The Seat Filler by Sariah Wilson

CHAPTER ONE

“Juliet, I think we should go over the rules one more time,” my best friend, Shelby, said to me while anxiously wringing her hands. I wanted to remind her that we were wearing gorgeous formal gowns and standing backstage in a massive theater filled with some of the most famous people in the world. This was the kind of moment we’d dreamed about having when she’d been sick. I wanted her to live in the moment with me.

But I knew why she couldn’t, so instead I nodded. “Tell me again.”

“When the cameras are on, make sure that you don’t do anything that will draw attention to yourself, or else you’ll get kicked out and then Allan’s mom will hate me forever.”

I reached over to squeeze her hand. Even while Shelby had been going through the worst parts of fighting leukemia, she was always so serene and calm. A year after she was officially declared to be in remission, she’d met Allan Standish, and they’d both fallen quickly and hard. I hadn’t been the least bit surprised when he proposed to her two weeks ago, even though they’d only been dating for about three months.

Apparently Allan had an idiot for a mother (and I was supposed to call her by her actual name, Harmony, and not Satan’s Evilest Minion like I wanted to) and she didn’t like Shelby or the engagement. She had declared it was all happening “too fast.”

She’d even gone so far as to offer Allan a vacation to Hawaii and a new sports car if he’d end things.

Which led to Shelby twisting herself into knots trying to impress Harmony. I truly did not get it. Allan told Shelby that his mom’s opinion didn’t matter, that he loved her and chose her no matter what his mom thought. Which made me like him and respect him even more, but Shelby apparently didn’t believe him. She was determined to win Harmony over.

Harmony ran a company, SeatFiller Nation, which provided volunteers to dress up and attend the biggest Hollywood and music award shows to fill in empty seats. Producers didn’t want any vacant chairs during a broadcast, because it would give the impression that their show was boring (it was) and that even the celebrities didn’t care (they didn’t). People in the audience would get up to go to the bathroom, hang out at the bar, accept and/or present awards. Allan had told us that sometimes nominees who hadn’t won would leave after their category was announced (which was why they always saved the big awards until the end). But nobody wanted the people watching at home to see that the big stars had taken off, so they used seat fillers.

A couple of the volunteers and one of Harmony’s staff members had canceled on her this morning, leaving Harmony in a (deserved) tizzy. She’d called on Allan to help her out. Shelby had overheard their conversation and had volunteered the two of us to fill in the remaining slots. Shelby had done it to be kind and to suck up; personally, I was impressed by the inherent brilliance of the offer, given that Harmony couldn’t decline without coming across as, well, Satan’s Evilest Minion. Or the pettiest one, at the very least.

I would have preferred to leave Allan’s snobby mother high and dry, but Shelby was a much better person than me and didn’t share my general disdain for People Like Harmony.

So she and I had run out and rented a couple of nondescript black gowns (another rule—we couldn’t be too glitzy or sparkly, so as to not draw attention away from the celebrities). It was a great color on Shelby—her soft blonde hair, blue eyes, and bright-red lips looked perfect with her dress. I, on the other hand, felt a little like I was wearing a Morticia Addams costume as we waited backstage while Allan, working as a spotter, told the seat fillers where to go.

We’d been here since early in the morning, standing around in our gowns, waiting. The awards show had officially been going on for about an hour and a half, but since Shelby and I had the least experience, Allan was keeping us backstage. Which meant more waiting. I’d naively assumed being a seat filler meant more filling seats and less standing.

But Allan had said he needed us, so Shelby’s way of preparing was to go over the strict rules that I’d already heard four times that day.

“Okay,” Shelby said. “The next rule? Do not speak unless you’re spoken to. You can’t start a conversation with anyone, no matter who it is.”

“Right! Otherwise it’s off with our heads!” I paused before continuing. “But what if I’m a big fan and I’m compelled to share that with them?”

She did not look pleased with my joke. “Don’t. You’re only supposed to be seen and not heard.”