$15 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway: Out of Character by Molly Zenk
Two Years Ago
“So which did you like best?” I ask Patrick as we drive home from college tours. “We probably saw the music and drama departments of every state school this side of the Pacific Ocean. Did any stand out or are you going to let them fight over you some more before officially deciding?”
“Which did you like best?” Patrick asks. His text message alert goes off, but he ignores it. He is always such a careful driver. Mom never worries about us when Patrick is driving. “The most entertaining thing about today was their spiels. I mean, come on, do people actually fall for those sales pitches? ‘You’ve seen the rest, now see the best.’ Who writes this stuff?”
“Really desperate recruiting guys?” I take off my wedge sandals and prop my feet on top of the glove box. That’s the last time I wear new shoes when we’re walking about a million miles. “It’s your fault for being such a catch. Everyone wants the teen violin virtuoso. I’m just window dressing. These places will take me if it means getting to you.”
“You are not riding on my coattails. You’re a fab actress.”
“If I’m so fab, how come I never get any of the parts I audition for?” I rub at an angry red blister on the back of my heel. “I can’t even get a commercial. Remember that Bright Smile toothpaste audition?”
Patrick shrugs. “So you threw up in the trash can after you brushed with it. Big deal. It’s their fault for making such a nasty tasting product. I say you’re doing the toothpaste buying public a favor by exposing the sordid underbelly of Bright Smile.”
“Sordid underbelly?” I laugh. “I’m cutting you off the next time there’s a Mobster Confessions marathon.”
“I could say the same with you and 1700s Life.” Patrick swats at my feet when we stop at a light to get me to move them. I do so… grudgingly. “Between you and Mom that show is on a 24/7 loop. Why don’t you send in an audition tape already? Mom would pee her pants with glee if you land a role on her favorite TV show.”
I shake my head. “They wouldn’t want me. I’m not good enough.”
“What are you talking about?” Patrick scrunches up his face. “They’d be crazy not to want you. You’re going to be famous someday. You’re going to be famous, and I can say I knew you when.”
“Yeah, you knew me when I was headlining at the local dinner theater. Coming to a stage and table near you — Harmony Jones!”
“You’ll make it. You’re too good not to.”
“In LA, it doesn’t matter if you’re good or not. Talent doesn’t matter. Not really. It’s all about who you know and what you’re willing to do to get ahead of every other good, talented actress out there.”
“So jaded for someone so young. What about those open casting call deals?”
I roll my eyes at the thought. “Cattle calls? Please. I’d rather not hang around in some hotel conference room all day just to be told no.”
“It only takes one yes,” Patrick reminds me. “I’m telling you, send in a tape to 1700s Life.”
I shake my head again. “I told you, they wouldn’t want me. I’m a nobody.”
“Every somebody starts out as a nobody, Harmony.”
“Yeah, I know.” I lean forward and fiddle around with the radio dial to try to hide the fact I really, really want to be on 1700s Life but, at the same time, I really, really don’t think I have a shot. The producers always make a big show over asking for auditions tapes from all over, but when it comes down to it, the casting director goes for experience over raw talent. It happens every time. They ask for tapes, I think about sending one in, I don’t want to be rejected, so I watch other people season after season on 1700s Life instead of being on it myself. I even went so far as to make an audition tape after my crazy popular run as Abigal Williams in our high school production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible but chickened out and never sent it in. In drama club, I’m a big fish in a small pond. No matter how much I want to be a real actress on a real show, I don’t know if I’m ready to be a small fish in a big pond. My head shot may be impressive but my resume is not. I have the kind of blonde, blue eyed beauty that is common enough in California. Nothing special there. My supposed beauty landed me some child modeling gigs and beauty pageant crowns, but being the face of Lil’ Junior Miss when I was ten isn’t going to open any doors now.
“What are you thinking about?” Patrick asks.
“That this whole actress thing is just a pipe dream.” I prop my feet up on the dashboard again, but Patrick smacks them down just as quickly. “Maybe I should just accept that I’m never going to be anything more than a high school drama club darling and settle on a major with more market value, like education. Maybe I could teach acting. That sounds like a good plan, right? Or a smart one, at least.”
“And always wonder what could have been? Please. You’re too good to be one of the ‘what could have beens’, Harmony. If you have a dream, chase it. Don’t settle for what could have been.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re, like, guaranteed success. The more you play your violin, the more people love you. Acting doesn’t work like that.”
“Acting works however you want it to,” Patrick says. “If you need to be confident, act confident. If you need to act brave, act brave. Seriously, Harm, you can do anything you set your mind to. Just believe in yourself a little bit more, will ya?”
I kiss my index and middle finger and hold them up to the roof. “From your lips to God’s ears. I think I can do anything as long as you’re with me, Patrick.”
He playfully bumps my shoulder with his. “Good, cause you’re stuck with me.” Patrick motions at the radio. “Hey, turn it up! Nothing says ‘I’m fabulous and I don’t care who knows it’ like a little Kelly Clarkson.”
I crank up the radio. We sing Stronger at the top of our lungs, grooving along to the music, and laughing till there are tears streaming down my cheeks. This is the first day of the rest of our lives. We’re young, we’re free, we’re talented, and we’re invincible. Nothing can stand in our way or tear us apart.
Until it does.
The black pick-up truck slams into the driver’s side door like some linebacker looking to make a tackle, only we aren’t ready for it. How can you be ready for something like that?
I scream. It’s the only thing I seem able to do. I scream over and over and over again.
“Stay calm, Harmony.” Patrick grips the wheel hard and grits his teeth as he tries to take control of the out-of-control car. We pin wheel into the guard rail on the side of the highway. The metal rail twists and bends as if a giant crumbles it in one angry hand and throws our car into the mix.
I brace myself against the passenger side door with my right arm and foot. My stomach feels like it’s in my throat. Throwing up would actually be welcome right now. It would give me something to focus on other than this sickening fear that has my heart in a squeezing death grip and my whole body shaking. I try to calm myself by saying a prayer but all that comes out is “we’re going to die, we’re going to die.” Everything I ever wanted to do but never got to flashes before my eyes. Landing my first big role. Cheering for Patrick when he plays his first concert at Carnegie Hall. Getting married. Having kids. I want to be a good person. I hope I already am a good person, but what will people say about me if I die now? What have I really done with my life?
I clutch at the gold cross necklace around my neck — a present from mom for mine and Patrick’s eighteenth birthday. He has one, too, but he can’t reach for it now. He’s too busy trying to keep us alive. Patrick bites down hard on his lower lip and stares straight ahead through the broken windshield. Blood and glass from the driver’s side window sprinkle his strawberry blond hair but he doesn’t lose focus. Not once. I can count on Patrick to get us through this. He’s never let me down before.
The four points of the cross pendant dig into my palm. I focus on that, and suddenly my mind is clear enough to pray. Dear God, please help us. We need you now more than ever. Get us through this, and I promise to—
I never get to finish my thought. Instead, we slam into a concrete support column and everything goes black.