Star Power: Part Four
A pink Kacheek eyed Lena attentively, holding a pair of scissors and a makeup brush. “Well, well, well. Looks like someone needs a make over. Unless Samson is going for the Yurble-Next-Door look or something,” the Kacheek said, frowning.
The makeup artist’s bluntness took Lena aback for a few moments. The Kacheek’s speech was so deliberate and monotone that no matter what she said, it always came out insincerely. She rubbed some sort of exfoliating cream into Lena’s face, and noticed bits of cucumber and peanut butter still stuck in Lena’s fur. She didn’t bother asking; there was too much to do before nightfall. It was around three in the afternoon on Friday and preparations for the show that night were underway. Lena was thoroughly excited for her first makeup job (and to get the peanut butter out of her fur).
“Definitely no ‘Yurble-Next-Door.’” Lena paused. “Whatever that is. Anyway, tonight, I want to dazzle the audience, so I need all the makeup and jewelry I can get.”
“You can say that again,” the makeup artist replied dryly. Lena grumbled something to herself. Ignoring her, the Kacheek began applying layers of foundation and stage makeup onto Lena’s face. She thickened Lena’s eyelashes and reddened her cheeks, put a bow on her head and applied vibrant red lipstick to her lips, adding touches of glitter to her fur here and there. Throughout the appointment, Lena frequently stopped the Kacheek so that she could get a quick look at herself in the mirror, and for once, was rather pleased with the way she looked. She wasn’t some mundane pretty face anymore; she felt as if her face belonged on the cover of a magazine. With the size of her head at that moment, it probably wouldn’t have fit on the cover.
“Okay... you look a little less like trash now, so let’s give you some pearls and a dress to slip on. We’ve gotten you a sparkly silver dress, since we really can’t have you up there in your plain blue fur. Blue is such a boring color. The audience simply can’t know how boring you are, got it?” the Kacheek said in her deadpan tone of voice.
“Got it. No worries, the audience will love me – well, if I’m pretty enough.”
“Wow, you’re actually shallower than I am.” The Kacheek shrugged. “I just didn’t think it was possible.”
Lena didn’t say anything. She was, as always, somewhat aware of her unusual behavior and knew that her obsession with appearance was creating the better part of her problems. But in her own self-degenerating ways, she chose to ignore this completely and continue admiring herself in the mirror. She had spent such a large part of her life in front of the mirror, wishing that she could change what she saw in her reflection. Well, now she was changed, and she wasn’t going to concern herself with whether she was being superficial. She was instead going to concern herself with putting on a fantastic show, and more importantly, looking fantastic.
Guilt still lingered in the back of her mind, however, as she remembered her dispute with Rodney two days before. Bethany hadn’t been in touch with her either; it was obvious that neither of them would show up to the Eyrie’s Wing that night. She sighed as she pulled on the glittery silver dress and put large pearls around her neck.
“Wow, it’s like from garbage to decently presentable,” the Kacheek said as Lena’s make over was complete.
“It really is,” Lena agreed, adjusting the bow on her head. A little voice in her mind asked her why she was still conversing with, let alone agreeing with the makeup artist, but she chose not to listen to it. “I’m no beauty queen,” she admitted, “but the audience doesn’t need to know that.”
“Good girl. I’m outta here.”
“You’re not staying for the show?” Lena asked.
The Kacheek laughed, almost mockingly. “Samson doesn’t pay me to come see your shows, toots.” She turned and left the dressing room faster than a Drackonack from a dentist.
Lena waited for a moment to see if her makeup artist was joking, but it was soon apparent that the Kacheek would not return. She certainly isn’t as supportive as Rodney and Bethany were, Lena thought. But at the same time, she’s made me look like a real star...
All of this was too much for Lena to handle at that instant, so she decided not to handle anything at all. Instead, she drank a glass of water and warmed up her voice in the solemnity of the empty dressing room. It felt strange for her to be alone before a performance; Rodney had always been there with her. Ignoring her thoughts about Rodney and Bethany was proving to be a bit difficult.
Three and a half hours had passed since the start of Lena’s makeup appointment, enough time for Lena to perfect her look in the mirror seven times over. She completed her outfit by putting on silver high heels that matched her dress, and left the dressing room. The hallway was busy with other pets that were performing that night: piano playing Poogles, dazzling dancing Draiks, and handsome howling Hissi. Lena noted that she was the only solo performer, and to add on more pressure, she was the closing act.
Down the hallway was Samson, who had just finished talking to one of the Draiks. He saw Lena, smiled, and approached her. “Hey there. Remember everything you learned at your rehearsal yesterday. Don’t rush the song and don’t trip in those heels. Don’t make a bad first impression on this crowd. There’s no one that important in the audience tonight, but they’re all rich, so at least I’ll make some money.”
“Gotcha. I’m nervous. Do I look okay?” Lena asked.
“You look glamorous. Much better than the last time I saw you,” he assured her.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear.” She smiled complacently and headed backstage.
The night passed by quickly from that point. After the Poogles finished performing a couple of piano numbers, the Draiks took the stage lithely and impressed the audience. Lena jittered backstage throughout all of the performances, primping herself and drinking large quantities of water. An hour and a half later, a Hissi came backstage and told Lena that she would be going on stage in five minutes.
Lena stood up and waited by the edge of the curtain, repeating lyrics to herself quietly. The lights of the auditorium dimmed and allowed her to walk to the microphone stand. Before she knew it, the music was blaring and the song was coming out of her in perfect pitch. As she sang, she gazed out into the audience, a blurry image of extravagantly dressed pets. She could not discern Samson in the crowd; in fact, she felt as if she could not see any singular pet. They all looked exactly the same.
“I can’t take any more of this. I’m going insane,” Rodney muttered, shoving his coffee cup back on the table.
“Any more of what?” Bethany asked. “And why are you drinking coffee at nine? You’ll be awake in bed all night. Or worse, you’ll stay up talking to me about Lena.” She rolled her eyes and continued her knitting.
“I bet she’s performing in front of all those wealthy jerks this very instant,” Rodney said. “I have to go talk to her.”
“What is there to talk about? She sold out, and now she’ll get her fifteen minutes of fame, and then when that’s all over she’ll go buy some more mirrors or something.”
Bethany sighed. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” she admitted. “She did fire you, though. You aren’t exactly on speaking terms with her.”
“I know. That’s what bothers me. I’m not just going to let her drown in Samson’s shallow pool of aristocratic nonsense!” Rodney said passionately.
“That was deep. Have you been reading books lately?”
“You’re only joking around because you know you agree with me,” Rodney pointed out. “Neither one of us functions correctly without Lena in our lives.”
Bethany didn’t say anything for a moment, but her eyes glinted with approval. “Go talk to her. She’ll probably be home from the Eyrie’s Wing soon.”
Rodney snagged his sunglasses from off the table and let them rest on his forehead, just the way he liked them to. He slipped on a jacket and bolted out the door.
Lena belted out her final note of the night and peered out into the audience, which then proceeded to give her a standing ovation. She took a great bow, absorbing the applause as if she had just won the Miss Neopia pageant. Amid the cheers were comments such as “She looks marvelous” and “What a stunning dress!” The cheering eventually died down, allowing Lena to leave the stage and head for a reception party in the lobby. Samson came and informed her that the show had been a great success.
“You know what I liked the most about you tonight?” Samson asked, patting Lena on the back as they walked to the Eyrie’s Wing’s lobby.
“What?” Although her makeup covered up a considerable part of her features, it could not conceal her excitement.
“I liked the pearls. The dress is nice, too. I think pets really go for a performer in a sparkly dress.”
“Oh,” Lena said, wishing he had complimented her voice instead, “thank you.”
She stayed in the lobby for thirty minutes or so, meeting some of Samson’s rich acquaintances and discussing a handful of critical issues with them. The main points of conversation were the Neopian stock market, caviar flavors, and how burdensome their Hasees were back at the mansion. Lena couldn’t even begin to dabble in any of their discussions, so she instead stood there like a mannequin and tried to look glamorous.
“Hello, dear,” a blue Aisha wearing an excessively shiny and large golden bracelet said as she passed Lena. “You look dazzling. Where are you from, honey?”
“Thanks! And oh, just around Neopia Central. You know... the good part...” Lena hesitated, then shifted the weight of the conversation onto the Aisha. “How about you?”
“Well, I have property everywhere. My father and I own a few acres of Mystery Island’s beach, and a small castle in Meridell. Nothing amazing – I’m sure someone as pretty as you lives in much more exciting places.” The Aisha cocked her head, permitting Lena to see her golden earrings.
“Yeah, I live everywhere!” Lena blurted out. “I was actually in my private condo in the Haunted Woods the other day.”
The Aisha cringed. “The Haunted Woods are repulsive.”
“Oh. Okay.” Lena scratched her head awkwardly and simply turned away. It surprised her that she was so inept at fitting in with her own audience, but it surprised her even more that not a single pet that night said anything about her voice or her performance.
Despite her uneasiness, Lena grinned and bore it. If pets appreciated her for her physical appearance more than for her voice, then she could live with it. She recalled something that Samson had said to her at the rehearsal: “Real stars don’t need talent. They just need a good makeup artist.”
As all of the affluent pets bustled around her, she felt the same feeling she had experienced during her performance. She looked around anxiously and noticed that the Aisha from earlier seemed to be standing to her left and to her right, and everywhere else, since Lena could no longer decipher which one of the pets the Aisha was anymore. It looked as though an army of upper class clones was besieging her, drawing in closer and closer, suffocating her. There weren’t any clear discrepancies between any of the pets in the lobby; they all acted the same way, like programmed windup dolls. Lena couldn’t relate with a single one of them. She felt like a Hissi trying to ride a bicycle.
It was uncomfortable, to say the least.
To be continued...