Bonus Material

The Fame

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. 


Snap!
            Flash!
            Pop!
            Matt 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 inside information. 
            “Matt, is it true that you have been dating Michelle Richter?”
            “Did you really have a stint in rehab last month?”
            “What about the alleged photos of you that have recently surfaced online?”
            Matt 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.
            At 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 Weekly
            “Matt, what about the alleged photos of you drunk and out of control that broke on the internet today?  Can you tell us anything about those?”
            Matt 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.
            “Just 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!”
            A puny white twenty-something male reporter with red hair, horn-rimmed glasses, and a casual navy suit inquired, “Can I quote that, Mr. Baretta?”
            Matt 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 him.
***
            “Matt, 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.”
            Matt 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.”
            “I agree, but you can’t just beat someone up because you feel like it, man.  They have rights too.”
            Matt rolled his eyes.  “And I don’t?  Those people practically stalk me, yet I can’t seem to get anyone to acknowledge that.”
            “I 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.”
            “No, 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.”
            Liam 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.”
            Matt 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.
            “I don’t know, Liam,” Matt replied, leaning back against the wall.  “I’m pretty sick of it all.”
            “What do you mean?”
            “I’m 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.”
            Liam sighed.  “Maybe you should see somebody, Matt.  Now you’re just starting to talk nonsense.”
            “You’re saying I should see a psychiatrist because you think I’m crazy, right?”
            “I just think you are a little overwhelmed right now and need to talk to someone who might be able to help you.”
            Matt 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?”
            “Frankly, 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?”
            Matt’s 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 the media. 
            Matt shook his head.  “Look, Liam, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.  I’ll call you tomorrow, alright?  We’ll talk more then.”
            Liam took a step to leave but turned around to look at Matt.  “Hey, man, are you sure you’re okay?”
            Matt sighed and put his hands on his hips.  “I’ll be fine.  Trust me.”
***
            Three 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.
            He 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. 
            Digging 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.
            The 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.
            The 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? 
            Matt 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 try. 
            The 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.”
            It 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.”
            He 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.
            After 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. 
            Matt 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 passed.
            Taking 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 know you. 
            He 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?
            Matt 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. 
Yet the phone kept ringing. 

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