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Chapter 2: "Harriet Meets Reluctance"

June 10, 2008|By EVA NIESSNER / Pulse Correspondent

Humiliation tasted like McDonald's.

Harriet Hertz, the former pop idol Sugar Flower, knew this for a fact, because the only place she had to stay now was with her cousin Mindy Salmontail in Maryland and they were sitting in a McDonald's parking lot, eating their $5 feast. It was either this or a hotel, and even Harriet knew she couldn't afford room service forever.

Harriet slouched unbuckled in the shotgun seat.

"I shouldn't be here right now," Harriet said through a mashed yellow mess of chewed fries. "Jeez. I should be touring. I had a whole tour lined up! Or shooting that jeans commercial. My butt would have looked -"

Mindy never got to find out how Harriet's butt would have looked, because she accidentally stepped on the gas and, with the car in reverse, nearly shot her unbuckled cousin through the windshield. Harriet was quickly learning that Mindy was the biggest klutz to trip her way out onto the good green earth.

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Harriet rubbed her head and growled under her breath.

"OK, well, instead of obsessing, why don't you try something to get your mind off of it?" Mindy asked. Mindy was 24, three years older than Harriet, but she sounded about 16. "Like a musical instrument?"

Harriet shook her head.

"Min, I can't even sing by myself," she said. "All the Sugar Flower vocals were totally made by computers."

"Go back to school, maybe? My best friend's sister starting taking extra science classes, now she's interning at some big science academy in New York."

Bitter laughter filled the car through the burger in Harriet's mouth.

"I'm no' shmar' enou' to be a shientish," she said around of the wad of half-eaten meat.

Mindy sighed.

"Get a job, then. I'm serious, Harriet. I didn't let you crash at my house to be a moaning leech. I know you're upset, but I expect you to spend your time doing something."

Harriet stared at Mindy. For once, the look on Harriet's face was not entirely annoyed or unfriendly.

"Okay, whatever. Job it is." She popped a pickle slice in her mouth. "But it better be good."

Twenty-four hours later, as Harriet sat in Mindy's living room, staring at the TV, a piece of paper appeared in front of her eyes.

"I got you a job. At Ellington's."

"No! No way, Mindy, dream on!"

"Hey, I didn't accept the application for you."

"But you sent it!" Hair in curlers, Harriet pointed a finger at her cousin, snarling with the menace of an accuser at the Salem witch trials.

"You said you wanted a job!"

"I said I wanted a good job! Not not this!"

The sad truth (in Harriet's mind) was that the forged job application had been accepted by Ellington Books and Caf.

"A bookstore? Me in a bookstore? I don't read!"

"Clearly," Mindy couldn't help retorting, "Otherwise you might not have signed that contract that said they could get rid of you when they wanted."

Right then, Mindy was certain her cousin was going to slap her straight across the face, but instead, Harriet simply turned away, eyes burning into the couch cushion next to her.

"OK, whatever." It was Harriet's stock phrase, usable for any situation or emotion. "They're not going to make me like any books, right? Maybe I'll get to work the caf." She looked back up, attempting her Sugar Flower smile. "I am a people person, after all."

Stunned by the sudden optimism, Mindy smiled back.

"Of course you are, Harriet. You'd have never hit the big time at all if you weren't."

Yawning, Harriet added, "So maybe I can hit it again."

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