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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Going Off Script

Jen Wilde

Swoon Reads

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CHAPTER ONE


The door of the bus hisses as it folds open, and a burst of warm air swirls around me. I heave my suitcase down the steps and squint through the glare bouncing off the sidewalk.

I’m here. I’m actually in Los Angeles. After spending years daydreaming about this moment, it’s happening. And it’s even better than I imagined, because this is real. The sun is burning my pale skin, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and exhaust fumes fills the air, and I’m kicking myself for thinking my fave plaid shirt was a smart outfit choice in this weather. But it’s all okay, because I made it.

I open Google Maps on my phone and check the street signs. I’ve stared at the map of West Hollywood so many times in the last few months that I could probably find Parker’s street in my sleep, but the part of me that likes to be in control needs to have the map ready, just in case.

“Okay,” I say quietly to myself. “I’m on Santa Monica Boulevard. Good.”

I start walking, dragging my suitcase with its one busted wheel behind me. It’s Sunday afternoon, and there’s a chill vibe in the air. Tattooed people in printed shirts and oversize sunglasses sip cocktails at trendy outdoor cafés. Locals stroll along the sidewalk, and I smile at their dogs. Bars are painted turquoise and lemon yellow, and there’s so much stunning street art that I don’t know which one to Instagram first.

I can see why Parker, my cousin, loves this neighborhood. Its Old Hollywood vintage-style neon signs and proud queer culture are a perfect fit for him. Compared to our gray hometown of Westmill, Washington, it’s like being on another planet.

Just as I’m thinking of home, I get a text from my mom.

Mom: are you there yet? Let me know you’re safe xo

I’ll reply later. There’s too much going on here that I don’t want to miss, and if I’m honest, the last thing I want to do right now is think about home.

That town was suffocating me. Closing in on me like the walls of the trash compactor on the Death Star. I made it out just in time to avoid being crushed by the weight of utter normalcy and conformity. Being here feels like breathing after holding my breath my whole life. I’m free. Free to be exactly who I’ve always wanted to be.

While waiting at the famous rainbow crosswalk, I arch my back to stretch out muscles that are still stiff from being stuck on a bus for eighteen hours. If I were anywhere else, I’d want to find a place to shower and nap and recover from my journey, but not here. All I want to do is dump my suitcase and start exploring this town. The air is filled with limitless possibility that gives me a buzz when I breathe it in.

This is where people who love creating fictional worlds as much as I do all gather to make magic. The world’s most iconic stars have been born here. My heroes have walked these streets.

Emotion swells in my chest, and I squeeze my eyes shut. I can’t believe I actually made it.

Finally, I can stop dreaming and start doing. No more long, rainy nights standing behind a deep fryer, feeling a thousand miles away from where I wanted to be. No more hiding in the back of classrooms, counting down the days on the calendar until I could be free.

I’m here for an internship on my favorite TV show: Silver Falls—about werewolves and the people who love them. This time tomorrow, I’ll be sitting in the writers’ room, taking notes and listening to ideas and trying not to fangirl all over everyone. I’m about to take my first big leap toward my goal of creating my own TV show. I’ll intern this summer, hopefully find a job as a personal assistant to a showrunner, then work hard and pay my dues for a while. After a few years, I’ll be promoted to writer. My days will be spent crafting story lines and creating characters I’ve always wanted to see on my television. Then, maybe by the time I’m in my thirties, I’ll have proven myself worthy of getting my own hour of airtime. I’ll be Bex Phillips: showrunner.

That’s my plan, anyway. Mom always says, “Every house needs a blueprint and every dream needs a plan.”

I check the map on my phone again. One more block. I look up just as two pretty people with long legs and colorful hair walk by. One wears a T-shirt with HELLA BI printed on it, and the other has a denim jacket covered in buttons that proudly support trans pride. They don’t notice me staring at them—they’re much too infatuated with each other. They hold hands and giggle as they walk by, and I’m filled with such hope and joy that all I can do is swoon.

I’m home.

When I turn down Parker’s street, I still can’t wipe the smile from my face. It’s lined with palm trees. The sky is a perfect blue. I feel like I’ve stepped into a postcard. But the closer I get to his building, the higher my nerves rise.

I made it to LA, which means there are no excuses now. Is it possible that some part of me believed I’d never actually make it this far? Did I feel safer holding on to a dream that was so huge, I never thought it would ever come true? What do I do now that it has?

I mean, it’s not like I’m the first eighteen-year-old stepping off a bus in LA, carrying a suitcase full of dreams. Everyone has heard those stories of young hopefuls flocking to Hollywood, chasing fame and fortune. But this town is notoriously tough on new arrivals. I could get eaten alive. I could end up back in Westmill with my tail between my legs and my dream crushed to smithereens. God, the jerks from school would love that.

My heart starts racing. Sweat drips down my back, and I’m not sure if it’s from the California heat or my sudden burst of anxiety.

Limitless possibility … that’s a lot of pressure.

Walking the streets of my heroes … that’s a lot to live up to.

Stop dreaming and start doing … that’s a lot of responsibility.

Jesus. This is actually happening. I’m here. It’s all on me now.

I cannot fuck this up.


Copyright © 2019 by Jen Wilde