Author's Note: I wrote this story for the short fiction section in Aurora University's Nolos magazine. I plan on turning it into a full-length novel in the future, so don't cry, ladies. This won't be the last you see of Matt Baretta.
Baretta blinked and tried to adjust his eyes to the flickers of a dozen
paparazzi cameras as he exited his penthouse.
He shoved on a pair of aviator sunglasses, covering the signature blue
eyes everyone complimented him on, hoping that might dodge the brightness a
bit. Pursing his lips together, he just
kept walking. On the advice of many
successful actors, he didn’t engage with the photographers desperate to get
is it true that you have been dating Michelle Richter?”
you really have a stint in rehab last month?”
about the alleged photos of you that have recently surfaced online?”
sighed and shoved a hand through his curly brown hair. It was the one part of his job he hated. The acting part was great. He had the opportunity to step into the shoes
of people he never thought he would understand.
What he hadn’t asked for was the paparazzi.
the beginning, he had to admit that he’d loved it. Who wouldn’t think it was cool that people
were interested enough in them that they constantly wanted to photograph
them? Now, ten years after his first hit
film, though, it was tiresome. Matt
couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed and questioned about his personal
life. They had to know everything; no
personal detail was off-limits. Hell,
his family even had to deal with photographers showing up at their doors and
asking them to confirm or deny rumors.
The women he dated, who were usually actresses in their own right,
quickly tired of the constant stream of paparazzi trailing him and digging into
their personal lives. Living under the
constant microscope of instant media was exhausting; one never knew when he or
she would they would be the cover story for Us
what about the alleged photos of you drunk and out of control that broke on the
internet today? Can you tell us anything
stopped, glaring at the mob that surrounded him. This is what they waited for, like vultures
circling their prey, just waiting to feed on the torn remnants that were his
life. He wasn’t having it anymore. The paparazzi were done invading his privacy.
stop,” he growled. “My personal life is none of your business! None!
Just because I like to make movies doesn’t mean I like having you follow
me everywhere and having to know everywhere I go and everything I do! I’m not answering any of your questions. I’m done being nice to you. Now get the hell out of the way before I file
restraining orders against every one of you blood-sucking bastards!”
puny white twenty-something male reporter with red hair, horn-rimmed glasses,
and a casual navy suit inquired, “Can I quote that, Mr. Baretta?”
snapped. He grabbed the wiry man by the
collar and shoved him to the ground.
Matt barely heard the gasps of the other photographers and reporters as
he bolted to the ground, socking the reporter on the jaw and muttering
curses. He had no trouble delivering
damaging blows; he was currently training for a film where he starred as a Navy
SEAL. The cameras began to click behind
him, and Matt realized he had just given them what they wanted, another point
in their favor. He rose to full height
and pushed past the reporters, ignoring the hundreds of questions they had for
there is a warrant for your arrest for assault and battery of a Mr. Archie
Phillips. He claims he asked you a
question for an article and you attacked him with no apparent cause.”
stared blankly at his agent, Liam. He
had to be joking. This was
ridiculous. Matt scoffed, “No
cause? How about the fact that he kept
asking me about my personal life, huh? I
get harassed constantly by this guy and others, yet I’m the one who gets
arrested for defending my personal space?
This is bullshit.”
agree, but you can’t just beat someone up because you feel like it, man. They have rights too.”
rolled his eyes. “And I don’t? Those people practically stalk me, yet I
can’t seem to get anyone to acknowledge that.”
know, but the problem is that you are
the celebrity. You are expected to smile politely and let them take your
picture. That’s part of what you sign up
for when you go into entertainment.”
it’s not, Liam,” Matt replied with a shake of his head. “All I asked for was a few acting roles so
that I could live out my passion. I
didn’t ask to be stalked and interrogated.”
sighed, shoving a hand through his blonde hair.
“I think that maybe you should take a break after all of this gets
settled. Go on vacation, maybe lay out
on the beach. Don’t even think about
your next project until you cool off.”
thought about it for a moment. While a
trip certainly might satisfy his sanity short-term, this was bound to happen
again. If he went on a sabbatical, the
press would likely come at him with even more vengeance once he returned to
Hollywood, wanting to cover the inside story of what made Oscar-nominated hunk
Matt Baretta break. As long as he stayed
in the spotlight, it would never end, at least until he hit forty and became
less interesting than the next sex symbol.
don’t know, Liam,” Matt replied, leaning back against the wall. “I’m pretty sick of it all.”
do you mean?”
tired of living under a microscope. I
love acting more than anything, but I’m just not sure it’s worth it
anymore. We used to have some degree of
privacy, at least until photographs became the most valuable thing we had to
offer. The paparazzi are paid sometimes
tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for a picture. Fast cash is the best, so they do whatever
they have to in order to get the money shot.
The constant attention ruins my relationships. No woman wants to constantly be photographed
like that unless she is only in the relationship to get noticed. I have no life. I have nothing.”
sighed. “Maybe you should see somebody,
Matt. Now you’re just starting to talk
saying I should see a psychiatrist because you think I’m crazy, right?”
just think you are a little overwhelmed right now and need to talk to someone
who might be able to help you.”
clenched his hands into fists. Why did he have to be crazy to be thinking that
maybe Hollywood wasn’t the place for him?
“Liam, I’m not crazy. I’m just
sick of it. Is it so wrong to think that
maybe Hollywood isn’t right for me anymore?”
yes,” Liam replied with a shrug. “Most
people would kill to be in your position.
You have everything you could ever want: money, power, sex symbol
status. Who would want to give that up
when their career is in its prime?”
jaw hardened. No one understood
him. He was contemplating quitting the
business, yet it seemed the business didn’t want to quit him. Then again, no one lived with the fame quite
the way he did. Agents and publicists
didn’t have to live with having their entire lives under the scrupulous eyes of
shook his head. “Look, Liam, I don’t
want to talk about it anymore. I’ll call
you tomorrow, alright? We’ll talk more
took a step to leave but turned around to look at Matt. “Hey, man, are you sure you’re okay?”
sighed and put his hands on his hips.
“I’ll be fine. Trust me.”
hours and several beers later, Matt stood on the bedroom balcony of his
Hollywood Hills home. Once upon a time
not so many years ago, the view he had entranced him like nothing else and kept
him out there for hours. Now it
disgusted him. The only thing the
cityscape represented to him was the fishbowl that came with being a celebrity.
Matt walked back into his master suite and
sat on the edge of his bed. He pulled
open his nightstand drawer and looked at the .38 caliber resting there for the
third time. For the first time in his
life, he’d contemplated using it.
However, each time he went to grab it, the picture sitting on his
nightstand stopped him. Sixteen years
later, Liz still had a hold on him.
could still hear her honeyed voice, begging him not to leave their Podunk town
for the Hollywood lights. Now, he wished
like hell he’d listened to her. She’d
said it would drive him to the edge.
He’d laughed at her and said, “Yeah, the edge of greatness.” But just like she’d always been, Liz was right.
into the drawer, Matt grabbed the gun out and pulled the picture off his
nightstand. Time had likely changed Liz,
but he could only imagine her getting more beautiful with age. How many times had he thought about calling
her over the years just to hear her voice again? However, as he thought about it, he realized
he never would have wanted her to go through this. She’d been the smart one. Maybe if he’d stayed with her and just went
to school, just maybe he would be happy now rather than sitting on a bed in his
empty mansion with a gun in his hand contemplating his entire life.
day ran through his mind in fast-forward.
He was going to be arrested and expected to plead guilty to assault and
battery because he hadn’t really been provoked.
After all, that reporter was just doing his job. Why should he get beaten up for that? The problem was no one would acknowledge that
the reporter’s question was totally out of line and he just kept egging Matt
on. He would be guilty no matter what.
gun rested heavily on Matt’s thigh. He
looked down at it and swallowed hard.
Could he really do this? Did he
really not feel his life was worth enough to end it with a gunshot?
picked up his cell phone and dialed Liz’s parents’ number. If they still lived there, maybe they could
direct him to her. He needed someone to
talk to who was removed from the situation that could advise him as to what he
should do. No, he hadn’t spoken to Liz
in a decade and a half, and he wasn’t sure she’d talk to him, but he had to
phone rang for several seconds before he heard Liz’s voice on the machine,
“Hello, it’s Liz Benedict. I’m not here
right now, so if you could leave your name and number, I’ll get back to you as
soon as possible. Thanks. Have a great day.”
beeped and he said, “Hey, Liz, um…it’s Matt.
Look, I need someone to talk to.
I’m having some issues and everyone keeps telling me that I’m the crazy
one, but I don’t think I am. If you
could just give me a call when you get a chance, that would be great.”
left his number and hung up. For three
hours he waited in silence, flipping between studying the photograph of Liz
from their senior year to looking at the gun.
One moment he would be intent on pushing onward and seeing where life
took him. Maybe all he needed was a
sabbatical where he could come to terms with the monster known as fame. The next second he would be looking at the
gun with confidence, fully intent on pulling the trigger after he talked to Liz
regardless of what she said. What was
the point of living if he could never be in peace? Damn, he couldn’t make a decision.
those three hours, though, he knew the waiting was over. He couldn’t sit and wait for Liz’s call. It was done.
He would never be able to live this life, not anymore. It was intolerable. No one should have to live as though they were
in a cage on display for the public to ogle and exploit, and there was no way
to escape once locked inside. Even if he
decided to quit Hollywood and go back into the real world, he would never be
able to get away from the persona he’d created onscreen. He’d never be Matt, the guy who loves ancient
history and pizza. Instead, he would be
Matt Baretta, reigning box office king and international sex symbol.
slid his hand around the handle of the gun and turned it around to face
him. He swallowed hard as he appraised
it again. So, this was it. Thirty-three years of life had come down to
this. All had been for nothing. One last time, he looked down at the photo of
Liz. He laughed, remembering when the
photo was taken all too vividly. It was
the summer before their senior year of high school, and she’d come over for the
afternoon to swim in the above ground pool his parents had just purchased. He’d been messing around with the camera and
Liz was swatting at him, telling him to stop taking pictures of her because she
looked like a mess. Man, had she been
wrong about that. Her blonde hair was
damp from the water and slicked out of her face, and her green eyes smiled with
laughter. She’d been the epitome of
beauty, and even now, in his last moments, his breath was stolen by it. If only she was with him now, if only he’d
stayed, maybe he could have woken up to that every morning. The opportunity, unfortunately, had long
a deep breath, Matt lifted the gun and opened his mouth. He settled the barrel on his tongue and
closed his eyes. Good-bye, world. It was nice to
cocked the pistol and settled his finger on the trigger, squeezing his eyes
shut even though he knew nothing would prepare him for the impact. He started to pull it back when the phone
rang. His body jerked and he released
the trigger. Matt listened to the shrill
ringing of it, the sound painful to his ears.
It kept going, not stopping like it should have after a dozen
rings. It made him wonder yet
again. Should I stay or should I go?
opened his eyes as he settled the gun in his mouth yet again in preparation,
his index finger ready to pull the trigger.
As he closed his eyes and gripped the gun more firmly, a tear rolled
down his cheek and plopped onto the barrel of the gun.