Helga could hear her phone ringing before she even got to her door. She scrambled with the keys, wondering if she’d get in the door in time to answer it. Maybe he’d changed his mind. Maybe it was all a misunderstanding.
The lock clicked, she pushed the door open with her shoulder, dropped her groceries on the floor, grabbed the phone mid-ring and kicked the door shut with her foot.
“Hello,” she panted as she watched an apple roll across the floor out of her grocery bag. Who knew that answering a phone would be such a workout?
There was a short pause and for a moment Helga wondered if she was too late and they’d hung up. She held her breath, her heart in her throat and waited.
“May I speak to Helga Hansen please,” a gravelly voice echoed down the crackling line. It sounded like the man was in a barrel.
It wasn’t him. She couldn’t decide if she was disappointed or not.
“Speaking,” she said into the phone, pushing Myles from her thoughts.
“Ah, Helga, I’m glad I got a hold of you. This is Brian Hargrave.”
“Mr.…” Oh my God! “…Hargrave. Oh, um, it’s a pleasure, sir. How may I help you?” Excitement bubbled up from her toes, making her light-headed. She leaned against the wall to stop herself from falling over from the mixture of elation, excitement and nerves zinging through every nerve-ending in her body.
Brain Hargrave was the top move producer in Hollywood. Not even Spielberg could touch him. Helga had met Mr. Hargrave several times but he had never, ever, called her before. She took a deep breath and tried to – silently – clear the lump of nervousness from her throat.
“I have on my desk, in front of me, a manuscript. I have a copy of the same manuscript on the way to your apartment as we speak; it should be there soon. I want you to play the lead. Have a read and call me tomorrow. Let me know if you’re interested.”
The wall could no longer hold her up. This was her dream. She pinched herself hard. She couldn’t believe it was becoming her reality.
“It’s not your usual role, I’ll give you that.” The gruffness of his voice rattled in her ear. “But I know what I want. I choose you. You, Helga, will be perfect.”
It was a lot to take in. Helga’s mind raced in circles around her head as she stared unseeing at the white wall across from where she sat on the floor.
“Mr. Hargrave – ” she started.
“ – Call me Brian,” he interjected.
“Oh, okay, Brian. Shouldn’t you be talking this over with my agent? Rosie Haul deals with this sort of thing for me.” She gripped the phone to her ear and suppressed a moan. “Not that I’m disappointed to hear from you personally, I just thought it odd…” She trailed off before she could dig herself a bigger hole. She slapped her hand against her forehead. Shut up Helga!
Brian ignored her babbling. She supposed he must be used to people making absolute idiots of themselves in front of him.
“I’ve spoken to Rosie,” he said. “Several times these last few weeks in fact. She is, shall we say, uncertain this is the role for you. But…I’d like you to have a look at it yourself before you make your final decision.”
“What? Oh ouch.” She’d raised her head from her hands so fast she cracked her head on the wall behind her. “You talked to Rosie?” she asked as she rubbed her head.
“Several times, yes. Hasn’t she told you?” He paused for a moment and then said, “I was afraid of that.”
Helga pushed down the acid of betrayal and forced herself to speak calmly. “Could you tell me a little about the role?”
Over the next ten minutes Helga focused on the words Brian was saying. Excitement rushed through her veins as he described the character he want her play. It was gritty and deep, nothing like she’d ever played before. It was the total opposite of the blonde sex symbol she portrayed in every movie.
She couldn’t sit still any longer. She got to her feet and paced back and forth in front of the side table, walking as far as the phone cord would allow. It wasn’t the first time she regretted her vintage telephone.
The more Brian talked, the more comfortable Helga became. Soon she was firing questions at him. The more he answered, the more she had to have the part.
“This role was written with you in mind,” he said just before he hung up. “I hope you decide to accept it.”
In the excitement, she’d almost forgotten.
Helga’s hand shook as she hung up the phone. Her heart raced in her chest, her breath fast. The emotions running through her body clashed against each other: elation filled her up so much her feet barely touched the ground, but the anger was like nothing she had ever experienced before.
Her agent, Rosie Haul, had turned him down. What was going on? What was she thinking? How could she do that? Had she even asked Helga what she wanted to do? No. In six weeks of Brian trying to convince Rosie that Helga was perfect for the part Rosie hadn’t breathed a word about it. Not. One. Word.
She couldn’t understand it. You don’t just not mention that Brian Hargrave wants you in a film. And it wasn’t as if Rosie could have forgotten that Brian had called her: he’d called her at least two times a week since he sent the manuscript over. She’d said no. Twice. Every week.
Helga went into her living room and sat down in her favorite red armchair. This couldn’t be happening. Her blood started to pound in her temples. She rested her head against the back of her chair.
The tabloids were eating her alive at the moment, her films were a flop. It seemed like the whole world had forgotten the good old days when she had starred in films like Love’s Crazy Ammunition, Rockabilities and The Love Thief. Now all they wanted to talk about was how crap she was at acting, Box-office bombs and her disastrous love life.
She was ready to throw it all in, give up and disappear. Maybe head off and buy a little place in the mountains. She didn’t want to, but she could feel the wall at her back and there was nowhere else to go.
But Brian Hargrave had handed her a lifeline with his offer. She knew she’d never get another chance like this again. Why had Rosie said no? Why hadn’t Rosie told her?
This was the absolute last call. Helga needed to take a risk. She needed to get her name back up there at the top or she might as well toss in the towel now and call it quits. But she wasn’t going down without a fight. Not yet.
She got up and paced around the room. Red-hot anger wouldn’t let her contemplate anything but the drive to her agent’s office to hash it out with Rosie face to face. Helga glanced at her watch as she quickly shoved her feet in her sneakers, not caring if she flattened the back of her shoes; she had plenty of shoes. She was halfway to her door before she remembered she’d left her car keys in the kitchen. Cursing, she jogged back to get them and shoved them in her pocket. Before she left, she called down to the front desk to see if Brian’s package had arrived. The receptionist told her it had and asked if she would like it sent up. After telling the receptionist she’d pick it up on her way out, she slammed her front door and ducked around the corner to the stairwell, bypassing the elevator. The contraption was so slow it was often quicker to run down the stairs. Besides, that way she didn’t have to go to the gym. It was just one of the perks of living on the top floor.
By the time she made it down to the underground garage she was panting. The exertion should have worn off the edge of her anger, but she was still seething. Throwing her sunglasses on, she spun her tires and her car screamed out of the parking garage. Helga paused only long enough to find a break in traffic before swinging into her lane. She may have been angry but she wasn’t stupid. She didn’t want to cause an accident.
She looked at her watch again. She had fifteen minutes before she knew she agent would leave for the day. Alarm bells should have gone off in her head when Rosie had started to leave the office every day at exactly five o’clock. What kind of ambitious career driven woman did that?
Rosie was incredibly hard to get a hold of outside of office hours as well, which made being on the road for work extremely difficult. Things had sure changed since Rosie married ten months ago.
Somehow Helga managed to find a parking space right outside the door. HAUL AGENCY shone in gold letters above the doorway.
Haul Agency was a very successful company. Its offices rose in glimmering glass above the asphalt. When Helga had first signed with the company, Rosie had run it out of her home office. Rosie was successful because Helga was successful. Of course, Rosie now had more clients and more agents working with her, but Helga had always been her bread and butter. Betrayal stabbed Helga in the chest again. That someone whom Helga trusted could do this to her and her career hurt. She shoved the ache away and embraced the anger.
She stalked up the steps, hitting the lock button on her key ring before entering the building. The muted cheep letting her know her silver Audi R8 would be safe until she returned.
The glass doors whooshed out of her way when she approached the entrance. She stormed past the cream reception desk and the security post next to it. Bruce the security guard smiled and waved at her. She nodded and threw him a smile that probably looked more like a grimace, and kept going. Poor man, he was really nice and it wasn’t his fault his boss was an idiot, but she didn’t trust herself to make pleasant conversation at this particular moment.
She scowled at herself in the mirror covering the short hallway to the elevators. She managed – just – to refrain from picking up on of those God-awful snake plants Rosie favored from the long black table along the wall and hurling it into the gilded mirror. She would love to see thousands of shards of glass explode into the pristine environment. It would suit her mood exactly.
But she didn’t want to give the cleaners extra work. If Rosie had to clean it up…well, she probably wouldn’t have been able to help herself.
She pressed the UP button when she reached the elevators. She didn’t have to wait long. The doors slid open with a soft ping then the lavish interior filled with Bruno Mars’ latest song and, despite herself, Helga felt herself relaxing.
It smelled like lavender and in a flash she remembered a conversation she’d had with her agent when Rosie was setting up this office.
“I read in a magazine that soft music and certain smells can relax clients,” Rosie had said while she lounged on the couch in her home. “In my business, my clients aren’t always stress-free, in actual fact, as you well know, Helga, this is a stressful business. I need all the help I can get.” Rosie had smiled then and sat up, fishing around in her satchel. “I have samples. Will you help me pick a smell?”
Emotion stabbed Helga in the chest and she was grateful when the elevator doors slid open on the top floor and she could escape the memory. She didn’t wish to recall how well she and Rosie used to get along. Life had been great while they were at the top, now it felt as though Rosie was leaving her behind.
Once upon a time, Helga would have counted Rosie as one of her best friends. Not anymore.
She walked towards Rosie’s office. She held her head high and refused to show it wasn’t just anger she was feeling. Striding past Rosie’s receptionist she didn’t even pause long enough to see her pick up the phone. But the intercom hadn’t even managed to ring when Helga threw the door open. It hit the wall and bounced back but just before it hit her in the nose, she managed to stop it with her hand. Anger surged again when she saw laughter lighting Rosie’s face.
Rosie Haul pushed the files around on her desk and checked her watch for the fifth time: fifteen more minutes then she’d have to go home. Her fuzzy slippers called her name. They were the only thing worth going home for. Anger and resentment greeted her every night at the door. Mark wanted to go out to dinner tonight but after the week she’d had she couldn’t get excited about playing dress-up with him and smiling as he schmoozed producers.
Rosie looked at her desk. Clients were starting to get demanding and their files were piling up. File folders and papers littered the surface. Her fingers itched to look over the new contract for Julia Roberts that had come in today but Rosie knew from experience she’d be lost in her own world for hours and hours: Mark wouldn’t be able to forgive her. He never did. Instead, she tidied up the papers and put them into a neat pile on her desk.
She didn’t want to admit it, not even to herself, but it was becoming increasingly clear that her marriage to Mark just wasn’t working out.
God, why was her life such a fuck up? She’d tried everything to make this marriage work. She’d even cut her work hours back ridiculously. She used to be lucky to get out of the office by eight o’clock and now she made sure she left at five on the dot. She’d done it to please Mark but it hadn’t worked. Nothing seemed to please him anymore.
In the midst of her failing marriage, her clients were suffering from neglect. She was going to have to hire another agent to cover for her, but margins were tight and it seemed a waste to pay someone to do her job.
She looked at her watch and sighed: eight more minutes.
One client in particular played on her mind. Helga Hansen was the very first client she’d ever signed. They used to be the best of friends but as Helga grew more famous they’d both became too busy to discuss more than contracts and scripts.
Helga’s last two films flopped. Rosie blamed herself. She should have been able to see those parts just weren’t right for her. Hindsight was twenty-twenty of course; it was easy to see that now. What Helga needed now was a blockbuster. Luckily a script had come in the other day which would suit her perfectly. It was a romantic comedy – something Helga played well – but it also had hard-hitting drama in it. It would showcase her acting in the best light. It’d allow her audience to see her in a grittier role and yet at the same time play the part they were used to seeing her in. And then – and only then – did she want Helga to start pursuing deeper roles.
Such as the one Brian Hargrave wanted Helga to play.
He’d called today. Again. She’d already told him in no uncertain terms that she would not allow Helga to take on that role at this time. It would be suicide. The critics would chew her to pieces. The last two films were bad enough. But one more flop and that would be it, Helga’s career would be over, down the toilet. Or at least she would never get another big role in a so-called blockbuster…not for a long time…if ever. But that man was persistent.
Four more minutes.
She straightened her pens then, against her better judgment, she opened the envelope sitting on the top of her inbox. A bright orange URGENT was splashed across the front. She peaked inside. He hadn’t. Not another one. Could that man not take no for an answer?
Two and a half minutes.
She needed to pee. She grabbed her purse and got up from her desk but before she could make it around her potted snake plant, her door banged open.
Helga Hansen stood in her doorway, her face like thunder, waving a piece of paper in the air.
“Ah, Helga, I was just heading out the door.” Rosie adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder.
Helga didn’t bother with social niceties. “Brian Hargrave called me this afternoon just after I got home from LA.” The color drained from Rosie’s face at the mention of Brian’s name. “It was an enlightening conversation, to say the least. What’s going on, Rosie? He said he sent you over a script.’
Helga watched as Rosie swallowed a few times, buying for time; she could see the cogs turning behind Rosie’s eyes.
“Yes, he did. That part wasn’t for you. Not at all your forte.” Rosie moved back around her desk and riffled through some papers until she found what she was looking for. When she turned back around the color had returned to her face and she was waving a wad of bound papers in the air triumphantly. “I also received this today! This script is perfect for you.” Rosie held the script out to her. “I was going to send it over this afternoon, but since you’re here you might as well take it now.” Rosie shook the manuscript a little to try and get her to take it but Helga just looked at Rosie with contempt.
Helga took a menacing step into the room.
“Why didn’t you tell me Brian wanted me? Don’t you think it was a decision I should have made myself? This is too big of an opportunity to pass up! What on earth were you thinking, Rosie?” With each question she took a step closer to Rosie. The elation she had felt when she was on the phone to Brian had charged her with excitement and now made the anger all the more pronounced. Why had her agent told him no?
Rosie dropped her arm holding the manuscript and looked at her with pity.
“Darling, I don’t want to be the one to tell you. I honestly thought you already knew, anyway. But you can’t take on that role. Everyone knows your acting abilities are better suited to romcom.”
“In other words, you don’t think I’m able to do it, is that it?” Helga could feel her jaw dropping open. Her own agent thought her acting was shit. “You don’t think I’m good enough.” She ran her fingers through her curls in frustration. Why did no one believe in her anymore? “How can anyone know if I can or can’t do a serious role if I’m never given the opportunity? Why must I always be stuck in the same role all the time, Rosie?” She could feel tears of frustration gathering behind her eyeballs.
Rosie moved back around her desk and sank slowly into her chair.
“It’s not that I don’t think you can act the role, darling, it’s the fact that you have never done a serious role and I fear it’s too late to try. The audience just won’t accept you as a serious character now. You’ve played too many ditsy blondes to all of a sudden change to a hard-hitting lawyer defending a sexual predator. Well, surely you can see the problem?” She leaned forward over her desk and rested her chin on her steepled fingers. “Listen, Helga, you are immensely talented – we all know that – but the fact is the last few films you’ve done have bombed at the box office and have barely broke even. You are becoming a risk and frankly, Helga, if you choose to take this offer from Brian, I’m not sure you will ever receive another offer…of any kind.”
“So that’s it then? You’re giving up on me? Just like that?”
“No darling, I’m not giving up at all. I will be more than happy to represent you if you sign this contract.” Rosie picked the discarded script off her desk and held it out to Helga.
Helga looked at the papers. She couldn’t bring herself to reach out for them. She would be giving up on her dream of working with the great Brian Hargrave if she took Rosie’s offer. Since she started acting, it was this moment she was striving for. She knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, one that she wouldn’t likely be offered again.
She shook her head and turned towards the door.
“Sorry, Rosie, I can’t. Thanks for all the help over the years. I’ll show myself out.”
She walked down the corridor with her head held high and her stride purposeful. She didn’t even pause when she heard Rosie calling her name. She let out a deep breath only when she was safely inside the elevator.
If you enjoyed the first two chapters, I'll be sharing one more chapter tomorrow. Until then...x
Lights. Camera. Cowboy.
Helga Hansen is the movie star of the moment. Wealthy beyond her wildest dreams, beautiful and girlfriend of sexy Myles of the world-famous band The Knights: life could not be better. Until Myles cheats on her, that is. Then her latest movie is ‒ again! ‒ a career-threatening flop. She’s sacked her friend/agent in a fury. And, to make matters worse, her little sister’s life seems to be spiraling out of control and Helga’s just not sure how to help her out of the abyss.
So the invitation to star in Brian Hargrave’s new movie – yes, the Brian Hargrave ‒ is one she just can’t turn down. And if it means filming in Hicksville for what’ll seem like an eternity, so what? It’s time away from the big smoke and a chance to lick her wounds. And did someone say something about cowboys?