Everyone needs a safe space.
She’s nineteen. Her show has been cancelled and now she’s going to play the lead in a new prime time drama series, but is the world ready to take her seriously, or will she be typecast as the cute tween queen forever?
Her network has decided to be aggressive and has invested millions of dollars in an ad campaign for her show, money she’s not sure she can earn back. Her co-star can’t stand her, and the writing for the show turns out to be poor at best. The only reason Lizzie didn’t walk away from the job offer to begin with is because she’s broke, the victim of a decade of bad money management.
Then there’s Devon, the personal trainer at her gym. Arrogant and abrasive, he’s the last guy she should ever find attractive, but she has a hopeless crush on him anyway, and he doesn’t seem entirely disinterested either. In fact, sometimes he’s downright sweet to her. If only he weren’t an untamable bad boy who uses and dumps women like they’re nothing. Though Lizzie’s friends warn her to stay away, he’s the only person who can create what she needs: a safe space. But is there any way she can break him of his years' long habit of being a user?
As Devon swaggers through the gym, there’s a sweep of female heads turning, like the wake behind a boat in water. He ignores them, though, and comes straight to me.
My mind races, desperate to have a witty response ready for whatever obnoxious, arrogant crack he’s about to make. I avert my eyes from his toned body, flawless complexion, and those piercing hazel eyes. (I never thought of hazel as a piercing color before I met this guy.)
I stand in my designer blouse, jeans, and boots by the exit with my roommate, Kyra, who digs in her purse for her keys, oblivious to his approach. When she looks up, her mouth turns down in a scowl. “Don’t, Devon,” she says.
“Don’t what?” His eyes are wide with innocence and his mouth is curled into its usual smirk.
I draw myself up to my full height, unsure whether I should look right at him defiantly or look away, as if he’s beneath my notice. If this were scene, I think, and he were the male romantic lead… wait, do I want to think of him as the romantic lead? Does that give too much of my hand away? Suffice it to say I’m not navigating this situation with the kind of cool, collected air I aspire to.
“Have a good day, Veronica,” he says to me.
“That,” says Kyra. “Stop calling her that. Lizzie is what we call an actress. The stuff you see her do on television isn’t real. Let me know if I’m throwing too many concepts at you too fast.”
He directs his attention to her.
Now, I think, here’s my chance. I should mock him for watching children’s television (that’s where I played the “Veronica” he’s referring to), or double down on Kyra’s insult about not understanding that I’m an actress. Anything to puncture his ego.
I’ve acted on a show watched by millions of people around the world, sang whole concerts to sold out arena venues, and in front of this one guy, I choke. I cannot string together a coherent insult. My only saving grace is that he isn’t looking at me and doesn’t see my blank and no doubt embarrassed expression.
“Hey, so you said you wanted to know a good app for a pedometer,” he says to Kyra, whipping out his phone and showing her the screen.
The moment for trading insults has passed and I just stand, feeling like a third wheel while my roommate talks to her personal trainer, her silky black ponytail bobbing as he shows her some options.
“All right, bandwrecker?” he jibes.
There, another opportunity. He just insulted Kyra. I should say… something.
“That should be fine, man-whore,” she replies. “Let’s go Lizzie. Hey, you gonna wish Lizzie good luck for her first day on the set of her new show?”
“I’m still not over All About Veronica being cancelled. This is a painful moment for me,” he replies.
“Why do you watch Nickelodeon?” I blurt out.
“It’s quality programming,” he says without missing a beat. “And as your roommate here will tell you, it’s at my intellectual level.” He holds his hand horizontal to the floor, at about waist height. Then with a wink he turns away. “Ladies,” he says to a couple of women ogling him on the gym floor. “May I help you with anything?”
They both giggle and it’s clear they have him pegged for the superficial, commitment adverse player that he is. It’s also clear that he doesn’t mind. His confidence doesn’t diminish, not even a little bit, that’s how sure he is that he can have his way with any girl he wants. From what I’ve seen, he’s right.
Kyra shoots him a withering look behind his back. But that fades as soon as she turns to me. “You ready?”
I shake my head.
“You’ll kill it,” she says, leaning on the door that opens to the parking garage. “You can do this.”
I follow her out and do my best to act confident. A glance over my shoulder reveals that Devon’s paused to watch us leave. I look away fast. He’s a jerk, I tell myself. He’s a user. It doesn’t matter that he’s gorgeous; I work in Hollywood. Gorgeous is normal.
It’s as if there’s always a spotlight on Devon, though. No matter where he is in the room, I can sense him out of the corner of my eye.
Kyra holds out her hand, and we fist bump before we part ways, her to her red Jeep Liberty that she calls “Libby,” and me to the car that waits at the curb. I greet the driver as I climb in the back.
He turns to hand me the half-caff soy latte I requested he pick up on the way, and then we’re off.
I shut my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose. I can do this. I can do this. The set is a safe space. A safe space. This is the mantra that has worked for me for over a decade. Don’t get me wrong, acting classes and coaching help a lot too, but this was the secret my mother unlocked for me at the very beginning of it all. People respect the set and the stage. There are social rules that prevent them from mocking or laughing. The more relaxed and expressive you can be, the more people respect what you do, provided you’re inside that safe space.
Emily Mah Tippetts writes science fiction as Emily Mah and sweet romance as E.M. Tippetts. A lifelong New Mexican, she lives with her family in Santa Fe, though she's been known to spend years at a time in the UK, her second home. Aside from being a writer, she's been a lawyer and jeweler, and is currently a stay at home mother, polymer clay artist, book designer/formatter, and owner of E.M. Tippetts Book Designs.