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Authors: Noelle August

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BOOK: Bounce
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“Well, it could be worse. Your head could be covered in penises.”

“Yeah, skulls are probably better.”

“Probably.”

Something about this guy makes me edgy, though I have no idea what it is. Maybe just the sheer size of him. Or this wiry energy he puts out, like a stick of dynamite waiting to be lit.

I don't really have time to ponder that, though. I need to get back inside and find a clipboard. Preferably attached to a person who can tell me what the hell I'm supposed to do.

“Nice hair, by the way,” he says. I feel flattened by his gaze, but it's hard to tell if he's mocking me or sincere. And then I get annoyed because he's just some kid, and he's got me feeling unbalanced.

“Another late night decision,” I tell him. “But at least I was sober for mine.” Which is mostly true.

His features shadow, and he stoops to pick up his cigarette butt and thrust it into his pocket. “Your loss.”

“No doubt.”

We stand for a moment, this strange combative energy between us, like a wind that's blown up out of nowhere.

“Okay,” I tell him, after a few seconds of awkward silence. “I'll leave you to your lung polluting. Have a nice life.”

“Oh, I'll see you again real soon,” he tells me, and there's that grin again, only less flirtatious. Also less sincere. “You'll be reading with me today.”

“What?”

“Surprise.”

“Very funny, but I'm reading with Garrett Allen.”

“Nope. Even funnier. Garrett had some kind of spa accident. He's got a
crick,
whatever the hell that is. I'm his stand-in.”

Shit. An image of Christina being thrown into some random minivan flashes through my mind, and I want to cry.

“Well, okay then. Guess . . . ​I'll . . . ​see you in there.” Yeah, buddy. Take
that
.

“Looking forward to it,” he says and fishes another cigarette out of his pocket. They don't seem to come from a pack. Instead, it's like his pocket's some weird dispensary of loose cigarettes.

I head back inside, and for a second I contemplate finding some way to lock him out of the building. Or dye my hair back to blond so he doesn't know it's me. Then I remind myself that he's just a kid. He's not making the big decisions. I don't have to worry about him.

Beth's waiting for me right inside the door. She's talking to Mia, who, hilariously, turns out to be the person with the clipboard.

“Well, shoot, where were you?” I ask.

Mia arches a brow. “I've been here. Where did
you
go?”

“Wrong turn,” I tell them and flop down onto the sofa. I wish I had my cello with me, though it's probably not appropriate audition-wear. I just miss the weight of it against my legs, the feeling of knowing what to do with my hands.

“I got us checked in,” says Beth, who hands me pages. “Want to run these lines with me?”

“Sure.”

“Turns out Garrett is down for the count,” she says, cheerily. “Maybe I'll have a shot at this, after all.”

“Of course you will,” I tell her.

Now I'm just not so sure about myself.

  
Chapter 5
  

Grey

I
t's eleven thirty by the time Brooks calls me into the studio. When I see the set inside the soundstage—a living room with a couch and chairs, lit up under bright lights—my stomach twists. In front of this, beyond the reach of the spotlights, is a table where I see my brother and a few people I don't recognize—an audience of one row. That makes me even more nervous. Until I remember I don't give a shit.

“You ready?” Brooks asks me, pushing floppy hair behind his ear.

He's amped up, eyes intent, his forehead a little sweaty, and working a ponytail that's only about fifty percent successful.

“Oh, yeah. Totally ready. I've been preparing for this moment for years.”

“Where are your sides?” he asks, ignoring my sarcasm.

I know I'm missing something but I lift my arms up, showing him my sides.

“Your
script,
dipshit.”

“Oh. I left it outside.” Where I was smoking cigarettes, which I bummed off one of the sound guys, Saul, just for something to do.

People say being on set is boring as hell, and they're right. After an hour of waiting for other people to do God-knows-what, I want to climb out of my skin. The cigarettes were a dumb idea. I don't smoke, and now my throat feels raw. That's probably the last of my smoking days, right there. I have to protect my voice.

The only upside of smoking was seeing the girl with pink hair. She was something. Great style. Great body. Great everything. Really, really cute. I'm used to seeing beautiful women. LA is overflowing with them. But she had something special. I look around for her again, but there are no girls in the studio besides Mia, who's been rushing around all over the place like the building's on fire. She's leaning over Adam at the moment, pointing at a paper in front of him.

“I'll get you another one,” Brooks says. “Mia, can you—”

“I'm on it,” she says, popping up. In two seconds she's handing me a fresh script, like she can telepathically identify every problem that needs to be fixed.

“Thanks,” I say.

“No problem.” I expect her to rush off again but she stays with us. “We're all set, Brooks. Anytime you want to start.”

“Great.” He looks at me. “Here's how this is going to work. First, we're screening the actors in the next room.”

Mia raises her hand. “That's my job. Step one.”

“We'll evaluate there,” Brooks continues, “and send the actors we think have the most promise in here to read with you.”

This isn't what I expected. I expected dozens of beautiful women waiting in line for me.

“You're quality control?” I say to Mia. “Then I'm trusting you. Only send the hot ones through.”

She lifts an eyebrow. “Right.”

“The lines you'll be reading—” Brooks takes my papers and starts flipping through them, searching, searching. After a second, Mia lifts them from his hands and turns to a page. “Right here.”

“That's them,” Brooks says. “These are the lines you're reading, but the important thing is to just stay relaxed, go with the flow. If you make a mistake, don't worry. This is a test for screen presence. The cameras won't even be on you. Just give these girls something to work off. Oh, and wear your ski hat. Your head's really distracting. We cool?”

Brooks levels an anxious look on me. Over his shoulder, I see my brother watching me. This whole thing, me reading lines for this audition, is sort of hilarious, but Brooks and Adam really have been working toward this for years. I can suck it up for a morning and try to do this right.

“Sure, Brooks. I've got this.” I take my papers and sit on the couch under the lights.

Mia comes over and attaches a microphone to my t-shirt.

“What's this for? I thought there weren't going to be cameras on me.”

“There aren't going to be.”

“ 'Kay.” She leans down right in front of me, trying to get the microphone on, and she's wearing a low-cut blouse so I appreciate the view.

“Roxanne's your first,” she says.

“Actually, that ship sailed a long time ago.”

“Ew, Grey. Focus?”

“Right. Roxanne.”

Mia shakes her head before she leaves, like she can't quite figure me out.

There is, of course, more waiting. I'm getting hot under these lights. Hot and bored. So I take the mic and start singing “Roxanne” by the Police.

I hear a few laughs. Saul, the sound guy, pulls his headphones away from his ears. “Hey, kid. You got a really good voice.”

I'm about to thank him when I see the first girl making a beeline toward me. She stops like she hits a force field, and makes a sharp turn to face the tables where Adam, Brooks, and Mia sit with a few other people I don't know.

“Roxanne Marguiles,” she states, like an inmate sounding off.

“Okay,” Brooks says from the darkness. “Whenever you're ready.”

Roxanne walks over and sits next to me on the couch. She's wearing a bow tie, which I've never seen a girl wear even though this one is feminine, red and pink, and her platinum blond hair is perfectly smoothed, not a hair out of place. It might actually be a wig. She's also sweating so badly her makeup's running.

“Hey, I'm Grey,” I say, offering my hand.

She clears her throat. Looks at my hand. “Start,” she whispers.

“Oh. Okay.”

I look at the pages and read the same dumb lines about
I love you, Emma, you're everything, Emma
that I read earlier. I'm proud of myself for managing to deliver them without too much sarcasm.

Then I look up, waiting for Roxanne-slash-Emma to hit me with her amazing lines back. But she just blinks at me with watery blue eyes and clears her throat. “Can you start over?” she whispers. “I forgot my lines.”

“Um . . .” I look around, but get no help from the twenty people in the room who actually are in this line of work. “Sure.”

So I read them again. Maybe a little more sarcastically.

Here we go. Roxanne's turn. I look up, ready for them.

Her eyes are filling with tears. She's about to cry, but then she gives me a wide, wide smile, which shocks me for a second because she has adult braces—
a lot
of them—and I didn't expect that. I had no idea.

“I am
so
sorry,” she stage whispers. “I forgot them again!”

I hand her my stack of pages. “Do you want—?”

“No!” She puts her hands up, like I've just offered her monkey brains. “I couldn't. I'm a
professional
.”

She's still whispering. I don't know how she's missed the fact that we're both mic'ed up
and
Saul is on a ladder, holding a boom mic over us.

“Can you start over?” she whispers. “Just one more time?”

Oh, hell no. Jesus. What the hell do I do now?

Fortunately, Mia comes over. “Roxanne,” she says, guiding her off the couch like she's an eighty-year-old woman, “we'll try again a little later, okay? Nothing to worry about. Everyone gets nervous.”

I shake my head. Somebody ought to just tell her. She's in the wrong line of work.

After Roxanne comes Sheila, who manages to read her lines, but with a lisp. Cute, in all honesty, but cute like a three-year-old. Then comes Amanda, a brunette knockout. Her breath smells like onions and garlic. And corpse. I almost puke when she leans in and speaks her lines. Then comes Molly, who has no visible afflictions. She's decent, in fact, but has no spark. No soul. No . . . ​style.

Two hours pass this way. I'm sweating under these lights, and I'm getting more tired by the second. I ask for breaks. Brooks, Adam, and Mia take turns shooting me down. This couch is my prison.

I learned the lines the first time I read them, so I make a few paper airplanes out of the script pages and try to peg Adam with them. That gets boring. So I make up a song and call it “Emma-Love.” It's decent. People clap when I finish singing it.

Then I hit a wall. My hangover shows up and it's rude. It has a bad attitude, my hangover. By lunchtime, I feel like I'm dying. I get half an hour to raid the craft services table, then I'm back on. My energy's completely gone, so I start napping on the couch during the three-to-five-minute intervals between reads.

The p.m. hours drag past, even slower than morning. This was never fun, but now it's torture. My band's practicing tonight. I tell Adam I need to be there. That I won't miss it. But around six o'clock, I'm still saying that I fucking love Emma and always fucking have.

“I'm done, Adam,” I say, after the thirtieth girl who looks the same and sounds the same. I lie back on the couch, closing my eyes.

BOOK: Bounce
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