Chapter 1: The Lead Players – Baby
Baby had been on television and in the news since she was, well, a baby. Now, as an adult woman in her mid-twenties, fame wasn’t something she consciously craved. It was as normal to her as drinking water is to you and me. And as necessary to her survival. Her image was a staple of trashy magazines, although a tarnished and fading one, recently chronicled by “then” and “now” photos. The “then” photos included a shot of Baby in a white and gold jump suit, make-up perfect, brown eyes sultry, from her Vegas headlining show of three years ago, one of a series of sold-out concerts across the country. Her pose in that shot was completely self-confident. She stood, legs apart, manicured hands posed just below her hips where her thighs began, chest thrust forward, mostly barred by the wide open zipper of the jumpsuit, lips shining wet, slightly parted. The “now” photos were strikingly unglamorous. Baby, dragging deeply on a cigarette, a baseball cap pulled low over her forehead, hair frizzy and over-bleached, wearing a flannel shirt and leggings or jeans. Baby, pushing a cart in the supermarket, hair covered by a kerchief, loading up on ice cream, potato chips, beer.
Marriage had been a mistake. Two children quickly followed. Her fans wondered, was she so dumb she didn’t know how to use birth control? The answer to that question wasn’t anything her publicist wanted in the press. She couldn’t take the pill because of the combination of smoking and migraines. Her physician was concerned about potential side effects. An aunt of hers had a stroke on the pill. Baby didn’t want to take the risk. She couldn’t deal with a diaphragm (yuck!) and a friend of hers had gotten pregnant using one anyway. And condoms, as far as she was concerned, didn’t just get in the way of getting pregnant and transmitting sexual diseases. They got in the way period. So she let herself be swept away and got pregnant. Twice. In less than two years. By the same man, a man she didn’t even like anymore. No matter how good he was in bed. And she had both babies. She was proud of herself for that.
Baby liked being pregnant. She liked indulging her appetites after so many years of being told what not to eat by her mother/manager. She liked her own weightiness, and she especially liked the new, natural fullness of her breasts. She liked nursing although not in a particularly maternal way.
Her husband grew more and more distant from her, as she became less tolerant of him. She hired a body guard to accompany him when he went to the clubs, something she no longer had any desire to do. Not that the body guard did any good. She read, in a tabloid, stories of her husband and the body guard partying and womanizing together, complete with photos. So she fired the body guard. She didn’t need to pay a man a salary to participate in those goings on (for which she also paid, in more ways than just money).
She fantasized about firing her husband. He was more like a bad employee than a life partner. She thought about giving him two weeks notice and a severance package to clear out. By then, though, she knew that what she’d initially mistaken for adoration and desire for her was greed, a thirst not likely to be quenched by a short term payout. And there were the children. He could make her life hell by putting up a fight for custody, and threatened exactly that when they fought. Baby didn’t think of herself as a great mother, but she wasn’t letting go of the two creatures she’d given up so much for to bring into the world.
At least she could still look good when she wanted to. She’d made it a point to get back in shape in the last several months. She dropped the extra weight from the second pregnancy quickly with the help of a trainer. Her publicist spread the word that she was “dancing the weight off,” preparing for a return to Las Vegas.
Baby put a poster of herself up in her in-home gym and workout room. It was the one of her wearing the white Elvis-referencing sequined jumpsuit she’d worn in that last stage show, before she was married, before she got pregnant. That jumpsuit had been skin tight and hot as hell to dance in, but it sure photographed well. Her goal was not to look like that again, but even better. She’d been a girl then. Now she was a woman. She figured that should count for something.
Marty Taylor, her agent, however, said he was having a hard time finding production financing for a Las Vegas comeback. Marty became Baby’s agent when she fired her mother/manager and the staff of her mother’s friends who had run Baby’s career since prepuberty. Marty had gotten Baby the Vegas booking and concert tour right before she got married and pregnant.
“Producers are afraid people don’t want to see Baby, mother of two, vamping it up the way you used to,” said Marty. Baby raged back, “So find other producers! Celine Dion has a child! She’s performing in Vegas! Who’s producing her shows?”
“Her husband. And he isn’t taking on other acts. Besides, Celine has a very different image than you do, Baby. Motherhood enhances her image. And she’s got great pipes.”
“When did you become President of her fan club?” Baby threw back at him. Marty winced.
“You’ve made a fortune playing the tart, Baby. People want tarts to stay tarts and mothers to be mothers.”
“What about Madonna? She plays both!” shouted Baby.
“Fair point,” said Marty, raising his hands in the air, palms up. “I’ll make some more calls. But I’m telling you, Baby, there’s only so much I can do.”
Baby shouted back a string of words so foul that, were anyone to overhear, they would have no doubt about which came more naturally to her, motherhood or tawdry sexpot. Marty, having heard it all before, was not impressed.
“Swearing at me isn’t going to get you a headline in Vegas,” he said. “Although it may get you quoted in one of those supermarket magazines you have such a knack for getting your picture in lately. It doesn’t help when you’re photographed looking like trailer trash, Baby. Get your picture taken looking like you look right now. Give me something to work with!”
Baby considered tears, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. She’d try flirting instead. If nothing else, it would be good practice.
“I’m sorry, Marty. I’m frustrated! I’ve made some mistakes. I’m working hard to put them behind me. You know I have complete faith in you,” she said, with a slow smile. “What I’d really like to do is put on a good show and raise enough money to leave Keith,” she said, playing with the open collar of her shirt. Marty’s eyes followed her fingers as they splayed on her chest, just above her left breast, then moved to the flat spot in-between the pair.
“Are things really that bad?” he said.
“You were right, Marty. I should have gotten him to sign a prenup. Next time I’ll listen to you.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Baby,” he said, getting up from his chair behind his desk and coming around to sit next to her on the couch.
She stood up, started to walk away from him, then, recalling she’d left her purse on the couch, turned around and walked back. With a pretty, “Excuse me,” she leaned over him to retrieve it. His hands were drawn towards her hips as if by magnets. He made contact, pulling slightly, testing the idea of bringing her down to him. She hesitated, just as slightly, as if not noticing his intent.
“Marty, I’ve had the biggest crush on you since I don’t know when. But…” she drew the word out like it was long and hard to say. Her face became a little flushed, her blood warming at his touch.
“I’m not even separated yet.”
“Baby,” he pleaded.
“I’ll tell you what,” she said. “You help me get that booking, I’ll talk to an attorney and then…” she said with a sigh. “I bet you know a good divorce attorney, Marty, don’t you?’
He let go of her. She stood up and stepped back.
“Sure I do,” he said. “I’ll call you with the number.”
“Call me with some good news, alright?” she said, walking out of the office. She paused in the doorway and turned around to give him a full view of her newly toned body and another slow smile, like a gift before leaving. “Give us something to celebrate.”
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