Stacey left Cleveland for the glamour of Hollywood, intent on becoming a star. Another bonus of heading west was putting some distance between herself and her smotheringly overprotective mom, Helen. Of course, it can’t stop Helen from buzzing her cellphone every twenty minutes.
Now her mother has trekked all the way to Tinseltown to be with Stacey—and moved in right down the street. But the twist of the knife really comes when Helen complains about finding a bone in her can of tuna, and winds up getting an apology from the company—and an offer to star in a high-profile commercial that not only leads to an unexpected acting career but lands her a mysterious dreamboat.
Meanwhile, Stacey's own career is starting to tank and she's falling for a man she thought she hated. Her resentment of her mom is more than she can bear—but she may become the protective one when she learns something shady about Helen’s new boyfriend…
“Spirited, effortless entertainment with a winning premise.” —Publishers Weekly
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About the Author
Jane Heller promoted dozens of bestselling authors before becoming one herself. She is the author of Cha Cha Cha, The Club, Infernal Affairs, Princess Charming, Crystal Clear, Sis Boom Bah, Name Dropping, Female Intelligence and The Secret Ingredient. She lives in Los Angeles, California, where she is at work on her next book. Visit her website at: www.janeheller.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Jane Heller
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2003 Jane Heller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI loved my mother, really I did, but there were times when she drove me nuts. And I don't mean nuts, as in: she aggravated me. I mean nuts, as in: she made the tiny vein in my left eyelid twitch. I mean nuts, as in: she gave me hives. I mean nuts, as in: she had the power to cause my period to be irregular.
No, Helen Reiser wasn't a force of nature, just a nagging mother, an overprotective mother, a pain-in-the-butt mother. She meant well, but she just couldn't face the fact that her "baby" had grown up.
She called me a million times a day, offered her advice whether it was solicited or not, had no compunction about saying, "Your hair's too long" and "Don't forget to take an umbrella" and, on those rare occasions when I was actually dating someone, "He's not right for you." She was the opposite of a shrinking violet. She was like a weed that grows and grows and grows until it chokes the entire garden.
She was only five feet two, but she was built like a linebacker-a short but sturdy woman with square shoulders and thick ankles and ramrod-straight posture-and she had this nasal, adenoidal voice that was so unmistakably hers that it got under my skin, haunted me in my sleep, brought me to my knees, especially in combination with the narrowing of the eyes and the arching of the brows.
"Come on, Mom. I'm not a child anymore," I'd pipe up whenever she'd boss me around, "and I don't appreciate your constant interference."
"Oh, so you'd rather I didn't care?" was her typical comeback. "You know, Stacey, there are plenty of mothers who don't care about their children."
"Yes, but caring is a lot different than criticizing," I'd point out.
"Who's criticizing?" she'd say. "You're being too sensitive."
Huh? She would literally stop speaking to people who didn't fall all over her in the supermarket, but I was too sensitive?
"I'm just an honest person," she'd add. "And you should thank your lucky stars that I am honest, because not everyone is, dear."
Like that was a news bulletin. I was a thirty-four-year-old actress on a quest for fame and fortune in Hollywood, a place where honesty is hardly ever an option. The minute you get here you start lying spontaneously, as if there's something toxic in the drinking water. You lie about your age (you shave off ten years minimum). You lie about your heritage (you claim to be one-quarter Cherokee, or whatever is the heritage du jour). You lie about needing to supplement your income with a real job (you explain that you're only waiting tables in a biker bar so you can research a character). And then there's the lying that comes at you from the other side (you go to an audition and they tell you you're wonderful and you never, ever hear from them again).
Of course, my mother wasn't thrilled about my choice of a profession, any more than she approved of my boyfriends or the fact that I had yet to get married. When she wasn't hitting me with: "God forbid you should give me a grandchild," she'd hit me with: "Why can't you do something practical for a living, like Alice Platkin's daughter?" Alice Platkin's daughter was an accountant who, unbeknownst to Mrs. Platkin, was also a psychic with her own 900 number.
But whenever I did land a part, however small, she was right there cheering for me. Cheering for me and then reminding me to drink my milk.
She loved me and I loved her and I understood that one of the reasons she was in my face was because she was lonely. She was a sixty-six-year-old widow living in the same house in Cleveland where she raised me. She didn't have a job. She didn't play bridge. She didn't even belong to a book group. While she did have a few close friends, they were her emotional twins in the sense that they, too, lavished all their attention on their children. Whenever they'd get together, it wasn't a gathering of pals sharing confidences, but a contest between competitors one-upping each other about their offspring. (One competitor: "My Sarah is marrying a proctologist." Another competitor: "So? My Emily is a proctologist.") As her only child, I was her focal point, her keenest interest, the center of her universe. In other words, in this era of navel gazing, it was my navel she was always gazing at.
Maybe you have a mother like mine-the kind who's there for you but makes you feel like an infant as well as an ingrate. Maybe you've experienced the love/hate, the push/pull, the yearning for approval/the yearning for independence. Maybe you, too, are the good daughter who harbors a secret wish that your mother would leave you the hell alone. But even you couldn't have predicted the bizarre turn my relationship with my mother would take. You see, all I asked was that she get a life. I never dreamed that the life she'd get would be the one I wanted.
But I'm jumping way ahead of myself. Let me go back to the period before the situation with my mother became the stuff of Greek tragedy (okay, French farce). Let me begin with the day my mother decided that calling me on the phone and leaving messages on my answering machine and reaching me on my pager didn't meet her requirements for mother-daughter closeness, the day that she came up with the brilliant idea of selling the house in Cleveland, moving to L.A., and becoming my neighbor ...
I was sitting in the outer office of the casting director, trying to stay calm while I waited for my turn to read. Auditions are a nerve-wracking experience, but it's important to harness your fear, make it work for you. That's what they tell you in acting class-to use your emotions. Yeah, well, I used my emotions that day, but not in the way they meant.
This was my second callback for a network television movie (aka movie of the week, or MOW) about a death row inmate, who had twenty-four hours to prove her innocence before meeting her maker. I was there to read yet again for the part of Angie, the strong, brave, utterly unflappable sister of the death row inmate, who was to be played by Melina Kanakaredes. The part wasn't huge, but it was a juicy part, a showy part, the kind of part that gets actresses noticed. I was ecstatic that I had made the first cut and would now be reading for the casting director a second time.
Also sitting in the outer office were seven other hopefuls, six of whom could have been my clones. They were my approximate height and weight (five feet six and 115 pounds) and had my identical look (wavy dark brown hair, fair complexion, pretty face although not breathtaking), and they sported my girl-next-door wardrobe (khakis and a buttoned-down shirt). The seventh hopeful was an actress who bore no resemblance to me or the others-a vixen type whom I'd seen at lots of auditions. How could you miss her? She had boobs that were so high and mighty they could have starred in their own MOW. Plus she was notorious for playing preaudition head games with other actresses, her intent being to sabotage our readings and win herself the parts by default. For instance, she'd say, loud enough for all of us to hear her, "Someone told me they've already cast this thing, which means there's no point in hanging around." Or: "Rumor has it that the director is a prick to work with." Or sometimes she'd just try to rattle us by doing vocal warm-ups, taking deep breaths and, on each exhale, making exaggerated and obnoxious vowel sounds, like "ahhhh" and "eeeee" and "ooooo."
I forced myself to ignore her and instead pumped myself up, remembering that I had as good a shot at getting the part as she did. Better, because I was on a roll at that point in my career, on the verge of genuine success.
I had come to L.A. six years before, full of cockeyed optimism, believing that all my drama teachers back in Cleveland had meant it when they'd said I had talent. During the first few years here, I hadn't gotten anybody's attention and then-bingo!-I'd landed a TV commercial for Irish Spring. The part called for the character to wash in the shower, and I was the only actress at the audition who mimed sticking the bar of soap in her armpit. Big deal, right? Your armpit is one of the places where the soap goes when you're washing yourself in the shower, isn't it? Well, the director thought I made "a really edgy choice" and practically gave me the job on the spot. That commercial led to a commercial for Taco Bell, which led to a stint on Days of Our Lives, which led to guest-starring roles on Boston Public and Ally McBeal Before I knew it, I was shooting a pilot here, a pilot there. Before I knew it, I was no longer waiting tables at the biker bar. Before I knew it, I was moving out of the Burbank fleabag I was sharing with three other women and moving into my own apartment in Studio City. Before I knew it, I had a part in a feature film. It was a comedy called Pet Peeve, in which Jim Carrey played a veterinarian and I played his receptionist. I was only in two scenes with Carrey and I didn't have a lot of lines, but hey, it was a feature film, for God's sake! It was going to make a fortune on opening weekend! I was on the brink of being considered hot, which is, hands down, the best thing that a person in Hollywood can be considered!
But in the meantime, while I waited for the release of Pet Peeve, I continued to go on auditions, like the one that day for the MOW about the death row inmate. I was sitting there in that outer office, contemplating the motivation of the character, trying to channel the strong, brave, utterly unflappable Angie, when my cell phone rang. I glanced at the number of the caller, hoping it was my agent's. That's why you take your cell phone everywhere, even to auditions-in case it's your agent. But, no, it was just my mother checking in.
I'll let my voice mail talk to her, I thought, stuffing the phone back into my purse. No way she's going to distract me before I go into this reading.
A few minutes later the phone rang again. As before, the caller's number was my mother's.
I'm busy, I growled silently. May I please just get this job and then call you back, Mom?
A few minutes later, the phone rang again. Guess who.
I waited, tried to put myself back in the mind-set of Angie, the sister of the death row inmate, but my mother's voice kept creeping into my head. Maybe it's urgent, I allowed myself to think. Maybe she's sick or in trouble or needs me. Maybe I shouldn't blow her off this time, because if I do and something is really wrong, I'll never forgive myself. God, the guilt.
Against my better judgment, I played back the messages.
The first one said, "Stacey, it's your mother. I have news."
The second one said, "Hi, Stacey. I'm not sure if the first message got through. There was terrible static on the line. You should switch wireless carriers, dear. Verizon is a lot better than AT&T, in my opinion, so listen to your mother."
The third one said, "So where is my little Meryl Streep today? And did she remember to take a sweater with her? The Weather Channel said it was chilly there. Not as chilly as Cleveland, naturally, but you won't have to worry about me freezing to death anymore. That's what I'm calling about, Stacey. I have a big surprise for you. I've sold the house and I'm coming to live in L.A. with you. No, not with you. I would never impose like that. I meant I'll be living nearby, in my own place but close enough to stop by and see you every day. I'll be able to make sure you're eating enough and taking care of yourself and keeping your apartment clean. And I'll be able to see who your friends are-including your men friends-and you'll be able to tell me everything that's on your mind, face to face. It'll be just the way it should be between a mother and daughter. No more of this long-distance nonsense. Whenever you turn around, there I'll be. Now, don't thank me. I'm sure you're very grateful that I'm uprooting myself for your health and well-being, but that's the way I want it and I won't hear a word of protest. So listen to your mother and don't try to talk me out of this. Understood? Fine. Speak to you later."
I was stunned, a big, hard knot forming in the pit of my stomach. Stunned! My mother was coming? For good?
It'll never work, I thought. We'll kill each other first.
I had a tough enough time when she'd visit me for a week. At the end of her trip, I'd put her on the plane and immediately head for the nearest bar. It would usually take two, maybe even three, margaritas before my pulse returned to normal. So if a week with her made me looney tunes, what would forever do to me? How would I survive?
So much for the part of Angle in the MOW. I began to dwell on the notion, the specter, of my mother taking up residence in L.A. and invading my space. I began to picture her dropping by my apartment, toting casseroles consisting of food groups I hadn't eaten in years, rearranging the contents of my kitchen cabinets, stripping my bed in order to make better hospital corners. I began to imagine a typical conversation between us, during which she would criticize some aspect of my life and I would ask her not to and she would say why not and I would explain that it was upsetting and she would tell me I was overreacting and I would argue that she was the one who needed to change and she would act hurt and disappointed and I would end up apologizing.
I heard someone calling my name, way back in the outer reaches of my consciousness, but I was still obsessing about my mother's news and couldn't quite focus.
"Stacey Reiser? Hello!"
I snapped back to reality. It was the assistant to the casting director who was calling my name. Apparently, it was my turn to read for the part of the strong, brave, utterly unflappable Angie.
I went into the casting director's office and took my place opposite her and, after the obligatory pleasantries and a moment to collect myself, I launched into the part of Angie.
"Of course I believe in my sister's innocence," I began. "I've always believed in her, even during the trial, even with the awful things people have said about her, even after the guilty verdict. It's all been a mistake and I hope and pray she'll be granted a stay of execution." I paused, waited for the casting director to feed me the next line. "You bet I'm standing by her. And yeah, I'm strong. In our family we don't knuckle under when times get rough. We learned that from our mother."
On the word "mother" I felt a catch in my throat. Well, a sort of a gulp. A bubble. A glob of phlegm. I coughed, said, "Excuse me."
"Would you like some water, Stacey?" asked the casting director.
"No, thanks. I'm fine," I said, the lump growing, taking on a life of its own.
"Why don't you pick up with 'we learned that from our mother,'" she instructed me.
Excerpted from LUCKY STARS by Jane Heller Copyright © 2003 by Jane Heller
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.