Kitty Willamette’s knees buckled a little as the elevator zoomed upward. Her mother was hunched inside her jacket as if she were cold. Her father just stared straight ahead. The atmosphere was deadly quiet.
“Do you know why we’re here?” Kitty asked.
“No,” her mother replied, without meeting her gaze.
“Maybe Uncle Meriweather has a new television series for me?”
“Hush,” her father said. “He’s not your uncle.”
Kitty sighed. She let her head loll backward so she could look at the mirrored tiles on the ceiling. She wanted to see how the dreadful hat her mother had made her wear played up her eyes. At least that was what her mother had said; she suspected the hat had more to do with covering her roots. Since Kitty’s hair had begun to turn brown, her mother couldn’t hide her disappointment.
Everything had always been about the hair.
The elevator slowed as it neared its final destination. Kitty hoped Uncle Meriweather had good news. She knew the money was running out. The housekeeper had been let go first, and then the nanny. More recently, she’d noticed her father mowing the grass and cleaning the pool himself. Her mother was painting her own nails and clipping coupons. Kitty’s allowance had been eliminated entirely.
The arguments were the worst part. Her parents had been having shouting matches downstairs, when they thought she was asleep. Although it would mean leaving regular school and having tutors on the set, she would happily go back to work again if it meant her family life could return to normal.
Kitty and her parents emerged from the elevator into the waiting area of the talent agency. The receptionist directed Kitty down the hall to the Green Room while a secretary showed Ted and Lori Willamette into Uncle Meriweather’s office. The Green Room was a lounge decorated like the interior of a movie theater lobby. A popcorn machine was pushed against the wall, but it was always empty. There was a Pac-Man video game table that always froze up at level five and a flat-screen television that played kids’ movies, non-stop. Kitty had spent a lot of time in the Green Room over the years, while her parents met with Uncle Meriweather. She used to enjoy it, but now that she was twelve the place struck her as tired.
Kitty was not the only occupant of the Green Room. A trio of identical triplets sat on the couch, fixated on the television. She recognized the brothers from their national commercials for chewing gum, breakfast cereal, and lunchmeat. They were perhaps seven or eight years old, with freckles and shocks of violently red hair. Kitty found them ugly, not because of their looks but because of their sour and bored expressions. She supposed their parents were in a meeting with one of the other agents.
“Hello,” she said. Kitty always tried to be polite.
The triplets made no reply, but shifted their focus from the TV screen to her. Kitty was used to being stared at, but their three pairs of eyes were leveled on her with such intensity she could practically feel them lasering holes in her forehead. She sat as far away as possible.
The boy on the right finally spoke. “You’re Kitty Willamette.”
“Yes.” She smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
In the silence that followed, the triplets continued to stare. Her smile faded. She glanced at the magazines on the table next to her, but they were all geared toward younger children. Kitty wished she’d brought along her e-book reader, but she’d assumed the meeting was going to include her this time. She hadn’t seen Uncle Meriweather in a while. Apparently he hadn’t had a holiday party last season because instead of her usual invitation, Kitty had received only a small box of chocolates in the mail.
“Our mom says you’re washed up,” the middle triplet said.
“Yeah, you’re a has-been,” said the boy on the left. “That’s what Dad says.”
The triplets burst into laughter, their faces creased with mirth. Kitty’s mouth fell open. She’d overheard trash talk from show biz kids before, but it usually wasn’t directed at her. Her chin lifted.
“I couldn’t care less. I’ll be a forensic psychologist or a osteoarchaeologist when I grow up and you three will still be hawking wieners.”
Kitty didn’t completely understand what those professions were, but they sounded impressive. More importantly, the triplets wouldn’t know either and they’d never admit it. The boys exchanged bewildered glances with one another, and then went back to watching television. She tossed her flaxen-tipped braid over her shoulder, triumphant.
Her father beckoned to her just then, from the door of the Green Room. “Come on, Kitty. We’re going.”
Kitty followed him out of the Green Room without a backward glance at the triplets. On her way down the hall, she noticed the door to Uncle Meriweather’s office was shut.
“Can I say good-bye to Uncle Meriweather?”
“No, and for the last time, please stop calling him your uncle!”
Kitty’s mother stood by the elevator, with swollen eyes and smudged eyeliner. As they rode down the elevator, her father cleared his throat. “Fitzroy & Meriweather released you as a client today, Kitty. With no money coming in, we must sell the house.”
Kitty’s mother couldn’t suppress a sob.
“My sister invited us to move onto her property in Maggie Valley,” her father continued. “I can go back to carpentry and we’ll make a fresh start.”
Kitty was pleased. She’d visited Aunt Jennifer on her farm in Western North Carolina almost every summer and liked it a lot. She enjoyed the company of her cousins. One of the boys was her age. Even better, Aunt Jennifer had acres of apple orchards.
“I love apples,” Kitty said.
“I want to stay in L.A.,” her mother wailed. “Kitty can find another agent. We’ll get her hair done and have some new headshots made. We’ve just hit a dry spell.”
“I don’t want to act anymore,” Kitty said.
“See! The kid knows it’s over, Lori,” her father said. “Why don’t you?”
On the drive back to Bel Air, her parents began to yell at each other. Katie closed her eyes and tried to tune them out.
When they reached home, Kitty went to her room. She opened her closet and pulled out her Kitty doll, the special collector’s edition that had retailed for over three hundred dollars. Kitty had never thought it looked much like her, except for the hair. As she braided the artificial strands, she thought about what had just happened. Uncle Meriweather didn’t want to be her uncle anymore. That made her very sad, but she wasn’t especially bothered about the rest of it. If it hadn’t been for her hair, she never would have chosen an acting career.
Before she’d even graduated from pre-school, Kitty’s hair had made her famous. It wasn’t just the amazing thickness or length of it that was so remarkable; it was the magnificent color. The palest of blondes, her tresses had shone like a ripe field of wheat set dancing by a breeze. A casting director had spotted five-year-old Kitty in the cookie aisle as she begged her mother to buy chocolate-covered graham crackers. The chance encounter had led to her being cast in an ad campaign for facial tissue. She was shortly thereafter given her own television show, entitled Life with Kitty. The series became a phenomenon for several years. Unfortunately, it was canceled after she turned ten.
She knew there was so much more to life than being famous. If she lived with Aunt Jennifer, maybe she could have a horse. Her aunt could teach her to grow things. She could drop the stupid nickname and go by her real name. No one would know she was washed up or a has-been. She’d just be a normal teenager.
If only she could convince her mother.
Kitty tossed the idiotic hat aside and gazed in the mirror. Her braid was so long she could almost sit on it. The bottom half was a beautiful flaxen color, but the hair grew darker the closer it got to her scalp. Kitty examined her light brown roots. Her hair was turning the color of peanut butter cheesecake batter with melted milk chocolate thrown in. She thought it was a nice shade, quite yummy.
There was only one thing to do.
Kitty took a pair of scissors and hacked off her braid at the nape of her neck. She bound up the end with an elastic band so it wouldn’t unravel. That way she could donate the hair to an organization that made wigs for sick people. She left the braid in a neat coil on the floor.
Then Katherine walked downstairs to tell her parents what she’d decided.