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Something to Talk About

by Meryl Wilsner

Paperback, 321 pages, Berkley, List Price: $16 |

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Something to Talk About
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Meryl Wilsner

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NPR Summary

When her career is threatened by a red-carpet photo that appears to have romantic undertones, a Hollywood showrunner and her female assistant are targeted by paparazzi before realizing their actual feelings for each other.

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Excerpt: Something To Talk About

1

Emma

Jo Jones in the running for Silver gig, the headline on the screen said. Right beneath that, in italics, it read, But should she be?

Emma huffed as she scrolled through the article for the fifth time. She didn&;t normally spend her mornings reading gossip columns about her boss, but earlier that week, Jo had had a meeting with the studio producing the next Agent Silver movie. As her assistant, Emma knew which appointments were on Jo&;s schedule but not what happened within them. She wanted to know how the meeting had gone.

The article didn&;t clear that up for her. Jo was on the short list, at least, but was apparently a terrible choice. No experience writing a movie, certainly not an action flick. It was like they forgot she was the showrunner of TV&;s top drama five years running. Sure, Innocents didn&;t have explosions or fight scenes&;­except that one time in season 2&;­but it was good. It was quality television. Jo had the Emmys to prove it.

Not good enough for this columnist, though. He didn&;t come out and say it was because Jo was a Chinese American woman. Instead the article was filled with worries about too soft a touch and a concern she would somehow miss the truly American essence of Silver. Emma rolled her eyes. Jo was born and freaking raised here.

Emma wasn&;t going to tell Jo about the column. While it might be good for Jo to know what people were saying about her, it would also be an unnecessary distraction that did nothing but hurt her feelings. Emma wouldn&;t bother her with it. Jo had more important things to do with her time anyway.

The click-­clack of Jo&;s heels came from the hallway, and Emma quickly closed the browser tab. She stood, tucking her long hair behind her ears. By the time Jo rounded the corner, Emma was ready with her coffee and a smile.

&;Thanks,&; Jo said, taking the latte without breaking stride. That didn&;t bode well for the day. Neither did her ponytail, high and tight enough to look severe. &;Clear the afternoon for the both of us.&;

Emma stopped analyzing Jo&;s hairstyle choices and grabbed her tablet off her desk. &;Sure, boss,&; she said, pulling up Jo&;s schedule as she followed her into her office. Most of the afternoon was blocked off for writing. All Emma had to cancel was a check-­in with an assistant producer. &;What do we got?&;

&;Dress fitting.&;

Emma stopped in front of Jo&;s desk and looked up at her. She tilted her head, confused. &;You need me at a dress fitting?&;

&;Given that it&;s your dress fitting&;&;­Jo took a sip of her coffee&;­&;that would be ideal.&;

She set her purse on her glass-­top desk, her long black ponytail swinging as she leaned over to take her laptop out of the bag.

&;Excuse me?&;

&;You&;re coming to the SAG Awards with me on Sunday,&; Jo said. She sat behind her desk. &;You&;ll need a dress.&;

Working for Jo, Emma was used to expecting the unexpected. In her nine months as Jo&;s assistant, she&;d dealt with paparazzi and hate mail, overnight shoots and fans who&;d loved Jo since she first appeared on their TV screens almost three decades ago at thirteen years old. Emma went to events with Jo, too, but those events were usually studio parties or advance screenings. They were things Jo needed her at for work-­related purposes. They weren&;t the SAG Awards.

&;I&;m coming to the SAG Awards with you?&; Emma&;s voice was higher pitched than she&;d like it to be.

Jo arched an eyebrow at her. &;Is that not what I said?&;

Emma nodded once. &;Um. Why?&;

&;I don&;t want to talk about that damn movie,&; Jo said, fluttering her hand like it wasn&;t all that important.

So much for keeping Jo&;s focus off the Agent Silver rumors.

Maybe Emma shouldn&;t push it, but Jo always told her to ask questions if she didn&;t understand something. &;And I&;m helping with that how?&;

&;You can cut in if anyone tries to talk about it,&; Jo said. &;You&;ll be a buffer.&;

Right. That seemed reasonable. Emma had been a buffer for Jo on multiple occasions, though never at an awards show with a red carpet and a bunch of famous people. But if that was what it took to be good at her job, she&;d do it.

Emma had liked her three years as a production assistant in the props department.

Being Jo&;s assistant was better.

Sure, there was getting coffee and picking up dry cleaning, but there was also scheduling meetings with TV&;s top players and mitigating problems, smoothing over ego issues. Emma helped Jo assemble production teams, had to know everyone&;s personality to figure out who&;d work well together. She had her hand in every pot. The only thing she wasn&;t involved in was the script writing, which was fine with her.

Emma liked knowing how the whole thing worked. She knew every part of the machinery of the show. Five years ago she had basically flunked out of film school, and look where she was now.

Getting asked to accompany her boss to the SAG Awards.

Maybe this was the next step in her career. An opportunity to network, to make connections that would help her when she eventually moved on from this job. She&;d rather watch the SAGs in her pajamas on her sister&;s couch, but she could go with Jo. It would be fine.

&;Okay. I&;m coming to the SAG Awards with you.&;

Jo looked up at her, intent. &;You&;re not going to fangirl out over some actor and embarrass me, are you?&;

&;No, Ms. Jones,&; Emma said immediately. &;Of course not.&;

&;Even if you see Lucy Liu?&;

The eyebrow pop accompanying the comment told Emma that Jo was teasing. Normally, Emma might joke back, but her mind wasn&;t working quickly enough this morning.

&;Even then.&;

&;Good,&; Jo said. &;We&;re leaving for the fitting at one.&;

She opened her laptop. It was a dismissal, and Emma knew it was, but it took her a moment to leave Jo&;s office anyway.

So. Emma was going to the SAG Awards. With Jo. In two days. Okay. That was normal.

She wrote an email to the assistant producer about the canceled meeting, but her mind stayed mostly on the awards, the dress fitting. She shot a text to her sister to invite her over that night. She had a feeling she&;d need to talk.

Then she put her phone away and got to work.

Jo led her purposefully through the store. It was an appointment-­only boutique. When Emma had used Jo&;s name on the phone that morning, the shop&;s completely booked afternoon had suddenly opened up. Emma kept her eyes straight ahead as they walked, didn&;t want to look as obviously out of place as she felt. Some of the clothes must cost more than two months&; rent.

She followed Jo to a staging area of sorts in the back of the store. There were three mirrors with a small platform in front of them. A couch sat off to the side, and dresses were displayed on hangers hooked at various heights on the opposite wall. In front of them stood a tall Black woman, her box braids in a bun on top of her head. She grinned as the other two approached.

&;Jo Jones, as I live and breathe,&; the woman said, stooping considerably to drop kisses on Jo&;s cheeks.

&;Victoria,&; Jo said with a smile. &;How have you been? How was the wedding?&;

&;Beautiful,&; Victoria said. &;Everything was perfect, even the gift that was too expensive from someone who has never met my son.&;

Jo dipped her head slightly in acknowledgment.

&;Enough talk, though,&; Victoria said. &;I know you&;ve got your mind on the clothes.&;

Jo didn&;t disagree. &;This is Emma,&; she said.

Victoria shook Emma&;s hand, looking her up and down. &;Jo said you were a tall brunette, but, girl, you are so much more.&;

&;Thanks?&; Emma said. It came out like a question.

&;Can I get you a drink?&; Victoria asked. &;Champagne? Wine? Water?&;

Emma had never been to a clothing store that offered you a drink. She declined. Jo raised the stainless steel tumbler she carried everywhere&;­Emma knew from refilling it that it was generally either coffee or water.

&;Okay then, let&;s get to the dresses,&; Victoria said. &;I have some already picked out, but we don&;t have to stick with them if you want something different.&;

They all turned to look at the gowns hanging on the wall. Emma swallowed. They were fancier than anything she&;d ever worn. There was a black gown that was skimpy on top but princess-­poufy on the bottom, a mermaid-­style dress as bright red as Jo&;s lipstick, an empire-­waisted strapless gown the color of café au lait, and a white dress with flowing fabric and huge, multi­colored flowers painted along one side.

Jo made a noise of displeasure.

&;I specifically said no&;­&; She stopped. &;V, the black dress is not the style I requested.&;

&;Have a little fun, Jo. Let the girl decide for herself.&; Victoria turned to Emma. &;You like this one, sweetie?&;

Emma glanced at Jo, then looked back at the dress. &;They&;re all beautiful.&;

&;C&;mon, try it on first.&; Victoria ushered Emma over toward the dressing room and hung the hanger of the black dress on a metal hook. &;You&;re gonna look great. Call for me if you need any help getting into it.&;

Victoria closed the door behind her.

Emma breathed. She twisted her hair into a quick bun and used the hair tie on her wrist to secure it.

Okay. So. Dress number one. She first put it on without taking her bra off, but that wasn&;t going to work. The bra came off. The dress was way more low cut than she was comfortable with. She looked good, sure, but she was basically dressing for a work event, and this was in no way appropriate.

She reached for the zipper to change back into her regular clothes without even showing Jo and Victoria, but there was a knock on the door before she could.

&;Need help, honey?&; Victoria asked.

&;No,&; Emma said. &;No, I&;m&;­good.&;

She couldn&;t get away with not showing them, she guessed. She had to squeeze the bottom of the princess-­style gown to fit through the dressing room door. Victoria oohed with obvious delight and directed Emma over to the mirrors. Jo, seated on the sofa, looked up from her phone and immediately looked back down. Emma wanted to put a hand over her chest. She felt way too exposed.

&;What do you think?&; Victoria asked.

Emma looked at herself in the three mirrors Victoria had put her in front of.

&;It&;s, um, a little low cut for me?&; Emma swallowed. &;Not that there&;s anything wrong with low-­cut dresses. They&;re not bad or anything. It&;s just not my style, you know? I&;m just&;­I&;m not&;­&;

Victoria laughed. &;Fine, Jo, you were right. Higher necklines only.&;

Emma looked at Jo in the mirror. Still looking at her phone, she raised one hand in acknowledgment. &;I&;m always right, V.&;

Victoria rolled her eyes at Emma, still chuckling. &;Okay, let&;s get you into the next one,&; she said, thrusting the red dress at her. &;And I just thought of another one you might like&;I&;ll be right back.&;