“Yes,” I said in a small voice. But then I spoke up, because I might be a bottom-feeder on the lowest rung in Hollywood, but I understood Nick. I had the same issues. I wanted him to know I wasn’t that different from him. That stars are just like us. Just like me. “I’m sorry. I feel bad for taking those pictures. I know what it’s like to battle with food. I’ve been there myself.”
Nick pushed his sunglasses on top of his hair, giving me full view of his green eyes and boyish face. He raised both his hands toward his left shoulder, took out an imaginary bow, and began to play a make-believe violin.
“Too bad you don’t have your camera now to get this shot,” he said with a full-on sneer of a smile as his violin-playing hand stopped thrumming in time to flip me the bird.
Then he and his trainer left me in the dust.
I turned back the way I came, anger coursing through me as I cursed under my breath like a sailor. I wasn’t swearing at Nick, though. Nick had been screwed over, and it had been my fault. Instead, I cursed Jenner, but most of all I cursed myself.
As I reached the parking lot, I forced myself to cordon off the encounter with Nick. I could wallow in it, or I could keep moving like the other sharks in this town, and there wasn’t a choice between the two options. I had to stay strong. I had to stay hungry. I had to keep taking pictures whether the subjects liked it or not. I reminded myself of what J.P. had taught me when I started working for him: There’s a dividing line between celebrities and the rest of us. You stay on your side, Jess, and you never ever apologize for a photo. We’re all just trying to make a living in this town.
I replayed his words, nodding as if he were here giving me a pep talk. I needed a pep talk because I’d started to go soft. But I could put my hard shell back on. I had to live and die in LA.
* * *
After a full morning of being Uncle James’s errand boy, a task that entailed picking up his dry cleaning and fetching coffee, I was tired of his runaround. I supposed I shouldn’t complain—a job was a job was a job. But yet, he’d shown zero indication that he would sponsor a visa, and sending me out on girl Friday tasks was unlikely to prove my worth.
As I headed to the printer to retrieve a backup of the guest list, I heard James’s loud voice from his nearby office.
“Your credentials are great. I’d love to have you come in and we can talk more about the details of working here. We’re looking to expand and hire more full-timers and I’ve been the most impressed with you of all the interviewees,” he said, and I nearly stopped in my tracks. I continued very slowly to the printer, so I could hear the rest of his chat.
“Absolutely. Come in Monday and we’ll nail down the details.”
He hung up as I grabbed the pages. What the hell? I’d been practically begging the bastard for a job, and he’d gone and offered a gig to someone else. Annoyance coursed through me. I couldn’t catch a break with him, and he was constantly stringing me along. If he was going to keep teasing me, I’d just as soon cut bait with him.
I popped my head into his office, knocking twice. “Knock, knock.”
“Come in, William,” he said gruffly, barely glancing up from his computer. “You think you could get me a sandwich soon? My stomach is growling.”
Deep breath. Take a deep, calm breath. “Of course. Just let me know what kind. And by the way, I couldn’t help but overhear as I was walking down the hall that you’re hiring someone. I think that’s fantastic, and I’m hoping you might have room here for me, too,” I said, gripping the printouts tightly to channel my nerves.
James sighed deeply and looked up at me, scrubbing a hand across his jaw. “Look, kid. I know you’re an eager beaver, but here’s the thing in the United States. We build ourselves up. We grab our own bootstraps,” he said, bending low in his chair and miming yanking on a pair of boots. “That’s what I did. I didn’t ask for a handout. And I certainly didn’t ask my mommy’s sister’s husband for a job. I built my own damn business, and those are the type of employees I like to hire.” I felt my cheeks redden as he cut me down. “You do a fine job installing software and doing records, and hell, I even liked the intel you got me on how the paps work. I’m happy to keep throwing you little jobs here and there. A bit of cash for a couple hours’ work. But I just can’t get you a full-time job. It’s against my moral code.”