young woman lay motionless on the bed, her arms on top of the
light blanket. She didn't hear the nurse approach, didn't know
she was at her side until she felt her hand being lifted.
are you doing, Felicia?"
The nurse's voice sounded far away and muffled, as if it were
coming through a tunnel. Felicia's eyes fluttered open, then
shut. "Okay. Tired, and a little groggy. How many eggs did they
She'd been asleep, not unconscious, during the egg harvesting.
She vaguely remembered the doctor speaking to her afterwards,
but found it difficult now to recall what he'd said.
don't know, dear. You'll have to ask the doctor."
She felt the nurse press two fingers on the inside of her arm,
just above her wrist. The woman's nails dug lightly into her
skin, but not so that they hurt.
Felicia tried again and this time was able to keep her eyes
open. "Is my pulse okay?" she asked when the nurse released
a little fast, but fine." She wrapped a blood pressure cuff
around Felicia's upper arm and pumps. "Blood pressure's fine,
too," she said a moment later.
The vein where the IV tube was inserted throbbed. "That's good."
Her speech sounded slurred and thick to her ears. She mentioned
this to the nurse.
the sedation. It should wear off within the hour. Don't worry,
dear. We'll keep you in Recovery till it does, then send you
to Outpatient. Then you can go home."
sounded good, but she didn't know how she would move off the
bed and get dressed, let alone get into her car and drive all
the way to her apartment.
been crying," the nurse said, surprise and worry in her voice.
"Are you in pain, Felicia?"
really. I'm just a little. . .sad," she whispered.
from the sedation, too. There's nothing to be sad about, Felicia.
The egg retrieval was successful, and you're fine." She smiled.
"Just rest now."
the handmaiden of Abraham, abandoned her child," she whispered.
dear?" The nurse bent down to hear.
what the man in my dream said. ‘Hagar, the handmaiden of Abraham,
left her child to die alone because she didn't want to hear
him cry. But in the end Hagar didn't abandon him. Why are you
abandoning your babies?'" Tears welled in the corners of her
eyes. "I don't even know who Hagar is, but it's so sad, isn't
was just a dream, Felicia."
know. But he seemed so real." His voice—quiet, stern—had seemed
so clear. She'd tried to open her eyes to see him, but her eyelids
had felt heavy, so impossibly heavy, and when she'd finally
opened them, she realized that he'd never been there at all,
that she'd been dreaming. "Try to relax." The nurse patted her
isn't the same, is it?" she asked urgently. "Giving away my
eggs and giving up babies?"
course it isn't. Try to rest, Felicia."
what I told him. In my dream, I mean. But he said it was the
same. He said. . . he said he was the voice of my babies, that
my babies are crying. He said I would be punished." Tears were
streaming now down her face.
did a very lovely thing, Felicia." The nurse's voice was soft,
reassuring. Gently she wiped Felicia's tears. "You're helping
other couples have children, aren't you?"
then. It was just a dream. Don't let it upset you."
everything's fine? The eggs are fine?"
The nurse patted her arm again. "Everything's fine. You just
rest now," she repeated. Felicia nodded. She breathed deeply
and let herself drift off into sleep.
They'd been making her self-conscious all night, the two men
at the corner table--watching her, calling her over to repeat
the specials, smiling to catch her attention whenever she passed
their way. So Chelsea wasn't surprised when the older of the
two, both of whom were wearing almost identical navy wool blazers,
said, "You're very pretty," as she refilled his cappuccino.
"I'll bet people tell you all the time that you look like Julia
It was hardly an original come-on, she thought, thanking him.
The funny thing was, she did look like Julia Roberts. Dennis
said so all the time. She had the same wide, Cupid's-bow mouth
and slender, sloping nose; the same long, wavy, warm brown hair
Julia used to have. Sun-kissed hair, Dennis called it.
She may have looked like a famous movie star, but she didn't
feel like one, not tonight. The veins at the backs of her knees
were throbbing in protest at the long hours she'd been standing,
and the balls of her feet were aching and tender. As soon as
she got home she would take a long bath with water so hot it
would steam the mirror and the windows. She still had a few
of the jasmine-scented amber bath gel balls Dennis had given
her for her eighteenth birthday, along with a small diamond
pendant. She was wearing it now under the white shirt she'd
pressed before coming to work.
James and this is Roy," the man said. "We're producers. Always
looking for new talent." He smiled at her, revealing capped
front teeth. "What's your name?"
she said, returning the smile. "Chelsea Wright." Judging from
the gray at their temples, she guessed they were in their forties.
Good looking, well groomed, the snowy monogrammed cuffs of their
shirts peeking beyond the sleeves of their blazers. Gold chunky
rings with inset diamonds sat like miniature hotels on their
pinkies, and they were wearing too much cologne. She didn't
know if they were producers—L.A. was filled with people who
claimed to be in The Business. She did know they had to be a
little high from the cocktails and wine she'd served them, and
hoped they would leave her a generous tip.
Wright. Chelsea." The man called James repeated the name slowly,
letting the l roll off his tongue. He nodded. "I like it." He
glanced at his companion, who looked bored, but nodded too.
"Matter of fact, Chelsea, we're casting a small feature. If
you're interested, you can audition for a minor role."
She planned to teach Special Ed, not act, but she could use
the extra cash, especially now that she was transferring from
Santa Monica City College to USC. Her parents had paid for the
fall quarter ("Dad and I are so proud of you," her mother had
said when the acceptance letter arrived, "all your dreams come
true"), but Chelsea regarded the money as a loan. The tuition
was steep for her parents, who had refinanced their small house
in Culver City several years ago to help pay the bills.
There were always so many bills, never enough money. Things
would be different now if she hadn't been so strapped for funds.
She felt a wave of sadness and forced the thoughts from her
mind. "What kind of role?" she asked, shifting her weight to
her right hip.
dancer." His eyes moved to her chest. "I think you'd be perfect.
Don't you, Roy?" he asked, turning to his companion and receiving
A stripper. She felt a flash of disappointment, then almost
laughed, he was so transparent. She thought about the tip and
smiled again instead and said, "Thanks, but I don't think so,"
in a voice that conveyed a hint of regret. She doubted that
he was legit, and she wasn't interested in stripping. And if
she ever did something like that, her parents would kill her.
She moved away and made a circuit of the room, pausing at each
of her tables to make sure everything was fine. Thirty-five
minutes later she'd collected the checks and was ready to leave,
her black apron folded and stored in her metal locker.
you tomorrow night, Ramón," she said to the short, muscular
con Dios, baby." He smiled. "How'd you make out?"
Not bad for a Sunday night." The producers had left a twenty
and a card--"In case you change your mind, Chelsea," one had
scrawled underneath the raised lettering of their company's
name, First Star Productions. Maybe he was legit, or maybe he'd
gone to a Kinko's and had a thousand cards printed for twenty-some
She told Ramón about the producers, laughed about it.
the type of people you meet? How can you leave this gold mine?"
Ramón shook his head, drying the inside of a champagne goblet
with deft swipes. "Just two more days, huh? Bet you'll be begging
for your job back within a week."
I won't." She stuck her tongue out at him playfully, then waved
good-bye. She would miss Ramón and the others and the easy camaraderie
she shared with them, but she was looking forward to her new
job, to USC, to everything that was suddenly within easy reach.
Don't expect too much, she warned herself, but she couldn't
repress the excitement that surged through her. She found it
hard to believe that two weeks ago she'd been despondent, isolated
by fears that had occupied her every waking moment. She was
glad that she hadn't told Dennis or her parents—there was no
undoing what she'd done, so how could they have helped, after
all, except worry with her?--and though she had every hope that
things would be all right now, and she hated keeping secrets
from them, hated not sharing what had happened, she'd promised.
She said good night to Yvonne, the waitress who was balancing
the night's receipts, slung her brown canvas backpack over her
shoulder, and left the restaurant. It was cold outside, and
she'd forgotten to bring a sweater or jacket. She hugged her
arms across her chest and walked quickly, wishing her car weren't
two blocks away. It was dark outside, too, but this was a quiet,
residential neighborhood, as safe as any neighborhood in L.A.,
and she'd walked this route without incident countless times
Approaching her Honda Civic, she groped inside her purse for
her keys and touched the edge of the card the producer had given
her. She shook her head, smiling, and bent down to insert her
key into the car lock. Dennis would laugh when she told him
about the Julia Roberts comment. "You're my pretty woman," he'd
say. Then he'd lean over and kiss her. God, she loved him. The
sharp blow at the back of her neck—swift, sudden—slammed her
forehead into the metal of the car. She moaned and slid like
a rag doll to the ground, her knees thudding against the concrete.
Fear knifed through her.
Dazed, her hands trembling, she jerked her backpack off her
shoulder and thrust it away from her. "Take whatever you want!"
she whispered. She kept her eyes sealed. She didn't want to
see her assailant, didn't want to be able to identify anyone.
She heard a popping sound, felt a stinging sensation in the
hollow of her neck, then searing, exploding pain.