----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire: For Your Reading Pleasure...

The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire

Meet Astera (aka: me), a star in her own mind. Our plucky little heroine has embarked on not one but two difficult, low-paying career paths: writing and acting. Witness the menial jobs! The unreasonable demands! The quirky friends and family! And the glimmer of success just ahead! Through it all, Astera maintains her core beliefs: 1) She is destined to be fabulous 2) Everything is more fun with a cocktail.

Friday, November 02, 2007

For Your Reading Pleasure...

I haven't been posted much as of late, because all of my creative energies have been focused on my novel. I've written four chapters so far, and here, for your reading pleasure, is chapter one of (drumroll, please) The Chemo Chronicles!

The Chemo Chronicles
Chapter One
Clingy. That one word ruined my relationship. And now, it was putting my job in jeopardy.
It all started last night, when my boyfriend, Matt, came over to order takeout and watch a movie—his favorite way to unwind after a grueling week at the Century City law firm where he was a first-year associate. It was my turn to pick the movie, so we were watching one of those boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-makes-grand-gesture-to-win-girl-back romantic comedies. Yes, I am a bit of a sap. Once the movie was over, I turned to Matt and said playfully, “Why don’t you ever sweep me off my feet like that?”
Immediately, Matt’s face darkened. “God, Elena, you’re just never satisfied, are you? I don’t know if I can deal with your demands anymore.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “That wasn’t a demand. I was just joking around.”
“Yeah, sure you were. Just like it was all a big joke when I was late to pick you up for dinner the other night and you called me at work, at home, and on my cell phone to find out where I was. And when I didn’t answer any of those numbers, you started calling my friends!”
I bristled. “First of all, I thought they were our friends. And secondly, I was worried about you. You could have been in a car accident, for all I knew!”
“I was seven minutes late! You’re clingy, that’s what you are. You’re clingy, and you’re insecure, and I’m sick of it. I’ve had a long week, and I just wanted to relax. I didn’t plan on bringing this up tonight, but this is it. I don’t want to be with you anymore.”
“Wait, what? Are you breaking up with me?” I was stunned. Sure, we’d had some fights over the six months that we’d been together, but I’d never heard this tone from him before. I honestly thought that things were fine between us. I thought we were getting serious! Granted, he hadn’t told me he loved me yet, but I wanted to let him move at his own pace. I thought that I might be a little bit in love with him, but I certainly didn’t tell him that. That would be clingy.
Okay, I did have a tendency to call Matt rather frequently, and I knew he was a little upset when I dropped by his poker night with brownies, but all the other guys seemed appreciative. And then there was that time when I drove out to Malibu to bring him a picnic when he was surfing with the guys, but he never takes food with him and then he’s starving by the time he gets home. And maybe I shouldn’t have talked his neighbor into letting me into Matt’s apartment last week so I could cook him dinner, but he’d been getting home so late that I just wanted to make sure he had a decent meal. I was being thoughtful, not clingy!
Matt had been moody and snappish lately, but I thought it was just the stress of his job getting to him. After all, he was embroiled in a contract dispute between one of the firm’s biggest clients and her recording agency. He was always staying late at the law library to research the finer points of contract law for one of the partners, and he was exhausted half the time. Who wouldn’t be moody and snappish in that situation? I was trying to be caring and extra-attentive by calling him and doing nice things for him, and what do I get? I get called clingy.
“Yeah, I guess I’m breaking up with you,” Matt said.
“But I can change! I just felt like you were drifting away from me, so maybe I was over-compensating. But now that I know how you feel, I won’t call you all the time, and I won’t come by unannounced. Won’t that fix it?”
“No, Elena, it won’t. I just can’t be in a relationship right now. Certainly not one that’s as high-drama as this has been. I’m tired of comforting you after every blown audition, and I can’t deal with the constant phone calls while I’m at work.”
“Matt, come on…” I tried to snuggle closer to him on the couch. He stood up abruptly.
“No, you need to hear this. I don’t call you ‘just to chat’ when you’re working at one of your three ridiculous jobs. You call me whenever you need reassurance. Sometimes I feel more like your therapist than your boyfriend. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you’re not cut out for the acting business? You’re too thin-skinned. You can’t take every rejection so personally.”
That hurt. How dare he criticize my three jobs? Those jobs have allowed me to patch together a modest living and maintain a flexible schedule for auditioning. And how was I supposed to take rejection? These agents and casting directors were all rejecting me. Wasn’t that personal? And if Matt hadn’t wanted drama in his relationship, then I guess he shouldn’t have been dating an actress!
I tried to keep my emotions under control. “Okay, look. I won’t call you at work so much, and I’ll develop a tougher skin. Just give me a chance.” I looked up at him with my best flirtatious smile.
“It’s too late for that. I’m leaving, Elena. You can’t always just bat your eyes and get what you want. It’s not that I don’t care about you. I just can’t do this anymore.”
My eyes filled with tears, and for a second, Matt softened. But he shook his head and his expression became resolute. “Good-bye,” he said. And he left.
I admit it…I sobbed for about an hour after he was gone. And then I got angry. Who was he to call me clingy? Maybe he should have been showing me some extra attention, after all I did for him! And then I cried some more. In fact, I cried so hard that I gave myself a nosebleed. By the time I finally fell into a fitful sleep, it was three o’clock in the morning. I had to be up at eight to make it to my shift at Dans La Cuisine by 9:30, but of course, I slept through my alarm. Once I was awake, I had to do serious damage control with foundation, powder, concealer, highlighter, and Visine to make it look like I was awake and perky instead of depressed and zombie-like. I thought I still had a fighting chance at making it over to Santa Monica on time—after all, it was only four miles from my apartment in Brentwood—but instead, I was sitting in traffic that was moving at the speed of sludge.
Normally, I wouldn’t be worried about getting fired. Dans La Cuisine, the trendiest kitchen lifestyle store in all of the Southland, was perennially short-staffed, because the telegenic sales staff was composed of models/actors/whatevers who had no compunctions about quitting on the spot if an audition came up or they had a chance at wangling their way into some celebrity party where they could be “discovered.”
I say this with derision, but I really am no different. If my agent called and told me that a casting director wanted to meet with me, I’d be off like a shot, too. Unfortunately for me, the chances of this little scenario playing out were slim and none, namely because I have no agent. Yet. Of course, “no agent…yet,” is how I’ve been spinning it for the past eight months.
But back to the situation at hand. I am generally a good, reliable employee. However, I do have a tendency to run about five or ten minutes behind schedule. Doesn’t everyone, really? But when you work retail, the time clock makes no allowances for even a minute late. The five minutes here and ten there were adding up, and my boss, Casey, had noticed. It was just two days ago that she’d warned me that if I was late one more time, I would face “serious consequences.” With Casey, that could mean anything from being fired to being forced to work the stockroom for the next month. Still, I didn’t want to take any more chances, and I had vowed to make it to work on time. Yet here I was, nearly fifteen minutes late already, and I still had to find a parking spot. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances, but I didn’t think Casey would take my breakup into account when considering my punishment.
The clock was ticking, so instead of heading directly to Lot 2 or Lot 4, I drove right down Wilshire to check for any free meters on the street. But then I realized that I didn’t have any quarters, so I was forced to head to the public lots. Precious seconds wasted! And of course, when I got to the lot at 2nd and Arizona, I had to drive up to the very top level to find a spot.
In the interest of saving time, I decided to forgo the wheezing elevator that smelled faintly of urine. Instead, I sprinted down five flights of stairs that smelled strongly of urine. Ah, Santa Monica and its homeless population. I walked the three blocks to Dans La Cuisine as quickly as I could, dodging the pedestrians that were already thronging Santa Monica’s sunny sidewalks.
At last, I reached the store. I was nineteen minutes late, which meant I had only eleven minutes to prepare myself for the onslaught of customers that would flood in as soon as the doors opened at ten o’clock. Saturdays were always a big day for us. Dans La Cuisine is, like, the place for young, affluent couples to register for wedding gifts, and the free mimosas and bellinis we served on Saturday mornings just increased the crowd. I knew that my section (“esoteric housewares,” as I liked to call it, although its official name was “buffet de cuisine,” or “kitchen cabinet”) would be hopping. Even the men who were stubbornly opposed to any sort of shopping got a little trigger-happy with the registry gun when they got to my section. Panini presses! Shave ice machines! Quesadilla makers! Pasta extruders! Mandolines! Mortars and pestles! Corn zippers! Crème brulee torches! Carbon-fiber barbecue tools!
I was sure that these young, affluent couples rarely cooked. They were much more likely to dine at trendy restaurants and loungey supper clubs like Dolce, Geisha House, and Boa. But that didn’t stop them from registering for nearly every kitchen gadget in sight, even though most of these wedding gifts would be used once (if that) before being consigned to the back of the buffet. Well, except for the carbon-fiber barbecue tools, and the crème brulee torches, maybe. I don’t know why, but guys will buy carbon-fiber anything. And of course, they love fire. I had one customer tell me that he never planned on making crème brulee, but he wanted to get the torch so he could make brandy drinks and set them on fire.
The good news was that I managed to slip in without seeing Casey. The bad news was that my timecard would still reflect my extreme tardiness. Also, my carefully applied makeup was now sliding down my face, thanks to my stair sprint. Worst of all, Jessie, the biggest suck-up at the store and Casey’s favored assistant manager, was there to witness my late, late, late entrance.
“Hi Elena,” she said with a smirk. “Late again? Tsk, tsk. Luckily for you, Esteban quit this morning. Called five minutes before he was supposed to be here and said he was never coming back because he landed a TV pilot. So, I don’t think Casey will fire you today.”
An odd mixture of emotions washed over me—relief at knowing my job was (probably) safe, mixed with jealousy at Esteban’s good fortune. I had had the misfortune to sit through one of Esteban’s “talent showcases.” He conned most of the employees into coming by telling us there would be free food and drink and that we might even get to mingle with some casting directors. But when we got there, it was just sparkling apple cider and Cheez-Its, and any casting directors that sat through the showcase were up and out the door as soon as the lights came up. Esteban was probably the worst actor in the lack-of-talent showcase. His ripped body, poreless olive skin, and deep dimples were probably responsible for his casting coup. That didn’t make it sting any less, though.
“Hey, thanks for looking out for me, Jessie,” I replied in my best fake friendly voice. “You know how much I need this job, and I had a really rough night last night.”
“Reeaally? Well, just remember, we are implementing a random-drug test policy, so you might want to lay off the ‘rough nights’ in the future.”
I couldn’t believe that Jessie was insinuating that I used drugs—me, whose entire drug experience consisted of eating some pot-laced brownies and feeling absolutely nothing. In fact, the pot just spoiled my enjoyment of a perfectly good brownie. Still, I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of telling her about my breakup. She’d always made a point of telling me how cute Matt was, and how, if I didn’t hold on to him, she might hit on him herself. So instead, I simply smiled, slipped on my apron (tablier in Dans La Cuisine speech—they tend to carry the French theme a little too far), and made my way out to the sales floor.
I just had time to straighten up my display area before the newly-engaged women and their reluctant fiancés started streaming through the door. They grabbed their free booze as fast as Julie, another sales associate and one of my few friends at the shop, could pour it. By ten after ten, I had four couples waiting in line to ask my advice about the must-have housewares for their new love nests. What a joke. None of this stuff was “must-have.” If these people actually read a legitimate cookbook, as opposed to some self-serving tome written by a celebrity chef, they’d know that all a kitchen really needs is some high-quality knives and a few sturdy pots and pans. I worked on commission, though, so it was my job to steer people toward overpriced gadgets that would eventually turn into expensive dustcatchers.
My first couple was an impossibly perky blonde named Amber and her so-mellow-he-seemed-medicated fiancé, Colton. “So, we, like, totally love coffee?” Amber said. She must have been a transplant from the Valley. “And we want to register for a super-great coffeemaker? I mean, we want something that will make even better coffee than the Coffee Bean? So, what should we get?”
“Well do you want just coffee, or do you want to be able to make espresso, lattes and cappuccinos too?” I asked
“All that stuff, totally!” said Amber.
“One of our best-selling products is the Jura-Capresso Impressa F9. It’s not just a coffeemaker—it’s a whole coffee center in one machine,” I explained, sticking to the established Dans La Cuisine sales script. “It is a little pricey, but this thing will last you forever.”
“Dude,” said Colton, giving me a sleepy-lidded smile. “We want the best. Our guests can afford it.”
Cha-ching! More commission for me, if one of their guests actually bought the machine off their registry. “Okay, this is it.” I directed them to the coffee display. They didn’t even bat an eye at the eighteen hundred dollar price tag.
“Awesome, man,” said Colton as he pointed the registry gun.
I moved on to the next happy couple, who claimed they absolutely had to have a 10-piece set of Wusthof Ikon Blackwood knives, retail price twelve hundred and sixty dollars. Clearly, I needed to make friends with these people’s friends. Who spends that much on a wedding gift? Seriously.
The rest of the day went fairly smoothly, and being so busy kept my mind off Matt. That is, until one last customer dashed over to my section a few minutes before I was supposed to clock out.
“Hey,” he said. “My friends are getting married, and I have no idea what to get them.”
“Let me print you out their registry,” I said. “What’s the name?”
“Oh, I have the registry. That’s not the problem. The problem is that I don’t know what half of these things are.”
“Let me see it.” I glanced over the list with a practiced eye. “What are you thinking of spending?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I’m a groomsman. Does that mean I have to spend more?”
Now I glanced over him with a practiced eye. No Tag Heuer or Breitling adorned his wrist, and he wasn’t wearing trendy sneakers or expensive driving moccasins. In fact, his flip-flops looked a little raggedy.
“Usually, I recommend a gift that costs at least $150 if you’re actually in the wedding.” Actually, I usually try to steer customer toward the more expensive items, but this guy looked too young and too much like a student to have much cash to drop. Plus, he was cute. Really cute. My practiced eye also noted he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.
“Yeah, okay, I can do that,” he said.
“Well, in that case, why not get them this Laquiole?”
“Sounds like a skin disease,” he said.
I tried not to laugh. “It’s actually a very nice corkscrew,” I said.
“A hundred and fifty bucks for a corkscrew? Fine, whatever. They do drink a lot of wine—couple of lushes.”
“All right, I’ll get that shipped for you. Who should the card say it’s from?”
“From Matt. Matt Sanders. Hey, hey what’s wrong?”
As soon as he said his name, the memory of last night’s terrible breakup came rushing back to me, and my eyes welled up. “I’m sorry, it’s just that Matt is my ex-boyfriend’s name,” I sniffled. “Pathetic, right? To start crying because I hear his name?”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s his loss. I bet there are tons of guys lining up to date a cute girl like you. You just need a rebound guy.”
“You’re sweet,” I said. “But I’ve been out of the game for six months. I don’t know how to start dating again.”
“Well, how about if I ease you back into it? Do you want to get coffee after this?”
“You’re just asking me out of pity,” I said. “You just want to make the crying loser girl feel better.”
“I don’t ask girls out out of pity,” he said. “It’s a beautiful day and my afternoon is wide open. Why shouldn’t I spend some of it with a pretty girl?”
Flattery works on me every time. “Okay. I’ll be finished up here in about twenty minutes.”
“Great. Meet me at the Starbucks when you’re done.”
“The Starbucks on Third Street Promenade, the Starbucks in the mall, or the Starbucks on Ocean?”
“On the Promenade,” he said. “We’ll sit outside and watch the freaks go by. See you there.”
Well. This was an interesting turn of events. Maybe a rebound guy was just what I needed.


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