"Hey Phoenix?"

"Yeah?" I ask

"Who's this?"

I turn my head towards him and see him holding up the red plastic frame that had been sitting next to my bed and reach for it.  "That's nobody."

He stretched out his long naked arm and pushes me away with the other to keep the frame away from my hands.  "It can't be nobody if the picture is next to your bed.  No one puts an unimportant picture next to their bed.

"Give it back," I say pushing at his chest and arm to get up to where the frame is now dangling over the two of us.

"Hey now Phoenix," he says, "I don't have security with me and I'd hate to have to call them."

"You're mean."

He laughed when I reached for it and couldn't get the frame.  "You know that whole, before you go to bed at night, first thing you see when you wake up in the morning thing?"  He brought the picture down when I stopped struggling for it.  "So who is this?  A cousin or maybe there is a sister around here that you've been hiding from me."

"It's not important," I say and snatch the frame out of his hands, "Leave it alone."  I move the back of the frame so that it'll stand on it's own and place it on the nightstand next to me.

"Hey now," he said and pulled me back across the bed so I had my back pressed against his chest.  He wrapped his arms around my body and pressed a kiss to my ear.  "I just wanted to know more about you.  I'm sorry if you're sensitive about your friend."  His breath tickled my neck for a moment and another kiss was pressed against my neck.  "Did something happen to her?"

"She died," I say and close my eyes.

"Oh sweetie.  I'm sorry I didn't mean to--"

I push myself away from him and sit up at the edge of the bed.  My clothes had been hastily thrown on the floor during the night so I reach for my shirt and pull it on before I lean down for the pair of boxers that are closest to my toes.  "She died about six months ago."

"Oh God," He says.  I turn to see him with his arm thrown over his eyes and a sour look on his lips.  "I feel like an ass now."

"Josh," I say with a sigh, "It's ok.  You didn't know."

He moves his arm and looks over at me, "I'm sorry."

"It's ok," I say and move away from the bed to find my brush.  I stand in front of the mirror and admire myself for a moment before I reach for a hair rubber band and pull my hair out of my face.  "You didn't know."

I see him watch me in the mirror and wonder for a moment if he even knows what a look like that really does to me.  No one really knows these days and that's something hard for me to deal with.

Words slip from his lips in a lazy flowing manner that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, "You're beautiful."

"Stop," I say and step away from the mirror now frowning.

"Why do you always do that?"

"Do what?"

"Do that avoidance thing," he says.  "Every time I compliment you on your looks you run away from me."

My eyes roll instinctively.  "I don't run away from you."

"Yes you do," he says and pulls the sheet off the bed, wrapping himself in a toga-like outfit as he walks towards where I'm now searching around for my other clothes.

"I'm not beautiful Josh," I say.

"What are you talking about?  I fell in love with you the first time I saw you."

"No you didn't."

"Yes I did," he said, "Why are you trying to argue with me?"  He sighs, "I guess that it's just another way for you to run away."

"I don't run away," I say, "I get compliments all day long and I'm new to this so it's strange to hear all the time."

"But it's me," he says, "I'm not the media."  He moves a hand to touch my shoulder and moves around so that I'm facing him instead of the dresser.  "I'm not the media.  I'm the man you're sleeping with and I think that if I say something about you looking amazing or being amazing that you shouldn't shy away from that."

"I'll try," I say not looking him in the eyes.  If he only knew how tough it was for me to deal with his words.  I could only imagine what he'd do if he found out the truth as to why I blush when I'm complimented and how sometimes I get upset.

"I guess I can work with that," he says, "Although I'm not sure why you get so upset about words like that.  You're in the business now.  Surely someone has been complimenting you about your looks.  It's not like you got this amazing looking overnight."

Tears form in my eyes.

"Hey now," he says, "Don't cry--"  He tips my chin up, "Unless they're happy tears because I've known a few girls to get over emotional when I compliment them--"  He broke into a smile, "They were fans, but an over emotional girl is an over emotional girl, no matter who they are."

"They're happy tears," I lie.

"Good," he says and leans and kisses me.

"So what's the plan for the rest of the day?" he asks.

"Nothing much," I say, "I've got to go shoot the feature for Vogue in Bel Air this afternoon, but other than that I'm free."

"Good," he says and looks at me strangely.  "Are you sure you're ok?"

"I'll tell you about the picture if you want," I offer.

"You don't have to do that honey."

"No," I say, "We've been dating for almost four months now and I think you should know."

"Only if you're sure," he says, "I really didn't mean to--"

"It's me," I blab out.

"What?"

"It's me in that picture."

"You said that the girl in the picture died."

"I did," I say, "Or rather she died and I was born."

"This isn't gonna turn into a freaky sci-fi movie is it?" he asks with a joking manner.  "Your head isn't going to explode and you aren't gonna take over my mind with voodoo powers or anything."

"No," I say feeling a little insulted that he's taking this with a grain of salt, "Do you want to know the story or not?"

"Fine," he says, "Tell me."

I go and sit on the bed and take more than a few deep breaths.

"Six months ago," I say slowly, "I died."

"You said that already."

"Six months ago--"  I move and pick up the picture of the girl from my nightstand.  "I became a new person and it happened overnight--or rather over the course of six weeks."

"What?"

"I wrote into a show called Extreme Make Overs and was granted my wish."

"That girl doesn't even look like you.  I mean the eyes and the nose and even the lips and definitely the body isn't the kind of body that you have."

"I had a whole lot of surgery."

"Like what?"

"I had a face lift, nose job, my eyes done, a cleft lip fixed, a breast lift, my teeth whitened and straightened and filed, I had lipo on my inner thighs and stomach--"

His shock was hard to hide.  "What?"

"That's me Josh," I say and point to the picture, "That's the real Dominique Theresa Sciff."

"Who?"

I take a deep breath and say my own name, feeling empty when it leaves my lips.  "Dominique Theresa Schiff."

"I thought your name was Phoenix--"  He shook his head and rolled his eyes, "I mean legally."

"It is," I say, "I changed it six months ago."

He looked confused and I couldn't blame him.  "Why'd you change your name?"

"Because I was a new person."  I sigh, "The Phoenix in Egyptian mythology is a bird that burned and out of the ashes comes a new being."

"I don't get it," he said, "Why?"  His chest rose and fell, "Why didn't you tell me all this?"

"I couldn't tell anyone," I say, "When I did this--"  Tears spring to my eyes at the thought of all this.  I know that I shouldn't still feel this way, four months after my recovery period was over, but it's hard not to feel panicked and confused and hurt and excited and disappointed all at the same time.  "I made a pact with myself--"  I pause.  "And the devil--to become a different person--a better person."

He tips my chin up, "Why don't you say that with more happiness in your voice?"

"I've become a different person," I say, "But it hasn't helped anything."

"What did you want to get away from?  I mean why--"

"I wanted to see what it was like to be the woman that walks in the room and all the men's jaws fall to the floor."  I sigh, "And it worked.  I mean I know if I walked in the room as Dominique no one would have looked at me twice."

"I would have," he says.

I shake my head.  "No you wouldn't have."

"You don't know that."

"Yes I do," I say, "I know it."

I turn away from him and start to walk out of the room.

"Don't run away," he said, "What do you mean you know?  I've fallen in love with you and lived with you for a month now and you don't trust my word--my heart?"

"I know because I've seen it," I say.

"Not with me."

"Yes," I say, "With you."

"When?"

"Grammy's night in LA two years ago.  You were with the group and I was at the Jive after party with my uncle.  I asked you to dance and you rolled your eyes at me and told me you were busy then went off with some red haired girl--"

His eyes widened.

I dip my head and move towards the dresser and pick up m brush again to keep my hands busy.  I choke back tears as I see my reflection in the mirror.  "You looked at me like I was a leper."

"I didn't mean--"

"No," I say, "You didn't mean to be that way, but the fact is that your first reaction was like every other man's reaction to my looks."  I shrug.  "You didn't give me the time of day."

His eyes widen again then he glares at me, "You're psycho."  He moves across the room and starts to pull on his clothes.  "What kind of a person does that?"  He pulls jeans on over naked flesh and as he starts to do up the fly he has trouble with it.  I know his mind is on a million different things, "You tricked me.  How could you be so mean and heartless?"

"How could I be mean and heartless?" My blood pressure soars through the roof.  "What about you?"  I sit on the bed in front of him, "DO you realize how many times a day I see you roll your eyes at a person that doesn't look as polished as your friends or me for that matter."

"I don't."

"You do," I say, "Do you even realize what your group of friends look like?  Normal people don't look like super models--"

"Well then I guess you're a freak for wanting that."

"You know what?" I say, "I'm guessing that this thing that we have going on here is now over so I'd like you to get out of my apartment."

"Gladly," he says grabbing up his keys and slams the door on his way out into the hallway.

I find myself standing in the middle of my bedroom, tears running down my face looking at myself in the mirror.  My hand throws my brush into the mirror and smash it.

Again I'm alone, just the way this whole big trip started out like.

*****

"Phoenix."

"Ahh!" I scream as I come awake in a cold sweat.

"Are you ok?"

"Yeah," I say and rub the nightmare away from my eyes.  "Sorry.  I was sleeping hard.  You startled me."

"Are you sure you're ok?"

"Yeah," I say, "Definitely."  I turn over towards the other side of the bed and see him lying there with the red picture frame in his hand.  "What are you doing with the frame?"

"Who's this?" he asks.

My mouth goes dry and I stare at the picture as my nightmare goes through my head.

"It's not an SAT question."

"I know," I say.

"So who is it?"

"Dominique Schiff," I say.

"Who's that?" he asks, "A cousin or something?  You two kind of look related."

"She's no one Josh," I say with tears in my eyes, "Just someone I used to know."


To find out more about the Phoenix bird... http://www.pantheon.org/articles/p/phoenix.html


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