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Authors: Noelle August

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BOOK: Bounce
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This isn't a job. It's slave labor.

Granted, the past few days weren't terrible. On Thursday, Adam handed me the keys to the brand-new black Mercedes coupe I'm driving now and told me to take our costume directors, Bernadette and Kaitlin, wherever they wanted to go, which was mostly Beverly Hills. Friday was more of the same.

It was fine. Bernadette and Kaitlin like taking long lunches to talk through all their “wardrobing strategies,” and I can always get behind food. I liked driving them all over better than reading lines all day. But I also felt like I was missing out on the real action back at the studio.

I did hear about the film every night at home, though. Brooks has practically moved back in with us. If he's not at the studio, he's parked at the kitchen table with Adam going over schedules and budgets and script changes, each a million times over. All they do is work. Adam even missed our standing Saturday morning surf session today to go over casting strategies with Brooks. Again.

I guess over the past two days one of the other possible-female leads came in to read with Garrett Allen for the role of Emma Beautiful Emma. Lydia something or other. And no one liked her.

Tonight is the next audition with Skyler and a girl named Beth at my brother's house. Adam and Brooks want everyone to feel super comfortable so they had this idea to cater dinner at the house and do the final reads in a more intimate setting. Apparently, Garrett doesn't drive and he just lost his assistant, so I got roped into chauffeur-mode again tonight. Hence the Mercedes and my bad attitude. I'm literally going to be fighting traffic both ways in this ridiculous car that's completely not me. But I guess driving around in a brand-new F-150 is beneath the famous Garrett Allen.

I climb into the Mercedes and commence hauling my ass all the way down to Brentwood. On the plus side, every hour I'm on the clock gets me closer to paying off my brother.

I'm almost to Sunset Boulevard, singing along to myself on one of our demo tracks, “Sing to You,” a ballad, which always makes me feel like an impostor because I've never been in love, when the song cuts out to a sharp trilling sound. The screen in the console flashes with Adam's home number so I accept the call. I'm surprised to hear Mia's voice.

“Hi, Grey. Adam said you were swinging down to pick up Garrett. Can you pop over to my place—my old place—and grab Skyler, too? I came a little early to help set up and Skyler was in the shower. I totally forgot her car is in the shop when I left.”

All I hear for a few seconds is: Skyler in the shower. Skyler in the shower.

“No problem. I'll get her. Text me the address.”

“I just did. Thanks, Grey. You're a lifesaver.”

I hang up and the music comes back up, but I turn it down.

Skyler.

A balloon is inflating inside my chest, like I have too much oxygen and not enough at the same time. I've developed some weird crush on this girl I only met a few days ago. I mean, she's a musician. She has pink hair. She smells like sunshine. And, shit.
That kiss
.

This is bad news. It's not going anywhere, probably. What do I have to offer a girl like her? Maybe when I hit it big. She won't think I'm a loser nineteen-year-old punk when I'm accepting my fifth Grammy. Yep. A couple of years, and I'll have a shot.

When the turn to Sunset Boulevard comes up, I sail right past it. Obviously, I'm going to get Skyler first. I keep singing random words. Occasionally, some of them make sense.

“Fire's hot when you're next to it. But you only burn when you get too close. I want to get too close to you. Let's make a love that burns.”

I voice message myself the lines. There could be a lyric in there somewhere.

A little while later, I pull up in front of Skyler's apartment in Venice and consider honking, because ringing the bell might make me look like a chauffeur. But Skyler comes bounding out and the blood in my veins instantly becomes Red Bull, supercharged, fizzing.

She's wearing black boots, jeans, and a black crocheted top with lots of skin peeking through. With her pink hair pulled into a sleek ponytail, I don't think I've ever seen anything hotter. Nope. I'm sure. Haven't.

She opens the passenger door and leans in and we freeze for a second, looking at each other. “Hi, Grey! Thanks for getting me! Where's Garrett? Should I get in the back because of Garrett? So he's not, you know . . .” She shrugs. “You know?”

She's nervous. I wish it were because of me. Then we'd be even. But I know better. This audition is probably the biggest opportunity of her life.

“We're getting him next. Front seat, then you can just hop back if you think it's best.”

“Right, okay.” Skyler slides in beside me, and her smell moves into the car—just how I remember it. Sunshine. Summer. Awesome. My body likes her smell. A lot. I want to say something to make her comfortable, but I'm going a little haywire with her scent so I focus on getting us heading toward Brentwood.

“Sorry about the driving confusion,” Skyler says. “My car's been in the shop for a few weeks. I'm saving up for the repairs.”

I think about that for a few seconds. I've never really had to deal with money trouble. My brother has my back. Even this thing—the money I owe him—I know it's about the principle more than the actual money. It's not just Adam looking out for me, either. I have a trust fund I could dip into. And if I ever
really
needed it, I know I could swallow my pride, choke it down, and go to my dad for help. I've wondered before if having family money makes me soft, or spoiled. Possibly? I don't know. I don't think about it much. I don't use my family money. Like . . . ​ever. But I know one thing. Having it definitely makes me lucky. It's a safety net, for sure.

“What's wrong with your car?” I ask.

“Well . . . ​Everything. It's a million years old. Like, from the Crustacean period. I think the only thing that actually still works is the key.”

“Adam's making me drive this boat around for work. You should borrow my truck. It's just sitting in the studio lot.”
Stop, Grey. You made the offer. That's enough.
“It's an F-150. Nice. Don't expect to parallel park it unless you have an hour or two, but it's new and safe. You might as well drive it.”
Shut the fuck up, Grey. Please.
“You'd actually be doing me a favor. I don't like the idea of it just sitting in a parking lot. Even if it's gated at night. After hours.”

Finally, I manage to stop talking. I notice that small crease between her eyebrows. I've confused her. Because she's a stranger, basically, and I just offered her my truck. Pretty overeager.

“That's really nice of you.”

Kill me. Now.

“Just think about it. So, you think we'll get to make out again tonight? 'Cause that was fun.”

Skyler lets out a startled laugh. “Um, no way? And we didn't
make out
. We kissed.”

“Really? Then what constitutes making out for you? I mean, what's the, like, literal line that needs to be crossed?”

“No line ever needs to be crossed between us, Grey. You're the producer's little brother. Are you even of legal age?”

“Low blow, Canby.” I realize I just used her last name without her ever having told me what it was. But I'm not going to explain how I know it.
Two nights ago I swiped one of your headshots from the kitchen table and put it on my bedside, where it now lives. It's not stalking, I promise. Just trying to be good at my new job that I don't want.
“And, yes. I'm above the age of consent so you might as well educate me. Tell me. What's making out, in your view?”

“Okay. Let me think about this.” She's quiet for a moment. “Making out is more melty.”

“Melty?” I glance at her, and see her smiling. “You were lava in my hands.”

“Warm. I was definitely warm. Not lava, though.”

I roll my eyes. She's downplaying it. Physical chemistry is one thing we have going for us. Or against us. We've got it, that's the point. No doubt about it. Our bodies have the hots for each other. “Okay, melty. What else?”

“It lasts longer and is private. You don't have an audience for it. And it's not acted.”

“I'm with you on the first three. But the last one?” I shake my head. “I'm not an actor. Maybe you are, but I'm not.”

“Actually, I'm not sure I am, either.”

I pull up to a stoplight, which gives me a chance to look at her. Really look at her. She's tapping her fingers on her leg, and she's blinking just a little too quickly, like she's trying to hold back tears. We just executed a huge emotional shift, and I'm not sure why. “Sky . . . ​Skyler. What's going on?”

“I shouldn't have said that. I didn't mean to.”

“Why did you?”

“This is all so new. I didn't expect it, and I guess I'm just a little scared.” She looks at me. “Grey, don't tell anyone, okay? I really do want this. I
need
it.”

The light turns green, and I have to look back to the road. The way she said
need
makes me think of her broken-down car in the shop. The word had a dark kind of ring to it. It was a kind of need that's in danger of slipping backward. It's not fair, but I compare it to the way I always feel, like I
need
to sing. Like I
need
my band to land a contract. Those feel like leaping, reaching needs. Positive needs. But I know what the backslide kind of need feels like, too. I've been there. I was there eight months ago. Almost killed me, answering that kind of need. So even though it's not the same, I think I get it.

“I won't tell anyone, Skyler. And for the record, I think you're really good.”

“Thanks. And thanks for listening.”

I feel like I barely did. I want to listen to more. I feel like she's hardly said anything.

I think about how Mia and the other girl who's up for Emma Beautiful Emma are Skyler's best friends. If Sky is having these doubts, it must be tricky finding someone to talk to about them. I picture what it would be like if I told Shane, Reznick, Emilio, or Titus:
Not sure about our band, you know? Not feeling a hundred percent solid.
I know I could never say that to them. If I did, it could have a lasting, not-good effect.

“How was surfing?” Skyler's question surprises me. I have no idea how she knows I surf on Saturday mornings, but I learn soon enough. Ethan, Mia's boyfriend, came out with me this morning. It's weird how many of the same people Sky and I know. Ethan's been a regular at our poker nights for months. I finally convinced him to get out on the water with me. Adam was supposed to be there, too, but he ended up having to work with Brooks.

I make Sky laugh when I tell her how frustrated Ethan was trying to catch waves. I forget how much upper body strength you need until I'm out there with a beginner. And surfing is all bend and flow. Out there on the waves, it's about feeling the ocean the same way you feel music. Ethan surfed about as well as I could probably play soccer. Sometimes passably. Most of the time hilariously. Watching him tombstone—wipe out where his board jackknifed straight down into the water and sent him flying—was pretty much the best thing I've seen all week.

We're almost at Garrett's house, according to the GPS, and I don't ever want to get there. I want to drive around Los Angeles for the rest of the night, talking to Skyler about the definition of making out, and her broken-down car, and Ethan's epic wipeouts. Thinking about all the talking I won't be able to do is depressing, which makes me quiet. In the silence that settles between us, Skyler reaches for the volume control.

She turns it up just as I pull into Garrett's street.

Time goes into slow motion and three thoughts explode in my head simultaneously.

One, my demo is still playing. It's been playing this whole time, but I didn't notice because the volume was way, way down.

Two, Skyler's song that isn't her song is in this mix. “Surprised by the Sky.” I see the future unfold: she'll hear it, know I wrote it because she inspired me even though it's not about her, add it to the you-can-have-my-truck comment, and then think I'm a legitimate psychopath stalker.

Three, she's going to hear my singing voice. This scares me more than being called a stalker for having her headshot. My voice is my truth. I don't care what strangers think of it. I only cared about what Adam thought before he'd heard me. If my parents and I were getting along, if I still cared what they thought of anything I did, I'd care about their opinion of my voice. Apparently, Skyler's in those ranks, too.

Weird. I barely even know her, but I'm white-knuckling it, not breathing. Me and the steering wheel. If the steering wheel were a person, it would be turning blue.

I pull into Garrett's driveway, realizing the playlist has circled back to the ballad.

Titus strums a twelve-string acoustic, playing the short intro before I come in. This is the only song he uses it for, but he swears the instrument has the perfect tone to match my voice on this song—a ballad that Shane wrote for Nora.

When I sing it, sometimes I try to think of what they have. I picture little things, like how Nora wipes Shane's face with a napkin when we order pizza. How Shane always rubs the base of her neck when they're close, and how she leans into him, like they share feeling. Maybe they really are twins. Or more than twins. One person, two bodies. I think of how every good thing that happens to the band—a great new song or practice or a booked gig—Shane looks at Nora first.

This song, in a way, is about the person who's always your
first
.

Other times, I think of my brother and Ali. How she's made Adam happy when I wasn't sure he ever would be again. Chloe's death almost knocked me down for him. But now there's Ali, and he's good again. Better than good. One person, two bodies. Two that make one.

BOOK: Bounce
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