Best Supporting Actress
“This is why people buy Kindles,” she mutters, opening one box and pulling out her beloved Harry Potter books. She slips them into the top shelf of the case nearest her bed, right alongside Shakespeare and Austen and Gaskell.
“You’re a walking advertisement for it,” Claire agrees. “Also, a complete nightmare for any moving service.”
“Either help or shut up,” Ophelia says, continuing her meticulous library curation. Claire mumbles something about being unappreciated, but goes out to pull in the last of the boxes. Pickwick continues to purr from the bed, watching Ophelia through slitted eyes.
“Thank you,” Ophelia says when Claire returns, another box in her arms.
“Yeah, whatever,” Claire says, dropping it on the floor. “I’m telling Carson I’ve done my cardio for the week after we’re through here.”
“Not just that.”
Claire looks at her friend, cross-legged on the floor with stacks of books around her already organized by genre, author, favoritism. Ophelia is pointedly not looking at her, focused too intently on the spines of her books. Settling on the bed, consequently disturbing Pickwick’s position on the comforter and earning an irritable meow, Claire studies the floor.
“I needed to get out of there,” Ophelia continues, still not looking at her friend, “and have a little adventure. And thanks to you, I’m pretending to be dating one of the most attractive men in the world, who also happens to be very smart and relatively funny and sweet. And on top of setting that up, you’re letting me crash in your apartment that looks like an Instagram set. And I just… I don’t know how I can ever thank you enough.”
“Just remember to tag me when you post pictures of my Instagram-able house.”
Ophelia snorts and Claire smiles. “I mean it,” Ophelia says, and Claire waves her hand.
“So do I. It’s what friends do, O. We help each other. If our positions were reversed, you’d do the same thing, wouldn’t you?”
“Then that’s all. Don’t complicate things.” She stands and makes her way back to the door. “And just remember me when you marry that man. I want to be Maid of Honor.”
She’s out the door and yelling something about grabbing dinner before Ophelia can process her last words and throw one of her (seven) copies of Hamlet at the retreating back.
By the time Claire has returned with Thai, Ophelia has sorted all of her books into appropriate shelves, thrilled that the tops of the bookcases are still empty because it means a trip to the bookstore is in order. Her comfortable clothes have been folded and stuffed into the dresser while the nice clothes (her “Ben Alexander’s girlfriend” clothes) are hanging in the closet. Pillows are fluffed, shoes are neatly lined up by the baseboard, and Pickwick has found a spot of sunlight that allows him to rest belly-up on the hardwood. All is well enough with the world that Ophelia can justify taking a break to join her friend at the kitchen table to eat from the army of containers.
“What am I supposed to do tomorrow?” she asks as Claire snatches up the last of the tofu from their pad thai.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s Monday. You have clients all day, right?”
“So what am I supposed to do?”
Claire’s eyebrows have melded into one furry caterpillar. “I don’t understand what you’re asking.”
Ophelia sighs. “Claire, I don’t have a job and I’ve already unpacked everything. And I assume Jack will call or text to let me know when they need me to make an appearance.”
“You already made the tabloids,” Claire says around a mouthful of noodles.
“At the warehouse,” Claire continues, ignoring Ophelia’s wide eyes and open mouth. “Someone shot a video of you and posted it.”
“I knew someone saw us, but… a video?”
“Yeah,” Claire says, now more confused than before. “I thought you knew. That you’d seen the headlines.”
“Not a single one.”
“Oh. Well, you’re the Mystery Brunette now.”
Claire says it so matter-of-factly that it irritates Ophelia more it should. “That’s nice. Glad to know I’ve been in a video on a tabloid website for a week.”
“First off: hardly a week. It’s only been five days.”
“Sorry. Nearly a week.”
“Secondly: the video only caught you quickly. You get kind of a profile, but it’s mostly the back of your head. And your hair looked amazing, so you’re good.”
“Well, thank God for that.”
“And thirdly: do whatever you want. Jack has your number, he’ll let you know when there’s an event or when they need a story. I don’t know if Ben is even going to be around here for very long.”
“He just flew in from New York.”
“Yeah, but he’s been hanging around for almost a week. He could already have taken off for some other interview or photo shoot or God knows what. There was a time when he squeezed a session with me in the seven hour layover he had between studio work here and going to Boston for some sort of con. His life is insane.”
Ophelia pales. “I can’t do that. I’d go crazy.”
“Luckily all you have to do is hang around and look like you’re waiting for him to come back home. It’s easy,” Claire says, dropping the fork and groaning happily as she rubs her stomach. “You’re like Penelope.”
“Odysseus took a decade to come home,” Ophelia points out, “and all Penelope had to occupy her time was raise a child and make a tapestry.”
“And you can’t sew.”
“No, I really can’t.”
“May I suggest you spend your time tomorrow while I’m helping the rich and famous cope with their endless problems checking out the neighborhood? There’s a bookstore, like, two streets over and it’s really cute. You’d love it.”
Ophelia hmphs and drops her own fork. “So your solution to my seemingly endless boredom is to send me to a bookstore.”
“Basically. What else am I supposed to suggest? You’ve been to all the museums around here that you’d want to see, you don’t like parties, you probably won’t want to hang out around the pool…”
“Fine. I’ll go to the bookstore.”
“Don’t sound so excited.”
Pickwick lounges his way toward the chairs and curls around Ophelia’s legs, purring happily. She scratches his ears and leans back to observe her friend.
“Do you think there’s any chance I make it out of this crazy plan with my heart intact?”
Claire lifts a corner of her mouth in a sort of smile. “I think there’s a very good chance that you get your heart broken by the most handsome man in the world. But I also think,” she adds as Ophelia focuses more intently on Pickwick, “that you have a very good chance of breaking his heart, too. Let’s call the odds even.”
And she can’t help but really smile as Ophelia tries not to look too excited.
By 8:30, Ophelia is about to go insane. Claire left at eight for an early meeting and said she’d be out until at least three, though it would probably be more like four if that client went over his time like he usually does (and, really, he pays her well to listen to his problems for an extra hour, but sometimes she just wants to come home and collapse, you know?). So for the next six hours at least, she is left alone and unchaperoned and she’s been looking up when the bookstores open (10:00, which is the same time The Moving Castle opened, but seriously, what was she supposed to do for another hour and a half?) and she’s been making a list of all the books she wants to find and she thinks (she thinks) that she’ll maybe knock out a few more of her reading challenge goals.
She’s antsy, so she doesn’t attempt to read anything good in the hour she has until she goes on her first solo adventure in LA. Instead, she opens her laptop and starts surfing around the electronic tabloids that track every celebrity’s movement. She can see when Lewis Jackson was last seen with his (pregnant) wife or where Manuel Ibañez was last seen having a meltdown. She can also check out the pages of detailed notes on Skylar and Ben.
And so she takes a breath and ventures down the rabbit hole while Pickwick finds a new sunny spot to lounge and occasionally meow at his mistress while she flicks from story to story. She tries not to judge Ben from the tabloids, especially because she’s followed him in the news for ages and she knows where she stands on this Skylar thing, but when everything is laid out the way they’ve spread the words and pictures, she can understand how Skylar has ended up with the sympathy. Stories about her feuds with other musicians are mostly hidden behind other drama (divorce, death, addiction) but the stories about Ben are plastered on the front pages with unflattering pictures of him hiding behind sunglasses and hats and Jack.
One — she hesitates to call it an “article” because that implies some sort of journalistic integrity — post makes her laugh out loud. It’s pure speculation about the conversations Skylar and Ben must have had while they visited London. The photos — mostly Ben smiling and Skylar gazing at him in adoration — are accompanied by captions like “You’d be such a good dad!” and “It’s so cute when we plan outfits together!” Occasionally, Jack is caught in the background and more often than not he looks incredibly disgruntled. One picture in particular catches her eye. It’s Ben looking excited about something on the street, Skylar’s hand hanging limp in his own while she checks her phone, and Jack behind them both glaring at his own phone. Ophelia can see the moment playing out in her mind as she studies the photo and giggles to herself as she imagines Jack trying to stay professional around Skylar when all he really wants to do is shake Ben and convince him to break up with her. She skims through the rest of the photos — all of Skylar and Ben taking selfies at historic sites while the adoring fans look on— and wonders how they could look so happy and be so wrong for each other. And she wonders if Skylar has considered acting, because her performance is definitely convincing.
And she can’t help but wonder, as she closes her laptop, how the hell she’s going to play a fake girlfriend when she has none of the looks or the charm or the money of this woman who broke Ben’s heart. She tries to shake the thought out of her head as she grabs her bag, locks the door, and ventures out in search of the bookstore.
She’s fairly certain that this bookstore is one of the circles of Heaven and she intends to stay here for some time. The moment she walked in she was hit with the smell of new books and fresh words and pictures painted with brushes dipped in language she can only pretend she can use. The store is big and bright and packed with histories and plays and guides to breaking into Hollywood and celebrity memoirs and then there’s a table covered in literary knick-knacks and just beyond that are walls covered floor-to-ceiling with novels.
Because she’s Ophelia Daniels, she pulls out her lists and starts the search for ways to distract herself from the loneliness of an LA apartment. She tries to remind herself that her bank account hasn’t been visited by a payment from Jack and Ben yet, so she can’t go overboard, but then she finds seven new novels and two biographies and a clearance guide to London and a book that promises it “explains the weird and wonderful world of Hollywood in easy-to-understand terms” while a blurb on the front adds, “You don’t need rich and famous connections with a book like this!” (She’s pretty sure that whoever wrote that blurb starred in one “indie” film that never made it to theaters before he became an accountant.)
Her arms are full of books and she’s reminded with painful clarity of The Moving Castle and the fact that it’s Monday so they’ll be getting ready to unpack everything for the Tuesday releases and she misses the unpacking of boxes and the discovery of new titles and…
“Well, hello there.”
She nearly drops everything on her toes as she turns to find Ben Alexander at her elbow.
“Fancy meeting you in a bookstore,” he says, a sparkling, cheeky smile on his face as he inspects her pile. “Looks like you’ll be set for at least a week.”
“What are you doing here?” she blurts out. And then she turns bright red.
“I’m in town for a few more days,” he says, “and then I have to fly out to London for a photoshoot and an interview about Prodigal. I got a text from Claire that you might be bored today, so I hazarded a guess that you would escape boredom by coming to a bookstore. And look. I was right.”
“Yeah, well, not much of a stretch of the imagination, is it?” Ophelia mutters, trying to shuffle the stack more comfortably in her arms.
“Can I carry that for you?”
“No, it’s fine.”
“No, really, I’d love to help.”
“I can manage.”
“I know you can, I’m just trying to be a gentleman.”
“And I’m just trying to be an independent woman.”
And then she drops the book from the top of the pile and he barely stops her from tipping over to grab it before he reaches down himself and picks it up.
“The Once and Future King?” he asks, flipping it over and studying the back.
“I’ve never read it,” she says.
He looks up, horrified. “You’ve never read it?”
“No,” she says, and he shakes his head frantically.
“Impossible. Everyone has read this. It’s genius.”
“Well, I haven’t.”
“How have you not read it? You, of all people?”
“What do you mean, me of all people?”
“You know Shakespeare and Homer and Tolkien and Rowling and you love mythology and…”
Ophelia stares at him. “How do you know that?”
He shrugs. “I looked at your page of staff picks on The Moving Castle’s website. But how can you love all of those and you haven’t read this?” He’s back to the matter at hand, shaking the mass market book at her.
“I was supposed to read it in high school but I never did. That’s all.”
“Ridiculous,” he says, tugging her back to the section. “I’m not buying this for you in a cheap paperback edition.”
“You’re not buying it for me in any edition, Mr. Alexander.”
“I am,” he says, searching the shelves until he finds what he’s looking for and lets out a triumphant cry. “Because you need to read it.”
He holds out the beautifully bound golden hardcover and she raises an eyebrow. “What if I don’t like it?” she asks.
“You’ll love it,” he says, waving his hand like her question is idiotic, “and if you don’t, at least you have something pretty to look at while you’re hating it. Now, before we go to pay, are there any other holes in your education I should know about?”
“I’ve never read Catcher in the Rye or Grapes of Wrath.”
He shakes his head and scans the shelves. “You’ll get to those eventually. They’re fine, I suppose. Very American. And I’m not much of a Steinbeck fan. What about Chandler?”
“Excellent,” he says, and off they go to mysteries, where he pulls out two thin paperbacks and puts them in the crook of his arm alongside White’s masterpiece.
“So who’s Chandler?”
“Raymond Chandler,” he says, nudging her toward the register. “Wrote the Phillip Marlowe mysteries. The Big Sleep. Farewell, My Lovely. Incredible fun. Pulpy and witty and brilliant. You’ll love him.”
“What if I think you need to read something?” she asks, stopping suddenly and nearly dropping her books again.
He quirks his head at her. “What are you thinking?”
“I don’t know,” she says, “but if you’re going to force new books on me, I feel like I should at least get one for you.”
“Fine,” he says, “pick out a book for me to read and we can discuss our feelings next time I’m in town.”
“Loved it. Although I think Persuasion is my favorite Austen.”
“North and South.”
“Tell the Wolves I’m Home.”
“Darker Shade of Magic.”
“Well, well, well. Looks like you’ve got some reading to do.”
They arrive at the counter ten minutes and seven more books later. Ophelia struggles to place the books on the counter until Ben shuffles them around into two stacks, one significantly larger. In fact, the one in his hands is all except the ones she recommended to him…
“Don’t you dare pay for those,” she says, and he pretends not to hear her, even though he can hear the other clerk offer to help him perfectly clearly.
“Please don’t let him pay for those,” she begs the clerk, hoping her sister in retail will help her. “They’re my books…”
“And I’m being nice and buying them for you,” he says, already flashing his black AmEx. “So there.”
All he needs to do is stick out his tongue and he’ll look just like a child on the playground.
“Ben,” she whispers, “please.”
“Don’t make this complicated,” he says as the clerk runs his card. “Books make you happy. I want you to be happy. Therefore, I will buy you books. And look,” he adds as her purchase is bagged up, “you did buy books.”
“I bought books to give to you.”
“And I bought books to give to you.”
Damn his stupid cute smile and his stupid adorable dimples and his stupid sparkly eyes and the way his teeth are so white and straight and his lips are so kissable…
“I’m buying next time,” she mutters as the woman behind the counter hands him a complimentary canvas tote bag with a smile and a wink and was that her number she slipped in with the receipt?
“Sure,” he says, fishing through the bag as they walk to the door. He pulls out two pieces of paper, saves one, throws the other one in the nearest trashcan.
“Not keeping track of your purchases for tax write-offs?” she tries to joke.
“Oh, no, I’m keeping track,” he says, flashing the receipt and a smile. “Jack’d have my head if I didn’t bring receipts home.”
He keeps walking, presumably to his car, while Ophelia looks between him and the garbage, wondering why a man like him would throw away a beautiful woman’s number. She wants to ask, but it would be rude. And she doesn’t really want to know the answer…
“Why didn’t you keep her number?”
Why can’t you keep your mouth shut?
He pauses in placing the bag in the backseat of a sleek black car that’s somehow parked two spots from the front of the store. “What?”
“Why didn’t you keep her number?” she repeats, not knowing why she can’t just say “never mind” or “nothing.”
Ben raises an eyebrow. “I’m dating you,” he says. “Why would I need another woman’s number?”
“But we’re not really dating,” she says, still incapable of stopping her mouth.
He shuts the door and leans on the car, arms crossed over his chest. (How did she not notice that he’s in jeans and a t-shirt covered in the Hufflepuff crest? Sweet Jesus.) “But wouldn’t it look suspicious,” he says slowly, “if I called that woman when the tabloids think I’m dating you?”
“It would,” he says, nodding confidently.
He gestures for her to get into the car, and she wonders if she should trust him to drive her home — he is, after all, from a nation that drives on the other side of the road — but it’s too late and he’s already put her bag in the back next to his before shutting her door gently. He climbs in and starts the car up, flicking his sunglasses down before he looks over at her.
“And anyway,” he says, as though they haven’t had an interlude of movement and awkward silence, “she wasn’t my type.”
“What, gorgeous and literate isn’t your type?”
“Oh, no, it is,” he says, pulling into the road, “but I have a thing for mystery brunettes, too.”
The drive starts in silence, Ophelia trying to find something to say to him that makes any amount of sense because her brain is still stuck processing the “mystery brunette” comment, Ben trying to figure out if he’s overstepped the boundaries somehow. Finally, as he considers bursting into Shakespearean monologue just to get a conversation started, she speaks up.
“You know, I walked to the store. It’s, like, two streets away from Claire’s place.”
“Oh. Yeah. Well, I figured it would be hard to carry all those back,” he says. “And I thought we could get lunch.”
“Lunch?” She checks the clock. “It’s barely noon.”
“I think most people take lunch around this time.”
“Are we allowed?”
“Are we allowed to have lunch yet? I mean,” she continues when his brow furrows and he tries to focus on the road rather than her utterly boggling logic, “according to the paparazzi, we’ve only met, what, twice? Isn’t that a little soon for lunch?”
“Is it?” he says, trying to sound cool but realizing he sounds a little frantic. “I mean, if you don’t want to…”
“No!” (Her turn to cringe — she’s much louder than she wanted to be and she’s a bit concerned that he’ll realize she’s crazy and turn this car around.) “I mean, no, I’d like to have lunch with you. I just don’t want us to throw off Claire and Jack’s plan for our… relationship.”
“Oh. I don’t think they had it planned out to the hour,” he says, sounding slightly more relaxed. “I think we’re just supposed to avoid the dinner and spending the night together bits for now.”
“Right.” She looks out the window. “Good.”
Silence again. He can listen to nothing for a grand total of twenty seconds before he reaches over and flicks on the radio. Only to be greeted by Skylar fucking Hartfield crying about her broken heart.
Oh, for the love of…
“Oh, for fuck’s sake…” Ophelia beats him to it, changing the station and crossing her arms as she sits back. “It’s a shit song,” she says when he glances over at her. “Sorry, did you want to listen to it?”
“No,” he says. “No. Not even a little bit.”
“Where are we going for lunch?”
Lunch doesn’t last long. They walk in, Ben in his glasses and baseball hat and Ophelia… looking like herself, and stand in line like any other customer. But it’s all over when they reach the counter and he takes off his glasses and starts to order.
The girl at the register (Haley, by her name tag) stares, mouth open. And then starts to babble.
“Oh my GOD it’s you you’re Ben Alexander I’m a HUGE fan I LOVE your movies you’re freaking amazing I can’t believe you’re here right now I can’t wait for PRODIGAL to come out because it’s going to totally win all the awards and I know you’re shirtless in it at some point and I’m so excited not because you’re shirtless but because it’s going to be good AND you’re going to be shirtless because you’re so HOT OH MY GOD…”
If Ophelia weren’t already embarrassed for her (because she definitely is), she’d turn bright red for Ben, who has gone pale while he tries to smile at the fan.
“Oh, thank you,” he mumbles, “very kind of you…”
“OH MY GOD BECKY IT’S BEN ALEXANDER!”
And then it’s all over. Whatever hope they had of getting sandwiches and enjoying the LA sun out on a patio is over. OH MY GOD BECKY comes sprinting over with her phone out to take a picture and so does Haley and then everyone behind them has their phones out because they’re recording videos of Ben trying to wave and smile and Ophelia desperately trying to escape. And then the questions come.
WHO ARE YOU?
ARE YOU HIS GIRLFRIEND?
BEN ARE YOU DATING HER?
HAVE YOU TWO HAD SEX YET?
IS HE GOOD?
WHO ARE YOU WHO ARE YOU WHO ARE YOU WHO ARE YOU WHO ARE YOU
So Ophelia takes the first opportunity she has to sprint out the door toward the car. Before she realizes he locked it and she’s now stuck out here with nowhere to go while he tries to fight his way out of the place. Which he does, only a minute or so later, after which he sprints to the car and they both dive in. They’re three minutes out from the place when he finally speaks.
“So. That’s my life.”
Title: Best Supporting Actress
Age Range: 18-30
Word Count: 4205 (full manuscript roughly 109,800)
Author Name: Brittany Blake
Why Your Project Is a Good Fit: In a world full of student loans and romantic disappointments, Best Supporting Actress presents readers with a romantic comedy with a smart woman in need of some cash, a smart man in need of a healthy relationship, and a world in which celebrity life plays out through clearly reliable tabloid reports.
The Hook: Ophelia Daniels, a small-town bookstore clerk, finds herself thrown into a real-life romantic comedy when her best friend sets her up with Hollywood heartthrob Ben Alexander as he tries to get over a nasty celebrity breakup.
In a glamorous world where love is easy when it’s scripted, what happens when the cameras stop rolling?
Ben Alexander, one-time Hollywood heartthrob and media darling, is now Public Enemy #1 thanks to his breakup with pop star and American sweetheart Skylar Hartfield (despite the fact that her assistant’s assistant’s intern actually did the breaking up). When his therapist suggests he try something unconventional to get over Skylar before awards season kicks off, Ben is thrust into his own romantic comedy: he’s going to get a fake girlfriend for the next six months.
Enter Ophelia Daniels, a smart and sweet small-town girl with a good head on her shoulders. But a good head comes with the price of student loans, and the offer on the table to be Ben’s fake girlfriend is too good to resist. And if the salary is the cake, dressing up for the red carpet and kissing her longtime celebrity crush in front of the paparazzi is the icing on top of it.
But life in the spotlight is never quite what it seems. Ben and Ophelia might just be perfect for each other beyond the limelight, and sticking to the plan becomes harder to do. As the tension builds and the big awards show draws closer, Ophelia finds herself face-to-face with Skylar and a part of Ben’s life he might not be ready to forget.
Target Audience: 18-30 year old women who want to escape the real world and imagine they can be a movie star’s next girlfriend.
Platform: While I do not have a developed platform to promote my work, I have various social media accounts and many book-loving friends, and I am open to any recommendations.
Bio: As the daughter of two English teachers (and the sister of two more), I have always been surrounded by books, and for just over ten years, I have worked at a local independent bookstore, the same store I practically grew up in. I attended Dominican University of California, where I wrote several pieces for The Tuxedo and earned two Bachelor’s degrees (one in English, one in history) while minoring in creative writing. I then attended CSU Sacramento, where I earned my Master’s degree in English and wrote my thesis on masculine relationships in Elizabeth Gaskell’s two Manchester novels. Obviously, I love to read and write as often as I can, and my writing often tends toward happier content. While I love happy endings, I also think that happiness should only be the conclusion if the characters have developed over the course of a work and have earned happiness — I want characters with real problems and real solutions, so as unlikely as my plots may be, I work to make the characters both endearing and flawed. When I’m not writing or helping customers find “that blue book that was on this shelf two weeks ago," I enjoy photography, travel, movies, and spending time with my family in Grass Valley, California.