Take Two - Whitney G

Take Two: A Romantic Comedy (The Jilted Bride Series) Whitney Gracia Williams This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents eith...

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Take Two: A Romantic Comedy (The Jilted Bride Series) Whitney Gracia Williams

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2012 by Whitney Gracia Williams [email protected] All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the author. Cover photograph by Alagich Katya http://www.flickr.com/photos/katya_alagich/6813664168/sizes/l/

This book is dedicated to my mother, Lafrancine Maria Bond Edwards. Thank you for always believing in me and my dreams. You have no idea how much that means to me.

Acknowledgments: Jennifer Williams, you are the best sister in the world. Fred Jones, I can’t thank you enough for reading this all the way through and refusing to accept my laundry list of excuses. Ashley Warren, thanks for helping me with the first few chapters—hope I wasn’t too “list-y” in the others. :-) Nadira Williams, cheers to “Tonightttttt, We Are Young…Let’s Set the World on Fire!” William R. Edwards and LaFrancine Edwards, thanks for putting up with my “bumminess” and giving me the space to write the book. Jay Williams, muchas gracias for your input on the cover. Ray Edwards II, thank you for reading this out loud to me on numerous occasions. Tamisha Joiner and Tiffany Downs, I hope both of your weddings end better than Melody Carter’s. :-) Thanks to Aster Teclay, Alonna Grigsby, Tanisha Hill, Sherbrina Shepherd, Christina Royster, Courtney Johnson, and Karleic Ellison for being great inspirations from afar :-) Thank you to all my friends and family. I love you all.

Table of Contents: Copyright Dedication Acknowledgments Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Take 3 Excerpt

I was almost married to the love of my life. I was almost moments away from a two week honeymoon in St. Bart’s. I was almost Mrs. Melody Scofield…

Chapter 1 Melody Hurt and embarrassed, I sat in the first class cabin of a Boeing 707. I was heading to Tennessee, anxiously awaiting my parents’ embrace. Although I’d managed to suppress tears all day, my eyes were swollen and puffy—revealing five nights of uncontrollable bawling. As the flight attendant announced the emergency procedures, I crossed my legs and realized I was wearing two different tennis shoes. I hadn’t even bothered packing a suitcase, only a carryon with a couple outfits. I knew those probably wouldn’t match either, but I didn’t care. I just needed to get away from New York City, away from my heartache. The plane began its ascent and I exhaled. Two hours and thirty minutes away. Two hours, thirty minutes, and fifty five seconds away. I tried to keep my mind occupied: I flipped through a worn copy of Sky Mall magazine, watched the woman across from me paint her toes orange, and ordered Rum & Coke. I was tempted to pull out my laptop to get a head start on the latest Matthew McConaughey movie, but I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t in the mood to write a movie review, especially for a romantic comedy. “That’ll be twelve dollars, Mrs. Scofield,” the flight attendant smiled as she handed me a drink. I wasn’t sure if it was the twelve dollar price tag for a six ounce glass, or hearing her voice linger on “Mrs.” for more than half a second, but I began to cry. Five days ago, I was standing at the altar with my fiancé, Sean Scofield. He was everything I wanted in a man—kind, loving, supportive, successful. He was also one of the most attractive men I’d ever met. I gazed into his bright blue eyes and recited my vows. “Sean, you are my first and only love. When we met six years ago, I had no idea that the guy I tripped over on the subway would end up being my husband. I wake up every morning and think of you, of us, of how wonderful these six years have been. I look forward to spending the rest of my life with you and I promise to cherish, love, and respect you forever.” A soft applause arose from the audience and Sean smiled at me. I broke our gaze and took in the venue. The theme for our wedding was Old Hollywood. Sean had spent over three hundred thousand dollars to bring everything to life: the aisle’s red carpet, the white Marilyn Monroe-inspired bridesmaid dresses and Humphrey Bogart tuxedos, the twenty piece orchestra, the thirty thousand red and white roses, the faux paparazzi, and the chandelier modeled after the one in Phantom of the Opera. We’d even taken three months of dance lessons to nail the routine from Dirty Dancing at the reception. I turned to face Sean once more. His bright blue eyes were gleaming, his short sun kissed hair was brushed away from his face, and his wide smile hadn’t faded since I walked down the aisle. Suddenly, I remembered all the times he showed up on campus to surprise me, all the times the other girls would fawn over him and jealously whisper as we walked hand in hand. “Melody,” he said. “I loved you the first day we met. I’ve known that you were the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with ever since. Every day we’re together is amazing and I look forward to every day after today. I promise to love you, respect you, cherish you, and protect you until death do us part. I

love you.” I felt my cheeks redden and squeezed his hands. “I love you too,” I whispered. “If there is anyone here today who feels that these two should not be wedded in holy matrimony,” the pastor adjusted the microphone, “please speak now or forever hold your peace.” I took one step towards my almost-husband and squeezed his hands again. “Excuse me!” a voice cried out. I turned to face the audience as whispers and murmurs filled the room. A woman wearing a long pink dress was making her way down the aisle. As she neared the altar, I noticed her eyes were bloodshot and her face was pale, sickly pale. Her frizzy blonde hair, which hung just below her chin, looked as if it hadn’t been combed in days. Who is this bitch? The blonde bitch stood in front of the two of us, looking at me and then at Sean. It seemed like she was just going to stand there, as if her sole purpose of interrupting was to see if she could stall a wedding. I noticed my sister signaling for security out the corner of my eye, but the blonde bitch began to speak. “Sean,” she sighed. He knows her? Is this the friend that was sent to the psych ward two years ago? “I do love you,” she cried. “I am in love with you. The other night I wasn’t completely sure but I know now. And I know that this is the worst possible timing and I’m sorry, but I…It’s not too late Sean. Tell me I’m not too late.” The room fell unnervingly silent, no doubt so everyone could absorb every single syllable that fell out of Sean’s mouth. There were no more hushed conversations, no more muffled murmurs. Just silence. Sean stood motionless. He didn’t even blink. He just stood there, staring at blonde bitch. After what felt like an eternity, he let my hands go and shook his head. “I’m sorry Melody. I’m so sorry, but I can’t do this…Please don’t hate me,” he said as he stepped down. I couldn’t feel the tears falling down my face, but I knew they were there. I couldn’t feel my heart stop, but I knew it was only a matter of seconds before I collapsed. I looked at my sister, who was shouting at Sean and blonde bitch as they walked down the aisle hand in hand. I saw my parents rushing towards me, but I didn’t want anyone around. I wanted to run away. I wanted to hide. I lifted the bottom of my dress, took one too many left steps, and fell backwards into my sister’s arms. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached our destination,” the pilot announced over the intercom. “Welcome to Memphis, Tennessee. Local weather calls for a high of eighty five degrees and a low of seventy degrees with scattered thunderstorms.” I glanced out my window and noted the heavy downpour. I remained in my seat until the last passenger exited the plane. I was tempted to stay on board, tempted to ask how much they would charge for a one night stay. Sighing, I stood to my feet and grabbed my carryon from the overhead bin. I managed to walk past two

rows before my knees buckled beneath me. I cried again. “Ma’am! Ma’am!” the flight attendant stooped down and touched my forehead. “Are you alright?” “No,” I slowly stood up. “No. I’m not alright.” “I’m sorry,” she looked genuinely concerned. “Why don’t you have a seat and I’ll get someone to bring you a wheelchair?” I was usually against people taking pity on me, but not this time. I waited for wheelchair assistance as the flight crew stood in a corner whispering. Every few minutes I caught pieces of what they were saying —“She just collapsed.” “Should we report this?” “How much did she have to drink on board?”—but I was focused on trying to hide the rest of my emotions until I was alone. “Ma’am?” a young man entered the plane and reached out for my hand. “Are you ready to go now?” I nodded my head. He matched me step for step, and when we were off the plane he motioned for me to sit in the wheelchair. He wheeled me through Gate B, and I couldn’t help but to think of how many times Sean and I had traveled in and out of airports—how many times he’d taken me around the world: Sri Lanka. Brazil. Germany. Panama. As he pushed me past baggage claim, I felt tears falling down my face. We headed towards the pick-up zone and the doors leading out of Memphis International flew open. I pointed out my mom’s gray Jeep and he helped me into the car. “Thank you sir,” I heard my mom say as she closed my door. I saw her hand the wheelchair man a twenty and fastened my seatbelt. “Welcome home Melody,” she slid into the driver’s seat. “Thank you.” “We were really worried about you,” she slowly drove off. “I don’t know why you didn’t want to come home with us right after. It must have been—” I wasn’t listening. All I could think about were the wasted preparations, the wasted rehearsals, and the wasted time. “We got you some of that fancy hot chocolate you like. And we’re going to—” The custom Vera Wang gown. The Christian Louboutin shoes. The Max Mara veil. “We had all your wedding gifts shipped down. Do you have any plans for—” The flower arrangements. The twenty piece orchestra. The photographers. “Melody? Melody? Are you there?” The custom rings that took six months to complete. The matching tattoos. The vows. “Hun, you look really sick. Do I need to pull over?” “No mom,” I rejoined her in reality. “I just want to get home.” She turned the radio up and placed her hand on my knee. I looked out my window and watched the rain fall in sheets. The Jeep maneuvered onto our cobblestoned driveway and my dad made his way out of the house holding a yellow umbrella. He opened the door on my side and lifted me into his arms.

I couldn’t hold back anymore. “He left me Daddy,” I sobbed. “He left me in front of everyone.” “It’s okay Melody. It’s okay.” Hours later, I awoke to the smell of hot chocolate and pumpkin pie. I dragged myself into the kitchen and pulled out a mug. On the counter was a note: “Left to get dinner—Corky’s BBQ. Your favorite. : ) Your loving parents.” I couldn’t remember the last time I ate meat. Sean and I agreed to become vegetarians over a year ago. I wonder if his blonde bitch eats meat… I slowly poured myself a cup of hot chocolate and dropped the mug once I caught a glimpse of my engagement ring. I feebly ran my finger along the small rubies that surrounded the four carat diamond. I didn’t have the heart to take it off yet. I was still in shock, in disbelief. I was trying to pinpoint a moment in time when he may have started acting strange, when he may have shown a rare episode of suspicious spontaneity, but I couldn’t find one. I would’ve never guessed that Sean, my Sean, would leave me crying at the altar. He didn’t seem like the type. Sean was an immensely talented jewelry designer. Four years my senior, he dropped out of law school to study under renowned jeweler Frances Durmont. While I was in college, he treated me to small trinkets he created: tiny ruby rings with sapphire accents, beaded pearls with reversible clasps, and intricate charm bracelets—lots of charm bracelets. He left Durmont during my senior year and opened his own shop, Belazi, a small storefront that once served as a book store. Business was slow at first, but word quickly spread about his reversible beaded clasps, and he was able to move his store to a prime location on Fifth Avenue. His client list quadrupled in months and grew to include the likes of major celebrities and Fortune 500 CEOs. With his newfound riches, he took me with him on business trips all over the world. He even took me to diamond mining sites, explaining the history of trade and manufacturing in great detail. He showed me all the places I’d read about, all the places I’d seen in the Hollywood classics. He proposed to me in Naples, Italy, after we’d eaten two dozen pizze at La Notizia and were both drenched in a sudden summer rain. I thought he and I would always be together. Later that night I felt my mom French braiding my hair, softly tugging the strands as if she didn’t want to wake me. “He was the one who convinced me to be a brunette you know?” I cried. “Shhh,” she rubbed my back. “Go back to sleep. We can talk later.”

“Was she prettier than me?” “Melody, don’t do that to yourself. There’ll be someone else.” “I don’t want someone else.” “Go to sleep Melody.” I tried to keep my eyes open in protest, but I quickly succumbed to the stubbornness of heavy eyelids.

Chapter 2 Matt I shoved my notes into my pocket and walked out of my trailer. For some strange reason, the usual throng of fans was nowhere to be found. The only paparazzi were two men chatting away on their cell phones, punching the air with their fists. “Matt! Matt!” my agent Shelby waved at me. “I’m sorry! I didn’t realize you were going to be up so early today. George made a couple of adjustments to the park scene.” “What? Why?” “Do you really think they give agents insight on the creative process?” I sighed. “What’s different?” “Well, George thinks the ‘rain and kissing’ scene should involve some skin. So when you’re running through Central Park looking for the love of your life, your shirt will need to be off.” “My shirt needs to be off? I thought my character had just gotten back from the airport.” “He did,” she clasped her hands together. “But the air conditioning in the plane malfunctioned. So since he was in business class, the flight attendant asked him to take off his shirt to block the fumes coming from the cockpit. And then—” This can’t be real life. I’m going to wake up any moment now and be on the set of a film with substance and not stuck in another romantic comedy that involves me taking my shirt off. I mean, I’ve never minded stripping for the camera. Someone’s got to do it and it might as well be someone like me. But the sheer lack of “art” involved is getting to me. I went to Julliard for Christ’s sake! Surely Broadway will re-launch “Death of a Salesman” and I can snag the role of Willy Loman. Or maybe— “Matt?” Shelby’s shrill voice brought me back to the present. “What brand of baby oil do you prefer?” “I don’t care,” I rolled my eyes. “Where’s Joan? I need a couple of things from Saks before we wrap today.” “I believe she’s across town getting your breakfast.” “Oh,” I looked at my watch. I really was early. Two hours early. I took out my phone. “Joan?” “Mr. Sterling? Did I set your alarm for the wrong time? I’m sorry if I—” “No, Joan. I’m just up early today. Is there any way you could bring me two extra bagels? White truffle cream cheese?” “Not a problem sir. Do you still need me to pick up your order from Saks Fifth Avenue this afternoon?” “Yes please.” “And sir, don’t forget that I’ve made dinner reservations for you and Miss Ross’ two year anniversary tonight.” “That’s tonight?” I sighed, trying to mask my annoyance. “Yes sir. I have to go now. I’ll see you in about an hour.”

“Fine,” I hung up and headed back to my trailer. Joan was the ideal personal assistant. She was always twenty steps ahead and knew me better than I knew myself. She was probably well aware that today, my two year anniversary with A-list actress Selena Ross, was something I really didn’t feel like celebrating. In fact, I wasn’t sure if Selena and I were in a real relationship anymore. We were nothing like we used to be and that was a damn shame. Two years ago, I was sitting in some hole in the wall coffee shop in Tribeca. My latest film, So Amazing, was number one at the box office and I wanted to get away to read the reviews in private. I pulled out the folder Joan prepared and started reading. All the major critics were letting me have it: Roger Ebert said I “was out of [my] league and looked lost for half the film.” The New York Times said I was “the weakest link in an already dilapidated film.” The Chicago Sun Times called me “bland and unbelievably boring even when barely clothed.” Annoyed, I flipped through the remainder of the reviews until I reached a title that caught my eye: “Matt Sterling’s Amazing Romance.” Finally, a positive one. “So Amazing, the newest picture from Lighthouse Studios, casts Matt Sterling as Tom Stein, a hot shot billionaire who (GASP!) has never fallen in love. In Stein’s world, relationships are for the weak and the only things that matter are mergers and assets. “That all changes when he meets Hilary Redding (Scarlett Johannsen), a young accountant in his company who dreams of being a writer. “I wish I could tell you how these two fall in love, but the writers of the film managed to leave that part out. For one hour and forty minutes we are forced to watch Matt Sterling twist his face into an expression that can only be deemed “constipated and confused.” “When he first sees the lovely Scarlett Johannsen—who, by the way, makes the most out of this trite romantic comedy—he gives us constipated and confused. When he realizes he’s falling in love with her, after just one encounter, he gives us constipated and confused. When he jumps off the train (after taking his shirt off first, mind you) and catches up to her, he gives us constipated and confused. “Someone at Lighthouse Studios should make sure Sterling’s bowels are completely out of his system before filming, or else they’ll end up oozing into the film as they do in So Amazing.” Ugh. Melody Carter. Figures. I sighed. It was not my day. I closed the folder and ordered another cappuccino. “Matt Sterling?” I heard a woman’s voice behind me. Please don’t be a fan. Please don’t be a fan. “Yes?” I turned around and was shocked to see Selena Ross, the star of the latest Scorsese series. She took off her shades to reveal her gorgeous gray eyes and flipped her long black hair over her shoulders. “Mind if I sit down?” “No. Not at all,” I smiled.

“I thought I was the only one who came here to dodge the paparazzi.” “I guess not. I come here to read film reviews in private.” “You actually read those?” she scoffed. “I can’t bring myself to even look at them.” “Well, I care about the craft you know? Sometimes the critics help me see things I need to work on.” “And the other times?” “They just trash my films to add excitement to their miserable lives.” We both laughed. We spent the next three hours chatting about our latest projects, our favorite paparazzi dodge spots, and of course, our relationship statuses. When we finally got up to leave, we exchanged numbers and agreed to meet the next week. By the time I returned home she’d texted me: “Can we meet again tomorrow? Next week seems too far away. Let me know. : )” And that’s when it began. We started doing everything together. Traveling, dining, even biking. In between our film projects, we’d sneak away to remote locations—a highway Motel 8 or a small town’s diner—to have sex or revel in the priceless privacy. Six months later, when I was about to consider taking “us” more seriously, our careers exploded. Both of our latest projects passed the $150 million mark and we couldn’t buy privacy if we wanted to. What’s more, is that Selena no longer wanted anything to be private. She insisted that we shop on Fifth Avenue, in perfect view of the paparazzi, instead of sending our personal assistants. She insisted that we eat at window booths of premier restaurants whenever we had a date. She even insisted that we tell the media about our favorite dodge-spots to ensure someone was always ready and waiting to take our picture. Even though I hated what we’d become, I went along with it for eighteen more months. I had more projects to promote and “dating” Selena Ross did wonders for my public image. This week, TMZ reported that Selena was interested in opening a dance theater with me. According to Us Weekly, she and I were trying to have a baby. Three days ago, on The Today Show, Matt Lauer asked if she saw herself spending the rest of her life with me. Since all of our “dates” were mere photo opportunities, our conversations were always about what we’d seen in the press. We could no longer come up with interesting things to talk about on our own. We were simply making the most out of the publicity—at least I was anyway. I wasn’t sure if she still had feelings for me and I honestly didn’t care. I opened the breakfast box Joan brought in and realized that I needed to “break up” with Selena as soon as possible. I took out the cream cheese and felt my phone vibrate. A text message from Selena: “Happy 2 year anniversary baby! Can’t wait 2 C U tonight!” Shit.

Chapter 3 Melody I lay in bed and looked up at the ceiling. I’d spent the past two weeks trapped in the same routine: Eat, cry, sleep. Eat, cry, sleep. I didn’t have the energy to talk to anyone except my parents, but I could barely utter two sentences without breaking into sobs. The one person I wanted to call, the one person that always came running when I was hurt, was unavailable—unacceptable to even consider. I often dreamed that he called me, that he showed up in Memphis, that he got down on one knee and begged me to forgive him and take him back. Yet, every morning was the same. I woke up alone. After failing to see his name cross my phone’s screen in five days, I just let my phone die. In an attempt to break my mundane routine, I wrapped a blanket around my shoulders and made my way to the back deck. Ignoring the soft drizzle, I sat in a lounge chair and looked out over the lake. Small children were tossing balls at the far end, ducks were following one another near the edge, and several teenagers were taking turns on a jet ski. I couldn’t remember the last time I came home and relaxed on the lake. CUNY’s writing program and my job at The New York Appeal kept me away for years and I never needed to come home, never wanted to. In fact, my parents insisted on flying to New York for the holidays and cooking Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in my tiny apartment. Sean had promised me that we would visit them in Memphis after our honeymoon. Oh well. As the drizzle turned to rain, I stood up and headed back inside. I caught my reflection in the screen door and gasped. My skin was the color of porcelain. No matter how many times I pinched my cheeks, no color returned. My eyelids were inflamed. My eyes were bloodshot. My lips were gray and cracked, licking them just made them look worse. Despite looking horrible all over, the one thing that struck me hardest was my hair, my Sean-influencedthis-ugly-shit-brown-colored-hair. I rushed to my room and dumped the clothes out of my carryon. I put on white jeans, a T-shirt, and my mismatched tennis shoes. I ran to the garage and found the spare keys to my mom’s Jeep. Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman red. That’s what I wanted. That’s what I told the beauty clerk at CVS. I carefully eyed the box as I stood naked in the bathroom. I dragged the elastic band away from my matted ponytail and shook my head back and forth. My hair didn’t move. I stepped into the shower and applied the dye generously. I let it sit for twenty minutes longer than necessary and stayed in the shower for another hour. I wanted to go back to sleep, but I forced myself to take out my laptop. I’d missed two weeks of film and

book reviews, and my work inbox was surprisingly empty. I decided to log in to watch the latest Matt Sterling film, Summer Nights, knowing that I would never get that hour and thirty minutes of my life back. In between watching that dreck and taking notes, I painted my nails black—a color Sean loathed. I should’ve tackled him at the wedding. Why didn’t I tackle him? As the movie came to an end, I typed a review and emailed it to my office. I walked into the living room and eyed the mountain of unopened wedding presents. I didn’t think I was ready to face that part of my pain, but I plopped down in front of the pile anyway. I picked up a small red box and gently tugged its silky white ribbon. Exhaling, I removed the top. There was a card: “Dear Mrs. Scofield, I know you’re probably going to open this one first. You’ve always loved red and I’ve always loved you. Your husband and love for all eternity, Mr. Scofield.” Ugh. What the fuck! I crumpled the paper and tossed it across the room. I rummaged through the tissue paper and took out the gift: A multi-strand pearl necklace by Kenneth Lane. It was an exact replica of the one Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I clasped it around my neck and ran my fingers along the pearls. I picked out another box, a blue one, and like a two year old at Christmas, ripped the packaging apart: Cookware. Boo! I went about this for another hour, making two separate piles. The first pile was for cookware, anything that said “His & Hers,” and well-wish cards. The second pile, the “keep” pile, was for jewelry, money, and mementos. After opening every gift, my “keep” pile had amassed $4,600, three diamond necklaces, a Rebecca Moses dress, five bracelets, and a collection of framed Hollywood movie posters. I wasn’t sure what to do next. Watching TV was out of the question and I was sure that my parents hadn’t updated their DVD collection in years. I wandered from room to room, failing to feel any nostalgia, any ties. They’d remodeled the house beyond recognition. The staircase that once served as the backdrop for family photos was stripped of its soft beige carpet and fitted with hardwood and white paint. The family den, the former home of celebrations —graduations, milestones, birthdays—was now a great room with a dining table and two sets of oversized furniture. My childhood room was no longer a pink Barbie-haven. It was a yellow guestroom that reflected my parents’ love for the beach. I ran my fingers across our old family portrait and smiled. My younger sister Jennifer and I looked like twins back then. Our red hair hung loose and wild, our green eyes glimmered underneath the hot Memphis sun. My mom’s squinty eyes were nearly covered by her blunt bangs, but her toothy smile made up for it. My dad stood to her side, bald and stone-faced, wearing his trademark black suit. I stood by my former window and tilted the blinds. The rain was still falling heavily and the lake was long abandoned. Something in me snapped and I headed outside again. I was soaked within seconds, but for some reason I began to laugh. I stepped down from the deck and waded into the lake.

I waded further and further, farther and farther, until my feet no longer touched the bottom. I flipped over on my back and brought my arms over my head, paddling with no destination in mind. If Sean had been there, he would be yelling at me, telling me to get out of the water immediately. That was the one thing he and I didn’t share: a love for the open water. He preferred pools with designated depth markers while I preferred unrestricted oceans and large lakes. I shook the thought of him out of my mind and kept swimming in the rain, relishing in the freedom. “Melody!” my mom shouted as she and my dad came through the front door. “You’re a redhead again!” “Hey Mom. Hey Dad.” “I see you went ahead and took my advice on the wedding gifts,” she nodded. “Yeah,” I sighed. “I’m going to write out the thank you cards tonight.” “And I assume that the pile with the cookware is staying here?” I laughed. “Of course.” “Have you heard anything from that boy?” my dad hissed. “No, I haven’t. Whoa! Nice watch!” I eyed his wrist. He smiled and held it to the light. “Thanks! It’s an Audemars Piguet! Sean bought it for my birthday this year. He sure did know his jewelry.” “Really Dad?” My mom slapped the back of his head and they both walked over to the cookware pile. I went to my room and plugged my phone into the wall: forty seven missed calls, twenty nine voice messages, and seventy three text messages. There were no missed calls from Sean, but he’d sent me fifteen texts. Coward. I wasn’t going to call everyone back, and I wasn’t going to listen to any voice messages. I deleted my call log and called my sister. “Melody!” she picked up on the first ring. “I told you to call me as soon as you landed! It’s been like two weeks! Are you alright?” “Yeah, I’m okay. How are you?” “Stressed. I’m still not done with my thesis and—who cares? Don’t worry about me. Has that asshole said anything to you?” “No,” I felt a lump rise in my throat. “Good! I told him to never call you again or I would have my guy friends come to that store and beat him up.” “Jennifer!” “What? It’s the truth. Let me know if he calls okay? I bought some new pepper spray yesterday.” I laughed at the excitement in her voice. “Were you and Lilly able to get my stuff out of his condo?” “Yeah, but we weren’t able to get all of it. There wasn’t enough room in the car and Lilly had to go back to Jersey.”

“That’s okay. I guess I’ll get those when I get back.” “Oh my god, please tell me when you go! I’m dying to test out this new spray!” “I love you, Jen. I’ll talk to you later.” “You better! I love you too.” I hung up and smiled at the thought of Jen and her friends beating Sean to a pulp in Belazi. Then again, he’d probably charm his way out of it or offer them jewelry to get them to go away. I called my office. “Melody Carter’s office,” Sophie answered. “I take it everyone at work heard about the wedding?” “Miss Carter! It’s so nice to hear from you!” she coughed and changed her tone. “I did as much damage control as I could ma’am.” “Thank you, Sophie. Did you get my review about the latest Matt Sterling film?” “I did. I printed it and handed it to Mr. Maxwell about two hours ago.” “Great. Would you book me a return flight from Memphis?” “Sure, for what day next week?” “Tomorrow.” “Are you sure?” “Absolutely,” I hung up. I couldn’t hide and sleep in Memphis forever.

Chapter 4 Matt “Joan remembers everything,” I muttered as I took my seat at Per Se. It was the site of our first public date and the staff had gone out of their way to recreate the memory: Our table was adorned with sonata lilies, daffodils, and orchids. While the other patrons’ tables were draped in white linen, ours was draped in black—homage to a comment Selena made two years ago. Selena was late as usual but I didn’t mind. I needed time to think, time to figure out how to break things off. Twenty minutes past the reservation time, Selena sauntered into the restaurant wearing a dress so revealing it made me want to reconsider. “Happy anniversary baby,” she kissed me on the cheek. “Happy anniversary Selena,” I pulled out her chair and signaled for the waiter. “Good evening Mr. Sterling, Miss Ross,” he set the menus on the table. “May I interest you in some wine to start your evening?” “We’ll have Chateau Guirad, the 2001 please. And we’ll have Chef Keller’s nine courses for dinner, no lobster for Miss Ross.” “Excellent selection,” he picked up our menus and walked away. “Well,” Selena grabbed a lily from the center of the table. “I see you remembered.” No, Joan remembered. “Yeah,” I shifted in my seat. “We need to talk.” “I was going to say the same thing.” “Oh really? Well, ladies first. You go ahead.” The waiter poured us both a glass of wine and placed the bottle on the table. “I know that our relationship hasn’t been the most ideal and that things keep getting crazier and crazier in the press,” she looked off to the side. I think she’s going to dump me…YES! “Go on,” I sipped my wine. “I want you to know that I do care about you and I’ll always be your friend regardless of what happens to us. And in saying that, I think that the next step for us…is marriage.” I spluttered the wine back into the glass and began coughing. People in the restaurant became quiet and shot curious glances over to our table. “Are you alright sir?” the waiter rushed over. “Yeah, I’m okay. Thanks. Could you bring me some Jack Daniels please?” “Certainly sir.” “Are you out of your mind, Selena Ross?” I whispered. “What do you mean?”

“Marriage? Are you crazy?” “We can always say things didn’t work out six months from now.” “Selena, we’re not in love. We barely even like each other any—” “Don’t sit there and act like that’s shocking Matt. Us dating each other is what the public wants. It’s what they need.” The waiter set down the Jack Daniels. “Why do we need to get married?” I took a large gulp of whiskey. “What’s wrong with the pseudo dating we’re doing now? And actually, you know what’s better than an engagement? A breakup.” “No, no, that’s not true. Engagements definitely get more press and I’ll need all the extra press I can get if I want this next role. I need to show that I have a domestic side.” “Jesus, Selena. Do you hear yourself? What happened to you? Is fame all you care about?” She sipped her wine. “Yes.” The waiter set down the first course and another glass of Jack Daniels. “Two months,” I took another gulp of whiskey. “That’s as far as I’m going with this charade.” “Great!” she smiled and looked around the restaurant. When she was sure no one was looking, she slid a small box across the table. “It’s from Lorraine Schwartz. I had my assistant pick it up today.” “You want me to propose here? I don’t think there are enough people around…Plus, the paparazzi won’t be able to fully capture the moment. I’ll take you to the right place after dinner.” Her eyes lit up and she leaned over to kiss me. My stomach was churning at the mere thought of proposing, but I wasn’t going to turn down the chance for more exposure. If we were going to do this, I wanted to do it right. The next morning, I awoke to an empty apartment. There was a note on my pillow from Selena: “I had fun last night—Mrs. Matt Sterling : )” There were a lot of words that described fake-proposing in Times Square, and I was pretty sure “fun” wasn’t one of them. I sighed and walked over to my window. New York was gray today, unusually gray. It was the type of day that forced me to remember things I wish I had forgotten, the type of day that forced me to see how empty my life really was. I had no real friends, just leeches who insisted on stroking my ego so they could enjoy the perks of fame. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize they were “leeches” until it was too late. It was years after my first hit film —years after partying every night, bedding endless models, and making tons of “fast friends”—when I realized fame meant perpetual loneliness. My mom had warned me about it, told me how she’d seen countless stars turn into shells of themselves and become remnants of who they used to be. I always thought I was different, until I became annoyed with her lectures and cut her off completely. Over the past two years, I’d definitely become a shell of myself, a “casualty of the high life” as my mom would say. Photo shoots, premieres, and parties were no longer exciting. I was only happy when I was reading stage plays alone on my yacht, when I was far removed from paparazzi, fake friends, and press commitments.

My cell phone rang. “Hello?” “Congratulations Mr. Number One at the box office! Summer Nights is officially on track to debut with $25 million!” Shelby practically screamed. “Thanks Shelby.” I’d almost forgotten about Summer Nights. We finished filming it last year, but the distribution contracts dragged on for too long and it wasn’t released when it should have been. I didn’t even go to the premiere. “And I’m reading all about your night with Selena Ross,” she cooed. “Why didn’t you tell me you were planning to propose?” Because I wasn’t! “I guess I was just nervous.” “Aww! How romantic! Listen, I’m still in talks with Ralph Lauren’s people regarding your contract. I’m flying out to meet with them today and I’ll touch bases with Joan about any schedule changes later. I’ll talk to you—” “Wait. What were the local numbers for Summer Nights?” “You’re number one in the country Matt! Why do you care about local numbers?” “Shelby,” I pressed. She sighed. “The local numbers for New York were among the lowest, about $700 per screen.” “Okay thanks.” I called Joan. “Where are you?” “I’m in route sir. I just picked up your suit from Tom Ford. You’ll need to wear it for your interview session with GQ today.” I forgot all about that. Jesus, she’s the greatest. “Before you get here, I need you to print out the local reviews for Summer Nights.” “Yes sir. See you in half an hour.” I didn’t feel like doing an interview today. The interviewers always asked the same questions: “What’s it like to be a high profile actor?” “What are your favorite types of roles?” “How’s Selena?” “How do you stay in shape?” “What do you do in your free time?” Sometimes, the questions would intrigue me, but most of the time I just sat there with a fake smile on my face, acting as if I hadn’t heard the questions a thousand times before. “The price you pay,” I slid out of my clothes and hopped in the Jacuzzi. Joan coughed to announce her presence and hung my suit on the back of the bathroom door. She was always so put together, so neat. Every outfit she wore perfectly complemented her olive skin tone and jet black hair. Today she was wearing a tailored gray suit with a silk purple blouse. “Sir, we’ll need to leave here in about three hours for your interview. You’ll also need to sign a few posters in the car.” “Where’s the interview again?” “It’s at Daniel. Chef Bruel is preparing your favorite.”

“Great. And the reviews?” “All press up until nine this morning regarding you and Miss Ross’ engagement is in this blue folder,” she held up two folders. “And all local reviews for Summer Nights are in the yellow folder.” “Could you read me one of the reviews?” She nodded and sat on the counter. “Matt Sterling’s latest contribution to the realm of film is so horrid and appalling that I can only think of six words of criticism for him: Please. Give. Up. Your. Career. Now. “Alas, I can’t submit such a short synopsis so I shall bore you with the details: Matt Sterling plays Sam, a down on his luck photographer, struggling to make it big in Hollywood. One day, while shooting “the light reflecting off the coast,” he runs into Mariah Stone (Natalie Portman), a medical recruiting manager who never takes a break. “Although Portman’s character isn’t into “any guy with less than an M.B.A.,” Sam is desperate to pursue her because “she’s unlike anyone [he’s] ever met before.” “If by saying that he meant someone who has the capacity to read, then Mr. Sterling probably has this dilemma in real life as well. Hopefully one day he’ll hire someone in his entourage who is capable of knowing a dud script when they see it. “I digress. Halfway into the film, Mr. Sterling flashes his claim to fame, his set of perfectly oiled abs—a mere foreshadowing of what’s to come: He takes his shirt off while walking down the street. He takes it off while shooting “difficult angles.” And yes, he takes it off when he first wakes up in the morning. In fact, the best actor in this film is his T-shirt. Even it knows that the key to escaping mediocrity is getting away from Matt Sterling. “Someone who isn’t so lucky? Natalie Portman. Her character has the daunting duty of falling in love with him. “If you must see Summer Nights, see it when it finds its way into a $1 Red Box rental machine and not a second before.” “Let me guess. Melody Carter?” I sighed. “Yes sir.” I hated Melody Carter. She was the worst type of movie critic—the type that interwove my personal life into her “professional” reviews, the type that found a way to get under my skin every single time. Although she was extremely rude and crass, the movie-going people of New York City took her drivel very seriously. I’d once wondered what she looked like. I googled her but only her work appeared, no pictures, no Facebook. She’s probably hideous…and fat. That’s it! She’s fat and ugly and she just wants everyone to be as miserable as she is! I ought to pay her a visit and put her in her place! “Get me a meeting with Melody Carter please,” I sat up. “Sir, it’s well known that Miss Carter hardly meets with anyone in the industry. She doesn’t even attend premieres or advanced screenings.” So she IS fat and ugly! “Well, could you at least get me the address to her office?”

Chapter 5 Melody I hugged my parents before turning away and walking into Memphis International. I knew they wanted me to stay another week, but I needed to get back to work. I rolled my eyes when the desk agent said “Have a safe flight Mrs. Scofield,” but I didn’t correct her. Instead, I typed a note into my phone: “Get Melody Carter put back on license and credit cards. Make sure marriage license is annulled.” This time I was wearing matching shoes, cheap Old Navy flip flops, and I was proud of myself for being slightly more functional. I didn’t bother staying up to listen to the flight attendant’s safety speech or watching any other passengers. I drifted into a deep sleep and didn’t awake until the flight attendant let me know that I was once again, the last passenger on the plane. I took my time walking around La Guardia airport, stopping inside of several news shops, buying books I had no interest in reading. I sat down at McDonalds, forcing myself to eat a box of chicken nuggets, making myself do something that didn’t remind me of Sean. “Miss Carter! Miss Carter! Over here!” I heard Sophie’s voice as I walked past baggage claim. I looked over my shoulder and saw her long brown curls bouncing as she jumped up and down. “Sophie?” I tried to sound polite. “What are you doing here?” “Mr. Maxwell told me to get the town car to take you home when you landed.” I don’t have a home to go to… “I need to go by the office first.” “Mr. Maxwell insisted that you go home and rest for a day. Those were his exact words ma’am,” she turned red and nervously darted her eyes back and forth. I didn’t say a word. I looked Sophie up and down, folding my arms and giving her the coldest look I could manage. She withered under my glare, averting her eyes to the floor and shifting her weight from foot to foot. I hated being mean to Sophie. I gave in. “Fine. Tell the driver to take me to Trump SoHo.” Sophie frowned and nodded her head. “Follow me.” I knew Mr. Maxwell was trying to make sure I was completely sane before returning, but I was annoyed. I needed to return to work to not only catch up on some projects, but to make hotel reservations for the next few weeks. I’d sold my condo months ago, and I needed a place to stay while I shopped for a new one. When we pulled up to Trump SoHo, the driver opened my door and extended his hand. “Thank you sir,” I said. He tipped his hat and closed the door. Sophie rolled the window down and smiled. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Miss Carter.” I walked inside and saw that the hotel’s lobby was more intimate than I remembered: The towering ceiling gave way to chocolate colored columns that were flanked by warm light-boxes and soft brown furniture. There was a slight glow in the room, accentuated by dark wall panels and slender windows.

Though no other guests were waiting at the front desk, all of the agents were busy talking on the phone. A bellman stepped in front of me. “How may I help you Miss?” “I need to speak to the general manager. It’s an emergency.” “Certainly,” he said and signaled for me to follow him down a long hallway. “What is your name Miss?” “Melody Sco—Melody Carter,” I stammered. “Wait here please,” he stepped inside a room concealed by frosted glass. I took a deep breath and waited ten minutes before Ryan Warren came out of the room. He was just as I remembered him—tall and muscular, messy brown hair, and bright brown eyes that could see right through me. “Melody? What are you doing here? I thought you would be halfway around the world with Mr. I Could Buy New York If I Wanted To by now.” “We never got married,” I forced a lump back down my throat. “Well, we had the wedding and we were about to get married but—” “I’m so sorry,” he hugged me. “What can I do for you?” Don’t cry…Don’t cry… “I really need a place to stay for a couple of weeks while I search for a condo, and I was hoping for a discount. I know you don’t—” “A discount?” he scoffed. “Melody, I would never charge you for anything. You know that.” Maybe I should’ve dated him after all. “Thank you so much!” “It’s not a problem. I’ll even put you in one of our penthouse suites. My wife helped to design them so I’m sure she’d be upset if I didn’t take the chance to show one off.” Maybe not. “I really appreciate this,” I wiped away a tear. “If you ever need a mention in the paper or anything I swear—” “Don’t worry about it,” he kissed my hand and led me back to the lobby. I sat in a cab trying to calm my shaking hands. I’d texted Sean earlier to let him know I would be coming over to get the rest of my things. I asked him not to be there. When the cab dropped me off, I stood in front of the brick brownstone and reminisced: Sean and I picked out the yellow roses and hydrangeas that sat underneath the windows. We picked the front door with frosted glass and gold trim. We even designed the “Love Lives Here” welcome mat. I wonder how he explained everything to his housekeeper... I swallowed and rang the doorbell. There was no answer. I rang the doorbell again. “Who is it?” a woman’s voice came over the intercom. I pressed the red button. “It’s me, Hannah! Melody!” The door opened immediately, but instead of seeing his housekeeper Hannah, I found myself face to face

with blonde bitch. Her hair was in a short and shiny bob, not a single strand was out of place. She was nervously blinking her eyes, searching for something to say. I glared at her and resisted the urge to slap her senseless. “I’m sorry,” she took a step back. “I didn’t recognize you with red hair.” “Well, I still don’t recognize you so…” She looked hurt. “I’m sorry, I—” “Look, I’m not sure if there’s a proper protocol for meeting the home-wrecker, but excuse me if I didn’t call you. I texted Sean and let him know I was coming earlier. I was living here a couple weeks ago you know?” I felt my heart swell and blinked away a tear. I can’t let this bitch see me cry. “My apologies,” she stepped aside and let me into the house. I walked past the open foyer, past the state of the art kitchen, and into the room that used to be my office. Upon entering the room, I nearly broke down. The pictures we bought while vacationing in Greece were still hanging on the wall. The window coverings we purchased in Italy, the handmade beige and ivory satin drapes, were still flowing down to the floor. The rest of my belongings were lined against the bay window on the far end of the room. One of my charm bracelets, the last one Sean and I made together, was lying on the floor. I scooped it up and rubbed each of the charms: plane, film reel, pizza slice, fountain pen, and a baby bottle. I once told Sean that when the time came, we could turn my office into a nursery. I told him how I saw us painting the room together, traveling to Europe to find new photographs, and buying only the best baby furniture. I remembered him laughing as I told him this, smiling at the thought of our future together. “Would you like some wine?” blonde bitch asked. WHAT? “No thank you. I’m just going to get started if you don’t mind.” She looked as if she wanted to say something more, but she nodded her head and walked away. The nerve. I pulled out a duffle bag and stuffed it with dresses and shoes. I stacked everything else in the center of the room and made a list of what I was leaving for Sophie to retrieve tomorrow. After an hour of organizing, I pulled the duffle bag over my shoulder and walked down the hallway. I spotted blonde bitch reading a book in the kitchen. “Woman to woman,” I dropped the duffle bag onto the floor. “I need to ask you something.” “Yes?” she looked up at me. “Did you sleep with my fiancé before my wedding?” “Yes.” “Did you know that he was engaged?” my voice cracked. “Yes.”

“And you didn’t see a problem with that?” “Of course I did. But I just knew that he and I—” I raised my hand. “I just needed to know how little of my respect you deserved.” I picked up the duffle bag and headed outside to hail a cab.

Chapter 6 Matt The interview with GQ was more entertaining than I thought it would be. The interviewer didn’t act like he knew me personally and actually inquired about things that mattered to me: philanthropy, dancing, and fine dining. Only one of his questions bothered me: “You’re highly successful, you’ve clearly found love, and are surrounded by people who care about you. If you died today, will you have accomplished all you wanted in life?” I gave some bullshit response, but I knew that the real answer was no. I’d spent the past two years committed to someone I could barely stand. I spent the past four acting in films that could’ve been written by a group of high school girls. I surrounded myself with people who said “yes,” to everything I asked, and as far as the “clearly found love” part? At twenty seven? I severely doubted that. After the interview, I kept on my Tom Ford suit and had my driver take me to the building that housed The New York Appeal. The ashen black building towered over every business on the block. It didn’t look like the type of building where creative people worked. Then again, Melody Carter worked there. “M-M-Matt Sterling?” the receptionist greeted me. “That’s me,” I flashed my smile. “I have a meeting with Melody Carter this afternoon. Is she still available?” “A meeting with Melody Carter?” she tilted her head to the side. Has no one ever seen this woman? “Yes. Melody Carter,” I enunciated each syllable. “Hold on one second Mr. Sterling,” she picked up her phone. “Hello Sophie? This is reception down on the main floor. Does your boss have any meetings scheduled for this afternoon? Okay…I see. Sir, Miss Carter doesn’t have any meetings scheduled for the rest of the month.” Damnit. “Well, it’s clearly a misunderstanding on my part. Is there any way I could go up there and say hello anyway?” “Not without a meeting. I’m sorry. All guests have to be personally escorted to the 30th floor.” “Look,” I eyed her name plate. “Miss Hamilton is it?” She blushed. “Yes.” “Thank you for being so accommodating. Is there anything I could sign for you, anything you want me to autograph?” “Umm my T-shirt?” she pulled a white T-shirt from underneath her desk and handed it to me. “Okay,” I signed her shirt, and as she admired it I tried again. “So there’s no way I could—” “Nope.”

“Not even if I—” “Nope,” she answered a ringing phone. I gave her a curt goodbye and walked outside. Joan and my driver were waiting across the street, but I didn’t want to give up just yet. I turned around and saw a paint crew walking around the side of the building. I followed them. “Hey you!” a large man called out. “You mind holding the door for us?” “Not at all,” I sprinted ahead of them and held the metal door open. After the last of the men entered, I walked around until I found the service elevator. I punched thirty. When the elevator finally reached the floor, I felt as if I’d landed inside a time capsule. Newspaper clippings, vintage Hollywood posters, movie tickets, and awards covered every inch of the walls. I crept past two huge conference rooms, a kitchen, and found myself in a semi-circle of closed white doors. There was no way to tell which office belonged to whom. I heard footsteps and ran into the kitchen. I slid into what appeared to be a pantry. Why do they need a pantry? When I was certain no one was around, I walked back to where I had been and looked back and forth between the white doors. I suddenly heard another set of footsteps so I headed the other way—down a brightly lit hallway with Hollywood legends painted onto the walls. I turned the corner and saw Melody Carter’s name etched in bright gold letters above a black door. There was no one sitting at the desk to the side of it, so I made my move. I ran my fingers along her name before knocking. “Come in Sophie!” she called. I slipped inside and shut the door. The back of her chair was facing me. She won’t even let her assistant see her face? “Miss Carter? It’s Matt Sterling. We need to talk.” The chair whirled around and there she was. “You’re definitely not fat and ugly,” I took a step back. “Excuse me?” she narrowed her eyes and for a moment I forgot what I was going to say. She was absolutely beautiful. Her red hair fell past her shoulders, her eyes were a soft green, and her lips— “I only meet with talented people Mr. Sterling,” she cut through my thoughts. “How’d you get past security?” “I’m Matt Sterling. People actually know who I am.” “You came here for an ego boost?” she smirked. Oh my god she’s gorgeous…How old is she? “No. I came here to talk about your shitty reviews.” “That correspond with your shitty movies?” “With all due respect, which is none, I don’t appreciate you taking your poor excuse for a life out on me. You trash me in every review and it’d be nice if for once, you said something amicable about homegrown talent.”

“Please don’t use yourself and talent in the same sentence, Mr. Sterling,” she stood up. “It’s an insult to those who actually possess it.” “Ha! I have two other films coming out this—” “I’m sorry to hear that. And I’m sorry if you were offended by my words. If you feel that they are slanderous or emotionally damaging in any way, feel free to voice your concerns to the complaints department on the twentieth floor. There’s also counseling on the seventh floor. Is that all?” “No!” I said louder than I intended to. “Oh?” “I would appreciate an immediate apology…for your erratic and unprofessional review of every film I’ve been in over the past few years. In print. In next week’s paper.” She laughed. “Or else?” “Or else…I don’t have that part figured out yet but—” “Mr. Sterling,” she walked over to the door and opened it. “Let me tell you what I would do if I were you right now. If I were Matt Sterling and I made fifteen million a movie—” “Eighteen, sweetheart.” Is she blushing? “Eighteen million a movie. I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass what someone wrote about me and I would leave Melody Carter’s office before she called security.” “And if I were you,” I knocked a huge vase of Skittles off her desk. “I would spend the rest of my afternoon picking those up.”

Chapter 7 Melody I pulled a mini-vac out of my drawer and began extracting Skittles from the floor. I should have known it wasn’t Sophie. She was still running errands. Why did it feel like Matt Sterling was checking me out? And why did I want him to take his shirt off? I shook away the thought and rolled my eyes. I wished I could rewind our encounter, wished I could have been a little nicer. My sarcasm had never developed an off button, or a filter. This is why no one ever wanted to take you out….besides Sean. I slumped down to the floor and picked through the Skittles, tossing the yellow ones across the room. That was more fun than reading the stack of books I’d been assigned. “Melody?” my sister walked into my office. “I come to bring you lunch and you’re eating Skittles off the floor?” “Matt Sterling knocked them off my desk.” “Matt Sterling?” she gasped. “Matt Sterling was here? Did you see his abs? Did you get his autograph?” “Of course not.” “What was he wearing?” “Really Jen? He was wearing a three piece suit, a regular dark blue suit.” “What about his hair? His eyes? Tell me everything!” Matt Sterling was perfect, undeniably perfect. His dark smoldering eyes nearly pinned me to my seat. His short black hair fell loosely above his eyebrows—a part of me wanted to reach up and run my fingers through it, just to see if it was real. He was much taller than I was—something I didn’t realize until I stood up and opened the door. Although he had been wearing a suit, I could easily envision the chiseled chest that was trapped beneath it. “I wasn’t really paying attention,” I stood up. “He looked like the character he plays in the movies.” “Which character? The cute and charming executive? The I-would-sleep-with-you-in-a-heartbeat over the top sexy one? The hot bad boy with a soft side? The Oh-my-god-he’s-so-sexy-please-keep-your-shirt-off guy? Which one!” All of them… “I guess the charming executive one.” “Well, if he comes again could you get his autograph and maybe take his picture for me?” “I don’t think there’ll be a next time but sure,” I took a white box from her. “Thank you so much for this.” “Not a problem. Remind me, what exactly do you do all day?” “Watch films, read books, edit articles. I’m in charge of a couple projects too.” “And you get paid to do that? I clearly picked the wrong major. Marine Biology? What was I thinking?” “Whatever,” I laughed. “Sean’s mom called me today. She said she’s called you ten times since the wedding.

I honestly felt bad about not returning her calls. I’d always liked her. She was the one who taught me how to dress. I just wasn’t sure how to deal with his side of the family. I wasn’t sure if they cared that I was left at the altar, wasn’t sure if they’d forgotten about me and were now smitten with blonde bitch. “What did she want?” “To check on you, Melody!” she seethed. “She said Sean offered to pay for your new condo but you never responded to his texts.” “And I never plan to. I don’t need his help!” “Suit yourself,” she held up her hands. “You’re more than welcome to stay at my place after you’re done at that fancy hotel. Just don’t bring any suede shoes. Chipper loves to chew on those.” “I’ll keep that in mind,” I looked out my window and changed the subject. The rest of the day was a drag. I couldn’t focus on anything. All I could think about was my failed wedding and my encounter with Matt Sterling. I only read two pages of an assigned book and I didn’t plan on watching any movies. I heard a knock at the door. “Come in Sophie!” If it’s Matt Sterling I’m going to apologize…and kindly ask him to take his shirt off. Sophie entered the room and sat down. “The rest of your things have been placed at Trump SoHo, Miss Carter. Would you still like to meet with the realtor this Sunday?” “Yes please.” “Okay. Your catalog project was approved by the board while you were gone. They expect you to have your team organized by October. And Mr. Maxwell wants your review of Sweet Attraction by this evening.” I sighed. “Take out my 27 Dresses review, change the names of the actors and then take the last paragraph of my Bride Wars review and slap that at the end of it.” “Yes ma’am,” she stood up. “Can I get you something to drink?” “Hot chocolate?” She smiled and walked out. I should’ve been excited about the catalog project. I should’ve been jumping up and down and screaming. But I wasn’t. I was dreading putting together a team, working for months on a documentary detailing the best and worst romantic comedies. I could no longer look at any of them the same: I wanted that car to run over Jennifer Lopez in The Wedding Planner, to prevent her from falling for an engaged doctor. I wanted to repeatedly stab Julia Roberts for deliberately trying to take back her best friend in My Best Friend’s Wedding. I wanted to stone and burn Ginnifer Goodwin in Something Borrowed. My office phone rang. “Miss Carter. Who am I speaking with?” “Get in here,” Mr. Maxwell’s voice was clipped. I smoothed my blouse and walked to his office. Late afternoon meetings with him were almost always about movie premieres and parties—events I always turned down. “Have a seat,” he rubbed his chin. “I remember when you first started here, Melody. You were a freshman

in college then, a mere intern, a nobody. You were as valuable as the girl who got my coffee every morning.” Where is he going with this? He leaned back and continued. “You were young, dumb, and you couldn’t dress to save your life.” “Sir, what does this—” He wagged his finger to silence me. “Today, you’re still young, less dumb, but at least you can dress now…I remember when you became the youngest printed critic, and then the youngest major critic. The thing about you Melody is that you’ve spent all six of your years here trying to outdo everyone else. So, when you start to hand in subpar work, it shocks us all.” “Subpar work?” I murmured. “Channing Tatum is the worst thing to happen to romantic comedies since Matthew McConaughey,” he read a sheet of paper. “It might even be safe to say that the romantic comedy genre has died and been replaced with shirtless psychos batting their eyes at their female costars. Really Melody?” “Okay, that was just one—” “Rachel McAdams plays Lisa, a home-wrecking slut who realizes that she still loves her old college sweetheart. Instead of being her usual likable self and finding a new boyfriend, she is loathsome and downright disgusting as she tries to win back her first love. Do I need to read more?” “No,” I avoided his eyes. “I’m not one to pry into people’s personal lives, but why are you even here? Your fiancé leaves you at the altar and you come back to work weeks later?” “I love my job.” “As admirable as that is, I’m going to have to let you go for a while.” “What are you saying? Are you firing me?” “Of course not,” he laughed. “Are you kidding? You’re our top critic. I’m suspending you.” “What? What does that even mean?” “It means that I’ve known you for six long years, and after I saw you at your wedding…I knew it would be selfish of me or anyone else to expect you back in less than eight weeks.” “You want me to go away for five more weeks?” He smiled. “Yes. And stay away, starting Monday. Go relax, see a therapist, whatever you need to do.” “Who’s going to write the weekend suggestions? Who’s going to write the—” “We’ll keep your name in the byline, but I’m going to let Phil cover for you.” “Phil? Sci-fi Phil?” “The very same.” “Look, I’m sorry about my latest reviews but not having a job for five weeks isn’t going to solve anything for me. Please—” “Melody, you’ll still draw your salary. You need to reflect you know, like a normal person. What happened to the honeymoon if you don’t mind me asking?” “Sean let me keep it.” “Is it an open ticket?”

“Yes.” “So why are you in New York?” “I don’t know…” “Well, I hope you won’t be in New York next week. And since I still have you on my team for a couple more days,” he handed me a pink envelope, “I want you to accompany the rest of the group to a launch party Friday. It’s for Selena Ross’ new perfume.” “Sir, you know I don’t do—” “That wasn’t a request. The town car will pick you up at nine sharp. The theme is A Night at the Oscars,” he waved his hand across the air. “Mr. Maxwell, it’s May. The Oscars were in February.” “Nine sharp Melody,” he shooed me out of his office.

Chapter 8 Matt Was Melody Carter really blushing? Or was she just embarrassed for me? Why am I still thinking about this? I slipped on my shades and stepped out of the car. “Matt Sterling! Matt Sterling! Are you and Selena working on a pre-nup? Is she pregnant? Are you secretly gay? How long do you think you two will last? When is the wedding?” the paparazzi shouted as I walked towards Trump SoHo. “Matt! Turn and look at us will ya? Have you met her parents? How’s the sex? Do you have plans for the honeymoon? Do you think she’s having an affair with Bradley Cooper? Where’s Selena right now? Are you sleeping with Emma Stone? Take off your shirt!” I took off my shades once I entered the building. I followed my small entourage to the elevators and waited until the doors closed. “I thought I said I wanted to keep this location private Joan!” I snapped. “I’m sorry sir. I didn’t notify anyone but Miss Ross.” Ugh, Selena! “Well, next time just give me a heads up if Selena is notified of anything.” “Yes sir,” she looked upset. The doors opened and we waited for a man to unlock the door of a penthouse suite. Security entered the room first. Once they gave the all-clear, my stylist searched for an electrical outlet and Joan instructed for me to sit by the window. “The interviewer was specifically told not to ask any questions about Miss Ross. I told her to stick to questions regarding your films and philanthropy,” Joan said. “Would you like some water before I let her in?” “A glass of wine.” Joan disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a glass of red wine. She brushed a lint roller across my shoulders and snapped her fingers at the stylist. “He doesn’t like his hair this way when he wears open collars,” she said. “Can you add a little bit more volume up top?” The stylist rushed over and played in my hair. She and Joan went back and forth a couple of times before deciding it was perfect. “You can let her in,” Joan nodded at security. A red-haired woman came in and smiled warmly at Joan and I. “Good afternoon, I’m Miss Turner. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Sterling.” “Pleasure’s all mine Miss Turner,” I reached out and shook her hand. “As you know, I’m with Instyle magazine,” she took a seat and tapped her recorder. “And I’m here to find out more about your charities.”

I wonder if Melody Carter is a natural redhead… “Ask away Miss Turner.” “How involved are you with your dance school here in New York?” How many times have I answered this question? How many different ways can the same question be answered? Ugh. I really should give Joan “the look” and have this woman escorted out of the room. Nonetheless, every publication has a different spin I guess... “I’m very involved. I attend all of the recitals and drop in to see the rehearsals from time to time. I also donate two million a year to better the facility.” “I see. And what about—” “Sir! Miss Ross is causing a commotion outside the door,” one of the security guards bellowed. “Should we let her in?” No! “Yes,” I plastered a smile on my face and kept my eyes on Miss Turner. “Finish your question please.” “What about the scholarships? Is it true that you give each graduate a $75,000 scholarship for college?” “Yes. I’ve partnered with a group of sponsors to ensure that students have post graduate assistance throughout their college careers.” “And if they choose not to go to college?” “They are made to submit a four year plan to the board, and we award them an amount that we see fit.” “Okay, now how do—” “Good afternoon baby,” Selena sat in my lap and pressed her lips against mine. “Selena,” I reluctantly kissed her back. “I’m Selena Ross,” she held her hand out to Miss Turner. “I’m Miss Turner,” she smiled, and I could almost see the wheels turning in her head. “Miss Turner, would you excuse me and my fiancé for about twenty minutes? I’m sorry to interrupt your interview but this is very important.” “Not a problem at all,” she quickly grabbed her recorder and left the room. “Joan,” Selena frowned. “I’ll come out when I’m done here.” Joan looked at me and turned away. She helped the stylist gather her things and signaled for security to leave. “What the hell was that?” I yelled. “Whoa. Calm down,” she eased out of my lap. “I’ve got some great news! Aren’t you going to ask me what the great news is?” You asked for this… “Aren’t you going to tell me anyway?” “Duh! Tomorrow, you and I are going to do an exclusive interview with Ryan Seacrest on E! They’re doing a special taping here in New York!” “Yay,” I said dryly. “Oh come on. Don’t be like that. You said you’d do this for two more months.”

“Yeah, but I get the feeling you’re going to try to push me further than that.” “Of course I will,” she bit her lip. “I’m always going to push you to go further with me…” Is she trying to have sex with me right now? “I have an interview to finish,” I stood up and walked to the door. “So we’re not going to have sex anymore?” “No. That’ll make it that much easier to drop this act two months from now.” She crossed her arms. “I read that you’re having an affair with Emma Stone. Is that true?” “What? No. I barely speak to her between takes. Are you sleeping with Bradley Cooper?” “No, not currently. We did do it once, but—” “Just go Selena,” I shook my head in exasperation. “I’m sorry…Are you still coming to my launch party tonight?” “Sure. Whatever.” She planted a kiss on my neck before I opened the door. She winked at me and walked out as Joan and security re-entered the room. “Where’s Miss Turner?” I asked. “I told Miss Turner we would continue the interview later. You have two free hours tomorrow so we’ll do it across town, perhaps at your dance school?” “You’re the best, Joan.” She gave me a sympathetic smile. “The boys and I are going downstairs to speak to the general manager. We’re going to get you out of here as quietly as possible.” “Don’t worry about that. I don’t mind now.” “Okay well, we’ll go retrieve the car. Do you want one of the boys to stay here with you?” “I’ll be okay. Thanks.” She shrugged and they all left the room. I walked around the suite and turned on the TV. Nothing was on except celebrity news and I did my best to avoid those types of shows. I refused to believe I was the only celebrity involved in a pseudorelationship and it didn’t make sense to watch anyone else’s staged for TV romance. I decided to get some fresh air. I stood in front of the elevator and waited. As the doors opened, I collided with a woman and a crate of papers. “I’m so sorry,” we said in unison. We both bent down to scoop up the folders. When I stood up, Melody Carter was facing me. “Oh. It’s you,” I purposely dropped the folders to the ground. “You’re more mature in person than you are in your movies, Mr. Sterling,” she bent down to pick them up. Get down there and help her! Before I could help, she’d collected the folders and was staring at me. I stared back. We stood staring at each other for a few more seconds before she broke the silence. “Weren’t you going to use the elevator?”

She’s definitely blushing! “I was until some lady tripped over herself and dropped her folders,” I pressed the down button. “I seem to have that effect on all women though.” “That sounded halfway convincing, like you actually believed what you were saying. You should try more of that when you’re on set,” she rolled her eyes and turned away. Say something! Say anything! “Maybe you could teach me?” the elevator doors sprung open. She turned around. “In your dreams, Matt Sterling.” If only you knew.

Chapter 9 Melody I pressed the gray button on the remote and watched the curtains draw back. I walked around my suite for what must have been the hundredth time, running my fingers along the Fendi furniture and lush linens. I wanted to live there, to forget about shopping for a condo of my own. Then again, the elaborate design of the room was beginning to anger me. Everything from the selection of books on the shelf, to the grooves of the soap dishes, seemed planned—like every single detail was fretted over and calculated. Like Sean. I contemplated playing sick to avoid going out. I hated going to parties, especially launch parties. The debut product was the topic of discussion for all of five minutes, and the remaining hours were dedicated to watching snobby people interact with other snobby people. The press always did their best to create massive stories out of the smallest moments: “Tom Cruise danced with Mariah Carey!” “Brad Pitt drank two cocktails!” And the rest of the partygoers took advantage of the necessary open bar. I flipped open my invitation card and read the description: “You are cordially invited to join Miss Selena Ross and her newest fragrance Forever Young at the renowned Roseland Ballroom. Bask in the splendor of the softest floral notes. Escape to your earliest memories. Live like you’ve never lived before. Be bold. Be fearless. Be Forever Young.” Selena Ross’ new perfume was supposedly all the rage. Our team had reviewed it and given it an A rating. I was pretty sure Selena had absolutely nothing to do with the scent’s production, but I’d watched an interview where she gushed over how she “personally mixed the wonderful and sultry floral notes.” I assumed Matt Sterling would be at the party, and after one too many encounters, I was determined to avoid him at all costs. I tried on the dress I would’ve worn at my wedding reception: a short and backless satin dress with a pleated waist and spiral organza waves. I put on a couple of sparkling bangles and the Breakfast at Tiffany’s necklace. I strapped on my silver five inch Jimmy Choos and looked in the mirror. Sean would’ve loved this… I held up my left hand and stared at my engagement ring. It was still beautiful, still a reminder of how much I thought he loved me. I was slowly starting to accept that Sean’s love was past tense. He was never coming back for me. He had someone else. I carefully twisted the ring off my finger and placed it on the dresser. I eyed myself in the mirror again and picked at my hair. It was red how I liked it, but it still wasn’t me. If I was going to go to some lame party, I figured I might as well look my best. I took off the dress and accessories and placed them in my bag. I called down to the hair salon and told them it was an emergency.

It was 8:55 when the stylist finished my hair and makeup. I threw on my clothes in the salon’s back office and rushed outside to meet the town car. I asked the driver to drop me off a couple feet past the front entrance so I could slip past the red carpet and paparazzi. I was sure no one knew who the hell I was, but I didn’t want to be background matter in any celebrity’s photos. The doorman looked me up and down as I approached. “G-G-Good evening,” he stuttered. “Forgive me for asking but what’s your name Miss?” “Melody Carter,” I handed him my invitation. “I’m so sorry for asking. I’m new. I didn’t get a chance to memorize all the pictures yet. Enjoy your night, Miss Carter.” Why is he apologizing to me like I’m a celebrity? “Thank you,” I gave him a fake smile and walked inside to a packed hallway. Stars from every entertainment realm were standing around and posing for pictures—a reminder of why I never came out to these types of things. I pushed past Rihanna and Mila Kunis and made my way to the ladies room. While I stood in line waiting to check myself in a mirror, I noticed nearly every passerby was giving me the once over. What is it? Why do these people keep staring at me? When I finally got my chance to stand in front of the mirror, I saw why: I did look like a celebrity. The stylist had done my hair and make-up to absolute perfection. I barely recognized myself. My cheeks were blushed pink and my lips were painted in a vibrant red. My hair was styled in a sleek and detailed French bun with glittering hair pins. I closed one of my eyes to see where she’d placed dark dramatic eye shadow and thick faux lashes. Wow…Too bad I’m leaving in thirty minutes… I pushed past more celebrities and made my way into the ballroom. I couldn’t help but to be in awe as I wandered around. Everything was bathed in white: long airy drapes fell from the ceiling to the floor, tables sat in silk with ornate crystal centerpieces, and several marble fountains spouted sparkling water. Waiters wearing black tuxedos held platters of wine and h’ordeuvres high above their shoulders. Silver framed photographs of Selena’s Forever Young perfume stood on tall platforms, shiny chandeliers shimmered against the bare ceiling, and waist high candles illuminated the stage near the back of the room. I stood by one of the fountains, running my fingertips across the cool marble, and felt someone watching me. I slowly turned around. Matt Sterling? Matt Sterling is staring at me! I moved across the room and found my coworkers. As I approached them, they mumbled variations of “Hey” and “How are you?” They were too involved in their own conversation to ask me much else. I tried saying “Oh really?” and “Yeah” every few seconds to seem like I was a part of their group, but it was no use. I was invisible to them. Though none of them ever admitted it, they weren’t too fond of me. According to what Sophie had once overheard, they felt that even though I was good writer, I was too young to be such a lauded critic. “Having trouble finding someone talented to talk to?” a deep voice said from behind.

“Clearly,” I turned around and was face to face with Matt Sterling. He smiled his infectious smile and I nearly melted. The top buttons of his white shirt were undone, his hair was combed away from his face, and he was wearing a light stubble. Definitely the “I would sleep with you in a heartbeat sexy” character… “What brings you out tonight, Miss Carter?” “I was forced,” I felt myself staring at him and looked away. “Well, I’m glad you were forced. Can I get you a drink?” Did he just say he was “glad” I was here? “Cranberry juice.” “Just cranberry juice? No wine?” “I’m not much of a drinker,” I lied. He nodded and walked away. Okay, time to go! I pushed my way through the crowd, stopping every ten seconds to wait for someone to have a picture taken, and headed for the exit. “Melody?” Mr. Maxwell grabbed my shoulder. “Wow! You look beyond exceptional tonight! Don’t you feel better being out of the house?” Ecstatic. “Sure,” I forced a smile. “I’m having the time of my life.” “Come, take a picture with the rest of your friends.” He led me over to a group of my coworkers, the same group that ignored me minutes ago. I stood off to the side of the group, but he pushed me to the front. “Everyone smile!” the photographer yelled. I put on my best smile and held it for ten blinding snaps. “I’m running to the ladies room, Mr. Maxwell. I’ll be right back.” “We’ll be on the dance floor!” he shouted. “I’ll save you one!” I continued to stroll towards the exit, becoming increasingly irritated at the tipsy celebrities who were moving at a glacial pace. “Here’s your cranberry juice,” Matt Sterling stepped in front of me. “Thank you,” I took a sip. “This isn’t cranberry juice, Mr. Sterling.” “Call me Matt please. The waiter left to get more. I thought I saw you leaving so I figured I’d get you grape juice for now.” “How kind of you…” “Are you staying at the Trump SoHo?” “Why? Do you have the urge to throw Skittles into my room?” “Are you always this uptight?” he looked into my eyes. “Are you always this annoying?” “Annoying? How? By offering to get you a drink and making conversation?”

“By getting in my way of leaving.” We stared at each other, just as we had earlier. I felt my heart skip a beat and couldn’t get my mouth to say another word. His smoldering eyes were burning into mine and I couldn’t look away. “I’m sorry for the Skittles stunt the other day,” he suddenly looked sincere. “And the folders too.” “It’s okay. Celebrities rule the world, I just live in it.” “Can I make it up to you?” “What?” “Can I make it up to you? Like, can I take you out for cranberry juice sometime?” Say yes! Say yes! “No,” I looked down at the floor. “I don’t think that would be appropriate.” “My apologies. Are you seeing someone?” “Even though that’s none of your business, you’re the one that’s engaged Matt. I don’t think Selena Ross would approve.” He ran his hand through his hair. “I’m just engaged. I’m not really married.” Not really married? Not really married! Is that what Sean was thinking? Is that how he justified cheating on me? “Just engaged. Not really married.” I handed him my glass. “Have a great evening, Mr. Sterling.” I practically ran out of the ballroom, stifling sobs. Mr. Maxwell was right. I needed to get away. On Sunday, the realtor showed me properties on the Upper West Side—large scale condos with walls of windows and high vaulted ceilings. Each one came with a fantastic view of the city and each one cost at least one million dollars, one million dollars that I didn’t have. On Seventh Avenue, she led me to a top floor apartment and was kind enough to ignore my sporadic tears. I could never afford any of this…unless I returned my engagement ring... “Over here is the master bedroom,” she ushered me into an immense room with hardwood floors. “The French doors to the master bath were hand-carved, as were the bookshelves on the east wall.” “Is that a balcony?” I walked over to the wall of windows. “Yes,” she took out a key and unlocked a door. “It seats about ten people. However, this is the only unit in this building with this particular type of balcony.” “How much is this one?” “This one is over the price range you gave me. It’s about two million before HOA fees and taxes. We could try to get the price down a bit, but since they added that lake-inspired spa I’m not sure if—” “Where’s the spa?” “Right this way,” she led me through a long white corridor and down a short flight of steps. She hit a series of buttons and clapped her hands. “Wow,” was all I could say as the room began to glow. Dark brown flagstone and reed grass surrounded a large oval pool. Small waves rippled across the pool’s surface and a small cascade waterfall emitted a soft shushing sound. A Jacuzzi stood in the corner,

softly hissing and foaming. The glass walls that encased the room depicted a variety of trees—pine, maple, elm, and hickory—and a small hearth provided the room’s warmth. There was a sauna to my right, built with a combination of slate and travertine tiles. “You can change the temperature of the room as well as the pool by voice control or remote,” she said. “There’s also an antique tub behind the glass walls. It’s accessible by remote too.” I took off my shoe and dipped my toe into the pool, causing a soft yellow light to appear on its surface. “Ah yes,” she fidgeted with the remote. “The pool has a motion sensor. It can light in yellow, orange, red, or white.” I removed my toe and smiled. “I’ll take this one.” “Are you sure? I have three more properties in your price range that you might be interested in. Their spas are significantly smaller but—” “I’m sure,” I put my shoe back on. “How long will it take to get through closing?” “Well, that all depends. Are we offering them under the asking price or are we—” “The full asking price.” “Well, I’ll file the paperwork this afternoon and I’ll be in touch with you by the end of the day.” Hoping that Sean was still predictable and didn’t work on Sundays, I walked into Belazi with my engagement ring safely tucked in my purse. A salesman opened the door and tilted his head to the side. I remembered him, Taylor. He was the first employee Sean hired. “Hello. My name’s Melody Carter and I would like to return a ring. It wasn’t worn that long…” “Nice to meet you,” he smiled. He knew exactly who I was, and was too respectful to mention the fact. I handed him the ring and he inspected it underneath a lit mirror for several minutes. He took off his glasses. “You sure you don’t want to keep it? It’s a very intricate ring.” “Intricate? It’s a four carat diamond with rubies.” “No, it’s more than that. Look here,” he beckoned me over to the light. “Look at what’s in between the rubies. Do you see those small pink stones?” “They’re just light red rubies, right? “Those aren’t rubies at all. They’re sapphire, a very rare sapphire. This prong setting for the diamond had to take at least three months to perfect. I’ve never seen one done like this before. Of course, the diamond itself is beyond incredible. Then look here, on the inside of the band.” I held the ring to the light and squinted. “Love lives here” was etched in cursive. I never even thought to look there. Sean had told me over and over how he designed it to be special, but I thought four carats and “rubies” were special enough. “I don’t want to keep it,” I set the ring down. “I’m sure.” “Okay well, I’m sure I can make an exception to our return policy for you. I can offer you three and half million dollars.”

I felt my eyes widen and followed him into the back office. “Mr. Scofield told me to give this to you,” he handed me an envelope. “He knows I’m here?” “No. He’s been expecting you to return the ring, Miss Carter. Told us all to keep a heads up and to give you a fair price for it. He didn’t tell us anything about the ring itself though.” “Oh,” I stuffed the envelope into my purse. I sat on a sofa as he typed numbers into a computer and asked me questions. As he typed, memories of Sean flooded my brain. I could see everything clearly, as if the scenes were playing right in front of me: How I picked Belazi’s wall color, convinced him to go for a rustic brown instead of an antique green. How we had sex on top of the jewelry cases before opening day. How he always let me see his newest creations weeks before revealing them to his staff. “It’s been deposited into your account, Miss Carter.” Taylor smiled. “But it won’t be accessible for the next seven business days. I’ll need you to sign this receipt of return.” “Thank you Taylor,” I quickly signed the paper and left Belazi for what I hoped would be the last time. “I’ll let the realtor know when she can pick up the check,” Sophie handed me my suitcase. “And I’ll be sure to document its release.” “You know you don’t have to do anything for me. I’m technically not your boss for the next five weeks.” She smiled. “I know, but I’ll do it anyway. I’ll send emails to your Gmail account regarding any updates. Do I have permission to move your things from Trump SoHo and use your signature stamp on the prepurchase documents?” “Of course.” “Great. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.” I nodded as she shut the door to my cab. “Where to Miss?” the cab driver beamed. “La Guardia airport please.” “Right away,” he pulled off and looked at me through the rearview mirror. “Going anywhere exciting?” “St. Barts.”

Chapter 10 Matt “Matt! Matt! Baby?” Selena draped her arms around my shoulders and smiled. “What are you doing over here?” Getting away from you. “I just saw someone I knew and wanted to say hi,” I pulled her closer for a picture. “Oh! Well, would you mind coming back over to the promo circle? I think we should get some shots of you smelling the fragrance with me.” I let her go and followed her across the room. A part of me wanted to go after Melody Carter, but she seemed to be offended by something I said. What the hell did I say? Most of the launch party went by in a blur—I drank a glass of wine whenever a waiter brought me one, but taking fake “we’re in love” pictures with Selena seemed to go by in slow motion. When I wasn’t by Selena’s side, Shelby was pushing me in front of microphones, telling me to give short impromptu interviews about upcoming projects. By the time the party was over, I was dozing off in Selena’s limousine. “Matt! We’re back at your place,” Selena shook me awake. “Did you want me to come in with you tonight?” “He doesn’t,” Joan unbuckled my seat belt and stepped out of the car. “He told me to say that if you asked.” Selena and Joan scowled at one another as I took my time getting out. “No, I’m okay. Thanks though,” I kissed Selena on her cheek and closed the door. As soon as the car pulled off, I bent over and puked. Joan helped me to walk straight and stopped every few feet to let me vomit. “I’ll have maintenance clean this up before morning sir.” “You don’t have to call me sir anymore, Joan. What have we known each other for? Three years?” “Four years sir.” “Stop with the sirssss,” I vomited on the steps. “I’m okay. I’m okay. I gotta ask you something Joan.” “Yes?” “Do you think Selena and I…Well, I know you know what Selena and I are…Do you think we’ll last a long time? Do you think one day I’ll wake up and like her again? Do you think what we’re doing is wrong?” “Sir, I—” “We’re off the record, Joan. Don’t call me sir. Call me Matt.” “Well Matt, with all due respect, you don’t pay me enough for psychiatric analyses. And even if you did, neither of us would be alive long enough to go through everything that’s wrong with your situation.” “We are so on the record for forever Joan! For forever!”

I tripped over my shoes and let out more bile. “Come on Mr. Sterling,” Joan patted my back and led me to a trash can. When she was sure I was done coughing up my insides, she led me to the elevators and up to my room. She pulled my sheets back and took off my shoes. I rolled over and grabbed my phone. “I’m going to call People Magazine…Tell them that—” “I’m taking your phone so you won’t do something stupid,” Joan sighed. “I’ll return it tomorrow morning. We’ll need to be up by nine to prepare for the Ryan Seacrest interview.” “What do you think about Mel-Melody Carter? She looked really good tonight. Do you think it’s just a crush? Do you think she would go out with me?” She pulled the sheets over my head. “Goodnight sir.” “You’re my only friend Joan,” I sighed before everything went black. As usual, Joan had my favorite breakfast delivered and hung my outfit for the Ryan Seacrest interview on my bathroom door. “All of Mr. Seacrest’s questions look pretty straightforward sir,” Joan entered my room and handed me two Tylenol. “Are there any topics you do not wish to discuss?” I shook my head. My head was still throbbing from last night and I wanted to get the interview over with as soon as possible. “Okay great. After the interview, you’ll have two free hours before we have to head to your dance school.” “There’s a recital today?” “No sir. You’re finishing up your Instyle interview.” “I meant what I said about the ‘sir’ thing, Joan. It makes it seem like we’re not cool when you do that…Is there any way we could do the Instyle thing right after Seacrest? Like, in the same area?” “I’ll see what I can do,” she took out her phone and headed for the door. “Wait, Joan. I wanted to let you know that I’m sorry about last night. I was really unprofessional and—” “That was actually one of your better nights,” she smiled and walked away. I laughed and tossed back the Tylenol. Ryan Seacrest was sitting on the famous red interview couch when Selena and I arrived to the set. “Matt Sterling! Selena Ross!” he stood up. “Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you both.” “Anything for Mr. Seacrest,” Selena gave him a hug. “Any time Ryan,” I shook his hand. “Go ahead and take your seats Mr. and Mrs. Sterling,” a producer walked on set and began ordering people around. “Do either of you need anything to drink before we begin?” “A water for us both please,” Selena put her hand on my lap.

Think of the exposure…Think of the exposure… “And we’re live in 5…4…3...2,” a producer tapped on her headphones and stepped off the stage. “Good afternoon and welcome to E News!” Ryan smiled. “Today is the first day of our New York City special and we have a treat for all of you watching at home! Newly engaged Hollywood stars Selena Ross and Matt Sterling are here in our studio and are doing their first joint interview live!” The cameras panned over to the two of us. Selena held my hand and leaned closer. “Let’s start with you, Selena. What was going through your mind when Matt proposed?” She laughed. “I was just like, Wow, you know? I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea he was going to propose or was even thinking about marriage. Like, we’ve been dating for two years and I knew we were in love but…It was just such a surprise. I still can’t believe it.” She’s definitely going to get an Oscar before me... “What about you Matt?” Ryan looked at me. “When did you know Selena was the one?” She’s not! “The day we first met. There was just something about her. I couldn’t get her out of my mind,” I clenched every muscle to avoid rolling my eyes. “Where did you first meet?” I took a sip of water. “We met at a coffee house in Tribeca. We were both hiding out from the press.” Selena laughed. “Back when that was a lot easier!” “Yes. It was a lot calmer then,” I agreed. “But now that you guys are such, excuse my corniness, box office magnets, do you feel like you have to actually schedule private time? Like, with cameras everywhere you go, do you have to coordinate a secret getaway?” Like she would allow that… “Of course,” Selena nodded. “A lot of times we’ll eat dinner at home to avoid having our pictures taken. And actually, last month, we literally had to get a security team together so we could get away for a weekend.” “I see. Selena, you’ve landed the starring role in the newest Spielberg film. Do you all have plans to get married before that begins filming?” “Well, filming doesn’t begin until spring next year so you’ll have to ask Matt,” she looked at me. “I’m letting him handle that.” “You’re letting the groom handle the wedding planning?” Ryan raised his eyebrow. “That’s a first!” “No, no, not the whole wedding,” she laughed. “He’s responsible for the date and the location. I figured that since he’s actually from New York and knows a lot more about the city than I do, those things would be better left up to him.” “Oh, I get it!” Ryan looked at me. “Have you thought of any locations Matt?” The seventh circle of hell. “I considered Central Park, but I don’t want to have to deal with extra security. So, I’m thinking somewhere indoors. It’ll be a surprise for her.” “You guys are adorable,” he said. “Tell me about this big announcement you guys wanted to share with us.”

Big announcement? “We are expecting a new addition!” Selena rubbed her stomach. “We wanted to let everyone know before the tabloids got a hold of it.” WHAT THE FUCK? Stay cool. Stay calm. It’s almost over… “That’s amazing! Matt, do you have any preference? Boy or girl?” “Just…a healthy baby,” I barely managed. “Congratulations to you both!” he looked excited. “We’ll be right back for more with Selena Ross and Matt Sterling!” “Two minutes ‘til we’re live again!” a producer shouted. Hair and makeup rushed over to Selena and me, touching up our faces. A couple of cameramen shook my hand and wished me well with the baby. I couldn’t nod my head in thanks. I couldn’t even speak. “And we’re going live in 5…4…3…2,” the producer snapped her fingers and the set fell quiet. “We’re back with Selena Ross and Matt Sterling. They’ve just announced that they are expecting a baby! Selena, it seems like you’re having the best month ever. You’re newly engaged, pregnant, and you’ve landed the role of a lifetime. Are you feeling overwhelmed at all?” “A little bit, Ryan. It’s like I’ve dreamed of getting married and having kids for forever, so to finally have that, it’s just, I can’t even put it into words.” “I can imagine. Matt, are you overwhelmed as well? You have two more projects coming out this year and studios are practically breaking down your door to get you in their films.” “I am utterly speechless, Ryan.” Ryan laughed. “I bet! I know you guys can’t stay much longer, so we at E sincerely wish you the absolute best for your careers and the new baby.” “Thank you so much for having us!” Selena kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks man,” I shook his hand. “Now, live in the studio is Giuliana Rancic with celebrity news updates!” The cameras panned over to another set and I tore out my earpiece. Ryan congratulated us both again and I stormed to the elevator, ignoring my security detail. “Matt! Wait!” Selena squeezed in before the doors could close. “Please tell me you’re not really pregnant!” I tried not to scream. “Of course I’m not pregnant. Ratings, remember?” I glared at her. “Do you have a soul? A conscience? Anything that would make me believe you’re a human being and not some crazy press-driven psycho?” “Matt,” she grabbed my hand. “You’ll thank me for this one day.” “I’m pretty sure I won’t,” I jerked my hand away. “How are we going to have a fake baby?” “I’m going to have a miscarriage a couple months from now. After you dump me I’ll be in so much grief that I go into a deep depression and lose the thing. Boo hoo hoo, poor Selena. Lost baby equals even more press.” “Joan!” I stepped off the elevator. “Joan! Where are you?”

“Yes?” she was right beside me. “Is the Instyle lady here?” “Yes. She’s across the street already.” “Great,” I rushed outside with Selena running behind me. “Matt! Matt! Stop!” I stopped once I noticed a pack of paparazzi heading our way. “I’m so sorry, Matt. I should’ve asked you about the baby thing first.” “Shhh,” I pulled her close and kissed her, pretending she was Melody Carter. “You sure you don’t want me to catch a cab back home?” Selena twisted the strands of her hair. “Get in the car Selena. I would never make a pregnant woman catch a cab.” She smiled and scooted next to me. “Aw! You’re the best! And you know what we can do while we’re here together?” “What?” “We can go over some of these launch party photos Stan emailed to me. I’m only putting up the ones of the beautiful people though. If I put up ugly people, my fans will associate that with my perfume and my perfume is not for ugly people.” “No dear, you’re not shallow at all,” I sighed. She leaned on me and clicked through the pictures on her phone. There were so many—directors, actors and actresses, dreamers. In every photo of the two of us, we looked like such a happy couple. “Wait. I think that’s Melody Carter,” I leaned in closer to make sure. “Who?” “She’s some film critic at The New York Appeal,” I tried to sound nonchalant. I hadn’t forgotten how sexy she looked that night, how I literally had to calm my nerves before approaching her. I’ve got to see her again… “Oh. Well, she’s adorable! A film critic who can actually dress? Who’d have thought? But she’s a nobody so, moving on!” I didn’t pay attention to the rest of the photos. I couldn’t think about anything besides Melody Carter and that was beginning to scare me. The last time I thought about a woman that much and actually pursued it, she turned into a fame hungry monster. “I’ll see you Thursday?” Selena slid her shades on. “What’s Thursday?” “Joan, could you please earn your unnecessary paycheck?” she blew a kiss at me as the driver shut the door. “What’s she talking about Joan?” “Thursday is your engagement party. You told me not to mention it until the day before.” “Exactly. What else do I have to do today?”

“Just dinner with the sweepstakes finalists at seven. Do I need to cancel?” “No, not at all. I’ve got plenty of time,” I lay back in my seat. “Driver, could we swing by The New York Appeal?” “Yes sir. Thirty minutes.” “She’s not there,” Joan flipped a page in her book. “What’s that Joan?” “Miss Carter. She’s on vacation in St. Barts.” “How do you—” “I went to college with her assistant. That’s as much as I could get out of her though.” “How much do I pay you?” “Not enough,” she grinned.

Chapter 11 Melody “I’m never going to finish my thesis,” Jennifer closed the door to our balcony. “This place is awesome!” We were staying in a private villa that overlooked the ocean. Our place had two separate bathroom suites and a private pool with two tiers. There was a large lounge area on our rooftop and we had unlimited access to a five star spa. Since we were on the secluded part of the island, we had our own personal staff to attend to our every need. “What happens if you don’t finish it?” I slipped into my bikini. “I’ll never get my degree and I’ll try to be a food critic I guess,” she shrugged. “You want to go for a swim?” “Yeah, but I need to read at least twenty chapters of research while we’re here so…I’m going to read three right now.” “Okay cool. I’ll come back for you in what, two hours?” “Sounds great!” she pulled a book out of her bag and flopped onto the bed. I grabbed my purse and blanket and headed down to the shore. I was proud of myself for making use of the vacation. Even though I cried during our first tour of the island, I was happy to be close to my true love: the ocean. The ocean always made me feel at peace, like all of my problems were insignificant. Every time I felt its waves crashing over me, I felt as if my worries were going along with them. I still hadn’t opened the envelope from Sean, and I really wanted to toss it into the ocean fully sealed. Yet, I suddenly became curious. I lay back on my blanket and tore the flap. Dear Melody, Please believe me when I say that I am sorry, truly and ashamedly sorry. I never had any intention of hurting you or leaving you at the altar. You were always the woman I wanted to marry, the woman I wanted to grow old with. I know there’s no point in rehashing old memories or former intents, so I’ll just be honest. When you moved into my condo two months ago, I was extremely excited—about our upcoming wedding, our upcoming honeymoon, and of course our upcoming life together. I’d wanted to make you mine for the past two years and I was glad we were both in positions that finally made that possible. I thought you and I were on the same page about our future, that we shared the same ideals, but one night you mentioned children. And then you mentioned something about turning your office into a nursery. You mentioned abandoning the city life in a couple of years, exchanging it for a life of peace and serenity in the suburbs. I must admit now that I never wanted, nor do I want now, any of those things. I pretended that I did in conversations with you, but in my mind I was confused and agitated. I know now that I should have talked with you about these issues, but I didn’t want to start a fight, hurt your feelings, or have you leave me…

One evening in March, I was at work helping a woman find an appropriate charm for a bracelet her boyfriend gave her. For whatever reason, she opened up to me—telling me how she’d spent the past five years in a relationship that only made him happy. They were perfect together at one point, but their goals and ideas about the future were too different. She knew that she would have to end it soon because the only charm she could think to add was a trash bin, a sign of wasted time. She cried and I offered to take her out for a drink. (I even called and invited you to join us, but you were still working on the “L-Haute” project) She and I spoke for about two hours and I paid for her cab ride home. She came back to Belazi the next day and we went out again…and again…On some days, I didn’t go to work at all. I went straight to her place and we continued talking for two months, realizing that we were both in similar situations. I made the mistake of sleeping with her three days before our wedding, a mistake I will always regret. I should have been honest with you. I should have called off the wedding the very next day, but I couldn’t… You were so happy, so obliviously happy, and I still loved you (and I always will). I was going to go through with the wedding and the honeymoon and act like Emily never happened, like it was just a blip on an otherwise clean slate. Standing there at the altar with you, I almost thought that was possible…until Emily showed up. Even though we’d only known each other for two months, I knew without a doubt that I was in love with her. I believe that you deserve better, Melody. You deserve to be with someone who will share the same ideals you have about your future, someone who won’t lie to your face, someone who won’t knowingly hurt and abandon you. I wanted to be honest because I owe that to you and so much more. You are the reason Belazi was possible. You were the only person who believed in my designer dreams and wasn’t persuading me to stay within my family’s realm of law school. You are the ultimate reason why I am who I am, and I would still do anything for you. I know that you are still very angry with me and that you may never speak to me again, but I want you to know that I’ll always love you. And if you ever need anything (anything, Melody…) I will bend over backwards to make sure that you have it. Sincerely, Sean I rolled over onto the sand, crying. My tears were falling fast, my sobs were irrepressible. All this time I thought he and I shared the same dreams. All. this. time. The only thing I wanted was him, not something he could “bend over backwards” and purchase. I knew he cheated on me, that he slept with blonde bitch before our wedding, but three days before? Maybe seeing it in writing, knowing that it was he who was telling me, made it even worse. I ran through memory after memory: I remembered him mentioning “Emily” to me as an “upset customer,” asking me to join them for dinner. I had no reason to be suspicious, he took clients out to dinner all the time and he always invited me. I remembered mentioning the nursery to him. He smiled and kissed me on the forehead. He even asked me what color I would paint the room: pastel yellow. I remembered the weeks leading up the wedding, the weeks I was “so obliviously happy,” and he was

happier than I’d ever seen him. I remembered my wedding day, being elated one second and disheartened the very next. The sand was beginning to irritate my skin, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t believe what I had just read. I was having trouble discerning fiction from reality. I’m dreaming…I’m on my honeymoon and Sean is back in the suite…I came out here for a walk and fell…I’m just dreaming. “Melody!” Jen’s voice forced me to see the truth. “Melody! What the hell are you doing?” “I’m just…I’m just,” I continued sobbing. She sat down next to me and brushed hair away from my face. “Shhh,” she said. “You’ve been out here for a long time. I was really worried.” “He…He wrote me a,” I handed her the letter. I watched her eyes dart back and forth, watched her face turn red, and watched her stand up and walk to the ocean. “No Jen! No!” I jumped up and ran towards her. “You’re planning to hold onto this?” “Yes, I want to—” “You want to what? You came here to get away from everything, to continue getting over him! But now you want to cry and hold on to this?” “Jen, please—” “I didn’t agree to come here to watch you slip into a depression, Melody! You’re better than that!” she handed me the letter. “I’m going to sit right over there. Don’t talk to me until you’ve done what needs to be done to that piece of crap.” Piece of crap? Jennifer rolled her eyes and sat on a rock. I read the letter three more times, absorbing every word. I folded it in two, but then I unfolded it and read it once more. The words never changed, and the hurt never lessened. I was stuck on the part about, “I know now that I should have talked with you about these issues, but I didn’t want to start a fight, hurt your feelings, or have you leave me…” I found it funny that he said he knew “now.” Did he and blonde bitch sit and discuss how wrong they both were? How they could have caused less pain to the people in their lives? He knew “now” how to be an adult and address conflict with someone he loved? Yes. Piece of crap. I stepped closer to the shore, shutting my eyes as the wind blew over me. I walked into the ocean until the water was up to my waist. I ripped the letter to pieces and sighed as a small wave carried them away.

Chapter 12 Matt “We really need to leave now,” Joan tapped her foot. I ignored her and kept looking out my window. I was dreading another display of being “engaged” to Selena. Our engagement party was being catered by renowned chef Eric Ripert and decorated by the incomparable Kari Whitman. Tons of fellow celebrities were expected to be in attendance. Even my mother was in town to celebrate. I didn’t have the heart to tell my mother I was pseudo-engaged. She’d called me last week while she was at the supermarket, berating me for letting Us Weekly tell her about her own son’s engagement. I wanted to tell her the truth at that moment, to apologize for not speaking to her for the past two years, to ask if we could let bygones be bygones and reconnect again. But she did it first. She blamed herself for everything—for not calling as often, for not showing up to movie premieres, for not writing anymore letters. I sat and listened as she did this, wishing I could have been just as honest. I should have told her that I couldn’t blame her for not calling so often. I’d told Joan to block her calls when she started to incessantly warn me about “the high life.” I stopped inviting her to movie premieres, even telling security to show her the curb should she turn up at one. And even though she hadn’t written me a letter in over two years, I still kept all her previous ones and read them every week. All I could say after she was done talking was, “I’ve missed you so much. I’m chartering a jet to come get you.” Now that she was in the city, I was finding it harder to lie. “Mr. Sterling, do I need to contact Miss Ross to let her know you’ll be missing the party?” Joan raised her voice. “Your mother has called twice already.” “No,” I walked towards the door. “I’ll call my mother in the car.” Thousands of lights hung across the imported Arborvitae trees. White wooden benches sat every ten feet, bearing the “Mr. and Mrs. Sterling” label in red cursive. Past the trees and benches was a glass platform stage, a bar that extended across the width of the rooftop, and a rectangular pool with dancing fire. Selena had invited almost all of young Hollywood, and to my surprise, most of them actually showed up. Even though I forced her to enforce a no-camera policy, numerous paparazzi were camped out across the street and I was pretty sure I saw a camera toting woman scaling the side of the building. “I’d like to make a toast!” Selena tapped a spoon to her champagne flute. The guests slowly ceased their conversations, and Selena pulled me onstage. “Thank you all so much for coming out to celebrate our engagement! It is great being in love and even greater when our friends are so supportive!” I tuned her out and smiled. I looked around the room, hoping to find something else to focus on, anything else. I saw Joan scrolling away on her cell phone, a group of models staring at me, and Shelby giving me

the “thumbs up.” Is that Kristen Stewart? Jennifer Lawrence? “And we have decided to have the wedding in October, Matt’s favorite month,” was the next thing I heard out of Selena’s mouth. October? That’s five months from now! That’s not happening. I’m dumping her after this party. Everyone cheered as Selena placed her lips on mine and wrapped her arms around my neck. She’s still a good kisser… “Can I talk to you in private for a minute?” she whispered in my ear. “Sure. Let me check on my mom first.” I walked around the rooftop, shaking hands with fellow stars every few seconds, and found my mom sitting at the bar. She pursed her lips as I approached. “Mom, what’s wrong?” She turned away from me and crossed her arms. “Mom? Tell me right now.” She shook her head and pointed. Sure enough, paparazzi were hanging out of windows across the street. I took her hand and led her inside. We walked down two flights of steps and found a decorations closet. “Are the paparazzi upsetting you?” I asked. “I get tired of them too. It would have been much worse if—” “What are you doing Matt?” “What do you mean?” “Why are you marrying that girl?” I couldn’t tell her the truth. “I’m in love.” She narrowed her eyes. “Do you know that mothers are the smartest women on the planet?” “Yes.” “And you think I can’t see that you don’t even like her? Did you do this to get my attention?” Yours and everyone else’s… “Mom, I—” “You two almost had me. It was very believable until she said October was your favorite month and that you were the one who personally contacted the world class chef for tonight—the chef who specializes in seafood. You’ve always hated seafood, unless the high life has changed you even more than I thought.” I couldn’t hold back my laughter. I hugged her. “I’m very much in love, Mom.” “Just promise me there’s a pre-nup…real marriage or not.” “Matt! There you are! Is your mom okay?” Selena pulled me into an isolated corner. “Yeah. She…” I didn’t want to tell her that my mom was suspicious about our arrangement. “She wanted to make sure I was still taking her shopping tomorrow.” “Aww! Make sure you take her to all the stores she’s missed since she moved to Pittsburgh.” She lives in Miami…

“What exactly did you want to talk about? Have you discovered your conscience yet?” “Funny. My publicist said that you and I should consider doing a reality show together.” “Didn’t you tell me last week that only D-list celebrities do reality shows?” “Okay you caught me,” she shrugged. “Oprah wants to air our wedding on her network!” “I’m not lying to Oprah, Selena. I feel bad enough lying to my mom.” “Just think about it okay? It’s Oprah! It doesn’t get much bigger than that!” “I thought we agreed that there would be no actual wedding.” “Please Matt! I’ve always wanted to get married!” “To someone who can barely stand you?” “To someone famous.” “Where are your parents?” “Why?” “I was going to suggest they get you some therapy. You’ve got four weeks of me left.” I turned to walk away but Selena grabbed my hand. “Please,” she begged. “We can make up something about the marriage license. We can say we are having the ceremony first and are filing for the license the next day but never do that.” “And TMZ won’t show up to double check that story? What about Us Weekly? And five hundred other press people?” “We can figure that out later. Please? Just one last thing before we let each other go? We both could use it. Your films aren’t due out ‘til October and my second season won’t debut until December.” “What would be the point? You’re famous enough as is. I read a story about you filing your nails today. An entire column was dedicated to how you file your nails!” “Please,” her eyes widened and she looked like she was about to cry. For a second she looked like the Selena I used to like, the one I almost fell in love with. She kissed me and ran her hand across my chest. “Let me think about it,” I walked over to Joan. “Are you ready to leave?” she made her I know what you’re thinking face. “Beyond ready. Can you have the car here in fifteen?” “Of course.” My mom and I jetted to Boston for lunch. I told her everything about Selena and me, admitting that I no longer wanted to be a part of it. “What do you think I should do?” “Well, you should never repeat that story to anyone else. It makes you look just as crazy as she is,” she laughed. “Mom…” “I’m sorry. Look, I understand why you did what you did. You’re not really hurting anyone but yourself so

you need to figure out how much more you can take. When you figure that out, you need to let her go completely and move on. Life’s too short to waste your time on someone you barely like.” “I wish it was that easy.” “Nothing ever is,” she sighed. “Tell me more about what I’ve missed these past two years. Your dad would’ve been so proud of you if he was around.” I told her I hated how my film career was going, how I wanted to return to Broadway, and how I really was tired of being a celebrity. By the time I rehashed everything, she was fast asleep on the plane. “Ramon will drop your mother off at the hotel and take us to the recital right after,” Joan handed me a blazer. “Your speech is in the right pocket.” “Sounds great. Did my flowers ever get to Melody Carter?” “She’s still on vacation,” she fixed my tie. “In St. Barts?” She nodded her head and stepped back to admire her handiwork. It’s been over a week. She should be back by now. Why am I keeping track? What’s wrong with me? Melody Carter didn’t even seem vaguely interested in me. But I wanted—needed—to see her again. Even if she blew me off, it was worth knowing if I stood a chance. I also needed to get far away from Selena and her antics for a while. Am I really considering going to St. Bart’s? What if I run into her… and her boyfriend? She never mentioned if she was seeing someone. If I was going to go, I needed to find a way to deal with the paparazzi—to throw them off completely. I would need to fly at night and unfortunately forego security. And Joan would have to go. She could do most of my thinking for me. “How many days are we staying there?” Joan smiled. “At least three. Do you happen to know anything else about Miss Carter? What part of the island she’s staying on?” “I’ll find out.”

Chapter 13 Melody The glass bottom boat rocked back and forth as the tour guide shouted directions on his radio. I wrapped a blanket around my waist and put on my shades. “You okay Jen?” I shook her awake. “We’re about to be back on shore.” She mumbled something that sounded like “Yeah whatever” and rolled over to face me. She struggled to keep her bleach blonde hair away from her face in the sudden onslaught of wind. “I’m tired Mel,” she whined. “That was a really long tour. Would you hate me if I went back to the room and napped for a while? I promise I’ll hang out with you later.” “That’s cool. I’ll just grab a drink and tan.” “Great.” When we reached land, the tour guide helped us off the ship and handed us his business card. “Maybe next time you’ll stay awake for the whole tour?” “Probably not,” Jen laughed. “I enjoyed it,” I slipped him a fifty. “Thank you very much.” “Later Mel,” Jen hugged me and walked towards the villa. I strolled alongside the shore and headed for a bar. It wasn’t even noon and Jen was leaving me hanging. We’d spent the past week tackling tiring activities—jet skiing, diving, rock climbing—and I still couldn’t get a good night’s sleep, let alone a nap. I woke up every few hours thinking about Sean, about my byline, about things I couldn’t control. The bartender slid me a beer before I could sit down. He slid two drinks to the patrons on the other end, and walked towards me. “Beautiful women always get their first drink on me,” he said. “What else can I get you today?” I ordered three martinis, a Cosmopolitan, and a Daiquiri. My goal was to drink them all within five minutes. I wanted the alcohol to flow to my brain immediately, that way I could finally nap without thinking about anything. I chugged the beer, downed the Daiquiri, and picked up the Cosmo. “I thought you didn’t drink,” a familiar voice startled me from behind. I turned around and saw a shirtless Matt Sterling. His shades were covering his eyes so I couldn’t read his expression. I was glad I was still wearing mine so he couldn’t see how hard I was eyeing his abs. Oh my god! “Do you stalk every critic who gives you a bad review? I happen to know Richard Roeper will be in Venice this weekend.” “I’ll have whatever you make best,” Matt said to the bartender as he sat next to me. “So you do drink?” “Obviously,” I downed my Cosmo. The bartender slid him a frothy orange concoction with floating strawberries. “What brings you here Miss Carter? Special trip with your boyfriend?”

“I thought I was on vacation,” I slid my shades on top of my head. “If you had told me you’d be here the same week, I would’ve rescheduled my trip.” Liar! “Oh really?” he took off his shades. Try not to look into his eyes! “Where’s Selena?” I changed the subject. “She’s back in New York. She doesn’t know I’m here.” “Um okay. Why not?” “I needed to get away for a while.” “Marriage jitters?” “Not at all, Miss—” “Melody,” I downed a martini. “No, Melody. I don’t have marriage jitters…Do you?” “Why would I?” “You didn’t answer my question about the boyfriend. Are you deflecting?” “I don’t have a boyfriend,” I downed the other two martinis. He didn’t say anything in response. He just smiled at me. I tried to look away, but I couldn’t. I could stare at you all day. “How long are you staying here?” I heard myself say. “I’m not sure yet. Depends on a certain project I’m working on… Tell me something. Why did you run away from me at the launch party?” “I-uh,” I picked an olive out of my glass. “I don’t really remember.” “Why do I doubt that?” “It was because you asked me out.” “Okay? That usually results in a yes or a no, not a late night run.” “I don’t go out with married men.” “But I’m not—” “I know,” I stood up and immediately regretted all those drinks. “You’re just engaged to be married. I don’t go out with those types either.” “It’s not what you think. Don’t believe everything you read.” “Don’t worry. I only read TMZ. They’re pretty accurate most of the time.” “Trust me,” he grabbed my hand. “It’s not what you think.” I wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or my hormones, but I gave in. “Okay. Fine. I believe you.” He released my hand. “Do you have any plans for today?” “I’m going to pass out on the beach for now. My sister and I are going snorkeling later.” “Mind if I come?” “Snorkeling? Not at all. We’re going to—”

“I was referring to whatever you were about to do right now.” Think of something smart to say! Think of something smart to say! “I’m about to go pass out.” I lay on my blanket looking at the sun. I wondered how long I could lay like that before going blind. I refused to turn to my left and look at Matt—even though I could feel him staring at me. “It’s kind of hard to pass out when someone keeps talking to you,” I pretended to be annoyed. “I’m pretty sure it is,” he laughed. “How long have you been here?” “A week and four days. I don’t think I want to go back.” “Me either. It’s much more quiet here than in New York.” “You’re telling me you don’t enjoy all that attention?” “Not really. I can’t even get a sandwich without making the news. It’s like every part of my life is documented by people I don’t even know.” “Hmmm. You know, the paparazzi are probably watching you right now. They might assume you’re cheating on Selena so I’m going to—” “You’re leaving?” “Yeah,” I finally turned to face him. “I should head—” “Please stay. I know for a fact they’re not watching. I took care of all that.” Took care of all that? What does that mean? And he needs to stop looking at me like that… He and I sat and watched the waves for what felt like an hour. There was a strong tension between us and I tried my best to ignore it. “How old are you, if you don’t mind sharing?” he asked. “Twenty four.” “How’d you get to be a big critic so young?” “Are you making conversation or do you really want to know?” “I want to know,” he turned on his side. Don’t stare…Don’t stare… “Well, I’ve always been a writer. I won all types of competitions in high school. When I got to college I lucked up and got an internship at The New York Appeal. I did coffee runs and menial stuff for a whole year, but when my boss got sick he let me write a couple of reviews under his byline. As time went on, he got worse and worse so I was writing them all. After a while, people were writing in and asking his opinions on everything—shows, books, films, whatever. Movie studios and publishers even sent flowers and gift baskets to get in his good graces because readers were clinging to his every word.” “But you were the one doing all the writing? Were you still in college?” “Yeah…He died my junior year and left a note for HR. He told them what had been going on and they made me the youngest critic they’d ever had.” “That’s really impressive. So when did you realize you hated Matt Sterling?” “When he started referring to himself in the third person,” I rolled my eyes. “I don’t hate you, per se. I’m

just not a huge fan of your work.” “I think that’s just the liquor talking.” “No, I’m pretty sure I hate all your films,” I closed my eyes. I couldn’t stay awake anymore. I opened my eyes and rolled onto my back. “Welcome back,” Matt grinned. “Do you want to get something to eat?” Did he sit there and watch me sleep the whole time? “I think I need to lay down some more.” Note to self: You are officially a lightweight. “Okay. What’s your favorite romantic comedy? Maybe I can better understand your hatred of my work.” “When Harry Met Sally. I watch it every month.” “Not The Notebook?” “I really hate that movie.” “Figures,” he smiled. “You don’t seem like the mushy type.” I used to be… “What’s your favorite rom com?” “Dirty Dancing. I idolized Patrick Swayze. That movie’s the reason I pursued dancing as a kid.” “Really? I like that movie too. I know all the moves to—” I stopped myself. I didn’t need to be open with him. I didn’t need to talk about my past. “Who’d you learn it with?” “Let’s not talk about anything personal. Okay? Let’s just relax. That’s the whole reason we’re here, right?” He raised his eyebrow. “Sure. Do you have any plans for early tomorrow morning?” “I’m not sure yet.” “Would you be interested in going polar bearing with me?” “Is that a fancy way of saying skinny dipping? I don’t think so.” “What?” he laughed. “No, it’s not skinny dipping. It’s waking up really early in the morning and jumping into the ocean when it’s the coldest.” “Why the hell would anyone want to do that?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Want to find out?” The next morning, I woke up at five, thirty minutes later than I’d planned. I jumped out of bed and put on a white and red bikini. “Make sure you kiss him,” Jen giggled. “I wouldn’t dare. He’s engaged,” I pulled on a brown hoodie. “Besides, I’m still not over Sean.”

“The best way to get over someone is to date someone else. And why not start with a high profile movie star? For the record, I’m very jealous.” “What are you doing up anyway?” “Making sure you look acceptable for your date with Matt Sterling,” she crinkled her nose. “You’re going to take off that fugly hoodie before you get in the water right?” “Fugly? How old are you again? And it’s not a date, it’s—” “Here,” she handed me a black and silver wrap dress. “Wear this instead. And wear a sweater instead of that hoodie.” “Fine. Do you think he’s trying to get on my good side so I can write good reviews for his films from now on?” “Ha! I think he likes you Mel. Him being here is definitely not a coincidence. I wouldn’t be surprised if his sole purpose of being here was to see you. This is like run-in number four, right?” “He had his people find out where I was and came all the way to St. Barts just to ask me out again? Yeah right.” I put on a white sweater and glanced at myself in the mirror before heading down to the shore. The dockyard was two miles away, and I was regretting not allowing Matt to meet me at my villa. It was extremely dark outside and the complimentary flashlight wasn’t much help. You did the right thing…You did the right thing…You don’t really know him. I could see a row of white boats and yellow specks in the distance. The closer I got, I saw that those yellow specks were small glass lamps hanging off the side of the pier. I could make out a man sitting on the edge. “Good morning,” Matt stood up as I approached. “It’s good to see you again.” How can someone look perfect every day? Every. Day. “Morning,” I yawned. “So, do we just run out there now and come back? Or do we stay in the water until we’re near hypothermia?” “You’re not a morning person are you?” “I am actually,” I stifled another yawn. “Right. We’re going to take my yacht out.” “We’re actually going to take it on the water?” I couldn’t hide my excitement. He looked as if he wanted to say something, something sarcastic, but he just took my hand and helped me onto platform. He led me past yacht after yacht. Each one was grander and way more regal than any of the ones I’d ever seen. Underneath the yellow lights I could make out some of their names: “The Majestic,” “The Finale,” “H.M.S. PMS,” and “We’ll Sea.” Why hasn’t he let my hand go? We kept walking until we approached a super-yacht with silver rails. The underbelly of the ship was black, while the upper decks—I counted at least four—were painted white. I strained to see the fine cursive letters on the side of the ship.

“The name of your yacht is Steamy Windows?” I looked up at him. “Are you serious?” He smiled. “You don’t love that?” I rolled my eyes and suppressed a laugh. We walked up the yacht’s staircase and he finally released my hand so he could open the door. I tried not to react when I saw the inside of the ship. It looked like it belonged to the lobby of a world class hotel I’d never be able to afford, a hotel even Sean would fawn over. I wasn’t sure where to focus my eyes—the spiral staircase? The massive skylight? The glass wall of fish? The sparkling white floors? The shiny gold fixtures? Is that an elevator? On one of the white leather couches sat a beautiful African American woman with long black hair. She closed her book and walked over to me. “Good morning, Miss Carter. I’m his personal assistant, Joan. It’s nice to meet you,” she extended her hand to me. How does she know my name? “Nice to meet you too, Joan.” “Hey Joan,” Matt locked the door. “You can tell Craig to set sail now. Is breakfast set up?” She nodded her head and walked away. Matt took my hand again and led me down the spiral staircase. The room below was more impressive than the one above. Freshly coated cherry cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and—he even owned his own bar, complete with seating for ten and a liquor collection that covered an entire wall. I took a seat by a porthole and pinched myself. I was sure I would wake up at any moment. “Welcome to my kitchen at sea,” he opened a cabinet. “Do you eat bagels?” “Yes.” “Good. Joan orders the best bagels in the world.” “You mean she cooks the best bagels in the world?” “Oh, god no. That’s something Joan doesn’t do. What about strawberries and orange slices?” “I like those too.” “And to drink? Cranberry juice?” he placed a plate of warm bagels and fruit in front of me. “That’d be great.” All of a sudden, the ship began to move. I closed my eyes and smiled. I suddenly remembered when Sean told me he had a yacht, when I jumped and down upon boarding it, when I spent the whole day pouting because he wouldn’t let it off the dock. “You should try the white truffle cream cheese,” Matt sat down across from me. “It’s amazing.” I looked out the porthole but couldn’t make out much in the darkness. I couldn’t believe I was on a boat with Matt Sterling. I wondered why he was being so nice to me, why he wanted to spend time with me. “You’ve been on a yacht before?” he interrupted my thoughts. “Yes.” “But you’ve never been on a yacht that actually sailed?” “My ex never let his yacht off the dock. He wasn’t into exploring the ocean. He just wanted to own

property on it.” Did I say that out loud? “Were you married to him?” “Engaged… He left me for someone else.” “Hey,” he reached over and took one of my strawberries. “You’re on vacation, remember? Relax. Try not to talk about anything personal.” “Are you mocking me?” “Are you amused?” I couldn’t help but smile. “I better not die out there. My sister knows you were the last person I was with.” “Well, if you don’t enjoy the polar bearing, we could try the skinny dipping thing,” he teased. “You did bring it up.” “Please!” I laughed. “How often do you use your yacht?” “At least once every month. I promised myself I would learn how to sail it one day but I haven’t had the time. I read stage plays on it most of the time.” “Stage plays? For what?” “For Broadway.” “You were really good on Broadway.” Why did I say that? “How would you know?” “The New York Appeal always gets tickets to the pre-opening Broadway shows. Those are the only events I attend. You were in Les Miserable my sophomore year.” “Too bad I didn’t meet you back then. I really miss Broadway.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. My brain was busy processing his “too bad I didn’t meet you back then” comment. “Mr. Sterling,” Joan entered the room. “Here are the life jackets. Craig is stopping the boat now.” “Thanks Joan,” Matt stood up and motioned for me to follow him. “Let’s head on out.” The wind was whooshing wildly on the top deck. We fastened our life jackets—he double checked mine —and walked over to the side of the ship. He picked me up and gently placed me on the opposite side of the railing. He pulled himself over with ease and looked out over the water. “This water is perfect for polar bearing. It’s pretty calm don’t you think? That’s exactly what a first timer needs.” I nodded my head and clung to the railing. I couldn’t see the water, but I could hear the waves sloshing against the boat. “Are you scared?” YES! “No…a little.” “Don’t be,” he reached for my hand. “We can jump together.” I squeezed his hand and tried to ignore my racing heartbeat.

“I’m going to say, one, two, jump. Okay? You have to jump when I say jump. I don’t want to pull you in unprepared. Can you do that?” I knew I must’ve looked like a four year old girl in that moment. All I could do was nod. “One…” Please don’t let me die…Please don’t let me die… “Two…” Don’t say jump! Don’t say jump! “Jump!” I let go of the railing, hanging in the air for what seemed like an eternity, and plunged into the icy water. The ocean shocked every bone in my body. It felt like all my limbs were on fire and I could barely breathe. I felt chills up and down my spine and I wasn’t sure if I was still alive. I silently counted to ten and opened my eyes. “Are you okay?” Matt smiled. “Yes,” I realized I was still holding his hand and let go. “I’m okay.” That was amazing… “Wakes you the hell up doesn’t it?” “Definitely!” “The ladder is coming!” Joan looked down at us from the lower deck and threw a roped ladder. “You first,” Matt pushed me closer to the ship. “Be careful.” I took my time climbing up the rope while Matt held it steady at the bottom. When I made it aboard, Joan handed me a warm blanket and a cup of tea. “That wasn’t too bad was it?” Matt took a blanket from Joan. “It was awesome,” my teeth began chattering. “I’ve got to do that again one day.” “Tomorrow?” I smiled and sipped my tea. We rode back to the dockyard in silence. The sun was beginning to rise and I could see how calm the water was. I stole glances of Matt every few minutes, and I could feel his eyes doing the same. “Do you and your sister have plans this evening?” he helped me down the steps. “We’re going parasailing around five. She has to do more reading after we get back so I’m going to relax on the beach.” “She’s in college?” “She technically graduated college, but they won’t give her the degree until she finishes her research study.” “Tell her I said good luck.” “I will.”

“Do you want to join me at a bonfire tonight?”

Chapter 14 Matt I walked around talking to a few locals, asking them where the best place to start a bonfire would be, but they weren’t much help. They just wanted my autograph and Joan had to profusely deny their picture requests. We’d released a statement to the press about me traveling to L.A. to have throat surgery. We even flew my security team to L.A. with a baseball-cap-wearing body double to make it as real as possible. We couldn’t afford for a few fans to tweet pictures of me in St. Barts—only words, because as Joan once said, “Words can be misconstrued and questioned, pictures can’t.” I was looking forward to spending more time with Melody. It was definitely more than a crush on my end, but I wasn’t sure if she felt the same way. “Joan, let’s get the daily updates out of the way. Could you google me?” I’d given up on googling myself years ago—almost everything that popped up was a lie I helped to construct. “Certainly. According to TMZ, you have officially checked in for throat surgery in L.A. You are expected to check out in two days.” “Great. Anything else?” “Selena finished her cover shoot for Modern Bride and did an interview with Cosmo. Would you like to hear the quotes?” “Seriously?” “The graduation service for Sterling Dance Academy has been pushed up by one day.” “Who the hell approved that?” “The school board. The mayor apparently asked to use the building for an address to the city. Would you like me to prepare a statement for your absence?” “No, we’ll have to leave tomorrow.” I didn’t want to disappoint the graduates. I had never missed a ceremony and I didn’t want to make this one the first. I needed to know if I had a chance with Melody though, if she would consider going out with me when we were both in New York. I needed to pull out all the stops to make sure she said yes. “Nothing else is really new,” Joan put away her phone. “Just basic candid stories. You were caught with cream cheese on your chin in Central Park, you got a parking ticket outside of Starbucks, and you signed an autograph for an elderly woman at Trump SoHo.” “Life changing news I swear. Thanks.” It took Joan and I three hours to find a decent location for a bonfire. It was miles away from my yacht and perfectly secluded from the hotels and vacation homes. While she scurried off to grab a couple things, I began digging a hole in the sand. I couldn’t believe I was building a fire to impress someone. I didn’t normally have to put in any work to seem impressive. Women just flocked to me and naturally assumed that I was. Melody seemed somewhat

unfazed—except for when she was on my yacht. She was blushing the entire time. Maybe that was just her nervous reaction to the polar bearing... As my hole got deeper, I became more nervous, more pessimistic. I wasn’t sure what to talk about tonight, or why the hell I’d suggested a damn bonfire when I hadn’t brought the supplies. I was even a little apprehensive about her past. I wasn’t sure if she was completely over her ex-fiancé, and if she was, I doubted she’d forgotten about being left for someone else. All of a sudden I felt guilty for one of the films I starred in last year: Broken Promises. I played an engaged lawyer who fell for one of his clients and dumped his bride to be. Of course, my “fiancé” had been cheating on me the whole time so that kind of evened things. I wondered how Melody’s fiancé broke it to her. Surely he told her in private and not in front of all the wedding guests like I did in my movie. “I’ve got everything here,” Joan pulled up in a golf cart. “I opened a tab in your name at the winery and told them I’d call with the credit card tomorrow afternoon.” “Thanks…Do you know how to build a bonfire?” I walked around the blazing bonfire, throwing wood chips towards it to ease my nerves. Joan was picking Melody up from her villa and it was taking forever. I rearranged the bench. I re-aligned the snacks on the small table. I changed the song on my iHome. I thought about potential conversation starters, potential drinking games. I saw moving lights in the distance and stood still. The golf cart stopped a few feet in front of me and Melody stepped out. As she walked closer I saw that she was wearing a tight red dress. WOW. “Good evening, Melody.” I should’ve suggested a night on my yacht instead… “Good evening,” she smiled. Joan flashed the cart’s lights twice, her way of saying “call me when you need me,” and drove away. “You want something to drink?” “Sure,” she walked over to the bench and sat down. “Would you like wine or a beer? I got the lightest stuff so you won’t fall asleep on me.” She blushed. “Wine’s fine. How was your day?” Absolutely perfect now… “It was okay. Joan and I just walked around the island.” “Are you two friends outside of your business relationship?” “She’s pretty much my only friend. She does everything right most of the time so it doesn’t really feel like business. Whenever she wants a day off, I give it to her. And if she tells me she’s interested in a nice item or something, I never allow her to pay for it. We have our own way of communicating the friendship aspect.” “Must be nice.”

“What about you?” I sat next to her and handed her a glass of white wine. “What’d you do today?” “I did a three mile hike and went parasailing with my sister.” “Sounds like a tiring day,” I went over my list of conversation starters. “Have you been here before?” “No, this is my first time. This is where me and my fiancé would’ve gone for our honeymoon.” Damn. What do I say to that? Melody continued, “It was an open ticket so I waited until now to use it.” “When was the wedding?” “Almost a month ago. I can’t believe it’s been that long. I was such a mess after he left me. Everyone was staring at me with their pity eyes.” “He left you at the wedding?” “In front of everyone,” she sighed. “It was right after we said our vows. The girl he cheated on me with showed up and just like that, he didn’t want to marry me anymore.” “I’m sorry.” “It’s not your fault. At least I don’t have to be in a relationship with someone who is just pretending you know?” “I can relate to that,” I sipped my drink. Should I tell her about me and Selena? Do I possibly have a chance? She’s clearly still hurt by her ex… “Hey! You let me talk about personal stuff!” she giggled. “Don’t let me do that again.” “I wasn’t going to cut you off. I want to know more about you.” She’s blushing again… “What do you want to know?” she asked. “For starters, why don’t you ever go to movie premieres?” “I just don’t see the point,” she shrugged. “It all seems so fake to me, no offense.” “None taken. I sometimes feel that way too, but I have to see my fans.” “Do the fans really matter though? Like, once you get to a certain point where movie studios are paying you ridiculous money and everyone knows your name, why do you even care?” I gave her my best “Did you really just say that?” look and shook my head. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a cynic? Of course the fans matter. They’re the people who see the movies and actually enjoy them, unlike someone I know.” She flashed her smile and sat back. I resisted the urge to lean over and kiss her. “My turn to ask you questions, Matt.” “Go ahead.” “What made you leave Broadway?” “You want an honest answer or a politically correct one?” Please say the politically correct one… “Both.” “Okay, for the politically correct one: I wanted to expand my repertoire and learn new techniques. For the

honest one: I wanted the bigger paycheck and all the perks that came with being more famous—beautiful women wanting me and VIP treatment everywhere I go.” “Now I regret even asking,” she crossed her legs. I wonder what she’s wearing under the dress… “Just being honest.” “But now all of sudden you hate the attention you get?” “It’s been a gradual thing,” I sighed. “I hate it when I’m trying to do normal things you know? Like, whenever I want to get some fresh air, I can hear the click clicking of cameras going off. If I blow my nose and use a napkin instead of a Kleenex, if I trip over the sidewalk, or if I’m seen with another female celebrity, it blows up and takes on a life of its own. That’s why I hope you don’t believe everything you read.” “It’s hard not to believe things when someone does interviews that confirm what you’ve read,” she mocked my tone. “It shouldn’t be hard if that person goes out of his way to tell you that things aren’t how they appear to be.” “Fine, Mr. Sterling.” “I’m back to Mr. Sterling now?” “Yes,” she finished off her wine. I laughed and walked over to the snack table. “S’mores?” “Sure,” she joined me on the other side of the bonfire. “Are you originally from New York, Melody?” “No. Memphis, Tennessee. I’m a Southern girl.” That explains a lot… We slid our marshmallows onto sticks and watched them roast over the fire.

Chapter 15 Melody I pulled my marshmallow away from the fire and sandwiched it with graham crackers. I carefully sat down in the sand and waited for it to cool. I was mad at Jen for making me wear her ridiculously short red dress. Its halter top made my breasts appear twice as big and its fabric hugged my hips so tightly that I had to be extremely conscious of every move I made. “Don’t forget the chocolate,” Matt handed me a Hershey bar. “Thanks. I can’t remember the last time I made one of these.” “I can,” he sat next to me. “It was last year when I was on the set of Summer Nights.” “That was one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.” “It wasn’t that bad. There are worse movies out there.” “I’m aware. Do they purposely tell you how to act? Like, do they say, don’t try so hard during this scene?” “Something like that,” he laughed. “It’s more like: Matt, remember who your audience is. Don’t make things too complicated. Oh, and take your shirt off.” Please take your shirt off… “How inspiring.” “I know. I’m trying to break the typecast mold, but studios only want me as the lead in romance movies. That’s kind of why I want to go back to Broadway, you know? It’s more fulfilling.” “I understand. I don’t want to be a critic for the rest of my life.” “Oh really?” he moved closer. “What do you want to do?” “I’m not sure yet. I just know it doesn’t involve sitting in an office.” “I’m sure you’ll figure it out with time.” He’s so close to me… “I hope so,” I took small bites of my S’more. The crackling of the bonfire was the only noise between us, save for the soft music coming from his iHome. I tried to hear what was playing, but it was no use. I looked over at Matt and he was beaming. “What’s so funny?” “You are. Do you want me to turn up the music?” “Yeah, if you don’t mind.” “Okay, on one condition.” “What’s that?” “You have to dance with me,” he stood up. “Who’s your favorite artist?” Is he serious? “I don’t know. I have too many.” “Okay, we’ll go with one of mine,” he walked over to the iHome and touched his iPod’s screen.

The first notes sounded—trumpets, trombones, and strings. Then Frank Sinatra began to sing. Matt pulled me up and placed my arms around his neck. He slipped his arms around my waist and we swayed back and forth. “Do you know this song?” “It’s Frank Sinatra, right? What’s the name of it?” “It’s his most famous song, “New York, New York.” Every New Yorker is required to know this song,” he moved my arms and dipped me towards to the sand. “You can dance?” “I know a few things.” I lifted myself up and twirled around. “Hmmm,” he held my hand high above my head and watched me spin. Quick step. Quick step. Long step. Long step… He began to sing along. “These little town blues are melting away. I’ll make a brand new start of it, in ol’ New York. If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York, New York.” I laughed. “I forgot you could sing.” He dipped me again. “I don’t recall telling you that I could.” Please kiss me. “I’m assuming it’s a Broadway requirement.” “Good assumption.” Quick step. Quick step. He’s switching to the waltz now… As the song approached the bridge, we gazed into each other’s eyes—keeping pace. He brushed a hair away from my face and drew my body to his. The music began its decrescendo, the horns played softer and softer. He pressed his forehead to mine. He’s really going to kiss me… “There’s a fire starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark. Fi-na-lly I can see you crystal clear…” Adele’s voice floated across the air. My body went stiff. I snapped out of my fantasy and realized that Matt was engaged, just like Sean had been. I wouldn’t dare put another woman through what I experienced. “I should go,” I slowly moved away from him. “Now?” he was visibly frustrated. “Yeah, I um…I have to do stuff so—” “It’s too dark for you to walk alone,” he turned off the music. “I’ll come with you.” No! Stay here! Make him stay here! “Won’t someone take your stuff?” “I highly doubt that. If someone does, I think I can afford to replace everything,” he smirked. The walk back to my villa was awkward. We didn’t speak much and I could still feel the palpable tension between us. We asked each other empty questions—questions that didn’t really need answers, questions that just made the long walk seem shorter.

I stopped at the pathway that led up to my suite. “Well, this is where I’m staying. Thank you for walking me back. I’ll see you around?” “I enjoyed tonight Melody,” he ran his hand through his hair. “Me too.” I didn’t know what else to say. He stood in front of me, looking as if he didn’t know what else to say either. “I have to leave tomorrow,” he stepped closer. “My school’s graduation was pushed up and I can’t let all those kids down. Rain check on the polar bearing?” “Yeah sure,” I stepped back. Walk away…Turn around and walk away! “I’m not sure if the Hudson River is the best place to go polar bearing though,” he took two steps towards me. “We may have to go someplace else.” “That’d be fine,” I couldn’t move a muscle, his eyes were holding me in place. He closed the gap between us and tilted my chin. I leaned in to kiss him, but moved away at the last second. “Good luck with whatever project brought you here. I have to go,” I turned around and headed for my suite. “Wait,” he grabbed my hand and pulled me into his arms. He kissed me—hard, and hugged me tightly. I kissed him back, wrapping my arms around his neck, not wanting to let go. I slowly opened my eyes and found myself staring into his dark and sultry gaze. He was watching me. He gently bit my bottom lip and rubbed his hand up and down my back. My breathing slowed. Invite him in! As if he could hear my thoughts, he pulled away from my mouth and planted warm kisses on my neck— slow, sensuous, torturing kisses. I couldn’t breathe anymore. Invite him in! I shut my eyes as he slid his hand underneath my dress and caressed my thigh. He kissed my lips again, much harder this time, forcing my tongue to play with his, forcing me to open my eyes, to stare back at him. Hurry up and invite him in! I slowly pulled away from him, but before I could catch my breath and invite him in, he kissed my cheek and whispered. “Have a good night, Melody.”

Chapter 16 Matt “Matt! Matt! Have you agreed on the pre-nup yet? Can you talk? Why did you need throat surgery? Try not to get another parking ticket! Did Selena buy you this car? Where are you going?” the paparazzi surrounded my Lamborghini. I put my shades on and honked. They reluctantly backed away and kept shouting their annoying questions. I turned my music all the way up and drove away. I was late picking Selena up for my school’s graduation and a part of me wanted to “forget” and go straight to the school. It was Joan’s off day so I was running behind schedule. I woke up late, forgot to meet with Shelby, and missed a phone interview with Travel and Leisure. The only thing I didn’t forget to do was think about Melody. I couldn’t get her out of my head. I wished she had invited me into her room or come back with me to my yacht. She was developing a habit of leaving me at the oddest moments, but I liked that. I pulled in front of Selena’s condominium and called her. “I’m outside and so are your friends.” “I’ll be right out.” Photographers swarmed my car, yelling a myriad of questions that I couldn’t hear. I never understood why they felt they had a right to know what was going on in my life. Just because I was famous didn’t mean that I had an obligation to share my personal life with everyone. Then again, I put myself in that predicament by opening up in the first place. Selena’s security guard parted through the sea of annoyers and opened the passenger door. For some reason, Selena looked like she was actually pregnant—a small bump was protruding from underneath her dress. She smiled and slid into the seat. “Thanks, Bennie!” she shouted as security shut the door. “Hello Matt.” I sped off. “What the hell is that under your shirt?” “It’s a baby bump.” “What! I thought you said that—” “It’s a prosthetic, Matt. Calm down.” “You’re wearing a fake baby bump?” “Yeah, I can’t be pregnant and not look pregnant! This is a three month bump. It’s not even that big.” “You’re a piece of work, you know that?” “Can we stop at CVS on the way back?” “For?” “A craving run. You need to run in and get me pickles and ketchup. Apparently that’s what all pregnant women eat.” “Selena, this is the last time you and I will be spending time together,” I stopped at a red light. “Get your assistant to go to CVS for you.” “What? What are saying?”

“I’m saying that I can’t—I’m not going to do this anymore. I’m moving on. I hope you didn’t buy a dress. It’s over.” “No, it’s not. The light’s green.” I pressed the gas. “I just said it’s over. What part don’t you understand?” She didn’t speak. She sat with her arms crossed and looked outside her window. When we were three blocks away, she sighed. “We both signed the contract and I already confirmed our wedding with Oprah’s network.” “Well, cancel it. I’m sure Oprah will understand. Maybe you can work out a one on one interview about being heartbroken. You can even make me out to be the bad guy.” “I promised the Children’s Hospital we would donate the proceeds from our wedding to their cancer department. That’s easily seventeen million. Are you really going to yank that money away from children, Matt? From children?” “Selena,” I pulled into the garage at Sterling Academy. “Really? Are you seriously sitting here and trying to guilt me with money? Didn’t I make ninety million last year? And one hundred twenty the year before that? I’ll write them a check.” “You’re going through with this wedding, Matt.” “No,” I put the car in park. “I’m not.” “Matt, we started this together and we’re going to end it together.” “Exactly. This is the end.” I unbuckled my seatbelt and Selena grabbed my arm. She twisted her face into a horrid expression and glared at me. “I swear Matt. I swear I will have my assistant beat me with a sack of rocks, rough me up, and blame it on you.” “Okay, you’re officially insane. Are you coming in or not?” “Don’t test me. I’ll do it and your career will be completely over. I don’t think America is too keen on forgiving woman beaters, especially one that kills an unborn child in the process.” I laughed. “Are you serious? Look, what we had in the beginning was great. I damn near loved you and really wanted to be with you. But then our careers took off and—” “And you took advantage of me just like I took advantage of you! You used me, Matt! It wasn’t all me! You wanted to be seen in certain places and doing certain things and I showed up every single time. Every. Single. Time.” “We don’t even like each other anymore. Why are you making this—” “You don’t like me anymore,” she cried. “I never stopped having feelings for you. Even when you started being distant and not wanting me around so much, I still…I thought it would eventually go back to how it used to be between us. I knew you were tired of all the press but I thought you and I were still friends.” “We can still be friends.” “You know what I mean. You think I like living like this? Staging my life for the cameras? Jumping at every exposure opportunity?” “Don’t you?” “Fame is all I have. This is it. This makes me feel like I’m important, like people really care about me.

And the one person I considered to be my friend is threatening to take that all away.” “I’m not taking anything away. You have your parents. They were at our engagement party. They care about you.” “I hired those people. They were actors. You know my parents and I don’t speak.” “I’m sorry if I ever hurt you,” I caressed her face. “I never wanted to do that. I didn’t know you still had feelings for me, but I don’t feel that way about you anymore. I don’t want to go through with this charade past today.” “That’s too bad. I hope you’ll change your mind by the end of this ceremony,” she unclicked her seatbelt and opened the door. I got out of the car and waited for her. As if they were on cue, the paparazzi rushed towards us. Selena grabbed my hand and we both smiled as if that conversation never happened—it was so natural, so routine. “What were you doing in St. Bart’s?” she whispered through her teeth. “A video of you dancing with the graduates has gone viral,” Joan pulled my drapes open. “Breakfast is on its way…Do you want to cancel your appearance? You don’t look too good.” “No, I’m okay. Thanks.” “Well, the car will be here in two hours. Make sure you smile throughout the entire interview, regardless of what they ask. They’ll be trying to sense vulnerability.” “I’ll remember that,” I dragged myself out of bed and into my bathroom. Joan was right. I didn’t look too good, I looked terrible. I didn’t get any sleep the night before. Instead, I wasted five hours arguing with Selena over the phone, failing to break away from her like I’d planned. She wasn’t joking about staging domestic abuse. How did it get to this point? I stepped into the shower and stood under freezing cold water. It usually made me feel better, but not today. Today I was going to be on “The View,” thanks to Shelby and a last minute drop out by Ashton Kutcher. Shelby thought it would be a great time to promote my upcoming book, a book I had no hand in writing. I read twenty pages of the final draft last week and wanted to rip my eyes out. The ghostwriter couldn’t write to save her life. Since I didn’t have the time to write it myself and the publisher was expecting a product, I would have to live with her pitiful version of my life story. “Mr. Sterling?” Joan handed me a towel. “The stylist is here.” “I’ll be right out. Hey Joan?” “Yes?” “After the interview, will we have time to stop by—” “Miss Carter hasn’t returned to work yet.” “Could you turn to the side a bit, Mr. Sterling?” the assistant tapped his lip. “Maria! Maria! The lighting

is wrong! We need to fix this before she gets here!” I mentally vanished from the room. Photographer extraordinaire Anne Leibovitz was shooting me for Vogue and I couldn’t have cared less. I was honored to finally meet her, but my week was off to a horrible start and all I wanted to do was sit in my apartment and relax. I barely made it through Monday’s interview on “The View” without shouting, “We’re not really a couple! Please shut up!” The questions about the baby and the wedding just kept coming. They even managed to put together a short segment about what we should name our kid. One of the names was Matlena. On Tuesday, I shot the final scene for Wherever You Are, greeting the legion of fans that showed up to watch me run through Central Park half naked. I even stayed behind after we wrapped. I signed autographs and took pictures with as many fans as I could. I went on two “craving runs” that night: one for ketchup and pickles, one for hard liquor. Wednesday and Thursday seemed to blend together: three magazine interviews, six phone interviews, Skype chats with fans, a script selection session with Shelby, an appearance at Ian Somerhalder’s party, and lunch in Miami with my mom. When I returned to reality, I felt another assistant adjusting my cuff links and fiddling with my shirt. “I’m Annie Leibovitz,” a gray haired woman with glasses extended her hand to me. “Nice to meet you. I’m Matt Sterling.” “Let’s get started, shall we?” I lay on my bed and prayed that Joan knew me well enough to reschedule the rest of my afternoon. I’d zombied my way through yet another week and I didn’t have any energy left. “May I come in?” Joan knocked. “You know you don’t have to ask.” She turned on the light in my room and ignored my groans. I heard her go into the bathroom and turn on the Jacuzzi. She walked over to my bed and sat on the edge. “I’ve canceled the rest of your day.” “Please don’t ever quit,” I rolled over. “I don’t think I can afford to lose you.” “You can’t, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. I think you should go relax in the tub. I ordered some broccoli and cheddar soup for your lunch. It should be here soon.” “Thanks so much.” “Of course. There are some updates we need to go over.” “I’m listening.” “I personally dropped by The New York Appeal today and Miss Carter wasn’t there. Apparently she’s on an extended leave of absence. Would you like to send something non-perishable so it’ll be there when she gets back?” Where the hell is she? “Five pounds of Skittles.” “Will do. You and Selena are on the cover of Us Weekly. There’s a picture of you rubbing her stomach and a picture of you leaving CVS late at night. The cashier told them what you purchased.”

What I would give to be “normal” right now… “Is that all?” Joan sighed and avoided my eyes. That was never a good sign. “Joan? What is it? Tell me.” “Oprah’s people called Peter. Then he called Shelby and then she called me and now—” “Joan…” “They wanted to know if you could push up the wedding since you two technically aren’t paying for it anyway. Selena’s people already called back and confirmed, so they assume that—” “Assume that what?” “That they can film it in two months.” “Can you make sure the annulment papers and a notary are at the ceremony?” “Sure, but—” “But what?” “You signed a contract saying that you would stay legally married long enough for them to air the special at least four times.” “How long is that?” “Seventy two days.” “Get the hell out of here. They can’t control that. Have my lawyers here tomorrow.”

Chapter 17 Melody I was on cloud nine, floating high above the plane that was carrying me back to New York. All I could think about was kissing Matt Sterling. I drifted through La Guardia airport, humming Frank Sinatra’s “New York New York,” bumping into travelers every few feet. “Are you trying to run into people on purpose? Jen to Melody! Jen to Melody! Hey! Wake up!” my sister’s voice brought me back down to earth. “What!” “You just knocked that woman out of her wheelchair,” she pointed to a woman sprawled across the floor. “Oh my god! I am so sorry ma’am,” I reached down and helped her back into her chair. “I didn’t see you.” “And doctors tell me my eyes are bad? Hmph!” the woman threw up her bony middle finger and rolled away. Jen shook her head at me and sighed. “Is this how you’re going to act while we unpack your apartment today? If it is, I’ll just get drunk and pretend to work on my paper at home.” “I’ll be fine. I was just thinking about—” “Matt Sterling?” her eyes lit up. “I told you he liked you. And I know you like him too.” You don’t know me! “I do not! He’s got Selena Ro—” “So! Didn’t he tell you not to believe everything you read? Maybe there’s something going on with them. You never know, but he definitely likes you.” “I guess.” I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that Matt Sterling could really be interested. I reasoned that he only asked me out because there were so few people on our part of the island and he wanted some company. Then again, I was still trying to come up with a legitimate reason for that kiss. Jen and I split the cab fare and made our way up to my new apartment. The movers had placed all of my things from storage and Trump SoHo in the middle of the floor. Jen circled the pile and crossed her arms. “I forgot you didn’t have furniture. Do you have any wine?” “I don’t think so.” “I’m definitely going to need some to get through all of this. I’m also going to need some food.” “I can have some delivered. What do you want? Chinese?” “That’d be cool,” she headed for the door. “I’m going to pick up some trash bags while I’m out too.” “You’re leaving now?” “Um, yes? Unpacking without alcohol? That’s so sophomore year.”

“I tend to forget how mature you are. Really.” She rolled her eyes and shut the door. I walked over to the mountain of boxes and ran my hand across the labels. I opened a box labeled “memories” and removed the bubble wrap. Inside were journals I kept in college. I flipped through one and stopped on a random page: “Dear Journal, I’m not sure about Sean. I think I love him…Okay, I’m IN LOVE with him. But do you think he’ll ever get tired of me? Like, he could have any woman he wanted yet he’s with me…I don’t want to sound like I have low self-esteem or anything but if I were on the verge of becoming a rich jewelry designer, I wouldn’t be dating a college kid…Then again he’s only four years older than me…and…Welp, gotta go! Sean’s taking me to dinner tonight!” I sifted through the box and found pictures of the two of us smiling in Belize, swimming in Hawaii, and star gazing in Paris. There were numerous love letters from Sean, letters he sent from overseas whenever I couldn’t join him on a business trip. At the bottom of the box was our original marriage license. It was what we both “couldn’t wait” to get and purchased three months before the wedding. I need to get rid of all of this. Now. I found the “electronics” box and pulled out my speakers. I dragged them next to the door and hooked up my Ipod. I scrolled down my “Fuck Sean” playlist and turned the volume up as loud as it could go. I placed the “memories” box on the fireplace and cranked up the fire. I began dancing to the music, shouting along to each power anthem—Aretha, Adele, Tina Turner, even Beyoncé. I crumpled the useless journal pages one by one and threw them into the fire. I held our perfect pictures over the flames and laughed as they burned. “Break another little piece of my heart now baby!” I screamed with Janis Joplin. “Have another little piece of my heart now baby! You know you got it if it makes you feel good!” “Melody?” Jen stopped the music and gaped at me. “I’m not even going to ask.” Turn down the fire and avoid eye contact… “I forgot I left the door unlocked.” “Good thing you did or else I would’ve been standing out there all night! Have you and Janis unpacked anything?” “Just some old memories.” “Let’s get started then, unless you wanted to finish the song first.” “I hate you.” I took my time picking out new furniture. I spent countless hours visiting boutiques and department stores. A part of me wanted to call Sean and ask for the designer who styled his condo, but I held back. The last thing I wanted to do was open a channel of communication between us. I easily found pieces for my living room and dining space, but I couldn’t find anything amazing for my bedroom. I wanted something sleek and modern, something that reflected how much I loved New York City. I guessed summer was the time for traditional and contemporary, because the most “modern” piece I could find was an egg shaped bed with re-purposed pipes for bedposts.

After leaving another furniture store disappointed, I headed towards a newsstand. I’d refrained from reading my byline for weeks but I needed to know how Phil was handling it. I handed the vendor a couple of ones and grabbed The New York Appeal. I skimmed the latest news stories and found “my” review of Hanging Free: “The latest film from Plum Studios is possibly the greatest thing this critic has seen in a long time. Chock full of stars—Adam Sandler, Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, and Maya Rudolph to name a few, this is one you don’t want to miss! “Adam Sandler plays Jacob, a forty year old millionaire who just found out he has a flesh eating disorder. Since he’s accomplished everything he wanted in life, Jacob wants to spend his last days ruining the lives of everyone who ever wronged or “hated on” him. Some of these people include his twelfth grade math teacher (She awarded him a certificate that read “Class Idiot” at graduation), his mother (she traded him in a crack deal when he was fifteen), and his ex-college sweetheart (she dumped him for his best friend on his birthday). “Of course, what makes this film a charmer is the fact that Jacob’s memory of events is somewhat askew, and he has to learn to see things from other people’s point of view. There’s a beautiful love story underneath the layers of recollection, and an even bigger story of forgiveness underneath this raucous comedy. “My only problem with this film is that it lacked any supernatural or sci-fi undertones. What has Hollywood come to? Why do all films these days have to take place in the real world? You’re telling me a forty year old millionaire who is dying wouldn’t want to go to space? He wouldn’t want to die in style? He wouldn’t want to go to Comi-Con and treat those fans to the rest of his wealth? 3.5 out of 4 stars.” Ugh, Phil! “Anything else I can interest you in?” the vendor wiped her brow. “Perhaps The Wall Street Journal? A fashion magazine?” “I don’t think so,” I looked over her small selection. I was about to walk away when I saw Us Weekly with Matt and Selena on the cover. I picked it up. “I’ll buy this one.” “Don’t you just love those two together?” she beamed. “They’re my favorite Hollywood couple!” I was running through Central Park at four in the morning. I was trying to make sense of what I’d seen in Us Weekly, but none of it added up: Matt was kissing Selena in the park, touching her face in a car, and rubbing her baby bump at a party. What part of the “we look so in love and we’re getting married and having a baby” collage was I not supposed to believe? I felt stupid. I should have known Matt’s interest was too good to be true. I should have known that I needed to work on myself before going out with someone else, high profile actor or not. I suddenly remembered coming across an article that said the key to “starting over” was first realizing how to be happy alone. It also suggested that I change some of my habits, but I doubted I could ever let go of my early morning runs. I sat on a bench and took out my wallet. Once again, my license read “Melody Carter” and showed me wearing my beloved red hair. All my credit cards had been re-issued and read “Miss Melody Carter.” I had to fight with American Express management to get the “Miss” attached. They didn’t understand the

importance. I promised myself I wouldn’t take on the groom’s name until a month after the wedding next time, if there ever was a next time. It was hard starting over, realizing that I had to start over. Changing my name from Mrs. to Miss was easy; learning to accept what that meant was becoming harder each day. I pulled my knees up and began stretching. I needed to get through five more miles. “Melody? You’re back! You run this early too?” Matt Sterling stopped in front of me and removed his hat. The last person I want to see right now… “Hello Mr. Sterling. Yes I do.” “I hardly see any paparazzi during this time of day. That’s what makes it great for me. Why do you run so early?” Please go away. “Are you mad at me or something?” he took out his ear buds. “Why would I be mad?” “I don’t know. How are you? I’ve been trying to find you for the past couple weeks.” “For what? Do you need a sitter for your newborn? I won’t have the time.” “No. I don’t need a sitter for—Look, can we talk? I need to get a couple things off my chest.” “Call Dr. Phil. I’m sure you can afford his expertise.” “Whoa whoa whoa,” he sat down next to me. “What’s wrong? Last time I checked you were kissing me in St. Barts. What’s changed?” “First off, you were kissing me. As amazing as that was, it shouldn’t have happened. I temporarily forgot you were engaged. But not to worry, that fact has been forever etched into my brain. I read all about it in Us Weekly yesterday. If you’re about to get married why would you even pursue me? Why would you ask me to—?” “Because I like you.” What? “I—” “I told you not to believe everything you read,” he fiddled with a strand of my hair. “And I’d really like the chance to outdo our last kiss.” He’s so sexy…Stay focused! “I don’t think we—” “Shhhh,” he ran his fingers through my hair and caressed my face. “I can’t do this,” I backed away. “This isn’t one of your movies. This is reality. I’m still hurt from being dumped at my wedding, and you’re in love with Selena. You’re just having last second doubts. St. Bart’s with you was…fun. Let’s just leave it at that okay?” “Melody, listen. I need to tell you—” “I saw a preview for your movie that comes out in December. It looks worse than Summer Nights,” I put on my headphones and jogged away. I didn’t stop or look back. I kept my eyes on the trees, on the lake in the distance. When I made it back to

the city, I sat in a Starbucks for a couple hours before asking to borrow a copy of The New York Appeal. I nervously flipped through the sheets, hoping to find a better article under my byline. I spotted my page near the back: “What We Ladies Can Learn from Princess Laila and Anakin Skywalker.” Okay, that’s it! I left the paper on the table and headed for the subway station. I could barely contain my anger. I practically ran out of the subway tunnel when the tram stopped. I marched right past the main floor’s reception desk and onto the elevator. I could hear a faint, “Miss Carter, you’re not supposed to be—” as the doors closed. I stepped off the elevator and looked both ways. There was no one in sight, not even Sophie. I knocked on Mr. Maxwell’s door. “Come in!” “Good afternoon, Mr. Maxwell.” “Melody? I thought I—” “Just stop. Let me talk,” I shut the door. “I appreciate you looking out for me, Mr. Maxwell. I really do. For your information, I went to St. Bart’s and enjoyed all two weeks of my vacation. I even enjoyed the past couple weeks I spent decorating my apartment. That said, I’m coming back to work tomorrow. And you better let me. I’ve worked too damn hard to be the best critic this city has ever had to see it slip down the sewer with love references to Han Solo and the Galactic Empire.” He held the temple tips of his glasses in his mouth and sighed. “I’m glad you’re back. Phil was killing us.”

Chapter 18 Matt “And here is where the guests’ cocktail hour would be,” a woman swept her hand across the air. “How many guests are you expecting again?” I couldn’t remember the woman’s name, and I was only halfway paying attention to what she was saying. My focus was fleeting between her dark green eyes and her sleek red hair. There was a soft shine to it; anytime she nodded her head, her curls bounced up and down with it. It reminded me of Melody’s hair. “About four hundred, not including OWN network’s people. They haven’t given us an exact number yet,” Selena looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back even though I hated her guts, thought she was an utter psycho, and often fantasized about her dropping dead. I didn’t want to give the venue manager a clue as to how I really felt about my “wife to be.” “Okay, well we here at The Lighthouse can definitely accommodate that number and four hundred more if you were to need it,” the woman wrote on her pad. “Shall we take a look outside?” Selena tugged my arm and we followed the woman out onto the deck. As she and Selena talked about potential set up ideas, I leaned against the railing. I couldn’t deny that The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers was a beautiful place to have a wedding. Its floor to ceiling windows overlooked a large stretch of the Hudson River, its gleaming hardwood floors stretched from room to room, and its exposed ceilings with oil burning lamps added a bit of authenticity to the place. I just didn’t want to waste such a lovely space on mock nuptials with Selena. “Thank you for having us,” I extended my hand to the woman. “Miss?” “Miss Davidson. It’s been a pleasure sir.” “Wait,” Selena popped her gum. “Mr. Sterling and I wanted to discuss food arrangements. Is it true you only have one exclusive caterer?” Here we go… “Yes. Abigail Kirsch,” Miss Davidson suddenly looked nervous. “I’ll need to see some of her work, and not in a photo book or online. I want it delivered to me and Mr. Sterling sometime next week. I’ll give you the address.” “Miss Ross,” Miss Davidson shifted her weight from foot to foot, “I can assure you that Miss Abigail Kirsch is the best caterer in all of New York City.” “And I can assure you that I’ll be the judge of that. If she’s amazing we’ll keep her, but I have guests with all types of palettes so we may need to bring other chefs on board.” “What do you mean, Miss Ross?” “I mean that I’ve spoken to other chefs who would love to cater my wedding, and they’re willing to be here in person. From what I understand, Miss Kirsch may not be available the day of my wedding. I need someone who can give each meal personal attention, not a bunch of bumbling staff members and a junior chef.”

“Miss Ross, if you and Mr. Sterling choose this venue, and I hope you will,” Miss Davidson blinked rapidly, “I can assure you that Miss Kirsch will be here with her best team members and attend to every single detail.” “She better be. Can I borrow your notebook for the address?” “Certainly.” The driver shut the door behind Selena and she leaned against the window. We’d tasted over thirty wedding cakes, walked through five other venues, and visited two floral houses—all in perfect view of the paparazzi. “Matt?” Selena reached over and touched my arm. “Can you do one more craving run before you go? There’s a CVS three blocks up.” “We did one this morning!” “But we won’t see each other again until next week. Unless—” “No. Once a week until the wedding, Selena. A couple of hours with you are already torture enough.” She frowned, but I didn’t care. Until my lawyers found a loophole in that contract, I was limiting my time with her to once a week. Even that was beginning to feel like too much. “Do you read The New York Appeal?” she sighed. “Sometimes. Why?” “There was this amazing piece about being left at the altar today,” she reached into her purse and pulled out the paper. “The woman who wrote it is a hell of a writer. I was thinking we could get her to write about our wedding!” Melody? “I don’t think that would be a good—” “Of course it is!” she flipped the paper open. “My new publicist says Melody Carter has the most readers in the city.” “You fired another publicist?” “Yes! The last one was starting to think she and I were friends. Please.” “It’s hard to believe you were once a likable person,” I snatched the paper from her and began reading: “Dear New York, “A little over a month ago, I was standing at the altar, ready to be married. I wholeheartedly believed that the man standing across from me was the love of my life, that I’d finally found my Prince Charming. “I thought that all those years of believing in love, all those years of wishing I was a character in the romantic comedies—the good ones, not the instant fluff types that Hollywood serves up these days—had come to an end. “However, I realized that not only was I finally emulating a woman from a romantic comedy, I was emulating the woman that no bride wanted to be: the woman who gets left behind at the altar, for another woman, in front of everyone. “I realized that I had never thought about that woman when I watched the movies. I was too busy rooting for the one who stole the groom’s heart.

“In most of those movies, the jilted bride is just a minor character, an insignificant vehicle used to move the subplot forward. She’s even made out to be an awful person, someone who never deserved to be married to the nice and handsome male lead in the first place. “While the man and the real love of his life embrace and begin their new life together, the jilted bride is barely given a half second of camera time before the credits roll. “What happens to that woman who was left behind? What happens to the honeymoon, the well-wish gifts, and the wedding dress? “I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you exactly what I did with them. “The day of the wedding, after I recovered from fainting, I cried. I told my family to leave me the hell alone and I checked into a Doubletree to cry some more. “While my mom was arranging to have the gifts and decorations shipped to Memphis, I was sitting on the floor of a hotel room, bawling in a custom Vera Wang gown. “I sat like that for four more days. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or think. All I could do was cry. “Whenever the housekeepers came to “clean” the untouched bed and furniture, they slipped me boxes of Kleenex and bottled water. Looking back, I owe them a great deal of gratitude and hope that my words will somehow reach them. “Once I finally gained the strength to face the world, I called my parents and told them I was coming home. I took a cab to the brownstone my ex-fiancé and I still shared and changed clothes. I threw whatever outfits I could into my oversized Hermés bag and headed for the airport. “When I made it to Memphis, I lay in bed for what felt like years, ignoring the numerous phone calls and voice messages that poured in. There was nothing anyone could say to ease my pain. There was nothing anyone could do to erase the humiliation and hurt of my fiancé’s betrayal. “I’ll admit I opened the wedding gifts with utter excitement and kept all things of value. I felt that I deserved each and every one of them. “After two weeks of Southern comfort, I returned to work, only to be turned away. So, I convinced my sister to join me on the two week honeymoon my fiancé and I would’ve taken. “Although I cried the first few days, I enjoyed the next week and a half immensely. I even managed to spend time with a handsome guy, time that ended in a soul searing kiss. “Yet, as my vacation came to an end and I returned to reality in New York, I realized I was still reeling from the pain. “Adding salt to my wound was the fact that few people even cared. It was as if I was supposed to quickly get over it, as if my heart was supposed to magically mend. It was if I was supposed to get over the fact that my wedding dress—which took six months to perfect—was now a symbol of wasted money and time. (It now has a home in a black trash bag, and when I stop trying it on every night, it will find its way to the nearest Goodwill.) “I’ve spent the past few days going over what I did wrong, what I could have done better. I’ll even admit that despite my fiancé’s infidelity, I temporarily blamed myself. “However, I’ve finally accepted that I did not deserve to be left at the altar. I did not deserve to be cheated on, and I did not deserve to have the past six years of my life ripped away in six seconds. “I’m by no means perfect—I procrastinate on most assignments, I never pay my bills on time, and I have a tendency to use all the dishes in my cabinet before opening the dishwasher. “But do any of these traits make me a horrible person? Do they make me any less worthy of marrying than

the next woman? “I don’t think so. “Next time you watch a romantic comedy where the groom leaves his fiancé at the altar, remember that not everyone in that movie gets the happy ending. “Remember that the woman standing in the background is the one who will have to pick up all the pieces. “Your friend forever, “Melody Carter.” I read the sentence about the “handsome guy” and “soul searing kiss” over and over and laughed. I sent Joan on a two day investigation mission and as usual, she delivered. I was sitting across the street from a large stone apartment complex, waiting for someone to leave. In two hours I’d eaten two bags of chips, a cheesesteak sub, and a box of Oreo cookies. I was beginning to believe that no one lived in that building until I saw a woman approaching the door. I jumped out of the car and rushed over. “Excuse me, Miss? Can I ask you for a favor?” “I don’t have any money,” she fiddled with her keys. “Try the people on the Upper East Side.” “I’m not asking for money ma’am,” I stepped in front of the door. “Matt Sterling?” Damn. I thought the baseball cap and shades would be enough today… “Umm no. Well yes,” I took off my shades. “I need a huge favor.” I paced the eighteenth floor landing for at least twenty minutes. When I finally got a hold of myself, I knocked on the door. There was no answer. I knocked again. “I’m coming! Give me a second!” Melody’s voice cried out. She swung the door open. “Yes? How may I—what are you doing here?” “Returning this,” I handed her a business card. “My realtor’s card? Um thanks? I bought the apartment so I don’t think I need that anymore.” “You dropped it the day you ran away from me. You’re lucky some stranger didn’t pick it up and track you down.” Her eyes widened and she took a step back. That’s right. You’re not getting away from me today. I sensed she wasn’t going to initiate things. “You know, I could sue you.” “For what?” “For libel. For mentioning me in your article the other day.” “Libel? I never said your name. Besides, how do you know I was referring to you?” “I don’t. Are you going to invite me in? Isn’t that a courtesy when someone returns something that belongs to you?”

Invite me in! She blushed. “Sure. You have to leave in five minutes though.” “And why is that?” She didn’t answer my question. She just held the door open and let me inside. Her apartment was different from what I’d imagined. It was airy and spacious. Everything was white. Large windows encompassed the far wall, and a freshly painted fire place sat in the corner. I noticed there was no furniture in the room, only tons of unopened boxes. “Would you like some water?” she asked. Before I could answer, she disappeared. She came back seconds later wearing a different shirt. She avoided my eyes and handed me a bottle of water. “Thank you. This is a really nice place. I had no idea movie critics did so well for themselves.” “More like people who return their really expensive engagement rings,” she sighed. “Most movie critics live modestly.” “I see…Is there a reason you keep running from me?” “Running from you? What do you mean?” “Every time I’ve tried to talk to you, ask you out, and more recently kiss you, you run away. Just so you know, I don’t give up easily.” Her jaw dropped and she turned away in an attempt to hide it. I wasn’t going to say another word. It was her turn. “You’re getting married,” she finally looked at me. God, not this again! Just tell her! “What are you doing tomorrow night?” “Writing more than likely.” “Can I come back over around eight?” I glanced at my watch. “You know, since you said I only have five minutes with you tonight?” I took the blushing and silence to be a yes. “It looks like you’re still unpacking things,” I walked over to the door. “Can you take out all your pots and pans before tomorrow night? Maybe we could make—” “I only have two.” “What? Why don’t you—” “I don’t cook.” “Oh. I guess I’ll bring my things over then. I’ll cook for you.” She tucked her lips in to avoid smiling. I wanted to push her against the door and kiss her, but I held back. “Good night Melody.” “Good night. Thank you for the Skittles.” “You’re very welcome.”

I floated through the next day. All I could think about was my date with Melody later. Joan had to snap her fingers several times to get my attention during my tuxedo fitting. I was too busy dreaming about how the night would go, hoping we could spend more nights of the week together. “Mr. Sterling!” Joan screamed. “What?” “Mr. Giornetti is trying to ask you how the sleeves feel.” “Oh,” I shook my arms. “They feel great. This is a really nice suit.” Mr. Giornetti smiled and took a step back. “I’m very particular about my work, Mr. Sterling. I want to be sure that this is the best suit I’ve designed so far. Will you be able to do another fitting once I’ve properly sewn the sleeves? Mr. Sterling?” “He’ll be here,” Joan sighed. “You can go over potential dates with me.” After the tuxedo fitting, Joan had the driver take me to New Jersey to buy food for the night. I didn’t feel like dealing with paparazzi while grocery shopping. “Do you know if she has any food allergies?” Joan placed a turnip in the shopping cart. I wonder if she likes Italian food… “Can I authorize a double raise for myself?” Is that too romantic? Does that make it seem like I’m desperate? Why am I so nervous? This can’t be normal... “Oreos and Cheese Nips?” Joan shook the cart, snapping me out of my thoughts. “What’s that Joan?” “All you have so far are Oreos, Cheese Nips, and a turnip. And the turnip is mine.” “I’m so sorry Joan. I’m out of it. I’m never been this nervous and—” “What do you plan on making?” “I was thinking something Italian?” “Too romantic.” “French?” “We’re in a grocery store, not a specialty market.” “American?” “Nothing says ‘I like you’ more than a greasy hamburger.” “Come on,” I laughed. “Help me out here.” “Fine. Go back to the car.” “But I—” “Trust me. You won’t be much help anyway.” I laughed and walked down the condiments aisle. Only a few fans approached me and asked for my autograph. The cashiers waved and took pictures with their phones. I mixed the glaze for our chicken as Melody sat quietly on a barstool. She was dressed in a simple black

shirt and jeans but she still looked sexy. Would she get mad if I suggested that we just skip dinner? “I don’t think I’ve ever met a Southern woman who couldn’t cook,” I smiled. “My mom tried to show me all the time when I was growing up, but it was boring to me. How’d you learn?” “My dad. He was a cook at a diner for a long time. He used to steal the seasonings and ingredients we couldn’t afford.” “He died?” “Yeah. Lung cancer.” “Oh...” “Don’t look so sad. He died happy,” I poured the glaze over our food and sat across from her. “What’s your favorite food?” “Candy.” “You’re joking.” “No, I’m a candy addict. That’s why I have all those vases of sweets in my office. The Skittles you sent are already gone.” I couldn’t stop laughing. “A candy addict?” “It’s true! I think my appointments alone pay my dentist’s mortgage.” “I bet,” I calmed down. “What’s your favorite real food?” “Pizza I guess.” WHAT? “Not chicken parmesan, crème brûlée, lobster?” “I’ve eaten all those, but pizza’s way better. And I’m talking about the pizza that takes real time and thought to make, none of that chain pizza crap.” That’s different… I noticed her plate was empty. “You want dessert? The sorbet should be ready by now.” “I don’t think I can eat anymore.” “Okay. Can we talk somewhere else? In another room?” She hopped off her stool and led me into a small room with dark brown sofas. I assumed it was her living room. “Oh, there’s actually furniture in here,” I laughed. “Take your shoes off.” “Why?” “So it’ll be harder for you to run away.” She rolled her eyes and slipped out of her flats. I patted the couch cushion next to me but she sat on the other end. “Nice try,” I moved down the couch. “What did you want to talk about, Matt? How detailed you want me to write the article for your wedding?”

So much for beating around the bush first… “Selena and I aren’t really together, Melody. We’re in a staged for the cameras relationship.” She blinked a couple times and said nothing. She looked around the room, as if she was searching for her next words. She shook her head. “I don’t believe you.” “But you’ll believe whatever TMZ says?” “Are you planning to let them in on this?” “No, that’s not how these things usually work.” “How do they work?” “It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” I tried to gauge her facial expressions. “Two people who both need attention for their upcoming projects get together, thereby creating more attention and more press for their work.” “And you consciously seek out actresses to do this with you?” “No. Selena and I were already dating, but then it turned into what it is now. Nothing.” She sat silent again, not making eye contact. “But at one point you two actually did like each other?” “Yes.” “But you don’t like her anymore? You’re just pretending for the paparazzi?” “Yes,” I put my arm around her shoulders. “What about the baby? Is it true you guys are using a surrogate?” “Where’d you read that?” “Perez Hilton’s website.” I laughed. “There’s no surrogate or a baby. She’s wearing a prosthetic baby bump.” “You’re kidding! That’s crazy! Why would—” “Don’t ask. Everything used to make sense to me, but the further I distance myself from it I see how crazy it is.” She looked up at me. “Did you ever cheat on her with groupies?” Whoa. Where’s that coming from? “No. I didn’t. I’m monogamous when I’m in a relationship.” “What happened when you two stopped liking each other? Did you still have sex?” “Yes, until I told her I didn’t want to do that anymore either.” “Have you ever been with someone that wasn’t a celebrity?” “My former publicist.” And hopefully you… “Okay.” I wished I could read her mind. I could tell she was thinking about something and I wanted to know exactly what it was. “Okay?” I pressed. “That’s all you have to say?” “What type of response were you expecting?”

“Something like, ‘Matt I’m so sorry I ran away from you all those times. If only I had listened.’ Something along those lines.” She pursed her lips. “That’s not what I was thinking at all.” “What were you thinking?” “I don’t know. It seems unreal, especially since you two are actually having a wedding. I guess I don’t completely believe you.” I don’t care. I pulled her close and kissed her, running my fingers through her hair. I felt her kissing me back but she slowly pulled away. I sighed. “I hope you’ll believe me eventually. I’m not lying. By the way, can I have your phone number?” “My realtor didn’t already give that to you?” “No. I did ask her for it though.” “555-0967.” “Thanks,” I saved it to my phone. “When’s the next night you’re free?” “Umm Friday?” “Can I come over then? Or would you like to go out somewhere? We can go anywhere you want to go.” I don’t want you thinking I’m scared to be in public with you… “Here would probably be better. I’m not a fan of being mauled by paparazzi. Plus, you should probably keep up your fake image of being with Selena.” I leaned over and kissed her again, pulling her closer every time she tried to move away. “It is fake, Melody. I’m only interested in you.” She was speechless again. “Since we’re staying in Friday,” I stood up. “Your realtor mentioned you had a lake inspired spa?”

Chapter 19 Melody My heart was beating so loudly last night I was shocked he didn’t hear it. Or maybe he did hear it and didn’t mention it. Either way, I was shocked I didn’t pass out right in front of him. I really wanted to believe what he said about him and Selena was true, but they were the talk of the country. Everyone had something to say about their wedding and how cute of a couple they were. I wondered how people would feel if it really was a hoax, and if there were other celebrities in similar situations. What about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? Kim Kardashian and Kanye? Beyoncé and Jay-Z? What if they were all just illusions for the public? I vowed not to mention Matt’s “confession” to anyone, not even Jen. I needed time to process it myself. There was a knock on my door. “Come in Sophie!” “Just a couple things Miss Carter,” she stepped inside. “Mr. Maxwell is working from home today and he wants you to lead the three o’ clock floor meeting. Adam Sandler is upset about your re-review of his film and his agent will be calling you later. Selena Ross and Matt Sterling picked the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers for their wedding. Mr. Maxwell wants you to set up a private viewing in a couple weeks. He wants you to get a real feel for the space.” I need to cancel that Friday date with Matt. Fake wedding or not, it’s a REAL marriage… “Thank you Sophie. Is that all?” “Reception downstairs called to say you have a package. The guy won’t leave until you personally sign for it.” “Where’s my signature stamp?” I opened my drawer. “He said he needs to see your ID.” “Is he serious? Does he not know how office buildings work?” I stood up and put on my blazer. “Have Peter Travers on the phone when I get back please.” I followed her out of my office and waited for the service elevator. Is this how Matt got up to my office the first time? Don’t think about him. Don’t think about him… I walked to the main floor and spotted a man holding a flat box against the reception desk. “Did you just get hired yesterday?” I handed him my ID. “I think our receptionist has more than enough brains to accept packages for everyone that works here.” He held the ID to the light and handed it back to me. “I was given specific instructions, Miss Carter. Could you sign here please?” He held out a clipboard and I pressed my signature onto the paper. He handed me the box and tipped his hat as he walked away. There was no return address on the package, only an “URGENT” label across the front. I shook it, but the contents didn’t make a sound. I tried prying it open with my nails but the tape was too thick. I locked the door to my office and attacked the box with scissors. Inside was a handwritten note: “Dear Melody, I can’t wait to see you this Friday. We can take things as slow as you like. Hope this will last a lot longer than my last gift to you. –Your favorite actor, Matt

Sterling.” I peeled away layers of cooking sheet paper to get to the gift: A candy pizza. The “crust” was a light chocolate chip cookie, the “cheese” was sweet dough, and the “toppings” were M&Ms, candy corn, and caramel coated peanuts. I can’t believe this… My cell phone rang. “Hello?” “Did you open the box yet?” he sounded even sexier over the phone. “I just opened it. Thank you, this was really sweet. No pun intended.” He laughed. “You’re welcome.” His words lingered across the line for several seconds. Neither of us said anything. “I’m assuming you’re having a slow day?” I asked. “Quite the opposite. I just left a script reading session with some cast mates. I’m on my way to look at some shoes for the wedding.” Oh yeah, YOUR wedding. “Listen, Matt. This pizza was really nice of you and so was the dinner you made for me yesterday. But at the end of the day, you’re still engaged. Whether that’s real or fake, I think we should be associates until your fake relationship is over.” “What’s your definition of an associate?” “Someone I talk to ever so often and—” “How often?” I paused for a second. “Maybe three or four times a month?” “Do associates ever hang out or eat dinner together?” “No. They don’t.” He groaned. “I don’t need any more associates, Melody.” “Casual friends then?” “I thought we were friends. Are you telling me we’re not friends anymore?” “I’m telling you we shouldn’t be anything while you’re with Selena.” “What can I do to get you to stop saying that?” Don’t marry her… “I don’t know.” He sighed. “I’ll call you tonight. What time do you go to sleep?” I made sure my cell was completely charged. I paced my bedroom, looking at the clock every five seconds. Butterflies were fluttering in my stomach and I couldn’t get my palms to stop sweating. I’d never been so nervous about a phone call in my life, not even when Sean and I began dating. At exactly nine o’ clock my phone sounded. I waited a couple seconds before picking it up.

“Hello?” “Hey Melody,” his voice was deep and sultry. “How are you?” “I’m okay. You?” “Tired. I’m on my way back home.” “From Selena’s?” I slapped my forehead with my palm. He laughed. “You’re not the trusting type are you? No, I only see Selena once a week for photo opps. I was in Philly for a book signing.” “Oh. Your biography that came out last week?” “Yeah. Destined for the Screen.” “How did you find the time to write a book?” “I didn’t,” he sighed. “A ghostwriter did most of it. We spoke three hours a week and she crafted my story out of that.” “Well in that case, I don’t feel so bad about giving it one and a half stars.” We both laughed. I snuggled underneath a blanket and listened to him tell me about his day, about his life. Before I knew it, it was three in the morning and I didn’t want to get off the phone. I wanted our conversation to last forever. “Tell me something,” he paused. “Was your ex-fiancé the only guy you seriously dated?” “Pretty much. I met him when I was a freshman in college and the rest is you know…” “Not even in high school?” “My parents didn’t allow me to date,” I laughed at the memory. “They even made me go to prom alone. What about you? Is Selena your first serious engagement?” “I’ve never been seriously engaged, but before Selena there was my old publicist, Lisa.” “What happened?” “Turns out that whole ‘never mix business with pleasure’ thing is true. If we had an argument she wouldn’t book me for crucial appearances. So in return, I wouldn’t show up to some of the things she promised to her client friends. It was really messy. I fired her and we broke up.” “What about Joan? She’s really pretty…” “She is really pretty,” I could sense him smiling. “Joan is also completely professional and not attracted to me at all.” “How do you know?” “Whenever I’m drunk she tells me all the things she hates about me. And she told me she isn’t attracted to me.” I laughed. “Was there anyone serious before Lisa?” “Not really, unless you want a detailed list of models and groupies.” “I’m okay,” I rolled my eyes. “Is red your natural hair color?” We didn’t get off the phone until five o’ clock. I wasn’t tired though, I was running off adrenaline. The next few days at work, I cruised through my assigned books and films. I was excited about spending my nights talking to Matt on the phone.

On Thursday night, we spoke until six o’clock. The only reason we stopped was because he needed to board a plane back to New York and Joan wanted to prep him for an interview. When we hung up, I did something I’d never done in my six years of working at The New York Appeal: I called in sick. My adrenaline had run out. I woke up around noon and played my voice mails. “Melody, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re sick,” Mr. Maxwell’s voice was soft. “Let me know if you need anything. Call or text me when you get this.” “Mel! I finally finished my thesis!” Jenn screamed. “Me and my friend Josh are going out to the bar tonight. Five dollar jumbo jello shots if you’re interested! I’ll buy you two!” “Miss Carter, I’ll have the books from your office sent over to you for the weekend. Feel better soon,” Sophie sounded really concerned. “Hey Melody,” Matt’s voice was a whisper. “Your assistant said you were out sick so I’m assuming we’ll need to reschedule our date? Call me back when you can and I hope you feel better.” I remembered why I never called in. I sucked at lying and people worried too much. I called Mr. Maxwell back first, telling him that I’d definitely be back to work on Monday. I turned down Jenn and her jumbo-jello shots, but promised I would take her out to celebrate next week. I thanked Sophie for her hard work and let her know she didn’t need to send those books. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to call Matt. He mentioned that he had another busy day ahead of him and I didn’t want to interrupt. As much fun as I’d had talking to him the past couple of nights, I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to come over. I was scared he was starting to get close, and I was developing feelings for him. I sent him a text: “I’m okay. Yeah, I may not be up to a date tonight. Raincheck?” I grabbed a bag of cheese puffs from the kitchen and slouched on my sofa. It was time to turn my brain off and watch reality TV. Matt texted me back two hours later: “Would you like me to cook you some soup?” I watched an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians before responding: “No, I’m okay. Thanks though :-)” He immediately texted back: “What are you doing?” If I texted back too soon, he would think I wasn’t doing anything and then he would probably try to come over. I watched another episode before texting him again: “Watching Kim K. shop for a dress. You?” He texted back: “Standing outside your door.” Shit! I ran into the bathroom and pulled out my blow dryer. I held it over my forehead for half a minute. Then I held it over my chest. I took out some Vicks Vapor rub and rubbed it under my nose and onto my neck. I pulled my hair into a sloppy bun and splashed hot water into my eyes. I threw on some silk pajamas and fastened my robe. I held the blow dryer on my forehead for another minute and rushed to the door. “I said you didn’t have to cook me any soup,” I glared at him.

“That’s why I bought some instead,” he shook a brown paper bag. “What’s wrong with you exactly?” “Are you a doctor now?” “I played one once.” I tried not to laugh. “I have a fever and um…it’s kind of hard for me to breathe.” “So you got sick between six and eight this morning?” “I’ve been feeling kind of bad for the past few days. It just got worse today.” “What’s the blow dryer for?”

Chapter 20 Matt “Ummm,” she looked around the room. “Um I—” I stopped her with a kiss. “You’re a horrible actress. Is that Vicks Vapor rub on your face?” She turned red and nodded. I laughed. “You could’ve just told me you didn’t feel like a date today.” “Would you have showed up anyway?” YES. “Probably.” She shook her head. “I’m gonna put this up and get this stuff off my face. There’s cheese puffs on the couch in the living room. I made them myself.” While she made herself “un-sick,” I took out the soup and bread. For some reason, being around her still made me nervous. I could still feel the unresolved tension between us. “What type of soup is it?” she actually sat beside me. “Chicken noodle. Since you’re not really sick, I figured we could share.” We ate several spoonfuls in silence—she was blushing more than usual, and looked as nervous as I was. “You’re early,” she muttered. “I didn’t have any time to put myself together so excuse how I look.” “You look beautiful, Melody. You always do.” She blushed and turned away. “Thanks.” “Where’s your movie collection? Do you have one?” “Of course I have one. What type of question is that?” “Well where is it?” “It’s in black boxes in two rooms to the right.” “Of course it is,” I stood up. “I’ll be right back.” I was convinced she was never going to completely unpack her things. The room was full of stuffed garbage bags, suitcases, and plastic bins. I climbed over stacks of books and held myself against the wall. There were at least twenty black boxes in the corner alphabetized and separated by genre. I searched for the “romantic comedy” box and thumbed through the W’s. “What’d you pick?” she looked up from her soup. “When Harry Met Sally. Have you watched it this month?” “Not yet…” I popped it into the DVD player and wrapped my arms around her. “I’ve never watched this all the way through.” “How is that possible?” “I don’t know. I never finished You’ve Got Mail either.”

“We have to watch that next then,” she leaned against me and I buried my face in her hair. “I cry at the end every time,” she wiped her eyes. “I can’t help it. I really like the way they spread the story out over the years.” “It was really good. I should’ve watched it a long time ago.” She looked up at me and smiled. I bent down and pressed my lips against hers. She immediately broke away. “You’ve Got Mail?” We really need to break that habit today… “In a minute. Where’s your spa?” “It’s down the hall.” “Can you show me?” “Sure,” she quickly moved away from me and stood up. She led me through a long corridor and down a couple steps. The room was pitch-black until she clapped her hands and hit a couple switches. “Wow,” I ran my hand against the grass and flagstone that surrounded the pool. As the room brightened, I noticed that there was a Jacuzzi, a sauna, and a small waterfall. “I said the same thing when I first saw it. It reminds me of the lakes in Tennessee.” “I’ve never been,” I pulled off my shirt and jeans. “I’ll take your word for it though.” “You brought your swim trunks?” “I told you I was going to,” I stepped into the pool and felt warm waves moving across my chest. “Give me a second. I’ll be right back,” she slipped inside the sauna. She came back out several minutes later, wearing a bright yellow bikini. Her body was more amazing than I remembered. She slid into the pool and paddled on her back. As she brought her right hand over her head, I noticed faded black ink on her wrist. I thought back to our encounter at the launch party, to our time in St. Barts. She’d always worn a bracelet on that arm. “What’s that on your wrist?” I stood her upright. “Notes?” Stop turning away from me… “It was where a tattoo used to be. I had the first layer removed last week.” “What did it say?” “It was just something stupid,” she rubbed it with her thumb. “Tell me.” “It said ‘when you know you know,’ and it had all these little intricate stars around it. My ex and I both got it earlier this year. I can’t believe I actually bought into that crap.” “You don’t believe in love anymore?” “It’s not that. I think love exists. I just think men don’t really know what love means. No offense.” “None taken. Do you have any other tattoos?” “No. Why?”

“Melody,” I softly tugged her hair. “We’ve already established you’re a terrible liar.” “There’s one on my right ankle,” she smiled. “What’s it say?” “Nothing. It’s a tiny dolphin.” “Interesting,” I couldn’t hold back anymore. I lifted her onto the edge of the pool and grabbed her face with my hands. I traced her lips with my tongue and kissed her deeply, barely giving her the chance to breathe. “Matt…” she murmured. I brushed strands of hair away from her face and palmed her breasts, softly squeezing each one. I pushed her down against the flagstone and slowly untied the left side of her bikini. “Matt…” her voice was weak. “Wrap your legs around me,” I whispered. She followed my command and moaned softly as I planted kisses across her stomach. I started to untie the right side of her bikini and she sat up. “We can’t,” she panted. “We should stop now.” Damnit! “Okay,” I let her go. “You’ve Got Mail now?” “Yeah. We should go watch that.” I pulled myself out of the pool and we dried off in silence. I tried to look at her face, to see what she was thinking, but each time I tried, she turned away from me. She put in the DVD and sat on the other end of the couch. I moved closer. We sat watching the opening credits—not touching, not talking.

Chapter 21 Melody I could feel Matt watching me, waiting for me to turn and look at him. Focus on Tom Hanks. Focus on Tom Hanks. “Melody?” he kissed my shoulder. I pretended I didn’t hear him. I kept my eyes locked on Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s encounter at the dinner party. “So you’re attempting to act like you’re deaf?” he moved down to my collarbone. Oh my god…. I felt him untying the back of my bikini top, whispering my name as he played with the strings. “Matt…” I struggled to speak. “You can hear me now?” he laughed and threw my top onto the floor. I folded my arms to hide my breasts. “This is the best part of the movie.” “Melody,” he pulled me into his lap. “You and I both know you’re not really watching the movie.” “Yes I am! This is the part where—” His lips were on mine and I couldn’t remember what I was going to say. This isn’t real… “You were saying?” he pulled away and I knew he was teasing me. “You’re a really good kisser.” He smiled and moved me out of his lap, laying me across the couch. He pulled off his swim trunks and tossed them on the floor. OH MY GOD! This definitely isn’t real! He forced my arms away from my chest and pinned them above my head. “You have a beautiful body, Melody.” I closed my eyes and felt him kissing my chest, softly biting my nipples. I squirmed and moaned with each bite, failing to seem unaffected by his touch. I felt his free hand fiddling with the strings of my bikini bottom, expertly loosening the triple knot I’d made minutes earlier. “Matt…Wait…” “Do you want me to stop?” he covered my mouth with his lips again, harshly biting my lower lip. Never… I was lost. Gone to some other world. I stared into his dark eyes, wondering if he could read my mind. “Answer me,” he bit my lip again. I gasped. “I don’t want to be on the couch...” “Oh?” he moved back and pulled me up by my hair. “Where do you want to be?”

I caught my breath before answering. “My bedroom.” He stood up, completely unfazed by his nakedness. “You want to show me where that is?” I was too busy looking at his body to answer. “Melody,” he helped me to my feet. “Where is your bedroom?” I was still speechless. My heart was beating a rhythm I’d never known. Before I could calm myself down, before I could come back down to reality, Matt lifted me into his arms and carried me across the floor. “I guess I’ll find it myself,” he looked down at me and kissed my forehead. I woke up in bed alone. There was no sign of Matt. I figured Joan had called and needed to whisk him away to some important interview. I pulled the covers over my head and giggled. Everything about last night had been incredible, fulfilling. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to stop smiling. “What’s so funny?” Matt’s voice interrupted my laughter. I pushed the covers down and saw him holding a breakfast tray. “Nothing. I thought you left.” “Without saying goodbye?” he set the tray in front of me. “You think I would do that?” I shook my head and looked over the tray: Waffles, chocolate bagels, scrambled potatoes, orange slices and cranberry juice. “When did you get groceries?” “I didn’t. Joan picked up a few things and left them outside your door.” “Does she always do that when you stay the night with someone?” He laughed. “No. This is the first time Joan has ever done that. I think she likes you.” “Good to know,” I cut up the waffle. “What are you doing today?” “I have to taste some catering examples with Selena. The OWN network wants to capture all the wedding preparations.” “Right…I keep forgetting about that.” “Hey,” he tilted my chin. “Don’t look like that. I told you it’s not real.” “Why are you going through with it then? Why can’t you just back out?” “It’s complicated. Believe me, I’ve tried breaking things off with Selena but she…I signed a contract with the OWN network, a very unforgiving one.” “And you can’t buy your way out of it?” “Not exactly. There’s more than money attached to this wedding.” “Oh,” I spread cream cheese across my bagel. I didn’t want to ask any more questions. He didn’t owe me anything, and we technically didn’t even know each other that well. All of a sudden I wanted him to leave. I felt him rubbing my shoulders and immediately changed my mind. He whispered in my ear, “When can I come over again?”

Jen sat down and slid me a beer. “Mel, you’re glowing! Did you guys do it? Was it good?” “Really Jen? I’m fine. Thanks for asking. What’s up with your shirt?” “You like?” she looked down at her chest. “I made it myself. I really should’ve majored in art.” In bright blue and red letters were the words, “Eff My Thesis, Let’s Drink!” Below the words was a picture of a large martini glass with a pencil hanging out of it. “You’re really not going to tell me about Matt Sterling?” I changed the subject again, watching her squirm in anticipation of an answer. “Tell me!” she beat her hands on the table like a toddler. “Tell me right now!” “We did it,” I laughed. “We also watched movies and cooked way before that even happened.” “He cooked for you? Aw! That’s sweet! I’m so jealous, Mel!” “Don’t be. I think it’s just a fling. I’m sure it won’t last long.” “Why would you say that?” “I’m not sure how I feel about the Selena Ross thing. I think I’m just using him as a deflection from Sean.” “Oh my god, shut up! Just go with the flow. Stop thinking so much.” “Go with the flow?” “Yes! He likes you, you like him. No big deal. I understand you’re not completely over Sean, but I think dating Matt is helping you get over him.” “You sure you’re the little sister?” “Not at all,” she took my beer and chugged it. “When are you seeing him again?” “I’m not sure. I told him I would let him know later this week. If I have time Saturday I might ask him to come over.” “Do I even want to know what lame activity you’re doing on Saturday? What’s so important that you can’t hang out with your boyfriend?” “He’s not my boyfriend, Jen. And I thought you and me were going to Coney Island.” “Oh yeah, that’s right. Can I use your phone for a second?” “Sure,” I handed it to her. “I have to run to the restroom.” I splashed my face with water and looked in the mirror. Jen was right. I was glowing. I wanted to call Matt before coming to the bar, to see how his day was going, but I didn’t want him to know I was thinking about him. I slid back into our booth and noticed Jen had ordered four more drinks. “I have to work tomorrow, Jen. I can’t drink all night.” “Only one of these is for you,” she scoffed. “I’m taking advantage of you paying. Oh, and I texted your boyfriend for you. You can thank me later.” “Jen!” I snatched my phone from her. “What did you text him?” “That you’re head over heels in love with him and that you can’t wait to do it again.” “Okay. Those were your last drinks of the night.” My phone vibrated. A text from Matt: “I was thinking about you too. This Saturday works just fine. I’ll

have to pick you up really early though. Can’t wait. Call you later :-)” Matt shook me awake. “Wake up. We’re here.” I sat up and looked out my window. There was nothing but a gas station with two pumps and a small dusty building that read “T&M’s.” “Where are we?” “This is the diner where my dad used to work. The owner said we could help open up today.” “Who’s the owner?” “Me,” he shook a set of keys. “You don’t think the paparazzi are going to show up?” “I doubt it. We’re technically in the middle of nowhere. Some truckers might ask to take pictures with me but that’s about it.” I followed him inside the small café. Despite the drab exterior, the inside was bright and cheery. The checkered floor shone underneath yellow halogen lights, bright red bar stools with silver metal legs sat up against the bar, and each of the tables was set with fresh cut flowers. “Why are you sitting down?” he planted a kiss on my forehead. “I’m watching you open up the diner.” “I don’t think so. You’re going to help.” “You know I don’t—” “You can always learn,” he slid me a box of syrup dispensers. “We’ll start with the basics. Put one of those on each table and make sure they’re all filled.” I took my time placing them on the tables, stepping back to examine each one. I was trying my best to avoid any real cook work. The last time I attempted to make breakfast, the fire department came to put it out. I felt Matt’s arms around my waist. “Why is it taking you so long to set tables?” “I’m making sure all the syrups are perfectly aligned.” “You’re so full of it, Melody. Come on, let me show you how to make breakfast.” I watched him make a batch of blueberry waffles from scratch. He was so meticulous, making use of every fresh blueberry and stirring the beige batter until it was perfect. I cut strawberries for the pancake toppings, and fried the bacon with little help. I burnt the first and second batch of scrambled eggs and couldn’t get him to stop laughing at me. I was setting napkins on the bar when an elderly man walked into the diner. “Matt!” he beamed. “How you been?” Matt walked over to the man and hugged him. “I’m good Tony, you alright?” “Better than ever. Business is good. Your dad would be really proud…How come I didn’t get a wedding invite? My wife is beginning to think you don’t love us anymore.” “I’ll get you one,” he laughed. “Tony, I want you to meet someone. This is my friend, Melody Carter. Melody, this was my dad’s best friend and the current manager of the place, Tony.”

“Are you the Melody Carter from The New York Appeal?” Tony’s eyes lit up. “Yes,” I shook his hand. “That’s me.” “You’re a lot younger than I thought! A lot younger! My wife loves your stuff!” “Thank you sir.” “My AM staff should be getting in any minute. You kids staying for the morning rush?” “Sure,” Matt winked at me. For two hours we took orders, made coffee, and helped the staff however they needed us. Most of the truckers were unaware of who Matt was, but the few that did recognize him simply asked him to autograph their napkins—after he took their order. When things slowed down, we headed back to the car. Before I could ask where we were going next, he leaned over and kissed me. “Ready to go to the beach?” he asked. “There’s a private one twenty miles over the bridge.” It didn’t seem real. Everything in my life was like a dream. Matt was going out of his way to spend time with me, and I was relishing every second. I was falling for him. Hard. For the first time in my career, I was ahead of all my assignments and wasn’t waiting until the last minute to complete my writing pieces. I wanted to make sure I couldn’t use “work” as an excuse. I wanted to be with Matt as much as possible. Even though our dates were a bit unconventional and he had to make major preparations for each one— driving a different car to and from, involving his security detail, wearing different clothes—he made each one special.

Chapter 22 Matt No one else had ever made me feel this way. No one. Ever. I wasn’t sure if it was the beginning stages of love, infatuation, or both. Melody Carter was all I could think about. The closer the wedding came, the guiltier I felt. I knew Melody was slowly accepting the terms of my engagement to Selena, but I felt bad about not being able to walk away from it all. Last Saturday, while we were at a secluded beach, she asked me to explain why I couldn’t walk away. I wanted to tell her that Selena had threatened to ruin my career with a domestic abuse claim, but I knew she wouldn’t buy that. So I just told her the truth about the contract—that Selena and I would need to stay married for seventy two days past the wedding. I told her that I didn’t want our relationship to change and that I would do anything to prove it to her. She sat quiet for several minutes after I finished my explanation and I couldn’t tell if she was upset or not. Then again, we did end up having sex on the beach so maybe she was okay with it. “You’ve got it really bad,” Joan brought me into the present. “When were you planning to get out of the car?” “Do I really have to do this today?” “Yes. You’ve rescheduled twice and we’re already here so get out. Now.” I stepped outside the car and a multitude of people screamed: “I love you!” “Kiss me!” “Sign mine!” “Marry me!” I signed a couple of books and posters, and made my way inside Barnes and Noble. A man dressed in a pinstriped suit met me at the door and led me upstairs. As we walked, fans screamed and pointed, camera flashes went off continuously. “You can go ahead and have a seat, Mr. Sterling,” he said. “What we’re going to do first is the Q&A session with the fans. We have the pre-approved question bowl so—” “There’s no need for that today,” I sat down. “Just let them ask whatever they want.” “Are you sure?” “Absolutely.” The fans always came up with the best questions. They were the ones who read all my magazine interviews, watched and re-watched my movies, so it seemed unfair to always restrict them to the same questions over and over. Of course, sometimes I regretted the unrestricted format: A woman once asked me, on live TV, how big my dick was and if I’d be interested in letting her “give [me] the best pleasure of [my] life.” “Mr. Sterling,” Joan handed me a bottle of water. “After the Q&A session, you’ll move to the book signing downstairs for three hours.” “Three hours, Joan? What happened to just one?” “You canceled two weeks in a row to hang out with your girlfriend,” she smirked. “You have to make it up to your fans somehow.”

“I hate you, Joan.” “I love you too,” she gave the thumbs up to a woman dressed in white. “Ladies and gentlemen! Ladies and gentlemen!” the woman spoke loudly into the microphone. “We need everyone to adjust their voices back down to bookstore level so we can begin our special event for the day.” Within minutes, the fans became quiet. Only the shuttering of cameras could be heard. “Thank you very much,” she smiled. “My name is Natalie Williams and I am the general manager of Barnes and Noble. My staff and I are very happy to welcome Hollywood actor, Matt Sterling—” The fans screamed. She yelled over them. “To our store! We are going to do a short Q&A session first and then Mr. Sterling will be signing copies of his first book, Destined for the Screen! We have five mics throughout our space so if he calls on you, wait for one of my staff members to bring you a mic so we can all hear the question! Let’s get started!” The fans screamed again and the manager handed me her microphone. I waited for her go ahead signal and picked out a woman in the front row. “Before I ask my question,” she was shaking. “I want you to know that I am your number one fan. I’ve seen all your movies and I tape everything you do on TV. I just wanted to ask you…Can I have a hug?” I laughed and stood up. “Of course.” She jumped up and screamed. She ran past security, up onto the small stage, and leapt into my arms. I hugged her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. I picked a fan in the rear next. “Hi Matt!” she waved. “Hello sweetheart,” I waved back. “I hope I’m not getting too personal, but do you think that Selena Ross is the love of your life?” Fuck no! I went into safe mode. “I’m marrying her, so I hope so.” The fans laughed. None of their remaining questions were that bad. Only two of them were about Selena. The others were about my thoughts on current movies, my habits, and my body. I signed books for the next five hours. My conscience wouldn’t let me get up after three—at least a hundred fans told me they were upset about my past cancellations. I slumped across the back seat. “I am so tired, Joan.” “Would you like an energy bar?” “Why would I need an energy bar?” “You have a two hour dance lesson in thirty minutes. That’s the only reason I stopped the signing.” “The store was closing.” She shrugged and handed me a Nutri-Grain bar. “I had your change of clothes sent over.” “I know how to dance already. Is this a school promo or something?” Joan shook her head and sighed. “You and your fiancé are taking dance lessons together for your

reception. We went over this last month, last week, and this morning. The OWN network will be there to tape it.” I sat on the floor and tried not to roll my eyes when Selena entered the studio. Her baby bump was significantly bigger and all the OWN producers were taking turns touching it. She stooped down next to me and kissed me on the lips. She was kissing me passionately, like we were actually in love. I bit her tongue. She jumped back. “Good to see you too.” “Okay love birds,” the studio manager snapped her fingers. “Let’s get started with something different! Today we will be fine tuning the fox trot!” I pulled Selena up and positioned her arms in place. The manager gave a brief demonstration and turned on the music. Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” began to play. All of a sudden, I was happy. I was gentle with Selena, helping her with every misstep, praising her whenever she did a sequence correctly. The dance instructor played the song again and again, interrupting every now and then to perfect our spacing. “Okay now this time,” she clapped as the song came to an end, “I won’t interrupt. I’ll just let you two go at it and I’ll comment at the end. Okay?” “We’re ready,” Selena looked into my eyes. Frank Sinatra’s voice filled the room and she followed my lead. I pretended she was Melody as I added extra steps—lifting her up, dipping her, and twirling her around. As the song approached the bridge, I closed my eyes and pulled her close. The next thing I felt were her lips on mine. The song came to an end and the producers clapped. I opened my eyes and drew back from the kiss. “My fiancé and I need to talk privately everyone,” Selena said. “Could we get five minutes?” The OWN staff left their cameras on the floor and followed the dance instructor out of the room. Selena pulled me into an adjacent studio. “I need to talk to you about something important,” she looked down at the floor. “Why?” “Could you for once be civil with me? You were just kissing me for Christ’s sake.” “I didn’t mean to. What do you want?” “OWN wants to capture the birth of our child.” “Seeing as we don’t have a child, just tell them no. Is that all?” “Do you really hate me, Matt?” “No. I don’t hate you Selena, I just—I’m not very happy about your threats to ruin my career.” “It was the only way I could get you to go through with the wedding.” “So that makes it okay? Right.” “No, it’s not alright,” she grabbed my hands. “I’m sorry.” “I mean, it’s bad enough I signed that stupid TV contract, but I can’t believe you went and attached

everything else to this. When were you going to tell me that you got a book deal to write about our relationship?” “I was going to text you that later. How’d you find out?” “Are you serious? How did I find out? The woman who will stop at nothing to get her name in the news is asking me how I found out? How ironic!” “Calm down, Matt,” she pleaded. “I said I was sorry and I had every intention of telling you this week.” “Is that all you have to say to me? I need to get some sleep.” “Can we start over?” “What?” “Can we start over? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, a lot of reminiscing and…I want us to be like we used to be.” I couldn’t move. I was speechless. Utterly speechless. She hesitantly reached up and touched my face. “I miss the days when you used to show up to my shoots with flowers because you wanted to—back when we weren’t caught up in the fame…After the wedding, we can both just disappear and start over and go back to whatever we used to be…Can we do that?” She stood on her toes and kissed me on the cheek. Memories of our past flashed through my mind: We were kayaking on the Hudson River. We were struggling to paddle properly, flipping our kayak over. We were having a picnic on a rooftop, throwing bread crumbs for the pigeons. We were biking across the city, smiling behind our shades as the paparazzi gave chase. But then we were just existing—talking about ways to remain in the press, scheduling our lives around their cameras. We weren’t having fun anymore, all the excitement was gone. It was staged and pre-meditated, never natural or spontaneous. I felt her kissing me and broke away. “No. We can’t do that. We don’t belong together.” “Will you at least help me come up with a way to get rid of the baby? Will you confirm I miscarried on our honeymoon?” “Goodbye Selena.” I didn’t call Melody beforehand. I just showed up to her apartment. I banged on her door, not caring if it scared the neighbors. “Hey! Stop that!” an unfamiliar voice cried. I stepped back to make sure I was knocking on the right apartment. The door swung open and a Melody look-alike—only with blonde hair, stared back at me. “Mel!” she ushered me into the apartment. “It’s your boyfriend!” I laughed. “I take it you’re her sister, Jen? It’s nice to finally meet you in person.” “Nice to meet you too, Matt Sterling. I was just leaving so—” “You and your sister are both bad liars. Am I interrupting something?” “Not really. I was just stopping by to catch up. We were making margaritas. You want one?” “Sure,” I followed her into the kitchen. “Did you use a juice mixer or did you make the juice yourself?” “Ha!” she handed me a drink. “I used a juice mixer. We Carter sisters don’t do the cooking thing. Besides, I’m sure they taste the same.”

“I’ll have to make them one day to prove you wrong.” “Who was that at the—” Melody stepped into the kitchen wearing a stunning white wedding dress. Her eyes met mine. I need to randomly show up more often… “I um…” she turned away from me. “I um…” “I can so feel the tension in here,” Jen tossed back her drink. “Call me tomorrow Mel. Matt, I’m holding you to what you said. I never forget a free drink.” She gave Melody a hug and left the kitchen. I could hear the front door close as she walked out. Melody didn’t look up again. She nervously bit her lip and tottered back and forth. I put down my drink and walked over. I held her face and forced her to look at me. “Are you okay?” She shook her head and began to cry. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were coming over today.” “I’m sorry I didn’t call. What’s wrong?” “I don’t know what to do with this stupid dress. I keep trying it on, remembering the day I put it on. That was supposed to be the last day I had to, you know? I was supposed to…I don’t cry every time. I’m just having a really bad day.” “You look beautiful in the dress.” “You think so? It was custom made. It took Vera Wang six months to get the beading on the corset done.” “Yes,” I hugged her tightly. “You want to tell me about your day?” She shook her head and continued sobbing. “No…” “No?” She shook her head and looked away. I picked her up and carried her to the bedroom. I gently laid her across the bed and slowly unzipped the back of her dress. She wriggled out of it and I draped it across a chair. I climbed in bed behind her and wrapped her in my arms. She didn’t say a word. “What happened today?” “I don’t even know where to start.” “Take your time,” I tightened my arms around her. She sniffled. “I was late to work and everything went downhill from there… My assistant called in sick. I forgot to switch wallets so I had to beg Jen to bring me lunch and—” “Why didn’t you call me? I would’ve had some brought to you.” She rolled over. “I didn’t want to bother you at your book signing.” “Don’t worry about me next time,” I kissed her cheek. “What else happened?” “I forgot my umbrella so I got rained on when I got off work. When I finally got home, I realized I left my keys in my office. So once again, Jen had to come help me out since she has the spare key. And then… Never mind.” “Go on.” “This guy I’m dating—”

“What about him?” “He didn’t call or text me all day today.” “He sounds like the worst,” I pulled her on top of me. “He really is.” “Wake up,” I caressed her face. “Huh? What do you want?” she groaned. “You’re definitely not a morning person.” “You woke me up to tell me that?” “No,” I hit the light. “I want to take you somewhere.” “Now? What time is it?” “Yes. Now. It’s three o’ clock. I’m going to get my car okay? I’m going to call you when I’m outside and I need you to be ready to jump in the car.” “The paparazzi saw you come here yesterday?” “No,” I pulled her arms forward, forcing her to sit up. “And I want to keep it that way. That’s why we’re leaving early.” “Let’s just stay in bed, Matt.” I kissed her lips. “Get ready. You’ve got about eight minutes.” I left her apartment with my shades and hat on, looking down at the ground, not taking any chances of a night walking stranger recognizing me. I located where Joan had parked my black BMW and revved up the engine. I drove around the block five times, giving Melody ample time to get dressed. I called her once I was in front of her building again. “I’m outside. Come on out.” She walked down the steps wearing a silk slip and a pair of jeans. She climbed into my car and after buckling her seat belt, she crossed her arms. “Something wrong?” I sped off. “It’s three in the morning and I’m not in bed.” “But you’re with me. Doesn’t that count for something?” “Shut up Matt,” she sighed. “It’s still too early.” “I know,” I put my hand on her thigh. I sped through the empty city, running a couple of red lights, going the wrong way down a few one way streets. “We’re here,” I parked the car. “This is my dance school.” “What? What was so important that we had to come here now? Why are we—” “I leaned over and kissed her to get her to be quiet. She wasn’t completely coherent yet and I didn’t want to argue. I walked over to her side of the car and opened the door. “Come on,” I took her hand and nearly dragged her into the school’s basement and up the auditorium’s

stairs. I typed in the pass-code to my personal seating box, and picked her up and placed her in one of the chairs. “You awake?” I sat next to her. “What are we doing here?” “My summer students are having a bunch of recitals next month. They always sneak into the auditorium on weekends to practice. I wanted us to watch a few pieces together.” “They sneak in? You’re not upset about that?” “Not at all. I’m glad they’re taking advantage of the space. I used to do the same thing at my high school.” “Will they be able to see us?” “No. They can’t see through the private boxes.” “Okay,” she moved the armrest that was between us and laid her head on my chest. Minutes later, the stage began to glow—first yellow, then red, then purple. A spotlight shifted to center stage and a ballerina held fourth position until the music began to play. The piano riffs of John Mayer’s “Dreaming with a Broken Heart” filled the auditorium, and the ballerina gracefully danced around the boundaries of the spotlight, leaping across it, twisting and twirling her body to the notes. Her form and control were excellent. When she was done, several of her classmates cheered from below: “Go Ashley!” “Yeah!” “Good job!” “That was so pretty,” Melody whispered. “She did such a great job.” “Are you crying?” “No.” “Liar,” I held her close. “Do you want to watch a few more?” She didn’t answer. The lights had begun to change again. We sat and watched six more dances—three ballet routines, two hip-hop interpretations, and one contemporary group dance. We only had an hour before I needed to reclaim my parking spot so I stood up and reached for her hand. “We’re leaving?” she looked sad. “I want to show you something else.” I hit the lights and locked the door. “This is my private dance studio.” “It’s very nice,” she yawned. “It’s more than nice. This is state of the art. Wait ‘til you feel how smooth the floor is under your feet. The way the music bounces off the walls is remarkable.” “You brought me down here to dance?” Something like that… I walked over to the sound system and scrolled down the computer’s screen. “Which song was it?” “What? What are you talking about?” “When we were in St. Bart’s you said you knew all the moves to a song in Dirty Dancing. Which song

was it?” She looked surprised. She lowered her gaze to the floor and sighed, “Time of My Life.” “I thought so,” I found the song and hit play. “Do you still remember the steps?” “Maybe…” “Let’s find out,” I grabbed her waist and the song began. “Now, I’ve had the time of my life…” She turned away from me and slowly moved her hand down my neck. “And I owe it all to you…” She twisted out of my embrace, tapping her feet against the floor, and twirled back into my arms, matching me step for step. “Now with passion in our eyes, there’s no way we could disguise it secretly…” She smiled at me as she tossed her head back and gracefully lifted her leg. I couldn’t believe how good of a dancer she was. “You’re the one thing I can’t get enough of…So I’ll tell you something, this could be love because—” I stopped dancing and kissed her, pulling her down to the floor, rolling her on top of me. She seemed to be more alert now. She was running her fingers through my hair and pressing herself against me. I slid her slip over her head and she gasped. “Here? What if someone sees us? What if—” “I’m the only one with a key.” I cooked breakfast when we returned to her apartment: Crepes, oatmeal, hand-squeezed orange juice, and ham slices. The rest of the day went by in a blur. In between making love, unpacking her boxes, and watching movies, we sat on her balcony and talked. It was those types of moments when I truly envied non-celebrities. They could sit on their balcony without hoping that a photographer wasn’t hiding in the bushes below. They could walk down the street without second guessing their outfit. They could spend all day inside because they wanted to, not because they had to. “What are you thinking about?” Melody rubbed my arm. “You. Do you have plans for tomorrow?” “I was supposed to do some reading, but I can catch up on that Monday. I have to visit your wedding venue at five though,” she looked down at her hands. “Why?” “I am writing about your wedding remember? My boss wants me to get familiar with the space beforehand.” “Mind if I stay tonight? I could go with you.” Let me stay… “I don’t mind.”

“Great,” I pulled out my phone. “Hey Joan? I’m staying at Miss Carter’s until tomorrow. Could you have the driver pick us up tomorrow around four? We’ll need to go to the wedding venue…Okay, thanks. Now, where were we?” “Talking about your wedding?” she sounded disappointed. “No, I think we were going back to your bedroom.”

Chapter 23 Melody I slid my fingertips across the railing and looked out over the Hudson River. Every minute I spent with Matt had been amazing, but coming with him to the lighthouse only confirmed my worst thoughts: he could never really be mine. As the tour guide walked the two of us through the venue, he acted as if he hardly knew me, as if I was just some reporter tagging along to ask him questions about the wedding. He barely even looked at me. “Is there anything else you need to see Miss Carter?” the tour guide looked expectantly. “No, you’ve been great. I just need to write down a few notes while I’m out here.” “Sounds good. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to make a few phone calls in my office,” she shook my hand and spoke with Matt for a few seconds before disappearing. “So what do you think?” Matt leaned against the railing. “I think you’re an asshole. The venue however is absolutely gorgeous.” “Excuse me?” “I don’t think I stuttered.” “Are you bipolar?” “Are you?” I rolled my eyes. “You acted like you barely knew me during the entire tour, like I was some groupie.” “Melody, first of all, I did not treat you like a groupie. Trust me. Second of all, what did you want me to do? Hug and kiss you in front of the tour guide? In front of the paparazzi weeks before the wedding?” “What paparazzi?” “Turn around in ten seconds. On your three o’ clock, up there behind that truck.” I glared at him and slowly turned around. I looked up and saw three shadowy figures looking down at us. That is so creepy! “You still didn’t have to act like you didn’t know me,” I turned back around. “I honestly regret sleeping with you now. I don’t even know how I’m going to effectively write about your wedding.” “You don’t mean that.” “I really do.” “Which part?” “All of it.” Matt walked me to my apartment door and waited for me to say something. “I’m shocked you remember where I live,” I hissed. “Are you really that upset with me?”

“Yes.” He sighed. “I’m sorry. I should’ve arranged for a private tour as soon as you told me you had to go there. Then we could have had sex on the deck for all I care.” “Whatever,” I placed my key in the door. “Keep lying to yourself.” He grabbed me by my waist and spun me around. “I said I’m sorry. Would you like to go back tomorrow?” “That’s not the point...” “I really had a wonderful weekend with you. I wish it didn’t have to end.” “I wish I could believe you.” “Melody,” he cut himself short and pushed me against the door. “Let me make it up to you.” I was sitting in the conference room with staff members, waiting to speak to Selena Ross. Normally, I conducted meetings like this alone, at Central Park or in the lobby of a hotel, but since she was an A-list celebrity the rules had to be changed. The staff had been notified of her love for one hundred dollar chocolates, freshly cut sonata lilies, and the color black. In the two hours they had to put something together, they brought in a black linen table cloth for the conference table and two vases of sonata lilies. They hoped she would overlook the missing chocolates—there was only so much they could do with such short notice. Selena entered the room an hour past our meeting time, something I would never accept from any other client. If it hadn’t been for the other staffers in the room, I would’ve said, “My time is very valuable Miss Ross, and I don’t appreciate the way you’ve made me spend it. Talk to my assistant about rescheduling and try to be on time to our next visit.” Instead I heard myself say, “Good afternoon, Miss Ross. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” “Same here, Miss Carter. I’m so happy you agreed to write about our wedding,” she took a seat and plucked a lily from the vase. The rest of the staff smiled and introduced themselves. She nodded her head at each one of them, blinking her light gray eyes, looking more stunning as the seconds ticked by. I admired her perfect white teeth and her perfectly styled hair—she was wearing it in long black ringlets. She was pretty without even trying to be. “How would you like me to write about your wedding, Miss Ross?” I asked. “I want it to be romantic you know? I brought some notes,” she pulled a folder out of her bag. “These are a couple of my diary entries from when Matt and I first started dating. I want you to include some of these, you know, like a love story.” “Okay. Is there any particular part of the wedding you want me to hone in on? Besides the vows?” “Yes. I want you to capture me walking down the aisle, Matt’s face as I’m approaching him, and of course our first kiss as a married couple.” My heart sank. “Okay, I can do that Miss Ross. I’ll send you a draft of the article six hours before it goes to print and you can call up to two hours before publishing for any changes.”

“You’re the best Miss Carter,” she stood and shook my hand. She walked around the table and personally thanked all of the staff, signing autographs for whoever asked. I locked the door to my office and flipped through Selena’s diaries. I flipped to the last page, dated for the past December: “Dear Journal, Matt and I have been dating for almost two years. I wish he would hurry up and propose. We would be so perfect together. “Can you picture it? Two of Hollywood’s brightest stars at the altar? I really hope he proposes soon… I can’t believe I fell in love with him…This is the most amazing feeling in the world.” I closed the journal. I didn’t want to read anymore until the day I started writing the article. I sat in the doctor’s office, concentrating on the black and white Van Gogh painting on the door. I heard the laser buzzing against my skin, but I didn’t look at it directly. I didn’t want to see. It was the last phase of removal, the last part of Sean I needed to get rid of. Matt offered to pick me up afterwards, but I successfully lied and told him that Jen and I had plans. I didn’t want to see him. I’d agreed to let him make me an “I’m sorry” dinner at his apartment later, and I was having second thoughts. Sure, Matt was sexy, charming, and nice, but I was tired of hearing about his marriage to Selena—tired of smiling in his face and breaking down on the inside. All the red flags had been there from the beginning: the over the top chase, his unwillingness to really discuss that “contract,” and the “crazy fiancé” he kept around for the press. He just needed someone to vent to, someone to remind him that the world outside of celebrity culture still existed. He just wanted to temporarily feel “normal.” Matt’s driver picked me up at seven o’ clock. He weaved through the light evening traffic and made small conversation. I blinked away the few tears that welled in my eyes as we got closer to Matt’s neighborhood. I had to end this today. When we pulled up to Matt’s condo, an enormous silver structure, the driver didn’t move to open the door. Instead, Matt himself came and opened it. “Hey Melody,” he took my hand. “Matt.” “How was your day today?” “Okay,” I looked away. End this now! We walked into the building in silence. He swiped a card at the elevator and stared at me as we rose to the top floor. I avoided eye contact when we stepped off.

“What’s wrong, Melody?” “Nothing. I’m okay,” I stopped and took in his apartment. From his windows I could see the moonlight dancing across the East river. Across his exposed brick wall was an enormous flat screen TV. Black leather furniture—a chaise, a loveseat, two plush chairs— guarded a large crystal table. A state of the art stereo system, protected by a wall of glass panels, completely covered the far right wall. I couldn’t see any other rooms from where I was standing, and I didn’t really care to look. “You know I can get it out of you,” he kissed my neck. I stepped back. “I met with Selena today.” “Oh. How’d it go?” “It went pretty well. She wants me to focus on her walking down the aisle and kissing you at your wedding.” “She would…” “She also gave me her journals that detail how she felt about you while you two were dating.” “What else?” “What do you mean what else? She wrote about you in her journal, Matt! The last entry is from December and she says she was still in love with you then. That wasn’t that long ago! I can’t believe I—” “Do you trust me?” he interrupted. “I want to.” “That’ll work. Let me show you something,” he took my hand and led me past the stereo wall and into a dining room. He opened a drawer and pulled out a folder. “This is our updated promo plan, Melody.” I sat down at the table and thumbed through the papers. There were appearance listings—“The View,” “The Today Show,” “Live with Regis and Kelly,” “Late Night with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” There were press releases with dates received and dates submitted. At the back of the folder was the thick contract with the OWN network. Right behind those stapled pages was a copy of a handwritten checklist. I skimmed through the numbers and caught what was next to number twenty five: “Create journal for Selena’s past. Submit to The New York Appeal.” I became more frustrated. “Why do you need such an elaborate scheme? Is all of this really necessary?” “It’s part of the contract.” “And you can’t afford to get out of it or you won’t get out of it?” “I told you it’s complicated. I—” his phone rang and he accidentally hit the speaker button. “Joan?” “Mr. Sterling, where are you?” “I’m at home.” “The driver’s cell must have died,” she sounded upset. “Could you get downstairs please? He should still be outside waiting.” “What? Why?”

“The OWN network’s promo shoot is tonight in Grand Central Station.” “What? Are you sure?” “I told you this yesterday. I set an alarm on your phone and I texted you two hours ago.” He shook his head and gave me an apologetic smile. Just as he was about to say something, another voice came on the line. “Give me that Joan!”—it was Selena. “Matt? Baby? Are you coming? All the cameras are here and everyone’s waiting on you. Are you backing out on me?” “No Selena,” he sighed. “I’m on my way.” I really can’t do this to myself anymore… “I love you!” she cooed. “I love you too,” he hung up his phone. “I didn’t really mean that, Melody. I said that for the reality cameras. She only calls me ‘baby’ when she’s being taped.” “Right.” “I’m very sorry about all this,” he headed back towards the living room. “Can we reschedule for tomorrow?” “No,” I followed him out the door and onto the elevator. I didn’t say another word. I should’ve known better… “I really am sorry,” he motioned for me to step off the elevator first. “I have to rush over there right now but my driver can drop you off after me. How long are you going to be mad?” “Not long at all.” “Okay well, can we talk about this tonight? Can I call—” “You can call me all you want. I won’t be picking up.” “Why?” “Because I deserve better. I deserve someone who wants to date me and only me and isn’t hiding behind some lame ass contract that he could easily buy himself out of.” “Melody, it’s compl—” “I know! I know! It’s complicated! I get it! So let me make it less complicated for you Matt. Whatever the hell this was, it’s over.” “Don’t. Listen to—” “No. You don’t really know me anyway. You don’t know a thing about me—just basic surface things and those aren’t enough to build any type of relationship on. We can be associates six months from now.” “I’m not waiting six months just to talk to you Melody.” “Well I guess we won’t be anything at all. Good luck with everything. I don’t need your driver. I’ll call a cab.” “Are you serious? I’ve been nothing but honest with you for the past two months! I told you that I liked you, that I wanted to be with you, and here you are going in the other direction again! Jesus! Answer something for me since you seem to think I’m not interested in you. Right now, who am I here with?” “Who are you running to?”

Chapter 24 Matt Joan turned on the lights in my room. “When’s the last time you took a shower?” “I don’t know. Maybe three days ago? Don’t look at me like that Joan!” “I’m going to turn on the Jacuzzi. You need to be clean for the Ralph Lauren walk-through.” “Fine,” I sat still, not wanting to get up. Melody hadn’t answered my calls or texts in over two weeks. Every morning and right before I went to sleep I called her and she never responded. I sent a white rose and a bag of Tropical Skittles to her job every day, with a “Please call me tonight” tag, but she never called. I wanted to stop by her office, but I was convinced she would call security. “You can’t have them both,” Joan patted my back. “It doesn’t work that way.” “I don’t want Selena at all. You know that Joan.” “Do I?” “That hurts. Really?” “Off the record?” “Off the record…” “You may have messed up your chances with Melody for good. She doesn’t seem like the type that’s going to come running back to you. You still have a chance to make things right with Selena though.” “You know me better than anyone, Joan. You know she threatened to ruin my career. And you know that there’s a contract.” “When have you let that stop you before?” Never. I never had. I’d pulled out of films the first day of filming. I’d pulled out of photo shoots hours before. I’d canceled talk show appearances minutes before. I didn’t know why I was still going through with the wedding, why I was putting myself through the misery of marrying Selena. I sank down in my Jacuzzi, thinking about Melody, about Selena. All of a sudden it dawned on me: I still wanted the exposure. Even though I was annoyed beyond belief with the media, I was still secretly addicted to the fame. I signed that OWN contract with no hesitation, with no second thoughts. I paraded around New York with Selena—even though I couldn’t stand her—silently relishing the same publicity I swore I hated. I didn’t want Selena to go to the press with a bogus domestic violence story, but I always knew that I could prevent it: Joan had taken pictures of her putting on that prosthetic baby bump on two separate occasions. I could’ve pulled out a long time ago. It wasn’t complicated at all.

Chapter 25 Melody Janis Joplin and I threw another concert. This time we invited Kelly Clarkson and Reba on stage with us. My heart was broken. Crushed. My attempts to heal it with double pints of chocolate chip ice cream were failing miserably. I couldn’t figure out why it hurt so badly if I was never in love with Matt. I just liked him a lot. A whole lot... Every time his name came across my phone’s screen, I acted as if I didn’t see it. I didn’t open any of his text messages, and I made sure Sophie didn’t put him through to my line at work. He showed up to my apartment twice last week, knocking so loudly I was scared he’d break down the door. I wanted to answer it, to bury myself in his embrace and invite him in, but I turned my TV all the way up. This was how I usually dealt with things. I blocked my problems and whoever was causing them out. Over time, everything usually went away. Jen and I were sitting on a bench at Coney Island. She was doing a great job of keeping my mind off of Matt, but all of a sudden I began to cry. I leaned on her shoulder and sobbed until I couldn’t anymore. “You sure you don’t want to call him?” she patted my back. “Him who?” “Okay, whenever you’re ready to act your age let me know.” “I can’t call him. I’m still mad…and hurt. If he didn’t like Selena and really didn’t want to be bothered with her, he would’ve left her a long time ago. I’m not stupid.” “I know. Hasn’t he been calling you every day though? You can’t pick up just once?” “I don’t know…Maybe in a week or so, but if he marries her I can’t. I can’t be someone’s second choice again. The first time was painful enough.” “Are you going to the wedding?” “No.” I couldn’t fathom sitting in the media row with the rest of the writers, listening to them dissect everything about the event. I couldn’t see myself paying attention to anything but Matt—watching how he smiled at the audience, how he turned on his charm for the cameras, how he kissed her with the same lips that kissed me. “You sure you’re not in love with him?” Jen smirked. “Yes, I’m sure. I haven’t known him long enough to be in love.” “What does time have to do with anything?” “Will you go to the wedding in my place?” “Ha! You think he would let me get out of there without harassing me about where you are and where

you’ve been? Thanks, but I’ll pass. You want to know what I think?” “No.” “I’ll tell you anyway. I think you’re one hundred percent in love with Matt and you’re too stubborn to admit it. I think you should give him a second chance.” “I’ll try…” I woke up Saturday to another text message from Matt. I decided to open it: “I’m ordering pizza for lunch today. I’ll think of you while I eat…If you want to join me, let me know…I hope you’re okay…Call me later? I went into my kitchen and pulled out a carton of eggs. I remembered how Matt scrambled them at the diner and tried to replicate his instructions. I didn’t burn them at all.

Chapter 26 Matt The hair and make-up stylist gave me a few finishing touches before backing away. The producer went over the questions with me three times. When she was sure I was ready, she signaled for the clapboard. “Matt Sterling interview with OWN, take one, section three. Action!” the director’s voice yelled. “Mr. Sterling, tell us about the exact moment that you knew you were in love,” the interviewer asked off camera. “The exact moment?” I scratched my head. “I knew I was in love when I went one day without talking to her. Every time I did something on that day, all I could think of was telling her about it later. Then we went a week without talking, and then it was two weeks and um…I just can’t—couldn’t get her out of my mind. That’s when I knew I had fallen in love.” “I see. Tell us about your favorite date together. Tell us as many details as you can.” “That’s a tough one…We’ve had a lot of those.” The interviewer laughed. I looked up at the ceiling and then back at the camera. “I guess I would say the first time we went out on the ocean together. It was just the two of us out on my yacht. She was so nervous about jumping in the water. She’d never heard of polar-bearing before so, I um…I held her hand and we jumped together. She was screaming when we were in the air but she didn’t let my hand go. I think that would probably have to be my favorite date that we’ve had.” “And what about your favorite thing to do together?” “Movies. We watched a lot of movies together.” “Cut!” the director shouted. The producer headed my way and sat across from me. “We’re almost done Mr. Sterling,” she said. “We just have a few more questions regarding you and Miss Ross. We need to reshoot that last response though. Could you say “We watch movies” instead of “watched”? We want to keep everything in a certain tense.” “Not a problem.” “Quiet on the set!” the director bellowed. Shelby took out a stack of scripts from her bag. She laid them across the table and numbered them one through nine. “Okay,” she cheered. “Pick a number!” “Three.” She picked up the designated script and flipped open the jacket. “The genre is historical romance. A redneck’s only son—” “Next!” I sighed. “Number seven.” “Okay…This one is a romantic comedy. A man loses his memory and the woman he was married to—”

“Next! Number five.” She rolled her eyes. “Another romantic comedy. A woman gets left at the altar and as she’s returning her dress she runs into her old college sweetheart…No next this time?” “Continue.” “He’s currently engaged to the woman he left her for in college, but he’s only getting married to merge the two families’ companies together. He falls in love with the jilted bride and has to make a decision between the two.” How perfect. “Let me guess, he chooses the jilted bride?” She flipped to the last page of the script. “Nope. It looks like there’s a twist somewhere because he ends up marrying the fiancé and she’s kissing some other guy.” “What other guy?” “Read the script,” she tossed it to me. “We can go over the rest of these in a few minutes. Can I use your bathroom?” “Go ahead,” I flipped through the script. Thanks to Melody, the last thing I wanted to do was be in a movie about a jilted bride. Then again, I wasn’t sure if I should even consider her feelings. She still wasn’t answering my phone calls and texts. I even tried calling her from Joan’s phone but she didn’t pick up those calls either. I picked up Shelby’s bag and dumped it on the table. Tons of junk came out: Mints, feminine products, a flat iron, books, a bottle of tartar sauce, lip glosses, medicines, and combs. “What are you doing, Matt?” she crossed her arms. “I was looking for your phone.” “You know, you could’ve just asked me for it, like a normal person. I’m waiting.” “Can I please use your phone?” “Yes you can, you six year old.” She handed me her phone and I headed to my bedroom. I dialed Melody’s number and stopped. Why am I so nervous? I hit send and held the phone to my ear. It rang once. It rang twice. “Hello?” she softly answered. “Hello? Hello?” “Hello Melody, please don’t hang up.” She didn’t say a word. I checked the phone’s screen to make sure we were still connected. “How are you?” “Hi Matt,” she whispered. “I’m okay and you?” “I’m not okay at all. I miss you.” She sighed. “I miss you too.” “Why haven’t you returned my calls?” “What would be the point?” “To talk. To straighten things out so we can be together again.”

“Are you still getting married next week?” “Not if you say you don’t want me to.” “I think you know how I feel about that situation.” “Can I come over? Can we talk in person?” I need to see you… “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Matt.” “Why not?” “Because you hurt me.” “And I’m very sorry. I never meant to do that. I’ve been apologizing to you every day. Can you at least let me do that in person?” Please… She didn’t respond immediately. She was silent for at least a minute. “Fine. Where do you want to meet?” she asked. “What about some place public?” “Someplace the paparazzi will see you?” Good point. “Is your apartment completely out of the question?” “Yes.” “Okay. How about my school? There are private studios in the basement.” “That’s fine. What time?” “Six? Can I pick you up?” “Matt…” “What?” “I’m sorry. I can’t talk to you right now. I can’t do this,” she hung up. I knew there was no use in calling her back. I was so close. My heart had almost gone back to beating halfway normal again. The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers was unrecognizable on my wedding day. The wedding hall was decked in thousands and thousands of orange sonata lilies and red roses. The oil burning lamps that once hung high were replaced with small crystallized light boxes. The hardwood floors were covered with red carpet, and luxurious drapes concealed the floor to ceiling windows. The paparazzi had followed me from my apartment to the venue, and they were busy shouting their inappropriate questions and snapping shots of my every move. I turned my IPod up and waited for security to lead me into my dressing room. “Sir,” the security guard held the door open. “We’ve received a request from Mrs. Sarah Sterling to see you. Is she allowed to come in?” “Sure.”

He whistled and pointed to something out into the hallway. Seconds later, my mother squeezed past him and he shut the door. “Mattie!” she gave me a hug. “Are you ready?” “Might as well be.” “You know, most grooms are extremely happy on their wedding day.” “That’s because they’re marrying someone they actually want to marry.” She unzipped my tuxedo bag and pulled out the suit. She laid each of the articles across the couch and went over them with a lint roller. “You don’t have to do that, Mom. Joan and a stylist usually help me get ready.” “And I just told Joan that I would be helping you today. Is that alright? Can a mother help her only son get ready for his wedding?” “Of course,” I began to undress. She didn’t say anything as she helped me into my outfit. She just hummed and smiled, giving me a sympathetic look whenever our eyes met. I’d told her about Melody weeks ago, told her that I thought she was “the one” and that I was going to bring her to Miami for dinner. But then she left me and I had to make the trip alone. “You look exceptional, Mattie,” she looked me over in the mirror. “I love you.” “I love you too, Mom.” “I’m sure Melody will forgive you one day. When she does, bring her down for lunch okay?” I flinched. “I’m not so sure about that.” “I am. I hate to ask, but did you and Selena sign a pre-nup?” “Yes mom,” I groaned. “There’s a pre-nup.” “That’s my boy! Now, is there any way you could set me up on a date with Tom Cruise? I was reading Us Weekly this morning and they mentioned you two were in talks to be in Minority Report 2.” “Go find your seat, Mom.” She gave me another hug and whispered. “You’re the only one that has to live with your decision. Not me, not anyone else. Remember that.” As she walked out, a young OWN producer walked in. She nervously tapped her pen to her clipboard and waited for security to shut the door. “Mr. Sterling, Miss Ross would like to take a few pictures before the wedding if that’s alright with you.” “That’s fine.” “And after the reception, we’ve set up rose petals as opposed to rice for the guests to throw. It was a last minute change, I hope you don’t mind.” “Not at all.” “Okay well,” she opened the door. “I’ll come get you in about twenty minutes for the pictures. Your stylist will be on hand.” I turned away and heard the door close. I thought about all my family members that were waiting in the audience, waiting for me to be married off. I thought about all the celebrities that had RSVP’d—Anne Hathaway, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Ryan Reynolds, and fifty other ones I’d once worked with. I

wondered if they really believed that Selena and I were in love. “Miss Carter isn’t here,” Joan cut through my thoughts and slammed the door. “You’re still going through with this?” “It’s a little too late to back out don’t you think?” “It’s never too late to back away from the biggest mistake of your life,” she reached up and adjusted my tie. “I already lost Melody. No use in losing Selena too.” “You really disgust me sometimes.” “Okay that’s it Joan! You’re fired!” She snorted. “Please.” “I’m sorry,” I hugged her. “I’m sorry. She really didn’t show up? She’s really not out there?” “You expected her to be?” “I called her last week and she finally answered…She hung up after a while so I sent her a letter package at work. I told her to meet me at the coffee shop on Amsterdam Avenue if she still had any feelings for me. I told her I would call off the wedding if she showed up at six. I waited for an entire hour and she never came.” “You told her that she needed to come to you? I’m not surprised she didn’t show up.” “She clearly doesn’t care about me anymore. I’m not putting myself out there again. She’s so—” “The word ‘again’ implies that you did it at least once already,” she adjusted my cufflinks. “You haven’t.” “You weren’t there! You don’t know!” “I do know.” “Ten minutes ‘til we start the pictures Mr. Sterling,” the producer poked her head through the door. I looked over myself in the mirror. “Be right there.” “It’s never too late,” Joan kissed my cheek and dropped her car keys on the floor. “Joan you dropped your—” “No I didn’t,” she walked out.

Chapter 27 Melody “Dear Melody, “I know I hurt you. Words can’t express how sorry I am or how much I’ve missed you. I’ll do everything I can to make it right, including canceling my wedding to Selena next week. If you have any feelings for me at all, please meet me at the coffee shop on Amsterdam Avenue at six o’ clock. I hope you’ll show up so we can be together again. –Your favorite actor, Matt Sterling.” My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I was ecstatic, overjoyed. Some of the hurt and anger I’d felt started to melt away. I told Sophie I was leaving work after lunch and practically ran out of the building. I went home and changed clothes. It took me two hours to decide on the perfect outfit: A dark green summer dress with silver flats. I arrived at the coffee shop an hour early. I ordered a latte and walked around looking for a table. I wondered if he would be wearing a disguise, or if he would send Joan in to get me and lead me elsewhere. I’d been sitting for twenty minutes when I heard other patrons cheering and saw the flickering of camera flashes. I stood up and smoothed my hair. This was it. He was early and he was coming for me, in front of everyone. I stood waiting. Maybe he doesn’t see me? I picked up my purse and headed down to where all the commotion was. I made my way through camera happy fans and heard one of them scream, “Kiss me Selena!” I paled. I cut through more fans and caught a glimpse of her as the clerk handed her a smoothie. “Miss Carter?” she turned around and beamed. “You really are good! I didn’t know you were keeping tabs on me!” What? She reached for my hand and led me away from her crazy fans. She pulled me into a small side area and thanked the manager for letting her use the room. “Did Matt tell you that this used to be our spot when we first started dating?” NO. “Um, no he didn’t...” “He must have! I know he probably made you promise not to tell me so don’t worry, I won’t mention it to him.” “Thanks,” I offered a weak smile. “When you said that this was your spot what did you mean?” “We used to come here all the time,” she sipped her latte. “It was between this shop and another one in Tribeca where we used to hide from the paparazzi. Then they found out about it so we gradually stopped coming. They still make great coffee though, so occasionally I stop by and get some.” “Thanks for telling me this,” I tried my best not to look upset.

“Not a problem! Well, it was nice seeing you hard at work! I’ll see you at my wedding,” and with that, she ventured back into the shop amidst the fans and outside into a black SUV. The crowd followed her out and I stood still, wanting to believe it was just a coincidence. I couldn’t. I left. I sent Sophie to cover the wedding. I didn’t want to be in the same room with Matt, and I couldn’t bear to watch him marry Selena—real or fake. I wondered if there was a world record for being left for someone else. If I counted my third and fifth grade boyfriends, I would be up to four. I stared at the clock on my wall until it was five in the evening. I hoped Sophie would be quick coming back so I could hear about everything and start my article. I bet it was extravagant. I bet they had a fifty piece orchestra and a sixty piece band. I bet they had a hundred white doves and a million red roses. I’m sure the food was amazing…I should have asked Sophie to bring me some back. I pulled When Harry Met Sally out of my purse and put it in the DVD player. I was halfway through it when I heard Sophie’s faint knock on my door. “Come in Sophie!” I didn’t bother turning around, Sally was just about to demonstrate the fake orgasm in the diner. “I’m beginning to think your assistant is invisible,” Matt’s voice forced me to change my mind. “I’m beginning to think we need a new security system,” my voice cracked. He shut my door and smiled. “I take it you didn’t get me a wedding present?” “I ordered arsenic but it didn’t arrive in time.” “How were you planning to write about the wedding from here?” “My invisible assistant was there taking notes.” “Well, I can’t wait to read it. Would you like to hear about the ceremony?” “Not really.” He sighed. “I didn’t marry her, Melody.” “What?” “We didn’t get married.” “What about your contract?” “Are you going to let me tell you what happened?” “Fine.” “I spoke to her before the wedding, right before we took our pictures. I told her that I couldn’t go through with it because the woman I fell in love with might not ever talk to me again.” Love? He took a Twizzler from my vase. “I told her it wasn’t fair for either of us to put on the charade anymore.

I thought she would’ve been mad, but she admitted that she was seeing someone and he wasn’t feeling the whole pseudo thing either. Of course, she still wanted to go through with the wedding.” Did he just say he loved me? “So, when it was time to read my vows…I told her, in front of everyone, that I didn’t love her anymore and I couldn’t go through with it. She put on the most Oscar worthy performance I’ve ever seen. She even slapped me,” he laughed. “Can’t Oprah’s network sue you now? Aren’t they angry?” “They’re ecstatic. Selena Ross left at the altar? They were the only people allowed to have cameras so I’m pretty sure their ratings will be through the roof whenever it airs.” “What about Selena?” “She’ll be made out to be the victim over the next month or two, and she’ll get loads of press.” “And you think you won’t?” “Yeah, but I won’t be around to see it.” “Why is that?” “I’m taking two months off to think about some things,” he walked over to my side of the desk and pulled me to my feet. “I’m going on a long vacation.” He ran his fingers through my hair and pressed his forehead against mine. “Well, I hope that two month vacation goes well for you.” “I’m sure you do,” he laughed. “I want you to come with me.” “I can’t just quit my job, Matt. I mean, I love you, but—” Shit! Why did I say that? He raised his eyebrow. “But what?” “I—I have a lot of work to get done around here, and I—” He kissed me, grabbing fistfuls of my hair, locking me in his arms. “I love you too,” he slowly released me. My heart exploded. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked into his eyes. I could feel tears falling down my face, but I didn’t make a move to hide them. “I knew you had a mushy side,” he wiped my tears with his fingertips. “Can you come with me for an hour or two?” I nodded. He took my hand and led me to the service elevator. “Just so you know,” I looked up at him. “I put in a request for the maintenance department to install password codes on this.” “Of course you did.” When we reached the alley, he opened the passenger door to a silver BMV. “Why do you need two BMWs?” I put on my seatbelt. “I don’t. This is Joan’s. It was her Christmas bonus last year.” “Oh. Where are we going?” “You’ll see.”

We didn’t speak during the car ride. He simply looked over at me every chance he could and smiled. “Welcome back to Sterling Dance Academy,” he put the car in park. “We’re going to a recital?” “No, no one is here today. They’re all at my wedding,” he laughed. He opened my door and grabbed my hand. He led me inside the building and used his cell phone as a light. He opened the door to what appeared to be a ballroom and let my hand go. I heard him walk up some steps, and then a blinding spotlight landed on me. I stepped away from it and heard the first few notes of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” “Now,” he jumped down and brought me back under the spotlight, “I’ve only done this in movies, so excuse me if it’s not as smooth.” “What are you talking about? We’ve danced before.” He got down on one knee and smiled. “Melody, no one has ever made me feel the way you’ve made me feel these past few months…” I felt the tears coming. He continued. “I know we haven’t known each other that long but I do believe that ‘when you know, you know,’ and I knew as soon as I stormed your office that day that you were someone special. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life getting to know you even better.” I froze. I wasn’t sure what to say. “Oh yeah,” he pulled a ring box out of his pocket. “And I promise this is a ring you’ll never have to return. Melody Carter, will you marry me?” I nodded my head and cried. He stood up and wrapped his arms around my waist, kissing me until I was out of breath. Before he could kiss me again, I pulled away. “How do you know what size ring I wear?” “I don’t,” he laughed. “As a matter of fact, we’re going to have to get you a real ring tomorrow.” “Why? What’s wrong with the one in the box? You said I’d never have to return—” I stopped as soon as he opened the box and revealed the “ring”: A strawberry flavored Ring Pop. “I take back what I said about marrying you now.” “I love you too,” he laughed and picked me up, clasping me across my thighs, draping me across his shoulder. “We’ve got a lot of lost time to make up for Mrs. Sterling. My place?” “Our place.”

Take Three: A Romantic Comedy (The Jilted Bride Series) Chapter 1 Selena I was on top of the world. I was soaking up the sorrows and sympathies from fans and media outlets worldwide. I was mentioned in nearly every paper, gracing the covers of the most star-driven magazines. The headlines were all in my favor: “Selena Left at the Altar: How Matt Betrayed Her Trust,” “Selena Ross in Deep Depression, Miscarries Baby,” “How Will Selena Move On?” “Selena’s Pain: Every Woman’s Worst Nightmare.” I was doing interviews on all the hottest shows—crying and relaying what happened when Matt Sterling left me at the altar. I even did a separate special with the OWN network, a segment that featured other women who were ditched by their fiancés. Everything was perfect. Until now. Supposedly. My publicist Katy called and told me she had some bad news. She said she was on her way over to talk to me about it. Of course, in her world of over-exaggerations, a low-earning movie at the box office qualified as bad news so I wasn’t really worried. My personal assistant walked into my bedroom, without knocking first, and dropped my breakfast onto the floor. I rushed over and saw that the vintage crystal plates and glasses were now useless shards. “Really Samantha?” I glared at her. “Those dishes cost more than you’ll make this year!” “I’m so sorry,” she whimpered. “I’ll be right back.” “Could you please knock next time?” “Yes, Miss Ross.” Ugh. What a waste. Maybe I need a new assistant… There was a knock ten minutes later. “Who is it?” I called. “Samantha, Miss Ross. It’s your breakfast.” “Come in!” She walked into my room at a snail’s pace and set my breakfast on the table. She was avoiding my eyes and taking her precious time pouring the juice. “Thank you Samantha,” I shooed her away. “Find out who made the shoes Carrie Underwood was wearing last night and order me a pair in every color.” “Yes, Miss Ross.” I sliced the crepe in half and dipped it in yogurt, my favorite thing to eat. Whenever reporters asked what my favorite food was, I always lied and said spinach and ricotta gnudi, or something else Italian. I wanted them to think I actually knew about the intricacies of fine food.

“Selena!” Katy’s voice bounced off the walls. “I’m back here!” She burst through my door seconds later. She was sweating profusely and wearing pajamas. “I got here as fast as I could,” she plopped down on my sofa. “You didn’t have time to change clothes? Never mind, don’t answer that. I’m actually glad you’re here in person. Is there any way I could not go to that charity thing tonight? I don’t feel like playing with dirty little kids. They creep me out.” “You might want to stick to all charitable events from now on. It might be good for your image.” “My image? I’m a saint. I was left at the altar eight weeks ago. Or did you forget that already?” She slid me a manila envelope and sighed. “Us Weekly is going to release the photos tomorrow. They were nice and decided to give you one day’s notice.” “Is this about me eating McDonald’s instead of Burger King? I already apologized to—” I pulled out the first picture and gasped. I flipped through the entire packet. It was all in chronological order and that was definitely me in the photos. They were all crystal clear. “Like I was saying,” Katy shook her head, “you may want to go through with the charity event tonight. Then I need you to disappear for a while.” “How long?” “At least six weeks.” “Six weeks? Are you kidding me?” “No. You really fucked up.” “Fine. I’m sure the press will be lenient. They love me.” “I’ll do as much damage control as I can…Selena Ross caught kissing her last director days before her wedding and at least once a week since is going to be one hell of a fire to put out.” “What’s the big deal though? I was left at the altar and I’m single now. I needed someone to comfort me.” “A married man with three kids?”



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