The Love We Make will be available in ebook and paperback on 18 January 2023. The audio, narrated by Abby Craden, will follow a few months later.
Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
The Love We Make
© Harper Bliss
I’ve just read the final line of today’s table read, but my performance—the performance of me—isn’t over until I get out of here.
“Great job everyone,” Jo, our showrunner, says. “Stella,” she addresses my co-star. “I just want to make sure you—”
Jo’s interrupted by a loud knock on the door. Before anyone can reply, the door opens. After three decades in this business, it’s no surprise to me. Too many TV executives believe every closed door is always open for them—and that’s hardly the worst of it.
We all look at the door, at the person so out of touch with the creative process of making television that they interrupt with no qualms.
I am surprised that the intruder is a woman. I’d say she’s late fifties, but I’m fifty-one and, even though she doesn’t look old, she’s definitely older than me. Or maybe she hasn’t had as much Botox.
She has that air of importance executives in this business like to carry around with them, as if to say: I’m here now, so you’d better stop whatever it is you’re doing, even if that’s the slow, difficult process of making art.
Her raven black hair is shoulder-length, her heels impressively high for a woman older than me. Her suit is high-end and stark white. Her makeup flawless. Everything about her screams money.
Jo jumps out of her chair.
“Ms. St James,” she says. “You’re a little early.”
“Am I?” Ms. St James shrugs. “Maybe you’re running late.” It doesn’t sound like a question. She plasters on a practiced smile.
Jo turns to us and gives an eye roll. “Everyone, please meet Michelle St James.”
“Thanks, Jo.” Michelle St James widens her smile. The crinkles around her eyes deepen. Definitely not a fan of Botox then—maybe to her credit. “Sorry for interrupting.” If this is what sorry looks like, I might have to revise how my character acts apologetic on the show we’re trying to make. “Please, continue. Pretend I’m not here.”
“That’s okay,” Jo says. “We were as good as done.” Way to stand your ground, Jo.
“Wow,” Stella mutters under her breath. “Who is this woman that’s got Jo all whipped?”
I lean in so that I am close to her ear. “The money,” I whisper.
“I wanted to stop by while you’re all gathered here to introduce myself. I’m the new CEO at Gloves Off Productions. I’m replacing Gerry, for reasons I’m sure you’re all aware of.” Her gaze drifts along the table, but doesn’t land anywhere. “I’m a very hands-on boss, absolutely no pun intended.” A touch of warmth reaches her smile. “Making television is my life, and this show is one of our company’s biggest assets. This means I’ll be around much more than my predecessor. I like to know what’s happening on my sets.” My sets? Also, doesn’t she have better things to do with her precious time? Crunch some numbers? Analyze some data? Count her money?
“Ms. St James will be an executive producer this season,” Jo chimes in. Her tone is as tense as her face. I’m guessing she didn’t get a choice in the matter. But who am I to complain? This is only Unbreak My Heart’s third season and both Stella and I are getting producer credits already.
A couple of the actual producers—the people who put in all the grunt work—shuffle in their seats. But this is how things go. Hollywood has never been a fair town and showbiz has never been a fair business based only on merit. Still, it’s odd for the CEO of the production company to demand this kind of role. I wonder if she’ll become executive producer on all the shows her company produces.
“I adore this show so it’s a great honor and privilege,” Michelle says. Her eyebrows twitch lightly as she locks her gaze on Jo for a second.
“Oh, yes.” Jo shoots Stella and me an apologetic smile before continuing. “Ms. St James would like to invite the leads to lunch.”
Before we can possibly protest, Jo says, “Today.”
Excuse me? Who does Michelle St James think she is to just rock up here and overhaul our schedules like this? As if there’s nothing to it? As if when she says jump, our only option is to ask how high?
“Sure,” Stella says, as expected. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t mind an impromptu change of schedule. Luckily, I’ve been around long enough to know that a carefully planned day is as much an illusion as the stories we tell on screen. It still irks me, though, that this woman can just waltz in here under the guise of wanting to meet us, when she’s clearly looking to throw around her weight.
“Of course.” I send her the fakest smile from my vast repertoire. “I’d be delighted.”
“Wonderful. I look forward to it.” Michelle St James turns on her stilettos and saunters out of the room.
“Way to make an entrance,” Stella says, reaching for her phone.
“Don’t you want to get home?” I ask.
Stella shakes her head. “One tiger mama is enough for my baby boy.” She scrolls through a few pictures that her partner, Kate, has sent while her phone was on silent. “Be still my heart. Will you look at this, Nora?” She thrusts the phone in my face. To me, it doesn’t look all that different from the gazillion pictures of Silas I’ve already had to admire.
“Adorable.” Stella’s son is cute, no matter how many times a picture of him is shoved into my face.
She puts her phone away. “Looks like we’re having lunch together.”
I can’t suppress a sigh. My dogs, although always pampered in my absence, are waiting for me at home. So is the poké bowl I like to eat for lunch, prepared by Ricky exactly the way I like it. And my soft couch, where I like to unwind after emotionally exhausting meetings like this one, with three warm furry bodies on top of me. It will have to remain empty while I listen to whatever Michelle St James has to say.
“I’m serious, ladies,” I say. “I’m not just blowing smoke up your backsides. I’m thrilled to have this job and the opportunity to work with you. Unbreak My Heart has been such a breath of fresh air on my TV screen.” I lift my glass of cucumber water. “The three of you are a match made in heaven.” I am blowing a bit of smoke up their—very shapely, but I can’t say that out loud—behinds. It’s what you do in this town. It’s how you get overindulged people to fall in line—that and deep pockets.
“It’s been a dream come true for me from day one,” Stella Flack says. “All thanks to this one.” She points at Nora Levine. “If it wasn’t for Nora, I would never have gotten the part.”
“Really?” That’s the first I’ve heard of this. Why don’t I know this?
“Oh yes!” Stella is enjoying that glass of Chablis with gusto. “Nora changed my life.” She takes another sip.
“Let’s not exaggerate.” Nora’s features have been tight since we got to the restaurant.
“It’s not an exaggeration,” Stella says. “I didn’t get a callback until you specifically requested me, Nora.”
“Stella was rejected?” I turn to Jo.
“Water under the bridge,” Jo says. Apart from creative masterminds, showrunners also have to be excellent diplomats. “We’re here now, on the cusp of season three, ready to make another batch of episodes of our wonderful show.”
“Sorry for the delay, boss.” Stella winks at Jo.
“Being a mother of four myself, I want to assure you we’ll make every accommodation,” I say. “I want that to be absolutely clear.”
“I already made the hiatus much longer than it ought to have been.” Stella flashes us a wide smile.
“You had a baby. You never have to apologize for that to anyone.” I put down my fork. “Otherwise, you might as well apologize for being a woman and why on earth would you do that?”
“Hear! Hear!” Stella locks her gaze on me. “You’re a woman after my own heart, Michelle St James.”
“Call me Mimi, please.”
“Four kids, huh, Mimi. Damn! Respect,” Stella says.
“They’re all grown now. My youngest is twenty-six and a huge fan of yours, Nora.” I face Nora, hoping to melt some of her iciness. “He must have watched every single episode of High Life a dozen times by now. Even though when your show first aired, he was only seven or eight, but his sisters were so into it. In fact, my entire family is a bit nuts about you.”
“Aw.” Nora’s not the most engaging conversationalist. In her defense, she must get this a lot. Maybe it’s one of the reasons she’s such a recluse.
“I’d love to bring him on set once you start shooting.” Austin’s already such a mama’s boy. If I can arrange for him to meet Nora Levine, he may move back in with me—not that I would want him to.
“I’m sure we can make that happen,” Jo says, because Nora’s hardly forthcoming.
“I’d love to meet your son,” Nora says eventually. “Please, excuse me.” She dons her oversized sunglasses and gets up. Even stars like Nora need to use the bathroom.
I wisely refrain from asking Stella and Jo whether Nora’s always this cranky.
“Nora’s a very private person,” Jo offers. “It’s a miracle she said yes to this project, even though I wrote the part of Jessie specifically for her. I had zero guarantees she would go for it, but once she did, by Hollywood standards, everything moved really fast.”
“Some scripts are impossible to ignore.” This, I mean from the bottom of my heart. “Unbreak My Heart is funny without being obvious. The characters are so real, they could very well be sitting in this restaurant with us.”
“Nah. They don’t make enough money to come here,” Stella says drily. I like her. She’s a lot like Megan, her character on Unbreak My Heart. Unlike Nora, who’s nothing like sweet, caring, down-to-earth Jessie. Although Jessie’s quite edgy and she’s got many a flaw as well.
Nora returns to the table just as our meals are served.
“Tell me all about your little boy,” I say to Stella, taking the easy route of conversation. I’ll work on Nora later, when she’s in a better mood.
Stella shows me pictures of her son—and her gorgeous partner, Kate, while she’s at it—while regaling me with tales of all the amazing things a six-month-old can accomplish. It’s been so long, I seem to have forgotten what my kids were up to in their first years of existence. As far as I can remember, all they did was cry, eat, and get their diapers changed.
From the corner of my eye, I try to keep track of Nora’s reactions. She picks at her salad, not eating very much of it at all. It’s obvious she’d rather be anywhere but here. I make a mental note to try and clear the air with her—if that’s even possible—as quickly as I can.
After we’ve finished our meal, Stella says, “Let’s do a thing at my house soon. I’m emerging after having created another person. I have the extreme need to be seen as something else than just my baby’s mother. Did you experience this, Mimi?”
“Honestly, I don’t remember. I always worked, though, bar a few months after each birth. Some women don’t need to work, and no judgment on my part—every woman should do exactly as she pleases—but I needed a life outside of my family. Always have.” I fix my gaze on Stella. “But I’d love to see your house. Your partner’s an interior designer, isn’t she?” I might have missed a few tidbits, but I’ve done my homework on Stella and Nora.
Stella nods. “Yep.”
“Their house is absolutely gorgeous,” Nora says.
“So gorgeous, in fact, Nora has actually visited it more than once,” Stella quips. “How many times have you deigned to leave swanky Bel Air to come to our house, Nora?” Stella pretends to do some difficult math, counting on her fingers. “Four… five times in all the time we’ve been working together?”
“We hang out on set all the time,” Nora says. “I fail to see why we have to hang out after hours too.” The grin on her face looks genuine enough.
“If by hanging out on set you mean we’re each holed up in our own trailers, then sure.” There’s not a hint of malice in Stella’s tone, and I get the sense this is how things really are.
“We all have our own process.” This is the most I’ve heard Nora talk since we sat down to lunch. “Mine is much more inward than yours.”
Stella grins at Nora and a short silence ensues. I happily fill it.
“I’d love to visit you at home,” I repeat.
“Great. I’ll set it up. Kate will be thrilled to meet you. And to see you again, Nora.” They’re not done bantering yet. Nora doesn’t seem perturbed by her co-star’s teasing. Maybe it’s their thing and they do this all the time as a means to defuse some of the inevitable on-set tension.
“Don’t forget to invite your mother,” Nora says.
“Granted, my family are a bit much.” Stella shrugs. “But I didn’t get to pick them.”
“Maybe you and Kate can tell Mimi all about how you got together.” Nora seems very pleased with herself for making that remark.
“Oh, fuck.” Stella chuckles. “We’ve only just met. Let’s have some boundaries.”
I don’t remember reading anything about how Stella Flack met her partner when I did my research. It must be quite the story if Nora is taking such pleasure in referencing it.
What is clear to see, however, is why Stella and Nora are such a great match on screen.
“When is this party?” I ask. “Because I can’t wait.”
<<End of preview>>