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Climbing Uphill

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Chapter One

Dull throbbing woke her. Pressure rested against her forehead, waiting for something to relieve it. A hole, perhaps, drilled right between her eyes. Lifting her head from the pillow, she opened her eyes. Blue eyes were naturally sensitive to light, even more when pain engulfed her brain. The added nausea felt like a cherry on top of a pain sundae. Don’t think of food! Her eyes snapped shut again.

Resting her head on the pillow, Ivy Lynn took several deep breaths and waited for her stomach to settle. As it calmed, the woman tried opening her eyes again. Blinking a few times, her stomach remained still. It was a small victory and Ivy took it. She would win the war. She just needed a weapon to fight the pulsating pain driving her mad.

One step at a time, she told herself pushing back her pink comforter. Swinging her legs over the side, Ivy tested their strength. Though shaky, they held her weight. Walking to her vanity was another battle. Ivy lived in a small apartment and the trek took two long strides. Today, she took baby steps.

Leave it to Iowa to not put out something for a hangover. Probably doesn’t even get them. Goes out drinking and wakes up bubbly as ever. Ivy sorted through her various pill bottles, wondering which was appropriate for pain.

Staring in her mirror, for once she didn’t see the pictures of Marilyn taped to the glass. Only Ivy stared back. With blonde hair knotted into a rat’s nest, skin sallow and dark circles around her eyes, she presented an off-putting sight. “You look mahvelous, dahling,” she said to her reflection, rolling her eyes. Grimacing as a stale taste filled her mouth, Ivy abandoned her quest for painkillers in favor of her toothbrush.

Mouth scrubbed and tasting of mint, Ivy’s footing grew surer as she entered her kitchen. A glass of water and a bottle of aspirin sat on her counter like a present from Santa Claus. Maybe Iowa isn’t completely clueless.

A crisp white paper was folded between the glass and bottle. Using two fingers, Ivy removed it. Sam’s familiar handwriting was sprawled across the page.

Ivy,

Karen let Tom and me in as she left. Hope you don’t mind, we just wanted to make sure you were safe. You scared us! Tom even left his Republican boyfriend’s fundraiser for you. Anyway, I took off your angel costume—don’t think it would’ve been comfortable to sleep in. I put it in your closet. You need to return that immediately. Feel better.

Sam (and Tom)

Looking down, Ivy realized she was in an oversized black t-shirt. She recognized it as an old production shirt from years ago. Its logo had faded from constant wear and washing. I must be really out of it to notice I’m no longer wearing wings. Downing two pills and the glass of water, she started to feel better.

Until the phone rang.

As she ate her omelet, Ivy stared at it with fearful eyes. No doubt her mother had heard and was calling with a lecture. Fork forcefully digging into her breakfast, the call was sent to her voicemail.

“Miss Lynn, this is Ashley calling from Equity. We need to speak with…”

“Hello?” Ivy’s voice was breathless as she hung over her counter. “Yes, I understand.” A pause. “An hour? Yes, I can be there.”

Showered and dressed, Ivy left holding her angel costume across her arms, halo in a bag dangling from her wrist.


When she returned to her apartment, Ivy slammed her front door. She was expecting the fine. Expected them to write her up. Not to suspend her, to keep her from doing what she loved. Ivy threw her purse, the thud as it hit the floor hollow in her ears. “This isn’t fair!” she yelled into the empty space.

It didn’t help either.

Flopping onto her bed, Ivy groaned. They were exaggerating. They had to be. Just using her as an example to the others, no doubt.

Convinced that was it, Ivy rolled over and stared at her ceiling. As she watched it, the white began rushing up to her. She needed to leave this apartment.

Ivy snatched up her purse from where it had landed. Fishing through it, she found her newly returned phone. Several voicemail messages awaited her. The first was the assistant stage manager and was quickly deleted. The others she played.

“Ivy, it’s Tom. Please call me as soon as you get this. I’m really worried about you.” There was some mumbling in the background. “Sam’s worried about you too. Call us.”

“Ivy, bloody hell, what is going on? I’ve got people calling and texting asking if I’ve seen you. Call me.”

“Hey, Ivy, it’s Sam. Look, it’s getting serious. I am holding Tom hostage until you call me. I will torture him by making him watch a game. Call me.”

“Hi…Hi, Ivy, it’s Karen. Look, I know you said we weren’t friends but…I just want to make sure you’re okay. It can just be a text, please. Thanks.”

Ivy deleted all these messages, hands shaking. So many people so concerned for her? Why? She wasn’t a star, only a chorus member. Who cared about a chorus member?


“Oh praise the Lord, she lives!” Sam hugged Ivy tight. “We were really worried about you.”

Smiling, she returned it. “Sorry about that. It was a rough night.”

“Clearly, if you ended up relying on Karen Cartwright for help.”

Ivy laughed. “I know, right? Put a little alcohol in her and she’s not so bad. Get this, she actually called to make sure I was all right. She’s some sort of Rodgers and Hammerstein heroine.”

“That’s true,” Sam said. “Maybe she’ll get cast in a revival of Oklahoma. We’ve already got Marilyn.”

Ivy pouted. “Yes, some movie star. Not me.”

Sam held her hand. “Don’t worry. Once you’re back in rehearsals, you’ll claw your way back to the top in no time.”

“Whenever rehearsals start again,” she said wistfully.

An odd look crossed Sam’s face. “You haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?”

“Uh, nothing.” Sam busied himself with their newly arrived food. “Can you pass the ketchup?”

Ivy narrowed her eyes. “Not until you explain what you meant.”

Sam sighed, throwing down his fork in defeat. “Fine. I heard that Rebecca Duvall is definitely interested in Marilyn. They’re starting up the rehearsals again. Everyone’s been contacted.”

“Except me.” Ivy pouted.

“Now don’t feel bad. I’m sure it has more to do with your suspension than anything else. Once that’s over, you’ll get a call. Trust me.”

Ivy nodded, convinced that was it. Once her suspension was finished, she would be called back to work. Back to Marilyn. Back to being on top. Happy with that thought, Ivy dug into her own food.


She spent the next few days getting back into good form. Dance lessons, vocal training, gym workouts. It felt good. And for those days, she found she didn’t need the pills. Her mind was clearer than it had been since rehearsals began.

It was in this state that Ivy met Tom at a nearby smoothie place. Coincidental, but not unwelcome. With a genuine smile, she raced up to her friend. Throwing arms around him, Ivy squeezed. Tom returned the hug.

“Hey stranger,” she said brightly. “I’ve missed you. It seems you’ve been avoiding me lately.”

“I didn’t think you wanted to see me. After all, I was the one who told you you weren’t going to be a star.”

“And you thought I hated you?” Ivy was surprised. “I believe in the phrase ‘Don’t shoot the messenger,’ Tom. I could never hate you.” ,/p>

Tom relaxed. “Thanks, Ivy. I guess I was acting foolish.”

“Drama queen,” Ivy teased. “So, how’s Marilyn?”

“You mean Bombshell,” Tom corrected.

“Oh, is that the new title?” When Tom nodded, Ivy smiled. “I love it! You’re a genius, Tom.”

Tom blushed. “Thanks, but I can’t take the credit. Not even partial credit. The title is completely, one hundred percent Julia’s brilliance.”

“Well, she is lucky to have such a great writing partner.” Ivy looped her arm through Tom’s. “I’m looking forward, then, to being a part of Bombshell.”

Her companion grew silent. Ivy waited for him to say something. With each passing second, her smile grew falser. “What’s wrong, Tom?”

The skinny man beside her stopped his trek. Looking over her shoulder, he guided her until her legs hit the metal of a bench. Knees buckling, Ivy collapsed onto the wooden seat. Tom sat down next to her, sighing. “If you didn’t hate me before, you will now.”

“I’m not going to be in Bombshell, am I?” Ivy’s tone was flat. She had lived and breathed Marilyn Monroe for the past few months. Now, it was in vain. Tom’s face was all the confirmation she needed. His eyes were sad and he was frowning.

“It’s not that we don’t want you. We do. You would not believe the debate we had over it.”

“But I’m still not in it.”

Tom shook his head. “I am sorry, Ivy. But your behavior at Heaven on Earth cannot be brushed aside. You’re a liability now.”

Ivy’s mouth dropped open. “It was one time! Why am I to be punished for one time?”

“Is it really just one time?”

Shocked and angered, Ivy defended herself. “Why would you think otherwise?”

“Sam’s concerned. He told me about the pharmacy you were carrying in your bags. Ivy, I’m not speaking as the composer. I’m speaking as your friend. You are courting trouble.”

The blonde woman stood up. “For your information, I haven’t taken those pills in days. I am fine. And I am perfect for Bombshell.”

Tom stood as well, looking Ivy right in the eye. “I believe you. Prove it to the doubters.”


Ivy returned to her apartment, angrier than ever. Prove it to the doubters. Who are the doubters? Why are there doubters?

The blonde actress began pacing her small apartment, kitchen to bedroom. She was talented. Everyone knew it. Julia and Tom wanted her to be Marilyn from the beginning. Though briefly distracted by Iowa’s doe eyes, Derek wanted her to be Marilyn in the end. Everyone involved in Marilyn told her she was talented—even Karen had to acknowledge she was the better actress. And the critics! They had praised her in their reviews of the workshop.

So, who were the doubters? Ivy had the overwhelming need to know. Pulling her laptop out, she logged quickly onto the internet. She had never searched for herself before on the internet. It was something people like Karen did, looking for any sign of their growing popularity.

But people with the power did the same. It was on the news all the time, employers searching the internet for more information on current and potential employees. That was what Eileen and the investors were. They would do their research on their star, right? So it made sense for her to find what they were reading.

It was no surprise when the first results to pop up were Broadway sites after typing in her name. She’d have been worried if they weren’t. Clicking on one she recognized as a prominent message board, Ivy scanned for her name. Spotting one thread devoted to her, she clicked it.

And regretted it. Someone disobeyed the rules and filmed her drunken antics at Heaven on Earth. Ivy expected the others to admonish the user for doing so, but found nothing. Only comments she wished she hadn’t read.

“I think someone’s taking playing Marilyn a little too far.”

She’s not even playing Marilyn anymore! Rumor has it they want Rebecca Duvall to play the role.”

“Maybe Miss Lynn is trying to callback to the Golden Age of Broadway. Didn’t many actresses and actors go out drunk? Back then, though, they could still act.”

“Give the woman a break! She had one bad day. Please.” (Ivy liked that poster).

“One bad day? Nice try. I was at Heaven on Earth a few days ago. I watch the video of Ivy Lynn singing that Marilyn song (something about never giving all the heart?) all the time. So I was excited when I heard that she was back in Heaven on Earth. Imagine my surprise when instead of a consummate Broadway performer, I got a toddler having a temper tantrum! She pouted, rolled her eyes and just looked like she wanted to be someplace else.”

“I agree with the poster above me. I was at the same performance and think ‘toddler having a temper tantrum’ perfectly describes her.”

“I know it’s not allowed, but did anyone film this temper tantrum? I want to see it!”

Slamming the lid of her laptop, Ivy felt rage boil up inside her. How dare they say that about her? They didn’t know her. Didn’t know how she felt. What it was like to go from the very top back to the very bottom. To have your dream dangled before you and then cruelly yanked away. “People certainly know how to kick a dog when it’s down.”

“Some people think it is fun.”

Ivy sat up on her bed. Derek Wills stood in her bedroom doorway, staring at her. A five o’clock shadow already was on his face. His hands were shoved in his coat pockets. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Ivy smiled. “What brings you here?”

Derek smiled cheekily. “I thought you’d want some…cheering up.”

Laughter echoed about the room as Derek jumped onto her bed. He scooped Ivy into his arms. “How am I doing?”

“So far so good. But I know what can make it better.”

Derek’s eyebrow rose. “Oh?”

Ivy smiled coyly before lifting her head. Closing the gap, she kissed him. The two fell back on the bed, never breaking their liplock. Derek’s hand bunched her shirt up, eager to get to the smooth skin underneath. Ivy followed his lead, unbuttoning his own shirt. Trailing kisses, Derek began nibbling on her ear. “I approve.”


Later, Ivy studied Derek as he slept. In the fading sunlight, he looked glorious. It illuminated his brown hairs, standing in all directions. His chest rose and fell in a familiar rhythm. He looked so innocent while he slept, not at all like the tyrannical director who barked and insulted his way through rehearsals. She felt privileged to be the one who got to see him like this, the one he allowed himself to be vulnerable around.

Let the internet keep its opinion. Ivy was a leading lady.