You’d think that the most important days of your lives would be earmarked on a calendar from the time you were born to serve as a reminder to get up in the morning so you didn’t miss it. Or at least sit there as a warning for you to prepare yourself for.
Funny thing though, my day didn’t start off as extraordinary, just ordinary really, with an extra bit of boredom thrown in. I was at Constance de Clare’s Halloween party ,which was basically just twenty-year-olds in skimpy clothes and a lot of booze.
My roommate had dragged me here, listing the cool people that would be attending, the models and athletes and the few actors among us who had been more than commercial dweebs. I was reluctant: I wasn’t one to miss a party, but I didn’t need to spend my night with girls twice as skinny as I was or girls younger than I was offering acting advice they didn’t actually have. And I had wanted to stay at home and finish Lucifer.
The costumes weren’t even worth it. Being Asian, people always thought I was some sort of manga character.
The party sucked. There wasn’t good energy to it. And as anticipated, I had a list of acting tips rotting in my pocket and the sad resolution to go on a diet tomorrow after meeting the gorgeously thin Vivant. I migrated to a corner and sipped Coke through a straw.
I looked up.
Constance de Clare was wobbling her way over to me in a leather skirt and high boots, a cat ear headband announcing her costume.
“Nice costume!” I say, even though I could have counted the number of cats here on both fingers. “How are you? It’s been a while.”
“Busy, busy,” she sighs, fluffing her blond hair with an idle hand. “Acting classes are killing me! I’m such a failure.” She makes a sad lip. “But how’s it going with your stuff?”
Constance is a fantastic actress and everyone knows it, but I hide my annoyance. As for the question… Well, it turned out that girls trying to get into Hollywood are like sharks. Everyone feasts on each other, goes after the ones that have the best chance of fame-- like me-- and due to this terrifying attitude, I had long ago stopped telling people “how it was going.”
I say the usual: “Not bad.”
The acting, though I would never tell Constance, was going great, the best since I’d arrived in Los Angeles. I had been offered two parts, a play and this new TV show. I had chosen the play. The director was respectable, a ‘rising star’ and it had a solid cast of people who’d done work before this, even a guy who had had a small role in the latest blockbuster.
It’s about four girls married to quadruplets and the guys are always saving each other from trouble by pretending to be someone else. I play the fourth sister, not as big a role as it sounds. I don’t have a lot of lines. But it’s a start.
I wish I could have been able to do both at once, since I really like the TV show, but the play is the smarter choice.
“Oh, there there,” Constance says, deciding that I meant the acting was going poorly. “You’ll get something. You’re so good!” Before I could reply, a guy came over and started hitting on her, and she became distracted immediately. I slipped away.
The more boozed-up people are starting to get noisy, and I’m ready to go. Catching Olive’s eye, I motion to the door.
Before we left I glance back, at Constance’s shitty apartment, at all the talented, beautiful people inside. The coolest boys in high school, the prettiest and most popular girls, the kids with potential leaking out of their pores. So many competitors, but would any of them actually make it? Could I actually make it? I didn’t know.
The ordinary part of my day ends the moment Olive and I walk out the door.
“Did you see the girl dressed like Harley Quinn?” Olive asks.
“She was pretty.” I unlock my bike. “She didn’t look like your type, though.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Olive scowls.
Beautiful people take offense so easily. “When I met her she was making out with a guy dressed like a cowboy.”
Olive laughs. “Noted.” She hops on her bike and leads her way back to our apartment, a decision I’m so grateful she made. Without that I wouldn’t have met him. If we had left five minutes earlier, or the car’s headlights were brighter, or I wasn’t wearing a helmet, things would have been different. But I don’t think about that when it happened.
It was a WHAM that sends me flying to the ground. My head thuds dully against the pavement, the bike squeaks and clatters away from me, and Olive screams in the background. Was I going to die? The thought makes me dizzy.
Olive and another guy, the driver, are kneeling next to me and talking way too loud. Their worry radiates off in waves and makes it hard to concentrate. I’ll be fine, I want to tell them. I have too much to do to leave. Sleep comes, dark and merciful.
I have a concussion, a mild sprain in my ankle, and a lot of bruising. I got off easy, all things considered, but it turns out concussions blow. For a few days it feels like an unpleasant and lingering hangover. Olive buys me headache medicine (and delivers it with an expression appropriate to that of a mourner) and I stay in bed for days gulping them down, with the occasional break to stagger to the bathroom.
I have to give my excuses to the director of the play which comes as a relief. For the past few weeks I’ve been running on nervous energy, worried about messing up and losing my role. It’s nice to be able to sit down again and just think about the part.
But thanks to my doctor and Olive I felt good enough to go to work after about a week— tired and aching, but good enough. My first day back was terrible. Maybe I was well enough to be out in the world, but I sure wasn’t ready for the brainpower it takes to act. And maybe it was the concussion talking but the play seems awful. Us girls are made of cardboard, dumb and pretty, while our husbands get every good line, every cheeky smile flashed at the audience. I trudge my way to my favorite coffee shop after the hell is over, in dark sunglasses and with an aching wrist.
It’s much more crowded than usual; lunch hour. I almost leave but they make really good omelettes and I’m starving. I order before noticing there are no free tables.
“Want to sit here?”
I glance at the guy gesturing to the spot in front of him.
“Sure, thank you.” I sit down and put my purse next to me. He squints at me.
“Weren’t you at Constance de Clare’s Halloween party?”
“Were you?” I take stock of him. Very tall, with fox-coloured red hair and a thin face. He has small glasses perched on a long nose, and he looks to be several years older-- late twenties, maybe. “Sorry, I don’t think I recognize you.”
He smiles. “I spent most of the night throwing up in the bathroom so that’s probably it. I recognize your face because I’d never seen someone so bored. Cool shades, by the way.”
I laugh. “Was I that obvious?” I take them off. “Thanks. I have a concussion.”
His expression at that makes me laugh again.
We talk for a few minutes before our food comes, the usual getting-to-know you details, though the process is slowed when I go off course to ask about his weird-ass name.
“Faronucci,” he says. He takes a bite of his chocolate cake. “My mom says it’s Italien but I’ve given up caring. You can only hate your name for so long before you resign yourself to it. I mostly go by Frank or Rich.”
“Not many nicknames with that one,” I say. “I know what you mean, though. I hate my name too. I changed it the second I came here.” I take a bite of my low-calorie omelette, which tastes good but I’d rather have his cake.
His eyebrows go up. “Really? What is it?”
“Floris. It was my grandmother’s. After my dad died she took Mom in as a second child and my mom adored her. She always said I looked just like her.” Even though my grandmother had been a white woman with blond hair and I, dark-haired and almond-eyed, looked nothing like her.
He tilts his head to the side. “Floris. I don’t hate that, actually. Sounds a bit like something you’d call a gerbil.”
“You make me like it so much more.”
“I love gerbils!”
I shake my head, smiling. “You’re wrong. They’re nasty. But anyway.” I chew my food. “What brings you to Hollywood?”
“Writing,” he says. “Magazines. Some articles. Working on a novel, like every other writer on the planet. What about you? Acting, I’m guessing?”
“Yeah. Us struggling actresses really are a dime a dozen, huh?” I swallow a tomato and grimace. I try to ignore his cake.
Faronucci shrugs and leans back in his seat. “I guess it is pretty common to want to act, but that’s not what I mean. You have this sort of intense look to you like you’ve got a gun loaded and ready to fire at a bull’s eye. It’s different from the others. They’re sort of more…” He considers. “Fumbling for a crossbow but they’re out of bolts and they don’t really wanna fire anyway, they just want to hit the target.”
I think about that. “That sounds… exactly right, actually. You’re good.”
He smiles. “Aren’t I though? I’ll do your autobiography someday. In exchange, you finish this.” He slides the cake across the table.
I take the cake reverently. It looks gooey and fudgy and fantastic. “My director recommended a diet…”
“He’s an ass. Eat up.”
I chew slowly, savoring each bite. It’s just as good as I thought it would be. “Writer, huh. Do you think you can make it?”
He tilts his head to the side. “Make Hollywood, you mean?”
“Yeah. There are so many people here who are so talented. Does it ever scare you, a little bit?”
“Not really,” he says, his answer surprising me. “Mainly because I don’t think about them. Everybody’s very good, but you have to think about yourself. Know what works for you, what you think you can do, rather than what someone else can do better-- like your play. You chose that over the TV show because you knew you were better suited for it, not because someone else might have done it better.” He pauses. “Am I making sense?”
“Kind of,” I say, and he was. I knew what he meant. “You’re right.”
“As always,” he says proudly.
I sit there for a few moments, thinking about his words. I had chosen the play over the TV show, yes… but because it was the smarter choice, not the one I liked more. The TV show was packed with young actors, and producers working for the first time, and people who had only directed crappy little things under the bowling alley, but I liked it a lot. It made me laugh. The character I auditioned for, Claire Phillips, sounded like me. She was bright and fun. I wanted to do her, and I wanted to be around those people.
Was it too late? Would it be the wrong choice to choose something that might be a risk?
I stand up and grab my phone, my resolve hardening. “I need to make a call.”
First I talked to the producer of the show and asked if I could have another shot at the role of Clarie Phillips. He seemed happy to hear back from me. Then I talked to my play director and told him I was quitting. He was… less happy.
I didn’t know if I was going to regret this or not, but what I did know was that the part of Clarie, when I read, made me feel really connected to the character. I knew I could act her well. It was just my fear, my what-ifs of becoming famous, that had stopped me.
Faronucci was waiting at the table when I came back. He smiles at me. “Made a choice?”
“The right one, yes.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He hesitates. “Want to get a drink later tonight?”
I smile. “I would love that.”
Clarie Phillips was a joy to perform, so much so that I continued to do her for ten years. When I retired, at the age of seventy, the tabloids printed stories after story about it, right next to articles detailing Olive’s new baby and Constance’s latest divorce. And my red-headed husband, just like we had promised, wrote my autobiography.
It was a bestseller.