The London event would be my first-ever public appearance. We were warned in advance that it would be broadcast live online, and potentially picked up by TMZ and E!, as well as other media outlets. This didn’t mean a huge amount to me at the time, other than it being the driving force behind Able’s decision to put together an impromptu hair and makeup team, saving me from making any major mistakes so early on in my career.
We were given a hotel room close to the venue, and I sat in front of a large mirror as my new “glam squad” set to work. A Black Eyed Peas song played from the hotel radio, competing with the sound of the football coming from the TV my dad was watching, and I tried not to sneeze every time the woman doing my makeup dusted something over the bridge of my nose. My mom proudly stood watch next to us, instructing the makeup artist on my best features, while Esme curled up on the sofa next to my dad, watching us all over her copy of Anne of Green Gables.
“Your collarbone is a work of art,” the hairstylist said to my reflection as she brushed out my hair. My mom nodded her agreement, and I tried not to show my surprise. Up until that point I’d barely been aware that my collarbone even existed, let alone that it was something to be championed. I moved the strap of my sky-blue top to see what they were talking about, but they’d already moved on to something else.
“Have you seen her philtrum?” my mom said proudly. “It’s been like that since the day she was born.”
The makeup artist turned me around and squinted at my lips. She squealed with delight. “The most perfect cupid’s bow. You are so lucky,” she added seriously.
Philtrum. I memorized the word to look up later.
“I would just kill for the amount of collagen you still have.” She sighed then, and I tried to catch my sister’s eye in the mirror, but she was already ignoring us all, her face obstructed by her book.
My mom watched as the makeup artist ran a soft brush over my face, turning the apples of my cheeks into shimmering globes, and the hairstylist pulled my hair into braids that would wrap around my head like a crown. Afterward, I tried to remember every other compliment the women paid me, but somehow all I could recall was the five-minute conversation on how best to “approach” my nose.
The women asked me question after question as they worked, and they both laughed hysterically as if they were genuinely enthralled by each response I gave. I’d never really been able to hold an adult’s attention before, not like that anyway, and I found it unnerving until I realized what was happening: their jobs were dependent on me liking them. For the first time in my life, the adults around me had something to prove to me, and I wondered how far this extended—whether a day would come when Able and the rest of my new team needed me more than I needed them, or maybe even my parents. I didn’t do anything with the knowledge yet, just tucked it away somewhere to come back to later.
When they were finally finished, I got changed into an outfit that a stylist from Los Angeles had chosen for me: a white denim dress and sparkly trainers. I lent Esme the pink beaded bag I had been begging my parents to buy me for years, which, like most things I’ve ever owned, had lost its appeal almost as soon as it was in my possession. The makeup artist took a photo of the four of us before we left, and I smiled so widely I could feel my lips crack.
We got into a car with blacked-out windows and made stupid jokes about rerouting to McDonald’s to ease the tension that was building because none of us had any idea what to expect. We pulled up outside the venue, an old fire station, and I thought I had my nerves under control until I climbed out of the car. My stomach dropped to the floor. There was a crowd of fans outside, chanting something I couldn’t decipher, all of whom seemed to know exactly who I was already. I was too disoriented to look any of them in the eye so I rushed past without stopping to sign any comic books or pose for photos.
Once we were inside, we were immediately led past the rows of waiting competition winners and into the VIP section: a champagne bar where people from the studio and production company were hanging out, as well as a few reality TV stars and models who had been invited along for the photo op. People started to slink over to introduce themselves and I shook their hands, my palm firm in theirs, even kissing some of the women on each cheek like I’d seen my mom do. Everywhere I turned, people were either looking at me or deliberately not looking at me, and it felt as if everyone was talking about the unknown girl about to be rescued from a life of mundanity in England and dropped into the heart of Hollywood.
I had made a point of inviting my old school friends along, even though they had all stopped speaking to me as soon as I won the role, effectively freezing me out for my final months in London. I wasn’t surprised to see them in the crowd anyway, sitting in a row still wearing their identical yellow puffer jackets. I waved to them quickly as I made my way to the stage and they sat slack jawed, too impressed to even remember not to seem it.
I was miked up and then led onto the stage to sit on a couch next to the other two assassins and the actor playing our mentor in the film, a veteran action star from the nineties. I tried not to notice the number of cameras swinging in front of me and that they were manned by actual humans whose only job was to make sure that every single sound I made was caught and transmitted to God knows how many people watching from home.
Once the crowd had settled down, a famous TV personality introduced us, starting with me. I was fourteen but I looked younger (in the movie I would play a twelve-year-old), and on the whole I was still treated like a child by men like the host. It would be another year before the double entendres and winks would start, or even the questions about boyfriends, the cutesy references to puppy love and first kisses on set.
I was sitting next to the older actor, who smelled like beer, and as I looked out at the rows of expectant fans, some of them more than twice my age, I felt my confidence grow exponentially. I never once felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. I answered the host’s questions with stories I had already fed the researcher, and I quickly worked out that even if the crowd didn’t respond to my words, all I had to do was giggle after I spoke and they would laugh along with me. I felt a strange sense of calm when they did, a warmth spreading through me that made me feel like I was finally good at something.
When the host asked me about my parents, I pointed them out in the crowd and told him that I’d just bought them a house with my first-ever paycheck.
“Wow, you’re fourteen years old, and you already bought your parents a house. How does that feel?” he said, and he was so close that I could see the makeup clinging to his wrinkles.
I paused for a moment and looked out at my parents again. My mom was smiling and my dad was leaning forward with tears in his eyes. I could see Able sitting a few seats down from them, too, his eyes trained on me. I flashed him a quick smile before turning back to the host.
“I mean, the house is in Anaheim,” I said, deadpan. “It’s kind of the armpit of California.”
The crowd roared with laughter as the host pretended to be horrified. I followed my words with another giggle and instinctively checked whether Able was pleased with my response. He nodded once and I felt invincible.
When the Q and A ended, the girls from school came running over, bubbling with excitement and asking me endless, inane questions about various things I had ascribed no importance to, like how long it had taken to braid my hair for the event, and whether the male assassin was as cute up close as he appeared onstage. While they were talking I felt a vague disappointment, as if I’d worked myself up for a battle that wasn’t worth it in the end.
I left the event flanked by my parents and Esme, and the fans waiting outside went wild for me all over again. My dad had located the car and was already opening the door when my mom grabbed my arm and leaned in close to me.
“Wait,” she said, her breath warm and slightly sour from the champagne. “Just wait a moment, Grace.”
She pointed to the crowd, and I understood what she meant. My mom wanted me to stop and take everything in, to preserve the moment and store it somewhere so that I could look back on it when I was old and no longer beautiful, and perhaps had forgotten what it felt like to be loved by people I’d never met. So I stopped, my arm still interlaced with hers, and we gazed out at the crowd together. Goose bumps traveled up my arms as I tried my hardest to absorb every tiny thing about the moment. It was the first time I could remember seeing my mother this proud of me, and now all of these strangers seemed to want to love me too. I smiled and waved at them, and their voices only got louder.
When we eventually got into the car to go home, the sound of the fans’ chanting still ringing in my ears, I finally figured out what it was they had been saying all along:
Grace Turner, Grace Turner, Grace Turner.
They shouted it so many times that it had morphed into something else entirely.