“I think I want to try acting again,” my nephew Finn said softly over his breakfast, as his brown eyes rose up to meet mine. Hearing this brought back the memories of the practices, the auditions, and the Christmas pageant. That damn pageant. Because of it, we were banned from the pageant for the last two years.
“Is there a new play in town?” I asked, sipped my coffee. He glanced back down, his fork pushing his food around on the plate. He was quiet. I knew this quiet. “Finn, what aren’t you telling me?”
“It’s not a play. It’s, uh, television show.”
“Seriously? Here, of all places?” I repeated, still trying to reconcile the sudden interest in our sleepy town. We barely break a thousand people for our annual Christmas festival. The apple picking days don’t see more than that. Why on earth would a tv show want to come here?
“Yep, they are holding auditions next week. Apparently, they want extras who are from the town, who look the part,” he announced slyly. He slid the news article to me, avoiding eye contact. I read the small article in amazement. They were recruiting locals for extras. Small town folk to play small town folk. Who better right? I smirked, not amused by the article.
Harvey Daniels, being Harvey Daniels. I rolled my eyes, sliding the paper back to him.
“Can I try?”
“Do you think it’s a good idea?” Finn looked at me; the determination in his eyes was strong. “You’ve got your studies and your chores around the house–”
“–I can do both. Promise,” he shouted, before retreating back into the booth. His fork still played with his eggs, as he avoided my gaze.
“I don’t know. I’ve read things about child stars and Hollywood…”
“But Aunt Lily…” With a sigh, his hands still clutched the morning’s newspaper, so tightly it wrinkled under the pressure. His eyes lowered, rereading every word the crumpled paper said and weighed the options.
Behind him, the diner slowly emptied. Our waitress and owner of the diner, Ruby, sipped on her coffee as she leaned on the counter, a stray curl of white cascading down into her eyes as she sighed, irritated and spouting off to the regulars. Eli Bradley and his brothers had been here earlier in the morning, after a night of carousing, and caused quite a stir with the night staff. SO much so, they called Ruby down.
If there was one person they weren’t going to thoroughly piss off, it was Ruby. Though they didn’t mind the occasional abrasive irritation.
A loud bang disrupted the diner, as Eli Bradley blew his horn, laughing. He stuck out his tongue at Ruby, before burning rubber out on Church Street. A howl of laughter echoed through the town.
Ruby sniped, “Ain’t it just like our good ol’ sheriff to look the other way? Makes me redder than her hair.” She pointed at me, before she added, “No good sacks of manure.”
The regulars all ventured off to their daily duties, while my nephew and I remained in our booth, locked in tense negotiations. Finn sat on his hands, his intent pinked his cheek in an angry flushing. He ogled me, peeking over his glass with puppy dog eyes. It wasn’t going to work this time. I glanced over to Ruby, who held up the coffee pot, and I shook my head no.
“I don’t know. Besides, you would be around people, and you know you’re not good with being around new people,” I stated with a pointed tone. Finn’s head sunk beneath the glass, obscuring his face from my sight, but the hurt was still present there. “What I mean is…”
“But I can do it. I know I can. I really want to do this.”
“And I really think you should focus on school. You still haven’t mastered long division yet.”
He rolled his eyes. “When will I ever use long division?”
I glared at him for a moment. He had a point. I couldn’t remember the last time I did long division. I scoffed, a poor attempt at my surrender. He squirmed under the scrutiny of my gaze before he conceded.
“How about a com promise?” He mispronounced the word, a small hiccup he had since he was a toddler.
“You mean a compromise?” He nodded. “What are your terms?”
He straightened, lacing his fingers together on the table in front of him. He listed his com promise steady and with authority.
“I agree to at least three hours of studying each day, after filming. On the weekends, I will do whatever chores needed, if I am not on set. I will make my bed every morning. I will also walk the dog in the morning and in the evening.”
“We don’t have a dog.”
He bit his lips, thinking. It was a few moments before he countered. “I will help Magalie with supper every night and I’ll wash the dishes when we’re done. Uh, and you can come to set with me every day. If you think I need to leave, then I will leave.”
“Without hesitation? No questions, just if I think you should leave, you will leave?” He cocked his head to the side, smirking, before he nodded.
“So if I agree to let you try out, you agree to all those things and you will keep to them?” I looked at him. Uncertainty washed over me. “This isn’t like the local theatre group, Finn. Do you really think you can handle an audition? That’s a lot of stress. A lot more than the Christmas pageant. Though really, that whole thing was not your fault.”
“It won’t be like that.” His lips pinched into a thin line. “I just want to try. I just want to be better,” he managed to push through the fleshy pink strips of his mouth. A dark cloud hung over him, as he played with the newspaper in his hand, slowly folding into an origami version of his feelings, rolled and twisted at my words.
“Alright, let’s do it. If you want to try, then we’ll try.”
Finn looked back down at the newspaper article, unfolding his origami swan of sadness, his eyes wide with anticipation. It was the first time in years I saw him so excited.
“You’re the best, Aunt Lily,” he grinned.
He ended up in my care by ridiculous chance. A series of bad luck, but over the last eight years, we made it work. But in the dead of night, I feel the weight of this arrangment on my shoulders. It cost me my parents and my doctoral program at Georgetown. It costs me everything, including my sister, Finn’s mother. They were all gone and all we had was each other now. I was all he had and there in the indigo of midnight I wondered, did he get the short end of the stick with me as a guardian?
I choked back the thought.
“Alright,” he added, as he neatly pressed the wrinkled paper together, sliding it under his arm, and scooted over in the booth to go.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Finn cocked his head, confused. “I need to wash up, brush my teeth. Get some pictures of me. I need a good head photos if I’m going to have a chance…”
The kid planned it all. He thought it out. How long had he sat on it, mapping out what needed to be done, to be successful? A head photo? He considered that?
“A head photo? Oh, you mean headshot, yeah.” I motioned for him to sit down. “Eat.”
“But, Aunt Lily…” He twisted the toe of his shoe on the once white tile floor, his head hung low. I did that when I was his age. His mother, not so much.
Sipping my coffee, I pointed to his plate of food, which he had hardly touched. “Eat. Then we will worry about a head photo.”
“And a full body photo. I need one of those as well.” He smashed a large forkful of egg and grits into his mouth. He smacked as he continued talking. I grimaced at yellow specks shooting out of his mouth as he did.
“Slow your roll, bud. You don’t want to choke.” He smirked, then relented. Swallowing hard, he resumed speaking.
“You can print up the photos, right? I want to get them over to the guy…like now.”
At eight, Finn already started to sound mature. Too mature, really. I sipped my coffee, thinking it over. It was all happening too fast. Just yesterday, I held him for the first time at the hospital. His mother exhausted, refusing to look at any of us. That same black cloud which darkened Finn’s skies hung over her. His father wept at the sight of the tiny kid. Now that kid dictated to me what needed to be done regarding his acting career.
“Let me see the article again, please.” He handed over the newspaper as he shoved another forkful of food into his mouth. I looked at the newspaper, silently cursing it for landing in his hands. “How did you get this? We don’t get the paper.”
“Alexis told me, so I asked Magalie to bring it to me. Alexis is auditioning too. She told the acting group. We’ve all been looking for it.”
Ugh, Alexis Matthews. What a little brat. Never cared for her, or her parents. Especially after they complained about how Finn ruined the pageant for their darling. It was her big break. I flipped through the paper, the image of Harvey Daniels, owner, editor, photographer and all around busybody of the Dacre Examiner. Didn’t care for him either.
A big fish in a small pond, I thought to myself. Both of them.
“Alexis said she is getting professional head photos done down in Atlanta.”
“We can make headshots for you here. We are not going to Atlanta for photographs.” He frowned. “Don’t pout. We’ll call Madge.”
The kid shuddered at the thought, shook like a leaf in a light spring breeze. Madge was the queen of bad middle school pictures. Most in Dacre were familiar with her, as she managed to somehow ruin all the portraits for the kids, families, weddings, and parties in town with her lack of photographic talent.
“She is nice and she does try, Finn.”
“What about my picture from Easter that one year? It was horrible.”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
He stared at me. Okay, it really was that bad, but I couldn’t tell him that.
“Well, it really wasn’t. I’ve seen worse,” I lied, lifting my eyes to the ceiling, hoping my face wasn’t betraying me. Small slits looked back at me, burning into my skin, making me uneasy and I shifted in the booth. The sound of pleather stretching groaned underneath me. “Okay, I’ll take them.” He rolled his eyes.
“Watch it, mister.” He shoveled another mouthful of egg and grits into his mouth and smirked. I spied him over my coffee mug, waiting for him to crack. Another mouthful and the corners of his mouth slowly curled up, betraying his stoic stare.
He looked nothing like his parents. Nothing at all. Didn’t act like either of them. He reminded me of Grandpa. There were moments when he would look at me and I could see that glint of Marion Shaw in him, just beneath the smile, deep in the brown of his eyes. That spark was there, waiting to ignite.
“What?” he said, glaring at me. “You went to Lilyland, didn’t you?”
I broke from my thoughts, smiling.
“Yeah. Sorry, kid. I zoned out. I was thinking of all the things we need to do today,” I replied with a hint of disappointment in my voice. I was enjoying just sitting here with Finn, in our stillness, but there was a great deal we had to do, including taking headshots.
“Good?” The plate slid across the table with ease, while Finn eyed me carefully.
“Impatient, aren’t we?”
“I need to get ready. And you need to get the camera.”
“Finn, it’s Saturday. I don’t think they are expecting your headshots today. I think Monday will suffice.”
“But…but…” I looked down at the article. Headshots would be accepted through Wednesday, with auditions occurring on Thursday. I pointed this out, and Finn rebutted, “What if that changes?”
“I don’t think they would print it as such, just to change it.” His eyes pleaded with me. Deep round pools of brown glistening over with a glaze of fear. Those eyes. I knew those eyes. I sighed.
“But we’ll get it done today and emailed to them. There’s an email here.” Finn brightened. “All right, let’s get out of here. We’ve got to get you ready.”
I left a twenty on the table for Ruby, who nodded softly as we left. Finn darted outside, his spirit renewed, but I lumbered behind him, heavy with worry.
When I walked outside, I noticed the streets were filling with large trucks. Eighteen wheelers and smaller vans. A few cars passed by, filled with people I had never seen before, all staring out the window, faces pressed against the glass, taking notes. Behind me the sound of circular saw ate through wood and hammer pounded against nails. What were they building?
More trucks drove past, one filled with dirt. Was the circus finally coming to town?
“Come on, Aunt Lily. Time’s a-wasting!” He hopped down the street to the Jeep, impatient as spring. When he turned back to look at me, every muscle within me tighten to the point of complete constriction. He looked just like Grandpa.
I smiled half-heartedly and said, “I’m going to enjoy putting makeup on you.” I sauntered to the Jeep, with him squirming at the thought.
“They put makeup on actors, you know. Besides, we need to make you presentable.”
His lip curled into a snarl. “Um, I am presentable.” I glared at him. “Well, I need to wash my face right now, but I’m presentable.” I continue to peer at him as I started the car. He sighed, his eyes rolled. “Fine, but no mascara.”
“Oh, we’re doing mascara. Maybe a little blush here,” I teased, grabbing at his freckled cheek. He deflected my pinch, laughing. “How about some lip gloss? We’ll make you all pretty.”
He smacked my arms away before my hands returned to the steering wheel. The car slipped into gear easy as Finn settled into his seat, staring out the window. The rose of his cheeks dimmed as he relaxed, drifting into his own thoughts. He was in Finnland, probably thinking of all the great adventures he’d experienced on set being a professional actor. My hand absently left the wheel and rubbed the small cowlick on his head.
“Thanks, Aunt Lily,” he said softly. I nodded and we drove in silence as we had done so many times before, both of us slipping into our respective lands, thinking and daydreaming.