Most days, Samantha Leighton knew she had the best job in the universe. Too bad this wasn't one of them. Because of post-Labor Day traffic, she barely made it to Kennedy in time for her flight to LAX, heightening her travel anxiety. She'd splurged on an upgrade -- rationalizing that it put her more in the mindset of the absurdly rich people she was going to interview -- only to find herself next to a monster whose nonstop snoring made her want to scream, despite her attempts to practice her newly learned, calming yogic breathing.
Samantha was a celebrity journalist. This meant that often, she got to travel to amazing places, talk to executives and directors, and cover studios' wheelings and dealings. But it could also mean what it felt like today: Being underpaid to talk to the actors the world most wanted to meet that month -- no doubt, because they never would. Still, she got to wear jeans to work, keep hours that no other industry would stand for (no point in arriving at the New York office before noon, when it was only 9 A.M. in L.A.), and indulge in an expense account rivaled only by Bill Gates's.
The next morning, Sam was supposed to interview a bug-eyed young actor who had, at their last meeting, refused to answer her questions unless she literally held his giant, sweaty hand. It was good for the story, but the actor had apparently found it less amusing than her readers. (Tomorrow, he'd probably punish her by droning on about his method and keep his madness to himself.) And now, she was being led to her room at the Four Seasons by the bellhop who, two months ago, had accidentally walked into her room while she was standing and talking on the phone, buck naked. They had both been mortified, a feeling that apparently remained alive and well for at least one of them. Mercury must be in retrograde, she thought, as she followed him down the hall. On the bright side, while only 5 P.M. in L.A., it was three hours later in New York, which meant that having a glass of wine would be perfectly appropriate.
After tipping the bellhop, managing to smile without looking him in the eye, she started running the bathtub. Thank God for Elizabeth, her best friend on the West Coast, whom Sam was to meet downstairs at the bar in an hour. Elizabeth was spiritual, wise, and up on all the things anyone would like to know about daily living, like waxing, shopping, and men. It was a pretty impossible combination to beat.
"And thank God for Bulgari bath oil," she said out loud, pouring a healthy amount into the tub. Wait. First she had to check her messages. She lit a cigarette, stepping onto the balcony. Her mother, flaky but lovely, rambled on about some friend Sam should look for at the Four Seasons. What Sam was supposed to do with this friend if she saw him she wasn't sure, but then, her mother probably wasn't either. Then Tom, leaving her a detailed message about some guy he'd met at a party, which made her giggle and roll her eyes -- as he probably knew she would. And, just as Sam stopped pacing the terrace and started to relax, one of her editors. "Sam. Tomorrow afternoon. We need you to do Mel Gibson." (God, how sexual it sounded. If only.) "On his latest movie. Can't remember what it's called, he's probably playing an admiral or a cop, some hero. I had the research center overnight you a packet. Later."
She peeled off her clothes and climbed into the bath. At least it was Gibson. The guy couldn't be nicer; he knew that talking to the press was part of his job, and he did it with a courtly, professional manner -- there were no hip-checks or fake-outs that could suddenly get him crying about his first love, but he also knew it was his responsibility to serve up sound bites, and he did so without complaints.
Reaching for the phone without getting out of the tub -- one could do far worse than having a stab of self-pity in the Four Seasons -- she called Tom.
"Yeah?" He sounded cranky.
"Nice you," she said, laughing. "I'm suffering here."
"Let me guess," Tom said, his voice warming. "The paparazzi chased you at LAX, your stalkers discovered the alias you were staying under, and now you've taken to your bath, from which you'll refuse to rise until I get on the next plane and rescue you."
Sam thought about offering him miles for an upgrade, then thought better of it. "Hard day too?"
Tom groaned. An editor at a business magazine, Tom was in charge of the lifestyle section -- a great job, if anyone who read the magazine had either a life or style. "Honey, you don't even want to know. I've been sitting here all day trying not to notice that Justin isn't in love with me."
"Justin? I don't know Justin. But then, I have been on a plane for six hours..."
"Trust me, he's worth it." Tom had a predilection for the most awful men out there -- something that never failed to astound her, given that he was a man, and therefore, according to Sam's twisted logic, should know better. Not to mention, as far as she was concerned, he was a catch. At six-foot-three, he had a lanky elegance that meant on the seldom occasion he put on a suit, he looked like an old-fashioned movie star. Most days, it was jeans and a bowling shirt, but every time Sam saw him, tall and Nordic to the core, she felt lucky just to stand next to him.
"Look, Tom, just tell me what to wear. You know I can't get out of the tub without your guidance."
"Pants. Shirt. Shoes. And for God's sake, try to remember the underwear this time."
"Thanks, honey. When the paparazzi ask me who dressed me, I'll make sure to give them your name and number. Before I go, I have a great item for you." When Sam came across good gossip, she told Tom -- but refused to say who it was she was talking about. It was a rip-off of the blind items in the New York Post's legendary Page Six column. "Or should I say Page Sex. Which married business titan is finally settling down? During his last trip to St. Bart's, he spent all his time with just one Russian hooker."
"That one's easy!" he said.
"Right," she said. "But it's not who you're thinking of. Get back to me when you figure it out."
She hung up and crawled out of the tub. She had always dreamed of traveling for work -- the glamour! -- but she'd found that recently, she felt like she was missing her center. It was too many hotel rooms, and while she had to admit that it was all quite luxe in appearance, there was something about being in an anonymous space, no matter how decadent it was, that made her feel an aloneness she was able to keep at bay at home. Here, even amid the marble tiles and Frette sheets and view of the Hollywood sign, that ache seemed to resonate in a way that made her feel like a child on a bad playdate who called her mom and said, "Come get me!" If only it was that easy anymore. And having a bellhop seeing you naked, well, it wasn't quite the same thing as...Sam stopped herself. "Blah, blah, blah," she said. "This you can deal with later. Right now, it's time to get dressed."
She walked into the bedroom and surveyed the walk-in closet -- larger than all of her small apartment's closets combined. She looked at her jeans -- was it better to wear the Moschino ones that made her ass look good, or the Earl ones that were chic? (And when, she wondered, had something so inane merited an actual conversation with herself?) She threw on the Earls in disgust, only to be further disgusted that they were tighter than she remembered (she really did have to get to the gym), grabbed a white Petite Bateau T-shirt, and stepped into the black Manolo Blahnik pumps she had bought with her first bonus. Expensive but casual -- that was the goal this season, right? Hell if she knew, but it made her feel better. She towel-dried her hair, ran her fingers through it to get out the knots, indulged in her addiction -- Kiehl's lip balm -- and headed out the door. If people noticed she didn't wear makeup, well, maybe they'd think it was a kind of retro glam. Only her close friends knew it was, more than anything else, total laziness and a tendency to run late. And if it didn't work, she thought, gathering all her bravado, tough shit. She could always blame it on jet lag.
Out on the patio, Sam saw at least eight people she knew, five of whom she knew well enough to actually have to say hello to. She paused to kiss a studio executive busy schmoozing up an agent, a wannabe actress who'd had a bit part in a movie Sam had been on the set of, and two publicists, both of whose calls Sam had forgotten to return. After offering apologies, she spotted Elizabeth across the room, and made a run for it.
"Girl, you are the light at the end of the tunnel," Sam said, giving Elizabeth a long hug. "Why are we so lazy we can't find somewhere small and romantic where we can just hold hands and stare silently into each other's eyes?"
Elizabeth laughed loudly, and everyone turned. "You're the sorry ass who doesn't want to have to do anything but stumble into an elevator. I merely sit and watch you hold court."
Sam grinned and sat down, intentionally putting her back to the room so she wouldn't be distracted. She had known Elizabeth since they were both assistants, Elizabeth to a rapacious publicist, Sam to an equally ambitious editor, and they had shared every humiliation and accomplishment since then.
"What are we drinking?" Sam asked.
"Wait! Did you cut your hair? It looks fabulous!" You were always allowed to interrupt someone if you were complimenting her hair.
"I did," Sam said, tossing her brown, longish hair over her shoulder with a bit of mock drama, "thank you very much. I got sick and tired of spending so much money on a trim, and finally went to a barber in the subway station at Grand Central. Fourteen dollars."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes at what was clearly an L.A. crime -- trusting your dead ends to anyone who would charge less than a shrink. "Anyway," Sam said, remembering she was on the West Coast now, "what I want to know is, what are we drinking, what are we eating, and how much are we doing of both?"
Elizabeth lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Sammy girl, let me tell you about my latest wax. Once I get to the part where Max went down on me and came up with a hot pink sequin firmly lodged between his teeth, my guess is you'll be doing a lot of drinking. Eating, I don't know..."
Feeling truly happy and at home for the first time that day, Sam relaxed into her chair. "Alright, baby. I flew across the country for this story, so give it to me good."
Copyright © 2003 by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh and Erik Torkells