Fresh Off the Bod
By Curtis C. Chen
The two women stared at each other across Stacy's desk. Jen didn't enjoy being called on the carpet, even if she also had concerns about her star, Tyler Hsu, whose drunken debauchery had become a fixture on TMZ. He was just one of a thousand things she had to take care of before her new television series could air.
"I'll fix it," Jen said. "I'll keep him on the straight and narrow." I want this too much to let anyone screw it up for me.
"Jen." Stacy gave her a firm look. "This is me talking. Okay? Woman to woman. I am the only female exec in this building, and you're one of only a dozen or so female showrunners in LA--not to mention the only Chinese-American. If this thing tanks, it's not just your funeral. It'll look bad for all of us, women and minorities alike."
Jen felt her temperature rise. "I didn't think you'd be cowed by tabloid talk."
"Come on, Jen, that's a cheap shot," Stacy said. "I've been watching out for you since you were a fucking PA. You know how this town works. Christ, it's a miracle we even sold this pilot. Thank God for Yao Ming, you know?"
"Tyler knows what's on the line," Jen said.
"This isn't a film set. His name's not above the title, and he can't roll in two hours after his call time," Stacy said.
"I know that," Jen said. "We're doing good on budget--"
"I'm not worried about golden time," Stacy said. "In the Hoop has a full season order. You're on the hook for twenty-two shows, and that's a hard schedule. You can't just push a day because your boy was out clubbing instead of learning his lines."
"Is there some reason you think I don't know this?" Jen said. "By the way, you signed off on the cast too. We agreed because Tyler's crazy talented."
"Yeah, well, there's talent and then there's talent." Stacy opened a folder and shoved a stack of photos across the desk. They showed Tyler in various outfits--including quite a few shots of him shirtless, or wearing nothing but a tight pair of boxer briefs. Jen suppressed a smile, knowing exactly what was underneath that bulging fabric.
"Is there a problem with wardrobe?" Jen asked.
"We agreed he had to get into shape," Stacy said. "Jen, you sold the network an hour-long drama about college basketball players. 'Friday Night Lights meets March Madness,' you said. That pitch was genius. But now your star needs to convince an audience that he can play in the Final Four, and it's not his pretty face that's going to do it."
"He's at the gym right now. He goes three times a week," Jen said. She intended to deliver Tyler to the gym more often, but they usually ended up detouring into bed. "I'll talk to him about stepping up his routine."
"I want him training every day, Jen. He needs to show me some goddamn discipline," Stacy said. "If he can't manage a daily workout, he won't be able to handle a TV production schedule, and I need you to tell me right now if we need to find a new lead."
"He'll be ready," Jen said. "Trust me."
Stacy nodded. "You've got three weeks."
"Is there anything else?" Jen asked.
"I don't know," Stacy said. "Is there?"
"Nope," Jen said. Nothing you need to know about. "Nothing else."
She waited until she had left Stacy's office, closed the door, and walked halfway down the hall before even muttering a curse. She also made sure to do it in Mandarin, which she was sure no one in the building would understand.
Jen was at the elevator when her cell phone rang. She would have ignored it, but the caller ID said "UCLA Hospital," and she was afraid Tyler might have overdosed on the cocaine which he cajoled Jen into procuring for him every weekend, or crashed his souped-up rice-rocket in an illegal street race, or done some other stupid thing. That was the downside of working with a hotheaded twenty-three-year-old. Some days Jen wondered if being a mother might be easier than working in Hollywood.
She answered the phone. "Hello?"
"Is this Jennifer Chan?" asked a female voice.
"Yeah," Jen sighed. "What's he done now?"
"I'm sorry, ma'am," the voice said. "Your father was admitted last night with a deep vein thrombosis--"
"Wait, what?" Jen said. "My father?"
"He experienced shortness of breath and blurred vision during the flight," the doctor said, his voice as unemotional as his face. "We confirmed the DVT with an ultrasound and administered blood thinners, but his vision problems persisted. Miss Chan, has your father had any trouble with his eyesight before?"
"No idea," Jen said. "I haven't talked to him in a while." Haven't had a reason to.
The doctor blinked. "I see. Well, we also ran an MRI just to make sure nothing else is going on. I should have the results shortly. In any case, we'd like to keep your father overnight for observation. Would you like to see him?"
"I guess I should," Jen said.
The doctor pointed out the room. Jen walked up and stopped just short of the open doorway. She glanced at her phone, briefly considering calling Tyler for moral support, but decided she didn't want to explain that whole situation to dear old dad right now.
Jen reminded herself that her father, Roger, had gone through his own tough times. Jen's mother had died in a freeway accident when Jen was ten years old. Roger was totally unprepared to raise a daughter by himself, and he and Jen had grown further and further apart through her adolescence, not least because of his temper. He had broken every mirror in their house when Jen told him she was going to a non-Ivy-League university. When she dropped out to work on a reality show, Roger had driven to her dorm and shouted bilingual curses from the street outside until the police showed up.
Jen hadn't really kept in touch after that. Every other person in her life was more important to her happiness and her career.
Roger still sent her the occasional e-mail, which Jen ignored for at least a day before reading and rarely replied to. The most recent one had been to tell her that Roger's father had passed away, and he was flying back to Taiwan for the funeral. Jen had intended to respond--with a generic condolence message, if nothing else--but then she had read to the end of the message, where Roger once again urged her to go back to school, get a degree, find a real job, and maybe look for a husband. Jen had deleted the e-mail.
She took a deep breath. No matter how tenuous a connection she felt to her father, he had no other family in the States, and he shouldn't have to face this illness alone. Jen decided to swallow her pride and let him lecture her for as long as he wanted while he was stuck in the hospital. She could grin and bear it for a few days. She put up with worse from every male director she'd ever worked with.
Jen walked into the room and closed the door. She didn't recognize the man in the bed at first. His hair was shot through with gray, and had receded several inches up his forehead since the last time she'd seen him. Wrinkles creased the skin around his eyes, and incipient age spots freckled his face. He didn't look like the angry man Jen remembered. He looked old and tired.
Then he turned his head, and Jen saw a stranger.
"What the hell?" she said, taking a step back.
The face looked like her father's, but it was wrong in subtle ways. The eyebrows were raised too high, the nostrils didn't twitch enough, and a hundred other things that Jen couldn't quite put her finger on. She would never forget her father's always-disapproving look, which could turn into rage at the slightest provocation. Jen knew her father, and this thing--no matter how much its shape might resemble Roger Chan's--was not her father.
The lips that should have been her father's parted in a thin smile and said, "Bao bei."
It took Jen a moment to process the words. Not because she didn't understand them, but because they were so unlike anything Roger would have said. In fact, the only person in the world who had ever called her treasure was--
"Yeye?" she asked. Grandfather?
The smile grew wider, making Roger's face look even more alien. Jen's father never smiled like that. "Ni zhidao." You know.
"No," Jen said. "No, this isn't happening." She took another step backward.
"Please," the man said. "I can explain."
Jen stopped moving. "Okay, nice try, asshole." She put a hand into her purse, searching for the pepper spray she always carried. "Wo yeye zhi jiang zhongwen." My grandfather only speaks Mandarin.
"Ni ba zhidao, wo jiu zhidao," said the man. I know what your father knew. "In high school, when you had your first period, you were too embarrassed to tell him. He found your bloody clothes in the laundry hamper. It was after midnight, but he found a twenty-four-hour drugstore, then brought home every type of tampon and pad they had, because he didn't know what to buy. He never had 'the talk' with you. He just left the plastic bag in front of your bedroom door, and you took what you needed the next morning."
Jen's legs felt weak. She staggered forward until she could grab the plastic chair next to the bed, then slid it back a good five feet and sat down. "Okay, Dad, they're going to tell us about the MRI soon, and then we can figure out what's going on with your head--"
"When you were six years old," the man said, "your parents left you with me in Gaoxiong for the weekend. You watched a ghost story cartoon on TV and had a nightmare about xixuegui. You woke up screaming in the middle of the night. I asked you what was wrong, but you were so scared, you wouldn't even say the word aloud until you put your fingers in your ears. So you wouldn't hear it again."
The face stared at Jen, making her skin crawl. The man was human, but he was wrong. And he knew things that only her father and her grandfather could respectively have known. Jen knew her ancestors believed in many types of supernatural possession. Was it possible some of those outrageous superstitions were actually real?
She pinched her leg to make sure she wasn't dreaming. The pain jolted her voice back into her throat.
"Even if I believed this was possible, which I don't," she said, "why are you here? And if you're in that body, where's Rog--where's my father?"
The man--Jen's Grandfather--stared at the far wall. "Everything that is left of my son is a part of me now."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"I will explain everything." Grandfather turned his face to her again. "But first, you must help me. This body is dying. I need you to find me a new one--"
"Whoa, slow down," Jen said. Dying? "I need you to tell me where my father is."
"I didn't want this to happen," Grandfather said. "I only wished to see my son again, maybe help give his life some direction." He sighed. "I have your father's memories, but his life energy is gone. His mind was merged into mine. Like a stream into the river--"
"Okay, enough with the kung fu bullshit."
"Language!" Grandfather snapped. "And it's actually qigong."
Jen resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Breathing exercises?"
"My body had grown old and frail," Grandfather said, "but my qi was still strong. After my body died, my spirit remained. I watched your father praying at my funeral altar. In his grief, he scraped his hand against the rocky ground, and I felt his life leaking from that wound. I realized that I could affect him through his blood, and so I did."
"Right," Jen said. "And Dad just--let you do this?"
"I had no other way to communicate with him. Ai ya! I should have known better. Even before this sickness, his will was weak. He was a feeble-minded man and a poor parent." Grandfather waved a hand in Jen's direction. "I'm happy to see you, bao bei, but your condition makes me sad."
Jen felt her temperature rising. “What ‘condition’?”
"Just look at you! Half your life is over, and you don't even have a husband, much less a grandchild." Grandfather shook his head. "It will be harder for me to join with someone who's not a blood relative. A grandson would have been the perfect host. Not to mention a blessing for your family."
Now Jen was convinced it was her Grandfather speaking. Roger had disapproved of pretty much everything Jen did after the age of sixteen, but he hadn't raised his daughter to be a weak-willed person. He knew the old-country hard-line crap would just make her angry.
"I don't think you're qualified to advise anyone on family values," Jen said. "Dad never told me what happened, but you did something upsetting enough that he had to put an entire ocean between you and him."
"I did nothing to my son," Grandfather said. "I only disciplined my daughter."
Jen frowned. "My dad's an only child."
"No, he wasn't." Grandfather raised a hand, turned his head, and waggled his palm dismissively. "I don't want to talk about it. She brought shame to the family."
"What, did she get knocked up before you could marry her off?"
Grandfather jerked his head back and gave Jen a horrified stare. "How did you know?"
Jen couldn't help laughing. "Are you kidding me? This hospital probably has an entire wing just for pregnant, unwed, teenage girls. Jesus Christ. What did you do, disown my aunt? Exile her back to the mainland?"
"We buried the mistake," Grandfather said.
Jen felt cold. "What?"
Grandfather grunted. "If you must know, I was more than reasonable. I told her she could dispose of the child before it was born. But she refused." He glared at Jen. "You were disobedient, but my daughter was a hundred times worse. Insolent. The things she said to me! I couldn't allow such behavior."
"What did you do to her?" Jen asked, clutching the plastic chair with both hands.
"It was my duty," Grandfather said. "My son tried to stop me, but he was just a boy. He didn't understand. It was my responsibility, as the father, as the head of the family."
Jen stood up, towering over the man in the bed. She had been taller than her father since high school, and she knew how to work her height, especially in heels.
"Tell me what you did," Jen said in the voice she used to motivate teamsters.
Grandfather scowled. "I protected our honor. I ended the spiteful girl's unworthy life."
"Okay," Jen said, "we're done." She turned and walked toward the door.
"Stop!" Grandfather yelled, startling Jen. "I'm not finished. Your father did not teach you to respect your elders, but I'm here now. I will correct his errors."
Jen turned back and extended her middle finger for punctuation. "Fuck. You."
"That's the first thing," Grandfather said. "Your language is disgraceful--"
"Motherfucker!" Jen shouted. "You show up here unannounced, unasked, and tell me that not only have you stolen my father's body, you also killed his sister? And you think I'm going to listen to a goddamn word you have to say?"
"I am your grandfather!" He slapped a hand on the bedside table. "I am still the head of this family--"
"You are the head of jack shit!" Jen said. "News flash: it's the twenty-first century. Science has determined that women are actually people, and honor killings are, in fact, murder!"
Grandfather spat a string of syllables Jen didn't recognize.
"This is America, asshole," she said when he was done. "Speak English."
She slammed the door on her way out. Then she texted Tyler. She needed something to keep her from thinking for a while.
Jen had just finished making her booty call when the doctor returned, a serious look on his smooth face.
Jen pulled her panties back on and tugged the blankets up over her bare breasts. Tyler liked to keep his bedroom ridiculously air-conditioned in the summer. "Didn't stop you from getting down to business."
"Hey, pussy's pussy."
"You sure know how to sweet-talk a girl."
"Seriously, though," Tyler said, rubbing her shoulder, "everything cool?"
Jen sighed. No matter how much of an idiot he was, the boy did know how to comfort her. And she didn't have many people she could confide in. At least with Tyler, she had some leverage that would keep his mouth shut if push ever came to shove.
"My dad's in the hospital," she said. "He's dying."
"Shit. That sucks." Tyler's hand moved under her neck and massaged her tense muscles. "What happened?"
"Brain cancer," Jen said. "There's a tumor the size of a tennis ball behind his sinuses. The doctors say he's got six months, if he's lucky." Less, if I'm lucky.
"Fuckin' A," Tyler said. "Man, that's messed up. What are you going to do?"
"Nothing?" Tyler repeated. "You did say 'dad,' right? This is your father we're talking about?"
"We've never been close. And it's cancer. Maybe if they'd found it sooner, chemo or radiation or surgery could have helped, but now..."
Jen nudged away Tyler's hand. She hated having to calculate just how little health care she could provide for her remorseless ghost Grandfather without looking like a heartless bitch to the media. Maybe I can ship him back overseas. Seeking a cure from Eastern medicine after Western doctors failed him. Terminal patients get desperate, right?
"Have you ever been to Taiwan?" she asked Tyler.
"Fuck, no," Tyler said. "I hear it's totally ghetto. Noisy, crowded, dirty--"
"It's not that bad, you jerk," Jen said, punching him in the shoulder. "You should go. See where your family came from. Get in touch with your roots and all that." Maybe learn something you didn't want to know and grow up a little. We can only hope.
"What roots?" Tyler thumped his chest. "ABC all the way, man!"
Jen shook her head. She wasn't big on heritage, herself, and she had never understood the whole "American Born Chinese" pride thing.
"Now, Hong Kong, maybe," Tyler continued. "They're into future stuff, right? Technology and shit?"
"Yeah. Sure." Jen was tired of thinking about this. Why shouldn't that bigoted murderer die slowly and painfully, inside a prison made of cancer? She wouldn't lose any sleep over it.
"Maybe I'll go do an action movie over there." Tyler slashed the air with both hands. "Jackie Chan, motherfucker! Yeah, I should talk to my agent about that."
His movements and the word agent reminded Jen of her meeting with Stacy. "So how was the gym today?"
Tyler became very interested in his cigarette. "It was fine."
Jen sat up, hugging the blanket to her chest. "Tyler."
He shrugged. "I'll go tomorrow."
She grabbed his shoulder and turned him to face her. He stared down at the bed.
"Tyler," Jen said, softening her voice as much as she could, "I got some network notes today. They want you to beef up a little, and we've only got three weeks before shooting starts. So you have to go to the gym every day now and work out for at least an hour. Okay?"
Tyler puffed out his chest and flexed his biceps. "Come on, you tellin' me these guns ain't doin' it for you?"
Jen sighed. "It's not me, sweetie. You know I love your body. But for camera, we just need a little more definition."
"Okay, okay." He slid down beside her and tugged on the edge of the blanket. "You can help with that, right? Score me some juice?"
Jen stopped his hand before it moved too far down her body. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"Come on, it's not like I'm actually playing basketball," Tyler said. "Nobody's gonna make me pee in a cup or anything. And steroids will help me nuke up this bod a lot faster. You know. Give me more time for... other things."
He moved his hand to cover one of Jen's breasts and squeezed. She squirmed away. "I'm serious, Tyler."
"So am I," he said. "I seriously want to fuck you right now."
She put both hands on his shoulders and stared at him. Don't screw this up for me, you stupid kid. "Tyler, I know you want this show to succeed as much as I do. You're the lead. Hoop could make your career. And there are a lot of people depending on it--the crew, the writers, the investors who banked our foreign rights. Do you understand? We need to do everything we can to make this work."
Tyler pouted for a moment. "Okay. Fine. What do you want me to do?"
"We'll get you a personal trainer," Jen said. "Don't worry. I'll set it up. But you need to show up at the gym every single day."
Tyler groaned. "I can still party at night, right?"
He looked at her with a gloomy expression. Jen felt the urge to slap him. Or herself. What the hell was she doing, hooking up with this moron night after night? Would she have to babysit him for the entire run of the series? Didn't she deserve better--more--than just a body that made her feel good in bed?
Then she remembered she wasn't the only one looking for a body.
And maybe this one could benefit from a paternal presence.
"I just remembered," she said, releasing Tyler, "I have some more work to do back at the office."
Tyler glanced at the clock. "Now?"
"I'll drop you off at the club," Jen said.
His face lit up. "With some coke?"
"Yeah," Jen said. "You have fun tonight. Tomorrow you start training."
Grandfather put down the magazine he was reading and looked at her. That alien face still made her shiver. "I don't know if I can trust you."
"You don't know if you can--" Jen bit her tongue.
She reminded himself of what she wanted from this man, and how she planned to get it. The potential upside for her was huge. She would only have to lie to him for a few hours.
And Jen was very good at lying to people who underestimated her.
"I don't like you," she said, stepping inside and closing the door. "But you're still family. And I can't just let you die."
Grandfather smiled. She wished he would stop doing that. She hoped it wouldn't look quite so creepy in his new body. Maybe she could fix it in post.
"Bao bei," he said.
"Don't call me that," Jen said. "You ever call me that again, and the deal's off. I can make you suffer in ways you've never imagined. Got it?"
The smile disappeared. "So you found me a body? A new host?"
"Who is it?"
"You have to promise me you'll help him."
Grandfather frowned. "Help him with what?"
"Physical fitness," Jen said. "This is someone I--a young man I know from work. An actor. And he needs to stay fit, in good shape, if he wants to keep working. He needs"--she nearly choked on the word--"discipline."
Grandfather squinted at her. "He's agreed to this?"
"Do you care?" Jen said before she could stop herself. "Look. He'll be merged with you, right? He'll still be here, just--different?"
"If his spirit is strong."
"Oh, he's very strong-willed," Jen said. "Maybe not so intelligent, but I'm hoping you can help with that, too. His co-workers are depending on him. He needs to be more responsible."
"Where are his parents?" Grandfather asked. "They should be guiding him."
"They're not around," Jen said. "Look, this kid's got a bright future, if he can keep himself together. Can your 'strong spirit' help with that?"
Grandfather smiled. "Perhaps this boy is like the son you never had."
Jen held back the urge to vomit. "I wouldn't say that. But tell me, what happens when you pop into a new host? Will it be... half him, and half you?" I can't believe I'm having this conversation. Can I really go through with this?
"Not exactly," Grandfather said. "I'm guessing this boy hasn't trained in any kind of qigong. So I will be in control, at least at first. It might take a little while for me to acclimate to his body."
That's interesting. Jen's mouth felt dry. "And then?"
"Like you said. The boy will have the benefit of my wisdom. I'll whip him into shape, both mentally and physically," Grandfather said. "I know several different wushu. Taijiquan, Cai Li Fo, Hung Jia Quan, wo dou hui yong!"
"Okay, keep it in your pants, Mr. Miyagi," Jen said. "Just remember, I'm giving you a second chance here. If you don't keep your end of the deal, I will devote my life to making yours a living hell. Got it?"
"I understand," Grandfather said. "At any rate, it will be better than waiting for this tumor to kill me. I agree to your terms."
"Great," Jen said, dripping as much scorn as she could on the word. "So how does it work? I bring him in here, and then--?"
"We'll need blood," Grandfather said. "His and mine."
Of course we will.
Tyler wasn't happy about Jen waking him up before noon on a weekend, but he would never turn down a good-morning blowjob followed by a free lunch at Cheesecake Factory. Jen insisted on driving so he couldn't get away from their next stop.
"Whoa, is there something we need to talk about?" Tyler said when she pulled into the hospital parking lot. "I thought you were on the Pill! And I always double-bag my junk!"
"I just want you to meet someone," Jen said, turning off the car.
"Oh, I get it," Tyler said. "Your dad, right? 'Cause he's dying and shit."
"Are you okay with this?" Jen watched Tyler intently. She didn't want to turn on the waterworks, but she would if she needed to. He would do just about anything to stop her from crying.
"Hey, I'm here for you, baby," Tyler said, kissing her with way too much tongue. "But if he asks why you ain't got no ring yet, I can't commit to anything. I'm just sayin'."
"Don't worry," Jen said. "He won't ask."
The monster in Roger's body had finished reading his magazine from last night and was watching television when Jen and Tyler walked into the hospital room.
"Hello," Grandfather said. "Who's this?"
"Dad," Jen said, closing the door, "this is Tyler Hsu. The guy I told you about last night."
"Ni hao," Tyler said, in possibly the worst Mandarin Jen had ever heard. "Sorry to hear about your cancer, Mr. Chan, but it's cool to finally meet someone from Jen's family." He stepped forward and held out his hand.
Grandfather's smile was full of teeth. "I'm pleased to meet you, Tyler."
Tyler gave a surprised yelp when Grandfather grabbed Tyler's arm with one hand and yanked him forward onto the bed. He started shouting just as Grandfather's other hand slapped an inscribed paper napkin over his mouth. Grandfather flicked the air in front of the thick black calligraphy he'd drawn on the napkin, and Tyler fell silent.
Shit, that's real too? Jen had seen fantasy movies in which martial arts masters wrote "cloud scripts" to imbue inanimate objects with spirit powers. Seeing it in person was something else. This is so fucked up. Maybe I can turn it into a screenplay.
It only took Grandfather a second to carve another symbol into Tyler's hand, using the penknife Jen had smuggled in last night. Grandfather's own palm was already cut and bloodied. The magicked paper clung to Tyler's face, hiding his noiselessly flapping mouth. Grandfather pressed his and Tyler's bleeding palms together, and both men froze for a moment, stiff and unmoving, their eyes glassy.
Then Tyler gasped and fell back, convulsing, and Roger's body slumped in the hospital bed. Jen caught Tyler before his head hit the floor. The napkin fluttered away. The heart monitor next to the bed screeched out a steady, piercing tone.
A nurse ran into the room and up to the bed. She slapped the monitor, then the intercom. "Code blue in room 213!" She looked down at Jen. "What happened?"
"My father collapsed," Jen said. "I think he cut himself. Please help him!"
"Oh, Lord. What about that one?" The nurse pointed at Tyler.
"Fainted. Sight of blood. I'll get him out of the way," Jen said.
"We'll do everything we can for your father," the nurse said, lowering the bed.
"Thank you." Jen yanked Tyler's arm over her shoulder, hefted his body, and walked him into the bathroom. She shut the door as two more nurses rolled a crash cart up to the bed.
Jen was lowering Tyler's body to the tile floor in the bathroom when his eyes popped open. The face contorted in a deeply un-Tyler-like way. Grandfather started thrashing the body around, and Jen let go of him and backed off.
"What--" he croaked. "Ah! What--what is this?" Grandfather hugged his arms to his chest and curled into a fetal position. "What did you do to me? It hurts! It hurts!"
"I didn't do anything," Jen said. "You wanted a body. I gave you a body."
"You--" Grandfather's teeth chattered. "You bitch!"
"Language." Jen reached into her purse and pulled out a small plastic baggie of white powder. "Don't worry, I've got your medicine right here."
Jen hoped the body's addiction would be more powerful than her Grandfather's will. If she knew anything about show business, it was that drug habits died hard.
Grandfather's eyes widened, and he lunged for the cocaine. She yanked it back. Grandfather tumbled forward, smacking his elbow against the side of the toilet. He grimaced and actually whimpered.
"I need it," he said. "You know I need it."
"Yeah," Jen said, waving the coke. "Now here's what you're going to do to get it."
"This better be good," Stacy said as she walked onto the basketball court, one of In the Hoop's standing sets, and approached Jen. "I'm missing a three-martini lunch at Paramount. And you start production tomorrow."
"I wanted to set your mind at ease about the show," Jen said. "I know you've been worried about Tyler's disposition."
"That's one word for it," Stacy said.
"Well, just watch." Jen picked up the whistle hanging around her neck and blew three short, sharp blasts. The four men shooting hoops stopped and jogged over to the two women.
Tyler flashed his trademark winning smile when he saw Stacy. "Hey there, Ms. Harker. Surprise inspection?"
"You guys take five," Jen said to the other three actors. They walked off toward the bleachers. "Tyler, lift up your shirt."
"Yes, ma'am." He lifted up his jersey, revealing a set of tanned and well-sculpted abs glistening with perspiration.
"Mama like," Stacy said. "I'm impressed, Tyler."
"Thanks, Ms. Harker."
"There's more," Jen said. "Tyler, show her the jump shot."
He dribbled the basketball down the court. Once inside the free throw line, he stopped, raised the ball with both hands, and sent it swishing through the basket in a perfect parabola.
"Damn," Stacy said. "What have you been feeding that boy?"
"Cocaine and pussy," Jen said. Not mine anymore, of course. Ew.
"Tyler!" Jen called out. "Slam dunk!"
"Yes, ma'am," he called back, and started dribbling the ball to the other side of the court.
"And when did he start talking like a private school preppy?" Stacy asked. "Don't tell me he's going Method. I don't think I could handle that."
"He's matured a lot in the past few weeks," Jen said. "Just wait until you see the dailies."
Tyler came pounding back down the court, launched into the air, and jammed the ball through the basket. He hung on the rim for a moment before pulling himself up, letting go of the hoop, and doing a backflip on his way down to land on his feet.
"Holy shit," Stacy said. "Well, I guess you can move some budget out of stunts and over to insurance. Has he always been able to do that?"
"Like I said. Tyler's grown up a lot this summer," Jen said.
"Yeah. So tell me something," Stacy said, lowering her voice. "Are you hittin' that?"
"Hell no," Jen said. "He is not my type."
Originally published on Curious Fictions, 2019.