Once I’m dragged off into the Green Room with all the gorgeous women, I sneak a peek at myself in one of the full-length mirrors propped against the wall. Who am I? And where is astrophysicist Ben Williams under all that hair gel and bronzer? This is going to be the single most humiliating experience of my life. Not only am I dressed like a banana for his first day of school, my manhood is on display like it’s about to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. How is anyone going to take me seriously?
They won’t. That’s how.
Not to mention, everyone I know, including my co-workers, will be watching. NOOOO!!! I have to stop this. Panic starts to build inside of me until my chest cavity feels like it’s about to explode.
The bossy woman who made me take my underwear off loudly declares, “You all look great! This is going to be an amazing show!”
I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I don’t have time to ask because someone else comes in and says, “You’re on next. Follow me.”
I tug at these ridiculous pants in hopes they’ll magically grow three sizes and turn black. Or a nice brown, even. That would be good too. Although I don’t know if brown would go with this awful green vest.
Oh, for pity’s sake, Ben, it doesn’t matter! Your pants aren’t going to change color so forget it. Unless …what if I change into normal pants? Yes, that’s the answer. As we march down the hall and pass my dressing room, I decide I’m going to put on my own clothes no matter what anyone says. As I open the door to dressing room three, I hear Serafina demand, “Where are you going?”
She doesn’t wait for an answer. Instead, she takes my hand and leads me to the third spot in line. “There. You’re right behind our Taurus.”
Grinning broadly, she says, “Okay, everyone, you look fabulous. Just get out there and strut your fine selves.”
Strut my fine self? What in the world is she talking about?
“Listen, I-I think there’s been a mistake,” I call out to her.
“I know, the pants aren’t exactly the right fit, but you can really get away with it, trust me.” She boldly winks which causes me even more distress.
“No, not that …”
That Justin intern rushes over and says, “Ms. Lopez, you’re on!”
I try to get his attention, but he disappears, leaving me with no one to ask for help. I wait for what feels like forever, but I’m sure is only a couple of minutes, before Justin comes back and starts to lead us backstage. “When I point to you, walk onto the stage, turn left at the X, strut down the catwalk toward the studio audience. Pause for a count of two, then spin back around and go out the other way.”
He points to the woman in front of me. As she goes, I watch her carefully, trying to memorize what she’s doing. Okay, that doesn’t look so hard. It’s just walking, right? I can walk. Do they introduce all of their guests like this? My confusion equals my horror. I should have watched an episode of this show, so I knew what I was getting into.
When the woman turns back my way, she’s not smiling. Are we not supposed to smile? Do we pout? Yes, pouting seems right. How do you pout?
Turning to the woman behind me, I say, “Does this look right?” then I push my lips out and try to look like I’m really angry about something. Which is actually true because I’m going to lose it on Dev when I see him.
She wrinkles up her nose and answers, “You look like you’re trying to poop.”
Well, that was rude. I’m trying to learn. I give her a glare and she snaps her fingers. “Perfect! Now you’ve got some serious smolder going on.”
“Gemini Guy! Gemini Guy!” Justin whisper-yells.
I spin around, realizing he means me. He points to the stage wearing a completely disgusted look. As I walk by, I hear him say something about models with rocks for brains into his headset. Models? I’m not a model.
My heart is thumping like a rabbit surrounded by a pack of bears as I walk, trying to keep time with the music which is some airy-fairy crap that doesn’t even have a beat. That bossy Serafina person is sitting on a chair next to the show’s hosts talking … about me … it turns out.
“Geminis absolutely love to be the center of attention, almost to a fault. They’re known to be intelligent, passionate, fun, but also sometimes unreliable and are even called flighty.”
I keep walking toward center stage while I glare at her, causing me to miss the big X on the floor.
“As you can see, our model truly is a flighty Gemini. He just missed his mark.”
I hate this woman. I hate her with every cell of my being.
Hal lets out a laugh. “Other way, buddy!”
“Wow, those are some tight pants!” Lacey inserts. “I can see his center of attention!”
The audience laughs as I scramble to find the damn X. It’s actually quite large and is in bright green tape, so it’s pretty hard to miss. I stalk down the catwalk feeling like a piece of poorly-dressed meat. The audience—mainly older women—start to hoot and whistle and, I swear to God, one woman is waving a five-dollar bill at me.
How the hell did I end up here? I have my PhD. I work for NASA.
I head back toward the hosts while that awful Serafina woman talks about astrology. I’m so busy trying to make sure I land on the X this time I almost don’t hear Hal say, “Geminis really must be flighty because our other guest, Dr. Ben Williams, didn’t bother to show up for Star Day. I understand he’s a Gemini as well.”
I stop in my tracks and stare at him, sweat trickling down my back.
Hal looks at me while making a scooting gesture with his hands. “You can go now.”
Astrology girl gives me an urgent head nod toward the exit. Now is my only chance to fix what has gone terribly, terribly wrong. “I’m Ben Williams.”
All three of them stare at me like I’ve just said I’m from planet Zorbits. Lacey gives me a sympathetic look, as though she feels so bad for the male model who’s so dumb he doesn’t know his own name. “Um, no. Ben Williams is a rocket scientist. You’re a model.” She says this slowly like it’s the only way I’ll be able to understand her.
I wait while the audience has a good laugh at my expense while ignoring Justin and some other woman with a headset who are frantically waving at me. “I’m not a rocket scientist.”
Giving me a condescending look, Hal says, “We know you’re not, buddy. But you’re still special, okay? Now, off you go!”
The fashion show music stops, and the audience becomes so still you’d think they were waiting for me to perform a magic show. Off to the side, I see two security guards at the ready. I swallow hard, then keep going. “There’s no such thing as a rocket scientist,” I say. “What you’re thinking of is actually called an aeronautical engineer or an astronautical engineer. Rocket scientist is a dumbed down word for the job.”
“Wow,” Lacey says, blinking at me. “You know a lot about rocket science.”
I shut my eyes at her inane statement, then open them and say, “That’s because I’m an astrophysicist.”
The astrology “expert” (and I’m using that term lightly) seems to be the first one of the three geniuses to figure out who I am. “Wait, if you’re Dr. Williams, why are you masquerading as a male model?”
“What did you do with my model?” I hiss at Ben Williams as soon as he’s seated next to me.
He rolls his eyes. “Obviously I murdered him and stuffed his body in the closet so I could make my lifelong dream of coming on national television as a complete ass come true.”
Before I can slay him with a witty comeback, Lacey waves her hands frantically to shut me up. Then she turns to the camera and gushes, “Welcome back to Wake Up America! In case you’re just joining us, we have astrophysicist Dr. Ben Williams on today, here to talk about NASA’s Earth Two project. But before we get to Dr. Williams, Serafina Lopez, creator of the smashing Live for Your Star Sign app, is going to give us a fashion-forward look for your star sign.”
Hal continues, “We had a surprise model in the form of Dr. Williams here. Tell us, Ben, are you really a Gemini?”
“I have no idea.”
“According to our research, you are,” Lacey hurries to say. “You’d think you’d know that, being a rocket scientist and all.”
Dr. Grumpy Pants pauses, then slowly explains, “Science is the systematic, logical, and relentless pursuit of knowledge to help us better understand the universe and all things in it. Astrology is the pursuit of unsuspecting people’s money through trickery, predictions so vague they could apply to anyone in any given location, and blatant insensitivity to empirical evidence.” He glances at me, then turns back to Lacey. “For you to presume I should possess the knowledge of which utterly irrelevant category I land in based on my date of birth is about as useful as knowing which house I’d fit into at Hogwarts. It’s meaningless. It’s nothing more than a party game.”
“A party game?” I blurt out. “I’ll have you know that the practical use of astrology dates back to the third millennium BC. It is rooted in the calendrical system as a predictor of seasonal shifts and even helped drive the development of modern-day astronomy.”
“Please, that’s like saying the first grunt from an Australopithecus is responsible for modern literature.”
“Australo-what-a-cus?” Hal asks, hamming it up for the audience.
“Australopithecus—the first ancestor of man.”
I jump in, righteous indignation bubbling in my chest. “I would argue that the first grunt from an Australopithecus is the origin of modern literature and speech.”
“You’d be wrong. Just because ancient astrologers looked into the sky, doesn’t mean they had the first clue what they were seeing.” He gives me a satisfied smile that I’m tempted to slap off his face. Then, turning away from me as if I’ve been dismissed, he leans closer to Lacey. He smiles at her and shrugs his eyebrows in a sleazy fashion. “What’s your sign? Can I buy you a drink?”
Lacey doesn’t seem to gather that he’s being facetious because she winks back and answers, “How about if you take me for a ride on your rocket ship?”
“Okay, there, Lacey,” Hal laughs nervously. “We don’t want to get sued for sexual harassment.”
“Then Dr. Ben shouldn’t have worn those pants,” Lacey says.
The audience laughs appreciatively, and one woman even calls out, “Stand up and show us your rocket ship again!” This of course leads to more hilarity.
Dr. Jerkface grins, before instructing, “Eyes up here, ladies.”
Oh great, now they’ve burst into applause and are hooting. How did this become the Dr. Ben show? I need to take back control of this segment before I lose the viewers’ interest in my app. So, I do the only thing I can think of. I stand up to draw attention to myself and loudly say, “If you’ll start the music again, I’d like to introduce Cancer!”
The mystical flute soundtrack I chose for this segment starts to play as a forty-something model with long silver hair and rose-colored sunglasses sashays out. She’s wearing a flowing batik-patterned summer dress, “Our celestial hippy chick likes to be comfortable while showcasing her innate psychic abilities. Just don’t cross her or she might pinch you like the crab from her astrological symbol.”
Lacey gushes, “I would so wear that dress! I love how you paired it with sandals that lace up the calves. Really chic.”
“Cancer thrives while displaying their carefree fashion sense,” I tell her brightly.
“No, they don’t,” Dr. Jerky McIHateHimFace mutters. “Because that’s not a thing.”
“Yeah, it is,” I tell him as my Cancer model finishes her walk. When she’s offstage, I announce, “Leo is the royalty of the zodiac.” My model is in her twenties, and she has bright orange curls that are slightly teased around her head like a lion’s mane. She’s wearing a gold lamé evening gown that only has one strap, the other shoulder is completely bare. “Leos love to strut their stuff, so if this is your star sign, going bold with your fashion is going to help bring you to your best life.”
“I doubt that very much,” Dr. Ben grumbles. “I can tell you for a fact I wouldn’t be living my best life in these ridiculous banana pants.”
When my Leo model reaches the end of the catwalk and walks back toward us, Hal growls like a lion while gesturing with his hands like he’s the aforementioned cat about to pounce. “Rooooooar! I like that one. She looks like a queen!”
“Who’s getting sued for sexual harassment now?” Lacey seemingly jokes. I say seemingly because I don’t think Hal and Lacey actually like each other. I’m guessing a good deal of their success as a hosting duo is based on discord as it keeps everyone on their toes. Even so, I would absolutely hate to work with someone I couldn’t stand on a regular basis. Talk about upsetting my sense of balance.
Standing in the wings of the Wake Up America! set, I listen while Hal says, “When we come back from commercial break, Serafina and Ben will tell us all about their trip to the Kennedy Space Center!” The live audience claps like they’ve just been promised a brand-new Buick, Oprah-style.
As soon as I hear, “We’re in commercial.” I hurry out on set and sit down. There are four chairs instead of two, which is the tip-off that Hal and Lacey are going to be sitting in.
As Ben takes the seat opposite mine, I whisper to Lacey, “I didn’t think you guys were going to be sitting in on our segments anymore.”
“Just this once. The producer said something about having concerns about you and Ben?”
“What concerns?” I demand. So help me, if Ben ruins this publicity opportunity for me, I’m going to send daily glitter bombs. Speaking of which, I can’t help but smile when I see some shiny flecks coming from his hairline. Looks like my first offering has already arrived.
“We’re back in five, four, three …” someone off set counts.
“Welcome back to Wake Up America!” Lacey practically shouts. “Serafina and Ben are back from their trip to Cape Canaveral, and they have a lot to tell us. Isn’t that right, Ben?”
“Sure,” Ben says but doesn’t offer anything more.
“Tell us about it,” Hal encourages.
“It was hot.” Ben looks beyond annoyed.
I decide to do my part to keep the conversation rolling. “As you know, Hal and Lacey, Florida is a steamer this time of year, but the Space Center didn’t fail to deliver its one-of-a-kind, out-of-this-world excitement.”
They both turn to me while Ben stares daggers at me. I continue, “I, for one, have been there no fewer than a half a dozen times and I can’t get enough.”
“What do you like about it most?” Hal asks.
“When you see all of those rockets and shuttles and realize they’ve all been to outer space, it’s, well, it’s just awe-inspiring.” I’m playing my part of the happiest woman on the planet. My face is so frozen into place, my cheeks are starting to cramp.
“I think something else happened in Florida too, am I right?” Lacey asks with a secretive smile on her face.
Damn, I thought Waltraut was going to tell the producers the kiss tape was off limits. I decide to play dumb on the off chance she’s talking about something else. “What are you referring to, Lacey?” Then I shoot her a panicky look that doubles as a plea not to do her job and show the tape of our kissing.
Ben seems to finally clue into what’s about to go down, because he jumps to his feet and starts to babble, “I’d like to take a moment and tell our viewers about the fantastic opportunity to send their kids to space camp. The program includes a full week of space activities, like the anti-gravity simulator. All meals and snacks, and even a graduation ceremony and certificate, are provided at no additional cost!” He sounds like he’s trying to sell blenders on late night television.
Hal interrupts him, “I hear you two got to actually suit up and visit the moon. That had to be fun.”
Rats, here we go. We watch the television monitor off-set, the same one I know they’ve cut to on camera. Ben and I are hand-in-hand, walking toward the photo op. Video Ben says, “I can’t wear that. How long has it been since it’s been cleaned?” The audience laughs. When he says “You can’t wear loafers in space,” they’re in near-hysterics.
Then, as expected, they’ve spliced the tape together to show us against the green screen, followed by the photographs we were given at the end—us in the space shuttle, floating in space, and on the moon. As I watch, I feel like a defendant in a courtroom waiting for the jury to come back with a death sentence.
Lacey looks into the camera and announces, “Just when you think Ben and Serafina will never like each other …” We all turn to look at the screen as our first kiss is unveiled right there on national television. Words escape me. That is one hot kiss and even though I’m annoyed it ever happened, my skin still heats up like I’m a pig on a spit.
The audience oohs and ahs, whistles and claps. Hal interrupts them by asking, “Is there something you two kids want to tell us?”
I merely look down and stare at my hands while shaking my head.
Ben, on the other hand, announces, “I’ll tell you what happened. Serafina here laid on the charm super thick during our trip and I momentarily lost my mind.”
“Are you saying that what we just saw was a one-off?” Lacey asks.
I say, “Yes,” at the same time Ben gives a firm, “NO!”
Whitney Dineen loves to laugh, play with her kids, bake, and eat french fries — not always in that order.
Whitney is a multi-award-winning author of romcoms, non-fiction humor, and middle reader fiction. Basically, she writes whatever the voices in her head tell her to.
She lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her husband, Jimmy, where they raise children, chickens, and organic vegetables.
Gold Medal winner at the International Readers’ Favorite Awards, 2017.
Silver medal winner at the International Readers’ Favorite Awards, 2015, 2016.
Finalist RONE Awards, 2016.
Finalist at the IRFA 2016, 2017.
Finalist at the Book Excellence Awards, 2017
Finalist Top Shelf Indie Book Awards, 2017
Melanie Summers also writes steamy romance as MJ Summers.
Melanie made a name for herself with her debut novel, Break in Two, a contemporary romance that cracked the Top 10 Paid on Amazon in both the UK and Canada, and the top 50 Paid in the USA. Her highly acclaimed Full Hearts Series was picked up by both Piatkus Entice (a division of Hachette UK) and HarperCollins Canada. Her first three books have been translated into Czech and Slovak by EuroMedia. Since 2013, she has written and published three novellas, and eight novels (of which seven have been published). She has sold over a quarter of a million books around the globe.
In her previous life (i.e. before having children), Melanie got her Bachelor of Science from the University of Alberta, then went on to work in the soul-sucking customer service industry for a large cellular network provider that shall remain nameless (unless you write her personally – then she’ll dish). On her days off, she took courses and studied to become a Chartered Mediator. That designation landed her a job at the R.C.M.P. as the Alternative Dispute Resolution Coordinator for ‘K’ Division. Having had enough of mediating arguments between gun-toting police officers, she decided it was much safer to have children so she could continue her study of conflict in a weapon-free environment (and one which doesn’t require makeup and/or nylons).
Melanie resides in Edmonton with her husband, three young children, and their adorable but neurotic one-eyed dog. When she’s not writing novels, Melanie loves reading (obviously), snuggling up on the couch with her family for movie night (which would not be complete without lots of popcorn and milkshakes), and long walks in the woods near her house. She also spends a lot more time thinking about doing yoga than actually doing yoga, which is why most of her photos are taken ‘from above’. She also loves shutting down restaurants with her girlfriends. Well, not literally shutting them down, like calling the health inspector or something–more like just staying until they turn the lights off.
She is represented by Suzanne Brandreth of The Cooke Agency International.