A sweetly sexy, thoroughly modern new novel about single life, social media, career goals, and making the bold move to grab your own happiness—and write your own love story.
Max Van Doren has a wish list, and a great career and a girlfriend are at the top. But despite being pretty good at her job as an assistant to one of Hollywood’s fastest rising talent agents, she has no idea how to move up the ladder. And when it comes to her love life, she’s stuck in perpetual lust for an adorably perfect bartender named Sadie. Her goals are clear—and Max has everything but the self-confidence to go for them. Even her mother seems to assume she’ll be crawling home to her childhood bedroom at some point . . .
When Max’s roommate, Chelsey—an irritatingly gorgeous and self-assured influencer in plus-size and queer spaces—offers to sponsor her for a new self-actualization app, Max gives in. If she can’t run her own life, maybe an algorithm guiding her choices will help? Suddenly Max is scoring big everywhere, and her dreams are achingly close to coming true. But when one of Chelsey’s posts reveals Sadie’s part in the app’s campaign, Max is poised for heartbreak on all fronts. Tired of the sponcon life with its fake friends and endless selfies, Max realizes that to have true influence, she’ll have to find the courage to make her own, totally authentic way in the world . . .
Fresh, feel-good, and endlessly relatable, here is a glorious love story for the digital age and beyond.
Joyce’s office, like Joyce, was stylish and intimidating beyond what I could have imagined before landing this job. (I’d interviewed in Joyce’s favorite meeting room, and therefore wasn’t prepared to walk into this stunning space on my first day of employment.) Exemplar’s overall vibe was of bright whiteness, like an Apple store that sold talent and intimidation instead of phones and computers, but Joyce’s office, like Joyce herself, was vibrant and warm…and intensely intimidating. Paintings and prints in bold colors hung on the walls, and color had been injected wherever possible—the yellow sofa, the cobalt blue desk lamp, even the file cabinets were Tiffany blue.
I, a person without one ounce of interior decorating ability, didn’t understand how all the competing vivid hues didn’t clash or look like a nightmare circus, but it was the exact opposite. Joyce’s office was striking and anything but quiet, but it was also harmonious and beautiful. I was still a little amazed that I’d become comfortable here in this room. As comfortable as I was anywhere, at least. Anywhere except—oh my god. I couldn’t think about that.
“Your call’s confirmed,” I told Joyce, ignoring that while my headache had dulled, there was still a sensation of someone hammering around in my skull. Who needed to feel a hundred percent to do her job? Not me. When I’d started at Exemplar, I’d lived in constant fear of saying the wrong thing, dropping the wrong call, making a reservation at the wrong restaurant. So even though this would never be a stress-free gig, I liked feeling how much fear had fallen away since then.
“And Meeting Room 2 is reserved for you for your three pm with Tess’ team.”
“Wonderful,” Joyce said, and an Outlook reminder chimed on her computer and my watch at the same moment. “It’s just the weekly meeting. I assume you’ve already grabbed my chair for me.”
Oh, no. I should have known I couldn’t just power through my stupid headache and my stupid heartbreak. Somehow, even with my multiple systems set up to keep something exactly like this from happening, I’d let a task slip anyway. I’d not only forgotten that Joyce was due for the Exemplar executive meeting but—so much worse—I hadn’t reserved her seat at the conference room table.
“What?” Joyce asked, watching me, and I knew my face must have given me away.
“I’m so—let me see what I can—”
Joyce’s gaze was so intense that I stopped as if she’d actually interrupted me. The seat thing was actually the story I told the most on first dates when people asked me if it was as ridiculous working at a talent agency as it seemed. Not always, I’d say. But there’s this thing about ‘the good seats’ for the executive meetings though where the only way to hold your spot in advance is that your assistant has to write down your name on a buck slip—Do you even know what that is? Why would you? It’s like this old timey slip of heavy-duty paper—and put it on the chair in advance of the meeting. Otherwise they’ll get stuck with a shitty spot and also everyone knows your assistant sucks. I loved telling the story because Hollywood was indeed often very silly, but also because I never messed that up.
Never before today, at least.
I took a deep breath and tried again. “I know how important it is to—”
“It’s fine,” she said in a tone that made it clear it was anything but, and I tried very hard not to burst into tears. It was bad enough being tiny and weird—weird for this world at least. I couldn’t also be a crier.
Joyce’s phone rang, and even though in more casual moments, I might have just reached over and answered it from her desk, I knew to carefully transport my fancy coffee out of there and back to the relative safety of my cubicle. An easy call would be great right now, honestly. I could solve some small problem, Joyce would witness how great I was at literally almost every single part of my job, and I’d be distracted enough to forget everything I’d messed up in the last twenty-four hours.
“Max, it’s Karissa. Looks like we still haven’t received Dan’s payment for Last Year’s War. I know you were looking into this, did you have an answer for us yet?”
“Yes—no, I mean, I don’t have an answer, but I am looking into it and—”
I realized Joyce was standing right in front of me. I shook my head to let her know she didn’t need to concern herself with the call, but considering she was on her way into the meeting that I’d messed up for her, I didn’t feel as competent and irreplaceable as I’d aimed for. I didn’t even feel mildly useful, and I was definitely destined to be alone forever. That didn’t really have anything to do specifically with my job here but somehow it all felt tied together right now, not just the boring work parts or the exciting romantic parts, just all of it.
Joyce headed into the meeting and I handled the call, and by the time I was off there were a dozen new emails to sort through, and on any other day all of this would be a great distraction. No matter how much I had to do, though, my head kept pounding. The hangover turned into a constant murmur, as if I could hear someone talking from a room or two away. All I could hear was Sadie, Sadie, Sadie, over and over, like my headache and my heartache had a little chat and were now sharing information freely. I’d been in this business way too long not to have made them sign NDAs.
After all, I wasn’t built for hangovers and regretful mornings. While everyone else I knew had spent the tail end of their teens and their early twenties off at college, getting these experiences out of their system—or at least learning how to mess up and move on—I’d commuted all four years. I had stayed up too late sometimes, sure, but I was usually reading Supergirl fanfic in bed and working on homework assignments, not drinking at cute bars while even cuter bartenders—
The phone rang again, and now I had to figure out a “more inventive” location for a client dinner tomorrow night. Apparently, Horses had somehow fallen out of favor since I made the reservation one week ago. I pulled up The Infatuation in my browser but also texted my roommate who was objectively cooler than me, as well as my former coworker who was not only also objectively cooler but in a relationship with an actor so would know where talent liked to eat these days. Hollywood really was silly and stupid, but for some reason I loved all of it. OK, most of it, the thing with the buck slips on chairs was beyond.
Joyce stopped by my desk on her way back from the meeting, smiling broadly. “I forgot Andrew’s out this week. Didn’t have to sit in the worst chair after all.”
“Oh, good,” I said, hit with a rush of relief that sort of washed over my anxiety but didn’t clear it out all the way. Obviously, it was great that Joyce was in a good mood, but my screwup was still fresh and I didn’t like rehashing any part of it.
“I think it’s going to be one of those days,” Joyce said, and I felt a note of sympathy for my probably-very-obvious state of slight disaster. While I hated that she’d picked up on something, I also knew I was lucky to have a boss who actually saw me as a person. That wasn’t something taken for granted in this town—or even in this building.
“I’m afraid so,” I said, which made Joyce chuckle.
“Since I’m fairly sure I’m going to be stuck at my desk for the next however many hours, will you order over a salad for me? Get yourself one, too, all right?”
“Will do,” I said, even though I could think of no worse hangover food than crisp greens and a delicate vinaigrette. Today called for pancakes for lunch, or one of those burritos that they doused like an enchilada, or just a trough of mac and cheese. But it always felt so lucky when Joyce treated me, when Joyce assumed that someone like me fit into her world of expensive salads. I would never dare upset that balance.
Joyce was right about the afternoon; it stayed as busy as the morning, though for me it was less painfully so because my headache gradually faded, and the work was steady and just complicated enough that I wasn’t thinking nearly as much about Sadie. Obviously, I knew that it was impossible to notice you weren’t thinking about someone without actually thinking about them quite a lot, but I was pretending that I wasn’t. I was pretending I was already over her. I was pretending I hadn’t ruined the one true thing I’d found here, in Los Angeles, all by myself.
A DM popped up on my monitor around six, as I was compiling my end-of-day summaries and getting my task list ready for tomorrow morning. I clicked on the message from Aidy, the assistant who sat at the far end of my row of cubicles.
Need your advice on something, she messaged.
Of course!! I tried not to feel too pleased at this. People gave and got advice all of the time. But if I was truly just a tiny-voiced oddball, people wouldn’t come to me, right? Definitely not Aidy, who’d been here a year longer and was one of two assistants assigned to Gary Kirchoff, one of the top agents at all of Exemplar.
Need to make dinner res for talent plus a producer way outside of Vancouver since that’s the filming location. I know I could hit up Yelp but since you’re Canadian maybe you have better ideas??
Oh, sorry, I’m not Canadian?? I typed.
“I’m on my way out,” Joyce said, appearing at my desk with her bag over her shoulder. “I believe I have another nine-thirty tomorrow, so let’s make sure everything’s set up, please and thank you.”
“Of course,” I said, while wondering if it was bad to seem like someone from Canada. It obviously wasn’t, people could be from anywhere. I’d just wanted an advice request on a topic I excelled at, that proved someone like Aidy saw me as an expert in an area. It was too bad that area was outer Vancouver.
A notification popped up on my screen. Oh, no problem, you just seem so polite and Canadian!
“Joyce,” I said, as she stepped back from my desk, “I really am sorry about—”
“I’ll see you in the morning.”
For some reason, I then gave her a thumbs up instead of a normal goodbye. It was a minor miracle that it was very nearly time to go home because I was pretty sure I was only going to find a way to make my entire life more awkward than it already was.
Amy Spalding is the author of several novels, including the bestselling We Used to BeFriends and The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles), which was named a best book of 2018 by NPR, the Boston Globe, Kirkus, and more. Amy grew up in St. Louis and now lives in Los Angeles. She has a B.A. in Advertising & Marketing Communications from Webster University and an M.A. in Media Studies from The New School. Amy studied longform improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Visit her at TheAmySpalding.com.
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