Read The Accidental TV Star Online
Authors: Emily Evans
I closed my eyes a second and opened them. Garrett’s light, sage green eyes met mine. He compelled me from the poster on my wall.
Come to LA.
“Promise? You’ll be here when I get back in August?”
I stared into Garrett’s eyes. “I promise.”
Thursday morning came fast. Mom helped me lift my bag into the trunk, all the while sharing every bad thing she had ever heard about Hollywood. When she ran out of new dire warnings, she started repeating the ones she’d already given me.
“I’ll be careful, Mom. You don’t have to worry, and you can call anytime.” I shoved the trunk lid down and got in, eager to escape the warm, humid air.
Mom started the car, and grey smoke blew from the tailpipe. We both ignored it. I turned the air-conditioning on high and adjusted the vents.
“If the Herringtons get sick of you, come home. If you get sick of them, come home. We’ll figure out the cost.”
“I will.” I hadn’t told Mom that Ashley and her family had left for the summer. I saw no reason to make her worry more than she already was.
“That happened with one of the bar’s regulars, Tyler. He was staying with some friends, helping them around the house, really doing them a favor. Out of the blue they kicked him out.”
Yeah, he did nothing to cause it. I made a sound of sympathy and tried to make it seem sincere. The bar had a million regular customers, and they had a million problems. If Mom was going to start throwing barflies into the warnings, this conversation would never end.
“When you go to a club, watch your drink. Never leave your glass unattended. And if you do, don’t drink the rest of it. ”
“I know, Mom. We’d better get going.”
Mom put the car in gear, and the wheels rolled forward, out of their ruts. “I work in a bar, we watch out for these things. Now, our waitress Belinda hung out with a girl—”
A man lay in our path.
Mom slammed on the brakes and threw her arm in front of me. I jolted against the seatbelt, sliding forward as the brakes squealed and the car shuddered to a stop.
“What in the world?” Mom’s brows drew together.
My heart thumping, I unhooked my seatbelt and got out.
Bobby, our next-door neighbor, lay on his back, half-sprawled on the dirt road that ran between the trailers, and half on our grass. His forearm draped over his eyelids as if to protect his vision from the bright Texas sun. An empty liquor bottle lay loose beside his other hand. He smelled like whiskey and a long night.
I kicked his boot. “Go home, Bobby. I told you to sleep in your own yard when you and Joellen get in a fight.”
Bobby grunted and curled into a fetal position.
Mom opened her door. “Leave him, honey. I can drive around.”
Sleep it off in your own yard
was one of the few rules upheld in our neighborhood. If we let that one go, we’d run off the few remaining families here. “I don’t want the kids waking up and seeing him. I hate it when he does this.”
Mom sighed and turned off the engine. “I’ll get Jerry up.”
Fifteen minutes later, Jerry dragged our drunk of a neighbor into his own yard. Mom rubbed Jerry’s shoulder and praised him like he’d raised the Titanic.
“Thanks, Jer,” I said and got back in the car.
Mom restarted the engine and checked the clock on the dash. “If you miss check-in, call me and I’ll circle back to pick you up.” Hope lay in her voice.
Despite my morning challenges, I made the flight. We landed in LA, and I followed the signs to the airport shuttle bus and got on. Two other families rode into town with me; their kids chattered about Disneyland non-stop until we dropped them off at their hotels. The driver took the slow-moving freeway and exited for the Hollywood Hills. The bus chugged its way up curvy, narrow roads and pulled through the gate leading to a sleek, white, square house with a variety of high-end cars parked in the drive. Garrett Campbell’s house. My house for the summer.
The driver whistled through his teeth. “That’s a Ferrari. That one’s a Lamborghini. Oh God, it’s a Bugatti. Someone here has a Bugatti.”
I wasn’t sure what that was, but the shine and the chrome on them reminded me of the trophy case back at Trallwyn High. To men, shiny must equal success. I stepped onto the drive and excitement burned off my weariness.
The driver got my bag out of the back and eyed the nearest car. The Lamborghini was parked half on the drive, half on the grass. He puckered his lips at it before offering, “I’ll take your bag in for you.”
He hadn’t offered to take in anyone else’s luggage. The overstuffed bag was heavy, but I didn’t want any drama when he saw that a movie star lived here. I could barely contain my own reactions and didn’t want to be responsible for bringing in a gushing stranger. Ash had described star-struck fans: the shaking, the crying, the fainting. Those girls were me. I’m such a fan. I had no idea what I’d do when I met Garrett Campbell. There could be bras flying, tears of my unworthiness, and quotes from all his movies. I didn’t need the driver witnessing my meltdown or having his own. “That’s okay. Thanks for the lift though.”
“Cool, have a good one.” The driver took a long lingering look at the row of poorly parked cars, sighed, and took off.
I could do this. I drew a deep breath and shook my hands like our choir teacher had taught us. Shake off your nerves before a performance. I grabbed my bag and pulled it toward the front door. The exterior of the house was so starkly modern it looked more like a museum than a home. Garrett’s home. Garrett. I sucked in a breath and wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. Taking the last few steps with more speed, I reached for the knocker.
The door swung open from the other side as if welcoming me. A tall couple my age stumbled out. He wore a black suit, a grey shirt, and a pillow crease on his face. She wore a backless tank dress, silver jewelry, and last night’s makeup.
I stepped out of their way. “Pardon me.”
“No prob. Great party.” The girl struggled to pull oversized sunglasses from her undersized evening bag. When she got them on, she took the guy’s arm and teetered toward the cars.
Their exit left the door to the house ajar. I carried my bag over the threshold and shut the door behind me.
The open concept gave me a view of the living area that showed off all of last night’s bad decisions. A guy wearing sunglasses, jeans, and a T-shirt sprawled across the black leather sofa with one foot on the floor. Another guy lay on the cream carpet behind the couch. His arm covered his eyes in a pose reminiscent of our neighbor Bobby.
Staring at him, I began to feel at home, though the actual resemblance stopped at the pose. This guy was taller, bigger. Leaving my bag in the foyer, I moved closer. My next big step into the room straddled his loafer-clad feet. His arm dropped down, and his eyelids popped open. I froze.
Garrett Campbell’s stellar green gaze met mine. We stared at each other for several full seconds, and his eyelids closed again.
When my limbs unlocked and my heart beat again, I hurried toward familiar territory—the kitchen, my refuge. I blew out a long breath and braced my palms against the cool, black granite counter.
I’d just met Garrett Campbell!
I’d imagined this moment a million times—him reading a script, signing autographs, or holding hands with a tall platinum-haired model—I’d never imagined him passed out on the floor. Sick disappointment settled in my stomach, and I worked on shaking it off. Ashley had warned me—fame and money often meant unstable and irresponsible. Essentially, I’d be cooking for my neighbor Bobby all summer. A wealthy, young, hot Bobby who owned a mansion, but a Bobby nonetheless.
I took stock of the rest of my surroundings, searching for something familiar. Blue water gleamed through the clear glass wall that overlooked the backyard—a swimming pool. Maybe I’d get to learn to swim after all. Trallwyn junior high had had lessons, but Mom had been too paranoid to sign the permission slip. I moved into the living room and stepped over another pair of legs at the base of the stairs. This guy wore all black clothes, black woven bracelets, and had black spiky hair.
“Jump off,” he said, and rolled over. His big foot bumped into a cabinet that held an enormous fish tank.
Bubbles flitted up through the fake plants and orange and black-striped fish swam alongside white fish with pink diamonds on their sides, as if they’d been dressed in Argyle socks. A laminated piece of paper stuck to the back wall. I bent closer to read it, but the bubbles distorted the words. Footsteps accompanied by the hiss of a spray can distracted me.
A woman came down the white marble stairs muttering in Spanish and carrying a bin of cleaning supplies and a large bottle of disinfectant. She caught sight of me and pasted on a fake smile. “No breakfast. You go home now.” Next, she muttered something in Spanish that my three years of high school French couldn’t translate. She ended with, “
Another new whore
.” That much I translated from school bus Spanish.
My eyebrows rose. “Nope. I’m not the new whore. I’m the new cook. Marissa Steele.”
The lady raised her own bushy eyebrows and assessed me from head to toe. Then she shrugged as if she thought I was lying but didn’t care. She walked to a door at the side of the kitchen and flung it open. “Cook’s room is here.” She moved to the entry and slapped the wall under an array of keys. “Keys to the cars are here. I do not shop or clean the kitchen now that you have arrived. I do not feed the people. I do not feed the fish.”
“The grocery account is under Mr. Garrett’s name, tell the checker.” She moved back into the kitchen and thumped the shiny surface of the fridge. The appliance appeared new, almost untouched. A piece of paper came out from under a realtor’s magnet and she handed it to me. “Here is the name and address to the store.” Her accent was heavy, but I understood all that she’d said. She named a salary that was ten dollars over minimum wage.
“I put fresh linens in your room. There is a lock on the door. Mr. Garrett will not be a problem. He is a good boy. But he likes the—” She waved her hands in the air, gesturing at the passed-out players. “The company. I will be back later to clean the living room, when the guests are gone.”
“Dolores.” As she left out the front door, she said in clear English, “I pity you.”
The woman who’d tied her shoes with broken laces pitied me. That was a concern. I retrieved my bag, dragged it across the carpet, and into the cook’s quarters. Once there, I threw the lock behind me. Three pieces of furniture squatted on the linoleum—a twin bed shoved against the wall, a two-drawer end table, and a chipped white portable closet. The closet tilted as if one of its particle board legs were broken. The strikingly open and glorious rooms out there made the interior of the chef’s quarters even more squalid.
Let’s check out the bath on this chef’s retreat.
I tried to open the bathroom door but it stopped partway when it hit the foot of the bed. I had to turn sideways to go through. If airplanes had showers, this is what they’d look like. I stepped back out. From the rectangular shape of the combined space, I’d bet my summer’s salary that it had been a pantry on the original blueprints.
I owed my mom an apology for thinking so little of our trailer. I thought that would be the worst place I’d ever live. I was wrong.
My cell vibrated with a text from Ash.
Are you there yet?
Yep. Going to make a food run and start cooking.
I didn’t usually hold back with Ashley, but since she’d set this up, I didn’t want to tell her the truth. I’d landed in a neighborhood that didn’t even have the standard of
sleep it off in your own yard.
The drunks here stayed for breakfast.
I drove a luxury sedan for the first time. It wasn’t as much fun as I’d thought it would be. All the extra knobs and buttons and the curvy roads almost made the task impossible. But the view was worth the challenge. Hills, palm trees, and tiny houses with precise lawns that looked as if they cost a fortune framed my trip. Nothing like this existed in Houston.
The grocery store itself was a weird pleasure. I parked below ground, bought unrecognizable brands and crazy fresh produce. After loading two carts, I hauled them down an aisle that contained nothing but yoga gear to the checkout.
Other shoppers must have the same account setup, because the clerk didn’t blink when I explained. She called her manager, verified my name, and rang me up. The woman in line behind me chatted about pesticide-free produce while we waited. Her friendliness reminded me of home, even if the conversation didn’t. When I’d finished, I dragged both carts down to the lot via the elevator.
After loading the trunk, I began the winding trek back to Garrett’s house by strictly following the GPS. When I got in, the bodies were gone from the room. I assumed I’d be cooking for multiple hung-over guys, and even though it was five in the afternoon now, I also guessed they’d want breakfast. While the pepper bacon fried, I busied myself with the kitchen, unpacking the food and adding my purchases of brightly colored dishes to the cupboards. I made some fruit side dishes and for the entrée I layered the ingredients for a breakfast sandwich: Oat Bran bread, pepper bacon, fried egg. I loved cooking and the magic of taking separate ingredients and putting them together in a way that created something new and wonderful. My favorite memories were of helping Grandmother cook. We lived with her when I was young, and I never felt more secure or centered than when I was in the kitchen.
The deeply accented, Scottish voice melted my insides. I recognized it right away. Garrett. My ringtone had gone live. A smile edged my mouth and I fought it along with the accompanying shiver.
Remember my neighbor Bobby.
Garrett was another unreliable man like Bobby.