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By Josie Brown
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Josie Brown
All right reserved.
As in high school, in Hollywood's film industry there is a pecking order. It goes something like this:
Film producer with ready cash and a strong track record for winners.
Agent with an A-list roster.
Other (struggling) actors.
Other (anxious) studio suits.
Screenwriters (A-list, struggling, anxious, and otherwise).
Those who serve all of the above.
Those who dream of being any of the above.
And, finally, those who are spouses of any of the above.
It wasn't hard to guess where Nina Harte--cashier-slash-head concierge at Beverly Hills' favorite "epicurean emporium," the Tommaso's on Doheny--and her husband, Nathan--a.k.a. the Disneyland Main Street Parade's Donald Duck (during the second shift on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and alternating Sundays)--stood in that pecking order.
Unfortunately, this very same hierarchy existed in the carpool lane at Sage Oak Academy, where Jake, Nina and Nathan's precocious four-year-old, went to school with the coddled offspring of those on Hollywood's upper rungs.
In fact, those doting SOA parents (at least, those parents who actually showed up periodically to drop off their children, asopposed to having their nannies do it) never waited in the carpool line at all. Instead they were discreetly invited to pull into the "headmaster's parking lot" to join the man himself, Bradley K. Pickering, in his private library for a nice hot cup of oolong tea and a slice of organic fruit torte or chocolate raspberry cake from Topozio's while waiting for their precious progeny to be ushered forth.
It was the school's version of a VIP lounge.
Needless to say, au pairs--and for that matter, parents who were Disney parade characters, and their spouses--were not on that VIP list.
So Nina took her turn in the carpool lane with the au pairs.
She could live with that . . .
Because both she and Nathan knew that his true destiny lay far beyond the cobblestoned Main Street of Disney's Magic Kingdom. The fact that he was only one voucher away from securing his SAG card was certainly proof of that. They hoped it was also evident in his acting reel, which was made up of several tasty snippets from his starring roles in the six USC and eight UCLA student films he'd done, along with a few choice scenes from those three low-budget indie films he'd been featured in (none of which, sadly, had ever received a distribution deal).
The truth of the matter was that Nathan stood, both figuratively and literally, head and shoulders above any of the other extras in the numerous feature movie crowd shots in which he'd appeared. But until others realized this too, Disney's Main Street and Tommaso's concierge desk would have to do for the Hartes--and immediately, for Nina was already late for her shift.
Unfortunately, while attempting to disentangle Jake, his carpool partner Plum Silver, and their respective backpacks from her very cluttered eleven-year-old Honda Civic, Nina was waylaid by Brad Pickering who, upon seeing her car pull up to the curb, excused himself from a Pilates-toned mommy who was upset with his decision to suspend her five-year-old daughter over a belly button piercing. (This concern was expressed via Pilates mom's agitated body language, since her decade-long regimen of Botox injections had obliterated any ability she might have once had to actually frown in discontent.)
Whenever possible, Nina dodged Mr. Pickering because it was so obvious that he resented that the Hartes were at Sage Oak in the first place. This was something Nina had instinctively understood since the first time she'd stepped into his office to inquire whether the school had scholarships for students living below Los Angeles County's qualification for low income, which was set at approximately $25,575 per year. He had warily conceded that, yes, the school did have one such scholarship, and that had recently come available.
Whereas the Hartes' taxable earnings the year before certainly qualified them as "low income," it was Nina's proud proclamation that Nathan was an actor that raised Mr. Pickering's consternation. Not that entertainers weren't welcomed at Sage Oak per se--at least, not since the 1980s, when SOA's board of trustees had finally done away with its unspoken policy of banning the children of actors, producers, musicians, directors, and their ilk. To the surprise of Pickering and his board, that decision had paid off even more handsomely with renewed interest in the school from L.A.'s old moneyed families as well. For every Ireland, Ella Corrine, Coco, Lily-Rose, Fifi-Trixiebelle, Jake Paris, or Homer James Jigme who roamed SOA's stately hallowed halls, the institution picked up another Getty, Kennedy (or Shriver, Lawton, Smith, Schwarzenegger, or whatever), Morgan, Rockefeller, Davidson, Ahmanson, or Taper.
Like Nathan, several of the other thespian parents had also worked with the Disney organization at one time or another. However, none had donned a costume while doing so. In that way, Nathan was unique.
And somewhat less than desirable.
What had tipped things in the Hartes' favor was the letter of recommendation Nina had brought with her, from Herbert Fitzroy Cahill, the patriarch of the oldest and most revered alumni family within the school.
Cahill money was old money. Truly ancient.
Which was why Brad Pickering was stumped as to how, when, and why Herbert Cahill gave a damn about a cashier from Tommaso's.
And so every time he saw Nina, he sucked up--big time--and dropped a casual query about Mr. Cahill in the hopes that she'd let loose with those obsessively desired facts, because Pickering just loved having the goods on all SOA's board members. For that matter, he valued highly whatever he could find out about every SOA parent. It was his contention that you never knew when such tidbits might come in handy . . . especially when it came time to fill the coffers for the Headmaster's Annual Fund Drive.
"Ah, Mrs. Harte, how are we this morning?" Because that comely little backside of hers was toward him as she unbuckled her Jake and little Plum from their car seats, Pickering missed the involuntary grimace she gave at the sound of his voice.
Excerpted from Impossibly Tongue-Tied by Josie Brown Copyright © 2006 by Josie Brown. Excerpted by permission.
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