Race Wilcox yanked open his trailer door, pulling his shirt over his head as he navigated the three steps to his own private sanctuary. He barely noticed as the door swung closed and slammed shut the way it usually did. The morning’s shoot had gone well, but the director had still asked for an extra four takes of an action sequence. Race was hot, tired, and ready for a cold beer; not that he ever drank during work hours, but he really wanted a cold beer.
He tossed the sweaty shirt onto the bed, and as he popped open his button-fly jeans, he noticed a bright orange envelope propped up on the dining area table. His name was written in large, graceful calligraphy, and just the sight of it made him seriously reconsider his beer policy. He knew exactly what it was, but he ripped open the envelope and looked anyway, feeling his blood pressure rise. It was worse than he’d expected, and he tossed the whole thing into the trash can. If they didn’t have so many fucking rules around the set, he’d have preferred to burn it so that he could watch the flames darken and devour the paper. But that wasn’t an option.
He groaned loudly, continued undressing, and then hopped into the shower where the cool water washed away sweat and stage makeup but not his bad mood. As he soaped himself, he thought about his options. He was pretty fucking annoyed, which ruined his usual shower jerk-off session, thus adding to his fury.
When Race had first heard about it, he’d thought it had to be some kind of a joke. He hadn’t believed it—or hadn’t wanted to believe it. Now the orange envelope had arrived, and he wasn’t any less annoyed, but he was starting to believe it. It wasn’t just an invitation; it was a demand that he attend a party. And not just any party… his network’s Hallo-fucking-ween party. While he usually enjoyed parties, the truth of the matter was costumes were not Race’s thing. Despite the fact that he was an actor and technically wore a costume every day at work, he hated having to dress up as something, particularly when it wasn’t voluntary. He hadn’t been cast in many genre productions, so almost all of the characters he’d played—in film or on television—had worn normal everyday clothes. It had been his acting that brought them to life, not how he was dressed.
When he got out of the shower, he wrapped a towel loosely around his hips and shuffled into the main area of the trailer. He barely noticed the drops of water that continued to cascade down his chest and back and drip off his dark brown hair. He’d call his agent! Maybe she could get him out of it, and he wouldn’t have to go after all. He speed-dialed her on his cell phone and crossed his fingers as he listened to the phone ring, willing her to pick it up already. He was too angry to leave voicemail. He worked every day… long, hard days, and his evenings off were supposed to be his personal, private time. They had so few evenings off in the first place that this really added insult to injury.
She picked up on the third ring, and he relayed his tale of woe, but she was less than sympathetic.
“Considering the ratings aren’t good enough to ensure automatic renewal for another season, it’s in your best interests—and those of the show—to go to the damn party and act like you’re having a good time. You are an actor, right?” she teased, but he knew under her joking tone she meant every word, and next time he needed a favor she might not be very forthcoming. “It’s good for your image and for your reputation with the studio execs. The fans love you, but you need to suck up a little bit more to the guys who sign the paychecks.”
“What the fuck do I pay you for?” He paced around and the small trailer rocked slightly, its contents shaking noisily. “Aren’t you supposed to take care of this kind of thing? Arrange my jobs and keep me from having to do these unbearable events. That’s not too much to ask considering how much of my salary you get!”
“No dice,” she said in an increasingly impatient tone. “It’s in your contract to do a reasonable number of publicity events for the network, and this falls under that description. A bunch of press people are on the guest list. If they want you to be there, you had better be there.”
“It is not reasonable!“ He kicked the wall next to the bed and heard something crash down in the bathroom, which was on the other side. “They’re making me dress up, and they want to approve our costumes in advance!” As soon as the words left his mouth, Race realized he sounded like a five-year-old complaining that someone else got the last red gumdrop. He sat down on the bed with a thud and waited for her response.
“Look, Race, when your name comes first in the credits maybe you’ll have some leverage, but for now just suck it up graciously, and don’t piss off any of the network people. That’s definitely bad for your career.”
Race’s co-star Derrick Steele’s name came first in the show’s opening credits, a fact which never failed to annoy Race whenever they actually watched the broadcast together. Derrick was easygoing and great fun, but they could really trash talk each other into the ground. The crew thought they were more like brothers than simply best friends or co-stars. But they rarely caught the show on-air. Usually they were so tired from the long days of shooting; they were home sleeping at air time.
“You mean Derrick can get out of it?” Maybe there was more to this name order thing than Race had originally believed. Anger burned even brighter in his chest now. Fucking Derrick!
“I didn’t say that. I said you can’t, so stop trying. Just think of something you won’t mind dressing up as and have some fun for a change. You’re too serious sometimes.”
“Oh, fuck off. And you’re fired,” he said—but with a laugh—and hung up before she had a chance to reply.
“Did you get your invitation to the party?” Derrick came bursting into the trailer while Race was zipping up his jeans, not five minutes after he’d gotten off the phone with his agent. Derrick always barged in without knocking and Race was used to it. His co-star was also freshly showered and his damp dirty-blond hair spiked up in all directions. The hair stylists always found working on Derrick a challenge, but Race’s neatly groomed dark-brown hair was a breeze for them.
“Yeah, I got it, and it looks like I can’t get out of it. What about you?”
“Get out of it?” Derrick looked confused. “Why would you want to get out of it? It’s going to be an awesome party. I love Halloween!”
Derrick was as animated as a kid off his Ritalin sometimes, which tended to amuse or annoy Race. At the moment it was the latter, and he nearly glared at his friend.
“Why are you so fucking excited?” Race pulled a clean shirt out of the closet and slipped it on.
“Deciding what costume to wear is so much fun. Then finding out what everyone else shows up as. You get a real insight into people’s personalities by the costumes they choose.”
There it was in a nutshell, the reason Race hated costume parties. People always think there’s some hidden meaning to what you’re dressed as. Race knew he was going to be analyzed and judged by the studio, the network, and the tabloids based on his choice of costume. Now he was even more convinced it would be a terrible mistake to go to the party. Derrick stared at him. He frowned and shook his head as if he could read Race’s mind.
“Look, Race, I’ll help you pick out a costume. It’ll be fun!” Derrick offered. He flashed his dimples and grinned in an infectious way that Race always found impossible to refuse. “We’ll have a great time, you’ll see!”
Derrick was so excited that some of his enthusiasm rubbed off, and Race actually began to think going along with him wouldn’t be so bad. Derrick was fun, and together they always had a great time, no matter what they did. This certainly wasn’t the first publicity event they’d been sent to, and Derrick usually goofed around or did something dorky for the cameras, which they ate up. It left Race looking like a stick in the mud sometimes, but the fans seemed to love the contrast between their two personalities.
“And Stella’s coming down for the party too!” Derrick added as he rooted around in Race’s refrigerator for a bottle of water. He chugged half of it in one swallow as he watched Race finish dressing so that they could get back on set.
“Stella?” Race had no idea why the news suddenly disappointed him so much. Stella Reynolds was Derrick’s long-term girlfriend. She was also an actor, but her series filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia; so she lived in Canada most of the year. Due to their work schedules, they maintained a long-distance relationship but always seemed to have a hiatus or vacation at different times. She managed to make it down to Los Angeles about once a month, and usually the three of them got on great together. Race was included in most of their plans when she visited.
She hadn’t been down to L.A. for more than a month though, and Race and Derrick had been spending all their time off together. Race had almost forgotten she existed because Derrick hardly ever talked about her unless directly asked. Of course Derrick would want Stella in town for the party, but for some reason the party didn’t sound quite as appealing to Race now, and he couldn’t quite put his finger on why.