Christine S Feldman
When financially-strapped actor J.J. McKinney responds to an unusual Help Wanted ad on the bulletin board outside his theater class, he has no idea that he’s in for an evening of improv like no other: posing as the hitherto fabricated boyfriend of one Erika Mills for the duration of a single family reunion. But hey, a job is a job, and if it will help get J.J. back in the good graces of his landlord, he’s completely on board. After all, how bad can one family reunion possibly be?
Enter Erika Mills: only child of one meddling mother, reluctant darling of several devoted yet squabbling aunts and uncles who are sure they know what’s best for her even if none of them can agree on what that is, and beloved grandchild of the tiny white-haired family matriarch who might just be more imp than invalid when it comes to managing family matters in spite of appearances to the contrary.
Throw in a suspicious cousin, an obnoxious ex-boyfriend who is determined to erase that whole “ex” thing from Erika’s vocabulary, and a rash deathbed promise that turned out to be less deathbed and more just a bad case of indigestion, and you get the reunion from hell—at least until the sparks begin to fly for real.
It ain’t Off-Broadway, but it still might turn out to be the role of a lifetime...
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The voice on the other end of the line, feminine and somewhat breathless, jolted J.J. from his train of thought. “Yeah, hi. Is this—” He rechecked the ad to be sure he got the name right. “—Erika?”
“It is, yes.” The voice turned even more breathless, or rather gave the impression of someone holding her breath.
Shifting his cell phone to his other ear, J.J. turned toward the bulletin board for more privacy and studied the paper he held in his hand. “I’m calling about the help wanted ad you posted on the—”
“Oh, thank God. You’re hired.”
“—bulletin board in—I’m sorry, what?” J.J. blinked, wondering if he’d heard right.
The voice dropped to barely above a whisper. “Do you own a suit?”
“I can scrounge one up if you want, sure.”
Her tone was still hushed, almost furtive. “Great. Wear it. Any tattoos? Body piercings? It’s nothing personal or anything, but they just wouldn’t go over very well tonight with certain people, you know what I mean?”
Not really, but unless the evening’s performance involved improvising an unexpected striptease, he couldn’t see how the cartoon rabbit he’d somehow gotten inked onto a, well, questionable part of his anatomy one night after indulging in too much beer and one very foolish bet on the outcome of a dart game could possibly hamper this woman’s plans. “Uh... understood.”
“Because what I need tonight is the kind of guy a girl can take home to Mom. Can you pull that off?”
Take home to Mom...? What kind of part was this?
“Hi.” It took J.J. a moment to think of the next step in making introductions, partly because the woman standing in the doorway was strikingly pretty with delicate features and an almost pixie-like haircut and partly because there was such a look of panic in her expression that he half-wondered if he’d managed to interrupt an emergency situation and was about to be trampled flat by stampeding evacuees trying to escape a house fire or perhaps a Tupperware party gone horribly wrong. “Are you Erika? I’m J.J., and we spoke—”
“Oh, thank goodness!” And to his utter surprise, she actually threw her arms around him in a hug that was unmistakably one of relief. A quick hug, though; she released him almost immediately, flushing slightly in a disarmingly attractive way that made J.J. think impromptu hugs from strangers were highly underrated. Certain ones anyway. “Sorry. I just wasn’t sure you’d show, and you were the only one who called about the ad, and—” She broke off midsentence and shook her head before resuming talking in a veritable flurry of words, yanking the front door closed behind her and wringing her hands. “Never mind that now. J.J. was it? Okay, listen, we don’t have much time because my mother was hot on my heels when she realized you’d arrived. I actually tipped over a potted plant to slow her down—which I’ll pay for later I’m sure—but in the meantime: you’re Oscar, got it? Oscar Dwyer.”
“Oh, my word, he’s darling,” cooed someone on his left in a voice straight out of Gone with the Wind. “Why did you keep him to yourself for so long, honey?”
And from a gruffer speaker somewhere in front of J.J.: “Quit trying to shove me out of the way. It’s not my fault you’re too short to see anything.”
“Schmuck,” grumbled someone else in response.
“For heaven’s sake, let them through, would you? Everybody can gawk at him just as well in the living room, you know, and we can do it sitting down and with our feet up if we want.” This last voice, belonging to Erika’s mother, was slightly louder than some of the others, which might have been why the group finally did as it suggested and parted so that Erika could lead J.J. through them like the Israelites through the Red Sea.
Which she did, and with a firm grip on his arm as if she feared he might make a run for it. Not a bad idea, really. He’d run track in high school, after all, and although that was more than a few years ago, he could probably still spring over a few hurdles if properly motivated. And son of a gun if he wasn’t feeling pretty motivated at the moment...
Christine S. Feldman writes both novels and feature-length screenplays, and, to her great delight, she has placed in screenwriting competitions on both coasts—and has even won a couple of them. In 2012 one of her screenplays was featured as a staged reading in New York City at the Gotham Screen International Film Festival, and later that same year she signed her first publishing contract. When she is not writing, she is puttering around in her garden, ballroom dancing with her husband, or doing research for her next project.
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