I skipped happily to the mailbox, not caring in the least that I was far too old for such behavior or that the nosy neighbors might be watching out their windows. I gathered the bills and conglomeration of junk mail and flipped through it as I walked back to the house.
"Bills, bills, bills," I giggled, trying to sound like my dad. It didn't work, of course, but it usually cracked him up. I dropped the mail in his lap when I entered the house, ignoring the television. He was watching baseball and I'd developed a dislike for that particular sport years ago.
"This is one is for you, Miss Aubrey Rose," my dad said. I frowned and snatched the envelope from his outstretched hand. Probably another application my mother sent. She always used my full name. I hated that.
The return address was from American Star: Indianapolis and I just rolled my eyes. She'd sent tapes to American Star: Dallas, American Star: L.A. and American Star: Orlando. And all we got back in return were polite rejection letters.
"You gonna open that?" my dad asked, eyeing me furtively. I shrugged, brow lifted. Since when did it matter to him whether or not some talent reality show wanted me to audition? Baseball was on and the rest of the world could go to hell for all he cared. "You might as well open it now before your mother gets home."
I sank to the sofa and tore open the envelope. The crisp, white letterhead suddenly felt heavy in my hands. I shook it open and allowed my eyes to roam over the words.
Miss Aubrey Rose Quinn,
Thank you for your recent submission to AmericanStar: Indianapolis.
After viewing your tape, we would like for you to audition in person. Please contact us at the number below to set up an audition time.
I skimmed through the rest of the letter, not believing I actually made it that far. "Hmph," I said. My father turned his eyes from the television to glance thoughtfully at me. "They want me to audition."
"Wonderful," he said. One of his beloved players had smacked the ball so I wasn't sure if he meant me or the player. I couldn't blame him, really. I'd been to many auditions and participated in a ton of productions. It was pretty much old news to him.
"Mom will be happy," I sighed. I knew I should be excited but I couldn't be. Not yet. Auditions didn't mean anything. It was the call backs that did. Still, I set the letter on the coffee table and trudged up the steps to my room. I cleared my throat and began the scales my mother insisted I do every day, sometimes more than once, before jumping into other warm-up exercises.
My mother ruled my life more than I did. Granted, I was of legal age, twenty-one years-old in fact, but still under her thumb. Ever since my music teacher extolled my talent after a third grade musical, my mother plunged me into the world of music. For the most part, I did enjoy it. I often dreamt of a career on a stage, singing for thousands of fans. But it hadn't happened yet and sometimes, I longed for a real life.
During my high school years, I'd had a real life. Sort of. I was allowed to go out with friends on the weekends she didn't have auditions lined up for me. And I was allowed to date. I cringed. I wouldn't think of him. Mom hadn't approved of him and maybe that was what attracted me to him at first. Yes, he was extremely good-looking and popular and athletic. But I found more to him on the inside. While we were together, I was popular and peppy and happy.
My happiness ended when he graduated. Oh, we tried to stay together but then baseball stepped in and became his love. I'm sure the love was there all along, hiding behind the love he professed to have for me. But baseball won and I lost and we all moved on. End of story.
And I didn't want to think of him anymore.
My mother came home an hour later. I didn't hear her car but I did hear her excited scream. I rolled my eyes, planted a smile on my face, and raced down the stairs.
"Aubrey Rose! Oh baby! This is your shot!" My mother always said this but the look in her eyes confirmed she actually meant it.
"Sure, Mom," I grinned. "It's exciting."
"I'll call them now," she said, running to grab the cordless. "I'll set it up as soon as possible."
And then I heard his name on the television.
"Jess Rivers has lasted seven quality innings. We'll see if Lou Harding lets him continue. The pitcher is due up third and if Lou sticks a pinch hitter in, we'll know he's done. We'll be back after this."
How stupid was I? I always ignored baseball to the point of staying out of the room when Dad watched it. But I couldn't help a little glance and caught a glimpse of him stalking toward the dugout before the station cut to commercial. My eyes flickered to my dad and for a brief second I saw the horror on his face. He replaced it quickly with a sympathetic smile. I returned it and scampered off after my mother.
She was talking eagerly to someone on the phone and I dropped in a chair and pretended to listen. But my mind was on the little look I got of Jess Rivers and it sent my heart to my toes. He looked just as wonderful as I remembered; even more so. The longing was nearly overpowering and it took my breath away. It'd been years – five actually - since I'd last been in his arms.
"Okay, honey," my mother said as soon as she clicked off the phone. "We have two weeks to prepare." Her eyes sparkled pure energy and I knew it was going to be a long two weeks. "We need to select your music immediately and figure out your wardrobe."
I nodded as she continued with her list of things to do. I'd been through this before so I was able to inject the appropriate answers in the appropriate places with not much effort. Once we went through her list two more times and she confirmed that I was doing my daily exercises, she excused me so she could make her phone calls. I knew the first would be to my sister, Gwen.
Gwen was five years older than me and sort of the black sheep of the family. It wasn't fair and I probably knew it better than anyone but her. When I was first born, I was a total daddy's girl. My mother already had a little princess in Gwen so my dad was content to take me fishing and to ball games. And I was happy. I trailed after him in the garage, shop rag shoved in my back pocket just like him and grease smeared on my face. In the winter, my mother often shook me awake after I'd fallen asleep squeezed beside him on his recliner watching Monday Night Football. She'd just sigh, shake her head and run off to sew another dress for Gwen.
Then I tried out for my third grade play. It was a musical celebrating fairy tales and my music teacher assigned me the lead. My voice was good back then, even though it was still immature and untrained. But I caught my mother's attention. Suddenly, she had a star. Gwen, who never really showed interest in anything but boys, was pushed to the backburner. I was everyone's girl and she was…well…still Gwen.
And I loved her fiercely as only a little sister could. I admired her, too, for her bravery. She left our family home and moved in with her boyfriend. It horrified my mother enough to distract her from me for two weeks and I called Gwen every night to thank her. She just laughed and told me to get my ass back to work. Oddly enough, Gwen wanted me to succeed as much as my mother, if not more. She was just a little more reasonable about it.
She was my only friend, too. As I said before, I didn't really have a life and the few friends I did make were all in the same business as me and therefore always busy. But Gwen made time for me. I truly didn't deserve her. She laughed when I said that and made me laugh. That's one of the things I loved most about her. She made it her personal duty to keep me real.
I listened on the top of the stairs and as soon as my mother ended her call, I raced to my room and called Gwen on my cell.
"What took you so long?" she asked.
"Please," I snorted.
"Good job," she said and I knew she meant it. Gwen didn't mince words.
"Thanks," I grumbled.
"Okay, what's the matter?"
"Oh," and I knew she knew what I meant. "Did you see him on TV tonight?"
"Only for a second. But it was enough." I sighed dramatically. Maybe I should go into acting.
"Call him, Aubrey, geez," she said. "He's in Indy and Mom's not dragging you all over God's green Earth."
"You do need a life. That woman won't hardly allow you to have friends. You're twenty-one, you know."
She was right, like always, and I knew it. But what could I do? "I'm not calling him. I'm not going back there."
"Aubrey, you know deep down he had a point. Geez, you were just kids." I could hear her light a cigarette and I knew she was upset. She rarely smoked.
"And things have changed since then." I groaned. "You know it would be nice if I could get a job or something. I mean, I'm not complaining about all she's done but I'm not getting any younger and I have nothing to fall back on." It was a complaint Gwen had heard from my lips before. "The only education I have is performing arts classes."
"I agree, kid," she mused. "If you ever get desperate, come work for me."
Gwen owned an antiques shop. It wasn't prosperous by any means but she enjoyed her work. I envied her sometimes. "Can we just switch places for awhile? I'm not complaining; I know I'm lucky to be blessed with the voice I have, but sometimes I'd like to just be a regular person."
"Not a chance in hell," she laughed. "We both have our roles in life: yours is to make the parents proud and mine is to antagonize the hell out of them."
I couldn't hold back the smile. Gwen had a wonderfully succinct way of putting things into perspective. And unfortunately, she was right once again. I was tired of always doing what Mom wanted. I just wished I had the guts to be more like Gwen.
"I better go," I murmured. I could no longer hear my mother's voice singing my praises. "I'll call you later."
"Sure, kid. Take care. Love ya."
"I love you, too," I said and flipped my phone shut. I held it in my fist and waited for her to bellow for me. It didn't take long. I ran down the steps and found her standing in the living room. I took a chance and glanced at the TV but the pitcher on the mound was not Jess Rivers. Obviously, he wasn't able to complete the game.
"Once your father is finished, we're going out to celebrate. Please change into something more appropriate," she ordered. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and ran back upstairs.
Later that night, I stared at the ceiling as my thoughts once more turned to Jess. He'd been a senior when I was a sophomore and he dazzled me like no other boy had. I never could figure out why he wanted to be with someone like me; I wasn't the cheerleader type. Oh, I knew I wasn't ugly, per se, but I wasn't a sparkling, buxom beauty, either. I had to laugh. He'd once told me that was one of the reasons why he loved me. I was me – a short, brown-eyed brunette who could belt out a tune not many could. He admired my work ethic, even though it was mostly my mother's work ethic, and always told me I'd go far.
I snorted in the darkness. He'd gone much farther than me. He was signed before he could even step foot on a college campus and made his major league debut when he was twenty years-old. After a mostly stellar year, he had problems with his shoulder. His sophomore season was not to be as he spent his first Major League off season recuperating after surgery. Last season had been his first full season back. I occasionally checked his stats online and knew he didn't have as wonderful a season as his rookie year but he didn't fare too horribly. This season was only a couple months old and I had somehow managed to refrain from looking him up on the Indianapolis Racers' webpage. I was always afraid his bio would read that he'd married or had a kid or something equally heartbreaking.
I squeezed my eyes shut and dispelled all thoughts of Jess Rivers out of my mind. I turned my focus to American Star. My mother was an avid fan and I watched it with her out of obligation. I knew how it worked. The audience was allowed to give their opinions online but it was the judges overall who chose who would move on each week until they finally crowned a new Star.
I smiled a little as I imagined standing before all five judges, microphone trembling in my hand, as I listened to what they had to say. Even the dreaded Marissa and the equally evil Richard telling me they absolutely adored my performance.
"Fat chance of that," I murmured sleepily as I drifted off. But my American Star dream melted into one that played out on a baseball field – the pitcher's mound to be exact.
A/N: Sorry for starting a new story without finishing the other ones but I really need to take a break from all things Phone Calls. You know the saying about too much of a good thing…. I'm getting tired of them and I need to really miss them before I can continue. So, I'll do this one and see what happens when I finish.
Thanks a bunch for your understanding.