The showrunner nearly tripped on some cables as he ran to meet the contestants.
“Good of you to come in so early. I hope that the car got there in time and that you had…”
Michael could tell that they were not listening, no matter how excited they were to be here. “It’s Never Too Late!” had been the top reality-television show on the network for the last five years, but it seemed as if the contestants were just getting worse and worse as the ratings got better and better. The woman – a “Rachel” in this particular season – was trying very hard not to use her cell phone as her hand dangled over the padded swivel chair. The man – “Donald,” conveniently, his real name (legal issues notwithstanding) – was looking at his watch and grinning at him.
“We had the talk in the limo. You second came over and had a chat with us.”
Already, this Monday morning was turning out to be a real pain in the brain for him. Micheal enjoyed watching the contestants going through the motions – they knew who the final couple would be, but were legally blocked from revealing this or any other details of the show (NDAs are wonderful things, he thought). He even liked some of the contestants over the years – their “Mitchum” and “Suzanne” were a good match – and he could imagine many good things happening with this show. It made people happy and they had their People’s Choice Awards to prove it (record number for reality TV). But there was always something to trip him up; something that would make his day that much annoying.
“My second? No one told me…”
“It was a woman who was in the nice car when it picked us up.” She finally spoke up and shared this info while texting (did she know that this would be the last time she could do that for several weeks; very smart).
“Okay, look, I don’t know who that was supposed to be, but we just have to get you on set for…”
“Said her name was Laura and that she knew you.” He kept the grin going, now with some sort of gum or cud stuck between his teeth.
It was going to be an ugly day. Laura… Laura, Laura, Laura… She was back. It had been a very difficult time in both of their lives – her divorce; his uncommitted girlfriend – but she was now back. The idea of this being a prank was becoming much more believable.
“I think that we have everything we need right. She said that you would take us to the main set when we were ready.” The woman dropped her phone into a clutch purse Michael had not noticed before and she finally looked at him with a soft smile. “I think we’re ready.”
The two of them stood up at once and he barely recalled what he wanted to say next as he walked them both to the set. He thought about what Laura must have said to them. And then he tripped over the cable.
Laura… She was here, actually in the building again. All those plans that he allowed to rise up and stay unformed in his thoughts were coming back to him. She had also been a showrunner when he started here. Her job was to make sure that he knew that he had a job (basic assistant and gopher for various people who went on to bigger roles or vanished once the season ended). She had lit up the place like no one else could…
“You heard who’s back?”
Guy wasn’t supposed to be here for another hour, thought Michael. What the hell was this waste of skin doing on set? Everything the man said sounded like it was a challenge to him and his responsibility on the show. Michael felt some comfort that he was not the only one who hated the most popular member of the cast (damn Neilsen ratings and surveys never lied).
“Hi, yourself. Did you hear what I said? Laura is back on staff now. She was brought in to save all of our skins, I guess.”
“Yeah, I heard. But why are you here so early?”
“Are you kidding? I got called in. That’s how I found out about the return of my beloved, my dear. Our beloved Laura.”
Guy, with that perfect smile, suit that cost what Michael had paid for his first car when he moved to Hollywood, and hair already set and perfected, was the one person who could get away with calling him “Dear” or “Dude”. He had been with the show from very beginning when they were both looking for PA work and a casting director decided to give them both screen tests. Several awards later and many late-night meetings that Michael was not privy to, Guy had a certain amount of power that other showrunners might have respected. They just might have…
“Anyway, is there anything you need before…”
“Nah, dude. She gave me all her notes. All she recommended was that you stay in the main office and see if she can have a chat with you.”
Now Michael felt like breaking his jaw.
“She wants to see me?”
“Yeah.” Guy sucked his teeth, looked out at the set, and smiled until the glare hurt Michael’s eyes. “Better get up there, my dear.”
He walked off, leaving Michael wondering about fate and the problem of hard work versus results.
No one in the office.
No one in the main hallways.
No one anywhere he would have chosen to be.
Michael was aware that Guy played pranks on people, but he never did so when they were about to go to air. He would have to think about what to say to whomever was in charge when this was all over.
And he felt that it was over.
All those years in the business; all those years on this show… There was not much to show for it except one relationship that ended badly for him, and his feelings for Laura. Nothing else.
He decided to not stay on the set during the first take.
His office was not too far from the exit. Michael stepped inside for a moment and looked for paper. A handwritten letter was probably the best way to resign. Would they even accept…?
There was a letter on his desk.
It was handwritten.
Michael felt a pain behind his eyes that quickly turned into a twinge through his back. If they were going to fire him, that would be the way to do it.
So, let’s get to it.
Michael dropped to his desk and blinked.
It was from Laura.
Well, by now you have heard I am back. I decided to give this place one more chance and I found that they were willing to promote me this time. No longer showrunning this one. I am now one of the producers! Your boss, yes, but I don’t think that will change our feelings for each other.
Yes, feelings do matter. I went through a terrible time with that divorce while you were being cheated on by my ex. Is that some sort of sign that we should have noted? Is that something that we can ever get over? Is it something that means we can have a second chance?
Can we give this a try?
I love you. I do love you.
I know that with a change in our relationship, this is completely inappropriate, and you have probably moved on with your life.
Please talk to me when this day is done.
He did not hear much else beyond one of the other staff informing the audience that the show would be on in about ten minutes. He did not care about Guy, the fake “Rachel” and “Donald”, or his own feelings about the job (the resignation could wait). He sat with the letter and let the show go on.
“…And, ladies and gentlemen, we are back!”