He sniffed as if it was impossible. As if I was being unreasonable. But he could do it. And… though it took three more months and an eight-thousand dollar donation to secure the date, he delivered me a new man to make a fool of myself with.
I know the moment I became untethered. It was in a casting room eight years ago. I was nineteen and up for a one-line role in a Lifetime movie. It was a crap gig, but I needed that one stupid line so I could be SAG-eligible and could climb the next rung in the ladder.
The casting director was a painfully gaunt woman who had smoked too many cigarettes and not eaten enough, and when she coughed things rattled in her throat. She made bedroom eyes at me and passed me her card with her cell phone number written on the back. I went to her Hollywood Hills studio apartment that reeked of cat litter and perfume and had sex with her on a futon bed that creaked with each thrust.
That was when I lost myself. I stepped over the line that once separated me from the other guys. And now, it didn’t matter how many Make-a-Wish kids I took to Disneyland or dollars I donated; it was all built on the back of something rotten. Those fifteen minutes in that studio apartment. The line of coke I did on my agent’s kitchen counter. The cruel one-liner I gave about Pamela Anderson, the one that got me my first TMZ mention.
Did it make a difference that I had talent? Did that make me any different from the others?
I opened the diner door and stepped inside and there was my Cinderella girl.
It was her, the one from the party. She was waiting for me at a two-top at Frenchy’s, the one that was right in front of the window, the one that all the star-chasers gravitate to, and all the real celebrities hate. You could tell, just from that seat, who was real and who was fake. I hated that damn seat, and I was already ready to punch the photographer perched outside its glass.
I stood by the hostess stand for a minute, confused. Because the girl from my party couldn’t be sitting in that seat, and couldn’t have been the one whose manager called my manager but it was her, and she was there. She turned her head and our gaze connected across the busy restaurant.
My heart fell in my chest. It was her but it wasn’t. I smiled, but just her choice of seat told me everything I needed to know. She wasn’t here because of a crush or a desire to know me. She was here for a press mention, which meant that Hollywood had eaten my Cinderella and spit out this put-together blonde carbon copy.
I moved through the tables and sat down across from her. I eyed her tits, and decided that if I made it through the lunch, I’d grant her a quick screw, then never look at her again.
That was my thought as I sat down across from Emma Blanton. Which, looking back, was ludicrous.
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Bojan had prepped me for my lunch. Which was to say that he’d gotten high on a bag of edibles, zoned out on my couch, and watched me try on five outfits before nodding his approval. He’d also told me that guys like boobs, to smile a lot, and to check my teeth for spinach.
“And bite your tongue,” Vidal advised, using a stiff brush on my eyebrows. “If you feel like saying anything opinionated, don’t. All we have to do is get you through one lunch, catch one photo of him smiling at you like you’re the love of his life, and we’re golden.”
No guy had ever smiled at me as if I was the love of his life. The idea that Cash Mitchell would was ridiculous. I voiced the thought, and Vidal chuckled. “Girl, he’s made millions off of giving women hope. The man’s a born flirt. Don’t worry, this will be easy.”
I thought of five years ago, when I’d lifted my empty cup up to hide the bottom half of my face. He’d called me beautiful, and I had ached at the compliment, fought butterflies for weeks afterward, continually refreshed his social media and practically pinned him to my vision board. Vidal was right. He was a born flirt, and I wasn’t the only woman that he’d given hope to. I had followed him and watched my account, both desperate and afraid that he would follow me back. But he hadn’t.
It had been a line, a valiant moment where he had saved me from embarrassment. That was it. I had been the pathetic girl who had hoped it meant something.
Now, I sat in the predetermined table, at a restaurant that charged forty-eight dollars for a hamburger, and ran through the list of topics I had memorized and researched to discuss. The door to the restaurant swung open, and I forgot all of it the moment he stepped in.