Chapter 5: Hollywood Syndrome

It's Friday. My first day back at Estee Lauder Inc. My jaw is quaking, my lips quivering, arms shaking with four fresh cups of coffee from Starbucks. Exactly how Zach and Stacie like it, artificially flavoured and splenda filled. I always almost vomited from the smell, especially when it spilled on my skin. My new cell phone is in my pocket. I had successfully moved all my contacts to it in less than an hour or so. I had great relief and comfort in knowing I wasn't being stalked by a tracking device. I had thrown my cell phone in the trash and taken it out this morning for pick-up. With a shuddering sigh I had headed to work early for once.

The ding of the elevator shocked me out of my stupor. I checked my wristwatch and noticed I was minutes early to work. I sighed and took the few steps out of the elevator, head held high, waiting for the onslaught of complaints hurdled at me like every other day as an intern. Instead... ? A young, chipper Stacie running up to me with the brightest smile I'd ever seen on her face.

"Annie, you're well, I'm so glad you're back at work! It was pitiful without you. I thought we were going to crash," She took the coffee from my hand so fast I thought she'd spill it, but she didn't, and it startled me so much I was speechless. She hastily set it on some random counter before embracing me in a chaste hug. Pulling back, she tugged on my arm for me to follow. With widened, alert eyes, I did. I was aware of everyone's gawking eyes, apparently at Stacie's change of behaviour towards me, as we walked towards Zach's office.

"We had many things to prepare while you were gone. Magazine preparations, interviews, dinner dates, laundry, and without you it was just dreadful. I thought we'd never make it through the week."

"Pardon me, Stacie," I replied quickly with shame in my voice. She interrupted me smoothly.

"Oh, don't be silly! We got everything done by working overtime. Don't feel bad. Intern, are those files faxed like I needed you to do?" Her demeanour suddenly changed to fierce iron and I winced, prepared for the avalanche.

"P-pardon me," I stammered, "I wasn't aware-"

"Oh, not you hon'," Stacie chuckled a bit too lightly. It was then I noticed she was looking at another girl standing ten feet behind me, struggling to carry a two feet thick stack of papers. I gulped and shivered at the similarity to my days at work... "I'm talking to my new Intern, Ancherise Meridian. She is so handy, not as handy as you, but very reliable."

"Oh," I mumbled, too shocked to say anymore. She hired a new intern?! Why would she need to do that? Unless I'm fired after all!

"Anyways," Stacie rambled on, clueless to my panicked face. "We have the Jeorge Memorial Dance we've been planning all week. You'll need to attend, I'll have a driver pick you up at 8 o'clock sharp tonight. That will be all your work today, focusing on the tasks for the dance."

"Wh-what?" I stuttered out, jaws gaping as I stopped in my steps. This was too predictable... whoever called me on the phone knew my schedule at work and knew I would be going to that dance tonight... well after being bullied to. What if I said no? What if I said I was busy going to a doctor's appointment or come up with some other excuse? The idea of defying a threat on phone was very tempting, like wanting to make the teacher mad in school. But like usual, I didn't have the gumption to pull through in the scheme.

"Yes, the Memorial Dance! It's going to be the rave. We're going to remember 20 famous celebrities and have quite the pastime experience."

I had no chance to reply, to say 'no I can't come'. So the deal was made... I was getting picked up at my apartment at 8 to go to the dance. "Wait, what is my r-role there, Stacie?" Saying her name still made me shudder, afraid she was going to return to her normal self and snap at me with insults. Again, she didn't... This whole experience was all surreal. Like a dream, but not. "Oh, wait the coffee-" I suddenly snapped, turning around to run backwards and fetch it.

"No, no, silly," Stacie grabbed my arm and I paused, looking at her pleadingly. "My intern will get it, you don't need to. Come on, we have a meeting with Zach, let's not be late."

A meeting with Zach? Oh dear... is this where they drop the marbles and humiliate me? I gritted my teeth together and forced myself not to chatter uncontrollably while I walked with Stacie the rest of the way to Zach's enormous office at the end of the hall. Through the glass windows blinds up I could see Zach lounging in his chair, feet on the desk, staring at the laptop screen boringly. Stacie and I walked in without knocking and she announced our presence.

"Zach, dear. Look who's back!" Stacie held her hands out at me as if showing me off.

Zach looked up from the computer and gave me the most ridiculously large, condescending frown EVER. My teeth chattered, I couldn't help it. I stared in silence, unable to grasp what was happening. Why was he FROWNING? At me?

"Well, hey, welcome back, Annie. We've missed you."

You've missed me? Inwardly I screamed and my breath started coming out in quick pants. I pursed my lips to force the breathing back before putting on a whimpering shy smile for my boss. "G-glad to be back, Zach." Lies... all lies.

He nodded and a few seconds later a clicking noise behind me startled me and caused me to jump. It had been Stacie closing the door, hence leaving me here alone, with my boss. Not good. "What is it you need, Zach?" I asked as kindly as I could.

"Well... " he paused before sitting up in his chair and looking at me intensely. "We have almost everything ready for the dance tonight. Outfits, decorations, catering service, rentals, invitations sent out. I'm just missing one thing and I'll need you for that..."

I waited for him to tell me. He just sat there silently giving me strange looks, occasionally lowering his eyes to hover over my body. I cleared my throat to keep from stuttering, my heart beating rapidly. Failed. "Wh-what would that be?"

"I need a date," he said simply and I almost fainted on the spot. "I was thinking someone about 5'9" with wavy hair, wearing a wristwatch on her right wrist, not her left, clean face, casual, shy. You know anyone like that?"

Do I know anyone like that?! I glanced at my right wrist, looking at my watch. NO. "Um... I don't think so." I shook my head telling yet another lie.

"I think you do," he teased. "She used to be an intern here, if I'm not mistaken."

"Used to be?" I immediately freaked, not being able to hold my panic here. I started rambling at super speed. "I-I'm fired? Oh, I knew it. Pardon me, sir. I totally messed up and got lost, went in the wrong building, spilled all the coffee, lost my cell phone, had to run straight across Manhattan, in heels-"

"Silence!" he shouted, which made me shout my mouth instantly, eyes shaking in terror. "I know you've been sick. Forget about it. You're not an intern anymore because you're promoted. You are now, officially a part of Estee Lauder Inc. No strings attached."

I dropped my jaw in awe. He laughed at me, laughed! Of course I looked silly, and dorky.

"So what about being my date tonight, at the dance? Good, I'll tell Stacie to rearrange the rides. See you at 8 o'clock," He spoke so hastily I had no chance to reply and he had already stood, ushered me to the door and shoved me out of his office. But not before letting his hand lingered on my lower back before giving me a flicker of some strange sensation in his eyes and closing the door. I shuddered and felt like going in there and slapping him for touching me like that. He was a man-whore, one who slept with the young interns, I knew it. I was one of the only two who he hadn't... dammit, now he's eying me. What if all this 'charade' is an act to get me in his pants?! What if Zach bribed Stacie to be nice to me so he could get me to like him? The promotion, the nicety acts, the date at the dance, the new intern... it was all a ruse. Every puzzle piece was coming together in my head, but I could not come up with a good plan to stop it.

Every possibility ended in failure. If I turned Zach down and told him I wasn't going to the dance then I would be fired for real. If I went to the dance with him and he 'wooed' me, and I refused to dance with him or 'cuddle' with him, then he would get mad and fire me. Every solution was not working... and I was panicking. All the while Stacie walked up to me and took my arm, a great smile on her face. "Lets go have coffee," she offered. And I nodded too stunned to speak.

...

We ended up going to Starbucks. GOING to Starbucks! At the beginning of the work day! Stacie and I ended up talking about all the things planned for the dance, and picking out our outfits. She told me we were going shopping that day and parading around town for 2 or so hours before lunch to get all that we needed. She had a dress ironed and laundered, prepared for her, but she wanted to help me. So we ended up going to Macy's and she bought me, I mean it! She bought me a very expensive jeweled dress that fit me like a glove. It was daring midnight blue with bow-tie top, flowing down past my hips and trailing behind my back to touch the floor barely. There were silver sparkling gems for the hem, a silver ribbon at my ribcage. It had matching gloves that reached to my elbows as well. It was a tube-top, so I was worried about it falling off, but surprisingly it held up perfectly. I was also conscious about showing off my back and shoulders! Stacie said I was being so silly and that I looked gorgeous, and that with some make up, shoes, and fixing up my hair the package would be complete! I tried saying no... but Stacie being pushy as she was, and me being a run-over, I complied.

By lunch time I had been pampered with manicures, pedicures, facials, and mineral make up to the point where I looked like a fashionista. Looking in the mirror I gawked unreal like, trying to recognize the fashion model in the mirror. Did I really have shimmering cream skin like that? The bold brown eyeliner around my eyes brought out the blue. Are my lips really heart-shaped and pouty looking?! The most shocking transformation was my hair... I had cried and refused for Stacie to highlight my hair. So finally she insisted on just a haircut and curls. The finale was subtle waves at my shoulder blades, parted on the left side so that my hair had maximum volume. There was bangs that reached my ears, curling intensely and casting a bit of shadow over my forehead. Oh, and it made me whimper at the earrings in my ears... Sapphire hearts. I did not look like Annie anymore... Stacie even said so. She said it was about time I used my real name. Not the shortened version.

"Good, now you will come to the dance tonight as Annalyn Fashion Designer, not Annie the Intern." Stacie said. Yup, Annalyn is my full first name. I never tell anyone but it's in my resume.

I squinted harder to try and clear the slight blurriness at the edges and went to my book bag to put on my glasses. "Uh, uh!" Stacie protested, snatching the broad rimmed glasses from my hands. She broke them so fast I gasped and whimpered, watching the spectacles make their way to the trash can. "From now on you're wearing contacts."

So that was the last thing... at 4 that afternoon I had gotten contacts. It was uncomfortable at first. Stacie assured me that by the time of the dance I won't even notice them... I hope she was right. By 6, I was exhausted, having done more in that one day than all my sweaty work days in my entire life. Everyone at work had stopped their tasks to stare at my transformation, even a few whistles from the cream make up department. I had blushed and smiled, soaking up the attention despite the inclinations behind it. Doesn't everyone like a little attention? Finally at home in my apartment I sunk into my couch and closed my eyes, mercifully thankful for the end of a strenuous day.

Another thing about that 'promotion'... it had quadrupled my paycheck. So when I had cashed my money in I almost fainted on the spot. So now instead of barely scraping by I had enough money to put back and save for a greater cause... my dream at becoming a true fashion designer.

...

It's 6:43. I almost forgot about meeting that guy I met, Chris, at the pizzeria! I would have to tell him I couldn't stay more than half an hour. He'd be ditched... but at least I would be safe. Something else Stacie had done while we were out 'shopping'... She'd bought me an entire new wardrobe. Three outfits that were, simple to say, extremely daring and 'enticing' for lack of more dirty slang words. I had been trying one outfit on when I glanced at the clock and freaked out, immediately combing my pampered hair with my fingers and rushing out of my apartment as fast as I could. I hired a taxi and told him the address, fiddling with my fingers as I waited to arrive.

I got there at 5 minutes until 7. With a 'phew' I waited outside of the Pizzeria. Everything felt like a rush. The entire day felt like an hour... now these 5 minutes felt like eternity while I tapped my feet nervously on the pavement, staring at the sparkly new green pumps.

"Hey, Annie!" I looked up startled to see Chris with a big smile.

"H-hi!" I stuttered out with a shy smile, blushing.

"Wow, breathtaking," he complimented me, looking over my body, and my blush grew deeper.

"Th-thanks," I stuttered nervously.

"Well, time to go in then," he held out his arm and I nervously wrapped my arm around it.

I saw my reflection in the glass as we both turned around to enter V&T. Oh, God what was I wearing?! Of course he would say 'breathtaking'! I would NEVER wear something like this without Stacie buying it for me first!

I was wearing metallic silver skin-hugging leggings down to the ankles, Tori V-Neck Leopard-Print dress that was modified to be mid-thigh, and the sparkly green pumps. I was holding a matching leopard-print coin purse. I looked like one of those models for Vogue, only without the megaton of make-up! I was so stunned, Chris nudged me gently. "You alright?"

"Oh, yes," I smiled nervously and we entered the V&T. I totally forgot about ditching him for a second, too entranced by this new look I had. I had this urge to flaunt my figure and make myself look very good for this Chris, and try not to be so awkward. I guess I had the 'Hollywood' syndrome... I had always seen in movies the girls who get transformed like this and turn into bitches. I thought I was immune to that... but this swelling sensation in my breast, the one that tells you 'you're beautiful, you're hot, you're a knock out, and you like to be liked' just kept swelling, and swelling like a balloon of something lighter than even helium! I don't know if I'm on the road to Bitchland. But I do know that I'm starting to like this attention...

Boy was I in for a surprise.