This rewrite of chapter one of The Girlfriend Stage from Josh’s point of view contains SPOILERS for The Girlfriend Stage. You can get a free copy of The Girlfriend Stage by signing up for our readers’ group. Be sure to check out our other bonus content scenes, and our new goals for revealing even more exclusive content, always made available to everyone after the goals are met. And, as always, thanks for reading!
As I usually do when Anna-Marie spends the night in my bed, I wake up gradually from a really good dream I can barely remember. I become aware of her slowly, my arm wrapped around her waist, the comforting sensation of her skin against mine, the soft sound of her voice. I’m pretty sure I respond, but half asleep as I am, I remember nothing between lying in bed and standing in the shower with Anna-Marie in my arms, making love to her while scorching water courses over our bodies.
Then I drift awake to the warm, steamy smell of freshly brewed coffee. I squint against the light and run my hand along my sheets to discover that I’m alone in bed, though I can still feel her warmth in the space next to me. I smile and sit up, taking a sip of the coffee she’s kindly left for me, like she always does. I’m not sure how much of what I remember from the last few minutes was a dream, besides the shower part, which explains a lot, because I’ve found shower sex to be significantly more frightening and less comfortable than my subconscious seems to think that it is, and I remember having a conversation with Anna-Marie about that during the first few weeks we were dating where we agreed that showers were best used for foreplay only.
I stretch out in bed and contemplate joining her now, when my foot nudges something off the bed and a flutter of pages falling to the floor. After my second sip of coffee, I’m aware enough to realize I’ve tipped over Anna-Marie’s script for today’s scenes. I retrieve it and lean back in bed, drinking my coffee and staring at the closed bathroom door. I know she doesn’t like to go into work looking like she just crawled out of my bed, but this is my least favorite part of the routine we’ve fallen into—the part where I wake up without her and somehow miss her, even though I know she’s just on the other side of the door. My body feels vaguely achy—a combination of the effects of the dream and the memories of last night—the latter of which make me curse both Anna-Marie’s early call time and her imminent departure for Wyoming.
Maybe I’ll have to leave the shower foreplay for a Saturday morning. If she doesn’t have to work early she’s usually game to stay in bed with me for a few hours at least, even if she does always seem to want to leave far earlier than I’d like.
I could get used to this.
I leaf absently through the script until I find the name of Anna-Marie’s character, Maeve, who is apparently doing scenes today with one of her regular lovers, Vincenzo Valentini. They’re yelling at each other about their interpretations of a tryst they apparently had in the episode before. Wyatt’s going to hate that. He always DVRs the episodes for me and the two of us make Ben sit through each and every one, but he also has a habit of sending me leading texts about everything Maeve is doing when he watches it as it airs, so when I watch them I know both what’s going to happen and his precise feelings on the subject.
The Maeve-Vincenzo scene ends in them having sex on the dessert cart in the back room of Mama Judy’s, spilling a tray full of grits in the process.
I’m debating how much it would sound like a tired line if I were to ask her if she wants to rehearse, and have only just decided against it when the door opens and Anna Marie steps out.
Instead, I raise an eyebrow at her. “You’re really getting back together with Vincenzo? Didn’t he steal your baby or something?”
She gives me a sly look, like despite my discretion, she knows I’ve been thinking up dumb come-on lines in her absence. “My character Maeve is getting back together with Vincenzo. Which, yeah, seems like an oversight, given the baby thing. But Maeve has a weakness for cute Latino men.”
I can’t help but grin like an idiot, something I do more in Anna-Marie’s presence than I care to admit. “Clearly something Anna-Marie and Maeve have in common.”
Anna-Marie’s eyes wander down my body—at least as far as the sheet tucked around my waist—and I’m already having regrets about not joining her in the shower.
“Clearly,” she says, and then she snatches her script, though she, too, is smiling. “Besides, you aren’t supposed to be reading that. I have clauses against this kind of thing. You’re an agent. You should know better.”
I laugh. “Hey, you left it out on my bed. I didn’t sign anything about not reading it.” She cocks her hip at me and I take that as a sign of permission and pull her down on top of me.
The script falls back to the floor. There’s too much blanket between us, and too many layers of clothes (all hers), but that doesn’t stop her back from arching, and her mouth from crashing into mine.
God, I want her. I’ve never been the type who can’t go multiple days—weeks even—without sex but the one, two, sometimes three day stretches between our dates have been getting, well . . . harder. The last couple weeks I’ve even been thinking that maybe we’re ready for the next step, which in my cowardly world means allowing myself to ask her out a fourth night a week, instead of my typical date-maximum of three.
Still, if she wants to, I’m thrilled to make her a few minutes late to work. I slip my hands up under her shirt, thinking of all the delicious things I can never get enough of doing to her body, when, of course, she pulls back.
I sigh. “Fine, I get it. You’ve got another hot guy to go make out with. Meanwhile, I have a meeting with a client who wants a rider in his contract that will allow his cats to have their own trailer on set. One of us is clearly going to enjoy the day more.”
I half want her to take pity on me and give me some more memories to last me the day, but she just laughs, which I probably deserve. “Well, if you really want to make out with Vincenzo instead, I could probably arrange that.”
Ha. She probably could. Half the actors on her soap are gay, but that is strictly Ben and Wyatt’s scene. I half hope she reconsiders, and reach out to run my hands around her waist again, but she just giggles.
I sigh again. “Thanks, but I’ll pass. Besides, if I’m going to go after one of Maeve’s boyfriends, Ben tells me the better catch is Bruce.”
“Ben watches Southern Heat?”
I try to keep a straight face. Anna-Marie makes a comment at least once a week about how I would never be caught dead watching her show, and I’m careful to keep up the facade, mostly because I’m not sure how much face I’ll lose if she finds out I’m watching it every Sunday night at Ben’s instead of our usual beer and Persona binge, something Ben has been loudly missing over the last few months, and I gather Wyatt has been giving him extra sex to keep going. “No, but Wyatt does. And Ben tells me he’s a super-fan of Maeve and Bruce. Posts on the message boards and everything.”
“Really,” she says, and she smiles, like this is good news. Maybe I could tell her I’ve seen an episode or two. It couldn’t lose me nearly as much face as if she discovered my basement. “Well, Braeve is the more popular ship of the two, that’s for sure. The solid choice.”
“Brave?” I ask, laying aside the ship.
“Yeah, you know, like a combination of Bruce and Maeve. Braeve.”
That’s clever, but I must look skeptical, because Anna-Marie swats me. “Hey, I didn’t make it up. Blame the fans.”
“Yes, blaming the fans. Always good PR advice. But why Braeve? Why not….” It’s too early in the morning for me to be creating mash-up names as brilliant as Romione, but I try anyway. “Muce?”
Anna-Marie looks startled, and then lets out a snorting sound that I can only describe as a water-buffalo who’s scarfed down a mouthful of my dad’s hot peppers. She then gives me this look of horror that rivals even the very best of young Jamie Lee Curtis, and I can’t help but grin at her.
Like an idiot, for what is probably the fifth time already this morning. I pause a few seconds, letting her sweat it. Anna-Marie is among the very sexiest women I’ve ever had in my bed, but that’s far from the only reason I wish she was here more often—every night, if possible, which is a thought I know full well to keep to myself for at least a while yet. She’s also fun and hilarious and sharp-witted.
And she gets incredibly, adorably embarrassed whenever she does something in front of me like get chocolate on her face or burp with even the slightest audibility. She’s never looked quite this ashamed about it, though, so like usual, I play it off like I didn’t notice.
“So which guy do you think Maeve should be with?” I ask, rolling over so I’m fully facing her. “Solid Bruce or Bad Boy Vincenzo?”
She recovers enough to think about that. “Neither. I don’t think Maeve has found the right person yet.” She pauses. “Neither of them really get her, you know? It’s like each of them is perfect for a part of her, but Maeve needs more than that. She needs someone more whole, more real.”
The smile slips from my face, and for a rogue moment I let myself imagine that she’d understand what that felt like, having these disparate parts of your life that don’t fit together, and wanting so desperately to have someone to share all of them with. I’ve never seen even a hint of that from Anna-Marie in real life, but maybe, if she sees her character that way, there’s something in her past that would help her understand.
“So,” I say, trying to play off the question as casual, “is any of Maeve drawn from real life?”
For a split second, I think she’s going to say yes, and I’m alarmed by the way my heart picks up pace. I stare up at her, hoping that she’s going to tell me something about how she’s always felt that way, that there’s something in her life that she’s never told me—a love for horses? A passion for lacrosse?—that she desperately wants someone to appreciate about her. A tiny, desperate part of me hopes she’s about to confess a predilection for going to San Diego ComicCon dressed as Luna Lovegood, but by twenty-eight years old and more than a decade now of sexual activity, I know better than to ever hope any woman is going to confess that.
Unless, I suppose, I start stalking ComicCon and asking Lunas for their numbers.
Instead, Anna Marie gives me a casual smile. “Only the part about my newborn child being stolen in the hospital by my jealous lover.”
I try to smile, hoping she doesn’t see my disappointment. And it hurts more than it ought to—I thought I’d left behind the hope of finding a girl who fully gets me years ago. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been with anyone who I get along with as well as Anna-Marie. She has something the Lunas of the world don’t—an understanding of what it’s like to work of Hollywood, rather than just dream about it. She and I both take a similar attitude to the job—it’s awesome beyond belief and we count ourselves lucky to be doing it, but we’re both quite aware that it chews people up and spits them out and that too much of the time people aren’t quite as genuine as they seem. My heart aches along with my body, and I quip back at her: “Only that part?”
And thankfully, she doesn’t seem to notice anything amiss.
“Real life doesn’t come into play very often for Maeve, I’m afraid. Since she’s a soap opera character.” She speaks with derision, like somehow being on a soap is a dead end instead of an incredible accomplishment, as if she doesn’t obviously think about her character motivations and pour them into her craft. Especially because she’s apparently put enough thought into Maeve to give her background motivations, even ones she’s never felt herself in real life. “A soap opera I’m going to be late for if we don’t eventually get out of bed.”
She sits up, and I move to turn away, trying to hide my disappointment, which is stinging for longer than I want it to. I think she may sense that something’s off, though, because she catches me and kisses me, long and slow and with enough longing that my whole body groans.
God, she’s got me wrapped around her finger. But she pulls back, and I know what she’s going to say. “Okay, okay, I’m moving.”
I slide out of bed and find my gym clothes and a suit for work. While I’m in the closet hunting for an empty garment bag and out of her eyeline, I shake myself, trying to lose the achy feeling, which I’m now certain is coming more from my heart than anything else.
I need to get a grip. I know I have to choose between dating women who would be in heaven in my basement and women who connect with me on a professional level. My job—my life in Hollywood— that’s my adult life, the one that’s the most important, the one where I spend most of my time. I could see myself in a longterm relationship with someone who doesn’t get the geek stuff—hell, I’ve done it before—but I can’t commit longterm to a woman who doesn’t understand my life. Besides which, I’ve gotten embarrassingly used to dating hot actresses I meet at industry parties, and maybe, yeah, my standards have gotten absurdly high. Not that Anna-Marie and I are getting serious—god knows—but she’s definitely the kind of girl I could commit to.
And maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to admit that that’s something I want, not just in general, but increasingly with her.
I bring out my suit and my garment bag and work on combining the two. “So do you really like working on a soap opera?” I ask, mostly because she so frequently sounds down on it, though I know there’s a healthy amount of squee in her experience as well. “Like, is that where you ultimately want to be?”
She looks so sexy sitting on my bed—even fully clothed—that I immediately wish I’d picked a more suggestive line of questioning, but there it is.
She shrugs. “I mean, not forever. But my agent says I’m in a good place for now.”
I stare at her. He says what? Hollywood isn’t the kind of industry where you rest on your laurels, and agents don’t keep their jobs by telling their clients they shouldn’t be looking to rise above their current level of success. “Are you serious? He says that to you? He doesn’t have you auditioning anywhere else?”
“No. He thinks I should work for awhile here, build up some more experience—”
I’ve met her agent, Brent, and my opinion of him has never been sky high, but it’s rapidly plummeting. “That’s ridiculous. You’re an actress. Unless you actually want a lifelong career in soaps, you need to be auditioning.” I pause, zipping up the bag. This next part is something I’ve been thinking about, but avoiding saying because I don’t want to seem like I’m sleeping with her in an effort to poach her. But if Brent wants to treat her like she’s topped out. . . “What you need is a better agent.”
“Brent’s a good agent,” she says defensively, and I immediately wince. I didn’t mean to suggest that she wasn’t doing well for herself when the opposite is obviously true. “He got me this job, which is pretty damn great for how long I’ve been in Hollywood.”
I sit on the bed next to her. Maybe it’s hypocritical, but while I don’t hate it when my own clients give me credit for the parts they land—I need them to think I’m good for something, after all—it kills me when I hear other actors doing just that. “Brent got you an audition. You were the one that got the part, which is pretty damn great. But just because you’re grateful for what you have doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious.” I pause. I really shouldn’t say this next part. It’s crossing a line, and I don’t want to offend her. But I also can’t stand to see her with anyone who doesn’t fully appreciate exactly what they’ve got. “You should let me represent you.”
She pauses for an uncomfortably long time, and my heartbeat picks up again. God, I’m an idiot who has clearly overstepped and I wish I could take it back.
“That sounds a lot like mixing business with pleasure,” she says finally. “Which I hear isn’t a great idea.”
I’m afraid she means that she’s figuring this is going to end soon and doesn’t want to deal with the lingering attachments. But no, I’m reading too much into it. I have a bad habit—as everyone’s told me for basically my entire life—of being way too sensitive, and it’s clearly getting the best of me today. If I can’t take the words back, at least I can save a little face and get this conversation back on track. I lean close to her and lower my voice. “Lots of agents sleep with their clients. It’s really not a big deal.”
“Thanks,” she says. “But I’m going to stay with Brent.”
I wince, and then try to play it off like a joke. It shouldn’t hurt, but what I say is all too true. “You’re breaking my heart, Halsey.”
Anna-Marie leans in and runs her bare foot up my leg. “I know one way to ease the pain of my rejection.”
My body responds to the suggestion, and I want to believe that isn’t just about needing the reassurance that she still wants me, that I haven’t ruined everything. “I thought you didn’t want to be late for work.”
“I don’t,” she says, giving me one of her patented sly smiles. “Turns out we have a few extra minutes. Seems like we always do, don’t we?”
I give her what I’m sure is another stupid grin. She’s right. We always do, though my early morning sluggish brain still interpreted every nudge as impatience on her part, and frankly, I’m never sure what time it is until at least eight AM. My brain, before that hour, appears to be allergic to looking at clocks. “Wait a minute. Are you telling me that even as you’re rushing me out of bed, you build in time for this? Every morning?”
She smiles back. “Took you long enough to catch on, Rios.”
And then my hands are in her hair, and she’s kissing me like it’s been weeks instead of hours since the last time we made love, and I hope she’s not sensing the growing, terrifying desperation with which I’m kissing her, needing her, wanting her to show me that I’m more than just good sex and a comfortable place to sleep.
Maybe it isn’t wise mixing business with pleasure. That sounds like something a past version of me has probably said. But as her hands run under my shirt and I gasp in anticipation, all I can think is that I want to be with her, hold on to her, integrate my life with hers in every way I can. It’s probably just the rejection making me a bit clingy, I tell myself. And I know that’s not smart. But Anna Marie is kissing me, pressing up against me, rubbing her body against mine in ways that make the ache sharpen and grow, and so, for the sake of foreplay, I let myself believe for the moment that she needs this as much as I do, that she’s also hoping that we’re angling toward something more, taking up more real estate in each other’s lives, maybe even the whisper of something more eventually permanent.
When we’re finished, I’ll remember to be a grown up and not say more unwise things than I already have.