|DIFFERENT SHADES OF GRAY|
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Do me a favor.
Four little innocent words are what got me here, stuck in a house with nineteen other gaggling girls, all of them presently screaming and fawning over the arrival of one Jacob Logan—sexy bachelor, multi-millionaire, and the media's favorite bad boy.
Wait. I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me slow down. Before you catch up with where I am now, you need to know the back-story.
A month ago Charlene called, begging me to perform the aforementioned favor, and hold her place in line for the über-popular reality show Free Money. She was flying in from a photo shoot in Jamaica and didn't want to be last when she got to the audition.
I'd only seen the show once during the previous season and decided it wouldn't make my list of allotted television viewing. I'm more of a History/Discovery/NatGeo kind of girl. Reality TV isn't really my thing. And that's probably because on the one episode I happened to have time to watch I saw things no human being should witness on television without a subscription to the Spice Channel. I mean, sure it's a God-given talent to slide from the top of a pole and drop into the splits on the floor and still manage to have all your lady bits in tact, but did I really need to see that?
So anyhow, there I stood, awaiting the arrival of my jet-setting model sister so she could have her chance to be one of the twenty ladies chosen to fight, bitch, spit, scream, and scratch out their displays of affection for a total stranger—on national television.
Love. Ain't it grand?
I'd been there two hours already, flipping through Dr. Samuel Shem's uproariously funny and frighteningly realistic novel The House of God, as the hundreds of other girls preened for the outdoor cameras that were shooting footage for the behind-the-scenes portion of the show. One girl actually showed her bare breasts! What was Charlene getting herself into? I didn't have time to fully process that thought when my cell phone played out the familiar Danity Kane song Bad Girl that was my custom ringtone for Char.
“Where are you?” I asked, noticing I had moved ominously close to the red doors that girls went into but didn't come out of.
“You'll never believe this. The plane had to land in Phoenix first for a minor repair and then, when we finally got to LA, Tyler's Beemer had a flat. The tow truck driver is fixing it now so we should get to Hollywood in no time.”
Ahh yes. Tyler. Char's “agent” and on-again-off-again boyfriend. Six feet four inches of lean, hot, steamy man-cake, as Char would say. I on the other hand think he's a completely vile and insufferable jackass, and have utilized every opportunity to tell her so. Char may think he's dreamy, but I know him to be a disgusting, lying cheat, and the good Lord himself couldn't convince me otherwise. The knowledge that he was within a fifty-mile radius of my present location made my skin crawl. Then it dawned on me that he must have been the one who put this harebrained scheme into Char's beautiful, if currently empty, head.
“Tow truck driver. Of course. I'd hate for le petit jackass to damage his manicure,” I mocked, dropping in and out of a horrible French accent.
“Come on, sweets. Don't give me grief. I've had a rough day as it is. I know if you were here we'd have been gone hours ago.”
I heard the jackass mumble something in the background I couldn't make out, but no doubt he'd just noticed her flub.
“How long have you been in LA, Char?” I asked suspiciously, hearing the lie form in her head.
“Umm…Less than an hour.”
She sighed. “Okay, we got in at six this morning.”
“What?” I screamed loud enough that everyone turned to look at me, but I didn't care one iota. I glanced at my watch. “You gotta be shittin' me! It's one in the afternoon and I've been standing in this freakin' line for two hours for you so you could get on this stupid show. I'm literally minutes from being in front of the casting director, and you tell me now that you've been here for the last seven hours?”
“Well, me and Tyler had some making up to do. We got into this really huge fight in Jamaica because—”
“Couldn't care less, Char. You knew I was coming here after a ten-hour shift and you pull this? I'm outta here.”
“Wait!” she screamed then went on in a rush, “please, please, please don't leave. I need you to appear before the casting director for me. Tyler says if I can get on this show it could really be the break my career needs.”
Hmm. So this is what the truth looks like.
“Oh, then let me just drop everything and work on your problem. You should have been here, Charlene.” I started inching from the line when she dropped the bomb– the one she knows I can never say “no” to.
“But mom would want you to help me. Please,” she whined.
I waited for a full minute before I answered. I mean, sure our mom would want us to help each other no matter what, but honestly, how long could I let her get away with this excuse?
“Number eighty-six fifty-three. That's eight. Six. Five. Three,” the production assistant yelled out into the crowd before answering a question from one of the gophers who had returned with yet another round of Starbucks.
I looked down at the numbered yellow page in my hand, which, to my horror, was the same number that had just been called. I stared at the gray Nikes on my feet, the horribly faded blue jeans on my legs, and the less-than-trendy tee shirt with the saying “1f u c4n r34d 7h1s u r34lly n33d 70 g37 l41d” emblazoned across my chest.
It dawned on me that I could read the shirt upside down.
“Eight, six, five, three,” the assistant yelled again.
“Please,” Char whined.
“Gotta go,” I grumbled, disconnecting the call and turning off my phone.
Let her suffer.
Gathering all my courage, and the dingy green backpack I toted through life, I waltzed through the red doors, if for no other reason than to see where everyone came out on the other side.
* * * *
Jacob Logan was running late. Which was entirely normal when it came to things he didn't want to do. And right now, he couldn't think of anything he wanted to do less than this.
Three months ago his parents managed to do what all parents did and meddled in his personal life. In response his rebellious side -which he tried really hard to suppress- had gotten the best of him and led him to accept his aunt Jorja's offer of doing a reality show.
At the time the idea seemed heaven-sent. He had some free time from his demanding work life and being the only man in a house with twenty beautiful women would be a welcome change of pace. But things started moving very fast with production of this show, and to take his mind off of what he couldn't control he started working even harder than normal.
Fourteen hours ago he was in Tokyo closing the deal on a new hotel, opening his new nightclub, Koodori Doragon – the Dancing Dragon – and letting the paparazzi snap the photos that would no doubt appear on all the blogs and in the glossies over the next few days. No such thing as bad publicity, right?
He hopped a jet from Tokyo, drafting proposals during the eleven-hour flight so he could be in L.A. for the last casting for the show. He arrived only an hour ago, giving him very little time to shower and dress before rushing to the club where the casting was being held.
He phoned Jorja -or “AJ” as he called her- who was also the producer, when his Range Rover pulled up to the club, and was told to come in once the next girl exited.
And there she was, feet jammed into high-heels, breasts spilling out of the slit in her brand new “vintage” top, and super-tight jeans that made her mid section bulge out over the band. She had a shoulder bag that was too bright and too big, and her long hair was tangled in the mass of accessories that hung on her neck and wrists. He wasn't even about to comment about the face paint.
“Oh, well isn't that sexy,” he said caustically. “Why am I doing this again,
“Because you're a masochist,” his buddy laughed. “You could have just settled down with that nice girl your parents decided you should marry.”
Jake groaned thinking about the woman his parents told him would be “a perfect wife” for him. Simone was a beautiful woman, true enough, with a pleasant disposition. But she was dumb as a box of rocks. On the few dates they'd gone on Jake tried to get her opinion on current events –from the presidential election to stem cell research to the flavor of the Tandoori chicken they were eating– and he found that she took whatever position he had on an issue. He even started an argument just to see how she'd respond and got more of her smiling and nodding.
“That's the problem. Simone was too nice. The kind of nice that never shows emotion, never let's you know when she's mad, never forms an opinion. Always smiling and giggling and agreeing with you. Then when you least expect it, bam! She's stabbing you in the neck with a fork while you're sleeping.” He grimaced and rubbed his throat. “Besides, my parents have no right to try to arrange a marriage for me, and especially not with some Stepford wife. What century is this?”
“So you do the polar opposite and go on a reality show to find true love? The fork may have been less painful than this, my man,” Marcus chuckled. “You can't really blame them for wantin' to see you happy. You should've let AJ pick the girls for you, though. The guy from last season had a nice group.”
“To your first question who said I was looking for love, true or otherwise? But if I were I sincerely doubt I'd find it on this show. And to the second, I missed all the other castings and watching the tapes doesn't really give you a great feel of the person you're dealing with. You know I like to do all my business deals face-to-face. You comin' in?”
Marcus shook his head. “Nope. Gotta meet the crew at Vic's Cameras to pick up our gear. Besides, I lack the social filter that stops most people from laughing at train wrecks like that last girl. And I want to be surprised when I come to visit you at the mansion.”
They both laughed before Marcus asked, “So since it's not for love, and we know it's not for publicity, why are you doing the show? “
That was the very question Jake had been asking himself. Why was he doing the show? As Marcus pointed out, he didn't need the publicity. He had hotels and nightclubs worldwide, and the media loved to delve into his personal life, no matter how nonexistent it currently was. He certainly wasn't looking for a serious relationship; been there, done that, bought a shirt, and no plans to visit any time soon.
Spite? Maybe. A way to prove to his parents they couldn't keep meddling in his personal affairs. But he knew deep down it wouldn't help a bit. They were parents. They'd jump in uninvited whenever they wanted. It was their job.
Was it for fun? A diversion from the vigorous pace he'd set for his life? Maybe just to get over… The more he thought about it the more he didn't know. But he wouldn't find out sitting in the truck. He opened the door and got out, then turned back to his friend and shrugged, “Because I'm a masochist.”
Hurrying through the green doors, he found AJ sitting in the small dark room, smoking her usual cigarette, a tray overflowing with filters and ashes just within reach. Thankfully a window was open somewhere.
“You're late,” she said in a gravelly voice. “Thought you weren't comin’ at all, nephew.”
“I can't say I wasn't having second thoughts,” he admitted, giving her a quick hug before taking his seat and folding his long legs beneath the table. Sitting in the truck he had seriously considered backing out of the show entirely, but decided against mentioning it to AJ. If today didn’t go well he’d cancel and help her find a replacement.
“How's this been goin'? You look exhausted.”
“Six castings across the country and if you've seen one girl, you've seen 'em all. And they've all got the same story; model or actress, extravagant clothes they can't afford to make up for in style what they lack in personality; all singing 'Some day my prince will come' in their heads with dollar signs in their eyes. Half of them have been sent here by some scumbag agent who's telling them this will be their stepping-stone to stardom. The rest actually believe they can fall in love with you in a couple months.”
She took a drag of her cigarette and went into a coughing fit. “You're the poor bastard I feel sorry for. A few days in that house and you'll be slippin' arsenic into your Glenlivet.”
Jake chuckled, twisting the top off a bottle of water that was on the table. “You mean you don't believe in all that fairytale crap? I didn't think they'd let someone so cynical produce a show about love.”
“Fairytales are for little girls with pigtails and lollipops. My hair's too short and I prefer Marlboros.”
“You're really making me want to do this less and less, AJ,” he smiled sardonically.
Jorja laughed, coughed, and laughed again. “Hey, my job is to find you twenty girls who are attractive, borderline obnoxious, and willing to put on a good show. The fairytale has been conspicuously left out of the contract. Honey, if that's what you're looking for,” she paused as she stubbed out her cigarette, pulled another from the pack, stuck it between her lips and lit it, taking a slow drag, “we might as well start casting for next season.”
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