That day, I left the trailer and climbed back up the fire escape steps as if I were on my way to my own funeral. My hands were slipping down the handrails and I willed myself not to cry again. I knew that it was my last chance. When I reached the top, I closed my eyes and told the actor playing opposite me to push me as soon as Able shouted action.
I felt a pair of hands on my chest and then the sensation of falling, of the wind rushing on either side of me, and it was so instantly exhilarating that I had to try not to shriek. It felt like I was flying. When I hit the crash pad, the crew cheered for me, but I barely heard them. The only thing I cared about was that Able had been right all along. The relief I felt was overwhelming: I was at peace again.
Able made me do the stunt over and over again until I got tired and careless and I cracked my head on the railing on the way down. Afterward, Able took me into his trailer and stroked my hair as I cried, while Fleetwood Mac played from his radio. The dull, thudding pain felt rich and delicious because he was being so nice to me again now that I’d shown him just how much he could trust me.
I promised myself that he would never have a reason to doubt me again. After that, whenever I was scared, it was always him I thought to run to.
The road down to my new house from Pacific Coast Highway is steep and winding. I can see Dylan in my rearview mirror, driving behind me and wearing the Ray-Bans that I think were once mine but that maybe I stole from him first. We both get out of our cars at the bottom of the track, standing in a thick cloud of dust.
Coyote Sumac is a small, U-shaped community located on the beach underneath a bluff in Malibu. The houses are mostly clapboard bungalows with a few more-modern properties built from steel and glass. Vines of bougainvillea and wisteria frame the wraparound wooden porches, and a few of the houses have golf carts with surfboards strapped onto them parked alongside the Jeeps or pickup trucks in the driveways. Like Laurel said, this is a community for surfers and hippies and, as of now, famous former child actors who just want to be left alone.
My house is set away from the others, closer to the beach, and it is unfathomably dark inside with a damp patch the shape of Russia on the ceiling over the bed. The bungalow came with a TV, a cream leather sofa with grease stains on the arms, and a red-framed double bed in the bedroom. When we saw the inside, after a last-minute viewing with a sweaty real estate agent who couldn’t stop apologizing, Laurel described it as “the kind of place an abusive husband rents when he can’t accept that he’s finally been kicked out of the family home, so he, like, gets this place for when the kids come on weekends, but they never turn up so he hangs himself in the shower to get his revenge. This shower, Grace,” while acting as if she were planning to commit me at the closest opportunity. Say what you will about Laurel, but she really knows how to paint a fucking picture.
Dylan and I unload the boxes from his car in silence, and when we’ve finished, he stands in my doorway with his hands in his pockets.
“Thank you, Dylan,” I say awkwardly, because here we are—ten boxes containing my only possessions in the world. “I think I can do the rest.”
“Okay.” He nods, but shows no signs of moving. “Look, are you sure you don’t just want to take the glass house? I’m serious. I can be out in two days, max.”
“No way, I don’t want to be there anymore. Too many . . . stairs,” I finish lamely. Dylan looks at me for a moment and then surprises me by starting to laugh.
“All right, Grace. We wouldn’t want you having to face any stairs.”
I grin as he shakes his head. I remember now that sometimes, when Dylan smiles, I would do anything in the world to keep him happy.
“Wren said she’ll come check on you in a couple days. You know you should really get a cell phone, it’s kind of insane.”
“No, I know. I will.”
“Ask Laurel. I’m sure she can help you out,” he says, without any of the resentment that comment would once have elicited. He turns to leave and then stops again, just before he opens the front door.
“So you’re sure . . . you want to do this?” he asks.
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?” I ask. He holds my gaze and then he just shrugs. He holds one hand up and then turns away. “Call me if you need anything.”
I watch him walk down the porch without turning back. You could write a symphony with our silences.
* * *
? ? ?
When the end came, it was so quiet it was deafening. It was a cool morning last November, only a couple of days after my final movie, Lights of Berlin, was released. I was sitting on the balcony outside our bedroom, smoking a cigarette and watching the choppy water crash against the coastline as the sky lightened. I wore a knitted sweater and plaid pajama bottoms, and I had the unfair clarity of someone who hasn’t been to sleep yet, mainly because I’d just got back from a party where I was sprinkling Molly into my own drink like it was sugar.
Dylan woke up and found me on the balcony, the tension already marked across his face and in his shoulders. I figured that someone had told him what I’d been doing, even though he wouldn’t allude to it directly. He never did and I never apologized. I would just read it in his face, and everything he didn’t say. This time, though, he sat next to me and lit his own cigarette, and then he turned to ask me something he never had before.
“Why do we find it so hard to be happy?”
It’s me, I wanted to tell him, but some things are too obvious to say. It was one of those days, weeks, months when I felt the world too strongly. My skin had been peeled away, my chest cracked open, and I was exposed to everything around me in high-definition, 3-D surround sound. The sight of an old man eating ice cream alone or an unhappy silence between a couple I didn’t even know would settle somewhere deep within me. The sound of a car horn or siren two blocks away would leave me shaking, and I’d mistake every piece of trash on the floor for a dead animal, my brain contorting and playing tricks on me, just like Able always said it did. Each moment would claim another inch of my mind until, bit by bit, it wasn’t my own anymore. I was strung out and so tired of feeling too much that I guess at some point it just became easier to not feel anything at all.
I looked out to the point where the charcoal morning sky met the ocean, and that was when I decided to tell Dylan what it was I had been trying to drown out all this time. What everything always led back to. For the first time in my life, I had realized with perfect clarity that I was fucking something up before it was too late, and I even knew the way out.
“I need to tell you something,” I started, and my throat was thick and tight, as if my body still wasn’t ready to say the words I’d never said out loud. Dylan waited.
“When I first got to LA, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was by myself and things happened that I don’t think should have happened, and I want to believe it wasn’t my fault, but I’m too close to it. I don’t know if I will ever be able to explain it, even to you, but I know that I want to try, and maybe that’s enough for right now.”
The sentences were coming out as heavy fragments, but I knew that Dylan could tell it was important from the way he froze next to me. I wrapped my arms around myself and allowed myself to look at him just once more before I started again. I wanted to see the openness on his face, the way his bronze eyes softened when they were focused on me, but instead I saw something unexpected. Dylan, who was supposed to love me more than anything in the world, whom I needed to love me unquestioningly, especially when I didn’t deserve it, wanted me to stop talking. He wanted me to save him from the burden of knowing the truth.
“Grace. I can’t . . .” He didn’t finish but I understood perfectly because he looked exactly how I felt. He didn’t want to know because he wanted my story only to be his story, two lonely teenagers who fell in love in the weirdest city in the world and managed to make it work. He didn’t want to hear about the story before him, the thing that clung to my back whenever I left the house, or that sat on my chest whenever I tried to sleep.
My heart split into millions of pieces.
When I could speak again, I changed the subject, and we spoke about where we would go on vacation next. Dylan talked about sleeping under the stars in Holbox, just like he used to on camping trips when he was a kid. I already knew that I was leaving, and maybe Dylan did, too, because his words carried an unusual force that morning, as if he were trying to pin me down with them.