The Young and the Ruthless
CHAPTER 1 Circus of the Soap Opera Stars
Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Emmy Abernathy, my costar on the number one sudser The Rich and the Ruthless (Gina Chiccetelli), swung upside down overhead as I prepared to climb the ladder to the tiny trapeze platform above. Clad in a revealing gold glitter bikini and tutu ensemble, Emmy forced her legs into a split.
Nervous jitters tickled my tummy as noisy chatter from the audience filtered in and Karl L. King’s “Hosts of Freedom” blasted. I glanced around the madcap circus ring set full of bustling stagehands and other besequined bubblers
who’d had the dubious distinction of being chosen to participate in the WBC’s prime-time reality hit Circus of the Soap Opera Stars. Dress rehearsal had not gone well.
“Disgusting,” my powder-puffed costar Phillip McQueen (Barrett Fink) had slurred due to a mild tranq paramedics fed him earlier. Firefighters rescued a hysterical Phillip, who had a fear of heights, from the trapeze bar where he’d dangled like a helpless infant. Swathed in a hideous rainbow-sequined unitard, nervously rubbing more rosin on his palms, the divo whined, “This whole fiasco has ruined my hands. They’re callused, cracking, and . . .”
A stagehand interrupted. “Climb, McQueen.”
I watched his unsteady progress until he made it to the staging platform, then followed. Had to admit it was exciting—the lights, music, and growing crowd adding to the energy. As the spotlight hit me, I naturally broke into a wide, crimson-lipped smile, outstretching my gloved arms like a natural showgirl. A true soap diva always steps up to the performance plate.
For my first public appearance since rejoining the soap, The Rich and the Ruthless’s interim executive producer, Veronica Barringer, had chosen me to be the featured star of the main trapeze act to help represent the show, overriding objections by the World Broadcast Company network, R&R executives,
and certain viperous costars. While they’d been forced to don a civil façade since my return, blistering hatred and jealousy thrummed underneath.
I kept it movin’ and did the silly preshow interviews Cliffhanger Weekly conducted during dress rehearsal.
“I’m so excited to be on top of an elephant! They’re so wise and never forget,” my R&R costar and friend Shannen Lassiter (Dr. Justine Lashaway) gushed to reporter Mitch Morelli. Shannen looked radiant in the red, white, and blue striped bodysuit she’d been poured into.
“So I’ve heard. But, Shannen, why don’t we talk about what an opportunity this is for you to be seen on prime time? Many readers have asked why you haven’t made the leap to prime time or film—Broadway even. You’re so . . .”
“ . . . sexy. I already know. And that’s why. My job is to be a soap opera siren and as stimulating as possible, the fans count on it. But I’ve got to be honest, Mitch—being too beautiful can be a real handicap. I can’t tell you how many times casting directors have called my agent to say I nailed the audition but I was distractingly beautiful; if only they’d measure me by my work. I can’t help it if I’m hot without trying. I know it’s intimidating, but it’s a gift.”
“You’re so right, amada mía,” said fiery Latin costar and Shannen’s current offscreen lover, Javier Vásquez (Pepe), interrupting. Picked to get in the cage with the tigers—after Emmy was almost mauled, neglecting to report she was
being visited by Aunt Flo—Javier wore only a leopard-print loincloth draped around his hips, every sculpted bronze muscle glistening with baby oil.
Mitch left Shannen and Javier doing some mauling of their own as Emmy darted in to grab a piece of the press.
“Hey, Mitch, like my tutu?” she said suggestively.
“It’s very gold.”
“Yeah, awesome, right? Back at my fighting weight and so ready to get up on that high wire and show the world what trapezing is all about, I could just wet myself. Did the baby food diet to prepare—lost ten pounds! What’s the problem, fatties? Even got a side gig pole-dancing at Club Goodhurt as part of my training; my body’s my temple and it’s never been bendier.”
“Pole-dancing? That’s an . . . interesting way to get in . . .”
“Don’t, Mitch, I hear the innuendo in your voice. Nothing skeevy about it, it’s incredibly artistic. I mean, I learned how to do the Caterpillar, the Bow and Arrow, the Brass Monkey . . . it was all so empowering. Who knows, I might be the next Dita Von Teese.”
“Sounds like it.”
Circus handler Blaze rushed over. “Emmy, darling, we’re going to have to ax the high-wire act.”
“What the hell?”
“I got Phillip back on board with the trapeze since he doesn’t have to let go of the bar, but he’s not gonna make it across that wire.”
“Are you kidding me? Big friggin’ baby . . . why can’t Toby do it?”
Notorious soap hottie Toby Gorman had recently returned to The Rich and the Ruthless as my on-screen daughter Jade’s amnesiac boyfriend, Axel.
Blaze bit his lip. “Toby had an . . . accident, stagehand just escorted him to the hospital for stitches. Anyway, the act is cut.”
“No way! Why can’t I do it solo on roller skates like we first talked about? Lisa Rinna did it back in the day.”
“I don’t think so. . . .”
“Calysta, honey, you’re working it,” said Mitch, cozying up, leaving Emmy and Blaze to their argument.
“Feel like a disco ball exploded on me,” I smirked, smoothing a manicured hand down the curve of my hip.
“How’s it feel to be a part of the circus?”
“Familiar. Just swappin’ one set of clowns for another.”
“What’s it like being back on a show you had such a public falling-out with?”
“See, that’s why I dig you, Mitch, you dive right on in.” I laughed. “Feels good to be back home. I’ve always been about the work. That hasn’t changed. With Augustus on the mend and Veronica behind the wheel, this show’s headin’ in the right direction.”
“Nicely put. Anyone sour about your return?”
Playing nice for Veronica, I said, “Why don’t you ask them?” indicating my costars on the set.
As Phillip swung out on his trapeze, eyes wide with fear, I peeled off one glove and tossed it, then the other, to the crowd’s roaring delight.
As I leapt from the safety of the platform, legs straight, toes perfectly pointed, arching my slender back, creating a perfect silhouette, I reached out to grab Phillip’s sticky, cracked hands and clung for dear life. My stomach free-falling, I swung down across the deep chasm, momentarily transported back to my childhood—a recurring dream of winging weightlessly on cables against the backdrop of an operatic prima donna—but Phillip’s loosening grip slammed me back to reality.
The crowd was a blur as I streaked by, Emmy’s calculating face coming into focus as I let go of Phillip’s wrists and reached for hers.
Our hands linked wrist to wrist perfectly, Emmy’s slicked with baby oil.
Though it must have been mere seconds, I plummeted for what felt like forever. My back hit the net, giving me an instant rope burn, launching me briefly back into the air. Above, Emmy had come up to a sitting position on the swing, her laughter obvious though unheard by the gasping crowd.
Remembering the protocol if I were to fall, I reached to give a thumbs-up to show I was okay.
An avalanche of applause erupted.
As I bounced gently in the net, I couldn’t help but think the whole thing—from the damn blinding lights to the soaring up, up, up and falling down, down, down—was a perfect metaphor for my life as a soap opera star.
HOLD ON TO YOUR CHAPEAUS, DARLINGS. Your diva has just received pearl-clutching news that Shelly Montenegro, the—and how do I say this—mature former star of WBC’s The Daring and the Damned, is doing a spread for Playboy! Said the bona fide cougar, “Can’t wait! I look mah-velous and never had any work done.” Well, we can’t argue with that. Seems Montenegro was a favorite of party boy Heff a million years ago. Guess an underappreciated soap legend’s gotta do what she’s gotta do, especially after walking off the D&D set last month following a contract dispute. . . .