Day One Hundred and Eighty-three: Spotlight
The crowd at the Fairport City Library was thin, and Angie didn’t think it was going to get thicker any time soon. Nobody was eating the homemade muffins the Fairport Ladies Club had made, and the sparse group that had come to see the local poets reading their work was almost embarrassing. They’d been holding their fundraiser for a week now, and the generous donations thus far had been just about enough to cover the cost of keeping the lights on. There had been an interview with the local public radio station, and the local news had done a piece on the library fire and recovery efforts, but they didn’t amount to nearly as much as they needed. And she suspected they never would. The other librarians on duty weren’t even bothering taking questions – they were re-shelving and cleaning the periodicals.
She sat at the computer in the circulation desk and opened up the library website again, for the tenth time that morning. There was her face, smiling in what she knew was a very practiced way. She’d asked them not to put her picture up there, but the other librarian was in the hospital and they thought a pretty face would draw in donations. Sean had been recovering from smoke inhalation since the fire nearly two weeks ago, and wasn’t expected back until the end of the month. He had been either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid, trying to save some of the antique books they had been loaned, and she still wasn’t sure which. What was important, though, was that he was alive.
She looked over at the plywood that had been nailed up to block off the burned-out section of the building. The whole place still smelled of smoke, and there were hundreds of books that they were going to have to get rid of. The fire hadn’t spread nearly as far as it could have, and she was very thankful for that, but the damage was still extensive, and would require a lot of money that the city didn’t have in order to get it fixed up.
A young man came up to the desk and, mercifully, distracted her. “Excuse me,” he said. “Are you going to be open tomorrow?”
She put on her best smile and said, “Of course! Every day, just as always.”
He nodded. “Are you still going to have those musicians here tomorrow?” He gestured over to the jazz quintet that was taking a break in the lobby. Their leader was a friend of hers, and had agreed to come play. He probably expected a better reception, though.
“I’m afraid not,” she said. “They’re today only.”
He nodded again. “Good.” And he walked away, out the front doors.
Angie slumped in her chair. She understood, she really did. The economy was tough, and Fairport was just as hard-hit as any small town. A lot of the people living there needed their money for food and gas, and couldn’t really afford to part with it, even if it was for a good cause. The town council was making sympathetic noises at her, but they barely had any cash to spare either, and the state had already cut library funding as low as they could without getting rid of it altogether. All of that meant that the library was pretty much on its own, and every time she smelled the odor of old smoke or looked at the walled-off section of the building, she wanted to cry.
She didn’t use to be like this, either. As painful as it was to remember, there was a time where she didn’t care about anything. As long as she knew what was hip and trendy and where the best parties were, she wouldn’t have even noticed a library fire. Hell, she probably wouldn’t have even gone into a library unless it was hosting a rave. She’d been shallow and self-absorbed and, well, young.
And then she grew up. It was hard to do, and there were plenty of people willing to stop her from doing it, but she did.
Five years later, thirty pounds heavier and with an old car and a small apartment, she was honestly happier than she’d ever been. The library meant something to her. It was something real.
And now it was in danger of going away.
Angie looked up. There was a very pretty young woman standing at the circulation desk. Old instincts kicked in, and Angie took stock of the woman’s appearance: hair that had been expertly done to fall in dark curls around her shoulders, a simple dove-grey suit with a thin silver chain around her neck, and a dark blue coat that set off her eyes. The faintest scent of perfume drifted from her, something that smelled of spices. “Excuse me,” the woman said again. Her expression was odd, and something about it made Angie’s stomach tighten up.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” Angie said, shaking her head to clear it. “Can I help you?”
“I’m not quite sure how to ask this,” she said, glancing slyly around. “I mean, it seems kind of ridiculous, really. But I saw you on your website and I just have to know…”
Angie felt her gorge rise. Oh no, she thought.
The woman leaned in close to whisper. “Are you Melina Terrano?”
For a brief moment, Angie’s world went white. She wanted to run away. Or hit the woman with something heavy. Either one would have satisfied her immediate short-term impulse, but she still knew that they would cause more trouble than they solved. Impulse control had been one of the hardest lessons for her to learn. But running away was what she really, really wanted to do.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I think you have me mistaken for -“
“Oh. My. God,” the woman said. “It really is you.” She pulled out a phone, and Angie resisted the urge to snatch it from her hand, throw it to the ground and stomp on it. “I’m surprised you don’t remember me,” the woman said as she flipped the phone open. “I covered your DUI after your sixteenth birthday?” She flashed a set of very white teeth, winked, and spoke into the phone. “Yup, it’s her. Come on in.”
A moment later three guys rushed into the library, two with video cameras and one with a shotgun microphone attached to a digital recorder. The woman pulled a small recorder of her own out from her pocket and turned to face the cameras. “This is Shannon Strauss of CeleBeat-dot-com livestreaming you the news of the year!” One of the cameramen moved to get a shot of Angie, who tried to turn her face away. “Five years ago, Melina Terrano – heiress, songwriter, actress, and fashion designer – vanished from her family’s lavish Los Angeles estate. She left only a note for her family, which read, I’m leaving. Don’t look for me.“
Shannon turned, and the other cameraman moved to Angie’s other side. “Today,” the woman went on, “Melina Terrano has finally been found in the backwater town of Fairport, Texas, and CeleBeat-dot-com has the exclusive!” She spun around and thrust the recorder into Angie’s face. “Melina, tell us why you vanished! What brought you here to Fairport? When are you planning to lose that weight?” The woman was grinning broadly, and Angie thought she looked like a cat getting ready to devour something small and helpless.
Which, of course, was just how she felt. What Shannon had said was right: she’d left home to make a new life for herself. After growing up one of the richest and most talked-about girls of the Hollywood elite, she had finally come to the realization that her life – as lavish and privileged as it was – was meaningless. She wasn’t making anything of value. She wasn’t contributing anything to the world. She wasn’t making anyone’s life better. She was just being a self-indulgent child.
It had been a photo shoot for some magazine or another – she didn’t really keep track. She was waiting while they got pictures of her best friend, Audra, whose father made a ridiculous amount of money in real estate back when it had been worth something. A photographer’s assistant had brought Audra a coffee, but it wasn’t what she wanted. A half-caff double espresso latte with a mocha shot and soy milk foam, but without the sprinkling of cinnamon that she always had on top. And Audra just lost it. She screamed at the assistant, threw the coffee all over the backdrop for the photo shoot, knocked over light stands and tripods, and then launched into a twenty-minute tantrum at the photographers, the producers of the shoot, the magazine rep – anyone who came within arms’ reach of her.
Even worse was how everyone tried to placate her, to promise her that things would go better. The assistant was fired on the spot, the lead photographer swore up and down that the destruction of her equipment was no big deal and that Audra was totally justified. The guy from the magazine turned around and started shouting at the photographer, and Audra’s agent joined in, taking his stabs at the magazine rep. When it was all over, Audra just flipped back her long blonde extensions and said, “Whatever. I don’t care.” And then she flounced over to where Melina was sitting and cheerfully announced that it was time to buy shoes.
And a single thought just dropped into Melina’s head, out of nowhere: Wow. What a bitch.
What came on the heels of that thought, of course, what that she probably would have done the same thing. If not worse.
For the next week, she watched the people around her, how they treated her like she was royalty. Dangerous royalty. What she had thought before was love in their eyes now looked like fear. They talked to her, moved around her, as though she were some kind of monster that could get them all killed. Which, in a way, she was. One call from her could probably ruin any one of those people who had devoted their lives to their work. To her.
Eventually, it all became too much. She took some cash, as few clothes as she could, left the note for her family, and took off. She cut her hair short in a bus station bathroom and was out of the state by morning. After that, it had been a long trip before she found Fairport and its library and decided that she’d found a place to settle down.
Five years later and it looked like she hadn’t run far enough.
The reporter was waiting for an answer. A small crowd had gathered around the circulation desk, and some of them were taking pictures with their cell phones. The other librarians and volunteers were with them, staring in shock and fascination.
She knew they wouldn’t believe her if she said she wasn’t who she was. And if she ran again, they’d just find her again. Either way, the were ready to drag her back to her old life, kicking and screaming, and there wasn’t a damned thing she could do about it.
“Yes,” she said quietly. “I’m Melina.” Phone-cameras clicked, beeped and pinged all around her.
Shannon moved next to her so that they were both facing the cameras. “And what do you have to say to your fans out there, Melina? Can you tell us why you ran away?”
Angie just wished she could vanish. Fade away and never be heard from again. She looked around at the crowd, which was finally gathering to a decent size, and nearly laughed. If only we had this many people for the fundraiser, she thought.
That stopped her. She looked at the damaged walls, at the table full of stale baked goods and a jazz group that was now more interested in her than in playing for the crowd, and her other instincts from her old life took hold. The instincts that taught her how to make the best of a bad situation. How to turn any moment to her advantage. How any publicity was good publicity.
How to get whatever she wanted.
Angie smiled brightly, and it was enough of a change that one of the cameramen actually took a step back from her. “Are we live?” she asked Shannon.
Shannon also seemed a little off-guard. “Um, yes we are – we’re livestreaming this right now.”
“Excellent. Come with me!” Angie shook off Shannon’s arm and started walking. She went around the circulation desk and stood in front of the plywood walls that had been put up.
“The reason I left Los Angeles,” she said, “was that I wanted to do something different. Something good for other people.” She looked around at the crowd, which was still taking pictures of her. “I didn’t like who I was back in L.A. So I came here, to Fairport Texas, in order to start over.” She gestured out to the crowd, and the internet cameramen started filming them as well. “I found the people of Fairport to be kind, wonderful people who were down-to-earth, selfless and generous.”
Angie found her style coming back to her as she spoke, and remembered what it was like to grab a crowd and hold on to them. “The people of Fairport gave me more than I deserved,” she said. “Without really knowing it, they turned a spoiled, rich little girl into a real human being.” She felt her eyes welling up. “And I can never thank them enough for that.”
A man out in the crowd yelled, “You’re welcome, Angie!” and a laugh ran through the room.
“Thanks, Roy,” she said, more grateful than ever that she had some help that day.
“I found work here in the library,” she went on, “and it’s a great place. We’ve got all kinds of books, a children’s center, a reading room and a whole bank of computers that anyone in town can use.” She pointed to her left. “Over there is the Study Center, where kids from the high school can come and get tutoring three nights a week.” She pointed to her right. “And over there is the day-care, where moms can leave their kids for a little while so they can get some rest.” She faced the cameras again, her hands clasped in front of her. “This is the heart of Fairport, in many ways.”
Her face turned serious. “But the heart of Fairport is in trouble.” She took a few steps away and let the cameras take in the damaged walls. “About a week ago, we had a terrible fire here, that burned out much of the exhibition room and the floor above. It could have been a lot worse, but the damage was still extensive.”
She stepped in front of the camera and got close. This was the part she didn’t want to do, but knew she had to. It was too close to who she used to be, manipulating people to get what she wanted. But at the same time, it was the only way to make something good out of this whole mess. “The Fairport Library has been holding a fundraiser for the last week. If you can, even the smallest donation would go a long way towards rebuilding the library and making it even better than before.” Shannon was starting to realize what was going on and tried to step in front of Angie, but she held her back with one hand. “Fairportlibrary-dot-com has all the information you’ll need to make a donation.”
Angie stepped closer to the cameras, leaving Shannon behind her. “I really appreciate that you’ve been worried about me,” she said. “And it’s an honor that you’ve spent this long looking. But this is my home now. The library, the people of Fairport – this is where I belong.” She turned back to Shannon and took her gently by the arm. “The best thing you can do for me is to help me get this place fixed up. What do you say, Shannon?” She spun Shannon around so they were both facing the cameras. “Can I count on you and CeleBeat-dot-com to help out and do some real good for some real people?”
Shannon just blinked, and one of the cameramen started grinning madly. After a moment, the woman swallowed hard and said, “Of course, Melina -“
“Angie, Shannon. Angie.”
“Right,” Shannon said. “Angie. We’ll be more than happy to chip in.”
“Good!” Angie said, holding the other woman close. “Thank you all for coming,” she said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work.” She put on her best smile, the one she used to use for awards shows. “Someone’s gotta keep things running around here!” She slipped past the cameramen into the crowd, and shook hands with people as she went. She thanked them for coming to the library, thanked them for their time and their donations, and made her way to the circulation desk. The phone was ringing on all three lines, but she let them go to voicemail. For right now, she needed to be where she belonged.
From that point, she only answered questions about the library or the fundraiser. Eventually, Shannon and her crew got bored hearing about the local author that was going to come over to sign autographs on Thursday and they left. Slowly, the crowd thinned out again, and Angie was left to finish cataloging returns, a nice, almost Zen-like activity.
At nine o’clock, she closed and locked the doors. The other librarians seemed at ease when she told them to go home, but she thought they were still a little star-struck. Even in a small town like this, the allure of the Hollywood Celebrity was hard to resist.
She checked through the building, turning off lights as she went. Back at the circulation desk, she finally checked the voicemail. Several dozen messages from several dozen people. Agents, fans, old friends she didn’t even remember having. Her parents.
She deleted all but the ones from the city, who were very interested in talking to her, and the one from Sean, who told her to check the donation website.
She did, and smiled. The total was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and she was pretty sure she could get it higher. It would mean re-opening some old connections, true. Admitting who she was, and letting herself play that terrible game again. Now that she wasn’t invisible anymore, she’d have to be careful.
But this time she would be ready. This time, she really did know what she was doing.
Angie left the darkened library and drove home, her mind full of possibilities.