Leaving Bay View
By Elizabeth Markley
For the third time in her life, Valerie Mansfield had been kidnapped. The first time it happened Valerie was in college and her ex-boyfriend, devastated by their breakup, abducted her from the library and took her to an isolated cabin. She was only saved when her heroic fiancé came bursting through the barricaded door. The second time it was a woman who drugged and kidnapped Valerie, and this was much more fun. Constance DeLuca locked her in a basement, in an elaborate scheme to try and steal Valerie’s identity. Back and forth they went, Valerie and Constance, two of the feistiest women in daytime. It had been a real hoot.
This time it was Gerard. His character was emerging as both villain and savior, a not uncommon blend in soap operas. Their arc started a month ago, when Gerard grabbed Valerie from a gala hosted by her father. Valerie’s father was Hector Mansfield, business titan and billionaire. His company was called Bay View Industries, though no one seemed to have a clear idea of what, exactly, the company did. Some days it seemed to be media, other days, manufacturing or investments. The most the fans could conclude was that it was a conglomerate of some kind, and it made boatloads of money.
It was because of this wealth and power that Hector Mansfield’s family was often targeted – hence, the most recent kidnapping. Gerard worked for a rival businessman, a competitor who Hector left in the lurch and who was going to extract his revenge on Valerie. Gerard kidnapped her at gunpoint from the gala, and took her to an abandoned warehouse to wait for his boss. The boss ended up being delayed, for reasons the show never quite got into. But that was not important. The important thing was that Valerie and Gerard spend extended time together. Their relationship started off antagonistic, as to be expected, Valerie all fiery defiance, Gerard the rigid tough guy. But over the course of several episodes their views of one another began to soften. Valerie was not a spoiled rich girl, as Gerard thought, and Gerard was not a nameless goon. Why, he might even be kind. When Gerard finally met with his boss and learned of the deadly plans for Valerie, he knew he could never let anything happen to her.
Now they were a team. Gerard helped Valerie escape from the warehouse, and they were working together to figure their way out of this impossible situation. Ignoring the elements of Stockholm Syndrome, the story had actually been going well so far. And better yet, it had potential. After fourteen years playing Valerie Mansfield, almost half of her life, Amanda knew intuitively whether or not a storyline was going to work. The timing was right too - for the first time in years Val was without a love interest, and Gerard was going to fill in nicely.
Her most recent husband had died or, more accurately, had left to play the lead in a made for TV Christmas movie. In the scenes after his death, when Valerie was mourning in dramatic, black velvet suits, it hardly felt like acting. It was a real loss for Amanda, the day Devon left the show. Not akin to losing a husband necessarily – there had never been any romantic connection between them - but Devon had become something of a brother to her. They worked together for over nine years, and he had seen her through the actual drama in her life. After her divorce, when the allegations first came out, Devon was one of the few who believed Amanda unconditionally.
Amanda leaned back on the prop mattress and stretched her legs. At the moment Valerie and Gerard were in a dilapidated apartment by the Bay View docks, trying to plot their next move. She was sitting next to Graham, the actor who played Gerard. He was new to the cast and still very green, his timing occasionally a beat off, his movements too stiff. It was always painful for Amanda, watching the new additions try to keep up. She felt like a mother bird looking after her fledglings. Even if they were prepared for the rigors of daytime - the breakneck speed, the lack of additional takes - when they stood under the blazing lights for the first time their expression was always the same. Shock, bewilderment, and barely-concealed distress.
Graham was nice enough to work with, though Amanda could sense his ambition lurking just beneath the surface. She was suspicious that, despite these early missteps, he might just view a soap opera as beneath him. Or if not beneath him, perhaps an unavoidable stepping stone to more prestigious projects. Amanda tried not to hold this against Graham. She herself acted this way once.
When she first joined the cast, an immature twenty-year old fresh off the plane from Florida, she was certain that a life of inevitable stardom awaited her. She was technically a recast, assuming the role of Valerie after the character fell victim to SORAS, Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. This was a real term, and a real thing in soaps. Valerie Mansfield was last seen as a twelve-year old, and then, eighteen months later, re-emerged as a college student at Bay View University. There just weren’t that many interesting storylines to do with a preteen, not to mention the legal and scheduling hassle of having a minor on set. Valerie burst back onto the scene, a gutsy bad girl with a heart of gold, and the fans fell in love.
It was therefore only a matter of time before Amanda would be collecting her first Oscar. But she discovered that it was a full-time job, pestering her agent and preparing for auditions, and she was constantly exhausted from her actual job. And then, at some point in her mid-twenties, it became much easier and much more fun to simply hang out with her friends - go to the beach or a workout class instead of sitting in traffic for three hours to read for a role she was invariably going to lose. And it wasn’t like they could get rid of Valerie Mansfield. Unless the studio wanted to incur the wrath of women across America, Valerie was not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. In fact, as far as Amanda could ascertain, Val had spent her entire life in Bay View. It seemed a little strange that the daughter of a billionaire would spend her whole life in the same mid-sized city, but this did translate to a reassuring level of job security.
They wrapped at six o’clock, and Amanda made her way through the labyrinthine hallways that contained the casts’ dressing rooms. It was Friday evening, which meant she had no call time tomorrow. She knew she should be making an effort to go out - meet someone, be social, emerge from her self-imposed exile - but she only waved goodbye to her coworkers and slipped into her car. She wasn’t ready, even though she and Brandon had been divorced for over a year. She wondered what he was up to. He was keeping a low profile currently, his website and social media accounts gone deathly quiet, but Amanda was certain he was plotting his comeback. Brandon was not an actor, but he was much more famous than Amanda. When they met he was the star of his own reality series, a show that covered the dramas of the high-end L.A. real estate market. On the show – and in real life too – Brandon was a realtor, wheeling and dealing his way around Southern California.
They were set up through mutual friends, a couple that, incidentally, Amanda no longer spoke to. On their first date at a popular sushi restaurant, there was confusion over their reservation and they had to sit at the crowded bar. Amanda worried the date was ruined but it turned out to be romantic, sitting so close to one another, their heads together like co-conspirators. Brandon didn’t even wait a day to call her again. The next night they sat floor-side at a Laker’s game, and by halftime Amanda was completely smitten. What followed was the most breathtaking romance. Six months after their first date they were engaged. Three months after that they were married at a gorgeous oceanfront house in Malibu. Three months after that, Brandon shoved her into a bookcase in their living room. It hadn’t hurt. She performed more physical stunts on the show. She only remembered being stunned. Brandon apologized the next morning. He was under so much pressure, he said, and he had been drinking. He swore it wouldn’t happen again. But it did.
Amanda pulled into her long driveway. She never thought, growing up in a split-level house in the deep suburbs of Orlando, she would ever live in a place like this. The exterior was stucco, with a Spanish tile roof, exactly the kind of California movie star house she dreamed about as a child. Only, she had not imagined living in it alone. Now it was just her in five thousand square feet. It still struck her as obscene, when she tipsily wandered the halls late at night, for one person to have so much space.
Brandon let her keep the house in the divorce, much to Amanda’s astonishment. They bought it together, or rather he finagled it for them, using some dark realtor magic to put in an offer before it went on the market. It really was a beautiful house and she thought Brandon was going to fight her tooth and nail for it. But he just signed over the deed and then, miraculously, it was hers. She could make the mortgage payments on her own, even if they were a little high for her budget. It was only later that Amanda wondered if Brandon was using the transaction to convey something to her. If the house had solidified some kind of tacit agreement that she would stay quiet. If so, she had broken it.
She didn’t mean to. When the interview began she had no intention of putting her life under a microscope. It was an interview with the kind of publication you see in the check-out line at the grocery store – those pocket sized magazines devoted to soap operas. Everyone thought it would be good to get Amanda back on the circuit, especially after the divorce. And when the topic of Brandon came up, as she knew it would, Amanda used the agreed-upon statement. The separation was amicable; she wished him the best, etc.
“That’s it?” The interviewer asked.
The girl could be no older than twenty-three. She was ten years too young to understand the pain she inflicted with her questions. If anything, she looked bored.
“Excuse me?” Amanda said.
“It’s just, you weren’t married for very long. Is there anything you want to add?”
“No,” Amanda said.
Then, for reasons still unknown to her, she said, “Actually, yes. He was abusive.”
The words just emerged, as if they had been wholly formed from the start, patiently awaiting their cue. Even the girl, who had been prodding for some sort of interesting tidbit, was caught off-guard. For several moments she only blinked at Amanda, her mouth forming a silent oh.
The interviewer was surprised, but maybe she shouldn’t have been. This was right around the time when the titans of entertainment were falling, one after another. It was as if a generation of women reached the workforce, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, only to find it packed to the brim with licentious, evil men. But these girls were ready to fight back. Amanda supposed she was one of them. Although it seemed a disservice to align herself with the movement, with these women who were so intentionally courageous, when her own admission only slipped out by accident.
The story took on a life of its own after that. It was first published in the soap opera rags, but then other magazines picked it up, and her phone rang day and night with reporters asking for a statement. Before she knew what was happening Amanda found herself a trending topic. The headlines all declared the same thing - Soap Opera Actress Accuses Brandon Taylor of Assault. As if it would have killed them to just write actress.
It was a shit show, for a while. The problem was that everyone wanted irrefutable proof. Brandon was so charismatic, so accommodating when he wanted to be that it was difficult to imagine him in the way Amanda described. The soap’s producers began to despair. In closed door meetings they told her that these were serious accusations to be throwing around. Brandon was livid, or so she was informed, and initiated a lawsuit against her for defamation or slander or something like that. Amanda never actually read the lawsuit, because by the time the document arrived the other allegations had, mercifully, surfaced. Two of his ex-girlfriends came forward with their own stories. And then, with the floodwall damaged, the other women came in to destroy it. Another girl had a video of Brandon, drunk and hurling insults at her. Several of his female employees claimed he was physically intimidating on set, one said he cornered her during a showing and groped her.
At first Amanda did not understand why his exes hadn’t warned her. When they started dating, she and Brandon displayed their love on social media ad nauseam. All it would have taken was a simple message. Slowly, however, Amanda came to realize they stayed quiet for the very reasons she did. Brandon never struck her. Could he be emotionally manipulative, sexually demanding, and did he pour his beer on her one night, when he was particularly angry? Yes. Did he ever actually hit her? No. It wasn’t like on daytime, where the domestic abuse storylines were so cleanly defined, with a male figure stomping around, his shirt sleeves rolled up and his wife cowering in the corner. And accompanying this uncertainty were, of course, the twin standards of shame and embarrassment.
It sometimes seemed to Amanda as if two different people inhabited Brandon’s body. The magnetic, funny man that she fell in love with and then…someone else. She always thought back to their first date - the confusion over their reservation, and how he had so gamely adapted. This was the type of thing that would have ruined their evening a year later. It was truly baffling. The most reasonable explanation she could put forth was that he viewed their courtship as his own version of rehab, a fresh start for him to leave his past behaviors behind. But he had relapsed. Brandon was eventually fired from his show, and he lost his endorsements. Amanda should have reveled in his comeuppance, but mostly she just wanted it all to go away.
Some weeks passed. In Bay View, Valerie and Gerard were carrying on with their relationship in a clandestine fashion, due to the many forces seeking to keep them apart. In the real world, Graham had found his sea legs and was now insufferable. Not because he was a difficult scene partner – quite the opposite, in fact. He was prepared, and he always encouraged Amanda. But the drive that Amanda sensed in Graham early on was now a seething, obvious ambition.
Currently, she and Graham were standing by the coffee table waiting to block a scene. Graham was using the brief interlude to vent. He had asked for Friday off in order to attend an audition for a feature. The powers that be, of course, came back with a resounding no. Amanda thought he was kidding at first, about requesting a day off in the middle of a shooting block. Graham knew as well as she did that any disruption – even as small as a missing prop, let alone a missing actor – could throw the production schedule into chaos. Their pace was unrelenting because it had to be. The aim was to shoot over an episode a day, which translated into dozens of pages of dialogue and multiple scenes. But Graham was still incensed.
Later, when Valerie and her father were having lunch in the Bay View Diner, Amanda waited for an opportunity to relay Graham’s antics. She sat across the Formica table from John, the actor who played
Hector. While the Mansfield family was sprawling, the beating heart of it always remained the same – Hector and Valerie. John was a thirty-year veteran of the show, and Amanda had been acting across from him since the day she joined the cast. She knew John almost as well as she knew herself. This happened when you spent twelve-hour days together in the cramped set of a collapsed mineshaft.
People were always surprised when they met John. He was so unassuming and nice, a polar opposite of the brash Hector. With her real father in Orlando John had even come to be a stand-in of sorts. After the divorce, at the height of the mud-slinging and the pain, Amanda entered her dressing room one morning to find a massive bouquet of flowers. Interspersed with the roses were stalks of white heather. The note from John explained that white heather symbolized protection, and good luck, and even a Mansfield needed a little help every once in a while. They could talk about anything, but Amanda had nothing so high-minded today. When the director called a break she quickly recounted her conversation with Graham.
“That guy,” Amanda said, finishing the story. “He is unbelievable.”
She was expecting John to commiserate, but he only shrugged and said, “So he’s got a dream.”
Amanda replied, “You can’t be serious.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he looks at this,” John gestured over himself, “and it’s not what he wants.”
“You’re a millionaire ten times over,” Amanda pointed out.
John nodded, “Sure am.”
“You’ve had an amazing career.”
“Sure have,” he replied.
“And people adore you.”
John held up a hand then, and said, “No. People adore Hector. It’s not the same thing.”
He did not say anything else and instead studied the set. The Bay View Diner was iconic, and had barely changed since the show first aired in the sixties. Every time the crew tried to redesign it the fans responded with a virulent outcry. It had become, for two generations of people uprooted by financial insecurity and job displacement, a stand-in for their own hometown diner. An unwavering constant in a sea of change. Although it suddenly occurred to Amanda that perhaps John did not find the same comfort in it. Maybe the only sense he got was that of a gnawing, stubborn inertia.
Finally, John said, “The kid’s a goober. But I guess what I’m saying is, complacency isn’t a good thing either.”
Amanda wanted to say something in reply, but she could not find the right words. The director called their attention back then, and she slipped into the character of Valerie, with the same ease and thoughtlessness with which she slipped into her favorite dress.
Amanda fought traffic for an hour and a half before she pulled into her driveway. Her call time the following morning was six-thirty, which meant she would need to leave by five-thirty, which meant she should probably start getting ready for bed now. She drew a bath and lit some candles and poured a glass of wine. All of the correct elements were present, and yet she could not unwind. She kept returning to her conversation with John, his words echoing in her mind. People adore Hector. It’s not the same thing.
She thought of all the times that women approached her in public and said the most wonderful things – you are my hero, you changed my life. Hell, sometimes even, you saved my life. She always assumed that they were talking to her, Amanda. But what John was saying, in his kind, indirect way, was that she needed to recalibrate. Consider the possibility that the women viewed her as a mere vessel. They
didn’t adore Amanda - she was just a warm body to bring forth their character. Perhaps this should not have been a shock. Most of the time, the women even called her Valerie in the street.
She wished Graham never told her about his request. She did not need such unfettered access to his aspirations, nor John’s response about being complacent. She was not delusional. Despite the passionate fans, she knew where soap operas stood in the entertainment hierarchy. She privately likened it to being the captain of a very successful Junior Varsity team. But what was she supposed to do - throw away a steady, well-paying job? And it’s not like she had any other marketable skills. She left Florida for L.A. after a single semester of college. There was a very real possibility that, if she left the show, she could spend the rest of her life waiting tables. She would lose the house and oh how Brandon would laugh then. Amanda kicked at the bath water. She had reached a milestone recently – she was now divorced longer than she had ever been married. And yet still Brandon was disrupting her peace.
Amanda forced herself to relax, and let her thoughts wander. The fans were responding positively to Val and Gerard. The hurdle the writers would need to get over was Hector. He was going to be fiercely opposed to the relationship when he found out about it, not that anyone could blame him. They would need something to bring Hector and Gerard together. Amanda was not certain, but she could guess where the story was headed. Valerie would be taken by Gerard’s evil boss, and she would be in real danger this time. Hector and Gerard would have to put aside their differences to save Valerie, each thereby gaining a grudging respect for the other.
Maybe Graham was getting to her, because she suddenly found the prospect of being kidnapped for a fourth time utterly ridiculous and unacceptable. She was thirty-four years old for heaven’s sake; she would be thirty-five the next month. And she was doing the same acting she did her first year on the show. Amanda rose from the bath, belted her robe, and marched into the kitchen to find her phone. It was still early. Her agent would be awake.
The auditions were not going well. Amanda had been to twenty-two so far - squeezing them into her days off and bending over backwards to keep the studio happy - and not a single one of them panned out. Most of them she knew were a long shot, but she was particularly hopeful about a couple, including a guest spot in one of those shows that uses forensic science to solve crimes. She came close to playing the murder victim, a jogger with three lines before she’s killed. But in the end she couldn’t even play a dead body. It had been six months since she called her agent and demanded the woman start doing her job, and Amanda had nothing to show for it besides a bruised ego and a sky-high bill from her dermatologist.
Amanda sat in a bland room, waiting for her name to be called. She was staring blankly at her phone, zoning out in the way specific to long wait times, when her thoughts were interrupted by a loud voice.
“Valerie Mansfield?” Someone called out, the name breaking the total quiet of the room.
Amanda looked up to find a girl in a tight dress standing over her.
“It is you,” the girl said triumphantly. “I thought so. I just had to come over and be sure.”
The other girls bristled with new interest and shot side-long glances at Amanda, as though they had underestimated her.
“Can I have your autograph?” The girl asked. “I’m sorry to be so lame. But my mom is a huge fan. So am I. We watched the show together growing up.”
People often said things like this. As though the show were a family heirloom, passed down through generations. The girl withdrew a notebook from her purse and flipped to a fresh page. Amanda could feel her cheeks glowing red. She wasn’t sure why. Something about the contradiction, about being asked for her autograph even as she sat in this plain room, as powerless as the other dozen women. She scribbled a quick note and handed the notebook back.
When Amanda’s name was finally called she discovered, much to her horror, that the two casting directors were younger than she was. By several years, it appeared. The audition was for a new screwball sort of sitcom. It was going to air on one of the streaming services, which typically meant more creative freedom, though the man and woman in charge of casting seemed to think this extended to the audition process itself. They waved Amanda to a table in the center of the room, where another young man was waiting. They had not given her any pages or script, or anything to indicate what they wanted her to do.
“Please take a seat,” the girl said, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world.
She then laid out the premise. They wanted to see improv – Amanda was familiar with improvisational comedy, yes? Good, because the audition was going to follow those same guidelines. Amanda and the man at the table were on their first date, only it was not going well. They were going to discover things about each other that would make them incompatible. Amanda was silent, and the other casting director jumped in, explaining that they just wanted to get a feel for her timing, for her imagination. He looked at her expectantly, as if the hilarity was going to start at any moment.
“I’m sorry,” Amanda said. “This is our first date? Who set us up?”
The girl said, “It’s like, pretend you just met on Zinger.”
“What’s that?” Amanda asked.
They had to explain that it was the latest dating app. Amanda could feel the energy draining from the room. She caught a glance between the man and the woman. This one, they said to each other, this one is a leftover.
Afterwards Amanda stood on the sidewalk outside, letting the sunlight wash over her. It was the worst audition she ever took part in. She felt bad for not being more engaged, and for her poor scene partner. Though, at the same time, they could all go fuck themselves. She was going to get drunk. And not on the low calorie drinks she usually ordered, on margaritas and beer. But before that, she was going to eat. And before that, she was going to call her agent and tell her to stop all of this nonsense.
Amanda was walking to her car when she saw the same girl from before, the one she had given her autograph to. The girl finished her cigarette just as Amanda passed, and she used the opportunity to fall into step.
“That was dumb, huh?” The girl said.
Amanda laughed, relieved to hear it from somebody else. They walked side by side through the parking lot, and only stopped when they reached Amanda’s car. Amanda tried to think of a way to extricate herself without appearing rude. But before she could say anything the girl paused and stared straight at her.
“Listen, I would hate myself if I didn’t say anything. I have to thank you.” She took a deep breath, “You were the reason I left my husband.”
“Oh. Well, Valerie is an inspiration to all of us,” Amanda said, halfheartedly. “She’s a heck of a woman.”
The girl squinted in the bright sunlight.
Then she said, “No, sorry. I meant you. Just, what you said about Brandon. It was very brave. I thought if you could do it, I could too.”
Her last day on set John gave her a gold ring. He had it custom designed for her, and the flat face was stamped with a tiny Mansfield family crest.
“Don’t you forget about me,” he said when he handed it to her, and Amanda broke down in tears.
She somehow convinced the costume designers of her new show to let her wear it. She was fortunate that her character happened to wear a lot of gold. The ring gave her strength, especially when she was surrounded by all these unfamiliar people, in this new, freezing climate. They were shooting on location - in Boston, in February. The cold could only be described as violent, although most of the time it did not really bother Amanda. She was so filled with possibility that they could have been filming in Antarctica and she wouldn’t have minded.
The rest of the cast and crew felt the same way, as far as Amanda could tell. Everyone seemed to think they had picked a winning horse. The show was set in the seventies, and revolved around the last great crime lord of South Boston. The lead actor had just come off a superhero franchise, and he wanted to work on something legitimate. His face, one of the most recognizable on the planet, lorded over Sunset Boulevard in the promotional billboard. And there, right next to him, was Amanda. She was playing the crime boss’ wife, after successfully navigating five rounds of auditions. She wondered idly if Brandon ever saw the billboard, but she did not obsess over this thought.
The main showrunner, a woman by some miracle, had also gotten her start on soaps. She did not say anything condescending or cheesy when Amanda was hired though, like welcome to the big leagues or something like that. She just said congratulations and arranged for a voice coach so Amanda could perfect her Boston accent. The show had been greenlighted by one of the premium channels, the kind you have to pay for, and Amanda marveled at the pace of production. Everything was so slow, so deliberate. If the director didn’t like a take he would make them re-do it a dozen times. Sometimes Amanda wanted to shout at everyone to hurry up, they were going to fall behind, get in trouble, and she would have to reorient herself.
Back in Bay View, Valerie and Gerard’s storyline had concluded. Graham’s one year contract was expiring just as Amanda announced she was leaving the show, which was fortunate timing for the producers. They elected not to renew his contract and Graham, about to be cast back into the cruel waters of unemployment, spent his last two weeks on set gushing over everybody and everything. But it had not helped. On Valerie and Gerard’s wedding night Gerard got into the limo just a few seconds before Valerie, who was in the background giving her father one last hug. And in those crucial seconds the limo exploded, right before the eyes of the horrified wedding party.
Valerie was now on a single-minded mission to get justice for Gerard. Her hunt for the perpetrator was taking her far and wide, as the studio tried to figure out what to do with the character. Every few weeks or so, someone would make a vague reference to Valerie’s travels. She was in Singapore, she was in Budapest. Wherever she was, one thing was certain. Valerie Mansfield had finally left Bay View.
About the Author
Elizabeth Markley is a writer living in Atlanta. She has been previously published in The Write Launch and The Mighty Line. When she is not writing she is kept busy by her children, two rambunctious boys under the age of four.