Fiction Drama

Garrett Ruiz was not only beautiful, he was also painfully charming. And hypnotic. And intoxicating, like the world’s most expensive cocktail. It didn’t matter what your palette or your tolerance was, you could never consume enough of him. Both of his smiles, his cheeky onscreen smile and his sinless offscreen smile, could generate power for a thousand cities until the planet gave out. His skin was lightly tanned, his proportions were exceptional; not even including the lean muscle gained from vigilant weight training and cardio, he had been blessed with a terrific, shapely body.

And he was a talented actor. Nowadays he was drawn to more family sitcoms, like the one he was currently shooting for at studio near the café where I worked. But his repertoire included so much more. Prior to the sitcom, he had already been a part of numerous works in the genres of comedy, drama, and horror, all at such a young age—the epitome of a rising Hollywood star.

I was an actor, once. I started working at this café years ago—a side hustle to finance my dreams of acting when I still had qualities that audiences wanted. I was young. My skin was supple and still stuck snugly to my face and arms. I had groovy hair, and I was knowledgeable about styling it. My face wasn’t handsome, but it was personable, and on the right day, in the right lighting, with the right background, it could pass for inviting. My proportions were average, not male lead-average, but supporting best friend character-average.

People started telling me that I had real potential to become an actor when I entered high school. Not in the context of school musicals or anything like that. I think everyone just knew how good I was at lying, which, admittedly, was something I took pride in. Starting in my sophomore year, I took formal lessons with an acting coach. I learned later on that most aspiring actors typically started lessons around age 5, which put me at a disadvantage. But I’d also heard of actors finding success with less, or even no formal training at all. Success for me, I figured, would come as a result of exceptional luck and fierce determination.

I’d had some mild victories in the beginning. Some restaurant and insurance commercials. The first victim in a gruesome summer slasher. A drunken jock at a house party in a high school Bildungsroman. I remember how I felt when I scored my first speaking role—I was an extra on a crime investigation show, playing a bank robbery hostage who was being held at gunpoint. I only had two lines, yet I was so giddy that I practiced them in front of the bathroom mirror for hours. The lines were “What did you say?” and “I’ll do anything, I swear.” I told all my friends and family to watch it when it aired, and from then on, I figured this was only the beginning. More opportunities would surely come now. And they did, sort of. But nothing significant, nothing that stuck out to people, nothing that would make a moviegoer remember my name. The rejection and lack of opportunities started to get to me. The bills started piling up, so I took more shifts at the café. Eventually, I stopped going to auditions altogether, and just worked full-time at the café. Acting became a dull memory. Not painful or bitter, just dull, like an old ache.

By that point, Garrett Ruiz had already established himself as a supporting actor. I didn’t pay him any significant attention at first. He was just a name that popped up every now and then, another up-and-coming actor trying to make something of himself.

That was before I met him. It was an early morning shift; opening time was at 4:30 a.m., before the sun was even up. At 5 a.m. I was fine-tuning the espresso machine when the shopkeepers’ bell rang. I looked up from the counter to see Garrett Ruiz walking in through the front door, wearing track pants and a oversized, dark sweater.

I didn’t comment on his identity, even though I knew who he was. I knew actors valued their privacy and didn’t always like being recognized. So I just asked him what would he like to order, and he said a medium iced coffee, double shot with whipped cream. Long day ahead? I asked him. I liked to make idle chat during the bleak hours of the morning shift. He said yes, a thirteen-hour day ahead, in fact. The track pants and sweater made more sense: he was going to a morning shoot. Yikes. I’ll be rooting for you, I told him, which was true. Full day shoots were hell, even if you only had two lines. He said thank you, he’ll give it his best shot, in a real toothy grin that no actor would have on their face at 5 a.m. before a morning shoot. Yet there it was, as plain as day.

And he kept coming back. Three, sometimes four times during the week, before a morning shoot. Ordered the same drink, sometimes a blueberry bagel if he hadn’t had time to eat beforehand. In time, he revealed to me on his own that he was an actor who was shooting a pretty popular long-running family sitcom—“You might’ve heard about it,” he said, all nonchalant—at a nearby studio. I surprised myself; almost effortlessly, I feigned shock and amazement. Turns out I wasn’t completely out of practice, which was good to know. We talked a little about what it was like, how the show was progressing, if there was any on-set drama between actors or crew—there’s always drama between actors and crew. We talked briefly about other upcoming projects, what he planned to do once the show ended, which wouldn’t be for a while, he guessed.

He only came to the café during shooting period, which was about four months long during the fall. The following season then aired for a couple months from winter to spring. I started watching it on television when I got home. His character was my favorite, multi-layered and lovable, and it wasn’t hard to see why. The role played to his strengths, highlighted why Garrett Ruiz was easily the most competent actor among the cast.

After a while, I became curious. A thought suddenly passed through me that just down the street, a hit television show was being filmed. A callback to my old life. I knew Garrett’s show was filmed in front of a live audience, so I decided something. When I got off work, I made my way to the studio and experienced his performance first-hand. I didn’t want Garrett to recognize me—would he think I was following him?—so I didn’t go as the barista from the café up the street. I slipped in as a regular man sporting a dark hoodie, not unlike how Garrett was dressed the first time we met. Experiencing the show being acted out live in front of me was a different experience than seeing it on television, and it brought back heavy memories. Through these older eyes, I could see the bare bones of it all, the rawness of the performers that is usually covered up through video editing before being broadcast. I noticed some flaws in Garrett’s acting that I wouldn’t have caught in the final onscreen product. Er, maybe not so much flaws as things that could be done better.

He made creative choices that I didn’t quite agree with. Like how he delivered certain lines. Or how he used his hands to convey certain emotions. These could, and would, likely not be a problem after editing, but I knew he could do better. I thought hard about how I might deliver those lines or how I might use my own hands, and then, one day, I tried to offer him some advice, feedback from an outsider’s perspective. He didn’t like that. He didn’t get angry, but I could tell I’d made him uncomfortable. Looking back on it, it seemed obvious it would make him uncomfortable. Who wouldn’t feel uncomfortable? Nobody wants to be told criticism about their profession to their face from some has-been, especially before a thirteen-hour shift. It was a stupid, intrusive thing to do and I felt a deep shame for doing it, so I never did it again.

But my thoughts on his performance didn’t go away. I was still bursting with ideas that could boost his career and blow away his audience. Don’t misunderstand me; I adored Garrett Ruiz and his career. But I had rediscovered my love for theater, and there was no quelling that again. I had so many subtle ideas that could make him shine brighter than he already did.

But I didn’t ever want to make him uncomfortable again. I was lucky that he even came back to the café after my criticism. I knew I couldn’t ever talk about my ideas to his face, so I started sending him mail. Well-meaning critiques that I could put eloquently into words. From “fans.” I knew he might not take it seriously if they all came from the same person, so I conjured multiple personalities and sent letters from several different “fans” all over the country, some of whom were acting coaches, high school drama teachers, and small-time critics. To balance the criticism, I also sent letters of praise, gushing and acclamatory, from secret admirers, aspiring actors, and long-time fans of the show. The point of it all was to raise him up as well as guide him, to encourage him to act forever.

At first, I couldn’t tell if he was reading the letters. Nothing about his acting seemed to change. But one day, while he was filming a scene where his character needed to get angry, I noticed his bottom lip start to tremble. Sitting in the audience, I had to suppress the violent urge to bolt up from my seat. That was my doing! I told him to do that! And he listened! He took on some of my other suggestions, as well, and soon enough I had my proof; the letters were getting through. I was getting through.

After five years of this, the news broke that the show would not be renewed for another season. I was saddened to hear this, but I knew that no show lasted forever. And for a show to be on the air as long as this one was—that was impressive. And it was all thanks to Garrett Ruiz, whom I never saw again in person after the show ended. Allegedly, the show was supposed to end three seasons ago, but his involvement alone was enough to keep pulling in viewership, which kept the show alive. Only when he decided it was time for the show to end, so he could begin new projects—he had already signed up to headline two summer blockbusters in the coming year—did it become so. He never came back to the café. I had often hoped that he would pop by just to check in on me, just to say hello, thank you for serving me my morning coffee all these years. After a while, I lost my hope in that. I don’t think I was a very memorable person to him. I don’t think he even remembered my name, but that didn’t matter. Because of me, people would never forget his.

July 29, 2023 01:25

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.