24 Jul 09

Star and Scribe, Chapter Three

“I’ve gone with a slightly more caramel color in the highlights,” Stefan cooed, fluffing Jane’s freshly cut and colored hair. “I find that awards pictures look so much better when the look is subtle rather than summery.”

Jane tossed her gleaming layered hair and dazzled herself with a smile. “I agree completely,” she cooed in her most charming tone, disguising that she had no idea what Stefan meant. She rarely did, but her trust for him was instinctive. He was never wrong, and his talents had made her a style icon. Jane was always on the right side of magazine spreads showing who was fab and who had flopped at a major event.

Stefan stepped back and examined her, pondering his next move. “Now, you are going with the Marchesa gown.”

“Well, I hadn’t decided just yet–-”

“That wasn’t a question, dear.”

“But I was thinking-–” Jane began, with an attempt at a firm tone. Stefan whirled her seat around to face him and he placed a finger gently over her lips.

“Shh” he cooed in a low tone, leaning in close and staring intently at her eyes in the mirror. “I am the artist. You are the creation. Your input is not needed.”

From the overstuffed lavender armchair in the corner, Barb suppressed a snort and rolled her eyes. She caught Stefan’s eye for just a moment and he gave her that curious, playful look that she could never quite figure out. Jane just nodded at her stylist’s reflection in the mirror, her eyes full of awe. She had learned long ago not to challenge the maestro when his muse was guiding him.

Stefan grinned his approval and tapped her playfully on the tip of her nose with his finger. “So, we’re strapless, we’re corseted, we’re rich chocolate chiffon with bronze and gold overlay . . . hummmmdeedumdeedummmm . . .” He paused, playing with his Rolex as he paced in a little circle. Suddenly he cried out, “OOH! I know!”

Barb started at the sudden squeal, reaching for her purse. When she saw there was no cause for panic, she went back to her issue of The Economist.

Stefan gushed on. “Let’s start with bronzer, go with gold and brown smoky eyes, and a great big soft chignon with a few loose strands and nice silvery plum pearls on the necklace with short drippy earrings. We’ll match the nail polish. And I will call it ‘Immaculate Aura.’”

Jane beamed. He was perfect. He would make her perfect. As he vanished to retrieve his arsenal of styling products, she leaned back in the salon chair and inhaled deeply. She went through the meditation journey her therapist had taught her. A bubble of white light surrounded her. She lifted off the ground, palms outstretched. She was safe and happy in the light. She saw it all fall into place. Her hair, sleek and stunning to Grace Kelly proportions, shone in the flashing light of the cameras. The Marchesa gown rustled as she glided through the air, and the jewelry Stefan had described floated toward her and fastened itself on her throat. She added some ivory satin gloves just for fun. That will look great on the cover of any tabloid, she thought.

The harsh sound of a mobile ringtone cut into the fantasy. Her eyes opened as she reached down to her bag and retrieved her phone, but only after the tiny white dog inside got in the way and refused to stop licking her fingers. “Cut it out, Fang,” Jane scolded. She managed to fish the phone out of her bag, but then realized that it wasn’t ringing. She scanned the wall of mirrors and saw Barb murmuring into the mouthpiece of her mobile. Jane watched her look through the glass wall at the front of the studio and catch the eye of Ozzy, the hulking bodyguard sitting outside pretending to read yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Barb raised four fingers, the signal that meant “prepare for a quick escape.” Ozzy rose, straightened his sport coat, and turned to scan the street. He reached for his mobile to notify Jane’s driver to begin making slow loops around the block.

“Four? Seriously? Now? Who is it?” Jane demanded.

“Pike,” Barb mouthed to her, striding across to the window to untie the heavy velvet drapes. They folded together, blocking out the bright sunlight. The sound of shrieking buzzed across the room from the mobile.

“What’s going on?” Jane mouthed back with exaggerated lip motions. Barb opened her mouth, closed it and then looked resigned as she listened to the horrific racket coming from the publicist at the other end of the line. After about half a minute it ceased, and Barb repeated back what she hoped were the essentials.

“On TV, right now, really bad.”

Jane held out her hand. Barb gave her the phone.

“Pike,” she said coolly.

“Jane, sweetie,” the publicist gurgled back, trying to sound calm. “Some audio of you is about to play.”

“Oh, is that all?” Jane sighed. “Can this wait? I’m kind of getting ready for the Awards.”

“You’ll be chopped up and stirred into The Soup. We’re going to have to do some serious damage control here.”

“What are you talking about, Pike?” Jane sighed. Publicists are so annoying. They overreact to everything. “I’m sure it can’t be a big deal.”

“My contact said it’s bad.”

Stefan emerged from the back, calling out to Jane, “Whenever you’re ready, sweetie,” he called in a sing-song voice as he twirled two large paddle brushes, the tools of his impending work of art. He paused after a moment, confused. “Why is it so dark in here?”

Jane put a hand over Barb’s mobile and answered Stefan, who was wheeling a cart full of contraptions and liquids that could easily have been mistaken for torture devices. “Paparazzi. Pike is freaking out.”

“I am not freaking out!” came a muffled objection from the mobile. Stefan hurried over. “What is he freaking out about?” he said, his voice suddenly low and urgent. “Is it serious?”

Jane dropped her hand from covering the mobile’s mouthpiece. “He’s saying there’s some audio of me that’s about to play on the Soup. He says his contact says it’s bad.”

Stefan snatched the mobile from Jane’s hand. Barb glared at them both. Jane gaped at the stylist in exasperation, folded her arms, and pouted as Stefan interrogated the publicist. “Is your contact a hyperventilating makeup artist named Jørgen?” Barb and Jane exchanged a confused glance while an unintelligible mumble buzzed from the mobile. “Oh, I knew it!” Another mumble. “Are you serious?” Stefan murmured. “No. You are yanking my little gold chain. No. And then what did he say? Uh-huh. And then what did you say?”

Jane attempted to recover the phone. Stefan backhanded her fingers and waggled his head at her. “I need to handle this, honey. But we should watch. It’s on in about 30 seconds.”

“Fine.” She stood up from the salon chair and walked to the plasma screen on the far wall, by the ultraviolet lights used to firm up fresh nail polish. Fang leaped out of his nest inside his Gucci bag modified into a puppy carrier and trotted after her. Jane impatiently snatched up the remote from a table full of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire and clicked on the TV. She flipped through the channels. Sports. Soaps. Sports. That snarky skinny bubblehead on E! television. There. She threw the remote at Stefan, who caught it one-handed with surprising agility.

Fang seated himself on the floor beside her last season Prada heels, which she was clicking nervously on the floor. The dog found the tile too cold. He circled and whimpered until Jane scooped him up. But she had no time for any of her usual cooing and fussing over what she usually referred to as her “pweshus lil’ poopy dawg.” The report was starting.

“Some shocking audio from Hollywood’s Royal Couple, Jane Mills and Edmund Cartwright.” This conversation was recorded in front of their Bel Air estate this Tuesday morning, and its contents may shock you.”

As the audio played, Jane’s blood chilled. The argument yesterday. Over the break-in. Although nothing had been taken and security determined that only a very skilled professional could have managed to breach the property, she and Ed had still managed to turn it into something to blame one another for. He didn’t want to pay for more security, as somebody that determined would slip past anything they put up. Jane wanted more guards, guard dogs, cameras, laser motion sensors, retinal scanners — a laundry list of items that made her sound as if her only research on home security consisted of her last three action films.

The fight erupted when Edmund’s temper finally flared.

“I just want better security,” Jane had whined petulantly.

“No, you want things that don’t actually exist outside of a movie set,” Edmund had snapped.

“I want voice recognition door locks,” Jane insisted, stone-faced. “Those exist.”

“If they do, they don’t sell them at the hardware store. And it wouldn’t make us any safer.”

“I want it,” Jane demanded

“And I’d like a pet unicorn that shits marshmallows, Jane, but it isn’t going to happen!” he roared.

The conversation became less cordial at that point. The audio played. And played. Stefan set Barb’s mobile down on a side table and gaped, slack-jawed, at the screen as the audio played, frequently censored with beeps over the foulest words. At long last the snarky bubblehead returned to the screen with some cutting remarks pointing out Jane’s stupidity, Edmund’s temper, and highlighting the crueler words they hurled at one another.

“This audio was anonymously delivered to our studios along with photos taken just the day before this argument. In the images, you can clearly see Cartwright surrounded by whiskey bottles in his writing studio. Could his fights with Queen Jane be driving Eddie to alcoholism? We’ve invited celebrity psychologist Dr. Drew-–”

“Turn it off,” Jane said quietly. Stefan pressed a button on the remote and the image flickered off. The three stood alone in the dark. From outside they heard Ozzy’s muffled voice instructing someone that Ms. Mills had already left the premises. Fang whimpered.

“Hello?” Pike’s voice drifted over from the mobile on the table. “Jane? Barb? Hello?”

© 2009 Stella Quinn


Star and Scribe — a novel by Stella Quinn
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