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Authors: Noelle August

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BOOK: Bounce
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Grey

A
s soon as we get in the car, Adam's on the phone with Brooks, his college buddy who's also the director and co-producer of the film he's funding. While Adam's more of a high-tech and financial wizard, Brooks knows everything about the film business. He's been working at the big studios for years, with the last two at Lionsgate. They're a good team. A motivated person could learn a shit-ton about The Business by listening to them. That person's not me.

As he drives and talks to Brooks, I pull the ski hat he forced me to wear down over my ears and recline the seat all the way back, trying to get some sleep.

At the Coffee Bean in the Country Mart, Adam parks and shoves a fifty-dollar bill into my chest, jarring me awake.

“Get something for Brooks too,” he says, pausing his conversation. “Triple latte.”

I hop out of the Bugatti and jog into the coffee shop. There's a small line, so I settle in to wait, folding the bill in my hands. Half and then half again. Smaller and smaller until it won't fold anymore. I grew up with money. Adam and I have the same entrepreneurial, restaurant- and bar-owning, deal-making dad. I have no desire to start a business, or open a restaurant or a bar, or make a film. Maybe I took after my mom. Who knows? All I know is that I want to sing. I want to make music, pure and simple. Every night, if I can.

I glance at Adam, idling in the parking spot right outside, drawing looks from everyone in the coffee shop. I also don't want to be the guy who has to jump out for a coffee he can't even afford to pay for. Maybe this job thing will be all right.

I'll work in the mailroom or something. Keep making coffee runs for my brother. Earn a few bucks during the day, and sing at night.

I can live with that.

Adam stays on the phone with Brooks until we're both walking into his fancy office at the new Blackwood Entertainment studio complex, where Brooks is waiting. They shut off their phones at the same time, preparing to continue their conversation face-to-face. Brooks rises from the leather chair in front of Adam's desk, takes his coffee, and frowns at me.

Brooks works a sort of hobo-cool look: clothes a little baggy, hair a little shaggy. Everything is designer label, but slouchy. Adam's opposite, basically. Though he's a filmmaker, Brooks looks like he'd be comfortable with a paintbrush in his hand and a cigarette bobbing from the corner of his mouth.

“Gotta say I'm surprised to see you here,” he says, shooting a questioning look at Adam.

“He trashed my place,” my brother explains.


I
didn't do it.”

“So he's working for me now.”

“Only until I can pay it off.”

“Which is going to take months, you realize that.”

I shrug, knowing I'll be able to pay him back faster. Welkin will have a record deal come April. A month, tops, and I'll be out of here.

Brooks looks from me to Adam, his grin going wider. “This is going to be entertaining.” He narrows his eyes, peering at me. “What did you do to your head?”

I pull the cap off, showing him my Sharpied, shaved head.

“Nice.” Brooks lets out a boom of laughter. “Must've been some night.”

“Still nothing?” Adam slides behind his desk, slipping back in work mode.

In the elevator up here, while Brooks was apparently answering another call, Adam told me they have a crisis to solve. Some kind of audition or casting problem that he and Brooks needed to fix ASAP before he can get me set up. I sit and prepare to wait it out.

“His agent finally called. He's not going to make it,” Brooks says, dropping into the other chair. “He was doing some intensive spa treatments. It's his typical M.O. when he gets ready for a new project. I guess he tried a deep-tissue massage and got a crick in his neck.”

I cross my arms. “Is ‘crick' an actual word? Like in the dictionary?”

“Yeah, it's an actual word,” Brooks says. “And it's also the reason we're down a leading man for the day.”

Adam sighs. “That's a hell of an expensive crick. We have a studio full of potential leading women in Studio B.”

I slide out of my chair, because I have
got
to see this.

“Grey,”
Adam says.

I slide back.

“There's only one option that I can see,” he continues. “We'll burn too much money and time if we don't go through with the audition. We need to find someone else to read his part for the day.”

“Agreed.” Brooks checks his watch. “And we have to do it fast.”

As they discuss trying to get a stand-in actor here within the next hour, I reach for the script on Adam's desk and flip through it, looking for zombies or blood. The script, something called
Bounce,
disappoints.

“What's this about?” I ask, waving it in the air.

Adam looks at me. “It's a remake of a classic novel.”

“Jane Austen,” Brooks adds. “Emma's one of the most beloved female protagonists of all time. We've beefed up the comedy aspects. Brought a dating service into the storyline to make it more contemporary and tie-in with the Blackwood brand.”

Sounds boring as hell, but what do they care what I think? “I hooked up with a girl named Emma a few weeks ago at a Foster the People concert. At least, I think that was her name. We didn't talk much.”

Brooks shakes his head at me and Adam gets them back on track. There have to be half a billion actors in this town, but these two are acting like it's a lost cause. I mean, shit. Just go to the nearest café. I guarantee a hundred percent of the baristas are actors. With nothing else to do, I pick up the script and flip through it some more.

“Why are there so many words if it's a romance?” I say. “Isn't it pretty simple? Boy meets girl. They get it on. End of story?”

I'm talking to myself, since I'm the only one listening to me. “I mean, why do you need all this?” Opening the script to a random page, I read, “ ‘Emma. Beautiful Emma. I've loved you forever. I was born to love you. I've been here all along. I was just waiting for you to see me.' ” I scowl, reading her reply, and then laugh when I read a little further. “
Seriously?
They
kiss
after that?” I drop the script back on the desk. “Tripe, bro. Utter tripe. You need to get a better writer, because if that's . . . ​if that's . . . ​if this is . . .”

Adam and Brooks are both staring at me intently. I feel like a mouse in an open field under the eyes of a hawk. And another, slightly more disheveled hawk.

“No,” I say, dropping the script. “No freakin' way. I'm not an
actor,
Adam.”

“You are today,” he says, rising from his chair.

“I can't do it. I've got a crick—”

“No, you don't.” He gives Brooks a slap on the shoulder. “Get everyone ready,” he says. Then he's standing over me. “Let's go, little brother. You're needed over at Studio B.”

  
Chapter 4
  

Skyler

B
eth wasn't kidding. Blond, leggy girls with perfect tans occupy every square inch of seating space in the temporary waiting area of the production office, which basically looks like something Ikea coughed up after a rough night. And since most of the girls are super tiny, the ratio of butts to seating is pretty impressive.

On cue, they turn to look at us. Some give me warm, complicit smiles, like “here we go again,” which makes me feel like a big fraud since this is all new to me. Most put up blank faces and then turn back to their lattes, their cell phones, or their weird little scripts, which Beth tells me are called “sides.”

Suddenly, I'm extra grateful for the pink hair, if only so I can tell myself apart from everyone else. Though I'm definitely built more like an old-timey milkmaid than most of these girls, with fleshier arms and more junk in the trunk, due to my steady diet of bar food. Totally okay in my world, of course. Drunk musicians don't judge, and neither do my cellos.

“Gonna need a shoehorn to wedge ourselves in here,” Beth says, chewing her lip and surveying the room. She's giving off a weird jittery energy, which isn't like her. But then, I realize, I've never seen her at an audition before.

I'm nervous, too, but mostly because I don't want to make an ass of myself. And I really, really need a job. I don't want to go home to Kentucky to prop up my mom or fill in for my wandering dad.

It's a wonder I even became a musician, given the example he set. Rarely home. Rarely in touch. Maybe it had to do with the allure of it all, those glimpses I'd get whenever I'd tag along to a show, watch his sticks flash over the drums. Maybe it was the music that filled the house whenever he was around, telling me our family was whole again—at least for a while.

I don't know. I only know that whatever I do, I'll never let it make me abandon the people I love. I'll never make other people clean up my messes or take care of my responsibilities. Which is why I'm here today.

“I think there's a gap over there by the window,” I say and start in the direction of a low tufted sofa with one free end. “You can sit on my lap.”

We wind our way around the room. Beth seems to know half the girls here, and she stops every few feet to give out hugs. At this rate, it will be summer before we reach the damn couch.

“Look for someone with a clipboard,” Beth tells me, picking up on my frustration because she's spooky like that. “We need to check in and get our pages.”

“Okay.” I look around but spot zero clipboards. I
do
see that what seemed like a homogenous mass of blondes has coalesced into something a little more diverse. A smattering of brunettes. Another couple of African-American girls. Even a redhead with a pierced septum and a trendy leather harness belt over a flowered dress.

Damn, someone else is gunning for my quirky minor character gig.

I decide to peek out into what I assume is a hallway and push through a heavy door that, instead, takes me outside onto a narrow gravel path running along the back of the building. Beyond is an expanse of brittle grass and scrub, which slopes up toward the highway where cars and trucks spew exhaust.

A younger guy, maybe eighteen or nineteen, whirls on me, throwing his arm behind his back like I've caught him with a baggie full of 'shrooms or something. He's hunky—as in substantial, tattooed and pierced, with a shaved head covered in some kind of crazy design.

Skulls, I realize. Weird.

“Jesus Christ,” he says. “You scared me.” He pulls a cigarette from behind his back and takes a drag before crushing it under his boot.

“Sorry.” I keep the door wedged open behind me. Fanning away the smoke that wafts in my direction, I say, “I was just looking for someone with a clipboard.”

He spreads his hands and gives me a grin that I'm sure makes panties spontaneously combust. “No clipboards here.”

The dude's got large, rugged features but they're pretty somehow, too—thick black eyebrows, a straight nose that's just a couple of degrees shy of perfect, and full lips with a sharp upper bow. I think about music, about how sometimes unexpected notes align to make a perfect sound. It's like that, somehow. Only with a face.

“You one of the actresses?”

“Sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“I mean, yes. I'm auditioning. You?”

He shrugs. “Indentured servant.”

“Wow, I don't come across many of those anymore. How quaint.”

“Yeah, that's me. Quaint.”

His eyes are an amazing light-filled blue-gray. Like no color I've ever seen. If he was older, he'd intimidate the hell out of me, with that body and those looks. Another few years, and he's going to own the world.

“What happened to your head?” I ask. “A sign of your servitude?”

He gives an embarrassed grin and rubs his scalp like it's covered in Braille and will provide an answer. “Partied too hard and fell asleep first.”

BOOK: Bounce
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