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Authors: Abby McDonald

Life Swap (4 page)

BOOK: Life Swap
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“I'm afraid we're out of time, but it's been a great discussion.” Lowell claps his hands together, and immediately a rustle of activity sweeps through the room. “Remember, I want a couple of pages about your script of choice by the end of the week. You can find all our guinea-pig projects on the class website.”

I start to pack my things away, but a moment later, Lowell appears by my side. “Good points, ah…”

“Emily,” I reply. “Emily Lewis.”

“Well, Emily, it's a class requirement that you be part of a project group: making your own short feature.” Tilting his head, Lowell regards me with an amused look. “Since you seem to have so many opinions about this script, how about you work on it?”

I move to speak, but someone beats me to it.

“What?” The boy who lent me his pages is frozen midstep, looking at us both in horror.

“Ryan, meet Emily.” Lowell grins. “She'll be rewriting your script. I'm sure you'll make a great team.”


“Really, I couldn't—”

“No excuses.” Lowell cuts off our protests and regards us both with satisfaction. “Consider yourself partners for the rest of the semester. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.”

He saunters away, no doubt to the beach, while Ryan stands, glowering at me.

“Sorry,” I offer, picking up my bag and moving down the steps toward the front exit.

“You could have just let it slide.” He follows, scuffing battered black Converses on the floor.

“And what, pretended your script is some kind of masterpiece?” I pause in the doorway and look back at him curiously. “It was just a little constructive criticism.”

“Constructive?” He raises his eyebrows rather sarcastically. “Sure. Anyway, don't think this means you can tear it apart. I spent all vacation writing, and I'm not having it wrecked by some…”


Ryan folds his arms. “Someone who knows nothing about screenwriting.”

“Not according to your professor,” I remind him, annoyed by the way his friendly act dropped the moment I had something intelligent to say. Just like a boy to be threatened by a challenge.

“Look, just leave the thing alone. We'll put your name on the end, and everyone's happy, OK?” he proposes. “I get my script; you get the credit.”

“Thank you, but no,” I reply, baffled that he thinks I'll just agree.

“Come on.” He sighs. “It's not like you even care.”

“How do you figure that?”

Ryan smirks at me. “What's your favorite movie?”

“What?” I frown.

“Your favorite movie, tell me.”

I shrug. “I don't know.”

“Exactly!” He stares at me with satisfaction. “You don't even care enough to decide that. So, just leave my production alone and we'll be cool.” He slings a grafittied messenger bag across his chest and begins to walk away, as if we're done now that he's had his say.

“I'll be cutting whatever I want,” I call after him. Ryan spins back and glares at me, as if by sheer will he can make me disappear. “It was nice to meet you,” I continue, taking at least a little pleasure from his annoyance. “I'll let you know when my first draft is done.”

I go straight to the library after that to stock up on film textbooks. My father always drilled us to make the most of all opportunities: if we had to do something at all, we should do it well. Hence if I'm going to waste a term in film classes, I may as well emerge with an A. And if I'm going to be doing battle with Ryan's smug grin on a weekly basis over our final project, I can't afford to give him any ammunition.
Love Actually
Citizen Kane
: I plan to know them all.

Hoisting my stack of books up the stairs to the apartment, I begin to plan the next few days. Without the essays I had due at Oxford, my week is decidedly structure free, but I'm sure a quiet hour with my day planner will remedy that. Unlocking the door, I see a routine taking shape. I can work out a timetable of movie viewings, library time and research, and perhaps even…

“What are you doing here?”

The door swings open to reveal a familiar body stretched on the sofa, flicking through a magazine. Ryan sits bolt upright at the sight of me. “What are
doing here?”

“I live here,” I inform him icily, crossing the room and stacking the books neatly on the table.

“You're…” He blinks. “Of course. The uptight British chick.”


But before I have a chance to ask anything else, Morgan appears from her bedroom. She's wearing her hair loose and straight, with a white denim skirt and matching tank. She practically glows with tanning product and sunshine.

“Awesome, you've already met.” Morgan beams at us, as I begin to get a very bad feeling. “Em, this is my boyfriend!”


“No, I get it—it's cool.”

Sighing, I kick off my heels and drop my purse back on the floor.

“I'm really sorry,” Holly apologizes on the other end of the phone. “I tried to get all the reading done in time, but I've still got another six chapters left and labs to write up, and—”

“Really, it's cool!” I say again, trying to hide my disappointment. “We can party another time.”

“Thanks, Natasha.” Holly already sounds distracted, and I just know she's already got her textbook open. “Perhaps at the weekend? I've got practice on Saturday, but Sunday could work.”

“OK.” It's not like I have any other plans. “Sunday, then.”

“See you soon.”

I hang up and let out a long sigh. Holly can't help it, I know. She's pre-med, which means more lectures and labs than any normal person could handle. My two essays a week are nothing compared to her workload, but somehow she manages to take crew as well: waking up at five every morning to go train in the gym or row lengths on the icy river. I think she's insane.

Crazy or not, she's my one and only friend in Oxford—if hanging out a couple of times in the two weeks since we met counts as friendship, I mean. So when we made plans to go out to a bar tonight, then maybe on to one of the tiny clubs for some dancing, well, it was pretty much the social highlight of my stay so far. I even took time away from the library this evening to straighten my hair and give myself a manicure.

Some good perfect nails will do me now.

“Hey, wait up!”

“Come on, we'll miss kickoff.”

“Give me a second….”

A group of people clatter loudly past my room, and then they're gone and it's silent again. I hate the quiet around here; it makes it easier to hear all the fun everyone else is having. And when I say fun, I don't just mean the good, clean stuff; my walls are so thin I can hear every passionate grunt and moan from the room next door. Every night it's the same: murmured conversation, the sappy Robin Thicke starts up, and then showtime, while I press my headphones tighter and blast Kelly Clarkson so loudly I probably do lasting damage to my eardrums. I haven't seen the guy yet (and come on, it's got to be a guy. I mean, Robin Thicke?), but he's a player all right.

I check if Morgan's online to chat, but nobody's there. Now that I'm all dressed, I can't bear to just stay in and watch DVDs again, so I grab my coat—and scarf and gloves—pass the cluster of kids by the stairs, and head out, tripping down the uneven stone staircase and letting myself out the side gate. Inside the battlements, Raleigh is calm and ordered, but the moment I pass out onto the street, I'm almost hit by speeding cyclists and the rush of traffic and city life.

I plug in my iPod and set off into town. It's past 8:00
, but I've already spent six hours in the library today, gone for my gym workout, and written my next paper, which leaves me the one final choice in my now-regular routine: bookstores. I never got the appeal of hanging out in one before, but in a city where everything except the pubs and bars close by seven, Borders offers one last place to spend the evening. Warm, quiet, and full of armchairs and distraction, it can almost lull me into believing I'm not completely alone.

There are groups of students hanging around by the ATM outside, and I can't help but stare, the girls in bare legs and tiny jackets despite the fact my face is going numb just peeking out between my hat and scarf. I'm used to girls dressing trashy—I mean, I own skirts that would make Band-Aids look demure—but that's in seventy-degree weather! Oxford girls may look totally prim during the daytime, but after hours, it's like the search for the next Pussycat Doll came to town.

I push past the girls, and once I'm out of the damp winds, I make straight for the Starbucks at the back of the store. It's totally pathetic, I know, but after coming here every night for a week straight, I've settled into a routine. First, I stake my claim on one of the prize armchairs. They're arranged in a little nook, back from the café, and if you can believe it, winning one takes strategy and determination. Sometimes I have to hover, annoying the customers before they give them up, but tonight I spy a free one and only have to slip past an old guy before he can grab it. Stripping off my winter gear, I leave it draped over the seat to mark my territory and then wander back into the main bookstore area to gather my distraction.

Usually, I speed right past the magazine racks, but tonight some masochistic instinct makes me stop and look, and there they are on the cover of
US Weekly.
“Tyler and Shannon: Wedding Bells?” the cover screams, under a photo of them on the red carpet, grinning for everything they're worth. With a gulp, I take a copy, facedown, and browse the new fiction aisles for a good ten minutes before I can bring myself to settle in my armchair and look at the piece.

“Rumors…sources close to the couple…body-language expert claims…” It's nothing new, I realize. Just the same old breathless speculation, fueled this time by Shannon's confession to a “close friend” that she dreams of a spring wedding. But just as I think I'm free and clear, I turn the page and there it is.

You'd think by now I'd be used to the sight of my own pixilated body. You'd be wrong. I still taste metal in my mouth when I look at the picture: half naked for the (hidden) camera as I straddle Tyler in the hot tub, so clear you can see the harmony tattoo I got on my right hip with Morgan in freshman year. It doesn't matter that under the water, I've still got my bikini panties on, or that I didn't go all the way with him. No, that picture is all that matters—and the fifteen minutes of giggly, drunken footage that wound up online showing my face, and B cup, to the world.

See, this is the reason I couldn't stay in California, the reason that no matter how much time goes by, I can't escape that night. Because every time something happens in Planet Tyler and Shannon, they drag it up again.

And those two are total publicity whores.

Ever since the first season of the reality show
5th Avenue: The Real Gossip Girl
, when America's teens fell in love with the charming bad boy Tyler and sweet Shannon, who'd been crushing on him, like, forever, the two of them managed to build whole careers out of being themselves. Think the kids from
Laguna Beach
The Hills
did good? LC and Heidi have got nothing on these guys. Their on-off flirtation lasted Tyler's whole senior year, so when they finally got together (at an oh-so-spontaneous loft party in Williamsburg), the audience and press went crazy. Would Tyler reform for his high school sweetheart? Could their love last the distance to UC Santa Barbara for college? Tune in to Tyler's spin-off show next season to find out!

I know all this now, but before autumn, I only had a hazy recall of
5th Avenue
's complicated plot—and the audience's fierce devotion to dear, sweet Shannon. So when I met Tyler hanging out with some friends at a college party and he hit on me hard, I figured they'd split. Anyway, he invited me back to his off-campus apartment for some hot-tub time, and through my alcoholic blur I figured what the hell? He was cute and seemed totally sweet, and there were no cameramen around. Wouldn't I have to sign some kind of release before they were allowed to put me on TV?

Yup. Naïve and wasted, what a great combination. There were hidden cameras on the deck, and refusing to sign the release only meant the producers blurred out my face when they broadcast the clips—but not when they leaked the footage online.

He may have been a great kisser, but trust me, I would have needed an orgasmic night with screen god Chris Carmel for it to be worth these kind of consequences.

I toss the magazine aside and go get a latte and a cupcake, trying to shake off my blast from the past. One day (soon I hope), the country will get bored of those talentless posers and move on to something way more important, like Brad and Angelina's rumored split or Jessica's new diet, but until then? I'm in exile. It seems so stupid when I lay it out like this. Some people can't go home because they offended the government or risked their lives for justice. I'm banished because of five Jell-O shots and a guy who was way more take than give when it came to…

Never mind.

I'm smothering my coffee with cinnamon and nutmeg when an American voice behind makes me turn. “Hey.” A blond guy is hovering near the condiment stand, kind of stocky in a NYU sweater. “Don't I know you?”

I freeze. No, no, not here. Not so soon. My heart is suddenly speeding as I prepare for the worst.

“Yes, it's you.” He nods, features smoothing out again. “McKenna's economics lectures. You sit by the window, right?”

God, the relief that flows through me is nearly more than I can take. I manage to breathe and grip my coffee mug. “Sure,” I force out, waiting for my heart to slow. “That's me.”

“Cool.” He nods. His eyes slowly drift down my body as he checks me out, and right away I wish I'd thrown on some sweats before I left. I'm still dressed to party, in tight dark jeans and a clinging black jersey top. I take a step back.

BOOK: Life Swap
11.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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