“Of course I have,” she says, making a face like I’m an idiot. “You.”
After that I finish my sandwich in peace because Laurel seems to have forgotten I’m here, rapidly firing off some emails and texts instead. Despite the glass of rosé, she does seem to have got her shit together since I last saw her.
The soft egg yolk drips down my fingers, and I lick each one before cleaning myself up with my napkin. Laurel is eyeing me with disgust.
“Don’t be mad just because you haven’t eaten a meal in ten years,” I say, and she starts to laugh.
“There she is.”
I smile at her, but I’m already bored of our sparring and bored of the couple next to us who are taking photos of me when they think I’m not looking, and bored of this lunch but also bored of anything else I could be doing instead.
“So, this house thing,” Laurel says, watching me closely now. “I’ve pulled some options together for you. Two of them are near me in Silver Lake, and two of them are on the beach. I know you want to be away from Dylan and what’s-her-bitch, but you can’t let them drive you out of the entire Westside.”
“Wren. She’s actually a delight.”
“What happened to you at home? Are your parents loving or something?” Laurel asks, and I forgot that she could occasionally make me laugh.
“Something like that. Let me see the beach houses.”
I wait as she pulls them up. There are certain things that nobody teaches you when you have people who are paid to do everything for you. How to be alone is one, and doing anything useful online is another. Or at least it was for me. My agent and manager picked up on the fact that I’d never been allowed a smartphone as a kid, and decided to project an image of me as an extinct species in the age of the overshare—a millennial without a social media presence. No hawking of detox teas or dating apps for me. Instead, they curated a portrait of a reluctant young indie actress trying to live a normal life in Venice with her talented documentary-filmmaker husband. Much was made of the fact that I used a flip phone and had never posted a selfie anywhere. In reality, my movies were never real indies and I was never really cool, but that didn’t seem to matter. Working with Able was supposed to give me the exposure I needed, without having to force myself on the public in other ways to stay relevant. It was a luxury I always knew I was lucky to have, despite everything else that came with it.
I had two carefully chosen brand partnerships—one with a French fashion house and one with a company who made instant film, and I walked in fashion shows in Paris and London only if I knew the designers and they asked me. Other than that, self-promotion was kept to a minimum. As planned with my team, I went to my own movie premieres and showed up at awards shows if something I was in was nominated, but I made sure to seem as uncomfortable as I could (without appearing ungrateful) about having to do either. It helped that Dylan wasn’t famous in the same way I was, so we were left alone by the press most of the time. We didn’t go to any of the new clubs or restaurant openings in Malibu or West Hollywood, and I was never photographed on a yacht in a bikini or at a certain pop star’s New Year’s Eve party. All of my bad behavior was carried out behind the closed doors of private residences in Venice and the Hollywood Hills, and, as a result, I was exempt from much of the tabloid mauling my peers experienced. I was on another planet to them all, and even though it hadn’t been my idea, I thought I liked it that way.
“So even though Venice is almost over, I’ve found one place. It’s beautiful, and the security system is next-level shit. Some Russian oligarch lived there before he disappeared.” Laurel shows me her phone. The house is angular, imposing, heavy on the cement.
“That used to be a drug dealer’s house,” I say, shaking my head.
“You’re right. Bad vibes. And we should know. Lol.” I forgot that Laurel occasionally says LOL out loud.
“Okay, so this one could work, but it’s a weird location. It’s right next to that mobile home community in Malibu. Do you know which one I mean? I think the guy who played James Bond moved there when he had that B12 deficiency and lost his mind.”
The house is a Cape Cod–style bungalow with white clapboard and navy shutters, and a small white porch with three steps down onto the sand. I scan the information below the photographs.
“Coyote Sumac?” I ask, trying to keep my voice level.
“Yeah. I once woke up at a house there, and the guy actually had a glow-in-the-dark mural painted on his bedroom walls. He was a grown man. Creepy as hell. The houses are right on the beach though. I think it started as a cult in the eighties, and Malibu developers are still so pissed because it’s the most prime real estate, but it’s just full of burnouts smoking weed and surfing every day and, worse than that, talking about smoking weed and surfing every day.” I hand Laurel her phone back and she shakes her head. “You’re right. You don’t need that shit. And there isn’t a single photo of the interior, so it’s probably a sex dungeon inside.”
I know exactly where the Coyote Sumac community is, I just didn’t know the name of it until now. Three years earlier, at my lowest point ever, I had looked down on the perfect, wisteria-framed houses and wished more than anything in the world that I was hidden safely inside one of them. I try to focus on the next house Laurel shows me, but when she talks, each word floats into my ears like a sound I’ve never heard before.
The day before I’m supposed to move into a house on Laurel’s street in Silver Lake, a woman turns up on the doorstep of the glass house. She rings the bell in the late afternoon, wearing a navy silk wrap dress and pumps, her dark hair pulled back, no jewelry, no makeup.
Dylan is on his way out when she arrives, and he finds me standing by the door in my old white bathrobe, staring at the security monitor. We watch her on the screen for a moment, shoulder touching shoulder for the first time in over a year.
“Want me to tell her to fuck off?” he asks.
“Do you know who she is?”
“Nah, she looks like a reporter though.”
“I’ll speak to her.”
I open the door and Dylan slips out, tapping the side of his head at her as he does. The woman nods at him briefly and waits for him to pass before she turns back to me.
“My name is Camila Amri. I’m working on a story for Vanity Fair that I think you could be interested in.”
I turn around, leaving her on the doorstep with the door wide open.
She follows me through to the living room, every step hammering a small mark in the wooden floor. She carries herself in the way that people who were overweight as children do—as if they can’t quite get used to their impossible lightness.
I sit on the sofa, peeling my feet out from the sticky Japanese slippers I’m wearing, and tucking them underneath me. Camila sits opposite me on the green velvet armchair that appeared in the living room one day, around the same time all the expensive art was hung on the walls. People were always scuttling around me and rearranging things, but I never thought it was weird because it just felt like another movie set.
“I like your Christmas tree. It’s very . . . authentic.”
“Thanks. The decorations were made by real-life, authentic kids.”
I watch Camila as she works out what to say next. The Christmas tree has thrown her.
“Aren’t you supposed to speak to my publicist before you turn up on my doorstep? Or my manager?”
“Do you still have either?”
“I’m not sure.”
“I’m not going to lie to you. If we do this right, it could be huge for us both,” Camila says, but she’s frowning now because this already isn’t going as planned. I keep my face neutral and maintain eye contact, which unnerves her even more.
“Why did you leave LA?” she asks, shifting in her seat.
“Aren’t you supposed to be a rising star in journalism?” I ask as she wipes her palms on her dress, leaving a damp pattern on the silk.
“I don’t understand the question.”
“You just asked me the same question the guy at the gas station asked me yesterday.”
“You know I have to ask it,” she says quietly. She rearranges her hands in her lap, and her cheeks are flushed.
“Did you used to be fat?” I ask, and because I’m almost fat now, I sort of think I can get away with it.
“Have you done all of this so that you won’t be objectified anymore?” she says quickly, pointing at my lap, and I look down. My bathrobe has creased and is exposing the soft, white part of my stomach and my beige underwear thick with pubic hair.
“I’m sorry,” she says, holding out her hands, and I can see that I’ve bullied her into being vicious.
“Women apologize too much,” I say.