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Home > I Married a Master

I Married a Master
Author: Melanie Marchande

Chapter One

Jenna

This had to be a nightmare.

I simply couldn't explain it otherwise. The yawning chasm of silence, except for the thump, thump, thump of my own heart - I was sure everyone in the room could hear it. The stares. The growing sense of panic. The fact that all the words on the paper in front of me looked like ancient cuneiform.

Help? Anyone? Can a girl get a Rosetta stone over here?

I opened my mouth, but my throat had closed up.

Any minute now, my grandmother would show up, except she'd look like Beetlejuice, and then I'd be in my underwear in front of my whole high school assembly and I'd be late for my college finals and I'd be missing some flight I was taking because my feet felt like they were stuck in molasses. Then, I'd know.

This had to be a nightmare. There was no other explanation.

Four sets of eyes staring at me. One of them was clearing his throat impatiently, shifting in his chair. One of the others seemed more compassionate.

"I'm sorry," she said, gently. "But we really need to move on."

I worked my mouth open and shut a few times.

"Please," said the throat-clearing one, more firmly. "You've used up all of your allotted time. Thank you, please come again."

When I didn't move, he stood up, with a massive sigh and roll of his eyes. He walked over, grabbed my arm, and began steering me towards the door. My feet shuffled obediently, though the rest of my body refused to move.

I was sitting at a bus stop, and I had no idea how I got there.

Internally, I let out a sigh of relief. The surest hallmark of a dream. Any minute now, I'd wake up in my own bed to the sound of my chirping alarm, waking me up just in time to get ready for my audition.

"Wow, you really choked in there, huh?"

I turned around, slowly.

The girl sitting next to me on the bench - I recognized her. She'd been in the waiting room next to me. She'd've been called up right after me.

Uh oh. This made a little too much sense, for dream logic.

Her eyes were sympathetic, not mocking. "They're never as discreet as they want you to think. I heard them talking about you when I was headed in. Don't worry. It gets better." She offered me a smile. "This your first time?"

I nodded mechanically.

"Oh, don't even sweat it. There'll be other auditions." She waved her hand dismissively.

"No, there won't," I heard myself say. "I'm pretty sure my career is over."

She laughed. "You know how often shit like this happens? They won't even remember you, let alone think it's notable enough to spread the word to all their secret Hollywood society friends to put you on the blacklist."

"No," I said, shaking my head miserably. "It's not that. It's me. I can't do it. All these years, this was my dream - I've been defending it to everybody who said it was stupid, I've been planning, I've been researching, all for nothing. Because I can't do it. I thought a couple of school plays and some wins at debate club were enough to qualify me for this."

Normally I was more guarded than this. A lot more guarded. But I couldn't stop the torrent of fear and regret - and besides, I was still clinging to that hope.

This was all a nightmare.

"Everybody goes through this," the girl said, patting my arm. "Trust me."

"Not everyone locks up at their first audition," I pointed out. "Okay, so maybe you could name some great actors who did, but that's not the point. What about all the people who choked like I did, and went on to be nothing? The odds were never in my favor to begin with. This is just the final shovelful of dirt on my grave."

"Hey man," she said, standing up and extending her arm as her bus approached. "All I can say is - if you go out there expecting to fail, you're gonna fail one hundred percent of the time."

"Thanks," I called after her, bitterly.

I'd gotten better advice from the side of a Chipotle cup.

The surreality of the situation had started to fade, leaving me more alert, less muzzy around the edges. I was awake. I was more awake than I'd ever been in my life.

Look, I wasn't stupid. When I came to New York for acting, I knew it was a pipe dream that way too many people share, and not enough people pursue. I knew the work was harder than people image it to be. I knew there'd be a lot of hoofing it, spending all day, every day in auditions, doing infomercials until I worked my way up to name-brand products. And maybe, just maybe, if I was really lucky - becoming one of those "hey, it's that chick from the Swiffer ad!" people.

It was just like any other job. Starting out as a fry cook, you don't go into your first day of work counting on being "discovered" by the CEO of McDonald's and pulled to run the company. That was how I treated this. I was going to have to work hard, and scrape by, for a long time. But I had faith in my ability to do it.

And I also had my dream.

Part of me - the part that never wanted to accept anything less than one hundred percent perfection, one hundred percent of the time - had a tiny glimmer of hope that I'd be one of the special ones. A casting director would just happen to be in line behind me at the bank, and he'd see me yelling at the teller (not that I ever yelled at tellers - but shhh, this was my fantasy) and he'd just love my passion. I'd find myself cast in a non-speaking role in the next Resident Evil or something, and the director would become besotted, and the rest would be history...

I didn't talk about this dream, of course. Because I knew it was almost offensively ridiculous. It was a childish. It was nothing to hang a career on.

And I didn't. But part of me still wanted it. Part of me felt like if that didn't happen, I'd be a failure.

No part of me was prepared for what actually happened.

Stage fright. I'd never experienced stage fright. Not once in my life had I looked at a group of people in front of me, with cards or a script or notes in my hand, or merely lines in my head, and just frozen up like that. Even the most stringent doubters in my life had always acknowledged that I was good with performance, public speaking, whatever. They doubted the industry, the amount of work - they doubted my understanding of the gritty realities of the job. They doubted by commitment.

But they didn't doubt me.

And until now, I never had, either.

Walking down the street, hurried pedestrians pushing past me, I'd never felt more lost. My phone was buzzing in my pocket and I didn't dare answer it. Especially not when I checked the screen and saw it was my mom.

I wouldn't be able to talk to her without bursting into tears. And the last thing she needed to do was worry about me.

I let it go to voicemail, then fired off a quick text implying I was just so busy I couldn't possibly pick up the phone.

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