“Christ,” says Tom. “There’s no word for that.”
“Well, that’s what I’m going to be dealing with for the next two weeks.”
“Steven and I will pray for you,” Tom says, and like the altar boy he used to be before he came out of the closet (his mother now says she always knew he was gay and that she doesn’t care so long as he and Steven adopt one of those adorable Chinese babies like that gay couple did on that funny TV show), he makes the sign of the cross over me with his beer glass.
“So how did your staff take the news?” Steven wants to know. “Are they looking at it as their God-given chance to bang Tania Trace? Because that’s all I’m hearing from my boys.” Steven is the New York College basketball coach. “They think because they live in the building, they may actually have a chance at her.”
“I highly doubt they’re going to be able to get anywhere near her,” I say. “She’s got bodyguards. Or she will have, once they hire someone to replace the one who got shot. And they do realize she’s married and pregnant, right? Not that married pregnant ladies can’t still be incredibly sexy, but to a teenage boy—”
Steven rolls his eyes. “Please. She’s female. To some of those guys, that’s all that matters. They’d bang a tree if it was female.”
I bite my lip nervously. “Well, they better not be planning on banging the campers,” I say. “They’re underage.”
“I’ll remind them,” Steven says. “But I highly doubt they’ll be interested in some sixteen-year-old from Kansas when Tania Trace is around, pregnant or not. What about your staff?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I say. “Their schedules are so insane, I hardly ever see them.” Unless, of course, I’ve given them money for pizza. “I sent them a mass text. Of the replies I got, three were smiley-face emoticons, four were nothing but exclamation points, and one, from Gavin—of course—was a long diatribe against the evils of reality television as opposed to the scripted drama and how auteurs like himself are going to suffer because of it. Like I can do something to change the nature of the show.”
It had become more and more apparent to me as the day wore on and I got to know more people involved with the shooting of Jordan Loves Tania that no one was going to listen to my opinion about anything.
As I gave Stephanie Brewer and another of the show’s producers—how many producers did one show need anyway?—a tour of the building, I began to realize how little of “reality television” is actually “reality.” Stephanie and the other producer, a tall, lanky guy named Jared Greenberg, were already determining what would be shot where (very little outside the rooms where the girls would live, they decided once they saw Fischer Hall’s common areas, which were “all wrong”).
“God-awful” was how Jared described the cafeteria when I took them in there.
Once a ballroom, the caf still had what I considered to be a certain elegance, with a large chandelier (admittedly not so elegantly lit by fluorescent bulbs) hanging from a skylit rotunda in the center of its twenty-foot ceiling, a rotunda that, okay, yes, had lost some of its Belle Epoque luster, not just from the weather over the decades but from a body landing on it in the past year.
“It’s being renovated,” I explained defensively as I saw them taking in the white sheets of plastic covering all the piled-up tables and chairs and heard Stephanie’s scream at the audible scurrying that occurred when I flicked on the lights.
Tom and Steven have a good laugh over this story—the fancy TV producers screaming over a few little mice.
But as we sit in the nice, nearly empty bar with our overpriced beers, the late afternoon sun pouring in through the plate-glass windows, I can’t help wondering a little sadly if we are the oddballs, not the producers. Doesn’t everyone find mice a little scary? What does it say about us that we do not?
I guess it says that some of us have encountered much scarier things than mice—things I didn’t mention to the crew of Jordan Loves Tania as they tried to figure out if they could use the Fischer Hall cafeteria for their show.
“If we bring in our own tables and chairs—maybe some really funky ones from that design place we used for Rock the Kasbah, remember, Steph?—and shoot only in this corner,” Jared Greenberg said, “I think we could make it work.”
Stephanie shuddered. “I wouldn’t eat here if you paid me.”
“Well, you won’t have to.” Jared’s tone was withering. “The girls will. We’ll order in, and charge it to the network, of course.”
I was a little insulted. It’s true that New York College uses the same food-service company as the New York State prison system, but it also services many of the hotel chains and theme parks in this country.
And Julio, the head of Housekeeping, had done a very good job of getting the remains off the outside of the skylight. I’d never known before starting this job—and there was no reason to tell the crew of Jordan Loves Tania—but it isn’t the responsibility of rescue services to clean the bodily fluids of a corpse from the sidewalk, floor, window, or roof that it lands on. The coroner takes only the body. Anything else that’s leaked out is the responsibility of building management.
That’s something I’d learned assistant-directing Fischer Hall. It’s why I’ve resolved that if I ever have to kill myself (because I’ve found out I have a painful life-threatening disease for which there is no cure, or the apes have suddenly acquired superintelligence and are about to take over the planet and enslave humankind), I’ll make sure to do it in a bathtub or shower or somewhere else that promotes easy cleanup. Otherwise, it will be up to my landlord or some poor maid or janitor (or, God forbid, my family members) to literally have to clean up my shit. That isn’t fair (or the way I want to be remembered).
My cell phone vibrates. I pick it up.
“Oh, wait, hold on, here’s another text from my staff now,” I say. “Brad thinks this is his big chance to, and I quote, ‘Tap Jordan Cartwright.’ ”
“I’d tap that too,” Tom admits with a gusty sigh. Then, when Steven elbows him, he remembers himself, sucks in his breath, and looks guiltily at me. “Oh God, Heather. Sorry. I forgot.”
I shrug. “It’s okay. I like to think it’s because I’m so down to earth and normal now, everyone forgets that I too was once part of the Cartwright family freak show. I take it as a compliment.” My cell hums again. “Oh good. Cooper’s on his way over,” I say after reading the text that appears on the screen. “Whatever that meeting was that he had, it appears to have agitated him. He’s neglected to use any capital letters or punctuation.”