Callie Thomas isn’t fresh off the bus from Wyoming anymore. She’s been working in New York for two years, trying to make it on the big screen. When her agent informs her that she has to audition for a controversial movie, she falls into a funk, which is unfortunate for Kurt Evans, who has his meal ruined by the cranky waitress!
When they meet again, he is determined to teach her a lesson she won’t forget. Callie is drawn to the authority in his voice and the love in his eyes. Can he make her forget the past that haunts her? Can he love her enough to expel her demons?
The only thing I can say for myself is that I had been out of work for a long time. The last year had been full of Ramen noodles, yard sale shopping, and days spent watching my phone, silently willing it to ring with good news from my latest audition. It never did. Not with good news, anyway.
My agent had sent over a script, but by that point, it felt so hopeless I didn’t even want to try. I had a job as a waitress, a job that, while certainly not glamorous, at least paid the bills and had the added perk of not being chock full of rejection.
“You have to keep putting yourself out there,” Olivia enthused. “If you want to succeed you have to accept some failure in the beginning.”
“I know,” I mumbled into the phone.
I was standing in front of the mirror as we talked, wondering how I’d scrape the money together for a spray tan, having my nails done, and getting my hair cut. Everyone expected you to have a certain look in New York, one that took money, and as such, was nearly impossible for me. I didn’t have the extra cash to get my ash blonde hair streaked with caramel, or to get my naturally pale skin to that dewy, honey skin tone directors were so fond of.
The truth was, reading for a part was only a miniscule part of the process. Everything about you, from your smile to shape of your breasts came under scrutiny. It was completely plausible that I would read for a part even when, after a five-second glance at my headshot, the director knew he wouldn’t be calling me back. In a city where every girl had a boob job and a dream of stardom, I was a dime a dozen.
In the ‘real’ world I knew I was beautiful. I had even, small teeth and luscious lips. I had a pert nose, and natural, C-cup breasts. At 5’6, I weighed the appropriate 121 pounds?I was forever trying to drop three, because when it came to the world of acting, skinny was always in, and the skinnier the better. I had blonde hair that went all the way to my back?ash blonde most of the year that turned sun-kissed in the summer sun. My best feature by far was my large brown eyes, framed with long eyelashes.
All my life, I’d seen heads turn when I walked by. In school I was always voted Most Popular and Homecoming Queen. In New York, no one so much as glanced my way unless they wanted me to move out of theirs. If nothing else, it had been a humbling experience knowing that there was always going to be someone prettier, someone thinner, someone with bigger boobs. Thus far, I’d resisted the lure of plastic surgery but each time that Olivia called to tell me that I didn’t get a part that I’d auditioned for, my mood dipped lower and lower?not to mention my self-esteem. In those moments, I’d strongly considered it. My self-respect hadn’t had as much to do with my reluctance as the size of my bank account.
“Callie, you need to decide now,” Olivia continued. “And I’m going to be upfront with you?if you don’t read for this part, I’m going to drop you.”
I inhaled sharply, even though I couldn’t say that I was all that surprised. Agents had to have clients that made them money, and built a name for them, and I’d done neither. I’d been nothing but dead weight thus far to the one woman who had been willing to take me on and give me a shot.
“I guess I don’t have much of a choice then,” I sighed. “What is it even about?”
I could hear her tsking on her end of the line. “You haven’t even looked at it? For God’s sake, Callie!”
“I know, I know? I’m horrible. So what is it about?”
“The worst,” she agreed, and I got a funny feeling that she was purposely sidestepping my question.
“Just? just read it, okay? Have an open mind?”
“Olivia.” I was really getting freaked out now. Had I fallen so low that she was going to have me reading the part of a cockroach or something? Or even worse, a Viagra ad? I knew starving actresses weren’t supposed to be choosy about anything but their food. After all, they liked actresses to look like they were starving. Still, I liked to think I’d retained some of my dignity, although not as much as I’d had when I had first stepped off the bus.
“Okay, hon, listen. The title of the movie is ‘How I Spank My Wife’. But it doesn’t have to be?”
“What?” I asked, certain that I couldn’t have heard her right. Either that, or I just didn’t understand. “Is that just whimsical or something?”
“I mean, there’s not like, actual spanking or anything?”
“Is it a sex thing?”
“No, not exactly.”
Her evasion was not inspiring confidence. “What is it, exactly?” I demanded, my voice rising. “Is it a period piece, or something?”
“Ah, no. It’s modern day.”
“Modern day?” I repeated, feeling more mystified by the moment. “Are the characters Amish?”
“No. Listen, Callie, it’s a modern day movie about a husband who spanks his wife to keep her in line.”
My mouth dropped open. I couldn’t have been more stunned if she’d said Julia Roberts wanted to do a movie with me. I was now wishing that she’d said the reading was for Viagra.
“I know it comes as a shock. I didn’t mention it to you earlier because I didn’t think it would actually get picked up, but apparently it has that bit of quirkiness that they’re looking for right now. Callie, are you still there?”
I tried to swallow and force my vocal chords to respond, but they were not having it.
“Callie? Callie, come on, it won’t be that bad.”
“That bad?” I whispered hoarsely. “Okay. What am I, the daughter?”
“A neighbor? The best friend?” My voice was cracking as dread filled me.
“You’d be auditioning to play the role of the wife.”
My throat closed up. I had to take several long, deep breaths before I could speak. I knew that my agent was getting impatient, but she didn’t hang up. “Wonderful. It’s perfect. Thanks so much for your hard work, really, Olivia. What would I do without you?”
“Kill the sarcasm, okay?”
“You really couldn’t find me anything better?” I asked, plaintive.
“For a would-be actress whose two commercials aired eight months ago? No, I couldn’t, Callie. You’re lucky I got you this.”
I nodded in resignation, and even though Olivia couldn’t see me over the phone she seemed to sense my acceptance of the situation, however reluctant I might be.
“So you’ll go?”
“I’ll go,” I agreed numbly.
“Good. Read the entire script, of course, but for the reading look at pages forty-four and forty-five, okay?”
“Sure,” I replied morosely.
“Great. Good luck!” she chirped, sounding much more cheery than she had any right to be. A good agent wouldn’t sound so happy after delivering her client a crappy role to audition for. A good agent wouldn’t even ask her client to audition for such a role, much less threaten to drop her if she didn’t.
But I knew I was being unfair. Olivia was certainly a good agent, one of the best. If I was being fair, I knew that it wasn’t her fault that I was not getting plum parts. I’d fallen into a murky sadness that kept me at home, in my bathrobe, instead of going out and auditioning like I should. Part of me hadn’t even wanted to pick up the phone when she’d called. Now I was wishing I hadn’t bothered.
Trying to be an actress was hard. It shouldn’t come as a surprise; it certainly wasn’t like I hadn’t heard it time and time again before I’d moved out here. My mother, my sisters and the boyfriend I’d left behind had all warned me. Stupidly, I’d assumed they were just jealous?and maybe that was a part of it. Maybe they’d wished, even if just for a moment, that they could leave behind our small house in our small town in Wyoming and come with me.
When they’d warned me that actresses were a dime a dozen, or that I’d have to start paying my own bills, I’d brushed off their concerns. My mom had been crying for three days straight before I’d left. When I had met her eyes?the same doe brown eyes I’d inherited?they were red and lined with tears.
“Don’t do this,” she’d begged. “Bobby loves you. He wants to marry you!” she said in a voice that indicated she couldn’t understand why I would turn down a chance at marriage and children with a man who had peaked in high school and who could have, at most, shown me to the inside of a neighboring Olive Garden on anniversaries. That wasn’t enough for a girl like me, who wanted to travel the world, and I knew it.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” I’d told her, kissing her goodbye.
“Don’t? don’t let them change you,” she’d said, instead of goodbye.
“They aren’t going to change me!” I had exclaimed, laughing. I’d taken one last look around at the dirty bus station, dim with flickering lights. My sisters were huddled in a corner, only a few feet from my stepfather, George. He had a mean look on his face as he looked at me, and I shuddered. “Bye, Mama. I’ll call. I’ll send postcards. You will get to see me all the time on TV!”
I had waved enthusiastically and climbed the steps that would take me to my destiny. My sisters had come to wave goodbye as the bus started moving, and I craned my neck to look at them through the dusty window. Even their obvious skepticism and concern couldn’t dim my joy. I told myself that they didn’t know what they were talking about. All they knew was the sad little town that I’d grown up in, all dingy and gray, where people went to school, graduated, and then had nothing more to look forward to other than a job where they’d be on their feet for ten hours a day. That was all they knew, all they could understand. New York was glamour, and art, and sophistication. Of course it would intimidate them.
At the end of my second year in New York, where I worked as one of the many actress/servers?working on my feet for ten hours a day, ironically?struggling to get bit parts and pay the bills at the same time, I wondered if they hadn’t been right. I’d been too star-struck, convinced that if I wanted it bad enough, I would be able to make it happen. The stark reality was that I’d brought in enough money with my commercials to pay for six months’ rent, and that had run out four months ago. I didn’t have much choice in the matter anymore: either I got a job, or I had to go home.
In moments like this, when I was feeling desperation close around me like a vise, the thought of home didn’t sound so bad. My mother?my sweet, beautiful, comforting mother. She was home to me. Her hands were always lightly dusted with flour, no matter how much she washed them. She smelled of lemon verbena and warm, earthy potting soil from working in the garden. God, I missed her. During my first months in New York I dreamt about her at least once a week. I always dreamt that I came home, crying, and she opened her arms to me and whispered, “I’m so glad to have you home.”
And my sisters, even if they only shared half my blood, and the other half with their spit-and-nails father, George, I loved them. Even three years apart, they looked like spitting images of each other, with my mother’s honey blonde hair and the doe brown eyes that all her children had inherited. There was nothing to suggest the squat, mean look that George carried about him.
George. Therein lay the problem. He had never loved me, no matter how much he professed to the contrary, and he liked me even less. I had no choice but to read for the part, and I had to get it, no matter what. Home wasn’t an option for me, as long as he was there.
Even though I daydreamed constantly about the day I could throw my apron at my manager, and yell, “I QUIT!” at the top of my lungs, I was a pretty good server. Maybe it was because I was just acting, playing another part, or maybe it was because I secretly hoped to be discovered. There might be a new comedy, starring a server, and seeing me in here would inspire the writer, until he insisted on having me in his movie, no matter what the casting director had to say about it.
It was a common fantasy among us actor/servers. The only thing that changed was who discovered us, depending on whom we were waiting on. It had become quite a talent of mine, picking out who’s who. I could tell within twenty seconds if I was serving a producer, or a writer, or just some joe-schmo, new to the city. Like I said, I was usually quite good at my job, but ever since I’d heard about the part I was auditioning for tomorrow, I just couldn’t concentrate. I’d been forgetting orders, taking plates to the wrong table, and just generally making a mess of things. I knew I wouldn’t be taking home a lot of tips tonight.
Oh, well, there’s always tomorrow, I thought to myself, trying to ignore the fact that I couldn’t afford to wait until tomorrow. I fixed my face with my brightest Homecoming Queen smile as I set down plates of hot, steaming pasta in front of the guests at table six. Just smelling the savory aroma made my mouth water. The cluster of sweet cherry tomatoes set against spinach leaves with tender, delicious pasta was our specialty. Everyone said it was to die for, but at forty-two dollars a plate it was more than a bit out of my price range.
One day, I promised myself, turning my smile on the male patron, who was already ticked at me for earlier gaffs. I’d quickly sized him up, and while he might be wealthy, he wasn’t anyone important, so while I might be losing a tip at least I wouldn’t have to worry about anything else more serious.
“Your dinner, sir. If everything looks okay, then I’ll?”
“Yes, thank you,” he interrupted, dismissing me with a wave of a hand. “Everything’s fine. Finally. It only took you three tries. We’ve been waiting for an hour, but at least you finally managed to pull through.”
My smile slipped and I felt my cheeks heat up with embarrassment. “Like I said earlier, sir, I sincerely?”
“Oh, I know, I know. You apologize. I’ve got it, okay? Now if you could leave us in peace to enjoy our dinner?” Without waiting for a reply, he turned away from me and began talking to his dinner companion, a young, pretty woman who looked horrified at the scene her date was causing.
“Yes, sir,” I said, putting my smile back in place and turning to go back to the kitchen. Even though I tried to put it out of my head, I felt humiliated and angry. Yes, I had not been on my game tonight, and yes, I’d made some mistakes. But who did that guy think he was, treating me like I was dirt?
“One of our best customers,” Chef said when I brought my complaint to him. “Watch it, Cal. You’ll be on thin ice if the boss gets word of this.”
I sighed heavily and slumped against the fridge. “Fine. I’ll play nice. But if he says one more rude, arrogant?”
“You’ll put up with it,” Chef said in a no-nonsense way that was also light-hearted. “You need this job. It’s not like you have a whole lot of options.”
I glowered at him, ungrateful for the reminder. Ever since I’d gotten here, it seemed that everyone was eager to remind me to keep my complaints to myself, because obviously I needed to be here, or I wouldn’t be. It just brought my dilemma rushing back. I had finally read the script, and it was even more horrible than I’d imagined.
The wife got spanked by her husband on a regular basis, and I was not sure whether it was supposed to be comic relief or something, but I couldn’t believe anyone would watch such a movie. It wasn’t even sexy, it read like a boot camp, or something. Still, I didn’t have any choice; I had to read for the part. I just wished that I didn’t have to read one of the spanking scenes. I knew that I wasn’t going to get the part anyway, so I would have preferred to preserve as much of my dignity as possible.
I grabbed table six’s cr?me br?l?e and walked with leaden feet towards the table. I affixed a smile to my face, even as I wondered why I was bothering. If I were lucky, they would leave soon, and without complaining to the manager.
“Here we are,” I said brightly as I approached. “Your dessert, and coffee.” I placed each cup in front of them, and then put the dessert in the middle. “Will there be anything else?”
“Yes,” my new favorite patron answered, in a tight, annoyed voice. “You forgot to light it.”
“Excuse me?” I asked, blinking at him.
“The topping? You’re supposed to flamb? it?” He was talking to me like I was an idiot, and before I’d come here, I would have cried. New York had toughened me, however, and I knew there was only one thing I could do: not let him get away with it.
“You’re right. Absolutely, sir. Just a moment, please.” I walked away purposefully, with revenge in mind. When I got back to the table I was carrying a bottle of vodka and a lighter. Giving them a stunning smile, I splashed the top of thebr?l?e with alcohol and lit it. Then, turning to Mr. Condescending, I clumsily dropped the bottle.
“Jesus!” he exclaimed loudly as vodka dripped from his shirt, all the way to his pants. It was a full bottle, and more than half had drenched his clothes before the bottle fell with a thud to the floor, creating a clear puddle on the wooden floor.
“Oh, my gosh, I am so sorry,” I said, feigning innocence. “Here, let me help.” I leaned forward, cloth in hand, and lit the blowtorch. Flame shot out toward him, and licked his shirt, which caught fire. “Oh, no!” I cried, counting to five before putting it out.
I took a step back, and I wasn’t sure if it was from his shirt, or if steam was literally coming out of his ears. “You? stupid? girl!” he said through gritted teeth. “I don’t want your apologies.” He spat each word at me threateningly. “I want you fired.”
I whirled around and fled, leaving him spluttering and cursing behind me. I was still silently patting myself on the back when my boss pulled me into his office.
“Listen, Callie, maybe this isn’t working out,” he began, running his fingers through what was left of his gray hair.
“Not working out?” I repeated, batting my eyelashes. “But tonight was just a bad night for me. I have this audition in the morning, and?”
“Of course you do,” he responded, a bit too sarcastic for my taste. “But the truth is, if you can’t handle serving tables then we have hundreds of other girls waiting to take your job.”
“Come on, Carl,” I said, nervousness creeping into my body. “Please. Please, I’ll do better. This has never happened before; you know that. It was an honest?”
“Right,” he nodded curtly. “Fine. I’ll give you another shot, but I suggest you take the rest of the night off.”
“Thank you,” I replied meekly. By the time I cashed out, Mr. Condescending and his date had left. I’d been informed that his meal was going to be taken out of my check, but by that point I felt so stupid for what I had done, and so grateful that I still had a job that I didn’t even care.