But I lie awake and keep thinking about that video. Who could have filmed it? Jess already asked the PA manager to rake everyone through the gutters. I heard him screaming at the PAs from the soundstage. Half of them are probably too traumatized to take another job in production ever again.
I flop onto my back and waste I don’t know how long trying to count the popcorn kernels in the stucco ceiling. Eventually my mind wanders. What’s Elle doing? I wonder if she stares at the ceiling too, counting sheep or doing what I do when I can’t sleep, namely, wondering what would’ve happened if Barbara Gordon never answered the door in The Killing Joke.
As the red-lettered clock on my nightstand blinks to 5:58, I roll out of bed.
—Hey. Are you awake?
She’s probably still asleep. I’d be asleep right now but I can’t, and this room is suffocating. I grab a hoodie from the floor around my exploded suitcase and pull it on, taking the keycard from the TV stand and slipping out the door.
The hallway is eerily lit, like in those horror movies where an ax murderer is just around the corner. I pull up my hood—by habit, not because I’m emo or anything—and set off toward the stairwell. As in most hotels, the door to the roof is rigged with an alarm. But also as in most hotels, the alarm doesn’t work. Probably.
I push the lever timidly to make sure. The door squeaks open, but no alarm, so I shoulder it open the rest of the way and escape onto the rooftop. There’s not much up here—air-conditioners, a water tower, a storage hut of sorts. I slide off one of my shoes and wedge it in the doorway so I don’t get locked out and sit at the edge of the building.
Mark would flip. “You’re too close!” he’d rage. “What if you fell off?”
I look down, and down, and down, along the side of the building. My heart thrums in my throat. I hate heights, but there’s something quiet about rooftops. Peaceful. The way the city sounds like a distant, muted ambience.
It might sound stupid, but up here I feel most myself, and these days I don’t feel that way often. Between having to put on a face for the cameras or for other industry people or for the paparazzi—Darien Freeman seems to always be “on.”
The only other time I feel myself is when…well, when I talk to Elle, and that’s stupid because she’s the only person who doesn’t know I’m me. How could I be most myself when I’m lying?
My phone buzzes.
Elle 6:04 AM
—Sadly, I am.
—Why’re you up?
—I haven’t gone to sleep yet.
Elle 6:04 AM
—OMG GO TO SLEEP
—It’s busy work saving the galaxy.
The moment I send the message, I wish I hadn’t. I’ve been trying to fill Carmindor’s shadow for eight hours today. For a moment, I just want to be me.
—No, not saving the galaxy. That was stupid. I don’t really do that.
Elle 6:06 AM
—So you’re a REAL person behind your strapping exterior?
—Color me shocked, really.
—I’m sensing some sarcasm here.
Elle 6:07 AM
—It’s okay, I can forgive you.
—As long as you’re not really, like, bald.
I sigh, knowing exactly where this conversation is heading. To what I look like, who I am. It’s best to just stick to Carmindor. I do look like him more often than usual these days, thanks to my makeup artist.
Elle 6:09 AM
—You ARE bald, aren’t you? That’s your big secret.
—You’re really bald.
—I am ashamed you think that. I promise you I have hair.
—It’s darkish. Curly.
Elle 6:11 AM
Elle 6:12 AM
—Are you as tall as him, too?
—Like, if I was standing beside you, would I be looking up your nose hairs?
—That’s an awkward question.
Elle 6:15 AM
—It’s also awkward to be so short you can see all the way up into someone’s cerebral cortex, but welcome to my life.
I laugh quietly, even though there’s no one else up here. I feel like this is a secret, so I have to be quiet, ensuring that the universe won’t find this little bubble and burst it into nothing.
—I guess it depends on how short you are.
Elle 6:16 AM
—I’m like super short. 5′3″
—The worst height. Always get lost in crowds.
—Great height for proms though. No one sees you’re alone.
Dawn’s just beginning to break across the cityscape. Orange light spreads across the night sky like an inferno, stretching pink and yellow fingers across the stars. The sun’s so bright I have to squint, but it’s rising all the same. I wonder what the sunrise looks like from Elle’s side of the world.
—I’m 6′1″ but I’d be able to see you.
—Even in a crowd, I’d know.
Elle 6:17 AM
—That I’d want to dance with you.
It’s the delirium from a lack of sleep. I don’t really say that, do I? Do I really think that? I remember the moment when I was kissing Jess, and her secretive smile, and asking me who I had thought about.
The truth is, it wasn’t just when we kissed that I’d thought about Elle. I’d thought about her during every step of that dance.
I’d meant those words. Every one of them.
I turn around and take a photo of myself against the sunrise. You can’t see my face—the sunrise is so bright I’m just a silhouette. Protecting my image, like Mark has taught me to do for years. But you can see my hair.
—To prove I’m not bald.
Then I notice him—the guy standing in the doorway, holding up a camera and obscuring his face. I almost drop my phone.
“Hey—hey you!” I shout, lurching forward.
The stranger whirls around, kicks out my shoe, and slams the door before I get halfway across the roof. I bang my fist into the door, cursing. There’s no handle. I’m locked out, on a rooftop, basically about to reenact The Hangover.
And what’s worse, I’m not hallucinating. There really is a rat on the set of Starfield.
THE JUNE SUN BURNS AGAINST my neck like an iron brand as I sit outside and slowly, painfully, make stitches in the blue material. It’s miserable, but after the fight with Catherine, there’s no way I’m working on the costume at home, and I am not bringing my dad’s coat into the grease-bomb Pumpkin. Besides, I’m way too embarrassed to sew in front of Sage.
My phone hums, startling me. The needle slides into the thick shoulder—and also my finger. “Ow!” I yank out my hand and shove my bleeding finger into my mouth. It stings. And tastes like copper and the Magic Pumpkin’s special for the day, a spicy Asian pumpkin fritter.
Sage pops her head around the back of the truck. “Yo. Everything okay?”
My heart leaps into my throat. I shove the coat beside the crate I’m sitting on. “Fine! I’m fine! Just, uh, dropped my phone—”
She comes around, wiping her hands on her WHAT’S EATING YOU, PUMPKIN? apron. Someone’s supposed to handle the grill at all times, but Sage doesn’t care about protocol. And since there’s a fried grits balls vendor across the street, no one’s even blinking at us.
I try and scoot the jacket as far behind me as I can, but her eyes fall on a sleeve snaking out beside my foot.
“You’re going to get it dirty.”
Ashamed, I take the jacket up in my arms, remembering that the Magic Pumpkin bleeds oil like it’s in a food-truck version of a Tarantino movie.
“It’s nothing. Just…just something I’m working on. Is my lunch break over yet? I should probably—” I try to dodge around Sage, but she steps in front of me. I try the other way, but she blocks me there, too. I frown. “What’re you doing?”
“I know what you’re up to, you know.” Her glittery eyes dart to the wimpy sewing kit I bought at the drugstore. I gather the needles and thread into the plastic case, clamp it closed, and stick it under my arm, but Sage won’t let me off that easily. “That’s really nice material,” she says. “You can’t just tack up the hem. You’ll ruin the trim.”
“I won’t,” I reply defensively, clutching the jacket tighter. “I know what I’m doing.”
My shoulders sag. “Well…sorta.”
“Mm-hmmm.” She reaches out to take the jacket. I hesitate for a moment, like Frodo with his Ring, but then I remember how much crap Frodo walked into and I’d rather not end up like Frodo. So I give it to Sage.
She takes it by the collar and flips it around, studying the hems inside the back and sleeves. Her magenta lips fold downward, slowly but surely, into a serious frown.
“And how exactly are you planning to take this in? Yourself?”
I pull out my cell phone with the YouTube video still on the screen.
“Oh no! My eyes! It burns!” Sage cries. “No. Put that away.”