“Directions written in the language of stupid just have to be the devil’s idea of a practical joke. Connect the top bar, labeled C, to the side bar, labeled X.”
She grunt-growled in frustration and slapped the sheet of unhelpful, poorly written step-by-step directions on an empty box. The half-built rack for hanging a background that she needed to make her video journal sat in pieces on the ground and mocked her.
Scrambling off her ass, she got on her knees and searched through the pieces laid out on a tarp. “There is no goddamn piece labeled X!”
The mental dial that she conjured up in her head to gauge her level of frustration was climbing perilously close to destruction phase. If she couldn’t figure out the stupid, motherfracken, goddamn piece of foreign-made bullcrap in the next few minutes, she was gonna march the whole pile of shit out into the desert and blow it to smithereens.
“Waste of perfectly good ammunition,” she mumbled in a disagreeable snarl.
Refusing to let an inanimate object get the better of her and not in any way amused by this hitch in her careful plans, she consulted the ultimate oracle and googled the damn thing. Thankfully, a YouTube video offered a glimmer of hope, and within a half an hour, she had the classy photo backdrop properly hung.
She surveyed the setup and moved around till her eyes found the best angle to shoot from. Getting it right the first time would make it easier to do next time. And the times after that.
The pretty backdrop was done in a scene of shades of white. An ornate fireplace surround with lit candles clustered in the hearth and a floral arrangement with flowers in many shades of pink. It was simple, classy, and had a familiar and comforting shabby chic feel.
Slapping her hands together, she rubbed them till warmth gathered in her palms. She pressed them against the side of her face – an old habit from another life – and took a deep breath.
“No more thinking,” she announced to the emptiness. “Time for action.”
Shaking herself straight, she took care of a few more details before heading into the bathroom for one last mirror check.
The freedom of not relying on a stylist or a whole team of hair and makeup people made her decisions no-brainers.
Six months of growing her hair out and slowly taking her mane back to a natural shade still sometimes shocked her when she looked in the mirror. The golden girl hairstyle that required an on-call stylist to keep every hair an exact length and color was gone and good riddance. She shook her head and felt the brush of her long silky curls.
She stared in the mirror. “Butterscotch and champagne.”
That was how he once described her hair. Piercing pain around her heart forced a harsh whimper out of her throat. “Dammit. Don’t go there.”
Another reflex habit had her reaching up to fiddle with an earring. Her mom’s pearl studs. They were small but real – one of her mother’s few jewelry pieces worth passing on. They calmed her nerves and made her feel as though Andrea Colton still walked the earth. It had been almost two decades since she and her dad held hands on a cold March morning and watched her mother’s coffin lowered into the dirt, yet even now, not a day went by when she didn’t miss her terribly.
With one last look at the plain white T-shirt and jeans she chose for this venture, she flipped off the lights and took up her spot in front of the backdrop. Checking for the Bluetooth gadget that controlled the camera, she took a sip of her drink and sat straight.
“Final touches,” she said with a cough to clear her throat. She pushed the Bluetooth button. “Camera ready, quiet on set, roll sound.”
There was a short pause, and then she began.
“Cowboy Confidential. It begins,” she said into the camera with the slightest hint of a smirk. The carefully chosen title came to her one morning in the shower while she was washing her hair.
“Hi. It’s me, Sami Colton. If you think I look familiar, it’s probably because my face has been plastered everywhere you looked for the past couple of years. Back when I played for sold-out crowds in concert halls around the world and walked quite a few red carpets as Samantha Hayes.”
She chuckled. The sound had an edge that wasn’t joyful.
“I’ll give you a moment to process and just have myself a sip of ginger tea.”
Waving the ice-filled cup, she swirled the drink and used the paper straw with the funky design to give it a stir. No matter where she went or the distance from home, a pitcher of her grandpa’s signature beverage was always in the fridge. Life without ginger tea would simply suck.
Setting the drink aside, she flipped her long hair behind her shoulders and focused on the camera.
“I know what you’re thinking. What’s with the hair, right?” She laughed. “Here’s the thing, this is the real me. The public saw a made-up person who fit a mold. Pale Blonde. Busty. Hella talented.”
Pausing for dramatic emphasis, she continued trying to hurriedly cover the facts so she could get on with the good stuff.
“I’m sure you all know the story. Fresh-faced, country gal belts out the national anthem at a hometown rodeo. I wasn’t quite twenty, living at home, and going to community college. That day was like every other day when your world is a ranch in Wyoming except, as luck would have it, an A&R guy from Hollywood happened to be in the audience.
“Fast forward just three months. The setting? Nashville. The backdrop? A singing competition – you know, the one where amateur vocalists compete against each other. By then I wasn’t Sami anymore. People who said they knew what they were doing rebranded me as Samantha Hayes.
“A split vote between the backstabbing front-runners earned me the golden microphone in the finals because I refused to play dirty. That was when the golden girl with the heart of gold legend was created.”
It wasn’t acting or dramatic effect when she stopped for a moment to regain her composure. The story she told was real, but so much personal stuff was missing. She’d sacrificed a lot on her journey to superstardom. Until the last year, she’d refused to admit that if she’d known at the time what she’d be giving up, it wouldn’t have mattered what was gained.
“So anyway,” she said in a lighthearted voice, “the rest is Hollywood fairy tale. Within six months of being a rodeo gal, I was on a movie set in Rome scared out of my wits, trying to hold it together in scenes with some of the greatest actors of our time.” She groaned. “Apparently, the way to score a best supporting trophy is through experiencing free-falling panic on a scale so overwhelming that it made the character I played believable.”
She fiddled with a pearl earring. “Newsflash – none of that stuff is real. My trophy haul means exactly diddly squat outside of Hollywood. The woman behind the counter at Millie’s Diner doesn’t care how many sold-out shows I did. The guy working on my motorhome’s transmission just wants to do his job and get paid – not pat me on the back for crooning ‘Happy Birthday’ to a president. Celebrity is a bankrupt currency. One day, I woke up in my rented house on the beach in Malibu, looked around at the carefully styled and meticulously staged home, and couldn’t find a single thing that felt like mine. Something happened that day, and let me tell you, I’m glad it did. After a bucket of coffee and a come-to-my-senses epiphany, I took off the Samantha Hayes mask, pulled a complete fuck it, and cashed in my bucket of chips. It took me way too long to get here, but hey” – she shrugged – “I’m back, I’m ready to kick some ass, and that’s what matters.”
Pressing pause, she stopped to take a few deep breaths. It felt good to get all that out, but the cathartic release in her voice had raised to near shouting at the end, and she needed to reel it in.
With a deep breath, she started back up. “Contractual obligations will burp out a film later this year, and I’m currently wrapping up an animated film where I voice the snarky fairy in an adult fractured comedy. Moved out of the beach house and bought a Ford V-10 motor coach! No joke, I’m a truck gal at heart. My home on wheels is small but mighty! I threw in every snazzy extra and high-end finish available. As a matter of fact, I’m coming to you right now from a campground located Somewhere, USA. That’s right! Fake backdrop disguises the power awning over my head and the two folding chairs off to the side.”
She crossed her legs and leaned into the shot. Time to get earnest.
“Long, boring story, cut short. I’ve booted Samantha Hayes to the curb and am taking back my life. Bought a truck, packed some bags, and here we are. On the road home. Why? Because at the end of the day, there ain’t nothing like open skies, fresh air, a horse to ride, and cowboy’s ass to admire. I’m ditching the Jimmy Choos for some cowgirl boots, setting up a bar tab at a honky tonk near home, and kicking in the door of a certain cowboy who I guaran-fucking-tee will not know what hit him. Here’s to finding yourself,” she said with her ginger tea offered in a toast. “And to re-claiming that boy who makes you giggle and, most of all, to going home.”
She took a sip, smacked her lips, and groaned, “Ahh.”
“And so, as I said at the start, it begins. My Cowboy Confidential. Fingers crossed and scared out of my mind, but Wyoming, here I come.”