Good-Bye to All That by Margo Candela
By SMW Staff
Raquel Azorian has worked her way from temp to executive assistant and is this close to a promotion to junior marketing exec at Belmore Corporation, the media behemoth she’s devoted herself to. She’s learned to play the Hollywood game—navigate office politics, schmooze the right people, avoid the wrong ones, and maintain a sense of decorum even in the craziest of times. All she needs is for her boss to sign her promotion memo. Instead of putting pen to paper, he suffers a very public meltdown that puts not only his professional future but also Raquel’s on the line.
Getting to the next rung on the Belmore ladder will require every ounce of focus, but that’s not going to be easy. Raquel’s mom has decided to leave her husband and move into Raquel’s apartment, and her older brother seems to be sinking deeper and deeper into depression. Raquel has to keep her job, stop her parents from divorcing, and save her brother. In the chaos of juggling so much, she finally reaches a breaking point: there’s just not enough time for everything or for everyone. She’s going to have to choose—success at work or happiness at home. But then a chance encounter at a bookstore café leads Raquel to start planning her own Hollywood ending . . . on her own terms.
CHAPTER ONE / TRUE LIES
Forces of Nature
It’s true Los Angeles doesn’t have real weather. It’s usually sunny, mild, and picture-postcard perfect the closer you get to the beach, where the air quality is better and the real estate more expensive. It can get a tad chilly in the winter and occasionally it even rains in the spring, but you can get away without ever having to buy a winter coat much less rain boots. Warm coats and rubber boots are more for the sake of fashion than for the sake of necessity. But generally, outside of a Hollywood soundstage, you won’t find rainstorms, lightning, and especially snow.
Well into my teens I assumed trees only changed color and lost their leaves in movies, seasonal TV specials, and in the promotional calendars the local auto body shop sent every third week of December. In L.A. palm trees are always tall, skinny, and green and only sway with any sort of drama when Santa Ana winds decide to blow in.
My defining experience with real weather occurred during a weekend trip to Tempe, Arizona. I was in the tenth grade and attending a cheerleading competition. The twelve of us and our coach arrived a day early, checked into a local motel, and spent most of the night cowering in bathtubs as a lightning storm raged outside. What I saw, between running from room to room, was awesome. The storm was a true force of nature—unpredictable, dangerous, and beautiful. I was as scared witless as the rest of my teammates, yet drawn to the windows at the same time.
I get the same sort of thrill standing off to the side of the paparazzi pen as they strain against the metal barriers that separate them from their willing prey. Bursts of light from their cameras illuminate the curvy, but still very thin, blonde as she takes her first tentative steps onto the red carpet. It’s almost as if they can smell it—fresh meat. Nicolette Meyers is the perfect blonde, hazel-eyed, twenty-three-year-old girl next door who happens to have a pair of tastefully done C cups.
Nicolette has a minor but crucial part in the movie that’s premiering tonight, Risk Management III. She delivers a pool-side drink to Redford Henson, megastar of Risk Management I and II. About twenty-two minutes into the movie she appears and in her bikini top is the pinkie-size supertechno doohickey Redford needs to carry the plot into the second act. When Redford plucks the device from in between her cleavage, her top comes off and Nicolette then joins the chosen few as a Boob Girl. It’s nothing more than a gratuitous skin shot, but it’s become a hallmark of the Risk Management franchise.
As Nicolette reaches her mark, a piece of duct tape centered on the carpet so cameras will catch the movie poster in the background, she shrugs off her trench coat. The paparazzi roar to life, and all it takes is a little thigh and shoulder. If I could bottle up their barely contained intensity, it could run my air conditioner for an entire weekend.
What’s her name?” one of them yells. “Is she a Boob Girl?”
“Nicolette Meyers! M-E-Y-E-R-S,” I yell back when I notice the Belmore Corporation public relations bunny is too busy fawning over some B-list movie actor to do her job. “It’s Nicolette Meyers!”
“Nicolette! Nicolette!” the paparazzi yell, as if they have her name on a loop. “Nicolette! Nicolette!”
That they had no idea who she was until a few seconds before is no matter. Nicolette’s name is going to be on everyone’s lips and her boobs on everyone’s mind tomorrow morning. But she’s going to have to do more than pose demurely in her borrowed designer frock. The paparazzi won’t turn away from a budding starlet, but they’re not going waste time giving her posing lessons either.
I edge myself toward the metal barrier that separates the mere humans from the stars and other very important people who know they’re somebodies even if your average Us Weekly reader doesn’t. This group includes my boss, Bert Floss, who has just stepped out of his limo and onto the carpet with his new trophy wife on his arm.
Bert is the vice president of Marketing for the Belmore Corporation, the company behind Risk Management. Of anyone here, he’ll be the one to notice Nicolette isn’t causing the splash the marketing report assured him she would. And it’s my job, as his trustworthy, hardworking, and indispensable assistant who wants to be promoted out of her current job to junior exec, to make sure the marketing research is proven right. After all, I’m the one who wrote the memo that said Nicolette Meyers would be a big deal.
I push forward, shoving bodies out of my way, not bothering to apologize to the guy I just rammed my elbow into. The paparazzi are used to it—they have the manners of a pack of hyenas. But they have their uses, and I’ve been to enough premieres to know how to give them what they want so that Belmore can get what it wants.
I fumble underneath my jacket to pull out my employee ID and all-access event pass. I’m wearing both around my neck on a lanyard, but I’d tucked them away, hoping to go incognito. My task is to catalog reactions to every aspect of the night’s event. From the color of the red carpet to the popularity of the mini–truffle burger that will be served at the after party. Once I get enough information, I’ll write up a memo and have it on Bert’s desk well before he shows up for work at 8:30 tomorrow morning.
“I need to get through.” I wave my credentials at the security guard. I’m not anything near short, standing five eight in flats and five ten in my usual two-inch heels, but this guy towers a good foot over the top of my head.
“No one gets on the carpet that doesn’t pull up in a limo,” the security guard says over the noise of the crowd.
He’s not even close to being impressed by a no-name starlet who’s crashing and burning a few feet away from us. He’s especially not impressed by some equally no-name twentyfive-year-old in a rumpled corporate lady suit. My go-to little black dress is in the trunk of my car with the rest of the stuff I meant to drop off at the dry cleaner’s days ago. That I didn’t get the chance to slip into it is no great loss. There’s really nothing sexy about a three-quarter-length-sleeve dress with a slight cowl neck. Really, I could wear it to the Vatican for tea with the Pope and still be kosher. It’s the kind of dress that gets the job done without getting in the way of me doing my job.
I’ve learned to downplay my looks, which got me on the homecoming court in high school and referred to as pretty often enough so I feel fairly confident that I am. I have a heart-shaped face with good cheekbones, big brown eyes under strong brows, and shiny brown hair, but now I control how I look instead of letting my looks control how other people see me.
For a long time, most of my life really, I’d been happy to be a pretty face in a sea of the same, confident that my looks would get me somewhere in life until I realized that would be somewhere I didn’t want to go. A pretty face with no motivation equals a restaurant hostess and not much else in this town
My goal in getting dressed every morning is to find a balance that will allow me to succeed at Belmore and not have to wear thick-framed glasses and go without Frizz-Ease to prove I have working gray matter in my head. But seeing myself through the security guard’s eyes, I know I’ve stopped swimming in a sea of pretty and settled firmly in the land of frumpy. In the scheme of things, it’s a sacrifice that’s worth it if it gets me where I want to go.
The last thing I want is someone thinking I’m too attractive to be good at my job. I dress unobtrusively with simple hair and makeup to match because I want to be taken seriously. I don’t want to stay Bert’s assistant forever, and I can’t let something as distracting as cleavage get in the way of my career advancement. Once I make it into my own office, I’ll upgrade from my staid suits and two-inch nun pumps to something with a bit more personality. I might even show some collarbone again.
Case in point, Nicolette Meyers’s looks (and boobs) have gotten her where she is, but she’s going to need my brain (and chutzpah) to get her any attention.
“Please! I’m on the list. Please check it,” I beg the security guard. “I’m supposed to escort her inside the theater.”
I look toward Nicolette, who can sense by the diminishing pops of light that she’s losing the interest of the paparazzi. The wattage on her smile dims with each millisecond that her picture isn’t taken. A handler, her agent, manager, or even an overinvested parent would tell her to do something, any-thing—even something cheesy, like blowing a kiss—to keep the paparazzi snapping.
I’m able to see my stressed-out face in the security guard’s sunglasses. He’s wearing them because they’re a movie tie-in. Ray-Ban has issued a specially designed pair called, fittingly enough, the Redford. While Redford Henson doesn’t wear this particular design in the movie, he’s been sporting a pair for the last few weeks. They’re completely sold out, and Ray-Ban is rushing to get another shipment to stores. The sunglasses were my idea, something I mentioned to Bert after visiting the Risk Management III set last year. Redford was wearing sunglasses to hide his bloodshot eyes—he was going through a nasty divorce and custody battle at the time—but what I saw was a marketing opportunity. Bert took the credit for my idea, which I presented to him in a memo, but it still earns me points in my promotion account. An account I want to settle in the very near future.
The security guard compares the photo on my Belmore Corp. ID to the face on my, well, face. Satisfied I’m not pretending to be Raquel Azorian because that’s who in fact I am, he then scans my all-access pass with the electronic reader attached to his belt. The light flashes green, proving it’s legit. He then checks the master list, which is printed on, of all things, old-fashioned paper. This list has all the names of who is and who is not allowed past the metal barriers. Mine isn’t on it.
As this is happening, I’m forced to wait. The worst thing I could do is throw attitude his way. He can keep me here all night if he wants to. He has this power because his orders are to keep anyone off the carpet who doesn’t belong there.
“Is this chick going to do something besides stand there?” a raspy-voiced paparazzo asks.
“Where are the Ward twins?” another yells, lowering his camera. “Move it, honey. Get outta the way!”
Nicolette has sense enough not to relinquish the prime spot of real estate even though she’s being motioned to move along. She’s had her moment in the false sun of media celebrity, and now it’s time for someone more important to take a turn.
“Don’t move,” I scream. My voice cracks with anxiety, but she hears me. Nicolette scans the crowd. A picture-perfect smile is still on her face, but desperation is creeping into her mostly vacant eyes. She knows she’s drowning but is trying to look good while it happens. Bless her. “Stay right there!”
Finally the security guard motions for another to help him move the metal gate. My feet in their sensible pumps go from standing on anonymous concrete to sinking into plush red carpet. Ignoring everyone and everything, I sidle up to Nicolette and hiss in her ear. “Turn around, stick your ass out, and look over your shoulder. Now.”
She does it, and the paparazzi go nuts. I step back, melting into the crowd again so I can enjoy the storm from a safe distance.
Nuts, Bolts, and One Shiny Cog . . .
Less than eight hours later I’m sitting in the marketing department conference room on the seventeenth floor of the Frank Gehry–designed Belmore Corporation Tower. I spend more time here than I do in my apartment, located just a few miles away. In fact, I still have boxes of clothes sitting in my living room that I’ve given up on ever opening two years after moving in. I’ve been meaning to call Out of the Closet and have them picked up, but it’s one of the many things not related to my job that I haven’t gotten around to taking care of. I’m not entirely sure what’s in there, but I hope my forsaken clothes might be of some use to someone who doesn’t mind secondhand Gap jeans and never worn Belmore promotional T-shirts.
“This could be a major cock-up, ladies and gents.” Bert Floss says this with a proper amount of gravitas, which comes with the thirty years of marketing experience under his strained leather belt.
“A major cock-up,” he repeats with an especially hard k on the cock. “The shitstorm is coming, folks, and my umbrella is only big enough for me.”
That’s a new one, I think as I jot it down. I have a notebook where I keep a running list of Bert’s business-related aphorisms. Very few things Bert says can be embroidered on pillows, but he rarely fails to amuse and educate at the same time.
“Can anyone see what I’m seeing?” Bert asks, more for his own benefit than for that of anyone else. He doesn’t expect anyone to answer his question, but he does expect a solution.
Bert uses his ever-present laser pointer to direct attention away from BlackBerrys in laps to the PowerPoint slide on the screen behind him. On it is the image from the DVD cover sleeve for the season three compilation of the Twin Tales television series.
Stars Cat and Cara Ward, Belmore cash cows, look a tad on the bovine side. Their side ponytails, cropped jeans, and white T-shirts under denim vests only serve to accentuate the baby fat that pads their middles and fills out their cheeks. The photo was taken when the girls had a brief awkward period that shortened season three from the usual twenty-four episodes to twenty. By the time season four started taping, they’d morphed into the lithe, hollow-cheeked fashionistas we’ve all convinced ourselves they’ve always been. But right in front of our noses is the very obvious proof that they look chubby, and the Ward twins cannot be chubby.
To come out and say that the twins look fat is not only wrong but monumentally stupid. Even Bert is smart enough to keeping from calling the elephant in the room an elephant. Anything he says will get back to the twins. And even though Bert is the vice president of marketing and sits three chairs away from the president of Belmore, Cat and Cara are Hollywood royalty. While he wouldn’t lose his head, he wouldn’t be sitting at the head table of any corporate function for a very long time. It’s scary to think two nineteen-year-old high school dropouts have that kind of power, but they do. In this town, celebrity outranks just about everything except bigger celebrity.
“Tell me I’m not the only one who sees what the issue is here,” Bert prods. It’s a rhetorical question only a fool would answer, and that fool’s name is Cris Fuller.
“With all due respect, I don’t think there’s an issue,” he says.
Fuller is the senior exec in charge of marketing the Twin Tales DVDs, and he’s number two in the department. He clears his throat and waits for Bert to acknowledge what he’s said. But Bert ignores him until Fuller raises his hand and follows proper protocol.
“Fuller,” he barks, giving him permission to speak.
“Mr. Floss. As I said, I don’t—”
“Fuller”—Bert cuts him off without looking at him— “you’re in charge of this fuckup, so anything you say should bring us closer to rectifying this mess. Speak, Fuller. What solution do you have to offer us?”
For a moment naked emotion—hate and contempt mixed in with a dash of fear—plays out on Fuller’s pinched face. Botox keeps his brow from furrowing, and his tanned face absorbs the light, but it’s there before it disappears just as quickly. As much as Cris Fuller despises Bert, he knows who the boss is.
“The cover image can be Photoshopped,” he says through his capped and gritted teeth. “I’ve gone ahead and had a preliminary mock-up done for you to look at.”
Fuller hands me a folder, which I hand to Bert. Inside is the tweaked image that takes the twins from chubby and normal to acceptable Hollywood standards for puberty. They’re still in their Wal-Mart shopper–friendly outfits, but they look at least ten pounds thinner and a little taller, too. It’s Fuller’s solution, but he had nothing to do with solving the problem.
This morning, desperate to make polite chitchat when we’d ended up riding the same elevator, I mentioned how refreshing it was to see that the Ward twins had at one time looked like relatable, average human beings.
“What exactly do you mean by that?” Cris Fuller always assumes everyone is out to screw him, because screwing people over is second nature to him.
“You know,” I said, regretting every word I’d uttered starting with “good morning,” “they look like regular twelve-year-olds.”
“I can call in a favor, Mr. Fuller,” I said quickly, hoping to stave off a freak-out. “There’s someone I know in Art, and they work fast.”
“Fine. Do it. Get it done.” He didn’t have to add that I was not to tell anyone.
I’d given Fuller the retouched image right before the meeting, having sprinted up the six floors from Art to make it in time. My good deed would be neither appreciated nor acknowledged by Fuller, but now he owes me. This alone was worth more than a thousand empty thank-yous.
Bert flips open the folder, glances at the image, scribbles his name on the proof, hands it back to me to hand back to Fuller. It’s the Belmore chain of command in action. Even though Cris Fuller makes four times the amount I see on my paycheck every two weeks, he still has to go through me to get to Bert.
Fuller makes to rise from his seat.
“And the audio commentary?” Bert’s not through with eviscerating his wannabe successor.
There is no audio commentary because the Ward twins have grown into statuesque, platinum-haired business moguls who want to pretend they’ve never been the painfully normal, pudgy preteens of season three. As far as they’re concerned, season three and age twelve never happened.
“It’s been pushed back due to scheduling conflicts.” Fuller shifts around in his seat. His designer suit, spray tan, and Botox can’t hide his discomfort at being called onto the industrial-grade carpet. “They’ve been out of the country and—”
“We can’t put out a fucking television show compilation without audio commentary, Fuller.” A bulldog in temperament and looks, Bert chews on Cris Fuller like he’s a mere chicken bone, splintering him into little bits until he’s nothing but gummy marrow. “Or are you planning on getting voice-over actors to do it for them?”
It’s actually not a bad idea, and Fuller, if he’d been paying attention to his own job instead of politicking for Bert’s, could have come up with it himself. Bert knows Fuller is chafing at being the number two in the department. This is why he’s called a meeting—to remind all of us Cris is just Fuller and Bert is Mr. Floss.
“Of course not, Mr. Floss,” Fuller mumbles, embarrassed at being publicly put in his place.
“What was that?” Bert snarls.
Fuller flushes again. It turns his skin a terra-cotta color, but he wisely keeps his mouth shut. No one says a word in his defense because we’re too busy enjoying Bert doing a little jig all over his ass. There is nothing he can say to make Bert happy because Cris Fuller hasn’t done a lick of work on the project. He left it up to the junior execs, who focused on other projects they judged to be more beneficial to their own upward trajectory at Belmore.
Cris Fuller’s crash and burn is an opening for me to show I can do more than just hand folders to Bert. I’m an amateur at company politics, a blood sport at Belmore, and I might get in way over my head, but he’s given me the perfect opportunity to shine. I would be a fool not to take it. The rest of the marketing department may not know it or even care, but I, too, want to step up another rung of the Belmore Corp. ladder.
I take a deep breath and raise my hand. I am calm and in control. Showing any hint of fear or doubt now would be a big mistake, bigger than drawing attention away from Cris Fuller. If I embarrass myself, I’m embarrassing my boss, and that would be unforgivable. “Mr. Floss?”
“Yeah,” Bert says. It takes him a moment to register that it’s me, his usually silent assistant, who’s been brave (or dumb) enough to say something. “Raquel?”
He’s not used to me speaking up in meetings, where my function is to be there merely for his convenience. If there’s a message I have to convey, I put one finger on his forearm and then whisper it near his ear. If Bert asks me a question, I answer with what he wants to hear. I save my opinions and insights for when we’re sitting in his office. He stares out the window, sips his coffee, and I, as casually as possible, tell him what’s on my mind about a certain project or present him my ideas.
As Bert’s longest lasting assistant, having been on the job for three years, I’ve learned how to finesse him without making him feel like he’s being worked over. This skill is both a curse and a blessing. Bert likes me, and it’s good for my boss to like me, but it also means that he wants to keep me close. Wives and girlfriends have proven unreliable, but I’m like Helen Mirren’s character, Mrs. Wilson, in Gosford Park. Just like Mrs. Wilson, I know what Bert wants before he does, and I make sure that what he wants done happens as unobtrusively as possible. And, like the perfect 1930s English servant seeing to the comfort and needs of a manor house full of high-maintenance guests, I have no life outside the life I’ve made for myself inside Belmore.
By speaking up, I’m forcing Bert’s hand. If he promotes me, I will move on and become another person he needs to keep an eye on. We both know it’s going to happen. Otherwise why would he spend so much time teaching me everything he knows about marketing?
“I have good rapport with Cat and Cara,” I say.
“You do?” I’m not sure if Bert is annoyed or amused by me asserting myself outside the confines of his office. He’s definitely surprised, which I hope works in my favor.
“I do.” I keep my answer simple so I don’t trip myself up by relinquishing too much information.
In Hollywood who you know and who knows you is invaluable currency. I’ve shown my boss that I am worth more than just my assistant-level salary and that Cris Fuller has been a fool to undervalue my not so obvious worth.
The truth is the Ward twins wouldn’t know me if they ran me down with their Range Rover. This doesn’t matter, because I know their agent, Frappa Ivanhoe. We met a year ago, during the promotion push for Twin Tales: Freshman Year. To keep me from burning out from the job I’d mastered and already outgrown, Bert gave me the task of showing up at the Ward twins’ shared Hollywood Hills mansion to rouse them from bed and make sure they were almost on time for interviews and photo calls. Frappa and I bonded over the long hours of standing in the background, holding out our palms to accept their chewed-up sugarless bubble gum. Much to my surprise, Frappa has become a real friend—a rare thing in the smoke-and-mirrors world of Hollywood, especially since Frappa is the one blowing the smoke and angling the mirror.
“If Mr. Fuller would like, I’d be happy to facilitate scheduling a day and time for them to come into the studio.” I dip my head in his direction to signal supplication, however false it might be. “Cat and Cara are available—”
“Mr. Floss, the girls are out of town,” Fuller protests. He’s trying to gain the upper hand, but instead he’s just proving that he’s dropped the ball. “They’re unreachable.”
Bert cuts him off with a wave. “I don’t know about you, Fuller, but I’d like to find out how my assistant has figured out how to do your job. Go on, Raquel.”
“The twins came back from Europe a week ago; they’re in New York until Friday and then are checking into the Chateau Marmont because they’re in a dispute with their building contractor,” I say quickly. This is information Fuller could have discovered himself by reading Hollywood gossip blogs or, in my case, being good friends with their agent. “I’d be happy to work with their representation and make sure they’re able to commit to studio time as soon as possible.”
“Could you do that, Raquel?” Amusement at Fuller’s expense is evident in Bert’s voice.
“Yes.” I look straight at Bert as I answer. “I can do that.”
In the end, Bert’s is the only opinion that matters. He is the vice president of this department, and only he can promote me to junior marketing executive. Not Cris Fuller. Right now, I’d bet a month’s salary that Fuller wouldn’t spit on me if I was on fire.
“Good.” Bert rolls the word off his tongue like it’s a piece of sticky taffy. “Make it happen, Raquel.”
“Of course, Mr. Floss.”
I pretend to write a note to myself so I can hide the smile that overtakes my face. Looking down also helps me avoid Cris Fuller’s death stare.
Copyright © 2010 by Margo Candela. Published in July 2010 by Touchtone. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margo Candela was born and raised in Northeast Los Angeles. She moved to San Francisco to attend college and ended up staying for a decade before moving back home in 2005. Her first three novels, More Than This (Touchstone, Aug. 2008), Life Over Easy (Kensington, Oct. 2007) and Underneath It All (Kensington, Jan. 2007) are set in San Francisco. More Than This was a Target stores Breakout Book and an American Association of Publishers national book club selection at Borders Books with Las Comadres. Her next novel, Goodbye To All That, will be published in 2010 by Touchstone and is her first novel set in her native Los Angeles.
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