Dark Wild Night (Wild Seasons #3)(2) by Christina Lauren

“Little?” he scoffs, leaning back in his chair and glancing down at his shirt before doing a double take. “Motherfuck. I can’t even dress myself.”

I pull my lower lip into my mouth to crush the laugh that is threatening to burst from my throat. This entire situation was sending me into mute-panic territory until he walked in. I grew up shopping at Goodwill, we were on food stamps for a few years, and I still drive a 1989 Chevy. I can’t even process how this is going to change my life, and the sterile Stepford Sisters across the table only add to the foreign atmosphere of the room. But Austin seems like someone I can imagine working with.

“I know you’ve been asked this before,” he says, “because I’ve read the interviews. But I want to hear it from you, the true inside scoop. What made you start writing this book? What really inspired you?”

I have indeed been asked this before—so many times, in fact, that I have a standard, canned answer: I love the everyday female superhero because she gives us an opportunity to handle complicated social and political imbalances head-on, in popular culture and art. I wrote Quinn Stone as the everygirl, in the spirit of Clarisse Starling or Sarah Connor: she becomes a hero via her own bootstraps. Quinn is found by a strange, fishlike man from another time dimension. This creature, Razor, helps Quinn find the courage to fight for herself and her community, and in so doing, he realizes he doesn’t want to leave her to go home, even when he eventually can. The idea came to me from a dream where a big, muscular man covered in scales was in my room, telling me to clean up my closet. The rest of the day I wondered what it would be like if he really did show up in my bedroom. I named him Razor Fish. I imagined my Razor wouldn’t give a crap about my messy closet; he’d tell me to get the hell up and fight for something.

But that isn’t the answer that bubbles up today.

“I was pissed-off,” I admit. “I thought grown-ups were either assholes or fuckups.” I watch Austin’s green eyes go a little wide before he exhales, nodding subtly in understanding. “I was angry with my dad for being a mess, and my mom for being such a coward. I’m sure it’s why I dreamt of Razor Fish in the first place: he’s abrasive and doesn’t always understand Quinn, but deep down he loves her and wants her to be looked after. Drawing him and how he initially doesn’t understand her humanity but then trains her to fight, and eventually defers to her . . . getting lost in their little story was the treat I gave myself when I finished dishes and homework and was alone at night.”

The room is quiet and I feel an unfamiliar need to fill the space. “I liked seeing Razor start to appreciate the ways Quinn is strong that aren’t classic. She’s scrawny, she’s quiet. She’s not built like an amazon. Her strengths are more subtle: she’s observant. She trusts herself without question. I want to make sure that’s captured. There is a lot of violence and action there, but Razor doesn’t have a revelation about her when she learns to throw a punch. He has a revelation about her when she figures out how to stand up to him.”

I glance at Benny—this is the most open I’ve ever been about my life and my book, and surprise is clear on his face.

“How old were you when your mom left?” Austin guesses. He’s acting like there isn’t anyone else in the room with us, and it’s easy to pretend there isn’t, the way everyone has grown so still.

“Twelve. Right after my dad got back from Afghanistan.”

The room seems to be swallowed by silence after I say this, and Austin finally heaves out a sigh. “Well, that’s shit.”

Finally, I laugh.

He leans in again, eyes insistent when he says, “I love this story, Lola. I love these characters. We’ve got a screenwriter who will knock this out of the park. Do you know Langdon McAfee?”

I shake my head, embarrassed because the way he says it makes me feel like I should, but Austin waves away the question. “He’s great. Laid-back, smart, organized. He wants to cowrite this with you.”

I open my mouth at this unexpected revelation—me, cowriting a screenplay—and nothing but a choking noise comes out.

Austin keeps talking through my stunned reaction: “I want to talk a lot, okay?” He’s already nodding as if prompting me. “I want this to be everything you want it to be.” Leaning in, he smiles and says, “I want you to see your dream come to life.”

* * *

“TELL ME THE details again,” Oliver says. “I’m not sure you were speaking English the first time.”

He’s right. I’ve barely caught my breath—let alone remembered how to make words—since I tripped into his comic book store, Downtown Graffick, already babbling. Oliver looked up when I burst in, his sweet smile slowly dissolving into confusion as I spilled a thousand incoherent words and my emotions all over the floor. I spent two hours on the drive back from L.A. on the phone with my dad, struggling to process the rest of the meeting. Not that it really helped because, here, saying it out loud in front of one of my favorite people makes it surreal all over again.

In the eight months we’ve been friends, I don’t think Oliver has ever seen me like this: stuttering and breathless and near tears because I’m so overwhelmed. I pride myself on being steady and unruffled even with my friends, and so I’m trying to get myself together, but goddamn, it is hard.

They’re

making

a movie

out of my childhood ideas.

“Okay,” I start again, taking a huge breath and blowing it out slowly. “Last week, Benny called and said something was going on with the film option.”

“I thought he sent it out—”

“Months ago,” I interrupt. “Right. It’s always silence before the explosion, I guess? Because on the drive from his office to their office this morning, he told me it sold in this insane bidding war. . . .” I press my palm to my forehead. “I’m sweating. Look at me, I’m sweating.”

He does look, eyes softening as he laughs, then shakes his head a little before he blinks back down at the box he’s cutting open. “This is unbelievable, Lola. Keep talking.”

“Columbia and Touchstone won,” I tell him. “We drove to the offices and I met some people today.”

“And?” He looks back up at me as he pulls a stack of books out of the box. “Did they impress?”

“I mean . . .” I flounder, remembering how it felt when Austin turned his attention to everyone else in the room, and the meeting dissolved into a blur of acronyms and under-the-breath instructions to make note of Langdon’s schedule for the script kickoff and see if we can get the P&L to Mitchell by noon. “Yes? There were a couple people there who were sort of quiet and stiff, but the executive producer—Austin Adams—is so genuinely nice. I was so overwhelmed that I don’t know how much I was processing.” I run both hands into my hair and tilt my head up to the ceiling. “This is all so insane. A movie.”

“A movie,” Oliver repeats, and when I look back at him, I see him watching me with his mysterious, warm blue eyes.

He licks his lips and I have to look away. Oliver is both my former husband and my current crush, but it will forever remain unrequited: our marriage was never really a marriage. It was that-thing-we-did-in-Vegas.

Of course, the other two couples who hooked up in Vegas—our friends Mia and Ansel, and Harlow and Finn—are happily married. But Oliver and I occasionally (especially when drunk) like to commend ourselves for being the only ones who did the shotgun Vegas wedding thing like normal people: with nothing but regret, an annulment, and a hangover. Given the emotional distance he’s always kept, I’m pretty sure he’s the one out of the two of us who really means it when he praises our choice.

“And it isn’t just oh, we like the idea, let’s buy this option and sit on it,” I say. “They bought it and already have a director in mind. We talked about possible casting choices today. They have a big effects guy asking to be involved.”

“Unreal,” he murmurs, leaning forward to give me his undivided attention. And if I didn’t know Oliver better, I would think he just glanced at my mouth. But I do know him better: he just looks at every part of my face when I’m speaking. He is the best listener.

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