Cindy Clothinghaver x’ed out of the pop-up window and navigated the white, spearhead of her digital appendage to the little box that would solidify her order for one thousand bags of corn chips covered in powderized nacho-cheese flavoring. The sounds of her little darlings stampeding about the first floor of the house bounced up the staircase, into the study. Their names were Annabelle and Todd. They really liked corn chips.
Cindy entered her shipping address and credit card info, then ticked the remaining boxes, thus completing the order and ensuring that their household would remain stocked with an abundance of boldly delicious corn triangles for the next six months at a price well below MSRP. The doorbell rang.
“Mommy, mommy, the doorbell rang,” said Todd, age six.
“Yeah, and there’s someone at the door,” said Annabelle, age five.
Cindy stood from the computer chair and made her way to the stairs, drifting wistfully to memories of times when her vertical traversals were not marred with each cracking of her thirty-five-year-old knees. She arrived at the door and opened it, finding a tall, Italian-suited man with a briefcase and designer aviator sunglasses. He presented her with a giant bag of chips and a three-liter bottle of sulfur-colored soda.
“Mrs. Clothinghaver, a welcoming gift from us to you. It’s so nice to finally meet.” He stepped by her, into the house, as he pushed the deliciously familiar presents to her chest and smiled. He looked around the inside of the house and formed squares with his long, boney fingers -- makeshift frames in front of the polycarbonate windows to the windows to his soul. “Looking good, very spacious, natural lighting.” He nodded.
“Excuse me?” Baffled, Cindy hugged the mammoth bag of chips to her breast and backed herself against the still-open door. The man handed her a large stack of papers.
“Here. I thought I’d bring this just as a refresher.”
Cindy, whose arms were already quite full, tucked the bag of chips under her chin and began flipping through the stack of fine-printed text. The man handed Annabelle and Todd each a chocolate bar. “There, something for our little stars.” He smiled and patted each of them on the head as they tore into the wrapping paper that kept them from their treats.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Who are you?”
“You did read the terms and conditions, right? Certainly you did. You said as much just a few minutes ago when you completed your order for the box of Funzo Nacho Cheesed Chips from one of our affiliate sites. This much you can plainly see if you’d be so kind as to turn to page 49 and look under heading C, subheading IIA.”
The children scattered down the hall, bouncing off the walls with their bump of sugar as Cindy flipped to find the designated page and sections.
“There.” The man pointed. “Under the orange part. Read that for me.”
“I, Cindy Clothinghaver, do hereby grant the Prizm Media Conglomerate full film, broadcast, and licensing rights to my life for a period of time extending, but not limited, to as long as Prizm and its associated affiliates deem fit. All characters, personalities, and likenesses associated with the immediate Clothinghaver family, extending, but not limited, to: my husband, children, and hermit crabs, are now the property of Prizm and may be adjusted, edited, and branded as deemed necessary, and so on, and so forth . . .” She stared up at him. “’And so on, and so forth’?”
“Exactly. You know what they say, Cindy. ‘The devil’s in the. . .you know. . .’ You’re familiar with that right? We can work out the little bits later. I’m just thrilled to be here. Ready to get started and all that.” His expertly moussed black hair glistened in the sun.
“Listen, Mr. – what did you say your name was?”
“Mr. Guy, look, my husband is going to be home any minute, and I don’t think he’s going to like this. Not one bit.” Ed Clothinghaver was, in fact, pulling into the driveway that very second.
“Oh, it’s fine.” Mr. Guy pointed to a van parked in the cul-de-sac and gestured for whoever was inside it to come to the house. The back doors of the van shot open, and from them poured a stream of men and women clothed in black, carrying cameras, boom mics, lights and all other necessary accoutrements for a substantial audio-video setup. They converged at the door just in time to meet Mr. Clothinghaver, who had just strolled up the brick walkway to the house, oblivious to the proceedings at hand.
“Hello. Excuse me,” said each of the production assistants on crossing paths with Mr. Clothinghaver. They pushed past him, into the house, offering a pleading smile to Mrs. Clothinghaver and a nod of mechanical respect to Mr. Guy.
Ed Clothinghaver was confused. “I don’t like this one bit,” he said as a young woman carried a vegetable platter over the singular step that the neighborhood association called a porch. Ed had nothing against vegetable platters; in fact, he had a rather overzealous affinity for ranch dressing, of which this platter had plenty – the whole thing was simply a touch odd. He shut the door behind him. Cindy tried to explain, and along with a little help from the ever-peppy Mr. Guy, was able to detail the periphery of the situation.
“All right. If we could just get everyone in the living room, we’re going to have a brief meeting before we get the celluloid rolling. Let’s move it, people. Time is credit, and credit is a lot like money.”
Cindy took Ed by the arm and led him to the living room. By now, the children were in a state of come-down, draped lazily across opposite ends of the larger of two couches, eyes lost in the infinite off-whiteness of the ceiling above them. Cindy and Ed sat between their dazed little darlings as the production assistants formed a semi-circle behind them, granting Mr. Guy the show floor, directly in front of the television.
Mr. Guy straightened his jacket with an expert tug on the lapels and adjusted his sunglasses so that they rested closer to the tip of his nose, giving the impression that he was now looking down on each one of them.
“All right, wonderful,” said Mr. Guy. “First thing's first, Cindy, Ed, you two are the centers of the drama, you’re where the show happens. Here’s what we’re going for: typical upper-middle-class family, except this time it’s interesting. Cindy, you’re the powerhouse. You take care of the kids and make sure there’s warm dinner every night. You also have dreams and needs. Sometimes you don’t think Ed respects you enough. He just doesn’t get it, right?” Mr. Guy looked very satisfied with himself. “Now, Ed, you’re sensitive, too, and you also have needs, but you’re not very good at expressing them because you’re a man, right? And you have a job, don’t forget that, but what you do isn’t really important, don’t talk about it on camera, know what I mean? Snoozeville, am I right?” The production assistants nodded. “All right, now the two of you are going to have disagreements about how the family should run; this is what’s going to bring in the sponsors, that and those cute little kids of yours.” Mr. Guy removed two bags of fruit gummies and threw them at Annabelle and Todd, who tore into the packets with revived ferocity. “Cindy, you’re going to scold Ed, and the kids as necessary, tear into him as necessary, and Ed, you’re going to roll your eyes and say something sarcastic every once in a while, trying not to seem too emasculated, even though . . . you know, right? Now, the kids. ‘Annabelle,’ that caresses the inner ear, gives a kiss that lingers, but ‘Todd’ – no, not going to work. We need something that pops, something that’ll stand out on a tabloid in the checkout aisles, so from now on ‘Todd’ is ‘Lucian.’”
Cindy and Ed blinked in unison. Anabelle and Lucian ate simulated fruit snacks.
“We’re also bringing in new talent. Now, don’t take this the wrong way. It’s not that your kids aren’t cute, Lord knows they are, but we need to skew a little younger, and what’s cuter than a baby, right?” Into the living room walked a baby, checking email on the smartest phone that ever lived. “Meet Demitri.” The baby waved, then turned to Mr. Guy.
“Good to be here, Guy,” the baby’s robotic words sounded from the smart phone. Mr. Guy gave him the ceremonial industry nod.
“Also, the two of you are living under a mountain of debt, got it? It’s killing you, know what I mean? Tension, arguments, resentment – both spoken and tacit, and it’s a weekly struggle just to keep up appearances and ensure that you have the chance to give your beautiful children the opportunity to live out the dreams you never really got to chase, know what I mean? Think you can handle it?”
Cindy and Ed stared blankly, their eyes drifting past Mr. Guy to the television screen, which was off for the moment. Anabelle and Lucian fidgeted in their respective corners.
“Perfect. That’s exactly what we’re going for.” Mr. Guy looked from cast to crew. “Places everyone—”
The crew scattered about the house like sand-crabs surfaced against their will, desperate to find the nearest pocket providing shelter from visibility, hiding themselves behind curtains, in cupboards, and underneath spare bean-bag chairs with varying degrees of efficacy. Mr. Guy handed Cindy and Ed each a mound of wire-bound papers with a reassuring smile and a twinkle in his eyes supplied by a fill light that a production assistant had set up just behind the couch. The couple opened the scripts, flipping through the pages to check that each contained ink rather than allotting time to read what any particular one had to say. Ed was the first to look up.
“I’m not sure how I feel about this. I mean, I’ve always wanted to be famous, but this is all so sudden. We’ve already got a lot going on, sir.”
Mr. Guy cracked his fingers, licked one, then brought it to a small spike of hair jutting out over his forehead for a precise adjustment.
“Of course you do. We all do, right? In these modern times, its tough to keep up, tough to realize when opportunity has you by the balls and is just waiting for you to squeeze back.” Mr. Guy held up the contract that Cindy had signed. “In this business, a man, woman, or family’s word is like steel. It is the foundation, the essential material from which triumphs of the human spirit materialize, granting reason for our existence, plucking those precisely tuned heartstrings so that people across this great, wide world can tune in at the end of the day, maybe just for an hour, and become something more, something connected.” One of the production assistants began to clap quietly before realizing he was alone in the gesture and ceasing. “Stick with me and you’ll go far, we’re talking to the stars and back. There’s no way you want to start messing with this contract, these steel support beams of your success. You know that sort of thing has consequences.”
Mr. Guy’s grim look shifted to one of encouragement. Had Mr. Clothinghaver been able to see behind his benefactor’s stylish choice of eye apparel, he would have noticed the two beaming beacons of irresistible warmth.
Ed turned to his wife.
“What do you think, Cindy?” She chewed at the edge of the nail on her right index finger, toes clenched.
“I think we have to do whatever is best for our family.”
“That was pretty good for a first reading, but stick to the script. At least until you get your bearings, right? We’ll be filling you in with subliminal cues, so pretty soon you won’t even need those pesky papers.”
“Subliminal cues?” asked Cindy, a note of trepidation lingering in her tone. Ed flipped to the beginning of the packet and traced his podgy index finger over the first of his lines.
“Stick to the script, Cind. And yes, try to think of them as ‘brain helpers.’ We’re trying to show your family in the best possible light, as you really are, right? And from time to time we like to chime in and offer a bit of encouragement. You understand.” Mr. Guy gave her a light tap on the nose, causing the woman’s face to flush Spring-fashion-line pink with embarrassment. Though she couldn’t quite place it, she felt like she had been transported back to a childhood state, as though she had just been caught pilfering from the cookie jar and her father was delivering reprimand for the apparent misdeed. Mr. Guy had such a way with people.
Ed Clothinghaver looked up from the script and cleared his throat.
“I just don’t think we get enough time together as a family. We’re always running around from soccer practice, to choir, to Spanish lessons. I’m not sure if we can afford to have another kid right now, Cindy.” A cry from Demitri cut the air and Ed took a carrot from the food tray in the living room and dipped it into the gooey pool of comfort, parsley flakes, and buttermilk flavoring. “Wow. Is that Columbi Ranch Dressing? Really calms me down after a stressful day at my job where I work.”
“Ed, can we talk for a min—” Cindy’s request for momentary council was interrupted by Mr. Guy holding up his own copy of the script and mouthing the generous encouragement, “stick to it,” before pointing with his finger in a manner quite similar to the stimulating pat he had bestowed upon the precipice of her nose’s arch. Again, her face reddened.
“Yes,” she said, still not entirely at ease, but with an underlying desire to please that sixty percent of viewers would find charming. “That is Columbi Ranch. I found it in the salad dressing aisle at our local grocery.”
In the background, slightly out of focus, Anabelle and Lucian were playing house. “I want this baby, Ed. He’s part of our family now, and we need to provide him with all the love and sweet nourishment we have to give. You can’t make these decisions by yourself.” Cindy dipped a mini-carrot into the Colombi Ranch and brought its flavorful tidings to her mature, intelligent lips. Though her eyes were firmly fixed on her husband, she was quite sure she could feel the warmth of Mr. Guy’s smile on her back. Ed enjoyed another enhanced carrot.
“You’re probably right, Cindy. But what are we going to do about this mountain of debt we’re living under? I’m fighting day-in-day-out just to keep my head above water at my job, where I work.” Lucian began to cry in the background. Anabelle had just told him that he lacked the ability to cook imaginary eggs properly and that he should replace his make-believe pans with appropriate non-stick counterparts. “How are we going to take care of the kids? How will they get the guidance and nourishment that they need with the added stress and complexity of the modern world?”
Cindy squinted at the script.
“I got them cell-phones?” Cindy faltered. Mr. Guy threw down his script in exasperation and glared at her. Her line delivery was unconvincing. Hearing his sigh and catching a look of disapproval out of the corner of her eye, Cindy’s body was overcome by the sweltering heat of shame. She could do better. She knew it. “I got them smart-phones just like Demitri’s. They come equipped with all the latest edu-apps, the kind that will give them a leg-up in the classroom and teach them manners at home.” She walked over to her two older children and handed them the fresh devices. They grabbed at them excitedly, expressions of wonder plastered across their delightful young faces as they stared into the organic-light-emitting, high-resolution screens.
“I respect your culinary abilities and was only offering the slightest dash of constructive encouragement. I’m sorry that I made you sad.” Anabelle said after turning to Lucian.
“Think not of it, fine sister. My response was but a momentary bout of emotional incontinence. Let’s eat healthy foods and go learning.” The two siblings scampered to the counter where they consumed enhanced carrots as their parents looked on with great love and appreciation for the thoughtful and caring children they had raised. When they had consumed their fill, Annabelle and Lucian trotted to the playroom with their new smart-devices to enhance their respective intellectual developments.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” said Ed, looking at Demitri who was suckling information from his smartphone on the couch. “I guess Demitri wound up being a good influence after all.”
Mr. Guy exchanged nods of satisfaction with several poorly hidden production assistants. He was quite attuned to their routines, having started at the bottom of the rung himself, and could have told anyone desiring such insight every possible hiding spot and the associated function of the person likely to occupy it. By this time, Ed and Cindy had ditched the scripts, the full effects of the brain-helpers now reaching near-peak helpfulness.
“See? I told you Ed. You need to listen to me more.” Cindy said. Her husband smiled sheepishly as she placed the large bag of Funzo chips Mr. Guy had given her into the pantry.
“I guess you’re right, Cindy. You really are great with Todd and Lucian.” The pot of water that had been sitting on the stove came to a boil. The analog clock on the wall struck six, its chimes competing with the screeching smoke to be heard and acknowledged by the budding stars. Cindy’s right eyebrow twitched, her face reddened with anger.
“Just Todd and Lucian? Why are you always trying to undermine my relationship with Demitri? Don’t you see the good he’s done for this family?” She thrust her arms forward at Ed like bayonets.
“Oh, that is just like you, Cindy. Go on, go ahead, blame everything on me. It’s always Ed’s fault. I can’t be with a person like this. You keep this up and we’re done.”
“Is that what you want, huh? Is it, Ed?” The kettle screamed blasts of smoke as Cindy poked her finger into Ed’s chest.
“I dunno. Keep it up and you’ll find out. Just wait,” he screamed. “I’ll be with Anabelle and Lucian, explaining how their mom has gone crazy.”
“Oh yeah? Well, I’ll be with Demitri, trying to make sure that he doesn’t grow up to be a lunatic like his father.”
The couple were both panting at this point, thoroughly out of breath after having delivered their lines with a level of immaculate realism that surprised even a consummate industry professional like Mr. Guy. He popped up from behind the kitchen counter, thrilled to be able to offer sterling words of commendation so early in production.
“And…Break. Clothinghavers, Clothinghavers, Clothinghavers. Prizm didn’t tell me I was working with top of the line talent on this one.” Ed and Cindy’s chests were still heaving, fists clenched, veins throbbing blue.
Each production assistant popped out of his or her spot with near perfect synchronization. They looked to Mr. Guy. Mr. Guy looked to them. Nods around.
“Really, darlings. That was something. I’m just so proud of us. We keep this up and there’s no telling how many seasons. Hell, that’s selling us short. I’m talking movie deals—a three-parter, sneaker lines, cereal boxes. Do you like paint? Of course you do. You’ve got it on the walls of your house. I’m going to get on the line to our folks in China about getting your home improvement brand on the market stat.” The production assistants nodded to each other as Mr. Guy removed his phone from his jacket pocket. Before he could dial the appropriate factory foreman, the phone pulsed with an incoming call. Mr. Guy’s ringtone, “The Clothinghavers” upbeat and jingly theme song, bounced off the kitchen’s beige ceramic floor tiles. His face beamed as he brought the receiver to his ear.
“Yes. Of course. Uh-huh. Oh.” The look of jubilant satisfaction had been wiped from Mr. Guy’s face. The production assistants shifted nervously, some half-retreating into their places of hiding, while others seemed to struggle to maintain a straight, confident posture. Mr. Guy spoke to the room.
“The first trackings just came in. We’re seventh in the timeslot. Do you know what seventh is?” The assistants cowered. “Second is the first to lose, right? Well seventh is the first to not have anyone give a shit about your show and get cancelled prematurely. Have you ever heard a saying about coming in seventh? This show needs a star. Right now, we’re just treading water. Cindy, Ed, you’re both performing passably, but which one of you has really got it? This is a business, remember? You’re competing for your children’s affections. Heaven forbid something would go wrong between the two of you. They’d probably side with whoever they thought was stronger, right?” Ed and Cindy glared at each other, foreheads still laden with beading sweat and resentment. “End break.”
Ed stormed off into the playroom. Cindy sulked to the couch where Demitri was cooing, intently absorbed in the intellect of his phone. From her cushy seat, she could hear Ed screaming in the other room.
Mr. Guy beamed.
“All cameras and mics to the playroom. We’ve got a major development—husband is broaching heavy emotional content to kids. Their eyes are cloudy and it looks like rain. I want those little drops of gold covered from every angle.” He turned to Cindy, squinting his shaded eyes and pointing his finger at her in that way of his. She shivered. “You better step it up, Cind. You see how the game is played, right? Big things are coming.” He stormed out of the room, cameras, microphones, and subordinates in tow.
Cindy looked at her youngest child and exhaled as much fear, trepidation, and stress as one paltry breath could exude.
“Cindy, you have to listen to me,” said the robotic voice from Demitri’s smartphone, the young child’s fingers machine-gunning across the device’s touch sensitive screen.
The woman recoiled. The cold, robotic tone was jarring to her senses. Demitri’s expression softened into one of compassion, his nubby digits bringing up a menu on the device.
“I apologize,” the phone’s speaker exuded in a soothing bass-baritone. “The robo-voice is the tonal setting with which I most identify, but I can see how it might alarm you. You and your family are in grave danger. We must act quickly.”
The sound of Ed’s ranting was joined by a chorus of yelps and cries from Lucian and Anabelle in the adjacent room.
“I think we’ll be alright. I’ve seen this before. Sometimes television goes a little overboard,” said Cindy.
“No. You have no idea who you’re dealing with. Facing cancellation, there’s no telling what Mr. Guy will do. We’re not talking about an episode where the in-laws show up. We’re not talking about replacing your spouse with someone of a different background, race, or class than you.”
“What are we talking about?”
“Chaos. Destruction. Murder. You must be mindful how you play his game.” From beyond the room came a series of beeps, the sound of a truck backing up to deliver its load. Demitri’s cherubic face twisted into an expression of horror and concern.
Ed’s ranting ceased. Anabelle and Lucian’s cries dissipated. The front door opened, and Cindy could hear the sound of the house’s inhabitants stampeding outside.
“You must follow them.”
Cindy, carrying Demitri, stepped out onto the porch, surveying the well-lit landscape that she had once called her lawn. In its center stood an orange mountain of Funzo Nacho Cheese Chips. Three quarters of the way up, a production assistant opened and unloaded the last bag of chips onto the mound before smiling and scampering down the heaping mass. At the pinnacle stood Ed Clothinghaver, a halberd in hand and a streak of red war-paint across each cheek.
Mr. Guy strode up to her with cool confidence, his designer suit blowing in the wind, his hair as resolute as his desire for improved ratings.
“It has begun. Take your rightful place atop the arena of combat, Cindy.”
“Isn’t there another way? Isn’t it a little early in the season to include such extreme dramatics?” she pleaded. Mr. Guy simply laughed and pointed to the top of the mountain. The production assistants began nodding their heads and chanting in a language she did not understand.
Demitri’s smart phone spoke to Cindy, his small sparkly eyes glaring up at her as if to say that she had his support, as if to say he believed in her.
“Whatever you do, you must not kill your husband in combat. Otherwise, you and your children will be relegated to televised court proceedings and, from that, few ever recover. You can do this, Cindy.”
She nodded and stepped towards the mountain, picking up the halberd that had been resting near its base. She glared up at Ed.
“Isn’t this odd, Cindy? You and I and all of this?” He turned in a circle, pointing with his halberd to the magnificent set before them. “But somewhere in your heart you’ve always known, you’ve always known that it would end this way. In battle, atop a mountain of America’s favorite flavored chips. Face me.”
Her fingers tightened around the handle. The light beige tape covering it was rough and coarse, grating against her soft hands as she lifted the weapon and began her ascent. The perfect crunch and pop, the one Funzo scientists had spent years perfecting, became anathema to her ears by the fourth step. If her often-weary knees were creaking, she could not hear it, could not feel it above the sound of shattering chips and the flood of adrenaline through her system. The production assistants’ chanting grew louder.
Approaching the top, she checked to make sure that her husband was not about to rush her and claim victory when her position was indefensible. Ed made no such moves. He was an honest man. Cindy raised herself up so that the two were on equal footing and took a moment to make sure that Anabelle and Lucian were safe on the yard below. They seemed perfectly content in the arms of Mr. Guy, who smiled and threw an enthusiastic thumbs-up her way. Ed grunted and charged.
The first blow caught Cindy off-guard. She barely had time to raise her halberd and block Ed’s swing, holding the staff of her weapon strong above her head in order to parry her husband’s vertical attack. His mouth foamed like angry sea froth as he pushed towards her, sweat cascading in rivers down his brow. Lights flashed around them. Cameras whirred on zip-lines. She pushed him back.
Ed’s shoulders heaved. His body twitched in erratic bursts. He removed a bottle of PowerBoost Sports Drink from his pocket, tilted the arctic-blue liquid to his fuel receptacle, and gulped greedily before capping the bottle and tossing it to the nacho-cheese-chip ground. Cindy assumed a defensive stance. He blitzed.
His blows had near quadrupled in strength, and Cindy began to feel her knees weaken as she struggled to fend them off. She couldn’t last much longer. With ease he pushed her around the arena, toying with her. Every third or fourth strike, he would allow her a swing only to dodge and then taunt with a wagging of his finger.
“It’s over, Cindy. You can’t win. I have the power.” His halberd’s glistening blade cut the air, a shrill whistle sounding before its edge lopped off a lock of Cindy’s chestnut hair. She fell to the ground, a desperate attempt to dodge his next swing. Mr. Guy cheered from below.
Cindy crawled backwards as Ed advanced, chips crunching beneath her, until she felt something uncomfortable under her spine. She reached for it. The PowerBoost. Ed was only a step away, readying for the kill stroke. Cindy grabbed a handful of Funzos and threw them at Ed’s face. Blinded, he staggered backwards, granting Cindy the precious time need to bring the life enhancing elixir to her lips. It was resurrection flavored.
Standing, Cindy tightened her grip on the halberd’s handle, power radiating from her pores. She screamed and rushed her husband with bloodlust. Her ferocious onslaught knocked him from his feet. He shuffled backwards until he reached the edge of the mountain, gasping for breath, a look of pleading terror dribbling from his eyes. She raised the halberd. She swung.
A flash of pink flesh. Surprised gasps and cries from below. She couldn’t stop in time. Demitri had thrown himself in front of Ed, attempting to shield the man from the strike. Cindy tried to halt the attack but could only manage to slow and divert it. Mr. Guy fell to his knees and screamed a dramatically protracted, “No,” the kind he had made a small fortune filming over the last twenty years.
A thin trickle of blood burbled from the top of Demitri’s head. The warring Clothinghavers gasped and dropped their weapons.
“Demitri, are you alright? Speak to me, please,” Cindy cried. Ed cradled the child as his wife applied pressure to the baby’s wound with cloth she had ripped from her shirt.
“I’m so sorry. I should have listened to you.” She sobbed. Demitri’s eyes fluttered. His fingers moved to his phone’s keypad.
“It’s okay, Cindy. This was the only way.”
“Demitri, I don’t understand. Just tell me you’re going to be alright.”
“The show is over now. You cut a baby with a halberd on live television. There are certain lines that simply can’t be crossed.” His eyes fluttered again, his lips twitching upwards in a toothless smile. The blade had only nicked him, but the violence and sight of blood made him weak. He fainted.
Cindy carried Demitri’s limp body down the mountain, Ed’s arm draped over her shoulder. Mr. Guy was standing at the base, shaking his head, eyes tilted to the sky.
“I can’t believe it. I just can’t. We have something great going, something really special, a program that speaks to the common man with an infinite potential to uplift, to show that anyone can be a star, anyone can be a Clothinghaver, and you have to ruin it.” He took off his glasses and looked at them with tired, blue eyes. “I can feel the sponsors dropping us. I can see it, smell it, hear it, taste it. Do you have any idea what that’s like?”
Cindy and Ed looked to each other, then to their two children before meeting the man’s gaze again. They shook their heads.
“Of course you don’t.” He extended his arms. “Give me my son back.”
Hesitantly, Cindy handed Demitri to Mr. Guy, who cradled the limp child and kissed the spot of his wound. The production assistants began shoveling the mountain of chips into the back of the dump truck and packing up the equipment, grunting and grumbling along the way. Cindy looked to Mr. Guy.
“It’s all over? We’re free? Just like that?”
Mr. Guy put his sunglasses back on.
“Right.” Baby in hand, he turned, walked to his car, and drove off, never to be seen in that neighborhood again.
Cindy and Ed ran the few steps that separated them from their children. Ed hugged Anabelle. Cindy hugged Todd. Then vice versa. Then they all hugged.
The day had been long and stressful, but the four agreed that they had learned something. Perhaps it was simply that showbiz is hard work or that terms of service agreements should never be taken lightly, but clenched together in their circle of arms and shoulders, each one believed there was more to it than that. After many mutual professions of love and caring, the family headed inside for a relaxing evening in front of the television.