An editor of See You There magazine held two stories in his hand. One was about an actress named Shelton Wade and the other was about a TV star, Krystal Adams. The editor called in a columnist passing by.
“Hey, Jane – help me with this. I need a filler piece to follow the Espinoza’s divorce drama article. Here I have that Shelton chick’s new house. I think it was once Orlando Bloom’s bachelor pad or something, okay?” He put one set of sheets down and picked up the other. “Over here I have Krystal Adams doing a vodka launch. It’s not her line, she’s just there. What’s His Name isn’t there but she is falling out of her dress and I have some shots of her dancing provocatively with another guest – which should I go with?”
“Shelton,” Jane said.
“Okay, but the other guest Krystal is grinding against is a porn star,” the editor added.
Jane took the photos and pursed her lips as she looked at them.
“Yeah, I’m still going with Shelton. She just got a part in the new Malick film – doesn’t deserve it, but got it. Krystal can’t even get arrested,” she said, handing the photos back to him.
The editor put the Krystal piece in the drawer. “Okay, Shelton it is.”
In Krystal Adams’ bathroom, Krystal herself let out a deafening scream as a deep line etched itself to the left of her mouth.
“And coming up next on E! News – what will Shelton Wade receive for her 22nd birthday extravaganza next week and is superstar Jared Duncan the one giving it to her? The answer after the break.” The TV blared from the common room in Krystal’s house.
Krystal ran from her bathroom and launched a coffee mug at the TV, sending her mother in from parts of the house unknown.
“Jesus, Krys – that’s a three thousand dollar television screen.”
“Shut up, Mom! Just… get me a drink.”
Krystal’s mom cast a glance at the clock. “Estella – fetch my daughter some filtered water please – with the cucumber and mint garnish. Moo-chaus Grasiass.”
“You sound like a cartoon character.” Krystal said, picking up a magazine and furiously leafing through it. She stopped on a photo of the singer Dakota McClary. Her mouth dropped. “Look at her. Look at her. She’s five years older than me. And look! She’s got her hand on Ryan Gosling’s shoulder like they… as if they were best friends. Uhnf… “ she threw the magazine across the room. Picking up the rest in the large pile on the side table, Krystal chucked them as hard as she could.
The room was suddenly littered with beautiful, relevant people.
Krystal turned to another of the many mirrors in the house; she ran her hands over her face, pulling her skin taught. She smiled a sad smile as she saw the face that made her famous. Hesitantly, she pulled her hands away; lines mapped their way back across skin. Her mom stood behind her peering over Krystal’s shoulder in the mirror; their faces interchangeable.
“Krys, you can’t let this get to you,” her mother said. “I’m working on deals every day – everyone wants you, honey.” Krystal had heard this many times before.
Pointing at her face, Krystal whispered, “Shelton is everywhere.” Her cheeks flushing with anger, she turned abruptly to face her mother. “Meanwhile, I can’t even open a box of crackers. WHERE ARE MY BOOKINGS?”
“Look, honey. Once that last misstep dies down, we’ll be back; you’ll be back,” her mother said, running her eyes over Krystal’s face.
“It’s not fair! It’s not like their ‘marriage’ was anything more than a piece of paper anyway! Why would she stamp out the rumors before anyone could talk about them? This shit wouldn’t happen to Shelton. When she stole Jared they practically threw her a damn parade. Have you seen Jared’s ex since he took up with Shelton? Christ, she looks like she’s been run over by a train.”
“Well, she hasn’t been able to get her name in anything. She’s been… forgotten” Her mother said the last word as if it hurt her tongue. “Who we get…involved with…is vital, Kris.” She said pointedly.
Krystal bared her teeth. “He’s the best I can do right now, Mother!”
Shelton Wade skimmed through the scripts piled on her coffee table. They all had a cover sheet from her manager that listed what the movie is about, her character’s story arc, how much nudity she would be asked to do and who, if anyone, was attached to the project. She rarely looked at anything but the names of the people attached. Her manager came in with a grilled cheese sandwich and a diet soda.
“I want these.” She said handing her manager three scripts and grabbing the food.
“This one? This is Shakespeare,” her manager said.
“Whatever, it has Johnny Depp in it,” she said, her mouth full of food.
“Shakespeare can be rough. If you get it wrong, they crucify you. Why don’t you look at that ensemble piece again? The one with… “ her manager’s phone rang, “Yes?” he said into the phone. “Sure, sure – Shelton’s available. I’ll put it in her book.” He hung up and immediately started recording the details into his phone. “They want you to open that new geek-chic club downtown. Do you know who’s signed on for that? Jesus, this is great!” he said, sending the details to Shelton’s phone.
Shelton glanced at the glass on the coffee table. Her reflection looked back at her as her luminous blond hair became fuller and bounced down her back. She took another swig of her soda and crinkled her nose in disgust.
“Get rid of this,” she said, handing to her manager. “Bring me a Pepsi.”
“No,” her manager said, handing it back to her. “Pepsi is not paying you millions to be seen drinking one. They are.” He pointed to the can.
Shelton leaned forward, turned the can around so the label could be read, just as her mother had showed her, and smiled her best Hollywood smile.
Throwing her head back and shaking her long hair, she stayed in commercial character as she picked up the can and overturned it, pouring the contents on to the remaining scripts in the pile on the table.
“Dammit!” her manager yelled, racing to rescue the scripts. “How the hell am I supposed to get replacements? Tell them ‘sorry, my client is a petulant bitch’?”
Shelton laughed and shrugged as she leaned back on the couch.
“This isn’t a joke, Shelton.” He said, swiping his hand along her face in an almost seductive manner, making sure he gave it a little sting…wihtout leaving a mark. Jesus, she was a brat. But a gold mine, for now. “All of this can disappear just as quickly as it got here. Remember, there are no lasers, no needles; there is fame and there is not fame… which side do you want to be on?”
Shelton crossed her arms defiantly.
“Or do you want to call your mother?” her manager said, and laughed.
“Get out!” Shelton fumed.
He left, slamming the door. Shelton turned to face the curtained wall behind her. Three portraits hung in front of it; Shelton, her mother and her father – something installed for her Architectural Digest spread. Shelton slowly pulled back the curtain revealing hundreds of more photos that charted both her and her mother’s lives. Shelton shuddered at the sight of her mother, bloated and blotchy. She looked at the photos showing her own awkward childhood, lived wholly in obscurity.
She was 18 when she got her breakout role. In a rare moment of compassion, Shelton begged the director to give her washed-up mother a cameo, in the way most young unknown actresses begged. It was a stroke of luck that movie did as well as it did, making Shelton the most talked about actress in Hollywood. With her days of bended knees behind her, Shelton promptly put her flawless skin and impressive new bust-line in Playboy with an article discussing the empowerment of women. Her mother had jumped on her coattails and ridden them ever since.
For her kindness, Shelton’s mother rewarded Shelton with lectures about how to conduct herself and how to get sponsorships; but mostly how much she hated Shelton’s choice in men.
Shelton brushed back a loose lock behind her ear and stood back so she could see her beautiful face in the hundreds of photos hung on the wall. She stared at a photo showing her mother’s gray, cracked face from ten years ago.
Not me, Cassandra, she thought as she pulled out her phone and dialed. Holding it up to her ear with one hand, she pulled the curtain back in place with the other. She stared directly into her mother’s eyes in her portrait hanging in front of the curtain. Hold onto your trump card, you always said. You stupid cow.
Dakota McClary picked up on the other end of the phone. “Shelton, where have you been all day, baby?”
“Thinking of how much I need you, naked, in my bed… now.”
In her dramatically white living room, Cassandra Wade Collins took a long pull from a bottle of water. She expertly turned the label to the front so the reporters sitting across from her could note the brand. Once finished, she blotted her lips and turned back to the reporter and flashed her famous smile.
“Sorry,” she began. “I am just so busy these days, if I don’t hydrate, I can’t function,” Cassandra said, fanning herself for emphasis.
The reporter smiled back and nodded to the camera guy to start recording. “Hi Cassandra. It’s nice to see you again,” she said.
“Bernadette,” Cassandra said with false affection, placing a hand on the reporter’s knee. “It is always so good to see you.”
The reporter checked her sheet of vetted questions, “Now, let’s get straight to it – you look amazing. It’s almost like instead of going forward in years, you’re heading backwards! I think every woman watching wants to know your secret.” The cameraman winced at Bernadette’s dramatic delivery.
Cassandra tittered, “Oh, thank you. I’m just so happy now; I have this wonderful job that I love, I have this glorious home and I have met my soul mate.” She placed a gentle hand on her heart for emphasis when she said the last part.
“A gorgeous soul-mate by the way – and a much younger one,” Bernadette said.
Cassandra batted her eyes. “Well, the heart wants what the heart wants,” she said demurely.
“And your daughter Shelton is one of the hottest actresses on the scene today. Is it true that Terrence Malick wants her for his next film?”
Cassandra’s smile and voice tightened, “Yes, he does! I’m so proud of how I raised her. You know, I don’t want to dwell too much on the past – there’s no reason for that – but I raised her at a great personal sacrifice, both to myself and my career. But, I mean, that’s what we do as mothers, don’t we? My daughter is my life. I am just so proud of her. That’s what I wanted for her. That is the foundation I laid.”
The cameraman stifled a laugh.
Bernadette continued, “Right…right. And wasn’t it the cameo in her film that really put you back on the map?”
Cassandra felt the skin under her right eye loosen. She feigned a sneeze and asked to pause the interview to get a tissue. As soon as the camera was off, so were the smiles. Cassandra went to her room where she checked eyes; they had become a shade grayer since she woke up this morning. She dabbed on a little foundation and headed out to her living room. She practically hissed, as she passed by a Shelton’s photo on her credenza.
Taking her seat opposite Bernadette, the reporter held up her hand to pause the cameraman from resuming. “Okay, Cassie. You and me go way back. We all saw the photos when hubby number two left – square up with me, who’s doing your work now? Whoever it is, they are very, very good…” she said.
Cassandra smile genuinely. “Honestly, darling, it’s just the life I lead…”
“What do you MEAN Cassandra Wade Collins has been added to the line-up?” Diovonne LeGrace shouted at her manager. “How did that two-bit player wrangle her way onto my red carpet?!?”
“Come on, Di, don’t make a mess of this. It was hard enough for me to get you there; you cause trouble and they’ll clip you for sure.”
Diovonne, nee Diane, fumed about the room. “It’s that bastard she spawned. If only I had been desperate enough to get knocked up by my director, I would be walking every red carpet today, too!” She grabbed a magazine with Cassandra’s smiling face beaming out at her; Cassandra looked 30 years old, causing Diovonne’s hands to shake as she held the magazine tighter. She hastened to her desk and pulled out the top drawer. Removing the contents, she lifted out the false bottom, exposing a slew of photos dating as far back as her youth. Digging around, she grabbed those she sought; one was a photo from thirty years ago when she and Cassandra had been working their way up the Hollywood ladder. She gazed at their beautiful faces and perfect figures. From behind that photo, she pulled another photo; one of Diovonne, who had just landed the coveted role of a Mrs. Robinson type. She glowed in the fading photo.
Next to her was her then husband, Henry Taylor. His ruggedly handsome face was facing her with this award-winning smile on display for all to admire. On her other side was the woman the tabloids called “her dear friend,” Cassandra Wade Collins. Cassandra’s girth could barely be contained in the ill-fitting dress that had been sewn on her at the last minute. Her face was sallow and heavily lined. She sported multiple chins and thin hair with gray roots. She looked at least a decade older than Diovonne. Holding this photo up to the magazine photo of Cassandra today, Diovonne let out a sob. Her dear friend had not so much as called once since her fortunes, and her looks, returned. The last time a reporter had asked Cassandra about Diovonne, all Cassandra could do was lower her eyes and shake her head.
It wasn’t only about getting your name in the spotlight, it was keeping others out as well.
Diovonne’s manager, who had been on the phone in the other room, returned shaking her head. “Sorry, babe. It’s a no go.”
Diovonne panicked. “What’s a no go?”
“Henry. He can’t agree to show up on your arm this season. He says he loves you to death for all the times you did it for him but he’s working on something now and can’t return the favor. Listen…oh, crap!” Her manager turned white and pointed at Diovonne’s face, which sent Diovonne racing to the mirror.
Small veins were creeping up her neck, slipping over the wrinkles and through the crevices of skin-folds as they wound their way upwards; each leaving its inky trail as it webbed across the landscape of her neck.
Diovonne tore the mirror from the wall.
“Look, Jack. You know I’m right for this part. Why are you dicking me around like this?”
“Henry,” Jack Carver said, without taking the cigar from his puffy lips, “you were right for this about 10 years ago, back when you were banging that hot model behind Diovonne’s back – I could have sold you in a heartbeat. But now, they say you’re… tired. I can’t pass you off as the aging playboy.” Jack sat back in his chair and let out a single laugh, “Ironic, isn’t it?”
“Don’t sell my spot, Jack. Just give me a few days.” Henry said.
Jack pointed at Henry’s midsection, “Lose that.”
“You sound like Krystal.” Henry said.
“Rethink that one. People are already asking ‘Krystal who?’”
“She’s fine. Nascar still loves her and she’s got a couple pilots she’s getting called in to audition for.”
“Lead?” Jack asked, knowing the answer.
“No, but it’s getting her name out there.”
“And as soon as her name is out, so are you – of the house YOU paid for. You never should have let go of Diovonne. Christ, that broad would’ve allowed you to do anything.”
Henry fondled the phone in his pant pocket; Diovonne was still on speed dial. “Uh-huh.” He said, turning to leave.
“My condolences, by the way.”
Henry froze in his tracks and turned his head to the left, “For?”