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Ana Takes Manhattan
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As a reality TV producer, Ana Karina orchestrates extravagant marriage proposals that always (well, mostly) go as planned. When they don’t, she’s not afraid to cut and paste scenes to make the moment picture-perfect. If only Ana’s own life was as simple to direct. Her colleagues are getting promotions. Her best friend and her younger sister are both getting married. Everyone is moving forward—except Ana.
Sick of feeling stuck, she decides to start living with no regrets. She’s going to pitch all her ideas at work, no matter how unlikely. She’ll take a chance on a guy even if he doesn’t check all her boxes for Mr. Right. Soon, she’s swept up in a roller coaster of exhilarating dates—a comedy show, a Jane Austen reenactment, a rave pool party, and a whirlwind trip to Vienna. With all this excitement, Ana should be on her way to her own happily-ever-after, but instead her life is getting messier by the second.
Yet throwing caution to the wind may still bring Ana more than she hoped for as she begins to listen to her heart and realizes the life—and man—truly meant for her might be the one she never saw coming.
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Now would be the perfect time to turn into someone else. Doesn't have to be someone completely different. Just a chilled-out, easier-going version of myself would be nice. Someone whose shoulders aren't way up by her ears. Or whose right eye doesn't feel like it's about to start twitching.
Why does it have to be him down on one knee? I can think of at least three other guys who could be doing this right now. And he's way closer than he needs to be. With little effort, I could run a hand through his thick brown hair with all those natural golden streaks.
"Marry me, Ana," he whispers calmly.
The words shouldn't surprise me, but they do. Especially the way he says my name. Like he's holding a small bird. I tuck a stray, frizzed-out curl behind my ear just as the cool mist from the fountain reaches my face.
Come on, Ana. Loosen up. This is the perfect day for a proposal. It's still early in the summer. Not too hot. Mostly clear blue sky. Central Park's Bethesda Fountain and the small lake nearby look both luxurious and welcoming.
"Thanks again for volunteering to do this…" I never even got his name after he delivered our generators this morning. Maybe it's Chad. Or Jack. He looks like a Jack. Jack from the Midwest. Corn-fed but also a little bit savage. Like one of those young Abercrombie & Fitch models who should be able to afford food but always looks famished.
"You're probably wondering why I do the rehearsal myself," I say to help ease the tension between us. I hope I'm not the only one feeling tension. "I just think it's not much of a camera run-through if the cameras don't get the chance to actually run through things exactly the way they're meant to go. When you're dealing with a surprise proposal, the rehearsal is really critical. And as the producer, I'm responsible for all the details—know what I mean?"
He licks his lips but doesn't respond. His scent is intoxicating. Like bubble gum and the sea.
I force my shoulders down and shake my head around like a boxer about to enter the ring. Problem is, the clock is ticking and my mind has gone completely blank. Mostly because his V-neck T-shirt is exposing a beautiful triangle of smooth, tan skin.
"So…what do ya think?" He sounds playful but also a bit worried.
There's an undeniable heat between us. It's like we're in a warm bubble and the world has stopped and nothing is happening. Wait, why is nothing happening?
I look around and realize he isn't the only one waiting for my response. The entire production crew is waiting. My response is everyone's cue to begin this rehearsal.
I have no idea how long I've been out of it, but now I'm very much back in it—and no doubt visibly flushed.
It's fine. No biggie. But if I open my mouth right now, I'm pretty sure a high-pitched YESSS will come out. So I nod.
Finally, a smile spans his square cheeks just as a Spanish guitar glides into the silence. I look up at a dozen or so rowboats dotting the lake behind him. On the boat nearest us, a young man wearing a white tuxedo struggles to stand. He steadies himself, takes a deep breath, and begins belting out "O Sole Mio."
A wave of activity ripples across the other boats as men and women put down their oars and reveal hidden violins, clarinets, flutes, and a tambourine. Within seconds, the lake has turned into a concert hall.
"It's now or never…" A children's choir joins in with the English version of the song. Little girls wearing long pink tutus and boys in gray suits and bow ties walk toward us, each holding a glowing candle inside iridescent flower-shaped holders. They surround us, circling the fountain.
The performance comes to a sudden stop. The sound of wings flapping makes us all look up. Some of the children gasp as five snowy white swans swoop around us to land gracefully in the fountain. As soon as the last swan settles, the music picks back up where it left off.
Right on cue, he stands up and pulls me close. His fingertips slide up my forearm, and I'm completely undone. Losing my balance, I roll my ankle. How does one roll their ankle when one is standing still? Luckily, he catches me before I tip over.
"It's fine. I'm fine."
Before I can say anything else, he tightens his grip around my waist and starts to spin me into a dance around the fountain.
I'm feeling everything at once. Excitement. Nerves. Joy. My senses are on hyperalert. When the sun tucks behind a cloud, I can even feel the slight change of temperature and notice the children's candles shine brighter.
A small crowd has gathered. Families, joggers, and even the soapy bubble street performer have all stopped to watch. I'm outside my body, watching us too.
I feel his strong hands on my back, guiding me. This can no longer be considered dancing. More like caressing on the move.
I'm not sure if the cameras are getting the right shots or if we're anywhere near the marked spots we're supposed to be landing on. Now we're back where we began, and I notice my hands have migrated from his shoulders to his waist.
The song ends just as he dips me over the fountain. He holds me there as if he doesn't want this moment to end. I wish I could think of the perfect thing to say right now. Something clever. Or cute. Something other than "What's your name again?"
"You could use a little kick." Chuck, our lighting director, has appeared and flicks his beloved electronic meter in my face. I imagine him out to dinner at a restaurant, shoving it into people's faces and arguing with the hostess about inaccurate exposures. The thing beeps loudly as it glides from my forehead to my mouth like it's mining for gold. I'm just glad it can't read my thoughts. It would pick up things like: Did anyone else notice what happened a moment ago? Did he feel it too? Will he be handling all of our lighting and power needs from now on?
"Those clouds should be gone in a few, and the sun will be just above the bridge." Chuck slaps me on the back. "Your timing is right on."
"Thanks," I croak.
Chuck walks away, and I'm left alone with him. "And thanks. That was perfect…you." Hopefully someone will mention his name today.
"Anytime," he says teasingly.
"Okay, well, see ya."
I leave him standing there and speed-walk toward the trees where we've set up our video village, an outdoor control room with nine monitors tucked behind an Astroturf wall. The moment I sit down, every muscle in my body softens. Even the little ones on my forehead loosen, relieved to be behind the scenes again.
I pick up my clipboard from a narrow table set up in front of the screens and check off "Proposal Run-through" on my list. Two sets of walkies are also on the table, one for the crew and one where I can hear the talent microphones. I nudge the crew walkie earpiece in my ear while simultaneously checking out the monitors.
"Ana for Jackie."
"Go for Jackie."
"Let's get the kids and swans back to starting positions."
"Copy that. On it."
On proposal days everyone switches from reality TV crew to undercover agents.
"Jackie for Ana."
"Go for Ana."
"The trainer wants us to start with the swans in the fountain."
"She says they're tired."
"That's not going to work." Swans in the fountain preproposal? Puhlleeeze. "Help her with the birds, Jackie."
"Copy that. On it."
My phone vibrates with the message I've been waiting for.
Jorge: Leaving the cafe now.
"Ana for Chuck."
"Go for Chuck."
"Maria and Jorge are on their way. Are we good to go?"
"Two minutes. Just adjusting the crane to get more of the fountain."
"Okay, well, hurry up," I say and quickly text back: Go to the spot where we rehearsed yesterday. And after you've danced around the fountain, dip her!
I hit send and then add: But only if it feels right.
This will be the perfect season premiere of Marry Me, You Fool! The rest of this season's episodes were all filmed, edited, and ready for air. So why have I waited until the last minute to cast the most important slot? And why does it have to be this couple?
It's the one thing you can't fake on reality TV. No matter how extravagant I make the surprise proposal, if the couple isn't deeply in love, the episode won't be special. It'll miss that secret something that makes you root for a couple and then cry in relief when it all ends happily.
As soon as I watched Jorge's casting video, I knew he and Maria had it.
It wasn't simply because Jorge had a great idea for their proposal. But you can tell a lot about a person by the way they're planning to propose. Most people go on and on about how much they love their partners and how I should pick them because their proposal idea is so big and original and whatnot. Most of the time they're way off the mark.
Marry Me, You Fool! automatically rejects the following:
- Cooking the ring into a chocolate soufflé
- Dropping the ring in a glass of champagne
(The ring should not come into contact with any edible items.)
- Creepy lipstick on the bathroom mirror proposal
- All scavenger hunts and puffs of airplane exhaust
- Placing the ring in a box within another box and then having the audacity to suggest that box be placed inside another box
- Anything involving seashells
The truth is, Jorge's casting video stood out because it was…insulting.
"I'm going to be honest. I hate your show." Jorge started his casting video with a slightly bitter look in his eyes. "I think pretty much everything on TV exploits instead of educates the masses in a positive way…" At this point in the video, he peered over his shoulder to make sure he was still alone. "But my girlfriend loves your show."
Here, Jorge softened his gaze. "This is Maria." He held up a picture of a happy graduate in her cap and gown. "She watches every single episode of Marry Me, You Fool!, including the reruns. She's a neonatal nurse, and even after she's worked all night, she still watches an episode before coming to bed.
"I restore art and historic architecture. Sometimes I volunteer for low-income communities, and she's always so supportive. I think we could tell her that you're doing a before-and-after show about a project I'm working on in Central Park. Even though she's extremely shy, I know she'll do it for me." After a long pause, he continued. "If it were up to me, I'd propose in a more intimate way. But I want to do this for Maria because your show makes her happy. And all I want to do is make her happy."
From the moment I met Maria, I understood what he meant.
"Sorry about the mess." She greeted me nervously at the door of her apartment. Her hair was up in two braids that wrapped loosely around her head and met in the back.
As the crew set up the lighting for her interview in the living room, she showed me all the cards and photographs on her fridge. Dozens of adorable children she's cared for since she started nursing and still stays in touch with. That's when I had the idea to hire a professional children's choir for her surprise proposal.
Maria was fidgety when she sat down under the lights. She kept checking her hair, worried the braids were coming undone.
"I was about to delete my online dating profile when I saw his. I was working nights at the time, so we messaged each other for weeks before we finally set a date to meet in person. We had been so uninhibited in our texts, I felt like I already knew him. We met at Riverside Park in the Bronx. He had a bottle of rosé champagne and miniature gourmet sandwiches set up on a rowboat for us. As I stepped onto the boat, he said, 'Is it too soon to ask you to marry me?'" She was more relaxed in front of the cameras, and her eyes started to water. "We both laughed, and I was so happy. It was such a relief to know we were feeling the same way."
That's why we're re-creating an enhanced version of their first date. Jorge told me he calls Maria his sunshine, so I hired the Harlem Symphony to perform "O Sole Mio." The swans were my idea—a completely unrelated, last-minute addition for a little oomph. Bringing them and their professional trainer in from Canada made us go slightly over budget. We had to house them in New Jersey for a month and pay hefty park fees to close off the area until the swans were trained to land in the fountain.
But everything will be worth it. Because after producing this show for eight seasons, I know how to make the predictable flow of each twenty-four-minute episode still feel shiny and new.
Minutes 1–3: Introduce a couple in love.
Minutes 4–6: Find out one of them is plotting a big surprise proposal.
Minutes 7–20: Drama ensues from all the hiding and secrets.
Minutes 21–24: Just when you think all is lost…surprise proposal!
I jam the talent earpiece in my other ear and quickly scan all the shots on the monitors. I see the swan trainer and Jackie shooing the last swan out of the fountain. On the crane's wide shot, I catch a glimpse of Generator Hottie running for the trees on the other side of the fountain. Such a graceful runner. Like a gazelle.
On the center monitor I spot Maria and Jorge walking hand in hand along the final stretch of Poets Alley that leads to the fountain.
I take a deep breath. I love it when things come together exactly as I've planned. I've learned to trust my gut when it comes to finding the perfect season premiere. And this is it.
Jorge and Maria are about a hundred yards from the fountain. They stop to watch a Rollerblader expertly weave through a row of small orange cones. Out of nowhere, I get this terrible feeling that I've forgotten something. I scan the list. Cameras set. Swans and children fed. Full camera run-through done.
On the monitors, Jorge and Maria are now walking under the tunnel that leads out to the fountain. My eyes race down the list faster than I can read.
"Ana for Jackie. Ana for Jackie," I say, making an effort not to sound like I'm freaking out.
"Go for Jackie."
"Do you have a twenty on the park official?"
"He's right next to me." I see Jackie on one of the monitors, peering out from behind a bush.
"Great. Have him shut off the fountain and add the dye."
Seconds later, the fountain stops flowing, and I scratch the item off my list over and over until I break through the paper.
"…and we're still working out what tool would be best for cleaning this ceiling." Maria and Jorge are now within range of our audio engineer's soundboard, so I can pick up their microphones.
Maria believes the small camera crew following them is making a documentary about restoring the bridges in Central Park. I even made up a title to give it authenticity: "Fixing the Bridges: No Walk in the Park."
I click on my walkie. "Here they come."
The large crane kicks on and makes a sudden jolt, but thankfully Maria doesn't notice. "Too bad the water's turned off."
"Uh-huh, yeah, that is bad." Jorge sounds agitated.
Slowly, he gets down on one knee, right where he's supposed to. The park goes silent.
The cameramen step out of hiding for close-ups. On the monitors, I now have a two-shot of Jorge and Maria, singles of each, and a beautiful wide shot of the entire scene, including the fountain.
Jorge clears his throat again, and I really feel for him. The whole thing is riding solely on him now. The proposal is the one thing I can't control.
Whoever is holding the ring is usually so nervous at this point—only the most important moment of their lives thus far—that they can barely remember the things they mean to say, let alone anything I would write for them.
Sure, soon there will be singing and swans and rosé-colored water flowing over the fountain. In the edit, we'll heighten the tension and extend the pause before she responds for dramatic effect. But for the proposal, I allow myself to be surprised by his words too.
Nothing brings it home like a man at his most vulnerable as he expresses his undying devotion to the woman he loves. So as hard as it is for me to not control what he says, I give in and let real love do its thing.
Somewhere behind the bushes a swan lets out a bellowing grunt.
"Jackie, calm the swans," I whisper into the walkie.
"Believe me, we're trying." She sounds out of breath, like she's been wrestling with the birds.
Maria's gaze is full of tenderness for Jorge. There's also a hint of fear in her eyes. She's clearly in shock. It's obvious she had no idea he was going to propose.
"Mari, Maria, mi amor." Jorge's words are slow and deliberate. "The day we met, I saw our future. I knew that all the broken promises and letdowns in my life had to happen because they led me to you."
After a few moments, it's all over. My skin is tingling. Jorge has nailed the proposal. Well, it will appear that way after my editor, Nina, takes out a dozen "ums" and when he called Maria "butterful."
The camera slowly zooms in on Maria as the hint of fear in her eyes intensifies to low-grade panic. The tenor stands and puffs up, waiting for his cue. The whole park is standing still, and a traffic jam of tourists on horse-drawn carriages have stopped to watch.
As Maria opens her mouth, I click on my walkie. "And in five, four, three…"
The crane begins to lower. "No, wait!" I say, causing the crane to stop and bounce in place.
Maria's lower lip is quivering now. She could start crying at any moment. Yes, this is good! I love it when little unexpected things like this happen. You can plan the entire moment to a T, but if you're lucky, they'll do something to make it more special. Nothing big—a tear, a yelp, a little hop. Any bit of unexpected reality makes it better.
I scan the monitors and let out a silent scream. Bright, gooey, pink liquid is starting to drip down the angel's face on the fountain. The whole idea is for the fountain to be glamorous and overflowing with what appears to be rosé champagne, but right now it looks like the angel is oozing blood out of a head wound.
"What is happening? Can we stop the fountain?" I scream out in a menacingly controlled walkie whisper.
Jackie has clearly heard me and told the park official because the pink goo stops flowing, but now it's threatening to drip off the angel's nose.
I watch Maria, hoping she hasn't noticed, but she's just standing there looking at Jorge, ignoring the giant crane approaching her from above as well as the half dozen crew and cameramen encroaching from all sides.
"Mari?" Jorge looks like he's about to cry too.
"I'm sorry," she says.
Huh? I raise the volume as high as it goes on my receiver.
Maria shakes her head, turns, and runs off.
What in the…? I lean in closer to the monitor Maria was just in, dumbfounded. The camera spins around wildly, looking for another shot. It settles on Jorge. His face is still holding on to a feeble smile that makes him look a little creepy but also gut-wrenchingly sad.
He gets himself up, looks around, and takes in the production crew for the first time. After a moment, he bolts after her.
My earpiece is flooded with crew chaos all at once.
"What do we do?" yells one cameraman.
"Should I follow them?" asks another.
"She's coming right toward me. Do you want me to stop her?" Jackie cuts in all bodyguard-like. I picture her CrossFit-obsessed physique tackling sweet Maria to the ground.
Everyone is waiting for me to respond, but I don't know what to do. I yank out my earpiece and hold it tightly in my hand, but I can still hear all the yelling and confusion coming through.
What is happening? I'm holding the walkie so tightly, the palm of my hand hurts. Everything is spinning, and I've lost all communication with my gut.
The crew sounds get louder in the walkie, and I hear wailing coming from under the bridge, where the children's choir is standing by.
I realize I've been holding my breath. I try to exhale, but the air comes out in broken gasps. It feels like too much blood has rushed to my head at once.
How am I not prepared for this? I had thought everything through. That's what I do. It's my job to be prepared. Producers should actually be called pre-producers. We overplan. We play it all out in our minds beforehand and have a solution for every possible calamity.
That's the whole point behind "the show must go on." It takes so much effort, money, and time to get us all to a tape day, we can't let a little thing like a canoe sinking hijack our tight schedule. It's why we rented only brand-new canoes. It's why we have cough drops, hot tea, and a saline gargle station for the tenor.
In all my worst-case scenarios, Maria never bolted. I don't know why I didn't even consider it. The only thing I know for sure is that she's gone.
I bring the walkie up near my mouth. "Let them go."
Nothing happens. I can see on the monitors that the cameramen are still holding their positions around the fountain.
"Just wrap it up, guys," I say in a more convincing tone.
After a moment, the monitors begin to switch to black, until there's only one screen following the action of the cameraman continuing to aim his lens at Jorge chasing after Maria, the ring box still in his hand.
I have no idea what Gia's talking about. She's been rattling on since we sat down at this new Dutch restaurant in SoHo she wanted to try, but my mind won't stop replaying the grim final moments of this afternoon. Why did I have to get Canadian swans?
Things I never should have approved:
- Pure Eurasian mute swans
- Underwater slow-motion cameras to capture said swans landing in the fountain
- Waterproof microphones for all that exciting &@*#** swan splashing
I'm going to get fired. When is this martini going to kick in?
"I don't look as old as her, do I?" Gia points to a woman sitting at the very next table.
"No," I whisper and take a bite of sauerkraut-encrusted corn bread that I've slathered in butter. Everything is a competition to Gia. She's VP of a production company that specializes in competition reality TV shows, and I think it's made her lose some perspective. That's why we're here, about to try the herring sashimi.
Gia always has to be the first to discover a unique new restaurant, underground electro swing band, or teen prodigy designer selling garments out of a dirty taco truck.
She smiles seductively at the young waiter pouring her a glass of water.
Gia was born in Brazil, which I believe is what makes her a man magnet. Today she's wearing a slim tie and a man's button-down shirt, and she still manages to look sexy.
“Ana Takes Manhattan is like a cool breeze on a hot summer day—a refreshing breath of fresh air. With smart and snappy dialogue, spot-on Manhattan vibes, and a heroine you can't help but root for, Lisette Decos's debut is the escape we all need all year round.”
—Meredith Schorr, author of As Seen on TV
- “It’s clear from the outset that veteran reality TV producer Decos knows her subject matter, and Ana is a likable, fun character who will make readers laugh and believe in finding true love.”—Library Journal
- "Rom-com readers will delight in Decos sharing juicy behind-the-scenes insights into the inner workings of reality TV. As Ana sheds her inhibitions, she faces a slew of laugh-out-loud comedic predicaments, in which a strong supporting cast rounds off her sharp edges, changing her in well-conceived, unexpected ways. Decos's snarky, yet lovably flawed, heroine possesses a searing wit that complements many daring escapades that reroute her career and lead her down a twisty road to love."—Shelf Awareness
- On Sale
- Feb 28, 2023
- Page Count
- 336 pages