Rufus (Part Eight)

Ellowyne found herself and Midge back in Grandmother’s house, sitting on a dusty, plastic-covered couch in what used to be her room. Midge handed Ellowyne a laptop and a stack of magazines.

“Seriously, Midge? Magazines?”

“You cannot expect an old school angel like me to always rely on flight and technology. Here—read this. I have the page bookmarked.”

Ellowyne opened a copy of Entertainment Weekly dated September 16, 2017. Midge had dog-eared an article about the new television shows for the fall and circled a picture and a paragraph. Midge didn’t need to bring attention to the picture, however, for Ellowyne immediately recognized the face.

“What’s Rufus doing in Entertainment Weekly?” she asked.

“Read the paragraph, Ellowyne. It’s all right there, “Midge replied.

“’A sure bet for CBS on Mondays this fall is the highly-anticipated spin-off of The Big Bang Theory. The Wolowitzes follows the madcap adventures of Howard, Bernadette, their three children, and Howard’s cousin David Wolowitz, a student at Cal Tech and the children’s babysitter. Newcomer Rufus Rutter, portrays the nerdy and naïve David. Based on the episodes that were made available for our critics to screen, we place our money on Rutter to become the breakout star of this new sitcom.’ Wait a minute—Rufus is an actor?”

“Indeed he is. He joined the drama club his freshman year at Briermier Academy as a way to get over his shyness. He discovered several talents he didn’t know he had—-acting, singing, dancing—and he broke out of his shell. His first role was that of Harvey Johnson, a hapless teenager who unsuccessfully called for dates during the telephone hour scene in Bye Bye Birdie.” Midge began to sing, more than slightly off-key. “’Hello, Mr. Henkel, this is Harvey Johnson, can I speak to Penelope Ann?’ We really were like that back in the day, Ellowyne! If only we’d had cell phones! They would have made life so simple! Sorry. I got off-track. Anyway, Rufus won major parts in every play put on in high school, and he was cast as Marcellus Washburn in The Music Man his first year at UCLA. Remember, that was the guy who sang Shipoopi. Don’t worry—I won’t sing it. The casting was unusual because upperclassmen tended to get the most important roles but Rufus brought freshness and energy to the role. He performed in everything from dramas to musical comedies, but he left school before his senior year when he got his big break. That came when several cast members of The Big Bang Theory saw his outstanding performance as Seymour Krelborn in Little Shop of Horrors. Would you like to see a clip from the play that night?”

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 Ellowyne nodded and Midge, who had become much more computer literate since knowing Ello, quickly pulled up the scene in which the leads sing Suddenly, Seymour, a love song. Rufus, looking every bit the quintessential nerd, was on stage with a young woman who played Audrey—who looked and dressed suspiciously like Amber—well, at least the way Amber did with Ellowyne in her life. Rufus began to sing: 

            Lift up your head, wash off your mascara

            Here, take my Kleenex, wipe that lipstick away

            Show me your face clean as the morning

            I know things were bad but now they’re okay.

 

            Suddenly, Seymour is standing beside you

            You don’t need no make-up, don’t have to pretend

            Suddenly, Seymour is here to provide you

            Sweet understanding, Seymour’s your friend

Ellowyne’s mind wandered while the female lead sang. She never knew that Rufus was the least bit interested in acting and she had never heard him sing. He was really good! Ello crawled out of the crevice of her thoughts in time to hear Rufus, his co-star, and the chorus finish the number.

With sweet understanding

            Seymour’s your man

At the end of the song, Rufus passionately kissed his pretty co-star and Ellowyne’s heart sank.

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“No more videos for a little while, okay, Midge?”

Midge noticed the distressed look on Ellowyne’s face and decided it might not be a good idea to show her the tabloid with a cover picture of Rufus canoodling with actress Abigail Breslin, whom he met when she guest starred on The Wolowitzes. “Let’s look at this magazine instead,” she suggested.

The next magazine on the stack, People, was dated August 2018, and the cover story focused on the Primetime Emmys. Ellowyne flipped to the page Midge pointed out and saw a photograph of Rufus in a tuxedo, looking somewhat distracted.

Tux

 “Oh, he was nervous in that picture,” Midge confided. “It was his first Emmy awards ceremony and he was still a little stunned to be nominated as Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. He shouldn’t have been surprised. He won that year and every subsequent year that The Wolowitzes were on the air. Let’s see—he got a couple of Golden Globes, Critics Choice awards—oh and he got slimed four times on Nickelodeon, once as a host and three times when he received the Kids’ Choice Award.

 “After the show ended, Rufus went on to do movies. He played Egon Spengler, Jr., in Ghostbusters 4, and Benjamin Braddock in a remake of The Graduate. Then he went back to television to star in his own sitcom.”

Ellowyne leafed through some of the tabloids stacked in the pile. “It certainly looks like he had his share of social success, too,” she muttered rather bitterly. Here he is at the Grammys with his date, Taylor Swift. Hmmmmm. I didn’t know she was a cougar!” Ellowyne saw dozens of pictures of Rufus out with some of the hottest young stars of the day. The paparazzi snapped him feasting on sushi in Tokyo with Bella Thorne, lobster in Kennebunkport with Chloe Moretz, fudge in Mackinac Island with Hailee Steinfeld, and water ice in New Jersey with Amandla Stenberg. “Well. He always appreciated—um—good food.” Then she picked up another magazine “Whoa! Rufus is People’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’?”

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 Midge took the magazine out of Ellowyne’s hands. “It appears so. Yes, November 2024, soon after The Graduate finished filming and Rufus’ new sitcom, Love Stinks, premiered.” Midge skimmed the article. “Hmmmmm. ‘Sweet Is the New Sexy! Rutter has a well-deserved reputation as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. Known as kind and considerate to co-workers and fans, he treats the set caterers with the same courtesy as the head of the studio.’ Oh, this is cool. ‘We all know that smart is sexy. Rutter is a member of Mensa with a genius-level IQ of 148. But the six-pack abs add to his appeal, too!”

 “Gosh, I knew he was smart—he wanted to be an engineer when we were in high school together. He used to help us all with our calculus homework. But I had no idea he was such a brainiac. I guess there was a lot I didn’t know about him.”

“Here’s something else—-Rufus was involved with a number of charities including an environmental concern and a group that fought childhood hunger, but his main passion was a group that raised awareness of chronic fatigue syndrome, PTSD, and fibromyalgia. That’s interesting, don’t you think?”

Ellowyne puzzled over Midge’s comment. She knew Rufus cared about the environment and everyone cared about starving children—but why would he be interested in chronic fatigue, PTSD, and fibro-whatever?

Midge continued. “His mother had fibromyalgia and his aunt was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. His cousin who went to Iraq and Afghanistan developed PTSD and chronic pain when she returned home. Rufus saw what his family members went through with these conditions and he spent time with researchers to learn how they’re connected. As a result, he made it his priority to raise awareness and money to find successful treatments and possible cures. I also wonder if his relatives’ health issues made him so compassionate and patient.”

Ellowyne’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Rufus had always listened to her, especially when she was troubled. Obviously, he had problems, too. When had she ever listened to him?

Midge quickly changed the subject. “Oh, look at this. ‘His quirky good looks humanize this too-good-to-be-true man and make him approachable. During the fourth season of The Wolowitzes, a tabloid reported that Rutter had secretly scheduled a rhinoplasty and chin reduction with a world-famous plastic surgeon and fan mail flooded into CBS demanding that he not dare have plastic surgery.’”

“He always used to laugh about the way he looked,” Ellowyne said morosely. “I thought he was just being funny but maybe he felt self-conscious and insecure.” Ellowyne frowned. “I messed up, didn’t I, Midge? Here was this great guy right in front of me and I was too focused on myself to notice.”

Ellowyne’s eyes filled with tears and she stared down at the floor. Midge finished perusing the magazine, then picked up the last one remaining from the stack. “Oh. My!” Midge gasped and tried to hide the magazine from Ello.

“Let me see it, Midge. What is it? Rufus’ wedding to a gorgeous actress or something?”

Midge reluctantly handed the magazine to Ellowyne. Ello’s face paled and she gasped when she looked at it. On the cover was a photo of Rufus, surrounded by a black border, and a headline: “Remembering Rufus Rutter, 1996-2025.”

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Ellowyne began to shake and, as loudly as she could, she screamed, “No, no, no, NO! Rufus DIES?”

Midge hugged Ellowyne in an effort to comfort her. Once Ellowyne seemed a little calmer, Midge began to read. “’Rufus’ agent found his body in his Hollywood Hills home when he failed to report to the set of Love Stinks. The cause of death is undetermined pending an autopsy. The coroner suspects an accidental or intentional overdose, most likely a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs.’ Ellowyne, I am so sorry. I honestly did not know this until I read it myself.”

“But,” Ellowyne sobbed. “Rufus was successful! He was a star! He was rich and talented and was loved by millions of fans! He wasn’t even thirty yet! Why would he do this? I mean, even if it was an accident, he was smart enough to not drink and take sleeping pills!”

“Ello, you need to read this. Maybe it will give you an answer.” Midge pointed to a sidebar entitled Rufus Rutter’s Final Interview, conducted only a few days before he died. When Ellowyne read it, she could hear Rufus’ words in his voice. The interviewer had asked him about love.

“Love? You’ve got to be kidding. Look, I usually play nice guys who are hopelessly in love with women who never notice them—like Jake in Love Stinks. He’s a middle school science teacher, a decent guy who will do anything for the woman he loves. Did you see the pilot? Jake gets up at 5 on a Sunday morning to come to the rescue of a pretty colleague whose bike broke down. He brought her coffee, fixed her bike, and took her back to her apartment. When he suggested that they get together later for brunch, she tells him she’s already got plans with the guy she’s dating! And she didn’t call him to help her because she didn’t want to wake him so early! But of course she appreciates Jake’s friendship. Hilarious. I mean, the dude gets his heart stepped on and he’s humiliated in pretty much every episode. Yet he always comes back for more. Everyone says, ‘Oh Rufus. You play these guys so convincingly. You must the world’s expert on unrequited love!’

“Truth be told, I’ve never been in love. Sure I’ve dated a lot of women—not quite as many as the tabloids would have you believe but— no offense intended to any of them—I’ve never found someone with whom I could truly fall in love. Hollywood doesn’t promote authenticity in relationships; we’re all play acting or using each other to further our careers. No one is genuine out here. I’m not, the women I’ve been with are not. But I’ve played this game before. You know, when I was in high school I was the drama club geek and, no girl was ever interested in me until we were performing our latest play. Girls would ignore me but the week of the premiere, suddenly I’d be a ‘great catch’. Same thing happened at UCLA. Yeah, I dated some of those girls—I wasn’t an idiot—but I never fell in love—unrequited or otherwise. Then again, I never met the right girl. I know, that sounds conceited and clichéd but the right girl only existed in my daydreams. When I was in seventh grade I concocted this ideal girl in my head. She was kind, gracious, intelligent, pretty, and just a little sad. I don’t know why she was sad. Maybe I wanted to be her white knight. Maybe I thought I could fix her. For years I looked for my ideal girl but never found her. I guess she never existed.

“So I dedicated myself to my craft. I’m 29 years old and I make $2 million per episode of my show plus the insane salaries I’ve made on my movies, and I have more awards than I can count on my fireplace mantle. I thought I was happy but now I wonder. Awards don’t laugh at your jokes. Money doesn’t keep you warm at night and all the acclaim in the world is of little comfort when you’re feeling down. Sometimes, quite often lately, I think I’d give it all up for the chance to be bonkers about someone. To be foolishly, insanely, deliriously in love. I guess, deep down, I envy the lovesick characters I play, guys like Jake. I’d give anything to be an ordinary, obscure guy with someone to love. And, hopefully, she would love me, too.”

Ellowyne choked down her tears long enough to ask Midge one last question. “Was I Rufus’ dream girl? Was he in love with me?”

Midge looked deeply into Ello’s reddened eyes. “I don’t think you need to ask.”

Ellowyne wept salty tears that stung her cheeks and came from her very soul. She let out a high-pitched wail and pounded the couch with her fists. She finally got it.

 

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