by Karen A. Romanko
Everyone knew about Danny “Speed” Miller’s celebrity parties. As “agent to the stars,” Speed threw a lavish annual bash that was the talk of entertainment reporters for weeks to come (or a lifetime in Hollywood terms). In his usual understated style, Speed had promised that this year’s fete would be “better than sex.”
As expected, tout le monde was in attendance. The “hot” properties of the moment received Speed’s personal greeting in his magnificent foyer. The rest moved hastily out of the entrance hall, as if not to call attention to their diminished status.
Legendary actor Susan Merrill arrived fashionably late and alone. Merrill hadn’t made a film in years. In fact, except for a few television appearances, she hadn’t done much “acting” recently. But time had not dimmed her luster one lumen. She was everyone’s image of a “star,” a true Hollywood icon.
In recognition of Merrill’s standing, Speed conferred his foyer kiss of approval, and then guided the national treasure through the throng of wannabes. In the game room, Merrill shooed away her obsequious host when she spotted her old acting pal Bob Adrian. At last someone who won’t schmooze me, she thought.
“How are you, kid?” Adrian asked, and then bussed Merrill full on the lips.
“I’m okay, you dirty old man,” Merrill laughed. She snatched a glass of wine from a passing waiter.
The buddies seated themselves on a plush sofa. They talked on and on about past glories, current projects, and, even at their age, plans for the future.
“I’ve got a surprise, Susie,” Adrian remarked.
“May I offer either of you more wine?” interrupted a waiter.
“I’m fine for now,” Adrian answered. “How about you, Miss Merrill?”
“These days one’s my limit.” Merrill pushed their empty glasses toward the waiter.
The friends barely missed a conversational beat as the waiter whisked away their glasses.
“I do declare, I just love surprises,” resumed Susan, fluttering an imaginary fan.
“There won’t be any mint juleps in this movie. Actually, it’s a gritty ‘film noir.’”
“A picture? You’ve got a picture, Bobby?”
“I’m so jealous!” Susan gave Bob a friendly shove.
“Youth rules nowadays,” joked Adrian, two years her junior.
Merrill wanted to hit the wise guy again, but suddenly felt strange. Her head seemed to drift away from the rest of her body.
“Susie, what’s wrong?”
“Just a little light-headed. Not to worry.”
Adrian pushed the wine away from her. “No grape if you’re dizzy.”
“Where did that wine glass come from?” Susan asked, shaky.
“You sat down with it, remember?”
“Yes, but the waiter took those glasses.”
“Susie, we just got here. Even Speed’s waiters won’t take full glasses.”
“C’mon, Bobby, stop teasing. We’ve been talking for at least a half-hour.”
“A half-hour? Are you all right? Let me feel your head.”
“I’m fine, really,” Merrill said, disbelieving her own words.
“Maybe some air would help,” Adrian offered.
Merrill extended her hand to Adrian as her friend arose. She steadied herself on Bob’s arm and made it to her feet. Old pros to the last, the two walked to the garden without a hint that something was amiss.
Susan took a few deep breaths. “That’s better,” she said. “The breeze feels wonderful on my face. Bobby, tell me more about your movie.”
"I play an over-the-hill detective, what else? A new case gives me . . ."
Merrill focused on Adrian’s still handsome puss and drank up every drop of his mellifluous voice. Mesmerized, she didn’t notice at first when his words grew distant and his face blurred. But when her ears began to ring and all she saw was black, she knew she was going to pass out.
Legendary actor Susan Merrill arrived at Speed Miller’s party fashionably late and alone. Speed conferred his foyer kiss of approval, and then guided the national treasure through the throng of wannabes. In the game room, Merrill shooed away her obsequious host, when she spotted her old acting pal Bob Adrian.
“How are you, kid?” Adrian asked, then bussed Merrill full on the lips.
“I’m not sure, Bobby. I feel like I just left this room.”
“Of course you do. How many of Speed’s shindigs have you been to?”
“I’ve lost count. But you never come, and I distinctly remember talking to you here.”
“It was probably a dream, Susie.”
“I guess. So tell me about your new picture.”
“My new picture? How do you know about that? Speed was planning to announce the deal tonight.”
“Maybe I’m psychic.”
“Okay, Madame Merrill, tell me what you remember about the movie.”
“It’s a ‘film noir,’ I think.”
“You are psychic! Susie, don’t look so worried. It’s just a coincidence.”
“It’s more than that, Bobby. I need a drink.”
Merrill tried to push the strange thoughts from her head while Adrian got his friend some wine. Soon a few more Hollywood chums joined the pair and Susan was feeling more herself.
The clutch was clucking away as the conversation turned to Michelle Gregory’s new film, Jane’s Sister. “It’s a cross between Mildred Pierce and Thelma and Louise,” Gregory said brightly.
“Are you Jane or the sister?” Susan asked.
“Alas, I play the mother of the sisters. My ingenue days are long gone, but it’s still a juicy role.”
Everyone toasted Gregory’s good fortune. Then Adrian hinted at Speed’s important announcement. Merrill followed by describing the charity work she’d been accomplishing. Other members of the so-called Hollywood “wild bunch” recounted their recent exploits.
When it was her turn, Michelle Gregory discussed her new film, Jane’s Sister. “It’s a cross between Mildred Pierce and Thelma and Louise,” Gregory said brightly.
Susan Merrill blushed. She waited politely until Gregory had finished her recitation and then pulled Adrian aside. “I’m surprised at Michelle, letting her ego get the better of her like that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Hogging the floor, telling us about her new movie and then fifteen minutes later telling us all over again.”
“I heard her only once.”
“Bob, that’s not funny.”
“What’s this all about, Susie?”
"You mean Michelle Gregory didn't just describe her role in Jane's Sister twice in one conversation?"
"I told you, dear heart, just once."
“Bob, have you ever felt that you were losing your mind?”
“So what do you think, Kristen?” Mr. Corey asked.
“It’s awesome!” his test subject replied, pulling off her VR rig. “Everyone looks exactly the way they do on t.v. or in the movies. And talking to them seemed so real.”
“Well, our motto is ‘more human than human.’ Do you have any questions about the game?”
“I think I understand the major features: pausing and resuming, jumping backwards or forwards, etc.”
“Good. Would you recommend this program to your parents as a family purchase?” asked the market researcher.
“Absolutely. There’s something for everyone. Like I saw Susan Merrill and Bob Adrian. I know my mom would love to talk to them.”
“That’s what we like to hear.”
“Mr. Corey? Can I start from the beginning one more time?”
“Sure. Remember, some celebs 'attend' every time, but others appear only once. Of course you can ‘save’ and replay those encounters.”
“Then I’m off to the party again!” Kristen pressed a button on her headset, restarting Celebrity Party: A Virtual Experience.
Legendary actor Susan Merrill arrived at Speed Miller’s party fashionably late and alone. She ran a hand along the sleeve of her elegant frock, unable to shake the impression that she’d been in this dress in front of this door before. For the first time in her life, Susan Merrill felt old. Confused and old.
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"The Party" ©1999 Karen A. Romanko
Raven Electrick ©2000 Karen A. Romanko. Clipart by Corel®.