I hovered over the enter button and then pulled back again. One little click and I would change my entire life...again. Was I ready to give up my dreams already?
"What are you up to?" Autumn asked, leaning over the counter to look at the screen. "Sugar Valley? What's in Sugar Valley?"
"My family." I said as I stared at the large green button. I had enough money for a one way ticket home but if I went...what then?
"Oh" Autumn frowned and then closed the laptop on me, stopping me from making the decision for the moment. "I made breakfast, put that away."
I moved the laptop out of the way and she presented me with a plate of toasty (read: burnt) pancakes. "These look..."
Autumn grimaced and then shrugged. "Cooking isn't really a strength of mine but I tried right?"
"Right" I said picking up the fork and spearing the pancake with it. It took a couple tries to successfully break off a bit but I smiled, for Autumn's sake, as I put the bite in my mouth. It took every fiber in my being to force myself to swallow it and then smile again.
"So, Sugar Valley - that where you were born?" Autumn asked, apparently undaunted by her own cooking.
"Mhmm." I said. "I'm thinking about going back..."
"Like for a visit?" she asked, concern crossing her face.
"Or longer." I said to my plate of pancakes.
"What?!" Autumn asked shoving her plate away and turning her attention to me completely. "But....wait I'm confused. Don't you want to work at the studios - be a big star and all that? I mean that was the plan right?"
"Yeah it was but clearly it's not working out and maybe it's time to make a new dream." I said pushing my own plate away with a huff.
"I'm sure your family is great and all but I doubt they'd want you to give up your dream Vi! your DREAM!" she said emphatically.
"You don't understand..." I said standing up and walking toward the couch, I didn't sit though. I turned on my heel and paced back toward Autumn. "Remember that video? The one with the kids..." she nodded. "Those weren't my niece and nephew - those are MY kids..."
Her eyes grew nearly as large as the plates as she stared at me. "B-but...huh?"
I nodded. "I was young and the situation was....less than ideal. I couldn't deal," I said pathetically. "It sounds horrible now - I abandoned them, at the time I thought I was doing the best thing for them really, at least my parents could love them where as I just saw their father in small form."
"Who is their father?" Autumn asked but I waved the question off.
"I was a mess but the longer I'm here the more I miss them - the more I want to be there for them. Even if that means giving up all this." I swept my hand to include the dingy apartment. "Such that it is."
"Well I get all that but...." she was cut off by the ringing of my phone. I had to fish it out of my purse and but the time I looked at the caller ID she was hovering over my shoulder.
"It's my agent." I said with a frown. I hadn't heard from her in months - she really was a crappy agent most of the time but a nice enough lady.
"Answer it." Autumn said from behind me.
"I can't, I'm supposed to be on a bus in two hours...whatever she wants will take longer than that."
"A ticket you haven't bought yet. Just answer it!" Autumn said as she reached over my shoulder and pushed the talk button and then walked away quickly.
"Ugh! Hello?" I said, lifting the phone to my ear.
"Vi, so glad I reached you! Look I'm on my way out but there's an audition - at the spa right by your place. You should go....it's puuuuuurfect for you." she sounded rushed and I could hear papers being shuffled.
"I'm sorta thinking of headin' out of town actually..." I said, though I wasn't even sure she was still on the other end of line.
"Eleven o'clock Vi, tell them your name - you're already on the list. Gotta go now! Buh Bye!" With nothing else, the phone disconnected and I stared at the cell in my hand for a moment. Autumn - who I suspect was listening in - had a cup of coffee waiting for me.
"You're going to this audition. If it doesn't work out - fine! But take this as a sign that you need to stay at least until 11 o'clock." she said. I just nodded vaguely and allowed her to shove me in the direction of the shower.
By the time I arrived at the spa - why was the audition at the spa anyway? - it was just me and one other waiting to be seen. I gave the person at the desk my name and they must have relayed it to some room within because a few minutes later they pointed me to a row of chairs and told me to sit.
A couple minutes later, a familiar looking woman came out of one of the massage parlors looking very relaxed. "These people do THE BEST pre-natal massage." she said, sitting next to me. "You must be here for the auditions..."
"Er, yes - are you?" I asked, fighting the urge to stare at her trying to figure out how I recognized her.
"Oh no! Just a massage. I just heard they were going on. You look tense enough for a massage though." she said. "Oh I'm..."
"Apricot Rouge!" I exclaimed as her name suddenly occurred to me. I blushed violently, "Sorry - that was loud and embarrassing I'm sure."
She laughed. "It's alright, but you have me at a disadvantage..."
"Oh I'm Violet Dust." I said extending my hand. "Congratulations by the way! I just read about your pregnancy the other day."
"Hello beautiful." a smooth male voice interrupted. It was Apricot's time to blush as she looked up at Steele Verdun.
I'd blush too if HE called me beautiful. Damn he looked better in person than he did on TV!
He offered his hand to Apricot and gently pulled her to her feet before presenting her with a bouquet of fresh flowers. I couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy at their relationship.
"How is my favorite girl and our little bean?" he asked, completely oblivious to my prying eyes.
"Oh fabulous, Tella has the best hands ever!" Apricot gushed about the AH-MAZ-ING massage she'd received for a couple minutes and they were completely absorbed with each other.
"And how's the little bean? Hey little bean..." he bent over and started making baby noises at her belly which caused Apricot to giggle.
"Oh Steele, you're such a goof." Apricot said, nudging his shoulder.
"Just want the baby to recognize my voice." He said with a laugh.
I couldn't help but watch the whole exchange with muted awe and fascination. This is what it was supposed to be like when you're pregnant - even with a TV star's baby. They're supposed to love you and gush over how much you're glowing even if you feel like a house.
Would things have been differently if Mirage had been tender and loving? Or if the baby had been someone else's? I pushed the thoughts aside just as they came over to me, Apricot waving. "Break a leg Vi." she said with a smile. "Oh! This is Steele Verdun by the way."
"Of course he is." I said and then blushed again and buried my face in my hands. "Sorry, I'm really bad at this apparently. It's great...really...to meet both of you. I love the show of course!"
"The audition is with Rock right? Rocky Candy?" Steele asked. After a quick check to the paperwork I'd been handed I nodded. "Confidence, he likes that. If you fumble words on the reading don't stop and apologize or anything, just move on as best you can."
"Oh and don't try to do the girl bonding thing with Satsuma - she hates that!" Apricot chimed in. "Look them in the eye as much as possible."
"Thank you both! I really appreciate it!" I said. Shortly after they left, my name was called and I straightened, being sure to take a few deep breaths before being led through a small maze of hallways to the room where Satsuma Sorbet (producer), Rock Candy (writer) and another man I couldn't really see were waiting. The mystery man had his back turned to us and was halfway in the hall so I turned my attention to the two behind the desk and looked them both in the eye as the standard introductions were made.
"Ah Violet!" Rock said cheerfully while Satsuma sat quietly watching. Rock started talking about the premise of the movie and the particular part I was auditioning for - a supporting role in a paranormal, post-apocalyptic movie. All these details were important to me as my agent hadn't felt I needed to know them so I listened attentively right up until the mystery man turned and faced us and I saw his face.
"And this is Mirage Kashmir! I'm sure you know his face from San Marino." Rock was saying, I should be looking him in the eye as Apricot suggested but I couldn't stop staring at Mirage. To be fair, Mirage was staring at me as well.
"Of course." I finally said, my eyes still locked on Mirage.
"Wonderful! So we'd like you to do a reading from the actual script. Mirage is here to read his part. He's playing the lead and the character you're reading for doesn't have the greatest relationship with his...I'd like to see some of that underlying anger come out I think..." Rock handed me a sheaf of papers and pointed toward the stands already set up.
"I think I can handle anger." I said with a smirk. Mirage may have rolled his eyes but I'd finally torn my attention from him and was skimming the script.
I waited for Mirage to take his place opposite me before I started, "Why should I trust you to do anything?" My voice carried out of the open air room but they couldn't say I wasn't angry.
"Hey now, this here is my car so I'll be doing the driving." Mirage said in his best portrayal of arrogant man - a skill he had well practiced to be sure.
"You? You who would get lost in your own garage?" I rolled my eyes. "I'd rather walk than trust YOU to save me from a horde of undead!"
"Would you just get in the damn car? We can fight about this later...you know when there aren't some zombified berries ready to eat our brains..." Mirage said.
The rest of the scene involved me arguing with Mirage's character and basically insulting every thing he'd ever done - it was oddly cathartic and I could only hoped the entire script was like that.
"Perfect! Absolutely perfect! You were wonderful Violet!" Rock Candy was gushing about my portrayal of his words while Satsuma had a knowing smile on her face. Though she couldn't possibly understand the relationship that Mirage and I had, she seemed to understand there was history.
As I left, with a broad smile on my face, I saw Apricot and Steele in the hot tub and could actually look on without feeling the pang of jealousy. Still, their relationship was to be envied to some degree.
"So? How did it go?" Autumn asked when I entered the apartment.
"You're still in your pajamas!" I pointed out.
"Don't change the subject! How did the audition go?!" she pestered.
"Good...and bad," I said scrunching my nose as I considered. "Mostly good though. I think. Oh! And I met Apricot Rouge and Steele Verdun! Ya know from that sci-fi show we watch on Thursdays?"
"Ooh! Really? Was the audition for it?!" she asked, hopping on the couch next to me.
"No! She was there for a massage and he came to pick her up I guess. But it was so sweet - the audition was for some zombie flick with Mirage." I said. I cringed at how casually I threw his name out there and Autumn picked up on it.
"Mirage? Mirage Kashmir? You say his name like you know him...." she said. Suddenly her eyes went wide and she was snatching up the computer and pulling up the pictures of Lazuli and Cobalt. I could have stopped her, I should have stopped her but I just stared at my hands as she looked at them and then an internet photo of Mirage and back at me. "Is he....? Are they....?"
"Was there a question in there?" I asked with a sigh.
I was prepared to divulge all when my phone rang and my agent excitedly told me that I'd been cast in the movie. "You must have made quite an impression on them girly! This is big! Huge! I'll get ya all the details as soon as I have them but stick around, the next few months are gonna be busy!" and then she hung up on me.
"Her phone etiquette is seriously lacking." I said with a chuckle. Then I grinned at Autumn, "Guess who got the part?" We spent the next twenty minutes jumping around and hugging each other after that and all talk of Mirage being the baby-daddy was gone, thankfully.
She wasn't lying when she said the coming months would be busy. Almost as soon as the paperwork had been signed it was a flurry of pre-production shots, parties and trailers. I barely found time sit down at the end of the night and eat but as the twins fourth birthday approached I thought about going home again - at least for the party. Unfortunately there was absolutely no time for even a day trip so I had to settle for a flurry of presents and promises - ones I hoped I wouldn't have to break.
Surf came to some of the cast parties - not that he was on the cast but he was a local celebrity and it looked good for the studio to have as many familiar faces around as possible. That's how it was explained to me anyway. "So, Vi, can I have your autograph?" he asked with a smile.
"Huh?" I was stumped as he thrust a pin and paper at me. "Surf, surely YOU know that I'm nobody."
"Not yet you aren't - but someday this could be worth something. 'Sides, it's not for me. I was gonna give it to Amethyst." he said with a chuckle.
I shrugged and signed his paper and then frowned. "I need a better signature..."
He looked at the slip of paper and laughed. "yeah you kinda do. You should practice signing things...anything."
"Do you practice signing things?" I asked in surprise.
"Not anymore but I'm a guy - I can get away with a sloppy signature." He tucked the paper away and gave me a hug. "Gonna go mingle, have a good time!"
I turned to face the crowd of mostly unfamiliar faces and considered the merits of mingling. I should get to know these people, I should make the contacts but it was overwhelming. Instead I turned to the bar where a glass of liquid courage was already waiting in a row with others.
When I turned around again, I found Mirage had made his grand entrance and a flock of girls had surrounded him. His own group of traveling groupies - lucky him, I thought with a roll of my eyes.
I downed the drink in front of me and dropped the glass on the bar before approaching him. Reluctantly the groupies scattered as I invaded their space. "Ah Violet, we haven't had much chance to talk..."
"There's not much I w-want to talk about with you." I said.
"Oh sure there is, I can sense it every time we have to do a scene." Mirage said. If he'd been unhinged the day of the audition, he'd had plenty of time to recover from the shock of seeing me again and was back to being arrogant and cool. "Let's dance." he grabbed for my hand and I yanked it away but I followed him to the dance floor. "I'm surprised you know?"
"By what?" I asked.
"I figured I'd be hearing from the lawyers...about the twins." he said.
"Why?" I asked, my mind dulled by the drink and the music I suppose.
"Child support - I figured you would have come after me for that anyway." he said looking at me like I was a dummy for not having thought about it.
"Oh! Yeah...I don't want your money...I don't want you in my life really to be honest." I said pushing away from him. He started to come after me but the groupies flocked over to him and he put on the charm for them and ignored me most of the night.
I smiled at people as I returned toward the bar and swiveled around in the chair to crowd watch while the bartender reluctantly made me a glass of water. I'd seen Apricot and Steele in the crowd but had yet to make my way over to them yet. Everyone was treated with the show of him proposing though!
"That's what it's supposed to be..." I said to myself.
"Huh?" the bartender said as he handed me my glass. I just shook my head and clapped in time with everyone else for the happy couple.
Autumn popped up beside me a few minutes later and informed me that she may have named dropped to get into the party. I was thankful for her company though and could appreciate the need for a friendly face after that.
The party slowly started to wrap up and I said my goodbyes before meeting Autumn outside so we could walk him together. The advantage to living above the diner was that it was in the middle of everything.
"Did you see the proposal?" Autumn asked with a giggle. "It was just so sweet! I love them together and I don't even know them!"
I chuckled. "They seem to be a good match to be sure."
We were almost to the elevator when I felt my phone vibrating in my purse. "I'll be up in a moment Autumn" I said waving her on. "Hello?"
"Violet Dust?" The voice was male and gruff - maybe a little familiar but I couldn't place it right off. "I don't know if you remember me but my name is Paco Umber, I work for.."
"Bloss! Of course, I remember you." I said recalling the large bodyguard that kept a dutiful eye on Bloss as a teenager. I wonder if he still worked for her.
"Yes, I'm calling on her behalf - though she doesn't know it...."
Cinder's Point of View
I set out the cakes last and looked up the street hopefully. Though she'd given no reason for us to hope she'd come, I always looked anxiously for her. And she always disappointed me. Perhaps that wasn't fair of me to feel that way but it was disappointing to me that she was missing her children's lives like this.
"Come on Cin." Val said with a smile, pulling my attention away from the vacant road. There were two cakes and a few small presents. The big presents were the tree house that Val had built with help from Minsk and Haiti and the water slide that Violet had sent for them.
I smiled for Zuli as I picked her up, trying to ignore all the aches in my body as I did so. At four years old, they were both a bit old to be carried but birthdays were a special occasion.
True to her nature, Zuli fought me a bit asking for Mommy as I tried to help her blow out the candles while Cobalt blew them out easily and clapped happily in Val's arms. "Come on Zuli dear, you see how good Cobalt did..." Zuli just pouted and refused to look at her brother.
Finally I convinced her that the candles had to be blown out before she could be old enough to play with her big girl presents. With a big huff of annoyance she blew the candles out and then squirmed until I put her down.
It was hard to believe that they were now four; that Violet had been gone for nearly three years now.
They scarfed down a slice of cake each and then ran off at lightening speed to explore the tree house. I wasn't sure they'd ever come down from there and wondered what we'd do if they every refused. I had to laugh at the image of Val or I trying to hobble up that ladder to force one of them down.
"What's so funny Cin?" Val asked from where he was setting up the slide.
I shook my head and kept laughing. "Zuli! Cobalt! Why don't you two go change so you can try out the slide your mother sent?" I called up into the tree.
They clambered down the ladder so quickly I was almost afraid they'd fall over each other in the process. I picked up the cakes and followed them into the house - at a much slower pace - and was barely at the back door when two blue haired swimsuit clad blurs brushed past me. "Slow down!" I called after them with a laugh.
They didn't slow down.
They were quick to make friends at school and soon the house was alive with the sound of children every afternoon. If it weren't for the aches and creaks in my body, I could have sworn they were all our own children.
They had two particular friends that came over more than anyone else though. Lotus, a little red haired boy, was Cobalt's best friend from the very first day of school. Their teacher said they'd been inseparable from the moment they shared an art table that day.
Zuli's best friend was also a boy named Turq. She said he reminded her of the doll her mother had sent her - which I couldn't see at all but what do I know of the minds of Kindergartners? She was also a bit of a tomboy so it wasn't too surprising she came home with a boy best friend I suppose.
Together the four of them did everything together! Thankfully none of the boys seemed to think having a girl in the group was at all unusual - or Zuli probably would have punched them in the nose. I shudder to think of the trouble that girl will get into as she gets older!
On the weekends they were always sleeping over at someone's house and as two of the four were in our house, our turn seemed to come up more often than the others. I couldn't say I minded too much though. It was fun to think of new things for them to do.
Their favorite thing to do was to camp outside - well it wasn't Cobalt's favorite but he was always willing to follow the majority. It was simply in his nature to be agreeable it seemed.
After smores, they took turns weaving ghost stories but everyone agreed that Zuli's were the best. Val and I sat in to listen sometimes and she had a magical way of painting a picture in our minds. And she was very creative - anyone who can merge mummies, aliens and sweet zombie kitty cats has talent. And I'm not just saying that because she's my granddaughter!
Eventually all the stories were told and all the smores were eaten so it was time to snuggle into their sleeping bags for the night. Since our yard wasn't fenced in on all sides, Val and I took turns going out to check on them through out the night.
It usually took a few trips before they'd all finally be asleep and the talking had ceased. "Sleep tight little dears." I said quietly before returning to the house where I would no doubt sleep restlessly on the couch until morning. Val would end up in the tent probably, just to be safe.