- Publisher: Ladylit Publishing
- Available in: eBook, paperback
- ISBN: 978-988-14205-4-1
- Published: December 21, 2015
Can love be measured in percentages?
After her girlfriend leaves her for a man, broken-hearted novelist Charlie Cross moves from New York to Los Angeles to work on a TV show based on her books. Charlie vows to never date any woman who isn’t a hundred percent certain of being a lesbian. But when she is seduced by gorgeous bisexual cooking show host Ava Castaneda, whom she’s had a celebrity crush on for ages, Charlie is forced to review her belief in percentages because true love could very well be on the line.
Release the Stars is a lighthearted, fast-paced contemporary lesbian fairytale set in the glitzy world of Hollywood.
Word count: 60.000 words
“You’re the toast of the town, sweetie,” Nick said. “Every woman in this place wants a piece of you.”
Charlie rolled her eyes at him. “Wrong bar. This isn’t Lux.” Her request to go to her favorite lesbian club had been ignored in favor of the newest, brightest, shiniest scene.
“Next time. I promise.” Nick sipped his cosmo. “This is where it’s at these days.”
Charlie shook her head. She tried hard to not give in to the negative vibes Nick kept scolding her about and go with the flow—also Nick’s advice. Charlie was convinced that spending some time at Lux could change that, but for reasons she couldn’t understand, Nick was reluctant to go there. Maybe because he was gay. But why it mattered to him was beyond her. Nick was happily married to a man who was, objectively speaking, way too hot for him.
“I don’t even know why you care,” Charlie said with a sigh.
“This is LA, Charlie dear. Things are different here.” He didn’t look at her directly, but kept his gaze focused somewhere behind Charlie. He touched her arm. “Okay, don’t look, but—”
Charlie interrupted by following his line of sight and looking straight at the face of a typical LA woman. It was as though women on the West Coast were a different species from the ones she was used to hanging around.
“Tsk. Now you’ve ruined it. She was giving you the eye.” He swung his hands in the air dramatically. “Way to play it cool.”
Nick was one of the most un-cool people living in WeHo.
“You should be out of practice,” Charlie said. “What with having put a ring on the most gorgeous man in Los Angeles.”
Charlie was severely out of practice as well, but she was pretty sure she wasn’t going to find what she was looking for on the rooftop of the newest and hippest Sunset Strip hotel. There was a glass cage in the reception area with a model locked in it, for God’s sake. Charlie assumed the woman went in voluntarily, but still.
“Are you Nick Kent?” A shrill voice came from behind Charlie. “You are,” the voice shrieked. “Can I get a photo, please?”
When she stepped into view, it turned out to be the same woman Nick had pointed out earlier. Instead of checking her out, as Nick presumed, she’d had her eye on him. Charlie couldn’t wait to throw that back into his face.
“In the flesh,” he said, a huge smile on his face. Nick had one of the lead parts in a popular sitcom, so it was imperative that he appear jovial and courteous at all times when meeting fans. “My friend here will take it for us.” He shot Charlie a quick wink.
The woman handed Charlie her phone and didn’t give her a further glance. Charlie took the camera and renewed her determination to drag Nick away from this place. He’d gotten his fan-girl fix; someone had spotted and approached him at the new “it” bar. Now he could indulge his lesbian friend for the rest of the evening.
Charlie fulfilled her duty and snapped a photo of Nick and the woman as they pulled their lips into the obligatory duck-face pout. Charlie had been in Los Angeles for six months now, but she still had some massive acclimatizing to do.
“Thank you so, so much,” the woman said, fawning over Nick. “I adore you on Laughing Matters. You’re my favorite character by far.”
“Thank you,” Nick said with a tilt of his head. “I won’t tell the others.” It took a few more seconds before the woman returned to her own party.
Charlie arched her eyebrows, hoping to convey a wordless I told you so.
“Okay, fine.” Nick showed her his palms. “You’ve got this one. I was wrong. I’ll go to Lux with you as penance. Too many out-of-towners here who don’t know how to behave amongst the likes of me.” He giggled self-consciously. One of the reasons why they got along so well was because he was one of the most self-deprecating people she knew. Plus they had a history in New York. She’d met him years ago, around the same time she’d met Jo.
“You’re a star,” Charlie said flatly.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Nick replied and got up.
* * *
“It’s like you’re a different person here, Charlie. Just relax,” Nick said.
But Charlie found it hard to relax with a dozen women staring at her, their gazes burning into the back and side of her head. “I need more booze.” She looked around for a waiter.
“Erm, orders at the bar, dear,” Nick said. “You know that.”
“You get them.” Charlie couldn’t bear the thought of making her way through the throng of women blocking her path to the bar. Not because they were unattractive, or too LA for her taste. Rather, she was intimidated. That word summed up the last six months of her life quite adequately. Los Angeles was too shiny on the outside, its inhabitants too focused on appearance. Everything and everyone looked polished and slick. Back when Charlie was an anonymous novelist in New York, she’d never felt like this, so out of her depth.
“Oh no, I got the first round.” Nick gave her a smug smile. “And you wanted to come here. Don’t tell me you’re too chicken to order.” He shrugged nonchalantly. “God forbid you’d have to talk to an actual lesbian on the way. I mean, for someone with your aspirations, this place must embody your wildest dreams come true.” He leaned over their table. “One hundred percent lesbian, Charlotte, my darling. Your exact words. So what’s the problem? This place is teeming with exactly the kind of woman you’re looking for.”
“Screw you, Nick Kent,” Charlie said because she didn’t know what else to say. “Same again?”
“Yes, please.” He threw back the last of his cosmopolitan and leaned luxuriously against the backrest of his chair, ready to be waited on.
Charlie wanted to say “Nobody even drinks cosmos anymore,” but that would just be mean. Nick didn’t deserve that. Plus, he might take her comment too seriously.
So, Charlie made her way to the bar. The earth did not shatter, and she was not attacked by a pack of glossy LA lesbians. The customers standing around the bar even gave her enough room to speak to the bartender. In addition to Nick’s frou-frou drink, she ordered a margarita—an evergreen cocktail that would never go out of style—for herself.
“Aren’t you here with Nick Kent?” a short man with a receding hairline asked. It was just Charlie’s luck to be addressed by the only other man in the bar.
“Just someone who looks like him,” she said, but Nick was so recognizable with his ginger beard, it was futile. She’d gotten used to people recognizing Nick when they were out together, but Lux wasn’t the kind of place where she expected that to happen. The typical customer here was too cool to bother. So, Charlie smiled at the man to let him know she was joking.
“I don’t want to disturb him,” the man said. “I was just wondering, you know?”
“Sure.” Charlie checked out the bartender. She was dressed in a tight, black tank top, which displayed an elaborate tattoo snaking from her arm up to her shoulder. Quite possibly one hundred percent lesbian, she concluded.
“Aren’t you…” the man paused to reflect, “that hot-shot writer working on that new show everyone in town is talking about?”
Charlie chuckled. She was only a writer. LA was littered with the anonymous almost-but-not-quite famous like her. Sure, the rights to her Underground book series had caused a bidding war among the studios two years ago, and her face had appeared in a few trade periodicals since then. But that didn’t mean a whole lot in a city where everybody was somebody.
“I wouldn’t say hot-shot,” Charlie replied.
“I so can’t wait for that show to air,” the man said, getting excited.
“Here you go.” The bartender placed two cocktails on the counter. “That’ll be thirty.”
Charlie dug some bills out of her wallet, scooped up the two glasses, shot the man an apologetic smile, and headed back to Nick.
“Enjoy,” he shouted after her.
“At least I met a one hundred percent-gay man.” She deposited their drinks on the table. “Progress, right?”
“I saw.” Nick chuckled. “What can I say, Charlie? The gays adore you. It must be that androgynous thing you have going on.”
Charlie took a few big gulps from her margarita and looked around the bar. A few more of these and she’d be anyone’s. Her reverie was interrupted by the sound of a message arriving on Nick’s phone. When Nick’s husband, Jason, was out of town, they had the habit of texting back and forth like middle schoolers.
“What sort of sweet nothing is Jason digitally whispering in your ear now, Nickie?”
“It’s not from Jason.” Nick’s facial expression lost some of its usual playfulness.
“Oh.” Charlie didn’t know if she should inquire further.
“It’s from Jo.”
“Oh,” Charlie repeated, but in an entirely different tone. “What does that bitch want?” It came out a bit harsher than she had intended, but the alcohol was not missing its effect, and, well, Jo had treated her in a manner that warranted a little bitchiness on Charlie’s part.
“She’s asking how you’re doing since you don’t reply to any of her e-mails or texts.” He gave her a disapproving look. “She’s worried about you.”
“You can tell her I’m at a lesbian bar surrounded by women who are fully secure in their sexuality and who don’t go back to men at the first sign of trouble.”
“Now now,” Nick said. “Let’s at least try to be fair.”
“Please don’t pick her side again, Nick. She left me for a man. I deserve your sympathy here.”
“I have shown you the utmost sympathy, sweetie. I’ve welcomed you into my adopted city with open arms. I’ve shown you around. Taken away that first sting of loneliness. I’ve basically become your best friend, so no need to lecture me on sympathy.”
The alcohol made Charlie more forthright than she would normally be. “She now shares a bed with Christian Robson.” Apparently three margaritas hadn’t numbed all of Charlie’s pain, because it shot through her as if Jo had only broken up with her the week before, as opposed to months ago when it had actually happened.
“That’s a fact,” Nick said. “But, as you and I both know, because we are both reasonable adults, there are always two sides to every story.”
“Oh, stop playing devil’s advocate, already.” A weight settled in Charlie’s stomach, a weight she’d tried to outrun by moving west and taking up a writer’s position in Hollywood, working on the TV show based on her most successful books. Something she would never have done if Jo hadn’t broken up with her.
“It’s been almost a year, Charlie. It’s time to move on and to stop holding grudges. You’re only hurting yourself. Jo simply wants to know if you’ve settled in okay and how this town is treating you.”
Charlie pushed her half-full glass of margarita to the side. She’d had enough. “This… was not how it was supposed to go, Nickie. Me alone in this city full of fakes and wannabes. We had a good life in New York.” Until Jo blew it.
“I moved here, too, sweetie. I know better than anyone that the transition can be hard. But you have me. You’re not alone. And you’re working on the hottest show Hollywood has seen in decades.” Nick apparently wasn’t done with his cosmo, nor with his speech. “And self-pity is so unattractive.”
“It’s easy for you to say. You have Jason. You are adored by millions. You’re even friends with Ava Castaneda, for crying out loud.” Ava Castaneda was the goddess who hosted the popular cooking show Knives Out. Charlie’d had a TV crush on her for years.
“I was wondering when you would bring Ava up today.” Nick grinned at her. “I could introduce you, you know? Maybe that would cheer you up.”
Charlie just waved him off. “I’m sorry for becoming such shit company. Hearing about Jo still rubs me the wrong way.”
“I know, but look around you. Don’t tell me that, just because you and your ex-girlfriend broke up nine months ago, there’s no one here you could potentially be interested in. I declare the grieving period officially over here and now.”
Charlie wasn’t sure she’d ever be done grieving the loss of Jo Cook. Perhaps she wasn’t the easiest person to live with, but Jo had stayed with her for seven years, giving the impression that Charlie wasn’t too bad after all, only to do a runner when Charlie had least seen it coming. And with a man. No matter how hard she tried, Charlie couldn’t get over that fact.
“I’m drunk, Nickie,” Charlie said. “I think I’m ready to hit the hay.”
“You lesbians are supposed to drink us under the table.” Nick emptied his drink, then reached for Charlie’s glass. “You’re such a lightweight, Char. I thought I trained you better.” He chugged the rest of Charlie’s margarita. “Come on. I’ll take you home.”
Home, Charlie thought, where nobody waits for me. She nodded and followed Nick out of the bar.
“We could use an extra player on our softball team,” Liz said.
They were the only two people left in the writers’ room. Everyone else had gone for a smoke or a coffee.
“You could do the bar scene, of course, if that’s more your style,” Liz continued, “but for lesbians, joining a softball team is the best way to meet ‘like-minded’ women.”
Of course, Liz was a married woman herself. Instead of holding that against her, however, Charlie thought she should see it as an example of how things could work out in Los Angeles. “I don’t know. I’ve never played before.”
“That doesn’t matter. You’re American. It’s basically in your DNA. You could just come and watch the first time. Have a beer on the sideline. Meet the girls.”
Meet the girls. Charlie didn’t know why, since arriving here—and since the brutal breakup with Jo—these words scared the hell out of her. She didn’t use to be like this. But being dumped had shattered a great deal of her confidence, and there was also the minor issue of being severely out of practice when it came to chatting up women.
“We have a training session tonight. Why don’t you join Sarah and me for a quick bite, and then we’ll go together?” Liz locked her gaze on Charlie’s, making it pretty clear saying no was not an option. “We’re a really fun bunch, even if I do say so myself.”
“Okay.” Charlie acquiesced. “I’m in. But tonight I’ll just be watching.”
“Excellent.” Liz held up her hand for a high five. Nobody ever high fived in New York. “Besides, I want you to meet someone.”
“What?” Inwardly, she told herself to relax. But she’d been telling herself that since the day she’d arrived in LA. It hadn’t worked thus far.
“Just kidding.” Liz shot her one of her goofiest smiles. “I think I know what you’re like by now. A writers’ room is a pretty intimate environment.”
“Tell me about it.” Charlie had worked alone in a quiet office for the better part of her writing career. It was her natural habitat—one she missed terribly. Stepping into a writers’ room for the first time had been an extremely stressful enterprise, and it had taken a few weeks before she’d gotten used to the interaction and the energy of working with fellow writers on a TV show. As far as stepping out of her comfort zone went, Charlie believed she’d done plenty of that already, what with moving west and changing her day-to-day life so drastically.
“Have I told you lately that this show is going to be awesome? I was so stoked to get hired for this. You have no idea.”
Charlie had more than an idea. From the very beginning, Liz had come out as her biggest fan. Good thing she had a wicked sense of humor and made Charlie laugh—a highly needed activity—on a daily basis, otherwise Charlie might have had to quit working on the show altogether.
When she initially met with her agent and some studio executives to discuss the TV rights to Underground—with Jo still firmly by her side—it was the endless fawning that had irritated her most. Not because she was averse to praise, but because, coming from a certain type of person, it sounded insincere. She knew when a person was going through the motions, putting on a show meant to charm her. Charlie was allergic to that giggly, high-pitched tone of voice even the most robust men adopted when trying to slither their way into a signed contract with her.
“Don’t stop now, Liz.” Charlie had started to think of Liz as another good friend in Tinseltown. “Tell me more.”
“I really want to show you off to my softball buddies. My popularity has grown exponentially since I started working on this show.”
“Okay. Okay. Enough.” Charlie evaluated Liz, who had big, round eyes and always wore a blazer.
“Thank goodness. I need to use the ladies’ room before we continue.”
Charlie walked out with Liz, leaned against a wall, and checked her phone. Nick had posted a picture of him and his dog, Annie, on Instagram, and Charlie clicked like. The next picture in her stream was one posted by Ava Castaneda. Unfortunately, the ultra-sexy TV host hadn’t posted a picture of herself, but of a plate of food she’d cooked. Charlie liked that one as well.
She scrolled through the rest of her feed, before sending a text message to Nick.
I’m playing softball with a bunch of lesbians in WeHo tonight. Want to come?
Charlie sent it more as a joke than anything else. She could easily predict Nick’s reply, which came within the next minute.
Hell no, girl. Have fun. xo
* * *
And Charlie did have fun. Over dinner with Liz and her wife, Sarah, she’d happily accepted two beers, while the others refrained, taking their upcoming practice session very seriously. By the time they arrived at the ball field, Charlie was enjoying a mild buzz that kept her mellow.
Liz introduced her to the team members, who were all very friendly—but not too friendly in the way that Charlie loathed so much. While they warmed up, Charlie sat next to a variety of women as they rotated through the game.
The sun hung low in the sky, and someone had brought a cooler with more beer, and when Charlie tilted her head back to drink, and the sun shed its evening rays on her face, she experienced something that a lesser person, one without Charlie’s acute experience with disappointment, might describe as happiness. Charlie, however, was not the least bit open to that idea.
Still, she had to admit, the weather in Los Angeles was always good. The sun always showed up, and never in that muggy east-coast-summer kind of way that made you long for air-conditioned rooms and winter.
Charlie made small talk with most of the women; the depth of the conversation depended entirely on how long the person remained seated next to her.
“What do you think?” Liz asked when it was her turn on the bench. “Shall I order you a uniform?”
“I might be tempted.” Charlie stared straight ahead. A woman who had introduced herself as Britt earlier missed an easy ball. “I’ll need some practice, though.”
“I’m not saying we—and by we I mean I—are not competitive, but we mainly do this for fun. Whether you can actually pitch or bat doesn’t really matter. Britt over there couldn’t hit a ball if it were about to smash her in the face, which it has, on numerous occasions.”
Charlie laughed. “How often do you practice?”
“Once a week on Wednesdays, and then we have a league game on the weekend. Usually on Sunday morning.”
“There’s a league?”
“Of course there is. Our baby, Sharon, tends to show up hungover almost every Sunday, but the rest of us are pretty well-behaved. We have cats to put to bed and all that.”
“At the risk of sounding terribly cliché, I’ve been thinking about getting a cat. I had two back in New York, but my ex got custody when we split. They live with a man now.” Charlie couldn’t help the bitterness coming from her mouth.
“Poor pussies,” Liz said. Charlie had told her all about her messy, painful breakup a few times already.
“I want to be sure I’ll be sticking around first. I don’t want to say goodbye to another pet.”
“Liz, you’re up.” Britt approached the bench. “I’ve had about enough, anyway.” She crashed down next to Charlie. “Hand me a beer, will you?”
Charlie reached into the cooler and grabbed one for herself as well.
“Cheers,” Britt said, then followed up with a sly grin. “Come here often? For the record, I know that pick-up line never works.”
Charlie was too tipsy to get worked up about the mention of a pick-up line. Instead, she smiled back. “It’s my first time,” she said. “I guess that makes me a virgin.”
Britt elbowed her in the bicep gently. “I’m not supposed to say, but some of the girls have a bet out on you.”
“Tiff, Josie, and Andrea over there, or The Terrible Three as we like to call them. Just ignore them, though. They’re troublemakers.”
“What sort of bet?” Charlie took a few more sips of beer, wondering what her life would be like without alcohol. Perhaps she’d never leave the house at all.
“Let me put it this way—after this game is done, you can expect some major hitting-on-you to commence.”
“Oh Christ,” Charlie muttered. “You’re not serious, are you?”
“Well, you’re single, hot, and you have a steady job. You’re a catch, so…” Britt pulled up her shoulders.
“Who did you bet on?” Charlie asked.
“Oh, I would never.” Britt played coy. “Actually, I bet on none of them—that was the fourth choice. You don’t look like the kind of girl who can be easily picked up on the sidelines of a softball game. I might be wrong, but that’s the impression I get.”
“How about you?” Charlie looked at Britt sideways. A softball outfit never really looked flattering on anyone, but Britt seemed to fill hers out nicely. “Does anyone have any bets out on you?”
“Me? Why would they?”
“Don’t know.” Charlie shrugged. “’Cause you’re kinda hot?” If this could be called flirting, she wasn’t doing the best job.
Britt’s laugh came all the way from the bottom of her belly. “I’m sorry,” she said after her laughter subsided. “I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
“Come on, Britney,” Andrea of the Terrible Three shouted. “One more round for you.”
“I’m drinking already,” Britt said, lifting up her can of beer as evidence. “And my name is Britt, with two Ts so less intelligent people like yourself know where it ends.”
“You can’t hear the second T, Britt.” Andrea drew out the Ts. “I’ll finish your beer.”
“Fine.” Britt got up. “But just so you don’t waste your breath, I told Charlie about the bet.” With that, Britt ran onto the field. Charlie thought she detected a spring in her step that hadn’t been there earlier.
“To clear up any misunderstanding,” Andrea said, “Tiff, Josie, and I are not disrespectful women with only one thing on our mind. It was only a bit of a joke between us. I hope you’re not offended.”
“Of course not.” Charlie emptied her third can of beer. The mild buzz she’d walked onto the field with had transformed into severe giddiness. “If anything, I’m flattered.”
“Are you coming for a drink with us after? We go to a bar around the corner. You live in WeHo, right?”
If Andrea was even the tiniest bit of a player, the way she was rambling masked it expertly. Or maybe it was part of her game. Charlie just enjoyed the attention. Liz had been right. Attending a softball game was much more effective than bar crawling.
“Sure. I’d love to.” Charlie smiled widely at Andrea just to toy with her a bit.
“I’m sure you get this a lot, but your novel Crying Rivers meant so much to me when it came out. I re-read it every year.”
“Thank y—” Charlie started to say, but was cut off as the rest of the team rushed off the field. It looked as though practice had ended.
Half of the players high fived each other, while the other half didn’t seem too bothered by the goings-on.
“Drinks are on you, losers,” Josie said to the group of women huddled around Liz.
Of the Terrible Three, Charlie thought Josie to be most her type. She was Asian-American and had the sharpest cheekbones Charlie had seen in LA, and this being LA, she had seen quite a few.
“Charlie is joining us for drinks,” Andrea said to Liz.
“Awesome. Let’s go, lesbos,” Liz said.
In New York, Charlie had hung out with a group of lesbians occasionally, but the vibe among them had been completely different than the one she got from this group of women at night fall. For all the shows it put on and its immediate fakeness, LA offered much more breathing room than New York. The canyons here were nature-made, as opposed to being a valley between two blocks of high-rise buildings.
At the bar, Charlie got involved in a long conversation with Andrea. Still, as her level of drunkenness increased, it became harder and harder to keep her eyes off Josie. While Andrea visited the washroom, Charlie quickly pulled Liz to the side and asked, “On a scale of one to a hundred, how lesbian is Josie?”
“Josie, huh?” Liz said, pulling her lips into a pout. “Is that the kind of woman you go for?” She pouted even more. “She’s a lovely girl, really, but I’ve never really seen her with anyone longer than a few months. But, to answer your question, I think I can safely say she’s a ninety-nine.”
“What about the other one percent?” Charlie slurred her words.
“Nobody is a hundred percent, Charlie. We don’t live in that kind of dreamworld.” Liz slapped her on the shoulder as if she’d made a big joke. Charlie failed to get it, although she could, somewhere in the depths of her intoxicated mind, guess that Liz was ridiculing her percentage system.
“Look, Liz, I’m going to get out of here. I had a bit too much, and we have a big day tomorrow at work.”
“You betcha,” Liz said. “I do hope we can get Elisa. How super freaking awesome would that be?”
“It would be out of this world. Let’s sleep with our fingers crossed.” Charlie drew Liz into a hug. “Thanks for inviting me. I had fun.” Charlie said her goodbyes to the rest of the team, ignoring the look of disappointment on Andrea’s face, and lingering in Josie’s space perhaps a bit longer than necessary for the exchange of a farewell.
She walked home in a bit of a zig-zag line, and further pondered what a coup it would be for Underground to bag Elisa Fox in its lead role. Then her thought process was rudely interrupted by the chime of her phone with a message from Nick.
How was muffball practice?
Charlie was wasted enough to ignore his comment. She texted back that she’d had fun. By the time she reached her house, she received another text from Nick.
Not as much fun as you’re going to have this Saturday when you’ll be my date at Ava Castaneda’s dinner party.
Charlie’s mouth fell open. What was he talking about? Another text quickly followed.
You can stop drooling now. Jason can’t make it and you’re the next best thing. Go shopping for something fancy.
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