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Dazzled, Page 2

Jane Harvey-Berrick


  She raised her eyebrows. Somehow I’d committed a major sin – it must be one of omission because I had no idea what I’d done wrong this time. That was nothing new.

  “Yes, the American thing is the film script for the bestselling book Dazzled: top of the New York Times bestseller list for 31 weeks; translated into 23 languages – yes, that would be the American thing.”

  She paused for emphasis. She really didn’t need to. I got the point: I was a moron with the brain capacity of a flea.

  “Well, the director of the American thing has seen your tape and she’s interested. She wants to meet you.”

  What? My brain had just gone into freefall.

  Melody leaned back in her chair.

  “It would mean traveling out to LA and it would have to be on your own buck because nothing’s guaranteed. But it would be good for you: get your face out there a bit, meet some people. My colleague, Rhonda Weitz from our Los Angeles office, is willing to schedule some meetings – and she’ll put you up at her place for a few nights. I pulled some strings.”

  Half a beat. I was sitting there with my mouth hanging open. I must have looked like such an idiot.

  “I thought you were going to fire me!” I managed to croak at her.

  Okay, so I had more in common with Clare than I thought – I didn’t edit much either, although in my case it was less about being candid and more about a brain to mouth malfunction. It’s the kind of thing that happens to a guy when he’s thinking with his dick, but I swear that was not the case with Melody. I mean hell, any guy who got a boner within ten feet of her was risking permanent disfigurement. My dick hid behind my testicles when I was in Melody’s office – and then my testicles shriveled to the size of acorns.

  Melody smiled again, or maybe she was just baring her teeth.

  “No, Miles. If you’d read the contract you signed, you’d realize that I work for you.”

  She was definitely laughing at me.

  “So, can you get yourself over to LA for Thursday?”

  “Yeah! Even if I have to swim.”

  She snorted loudly and I couldn’t help flinching. “Good. Then I’ll make the arrangements. Daniela will email the details to you.”

  She waved a hand, dismissing me, already onto the next job. I stood up, feeling stunned and spaced out – but in a good way – and walked around the desk to kiss her cheek. She looked surprised.

  “Thanks, Melody. I mean it. Really. Wow! Thanks.”

  She smiled thinly. I thought I’d overstepped the mark, but I really did mean it. I was so fucking grateful I could have kissed the ground at her feet.

  “Make me proud, Miles.”

  I was halfway to the lift when she called after me.

  “Oh, and Miles, buy a new shirt… you look like shit.”


  Miles was a bag of nerves, that much was obvious. He fidgeted, tugging at his t-shirt, scratching his cheek, running his hands through his too-dark auburn hair. It was hard to say how I felt: excited, pleased, worried and, truthfully, sorry for myself.

  When Miles had told me the news, that he was flying out to LA, like a real actor, I felt as if I’d been cut in half. The better half of me was as happy as he was, reveling in the amazing news; the other half was already in mourning, the thought of being without him for three long weeks almost unbearable. But this was his big chance – I couldn’t let him see that I was half-hearted about it, even as half my heart shriveled unhappily.

  “Have you got your passport?” I asked for the fourth or fifth time. I knew I was annoying him, I just couldn’t help myself.

  “Ye-es!” he rolled his eyes.

  “And you’ll text me when you get there?”

  “If my phone works. Or I’ll email you. Do you think my phone will work? Oh God, Clare, what if I make a complete arse of myself?”

  His irritation was suddenly replaced with anxiety. I wanted to hug him, to soothe him. Instead I shoved my hands in my pockets, to stop them reaching out for him.

  “You’ll be fine,” I intoned automatically, while wondering if he really would be okay. He was prone to arseish behavior when he got nervous. Nerves made me mute; they had the opposite effect on Miles. He hated uncomfortable silences, always trying to find something funny to say to fill the gap – sometimes hideously inappropriate things that he later regretted.

  His flight was called and it was time for him to go. For a brief moment his eyes were wild with uncertainty, then he blinked and I could see that he was giving himself a mental shake. Finally, now he was going, I allowed myself to reach up and give him a hug.

  “Look after yourself,” I said into his neck, feeling his warm skin on my cheek. “Text me when you get there.” I couldn’t help repeating myself.

  He nodded wordlessly and hugged me tight enough to crack a rib. I didn’t care. Then he slung his carry-on bag over his shoulder and strode away. He was halfway across the concourse when he turned and yelled, “Love you, Clare!”

  People turned to stare; several laughed.

  I watched until he was out of sight. It felt like the sun had just gone down – my own personal sun.

  “Love you, too, Miles,” I whispered.

  Babe in Toyland


  It was nine hours into the 11 hour flight and I could feel my legs cramping up. I shifted uncomfortably, wondering how irritated the woman next to me would be if I asked her to move again, so I could get past her and stretch my legs in the aisle.

  “These seats aren’t really made for tall people, are they?” she said, sympathetically glancing in my direction. Her voice was low and she had a soft American accent. She must have been nearly forty but she was dead sexy. My dick definitely noticed. Lovely: cramp and a hard-on. Her clothes were really cool and trendy, unlike me, and she was totally at ease in her own body. Plus – that voice!

  “I think these seats are made for midgets with a bad attitude,” I agreed.

  She frowned.

  “There’s no need to be offensive about our vertically challenged friends,” she intoned, with an expression that could have frozen oxygen.

  I felt my face get hot. Shit! I’d offended her.

  “Sorry, I didn’t mean… it was just a joke… I…”

  She ignored my half-arsed apology with a sniff and went back to reading Vogue. I sank lower in my seat – she definitely wasn’t going to move for me now. Crap.

  I stared out of the window, trying to take my mind off my tortured muscles. I couldn’t quite believe I was on my way to Hollywood. It felt unreal and I was even more wired than usual – it was a bit like having one of those anxiety dreams where you don’t know the answers to a sudden test, or your molars turn to chalk and fall out. Tentatively, I checked my teeth with my tongue. Nope, they were still there. I glanced at the woman in the next seat and caught her staring at me. She looked really pissed off as she turned away. Great.

  A long couple of hours later, the plane started its descent. The sun was pouring through my window, and I was looking out onto an ocean of concrete with flotillas of aircraft from all around the world. LAX was beyond vast.

  I was feeling a bit spaced out. I never could sleep on planes, so I’d spent most of the night listening to Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’ and some other tracks from the Warner years. My iPod was nearly out of juice and I couldn’t remember if I’d packed my charger. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to use it out here. Did I need an adaptor? I hated being without my music. The thought was depressing.

  First I had to get through Security.


  I handed over my scruffy, dog-eared passport. It wasn’t my fault it looked like I’d been using it to dig the garden. Nazzer and Paul had dropped it in the Regent’s Canal, and it was just luck that a guy had been fishing nearby. I dried it on a radiator and it had gone a bit wrinkly.

  The security officer was massive and scary-looking. You know, the kind who probably played American foot
ball a couple of decades ago. I didn’t want to mess with him – I just had to remember to keep my mouth shut. No stupid jokes. No stupid jokes. No stupid jokes. He ran his eyes over me in a way that made me feel like a Colombian drug smuggler. I prayed he wasn’t going to get out the rubber gloves. Just the way he was eyeing me made me feel guilty of something.

  “Reason for visit.”

  “Uh, well, I might be here for a job, maybe.”

  “Occupation, sir?”

  Sir! “Er, I’m… an actor.”

  I felt like such a fraud saying that, and from the look on his face he could see right through me to the pathetic loser that I was. But finally, after another long gaze, he let me past. Thank God.

  At the exit, I followed the instructions Clare had printed out for me (of course she’d printed them out – she treated me like a child sometimes), and I caught the shuttle bus to downtown LA. It felt so surreal buying a ticket for Hollywood. I couldn’t get my head around it. Ninety minutes later the bus driver was yelling that this was my stop. Maybe he was yelling because I’d fallen asleep. Crap, I hoped I hadn’t been drooling. I wiped my mouth discreetly and hauled my case down onto the pavement.

  The bus dropped me off outside the El Rey Theater and I knew I was slapbang in the middle of the Miracle Mile, what the locals called this most exclusive – and expensive – part of Los Angeles. Yeah, I stood out, and not in a good way.

  It was everything I’d imagined and more. Skyscrapers were fringed by palm trees, and four lanes of traffic swirled past in a blur of noise and fumes. And the people! It was like London on helium, but with more sunshine: chaotic, alive, frenetic, fucking terrifying.

  Bloody hell. I was really here.

  And everyone was staring. Talk about conspicuous: I was dragging a wheeled suitcase down Wilshire Boulevard. I may as well have had a screaming neon sign over my head: Just off the bus! Mug me! Fuck. I’d have been less conspicuous doing a clog dance.

  By the time I’d walked half a mile in the scorching sun, the sweat was running off me and I was pretty certain I must smell like a goat. I’d been wearing the same clothes for 24 hours even before my recent hike. My armpits were wet, my back was soaked and even my crotch was damp – for the wrong reason. Oh joy.

  The receptionist at Weitz’s office seemed to agree. I could swear her finger twitched toward the security buzzer – before I managed to stammer out Rhonda Weitz’s name.

  She left me squirming with embarrassment and preparing for humiliation. I didn’t know if I was supposed to sit, stand, or wait by the lifts. Inspiration hit.

  “Uh, could you tell me where the bathroom is, please?” I choked out.

  She frowned, but without speaking pointed down the corridor with a long, creepy, manicured nail. I slunk off, feeling like a criminal. From the look she threw me, she thought I would be shooting up any moment.

  Luckily the men’s room was empty, so I stripped off my goat-smelling shirt and rinsed my face and armpits in the tiny sink. I rummaged through my case and found a fresh shirt, although it was kind of wrinkled. At least I didn’t look so seedy. It was amazing how much more confident I felt once I was less sweaty.

  When I got back to the front desk, the receptionist had been joined by a well dressed Latina woman who was clearly irked to be kept waiting. Christ. Were there any women I wasn’t going to irritate today? Smart money said no.

  “Mr. Stephens?”

  “Uh, yeah.”

  “Follow me, please. Ms Weitz’s office is this way.”

  We took the lift – sorry – we rode the elevator in stony silence. I hated uncomfortable silences and that one definitely qualified, but I knew that if I spoke first I’d start babbling. Clare said I had a chronic case of verbal diarrhea when I was nervous. And I sure as hell was nervous going into that meeting.

  Rhonda Weitz was short and round with a brisk, no-nonsense attitude. She reminded me of my old high school principal. I liked her on sight and felt some of the tension leak away. But not all.

  “Hey, Miles, good to meet you.”

  She held out a meaty paw and inadvertently crushed my knuckles as we shook hands.

  “How was the flight? Hell, right?”

  “I’ve had more fun sticking lit matches under my fingernails in a Swedish massage parlor.”

  She fixed me with a stern look.

  “Er, well, not really. That was, er, a joke.”

  “I’m thinking you should talk less,” she snapped.

  Shit. “I know. I get told that a lot. Sorry.”

  She smiled, briefly.

  “Don’t worry about it. That’s what I like about you Brits – you can’t sell the bullshit. So, to business. You’re meeting Jo-Anne Moody, the director, at five…”


  She pierced me with her gaze, and I swallowed nervously.


  “No, I just…er… no, no problem.”

  “Well, Jo-Anne, she just wants you to read through a few scenes with Lilia, film a couple of tests with the two of you… I’ll be straight with you, Miles: this is a long shot. The studio wants a name to play alongside Lilia. But Jo-Anne is pushing for an unknown. If she likes you, and if she can persuade the studio… maybe. But if not, I’ll set you up with some other meetings. Melody Rimes has great things to say about you.”

  That made me smile: normally Melody just told me I looked like shit.

  “Yeah? She told me to buy a new shirt.”

  “Shoulda listened to her,” said Rhonda.


  I sat in my room chewing a nail. I was supposed to be reading Bacon’s ‘New Atlantis’ but my mind was 6,000 miles away. I was anxious that Miles hadn’t texted or emailed. Surely he should have arrived by now? Don’t be so bloody pathetic, I told myself fiercely. You’re not joined at the hip – go out and have a life – at least pretend that you’ve got one. That’s what Miles is doing.

  Now I was irritated with myself, too. I threw down my book, stuffed my wallet in my pocket and headed out.


  “Here y’are, man.”

  The taxi driver had pulled up at the gate of a stunning beach house half hidden by palm trees, with a hot Mercedes Coupé sitting in the drive.

  “Er, are you sure?”

  I eyed the mansion doubtfully. The audition was here?

  “Sure, buddy. Thirty-seven ninety-three, like you said.”

  I pulled out my wallet and handed over four, crisp ten dollar bills. I was still unfamiliar with the all green currency. As I stumbled out of the cab, I could feel the heat from the road radiating upwards through the soles of my shoes. At least I’d been able to leave my suitcase at Rhonda’s office.

  I was feeling wired and sleep deprived at the same time – and, if I was honest, the three vodkas with Red Bull that I’d drunk on the plane hadn’t helped. Even so, I felt the familiar nervous tensing of muscles that always accompanied me to auditions. I’d flown all this way – probably for nothing – but suddenly I really cared that this went well. I couldn’t face the thought of slinking home with my tail between my legs.

  Okay. I could do this.

  I took a couple of deep breaths, pushed my way through the unlocked gate and crunched up the gravel drive. I was about to knock on the door when it swung open, leaving me standing stupidly with one hand in the air.

  A tanned, athletic woman of about 50 smiled at me.

  “Well, hey, you must be Miles. Come on in. I’m Jo-Anne Moody, the director. Lilia is just taking a break. She’ll be along in a minute.”

  She paused, still smiling, giving me a chance to say something. I wracked my brain but it was a thought-free zone. She cocked her head to one side and gazed at me as I struggled to find something, anything to say.

  “Hi,” I croaked, staring stupidly at her feet. She was wearing Nikes.

  She stepped back into the impressive entrance and waved at me to follow her. She didn’t seem fazed – perhaps she was used to monosyllabic morons knocking at
her door asking for an audition.

  I was distracted by the enormous chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Wasn’t it a bit weird to have a chandelier in a beach house? Maybe it was just a house by the beach rather than… I thought of what Clare would say if she could see it and it made me smile. Uh oh. Jo-Anne was staring at me, a quizzical look on her face. Oh, crap! She was still waiting for me to say something. She was probably beginning to wonder what a mute actor was doing standing in her hall. I swallowed but my mouth had gone dry.

  After an uncomfortably long pause, she took pity on me. “So, it says on your profile that you’re 20 years old, Miles?”

  Finally a question – and one I could answer.

  “Yeah, that’s right.”

  “And you’ve done some TV work and stage work?”

  “Yeah, some. Not much.”

  She smiled pityingly.

  “That’s a very British answer.”

  I didn’t know how to reply to that, so I just stood there like a gormless twerp. It was becoming a theme. I shoved my hands in my pockets just to have something to do. Christ! I must have looked like a complete idiot.

  “What the hell happened to your hair?” She was frowning at me, and her tone took me by surprise. “It says on your profile that you’re a blond.”

  Since when? Bloody Melody!

  “Really? Well, more light brown, I guess. It was dyed for a job. I was just letting it grow out…”

  God! Stop talking, moron!


  Again with the ‘hmm’.

  “We’re in my bedroom,” she said, casually.


  She walked off briskly, and I followed pathetically through her amazing house. It was full of modern, abstract artwork – probably the real thing, unlike the posters of Klimt that I had in my bedroom at home. Then she led me up the wide, oak staircase into a sort of upstairs conservatory area, and my anxiety level climbed a couple more notches. But the view was stunning and for a moment I was lost in the horizon, the ocean pounding over the stony beach. What would it cost to live in a place like this? It was almost painful even to imagine. More than I’d ever earn, that was for sure.