- Lauren and Josh were put in charge of landing a new account for Willis Advertising.
- Alex declined to spend the day running errands with Trevor, saying that he had writing to do. But before he settled into his work, Seth showed up at his door, having lost both his fiancée and his job.
- Matt made the decision to save Sarah's life by having her pregnancy terminated. Sarah awoke from her coma to the sad news.
"We don't need to tell you what a crowded market this is. Look at what an empire the Olsen twins built on what was essentially licensing their image," Josh Taylor says, his voice cool, confident, and relaxed. "That's why we want our focus to be standing out from the pack."
Josh and Lauren Brooks sit across the dinner table from two executives at Poppin' Lips, the lip gloss manufacturer whose business they have been assigned to pursue. The two executives--a man and a woman who cannot be older than 40--listen attentively, or at least politely. Lauren finds herself trying to judge their every movement, every slight sound that emanates from either of them.
All she can tell so far is that she and Josh have not lost them completely. As for whether or not they are legitimately considering doing business with Willis: who knows? Lauren feels her own nerves jumping beneath her skin as she focuses on making it through the rest of this dinner, and she forces herself to take a bite of her sea bass, even though food is the last thing her stomach seems to want.
"There are a million ways to show that these products are fun for young girls, or that they'll be cool if they use them, or whatever," Josh continues. "What we'd like to do is set your line apart from all the products claiming those things."
Lauren watches Josh, his smile loose and inviting, his voice strong but not demanding or intimidating. She never ceases to marvel at the finesse he is capable of turning on in a professional capacity; it stands in such stark contrast to what a loose cannon he can be in his everyday life. There is something about that kind of control that she finds irresistible.
Maybe because she envies it. Josh motions for her to take over, and her stomach wobbles in a way that would be comedic if it weren't so terrifying.
"We feel that it would be best to pursue--aggressively pursue--long-term placement in a TV show that's popular with your target demographic," she says. The words come naturally, and she can feel her body easing up. "An ongoing partnership would not only offer continual exposure, but it would identify your products with a program that is already familiar to kids as something 'cool.'"
"So that show's brand, everything it stands for, carries over to your product line," Josh adds. "It would do our talking for us, in a way."
Lauren sees the two execs nodding across the table. They get it she thinks. She and Josh have not had much time to hash out a battle plan, but this seemed like a way to do something distinct without hinging it all on a particular celebrity endorsement or inclusion of an of-the-moment song in ads.
Finally, Amy Lao, the female of the pair, speaks. "I like the way you think."
"So do I," says Brandon Barnes, the other executive. "It helps us avoid the one-off cheesiness of most product placement."
"Exactly," Lauren says, and she feels another wave of nervousness drain from her body. "Of course, this is only in the brainstorm stage."
Josh pulls out a folder. "We've compiled information on some potential target shows--"
"You know, I've been impressed with what you've had to say so far," Brandon interrupts. "Wouldn't you say so, Amy? We've seen impressive presentations from a few agencies, actually. But what we're really looking for "
Lauren's stomach stops waffling and plummets. It's over, just like that?
It doesn't have to be.
"If you'll just give us a few more minutes," she begins, "maybe we can--"
Brandon holds up a hand. "What we're really looking for are people we can work with. You know as well as we do what a crazy business this is."
He defers to Amy, whose facial expression remains unchanged as she says, "We'd love to work with people who are really willing to go that extra mile to help us out."
Josh nods along. Lauren follows suit. Though she agrees with the sentiment, she is not so sure that she likes the insinuation here.
"So, um, how's the skiing around here?" Brandon asks, sniffing audibly.
Lauren tries to keep the completely baffled look off her face, though she suspects she is only minimally successful.
"You guys wouldn't happen to be able to help us with that, would you?" Brandon says.
"Well, the passes are great in the winter, but it's not exactly skiing season," Lauren says.
With a laugh, Josh cuts her off. "Funny, you. Of course we can help with that."
She throws Josh a sideways glance. What is he talking about?
"I don't really think we can," Lauren says.
"If not," Brandon says, rubbing the underside of his nose in a way that makes it clear exactly what type of 'snow' he is referring to, "we could always take our business elsewhere."
CASSIE'S COFFEE HOUSE
The new Modest Mouse album plays over the sound system, giving a jolt to the otherwise languid summer evening. Alex Marshall and Seth Ashby sit at a table toward the back of the coffeehouse, Seth with an iced, blended drink and Alex with his usual latte.
"I don't get how you can drink hot coffee when it's, like, 200 degrees outside," Seth says.
"It helps me pace myself. Otherwise I'd drink it way too fast."
Seth shakes his head with amusement. "That's so you. Making up arbitrary rules just for the hell of it."
Alex cannot really argue with that. He knows that it is something he does, and the fact that Seth recognizes it makes him feel strangely pleased. Maybe there is something reassuring about the reminder that the Alex of ten years ago and the Alex of today have something in common, because sometimes, his life feels so different that he is not even sure that it is his.
"So what now?" he asks. "Do you want to keep living in Portland? Are you going to go see your parents for a while?"
"My parents would kill me. I've barely talked to them since the wedding. They don't understand."
"They might understand better if you actually told the whole story," Alex suggests. It comes off sounding more lecture-y than he intended, but maybe that is what Seth needs right now.
"I don't even know what the whole story is," Seth counters.
His statement injects an uncertain silence into the conversation. There are so many things unacknowledged and unasked between them, things that Alex wishes he could ask even though he knows he would never receive a straightforward response. He is not sure how far he can go into any of that--their past together, why exactly Seth left Miriam--without turning this from a friendly conversation into something highly uncomfortable.
As if reading his mind, Seth says, "I don't get why we couldn't just stay at your place and talk."
"Because." Alex glances at the door and around the coffeehouse, as he has been doing since they arrived.
"We're talking. That's it," Seth says. "I feel like some dirty little secret."
Alex cannot resist the opportunity for a dig:
"Now you know how it feels."
Guilt hits Alex swiftly. "Sorry. That was just--"
"No, it's true." Seth pauses, then draws his straw to his lips and take a long sip, one that seems intended more to delay than to enjoy his drink. "Look, Alex I know I've fucked up. I'm not pretending I'm the world's greatest guy. And I'm sorry for what I did."
"And? Seth, what do you want from me? Why come here? I don't get it."
Seth's right shoulder rises in a shrug. "I'm not sure. I don't know. I just I want you to be a part of my life right now. You understand things about me that no one else does."
"Because you haven't let anyone else--" But Alex stops mid-sentence, as his gaze is pulled back to the front door.
He watches Trevor walk into the coffeehouse, and almost immediately, Trevor spots him, too.
MATT & SARAH GRAY'S APARTMENT
Matt Gray pokes his head into the master bedroom, where his wife has a makeshift workspace set up in the corner. As is the norm these days, he finds Sarah hunched over the desk, studying reports and statements and who-knows-what-else.
"Hey," he says, and he sees her flinch, though she does not look up at him, "I'm gonna take Tori over to Fee's now."
"Okay. Make sure she brings her toothbrush this time."
Sarah pulls a receipt out of the pile of papers before her and studies it, as if it holds the key to cracking whatever case she is currently focused on.
"Do you wanna say goodbye to her?" Matt asks.
Sarah stands automatically, as if Matt had pushed a button instead of made a suggestion. She crosses the room and passes him on her way out the doorway, but he is not even sure that she noticed him there. He follows her into the living room.
"Be good," Sarah says as she gives Tori a kiss on the forehead. "I love you."
"Love you, too," Tori says.
Only now does Sarah seem to see Matt, standing beside them, waiting. An awkward moment passes between them.
"Drive safely," she says, her tone flat, as she returns to her workspace.
Matt watches her go, hoping that his exterior does not betray the rejection that he feels. He would prefer Tori not notice anything out of the ordinary, though he also wonders how that is possible; ever since Sarah came home from the hospital, there has been a chill between them. It feels to Matt as if they are moving around in giant bubbles, able to see each other but unable to touch or even to be in the same space for too long.
He picks up his keys, and, with such precise timing that it seems the two events are connected, the phone rings.
"I'll get it!" Tori yells. She grabs the receiver. "Hello? Hi, Uncle Jake."
Matt can see her eyes widening as she listens.
"Dad! Mom!" she calls out. "Aunt Mia had her baby! It's a boy!"
Despite the excitement that Matt feels for his brother and sister-in-law, his guts twist in agony at the news. He takes a deep breath and takes the phone as Tori hands it to him. He watches her run to the bedroom, hoping for some sort of reaction from her mother. His first instinct is to stop her, but wouldn't that just be making things worse?
"Congratulations," he says in his best impression of a legitimately happy person. "You have a son, huh?"
He listens to Jake rattle off the details about weight and inches and Mia going into labor while visiting the school where Jake coaches football. Periodically Matt interjects a question or an excited noise, but mostly he listens; he can only imagine how frantic with joy his brother must be. He watches the hallway and waits for Sarah to emerge, but unsurprisingly, she doesn't. Then Jake asks about her.
"She's tied up with a case--" Suddenly he reconsiders. "You know what? Let me go get her."
He takes the phone into the bedroom, where, sure enough, Sarah remains focused on her work while Tori buzzes excitedly about her new cousin.
"Jake wants to say hi," he says, extending the phone to Sarah.
At first she doesn't move. Matt is about to repeat himself, wondering how to prod her without letting on to Tori that something is amiss, when Sarah finally glances up. She reaches out a hand for the phone, and, in the moment before he passes it to her, her eyes meet his, for the first time in weeks. He sees how difficult this is going to be for her, to sit here and congratulate the new parents after what they have been through.
Then Sarah takes the phone from him, and her eyes return to that same glassy state that has been their trademark ever since she came home from the hospital. Her voice is pleasant and she says all the right things to Jake, but there is something disconnected about it. And when she hands Matt the phone back, his fingers brush against hers--but all they find is a cold touch, no warmth and no connection.
CASSIE'S COFFEE HOUSE
Knowing that he has been spotted, Alex raises a hand in greeting. He tries to rationalize it: he hasn't done anything wrong; he declined to run errands with Trevor. But those facts do nothing to quell the guilt that is rapidly consuming him.
Trevor approaches the table uncertainly. He looks at Alex and then at Seth, sizing him up, trying to get a read on the situation before he walks right into it.
"I thought you had writing to do," Trevor says, offering a weak smile to match the one that Alex flashes him.
"I did. I do. Something came up." Alex scrambles to his feet, though he is not sure if it is to greet Trevor or to distance himself from Seth.
"Really." Trevor looks Seth over again.
"Yeah. Trevor, this is an old friend " Alex knows that he has to bite the bullet. It will be better than lying or covering up--he hopes. " Seth."
Recognition flashes instantly across Trevor's face. He extends a hand.
"Seth. I've heard a lot about you."
Seth tries to catch Alex's eye, but Alex avoids it. He finds Trevor watching him intently.
"Nice to meet you," Seth says as they shake hands.
"Seth just dropped by to catch up," Alex explains.
"Yeah, I felt bad interrupting his writing time," Seth says.
Alex would like nothing more than for Seth to keep his mouth shut. Or to disappear completely. He had hoped Trevor would never have to know about their recent contact; he also knows that Trevor read his novel in-depth and knows every detail of Alex's relationship with Seth. He can only imagine what Trevor must be thinking right now.
"Can I talk to you for a second?" Trevor asks.
Seth is already up and out of his seat. "I'll give you guys a minute." He grabs his drink and slips away from the table.
"He came looking for you? How did he find you?" Trevor asks.
"He just showed up at my place." But before he goes any further with that half-truth, Alex thinks it best to come clean. "I ran into him a while ago, when I had my book signing in Portland. He had read the book and came to see me because he was mad about what I'd written."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't think there was anything to tell. It was weird, and--I don't know."
Trevor processes that silently. Alex isn't sure what is going on, but the whole thing feels off.
"So he turns up again and you guys are going for coffee together?" Trevor asks.
Alex can't lie. Keeping his renewed contact with Seth a secret has been difficult enough; rewriting the whole story for Trevor's benefit--or his own, he isn't even sure--seems far too draining now.
"He's been here before. Last summer, when you were in New York, he showed up wanting to apologize."
"What else? There seems to be a lot of stuff I've missed," Trevor says, his words soaked in condemnation. "Why wouldn't you tell me about any of this?"
"I didn't want to dwell on it, I guess. Trevor, if you're thinking--nothing has happened. Nothing."
He can see that he is losing Trevor, though. It doesn't matter what truths he tells now, after all the months and months of omissions.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," Alex says. "It was stupid of me to think I shouldn't." He reaches for Trevor's hand.
Trevor backs away. "You know, now it makes a lot more sense why you forgave me so quickly for lying about " He hesitates, then drops his voice. " my movies. Because you were keeping secrets of your own."
"This is different. It's so different."
"Really?" Trevor takes another step backward, putting a decisive space between them. "We'll talk about this later, okay? Get back to your date."
Alex wants to go after him, but he knows that he won't be able to do any good right now. He watches Trevor walk right past Seth and leave the coffeehouse, and he wonders why he ever thought it would be a good idea to keep any of this secret.
"Your business--all of it--is in perfectly good hands with us," Josh says to the two executives.
Lauren cannot believe what she is hearing. These people want her and Josh to score drugs for them, and he is actually considering it? There has to be a clean way out of this.
She opens her mouth to speak, but she only makes it as far as, "I don't really think--"
Josh grabs her arm and practically yanks her out of her seat.
"Give us a moment," he tells the execs, his smile never decreasing in wattage even as he leads Lauren away from the table and back to the restaurant's lobby.
"What are you doing? You're gonna blow this whole thing!" he says as soon as they are hidden away from their prospective clients.
"This has nothing to do with our proposal, or whether they think we'll do the best job selling their products," she says. "It isn't the kind of businesswoman I want to be."
"The kind of businessman I want to be is a successful one. Which will happen if we land this account. This is a power trip for these people. You flatter them, you get the business. It's the game."
She cannot argue with that, but she is not so sure that this is a road she wants to go down.
"Lauren, look. This has nothing to do with us, or our integrity, or any of that crap. We put these people in touch with someone, and that's it."
"Why do you even have someone to put them in touch with?" she asks. It comes out sounding highly accusatory, which she might have intended, though as soon as she says it, she realizes what a harpy it makes her sound like.
"I still have numbers for some of my old buddies. Guys I used to hang out with when I was hanging with Scotty. I could get in touch, make sure it's okay to pass a number along to these two, and we're out of it."
It does sound simple. And it isn't as though Lauren would technically be doing anything wrong
"Come on. It's not like you would be doing anything wrong," Josh says, apparently now able to read minds. "We get this account, we prove ourselves to Susan, and our careers are on the fast track. That's worth it, isn't it?"
Lauren struggles to respond. It seems worth it. And yet, when she thinks about all the hours and energy she has put into working on the Objection account, and how hard she will work when this one is underway all this does is cheapen her work and her abilities.
"We're not doing it," she says. "I'm sorry if that costs us the account. I'll explain to Susan exactly what they asked us to do and why I wasn't okay with it. I'll take the blame, if that's necessary."
Immediately Josh's mouth opens, but she holds up a hand to cut him off.
"I know you're just looking out for your career, but I'm a little disappointed that you'd consider this so seriously," she says.
His shoulders sag in submission. "All right. You win."
He kisses her on the cheek.
"I'm gonna use the bathroom real quick," he says, "and then I'll join you back there and we can explain what's up."
"I can explain to them. They might not like it, but it's for the best."
"Just try and do it without condemning them, okay?"
They part, and Lauren returns to the table with a new sense of confidence. She takes her seat, fully ready to explain her reasoning and apologize if this is a deal-breaker with regards to doing business together.
So strong is her determination that she doesn't even notice Josh moving not toward the men's room, but toward the restaurant's entrance. He pulls out his cell phone, scrolls through the contacts list, and huddles in the entryway as he selects a number.
"Hey, dude. Long time, no talk. Listen, can you help me out with something?"
END OF EPISODE #459
Alex's secrets be the end of him and Trevor?
How will Lauren react to Josh going behind her back?
What will it take for Sarah and Matt to heal?
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