A TV writer facing a career crisis finds Benedict Cumberbatch in her kitchen. 2,152 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Melanie forces herself not to be bitter at lunch with her pal Paul when he’s talking about his new job on Mind Your Manners.
“It’s the most amazing staff. Everybody is super nice,” Paul says. “The showrunner, Betsy, is famous for the way she treats writers. No long hours. Catered lunches. She’s already had two parties at her house so we can ‘come together as a team.’”
Melanie loves Paul. She tries to remember how much she loves Paul as he goes on and on about Betsy and the room. The actual room. Sofas and comfy chairs and windows with views of trees and mountains. When is the last time Melanie worked in a room with windows?
Melanie’s agent Alex put her up for Mind Your Manners. She didn’t even get an interview. When she complained to Alex, he told her she should write a new spec.
“But I don’t want to write a new spec.”
“Your old one is two years old. Everybody’s read it.”
“But they like it.”
Melanie heard Alex sigh on the phone. “They don’t like it enough to hire you, do they?”
Paul has been going on and on about the food on Mind Your Manners. Sushi, Taco Tuesdays, fresh veggies and hummus. Betsy makes her own hummus!
“And did I tell you about the nap pod?”
Melanie has never noticed how Paul has a tic at the corner of his left eye. She tries not to stare. “What’s a nap pod?” she asks.
“It’s this chair shaped like an egg and you get inside and there’s a curtain for privacy and you push a button for music or white noise and you can take a nap. In the room.”
Oh, fuck Paul and fabulous hummus-making Betsy and the fucking nap pod. What is Alex doing for Melanie? Nagging her about writing a new spec. Shouldn’t he be concentrating on getting her a job?
Paul’s tic is practically a flutter. “And the most amazing thing is the show’s been ordered for two full seasons. Two! I can’t believe how lucky I am.”
Except for that tic, Melanie thinks. Maybe with all the money you make you can see a doctor to fix your freaky-ass eye. She’s back at home, sitting at her kitchen counter trying to plan her next move. She could ask Alex if there are any shows staffing. Shows with nice showrunners. Shows that aren’t terrible. Or that aren’t too far away from her house in Sherman Oaks. Like, nothing in Culver City. Something walking distance would be nice.
Shit. She has to write a new spec. But what? She pitched Alex her idea about female bootleggers during Prohibition and Alex’s response was tepid. A musical version of A Passage To India got the same reaction. She needs something new. Alex always wants “loud and sexy.” Whatever the hell that is.
Melanie wishes she had a nap pod. It sounds comfortable. Like being in a womb. Womb with a view. A show about a baby from the baby’s POV only he hasn’t been born yet. Except, isn’t there a novel like that? Who cares. That’s one good idea. Hooray, done for the day.
She opens the fridge and reaches for a La Croix. But there’s no lime flavor. Who drank all the lime? Some friends came over the other night to binge-watch the next-to-last season of Game Of Thrones. What kind of friends would drink all the La Croix lime and leave her with – Melanie almost gags – a single can of grapefruit? Who drinks La Croix grapefruit? Yes, she knows some people say it’s the best flavor, but Melanie assumes they’re also the people who love to say pamplemousse in a fake French accent.
It’ll have to do. When she hooks her finger under the pull tab, it doesn’t move. Great. She tugs at the tab. Nothing. “Casse-toi, pamplemousse,” she says. A knife would help.
But it doesn’t. It’s almost as if the pull tab has been soldered onto the top of the can. Melanie opens the tool drawer and takes out an ice pick. Drives it through the aluminum.
Someone yells, “Ow. Stop that at once.” The voice has a British accent. Melanie looks around. There’s no one else in the kitchen. In the top of the can is a tiny hole. She hears the voice again. It’s coming from inside the can. “Are you finished?”
“Um, what?” she says into the hole.
Bubbles begin to fizz and Melanie rushes to the sink. The bubbles become a spray, a geyser of pamplemousse and smoke. The smell of grapefruit is overwhelming. Melanie closes her eyes. When she opens them, she’s surprised to see a tall thin man folded into her sink. “This is rather uncomfortable,” he says. “Could you give me a hand?”
Melanie brings over a footstool and helps him from the sink. Her head is spinning. This man materialized out of a La Croix can. He looks familiar. And she realizes. “You’re Benedict Cumberbatch.”
“Yes, pleased to meet you.” He holds out his hand and she shakes it. “Melanie Germaine?”
“How do you know my name?”
Benedict smiles. “The first question most people ask is how did I come out of the can.”
“Right.” Is she dreaming? Hallucinating? About to have a stroke?
Benedict brushes off his suit — deep blue and surprisingly not at all wet — and sits at the counter. “Might I have something to drink?” he asks.
“I’ve run out of La Croix. Obviously.”
“Water would be delightful. I imagine you’re wondering why I’m here.” He smiles at Melanie and she immediately smiles back. Benedict Cumberbatch is in my kitchen. I should take a selfie. She hands him a bottle of Dasani.
“Sit, Melanie, and I’ll explain the purpose of my visit.”
Later, when she’s thinking it over, it makes perfect sense. For Benedict Cumberbatch to appear in her kitchen and offer her three wishes. She’d never considered him a genie with magical powers, but you never know about people, do you?
Benedict Cumberbatch nods. “But no tricks like your first wish being an infinite number of wishes. Nothing political or involving your current so-called U.S. President. The wishes can’t be too broad, no matter how well-intentioned they might be. World peace or cures to cancer, for example. They must be related to the entertainment industry. And to you.”
“So I can wish for my next pitch to sell in the room?” This wish thing might turn out to be the best thing to happen in her career. Goodbye, Alex. Who needs an agent when you have your own genie?
“So what can I wish for?”
“You won’t know until you know.” Benedict smiles at her again.
“What kind of answer is that?”
Benedict checks his watch. “I must fly.”
“You can fly, too?”
“No, I have a Lyft waiting outside. Thank you for the water.” He heads to the front door.
“But what’s going to happen? How do I know when to make a wish? Do I rub on the can? Will you come back?”
No response from Benedict. Melanie knew La Croix pamplemousse was trouble.
Alex tells Melanie a meeting with Kaylee Delouf at Loud Brick is a major big deal. Everybody wants to meet with Kaylee Delouf. She’s young and hungry.
“And she just bought a book,” Alex says. “She wants your take. So do your homework.”
“Of course,” Melanie replies as she’s downloading the pdf. Alex reminds her to impress Kaylee at the meeting with loud and sexy “dazzle.” Where do agents come up with stuff like that?
The YA book is called Creepy about a summer camp for teens with supernatural powers. It isn’t the worst idea in the world, but mind-crushingly derivative. The Harry Potter character is a female named Hannah Topper (holy fuck, that’s the best they could do?) and there’s an over-confidant boy called Hector (aka Hermione) who’s unsure of his powers. There’s more sex than Melanie was expecting, but Twilight sex concentrated on rippling muscles and taut six-pack abs. The plot is forgettable, so forgettable Melanie has forgotten it by the time she closes the file.
Why would anyone want to turn Creepy into a series? It does have sex and teens and a supernatural element. So what if the book sucks? Melanie could make it good. Good-ish. She gets down to work. Breaks down the main characters, makes them three-dimensional. Keeps the summer camp setting, but takes it out of the gloomy Maine woods and moves it to Lake Arrowhead. The bright California setting is an unlikely place for vampires and other monsters. At one point, when she’s stuck on the plot, Melanie looks at the empty La Croix can and asks for help. “Benedict?” But nothing happens. You won’t know until you know, she reminds herself, thinking if she ever tells anyone about Benedict and the three wishes they’ll ship her off and she’ll find out if people still get shock therapy.
Kaylee Delouf keeps Melanie waiting in the Loud Brick lobby for twenty minutes. When the executive appears, she’s full of apologies, talking about a conference call with J.J. and something very big about to break. But she can’t say anything yet, you know how it is, wink wink.
Melanie is immediately aware that Kaylee has sized her up and dismissed her outfit. Okay, so maybe a maxi-dress wasn’t the way to go, but Melanie was running late and didn’t want to shave her legs. And, yeah, the imitation leather is peeling off one of her sandals, but at least the black Sharpie made the color look better. Naturally, Kaylee’s eagle-eye has zoomed right in on the spot. Sharpie? Really?
What Kaylee’s wearing probably costs as much as Melanie’s car. Kaylee’s belt has tiny metal studs and rhinestones and is so beautiful Melanie wants to touch it. Kaylee’s skirt is short and slim and camel-colored and her creamy silk blouse unbuttoned a little too far. She has a tan that Melanie can’t decide is real or from a bottle.
When they walk into Kaylee’s office (fresh flowers on the coffee table), Kaylee leans against her desk. “You remind me of somebody I knew at Yale,” Kaylee says. And the way she says it is utterly false and Melanie knows Alex sent over her resume and Kaylee knows where Melanie went to college and knows every show Melanie has worked on. She’s probably checked out Melanie on social media. Melanie checked out Kaylee and found out about Yale – it was right there under Kaylee’s profile picture.
“I didn’t go to Yale. I went to Pomona,” Melanie says.
“Pomona.” Kaylee says “Pomona” and makes it sound like Billy’s College Of Knick-Knacks N’ Pop Tarts. Kaylee scoots back against her desk, crossing one long sun-kissed leg above the other. Her skin is luminous, it could practically light the room. Bronzed peaches and cream. It must be from a bottle.
“So,” Kaylee says. “Wow me.”
Melanie dives in. To hell with Yale and Kaylee’s perfect skin. Melanie is in her element. Fuck the Sharpie shoe, she’s fixed crappy Creepy, taken a pig’s ear and turned it into a fucking silk purse, a ratings winner, a social media sensation, Melanie is confident, prepared. She dazzles.
When she’s done, the corners of Kaylee’s mouth turn up, just a tiny bit. She’s impressed, Melanie knows. But she’ll never admit it.
“An interesting take,” Kaylee says. “If you leave your pages, I’ll look them over. I’m sure your agent told you we’re meeting with a few more writers. But we’ll keep in touch.”
Back at home, Melanie tries to calm down. No, of course Alex didn’t tell her that Kaylee would be meeting with other writers. Alex gave Melanie the impression that Loud Brick was only interested in her. If she’d known it was a cattle call, she wouldn’t have given up all her great story ideas right away. Not that she would have done a half-assed pitch. But she would have teased the project more and set herself up for a second meeting. Writer protection. Because what’s to keep the Kaylees of the world from hearing pitches from three different writers, pulling together what works and then giving the project to whoever she likes? It’s not supposed to happen that way, but it does. Far too frequently. Melanie has tried to avoid cage match pitches. But who knows? Kaylee seemed to like her take. Maybe this time will be different. Yeah, that’s what she’ll tell herself.
Melanie looks at the La Croix can and tries to feel it sending out positive vibes. “Okay, I’ve made my decision. This is what I wish for. I want Creepy,” she says out loud. And, for a moment, she thinks she sees the can move. Just a little. Unless it’s a trick of the light.
But she’ll believe it’s Benedict. For now.