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Chapter 1: "Harriet Meets Failure"

June 10, 2008|By EVA NIESSNER / Pulse Correspondent

"Harriet! I have about had it!" Mr. Challings roared, his moon-white face blooming red with the suddenness of a bubble bursting. His expensive suit seemed to rumple with indignity, which wrinkled more as the pop star he was berating refused to even acknowledge the fact she was being yelled at.

Of course, nobody knew pop sensation Harriet Hertz by name - to all her pink-clad teenage fans, Harriet was Sugar Flower, a fresh-faced 21-year-old who wore the music label's clothing line at every public appearance and whose grin was huge and white as the continent of Antarctica. All her songs, while aimed at teens, were child-friendly, and every girl in the United States seemed to know her dance moves.

Offstage, however, Harriet was a snooty, overgrown child who spent her free time smoking and yelling at her assistants. She was no stranger to nights spent in clubs, sleep delayed by caffeine and dancing. And lately it seemed harder and harder for her to keep up that huge fake smile.

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Challings had seen it a million times before. Most singers were like this, but Harriet was especially stubborn.

"Do you realize that you've been seen threatening photographers and buying cigarettes? What kind of image do you think you're supposed to be selling?" Challings raged, forgetting to inhale and nearly choking mid-sentence.

It was irritating enough that Harriet was rubbing her lips together as though to check how much gloss was on them, and that her green eyes were flicking to and fro through Challings' office, but having to talk to her like a toddler was really messing him up.

"And your attitude ," Challings plowed on, running a hand through his coal-colored hair. "Harriet, I can't deal with this anymore. You ditch your schedule to go shopping, your so-called friends are all rehab regulars, and I haven't heard you sing a note on your own in about four months. Is this fair to me?"

Harriet shrugged, her white-gold necklace jangling on its chain.

"Well, now you'll get to know what it feels like to be disappointed. Albatross Records is done promoting perfect, little Sugar Flower. You're fired."

For the first time since Challings had begun speaking, Harriet showed emotion. A mask of horror and rage pulled her delicate features into an ugly expression. "What?"

"You heard me, Harriet. I suggest you take the money you've made so far and try not to waste it all."

"You can't do that!" Harriet squealed, strands of amber-colored hair falling into her face as she tossed it with disbelief.

Challings smirked. "Actually, I can do that," he said. "You signed a contract saying the company had the right to turn you away if you weren't fulfilling your duties. Which you're not."

She turned and raced out of the office in a blur of lavender fabric and French perfume, too angry to cry, her angry voice bouncing off the hallway walls. He might have felt a little more sorry for her had he not just gotten an e-mail saying that she had hit the cover of several tabloids. All the pictures were of Sugar Flower dancing in a club when she was supposed to be helping serve steamed vegetables at the old folks' home.

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