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One More Time!
I would have been stupid to turn the opportunity down.
A feature film starring the hottest man in Hollywood—and me.
It wasn’t just the chance of a lifetime; it was the first time I’d landed the leading role.
But Tanner James isn’t just any actor, aka “Sex God”.
He’s the man who took my virginity then shattered my dreams.
If I can use this part to launch a new career, it will be worth it.
If I can stop myself from falling back into bed with Tanner, it will be a miracle.
And my heart?
He can’t take that from me this time.
He’s had it all along.
Why am I doing this to myself? I wonder, as I sneak a sip of coconut water between reps of hundreds. I could be sleeping instead of being tortured.
Next to me, I hear a text followed by a squeal, and I remember exactly why I’m doing this to myself. Because--that. I want that!
To understand what it’s like to be an actress in Los Angeles, there’s no need to eavesdrop at the hottest talent agency in town. Don’t bother snagging a table at the latest vegan Mexican fusion restaurant. Skip the shopping session at Fred Segal and highlight at Sally Hershberger and all the star-studded movie premieres.
To get the real insight, just sign up for Jake Frente’s Monday morning Hot Pilates class at Model Body Studios. In his class are forty girls glistening with the perfect amount of sweat while perched atop tribal printed yoga mats working out to the beats of whatever rapper everyone is obsessed with that month.
And every single one of them will have a cell phone neatly placed on the top right corner of her mat, screen up.
For reasons I can’t pinpoint, this particular class is completely full of A-list actresses – the kind that can expect a call at any moment – even during her 8:00 am Monday morning workout. And Model Body Studios is the kind of place that welcomes the distraction of a cell phone ring (or three) in the middle of the abs circuit. If phones are ringing during Jake’s class that means he’s teaching the right girls.
The right girls... and me.
I have been occupying the back left corner of Jake’s 8:00 am for the past four years without a single phone ring. Somewhere around year two I thought my phone went off, but it was a storm warning. Sometime around year three I begged my best friend to call during the class, but he got the time wrong.
Any day now, Jake is going to realize that I’m the least successful person in this room, and ask me to leave. I’ve started bringing him cold pressed green juices, his favorite, to hold off the inevitable for just that much longer. Surely, if I just get in enough time around these women, whatever combination of luck and fairy dust they have will settle on me, too.
The whole thing is even more annoyingly ironic because I am the only model among this sea of actresses at Model Body Studios. My agent Carrie says I need to stop calling myself a model and start exclusively saying actress. It would be easier to agree if my resume wasn’t so heavily filled with runway and commercial spots.
Or if she’d called to say so during planks in Jake’s class.
I was discovered at the Short Hills Mall on my twelfth birthday. For a little more irony, the scout noticed me because I was doing an impression of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman for my best friend Cassie.
Acting has been my dream for as long as I can remember.
I told that to the scout that day at the mall, confused when he asked if I would ever consider a career in modeling. After all, I wasn’t striking poses to attract his attention. I was re-enacting the “big mistake” moment from Rodeo Drive outside of Sweetsy’s Candy. I’ll never forget the words he said to me as he passed along his card.
“Baby, I’m going to make you a supermodel, and then every single movie studio will come calling.”
And even though it gave me the squicks to hear him call me baby, he was right about the first part. By the time I was sixteen, I was all but living in first class, shuttling between magazine cover shoots in New York, runway gigs in Paris and all the most fabulous designer parties in Milan.
It was a fantasy life. I felt like an overnight princess plucked from suburban New Jersey and placed in someone else’s magical world. There were fifty-foot yachts and masquerade balls and insane gifts from top designers. Men swooned over my every move.
They didn’t want to hear me speak, though. I didn’t need skills, I just needed to maintain my waistline. And at sixteen, that didn’t require hot pilates. At sixteen, it didn’t matter that much to me that all I was was a pretty face.
And if the trade-off was loneliness? Well, my bank account sure wasn’t. And there were always new movies to watch. I memorized monologues with the gusto of any theater student, alone in the home theaters of Dolce and Gabbana, or Anna Wintour, while the rest of the fashion world partied above me.
Honestly, I could have gone on that way for ages, if it weren’t for two things. The first was the fact that models have a shorter shelf-life than the average NFL player. Five years is an eternity on the runway. When I started to get fewer calls from all the designers who’d called me their muse only last season, I knew it was time to start working toward my retirement.
Retirement. In my twenties.
My modeling agency fulfilled their promise of setting me up with a talent agency and letting me spend more time in L.A. That was four years ago. Today my time is still spent shooting lingerie ads in cold photo studios and waiting for my phone to be the one that finally rings in Jake’s class.
Please, don’t let me be a has-been at twenty-nine.
“Ladies! Up for the standing abs sequence!” Jake bellows from his spot at the front of the room.
I both love and loathe this day. The start of the week means casting calls, aka hope. But it also means grinning and bearing it through another round of Model Body as everyone else gets the calls for parts I auditioned for.
“We all know it’s three weeks ‘til the start of awards season!” Jake adds with a wink, as he adds a little extra gusto to his twisties. I add some to mine, too. If I can’t be his most successful student, I can damn well be his most vivacious one.
And then, as if on cue, we hear the first phone ring of class.
This time the phone keeps ringing. Unbelievable.
I look around, hoping the scowl on my face doesn’t appear as obvious as it feels. But as I do, I see thirty-nine faces scowling back at me. (Forty if you count Jake.)
And then it hits me--it’s my phone.
My first instinct is to leap into the air like the final scene of The Breakfast Club, but all eyes are literally on me. I play it cool, making a faux-apologetic face as I grab my mat and bolt for the exit. Grinning at Jake as I walk out, I’m gratified to see him wink back. Looks like this might have bought me a little longer in his universe.
“Hello!” I say. If this is a sales call, I will track them down and murder them.
“Jenna Stahl? I have Carrie Bonnaview for you.”
“Oh, my agent?” I say out loud. The receptionists sure don’t look like they care, but I do. I care that someone in this building knows I’m worth a Monday-morning call. And the women who collect my registration fees are as good as any. “Sure. Put her through,” I say.
I cradle my phone under my neck so my hands are free. My palms are sweaty and I rub them down my thighs. I’ve been reduced to a terrified newbie. This call means everything to me. Not only is my career hinging on a role, and soon, my savings account is too. I roll up my yoga mat in the lobby and leave the studio as if to say, this call is so important that it will take up the entire rest of class. Really, it’s so no one hears my voice quaver, or see how my hands shake as I wait to hear if I’ve just booked a commercial, or a pilot.
“Jenna? Hello, Jenna?” Carrie says as I walk toward my car.
I grab the phone again with my hand, nearly dropping it as I maneuver. “Yes! Hi! Omigod hi!”
“Let me guess,” she says, “You’re at Model Body?”
“It’s Monday morning. Where else would I be?”
“Well your omigod is valid. I have huge news. You’re being offered a part in a movie.”
“Define a part. Not to be ungrateful, but we’ve been down this road before.” Unfortunately, I know I have a tendency to be cast as the girl in the movie that seduces the male lead for one scene and then disappears, the main purpose of my character to give every male in the audience a hard-on. Nine times out of ten, this seduction happens while my character is wearing a very low cut top, or bikini.
“This is not a boob part, Jenna. This is a lead. The lead in an incredibly charming, brilliantly written rom-com called Reason To Love. And it gets better. It’s a Polly Kemper film.”
My heart jumps, once, before exploding into a million shards of so much excitement and gratitude. I can’t believe I’m still holding the phone.
I worship Polly Kemper, and I am not alone. She is an inspiration and an icon. We’re the same age, but instead of languishing in exercise class, she’s been busy directing not one but two of the top-grossing romantic comedies of the past five years. She’s known for writing strong but lovable women and – most importantly - she has a track record for breaking out new talent.
I feel something, and realize that I am doing a tiny jig in the parking lot. Anyone inside Model Body can see how dorky I’m being, but I don’t even care. I have been offered a part in my dream movie. It is finally coming together. My patience is paying off. I’ll be able to afford another four years in LA, even if I don’t book a single other role.
“Yes, yes, yes!” I scream like that famous scene from When Harry Met Sally. “Tell them I’ll do it!”
“Great…” There’s hesitation in her voice.
“What?” I ask, my breaths coming rapid and shallow.
“There’s a catch.”
“What? Low pay? Rough shooting schedule? Do I have to wear some metal bathing suit ala Princess Leia or something? Honestly Carrie, I don’t care. I need this job.”
“Your co-star is Tanner James,” she says matter-of-factly.
My heart-sparkles dim, then go out. The pieces come back together and land directly in the bottom of my stomach with a miserable, painful thud.
Tanner James. Tanner fucking James.
The second reason my life changed, and the one I wish I could forget. Most days, I can. Most nights, I can’t stop remembering. One thing’s for sure—I’d rather give up my acting dreams forever than appear in a single scene with the man who broke my heart.
Of all the actors in the entire world, why did it have to be him?
“Jenna? Hello? Are you listening to me?” Carrie says. “I know this is hard to hear, but they want you because of the idea of you and Tanner. A Janner reunion will play huge at the box office, especially since it’s been ten years since you two broke up. You two have high nostalgia value. You’re Justin and Britney. Ben and Jen--No! Jen and Brad. Just suffer through this and Hollywood will kneel at your feet, I promise… Jenna? Are you still there?”
“Yeah,” I say, blinking back tears. I don’t think I’ve ever suffered a bigger disappointment. Well—just that once. And he’s the reason this is ruined, too. “I’m here. Tell Polly Kemper that I’m very sorry, but I can’t accept the role.”
“Wait! Please don’t make a decision now. Let’s talk this out. Come over to my office and we’ll pow-wow. I’ll have my assistant order food. Or drinks. Or a therapist. Anything you need, honey.”
The lump in my throat makes it hard to talk, so I keep it simple. “I’m sorry.”
I don’t even wait for a response. I hang up the phone, get in my car, and hope this was all just a bad dream. That any second now, the blare of my alarm will wake me up, and I’ll have to get ready for Model Body.
Ten minutes later I’m still sitting in the studio’s parking lot, and I no longer think that there’s any hope at all that this isn’t real. I need to get out of here before class gets out, but my brain is doing too many backflips to even think about starting the car, let alone driving.
I know, objectively, that Carrie is right. The world lost its mind when Tanner and I broke up. I can only imagine how nuts they’d go for an on-screen reunion. We’d all make more money than we could spend in a lifetime.
But those people weren’t living my life as they gossiped about me from behind their screens. They have no idea how painful it was to live through that. To them, I’m not a real person. No one here in La La Land is. We exist for their attention alone.
Ironically, at one time I did only exist for attention alone. For Tanner’s attention. Because I confused it for love.
The sudden surge of anger I feel at that empty thought finally propels me to turn the keys in the ignition, and head home where I spend the rest of my day rage-cleaning and reading scripts for other, less high-profile jobs, trying to block out the memory of today’s glorious and terrible offer.
Finally, after hours of distracting myself, I decide that what I really need is a nice, long bath.
I pour my favorite lavender salts into the water. I hesitate only for a second before I grab a sleeve of Thin Mints, rationalizing that I did some pilates, after all. I turn on Adele and slip off the athletic pants and tank I’ve been wearing since I left Jake’s class, then slide down into the warm bubbles. I make a mental note to send him something nice, seeing as I didn’t just take my call outside, but ditched him entirely. He doesn’t need to know the role was a bust.
God, he can’t know. I’d be mortified.
I need something to take my mind off the situation. Some online shopping in my happy place should do the trick. I grab my cell phone and hop on ShopChic.com. I scroll through the sale section, hoping for some trendy yet neutral tops I can wear to auditions. All I see, though, are party dresses. The kind that in another life, I might wear to my Polly Kemper movie wrap party.
Even the thought of her name is enough pressure on the floodgates to let all my earlier angst to come rushing back in. I don’t know what’s more upsetting--that my dream was so close to being within reach or that Tanner is in my head again.
So much for relaxing.
Why would he even consider agreeing to star opposite me?
Because it’s a good publicity stunt. That’s why.
I hold my breath and slip beneath the surface, as though I can drown away this truth.
The only reason the man who shattered my entire world would agree to do a feature movie with me is that he cares about publicity more than about what we once had. And I’m the only one who still thinks about our past. He never cared at all. The memory of our relationship means nothing but dollars in his bank account.
My stomach twists at the thought.
I knew he was a heartbreaker, but could he actually be completely heartless? Tanner James was my everything. My first L.A. kiss, my first love, the man I gave my virginity to.
The thought of that night slips into my mind. I picture the off-the-shoulder red dress I wore to channel Julia Roberts for the night. Everyone says your first time is awkward and fumbling and painful. But mine? It was bliss. The thought of it makes the space between my thighs light up. I can feel the tingling pull, begging me to touch, pleading for release. But there’s no way I’m letting Tanner James get the best of my fantasies right now.
He’s done it too many times already.
That thought shifts me from nostalgic to furious. In the ten years since our breakup, I still haven’t discovered any other ways to think about him. Longing and anger are all I have. I flip from the ShopChic page I’ve been mindlessly staring at to a new window – TMI, the biggest source for celebrity gossip. I need to know if there’s anything else that could be behind this decision of Tanner’s. A scandal he’s trying to hide. Or maybe his last movie didn’t do as well at the box office as projected, and he needs the money. Anything would be better than believing he simply has no respect for what we once were.
I start to type Tanner’s name into the TMI search field, but as I do something else catches my eye. A headline.
Gem Charles – the new body of Marissa’s Closet.
My heart lands in my stomach for the second time in under twelve hours. Marissa’s Closet is my biggest account.
Or… it was.
I click through to the article, which starts with five full-screen shots of Gem in the latest style of lingerie I’ve been promoting for the past eleven years. Marissa turns heads with a fresh new British face, the caption reads.
“We’ve been so lucky to work with the best and most beautiful models,” says CEO Marissa Sutherland, “Our brand has always been about what’s new and next, and we think Gem Charles is the epitome of fresh.”
She may as well have said, “Jenna Stahl is staler than old bread.”
I shouldn’t be crushed. I know exactly how this business works. I was once the sixteen-year-old that pushed all the other “supers” off the covers of the glossies. I know about the limited shelf-life of a career in this industry. I know. So why do I have this sick feeling over it?
I guess there’s a difference in knowing “the end is near”, versus “the end already happened and no one bothered to tell you.” I just thought I had more time.
A little bit more, anyway.
Acting has been my passion for so long, though I’m well aware it’s not the typical path for ex-models. Some launch cosmetics lines. Others get involved in fashion design or become judges on reality shows. A few shift to being magazine columnists. The majority scout and coach fresh new faces. Only a few lucky ones make the move into acting. The ones who transition earlier have the best chance.
I regret the jobs I turned down when I was younger now like eating before a bikini shoot. When I was with Tanner, I had frequent opportunities that I didn’t take advantage of for one reason or another. I suppose I took it for granted that those parts would come just as easily later on.
Now, thanks to TMI, it seems the whole world knows I’m up the second-career creek without a paddle.
Without acting, I have no fallback. I have a GED, earned backstage at international Fashion Weeks, but no college education. I have no contacts anywhere but with my agency, and the various casting directors who have promised to keep my headshot on file. I know full well that file is a blackhole. And no way am I moving back to Jersey.
Without acting, my future is a blank space.
And I don’t just mean because I have no other job prospects. I have no other life prospects. I don’t have a boyfriend-that-could-turn-husband-one-day. I don’t have a volunteer-gig-that-could-turn-into-a-passion-project. I don’t have a pet. I don’t even have a plant. There’s a great big hole of uncertainty waiting for me in the not-so-distant future and that void does nothing to heal the still gaping hole inside me from the past.
I’m alone and lonely, and I can’t even say I sacrificed love for an amazing career, because my career at the moment is a resume of boob parts and used-to-be-spokeswoman roles. No one would sacrifice shit for that resume.
I’m over and done.
But I don’t have to be...
My mood has gone from “relax and forget” to “screw this and everyone” so fast it has whiplash.
I step out of the bathtub and slip into my robe without even wiping the lavender-scented bubbles off my soaking wet body. I stomp into the kitchen, open the freezer and grab the ice-cold bottle of vodka I keep on reserve for moments just like this one. I close my eyes and take a giant swig.
That one’s for bravery. Once I’m sure it’ll stay down, I take another, this one to numb the pain of what I’m about to do. Then I dial Carrie Bonnaview’s cell.
“Please tell me you’ve come to your senses,” she says without so much as a hello.
“I want to be very clear that this is going to be a strictly professional situation,” I say. “I will go to work. I will act as Tanner’s love interest. I will go home. No rumor mills buzzing about our reunion. No happy, lovey press shoots. This will be a j-o-b job.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes?” I say. Then I say it again without the question in my tone. “Yes. It’s a yes.”
I hear Carrie jumping up and down in her living room. I roll my eyes, but I know she’s right to be excited. I should be, too. This is the break we’ve been waiting for years to materialize. This will be the thing to change my life. Then why does my stomach suddenly feel like it’s tied up in knots?
I bite my lip hard to keep the tears from welling up again as Carrie rattles off congratulations and a list of what happens next. I know I’ve made the right decision. It’s the only decision if I want my future to be better than what currently seems possible.
I just wish a better future didn’t depend so completely on the man who destroyed me in the past.