Book Six in the Sweet Promise Press Funeral Fakers Series
Mourning Crisis, is available for pre-order now!
Nothing will bring your acting career to a crashing halt like literally crashing through the stage floor. But that’s exactly what happened to Mayme Buckley. Now she just wishes she could turn back time. Unfortunately, doing so means moving back home with her 90stastic parents and taking whatever bit part the town of Asheville is willing to throw her way. Hopefully without any injuries this time!
First up, the role of Professional Mourner, and this time her leading man is a dead guy. Despite a performance worthy of a Tony, Mayme’s captive audience have…. questions. Like how could the cantankerous supervisor of the town’s moving company land a hot fiancee like Mayme while he was alive? And was his death really an accident?
Mayme’s not too sure, and It’s up to her to find out. Otherwise, her newest role of a lifetime just may lead her six feet under. Find out whodunit in this hilarious mystery series filled with fake tears and a very real body count…
Pre-order Mourning Crisis from Sweet Promise Press on Amazon
Read Chapter One Now!
The repetitive clanking and rattling of my Mazda Tribute’s engine started somewhere around the ninth hour of the eleven plus hour drive—not including stops to potty and eat—from Brooklyn, New York, my former residence, to Asheville, North Carolina, my hometown and soon-to-be home once again. I couldn’t drown out the slow, agonizing death of my nearly antique clunker with the speaker of my ancient iPhone, so instead, I stuffed my one working earbud into my right ear and concentrated on the music.
Chris Stapleton’s voice almost matched the beat of my SUV’s dying engine. Almost.
My mind flashed back to the day I got old Mary, as I called my Tribute. I remembered the scowl on my face that fateful day when she was a young, fresh, already teenaged baby SUV sitting in my parents garage with a big yellow ribbon wrapped around her middle.
The right side of my upper lip twitched just as it had that day. “You want me to drive that?” I cried.
“What’s wrong with her, Mayme?” Daddy asked.
“Her? You mean it? It’s old. I can’t show up at school in that. Everyone will laugh at me.”
“You don’t want her? Fine. We’ll take her back and get you that ugly thing.” She waved her hand in Daddy’s face. “What’s it called, Bobby?”
“The PT Cruiser?”
“Yes, that one. You want that ugly old thing?”
I crinkled my eyebrows together and stared at the ground. “No.”
“Well then, you might could show a little respect and gratefulness for what the good Lord puts in front of you now, you hear?” Momma stomped off and slammed the door behind her. That’s what my mother always did when she was mad, stomped off and slammed doors.
I shook the memory off like I’d just been caught in an unexpected rain shower walking around in Brooklyn and sought cover underneath an old metal awning.
I wasn’t looking forward to returning home. Not only would I have to eat crow until the sun went down and rose again every single day for a week–at least when it came to Momma—but I’d have to listen to her telling me why moving to the city to be an actress was the worst idea ever and that I should have just stayed home and worked for Daddy at his plumbing business taking orders and filing papers until I got my associates degree at the community college and found me a nice man to marry like any good, respectful daughter would do. Blah, blah, blah. Momma never intended to be cruel, and most of the time she wasn’t, but her life lessons always came out that way.
If my car engine wasn’t on its last leg, the fear of her I told you so’s would have had me doing a one-eighty and heading straight back to New York City to give that actress thing another go. Maybe. Except that my engine wasn’t just on its last leg, it was actually crawling and dragging that last leg pathetically behind it, begging me to please, for the love of God, put it to rest, and I’d all but been banned from Off-Broadway because I was the biggest loser of the whole shebang in all of history, and for the rest of eternity, too.
Okay, maybe not the biggest loser and not of the whole shebang in all of history, but it sure felt that way when you were finally given a part big enough to have your name in big, bold print on a marquee and you blew the whole thing in the first scene on opening night by crashing through the stage floor, butt first—to which the newspapers reported—
Actress’s Plus-Sized Booty Bombs Off-Broadway
Hit and Career with a Bang!
Who even wrote headlines like that? Seriously? I’d thought of at least a hundred better versions on the drive back to Asheville.
Rising Star Drops Booty Bomb Through Off-Broadway Basement
And then there was another version…
Off-Broadway Play Twerked by Booty Incident
Perhaps they could have chosen something along a little less trendy like…
Booty Fall Bottoms Out Bad Play
Okay, so maybe they weren’t a whole lot better, but at least they didn’t focus on my dead career, just my big booty.
Being a down on my luck, or more like a never really got started, Off-Broadway actress was hard enough, but falling from not-even-close-to-grace and having it splashed across every newspaper in New York City and the international film industry was both a career killer and an ego crusher. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure which hurt more, but I knew crawling home with my tail between my legs and listening to my mother and her I-Told-You-So speech would send my already teetering ego right off the edge of security and into the pit of low self-esteemdom.
I topped out at five feet two inches and one hundred and thirty-seven pounds. That, depending on where I shopped, ranged from a size six to a size eight. It was 2018. Twiggy was out, and curvy was in, so whatever reporter came up with that career-killing headline needed psychiatric treatment or a pop on the forehead.
I voted for the second, given by yours truly, of course.
I wasn’t even thirty, just barely past twenty-five, an actress never gave her real age, at least that was what the late Marilyn Monroe always said, and my career was toast. Burnt, crisp, toast.
I turned left onto my parents street and eased to a crawl. Find your happy place, Mayme, I repeated under my breath. Daddy will be happier than a pig in mud to see you. You know that. He never cared what you did as long as you did it with all of your heart. Momma, most of the time she just didn’t know what happy was, and if someone tried to show her, she’d tell them they were wrong, and go on her way being her normal self.
Three long, relaxing breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, at least I thought that’s what I’d learned in that Pilates and yoga class I took in New York, and I was good to go. I pressed the gas pedal just enough to give my old girl a little push, and she clanked and rattled the rest of the way to home-sweet-home with a cloud of white smoke puffing out of the engine as she did.
Daddy sat on the front porch with a stick and a knife in hand, whittling away. When he saw the familiar blue of my Tribute pull up, he pushed up his Carolina Panthers baseball cap and smiled. I’d forgotten how much I missed that smile. Seven and a half years without a single trip home for a visit was a long time to be gone.
He waddled up, favoring his left leg as he always did, and opened my door for me. “Looks like you got yourself an engine problem.”
I stepped out and hugged him tightly. “Oh Daddy, I’ve missed you so much.”
He hugged me back. “My sweet Meme, it’s good to have you home.”
My mother walked out onto the front porch with two pies in hand. Their fresh from the oven scent wafted toward me. I knew right away she’d made both pumpkin and apple crumble, and I had to dig my feet into the driveway to stop myself from running to snatch them from her and gobble them down.
“Well now, don’t just stand there Bobby Joe Buckley, get her bag and bring it on in.” She held out the two pies, one in each hand. “Mayme, I made your favorites. Pumpkin and apple crumble. Though from the looks of you, I don’t think you’ve been starving living up with the Yankees.”
Daddy smiled but gave his eyes the teeniest bit of a roll. “Now don’t you listen to your momma. You know how she is. All bark and no bite.”
“I know, Daddy.”
He hobbled around to the back of my car, his limp more prominent than when I’d left. “Let’s get your bags and get you settled right quick and have ourselves some pie out by the firepit. It’ll be like old times, what do you say?”
He stretched strong arms to open the hatch, but I sprinted to the back of my car before he could and pushed his hands away. “Daddy, don’t do that.” I nudged my head toward the back window. “I brought everything I could fit into the car, and I don’t want it all toppling out and falling onto the ground, so I’ll just get it later.”
My mother hollered from the front porch. “When do you expect the movers to get here?”
I yelled back. “Movers?”
“With your furniture and what not?”
“Momma, what you see is all I’ve got.”
“What about your furniture? Your bed linens? You didn’t bring your china in your car, did you? If so, I sure hope you packed it good. Used that bubbly stuff. We get it at the thrift shop all the time. When people bring in their stuff, lots of times it’s wrapped up in that bubbly wrap, and when Leonard isn’t wasting time busting the bubbles to scare off the birds trapped in the storage room—‘cause he does that and thinks it’s funny, but it ain’t—we mark it for sale for a couple pennies, and it sells like hotcakes.”
Momma didn’t get her southern on twenty-four-seven, only when she was tired, angry or nervous—which come to think of it, was probably most of the time. But, I suspected my return home likely garnered a little bit of all three for her. I knew she brought out the tired in me. “It’s bubble wrap, Momma, and I don’t have a need for it. I really just brought my clothes and makeup and a few odds and ends.”
“Well, what’d you wrap your china in then, sugar, or is the movin’ company bringing that down?”
“Momma, I don’t have me a moving company, and I definitely don’t have any china.” Why would I eat Spaghettios off china when regular dishware worked just fine? I didn’t have the guts to tell her I’d left that stuff with my roommate. I’d left all of my limited kitchenware and what little furniture I’d had with my roommate. We’d tried to tie my mattress to the top of my Tribute but it fell off somewhere along Morgan Avenue, and I’d just kept driving, too embarrassed and frustrated to pull over and do anything about it. As if I could have on my own anyway, but I wasn’t worried about littering. It was Brooklyn, after all. A check in my rearview at the stop sign a few feet away, and three guys had already grabbed it and were carrying it to a walk up. Mattresses weren’t cheap, and if one dropped in front of you, literally, it was pretty much a miracle from God.
I popped open my back hatch, slowly opened the door, steadying myself in case a random bag came tumbling out, which thankfully, none did, so I grabbed three bags, each labeled with masking tape and numbered one, two and three. I’d meticulously marked everything in my vehicle and organized it all so I could access it according to what I’d need when I arrived home. The three bags were all I’d need until the next afternoon. Actually, they were more than I’d need, but I would be able to unpack some, feel like I’d been at least partially productive, and appease my mother if that was even possible.
My mother wasn’t some old Catholic school nun threatening to beat me with a whip for not showing my work. Honestly, she wasn’t a horrible person at all, she just lacked that down-home, southern motherly gene practically every other mother in every town in every state across America had. I’d once called her the female version of Squidward, but the joke was completely lost on both her and my father.
I gave my father a bag because I knew he’d want to help and headed up the front porch steps and straight into a time capsule that landed me smack dab in the middle of 1994.
My maternal great-grandmother Annabelle Foster, affectionately known to everyone as Granny, had passed away in late 1993 when I was just a year and a half old. When she died, she left my mother a large sum of money, and instead of putting that money toward retirement or in an IRA account like my father strongly advised—I knew this because I’d heard the story over and over and over—Momma used the cash to redecorate the entire house, except my room, which, she said, had just been done when I was born. She loved the décor so much, she’d kept it for the past twenty-six years.
My room though, she’d allowed me to redecorate at twelve, from the lovely Holly Hobbie décor of the 70s she’d loved and thought her baby girl wouldn’t find at all alarming or scary in the dim light of a nightlight.
I had nightmares of dozens of those Holly Hobbie dolls holding their little bouquets of flowers, only it wasn’t actually bouquets of flowers but knives or other kitchen utensils worthy of killing me, chasing me around my locked bedroom. Just the memory sent chills up and down my spine.
Walking back into the foyer of my childhood home felt like I’d never left. The mingling pumpkin and apple smells, both lingering under a stronger scent of cinnamon and nutmeg danced under my nose and tickled my taste buds. My mouth watered and I really, really wanted a piece of pie, or more like two pieces of pie, because Momma made the best pies ever.
The old and worn wall to wall beige carpet suffered an ill-fated disease along with the rest of the décor Daddy liked to call Stubborn Momma Syndrome or SMS for short. The rug, however, got the brunt of the illness. Daddy said Momma had wanted a whole lot of flash for her cash, so she went for the cheapest carpet she could find, and twenty-six years later, it showed. Regular walking paths had worn down to the tread in the front entrance and created a line to the family room and kitchen, where the carpet did end but met the large, matching twelve by twelve beige kitchen tiles. Just a shade lighter than the rug when I moved, they were now at least three shades lighter. The carpet, stained and deeply ingrained with dirt and God only knew what, was in worse shape than my Tribute’s engine, and that said a lot.
I winked at Daddy but spoke to Momma. “I see you haven’t changed a thing.”
Daddy laughed. “Don’t think we ever will unless we decide to sell the place and a realtor makes us, and then I’m not even sure your momma will.”
“Why fix something that ain’t broke?” She waved her hand at my bags. “Just carry those on up to your room.”
I wished I’d gotten my mother’s cleaning gene, but I hadn’t. Her cream colored—which she believed match the beige carpet—curtain and identical valances with the muted floral print didn’t have a speckle of dust on them anywhere and not one hair from neither Duke nor Buster, Daddy’s hunting dogs, either. The dogs, who weren’t allowed in the house until they’d retired from hunting two years ago and became old beige rug potatoes, were plumper and rounder versions of their younger selves, and I had a strong feeling Momma spoiled them rotten with people food and lied about it. I turned my head and sniffed around wondering if I could smell either of the stinky hounds anywhere, but the place smelled too much like the pies for me to notice. I even bent down to pet the pooches and sniffed them, and all I got was a whiff of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a few sweet puppy smoochies, too.
Momma was a cleaning machine.
I tossed my purse onto the blue and beige floral print couch and smiled, knowing I’d get a what for in three…two…one!
“Don’t you dare leave that there. Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to you, Mayme.”
“I know, Momma. I’ll get it when I go to my room.”
“You bet you will. I didn’t raise you to be a slob.”
“But you know I take after Daddy.”
“Bless your heart. I tried to fix that before you moved.”
Daddy winked at me. “Fix that? That’s the best part about our little angel.”
“Our little angel could use a membership at one of those Jazzercise studios. I think there’s one in Arden. Is that one still open off Sweeten Creek Road?”
“I don’t know, sweetie. I might could check if you’d like.”
“I’m not going to Jazzercise, Momma. It’s not in my budget.”
“I could probably help you with the cost,” Daddy said.
I glared at him. “Daddy, please. Don’t encourage her.”
He raised his hands in surrender. Daddy always surrendered to Momma. I figured true love was like that, but I didn’t know from my own experience.
“We could help you with the cost,” Momma hollered from the back porch where she’d gone out to set the table. “Might be easier to find work if your clothes didn’t fit so tight.”
I dropped my eyes to my black yoga pants and XL royal blue Off-Broadway sweatshirt that hung off me like it was supposed to. “I’m in a baggy sweatshirt and yoga pants, Momma.”
“It is what it is, and that’s all I’m saying about that.”
The news played on the big, clunky TV sitting in its squared off hole inside the outdated, boxy, knotty pine entertainment center Momma hadn’t allowed me to touch until I was twelve. The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize twelve was a defining year for me in Momma’s eyes. I was able to make decisions for myself, touch things she’d considered valuable, and stay home alone.
“Pine is soft. You touch it, and it can scratch and dent, and nobody wants damaged looking furniture. It’s for the poorer people,” Momma whispered. Momma always whispered when she said something she knew was ugly as if whispering it would make it less so.
Whatever did she think about the stuff now?
I pressed my lips together to hold back a smirk. If my mother ever traveled to the big city, she’d have the shock of her life. Her antiquated style was so outdated it was retro. Only she wouldn’t know what that meant. “Momma, you do know sponge-painted walls are passé, right?”
She snarled at me. “I like my walls. And those fancy interior designers on those decorating shows don’t call them sponge painted anymore. They call them faux painted, and you know that is special and high design. And I’ll have you know, faux is French.”
Yes, and it meant false, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that.
She walked to the kitchen, opened the oven and removed two more pies, placing them on cooling racks on the counter. I skipped over to them and inhaled their glorious cinnamon and pumpkin smells.
“Go and make sure your daddy isn’t trying to get the rest of your stuff from your car. You know how he is, and he don’t need to be doing all that heavy lifting with his bum leg. Can’t get him to go to the doctor and it’s just getting worse.”
As I headed toward the front door, she hollered to me, “I’ll cut you a piece of pie. Which do you want, the pumpkin or the apple?”
I skipped back to the kitchen, a big smile draped across my face. “How about a small piece of both?”
She gave me a slow once over. “Mayme, honey, how about just one piece?”
The smile waned but didn’t disappear. I loved her pie. “I’ll take pumpkin. Extra whipped cream.”
“Pumpkin, no whipped cream, it is.”
“One is fine, but make it a big one.”
She shook her head and laughed.
* * *
My bedroom was another trip through time. Momma hadn’t changed one thing since I’d left. My pink and green striped sheets and matching comforter still dominated the color scheme, and my once favorite but now too young for me glow in the dark stars still covered the ceiling like a clear night sky. I couldn’t believe they’d stayed up since I’d turned sixteen. My twin hot pink blow up chairs, however, they hadn’t fared so well. Sitting half-filled in their respective corners like shriveled grapes heading into their future lives as raisins. I felt sorry for the poor things. They’d had a good run but really needed to be retired to the garbage dump.
Next to one sat an old-fashioned bicycle tire pump and a note from Daddy that read, “I tried, but I can’t find the holes. Maybe they’re just old and tired like your daddy.” A teeny tear formed in my left eye. The thought of my daddy being old hurt my heart.
He’d always been a robust and booming pillar of strength in my eyes, but the years I’d been gone hadn’t been kind to him, and I noticed the fine lines on his face were deeper, his shoulders weren’t as broad, his stride not as confident, and his presence not as bold. The commanding man that once walked into a room and demanded attention was now more subdued, less sublime. Was it real? Was Daddy less Daddy because he’d aged or was I the one who’d aged and just saw him as he truly was, just a man, not a God-like figure that practically walked on water for the little girl that loved him like no other?
I rushed upstairs and unpacked one bag of clothing and then Momma called me down for pie and pot roast. Daddy had thrown a pile of leaves and wood into the brick and stone firepit he’d built on our back porch, and I inhaled the scent, and every memory that came with it before I even got halfway down the stairs.
We sat outside on the back porch and ate under the Asheville night sky just like the old days, and I was instantly transported back in time again.
Fall nights sitting outside, enjoying that very same thing, roasting marshmallows, staring up at the night sky, Daddy picking at his fiddle and Momma singing one of her favorite southern hymns. I’d always sing along, but Momma had a voice no one could match. She sang like an angel.
I’d forgotten how gorgeous and calming the sounds and sights of North Carolina, and Asheville, in particular, were at night. In the city, I considered it a miracle if I caught even just a small glimpse of a star or planet. With the smog and city lights, seeing even a touch of the universe was nearly impossible, but in the French Broad River Valley of the Appalachian Mountains of Asheville, the view was as clear as the day was long and almost endless. Growing up, there were nights when we all sat outside on the very same porch, breathing in the crisp, dark, smoky scent of burning leaves as we gazed upon that brightly dotted sky, connecting the dots into pictures and sharing them with each other.
“Look Meme, it’s a baseball cap,” Daddy would say, taking my hand and mapping out the cap with my fingertip.
My heart warmed from the memory.
“Meme, why don’t you say the blessing?” Momma asked.
I hadn’t said the blessing since I’d left home, but I went ahead and did it. Some things were like riding a bike.
She smiled when I finished, and Daddy dug into his roast like he hadn’t eaten in months.
Momma wiggled her fork at Daddy, but she smiled while doing it. “Now Bobby Joe Buckley, where’s your manners?”
He immediately slowed down and chewed with less vigor.
She flipped her fork and poked it into a piece of roast and then popped it into her mouth. Forgetting her own manners, she chewed and talked to me while she did. “So, Gladys over at the Walmart says the Biltmore is hiring for the holidays. You might could go by there and apply.” She sipped her sweet tea. “And if that doesn’t work, there’s always room for you at the thrift shop, or Daddy might could use the help answering phones and filing and such at the shop. Those plumbers could use someone keeping them in line, right honey? I looked online, and there’s still time to apply for the next semester at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock. It’s not that far of a drive and you might could take some online classes. Except maybe typing.” She glanced at Daddy. “Do they still teach typing, Bobby?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know the answer to that one, darlin’.”
I finished chewing my bite of pork roast before I spoke. Hopefully, my chewing hid the disdain for continuing my education pooling in the pit of my stomach and working to shoot up my throat. “Momma, you know college isn’t my thing.”
“Sweetie, that was eight years ago. You gave that acting thing a shot, and it didn’t work. It’s time to take life serious now.”
That acting thing? That acting this was actually my life’s passion. “I am taking life serious now. Acting is what I do, Momma. I’m planning to go to the three Asheville theaters in town and see what they’ve got going on. My agent—” I didn’t mention that my agent was actually my former agent because I knew that would start an entirely different conversation I wasn’t prepared to have, “said it might be a good idea to ease back into acting through one of them. Maybe even work for the theater or volunteer if that’s all that’s available.”
Momma set her fork and knife down on her multi-colored floral print plate. “Sweetie, you sat in a chair in the middle of a stage and broke through the floor on the opening night of—what was it called? Don’t knock it till you ry it?”
I laughed. “If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It.”
“Sugar, we’re at the dinner table, don’t be sassy.”
“I’m not being sassy Momma. If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It is the name or was the name, of the play.”
Her eyes shifted to Daddy and then back at me and then she stared at her plate. Everyone was silent for a moment, and then Momma said, “Well, bless your ever-lovin’ heart. You did exactly what they said. I don’t know what the fuss is all about then. Maybe you flaunted it a bit much by dropping it a little too low, but us Buckley’s, when we do something, we do it up right, don’t we?”
“I think maybe you mean she did it down low, honey,” Daddy said. Well, he laughed as he finished the sentence.
I’d tried to keep a straight face, but it was hard. “Wow, y’all are great at supporting your kid. Thanks, tons.”
Momma rubbed my shoulder. “You might wanna rethink that piece of pie, sugar.” She winked at me.
“I have. I’m definitely having two pieces now.”
“You know what you need?” She wiped her mouth with her napkin. “One of them electronic step trackers. We’ve got a few of them at the thrift shop. I might could get you one if you’d like.”
“Uh, thanks, but I’ll pass on that one.”
“Anna.” Daddy eyed her. When she glanced up at him, he told her to hush.
“What? She’s my daughter, and she needs to know the truth. If her momma can’t tell her it, who can?”
“The truth about what?” I asked.
“Honey, maybe it’s time to give up on this dream of acting. I read an article recently. Did you know that over ninety percent of people that go to Hollywood and New York don’t make it? They end up back home and look at you. Look where you are.”
“Momma, I’m not ready to give up on my dream. Not yet. I have to at least give it a shot. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll try something else.”
“That sounds like a mighty fine plan, honey,” Daddy said.
“Don’t you think you already gave it a shot?” she asked.
I wiped a tear that had mysteriously fallen from my eye. “I’m not ready to give up yet.”
“Okay then,” she said. “If you’re not ready, then we’ll move on to plan B, whatever that is.” She smiled and went head down into her roast like she hadn’t just attempted to crush my dreams.
We finished eating, and I helped Momma clean up and then while Daddy checked out my Tribute’s engine, I retrieved the rest of my belongings and began the daunting, humiliating process of recognizing my failed attempt at an Off-Broadway career and moving back in with my parents.
* * *
Daddy had somehow stopped the clanking and banging in my car, though he said only by the grace of God, and he wasn’t sure how long the reprieve would last. I pulled together a mildly conservative, by New York standards at least, semi-professional outfit, and hit the road bright and early the next morning looking for work. Momma had already left for her shift at the thrift shop. She said they’d had a busy day the day before and needed to inventory everything to maximize the Thursday crowd. Apparently, Thursday was the day the Goodwill nearby put out their new arrivals, so the local thrift stores did the same to compete. Thankful she wasn’t there to give an opinion on my outfit of choice, I slapped on the rest of my makeup, piled my long semi-curly blonde highlighted hair on the top of my head in a messy but stylish bun and headed out the door.
Daddy hollered from the opened garage. “Knock ‘um dead sweetie, or is it break a leg? I’m not cool with your actor talk.”
“Not saying cool with would be a good place to start, but otherwise either would work.” I blew him a kiss.
“Oh, I left you a little something in the glove compartment. Don’t spend it all in one place.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” I said, though I was grateful for the gift.
“’Course I didn’t, but I did anyway.”
“Well, thank you. Love you.”
Saving the cash he’d surprised me with, I used the last of my available credit on my only open card to fill my tank and drove on a wish and a prayer to the first theater in town.
Walking into the small community theater set my heart rate scurrying into overdrive. I held my chest, confident it would burst out and flop onto the floor in a bloody mess. That would be a real bummer for getting a job, I thought.
I expected to be nervous, but I hadn’t realized I’d plunge into a full-blown panic attack with sweaty palms and jittery nerves. Every hair on my arms rose to attention like little soldiers prepared for battle, and the tips of my fingers tingled so much I had to shake them to regain feeling. I couldn’t erase the thought of jazz hands and had to stop myself from laughing at the images of the lousy internet memes dancing around in my head.
I concentrated on my surroundings and remembered what my high school drama teacher taught me. “Even the biggest, most popular actors suffer from stage fright. Just pretend you’re them.”
So, I walked over to the theater’s main office and knocked on the door like I was Idina Menzel.
I knew the minute the theater manager opened the office door from the expression on her plastic-surgery-gone-wrong face that she’d recognized me immediately. Giving me the once-over with her steely green eyes in that snobby way New Yorkers did, I wondered why she wasn’t still in the city. Everyone that had previously worked in New York theater had a story. Their level of snobbiness was determined only by the intensity of angst and trepidation attached to their account, or at least the drama to which they portrayed it. If someone’s mother was sick and needed care, that was one thing. Crashing through the floor butt first on the opening night, well, that entirely different. I didn’t play my sorry excuse for angst and trepidation off like it was the worst thing to ever happen to me, because the truth was, it wasn’t. At least I hoped it wasn’t. I walked in proud but humbled. Head up, shoulders straight, smile bright, eyes widened, and scared out of my flipping mind. I hoped my teeth chattering didn’t distract her too much.
Her eyes traveled from my black Michael Kors slingback pumps, the most expensive shoes I owned, up to my slathered on Bobbi Brown makeup, judging and critiquing every inch of me, every inch of the way. “You’re that girl that went butt-first through the stage floor, right?” She’d chewed gum while she spoke and popped a bubble at the end of her sentence.
“The floor was in disrepair, and there was rotting wood the theater should have dealt with.” I replied with the canned speech my former agent had created before she’d dropped me like a dead carnival goldfish swirling down the toilet.
“Perception is reality, honey.” She walked back around her desk and sat. She waved toward the chair on the other side of the desk, signaling for me to take a seat, too. I took that as a good sign. “What brings you to Asheville?”
“My parents are getting older, and I figured it was a good time to come home for a bit.”
“Blackballed, I take it?”
I shrank an inch in seconds flat. “Basically.”
“It’s a hard-knock life, acting.”
“My agent thought it might do me some good to try local theater back home. You know, reestablish myself again.”
“Your agent hung around?”
I shook my head.
“Not surprising.” She opened her desk and took out a pack Virginia Slims cigarettes. “You mind?”
I did, but I wasn’t about to say so. “No, not at all.”
She placed the thing between her lips and held a lighter to its tip. When it ignited, she drew in from it and did whatever it was smokers did. At least when she exhaled the smoke, she turned her head to the side. I still smelled the stale, offensive used ashtray smell that reminded me of my Uncle Jimmy’s house before my aunt forbade him to smoke inside. At least she didn’t blow it directly in my face. “Listen, babe, here’s the thing. I got a theater to run, and it’s got to make money, or I don’t keep my job, you see what I’m saying?”
I had a mind to get up and leave right then because I knew exactly what she was saying. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I can’t be having no washed-up-before-she-even-got-started wannabe actress starring in any of my performances. You know? It just ain’t good for the theater.”
“Do you really think the good people of Asheville know what happened in New York? And more importantly, do you think they care?” She wasn’t from North Carolina. The people in town were the forgiving and forgetting kind.
Asheville people weren’t New York City theater people. Not that people that went to the theater were terrible people because they weren’t. The critics though, they were rough.
“I’m not talking about the audience, I’m talking about the actors. They’re not going to want to work with someone with your…” Her eyes searched the room as if they could find the right words hanging from a nail on the wall somewhere. “Someone with your credentials.”
I struggled to stay still and had to force myself to not let my foot tap on the floor. “I can respect that. Perhaps there’s something else I can do, something behind the scenes, for now, that would allow me to earn their respect and then I could ease into a role when you feel the time is right?”
She leaned back in her chair and puffed on her cigarette. “Oh girl, I think you need to face the hard truth. When you shattered that floor, you shattered your acting career too. It’s over. Move on.” She hiked herself from her chair and walked to the door. “I hate to be the one to have to say it to you, but if I didn’t, someone else would, and I got a feeling they wouldn’t be as gracious.”
She considered that gracious? A runaway bull from a rodeo was more gracious than that. I had half a mind to tell her that, too, but I didn’t want to make my situation worse. “Thank you for your time,” I said and tucked my tail between my legs as I sulked back to my car.
Feeling sorry for myself, I decided to use some of the cash Daddy gave me and stopped at a Chick-Fil-A for a quick snack. The Chick-Fil-A lines in New York were ridiculously long, and sure, the company professed to selling their signature sandwich at one location every six seconds, but the Asheville location made New York’s locations seem almost barren in comparison. I passed the first one and drove straight to the one on Hendersonville Road instead.
I realized my mistake when that line went out the door and wrapped around the building. Only a few miles from the Biltmore Estate, I assumed practically every tourist that had children and didn’t want to pay to eat at the estate decided to stuff their kids’ mouths with chicken biscuits.
I gave up and waited out the line. Experience had taught me it moved fast anyway, and I couldn’t afford to waste my gas on driving to another location.
As the line moved, I scanned the internet on my cell phone. Okay, so, I Googled myself, hoping some of the trash talk had died down and praying I would be able to move forward instead of on like Miss Ashtray Licker had suggested.
I jumped and almost tipped over onto the person in front of me, a scrawny old man thinner than a toothpick, which I would have likely crushed with my rather voluptuous bosom when someone tapped my shoulder from behind. The toothpick man would have either died from a voluptuous boob crush, or a heart attack caused by the thrill of said voluptuous boob crush. Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but actors had a flair for the dramatic.
“The line’s moving lady. If you’d look up from your phone every once in a while, you might know that.”
I swiveled backward and stared into a metal Asheville Police Department badge. I bent my neck back and groaned. “Lovely. Just what I need.”
A smile hijacked the tall man’s face. “Mayme Buckley? Well, isn’t this a blast from the past. How ya doin’?”
The annoyance I’d just felt disappeared when I zoned in one the scrumptious face of my high school crush. The one and only Christopher Lacy.
Hold up. My ill-tempered attitude nudged the high school Mayme begging to break free from deep within me. You really want to see this guy right now, cranky Mayme thought?
As if my day wasn’t already bad enough. On a scale of bad to falling-through-a-stage-floor-really-stunk-but-not-as-bad-as-seeing-my-high-school-crush-at-the-lowest-point-in-my-life bad, well, I stuffed high school Mayme back where she belonged, deep in the bowels of my—not the bowels, but deep inside the pit of my soul, and groaned. I wasn’t prepared to run into anyone from high school, let alone someone I’d swooned over for four years straight. Someone that didn’t know I’d existed.
He yanked my arm and flung me out of the line. “Here, I got this.” Dragging me to the front counter, he chatted up the little old lady pulling chicken mini’s from the warmer. “Stella, this is a high school friend of mine. Grab her whatever she wants on me, will ya?”
“Sure, sugar. Whatever you want.” She smiled at me. “What can I get you, honey?”
“Uh, just a four-piece and a Diet Coke. Thank you.” I backed away and listened as Christopher Lacy, the boy I’d crushed on all through high school, ordered his breakfast. He moved back to me and winked. “Sometimes it pays being a dick, as in detective.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I was going to say, that sounded offensive.”
He laughed. “I know, that’s why I clarified. I learned that lesson the day I was promoted.” He pointed to his badge. “Major crimes unit, Asheville PD.”
“Oh.” I blushed.
He smiled. “Cute.”
“The pink color your cheeks get when you’re embarrassed. Did that in high school, too.”
He noticed that in high school? Wait, he noticed me in high school?
Stella hollered to him, and he grabbed our breakfast.
He held the tray with our food. “Got time to sit and catch up?”
“Uh, sure. I guess.” I had all the time in the world. I just wasn’t sure I was capable of verbally expressing that, or anything else much over a grunt or cavewoman speak for that matter.
Christopher Lacy wasn’t just some guy from high school. Christopher Lacy was the guyfrom high school. The most popular guy of my graduating class, for starters. The star of the football team, the president of the student council, the star of the lacrosse team, the valedictorian, and the one boy I’d had the biggest crush on for four years running. I might have mentioned that a time or twenty, but when it came to Christopher Lacy, I lost track of pretty much everything. He also dated the most popular girl, of course. Caroline Hartford.
I never quite understood the allure of the infamous Caroline Hartford. Was it her long, stick straight, overly processed, bleached blonde hair? Her perfectly applied matte lipstick accentuating her already plump, luscious lips? Perhaps it was the mountain-like breasts she barely covered or the legs-to-her-neck—which, I knew, went against the mountain-like breasts comment, but a jealous girl didn’t require logic. Whatever it was, her rude and holier-than-thou attitude erased any positive personality traits that allowed her such high popularity status, in my book anyway.
The fact that she treated me like something that fell off the turnip truck after it rolled in a pile of manure left sitting in the hot sun for hours, aside, she just wasn’t that nice of a person in general. And even though Christopher Lacy hadn’t known I existed—or so I’d thought—he’d never been unkind to me, so what he’d seen in her was lost on me.
Christopher took a sip of his coffee. “So, what’re you doing back in town? Last I heard you were making it big in New York.”
I tried not to choke on the partially chewed chicken mini sliding down my throat. “Things don’t always go as planned, I guess.”
“That’s too bad. Out of everyone in our class, I always thought you’d end up a star.”
I coughed on the mini with that shocker of a statement. It took me a good few seconds, but I swallowed it down without making a complete fool of myself.
He jumped from his seat across from me. “You okay?”
I nodded. “Went down the wrong pipe.” My voice was scratchy and deep, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the sexy sound of it. I sipped my Diet Coke. “You thought I’d become a star? I’m surprised you even knew who I was in high school.”
He laughed. “Of course, I knew you. When you got the lead in the fall play our senior year, I practically had to restrain Caroline from hunting you down and—” His eyes wandered off, and he watched a teenage boy with a flat-billed baseball cap stuff a handful of sugars into his pocket. He held up his left forefinger. “Give me a minute.” He stood and sauntered over to the kid.
I couldn’t hear what he said, but the boy stuck his hand back in his pocket, removed the sugars and placed them all back from where they came. Christopher then lifted the boy’s hat and put it in his hand. He said something else to the boy, and the boy nodded, kept his head down, and left the restaurant.
“Sorry about that. Kids lack respect these days, and when I see them behaving that way, I have to right it.”
My whole body tingled. He hadn’t changed one bit and was absolutely the last thing I needed to focus on at that moment.
“Anyway, I knew you. We had some friends in common, but Caroline viewed you as a threat, so I kept my distance out of respect for her.” He rolled his eyes. “Guess I did a lot of things for that girl I regret now.”
“You two aren’t together anymore?” I regretted the question the minute it left my lips.
He snorted. “That ended years ago. Last I heard she married some businessman and moved to Atlanta.” He wrinkled his nose. “I feel sorry for the guy, but I hope they’re happy.”
“I take it it didn’t end well, then?”
“Most things that end don’t usually end well now, do they?”
I nodded. “That’s a pretty true statement.” Wow. Good looking, a detective, so obviously, brave, and wicked wise, too. I’d just landed a front seat in hottie heaven right there in an Asheville, North Carolina Chick-Fil-A.
He handed me a napkin. “You got a little drool or something on the corner of your—”
I yanked the napkin from his hand and swiped it across my mouth, utterly horrified at the thought of drooling in front of him.
It hadn’t phased him one bit, or if it had, he just let it slide right over him. He glanced at his watch. “I hate to cut this short, but I’ve got to get to the station.” He took his wallet from his back pocket and removed a business card from it. “Here’s my card. If you ever need anything, give me a call. It was nice catching up.”
I stared at the card and then up at him. “Yeah, uh…thanks for breakfast.”
He smiled and headed to the door.
Shell-shocked, I couldn’t finish the last of my four chicken minis, which was a real bummer because those things were full of buttery goodness. And they were free. As a former starving Off-Broadway actress and a recent starving unemployed person in general, I shouldn’t let any food go to waste, so I wrapped the chicken mini, all one inch square of it, in a napkin and stuck it in my purse.
My high school crush had just bought me breakfast and given me his business card. While that didn’t sound like a big deal, given the recent grievous self-esteem beat down, small wins mattered, and to high school Mayme Buckley, that wasn’t a tiny win. That was the Daytime Emmy Award right there.
I changed my mind about saving the mini, figuring it would be a hard lump by the time I remembered I’d kept it, which could possibly be years, and dumped it in the garbage and then headed to the next community theater, confident my newfound confidence would shine through the holes of my self-esteem like little beacons of light. Or maybe like one of the Light Brite paper designs I’d made as a kid. I wasn’t sure which, but I hoped for something positive. I was determined to find an acting job to jump start my all-but-dead acting career.
Four hours later that new-found confidence deflated worse than my 90s blow-up chairs. I wound up with my figurative tail tucked between my legs and one expensive heel broken and limping out of a local temp employment agency with a brand new night job opening and separating mail for a large medical insurance company claims department.
I’d start that night at eleven o’clock. Momma thought it was perfect, which confirmed for me it was the worst job ever. I’d work through the night and have plenty of time to take classes at the community college to better myself. Apparently, I didn’t need sleep. I couldn’t complain too much though. It was a job, and it paid sixteen bucks an hour. Well above what I thought I deserved for sorting mail, and I could watch movies or listen to books on audio while doing it, so when I put it in perspective, it wasn’t all that bad.