by Melanie Brown
Copyright © 2018 Melanie Brown
Toby got more than he bargained for.
The phone rang. I looked at the caller ID. It was my old high school buddy, Mason. I haven’t talked to him since I helped him with his film project last summer. I hesitated for a second, deciding if I should answer it or not. I just wanted to lie in bed.
“Hey Mason. What’s up?”
“Toby! Buddy! Pal!”
I sighed. “What do you want? I’m broke, just like you.” As usual I was out of work. I have a rough time holding a job. I like to act, but because of my physical condition, not much comes my way.
“You got me all wrong,” said Mason sounding hurt. “I was calling to see how you’re doing. Specifically if you’re still a baby-faced runt.”
“Nice talking to you,” I said as I started to hang up the phone. I’m not sure what went wrong, but I never got past five feet tall. It’s a major sore point.
Shouting so his voice could still be heard as I pulled the phone from my ear, “No! No! Wait. Seriously dude.”
“Mason, I have better things to do than listen to you insult me,” I said with my voice tinged with annoyance.
Sounding indignant, Mason said, “Would I do that to you? Listen. I want to ask a big big favor of you. Actually, I want to hire you. But you have to look like a kid. Is your hair still long?”
I sighed. I’m much shorter than most people my age and still skinny and my facial features haven’t really matured much so with a little effort, I can still pass for a twelve year old. It actually makes it difficult to find a job since nobody’ll believe me when I tell them my age, even after seeing my driver’s license. But I save money on going to the movies.
“I would say I still do look like a kid. When I applied last week for a job, the manager told me to come back when I’m sixteen. I’m twenty-two for God’s sake. And yes, I still hate haircuts.” I wished Mason would hurry up and get to the point.
“That’s just perfect,” exclaimed Mason. “Look. Be at my office in an hour. I have a job for you that you’re uniquely qualified for. I don’t want to discuss it over the phone.”
Sighing again, “Okay Mason. I’ll see you in an hour.” I disconnected the call and threw my legs over the edge of the bed. I knew why he didn’t want to discuss anything over the phone. When you’re face-to-face, you can’t just hang up.
“So what’s this about?” I asked after we had dispensed with the pleasantries and I sat down in an uncomfortable chair in front of Mason’s office desk.
“I know you’ll reject this idea at first,” Mason started. “But it really is good money for only one day of work. I wouldn’t be suggesting this if I wasn’t in such a real bind.”
“Can you get to the point, Mason?” I asked getting frustrated. This wasn’t helping my mood.
Mason leaned back in his chair and sighed. “A few weeks ago, I got a contract to produce a series of PSAs for the Miracle Children’s Network. You know, that charity that raises money for kids in hospitals.”
I nodded. “I’ve heard of it.”
“The problem is, I had this very cute sixteen year old girl all set and hired to do the video. She’d have people opening their wallets and writing checks before the sixty seconds of the PSA were even over. The script, costumes, locations… everything ready to roll for a shoot on Wednesday. But now we have a problem. With all the raving the producers were doing about her, she decided she wanted more money to do the PSA. A lot more money. The producers instead released her from her contract and told me to hire someone new. And quick. That went down last night.”
Frowning, I sat up straighter in the uncomfortable chair. “And that involves me how? I don’t know any teen girls to send your way. I thought you said you wanted to hire me.”
Mason just looked at me for several long seconds. “That’s just it Toby. I don’t have time to look for another teen girl professional. I need someone with a union card and experience and I need them ready to hit the ground running on Wednesday.”
I was feeling that I really didn’t want to hear his answer. “Again. What’s this to do with me?”
Mason frowned. “I’m asking a huge favor here, Toby. I want to hire you for the job. Now just wait a second. You’re short and petite and you have a baby face that still gets you into movies for child’s prices. I think you’re perfect for the PSA.”
I stood up. “Sorry Mason. I’m not a teen. I’m not a girl. You’re idea is crazy.”
Mason remained seated. “Sit down, Toby and hear me out. I honestly think you’re perfect. Yes, you’re not a teen and not a girl. But you are an actor and you’re everything we need for an emergency shoot. The crew won’t know who you really are. Just me.”
“What about all these locations?” I scowled. “I don’t want to go prancing all over the place dressed as a girl.”
Mason laughed. “You think we have the budget for locations? All your shots will be in front of a green screen. We’ll add locations later. Look. It’s only one day of shooting. We’re just going to shoot you doing silly things and saying a few lines. By Wednesday evening, you’re done.” He extended his hand towards me, holding the contract.
I glanced over the contract. The money being offered was pretty good and I could certainly use it. I bit my lip. It’s just one day. I hate making decisions.
“Does it have to be a girl?” I asked as I read the contract a bit more deeply.
Mason rolled his eyes. “Well duh! The stuff you’ll be doing and saying will seem pretty stupid coming from a guy. Not to mention having to do a re-write and create a whole new wardrobe. No. Not enough time to change it. I have to shoot this Wednesday or there won’t be time to hit the dead-line.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. I was worrying myself that I might actually say yes. The money for doing just one day of shooting was looking harder and harder to pass up. “Can’t you fudge your deadline a bit?”
Mason shook his head. “It’s a drop-dead date. I have to have these spots ready to go and distributed one week before the actual event or I can kiss any future contracts with them good-bye. I’ll be in breach of contract.”
My eyes landed on an obscure piece of the contract. “Whoa… whoa. What is this? ‘The spokesperson may be called in to make a live appearance at the event…’ What the hell is that? You didn’t mention that!”
Frowning, Mason said, “I didn’t? My bad. It’s no big deal though. If my client likes you in the spots, they may want you to appear in person, you know, to make little children who have no hope for a future, happy. No big deal. I’m sure you could find a way to weasel out of it.”
I slapped the contract with my free hand. “It’s one thing to portray a girl on a PSA or two. It’s another to try to pass in public!”
Mason waved his hand dismissively. “Horse puckey. You practically pass for a teen girl now. I don’t think you’ll have a problem when all dressed up. I have set up an appointment at a salon for you tomorrow afternoon.”
I bit my lip. “I’m going to deeply regret this. But ok, I’ll do it.”
Mason stood up with a big grin and slapped me on the back. “Thanks dude! I knew I could count on you!”
I laid out the outfits Mason wants me to wear for the shoot on Wednesday which is tomorrow. All were what you’d expect to see a teen girl wear. Denim skirt, a short, flashy red prom dress, a short dress with a flared skirt among other things. My friend Sharon and her teen daughter were coming over this morning to help fit the clothes to me and help me get my make-up right.
I’ve always been a runt, but I have to say it annoyed me that getting into clothes designed for a sixteen year old girl wasn’t going to be a problem. A gig’s a gig and I’ve done drag in the past. It just bites that there’s never going to be a he-man role for me.
Sharon and her daughter Dede finally showed up a little after ten.
Sharon picked up one of the dresses after making herself at home. “These are such cute outfits.” She turned and held the dress next to me and laughed. “What’s funny is that to fit you, I’ll have to take these clothes in. You’re too small for them!” Both her and Dede laughed.
I frowned. “I know I’m a runt, okay. I have to have them for the dress rehearsal tonight.”
Dede opened a plastic bag and removed various cosmetics from it and set them out on a table. She pulled a chair up to the table and turned to me with a grin. “Okay Mr. Wallace these are the cosmetics Mom suggested for you and oh, here’s the receipt so you can reimburse her. But I don’t know if we’re going to have time to teach you everything about make-up.”
I sat down in the chair in front of the table and smiled at the girl. “Just the basics, Dede. Mason will have a make-up artist on the set. I just want to make sure I look like a girl when I arrive.”
Dede laughed. “You’re actually kinda pretty already, Mr. Wallace. Wearing make-up, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about passing.”
It was a rather long afternoon, trying on clothes for fitting and adjustments, not to mention practicing several times with make-up. It wasn’t difficult. Like I said, I’ve done drag before and in all honesty, I hate make-up. The smell, the way it feels, everything.
After doing a final fitting for the dress I was wearing, Sharon looked me up and down let out a low whistle. “Wow, Toby. You make a very pretty teen girl. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were one of Dede’s friends.”
I struck a few poses. “You really think so?”
Sharon nodded. “Oh definitely. You’ll have to fight the boys off with a stick.”
I laughed. “Well, hopefully there won’t be any boys on the set.”
Dede held up the prom dress. “Do you get to keep these, Mr. Wallace? These clothes are so awesome!”
I sat back down, being sure to keep my knees together. I shook my head. “Nope. Mason is going to want them back. Which one do you like the most? I’ll ask Mason if you can have it. No promises though.”
Grinning broadly, Dede held up the prom dress and a pair of shoes. “Oh definitely this one! These shoes are so cute!’
Smiling, I said, “I’ll see what I can do. Thank you so much, Sharon. Mason will be sending you a check for your time and I’ll pass along the receipt.”
The afternoon at the hair salon actually went pretty smooth. Mason had paid for everything in advance. I may have to do this more often. I discovered it’s really nice to lean back and have someone wash your hair for you. They trimmed the ends and gave me a feminine style. I took a pass on the Jacuzzi as I was sure that was asking for trouble.
That evening I practiced walking in high heels. It wasn’t as hard as they always show in movies when a guy tries to wear heels.
“About time you got here, Candy.” Mason frowned at me. “These rehearsals cost money too, you know.” Candy Williams was the name we’d decided on to use when I was being a girl.
“Sorry! I would have been here sooner, but a cop wanted to know why a middle school girl was driving a car,” I said exasperated.
Mason laughed. “Seriously? You do look damned cute.”
Folding my arms I said, “He didn’t even believe me when I showed him my license. It took forever.”
Mason looked down and studied several sheets of paper. “At least you’re here now. You brought the clothes? Good. Let’s get started. We have to run through twelve PSA’s tonight.”
I looked around. The only crew on hand were a couple of set dressers and the sound crew and about half dozen extras. There was no real set. Just green carpet and a wall hanging. There were green objects that will become whatever we need when doing the actual shooting.
Mason walked up to me and lowered his voice. “Toby, listen. As far as the crew knows, you’re a teen girl. They don’t need to know I’m using you as a substitute. If word got out that you’re a twenty-something dude, it would ruin the whole PSA project. Okay. You got it? Are you with me?”
I nodded. “Yes! I got it. I won’t pee on the set.”
Mason pointed a finger at me and looked serious. “If you do, you pay for the cleaning.”
Mason walked out to the center of the small sound stage. “Okay people. This is how it goes down tonight. We’ll follow this same schedule tomorrow. We start with PSA four, six and nine as they’re the easiest.” He then rattled off the rest of the schedule. I looked over the scripts again. Not a lot of dialog. Just mostly direction on how I should act. I was dreading the eighth one. It was the hardest, required the most dialog and camera movements. We were doing that one last.
Running through the PSAs at first wasn’t too bad. The hardest thing was interacting with things that weren’t there, but would be added later. Some of them just featured me. A few of the PSAs there were other people with me.
The director, a Mr. Hirasawa, didn’t seem to like me much. He was always yelling at me to pick up the pace or for some other stupid reason. At one point I threatened to walk off the set which got Mason pulling his hair out and yelling at both of us. Mason finally called for a break. We were about a half hour over time and I’m sure Mason was worried about blowing the budget.
I grabbed a soda from the ice chest Mason had brought, found a chair and sat down to go over the next PSA. Thankfully we were almost done for the night. But it was good because we were working out all the glitches so the next day’s actual shoot should go smoothly. Hopefully.
Mason walked up to me with a young man walking beside him. Grinning he said, “Candy. I’d like for you to meet someone.”
I stood up and gave the young man a limp, girlish handshake. I was wearing my prom dress with the short, tight skirt and high heels. Though I’d never admit it to anyone, I really liked the way I looked in that dress. You couldn’t help but feel sexy and feminine.
Mason smiled. “Candy, meet Scott. Scott, meet Candy. I hope you’ve gone over the script for the next PSA.”
I held up with sheets of paper. “I was just going through it. This one has more dialog than the others.”
Looking nervously at me, Mason asked, “Have you gotten to the end yet?”
I looked at Mason curiously. “Why? What do I have to do?”
Mason looked from Scott to me. He sucked in a deep breath. “In this segment, Scott very briefly plays a romantic interest to you. It’s brief because the PSAs are about the Children’s Network, not you per se. But at the end… Scott… um… well Scott gives you a romantic kiss. Very quick. Very sweet. Just something to make the audience swoon.”
I narrowed my eyes as I stared at Mason. “You can’t be serious.” I looked over at Scott and he just grinned at me. I grabbed Mason’s sleeve and tugged. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
We walked a short way away from Scott where I hoped we wouldn’t be overheard. “Are you insane? I don’t want to kiss a boy.”
Mason just frowned at me. “All the girls think he’s cute.”
I rolled my eyes. “Are you fucking me? I don’t want to kiss a boy. You never mentioned anything about kissing a guy. And does he know he’s going to be kissing a man?”
Mason looked horrified. “Of course not. He probably wouldn’t have signed on. And I need someone with his looks to make the scene look believable.”
I folded my arms. “I’m not doing it.”
Mason frowned. “You’re under contract. It’s just a teensy weensy kiss.”
I folded my arms closer to me. “Fuck your contract. I’m walking.”
Scowling, Mason said, “You’ll never act in this town again. No one will hire you even as a grip.”
I relaxed a bit. “It’s just one small kiss?”
Mason’s face spread into a smile. “It’s just a little itty bitty kiss.”
I sighed heavily. “Okay. You win. I’ll kiss him.”
Grinning, Mason said, “Thanks! I always know I can count on you.”
After the break, we set up for the PSA. The crew moved some green colored items around on the floor. They were for us to stand on and God knows what they were going fill the scene with later.
Scott seemed to be a good kid. Eager to please and followed directions well. Mr. Hirasawa loved him. The scene was going well. I tried not to mind the few times I had to hold Scott’s hand. He helped me get up on some of the objects and helped me down.
Then we got ready for the last scene. I changed into my prom dress and got my hair and make-up re-done. I stepped out to my marks on the floor next to Scott.
Mr. Hirasawa pointed at me. “Miss Williams. Your motivation is you’re out with your boyfriend on prom night and you’re in love. Scott, you’re nervous to be out with the girl you’ve been crushing on for months. Okay? Now Scott. You stand here. Candy, I want you to walk up to him, smile, slowly slide your arms around his neck and lean in to kiss him and hold the kiss until I say to break it. Everyone got it? I’ll want to go over the kiss several times so I can view it from different angles. Tomorrow for sure, I’ll have to shoot the kiss multiple times. Okay, take your marks.”
I scowled at Mason who just stood there looking sheepish.
On the cue, I walked up to Scott, forced a smile and put my arms around his neck and leaned in to kiss him. I wanted to throw up.
Mr. Hirasawa sounded annoyed. “Girl! You’re kissing your boyfriend, not you’re your uncle. Put a little more passion into it.”
The make-up girl ran up and touched up my lipstick and we tried it again. And again. And again. On the fourth try, Mr. Hirasawa seemed satisfied. He had us hold the kiss for quite a long time as he checked various angles. By then it was no longer a shock to kiss a boy and I was more relaxed about it.
Mason clapped and then shouted. “Alright everyone! Great job so far. Only two more to go and we’re done for the night.”
Mason walked up to me and said in a low voice, “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
I shook my head. “I hope you have a good enough lawyer to keep us out of jail.”
Mason shrugged. “It’s just a kiss!”
Annoyance tingeing my voice, I said, “He’s fifteen. I’m twenty-two and a guy. I’m sure we’re breaking some law somewhere.”
Mason patted my head. “Don’t worry your pretty little head over it. It’s just a kiss.”
I hoped he was right. Mason let Scott go home early as he was done with him for the night. Scott wanted a good night kiss. I told him I was tired.
Mason came to pick me up the next morning in order to avoid another incident with cop. As I climbed into the passenger seat of Mason’s Beemer convertible, I said, “I’m not sure if this is any better. A man of your advanced age picking up a sixteen year old girl.”
Mason frowned. “Knock it off. Let’s get this done. Oh, I was talking to the president of the Network for Children. She said if the PSA is as successful as they hope, they’ll want you to put a personal appearance at the hospital two weeks from today.”
“Sheesh, Mason! No. I’m not doing it. Just this gig and that’s it!”
Mason flashed a wry grin. “I see you still haven’t read your contract, have you?”
I frowned. “We’re friends. I thought I could trust you.”
Mason laughed. “You silly girl, you.”
We arrived at the small studio. The parking lot was a lot more full than the previous night. When we walked inside, it was a beehive of activity. The director, Mr. Hirasawa was shouting orders, the was a camera now along with a crew and a sound crew. There were a lot of other people who I had no idea what they did.
Mason, getting all jazzed up for the morning shoot said, “Take your clothes to the changing room and then report for hair and make-up.” He glanced at his watch. “We start in an hour.”
Mumbling under my breath, I carried my load of clothing to the changing room. We were going to follow the same schedule as the night before. We hoped to be done by lunch. I laughed when Mason said that.
When I came away from the make-up table wearing my first outfit, I saw Scott standing to one side. When he saw me, he grinned broadly and waved. I waved back and sighed, “It’s a paycheck. It’s a paycheck.”
Mr. Hirasawa didn’t grow any affection for me overnight as he was still a prick. Granted, he was a prick to everyone, but he seemed to take delight in pissing me off.
Mason picked up a megaphone and said, “We start shooting in ten minutes. Places everyone. Remember, time is money.”
I was standing next to Mason and I winced when he made his announcement. “Put the fucking megaphone away, Mason. We’re in a small sound stage for God’s sake. We can hear you without it.”
Mason shrugged and looked at his megaphone. “It gives me the voice authority.” I just rolled my eyes at him.
Mr. Hirasawa walked up to Mason. “Can you not use that thing? It plays havoc with our sound levels.”
Scowling, Mason tossed the megaphone onto a nearby table. “Okay, okay. Fine.”
The morning went by pretty fast. I tried to sound like a girl when I said the lines even though I was sure my voice would be over-dubbed later. I was ready for the costume changes as we had gone through them the night before. I wasn’t expecting the make-up changes, where my eye shadow color and lipstick was changed with almost each scene.
Finally we came up to the scene with Scott. He quickly walked to his mark on the green floor. He grinned goofily at me as I took my place off-camera. As far as he knew, I was a cute teen girl he gets paid for kissing. Probably the best acting gig he’s had so far in his life.
Mr. Hirasawa said from behind me, “Remember girl. I want to see some good G-rated passion.”
On cue, I walked briskly to Scott, threw my arms around his neck, bent him over backwards, planting a big kiss on him, even sliding my tongue towards his mouth and wiggling it. Everyone laughed and I turned to Mr. Hirasawa. “How was that?”
Not amused, Mr. Hirasawa said, “Again. A little less passion this time.”
Scott had the goofiest expression on his face.
It took five takes to shoot the kiss. Mr. Hirasawa wanted different angles and each time we had to hold the kiss for thirty seconds or longer. I hoped that was the last time I would ever have to kiss a boy again.
We were done shooting by one o’clock and Mason hung around for the next hour while the crew broke down the set and packed up their equipment. They’d done that a thousand times and it didn’t take them long.
As we exited the studio to go to his car, Mason slapped my ass. “Great job, Candy. I know my client is going to just love your performance. You did better than the first girl I had hired.”
“That’s sexual harassment you know.” I stepped a little bit away from Mason.
Mason grinned. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s not like I’m inviting you back to my place for cocktails. Want some lunch? My treat.”
I said, “Sure. Just keep your hands to yourself.”
When Mason parked his car in front of Taco Bell, I frowned. “This is lunch?”
Mason just looked at me as if I was an idiot. “Where else would one take a sixteen year old girl to lunch? Besides, anywhere really expensive, you’d have to change into your prom dress. I really don’t think either of us want the local media to show me out on a date with a gorgeous teen girl.”
I cocked my head to one side. “Do you really think I’m gorgeous?”
“Wear the short, blue dress and heels today,” Mason had told me over the phone. “And be ready for me to pick you up by ten, okay?”
“Yes uncle-daddy,” I said before I hung up the phone. I looked bleery-eyed at the clock on the night stand. Mason wasn’t giving me a whole lot of time to get ready. Today was the day I had to make an appearance at the hospital hosting the Children’s Network. The ad campaign was a huge success. Donations were pouring in, along with some marriage proposals to me and guys asking for dates. Asking for a date was understandable, but the marriage proposals to someone who’s supposed to be sixteen was disturbing.
When Mason arrived and I opened my door, he said, “You look great. Maybe we should do what the Children’s Network board suggested after all.”
As I locked my door and started following Mason back to his car, I asked, “I’m afraid to ask.”
Mason laughed. “They thinking it might be a good promotion to select one of the teens that asked you for a date, to actually go on a date. To go to a great restaurant, then to a live performance.”
I groaned. “I don’t want to go on a date. That’s just too much.”
As I got into his car, Mason said, “It wouldn’t be like a real date. There’d be photographers, etc. I gave them a tentative no. But I do think it’d be a great idea.”
I shook my head. “I really don’t want to, for obvious reasons. If I was an actual sixteen year old girl, then maybe.”
As Mason drove his car away from the curb he said, “Okay. I’ll tell them maybe.”
The event at the hospital wasn’t that big of a deal. I mostly just stood, in high heels, at the table for the Children’s Network and greeted people. People are always excited to see someone they’ve seen on TV.
It was a very sobering experience as I met a lot of the kids, some no longer kids, who had been helped by the Children’s Network. It’s always heartbreaking to see little kids on crutches and sitting in wheelchairs. These kids were the happiest to see me and talk. I was very embarrassed and humbled when the parents of these kids heaped praise on me for helping their kids.
At noon we took a break to have a catered lunch in one of the hospital’s meeting rooms. The top brass for the hospital as well as the Children’s Network were there. They thanked me profusely for one of their best promotionals in recent years. With the new revenue, they’d be able to bring more kids into the program.
I have to admit though. I felt like a heel listening to their praises. I mean, I’m a fraud, right? I’m not a teen and I’m certainly not a girl, but they were tossing out proposals for further promotions, or putting me on a teen leadership council, Mason and I both had to dodge questions about what school I attended, and comments about how proud my parents must be of me. Mason just told them that I was an actress he hired from out of town and kept hedging on when they could meet my parents. Mason briefly considered hiring a couple of actors to be my parents, but he just didn’t have the budget for it. And there was just no way I was going to even mention this to my parents, much less involve them.
As we were getting ready to leave the meeting room, Ms. Richards, the president of the Children’s Network approached me. “Miss Williams, I was wondering if you’d mind coming with me up to the fourth floor. That’s the children’s ward and those kids were too sick to come down to see you.”
Honestly, what could I say to that? “Well of course, Ms. Richards. I’d be happy to.”
Ms. Richards smiled at me and said to follow her. We started walking, along with a dozen other people, towards the elevators.
I kept my smile and tried to be cheerful, but seeing these kids that were sick, or have debilitating diseases, missing limbs from accidents totally depressed me. They all had a TV in their room and they all had seen my PSAs. For most of them, their faces would light up when they saw me. Some called me their hero. That just made me feel like a bigger jerk. One boy who was fourteen and trying to re-learn how to walk and speak following a severe brain injury asked me out on a date. It disgusted me to be dishonest, but before entering his room, Ms. Richards said he was going to be in therapy for years. So I told him I would when he recovered. I just wanted to go home and have a good cry.
Ms. Richards noted the look on my face. “I know this is hard. This is what we deal with daily here. We have one more child to visit. He’s nine years old and is terminally ill. Cancer. The doctors estimate he has only a few weeks left, if that much. He got excited when he heard you were going to visit the hospital.”
Great. A terminally ill kid. I was depressed and fighting back tears as it was. I nodded. “Sure, Ms. Richards. Let’s go see him.”
As we entered the room, a woman, who I took to be the kid’s mother was standing by his bed. The kid looked up and his face seemed to brighten when he saw me.
He reached up towards me for a moment, and then set his arms down. Softly, he said, “Oh. You’re that girl on TV. With that bright light behind you and you’re so beautiful, I thought you were my angel come to take me to Heaven.”
I smiled and quietly said, “Let’s don’t rush things.” I leaned over his bed. “Hey big guy.”
He smiled slightly. “Hey there. I’ve seen you on TV. My name’s Charlie.” He held out his hand.
I gently took his hand and gave it a shake. “Glad to meet you, Charlie. I’m Candy.”
He gave me an impish look and said, “Sweet!” I smiled at him as he reached for a sketchbook lying on his bed. “Would you like to see some of my drawings?”
Charlie’s mother said, “Oh no, Honey. She doesn’t have time for that.”
I just smiled. I could feel tears brimming up in my eyes. “Of course, Charlie. I’d love to see your drawings.”
He smiled slightly as he handed me the sketchbook. I opened it so both of us could see the pages. They were typical children’s drawings, done in pencil and most colored in crayon. Most had a big yellow sun in a blue sky, green grass for the ground. Sometimes trees and sometimes a house drawn on the horizon line. But they all had a boy, running and playing baseball or throwing a Frisbee or running with his pet dog Scooter.
We came to a drawing of a person with long hair, eyes at different heights, the nose to one side with big nostrils and a large smile. I looked at the picture, then over at Charlie’s mother. I asked, “Is that Mom?”
Charlie nodded. “Yep.”
I laughed slightly. “Looks just like her.”
Charlie turned the page again. “This is my favorite.”
It was another picture of a big yellow sun in a blue sky and green grass. But this time, the boy in the drawing was also in the sky, his arms reaching up towards a girl with wings. Charlie pointed at the girl. “That’s my angel.”
I couldn’t hold back any longer and a few tears went rolling down my cheeks. Charlie’s mom pulled a tissue from her purse and handed it to me. I thanked her and patted the tissue under my eyes.
Charlie’s mother said, “Okay Charlie. Miss Williams probably has other places to go.”
I nodded and started to say good-bye when I noticed a kid’s book by Charlie’s pillow. My mom used to read me that same book when I was just a kid. I reached over and picked up the book.
“My mom used to read this same book to me when I was little,” I said still feeling a bit choked up. “Is it okay if I read it to you?”
Charlie actually smiled. “Sure!”
I picked up the book and held it so Charlie could see the pictures. As I reach the dialog of each character, I’d change to a funny voice and I also did the sounds and other noises in the book. While I was reading, Charlie giggled and laughed. I glanced over at his mother and she was standing there holding hands to her face, palms together and she was crying.
When I finished reading, Charlie clapped. “Can you come back tomorrow?”
Before I could answer, a nurse came into the room. “I’d like for everyone to leave. I need to give Charlie and injection and he needs some rest. Mom. You can stay.”
Charlie’s mother pulled me to one side as we were leaving the room. “Is there any way you can come by tomorrow? I know you’re busy and I don’t want to impose on you… but when you were reading, that was the first time in weeks I’ve seen him smile, much less laugh. It would mean so much to him.”
I looked over at Charlie, who was now just staring at the ceiling and then back to his mother. I’m really tired of pretending to be a teen girl. I just want it over. And the emotional rollercoaster from today has left me emotionally drained.
“I’d love to,” I said as another tear escaped from my eye. I glanced over at the little guy. My problems suddenly seemed rather petty.
Charlie’s mother reached out and hugged me. “Sorry I didn’t introduce myself earlier. I’m Mary-Ann, Charlie’s mother. I just want to thank you so much for helping Charlie. You’re such a sweet, lovely girl.”
Yep. That’s me.
“Look, Mom! It’s my angel!” shouted Charlie as I entered his hospital room.
“Hey big guy,” I said with a smile. I had just finished being on a local TV interview show that’s on at noon. I was there with the head folks of the Children’s Network. Fortunately, I was just window dressing and wasn’t expected to say much. And I got paid for it.
I looked over at the frazzled woman who was Charlie’s mother, Mary-Ann. She was taking a heavy toll from his illness. She managed to smile. “Hi Candy. Thank you so much for stopping by. Charlie enjoys your visits so much.”
“I’m more than happy to be here,” I said sincerely. “I brought a present for him, if that’s okay?”
I opened my purse and reached inside and pulled out a soft-bound book by the same author that I’d been reading to Charlie. The book was brand new.
Charlie’s little face lit up as I handed him the book. “Oh wow! Thank you so much!” He showed the book to his mother. “Look what my angel gave me!” Looking at me he asked earnestly, “Do you have time to read it?”
I smiled at him and held the book so he could see the illustrations. “Let’s see how far we can get.” He fell asleep about a half hour into reading.
I turned to Mary-Ann after placing the book on Charlie’s bed. “I guess I should go. I should be back tomorrow.”
She gave me a weak smile and hugged me. “You have no idea how much your visits mean to him. And to me.” I nodded and left the room.
Again I felt like a louse for having to lie to them about who I was.
“Yeah, Mason. What’s up?” I had just left the hospital after visiting Charlie for about an hour. He can only handle about an hour of me. Which is longer than most people can handle…
“I got a few things. I gotta say, Toby. You’re red hot.” Mason paused for a moment. “Seriously man. The phone is ringing off the wall for you. But…”
I got into my car, but didn’t start the engine. “But what, Mason. You always have a big but.”
Mason hesitated a few moments. “The calls are all for Candy. Sales promotions, car dealers, funeral homes, you name it. You’re a regular ‘IT’ girl.”
I frowned looking out the windshield. “Terrific. Mason, I told you no more drag gigs.” I checked my eye make-up in the rearview mirror. This was my second visit to Charlie this week and I’m getting better at handling my crying. I can handle a lot of things, but sick kids really get to me.
“Don’t be so hasty, Toby.” Mason didn’t sound like he was just kidding around. “I’m talking money. I mean some really serious money.”
“How much money?” I asked, wondering just how much Mason was talking about.
“A shit load,” Mason said seriously. “Everybody wants that cute, girl next door with that something extra.”
Scowling at the phone, I said, “Yeah. My cock.”
In my mind’s eye, I could see Mason looking annoyed on the other side of the phone call. “Don’t be so crude. But I do suggest you take advantage of them when they become available. Right now you’re still under exclusive contract with the Children’s Network. And I have to say old buddy old pal, they’re loving you. They want another photo-op later this week.”
I groaned. “How much longer is my contract?”
There was a slight pause before Mason answered. “Six month contract. There’s only one more scheduled live event they want you for. The reunion party for the kids who have been helped by their program over the years. It’s a big party; a dance and all that. That’s a week from Saturday. Oh. One other thing.”
Mason laughed. “There’s always more. No, but seriously. I just want to let you know that I can’t pay you for those visits you’re doing with that sick kid.”
That kinda pissed me off that he would even suggest that. “I wasn’t expecting you to. I’m doing it because I want to.”
Mason said, “Okay. Some folks from the Children’s Network have seen you up there and while they think that’s great and all, they were worried you were going to charge for it.”
“On that note, say good-bye, Mason.”
“Good-bye, Mason,” said Mason and then he hung up.
I sat in my car for a few minutes after Mason had disconnected his call. I looked down at myself, at my fake boobs inside a bra under my tank top, and down to my denim miniskirt and sandals. I was also wearing nail polish, make-up of course, and earrings. I was dressing as a girl in one form or another every day this deal with the Children’s Network began. I watched myself on TV and smiled at how hot I looked. This was already starting to feel too normal already. Do I really want do to more of it, like Mason was talking about? Mason said it’d be worth a butt-load of money. They say money can’t buy happiness.
But it’s not happiness I want. It’s money.
I struck a few poses in front of the mirror, checking the lines of my dress, how my hair flowed and to make sure my make-up was perfect. Mason had borrowed a pair of dangling, sparkling earrings and matching necklace from a jewelry store he’d done ads for in the past. They really went well with the red prom dress I was wearing.
I had just gotten off the phone with Mason. He was waiting in his car for me. I took one last look in the mirror and then picked up my matching clutch bag. I put a few essential items into it and hurried for the door. Well, hurry as much as the tight short skirt and the high heels would let me.
Ever the gentleman, Mason was standing outside his car, holding the door open for me. He grinned enormously at me and then slapped himself when I got near.
I grunted a laugh. “Why did you do that for?”
Mason just looked me up and down for a moment. “You look absolutely gorgeous, Candy. I was having lustful thoughts.”
I stopped before getting into his car. “I’m not sure if it’s safe to ride with you.”
Mason laughed. “Toby, we’re friends, but not that good of friends.”
As I started to turn so I could sit down before pulling my legs into the car, Mason slapped my butt. “Sorry. I couldn’t resist.”
I frowned at him. “Getting an early start on being a dirty old man?”
As he started to close my door for me he quipped, “No time like the present.”
We didn’t talk much on the drive to the hospital. Mason put in a few pitches for the places that want to hire me as a teen girl to do their ads. Now that I’ve practically been living as a girl for a couple of weeks, the prospect of being a girl for a little longer didn’t seem so bad.
“Just give it some thought, okay?” Mason then patted my leg.
I picked up his hand and moved it. “Will stop with crap like that? Even if I wasn’t supposed to be sixteen, that’s still kinda creepy.”
Mason’s cheeks reddened. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Your dress, your hair, your perfume… it’s all conspiring against me.”
I frowned. “Maybe it would conspire against you less if you think how I look naked.”
Mason laughed. “Touché.”
We made it to the hospital without incident. The local TV station’s remote truck was parked near the building, its antenna raised. The reporter was standing just outside the entrance, interviewing the kids and their parents as they tried to get to the party. The party attendees would range in age from toddler to mid-twenties.
As we approached the entrance, the reporter looked up from the four year old she was trying to interview and saw me. She quickly said to the child, “Thank you” as she turned her attention to me.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, the guest of honor has arrived, Candy Williams!” the reporter gushed. “What are your thoughts today about this great annual event?” She shoved the microphone into my face.
Quickly reading her name tag, I smiled at the camera. “I’m very excited to be here, Jane. It’s a great celebration of success for the Children’s Network on all the wonderful work they do for our kids.” I flashed the camera a huge smile.
Jane nodded. “Yes. So many great stories of surviving will be told today. And I have to say you look absolutely stunning today! I wish you continued success!”
“Thank you,” I said, thankful that she was done talking to me. Mason took my hand and pulled me quickly away from the reporter.
Mason frowned. “Sorry. I really didn’t think the TV press be here so soon.”
Still holding my hand, Mason led me quickly inside the hospital. I said, “At least she didn’t ask any embarrassing questions, like what my boyfriend thinks of all this and why isn’t he here and how do you parents feel and crap like that.”
Mason turned towards me and grinned. “Well, she cut it short because I was standing behind you making the ‘cut’ gesture.” He held his hand flat and ran it back and forth in front of his throat. “That bitch is so annoying.”
Mason led me at a brisk pace towards the hospital cafeteria which was being used as a ball room today. I tried to pull my hand lose from his grasp. “Mason! Slow down! I can’t walk very fast in these shoes!” The tight skirt also limited the length of my step.
Mason slowed to a reasonable gait. “Sorry. I forgot.”
I tugged against his grip on my hand. “You can let go now. I think I can handle it from here.”
Still holding my hand, Mason said, “I’m just trying to protect you. Have you noticed the way men are looking at you?”
“You mean the same way you do?” I smirked.
Mason protested, “I’m paying you, so I’m allowed.” He still held my hand.
“Is that in my contract too?”
Mason laughed. “It will be when I get back to the office.”
We walked into the cafeteria. It was all decorated with bright colored paper streamers and balloons. The center had been cleared to make a dance floor and a DJ was set up in one corner.
The current year’s president of the Children’s Network saw me and came over to me, and extended her hand to me. “Miss Williams! It’s so good to see you again. The kids always have a good time at our annual party. You’re welcome to join in any of the games and try any of the finger food here. The staff and the kids really enjoy seeing each other again. Sometimes after years of being away. All these kids are survivors in one way or another and we want to celebrated that.”
I smiled at her. “Hello Ms. Richards. I’m happy to be here,” I lied. Maybe that’s a bit harsh to say. But I did wish I was home asleep or watching a game. “I’m amazed at the courage these kids display.”
“Indeed. Well, looks like I have more guests to attend to. Let us know if you need anything.” She then quickly departed.
I started mingling with what kids were there. Most had seen me on TV and were excited to see me. Talking to the small children was actually kind of fun. While they were all smiles, seeing some of these kids really broke my heart.
“Well hello there,” came an irritating familiar voice from behind me. I turned around and there was Scott with a huge grin plastered across his face. “Great to see you again, Candy!”
I smiled weakly, “Scott. What a surprise.”
His cheeks flushing, Scott said, “Hey. They invited me to this since I was in the PSAs.” He moved closer to me.
I moved back a step. “Good to see you too. Hey congrats on landing that commercial for Taco Buenos. It was very believable when you took that bite out the taco you were holding.”
Scott grinned. “It wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for that PSA with you. I mean, I eat lunch there several times a week during school. The owner had seen me in the PSA and asked me if I wanted to be in his ad. What was I going to say, right?”
I nodded. “I hope it leads to bigger things. Hey. Nice seeing you. I should probably go welcome the children just arriving.”
Looking suddenly disappointed, Scott asked, “Can I get at least one dance?”
The DJ was playing a slow song. I looked at the small area reserved for dancing and saw a couple of teens and one set of parents slow dancing. I really didn’t want to, but I knew he wouldn’t go away until I said yes.
I forced a smile. “Okay. Just one though. At least for now. I have to meet and greet.”
Scott’s face lit up like the Fourth of July as he took my hand and led me to the dance floor. Looking at what the girls were doing, I put my hand on his shoulder while he put his on my waist. He drew me close as we swayed back and forth with the music. I was surprised at how much taller than me Scott was. I’m a runt, even in heels.
Grinning and staring me right in the eye, Scott said, “This is great.”
I nodded. While dancing with a boy made me uncomfortable considering all the circumstances, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find dancing with someone enjoyable. I’ve been a loner and social outcast my whole life. To have someone like me though it was wrong, and enjoy being with me, brought home to me the fact that I’ve been missing out. Whenever Mason mentions it, I always say that I would never date a girl who would have me as a boyfriend. I guess that’s self defeating.
When the song ended, I pulled away and said sincerely, “Thank you for the dance. I enjoyed it.”
If Scott’s grin was any bigger his brain would fall out. “That was great! I’d love to get another dance with you.”
I looked down at my feet for a moment. “Sure. I’d like that.” I mean, what am I supposed to say?
He made an obvious lean in for a kiss. I stepped back and pointed at my face. “Sorry. The make-up and everything.” That was honest. Though I had my lipstick and a compact in my purse, I still didn’t want anything smeared. And I didn’t want to kiss him. At least if I’m not getting paid to.
Looking disappointed, Scott said, “Sure. See ya around.” He walked off towards the punch table.
That wasn’t my only dance that afternoon. Mason, the perennial dirty old man had to get a dance in, and got in some dances with some of the kids we were honoring. It was a hoot dancing with the little guys. And not to mention a dance with one of the Children’s Network board members.
Between the dancing and chatting with parents of the kids, meeting the kids, talking to the media again – I didn’t have a lot of chances to sit down and my feet were killing me.
Finally there was a quiet moment and I took a seat at an empty table and sipped on some punch. I tried not to eat too much as Mason had promised to take me to a fancy restaurant after the event to celebrate a successful ad campaign.
As I was sitting there zoning out, I felt someone touch my shoulder. “Miss Williams?” I turned to look and it was hospital volunteer.
I turned to face her. “How can I help you?”
A look of urgency on her face, she said, “That little boy, Charlie, on the fourth floor? He’s asking to see you.”
I stood up quickly and smoothed my dress. To the volunteer, I said, “Thank you.” I then hurried out of the cafeteria towards the elevators.
When I entered Charlie’s room, his mother Mary-Ann was talking to a doctor and she was crying softly. Charlie looked over at me and made a small smile. “My angel is here.”
I greeted his mother and then quickly stepped next to Charlie. I stroked his hair. “Hey big guy. How are you?”
He touched the book I had bought him. “Thanks so much for the book, Candy. It’s my favorite.”
Mary-Ann turned from the doctor to face me. “Yes. Thank you. He reads it all the time.”
I turned slightly to look at Charlie’s mother to reply. Charlie suddenly sat up and kissed my cheek. He said, “I love my angel.” He giggled and then lay back down, smiling. He closed his eyes and a few moments later, his face softened. Alarms started going off.
Mary-Ann shouted, “Charlie? Oh my God Charlie!” She burst out crying.
Tears started streaming down my cheeks. “No! No, Charlie. Oh God.”
A nurse pushed past his mother to check the meters and his connections. She turned to Mary-Ann. “I’m sorry.”
Mary-Ann bent over Charlie’s bed and took his hand and crying huge sobs of anquish. Between sobs, she said, “Oh Charlie. No no no….it can’t be.”
I stood next to his mother, bawling like crazy. I reached over and touched Charlie’s hair again. “Oh God no. I was just talking to him! Oh Charlie!”
Mary-Ann turned to me and put her arms around me and drew me close to her in a hug. “Oh Honey. It’s okay to cry.” She pulled me even closer. I buried my face into her shoulder and cried harder than I ever had in my life.
Charlie’s mother bent her face next to my ear and whispered, “You sweet, sweet girl. Thank you so much for making Charlie’s last few weeks so much brighter. You are his angel.”
We stood there for I don’t know how long crying in each other’s arms. Finally I just couldn’t cry any longer. Charlie’s mother stepped back and plucked a tissue from a nearby box and tried to wipe away the black streaks running down my cheeks. I looked up to see the nurses removing equipment from Charlie. Mason was just outside the door, looking very somber.
The doctor said, “You can take as much time as you need.” Mary-Ann nodded at him.
Mary-Ann forced a smile as she wiped away some of my new tears with the tissue. “You sweet, lovely girl. Thanks for being here.”
I nodded. “I think it’s best for me to leave and give you some time alone with Charlie.” I walked over to his bed and kissed Charlie’s forehead. “I’ll miss you, Charlie. I’ll miss you so much.”
I then turned and hurried from the room, another flood of tears welling up in my eyes.
Mary-Ann motioned for me to join her and her husband on the front row reserved for family at Charlie’s funeral. I had bought a simple black dress and black, low-heeled pumps. I still wore eye make-up knowing full well I would be ruining it soon.
I had only met Charlie’s dad once before at the hospital. He held my hand for a moment in greeting and then turned back to looking at Charlie’s casket. He then held one of Mary-Ann’s hands. I took her other hand and she squeezed it tight.
I looked around in surprise seeing so many people had come to say good-bye to this little guy. Hospital staff, school friends, a few family members and even Mason stood in the back. It was an over-cast breezy day. Even Nature was somber.
Charlie touched my heart and he did change my life in so many ways. I leaned against Mary-Ann’s shoulder and cried.
“Hey, thanks for coming by this morning,” Mason greeted me at his office door. “Come in and have a seat. Lots to discuss today. And you look nice. New dress?”
I greeted Mason and nodded to his question and after moving some papers, sat down in a chair.
Mason said, “It’s great that the Children’s Network released you from your exclusiveness in your contract. I think they’re giving you some space after that kid dying.”
“His name is Charlie,” I said frowning at Mason.
“Sorry. Anyway, I have a new gig for you. Something I think you’ll like. A cosmetics company wants you to be their teen spokeswoman for their product line. I think you use some of their products.” Mason handed me product materials.
I nodded. “Sure. Sounds good. Scott’s not involved in this is he?”
Mason laughed. “No. I don’t even represent him. I’m sure they’ll provide another boy for you to kiss.”
After an hour of talking potential clients and ad deals, Mason said he needed to leave to meet a client over lunch. I got up to leave.
“Oh. I almost forgot.” Mason moved some papers around on his desk and produced a large manila envelope. “This came for you… Candy… the other day.”
I took the envelope from Mason’s hands and opened it. Inside was what looked to be a drawing with a cardboard backing so the post office wouldn’t bend it and a short letter.
The letter read, “Dearest Candy. Thanks again for making Charlie’s last days happy ones for him. I wish I could have met your parents to tell them what a wonderful, caring young woman their daughter is. Charlie insisted that I give you this drawing. You are his angel. Much love, Mary-Ann.”
I pulled out the drawing that Charlie had done. I had seen it before. It was the picture of him rising in the sky being greeted by an angel. But, next to the angel, he had written “Candy”.
I fell back into the chair and began crying uncontrollably.
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