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“Happy Thanksgiving,” Wren says cheerily at the start of one of these meals, my sixth or seventh night at the house. She holds her wineglass up and I clink it lightly with my water glass.

Dylan avoids looking at either of us, staring instead into his bowl of ramen as I realize too late that this probably isn’t the Thanksgiving he had planned. He usually goes home to Ohio, and I wonder briefly why he didn’t bring Wren back this year, before figuring that he didn’t want to leave me by myself. I can only imagine that Dylan’s parents already love Wren. Even I can see that she is perfect for him; she probably greets his parents at the airport with fresh-baked cookies and bracelets made by the children of convicts. I try not to think about it anymore, or about my own family at home, eating some god-awful sodium-free bird that my dad will have incinerated beyond recognition and my mom will barely touch.

“Nathan called again. He sounded even more pissed this time and told me to remind you that you’re still very much under contract with him,” Wren recounts, once we’ve started eating again.

I swallow a mouthful of soup, trying to disguise the fact that I flinched at the mention of my agent’s name even though Dylan is never looking at me anyway. Nathan, Kit and Able. The only holy trinity allowed in my life.

“John Hamilton also called. He wanted to know if you can have lunch together tomorrow. He said you could choose where. He has a project, like this beautiful, powerful love story set in space, but, you know, with a feminist edge, that he needs to talk to you about.”

Wren takes a long gulp of wine before adding, “It sounds super original.”

“I don’t know, it could be interesting,” Dylan says, sounding anything but interested. John Hamilton directs big-budget action movies, essentially 120 self-indulgent minutes of car chases and half-naked women, so I know he can’t really be listening.

“Oh, come on. Hollywood’s version of feminism is a Victoria’s Secret model knocking men out while wearing a Lycra bodysuit. Right, Grace?” Wren rolls her eyes at me and I smile back at her. Dylan frowns and I realize two things at the exact same moment—one, that I like Wren, and two, that I could probably stay here forever, in this house where nothing is ever asked of me, but that if I do I’m going to ruin everything for Dylan, and probably myself, all over again. I put down my chopsticks and pick out a piece of spongy tofu that drips down my fingers.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you both that I’m going to move out this week,” I say, once I’ve swallowed it. “I figure it’s time to try something different.”

Wren looks to Dylan for her cue before she speaks, but the expression on his face makes her stare back down at her lap for a moment before she reassembles her features and smiles at me.

“Are you sure? I can look for somewhere . . . This setup wasn’t ever permanent, my lease just came up a couple of months ago so we thought . . .”

. . . that Dylan’s wife had left him a year ago without so much as a working phone number so it should be fine . . . I finish the sentence for her in my head and resist the urge to laugh.

“No,” I say loudly instead, and they both stare at me.

“I’ll look at some places tomorrow. Or . . . Laurel will. Venice is so over anyway, right?” I say, trying to make Dylan smile with my impersonation of her. He doesn’t, and I start clearing away our bowls instead, my obnoxious words hanging in the air like a noose.

Happy Thanksgiving.

* * *

? ? ?

I meet Laurel at the Butcher’s Daughter for brunch the next morning, and she doesn’t even raise an eyebrow when I order the egg sandwich with a side of potatoes. I offer her the same courtesy when she orders a glass of rosé. I’m relieved that we’re not pretending she’s my sober companion anymore, particularly after Dylan told me he saw her hounding everyone for coke at some party he’d been to in the hills just after I went away.

“Have you spoken to Nan? You’re everywhere, and not in a good way,” Laurel says as soon as her wine has arrived. Nan is—or was—my publicist. Big teeth, a lot of hair, and looks simultaneously as if she could have been a member of the royal family and like she might retire and start breeding Labradors at any given moment. She was very good at her job in an uncompromising way that I know should have impressed me more than it terrified me.

“Not since I’ve been back. I’m everywhere?”

“Honey, it was okay for you to be clueless when you had a full team around you, but now that you’re clearly desperate to do everything on your own, you have to at least let me in on your plans.”

“I don’t have a plan. You don’t always need a plan,” I say, just to cover up the fact that I only seem to remember I don’t have a plan when somebody reminds me. I feel unexpectedly angry that, along with everything else, my time isn’t even my own to waste.

“You know you’ll be starting from the beginning again if you leave it too long.”

“How are you so sure I want to act again?” I ask, frowning.

“Because you were good at it. And because you don’t know how to do anything else, unless you’ve learned the ukulele since I last saw you?”

Laurel taps something out on her phone and then passes it over for me to see. It’s a story from a gossip site I don’t think I’ve heard of before. The headline “Drugged and Alone” sits over a photo of my pale, bloated face that must have been taken as I walked through the canals the other day. I look like Charlize Theron in Monster, but I tell myself it’s just the angle. I should probably wash my hair tonight though.

“The Snap Online has posted about you being back in Venice, living with Dylan and his new girlfriend,” Laurel says. “They have a source swearing you spent the year being treated for an opioid addiction in a Nicaraguan rehab. It’s getting picked up everywhere.”

“Why now?”

Laurel stares at me in confusion.

“Like why didn’t they do any stories back when I actually left?”

“When you left you could have been anywhere, shooting a movie in Canada or the Ukraine, recording an album of Scottish pirate metal songs, I don’t fucking know. The press isn’t going to ask the questions if the fans aren’t asking questions. But now you’re back and you’ve got nothing to show for it, and nothing to say about it, and people are starting to notice. You’re also dressing like my great-aunt Meryl, and not to be rude, but you’re borderline chubby.”

“Wow, Laurel,” I say, trying to will some tears into existence to make her feel bad. “I never stood a chance with friends like you.”

“Do you think you could have Lyme?” Laurel asks, frowning at me.

“I don’t have Lyme disease.”

“Okay, you have to help me then. What are we doing here? Are we doing 2007 Britney? Or a Marilyn thing? Because you’re smarter than this, Grace.”

“Why is everyone more worried about me having a breakdown now than when I was actually having one?”

“Because at least your hair was good then,” Laurel sniffs, and I stick my middle finger up at her. I don’t hate her as much as I should, which probably says a lot about me.

“Honestly? I just want to be normal, Laurel,” I say, but I can hear how cliché it sounds now that I’m back here, and how holing yourself up in your husband’s house with his new girlfriend probably isn’t the best way to go about it.

“No you don’t, Grace, you just think you do,” Laurel says, looking disappointed. “Shall we ask our server if she wants to swap places with you? Do you want me to ask if they’re hiring here?”

“I’m figuring it out,” I say, ignoring her.

“You don’t get to choose when to be normal. Don’t you realize that?” Laurel says, shaking her head. “That was the deal.”

I watch over Laurel’s shoulder as a woman in a Lakers T-shirt asks a man at the table next to her something about me. He shrugs, embarrassed when he catches me watching. I reflexively peel my lips back into a smile.

“I’ll message you the link to the Nicaragua story,” Laurel says. “And you can tell me how you want to respond.”

“I still don’t—”

“You still don’t have a phone. Of course you don’t, you little freak,” she says almost affectionately. “Okay, I’ll print it off for you and give it to you next time I see you, or maybe I’ll transcribe it and train a carrier pigeon to drop it off to you, since there seems to be no urgency whatsoever on your part to read it anyway . . .”

Our server places my egg sandwich down in front of me and I watch as Laurel pulls out another phone, this one black.

“Why do you have two phones?” I ask as I chew a mouthful of bread and egg dripping in harissa mayo.

“I have one for play and one for work.”

“What . . . what’s your exact job at the moment?”

“I’m a life coach. I specialize in pivoting career goals so that they reflect your strengths,” Laurel says, completely seriously.

“Have you ever had a career, other than being a career adviser?”