Page 26 of The F List

I swiveled away from the mirror, a wet cotton ball in hand, smeared with eye makeup remover. “Sure, come on in.”

“GREAT shoot,” she said emphatically, stepping in and closing the door shut behind her. “Really great work.”

“Thank you.”

“I brought you this.” She fished a water bottle out from under her arm and held it out to me. “Not that you’re dehydrated.”

No, after three hours of sipping the latest flavor and trying not to grimace into the camera, I was certainly not dehydrated. Instead, I’d squatted over a tiny toilet in a temporary stall and pissed for a solid minute, until my thighs started trembling from the effort.

Still, I took the bottle. “Thanks.”

“And… here’s your check.” She held out an unsealed envelope. I hesitated, then took it. I’d never been paid on shoot before. Not that I had a shoot like this before. Most of my work had involved them mailing me an item, me using or wearing it in a post, and getting a check in the mail, two to four weeks later. This… the lights, the crew, the trailer—it was all new.

“Take your time in the room, but swing by security before you leave and return your pass. They can validate your parking then.”

“Great. Will do.”

We said our goodbyes, and I waited until the door clicked closed behind her before I opened up the envelope and looked at the contents. It was a check and a copy of the contract. I stared at the amount, surprised. Vidal had told me that I was getting eight thousand for the video, plus $500 for each time I shared the video on social media. But this was for twice that. I reviewed the contract, one with my name already scrawled on the second page, surprised to see that the numbers matched the check. Had I been mistaken? Had I not read the contract before signing it?

No. I may be a ditz about proper social protocol, or how to sit across from your crush without offending him, but money was something that I was focused on and serious about. I knew what I was getting paid, I knew what I signed, and this… this wasn’t it. I looked back at the check, which was payable to Vidal Entertainment, and stood. Twisting to the mirror, I quickly grabbed a fresh cotton ball, dragged it through Vaseline, and cleaned up my other eye. I dressed in record time, tossed my items into my painfully expensive but necessary Birkin bag, then pushed sunglasses on, grabbed the check, and went to find the set coordinator.

As I stepped around the camera setup and over lighting rigs, I considered my options. By the time I found her, my decision had been made. I handed her back the envelope, with just the check inside, the contract now safe inside my bag.

“I realized this is payable to my manager,” I told her breezily, as if I hadn’t just discovered he was taking a gigantic slice off of the top, as if my heart wasn’t cracking inside of my chest. He was supposed to earn twenty percent of everything—twenty percent that I thought would be coming out of an eight thousand dollar paycheck. “Can you mail it to his office instead?”

“Oh.” She flushed. “Absolutely. I’m sorry about that.” She took the envelope from me and watched as I handed my access badge back to the guard. “It was so great working with you, Emma.”

On another day, without the drama, I would have preened under her praise. But I was distracted and hurt, the emotions mixing with an anger that would spend days growing and festering, as I waited for Vidal to produce my doctored royalty statement and a check from my Vitamin Water shoot for a measly $6,400.

He delivered that traitorous check five days later, walking in my house in powder blue capris and a tight white collared shirt and red bowtie. He plucked gold-rimmed sunglasses off the bridge of his nose and smiled at me as if we were best friends. I opened the check with jagged fingernails that had been eaten to the quick, my stomach twisting and yawning in pain as the anxiety grew.

The check slid out in slow motion, and I looked at the amount printed in Vidal’s neat script, then pushed it back in. I glanced back at him, and he was so tall I had to tilt my chin back to do it.

Then, though I have to depend on Dion and Edwin’s recollection, because—according to my statement to the police—I have no memory of this… I jerked my elbow back and then shot my fist forward, connecting with his left eye socket. I did it just the way my father taught me. Thumb tucked in, wrist straight, twist your body and put your weight into in.

If I could remember it—and I’m not saying I can—I’d say that it felt damn good.