17 Jul 09

Star and Scribe, Chapter One

Jane Mills smiled into the sea of flashing lights. Her famously plump lips pulled back to reveal gleaming teeth that shone with blinding whiteness. The breeze stirred as she glided down the red carpet, and she turned at just the right moment to toss her chestnut hair into a rippling wave as she looked over her shoulder at the barking photographers all praying that they got the best shot. She could hear the voices of the TV reporters, and she tried to play her part by providing a charming backdrop for their commentary.

“And of course it’s Jane Mills, who is no stranger to the red carpet,” gushed a commentator standing at the edge of the velvet rope. “She’s third generation Hollywood royalty — fourth if you believe the rumors about Clark Gable and her great-grandmother, socialite and hotel heiress Eleanor Drake. She’s here tonight in hopes of bringing home her first Best Actress award. Despite a long career notable for acclaimed performances, she has yet to take home the coveted prize. But an Oscar may be within reach thanks to her work in Echoing Clues, in which she played a schizophrenic police officer who used information from the voices in her head to help her solve a murder. She is wearing a spectacular champagne-colored gown this evening, which we hear she designed herself in collaboration with Vera Wang. Jane looks absolutely regal tonight, a fitting image for the Queen of Hollywood.”

You ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie, thought Jane, sucking in her stomach just a bit further. She broadened her smile as she relaxed her eyes to avoid looking over enthusiastic, just like she’d practiced in the mirror. She flirted one last time with the rippling wall of lights, knowing that her every move showed off the sparkling crystals sewn into the swirling mermaid-tailed gown. Chiffon and tulle rustled. Shutters snapped. Fans cried her name, begging for autographs from beyond the barricade that separated the mere mortals from the red carpet walked by gods. She turned to glide into the Kodak Theater.

An ocean of famous, smiling faces awaited her inside. Her feet seemed to hover an inch over the carpet as she moved slowly toward the stage, waving at her friends and colleagues. There it was, waiting for her. A golden statuette of a featureless man holding a sword stood on the podium, glittering in the stage lights. The crowd rose to its feet and burst into applause as she raised her arms toward the statuette.

And tripped and fell. She tumbled, snapping her ankle as her six-inch heels failed to support her. Satin split with a horrible low ripping sound, and Jane fell with a spectacular face plant to the red carpet. Swarovski crystals scattered on the ground like raindrops. The reporters swarmed in, and security made no move to rescue her. As she rolled onto her back, blood spurting from her nose and her cellulite and corset fully exposed by the torn dress, she choked out a cry for help. But it was drowned in the rising din of camera shutters and laughter.

“This was one of your longer nightmares, then, yes?” Edmund asked, growing impatient.

“Fine,” Jane snapped. “If you don’t want to hear about it.”

Edmund put his head in his hands and rubbed his aching scalp. He’d crawled into bed at half past two and only gotten one fitful hour of sleep before Jane sat bolt upright screaming. Her heart was pounding, and cold sweat dripped down her back, making her silk pajamas cling to her skin. Once Edmund realized that the house was not under attack by aliens, he stoically put an arm around his wife and waited for her breathing to slow. He knew what was coming; a full recap of the entire dream, complete with self-psychoanalysis. But the lack of sleep and the stress of impossible deadlines left him in no mood to humor her that night. The studio needed a script, and he needed sleep.

Jane fumbled toward the bedside table for her mobile. It wasn’t there. Her hands grasped wildly until she knocked her lamp from the bedside stand. It smashed against the wall, scattering broken glass across the carpet.

“Great,” she hissed. Jane crawled to the foot of the bed and reached down to the floor for her satin dressing gown. She reached for the smashed lamp’s twin on the other side of the bed and flicked it on. Fluffy pink slippers waited for her on the safe side of the bed, and she cut a wide path away from the broken glass as she circled around to her bathroom.

She undressed quickly, tossing her pajamas to the floor, and searched around the room. Edmund tried not to look at her body as she stomped around. He had enough on his mind, and didn’t need to be reminded that lack of sex was one of his many, many domestic complaints.

“Where are the towels?” Jane whined.

“You sent them all to be washed again because they didn’t smell like lavender,” Edmund moaned, plumping his pillow and rolling over to face the window. With a huffy sigh Jane stepped into her palatial bathroom and snatched a 500 count Egyptian cotton hand towel that she always insisted “was only meant for decorative purposes” and soaked it with warm water. She carefully wiped away every bead of cold sweat as if it were infected with plague. She shivered from the rush of cold that crept over her skin and hurried over to Edmund’s side of the bed.

“Can you get my back?” she pleaded, turning her back to Edmund and kneeling down.

“Wha?” her husband muttered, barely able to keep his eyes awake.

“I’m all sweaty,” Jane explained, shaking the towel at him. “It will give me back zits and I’m wearing that plungy-back dress to the Awards tomorrow.”

Edmund sighed and obliged her. He tried to keep his face in contact with the pillow as he wiped at her shoulderblades. Jane scrutinized the rest of her skin to be sure the threat of blemishes was gone. After a moment she rose and she tied her robe around her and returned to look for the phone. Edmund tried to hand her the towel but she wasn’t paying attention to him anymore, so he dropped it on the floor.

“Must you continue to stomp about like a rabid elephant?” He shouted, the words half-muffled by the comforter pulled tight around his ears.

“Yes, I must,” Jane sassed back, mocking his English accent. “I can’t fine my phone.” She tossed her sheets and threw half a dozen pillows on the floor. She tiptoed around the shards of broken glass, finding a safe place to kneel beside the bed. Her fingers ran gingerly across the plush carpeting underneath her mattress until her hand snarled into an enormous clump of dust and lint. “Eew! Gross!” she cried aloud, recoiling from the bed. She pulled the dark snarls from her fingers and tossed them on the floor.

“Your telephone is exactly where you left it last night,” Edmund finally reminded her, saying each syllable with venom and precision.

With dignified calm Jane rose, strolled to the opposite wall and retrieved her mobile from the floor. It didn’t appear to be damaged, despite the fact that she’d thrown it at Edmund as hard as she could after ending her last telephone conversation.

“At least the salesman wasn’t lying about the ‘rugged yet sleek’ construction,” she observed with satisfaction.

Edmund shouted into his pillow and sat up. “I’m going to get some work done.”

Jane didn’t hear him. She tapped the speed dial fidgeted impatiently as she was made to wait. The phone rang six times. It went to voice mail. She dialed again, and this time it only rang twice before being answered with unacceptable gruffness. Edmund walked carefully around the bed, being sure to avoid bits of broken glass as he made his way to the bathroom. He heard Jane’s assistant answer at the other end of the line.

“I need an appointment with Dr. Floyd tomorrow morning, and a facial, mud bath, and massage at the spa tomorrow afternoon.”

Faintly, Edmund heard her assistant, Barb, make a sound that could have been a sigh of exasperation, but if it was she managed to disguise it as clearing her throat. He looked around for a towel, remembered that there weren’t any, and reached for the other embroidered hand towel on an aesthetically but not functionally placed rod. He tossed the tiny towel over his shoulder and turned on the shower.

“Well, I want in to see Dr. Floyd as early as possible,” Jane went on, pacing by the bathroom door.” If he’s booked up have him come in early. I won’t be going back to sleep, so you can work that out right away,” Jane insisted.

She flicked on the lights and noticed Edmund with the towel. “That’s only meant for decorative purposes,” she hissed at him, then went back to her phone. “I’m going to need my breakfast in forty-five minutes, and no coffee today. Instead I’d like a lemon balm tisane.”

Edmund made a sour face and kicked the bathroom door shut. To hell with Jane and her non-usable towels. It’s made of cotton, it’s absorbent, and I don’t give two shits about decorative purposes. It’s a fucking towel, he thought bitterly, stepping into the steaming shower. He hung his head and let the water run over his ears hoping it would drown out the sound of Jane’s voice. But he heard her anyway.

“Oatmeal with raisins, no brown sugar — agave syrup instead. Lemon balm tisane, not tea. I don’t want any black tea leaves, just the lemon balm, and that’s a tisane. Doctor Floyd will answer if he knows it’s me calling. ”

She was still on the phone when Edmund finished his shower, which made him wonder how she’d managed to change into her skintight workout clothes. He dabbed himself dryish with the tiny embroidered towel and opened the bathroom door.

“You still on with Barb?” he asked.

“Take the toothbrush out of your mouth. I can’t understand you,” Jane told him.

He removed the toothbrush and repeated himself. “Are you still on with Barb? I need to speak with her,” he said, moving his lips widely to make the words excessively clear.

Jane held out the phone and tiptoed around the broken glass toward her walk in closet, which Edmund believed was a doorway to an alternate dimension inhabited by shoe-creatures. “Tell her there’s broken glass up here,” she called out before vanishing into the portal.

“Right, hi, Barb,” Edmund said into the phone, his voice scratchy and tired.

“Good morning, Mr. Cartwright,” Barb answered. “What can I help you with?”

“There is broken glass up here. From a lamp. Yep.”

“And there are dust bunnies under the bed,” Jane shouted from the shoe-kingdom.

“Look, why don’t we get a crew up here to do a very thorough cleaning,” Edmund told Barb, giving a cheesy thumbs-up to Jane as she bounced out the door. “Lift up the bed and all that, really deep cleaning job. Don’t want any bits of glass or dust bunnies.”

“As soon as Enrique is awake I’ll let him know,” Barb replied calmly.

Edmund sneaked to the bedroom door and looked out. He just saw Jane vanish on her way downstairs to the gym. “Look, Barb, we need some towels up here,” he said quietly.

“I was going to go out this morning to try to find a more heavily scented detergent,” Barb reminded him.

“Yeah, look, no matter how lavendery you get it, it won’t work. Just send up the towels and bring one of those air freshener things and stick it underneath the shelf the towels are on.”

“Will do,” Barb replied. If she found this idea brilliant or stupid, Edmund could not tell. “Is there anything else you needed?”

“Yeah, I’m not getting any more sleep tonight so I’m going back down to the office to work. If I could get some tea, scrambled eggs, and toast that would be lovely.”

“Of course,” Barb answered, still unfazed. “The cook is already up to work on Jane’s breakfast. Yours can be ready in twenty minutes.”

“Thanks,” Edmund sighed and hung up the phone. He tossed Jane’s mobile onto the bed and stared at the broken glass. Moments like this made him wonder, if time travel was possible, if he would rush back in time to the fateful night at the Vanity Fair after party when he and Jane had met and told his past self to run screaming in the opposite direction. Thoughts like these were fleeting and usually only struck him when she was at her very worst. But lately, he hadn’t seemed to get much of the best of her.

He wiped his face one last time with the tiny towel and went to get dressed.

© 2009 Stella Quinn

Star and Scribe — a novel by Stella Quinn
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