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The thing was, I could see with uncharacteristic clarity what would happen if I stayed. I would hurt him over and over again until neither of us could look at the other, and this time it would be irrefutably, unforgivably on purpose.

We got into bed soon after that, and Dylan fell straight back to sleep with a slight smile on his lips, the way he always did, and I curled into his back, breathing in his sandalwood smell. After he left for work, I took six Percocets and then curled up in a ball on the cool tiles of the bathroom floor, sobbing like I hadn’t since I was a baby. When the world around me finally started to fray at the edges, drifting out of reach, I called Laurel, who arranged for an unmarked ambulance to rush me to the emergency room for treatment.

Two days later, I was back in Anaheim.

Nobody ever thought to ask me why I’d done it.

* * *

? ? ?

The rental feels quiet once Dylan has left. I push the thought of him out of my mind in exactly the same way I have for the past year, and I start to unpack the boxes. I didn’t know what was officially mine and what was Dylan’s, or what he would notice or miss, or think of me when he didn’t see, so I brought only clothes with me, even though I’ve been wearing the same slip dress with college sweaters since I’ve been back in LA. Wren told me that she’s already spotted three women wearing the same outfit in Venice. Maybe they hate the sight of their own skin too.

I step out onto the porch and squint up at the peach house on the hill above. I can’t make out whether anyone is home, or even if Able’s car is in the drive, and I feel breathless and weak, my heart twisting like a knife in my chest. My nightmares all orbit around this house, yet somehow I have made my own way back here. I wonder if I thought that being so close might make me feel safer, when the truth is I can’t control any of it from here any more than I could from Anaheim.

I walk back inside the bungalow and sit on the sofa, staring at the blank wall in front of me as I try to fight against the familiar feeling of being dragged down to the dark place, dislodging the unruly shadows that have settled within me since I’ve been back in the city. The most vicious demons have always been my own, and I’ve never learned how to protect myself from them. I have tried moving quietly through the world, figuring that if I could just forget what happened, then I could move on, but maybe it doesn’t work like that. Maybe it’s never been that simple.


Everyone kept telling me how grateful I should be that Able had chosen me as his protégé. My agent called it a gift. That’s also what Able called it when he first made me touch him, at the age of fifteen, on the last day of that first movie shoot. He placed my hand on his erection over his jeans and told me that it was a secret gift between the two of us, because we had this special connection that nobody else understood.

That’s how it went for the next couple of years: he would shower me with gifts and attention during the first half of filming and then would pull back so suddenly that I was left chasing after him, needing his approval and praise in the same way I needed oxygen to breathe. Just like that day with the stunt fall, he would push me to my limit in every possible way. He would criticize everything from my weight to my American accent to my lack of emotional depth in a scene, constantly belittling me on set and pushing me to extremes both physically and mentally before leaving his juniors to deal with me when I inevitably broke. I was exhausted, desperate to please, skinny as a stray dog and covered in sores, but still he would force me to reshoot the same scene over and over again, running well into the early hours of the morning until every single member of the crew hated the sight of me. Then, just as I was giving up hope, certain that my new life was over and he had finally realized that I wasn’t the person he thought I was, Able would welcome me back into the glowing orbit around him. If I tried to talk to him about how he’d treated me, he would tell me that I had clearly misunderstood, reminding me that my brain had the tendency to work against me, and that I was lucky he knew me well enough to understand me. As he spoke, relief would flood through me in waves so intense I often found myself crying. He was everything to me—my mentor, my boss, my family—and being close to him made me feel as if I was finally doing something right. Only at that point Able would expect his own reward, too, making me kiss and touch him again on the final day of shooting or at the wrap party. As soon as it happened, I felt sick with confusion, regretting ever having courted his attention. I never told him to stop, and hadn’t I worked that much harder than the others to earn his rare praise? Hadn’t I felt colder when he wasn’t looking at me? I figured that I must be doing something awful to make him act like this, but I couldn’t figure out what it was, or how to stop it—I only knew that I deserved it.

I doubted myself and everyone around me, but rarely Able. Everyone had told me about this precious gift, so I took it.


An hour later, I’m driving up the dirt track with my car radio blasting a bad eighties power ballad at an unholy volume because, occasionally, if it’s the right song and it’s loud enough, music can drown out even the ugliest thoughts in my mind.

The December air is crisp so I roll the windows down, but I have to close them when I end up eating dust from the cars speeding alongside me on PCH. I drive slowly, with no real place to be and only a vague idea of what I want, but I still have to brake suddenly whenever a car in front of me decides to swing into a free beach parking space at the last minute. After a couple of miles, I spot a sign for an independent drugstore, and I signal to turn into the parking lot.

In the store, I approach a girl a few years younger than me. She is standing behind the cash register and playing on her phone. Her lip is pierced in two places, and she barely looks up when I speak to her.

“Hi, I’m looking for some binoculars.”

“Sorry, ma’am, this is a pharmacy.” She flicks at one of her lip rings with her tongue. I wait for her to finish. “We don’t sell binoculars.”

“I understand. Do you know where would sell binoculars?”

“There’s a Best Buy kind of near Santa Monica . . . You might want to try there.”

I nod but I don’t move, and she seems worried for me.

“How far is it from here?”

She furrows her brow. “Don’t you have an iPhone, ma’am?”

“Look I’m really sorry, but can you stop calling me ma’am? I’m twenty-two years old,” I say, folding my arms across my chest. “And no. Do you sell phones here?”

She shakes her head.

“You can get that at Best Buy too. Take a left out of here. Maybe fifteen to twenty miles?” she says, and when I still don’t move, she scribbles down some directions on a Post-it and hands it over to me.

“Thanks,” I say, debating whether or not I need to tip her. I feel bad for snapping at her, but when I try to hand her twenty dollars, she seems so alarmed that I stuff it back in my bag.

“Are you okay?” she asks as I’m leaving, and she’s looking me up and down. I look down, too, at my sweat-stained Lakers T-shirt hanging over the slip dress, now torn and ragged at the hem, and a pair of promotional Crocs that I found at the house in Venice on my feet. They’re lined with sheepskin and they’re the most comfortable things I’ve ever owned.

“I think so?” I say, but I must not be very convincing because she still seems like she feels sorry for me.

I get back in the car and just sit for a moment, sweat pooling on my upper lip. I have let other people do everything for me for my entire life, and most of the time I didn’t even know it was happening. Even after I met Dylan, we were only ever pretending to be like any regular college-age couple when really we had a slew of assistants, drivers, wellness coaches and housekeepers organizing our lives. Groceries magically appeared in our fridge every week, and we would stand next to precooked meals from our chef even as we ordered Vietnamese food or sushi to be delivered to our door. I’m not sure I could tell you how to call a cab or make a cup of coffee if somebody were holding a machete to my throat, and what’s worse, I don’t think I’ve ever realized that until now.

* * *

? ? ?

“I’m looking for binoculars,” I tell the first person I see when I walk into Best Buy, twenty miles and three perilous U-turns later. The sales assistant is in his late teens and has an unappealing film of baby fluff covering his upper lip. The rest of his face and neck is clean-shaven, other than one more distinct patch of fuzz over his prominent Adam’s apple. When I see how it leaps around when he swallows, I can understand why he was reluctant to shave it. His name tag says Ethan.