I'm trying a new experiment - writing a serial short story on my subway commute, and posting the chapters here on google+ as they're ready. So far it's been a fantastic experience for me, the feedback has been extremely valuable, and I love knowing that people are enjoying my work as I'm writing.

This is still a story in progress (new chapters are posted Tues and Thurs), and this post represents the most complete story to date. I'll keep updating this post as well so I have a permalink to point people to for the backstory thus far.

Feedback is always appreciated, and If you like this experiment, please hit the "Share" button at the bottom of this post to spread the word to your circles. Also, if you are (or know) an artist who'd be interested in working with me, I'm starting work on the production of the e-book for this story, and would love to have fantastic black & white art to go along with the story.

Thanks for reading!


Part of the "Subdermal" series of subway-penned short stories by Eric Skiff.

Some rights reserved, published under:
Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License



"Gina!" he called again. The words echoed off the empty, un-decorated halls of our new apartment. Our LA apartment. Two years of struggling, saving and scrounging for work in New York and we were finally here.

"I'm in the bedroom" I called back to Tom. He entered, carrying boxes and covered in sweat from the blistering summer heat.

"I could almost lose you in this place" he joked, smiling. We both knew our cosy one-bedroom was nothing fancy, but after 2 years living practically on top of each other in our seedy New York studio, this felt like a palace.

I studied him for a second, and thought about what we'd done. What he'd done, really. He promised me he'd get me to Hollywood, to give me a shot at being a star, and he worked like a dog to make it happen.

Now, here we were.

"I know baby" I said, wrapping my arms around him from behind and pressing myself against him. He put his arms over mine and relaxed into me. "Thank you. It's perfect" I whispered.

"Nah," he said, smiling wide and turning towards me. "only thing perfect here is you. This place is alright for now. It'll give us a start. I just don't know if I'm ready to share you with the world, now that you're gonna be all famous"

"Oh, I think there's plenty of me to go around" I joked, putting his hand on my ample butt. He squeezed and lifted me up, and I screamed, laughing, and we fell onto our new bed.

"Like I said, baby, you're perfect" he whispered, and kissed me.

He got me here, and now it was up to me. I wasn't going to let him down.


"Gina Ramos"

The receptionist hadn't even finished calling my name before I was up and moving, a bundle of nervous energy. I tried to calm myself down. This was just an audition. Nevermind that this was the biggest role I'd ever auditioned for. I'd had plenty before, and there would be lots more to come.

I rubbed the sweat off my palms and realized with a new flash of panic that I wasn't holding my headshot and sides, the snippets of script that I'd be reading from. I darted back to my chair to grab them, any lost any hope I had at calming myself as I hurried back to the door, and stepped into the dark casting room.

I walked into the lights, handed my headshot to the PA and stood on the tape mark on the floor. To my right was an impossibly beautiful redheaded woman, waiting to read the other parts for me while I auditioned. I knew her face from some crime drama. We made eye contact briefly, and she gave me a small smile.

I relaxed. I could do this.

"Okay... Gina, let's start with the..."

A faceless voice trailed off from the casting table, now hidden behind the lights. They were already chatting, sizing me up before deciding what scene to have me read, but I knew what scene I wanted. I took a chance.

"How about the scene at the precinct" I offered. It was a risky move, going straight for the best scene, and putting myself in the running for the lead role.

The voice chuckled a little.

"All right, let's see it"

I could hear the smile in his voice. They liked me. I had this in the bag.

I smiled, and turned to the redhead and nodded, signaling that I was ready to begin.

Her demeanor changed instantly. "What the hell were you thinking?" she barked the
first line, and we were off.

She was a phenomenal actress, and sparks flew between us instantly as we roller-coastered through the lines, neither of us glancing at the sides we knew cold. The scene had us fighting over some past event, and we sparred and roared, then settled into an intense, quiet fight, moving closer to each other.

When I'd been rehearsing and just reading the lines themselves, her character and I were at each other's throats, but now i realized there was a subtext there. I hadn't really noticed it before, but reading the scene with her it seemed totally obvious.

This was a lover's quarrel.

The scene was coming to a close, she was about to leave. My character didn't want her to go. Hell, I didn't want her to go. I could feel the tears welling in my eyes, and I was kissing her before I even realized what I was doing.

Lightning seemed to have struck us. The intensity of the scene and the surprise of my kiss nearly knocked us off our feet, but in a second, she melted into me, and returned the kiss sweetly.

She pulled away, tears in her own eyes, and said the final, now heartbreaking line.

"I'm going to go..." she said quietly, then turned and hurried out, hiding her face.

The realization that she was still leaving, that it was over hit me like a truck, and I wept in earnest.

A few moments later, the lights came up, and a man approached me from the casting table holding some tissues. I'd nearly forgotten where I was. I tried to compose myself, and cracked a smile between a few remaining sobs.

"Now that..." he said, "was a hell of a thing."

I laughed, taking the tissues, and coming back to myself. I took a few deep breaths, dabbed my eyes, and saw the redhead walking back into the light.

"You bitch..." she began, wiping her own eyes, "now I'm going to have to fix my makeup!"

Everyone laughed, the tension broken, and the whole casting table was joining us now. The commotion was a welcome relief from the monotonous audition process, and an excuse for them to take a break.

"Never in 5 years," said the man with the tissues, who I now recognized as the director, "have I seen anyone surprise Lacey Ann"

The redhead laughed again, still composing herself. She really was one of the most beautiful people I'd ever seen.

"So" he started again, pulling over a few chairs for us to sit on. "Talk to me. What made you make that choice"

I thought for a second, but didn't have a clear answer. "I don't know. It just felt... I just felt like I had to do it. She was leaving, and I just felt like it was the only way to make her understand, well, everything I was feeling. I couldn't just let her go"

"It's not the way I wrote it" a youngish man with square glasses said. My stomach tensed instinctively "but I admit that I always felt some sexual tension between those two characters. It's interesting you picked up on it and ran with it."

"David," Lacey said, addressing the writer "She's got my vote, but if you cast this girl you'd better be prepared for a whole lot of slash fiction"

Everyone laughed again. "Ha, point taken," he answered, "but i think she's got your vote because you're looking for another kiss like that!"

More laughter, but I could also see Lacey Ann blush. That kiss had been an incredible thing.

Introductions were made around. Lacey Ann was already cast and was a friend of the director, so she was reading against auditioners. David, the writer, was nice and had a sarcastic wit. The only one in couldn't get a read on was the producer. He mainly stayed quiet and kept his distance.

Other auditioners were waiting, so i was ushered out in a few more minutes.

I felt good. Giddy even. That wasn't a normal audition by any stretch, and the "do we have to?" mood of the casting table as they realized they had to get back to the slog solidified my feeling that I'd landed the role.

I went home a very happy girl.


"Gina Ramos?"

"This is she, who's calling?"

It was three nerve wracking days before I heard. Tom was my rock as always, and kept me almost sane as the hours crept by waiting for their call.

"I'm calling on behalf of cornerstone media to let you know they'd like to schedule a callback this week. Are you available tomorrow?"

Somehow I managed to keep myself calm enough to say "that sounds great, what time" even as i flailed my free arm at Tom and did a jig across the kitchen.

This was it. It was finally happening. 6 months of auditioning, and I was up for the lead in a 3 episode arc of a new network drama. It was a practically a ticket to a solid prime-time gig and all I had to do was close the deal.

Tom was waiting with a huge grin, and as soon as I was off the phone, I screamed "I got the callback!" and flew into his arms, kissing him.

"I dunno why you're acting so surprised. You've got this role in the bag" he said, beaming with pride and his infallible confidence in me.

He reached into the back of the fridge and grabbed a bottle. "I've been saving this” he said, pulling out a bottle of champagne with a fancy French name.

He popped it, an we drank and celebrated. Half a year living in LA, both of us struggling to find work, nearly out on our butts, and it was finally paying off.


"Gina" the assistant said softly, we were the only 2 left in the room. "They're ready for you"

I walked over to the door. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Now that this role was so close, such a real possibility, I'd become obsessed with it. Watching 3 other gorgeous women stride in confidently to read for this callback before me had reduced me to a quivering mess.

I entered, and immediately looked for Lacey Ann. My heart sank a bit as I realized she wasn't in the room. I was alone with the lights.

"Okay... Gina..." a low, male voice said from behind the table. I didn't recognize it. "do me a favor honey, arms out to your sides."

It took me a second to realize what he was asking. I lifted my arms, and suddenly felt uncomfortable. There are many times in life when you feel like everyone is looking at you and judging you. Thankfully, most of the time, you're wrong.

This was not one of those times.

They were staring at my body, sizing up every angle, every curve, of which I was suddenly very aware. I resisted the urge to suddenly tense my butt and suck in my tummy.

"Arms down, turn to the side"

I complied, and focused on making my smile seem more natural than it felt.

“Okay, thank you.”

I stood for a minute in the hot lights, listing to the low chatter a the table. I could feel sweat dripping down my back in spite of the air conditioning.

"Okay, Ms Ramos, that will be all" the cold voice said.

I was gobsmacked, but tried not to show it. I think I said "thank you" before turning to walk out the door, but I was honestly trying so hard to hold it together I'm not sure I said a word."

"Wait a goddamn minute" another voice said. It sounded like the director. I put my hands up to my head as a visor and tried to squint through the lights.

"Excuse me?" I said, but no one heard, they had dived headlong into a fight.

"You're seriously not going to have her read?" the director said, quickly becoming heated. "You traipsed those three brain-dead bimbettes out for us as if they were acceptable replacements, regardless of the fact that none of them could act their way out of a paper bag, and now you're not even going to have her read?"

"I don't care if she's Ben goddamn Kingsly, she's not right for the part!"

"How can you possibly know that? You haven't seen anything!"

"I've seem what I need to see. She's not right for this role"

"Because she's not an anorexic white girl with a boob job?!"

The fight, which had been escalating in volume and speed to that point stopped dead, the final words, echoing in the room.

I felt like the ugliest person in the world. Every inner demon I had seemed to be sitting on the bleachers on my shoulders together, cackling at me. I wanted to shrink away into the darkness.

A chair squeaked. Footsteps approached, and an older, heavyset man in a suit came into view from behind the lights.

He turned, and barked at the director once more. "You know what? You want to make yourself martyr over this, it's your career, but I promise you this. If you lose my money because of this gamble, you'll never get a dime from me or my friends again."

He began to storm out, but stopped and turned quickly towards me. I flinched instinctively.

"And you. If you want to be taken seriously for roles like this, you have to look the part. I expect you 15 pounds thinner and running a 5k before we roll film."

With that he stormed through the door, letting it slam on the way shut.

I was in shock. The last time I'd encountered anything like that was the girls in highschool. It seemed so outlandish that I was in a state of disbelief, and still somehow holding it together.

I heard footsteps, and saw a woman coming from behind the lights. She walked over to the house lights and flipped them on, and then came over to me, holding tissues.

"I'm fine" I said, gesturing to the tissues, and lying through my teeth.

"You're doing better than most of us would have... He's an asshole."

"I gathered that" I laughed.

She was petite, somewhere in that Hollywood age-valley between 25-40. She was saying kind things, but in a perfunctory way, as if she'd been through this 100 times. She kept busying herself, picking up various things, and she never really stopped to make eyecontact while talking to me.

"On the bright side it sounds like you've got the job?" she said, turning towards the director, who was busy ranting to the man next to him."

"Yes, oh Gina, I'm sorry, he just makes me so angry I get crazy" he said, approaching me.

"Yes, you've got the role, that is, if you want it.” He said, gesturing towards the door the producer had just exited from and giving me a half-smile. ”Are you okay?"

"I'm fine" i repeated, smiling, and doing some of the best acting he'd ever see. "lf a prick like that can get to me, I'm in the wrong town"

"Ha. Well, you're a trooper.” He said, still distracted by the fight. ”So yes, the good news is, we're obviously all big fans, and wouldn't take anyone else, which is part of what provoked that. Mr. Lawrence hates being told what to do. Also, Lacey Ann said to send her regards and ‘to give you a kiss for her’” he said, smiling wide.

I blushed and then blushed harder again, and returned his smile, relaxing a little. "Thank you. I don't know what to say."

"Well, say yes, of course. There's some details, but once you're signed, we can explain everything to you. This role is a big deal Gina. We're betting we can put you on the map, and bring the show along with you.”


“Gina,” Tom pleaded for the 3rd time tonight. This argument had been going in circles, and I was beginning to feel like he didn’t trust me.

“I know what I’m getting into Tom”

“I’m not saying you don’t, and you know no one is more excited than I am for you to finally be getting the break you deserve, but, I just don’t like where this is all coming from”

“The executive producer has a few quirks, and had a vision for this role. He wants me to lose some weight, and get in shape. Hell, it’s like getting paid to go to the gym. I should be doing this stuff anyway”

“That meshugenah producer is getting into your head. How many times do I have to say that you’re perfect before you’ll believe me?”

“I love when you talk yiddish to me.” I joked, softly. “And I love that you see me that way, but baby, not everyone does. I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to take this role, but I want it, and if that means losing some weight, then that’s what I’ll do.”

“But it’s in the contract. Gina, this thing is scary when you read it. They can sue you if you sign it and don’t...”

“Tom.” I cut him off. “I need you to believe in me. I can do this. I will do this, but I need you behind me.”

“All right. I believe in you.” he said, sincerely. “You can do this”

“Thanks baby. Now let’s get to bed, tomorrow is the start of a very long month for me.”


“Ramos!” the instructor shouted. She was like the female version of a boot camp instructor parody. All yelling, all insulting, go go go. I never saw her talk once where spit wasn’t flying from her mouth. She should do nicely.

“You call that a push-up you worm?” She bellowed while striding in front of me in her boots. ”Touching your tummy to the ground doesn’t count, especially if you only have to go three inches. Now suck in that gut, press your boobs to the floor, and give me some real goddamn push-ups!”

The demon squad on my shoulders had drill sargent uniforms on now as they cackled at me, but I saw them as a sort of demented cheerleaders. I had 4 weeks to drop 15 pounds, and I was going to need every ounce of motivation, healthy or not, to make this happen.

I made it through my first workout battered, but not beaten, but then something caught up with me. It was like all the tiny injuries I’d just done to my body mixed up with all the lactic acid I’d just build up, and hit me like a truck a few hours later.

Tom was, as ever, my saviour, holding my hair back in the bathroom, bringing me bananas and bread.

By the fifth day, I’d stopped throwing up after every workout, at least.

10 days in, I was starting to feel like I was getting the hang of it. I’d carbo-load before the bootcamps, binge on iceberg lettuce on aerobic and distance days, and was taking every supplement I could find to help keep me going.

14 days, and it was time for the big weigh in. Week one had been fantastic, and aside from feeling like I might die, five pounds had evaporated off my body. My favorite jeans were more comfortable than ever, and I was on track to hit my goal.

I hadn’t stepped on a scale until the end of day 14. I stepped on, closed my eyes, and opened them.

I closed them again, stripped off my gym clothes, and stepped back on, naked in my bathroom.

It was then, after everything I’d been through with the auditions and the producer, and pushing myself harder than I ever thought possible, that I finally cried. I collapsed, literally and figuratively, on top of that scale, in sheer, sobbing disbelief that I could have gained a pound.

Tom stepped in quietly, and simply put a hand on my back. I sobbed until I didn’t have anything left, and finally he scooped me up, threw my hands around my neck, and carried me to bed.


“Ms. Ramos?” a young woman called from behind the window. This office reminded me of nightmares about my ancient dentists office. Fake wood paneling, flickering, sickly blue flourescent light, and musty, all-weather carpet that practically squished as I walked.

I was certainly off the beaten path.

I watched myself sign endless sheets of paperwork, absolving this, consenting to that. It was all moot anyway - I was in a back alley doctor, getting a procedure that you supposedly couldn’t get in the states, and I assumed they’d disappear if I ever tried to sue them.

I entered the office, and sat up on the examination table. The nurse was busying himself with a bunch of equipment, and didn’t pay me much attention.

“Is there a gown? Should I strip down for this?” I asked.

“Honey you can get naked if you like, we’re all into it” He joked, giving me a wolfish smile “but for the procedure, this is easy as pie. Just sit tight and Mr Doctor Man will be in to fix you up.”

There were alarm bells and klaxons going off in my head that screamed for me to get out of this place, but I stayed. They had something I needed, and I was going to get it if it killed me, which I was suddenly realizing was a distinct possibility.

The nurse left, and I sat alone in silence for a few minutes, which was long enough for my cold feet to start to work their way up to my brain. I was about to hop off the table when the doctor (if he was really a Doctor) came in.

“Okay, here’s the drill” he said, going straight over to the equipment the nurse had spread out “If you’re here, you know what you’re getting into, but I feel it’s my responsibility to restate some of what you’ve already signed, because this is my little expensive device you’re about to swallow.” He said, turning towards me, holding a translucent, brown, wet looking thing in front of me. It dangled from his hand, almost looking alive.

“This” he said “is a Timed Accumulation Programmable Endomachine, aka TAPE. In essence, it's a digital tapeworm and will regulate your caloric intake as long as it's in your body. It's also an extremely expensive bit of kit, and trust me, you cannot afford to replace it. If it, or you, for that matter, are lost or stolen, we will have some serious debt to settle. Understood?"

"Understood" I said, thinking that he sounded more like a loan-shark than a doctor.

"This little beauty can ride along inside you for a few weeks, maybe a month before it needs to be recycled. I want to see you in 3 weeks, at which point we'll trigger release and pick it up as it exits. However, and this is an important bit, so listen close. If for any reason the device decides that you are an inhospitable host or loses it's attachment, it may come free on it's own. I'd advise you to avoid and physical or emotional trauma if you don't want to dislodge the device. However, If that should happen, you must recover the device on your own. I don't care if you have to fish it out of a latrine, this thing WILL come back to my office. Got it?"

"Got it" I said, on autopilot. I just wanted to be done with this and get out of here.

"Good." he said, his demeanor changing somewhat. "now for the fun stuff." He smiled. He was genuinely fascinated with the device, and seemed to he having fun getting to play with it.

"Now, normally I recommend 2 pounds a week for my patients, since you're basically guaranteed the weight will come off." he began, "that said, I understand from our mutual friend that you have some, ah, different needs."

"I have two weeks to lose 10 pounds" I deadpanned. He paused slightly.

"Ah, right, right. Well, the device can do it. Hell, it can eat everything you throw at it and starve you if you set it right, I just wouldn't recommend it." he laughed, nervously.

I didn't.

"If we could have 3 weeks, " he began again. "I might consider it viable to..."

"I appreciate your concern" I said, cutting him off. "but I don't really have the luxury of taking my time with this. If I did, I wouldn't be here."

"Okay. You're the boss." he said, holding his hands up as if surrendering. The device was still dangling in his right hand, looking far more organic than I would have liked.

When the device was described to me, I'd envisioned a small, silver capsule that you swallowed and magically made you thin. This thing was covered in some rubbery skin, and it looked slimy, and... Big.

The doctor saw me eyeing the device.

"I know what you're thinking" he said. "how am I going to swallow that? Well, to be totally honest, it's not easy, but none of my patients have choked yet. Luckily, there's a doctor present if you have any trouble." he finished with a wry smile. I imagine he hoped I'd feel reassured.

Panic was swelling in my belly. If I didn't do this now, I'd never do it.

"There's really not much to it." he said, handing me the device. Just take a deep breath, open up, pop it in, and swallow. Don't try to breathe until it's gone down, or you might panic.

I sat there, holding the thing. It was warm, and I swore I felt it wiggle. Before I could think any more about what I was about to do, I tilted my head back, opened wide, and slid it in.

It was sweet. The slime on it tasted like sugar and tingled a bit. I felt the device hit the back of my throat and gagged. I lurched forward, and caught the device in my hands, dry heaving, and suddenly understood why i'd fasted the night before.

"Wait 10 seconds, breathe, and try again. There's a light anesthetic on the device, which should dampen the gag reflex."

I looked up at him with watery eyes from gagging, and nodded. I swallowed and felt the tingle travel down my throat, took a deep breath, and tried again.

This time, as the device hit my throat, I swallowed hard. I almost gagged, but it had already passed the point of no return, and was quickly sliding down my throat, out of my mouth. I had the uncomfortable sensation of choking.

"Remember, hold your breath and don't panic." said the doctor. He walked forward and gently lifted my chin and put his hand on my throat, massaging downwards.. I felt the thing slide down further.

"Once it passes your throat, it will start to move on it's own. I want you to count backwards from 10 for me in your head, and don't move while you do."

As if on cue, the thing inside me sprang to life. It felt like I'd just swallowed a fish, and it was trying to flop out of my neck. I counted backwards and resisted the instinct to try to claw the thing out of my throat. Quickly, the sharp squirming sensations moved down into my chest, and then faded away as the thing made it's way into my belly where I couldn't feel. I think I felt it splash down into my gut, but I might have imagined it.


I'd still been holding my breath, I realized. I exhaled deeply and shuddered with my hole body, grabbing onto the doctors arm. With a gasping breath, I swallowed and gagged a bit again.

"Eugh! That was,...” I began. “I can't even describe it. That felt... dirty."

"Ha, well, no one’s used that one before, but I hear 'violated' a bit. Sorry about that, but most of the worst is over."

"Most of the worst? What do you mean, it's in my stomach, I can feel it."

"Right, but your stomach isn't where you absorb calories. The device needs to attach inside the duodenum, your first bit of small intestine. In there, it can accurately gauge your daily intake and intercept calories. It burns off what it can through anaerobic processes and heat generation, captures any harmful byproducts, and waits. Getting from your stomach to your duodenum can be a bit unpleasant.

I started to ask "Unpleasant?” but ended up making some ridiculous, unintelligible sound as the thing inside me suddenly lurched to life. It flopped around in my stomach, and I felt at once the urge to throw up and terrible cramps of diarrhea.

The device was moving rhythmically, lurching from side to side, and finally settling into a sort of "wiggle wiggle scootch" as it moved its way through my body. I grasped the doctor's hand and he helped me lay down. I could see a subtle little bulge moving as it wormed it's way inside me.

It settled, moving slower, and the cramps and nausea were subsiding.

"And now the magic." the doctor said. He placed a small sensor on my stomach with medical tape, and watched the readout on his phone.

"The TAPE device is in place, and its little mouth is opening up. Right now, thousands of tiny setae, like on the sticky hand of a gecko, are intertwining with the velvety lining of your inner intestine."

"You're..." I said, still squirming as the device wiggled and the cramps subsided. "you're seeing that all on there?"

"This?" he held up his phone, which only contained green text on back and and a few input sliders. "No, the communication with TAPE is all low bandwidth. Believe me, you don't want to swallow a high power radio and the battery to go with it as well. It communicates by affecting your galvanic skin response. It's slow, but it's low power and reliable."

His phone chimed. "Ah, there we go! It's attached."

"Okay, you weigh about 135, and have 2 weeks..." he did some mental math.

"I'm going to advise once more that I think this plan is not in your best interest. I need to limit you to 900 calories a day to meet your goal. Combined with the metabolic rate enhancers TAPE releases, It's just a lot to handle. At that rate, your blood sugar will be extremely low, and you'll be swinging from lightheaded lethargy to jittery overstimulation."

"So, your saying I'm going to be moody, flakey, and unstable." I said, giving him a wry smile.

"Yes. When you put it that way, it sounds like 90% of Hollywood." he answered, smiling. "Okay, I've said everything I can to convince you, I'm going to set the device, but I want to see you in one week, and sooner if you have any fainting, nausea, or stomach pain."

He started fiddling with his phone, and held it up to my belly, speaker edge down.

"Let's phone home." he said, pressing a button on the screen. His phone began to make a series of melodic bleeps and bloops, alternating with screeches. "Audio coupling, like an old modem." he said, beaming with geeky pride at the tech as it sang the noises, pressed against my belly. It repeated the pattern 3 times, and then chimed.

"All set! he said, and held up the phone, which said '900 confirmed' in green text.

I felt a gentle motion in my belly, but after a minute or two it started to feel natural, like it had always been there.

"All right, that's all there is to it." the doctor said, as he picked up my chart and made some notes. "So, remember you can eat whatever you want, and you're going to be hungry. I'd recommend grazing throughout the day and keeping your stomach full to ward off the psychological feeling that you're starving. Consistency will also help control your blood sugar, so whatever you eat, just be regular about it."

He finished the chart and looked up. "any questions?"

"Where's the nearest diner?" I said with a smile. I'd already been starving myself, and fasting before this procedure hadn't helped.

"That-a-girl!" he said with a laugh. "Two corners down. The farmer's breakfast is amazing."

I gathered my things and walked out to the lobby feeling proud of myself. I'd done it.

I put my hand on my abdomen and felt the slow, subtle pulsing of my new passenger, and had a strange realization that it felt like a baby kicking softly.

My meal at the diner was one of the best of my life. Pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon and homefries, with butter and syrup.

About halfway through the meal, I felt my little friend kick into higher gear, dealing with the onslaught of calories I was throwing at it. For the first time in weeks, instead of guilt and anxiety, I simply felt full.


"Gina?" Lacey Ann said my name in sing-song tones at me across the table. Her head was cocked to the side, and she was smiling.

"Oh, sorry, I spaced out for a second there"
I said, I'd been absentmindedly sipping my soda, and didn't remember where the conversation left off.

We were sitting in a courtyard, having our now-ritual lunch date. Lacey had invited me right after I'd been cast so we could talk about the script. We got along so well at our first lunch, it became our weekday habit.

I looked at her for a moment. In the lights of the audition room, Lacey had seemed impossibly beautiful. Her red hair was perfectly straight and intense, her skin flawless, her clothes perfectly framing and following her body.

Our here in the sun, she was more real, but she seemed even more vibrant. Her smile was natural and ever so slightly angled, always starting on the left side of her face, and her eyes crinkled in the corner when she laughed. I could see the thousands of tiny translucent peachfuzz hairs on her face, arms, and neck mixed among her freckles.

"Stop it, you're making me blush" she laughed. I'd been staring at her again.

"Sorry. Sorry, I know, I'm so out of it. It's this stupid diet." I said, waving my hands at the table, indicating my iceberg salad.

I couldn't tell Lacey about the TAPE device. She'd think I was some sort of freak. I kept up appearances on our lunch dates, reverting back to the foods from my crash diet. It meant I didn't have to explain why I could eat like I was and still take off the weight, but the TAPE device got a little overzealous if I didn't eat a proper lunch, and sometimes I got a little spacey.

"So, how are you coming with the lines?" I asked.

"It always takes me a while." she said, smiling. "I get the general action of the scenes quickly and could probably get by if I ad-libbed a line here or there, but David is so particular about his dialogue. I really want to have it all down before we roll. How about you?"

"I wish i could say I was doing that well. I'm going scene by scene, drilling them with Tom. I've got the first 2 down pat, but haven't even started on the last scene."

"Well, you've got two weeks left" Lacey Ann said, reassuringly. "With everything you've got going on, I'm amazed you're that far along."

She paused, seemed to think for a moment, then shook her head. "It just makes me so angry."

"What does?" I asked, worried she was upset with me.

"All of this" she said, gesturing to my diminutive meal, and to the running shoes in my bag. "I just can't believe they're making you follow that demented asshole's orders. I don't understand why they need to change you. You're gorgeous as is."

It was my turn to blush.

"Well, I'm not going to change his mind, and it's nothing I haven't heard before. Hell, I'm getting paid to lose weight"

"You're being forced to starve yourself."

"What can I do?" I held up my hands, and smiled at her. "I've committed to it now, and I'm going to see it through. Anyway I’m feeling better about everything, I think I'm going to be okay."

"So things went well this weekend?" she asked, referring to the weigh-in that had driven me to desperation.”

"There's been ups and downs." I said "but I've changed my routine a bit, and I think I'm on the right track." Not really a lie, but it felt wrong to hide so much from her, when we'd become such fast friends, and I felt like she saw right through me.

"Okay, but Gina, I need you to promise me something" she said, reaching across the table and taking my hand. "Just don't do anything unhealthy, okay."

My stomach tensed. She knew. Oh god. How could she know? I looked up at her, and felt the warn prickle of tears in my eyes. My heart was racing - could she really know? I looked at the concern in her face, took a breath, and thought for a second. There were a million unhealthy things you could do in Hollywood to lose weight. She was probably worried I was bulimic or doing colon cleanses or something. I blinked the tears back, and smiled. "I'm fine" I said. "I won't do anything stupid."

She smiled back, bit her eyes still looked sad. She knew I was lying, but didn't push any harder.

I wished I could tell her, could confide how scared I was, but I was too afraid of what she might think, and too ashamed at taking the easy way out.

I couldn't tell her. I couldn't tell Tom. I was on my own with this.

We finished lunch and said goodbye, and I started my run.

I've never run so hard in my life.

"So, Gina, how's your little friend treating you?" Suzanne asked with a half-smile, chewing away at a bit of her hundred-dollar entree. She still spoke the way she had when I'd first met her in that final audition, always busying herself with something else instead of looking me in the eye.

I watched her for a second, her slick black hair framing her gaunt face as she chewed, open mouthed. Her eyes never smiled along with her mouth, which gave her the impression of perpetually posing for a picture that was taking a little too long.

I picked up a bite of Fillet Mignon, plopped it in my mouth, and smiled. “Oh, we’re getting along pretty well” I volleyed back.

She knew, of course, about the device riding along inside me, and relished in making me squirm in front of her Hollywood friends. Suzanne had been the one who connected me to the back alley doctor, and I had a sneaking suspicion she got a cut for the referral. If her rumors were to be believed, half the table had a TAPE device so they could gluttonously eat whatever they wanted without consequences. Even though I had mine for a different reason, she still included me in her “cheater’s club” dinners.

“Isn’t it the best?” an older woman sitting to my right said in a salacious tone. She was putting away a rack of ribs as we spoke. “I’ve had mine for a year and a half. Changed my life. My regular doctor thinks I’m in the best shape I’ve been in 20 years.”

“Well, it’s nice to be able to eat a real meal again.” I said, truthfully, and smiled. I doubted any of them were in my situation, keeping their intake dangerously low, so I didn’t mention the dizzy spells, the wild mood swings, and the insatiable cravings I’d been living with for the past week.

“I can’t believe any of you ladies went through with it” a large man to my left said. His suit jacket was straining a bit to stay buttoned as he sat. “I took one look at the thing and high-tailed it out of there”

“Really? You’d never know it, Steve” Suzanne shot at him, sarcastically. There was a momentary flash across his face, the tiniest twitch of his lip, and his eyes narrowed for an instant. I though for a split second he might leap across the table at her, but the subtle expression was gone in an instant and then he was jovially joking back with her. He knew better than to pick a fight with the producer’s girlfriend.

“I just like knowing the food I put in my belly stays in my belly” he said, patting his stomach and taking a bite.

The table swam before me. My TAPE device was kicking in with this lavish meal, and I hadn’t eaten enough before. “Excuse me a moment” I said, heading for the bathroom.

I felt myself sway as I walked, my scalp tingled and my skin felt like it ached all over. Somehow I made it to the bathroom, and put my hands on the sink and looked at myself, trying to will myself steady.

The bathroom door opened and shut, and my heart sank as I saw a flash of shiny, red hair.

“Gina?” Lacey Ann said, recognizing me. She came over to me at the sink. “You okay? I didn’t know you were here tonight.”

“I’m” I started, but my voice caught a bit. I steeled myself and smiled. “I’m fine, just a little lightheaded. Maybe a little too much wine.” I lied.

“Okay. You look really green. And... God, Gina, you look thin.”

“I’m not anorexic, Lacey” I said, trying to smile. My eyes unfocused and focused again.

She said something, but her voice sounded like I was underwater. I felt her grasp my hand, and I steadied myself against her. I felt my legs buckle, and the next thing I knew, I was in her arms.

A rush of adrenaline hit me as my brain realized I was falling, and after a moment I had a second wind. I got my feet under me, arms still around her shoulders, and looked up at her from the awkward embrace.

“We keep meeting like this” I joked, trying to cover the wave of nausea and panic passing over me. She smiled back at me, worried. I backed up to the sink and sat on it’s edge.

“I need” i said, feeling my vision fade a bit again. “I need to get to my doctor.”

“Okay, do you want me to call Tom?” She asked.

“No!” I snapped, groggily. It couldn’t be him. He couldn’t know what I’d done. Lacey Ann looked hurt that I’d snapped.

“No... He... He wouldn’t understand.” I said more softly. “Could you take me?” I asked.

“Sure. Sure honey.” She said, taking my hand.

I was out of it, and didn’t even say goodbye to my dinner party. I just followed her trail of red hair, her hand leading mine.


"Gina" Lacey Ann said gently.

I woke up with my head on her shoulder in the cab. I'd been drooling.

I wiped my mouth, and I felt my face flush red, embarrassed by all of it. Why did it have to be her that found me?

"Gina, are you sure this is the right place?" she said, sounding scared.

"Mmm-hmm" I said, nodding, still too nauseous to try for full words.

I'd been avoiding Lacey Ann since that last lunch date. I was too embarrassed to see her with the thought that she might know what I'd done, and I was struggling with the TAPE device. Any time I messed with my routine, it made me feel really sick, and I'd barely been holding it together. I hadn't seen her in over a week before tonight.

And now, I'd dragged her into this.

The doctor's office was closed, but after a minute, the door popped open an inch.

“What is it?” the male nurse said roughly, looking at Lacey Ann.

"My friend is sick" she said. my arm was draped over her shoulder. I wondered why the world looked like it was tilting around me, and then realized it was because I was having trouble holding my head up straight.

The nurse grunted and opened the door, and we stumbled into the waiting room, dark and lit mostly by the rippling green light of the dirty fishtank.

"I'm just gonna sit down here" I mumbled and collapse into a beat up chair, fairly certain that I hadn't actually made any intelligible words.

"Wait here, and give her this" he said with an unsubtle note of irritation in his voice. He handed Lacey a packet of something.

She opened it and put it up to my mouth. I tried to lift my hand and fumbled, and ended up just trying to smear the hair out of my face with the limp back of my hand.

The packet was full of some sweet tasting sport nutrition goo, and I tried not to make a mess as I swallowed it.

A few minutes passed in awkward silence. I was coming to a bit, and the full brunt of my embarrassment, fear, and fatigue were crashing down on me. I began to sob quietly, and leaned on Lacey for the third time that night.

"Shhhhh" she comforted. "the doctor's coming. It's going to be all right"

But nothing could be all right. I had an illegal device in my gut wreaking havoc on my body, and now I'd dragged Lacey and all my hopes of entering the Hollywood set to a dangerous back alley doctor.

"Oh Lacey, I'm so sorry." I managed quietly between silent sobs.

She simply shushed me again softly, slowly rubbing my back with her hand.

The doctor walked in in street clothes, and the smell of pot wafted in after him. I felt Lacey tense.

"So what's the trouble?" he said. He seemed tired, but less irritated than the nurse.

Lacey spoke for me.

"She's sick, and she said she had to come here."

"Hmm, well, she was right about that last part. Gina, look up for me." he said, shining a light in my eyes. It seemed blindingly bright in the dim waiting room. "Open" he said, and I tasted the wooden tongue depressor as he peered around in my mouth.

“Okay, Gina, we need to move you to my office. Can you walk?”

“I think so” I said, and tried to lift myself up. Lacey and the Doctor each took an arm, and we made it into his office, where they helped me lay down on the table. He lifted my shirt, rummaged around a bit in his office, and then placed the sensor on my stomach.

“What’s going on?” Lacey asked. She was starting to lose some of her resolve.

“You gave her the packet, right?”

“Yes, but I...” she started.

“Don’t worry, it’s just a nutritional supplement. She’s hypoglycemic - her blood sugar is very low. She should start feeling better soon.”

He pulled out his phone and watched the screen as data began to flow back from the TAPE device to the sensor. “Hmm” he said.

“Okay, Gina - you want to tell me why your blood sugar is dangerously low, but your device is working at top speed?” he asked, now sounding a little irritated.

“I don’t know.” I said, still blinking at the bright lights of his office, and feeling a new wave of nausea come over me.

“That’s a very nice dress you’re wearing. Fancy dinner tonight?” he continued, putting his phone up to my belly. It started to make it’s modem tones and I sensed a calmness in my stomach I hadn’t felt in a while. The TAPE device had stopped moving, and I suddenly felt like something was missing.

“So, you’re here because you didn’t listen to me. TAPE is only so smart - if you don’t eat consistently, it’s going to make a mess of you. If you go from a light lunch to a rich dinner, you’re in for some serious whiplash”

The nausea was fading as the device settled.

“I’ve put the device in sleep mode for 24 hours, but if you don’t feel better by tomorrow, it’s coming out”

“Excuse me, but what the fuck is going on.” Lacey said, sounding much less calm now.

“Excuse me," the doctor shot back, "but who are you?”

“I’m her friend, and I’m more than a little freaked out right now. Are you saying she’s got some sort of implant?”

“Oh come on.” The doctor said, turning towards me. “You didn’t tell her?”

I shook my head, the nausea rising again with the stress of the fight. I tried to sit up.

“You, lay down.” the doctor said sternly. “I can’t believe you brought her here without telling her.”

“Okay, have a seat and I’ll explain it”

“I don’t want to have a seat.” She was yelling now. “I want to know why I’m in some shithole back-alley doctor at midnight watching you do god knows what to...”

“Oh, SHUT UP!” He shouted, exasperated and getting angry.

Lacey Ann fell silent, frightened by his outburst.

“Jesus, give a guy a chance to talk, huh?" He took a breath and calmed himself. "First of all, your friend here came to me. I provide a service that most won’t, and it was a service she needed. Second of all, this office is quite nice, thank you, and I won’t have you calling it a shithole. Third, there’s nothing going on here but simple science. Your friend has a caloric limiting implant no more foreign than a pacemaker, and I’m reprogramming it now.”

“You’re telling me it’s real?” She said, sitting down now, putting rumors she’d heard together. “That she’s got a real robotic tapeworm living in her.”

“You make it sound like sci-fi. Yes, there’s a device in her duodenum that consumes any calories over a certain limit. Yes, it’s some seriously awesome tech. And yes, before you jump to the next bit, it’s highly illegal here, which is why I get a little freaked out when my patients drag people along without giving me a heads up.”

“I didn’t mean to...” I started.

“You also didn’t listen.” the Doctor said to me. “You got yourself all screwed up by eating like an idiot, and she had to bail you out.”

He turned to Lacey Ann. "Now, here's the problem. Your friend here could be in some serious trouble if word get out that She has a TAPE device. First, from the FDA, who've been sniffing around far more than I'd like lately, and second, from anyone who wants to get their hands on the little lamborghini riding along inside her. This is not cheap
technology we're talking about."

He turned back towards me, and took my hand, guiding me into a sitting position, and addressed Lacey again. "Your friend made a choice when she came to me. You might not agree with it, but if you care about her at all, you'll keep this between the 3 of us."

The look of confusion, anger, and helplessness on Lacey's face made me want to weep.

The doctor helped me stand, taking care that my feet were under me before letting me go. "Now, if you don't mind, my bed is calling and I intend to answer. You should do the same."

Lacey and I took a car back downtown. She didn't speak, and I didn't press her. When I got out of the car, I squeezed her hand and simply said "thank you".

She didn't squeeze back.


"Gina?" Tom said groggily, rolling over as I crawled into bed. "it's nearly 2 AM."

"I'm sorry I'm so late." I said putting my head down on the pillow with my back towards him. After everything that had happened at dinner, at the doctor, and with Lacey, I just wanted to go to sleep

He rolled over towards me and put his hand on my shoulder.
"You okay, baby?" Tom asked, putting his had on my shoulder and rubbing gently.

I wanted to tell him a thousand things. I wanted to cry in his arms over the fear, and the embarrassment.

But mostly I wanted to weep over the loss of my friendship with Lacey Ann, which had felt so natural and intense. How could she ever trust me, or even look at me again?

"I'm fine" I said, afraid that I'd break down if I said more. I felt Tom rub my back, and hoped he couldn't feel my silent sobs. He simply kissed my cheek, gave my shoulder a gently squeeze, and we went to sleep.


"Gina?" a frantic voice said. I'd answered my phone without looking, and didn't recognize the voice.

I pulled the phone back and glanced at the screen. Suzanne - the cold, calculating megabeast that had gotten me my TAPE device was calling me, and she did not sound okay. I hadn't seen her (or anyone really) since that disastrous night at dinner, almost a week ago.

"Hi Sue, what's up?" trying to keep my voice calm.

"I... I just had 10 federal agents here. They took a ton of stuff. Jim's computers, my phone, my laptop. They grilled me for hours, and said I'm not to leave the state."

"What's going on?"

"They kept asking about some device, which I obviously don't know anything about."

Ug. She was a worse actress than the rumors suggested. I played along, assuming she was being listened to.

"What, that's so strange, are you okay? Do you want to come over and talk?"

"Could I?" she asked. She actually genuinely sounded grateful, which caught me a bit off guard.

We hung up and I headed home, cutting my run short.

She met me there 30 minutes later, large sunglasses over makeup smudged eyes and blotchy cheeks.

Once the door was closed, she took off her glasses. Her eyes, usually sharp and cold, were wet, ringed with red, and pathetic looking. She looked like a lost little girl, and something maternal in me clicked. I instinctively walked to her and gave her a quiet hug.

It seemed to take a second to register, and then she clung onto me as she had a full on breakdown. She was sobbing uncontrollably, and going in hysterics about how Jim was going to throw her out and how they'd taken everything.

I calmed her down a bit, and tried to get as much information as I could.

Her boyfriend, Jim, I knew was the same producer who'd demanded I lose weight for the role, and he was not my favorite person. I really couldn't care less if they broke up, but I knew Susanne was clinging to him for the money and Hollywood status it afforded her. She treated most people like dirt, and they largely returned the favor. Without him, she would be very much alone.

"I... I just didn't know who to come to." she said, her sobs subsiding a bit. "You can't trust anyone in this town, and you... You just seemed..."

I smiled at her, taking the compliment, and not making her blather further.

"What happened to you the other night at dinner? I saw you and Lacey disappear together after you ran off. I thought maybe you two..."

I laughed, in spite of myself, and Suzanne looked at me, confused. That night had been so traumatic, the thought that our hasty exit had prompted rumors of an affair was too ironic.

"No, no, nothing like that," I explained. “My device was making me feel sick, and I was nearly passing out in the bathroom. Lacey saved me actually - she took me to the Doctor and he reset the...”

“Wait. Lacey Ann brought you to the doctor?” Suzanne asked, her demeanor changing quickly. I could see her tensing up and the anger ignite in her eyes.

“Yes, why?”

“Why?” Suzanne shot. “You bring Lacey fucking I’m-too-good-for-everyone-else Ann there, of all places, and suddenly there there’s feds raiding my house and you don’t see any connection there?”

“Should I?” I asked, both incredulous and in denial.

“I don’t know, you tell me. When was the last time you spoke with the Doctor?”

“Last Saturday, while I was there.” I said, getting nervous. I was pulling out my phone before Suzanne could tell me to call him. I pulled up his entry in the address book and waited.

The phone made three, shrill, terrifying tones in my ear. “The number you have reached has been disconnected. Please...” I hit “end call” and stared at my phone.

The doctor was gone.


"Gina, you know who did this."

Suzanne was pacing our living room, her eyes wild. Her fear had turned to anger, and now she had someone to pin it on.

For me, I was now starting to understand why we should be scared. If federal agents had raided Suzanne's house, would mine be next? And without the doctor, what would I do? I didn't know how to get the device our of me, and I was barely functional losing weight as quickly as I was.

"Call her" Suzanne said, thrusting my phone at me.

"I'm not going to just call and accuse her. She saved me that night"

"Oh save it. She ratted you out, and took us all down with you. Fine, you won't call her? I will."

She hit Lacey Ann's entry in my address book, and held the phone to her ear. I made a grab for it, but she skittered back and held her hand up as if to hit me, a crazy look on her face, made all the more menacing by the dark rings of makeup under her eyes.

"Hi, Gina?" I heard the tinny speaker of the phone across the silence in the room.

"You stupid bitch, what did you tell them?!" Suzanne barked.

I'd heard enough. I lunged for the phone and caught Suzanne's arm, wrestled it away from her face, and grabbed the phone. "Lacey, I sorry" I shouted at the phone, but Suzanne was already on me. She tore at my arm and scratched at me, tumbling headlong into a blind, animal rage.

I was bigger and stronger than she was twice over, and began to fight back defensively, keeping her talons away from me. She screamed, and the phone clattered to the floor. She made a dive for it, and I grabbed her, falling down with her.

She rolled over and landed a solid punch on my right cheek.

I was stunned for a second, and knew the fight would be over in a moment. I wasn't holding back anymore. This bitch was going out the window.

"Gina!" I heard Tom yell as he flew through the front door, and felt his arm wrap my waist in a bear hug as I lunged for her. He lifted me up like I weighed nothing. In my rage, I strained towards Suzanne, and she came at both of us.

In one move, Tom swung me around to his other side, caught Suzanne's arm, and forcefully sat her down on the floor.

"Hey!" he shouted. The windows shook with his voice.

For a second, everything was silent.

Suzanne made a move as if to shake her arm from Tom and start fighting, but it was hopeless. He redoubled his grip on her forearm and stared her down.

"Are you kidding me?" he said, his voice low. "I grew up on the streets of New York, and I’m three times your size. I could pop your head like a grape with this hand. You move one more inch and I will make sure you never touch anyone again.

He turned to me, his grip on my waist easing a bit, but his face still deadly serious. "Now, baby, you're going to explain to me exactly what is going on and none of us are going anywhere until you do."

I told him everything. How I'd failed at losing the weight, how Suzanne had sent me to the doctor, and how I'd been struggling with the device. I told him about my horrible night with Lacey Ann, and finally about the Feds and the fight.

He waited, as he always did, calmly listening and taking it in. When I was done, he thought for a second.

"You should have told me. I understand why you didn't, but it hurts that you didn't trust me to back you up."

I started to try to speak, but couldn't. I simply nodded at him, tears welling in my eyes. No questions about what I'd done, no accusations, just yet another reminder that I'd never met as good a man as him.

Suzanne was sitting, motionless now, except for a tremor in her hands, staring at us. The wild fire in her eyes had gone, and now she looked even more scared.

"Now you" Tom said "You're going to tell me exactly who knows what, and what we've all gotten ourselves into here"

She was about to speak, when there was a hard knock at the door. We all froze. Tom put his finger to his lips and moved towards the door. It started to creep open, and he got in position just behind it to take out whoever was sneaking in.

"Hello? Gina?" I heard Lacey's voice call in. Her head peeked in, and she met Tom's eyes, watching her with his fist up in the air, reading to pound.

He didn't have a chance though, as she took the first step in, Suzanne was already on the move, charging full bore at Lacey.

Doubly surprised by the sight of Tom and Suzanne charging her, Lacey's eyes went wide, and she let out a startled "Waugh!" and half-fell the rest of the way in the door.

"Tom, that’s Lacey!" I shouted. He swung towards Suzanne who was nearly on her and caught her arm. Deftly, he folded it up and behind her, and laid her out, flat on her back with her arm pinned painfully. Her head caught the floor with a thud.

He was now crouched over her, holding her arm back. He moved in a way I've never seen him move, and nearly growled at her.

"You. Need to calm. The Fuck. Down."

His face was close to hers, and I could see her wince away. She rolled to her side and curled her legs up in a fetal position, and began to sob softly. Tom released her arm and got off her.

Lacey was picking herself up, and regaining her composure. The door was still hanging open, and the room was in disarray.

"Would someone mind telling me what's going on? Gina, are you okay?" She said, her voice somewhat shaky.

"I'm fine" I said, aware that my lip and eye were swelling where Suzanne had landed her punch, and told a somewhat different story.

"In another circumstance, I'd be very happy to meet you, Lacey,“ Tom said. “but I came home to find these two at each other's throats, and you seem to be at the crux of the matter.

"Me?" she said, startled. "Gina, what's he talking about? And what was she saying on the phone?" she finished, indicating the rolled up lump on the floor that was Suzanne.

"Lacey, there's..." I began, unsure how to start. "Suzanne's house was raided this morning, by federal agents. She found out that you took me to the doctor, and jumped to the conclusion that you must have told someone. I tried to call the doctor, but his number has been disconnected. Either he's been raided too, or he got out of town quick.

"Oh my god." Lacey said. She looked stunned, and the color drained from her face. She had told someone.

"Was it you?" Tom asked, deadpan.

"No... no it wasn't me."

"You don't sound sure" he said.

"Oh my god" she said, pacing the floor, and chewing on her nails.

"I told you" Suzanne said from where she now sat on the floor, her voice cold and low. "She sold us all out. Isn't that right, Lacey? You even sold out your little girlfriend here"

For a second, I felt Tom's eyes on me, and felt myself flush red.

"It wasn't me, alright?!" Lacey screamed, nearing a hysterical state. She tore at her fingernail with her teeth, and her eyes seemed to search the air in the room for something.

"Lacey" I said, walking up to her. She started to pace past me, but i put my hands on her shoulders. She turned to look at me. "If you didn't tell them, then what's wrong"

She didn't say anything, she just took my hand and moved it just below her ribcage. I felt an even, rhythmic pulse underneath.

Lacey had a device.


“Gina?” Tom asked, not exactly sure what was going on yet.

“She’s...” I started, and looked at Lacey Ann for confirmation. “Lacey’s got a TAPE device”

“Please don’t be mad” Lacey said. I raised my eyebrow, and felt a new twinge from the side of my face where it was swelling.

“Why would I be mad?” I asked

“When we went to the Doctor, I... I know I could have been more....” she stammered, looking up at me. “I’ve felt really bad about it, actually. I wanted to call... But afterwards, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. In this town, in this job... I’ve been starving myself for over 10 years. I was obsessed with the device”

“When?” Suzanne asked from her spot where she now sat, curled on the floor. I shot her a look, but Lacey answered her.

“A few days ago. Thursday I think.”

“Were you followed?” Suzanne asked, standing slowly. Tom gave her a look, but she was calmer now, and didn’t make any sudden moves.

“I don’t think so,” Lacey answered. “No one knew where I’d been going, and the paparazzi has been light since we’re on summer break. I...” She started, but there was a knock at the door.

“LAPD, is anyone home?” a voice shouted in.

“Oh no.. Oh, Gina, I called them when I ran over." Lacey blurted out. "I’m sorry, it sounded like you were in trouble, and I didn’t know what to do!”

“LAPD , we’re coming in!”

In two quick strides, Tom walked to the door and swung it open gently, catching the two policemen off guard. “Hello, officers, come in, sorry to call you over for this” He said. He was cool as a cucumber. They followed him in, holstering their guns.

“Is everything alright in here Sir?”

“It is now” said, indicating us three of us.

One of the officers looked at my face and tensed. “What happened to your face Ma’am?”

“I fell down, it was an accident”

The officer pursed his lips as if to say “Right, and I’m the tooth fairy” but held his tongue. “Someone called in a report of a fight”

“I called it in, I was on my way over” Lacey Ann said. Nerves were still running high, and Lacey was chewing her fingernails again.

“We had a disagreement over a phone call” I said, motioning at Suzanne. “We were struggling over the phone, and I fell and hit my face on the table.”

The cop’s eyes narrowed. I could tell they didn’t believe me, but they didn’t care to push further.

“Are you okay?” He asked Suzanne.

“I’m fine. I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt, it was an accident.” At least her acting was improving.

“Mind if we have a look around?” the first officer said. Tom gestured towards the kitchen.

“No problem - if you want a soda, there’s plenty in the fridge.”

The cop didn’t have very far to go in our small apartment. He walked down the hallway and poked his head in the bedroom, then walked quickly into the kitchen.

A voice came over the officer’s walkie-talkie, and the officer and spoke quickly into it. “This is 15A48. Code-4 on the 415 on Riverton, no crime. We’re closing up now.”

I felt myself exhale. They were leaving.

Just as the cops were starting to pack it up, I heard a creak at the door. It was still hanging open from when they had come in, and I saw a heavyset man standing outside, holding something.

The pop of his camera flash made everyone jump.

"What the?" the first cop said, swinging around on the door.

"Jesus, Mike!" he said, clearly recognizing the photographer. "You know you can't be here."

"You gotta do your job, I gotta do mine. Miss Flynn, are you okay?" he yelled in, addressing Lacey Ann.

"I'm sorry about this, ma'am," one of the officers said to her. "He's got a tendency of following us on calls from your part of town. We'll get him out of here."

"Miss Flynn, can you tell me who your friends are?" the paparazzo said as he snapped another photo.

"Mike I swear to Christ if you pop that flash in my face one more time I'm confiscating your camera as evidence."

"This is a private residence.” Tom said in his serious tone, and he stepped front of the door looking sour. "It's time for you to leave."

"You know what, buddy?..." the paparazzo began in a heated voice, but he was interrupted by the police before he could finish. They were clearly sick of his routine, and appeared extremely annoyed at him.

"That's it, Mike, we're done. The larger cop said, taking a hold of the paparazzo upper arm. "You're leaving, now, either in your own car, or in the back of mine."

"Hey, uh..." the other cop said to Lacey, hanging back. He waited awkwardly until his partner had escorted the paparazzo far enough away. "My wife loves your show, she'll never believe me if I tell her I met you. Do you think you could..."

"Sure, sure," she said brushing her hair back and smiling. She'd switched to professional mode nearly instantly. It was as impressive as it was frightening.

The cop didn't have any blank paper, so she signed one of his tickets, and he left, smiling dumbly at her,

As soon as they had left the house, Lacey Ann whipped out her cell phone and made a call

I raised my hand at her and cocked my head as if to say "who are you calling?"

She held up a finger, telling me to wait.

"Hi, Donna? It's Lacey Ann Flynn. Is Mr. Greenberg in? We've got some emergency damage control to do. 4pm? Great, thank you so much."

She hung up the phone.

“Get yourself cleaned up, we’ve got a four o’clock with our PR agent.” Lacey Ann said.

“This is one messed up town” Tom said quietly, shaking his head and looking confused and overwhelmed for the first time in all of this.

I still didn't understand. “Wait, Lacey, what?” I said, trying to make sense of what was going on. “All three of us have devices, the Doctor is gone, and who knows when the next shoe will drop with the Feds, and you’re talking about PR?”

“She’s right” Tom said.

I just stood there, gobsmacked.

He took a deep breath. “That’s why were here” he continued. “We moved here so you could have your shot. You took the device because you were willing to do anything to make it. So things have gone a bit... unpredictable - that’s no reason to throw it all away. Gina, you’re going to need to spin this.”

I looked at him, and had to wonder if he knew what he was signing up for when we got together, when he brought me here. He seemed to have an unending store of patience for me, and for all of this.

They were both right. As much as everything was falling apart, I still had a job to do if I wanted to make my name here. A scandal now could get me booted from the show, but some early attention could help all of us.

“Okay. Four o’clock. I’m going to need some ice, and some thicker foundation.”


"Gina Ramos, her new co-star..."

I only caught a bit of the audio from the broadcast, but my heart started pounding. They said my name. TMZ, the muckrakers and hitmakers of entertainment and gossip, had said my name.

I didn't know whether to be excited or terrified, and I was effectively both at once.

I'd been doing laundry, and dropped the clothes to run into the other room to listen to the TV.

"Insiders say that Lacey Ann and Gina have been inseparable since a steamy kiss at their audition a few weeks ago. Cameras haven’t even started rolling on the new season of “Do Not Cross”, but it appears there may already be trouble in paradise, as Lacey’s new co-star apparently came to blows with another woman during what insiders say was a fight over the beautiful Lacey Ann herself. Naturally, TMZ has the exclusive scoop"

"Who wants to kiss, and who wants to kill? Coming up next after the break, we've got more shocking revelations about the secret scandals of hollywood pairings.”

“Also coming up after the break, Technology’s Tapeworm... Is the rumored robot real, or is it just wishful thinking on the part of starved starlets? Find out, when we come back."

I stood there, dumbfounded after the broadcast, my heart racing. My vision swam, and I sat on the edge of the bed to steady myself. So much had just happened, I had to process it.

The picture of us from the paparazzi had leaked, and TMZ was covering it, with other rags soon to follow. We’d expected that much to happen, and they’d taken the bait. They were also reporting the hints we’d leaked out to add touch of sex, and explain the fight. The gossip mongers were doing what they always do, and stretching the truth to fit their story.

I already had a natural adrenaline kick from hearing my name and (slightly fabricated) personal dealings aired on national tv, but the part that had me in a panic was the piece about the TAPE device running in practically the same breath. TAPE rumors went around in private circles and occasionally hit the fringe press, but TMZ must have gotten some juicy info to be putting the rumors into their primetime slot.

My heart pounded as thoughts of being publicly outed as a carrier of a TAPE device swirled in my head. Were they going to implicate me on-air? Would be tonight be the night Feds broke down my door?

The broadcast came back on, and I sat on the edge of our bed, biting my nails, a bad habit I was picking up from Lacey.

We'd been inseparable again since the day of the raids, our fractured friendship quickly mended by the shared ordeal of carrying devices that we had no way to control. and the stress of waiting for the next shoe to drop. Lacey's TAPE device wasn't set as extreme as mine, but her body was still getting used to it, and she had good and bad days.

We leaned on each other a lot in the days after the raid, and we'd also been getting together to run lines and rehearse. We started production in 2 days, and with everything that was going on, we needed to be on top of our collective game.

TMZ came back on with a few fluff stories about celeb sightings and baby bumps, and then took another commercial with a final teaser for our story. They were saving us as the day's big gossip. When they came back, they lead straight into our story.

“Gina Ramos is a name few people know today, but tomorrow her name will be on everyone’s lips, in part because she can’t keep her own lips off her costars! Lacey Ann Flynn and Gina Ramos will star in a 4 episode arc of the new season of the smash hit "Do Not Cross", which begins filming this week. Rumors abound of a too-hot-for-tv kiss between Lacey Ann and Gina during auditions, and the two have been spotted around Hollywood frequently since.”

I breathed in. I’d forgotten to breathe again. Feeling lightheaded, I grabbed a granola bar from my stash. Passing out from low blood sugar right now would not be a good thing.

They showed a picture from one of our lunch dates - the one where I’d been so spacey. I hadn’t even seen a photographer that day. In the picture I had my hand on her arm and we were both laughing. The photo could practically be a cover for a romance novel, and they were running with it.

It was also strange to see myself from two weeks ago. I looked chubby. Looking at myself now in the mirror, I realized how much weight I’d really lost.

I turned sideways in the mirror and examined myself for a moment, trying not to hold my stomach in. I was thin. Almost too thin. I knew it was going too far, and I wanted this stupid device out of me, but a dark little part of me secretly loved it, and I knew it.

I turned my attention back to the TV as they continued.

“But this week, things turned sour. Responding to a call of a domestic disturbance, police officers were on the scene of what appears to be a squabble between Gina and a friend over a phone call to Lacey Ann. Sources close to the situation say that Lacey Ann herself called the police, and rushed to the scene just before police arrived.”

“No charges were filed, but in this exclusive TMZ photo, Gina is clearly sporting a fat lip, presumably the reason police were on the scene. LAPD confirmed they had responded to a report of a disturbance at the residence, but no charges were filed.”

“Mrs Ramos could not be reached for comment, but a statement from her agent said she was "sorry for the misunderstanding, and is healing nicely from her accident," although they would not elaborate on the exact cause of the accident.”

“Clearly there's more to the story, but everyone is keeping quiet! Simple misunderstanding, Lesbian love triangle, or something more sinister? One things certain, TMZ will be there when we find out.”

“And tonight's lead story, TMZ has exclusive confirmation that the rumors are real. The TAPE device exists.”

“Rumors of the TAPE device, a synthetic, biomimetic tapeworm which lives inside your body and keeps you looking thin no matter what you eat, have swirled around the hollywood for the last few years.”

“While most dismissed the idea as wishful thinking on part of starved Hollywood starlets, similar devices have been available for a while in Asian countries where regulations are less stringent, despite wide reports of related health problems related to the device.”

“According to our recent reports, one of the doctors who developed the technology, Dr. Devreaux, has been running a web of black market operations which provide the device in and around Los Angeles to willing customers. Sources close to the matter say that he returned to the US due to frustrations with production issues overseas, which he claims caused the safety issues that plagued the device, and earned it a spot n the FDA's banned devices list.”

“Dr. Devreaux's clandestine operation came crashing down this week however, as a tip provided to FBI agents prompted a sting at one of the distributing doctors. Reports say the rest of the network has either been raided or gone underground, leaving all of their clientele holding the bag. “

“The high-tech devices reportedly require routine maintenance or can begin to go haywire, causing everything from light-headedness to malnutrition in it’s owners.“

“Just how many of the Hollywood set are secretly carrying TAPE devices? For now, it’s impossible to know, but as the devices begin to age with no one to care for them, TMZ will be on the hunt, watching for signs. Symptoms like irritability, fainting, short temper, and sudden weight-loss are reportedly the hallmark of the device.”

If you know of anyone exhibiting those symptoms, send us a message on twitter at @TAPEblab or use the hashtag #TAPEdevice. Be warned though - as our previous story shows, many of the so called “symptoms” of the TAPE device might just be the normal behaviour of the Hollywood set we love to hate.”


“Gina?" Tom called

"I'm in the bedroom" I called back. I was trying to breathe deeply and relax, only half-succeeding, and ate the last two bites of my granola bar,

The tunnel vision I’d developed while watching the show was fading, and my heart felt less and less like it was going to pound it’s way though my chest, but my head was still throbbing, and I knew my blood pressure was high.

"Mike's wife called him when she saw you on TV.” Tom said, entering the doorway of the bedroom. “I caught a few minutes of it on the break-room tv and came right home... You okay?"

I was still shell shocked from the broadcast, and hadn’t focused on him yet. I took a final deep breath and looked up. "Sorry... I just... I don't know what to think anymore. Everything is such a mess. They made the TAPE device national ne..."

"Gina." Tom cut me off. He never interrupted me. I really looked up at him and finally realized something was wrong.

"Baby," he continued "I'd like to think that I've been really understanding throughout this whole thing. I don't care about anything but you being safe, and us being together." He closed his eyes and rubbed them. "But this thing with Lacey. To be finding out in front of everyone..."

"No!" I gasped. He couldn't think that was true, could he? "oh Tom, no no no, it's a stupid Hollywood gossip show. They just took our spin..."

"I don't care what they said." he said, looking at me once more with pain and worry in his eyes. I wanted to cry - I'd never seen anything shake him, and I'd somehow caused this. “All I know right now is the look I saw in your eyes in that photo, and that there are a lot of things you aren’t telling me.”

“Tom, it’s nothing. Please” I said, feeling sick. Tears were welling, hot in my eyes, and I babbled. “You know it’s not true, come on.” I went to move towards him, but he held up a hand.

“Gina, we’re supposed to tell each other everything, but I know we’re both human. I understood why you hid the TAPE device from me, but this is the part that’s making me crazy. I can’t explain to myself why you were hiding these things if they didn’t mean anything.”

Tears were spilling down my face now. “Tom...”

“Why didn’t you tell me about the kiss?”

“It wasn’t a real kiss!” I exclaimed, flopping down on my legs in a near tantrum of exasperation, imploring him to look at me and hear what I was saying. After every thing, this felt so unfair. “Tom!” I pleaded.

“I hear you Gina, but you told me every other part of that audition, down to the last detail, and you left that part out. I just need to understand why.”

My brain throbbed, my eyes swam, and I tried to make words, but only sobbed once, and then caught the cry in my mouth, trying to keep my composure and formulate and explanation.

None came.

I shook my head and closed my eyes, the tears pouring out of them now.

Tom kneeled down in front of me, putting a finger under my chin.

“I just need to know, baby. Do you have feelings for her?”

“I... “ I stammered. I looked down at my legs and shook my head, tears flying, everything was so fuzzy. Tom’s voice sounded muffled in my ears, and I couldn’t think. “I don’t know. Tom. I don’t know why I didn’t tell you”

“Okay.” He said, calm and soft, but standing up and moving backwards. He went to the closet and started to put a few things in a bag.

“What are you doing?” I blurted, the tears were really coming now. I tried to stand, but couldn’t get my feet quite under me, and sat back down on the bed.

He came over to me from the closet, zipping the bag shut.

“I love you Gina, more than anything in the world.” He started, and kissed me on the forehead. “I could scream and stomp and tell you could never see her again, but that wouldn’t change how you felt. I need you to figure out what you’re feeling, and why you were hiding it from me. In the meantime, we’re both in limbo, and that’s not right for either of us.”

“Tom...” I said, and reached up towards him. He didn’t back away this time, and my hand touched the scruffy side of his face. I pulled him down gently, and he kissed me, but took my hand in his after a moment, and stood back up.

“I’m going to Jimmy’s place for a couple days. When you figure this out, all you have to do is call me. I love you”

“Tom” I pleaded once more, squeezing his hand. He was really leaving. How could he go? He kissed me once more again on the forehead. I could barely see, my vision was spotty and my ears rang and whooshed with my heartbeat. I heard his footsteps walk down the hall. I slid down the edge of the bed sobbing with the stress, the sadness, and the terrible pain in behind my eyes. Collapsing into a fetal heap on the floor, I let the darkness take me and I passed out.


“Gina?” I felt a hand on my shoulder. Everything felt fuzzy, and my head hurt. “

“Gina, are you okay?” Tom’s voice sounded strange - high and panicked. I opened my eyes and saw Lacey, not Tom, crouched in front of me.

“Ugg” I groaned. “I’m okay... i think” I said. My neck had a terrible crick in it, and I wiped some drool off my face. I don’t know how long I’d been out, but when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, the side of my forehead had a red impression of the carpet pressed into it.

“What happened? When you didn’t show up for lunch and weren’t answering your phone, I got worried.

I sat up, and Lacey offered me her hands, helping me to stand, and I rested against the bed, feeling dizzy still.

“I saw the broadcast, and then Tom came home, and he...” The whole thing was flooding back on me, and I was getting overwhelmed again. I took a deep breath and just said it. “He saw the whole thing and, he didn’t know what to believe. He... “ I paused, not sure whether to tell Lacey what had happened. “Tom thinks I have feelings for you.”

“What? It’s a stupid gossip show! They lie about everything!”

“He saw the photo and... “ I wasn’t sure how to explain how Tom had known what I was having trouble admitting to myself. ”I hadn’t told him about the kiss”

Lacey was silent for a moment, thinking. “Why... Why didn’t you tell him?”

“I don’t know.” I paused, rubbing my head, and trying to clear the cobwebs. ”That’s what he was asking, and I didn’t have an answer for him. I think i was afraid.”

"Of him? Gina, Tom's not violent is he?"

"No no... Nothing like that. I think... I think I was scared of myself. I was scared about what I felt"

Lacey paused for a moment. "I wondered if it was just me"

She'd been looking down, thinking, but we met eyes as she finished her sentence. Something unspoken passed between us. The thing we'd been keeping hidden, both from ourselves and each other was now on the table in front of us. For a moment, we didn’t speak at all.

"So, what now?" She said, softly.

"I have no idea. Tom's left. staying at his friend's place for a while. He wants me to figure this out before he comes back."

"Gina I'm so sorry." Lacey said. She stood, and offered me her hand, helping me up. She offered a hug as I stood, and I embraced her. Everything bubbled up again, and i couldn't help but put my head on her shoulder as I sobbed.

I’d cried more in the past month than I had in the last 5 years, and I honestly wasn’t sure anymore if it was the device, or if I just wasn’t cut out for LA. I felt Lacey’s hand stroke the hair on the back of my head. I held onto her has the grief of disappointing Tom, of potentially losing him, washed over me.

When I finally had myself under control, I lifted my head and looked at Lacey, and was surprised to see she’d been crying as well.

She touched her forehead to mine and we closed our eyes, forehead to forehead, nose to nose, and a moment stretched into infinity. It was as if we were two magnets aimed directly at each other. Every basic instinct I had was pushing me to just tilt my chin towards her, knowing once we started down that path, if either of us flinched, gave just a millimeter, there’d be no return.

But we held away, neither letting the desire take us, and finally, it passed. It felt like electricity had transferred between us, and after surviving the moment without giving in, something new had formed.

“So, now we know.” Lacey said with a soft smile.

I understood her. We’d stood together on the ledge and didn’t jump off. If it hadn’t happened now, it wasn’t going to. We had feelings for each other, but we weren’t controlled by them.

“I just can’t do it to Tom. I love him. I can’t hurt him like that.” I said, quietly.

“I know, and I don’t want to take you somewhere you’ll regret going.”

I smiled at her. It felt strange. I felt like I hadn’t smiled in a month. Things which I’d been holding tense since that first audition released. A shiver ran down my back, my shoulders relaxed, and my body felt at ease with itself.


“Gina, it’s me baby. I got your message. It sounds like we’ve got a lot to talk about, but I’m happy to hear you’re figuring things out. Give me a call when you get a chance. I love you baby. Talk soon”

“Hey, it’s me. I know you’re on set right now, but if you can call me, we need to talk. Something’s going on with my mom. Este wouldn’t tell me much, but she’s in the hospital. He wants me to come to New York. I’m going to wait a bit to see if I can get a hold of you, but I might have to go. I love you, I’m going to try you at the studio.”

“I’m sorry baby, I’ve been trying to reach you for hours. My mom’s taking a turn for the worse. They say she’s had a massive stroke, and don’t know if she’ll make it through the night. I know you’re filming and I want you with me, but I wouldn’t ask you to give everything up to come with me. I’m getting on the 4:15 to New York. Call me when you get this, but I might be in the air. I’ll call you when land if I don’t hear from you. I love you.”


"Okay Gina, let's take it from the top of the scene again. Jim, could I see a red gel in G5? And Max, keep the focus tight on Gina this time through the second exchange." "Places for rehearsal everyone... and action!"

The director's shout brought me to life. I summoned all the strength I had and became my character again. She had her own problems, but chronic malnutrition, fatigue, and passing out mid-conversation weren't among them. For the next 3 minutes, I didn't have those problems either.

I cut through the scene like an expert swordsman, sparring with the other actor and taking him to task with every line. We we're on our sixth rehearsal of this scene alone, and I was running out of strength, but this was my first real tech rehearsal, and I'll be damned if I wasn't going to give it everything every time.

The problem was, I was mopping the floor with the other actors.

We finished the scene without so much as the customary "cut". We weren't rolling film yet, just blocking the scenes, testing the shots and lighting, and running the lines.

The director approached us. He'd taken his glasses off and was rubbing his eyes.

"Nathan" he said, still rubbing his eyes. "what's going on?"

"What do you mean." the actor asked nonchalantly, taking a sip of latte offered by his assistant.

"What I mean is, you're phoning it in. At this point i don't care if you hate me for saying this, but Gina is making you look like you're a first year acting student."

"Are you serious?” Nathan said, cooly, but he had snapped to attention. For the first time, he seemed to be taking part in the proceedings with the rest of us. “I don't have to take this, I'm here as a favor..."

"Oh stuff it Nathan. If you want to walk off, I've got a hungry, amazing no-name waiting in the wings who would kill for your part." Nathan eyed me as He said that, and I suddenly realized I'd probably taken this part from a bigger name actress, likely one of his friends. Nathan bit his tongue.

"If you're going to stay, then shut up, take whatever anger you're feeling at me and put it in this scene, right now, and step up to the damn plate."

Nathan's lip curled up, but whatever he was thinking, he didn't say a word.

"Alright! The director shouted once more, not waiting for a reasoned retort. Roll rehearsal. Action."

Again I was brought back to motion by his yell. And this time, finally, so was Nathan. The scene took on a whole new shape, and I nearly lost the last half of my first line as Nathan advanced, cutting me off. His character was quieter now, with a deeper anger, and we cut at each other with the lines of the script.

It was over before I could think about it, but as we closed the scene and I had a second to breathe. I closed my eyes to steady myself, I felt my knee buckle. I reached for Nathan's arm and caught myself.

He was facing away from me and only felt my hand on his arm, and mistook it for a social gesture. He put his hand on mine and simply said "thanks."

I smiled at the moment of unintended kindness that had just passed between us. I'd just made a friend.

The director was watching the playback on a monitor, with headphones on. I steadied myself. No one had seen me almost lose it, right here on set. I took and deep breath, shook my head too try to clear some of the cobwebs, and we waited in silence for a moment.

"Yes!... Yes!!" the director leaped up, tossing the headphones to the table, exuberant that we'd finally given him the take he wanted. "Now that, that's what I was looking for! Everyone, mark that, I want it exactly like that tomorrow. If we nail it like that we've got a blockbuster in our hands, folks. Let's break for 30 here, good work."

He approached us both. "That was something. Nathan, I'm sorry if I pissed you off, but whatever just happened, that was the best I've seen you since the pilot. Please don't make me be an asshole every time I need your best work, okay?”

They both laughed. A hollywood truce transpired before my eyes, and they were old chums once more. Nathan’s eyes even crinkled a little when he smiled. He actually was a good actor.

“And you.” he said, throwing an arm over my shoulder. “I don’t know where you pull it from, when when you’re on, you’re like clockwork.”

I smiled at them, and realized that I had no idea what to do with myself. I’d been in pretty much every scene that had been blocked today, and had been going since 8 AM. Aside from a lunch break that we talked entirely through, I hadn’t had a moment to myself in 9 hours. I walked to the wings as the lights turned off, and I wandered a bit, half in a daze.

I pulled my phone from my purse, absentmindedly. My email was already loading when I noticed a bunch of missed calls. I flipped back to the home screen, and there were 7 of them, all from Tom.

My heart rate rose, and I sat down in a chair. I listened to the first message, then the second.

As I finished the final message, tears were streaming down my face. Tom’s mother was deathly ill, and I’d missed it. I’d missed him - It was 5pm. He was already on a flight back to New York.

I felt my hand slip down the chair. Strangely, the stage lights dimmed.

The floor felt cool against my face.
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