Hollywood isn’t nearly as glamorous as you’d think, even backstage at the most popular talk show in late night. Here I am, whisked away from my apartment in a limo to prepare for a handsome middle-aged man to ask me about my life and career, and I’m bored out of my skull. It’s not that I’m used to it, this is actually my first late night appearance ever. I’m not taking it for granted, either. I’m exceedingly grateful and polite to every production assistant and director and wardrobe/hair specialist, because they’re doing their best to make me look good in front of millions of Americans when I go live on TV tonight. I’m lucky to be here, and a year ago I was pretty sure I’d never, ever, have an opportunity like this.
But something’s missing. The red dress I’m wearing is dazzling, the bright red pops against my pale skin and I have to hand it to my roommate/stylist Sophie: her taste is immaculate. She knows what works for me way better than I do. Guess all those lazy days she spent reading Us and People have paid off, as bitter as I felt about it a year ago. I mean, you try coming back from working doubles at Starbucks to see her lounging on the couch with a stack of magazines. But despite the dress, and the absolutely magnificent waves the hair stylist has turned my auburn mop into, when I look in the mirror I barely see myself. It takes over a full minute to realize the face I’m staring at is my own reflection, and I totally missed whatever someone just asked me.
“Uh,” I say, “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“How’s the blush?” The makeup artist asks, patiently. That’s right. That’s what she asked me. That’s why I was staring at myself in the mirror.
“Oh! It’s fabulous, you’re magic,” I say, finally starting to analyze the girl in the mirror staring back at me. I angle my head around, inspecting every inch of myself. All the imperfections I know are there… I don’t see them. “What did you do to hide the bags under my eyes?” I ask.
She starts to tell me but I realize I can’t focus. My mind is drifting. I nod along and try to clear my head. What day is it? Monday? Monday, the 23rd of April. That’s right. Veronica, my agent, had drilled that date into my head over and over and over and over again, and I guess it paid off. We’re coming up on two months since the Academy Awards. A movie I was in won an Oscar. I still can’t believe it. Every day it feels more and more like a dream. How could any of this be real? I’m just a barista, right? Except I haven’t stepped foot inside a Starbucks in 322 days. Not that I was counting.
“Abbie Thompson!” A cheery baritone voice comes from behind me, calling me Abbie instead of Abigail, which always annoys me. I stay silent, though. The makeup stylist stops mid-sentence and swivels my chair towards the doorframe to my dressing room. The source of the baritone voice is a very chipper, almost plastic looking white man in an impeccably tailored suit. His dark brown hair is slicked back and it doesn’t look like a strand would come out of place in a hurricane. Is it mean to call him plastic-looking? I don’t mean it in a mean way, he just looks like a Ken doll, smiling expectantly at me.
“Hi, Jonathan!” I say, trying to sound cheery. “I’m so excited for tonight, thank you for having me.”
“Oh please, I should be thanking you!” Says Jonathan Adams, host of the Good Night Show with Jonathan Adams. “You’re making your late night debut on my show! Oscar nominee Abbie Thompson!”
“Call me Abigail,” I say.
“Abigail Thompson, of course, of course,” He mutters, more to himself than to me. As Ken doll perfect as he looks, it’s reassuring to see him force himself to remember my preferred name. He’s human, after all. I remember once Jesse joked that Jonathan Adams was an android. Jesse isn’t here tonight. It was supposed to be the both of us, promoting our upcoming movie: Ella’s Song, Chapter III: Eye of the Storm, the third part of a fantasy/sci-fi saga that we spent last fall shooting in England and Los Angeles. But a scheduling conflict came up, Jesse is in pre-production on some action movie and a casting issue meant he was working hard with producers and his director all day and I’d be on the Good Night Show with Jonathan Adams on my own. I’m nervous that Jesse isn’t here, but I don’t think he’s what I’m missing, as I picture his face. Chiseled jawline, perfectly white teeth, poofy blonde hair. He’d been texting and FaceTiming me whenever he got a chance all day, making sure he was there if I had any questions for my first late night talk show appearance. So even though he wasn’t here, his presence was still constant. I wonder why I still feel so disaffected…
“So I just wanted to go over a few things before we go live,” Jonathan Adams says as he takes a seat in my dressing room. Behind me, the show’s hair stylist approaches to do some teasing on my hair. I try to ignore it as I listen to Jonathan. “Just the standard pre-show interview stuff.”
“Uh-huh,” I say, trying to sound like I know what he’s talking about.
“So, we’re going to be talking a lot about Ella’s Song, of course,” Jonathan continued. “But people still want to get to know you! You’ve done such little press, this is just your second film, everyone is wondering who this new movie star is, the starlet who came up through the little independent Best Picture winner that could. So are you okay if we talk about We Found Somewhere tonight?”
We Found Somewhere. My first movie. Directed by auteur genius Nick Levinson: the punk rock, indie film darling entering his third decade of making movies. He’ll be turning 50 soon. I should call him.
“Of course,” I say. “I loved making that movie.”
“Great!” Jonathan smiles. He taps the cleft of his chin. “And what about before that? The angle I’m thinking is like, a bite-sized life-story kind of thing. Where you grew up, what got you into acting, the Starbucks video-”
I’m sure the hair stylist feels me cringe when he references the dreaded Starbucks Video. It was almost a year ago now.
“Oh, is that off-limits?” Jonathan asks. He must have noticed some small change in my body language. Guess you don’t get to interview famous people on TV if you don’t notice stuff like that.
“Oh, no! It’s totally fine,” I say. “We can totally talk about that. Just… Not my proudest moment.”
“I understand.” He says. “But, you have to admit…” He grins. “It was pretty funny.”
I smile in spite of myself. A year ago I’d been working at a Starbucks in Hollywood, two years into trying to “make it” as an actress. It was a constant grind of 50-60 hour work weeks at Starbucks, then auditioning constantly with what little time off I had, and getting rejected at every single audition. One day it all got to be too much. I had an audition that night, and I’d already been kept late when a frustrated customer felt she just had to take the time to quibble with my abilities as a barista. She berated me over the fact that I maybe didn’t quite exactly fill her cup all the way to the tippy top, and in what I assume was an attempted show of dominance, she slammed her iced cinnamon almond milk macchiato down on the bar. The lid popped off, drenching me in wet, brown iced coffee. Something inside me snapped, and I let her have it. I mean, I went off. I was angry, I was bitterly sarcastic. I yelled and yelled and unleashed two years of frustration out of this woman. Stacie. Of course I still remember her name.
Needless to say, I was fired.
Some teenager had filmed the interaction, though, and it went viral that night. I’m actually pretty sure Jonathan Adams played it on his show. I thought my life was over. I thought it was good-bye, Los Angeles, back to Evanston, Illinois I go.
But a casting director, a fabulous angel of a woman who remembered me from an audition for her some months ago, saw the video and thought I’d be perfect for a movie she was casting for. A Nick Levinson picture that he was calling We Found Somewhere.
I haven’t been back inside a Starbucks since.
“It is funny,” I say. “Yeah, ask about whatever you want.”
“Perfect,” Jonathan nods. “So, one last thing.”
His demeanor changes, he leans in and I wonder what else he has. I already told him he could ask about whatever he wanted.
“There were plenty of rumors, from the sets of We Found Somewhere and from Ella’s Song, but no one ever confirmed anything, officially.” Uh oh. I think I know where this is going.
“Is there a guy in your life? A co-star, perhaps?”
I have no idea how to answer him honestly. I mean, of course there are guys in my life. My dad. Nick Levinson. But I know that’s not what he’s asking about.
“You mean Jesse?” I ask. He nods.
“Yeah, Jesse,” He says, slowly. “I mean, I’m not trying to eavesdrop but it’s hard not to notice how much he’s been calling you today.”
“He’s helping me prep,” I say. “This is my first time on late night, after all.”
“Of course, of course,” Jonathan nods, waving his hand. “So, Jesse is just a friend?”
I still don’t know how to answer that honestly. I feel my eyes avoiding his.
“He’s a friend,” I say. Maybe if I’m as vague as possible, he’ll drop it.
“Okay, I hear you. Jesse’s a friend.” He says, nodding. I don’t think he believes me, but he seems like he’ll be professional about me and Jesse’s relationship. I sigh in relief. I must be in the clear. I’d been worried something else might come up, but now maybe he won’t ask about-
“Koston?” He says. I feel my throat choke, and I wasn’t eating anything. I start coughing. Great. I’m going to die in a Late Night show dressing room, choking on my own spit.
“What did you say?” I manage to ask after a production assistant brings me water. Jonathan had been asking something that ended with “Koston?”, my mind had just drifted and I didn’t hear him.
“I think you might have just answered my question,” He teases. “But I was asking, what about Koston Walker? Is he a ‘friend’?”
“Um,” I say. I’m stalling. It’s not in my nature to lie, but there’s nothing I want to talk about less than Koston Walker. We first met about a year ago, at a chemistry read for a movie called We Found Somewhere. Yeah. Eventual Academy Award Best Picture winner We Found Somewhere. I was so intimidated by him. He was so famous, and so hard to read that day. Everyone knew he was an incredible actor, but he’s an enigma to fans and press alike. His eyelashes were so long, and the eyes themselves, such a stunningly clear blue. When you could see them, that is. It was rare that he ever saw fit to brush his chestnut bangs out of the way of those deep crystal retinas. Several hours after our table read, I happened to rear-end his Jeep. I had a panic attack, and Koston was there for me. He helped me come down. He soothed me, talked to me, took me out to eat, joked with me… I still consider it one of the most wonderful nights of my life. He let me spend the night at his place. Nothing happened, he was just being nice. I slept in the guest room. But I’ve been confused about how I feel about him, and how he feels about me, ever since.
We made a movie together, and it was amazing. I wouldn’t be in this dressing room, about to go on The Good Night Show, without his guidance and advice and support. I wish I could just call him, or that he’d call me. No one gives better advice than Koston. But it’s not always that simple. There’s other stuff going on with Koston I should mention. This won’t be much longer, just bear with me.
See, I had a favorite band growing up. I discovered them when I was sixteen. They’re called Still Waiting. They’re the greatest pop punk/emo group in the world and I adored them and their frontman, Brody Larson. Well, there’s a lot I could say about the whole ordeal. Enough to fill a book, actually, but suffice it to say that a few months ago, on my 21st birthday, Koston showed up to my birthday party and confessed that he is Brody Larson. He’d used Brody as a stage name, sort of, to make music without any “Movie Star Koston Walker” baggage attached.
When Koston and I were getting to know each other, I told him how much I liked Still Waiting. But it took him another few months to confess that he was the same person I’d gushed about adoring in front of. I get why he was wary to divulge it, I might have sounded a bit crazy fan-ish, but when he finally did tell me, it was on my birthday, at my birthday party. It felt like a betrayal of trust. I was drunk and hurt. Jesse punched him in the face. Oh, I forgot to mention that, earlier at my birthday party, Jesse had given me very expensive looking jewelry. Oh, and he kissed me when we were making Ella’s Song. Not in front of cameras. Not in character. Like, came to my hotel room and kissed me.
Yeah. Intense stuff.
Anyway, it came out that Koston and Brody were the same person and he became the biggest story in entertainment. I should have figured my relationship with Koston would be on Jonathan Adams’ radar.
“He’s a friend,” I say, but my voice is weak. Jonathan looks at me a moment.
“Okay,” He says. I don’t like his grin. I don’t think he’s being sinister, but how can anyone in entertainment resist asking about the Koston story? Especially with the rumors about me and Koston being a whole thing? They’re just rumors, the only time we ever kissed, we were acting. We weren’t Koston and Abigail, we were Tony and Clare, our characters in We Found Somewhere. He’s a friend. Sure, there was the one time we stripped down to our underwear and got in bed together, but it was for a GQ photoshoot. Totally normal friend stuff, right? Lord, this business is absurd, I think to myself.
I bring my thumb up to my lips and start to chew on my nail nervously. I ignore the look of horror on the makeup stylist’s face.
Can I call Koston a friend if I haven’t seen him in almost two months?
“You said I can ask about anything,” Jonathan says, cautiously, as the makeup artist pulls my hand from my mouth. I’m not even phased by it. “Does that still stand?”
“Koston’s a friend,” I say, trying to regain my confidence. “You can ask about anything.”
“Alright,” He says, and he’s chipper and bright again. “Don’t worry, Abigail, this isn’t Meet the Press. I want you to look good, feel good, and I want the audience entertained. Okay?”
“Sounds great,” I say, relieved. “Thank you.”
He starts to nod in acknowledgement but the second the words are out of my mouth, a producer comes sprinting into the room.
“Jonathan, the musical guest dropped out!” He says in a panic. “Joe Jonas ate bad sushi, he’s been on his bathroom floor all day!”
Jonathan bolts up, and I’m honestly impressed at how he keeps his tie in place as he does so. He turns to me.
“Thanks for your time, Abigail, this is an emergency.” I nod as he turns out of the room, commanding his producer to text everyone in his address book, saying something about how he doesn’t care if he has to put the Archies on, they need a musical guest ready in less than two hours.
I smile to myself and relax as the makeup stylist brings a manicurist to work on my chewed thumbnail. Maybe tonight won’t be so stressful after all.
From behind a red curtain, I can hear Jonathan Adams.
“You know her from the film that won Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards: We Found Somewhere. She’s so stunning she stole the show from my hosting that night. You’ll be able to see her in the upcoming blockbuster Ella’s Song this May, please welcome Abigail Thompson!”
The curtain raises and I smile broadly as the light gets in my eyes. I bring a hand up over my face to block some of it out. I’m pretty sure a publicist told me not to do that, but I can’t help it. I walk out, trying to find my way to the guest chair. Jonathan Adams gets out from behind the desk to help guide me. I thank him, and I’m seated in a very comfortable chair next to his desk. The lights are more bearable from here. The crowd is applauding loudly. I wave to them and smile sheepishly. Jonathan gestures to me and the applause gets even louder. I look to him, bewildered. I don’t know how long they’re going to clap. It feels like too long. I shrug. The crowd laughs. After another moment, the applause dies down and I can’t help but laugh.
“They never greet me like that anymore,” Jonathan says. The crowd laughs together.
“That was wild,” I say. “I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
He scoffs. “Abigail, you were just nominated for an Oscar.”
“Yeah, but I lost!” I say. The crowd and Jonathan laugh.
“Yeah, well, you’ve got one more nomination than me,” He jokes. I laugh. He looks to his notes. “So, Abigail.”
“Yes?” I say.
“Obviously, you’re here tonight to promote the third movie in the Ella’s Song franchise, Ella’s Song, Chapter 3: Eye of the Storm.” Jonathan pauses as the crowd applauds for the movie. As their enthusiasm subsides, he turns back to me. “Was the writer paid by the word?”
I laugh with the audience. “I don’t know! I mean aren’t all the big movies like that? Star Wars: Episode Whatever, the Dark Force?” The crowd laughs. I feel like I’m doing well. Jesse was right, this isn’t too hard at all.
“I suppose you’re right,” He says. “But that’s not a world you’re used to, is it?”
“The big budget, blockbuster world.” He says. “You came up through the independent scene.”
“That’s a generous way to describe my journey.” I say.
“It’s true though,” He says, a serious look on his face. “I heard the budget for We Found Somewhere was even smaller than the budget for the Starbucks Video.”
That gets a big laugh from the crowd, and I laugh hard, too. I have to cover my mouth.
“Is that not true?” He asks, sarcastically.
“I don’t know! Maybe.” I smile.
He asks a bit about how the viral Starbucks video led to my audition for We Found Somewhere, and I answer, recounting my journey. Jesse was right, this would be a breeze.
“But you say, and I’m sorry to disappoint the nation because I know all the rumors that have been out there, but you say that you and Koston Walker are just friends, correct?”
I’m riding adrenaline so hard that I’m surprised when he asks a question and words don’t automatically pop into my head.
“Uh,” I say. “Uh, well…” Oh, god. This makes it so much worse. I don’t think I can tell myself that Koston and I are just friends, there’s too much we haven’t been able to work through yet. But I don’t necessarily want the entire country to know there’s all this stuff Koston and I still have to work out. What’s worse is I know Jesse is going to watch this, and while Jesse and I are friends… There’s still plenty we need to work out, too. My spine goes ice cold and I fall back on what I said in the dressing room.
“We’re friends,” I say. “Koston and I are friends.”
“Just friends?” Jonathan asks. Fuck. He totally caught on to my loophole.
I try to speak as neutrally and professionally as possible. My cheeks feel a surge of warmth. I can’t see the faces of the audience, they’re in the shadows, but I can feel all their eyes on me. “Koston has been a great friend, I loved making the movie with him and I wouldn’t be here without him.” I try to think of something to deflect away from talking too much in detail about my relationship with Koston. The lights didn’t feel this hot a minute ago. God I hope the sweat doesn’t do anything to my makeup. “I actually accepted the role in Ella’s Song because he recommended I work with Audrey Simon, our director.” That part is true. Audrey is a visionary, she directed Koston in one of his first big roles and when we were making We Found Somewhere, Koston told me to work with her if I got the chance.
“So there’s nothing going on between you?” Jonathan asks, eyes unblinking, fixed on me. I want to slug him across his cartoon-superhero jaw.
“I haven’t even seen Koston in like, months,” I say. “Not since the Oscars!” Uh oh. I don’t really want to steer the conversation towards the Oscars, where Koston walked in on Jesse maybe, sort of, kind of, kissing me. A little bit.
Maybe more than a little bit.
And maybe I was maybe, sort of, kind of, kissing Jesse back. As far as I know, no one outside of us three knows about that, and I’d like to keep it that way. “I mean, it’s like I said. We’re friends.”
“You’re friends.” Jonathan says, eyes still unblinking. Then, on a dime, he snaps to the crowd. He’s no longer direct and intimidating, he’s back to the bright, chipper personality he usually has. I feel like the topic is going to shift, and I realize I’d been numb in terror, because I start to regain the feeling throughout my body. My cheeks are still warm, and I pray I am caked in layers upon layers of foundation because I do not want anyone to see how red my face must be. God. This is a disaster.
“You and Koston are friends. I’m sure that will come as good news to our musical guest. Stay tuned, after the break we have an incredible surprise guest! Don’t go anywhere, we’ll be right back.”
The crowd applauds and Jonathan turns to me.
“Sorry if I caught you off-guard,” He says, “but with Lauren Nashville coming on--”
Why do I know that name? The lights dim slightly and Jonathan leans over to keep talking to me off-mic, but I’m still sort of frozen.
Why do I know the name Lauren Nashville?
“-You understand, right?” I turn to Jonathan, who is speaking softly, but still has a smile on his face that now feels inauthentic.
“Huh? Understand what?” I ask. I honestly didn’t hear him.
“I’ve got to put on a show, no one likes those late night shows where everyone just nods and smiles and talks about nonsense, right? You get that, right? I didn’t mean to catch you off guard, I just thought it’d be fun. You know, given Lauren’s history with Koston.”
I don’t think I have to worry about my face being red anymore, because now I’m sure I’m as white as a ghost.
When I was a lovestruck teenager with a crush on Brody Larson, the singer of Still Waiting, I remember rumors about him having dated whatshername, the pop star. I never really knew her name, I wasn’t really up on pop music at the time. I remember the tabloid story about Koston Walker throwing whatshername, the pop star, out of a party at his place. I was intimidated by the rumor when I met him, it made it sound like Koston was a bad boy with a temper. Of course, once I got to know him, he was the sweetest of sweethearts. But on my birthday, when Koston confessed that he was Brody Larson, I asked him about her. Whatshername, the pop star. Turns out she had a name. I remember Koston sighing.
“Lauren.” He had said. “Lauren Nashville. Yeah, we went out for a minute.”
“Are you okay?” It’s Jonathan’s voice. I remember where I am. I’m on a live late night talk show, and Koston’s ex is about to join me.
He hands me a mug with room-temperature water in it and I take a sip. He asks me again, “Are you okay?”
I don’t know how to answer that honestly.