I crawled over to the curb and lay there face down, tired and empty. I didn't feel like getting up, ever. I had just seen Heaven, and life (or this dream, or whatever it was I seemed to be stuck in) didn't seem worth the trouble plodding through. But if I could only find her, then maybe it would all be worth it...but how?

Bright headlights stung my eyes and I stood up, shielding them. But I couldn't move. A long black limousine had run over my shoelace.

I hobbled over on one foot, and knocked on the black, tinted windows.

"Excuse me, can you back up a little?" I pleaded, trying to pull my foot out as I spoke.

The window rolled down and a hand reached out and began autographing my forehead. The window rolled closed again, and suddenly a crowd was "Ooh"ing and "Aah"ing all around me.

"It's HIM!" girls cooed as they stared at the limousine.

Suddenly I was crushed against the car as everyone screamed to get closer to the movie star inside the limo.

The car screeched away with a puff of smoke, and my shoelace must have gotten caught around the wheel, because I found myself being dragged off down the street.

My sneaker finally fell off a half a block down and I rolled onto the sidewalk.

"There you are, Billy!" a voice laughed and pulled me by the collar to my feet. "Billy Jones, it's me, Mr. D!"

I looked up at the burly figure with gold chains around his neck and wrists, and a big gold earring at least the size of a football.

"Billy, you don't look yourself today. You look awful. Come on, let's get you cleaned up, and get you something to eat."

I hopped along on one foot as I was dragged by my ear (twice in one day!) down the street.

First we stopped at a salon, and I was pushed into this cubicle. Hands reached in and out cleaning and dressing me, and then I was standing in front of a mirror looking cool and hip in dark glasses and tight leather pants.

They were about to throw out a swatch of material they found in my remaining sneaker, but I grabbed it and stuffed it back in my fancy leather shoes before they could open it and find my heart.

Before I stashed it away, I checked it. It was still beating.

Then we were eating in a posh restaurant and cameras were flashing when we walked in, and people stood at the windows pointing at me.

I was still seeing spots from the camera flashes. "Billy, as your agent, I must say I've been worried about you lately," my benefactor was saying.

I must admit that I didn't really feel like I fit in Billy's leather pants, at that point, but it felt good to have someone who thought he knew me, even if it was this Mr. D.

"He's not so bad," I thought as he ordered me some food and babbled on about my next movie.

"This play thing should be good publicity, babe," he was saying, and he patted my back like I was choking. "Now hurry up, we've got to be on stage by 11."

My eyes opened wide. The note blazed across my mind. "Did you say 11?" Maybe I was this Jones guy. Maybe on that stage there would be flowers and everything else I saw, all painted on a set. I was excited and bubbling over. I was someone after all. Someone with a place to be.

"Now, that's my Billy," Mr. D exclaimed, seeing the excitement in my face. Then the waiter stepped up to the table with the bill.

The fear I suddenly felt almost popped my bubble of happiness as I cringed and waited to be pulled out by my ear again, because it was that same waiter, only he was wearing a different suit.

He gave me an evil look, but smiled when Mr. D handed him more than he was entitled to. And suddenly the waiter was helping me to my feet.

"Come again, any time, sir," he slobbered on my shoes, and then wiped them dry with his tongue.

Then we were at the theater, and Mr. D was squeezing my cheeks like I was five years old. "Now Billy. I'll be back later. Try not to give the director a hard time, OK. I know you'll do just great," he added, seeing the fear in my eyes. "It's just like the movies, only talk louder."

"Billy," the Director laughed, running over to greet me. "I really appreciate your taking the time for this benefit production. Here's the script. We'll go real slow at first. Oh. I'd like you to meet Lucy Cole. She's your leading lady. But I think you've worked together before."

I smiled at the pretty face and was just about to make some small talk when suddenly the stage was filled with people rushing everywhere.

Lucy tried to get the Director's attention, but shrugged because he was lost in his own little world as he ran back and forth in front of the stage trying to get everything ready.

"All right, let's run through it," the Director was saying.

I blinked and looked blankly down at the script.

"All right, Billy. You start," he directed.

I had no idea how to act. I started to read the script and moved around the stage the way the Director told me to.

I tried to concentrate on what I was reading, but it was weird. Lucy, Joe, Peter, Sally, a bunch of others and I each read from our scripts, but none of the lines seemed to match up with any of the others. It was like we were all reading different scripts.

We each walked around speaking our lines, and the Director was sweating as he ran back and forth trying to help each of us back on the right track somehow.

"You keep practicing," he groaned, and went off to find a cup of coffee, or a new writer, or maybe his psychiatrist.

And then I noticed that Lucy's lines were matching up with mine. As I read each line I started to grow more and more excited.

"Cassandra," I read. The stage directions said I was standing on one side of a glass wall.

Lucy was standing across from me. "MICHAEL," she mouthed silently, as if she were really screaming, but her words could not be heard through the glass that separated us. "Help me, Michael."

As I looked into her eyes I suddenly realized she did look like the vision I had seen across the street behind the wall of glass. I hadn't noticed it before. She seemed different, her hair, or...something. But now I was sure it was her. Or, pretty sure, anyway.

My body was trembling as we read our lines. Everything else seemed to fade away, it was only us. I couldn't wait to turn each page and live through the wonderful lines when we would tear down the wall and be together and..."

The Director grabbed the script from my hands and spun me around as he grabbed my collar.

I felt like my life had been torn away.

"All right, who are you?" the Director demanded.

"Uh...Billy Jones?" I stammered.

"That's Billy Jones!" the Director sneered, pointing to a man standing next to an angry Mr. D across the room. He sort of looked a little like me, but not exactly.

"Uh..." I looked at Lucy. "Michael?" I offered.

"Is that his name, Lucy?"

I stared at her waiting for her to tell him she was Cassandra. And I guess I was Michael, somebody. But she refused to look at me.

"I don't know. I've never seen him before in my life. I tried to tell you before it wasn't Billy..."

"Get him out of here," the Director yelled, and a cane came from offstage and yanked me by the neck.

My shoe fell off as the cane dragged me away, and my heart rolled onto the floor.

I stared at Lucy as she walked towards Billy.

"Cassandra..." I cried. "Help, save me." But she wasn't listening, and she stepped on my heart.

One of the stage hands dropped me out a side entrance and stuffed me in the back of a taxi that was sitting in the alley. He threw my shoe and heart in after me, and they hit me in the back of the head.

As if that weren't enough, Billy came running out. "Not with my clothes you don't!" he growled and he ripped them off me and tossed a crumpled flannel shirt, ripped blue jeans, and scuffed sneakers in my face, before he slammed the door. "Take this bozo home!" he hissed and the taxi took off like a bullet, and I flew against the other door.

I scrambled on the floor and picked up my heart. It was covered with dirt and broken in two. There were tears running down my cheeks as I tore off a swatch from my trusty old shirt and wrapped the pieces inside. I pulled on my faithful old clothes and stuffed my heart back in my shoe and slipped it on my foot.

Then I sat up in the seat and leaned over to talk to the driver. But there wasn't anyone driving the cab. Panicking, I thought about jumping out, but the taxi was moving much too fast, and besides this was only a dream, so I lay back and rubbed my pride and decided to take a nap.

The next thing I knew I was flying in the air. Down below I saw the cab speed away. The roof over my seat had pulled back, and I must have been ejected out.

My trajectory brought me in front of a thickly cobwebbed house with a giant door. "Home Sweet Home," the sign read over a giant metal knocker.


What's My Line?
( Chapter 17- MP3 song demo by Lyndon DeRobertis)


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