A girl should always count the cost before diving into blind dates, suspicious-looking sushi, and/or rabbit suits.
Especially rabbit suits. Well, especially weird sushi, but the rabbit suit is an incredibly close second. Case in point: at the moment I’m squirming around in itchy fur and sporting long, black whiskers that twitch when I talk and tickle my nose like crazy. Plus I think I feel a sneeze coming on.
My inner voice warned me, “Call in sick,” and I completely ignored it because, you know, a girl has to make a living. Although, I should point out that some jobs are better than others. A great job, for instance, is a starring role in a highly ranked daytime drama. That is, until a person gets unjustly canned --- like a poor dolphin --- for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But, oh well. I’m over it. You know… mostly.
Which brings me to the opposite of a great job --- dressing up like a rabbit and getting ready to read to all the kids lining up outside the bookstore’s children’s section, for instance. Yep, there must be a hundred of them (or maybe twenty or so) just waiting for a big furry bunny --- a.k.a., me --- to thrill them with a stunning tale from the Beatrix Potter collection.
I’m trying to psych myself up for the ordeal, but honestly? All I want to do is run away from the impending and inevitable humiliation. I stare at my muted reflection in the glass display window. The case holds a first edition copy of Charlotte’s Web and a few photos of my manager, Mary, standing next to various famous authors like John Grisham and Stephen King. I usually pause for a moment of respect when I pass the case, but right now I can’t concentrate on anything but the need to get out of this suit. Gee whiz, if real rabbits itch this bad, it’s no wonder they’re always hopping.
I yank on the fur at my neck and rake my paws across my collarbones, hoping for relief. I mean, sure, I make an adorable bunny. But that’s not the point. This thing is murder.
Teresa Shewmate, our resident --- and self-appointed --- room mother, slides across the floor with all the grace of a ballroom dancer. If I’m not mistaken, she’s got donuts in that bag. My donut radar rarely fails. And it truly has nothing to do with the fact that she brings Krispy Kremes every Saturday.
“Morning!” she says a lot more cheerily than anyone has a right to on Saturday morning when her friend is wearing a suit like this one. But Teresa’s such a nice lady, I instantly smile.
She raises the bags. “Food!”
My stomach responds like Pavlov’s dog and lets out a growl. Due to a faulty alarm clock, I had no time for breakfast, so I’m starving and I can’t fight the magnetic pull of all those carbs. True, the treats are technically for the kids. But, I ask you, do they really need all the sugar? And besides, a nibble or two isn’t going to hurt me and as a matter of fact might actually help the situation. I mean maybe if I feed my brain… Plus, I think I deserve a bit of chocolate since I’m stuck in the itchy suit from you-know-where.
I know I probably shouldn’t complain. Acting is my life, is it not? So, I can act like I’m having a good time. True, I didn’t attend NYU as a drama major with the lofty ambition of playing a bookstore reading bunny, but you know… it’s a living. And there’s something about wearing a bunny suit that sort of reminds me of my dad.
I can’t help but smile at the thought. Dad has called me bunny since the day I made my first appearance in this world. He says it’s because he was fixated on my pink ears when I was a baby. Mom says it’s because of the way my nose scrunched up right before I let out a loud wail. Whatever the reason, I have a soft spot for the animals. And for Dad.
The cow suit, on the other hand, was a completely different story. There are no fuzzy memories, nor is there a smidgen of affection associated with the thought of wearing that humiliating thing. Mary tried to get me to wear it last week, and I was forced to put my foot down. No way was I sliding into that thing and parading around in front of a room full of kids. The big pink udder was downright indecent, if you ask me, and not entirely appropriate for children.
Oh, brother. This darned suit is really starting to get on my nerves and, oh, please help me, Lord, is something crawling up my leg?
The curse of having a creative mind is that… well, it doesn’t take much for your imagination to run away with you. In my mind’s eye, I see little spider legs inching along my skin. The itsy bitsy spider… Stop it, Tabby.
Teresa taps me on the shoulder, effectively pulling me out of my arachnophobic panic. “What’s wrong with you?”
“What do you mean?” I fire back, slipping one hand out of my paw and snatching a treat from the box.
Teresa gives me her slightly crooked smile and opens the box of donuts.
“You’re squirming like a three-year-old waiting for the potty.”
See, words like potty are what separate the thirty-year-old mommies from those of us who haven’t taken the maternal plunge --- for one reason or another.
“I can’t help it,” I whine grumpily. “It’s a lot itchier than Mother Goose or the dog suit. Another hour in this thing and I’ll be a raving lunatic.” I give a shudder. “I think something’s crawling up my back.”
I chomp on my donut, and something about the sweet taste of fried bread smothered in chocolate frosting helps me see the humor of my situation. I toss a napkin at her and grin. “Sure, you can laugh about it. You’re not the one dressed like Bugs Bunny.”
“You’re adorable,” she soothes, scratching my back --- although I can barely feel the blunt nails (another sign of motherhood) through the fake fur.
“But you might be having a slight bunny identity crisis.” She gives me a pat. “You’re Peter Rabbit, not Bugs.”
Teresa pushes another napkin-wrapped, glazed Krispy Kreme at me. “Here, sweetie,” she says with the kind of sympathy that makes me feel totally sorry for myself. I choke back tears for a couple of reasons… one, I really don’t want to ruin my bunny makeup, and two, the first donut simply whet my appetite for this one, and I can’t eat and cry at the same time. Any other day I might cry first, then eat, but I only have a few minutes before the kids come rushing in. So of course, I pick the donut. Who wouldn’t?
Just as I maneuver a bite around the whiskers, my two coworkers, Janice and Kristin (picture Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters), enter the reading room. I bristle at the sight of their wrinkled smirky faces looking on in amusement as though I dressed up like this for their entertainment. I really hate them sometimes. I know, I know. Christians can’t hate, and as a matter of fact, you can’t be a Christian at all if you hate people. So I don’t hate them, I just hate their smirky faces and snotty attitudes that make me feel stupid and so much less than them. What is it with women like that? And why do the rest of us give in to the low self-esteem? I mean, we know they’re doing it on purpose. And still they enter the room, and my self-worth takes a hike.
Teresa nudges me and whispers, “Hey, aren’t you three supposed to take turns dressing up?”
That’s another thing I hate… the way those two always weasel out of the unpleasant tasks around here and leave me to do everything they wouldn’t be caught dead doing.
“I think you and I are the only ones who remember that part,” I say ruefully.
“Why don’t you say something?”
Maybe she’s right. Maybe I really should pull Mary, my manager, aside and say, “I’m not going to take this anymore, Mary. Now, maybe you haven’t noticed, but I seem to dress up in these extremely uncomfortable and slightly humiliating costumes an inordinate number of times compared to the rest of the staff.”
That’s it. I’ll complain with sophisticated words like inordinate, thus intimidating Mary into seeing things my way.
What is this stirring in the pit of my stomach? Oh, I remember, God. I’d love to complain, truly I would, but after a certain spiritual epiphany last night, I’m turning over a new leaf, and the new me is trying to get along with my fellow workers --- the women who live to make my hours at work a living you-know-what.
My life would be a lot easier if God would consider talking to a few other people around here. You know, give someone else a spiritual epiphany like mine. I know He didn’t ask my opinion. I’m just saying…
Okay, I know I need to relax. Because the truth of the matter is that God is in control --- at least that’s what we talked about last night --- me and the Almighty. All about how my life stinks and maybe it’s because I’ve been trying to run things my own way (thus the spiritual epiphany). Who knew?
Mary pokes her gray head around the corner into the kiddie room. “Are you ready, Tabby?”
As ready as I can be. I fake-chomp my big fake carrot. “Bring ’em on, doc.”
Mary gives me a frown like she doesn’t get it. “You do know you’re supposed to be Peter Rabbit, not Bugs Bunny, right?”
“Yeah, I was just… ” Uh, trying to make a joke? My face burns. “Never mind.”
Her frown deepens, and she walks away, shaking her gray head. That woman has no sense of humor. I swear. Hello? I’m a rabbit. I say “doc.” That was worth a little bit of a smile. But no such luck. I just can’t win.
“Forget her,” Teresa says. “The woman’s made of stone.”
“Tell me about it,” I mumble, eyeing the donuts and seriously considering snagging another one.
But it’s too late. Teresa nods toward the door. “Here they come.”
Deep breath. Happy place. Find the happy place.
But it really is hard to find that place when Janice and Kristin keep smirking. And they both seem to get a kick out of the fact that I was once a glitzy red-carpet-goer, and now I’m reduced to this.
Okay, I can rise above this even with a slight touch of donut-induced heartburn. Just my luck.
“Children,” Mary says, putting on that happy face I know is totally for the sake of all the mothers in the room who will most likely leave the store in an hour carrying a bag of books --- including the one we’re about to read. The smile to launch a thousand dings of the register. “Give a big hand to Peter Cottontail.”
This is it, Tabby. You’re on. Time to get into character. Discover the bunny. Be the bunny.
I am the bunny.
“Hello, children,” I say in my perky rabbit voice. I throw in a couple of hops just to make the character more real. “Who wants to hear the story of Peter Cottontail?”
A rather unenthusiastic whoop goes up into the air. I have to say their lack of exhilaration doesn’t do much for my bunny confidence.
“Oh, come on,” I prod. “Peter Cottontail? I’ll tell you all about how I --- you know --- ” What did Peter do? Get thrown into a briar patch? Turn left at Albuquerque? Wait! He lost a mitten. Shoot, no that was the kitten, wasn’t it?
“You can’t be Peter Cottontail.”
In the midst of my brain-wracking, I look down until I find the source of the first annoying comment of the day. Less than a minute into the story hour. That’s got to be a record. The little girl has blue eyes, curly blond hair. Honest, she looks like a child actress. But she’s not acting very sweet, I must say.
I draw in a long, steadying breath. Perky. Stay perky.
I give another couple of hops. “Of course I am.”
“No, you’re not.” She puts her chubby little hands on her chubby little hips. Clearly a challenge.
My teeth grind. I feel myself sliding to a bad place here. But wait. I mustn’t argue with the children. I replay Mary’s words from the last time I entered into a “discussion” with someone under nine. “One more time and we’re going to have to let you go.” True, this isn’t much of a job. But it gives me the hours I need and pays --- well, pretty poorly, but it does pay. I force a smile. “What makes you think I’m not Peter Cottontail?”
“You’re a girl,” she says matter-of-factly and with all the wisdom of a know-it-all twerp. “Peter Cottontail is a boy.”
I look down my black bunny nose at her and focus on being condescending --- one of my better acting traits if I do say so myself. “Maybe I’m in touch with my feminine side. Ever think of that?” Oh, I probably shouldn’t have gone there. I glance guiltily around and kids are staring, maybe a little fearful of the crazed bunny.
The hideous child folds her arms across her chest and gives me a smug stare down. “You’re still a girl. And you don’t even know the story of Peter Rabbit.”
“Yes I do. I just don’t want to brag.”
Okay, that was bad even for me. The kid gives me a know-it-all sneer. Suddenly I realize who she reminds me of. “Didn’t you play the little girl in Interview with the Vampire? You know, the one who gets burned up in the sunlight while clinging to her mother-figure?” The little bloodsucker.
The child’s blue eyes widen in fright just before she runs away, and I realize she might have been scared by my reference to vampires or possibly the mental image of flesh turned to ash. Shoot! Why do kids have to be such babies? This is why I never babysat as a teenager. Oh darn! Now she’s coming back over here with someone who looks like a ticked-off mother.
Grown-up blue eyes flash before me. I give the woman a good sizing up. She’s a larger version of the child. Pretty, petite. Blond. I wonder if I could take her if things get ugly, or should I be prepared to pull a Forrest Gump and run away? She doesn’t look that big. I could probably hold my own.
“Did you just tell my daughter she looks like a vampire?” she demands.
“Of course not.” Backpedal, Tabs --- backpedal fast! “Um… I was just thinking how much she resembles Kirsten Dunst as a child. And I couldn’t remember any movie except that one. I --- uh --- didn’t even think about her being afraid. Your daughter is so pretty, you should consider getting her some auditions.”
“Really?” The woman’s face brightens, and I know my work here is done. Catastrophic firing from job is once more avoided. Now to drive the nail home.
“Of course --- I used to act on a soap opera,” gotta get that little plug in --- I’m so weak, “so I know the type of children they scout around for, and your daughter definitely has the right look.” I glance at the little girl, who is still glaring at me. Obviously all the flattery hasn’t made a dent in her armor.
She stomps her patent leather shoe. “You still can’t be Peter Cottontail if you’re a girl.”
Irritation creeps back up. What is it with this kid? “Oh yeah? Watch me.” Shoot. That’s arguing, isn’t it?
“Of course Tabby isn’t the real Peter Cottontail.” Mary walks into the room and immediately order is restored. She gives me a one-eyebrow-raise in passing. Doggone it. I realize she’s heard enough of my conversation to figure out that the kid and I weren’t swapping recipes. She skewers me with a glance that no one could possibly have caught but me and continues on like she’s one happy camper. “Let’s just pretend.”
How does she sneak up on a person like that anyway? She just appears, like a… Well, I’m not sure if I should say this but… If anyone’s a vampire…
Vampira’s giving me that “get on with it” glare, and I know I’d better start reading… or else.
Thirty grueling pages and a gazillion kiddie interruptions later, I bid Teresa good-bye until next week, then go to the ladies’ room, zip out of the bunny suit, peel off the whiskers. I stare at my pitiful reflection. My face is blotchy red from trying to get the whiskers to let go and from scrubbing off the makeup. Hideous. But what’s a girl to do? I pack away the suit. And let me tell you, this is absolutely the last time I’m wearing that awful thing. After tucking it away in the costume closet, I walk to the counter, ready to face the music. I try not to be too scared since I’m sure God is directing my steps here. Surely He’s going to reward me for the first half of the day when I was so good about surrendering to Him. Even when I got cut off on the highway. Not only didn’t I flip anyone the bird, but I waved and acted like it was my idea to let the guy over.
Mary smiles at a customer and hands her a bag. “Happy reading.”
Then she looks up and sees me standing there. Her smile fades fast like I sucked the happy right out of her. She gives me the evil eye, and I know I’m a goner.
I wonder if I should ask for a reference.
By the time I make it home, I’m trying to shove the hideous day aside and focus on my big plans for tonight. My parents are coming over for dinner at the apartment I share with my two best friends, Laini and Dancy --- only they’ve decided to be absent. I honestly can’t say that I blame them. I’m not all that crazy about the idea myself, but you know, it’s all about dinner with the folks. A necessary part of every adult’s life. At least every three months or so, I’m obligated to invite the parents over. Otherwise they start to imagine I have something to hide, and once their minds go there, short of marriage to the man of their dreams, there’s no convincing anyone I’m A-OK and not hopping from party to party with Paris or Lindsay.
Anyway, I figure Mom and Dad will shove off by nine, and I can curl up with my new copy of Soap Opera Magazine. Or better yet, read while taking a bubble bath. It’s my night for a long soak in the tub. Rule number four on our door: One person per night is allowed a long bath in the tub. First of all, because three women sharing an apartment can’t possibly all soak each night, and secondly, because we have water pressure issues, and it takes as long to fill the tub as it does to soak away our troubles.
Laini is the official --- and self-proclaimed --- rules person. Being an accountant, she’s big on lists and organization. She works for ACE Accounting. And --- not to brag or anything, but --- she’s the aciest of all the aces there. A real hotshot with numbers. We’d never get all the bills paid if she didn’t keep track of things.
Some of the rules are only posted “just in case.” For instance number two: Men are not allowed in the apartment after midnight. Okay, honestly? I can’t remember the last time either of my roommates had a date --- unless you count Floyd Bartell, the guy Dancy’s mom is dying to have as her son-in-law. It’s really a curious thing, if you ask me. I mean, they’re both attractive, smart, nice. All the attributes that should act as bait on a hook. But unfortunately, my two gal-pals aren’t getting so much as a nibble. As a matter of fact, the only nibble I’m getting is from Brian Ryan, a total mistake. A guy I went on a blind date with and can’t get rid of. I’m sure he’s harmless. Well, almost sure.
Sooo, back to this evening. Everything has got to be perfect. Otherwise I’m going to have to hear about it from my mom. I hurry home to the two-bedroom apartment where Dancy and Laini graciously allowed me to crash when I lost my own place three years ago --- after I was canned from Legacy of Life. That day still haunts me. The day I realized that after paying off most of the debts I incurred when I thought I had another three years on the show (per my contract --- apparently they could terminate if story line necessitated --- whatever!). I had two choices: Go home and live with Ma (kill me, please, for even thinking of that as an option) or beg my friends to take me in. After all, I don’t take up a lot of room.
Not to be a snob or anything, but I had a condo in a high-rise with an elevator, doorman --- swanky digs if I do say so myself. Now I live in more of a Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City building. But it’s nice too. I’d never complain. Only, well, the other one did have a doorman.
Regret --- just a twinge, mind you --- pinches me. And immediately I realize that the new Tabby who is giving it all over to God has no reason to feel regret. But then… I can’t be too hard on myself. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
It’s not easy to take the high road though. It’s quite a comedown going from a soap opera diva to a reading bunny. I love acting, and darn it, I just want to do something more meaningful with my talent than dressing up for the bookstore. I mean, I still audition from time to time and have an acting coach, who incidentally always smells like a brewery and has more love scenes for me to practice (with him as the male lead, of course) than really seems necessary. But there hasn’t been a lot of time for auditions between working two jobs.
My whole life I’ve wanted to be an actress. NYU, extra acting classes, auditions. Finally, after tons of rejections and a few embarrassing Tampax commercials, I landed a recurring role on Legacy of Life. A character that the fans immediately took to --- and begged to see more of. A role that turned into a five-year run.
I really was on the fast track to stardom until I had a sort of fling with the head writer’s husband. In my defense, let me be clear: I had no idea he was anyone’s husband, let alone Julie Foster’s. She uses her maiden name. He didn’t have on a wedding ring --- believe me, I checked. The producer’s house, where we had the now infamous Christmas party, was enormous. If I had married a man with a roving eye, I’d keep him on a short leash --- wouldn’t you? So as far as I’m concerned, it’s partly Julie’s fault that I ended up wasting my entire evening chatting with her husband.
I truly thought I had maybe found Mr. Right. I mean, we had a lot in common, talked for hours about family (mostly mine, come to think of it), goals, hobbies, and --- long story short --- Julie caught him just as he was about to move in for a kiss. Not that I blame her, given the circumstances, but she caused a big fat scene. I tried to explain, and Mr. Definitely-Not-Right even took up for me… which I think actually made things worse. But despite my insistence that I was innocent, no one sympathized with me because everyone assumed my shock and dismay were just good acting. After all, I was nominated for an Emmy once.
Julie had the last word when she concocted a story line whereby two months later my character was killed in a fiery inferno. And the powers that be let her get away with it. Can you believe that?
I tried to make amends, but she didn’t believe my innocence. Within a week she had thrown her husband out of their condo and started dating the director of the sitcom three sets down from ours. So much for true love. Again, not that I blame her. But she could have taken all that woman-scorned fury and done something a little more constructive with it than kill off the most popular leading actress on the show. And not to brag, but I was. My portrayal of Felicia Fontaine got me that Emmy nomination in the last season I was on the show. I mean, come on. How could they just let that go? But they did. And now I wait tables and dress up like various animal characters to make ends meet. Well, I did anyway.
I swear, when is Prince Charming going to take me away from it all?