When It's Real
I said yes.
Because (1) It’s a lot of money. And (2) It’s a lot of money.
Guess that makes me a kinda sorta gold digger? I’m not sure if my situation fits the exact definition, but I can’t deny I feel like one as I follow Paisley into the elevator the next morning.
Diamond Talent Management is an entire building. Not just a couple of floors, but an entire glass-covered, needs-an-elevator-and-a-security-team building. The scowly but hot guards with the earpieces give me the willies, but Paisley walks by them with a wave. I copy the motion. I kind of wish I hadn’t had that second cup of coffee this morning. It’s sloshing around in my stomach like a tidal wave.
The elevators are a shiny brass, and there’s a guy in a suit whose only job appears to be spraying them constantly with cleaner and wiping them down. He’s got a jaw that would look good on the side of a mountain and a butt tight enough to rival any football player’s.
Paisley gets off on the sixth floor, which is emblazoned with Music Division in big gold letters on a dark wood backdrop. The receptionist is more beautiful than half the actresses on the tabloid covers. I try not to gawk at her perfectly outlined lips and wicked winged eyeliner.
“You’re staring,” Paisley mumbles under her breath as we pass the reception desk.
“I can’t help it. Does Diamond only hire people who could star in their own movies?”
“Looks aren’t everything,” she says airily, but I don’t believe her because clearly Diamond requires photo applications. Gotta be beautiful to work in show biz, I guess, even if you’re behind the scenes.
We’re ushered into a huge conference room, where I stop in my tracks. It’s full of people. At least ten of them.
I quickly scan the table, but I don’t recognize anyone, and the one person I would recognize—and who this meeting is about—isn’t even there.
A tall man with dark hair and plastic skin stands up from the head of the table. “Good morning, Vaughn. I’m Jim Tolson, Oakley’s manager. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
I awkwardly shake the hand he extends. “Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Tolson.”
“Please, call me Jim. Have a seat. You, too, Paisley.”
As my sister and I settle in the chairs closest to his, he goes around and makes a bunch of introductions I can hardly keep up with.
“This is Claudia Hamilton, Oakley’s publicist, and her team.” He gestures to a redhead with huge boobs, then at the three people—two men and a woman—flanking her. Next, his hand moves toward three stone-faced men on the other side of the table. “Nigel Bahri and his associates. Oakley’s lawyers.”
Lawyers? I cast a panicky look at Paisley, who squeezes my hand under the table.
“And finally, this is my assistant Nina—” he nods at the petite blonde to his right “—and her assistants. Greg—” a nod to the African-American guy to his left “—and Max.” A nod to the slightly overweight guy next to Greg.
Jeez. His assistant has assistants?
Once the introductions are out of the way, Jim wastes no time getting down to business. “So, your sister has already provided you with some details about this arrangement, but before I tell you more, I have some questions for you.”
“Um. Okay. Hit me.” My voice sounds unusually loud in this massive conference room. The echo feels endless.
“Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself?” he suggests.
I’m not sure what he wants me to say. Does he expect me to recite my life story? Well, I was born in California. I live in El Segundo. My parents died in a car accident when I was fifteen.
Or maybe he wants trivia-type stuff? My favorite color is green. I’m scared of butterflies. I hate cats.
My confusion must show on my face, because Jim gives me a few prompts. “What are your interests? What do you aspire to do after high school?”
“Oh, I’m done with high school already,” I admit.
“Are you in college?” Claudia, the publicist, twists and frowns at Paisley. “She may need to miss classes. How old are you again?”
“Age of consent in California is eighteen.” This reminder comes from the end of the table, where the lawyers, plural, are sitting.
Claudia waves her hand dismissively. “They’re dating. Nothing more. Besides, Oakley’s audience is mostly young girls. Anyone older and it won’t have the same impact.” She turns to me. “What are you currently doing?”
“I’m working. I took the year off to work to help our family.” I’ve said it so many times, but even the passing mention of Mom and Dad being gone still makes my heart clench.
“Paisley and Vaughn’s parents died a couple of years ago,” Jim explains.
Paisley and I cringe as the entire table gives us pitying looks, except for Claudia, who beams. “Wonderful. An intelligent, plucky orphan,” she says, and her voice is so high and squeaky it hurts my ears. “This backstory gets better and better. She’s just what we’re looking for.”
We? I’m even more confused. I thought this was about me pretending to be Oakley Ford’s girlfriend, so why am I in a conference room filled with strangers? Shouldn’t my soon-to-be fake boyfriend be here, too?
“Do you plan on attending college?” Jim asks.
I nod. “I got into USC and Cal State, but I deferred until next fall.” I wipe my sweaty palms against my jeans as I trot out my practiced speech about wanting to have real life experience before school but how I eventually plan to go into teaching.
From the corner of my eye, I notice Claudia’s “team” taking diligent notes. My confession that I like to draw triggers several interested looks from the PR section.
“Are you good?” Claudia asks bluntly.
I shrug. “I’m okay, I guess. I mostly do pencil sketches. Usually just faces.”
“She’s being modest,” Paisley speaks up, her voice firm. “Vaughn’s drawings are amazing.”
Claudia’s blue eyes shine with excitement as she turns to her team, and then four voices chime out, “Fan art!”
“I’m sorry...what?” I say in bewilderment.
“That’s how we’ll make first contact. We’ve been brainstorming various online meet-cutes, but they all felt so contrived. But this has potential. Picture this—you Tweet a gorgeous sketch you drew of Oakley, and he’s so blown away he Tweets you back!” Oakley’s high-voiced publicist begins to make rapid hand gestures as she gets more and more excited by the picture she’s painting. “And his followers will take notice, because he so rarely replies to Tweets. Oakley tells you how your piece touched him. It brought tears to his eyes. You Tweet back and forth a few times, and then...” She pauses for effect. “He follows you.”
This prompts simultaneous gasps from her three assistants.
“Yes,” one of them says with a vigorous nod of her head.
“But,” another speaks up hesitantly, “we need to address the sister issue.”
“Right,” Claudia agrees. “Hmmm. Yes.”
Paisley and I exchange flabbergasted looks. It’s like these people are speaking a different language.
Jim sees our faces and quickly clarifies. “The fact that Paisley works for this agency will no doubt come out. Once the press digs that up, they’ll start concocting wild theories about how the relationship is a scam arranged by Oakley’s manager—”
I can’t help but snort.