Camille ran down the darkened hallway, looking desperately for a way out. She could hear footsteps behind her, growing closer; hear her own ragged breath echoing in the hall. Blood trickled from the wound at her temple, but she couldn’t spare a second to wipe it from her eyes. She put on an extra burst of speed, turned a corner, and –
– a dead end. She was trapped. Clenching her hands into fists, she turned to face her pursuer.
The overhead lights snapped on, and Camille blinked against the sudden glare. “Great job, Camille,” the director said. “I think we’ve got enough takes for today. You look beat. Let’s call it a day.”
Camille shook her head, trying to calm her heart rate as she came out of the character. A PA handed her a bottle of water, which she accepted gratefully, and her makeup artist began dabbing at the fake blood on her forehead before it could drip onto her costume.
“How did it look, Monica?” she asked.
“Perfect!” Monica tossed a few red-soaked cotton swabs into a wastebasket. “Glossy and iron-rich. I wish you were dying in this scene. I could put a little brain in there.”
Camille made a face. “Sorry. I think all the goriest scenes have already been shot.”
Monica sighed. “How can I create my art with such a limited field?”
“Well, maybe they’ll put you on a zombie movie next,” Camille said. “I’m gonna go get changed. See you tomorrow!”
She headed off to her trailer, marveling a little as she went. She’d spent so long pounding the pavement in Hollywood, with bit roles in commercials and direct-to-DVD sequels, that it had started to seem like her big break would never come. But all at once, it seemed, she’d landed a couple of supporting roles in box office smashes, and now here she was starring in her very own horror movie – psychological thriller, as Director Larry liked to say.
Everything was coming up Camille. And if it left her a little too busy for a social life, well, that was the price you paid for dreams coming true.
Her manager Kimiyo was waiting in her trailer, lips tight and practically bouncing in her chair. Camille raised an eyebrow. “You know you don’t have to wait to ask my permission if you need to use the bathroom, right?”
“Guess who got nominated for a Teen Choice Award?” Kimiyo asked.
“The Windmills?” Camille guessed. “Oh, wait. No. No!”
“AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Camille screamed. “I did? Really? For real really real?”
“Breakout Female,” Kimiyo said, and handed Camille the ballot. Camille scanned it frantically, half-noting the familiar names, until she found her category. Sure enough, there she was, halfway down the list in a lime green font that kind of hurt her eyes. But who cared about fonts, she was a Teen Choice Award nominee!
Now Camille was the one bouncing up and down with excitement. “Oh my God, I have to call my dad! I have to call Jo! I have to…”
“Unh-unh,” Kimiyo said. “Do it in the car. Right now you have to wash that blood off your face and change into this.” She held up a garment bag. “We’ve got a party in 45 minutes, and you need to see and be seen.”
Camille peeked into the garment bag. “Is it short?”
“You won’t be able to bend over.”
“Excellent.” Camille squeezed into the tiny bathroom and turned on the sink. “I’m in the mood to make a few waves.”
“Ohhh yeeeeeah…no, no, no…whoooOOOoooaaa…” James crooned, eyes closed, hands holding the headset firmly over his ears. This was his favorite part of laying down an album – adding the riffs. He tended to get tangled up in lyrics, especially if they contained words more complicated than “baby” and “girl” and “baby girl,” but it was hard to mess up improvised nonsense sounds.
It was a little hard to sing when he was smiling, but he couldn’t help himself. This was it. This was his last day in the studio, and then his album went into post-production, and in just over a month…James Diamond would be releasing his very first solo album.
He opened his eyes, just to prove to himself that this was all real, that he wasn’t back home in Minnesota singing into his hairbrush like he used to when he was 13. But no, there was all the studio equipment, and there was Gustavo, scowling as usual, and Kendall, grinning at him.
That was weird. Not that Kendall was there. Sure, he’d been the one to break up Big Time Rush when they were nineteen with all his talk of “college” and “learning” and “not getting my underwear stolen by pre-teen girls anymore” and whatnot. But it had been a mostly-amicable breakup: Kendall and Carlos went back to Minnesota for college, Logan stayed in California as a UCLA pre-med, and James was on his way to fame and fortune as the next Justin Timberlake. He hoped.
But Kendall and Gustavo still had their weird “we fight all the time because we’re exactly alike and are super unpleasant to be around when we haven’t seen each other for a while” relationship going on, so every summer for the past three years, Kendall had come back to LA for an internship at Rocque Records. He and Gustavo would scream at each other for three months, and then Gustavo would be in a really good mood all fall. And Kendall usually brought Carlos with him, which made James happy – he saw Logan all the time, but he missed his other two best friends.
So Kendall being there wasn’t weird. What was weird was the expression on his face – a manic grin that made James wonder if Gustavo had started huffing nitrous oxide to improve his temper again and left a canister open or something.
“Baby, baby, pleeeeeeeease,” he sang uncertainly, watching Kendall to make sure he didn’t start twitching.
Then Logan popped up next to Kendall. Again, that was normal – Logan always tried to work through the summer, and Kendall always told him not to, and Logan always tried to resist, and Kendall always wound up winning. But Logan had the same manic grin on his face, and that was even more alarming. Logan wasn’t really a grinner.
Then Carlos popped up next to Logan. Sure enough, he was grinning – but he was also holding a piece of paper up to the glass of the sound booth.
James stepped forward to read it, got snagged on his headset cord, fell, got up, took the headset off, and walked close enough to read the paper Carlos was holding.
Then he screamed.
Like a girl.
“Do you hear that, boys?” Kendall asked, flipping the switch so that he could be heard inside the sound booth. “That’s the scream of a Teen Choice Award’s Choice Male Hottie Nominee!”
James’ friends poured into the sound booth, thumping James on the back and congratulating him. They were jumping up and down in a big group hug when there was a screech of feedback over the speakers.
“Hey. Hey!” Gustavo yelled into the mike. “I hate to interrupt your little friendship-affirmation-hippie circle here, but do you think maybe we could get back to, oh, I don’t know, recording?”
“Sorry, no can do,” said a voice from the doorway. They all turned to see Katie standing there with her arms folded, one hand holding a copy of the Teen Choice ballot. “I need to take my client to a party.”
The boys watched with interest. Ever since Katie had graduated from high school at 16 and started as a freshman at UCLA so that she could keep a closer eye on James, Russell, and her other clients, she’d been butting heads with Gustavo. As usual, there was no question of who would win, but it was always fun watching Katie take someone down.
“Excuse me, Little Miss Half-Pint, but ‘your client’ is trying to record an album,” Gustavo said, glowering at her. “And I don’t appreciate you – ”
“Oh, please. All he’s doing is saying ‘ooh baby ooh’ over and over,” Katie said, rolling her eyes.
“Hey.” Gustavo pointed an indignant finger at her. “‘Ooh baby ooh’ is a cornerstone of pop music.”
“Well, he’s not going to sell any pop music if he doesn’t get his butt to this party and schmooze the press!” she retorted.
“Uh, I’d like to go to the party – “ James said tentatively.
“You keep out of this!” they snapped in unison. James shut up.
Gustavo glared at Katie.
Katie glared at Gustavo.
“Fine!” Gustavo said, throwing his hands up. “But don’t come crying to me when his album is insufficiently ooh-babied.”
“Excellent.” Grinning, Katie turned to James. “Come on, Diamond, get your Face on. It’s time to go break some hearts.”
Camille stirred her mangotini with its little paper umbrella and sighed. She wasn’t sulking, really. She was just…tired. Tired, and bored, and…okay, fine, sulking.
But wasn’t she entitled to sulk, at least a little? After all, she’d come to see and be seen. And after over an hour of wandering aimlessly around this repurposed old Hollywood-mansion-turned-party-venue, she’d come to conclusion that there wasn’t anybody there she wanted to see – and much worse, no one who wanted to see her.
Oh, sure, she’d gotten some attention when she climbed out of her limo. (She’d been extra careful in her tiny skirt. Some kinds of attention she didn’t need.) Cameras had flashed, voices had shouted her name, she’d posed and smiled and flipped her hair. It had all been very gratifying.
And then Mandy Michaels had shown up with her new Argentinean soccer star boyfriend, and Camille had suddenly turned invisible. Even the two or three event photographers who had been allowed inside the building were ignoring her.
It wasn’t like Camille resented Mandy Michaels, who’d beaten her out for the role of Jenny Bond in James Bond: Deadbeat Dad, even though Camille had been in the business longer. And worked harder. And was a better actress.
And it wasn’t like she was worried or anything, just because Mandy Michaels was getting more press right now and was also nominated for Breakout Female Star. Camille totally deserved that award. She knew she did.
But she knew how the industry worked. Awards like the TCAs were only half based on performance. The other half had to do with the kind of buzz you were generating. And despite Camille’s recent successes, she still wasn’t A-list.
The problem was, she didn’t have any personal drama, like Mandy’s stupid star athlete boyfriend. It didn’t matter how good you were if no one gossiped about you over the water cooler. Mandy Michaels-types never won Oscars, but Meryl Streep-types never made the cover of Persons.
Camille wanted both.
She dug into her tiny clutch, trying to yank her phone out without spilling her drink. How long had it been? Maybe it was late enough that she could leave without Kimiyo killing her.
She tugged violently on her phone and her elbow jerked back hard into the person standing behind her. “Oof!” the person grunted.
Camille turned. “Sorry, sorry, I was trying to – James?”
Sure enough, it was her old Palm Woods pal James Diamond, just as tall and ridiculously attractive as ever. “Camille? Hey!”
Camille tilted her cheek up for a Hollywood air kiss, but instead found herself grabbed in a full body hug so enthusiastic that her feet left the ground and her drink sloshed out of her glass. She couldn’t help grinning as she hugged James back. You could take the boy out of Minnesota, but you couldn’t take the Minnesota out of the boy. “How are you?”
“I’m good! How are you?” he asked, releasing her. Camille gave her skirt a hasty downward tug. “You look great.”
“Thanks, so do you,” she said. He did, too. Apparently at some point Katie Knight had convinced him to ditch the Ed Hardy look, because he was wearing a simple button-down – with several buttons undone, of course – and extremely well-fitted jeans. Maybe it was the slightly more grownup look, or maybe it was just the fact that he wasn’t a teenager anymore, but he’d lost the puppyish quality he’d had back in his Big Time Rush days, as if he’d finally grown into his hands and feet. “How are the guys?”
“Good, they’re good,” he said. “Kendall and Carlos are actually in town for the summer. We should try to set something up, I’m sure they’d love to see you.”
“Yeah, that’d be great,” she said. And waited.
“Oh, and, uh, Logan. He’s good too. But he’s at UCLA, so he’s always in town. Doing his doctor thing. Doctor Logan. You know.” James coughed, looked at a spot somewhere above Camille’s head, and scratched his neck. “Stuff.”
Camille couldn’t help smiling. “James, you’re being very sweet, but Logan and I broke up five years ago. And then he, you know, came out. I am long past over it.”
“Oh.” James smiled, clearly relieved. “Well, good.”
An awkward silence fell, and Camille fumbled for something to fill it with. “So, uh, you’ve got a new album coming out soon, huh? I heard the single.”
Actually, she’d downloaded the single. And the one he’d done for the Dak Zevon movie last winter, and a couple of otherwise-forgettable romantic comedies before that. She hadn’t really seen James since Big Time Rush had broken up, what with him laying low and her being on location a lot, but he was still her friend, and she still wanted to support him.
Besides, his voice was dreamy. She wasn’t made of stone.
James brightened. “Yeah, in a few weeks. It’s pretty exciting. I – yipe!”
He grabbed Camille, ducking behind her to use her as a shield. Since he was about a foot taller than she was, it wasn’t very effective.
“What are you doing?” she asked, craning her neck to look at him.
“Solana’s coming this way!” he hissed. “We broke up again last month. If she sees me, I’m dead meat!”
Camille raised an eyebrow. “James, trust me. She’s gonna see you.”
James let out a little squeak of despair, then straightened up, grabbed Camille’s hand, and took off. “Come on!”
“Yipe!” Camille had to move quickly to keep up with James’ long legs as he tore through the house. She managed to put her drink down semi-safely on a table as they passed it, then veered to avoid crashing into Jean-Luc Varn Darn. “Sorry!” she called as James bolted around a corner, opened the nearest door, and dragged Camille in after him.
It was a supply closet. Of course.
Camille squinted at James in the faint light coming from above and below the door. “I take it you two had a bad breakup?”
“Let’s just say I won’t be selling many albums in South America,” James said, turning this way and that, as if to make sure Solana wasn’t about to come crashing through the door. It wasn’t a very roomy closet, and his twisting about would’ve knocked Camille off-balance if she hadn’t yelped and grabbed onto his shirt. “Sorry.”
He put a steadying hand on her waist and tried to step back to give her some room, but there was nowhere for him to go. Camille took his moment of distraction to hastily tug her skirt down again. Her dress was not meant for running in.
“So how long do we have to wait in here?” Camille asked.
James tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Usually when I get stuck in closets I either fall asleep or open the door just when the person I’m hiding from walks by. So let’s go with the first one.”
“I am not spending the whole night in a supply closet, James!” Camille protested, though the truth was that this was a lot more fun than the party had been.
“Let’s just give it a few more minutes, okay?” James pleaded. It was too dark to see his face, but from his tone of voice, Camille was fairly certain he was making puppy dog eyes.
She sighed. “Fine. But you owe me a drink.”
They lapsed into silence. Camille shifted, trying to find a comfortable place to lean without getting poked by a broom. The closet was so small that there was nowhere to go where at least part of her wasn’t touching part of James, but she figured he didn’t mind – he’d always been very touchy-feely, and besides, this was his fault.
She couldn’t help noticing that he smelled really good. At the Palm Woods he’d always had seven or eight different Cuda products competing for fragrance dominance, but he seemed to have narrowed it down to one of the better ones. It might not have even been Cuda, though she couldn’t imagine James betraying his brand. Whatever it was, it was subtle and expensive and very, very male.
The supply closet suddenly felt uncomfortably warm.
“I liked House Party,” James said abruptly.
Camille blinked. “Oh?” House Party, a standard raunchy teen sex comedy, had been her first real break last year. She’d played the lead actress’s nerdy best friend, which had mainly consisted of unleashing a torrent of absolutely filthy double entendres with every line.
The movie was mediocre at best, but it had been wildly successful. And Camille, never one for false modesty, knew very well that she’d stolen every scene she was in, with her juxtaposition of pocket protectors and potty mouth. Still, the fact that James had liked it was surprisingly flattering.
“Yeah,” he said. “You were really funny. League of Nations was really good too,” he added, referring to the Christmas Day alien-fighting blockbuster that Camille had played the love interest/gun-toting babe in. “I didn’t know you could do a Russian accent.”
Camille smiled. “Spasibo.”
“Never mind.” Camille brushed something tickly away from her shoulder. She hoped there weren’t spiders in here. “I don’t think I’ll do another action movie for a while, though. Too many sit-ups involved.”
“Well, they worked,” James said. “I mean, you looked…the catsuit that you wore…it was…you looked good.” He gave a nervous little laugh. “Hey, we’ve probably been in this closet long enough, right? Right.”
Clearly frazzled, he tried to turn around as he reached for the doorknob. There wasn’t room for that in the closet, though, and he bumped into Camille. He leaped back as if scalded, and his right hand hit a shelf, sending its contents flying, while his left foot came down in a bucket.
Camille ducked to avoid the cleaning products. James veered wildly, trying to shake the bucket off his foot. He grabbed for the doorknob again and nearly fell. Camille tried to pull him upright. Brooms and mops clattered everywhere.
“Whoa, watch out!”
“Careful, don’t – ”
The door opened and they went tumbling out onto the floor.
Camille hit the ground first and would have cracked her skull against the marble if James hadn’t managed to get his hand under her head. As it was, the breath was knocked out of her, and it was a moment before she could get her eyes open and take stock of her bearings.
When she did, she was lying flat on her back with James on top of her and his arms around her. A crowd of Hollywood’s finest was staring at them in delighted shock.
And the event photographers were snapping pictures like their lives depended on it.
“James?” she asked. Her voice came out wheezy and barely audible, which was probably for the best.
“Please tell me my skirt’s still down.”