By:  Dreams

 

Disclaimers: Nope, sorry, can't say there are any. All of the characters are mine. I take full responsibility for all of their actions. Hmm ... On second thought  ... I've never seen them before in my life. They just followed me home one day ... really ...

 

Violence/Sex: No violence, I don't think. I guess that would depend on what you mean by "violence" ...  I don't think there is any. You can decide for yourself.  And sex?  Umm ... I'll go on the safe side and say there will be. But don't go suing me for false advertisement if you can't find any. It really depends on what you mean by sex. As there are people in some cultures that show their affection by licking each other's eyeballs, it is possible that my definition of sex may be different than yours. Mine may involve cows in ballet slippers for instance ... wait, that doesn't sound right ...

 

Warning: This story involves an in-the closet actress, online relationships, Puerto Ricans, the Spanish language, Starbucks coffee, angels, boyfriends, sexual relationships between women .. and a ton of other random things that poured forth from my artistic loins. If none of the above things interest you, then you may not want to partake in this little tour of my demented psyche.

 

Dedication: to you and you and you you and you .. to people living with living with ... ::notices there are people watching:: Ahem. Sorry. Too much "RENT" for me. Strike that. There can never be too much RENT. Unless it's the kind you have to pay. But my point.. and I do have one .. is that this story is dedicated to you. Thank you for taking the time to delve into my madness. What a brave soul you are .. muahahaha <coughcough>

 

Special Thanks:  To Amber, Cindy, Camilla, Christy, Amy, and Robin. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I don't know what I'd do without you guys.

 

Write me: Cause I'd love to know what you think. I may be reached at amazonkiwi@aol.com


                                                                                       31

 

"What the hell was that?" Leigh demanded, wiping ketchup from the side of her mouth. She stared at Kris with a look of obvious disapproval.

Kris glanced at her in confusion. "What?"

Leigh used the remainder of her hotdog to point in the direction of their one and only "costumer" of the day. "You just gave your painting away to a total stranger," she said. "Do you honestly think she's going to mail you the money?"

"Doesn't matter," Kris replied, her gaze unconsciously returning to the stranger a few yards away. "She liked my painting."

Leigh shook her head. "You spent like forever on that piece. Why would you just give it away? And fifteen dollars? I thought you were going to sell it for thirty?"

Kris laughed, opening the bag of pretzels she'd purchased from a vendor. Like the fifteen dollar difference would've done that much to impact her standard of living. Besides, art wasn't about making money. It was about self-expression and making other people feel .. something ... anything. Besides, the young woman had seemed .. nice.

It was such a beautiful day. People were out, the weather was warm without being disgustingly hot. A nice breeze was blowing through the air. People were happy and doing their thing.

"Why are you smiling?" Leigh asked suspiciously.

Kris simply shrugged and offered her friend a pretzel. They were good. Crunchy and satisfying. "It's just a beautiful day. Maybe I'll just give away all of my paintings." She quickly glanced at the sketch of the Angel of Waters and made a grab for it. "Except this one." She tucked the paper away safely in her backpack.

"That's another thing," Leigh said, motioning with the can of Pepsi in her hand. "What is up with that drawing? What was that look you gave me before?"

"It's supposed to be a gift," Kris replied patiently.

"For...?"

Why did Leigh have to be so inquisitive? Kris gazed at her best friend and chewed on her lower lip hesitantly. She's going to think it's stupid. "Julia."

Leigh stopped chewing for a moment as light brown eyes darted to Kris's. She swallowed. "Julia," she repeated. "Online Julia?"

Kris rushed in to explain. "See, her screen name is PoetnAngel so I figured she probably likes angels. She's never said she does, but I can assume. Anyway, I thought I'd send her the sketch of the angel. Maybe she'll like it."

Leigh nodded slowly. "Don't you think you're getting a little too friendly with the lesbian?" she asked. "She might start to get the wrong idea. I mean, all-night online conversations, unsolicited gifts ..." She paused. "Unless she's getting the right idea." She nudged Kris and winked.

Kris rolled her eyes. "It's not like that at all. You don't know her."

"Neither do you," Leigh pointed out, finishing the last of her hotdog. "She could be like ... a big fat ugly ... like old guy. With an eye patch and a beer belly. And he likes to burp the alphabet in public and prance around his apartment in the nude."

Kris chuckled. She couldn't imagine Julia doing any of those things. "She's a girl. And she's twenty-three. And she's a poet and an actress."

"So she claims," Leigh argued. "You don't know any of these things for sure. Has she sent you a picture of herself yet?"

Kris considered. "Well, no. But I haven't sent one of myself either. She has no idea what I look like. For all she knows, I could be the old fat guy with the eye patch."

*          *            *

"She's gorgeous," Julianne whined, falling back on the couch with a muffled thud. She pulled one of the couch cushions over her face groaned into it. Then she tossed it aside. "She has the most beautiful eyes in the world. And like her smile .. oh wow... and her voice. It's like .. like honey .. or something else that's sweet and ..." She trailed off and started groaning again.

"Mm, oh yeah, right there," Adrian moaned blissfully from the massage table. "Lower ... lower ....aaaaah..."

"And she gave me the painting," Julianne continued. "Just like that. Why would she do that? Maybe she felt a connection between us, you know? Like some kind of pull ..." She considered and shook her head. "Or maybe she's just like the sweetest person in the whole world. And I'm the asshole that's lying to her."

Continuous moaning was the reply.

Julianne glanced over the top of the couch and narrowed her eyes. Adrian was sprawled on the massage table wearing nothing but a towel while a perky blonde worked at his muscles. "Are you listening to me?" she demanded.

No answer.

"Adrian?"

Sleepy blue eyes focused in her direction. "Oh hey, Jules. I didn't realize you were home."

Julianne threw the couch cushion in his direction. She missed and hit the masseuse instead. Oops.

Annoyed green eyes narrowed, as the blonde woman leaned down to retrieve the object. "Lose something?" she asked, holding up the couch cushion.

Julianne smiled sweetly. "Would you mind just bashing him over the head with it?" she asked.

"Hey, hey, no need for violence," Adrian interjected.

"Your hour's up," the masseuse announced, tossing the cushion back to Julianne, who managed to catch it in spite of the fact that her sport skills were somewhat more than lacking.

Adrian reluctantly rolled off the massage table, careful to keep the towel wrapped around his waist. "I am one happy, happy camper," he commented. "Julianne, whatever you were going to pay this woman, double it."

Julianne rolled her eyes. "Did you hear anything I said?"

"When?"

"Before."

Adrian arched a brow. "You were talking?" he asked. He shrugged and seemed to notice the painting for the first time. It was leaning against the back of the couch a couple of feet from where he stood.  "What's that?"

Behind him, the masseuse folded up the table and made herself scarce.  Adrian was momentarily distracted by the woman's departure.

Julianne rolled her eyes again and replaced the couch cushion before standing. "That, is a painting," she informed him. She walked up beside him so she too could gaze at the object.

Adrian gave her an undecipherable look and kneeled down to inspect the canvas. He shook his head and traced an idle finger through the bottom right corner. "K. Milano?" he glanced over his shoulder. "What did you do?"

She let out a long sigh and leaned against the back of the cough. "I met her, Adrian," she said. "I mean, she didn't know it was me. Either me's. But I knew it was her."

"And?"

"Wow," Julianne breathed.

Adrian stood, nodding. "So you went up to her and bought another art piece?" he guessed. "Wig ... sunglasses...?"

Julianne shrugged.

Adrian scratched the back of his head and stared at his best friend. "So this girl thinks you're three different people?" He paused to reconsider. "No. No. She doesn't know you're three different people." He threw his hands up in exasperation. "How have you not developed multiple personalities by now?" Azure eyes narrowed slightly. "Or have you?"

She let out a long sigh and let herself fall backwards, her legs dangling over the top of the couch. She stared at an upside down view of the entertainment center and groaned. "Why did she have to be beautiful?" she wondered. "She couldn't be ugly. No. Of course not, that would've been too simple."

Adrian appeared beside her a moment later and sat down. He looked down at her for a long moment before grinning. "Beautiful? And straight, you say?"

"Don't even think about it," Julianne warned.

"Why not? Cause she's yours?"

Julianne opened her mouth to respond, but instantly shut it. She rolled over, careful not to hit Adrian's head with her legs, and managed to get herself into a sitting position. "She's not mine," she responded softly.

"You just want her to be?"

Julianne frowned and shook her head. "It doesn't really matter. It would never work."

"Cause you're Julianne Franqui?"

"Among other things. Not to mention that she's straight."

"Plus she has no idea who you are."

She sighed again. "And it's just an online thing."

"So clearly, nothing could ever come of this," Adrian agreed.

"Right," Julianne told him, though her voice was flat. How depressing was this? She shook her head and stood to retrieve the painting. She rested it against the coffee table so they could both look at it. "It's pretty, isn't it?" she asked, reclaiming her spot on the couch.

"It's a sunrise."

"And sunrises are pretty." She glanced up at him. "She gave it to me. Free. Told me to mail her the money later, though I don't think she expects me to."

Adrian snorted. "That's some business she's got going there."

Julianne's gaze settled back on the painting. "She asked for fifteen dollars." She cocked her head to the side and considered the brilliant use of color. "But I hardly think that's a fair price."

Adrian nodded. "Maybe five dollars."

She elbowed his stomach. Hard. "Don't be a jerk."

Adrian rubbed his injury and sighed. "What are you plotting now, Lucy?"

Julianne smiled. "I just think this painting is worth a lot more than that."

He caught her gaze and arched a brow. "How much more?"

"A lot."

*          *            *

"I'm coming!" Kris yelled, walking out of her bedroom en route to the front door. "Knock a little louder why don't you?" she mumbled grumpily. The loud knocking on the door had dragged her out of a most wonderful dream. There had been a unicorn and a forest and a beautiful sunrise. And fairies. Fairies were pretty. She should look into getting a fairy. She yawned. I need coffee. 

Knock!!!!

 

Jesus Christ. "I'm coming!" she yelled again, as she threw the door open. She blinked a few times. "Nathan?"

He smirked as he took in her attire. "Cute pajamas," he said. He held up a small bundle of envelopes. "Check your mail often?"

Kris frowned and grabbed the correspondence from his grasp. "What are you doing checking my mail?" she asked.

He appeared hurt, though not enough to look convincing. "May I come in?"

Kris left the door open and retreated into the kitchen. Coffee. I need coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. She threw the envelopes on the kitchen table and headed for the coffeemaker. It was empty. Mental note: Kill Leigh.

Nathan made himself at home by heading straight for the refrigerator. He pulled out a carton of orange juice and poured himself a cup. "Did I wake you?"

Kris glanced quickly at the time on the microwave. "Well, it's eight o'clock in the morning," she responded icily. She managed to get the coffeemaker started and turned around to face her boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. Well, whatever he was. She leaned back against the counter and watched him gulp down the entire cup of juice in one long swallow. Did he always make that annoying gulping noise?

Nathan sat down as he poured himself another cup. "I just finished moving all my stuff into a van. I'm dying."

"All packed?"

He nodded, finishing up the rest of the juice. He aimed for the garbage can, shot, missed. He shrugged and looked over at Kris. "Yeah, I'm leaving tomorrow," he informed her. "But I wanted to make sure everything was ready to go by then."

Kris's gaze was focused on the leaking carton of orange juice dripping on her kitchen floor. Coffee!! She dragged her gaze over to Nathan. "That's nice," she said. "Why are you here?"

Nathan frowned slightly and sat back on the chair. "Well, I wanted you to know that I felt really bad about what happened on prom night," he said. "It was wrong of me to plan something so important without your consent."

Kris let him continue.

So he did. "And I've been doing a lot of thinking," he said, suddenly turning serious. "And I acted like a jerk that night."

No arguments there. Kris decided they were in for a long chat, so she pulled out a chair and sat down.

"I feared you may have gone to your parents to complain," Nathan continued, "so I went to speak to Carlos a few days ago."

Kris froze. "You what?!"

Nathan held up his hand to quiet her. "I realized when I got there that you hadn't told them anything, and I appreciate you wanting to protect me, but I was an irresponsible jerk and I had to come clean. So, I sat Carlos down and we had a long conversation. Man to man."

Kris didn't like where this was going at all.

Nathan nodded. "We agreed it was time."

"Time." She repeated the word as if she'd never heard it before. "Time for what?"

Nathan cleared his throat, and the next moment he was down on one knee, holding a velvet box in one hand. With the other, he flipped it open. "Will you marry me?"

 

32

Julianne tapped her fingers against the desk. Her gaze wandered down to the bottom drawer. She tapped her fingers again. And again. Until finally, she gave up trying to avoid the inevitable and yanked it open. Her unread fan mail stared up at her. She reached down and grabbed all the envelopes and dumped them on top of the desk's surface.

Standing up, she hovered over the pile and spread them all out so she could get a better look at them. Then she reached into her backpack and withdrew her poetry notebook. Inside, was the letter she'd been avoiding for weeks. She pulled it out, and stared at the return address. Jennifer Graham. "Ann Arbor, Michigan."

Biting her lip, she sat back down and pulled out the letter. She read it over a few times. What am I supposed to do about this? she wondered, feeling frustrated.

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. "Come in."

Karen appeared in the doorway, carrying a paper bag and a Styrofoam cup. "Lunch," she announced, holding up the items in her hands.

"Thanks," Julianne said. "Just drop it somewhere." She read the letter a second time, mauling over her options. "Karen, help me out for a moment." She waited until her assistant had found a place for the food and turned her undivided attention Julianne's way. "Say you were this famous actress. And you got a letter from a little girl asking you to help her sick brother. What would you do?"

Karen stared at Julianne in surprise for a moment. She looked around as she considered the question. "Well, I'm not a famous actress so I can't really say," she said. "But, from a fan's standpoint, if I were sick, it would make me feel a billion times better to know that the person I idolized cared about my well-being."

Julianne thought about that for a moment. "Thanks. Did you have lunch yet?"

Karen shook her head. "I was gonna go get it now."

"Want to join me?" Julianne asked. "You don't have to just cause I pay you," she added with a smile. "But I'm kinda tired of eating alone."

Karen tried to hide her surprise, but failed. "S-sure. I'll be right back."

Julianne smiled at her assistant's discomfort and watched her leave. Alone again, she turned back to the matter at hand. Make him feel like I care about his well-being. Send flowers? With a card? 'Get Well Soon'.  How lame. She shook her head and put the letter down.

She moved over to the couch and pulled the coffee table closer. Karen had selected a chicken salad sandwich, potato chips, and soda. "My favorite," she said happily, placing the contents of the bag on the table. 

Karen returned a few moments later with her own lunch and sat down across from Julianne hesitantly. She kept her gaze lowered the entire time.

"Are you scared of me, Karen?" Julianne asked, studying her assistant's behavior with undisguised amusement.

Reluctantly, Karen looked up. "Would you settle for intimidated as hell?" she asked.

Julianne laughed and picked up her sandwich. "I guess I haven't given you the easiest time, have I?"

Karen shrugged uneasily. "I'm fairly certain you'd be intimidating either way."

A dark brow arched upward at the statement, but she decided not to comment. Instead, she bit into the sandwich with delight. I wonder if Kris likes these? Nope. Scratch that, she's vegetarian. Too bad. "How'd you know I liked these?" she found herself asking.

"Keen observation?" Karen smiled.

Julianne smiled. "What made you want to work for me, anyway?"

Karen blushed and looked down at her food. "Just thought it would be a good opportunity."

Julianne studied Karen for a moment. Why does she keep blushing so much?

Karen picked at her food for a moment. "I was a fan of yours," she admitted, blushing even more. "That movie you did several years ago, Borderline Crazy, was excellent. I mean, you were excellent."

Julianne's brows furrowed. I was excellent? Hmm. "Thank you." Now she was at a loss for words. So she finished off the rest of her sandwich in silence.

"I had this huge crush on you," Karen blurted out.

Julianne started choking.

If possible, Karen blushed even more. "Sorry!" she apologized quickly. "I'm an idiot. I can't believe I said that. Just forget I said that. Oh God." She covered her face with her hands.

Julianne finally managed to stop coughing, and stared at her assistant in complete and utter shock. "You had a crush on me?"

Karen peeked at Julianne through her fingers. "Just a little one," she admitted. "I'm sorry. My girlfriend says I need to learn when to keep my mouth shut. She's right."

Girlfriend? Karen's gay?? Julianne's mind reeled with this new information. "All this time I thought you had a crush on Adrian," she said, hoping to put the young girl at ease. "Guess not." She smiled.

Karen uncovered her face hesitantly. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I just wasn't expecting that." At all. I wonder what she'd say if I came out to her? Maybe I should wait until she's drinking something. "So, you've got a girlfriend? Been together long?"

"About a year," Karen replied, and visibly relaxed. "We just moved in together last month."

Julianne smiled. Must be nice. "In love?"

"Very." Karen smiled brightly.

"That must be nice," Julianne found herself voicing.

Karen frowned slightly and she looked up at Julianne. "I thought you and Adrian were a hot item?" When Julianne hesitated, she quickly added, "Sorry, I didn't mean to pry. That's none of my business. Open foot, insert mouth."

Julianne laughed. "Open foot, insert mouth, huh?"

Karen laughed and shook her head. "There I go again."

Should I tell her? Can I trust her? Before she could make a decision on the matter, there was a knock on the door.

Someone Julianne didn't recognize popped his head inside the trailer door. "Gina wants everyone back on the set in five minutes," he informed her.

"Be right there," Julianne replied. "Duty calls," she told Karen. "Thanks for lunch. Feel free to finish up." She didn't give Karen much of a chance to respond, because she rushed out of the trailer. I can't believe I almost considered coming out to her. I must be losing my mind. Oh yeah. I'm definitely, definitely losing my mind. I think it's New York. I need to stop going there.

Julianne stopped walking for a moment. I wonder if Kris got my letter yet?

*          *            *

Kris stared down at the shiny object gleaming at her from its velvet bedding. She blinked a few times as the words defined themselves in her mind and the meaning of the phrase broke through her sleepy, caffeine-deprived consciousness. "What?" she snapped, feeling more angry than surprised. "You want me to marry you?"

Nathan appeared taken aback by her reaction and he flinched. "I thought you said you wanted to get married?" he asked. "That night in the hotel room, you said you wanted to wait until after we were married."

Did I say that? God, it's too early for this.  "Nathan, I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head. "You try to trick me into sleeping with you‹"

The velvet box snapped shut. "Trick you?" Nathan demanded, rising to his full height. "Trick you?! I was trying to be sweet and romantic. I thought you'd appreciate the effort!"

"Well, I'm sorry, but I didn't want my first time with you to be on prom night! It was such a predictable scenario that it never even occurred to me. Then you disappear for like two weeks and now you want to marry me?!"

"Carlos said‹"

Kris got up so suddenly, she knocked the chair over. "I don't care what Carlos says! This isn't about him! This isn't about my parents. This is about you and me, and the fact that you have been an inconsiderate jerk‹"

"Inconsiderate?!" Nathan bellowed. "Do you know how much this ring cost me? That room? Those candles? Do you know how much planning I did so that our first time could be special? No... you're just too wrapped up in your own little world to give a damn about my feelings!"

"Just cause you were horny‹"

"Just because you're a prude doesn't mean that I don't have needs," Nathan retorted. "How many guys do you think would've waited this long?!"

Kris walked away from him wanting to scream in frustration. "I am not dating other guys, Nathan. I am dating you." She noted the present tense of the words. "Was dating you."

"Was? Oh that's just fucking great, Kris! I come here to propose to you and you're going to break up with me? You ungrateful bitch! After all I've done‹"

"Done? What the hell have you done for me, Nathan? You've had more of a relationship with Carlos than with me! Why don¹t you go propose to‹" The slap that came next knocked the air out of her, and suddenly she was looking at the floor instead of at Nathan. This was followed by a stabbing pain at her jaw. She was so shocked she couldn't even move.

"Have a nice life, Kris," Nathan spat at her, then dropped the ring on the floor.

It bounced into her field of vision, staring back at her like an ominous creature. And then the front door slammed shut, echoing through the apartment like the final shot of war.

 

*          *            *

Leigh stumbled into the apartment a quarter past three. "You will not believe the day I've had," she called, dropping her backpack by the door. She walked as she talked, making her way toward the couch where Kris was sitting. "It was hell. I got into this huge fight this one guy who kept trying to pinch my ass. I mean, I know it's cute and all, but man, ever hear of look but don't touch?"

Kris made sure to sit all the way on the right side of the couch, so that Leigh wouldn't notice the huge bruise on her left cheek. Not that there was much point in hiding it.

Leigh lay down beside Kris, placing her legs on Kris's lap. "Rub my feet, will ya?" she teased. When there was no answer, she lifted her head. "Did I mention I'm home?"

Kris forced a smile. "Hi."

At this point, Leigh frowned and sat up. "What happened?" She studied Kris's face for a moment. "Why aren't you looking at me? I mean, not that your profile isn't beautiful, but some eye contact would be nice."

Kris sighed and turned her head in Leigh's direction.

Leigh gasped, rushing over to inspect the bruise. "Oh my God! What happened to you?"

"Would you believe I fell down the stairs?" Kris tried lamely.

Leigh's eyes narrowed as she thought about Kris's statement. Recognition crossed her face. "Nathan?" she asked. "He hit you?!" She stood up, unable to sit. She started pacing around the coffee table. "That rat bastard! I'll kill him."

Kris shook her head. "He's leaving tomorrow. Just let it be. It's over."

Leigh looked at her and sat back down. "You can't just let him get away with this!" She paused and suddenly looked very serious. "Kris, has he hit you before?"

Kris shook her head. "No," she said honestly. "We got into a huge fight today. It got ugly."

"Obviously," Leigh replied. She didn't like this. She didn't like this one bit. "Did he come to apologize for being a total asshole?"

Kris shrugged. "He came to propose."

Leigh's jaw sagged. "Say what?"

"Apparently he went to Carlos and they decided it was 'time'. Whatever that means."

Leigh tried to make sense of the information. "So you said no and he hit you?"

"No, I said no, and then we got into a huge fight. Some colorful words were exchanged. I suggested he go propose to Carlos, and then he hit me." Kris shook her head, wishing to forget everything. There were some days that were just not worth getting up for. "It doesn't matter. Let's just forget it."

"Forget it?" Leigh asked incredulously. "I can't forget it. It left a visual reminder, which is turning a lovely shade of purple as we speak. Damn him. If I ever lay eyes on him again I swear I'll kick his ass."

Kris smiled. "Cause he doesn¹t tower over you by like a foot," she joked. She grabbed Leigh's hand. "I'm okay."

Leigh simply frowned. "I don't like this, Kris. You shouldn't let him get away with it."

"And what should I do?" Kris asked.

"Hire a hit man," Leigh suggested. "And I'm not kidding, either." She touched Kris's cheek gently. "Does it hurt a lot?"

Kris shook her head. "Not really. I think it looks worse than it is."

"Let me get you some ice," Leigh said, and retreated to the kitchen to gather some ice cubes into a paper towel. On her way back, she noticed the small stack of envelopes on the table. She grabbed those as well. "Any interesting mail, or just the usual combination of bills and commercial junk?"

Kris shrugged, accepting the ice from Leigh. "Didn't bother looking, actually." She pressed the bundle to her cheek and winced at the coldness.

Leigh settled herself on the coffee table and started sorting through the envelopes in her hand. "Credit card. Credit card. Cable. Oh, here's something different." She held up the envelope and arched a brow. "It's addressed to you. No return address." She glanced questioningly at Kris.

Kris put the ice down and grabbed the letter. "That's weird," she said.

Leigh stared at her silently until she could bear it no longer. "Don't make me rip it open for you. C'mon, the suspense is killing me here."

Kris gave Leigh a dubious look but opened the letter. Inside was a folded piece of paper wrapped around a check. "'I believe we agreed on fifteen?'" Kris read from the paper. "'A deal's a deal. Thank you for the painting.'" Then she glanced at the check and her eyes went wide.

Leigh grabbed both items. Reread the letter on her own and then stared at the check. "Fifteen thousand dollars?!" she shrieked. "This can't be real. Do you think it's real? It can't be."

Kris snatched it back and looked at it again. "It looks real," she said. "But there's no name on it." She stared at Leigh. "What do we do with it?"

"Cash it?" Leigh suggested. "It can't possibly be real."

Kris stared at the paper in her hands and the five digit number carefully printed on its surface. "I can't do that. It's got to be some kind of mistake. A misprint of some sort." Isn't it?

*          *            *

Julianne finally got around to checking her email at one thirty in the morning. Their shooting schedule would be killer for the next couple of weeks. But then it will be over. Two more weeks. Then freedom. She sighed. Until the cycle begins again.

She glanced at the two scripts on her night stand. She hadn't bother to read either of them, and she was going to have to make a decision soon. But not right now.

Turning back to the computer, she read Kris's message and debated on what to respond. Then she started to type.

Dear Kris,

 

My prior commitment was an award ceremony of sorts. No big deal. I ended up not wearing the dress I'd bought for the occasion. I'm not big on dresses. Want it? :o)

 

Anyway, it's almost two in the morning and I just got home from work. Crazy, no? Ah, well. You get used to it after a while. It's going to be pretty crazy for the next couple of weeks, so I'm not sure I'll be able to make a date with you and keep it until after June first. But after that, I've got some vacation time, so maybe we can schedule something then? When do you start work?

 

Something pretty interesting happened today. This girl I work with came out to me. She even admitted she'd had a crush on me! How crazy is that? Definitely a first. She's got a girlfriend now, though. Not that I would consider anything with her were she single. I know you told me to ask out the first woman I saw, but I think I am way too shy to do something like that.

 

Adrian complains that I don't let many people get close to me and that's the problem. Maybe he's right. But sometimes, it's just better that way, you know? Keeps things simple.

 

But boring. :o) 

 

Maybe I'm just a boring person. I'm bored right now, actually. I should probably be sleeping, seeing as I have to be up at five in the morning. But instead,  I'm watching TV. You know what's a good channel? The TV Guide one. It's the perfect solution for a person who sucks at making decisions. Like me. Instead of picking one thing to watch, I watch nothing, yet feel like I'm watching everything. I'm very tempted to call that Jamaican lady. Maybe she can tell me my future.

 

So I'm rambling.

 

When's your birthday? I hope I didn't miss it ...

 

I'm going to go to bed now, and put you out of your misery. :o)

 

 

Your friend,

Julia

Julianne finished the email and yawned, but didn't shut down the computer, or even sign offline. She had a decision to make, and she planned on making it before going to sleep.

Karen's words echoed through her mind. If I were sick, it would make me feel a billion times better to know that the person I idolized cared about my well-being.

 

"Okay, Franqui," she told herself. "If you were a fan, what would you want?" Her mind came up blank. What would Kris do? She considered this new angle for a moment. "Something kind ... unselfish ... and unexpected ..."

She glanced up at the painting of the sunrise, which hung beside the other on her wall. There's so much one can do ...

Julianne stared at the computer monitor for a second. Show him you care about his well-being. "Only one thing I can think of."  She nodded, coming to a decision.

Ten minutes later, her plan was set into motion.

Satisfied, she turned off the computer. Now to get some sleep ...

 

33

 

Miniature golf, in Julianne's opinion, was a baffling activity. What was the point, really, of hitting a ball and trying to insert it into a hole, only to repeat the process. Pointless. Idiotic ...

"I love this game," Adrian commented, as his blue ball rolled right into the hole. With a satisfied smirk, he turned to Julianne. "Don't you?"

She made a grunting sound in response and positioned herself to hit her own ball. She aimed. She hit. She missed. I hate this game. She walked across the green carpet lawn thing and tried again.

"Good thing the place is empty," Adrian teased. "You'd make the ten o'clock news for sure, otherwise. 'Julianne Franqui, star of Guardian, was pummeled to death with a miniature golf club early Tuesday afternoon, after a group of exasperated players lost their patience. Sources inform us, that Miss Franqui averaged about twenty-three attempts per hole. It is no wonder that the angel has returned to heaven, where we can all hope she gets some lessons.'"

Julianne was not amused. "Are you quite through?"

"I could go on," Adrian said.

"I can't believe this is how I¹m spending my lunch hour," Julianne muttered. She tried again. And again. And again.

"Maybe it'll be easier if you just put the ball in the hole yourself." Adrian suggested smugly.

Julianne narrowed her eyes at him, hoping she looked menacing. "Don't make me beat you," she threatened, holding up the putter for effect. "Cause I'll do it."

Adrian made a zipping motion across his lips and stood by patiently.

It took her a few tries‹though certainly not twenty-three‹before the red ball rolled into its intended destination.

Adrian clapped mockingly, and whistled. "You're a natural," he stated as they started walking to the next hole. "So, how's filming?"

Julianne considered the question while Adrian made a hole in one. She rolled her eyes. Here we go again. She tried not to think about making the shot, and just focused on answering Adrian's question. "Gina's making us put in some crazy hours so the movie can come out in time. Apparently some of the old stuff we shot wasn't good enough, so we had to re-shoot some scenes." 

To her surprise, the ball went right into the hole. She stared at it in surprise. "Huh."

Adrian's jaw just hung open. Then he recovered. "Lucky shot."

"You're so good for my self-esteem," Julianne commented, following her supposed best friend to the next hole.

Adrian laughed. "Like you need anymore admiration. Although, it's kind of fun to boast about you to people. 'Did you know my best friend was just named one of the hottest people under twenty-five?' Of course they don¹t believe me ..." He shrugged, and prepared to take his shot. He frowned deeply when he missed. "What the hell?"

Julianne laughed at him. "Serves you right for being such a cocky bastard." She shook her head. "Anyway, I'm glad that the movie's going to be over soon. I get about a month of freedom before Guardian starts shooting again."

"Oh, I bet you're excited about that." Adrian asked, trying his shot again.

She snickered as he missed for the second time. "Need some help?" she asked innocently.

Adrian shot her a Look.

So Julianne decided to change the subject before Adrian's pummeling premonition came true. "So how did that tomato movie turn out?"

Adrian rolled his eyes and leaned against the club like a crutch. "It wasn't a tomato, Julianne," he explained calmly. "It was about an apple. It's a social commentary on how human existence is parallel to the life of a fruit."

"Riiiiight," Julianne responded, nodding as if it all made perfect sense. Which of course, it didn't. "I know I'm going to regret asking this, but exactly what is your vision here?"

Adrian brightened, as he always did when asked to talk about his work. "Imagine an apple tree," he began. "Lots of apples. Lots of souls. They fall ... into life. Like being born. They are welcomed to the world by strange hands. And they are forced into basket with more strangers. A family, if you will."

Julianne scratched her eyebrow.

"So, in the movie we follow the life of this particular apple's life," he explained. "And at the same time we follow the life of a baby ..  and their lives follow the same pattern, but they never cross paths. The apple's seeds go on to reproduce more apple trees. The baby grows up into a man and has children. That sort of thing."

"You were stoned when you came up with that, weren't you?" Julianne guessed.

Adrian frowned and shook his head, getting ready to try his luck again with the ball. "Don't belittle my creativity, Julianne," he said. "I am a filmmaker. An artist. You seem to be fond of those lately." He winked and took his shot.

He made it.

Julianne sighed, placing her ball on the allotted spot.

Adrian studied her for a moment, waiting for some kind of comment, some kind of acknowledgement that he'd spoken. When none was forthcoming, he spoke again. "How's that going?"

Julianne focused on the hole. "How's what going?"

"Your unrequited love," Adrian prompted.

She glanced at him quickly and then took her shot. Naturally she missed. Sighing, she walked over to where the ball had landed. "It's not any kind of love," she stated. "And it's going fine, I guess. I haven't gotten anything new from her since Friday."

"And how does that make you feel?" Adrian teased.

Julianne simply shook her head and took another imperfect shot. Damn. "It makes me feel fine, Adrian," she informed him simply, her focus on the ball. "We're just friends." Gratefully, her next attempt was successful.

They moved on to the next one.

Adrian took his turn. "Just friends," he repeated. "Right. Because you go around giving fifteen thousand dollars to all of your friends."

Julianne glanced at him sharply. "It was for the painting."

"The fifteen dollar painting," Adrian emphasized. "Where the thousand came from, only your little demented mind knows."

"She deserves to be getting more for her work," Julianne argued. "She spends a lot of time and energy and puts all of her passion and emotion into it. That's worth a lot more than fifteen dollars."

Adrian considered this. "You're weird," he said finally. "But it's your money. Not like you can't afford it." He shrugged, made the shot, and moved aside.

"I don't understand why you have to make such a big deal about this," Julianne said.

"Because it is a big deal," Adrian replied. "You just don't see it cause you're stubborn and dense."

"I most certainly am not!" Julianne argued.

"See?" Adrian smirked. "I don't see why you get all bent out of shape when I bring Kris up."

Julianne opened her mouth to respond. Frowned. Then decided to focus her energies into the game. "I don't get all bent out of shape," she mumbled. She aimed. She fired. She sent the ball into the pond. It broke through the surface of the water and sank out of sight. "Damnit."

Adrian shook his head. "That's pent up sexual frustration right there."

"Ugh!" Julianne threw her club down and stomped on it. "I hate this stupid game!"

"Why don't I carry a camera when I'm with you?" Adrian asked, shaking his head at the display. "I'd make millions just catching you in compromising positions. Now if only you were doing that naked ..."

Julianne picked up the club and threw it at her best friend. She missed. It, too, landed in the pond.

Adrian watched as it landed in the water with a soft splash, then turned to Julianne. "Feel better?"

Julianne sighed and sat down on the ground.

"That time of the month?" Adrian guessed, sitting beside her friend. He made sure to keep his club out of her reach.  "Want to get some chocolate?"

In spite of herself, Julianne laughed. "I hate you. So much." She leaned back on her arms and took a deep breath. "Hey, did you know Karen's a lesbian?"

Adrian nodded. "Yeah, her and her girlfriend, Rachel, just got an apartment together."

Julianne stared at him. "How is it that you know this?"

"I believe it's called having a conversation," Adrian told her. "It works well. You should try it some time."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You didn't ask."

Julianne groaned. "Figures." She glanced over at the pond and motioned with her head. "Think they'll be mad?"

Adrian chuckled. "Are you kidding? They'll dive in there head first to retrieve it and then sell it on eBay for a million dollars. Would've been two million, but the water rubbed off the fingerprints so there's no actual proof that you touched it."

"Fans are weird," Julianne commented.

"Didn't you ever care about something?" Adrian wondered. "TV shows, actors, singers?"

Julianne thought about it for a few minutes. "I really liked the Thundercats. And He-Man." She looked down at a piece of something on the ground. "I wish I could talk to her more."

"So call her," Adrian suggested. "You've got her number."

Julianne snapped her head to look at him. "I can't do that ..." Could I? "She'd recognize my voice."

"Would that be Julianne Franqui's or Mysterious Painting Girl's?"

"Either, or." Julianne shrugged. "Besides, I'd never have the guts to do that." She glanced at her watch. "I'm due back at the set."

Adrian nodded and rose, offering Julianne a hand to help her up. "We're off then."

Julianne trailed after Adrian, thinking about his suggestion. I couldn't really call her ...

*          *            *

The ringing phone tore Kris away from her latest painting. She stared at the picture for a second before reaching across the length of the couch to retrieve the receiver. "Hello?"

"¿Que es esto?" Carlos yelled.

Kris flinched and pulled the phone away from her ear as the shouting continued. Carlos went on for a couple of minutes about something. He was speaking so fast that Kris was having a horrible time of following. Though, she was beginning to get the gist. Damn you Nathan. She sighed.

"Explícame, Kristina. Porque yo estaba bajo la impression de que tu querías un futuro con el."

 

Um. How to explain this. The truth, Kris. Go with the truth. "No lo amo, Papi," she admitted. I don't think I've ever really loved him ...

Carlos's tone softened, as she knew it would. Whenever she referred to him as "Dad" he turned to mush. "¿Y por que no lo dijiste antes?"

Kris considered the question. Why hadn't she said anything before? Fear of being alone? Fear of disappointing her parents? "No estoy segura," she told him.

Carlos sighed. "Pasa por el apartamento después. Hablaremos de esto."

"Okay," Kris agreed, though she wasn't particularly thrilled about the thought of continuing the conversation face-to-face. "I'll come over tomorrow."

"Bien. Cuídate. Hasta entonces."

"Adios." Kris stared at the receiver before tossing it aside. Damnit. I don't want to talk about this anymore.

She sat back on the couch, her gaze drifting over the canvas on the easel before her. She'd decided that Julia deserved a better gift than a stupid little sketch. So she'd decided to paint it. So far so good. She wasn't entirely sure why she felt compelled to do this, but ... whatever. She wasn't going to dwell on it now.

Kris tucked back a few wisps of light hair, and blew out a long breath. She caught sight of the mystery check on top of the coffee table and a deep frown grazed her features. Biting her lip, she leaned forward and grasped the object, trying to make sense of its origin.

There was no name on it, besides her own. An account number scribbled in black ink. A messy signature. And $15,000 clearly printed on the right.

I don't get it.

The young woman that Kris had given her painting to suddenly floated into Kris's¿¿ consciousness. It had to be from her, but ...

"Fifteen thousand?" Kris shook her head. "She didn't even have fifteen dollars on her."

Leigh kept insisting they cash it or deposit it or do something with it besides stare at it in awe and confusion.

A second opinion was in order.

Nodding, Kris got up and over to the kitchen table where her laptop awaited. She read Julia's last email and hit 'reply.'

Dear Julia,

 

An award ceremony?? Why didn't you tell me? Congratulations! What did you win? What is it that you do exactly? You speak of colleagues and awards and crazy work hours .... But, I'm pretty clueless on the details here. Enlighten me, please :)

 

So, I have a bit of a ... hmm ... situation, I guess. Well, it's not really that, either. More like just a ... thing. Okay,  see. I got this really weird check for like $15,000, from someone I gave a painting to. I mean, I'm assuming it's from them. I don¹t know what I should do with it. I mean, if it's real then it's just way too much money. I couldn't keep it. I don't know ...

 

What would you do??

 

But anyway. On Nathan news. He finally showed up. Proposed. We got into this huge fight when I turned him down. And

Kris paused, unsure of how to proceed. I shouldn't make a big deal about this. She deleted the "and."

But he's out of my life now. Unfortunately, I still have to face my parents about the entire ordeal. That's not going to be fun. I wish I could just forget about it. Nathan left me the ring .. I don't know what I should do with it.

 

I'm not sure how to feel about the entire thing. Although I feel relieved, I'm also kind of ... depressed? I've been trying to drown myself in my artwork but the real world keeps interrupting. Guess it will get better with time ... right?  Mm. I hope so.

 

Anyway, I know what you mean about the TV Guide channel. It's almost hypnotic. The streaming screen ... the mid-day commentaries ... late-night psychics. Who needs 300 channels? :)

 

It's too bad that girl you work with has a girlfriend, or I would've told you to go for it. Is she cute? C'mon, Julia, there has to be someone you're attracted to. Go back to that restaurant and ask out that girl with the spiky hair. You seemed fond of that one. ;)

 

I'm kidding, of course. Relationships are overrated. I think I'm just going to stay single forever. What do you think? Hey, we can be single together!

 

Well, I'm going to finish this painting before Leigh gets home. Then she'll start channel surfing and I'll never get anything done.

 

Your friend,

Kris

*          *            *

Julianne found herself staring at the phone. Her gaze would wander from the black receiver to the business card in her hand, and back again. She'd already memorized the phone number and she'd never even dialed it.

I can't call her.

She kept telling herself that, but the temptation to do otherwise kept her hand on the portable phone, her grip tightening around it as if afraid to let go.

Sighing, she glanced at the time on the mircrowave. By pure chance, Gina had been called away for something or other. Director's drama. Personal business. Who knew? The only thing that Julianne cared about was the fact that she was home at six o'clock in the evening with nothing to do but stare longingly at the phone in her hand.

I need to get a life. Desperately.

The phone chose that moment to start ringing. Startled, she dropped it. It crashed to the floor and stayed there.

Then rang again.

She stared at it for a second longer before picking up. "Franqui," she said, walking out of the kitchen and out to the living room, Kris's card still in her hand.

"Julianne, hi."

She rolled her eyes at the sound of her agent's voice. "Eric," she greeted.

"I wasn't expecting to reach you," he said. "Did you read over the scripts I gave you?"

She breathed and counted to ten. Patiently, she said, "No."

Eric sighed heavily at the other end of the line. "They want an answer by June first, Julianne. You're their first choice, but if you don't give me an answer soon, they've got plenty of other options."

Julianne chewed on her bottom lip. "Which role?" she asked.

He hesitated. "Summer's Dance," he answered finally. "Tori Doyle."

She was starting to lose her patience. "I told you I'm not going to play a lesbian." How many times did she have to say something before people started listening?

"Are you saying you'd like to take the robot part?" he asked, a bit hopefully. It wasn't his first choice, but it was something.

Her first impulse was to throw the phone against the wall. She didn't want to play a robot. She didn't want to play a lesbian. And the entire topic was grating on her nerves. "Eric," she started, as calmly as she could muster, "I don't want either of those roles. Get me something worthwhile and then we'll talk about it."

"You have until June first to change your mind," Eric informed her. "Take care, Julianne."

Angrily, Julianne hung up without another word. I need a new agent, she decided, heading up the stairs to the bedroom. A woman. A hot one, preferably. With ... She paused mid-thought and dropped the phone on the bed. I am not sexually frustrated.

The two screenplays on the nightstand caught her eye and she stared at them. Crawling across the bedspread, she reached for the one Eric was having a conniption over. Once again, she stared at the title page. Doesn't hurt to read it, she decided. Sitting back against the pillows, she opened to the first page and began to read.

34

Leigh glanced up from the Classifieds section of the newspaper to see Kris walking into the apartment. "How did it go?" she asked, hoping to catch some kind of hint from Kris's features. Her best friend's face, however, revealed nothing.

Kris dropped down on one of the kitchen chairs, emotionally exhausted from the endless battle with her parents. That she was still alive and breathing was quite the miracle, seeing as she'd prayed to God during the entire trial to strike her dead on the spot; put her out of her misery. But she'd survived. To Leigh, she said, "They're heartbroken over the loss of their boyfriend." She dropped a an envelop on the table. "Prom pictures came back."

Leigh reached forward and grabbed them in a smooth swoop of the hand. She was relieved that Kris seemed in good spirits, in spite of the fact that her demeanor looked slightly sapped. Flipping through the pictures, she grinned. "You looked gorgeous in these." She glanced up quickly. "Not that you don't usually."

"Right."

"Hey, I mean it," Leigh assured her. "If I were a guy, I'd do you."

"Thank you, Leigh," Kris commented wryly. She glanced down at the newspaper on the table and a light brow shot upwards in question. "Since when do you care about the news?"

Leigh glanced down and shrugged. "I need another job," she admitted. "Starbucks isn't gonna cut it for rent this month." She finished glancing through the photos and put them aside.

Kris frowned slightly. "But you won't have any time to audition," she argued.

"Better than being homeless," Leigh replied lightly. She winked. "I'll find time for acting. I always do."

Kris wasn't so sure. Leigh hadn't been to a single audition in months, but she wasn't about to start an argument with her best friend about this. She could tell that Leigh wasn't happy about the prospect of working two jobs. Who would? "So, what are we ordering tonight?" she asked, wishing to change the subject.

"Chinese," Leigh responded. "I've got the menu right here." She reached under the newspaper and pulled out a paper. "I'm told they have the best pork fried rice in the state."

"Really," Kris said. "Of course, I'm a vegetarian so ...."

Leigh rolled her eyes and put the menu down. "So, what did your parents say exactly? Are they mad at you?"

Kris sat back in the chair as she considered. She thought back to the afternoon. There had been shouting. Her mother had cried. Her mother had prayed. Eventually, they'd all calmed down enough to have a civilized conversation. "They weren't so much mad, as disappointed, I think," she finally explained. "And I don't think they're as much disappointed, as worried. All this time they'd felt certain that I'd be taken care of. Now, we're back to square one. In their minds, anyway. Most of the arguing was about what I planned to do with my life now that I didn't have Nathan as a security blanket."

Leigh made a face. "Have they ever heard of the Feminist Movement?" she wondered, and Kris smiled. "So what did you guys settle on?"

"Mom is going to pray a lot," Kris replied. "And Carlos is hoping that I dumped Nathan for someone else. A doctor, maybe."

This elicited a laugh from Leigh. "You should've told them about your lesbian friend. Freak them out completely."

Kris snickered and got up to retrieve a can of soda from the fridge. Which reminds me, I haven't checked my e-mail yet. "What time are the awards?"

"The pre-thingie starts at seven," Leigh answered. "Awards are at eight. I bought a blank tape so I could record them."

Kris shook her head and took a sip from the Sprite. She'd been craving those lately and she wasn't sure why. She wasn't generally a big soda drinker. "You're so weird. I don't get what the big deal is."

"Just feeding on the envy," Leigh replied. "Instead of letting it consume me, I embrace it. That way I don't end up hating everyone famous." She smiled. "Besides, I'm already middle-aged in Hollywood years. I need to keep my mind off of that fact."

"By watching all the famous people rub their glamour in your face?"

With a dramatic sigh, Leigh replied, "It makes me feel a little closer to the stars."

"Freak," Kris mouthed and stood. "I'll be in my room," she announced. "Come get me when our date starts."

"Yes, my love." Leigh blew her a kiss.

Kris simply laughed as she walked into her bedroom. Once on the bed, she placed the can of soda on the night stand, and grabbed the computer. Making herself comfortable, she signed online and waited for her mailbox to load.

A smile passed her lips as she noticed that Julia had responded. She ignored the weird flutter in her heart that somehow accompanied all of Julia's emails. It was probably just early signs of future heart failure. Nothing to concern herself with.

Dear Kris,

 

The award I won was for a project I did about a year ago. Just a little acting gig I got. It was no big deal, like I said. Um, what do I do? Well, I work in a movie set. And you know, there's some crazy shooting hours sometimes.

 

But enough about me ...

Kris arched a brow. Enough about you? There's never enough about you! That's the problem. Shaking her head, she continued to read.

So about this mysterious check you got. I think you should just cash it. Obviously, the person who gave it to you felt that you deserved it for whatever reason. So, don't feel guilty about taking the money. I'm certain that she won't miss the money.

Kris frowned slightly. She? Did I ever specify who gave it to me? She shrugged. I must have.

I hope everything with your parents went okay. Don't let them get to you. I know it's hard, them being your parents and all. But sometimes you just have to do what feels right for you. Parents always want the best for their children. Well, most parents anyway. But they don't always see the whole picture.

 

I'm glad you're enjoying your freedom. I'm sure it will eventually lead you into the arms of someone who actually deserves you.

 

Um, I know this is going to sound a bit forward. And please feel free to say no. But I was wondering .... Can I call you sometime?

 

Your friend,

Julia

Kris found herself staring at the computer screen in shock for a few minutes. Call me? She wants to call me? There went that pounding heart thing again. She should probably start visiting a cardiologist and get this thing under control. A heart attack at twenty was certainly not the way to go.

She tapped the keys absently, not really typing anything, though every now and then a stray letter would appear on the screen. What do I say? Do I want to talk to her on the phone? Will it be too weird? What would we even talk about?

The cursor blinked impatiently, awaiting her command.

Dear Julia,

 

Congratulations on your award! I'm sure your parents must be very proud of you. What's the set of the movie? Anything I'd recognize? Hey, one of these days you're probably going to be all famous and I'll be able to say, "Oh I knew her way back when..." :) That's what I tell Leigh when she gets all weepy-eyed during the Academy Awards.

 

Speaking of which, tonight are the MTV ones. Leigh and I are ordering Chinese and settling in front of the TV for a night of star-gazing.  I personally couldn't care less, but it's a big deal to Leigh and .. well, who am I to pass up Chinese food? Besides, it's kind of fun seeing all those famous people together. You get to make fun of them all at once and bask in the bitterness of petty jealousy. Fun. :)

 

So you think I should cash the check, really? That's so much money. I'd feel bad keeping it. Maybe I can do something really good with it. Hmm.....

 

I went to see my parents today. I think they're mostly just concerned for my financial stability in the future. Art doesn't really pay the bills, you know? I understand where they're coming from. It's just frustrating. 

 

Feel free to call me whenever you want. :)

 

Your friend,

Kris

Kris stared at the response for a long moment before sending it. Would she really call me? She put the computer aside and sighed. I wonder what her voice sounds like ...

*          *            *

"Oof, what is she wearing?!" Leigh cried in horror, throwing popcorn at the TV screen. The Chinese food was long gone by then, but popcorn lived forever. Or at least, it did when they kept making more every twenty minutes. Most of it was on the ground in front of the television set. Leigh had a habit of expressing her excitement by throwing things.

I'm not cleaning that up, Kris decided, her gaze drifting down from the images flickering across the screen to the pile of stale popcorn on the ground. It wasn't that she was so much of a neat freak. But .. still.  Oh God, the cockroaches are going to have a feast. I'm going to kill her. She slouched down on the couch and crossed her arms.

Leigh munched away on a handful of popcorn, watching the events on the screen with unwavering interest. "Now he is hot," she commented, motioning.

Kris simply yawned. She hoped this thing would be over soon. It somehow felt like they were getting longer with each passing year. Maybe I'm just getting too old of this nonsense. She glanced quickly at her best friend, who was leaning forward, trying to catch every word. "Want more soda?" she asked.

Leigh handed over an empty cup without looking away from the TV. "Damn commercials." More popcorn flew.

Kris retreated to the kitchen to pour the drinks and was surprised when Leigh joined her there a moment later. "Popcorn?" she guessed.

"Yup," Leigh replied heading straight for the microwave. "Almost out." She kept her gaze focused on the screen. "I think Best Kiss is next. It's the best part of the whole damn thing."

Good, that means it's almost over. "You have a scary obsession." Kris put away the bottle of soda and regarded her best friend. "Why do you care who makes out with whom?"

Leigh smiled. "I'm a romantic, so sue me," she answered with a shrug. "I'm taking notes from all the winners. It's a skill. The heads have to be aligned just right. And then there's the tongue action. If I want to be a good kisser, I have to learn from the best."

Kris wondered if Leigh actually meant half the ridiculous things that poured out of her mouth or if she just said them to educe a reaction."  Mental note: Never date an actor. They're nuts. She headed back to the living room. "Your thing's back."

Leigh was at her side in an instant, a fresh bowl of popcorn nestled on her lap. "Here we go," she said excitedly.

As the announcers pretended to flirt with each other, Kris glanced worriedly at the phone. All night she'd been half expecting it to ring. She was growing increasingly more nervous about talking to Julia. What would we talk about? We don't know each other... Her attention snapped back to the television screen as she heard the name Julianne Franqui.

A clip of Julianne making out with some guy took up the whole screen for a moment.

"I hope they win," Leigh commented.

Kris glanced away from the TV as the clip ended. "Why?"

"Because he's hot!" Leigh turned back to the screen, ready to throw popcorn if Rye Philips didn't win the award.

"And the winner is .... Rye Philips and Julianne Franqui!"

The camera cut to a shot of Julianne in the audience, looking happy and surprised. She leaned over to kiss the guy next to her.

"Who the hell is that freak she's kissing?!" Leigh cried, throwing handfuls of popcorn. "Jesus Christ he's butt-ugly!" She started blinking excessively. "Dear God, I think I've gone blind!"

 

Kris cocked her head to the side. That's the greatest man she's ever known? Wouldn't want to meet the worst one. She grimaced slightly. "Julia told me she looks like her," she found herself commenting for absolutely no reason. She just liked saying her name. Julia. It was pretty.

"Right. She wishes," Leigh replied with a snort. "Women like her don't exist in real life. I mean look at that." She pointed to the screen, where Julianne was accepting the award. "Who makes jeans and a tee look that hot? It's not fair!" Popcorn rained in front of the television for a moment.

Kris stared at the image of Julianne Franqui on the screen. You'd think she could do better than freak boy. That must say a lot about her personality.  "Here we go," she said, as she noticed the acceptance speech was about to commence. "This is where she boasts about how wonderful she is." She found herself leaning forward in anticipation. Anticipation? Self-consciously, she sat back.

On the screen, Julianne glanced at the award for a moment. Then her face broke into a slight smile that caused Kris to narrow her eyes. Why, she looks almost human.

"Well, there's not much you can say after winning an award such as this," Julianne joked, "except thank you. It's always an honor to be recognized for being a good kisser."

Kris rolled her eyes. "See?"

Leigh glanced at her quickly. "I believe it's called a joke."

Kris stuck her tongue out, then she realized Julianne was still speaking.

"... kind of silly to receive an award for kissing someone on screen. I kind of laughed off the nomination when I first received it. But then, I started thinking about how I feel every time I get caught up in someone else's onscreen romance and how I can't wait for that moment when they finally express their love. I mean, that's what we're all searching for, right? Love?"

A light brow inched slowly upward.

"I believe that as actors the only thing we can really hope for is that our performance somehow touches the viewers in some way, and motivates them to believe in the magic of possibility; and the promise of love. I'd like to pretend that this award means I've achieved something of the sort. Either that, or a lot of girls thought Rye Philips was really cute." Julianne let out a small laugh. "But whatever your reasons for voting, I thank you." 

Leigh whistled as she clapped. "Oh yeah, what a total bitch."

Kris was about to respond ...

....but the phone rang.

*          *            *

Julianne paced around her room nervously as she waited for someone to pick up. Please don't be home. Please don't be home. Why am I doing this?

"Hello?"

Julianne's mouth went dry. What do I say?? Lord, I suck without a script. "Uh, hi," she said, wishing to smack herself. It's not too late. Hang up the phone and run. "I-Is Kris there?" she continued. Stammering. Excellent. Great first impression, dumbass.

"This is her." A short pause. "Julia?"

Julianne was about to response, but a voice in the background cut her off.

"Oh my God! Is that the lesbian?"

Dark brows furrowed together. She'd never been referred to as "the lesbian" before. There was a sudden noise, followed by a loud thud. Some muffled screaming. What the hell?

"Hi, Julia?" a different voice said. "I'm Leigh, Kris's best friend. She's in love with you. She wants your sexy bo‹" Another loud thud. Followed by what sounded like dinosaurs screeching.

Julianne stared at the receiver for a moment, before putting it back on her ear. She decided to sit down for this. In spite of her nervousness, she was slightly amused. She wants my sexy body, huh? Or maybe it wasn't body. Maybe it was bo...wling. No that wouldn't make any sense.

"What a nice first impression," Kris's voice returned. "I'm so sorry about that. Are you still there?"

"Yeah, I'm here," Julianne assured her. Please don't let her recognize my voice. Please don't let me say something really stupid. "So, is that how you guys generally answer the phone?"

Kris laughed. "Yes, we put on a performance each time the phone rings. Every time, a little something different."

Julianne smiled as she noticed the trace of a faint accent. It was so cute. Oh, God, I'm in trouble here. Why do I insist on digging my own grave? "Oh, so I guess that means you don't want my sexy body?" She closed her eyes as the words left her mouth. Where the hell is that backspace key when you need it?  Hastily, she changed the subject, "So what are you up to. Did I interrupt anything?"

"Just watching the Movie Awards."

Damnit. I forgot she was going to be watching that. Stupid time difference. "I can let you get back to that," Julianne suggested.

"No!" Kris said quickly. "They're almost over."

Julianne was about to give away the ending, but snapped her mouth shut. How would you explain how you know that? I wonder if she saw me? She needed to find some kind of topic. "So how are your paintings coming along?"

"Oh I finished one yesterday, actually. Hey, do you like angels by any chance."

Julianne froze at the question. Is some kind of code? Does she know? "What makes you wonder if I like angels?"

"Your screen name."

Duh. "Oh, right. Yeah, um. I like angels." Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Dork. "Why?"

Kris hesitated a moment. When she spoke, she sounded embarrassed. "I painted something for you," she admitted. "I want to send it to you but I don't have your address."

She painted something for me? "That's so sweet. No one's ever painted anything for me before. Then again, I don't have any other friends that are artists. Although, even if I did I doubt they'd go out of their way to paint something for ..." I'm babbling and I can't stop. "....me." She smacked her forehead several times. "Hi," she added lamely. I need to be shot.

Kris laughed, a sound that was rapidly becoming one of Julianne's favorite sounds. "Do you generally babble so much?"

"Only when I'm nervous," Julianne found herself admitting. "Then I become Super Dork." Yes, good. Scare her off right from the beginning.

Kris laughed again. "And what are your special powers?"

"I can go from zero to sixty words a second," Julianne explained, with mock pride.

"Impressive."

"I'll send you my autograph."

"Great! I'm sure it will be worth millions some day."

Julianne froze. Damnit. Say something witty!! "Do you like cheese?" she blurted. Oh. My. God.

"I don't know," Kris responded. "Is this something that's very important to you? Very dear to your heart? I wouldn't want to offend you on our first phone conversation."

Julianne settled against the pillows on her bed, and turned off the TV. Damn those 'Behold the Power of Cheese' commercials. "I'm afraid I won't be able to proceed with this friendship until you've answered the question."

"I see," Kris replied, obviously playing along. "In that case, I must admit that I am not a big fan of cheese. On crackers, maybe. Cheese sandwiches are good."

"You are the weakest link. Goo-bye."

Kris was laughing. "I hate that show."

"Regis?"

"Nope."

"Alex?"

"Yes! I love Jeopardy."

Julianne smiled. "Then I guess we can be friends. Wheel of Fortune?"

"Of course. But I suck at it. The Price Is Right?"

"Oooh, I totally suck at that one. You know I can never guess any prices right? I always think they're cheaper or more expensive than they actually are."

Kris seemed to consider. "Does that mean that if I send you an eraser for Christmas, you'll think it was a really expensive gift?"

"I'd probably try to exchange it for a Ferrari." Julianne found herself grinning at the sound of Kris's laughter. I could listen to her voice forever. She decided not to dwell on that thought for very long, or else she'd start to panic.

*          *            *

Kris couldn't remember the last time she'd had this much fun talking on the phone. And with a total stranger, no less. Weird. She'd been so nervous about the entire idea, but for the life of her, she couldn't remember why. She's so ...  So what? ... Easy to talk to ...

All that talking had made her thirsty, so she ventured out of her room in search of hydration. Leigh was still on the couch, per usual. She glanced up as Kris passed by. A reddish brow rose at the fact that Kris was still on the phone. She thought it best not to comment. Kris had already kicked her ass once that night, no need for an encore performance.

"So what happened with Nathan?" Julia was asking.

Kris paused mid-step to the kitchen. "Nathan? Just what I said in the email. We got into a fight. He left."

So much for not commenting. Leigh muted the television. "Did you tell her he hit you?" she demanded.

Kris glared at Leigh and made all kind of "shut the hell up" motions, none of which deterred Leigh.

On the phone, Kris heard, "What was that?"

"Nothing," she told Julia. "Leigh is just being stupid again." She cast a meaningful glance in Leigh's direction. Which was easily accomplished, seeing as Leigh was now standing directly in front of her.

Without warning, Leigh grabbed the receiver, and turned her back to Kris. "Nathan hit her. Smacked her in the face and then left." She passed the phone back to Kris, and frowned. "Don't look at me like that. It's not healthy for you to protect him." She turned on her heel and returned to her throne.

Kris sighed.

"He what?!" Julia actually sounded pissed.

Leigh will die. "We both lost our tempers," she explained. "It's not something he was in the habit of doing, or anything. It was just a bad situation."

"Are you okay?"

Kris found herself smiling. She's so sweet. "Yeah, I'm fine. No permanent damage done. I'm just glad it's over." She searched the contents of her refrigerator at the same time as she searched the contents of her mind for something to say. Finally, she decided on some grape juice. But she still needed to change the subject. "So, tell me what it's like working on a film set."

Julia seemed to hesitate. "What do you want to know," she asked finally.

"Anything," Kris replied. "What's your usual day like."

Again there was that weird pause. Kris frowned slightly as she returned to her room, glass of juice in hand. What are you hiding, Julia?

"Well, I arrive at the set," Julia began. "And then I go through the whole ordeal of make-up‹"

Kris brightened. "So you're in the movie?"

Again with the pausing. "Yeah, sort of. It's a really small part. Like an extra."

"That's so cool! What's it called? When does it come out?" Kris was so excited that she knocked some juice onto her shirt. Damnit. She tried to wipe it away but it was going to leave a stain. Good thing it was an old shirt.

"It's called .. uh," Julia paused. "It's called Summer's Diary."

"That sounds interesting," Kris said, making herself comfortable in bed. "What's it about?"

"It's about, um, this girl named Summer. And she has this diary. And these robots steal it. So she has to get it back."

Must be one of those really weird indie films, Kris decided. "And what's your part?"

"I'm one of the aliens in the background. You know, like, in a crowd."

"Aliens?"

Pause. "Yeah. Alien ... robots. Alien robots."

Kris considered. Alien robots could be cool ... "So, why do they want Summer's diary?" Maybe there was some kind of twisted plot. She liked those. Like the kind on Mystery Science Theater 3000. That was a good show. But she hoped Julia's film wouldn't end up on it. Never mind that the show was over.

"Well ...Summer has this whole like equipment thing for communicating with space. And somehow she manages to understand all the alien signals. And she writes down all the conversations and stuff that she hears in the diary. But this one day, she over hears this top secret conversation between these two alien robots. And they get wind of it. So they go after her and steal her diary. But, you know, she wants it back cause she's got personal stuff in there ..."

"Like what boys she likes?" Kris asked, and smiled.

"Uh, yeah," Julia verified. "She's got this crush on this guy named Bobby Taylor and has all sorts of embarrassing stories."

Kris started laughing. "That sounds like a horrible movie."

Julia laughed too. "It is. It's the worst movie ever."

"Can't wait to see it," Kris replied. And she really couldn't. She'd probably add it to her list of favorites just because Julia was in it. She glanced quickly at the time and gasped slightly in surprise. They'd been on the phone for two hours. "This call is going to cost you a fortune."

"Ah, that doesn't matter."

"I really hope you're not planning on getting rich through Summer's Diary," she teased.

Julia started laughing. "Not nice!"

"Maybe I can send you those $15,000. I think you're going to need them if you make a habit of placing long-distance calls all the time." And the silence returned. Weird. Every time I mention her job or money she gets all uncomfortable. I really hope she's not a drug dealer or something.

"I'm pretty sure I can manage," Julia finally responded. "Besides, you deserve that money. Your paintings are beautiful."

Kris blushed slightly. "Thanks. I'll start on that collection you wanted tomorrow."

"No pressure," Julia replied. "Take your time ... but hurry up."

She smiled, suddenly at a loss for words.

"I should probably let you go," Julia said suddenly, and Kris found herself feeling ... disappointed? "It's late over there."

Kris was about to argue that midnight wasn't late at all, but then she realized that Julia was probably just looking for a nice way of getting off the phone. "Alright. Oh, about your address..."

"I'll email it to you," Julia responded. "I love surprises."

Kris smiled again. She'd been smiling so much that her jaw was beginning to hurt. "I'm glad you called."

"Are you?"

Kris's smile got even wider at the question. Julia sounded so ... Cute? That can't be right. "Yes, I am. Maybe next time I'll call you."

"Deal." There was a slight pause, followed by, "Well, good night."

"Good night," Kris answered. And she waited a few moments for the click at the other end. She frowned slightly when she didn't hear it. "Still there?"

"Huh? Oh. Sorry." Julia laughed nervously. "I'm going now. Uh, bye."

Kris grinned as the phone went dead. She stared at the receiver for a moment. Okay, maybe cute is the word...

*          *            *

"I am the biggest dork ever," Julianne cried, banging her head against the arm of the couch.

"I could've told you that," Adrian responded absently, his attention on the computer screen of his laptop. He'd been staring at the thing since he'd arrived, much to Julianne's dismay. She was ready to throw the thing out the window. She could always buy him a new one later.

Julianne glanced at him. "Aren't best friends supposed to be supportive? Shouldn't you be comforting me instead of insulting me?"

"Girl and gay male best friends do that sort of thing," Adrian informed her. "My job is strictly to insult you and encourage you to get laid."

"Well could you pretend to be gay for a sec?"

Adrian glanced up and grinned, developing a sudden lisp. "Why of course sweetheart." He batted his eyelashes. "Darling shirt you're wearing. What color is that? Taupe?"

"Very cute, Big Gay Adrian. I need your help."

He groaned.

"I want you to make a movie for me about alien robots and I need you to make me an extra."

Adrian blinked. "Say what?"

"Adrian," she whined, banging her head again. "I am a dumbass."

"Uh-huh."

"I told her I was an extra in this movie called Summer's Diary about these alien robots that steal this girl's diary because she knows how to speak Alienish and so she's got to get it back so they don't find out about the huge crush she's got on Bobby Taylor." She took a breath after finishing her little verbal marathon.

Adrian stared at her silently.

Then he started laughing hysterically.

Julianne let out a groan and slumped down in the couch.

He wiped away invisible tears and got his laughing under control. "That's what you came up with? And you dare make fun of my apple movie?"

She nodded lamely, covering her face with her hands.

"And you ... want to film this?"

"Well, I need proof!"

"You have lost your mind," Adrian stated. He shook his head and returned his attention to the computer.

Julianne stared at him. He looked so entertained. "What are you doing?" she demanded, impatiently.

Adrian snickered. "I made the greatest discovery today."

"Internet porn?" Julianne guessed.

"Better," he answered, an evil glint in his eyes. "Guardian fan fiction."

Julianne rolled her eyes. "You don't even like the show, why would you care about the fan stories?" Sometimes, he just made no sense at all.

Adrian stared at her. "You've never actually read any of these have you?"

"No, but I get the basic gist," she said, a bit defensively. "They make up their own episodes and stuff. How thrilling."

Adrian cleared his throat, and turned back to the story he was reading. He began reading out loud. "'And Kiara slowly slipped off the remainder of her robe, leaving her naked. Her large, glistening breasts‹"

"What?!" Julianne closed the space between them and started reading over his shoulder. "What the hell is that?"

"Fan fiction," Adrian replied innocently. "I've found so many interesting things about you. Do you really have a tattoo of Buddy Jesus on your butt?"

Julianne was outraged. "A tattoo? They wrote Kiara with a tattoo? She's an angel!"

Adrian nodded. "A horny one apparently."

Julianne grabbed the laptop and started reading, her face contorting in different expressions as she read. "This is just disgusting."

Adrian was beyond amused. "So, do you really get multiple orgasms?"

She glared at him. "I wouldn't know."

Adrian snorted in reply. "Riiiight." He winked and gave her a little nudge with his elbow.

Julianne stared at him blankly. Then she frowned as comprehension cleared through her foggy consciousness. "I am not discussing that with you."

"Oh, so you do?" Adrian asked curiously. He turned around in the couch so he was facing her directly. "You can tell me. We're both adults here."

Julianne ignored him turning back to the screen. She started looking through the other stories listed. "So, is it all like this? Sex stuff?"

"Just the interesting ones." He studied her quietly for a moment. "There's some lesbian ones, if you're interested."

She glanced up at once. "Say what?"

"Some people seem to think Kiara makes a good lesbian lover." He shrugged, and smiled. "She's a very naughty angel."

Julianne returned the computer to its owner. "It scares me that this is how you spend your free time."

Adrian's face brightened and he started laughing. "Oh, I'm so going to write one!"

"No you're not," Julianne insisted. He wouldn't do that ... would he? Oh God.

 

Adrian tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Let's see, who can Kiara have sex with. Ooh, a sexy little artist in New York, perhaps?"

"You're a sick, twisted individual."

"Thanks," Adrian replied, a devious and definitely scary smile playing at the corner of his lips. Julianne could almost imagine the horns protruding from his skull. He put the computer aside. "So, besides making up a ridiculous movie plot, what did you and Kris talk about?"

What did we talk about? Julianne wondered, all thoughts of kinky fan fiction dissipating into nothingness. "What didn't we talk about," she replied. "I thought it would be weird and awkward, talking to her on the phone.  And I guess I was a bit nervous at first, but she's just so easy to talk to. We were joking around like we'd known each other forever."

Adrian nodded, pretending to consider long and hard what he was about to say next. "And how does that make you feel?"

Julianne narrowed her eyes. "Is that your new favorite question?"

"Well, you've never really answered it," Adrian replied, shrugging slightly. "Tell me how you really feel, and I'll quit being a prick about it."

How I feel? He makes it sound like a simple request. "I don't know what I feel, Adrian," she told him. "There's a part of me that's all giddy and happy. I mean, you're basically the only person I even talk to. It's nice having someone else ...  But then, there's my conscience ringing warning bells in my brain at all times. I don't want to lie to her," she added softly.

"You've gotten yourself into quite the quicksand predicament," Adrian said, shaking his head. "It's only going to get worse if you keep lying to her."

"But I can't tell her the truth," Julianne argued. "Everything will change ...She won't see me the same."

"Then maybe you'll just have to show that you're the same," Adrian suggested.

Julianne's brows furrowed. "Like how?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I am not Mr. Know-It-All. I just give random suggestions and pray you make sense of them. Just do some kind of integration thing."

Integration? Ugh. This women thing is too complicated. I had the right idea staying single all those years. She frowned slightly. Not that I'm not single now ... She decided to give this some more thought later. Much later. "You're not really going to write Guardian fan fiction, are you?"

Adrian simply grinned.

My life couldn't possibly get any worse...

 

nineteen


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