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Authors: Lygia Day Peñaflor

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BOOK: Unscripted Joss Byrd
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The inside of this house is worse than the outside. The floorboards squeak, and the whole place smells like old people.

“Hey, how are you? Kind of a spooky house, isn't it?” Damon says to Rodney as we pass each other in the tight hallway, but all Damon gets back is a cold stare. This house isn't the only thing that's scary.

I think it's rude to be in character with people who aren't even in the movie. If you have to practice your part 24/7, then maybe you aren't that good of an actor. I'm no Meryl Streep (I remembered who she is. She's won
three
Oscars), but fifteen minutes is always plenty of time for me.

This house must be between getting sold and either being bought or knocked down by a wrecking ball because there isn't any furniture in it. There's a fold-up table and a couple of chairs set up for us in one of the upstairs bedrooms. The windows are already open, but it's still stuffy. I wouldn't be surprised if the old folks who lived here died of suffocation right here in this room. It's a good thing I don't believe in ghosts because this house would be haunted, for sure.

“I'll go see if they can get us a fan. And I'll bring us up some waters,” Damon says. “Then we'll practice ‘Nailing the Scene with Vern LaVeque.' But you have to do some schoolwork later, okay?”

“Okay,” I answer. That's fair enough. I guess denial can only last for so long.

“Do you want anything else from downstairs?”

“No, thank you.”

I hear him say “Excuse me” to someone on the staircase—someone with very heavy feet.

Those footsteps come closer to my room. They stop. They start again.

“Are you doing school up here?” It's Rodney in the doorway. He must be bored. He must be giving himself a tour. Sometimes there's no place to hang out on set. The trailers can't come with us when the streets are tight.

“Yes.”

Rodney steps in without being invited. His body practically fills the whole room. He's breathing hard; the stairs must've taken a lot out of him. “It's nice and quiet up here,” he says slowly, without blinking.

This is the first time he's ever spoken to me. I don't like it. I want to tell him that no one's allowed in the schoolroom. That's an actual child labor law. My last tutor said so; she was very into following laws. But I'm not as tough as the mouthy surfer girl from the parking lot. I don't ask Rodney to leave.

He moves in closer. The stains on his undershirt from wardrobe are meant to be grease and beer. But I'll bet his real T-shirts are exactly like it. I notice chest hair through a hole, so I turn away. He's disgusting.

He leans over me, smelling of sweat and onions and cigarettes. “What are you learning?”

“Nothin'.” I look down at my script. “I'm just going over the dialogue.”

“Oh, yeah?” He pushes the yellowed curtain aside and peeks out the window. “Where's your punk brother?”

“He's supposed to be tutoring in the kitchen,” I say coldly. And then, imagining the tough surfer girl's tangled bracelets on my own arm, I add, “And he's not my real brother. It's just a
movie
.”

“What a little bastard, that kid,” he says, unchanged.

“Chris is cool,” I say, sure to use Chris's real name. “He works hard. He wants to do a good job.”

Rodney looks out the window again and then toward the staircase. “Where'd your tutor go?”

“He went to get us a fan.”

“Good.” Rodney stands behind me and presses himself right up against the back of my chair until it creaks. His body heat rises against my back. “It's pretty hot up here.”

“Uh-huh.” I squirm and turn a page of my script. I don't even know if I'm on the right scene. “He'll be right back.”

I can see Rodney's reflection in the window. With his wide chest looming over me, he lifts his meaty hands and lowers them onto my bare shoulders. His skin is touching my skin.

“I gotta go,” I blurt, slipping out from under his fingers. I run past him out of the room and speed down the stairs and through the front door.

“Hey, wait! Get back up here!”

“Whoa! Be careful!” somebody shouts.

I think that I'm hyperventilating. I've never hyperventilated before, so I'm not sure if this is it, but I think so. On TV I've seen people breathe into a paper bag, but all I've got are my own hands, so I cup them around my mouth and try to breathe my own air back in. I keep at it—deep breath in and deep breath out—until I stop shaking. I wipe my shoulders off, thinking of those giant sausage fingers touching me.

When I look up, there're groups of locals on the sidewalk and in the street trying to get a glimpse of the shoot in the backyard. They're pulling out their phones, so I straighten up against the wooden post and force myself to look normal.

Nothing happened … nothing happened … nothing happened …
I tell myself.
He's just in character. He's only rehearsing, just like Terrance said. He's in the zone, the same as he was with Chris. It was just like him taking pudding cups. That's all.

A couple of teenagers are waving. I smile and give a hello as they take my picture. Doing this makes me feel better, as if nothing happened, which it didn't. Because Rodney was only pretending.
Nothing more, nothing less.

Farther down the block there's one lady standing alone. I remember her from this morning. She's the grown-up surfer I saw on the phone back at basecamp.

“Hey, Joss?” Benji calls from inside. “You have to get back to school. Try to get twenty minutes in before Terrance calls you. We got you a fan. I'm going to start your school clock as soon as you get back inside.”

I stare at the lady. There's something so familiar about her; now I'm sure it's not just a TV resemblance.

“In a sec, Benji!” I answer. “I just need some air.”

The woman is pinching her elbow and standing with her legs apart. When she takes her hat off to fix her ponytail, I notice that her hair and her skin are the same exact color as mine.

I run toward her. “Norah! I knew it! I knew you'd come! Norah? It's me. I'm Joss!”

She stares at me, shocked.

“I'm Joss Byrd!” I hop up and down in front of her. “I'm playing
you
! I'm TJ's sister!”

Her face drops. Long bangs fall over her eyes.

“You're Norah, aren't you?” I ask, even though I'm positive it's her. “Didn't you come to see me? Didn't you get my letter?”

Terrance is coming up to us now, waving me back to the house. “Joss! Joss, no! Let her be.”

“You don't want to be me.” Norah says, looking angrily over my shoulder at Terrance. “And you don't want to be TJ's sister. You don't even want to know him.” She turns and walks away.

“But I—” I want to talk with her the way Chris talks with Terrance, and I want her to be proud of me. I take a few steps to follow her.

“Leave her, kiddo.”

“Terrance?” I turn to him, confused. “Why is she mad at me?”

“Drop it, Joss.” He leads me up the driveway beside the speedboat that's parked in dried mud.

“She hates me, doesn't she?” I say. She must've wanted a prettier girl, a real actor—somebody glamorous. Maybe
I
was only cast because I look like her in that old picture.

“She hates a lot of things, Joss. But this is nothing you need to worry about. I told her to stay away. She never should've showed up here.”

I thought he wanted Norah to visit me. “But you told me—”

Terrance grabs my arms. “I need you right here, okay?” He points two fingers at his face.

“Why would she say that?” I ask, still staring after Norah.

“Look here. Look at me.” He lowers to one knee. “Listen.
You're
Norah now, okay?
You
.
Not
her. Say it. Say, ‘
I'm
Norah.'”

I concentrate on Terrance's eyes—still my favorite kind of face. I want to trust him. He's my director. He picked me for a reason. He won't let me fail. I want so bad to believe that I'm good enough.


I'm
Norah.”

“Again.” He shakes me lightly.


I'm
Norah now.”

“Good.” As he lets me go I notice Rodney watching us from behind the house.

“Joss! Focus. The camera is almost ready for you,” Terrance says, all business. “And Caroline looks happy as a clam up in that tree, doesn't she?”

Now I'm angry at Caroline. If she were my real-life stand-in she could've warned me about this afternoon. And then I would've steered clear of Rodney, and I would know why Norah hates me and what I should do about it.

“Peter Bustamante's here. It's not every day that the producer gets to see you work. And Christopher's been pushing so hard in rehearsal. This is his big moment. You want to help him through it, don't you?”

I think that I'm nodding. I don't know; I'm so confused.

“Wait till you see him. He's gonna be gangbusters. He told me you two talked the scene over. I'm so proud of you both. You're such a good team.” Terrance places his palm on my head for a few seconds. “Pull yourself into the scene, okay?”

The set is waiting for us. The camera is pointing up at the tree. That means the opening shot of scene 15 will be on me—the unworthy Norah. A white screen is bouncing sunlight up into the leaves. Caroline is sitting on the fattest branch. Whistling and swinging her leg and looking up at an airplane flying by, she looks like she's having a big moment all on her own. There's so much glory in being her that I can hardly stand myself.

 

6

Listen.
There are birds on the roof pecking at the gutter … a squeaky cart rolling through the grass … Chris kicking the woodpile … Jericho humming …
I know that song. I swear I do.
Chris whispering his lines … more humming …
What's the name of that song?

I press my forehead against the tree trunk and shut my eyes, as if I'm counting for hide and seek, but in my mind I'm forcing Rodney into a far corner and Norah into another, hoping they'll stay put.

“Are you okay up there?” Chris asks from the ground beneath me.

“Shhh!” I shoo him with my hand.

Feel. I'm Norah now. I'm Norah. I'm with my brother and his friend and we're going to build a crow's nest. It's going to be our escape from the world.

“I asked her to concentrate,” Terrance says. “Give her a minute.”

React. Forget the scripts: the blue, the pink, the yellow, the green. Toss them all away. Let them fly.

“Here we go. Let's roll sound,” Terrance calls. “And we're rolling, rolling!”

Ready or not, here I come.

I lift my head.

“Action!”

Up in my perch, I sway my foot back and forth and look through the bright leaves at the cloudless sky. Only a few inches below my red Converse, Chris is drilling the fifth wooden rung onto the tree trunk.

“I can't believe you're gonna have your own crow's nest! Why didn't we think of this before?” Jericho raises his voice over the electric drill. “This is genius.” I watch him carefully as he measures one piece of wood against another. Then he picks up the saw and cuts the new rung to size.

“All we'll have to do is climb up here every morning, and we'll be able to see right away how the waves are.” Chris steps back to check his work. I watch him, and I
listen
. I listen with everything I've got. “No more trekking our boards all the way down to the beach at six in the morning when the water's flat,” he says.

Jericho pushes the saw with jerky, uneven strokes. “I'm gonna be over here every day!” Sawdust falls onto his left sneaker.

I roll my eyes. “You're already over here every day,” I say. Then I test the newest rung with the tip of my toe. “We'll never have to walk down to the shore again,” I say, looking down at the top of Chris's sweaty head. “Except when we want to.”

Chris lifts the ladder from against the tree and leans it against the old speedboat that's rotting along the side of the house. It's the spot where Terrance told me to focus, and where I knew Norah hated me.

“Hey, Buzz, maybe three more rungs,” Chris says. “That should do it.”

“No. Do more!” I tell him. “The higher we get the better!”

Chris wipes his brow. “Four more.”

I smile.

“You got it.” Jericho wipes his brow.

I know I'm supposed to
feel
like Norah, but I'm thinking
about
her, not
as
her. I'm wondering which of my movies she's seen and who she'd rather have playing her instead of me.

Standing and grasping the tree for balance, I crane my neck to peer through the branches. “Hey, we can even see up the road from up here!”

“A perfect lookout.” Chris nods.

“Genius,” Jericho says again.

“All's we need now is a pair of binoculars,” I say. “Then we can see clear through to the lighthouse. Don't you think?”

“We just might.” Chris lifts the drill and revs it up twice like a motorcycle before pushing a screw through the next rung. “I think I can scrounge us up a pair, somewhere.”

React.
That's what matters most. Just keep reacting and make it look like I'm feeling. I lift my hands and look through a pair of imaginary binoculars. “Or how about one of those old-timey pirate telescopes that stretch! You know the kind I mean?” I adjust my hands and pretend to pull one long scope. “If we get one of those, we'll have it made. We'll be the luckiest kids in Montauk.”

“TJ!” Rodney yells from inside the house. We all jump at the sound of his voice. “You dumbass, no-good…” He bursts out from the screen door, huffing and puffing. “You put that ladder against my boat!” The spit on his lips stretches and snaps. He grabs the ladder, and I pull my legs up just in time before he slams it against the tree.

BOOK: Unscripted Joss Byrd
10.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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