Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE

It becomes clear as soon as the pretty blonde opens her mouth that she is not the one. The whole room knows it, with everyone shifting subtly in their seats and shooting one another knowing glances. But she keeps going, and so does her scene partner, although Jonathan does glare at me from across the room.

Everyone is glaring at me, actually, if the tiny daggers I feel digging into my back are any indication.

Eventually, the poor, sweet actress finishes her scene and leaves with a wave and a smile. The room lets out a collective breath when the door bangs shut behind her.

"That was the last one for today." My best friend and now producing partner, Liz, pushes back her chair with a loud scrape. She stalks to one corner of the small room, pivots sharply, and then marches to the opposite side.

Everyone waits for her to finish before speaking; that's the kind of power she commands.

She comes to a halt in front of where I'm sitting, at the end of the table of exhausted and frustrated production team members. Her hands grip the edge of the plasticky wood, and she leans toward me with that look in her eye. "Emmy."

"No." The word is an immediate reflex—I know what she wants before she even asks for it.

She brings her eyes level with mine. "I'm a half second away from begging."

"I can't do it."

"She's not the only one about to beg," Kurt, our executive producer, says from his position at the other end of the table. "To be frank, Emmy, we're getting to the point where begging is going to morph into insisting."

I swallow down another automatic no because Kurt sounds more serious than usual. And he's the one who controls the purse strings. "You guys know I can't. I'm not an actress; I'm a screenwriter."

Jonathan Brentwood, our adored leading man and a college friend, joins Liz at the front of the table. "You could have fooled me, Em. When you read with me at my audition, your performance seemed pretty perfect."

"I agree." Kurt rises, and his already imposing presence looms over me even further. "We've been stuck in these auditions for weeks, and we haven't seen anyone nearly as strong as you were. We're scheduled to start filming in two weeks. We don't have time for this anymore."

Liz crosses her arms over her chest, but she doesn't appear to be worried about Kurt's declaration. "What are you saying, Kurt?" If I didn't know better, I'd almost say there was a hint of smug in her question.

"You have twenty-four hours. Find me our Isobel, or I'm pulling the plug." He claps what is probably meant to be a comforting hand on my shoulder. "You know how much I care about you, Emmy. Your dad was like a brother to me, and I've watched you grow up, but I'm not about to put my name and my cash in jeopardy because you're holding on to some baggage from the past." He swings his bag over his shoulder and strides toward the door. "Let me know what you decide."

The rest of the production team, along with Jonathan, scurry out of the room behind Kurt, leaving me alone with the woman who knows me better than almost anyone.

"Pancakes?" Liz asks. 

"Pancakes," I agree.

*  *  *

We arrive at village bakery a half hour later, ordering our food before finding seats in the back of the cafe.

"I can't do it," I say the moment our coffees have been dropped off. I know well enough by now not to deliver bad news to Liz before she has caffeine in her hands. "You know I can't. And you know I won't."
...

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