The following is an excerpt from Lady Bettencourt. Copyright © 2016 by Sandra Cunha. All rights reserved.
Rachel McAdams is wearing my dress.
Rachel McAdams is wearing my dress!
Is this really happening?
Maybe someone stole my dress design.
No, I remember those materials, taking them apart and putting them back together to sew my first-ever evening gown.
And now, it’s on Rachel McAdams’s body.
A crowd standing behind temporary fencing across the street from the Elgin Theatre is shouting Rachel’s name, demanding her to “Look over here!”
I’m blinded by camera flashes coming from every direction, from her fans across the street, from the media in front of the theatre, and from those, like me, standing in the ticket-holders line.
The flashing stops for a split-second, and I see Rachel wave to the crowd before making her way towards the red carpet.
It’s a gorgeous Saturday evening in September, and I’ve been waiting almost two hours to watch a world movie premiere as part of the Toronto International Film Festival. Little did I know when I woke up this morning that I’d be making my own world premiere.
The festival volunteers are telling us to move forward and to have our tickets ready. I’m near the head of the line and can catch glimpses of Rachel speaking with someone in the media about her film.
I need to know what she’s saying.
I squeeze my way to the outer edge of the line, trying to get as close to the red carpet as I can without security having to step in.
Rachel is beginning to move on to the next entertainment reporter, but the current one stops her and asks her who she’s wearing.
This is it.
Please say, Lady Bettencourt. Please say, Lady Bettencourt!
I’m frozen to the spot as the other film-goers push past me and head into the theatre.
“It’s by a local designer,” Rachel says. “She uses all secondhand materials in her dresses. It has deep pockets, too. No need for a purse! The designer is . . . um . . .”
Lady Bettencourt! LADY BETTENCOURT!
“Lady Bettencourt! Almost forgot that,” Rachel says, smiling with those twinkly eyes of hers, then moves on to the next entertainment reporter.
Maybe I should jump the ropes and announce that I am Lady Bettencourt. I’ve always dreamed of walking the red carpet. (But I’d probably get arrested.)
“Ma’am, please move along. You’re slowing down the line,” a festival volunteer says to me, drunk on his new-found power.
I head into the theatre with the other film-goers, looking back repeatedly. I need to make sure it’s real; that I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing.
But there’s no denying it.
Rachel McAdams is definitely wearing my dress.
* * * * *
I grab the first aisle seat I can find in the beautiful, old Edwardian theatre, although I’m too preoccupied to appreciate its grandeur. Other film-goers squeeze past me to find their own seats.
I want to call my sister, Betty, and tell her what just happened. But she’s in Chicago with her fiance, Matt.
Finally. It only took thirteen years. (They’ve been dating since the tenth grade.)
Matt even asked me for Betty’s hand in marriage. Their wedding is next month.
Matt’s still working as a consultant, but his project is wrapping up just before the wedding, and then he’ll be in Toronto full-time. It was one of the conditions of Betty accepting his proposal.
Betty’s “no calls unless it’s an emergency” policy is still in effect whenever she’s away with Matt. We have different definitions of what constitutes an emergency. We have different definitions of a lot of things.
But she never said anything about text messages.
I reach into my purse for my phone. Actually, it’s Betty’s old Motorola Razr. I lost my smartphone in the Great Subway Incident, two years ago. And as it was Betty-the-accountant’s phone, it’s grey, not one of the fun-coloured versions.
The theatre goes dark. I flip open the phone. Sadly, the backlight no longer works, so I’m not sure what I’m typing into the ancient keyboard. I’m tapping away, taking my best guess that I’ve chosen the right letters, to make the right words.
An older gentleman sitting next to me keeps glancing over and shaking his head; probably because the keyboard volume has also malfunctioned and makes a loud, beeping noise every time I press a button. I’ve learned to tune it out.
“Do you mind?” he asks.
And even though I do mind, I quickly send the message and flip the phone closed.
“Sorry,” I say, smiling at him through the darkness.
He nods his head.
Betty’s good at puzzles. She’ll be able to decode my message.
* * * * *
I sit in the pitch-black theatre, wondering what this all means. Am I famous now? Maybe not this very second, but it has to mean I'm going to become famous.
People who’ve never heard of Lady Bettencourt will now know it exists. This is how it starts, isn’t it?
Erin Bettencourt will finally be a somebody!
Not that I’m not a somebody now. I’ll just be a somebody, more somebodies, know about.
And it’s all because Rachel McAdams chose me.
She had to know that by putting on that dress and saying who she was wearing that she was about to change someone else’s life, forever. She had to. Imagine having that kind of power.
Maybe I’ll put on a fashion show.
I can see it now: the models wearing my dresses down the runway, the oohing and aahing increasing with each dress . . . and a juggler on a unicycle weaving in and out of the models?
Hmm, I’m not sure what that’s about. Or why there’s a tightrope walker above the runway and lions roaring in the audience.
Maybe it’ll be a circus-themed fashion show?
Really, you’d think I’d have more control over my own daydream.
At the end of the fashion show, I see myself coming out from backstage to take a bow. I wish I could do a cartwheel and splits, like Betsey Johnson. Although, it's important to be original.
So, I finish the show by doing something between the Charleston and the Robot. (I’ll have to work on that part.)
One of the lions is by my side as I walk the rest of the runway and wave at the crowd who is on its feet. For some reason, I’m not afraid of the lion.
The daydream feels so real: I can actually hear the crowd applauding and see everyone standing up. I’m about to take a final bow when I’m brought back to reality.
And there is a crowd applauding and standing up, except it’s for the film and actors, not me.
I missed the whole movie!
How could that have happened? Unless, I actually fell asleep.
I'm contemplating this when a spotlight comes on, and everyone turns in its direction. It’s focused on Rachel McAdams and the cast of the film. She’s several rows ahead of me, waving at the audience.
She was there, wearing my dress, the entire time.
I stare and stare, willing her to look over at me until . . . it works! I catch her eye and wave, then I yell out, “Thank you! Thank you!”
Rachel will understand one day.
“What did you think of the film?” the older gentleman beside me asks.
“Um, I think it’s Oscar-worthy.”
It had to be good, given the standing ovation; festival audiences are critical. I’ll have to remember to watch it when it comes out to the general public next year.
And where will Lady Bettencourt be next year?
“I see it becoming a huge success,” the older gentleman says, nodding.
But then, I realize he’s talking about the film.
* * * * *
As I’m exiting the theatre, I’m questioning the events of the last few hours.
Maybe it was just a dream; my imagination playing tricks on me. Maybe I saw what I wanted to see. I’ve been known to do that.
It couldn’t be. All my dresses are made from unique materials, and that dress was my first-ever attempt at evening wear. It was meant to be a practice dress before making my maid of honour gown for Betty’s wedding, but it turned out so well, I put it up for sale on my online shop.
Plus, Rachel specifically said Lady Bettencourt—unless that was part of the dream.
I need concrete evidence.
My text message to Betty!
Hopefully, people can’t text while sleeping.
I flip open my phone, which causes a teenager walking past me to snicker at it. (I’ve gotten used to this.)
I have several messages from Betty, asking if I’m okay. The last one, sent a minute ago, says she’s calling the police if I don’t message her back in the next half-hour.
Wow, that’s dramatic—especially for Betty.
I go back to my original text, and I can see why.
It looks like the message reads: “Ray hell mad warring my distress!!!”
Eek. I should text her back.
But before I can, I get an incoming call. It’s probably Betty checking up on me. (My call display no longer functions, either. Every call is a surprise.)
“Hello,” a woman with a hypnotic-sounding voice says, cutting me off. “I’m looking for Erin Bettencourt of Lady Bettencourt. Is this her?”
“Yes, this is her,” I say, waiting with bated breath.
“My name is Vanessa Moore of The Moore Agency. I want to represent you and the Lady Bettencourt brand.”
I release my breath.