Part 1: Opening Moves
The room’s door opened and four beautiful girls walked out. All looked breathless and somewhat disheveled, even though their bodies showed evidence of recent showers. One was a tall elegant redhead dressed in a gown that matched her curls. The second was a tanned brunette in a green dress of similar cut. Then there was a young blonde in purple, her creamy skin shining in the hallway lights. Finally there came another lush young woman dressed in blue, her hair red-gold and falling about her shoulders. They smiled at each other as they headed through the hall, not saying much now. Many words and emotions had been exchanged between them throughout the day, but now such things were unnecessary. Their friendship had been cemented, and they were ready to go back to their ordinary lives.
If, Erika Christensen thought to herself as she brought up the rear, the lives of women such as us can ever be called ordinary.
The four were not everyday people. They were celebrities- young Hollywood actresses. Recently they had been cast in the same movie, which they would soon begin filming. All had gained much attention from fans and critics so far in their careers, and surely more was ahead. This is the life we signed up for, Erika thought. Ever since I was a child, I’ve known I wanted this life. It’s been worth everything- all the committment, all the hard work, all the troubles that have come along. I’ve done great up to this point, and I’m going to keep on doing great. This is the life I was given, the life I’ve built, and I will live it.
“Erika, are you alright?” a voice asked her. She looked up and smiled at her old friend Alicia Witt. The redhead was frowning, looking down at her. Big things happened for you today, Lish, Erika thought. I’m not surprised you’re still worried about them. Oh well, you seem more at peace now, and that’s good enough for me as long as it remains.
“I was just thinking.” Erika glanced back at the room they’d just left and sighed. “It was an amazing day today.”
“Yeah,” Evan Rachel Wood agreed. “I had a lot of fun. More’s ahead- right, Keri?”
“Sure,” Keri Russell said, running a hand through her brown locks. Of all the girls, she looked the most tuckered out. You’ve been through more today than any of us, Keri, Erika regarded her. We surprised you so much in the process of becoming your friends. Which reminds me…
“Keri, I owe you another apology.”
“What?” Keri blinked. She stopped short and looked back at Erika, Alicia and Evan at her sides.
“I’m not really the crazy person you thought I was,” Erika smirked. “I’ve been acting that way to have some fun with you. It’s time to stop now. I’m sorry.”
Keri stared at her. “Uh… you mean you’re not…” She looked back at the room they’d just left, her voice catching in her throat.
“No, not that,” Erika laughed. “The other thing. You know, the misconception you had about me?” She glanced at Evan. “Both of you. You assigned me a role, and I took it. I think I may have overplayed it a bit, though. What do you think?”
“You did just fine,” Evan said.
Keri still looked confused. “You mean you’re not really a Scien…”
“I am,” Erika cut in. “I just follow the philosophy, though. I agree that the mythology’s a little out there. Of course, when your religion’s founder was a great science-fiction writer…”
“We get it,” Keri said. “And we’re sorry too. Right?” She looked at Evan, who nodded, a smile still on her lips.
“I helped her kid you a little,” Alicia said. “I’ve seen her do it before. It’s fun to play along.” She sighed. “I guess I owe you both an apology too. I kept some things concealed. I wasn’t expecting what happened between us. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it.” She looked back towards the room. “And now…”
“Enough,” said Keri. “We’ve had enough apologies and debates today. We’ve ironed them all out several times over already. Let’s just move on. Okay?”
“Okay,” said Erika. She smiled at the other girls, then resumed walking. Her friends followed along. Phew, Erika thought. I was worried. We’ve had so many problems today, all over nothing. It took us forever to put them aside. Now that we’re done, I’m glad we’re friends. It better stay like that.
“So, Erika, how’d you meet Alicia anyway?” Evan asked as they rounded the corner. “I know you’ve known her for a while, and that what just happened between you never happened before, but how’d it start?”
“Thereby hangs a tale,” Alicia replied.
Winter 2001. Los Angeles, CA.
“It’s good to see you again, Erika.”
“You as well, Tom. How’s your family?”
“Just fine. And yours?”
“Great.” Erika bit back a sigh. Tom Cruise was a longtime acquaintance of her family, and had given her a lot of good career advice. She liked the man, as an actor and a friend. They had become estranged recently, however, and Cruise was still not interested in resolution. Erika could see this in his expression and tone.
“We need to talk,” the great actor said, taking Erika’s arm and pulling her aside.
“The movie was good,” Erika told him, frowning as she looked about for the press. She had just walked out of the Hollywood premiere of Vanilla Sky, a psychological thriller in which Cruise had starred. She had enjoyed it, even though the pace and imagery had overwhelmed her a bit. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to be in a film like that myself one day, she’d thought. All my life I’ve watched great meaningful stories on screen, wanted to be in them. This film had such a story and nice performances by Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz. I wish I could have been part of it too. “I really liked it.”
“Thank you,” Cruise said, dropping her arm and glancing around. He nodded when he saw none of the crowd appeared to be paying them any attention, then turned back to Erika. “You’re wasting your talent.”
Erika threw up her hands. “We are not going to talk about this again.”
“No, Erika, you know I’m right. You did great in Traffic, you really wowed them. And now you’re going right back to wasting your time with small roles, TV shows, bad independent films…”
“I like these roles, Tom! They’re important to me. And I’m going to get praised again. You’ll see. I just auditioned for the next Fatal Attraction. Geena thinks she can get me into Susan Sarandon’s next film. And then there’s Home Room. Please tell me you’ve heard about Home Room.”
“Yeah,” Cruise grimaced. “I’ve heard about that one. You’re playing a teenage shooting victim. You prepared for the role by going around talking to people in Columbine and Jonesboro, exposing yourself to Nazi science and views that aren’t ours. Just like before, when you were on Nothing Sacred. Damn it, Erika, don’t you know how dangerous…”
“It’s not dangerous, Tom! It can help people if done the right way. It really can. If you’d just talk to some of the people I have, think about it…” She took a breath. “You’d really be amazed. Our way is great, yes, but it’s not the only way to explain life, to get used to and find meaning in it. It doesn’t work for everyone.”
“That’s another thing. Why won’t you join me in promoting Scientology? You need to. People pay attention to you- young people.”
“Tom, I don’t find it necessary to go around grandstanding our philosophy to the public. My own life and career are hard enough to manage without adding the evangelism you’re planning. People see things differently. We can’t change that. Nor do we need to. We’re all human, Tom. I think if I just live what I believe and let other people believe what they want, instead of insisting to everyone that my philosophy is the only truth and then getting cranky when they don’t go along as I expect… well, it just seems more respectful.”
“Respect.” Cruise shook his head. “We gave you this life, Erika. You were raised in Scientology’s proud tradition. You wouldn’t be where you are now without our help.”
“Don’t think I’m not grateful,” Erika said. “Believe me, I will endorse Scientology whenever the media asks me about it. I’ve been doing that. I believe in the philosophy. I follow it. I just don’t think it’s the only good way there is. The others are good too.”
“We have a duty, Erika. We are artists, and we have this tradition. We must spread it above all else.” Cruise glared down at her from his lifts. “You’re either with us or against us.”
Erika paused, looking back at him. “Then I am against you,” she said after a blink and a shrug.
The two of them stared at each other, Cruise agape and Erika looking hesitant yet firm. Oddly, very few people around them had even noticed the exchange. One tall redheaded girl had, though, and she was smiling despite herself. “Tom,” she spoke.
Cruise turned, raising an eyebrow. “Um…”
“Hey,” Alicia Witt smiled at her Vanilla Sky co-star. “Who’s your friend?”
Fall 2003. London, England.
“Oh my gosh!” Keri stared at Erika agape. “You told off Tom Cruise? Tom Cruise?”
Erika nodded. “It just came out. I was a little surprised myself. But I had to say something.”
Evan grinned. “Have you always been this rebellious? I heard you were a good girl.”
“I am a good girl,” Erika said. “I just like to go to extremes sometimes, explore what I can do. That’s what life is about, not to mention acting. I’ve always tried to live that way, all my life.” She smiled back at Evan.
“And that was how we met,” said Alicia. “I liked Erika at once. I could tell she was someone really inspiring, right about a lot of things. The fact that the pompous egomaniac I’d just done a film with couldn’t see it… it added flavor. Tom is a good actor and a good man, but he really needs to get over himself.”
“Sounds like it,” agreed Evan. “Who did he think he was, telling you all that stuff?”
“Tom and I have very different lives,” Erika said. “His family wasn’t loving. Mine is. When he got into acting he got into a lot of big films quickly, while I’ve had to work hard for every role I’ve had. I’m sure he has too, but it’s just not the same. We’re not the same sort of people. But because we share the same religion, people think we are.” She sighed. “Tom and I warmed up to each other a few months after that premiere. He saw Home Room and liked it, and we agreed to disagree on the rest. He calms down and wises up when he needs to, I’ll give him that. And he does rebel against the things that confine him- on screen at least.”
“I’d like to work with him someday,” said Keri. “Maybe if I read up on your religion so I could get to know him better…” She paused, biting her lip.
Alicia and Erika exchanged smirks. “Tom quickly calmed down and introduced us,” Alicia said. “We got to talking about the film and our careers. One thing led to another, and now here we are. Erika and I have been close friends since then- as close as two people can be in Hollywood, anyway. You know how it is. Our careers keeping us apart, all our differences. I knew about her lifestyle as she developed it, but I never got directly involved. Not until now.”
“Yeah,” Erika laughed. “We just fixed that. About time, don’t you think?” Alicia smiled wistfully, then nodded her head. Erika grinned at her. “So, we kept you in the dark most of today. We’re sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” said Evan. “It was our fault as much as yours.”
“Yeah,” Keri agreed. They were silent for a moment as they approached the stairs at the end of the hall. A watchful doorman nodded and waved them on. Keri glanced at the clock above him worriedly. “Is the club still open?”
“Inside Out stays open 24/7,” Alicia said. “You never know who will stop in, or when. It’s part of the place’s charm. I was walking around Soho a few weeks after I moved to town, and there it was. I was glad to find it. I know I won’t be living here forever, but as long as I do, I’ll keep coming back.”
“I will too,” Evan said, then frowned. “We will keep doing what we just did, right? You won’t go crazy on us again?”
Alicia smiled, glancing at Erika. Again the two exchanged knowing looks. “I’ll do my best. I’ve just been fighting my interest in this for the longest time. And now I finally don’t want to, but…” She trailed off, shaking her head.
Erika beamed at her. “It’s like anything else in life. You just need to see it the right way. You manage it properly, you learn to enjoy it, it rocks. You don’t, then…” She shrugged as they walked back into the club’s main room. Keri, Alicia, and Evan nodded, thinking over Erika’s words. Erika shook her head and looked around them. Inside Out was still pretty crowded, even for the early morning. People of all kinds were moving about on the dance floor that looked like a city street or talking in small groups near the seeming outdoor cafe that served as the bar. The club’s manager, still behind the counter, looked up from his customers and waved hello.
“I’ll go settle our bill,” Alicia told the others. She walked towards the bar, heels clicking. Evan nervously scanned the crowd.
“You worried about that jerk?” Keri asked her.
“Don’t be,” Erika said. “Clarke never forgets a face, and he’ll tell the other staff. Once someone’s out of here, they stay gone. I’ve seen people get tossed out before. Never because of something they did to me until now, but…”
“It’s not him,” Evan interrupted. “I’m looking for the other guy we met. Jamie. You didn’t think I’d forget about him?”
Erika smiled, recalling the young man who Evan had connected with earlier in the night. “I’m sorry I came between you,” she told Evan again. “We had a situation.”
“Yeah,” Evan nodded. “It’s over now, though, and I want to see him again. You said you see him in here a lot. Are there regular times?”
“I don’t really know him,” Erika shrugged. “I saw the movie you mentioned, Billy Elliot, and I agree he’s a good actor, but we’ve never spoken. I haven’t even been here that long. I auditioned for our movie in LA, and then I flew here for the filming, and… well, you know the rest.”
“Do you think he would be okay with me being into girls?” Evan asked. “I know I probably shouldn’t be asking, neither of us know him, but I just have to know. I have to see him again. That bartender said I would.”
Erika grinned. “Doug was just saying that to make you feel good. He might be right, though. We’ll see.”
Keri grimaced, watching the bartender as he talked with Alicia. “Do you know him well?”
“Some,” Erika replied. “Alicia and I have chatted with Doug almost every night we’ve been here. He’s a big fan of ours. He’s not really from London or Hollywood, but he knows a lot about both places. He’s a very interesting guy.”
Keri raised an eyebrow at the look on her face. “Have you…?”
Erika shook her head. “I might someday, though. He is cute.”
“What about Jamie?” Evan asked. “You said he was too young for you, but if I get to know him and…”
“You want a threesome, just let me know,” Erika cut in, guessing her thoughts. “But you might not want to take things too quickly. The relationships in my life don’t usually happen as fast as everything today did. I’ve learned to be careful when they do. I don’t want to get hurt again.”
Keri frowned. “What do you mean? You told us a little about your past relationships, and you sounded pleased with most of them.”
“Not all,” Erika said. “I haven’t been into the lifestyle that long- I am only twenty-one- but I know how things can go if you aren’t careful.”
“Yeah, of course,” Evan said. “If you get involved with the wrong person…” She sighed. “You must have lived through many interesting relationships, though. That Rosenbaum guy, Geena, what you did when you made Swimfan…”
“I exgaggerated that last one a little,” Erika cut her off. “Just to get your attention. You seemed so desperate to get close to us.”
Evan blushed. She glanced at Keri, who rolled her eyes at Erika, choking back a laugh. “Oh,” Evan said. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” replied Erika. “It worked out great. Really, Jesse and I just made out in that scene while John directed us. We didn’t take things any farther than you saw in the movie. We did retake it a lot, though- we had to rehearse in private to get the emotions right. And when that happened…”
“You really did get with him?” Keri asked her. “You weren’t lying to us about that?”
“Of course I got with him,” Erika said. “Shiri and Jason too. It was my first relationship with multiple co-stars. I wonder how this one will compare.” She sighed, turning to face Alicia as she walked back to them. “Were we in there too long? I didn’t look at the time till we got out.”
Alicia shrugged. “Doug said it was on the house. On account of it being their first time here.” She nodded at Evan and Keri. “He also said he called a cab for us when he heard were headed down. They’re waiting outside.”
Erika flashed the bartender a smile of thanks. He nodded back, then returned to serving his customers. He thinks of everything, Erika said to herself. Such a great guy. If I could spend more time with him and get to know him… no, forget it, Erika. You have enough going on in your life right now as it is.
She turned back to her friends and waved at the club door. “Let’s get going. I’m tired.”
“Me too,” Keri agreed with a sigh.
“Erika?” Evan said as they headed for the door. Erika gave her a questioning look. “Just how did you get into swinging? You told us a lot before, but now that you say you’ve been exgaggerating…”
Should have waited longer to do this, Erika thought. Damn it. “I didn’t lie to you,” she told Evan. “I just summarized, and left out things that weren’t important to the moment. You have to understand- you’re not born into this. It has to develop in you. The way it did in me might be typical for some, but…” She sighed. “It’s been a long road, and it keeps going. It’s worth it, though. I feel I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”