Chapter 1: Top of Her Game
“So, Jadene… do you have any big plans that we should know about?” Sania Wood leaned across her desk, giving the other woman a conspiratorial grin. Her flowing red hair did a perfect job of offsetting her blue eyes, and making her stand out against the talk show surroundings. Behind her, a backdrop of Los Angeles hovered behind faux windows that were clearly showing some sort of static image and not an actual window. “You’re a pretty hot commodity right now. Best actress awards for… how many years now?”
“Just two.” Jadene brushed some of her long, wavy hair from her face in the most casual way she possibly could.
Sania raised an eyebrow.
“It would be four, but technically Helen broke up my streak. She totally earned it, too. Her range in Exhale was really something special. You should be asking what she’s doing right now.” Jadene batted her deep green eyes, casually crossing her long legs with a calm smile. “But what am I up to? Well, you probably know that Extreme Heartbreak is in post-production.”
“That’s your 90’s period piece, right?” Sania butted in, grinning and wiggling her brows towards the camera.
Jadene nodded. Her deep green eyes shimmered brightly with excitement, and the set lighting. “It isn’t just a period piece, though. It’s a romance in an age before ubiquitous cellphones. No texting. No dropped signals. Cordless telephones, but you can’t take them outside the house. It’s really made me realize how much the world’s changed since then. The film isn’t just a romance, but it’s also a lot more than blue jeans, bright t-shirts, and fanny packs. It’s really insightful, and I think it covers some very important social issues, too.”
Sania whistled quietly. “That sounds like one hell of a film. And that’s dropping next year?”
“That’s what the plan is right now. The studio might move the date around a bit, but nothing too major. You’d probably know the month they’re saying right now better than I would, Sania.” Jadene shared a grin with the hostess.
“March!” Sania glanced down to her desk, then back up to Jadene. “I’m already smelling award buzz around this one! I hope you’ll join us when it comes out… we’d all really love to hear what you have to say then. For now, everybody rush out and see Complications or watch it on streaming now! Everyone, give it up for Jadene Corrigan, one of my favorite guests to have on the show!”
Sania motioned to the studio audience as Jadene waved her hand as if to deflect the praise, but the crowd cheered and hooted like they agreed with Sania.
A moments later the cheering stopped, and Jadene reached out to squeeze Sania’s offered hand. “It really is always great to be here. I’ve always felt respected on your show… but I really should be going. It can be really rough being in such high demand sometimes.”
“I can imagine.” Sania said the words with a sarcastic bite, but her genuine smile took away any possible chance for offense. “You really are one hot commodity. Are the rumors true?”
“Rumors?” Jadene raised a brown eyebrow. “I honestly don’t know what you mean.”
“Oh.” Sania smiled softly. The way her brows raised, and her cheeks pinkened, she actually looked embarrassed. “Well, then I’m sure they’re just rumors. Are you still going to be at that gala for… what was that charity… the one trying to help out with medical supplies in rougher parts of the world…?”
Jadene nodded as she rose to her feet. She was a tall woman, her long legs every bit as impressive as her curves. “I know the one you mean.” Jadene remembered the name, but rather than embarrass the hostess she acted like she struggled to remember it herself before giving a shrug. “But I’ll definitely be there. Will you? It really is a very good cause.”
“Mm. I’d love to, but I’ll be busy having an exclusive interview…” Sania sighed melodramatically as she lifted her arms to cross them at the wrists. “I’ve already donated, but unfortunately I won’t be able to make it. Thea doesn’t agree to interviews very often.”
“Mm-hm! Apparently she has a new album in the can, and some other exciting news. I can’t confirm anything but…” Sania winked. “I hope you’ll give the interview a watch.”
Jadene nodded, her smile widening with genuine enthusiasm. “I’ve always been a big fan of her music—even before she did the soundtrack on Held Together. I’ll be sure to check it out!” Before she turned to go, Jadene smoothed her skirt and gave the hostess a final nod. “Take care of yourself, Sania. I look forward to being back here soon!”
“I always do… and you always bring in the viewers.”
The two waved as Jadene made her way off set. Sania’s eyes followed her for a few moments, but it wasn’t long before she was standing and moving to the front of the set. “Jadene might be gone, but I know you’re all excited to see Qasim Pritchard talk about their latest release!” The crowd cheered, and Sania grinned. “Great, because we talked a little back stage, and you’re all going to love this as much as I am!”
Listening to the cheering from back stage, Jadene smiled. Sania has always been great, even before anyone cared about me at all. She still looks great, too. I have no idea how she stays in such excellent shape. She must work out, but she barely looks like she’s aged a day.
Moving without pause or hesitation, Jadene soon made her way out to her car. She needed to be across the city in relatively no time at all to continue promoting Complications. It was doing well, but the studio was insistent it would do better if her face was everywhere they could possibly show it off.
Jadene wasn’t about to argue.
Not only had Complications paid off her new car, but it was contributing a not-insignificant amount to the same gala Sania wouldn’t be attending. If that meant a few too many interviews and appearances, that was fine.
It won’t be too much longer before I’m going to start having trouble getting roles… too old to be the leading lady, too young to be her mom. Jadene smirked as she sat behind a red light. Who knows… maybe I’ll be able to make some change there, too. It’s not like life ends after thirty and then starts again some indeterminate amount of time later…
The light turned green, and Jadene drove forward.
But changing things that big… I think I’d be better off working on changing myself than worrying about anything like that.
Traffic was busy, but Jadene remained calm as she drove. There were places she needed to go, and people eager to see her. That was why she could be so calm. She’d made a name for herself, and even if that required constant maintenance Jadene allowed herself the occasional moment where she worried less about that, and more let herself enjoy what she’d achieved.
Even if she was a few minutes late, everyone would be excited to see her.
There were few feelings quite as good as that.
Jadene collapsed back on her couch. She was still wearing a gorgeous red cocktail dress that showed off plenty of leg and teased at showing more of her breasts than it actually did. The small black jacket she’d worn over it was sitting draped across a nearby chair.
Her room was lit only by the large television screen in front of her. It took up a good majority of the wall but still didn’t manage to make the room very bright any more than the fancy stereo equipment surrounding it made the room loud.
On the screen was a fancy living room meant to look like the two women sat across from each other were enjoying a candid conversation in one of their homes. Jadene knew enough to be able to imagine all of the setup lights, microphones, and the things that a camera on the other side of the room—or a mirror—would reveal to utterly obliterate the illusion.
It didn’t take being an award winning actress to know how much of the entertainment industry was artificially constructed.
“So what made you decide to do this interview? I don’t think it was the new album. That never worked before.” Sania pouted as she leaned in closer to the singer. “This interview has been a lot of fun, and I think everyone at home will be really happy to hear so much about your creative process. Everything you’ve said is very insightful, but…”
“…but why now, huh? Why not after the last three dropped?” Thea smirked. Her short blonde hair fell in front of her dazzling gray eyes. The bright, flashy clothing she wore perfectly offset her voluptuous shape.
When Jadene met Thea during the promo tours for Held Together the singer’s face was only just past her chest.
That was when she wasn’t slouching.
“Exactly.” Sania grinned. “So, come on. Dish! As much as I’m sure everyone at home would be happy to hear that you’ve decided you want to help inspire another generation of singers like yourself… I think there’s something else going on. Am I right?”
“You are…!” Thea laughed. “I’m getting into something a little more risqué, but something a lot of people are going to be very excited about.”
Sania’s eyes widened. “So wait, are the rumors true…?”
Thea nodded. “Uh-huh! I know a lot of people have thought I was attractive for a long time, but well… I’m only one woman. Even if I could just be some kind of escort or a rent-a-girlfriend it’s not like I’d be able to take care of all… or even most of my fans. I’ve got to record more music, to tour… and I can’t be in a thousand places at once. That means… what… twenty four fans a day?”
“If you were really mercenary about it.”
“Which I would be!” Thea winked, and the two women laughed together. It almost sounded scripted. “Girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do… but no, seriously. I’m offering my likeness to a series of very realistic sex dolls.”
Jadene sputtered, staring with wide eyes at the screen.
“Sex dolls? You mean like blow-up dolls?” Sania’s tone was dripping with playful, mischievous energy. Her eyes were hooded low, and she glanced to the camera, and then back to Thea. “That’s your solution to the problem that so many of your fans want to be… closer… to you? I’m not sure that would really satisfy anybody who was hoping for the real thing, Thea.”
“If they were blow-up dolls, yeah.” Thea rolled her eyes, but she shared the same naughty air. “Who wants something that low tech? That’s not very realistic, either. C’mon!”
They both laughed again, and Jadene was still struggling with her expression. She’d spent all night at a fancy charity gala doing everything she could to convince everyone to give as much as they could and champion the cause, but in the back of her mind she was remembering her time on Sania’s show. She was remembering the hostess telling her to watch the interview with Thea when she got home.
Did she know this would come up? She doesn’t look, or sound, nearly as surprised as I would have expected… but… Jadene furrowed her brows. Thea might have a bit of a sexy image going for her, but she’s still… she’s a singer, not… this seems out of left field…
Her albums are always on the top of the charts…!
“Here, let me show you just what I’m talking about. You’ve got to see this to believe it.” Thea grinned as she walked out of frame, and walked back into frame with an identically dressed duplicate.
Obviously the larger details were right. The ‘doll’ had the same color of blonde hair, the same gray eyes, and had the same height. It was every bit as curvy as the genuine article. Nothing like that was very surprising. Jadene worked in the film industry, and a decent simulacrum of a person was fairly routine.
This, was uncanny.
There’s… practically no difference between them…! No matter how hard she looked, Jadene couldn’t find a major divergence. Even the darker spots of skin dotting Thea’s bare arms were perfectly duplicated. How is that even possible…?
“And she talks, too! Say hello, ‘Thea’!” Thea grinned, giving her sex doll a firm swat to the ass.
“Like… Hello, Thea!” The doll’s voice didn’t sound like a recording. It even winked afterwards, leaning against Thea with a lazy smile on its face. “I use state of the art voice technology, so I can say a lot of things, and I’m even programmed to think like Thea! It’s really cool stuff! You can find out more on our website!”
Thea balked, staring at her doll with narrowed eyes. “Our website? You’re a doll!”
“Thanks, you’re a doll too!” The doll winked, before the two Theas leaned in close, sharing a brief kiss. Their mouths didn’t open, but they did each lift a leg at the exact same time. “Mm! Even tastes like the real thing!”
Sania clapped, and both Theas bowed. Proud smiles spread across their lips. “That’s… really impressive. Are you worried about how this is going to color your public image?”
“Not one bit.” Thea grinned, tugging her doll along. She plopped back into the same seat as before, and pulled the doll into her lap… or the doll pulled Thea along and sat her in her lap? Jadene was dizzy trying to remember which was which, especially after their little performance. “This isn’t just a me thing, you know? A lot of celebrities are getting into this. It’s going to be a big thing. Nobody wants a generic sex doll… but everybody is going to want one of these.”
“Oh really…?” Sania’s eyebrows raised higher, but something about the delay between what Thea said and how Sania reacted convinced Jadene that her shock was definitely an act. “Who else is involved in this project besides you…?”
Thea grinned. “A lot of big names! Helen Boone? She’s going to be in the second round I heard…”
Jadene’s eyes widened. “No fucking way…”
“Wow… that’s a pretty big name…! An award winning actress you can order for a little fun… that’s definitely going to fly off the shelves!”
“That’s nothing, Sania.” Thea’s grin deepened. “She got best actress what… once? Twice?”
“Once.” Jadene’s hands grasped her couch tighter. “She won it once. It was an amazing performance.” So much was adding up, and Jadene was not looking forward to what she knew was coming next.
“Jadene Corrigan won it four times, and she’s going to be in the first round.”