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Page 75

When the entrées were brought out, I realized I was the only one in the group who had ordered pasta.

Jett, an accessories designer for a major fashion label, glanced at my penne and said with a sigh, “I haven’t eaten pasta since Bush was in office.”

“First or second?” Jasmine asked.

“First.” Jett looked nostalgic. “I remember that last meal. Carbonara, extra bacon.”

Becoming aware of their intent gazes, I paused with my loaded fork halfway up to my mouth. “Sorry,” I said sheepishly. “Should I eat this at another table?”

“Since you’re technically an out-of-town guest,” Jasmine said, “you can keep your penne. When you move back here, however, you’ll have to say good-bye to refined carbohydrates.”

“If I move back here,” I said, “I’ll have to say good-bye to a lot of things.”

At one o’clock the next afternoon, I took a cab to midtown and walked into the Stearns production offices. After five minutes of waiting, a young woman with a messy bob and a skinny black pantsuit came to escort me to an elevator. We rode a few floors up and entered a reception area with a spectacular ceiling paved in a lavender-and-silver mosaic tile design and furniture upholstered in a deep shade of eggplant.

Three people were there to greet me with such lavish enthusiasm that I relaxed immediately. They were all young and beautifully dressed, smiling widely as they introduced themselves. The woman introduced herself as Lois Ammons, a producer and executive assistant to Trevor Stearns; after that came Tim Watson, a casting producer, and Rudy Winters, a producer and assistant director.

“You didn’t bring your sweet little dog?” Lois asked with a laugh as we went into a spacious office with a dazzling view of the Chrysler Building.

“I’m afraid Coco is a little too old and high-maintenance to do much traveling,” I said.

“Poor thing. I’m sure she misses you.”

“She’s in good hands. My sister Sofia is taking care of her.”

“You work with your sister, right? Why don’t you tell us how that started. Wait, would you mind if we record our chat?”

“Not at all.”

The next three hours went so fast that they seemed like three minutes. We started by discussing my past experience in the fashion business and then what it had been like to start the studio with Sofia. As I recounted some of the quirkier weddings we had designed and coordinated, I had to pause while the trio burst out laughing.

“Avery,” Lois said, “Jasmine told me that you’re still in the process of getting an agent.”

“Yes, although I wasn’t certain it would even be necessary, so I haven’t —”

“It’s necessary,” Tim said, smiling at me. “If this all works out, Avery, we’ll be negotiating issues such as public appearances, licensing and merchandising rights, product endorsements, publishing, residuals… So you need to find an agent right away.”

“Got it,” I said, pulling a tablet from my bag and making a note. “Does this mean we’ll be meeting again?”

“Avery,” Rudy said, “as far as I’m concerned, you’re our girl. We’ll have to do some more testing, perhaps send a camera crew to the Warner wedding.”

“I’ll have to clear it with them,” I said breathlessly, “but I don’t think they’d object.”

“You and this show would be a perfect match,” Tim said. “I think you could take Trevor’s concept and make it your own. You’ll bring great energy. We love the sexy redhead image, love how comfortable you are with the camera. You’ll be on a fast learning track, but you can handle it.”

“We need to get her together with Trevor and see how they click,” Lois said. She smiled at me. “He already loves you. Once you get an agent, we can start talking about tailoring the show to your personality, and working on the pilot treatment. In the first episode we’d like to push the idea that Trevor is mentoring you… set up some dilemmas and have you call him for advice, which you don’t necessarily have to follow. Ideally the dynamic would have hints of tension… Trevor and his sassy protégée, with a lot of snappy dialogue… how does that sound?”

“Sounds fun,” I said automatically, although I was unnerved by the feeling that a persona was being created for me.

“And there’ll have to be a dog,” Tim said. “Everyone at the L.A. offices loved seeing you carry that dog around. But a cuter one. What are those fluffy white ones, Lois?”

“Pomeranian?”

Tim shook his head. “No, I don’t think that’s what I mean…”

“Coton de Tulear?”

“Maybe…”

“I’ll pull up a list of breeds for you to look at,” Lois said, making notes.

“You’re getting me another dog?” I asked.

“Just for the show,” Lois said. “But you wouldn’t have to take it home with you.” She laughed lightly. “I’m sure Coco would have something to say about that.”

“So,” I asked, “the dog would be a prop?”

“A cast member,” Tim replied.

While the two men talked, Lois reached out and gripped my nerveless hand, beaming at me.

“Let’s make this happen,” she said.

Sitting in the hotel room that night, staring down at my cell phone, I practiced what to say to Joe. I tried a few lines out loud and wrote a few words on a nearby notepad.

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