By Joseph D. Venanzi
Tylan paid the taxi driver and shoved the change into his pocket. The trip had cost a king’s ransom, he’d be forced to live off Ramen Noodles for the rest of the semester, but it was worth it at any price to see Emma.
He’d last seen his sister six months ago. She’d been in Manhattan to promote her latest film, a low budget gore-fest about sewer vampires and the coming apocalypse, when she visited him at school. Between her appearances with Lauer and Letterman there was barely enough time for their exchanging hellos, hugs and kisses before she was whisked off.
Today had to be different. But with the relatives visiting he knew he was up against it, they’d all want a piece of her, too.
Tylan eyed his mother’s house. To his relief there were no cars in the driveway and no paparazzi hidden in the maples or camouflaged behind bushes, maybe if he were lucky he might have her all to himself after all.
He picked up his suitcase off the asphalt and trudged down the long, spiraling driveway leading to the white colonial.
“Lord it’s hot,” he whined as large beads of perspiration seeped through his shirt. “No wonder these people move so slowly. It’s their only way to keep cool.”
Back only two hours and he was already complaining about the heat and the southern propensity for easy doing it. What was next, condemning their passion for Bulldawgs football? He never used to criticize Dixie. But after spending three years in New York City he considered himself a northerner now.
A few years before while in high school he discovered the perfect solution for beating afternoon heat: He’d go straight from the school bus to the backyard where he’d take a quick dip in the pool. Recalling this, it became his priority. But when he entered the backyard his plans changed.
Tylan’s eyes lit up at the unexpected sight of Emma, who was enjoying her favorite activity, taking a cat nap on the suspended swing seat in the gazebo.
“Perfect,” he thought as he quietly crossed beside her and set down his suitcase. “Unless a helicopter lands and grabs her, she’s all mine.”
“How ya’all doing?” he cried, exaggerating his drawl.
Emma slowly opened her eyes and smiled broadly. She earned millions in front of the camera showing off her radiant smile, but she wasn’t acting now.
He started to say, “I’ve really miss--”
When she shook her head and patted the swing. This was all the invitation her brother needed and he sat beside her. For a spell they said nothing and the only sounds were their breathing and the rhythmic creaking and swaying of the swing.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she said finally, tightly squeezing his hand. “You’re the only one I really wanted to see.”
“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”
“How are you? In your last text you sounded, well, I don’t know. It’s hard to get a real sense without seeing someone.”
“I’m hanging in there.”
“How’s your student film coming?”
“Oh. Well, what else is going on?”
“Nothing much,” he replied, shrugging his shoulders. “Is mom home?”
“Nope. Out picking up Grammy Opal.”
“She’s coming too?”
“If they’re breathing they’ll be here.”
“Whose idea was it throwing you a party?”
“She should be pleased as punch.”
“I’m kinda glad, too.”
“I’ve been looking for an excuse to come home. Last month I drove all over Rome on the back of a scooter doing my Audrey Hepburn impression and I saw some nice things. But nothing there could touch mom’s Cherokee rose garden.”
Tylan smirked and waited for the punch line or at the least for his sister to punch his arm and yell “Gotcha,” but Emma said nothing more.
Finally he said weakly, “I saw your latest film last week.” “It’s terrible.”
“No no, it’s good.”
“Okay, I’m terrible in it. How many times can I play the same part?”
“That reminds me. I bought you something.”
“I told you I don’t have anymore room for this junk.”
Tylan dug into his suitcase, removed an action figure and proudly gave it to her. He dedicated himself to tracking down and buying every collectible with her likeness on it because he was more than her brother; he was Emma’s number one fan.
Emma removed the toy out of its packaging and smirked. At first she enjoyed seeing her likeness on everything from comic books to drinking glasses you could purchase with an extra value meal. But quickly even this byproduct of her popularity wore thin.
“Princess Reject!” she exclaimed, imitating the Statue of Liberty. “All bow in glowing tribute to the stupidest princess in the universe!”
“You shouldn’t have taken it out of its box. You killed its value.”
“Oh please. Anything with my mug on it was worthless to begin with.”
She set the toy on her knee and made it dance. “Do you remember when I used to make my stuffed animals talk in weird accents while you filmed everything?”
“Sure. That’s what made me want to get into this.”
“That was the most fun I ever had acting.” She placed the toy on her lap. “I had a reason for letting mom throw this party for me, Ty.”
“Yeah, I figured as much.”
“I wanted to get everyone together so I could make a big announcement.”
If this was a soap opera, where Emma had gotten her start, there’d have been a close up on her face as the dramatic music swelled to a crescendo before cutting to a commercial. It’s called a tease, and for a tense couple of minutes the viewers held their breath until the show returned and the possibly life altering announcement was revealed.
But this wasn’t a soap opera, this was real life. And it was Emma who held her breath.
There, she’d said it. It was out in the open and in saying it out loud she made real. Now it was no longer a silly notion she buried deep down inside because she was too scared to admit how much it really meant to her.
“You can’t quit, you’re a movie star.”
“So movie stars don’t quit making movies and give up their cool lives to live in the real world and do some lousy real world job. They just don’t.”
“Well I am.”
“Sure you are. What are you going to do instead?”
“I don’t know. First, I’ll come back home. It’ll be nice to be able to see everyone whenever I want instead of once or twice a year.”
“You want to come back here?”
“You bet! Remember, you ran away. I was kidnapped against my will thanks to a face that was perfect for soaps. Once I’m back for good I’ll figure out want to do for the rest of my life. You had your chance to decide. Now I want my turn.”
“You might think that’s what you want, but it won’t work. You’ll miss it. You love being a movie star.”
“I don’t love it, you do. You love reading about me on the web. You love taking your buddies to my movies. And you love buying crap with my face on it. Admit it, bro. You’ve always gotten a bigger kick out of me being a movie star than I did.”
She tossed him the action figure and he tried returning it to its packaging before realizing how ridiculous he was acting.
He looked at her sheepishly and set the toy aside. “You tell anyone else?”
“No, but mom suspects it. It’s not her I’m worried about.”
“The arriving horde?”
“Everyone’s going to remind me how great my life is, how lucky I am and how crazy I’d be to throw it away. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I can’t do it without your support. What do you say?”
Tylan was drinking a soda in the kitchen when his mother entered and set a large cake on the table.
“It’ll be fun having you both under the same room again.”
“Sorry, no can do. I’m taking the red eye out tonight.”
“Change of plans?”
“Yeah, just I realized I got to get back to this film I’m working on.”
They stared through the window at Emma. She was perfectly content walking barefoot through the Cherokee rose garden where she sniffed flowers and set them in her hair when the notion pleased her. Noticing them looking at her, she made a funny face and stuck out her tongue.
“She looks good, doesn’t she, Ty?”
“Yeah, real good.”
“I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve been worried about her for a while. She tried hiding it and wore a brave face for everyone, but I’m her mother and I could tell she hasn’t been happy for a long time.”
“I don’t think you’ll have to worry anymore.”
“Emma’s excited about figuring out her next step in life.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“I think it’s cool. Whatever she decides I hope it makes her happy, she could be doing it for a long time.”
“Can you help me put the cake away?”
“Sure, grab the door.”
His mother opened the refrigerator. Tylan picked up the cake and read the inscription written with pink icing.
“‘Happy eleventh birthday, to our darling Emma.’”
Then to himself, smiling. “Yeah, a very long time.”
Joseph writes about himself: Although I currently live in my hometown of Trenton, NJ, when I was twenty-four I spent a year as a volunteer building homes under the hard, red GA clay for Habitat For Humanity. I lived and worked in their headquarters in Americus, Ga and it was the best year of my life.
My writing credits are the following: This summer The Storyteller will publish my short story The Cane Mutiny. U.S.1 published my short story The Invisible Man.