The day finally came. Phoenix had been obsessing about it for a week. A talent showcase popped up and had been scheduled for Friday night. Anyone who thought they had the chops in music or comedy could show up and perform. No incentive. No contest. Just a platform to show raw talent. Phoenix was all over it. Night after night, she revised her routine. Tim, of all people, expressed an interest in attending. She loved her big brother, but it was weird for him to show an interest in anything she did. Still, she beamed at the thought of having someone there to support her. Having her mother’s support would have been everything, but she knew better than to expect her to show up. John said he was working late that night but would do his best to make it and wanted to come. Susie flat out said no. There would be too many people there for her.
Phoenix asked Mary one last time to come when Tim picked her up. She smiled politely as she always did and said, “Good luck, my darling. I hope you do well.” Phoenix shrugged and left though Mary’s lack of interest stung a little.
The lounge was beautiful, but then again everything in Newcrest was. If someone would have told Phoenix she would make her first performance in a swanky Newcrest lounge, she would have laughed and said they were crazy. It had to be a dream, but the hairs on her arm stood at the behest of the cold air when the door opened behind them.
“Welcome to Le Chant des Sirènes,” the man at the coat check desk said. He must have seen how out of place they looked and knew they had never been there before.
The showcase was supposed to begin at 6:00, and she and Tim arrived around 6:30 but no one was on stage. Perhaps they were all a bit gun-shy. No one ever wanted to go first. No one except Phoenix. She was bold and confident, never afraid to do anything. She strode onto the stage and snatched the mic out of the stand ready to slay some giants. Tim came up to her and said, “Break some legs.” He was so weird, but that was her big brother, and she loved him.
He stood way in the back near the bar. As her eyes followed him, she spotted Mary and Reed at the entrance! Had she changed her mind? Or, had she been toying with her all week, making her believe she wouldn’t come only to surprise her? Who cared! She was there! Phoenix was confident before, but now she would totally slay that performance.
She waited a few minutes for them to take a seat and scoped out the crowd. It was mixed. Some were the Newcrest elite and others looked like regular Joes. Getting everyone to laugh would be a challenge, but Phoenix was up for the task.
Mary and Reed were so sweet together. Phoenix watched him help Mary come out of her coat and gently handed it over to the coat check man. He placed his hand in the small of her back and guided her to the table nearest the stage. What a gentleman! Mary soaked it all up like a dry sponge in a bucket of water. She had been much more relaxed since dating Reed. Cleaning and cooking had always seemed to be something she enjoyed, but whenever Reed came over, oh baby. Mary practically glowed. And she hummed! The uptight ex-trust fund baby never hummed. He affected her in a way no one ever had, and Phoenix was so happy for her.
Once they were seated, it was game time. “Good evening, Newcrest! How are you folks feeling tonight?”
“We’re feeling great,” Reed yelled.
A few people chuckled at his moxie. Phoenix did too. He was usually a cool and collected gentleman. Serious, but not too serious. Maybe being with Mary brought out a different side of him too. A bit of levity would do Mary some good.
“Give it up for my mom and her man friend!” There was a smattering of applause. “Come on up here, guys.”
Mary looked like she was about to get abducted by aliens or something. Reed gently coaxed her to do as she was told though he looked a bit nervous too. No one ever wanted to be part of a comedian’s routine.
“Don’t they look great together? Come closer, guys. Until I make it big, this is the closest you’ll ever get to the VIP section!”
A few people laughed. Score! That would have been the perfect time for a ba-dum-tiss on the drum. Maybe one day. “I had my birthday two weeks ago…”
“Happy birthday, Phoenix,” Reed yelled again.
He was so cool! “Yep. I’m legal now. Scares my mom to death.”
Mary had no idea what to expect and looked all kinds of nervous though she pretended to laugh it off.
“I invited my friends to hang with me at a Windenburg club. Oh yeah…I did it big!”
The regular Joes got a kick out of her partying in Windenburg on her birthday. The Newcrest snobs were not phased.
“Get a load of this. I invited my best friend, the guy I used to have a crush on and maybe sorta kinda still do,”–everyone laughed–“the guy I most recently was crushing on, and this other girl that hangs with us sometimes… If you’re thinking the night had a nice ending, you probably don’t watch enough trash on TV.”
More people chuckled.
“My sorta kinda ex-crush bought us a round of Dim & Gusty!”
Mary’s jaw dropped. This was the first time she heard the details of that night. She looked at Reed with a horror written on her face as if she suddenly figured out what occurred. He put is arm around her. They were so sweet.
“My best friend, the other girl, and my crush all got wasted. Party girl wasted!”
Reed’s loud laughter carried over everyone else’s. He must have known a party girl or two in his day.
“Last week, my best friend calls me. Says it’s been a minute and we should hang out.” She couldn’t help but insert a bit of sarcastic chuckling. “You know how it is when you’re watching a movie, and there’s a murderer in the next room, and you’re yelling at the screen ‘don’t go in there!'”
She paused to hear a few laughs she expected at that point, but in the corner of her eye, she saw someone come in the side entrance. It was her idol! THE Brytani Cho! Oh. Em. Gee. How was she supposed to go on now? Brytani was the person to look up to for aspiring female comedians, and Phoenix had to perform in front of her? The first show she ever did? Unreal! But, Brytani was a bit of a ham, and it seemed she was the same way off stage. She made quite an entrance, causing all eyes to fall on her. Phoenix did not appreciate it and had no qualms about letting her know.
“Well, some people you want to go in there. Just let the dude with the chainsaw rip them up.”
Everyone hollered. Everyone except Brytani, Mary, and Reed. He didn’t know who she was and why she was being so rude. Mary, of all people, had to explain. Brytani turned up her nose and strode across the lounge to find a seat.
“Brytani Cho, everybody! I look up to her. But, if she keeps interrupting my shows, I don’t know. I may have to wait for her in the bathroom with an axe.” Phoenix was tickled by her own joke and took a second to recompose herself, but it wasn’t over. Having fun at Brytani’s expense was a riot. “All her fans will start yelling ‘don’t go in there!'”
Everyone joined her in laughter. Brytani sat there stone faced. Whatever.
“Anyway, so I wish I would have had people yelling ‘don’t go with her!’ My best friend poured it on thick, folks. She took me to lunch, we saw a movie, we went bowling… I had the time of my life!”
Mary looked like she wanted to run up to the stage and hold her. Last week, there was a moment when Phoenix could have used that hug, but not anymore. She dealt with the pain by turning it into something fun. It was so much better than stewing in anger. Why hadn’t she thought to do this before?
“We got back to my mom’s house… Yes, I still live at home. Lucky for me, we don’t have a basement… Or cats.”
All the regular people got a kick out of that.
“We sat in the living room. That’s where we always had deep conversations. I was so excited! I hadn’t seen my best friend in a week and a half, and we spent the whole day together, and now we were going to have one of our talks. Squee!”
She had everyone on the ropes. They all leaned in to find out what happened next.
“She talked all right. Heh, she told me she banged my crush… At MY party… In the closet!”
Everyone booed. Mary looked like she wanted to cry. Reed squeezed her.
“Oh yes. They didn’t even like each other like that. That’s how wasted they got. But that’s not all! Not only did she sleep with my crush, she got knocked up!”
“And their parents forced them to get married!”
As if on queue, everyone said, “What?”
“I know, right? I dodged that bullet!” She blew on her nails and polished them on her jacket.
“Thank you. Thank you… I give ’em two months.”
Laughter replaced the applause.
“It’s gonna suck… For them, not me.”
Mary shook her head as she laughed.
“I know about divorce. My parents are divorced.”
Some people said, “Aww.”
“Oh no, it was great!
“Divorce is great for kids! I know, I know. All the experts say it’s terrible for a child’s development and self-esteem and plum like that–“
“Phoenix,” Mary yelled.
Everyone was doubled over in laughter, including Phoenix. Mary covered her mouth in embarrassment. Her face was as red as an apple.
When Phoenix was able to speak again, she had to address her mother’s slip up before continuing. “This is the first time my mom ever heard me swear!”
The audience had not yet recovered from the first outburst.
“See, kids? This is what happens when you invite your mom to your show. She’s always gonna be mom.”
Phoenix heard Mary apologizing and Reed trying to placate her. She did not do well with embarrassment.
“It’s ok, mom. You can come to all my shows and yell out as much as you want.”
And the crowd went “aww” and applauded her. Mary looked like she would melt.
“I love you, mom… But yeah…they say divorce is dangerous for kids. I disagree! It’s the best thing that could happen for kids! See, look, these experts don’t understand children at all. Kids are little hedonistic monsters!”
Reed laughed so hard, she thought he’d keel over from not getting enough air.
“Children only care about themselves!
“So, imagine being this little self-centered prick and suddenly getting TWO of everything! JACKPOT!” Phoenix let the audience enjoy their new wave of laughter before going on. “Yes, divorce is supposed to be great for a child, but I got gypped!”
Phoenix eyed Reed laughing heartily while keeping an eye on Mary. She knew it might be difficult for her to find the material funny. So far, though, she seemed ok. She didn’t bust a gut like Reed, but she wasn’t frowning either.
“When my mom first told me about the divorce, I was mad as… Mad as however my mom would want me to say it.”
Finally! A genuine laugh from Mary. Life was good.
“At the time, I was a daddy’s girl, and mom said he was moving out. Those were fighting words! I went to bed, and the next day I was over it. It was game on! See, I’m the youngest by a long shot. I am my parents little oops, I guess. My brother and sister had their young adult birthday a few days before the divorce, so I was pretty much an only child. I just knew my parents would spoil the heck out of me. I was ready! I wanted all the toys, all the ice cream, two Winterfests, two Harvestfests, two birthdays, two cowplants in a pear tree… I was ready to be spoiled rotten! But, there were two things wrong with this situation.”
Everyone, including Mary, leaned in for the kill.
“The first problem was my parents were nicely divorced. You ever meet people who divorce on good terms? Yeah, those were my parents. My dad still came over for all the holidays and my birthdays! I got robbed! Mom? I think I deserve some reparations!”
Phoenix was so glad Mary could laugh about her own drama. Maybe she would finally understand why comedy was so important to her.
“The second problem was that my dad was broke! See, kids don’t know anything about adulting. You know? I didn’t understand my dad was still financially responsible for me until my young adult birthday. I didn’t know he had a crap job that barely paid enough to cover our bills. Between the child support and his rent, he had nothing left for me! I’m telling you… I got robbed… You know who else got robbed?”
Everyone said, “Who?”
Mary’s eyes went wide. Reed’s eyebrow went up too. Phoenix couldn’t help but laugh.
“You guys should see your faces! Don’t worry, mom. I would never share your personal information to a crowd of people in public… That’s Susie’s job!”
Mary chuckled a little.
“My sister hates my mom’s guts.” She winked at Mary. Comedy was not comedy without a little embellishment. “She’s writing a book about her, so check your local bookstores soon to learn all the dirt about us, hee hee.”
Phoenix took a moment to laugh at the thought. “My mom was perfect. She did everything right…mostly. She made sure we didn’t stay cooped up inside. She took us to museums and art galleries to have cultural experiences. She was a good mom. Usually, though, good moms have good kids to show for their hard work. They ain’t us.”
“My brother… He’s here.”
Everyone looked around.
“He’s in the back looking a ninja or something. He’s weird. I still don’t know what he does for a living.”
Mary nodded while laughing.
“My sister hates my mom and is rage writing a novel, and then there’s me! I cut my hair and dyed it pink! You guys should have seen my mom’s face! It was like…
“WHAT ON EARTH HAVE YOU DONE?! I felt like I committed a federal offense. We live across the street from the soon-to-be Chief of Police. I thought my mom would call her or something… So, I explained how I wanted to get serious about comedy and how if I had an interesting look, people might pay attention and remember me… She got that face again. She said, ‘You WANT people to think you look funny?!’ After I laughed in her face, I said, ‘Mom! It’ll grow back!’ I’m Phoenix, the Pink Pixie! Goodnight!”
The crowd went wild, and it felt great. But nothing prepared or surpassed the feeling she got from seeing her mother cheer.
A few people came up to congratulate her on a job well done and get her social media handles. Mary and Reed stepped aside and let her do her thing. To her surprise, Brytani came up to her. Phoenix felt queasy and thought for sure she was going to lay into her.
“You have talent, kid.”
Phoenix opened her mouth to apologize, but Brytani held up her hand.
“Never apologize. In comedy, it’s just business. You’re not scared to go there. And, you’re quick. You have what it takes to go far. I’ll be watching you, kid.”
Phoenix was conflicted as Brytani walked away. Which was better? Encouragement from her idol, or watching Mary cheer like a fangirl? The choice was hard, but both situations rocked. When all her new fans left, she found her dear mother waiting to see her at last.
“Phoenix! You were wonderful!”
The pressure of tears built up behind her eyes. “Do you really think so?”
“Of course! I’m so proud.”
Could this night get any better?!
“There’s the lady of the hour,” Reed said. “I’m not sure when was the last time I laughed like that.”
“Thanks, Reed. I’m glad you both came!”
He eyed Mary significantly. “Of course we would come.”
What was that look? Did he make her come?
He turned his attention back to her. “We have to celebrate. Anyone up for Chez Llama?”
Of course he would suggest some place fancy. Phoenix groaned. “But then we have to go home and change. Can’t we just go to that diner we went to, mom?”
“Of course, my darling! We will go wherever you like.”
At the diner, Phoenix’s phone buzzed. It was John. He tried to get off early but wasn’t able to and apologized profusely. Phoenix clumsily plopped the phone on the table.
“Are you all right, darling?”
“Yeah. Dad couldn’t get out of work.”
“Hmph. Likely story.”
“This is classic behavior! I would think he would try a bit harder for his own child!”
Reed took a moment before attempting to de-escalate the situation. “Mary,” he said sweetly. “This is Phoenix’s night. Let’s just focus on her, ok?”
Dang. The way he looked at her sometimes with those cobalt balls of beauty… No wonder she fell in love so quickly. Or, maybe this was something that always was? Nah. She couldn’t picture her mother being in love with two people at once. There were so many things she still didn’t know everything about Mary and her parents’ relationship, but Mary seemed like the type of person who loved hard. It was near impossible to love two people equally as hard. Whatever happened, Mary was single now and needed someone who deserved that kind of love. Reed was great. Phoenix crossed her fingers in hopes that he was the guy.