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Authors: Maya Brooks

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BOOK: The Actor
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“I understand.”

There wasn’t
much else to say. She couldn’t tell him her heart shriveled to the size of a
raisin, or that her stomach was filled with tears.

He reached for
her hand.

“Laura…”

She shook her
head.

“Don’t. I’ll
just… Really miss you.”

And worry
about you. I don’t know if I can go through all this again.

“Laura, come
here.”

She still
couldn’t resist him. She sat on his lap and rested her head against his, trying
not to cry. Maybe changing the subject would make it easier.

“Your hair is
pretty long.”

“I know.”

“It looks
good.”

He brushed his
fingers over her cheek.

“I’m a horrible
boyfriend, and I don’t know how you put up with me. I was an even worse
husband. I’m bad at life, but I have to go home some time.”

Acting?
Real? Either way it was a good effort.

“I know.”

“We’ll figure
something out.”

Good try. I
don’t believe you, but it’s a good try.

She drove him
to the airport the very next day. The man sitting next to her in the car had
little in common with the wreck arriving on her doorstep.

Heather was
right. Pinocchio fell to pieces, I put him back together, and now he’s leaving.

Airport
security came much too soon.

How do
people say goodbye and not cry?

He wasn’t hers
to keep, she always knew, but knowing didn’t diminish the sensation of dying.
Marc pulled her close and kissed her goodbye.

“Will you be
okay?” Reminding him of his problems might not be the best idea, but she
couldn’t keep the question in.

“I don’t know.
I’ll call you.”

She swallowed
hard as he walked through security and stopped on the other side to blow her a
kiss. As soon as he couldn’t see her anymore, she turned and ran through the large
building, into the first restroom. There, locked in a narrow stall, she finally
allowed her tears to fall.

It’s not
fair. Why aren’t I good enough?

At the same
time as she promised herself never to let him take over her life again, it was
abundantly clear she’d turn herself inside out for him the next time he called.

Returning home
held no appeal.

What would she
do with an empty apartment, now when she was used to being two?

 

*****

 

Marc sat on the
plane, toying with the in-flight entertainment system.

Hey, they
have one of my movies. Wonder if anyone here’s gonna watch it and recognize me…
Going home might not be so bad. Life has to move on, right?

Living in
Laura’s apartment had many perks, and he loved both her company and the peace
and quiet, but he couldn’t stay there forever. He had been eating and sleeping
well, and stayed sober for longer than he could remember.

I feel
great. Lawrence might be right. It’s time to return to reality and deal with
life. If I’m not ready now I’ll never be.

He looked
forward to being back in his own spacious house, to sleeping in his own large
bed, and to having a refrigerator that made ice cubes on the door.

This good cheer
lasted the entire flight and all the way to the house. Once he unlocked the
front door and entered, it changed.

Damn it’s
cold in here. Didn’t the housekeeper turn the heat on? Oh crap, I think I fired
her, or she quit, can’t remember which.

It smelled
closed-up and dusty. His footsteps echoed on the floor, and the large windows
that seemed so merry when he bought the place together with his wife scorned
him.

I hate this
place. It’s a church dedicated to loneliness, excess, and sin.

The living room
was a mess, and he grimaced when he dropped his new suitcase on the floor.
Empty bottles, cigarette butts, and an abandoned pipe told a story of a party
he couldn’t remember.

The study might
be better.

It was the one
room he furnished according to his own taste, and by far the most inviting.

A lamp blinked
eagerly on the answering machine.

Damn thing
is full. Maybe I should have checked it a couple of times.

His agent’s
voice asked where the hell he’d gone off to this time, and a number of sultry
female voices told him to call. He couldn’t put a face to even one of them. He
deleted it all and headed for the bedroom.

A multitude of
colors and flowers assaulted him, making him wince.

How could I
forget this?

Laura’s home
was decorated in soothing nuances of beige, green, and blue. Staying there for
so long had erased every memory of the atrocity that was his bedroom. There had
been a long argument over the shades of pink when they bought the house, and
Anne didn’t just win, but made it as hideous as she could stand.

Small
victories meant a lot to her. Did she stop caring about me when I stopped
caring about winning? Nothing left to fight for? And where does this goddamn
mess come from?

He stepped over
a pile of dirty clothes and stared at a plate with moldy food next to an almost
empty bottle of scotch. The mirror over the dresser was shattered and tiny
shards of glass covered the carpet.

He couldn’t
remember how the clothes ended up where they were, or bringing any food in
there. He certainly couldn’t remember destroying the large mirror. The debris
and stains of whiskey on the carpet claimed he probably had.

How the hell
did I long to go back here? It’s an enormous fucking tomb.

Laura’s place
was small but had an abundance of books and DVD’s, smelled of food and
cinnamon, and above all, it had
her
.

Get a grip.
You’re a grown man and you have to be able to cope with your own house.

He drew a deep
breath and crouched down to pick up the glass. Maybe he should refurnish. Anne
was gone, and he could change whatever he wanted.
No one would yell at
him for taking all the clashing colors and patterns down. He no longer had a
reason to live in a room that resembled a candy factory.

Laura won’t
mind.

The last
thought stopped him dead in his tracks.

Why would
she mind? She doesn’t live here, she’s never even been here.

He shook his
head at himself and continued cleaning.

He did a good
job with tidying up, and it was still just afternoon when he decided to get on
with his project of fixing up the house. When thumbing through the phonebook,
looking for some kind of profession that might make his bedroom less abhorrent,
he automatically poured himself a large drink.

The first
handyman didn’t answer, and his fingers wandered over the keypad, dialing a
friend.

“Hey Joel.
Yeah, I’m back. What’s up?”

Chapter Seven

 

 

Marc opened his
eyes to much too bright sunlight flooding in through a broken window. He lay on
a floor in an unknown room, and something made an absurd amount of noise.

Oh, the
phone.

He struggled to
get the cursed thing out of his pocket and squinted at the display before
turning it off.

I think my
fucking head is about to explode. Where the hell am I?

Joel slept
stark naked on a sofa and two girls rested in each other’s arms under a table.
A gray cat walked around, sniffing everything.

If you turn
into a dinosaur I’ll know you’re a hallucination. C’mon T-Rex, I dare you.

Lifting his
head from the floor and glancing down his own body didn’t impress him. He had
some clothes on, but was dirty and smelled, and when he ran a hand over his
face he felt a beard. Not just stubble, but a decent beard.

How long
have I been gone?

Music streamed
in from an adjacent room. Turning his head seemed like a superhuman feat and he
had to squint at the light to see. A skinny, naked girl swayed slowly to her
own rhythm, smoking a crack pipe.

Laura’s voice
echoed in his head, imaginary, but still giving good advice.

“Go home, Marc.
Don’t talk to anyone, just get off the floor right now and go home. Get out of
this house.”

Rising to his
feet did not work well.

The world spun
and his legs were spongy.

Laura’s
illusory voice coached him.

“You can do it.
If you can’t walk, crawl. C’mon Marc, get up. Get moving.”

He supported
himself on the walls and furniture, and it took a long time to locate the front
door.

Behind him,
Joel called out. “Marc, where the fuck are you going?”

Laura’s voice
in his head was stronger, insistent.

“Don’t stop.
Don’t look back. Keep going forward.”

“Marc!”


Don’t
listen. Walk out of the house.”

He staggered
out the front door and shielded his eyes from blinding sunshine.

What am I, a
fucking vampire? Feels like Imma catch fire.

All the houses
looked exactly the same.

 
Great. I’m
stuck somewhere in suburbia. This could be anywhere. I don’t even know what
country I’m in.

Laura’s voice
in his head was firm.

“Keep going
forward, away from here. Call a taxi or call a friend, just don’t stop moving.”

Wonder of all
wonders, a cab sat in one of the driveways, and the driver helped an old lady
into the house. Marc tried to jog, but the effort only rewarded him with a fit
of coughing.

“Hey! Wait up,
I need a ride.”

Where’s my
wallet?

Patting down
his pockets revealed nothing; he had no money.

He took his
watch off with shaking hands and held it out.

“This is a
thirty thousand dollar Rolex. It’s real. You can have it if you drive me home,
and give me your sunglasses.”

The driver
didn’t look convinced. Then, he said, “I know you. You’re on TV. Is this for a
show? Is there a camera here somewhere?”

“Just drive,
will you.”

Laura’s voice
cheered him on.

“You’re doing
great, Marc. You’re almost there.”

He answered
aloud without meaning to.

“I wish you
were here.”

The driver
peeked at him in the rear view mirror.

“What’s that,
Sir?”

“Nothing.”

The cab ride
made him car sick and the route from the driveway to the door seemed endless.

Where’s my
key? Don’t tell me I have to break a fucking window to get into my own house.

He threw up in
a snowy flowerbed and made another attempt at opening the door, but the key was
nowhere to be found.

It never
snows here. When did it become winter, anyway?

Eventually, he
made his way around the building and found the kitchen door wide open. He had
just left the house, without even closing the door behind him. Snow had blown
all over the kitchen floor, but other than that, everything seemed untouched.
As if he cared…

The house was
freezing, but that was okay. The cool, soothing darkness of the living room
never seemed more welcoming. He sank down in a chair, congratulated himself on
making it all the way there, and passed out.

When he woke up
again, he turned the TV on. It was difficult to watch moving pictures, but he
could at least figure out what day it was.

Damn. I’ve
been gone almost a week.

The answering
machine blinked with thirty-two messages. The only ones not adding to his
misery were from Laura. Hearing her voice say, “I hope you’re okay, and that
things are going well for you,” made tears swell up in his eyes.

Someone cared
for him, enough to put up with him and to keep calling.

Yeah, I’m
doing great. Peachy.

It was good to
hear her voice on the machine and not just in his head. The last message was
from the previous evening.

“Hi, it’s me. I
just… I wanted to check in on you, I’m a mother hen you know. It’d be great if
you’d call me and tell me you’re alright. Take care, Marc. You, um, you know I
love you, right?”

She loves
me?

He had no time
to process the gem of information; someone banged on the door.

Now what?

The route
through the hallway seemed endless, and when he opened, he was only mildly
surprised to see his agent and lawyer side by side.

“Bill,
Lawrence, you don’t usually visit in pairs.”

Bill was a tall
and scrawny man with steely grey eyes that matched his steely gray hair.

Yeah, you
always say you’ve been there and done that. Guess what, I have too. I just
can’t remember a fucking thing.

Lawrence was
younger, with a smooth face, an expensive haircut, and eyes as warm as the
agent’s were cold. His eyes were the only thing sparing him from extensive
jokes about “Lawrence the Lawyer working with Law.” He cleared his throat.

“Anne has been
asking for you. I thought you came home to settle this thing, but I guess I was
wrong.”

The mere
mention of his wife made Marc groan.

Lawrence
continued, unperturbed. “I haven’t heard from you for a while, not since your
adventure down south, and when Bill here told me you resurfaced, I thought it
was time to go see you.”

How do you
know I resurfaced? Do you keep my house under surveillance? Just go away and
let me die in peace.

He couldn’t
remember being this sick, uncomfortable, and itchy
ever
. His very skin
was too small, and the world swayed in and out of focus.

When he didn’t
say anything, Bill sent him an unimpressed look and pushed his way into the
house. Lawrence followed.

Ugh. Now
they’ll never leave.

Once inside,
both men wrinkled their noses. “Damn, this place is a pig sty. You need to
clean up.”

Marc shoved a
few empty bottles down on the floor to make room for himself and sunk down on
the hard sofa. He couldn’t focus his eyes on either of them.

Lawrence rubbed
his forehead.

Neither man
spoke until Marc asked, “What do you want?”

Bill tucked his
hands in his pockets.

“I think this
is an intervention. You need rehab.”

The very word
filled Marc with a dark rage he couldn’t explain, and he got to his feet,
fueled by adrenaline.

“That’s it. Get
out of my house.”

Afterwards he’d
only have a faint memory of pushing them through the hallway. He threw them
both out, but they would be back. No doubt about it.

The way back to
the living room seemed longer than ever, and he paused several times, leaning
against the wall. He
wanted
to sink down on the floor and wallow in
self-pity, but it could wait until he reached a chair.

Maybe Bill
and Lawrence are right. Maybe they’re my only friends, telling me the truth and
not just what I want to hear. Fuck that, I’m not going to rehab.

Sure a few days
disappeared every now and then, or a week, but that was normal, right?

There had to be
something
to drink in the house, something to help him feel better. He
found a bottle of scotch and an almost clean glass in the kitchen, and when he
returned to the chair tiny beads of sweat formed on his forehead, rolling into
his eyes.

A small voice
of sanity deep inside him spoke up.

What do you
want? Are you trying to kill yourself on purpose?

He jumped at
hearing his own voice when he answered aloud, “I want Laura.”

Really? I
do?

He turned the
thought around, examining it from all sides. He had always been happy with her,
and she claimed to love him. Many women said that, of course, but she was the
first one he believed.

I think I
love her too.

As he sat there,
sipping the strong alcohol, fighting down waves of nausea and shivers, his
imagination painted out a happy life. He saw images of fulfillment, where
working went well and he didn’t get fired from crappy shows.

Could there be a
world where his children no longer despised him?

A world where
home was truly a home, a good place to return to after a long day, and where he
was loved?

Laura loves
me for me, not for one of the make-believe versions of me.

Even with the
prospect of a wonderful life free from hangovers and humiliation so tauntingly
close, he didn’t call her at once. He couldn’t remember her number, not even
her last name, and he couldn’t find his cell. It took almost half an hour of
retracing his steps before he went to the fridge to get some ice for his new
drink.

Why did I put
the phone in the glass holder?

He grabbed it
with a triumphant look on his face.

“Eureka! There
you are, you little bastard.”

The irritating
little piece of technology must have been hiding on purpose, conspiring to keep
him from the happiness he now
knew
waited for him, only a phone call
away.

Sighing, he
brought the phone and his new drink, with ice, back to the chair.

She loves me.

They spent
countless hours on the phone when he was fairly sober, and he must have called
her many times too drunk or high to remember. Now, he didn’t know what to say.
His mouth was dry and his mind blank, and everything he could think of seemed
idiotic.

Leaning back in
the chair, fighting down an urge to vomit on the rug, he finally made his mind
up.

I can ask her
if she wants to come over on a vacation. That doesn’t sound too needy. She was
sad when I left, I know she was.

It wasn’t a
brilliant plan, but it was the best he could come up with.

Try not to
sound like a wreck. Well, what kind of actor would I be if I can’t pull that
off?

His hands shook
so badly he had problems browsing through the contact list to her name. The
phone was much more than an emotionless piece of technology. It seemed to be a
living, thinking obstacle, intent of keeping him from reaching salvation. The
need to reach Laura was the only thing preventing him from throwing it against
the wall and crushing it to pieces.

Once he managed
to place the call and her voice answered, “Oh lover, I’ve been so worried for
you, is everything okay?” all lies washed away from his mind.

He heard himself
plead. “Please help me.”

Laugh, cry,
yell at me, please say something.

“Of course I
will. Tell me all about it.”

He stuttered
out an explanation of everything he could remember.

“So… I was
thinking… could you, maybe… I’ll get you tickets on the next flight.”

“Alright. Just
give me enough time to pack and get to the airport.”

Good thinking.
If the travel agency said there was a plane in fifteen minutes, he would
have booked it.

“Yeah… Sure.”

He rolled the
cool glass over his forehead. The relief that flooded up in him when Laura
agreed to come made him want to weep.  He hurried to say, before she could
change her mind, “I’ll arrange tickets for you and call you back.”

And I still
can’t find the bloody wallet. I should probably call about the credit cards,
but who has the energy to care?

The travel
agency had his information on file, and it took less than five minute to
arrange a seat.

She’ll be
here tomorrow. Stay out of trouble for just one day and you’ll be okay.

He stared at
the phone before calling her back. “Please don’t change your mind.”

Laura’s voice
encouraged him. “Okay lover, I’ll be there tomorrow. Now, I want you to try to
eat something, and go take a nap.”

In her voice,
the words seemed reasonable.

“Will you stay
with me on the phone?”

God, I’m
pathetic.

The warm female
voice laughed.

“Of course,
sweetheart. Go tell me what you have in the kitchen.”

The fridge
contained moldy pieces of pizza and he hurried to close the door. The freezer
was more encouraging.

“Yes!”

“What is it?”

“I just found
my wallet.

“That’s great.”

“And a pair of
socks.”

She laughed.

“What else do
you have in there?”

“A packet of…
spring rolls.”

He wanted to
toss the entire box into the microwave, just to be able to sit down, but Laura
scolded him, “No, don’t do that. They’re probably in plastic or something. Sit
down and read the cooking instructions.”

As much as he
squinted, the letters on the box danced in front of his eyes. Maybe they
weren’t letters at all; maybe they were tiny ants.

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