It was premiere night and Zoey was nervous. Her new movie, a remake of Jaws, was already getting panned by critics. It’d seemed like a good career move. Quality roles for actresses of color were rare, plus her character delivered the movie’s iconic line, We’re gonna need a bigger boat. But, the backlash was swift. Twitter was bombarded with hatred – racist memes, messages, videos – all targeting her. She hadn’t left her home for days.
The car stopped. She wiped her wet eyes and emerged with a luminous smile. The fans were calling her name.
In the first picture, Zoey was screaming, her face beet red, while Jackson’s finger was firmly implanted up his nose. Delete. Second photo – Zoey shoved Jackson just as the camera flashed. Delete. By the 10th photo, Zoey and Jackson wore bright smiles, their arms wrapped around each other like loving siblings. Brandi posted it to Facebook with the hashtags: #blessed #bliss #momlife.
In another city, Brandi’s friend Sandra was scrubbing vomit out of her shirt as something crashed in the next room. They’d been snowed in for days. She glanced at Brandi’s latest Facebook update on her phone, and sighed.
Everywhere she went, it was too loud. She couldn’t think or speak or breathe. All she knew was the hot, frantic pounding of her brain.
She left the noise. She found a place in the woods, quiet and cool. The first days were bliss. Her brain quieted. She slept for hours under a green canopy of trees.
The noise returned, louder and more chaotic. She’d never escape it. She walked deeper into the woods until she reached the lake, her pockets filled with stones. She jumped, plunging deeper and deeper until she reached its bottom, and the silence.
The fans in the arena erupted in deafening cheers as Sari belted out the final notes of her latest #1 hit. It was one of those my-man-done-me-wrong uptempo numbers that her admirers ate up like candy. Her bestselling single ever, largely due to the rumors. Was Rowan, her longtime love, cheating? Everyone wondered.
Her bodyguards rushed her into a waiting car, where she fell, exhausted, into Rowan’s arms. This was her farewell tour. In a month, they’d disappear. It was time for her real life to begin. She closed her eyes, dreaming of the South Pacific.
“You’re so sweet to always volunteer to close the store!” Madison poked her bottom lip out in a bizarre show of solidarity.
Bree straightened an antique clock. “You’ll make it up to me.” Though you’ve never tried.
“Stop by the bar when you’re done if you want to hang out!” I never do. Madison gave her one last pitiful glance before leaving.
Bree finished her duties quickly, then leaned against the back wall in the secret place the store’s owner had revealed to her. The wall slid away, and Bree hurriedly descended the dark stairs. Her true friends were waiting.
The story is out. I wake up to countless unread messages and reporters and paparazzi parked outside my gates. My publicist and manager are ringing the bell incessantly. My assistant lets them in. It isn’t their first time seeing me wild-haired in my pajamas.
“Don’t worry, we’ve got all this under control.”
“Tell us what you need.”
I pause. “I want to walk my dog to the beach.”
We look out the window at the chaos of shoving reporters and flashbulbs, knowing they’ll never be able to give me the one thing I crave – freedom.
The children were afraid. The wind howled outside and knocked against their front door like a fearsome stranger trying to break it down. It was one of those nights where Mom would stay gone for hours and hours on end, sometimes not returning until the morning, rumpled and wild-eyed, stumbling to her bed. They huddled together as the girl reached behind her headboard for the book. She spread it open across both their narrow laps. Looking at each other, they smiled as the light from the book illuminated their tiny faces. They blinked, then disappeared.
The crumbling old building that once housed the chocolate factory still stood. She smiled, remembering sneaking out to meet Mark there as a teen.
Her parents were asleep. It was the last night of her visit. She looked out the window, noticing movement in the old building. Could it be? She closed the door quietly behind her and tiptoed into the cold night.
Mark stood in the doorway of the building, smiling slyly.
“I heard you were in town.”
He pulled her close before she had a chance to respond, the smell of chocolate still hanging in the air.
“Here you go, mommy!” Spencer thrust a bouquet of wildflowers into her hands. Maggie was so touched by her son’s thoughtfulness, but couldn’t help but notice that the stems were a bit damp, and that the blooms smelled a bit…sour.
“Welcome. I dipped ’em in the toilet before I gave ’em to you so they’d smell good.”
Maggie shrieked and ran to the bathroom, dropping the flowers on the floor. As she scrubbed her hands in scalding water, Spencer appeared in the doorway, confused.