Greg woke up one morning from unusually erotic dreams, and during the night he had become famous. His crotch and mouth hurt like they hadn't for three years, since he'd set a personal record, having sex four times in a single night. The morning he woke up famous, the pain was even worse, even better, and he saw two young women asleep in each other's arms next to him.
He didn't know why yet, but he couldn't possibly get back to sleep. He felt himself empowered with an energy that he hadn't felt since childhood. He wasn't hung over, but he couldn't remember what he had done the previous night. Rubbing the sleepers out of his eyes, he heard his sister pounding on his door, yelling, "Greg! It's almost eleven. Are you sick or what?"
"I'm up! Don't come in!" He prodded the girls in his bed—one blonde, the other a redhead—as he answered, making sure they were alive.
He hadn't slept with anyone since losing the trifecta seven months prior (job, girlfriend, apartment in Somerville). Kara had been advertising for a roommate when he moved in rent free. She had inherited their childhood home, close to Mansfield's main street; she was always the favorite. Their parents had died two years earlier when a teenager jackrabbited a left turn at the intersection of routes 106 and 140.
The phone on his nightstand rang, with such a smooth ring tone that he didn't think it was his at first. "Greg, you're an hour late." Damien, his boss at Movierama, said. "You're causing a huge commotion around here, you know. All these weirdoes are looking for you. We don't need this today."
"Well, I hope you won't hold this against me," Greg said. "We all make these mistakes, right? I've been there for you six days a week for the past six months, and I've never even been sick." Not that they provided health insurance.
"I can't even hear you. You'd better get here soon. Who in hell are all of these people?" Damien hung up. Greg had applied for the cashier job to spite Kara, after a month of sitting on the couch self-medicating with pot, Halo, and Doritos. Then he'd learned the unpleasant truth: Since the call center had come to town paying $11 an hour plus benefits, nobody was overqualified to work at Movierama.
He grabbed a t-shirt out of his drawer. Then he noticed a rack, the type that bellhops use to transport your bags in fancy hotels, along the wall on the other side of his bed. It was cram-packed full of clothes that he never would have worn: striped shirts with French cuffs flapping and collars that were too wide, leather coats with collars of ratty wool resembling blond dreadlocks, hot pink pants. "What the hell," he thought, grabbing an outfit at random. His underwear was silk; his jeans, carefully shredded and safety-pinned, sported a watch fob. His shoes smelled so good, he put his nose to the soles and inhaled.
His sister knocked on the door, using the secret knock they'd invented when Greg was nine and she was six. "Come in," he said.
He was living in the house's first-floor sunroom, where he had duct-taped black sheets over all the windows. Kara pulled open one of the French doors. "God, what happened to you last night? I see you at midnight crying into your cereal again about Denise, and now you're all famous? These papers came—I'm supposed to handle everything. They say I'm your manager now." She wasn't looking at him directly. Her eyes scanned the room as his had when he first woke up. "I have your lodging contract, so rest assured, everything will be taken care of per your instructions."
"I knew you'd understand," Greg said. "This should all be over soon, and I'll be able to go to work again, and . . . Did you just say I'm famous?"
"Yeah, you kind of look it too." She pointed to the mirror over his dresser. It seemed his chin and cheekbones were more pronounced than they had been just the day before, his eyebrows were plucked, and his hair was tousled just so. He smiled because he looked so damn good and was almost blinded by his pure white teeth. Kara poked one of his larger-than-yesterday biceps. "That is fucking weird. Did you see what's going on outside?" She handed her brother a ski mask and sunglasses. "Better put these on before you peek." He did as she suggested, and lifted the black sheet an inch.
He couldn't see the street, there were so many paparazzi out there. When they detected the movement in his window, the frenzy focused in his direction. A helicopter landed on the DeGirolamos' roof next door. He retreated.
He'd always expected that he'd be famous by the age of 30, but how had fame arrived so suddenly, and with so little effort? First, he had imagined, there would be confusing interactions when people recognized him but couldn't place his face. Next, people would approach him in a shy manner, eager to compliment his work, as they waited in line at Dunkin' Donuts. He'd sign the occasional autograph.
At a crucial point, he would have to change his phone numbers and e-mail address, and install a security gate around his property. Before that phase, the fame wouldn't really count. (Greg's bank account would grow with his notoriety, allowing him to own an estate instead of renting or living with Kara.) He wouldn't be able to go anywhere incognito. It would all be worth it, for the recognition—not just the recognition of his face, but also the true appreciation of his efforts. Plus, people would send more and more free stuff to counterbalance the inconveniences. He'd need a security team to go with him to all the parties, premieres, and fundraisers.
Contracting such an intense case of fame overnight left him a little queasy. He had skipped so many levels, he felt somewhat unprepared. "At least I can quit saving for film school," he thought.
Greg's sister pointed at the girls still comatose in his bed. "You don't know them, do you?" she asked, and he shook his head. "Come on ladies, thank you and good night," she said, rousing them and handing them their clothes. Kara had a clipboard, and they were signing a standard gag clause as she ushered them out of his room.
"You can't go to work. I'll call Movierama for you. I'm not going to class today either," she said, and left.
He racked his memory—where had he caught it? He had to admit, a long and fruitful career had not brought it on. Had he become a one-hit wonder? Maybe one of his friends had been blogging all of his hilarious movie commentary. Had he slept with someone famous the night before? He didn't even recognize those two girls. Maybe he had killed someone.
Kara came back with a huge room service tray containing his brunch. "Do I need a lawyer?" he asked.
"Well, you have three already, so I think you're all set. Are we in violation of any terms? I thought everything was pretty clear."
"I just thought I might be in trouble of some kind. Did I fuck up a major sporting event?"
She gave him a faint smile, shrugged, and left again.
Greg lifted the tray's cover. There were all of his favorite morning foods: Texas toast stuffed with bananas, passion fruit, a large orange juice with heavy pulp, even Cherry Quisp, which he couldn't remember having since he was about eight years old. "Where did she get all this?" he wondered, sipping his Coolatta. Three more of his favorite things rounded out the meal: an old Vicodin from his mom's hip surgery, two issues of Playboy, and a spicy Bloody Mary. He sat down and clicked the cable box on. A major news channel was broadcasting an aerial view of his street, with a caption reading, "Live! Outside Greg's house."
Breakfast made him sleepy, but Greg had to hear what his friends thought of all this. He called his buddy Joe at work. Both Greg and Joe lived in their families' 1920s-era homes on Park Street. But Greg's sensibilities were much finer than Joe's. While Joe seemed to be content with what he had and did, Greg always knew that there was so much more out there. Being struck famous would prove it.
"Hey, you'll never guess what I picked up last night."
"Are you the reason the streets are all blocked off and shit? I could barely leave for work," Joe said.
"You've gotta get over here." Greg had discovered two huge joints in the pocket of a Thomas Pink shirt.
"You think I can get up and leave whenever I want. That's not the way it works in the real world," Joe said. "How is Kara dealing with this?"
"I think she's pretty dazed," Greg said.
"Where is she?"
"Oh, around. I guess I need her to deal with everything."
"As usual, right?"
"Well, I think I must be paying her," Greg said. Joe snorted.
"Joe, are you jealous? I have to admit, it went through my mind before I called: Happy for me or jealous, which will it be? But I expected more from you." Truly, he didn't.
"You do not deserve this, Greg. You have always had this fucked-up idea that you were better than me, ever since we were kids. You don't deserve this attention. Who do you think you are?" Joe hung up.
"I knew you wouldn't be able to handle it," Greg said, too late for Joe to hear.
He had always known that once fame hit he'd have to cut his old friends loose. He'd have better, more famous, friends to replace everyone. Guys like Joe would never leave the townie suburbia that is Mansfield.
"Ungrateful prick," Greg thought. "Like he'll ever do better than hanging out with me." He smoked a joint by himself and passed out.
When he woke up, someone had replaced his 14-inch TV/VCR combo with a gigantic flat-panel plasma monitor, with the biggest universal remote he had ever seen. All of the components—high-definition receiver, DVD, plus satellite radio and assorted game boxes—were hidden somewhere else in the house. He flipped through the channels, coming across himself once in a while on a news channel. But the tickers never quite explained the fuss.
"Kara?" She came in right away.
"Did I win the lottery?"
"Hardly. You probably shouldn't talk to anyone else," she said, taking his phone. "All of your needs will be anticipated."
"Should I come out to the living room?" It wasn't a serious inquiry. There was no TV there.
"God, no," Kara said. "What if it's contagious? Or chronic? What do you think we're going to do if you can't work any more? Forget about me catching it too."
"Hey, I'm sure it'll be fine," Greg said. "Wait, if I'm famous, why would I need to keep working at Movierama?"
"You don't have the kind of fame that pays, you know. I'll check on you in a few hours, and let's hope everything is back to normal by then."
The rest of his maintenance team arrived. First they gave him a massage, then a simultaneous facial, manicure, and pedicure. He still had cucumbers on his eyelids when Kara came in again. "I'm going to sell as much of this free stuff as I can. I'm afraid that we'll have to tap into the inheritance account and my tuition savings if you don't shake this off soon."
"Well, it's my stuff. What are we talking about? All I've seen is a rack of clothes and some food."
"There are two new cars in the driveway," she said, "But you know, it's like 'The Price is Right'—you've got to pay the taxes. We don't have that much cash. So we'll sell those. To start, though, sign these so we can put them on eBay." She held out a bunch of Greg's baby pictures.
"God, Kara, I don't think we have negatives for these. Are you sure?"
"Look me in the eye and tell me that you wouldn't do the same to me if the tables were turned. We need to sell them while your name is white hot. There's no telling when your value will drop."
"Fine." He grabbed the pile, and as he started signing, she read from an inventory sheet. "Okay, you've received envelopes full of tickets to the NBA playoffs, next year's Super Bowl and Oscars, six concerts, and seventeen film premieres. Plus three store openings in New York. I've divided the other stuff into boxes. It's mainly watches, cosmetics, and small electronic gadgets. There's also a shitload of flowers, which are just making the house smell like the funeral home. And we can't sell them."
On the plasma monitor, coverage of Greg moved from the news channels to the entertainment networks. He realized that the sound of helicopters circling outside had stopped. He figured he had become more than a hot item—he was established. He was also craving something, anything.
"Get me another tray of goodies, okay?"
"Just what you ordered," she said, opening the door to leave and letting in two girls, different from the ones he'd slept with earlier. These ones were dressed a little more like hookers.
"Are we eighteen?" he asked. They giggled, and nodded but didn't answer verbally. One of them opened a Hello Kitty purse and dumped it out on his bed. "What happens when you take E with Oxycontin?" he asked them.
"Nothing bad, for sure," the dark-haired one said. "Let's party!" Greg tried not to register how flat that phrase sounded when it hit his ears. "Kara," he yelled, as they started on his belt buckle, "Cancel my personal trainer!"
A few hours later, he was regaining consciousness. He was pissed that he couldn't tell Joe about this. The girls were gone, and all that remained was a disheveled stack of Barely Legal magazines. Lifting the corner of his window shade a bit, he saw nothing but darkness. His sister knocked and came in.
"God, Greg, this is getting nasty. I'm pretty tired of cleaning up after you. Are you sure you can't do anything for yourself?"
First Joe, now Kara. She'd never understand the pressures he was under. She wouldn't be able to watch him strive for the next goal, achieve it, and move on to the next. She'd spend all of her energy dragging him down.
"Fuck you, then. From now on, you contact me through my attorneys. That will be all."
Her eyebrows raised. "Oh, really? Fine. I've been keeping you from getting dragged into the toilet all day. See if I give a give a shit any more. You can dive into the cesspool by yourself, I won't follow." She slammed the door, cracking a pane of glass.
He sat in his personal massage recliner and checked his TV coverage. There was a made-for-TV movie about his life on an entertainment channel. First he saw his baby pictures, then a shot of him at Movierama just a few weeks ago, laughing at something with Joe, who had stopped by on his lunch hour. He didn't want to see how it ended, so he dozed off.
Someone delivered a little brown bag while he slept. He opened it to find a vial of crack and a pipe. He fired it up, watched Scarface and played Halo on the picture-in-picture. Fame was still fun.
His sister opened the French doors again and pushed a large cardboard box into the room. "This is the last delivery, Greg, I'm going to bed and locking everyone out."
"I thought I told you," he started, but she was gone.
Inside the box was a Real Doll, a cheap toiletry bag, and a pile of sadomasochistic porn. He unzipped the vinyl bag, finding a hypodermic needle and a little packet of yellow powder. His final thoughts before drifting away were of his parents: "They would have been so proud to have such a famous son. They died way too soon."
Early the next morning, Kara listened outside his door for a moment before knocking the secret knock. "Greg?" Still hearing nothing, she went in.
She found her brother unconscious on the floor, face down. Around his neck was a choke chain. She kicked him hard in the side. He coughed and reach for his neck, and before he could turn over she grabbed his comforter from his bed and covered him with it. The 600-thread-count linens were gone, and his old 50/50 sheets were back.
"Jesus, Greg, I thought I lost you. You're going to work today, okay? Whatever happened to you yesterday, it's all over now. But I'm not covering for you any more. I just hope it wasn't contagious."
"So it's really over. I can leave my room?"
"You can, and you must. You've got a lot to clean up after what you went through yesterday. And I mean that, for real. You wouldn't leave the room, and you used great-grandma's rusty old bedpan in the corner. Do you even know where the cleaning supplies are?"
"I'll figure it out." Greg gathered the comforter around him and got up. He raised his shades and opened the window, letting in the early spring air.
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