Jan 19, 2014

The Ingenue (8) - The Contest




Chapter Title: The Contest
Rating: PG  (adult language).
Word Count:  ~4,297.
Characters: The Unholy Trio, Maraina Stratten, Helena Caine, Jeremy Rylon,  Wayne Garson, Cate Willis,  Danny Wright, Sofia Royce, Mike Danvers.
Synopsis: Hollywood is all atwitter about the Odyssey contest, but not everyone in the cast is thrilled by the changes taking place in the show. Mari has a surprise for one of her closest friends in fandom and lives are about to change forever.

Now it was real and real life tended to suck pickled eggs.




“Hello my lovelies and welcome to the Scandalous Unholy Trio Grapevine. If we’re not talking about it, then it ain’t worth knowing. I’m Lacey.”
“I’m Hadley.”
“Oh my god, have you heard about the The Odyssey contest? And if you haven’t what rock have you been under?” Shay turned and looked at her co-hosts. “Oh right,” she turned back to the camera, “I’m Shay. And oh my god, The Odyssey contest, right? It broke the Internet.”
“Yes,” Lacey said, “we did hear about that little contest.” She smiled to the camera. “Though it didn’t quite break the Internet, apparently it came close. If you’ve been unplugged for the last forty eight hours, you may not have heard that the show, The Odyssey, is calling on fans to submit ideas for the new season.”
Hadley put her hand to her ear. “Yes, that was a million voices in fandom, screaming in ecstasy. The contest, the show, the stars and even some of the writers were trending on Twitter for a full twenty four hours and the contest itself, now known as #contest is still trending. It seems that everyone, and we mean everyone, can’t get enough about the contest.”
“Are you guys going to submit an entry?” Shay asked. “I have this great idea of Commander Benton, that’s the delish Dave Farley, being captured by a of tribe of alien amazons, led by their beautiful and amazing red haired queen,” she tossed her own, carefully styled red hair over her shoulder, “who wins his heart and the right to shag him in perpetuity after saving him from a ravaging six headed beast…What? It could work!”
“No, we’re not entering we will be keeping track of the trends, the winners and the chaos it wrecks on fandom so be sure to tune in because we have brand new inside source that will give us all the dirt.”

 ~

“Good God,” Cate said with a huff. “It’s only been open for twenty four hours and we already have over a thousand entries.”
“My eyes are already crossing from all the reading,” Danny complained.
“I got a call from marketing and they are flying high on all the free publicity and it’s spilling over to Wayfarer and Imperium, in general, so they are going insane fielding all the calls.” Wayne smiled at Mari and Cate. “Great idea, ladies.”
Mari hugged the cushion to her chest tightly and bit her lip, while gently tapping her foot against the center pit. Wayne seemed oblivious to her nervous energy which either meant he was purposely ignoring her because he had bad news or he was incapable of responding to her laser focused eyes which were boring into him with the strength of a thousand suns.
“How’s John’s database working out? Is it easy to sort through all the entries?”
“Definitely,” Cate answered, typing away on her laptop. “We’ve gone through the first two hundred entries already and some are definitely worth a second read through.”
“Really?” Danny said, tossing his tablet on the cushions. “The batch I got was, well, painfully unimpressive.”
“Enough!” Mari yelled. She glared at Wayne. “Well?”
Wayne tilted his head. “What?” Cate snickered. “Oh, right. Your little friend’s story.” He scratched his head. “How do I put this?”
Mari’s heart dropped. She loved that The Game of Hearts. It was some of Helena Caine’s best work. Well, Mari loved all of Hel’s stories and not because they’d become friends. She’d admired Helena’s work before they had even met. Not that they had actually met in real life, just talked online about everything and it had all started because of The Odyssey. Now, two years later, they’d become great friends and even written together, though Mari wouldn’t confess to that little gem. She’d refused to give her pen name to Cate so all the other woman had was speculation, but now with Helena’s work out in the open, that might have given a big clue to her own secret identity.
“Relax Mari of the Entrepreneurial Spirit,” Wayne said patting her leg. “We liked it. Even Jeremy. In fact, he read it all the way to the end just because he wanted to know how it was going to end. It’s unanimous. Your friend is in.” He pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to Mari.
“You can tell her yourself.” He nodded to the paper. “That’s the official notification and you can call HR to schedule a flight and accommodations. We’ll meet with her and if she’s as great in person, she’ll be our first finalist for the writing internship if that’s what she wants. Either way, we are going to use some of Hearts to fill in a couple of episodes that will feature Benton and Leonidas.”
Mari jumped up and slammed into Wayne, giving him a big hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“Easy there, princess, I’m fragile,” he said but couldn’t keep the smile off his face.
Mari went to Cate and gave her a hug too. “Thank you, too.”
Cate shrugged. “If it had sucked, I would have told you.”
“Don’t I get a hug too?” Danny asked looking all pathetic and needy.
“Not if you’re going to cop a feelsky, you perv,” Cate said. “When are you going to tell her?”
Mari pulled out her phone. “Well, since I didn’t tell her I entered her in the contest, I’m going to test the waters first.”
Wayne straightened. “Wait, she didn’t know you entered her?”
Mari shook her head and typed away. “I didn’t tell anyone I fell into this rabbit hole.”
:Watcha doin?:
“Mari, we want to use some of her work,” Wayne said. “In fact, I’ve read some of the other stories. She’s a solid wordsmither. If she bails because of your little stunt, I’m going to pissed.”
Mari waved him off, but bit her lip and glanced nervously at her phone. “You don’t know her. I do. She’ll shit bricks, have a full blown panic attack, then come off as if it’s nothing.”
:Hey stranger! Just finished with my last patient for the day. Heading off for shift at Library. Chat later? We need to figure out what we are going to enter for that the contest, cuz damit we’re entering it!:
Mari smiled and secretly breathed a sigh of relief. :Sounds good. I have a plan. TTYL:
“I’m telling her tonight and she’s trying to decide what story to enter, so it’s all good.” She hoped.

~

Sofia Royce used all of her strength -- she’d been working out with a trainer for six months now -- to forcefully push the heavy glass doors that partitioned the plebeian real world from the ridiculously beautiful Beau Monde universe. The doors to one of the elite talent agencies in the world gave way readily to her fury. Of course, they’d been designed specifically in mind to handle temperamental talents, which meant the treated glass was shatterproof - and bulletproof if the scuttlebutt was correct.
The veteran receptionist didn't even blink an eye when the petite blonde stormed through the lobby, heading down the hall and straight for an agent’s office. She’d seen a thousand starlets and wannabes walk through - storm in and out - of those doors. In fact, it was such a common occurrence that one of the more tech savvy assistants had created a desktop notification system for all support personnel warning them duck and cover from the imminent diva fall out. The receptionist now restarted the countdown clock. The longest that clock had run without a reset was three days. She also sent a head’s up text to the agent’s assistant.
A youngish looking - it’s always hard to really tell in Hollywood - brunette stepped from around her desk and tried to stop or at least slow down the stomping ball of fury. “Miss Royce, he’s…” She quickly sidestepped the diva in order to avoid being slammed, because she knew from experience that behind the angelic blonde face was spoiled demon.
“Sofia! What a pleasant surprise,” Mike Dancers said as he walked towards his client.
“Did you see what those old cunts are saying about me?” She threw a tabloid magazine at him.
Mike caught the bundle easily and turned glanced at the door. “Thank you, Bethany. I’ll take it from here.”
“Yes, sir,” the brunette said as she quickly closed the office door.
Sofia artfully threw herself on the plush sofa whose sole purpose was to draw the eye to the 10K original Auerbach, not cushion mercurial actresses. Mike cringed as she pressed three inch heels into the expensive Italian leather.
“You need to shut those bitches up!”
Mike threw the magazine on his desk and ran his hand through his slicked back brown hair. He’d known this was coming the minute his inside source at the magazine gave him the heads up on their cover story. “Darling, it’s impossible to silence one Oscar winning actress, much less two. Besides, you have nothing to worry about. I’ll put out the usual ‘No comment’ with a hint of it’s just marketing generating publicity for the film.”
“They all hated me in that set.” Her voice trembled and she sniffed. “They were poisoned against me before I even got there.” She crossed her arms and dug her feet deeper into the leather. “It was all Abigail’s fault. She should be fucking thankful I passed on that stupid sunshine movie and gave her Zombieland after I sprained my ankle at Aspen.”
Mike nodded, though if his memory served him right - and it always did - those events didn’t exactly happen that way. “Sweetie, do you want some orange juice? You know getting all angry and flustered is terrible for your pores.” He walked over to fully stocked mini bar that had been one of the perks when he got promoted to executive agent.
Sofia nodded. “Add some vodka, will ya? The good stuff, too. Not that grocery store crap you give everyone else.”
His most high-maintenance diva demanding a screwdriver at ten in the morning? Shocker! A soft snort escaped his lips and Mike reached into the back of the cabinet and pulled out an ornate bottle. The Belvedere was good and showy, but it wasn’t his best. That was safely tucked away in his desk and only pulled out on special occasions, or extra special drama. It didn’t take him long to mix her drink. His was straight juice, but it helped to keep up appearances of decadence.
“And to top it off,” she took the drink he offered and drank a healthy third of it before continuing. “God I needed that! This thing with Odyssey is driving me nuts.”
Mike leaned back on the edge of his desk and sipped his drink. What was driving her nuts was the fact that her name wasn’t on everyone’s lips and that she wasn't the center of the attention. And probably the fact that her golden goose just got kicked off the show she was tied to for the next two years.
“Not only is that old dinosaur back in charge,” she air quoted, sloshing alcoholic droplets on his precious leather, “but that asshole Rylon now has no muzzle and you know how he hates me with a vicious vengeance as if I fucked his precious poodle then kicked it to the curb.” She paused and tilted her head. “I didn't have sex with him, did I?” She shook her head. “No, I’ve never been that drunk that I’d stoop so low.”
Mike’s fingers dug into his crossed arms, keeping him in place and not jumping to save his once pristine sofa. He was going to have to call Gustavo again and maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to work his magic and save the leather. The Leather Whisperer tried to tell him that wear and tear gave specially treated hide character but Mike wasn’t really buying it. Well, other than having Gustavo on retainer that is.
“And where were the tweets about me? It was all about this lame contest,” she rolled her eyes, “talk about combing the bottom of the barrel.”
“Scraping,” Mike said absently.
“I mean old man Matthews had more tweets than me.” She finished off her drink and plopped it down on the artisan carved, cherry wood table his interior designer ex-girlfriend - god, she had awesome tits - had found for him in some hole in the wall store in New England.
Mike grabbed the glass and whipped off any moisture with a tissue. “Really?” Why would the star of the show for the last eight years have more publicity than the bimbo who’d been in it for less than two? “I bet he doesn’t even know what Twitter is. Do you want another?” He raised her empty glass and gave it a little shake, making the barely melted ice bang against the crystal like maracas.
She nodded. “And don’t be so stingy with the vodka this time.”
Mike looked over his shoulder. “Please tell me you’re not driving. The last thing you want is an unflattering mugshot.”
“I was too annoyed to drive, so I called the service.”
“Did they send you the regular driver?” He handed her the drink.
She shrugged. “How would I know?” She sipped her drink.
At least she’s slowing down. “Sofie, darling—”
“Oh, I forgot.” She went to put the glass back on the table but he beat her to it, pulling out the marble coaster and setting it down to protect the wood. “So one of the peons told me that Rylon has this whole scabby gang around him so he can be the top dog and he’s created a new female lead. Do you know what that means? I’m going to be relegated to second tier cameos! You have to do something. Fix this!”
Of course he’d known. It was actually mildly amusing that she thought she could out scoop him. In fact, he was helping one of the junior agents — with legs that went on for miles…he couldn’t wait to get those babies wrapped around his head — get a client in to audition for the role.
“I could try.” His shoulders lifted in a lazy shrug and tapped his well manicured nails on the oak desk.
“Don’t try. Do it.”
“Or…”
“What?” She snapped.
“Well, a little birdie told me the new Scorsese/DiCaprio project is looking for a hot blonde.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Get it for me.”
He held up his hand. “It involves nudity.”
“How much?”
“If it was a nobody, they’d probably demand the full monty, but if you’d consider topless, I think you’d be a shoo in and it would send you into that edgier level of actress. It could open up all kinds of roles for you.”
She stared at him, but really through him and he could see all her little brain cells working through all thee awards shows and red carpets she’d grace with her presence.
She nodded. “Fine,” she held up her hand, “but only if the scenes are with Leo and I want a closed set.”
“That’s doable,” he said. “Are you setting your sights on Leo? I heard he dumped the latest supermodel. Think he’s ready for an actress?”
Sofia just smiled and Mike had a flashback to Bruce the Shark. He actually started to feel a little sorry for Leonardo DiCaprio. Nah, not even a little bit.

~

Helena Caine walked through her front door, flipped on the lights on the slowly crumbling Victorian her aunt left her and kicked off her shoes on her way to the kitchen. She put away the items from the grocery bag in a refrigerator that was older than she was by decades. In fact, it was probably older than her aunt had been when she died. She patted the closed door.
“Keep chugging, Bertha,” she said. “You’ll probably outlive all the Caines.”
She grabbed the deli sandwich and the bottle of Moscato, no need for a glass tonight, and headed for the comfortable sofa. It had been her only splurge in the last five years. A durable sofa that could double as a bed, office and entertainment center. Not that there had been much entertainment in the last three years.
She bypassed the remote control and flipped open her laptop. While it started, she unwrapped her sandwich and twisted opened the Moscato. Yes, she was that cheap, but on the other hand it had alcohol and it was sweet and that’s all she required these days.
She clicked on the instant messaging, ignoring the email because anything there could wait. She grabbed a mouthful of sandwich, then pulled the laptop on lap and started typing.
Hell’s Belles: Look at what the cat dragged in.
She grabbed the bottle and waited for Mari to answer. Technology was really amazing, she mused. How else could her best friend be someone who she’d connected with because of a television show, who lived in the other side of the country and be someone she’d never met in person.
She tapped the lip of bottle against her lips and looked around the mostly dark, quiet old house, then at her ‘dinner’.
“What does that say about me?” She shrugged at least it wasn’t a Friday. Yet.

Lilith Inanna: Hey stranger. How are you? What’s going on? How’s the writing?
Hell’s Belles: I wasn’t the one MIA for the last 3 weeks. Nothing much. Eh.
Lilith Inanna: I SENT you texts telling you I was going to be busy for a while. Y writing eh?
Hell’s Belles: IK just messing with you. Because real life gets in the way of my MUSE! ;)
Hell’s Belles: OK. Enough of the chitchat. What are we going to send into the contest? Do we have time for something new or do we just polish one of our favorites?
Hell’s Belles: Mari? We are so entering this thing. No excuses and no self sabotaging.
Helena waited for Mari to agree, but this time there was no response from her staunchest supporter, partner in crime, co-conspirator and all around Satan’s Cheerleader.
Hell’s Belles: Mari?
Lilith Inanna: Keep your panties on! I was warming up to the topic.
Hell’s Belles: There is no warming up. There is just doing up!
Lilith Inanna: That was weak.
Hell’s Belles: Well, I was grasping for straws. So. What story to we polish. Because we are both doing this.
Lilith Inanna: I can’t. Not allowed to.
Helena stared at the computer. “What the fuck?”

Hell’s Belles: No.No.no.no. You aren't doing this. What do you mean you’re not allowed to. There’s no way your mom wouldn’t let you.
Hell’s Belles: Oh God. Please don’t tell me you’re actually 14 or something.

Helena took a huge chug of the wine. That’s really all she needed. Her best friend to be some middle-schooler from the West Coast. Considering the stuff they had read together, not to mention worked on together, she could responsible for the corruption of a minor. 

Lilith Inanna: Bwahahahaha! NO. Besides, you’d be responsible for the corruption of a minor if that was the case.
Hell’s Belles: Shuddup. So why can’t you enter? And it better be a good reason!

“Damn right, it better be a good reason!” Helena took an angry bite out of her sandwich. Can’t enter the biggest contest in fandom. What is she thinking!

Lilith Inanna: Employees are not allowed to enter the contest.
Helena’s brow furrowed.
Hell’s Belles: Is the catering company part of the studio?
Lilith Inanna: Yeah, about that. Well, remember how I said I was going to be busy? I wasn’t working with the caterers.
Hell’s Belles: You got a job at the studio?
Lilith Inanna: Not directly. Remember when I got stuck in traffic and met that old charmer? Turns out it was Sterling Mitchell and he offered me a job as his assistant/Jr writer. So now I get to be part of the plotting brainstorms for Odyssey along with Jeremy Rylon and the other writers. 

Helena stared at the screen for a few seconds and sighed. Of all the…

Hell’s Belles: Really? That’s the best you could do? If you were going to make up a story to avoid entering this contest - mono would've been better.
Lilith Inanna: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Besides, you can’t enter it either.
Hell’s Belles: Mari, I’m here whenever you want to talk about whatever is going on you with and why you don’t want to enter the contest, but I’m definitely doing it. I was thinking of submitting Hearts.
Lilith Inanna: You can’t. Because I already did. They’ve read it. Liked it. Including Jeremy. And want to bring you over to California as one of the first-round winners. So what are you doing this weekend?

Helena froze, then glanced at the bottle of wine. Since it was still two-thirds full, she wasn’t bombed which meant that Mari was in a particularly evil mood.

Hell’s Belles: Not funny. Do you want to tell me what’s going on? You’re in an evil mood tonight.
Lilith Inanna: OK. I was teasing and probably took it too far. I take it you haven’t checked email? The notification is there. I did enter you without your permission but I knew you were going to anyway.
Lilith Inanna: If it’s not on your in box, let me know and I’ll send you my copy.

Helena minimized the chat and brought up her email. There were the usual suspects: coupons from local restaurants she frequented, messages from a couple clients and notices from sites she subscribed to, then she saw it, Odyssey Contest: First-Round Notification. She read through the email, then again. This was not happening. It couldn’t be real. Could it? She grabbed her cell phone and dialed.
“Is this for real?” She didn't bother with a hello since it was really just a continuation of their on line conversation.
“I swear on my on the souls of my children,” Mari answered in her soft, smoky voice that usually sounded very friendly and sane to Helena. Usually.
“You don’t have children,” Helena replied and she just couldn’t keep from sounding petulant. “Why can’t you swear to God like everyone else?”
“Because Mom really hates it when I do it, dammit!” They were both silent for several seconds. “Are you OK?”
“NO! I’m freaking out,” Helena said getting up and pacing around the living room. “Is it for real?”
“Yup.”
“How could you do it behind my back? Without my permission? Without telling me?” Helena knew she was being irrational, especially since she had been the one saying they were both going to enter the contest just a few minutes prior, but that was when they had no real chance of winning. When they could fantasize about all of it and live in their happy crazy sauce world. Now it was real and real life tended to suck pickled eggs.
“I did it because I think you’re an awesome writer and this was my way to share it with the others,” Mari said. “Besides, it was the only way I could think of doing it without you stressing about it. I’ve been dying to share this with you. Everyone is so nice, even Jeremy and I know you said he seemed a bit of dick at Dragon-Con but he’s…well, he is a bit of dick but he’s nice and the way his brain works is awesome. I feel like I’m a better writer just by seeing him work.”
Helena listened but she wasn’t sure she was actually heard anything because she was still freaking out about the whole thing. What if it turned out to be a mistake? What if she went across the country and they hated her writing? Hated her? Thought she was full of shit. What if she actually sucked and had only surrounded herself by other delusional fan girls?
“Helena, stop freaking out,” Mari said. “At least come to California and freak out here where I can help. Really, Noel and Mom are experts now on dealing with freak outs. They’ve dealt with enough of mine in the last three weeks. They are pros and they can walk you through this crazy sauce world we’re now in. Will you come to California and just see how things work out?”
Helena chewed on the inside of her mouth until she tasted blood. She’d always thought that she’d leave Georgia behind at some point, if only to visit other places. It wasn’t that she wasn’t a southern type of gal, it was just that she always wanted to get out of small town Georgia. College hadn’t worked out as planned due to Aunt Stephanie’s health, then she inherited this house and the small town roots she’d tried to pry loose had somehow regrown with her job and responsibilities. Or at least bills. On the other hand, she was only twenty five and she had to take at least one chance before she became the next crazy cat lady in this town.
“Maybe just a long weekend?” Mari asked. “We can—”
“I’ll do it,” Helena said. “I have to move somethings around and make sure my patients are covered, but if nothing else I can give you at least one week. Maybe two.” She took a deep breath. She was going to do this and whatever happened, happened.
“Woohoo! Text me when you have the schedule set up and I’ll get everything else done on this end. Flight, hotel, everything. Oh my god, I can’t wait to actually meet you!. You’ll see this is going to be awesome.”
“Yeah, awesome,” Helena said but she couldn’t quite bring herself to believe it.

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