Title: Jessica on Stage
Summary: Bitten by the acting bug…
Jessica’s latest dream is to become an actress. So when she discovers that Sweet Valley’s own Mrs. Harrington is really Dolores Dufay, star of stage and screen, she can barely contain her excitement.
With help from her twin sister Elizabeth, [Wing: Must you meddle in everything, Elizabeth? Must you?] Jessica and Mrs. Harrington develop a true friendship. And with some special behind-the-scenes coaching from the famous actress, she gets the lead in a play that her Saturday acting class is producing. But it looks like curtains for Jessica when her acting partner gets stage fright on opening night. Will the show go on – or will Jessica’s stage career be over before it begins? [Wing: That acting partner, and, hell, Mrs Harrington, better hope the show goes on, or it’ll be curtains for them.]
Tagline: Is Jessica about to get her big break?
Totally forgot this was my weekend to recap because Dove and I switched books, and so I’m coming into this even more stressed than usual. Is Dolores Dufay supposed to bring to mind Doris Day? Otherwise, I’ve got nothing.
The book opens on a rainy Saturday afternoon (but I thought the weather was supposed to be sunny and perfect in Sweet Valley); Jessica Wakefield is freaking out to her sister, Elizabeth Wakefield, because it’s already after 2 p.m. and she was supposed to bake cookies for a Unicorn meeting that afternoon, but she completely forgot. Shocking.
Elizabeth is amused by Jessica’s flair for the dramatic, and blames it on seeing a play at the Sweet Valley Community Theater that was put on by a famous touring company. (At a community theater? Is that normal?) Then Jessica read a biography about Sarah Bernhardt, a famous actress. (Jessica reads?) And now Jessica thinks she’s the next famous actress.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, has no interest in acting. She’s serious and responsible and far too busy reading and writing and meddling in everyone else’s business to want to act. Elizabeth loves horses, but Jessica only loves “the mythical, magical unicorn” which is basically a horse with a horn to stab you. #bestjess [Raven: Maybe Liz could star in Equus…?]
When their mother Alice turns up, Jessica tells her she’s in serious trouble and something is terribly terribly wrong, all dramatic, of course, because this is truly subtle writing. Elizabeth ruins things by saying that all she needs is a few dozen cookies. Despite previous books about how Jessica (and Elizabeth) need to be more responsible, Alice condones this lack of responsibility and agrees to drive Jessica to the store to buy cookies. She can’t possibly walk, you see, because
she’ll be mobbed by the papes it’s raining. [Raven: Wait, this is America, right? Isn’t the nearest store fifty miles away?]
As they’re leaving the store’s parking lot, Alice has to slam on the brakes to keep from hitting a dachshund (it’s a good thing Jessica isn’t actually late to the Unicorn meeting or she’d have pushed her mom’s leg so she stepped on the gas, to hell with a dog when the Unicorns are waiting). They’re bumped from behind, and Jessica freaks out that they’ve been hit, screaming and shouting things all dramatically. Because, again, subtle writing.
There’s very little damage to their van (the Wakefields drive a van?! Why hasn’t this ever clicked for me before? I can’t see either Wakefield parent driving a van), but the woman who hit them is grumbling about her neck and how much pain she’s in and how it’s all Alice’s fault. Where I live, it will pretty much always be the fault of the person who hit from behind, because the assumption is they were following too close. There are states where it is no fault at all. Not sure what California’s rules were at the time, and I’m behind enough this weekend that I’m trying not to let myself fall into my normal rabbit hole of research. [Dove: That’s pretty much how it is here too, if someone runs in the back of you, they shouldn’t have been so close that an emergency stop caused a crash.] [Wing: I think it just makes logical sense, really.]
Alice offers to take her to the emergency room, and the old lady jumps on that. She’s also very dramatic (shocking, I know), needing both Elizabeth and Jessica to help her into the van. If I was about to sue some stranger, which is pretty much where she’s landed with her attitude at this point, I wouldn’t be getting into their van. Sweet Valley sure is something.
I’m sure you’re shocked to learn that she was being overly dramatic and exaggerating her injury, much like someone else we know, and there is no damage at all. The doctor tells the Wakefields all sorts of information about Mrs Harrington, even though they aren’t family, and surely this doesn’t predate HIPAA, does it? I could just — no, Wing, avoid that rabbit hole. You don’t have to look up every detail you question. If you do that, you’d never finish a recap again.
Anyway, the doctor is very upfront about the results of her x-ray and even tells them that she’s 65 and lives alone, so the hospital isn’t comfortable releasing her to be alone just yet. Instead, they’ll keep her for 24 hours and they’ll make sure she gets home the next day. Elizabeth is shocked that Mrs Harrington is 65, which is younger than Grandmother Wakefield, but Mrs Harrington seems much older than her.
As they leave, Jessica is still grumbling over missing most of the Unicorn meeting, and Alice says that Mrs Harrington’s face seems familiar, she’s sure she’s seen the woman somewhere before, she just can’t figure out where. Jessica tells her that sounds just like a line from a movie (subtle), and Alice teases her about being dramatic and calls her Sarah Bernhardt. I actually like Alice a lot in this chapter, minus the way she enables Jessica’s procrastination and lack of responsibility.
It’s still raining on Sunday (two days of rain in a row in Sweet Valley?! THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH). While Elizabeth and Alice clean up breakfast, Jessica watches old movies in the family room, because she’s “studying acting.” Elizabeth suggests that they go visit Mrs Harrington, who must be so lonely. Alice thinks this is a grand idea, and is still trying to figure out why Mrs Harrington looks so familiar. Alice invites Jessica to join them, but she shoots that right down. Mrs Harrington, the “old sourpuss,” made her late to the Unicorn meeting. Mrs Harrington is lucky she isn’t already buried in Nora’s backyard.
At the hospital, Mrs Harrington looks well rested and less anxious even though she’s wearing an awkward neck brace. I thought there was no damage. Why did they indulge her with a neck brace? [Raven: Probably because she threw a hissyfit until she got one, the old sourpuss.]
Anyway, she’s actually fairly excited to see Alice and Elizabeth, especially the marigolds and daisies that Elizabeth brought her, and Elizabeth notices that she “had a striking face, with high cheekbones, a firm jaw, and a fine sculptured nose” and must have been very beautiful once.
She seems embarrassed by how she acted, making a fuss and being a nuisance, and then actually apologises, which I didn’t expect. She’s a nervous driver, apparently, and her husband used to do all the driving, but now he’s … she trails off before she finishes that thought. So dramatic. Much wow.
Mrs Harrington has to wear the neck brace for a week (BUT WHY? THERE WAS NO FUCKING DAMAGE), and dramatically groans about how she won’t be able to do the housework while she’s wearing it and then how it doesn’t actually matter because she lives alone and has no family to visit and now she wishes she’d have kids but when she was younger she didn’t see any time to have them and on and on and on.
She sounds like a whiner and also that stereotype that a woman can’t be satisfied unless she has children, no matter what other great accomplishments she has.
Mrs Harrington is sad and sends them away, talking about how there’s nothing anyone can do about anything. SO DRAMATIC. SUCH SUBTLE WRITING.
When Alice and Elizabeth get home, Jessica makes them try to guess her exciting news. Alice guesses she’s been offered movie contracts, and Elizabeth that Johnny Buck called and asked her on a date, but no, she’s discovered who Mrs Harrington really is, and she can show them.
Sure enough, she turned up in one of the movies Jessica is watching, a young, joyful, expressive, beautiful woman, Dolores Dufay, glamorous stage and screen actor, star of Winds of Eden, which used to be Alice’s favourite movie. Dramatic reveal! Dramatic chapter ending! Subtle writing! [Raven: Why the hell doesn’t Alice know who stars in her once-favourite movie? Especially since she knows Ms Dufay’s entire backstory. Why didn’t she recognise Mrs Harrington? Must be the gin. Explains the accident, I guess.]
Alice tells them all about what a good actor Delores Dufay was, how she and her husband, Richard Harrington, were an amazing acting team in the 40s and 50s. They started on Broadway, then moved to big Hollywood movies, and apparently Richard was once nominated for an Academy Award once. Not Dolores, though, that’d be a step too far for Sweet Valley. /eyeroll emoji
Awhile back, though, Dolores just disappeared from acting.
They talk a bit about whether someone can be too old to act [Dove: mid-thirties for women.] (or too young to start acting, Alice teases Jessica, and it’s, again, actually a very cute scene between the three of them). Jessica’s distracted, though, and Elizabeth knows that when she gets that look, she’s hatching a plan.
Elizabeth is shocked that Jessica doesn’t immediately tell everyone everything when they get to school the next day, but she stays silent and just listens to Amy Sutton and Belinda Layton (two of Elizabeth’s good friends, apparently, and oh, Billy, we knew you well) talk about the black and white kitten they found by the little league field. Neither of them can take it home, though, because Amy’s mom is allergic (me too), and Belinda’s mom doesn’t want a kitten around their new baby. (Cats steal baby’s breath, you know.) They’ve been trying to get it to eat, but it’s too scared. [Dove: Yeah, no, Belinda is a Unicorn, which means she’s Jess’ friend. Because the twins cannot share friends.] [Wing: Oh, dude, I’d completely forgotten that Belinda became a Unicorn at the end of that book! Social structure breaking down outside of a Super Edition? WHAT?] [Raven: Why isn’t the cat thing the A Plot? If they can write a book about fucking Ithig, they can write one about a kitty.]
Ken Matthews turns up to tell them they need liver to tempt the cat to eat. He recently got a dog, you remember, (continuity!) and he knows a lot about taking care of animals.
Amy asks Elizabeth to come with them after school so she can see the kitten, but Jessica “mysteriously” says they have an important errand. No one else notices how dramatic she’s being because they’re distracted by news of the kitten, so Elizabeth takes a moment to try to threaten Jessica not to use Mrs Harrington. Jessica acts all hurt and innocent and says she’d never use Mrs Harrington, she’s trying to do something nice for her and get to know her. And though Elizabeth thinks Jessica must have an ulterior motive (of course she does! She’s Jessica fucking Wakefield!), Elizabeth is also curious, and decides visiting her would be a nice gesture no matter why they’re doing it. WRONG.
Jessica is disappointed that Mrs Harrington lives in a normal neighborhood with ordinary people and houses and cars and not something big and fancy. Oh lord, here we go. While they wait for an answer at the door, Jessica daydreams about how jealous the Unicorns will be when she tells them that she met Dolores Dufay and got her autograph.
Mrs Harrington is not excited to see them, though. She looks like she’s been crying, and the brace makes her movements stiff and awkward. (I still don’t understand why she’s wearing the brace in the first place, THERE WAS NO FUCKING DAMAGE.)
She asks them to come back another time because she’s not ready for guests, but Jessica manipulates her way inside. No never means no to Jessica, which is terrifying.
The house is a terrible mess, furniture upside things, things scattered everywhere, drawers pulled out of cabinets. While she was in the hospital, someone robbed her house. (Well damn, you had a rough 24 hours, didn’t you? Though I’d be looking at Jessica on this one, considering the oh so convenient car accident and then Jessica running off to her “meeting.”)
Some of her antique jewelry is missing, but otherwise she’s not sure what’s been taken, she’s already dealt with the police, and she can’t figure out what’s missing until she cleans up but she doesn’t have the energy to do so. [Raven: She is SUCH a drama queen. Actually, to be fair, she IS a drama queen.]
Jessica doesn’t ask her for her signature, considering the circumstances. Instead, she reaches for a broom. Jessica fucking Wakefield voluntarily reaches for a cleaning implement.
What the fuck is even happening right now?!
They make her tea and clean the kitchen while it brews, take a little tea break (cranberry tea, which sounds delicious), and then move to the living room. Jessica directs Mrs Harrington to sit on the sofa and tell them what to do, while they start in opposite corners and work their way through. This is pure logical, bossy Jess, and I like it, but again, she’s voluntarily cleaning. That’s so out of character it has blown all my thoughts out the window.
Jessica, of course, finds a framed picture of Dolores Dufay and a handsome man. Jessica crows over being right that Mrs Harrington is Dolores Dufay (Ben is Glory).
Mrs Harrington bursts into tears and runs off to the kitchen, because over-the-top dramatics are the theme of this book. Jessica is filled with remorse. (JESSICA? REMORSE? WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT YOU HAVE DONE WITH JESSICA FUCKING WAKEFIELD, SERIAL KILLER AND SOCIOPATH?)
Jessica rushes after her to apologise (Jessica is apologising now?!), and Mrs Harrington admits she probably overreacted (probably?), because it is hard to be reminded of her past. Over another cup of tea, Mrs Harrington tells them about how she and her husband were very successful once, but now she has very little.
Jessica, tapping back into that devious logic we love, points out that anyone who knows she was a famous actor probably assumes she has tons of jewelry and other riches. She’s also embarrassed because that was exactly what she thought, but she, of course, doesn’t say that part.
She quickly changes the subject, though, and asks why Mrs Harrington stopped acting. She always felt like her husband was the better performer and never felt like an actor in her own right, so after he died, she stopped acting because she didn’t want to act alone. This is truly heartbreaking, that she could have had so much success but doubted herself the entire time and gave up something she seemed to love just because she felt like an impostor. Impostor syndrome is real and dangerous, yo.
That ends their visit, but Jessica asks if they can come back the next day to help her clean some more. Both Mrs Harrington and Elizabeth are shocked by this. Me too. ME TOO.
They work at her house over the next three days. Sometimes, Jessica gets her to tell them stories about her husband, Richard, and a tiny bit about how she felt about acting, though she won’t answer any questions about Hollywood or her own glamourous past. Jessica can tell she’s lonely and sad and doesn’t have many friends of her own now, and is determined to help her.
Have you switched places with Elizabeth? Because that sounds far more like Elizabeth than Jessica. [Raven: Maybe this was originally Elizabeth On Stage, but they switched it at the last minute…. Go Go Gadget Re-Write!]
Mrs Harrington is also really supportive of Jessica’s interest in acting, which is a nice twist from how stories generally go (which is that the older, formerly glamorous actor is threatened by the young cute up and coming star).
On Friday, Elizabeth goes with Amy and Belinda to see the cat, leaving Jessica to visit with Mrs Harrington on her own. When she gets home, Elizabeth asks Alice if they can have a cat, and tells her all about the adorable kitten (black with white on her front paws, her neck, and the tip of her tail). Alice quickly agrees to let them have a kitten, as long as Elizabeth takes full responsibility for it. I’m sure that’s exactly how that will go, though at least it is somewhat more likely that Elizabeth will take care of it than Jessica. I just hope Jessica doesn’t try to sacrifice it to the acting gods or something.
Jessica comes home shortly after to dramatically announce that she and Elizabeth just have to help Mrs Harrington who is heartbroken all over again because her beloved scrapbook is missing. Jessica wants them to find it for her, and even plans to go to the police station to talk to Officer Carey, who came to their school last month and talked about safety. She thinks he can give them some ideas about where to start searching. I think he’s probably too busy for that, but you’re rich white kids, you’ll be treated just fine.
Sure enough, Officer Carey is polite, but points out that the old scrapbook is worthless, and usually thieves sell what they can and throw away the rest. He dismisses the very idea that the scrapbook has worth to anyone but Mrs Harrington herself, but, um, paparazzi existed back then, too. If she was that famous for that long, and someone found out, that scrapbook absolutely could be worth something.
The twins spend the morning searching secondhand stores and antique shops throughout Sweet Valley (how many can it possibly have?) and even an art gallery that often displays old photos, but no one has seen the book.
Elizabeth heads off to the little league field to get the cat, leaving Jessica to her own devices. Frightening prospect. Though we don’t get to see the game, Amy admires Belinda’s pitching and calls her the star of the game. I could ship it.
On the walk home, they try to come up with a list of names for the kitten: Patches, Cuddles, Miss Kitty, Sweetie Pie. I like Monster [Animal] myself as a pet name. (Says the owner of a Monster Dog.) [Raven: Alternate cat names: Kaleidoscope, Fluffy Jesus, Richard Parker, Depressed Cupboard Cheesecake, The Animal Formerly Known As Cat, International House Of Pancakes, Shitwhiskers, Madagascar, Speculum, Invisible Trout Magnet, Pendulous Plums, Fucketty Prick, Mephistopheles, Mucus Membrane, Sprained Anus, and, of course, Bobby McFerrin.]
Pretty much immediately, the kitty starts creating chaos around the Wakefield house, and of course that leads to her name, which becomes Mischief. [Raven: Shoulda been Discord.]
When Jessica gets home, she’s still obsessing over Mrs Harrington’s problem and barely notices the kitten. (Also, while I’m enjoying this story, it is a far cry from what the blurb said it would be, which is making me roll my eyes at the blurb writer and/or cheer on the ghost writer for during their own thing.)
Anyway, Jessica thinks they are going about it all wrong, because maybe they will never find the scrapbook, so instead they should focus on ways to cheer her up. Jessica has lots of ideas, but there’s always a reason they won’t work:
“That’s just the trouble,” Jessica replied dejectedly. “I’ve thought of lots of things, but there’s always a reason why they wouldn’t work.” She began to tick ideas off on her fingers. “We could take her to the theater, but she doesn’t like to go out at night and it may just make her feel sorry for herself. We could introduce her to other older people, but we don’t know any. We could help her find a hobby, but she doesn’t like to sew or cook or do crossword puzzles.” She sighed.
Steven finally turns up and tells them that “no problem is too big for Steven the Great” to solve, and we’re told that Jessica is often infuriated by her brother. Not sure that’s exactly how he feels about you, though, honey. She calls him Steven the Creep, which does make me laugh.
He makes himself a turkey sandwich while Elizabeth gives him a brief rundown, basically that they need something to amuse an older friend who lives alone. In reality, Steven would make a lewd suggestion, because when they say “older friend”, I bet he’s not picturing an old woman. Instead, he says they should get her a dog, which Jessica immediately shoots down because she hates dogs. There’s so much wrong with you, Jessica Wakefield. So much.
His idea isn’t bad, because the dog will keep her company and protect her, keep anyone from breaking into her house (which isn’t entirely true; first of all, she’d probably need a little dog, and second, even with a big dog, thieves can find ways to deal with it), and though Jessica is loathe to admit it, she starts to agree with him, in part because it would get her out of the house to walk it and might even let her meet people.
She’s just not sure where they can get a dog because they don’t have enough money to buy one.
Shelter, Jessica. You would get one at an animal shelter. Oh my god. (Though, to be fair, some animal shelters charge quite a bit.) [Raven: Alternately, they can just start up a dog walking service and steal one.]
CONVENIENTLY, Steven’s friend Joe Oppenheimer has some German shepherd puppies to give away. What, in Sweet Valley they aren’t purebred puppies for sale for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars? Bite your tongue!
Though Elizabeth isn’t sure about this plan (NOTE: it’s pretty much never a good idea to give someone a surprise dog, even if you know that person loves dogs, which they do not know at the moment), Jessica, of course, steamrolls right over her and decides that they will ask Ken to pick out a good puppy.
(Then there’s a little fat hate joke about how he’ll be Steven the Huge if he doesn’t stop eating, because fat, so funny, ha ha ha.)
Jessica and Ken argue over which is the right puppy for Mrs Harrington, but can’t get Elizabeth to weigh in on the decision, because she doesn’t think Mrs Harrington will like any of the puppies. And yet she’s not trying to put a stop to this and hasn’t actually called to warn Mrs Harrington, just silently judges. Damn it, Elizabeth.
Even though the puppy is still little, they manage to walk it over to Mrs Harrington’s on a leash instead of carrying it. I have my doubts about that, but whatever, it is a small point. Once they arrive, the puppy starts acting adorable, because puppy:
The puppy wrapped the leash around Elizabeth’s ankles a couple of times and then looked up at her with a bewildered look, as if he were wondering why he couldn’t move. Elizabeth laughed and picked him up, cradling him in her arms.
The puppy runs off into the house the second they take off his leash, because he’s a fucking puppy, of course that is what he’s doing. He makes a mess, Mrs Harrington worries whether he’s trained or not (my guess? NOT), and then he promptly pees on the floor.
Mrs Harrington then shoots down the idea of them giving her a puppy because it’s too much work and he’d cost too much to feed when he grows up into a very large dog. Completely valid reasons not to want a dog. (And not wanting a dog at all is completely valid.) Elizabeth isn’t surprised, but Jessica is disappointed. She asks Elizabeth to take the puppy back while she helps straighten things up.
This makes Elizabeth very cross because it would take only a second to clean up and this whole thing was Jessica’s idea in the first place, but of course she decides not to say anything and instead takes the dog back, leaving Jessica and Mrs Harrington alone.
Sure enough, it takes only a second to clean up, and then Jessica offers to read the local paper to Mrs Harrington while they have tea and cookies. As always, Jessica has spun things around so that she comes out on top. Truly impressive.
Conveniently, Jessica sees an announcement about an acting workshop, which will have four Saturday morning sessions. She is unimpressed because it sounds like a lot of work, and Mrs Harrington tells her that acting is work. They talk about whether it can be fun as well as being work, and it’s actually a decent conversation about how talent isn’t enough if they don’t put in the work to make it happen. She encourages Jessica to sign up for the workshop so she can see what’s involved in acting and whether she has any talent and is willing to do the work to develop it.
Jessica is sure she has talent (because Jessica is often the most confident person in the world), but thinks that an early morning workshop is a high price to pay. Because of course she does. She doesn’t want Mrs Harrington to think she doesn’t care about acting, though, so she agrees to do it.
The director sends her a booklet about acting to read, with suggestions for speaking and moving and getting into character, and tells her she should also practice acting out scenes before the first workshop. Of course, she neither reads nor practices, because Jessica.
In fact, she oversleeps and would skip it entirely except that Mrs Harrington has been excited about it. She drags herself off to it. We don’t get to see the workshop itself (which is probably for the best), but when she turns up at Mrs Harrington’s house, she’s thrilled and has had a great time. (Mrs Harrington is no longer wearing the neck brace, which Jessica actually notices.)
The workshop was a ton of fun, and Mrs Harrington teases her about how it was supposed to be all work and technique. Jessica says that the technique is like playing games, and Mrs Harrington asks her to show what she learned, and it ends up being a surprisingly adorable scene. Excellent writing here, ghost writer.
Jessica stood up. “We did mimes,” she said. She bent over and with great care began to wriggle into an invisible ski suit. She fastened the hood and pulled down a pair of goggles over her eyes. Then she carefully put on a pair of invisible boots and skis, dug her ski poles into the deep snow, and got ready to go down an imaginary slope – a very steep slope.
“I know!” Mrs. Harrington exclaimed, clapping her hands. “You’re a skier! Jessica, that’s very good!”
Jessica sat down, flushed with pleasure.
“I especially liked your facial expression at the end,” Mrs. Harrington said. “I’m sure I would feel just as horrified as you felt if I were facing a very steep slope.”
“I imagined that I was standing at the top of the toughest ski slope at Bear Valley,” Jessica confided, “looking down miles and miles of snow.”
“That’s a wonderful actor’s trick,” Mrs. Harrington said. “If you have to communicate fear, you can imagine that you’re in a frightening situation. And it has to be exaggerated. That way, you’re sure to communicate the feeling to your audience.” She began to laugh.
“What are you laughing about?” Jessica asked curiously, reaching for a muffin. She had never seen Mrs. Harrington laugh before. It made her look so much younger.
Mrs. Harrington laughed harder. “I’m remembering something funny that happened to me when I was a very young student in New York,” she said. “My first acting coach was a tall, graceful Russian woman, Baroness Kraskovitch. I went to her apartment for my lessons. She lived in a very fancy building with a marble foyer and a doorman. She always wore a long black dress, a string of pearls, and a lorgnette–”
“What’s a lorgnette?” Jessica interrupted.
“Eyeglasses that are mounted on a long handle,” Mrs. Harrington told her. “She used to peer through it at us as if we were bugs under a microscope.” She demonstrated, pulling up one shoulder and staring haughtily down her nose. Jessica couldn’t help giggling. She could just imagine what the Baroness must have looked like.
“The Baroness,” Mrs. Harrington went on, “was extremely dignified, and she almost never smiled. Anyway, my partner and I were doing mimes, just the way you did today, only we were doing animal mimes. We had done dogs and cats and horses, and we were supposed to do chickens next. But living in New York, we had never even seen a chicken, so we had no idea how to mime one.”
She paused, and Jessica sat forward on the edge of her seat. “And then what happened?”
“Well, we gave it our best effort, of course,” Mrs. Harrington said. “But our best clearly wasn’t good enough for the Baroness. ‘Nyet! Nyet!’ she shouted, slipping into Russian. ‘I must see this chicken.’ She flung down her lorgnette, hitched up her long black skirt, flung her pearls over her shoulder to keep them out of the way, and got down on the floor to show us how to do a chicken.”
And with that, Mrs. Harrington herself squatted in the middle of the kitchen floor with her arms tucked back along her sides like wings. Then she began to dart her head quickly from side to side in a perfect imitation of a chicken.
Jessica laughed out loud. In a moment, Mrs. Harrington sat back in her chair, her face flushed and happy.
(I’ll leave the actual discussion of acting classes and training and technique to Raven, who is the one with real training. I just like doing stage makeup.) [Raven: Yeah, this all seems fair enough. Mime excercises and the like are all part and parcel of beginner acting method. Although, admittedly, it all just looks like twatting about.]
They both have a blast the rest of the time they’re together, and Mrs Harrington gives Jessica a studio photo of Dolores Dufay, signed to her: To Jessica Wakefield, who will be a fine actress one day — if she works hard enough! With love, Dolores Dufay.
Okay, fuck, I am broken, because I find their friendship charming and adorable and I would like to read a hundred pages of them being silly and serious and emotional together.
Jessica decides it is finally time to tell her friends about her her new friend and acting coach. Neither Lila nor Ellen believe her, and Jessica shrugs one shoulder, like she’s seen Dolores Dufay do, and then shows them the photograph to silence them.
When they finally do believe her, they, of course, want to meet Dolores Dufay, and Jessica tells them that she will be at the end of workshop performance, so if they come they can meet her then. Of course, Jessica hasn’t actually asked her yet, so there’s that.
Jessica works harder than she ever has in her life (low bar) over the next few weeks [Dove: To be fair, she practiced dancing day and night for Madame André]. [Wing: Hmm, so acting, harder than ballet?] [Raven: Fuck Madame André.] She and her partner (Martin, a shy, slender boy) are assigned two scenes that make up a very short play for children, The Kite, which is about them building a special kite shaped like a giant bird and when the boy lets it fly away on the first flight, the girl says it is meant to be free, and now it can fly as high and as far as it dares, which is all cheesy and, I’ll admit, pretty damn cute.
(Jessica, of course, loves having the last line all to herself.)
Mrs Harrington is delighted, because she performed the play many times (how convenient), playing both the boy and the girl at different times. She reads the boy’s lines for Jessica so she can practice, and, again, this is adorable. Damn it.
Jessica was amazed at the way the lines came to life when Mrs. Harrington delivered them. She may have been away from the stage for many years, but when she was acting, it was as if she had never stopped. When she was playing the part of the twelve-year-old boy, it was impossible to believe that she was a sixty-five-year-old woman. Her voice was light, her step was springy, and her body was straight and strong.
Eventually, Jessica asks why she doesn’t go back into acting again, because there are clearly many parts she could play still, and then Mrs Harrington looks like a 65-year-old woman again, which is a simple but heartbreaking description of the transition from what she’s like when she’s doing something she loves to what she’s like when she stops believing in herself.
While Mrs Harrington does want to see Jessica perform, because she’s very proud of her student, she can’t come to the performance because she doesn’t go out at night, but she’s happy to come to the dress rehearsal and the final workshop on Saturday afternoon. This is amazing, but Jessica is, of course, worried because she promised to introduce Lila and Ellen to Dolores Dufay. They have other plans and can’t come to the dress rehearsal, and Lila, again, decides not to believe Jessica’s story. (Can you blame her? Often, Jessica lies like she breathes, and convinces herself her lies are the truth.)
(Apparently, Jessica has been missing Unicorn meetings to rehearse with Mrs Harrington. Lila threatens her a little, but I’m surprised Jessica isn’t already buried in Nora’s backyard.)
On Saturday, Jessica frantically searches for Steven’s old kite that looks like a big gold bird (how very fucking convenient) because she’s supposed to bring it to dress rehearsal. Of course, she doesn’t start looking for it until right before she’s supposed to leave, and also, SURPRISE, Steven threw it away weeks ago because it was all ripped up.
Jessica is heartbroken and hates that she forgot to look for it earlier, but Elizabeth to the rescue. She suggests they go to the “funny little kite-maker’s stand at the flea market” which I have never in my life seen at a flea market but which sounds delightful.
At the flea market, Jessica runs off to get the kite, but Elizabeth looks through old books. GEE I WONDER WHERE THIS IS GOING. Jessica gets the last bird kite (how very very very fucking convenient), and sure enough, Elizabeth finds a book with an inscription that reads “To my beloved Dolores, from Richard.” MRS HARRINGTON’S BOOK, I AM SHOCKED! SHOCKED I SAY!
They don’t have enough money on them to buy it to take it to the police so they run home to get their savings. By the time they get back, though, it is pouring rain (I see that Sweet Valley only has bad weather when the plot calls for it. How very, very, very, very, very fucking convenient), and the book stall is empty.
But lo! They see the bookseller still loading his van and race over to him. No danger at all in two preteen girls running up to a strange man’s van. Nope.
The vendor is grumpy, but lets them search around to find the book of old plays that belonged to Mrs Harrington. Elizabeth writes down the license plate number (which is fairly clever) and they head straight to talk to Officer Carey, who is apparently always at work when they need him (how very, very — well, you know where I’m going with this). Officer Carey is thrilled with their work (because what cop doesn’t want two preteen girls to solve all their crimes for them [Raven: All they need is a colourful van, Bruce Patman in a cravat, a stoned Winston Egbert and an animated dog with a woof impediment.] ), and heads out to take care of it right away. Because of course it’s working out like this.
Jessica arrives to the dress rehearsal right on time and starts to get ready when Mrs Harrington comes to visit her in the dressing room. Why yes, strange adult allowed in the dressing room, that’s totally cool.
She considers telling Mrs Harrington about the book they found, but decides not to, just in case the police can’t find any of the other books or the thief. And besides, Mrs Harrington is having a moment, because it’s been a long, long time since she was backstage before a performance and all the old feelings are rushing over her. This, too, is charming and a little sad and kind of wonderful. Basic writing, but it’s conveying her emotions and depth fairly well.
They talk a bit about how excitement and nerves can be the same thing, and how Dolores Dufay was always terrified during the first three moments of a performance, but then she forgot about the audience and her nerves disappeared.
Jessica wants to introduce her around, because everyone will be super excited to have a real actress in the audience, but Mrs Harrington doesn’t want anyone to make a fuss. She promises to be in the front row watching the rehearsal, and teaches Jessica about the “break a leg” tradition, which is how you say good luck in acting. I’m shocked Jessica doesn’t already know that. (But does she know about the Scottish play?)
Mrs Harrington wanders around looking at props and costumes while Jessica finishes getting ready, and it is very sad. Then she goes out to the front row, as promised. Elizabeth brings a covered picnic basket with her when she joins Mrs Harrington in the front row; she’s supposed to meet with Jessica so they can go talk to Officer Carey after. Because I’m sure he’s not busy
hitting up his other preteen informants who are doing his job.
Mischief is in the basket, because why use an actual cat carrier which is much safer for your new kitten. Mischief looks like a kitten Mrs Harrington had once, who slept with her at night and spent the day watching birds. GEE I WONDER WHERE THIS IS GOING. Sure enough, Mischief falls asleep in Mrs Harrington’s lap, and she’s total chill about it, unlike with the puppy. [Raven: Bless cute little Sprained Anus!]
(Pretty sure Dove or Raven should have taken this one, considering I get the dog books.)
Martin is super nervous during rehearsal, messes up his lines, and one time leaves out an entire speech, but Jessica manages to cover for him.
The director, Elizabeth, and Mrs Harrington are all very impressed with Jessica’s talent and poise on stage. She truly is a performer, after all, performing her lies even at their most unbelievable.
As they wait for Jessica, Mrs Harrington tells Elizabeth that a month ago, she didn’t miss the stage at all, but since working with Jessica, now she does, and she’s starting to think it was a mistake to give it up. UGH MY HEART. It is growing. I don’t like it.
Jessica runs up for praise, because for all her confidence, she is needy as hell sometimes, but you do you, Jessica, you ask for what you want. Mrs Harrington is particularly complimentary over Jessica’s ability to cover for other people who have forgotten their lines (Martin).
Mrs Harrington takes off and the girls head to talk to Officer Carey, who immediately tells them they cracked the case. Pardon me, I need to spend some time banging my head against the wall. Crack that case, Wakefields.
The vendor admitted to the burglaries and is now spending the evening behind bars. Just the one evening? That seems unlikely. But the important part is that they recovered the scrapbook along with everything else. Officer Carey, of course, lets them take the scrapbook with them to give it to her themselves. Because it’s totally not evidence or anything oh my fucking god, ghost writer, I can’t believe I praised you earlier.
Elizabeth suggests they give it to Mrs Harrington that night after the performance, because Alice and Ned will be happy to drive them over. And they can give her another surprise, too, BECAUSE GIVING PEOPLE SURPRISE ANIMALS WORKS SO FUCKING WELL OH MY GOD.
AND THEN MRS HARRINGTON DECIDES TO COME TO THE EVENING PERFORMANCE.
Everything is coming up Wakefields. (As always.)
Jessica peeks into the audience while waiting for her performance time, and Dolores Dufay is sitting with her family. Not Mrs Harrington, but Dolores Dufay!
Jessica blinked. Beside her father was Dolores Dufay! She rubbed her eyes and looked again. Yes, there was absolutely no doubt of it. Mrs. Harrington had become Dolores Dufay once again! She had put on makeup and styled her white hair in a beautifully graceful and attractive way, so that she looked at least ten years younger. She was wearing an elegant dark suit with an ivory silk blouse, a long string of pearls, and a pair of dangly pearl earrings. Every now and then, when Jessica’s father said something to her, she would give him the famous Dufay smile. Jessica could hardly believe it. Old Mrs. Harrington had disappeared, and in her place was a beautiful, glamorous movie star. She scanned the audience, hoping that Lila and Ellen were there. They would recognize Dolores Dufay, especially when they saw her sitting with the Wakefields.
UGH SHE IS FINDING HERSELF AGAIN AND HER HAPPINESS AND I HAVE FEEEEEEEEELINGS.
The director breaks some terrible news to her, though, that Martin has terrible stage fright and won’t be coming in at all, so she won’t be able to perform.
Jessica, of course, runs out to her family, broken hearted, and I feel for her a lot here. Mrs Harrington — or should I say Dolores Dufay — saves the day (oh god, I can’t stop rhyming now, but I must find a way) — MRS HARRINGTON OFFERS TO PERFORM WITH HER.
Okay, there, got it out of my system.
They, of course, have a wonderful performance, and Jessica basks in the applause after.
Mrs Harrington joins them for dessert at the Wakefield house after, and thanks them for all they’ve done and all they’ve meant to her over the past few weeks. And Jessica is responsible for her decision to go back to acting. She’s going to contact her old agent and see what she can do.
Then they give her presents. The first is the scrapbook, and she tears up when she opens it. I got a little verklempt myself, damn it. The twins have a great story to tell, too. And then, very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very fucking conveniently, Mischief appears and jumps into Mrs Harrington’s lap. Elizabeth says they’d like her to have Mischief, because the kitten likes her better than anyone else.
Of course, this time a surprise animal works out (brb, more banging my head against the wall), and Mrs Harrington invites them and their friends to come over at any time.
And then we have this: Acting had been fun, but as usual, Jessica felt ready to move on to something new.
On the one hand, this ghost writer pegged Jessica perfectly there. On the other hand, this is one of the few obsessions I’d love to see Jessica continue with, because it was fun and interesting and also she’s best when she’s creating a role to play and throwing herself into it. Ah well. [Dove: Jessica repeatedly acts throughout this series, The Slime that Ate Sweet Valley and Romeo & Two Juliets are the notable ones.] [Wing: Well that’s exciting! Also, The Slime that Ate Sweet Valley sounds like a Goosebumps book.] [Raven: See, I hated this part. Jessica was set up as invested and caring and excited, and successful at it too, and then the page count was reached and Jamie Suzanne flipped off the Care Switch to reset the characters to their pre-narrative states. I mean, I understand why, but it really killed it for me.]
The school is buzzing with rumours about her being in a movie with Dolores Dufay or going off to NYC to be on Broadway. Jessica, of course, doesn’t tell them that none of the rumours are true OR that she’s thinking about giving up acting. (After three weeks. Such commitment.)
Caroline Pearce shows up with different gossip, though most of it is old news, too. The East German boys’ gymnastics team really is coming to Sweet Valley and one of the team members is staying with Caroline. He’s very handsome, she says. [Raven: Well, he’s cute, but he’s no Mr Nydick.]
Elizabeth is excited to meet the team, and tells Jessica she should be excited too, because there will be ten new boys in school. Oh lord. Here we go.
(Also, while it was released as Elizabeth’s New Hero, apparently it was also at one point called The Wakefields’ Visitor, which is an even more boring title.)
Fuck, I was really charmed and delighted throughout most of this story. Alice and Jessica were fun together, Jessica and Elizabeth were fun together, Mrs Harrington had great interactions with everyone, and even the bad ideas were true to the characters (mostly). Fun and adorable. I need to go set something on fire to make up for it.
[Raven: I enjoyed this, apart from the end. It was light and fun and full of heart. And surprisingly well done, regarding the acting advice. But then Jessica kicked the acting idea into touch, and I no longer cared at all. Silly Jessica.]
[Dove: Meh. There’s nothing wrong with this story really, but there’s nothing particularly engaging about it either.]
[Wing: I’m glad we switched, because I found it a lot of fun and surprisingly engaging.]