A short excerpt from the section

The Neighbor, The Tacos

& The Twilight Zone

Almost show time. Roxy loved morning auditions. She wouldn’t have to spend the entire day waiting for her call-time feeling anxious or fretting about the unknown. Today, she’d knock the casting director right out of his chair with the best dramatic performance of her life long before noon.

She trusted James and followed his advice exactly during the rehearsal with her mother. To give that advice its full potential for success, she’d brought only the script containing her lines to the audition. She could handle the outgoing personality they wanted, even the pretty—as long as they didn’t have their casting hearts set on hiring a girl with pale, ivory skin. To help seal the deal, she’d splurged and purchased a sparkling western shirt.

Roxy was ready. She had a good feeling about this one.

Six other women sat in the waiting room; three of them dressed in western wear too. That leveled the playing field a little, though not to Roxy’s benefit. A few were quietly practicing their lines near corners of the room. Others were busy tapping or reading messages on their smartphones or tablets. One woman seemed to be about eighteen, and she paced, looking terrified.

Roxy wasn’t nervous, but she was in desperate need of this part and its paycheck. Currently, Ginn contributed almost 75% of their living expenses, and that situation did not sit well. Also, as much as she hated to admit it, she wanted James to be proud of her. After all, he’d made this opportunity possible. Without his connections and his apparent inclination to go out on a limb for her, she’d be home doing laundry.

A young woman appeared in the doorway, clipboard in hand. “Roxy Miller? You’re next. Come on back.”

That same woman sat down at a table along with two men who were munching on deli sandwiches and sipping something from coffee cups. The man in the middle began asking the usual questions, which Roxy answered while looking directly into the camera.

It would have been nice if he’d swallowed the mouthful of bread and pastrami before speaking.

She learned she’d be reading with Rex, the man sitting at the end of the table, rather than with another auditioning actor. What a relief. No one would be out to get her, to make a fool of her, this time. A wistful smile spread across Roxy’s face. Just the other day she’d been thinking that if she ever had a dog of her own, she’d name it Rex. Roxy and Rex sounded almost as good as Ginn and Tonic.

“Action!”

Time to get serious and put on a dramatic face.

Rex read the first line, but Roxy didn’t recognize the words. They didn’t sound familiar at all. Fortunately, she knew her lines like the back of her hand and recited them with magnificent drama. It wasn’t her fault if the guy was on the wrong page. Rex read again, and his words were more ridiculous, more inappropriate than before. Why didn’t the director set him straight?

Was Rex messing with the lines or was this a dream resembling the movie Groundhog Day, minus the rodent? After the third time Rex read and made no sense, Roxy wondered if this was some kind of test or a weird joke. Either was okay as long as it led her to a role on television. She didn’t particularly care how she arrived, as long as she got there.

“Cut! Cut!” the director yelled. “Ms. Miller, what do you think you’re doing? Did you even practice with the script?”

She couldn’t believe his rudeness. “Of course I did.” Her hands went to her hips, and she couldn’t hold back her indignant tone. “I practiced and memorized every single line.”

“Then you know this is a comedy, right? We’re not looking for drama here. We’re looking for laughs.”

Roxy froze, confused. I must be in the twilight zone.

He gave her no time to respond, no second chance. Waving his hand to the side, he motioned her out as if she were nothing more than an annoying insect, and then called for the next actor.

 

A short excerpt from the section

Guests Come Knocking

Then Roxy contemplated doing something she’d sworn she would never, ever do. Don’t do it. Do Not Do This! Her palms sweated, her stomached rolled, then taking a deep breath, she did it. She opened the Help Wanted section of a regular newspaper and searched for an ordinary, though flexible, part-time job—just like normal, non-showbiz people did. To her surprise, she spotted two possibilities right away. One involved helping first-year college students revise and edit their failing work from the required course, Writing 101. Piece of cake. She could do that in her sleep. The other required someone capable of assisting a high school aged male with his guitar playing and songwriting.

“Ah, ha!” she declared. Now that was a tasty piece of cake. She wanted that job. Without any hesitation, Roxy made the call, which resulted in an on-the-spot phone interview with a pleasant, friendly woman.

“There is just one more question I must ask,” the woman said after they’d spoken a while. “And I’d like to offer my apology in advance for asking it.”

Roxy waited, curious.

“My son has a thing for starlets, and starlets seem to have a thing for him. Do you consider yourself a starlet?”

Not certain of the meaning or motive of her question, Roxy replied, “What’s a starlet?”

Genuine, hearty laughter traveled across the phone line, followed by, “Perfect. You’re perfect. When can you start?”

* * *

“Hi. You must be Liam,” she said. “Come on in. Can I get you something to drink before we get started?”

“Thanks, man. A beer would be great.”

He was a good-looking young man with short dark hair and eyes to match. She figured he was kidding about the beer because he definitely wasn’t old enough to drink. He was still in high school. So she smiled and played along.

“One beer coming up—right after I check your ID.”

He shot her a look of annoyance. “Are you messing with me?”

“No, but I thought you were joking. You weren’t?”

“Hell, no. Come on. Everybody drinks beer.”

“Well, I don’t.”

“Not a problem. Wine, whiskey—I’m not picky.”

The content of this first conversation with her arrogant new student was unbelievable. Was this typical behavior for an L.A. teen, or was she just being a mid-western geek?

She brought him a can of soda and asked him to play something. He didn’t react. She nudged, needing to make this small job a continuing reality. “How long have you been playing guitar?”

He shrugged, reluctant to answer her simple question, so she asked again.

He sipped his soda, looking both bored and annoyed. It was as if he didn’t want to be there, but then with a tilt of his head and one eyebrow slightly raised, he tossed out an answer. “Since I was a kid.”

In her estimation, he still was a kid, albeit an alcohol drinking kid. When he finally freed the Martin guitar from its case and played a few bars, Roxy was blown away. As badly as she needed the cash, she let him know that she wasn’t the right person to advance his guitar playing ability. Between the two of them, he was by far the better musician. His musical talent was amazing.

“That’s okay,” he assured her. “I’m more interested in breaking into show business than I am in upping my guitar skills.”

For now, Roxy kept her thoughts to herself. She could relate to his dream, but she wasn’t the person to help him with that, either. She had no connections, no ‘ins’ when it came to breaking the showbiz code.

She crossed her arms and tilted her head. “So you’re here expecting me to help you break into show business via your songwriting ability?”

“Not exactly.” He gave her a lopsided smile. She gave him a confused frown. “I’m here because my parents are trying to keep me out of trouble. They’ve lined up a bunch of activities to keep me busy. You’re just one of them.” An amused expression flashed across his face. “Hey, since I am here, what do you think of this?” He played a new riff on his guitar. “Are you any good with lyrics? Help me come up with some words to go with that.”

His unique musical style intrigued Roxy. She dug out a notebook and pencil and settled on the floor in front of him. The words and music came together with surprising ease. Or so it seemed. They both agreed they were on to something great and had the beginnings of a real song.

With their first session over, Roxy asked, “Same time next week?”

Placing a few folded bills into her palm, he shrugged. “Sure.”

After her student had managed to shove the ill-fitting door closed, she stood in her living room with her ears ringing from the sudden silence. After spending time creating and playing music with Liam, the apartment felt empty, lonely. She didn’t like that feeling, but she did like the fact that she held $30 cash in her hand. Cash she had earned.

Expecting to see a twenty and a ten, she sat and stared at the money. The two faces staring back at her belonged to neither Alexander Hamilton nor Andrew Jackson. She stood face-to-face with Ulysses S. Grant times two. One hundred dollars. Was this a mistake? Should she be elated or concerned? Until Roxy learned the truth, she’d consider the extra $70 to be a gift, a bonus for a job well done.

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