Easy on the Eyes(7)

By: Jane Porter

“Upsetting is putting it mildly,” I answer tightly, feeling so angry and yet unable to articulate any of it. I’m not good at expressing my feelings. I’m a doer, not a dreamer. If I want something, I go for it. And I have gone for it, heart, mind, body, and soul. I worked night and day to make America Tonight a top-rated show. How can that suddenly mean nothing? How can I suddenly be worth so much less?

“But you know nothing’s done, no decision has been made. You said Glenn was just testing the water.”

I put the car into park, turn off the engine. My street’s narrow and dark without my headlights. My head aches and I press my fist to my temple to stifle the pain. “I don’t want to share the job with anyone. It’s my job, my show.”

I realize that sounds arrogant, but I’m on call 24/7. When I’m not taping a story, I’m researching, writing, following up on leads. And when it’s not America Tonight–related, I’m usually speaking somewhere to some group. My speaking schedule just gets busier, too. Everyone wants to hear my story, how I’m a veritable phoenix from the ashes.

People can’t get enough of my life story. American girl achieves the American dream. Only I’m not your typical American girl. My father was American, but my mother was South African, and I was raised in South Africa. It’s where my mom and dad settled after they married. It’s where home once was.

But the public knows nothing about my childhood. They just see the face on TV, hear the accent I’ve developed, and they embrace me. I could be them. One day I was just a lifestyle reporter for a paper in Tucson, and then months later I was host of a new national television show. That’s the Cinderella story the public loves, rags to riches, nobody to somebody.

“If it does come to job sharing,” I continue flatly, “I don’t want to share the job with a woman ten years younger than I am who will just make me look even older by comparison.”

“That’s a good point. But it sounds like they’re serious about improving the ratings— ”

“Oh, they are. I don’t doubt that. But there have to be other options. We haven’t even discussed those. Glenn didn’t seem interested in those. But I suppose I could look into getting some work done.” My voice cracks. “Or we could bring on a co-host who’s not a younger woman. Maybe we bring on a younger man. All I know is, it can’t be Shelby. I can’t lose my job to my protégée.”

I don’t sleep well that night. I toss and turn and strategize. If there’s anything I’ve learned from being orphaned at fourteen, it’s that only the strong survive. Punching my pillows, I vow to survive. I will survive.

I just need a plan.

The next morning, brittle with fatigue, I arrive at the studio’s conference room at eight fifty-five with my hair still damp and my new Paris mug filled with coffee. Every morning, the writers and producers meet for an hour to plan the day’s show, but Fridays are big planning sessions and I usually attend those.

Although I’m five minutes early, most of the team has already arrived. I sit at my place at the end of the board table. Glenn always takes the opposite end, and the writers and segment producers take seats in between.

I chat with the staffers sitting around the table. Mark, Jeffrey, and Libby have been with the show several years. Harper’s been here only two months. Glenn’s the only one missing. And then he arrives. With Shelby in tow.

What’s Shelby doing here?

I stiffen as they enter the room, my shoulders tensing. Glenn looks like his harried, rumpled self, while Shelby is immaculate in a pink Chanel-style suit, her sleek blond hair a shade lighter than the last time I saw her.

Shelby spots me, wiggles her fingers, and smiles.

“Good morning, everyone,” Glenn greets us as he pulls forward one of the empty chairs so it sits next to his. He rolls out the chair for Shelby. She gives him a grateful smile. I try not to throw up in my mouth.

Glenn looks at me. I hold his gaze. He doesn’t appear the least bit apologetic, which just makes me angrier.

When I flew out to Paris a week ago, I was on cloud nine. I felt strong and successful, beautiful and invincible. I had a young, hot boyfriend. An exciting life. A challenging career.

It was all a mirage.

Glenn starts the meeting right away. But it doesn’t take long for me to feel the strongest sense of déjà vu. I swear to God we just do the same stories over and over, even though the writers and producers change.

Does Katie Holmes feel too much pressure as Mrs. Tom Cruise?

Is Nicole Richie starving herself again?

Is Angelina adopting again?

Instead of listening, I find myself watching Shelby. On the surface she’s sweet and glamorous, always immaculate, hair and makeup constantly camera ready. She’s obviously a lot smarter than I gave her credit for, because she’s here, in my show planning session, and she’s the one who execs want to co-anchor with me.

Just thinking about the proposed change in format makes my chest squeeze tight. I’m feeling so much anxiety and fear, it’s hard to breathe. Why didn’t Glenn tell me just how bad the ratings were before? Why didn’t Max insist on getting those numbers? I used to study the reports all the time. It was the first thing I did when I arrived in the morning. But I’ve gotten comfortable. I’ve lost that edge that made me hungry like Shelby.