Viola avenue, p.11

Viola Avenue, page 11

 part  #9 of  Rose Hill Series


Viola Avenue

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  There were eight:

  Two fake-tanned, blonde selfie-takers, Mercedes and Porsche (who had to be the car twins), who looked Claire up and down and then smirked to each other;

  One tall, elegant young man, Jean Claude, who nodded to Claire, said, “Enchante,” and then took a seat;

  One short, heavy-set young woman with a friendly smile and bright green eyes, who introduced herself as Sophie;

  Two Goth girls, dressed all in black, Emily and Anna, who didn’t take off their headphones and barely acknowledged Claire;

  A muscular young man, named Teague, who had boy-band-bangs he kept sweeping to one side with a toss of his head;

  A pretty young woman with a beautiful smile, Victoria, who took one look at the people in the room and wisely chose to sit between Sophie and Jean Claude.

  Claire’s stomach was gurgling with nerves and she felt light-headed. She could so clearly remember how her first theater makeup class had begun, and she wanted to recreate that fun, engaging atmosphere. She introduced herself and told them about her background. The two selfie takers were glued to their phones, and the Goth girls did not take off their headphones.

  Claire was ready for them.

  She handed a basket to Teague and asked him to pass it around.

  “Anything for you, Milady,” he said.

  Claire ignored that.

  “This basket is for your phones, tablets, and MP3 players,” she said. “Please turn them off before you hand them over. You will not be allowed to have them during my class.”

  Claire braced herself for protests and downright refusals, but to her astonishment, they all complied, albeit with rolled eyes from the selfie-takers and deep sighs from the Goth girls.

  Claire placed the basket on the counter behind her, closed the door, and looked at each student before she spoke, to make sure she had their full attention.

  “How many of you are Theater track?” she asked.

  Sophie and Teague raised their hands.

  “Dance?” she asked, to which Victoria and Jean Claude raised their hands.


  The selfie-takers, Mercedes and Porsche, raised their hands.

  Claire cocked her head at the Goth Girls.

  “What track are you in?” she asked them.

  “Stagecraft,” Anna said.

  “Artistic management,” Emily said.

  “Okay,” Claire said.

  “Excuse me,” Mercedes said. “I already know a lot about makeup, like, contouring and stuff.”

  “That’s great,” Claire said. “Knowing how to reshape your facial features using light and dark plane techniques is an essential part of the craft.”

  “But, like, don’t movie people hire makeup artists for you?”

  “If they have the budget for it,” Claire said. “However, let me tell you why it’s good to know how to do your own makeup.

  “Let’s say you’re in a play or film and there is a professional makeup artist on staff. This person may be great but overwhelmed with work. There may be so many cast members and so little time that she focuses on the leads and everyone else just gets the basic or a slapdash application. Or you may be on a low budget indie set where everyone does their own makeup.

  “You may be in a foreign country where the makeup artist has contracted cholera, and has to be transported via medivac back to civilization. The makeup artist may decide she doesn’t like you; he may be high out of his mind; she may have gotten the job because of her bedroom skills with the producer and thinks “pancake” is a breakfast food.

  “You’re ultimately in charge of your own appearance. When you get a great makeup application from a professional artist, no one can take their eyes off of you. The light hits your face and it’s magic. Or, someone not so great does it, and as a result you look tired, or like a tired clown.

  “Have you ever seen a photo of a famous actress with the shiny white powder problem? No professional makeup artist would make that kind of rookie mistake. That means he or she was piiiiiiisssssed off when that makeup was applied. Let that be a lesson to you: always be good to the people who make you look good.

  “In order to control your image, you need to know what a good makeup application consists of, how to apply it for theater, both videotape and film, in natural light, soundstage lighting, set lighting, high and low lighting. Ring lights are your best friends, and I’ll teach you why. The combination of 4K resolution and 120-frames per second technology is merciless, so you need to be prepared to fix a bad job before it gets filmed. Actors can be touched up via special effects afterward, but it’s costly, and not everyone rates that expenditure.”

  Amazingly, Claire saw that she had their rapt attention. Show people, she had long ago come to understand, were most interested in themselves, and if the subject was what it takes to achieve success leading to fame, they were always interested.

  “Today we’re going to start by doing something fun,” she said. “Pick a movie star, a celebrity, or a famous film or theater character you want to look like, and I’ll show you how to use makeup to look just like that person.”

  The two selfie-takers chose reality stars, as Claire assumed they would. Unfortunately, Mercedes chose someone who was of a different race than she.

  “This is a good opportunity to learn something,” Claire said, trying not to be visibly appalled that she actually had to explain this to someone. “You should under no circumstances impersonate someone from a different race than your own.”

  “Why not?” Mercedes asked.

  “Because it’s racist,” Jean Claude said.

  “But I’m doing it because I admire her,” Mercedes said. “I’m not a racist.”

  “It doesn’t matter,” Jean Claude said. “It’s offensive.”

  “Tell her,” Sophie said to Victoria.

  “It’s not my job to educate anyone,” Victoria said. “People shouldn’t have to be taught how to be decent.”

  Mercedes rolled her eyes.

  “Don’t you roll those eyes at me,” Victoria said. “I’ve got more talent in my pinky finger than you have in that whole fake body.”

  “Too bad no one will care,” Mercedes said.

  “Hey, listen,” Claire said. “It’s not just wrong, in every sense of the word, to impersonate another race; it’s also a career killer.”

  That, Mercedes could understand.

  She said, “Oh, okay.”

  “Politically incorrect, she means,” Porsche said. “My dad says that’s what’s wrong with this country.”

  “Then your dad is a racist,” Jean Claude said.

  “That’s a trigger word for me,” Ana said. “You can’t say that around me.”

  “Then how will anything ever change?” Sophie said. “We have to be able to talk about it.”

  “How about mustache waxing?” Porsche said to Ana. “I take it you’re against that, too.”

  “Oh, no, you didn’t,” Jean Claude said. “I can’t believe you went there!”

  “You’re a slave to the patriarchy,” Ana said to Porsche. “I don’t recognize those demands.”

  “Never mind her,” Emily said to Ana. “The bleach has probably caused brain damage. They’re both going to die of skin cancer, anyway.”

  Claire took a deep breath.

  “Okay, does everyone have their character chosen? Yes? Then let’s get to it.”

  Claire’s hands were trembling as she opened her large cosmetic toolkit, which looked like a suitcase, but opened up and folded out to reveal a lighted mirror and neatly organized trays of cosmetics. She also set up and turned on a bright, gooseneck lamp. She brought Sophie up, sat her on a chair in front of the bright light, and had everyone else gather around.

  “Who are you going to be?” Claire asked her.

  “Judy Garland,” Sophie said.

  “ ‘Wizard of Oz’ or Broadway era?” Claire asked.

  “Broadway, baby,” Sophie said, and then did a spot on impression of Judy
singing “Get Happy.”

  “Oh, you’re going to make this class fun,” Claire said, and Sophie giggled.

  One hour and forty-five minutes later, three of the eight students were admiring themselves in their mirrors, and Claire was exhausted.

  “Okay, that’s it for today,” she said. “You can take it off or leave it on, it’s up to you. As you go, pick up your phones and take a list of the supplies and books you need to order. I’ve listed several online places you can order from, and I suggest you have them delivered express so you don’t fall behind everyone else. If anyone has any problems with this or has questions, they can remain behind.”

  Everyone filed out except Jean Claude. He seemed nervous.

  “You make an excellent Rudolph Nureyev,” she told him. “You have great bone structure.”

  “I have a problem,” he told her. “I can’t afford to buy the supplies.”

  “That’s fine,” Claire said. “I can provide a scholarship, myself, to anyone who needs it. I’ll order everything for you and no one will be the wiser.”

  Tears filled his eyes, and he hugged her.

  “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you so much.”

  “Thank me from the Met stage five years from now,” she said.

  “I wish,” he said.

  “Hey,” Claire said. “Did you have Professor Richmond for any classes?”

  “Of course,” he said. “This is a small department in a small college. I couldn’t exactly avoid it.”

  “Did he ever hit on you?”

  Jean Claude rolled his eyes.

  “Dickman hit on anything with a pulse,” he said. “I’m dance track, so he didn’t have any power over me; Beatrice Heffernan’s my goddess. She’s the one I have to please, and lucky for me, she’s into old Southern fat guys.”

  “Did you ever hear any gossip about Alan?”

  “The usual,” he said. “The car twins were his special friends last semester. There were some high school students who interned here for a while that he perved on, but I don’t know if he was successful.”

  “Anyone on staff hate him?”

  “Beatrice Heffernan, for sure,” he said. “They fought over theater time.”

  “And Maurice Jarvis?”

  “I didn’t see anything bad happen between them,” he said. “Why do you ask?”

  “I’m just being nosy,” Claire said. “Trying to get the lay of the land.”

  “Well, if you want to know who’s getting laid in this land, I can tell you.”

  He smiled and hugged her again before he left.

  Claire sighed. She had expected to feel elated at having her first class out of the way. Instead she felt let down, depressed. Several of the students had been vicious towards one another, and unless they were the center of attention, most seemed bored and uninterested in the subject. She had seen the car twins roll their eyes over several things she had said, Teague had complimented her too many times, and both the Goth girls kept looking at the clock.

  Overall, it had not been as fun as she hoped it would be.

  Claire went up to her office on the second floor, a tiny cubby next to the entrance to the control booth for the basement theater. Maurice had said it was the only office space they had available, but she suspected it had once been a utility closet.

  She was in a foul mood, was seriously questioning why she wanted to teach a bunch of ungrateful, spoiled brats who didn’t respect her or each other. It was in the grip of this emotional funk that she unlocked the door and dumped her tote bag and books on the desk.

  Roughly, she shoved her office chair out and then collapsed into it, resting her head on her arms on the desk before her. She kicked her heels off and they bounced against the underside of her desk with a bang.

  “Excuse me,” a woman said, leaning in through her doorway. “Do you mind not being quite so loud? I’m trying to concentrate.”

  Claire raised her head and took in the pursed-lipped, hostile visage of a woman who was whippet thin, with her long, dark hair swept back in a neat chignon. She was elegantly dressed in a leotard, wrap skirt, tall boots, and a colorfully patterned, artfully arranged woolen wrap. She wore diamond studs on her earlobes and many gold bangles on both wrists. Her long, graceful neck was enhanced by a necklace made up of hand-blown glass beads.

  “I’m sorry,” Claire said, deliberately quietly. “Please excuse me.”

  The woman introduced herself as Beatrice Heffernan, the dance instructor whom Jean Paul had described as his “goddess.”

  “They’re little beasts, aren’t they?” Beatrice said, and then entered the office as if she had mistaken Claire’s civility for an invitation. “The students, I mean.”

  She sat down in the chair across from Claire, crossed her legs in a graceful, studied movement, and held her spine erect in perfect posture. In response, Claire slumped back in her chair and eyed Beatrice with distrust.

  “It’s only the first day,” Claire said. “I’m sure it will get better.”

  Beatrice laughed but it sounded more like a sneer.

  “No it won’t,” she said. “They’re disgustingly rich and supremely spoiled. Their parents have convinced them they are each a special butterfly, to be rewarded for breathing. They’d preserve them under glass if they could, somewhere out in the Hamptons. They operate under the delusion of extreme entitlement, and if they don’t like you, they’ll get you fired.”

  “It might be a relief,” Claire said. “It’s nothing like I thought it would be.”

  “They’re not grateful, if that’s what you were after,” Beatrice said. “They can barely conceal their loathing and will tolerate you only if they think there’s something in it for them.”

  “A connection.”

  “Exactly,” she said. “Hold that hope over their little heads and they will come to heel. Let them down or show the least vulnerability and they’ll eat you alive.”

  “Is that what happened to Alan?”

  Beatrice sat completely still; so still it was unnerving.

  “I don’t know what you mean.”

  “I was just wondering whom he let down so hard that they killed him.”

  “No one has mentioned murder to me. I thought he died of alcohol poisoning.”

  “Could be,” Claire said. “I’ve just heard rumors.”

  “Well, I certainly hope if you hear any gossip about me you’ll let me know,” Beatrice said as she stood up. “Have you?”

  Claire didn’t even blink as she lied.

  “Nope,” she said. “Not a blessed thing.”

  Beatrice looked at Claire as if she didn’t quite believe her, and then smirked.

  “Your local accent is so charming,” Beatrice said as she left. “No one could mistake it.”

  Claire registered the insult and it was all she could do not to throw something at the woman’s retreating back. She was tempted to say something snide about Beatrice and Maurice, but then thought better of it. She needed to save that ammunition for when it mattered, when it was useful.

  Reflecting on that thought, she was ashamed of herself.

  ‘I don’t like myself here,’ she thought. ‘What is it about this place?’

  She found Patrice’s office and they went to the student union for lunch.

  “How was it?” Patrice asked.

  “They’re so mean to each other,” Claire said. “Somebody needs to go over this trigger business with me. I’m afraid I’m going to do or say something wrong without realizing it.”

  “We’re all under pressure,” Patrice said. “Last year the trustees adopted a new campus behavior policy, and we’re all still grappling with what it means.”

  “What caused the change?”

  “Societal pressure, parental pressure,” Patrice said. “This is happening at a lot of universities. Some of it is good and about time, as far as I’m concerned. We had some things happen on campus last fall that hastened the process. Some upperclassmen posted signs on campus tha
t were, shall we say, less than respectful toward the incoming freshman females.”

  “Sexually predatory, I’m guessing.”

  “Although what they do and what they say are often at odds, the administration’s official policy is that the college doesn’t ignore or condone rape culture,” Patrice said. “Young women need to feel safe and respected on campus, and we want young men to learn that this is how you treat women.”

  “That sounds great,” Claire said.

  Claire chose a flimsy salad and Patrice chose a bowl of delicious-looking vegetable soup. They found a quiet spot on the second floor mezzanine by a window overlooking the Little Bear River.

  “I’ve never seen it from this perspective,” Claire said. “It looks like a much more expensive river from here.”

  “It is, don’t kid yourself,” Patrice said.

  Patrice, like many of the staff members, was from Pendleton, and had worked at Eldridge for many years. They talked about people they knew in common, and Claire told Patrice how excited she was to get the position after she thought she had lost out.

  “I’m glad it worked out,” Patrice said. “I know they were panicked when the heiress took off with her advance money.”

  “What was that about?”

  Patrice shrugged.

  “She showed up, completely unprepared to teach, tanned and hungover from some beach trip she’d just been on, got her advance, and disappeared.”

  “Her parents must be embarrassed.”

  “Oh, I’m sure,” Patrice said. “But the bursar has already cashed the big check. An architect has been hired.”

  “Will they ask for the money back?”

  “No one knows,” Patrice said. “I’m not privy to that kind of high-level gossip. Nothing has filtered down to my level yet.”

  Claire gradually brought the conversation around to Professor Richmond.

  “We’re not supposed to talk about it,” Patrice said. “He was a real monster to all the Fine Arts secretaries, except for his own. She didn’t take any crap off of him so he watched his step.”

  “How did he treat you?”

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