Sometimes love stories go off script.
Another sultry Georgia summer is about to get a lot hotter. Dee Wilkie is still licking her wounds after getting rejected by the precollege fine arts program of her dreams. But if she’d gone away, she wouldn’t have been around to say yes to an unbelievable opportunity: working on the set of a movie filming in her small Southern town that just happens to be starring Milo Ritter, the famous pop star Dee (along with the rest of the world) has had a crush since eighth grade.
It’s not like Dee will be sharing any screen time with Milo—she’s just a lowly PA. And Milo is so disappointingly rude that Dee is eager to stay far away from him. Except after a few chance meetings, she begins to wonder if just maybe there’s a reason for his offensive attitude, and if there’s more to Milo than his good looks and above-it-all Hollywood pedigree. Can a relationship with a guy like Milo ever work out for a girl like Dee? Never say never. . . .
About the Author
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Read an Excerpt
EXT. QUAINT DOWNTOWN
The sun is high and hot in the cloudless sky. The air is thick, and the pavement seems to sizzle.
PAN DOWN TO:
EXT. COFFEE SHOP--DAY
DEE WILKIE is sitting at a table with her best friend, NAZANEEN PARAD, and she is sweating.
“And thus begins the worst summer of my life.” I lean back, kick off my flip-flops underneath the table, and cross my ankles in the empty chair across from me. My thick curls are stuck to the back of my neck. It’s only the first day of summer break, still May, but it’s already impossibly steamy outside. A south Georgia summer feels sort of like living in an old man’s armpit for three months (four in a bad year).
“Don’t be overdramatic,” Nazaneen says, never taking her eyes off the baseball game streaming on her phone. The game is the reason we’re sitting outside on a day like today. Service is spotty from inside the old brick-and-plaster walls of the Coffee Cup, Wilder’s one and only coffeehouse (unless you count the Starbucks inside the Target, which I don’t).
Parking at a table at (or in front of, depending on the Mets’ schedule) the Coffee Cup has been part of our summer routine since freshman year, when our parents finally started letting us bike downtown by ourselves. I would sketch while Naz watched Mets games or read recaps or compiled stats, and we’d munch stale pastries and suck down oversugared coffee drinks. But today my sketchbook is lying unopened on the table, a pencil tucked into the elastic band holding the covers shut. I’m carrying it around now mostly out of habit. I haven’t felt much like drawing lately, not since I got my rejection letter. But I don’t really know what to do with myself without a pencil in my hand. My fingers feel twitchy, and I can’t stop fidgeting in my chair. I sketch like some people bite their nails or crack their knuckles. It’s a physical impulse, and though I feel miles away from any real desire to do it, my body hasn’t quite caught up.
When Nazaneen’s game goes to commercial, she curses the Mets for being down four runs, then glances up at me. “Your summer is going to be fine,” she says. She reaches for her iced double-shot mocha and takes a long sip.
“How is that humanly possible? I have no plans and no best friend, and I’m faced with the prospect of no future,” I say. I grimace at the whine that’s creeping into my voice, but I can’t help it. I wad up my straw wrapper and flick it at her, then give her the most sarcastic double-thumbs-up I can muster. “Yay! Hooray! Best summer ever!”
Nazaneen rolls her eyes. “You should have applied to the drama department.”
“No, I shouldn’t have applied at all and saved myself the rejection,” I say. In one week, Naz is leaving for Savannah to spend her summer in the Georgia Governor’s Honors School program for STEM. And in one week, I will not be going with her to the Governor’s Honors Fine Arts program. Hence, no best friend and no summer plans. I let myself imagine what my summer would be like if I hadn’t been rejected. If I were still living in ignorant bliss that I could cut it as an artist instead of sitting here feeling like a big fish stuck swimming in my teeny, tiny pond. But that future has been so thoroughly obliterated that I can barely conjure it anymore. All I see is eight weeks of sitting at this table, alone, sweating and sucking down iced caffeine so I don’t die from boredom or heat stroke.
There’s also the chance that I’ll be spending the summer filing transcripts at the Wilder College admissions office, a job my dad assures me won’t be completely mind-numbing, or feeling my butt calcify in an SAT prep class (that one was all my mother). My parents acted like these were suitable alternatives to GHP. I couldn’t tell if they seriously believed it or were just putting on happy faces for me. Either way, neither one is how I want to spend my summer.
“What you need is a distraction,” Naz says.
“Truer words . . . ,” I reply, but before she can offer up any suggestions, someone on her screen does something big and great, and she’s fist-pumping and bouncing in her chair. I’ve lost her until the next commercial break.
A car pulls up to the stoplight in front of the cafe and screeches to a halt. It’s a shiny black compact sports car, and right away I know the driver isn’t from around here. First of all, it’s about eleventy bajillion degrees outside, and the top of the convertible is up. (Unless it’s raining, this is a top-down kind of town.) And when the driver whips into a parallel spot directly in front of our sidewalk table, I know it for sure. Wilder residents have many skills, but parallel parking is not one of them, which is why there are always so many empty spots along Poplar Street downtown.
The door opens and an older man steps out, his silver hair mussed, partly due to some intricate styling and partly due to the Yankees cap he keeps adjusting on and off his head as he glances up and down the street. His crisp, dark jeans, boat shoes, and white oxford tell me he’s not only not from around here, he’s from way out of town. I can see the shadow of his passenger through the dark tinted windows.
His frantic gaze settles upon Nazaneen and me, though Naz is oblivious. At this point it would take a real live New York Met walking up to our table and sitting down to get her attention.
“Excuse me,” the guy says, crossing the sidewalk to our table, “do you know where Roff Avenue is?” He holds up his phone. “My GPS keeps trying to get me to turn onto the train tracks.”
I immediately wonder why a handsome, well-dressed guy in an Audi is asking for directions to the part of downtown Wilder where one would stash a body, if there were ever any actual murders in our tiny town.
“Yes, sir, actually your GPS isn’t wrong. Roff is immediately after the train tracks.” I curve my hand sharply to the left to show him the turn. “It doesn’t even look like a road, but it’s there.”
He stares at me, his eyebrows knit together to form a little canyon of skepticism on his forehead.
“Just trust me and turn,” I assure him.
He looks down at his phone screen. “Thanks. You live around here?” Something about his clipped tone makes me think he’s not looking for any long answers, so I just nod.
“Well, listen, we’re going to be setting up production on a film here.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a black leather case, smaller than a wallet, and from it he produces a crisp white card and passes it to me. robert lewin, it reads in shiny black letters, and underneath in italics, Producer, Director. I run my thumb over the raised letters and feel a rush of excitement through my core. This was not at all what I expected when he stepped out of the car. Lawyer? Sure. Doctor? Possibly. But a movie filming in Wilder? This is news that qualifies as a distraction. “We’re still looking to fill a couple PA spots. Just runner-type stuff, but still. If you’re looking for a summer internship, call my office. We can always use a few locals on set.”
It’s not as big a deal as an actual New York Met, but it’s enough to draw Naz’s attention from her phone screen and her floundering team. We’ve just heard that a movie is going to be filming in our small, so-sleepy-as-to-be-in-a-coma hometown.
Naz reaches for the card in my hand and flips it over, as if maybe she’s going to find the words “Just kidding!” printed on the other side.
“A movie? For real?” she asks.
“For real,” he replies. He sticks out his hand for me to shake. “Rob Lewin.” There’s a look on his face like maybe we might recognize the name, maybe even that we should, but I don’t. One glance over at Naz, who is giving him a purposely blank stare, tells me she doesn’t either. It’s not like we’re country bumpkins. We see plenty of movies. Once football season ends, it’s pretty much the only thing to do on a Friday night. And I could name most of the actors in them. I’ve just never really paid much attention to directors other than, you know, Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese (he’s a director, right?).
“Like, a real movie?” I ask.
“I don’t make fake ones,” he says.
Naz is still not convinced. “Who’s in this movie?” She manages to keep her hands from making the implied air quotes, but her voice betrays her heavy skepticism.
“Well, it stars Milo Ritter, and--” Rob begins.
“Oh my God,” I blurt out. My voice comes out as a whisper, which is good, because I worried it would be a shout.
“The singer?” Naz snorts. I know she’s thinking back to our slumber parties the summer between sixth and seventh grades, when we’d make up dances to Milo Ritter songs and perform them for her older sisters in their backyard. We both used to have a poster of him hugging a beagle puppy, his bright blue eyes and white smile beaming down at us from above our respective beds. He was only fifteen when he released his first album, so it was way too easy to crush on him.
Rob chuckles at the mix of shock and disdain. He glances over his shoulder, then back at us, his mouth quirked into a wry smile. “Yeah, the singer. He’s trying something new. This’ll be his first film.”
Naz chuckles too. She hands Rob’s card to me, apparently satisfied with his legitimacy. “Good thing,” she says. “His last album sucked out loud.”
“Naz!” I stare wide-eyed at her.
“What? It was like music to have a coma to,” she says, and shrugs.
I shoot Rob an apologetic smile and hold up his business card. “Thanks. I’ll have to check with my--” I stop myself just before I say “parents.” I barely look my seventeen-almost-eighteen years, so he has to know I’m in high school, but I don’t want to seem like a child. “I’ll think about it and get back to you.”
Rob nods. “You talk to your mom and dad and let me know,” he says. “Oh, and where’s a good place to eat around here?”
“The Diner,” Naz and I reply in unison.
“Best burgers in town,” I tell him, and point him down the road and around the corner and give him strict instructions to order the fries, extra crispy. He climbs back into the sports car and pulls away.
I watch the taillights disappear around the corner. “Okay, did that just happen, or am I having a stress-induced stroke?” I feel light and tingly, like I’m in that hazy space between dreaming and awake. Naz, on the other hand, looks completely nonplussed.
“You’re definitely having a stroke if you’re thinking of calling that guy,” she replies.
“What? Why? It’s not like I have anything else to do this summer.”
Naz winces at the reminder of our impending separation. Even though I told her over and over not to, I know she feels guilty for leaving me. It’s not her fault the admissions committee immediately recognized her science genius but found my art two rungs below amateur.
“I’m pretty sure doing nothing is better than getting ax-murdered by some ‘director,’ ” she says. This time she definitely hooks her fingers into air quotes.
“You just don’t like him because he’s a Yankees fan.” I wave the business card in her face. “He’s legit!”
She snatches it from my grasp. “Lemme see about this.” She holds the card in one hand and her phone in the other, typing the name in with her thumb. Within seconds, the screen is filled with links topped by a row of photos of the man who was just standing in front of us.
“Oh my God, is that--” I point, and Naz taps the tiny photo until it fills the screen with Rob in a sharp black tuxedo clutching a shiny golden statue.
“Okay, so he might be legit,” Naz says. She clicks back and opens his ScreenData page. The list of credits for movies and TV shows looks endless--stuff he’s written, directed, produced. Some of the titles I recognize, but there’s not much listed that I’ve actually seen. Mostly stuff that gets talked about on the public radio station my parents listen to, mentioned in the same breath as all the major movie awards and festivals. Like I said, I like movies, but I’m not much of a film buff. But just from looking, it’s clear he’s definitely legit.
I take the business card back from Naz and stare at the text. I may not have a best friend, and my future may still be in question, but I may have just solved the summer-plans problem.
INT. DEE’S KITCHEN
DEE is sitting at the kitchen table with her MOM and DAD.
The business card sits on the table in front of them.
Are you sure you wouldn’t rather take the admissios office job?
I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.
Convincing my parents wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d imagined. One look at Rob’s ScreenData page and they agreed to let me work on set. I suspect that I’d done enough moping since my Governor’s School rejection had arrived that they would have agreed to just about anything short of a pony to get me to perk up. And they’d only say no to a pony because it would trample my mother’s newly seeded lawn. Besides, working on a movie? With Milo Ritter? Yeah, that’s way better than a pony.
My dad did insist on getting on the phone with Rob (though I think he only managed to get through to his secretary) when I called about the job, and I also had to let him drive me to the studio on my first day (though my bike is in the rack on the back of the car to take me home). I tried to negotiate my way out of it, but it was no use. I think it was equal parts overprotective father and indie film fanboy that played into that decision.
“Turn here,” I say as we approach Roff Avenue.
“Are you sure?” The blinker clicks, quick, in time with my rapid heartbeat.
I’m sure. They’re the directions I gave Rob just a few days ago. We turn on Roff Avenue and bounce down the broken old road, past abandoned warehouses and overgrown factories. At the end of the road, an old office park emerges from the weeds. One of the buildings houses our local UPS depot, surrounded by brown trucks and eighteen-wheelers. Across the way is a drab warehouse with a red sign out front telling me it’s the home of Chiron, though I can’t even begin to guess what they do in there. The blue swishy logo gives no indication. There’s one more building on the lot, and though it has no sign, it must be my destination. I clutch the printout of the email from Rialto Productions. It has directions to production headquarters, along with a call time and some other information.