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I'll tell you a story, but first, the familiar questions: Do you want to be financially secure? Do you want to be your own boss? Do you ...

Monday, July 8, 2019

Chapters 1 through 3 of Janus *Spoiler Alert*

*Major Spoiler Alert* if you haven't read Façade!

Happy Reading! See the links after the chapters to purchase Janus.


I was breathing erratically, panicking, because of the tight space. I knew that I could shout out for help, but I didn’t want to appear weak. I was crouched on all fours, hands and knees, and all four corners of the metal box seemed like they were closing in on me. It felt cold inside, but sweat dripped down my face from my scalp. I could hear my heartbeat loudly and I couldn’t stop my rapid breathing. Great! Should I scream? I feel like I’m going to faint.
            Then the shouts died down, and I heard nothing. This was my cue to lift my hands above my head and push the top of the box open. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t move my hands. What’s going on? Calm down, calm down, I chanted inwardly.
            I tried to lift my right hand up, but it didn’t budge. It felt weighted, as though my shoulder had turned into clay, weighing my hands down. I also tried to lift up my left hand, same thing. Then I started to panic much more than I already had. Oh god, should I scream?
            My vision began to blur, and there were tiny specks of light on both sides of my eyes. Just as I was about to scream, I heard knocks on the top of the box.
            I thought I responded, but I didn’t hear myself speak out.
            When the voice calling, “Emma” became louder and more frantic, I knew I hadn’t responded.
            Light burst into the box and strong arms grabbed my waist and lifted me up. I was still crouched on all fours when I was placed on the floor. I lowered myself and sat down slowly, drawing my knees up to my chest, and placing my head on them. My breathing didn’t ease up, in and out, I wheezed. The sweat on my body had turned cold, making me shiver slightly. I blinked rapidly and my vision was beginning to clear.
            “Emma, are you all right?”
            Cool hands raised up my chin. I had to squint as I looked at three pairs of curious, startled eyes.
            I nodded yes.
            “What happened in there?” Jose Nato asked. The usually unfriendly face looking more furious. “You were supposed to push open the lid of the box and jump out when they ran past the box. You’ve done it the right way before.” He said, disappointingly.
            “I don’t know what happened,” I said, in my tiny pathetic voice, looking anywhere but his eyes.
            “Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Brian said, taking the spot in front of Jose Nato and squatting in front of me. He lifted up my face and wiped my perspiring forehead with a wet cloth.
            Oh goodie! If Brian is being tender, then I definitely look like a helpless wet rat.
            “I’m fine,” I said, as I swatted away the cloth he was using to wipe my face.
            “Okay, okay,” he said, lifting up his hands in mock surrender and straightening up. There was a small part of me that felt bad for refusing Brian’s help, but I wanted everyone to see that I was fine and leave me alone. I was embarrassed and no matter how hard I tried to will the ground to open and swallow me, it didn’t happen.
            As I tried to stand up, my joints were stiff and wouldn’t do their damn jobs. As if I weren’t humiliated enough, my stupid legs were trying to make me a laughing stock. Then I heard Anna, the lovely producer with the bowl haircut, say to everyone,
            “Give her air, please give her air. She needs a minute. She’s just been in a small box the size of a cat litter and this girl is super-model tall.”
            I sighed thankfully and started to relax the minute the crowd dispersed. I heard Jose Nato mumble to her that we didn’t have all day, and I needed to pull it together asap.
            I rolled my eyes. Did he think that I’d done that on purpose?
            “Are you okay, sweetie?” Anna whispered in my ears, filling my nose with the scent of coffee.
            “My legs are cramping,” I confided, eyeing my knobbly-looking knees.
            She bent in front of me and took my legs, one after the other, straightening them carefully. I winced and she stopped. I nodded, and she continued until both legs were lined up straight on the floor. She got up and gave me her hands.
            “You’re going to try to stand carefully, okay?”
            “Okay,” I answered.
            I took her stubby hands and stood up slowly, making sure not to pull her down with me. Anna was a small plump lady, and I had a feeling that if I put any more strength into my pull, she would topple over me. That would at least lighten up everyone’s mood.
            I got up successfully and smiled brightly at her even though I was a little bit hunched.
            “Thanks, Anna.”
            “Anytime, sweetie. Now, let’s get you to wardrobe so we can apply some hot balm on your joints because I have a feeling that you will have to redo the whole scene again.”
            I groaned because she was right. We were technically done with filming, but had to come back to reshoot some scenes. Jose Nato, the director, was a perfectionist and there was no way he was going to overlook my flop.
            As I walked slowly with Anna, I covertly looked around the set. Everyone seemed to be doing their thing, but I didn’t fail to notice Jose Nato’s tight lips, which only meant one thing, I’d better hurry my ass up and return to repeat the scene or else…


My window blinds were open when I dragged myself to bed at 4:00 a.m. I had reshot a few scenes for my upcoming movie, Façade. I got to my apartment around 3:50 a.m., sluggishly threw off my sandals, and fell on my bed. I winced a little bit because of my painful joints, but felt too sleepy to care.
            When I opened my eyes, there was sunlight streaming into my bedroom. I needed to close my window blinds if I wanted to get more sleep, but the will to get up and do it was hard.
            I stood up sleepily as I made my way to the window. The smell of fresh paint tickled my nose and caused me to sneeze loudly. I’d moved into my apartment three weeks ago. When I took the apartment, I’d planned to change the color of the bedroom wall before moving in. Then I changed my mind because I didn’t have time and had to move in.
One week after the move, I changed my mind again. The green color on the wall looked like vomit, and every time I entered my bedroom, I felt the urge to puke. If I wanted to enjoy my bedroom, then I needed to repaint it. But I couldn’t decide on the color I wanted it to be. So I’d stopped by a paint store and gotten samples of different colors that were much better than the vomit green now on the wall. I painted the samples side by side on the wall, and was disappointed in myself because I was indecisive. The good thing was that I liked them all. So I decided to pick a color with the help of the counting rhyme, eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a tiger by the toe…
            I finally painted my bedroom three days ago, donning my new coveralls, hat, and goggles. I looked every bit the DIY master as I listened to instructions from online videos, making sure that the canvas on the floor protected my carpet from paint spills and splatters. Then I hummed along to music from an online music streaming list as I brushed, up and down. Slow, solemn, a little dark, the music fit my mood. My bedroom wall is now maroon and I love it.
            I moved out of my Los Angeles-based auntie’s house. Yes, I’m talking about Valerie. She was a wonderful host. I still miss her company after all this time in my own apartment. I miss her grunts when she did her video exercises, and her constant explanation on why every woman should always exercise. I miss her cooking, even if there was nothing particularly great about it. Most of all, I miss the routine we’d formed before I got my acting job. Hearing her leave for work early in the morning, and my waking up to things labeled in the refrigerator for my consumption, was the best thing ever.
“We women have to help each other tame our fats. Men don’t suffer like we do,” she would say.  
Fat? Yeah right. For her age, she was one of the fittest women I knew. I smiled whenever she tried to tie her long hair in a bun, not quite getting the bun in the middle, and always giving up after her third try.
I had to do something about my accommodation because she’d endured the ungodly hours I kept during filming days. When my movie location was in Los Angeles, I drove back to her house most times after shooting, even though I had a trailer where I could stay overnight. I needed someone familiar to be around after movie scenes that reminded me of Adam, because she could help me take my mind off things more easily. When Valerie sensed the cloud around me, she would remind me that she was available to listen, no matter the time of the day or night, even though I wasn’t ready to talk. She would advise me to call my mom if I felt more comfortable talking to her instead. That, I didn’t do. Valerie didn’t know that it wasn’t about her. I wasn’t just in a place to relive that night. Going back to that time would kill me. Besides, emotional phone conversations weren’t as effective as talking directly to somebody, so that was my excuse for not calling and talking to my mom about it.
            After filming for four months due to many schedule interruptions, I finally had the time to hunt for an apartment in Los Angeles. One of my co-stars, Brian, introduced me to one of the best realtors in the city. Gena Extraordinaire was the name she was known for, because of the number of successful closings she had under her career-belt. She found me one of the best-looking and coziest apartments one could find for a reasonable price just outside the suburbs, and I couldn’t be happier.
            I liked this apartment complex because it was close to necessities like grocery stores, library, banks, but more importantly, not too far from Adam’s house. No, I haven’t let him go and am not sure when that will happen.


Two cars, one blue Ford Ram truck and a gray Dodge Charger, were parked on the wide driveway. When I was here last week, there was only a Harley Davison bike parked outside. Don, Adam’s cousin who was raised by Adam’s parents, had said that the Sorano kids’ uncle was visiting. Now I wondered who these cars belonged to, because I was only aware of the three Audi vehicles owned by Mr. and Mrs. Sorano, which always made their driveway look like a mini car dealership.
            I pressed the doorbell and almost immediately, like he had been standing behind the door, Don opened it. With a big smile showing his pearly whites, he opened his large arms for an embrace and gave me a bear hug.
            “Emma, how are you?”
            “I’m good, you?” I answered, still in his embrace.
            “Very good, thanks.”
            He looked happier than usual, and more importantly, he was wearing a clash of bright colors; yellow Polo shirt and light blue shorts with different colored zig zag patterns. And just before I could ask the reason why he was as bright as the weather, he beckoned me to come in. His friends were visiting.
“Oh, cool,” I said to him. Makes total sense.
We walked to the foyer that smelled like lavender, curtsied of Mrs. Sorano, and then toward the mini living room, or Don’s former lair, which made sense in my head to name it that way. The TV in there always had a sports channel playing, even when Don wasn’t watching it. And it wasn’t different today, because I could hear something it.
He turned to me, his face turning sympathetic. “Do you want to go in there first, and then meet up later with us on the patio? He asked.
            I thought about his question. Would I be feeling okay afterward? But then, I didn’t want to go and socialize first before seeing the painting.
I sighed. “I think that’s a good idea.”
            “Okay,” he nodded.
            “The Soranos are home?” I asked.
            “No, they went on a trip to San Fran.”
            “Hmm,” I nodded. “I’ll see you all when I’m done,” I said with small smile, as though I was going to work on a project.
            “Take your time,” he said, squeezing my hands slightly before walking toward the patio, where I could hear laughter when he opened the sliding glass doors.
            I took in a deep breath, clutching my stomach as I turned toward the mini living room. I opened the door, closed it behind me and walked slowly past the sitting area. Then I scanned the room with my eyes for the TV remote control. It was on the side table by the loveseat. Why didn’t I just look there in the first place? The remote control is always there.
I turned off the TV and walked slowly to the brick fireplace. There it was, the massive painting of Adam as a baby. I exhaled loudly and as I stared at it, I retreated to a place in my mind that I’d slowly built after I moved into my apartment. It was my safe place; a place in which Adam still existed, and to me it was real.
            I took in those warm amber eyes of his and smiled widely. The peace I felt in that moment was next to none. I sat down slowly on the couch that faced the painting and just looked at it, reminiscing about my time with him, albeit too short. I threw away that thought immediately. No, he’s still here, I said to myself. I closed my eyes tightly and when I believed it, I smiled and let my thoughts flow.
            I thought of the way he’d cocked his head to the side when he listened intently to me. I thought of his crooked smile; he did smile a lot. I thought of how he’d squinted before he said something important. I thought of how he’d always rolled the sleeves of his dress shirts to his elbows because he just couldn’t seem to wear them long. I thought of his stance and stature. I thought of his big hands. I thought of his generous attitude. I thought of his unusual eye color. Gosh, he was handsome.
            I caught myself thinking of him in past tense and bit my lips hard in regret. Just as I tasted blood I released it. I didn’t feel a thing. It’s been hard keeping my mindset in check. Some days I’m good at hanging out with Adam, telling him things that I wanted him to know. Other days, I don’t feel him close, and then my thoughts become recalls and reminiscences. I have the beginnings of anxiety when I realize that I’m reminiscing about him instead of bringing him to the present with me. It’s like a betrayal of him. It sounds lame, or maybe disturbing, but that’s how I feel. He’s the reason why I looked past my insecurities and followed my dreams. He’s the reason why I’m pushing hard to keep doing better as an actress. Shouldn’t he be here with me along the journey?
I kept staring at the painting. It was therapeutic. Looking into his eyes brought him to me. Not baby Adam, of course, but my Adam, the way I knew him. I smiled, joyous as those eyes smiled back at me, and with me.
            When I moved into my apartment, I had paid a visit to Adam’s house because I was wondering what had happened to it. I knew I could ask Adam’s mom, Diana, or his cousin, Phil, but I still couldn’t talk to them without causing them to cry. I always felt guilty afterward for doing that to them.
            As I drove toward the massive white-stone house, I thought it looked more inhabited than the first time I ever saw it. There were two cars parked on the driveway. Don had opened the door and looked excited to see me. He had said I looked great and I was happy to hear that. He also looked good, but slightly thinner than he used to be and had sad lines around his mouth that weren’t there the first time we met. To me, Don had a baby face on a man’s body. This time his face looked like it belonged on his body. I guess it was a good thing, but it was sad to think that it had resulted from a tragedy.
The house looked and smelled differently from the first time I visited. Adam’s game, which had involved my travelling from Massachusetts to California, had brought me to the house. The foyer now had potted plants that I didn’t remember seeing there. I didn’t know what kind of plants they were, but they looked beautifully arranged and healthy. Although I didn’t remember much from my first visit, I noticed that the house seemed fuller this time. There was more furniture for one thing. Also, decorative statues seemed to be in all the corners of the house. Then I walked into the large living room, looked up in anticipation, and to my horror, noticed it was gone. The painting was gone.
Don saw the panic on my face, and looked at where my eyes were focused. With a small smile tinged with regret, he said,
            “The house is now rented by a new family, Miss.”
            “Oh,” my heart dropped.
            “But,” he said quickly as he saw my face twist in anguish, “they didn’t get rid of the painting. It’s in the smaller living room.”
            I became energized instantly, and felt my heart rate quicken in excitement. I began to walk toward the mini living room and stopped on my tracks. “Will they let me?” I asked Don.
            “Umm, of course, but let me inform Mrs. Sorano.”
            So I waited for him, as I hoped and prayed that the new tenants would be okay with my being in their house. It was an odd thing to walk into a place uninvited to look at a painting. I took in the unfamiliarity of a place that I’d only known for a short time. It was a beautiful house. The furnishings didn’t have a theme to them, per se, but the selections spoke of wealth. Who decorated their living room with so many statues? The statues, which were of people with irregular shapes, were made of different materials. There was marble, clay, metal, and even wood. The place looked like a less-cluttered museum with an earthy feel to it.
            As I continued to admire the content of the house from where I stood, an elegant-looking lady, with the most jewelry I’d ever seen on a person staying at home, came down the large stairs, smiling. She was a beautiful woman and acted every bit like she knew it. Her dress hugged her in the right places like it was sewn on her. Her face was friendly as she stared at me, but her features were sharp. She had cat-like eyes that may have been enhanced by her makeup, a pointy nose, and a wide mouth dressed in a dark-red shade lipstick. Her hair was so dark and thick that it looked like shiny satin fabric as the sunrays came in through the huge windows reflected on it.
            “Hi,” she said, stretching out her perfectly-manicured hands and smiling sweetly. “I’m Mrs. Lovina Sorano.” There was a strong perfume scent that accompanied her. I couldn’t imagine what blend, but I could tell it was expensive.
            I shook her hands and cringed inwardly at my neglected-looking fingernails. “Emma Kaz,” I responded, taking away my hands quickly and hiding them behind my back.
            “It is nice to meet you, Emma. Don tells me you like that painting and would love to look at it.”
            “Yes, yes,” I stuttered, faltering in my composure because I didn’t know if she was a nice person, smiley or not.
            “She used to know the owner of the house,” Don explained.
            “Oh,” Mrs. Sorano nodded in understanding. “It’s not a problem. You are welcome to look at it anytime.”
            “Thank you,” I said earnestly to her.
            She turned, and started to walk away, looking as though she was cat-walking on a runway in a fashion show. “I’ll be upstairs trying to get the kids to do their homework, twin boys, seven-year olds,” she said.
            My eyebrows shot up and I couldn’t help smiling. “Oh, okay.” Homework and she’s dressed like that? Wow!
            Before Mrs. Sorano got to the stairs, Don said,
“Er, Mrs. Sorano, Emma is actually an actress and filming a big movie right now.”
“Really?” she stopped on the first step as her eyes bulged at me.
I nodded.
“So a celebrity is visiting. Ramon is going to be thrilled.”
I suppressed a feeling of uneasiness when she used the word ‘celebrity.’ I may be getting popular, but that word designated people that other people wished to be like. I didn’t fit in that category. “No, no,” I’m not a celebrity, I protested shyly.
“Don’t be modest,” she responded as she walked back toward me. “Can you stay a bit afterwards and say hi to my husband, Ramon? He should be back within the hour.”
I nodded in assent. After all, she’d accepted me into her home. The least I could do was agree to her offer, and I imagined that if I was in her good graces, I would be allowed to visit again.
“Thank you. I will call him and let him know you’re here.”
“Okay. I’ll be in there,” I pointed to the mini living room.
“Sure,” she said, as she made her way upstairs.
“Thanks, Don,” I smiled.
Don chuckled. “Sorry for putting you on the spot there, Miss.”
“No worries. She’s nice, and please call me Emma.” The “Miss” thing made me feel like a middle-aged elementary school teacher.
“Okay,” he nodded. “See you later,” he said, his voice softening.
I nodded and walked toward the door of the mini living room, staring at the doorknob. I could hear the TV on. I turned to Don to ask if anyone was in there.
“No one is in there,” he answered before I asked.
“Thanks,” I mouthed. I slowly opened the door and shut it behind me. When I turned around, I saw it immediately, and then his eyes. I walked closer to it and before I could reach it, my legs gave out and I crumpled to the floor. The muscles on my neck started constricting as though someone was choking me, and I quickly realized that I was having a hard time breathing. So I opened my mouth to let air in and shot my eyes tightly because I had started to see double. Right where I was sprawled on the rug, I turned to my side and lay down, tucking myself inwardly with my eyes still shut tightly.
There’s a specific feeling a person has when they’re on the brink of crying. I had that feeling, but that was where it ended. I didn’t get to the part where the tears spilled over. I just got to the peppery nose part that made me scrunch my nose uncomfortably. It was when my breathing leveled normally and my eyes were still shut, and I was still lying down on the floor of the quiet mini living room, that I saw him for the first time since he’d died.
I’d looked at some photos of Adam once after he died and I haven’t brought myself to do it again. I’d looked at them on a day when I’d come home from work upset and guilty, because I had had a good time acting a romance scene on set. Every shot flowed so perfectly that for the first time, I’d seen a smile on our director’s face. The choreographers for that scene knew what they were doing, which made us actors look good. Our face placements, limb placements, tangles and turns had worked nicely after a few practices. I credited my costar, Reddy, for his skills. He seemed to know the right things to do, which made me wonder about his girlfriend for a minute. Overall, it was a good shooting day. I had come home with that sense of elation when suddenly it hit me that throughout the day, I’d had no thought of Adam. I suddenly felt an overwhelming amount of guilt pour over me. In an unexplainable panic, I fetched my old phone and started to scroll down memory lane. That turned out to be a bad idea. When I realized that I was treating him like a memory, I stopped looking at the photos. Focusing on the photos and their particular memories, made it clear that he wasn’t with me. But he is with me. So I got rid of the phone and began to talk to him instead.
Even nine months after his death, with distractions from family, close friends, online friends, and costars, my emotions were still ripe like it was just yesterday that it had happened. But Adam still had a way of sneaking up on me. Sometimes it was as random as someone pronouncing my name like he used to do, or squinting just like he had.
One Saturday evening, I had gone to buy some groceries and was ready to check out. I stood behind someone who had the same buzz cut that Adam used to wear. In fact, this person was built just like him, and dressed just like him. The only thing that gave him away as I stood open-mouthed in shock, was the fact that he scratched the back of his head with his left hand and I saw a wedding band. When the man started to remove his items from his cart, I saw the side of his face and was a hundred percent sure then that he wasn’t Adam. My whole body still shook even after I left the grocery store. I was sure the store clerk thought I was on drugs.
Now I just sat on one of the couches, staring at the painting of baby Adam. My thoughts were hollow and my eyes felt heavy. I shook my head in disbelief; how unfair it was that someone could be here one second and gone the next. I kept gazing at the painting and it hit me that this was a good way to talk to him. When I looked into those eyes, I could easily have a conversation with him. My hands automatically fetched the necklace pendant he gave me. I rubbed on it for a minute and put it back hidden underneath my shirt. I reveled in my discovery and made plans in my head to visit here often. I wouldn’t make it an everyday thing because it would become creepy. Maybe twice a week, or weekly, weekly sounded great. I wasn’t sure of how long I had sat there, because I heard a car pull up on the driveway, and that was what it took to plaster a smile on my face, get up from the couch, and leave the mini living room.


I exhaled again as I nodded to myself. I was beginning to be able to put on a happy front even though my insides where grainy and hollow. It wouldn’t be okay if I showed everything I felt on the outside. I could hear my mother asking if I needed a therapist. The answer was no. A therapist would poke and prod and prefer me to speak with her instead of Adam, so I guess that was out of the question. I took a last look at his warm eyes and his slant smile before making my way to the door. I held the door handle for a moment and breathed. I was ready to meet Don’s friends.
I opened the sliding door and walked out to the back patio and saw two people wearing black outfits in the hot California sun. Don stood up and approached me, looking red with excitement and laughter.
“Come and meet my friends, Emma,” he took my hand. I followed him, like a small child holding the larger hand of her big brother.
The girl stood up when I got closer to her. “Hi, I’m Vivi,” she smiled, showing unnaturally white teeth that almost blinded me as sunlight reflected on them. She’d murmured, but I think I heard her say Vivi.
I squinted and smiled too. “Emma Kaz, nice to meet you.”
Then I perceived hot leather, which smelled like oil a bit, as the man stretched his hand toward me. We shook hands as he introduced himself as Dune.
“Nice name,” I said to him, after introducing myself.
Although they were seated underneath a patio umbrella, I still thought he should have removed his leather jacket. He looked so red that I was sure it wasn’t all the bliss of hanging out with his friends that caused it. I prayed silently that he wouldn’t suffer from heat stroke.
I sat down on the empty chair that Don pointed to.
“Lemonade?” he asked, picking up a pitcher and an empty glass.
I nodded. “Thanks.”
I took a sip of my cool drink and looked at Vivi and Dune over the rim of my glass.
Vivi had a voice that didn’t fit her appearance at all. In her black getup, dark hair, tanned skin, and tattoos on both wrists, the last thing I expected was a light singsong voice. In fact, I almost spilled my lemonade, thinking there was someone else that had just shown up. They noticed and laughed. I looked down in embarrassment.
“I know, I know,” she said. “I get that a lot. People almost always expect me to have a deep or raspy voice. Sorry to disappoint you.”
“No, not at all,” I said, smiling. “It’s a good surprise.”
“Yeah, and I don’t drink or smoke, even though I look like it on the outside.”
Dune chuckled and said, “It’s the inside that matters.” Vivi rolled her eyes.
“So, Emma, you’re a movie star huh?” Dune winked.
“Umm, not really, this is my first movie ever.”
“It doesn’t matter. Jose Nato is the director, so you know what that means. And I saw the cover of Teen Vogue, don’t ask.”
Yeah, I was gonna ask. Dune looked like someone who would be reading Men’s Health Magazine with his bulgy muscles that threatened to rip through his leather jacket. He was a big guy just like Don was, but the difference was where Don was soft, Dune was hard. And Don had an approachable face for someone around the age of thirty. Dune had a scary demeanor, but if you looked past it, you noticed that it was just a front to cover his likeable personality.
“I’m sorry, I can’t ignore that. What were you doing buying Teen Vogue?” I asked, feigning seriousness.
Vivi giggled. Don laughed aloud.
Dune got redder, which I didn’t think possible, considering he was already red. “My daughter. She’s into that Indian boy.”
“Oh, okay, phew! You’re off the hook,” I said with mock relief.
“Thank you, thank you,” he said, wiping invisible sweat from his forehead. “But on a serious note,” he said, “congratulations. I’ve heard the rumor that you’re so good it’s like the role was meant for you; that nobody could have played it better.”
“Thanks,” I said. “But isn’t that kind of weird that they would say I’m really good in that role?”
“Yeah, well, you sure did something right,” Vivi said.
“I guess your acting was very convincing,” Dune added.
I became embarrassed and looked at my feet.
Don cleared his throat.
I raised my eyes to see all of them smiling at me. “Okay, I guess I took it too far during my audition, but I didn’t dance, and no, I’m not going to say more. You’ll just have to wait and see the movie.”
“Aww, come on, don’t be a sour patch,” Dune said.
I laughed really hard because I hadn’t ever heard anyone use that phrase like that before. “Sour patch, huh? Don’t worry Dune. The recording of my audition is going to come out one day, but until then, you will just have to be patient.”
Dune shook his head. “Such a tease,” he said. “I feel sorry for your co-stars.”
“Why is that?” I asked, amused.
“You know, you’re really beautiful, and I’m sure you make it hard on them. The photo on the magazine, “phew,” he whistled, “with you in the middle and both of them looking cross-eyed at you, that was something.”
I laughed, shaking my head.
“Don’t believe everything you read,” Vivi said. “Reddy has a girlfriend and Brian is bad news.”
I widened my eyes, surprised.
“What?” You guys have been in the news for months now. With you and your, you know,” she looked down, shifting uncomfortably.
I completed the sentence for her as I gestured to my whole body, while locking away the early signs of an emotion that threatened to rare its ugly head. “My unique features.”
“Yes, that. And the fight with Preeti Ko.”
“We never fought,” I said, swallowing and silently commending myself that my voice didn’t waver.
“Well, that was the big news. Apparently, you stole Reddy from her.”
“Urgh!” I exclaimed irritatingly.
“And then, Brian and the way he changes girls like his boxers.”
I couldn’t hold back laughter. Vivi looked like she was in her late twenties and I shouldn’t have been surprised that she read news like that. Of course she would know of the Hollywood ‘Younguns.’ Yeah, that’s what they called us now.
The fight rumor started when I’d had a make out scene with Reddy. Preeti visited the set that day. If I remember correctly, I’d only gotten cold shoulders from her. She’d pretended not to hear me when I said hi to her. That was all. If there was a fight, it was in Reddy’s trailer. We all heard their spat because they were loud and things were banging everywhere. No pun intended. So I was not sure why that rumor claimed that Preeti and I were pulling out hairs in the studio parking lot.
“I’m so happy for you. It’s like you just came from outer space and your movie isn’t out yet, but you’re so popular,” Don praised.
“Thanks, Don. Like Dune said, we have an amazing director.”
“Adam would be proud,” he added.
And just like that, my nose started to burn and my throat turned dry. I swallowed hard. I couldn’t break my wall in front of these people. I felt the cold heart-shaped pendant in its place, underneath my shirt. I wanted to touch it, but thought better of it and left my hands on my thighs. The last thing I wanted was to tell them anything about the necklace.
I nodded and whispered, “thank you.” I guessed Vivi and Dune already knew about Adam because of their solemn expressions. A news outlet did a segment on, “who is Emma Kaz?” and I’d been glad that their research wasn’t thorough. They’d posted a photo of me that terrified me. I remember when I saw it I’d thought I looked dead. It had been one of the days after Adam’s death. The news outlet didn’t mention his death, thank goodness. I’d wondered if it was an oversight or just for curtesy’s sake. I would never know, but I was glad.
Soon after, that same news outlet became a spear that jabbed at my heart after the rumor with Reddy. “Oh wow, she moved on quickly from her former beau,” was the new news.
Vivi got up and embraced me. I sniffled, but I didn’t cry out. I would not do that. So I smiled and they all smiled too.
I cleared my throat and changed the topic. “So I failed to ask. How do you guys know each other?”
“Remember when I said that Diana took me in after my parents passed away?” Don asked.
“Yeah,” I responded.
“Well, before that was settled, I was in foster care.”
“Yes, and that’s where I met Vivi and Dune. They were nice to the big baby,” he laughed.
“Come on, you weren’t being a baby. Your parents had just died in an accident. I’d cry all the time too,” she said in her singsong voice.
“Yeah, we didn’t know our parents,” Dune said, clearing his throat. “We didn’t have images or memories to cry for, only that we knew adoption was going to be impossible for us.”
I sat quietly, looking at these three people, realizing that they had gone through such difficulties in their childhood and if they didn’t mention them, no one would ever know. They were inspiring.
“Okay, let’s stop before Emma starts to cry,” Dune said.
“Whatever,” I croaked.
Vivi stood up, stretching, as some of her joints made audible pop sounds. “I gotta go to work fellas,” she said.
“Where do you work?” I asked, trying to shield my eyes from the sunrays that Vivi had been blocking when she was sitting across from me, which now bothered my vision as she stood.
“I manage The Luscious bar. You should come some time.”
“Cool! I know The Luscious, but I’m afraid that my age…”
“Oops! Disregard my invite,” she said with a big smile. “While we would love to have a celebrity in our bar, an underage one might not be a good idea.”
There, is that word again, ‘celebrity.’
Dune chuckled. I had an exaggerated frown on my face to act distraught about being unable to go to the bar. “Soon, Vivi, soon,” I said.
“Can’t wait,” she said, picking up her purse.
“I think I should be heading out, too,” Dune said, standing up.
It also seemed like a good time for me to leave. I got up and finished my drink.
“Aww,” Don said, “you all tired of me already?”
“Got to pick up the little one from school.”
“Ah, true. Give her a kiss for me,” said Don.
“My daughter, Didi,” Dune clarified when he saw my puzzled look.
“Ohh.” The photo in Dune’s wallet of his daughter was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. She had the widest gap tooth I’ve seen on a kid, but her grin won me over. Her nose was scrunched up as she laughed at something that wasn’t shown in the photo. She had beautiful red hair, a contrast from her dad’s brown hair. They had the same nose and low sad eyebrow shape. Nothing was remotely sad about the photo though.
“She’s a cutie,” I gushed.
“Thank you,” he grinned. “She’s my expensive princess. This was her at five years old. Now she’s seven. She knows that daddy can never say no to her so she demands and demands until daddy’s pockets dry up.”
We all laughed and went into the house, making our way to the front door as we chatted. When we all came out and stood in the driveway, I had a spooky feeling that I was being watched. I looked around me. It was weird because the shrubs around the house were sparse. It would be difficult for someone to hide in them without being spotted. I looked around again, just in case.
“You okay?” Don asked me, also looking around.
I nodded and smiled.
We all hugged each other and went to our respective cars. “See you sometime,” Vivi called out to me, as she got into her Charger.
“You, too,” I responded.
“Bye, Dune. Bye, Don,” I said to the guys as I got into my Honda. Dune was still conversing with Don, leaning on his truck. They waved.
I drove behind Vivi and waved to her before we took different intersections. I have to call mom.


I looked at my rare-view mirror and recognized the white van that was behind me. It had to be the same van because it had the same red sticker on the windshield. I’d seen that van at least six times since I moved into my apartment, parked twice, and in motion four times. But the windows were tinted, making it hard for me to see the driver. Yes, I may have grown paranoid since I moved to LA, but it’s no coincidence that I have seen this van so many times. I made up my mind that if I saw it again, I would copy the plate number and have my manager check it out. I might need that bodyguard after all.
Cindy, my manager, has been joking that she would hire a bodyguard for me because of some interesting threats that I’ve been getting since I started filming Façade. I didn’t think I needed a bodyguard when I was with my co-stars because theirs seemed more than enough for all of us. Some angry fans, who thought they cast the wrong person for Cora, the character I play, were making all sorts of threats and throwing bad comments my way. The fans had their favorite choice of actresses for the role and were very angry when they found out that I’d gotten the part, a nobody, with a disability, playing the lead role. I’d told Cindy that having a bodyguard was going to draw attention, which I didn’t need. I was wrong. I already drew attention to myself by being in this movie.
I pulled into the parking lot at my apartment complex. The only person around was a man with silver hair, who was bringing out boxes from the trunk of his car. He gave me a tight smile as I walked past him. I returned the same smile to him and hurried into the elevator, pressing the button for the third floor.
I sighed in relief and threw my purse on the sofa as I got into the living room. I walked back to the little entryway, which held a standing mirror between the coat closet and the door. I’d mounted the mirror there on purpose when I moved into the apartment. I’d picked up a habit from the time I’d lived with Valerie, where she would look at her mirror, say something positive to herself before leaving the house. I didn’t do the same thing though. I just looked at the mirror and tried my best to remind myself of why I should feel confident in the reflection that looked back at me. I often quoted the words in the frame that Adam had liked in my bedroom when I lived in Massachusetts. He wrote that same quote in his last letter to me, and I still held onto those words dearly.
I looked at my ever-wild curls and didn’t bother patting them down like I usually do. My eyes looked heavy, but there was no way I was going to give in to sleep this early in the evening. I guess I agree with my mom. I’ve lost some weight. My mom called me last week, frantic about the photos she’d seen of me in one of those annoying gossip magazines.
“Are you starving, Emma, are you okay?” she’d asked in an unusually high pitched voice.
            “Whoa, Mom! Calm down. I’ve got food everywhere.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re eating,” she retorted.
“I’m eating, Mom,” I answered. “Why are you asking me about food?”
“I saw a photo of you and they think the pressure of Hollywood is getting to you.”
“Mom, I’m already slim. I’m not pressured in any way.”
“Well, the photo says otherwise. Maybe you should move back with Valerie.”
“Mom, I’m good. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure I eat a lot and then that gossip magazine will publicize my weight gain for you.”
She was silent. “It’s not funny, Emma.” She said quietly.
I sighed. “I’m eating, Mom. I’ve just been very busy with the move. I’ll make sure I don’t skip my meals again.”
“Emma,” she paused. “Don’t be mad that I’m concerned. I think you need to slow down a bit. Finish up with this movie and then take a break.”
“Er,” but she interrupted before I continued talking.
“Losing Adam was not easy on you and…”
I staggered to the sofa because suddenly I began to feel woozy.
“Every time I talk to you or see a photo of you, it seems like you’re far away.”
“Listen, Emma. Losing someone like that is the worst thing that could have happened to you and jumping into work immediately is not the best way to deal with it.”
“Mom, I didn’t jump into…”
She interrupted again and I exhaled, trying to compose myself long enough until the call ended. She was getting close to peeling off the layer I had covered myself with and I couldn’t let that happen.
“I think you jumped into work too quickly even though your dad doesn’t think so. But you didn’t even grieve properly,” she said as her voice shook.
Okay, that’s it. “Mom, I have made my peace with the whole thing. I don’t have to cry all the time for you to know that I am dealing with it.”
“The whole thing,” she said.
“What?” I asked.
“You said you’ve made your peace with ‘the whole thing.”
I was silent.
“Call it what it is, Emma. I want to hear you call it what it is.”
This time, I couldn’t control my shaking body. I wasn’t angry, just fearful that I would lose it. This was not the right time to lose it. I needed to be sane in Hollywood. I needed to be focused. And then I did the one thing I knew I could do very well, acting.
“Mom, I have another call. I’ll make sure I eat something. I have to go.”
She sighed. “I’ll talk to you later. Call me any time.”
“Yes, Mom, thanks.”
I hung up and stayed stunned on the sofa for a while. I thought of nothing and of no one. My mind swirled uncontrollably and I felt light-headed. After a while, it was the urge to pee that roused me up and afterwards, I went to bed.
Today, I remembered that conversation, as I knew that I was due to call my mom. As I stared at my image in the mirror, I touched my clavicles, which were jutted out more than they usually were. I looked at myself from head to toe. I looked taller than I’d realized. The last time I checked my height I was five feet, ten inches. I said a silent prayer in the hopes that I hadn’t grown any taller. And then I grinned almost immediately as I quoted, “All I see is treasure because treasure you are to me,” my Adam quote. I bet you like that I remember this one.
My smile faltered, but then I forced it back on. As tempting as it was to hide my jagged teeth, Adam was right, and I would embrace every bit of what I was looking at. I had to. At a time when it seemed like people out there were criticizing my acting skills, even before seeing the movie, I had to try to be confident. I had to be confident in myself, knowing that I was doing my best and I was doing a great job.
I fished out the heart-shaped pendant that I hid underneath my shirt and my mind traveled for an instant to the day Adam gave it to me. I swallowed my emotions and sighed, while I returned the pendant to its hiding place. Although the chain was visible, I preferred to hide the pendant because I didn’t want to be asked questions about it. It was a special gift with a loving inscription on it. The last thing I wanted was for the media to look for something to lie about.
Don looked great today and his friends were nice. I hope you’re doing well. I…I miss you. I know you don’t want me to say it, but I do. I wonder if you suspected that something bad was going to happen to you, and so you urged me to take acting seriously. I swear that if I still worked at Altman’s Café, making shakes, there’s no way I would have continued living. Of course you would say something like, ‘You were born to live life, Emma, live life!’ That’s so you, Adam. Work is great. I get to laugh, cry, dance, kiss, I get to do things that I don’t want to do without you. At least I’m living life, right?
I jumped when my phone started ringing. I looked at the screen as I slumped clumsily on the sofa, then I answered.
“Hello, Mom.”
“How are you, dear?”
“I’m good. You?”
“Good. Just checking on the sweet potato casserole in the oven.”
Nice attempt on the food topic, mom, I thought. I thought of the best response. “Mom, stop. You’re making my mouth water.”
“Then eat something.”
I laughed when my stomach growled. I guess her ploy to make me hungry worked. “I’ll eat as soon as I get off this phone call.”
“Okay, let me hang up so you can eat.”
“Don’t hang up, Mom. I just wanted to find out if you and dad are coming to California anytime soon.”
“We haven’t decided yet. But you said you were planning on coming home soon.”
“Yes, I still am. I just wanted a few things from my room, but they can wait. Is dad home?”
“Yes, in the backyard. Let me call him.”
I heard my mom yell, “Tom.”
Then a deeper voice took over.
“Hello, Emma,”
“Dad!” I answered excitedly. It felt good to hear his voice.
“How are you?”
“I’m good. Just wanted to say hi, it’s been a while.”
“Yes, it has. But I trust your filming is going well?”
“Yes, we’re done, even with the reshoots.”
“Good. So how will it work? Will you come home since you’re done or will you be needed for something else?”
“Not exactly. I don’t want to take a break now. I have to go on auditions if I want more jobs.”
“But you’ll visit us soon?”
“Yes, Dad. When I confirm the interview and promotion schedules, then I’ll let you and mom know when to expect me.”
“Okay. So I hope you’re not all alone. Get in touch with Valerie and do some fun things with friends. Emma, good fun, not horrific things, please.”
I chuckled to lighten his mood when I heard the worry in his voice. “I know, Dad. And no, I’m not alone here.”
“That’s wonderful to hear.”
It seemed like he was going to say something else, but he didn’t. After some silence, he said,
“Take care of yourself and be good. Don’t feed the media and don’t let them get under your skin.”
“I’ll try, Dad.”
“That’s my girl. Wait, and say bye to your mom.”
“Yes, Mom, take care.”
“Okay, dear. Don’t wait for my texts before you call me and your dad. I know you’re busy, but you have ten minutes in a day to spare.”
I laughed. “I’ll be better at calling, Mom.”
“Eat something.”
“I will. Bye, Mom.”
“Bye, dear.”
            That went better than I expected. A text came in from Cindy while I was on the call with my parents. It said, “Script here. Office 10:00 a.m. tomorrow.”
            I almost screamed. Did you hear that, Adam? It’s the script. Cindy has the script! There is a movie that I’m interested in. Cindy said that Ellie, my agent, thought I was too young for the part I wanted, but she was going to help me with a shot at an audition. I was still reeling from excitement when my phone rang. Reddy was calling.
            Excuse me, I said, even though I felt a tad weird for asking permission from Adam.
            “Hi,” I said, a bit surprised. If I was expecting a call from any of my co-stars, it wasn’t Reddy. “What’s up?” I asked.
            “Not much. I just wanted to find out if you wanted to hang out with the gang tonight. Since most of the crew members are still around and Brian and I quickly put something together for a small house party at my place.”
            Truth be told, I didn’t want to or feel like hanging out with anyone. I just wanted to stay home by myself. But I decided to find out more about the house party.
            “What time tonight?” I asked, even though I knew the time wouldn’t matter. I had nothing to do, but I wanted to sound like I was busy and not a depressed and slightly insane actress, who was talking to her dead boyfriend about her possible next gig.
            “It starts at 9:00 p.m.”
            “Okay, umm, can I call you back later to confirm?”
            “Sure, that’s fine.” His voice dropped.
            Oh, Reddy, I mused. “Reddy, I’ll make sure I try my best to be there. It was nice to see everyone yesterday. I wished we’d had the energy to chat afterward, so this party will be a great opportunity to do it.” I actually meant what I said.
            “Okay,” he sounded reassured. “Er, Em,” he seemed to whisper, making me listen closely. His girlfriend may be nearby, I thought. But there were no noises in the background.
“Yeah,” I responded.
“Preeti won’t be attending. Just wanted to let you know.”
“Umm, okay. Well, it wouldn’t matter if she’ll be there or not. I don’t have a problem with her.”
            “Oh, wow, you’re the first person I’ve heard say that,” he chuckled.
“That’s your girlfriend you’re talking about, remember?”
“I know that,” he snapped. “Some people don’t like her and I wanted to let you know that that shouldn’t play into your decision to attend the party, that’s all.”
“Well, it won’t,” I barked, not meaning for my voice to rise. I didn’t like the fact that he was dating her and still talked like that about her. If he thought she was unlikeable, why was he with her?
I heard him sigh, “Em.”
I didn’t answer.
“Are you there?”
He exhaled. “It would be nice for all of us to be there. Some people asked if Preeti would show up and if she did, they wouldn’t come. I told them she won’t be there. She’s spending some quality with her sister.”
“Gotcha,” I said, eventually.
“She’s got a strong personality,” he said.
“No kidding,” I agreed.
“But that’s her appeal,” he explained.
“Umm, okay, good for you,” I answered.
 He sighed.
“You know what? See you at nine, Reddy.”
“Can’t wait,” he responded.
I hung up. What was that about?      
Reddy Sami and Brian Wood were my co-stars in the Façade movie. Reddy played the character, Theo, who fell in love with my character, Cora, and wanted her to leave her job as an exotic dancer and focus on her schooling. Theo was from a wealthy family, and surprisingly, his parents accepted Cora, even when they became aware of her extra-curricular activities, which she needed to pay for her education and livelihood. Later, she started feeling like a charity case and didn’t seem to fit into Theo’s family. But her pimp didn’t let go of her easily because she was one of the best employees he had. That’s how Brian’s character, Toby, came into the picture.
Toby was the son of Cora’s pimp, Mr. O. When he found out that Theo had been paying her extra money for supposed private sessions, when she was actually using that time to study, he was angry and jealous. He asked Cora for sexual favors, and a bribe to keep his mouth shut so he wouldn’t say anything to his father.
I thought that Brian played his character too well. Being a jealous, spoiled, son of a pimp, Brian tended to terrify me sometimes with his imposing stature and dangerous demeanor.
I enjoyed acting with the two guys, but occasionally thought that they took things too far. In one of the scenes, where there was a spat between Theo and Toby, Theo was supposed to point to Cora, and call her the love of his life. But he, instead, had walked to Cora and kissed her. Toby’d stomped toward both of us and separated us with such force that Theo was almost sent flying halfway across the room and landed on his back.
“Cut!” our director, Jose Nato hollered.
“That was not part of the scene,” Brian said, making a disgusted sound with his lips.
“I was in the moment and improvised,” Reddy retorted angrily as he got up and straightened himself.
Meanwhile, I was planted where I had been, red faced, and confused about what had happened. I knew that that wasn’t part of the scene, but I didn’t push Reddy away when he kissed me or when Theo kissed Cora.
The argument continued between both guys, even when Jose Nato tried to make them stop. I felt tired instantly and stormed out of the set, walked into the restroom beside the lobby and made sure I banged the door loudly.  
It wasn’t only guilt that made me leave the room. It was also the lack of professionalism between the guys. I’d heard that if you caused trouble or you were difficult to work with in this line of work, it was going to be remembered in future projects. At just twenty five years old, Brian was hot, and popular with both younger and older ladies, and wouldn’t have to worry about getting jobs in the nearest future. Reddy had already sealed his heartthrob status in the industry with his charm and suave attitude. What is their deal? The problem was sometimes I couldn’t tell if they liked each other or not. One minute, they’re acting like buddies, and the next minute, they’re giving each other a cold shoulder.
I overheard one of the lighting crew members say that Brian hit on Reddy’s on-and-off girlfriend, Preeti Ko. While I didn’t subscribe to gossip, that move was classic Brian and I believed it.
Speaking of Preeti, I call her “the walking hot temper.” I have not seen any girl with control issues like she has. My first encounter with her was when I was heading to Craft Service to get some snacks and I overheard her in a heated conversation with Reddy. She didn’t even acknowledge me when I passed by her and Reddy. Her voice was still high and she seemed to be dictating terms. I noticed she had a breathy way of speaking, like a whoosh of air comes out whenever she uses words with digraphs. Reddy couldn’t even avert his eyes from her. He was so attentive that he looked like a statue, a handsome statue.
I had to wait for her bickering to stop before going out of Craft Service because there was only one exit back to set and the couple was near it. She’d made me stuff so many crackers and chips in my mouth just to use the crunchy sounds as I chewed, to drown out her words.
Finally, I didn’t hear a thing. I walked out of the building and slowly made my way back to set, looking out for them, so I wouldn’t fall into any other awkward encounter. Then I saw her sitting on a swing prop, and looking at her cellphone. My first thought was, wow, her hair is shiny. She was a lanky girl, a little above five feet, with brown skin and very long straight black hair that fell on her back as she sat.
A man that I didn’t recognize walked up to her and she raised up her head to talk to him. She had a small oval face and high cheek bones. She showed a toothy grin when she laughed. Then she looked away and suddenly her face changed. She definitely was one who couldn’t hide her emotions. Reddy was walking out of the set, laughing with a crew member. It was my cue to disappear.
When I found out later that Preeti was twenty-three years old, two years older than Reddy, I wrote off her bossiness as her being the older one in the relationship. But I wouldn’t take that attitude with my boyfriend. Well, everyone has different tastes. I buried the boyfriend thought as quickly as it came. No pun intended.


I had taken a long shower that I didn’t know I’d needed. I felt loosened after the long day. I dressed up slowly in front of my dresser mirror, thinking. Time seemed to have passed by quickly. I missed my parents and Eddie and Stella. Stella said she was going to visit me soon. I would love to see her because it could get pretty lonely when I wasn’t working, but then, I didn’t know if I really wanted Stella’s endless chatter around me. There was something special about my quiet time alone with just my thoughts.
Just like that, I felt tears threaten to spill from my eyes. I was rubbing on the heart-shaped pendant on my silver necklace that I had been wearing. It’s not right when the good ones leave this world. I exhaled heavily, trying to get my composure back, and reminded myself that he wasn’t far off if I wanted him around. I stubbornly told myself that it was his physical self I wanted. I missed that part of him all the time. Am I being ungrateful? Some people don’t get to see their loved ones after they die. Am I really seeing him or am I conjuring an image that I want to see? I quickly suppressed that thought as I felt the void open that I usually felt when I thought of his not existing at all.
I didn’t succeed with the suppression at night though. The nights were quiet, which made my mind wander. Also, my dreams did not help. I saw his face all the time, smiling, and saying funny things. I knew what he’d said had to have been funny because I was always laughing hard in the dreams. But then, his tone would change and he would say good bye. Not like someone going on a trip, but someone leaving your life forever. It usually gave me chills and whenever I woke up, and it’d dawn on me that he was truly gone, I would sulk. I would replay the dream over and over and delete the ending. That was the only way I could go on with my day. Real life sucked, but I had a life that I wanted to live and that life still had Adam in it even though I couldn’t touch him.  
I put on my grey plaid shirt-dress and tucked in the pendant, feeling the cold metal rest on my chest. I wore my hair down, shaking it like a dog shaking off water from its fur. The volume of my hair was insane, but I wanted it that way. I missed the makeup team from the movie set as I struggled to apply some eye shadow. Hayley, one of the makeup artists, had given me quick lessons on how to apply natural-looking makeup, but I’d never seemed to do well with my eyebrows. They were always unequal. At least I was satisfied with the way I blended the eye- shadow colors. Adam thought it looked nice.
It was nearly 8:45 p.m. when I was ready to go. I wanted to eat a quick bite, but that would have to be done at the party. Reddy’s house was about forty minutes away from mine. I was already running late, but hey, no rush. At least I was making an effort to actually go out.
I wore flip-flops, but took along my four-inch blue shoes as I made my way out of my apartment. A couple was giggling when I came out to the entrance hall. I ignored them because they seemed like they had eyes for only each other. Is it bad that I have no idea who my neighbors are?
I walked into the elevator, which smelled like someone who had been smoking there a few minutes before. Eww.
I had goosebumps on my arms for some reason as I walked out of the elevator. The parking garage was quiet, nothing out of the ordinary. But I couldn’t help feeling afraid and sped-walked to my car, jumping in, driving out faster than I should have.

Reddy’s house was lit brightly from the distance. As I drove closer, I could see people through the glass walls. I made sure I parked without incident because cars were parked carelessly in the compound. Here goes.
            “Emma.” I heard a male voice call me as I was about to press the doorbell on the front porch. It was the sound guy, one of the funny crew members.
            “Hey, Jeremy, how are you?”
            “I’m good, thanks,” he said, as he gave me an awkward hug. I was slightly taller because of my high heels, so hand placements were everywhere.
            Jeremy only told jokes from afar, so coming close to me and then hugging me was a surprise. I didn’t show any sign of my surprise though. I appreciated his carefree attitude and didn’t want to lose that. I guess it was different when we were off set and we didn’t think about actors versus crew members. I’d always felt like we had different groups; the older actors, younger actors, the new actors, familiar actors, and the crew members. I wasn’t close to the other female actresses, except the older ones. They seemed too concerned about their appearances as opposed to the people around them, so I gave them their space and hung out with the guys who had many scenes with me, Reddy and Brian.
            “The door is open, go on in. I came out to make a call because I couldn’t hear over the music,” he said to me, smiling shyly.
            “Okay, thanks. See you later.” I opened the door.
            Drinks were already held, eating had begun, and some people were swaying to the music. The beat of the music made the house so lively that I smiled to myself, happy that I’d come.
            Someone touched my waist and I turned around to see Reddy grinning at me. His marvelous white, gap-toothed, wide smile, was so beautiful that I forgot to swat his hands from their resting place. This was the first thing I would do if someone held my waist, even before I saw who the person was. I hugged him and tried not to feel guilty.
            “Thanks for inviting me,” I bent and said in his ear, since the music was too loud where we stood.
            “You should actually thank Brian for the awesome idea,” he shouted, waving around the room. Then he took a step back and let his eyes wander from my head to my toe.
“You look tall,” he said, looking at my feet.
“I brought out the heels,” I shrugged.
“Well, I don’t mind looking up to you,” he winked.
“Urgh, Reddy, give me a break,” I rolled my eyes.
The party was in his living room. They’d gotten rid of the furniture, leaving behind tables that held food and soft drinks, and harder ones served at the bar. I knew where not to go.
            “It seems like everyone is here,” I said, scanning the room.
            “Yes, most of us. I’m surprised, considering the short notice.”
            “Well, we all need a break, and booze for some. I’m sure that was all the incentive they needed.”
            He laughed aloud. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
            “Me too.” I agreed and I meant it. “Let me get something to eat,” I said to him, pointing to the food table.
            He nodded. “I’ll be in the back patio. A few people are there swimming.”
            Just before he left, I asked if Jose Nato came. I wanted to thank him personally for pushing me during some of the scenes because he had faith in my ability to give more. But he wasn’t in attendance, unfortunately.
            I made my way to the food table and saw the most delicious looking bite-sized roll. I picked up one and stuffed the whole thing in my mouth. I took another one and turned to look around at the people who were present.
            I didn’t fail to see a girl who was blushing profusely as she talked to Reddy, now opening the back door. Thank your stars that Preeti isn’t here. It is easy to swoon over him. He reminds me of the hot brooding guys in sad music videos because of his dark features and the faint shadows under his eyes. But his personality couldn’t be more opposite.
            I remember reading an article about him and he was described as “a handsome beauty.” The juxtaposition was accurate. Reddy could make people flustered when they looked at him because they were trying to understand how all the elements of his features came together.
He has thick black hair that is always perfectly coifed. Sometimes I think he’s all hair because he has a narrow face with so much hair. He is a slim, toned guy, probably about five feet eleven. His best body part, to me, is his face. He has large brown eyes, with that slight stain of shadows underneath them, maybe due to less sleep or just natural. I envy his clean shaped upward slanted full eyebrows, which he swears have never been waxed or tweezed. His facial features, the hollows and sharp edges, make shadows fall on his face all the time so that his nose always appears smaller than it really is. He has a tiny mole on the right side of his upper lip and not to forget his beautiful gap tooth, of course. He’s one of those guys with longer necks and prominent Adam’s apple that bobs all the time. That thing used to gross me out the first time I met him. He bites the right side of his full bottom lips out of habit, mostly when he’s thinking. I like that he is soft spoken and has good manners, but his overuse of big words make him come off as pretentious, sometimes. I also think he’s too touchy and doesn’t realize it. Maybe that’s why Preeti always seems annoyed, because she doesn’t know if he is flirting, or just being himself.
            I’m perceptive. I noticed these things about him because we worked closely and not because I am interested in him in any way. Just as I finished a crab cake and licked my fingers, I felt eyes on me and turned. It was Brian, looking at me and not pretending at all. He smiled slightly, took a gulp of his beer and started making his way to me. I started to shift, not knowing why I felt uncomfortable. It’s just Brian. He was interrupted by a girl before he got to me. I exhaled audibly, and mentally psyched myself to relax.
            Brian can be a source of discomfort to me sometimes and I can’t exactly explain why. He has two personalities that I’ve noticed and I’m not a fan of that behavior. He showed a different side to the crew while we filmed and I was shocked for days when I saw that side of him. He’s known to be the young heartbreaker, who doesn’t deny that he knows how good looking he is. He became well-known in the movie industry when he was eighteen and has never kept a girl for more than six months.
            I’d always applauded his acting skills on set because he was very good, but only started interacting more with him when I noticed that he had a different side to his personality. I couldn’t believe he was the same person. Then he’d explained the reason why he had a separate public persona and I’d thought it was stupid. “You can’t be a douche just because you want a long career,” I’d said to him. I wondered what would happen when he decided to settle down and start a family and then found out that women didn’t want a real relationship with him because they didn’t trust him.
            Presently, he doesn’t have problems with the ladies at all. He doesn’t even need to announce his presence. Anyone could sense it when he showed up at a place. No, I don’t mean his cologne that I think should be diluted. He comes from a military background and has a super straight posture and thick muscled build. He is imposing and I think his commanding demeanor is rare for his age. Maybe that’s why the older ladies fall for him, too.
            That same article that talked about Reddy said that “if a handsome Duke and a daunting warrior had a baby, it would be Brian.” He is six feet, two inches tall, and has one of the coolest haircuts. I hear that he keeps the identity of his barber a secret. His dark brown hair is shaved on both sides and the top look as though every strand was measured when cut. They rest nicely and seem to take their place perfectly. I know I’m creepy for noticing this detail. I’m sure I’m not the only one. He has long lashes that I noticed when we had an intimate scene together. Those deep set green eyes of his have been looking peculiarly at me recently, as though I have done something wrong. Anyway, his eyebrows are shaped like he’s always curious and there is a slight dent near the base of his nose, like a piece is missing, but there is no scar to prove it. His cheek bones are more prominent when he bites the inner walls of his mouth, something I noticed he does when thinking of what to say. Also, I noticed that when we’re being interviewed, he tends to scratch his chin a lot as he thinks of answers, or maybe the scratching is due to the facial scruff he keeps, which I think is a great look on him compared to his clean-shaven look for our movie. I won’t fail to mention his famous cleft chin, the money maker, like Jose Nato calls it. Brian’s face would look completely different without it, I think.
            I like his smile, when it’s sweet and not smirking. He has thin lips that tend to make him look stern, but that disappears when he smiles, which he does almost always because of what he knows it does to the ladies. He gets on my nerve when he uses his super-fake deep voice that cracks on the edges. He uses it when he’s trying to be charming to girls and they sigh all the time. Absurd. I don’t think it would make any difference to the girls if he uses his real voice. Why do I even care? I cleared my throat as I stopped where my thought was going because I was beginning to feel a tinge of my usual guilt.
            I saw his hand that was on the girl’s shoulder, making its way down, and down, and ending up on the back of her jean pocket. Whatever he was telling her made her look like she was melting. Her face was cherry bright and she had already closed the little gap between them, so that their faces were now uncomfortably close. Okay, time to look away. I turned around and found the drink table.
            A girl standing beside the table, took a bottle of sparkling cider from an ice bucket and was slowly peeling the cap. She noticed me come by and looked up.
            “Hi,” I said to her. I remembered her face. She was one of the exotic dancers in Façade. She smiled at me.
            “Hi, Emma Kaz, having fun?” she asked, nodding to the dance floor.
            “Yeah, it’s nice.”
            “No, it’s not. It’s boring,” she countered.
            “Oh.” I didn’t know what to say.
            “The music is good. The food is good. The booze is great. But we’re all here pretending like we like each other. Some of us are here only because it’s a party full of popular people. We are here so we can hear about the next big thing from a drunken celebrity. The party looked promising when Reddy Sami and Brian Wood made their mushy speeches about owing it to everyone for bringing their A-game to work. Telling us that they didn’t realize how much they missed us until we got together for the reshoot. I almost believed their sentimentality for a second. Look around, we’re all faking it. ”
            I was tempted to come back with a harsher comment, but I had to admit that she had a point. I would have liked to hear those speeches, but I had arrived late. I looked around, and sure, most people were either hugging the glass walls or drinking at the bar. Some were in the corner holding their drinks and some were just randomly dancing by themselves. Only a few guys were striking conversations with some girls. The others were in groups, not talking to each other, but standing closely. I guess making conversation would be hard with the loudness of the music.
            She poured the drink in a glass with ice and gave it to me.
            “Well, I’m glad you think the party is nice,” she sneered.
            I looked down. She had taken one step and then stopped.
            “Do you even know my name?”
            I looked at her, unable to answer.
            She shook her head and walked away, strutting with purpose and showing off her figure, the reason why she was the girl who was chosen to work the poles in the movie.
            I was so distraught that the air in the room became thick and I needed to get myself some fresh air.
            My hand was on the door handle, but a larger hand stopped mine from opening it.
            “What?” I almost blasted Brian’s eardrums with the way I hollered. A girl I remembered from Craft Service because of the way she ate her spicy Cheetos noisily, moaning because of how good it tasted, rolled her eyes at us.
            “Not there,” he said and took my hands, leading me to the front door instead.
            I pulled my hands away from his grip, but he placed his hand on to the small of my back as he opened the front door, as though wanting to make sure that I didn’t change directions. We went out to the front porch. I welcomed the fresh air, realizing how hot the house had been.
            “Why couldn’t I go out there?” I looked up to Brian, not seeing his eyes which were shadowed. He looked eerily robotic and slightly creepy.
            “Just,” he exhaled, “there were things going on there and I didn’t want you to get involved.”
            “Brian, whatever Reddy is doing out there in the pool is none of my business. Preeti is the one he has to answer to. I just needed fresh air.”
            He smiled, which was enough to dissolve his hardened stance. He shook his head. “I’m not talking about Reddy possibly doing things with girls out there.” He looked around to make sure we were alone. The closest person to us was standing quite far away, near the parked cars and talking on his cellphone.
            When he felt satisfied that it was clear to talk, he said, “some people out there are using substances and you don’t want to be anywhere near, just in case.
            He didn’t finish his thought, but I knew what he meant.
            “And Reddy, too?” I shrieked.
            “No,” he answered in a hushed tone.
            “Then why is he allowing it?” I asked, feeling incredulous.
            “It’s a party, Emma.”
            I looked at Brian with my mouth hung open, disbelieving the reason he just gave me. Really?
            “That’s how you guys party? I’m out of here.”
            “Wait,” he said, holding on to my arm. His grip wasn’t tight, but I couldn’t pull out of it when I tried. He noticed my alarm and released me immediately.
            “For what? You know how risky this is. I already have a lot to deal with, Brian. I won’t be stupid enough to be here when I know what’s going on.”
            “You’re right. Just before you go, Reddy wanted to invite you to a get-together next week Saturday. It’s kind of important because he’ll be announcing something and it’s only going to be for close friends. Nothing like today’s party and” he lowered his voice, “substance-free.”
            I started to shake my head. “I don’t think I –”
            “Emma, it’s very important, please. He wanted to invite you personally, but since he’s preoccupied right now…”
            I cut in. “You are certain that it’s not going to be like today’s party?”
            “Okay, I’ll show up. Tell him to text me the invite.”
            He beamed, making me wonder if the get-together was his idea again. I didn’t ask because I couldn’t wait to leave Reddy’s property.
            “Let me walk you to your car,” He said.
            I stopped and raised my hand to feel Brian’s forehead. “Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked, putting on a serious expression.
            He frowned. “Why?”
            “Because you’re not behaving like the real Brian,” I said.
            Understanding dawned on him. He rolled his eyes. “Let’s go.”
            I didn’t give him my hand when he opened his. Call me paranoid, but I wasn’t willing to give anyone anything to gossip about. Brian acted cool and just dropped his hands on his side and escorted me quietly to my car.
            “Preeti will be there, right?”
            He chuckled. “I’m not sure.”
            “You know she’s intimated by you, right?”
            “Sheesh. That girl cannot be intimated by a hungry lion.”
            He laughed aloud.
            “Thanks,” I said to him as I opened my car door.
           He nodded and turned back toward the house. I watched his brawny figure depart, back straight and arms hanging as though they couldn’t touch his sides. I waited until he reached the front porch before starting the car and driving away.

I took off my shoes and wore my flip-flops, locked my car and walked briskly to the elevator. I had no clue why I felt uncomfortable in the garage, but I didn’t question my gut and did the wise thing, leave as quickly as possible. After waiting for some time in the garage for the elevator that refused to descend, I decided to take the stairs. I huffed and puffed as I fetched my keys to open my apartment door. Three floors were no easy feat for anyone to climb. I closed my door and walked straight to the refrigerator. I didn’t get as much to eat at the party as I had planned. A hot pocket would have to do. I popped it into the microwave as I made my way to the bedroom to change my clothes. A text message came in.
            I hissed in irritation.
            “Hey Em, I’m so, so sorry for not spending more time with you. I had no idea that you weren’t staying for long…so sorry. Brian said he already told you about next week…sending you the invite now. Red.”
            I heard another beep just as I finished reading the text from Reddy. Sighing, I opened it. It was a plain white invite with large blue texts that said,
            “Get Together – RSVP.”
            I clicked the “yes” button and put down my phone.
        After throwing on a large T-shirt, I strolled to the kitchen to fetch my hot pocket from the microwave.

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