The TV writer feels like Benedict Cumberbatch has forsaken her. Or has he? 1,974 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“Kaylee wants you to come back,” Alex tells Melanie.
“Come back and do what?” Melanie is pleased. But suspicious.
“Pitch the pilot for Creepy.”
“So they’re giving me the job?”
Silence on the phone. her agent clears his throat. “Not yet.”
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Melanie says.
“Kaylee likes you. She says you have a feel for the characters. And she was very impressed with your vision.”
“So why don’t they give me the job?”
“Because she has to meet with other people.”
“She doesn’t have to. Alex. Maybe we should move on.”
“I think you’re going to get it, Melanie. She told me the two of you had a connection.”
Melanie would like to believe that. As much as she hated Creepy when she read it, she’s committed to the project. Took an awful book and made it good. Turned it into a series. It would be amazing to create a show again. Would they shoot in L.A. or Vancouver? Maybe Warner Bros. She could hire her friend Joyce whose last show was cancelled. It would be great to grab her up before she staffs on something else.
“Melanie? Are you still there?”
“Yeah. So when do I go in?”
Melanie tries not to think about the other writers under consideration. One is probably a baby fresh out of college. (Ha, probably Yale.) The second no doubt a friend of a friend with no clue, but Kaylee is going to offer both newbies their big chance. “Not to worry. You’ll get it. It’s in the bag.” And the third writer? Grizzled older guy who hasn’t worked in a while. “You’re a veteran,” Kaylee told him. “People talk about wanting to hire younger, but not me. I always go with experience. Because at the end of the day, what does this series need? Somebody who knows about emojis or somebody who knows about life?”
And Melanie? She’s in the middle. Not a newbie, not grizzled and used up. It’s all about the connection. Didn’t Kaylee and Melanie share that in the room? Kaylee wasn’t making fun of the Sharpie on Melanie’s shoe. She was impressed with Melanie’s ingenuity. This is the kind of woman I want to hire, that’s what Kaylee was thinking. Scrape on shoe? Sharpie. Brilliant. Like Melanie.
At the second meeting, Melanie is more relaxed and she’s sure Kaylee is, too. There’s almost a hidden energy pulsating between them. We understand each other. We could communicate telepathically, Melanie thinks.
“Cute bracelet,” Melanie tells Kaylee as she watches Kaylee adjust the links on an oversized gold curb-chain bracelet.
“Thanks,” Kaylee says and Melanie feels badly about having negative thoughts about Kaylee at their first meeting. Just because Kaylee went to Yale doesn’t make her an elitist bitch. Should Melanie blame her for the genetics (mostly genetics) that created Kaylee’s flawless skin? Of course not. Shame on Melanie. She’s not shallow. Most of the time.
Melanie told herself not to go batshit crazy working out the pilot details, but of course that’s what she did. A kickass teaser – equally kickass act openings and outs. Kaylee nodded and laughed in the right places and for a moment Melanie wondered if Kaylee would interrupt her and say, Enough. Of course you have the job. It’s silly we have to go through this process of meeting with other writers when we know the truth. You’re the one, Melanie. I knew that from the moment you walked into my office. Hey, want to grab dinner?
They’ll go to a little place in Beverly Hills, share a Cobb salad (no eggs, no cheese) and Sauvignon Blanc, one glass each. They’ll laugh about the craziness of the business, Kaylee will tell Melanie one of her best friends went to Pomona, isn’t that funny? Kaylee will ask Melanie if it’s okay to follow her on Facebook and Instagram and of course Melanie says yes. They’ll become friends, then best friends. Isn’t it weird how things work out sometimes?
“Great job, Melanie,” Kaylee is telling her as they walk to the door. “I can’t believe how much work you put in.”
“It doesn’t seem like work when you love the project,” Melanie says. Whoops. Is she projecting desperation? Never do that. If they know you want it, if they see the longing in your eyes, you’re toast. Dead in the water.
“I’ll talk it over with my people,” Kaylee says. “Thank you. You have a unique voice.”
That’s when Melanie has the bad feeling again. So Kaylee didn’t invite me to dinner. I can deal with that. But she also didn’t say I have the job. What does Kaylee have to talk over with her “people?” Does she really have “people?”
Unique voice? That’s like saying your date has a winning personality.
And what about our connection? Melanie plays the pilot pitch over in her head as she heads down the elevator to the parking garage. The pilot pitch was great, A-plus. Kaylee loves me. I know she loves me. Unless she doesn’t.
By the time Melanie gets home, she’s given up on the job and she’s mad at herself for working so hard on the pitch. Two meetings where she worked for free. I’m in a union, she tells herself. I get paid to write things. Kaylee shouldn’t get access to my brain for nothing, that’s not the way this works. I took a shitty book and made it way less shitty. I made it good. I made it great, goddammit. She texts Alex and tells him she did an amazing job and Kaylee is going to think it over. “I’ll touch base with her,” Alex texts back.
Melanie looks at the empty La Croix can. Not a sign of Benedict Cumberbatch. “I told you I want this job,” she says to the can. “Can’t you help me? Isn’t that what you promised?” The fucking can doesn’t do anything. Of course not, duh, it’s a fucking can.
Two days later Alex calls and tells Melanie she didn’t get it. “They’ve decided to go in a different direction,” he says.
“What does that mean?”
“They liked your take. But Kaylee said she wasn’t sure you worked hard enough.”
Melanie feels her face go hot. “Hard enough? I killed myself for this. I sent you the pages. You saw what I did. Character arcs, season arcs, a complete pilot pitch. I didn’t phone it in. I never do that. I kicked major league ass on Creepy. That job belongs to me.”
“I know you worked hard, of course you did. Come on, don’t worry: we’ll find something else. Something better. Okay?”
“Okay.” When Melanie hangs up she’s temped to call Kaylee and ask what she did wrong. But she knows that’s a horrible idea. Even if Kaylee would take her call, she’d just go into development talk – not the right fit, blah blah, they’ll find another project to do together, blah blah, they’ll talk soon. Melanie pours herself a glass of red wine, all the way to the rim, so full she can’t pick up the glass and has to sip at it like a cat.
Why did I tell her I loved the project? Why did I go into so much detail? I should have said no to the second meeting, I should have told Alex – they need to pick me for Creepy or I’m not going back. The squeaky wheel, that’s what she should have done. But there’s no use crying over squeaky wheels. Fuck Kaylee and her Yale degree and sparkly belt and beautiful tan.
Melanie sits at the kitchen counter drinking her wine. She looks over at the worthless La Croix can and can’t summon the energy to say anything to it. Except, “Thanks for nothing.” She gives the can a squeeze and feels it crunch. Good. She hopes it feels bad.
Game Of Thrones will make everything better. She watches an episode that features wonderfully broody Jon Snow. And then she’s watching Jorah Mormont. Poor Jorah. So in love with Daenerys and it’s never going to go anywhere. Melanie gulps her wine and fights a sob. Just like her career. Like not getting Creepy. Sometimes that’s the way things work out. You don’t get the girl or the guy or the job. Instead you get greyscale. Jorah’s life sucks. His hand is crusted and raw, with thick oozing pus. Eventually the greyscale will take over his body. Dead flesh turned to stone. A terrible fate.
Too bad greyscale doesn’t exist in the real world, Melanie thinks. How would Kaylee Yalie feel if she woke up in the morning and looked down at her hand and saw her fingers smoke-colored and cracked? She’d run to the mirror. Examine her face, growing more and more frantic. What’s that at the corner of her cheek? A patch. Tough like a scab and Kaylee rubs at it. Go away, she yells at the spot. At her fingers. Her rapidly stiffening fingers. She looks down at her legs and takes in her breath. A dappling of spots on her feet, moving up her ankles. It will only get worse. Soon the greyscale will travel up Kaylee’s calves to her knees then to her thighs. And what will Kaylee do? She won’t have brainiac Sam Tarly to find a cure and the doctors at the best hospitals in Los Angeles will be at a loss. We’ve never seen a disease like this before. We’re sorry. So sorry.
Melanie sleeps through the night and dreams of traveling on an ancient ship with sails through beautiful light blue seas. The air smells of jasmine and spices. The sea is smooth and the horizon goes on forever. She thinks she’ll meet Daenerys at the end of the voyage. They’ll talk about men and life and their favorite music and they’ll end up as friends. Best friends.
Two weeks later she’s having lunch with Paul. He called Melanie, begging to get together. Mind Your Manners, the most perfect job in the word, has turned into a shitshow. Betsy, the showrunner, got in trouble with a new power-hungry studio exec who’s been hovering in the room and “killing the vibe,” as Paul says. The suit has thrown out all of Betsy’s stories, even ones approved a month ago. Betsy and the other writers think he’s having a midlife crisis and there are rumors his wife left him for her personal trainer. The joy has gone out of the room. Betsy no longer makes her own hummus and the studio exec has taken over the nap pod and sits inside talking loudly on his cell. Paul is thinking of looking for another job. “Maybe we can come up with a pitch together,” he says.
Melanie shakes her head. “I’ve got a bunch of meetings coming up. I started a new spec, but Alex thinks I should just pitch it.” Half a dozen meetings seemed to fall into place all at once. Whoa. Go for it, she tells herself.
“That’s super,” Paul says.
“Yeah, I was feeling pretty fried after getting screwed over at Loud Brick and that bitch Kaylee Delouf. But now, look at me, totally zen.” Melanie grins at Paul. But he’s not grinning back.
“Kaylee Delouf? Didn’t you hear?”
“She had to leave Loud Brick. She got this thing. A skin condition.”
Melanie doesn’t say anything. A skin condition?
“It’s really creepy,” Paul says. “Like her skin is grey and hard, almost like she’s turning into stone. At least that’s what I heard. I’m sure it’s an exaggeration. Who ever heard of anything like that?”
Melanie is thinking of the La Croix can and Benedict Cumberbatch. “You won’t know until you know.”
“Mel? Are you okay?”
Melanie nods. “Yeah. I’m fine. Actually I’m great.”
And she has two more wishes.