She stared at what was left of her martini, idly swirling the remains with a toothpick weighted with olives. Rick, her favorite bartender, quietly polished glasses at the other end of the bar, knowing not to disturb her.
It had been a long day.
Stephen’s middle-aged kids had stood a good distance from her during the burial service, their faces devoid of grief. Any feelings they’d once had for their father had evaporated during their parents’ acrimonious divorce proceedings. She had been the other woman, an interloper who had destroyed a respectable marriage. It was years ago, but the wounds endured. Like the Boston Brahmins they were, however, they stoically endured the brief service, their faces turned from hers.
They had no use for her.
Well, why the hell should they? She’d never been a part of their lives, nor had she wanted to be.
She was too busy being Stephen’s last acquisition.
Proper CEO of a huge soft drink conglomerate, the two had met during a promotional campaign.
For some time, her film career had been in decline; the same could be said for her fresh, pin-up girl beauty. Even so, she was still a name. Still recognized – and loved – by the public.
The Top Hat Company had hired her to pose for an advertising blitz, hoping to capitalize on her still sexy image. The day she’d met Stephen, she been filming the first of a series of TV commercials. Wearing a slinky floor-length dress, an ermine stole draped carelessly over one shoulder, she’d held a bottle of Top Hat Cola close to her cheek. She looked into the camera and murmured seductively, “Top Hat Cola is my drink of choice.” She then slowly, sensuously, lowered the bottle, giving the public a look at her two best assets.
Stephen had been entranced. Her beauty and the mystique of old Hollywood attracted the older man. In her early thirties, she’d retained just enough glamour and charm to mesmerize.
Marrying him had seemed a good career move.
The business journalists loved her story – the small town girl who had achieved great success.
Born in West Virginia to a miner and his teenage wife, she was ready to bolt town by her sixteenth birthday. Her friends used to laugh at her dreams of stardom, but she’d always been bigger on the inside, bigger than anyone knew. She’d had ambition, aspirations. She’d watched too many movies as a kid to settle for life in a poor mining community. From the start, she knew where she was going – to the bright lights of Hollywood.
A nice profile, blond hair and an outstanding pair of breasts enabled her to leave West Virginia behind.
She never looked back.
She got a job working as a shop girl in one of the Hollywood department stores. From there, she graduated to girl photographer at the Trocadero Nightclub. And then a few big breaks – casting calls where she exhibited her talent both on screen and off. Her best performances were given in the backroom of a producer’s large suite of offices. A girl had to swallow a lot to get ahead. She did what she had to.
And it had paid off. In the end, she’d achieved some notable success. On screen, she was magnetic, excelling in screwball comedies. Off screen, she made sure the public laughed with her – not at her.
As her career wound down, she achieved yet another incarnation: serious wife of one of the country’s leading executives. She’d played the role well. With Stephen, she boarded company jets and traveled the world, the ubiquitous bottle of cola always nearby for photo ops.
She was good for business. So good that she was given an honorary position on Top Hat’s board of directors. Of course, she was only a figurehead, never allowed any say in the decision-making process. Her role was to smile and gaze adoringly at a bottle of cola – and, on occasion, her husband.
Trophy wife and corporate symbol.
She was the best day’s work Top Hat’s CEO had ever done. She was a key acquisition on the corporate road to success, always a marketable commodity.
But that’s how it had always been. Her beauty had victimized her as much as it had opened doors. Four prior husbands, not one of them worth a damn. All actors or playboys.
But Stephen had class. Or so it had seemed.
He’d fooled her with his straight-laced ways.
He turned out to be a tough son of a bitch, perhaps the worst of all her husbands. It was his coldness.
You could forgive a passionate man for the trouble he brought your way.
It was hard to forgive a cold one.
After the fascination with her Hollywood past wore off, Stephen treated her with contempt, throwing her roots in her face, derisively christening her Miss West Virginia. Well, Miss West Virginia, like it or not, had done damned well for herself, making a few films that won her recognition – if not respect.
Until Stephen, she’d always bounced back. Something about that stiff Bostonian broke her spirit. His steely way of looking at her made her feel like dirt. She quickly lost her way in the frozen wilderness of his disdain. To escape her bewilderment, she developed a passion for alcohol, and took to sleeping in the daytime; eyes wide open, nodding to polite inquiries, doing the necessary, never really there. The real Miss West Virginia had checked out due to disinterest.
The martinis made it bearable.
Several years into the marriage, a business reporter asked her about her Hollywood career, if she ever missed the opening nights, the glamour. She’d felt Stephen’s eyes on her as she answered. He didn’t like the question, she could tell.
“Well, to be honest, I threw it away – willingly – when I met Stephen. None of that star stuff mattered after I fell in love with him.” She’d smiled, reaching for her husband’s hand, and gazed adoringly into his eyes.
A photographer captured the moment and it appeared on the cover of BUSINESS WEEK. It was a nice story. Top Hat’s stock had soared when the issue hit the stands.
She’d performed her role well.
But now Stephen was gone. So was her Hollywood glamour. Tastes had changed – in colas and in film stars. The company, now part of a larger conglomerate, had forced Stephen out years ago.
They lived in unhappy silence, tolerating each other. She hid her face behind martini glasses; he hid his behind newspapers. The silence was heavy with hostility. She wondered if perhaps she was psychic; paper held between his spotted and shaking, wrinkled hands seem to speak to her: You threw it away, all of it, for this…
Startled from her thoughts, she looked up from the martini. Rick was facing her. “Would you like another?” he asked, pointing to her almost empty glass.
I should give up drinking, she thought in a brief moment of fantasy. Stephen’s gone… I could jumpstart my career… give up the cigarettes, get to bed at a reasonable hour.
So easy… just stop the martinis…
I still have contacts… The parts would be different now… Someone’s mother… God, not grandmothers, not yet…
But first, have to stop the drinking… then get work…
“Mrs. Harington?” repeated Rick, tilting his head, staring at her.
Who was she kidding?
She’d thrown it all away, years ago. She’d already had her nine lives – shop girl, movie star, business mogul’s wife.
And now? Her final role, the grieving widow.
Another metamorphosis. Well, she was good at that.
With a quick, practiced movement, she finished off the martini and slid the glass toward Rick.
“Hit me again, friend.”
Word Count: 1,287
Author’s Note: This week’s story is based on two challenges. One is ThainInVain’s challenge to write a flash fiction story based on the phrase, “Well, to be honest, I threw it away…” Sorry, TiV – I couldn’t hold this to 500 words, but it was your phrase that gave me the idea for the story, so I’m crediting your prompt.
The other challenge was issued by BeKindRewrite to craft a story utilizing the following words: metamorphosis; psychic paper; bigger on the inside; shop girl; sleeping in the daytime.
Both challenges can be found here: ThainInVain and BeKindRewrite. Check them out – and be part of the challenge!
All prompts utilized are bolded throughout the story. The photo used above is of Veronica Lake, a long-ago star; the story, however, is not about Miss Lake.