Star Power: Part Six
Lena took a deep breath, looking around to make sure that no one else was backstage with her. She tried to tell herself that it had just been one night, one small slip up, but the idea of Samson firing her and taking back the pearls, the silver dress, and all of her other accessories could not escape her thoughts. Trying hard not to think (as usual), she slipped into a nearby dressing room and checked herself in the mirror.
“Hey, at least if Samson fires you, you’ll be able to work with Rodney again, which is what you obviously want,” her reflection said to her hopefully.
“As if Rodney wants to have anything to do with me after tonight,” she grumbled, feeling sorry for herself for two reasons; one, because she had utterly ruined her career, and two, because she was talking to herself in the mirror again.
“Oh, I can’t believe you. Honestly, why do you think Rodney and Bethany came to the show–”
Lena suddenly stopped talking and clasped her paws over her mouth. Ever since she had entered the dressing room, she had been too busy fighting with herself to notice the Usul that had performed earlier, sobbing in the corner of the room, her violin and bow lying solemnly on the floor a few feet away.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t even see you in here,” Lena said quickly to the Usul. “What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong is that I’ve been playing violin for my entire life, and tonight I was finally supposed to get my big break. But instead,” the Usul said through gritted teeth, “I was overshadowed by some made-up pop princess with a goatee. I mean, seriously, when you sing, it sounds like someone is strangling you, and you look like an absolute moron wearing all of that jewelry and makeup. Your last song was about a fruit bat, for crying out loud! So why did the audience, of all the performers, love you the most? Am I the only sane one in this entire building?”
The criticism had been unsettling for Lena, but she was more baffled by the Usul informing her that the audience had enjoyed the act despite all of the pitch problems and lyrical mistakes. “What do you mean the audience loved me the most?” she asked slowly.
“Oh, hush, there’s no way you couldn’t have heard them cheering for you after your performance. I bet they’re all waiting for you in the lobby right now,” the Usul snickered. “I really just can’t believe this. You know, I’d give my paws and tail to have the same appeal that you do on stage.”
Lena stood there for a moment, her mouth half open and her eyes shifting to the floor. She felt awful for the Usul, but couldn’t think of any consolation other than, ‘Well, at least you don’t argue with yourself in the mirror and fall asleep on the kitchen table with globs of peanut butter and cucumber stuck in your beard.’
Fortunately, instead of blurting anything out, Lena apologized quietly and promptly left the dressing room, heading for the lobby. A part of her didn’t want to believe anything the Usul had told her; she slightly hoped that the audience hadn’t enjoyed her performance at all. But as the commotion from the reception party became clearer and clearer, she felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. When she entered the lobby, every pet turned to her in admiration, including Samson. The fire Nimmo immediately forced the crowd to make way for him to cross over to Lena and, to her utter disbelief, give her an ostentatious hug.
“Fabulous, Lena! Even prettier than you were last night,” Samson said, giving her a light pat on the back.
“What? You can’t possibly be serious. Tonight was literally my worst performance of all time. I mean, I... I said fruit bat instead of cute brat! Did anyone catch that, at all?” Lena said incredulously.
“Oh, Lena,” he said with a sigh. “These people don’t listen to a word you sing, so don’t worry about it. Now be a dreamboat and go talk to them, okay? Oh, and looks like your bow’s falling off. Don’t let that happen.” He smiled, and then walked off to speak with an old, portly Tuskaninny, who took up a considerable portion of the lobby. Lena, still in awe of how ridiculous the situation was, began feeling increasingly miserable with her surroundings.
Almost instantly, the wealthy blue Aisha – well, Lena at least thought it was the Aisha from the previous night, but couldn’t exactly tell her apart from the other blue Aishas in the room – congratulated Lena with a fulsome hug. “You were so cute on that stage tonight, I just wanted to throw up all over you. Girl, where’d you get your earrings?” the Aisha said with a giggle.
Still trying to decide whether she had met this Aisha before or not, Lena tried to fake a smile. “Thanks, I think... Oh, and Samson gave them to me,” she said uneasily.
“Wow. I would totally leave my husband for those earrings–”
Just at that moment, Lena spotted Bethany exiting the lobby. Without saying another word to the Aisha, she brushed right past her and moved through a group of rich pets making fun of ‘that violinist Usul that looked homeless.’ Disgusted by the behavior of the pets around her, Lena couldn’t help but notice that Bethany was the only pet in the lobby that she could easily distinguish from anyone else.
“Bethany, wait!” Lena called to the Xweetok as she stepped out onto the empty street outside.
Bethany took another step and debated whether to keep going or not, but finally turned around to face Lena. Her mouth remained shut.
“Tonight was... a fluke. My words came out all garbled, and I couldn’t seem to stay on key, and it was just a big mess. So, for whatever reason you may have come tonight, I’m sorry for letting you down,” Lena said, feeling a twinge of guilt.
Bethany stared at her for a few seconds, not quite sure how to react. “I’m not going to pretend to know what’s best for you, and I’m not even going to try to understand what exactly your problem is, but this really doesn’t look like it’s working out for you,” she said, smirking at Lena’s significantly shortened chin fur.
“Where’s Rodney?” Lena asked.
“He left in the middle of your performance; I think the Eyrie’s Wing depresses him a little too much. I doubted that he’d make it through the whole show anyway, not after seeing what Samson’s done with you.”
“Oh, okay. Well, it was nice of you to come to my show tonight, and you know I’d really love to stay here in the middle of this deserted street and talk to you about all of the mistakes I’ve made, but I think I hear Samson calling my name back in the lobby, so I’ll see you later,” Lena said, unable to look Bethany in the eye.
“No. You stay right here,” Bethany said sternly, grabbing Lena by the arm and forcing her to look straight at her. “Lena, you are one of the most amazing, talented pets I’ve ever met. When you take the stage, it’s something special, as if the whole world stops at your command just so that you can sing. Tonight was the only night you’ve ever made a mistake on stage, and I know it was only because you were too embarrassed with yourself to perform in front of Rodney, so don’t make any dumb excuses. So I am telling you right now, I don’t care how ugly you think you are without makeup, or how much confidence those big earrings give you, or how badly you want to be ‘glamorous’ like all of those rich idiots inside that building. No matter what you think, you look hideous right now, because all you’re doing is covering up your real beauty.”
It was the first time that one of Lena’s friends had called her ugly, and strangely enough, it touched her more than anything. It felt as if the dry, empty bucket in her head had suddenly been replenished with fresh water. She brought her paw to the bow on her head slowly, then ripped it off and threw it to the ground. “I don’t know what to say,” Lena said softly. “I guess I wish that I could be confident and strong like you, then I would have been able to resist Samson’s offer in the first place.”
Bethany smiled faintly. “You wish you were more like me? Lena... I would give anything in the world to be you, even just for a day. Now, will you please go ahead and drop your contract with Samson before Rodney drowns himself in his own misery?”
“No,” Lena said abruptly, cutting the special moment short. “One more show with Samson.”
Bethany’s jaw dropped. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. I was so sure that I had finally gotten to you.”
Lena simply grinned. “Oh, don’t worry, you definitely got to me. I’ll see you and Rodney at the Eyrie’s Wing on Friday night next week, okay?”
“What in the world, why?” Bethany asked, flabbergasted.
“You’re just going to have to trust me. Although considering how horrible I’ve been to you and Rodney, I won’t hold it against you if you don’t come.” She shrugged. “But either way, this is something that I have to do for myself,” she finished.
They shared a brief, strange moment as Bethany tried to work out what was up Lena’s sleeve, but the moment was soon interrupted by an outpouring of pets from the Eyrie’s Wing lobby; apparently the reception party had ended without Lena.
“Okay,” Bethany said, seeing all of the rich pets coming towards them as her cue to leave, “Rodney and I will be here on Friday. Tickets cost a fortune though, so you owe us,” she added, only half-joking.
“Next time you watch me perform,” Lena said with a twinkle in her eye, “it will be worth every neopoint.”
To be continued...