TW: Alcoholism; references to sexual assault
Anastasia’s eyes glazed over, her head throbbed, and her stomach was in knots. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she had managed to get roughly ten hours of sleep in the past forty-eight hours, or perhaps it was the fact that, in those last forty-eight hours, all she had consumed was about a handful of pistachios and roughly a gallon of whisky. Despite those factors, Anastasia blamed her current state on the litany of social media posts that she had stayed up all night reading. People who had never met her, people who only knew her as some silly, fake woman on a silly, fake television show calling her a “whore,” a “disgrace to women,” a vain, heartless murderer.
The messages came in the form of direct messages on her personal social media accounts; comments on her pictures and statuses; and comments under trashy tabloid articles that, for some reason, Anastasia decided to read when she should have slept. She scrolled through the comments now, sitting in her bed in a dirty t-shirt and running shorts, hair a scraggly mess of knots and tangles, hands shaking from the lack of sleep compounded with too much alcohol.
JulieBee828: How can she look at herself in the mirror every day?
MCartwell03: @JulieBee828 Judging by the state of her, she doesn’t!
SamMcG: @MCartwell03 You can’t deny Anastasia Allbrook is a gorgeous woman. Vile she may be as a person and an actress, but I certainly wouldn’t kick her out of bed!!!
MCartwell03: @SamMcG: Too much plastic for me. Fake hair and fake tan, too, by the looks of it. I don’t suppose there’s a natural thing about her! Even her name is doubtful...Anastasia? Really??
LizzieRae123: I can’t believe these comments. Why are you all so quick to believe Nick’s story? Has anyone paused to consider why he would even choose to publish it? It seems unnecessarily cruel and vindictive of him--more a reflection on him than her, if you ask me.
Even if you don’t like her as a person/actress, there is absolutely NO REASON to bring her physical appearance into it. Her looks have absolutely nothing to do with it. How would you know whether she’s “natural” or not??? She looks perfectly normal to me--again, not that it matters, as it is ***HER BODY***.
Finally--@MCartwell03, get over yourself. Do you know her personally??? Is there a reason for your vitriol??? For the record, “Anastasia” is a Greek name. Anastasia Allbrook has Greek heritage. I believe it was her great-grandmother’s name as well.
BeckyG793: @LizzieRae123 Spare me. I have no sympathy for a woman who aborts her baby without so much as mentioning it to the father. *That* is "unnecessarily cruel."
PeteMcDougall: It’s a shame she’s such an asset to the show. The more I read about her, the less I like her. Still a babe, though, and a top-notch actress.
JohnnyGuiteau: @PeteMcDougall Really?? Personally, I’ve never understood the allure of Anastasia Allbrook, or the character she plays, for that matter. She’s not ugly, but I don’t think I’d give her a second glance on a night out. As for her acting, she’s okay for a soap, but I doubt she’d get anywhere if she tried to branch out of sappy soapland.
A knock on the door pulled Anastasia’s attention away from her phone. She padded to the door, holding her breath, wondering when she became so afraid of anything beyond her apartment walls. She steadied herself on the doorframe as a sudden buzzing in her ears threw her off-balance. Once the buzzing subsided, she placed her hands against the door and looked through the peephole. On the other side of the door stood her castmate and best friend, Aubrey De Santos. Allowing herself to breathe again, Anastasia unlatched the door and swung it open.
“Hi!” Aubrey said, relief and a touch of annoyance in her voice. “I came to see--whoa!”
Anastasia pulled Aubrey inside and slammed the door shut. Aubrey leaned against the counter and regarded her unkempt friend.
“I’ve been worried. You haven’t been answering your phone,” Aubrey said.
“I haven’t been on it,” Anastasia said.
“Right,” Aubrey’s eyes hesitated briefly on the phone clutched in Anastasia’s left hand. “You doing okay?”
“Not really, no,” Anastasia said. It came as a relief to say that out loud, to admit she was struggling and to know she would find a sympathetic ear in Aubrey.
“We were all worried when you didn’t show up for work yesterday,” Aubrey led Anastasia to the couch and sat beside her.
“How could I? I was a mess the last time. Andy said to come back when I pulled myself together and knew my lines. I’ve done neither of those, so,” Anastasia shrugged and reached for the nearly-empty bottle of whisky on the coffee table, but Aubrey intercepted.
“I think that’s enough of that,” Aubrey took the bottle into the kitchen and poured it down the drain.
“I hope you’re planning to pay me for that! That was quality Scotch. All the way from Scotland.”
“All Scotch is from Scotland,” Aubrey threw the bottle in the recycle bin and wiped her hands together, happy to have rid herself of the offending liquor. “And down the drain is where it belongs.”
“Oh, please. Like you don’t enjoy a drink.”
“Not at ten a.m. I don’t,” Aubrey raised her eyebrows. “And I’m happy to say I’ve never showed up at work drunk. Hungover, maybe. But never off my head,” Aubrey returned to the couch with two glasses of water. “Hydration. Drink up.”
“I was having a bad day,” Anastasia said, as a means of explaining her drunkenness on the job three days prior.
“You’ve been having a bad day for about three months now, which is why I’ve come to see you,” Aubrey said, fluffing the pillow behind her before leaning against it. Anastasia sipped her water absently, suppressing the need to scoff, to tell Aubrey to take her officious desire to help and shove it. Aubrey couldn’t understand. No one could. Nick was everywhere. He had taken control of her body, and now he controlled her mind.
Now, the latest knife in the back, this article, claiming they had been deeply in love, when in reality they were only ever coworkers. Claiming his heart was broken because she aborted their baby without the decency of even informing him that a baby existed. Yet he didn’t bother to tell anyone how the baby was conceived. No, of course he didn’t. How could he? So everyone believed him, the good, gentle, charming piece of shit that was Nick. They were all fooled by his smile, by his penchant for going to church on Sundays and giving money to cancer charities. He had so much time for his fans, he went on and on about how much his mother meant to him, he spent his free time volunteering at homeless shelters and old folks' homes.
She was a coldhearted bitch, and he was a warm, loving, man of God. She was from Oregon, practically a foreigner, and he was as homegrown as beignets and jambalaya. She refused to do interviews and tried her best to avoid mingling with fans. He welcomed his fans with open arms, communicating with them on social media, granting interviews, answering questions, giving autographs to those who asked for them. Five years earlier, he had made headlines when he gutted homes and provided food and shelter to Hurricane Katrina victims.
She never did anything for the city. To her friends, she was shy and reserved. To the good people of New Orleans--and she did believe them to be good, genuine people--she was aloof, a stranger to their way of life, someone who just doesn't get it. They would side with him, in the end.
“Have you been reading what people have been saying about me?” Anastasia asked.
“I don’t pay attention to that nonsense,” Aubrey said.
Anastasia leaned against the pillow behind her and closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose in an effort to ease her crushing headache.
“They’re calling me a whore and a murderer and all sorts.”
“You shouldn’t read that stuff. You’re only torturing yourself.’
“I just don’t understand how they’re all so quick to believe him,” Anastasia said, her voice catching.
“I know,” Aubrey whispered.
“Do you think they’d believe me if I told them what he did to me?”
“They aren’t the ones who need to believe you,” Aubrey said, gesturing toward Anastasia’s phone sitting on the coffee table.
“Look, I’ve said it before, and I know you’re sick of hearing it, but I really think you should go to the police.”
“No,” Anastasia shifted in her seat and reached for her water, wishing it were booze.
“I’ll go with you,” Aubrey said, repeating the line she had spoken the night it happened. “I won't leave your side.”
“Can you shut up please?” The night flooded Anastasia’s mind. The dimly-lit parking lot outside of Nick’s apartment complex, the nauseating mixture of anger and fear and humiliation, the confusion as to how it all happened, the denial that it had, in fact, happened. Calling Aubrey, telling her she needed to see her, telling her everything. Aubrey, trying to be a good friend, insisting they report it, Anastasia refusing, because she was too scared, too hurt, too sick. Three months later, it was the same old thing.
Aubrey sighed. She kicked off her heels, folded her legs beneath her on the sofa, and clapped her hands together.
“Ana, babe, you can’t let him get away--”
“Oh, so it’s my fault, is it?”
“What? No, of course not. That’s not what I meant at all--”
“You’re saying I’m letting him walk away, as if it’s that easy. As if all I have to do is say the word and, boom, he’s in prison. If only,” Anastasia laughed bitterly. Aubrey was quiet as she considered what to say next.
“I don’t want to pressure you, but I do think you need to consider the implications of staying quiet. He wins this way, you know. And it’s not like he won’t do it again to some other woman,” Aubrey’s voice was soft, gentle. Still, Anastasia felt as though Aubrey were accusing her of some wrongdoing. She tried to defeat the lump in her throat with water, but the glass was empty and she still felt like she might cry. She wouldn’t, though. She had had enough of tears over the last three months. Perhaps they had been cathartic at first, but they no longer did her any good.
Aubrey was still droning on about what Anastasia should or shouldn’t do, as if she knew anything at all about it.
“Did you come here just to bully me?” Anastasia snapped.
“I’m not trying to bully you. I’m sorry if it seems that way, okay? But I’m worried about you. I mean, look at yourself.”
“You think I need to pull myself together, huh? Like Andy said? Just get a grip, you silly woman?”
“No. I think you need to get help. Look, I printed out some brochures,” Aubrey dug through her oversized purse until she located the sloppily-folded pamphlets and lay them out on the couch between herself and Anastasia, who eyed the pamphlets with suspicion. Her brow creased and she crinkled her nose in mild disgust as she picked one up.
“What, rehab centers?” she asked.
“Yes. There are a few that look decent, but I like the sound of this one best,” Aubrey held up the pamphlet in the middle of the five she had printed. “It’s in Italy--”
“Italy?” Anastasia spat.
“Right, like I said, it’s in North Korea…” Aubrey blinked. Anastasia rolled her eyes. Aubrey continued, “it’s in northern Italy. Beautiful, relaxing--”
“I don’t speak Italian.”
“They have English speakers at this place. It’s just an idea; I thought you might like the chance to get away away.”
Anastasia pouted, but eyed the pamphlet in Aubrey’s hands.
“The other one I really like is in Malibu. The rest are closer to home, in and around New Orleans. For what it’s worth, though, I think your best bet would be to get away from here for a while,” Aubrey said.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Anastasia said, barely able to convince herself, least of all Aubrey, who looked her squarely in the eye and said,
“Over the last twenty-four hours, how many glasses of whine, whisky, brandy, or whatever else have you had?”
Anastasia shrugged. The truth was, she barely remembered the last twenty-four hours. Only the article, and the comments.
“Do you wish you had a drink right now?” Aubrey’s voice cut through the fog.
Anastasia nodded slowly. Tears threatened to overtake her again, but she held them back.
If I can’t control anything else in my life, I can at least control my emotions.
“I want to disappear,” Anastasia said.
“That’s why I think one of these programs would be good for you. In effect, you would be disappearing. Obviously I wouldn’t tell anyone where you went--except our bosses, if they have to know--and no one in Italy gives a shit about our show. I doubt it even airs outside the US. So no one will know anything about you over there. You can just focus on healing and not worry about petty gossip.”
“I’m sorry, are you some sort of ambassador for these people?” Anastasia gestured at the pamphlets. Aubrey laughed her over-the-top, loud, messy laugh, bringing a smile to Anastasia’s lips as it always did.
“No! But I am an ambassador for you, if you like,” Aubrey whacked Anastasia’s knee with the Italian pamphlet. “And I will do whatever it takes to get you better.”
“Why don’t you and I just go on vacation to Italy?”
“Because that’s a temporary escape that won’t solve anything.”
“The thing is, though, drink isn't the problem. It--I only use that as a means to an end.”
“The end being what? Obliteration?”
“Yes! See, I don’t--I say I want to disappear, but it’s not other people I want to disappear from. I want to disappear from myself. I want to get out of my own skin, out of my own mind. And that’s impossible, isn’t it, without self medicating? I need to get away from me. I just feel dirty and sick all the time, and I keep waiting for it all to end, but--and then he wrote that article and--” Anastasia shook her head and bit her knuckles, drawing her legs up to her chest, avoiding Aubrey’s pitying gaze.
“Do you know what I want you to do?”
“Why don’t you make me a list?”
“I want you to delete social media,” Aubrey said, diplomatically ignoring Anastasia’s snide remark.
“What good would that do?”
“A world of it.”
“You’re obsessed with social media.”
“That’s why I try to designate one day a week to stay off of it. Lord knows I should stay off longer. I’m telling you, you’ll feel so much better if you just stay away from the vapid self-obsession of the internet for a while,” Aubrey picked at her fingernails. “You know what? Why don’t we do it together? We can hold one another accountable.”
“Maybe,” Anastasia said. In truth, she would more readily admit to a social media addiction than an alcohol addiction. Even when she did not want to go on social media, she would find herself on her accounts, either posting something and then feeling badly when it didn’t receive enough attention, or scrolling mindlessly. She was too old for all of it, and it didn’t do any good. She didn’t owe anyone a thing, but she did owe herself a great deal. It was time to pick up the pieces, starting with the lifeline Aubrey extended to her. “Okay. Yeah, I like that idea.”
“Great!” Aubrey said.
“And, uh,” Anastasia reached for the pamphlets on the couch and sifted through them. “I like the Italian one.”
“You don’t have to decide right away. You should think about it--”
“No, I don’t need to. Italy might be nice. I’ve always wanted to go there, anyway. If I think too long, I’ll only come up with excuses not to go.”
“Okay,” Aubrey smiled, pride and satisfaction reflecting in her eyes. Certainly an improvement over pity.
“Will you take care of booking me in and all that?” Anastasia held out the pamphlet to Aubrey, who gawked.
“What am I, your personal assistant?”
“Aren’t you?” Anastasia cocked her head in mock seriousness. Aubrey laughed and rolled her eyes.
“Fine!” She took the pamphlet, shoved the rest in her purse, and put her shoes back on.
“Hey, maybe we could learn Italian together. You know, replace the social media vacuum with something worthwhile,” Anastasia said.
“That’s an excellent idea,” Aubrey stood. Anastasia followed suit. “May I hug you?”
“Of course,” Anastasia wrapped her arms around Aubrey.
“I’ve gotta go, but I'll come back around seven-ish,” Aubrey glanced at her watch. “I’ll bring dinner and I’ll help you sort out everything with the rehab center and work and all that. And I’ll bring over some sodas and ginger ale and fruit juice. We’ll have a little farewell party for our socials.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Anastasia smiled.
Aubrey went on her way, blowing a kiss before she closed the door. Anastasia waited until the reverberation of Aubrey’s heels had faded away, then she went to the cupboard above the oven, where there remained one bottle of red wine. Anastasia grabbed the bottle, popped the cork, and paused. She put her nose to the bottle and inhaled.
She then poured it down the drain, smiling as she watched it go. She threw the bottle in the recycle bin, then sat back on the sofa and downloaded a language learning app to her phone. There was, it seemed, hope on the horizon at long last.