Thursday, April 22, 2010

Excerpt from Hollywood Expatriate

(This is what I read during the Olive It Cafe Reading IV, April 16th. Since I'm more actively working on this story now, this will likely be the last excerpt I'll post. What I read is a moderately poked at first draft effort, so of course this is all subject to change. For other excerpts, just click on the 'fiction' label at the end of this post.)

Excerpt from Hollywood Expatriate
by Sara Habein

Before I could bring my head out from beneath the covers, I already knew my ex-girlfriend, Cal, sat in the chair across from my bed. Her fresh from the shower and caffeinated presence remained an unmistakable cloud.

“Your phone is ringing,” she said.

Why are you here?” I patted around on the table next to me in search of my glasses.

“Answer your phone. It’s annoying.”

I groaned and reached for my shirt on the floor before taking a look at her. She had on a giant brown sweater and jeans, one riding boot perched against my bed post. She tossed the phone at me. “It can’t possibly be that important,” I said, but not wanting to give her any more attention, I answered without looking at the number.

My mother didn’t bother to return my hello before she launched into it. “Dominic, darling, did you watch the nominations this morning? Two for me, can you believe it? Of course, I knew the Andrew Jackson miniseries would come out to something because those things always do, not that I did it for that reason, but the other? No one thinks twenty minutes of screen time in a comedy gets nominated. So did you watch?”

I looked at the clock and saw that it was not quite seven in the morning. “No, Mom, sorry I missed it. But congratulations all the same.”

“Thank you, darling. I’ve already called your sisters, and Rebekah said that she’d sent flowers as soon as she heard. You know she’s starting previews tonight.” I heard some shuffling of papers and then her voice shifted away from the phone. “Oh and here they are! Andre, you can put them by the window there.” Then, back into the phone, “He had an event in Las Vegas and they’ve comped him the most beautiful suite.”

Andre’s my mother’s boyfriend. French. Former teenage model, now thirty something “actor.” We’re close enough in age to where we could have graduated high school together, had he finished. But she’s happy, and so I pretended to listen and stay interested in whatever this event was. Not until she said, “I had no idea your friend Steven was a screenwriter,” did I snap back into the conversation.

“Wait, what?” I stood up and pushed Cal’s foot out of the way so I could step out into the hall. I didn’t like the way she stared at me, mouth at half-smile and half-scheme. Like she already knew both ends of the conversation.

“Your friend Steven. Andre was just sent his script and I think it’s just perfect for him, even though he’ll have to learn to play tennis. Some of the dialogue is very funny. Have you read it?”

Tennis? Tennis? Hang on. “I haven’t talked to him in about six months. Not since he moved out,” I said. Steven is the last person I’d call a friend. What do you call a guy who crashed at your house, slept during all daylight hours and stiffed you two months share of rent? “Tell me about this screenplay.”

“Oh, it’s about a retired tennis pro — No, wait, I’m sorry, a tennis pro that everyone thinks should retire who gets wrapped up in the Miami mob after he saves the mob boss’s daughter from drowning — ”

“In his pool,” I said. That lying sack of shit. Turning back around for the bedroom, I had to move Cal’s foot yet again in order to get to the box beneath my desk.

“Oh! You’ve read it then?”

“A version of it.” Eight hundred dollars, friend, where is it?

“Well I think it will be a good thing for Andre, and I’m sorry, darling, the room service is here. I have to go, but you call your sister and say something nice about her show tonight.”

She hung up without saying good-bye, and I tossed the phone and the box onto the bed. Cursing, I flung open the lid and dug to the bottom. Nothing but papers and folders, and no sight of my blue binder.

“What’s wrong?” Cal asked, and I kept scanning the papers, thinking maybe my work sat in there loose, that maybe I reused the binder for something else, but I knew I hadn’t and that I was definitely going to knock him out the next time I saw him. If I ever saw him again. “What is it?” Cal tried again through a slurp of coffee.

“Steven stole my novel and sold it as a fucking film.”

“I thought you said it wasn’t very good.”

“It’s not.” Throwing everything back into the box, I tried to remember if I knew anyone who might have his phone number. The bed still felt warm, so I laid back on the sheets and sighed.

“So if it’s bad, what’s the big deal?”

“I didn’t say it was bad, I just said it wasn’t very good. But it could’ve been good, and I was going to make it good, but now he’s very well screwed me over, hasn’t he?” I stared up at the ceiling. There was no way I’d get back to sleep at this point, even if she went away and I got back into my cocoon. Wake me up from a perfectly nice dream with all this bullshit, one that involved skin and hallucinogens and guys that looked like James Dean and Johnny Depp. The kind of dream where you walk around the rest of the day still high on all that great subconscious swirl. Reason enough to be pissed at them all, regardless of the news, or in Cal’s case, as yet unmentioned motives.

“You will have other ideas.” Cal moved from the chair and sat on the bed next to me. Her warm hand landed on my stomach. “Nice underwear. Man, can’t tell you live alone.”

Not at all surprised by her unsympathetic reaction, I moved her hand off my stomach and away from my admittedly ragged pair. “All right, all right. Are you here bothering me this early for any real reason or is this just for fun?”

“What, now you have a problem with an attractive woman turning up unannounced?” Her raspberry stained lips curved upwards. “I need a favor.”

“I thought as much.” She could just tell me and the sooner we could sort it out, the faster she could leave. Cal and I have a tenuous post-breakup friendship. She’s the only person I’ve ever dated who is still involved in my life in any way, but I don’t think I had much choice in the matter. Her level of sanity varied day by day, and I supposed I’d rather be on her good side. Mostly. “You know, it’s less attractive to call yourself so.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She laughed and reached over for the last of her coffee. “Can I borrow your car for a couple of days?”

“A couple of days? What the hell for?”

“I need to go with a friend to Seattle.”

“Take the train.”

She shook her head. “Won’t work. She’s picking up the last of her things from her ex’s place, and we can’t haul all that to the train station. She’s got, like, boxes of shoes and junk. I don’t know. I said I’d help her out.”

“Cal, come on. I’ve got to go grocery shopping and it’s been snowing off and on all week.” She put on a faux pouty face and I sighed again. “How many days are we talking here?”

“Two nights. I’ll have it back to you by Thursday afternoon. I promise.”

I decided to believer her. “Fine. But I want it filled back up when you give it back to me.”

She grinned and kissed my forehead. “Excellent, Dom, thank you,” she said. “And how is your mother?”

“Newly award nominated, apparently.” Now that I’d laid down for more than a minute, maybe sleep wasn’t such an unreasonable hope anymore.

“Oh! I saw her in Terry Gets Married. She was really funny.” Cal brushed a few curls out of her face. She’s always had a mountain of hair as long as I’ve known her. She used to keep it red, but lately has let it go back to its own dark brown. “You didn’t just have one copy of that book lying around, did you?”

“No, it’s on my computer, but he didn’t have access to that,” I said. “I’d printed out awhile ago so I could see the horror in a new way.”

“I’m not sure what you could do about it anyway. I mean, would you want your name on it?”

“I don’t know. Probably not. Who knows what he did to it. I didn’t know he was ever sober enough to figure out how to do anything,” I said. “My keys are in my jeans over there. Go help your friend.”

“You’re a star, Dom. Thank you.” She bounded up off the bed and walked over to where I had them flung over a chair. Before I could say goodbye, she removed my old Honda key and was out the door. I suppose if I really didn’t want her in my house, I would have changed the locks by now.

Before I could decide on falling back asleep, my phone rang again. This time, I looked at the number. My other sister, Gretchen. Fine. “What’s up, wee sis?” I said. She hates it when I call her that.

“Did you talk to Mom?” Gretchen had to half-shout over the background noise, and before I could say anything, she called to someone, “Yeah, yeah, that’s fine. Just tell her to hurry up when they’re done.”

“She called about half an hour ago,” I said.

“Shit, she must have called me nanoseconds after they announced it, like I’m not up to my eyeballs with work and get fifteen minutes of sleep anyway, but — Jesus, Carlo, I don’t care if her dog needs his blankie — Sorry, Dom, Jess Van de Kamp’s been hungover in her trailer for the whole goddamn morning and is only now seeing about wardrobe.”

“I should let you go,” I said. I don’t know why Gretchen calls me while she’s working. All the conversations are like this.

“No, no, sorry. It’s just one of those days. Anyway, I wanted to know if you’re coming down for Christmas. Mom’ll throw a fit if you don’t.”

“And miss the Andre lovefest? God, who could resist that?”

She laughed. “So? I need to know how much food I’m having Carlo pick up.”

Carlo is her assistant, possibly the most patient man on Earth. “Yeah, I’ll be there. Begrudgingly.”

“Cool. Rebekah and them are at her dad’s this year, so I need you on far-flung relative crew, all right?” And, away from the phone again. “Goddammit, I swear to you all, if I booted her and called Lindsey fucking Lohan, it would be an improvement.”

“Right, I’ll keep Grandma from getting fingerprints on your awards, Miss Indie Spirit.” Standing again, I went back down the hallway and into the kitchen. I needed a pot of coffee if this day was to have any hope at all.

“Don’t be an asshole, Dominic,” Gretchen said, but laughed again. “I gotta go. I hate it when I get talked into these ‘credibility’ cameos. Like that’s going to make us forget about the rehab. See you in two weeks.”

All right, the phone had to stay off for at least a few hours. Rebekah probably wouldn’t call anyway, but I couldn’t take the chance. Maybe I’d call her later. Maybe not. Jesus, I needed this coffee. No matter how far away I moved from Hollywood, and no matter for how long, I couldn’t shake these phone calls. When one is related to crazy prodigies, geography and time will never make a bit of difference.

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