(Author's note: I actually got the idea for this while watching the music video for Everybody's Fool [Evanescence]. GREAT thanks to "sixteen vanilla beans," who put this through about five drafts and came up with the fantastic title that I absolutely adore. And, yes, this was an excuse not to work on An Eye for Her Eyes – writer's block will be the death of us all! Anyway, enjoy! ~not Ross)
There are a lot of sounds in this world that I can tolerate – jack hammers, parrots, squeaky floors, techno music, even fingernails on chalkboards. The squeaky giggling of females, however, does not belong on that list.
"Oh, my gosh. It's her, isn't it?"
I sink lower into my black hoodie, and suddenly I'm regretting that extra dash of makeup I slapped on this morning. How can people recognize me from the back?
"Oh, my gosh. It is!"
Ignoring them is my only hope, now. I should start carrying my Halloween vampire fangs to the coffee shop with me. They start giggling again. Too bad those vampire fangs don't actually work – those girls should be thanking their stars for that. I try to hide most of my face behind a small Styrofoam cup, but they don't design those for personal concealment anymore, I guess.
"'Scuse me?" one of them asks me.
I pretend not to notice. How embarrassing that my fans can't even speak proper English. I pretend they're talking to someone else. I pretend I'm not the most famous actress this side of the Mississippi. I pretend that my face is not on the billboard right outside these glass doors.
"Lady? Excuse me?"
There's no getting out of this now. If I don't turn around now, they'll really know there's something up with me, and they'll probably assume that it has something to do with box-office-busting films. People are like that. They assume the worst about others. I turn around with the cup still held level with my nose, as if that will change anything. "What?"
"It is her!" one of them shrieks. I try to screen a cringe with heavily-creamed decaf, but I'd bet more money than either of these girls would know what to do with that it's not working. I have that much money. At least a third of it is under my mattress. "It's you! You're that actress, aren't you?"
"You'll have to be more specific," I elude, glancing at the walls. There aren't any ninjas hiding anywhere around here ready to slice these girls with one of those really cool metal stars, are there? How much would it take for these girls to get a clue?
They both shriek again. Other people start looking. Fan-tabulous. "We just saw your new movie! Like, just now! Like, I even still have my ticket stub in my pocket!" They're both blonde, carbon copies of each other, really, and everyone else in the world – those skinny jeans that everyone thinks look so good (they really don't), those droopy tank tops than most people also think are attractive, platform sandals, enough mascara to drown a salmon, et cetera, et cetera. When people like this approach me, my career is even more embarrassing. "You were so. good," one continues.
"Thanks," I mutter. Those other people who were watching, now they're standing up, coming over here, tall, steaming cups left forgotten on the tables. I should warn them that their drinks are going to get cold if they bother doting over me – but then, they won't listen anyway. People only listen to actresses when they're in movies and when they're accepting those Golden Globe trophies. I hate the Golden Globes.
"Can we get your autograph?" one of those girls clamors, snatching a napkin right off someone's table. Crumbs fall to the floor. The barista, of all people, tosses her a pen. Public employees are on their side? A loud murmur of, "Yeah, me, too," rises from the crowd like the steam rising from their abandoned coffees.
"Um, I don't usually-" She shoves the pen at me. It's true, I don't usually sign autographs for just anyone. Heck, it took half an hour of convincing, fresh brownies, and a new beanie to get me to sign one for my sister-in-law. The pen is poised in my hand to write.
"My name is Alison," she prods, as if that's going to encourage me. Does she know how many people have done this to me? Probably eighty percent of them were named Alison for all I know. For all I care.
"And I'm Helen," the other says.
Other things are shoved at me, things to be signed with the barista's pen – notebooks, newspapers, napkins, coffee cups, a shoe, an elbow, a bald man's head? They all think I'm still Erika Kitchens, that girl they see on the billboard outside, the one staring in at us right now through the spotless glass and the "Lost Dog" posters. They think I'm that girl who wears high heels for walks on the beach like in the movies – sometimes I think I'm that girl. They want me to sign my name in loopy, flowery hand-writing and dot my i's with hearts, give them a personal message with their names in it like I know them or like I care about them. Why do I have to care about all these people? Why can't someone else do that? These people don't even know my real name (it's carefully carved in the cover of the notebook I keep under my mattress with the money).
Between me and the door, there is nothing.
What most people don't know about me is that before all this glitter and walking pristinely on the red carpet, I was the envy of every female 400 meter dash runner on my track team. I can run the innards out of a cheetah. So I dash for the door before this pen has to touch anything at all and run down the sidewalk. They won't be able to catch up. And I live right up there, in that apartment, but no one knows that.
The stairs up to the fourth floor echo harshly with my heavy footsteps – you wouldn't expect a famous actress to wear combat boots that she got at K-mart on clearance, but they sure do kick up a racket (little to no pun intended). There's an elevator, but elevators tend to be awkward when your face is on the biggest billboard downtown. I'm still running when I get to my door and jam the key into the lock, busting into the apartment with hardly any lung capacity left. Not even track stars like running stadiums.
I wonder if they're chasing me. I wonder if they're trying to find me. I wonder if that bald guy still wants my signature in sharpie on his head.
I can see the back of my latest movie's billboard from the window of my apartment; it's the same on both sides. I can see myself every time I look out my window, only I don't think it's really me. It's that girl, Erika Kitchens, who likes having cameras shoved practically all the way up her nose as she pretends to taunt some jerkish, snobby actor with her lips. People like seeing me kiss men who disgust me, I guess. My stage name is printed in big, gothic-looking letters right beneath my face, which is the size of my bedroom at least. "HarpSong," one word, that's the title; I think it's supposed to be heart-breaking or heart-throbbing or heart-something. People love that billboard. They love that movie.
They love my fake life. I make romance movies – they aren't real. Don't people get that? They're stupid and cheesy and totally unrealistic, impossible. Don't they get enough garbage everywhere else they go? I guess not.
I go and sit in that window-seat with the big fleecy blanket and the pillow that I've had since I was seven, the one my dog chewed. I sewed it back myself, but there's still stuffing falling out the corner. I pull it out sometimes when I'm mad, and when I'm bored, I stuff it back in. So I sit down on the window-seat and stare out the window, down at the street, away from the billboard. Fortunately for me, there's lots of other things to look at out my window than that billboard.
My job is to be an actress. People like those girls, like Alison and Helen, I think they forget that. It doesn't matter if I'm at a mom-and-pop coffee shop wearing ripped up jeans that used to be my dad's and an old black hoodie, or if I'm strutting across an IMAX screen wearing five-inch heels and a dress tighter than botoxed skin – they think I'm the same person. Shouldn't those minor details tell them something? I'm not Erika Kitchens, I don't want to be Erika Kitchens, not anymore. I'm stuck being Erika Kitchens because no one will accept bribes to take my place. Not that I've tried. Maybe I should.
Erika Kitchens isn't real. She lives in a projector. People forget that. Have I forgotten that? Have I forgotten the day that Phillis Strzelecki walked into that audition, straight out of track practice and sweating fish-tanks, just to impress Tyler Herren, actor extraordinaire at Riverwood High School and my first crush? He didn't make it – Phillis Strzelecki did. I changed my name, though, because even I barely know how to pronounce Strzelecki, and Phillis sounds like I'm waiting to hear back from the rest home. I don't know where Tyler Herren is now. Maybe he's a garbage man. I wish I was a garbage man. At least people wouldn't ask for my autographs anymore. At least people wouldn't make me walk around in my underwear in front of thirteen different cameras.
This is the only apartment in the whole building with a walk-in closet; I'm almost certain of it. I abandon the window seat and glide over to the door of it, turn the handle, trudge inside. These aren't my clothes – I have a dresser for those. These are Erika's clothes, the ones she wears for award shows and talk shows and all kinds of shows that no one really cares about. At least, they shouln't.
I'm tired of being Erika Kitchens. I'm tired of prancing around like everyone wants me to and kissing people like the one on the billboard outside. Let people look at the picture, but do not let them make friends with the girl inside of it. That's worse than having invisible friends, which not even little kids do anymore.
There's a silver dress that covers one shoulder and not much else. I think someone once told me it's some expensive French synthetic mayhem. All I know is that it's tight enough to squeeze the lungs out of a person and short enough that if I wore it to a pool, I could stand in the shallow end without getting it wet. I snatch it off its hanger and hold it out at arm's length like I would with a pair of underwear – except underwear is looser. I don't remember where I wore it; I don't remember if I ever wore it. I just have it. That's what being an actress is.
I pull on it till it rips all the way down the middle, leave it hanging there in my hands, limp and useless, sort of like me.
Erika Kitchens dies this night. Phillis Strzelecki killed her.