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Authors: Beth Ciotta

All About Evie

ALL ABOUT EVIE
Beth Ciotta

This book is dedicated to Heather Graham Pozzessere—an inspiration and a treasured friend. Thank you for all you have done and all you continue to do. Your talent is exceeded only by your generosity and kindness.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

To my agent, Amy Moore-Benson—You gave me the courage to spread my wings and now we're flying high. Thank you for your constant support and guidance!

To my editor, Abby Zidle—You
got
me. You championed me. I am eternally grateful for your enthusiasm, storytelling expertise and advice. Keep smiling!

To Tracy Farrell, Dianne Moggy and
everyone
at HQN Books who helped to make my dreams come true—thank you from the bottom of my heart.

To Cynthia Valero—Your spirit soars alongside mine on this one! To Mary Stella and Julia Templeton—You keep me sane and inspired! To my sister, Barb—Your honesty and support are priceless. And to my husband, Steve—Writing about true love is easy when you're living it.

A special thank-you to John Ciotta (my brother-in-law) and Nicola Mooney (both professional performers and cruise ship veterans) for answering my gazillion questions regarding the ins and outs of cruising. Heartfelt thanks to Al, Alicia and Jean-Marie for sharing their “cruise” experiences, and to my friend Brooks for his “magical” expertise.

CHAPTER ONE

I
T FINALLY HAPPENED
.

I, Evie Parish, snapped.

At an audition no less. Me, the ultimate professional. In front of several peers and a table of entertainment and marketing executives.

Bad enough I even
had
to audition.

I'd performed in this casino on a number of occasions throughout the years as a singer, an emcee, a dance motivator
and
a character actress. Not just
this
casino, but every casino in Atlantic City. I was known as the poor man's Tracy Ullman. I had versatility out the wazoo. A stellar reputation. A kick-butt résumé. I had more experience in entertainment than any one of the six stony-faced executives who'd insisted upon this live demonstration.

I also had sequined bras older than any of the people deciding my fate.

It wasn't their youth I resented. Okay. That's a lie. It was their inability to afford the performer their respect and attention. In between memorizing the script that I'd been handed on arrival and checking for the umpteenth time to make sure my blush and lipstick hadn't faded, I peeked out from the wings to gauge the reaction of the powers-that-be to the actress on deck. I watched those suits yawn, mumble and fidget through five seamless auditions. The only time they showed interest was during a giggly, stilted presentation from a big-breasted twentysomething-year-old. Granted,
Britney
was young, stacked and beautiful, but she was as green as the bagel I'd found this morning in the back of my fridge.

I traded a disgusted, knowing look with two friends who were also auditioning for this gig, both in their late thirties. Talented, experienced and equally ignored by the Gen-X execs. Nicole and Jayne were already slipping into day clothes and trading their heels for flats.

I should have cut my losses then and there and followed suit. I should have collected my purple fake fur coat and
I Love Lucy
travel tote and vacated the showroom in a dignified manner. But no. I was stubborn, desperate and, dammit, hopeful. Hopeful that they'd see something in me that they didn't see in my friends. Hopeful that talent and experience would win out.

Talk about idealistic.

When my time came I strode onstage with confidence and grace wearing a turquoise bikini top, flowered sarong, three-inch heels and a dazzling smile. I hit my mark and launched into the poorly written promotion intended to
wow
casino patrons. Me, Evie Parish, a mild-mannered, small-breasted, fortysomething.

Normally I excel when reciting monologues and pitches. I can sell camp like Liza Minelli. Unfortunately, I was distracted by an overly loud conversation from the vicinity of the “judges” panel. I stopped midsentence. Did I mention that instead of reading off of the page like Britney,
I'd
memorized the copy? But I digress. No one instructed me to continue, so I didn't. Instead, I shielded my eyes from the bright wash of the spotlight in order to pinpoint the commotion.

I'd endured a lot of humiliation in my twenty-five year career—including a crotchety patron yelling,
“You suck!”
three inches from my face
while
I was performing—but this took the cake. Instead of watching me, the executives were scanning a menu, arguing over what to order for lunch. Three of them, anyway. Another yapped on his cell phone, while the remaining two studied me with bored expressions.

For crying out loud!

Seething, I tugged at the hem of my midthigh sarong. Michael, my agent, who also happens to be my ex-husband—don't ask—had told me the theme was tropical.
Show some skin,
he'd said. Then again he always says that.

“Should I wait?” I asked. “Start over? Pick up where I left off?”
Go tell it on the mountain?

“Are you wearing bikini bottoms under that skirt?” This from the bored, clean-shaven man who looked young enough to be my…younger brother.

Certain I knew where this was leading, I shifted on my strappy heels and cocked a recently waxed, perfectly shaped eyebrow. “Yes.”

“Would you mind losing the sarong?” This from the bored woman sitting next to him. At least she knew it was a sarong.

My heart pounded with fury. The last several months, months of being rejected solely on my advancing age, weighed on my shoulders like an unlucky slot machine. “Yes, I mind.”

I heard a collective gasp from the wings. I knew without looking that Nicole and Jayne stood side by side, shocked by my defiance. I didn't cause scenes. I was the calm one, the logical one, the one who sucked it up and took the high road no matter how low the blow.

Up until now, that is.

Now this final injustice compelled me to raise a verbal sword in defense of belittled entertainers everywhere!

I stepped out of the spotlight, allowed my eyes to adjust to the low-lighted house and gave thanks that this was a closed audition. No casino patrons to witness this humiliating debacle. No bartenders, cocktail waitresses, dealers or slot attendants to instigate gossip. Just the six executives and two stage technicians. Oh, and seven performers, including my two closest friends. I glanced toward the left wing and sure enough, Nicole, the rabble-rouser of our clique, was giving me a thumbs-up while Jayne's horrified expression shouted,
Are you mad?

“Mad as hell,”
I thought, my inner voice mimicking the deranged anchorman from
Network, “and I'm not going to take it anymore!”

In that same instant, the woman who'd asked me to remove my sarong said, “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Parish.”

Since a gigantic vaudevillian hook didn't emerge from the sidelines to yank me off stage, I stood my ground. Hands trembling, I tucked my processed blond hair behind my ears and faced the enemy. “Look, I'm auditioning for the role of an emcee, not a beach bunny.” Amazingly, my tone did not betray my inner frustration. Then again, I am a damn good actress. Too bad I seemed to be the only one aware of that.

The entertainment coordinator—was she even twenty?—crossed her arms over her chest and angled her head. She didn't look happy. “As an emcee you'd be representing this property, Mrs. Parish.”

She might as well have called me
ma'am
. I curled my French-manicured nails into my sweaty palms. “It's
Ms
. Parish and I realize that, but—”

“What does specialty performer mean?” This from one of the marketing dudes.

My left eye twitched. I tried to wet my lips, but anxiety had robbed me of saliva. I clasped my trembling hands and twirled my funky chrysoprase ring—a gift from Jayne—around my middle finger. She claimed that the mint-green stone would ease emotional tension and stress. I'm beginning to think she bought me a clunker. Even though I knew full well that, for the sake of my untainted reputation, I should swallow my anger, sarcasm tripped off of my fat, bone-dry tongue. “Excuse me?”

“On your résumé it says specialty performer. What, like an exotic dancer?”

They snickered, turned to one another and traded unfunny quips like the local news reporters at the end of a broadcast. What's up with that? Laughing heartily over something that wasn't clever or funny to begin with.

As I stood there, white noise roaring in my ears, I flashed back on all of the times I—and a slew of other entertainers—had lost a gig because of an unenlightened directive from a higher-up bean counter. A person with no background whatsoever in entertainment. A person who hired and fired acts based on personal taste.

I know amazing female singers who've been passed over because a casino president deemed their hips too big. One even cited a vocalist's ankles too thick. Can you imagine? Never mind that she sang her butt off.
Did you even notice that the audience, your patrons, were thoroughly enjoying themselves, Mr. President? If the ankles bothered you that badly, what about suggesting she wear pants instead of a dress? Wouldn't that be a simple, creative solution? But wait, you're not creative. You're not a visionary
. And neither, I concluded sadly, were the execs seated in front of me.

Heart pumping, I hopped off the stage and approached the long table, demanding everyone's attention with a shrill whistle. Career suicide, my logical self warned. Only I wasn't listening to my logical self. I was listening to the injured woman who'd endured a particularly rough year, personally and professionally. There comes a time when a person needs to speak up, to demand common courtesy, respect, no matter the cost, and for me that time was now. Why I hadn't felt this righteous urge when Michael had dumped me for another woman, I couldn't say. Maybe I'd been too stunned, too hurt to speak up. But now I was angry. Angry and insulted and really,
really
pissed.

I climbed up on my soapbox. If this were a TV sitcom, patriotic music would swell in the background.

“Listen up, kids. On behalf of all the other women who auditioned today, we are professionals and expect to be treated as such. Secondly, although the harem girl and French maid costumes stored in my closet might be considered exotic and although I do dance, I am not, nor have I ever been, an exotic dancer. Those costumes, by the way, hang right alongside my fuzzy bumblebee fat-suit and mad scientist lab coat. It's all part and parcel of being a character actress. Translation—an actress with excellent improvisational skills who can represent any given character on any given day at any given private or corporate themed party. And that's just
one
of my God-given talents. I also sing and dance. Hence the term specialty performer.”

“Thank you, Ms. Parish. We'll be in touch.”

That was it? That was the payoff to my heartfelt tirade? An expressionless don't-call-us-we'll-call-you?

I nodded. “Got it.”

Actually, I hadn't. It was the second time I'd been dismissed and yet there I stood, trembling with fury…and fear. Life as I'd known it was fast swirling down the toilet. Again, I twirled the ring. “Just so you know, I'm perfect for this job.”

One of the young turks straightened his tie then coughed into his hand. “Yes. Well, thank you.”

I didn't budge.

Twirl. Twirl.

The pubescent woman seated to his left drummed her fingers on a stack of résumés. “As a professional, I'm sure you understand that we're looking to please our demographic. We're looking for someone…”

“Younger?” I'd been getting a lot of that lately. Even my husband had opted for a newer model, literally. Oh, yeah. This gig was going to the giggly twentysomething. Youth over experience. Mammary glands over memory skills. “Someone with a bright smile and perky breasts?” I just wanted to be certain I understood the criteria.

The panel of execs looked at me with a collective “duh.”

That's
when I snapped. “As it happens, I have both.” In a moment of righteous insanity, I flashed a thousand-watt smile in tandem with my perky 32Bs.

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