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Excerpt: Random Hearts

Book 5: The With Me Series

UNEDITED ** not the final version **

Chapter 1

As a screenwriter trying to make it in Hollywood, I’m very familiar with rejection. I’ve got hundreds of them over the years. One time, partially as a joke and one hundred percent because I was tipsy after three glasses of white wine, I decided to print out every single one of my rejections to see if they covered a bathroom wall. They didn’t.

The rejections covered two walls.

Technically, three if one is going to be a fussbot about things and include those I taped alongside the mirror above the sink. Any alcohol-induced tipsiness instantly vanished, and I definitely needed a lot of ice cream as I wallowed. Not even calling my dad, who’s experienced more than his fair share of rejection as an extra on film and TV, helped.

I’m not so arrogant to think that some of those screenplays were all golden. My first screenplay was a dud. And I’ve had some really close calls where I thought that I’d get an agent or some studio would pluck me out of the slush pile. No such luck.

But this latest screenplay . . . I thought it had something really special about it. I thought this screenplay was it for me, the one that would start to change things around.

But I’m wrong. Yet again.

I just stare at my computer screen, willing the email to rewrite itself from a rejection to an acceptance. To get where I want to be, I need representation, but no agent has wanted to take me or believed in my writing enough where they think it can sell to studios.

The latest rejections are full of “good but not good enough;” “not fresh enough;” “you clearly have a good grasp of the rom-com genre but this isn’t big enough to break out.

My screenplays aren’t enough, and I can’t help but feel that I’m not enough. This isn’t my first year of doing this, it’s been ten years.

I think . . .

I think I’m done.

Before I’m fully aware of what I’m doing, I’ve unplugged my laptop and walking down the seven flights—I’m not fond of confined spaces like elevators—to the dumpster toward the back of the apartment complex.

“Delaney!”

I freeze in mid-toss pose, still holding onto my laptop.

“Woah, woah, woah.” Alex, my best friend/roomie, runs to me and gently removes my laptop from my grasp. A silky strand of his impossibly bright blond hair falls forward, and his aquamarine blue eyes go grave with concern. He tries for a light tone. “No lapticide on my watch. What’s got you so upset? Characters giving you trouble? Plot going sideways?”

Shame his me square in the face, both at my failures and what I almost just did. I’m pretty laidback but there are moments when my rebellious, impulsive streak breaks through and I do something rash that I regret later on—like that time I deleted all of my social media accounts, watched a scary movie too late at night and then had to sleep with all the lights on, or more recently, when I cut off all my long reddish-brown hair to its current length, where it just touches my shoulders. I stopped myself just before cutting bangs—I don’t have anything against bangs on other people, but on me, I look like I’m trying to cosplay Cousin Itt. I miss my long hair and the ability to pull it back without any strands escaping. I know I haven’t responded to any of Alex’s questions, and he’s just standing there patiently, so I decide for a diversion. “Aren’t you supposed to be at an audition?”

Alex gives me a lazy smile and starts walking back to the building. “I was. I read. I left. Alas, they’re not going to cast me.”

Besides the weirdness of us both sharing the same birthday on March third—this year, he turned thirty-three to my thirty, I know many other things about Alex. Primarily, his favorite word is alas. Mine is giraffe, because I always feel like I’m sliding down a very long neck of a giraffe when I say the word. It’s like this: I imagine a giraffe, who’s been standing all day, eating leaves, avoiding those pesky predators, and now it’s time for the giraffe to unwind, and she lowers herself down, down, down, until she feels the barely-there swaying wind. The stress on the first syllable with the softness of a second feels exactly like that, all those letters bending down like tall, gangly limbs and then a whisper of a breeze.

What can I say, I’m just a little on the odd side. Quirky, somewhat klutzy; I definitely would be typecast as the weird friend of a romantic lead in a movie. It’s probably why I’ve never fit in.

Sometimes, it’s a little difficult for me to believe that my roommate and best friend was once theHollywood heartthrob, Alex Randall. I used to cut his pictures out of magazines when I was a teen. After a few months of living in the same place, I finally mustered the courage and told Alex about it all, and he just ruffled my hair and said I know. When I demanded to tell me exactly how he knew, he told me that I had a wide-eyed look and he could practically see the teenage crush hearts dancing around my head.

We had a good laugh about it, and our friendship is just that, a friendship. I don’t see him that way, and he doesn’t see me that way, thank god. It’d be like hooking up with an older sibling, that is, if I had any siblings. Alex can unload to me and I do the same to him. We’re both struggling to make it in Hollywood, and it’s been more brutal than usual for the last few weeks.

“You’re awfully quiet,” Alex says, as we avoid the elevator and make our way up the stairs to our seventh-floor apartment.

“I’m always quiet.”

“You’re never this quiet.”

I shrug but don’t say anything in response. It feels shitty to say I’ve been rejected yet again, or that I’m wondering if I’ll ever get to where I want to be. We head inside, and Alex takes off his shoes then walks to the kitchen. I take a bit longer before doing the same and following him.

Alex is already pulling out a carton of cookie dough ice cream from the freezer. He takes out an ice cream scooper and two bowls. With scooper in hand, he gestures to one of the stools placed in front of the counter. “You sit. I’ll scoop.”

He starts dishing out the ice cream, takes one look at me, and the words just burst out of me.

“I got another rejection.”

And then I tell him everything. My doubts, my fears, like if I can even call myself a screenwriter, how stressful it is to be out of work—waitressing, coffee shop, and even my dog walking jobs all ended within two days of each other. How I just need one break . . . that maybe I really do suck.

“Delaney,” he says after I’ve let it all out, “I’ve read your screenplays, and . . . Don’t make a face.”

“I can’t help it. I’m fine with perfect strangers reading my stuff, but when it’s someone I know and trust and actually like . . . I worry that they’ll hate it and look at me in a different way. Or worse, they’ll read it and think, oh now I know why Delaney isn’t selling her stuff, she sucks donkey balls.”

“You don’t suck donkey balls.”

“You’re only saying that because you’re my friend.”

Alex gives me a look telling me exactly what he thinks of that bullshit response and adds even more ice cream to the bowl. I don’t even offer up any protest because I know I’ll demolish that ice cream.

“I’m saying it because it’s true,” he says. “And because your writing is fantastic. Your screenplays should be selling. Hollywood is full of idiots. Don’t let their feeble attempts to crush your spirit.”

This manages to get a smile out of me, and I eat some ice cream. “Settle down, Shakespeare. I’m so tired of getting rejected.”

“You and me both.”

“I want somewhere different than this. Something a whole lot better. I want us to get our dreams. I want that so badly.” I let out a heavy sigh. “I wish I could get away, far away from Hollywood. Regroup. Start a new screenplay.”

“You’re not going to turn to the Sparks Side and kill anyone off in this new screenplay, are you?”

I almost gag at the thought. “Ew, no. Only happily ever after romantic comedies for me. But I think I need a change of scenery. Hell, I know I do. I need to get out of this town, away from the boulevard of broken dreams, and create some new dreams that aren’t tarnished by all of this shit whirling around.”

“I hear you. I’m headed to my best friend’s lake house for a few weeks. Hailey swears by Vermont, and she loves the winters there, and . . .” Alex trails off, his gaze narrowing on me. “You should come.”

“I’m not sure about—”

“Listen, my little hermit, I don’t mean you have to stay with me and Hailey and Caleb and their rambunctious family. Hailey and Caleb have a small cabin, nestled in the mountains. It’s completely off the grid, so you won’t have any access to WiFi. You can disconnect from your family and social media. More importantly, you can type away to your heart’s content and write your newest screenplay. You should come to Vermont with me.”

“I’ve watched horror movies. Every horror movie takes place in nature. You’re just setting me up to be Voorhees’d to death.”

“I’d be very sad if that were to happen. I need to regroup. You need to regroup. We both need the hell out of Hollywood, so let’s do it.”

“You had me at—”

Alex groans. “Delaney, I know it’s one of your favorite rom-coms and all, but please don’t Jerry Maguire me.”

I huff out a breath, pretending to be annoyed, but the gig is up because I can’t hold my expression for long and dissolve into giggles. “Okay, okay,” I say, “I’m in. I’m so in.”


Excerpt: Random Hearts