***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Kerry Winfrey
I just thought I would've met Tom Hanks by now.
Not real Tom Hanks, the beloved actor. After all, he's married to Rita Wilson, and I'm not the sort of monster who would want to break up what is perhaps Hollywood's one truly perfect union. And anyway, I'm twenty-seven, so he's a little bit old for me (no offense if you're reading this, Tom).
The Tom Hanks I thought I'd meet is the Tom Hanks of romantic comedies. The Tom Hanks who starred in Nora Ephron films. The one who wrote about bouquets of sharpened pencils or told radio call-in show hosts how much he missed his wife. The one who lived on an unbelievably luxurious houseboat or called Meg Ryan "shopgirl." The man with a heart of gold, the one I was meant to be with even if we lived on opposite coasts or owned competing bookstores.
I should have run into him by now, while I'm carrying a large, unwieldy stack of books and he's hurrying to some important business meeting. Or maybe I should have tripped over my own feet and fallen right into his arms (note to self: start wearing more impractical footwear). Or maybe I should've bumped into him while Christmas shopping, when both of us spotted the very last fancy scarf and we each desperately needed to buy it for our own fancy-scarf-wearing relatives. And we would fight and get angry and hurl insults that neither of us really meant, but that underlying passion would translate into some fantastic flirty banter, and then that scarf would get written into our wedding vows in a hilarious-yet-touching surprise that wouldn't leave a dry eye in the house.
Not that I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, or anything.
It's just that I've seen a lot of romantic comedies, and I can't even blame that on Tom Hanks himself, as much as I would like to pin all of my problems on a celebrity.
No, I blame my mother.
She's the one who indoctrinated me into the Cult of Ephron, the one who showed me When Harry Met Sally . . . when I was only nine years old and way, way too young to understand what Sally was imitating in that deli scene. She's the one who spent Saturday nights sobbing over the end of Sleepless in Seattle, showing me that true love sometimes involved a little bit of light stalking and a lot of encouragement from Rosie O'Donnell. She's the one who introduced me to the charms of Rock Hudson and Doris Day sharing a phone line and being incredibly deceptive in Pillow Talk.
And yes, only one of those films actually stars Tom Hanks, but that's not the point. Tom Hanks isn't a person so much as he is a representation of the kind of man I deserve, as my mom told me over and over. "Don't settle for someone who doesn't adore you," she told me. "My favorite thing about your dad was that he worshipped the ground I walked on."
She was kidding, but only sort of. Anyone who saw a picture of my dad and mom together would know that they were one of those golden couples, the ones who get together and stay together and end up like those old people talking to the camera in When Harry Met Sally . . . about how they met. And they would've been, if he hadn't died when I was just a baby, before I even got a chance to remember him.
My mom died much later, of a heart attack. I have a theory that you can react to tragedy in one of two ways: you either distract yourself from your pain with over-activity, or you make yourself a home inside your pain cocoon. In high school and college, my coping strategy was the former. Instead of thinking about how much I missed my mom, which could easily have been a 24/7 extracurricular, I threw myself into activities, clubs, and projects. I was valedictorian in high school and graduated summa cum laude in college with a degree in film studies. I studied movies, watched approximately one million of them, and dreamed of someday writing my own Nora Ephron style romantic comedy.
But after college, after I was done crossing off every item on my to-do list, my over-activity ground to a halt. I couldn't bear to leave my childhood home, which my uncle Don moved into after my mom's death so I wouldn't have to change schools. I didn't have anything to do after I hung my graduation robe up in the closet, but I knew one thing: Tom Hanks would be able to solve this.
Again, not Tom Hanks himself, although he does seem like a very smart man, and I'm sure that if he can write a short-story collection or direct the film That Thing You Do! then he could probably figure out a way to fix my life. But in most romantic comedies, the female lead is floundering. Maybe she's adrift, maybe she's lonely, maybe she's a workaholic who needs to learn how to love! But no matter what, she has some sort of dream she's working toward, and she just can't figure out how to get there. But then she meets him—Tom Hanks or Rock Hudson or the rapper Common in the way underrated basketball rom-com Just Wright—and it all clicks into place. She figures it out. She gets stronger and smarter and she achieves her dreams, plus she finds love.
But I'm starting to think that the movies I've dedicated my life to may have lied to me. Nora Ephron herself may have indirectly lied to me. Tom Hanks, as much as I've trusted him, may have lied to me.
Because I have it all: the sympathetic backstory, the montage of humiliations minor and major, unrealized career aspirations, the untamed pre-makeover hair. But still, I wait. Single, lonely, Hanksless.
I can't help but think that a large part of my current state of Hanklessness is due to the fact that I'm a twenty-seven-year-old woman who shares a Victorian house with her uncle.
I let myself into the house as quietly as I can, slipping off my boots to avoid tracking slush through the house. It's the middle of January, and the Columbus snow long ago ceased to be the sparkling, magical holiday treat it is in so many Hallmark Christmas movies. Now it's just gray and gross, and it's depressing to look at it and know there are months left of this. Ohio winters are an endurance test, not necessarily in how much snow you can handle, but in how many gray, sunless days you can take before you flee to a warmer climate.
I hang up my coat and try to creep through the living room and upstairs without being noticed, but then I hear Uncle Don's voice ring out. "Annie!"
I turn to my right, where four fifty-something men are crowded around our dining room table.
I wave and step into the dining room, which is lined with dark wainscoting and the same red floral wallpaper my mom installed when I was a baby. "Hey, guys."
This is Uncle Don's Dungeons and Dragons group. Every Thursday night they meet to—well, honestly, I'm not 100 percent sure what the game entails. I hear snippets—stuff about orcs and werewolves and ice lords—but personally, I wouldn't know a wizard from a warlock, so I figure this is Uncle Don's version of book club and try to stay out of it. Mostly I think it's kind of sweet that these four men have been getting together almost every week for going on twenty years. And other than his part-time job at the gaming store, The Guardtower, Uncle Don doesn't really get out much, so it's nice that he has some built-in socialization.
"How was the library, sweet pea?" Uncle Don asks, ignoring the glare from his friend Rick. Rick is the Dungeon Master, aka the boss of the game, which you would know if you saw the shirt he wears every Thursday that proclaims, "When the Dungeon Master smiles, it's already too late." I have no idea what this means, but since Dungeon Master Rick hates distractions, I've never asked for an explanation.
"Good," I say. "I got a lot done."
Even though I've been attempting to write my own rom-com for years, right now I'm working as a freelance writer. Well, that makes it sound a little more glamorous than it is, seeing as I write "web content" with titles like, "The Five BEST WAYS to Unclog a Toilet" and "Ten of Jennifer Lawrence's Hottest Hairdos!" I may not be winning any awards anytime soon, but it pays (and you'd be surprised how often you use that toilet unclogging advice when you live in a house with old pipes).
"What did you write about today?" asks Earl.
"Is it Expired? What to Keep and What to Throw Out!" I say with wide eyes and jazz hands, trying to mimic the excitement of the headline.
"Did I ever tell you guys," Paul says, wiping his glasses on his shirt, "About that time I accidentally ate a yogurt that expired in 2007?"
"Ugh!" I say as Don asks, "What happened?"
Paul shrugs, putting his glasses back on. "Well, I'm still here, aren't I?"
"But he did throw up for the better part of three days," says Paul's husband, Earl, who rounds out their gaming foursome. The two of them met through D&D, which would be a great meet-cute for a rom-com if I knew enough about D&D to write it.
"Excuse me," says Dungeon Master Rick. "But unless the evil gnome that's currently trapping your party in a cave can be vanquished by dairy, I don't really want to discuss yogurt right now."
"Fine, fine, fine," Paul says. "See you later, Annie."
Uncle Don waves, rolling his eyes at Dungeon Master Rick, who's already describing the various gnome inventions scattered throughout the cave.
I smile and head upstairs to my room, the same one I've had since I was a child. Although it's changed a little—now I have soft pink walls instead of kitten wallpaper, and framed photos of my parents (and, okay, one of Nora Ephron, too) instead of posters of whatever guy I thought was cute at the time. But other than that, it's pretty much the same. My twin bed, my refinished antique desk, the green glass lamp that used to belong to my grandma.
In other words, this isn't the kind of bedroom you can bring a man back to. Other than the regrettable sex I had with my high school boyfriend right after my mom died in the hopes that it would make me feel better (spoiler alert: it did not!), I've never even had sex in this room. I mean, how would that even work? Would I introduce a dude to all of the D&D guys, then excuse us with a line like, "Well, I'm going upstairs to try to bone this guy as quietly as possible, but everything in this house squeaks because it's a million years old, so sorry, I guess!" I don't even know how a full-size man would fit into that twin bed; his feet would probably hang off the end.
But I haven't done anything to change my situation, and that's because I'm still waiting for Tom Hanks. And sure, he hasn't found me yet, but it's okay, because I'm just at the beginning of my rom-com, the part with a montage that demonstrates how sad, lonely, and down-on-her-luck our leading lady is.
My Tom Hanks is out there, and I'm not going to settle until I find him.
"I'm not saying you have to settle," my best friend Chloe says as she sits down across from me at the wobbly table. "I'm just saying you should give some of these guys a chance."
Nick's coffee shop is the perfect place to get some writing done. It's within walking distance of my house, there are plenty of outlets to plug in my laptop, and the ambient noise of people talking and cups clinking is the perfect soundtrack for working. I guess what I'm saying is that it would be the perfect place to work if Chloe wasn't a barista there and we didn't spend most of my work time talking.
Well, she calls herself a barista. Nick Velez, the owner, simply refers to her as an "employee" because words like "barista" and "latte art" make him cringe. Nick's other employee, Tobin, is a college student who rarely, if ever, shows up on time and usually drops more cups than he serves, but he has a good heart, and Nick keeps him around, despite always threatening to fire him.
"I give every guy I go out with a chance," I say. "But last guy I went out with smelled like Funyuns."
Chloe wrinkles her nose. "You mean onions?"
"No," I say. "That would've been better. He smelled specifically like the snack food Funyuns."
Chloe rolls her eyes. "Okay, well, what about that guy?"
She points to a dude in his late twenties wearing headphones and sitting at a table in the corner. I shake my head.
"What's wrong with him?" she asks, exasperated. "He's cute!"
"First off, he doesn't give off 'lives on a houseboat with his young son' vibes," I say. "And secondly, he's just . . . sitting there. Big deal."
Chloe stares blankly at me.
"Where's the intrigue? The mystery? The part where we're secretly pen pals but also own rival businesses?"
Chloe shakes her head. "I always think you're exaggerating, but you're literally in love with a fictional man. You know those movies aren't real, right? They're made up! I've watched about ten thousand more rom-coms than I ever wanted to see because of you, and I can definitely say that they're all bullshit."
"They aren't!" I start to protest, but Chloe cuts me off.
"I'm not trying to insult them, because I know you love them and I'm sure the rom-com you write is going to be a cinematic masterpiece, but you can't live your life by their rules. I mean, I don't let what I watch affect my life."
"That's because you mostly watch documentaries about murder," I point out.
"True. And I guess I have changed a lot of my actions. I don't wear a ponytail anymore, that's for sure. Makes it easier for some guy to yank it and pull you into a darkened alley," she says, pulling a pretend ponytail.
"Just because I'm looking for what I know I deserve doesn't mean I'm being unrealistic," I say primly, as if this is all a joke for me, but really it isn't. I have so little of my mom, but this—her movies, her insistence that I not settle—is what I remember.
"Join the rest of us here on planet Earth," Chloe whispers, grabbing my hands. "We get free drinks from men and enjoy commitment-less sex. It's great."
"I'm not interested in meaningless sex," I say, trying to focus on my laptop. "I want a connection."
"Re-download Tinder and I can help you find a connection," Chloe says, wiggling her eyebrows.
"I'm not hearing this," Nick says from behind the counter, turning on the espresso machine.
"Nick," Chloe says with a sugary-sweet smile as soon as the machine shuts off. "Have you given any more thought to my suggestion?"
"You mean your suggestion that I change the name of my place?" Nick asks, rubbing one hand over the brown scruff on his chin. Nick's in his early thirties, lanky, and one of those guys whose face is covered in a perpetual five o'clock shadow, even at ten in the morning. "Nick's my name. I own the shop. It makes sense."
Chloe sighs in exasperation, pursing her pink-glossed lips. "Haven't you ever heard of puns, Nick?"
"I hate puns," Nick says, handing the espresso to a regular customer named Gary, an older guy who always wears a beat-up Ohio State baseball cap.
"The Daily Grind! Thanks a Latte!" Chloe shouts.
"Brewed Awakening," says Tobin. Nick shoots him a dirty look.
"Pizza My Heart," Gary says as he takes a seat, and we all turn to look at him.
"I mean, you'd have to become a pizza place for that one to work," he says, taking a sip.
Nick shakes his head. "I trusted you, Gary."
"I think it's a great suggestion," Chloe says, beaming at Gary. With her cute blonde milkmaid braid and her flowered apron, she looks like some sort of adorable coffee angel.
"Why are you sitting down, again?" Nick asks. "Instead of, I don't know, working?"
"I'm on my break!" Chloe says, pulling out her phone. "And hold on, I'm trying to help Annie Cassidy find true love."
Chloe doesn't only work at Nick's, although dealing with Nick's endearing grumpiness could be considered a full-time job. She also goes to business school, where she's been taking classes super slowly at night since most of her time and money goes toward her dad and the payments for his memory-care facility. Because I know she's busy, I try to discourage her from making my quest for love her side hustle, but so far I haven't had any luck.
"Thank you for your efforts," I say, "but that isn't how this works. I'm not going to find my Tom Hanks by actively looking for him, which is why all the dates you've set me up on or that I've found through whatever app you made me download that week have been miserable failures. I just have to find him, through fate or luck or—"
"Oh my God." Chloe slams a hand down on the table, making coffee slosh over the edge of my mug. "Have you read the Dispatch today?"
"Why?" Nick asks, uninterested. "Does it have a headline about Annie's love life?"
"There's going to be a movie filming here, in German Village!" Chloe says.
Nick wipes down a counter. "Big deal. Remember when Bradley Cooper filmed a movie here? All that happened was his bodyguards camped out all day to use the Wi-Fi and they never ordered anything. Also they peed on the toilet seat."
"They were so cool," Tobin says wistfully.
"Oh my God, it's a romantic comedy from Tommy Crisante, and filming starts next week," Chloe continues, her eyes scanning the article on her phone.
"Was he the guy who directed all those cheesy movies in the 90s?" Nick asks, because Tommy Crisante is Steven-Spielberg–level famous. Everyone knows his name.
"Yeah, that's him," I say, my mouth going dry. A romantic comedy filming here, blocks from my house?
"We have to get you onto that set," Chloe says, and hearing her say the thought I hadn't yet formed makes me realize how ridiculous it is.
"Why?" I ask, shutting my computer. "I don't want to be in a movie. I want to write one."
"Yeah, but," Chloe continues, "if you could weasel your way onto set, wouldn't this be such a great learning experience? If you won't move out of Ohio—not that I want you to leave my side literally ever, but come on, you know this isn't exactly the cinematic hub of the country—then this could be your chance to actually be involved in a movie!"
I nod, but I'm thinking sure Chloe. Because what am I supposed to do? Send a letter to the director that says, "Rom-com fanatic with zero experience and an unused, dusty film studies degree seeks literally any job on your film"? That's, like, the world's worst personal ad.
Then Chloe lets out a low whistle. "And—whoa, okay, apparently the lead is Drew Danforth, that hot guy from that sitcom. Have you even seen what he's looking like these days?" She turns her phone so I can see the screen, which is showcasing a picture of a very shirtless, very muscled man.
But I already know who he is. Everyone does.
If there was ever a man who was the complete and polar opposite of Tom Hanks, it would be Drew Danforth. Where Tom Hanks is known for being humble and respectful, Drew Danforth is known for acting like none of his acting success matters and like he's way too good for Hollywood traditions. He's always showing up in gossip columns for doing ridiculous things like pratfalling whenever he sees the paparazzi taking his photo. Once, he went on Late Night with Seth Meyers wearing sweatpants and uncombed hair, as if he couldn't even be bothered to look presentable. And then there was the time he did an entire day of press while wearing a fake mustache, but never acknowledged it, or the time that he recited the Declaration of Independence on the red carpet instead of answering reporters' questions.
He's known for not taking anything seriously, and the last thing this all-too-rare studio rom-com needs is some jerk who probably thinks the entire genre is formulaic and beneath him.
I take another glance at the picture, staring at it a little longer then I need to. Sure, he looks good, but romantic comedy leads are usually more cute than sexy, and they definitely don't spend a lot of time showing off their abs (unless we're talking about a rom-com starring Chris Evans, in which case he will be shirtless 90 percent of the time).
"Okay, first of all, rom-com leads don't have to be muscular. And this guy doesn't take anything seriously—everything is a joke to him. There's no way he's going to treat a romantic comedy with respect."
Chloe takes her phone back and reads. "Whatever. He could treat me with respect, if you know what I'm saying. I guess after he was in that sitcom, he was in some action movie so he got, like, super ripped." She looks up at me with wide eyes. "Oh my God, Annie. What if your life isn't a Nora Ephron romantic comedy? What if it's Notting Hill, and you're supposed to end up with Drew Danforth?"
"That's not how this works. My Tom Hanks doesn't have to be a celebrity."
"But it couldn't hurt!" Chloe says. "Just think about it . . . Annie and Drew. Your celebrity name would be Andrew."
"I'm not a celebrity . . . and I'm pretty sure his full name is already Andrew." I open the Dispatch's website on my laptop.
Gary drains his cup, then stands up and puts his coat on. "You'll find your Tom Hanks, Annie, just like I found mine. Her name is Martha."
"How did you meet?" Chloe asks, turning around and leaning over the back of her chair. She may not believe in fairytale love for herself, but don't think I haven't noticed she loves hearing other people's stories.
Gary wraps his scarf around his neck. "She was married to my brother, but she decided she liked me better."
Chloe slumps back in her chair. "Oh. Geez, Gary."
"Love's weird," he says, and with a wave he leaves.
I focus on the article, which runs through all the Drew Danforth facts we already know. He got famous when he was on a long-running sitcom about a restaurant called, creatively, Mike's Restaurant. Everyone called it the next Cheers, and it was just as popular. He played the sweet restaurant owner who pined after a beautiful waitress for four seasons before they finally got together. He even won an Emmy for it (although, surprise, he didn't attend the ceremony and had his then-seven-year-old brother accept the award for him via satellite). After that, he bulked up and tried to become an action star in some movie called The Last Apocalypse that featured a lot of helicopter explosions. It was a huge bomb (the box-office-disaster kind, not the kind that blew up that helicopter), and I guess now he's trying his hand at rom-coms.
The article, of course, repeatedly refers to him as a "funnyman" and a "prankster," because I guess that's another way to say "an overgrown manchild who doesn't appreciate his enormous privilege."
"Well, whether or not you go after Drew Danforth, I still think you should try to get on the set of this movie," Chloe says. "You never know what could happen."
"Do you ever intend to get back to work?" Nick asks, leaning against the counter with his arms crossed and a small smile playing across his lips. I've long suspected that he and Chloe secretly have a thing for each other, which, in true rom-com fashion, is apparent in their constant bickering. In fact, although I would never tell either of them this, my screenplay is based on their relationship. He's the gruff, rough-around-the-edges tough guy, and she's the quirky, fun girl who teaches him to look on the bright side . . .
I stop daydreaming long enough to notice that they're both staring at me. "She's doing the thing," Chloe says, glancing at Nick. Then, one eyebrow raised, she asks me, "Were you imagining your life as a rom-com again?"
"No," I say smugly. I don't bother to tell her that I was actually imagining her life as a rom-com.
Then Tobin drops a several mugs and, in the ensuing chaos, everyone forgets about me, and I'm able to get back to writing about easy ways to freshen your diaper pail.
But I can't stop thinking about Chloe's insistence that I get a job on set. I have no idea how that would even be possible, but I don't get my hopes up, because at this point dating Drew Danforth seems more likely.
Have you ever felt like you're not the main character in your own story?
I look at Chloe and I think, now there's someone who could carry a movie. I mean, I am writing a movie about her, not that she knows that. She's the one who's cute and quirky, with those adorable braids and her vintage clothing and the various schemes she's constantly getting herself into. Not that Chloe even believes in true love for herself, but she meets people everywhere.
Of course, I don't know if they count as meet-cutes if they're only ever around for a week or two of sex, but that's one of the many ways Chloe and I are different. I believe in long-term relationships, and she's the proud queen of the one-night stand.
Chloe and I walk home together after her shift. She lives in our carriage house, which is a pretentious way to say she lives in the small apartment over the detached garage. She's been living there since we were undergrads, when she claimed that the nominal rent Uncle Don was charging her was way less expensive than the dorms, but I know the truth. She moved in there because she wanted to be able to watch over Uncle Don and me and occasionally make us her special Knock You Naked Cheesecake (it's just a name and has never actually knocked anyone's clothing off, although I certainly wouldn't put it past Chloe to seduce someone with cheesecake).
The truth is, Uncle Don and I could never afford to live here—in this exorbitantly high-priced neighborhood, in this giant brick house with its million rooms and cozy front porch and lovely landscaped lawn—if my mom hadn't owned it outright when she died. I don't exactly make a ton of money from writing, and Don only works part-time, but since we don't have a mortgage, it works. After my mom died, Uncle Don moved in so I wouldn't have to change schools. And then we both just . . . stayed.
Which is yet another reason I couldn't possibly fathom ever leaving Columbus. Not only do I have a giant house I don't have to pay for, but Uncle Don and I are all we've got.
I mean, besides Dungeon Master Rick.
Chloe pokes me in the side with her elbow, which is surprisingly bony for someone who's wearing a huge down coat. "You're being a terrible conversationalist."
"Sorry," I say, opening the wrought iron gate that leads to our small front yard. "Do you want to have dinner with us? Uncle Don's cooking tonight."
"It is literally impossible for me to say no," Chloe says. "My apartment is full of nothing but snickerdoodles, and I think I might barf if I don't eat a real dinner soon."
The smell of garlic and onion greets me as soon as we walk in the door. "I'm home! Chloe's here!" I call.
"Great!" Uncle Don says as we walk into the kitchen. As usual, he's wearing a novelty Star Wars T-shirt, because I'm pretty sure he doesn't own any other kind of shirt. Sometimes Don feels less like my fifty-something uncle and more like a twelve-year-old boy who got a gift card to Hot Topic and went wild. "I made enough Cajun chicken pasta to feed an army of Orcs!"
"I don't know what that means," Chloe says, taking a seat at the island. "But I'll gladly partake."
Uncle Don heaps generous portions onto our plates, and we dig in.
"So how was your day?" Uncle Don says, standing across the island from us and chewing with his mouth open. It's a habit I hate, but he spends most of his time with other men, and all of my attempts to make him more marriageable have failed. "You write about unclogging toilets?"
"Freshening diaper pails," I say, pointing my fork at him.
"Forget diaper pails! God, now there's a sentence I never thought I'd say, but I mean it!" Chloe says. "Did you hear about the movie that's filming here next week?"
"In my house?" Uncle Don asks.
I stifle a laugh. Again, perhaps the result of most of his socialization occurring with other fifty-something men, Uncle Don takes everything very literally.
"No, here in German Village!" Chloe says. She whips out her phone and reads from the Dispatch article for the second time today. "Directed by Tommy Crisante, the romantic comedy stars—"
Uncle Don stops with his fork in midair. "Tommy Crisante's the director?"
"Yeah, why?" I ask. "Do you like his movies or something?"
"He was my college roommate!" Uncle Don says, throwing his hands in the air. "Freshman year at OSU! He had the top bunk! And then he transferred out to go to NYU."
Chloe slams her hands on the island, making both Don and me jump. "You guys. Don. Knows. Tommy. Crisante."
Don nods and takes another bite. "I do."
She turns to me, a far-too-enthusiastic look in her eyes. "This is it, Annie. This is fate. This is a sign from a loving universe that you are supposed to work on this movie and/or fall in love with a movie star."
"Chloe, how does that—" I start, but she's not listening to me.
"Don, can you get Annie a job on set?" Chloe asks, turning to him.
"Right," I say. "Because that's how this works."
Uncle Don shrugs. "Tommy and I haven't talked in a few years, but I can try."
"Uncle Don," I say cautiously. "Seriously, I don't have any experience, and I don't expect—"
But he has his phone out, and he's scrolling through his contacts muttering, "Crisante, Crisante, Crisante . . . there he is."
"Uncle Don, please!" I yelp as Chloe whispers, "Yessssss!"
"Tommy?" Uncle Don asks, putting his hand over his ear to block us out. "Yeah, it's Don! I know, long time no talk!"
And with that, he walks into the pantry and shuts the door.
"What the hell?" I turn to Chloe and smack her arm.
She rubs her hands together, as if she's a cartoon villain executing an evil plan. "You're welcome."
"For what? For embarrassing me in front of Tommy Crisante? For forever making my name synonymous with 'girl who makes her uncle beg for a job for her'?"
"Don't be so dramatic," Chloe says, taking another bite of pasta.
"You're calling me dramatic? You literally just rubbed your hands together like you're a bad guy in Scooby-Doo. And how have I never known that Uncle Don is besties with a major American film director?" I ask, even though I know it's because Uncle Don pretty much watches Lord of the Rings and Star Wars over and over. Maybe I should ask him if he knows Peter Jackson or George Lucas.
The door clicks open, and Uncle Don emerges from the pantry, then heads straight for his plate. He takes another bite as we stare at him. "What?" he asks when he looks up.
"Well?" Chloe prods. "How did it go?"
"Oh!" He brightens. "You got the job!"
My heart stops. "What job?"
"As Tommy's assistant. His last one quit to go work for an underwear model. So, perfect timing, I guess."
Chloe raises her arms in the air and starts humming the theme song for Rocky, which is an annoying thing she does whenever she has a perceived victory, major or minor, in any area of her life. "This is it!" she squeals. "Annie, you're getting a job on a movie! You can show Tommy your screenplay and meet your Tom Hanks!"
"Tom Hanks is in this movie?" Uncle Don asks, putting his fork down. "I love that guy."
I shake my head and put my hands over my face, then decide that isn't enough and slump over the island, talking into the counter. "Everybody loves him. That's the entire point of Tom Hanks. But no, he's not in this movie. Just . . . never mind."
Chloe and Don are silent, and then I feel a hand on my shoulder. Don's. "Sweetheart," he says. "Your mom would be so proud of you."
I lift my head a little and peer up at him. "Yeah?"
He nods. "Yeah."
And I know he isn't going to say anything else—isn't going to give me an emotional speech about what romantic comedies meant to my mom or a pep talk about how I can do it. Neither of those are things Uncle Don would ever do, or may even be capable of doing. But in those few words, and in the look on his face, I get what he's trying to tell me. That he misses his sister just like I miss my mom. That she wouldn't have wanted me to be here, still, static, instead of pursuing something I've always loved. That she would be so happy to know I was going to be on an actual movie set, even if it's only in German Village, even if it's only for a few days, even if I'm only an assistant.
"Thanks, Uncle Don," I say, sitting up as tears start to tingle the edges of my eyes. And although I'm still nervous (that's putting it mildly), maybe what Chloe said is true. That this is meant to be, and maybe my mom had some hand in making it happen. I just wish I could tell her about it.
Filming doesn't start until Monday, so I'm not employed yet, but crewmembers are already closing down the street, putting up signs, and moving cars.
"This is ridiculous," Nick says, handing a coffee to a customer. "You can't shut down an entire neighborhood because some Hollywood big shots want to make a movie."
"They took over an empty storefront and closed down one block," I point out. "And it's not even this one."
"Still," Nick grumbles.
"You're such a negative Nancy," Chloe says, squirting whipped cream onto a drink. "It's like if you don't have something to complain about, you'll shrivel up and float away on a breeze."
"What are you doing?" Nick grabs her arm, looking at the cup.
"Adding some sprinkles," she says with wide eyes.
"Does this look like a sprinkle smiley face to you?" Nick asks the customer, a middle-aged man in a puffer coat and a knit hat.
"It does indeed," he says.
"And how does it make you feel?" Chloe asks with a smile.
The man appears to think about it. "Pretty good," he says finally, taking his cup and walking out.
"See?" Chloe asks. "Customers like a personal touch!"
"Just serve the coffee, okay?" Nick asks as "What a Fool Believes" starts playing. "Chloe."
"What's that?" Chloe asks, suddenly very interested in the espresso machine.
"Did you mess with my playlist again?"
I stifle a smile as I watch the scene that plays out almost every day.
"Is this or is this not The Doobie Brothers?" Nick asks, crossing his arms.
Chloe turns around and throws her hands up in frustration. "Fine, it is! Do you know how upsetting your sad music is? I'm so tired of listening to Sufjan Stevens!"
"'Carrie and Lowell' is a masterpiece," Nick grumbles.
"And it makes our customers cry," Chloe says.
"She has a point," I say.
Nick points at me. "You stay out of this."
"Totally unfair that Chloe gets to play what she wants all the time, and you wouldn't even let me play what I wanted once," Tobin whines from behind the espresso machine.
Nick runs a hand over his face. "That's because I'm not going to play a five-hour loop of ambient whale sounds, Tobin."
"But it's so chill," Tobin says, handing a latte to a customer.
I smirk and turn back to my computer, but Chloe whips off her apron. "Okay, it's my break, so feel free to change it back to your Crying Alone playlist."
"No more yacht rock!" Nick shouts.
"Come on," Chloe says, grabbing my arm. "We're gonna go get a closer look at your new workplace."
"I'm in the middle of typing this sentence—" I say as Chloe pulls me out of my chair. I manage to bring my coffee along because I have a feeling I'll need caffeine to fortify me for this.
"I'm nervous to get too close," I whisper to Chloe as we walk, my breath puffing in the air.
"Why are you whispering?" she asks.
"I don't want anyone to hear me and know how nervous I am!" I hiss. But she has a point—it's ten a.m., and there aren't even that many people on the brick sidewalk. Almost everyone is at work, although there are definitely some people standing right at the edge of the caution tape, looking at what appears to be nothing more than a few guys in winter coats milling around.
Chloe sighs. "This is way more boring than I expected. I guess I thought, like, Drew Danforth would be right there, and we could shamelessly ogle him for the remainder of my break."
"The chances of him being shirtless in this weather are slim, you know."
She looks wistfully out into the street. "A girl can dream, Annie."
Staring at my future place of employment is making me feel kind of shaky, so I link my arm in hers. "Come on. Let's go make fun of Nick for the next fifteen minutes."
I spin us around and immediately collide with a wool-coat-clad chest. My coffee flies out of my hand and drenches the person in front of us.
"Whoa!" he shouts, and when I look up I topple backward.
It's Drew Danforth.
"Are you okay?" he asks, grabbing my arm and pulling me off the ground.
I wouldn't describe myself as someone who is normally at a loss for words. I mean, I write for a living and as a passion. I have no problem making small talk with strangers, and I can handle myself at parties. But right now, the only words running through my mind on a loop are Holy shit.
I blink a few times, staring straight into Drew Danforth's face. It's like when you're a kid and there's a solar eclipse, and all the teachers are like, "Don't look directly into the sun! You'll destroy your retinas!" but there's always that one kid (Johnny Berger, in our class) who can't stop staring.
In this situation, I'm Johnny Berger. And I guess Drew Danforth is the sun.
"Are you okay?" he asks again, enunciating his words even more as if me understanding him is the problem. His brown eyes, I notice, are flecked with tiny bits of gold, which is something you can't see when you watch him on TV. His hair is just as voluminous as it seems in pictures, but in person, I have the almost overwhelming urge to touch it, to reach out and pull on that one lock of hair that hangs over his forehead.
"She's not responding." He turns to Chloe. "Is something wrong?"
"She's French," Chloe says without missing a beat. "She only speaks French."
"I'm not French," I say, breaking my silence. Chloe and Drew's heads swivel to look at me.
"I'm sorry about your coat," I whisper, then I run toward Nick's.
Chloe bursts in the door behind me, the bell jingling in her wake. "I'm not French?" she screeches. "Those are the first words you spoke to Drew Danforth? Really?"
"Well then, why did you tell him I was French?" I shout, ignoring the curious stares of everyone working on their laptops and the calming melody of whatever Nick put on to replace the Doobies.
"I don't know!" She throws her hands in the air. "You weren't talking, so I thought I'd give you an interesting backstory!"
I put my hands over my face. "This is ridiculous."
"No," Chloe says, grabbing me by the shoulders. "This is your meet-cute, and now you need to go back out there and find him and say something that isn't a negation of your Frenchness or an apology for destroying his probably very expensive coat."
Nick stares at us from behind the counter, a dishtowel in his hand.
"A meet-cute," Chloe stands up straight, shoulders back, as if she's delivering a Romantic Comedy 101 lecture to Nick and his patrons, "is the quirky, adorable, cute way the hero and heroine of a romantic comedy meet."
Everyone stares at her blankly.
"Or hero and hero. Or heroine and heroine. Not to be heteronormative," she clarifies.
"Like how me and Martha met at her wedding," Gary says.
Chloe thinks about it. "I don't know that I would necessarily call that one a meet-cute, but sure, Gary."
"Did you just make that up?" Nick asks, arms crossed.
I shake my head. "No. It's a thing."
"Watch a romantic comedy, dude," Tobin says.
Nick rolls his eyes.
"Anyway," Chloe continues, "Annie straight up ran into Drew Danforth and spilled a cup of coffee all over his coat, which is, like, the cutest of meets."
"That doesn't sound very cute," Nick says skeptically, rubbing the scruff on his chin. "Was it still hot?"
"Scalding," I say, sinking into my chair and resting my head on the table.
"Sounds like a meet painful," says Gary, and a few people laugh.
"Thanks," I mutter. "I'm so glad you all find my embarrassment entertaining."
"Annie!" Chloe sits down across from me as a customer walks in and the rest of the shop stops paying attention to us. "This isn't embarrassing. This is merely a story I'll tell in my toast at your wedding to Drew."
I lift my head to look at her. "I hate to break this to you, but I don't think he's my Tom Hanks. I think he's just a famous guy with a possible third-degree burn on his chest. And now my first day on set is going to be super awkward because I accidentally assaulted the lead actor with a beverage."
Chloe's about to say something, but then a song starts and she closes her mouth, looking up toward the speakers. "I swear to God, I told Nick not to play any more Bon Iver. It makes people look up their exes on Instagram, not buy coffee. I'm gonna go put on some Hall and Oates."
As she walks away, I rest my head on the table again. As if it wasn't embarrassing enough to have my uncle get me a job on set, now I have to deal with this.
But maybe the most embarrassing thing—more embarrassing than having an uncle who pulled strings to get me a job and more embarrassing than spilling coffee on a famous person—is how I felt when I looked into Drew Danforth's eyes. Frozen. Tongue-tied. Starstruck. Like the world slowed down and all of a sudden it was just the two of us there on that sidewalk, like nothing and no one else mattered.
Snap out of it, Annie, I think. He's a movie star . . . a dude who gets paid to make millions of women feel like that all the time. Just because he's very good at his job, at making you think he's the (extremely hot) guy next door and he would totally love you if only he knew you, doesn't mean that he's your Tom Hanks. I mean, I've also thought on numerous occasions that Drake and I would be great friends if we hung out because we like the same things (cozy sweaters, hometown pride, Rihanna), but that doesn't mean I actually think we're going to become BFFs. Also, Drew is known for pranks, and while some people may find that kind of stuff funny, I definitely don't.
Drew Danforth isn't a sad widower or a seemingly callous chain bookstore owner, I remind myself. He's a literal movie star, and Tom Hanks didn't play a movie star in any of his rom-coms. That would be more like Notting Hill, and honestly, Julia Roberts was kind of a jerk in Notting Hill. A beautiful jerk, but still a jerk.
Maybe Drew will forget all about me by the time we start filming. He probably meets a lot of people every day, and although most of them don't spill coffee on him, I'm not under the assumption that I'm all that memorable. Maybe frizzy-haired, klutzy women who barely speak are normal for him. Maybe this sort of thing happens all the time.