Star Power: Part Five
Lena entered her home slowly and dejectedly. Not even bothering to shut the door behind her, she picked up a portable mirror from her hallway floor and sank down against the wall. Her bright red lipstick had not yet faded, but her perky smile had long since changed into a dull scowl.
She shot her reflection in the mirror an interrogating glare. “You know what, Lena, I’m sick of you,” she said to herself. “Why can’t you ever do anything right?”
“I’m not the one to blame here. You’re the one that went and fired your best friend just to sing for an audience that only liked you because you were prettier than all of the other performers. You know what? You’re just like a cake. You have all of this neatly applied icing on the surface, but underneath, you’re just an average piece of bread,” her reflection snapped back.
She threw the mirror back onto the floor and took her pearls off, trying to ignore the fact that she was talking to herself again. A few seconds later, she put the pearls back on and resumed looking at herself in the mirror. She hadn’t even noticed Rodney standing in the doorway the entire time.
Other pets would have been considerably freaked out if they had seen Lena in her emotional state at that time, arguing with herself and sitting on her hallway floor late at night. Rodney, on the other hand, simply smiled, realizing that he was the only one who knew Lena front and back, every foible and facet of her bizarre personality. “You might have had a point there with the cake earlier,” he said, stepping into the hallway.
“What are you doing here?” Lena asked. “It’s midnight, and I’m sitting on the floor talking to myself like a disaster, and–”
“You are like a cake, but you left out one part. Sure, the icing tastes good, but no one likes it in excess. It’s the inside, the ‘average bread,’ that tastes the best.”
A few tears formed in Lena’s eyes, but she managed to hold them in. “Thanks, but my cake is stale. Icing is the only thing I have going for me.”
“That is so, so far from the truth. Come on, you know you don’t have to keep performing at the Eyrie’s Wing if you don’t want to. It’s understandable, everyone makes mistakes. But what I can’t understand is why you just went off and fired me.”
Lena thought about it for a moment, and realized that she lacked any legitimate explanation for her behavior besides ‘I’m Lena. I have self-image problems. I put a cucumber slice in my ear, give me a break.’ She stayed quiet for quite some time.
Finally, she spoke up. “I know this might sound unfair, but what’s done is done, and I’ve already signed a contract with Samson.” Changing the subject and ignoring Rodney’s saddened expression, she pointed to the sunglasses that were unceasingly resting on Rodney’s forehead. “Those sunglasses... you always wear them, even when it’s overcast or pitch dark outside. There was no good reason for you to bring them with you tonight, but you did anyway. Why?”
Rodney shrugged, taken aback. “I guess I just like the way they look on me.”
Lena nodded. “See this silver dress and these pearls around my neck? I like the way they look on me, and for some reason I can’t shake that off. I had never been able to like my own appearance until tonight.”
“I understand, but I think you look even better without the pearls and the – is that a bow on your head? Oh, Lena, what has Samson done to you?” Rodney said indignantly.
“Rodney...” Lena’s eyes darted up and down awkwardly. “I’m going to keep performing at the Eyrie’s Wing for Samson. I have to, for me. Tonight was a little shaky, but I’ll get used to it. No hard feelings, okay?”
“Oh. Of course not,” Rodney said sarcastically. “You know, Lena, for once, I’m not going to try to change your mind. Go ahead and work for Samson. You seem to be having a blast right now anyway. But it’s getting late, so I’ll let you get back to your, um, argument with yourself.”
As Rodney turned away for the door, Lena got up and stopped him. “Wait. I’m really, really sorry about all of this. Can you pass that on to Bethany?”
“I’ll tell her.”
He left, shaking his head. As Lena closed the door behind him, she found that she could no longer contain her tears.
One of the things Samson appreciated the most about his job (besides the diamond the size of a small civilization on his finger) was how warm and welcoming the morning sun always felt through the window of his office. The weather that day, however, was more on the warm side and far less welcoming than usual. Unbearable heat spread throughout Samson Studios, causing irritability in all of its staff members.
The Nimmo closed the grand window’s curtains and awaited Lena impatiently. When she finally entered the office, Samson stared her down for a moment. Her fur looked soggy and unkempt, and her ‘beard,’ now more uneven than ever, had been clipped in many places.
“Ah. So this is why I pay that makeup Kacheek so much. May I ask what happened to you?” Samson eventually asked.
“Well, I’ve recently been under a lot of stress, so I decided to sleep in this morning. But when I realized that I was running late, I was so rushed that instead of bathing I just dumped the ice from my freezer onto my head. I mean, it’s hot outside and ice melts anyway so all I have to do when I get home is clean up a little puddle–”
“Okay, okay, enough. You’re performing again at the Eyrie’s Wing next weekend, right? Well, one of my songwriters wrote an original song for you, and it’s pretty easy to learn. Here, take this,” Samson said, handing Lena a sheet of paper with musical notes and lyrics.
“Oh, thanks,” Lena said, not bothering to look at the paper.
“The song is called ‘Star Power.’ It fits you perfectly. Anyway, I can’t have you looking like space fungus on stage tonight, so get yourself together and in a pretty dress, pronto,” Samson advised her.
Lena grabbed the paper, nodded groggily and left Samson Studios quickly; she had no inclination to stay any longer. As she walked down the side of the street to get to the Eyrie’s Wing, she ignored all of the puzzled stares from passing pets who wondered why ice cubes were falling out of her fur. Her mind could not seem to focus on anything except for all of the wrong things she had said to Rodney the previous night. Every time she thought that she could perhaps resist the glamorous life that Samson had to offer, her own selfishness kept her from doing so. She knew it, too, but couldn’t admit it to herself. “Maybe tonight I’ll have a real conversation with one of those rich pets,” Lena grumbled, failing to convince herself of anything.
“Did you go for an early morning swim in a garbage bin?” the Kacheek asked, blatantly insulting Lena’s appearance as she entered the dressing room.
“I’m not in the mood for criticism. Can I please just get my makeup done?”
“Sure thing, twinkle-toes, just as soon as you answer my question,” the Kacheek answered, preparing a facial cleanser to be smeared all over Lena’s damp face.
“What was your question, again?”
“Did you or did you not go swimming in a garbage bin this morning?” the Kacheek asked with an insensitive giggle.
Lena groaned. The following hours spent with the Kacheek put her in a miserable state, especially with the thoughts of Rodney and Bethany still surfacing every now and then in her conscience, which surprisingly still existed.
When the Kacheek finally finished torturing Lena with scissors and a wet brush, she twirled her chair around to see how well the makeup job had worked. To Lena’s dismay, her uneven beard had been trimmed to a short goatee.
“What happened to my beard?” she asked in shock.
The Kacheek blinked. “Um, I snipped off most of it, mostly because you looked like a tornado victim?”
“Oh. Right. Never mind. I’m going to go sing now.” Lena abruptly hopped off her seat and left the dressing room, tugging hard on the fur underneath her chin. She remembered the night that Rodney reminded her that all Yurbles have beards; well now, she didn’t, and she felt ridiculous. “If only I hadn’t tried to cut it myself... Yurbles are supposed to be bearded, aren’t they?” she muttered to herself as she marched backstage.
As a tense, quivering Usul screeched on her violin before the unimpressed audience, Lena silently ran through the lyrics of the last part of the finale song that she never seemed to remember. She had barely remembered them the night before during her first performance, but had managed to scrape by without error. However, she was remarkably more nervous and confused than she had been the night before.
I’m a really cute brat
And I’ll always be
Because it just so happens that
Being cute’s my specialty!
She shuddered, realizing how stupid the song sounded in her head. A few quiet claps could be heard from the audience, and a second later the Usul with the violin walked offstage, crying her eyes out. Lena stepped on stage with a microphone, fighting a sick feeling in her stomach, and gazed out into the dimly lit auditorium. She shifted her eyes from a rather plump looking Chia in a suit to a Kacheek that had fallen asleep during the violinist’s performance, to a strangely out of place shadow Lenny with sunglasses on his head, and a pretty green Xweetok sitting next to him, who looked a lot like Bethany–
“Wait,” Lena gasped.
Rodney and Bethany had come to the show! She was so startled that she began singing her first number a beat late, and consequently lost momentum for the rest of the song. Her voice sounded like the noise that someone makes when falling off a roof. Beads of sweat dripping all the way down to her goatee, Lena looked out into the audience and saw Bethany raise one eyebrow in disapproval.
The show did not improve much from there, and her voice continued to be pitchy and uncertain. The usual confidence and power that she had on stage was missing, almost as if she had never been a good performer in the first place. Her composure resembled that of a shaky Symol, trying desperately to get back up the hole it dug itself into, but to no avail. Matters only worsened as the night continued, and having her two former friends sitting in the audience, watching her make mistake after mistake didn’t help either. She even fumbled the lyrics of the finale song:
I’m really a fruit bat
And I’ll always be
Because it just so happens that
I’m a fruit bat?
As she let the last word of her strange new rendition of the song slip out, still off key, she couldn’t help but stare at the audience in utter horror. Messing up the lyrics was the worst possible way she could have ended the night, and she had. Not waiting for any reaction from the audience, she took the fastest bow of all time and sprinted offstage. Panting, she pressed her back up against the wall and wondered how everything could have gone haywire in one short performance.
“I’m so fired.”
To be continued...