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“Okay, ladies. You ready?” Lena asked.
Devon gripped the arms of her chair, struggling not to scratch away at the wood. She glanced over at her coworker Madison, then back at her boss.
“Yes,” Devon told Lena. “We’re ready.”
Lena Wright was the head writer of the television sitcom Here To Stay, and she’d just called Devon and her coworker Madison into her office for a quick chat before their first table read of the season.
“Good,” Lena replied, clasping her hands together. “I still can’t believe season three of the show is already underway. How are you two feeling in your new roles as staff writers?”
Devon shifted in her seat, hesitating in hopes that Madison would speak up first. They’d both been promoted at the end of last season, and while Madison’s bump up was expected considering she’d been working as a writing assistant, Devon’s had come as more of a surprise. She’d only worked as a production assistant for one season. But her unexpected contributions to a number of scripts had impressed Lena and the producers enough to land her a seat at the writers’ table.
“Well for me,” Madison began, her shrill tone oozing with excitement, “it feels great being on the writing team. I’m just striving to make sure my voice is heard. Since I’m a new writer and all, I don’t want to be drowned out. So my goal is to make my presence known early in the season.”
“That’s a good goal to have,” Lena said. “I love your enthusiasm. Keep it up. Now Devon,” she continued, bowing her head and staring at her over the top of her tortoiseshell specs, “even though you did spend some time in the writers room last season, this is a new level for you. That might feel intimidating. But I’d like to see you take a page out of Madison’s book and get a little more aggressive. You’ve got some great ideas flowing through that creative mind of yours, so do us all a favor and let them out.”
Devon clenched her jaw and blinked rapidly. “Yeah, I uh…I guess I’ve been feeling a bit…ostracized maybe? I mean, it could just be me. But I get the sense that some of the other writers resent the fact that I went from being a PA to a writer so quickly. Maybe they don’t think I’ve paid my dues, even though I earned that spot.”
Lena sat back in her chair and twirled a pen through her fingers. “Did you hear what you just said?” she asked.
Devon stared across the desk, her squinted eyes filled with confusion. “I did. But um…which part are you referring to?”
“Madison,” Lena said, “which part am I referring to?”
“The part where she said she earned her spot.”
“Exactly,” Lena replied. “Earned. Madison, do you remember how last season, the writing staff found themselves caught in quite a few dilemmas on several scripts?”
“I do remember that.”
“And if I recall correctly, it was Devon who came through with some amazing rewrites for those scripts, after the entire writing team fell short. Am I right?”
“You’re absolutely right,” Madison agreed.
“Do you see where I’m going with this, Devon?”
“I do,” she replied quietly.
“Listen to me,” Lena continued. “You deserve to be here. I wouldn’t have promoted you if I thought otherwise. So don’t let anybody dim your light in that writers room. Shine. Be confident. Speak up. And, most importantly, contribute. Got it?”
Devon exhaled slowly and loosened her grip on the chair arms. “Got it. Thank you for that. I needed it.”
“You’re welcome. Glad I could help. So, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll see you both at the table read.”
“Thanks for the talk,” Madison said as she hopped up and headed toward the door. “See you there.”
When Devon stood up, Lena held out her hand. “Hey, Dev? Can you stay back for a second? There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
“Uh…sure,” she uttered, her stomach dropping down to her knees as she slowly sat back down. Madison threw her a look before walking out and closing the door.
“So,” Lena continued, “what do you think of the first script of the season?”
“I think it’s great. I’m really happy to see that Ryan’s character Travis is evolving, which is what we’d been aiming for.”
“So am I. We’re gonna enjoy developing his character arc based on your idea of him starring in that horror movie and facing a slew of adversity from the film’s director.” Lena leaned into the desk and propped her chin in her hand. “So…may I ask you a personal question?”
Devon felt every muscle in her body tense up. She swallowed the ball of nerves that crept up her throat and nodded her head. “Sure,” she croaked. “What’s up?”
“Are you and Ryan dating?”
Devon froze in her chair. That question was the last thing she’d expected to hear.
She and Ryan Roberts, who was one of the stars of Here To Stay, had become fast friends when she first began working on the show. By the end of last season, their friendship blossomed into much more.
But the pair had gone to great lengths to keep the relationship under wraps. They were determined to keep their private life private, especially at the workplace.
“Um…Ryan and I are really good friends,” Devon said, digging her fingernails into her thighs as the lie rolled off her tongue. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, I’d just heard some rumblings around the studio. And I don’t want to make it a big issue if you two are together, because dating coworkers isn’t against the rules. But…” Lena paused, her intense gaze filled with concern, “…you’ve worked really hard to get to where you are. I don’t want you to do anything to jeopardize that.”
Devon stared back at Lena and remained silent, not quite sure how she should respond.
“Trust me,” Lena pressed on, “I’m speaking from experience. I once dated a coworker back in the day when we wrote for a television show together. It was a disaster. We both almost lost our jobs because we couldn’t keep our drama outside of the workplace. And not to say that would happen to you, but it’s just not worth the risk.”
“I understand,” Devon quickly replied. “But no worries. Ryan and I are just friends. And there’s nothing I would do to jeopardize my dream job.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear that. See you at the table read?”
“Yep, see you there.”
As Devon trudged out the door, her gait felt heavy underneath the weight of her dishonesty. She suddenly began to question whether or not she’d done the right thing. On the way back to her office, she pulled out her cell phone and texted Ryan.
Hey. We need to talk. Can you meet me at Drink Up Café?
Within seconds, he wrote her back.
Hey, I’m running lines with the cast. We’re squeezing in a quick rehearsal before the table read. Everything okay?
Devon groaned loudly before entering her office and plopping down in her chair. Not really, she wrote back. I just had an interesting convo with Lena I have to tell you about.
She stared down at the phone, awaiting Ryan’s response as the three dots appeared along the bottom of the screen.
I don’t think I’ll be able to get a break between now and the table read. Can you tell me about it later?
Devon’s cheeks burned with confusion. She didn’t know what to think of her exchange with Lena and was dying to get Ryan’s take on it.
I guess I’ll have to, she replied.
Devon tossed her phone down onto the desk and picked up her script. But she couldn’t focus because she was too busy rehashing her and Lena’s conversation.
She picked her cell back up and texted her friend Gabby, who worked as a wardrobe stylist on the set of Here To Stay.
The twosome had attended high school and college together back in Berman, Indiana, and Gabby knew her better than anyone. As far as Devon was concerned, Gabby saved her life when she recommended her for the production assistant position on the show. The friends had grown even closer since Devon’s move to LA, and she truly valued Gabby’s opinion.
Hey, Devon wrote, are you busy? I really need to talk to you.
After several seconds, Devon’s phone buzzed with a reply.
Hey, I’m heading into a meeting with the set designer in a few minutes. Not sure how long it’s gonna last. Are you okay?
“Why is no one available?” Devon moaned frustratedly as she composed a reply.
Had a talk with Lena that I want to run by you. But we can chat later.
Okay, cool, Gabby wrote back. I’m leaving work early because I’ve got a doctor’s appointment. Can we talk tonight?
Of course, Devon typed. Are you all finally gonna find out the sex of the baby?
Gabby was six months pregnant and engaged to Ryan’s personal trainer, Vince. Devon had been harassing her to find out the baby’s sex ever since she’d hit the fourteen-week mark. But the couple insisted they wanted to wait until the actual birth.
Girl don’t start with that lol! Gabby replied. My meeting’s about to start. I’ll call you later! XO
Devon responded with a heart emoji then set her phone back down. She missed the days of living in the Beverly Hills guest house she’d shared with Gabby when she first moved to LA. They’d come home from work and crash in their bright, nautical-themed living room or out by the swimming pool, discussing their day over cheese boards and white wine spritzers. But once Gabby and Vince got engaged, they bought a condo in Century City, and Devon moved into a cute little apartment in Beverly Grove.
A lot had changed since Devon packed up and left small-town Berman, Indiana, last year to pursue her dream of writing for television. She’d lost friends, weight, and a slew of insecurities. But she’d gained a great career, new and amazing relationships, and a renewed sense of self.
Just when Devon picked the script back up, a meeting reminder flashed across her computer screen. The table read was starting in five minutes.
“Here we go,” she whispered to herself.
Devon looked up and gasped at the sight of Madison approaching her desk.
“Hey!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t even hear you come in.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted to walk with you to the table read so I wouldn’t have to go in there alone.”
Devon rolled her eyes at Madison and waved her off. “Girl, please. You’re not slick. You just wanna know what Lena wanted to talk to me about.”
“Whaaat? How could you say such a thing?”
“Cut the dramatics and let’s go,” Devon said as she led Madison out into the hallway. She rolled her script up in her hands and held it to her mouth in an effort to prevent her voice from traveling. “So Lena asked me if Ryan and I are dating.”
“Huh?” Madison gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. “What’d you tell her?”
“I told her no.”
Madison reached over and gripped Devon’s arm. “Aww man! Why didn’t you tell me you and Ryan broke up? What happened? You all were my favorite couple! I just knew it was gonna last. I—”
“Madison!” Devon hissed, “Will you please get ahold of yourself and keep your voice down? Ryan and I did not break up. I just told Lena that because I don’t want her thinking our relationship is gonna interfere with my job. She did say that dating coworkers isn’t against the rules. But she also made it clear that she does not condone it.”
“Well first of all,” Madison said dramatically while gripping her chest, “I’m so glad you and Ryan are still together. You almost gave me a heart attack. Secondly, if Lena’s against coworkers dating, then I guess you did the right thing by not telling her the truth. You just landed your dream job. You don’t wanna do anything to mess that up.”
“Exactly. And I won’t.”
“You better not,” Madison warned her as the pair entered the conference room.
The cast was already sitting around the table, chatting amongst themselves. Lena and a few of the writers were there as well, paging through the script.
Devon could feel Ryan’s eyes on her. She glanced over at him, and the pair shared a discreet smile and wink. When she looked back up, she noticed Lena staring her dead in the face. She quickly shifted her eyes toward the floor and shuffled over to a chair on the opposite end of the table.
Madison slid into the seat next to hers, raising her eyebrows before turning to Devon.
“All right now,” she whispered, “you’d better check yourself. I think you’re being watched.”
Devon hunched her shoulders and flipped through her script, struggling to appear preoccupied. But as she anxiously scanned the lines, the words looked like smudged ink.
“I think you’re right,” she whispered. “I actually feel bad for lying to Lena. But after she told me about a bad experience she had while dating a coworker—”
“Wait, what?” Madison leaned over and nudged Devon’s arm. “Lena never talks about her personal life. How’d you get her to spill that tea?”
“It was more of a cautionary tale than tea. Lena and her ex weren’t able to keep their drama outside of work, and it almost cost them their jobs. She doesn’t want to see that happen to me.” Devon took a deep breath and sat back in her chair. “I just have to make sure Ryan and I do everything in our power to keep our private life private.”
“With this nosy cast and crew? Good luck with that.”
A heavy feeling of dread settled in the pit of Devon’s stomach. She glanced over at Ryan, who was busy chatting with his costar Malcolm. Before she turned away, he caught her eye and gave her a sexy smile and head nod.
Devon quickly turned away and peered over at Lena through the corner of her eye. Luckily Lena’s head was buried in the script.
“Okay, everyone,” said Whitney, who was the showrunner for Here To Stay. “I think we’re ready to get started. First of all, welcome to season three, episode one, titled It’s All Happening.”
The group broke out into cheers and applause.
“Now I’ve already read the script,” Whitney continued, “and I love it. So shout out to our phenomenal writers.”
As all eyes turned to the writing staff, thoughts of Lena and her concerns about Ryan flew right out of Devon’s head. She soaked up the surreal moment, relishing in everyone’s adulations.
Whitney held her hands in the air and quieted the group. “Lena and I have discussed the direction of this season with our producers and network execs, and the consensus is it’s going to be our best work yet. We’ve got some really exciting, thought-provoking plotlines in store for each of the characters, and we finally get to see Ryan’s character Travis land his first major role in a film.”
“Yay, Ry Ry!” his costar Simone called out.
“But from what I heard,” Ryan said before looking directly at Devon, “It’s not gonna be all fun and games for Travis. The movie’s director is supposedly gonna give him hell on the set.”
Devon could feel her skin begin to burn when she noticed Lena staring at her.
“Well hey,” Whitney said to Ryan, “Look at it as an opportunity to show off that acting range of yours.”
“Good point,” the show’s producer Melinda chimed in. “You play this storyline right, Ryan, and we’ll be submitting your name to the Emmys for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series.”
“Ooh, I like the sound of that,” he said. “And if I don’t win an Emmy, maybe Travis can win an Oscar. He’ll deserve one after playing a vigilante serial killer who’s restoring order in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-filled town.”
“Yes he will,” Melinda and everyone around the table agreed in unison.
“All right,” Whitney said. “Loving the enthusiasm, but we need to get started.”
The room quieted down, and everyone flipped open their scripts. As the cast began reading their lines, a dizzying thrill shot right through Devon. She thought about how not long ago, she was churning out articles on road potholes and pest control for The Berman Post. And now here she was, writing for a television show in Hollywood.
Enjoy the ride, she told herself. You deserve it…
End of Excerpt