Jessica’s old enough to drink, but she doesn’t do it often. Mostly because its not her—not the her that her managers and publicists have pushed to the foreground, anyway. She’s the good girl, and Daddy and her audience would get upset.


She’s beyond that now, though. Mostly she doesn’t drink because it makes her feel melancholy. Makes her sad. Makes her vomit, and that’s the last thing she needs when she feels like this, because she’ll do anything else but never, never that.


But it’s a party, and she’s bored and depressed already, so its not like it makes that much of a difference. Two strawberry daiquiris and she’s utterly, utterly wasted, up on the balcony looking at the party below. All the pretty shiny people and their happy perfect lives. Britney and Christina right below her, actually hugging, actually spending time together and looking happy about it. Like they can actually stand each other. Two more margaritas and they’ll be kissing.


Now, here, with alcohol in her bloodstream and very little food in her body, she can’t help but feel so, so ugly next to all this beauty. Even with the new wardrobe and the diet and the dancing, all her new muscles and the Wonderbra holding her already-D-cup breasts, she still feels like she’s bulging out of her clothes, too fat and hideous to live. Like everybody sees that she’s a fraud, a pale imitation stretched far too wide.


She knows that she has a beautiful soul, and that God has made her in His image and that she’s a perfect, perfect girl destined for heaven. But its hard to feel beautiful when Britney Spears is right in front of you flashing that all that golden skin, those perky breasts, that wide glowing smile that lights up the entire world. Its hard to feel like heaven’s worth it when Christina talks about her sex life with a coy smile and makes the front page, when Britney strips her clothing off piece by naughty piece and gets her own HBO special.


Its hard to feel perfect when she doesn’t know if she wants to be these girls or just touch them, take a piece of their beauty into herself to save.


And now that she’s more like them, it’s worse. Because she’s no longer just herself, no longer trying to make her own name, she’s trying to steal theirs, and they know it. And they don’t care because it won’t work. She’s Jessica Simpson, and people only love her if she keeps her clothes on and her mouth clean.


Never mind if she likes it. Never mind if she’s actually at a point where, after the dieting and the hours of torturing herself in the gym, she feels like she can wear the tiny clothes and be justified, because she worked for this body, dammit. Britney and Christina may have personal trainers and nutritionists, but even if they didn’t they’d still look the way they do—skinny, perfect. They were born that way, to be beautiful.


But Jessica has earned her body, so she has the right to show it off. It’s like a trophy, a prize for all her hard work and her restraint. Jessica has made herself over, from the little fat girl with glasses to this, and its all been through pure willpower.


They’re the weak ones. She doesn’t like to think bad things about other people, but those other girls are weak. They need their short skirts and their personal trainers, and Jessica doesn’t. She’s strong, and they’re weak.


She could let go of this at any time. Any time. She just doesn’t want to.


Still, she’s considering “accidentally” spilling her daiquiri over the side, onto Britney and Christina’s heads. The only thing that stops her is the knowledge that it’d be a horrible thing to do, and the light tap she feels on her bare shoulder.


God. Don’t let it be Nick, with his shark’s grin and his warm, thick arms that have always made her feel so very small. She’s not sure she could take that right now.


But it’s not Nick. Its that other girl—Mandy, her brain supplies, the other one who’s not good enough.


Not that it matters to Mandy, though. Just looking at her makes Jessica want to cry or throw up. Mandy’s so little, so young, the same age Jessica was when she first made it, but she’s already an album and a ton of artistic credibility ahead of her at this point. Mandy is so pretty, so tall. She stands like a model, and Jessica remembers presenting with her at some award show—they all blur together in her head—and feeling so tiny, so insignificant. So unfinished, next to this perfectly put-together piece of art.


Mandy smiles sweetly, and looks her in the eyes without hesitation. Not hiding anything,  no matter how hard Jessica looks for it. She’s a piece of window glass with the golden sun glinting off it, even with her hair dyed. It’d figure that even plain boring brown would look elegant on her. “Are you alright? You look like you’re gonna ralph over the side, and I don’t think they’re gonna appreciate the salon bills that could come from that. Especially Christina,” Mandy says, pointing to Christina’s exquisitely rendered and probably disgustingly expensive braids. “She got them done last night. Six more hours in a styling chair and she’ll be ready to murder you.”


Jessica manages to force a smile. “I’m fine. Just…a little tired.”


“Ohh.” Mandy nods knowingly. “Yeah, you’re headlining now. Its exhausting, huh? Between touring and writing and working for MTV, I think I get about three hours of sleep a week.” 


“Yeah.” Jessica’s smile stays on her face for all of three seconds before it starts to crack. She’s too vulnerable right now, its all too close to the surface, and if she has to talk to someone its all going to come pouring out in a wave of tears and bile, and Mandy is so sweet and perky that its hurting her ears. “Look, its really nice to see you, Mandy, but did you want something? I’m really—tired,” she says again lamely, but she just doesn’t want to do this right now. “I kind of want to be alone right now.”


She’s hoping that will be that, since Mandy is so polite and all, but the other girl just makes a sympathetic ‘o’ with her mouth and steps forward. Sudden smell of expensive perfume, citrusy. She’s too close, invading Jessica’s personal space even while a foot away. “I can rub your temples?” she offers. “In Japan I learned some acupressure from this massage therapist.”


Jessica backs into the balcony, feeling the cold metal against her back. Only that between her and freefall. She smiles again, weakly, and it almost feels real. “Its okay, really. I just…I’d like to be alone.”


“Okay,” Mandy says, not offended, barely surprised. “Well, I just thought that since we’re both in the same business, we should talk more often. Can I give you my number?”


“Sure.” Jessica sips her drink and feels relieved. Finally, she can be alone again. She feels better alone, not so insecure. If it’s just her by herself, there’s no one to compare herself to. 


“Great.” Mandy grins, like Jessica’s just made her night, and grabs Jessica by the hand not holding a glass half-full of alcohol. Her skin is warm and soft, and when she writes her number on Jessica’s hand, the light strokes of the pen tickle.


When she’s done, Mandy leans forward and kisses Jessica gently on the cheek, ducking her head to reach. Her lips are slightly moist, and another subtle wave of citrus hits Jessica’s nose and stays there, as Mandy lips remain on her cheek.


Its nice, all of it. Jessica’s about to ask where she can buy that perfume when Mandy pulls back and smiles again, her eyes lighting up. “Call me anytime. And I’ll see you around, okay?” She waves and walks away quickly; like she’s afraid Jessica’s going to take it back.


When she’s gone Jessica feels unexpectedly lonely. She could use the chatter, the talk about the business. Whenever she talks to her dad about everything, he tells her the same thing—that it’s all in God’s plan. But Mandy would understand. Mandy knows what its like, after all. And Lord knows it’s been a long time since someone’s spoken to her about the business like an equal.


Maybe she won’t wash Mandy’s number off. Maybe she’ll call her up, and they’ll talk, and they’ll be friends.


She looks down, at Britney and Christina. Their arms are around each other, but they don’t touch, except where people can see them.


Right. Maybe they’ll be friends, just like Britney and Christina.


She uses the moisture condensed on her glass to rub off the seven digits, and then takes another sip.



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