Five Years Ago
Honey, it’s okay to give up and come home.
My mom’s text made my heart sink. She’d sent me dozens just like it, especially over the last few weeks, but it wasn’t what I needed today. Okay, I never needed that shit, but today I was already too close to doing exactly what she suggested. Going home to all the people who’d laugh at me for ever thinking I could make it big. Going back to life in a small-town closet. Going back to feeling like no one and nothing. I knew I’d hit rock bottom when that world sounded more appealing than the constant beatdown of this one.
I glanced up from my phone and looked around the diner. It wasn’t all that busy today, and my two tables were taken care of. One had just gotten their food, and the other’s meals were still cooking, so I had a moment to check my texts while I waited for the order to come up.
I was starting to think I shouldn’t look at my messages at work, though. All they did was depress me, and I was already feeling pretty fucking low over the job I had and the one I couldn’t get.
But hey, the universe was apparently thinking, the morning is still young, so why not dogpile Adam a little more?
That was the only possible explanation for my agent picking that exact moment to text me.
You ready for this afternoon’s audition? Before I could respond, she added, This is a big one, sweetie. Don’t bail on me.
I felt sick as I typed out, I’ll be there. I promise.
Would I be there? Would I really? Because how many times had it been a big one and just turned out to be a big waste of time and energy? I’d show up, queasy with nerves, pull off an amazing audition anyway, walk out thinking I was God’s gift to acting… and then feel like utter garbage when I didn’t get a callback. What was the point? Why did I keep bothering?
Honey, it’s okay to give up and come home.
I sighed. Truth was, I’d already given up. I was already working on coming home. I hadn’t told anyone yet because I didn’t want to admit it, but I was done. It was over. Hollywood was going to be one of those faded dreams I’d laugh about someday. Or cry about. Like I hadn’t done enough of that recently as reality had set in. I was a failure. Just another starry-eyed kid who’d come to Tinseltown and—
“Order up!” Paco, the line cook, barked. His voice jerked me back into reality. I shoved my phone into my back pocket and started collecting the plates.
I was almost to the table when I realized there were hash browns instead of home fries. Damn it. Then I glanced at the ticket and to my horror, realized there were hash browns because that was what I’d written down. Son of a bitch. Why did I have to screw up the hot guy’s order? Oh, right, because it was going to be one of those days and the universe was having a ball at my expense.
And dear God, this guy was hot. That wasn’t unusual in LA, but he wasn’t like the Abercrombie & Fitch models who seemed to populate the city. He was sandy blond and a little scruffy with cheekbones I desperately wanted to touch and blue eyes that made me forget basically everything when he looked at me. If I had to guess, he was a handful of years older than me—he might’ve been thirty, give or take a year. He had a soft smile that didn’t seem phony like so many other people I’d met since I’d moved here. Everything about him was cute and seemed perfectly genuine and seriously why did I have to screw up his order?
Probably because I’d been so flustered the whole time. As it was, he’d had to repeat himself twice after my dumb ass had been too distracted by his voice or his eyes or whatever had made my brain fizzle out at that particular moment. And now I’d brought him the wrong food.
It figured. A guy who was a thousand percent my type, and I’d already made such an idiot of myself that this would definitely not be the day I worked up the courage to ask for someone’s number. Shame—I would have loved to have this guy’s number.
Schooling my expression, I set one of the plates down in front of him. “I’m sorry. I accidentally got you hash browns instead of home fries, so—”
“It’s okay.” He smiled up at me, gorgeous eyes sparkling. “I like hash browns, so don’t worry about it.”
“Oh. Are you sure? I can have it remade and—”
“It’s fine. I promise.”
I was still going to knock some of it off his bill, but I set the plate down anyway.
And then his expression faltered. “Oh. Um. I ordered ham, not bacon.”
“Shit.” I clapped a hand over my mouth. Great. Now I’d fucked up his order and cursed. Face on fire, I reached for the plate. “I’m sorry. I’ll get you another—”
“No, it’s fine.” The smile came back, thank God. “Really. Take it easy. Could you just get me a side of ham to go with it?”
I did not deserve a customer who was this easygoing. “Thanks. I’m sorry again.”
“Don’t worry about it.” As if for emphasis, he picked up one of the bacon strips and bit off a piece. If he was just humoring me, he was doing a damn good job of it.
“Okay.” I exhaled. “I’ll, uh, be right back.” While he ate, I went back into the kitchen and asked Paco for a side of ham.
As I stood back there and waited, I felt like such an incompetent asshole. I was never going to be good at this job. I could memorize lines for an entire play, but I always managed to forget something on an order or get something wrong. It wasn’t even because I was too distracted by this hot dude. Everyone in LA was hot, for God’s sake. I just sucked at my job. It really was a miracle I hadn’t been fired, but the day wasn’t over yet.
Why am I still here? At the diner? In LA?
Fuck it. Yeah. It’s time to GTFO.
Feeling equal parts sick and determined, I found a pen and paper and quickly wrote out my two weeks’ notice. When I got home, I’d write a similar note to my landlord. Then I’d figure out how to buy enough gas to get back to Missouri, and… well, I’d go from there.
The hot guy’s side of ham was ready, so I folded the note, slid it into my back pocket, and took the food out to him. He smiled at me again, making me weak in the knees because God, he was just so… he was…
“Hey, could I get some coffee over here?” A woman in a suit gestured with an empty cup.
Right. Coffee. Customers.
I stole another glance at the hot guy, and then got back to work.
A few more tables filled up. I flitted from one to the next, trying like hell to keep track of who was still waiting for what, who was drinking decaf, who had already told me—twice—he didn’t want more coffee, and which table had asked for their check. So shocking that my tips were trash and my mood was getting worse. It really was time to just quit this stupid job, ditch my shithole apartment, and get out of LA. I clearly did not belong here.
No point in staying. No point in going to that audition.
My heart sank deeper. I didn’t want to disappoint my agent by not showing up, and I didn’t want to give up my dream—never mind my ticket out of my hometown—but it wasn’t like I’d get the part. I’d gotten a few scattered roles in commercials, but every time I went in for a TV pilot or a movie—crickets. So why waste the gas and time—not to mention pay for parking—just to be let down again? I might as well cut my losses and skip the audition. That would give me more time to pack for my drive of shame back to Misery. Err, Missouri.
My cute and infinitely patient customer requested his check, and I was both relieved and disappointed. I wouldn’t have another chance to screw up his order, but I also wouldn’t have his gorgeous face to make my day feel slightly less shitty. And damn, when I came back to pick up his bill? He’d tipped me twenty percent. Why weren’t more people as sweet as he was, and why didn’t they come into the diner during my shifts?
As he put his wallet away and I started clearing up his dishes, he laid a weathered blue notebook on the table.
“Listen, um, before I go…” He chewed his lip, then looked up at me kind of shyly as he tapped the ragged leather cover of the notebook. “Would you mind signing a page in this?”
I blinked. Was this some kind of joke? I kept my poker face somehow and warily asked, “What is it?”
“I…” He laughed self-consciously and flipped to a blank page. “I realized a long time ago how many servers in Los Angeles are actors trying to break into Hollywood. And it occurred to me that any one of them could be the next big thing. There’s no telling who it’ll be.” Some of the shyness faded as he looked right in my eyes and added, “It could be you.”
I stared at him, and… shit. I suddenly wanted to cry. Like, seriously. Just break down and ugly cry right there in the diner because of four words I hadn’t realized I’d needed to hear.
It could be you.
Somehow, I managed to choke back those sudden emotions and croak, “Seriously?”
His smile was gorgeous and he didn’t sound the least bit patronizing as he said, “Why not?”
Yeah, Adam. Why not?
With a lump in my throat, I shakily took his book and looked down at the blank page. This was the first time someone had ever asked me for an autograph. Kind of felt like I should make it count. Or at least say something to acknowledge that he’d given me the encouragement I needed today, but without sounding like a complete dork.
Finally, with tears in my eyes and a smile pulling at my lips, I wrote beside a faint coffee ring:
To my future number 1 fan—Adam Jacobsen.
He took the book, read the inscription, and closed the cover as he smiled up at me. “Thanks. And good luck, Adam.”
Yep. So gonna cry before this shift is over. “Thank you.”
As I collected his dishes and headed back to the kitchen, I realized I was smiling for real. For the first time in a long time now that I thought about it. After being discouraged at every turn, told to just give it up and let it go, some stranger had come along and said the words I hadn’t known I needed to hear.
It could be you.
Yeah. Yeah, maybe it could. Why the fuck not?
So right then and there, as I started putting the plates and silverware in the overloaded sink, I vowed to make it to this afternoon’s audition after all.And I promised myself I’d blow it out of the water.
Struggling actor Adam Jacobsen was ready to pack up and leave Hollywood when a stranger gave him the encouragement he needed. Five years later, he’s made it, and when he wins his first major award, he dedicates it to the man who said “It could be you.”
Brian Stewart is stunned by the acceptance speech, and so are Adam’s fans. Immediately, both men find themselves swept up in a media frenzy. Everyone wants to know the man who gave Adam that much-needed boost—including Adam. When the guys finally meet again, a single talk show appearance isn’t enough. Before long, they’re flying to see each other at every opportunity.
But Adam’s career means living in a fishbowl. When word gets out that America’s biggest crush has a new boyfriend, the press and the public descend on Brian. Adam can’t protect him. Brian can’t handle the constant attention.
And something has to give before fame costs each man the love of his life.