and settle on a major with more market value, like education. Maybe I could teach acting. That sounds like a good plan, right? Or a smart one, at least.”
“And always wonder what could have been? Please. You’re too good to be one of the ‘what could have beens’, Harmony. If you have a dream, chase it. Don’t settle for what could have been.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re, like, guaranteed success. The more you play your violin, the more people love you. Acting doesn’t work like that.”
“Acting works however you want it to,” Patrick says. “If you need to be confident, act confident. If you need to act brave, act brave. Seriously, Harm, you can do anything you set your mind to. Just believe in yourself a little bit more, will ya?”
I kiss my index and middle finger and hold them up to the roof. “From your lips to God’s ears. I think I can do anything as long as you’re with me, Patrick.”
He playfully bumps my shoulder with his. “Good, cause you’re stuck with me.” Patrick motions at the radio. “Hey, turn it up! Nothing says ‘I’m fabulous and I don’t care who knows it’ like a little Kelly Clarkson.”
I crank up the radio. We sing Stronger at the top of our lungs, grooving along to the music, and laughing till there are tears streaming down my cheeks. This is the first day of the rest of our lives. We’re young, we’re free, we’re talented, and we’re invincible. Nothing can stand in our way or tear us apart.
Until it does.
The black pick-up truck slams into the driver’s side door like some linebacker looking to make a tackle, only we aren’t ready for it. How can you be ready for something like that?
I scream. It’s the only thing I seem able to do. I scream over and over and over again.
“Stay calm, Harmony.” Patrick grips the wheel hard and grits his teeth as he tries to take control of the out-of-control car. We pin wheel into the guard rail on the side of the highway. The metal rail twists and bends as if a giant crumbles it in one angry hand and throws our car into the mix.
I brace myself against the passenger side door with my right arm and foot. My stomach feels like it’s in my throat. Throwing up would actually be welcome right now. It would give me something to focus on other than this sickening fear that has my heart in a squeezing death grip and my whole body shaking. I try to calm myself by saying a prayer but all that comes out is “we’re going to die, we’re going to die.” Everything I ever wanted to do but never got to flashes before my eyes. Landing my first big role. Cheering for Patrick when he plays his first concert at Carnegie Hall. Getting married. Having kids. I want to be a good person. I hope I already am a good person, but what will people say about me if I die now? What have I really done with my life?
I clutch at the gold cross necklace around my neck — a present from mom for mine and Patrick’s eighteenth birthday. He has one, too, but he can’t reach for it now. He’s too busy trying to keep us alive. Patrick bites down hard on his lower lip and stares straight ahead through the broken windshield. Blood and glass from the driver’s side window sprinkle his strawberry blond hair but he doesn’t lose focus. Not once. I can count on Patrick to get us through this. He’s never let me down before.
The four points of the cross pendant dig into my palm. I focus on that, and suddenly my mind is clear enough to pray. Dear God, please help us. We need you now more than ever. Get us through this, and I promise to—
I never get to finish my thought. Instead, we slam into a concrete support column and everything goes black.
I wake up in the hospital. Everything is so white and quiet. Is this what Heaven is like? I close my eyes. No fear. No worry. Just quiet. I can get used to this. I let the quiet wash over me until the noises start to take over. I hear the beep beep of the machines monitoring everything that can be monitored. The TV volume is turned down low. Some cooking show is on. A lady is running around a kitchen acting like she forgot half her ingredients when really I know the food is always pre-made. I hear the sound of gentle snoring and turn to see Mom asleep in a chair beside my bed, her chin resting against her chest. How long has she been there? How long have I been here?
“Mom?” My voice is raspy from lack of use. I clear my throat, lick my lips, and try again. “Mom?”
She starts awake. “Harmony?”
“How long have I been here?”
She counters with, “What do you remember?”
“There was an accident. A truck hit the car, and then… Where’s Patrick?”
“I don’t think you should focus on that right now, sweetie,” Mom says. “Just worry about getting better.”
I struggle to sit up more fully in bed. “Mom, where’s Patrick!”
“Now, sweetie, don’t get upset, but—”
“Mom, stop stalling and tell me where Patrick is!” My heart rate monitor starts beeping like crazy as the number jack knifes. I put my hand on my chest and try to calm the oncoming panic attack. “Mom, please. Please, where’s Patrick? I want to see Patrick!”
“Just rest for now, Harmony.”
A nurse comes in and puts something in my IV. I think it must be some sort of sedative because it doesn’t take long for my eyelids to droop. “Mom?” I try one last time as sleep comes to claim me. “Mom, please.”
“Just rest now,” Mom repeats. Her lips tremble, and she won’t look me in the eye. She turns her head so I can’t see her wiping away tears.
“Mom?” I can barely keep my eyes open but still fight sleep. I need to know where Patrick is, and I need to know now.
“You’re going to need all your strength to get through this, Harmony.”
Mom smooths my hair away from my forehead like she used to do when we were sick, but this is more than just a cold or stomach ache. This is serious. Even if she won’t tell me the truth, Mom never cries or avoids a question. As my eyes close, I see a flash of gold in Mom’s hand. Patrick’s cross necklace. Why does she have that? Patrick and I promised to never take them off. He wouldn’t take it off unless he was dead.
The next morning, Mom pushes a wheelchair into my hospital room. She smiles a bit too Suzy Sunshine for my liking.
I sit up in bed and scowl at her. “What gives? Why won’t you answer my questions?”
She pats the seat of the wheelchair and keeps right on ignoring my questions. “How about taking this thing for a spin? Do you feel up to it? There’s something I want to show you. No, no it’s more than that. There’s something I need to show you.”
“Not unless you give me some answers,” I say. “Why do you have Patrick’s cross necklace?”
“For safe keeping.”
“Safe keeping from what?”
A nurse comes into my room. “Good news, Mrs. Jones. I checked with the doctor on call and he said it was all right to take Harmony for a little change of scenery. I need to be with you, though, just in case.”
“Wonderful,” Mom says. “You heard her, Harmony. Time for a change of scenery.”
The nurse starts flipping off switches and unplugging cords. She hands me the wires that are physically attached to me, like my IV, before helping me sit up, and swing my feet over the side of the bed. I’m hit with a bout of dizziness from the sudden movement and close my eyes to wait for the room to stop spinning. When it does, I open my eyes. I look down at my body in its thin, blue hospital gown for the first time since I was brought here. Ugly, multi-colored bruises decorate my legs and arms.
Mom catches me looking. “It’s really not as bad as it looks. Patrick did a good job of making sure the brunt of any impact was taken on the driver’s side.”
“Are you going to take me to him? I want to see Patrick.” The nurse helps me into the wheelchair as if I am a doll they can just pick up and move around as they like. She puts a blanket over my legs, probably to keep me warm, but I think it’s really so I don’t have to see the bruises on my legs. Every time I look at them, I’ll be reminded of the car accident and Patrick… wherever he is.
“It’s not as simple as all that, sweetie, but I’ll take you to him.”
Mom wheels me to the elevator. The nurse trails silently behind us. Once we’re inside the elevator, Mom punches the number three. The elevator lurches to life, and I try really, really hard not to lose what little food I have all over the elevator floor.
Mom is all instant concern when she sees me grimace. “Do you want to go back? Did I make you do too much, too soon? I know sitting up after lying in bed can be tough. We can try again another time if you wa—”
“Mom! Just take me to Patrick!”
“Sweetie, before I do, we need to talk about a few things.” The elevator dings. Mom pushes me into the hall before putting the breaks up on the wheelchair and coming around to the front. She kneels in front of me and places both of her hands on my lap. She won’t look at me, and I swear I see tears glimmering in her eyes again. What gives? Mom never keeps secrets from me. She always says honesty is the best policy.
“Just say it, Mom.” I brush her hand lightly with the tips of my fingers. I turn the white hospital bracelet over on her wrist — the kind they give visitors to show which patient you belong to — when I notice she’s only got one bracelet instead of two. “Patrick’s not at the hospital, is he?”
Mom bites her bottom lip again and shakes her head. “No, sweetie, he’s not. Now, I know this is new for you, but I’ve had a week to grieve. I’m all cried out. I’ve made arrangements and talked it all out with God. I don’t know why, and I don’t know how just yet, but Patrick’s death is all part of God’s plan. I’ve accepted it, and the sooner you do, the better you will feel.”
All I feel is numb.
Mom stands and heads into the hospital chapel. If I had the strength in my legs to get out of this wheelchair, back on that elevator, and away from this nightmare twist my life has taken, I would. Instead, I’m left to just sit mutely in the chair while the nurse wheels me into the chapel after Mom. There’s some sort of makeshift shrine set up near the altar with flowers, pictures, and candles. As we get closer, I see it’s for Patrick. It’s all for Patrick.
“What do you think?” Mom fusses with the flowers. She takes out the wilted ones and color coordinates the others. “I think it’s a lovely memorial. Everyone cared so, so much for Patrick.”
“Cared? Cared?” I try to push myself to standing before the effort makes me dizzy, and I slump back into the wheelchair. “I didn’t stop caring about Patrick and neither should you, Mom.”
She fusses with the pictures next — rearranging them in chronological order. “Of course not, sweetie, but there are things in life that we can’t change, no matter how much we want to. All we can do now is trust in God’s plan. Patrick was a very special person, and now he can watch over us from Heaven.” She relights the burnt out candles. “Wouldn’t that be nice? To have a guardian angel?”
“I can’t live without him.” I look at my trembling hands as if they belong to someone else. A sob escapes from my mouth before I can stop it. I stuff my fist in my mouth and bite down to muffle the sound. “I can’t, Mom. I just can’t.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Mom kisses the top of my hair before laying her head against mine. “I wish we didn’t have to be tested like this. You’re so young. It’s much, much too early to learn that life is hard.”
“It’s not fair. It’s just not fair.” I don’t bother to hide my pain anymore. I let the tears and grief be ripped from me in heaving gasps.
Mom hugs me tighter, but it feels empty. Everything feels empty without Patrick. “Let it out, Harmony. Let it out. Life isn’t always fair, but faith helps us know that even in the darkest of times, the sun always comes out.”
“Can you… Can you leave me alone with Patrick’s shrine for a little bit?” I ask.
Mom nods. “Of course. We’ll be back in ten minutes.”
Ten minutes. I only have ten minutes.
“Hey, Patrick.” I pick up one of the pictures from the shrine. It’s a selfie of us smooshed together making duck faces. “I know you probably planned all this me living and you not stuff. Even if it was a split second decision, you’re always putting me in front of you. Why would the day of the accident be any different? I guess I should say thanks, but words seem so hollow right now. You gave your life for mine. How can I ever repay that? Mom’s going to say your death is all part of God’s plan, but I never made a plan that didn’t have you in it. I don’t know how. Maybe God can help me with that one.”
I set down the picture, lace my fingers tightly together, and close my eyes. “Dear God, hi, it’s me Harmony. I know you bring a lot of comfort to a lot of people — Mom and me included — so I wanted to ask you, how do I get through this? When does it get easier? When will I stop feeling like half of me is gone? I don’t know how to live without Patrick. I wish I didn’t have to start now. I wish this was all just some horrible nightmare that I’ll wake up from and everything will be back to normal. Me plus Patrick is normal. I don’t know any other way to be. Help me. Help me find my way. Help me to know this is all part of some master plan. I can’t accept Patrick died for nothing. I won’t accept it. Help me. Please, help me.”
I keep my eyes shut and my hands clasped together. I wait. I listen. I look deep inside my soul and hope the answer is there. Memories are there, like the time Patrick and I organized a water balloon war at Bible Summer Camp or when Mom made sure she had every “Bible edition” of popular games so we could still play them without compromising our core beliefs. As we got older, Mom let us explore and question the meaning behind those core beliefs, but we never strayed from them. Faith is a comfort, like a close friend who never leaves you. That’s how I felt about Patrick, too. He was more than a brother. He was my best friend. Sometimes I thought he knew me better than I knew myself.
“How am I ever going to live without you?”
I wait for a sign, but there’s no big revelation or clap of knowingness where the sky opens up and angels sing. There’s no voice telling me everything is going to be all right. There’s just emptiness. When I need His comfort the most, God abandons me.
So I abandon Him.
My twin brother is dead, and my faith is dead along with him.
“Are they gone yet?” I stand on a chair so I can see out the high window of the sanctuary. It’s not every day you get followed to church by a swarm of snap happy photographers, but that happens to be my new reality ever since that perfume print ad I did sprang up all over London. Suddenly, I’m on the side of buses and on the walls in the Underground. Everywhere I look, I see a black and white shot of me with my hands clasped in prayer, eyes downcast, and purity ring on full display. It doesn’t hurt that the perfume is called Purity. Besides doing this as a favor to my best mate, Reggie, I like the message it sends. I’m all about messages. Someone has to be in this business.
“David, can’t you just address all the rumors?” Reggie tugs at his white collar. It’s not the sort of collar most chaps wear. Reggie is all about messages, too, but he has a more direct line to God than I do. That’s one of the reasons we’re best mates. Not because of the direct line to God, but because of the believing in messages bit.
“No one will believe me even if I do tell the truth. All it will do is give them more to talk about.”
“Then let them talk. What harm will it do? You’re an actor. Any publicity is good publicity, right?” Reggie takes the phone off the hook when it starts ringing again. I’m more impressed with the photographers’ tenacity to follow me here than I am with their ability to Google the phone number for Reggie’s church.
“But it will be the same questions no matter who asks them,” I say. “I’d like my private life to stay private a little while longer. Instead, I’m the purity ring poster boy of acting-slash-modeling.” I peek out the window again. “Can’t they just leave well enough alone?”
“Right now, they smell a story and you’re it.”
Reggie claps me on the back and steers me through the church toward the back exit. It leads into an alley. “Don’t think of it as a curse, mate, think of it as a blessing. Think about the message. Think about how much good you can do by spreading the Word to all those new fans. Opportunity is knocking, David. Now go answer the door.”
He pushes me out the door and into the waiting mob of… one photographer. The guy lifts his camera and takes a shot. I stick my hands in my pockets and lean against the cold stone of the building.
“Well played. You get an exclusive.”
“I do?” The photographer straightens up and tries not to sound as surprised as he looks. “I mean, of course I do. Mr. Hawkins, I’m writer-photographer Grant Keller of Blush News. Is any topic off limits?”
“Ask away. “ I take my hands out of my pockets and spread them wide to show I have nothing to hide. “My life is an open book.”
He takes out a small steno pad and pen. Old School. Nice. If I’m going to run of risk of being misquoted, I’d rather it be because he can’t read his own handwriting instead of recording me and twisting my words to fit whatever agenda the media has today.
“Why did you decide to pose for the Purity ad campaign? Don’t you consider yourself an actor instead of a model?”
“Purity, like many products before it, is simply looking for a face people already recognize,” I say. “I may not be a household name, but I am familiar. People feel they know me, which is great when you want to tell the world about a brilliant product and an even more brilliant message.”
“And what is this so called brilliant message?”
“Why, purity of course.” I cross my arms over my chest, making sure the hand with my silver purity ring is on top. “People everywhere are searching for answers when really they overlook what’s right in front of them. We get so wrapped up in going and doing and being that we forget to look inward. That’s where the real answers lie. Within us.”
Grant “Blush News Is Too Cheap to Send a Writer and Photographer” Keller scribbles in his steno pad. When he’s done, he looks up. “What answers can people find inside instead of out?”
“God’s love. That’s all the answer anyone needs.”
“God’s love? Are you serious? You actually want me to quote you on that?”
I nod. “Absolutely. Every word.”
He covers his mouth so I can’t see him laughing at me and my beliefs. That’s okay. He’s not the first person to laugh at me, and he won’t be the last. Opposition is the name of the game. Everyone mocks what they don’t understand.
“So you’re one of them then? A fundie? Don’t you worry about losing your audience if they don’t agree with your beliefs?”
I shake my head. “I believe in truth. Why should I lie about what is important to me in order to gain fans? If someone doesn’t like me for what I stand for, I’d rather get that out in the open now instead of a year or ten years from now. This is who I am. If someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to watch my TV show or buy the perfume.”
“And what are you working on now since UF-Oh-No finished its limited run? Anything new on your plate that you can share with my readers?”
I smile. No matter what the photog thinks of me, I will not sink to his level of judgment. It is best to be kind and considerate at all times. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. “I am between projects at the moment, but I’m always on the lookout for the next big thing. I’ve done my fair share of secular series, but now I think I would like something with a bit more of a message. This is who I am, and I want to share that with the world. I’m tired of hiding behind a mask of what people expect me to be or want me to be.” I spread my arms wide again. “This is who I am. Any questions?”
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
“I’ll be happy to wait while you’re thinking things over.”
The photog’s mouth quirks into a wry, half smile. “You’re joking, aren’t you? You’re playing a part to see what I say. If I run this to print, you get even more publicity and people calling you for comment while I get completely massacred for getting the story wrong. Come clean already. You’re not really a fundie, are you?”
“I prefer the term Christian. Fundie has such a negative connotation. But think about it. You blokes followed me to a church. Doesn’t that tell you something?”
“All that tells me is you’re willing to take the part to a whole new level of method acting.” He jams the steno pad and pen back into his messenger bag. “Well played, Hawkins. Well played. I’ll tell you what. I’m going to say that ring on your finger is a promise ring. I won’t say what sort of promise. I’ll let you sort that out once the media firestorm hits. If you keep up this fundie act, then I’ll print your earlier quotes. I can say I knew before anyone else and you get your so-called ‘truth’ out. We both win. What do you think about that?”
“I say you should run whichever story you choose. Don’t be afraid of the truth. Faith is not a disease. It’s not catching. It’s the cure. It’s the cure to all that is wrong in the world today. It’s the way to make things right again.”
“Whatever you say, church boy.” The photog takes out a cigarette and lights it. He takes a long drag before blowing out the smoke in little rings. “So what do you think about me? Am I a sinner for smoking or thinking you’re lying or whatever else you don’t like about me?”
I shake my head. “No. I’m not the one to judge you. That’s not my job. I’m just an actor. I memorize lines and play parts for a living. I rarely get to be myself. I’m tired of pretending. I want to be the real me in everything I do. I want to live by example so others can find their way. Is that so much to ask?”
“I suppose not.” He blows another round of smoke rings into the air. They float up like promises, only to disappear in the wind. “How about I just take some pictures, you can show off that promise ring of yours, I’ll come up with a leading caption, and we’ll let the press and nosey fans do the rest. Deal?”
I grin. “Deal.”
The photos come out the next morning on the Squawker website along with a brief article. David Hawkins off the market? Sorry, ladies. Judging by these pictures of a mysterious, silver ring on television hunk David Hawkin’s finger, some lucky lady might have the UK’s most eligible bachelor locked down. But who is she? We want to know as much as you do! I smile. Brilliant. That just about guarantees my agent’s phone is going to be ringing off the hook. Now all I have to do is sit back, wait, and start making the rounds on entertainment news shows. With luck, the American producers will be calling. How can I say no to that?
I reach my hand out from under my blanket and fumble for my cell phone. Like, seriously, whoever is calling me better have a good reason to call me before ten a.m. I don’t do anything before the sun has been up at least three hours. Anyone who knows me, knows that.
“This better be good,” I mumble into my phone.
“Katie? It’s Martha.”
My agent. And probably the only person I’ll actually be happy to hear from any time of the day. I sit up in bed and run a hand through my mop of unruly, brown curls.
“Martha, what’s up?” I attempt to sound more awake and think I pull it off just fine, thank you very much. I am an actress after all and a pretty darn good one if I do say so myself. Which I do. A lot.
“You have a callback for today at noon,” Martha says.
“Which role?” I hope it’s the comedy pilot I auditioned for. I’d love to be on TV on a weekly basis. Screw the long hours. It would be worth it to have my name and face out there. I want to be out there. I need to be out there. Being the face wash girl only gets me so far. I want more. I deserve more.
“The perfume commercial,” she says. “You know the one. That popular scent from London. What’s it called again? You know the one I’m talking about. With the attractive model praying? Apparently he’s all over the place in the UK but barely known here. Hawkins, I think his name is. David Hawkins. Maybe you can work the same sort of deal but in reverse.”
“But I’m not known here,” I say. “Not really. If you want to sell feminine hygiene products and face wash, I’m your girl, but anything else I get completely passed over for. I told you I want to focus on TV auditions and put the commercials to rest for now. I mean, seriously, do you see me as the US face of Purity? I don’t think so.”
“Your face is your money maker, Katie, not your acting talent,” Martha says. “People trust you. That’s like striking gold for commercials. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I know you’re bored, but you should focus on paying the bills until something bigger comes along.”
“I know, but when is that something bigger coming? I’ve paid my dues. I’ve been working in this town for ten years and still just have a crap load of commercials and a handful of failed pilots on my resume. If I was going to get my big break, don’t you think it would have happened by now?”
“You have an honest face, Katie. It can sell a million products. If I were you, I’d ride that gravy train all the way to the bank. You’re working. That’s more than a lot of kids your age can say. Just accept that you’ve found your niche and embrace it.”
“Are you saying I’m not leading lady material?”
“Not a lot of people are, sweetheart. Not a lot of people are.”
“Well, not a lot of people tell you you’re fired, but I’m about to. You’re fired!”
I hit the red end button before Martha makes me change my mind. Again. This is the ninth time I’ve fired her since we started working together five years ago. She always comes slinking back with her silver tongue that can spin any situation into sounding like the next best thing to paradise. If Martha said I belonged in commercials, I believed her. But not anymore! From this day on, I’m putting my career in the most capable hands possible — mine. I know me better than anyone else, and I definitely know what I want. Why can’t I represent myself? Why can’t I be leading lady material? Martha thinks if a person doesn’t have conventional beauty, they should be stuck in the background, but not me. I’m not a background player. I’m a scene stealer. I’m the girl everyone is going to talk about… if only I can get a great part instead of hawking all these products.
I swing my feet over the side of the bed and pad into the bathroom. I flip on the light and lean close to the mirror, examining everything about me — awesome small pores thanks to all those free samples of face cleanser, brown eyes I wish were a more exciting color. Maybe I should spring for violet contact lenses. Brown corkscrew curls that make me look like I never brush my hair, and rosy cheeks that make me look friendly even when I’m feeling like a hormonal, raging shrew. It’s not like I’m completely homely or anything. I’m attractive enough. Though I guess, to Martha, my rosy, chubby cheeks and crazy hair translates into best friend instead of lead on screen. That can change, though. I was going to make sure it did. I twist the shower knob to turn on the hot water. A shower is just what I need to wake up and beat my crazy curls into submission. My hair always looks flat and amazing right when I come out of the shower. I wish I could walk around with wet hair forever. I bet I’d get more roles and look ultra-mysterious in the process. Who is that girl that always walks around with wet hair? Katie Linton!
I shampoo my hair and let the water wash away the lather and my annoying self-doubt over firing Martha. She was a crappy agent who got exactly what she deserved. Now I’m going to get exactly what I deserve by showing her and everyone else who ever doubted me that I’m more than just the face that sells lotion, perfume, and hair care products. I’m a star.
I turn the shower off, wring the excess water from my hair, and step out of the shower. Since I don’t have any auditions lined up or plans to go out with anyone important, I change back into my flannel pajamas. I skip toweling my hair dry. I want to pretend it’s straight just a little bit longer. I wander back into my bedroom, find the TV remote control, and turn on the news. Not that I really care for the depressing mess that is the local news, but I like to get ideas for future projects. True crime stories are easy enough to pitch. Maybe that’s my way to get my foot in the door at the cable networks.
The news anchor is giving her serious face to the camera as she talks about the anniversary of some crazy accident where a drunk driver hit some car and sent it crashing into the bridge support column. The camera guy did a close up of the smashed up car and the flashing police and ambulance lights, which the news recycled because it saves them time from actually shooting new footage. Lame. Would it really be that hard to stick a reporter in front of the bridge and say, “This is the site of the accident that changed two young people’s lives forever?” I mean, I could do that, and I don’t even have a journalism degree. Oooh, I should play a reporter. I could totally pull that off.
I tune back in to the story. Maybe it has some other elements I can steal — I mean borrow — for my TV movie idea. Two years ago today, twins driving home from visiting colleges got smacked by a drunk driver. The guy driving the car died, but the girl was in a coma. The station super imposes her picture over the scene of the accident. Harmony Jones. She’s blonde, petite and a former model if the news is to be believed. Of course that makes her newsworthy. A lot of people get into car accidents. Not a lot of people have their car accidents make the news twice.
“Lame.” I turn the channel to an entertainment news shows. Now this is my kind of show. Malcolm Banks — the ultra-popular, successful director of the equally ultra- popular, successful, loosely scripted soap opera, 1700s Life — is begging for audition tapes again.
“It doesn’t matter if you have no improv exerience, we want your audition tapes. We’re looking to discover the next big star. Is that you? If so, send in your tapes! You could be on the upcoming season of 1700s Life!”
I always wanted to send my tape in, but Martha always nixed the idea. She thought a soap was beneath me, but I’m not beneath getting a paycheck. Besides, Martha wasn’t the boss of my career anymore, I was. If I wanted to audition for 1700s Life, I’d audition for 1700s Life.
“I’m done with commercials. I’m ready for the big time.” I hold up my phone and turn the rear facing camera on to take a selfie video. I take a minute to ruffle my hair into some semblance of order and pinch my cheeks to make them even rosier. I want to look healthy and happy — the kind of person Malcolm Banks wants to cast on his show. “Hi. My name is Katie Linton. I’m twenty years old and I’d like to audition for a role in 1700s Life…”
Somehow, firing my agent is the best career choice I ever made. Instead of having Martha field my calls and decide what’s worth my time or not, I have total control. I say yes to every audition that comes my way. The more people see my face, the more they’ll remember me for future projects. Me and my “honest face” are going to be hot in this town.
I check the caller ID when my phone rings. It’s a casting agent. Excellent. “Katie Linton, whatdaya got for me?” It’s my new greeting whenever anyone in the biz calls me.
“Miss Linton, it’s Heather Mills from Family Faith Television Network. We produce 1700s Life.”
1700’s Life? I just sent in my audition tape two weeks ago. This has got to be a good sign! I tuck my hair behind my ear even though Miss Mills can’t see it, and take a deep breath to calm the sudden jittery flutters in the pit of my stomach. “Yes. Yes, I know. What can I do for you?”
“We’d like you to come in for a personal audition with Malcolm.”
“Malcolm Banks?” I ask as if there’s any other Malcolm connected to 1700s Life.
“The one and only,” she confirms. “So when are you available?”
I try to sound casual when I say, “Oh, whenever.”
“Does Thursday at noon work for you?”
“Sure.” My voice shakes, but just barely. “I’ll see you then.”
There she is. Sasha. The reason I’ve had to disconnect my land line, deactivate my Facebook page, and delete my Twitter account. There’s only so much harassment I can take from her fans and everyone and their mother sniffing around for a story before I need to go off the grid and focus on something that isn’t her drama. Now it looks like she’s upped her game and has invaded my TV screen with yet another story about how I’m such a horrible, lousy, no-good stalker. Maybe it’s just me, but if someone was stalking me, I wouldn’t make the rounds on all the entertainment news shows. It would just make it easier to track my moves. Not that I’m tracking her moves, but she’s making it pretty easy by trashing me in one breath and promoting her new TV movie in the next breath. The spotlight must always be on her… or else. We walked the red carpet a total of five times together, and every time the reporter had the audacity to ask me about my roles, Sasha would create a ‘wardrobe malfunction.’ Every time. The funny thing is, no one thought to point out that the ‘malfunction’ only happened when I was around or when someone stuck a microphone in my face instead of hers, but that’s Holly-weird for you. Actresses and their faulty wardrobe make front page news. Sasha never saw a camera she didn’t love. I found out too late that the camera is really all she loves besides herself.
My phone buzzes from its spot on the coffee table in front of me. I turned off the ring tone weeks ago because I can’t stand the constant noise. There’s too many questions and not enough people interested in my answers. Why bother fighting anymore? What’s the point? When I don’t answer the call, my text message alert beeps. I check the screen. Mom. I better answer her or I’ll never hear the end of it.
Mom: Are you watching Entertainment Now?
Me: If you mean ‘are you watching Sasha on Entertainment Now’, my answer is — yes, but not on purpose. They’re doing a segment on the new season of 1700s Life. I’m watching that. Sasha is just clogging up the screen until that comes on.
Mom: I told you that girl was trouble from the start. If you had listened to me and not taken that role in Knock Knock, You’re Dead, you wouldn’t be at the center of this smear campaign now.
Me: Stop being such a momager. I’m 25. Don’t you think it’s time I start making my own decisions?
Mom: You making your own decisions is what got you into this public relations nightmare. Do you know how many entertainment news reporters are camped out on my front yard?
Me: That’s why I live in a building with a security desk.
Mom: Aren’t you even a little bit sorry that your poor decisions are causing your poor mother so much grief?
I consider typing ‘no’ but that poor decision will only get me an earful or — in this case — an eyeful. I’d rather audition with a live demo for the role of sword swallower in Circus Circus 2 than disagree with my momager. I’ve been tiptoeing around her moods my whole life. Ever since Mom got me that gig as a baby diaper model, I haven’t been able to breathe thanks to her obsessive micromanagement.
Me: Maybe I should just quit acting. Would that make you happy?
Mom: Listening to your mother would make me happy!
Me: I’m not doing that anymore.
I hit backspace, backspace, backspace before I can send the last message. I need something less confrontational and more compliant. That’s the easiest way to get through life — especially when it comes to Mom. Don’t make waves and let your Momager make all your decisions for you.
Me: I got the part.
Mom: What part?
Me: The one on 1700s Life.
Mom: I thought that was just a rumor!
Me: Not this time. This time, it’s a rumor that’s actually true.
Mom: Why didn’t the producer go through me to get to you? I could have negotiated you a better deal. That show practically makes you sign your life away. I mean, come on, who really wants to ‘eat, sleep, breathe the 1700s experience’?
I do. Yet another thing not to tell Mom. I might as well say, “because I want to get away from you for twelve weeks” since that’s how she’d take it. And, okay, even if that is the truth, Mom will never let me live it down if I actually tell her that being cut off from all modern conveniences, friends, and family will be a vacation compared to what I’m used to. The sooner I get rid of this cell phone and cut all ties with her, the better.
Me: I think it will be good exposure. I can show my acting range.
Mom: Honey, embrace the pigeon hole. It pays the bills.
Yeah, yours and mine both. I stand up and walk across the living room of my studio apartment to where the one solitary window is. No one is camped outside waiting for my side of the story of what happened — or didn’t happen — with Sasha. They’d rather collect dirt from Mom or the Liar of the Hour, Sasha, than ask me directly. I’d gladly give an exclusive if someone just asks for one.
I close my eyes and imagine how the non-existent exclusive will go. I live in my head a lot. It’s my escape when Mom and her domineering streak make life impossible to deal with. In my mind, the reporter nods sympathetically and leans close so he doesn’t miss a word. If Sasha can play the media card, so can I.
“Tell me, Elliot, what went wrong between you and Sasha?”
I laugh. “Why don’t I tell you what went right? It will be a much shorter list.”
“I know on set romances are pretty common. Working twelve hour days makes it almost impossible to meet people. What drew you and Sasha together?”
“Believe it or not, Sasha is a poetry fan,” I say. “We bonded over Ginsberg and Kerouac. I thought this smart, funny, gorgeous girl was as close to perfect as anyone could get. She was amazing. Unfortunately, I fell in love with a lie. The second we collected our final paycheck, she changed. The amazing girl was gone and someone I didn’t know and definitely didn’t like took her place.” It was like as soon as the spotlight faded from the newsworthy story of a couple doing a movie together, Sasha’s interest in me faded as well. I wasn’t important anymore. Maybe I never was. Sometimes I wonder if she was using me from the start. You get more press if you’re dating someone in the industry and Sasha was — and still is — definitely press hungry. Case in point — her smear Elliot media blitz.
“What was the final straw?” The reporter leans so close he practically falls out of his chair. “Remember, you can trust me.”
“Can I really?”
Even in my fantasy, I find it hard to trust people. Growing up, mom took my faith and trust in good things happening to good people, and beat it into submission. According to Mom, I never needed to look further than my own mirror to see why things went wrong for me instead of right. Dad left because he couldn’t handle your child actor success. You can’t go to regular school because the kids are jealous of your success. You need me to protect you from your own success. Maybe it isn’t Dad or other kids that were jealous this whole time, but Mom. I seriously need to find a shrink when I get back from filming 1700s Life. But first, I need to tell Mom I accepted the role instead of just being offered the role. That should go over about as well as people actually believing my side of things outside of my imagination.
“What was the final straw?” the reporter repeats. “I’m sure our viewers would love to hear your version.”
“Also called the truth? Sasha wanted to move in together. I said it was against my beliefs to live together before marriage. She didn’t like that answer so this is the fall out. She always accused me of hiding secrets. Those ‘secrets’ grew into accusations of hiding other women. I could barely handle one high maintenance actress, what was I seriously going to do with two or three?” I cross and uncross my legs. I can’t get comfortable. I hate talking about myself but publicity is a must in this industry. I can’t just rely on crazy ex-girlfriends to keep my name in the press. I need to stop fading into the background and do something memorable or risk losing everything I’ve worked so hard for since I was in diapers.
The reporter starts to laugh. Great. Even my imaginary supporters turn against me. “Against your beliefs? Who doesn’t believe in living together before marriage in this day and age?”
I point at my chest with my index finger. “Me. Besides, I’m pretty sure that what Sasha really wanted was to live somewhere rent free. I was convenient. She tried to manipulate the situation. It didn’t work. She went on her trash Elliot media blitz. End of story.”
“Somehow, I think it’s only the beginning.”
I open my eyes. I wish I could rewrite my story. I wish I could forget the last twelve months ever happened. I know mistakes are part of life, but it seems like I’ve been making a lot of them lately — with or without Mom’s help. I’m tired of the drama. Maybe I can make 1700s Life my swan song. I can retire from acting at the ripe old age of twenty five and go do something useful with my time, like read to sick kids or feed the homeless. What did I really get out of acting besides a paycheck and a domineering momager? So far, not all that much.
My phone is vibrating like crazy on the coffee table. I bet Mom blew up my phone with texts and is now trying to call me when I didn’t answer the messages.
I turn away from the window and make my way across the single room to the living area. I pick up my phone and hit the green ‘talk’ button.
“Relax, Mom, I didn’t jump out of the window or anything. I’m fine. I’m more than fine. I’m going to be on 1700s Life. I accepted one of the lead roles today in a two season deal. See you in twelve weeks.”
“Sweetie, are you sure you don’t want me to open the windows and let some light in? This place is like a cave.” Mom asks for probably the millionth time since the news ran that anniversary of the accident report. I don’t care that viewers ask about what happened to me. I don’t care if slapping my picture on the screen somehow helps their ratings. I don’t care about anything except that Patrick has been gone for two years. I know everyone thinks I should feel better by now, but you can’t put a time frame on grief. I don’t suddenly stop hurting just because some time passed. That wouldn’t be fair to Patrick if I did.
“I like it like a cave,” I say mechanically. I feel like a robot. I feel like I died along with Patrick and was replaced with a Harmony-bot that is supposed to act normal so no one would worry but somehow never gets it quite right. Harmony-bot forgets the right things to say and do and honestly, doesn’t care. What’s the point? If God, in all his supposed infinite goodness and caring can kill off Patrick, what’s stopping him from squishing me like the insignificant ant that I am?
“But sunlight will help you feel better, sweetie,” Mom insists. “It’s a natural cure for just about everything.”
“I don’t want to feel better. I want to be miserable. It’s easier this way. Being numb is better than feeling. There’s too many emotions. Too many ways to get hurt. If I start feeling again, I’ll leave Patrick behind. I’ll grow up and move on and live the life everyone thinks I should. Patrick will never have that chance. Patrick is stuck being eighteen forever. He’s not going to grow up. He’s not going to play Carnegie Hall or land a classical record deal. He’s just going to slowly fade away from our memories. Pretty soon I won’t remember the sound of his voice or his laugh or how his eyes squint when he smiles. I can’t do that to him, Mom. I can’t let him go. He needs me to keep his memory alive.”
“Patrick wouldn’t want you to mope around over him.” Mom opens my bedroom curtains despite my protests. I cover my dark-accustomed eyes with my blanket. “Patrick would want you to remember that life is for the living. He was always so full of life. Death can’t change that. It only delays when we can see him again. Do you know what I think he would say to you if he were here right now, Harmony?” Mom pulls my blanket off my head. I tug at it to try to get it back but only manage to pull it up to my chin. “He’d say ‘Get over me already. It’s time to live, Harmony, so get on with the living.’”
I shake my head. “No, it’s not. I don’t want to get on with living. Hiding out in my room is just fine by me.”
Mom takes my lack of motivation to move as an excuse to tidy up my room. “Remember all your plans, sweetie? You had every opportunity you could ever imagine just waiting for you to reach out and take it. You let them all slip away. It’s time to get your life back on track starting today. Now, what was the one thing Patrick really wanted you to do? Do you remember?”
I try to think back, but remembering Patrick laughing and smiling and full of life is harder than my final memory of lowering his casket into the ground. What did he want me to do? “The last thing we talked about was sending in an audition tape for 1700s Life. He thought I had a shot, but I said they don’t go for nobodies with no experience.”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out.”
“What do you mean?” I sit up in bed. I’m slightly interested in whatever plan Mom is concocting, which is a step up from the overwhelming numbness I’ve felt for the last two years. “The audition tape window is closed. Malcolm Banks isn’t on all the entertainment shows anymore, which means they already got what they need. I’m sure they’ve cast the new season by now. You’ll just be wasting my phone’s battery if you record a video now.”
“You don’t know unless you try.” Mom digs through my purse and pulls out my cell phone. “Maybe they’ll make an exception to the whole audition tape window thing. Some rules are meant to be bent a little, and I think this is one of them. Now, I know I’m your mother and mothers say this all the time, but this Malcolm Banks character would be crazy to hit delete once he gets a look at your audition tape. You’re a natural, Harmony. That’s not something you can teach in an acting class. Natural talent is a God given gift. Isn’t that what the FFVTV network is all about? Nurturing your God given talent?”
“I guess so.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Mom motions at me to get up and make myself presentable. “The worst they can do is say no, and the best they can do is give you a part. Oh, sweetie, if you were on my favorite show every week, I don’t know what I’d do!”
“You’d probably tell everyone you know and host viewing parties.”
“Tell everyone I know?” Mom laughs. “I’d tell everyone I don’t know, too! I’d stop strangers on the street and tell them my daughter is on 1700s Life! It won’t bring Patrick back, but it will be something to look forward to. We both need something to look forward to, Harmony, don’t you agree?”
“I guess you’re right.”
I stand and find something to wear that isn’t my pajamas and robe. I take a quick shower, brush and blow dry my hair, and change my clothes. I lean my face close to the mirror. I’m paler than normal, and my eyes look huge in my thin face, but maybe that’s the look a 1700s girl would have. Like Mom says, there’s only one way to find out. What did I have to lose? I already lost the most important thing in my life. Things can only go up from here.
“Oh, Harmony, you look beautiful,” Mom gushes when I emerge from the bathroom. “They’d be crazy not to cast you.”
I sit near the window since rule number one of acting class is everyone looks better in natural light. “Are you ready with the camera?”
Mom pushes a few buttons. “Ready!”
“You’re supposed to say action.”
I smile into the camera. At first it feels weird, like my muscles aren’t used to stretching that way, but I soon relax. My voice sounds a little too upbeat, and my cadence is all wrong and Valley Girl Cheerleader-esque, but I just go with it. There’s no point in having Mom try a second take. This is the new me — being perky to hide my pain — if Malcolm Banks doesn’t like that, he doesn’t have to cast me.
“Hi. I’m Harmony Jones. You don’t know me, but I know just about everything about 1700s Life. The only thing I don’t know is what it would actually be like to eat, sleep, breath, and live in the 1700s, but I can find out if you cast me in the upcoming season. I realize the audition window might be closed, but just in case it’s not, I thought I’d send this video in. I don’t have much experience, well, really any experience, outside of high school plays, modeling, and one regional commercial I didn’t have any lines in, but I’m a hard worker and would love to show you just how much this opportunity means to me. I know you’d be taking a chance on an unknown, but I think it’s a chance worth taking. For my audition monologue, I’d like to do Lady Macbeth’s sleep walking scene from Macbeth.”
I lower my head and close my eyes. It’s how I always prepare before a big moment. Some people do tongue twisters or other warm up exercises, I take the time to really dig deep and find my character. By looking inside, I’ve always been able to just shut everything down and focus on becoming someone else. The real me gets lost as the new me — the role — comes out. I give myself over completely to the role. Every nuance, every gesture, every word is now Lady Macbeth’s and not Harmony’s.
“Gorgeous,” Mom declares when the monologue and transformation is over and I’m back to being regular, average, everyday me.
I smile. “Thanks.” I’m me again, but more than that, I feel alive again. It feels like the dark cloud that settled into my soul since Patrick’s death has lifted just a little. It isn’t gone completely, but I feel lighter and more hopeful. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Life isn’t just an endless round of pain and darkness anymore. I have hope again. I finally have hope.
Did all this happen because of one monologue? Do I really feel this much better from a couple minutes of acting? Maybe it is just a small piece of the puzzle, but one thing I know is I miss acting. I miss giving in to my creativity. I miss becoming someone else. Acting is in my blood. It’s a part of me. I can’t deny that any more than I can deny breathing. I touch my heart. It’s where I feel Patrick’s presence the strongest. “That was for you, Patrick. From now on, I’ll do my best to make you proud of me. Everything in my career is in memory of you.”
“David! David, over here! Sign this! Sign this!”
I make a bee line from the theater’s back entrance to the crowd gathered behind the barricade. Funny how a couple of well-placed gossip stories and well timed photos can suddenly turn me into the guy everyone wants to know. I wasn’t invisible before, but now, suddenly, I’m visible. Very, very visible. I need to do the most with that visibility. It’s my calling after all.
“Sign this! And this!”
Pictures of me — mostly my Purity ad campaign, but there’s some head shots and publicity shots from UF Oh No in the mix — are shoved over the barricade for me to sign. In order to reach as many people as possible with my message, I need to be well received. In order to be well received, I need to be well liked. I take out a black permanent marker and sign everything that comes within range. God Bless — David Hawkins. I write those same four words over and over again, yet never get tired of the sentiment. In my own small way, I’m spreading God’s love to those who need it. I will never be too busy or too important to do that. I’m not the important one here. I’m just the messenger.
I climb into the waiting town car, grateful for the tinted windows that give me my first taste of privacy today. As my driver pulls away from the curb and heads for my flat, I check my calendar app to see what my agent has lined up for me this week. Tuesday I have the second Purity photo shoot. The first ad campaign did, and is still doing so brilliantly, the product manager wants to do a second round. Wednesday is filming the commercial, Thursday an audition for Young Doctors in Love, and Friday an interview with Hiya Magazine. Young Doctors in Love isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I’m not in a position yet to be able to turn down auditions. I want to do shows that carry some weight, are family friendly, and have a positive message. There’s far too much bed hopping and overblown drama for Young Doctors in Love to be considered family friendly or positive. My agent wants to get my face and name out there, and there’s no better way than appearing on the number one hit UK drama series. At least that’s what he says. I think he’s more interested in collecting his commission than listening to my views and values.
“There’s got to be a better way.” I unlock the door to my flat, drop my messenger bag on the floor, and wander into the living room. My furniture is fairly sparse, mostly collected through second hand shops and relatives needing to get rid of things, but that’s how I like it. I may be coming up in the world, but I don’t have to live beyond my means. I refuse to be one of those “where are they now?” stories before I ever get a chance to be a “now.”
“I wonder what’s on the telly.”
Living alone, I don’t think twice about talking out loud to myself. I would never make it through a vow of silence. Chastity I can handle, but silence? I love the power of words too much to stay silent. Whether giving a sermon or reciting lines from a script, words are poetry. I take my responsibility with their power very seriously. That’s why I want to do shows with a message or at least be allowed to share my personal beliefs and views during interviews. My agent would rather me bottle it all up because not everyone likes the good Christian boy, but I am who I am. Why should I hide that?
I flip through telly stations until I find something suitably mindless to relax to. I stop on Entertainment Now. They ran a story on me last week using the pictures the photog shot behind Reggie’s church. Like most stories about me, it was another round of rumor mongering, but whatever gets people talking can’t be all bad.
“Oh, brilliant. Malcolm Banks is on again.” I never get tired of his sales pitches begging for audition tapes. Now there is a man with convictions.
“Now, Malcolm, tell us more about this upcoming season of 1700s Life,” the Entertainment Now host, Mary Mabeline, says. “Is it going to be as dramatic and exciting as the last one? I know fans are dying to know who you are going to focus on now that the two season contracts are up!”
Malcolm turns and smiles directly into the camera. No shyness there. He’s a cheeky bugger, but that works in this business. You need to be dynamic if you want to get ahead, and Malcolm Banks has turned hybrid living history, soap opera, reality show into a worldwide phenomenon. Plus, it has a message. It’s one of the few shows on the air that actually stands for something positive.
“Thanks, Mary. As your viewers know, I run 1700s Life like a twelve episode, two season miniseries. There’s always a beginning, middle, and end. Rotating the cast out every two seasons really keeps things fresh and lets us focus on new stories to tell. We’ve found some great talent over the years and are always on the lookout for more. Discovering unknowns or near unknowns that really have a passion and calling not only for acting but our faith based approach to storytelling, is my passion in life. I love introducing the world to fresh faces. I’m hoping some of the Entertainment Now viewers are inspired to send in audition tapes. Tell us a little about yourself, record your best monologue, and upload it onto the 1700s Life official website. The next face you see on the opening credits could be yours.”
Hm. Maybe I should send in an audition tape. I’ve never done anything near the scale of 1700s Life. It’s shown all over the world. There’s conventions in all the major cities, like what gets put on for anime and science fiction shows. I could be a part of something bigger than just a show put on the air to entertain viewers. I could be a part of a phenomenon. I take out my cell phone and text my agent.
Me: I want to send in a tape for 1700s Life.
Marty: The church show? Forget it. Don’t typecast yourself so early on in your career.
Me: But I believe in the message. I want to be a part of something bigger than you or me.
Marty: Do you really want that to be your big introduction to American TV audiences?
Marty: Maybe it’s time for you to look for a new agent.
I don’t bother to answer. Marty is always telling me it’s time to look for a new agent whenever I try to assert what I want over what he wants. Maybe it is time I look for a new agent. I don’t typically bargain with God because that’s not how faith works, but I do want to talk it out with Him.
“I know my life isn’t a coin flip — heads I send in an audition tape, tails I don’t — but I really feel like there is something missing from my life and especially my work of late. I don’t have the satisfaction I thought I would. I thought I’d get my name and face out there and I’d be happy, but I’m not. Far from it. I want to stand for something. I want to do more than just collect a paycheck and be done with it. I want to do some good with whatever celebrity I can muster. I want to feel as if my life has a purpose and a meaning that You can be proud of. I don’t feel that now. I’m not sure I ever have. I want to live by example but, more than anything, I want to make You proud. I know life is a journey, and I have barely begun on mine, but I do wish I was a little clearer of the best way to reach people. How can I use my celebrity for good?”
The next interview comes on Entertainment Now. At first I don’t pay it much mind. It’s an American actress, Sasha something-or-the-other, who always seems to be high on drama and low on anything else. Today she’s squeezing out crocodile tears while she regales Mary Mabeline on the latest crisis in her drama-filled life. Her boyfriend, ex-boyfriend at this point, can’t handle the fact she broke up with him after filming ended on their TV movie. He’s constantly calling and texting her, and she’s considering legal action. Entertainment Now runs a clip of some tall bloke on the screen with the caption “Elliot Banes” underneath.
“Just because he played my stalker in the movie doesn’t mean I want him to stalk me in real life.” Sasha dabs at her glittering, tear-heavy eyes with a tissue. Brilliant. If only her TV movie had such award caliber performances, maybe it would do better in the ratings.
Mary pats Sasha’s hand sympathetically. “And what do you think Elliot is doing to get over you?”
“Nothing!” Sasha blows her nose loudly into her tissue. “He needs to move on. I have.”
“Can you confirm the rumors that he’s been cast in the new season of 1700s Life?”
Again with 1700s Life. Surely that must be a sign.
“He wants — no, he needs — an image makeover.” Sasha looks up at the ceiling like she’s trying to find a contact lens that shifted in her eye. “Naturally, he’s going to go for the one show that is the complete opposite of what he’s known for. Wouldn’t you?”
“If the rumor is true, what advice do you have to give to his future co-star and — dare I say it? — love interest?”
Sasha stops the waterworks and looks directly into the camera. “Don’t make the same mistake I did. Get out. Get out while you can.”
Oh, this I’ve got to see. I take out my cell phone and turn on the video feature. What Marty doesn’t know, can’t hurt him.
“I’m David Hawkins. I’m twenty-two and known mostly on this side of the Pond, but I hope that changes with this tape. For my audition piece, I’d like to do Jesus’s Sermon On The Mount.”
The FFVTV waiting room is filled with other hopefuls Thursday afternoon. I try to exude the confidence I know I have, but it wavers slightly. This is my big chance, a shot at the big time. What if I mess it up?
“Katie Linton,” the Production Assistant calls.
I stand and follow her into Malcolm Banks’ office. And there he is, sitting behind a massive oak desk. And when I say massive oak desk, I mean massive. It looks like someone chopped down the oak tree, stuck four legs on it, and plopped it down in the middle of his office. His head barely pokes above the edge of the desk. I feel like I should offer him a booster chair.
“Miss, Linton, welcome to FFVTV. Have a seat.” He motions at two chairs across from the desk. I pick the one on the right. I cross my legs with my right leg over my left too. It’s a superstitious thing, but basically, if I’m right, I can’t be left behind.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Banks, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” I make sure to speak clearly and very distinctly. I’m up for a role in 1700s Life and I doubt they popped gum or spoke all sloppy back in the day.
“If I had a nickel for every person who said that to me, I’d be richer than I already am.”
Malcolm leans back in his chair and kicks his feet up onto his desk. I’m left looking at his really, really expensive shoes. If that’s what this reality history show can get you, sign me up!
“Do you have a script I can study?” I ask. “What scene would you like me to read from for the audition?”
“Don’t worry about reading,” he says. “We’re a reality based show. We want characters. What can you bring to the table, Miss Linton?”
I run a hand through my mop of curls. I thought about pulling it back into a ponytail or bun before coming to the audition but that usually makes me look older than I am. I don’t want to be cast as anyone’s aunt or some school marm. Frumpy never equals hot storyline so I’m going to act my age and see where it gets me. “Well, I’m very driven and tenacious. I know what I want and I always go after it. Life is too short to play nice except, well, in this situation, sir. Forget I said that playing nice bit and think of me as one of those people who rescues puppies and reads to blind people and old folks in her spare time. That’s what you want, right? Someone that the press can’t tear to shreds once casting news leaks?”
“Morals are good, but I don’t expect perfection. Perfection is boring. Perfection makes people think you’re hiding something.” He stands and moves around the desk till he’s standing next to me. “Are you hiding something, Miss Linton?”
“You’re not saying that just to play nice, are you?”
I shake my head. “No, sir.”
“Good.” Malcolm’s lips twitch as if he’s trying hard not to laugh. He finally can’t hold it in any longer. The room fills with raucous, booming laughter. “Don’t worry about playing nice, kid, you already got the part.”
“You do. How would you like a featured role on the upcoming season of 1700s Life?”
“I’d love it,” I say. “More than anything.”
“Great. I’ll give you all the details once we’ve rounded out the cast some more. All I know is I like you, kid. You’ve got spunk and character — two things the audience is going to eat up. We need to get people talking and you, Miss Linton, are just the person for the job.”
Mr. Banks leans over and starts flipping through a dossier on his desk that looks like a bunch of video stills. Are these the people that made it past the initial round of audition tapes? Did I beat out all these people for a featured role? Maybe having an honest face isn’t so bad after all. For once it’s getting me ahead in this biz instead of selling crap to people who won’t remember me ten seconds after the commercial ends.
“Is there anything in particular you need me to do?” I ask.
“Besides fill out the truck load of paperwork the network requires and creating some pre-production buzz?” He smirks at me. I don’t know if I should be excited or afraid. “Actually, there is one more thing you can do for me.”
“Anything,” I promise.
“You can be my on-set spy.”
I sit up straighter and blink rapidly in confusion. “Be your on-set spy? What was all that talk of morals for if you turn around and want me to spy on my costars?”
“It’s not morally bankrupt to collect information for me, it’s just good business.” Malcolm sits down in his chair and kicks his feet up on the desk again. “My job is to create a compelling show viewers will love, and your job is to make sure that happens.”
He slides a cell phone across the desk toward me. “Every season, I pick a special someone to help the plot along. No matter how many actors we hire — seasoned or otherwise — someone always manages to forget about the scene scenarios and directions and act like they’re actually living on the 1700s island. It happens every time. The audience wants unscripted drama, not a history lesson. We need to appeal to a wide range of viewers, not just history or pirate buffs. It’s your job to make sure the audience gets what it wants, and what they want is situations and people they can believe are real. They don’t want to be reminded that they’re watching actors. They want to root for real people.”
“And how am I supposed to do all that?”
“Befriend the other cast members,” he says like it’s the easiest thing in the world to get under all those egos and actually find the real person underneath. “Learn their secrets. Report back to me. Manipulate the scenes to make sure the season is high on drama and low on anything else. 1700s Life is meant to be entertainment, not a documentary. Remember that, Miss Linton, and I can guarantee I’ll pull some strings for you behind scenes once your 12 episode contract is up with me. You help me, I help you. It’s that easy.”
“Do you mean you’ll help me get bigger parts after my commitment to 1700s Life is over?”
He leans across the desk toward me. “You’re a smart girl. That will get your far in this business with or without my help. I have to say, you can get much farther with my help, though. My name — my reputation — is huge in this town. You could be huge too if you do what I ask.”
I motion at the cell phone. I don’t dare pick it up. Picking it up means I accept his request. “So what’s the deal with the cellphone? Aren’t we supposed to not bring any modern stuff with us?”
“Part of the appeal of a historical reality TV show for the actors is giving up all the modern conveniences they’re used to. You can’t live the 1700s experience if you’re tied to your cell phone or computer. To make the show successful, the audience needs to know that what they see is what they get. You’re eating, sleeping, breathing the 1700s. You’re not clocking out at the end of the day and going to a hotel. For the twelve week filming schedule, you are these characters. That’s what the audience wants. That’s what they expect. But I can’t give them what they want completely by myself. That’s where you come in. This cell phone is your lifeline to me. I’ll text you if I need you to nudge any of our characters along, and you text me to report the progress of our little plans. It’s all in the name of good drama. Good drama means awards nominations. Have you ever been nominated for an Emmy or Golden Globe before, Miss Linton?”
I shake my head. Why is he even asking me that? One look at my resume shows I’ve only been doing commercials for the last ten years. There’s not an Emmy or Golden Globe in sight. “Why me? Why did you pick me?”
“I like your honest face. It will help the rest of the cast trust you. If they think you’re spying, they won’t open up. I need honesty, and you’re going to get it for me. Now, do we have a deal or not?”
My honest face. I suppose I should be happy that what sells commercials also gets me a featured role in a hit TV show, but do I really want to sell secrets? Do I really want to be an on set spy? Is it worth it to get ahead in my career? “I’ll do it, but on one condition.”
“And what’s that?” he asks.
“That I’m featured in the opening credits,” I say. “I don’t expect top billing, but I don’t want to be some throwaway character either. Promise me you’ll get me noticed, and I promise you’ll get your drama.” I sit up straighter in my chair and lift my chin in the way that gets me called determined by some people and stubborn or pig headed by others. “Do we have a deal?”
“We have a deal. Report to wardrobe for fitting in one week. Welcome to 1700s Life.”
I smile. “Thank you. I intend to make the most of this opportunity.”
It’s the weirdest feeling in the world to be sitting in the waiting room of the FFVTV Network’s corporate office. I sent my audition tape in a week ago, and now here I am waiting to talk to Malcolm Banks himself and sign papers to officially become the latest cast member of 1700s Life.
“Miss Jones? Mr. Banks will see you now,” his receptionist says.
I stand and stare at the door to my future. “Thank you.”
“Right through that door there,” she says when I don’t move. How can I move when a couple steps will change my life all over again?
“This is for you Patrick,” I whisper before taking those handful of steps into Malcolm Banks’ office.
He’s a lot shorter than he looks on TV. That is the first thought that goes through my head when Malcolm Banks stands and offers me his hand. That’s quickly followed by, am I going to look shorter on TV? I don’t have all that much height to lose. What if he wants to hire me because of my looks instead of my acting? Not all former models can act. What if I blow this opportunity the second I open my mouth? What if I can’t remember to talk like a 1700s girl and ruin the whole scene? Speaking of scenes, what’s my plot arc? What character am I going to play? What’s my character’s motivation? Does she have motivation? Round and round and round my thoughts swirl. I must have glazed over because Malcolm Banks suddenly laughs.
“I know it’s a lot to take in, Miss Jones, but I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with all the information at once.”
“Um, no. No, I think I’ll be all right.” I say. “Thank you for your concern, though.”
“Not a problem,” he assures me. “I must say, Miss Jones, your audition tape really impressed me. The camera loves you. You’re luminous. A face like that doesn’t come along very often. But could you act? At first I thought your tape would just be another fan rehash of the Julia’s big decision speech from last season — you wouldn’t believe how many people sent in tapes using that as their piece — but when you did Shakespeare, I felt as if the Bard himself was smiling down upon you giving his seal of approval. You were magnetic. We need that magnetism on our show.”
I tuck a lose strand of blonde hair behind my ear. I’m used to praise. You don’t model and win kiddie beauty pageants without hearing some praise, but it still unnerves me a bit. I’m always seen as a face instead of a person. My life isn’t built around my looks, though, in this case, it definitely helped get my foot in the door, so I don’t think I can complain.
“Is there anything you need to ask me?” he prompts when I still just keep up the silent, newbie actress stare routine.
“Have you, uh, decided on roles and scenarios yet or does that come later?” I ask.
“I’m glad you asked.” He slides a tan folder across the desk toward me. “You are playing the magistrate’s daughter. It’s a leading role. Everything you need to know about your background is in this file folder.”
“The lead?” I take the folder, but my hands shake too much to even think of opening it in any fashion that resembles cool, collected actress. “I thought I was going to have a walk on part or bring someone tea. You know, the seen and not heard type of role. I would be totally cool being an extra but now you’re telling me I got the lead? Why?”
“I believe the words you’re looking for are ‘thank you’ and ‘I’ll do my best’, not ‘why’, Miss Jones. You have star quality written all over you and I’m going to make sure you shine.”
Mr. Banks grins at me in that way I’ve seen him do during countless TV interviews on Entertainment Now while asking for audition tapes. ‘Can you ad lib and think fast on your feet? Whether you have a lot or a little acting experience, or even none at all, send in those tapes for the new season of 1700s Life. After twelve weeks on Port Lucia, living, breathing, and sleeping the 1700s experience, we promise you’ll never be the same.’ That smile of his could sell just about anything. It’s already sold countless actors and wannabes on giving up all modern conveniences for a chance at fame. I’m no different from any of them, though my reasons for sitting across from him are different. I’m not going to sign these stacks of paperwork to chase after fame and fortune. I’m doing it to make my brother proud.
“Since you’re a late addition to the cast, you’ll have your wardrobe fitting today. Pictures are a no-no but only because we don’t want any information to leak online before we start shooting. You wouldn’t believe how sneaky those gossip rags and entertainment news shows are at sniffing out a story.” He rolls his eyes. “It’s about all I can do to keep my set secrets secret.”
“Can you tell me more about the process?” I ask. “I mean, why does it have to be improv? Why can’t we have real lines to memorize?”
“1700s Life is classified as loosely scripted, which is Hollywood talk for ‘Yes, we do have scenario writers but the viewing public isn’t supposed to know about it,’” Mr. Banks explains. “Even the more familiar, structured reality-based shows where so-called average, everyday people are competing for fame and prizes have scenario writers, editors, directors, and consultants all trying to prod the contestants into roles. You always need your stereotypes. That’s what makes good drama, they’ll tell you. Most people don’t go on these types of shows because they really want to date the guy or win the money or live like they’re in another place and time. They want the exposure being on a hit TV show will bring them. Everyone in this business is just trying to further their career. They’re lying if they tell you otherwise.”
I glance down at the paperwork Malcolm has given me to look over and sign. The stack’s got to be almost a mile high, but it’s mostly release forms capped off with the required no suing the studio if I accidentally die or dismember myself while on Port Lucia and then the form to sign saying they gave me all the paperwork in the first place.
“How exactly would you explain the show genre?” I ask. “My mom calls it a faith based soap opera, but I think of it more as a reality show with really, really good productive values.”
“Well, technically, since we have no official writers — we call them situation creators or creative consultants — we’re in the reality TV Daytime Emmy category. I personally like to think of 1700s Life as part reality show, part improvisational show, part soap opera, and part costume drama. Think of it like PBS’s 1900s House but in the 1700s.”
I nod. “How much are we going to have to give up to go to Port Lucia? I mean, am I going to be able to wash my hair and take a bath or is that off limits, too? I’m not sure how much fun of a shoot that would be if everyone smells like horses and sweat.”
“Hygiene is an option, but it has to be in accord to what would be available back then,” Mr. Banks says. “For example, no showers, but you can take a bath as long as your maid heats up the water and carries each bucketful to the tub.”
“I have a maid?” I’m impressed my character is high up enough on the social totem pole to warrant a maid, but, at the same time, worry about the poor girl cast in that part. “Who would want to wait on me? That doesn’t sound like a fun twelve weeks.”
“It’s a featured role. Plenty of young hopefuls would love the part.”
“I suppose so.”
Malcolm frowns slightly. “Forgive me for saying so, Miss Jones, but you seem unsure of yourself. I assure you, there’s still time to recast if you don’t think you can handle the demands of the program.”
I hesitate. For a second I think about telling him about my current issues with religion since my brother’s death, but I’m a contract signature away from joining a popular, faith based TV show. Talking about any crisis of faith isn’t a smart move. Not if I want to keep my lead role in said popular, faith based TV show. Even if I did mention it, with my luck, the scenario writers would write it in to the season, and I’d be forced to explore my less than stellar relationship with God for all the viewers to see. Malcom is right that fear is making me hesitate, but it’s not because I’m not interested in the part.
“It’s just I don’t really have much big scale production experience,” I say. “I know I can handle the living, breathing, eating, and sleeping the 1700s experience, but I’m a little nervous about the dialogue part. What if I mess up and act all out of character? I don’t know how to be a 1700s girl, let alone a 1700s rich girl. I’m really, really grateful for this opportunity, Mr. Banks, but maybe you should reconsider me instead of the other way around.”
“You’ll be a natural,” Malcolm assures me. “I only cast the best and you, my dear, are one of the best. I have an eye for finding new talent. I’m just surprised no one outside of local summer stock productions has discovered you yet. With a face like that—” He stops and shakes his head. Again with my face. How I wish just one person would look past my face to what was underneath. I have a mind that works just fine, but no one thinks to mention that.
“Do you really think I’ll be great?” I ask.
Malcolm nods enthusiastically. “Oh, absolutely. Think of yourself as a diamond in the rough. The show will polish you till you shine. Trust me. 1700s Life is just the beginning for you, Miss Jones. There are great things ahead for you. You’ll be the next it girl, and I’ll be the person who discovered Harmony Jones. It will be fabulous — for both of us.”
“I wish I had even half of your confidence in me, sir.”
“Let me put it this way, Miss Jones.” He leans across his desk toward me. I’m caught by the intensity in his eyes. He looks like one of those charismatic preachers proclaiming the Truth, though, in this case, the truth is why he picked me out of a truck load of hopefuls. “You don’t produce and direct a message based show unless you listen to the messages you receive yourself. I listen when I need to listen. Those messages led me to you.”
I fidget uncomfortably in my chair. My finger nails suddenly become the most interesting things in the world to me. “So the Spirit wants me on the show?”
“There’s great things in your future. I know it, even if you don’t know it yet.”
“I’ll, uh, do my best to live up to your expectations and not to let you down, sir.”
“And even if you still feel uncomfortable once the cameras roll, we have a lot of quality actors coming in for roles this season, so you can really learn a lot from them.” He’s back to all business instead of the more personal side I just caught a glimpse of. “We have Elliot Banes and Walter Mays, and we even have this new talent, David Hawkins, coming over from England. He’s pretty big across the pond but looking for his break out role State side. Trust me, Miss Jones, you’ll have plenty of seasoned improvisation pros to get tips from.” Mr. Banks motions at the mountain of paperwork in front of me. “You’ll find your character back story in the folder under your paperwork. We don’t use fictitious names. It’s hard enough for some actors to get used to living the 1700s experience without having to remember everyone’s fake name. Your name and your character’s name are the same.”
“How are you going to explain how I’m supposed to be Walter Mays’ daughter but have a different last name?”
“That is for your and Walter Mays to decide. I encourage all my cast to discuss and create additional back story details together so no one is caught off guard. It’s the production team’s job to make sure everything runs smoothly, and it’s the cast’s job to make sure everything is dramatic and soap opera worthy.”
“Is that where the scene outlines come in?”
Mr. Banks winks at me. “Exactly. Think of the outlines as suggestions more than hard and fast rules. We suggest what the audience wants to see, and you bring it to life. Everything about 1700s Life is really dynamic this season. Our scenario writers have really upped their game this year. You’re playing the wealthy Magistrate’s daughter involved in a love triangle with a poor curate concerned with always doing what’s right or proper and a dashing, slightly pompous, naval hero. Love triangles always go over really big with our target demographics and this one has a bit of a Romeo and Juliet slant — minus the poison and dying, of course.”
“Do the production notes say if I choose the uptight poor curate guy or the pompous captain guy?” I try to find the notes he’s talking about in the pile of paperwork but give up when I seem only to find form after form of confusing legal speak.
“The choice is entirely up to you,” Malcolm says. “Remember, your choices and how you interact with the other character-actors once you’re on Port Lucia is up to you. The only thing I and the production team ask you to remember is to hold off on your decision till May sweeps. Make sure the audience picks teams. We want social media to explode with Team David and Team Elliot rivalries. Every girl should want to be you and every boy should want you. Play the other two sides of your triangle off each other. Draw out the decision. Even if you like one choice more than the other, don’t let the audience know that. They want to take this journey with you. They want to fall in love, too.”
“Am I supposed to fall in love?” I ask. This wasn’t a dating show, but it looks like he expects me to do a lot of that with the two other sides of my love triangle.
“You’re supposed to act like you fall in love. Whether you do or not in real life is up to you but, remember, looks can be deceiving. You’ll be living in a fantasy world for twelve weeks. Reality rarely matches up with fantasy.”
“I guess I’ll just see what happens once I meet my co-stars,” I say diplomatically. If he wants me to act like I’m in love, I can do that, but my heart has been pretty closed off since Patrick’s death. It will be hard for anyone to get through, no matter how hard they try.
“We have a fancy dress ball planned for the big reveal, so we don’t want the most dramatic plot line of the entire season ending too soon. The love triangle is the thread that holds this season together. If that’s resolved too soon, then where would we be?”
“My character is not supposed to make any decision till May sweeps and fancy dress ball,” I repeat. “Got it. I can do that.”
There’s nothing really left to say or go over so I stand and reach out my hand to Malcolm. “Thank you for this opportunity, sir. I promise I won’t let you down.”
“We have all the faith in the world in you, Miss Jones,” he says. “Oh, one last thing before you go. Stop by the wardrobe department on your way out so they can take your measurements and have everything waiting for you when you arrive on set. Also, please remember to pack only one change of modern clothes for when you board the boat from LA to Port Lucia. One of the papers you signed asks that you take no modern conveniences with you. No cell phones, hair dryers, or even contact lenses if you wear them. You can’t live, breathe, eat, and sleep the 1700s experience if part of you is still tied to the twenty-first century. We have faith in you, Miss Jones. Next time I see you, you’ll be the magistrate’s daughter. See you in the 1700s.”
“Thank you. See you there.” I stand around for a couple more awkward minutes before he pushes an intercom button on his desk and his secretary appears to escort me out.
“Do you know where you have to go next?” she asks after noticing what can probably accurately be described as my deer caught in the headlights look. “Did Mr. Banks give you any instructions?”
“He said to go to the wardrobe department for a fitting.” I look down at my arm full of paperwork as if expecting a map to appear on top with the route clearly marked. This place was so huge, I think even a GPS system would get lost. “I, uh, don’t know the way.”
“I’ll point you in the right direction.” She motions for me to follow her into the hallway. “Follow this hall straight to the elevators. Go to the second floor, turn right, then left, then right again. Wardrobe is clearly marked after that.”
“Um, thank you. I appreciate your help.”
I walk away like I own the place. It’s my first step in trying not to let on how nervous and unsure of myself I am. I’m an actress, it’s time to act like I’m completely comfortable with everything being thrown at me. I can do this. It’s a job like any other job. Granted, most jobs aren’t this high profile and beamed into TV sets around the world, not to mention being able to stream it online or on a mobile device through the FFVTV app, but I’m going to have to stop being so nervous about that thought too. People watch TV. That’s just part of the job. I need to be strong. Patrick wouldn’t expect any less of me. If he were here right now, he’d tell me to suck it up and believe in myself. Next to Mom, Patrick was my biggest fan. I couldn’t let him down. I just couldn’t. I take a deep breath and repeat Patrick’s favorite Bible verse to myself: “The Lord is my Sheppard, I shall not want.” If this is the path meant for me, so be it. I place my hand over my heart and close my eyes. I remember Patrick how I want to remember him — laughing and smiling and joking in the car before everything went so horribly wrong.
“I’ll make you proud of me, Patrick. I promise.”
Still, despite my brave words, my confidence waivers. With everyone having so much faith in me, why can’t I have faith in myself?
“Are you sure you want to do this?” My sister, Heather, watches me pack up what I need to take with me to America.
“Absolutely.” I take out my phone and show her the last text I received from my now ex-agent Marty. I think you’re ruining your career if you take the churchy history show. “I disagree. I think this is just the start of my career. He thinks he knows what’s best for me, but I’m not blind, Heather. I don’t even care about being typecast. My eyes, mind, and heart are wide open, and they’re all leading me to the American show.”
“When can we expect you back?”
“That depends. The shoot is twelve weeks, but they want me there now for pre-production interviews. It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? I haven’t even started filming yet and suddenly everyone wants to talk to me. How can that be bad for my career?” I stuff my character background notes and everything else production gave me into my messenger bag. It will make good in-flight reading. It seems like I’m the lone Brit in a cast of mostly Americans. Since I signed on in the London office of FFVTV, I have yet to meet any of the American cast or crew. I’ve heard Malcolm Banks is a bit of a control freak, but he’s shaped 1700s Life into a global phenomenon, so I don’t particularly mind his unique brand of control.
“Everyone will fall in love with you,” Heather predicts. “You’ll be all over the magazines in no time.”
“That’s what I’m banking on.” I check my messenger bag again to make sure I have everything I need for the flight. Ticket, ID, passport, character and season plot ‘suggestions’ files…
“How are you feeling? Any nerves?” Heather putters around my kitchen, watering the plants and cleaning up the dishes in the sink. I should ask her the same question. She looks more nervous than I do.
“No, not nervous.” I smile to show I mean it and hopefully minimize her own worry about me being so far away for the first time in our lives. “To me, this all seems like one terribly big adventure. I am grateful for the opportunity and plan to make the most of it.”
“But couldn’t you have taken the West End play or the modeling job? Why do you have to go all the way to America?”
“Why not? It’s not that far. Only a five hour flight to New York and ten hours to Los Angeles. I don’t plan to jet back and forth, but a trip here and there for work isn’t all bad.”
Heather frowns, not seeming convinced at my logic. “If you say so.”
“If you’re worried about not seeing me as much, don’t be. I’ll always make time for family, no matter what.”
“Even when you’re a big time TV star?”
“Especially when I’m a big time TV star.”
I ruffle a hand through my dark hair before triple checking my messenger bag for all my necessary belongings. This is a big step, and no amount of bravado on my end is going to cover up the fear that creeps in when I realize this is real. I’m about to head to Heathrow to hop a flight to New York and then another flight to Los Angeles, do two weeks of press junkets and then twelve weeks of filming away from all modern conveniences. The reality of it all makes doubt set in, and a million little fears run through my mind. I’m not unique enough. I’m not talented enough. I close my eyes and remind myself that doubt is not from God. The sureness I feel deep in my soul lets me know I am on the right path. I should never doubt that.
“Well, I best be going or I’ll miss my flight.”
“Take care of yourself, David.”
I smile and ruffle a hand through my hair again. It’s a nervous habit I need to quit pronto unless I want to look like a jittery git on screen. “Don’t worry. I’ll see you soon enough.”
Faster than I can say jet lag, I’m sitting in a cushioned chair in the green room of the Hoopla show being made up for my guest appearance. Today’s topic is The Men of 1700s Life. They’ll follow up with The Ladies of 1700s Life on Wednesday’s show. From what I gather, after a few late additions, casting is finally complete. There’s three of us for today’s interview. We’re expected to all be introduced together and walk out together so no one feels as if they have top billing. It’s an ensemble show, after all. We work as a team, not as individuals.
“I remember the day I had fabulous hair to style before a segment,” says the bloke, Walter Mays. I know him from the Internet Movie Database stalking I did on my co-stars before we met up for these interviews. He leans down to examine his bald head in the lightened green room mirror. “Now, they just shine up my pate and send me on my way. It’s much easier for all involved, though I’m not above wearing a wig. I believe I’ll have one during production. I haven’t seen it yet, but they took my head measurements in the wardrobe fitting. Funny thing, isn’t it? Taking a head measurement?”
“I suppose it’s necessary if they want the wig to fit and not slip or blow off during filming.” I extend my hand to shake once the makeup artist has finished and moved on to the next bloke. “I’m David Hawkins. I believe I’m supposed to be in love with your on-set daughter.”
“So am I,” says the bloke who has been sitting silently on the green room couch this whole time doing some sort of puzzle game. He stands and offers his hand to Walter Mays, too. “Elliot Banes. I enjoyed your performance in Death Stays for Dinner.”
Walter preens like a peacock over the small compliment. “Yes, well, it’s one of my finer pieces of work. The script was too good to say no to.”
“I wish I had that problem.” The Elliot bloke tries to turn on the charm with a smile that merely comes across as cold and calculating instead of warm. “The scripts I receive are all high on melodrama and low on anything else. I’m happy Mr. Banks saw past that when I sent in my audition tape. If I play one more serial killer or stalker, I’m going to quit acting.”
“I thought you looked familiar!” I turn toward Elliot. “You’re the guy whose ex-girlfriend is making the talk show and entertainment news circuit crying about how you can’t accept she’s done with you and just move on. Your reputation precedes you, mate.”
His expression darkens faster than a thunderstorm rolling in over the Scottish moors. “Sasha is the one that can’t move on. She’s stuck being the scream queen of low budget TV movies while I’m cast as the romantic lead on a hit TV show.”
“Prepare for a bit of competition, mate.” I tip my head in Elliot’s direction. “Meet the other romantic lead.”
He frowns. “You’re awfully full of yourself, aren’t you?”
“Confidence isn’t a sin.”
“But pride is.”
“Why not save the fighting for on screen instead of off?” Walter suggests. “While I admire your commitment to exploring the character rivalry before filming even starts, do you really want real life to imitate art?”
Life imitating art? Now there’s a thought. That would turn the possibility of a dull shooting schedule into something infinitely more exciting. “Care to make a little wager, mate?” I ask Elliot. “Why not let life imitate art? We’re going to be stuck on an island for twelve weeks. Why not really live the 1700s experience and see who wins over our leading lady?”
“Isn’t that a little unfair to the actress?” I see a glimmer of interest in Elliot’s eyes, no matter how much he protests. “We’d be playing with her emotions.”
“I’m not talking about lying to her. I’m talking about truly living this 1700s experience and seeing where it takes us.” I take out my cell phone and Google “Harmony Jones 1700s Life.” Thousands of pictures pop up of a petite blonde with the most amazing, luminous face imaginable. I dare say the acting world hasn’t seen a face like that since the turn of the century. Aside from the outward beauty that comes around maybe once or twice in a generation, this Harmony girl can clearly act if Malcolm cast her in a such a pivotal role. She’s not a walk on or a bit player. She’s the Magistrate’s daughter, and the most important side of our love triangle storyline.
“What do you think?” I hold out my phone and give Elliot a glimpse of the pictures. “Getting to know her better is worth a little wager, don’t you think?”
I recognize the expression that crosses his face. That “struck by a bolt of lightning, head snap and wide eyed amazement” is how I looked when I first saw Harmony’s picture. Maybe in real life she’s a horrible, terrible person, but I’m willing to wager she’s not. Plenty of people fall in love on and off set. In our case, instead of going home to our friends and family at the end of the night, we’ll be living in a sort of time capsule created by the production company. No cell phones. No telly. No distractions. It’s the perfect place to fall in love. Something tells me, one of us — or perhaps both of us — will do just that before the next twelve weeks are up.
Elliot opens his mouth to answer but the Hoopla announcer calls our names, leaving us to walk out onto the talk show set and put the budding rivalry to rest for the time being.
I swear, if I read any more rumor mill stories about that nobody Harmony Jones being cast as the lead in what should be my season of 1700s Life, I’m going to seriously hurt someone. Ever since the press got wind of the casting news, that’s all they’ve been talking about. Forget the rest of us on the cast. We don’t matter. All that matters is the golden girl tragic car accident survivor is making her big acting debut. I get that she’s pretty, and I get that people like turning tragedy into triumph stories, but it’s not a cast of one. There’s going to be a whole island full of actors that have more experience than she does. What about us? We deserve some love, too.
My phone beeps, which means I have email. Ever since I put that Google alert on my name, I’ve been getting a lot of email. That means there’s a lot of stories I’m mentioned in but, for the most part, I’ve been unimpressed. No picture, no nothing. Just “The cast is rounded out by commercial pitch princess Katie Linton as Jones’ maid, British dream boat David Hawkins as the curate, and scene stealer Elliot Banes as the dashing naval hero.” I bet I can steal scenes just as good as this Elliot guy. Why am I just a commercial pitch princess? I like the princess bit, but it makes me sound stuck up or hard to work with. I don’t want that reputation already. If I’m going to maneuver this gig into my big break, I need to have a better reputation than that.
“Put your phone away, please, and keep your hands out,” the wardrobe assistant says. Right. As if it takes a whole lot of effort to make a maid uniform. It doesn’t have to be fitted. There’s no way I’m going to look hot in a black, ankle length dress, white apron, and white cap thing. It’s not even a French maid costume, which I could so totally rock. It’s a lady’s maid costume, which means the less skin I show off the better. The audience will be lucky if they catch a glimpse of my wrist or ankle.
A really lost looking, thin, blonde girl opens the wardrobe department door. She looks around like she’s trying to figure out if this is the right place or not before stepping in and closing the door. I suck in my breath as I recognize her. It would be hard not to. Her picture has only been plastered all over social media and entertainment news sites since casting news was announced. It’s Harmony Jones. The latest sob story media darling. Everything she touches turns to gold. It makes me want to puke all over my uncomfortable Colonial shoes.
“Um, I’m Harmony Jones,” she says as if we haven’t seen her picture a gazillion times all over the entertainment news sites and shows. “I’m on 1700s Life and am supposed to be fitted or measured. I forgot which.”
I roll my eyes. Ugh. She’s so new she squeaks. I think about saying something snarky, but then I remember Mr. Banks said I’m supposed to befriend everyone so me and my honest face can get the real secrets and drama to play out on set. That means I need to be nice. Pity. I’d rather start up a feud. At least then I’d be guaranteed some more entertainment website and TV show screen time. Who doesn’t like a good feud? The audience eats that stuff up.
“Both,” I say from my perch on the little stool the wardrobe department made me stand on so they can take my measurements easier.
Harmony Jones turns. Her whole face lights up, and her body relaxes all at once when she sees me. She probably thinks I’m a friend. Maybe under different circumstances we could be. We’re the same age, which would usually mean late night gossip sessions over whoever is cutest in the cast, but she’s standing in the way of my big break. I should have been cast as the Magistrate’s daughter, not the maid. The maid is seen and not heard. How am I supposed to get noticed that way? I might as well be invisible.
“Oh, hello.” She smiles at me, and I make a point to smile back. If Mr. Banks wants me to befriend her, I’ll befriend her. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, though. “Are you on 1700s Life, too?”
I nod. “I’m Katie Linton. I play your lady’s maid.”
“Mr. Banks said I was going to have a maid, but I didn’t really believe him.” She smiles again. Ugh. Even without trying she looks all angelic. No doubt the camera will love her.
“You’re playing a rich girl, aren’t you?” I raise both eyebrows and act like I don’t know exactly who she is playing. “Rich girls always have maids. It’s part of the deal.”
“I don’t know what I did to deserve such a part. It’s my first time ever doing something on this large a scale,” she confesses.
No, duh, Sherlock. I refrain from rolling my eyes. That is not friendly, and I’m going to be a super cheerful helpful friend if it kills me. “Have you seen the sketches of the stuff they’re going to truss you up in? You have enough petticoats to practically make a new person. Trust me, you’re going to need a lady’s maid to get in and out of those contraptions. They’re going to dress you up like a beautiful doll, and I get to help. Lucky me.”
“What role did you audition for?” She steps up on her own stool and holds out her arms as the wardrobe assistants scurry around her like a bunch of servants sent to do her bidding.
Yours, I think, but of course don’t say it. Who doesn’t want the lead role? Thanks to her, I’m now just a featured player. True, it’s better than a bit player or special guest star, but I should have more screen time. My talents are wasted curling her hair and getting her dressed so she can go off and enjoy the really juicy storyline of the season. “Oh, you know, I’m just happy to have any part. It’s an honor to be on such a great show. This season is going to rock.”
“I think so, too… if I don’t screw things up.”
She looks over at me again and frowns as if trying to decide how much or how little to confide in me. I smile encouragingly. Go on now. You can trust me. I have an honest face. Honest faces don’t lie much.
“I just… Everyone tells me how much faith they have in me, and I can’t figure out why I can’t have that much faith in myself,” she continues. “I try to see what Mr. Banks sees in me, but just can’t get my confidence up, you know? It’s like my mind is stuck on ‘you’re in way over your head.’”
“Totally,” I agree. “This show is a really big deal. You have a lot riding on your shoulders. I don’t know how you do it. I’d collapse under the stress.”
She laughs. “That might still happen.”
“Only if you let it.”
“You’re right.” She touches her heart, which is weird and a little creepy. I’m not against signs of faith or whatever is going on with Harmony Jones, but, seriously, am I really going to have to put up with that for the entire twelve week shoot? Somebody shoot me now and not in the ‘I’m ready for my closeup’ way. “I need to remember that. I guess we’re all our own worst enemies, aren’t we? Have you had much acting experience before being cast on 1700s Life?”
“Only scripted,” I say. “This improv stuff is new to me. I’ve done commercials mostly, well almost exclusively, and some pilots that didn’t get picked up to series. I played Homeless Girl #1 on a ‘very special’ Thanksgiving episode of Shanty Town. Can you believe that show is still on the air? I mean, how do they keep coming up with story lines for so long? They should have quit while they were ahead about five seasons ago.” Harmony nods sagely, and I continue to play the bubbly best friend card. I can tell she’s already starting to trust me. How’s that for award worthy acting? “Don’t get me wrong, I like the show and was happy for the work, but it’s been taking a dive since season ten, don’t you think? I mean, there’s only so many homeless people get a second shot at life stories any writer can come up with, you know? Seriously, just end it now and put everyone out of their misery.”
“I’ve only done some community theater and high school plays,” she says like I care to know the details. I already read her empty IMDB profile. “I used to model but that seems like forever ago. That was so much easier than acting. I still played a part, but I didn’t have any lines. Too bad I can’t smile and nod through the season of 1700s Life. I’m going to have to open my mouth at some point. Unless I’m mute. Maybe I can ask the scenario writers to put that in. I’m the mute rich girl who only speaks in improvised sign language. Do you think Mr. Banks will go for that?”
“Not unless you want to end up in the unemployment line,” I say. “Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll be great.”
“Everyone keeps telling me that, but I’m still worried.” Her hand flutters to her heart. “I’ll do my best, but I don’t know how great that will be.”
“Even if you’re a little stiff at first, it kind of goes with your role,” I say. I’m trying to get her to relax and trust me more. I think it’s working. I’ll find out soon enough once we’re all on the island. “You’re playing a spoiled rich girl. You can do anything with that. Stiff will come off as haughty, which works for what’s expected of you. Once you loosen up a bit, you can show off other angles and range.”
“Do you really think so?”
I nod. “I know so. Don’t worry. No matter what Malcolm says, it’s way too late to recast. You have the Colonial look, you know. All pale and skinny and blonde. That’s not something casting can find every day. No wonder you’re the lead, and I’m the maid. I look like I don’t skip meals. These chubby cheeks and crazy curly hair are good for best friend roles, but not so much for leading lady. We’re both typecast before we ever open our mouths.”
Harmony looks down at her pixie cut pants and black boat neck shirt. Not the height of any sort of fashion, but she still manages to look like a super model while I look like one of those rosy cheeked kids on a soup can label.
“Do you really think I look the part? Even in street clothes?”
I nod. Seriously, can she make this let’s be friends nonsense any easier for me? This is like taking candy from a baby. “Just wait till you try on your costume for the first time. You’ll hardly believe it’s you. So, what have you been in besides summer stock and high school plays? Anything I’d have seen?”
“I doubt it.” Harmony stands up straight and holds excruciatingly still as the wardrobe people hover around her. “My biggest credit is a regional dog food commercial.”
“That’s it? Wow, production really cut you a break giving you such a big part.” I slip up and let my true feelings filter across my face before clamping down on all the jealousy and disappointment of being cast as lady’s maid. I need to be bubbly. Being friendly will make me friends. “I’ve been acting professionally since I was ten. I’ve done loads of commercials. My ex-agent said commercials were my bread and butter. I have an honest face so people trust me when I’m hocking products. Probably my most famous part — if you want to call it that — is the national shampoo ad. It’s still running even two years after I filmed it. I had to turn down a great mouthwash gig because filming conflicted with 1700s Life. I was up for a skin cream commercial, too, but they gave it to what’s-her-name. You know who I mean. The annoying triple threat singer/actor/dancer of the moment.”
Harmony nods, but I can tell she doesn’t know who I’m talking about. What rock has she been living under? Everyone knows what’s-her-name. Her face is almost as over-exposed as Harmony’s right now.
“So, um, have you ever done any reality TV?” She holds out her arms again as the wardrobe design team drapes and pins a thin white dress on her. It reminds me of something you’d see in one of those famous Regency author chick’s book-to-movie. I can’t remember her name either. If I’m ever up for a role in one of her book-to-movies I’ll be sure to act like she’s my most favorite author ever. “I just want to try to figure out what to expect once filming starts.”
“I thought about auditioning for Date Me I’m Yours, but 1700s Life came calling first,” I say. “Reality shows are all about exposure. Anyone who tells you differently is lying. Everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame. With cameras on us constantly, I’m bound to do or say something America will love and off goes my career. Today I’m a maid, but tomorrow I’m going to be a star.”
I try to tame my unruly mop of curls by tucking them under the maid’s cap wardrobe hands me to try on, but it doesn’t work very well. They end up pinning the cap on my head while one of the assistants scribbles notes about re-sizing. At least it’s only my hair that’s big and not my head. I don’t want to be Miss Pumpkin Head on TV.
“Are they really going to film us twenty-four seven?” Harmony asks.
Geez, did she not read any of her paperwork? Typical that she’d sign her life away for the next twelve weeks instead of figuring out exactly what she’s in for. Desperate people do that, and I bet she’s desperate for the lime light.
I shake my head. “They’re not contractually allowed to film us twenty-four seven. It goes against labor laws and all that. I hear they stick hidden cameras around the main sets just in case something really juicy happens after hours, but it’s a secret where. It would be an invasion of privacy if the crew filmed us while we were changing our clothes, bathing, or in the bathroom. For our twelve weeks on Port Lucia, those are the only times we’re allowed to be out of character.”
“That’s a really big relief,” she sighs. “I was afraid I’d have to be ‘on’ twenty-four seven.”
“Nah, no one can really expect that out of us.” Once wardrobe finishes with my costume fitting, I hop down from my stool. “We need a little downtime. If they expect us to think fast on our feet, we can’t be exhausted or worried about a camera always in our face. Just remember, they need us more than we need them.” I bounce up and down on my toes to get my circulation going again. “What do you think you’ll miss the most? Your boyfriend?”
Harmony laughs briefly. “I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Really? That seems hard to believe.”
She runs a hand through her hair, which gets her a sharp ‘hold still please’ from the wardrobe mistress. “It’s not from lack of trying on the guys’ parts. I just haven’t felt that sort of connection with anyone in a long time.”
“That David Hawkins guy is pretty hot,” I say. I might as well start planting the drama seeds now while I have the chance. “Have you checked out his IMDB page?”
“No, I haven’t had a chance to google anyone yet,” Harmony says.
“You should.” I hang around and wait for her to finish up with her costume fitting before offering to walk with her to the parking lot.
Harmony crumbles like a rag doll in relief at my suggestion. “I’d love that. This place is so big and scary. Even with directions, I got lost coming from Mr. Banks’ office.”
“Once you figure things out, you’ll be navigating the halls like a pro. Until then, I can help.”
“I really appreciate it.”
I know you do. Instead of saying that out loud, I just smile. “Don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal. I like to help. Maybe it’s a good thing they cast me as your maid. If we stick together, we can be quite the team.”
She just nods and smiles mutely again, so I try to find another topic of conversation to get her going on. There’s got to be something I can report back to Malcolm. Scared doe-eyed leading lady isn’t all that dramatic. Not unless you want to take bets on whether she’ll throw up once he calls ‘action’ or not.
“So with no boyfriend, what do you think you’ll miss the most?” I ask. “I know I can’t live without my cell phone. That’s going to be rough leaving it in the cast lockers when we get off the ferry on Port Lucia.”
“What I think I’ll miss the most is the modern conveniences. I mean, we’re so used to cell phones and computers and indoor plumbing, what’s it really going to be like living without them for twelve weeks? I mean, what if I need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night? I think I’d rather hold it then run through the dark to an equally dark out house.”
“You should wake me up. I’ll be a good lady’s maid, light a candle, and lead the way. I’m not afraid of snakes or whatever comes out at night on the island.”
“Snakes?” I didn’t think it’s possible, but Harmony somehow gets paler than she already is. “Do you really think there’s snakes on the island?”
“I bet that’s not all that we’ll have to fight off on the way to the outhouse,” I say. “I hear that Elliot Banes guy is quite the creeper. I bet he’s the sort of guy who drills holes in bathroom walls and spies on people. Good luck being his scene partner.”
Harmony grimaces. “Thanks for the warning. I really need to get to googling our cast mates when I get home.”
“Don’t mention it.” She stands as still as a mannequin as wardrobe does their thing. It’s not very exciting to watch, but I need her to trust me and skipping out now doesn’t exactly say ‘let’s be on set buddies.’ Instead, I slap on the biggest, fakest, most insincere smile I can manage which she, of course, takes as me being super friendly. Lucky me. We’ll be braiding each other’s hair and telling secrets in no time.
“I don’t see why you didn’t let me negotiate you out of the contract. I’m your manager. That’s my job. Don’t you trust me anymore? This will do nothing for your career. You may get some buzz leading up to the season, but it will disappear as quickly as it came. Trust me. This type of show never lasts. You’ll be back to your real bread and butter roles before I can say ‘I told you so.’”
I cover my face with my hands and rub my eyes. Mom can guilt trip with the best of them, and I’ve been getting an ear full ever since she jumped into my taxi on the way to the ferry to Port Lucia. I can’t exactly kick my own mother out of a moving vehicle, so guilt trip it is.
“It’s like I barely know you anymore, Elliot. Keeping secrets. Not wanting me to share your cab or see you off. What is with you lately? This is not the little boy I gave birth to and nurtured and protected through the years. You’re a stranger to me. I want my little boy back.”
“In case you missed it, Mom, I’m an adult and have been for years now.”
“Don’t remind me. You’ve been a so called adult for seven years now. Becoming an adult doesn’t mean you’re suddenly more mature, it only makes you think you can be free of taking good advice from your mother. I don’t tell you these things to listen to myself talk. I tell you these things to help make sure you don’t lose all you’ve worked for so long. Don’t you care about my opinion at all, Elliot?”
No. I don’t bother to say it out loud. Mom would probably fake a heart attack on the docks if I dared say no to her. Then I’d be forced to bow out from 1700s Life to take care of her which, come to think of it, is exactly what she wants but exactly what I don’t want. I will be so glad to give up all methods of modern communication and be cut off from her for twelve weeks.
“Are you even listening to me?” Mom grabs my shoulder and shakes me out of the lovely daydream where I’m far away and free. “I’m going to call that producer, Malcolm Banks, right now and tell him you need to drop out of the show. Do you think you can fake malaria? Or what about dysentery? I’ve been reading through some scripts, and I found a role that I think is perfect for you. It’s a TV movie about a sweet boy that is keeping a dark secret from his college sweetheart. He only reveals the truth when—”
“I’m done with the dark and brooding roles, Mom!” I finally put my foot down… a little more forcefully than I intended based on her do-you-want-to-give-me-a-heart-attack shocked expression. “I want to make some choices in my life and that starts now. I’m getting on that ferry, and I’m filming my two season commitment to 1700s Life. Nothing you can say or do will stop me.”
“What’s that, Elliot?” Mom clutches at her chest. “I can’t hear you over the sound of my own heart breaking. Is that anyway to talk to the woman who gave you life and sacrificed her own hopes and dreams in order for you to become a star?”
“Just because you gave me life doesn’t mean you can control it, Mom,” I say. “Things are going to change. Starting now.”
“If you say so.” Mom takes out her cell phone. If you say so is Mom speak for I’ll let you think you won this battle for now. “Will you at least let me take some pictures to sell to the tabloids?” She motions at a very pretty, petite blonde girl talking to her own mom a short distance away. “Why don’t you go stand by her? She looks like she could be great click-bait. The more clicks your picture gets, the happier the tabloid sites will be. Plus, they’ll buy more pictures from me. If you insist on isolating yourself from everyone that cares about you for twelve weeks, I need some way to make money while you’re away.”
“I’m not photo bombing that poor girl’s family good bye in order for you to make a buck.”
“Why not? And for you information, I only get five cents a click, so it takes a lot to make a buck.”
I put my face in my hands. “How can I possibly be related to you?”
Mom snaps a picture. “You are, Elliot dear. I have the stretch marks to prove it. Now go stand by that cute little blonde and help me make some tabloid sites really happy.”
I take my hands away from my face and turn to squint over at the blonde girl. She tucks her hair behind her ear as she talks animatedly to her mom. I suck in my breath. Suddenly, it seems like everything is moving in slow motion. Mom’s voice becomes a droning wa-wa-wa-wa in my ear. All I can focus on is the blonde girl. It feels like the whole world is spinning. No. Not the whole world. Just my world. Even without an ounce of makeup on, she still manages to be luminous. It’s not just her beauty that makes me feel like the world is spinning, though. There’s a lightness — a goodness — that radiates from her as if it were a tangible part of her being. I’ve seen her somewhere before. I know I have. But where? A memory from the talk show I did with Walter Mays and that annoying British guy, David Hawkins, surfaces. He had shown me pictures of our co-star, and now here she is standing in front of me. Part of me liked it better when she was just the girl on the docks. That way, there is no chance of her ever stepping out of my fantasy into reality. Usually, I’m disappointed when reality doesn’t match up with fantasy. I hope that’s not the case with Harmony, but if my drama with Sasha taught me anything, it’s to never judge someone based on their outward appearance. The prettiest faces often hide the ugliest souls.
“That’s Harmony Jones,” I tell Mom. “She’s my leading lady.”
“Well, make your way over there and get in the shot.” Mom makes a shooing motion with her hand. “And try not to be too obvious about it. I don’t want it to look staged.”
“I can’t talk to her.”
“I’m not asking you to talk to her, just stand in the same frame.” Mom shoos me away again. “Do as I say, dear. Remember, I have a weak heart.”
“The only thing weak in our family is my backbone,” I mutter as I shuffle away. I’m about half a dozen steps from Harmony when someone steps in my path. I scowl, thinking it’s that idiot Hawkins, but, looking up, I see Walter Mays. He’s someone I don’t mind being interrupted by.
“You, young man, look like you’re in desperate need of saving from something.” His mouth quirks into a smile. “Or someone.”
I laugh. It’s a weird stutter-stop sound that puts my nerves on full display. “My stage mom is being overbearing as usual. Do you think you can distract her while I sneak off? I’d rather meet Harmony under circumstances that don’t involve saying, ‘Hi, my mom wants me to take a picture with you.’”
Walter sweeps his arm in the direction of the gang plank. “Sneak away. I’ve been known to turn on the charm when needed and this is precisely one of those moments.”
“Thank you.” I clasp my hands together in thanks. “I owe you.”
I sneak up the gang plank and find a quiet spot out of range of Mom’s eagle eyes. I shouldn’t feel like I need to run and hide from my own mother. I should just take control and tell her to back off. This is my life, and I’m going to live it any way I want to. I’m not going to slink away like a dog with its tail between its legs just because my mother doesn’t approve of my decisions. If I fail, I’ll fail, but at least it will be on my own terms and no one else’s. An image of Harmony pops into my head. Will I fail with her? Will I lose to Hawkins and all his dazzling bravado and ability to say the right words at the right time? He’s insecure. I could tell that the second I met him backstage for the talk show circuit. No one works that hard to be admired if they admire themselves. It’s not like I’m the poster child for self-esteem, but at least I know I have a problem. Maybe these next twelve weeks will help with that. Maybe it won’t, but I’ll never know unless I try.
I want to try.
I take a deep breath, hold it for five seconds, and exhale slowly. Deep breathing always calms me down. I feel almost happy at the thought that the ferry will soon pull away from the dock and leave everything behind. I’m ready to leave everything behind.
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MOLLY ZENK was born in Minnesota, grew up in Florida, lived briefly in Tennessee, before finally settling in Colorado. She graduated from Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL with degrees in Secondary Education, English, and Creative Writing. She spent six years using those degrees teaching High School English, Poetry, and Creative Writing before going on “hiatus” to focus on being a stay-at-home/work-at-home Mom. Molly is married to a Mathematician/Software Engineer who complains about there not being enough “math” or info about him in her author bio. They live in Arvada, CO with their young daughters, one dog, and one cat.
After the loss of her brother, actress Harmony Jones struggles with daily life. Landing the lead role on the hit faith based living history show, 1700s Life, might be the perfect way to reconnect with her faith and be her big acting break. Tired of hiding his strong faith and convictions to get secular roles, David Hawkins jumps at the chance to play the curate on 1700s Life. It's the perfect vehicle to spread God’s word. Elliot Banes’ career needs an image makeover, so he accepts the naval hero role on 1700s Life. Getting away from his overbearing mother is an added bonus. His true hope is to learn to speak his mind instead of always fading into the background. When a scripted love triangle between Harmony, David, and Elliot becomes a real life love triangle, Harmony must make a difficult decision. . She hoped to find her wavering faith, she didn't count on finding love as well. If that was her only obstacle, the role would be a breeze. Unfortunately, there’s an on-set spy intent on causing drama. Can Harmony see through all the lies and secrets to the truth in her heart, or will she end up falling for the wrong man?