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 firstname.lastname@example.org
"Kris, come on!" Leigh called, pounding on the door between words. "She's going to be here any second and I'm not even showered yet."
Kris opened the door just as Leigh delivered another hard knock to what was supposed to be the door. "Owwww! Geez!" Kris cried, grabbing her nose as the pain registered.
"Serves you right. Did you leave me any hot water," Leigh wondered, stepping inside.
"What do you need hot water for?" Kris asked, rubbing her bruised appendage. "It's like 200 degrees in here."
A sudden buzzing noise interrupted the rest of the conversation.
"That's her. Shit. Tell her I'll be out in a second," Leigh said, and slammed the door closed.
Kris tightened the towel around her otherwise naked body and sighed. She walked toward the intercom. "Hello?"
"It's Julianne Franqui," came the response.
"Come on up," Kris replied. She looked around the apartment for a moment, making sure that it was presentable. Leigh had spent the entire morning cleaning everything. It didn't really make much of a difference though. Compared to Julianne's apartment, Kris' was a total dump.
The knock at the door a minute later interrupted her survey. She didn't have a chance to figure out what exactly bothered her about the comparison between Julianne's apartment and her own. It wasn't shame or jealousy. So maybe it was both.
"Hi," she said, opening the door for the actress. "Come in." She stepped aside to let Julianne in, and focused on keeping the towel closed. The last thing she needed was to give the actress a show. "I just stepped out of the shower," she said, by way of explanation. "Leigh will be right out."
Julianne smiled slightly but didn't meet her gaze. In fact, she looked everywhere but at Kris. Maybe Julianne realized that she was doing that, because she finally forced her gaze to meet Kris'. "Thanks," she said. "Am I early?"
Kris shook her head and closed the door. "No, Leigh is just ... late," she answered, feeling extremely self-conscious. "Mind if I get dressed real quick?"
"Not at all."
"Make yourself at home," Kris instructed before returning to her bedroom. Once the door closed, she rushed to the closet to pick out an outfit. Anthony would be there soon and she wanted to make sure she looked decent enough. Only, every time she considered something, she found herself wondering what Julianne would think of it. In the end, she decided she didn't care what anyone thought, and settled on jeans and a tee shirt.
Satisfied with the image in her reflection, she ventured out into the living room, where she found Julianne sitting patiently on the couch. "Leigh hasn't come out?" she asked, sitting down beside the actress.
"She came out," Julianne replied. "Then went back in."
Kris smiled. "It might be a few minutes. She has difficulty in the deciding-what-to-wear department."
"It's a common malady," Julianne replied amiably. "So what are you doing today? Hanging out?"
Kris shrugged. "For a bit. Anthony's coming over. We'll probably go out."
"Oh. Sounds like fun," Julianne replied.
Kris caught the strange look that passed across the actress' features, momentarily darkening her usually impassive expression. It was a flash; a flicker of the eyes. But it made Kris wonder.
It made Kris wonder if she'd imagined it.
* * *
Julianne was not looking forward to Anthony's arrival. In fact, she was downright dreading it. She'd often wondered what he looked like. What he sounded like. How he treated Kris. Now that she was so close to finding out, she wanted nothing else than to run away; hide away from the wave of jealousy that would inevitably follow.
For the moment, Julianne focused on Kris, and the way that Kris's wet hair framed her face so perfectly. And the way that Kris' lips formed the words she was speaking; their sound followed by their meaning.
What she tried not to focus on was the fact that her heart beat faster whenever Kris' eyes met her gaze. She tried not to think about Kris answering the door in a towel. She'd think about that later.
"Would you like anything to drink?" Kris asked. "I know that last time this posed a bit of a challenge, but I assure you that since your last visit I've packed the fridge up with delectable goodies."
Julianne had to smile. She liked the way Kris said the word "delectable." But she attributed that to the fact that she was slowly becoming pathetic. Or was she there already? She decided not to focus on that either. "Oh really?"
Kris nodded confidently. "Test me."
"I'd like a glass of soy milk, please."
"Chocolate or vanilla?"
Julianne's smile widened, though her eyes narrowed slightly. "Chocolate," she answered, wondering if Kris really did have soy milk.
"Coming right up," Kris said, rising at once to retrieve the drink.
Julianne watched her gracious hostess walk over to the kitchen and open the fridge. She decided to turn around before Kris caught her staring.
A moment later, Kris returned and handed Julianne a can of Pepsi. "Chocolate soy milk," she said. "Anything else?"
Julianne stared at the can of soda in her hand and grinned. "And here I thought you were bluffing."
Kris shook her head. "You should never doubt me." She smiled.
Julianne smiled back and found herself lost in beautiful hazel eyes.
"Sorry!" Leigh yelled, running out of her room like a madwoman on a rampage. She half stumbled, and nearly tripped on the way, but managed to somehow regain balance. "I didn't mean to keep you waiting," she added, once she'd managed a relatively safe arrival.
Julianne tore her gaze from Kris' at once, and looked up at Leigh. "It's no problem."
Leigh glanced back and forth between Julianne and Kris for a moment. "Did I interrupt something?" she thought to ask, sitting across from them on the coffee table.
"Nope," Kris answered at once. She glanced at her watch, then back up at Leigh. "Mind if I watch you guys rehearse?"
Leigh waited for Julianne to shake her head before she gave her own answer. "Of course not," she said. "You can be our own personal movie critic." She rose as she spoke the last word and turned her attention to Julianne. "Where should we start?"
"That scene we're filming next week might be a good idea," Julianne suggested. "Do you have it memorized?"
Leigh answered by tapping her finger against her temple. "It's all up here," she added, in case the gesture wasn't enough.
Julianne suddenly felt awkward. She'd never really done this rehearsing thing before. Acting had always been a solo mission for her. Even when she was around other people, she was never conscious of them. Now, however, all she could think about was the fact that Kris was going to be watching her.
Resigned, Julianne stood up and helped Leigh move the table so they had room. It wasn't much room, but it was more than they'd had before.
Julianne wracked her brain for the first line of the scene. She couldn't remember if it was hers or Leigh's.
Leigh solved the problem by starting. "Did you forget something?"
The lines rushed back to Julianne's slightly distracted memory and she was able to continue without missing a beat. "Why are you sitting here in the dark?"
Julianne paused before continuing. "I didn't think anyone would still be up."
"You probably weren't thinking much of anything at all." Leigh's voice remained calm, though it was tinged with an accusatory edge. "Ió"
A sudden buzzing noise interrupted Leigh's line.
Julianne turned her attention to Kris, who was on her feet and almost near the intercom. A male voice answered Kris's default greeting of, "Hello?"
Julianne's stomache churned, knowing that the "me" who responded was Anthony. Soon he would appear at the doorway. Soon she would know who he was. Somewhere in the wake of the now silent intercom and the knock at the door, Julianne held her breath.
"It's just her boyfriend," Leigh explained a second later. "Do you mind if he watches for a little while?"
Julianne shook her head, even though she hadn't heard the question. Her gaze studied the way that Kris turned the knob on the door. She concentrated on the widening crack between the doorframe and the opening door. Kris's back blocked most of Julianne's view, until a moment later when the door fully opened and a tall guy rushed forward to envelop Kris in a hug.
Then he kissed her.
And Julianne instantly looked away.
"Are you okay?" Leigh asked, approaching the actress with concern.
Thankful for a distraction, Julianne looked at Leigh. "I'm fine," she answered. Something inside her hardened, then turned icy cold. Somewhere inside her, something died. "Let's take it from your next line."
Leigh nodded, and started the line again.
Julianne was vaguely aware of movement in the corner of her eye. She registered the fact that Kris and Anthony sat down on the couch to watch. But she didn't look at them. She concentrated on Leigh's voice and their empty exchange of dialogue.
Half an hour later, Kris and Anthony announced their departure. Julianne forced herself to glance over. But all she caught was a retreating back and a sudden flash of hazel that sent a jolt of remorse through her body.
The front door slammed shut.
"I can't believe Julianne Franqui was just in your apartment," Anthony commented the moment they stepped ouside of the buidling.
Kris couldn't believe that she'd questioned Julianne's acting abilities. There was something amazing about the way that Julianne performed. Every feature, every gesture was so uncharacteristic of the actress - at least in Kris's experience - that she couldn't help but be enthralled. "She's really good," Kris found herself saying for not particular reason, exept she was thinking it and it was true.
"And hot," Anthony added.
Kris smiled, her gaze on the city that surrounded her. The noise, the traffic, the underlying layers of beauty that had to be peeled away to be found. Anthony's comment registered in her brain, and she found herself not caring if he thought Julianne was beautiful; it wasn't a lie. "She's gorgeous," she agreed.
"So are you," Anthony responded, taking her hand in his.
Kris smiled at the comment, but didn't say anything. She didn't care if he thought her beautiful. Did he think her talented, intelligent, interesting? Beauty was a shifting shadow; a figment of perception. It had no defining value, no permanence. She didn't want to be thought beautiful ... she wanted to be thought ... "Thanks," she said finally, her thought left unfinished.
"So, what do you want to do for your birthday tomorrow?" Anthony asked, used to the task of breaking the lulls in their conversation.
Kris had never minded silence. Her gaze rose to meet with that of her boyfriend's. Her boyfriend. It felt strange calling Anthony that. No one besides Nathan had ever worn that title. "I'm going to stop by my parents' apartment. Then, my brother and his --" Kris hesitated "--friend want to take me to lunch."
"Do I get you for dinner?"
Kris nodded distractedly. "Anthony?"
Kris opened her mouth to tell him, but she couldn't form the words: My brother is gay. She feared his reaction. "I went to a lesbian bar the other night," she said instead.
Anthony looked down at her, a brow arched in question. "Why?"
"Resarch, for Leigh's movie," she answered.
Kris caught the way he rolled her eyes. "They didn't let me in though. I stayed outside and then Julianne showed."
"Did anyone hit on you?"
Kris had to smile. "I was sitting beside Julianne Franqui. Who'd hit on me?"
"I would," Anthony answered easily.
Anthony nodded, tightening his grip on her hand. "She's got nothing on you."
The way he said it, it was almost convincing. But it didn't matter. She didn't feel like competing with the actress on such a superficial matter. In fact, there was something almost nonthreatening about the actress. Ironic, given the actress' intimidating persona. "I promised I'd go out with Leigh tomorrow night," she said, suddenly remembering.
"Can I come? Or is it a girls' night out?"
Kris appreciated Anthony's easy going manner. She wondered what it would take to piss him off. "You can be one of the girls."
"I don't look good in drag," Anthony answered.
She searched his tone for a sign of defensiveness. She didn't find any. "I don't know about that, you've got great legs."
Anthony laughed. "Good genes and lots of soccer." He paused to look around. "Where do you want to go?"
"Surprise me," Kris said, feeling adventurous.
Kris shrugged, but nodded. "Sure," sha answered, slightly disappointed. A trip to the museum was hardly a surprise. Then decided it didn't matter. How adventurous could one be in the place she'd lived her entire life?
* * * *
Julianne looked around Leigh's bedroom, wondering why she'd agreed to stay longer. Wondering what she was waiting for and knowing the answer all too well.
"It's times like these I wish I'd recorded every episode of Guardian and had posters of you all over the place," Leigh joked, leaning back against the side of her small desk.
Julianne was thankful that there were more interesting things to look at than pictures of herself. The walls were painted a shade of blue that bordered on electric. It matched Leigh's personality, Julianne felt. It was a small room and Julianne was ashamed to think that her initial reaction to it had been a flashback to her walk-in closet back home.
Shaking her head, Julianne focused on the decorations. She was mildly surprised to see a few of Kris's paintings framed along the walls. There was one that didn't look like Kris's work -- namely because it was pretty horrid -- but was framed all the same.
"That one's mine," Leigh explained, following Julianne's gaze. "It's my constant reminder not to veer away from acting. Clearly, I was not born with many talents."
Julianne smiled. "What about the others?"
"You mean the ones that don't suck?" Leigh guessed. "Kris," she answered simply. "I like to collect her work so that when she's famous I can say I've been a fan all along. Plus, you know, they're beautiful."
"Looks like this is a very talented household."
"Thanks," Leigh answered, looking both pleased and embarrassed. "I still haven't figured out what to get her for her birthday."
"When is it?" Julianne asked, playing along. The fact that she still hadn't gotten anything either loomed vividly in her mind. She still wasn't sure how to sign the card. Julianne? Julia? Both? No name .. no card ...?
"Tomorrow," Leigh answered. "I'm a bit behind, huh?"
The actress shrugged. "Sometimes it takes a while to find the perfect gift."
"True," Leigh agreed. Suddenly, she brightened. "Hey, do you wanna go out with us tomorrow night?"
Julianne started to say no, but got interrupted.
"Oh, c'mon," Leigh insisted. "It'll be fun! Do you have plans or something?"
Moping came to mind. "Not really," she admitted.
"Then?" Leigh persisted.
Julianne looked up at Leigh's pleading face and relented. "Okay," she said, wondering what possessed her to keep digging her own grave.
And knowing the answer all too well.
Julianne awoke to hammering in the distance. Her eyes opened slowly, attempting to bring into focus the haziness of her surroundings. The time of day lay shrouded in mystery until her vision cleared: 9:30am.
Her gaze unwittingly landed on the framed portraits along the wall. Julianne found it fascinating to think that every shape, every color, was a mere breath of life from Kris's hands. Instantly, she wondered what Kris looked like while she painted. It led her to wonder whether she would ever find out.
From the paintings, her gaze drifted to the window. The sky was gray, or maybe that was just the way New York City looked at nine in the morning. Julianne had never thought to notice before. There was something about the City that made Julianne feel lonely; alienated from a world that sought to embrace her. New York made her wish for something beyond the silence of an empty apartment. Perhaps it was the close proximity to hope that led her to desire things she'd never thought necessary.
Or lack thereof, she thought, turning her head to face the ceiling. Her mind drifted back to her conversation with Karen, which led unavoidably to thoughts of Naomi Mosier. The director was beautiful, Julianne had to admit. And she couldn't deny the small flutter of excitement that knowing another woman was interested in her brought.
She sighed, knowing that Adrian would tell her to go for it. Or at least not stop it from happening. But could she do that? What is unfair to use one to replace the other? Did it matter when there was nothing to replace? Naomi was an open door ... Kris was a brick wall with no obvious opening.
Julianne smiled, thinking of Harry Potter and the secret brick combination that led to Diagon Alley. Rolling her eyes, she focused again on the paintings.
After tonight, Kris would know the truth; Julianne vowed to tell her. It was the only birthday present that wouldn't be a lie.
The actress shut her eyes and willed her mind to follow. It was far too early for reality.
Hours later, Julianne stared critically at the reflection of herself in the elevator doors. There was poor lighting and a large dent from what looked like an angry fist distorting the image.
The dent momentarily distracted the actress from her self-evaluation. It made her wonder what could possibly elicit such a violent action. Love? It seemed like the perfect cover for something far uglier. Nathan hitting Kris couldn't have stemmed from love.
Her blue eyes darkened at the memory. She'd find a way to make Nathan pay. And it would be far more painful than a punch to the face.
The thought comforted her enough to turn her point-of-interest back to her reflection. It had taken her hours to decide on jeans and a white sleeveless tee. As an afterthought, she'd opted for a leather jacket as well. Just in case they were headed to the North Pole for dinner.
She shook her head and nervously cast her gaze upward, toward the numbers atop the elevator doors. The first two numbers were missing and the rest refused to light up. Julianne had no idea what floor she was on. She just hoped it would stop at the correct one.
Finally, the doors painfully opened. She tried desperately to ignore the pain in her stomach that accompanied the anticipation of seeing Kris.
Making sure that the birthday card she'd picked up was still inside her jacket pocket, she headed toward the apartment door. In spite of finding it open, she felt the need to knock.
"Julianne?" Leigh called from somewhere in the apartment.
Stepping inside, Julianne called back, "Yeah."
Leigh appeared a moment later, wearing a silk bathrobe and a pink towel around her head. "Oh, my God, is that Prada?"
Julianne was caught off-guard by the question. Reflexively, she glanced behind her. Then realized that Leigh was referring to her jacket. "I think so," she answered, feeling embarrassed. So much for dressing casually.
"I was looking at a cheap knock-off of that same exact jacket," Leigh announced. "'Course, I couldn't afford that either." She laughed. "Wanna help me decide what to wear?"
Julianne was grateful that Leigh never remained on one topic of conversation for very long. "I'm not much of a fashion expert," the actress admitted. In fact, she'd had to call Karen earlier to ask what outfit she should wear. Always the helpful one, Karen had responded with, "You look hot in everything."
Perhaps it was time to invest in a male gay friend.
"Then you can keep me company," Leigh suggested. "I called Jeremy and he might accidentally bump into us there. So I've got to dress to impress tonight."
Julianne didn't bother asking where "there" was. She could already tell that this had been a mistake. They hadn't gone anywhere yet and Julianne already felt like a fifth wheel. Unconsciously, she glanced toward Kris's bedroom and noticed that the door was open and the lights were out.
"She's out with her brother and his boyfriend," Leigh explained. "She'll be back soon."
The doorbell buzzed before Julianne had a chance to comment.
"Anthony," Leigh guessed, walking toward the intercom. She pressed the button, and spoke into the speaker. "Go away, we don't want any."
A male voice laughed. "You sure? I've got some great deals on watches and hair products."
Julianne rolled her eyes.
"Fine," Leigh acquiesced, after two seconds of mock consideration. "Come on up." She opened the door and turned back to Julianne. "I'm gonna go change. You two can entertain each other."
The evening had just gone from bad to worse. "Sure," she
found herself saying. Why not? It made sense that she would get stuck all alone
with the boyfriend of the woman she was in love with. I
must have been a politician in another life, Julianny decided.
Leigh started toward her room but stopped and turned around suddenly. "Oh, listen, whatever you do, don't tell Anthony that Kris's brother is gay."
"Okay," Julianne agreed, though she felt like welcoming Anthony into the apartment with that particular announcement. Too bad she wouldn't actually go through with it.
Anthony didn't bother knocking on the half open door and just walked right in. It took him a moment to notice Julianne, but when he did, he actually looked surprised. "Hi," he greeted, his gaze shifting from Julianne to Kris's bedroom.
"Hello," Julianne replied civilly. "Kris is out with her brother."
"Yeah, I know," Anthony replied, holding up his cell phone. "Just got off the phone with her. She'll be here soon."
Julianne felt like whipping out her own cell phone. She wasn't sure why. There's something about jealousy that makes one do stupid things.
"I didn't know that you and Kris were such good friends," Anthony commented.
Julianne wasn't sure how to reply to that. She guessed that he was alluding to the fact that she was going out with them, and said, "Leigh invited me." Suddenly she felt awkward. What would Kris think of her tagging along? Didn't Julianne Franqui have better things to do? What was she trying to prove, anyway?
"Well, I think it's cool of you to come," he answered. There was a sudden lull in the conversation that Anthony immediately filled, "So, do you enjoy acting?"
"Yes," Julianne answered. What else was there to say? She leaned against the back of the couch and crossed her arms. She figured conversing with Anthony would be a test in will-power. She couldn't figure out what Kris saw in him. He was okay looking, but nothing out of the ordinary. Kris could do better. Much, much better. "What do you do?"
Anthony shrugged. "At the moment I work at a flower shop," he answered. "I know it sounds kind of gay, but it pays decent and it's easy enough."
Loser. "Interesting," she commented instead.
"But I'm putting myself through college," he added, his chest puffing up slightly at the announcement. "I'm really an artist."
That's right. Julianne suddenly remembered what Kris saw in him. She wondered if he was any good. "Must be nice dating someone who is also an artist."
Anthony nodded. "Yeah, Kris is really great. I started talking to her because I was impressed with some of her work; truly breathtaking."
Julianne nodded, not knowing what else to say.
Luckily, she didn't have to come up with anyhing. Kris chose that moment to enter the apartment. She carried a bunch of shopping bags with her. "Sorry I'm late," she said to Anthony. Then her gaze fell on Julianne. "Oh, hi," she said.
"Hi," Julianne replied. "Happy birthday," she added lamely.
Kris smiled. "Thanks." She held up the bags. "William and Mark went crazy buying me stuff." She laughed.
Anthony stepped over to give Kris a kiss.
Julianne entertained herself by staring down at the carpet. When she heard Anthony's voice again, she looked up.
"Who's this Mark?" Anthony asked casually, though his tone revealed an underlying layer of concern and jealousy.
Julianne almost smirked.
"William's friend," Kris answered simply. She glanced at Julianne quickly before saying, "I'm gonna put on one of my new outfits and then we can head out. Okay?"
Kris started toward her room. "Leigh's still getting dressed?" she asked as she passed Julianne.
"Oh, you're home," Leigh said, stepping out of her bedroom almost on cue. "Have fun?"
Kris nodded. "Awesome time," she answered. "I'm gonna go change and I'll be right out." She disappeared into her room and shut the door.
Leigh turned to Julianne. "What do you think?" she asked, referring to the outfit she was wearing.
Julianne thought she looked fine. "Very nice," she said.
"You're a girl, you don't count," Leigh commented, turning to Anthony. "Well?"
"I'd do you," Anthony responded, winking.
Leigh smiled. "Thanks, Tony." She glanced at Julianne. "See? That's what you should've said."
Julianne laughed, wondering what Leigh would've said if she had indeed answered that way.
"Which purse?" Leigh asked, holding up about four different ones. She stared expectantly at Julianne.
The actress wished she had her fashion designer with her. "Um, the black one," she suggested.
"Good, I'm glad you think so too." Leigh tossed the other purses into the bedroom and posed. "How do I look now?"
"Good," Julianne answered.
Leigh shook her head and glanced at Anthony. "Tone?"
"I'd still do you."
Leigh glared pointedly at Julianne.
"I'd do you too," Julianne finally said.
"Excellent," Leigh answered, beaming. "Let's hope Jereó"
Kris opened the door to her bedroom and shut the light before stepping outside. "Ready," she called, interrupting Leigh mid-sentence.
Julianne glanced over at Kris and felt the blood in her body rush toward a very specific spot. She blinked.
"Mark picked it out," Kris said, by way of explanation. She appeared slightly embarrassed.
Oh. My. God. Julianne's gaze travelled from the high-heeled leather boots to the tight leather pants and up to the black tank top. She managed to close her mouth before anyone noticed, then forced her gaze away.
Anthony was positively drooling.
Julianne felt a pang of envy shoot through her body and her jaw tightened. She kept her eyes focused on the kitchen counter so she wouldn't be tempted to look at Kris.
"Tell Mark to take me shopping next time!" Leigh said, nodding in approval. "Is the birthday girl ready to party?"
Kris nodded. "Let's go."
Julianne sighed and followed the group out of the apartment. It was going to be a very long night.
Kris was having a hard time keeping her gaze off of Julianne. Something about those deep blue eyes kept calling her back. For most of the evening, Kris had been trying to figure out why Julianne had agreed to come. Had she and Leigh become such good friends? Or did Julianne Franqui have nothing better to do?
Unable to come up with an answer, Kris cast a glance around the small table, which stood laden with empty beer bottles and shot glasses. Leigh, Jeremy and Anthony had claimed most of the alcohol, while Kris was still nursing her first legally purchased Corona. Julianne, on the other hand, had opted for a virgin piÒa colada. Kris wasn't sure what to make of that order. Did Julianne not drink at all?
Kris wished she had the guts to ask Julianne some questions. For some bizarre reason, she was intrigued. Or perhaps it wasn't bizarre at all. Julianne Franqui was a Hollywood star after all; it was natural to be curious. And yet, all Kris could do was grab the slightly warm Corona and take another sip.
Inadvertently, her gaze travelled across the table and landed on Julianne's flawless face. The actress was watching the latest karaoke victim on stage, which gave Kris ample opportunity to study the pensive features on Julianne's face. But instead of taking advantage of the situation, Kris chose to look over at Anthony.
Her boyfriend was being unusually quiet, probably due in part to all of the alcohol he'd consumed. Amazingly enough, he didn't appear particularly drunk; just ... quiet. She was about to say something to him, when his cell phone went off.
"Yeah?" he answered, sticking a finger in his unoccupied ear to block out the noise.
Kris watched the parade of features as they appeared on Anthony's face as she tried to decipher the nature of the call.
"Is he okay?" Anthony asked. "Then why do I have to go? It's Kris's birthday. Okay! Okay!" He snapped the cell phone shut and looked apologetically at Kris. "Sam sprained his ankle or something. Mom wants me to meet them at the hospital."
"Do you want me to come with you?" Kris asked automatically.
Anthony shook his head and rose. "Nah, you deserve better than to spend the rest of your birthday in the hospital. I'll call you tomorrow," he promised, leaning over to kiss her.
Kris kissed him back, but pulled away after a moment. "Okay," she agreed.
"I'm sorry," he whispered in her ear, then kissed her cheek before walking away.
"Well, that sucks," Leigh commented, once Anthony had left. "Do you want to leave?"
"No," Kris answered. "Why should I?" She glanced quickly at Julianne to catch those intense blue eyes staring back at her. Kris instantly looked at Leigh.
Leigh glanced at Jeremy, then back at Kris. "Well, Jeremy was just telling me about this really cool club uptown."
"It's got neon lights everywhere," Jeremy added.
Kris guessed they were trying to imply a change in location. "Dance club?" she asked, not feeling much up to dancing.
"Well, you can also sit there," Leigh answered. "As you're doing now."
Kris shrugged. "I'm kind of digging the kareoke music," she said, thinking it was a good way of giving Leigh some alone time with Jeremy. "Why don't you two go ahead. Oh, and Julianne, if you want."
"But it's your birthday," Leigh argued. "I'm not leaving you alone."
Kris kept glancing over at Jeremy, trying to give Leigh some kind of signal that she understood. "Actually," she said, glancing at her watch, "it's after midnight, so you're free."
Leigh sighed. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," Kris answered. "After that shopping spree with Mark, I'm perfectly content to sit here and listen to bad music."
Julianne finally spoke up. "Actually, I think I'll hang here and listen to the bad music, too. It's kind of grown on me."
Kris bit her lip at the announcement. Julianne wanted to stay with her? Why?
Leigh didn't offer much complaint after that. "Okay, catch you guys later, then," she said. She paused long enough to ask Kris, "Did you have a good birthday?"
"The best," Kris assured her.
"Happy birthday," Jeremy said, then followed Leigh out of the bar.
Kris wasn't entirely sure what to do or say. Actually, she could think of a few things, she just didn't have the guts to say them. Not yet, anyway. She turned her attention to the man on stage, who was in the middle of singing an off-tune rendition of "Last Dance." At least it was a good song. She was so engrossed in the painful diplay before her that she didn't notice Julianne had moved closer. That is, until she felt soft breath on her ear.
"I didn't take you for a kareoke fan," Julianne commented.
Kris smiled. "I enjoy the occasional torture."
"Masochist," Julianne teased.
Kris turned, forcing the actress to sit back. "What's your excuse?"
The question appeared to catch the actress off-guard. Finally, she said, "I'm not much of a dancer," she said.
"Or drinker," Kris noted.
Julianne shrugged. "I like to keep focused." She grinned crookedly. "Though, I think they put some rum in this by mistake."
Kris arched a brow. "Can I see?"
Julianne handed the drink over, and waited patiently for Kris to sample it.
"Definitely not a virgin," Kris confirmed, handing it right back.
Julianne took a sip. "I feel naughty just drinking it."
Kris burst out laughing.
"What?" Julianne asked, innocently.
Kris shrugged, amused. "I just wasn't expecting you to say that." Not that she had any idea what she should expect. Her attention was suddenly drawn to the stage, where the previous performance ended. "Can you sing?" she found herself asking.
"Singing is not on my resume, if that's what you're asking," Julianne answered, glancing worriedly at the stage.
Kris grinned wickedly, wondering if the bottle of Corona was kicking in, or if she'd simply lost her mind. "I dare you," she said.
"Dare me to what?" Julianne asked, looking perplexed. Then her eyes registered meaning. "Up there?"
Kris nodded, figuring she had nothing to lose. "Yeah," she answered. "Sing .. um, 'Like A Virgin'."
Julianne cocked her head to the side, staring curiously at Kris. "And why do you want me to do this?"
"You're an actress, no?"
Julianne smiled, and stood up. "If this appears on tomorrow's news, I'm coming after you," she said, and started toward the stage.
Kris laughed, not believing her eyes. Was Julianne serious? Apparently so...
Julianne jumped on the small stage and grabbed the microphone as though she'd done it a thousand times before. The crowd suddenly felt silent.
Kris looked around, amazed at the fact that every eye in the room was suddenly on Julianne. She, too, then turned her attention to the actress on the stage, who appeared to have found the song she wanted.
"How are you folks doing tonight?" Julianne asked. Some people answered. Some people clapped. "My name is Julianne Franquió" She was interrupted by loud cheering. "And I'm going to sing you a little song. But, before I do, I'd like you all to wish my friend Kris over there a happy birthday. She just turned twenty-one today."
Kris sank down in her chair as all eyes suddenly turned toward her. She wanted to crawl under the table and stay there.
When the happy birthday cheering died down, Julianne continued. "Kris requested this song, and so here goes."
Thankful that the spotlight wasn't on her anymore, Kris sat up straighter. Her heart was hammering in her chest for reasons undecipherable to her. She felt elated and nervous and amazed all at once. For a long moment, everything felt surreal.
And then the song began. And the crowd began to cheer. And Kris found herself both unable to stop laughing and unable to keep her gaze off of the enigmatic woman on stage.
"I was beat incomplete
I'd been had, I was sad and blue
But you made me feel
Yeah, you made me feel
Shiny and new
Like a virgin
Touched for the very first time . . . "
Julianne took the microphone off the stand and jumped off stage without missing a beat. She began singing to a young couple nearby. Kris noticed that the guy's jaw was hanging slightly open, much to the annoyance of his female companion. The actress winked at the woman and moved on to a different table.
Kris couldn't stop grinning, and occasionally laughing. One moment the actress was completely silent and the next she was jumping around the bar, singing "Like A Virgin" as though her life depended on it. Kris had no idea what to make of it. And she was having too much fun to worry about it.
When Julianne got near enough, she took her leather jacket off in one swift motion and tossed it toward Kris. The artist caught it smoothly, her senses suddenly attuned to the pleasant mixture of leather and perfume.
"You're so fine and you're mine
Make me strong, yeah you make me bold
Oh your love thawed out
Yeah, your love thawed out
What was scared and cold . . ."
Kris's gaze caught Julianne's, and for an interminable moment, she forgot how to breathe.
Julianne suddenly forgot the words to the song she was singing and had to break eye contact with Kris in order to catch the lyrics on the machine. Luckily, she caught the next line before it disappeared off the screen. Making sure to keep her eyes away from Kris's face, she focused on the rest of the song.
"You're so fine and you're mine
I'll be yours 'till the end of time
'Cause you made me feel
Yeah, you made me feel
I've nothing to hide . . ."
Somehow she managed to reach the ending without any major catastrophes. She took a bow the moment everyone started clapping. Somehow the fact that she'd just sung in public didn't daunt her. Perhaps it was the rum. She really didn't like alcohol. It made her do dumb stuff like this. And she wasn't even buzzed. If she got drunk she was certain she'd do a striptease to "Human Nature."
Replacing the microphone, she then turned and headed back to the table. It occurred to her suddenly that she'd have to face Kris. That part did faze her, though she didn't slow her pace. Well, she did dare me.
"I thought you said singing wasn't on your resume?" Kris commented as soon as Julianne sat down.
Julianne smiled. "It was," she admitted. "But I took it off. Now it's just reserved for special occasions and random dares."
"Why'd you take it off?" Kris asked curiously.
Shrugging, Julianne said, "It's not something I love to do. And when I first started out, my agent told me that any little skill helped. So, I put that down."
Kris nodded, her attention suddenly distracted by the approaching waitress.
The waitress placed a new piÒa colada in front of Julianne. "From her," she said, motioning to a solitary figure sitting at the bar.
Surprised, Julianne turned and lifted her drink in appreciation. She nodded her head and turned back to Kris.
"Do women buy you drinks often?" Kris asked.
Julianne racked her memory and shrugged. "I'm sure it's happened before. People do strange things for me." She nearly winced as the words passed through her lips. Pretentious much?
But Kris simply nodded. She cast a glance over at the woman by the bar. "She's staring over here," she said, her gaze falling back on Julianne's face. "She probably wants you."
Nearly choking on her drink, Julianne stared at Kris. "Excuse me?"
"Does that sort of thing bother you?" Kris wondered. "I mean, women being interested in you?"
Julianne had no idea how to answer that question. "No. Why?"
Kris glanced at the woman again and smiled. "I dare you to go talk to her."
Kris grinned. "Just checking to see where you draw the line at dares," she answered.
Julianne narrowed her eyes, but grinned. "Sneaky." She glanced over her shoulder at the woman. She was average looking, but not particularly Julianne's type. She turned back to Kris and smiled. "Very well." She rose, and taking her drink, headed for the bar.
The woman froze the moment she spotted Julianne heading toward her.
Julianne took a seat at the stool next to her and smiled. She offered her hand. "Hi, I'm Julianne."
It took the woman a moment to regain her composure, but she shook Julianne's hand eagerly. "Marissa. Marissa Blare."
"Thank you for the drink," Julianne said.
Marissa's grin couldn't have been wider. "Oh you're welcome."
Julianne leaned forward to whisper in the woman's ear, who tensed at the gesture. "Okay, don't look over, but you know that girl I was sitting with?"
"It's her birthday today and she's acting a bit fiesty," Julianne announced, sitting back. "She sent me over here to talk to you ... so I don't know."
Marissa glanced over at Kris who was doing a horrible job of pretending she wasn't staring over. "She's beautiful."
Julianne tried her best to sound casual about that. "Why don't you go tell her that?" she suggested.
Marissa appeared to consider the offer, then finally said, "What's she having to drink?"
The actress grinned. "Corona."
Kris had no idea what Julianne was saying to the woman, but the way she was saying it made Kris more than a little confused. Was Julianne Franqui actually flirting with another woman? If so, what did that mean?
She tried to keep her gaze casual as she ventured another glance. Julianne was smiling brightly. What in the world could they be talking about? she wondered. The woman suddenly looked straight at her, forcing Kris to smile slightly. Then she shyly looked away. Busted. She focused on peeling the label off of her now empty Corona bottle.
"Looks like you're running low," a voice nearby commented.
Startled, Kris looked up to find the woman from the bar standing beside her. Confused, she glanced over at Julianne who was grinning from ear to ear and holding up her drink triumphantly. Kris's eyes narrowed slightly. Then softened when she realized the woman was still standing there.
An icy cold Corona was placed in front of her. "Didn't want you to go thirsty," the woman said.
Kris cleared her throat and sat up. "Uh, thank you," she said, not knowing what to make of the situation.
"My name's Marissa," the woman said, extending her hand forward.
Kris shook it quickly. "Kris," she said simply. She wished the woman would tell her why she'd walked over. The anticipation was making her sweat. She looked over at Julianne again and saw the actress engaged in vivid conversation with some guy. Annoyed, Kris turned back to Marissa.
"Julianne tells me it's your birthday," Marissa commented. "Are you having a good time?"
I was. Now I'm not sure what Iím having. "Yeah, great day," she said instead.
"Must be cool being friends with Julianne Franqui."
Were they friends? "She's really ... umm. ... " Kris glanced again at Julianne, and she had to stifle the impulse to say, "beautiful." Instead, she looked over at Marissa and said, "... something."
Marissa laughed. "She's something alright." She cleared her throat. "So, uh, do you want to go for a walk or something?"
"Excuse me?" Kris said, feeling entire body freeze.
Marissa tried again. "Well Julianne said that maybe you'd .. uh, be interested in .. ah..." She laughed nervously. "I'm not very good at this."
Kris's eyes narrowed to slits and she glanced sharply at Julianne Franqui. "Did she, now?" she asked, her hazel eyes locking with blue. Julianne grinned smugly and winked at her. Kris wondered what the going jail sentence for murdering actresses was lately. Turning back to the matter at hand, she smiled warmly at Marissa. "I'm actually kind of involved at the moment," she explained. "But, would you mind walking me out?"
Marissa looked surprised. "Uh, sure. No problem. I was heading out anyway."
"Thank you," Kris said, rising. "Let me just tell Julianne that I'm leaving."
Kris approached the actress and smiled. "Wow, Julianne, she's really cool," she said once she was within earshot.
The desired response was achieved. "Huh?"
Kris nodded. "She wants to show me her apartment uptown."
The look on Julianne Franqui's face was priceless. "Y-you're going to her apartment?"
Kris shrugged. "I have nothing else to do. Plus ..." She smiled shyly and leaned toward Julianne. "I don't know if it's the alcohol or what, but ... I'm feeling kind of curious tonight."
Julianne dropped the rest of the drink on the floor and instantly jumped as some splashed on her clothes. "Damn," she muttered. She picked up the cup and a few napkins and began dabbing away at the wet spots.
"You okay?" Kris asked, trying desperately not to crack up. "Did I just make you uncomfortable?"
Julianne shook her head. "Not at all. Nope." She wouldn't meet Kris's gaze.
"Don't you ever wonder what it's like?" Kris asked.
"What? What's what like? I mean, what what's like?"
Kris was having too much fun with this. "Kissing another woman."
"Well, I kissed Leigh," Julianne responded.
"You're right," Kris said. "And Leigh kissed you. So, I should experiment a little. Nothing wrong with that, right?"
"Nope," Julianne answered, frantically trying to wipe the stains off her jeans.
Kris grinned. "Okay. Well, I'll see you later. I left your coat on the chair."
Julianne nodded. "Have fun ..."
Kris turned around, a huge smile on her lips. She hadn't had so much fun in ... well, a long time. Ha!
Marissa rose when Kris approached. "Ready?"
"Ready," Kris confirmed, and headed out.
Julianne watched Kris exit the bar and she ceased her pointless attempts to clean her clothes. What had just happened?
"Women," some guy mumbled to himself as he passed by her, shaking his head and walking briskly toward some unknown destination.
Julianne nodded in agreement, even though he wasn't talking to her. Sighing, she walked over to the table and retrieved her jacket. What was Kris thinking, going off with some strange woman? Experimenting? Something wasn't right about that. A lot of things weren't right about that. Confused, and not at all sure what to feel, Julianne headed toward the door.
"I wish I'd had a camera," a familiar voice said from nearby. "Your face was classic."
Surprised, Julianne turned around and found herself staring into amused hazel eyes.
Kris laughed. "Actually, your face right now isn't bad either," she commented, looking smug.
Relief surged through her like a lightning bolt. She'd never been so happy to find out she'd been tricked. Julianne felt her face smile. "That wasn't very nice."
"Serves you right," Kris answered. "Trying to freak me out like that. What'd you think I was going to do? Run away screaming, 'Oh no! The lesbians are attacking?'"
Julianne started laughing. "Guess we're even. I mean, I did sing in public for you."
Kris appeared to consider that comment. "Mm, I suppose that's true."
Tell her the truth, a little voice reminded Julianne. It had been such a great night. Did she really want to ruin it now? "Would you mind coming to my apartment for a little while?" she found herself asking, hoping it didn't sound as weird as it seemed.
Hazel eyes studied Julianne's features for a short moment. "Sure," the artist answered, though she sounded confused. Or maybe curious. Or perhaps both.
Julianne was relieved that Kris didn't ask too many questions. Now all she had to do was muster up the courage to confess.
Julianne's apartment was exactly the same as it had been the last time Kris had stepped inside of it: empty. She wondered if Julianne ever considered hiring a decorator. Giving the place a makeover would be a ton of fun. The apartment could use a couch or two.
She followed behind the actress, lights turning on as Julianne hit switches along the way. Even the second time around, the place was impressive. Kris's gaze instantly fell on the view beyond the windows. But the windows turned reflective when the living room lights came on. Kris stared at Julianne's reflection for a moment, before stepping toward the actress.
The impeccably white carpet made Kris feel as if she were walking on a cloud. The living room space was bare, except for a laptop computer hooked up to a long phone line. Kris wouldn't have taken Julianne for an internet junkie. Thoughts of Julia entered Kris's mind. She hadn't heard much from her friend lately, though Kris had sent several emails.
There wasn't much else to look at, so Kris turned her attention to Julianne. "Did you want to show me the new addition to your living room?" she joked, referring to the computer on the floor. "It's nice. Were you going for a sort of technology versus simplicity motif?"
Blue eyes sparkled with amusement. "How'd you guess?"
"Guess I have an eye for detail," Kris responded, feeling strangely at ease. "Are you online?"
The question seemed to throw Julianne. "Pardon?"
"The computer, is it online?" Kris asked, wondering why Julianne appeared so nervous. Ever since she'd asked Kris over the actress had been acting a tad strange. But Kris was starting to realize that Julianne Franqui was a very odd woman; in a dorky, yet charming sort of way.
Julianne kneeled down in front of the computer and hit a button, which caused the screen saver to vanish. "I must have left it on," she answered. "Why?"
"May I check my email real quick? I'll probably be too tired to do it when I get home."
Julianne hesitated but said, "Sure."
"If you have a problem with me using your computer, it's okay," Kris said quickly, feeling like she was intruding somehow.
"I don't mind at all," Julianne assured her. "Just wish I had a table or something."
Kris smiled. "I'll live." She sat down in front of the computer and headed to her email server. Julianne had moved away to give Kris some privacy. Kris waited a little anxiously for her inbox to load. Julia wouldn't have forgotten her birthday, would she? When the screen finished loading, Kris found herself staring at the words 'no new messages' for a few seconds longer than necessary. Disappointed and more than a little hurt, she logged out.
Julianne was leaning against the kitchen counter when Kris finished. "Everything okay?" the actress asked.
Kris shrugged. "Yeah," she said, knowing she didn't sound particularly convincing. "I just have this friend I haven't heard from in a while."
"I'm sorry," Julianne said, in a way that made Kris stare at her.
She replied, "It's not your fault."
The actress lowered her eyes and fell silent. "Kris," she said softly and suddenly, her eyes suddenly meeting Kris's gaze. "I have to tell you something."
* * *
Julianne took a deep breath, the words forming on her lips. "Kris, I'mó" She was suddenly cut off by her ringing cell phone. Fuck! "Excuse me," she said to Kris and flipped open the telephone. "Yeah?" she demanded impatiently.
"Bitches R Us? Do you deliver, by chance?" Adrian commented.
Julianne rolled her eyes and turned back to Kris. "I'll be right back," she told her, and stormed into her bedroom, while trying not to look like she was storming. Closing the door behind her, she leaned against it. "I was right in the middle of telling Kris."
"Yes way," Julianne confirmed.
"Then why the hell did you answer the phone?" Adrian wondered. "You have shitty confessional skills."
Julianne groaned. "And you have shitty timing."
"Hey, I'm not psychic," Adrian argued. "How was I to know you'd finally grown the balls to tell her?"
Julianne sighed. "This is going to be really hard," she admitted. "What if she hates me?"
"How do you know?"
"I don't, I'm just trying to make you feel better."
Julianne looked around her bedroom, where Kris's paintings lined the wall. She suddenly got an idea. "I'm gonna go. Call you later." She didn't wait for Adrian to reply before shutting off the phone and tossing it somewhere in her closet. Taking a deep breath, she walked out of the bedroom.
Kris was still standing where Julianne had left her. When she saw Julianne, she straightened up. "You okay?"
Julianne wasn't sure what the correct answer to that question would be, so she didn't answer it. "Look, Kris," she began. "There's something really important that you should know, and I realize that I should've told you sooner, but ... I didn't know how."
"What is it?" Kris asked, sounding worried.
Julianne hesitated, knowing it was her one and only chance to make things right. If she chickened out now there would be no going back. "I'll show you," she answered, her heart beating faster which each second that passed. She turned and led Kris to her bedroom. With every step, she was tempted to stop. She was tempted to turn around, to lie, to make up something stupid. She wanted to say something, anything. She knew she was sinking fast. And all she wanted was one last breath of fresh air before she let herself drown.
Kris was growing progressively more nervous. What could Julianne Franqui possibly have to tell her? And where were they going? Maybe it was a last minute surprise party? Or maybe Julianne Franqui was a freaky sex addict and had a bunch of people tied up in her room. Maybe she was a serial killer ...
At the door, Julianne paused and turned around so suddenly that Kris collided into her. Soft arms went around her to steady her, and Kris almost didn't want to move. Her body tingled where Julianne was touching her. She instantly stepped back. "I'm sorry," she apologized, confused and startled. "I wasn't expecting you to stop." Julianne looked so pained that Kris was tempted to hug her. It couldn't be that bad, could it?
The actress closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them again, they filled with unshed tears.
Kris didn't know what to say or do. What was going on? She wanted to make Julianne feel better, but how could she do that when she didn't know what was wrong? "Julianne?" she said softly. "What's wrong?"
"I'm really sorry for lying to you," Julianne whispered, and opened the door.
Kris didn't know how to reply to that, so she remained silent. She stepped into the room after Julianne, wondering what awaited her. Her heart hammered in her chest, afraid of the unknown. At first, all that she noticed was a neatly made bed and a nightstand with a lamp on top of it. The room was bare otherwise. Unsure of what she was supposed to be looking at, she glanced at Julianne for a clue.
The actress motioned to the wall behind Kris.
It took Kris a long moment to register what she saw when she turned around. The first thing she noticed was the frame. The picture inside of it didn't make sense until moments later when she noticed the other two.
Stepping further into the room, she grew completely oblivious to the fact that Julianne was still standing there. She was trying desperately to understand how the painting Julia had bought, the painting the strange woman with no money had taken, and the painting Kris had sent to Julia had ended up in Julianne Franqui's bedroom.
She knew there could only be one explanation, but it made about as much sense to her as the entire situation. Slowly, she turned to Julianne who was patiently awaiting a reaction. "It was you?" she asked, unable to believe what she was thinking; unable to wrap her mind around the million thoughts running through her head at that moment.
"I'm sorry," Julianne said.
But Kris didn't really hear her. Her mind was rapidly putting together the pieces of the puzzle. The $15,000 ... the fact that Leigh got a role in Julianne Franqui's movie ... the similarity in their voices ... Julianne reading Harry Potter ... the lack of emails ... Julia's hesitation in talking about herself ... "Oh my God," Kris whispered, suddenly feeling sick. She wanted to stop thinking, but the more she tried, the harder her mind worked to make sense of it all. She needed to breathe. She needed fresh air. She needed to get out of there. "I ... I have to go."
Kris didn't wait for Julianne to answer. She bolted out of the bedroom door and out of the apartment, vaguely recognizing the sound of her own name on Julianne Franqui's lips as the actress called after her.
Kris couldnít remember getting back to her apartment. Did she walk here? Take the subway? Somewhere, between Julianne's apartment and her own, she'd lost touch with her surroundings. Unable to retrace her steps, she reached for her keys, anxious to reach asylum. Her frazzled mind barely registered the fact that the front door was already unlocked as she stepped inside the dark apartment.
Muffled voices in the dark welcomed her arrival. Startled, Kris switched on the light just in time to see Jeremy fall over attempting to get his pants back on. Leigh was somewhere out of Kris's sight. "Hope I didn't interrupt anything," Kris commented, momentarily distracted from her worries by the scene before her.
Leigh popped up from behind the couch, her shirt inside out and backwards. "We were just watching TV," she said, breathlessly.
Kris glanced toward the television set. "Really," she said. "It usually works better when you turn it on."
Jeremy appeared a second later. "Hi, Kris," he greeted lamely.
"You know, you do have your own room," Kris reminded her roommate.
Leigh brightened. "Why don't we go look at it, Jer? It's got some of Kris's paintings. You'll love them." She grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the bedroom.
Kris stood there long enough to see them disappear into Leigh's room, then shook her head and headed toward her own. On any other day she would've worried that Leigh was jumping into something too quickly. On any other day, she would've cared.
Instead, she found herself strangely torn between where she stood and where her mind wandered. A part of her still hadn't left Julianne's bedroom. A part of her wished that all of her had stayed.
But she'd listened to the part that had wanted to run. Sometimes the truth could be suffocating. Except ...
Except she still wasn't sure what the truth was.
Her gaze fell on the laptop computer resting on the bed. She stared at it for a long while, attempting to decipher her feelings. There were just too many unanswered questions keeping her from settling on a firm reaction.
Was all of Julia a lie?
It pained her that someone she'd grown so close to, and trusted so deeply could turn out to be ...
What? What was she exactly?
Kris sat at the edge of her bed and stared at the door, not really seeing it. She was angry, she was hurt, and she was confused. She wanted to confront Julianne and she wanted to never see her again. The duality of her feelings battled within her. The truth was, she didn't know what she wanted.
Julia was Julianne? How could that be? How hadn't she noticed? If Julianne hadn't said anything, would she have figured it out on her own?
She thought back to Julia's emails: actress ... poet ... lesbian. Kris frowned. How much of Julia was Julianne? Was it all a lie, a joke gone too far? Did Julianne like to fool people on the Internet? Befriend them and then make fools of them?
Anger began replacing Kris's initial shock. How could anyone be so cruel? What right did Julianne Franqui have to lie to people like that? Just because she was famous didn't mean she was above the rest of the world. "And just when I was beginning to think I was wrong about her," Kris muttered, rolling her eyes. "Serves me right."
* * *
It had been 7:02 for what felt like hours now. Julianne stared at the alarm clock for a second longer, willing it to change, willing it to prove that time had not stopped.
She stared down at the envelope in her hand, staring at one side, and then flipping it over. All it said was, "Happy Birthday, Kris." The card didn't say anything more elaborate than that. Still, she'd chickened out of giving it to her. And now she was relieved she hadn't.
Sighing, she tossed the card aside and glanced at the time.
Guess it hadn't stopped after all; just changed slowly.... so slowly that after a while you stopped paying attention to it. Change was funny that way. It crept up on you, sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly. But regardless of pace or time, the only thing left were shards of broken memories, waiting to be stepped on without shoes.
Rolling her eyes, she slumped down on the bed. Her eyes kept drifting to the paintings on the wall. They hurt to look at now. They kept reminding her that she should've chased after Kris. That she should've tried to explain.
Explain what, though? That she'd been too selfish to be honest? That she wanted to cling to the fantasy of something that could never be?
Julianne closed her eyes, her body exhausted, her mind alert. She wanted to call Kris. Even if all that Kris did was yell at her, it was better than the silence of her room.
Said silence was suddenly interrupted by a familiar sound. Julianne opened her eyes and narrowed them, trying to focus on where the sound was coming from. She turned her head to look at the closet. The closet...?
She ran over and began tossing things out, looking at them briefly before continuing her search. Eventually, she found what she'd been looking for. "Hello," she said breathlessly.
Leaning against the closet door, Julianne tried to stifle her disappointment. "Speaking," she said. What had she been expecting? Did Kris even have her cell phone number?
"It's Naomi," came the director's voice. "Mosier," she added a second later.
"Oh, hi," Julianne greeted, trying to sound as polite as her mood would allow.
There was a short pause while the director regarded somebody else. "Julianne?"
"Still here," the actress replied, feeling impatient.
"I'm really sorry to be calling you so early, but I was hoping you could stop by the set today. I want to see where you and Samantha stand, chemistry-wise. I know we're not going to shoot those scenes quite yet, but I'd like to know how much work they're going to need."
"I can be there in an hour," Julianne replied, anxious for a distraction. She paused, suddenly worried. "Is Leigh Radlin going to be there?"
"No," Naomi answered. "We'll be working on your scenes with her on Monday. Why?"
"Just curious," Julianne answered, relieved. She didn't want to have to face Leigh. Not yet.
"See you in one hour," Naomi replied.
"Okay," Julianne answered, hanging up. Glad to have something to occupy her mind besides the turtle-speed passing of time, Julianne headed for the shower.
After calculating, and recalculating her life, Kris had come to a solution. It wasn't going to be easy, but she was going to have to do it. If Julianne Franqui thought she could buy Kris off with her fancy money, she had another thing coming. Kris was planning to pay back every last cent. It was going to take a long time, but she'd do it. And then she'd be rid of Julianne or Julia or whatever her name happened to be today, and return to a sane, peace-filled, internet-ridden existence. From now, she'd only speak to her father online. At least she knew he was the real deal.
Satisfied with her decision, she flipped open the newspaper.
"Please tell me you made coffee," Leigh mumbled as she entered the kitchen.
Kris arched a brow at her friend. She looked like death. "Long night?"
Leigh nodded through a yawn. "Jeremy and I had a truly bonding experience."
"Sex will do that," Kris commented.
Leigh paused in her coffee-pouring activity to stare at Kris. "Excuse me? I didn't sleep with him. We fooled around, there's a difference."
"My bad," Kris muttered.
"Why are you reading the newspaper?" Leigh asked, changing the subject away from her incriminating activities.
Kris sighed, not wanting to get into it. She looked up at Leigh. "I'm looking for a job?"
"Why? I thought rent was covered." Leigh sat down at the table, coffee in hand. "Did it run out already?"
"No, I'm giving it back," Kris answered.
Leigh stared. "Are you feeling okay?"
"Actually, no," Kris answered. It was inevitable. She took a deep breath. "You know Julia?"
"And you know Julianne?"
"They're the same exact person," Kris explained, rising from the table to put the coffee mug in the sink. She didn't give Leigh a chance to respond before continuing, "Julianne told me last night. Took me back to her apartment where she proceeded to disclose her collection of my paintings. All of them, including the one I gave to the mystery lady. Guess who that was? Ugh."
Kris turned the faucet on, and began rinsing the cup, speaking over the loud stream of water. "But I'm going to pay her back every last of those $15,000. Who would do such a thing? Pretending to be someone she's not just to ..." Kris wasn't sure what it was Julianne had gotten out of it, but she was sure it wasn't good. "She probably thought it was such a great joke. All her high society friends sitting around making fun of me."
Unable to clean the mug any more than it already was, she shut off the water and turned to her friend. "I feel like such an idiot," she admitted softly.
Leigh sat back in the chair, looking stunned. "It was Julianne? All that time...Wow." She looked around thoughtfully. "You realize this means that we've been friends with Julianne Franqui for months!"
"Friends?" Kris spoke up. "Friends don't lie to each other like that. They don't pretend to be people they're not. If she really wanted to be my friend, she would've told me the truth from the beginning, instead of playing all of these mind games." Kris shook her head. "She's not my friend. She's just a stuck up actress with nothing better to do."
"She did get me a role in the movie," Leigh pointed out softly. "Man, this is too much information to process at this hour."
Kris nodded, agreeing. The truth was, that in spite of her anger, she was confused. And she wanted to not be confused any more.
"So what did she say to defend herself?" Leigh wondered.
Kris shrugged, leaning against the kitchen counter. "I ran out of there before she could say anything. I just ... couldn't ... deal. I needed air or something. How does one respond to something like that?"
"Are you going to go talk to her?"
"Yeah, I'm going to the bank and take out what's left of the money and hand it back to her. Then I'll see about paying the rest back."
"Do you think she'll take it?" Leigh asked doubtfully.
"Well, I don't want it," Kris replied. "I want nothing more to do with Julianne Franqui ... ever."
Julianne stared at her co-star. At first, she'd wondered why Naomi had chosen to cast her, being that Samantha wasn't one of the actresses that Julianne had auditioned with. But, Julianne now understood. The woman was amazing. It was almost enough to make Julianne forget Samantha's horrid personality.
Julianne focused on staying in character. In about four lines, she was going to be kissing the actress before her. Julianne figured it had to be better than her past experiences.
On the second to last line of Samantha's monologue, Julianne stepped forward. On the second to last word, she leaned down. But before her lips managed to press against the other woman's, the director said, "Cut!"
Instantly, Julianne stepped away and regarded the director expectantly.
Naomi Mosier had a smile on her face. "Perfect," she commented. "We'll work on the blocking and pacing next week, but otherwise, nice job. Guess I can rest easy."
"Are we done for today?" Samantha asked, her tone impatient.
Naomi nodded distractedly, her attention on a different part of the set. "See you Monday."
Julianne turned to leave, but a voice stopped her.
The actress turned to face the director. "Yeah?"
"Are you busy tonight?" Naomi asked, sounding hesitant and embarrassed.
Julianne's heart sped up, Karen's revelation still fresh on her mind. For a long moment, she didn't know how to answer. Finally, she said, "Not really." The words left her mouth before she could think about what she was saying.
Encouraged, Naomi continued. "There's this independent film playing at a small theater in Manhattan. I thought you might like to see it. I heard it's really good."
Well, that was a first. She was being asked out by her director, her female director. Had Karen told Naomi that she might have a chance after all? Or was Naomi just that perceptive? Or brave? Or both.
Julianne cleared her throat, trying to figure out what to say. Did she want to sit around her apartment feeling miserable all night? What if Kris called? What if she didn't? What if ... what if ... what if ... "Sounds good," she said at last. "I'm sure Adrian would like to hear about it."
"Adrian?" Naomi questioned.
"Myó" Julianne hesitated. She was going to say boyfriend. But was it worth it to lie? Did it even matter any more? "Best friend. He's a director."
"Adrian," Naomi repeated as if trying to remember something. "Cruz?"
Julianne nodded. "The one and only."
"I'm a fan of his work. It's ..."
"Weird," Julianne finished for her.
Naomi laughed. "I was going to say provocative."
Julianne grinned. "Weird," she insisted.
"You should see some of my earlier films," Naomi replied.
Julianne smiled. "I have," she admitted. "I especially enjoyed Galactic Cannibal, it was ... um ..." She searched for the right adjective.
"Weird?" Naomi guessed, smiling.
Julianne grinned. "Well, I was going to say psychotic."
Naomi laughed. "Thanks a lot." She glanced off to the side as something caught her eye.
Julianne noticed that someone was calling the director over, and figured their small chat was over. She found herself strangely relieved, and even more oddly disappointed.
"Duty calls," Naomi said, turning back to Julianne. "Pick you up at 7:30?"
Julianne started to nod, then paused. "Do you know where I live?"
Naomi smiled and started walking away. "See you tonight."
Julianne watched the director, not really thinking anything in particular, other than the fact that she'd managed to not think about Kris for about five minutes and that was major progress.
Maybe tonight she'd make it past ten.
Julianne had been ready by seven. Or would have been, had she not decided at 7:26 that what she was wearing wasn't appropriate. What did one wear on a date with a director, anyway?
She realized she was being ridiculous, standing there, in front of the full-length mirror with her pants around her ankles. "I used to be so cool," she whispered regretfully.
The knock on the door jarred her from her indecision. "Shit," she mumbled, reaching down to pull the pants back on.
She hopped across the room, trying to pull the pants up around her butt. Had she gained weight? "Be right there!" she yelled, hoping her voice would somehow make it across the apartment and through the front door.
Pants in place, she made a dash for the shirt she'd tossed across the room. It was inside out. "Damnit," she muttered, as she heard another knock. She stuck her head through the neck of the tee shirt and darted toward the door, trying to get her hands through the sleeves as she ran.
Finally, she was dressed. Or at least, she hoped she was dressed. She debated running back to the room to look in the mirror, but decided she didn't really care. Throwing open the door, she said, "I'm sorry that I took so loó" The rest of the words died in her throat. "Kris," she breathed.
Hazel eyes glanced behind the actress for a split second. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt."
"You're not interrupting," Julianne answered. "I was just getting dressed. Do you want to come in?" She glanced briefly behind Kris, hoping Naomi didn't show up now.
Kris glanced down, and cleared her throat. "No, uh, I just wanted to come by and give you this," she said, handing Julianne a piece of paper. "I'll get the rest of it back to you as soon as I can."
Julianne looked down at the object in her hand, and realized it was a check. "What's this for?"
"It's what's left of the money you gave me," Kris answered. "I don't want it."
Julianne looked up, frowning. "I didn't give you any money."
"Look, you can save your lies because I'm not buying them anymore," Kris replied, sounding angry. "I don't need your charity, and I don't need your guilt-money. So, just take it and don't make this any more complicated than it already is."
Julianne took a deep breath, and tore the check in half. "That money had nothing to do with guilt. I bought a painting from you."
"The painting was fifteen dollars," Kris countered.
"Well it was worth more to me," Julianne replied, her gaze on Kris'. She didn't want to be having this conversation. "Please don't make this about money," she said, looking down at the torn pieces of paper in her hand.
Kris stared at Julianne before responding. "What is it about, then?"
The buzzing of the intercom interrupted Julianne's answer. She stared at Kris regretfully for a moment, and then hit the button. "Franqui," she said.
"Hey, it's Naomi. Sorry I'm late."
Julianne sighed; knowing her conversation with Kris was over. "Come up." She turned back to Kris. "I'm sorry."
"Doesn't matter," Kris replied, starting to walk away. "See you around."
"Kris, wait," Julianne began, not sure what it was she wanted to say.
To Julianne's surprise, Kris stopped.
"I didn't mean to hurt you."
"That's what everyone says after they hurt someone," Kris replied, then shrugged, turning away again. "It doesn't fix anything."
Julianne swallowed, trying not to cry at the desperation she felt. "Then let me try and fix it."
When Kris turned back around, Julianne noticed that her eyes were moist. "I feel like my best friend just died. And you're the one that killed her." She shook her head, and started to walk away. Then she paused. Without turning, she added, "I know you think I'm mad at you because you lied. And that may have been true at first, but it's more than that." She glanced back. "What's really killing me is that you made me believe in something beautiful and special, and ripped it away forever." She looked away. "Good luck fixing that."
Somewhere down the hall, Julianne registered the sound of the elevator doors opening. She glanced in that direction, just as Naomi stepped out into the hall. The director greeted Kris, who smiled politely as she disappeared inside the elevator.
Julianne stood frozen, unsure of what to do. Should she follow Kris? Should she let her go? What was the right thing to do? She didnít know. All that she knew was that she was dying inside and the pain was threatening to drown her whole.
"Are you okay?" Naomi asked, approaching the actress with concern.
Julianne knew she was about to start crying, but she needed to hold off until she was alone. "Look, I can't do this," she found herself saying. "I don't want to lead you on. I don't want to hurt you. I've done enough of that to last a lifetime, and at least right now, I have the choice to do something right for a change. I'm sorry." With that, she stepped into the apartment and closed the door.
Leaning her back against it, she let the tears fall.
After hours of staring at the ceiling, Kris had realized that several of the most popular constellations rested above her bed. Perhaps there were more hidden behind the Salvador Dali print above her, but she couldn't tell.
She couldn't help glancing at the laptop computer, which she'd hidden under a pile of clothes. The constant aching of her heart was starting to take its toll. The truth was, she missed her, whoever she was. She missed the emails, the phone conversations, the easy banter ... She missed ...
"Everything," she whispered, voicing her thought.
Well, there was always Leigh.
And yet, somehow ... it wasn't the same. Something wasn't the same, but Kris couldn't figure out what it was. Friendship was friendship ...
The thought of friendship made Kris frown. Lying wasn't friendship. But, still, she couldn't help but wonder how much of Julia was Julianne. How much was real? How much was a lie? If they balanced each other out, would she ever be able to forgive the actress?
Did she want to?
Kris sighed, knowing she did. She hated feeling angry. Carrying a grudge was exhausting. It was like a huge anvil crashing down on her head, over and over. She wanted the feeling to go away.
But she couldn't pretend that she wasn't hurt. And forgiving Julianne didn't bring Julia back. And how could she trust her again?
How could anything go back to being the same after it had been so irrevocably altered?
Nothing could ever be the same.
Julianne found herself walking up the familiar sidewalk of Kris's street. After hours of evaluating and reevaluating her existence, she'd come to the realization that she was never going to sleep again.
She could keep calling Karen and Adrian at the wee hours of the morning. She could keep staring out, at the view of New York, wondering what Kris was thinking at that moment. She could lay awake and wait for time to pass. She could think. She could worry ...
And before she'd know it, she'd be fifty and alone; a mere shadow of a movie star. Stuck obsessing about her lost youth ... her lost beauty ...
Her lost love.
Julianne stopped in front of Kris's building, gazing up. Her heart sped up as she started up the front steps.
If Kris wanted Julianne out of her life, then fine. But she wasn't going to go quietly.
Julianne's finger hovered over the button. It was two o'clock in the morning. Was she insane?
Before she had a chance to dwell any further on the question of her sanity, the door opened and someone walked out. Julianne took that as a sign.
Sneaking inside the building, she headed toward the elevator.
On the ride up to Kris's floor, Julianne wondered if she was dreaming. Had she fallen asleep without realizing?
She hoped not. It had been hard enough getting this far. And the hard part was still ahead.
Taking a deep breath, she waited for the doors to swoosh open. When they did, she stood in place. If she walked out, she'd probably go through with it. If she stayed in the elevator, she'd probably not come back up.
The doors began to slide closed.
She watched them.
The doors clicked shut.
Kris walked into the kitchen in search of something to drink. She yawned, wondering why she was still up at two-thirty in the morning.
Opening the fridge proved to be an unproductive activity. Grocery shopping was a must. How did they run out of food so quickly? It had only been a couple of days since she'd stocked up.
She was in the process of searching through the cupboards when the first knock came. It was so soft that the cabinets closing drowned out the sound.
The second knock was a little louder and caused Kris to pause and draw her brows together, listening.
The third knock caught Kris's full attention. She turned around and headed toward the door, wondering whom in their right mind would come over at this hour.
A glance through the peephole told her that it wasn't, in fact, anyone in their right mind. She sighed, and opened the door. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Two-thirty four," Julianne replied, not bothering to look at her watch. "I couldn't sleep."
Kris was about to snap at the actress, but let it go. It's not like she'd been sleeping either. "Well?"
Julianne handed over a piece of paper. "Here."
In spite of herself, Kris accepted it. "What is it?"
Kris unfolded the paper and read the contents, frowning as the words registered in her mind.
Dear Ms. Milano,
I bought a sketch of yours earlier. The figure in the picture reflected so much of how I feel sometimes, that it was as if it had been drawn with me in mind. I wondered if you have a gallery here in New York where I may perhaps view some more of your work?
Kris looked up. "I don't understand."
"It's the first email I sent you," Julianne explained.
"I know, I recognize it," Kris replied. "But why are you giving it to me now?"
Julianne looked down. "Because that's all I wanted to tell you," she answered. "It wasn't meant to be a joke. It wasn't meant to be a big elaborate plot. I just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your work."
"So you gave me a fake name," Kris countered.
"No, I gave you my real one," Julianne answered. "Julia Raye Frank. It's my birth name. I had it legally changed to Julianne Franqui when I was eleven."
Kris looked down at the email in her hand, not sure what to think. She hadn't known that Julianne Franqui wasn't her real name. Had Leigh? In all of her Internet searches, had she come across a Julia Raye Frank? Did it matter? This wasn't about the name.
"I came over because ... I want you to know that I wasn't lying," Julianne continued. "I may have lied about stupid things like what movie I was doing or what exactly it was I did for a living, but everything else was true."
When Kris didn't respond, Julianne continued.
"I am completely out of shape. I really love to cook. I love your paintings. I spend hours watching the TV Guide channel. I've never gone on a date. I'd marry Spongebob Squarepants in 1.2 seconds ... and I write really cheesy poetry when I'm bored." Julianne stared at Kris, awaiting a reaction.
Kris didn't have one. She was trying to register all of the information that was flying at her. Her feelings on the subject were fuzzy at best. She wasn't sure it was enough. She wasn't sure anything would be enough. And there was still one thing that Julianne hadn't confessed to. "Why did you pretend to be a lesbian?"
Julianne hesitated. "I wasn't pretending," she answered finally.
"What?" Kris asked, looking up and into sad blue eyes. Her surprise was evident.
"I'm not ... really 'out'," Julianne explained softly. "You and Adrian are the only ones that know. Oh, and Karen. She knows, too."
Kris hadn't been expecting that last tidbit of information. If anything, that was the one thing she'd been certain that Julianne had lied about. She was gay? How could she be gay? She always seemed so self-righteous in interviews. Always talking about her boyfriend and how in love she was. "How can I trust you after everything that's happened? How do I know what's true?"
Julianne looked down sadly. "You don't, I guess." She took a deep breath. "You've been such a good friend to me the past few months, and the last thing that I ever wanted to do was hurt you. And you're right; my saying that doesn't fix anything. I admit that I was selfish. I wanted to hang on to a fantasy that didn't exist. I wanted to cling to the hope that you could ever see me as anyone but Julianne Franqui. It was just such a great feeling ... to not have to hide for once. And I wanted to hold on to it for as long as possible." She glanced up. "I'm so sorry that I hurt you."
Kris stumbled over what to say. Her mind was in chaos as she tried to make sense of her feelings. She was still hurt. And she was still angry. And she wasn't sure that there was anything that Julianne could say at the moment to make those feelings disappear. "I'm not sure what to say," she said honestly. "This is all a bit ... much."
Julianne nodded. "Guess I'll go then," she said, after a moment of awkward silence. "Good night, Kris."
"Julianne," Kris called softly, when the actress turned to walk away. She didn't want to say goodbye to her just yet.
"Do you really like to watch the sun set?"
Julianne stared at Kris for a moment. "As often as I can," she replied.
Kris nodded. She stared blankly at the floor for a long while. It wasn't a lack of things to say that was causing her silence. It was the overwhelming need to say things she couldn't express. It wasn't anger she was feeling at that moment, but rather, a deep-rooted sadness that would not be easy to unearth. There were months of friendship to rebuild. And she wasn't certain it was possible. "I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I can get over it."
"I understand," Julianne said.
Kris swallowed, wanting to say more, but not knowing what, exactly. "I appreciate you telling me these things."
There was a part of Kris that ached to make Julianne's pain disappear. She could tell the actress was hurting. But she was hurting too. "Good night, Julianne."
"Good night, Kris."
Kris watched the actress start toward the elevator, almost calling her back. But there was nothing else left to say.
Julianne had been dreading the arrival of Monday. Two of the people that she least wanted to face in the world would be an integral part of her every day life for the next few months.
And there was nothing she could do about it.
She spotted Naomi almost immediately upon entering the set. The blonde director was shaking her head at something someone had said. Julianne couldn't hear what was being said, but she figured it had to do with the lights because Naomi kept looking up and pointing.
Julianne kept her distance, not wishing to make her arrival known. She doubted she could keep that up for too long, however.
The guy Naomi had been speaking to walked away, and someone else approached the director. They exchanged a couple of words. And after a nod from Naomi, the crewmember walked off.
Julianne watched quietly from the side wall, wondering what she would say to the director once they were face to face. Should she mention what had happened? Ignore it? Apologize?
The director chose that moment to turn around, and their gazes met. To Julianne's surprise, Naomi started walking toward her.
"Feeling better?" Naomi asked once they were close enough to each other.
Julianne glanced up, surprised. "I'm sorry?"
"You looked really upset on Friday," Naomi answered.
Julianne stared into green eyes for a moment. "It's.... it's complicated." She cleared her throat. "I'm really sorry about what happened. I shouldn't have agreed to go out with you and then slammed the door in your face. It wasn't right."
Naomi looked around, and then stepped closer to Julianne. "I know you warned me to stay away and all, but taking advice isn't one of my strong suits." She smiled and shrugged. "So if you ever want to talk ..."
Julianne bit her lip, unsure of what to say to that. "I'm not ... I've never ... I don't ..." Finally, she gave up trying to speak.
Naomi looked away. "Karen told you, didn't she?"
"No!" Julianne answered. "Well, kind of ... but that has nothing to do with why I'm incoherent."
Julianne sighed. "It's a long story..."
Naomi pushed a few strands of hair behind her ear and gazed expectantly at the actress. "Do I get to hear it sometime?"
Julianne wasn't sure what was going on. Did Naomi know she was gay? Did she not know? "Maybe," she answered. "I mean, yes, if you really want to."
The director smiled. "I was kind of freaked out that Karen had warned you about me and that's why you'd changed your mind on Friday."
"No," Julianne answered, guessing that Karen hadn't told Naomi about her after all. So, what had Friday night been about? "I'd ... known before."
Surprise passed across Naomi's features. Then she nodded. "Well, I'd like to hear your long story sometime. I'm told I'm a good listener."
Julianne smiled. "You're on."
Naomi smiled back and excused herself before returning to work.
For a moment, Julianne had completely forgotten they'd been standing in the middle of a busy film set.
Out of the corner of her eye, Julianne noticed Leigh. They locked gazes for a moment, but Leigh instantly looked away and continued her conversation with Jeremy.
Resigned, and a little disappointed, Julianne turned away and headed toward her assigned trailer. She'd talk to Leigh later.
Hopefully Leigh would talk back.
After much internal conflict, Kris found herself staring at the computer screen. Her empty inbox stared back at her. After a second, she double-clicked on the folder labeled 'Julia'. Every email that Julianne had ever sent her appeared before her. She quickly glanced through the list, each subject heading causing her heart to ache.
She wanted the aching to stop. She didn't understand why it bothered her so much. It was just email and a few conversations online and on the phone. How could friendship be built out of words? How did it become the kind of friendship that kept her up at night with its absence?
Kris stared at the list in front of her. She wasn't sure what she wanted to find there. It was just unnerving to think that after months of conversation, she hadn't had a clue. Had it been obvious all along? If she read the emails now would she be able to make sense of everything?
She looked over the emails again, each complete with its allotted subject and date. It was like a map to a friendship she no longer understood. There were so many.
She dragged the mouse over the link to the first email and let it hover for a few seconds. Finally, she clicked on it.
The message opened up before her, much as it had done the first time she'd read it. Only now, her feelings were different. As her gaze drifted over the words, she fought the urge to close it, to give up.
The first few emails were so professional, so distant. They made Kris wonder what Julianne had been thinking. What had she wanted out of the message? Why had she written?
She read on, reliving the moments where Julia's words had made her smile.
It was strange, reading over the same words and placing Julianne's image and voice behind them. Stranger, still, was the fact doing so wasn't as difficult as Kris initially expected. It made her uncomfortable. To her mind, both should've sounded different. She should've been able to tell which voice was Julia's and which was Julianne's. She wanted to be able to highlight the lies.
With every email, Kris grew progressively more anxious. She thought reading through the emails would help her sort through some of the madness. Maybe they'd validate her anger and her pain. But if anything, they left her feeling empty and confused.
Did Julianne really major in Comparative Literature? Did she really hate her family? Did she write poetry?
Those weren't the thoughts she should've been thinking. Those weren't the questions she should've been asking.
But they were. And it confused her further. Exasperated, she ran a hand through her hair. She didn't want to face Julianne Franqui. She wasn't ready.
At the same time, she didn't want to do nothing.
Absently, she found herself clicking on the first email. The familiar words stared back at her.
From her nightstand, she retrieved the folded piece of paper that Julianne had given her. She stared at the same words printed on the page, then back up at the screen.
She wasn't thinking anything in particular as she hit 'reply.'
Subject: Re: your art
Thank you for your interest in my work. What about it touched you so?
Kris stared at the short note, unsure of what she was doing, or what she was hoping to accomplish. In the end, she decided not to think about it. She'd been overanalyzing every detail of her life for the past twenty-one years and so far, it hadn't done her any good.
A second later, she hit send.
Julianne just wanted to crawl into bed the moment she got home and stay there forever. Unfortunately, despite her exhaustion, she wasn't particularly sleepy.
The first day of filming had gone relatively well, considering her co-star was giving her the silent treatment. In spite of that, Julianne enjoyed acting with Leigh. She got completely caught up in their moments of dialogue. At times, it was enough to make her forget that Leigh wasn't really her sister. And that as soon as the director yelled, "cut," they'd return to a silent reality.
As for Naomi, Julianne enjoyed the director's technique. Whenever Naomi would stop them, she'd always have something important to contribute. She was always clear in what she wanted, but still gave the actors enough leverage to do what felt right.
Julianne had spent a large part of the day watching the director in action. She hadn't once seen Naomi lose her patience or yell at anyone. It didn't mean, however, that the young director didn't at times seem frustrated or stressed. But somehow, she managed to get through things in a calm, professional manner.
Needless to say, Julianne was intrigued.
Turning on her side, Julianne examined the paintings on the wall, and reality came tumbling down on her. It was so tempting to disappear into her character. Elizabeth Doyle didn't have to worry about unrequited love. In spite of everything else, at least Emma loved her back.
Blue eyes examined the pictures, wondering if it was right to keep them there. Should she return them? Or just take them down? Julianne wasn't sure she could part with them so easily.
Sighing, she lay on her back, wishing she could stop thinking about Kris for five minutes. It was over; she had to let it go.
Sitting up, she reached for the computer, making sure the phone line was plugged in. Once online, she checked her business email. As she'd expected, several emails from Eric cluttered her inbox. She read through them, relieved to find that she hadn't missed anything important.
When she finished, she hesitated. Usually, she checked her personal address along with her business one. But what was the point of checking it now?
Still, she found herself leading the mouse in that direction. She figured she could at least delete the junk mail.
As she waited for the mail to load, her attention was drawn away from the computer by the sound of the buzzer. Frowning, she put the computer aside, and headed toward the front door. The thought that perhaps Kris had thought to stop by hurried her steps.
Hitting the intercom button, she said, "Yes?" in a voice that she hoped didn't sound as hopefulóor desperateóas it felt.
"Hi. I was in the neighborhood."
Disappointment was Julianne's initial reaction. But it was quickly replaced by something akin to shyness; or maybe nervousness, or maybe both. "Come up," she said.
As she waited for the knock, Julianne wondered where her life philosophy had gone. Simplicity. She had to return to simplicity.
Unfortunately, Julianne had the unsettling feeling that she was about to invite further complications into her life. "Hi," she greeted.
The director smiled. "I hope you don't think I'm stalking you."
"If I did I wouldn't have let you up," Julianne replied. "Want to come in?"
Naomi nodded and stepped inside. She glanced around.
Julianne closed the door and stood behind the director, wishing she had some other furniture besides her bed.
"I like the whole ... less is more motif," Naomi said, turning to face Julianne.
Julianne smiled, leaning her back against the door. "I think in this case, less is less."
Naomi smiled, suddenly looking shy and awkward. "You're probably wondering why I'm here."
The thought had crossed Julianne's mind, but she had yet to find a polite reply to that comment. So, she remained silent.
"Well, I was in the neighborhood," Naomi began, "which I know sounds really lame, because that's what everyone says. You probably think I traveled an hour out of my way to be here." She glanced at Julianne for confirmation.
The actress smiled, amused. She'd never seen a director act so uncomfortable in her presence before. It was cute.
"Anyway, you seemed kind of sad today," Naomi continued. "Not while the film was rolling, but in the times in between. So, I thought I'd stop by and see if you were okay."
Naomi shrugged. "Call me overly caring."
Julianne wasn't sure how to respond. A part of her kept wondering what Naomi Mosier wanted from her. But another part was too busy noticing how good the director looked in jeans to care. "I'd ask if you want to sit down, but ..." She motioned to the empty apartment. "There's always the carpet."
The director looked around and smiled. "Actually, I was going to see if you wanted to get something to eat. I haven't really had anything since breakfast."
"At least you managed to fit the most important meal of the day into your schedule," Julianne responded.
Naomi smiled. "It was a cracker."
"I was in a hurry," Naomi admitted.
That settled things. "Dinner it is," Julianne replied, reaching for the door. She couldn't very well let her director starve to death.
Julianne stared dubiously at the sign that read Gray's Papaya. When Naomi had suggested dinner, Julianne had expected someplace where the tables had cloths, and the silverware was actually silver. She hadn't expected a greasy-looking hotdog joint.
Naomi was studying Julianne's face carefully. "I take it this is your first time?"
"I'd have to go with yes," Julianne replied, meeting Naomi's gaze.
The director smiled. "You haven't lived until you've tried one of these hotdogs," she answered. "You're not a vegetarian, are you?"
Instantly, Julianne thought of Kris. And suddenly wished she was vegetarian just so she'd have an excuse not to eat there. "No," she found herself saying. She considered telling Naomi that she wasn't particularly hungry, but she kept her mouth shut. Besides, she'd had hotdogs before. Maybe. She couldn't remember.
When it was their turn in line, Julianne let the director order for her. She ignored the people staring and pointing at her, whispering, "Is that Julianne Franqui?"
Naomi handed Julianne a hotdog and led them to the condiment table. "Does that bother you?"
Julianne was staring down at the object in her hand with a mixture of repulsion and morbid curiosity. Adding some ketchup, she said, "Does what bother me?"
"Getting recognized everywhere you go," Naomi explained. She glanced behind Julianne where people were still staring. "I think you've got a few admirers."
Julianne glanced in the direction Naomi was looking and caught sight of a couple of boys who were all but drooling. She smiled and winked in their direction, then turned back to Naomi. "Um, I think I'm just used to it now," she said in answer to Naomi's question. "Don't you ever get recognized?"
Naomi shrugged and took a bite of her hotdog, heading outside to leave room for other people. Once they were both outside, she said, "Mostly by film geeks. I'm not known by mainstream America."
"Yet," Julianne added. "I think this film will change that."
They crossed the street, walking with no particular destination in mind.
"What do you think it will do for you?"
"Out me," Julianne said softly. She stared down at the uneaten hotdog, wondering why she'd said that.
"Aren't you going to eat?" Naomi asked, in such a casual way that it made Julianne wonder if she'd heard her confession.
Taking a deep breath, Julianne looked into expectant green eyes. "I'm not sure I'm brave enough to put this in my mouth."
Naomi laughed. "Well, if you're sure you want to let a hotdog get the best of you."
Julianne glanced down and sighed. "Alright, but if I get food poisoning, you're going to have to deal with an absent lead actress."
"I'll take my chances," Naomi responded.
Julianne stopped walking, forcing the director to do likewise. "Next time, I pick where we go for dinner," she said, not sure why she thought there'd be a next time. After another long moment of hesitation, she took a small bite. She chewed. She waited to be grossed out.
Naomi waited patiently for a reaction, looking highly entertained. "Well?"
Julianne took another bite and started walking. "Shut up, it's good." She could hear Naomi laughing, and then running to catch up to her.
"Another Gray's Papaya success story," Naomi said, sounding mighty pleased with herself.
Julianne was about to comment but the sound of her name forced her to turn around. Of all the people ... "Hey, Anthony," she greeted.
Kris's boyfriend caught up to them a second later. "I thought it was you," he said, grinning. He glanced at Naomi.
"Anthony, this is Naomi Mosier, my director," she introduced, feeling incredibly awkward. "Naomi this is Anthony ..." She had no idea what his last name was. Kris had never told her.
Anthony quickly jumped in. "Anthony Brooks, pleasure to meet you. So, you're Leigh's director, too?"
"That I am, " Naomi confirmed.
"Cool," Anthony said. "Anyway, I'll leave you ladies. I was on my way to visit Kris."
The sound of her name made Julianne flinch. She tried to cover it up by saying, "Have fun."
"I'll tell her you said hi," Anthony assured her.
"It was nice meeting you, Naomi. Catch you later, Julianne."
"You too," Naomi said.
"Bye, Anthony," Julianne said, watching him walk off.
They resumed their aimless walking.
"Good friend of yours?" Naomi asked after a moment.
Julianne had to laugh. "Not quite." She hesitated, and then said, "Do you still want to hear the long story?"
Naomi smiled. "I'd love to."
"How come you keep checking your email every five minutes?" Anthony asked, sitting back against the headboard of Kris's bed.
Kris closed the laptop, after yet another disappointing visit to her email account. "Sorry, I wrote to a professor about getting into his class," she lied. Well, half-lied. She had written to a professor. But that wasn't why her computer kept calling her every two seconds. She joined her boyfriend on the bed, sitting so that she was facing him. "So, how was your day?"
Anthony shrugged. "I worked, and then I bought two books for class. Sucks that the summer is over, huh?"
"Yeah," Kris agreed, though it hadn't really hit her yet. She'd been so busy with everything else in her life that she'd completely forgotten about school starting up again.
Anthony reached over to touch Kris's leg. "I ran into Julianne Franqui on the way over here."
The sound of her name brought Kris into complete focus. "Really? What did she say?" she asked, trying not to sound too enthusiastic about the information.
"Nothing much," Anthony replied, his hand beginning to caress her thigh. "She was walking with the movie director."
Kris tried to ignore the feel of Anthony's hand on her thigh. She wished he wasn't touching her at that moment. "Did she ask about me?"
Anthony paused to look at her. "Nope. She didn't say much of anything."
Disappointed, Kris stifled a sigh. Had Julianne gotten her email? Did she not care about their friendship anymore?
"So, what do you want to do now?" Anthony asked, a crooked grin on his face.
Kris glanced down and took a hold of Anthony's wandering hand. "Um, let's just take things slow, okay?" she said, leaning over to kiss him so that he didn't think she didn't want to do anything; even though she kind of didn't. But she ignored that feeling. She pulled her lips away a moment later and looked into his eyes, hoping he wasn't hurt by her implication.
Anthony smiled. "No problem," he said.
Relieved, Kris kissed him again, harder, as if wishing that his lips could erase the constant aching of her heart. Thoughts of Julianne suddenly popped into her head and she quickly pulled away.
"Something wrong?" Anthony asked, looking concerned.
Yes, she wanted to say. There were plenty of things wrong. Only, she didn't want to talk about them. Not with him. "No, sorry," she said. "I just wanted to get more comfortable."
He smiled at that, pulling her closer. "Better?"
"Sure," she said, hoping she sounded believable. She wanted him to kiss her and make her forget everything. She wanted to melt.
Anthony leaned over to kiss her again, his mouth already parted. His tongue grazed her lips in a way that made her want to pull away and wipe them dry.
She wasn't melting. Instead, she was too busy concentrating on the mechanics of the kiss. Why couldn't she just surrender? Why didn't it feel like her heart would pound out of her chest? Where was the passion? All she felt was a strange, cold feeling of solitude. Like their lips were two magnets of equal polarity, struggling to meet. And all she could sense was the air in between, breathing distant promises of fantasies not yet realized.
Slowly, she ended the kiss, hoping it hadn't seemed too sudden. "Sorry," she apologized. "I'm just really tired."
Anthony did a good job of hiding his disappointment. "Want to hang out tomorrow?"
"Call me," she told him.
"Okay," he agreed, kissing her cheek. "I'll let myself out."
Kris watched him go. As the door closed behind him, she wondered what the problem was. Was it Nathan? Was it Anthony?
Was it her?
She glanced at the computer, tempted to check her mail again. "I'm so pathetic," she whispered, shaking her head. Ignoring the impulse to log on, she grabbed the sketch pad she kept by her bed.
At least there was more than one way to keep her mind occupied.
Julianne stood in the doorway of her empty apartment and breathed in the stale aroma of solitude. There was something strangely alarming in the contrast between the busy city she'd left moments before, and the eerie silence of her badly decorated apartment.
For the first time since she'd moved in, the apartment's nakedness made her uncomfortable. She felt exposed, her emptiness reflected in the barren white walls and the expensive white carpeting that had nothing to show for itself but its delicate beauty. The only evidence of an existing personality hung in the walls of her bedroom, each expressing a delicate truth she couldn't quite understand.
Kris's paintings fascinated her; the purposeful use of texture and color, hiding the shadows that hovered behind like unspoken secrets. The gentle brushstrokes and charismatic themes that struggled to reveal what they struggled to conceal.
Julianne entered her bedroom and stood before the paintings. She'd never had an appreciation for art before she'd encountered Kris's painting in the park. They were beautiful, just like the hand that created them, and the body attached. But beyond that was the opportunity to find oneself reflected in the random patterns and perfect shapes.
She turned away, noticing for the first time the computer still resting where she'd left it. She was tempted to ignore it. But telling Naomi everything only served to remind her of all she had lost. And in spite of Naomi's kindness, words alone could not replace a friend.
The bed squeaked in protest against her added weight. She turned the screen to face her and glanced at the contents on the page. Her inbox contained three messages. Only one of which caught her eye.
Frowning, she checked the date. It had been sent earlier that day. For a moment, she considered the possibility that she'd accidentally left one of Kris's emails un-filed. But that couldn't be.
Her heart caught up to her thoughts, and then sped past them. She selected the message and an eternity later, the email opened on the screen.
Julianne read the words, her mind attempting to find a rational explanation. A vague recollection loomed in her mind. She'd handed Kris a copy of her first email. Was this Kris's response? Was this Kris's way of starting over? And if so, what did it mean?
After a moment, she hit reply:
Dear Kris (can I call you that?),
I sometimes have this feeling that the world sees through me. That they see only what they want to see, and dig only as deep as their misgivings will allow. I've often felt lonely in a crowd full of people. In moments when a million eyes are cast my way, I've struggled to find one pair among the many that see something the others do not see.
For the first time in a very long time, your painting made me feel understood. And I can't imagine anything more beautiful than the image of truth reflected and manifested in the empathetic visions of a stranger's mind.
Julianne Raye Franqui
"Knock, knock," Leigh called from the open doorway, forcing Kris to glance up from the computer screen. "Email from dad?" Leigh guessed, stepping into the bedroom.
Reflexively, Kris lowered the screen so that Leigh couldn't see what she was reading. "Uh, no," she said after a moment.
Leigh paused, sensing Kris's hesitation. "Are you okay? I didn't mean to pry." She took a step back from the bed. "See? Not prying at all."
Kris managed a smile, but it was clearly forced. "Julianne wrote me," she admitted.
Leigh frowned. "Why? Hasn't she done enough? I'll have you know, that I didn't speak to her at all this week during filming. Well, except for the scenes we were in together, but those weren't even my words, so, it doesn't really count as conversation."
"You've been ignoring her?" Kris asked, feeling a strange mixture of embarrassment and annoyance. "You didn't have to do that." Did Julianne think that Kris told Leigh not to speak to her? "Has she tried to approach you at all?"
Leigh shrugged. "Well, yeah. But I stood my ground. Nobody messes with my best friend and gets away with it. Not even famous actresses who think they own the world just because they're rich and beautiful."
"Since when do you think that of Julianne?" Kris wondered, suddenly feeling defensive of the actress. The irony didn't escape her.
Sitting down at the edge of the bed, Leigh regarded Kris with a serious expression. "I gave what Julianne did to you a lot of thought, and I realized that someone has to be a really shitty human being to take advantage of somebody else like that. I mean, she lied to you for months. And then came here and lied to your face. You have to be a pretty self-centered, self-serving bitch to do something like that. So, I admit, I was wrong about Julianne Franqui."
Kris wasn't sure why, but Leigh's words pained her. She wanted to agree with Leigh. She wanted to be able to dismiss Julianne Franqui as cruel and egotistical. But she couldn't bring herself to feel antagonistic towards the actress. Not any more. "I think we're both wrong about Julianne," she said after a moment. "I don't think she lied to me to hurt me, or use me. What would she gain from that?"
Leigh thought about it for a moment then said, "Cheap entertainment at the expense of an unassuming stranger? Who knows? She probably had a group of her famous actor friends placing bets on how long it would take you to figure things out."
Kris lowered her gaze. The thought of Julianne laughing at her made her chest ache. "I don't think that's what happened," she whispered. "Do you really think she'd do that?"
"Like I said, who knows?" Leigh answered. "All I do know is that she hurt you. And that's more than enough incentive for me to ignore her for the rest of my life."
Kris smiled slightly. "Thanks. But, I think you can ease up on the silent treatment."
"You're going to forgive her, aren't you?" Leigh guessed after a moment.
Kris didn't answer. She was afraid that if she said yes, Leigh would give her a reason not to. And she wanted to forgive Julianne; more than anything she wanted to make things okay.
Leigh nodded. "Sometimes I think you'd forgive anyone anything." She half-smiled. "It's one of those annoying flaws I love about you."
Kris smiled, relieved that Leigh wasn't going to give her a huge speech about how she was making a mistake.
"Do you want to catch a movie or something?"
"Yeah," Kris answered. "Go check what's playing. I just want to ..."
"Yeah, yeah," Leigh replied, waving her hand dismissively and standing up. "Tell the fake lesbian that you've forgiven her many faults." She paused. "Hey, maybe she was using you as research for her character."
Kris opened her mouth to reveal what Julianne had told her. But she instantly thought better of it. Julianne had confided in her. In spite of everything, the last thing she wanted to do was betray the actress's trust. "I'd make a really lousy lesbian research subject," she said instead.
"Heh, if you say so," Leigh commented on her way out of the door.
Kris stared at Leigh's retreating back, wondering what her friend meant. Remembering Julianne's email, she instantly forgot all about Leigh's comment, and focused instead on the open reply box on the screen.
I think I have the opposite problem. Or maybe it's the same one, only to a lesser degree. I don't generally have a million eyes cast in my direction. But sometimes just a few can feel like a lot.
My parents have always put a lot of pressure on me because I was the only girl. And somewhere between being proud of me and seeing what I've done with my life, they've lost hope. Now they just pray I find someone to support me so that I don't end up starving on the streets.
When I painted that picture, I'd just come back from a visit to my parents' apartment. It was during Christmas, so some of my other relatives were there. And the entire time that I was there, people kept asking me what I planned to do with my life. And when I told them I wanted to be an artist, they immediately turned to Nathan to ask what he was doing. Of course, his goals in life were a big hit. I was instantly forgotten; dismissed as a future housewife.
At the end of the party, I was so angry and annoyed that I came home and started drawing. It was an act of improvisation mostly. I just wanted to get things out there. I guess art is my way of speaking up without being heard.
Kris read over the email several times over. It was the first time she'd told Julianne what had led her to paint that picture. A part of her wanted to delete the email and write something else; something less personal. But the part that won out was the part of her that was dying to be understood. And for some bizarre reason, she felt that Julianne Franqui could understand her.
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