Well, so here she was.
Topaz pushed open the door of the building, apprehension in her heart as she gazed around the lobby. She knew, for Phyllis had told her, that Milton's office was on the top floor, but she felt lost and bewildered by all the people buzzing around.
"Not different from Misfit Music." She told herself. "And Mr Warrington wanted to see you especially. Get a grip, Topaz - this is a big deal for you."
She headed up to the woman on the front desk, casting her a warm smile.
"Hi - I'm Aurora Stapleton. Mr Warrington asked to see me - I have an appointment at eleven thirty. Where do I go, please?"
"Miss Stapleton." The woman returned the smile, flicking through her book, then looking up. "Okay, you might as well head up to the top floor. There's an elevator at the end of the hallway..." she pointed. "Just to the left. Mr Warrington's personal assistant will take care of you when you get there."
"Thanks." Topaz dimpled. "I appreciate your help."
She moved away from the desk, pausing to assess her location, then heading in the direction the woman had indicated. Sure enough, at the end of the passageway there was a lift and she pressed the button to call it to the ground floor, her heart fluttering in her chest as she considered what she was about to do.
"I've never been nervous about singing before." She realised, as she stepped into the silver car, pressing the button for the top floor. "But this is something quite different from anything else I've ever done. Ever since I first came to California, I've just been a singer, not an actress. I hope I can impress him. Oh, I wish this place wasn't so big and confusing!"
The car stopped at that moment, the big metal doors opening with a hiss, and she stepped out into a brightly lit corridor. Doors flanked each side of the spacious hall, and a woman sat at a desk at one end, seemingly engrossed in going over a pile of folders. As she got closer, Topaz realised they were portfolios, sent by actors hoping to get called for audition by the great Milton Warrington, and her heart skipped a beat once more.
"I really hope I'm good enough." She murmured to herself, approaching the woman shyly.
"Hello?" The woman, Judith, glanced up, peering at Topaz through red-rimmed frames. "Can I help you?"
"Aurora Stapleton...to see Mr Warrington? I have an appointment." Despite herself, Topaz felt intimidated by this curt, professional assistant. Judith offered her a brisk smile, nodding her head.
"Mr Warrington has been expecting you." She agreed. "One moment, please."
She got to her feet, moving across to a door at the far end and knocking on it. A moment later she disappeared inside, and Topaz bit her lip, quelling the urge to turn tail and run. It seemed like forever, but it was only a few seconds before Judith re-emerged from the office.
"You may go through now." She told the singer, with another brisk, professional smile. "Mr Warrington is ready for you."
"Thank you." Topaz thanked her, inwardly uttering a prayer for help as she obediently pushed open the door, slipping inside the office.
The room was quite different from the stark, intimidating corridors outside, and despite herself, Topaz found some of her nerves leaving her. Decorated in warm colours, with papers and pictures on every surface, the office seemed almost like a home from home, and the man behind the desk cast her a warm smile, gesturing for her to sit down.
"Aurora, my dear. I'm so glad to finally meet you face to face." He beamed. "Can I get you a drink? We have much to discuss."
"No...no thank you." Topaz shook her head. "I'm fine."
"Very well." Milton leant his elbows on the table, eying her keenly. "Your agent has explained to you my dilemma, I presume?"
"She has, to some extent." Topaz agreed. "I'm very sorry about your star getting hurt."
"Well, me too, but these confounded things do happen." Milton seemed regretful. "My only hope to save the production is to find a replacement. Now, it might seem a whim to you, my dear, but I heard you sing and I knew I just had to have you come see me. You have a fine singing voice, you might well be just what I'm looking for!"
"I love to sing." Topaz said honestly. "But I don't have much in the way of acting experience."
"Well, I prefer my stars to be natural, not primped and trained by the profession." Milton winked at her. "I have a good eye for stage presence, Aurora, and I've had Judith do a lot of digging on you and your group - Jewel, is that right?"
"Well, it was." Topaz nodded her head. "But I left Jewel last fall to have a baby. I was about to begin work on a solo album when Phyllis told me about your call."
She crossed her fingers behind her back, hoping that her little white lie would be forgiven. After all, she mused, the last thing she wanted was to give the impression that she had just been at a loose end.
"Ah, so you are a mother!" Milton's eyes softened. "I have three beautiful little girls - my whole world, they are. So you're schedule is flexible, then, in terms of musical plans?"
"Very much so." Topaz nodded. "I'm fairly confident that, in terms of hours, I'd be at your disposal. Finding a babysitter for an engrossing four month old isn't usually hard."
"You aren't married, then?" Milton eyed her keenly. Topaz looked startled.
"No. Things didn't work out with Hollie's Dad and me." She shook her head. "Is...that a problem?"
"No, dear, quite the reverse. From a publicity point of view it's always good to have performers who are young, free and single. I was just thinking how it's a shame your daughter doesn't have a dad. Dote on my girls, I do."
"Well, life is like that sometimes." Topaz said quietly. "So I just have to do my best for her."
"Of course, of course." Milton winked. "On to business, then, since that's why you're here. You're not American, I understand? Toronto, is it?"
"Near enough." Topaz nodded her head. "But I'm represented in the music world by Misfit Music - Phyllis Gabor and Jetta Pelligrini handle all my paperwork and it's all well up to date."
"I hoped that would be the case." Milton acknowledged. "But then, when I heard which music company you worked for, I thought it would be. Very professional, Miss Gabor. Knows how to deal with the business."
"Yes, she certainly does." Topaz smothered a smile.
"So all that remains is for me to hear you sing live." Milton beamed.
"Just sing?" Topaz relaxed slightly. "But you don't know if...well, if I can act!"
"I've seen enough of your music videos and live performances to know that you have that spark of stage presence I'm looking for." Milton assured her. "You make love to the camera and it adores you - you're fresh and natural and just the kind of new blood this jaded profession needs. And besides, I feel that you have the right vibe. To be quite honest, it was almost fate, how your video came on when it did in my office. My production is a tale of love and struggles in the music world of Los Angeles - a world with which you are already intimately acquainted! I can't see how you could fail."
"I didn't realise that the plot was about the music business." Topaz looked startled, then she smiled. "That's something I do know something about, you're right."
"And your voice, my dear - it sounded so pure on the screen, I'm eager to hear it in person."
"Oh! Of course." Topaz nodded her head. "I...brought the disk with the backing track, I hope you don't mind. I figured it'd be better if..."
"Well prepared! That's what I like to see." Milton nodded approvingly, taking the disk from her and pushing it into the stereo system that sat beside his desk. "All right, my dear. In your own time."
From outside the office, Judith crept up to the door to listen as Topaz began to sing. Grudgingly the assistant realised that, rock star or not, the girl did have talent.
"And you never know with Milton and his flash in the pan ideas." She muttered. "Heaven knows how he always backs the winner, but there you go."
Once Topaz had finished, Milton clapped his hands together, a smile on his face.
"Your voice is quite beautiful, my dear. Quite, quite beautiful. Brought a tear to my eye to hear you sing that song - it's such a favourite of mine."
"Really?" Topaz looked surprised. "I love it too. It's so full of feeling - it just seemed like the right sort of song to do for you."
"Well, as far as I'm concerned, I can't have contracts signed quick enough!" Milton grinned. "That is, if you're game to undertake the project. It's short notice." He pulled open a drawer, producing a thick wad of paper and pushing it towards her. "This is the script -as you can see, it's a lot to learn."
"I'd love to give it a go." Topaz's eyes shone, and she scooped up the script, glancing at it. "What is the name of the part exactly? Phyllis wasn't clear."
"Ah yes, that would be my absent mindedness." Milton looked apologetic. "So eager was I to speak to your representatives that I forgot to pass that information on. The female lead character is a girl called Isabel - she's a struggling musical wannabe in Los Angeles and the basic plotline is a love story between herself and the male lead, a character called Robin, who will be played by a man named Travis Banning. There are several twists and turns, a rival, and of course, some major decisions between career and matters of the heart." He winked "Tried and tested formula. I'm sure you'll agree, you can't go wrong with a love story."
"No, I don't suppose you can." Topaz agreed.
"Have you encountered Travis at all, in your time in LA? I don't know if you are acquainted."
"Not acquainted, but I've heard of him and seen his films." Topaz looked surprised. "He's a big league star."
"And a fine actor." Milton agreed. "He'll no doubt be able to give you any pointers you need if you're feeling lost. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if you could teach the cast something about what it's really like! I'm all for perfect ambiences, though of course the script is fairly crucial. You'd have three solo songs, two duets...and anything else the soundtrack people throw your way, in truth." He grinned. "Once they hear you sing, I don't doubt they'll be on to you for more."
"Well, that's the one part of this I feel absolutely confident about." Topaz returned the grin. "But thank you for giving me the opportunity, Mr Warrington."
"Milton, please. Can't stand formality on set." Milton held out his hand to shake hers, and Topaz took it warmly.
"All right. Thank you, Milton."
"Thank you for solving my dilemma!" Milton told her. "I'll have the contract forwarded to your agents as soon as possible. We begin filming in two weeks, so I'll give you this," he indicated the script, "And this, too..." He pushed a disk across the table. "It's the songs from the show, so you have a chance to practice. Oh yes, and your own disk back." He smiled. "Thank you for coming to see me, Aurora. You're quite a revalation."
"You got the part?"
Sylva let out an excited shriek, hurrying to fling her arms around her friend. "Oh, but of course you did - how could he refuse, once he heard how well you sing! This is so cool! My best friend's about to be a movie star!"
"Well, we'll see about that. I might be an abject flop yet." Topaz laughed, disentangling herself from her companion's eager grip. "But I'm getting the thrill inside of me for doing this now, Syl. The plotline is about a struggling musician in Los Angeles - rags to riches and all of that stuff. I feel more confident now I know it's a setting I'm acquainted with, and I can't help thinking this could be a really big deal for me, if it went well. Who knows where it could lead?"
"If nothing else, too, you're stopping in LA for sure now." Sylva added with a grin. "If you've work here, how could you leave?"
"Guess there's that too!" Topaz laughed. "Everything seems to be going my way at the moment."
She glanced towards the stairs. "Hollie asleep?"
"Yes, far as I know. Cyn's been watching her." Sylva nodded.
"Hey, how come you're home, anyway?" Topaz looked startled. "I thought you'd be working!"
"We just finished, and I hurried back to be here to greet you." Sylva beamed. "The others went shopping, but I was just dying to know everything, and mobile phones are so impersonal."
"Wow, you gave up shopping for me?" Topaz was amused. "Guess I better give you all the gossip then, hadn't I?"
"You better had." Sylva agreed good-naturedly, leading her friend into the lounge. "I want to know absolutely everything. What's Milton Warrington like? Was he nice? Tell me!"
"Milton Warrington is a sweetheart." Topaz reflected. "He's very genuine and very friendly. I liked him a lot - he seems very passionate about his work, and it was no bother to him at all when I mentioned Hollie. He has daughters of his own, apparently, and thinks the world of them. I sang for him, of course - and he liked my choice of song as well as my voice, so that was a stroke of genius on my part, if I do say so myself. Other than that? Hmm. His assistant freaked me out a little. She's kinda stiff and professional - you know the type?"
"Sort of Phyllis in important business meeting mode?" Sylva asked. Topaz nodded.
"Yeah, without the predatorial glint in the eye." She agreed. "Although this woman was kinda chilling...but she's all right. Milton put me at my ease, anyway, and he said - I quote - that he couldn't have the contracts signed quick enough. He gave me a copy of the script, too." She patted her bag. "So I'm going to try and learn some tonight, if Hollie sleeps through all right. Get a head start on what I'm doing, since filming is due to start very soon. I might be calling on one of you to test me on them!"
"Count me in." Sylva's eyes sparkled. "So who else is in this film, then? Any big stars?"
"Travis Banning?" Topaz eyed her friend, waiting for the reaction. Sylva squealed.
"Really? Travis Banning? Ooh, I'm so going to kill you. He's gorgeous!"
"Well, I'm not looking for a guy, Syl." Topaz looked amused.
"No, maybe not, but he is hot as heck, and you are unattached." Sylva pursed her lips. "And no doubt you'll have to kiss him - won't you?"
"Yeah. He's my character's love interest." Topaz's eyes twinkled. "Perk of the job, perhaps?"
"Definitely. I am so jealous." Sylva laughed. "Who else?"
"He didn't say, though I gather there are some other experienced actors involved." Topaz responded. "I'm really truly excited about this now, Syl...I can't wait to get started."
"I bet you can't." Sylva looked envious. "Travis Banning. Wow. Life is so unfair."
"Well, maybe he doesn't like blonds." Topaz winked. She set aside her bag, getting to her feet.
"I'd better trot upstairs and tell my daughter the happy news." She decided. "Not that I expect she'll understand a word I say, but I like to spend as much time with her as possible. I want her to grow up knowing who I am, after all - not just some woman in a haze of nannies and babysitters."
"I'm sure Hol will be thrilled for you too." Sylva dimpled. "Congrats, Topaz. I just know this is the start of something big!"
A MOVIE STARLET
Chapter One: A Surprise For Topaz
Chapter Two: Make or Break
Chapter Three: Audition
Chapter Four: First Day
Chapter Five: Travis' Plot
Chapter Six: Making Choices
Chapter Seven: Jewel...and Jack
Chapter Eight: Topaz Shines
Chapter Nine: Trouble
Chapter Ten: Crisis
Chapter Eleven: Morgan Explains
Chapter Twelve: Topaz's Future