When It's Real
“You haven’t even heard what I want,” my sister objects.
“I don’t need to. You have that look in your eye.” I pull the bacon out of the microwave and dump four slices on each plate.
“What look?” Paisley checks her reflection on the back of the spoon I used to stir the eggs.
“The one that says I’m not going to like what you have to say.” I pause as I dish up the rest of the twins’ breakfast. “Or that I’m too young to understand.”
“Ha. Everyone knows you’re more together than most adults. I wish you were more impulsive, actually. It’d make this easier.”
“Breakfast is ready!” I shout.
The clatter of shoes on the staircase makes Paisley sigh. Our little brothers are incredibly loud, eat an incredible amount of food and are getting incredibly expensive. All I can say is, thank goodness for Paisley’s new job. We’re barely keeping our heads above water, even though Paisley has performed miracles with what little insurance money our parents left us. I’m adding to the family account with my waitressing job at Sharkey’s, but we don’t have much extra left over. Spencer and Shane insist that we don’t need to worry about college tuition for them because they plan on full-ride athletic scholarships. But unless it’s for competitive eating, I’m not going to count on it.
As the twins practically fall face-first into their breakfast, Paisley pours their milk and shoves a paper towel next to their plates. Hopefully they’ll use it instead of the kitchen towel. Again, I’m not holding my breath.
I drink my coffee-infused milk, watching my twelve-year-old brothers inhale the first of what will likely be their six meals of the day. As they grumble about the shortness of Christmas break, I think about how glorious it is that I haven’t had one class this year, unlike them.
“Vaughn,” Paisley says urgently. “I still need to talk to you.”
“I already told you no.”
“Oh, fine. Talk.”
“Outside.” She jerks her head toward the back door.
“We’re not listening,” says Spencer.
Shane nods in agreement because that’s their shtick. Spencer talks and Shane backs up everything his brother says, even if he disagrees.
“Outside.” Paisley’s head jerk looks painful this time, so I take pity on her.
“Lead the way.”
The screen door slams shut behind us. I take another sip of my rapidly cooling drink as I watch Paisley search for words, which is worrisome because Paisley is never at a loss for words.
“Okay, so I want you to hear me out. Don’t say anything until the very end.”
“Did you drink one too many Red Bulls this morning?” I ask. We both know Paisley kind of has a caffeine addiction.
“Okay. Okay.” I zip my lips shut. “Not another word.”
She rolls her eyes. “You do the lip-zipping after the last word, not before.”
“Details, shmetails. Now talk. I promise not to interrupt.”
She takes a deep breath. “Okay, so you know how they finally gave me my own cubicle, so I don’t have to share with that other assistant anymore?”
I nod. “They” are her bosses at Diamond Talent Management. Paisley’s official job title is Brand Coverage Assistant, but technically she’s a glorified gofer—she goes on coffee runs, makes a zillion photocopies and spends an insane amount of time scheduling meetings. I swear, the people she works for hold more meetings than the UN.
“Well, my cube has this little bulletin board on the wall. I’m allowed to put up pictures, so yesterday I brought in a few photos. You know, like the one of Mom and Dad that we love, where they’re kissing on the boardwalk? And one of the twins at baseball camp. And then I put up the one I took of you at the beach bonfire we had for your birthday last month.”
I have to fight the urge not to make a waving motion with my hand to tell her to speed up. Paisley takes forever to get to the point.
“Anyway, so get this! Jim Tolson is walking by my cube—”
“Who’s Jim Tolson?” I ask, breaking my vow of silence.
“He’s my boss’s brother. He manages some of the biggest musicians in the world.” Paisley is so excited her cheeks are flushed. “So he’s walking by, and he sees the picture of you on my bulletin board and asks if he could borrow it for a minute—”
“Ew! I do not like where this story is going.”
She shoots me a dirty look. “I’m not done. You promised to be quiet until I was done.”
I swallow a sigh. “Sorry.”
“So I’m, like, sure, go ahead, but just make sure to bring it back because that’s my favorite picture of my little sister. So he takes the photo and disappears into his brother’s office for a while. He’s got all these assistants in there and they’re all talking about your picture—”
Okay, now I really don’t like where this is heading.
“Something major is going down at the agency,” Paisley adds. “I have no idea what, because I’m a lowly assistant, but Mr. Tolson has been in and out, arguing with his brother all week, and they keep having these secret meetings in the conference room.”
I swear, if she doesn’t get to the point soon, I’m going to lose my mind.
“So at the end of the day, my boss—Leo—calls me into Jim’s office and they start asking me all these questions about you.” She must see my worried look, because she’s quick to reassure me. “Nothing too personal. Jim wanted to know how old you are, what your interests are, if you’ve ever been in trouble with the law—”
Paisley huffs in annoyance. “He just wants to make sure you’re not a criminal.”
Forget this vow of silence. I’m too confused to stick to it. “Why does this agent—”
“Manager,” she corrects.
“Manager...” I roll my eyes. “Why does this manager care so much about me? And you said he manages musicians—is he trying to sign me as a client or something? You told him I can’t carry a tune, right?”
“Oh, totally. That was one of his questions, if you had any ‘musical aspirations.’” She air-quotes that. “He was pretty happy when I told him you’re (a) not musical and (b) interested in becoming a teacher.”
“Is it a matchmaking thing then? Because, gross. How old is this dude?” I ask skeptically.
She waves a hand. “In his thirties, I think. And that’s not it.”