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Planned Friends

by Fred Vogel


Fred has been published in Literally Stories, Subtle Fiction, Straylight, Clever, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon.

As soon as Daniel Ryder got home from his catering job, he showered, put on the only suit he owned, and drove to Chez Cher, the hottest restaurant in Beverly Hills. There he met with Hanzell Grieder, artiste extraordinaire. Daniel had been sent by the Planned Friends Agency to play the part of Hanzell's real son, Paul, who was currently in a Vienna detox center. Paul Grieder was a well-known artist in his own right and his father had set up a meeting with some of the city's heavy hitters with hopes of securing enough capital to finance a nationwide art exhibit featuring father and son.

The Planned Friends Agency was where Daniel and other aspiring actors moonlighted, hoping to make extra cash while honing their acting skills. The actors would be sent to various events, i.e., weddings, corporate affairs, political rallies, to either play the part of someone important or to merely act as background scenery.

By the time the invited guests had arrived at Chez Cher, Daniel had morphed into Paul Grieder, Hanzell's talented, yet extremely troubled, son.

The meeting went as well as could be expected. The money men said they would be 'getting back' to Hanzell in the near future. Daniel felt good about his performance. Hanzell told him he was a better dinner companion than his son had ever been and that there was an excellent chance he would be needing Daniel's presence at various stops during the tour at the times his son would undoubtedly relapse.

During the business dinner, Daniel had become smitten with Celia Cummings, the daughter of one of the invited guests, Ronald Cummings, founder of Eagle Aeronautics. The two had made eye contact numerous times during the meal and Daniel was able to procure Celia's phone number before leaving.

This is where things got a bit sticky. Since Celia knew Daniel as Paul Grieder, the gifted artist, he would have to continue playing the part. He was well aware that Daniel Ryder, the caterer, would not be able to impress someone as beautiful and well-bred as Celia Cummings. Twice before Daniel had found himself in similar predicaments and each time the woman involved had flown the coop once Daniel confessed his true identity.

Daniel felt it would be best to put a halt to the charade before it even started. Sort of. He called Celia to let her know he was leaving for Spain in the morning and would be unavailable for the foreseeable future.

It was in the fall when Daniel, catering a political fundraiser, ran into Celia Cummings, who was there - as a food server. Celia was not the daughter of Ronald Cummings, but a struggling actor named Erin Bailey, who was employed by Anonymous Acting, a fierce competitor of Planned Friends. The two performers exchanged awkward glances throughout the evening while continuing on with their ambiguous lives

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