Vaughn took her hand and shook it. “I’m a big fan of yours,” he said. “Big fan.”
“Why, thank you,” Nina said, nodding. “I loved your last movie. Wild Night. It was great.”
“Thanks,” Vaughn said, smiling. “We’re thinking about doing a sequel. Maybe you can be in it.”
“Oh, that’s so nice of you,” Nina said. “Um, listen, I have to run real quick but I’ll be back down soon and we should talk.”
Vaughn nodded. And then as Nina turned away, he grabbed her arm. He took his other hand and brushed the edge of her shirt, just at the top of her rib cage. “This one isn’t as soft to the touch as I was hoping,” he said with a smile, then he winked at her.
Nina stared at him. She cycled through two breaths. “All right, Vaughn. I’ll be seeing ya,” she said and walked, briskly, up the stairs.
Just then, Vaughn’s business manager came out from the kitchen with four beers. He punched a hole in the bottom of one of the cans with a pen and put it to Vaughn’s mouth.
Vaughn cheerily popped the tab and shotgunned it. When he was done, he threw the can on the floor and shook his head. “Woooot!” he said. “Let’s get fucked up!”
A blond waitress walked by with coke and Vaughn smiled at her and took a line. She batted her eyes at him.
Bridger Miller came around the corner. “Whoa, man!” Bridger said, giving Vaughn a high five. They had not ever met before but fame is a secret club; everyone knows of one another.
“Bridger! Big fan, man!” Vaughn said. “I saw you in Race Against Time. The scene where you scale that building was unreal.”
“Thanks, thanks,” Bridger said, nodding. “I didn’t see your new one yet but my agent said it’s funny as hell.”
Vaughn smiled, pleased. “One day, maybe I’ll do the action thing.”
Bridger laughed. “Better than me trying to do comedy, I’ll tell you that.”
One of Vaughn’s friends, who happened to be standing by the china cabinet, said, “Hey, Vaughn! Weren’t you saying earlier that you wanted to play Frisbee?”
Before Vaughn could respond, his buddy took a plate out of the cabinet and flung it across the room to the opposite wall. It smashed into chunks and shards before its pieces even hit the floor.
Everyone turned to look at the cause of the commotion. But when Bridger chuckled, so did everyone else.
“Fuckin’ A, man,” Vaughn said, laughing. He strode over to the cabinet, picked a plate up himself, and threw it at the wall.
Bridger grabbed two more and flung them in quick succession. The two high-fived.
“All right!” Vaughn said.
Bridger grabbed another plate. “Everybody, let’s do this!”
Nina walked into her bedroom and locked the door behind her.
“Cheese?” she said to Casey, offering her the tray.
“I’m good,” Casey said. She felt sort of embarrassed to still be up there, in Nina’s bedroom. “Sorry, I didn’t know where else to go,” Casey added, by way of explanation.
“Don’t worry about it,” Nina said. “But, listen, Mick is downstairs.”
Casey looked shocked. If Nina had wondered whether Mick being here had anything to do with Casey, the expression on Casey’s face cleared it up.
“What do you mean Mick’s here? Like right now?” Casey said.
“Yeah,” Nina said as she walked into her closet. She kept the door open so she could continue to talk. There, she took off her gauzy shirt and her tight skirt and her oxygen-depriving tights and her torturous high heels. She stood in a bra and thong and then took both of those off, too. She grabbed a pair of white cotton underwear and pulled them up her legs and then put on a jock bra. She put on a pair of heather gray sweatpants, elastic at both the waist and the ankles. And a faded neon blue T-shirt that said O’NEILL across the chest.
Men were bullshit—people were bullshit—and Nina was not going to live through bullshit while wearing high heels a single second longer.
“I don’t know why he’s here,” Nina said. “But he’s here.”
Casey felt a rush of anxiety. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to meet Mick Riva yet, let alone figure out what to say to him.
Nina threw herself onto her bed and lay on her back, staring at the ceiling. “I suppose you could go downstairs right now and ask him if he’s your dad,” Nina said. But even as she said it, she felt a twinge. It bothered Nina, the idea that Casey might manage to have more of a direct relationship with Mick than she did, that Casey might be unafraid to do the very thing Nina was avoiding. Saying hello.
Nina watched as Casey sat down on the bed next to her. “What is he like?” Casey asked.
Nina continued to stare up at the ceiling and answered as best she could. “I think he’s an asshole. But I can’t be sure. I don’t actually know him well enough to say.”
Casey watched as Nina continued to stare at the ceiling and breathe deeply, her chest rising high and falling.
“He sounds like a real winner,” Casey said as she lay down on her back next to Nina, staring up at the ceiling, too.
Nina turned to Casey. “Listen, I’m not sure … I mean, if you’re looking for family, there might be better ones to pick.”
Casey turned to Nina and smiled gently. “That’s not exactly how family works, is it?”
“No,” Nina said, shaking her head. “No, I guess it’s not.”
Mick reached the sliding glass door to the lawn and looked out at the crowd. He could tell someone was beating the shit out of someone else. But it wasn’t until he made his way to the edge of the circle that had formed around them that he suspected it might be his sons.
As he looked at the two men grappling on the ground, he had to admit an ugly truth to himself: It was not so easy, to recognize your own children after twenty years away.
He knew Jay from the magazines, much the same way he knew Nina. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure that the one on the ground was Hud. But, Mick reasoned, you probably don’t go to these lengths to beat the shit out of someone unless they are close enough to have really gotten under your skin. So he made an educated guess.
As for his youngest … He would not have recognized her if she were standing right next to him.
Which she was.
Kit had left Ricky behind when she heard her brothers yelling and made her way to the front of the crowd. She was stunned to see that not only was Jay pummeling Hud … but that her father was standing there watching him do it.
She stood, frozen, next to him. Her eyes were wide, her fingers were stiff as her pinkie grazed the arm of his jacket. She could not believe she was in the presence of this larger-than-life figure who had hovered over her her entire life, and yet had been so long out of reach. There he was. She could extend her pinkie just … one half a centimeter … farther … and … touch him.
And then in an instant, he was gone, lunging forward and pulling his older son off his younger one. It wasn’t difficult for Mick to get hold of Jay—Jay’s body was all limbs, easy to grab and throw down onto his back.
Hud put his hands to his nose as Ashley ran toward him. He looked up to see who had stopped the fight.