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Q: Derived from a French word meaning “to block” or “to obstruct,” what word’s first recorded use was by Michael de Montaigne?
“Shoulders back, chin high, smile, and don’t throw up,” I tell myself as I scoot my chair closer to my freshly Lysoled dining table and flatten my hands on the cool glass surface.
I inhale a deep breath, then smooth the lines of my sensible sleeveless pink blouse. It’s a conservative, not-too-low-cut, bright solid that, according to my “TV Interview Prep” checklist, meets the recommendation for high-definition television.
It’s a visual medium, and I’m supposed to want viewers to focus on me, and not my busy clothes.
“This is all part of the plan. It’s going to be like any other interview.”
This is just a video chat with a new friend. On a nationally syndicated news program. With tens of thousands of viewers waiting for me to screw up.
“Why did I agree to do this stupid interview?”
A little voice in the back of my head reminds me this is about the store, not me.
I’m here to keep Love & Games’ name in the news. Literally. Three months ago, my sister, her best friend Nadia, and I saved our business. Now we just need to remain socially relevant. And keep growing at an exponential rate. Spread the word. Keep our faces out there.
But if in the process I happen to catch the eye of some well-rounded, devastatingly handsome stranger who loves his family and is open to genuine commitment and intimacy…
I peek over at my Book of Lists and turn to my checklist of the day, where “find an amazing eligible bachelor” did not make the bullet-point cut.
Again, this is about the business.
My heart rate kicks up as nervous energy zips through my veins. A groan claws its way from my throat, and I suck in several deep breaths to stop myself from checking my watch for the umpteenth time. Instead, I open my laptop and double-check my makeup, then my teeth for signs of egg and spinach omelet bits before digging my hands in my hair to zhuzh up my curls.
“It’s only five minutes,” I tell myself.
A notification jolts from the side of the screen, both startling and reminding me to log on to the video call the studio set up.
“I’m going,” I mutter. A quick glance at my checklist with all its boxes filled does little to relieve my anxiety. My fingers tremble as I type in the meeting ID and passcode. I check my selfie light one more time, making sure my laptop is positioned to show only the brightly colored business on top. Not the polka-dot pajama party on the bottom. Because that would be counterproductive.
One viral video is enough.
Then I peel the black electrical tape from my webcam.
As soon as I click Submit, a little circle spins, further winding me up, when my screen splits in two.
You’ve got this.
“One of the game shop owners involved in that now-famous Monopoly kiss-gone-viral is with us today via satellite,” news reporter Jennifer Ling says.
I have no clue whether they’ve patched me in yet or if I’m live, so I smile awkwardly.
“Earlier this month, Channel 5 Action News brought you face-to-face with the blissful couple who confessed their love with the world watching. This week, we bring you the co-owner of Love & Games, and the mastermind behind the romantic-comedy-inspired stunt that saved a small, women-owned business.”
She continues to detail the events of the video, beginning with my sister’s boyfriend Declan’s live post, asking Harper to meet him thirty minutes before the city Monopoly tournament if she returned his feelings. The screen cuts to a clip of the movie Never Been Kissed. It’s my favorite scene of Drew Barrymore standing on the pitcher’s mound, waiting to be kissed for the first time.
Jennifer Ling chuckles good-naturedly as the movie clip ends and the video of Harper and Declan kissing appears on the screen.
“Roxanne Sloane is the sister of Harper Sloane, the woman people have affectionately named the Monopoly Queen, seen here showing up for the man she calls the love of her life.” The raven-haired news reporter flashes her megawatt smile straight ahead. Behind her, there’s a huge monitor with her face beaming on one-half of the screen.
On the other half?
With a glob of Vaseline glazed over my teeth to hold my shaky smile in place—advice from the helpful Monopoly Queen herself.
You never know who’ll be watching. Or who you’ll meet… Harper had purred earlier on the phone, baiting me. The operative silent words being that I’m never going to meet a guy if I don’t go somewhere and do something new. Even if this pointless interview benefits the store.
Just smile and be yourself.
Which normally it is. I’m good at putting my best foot forward in the public eye. But this is my dining room table, and knowing Jennifer Ling, the won’t-be-scooped reporter known for exposing tax scams and pest-infested eateries, she’s probably gunning for something a little less rodent and a lot more reality TV. I’m both dreading and dying to know what her angle is going to be with me.
Restless, I tug the hem of my blouse and cheese into the camera.
“Welcome, Roxanne Sloane. It’s great to have you with us.”
Jennifer clears her throat, and her blunt-cut bob dusts her slender olive shoulders as she draws them back. Not even a peek at the paper stacked in front of her before she narrows her gaze, sucks in a breath, and plasters on her serious journalist face.
“Thank you for having me.”
I shift in my chair, bracing myself for one of her classic curveballs. After the media storm attached to anything Love & Games, I became the famously single sister of the Monopoly Queen. Lucky me. The world knows I’m a workaholic who can’t get a man. At least Ling won’t be able to stump me with any Are there any wedding bells in the near future questions like she did with Harper and Declan. They met in January. It’s the end of June. Like, what’s the rush down the aisle?
“Tell me, Rox… May I call you Rox?” She chuckles.
Okay, she’s just buttering you up. Stay on your toes.
I nod like a grade-A newbie. “Yeah, yes,” I stammer. “That’s fine.”
Ling pauses for what seems like forever, and I make the mistake of looking at myself on the screen. The fresh honey highlights I got last week for this occasion aren’t warm and beachy like I imagined. Mixed in with my shoulder-length dark brown hair, the stark selfie light casts a putrid green, almost chartreuse glow. Decidedly not my best look. Add in the new Bliss & Makeup Co. pink stain currently chapping my lips and the mink lashes Nadia swore would make my eyes pop, and I’m a flaming hot YouTube makeover mess.
Literally, given that I forgot to put on deodorant.
I sit up taller, resolved to focus on the reporter instead of nitpicking my image.
“So, tell me, Rox. How does it feel to know the video you orchestrated has fifty-six million views?” Her voice is measured and choppy in that newsy way reporters use to make things sound super dire and important.
And it works.
But at least she’s going with the viral video route. This isn’t going to be so bad.
The last I checked, the number of views was at some crazy inconceivable number, but fifty-six million? Holy flaming shit did that video work.
“Wow,” I say, but I feel heat rushing up from my neck to my cheeks as my mouth falls open. I’m still shaking my head, my hand pressed to my chest as I twist to angle my good side to the camera. “Actually, I haven’t looked at it in a while. I didn’t know, but that number is wild.”
Yeah, this isn’t bad.
“Wild is right, Rox. What does attention like that do for a small business? Tell us what inspired the video.” She tips her chin up to look at me over the bridge of her pin-straight nose and clasps her hands.
I’m just glad we’re veering into talk about Love & Games.
“Call me Jennifer, please.” Her smile teeters on genuine and I feel myself softening.
For the next few minutes, we go over everything step by step, beginning with the BusinessFunder account I set up to crowd-source funds to save Love & Games. All it took was the perfect rom-com movie groveling scene brought to life. The people liked, subscribed, and clicked in droves. The rest is viral history.
“Love sells, and we were hoping some of it would also sell games,” I say.
Jennifer Ling clasps her hands. “That was some quick thinking.”
“Risky, but thankfully it worked.”
“Speaking of love and games…” She attempts to segue into Monopoly and my dating life, and I quickly redirect to the merits of Trivial Pursuit, my favorite board game, thinking about how well this interview is going.
Well, if this is the worst of it, then I’m good.
Soon, the conversation volleys at an easy rhythm for a bit until she brings us full circle.
“Do the numbers translate to sales?”
“Thankfully.” I laugh.
But she continues to probe until I outline all the things a viral number of views affords a small business: increased traffic, an undeniable spike in sales, local celebrity—for Harper and Declan. Our BusinessFunder crowd-sourcing account is still getting donations. Not to mention we’re receiving invites to snazzy parties, fan gifts, and brand spokesperson requests. “Interviews like this one,” I quip, even if I am still unclear why our story is assigned to an investigative reporter…
“Other than the messages from guys offering to be my sugar daddy”—I cringe, recalling some of the creepy DMs—“the publicity has been freaking great.” So much so that, after more than a year, I’m finally feeling at ease with the trajectory and solvency of our business.
Enough to shift—at least a fraction—of my focus and attention.
My immediate thought goes to Dad. It took him four marriages and there’s still no guarantee he’s found true love. Actual love. I don’t want to go through multiple marriages to get it right. I’m willing to take time, figure out what the heck I want the first time. Especially if the history of Sloane women giving up after a single setback is any indicator.
I’ve got one shot. I’m not throwing it away on just anyone.
“It must be a lot to handle.”
Jennifer’s voice jolts me back to reality, and I smile.
“Definitely. It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s a welcome one. We’re so grateful to our growing community,” I say, beaming. My nerves have eased up on me. My shoulders are relaxed. The early afternoon sun streaming through my blinds has neutralized the selfie light, and dare I say it, I’m actually looking hot on camera.
Hot enough to—hopefully—steal some unsuspecting, but well-adjusted, emotionally mature, settled viewer’s eye.
“Yes…” Jennifer trails off and tucks a bone-straight onyx strand behind her ear, focusing on the papers in front of her for a sec.
But then she lifts her gaze to me again, and there’s amusement stewing in her espresso eyes.
“Speaking of your BusinessFunder donations, I’m sure that you’ve already used most of the funds as listed on the public account toward your lease, utilities, accounts payable, fixed assets, and inventory.”
Something passes over her face I can’t quite place.
Where is she going with this?
“Absolutely.” I swallow, nodding slowly. “Because the donations received are taxable income, we’ve offset all but our recurring expenses.”
When she takes a long pause again, my mind spirals.
Jennifer Ling is a self-proclaimed scam-buster. I’ve seen more than a few of her of tax exposés… Shit! That’s what this is. She’s reviewed our tax returns and found an error. She’s probably teamed up with some auditor friend and this is it. Jennifer Ling is going to publicly crucify me and Love & Games. We’re going down.
A shudder washes over me. My heart knocks around in my chest. Panic flares in my gut. All the air in my lungs lodges in my throat, and there’s a strong chance I might faint.
“As you know, I’m the chief reporter for Channel 5’s Top Tax Scams.” My pulse thunders. Here it comes. “I hate to be the one to inform you about this, but during my preparation for the interview it’s come to my attention that a shadow account has mirrored your BusinessFunder account.”
“What?” My eyebrows trench and I feel my entire face twist in confusion.
“Your account is listed under Love & Games Store with your University Avenue address. However, I’ve discovered an account with the name Love & Games Shop on University Lane,” she clarifies. “There is no business filed with the Secretary of State under the latter. Nor is there a street with that suffix.”
And there it is.
All the air in my body plumes out of me. My shoulders sag at my sides as I shake my head. What the actual fuck?
Behind her, the giant television plays a live news feed. The screen isn’t halved with the two of us anymore. For a few seconds, it’s just my face taking up the whole screen. There I am. Looking feverish with my mouth wide open. Eyes overbright, a flush of red-hot shock swarms over my skin.
Of course they freeze-frame me looking deranged.
Mother… No, no, no, no. Harper and Nadia are watching this, probably freaking out, too.
I open my mouth and try to speak. I really do, but nothing comes out except for an ear-piercing squeak.
“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you all of this.” Jennifer Ling dips her chin solemnly.
When I’m finally able to string words together, I eke out, “So, someone is trying to steal our donations?” I have this niggling need to wrap my head around this new information overwhelming me.
On cue, Jennifer Ling nods sympathetically, her thin lips pressed tight. Her expression is heartfelt and solemn, but I can almost see her writing her Pulitzer acceptance speech.
“There is a silver lining, though, Rox.” Seriously? “After some digging, I’ve found a way to stop the bleeding.” Have you now? She nods like she’s reading my mind. “Immediately after I discovered this unthinkable situation, I reported it to the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission. An investigation is underway as we speak.”
A mirthless laugh pushes past my lips.
It’s a strange feeling of pained relief. There’s an ongoing investigation which will surely prove those thieves wrong, but what about the donations we haven’t transferred yet?
“What’s going to happen to the funds that were rightfully donated to us?”
Quick to respond, she squints and nods. “Absolutely. Great question. Unfortunately, the funds in both accounts are frozen until the investigation is complete, but we have every hope all capital raised will be returned to Love & Games Store.”
I fold my arm over my chest and prop the elbow of the other on it, massaging my temple. That’s the silver lining?
Naturally, Jennifer sniffs through my thoughts.
“As a courtesy, Channel 5 Action News has arranged for JWC Business Solutions to complete an audit at no expense to Love & Games.”
God, why did I let down my guard? This is Jennifer Ling. Of course she’s got something up her ridiculously expensive sleeveless blouse. It’s not enough she’s broadcasted to the world that we’ve not only been duped, but donations stolen, assets frozen by the freaking FTC. And now we’re being audited? Audited?
What if I’m missing a receipt or my math is off?
No. No, no, no, no, no.
Every white-collar crime drama I’ve ever seen reels across my mind. Hyperaggressive, tough-talking suits drilling us for paper-filing blunders or typos. What if I entered the wrong filing status?
The shell-shocked image of me flashes across the screen again as Jennifer Ling wraps up my world-shattering segment. I thank her for having me and sign off. Not just disconnect. I shut the whole dang laptop down and close it. For a moment, I deflate against my chair, still in a state of shock.
This was not the plan.
I’m officially freaked the freak out.
End of Excerpt