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“Hi, sister,” Esme says wearily as she squints up at me, clearly unimpressed by what she’s seen so far.

Esme’s friend has a shaved head and is wearing a beautiful, sari-like dress with one dangly cross earring. They both stand on the porch and look me up and down for a moment. I realize that I’m breaking all of Laurel’s rules at once in a bathrobe and the sheepskin-lined Crocs.

“Hi, I’m Blake,” Esme’s friend says politely. “Isn’t this the cult place?”

“I’m actually pretty sure it’s not a cult,” I say. “Although I’ve heard there are unholy sex parties every Tuesday night.”

Blake snorts with laughter but Esme glares at me.

“Can you help me with something?” I say, holding out my new phone. “I can’t even switch this on.”

“I can’t believe you’re nearly twenty-three,” Esme says as she takes it and presses an invisible button on the side. The screen changes from black to gray, and an Apple logo appears.

“She’s twenty-three?” Blake says, staring at me closely.

“I’m dressed like a disoriented person,” I say, looking down at the robe.

“It’s a thing. Apparently famous people are eternally frozen at the age they were when they became famous. Mentally,” Esme says to Blake, busily typing something into my phone. She exhales heavily, somehow exasperated with me already. “You’ve totally fucked this. I need to work on it for a little bit.”

“Who told you that about famous people?”

“A girl at school.”

“Were you talking about me?”

“God, no. We were talking about Justin Bieber,” Esme says, looking at Blake pointedly. “Anyway . . .”

“Okay, I know, I have to run,” Blake says. “Can’t wait to see what’s in store for me today. If I’m super lucky, my hypnotherapist might guide me back to when I was a fetus again.”

Blake air-kisses my sister and waves at me before ducking into the car. “I’ll be back from my mother’s womb in an hour or so!”

“Blake’s very funny. Are they a friend of yours from school?” I ask Esme, managing my pronouns clumsily once we’re alone.

“She lives two doors away, Grace. I’ve known her since I was eight.” Esme’s scathing-hot tone reminds me so much of my mother that I flinch. I’m pleased that neither of us seems to have inherited my father’s affinity for keeping the peace.

“Why is she in therapy?” I ask. “She seems happy enough.”

“I guess our particular part of Anaheim isn’t quite ready for a trans seventeen-year-old,” Esme says, peering past me into my house. “Blake’s mom tried to commit her when she found out, but her dad convinced her to try this conversion therapy place instead. Her mom is a total cretin. She’s lucky that Blake could basically have graduated high school in fifth grade if she’d wanted to, she’s missing so much school.”

“Has our mom met Blake?” I ask.

“Mom adores Blake,” Esme says, and I wish I hadn’t brought up Mom because a defensive silence stretches between us while I rack my brain for something else to say.

“You should call them, you know,” Esme says, folding her arms across her chest.

“Look, it’s complicated,” I say more sharply than I intended, because Esme’s face crumples for a second before closing off again. I feel guilty for a moment, but I’m still trying to adjust to this version of my sister.

I turn around and Esme follows me into my bungalow. I flick the overhead light on, but it doesn’t make any difference to the damp, desolate atmosphere in the room. I make a mental note to buy some sort of lampshade. I wonder if they sell them at Best Buy.

Esme looks around wordlessly.

“It’s kind of like a cave, right?” I say, and she raises her eyebrows but doesn’t say anything. “It’s very temporary.”

I pick up an empty packet of Kettle chips from the floor and drop it into the huge Dior shopping bag I’ve been using for trash, in the absence of a real trash can or any liners.

“Do you want to get ice cream or something?” I ask, because the presence of another person in my rental has highlighted to me that I need to buy some basics if I’m going to pretend to be a functioning human being. I take Esme’s shrug as affirmation and head into my bedroom to change out of my bathrobe, pulling on a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt with my Crocs. I can’t work out whether I care enough to put on some makeup too. I’m not sure what the chances are of getting photographed now, whether the paparazzi know I’ve moved or if they even care. I wonder if Laurel is exaggerating the threat to make herself more useful because this never used to be a problem for me: I used to give the photographers a couple of staged photo opportunities a year, and in return, they would leave me alone the rest of the time. In the end, I leave the house without putting any makeup on.

“Are you going to go back to work?” Esme asks me once we’re in the car and driving up to PCH. She inexplicably appears to be applying even more eyeliner.

“I’m still figuring that out,” I say, keeping my eyes on the road ahead. “Apparently I have to start from square one. Audition again.”

“Poor you.” Esme rolls her eyes, and I’m instantly embarrassed.

“I didn’t . . .” I trail off because I’m not sure what I didn’t mean to do. Appear ungrateful?

“No, it’s cool. I guess it’s true what they say, being beautiful makes you lazy. Thank God for us plain girls.”

My eyes automatically flick to my reflection in the rearview mirror, and I can feel the disdain dripping from Esme.

“I’d probably worked more hours by the time I was eighteen than most people do in a lifetime,” I say defensively.

“You’re extraordinary. You were supposed to tell me I wasn’t plain,” Esme says, her tone searing.

“You’re not plain. At all,” I say, too late. “You could do with a little less makeup though.”

I pull into the strip mall, swinging into an empty parking space outside the old-fashioned ice cream parlor I spotted when I was at the drugstore the other day.

“Not to be rude, but you could do with a little more. I saw that Best Buy pic. That guy really got you, huh?” Esme climbs out of the car and slams the door. I do the same, and we walk into the ice cream parlor together, except I pull back so that I can study her walk. It’s still the same as when she was a little kid: she’s always walked on her heels, leaning back slightly.

“He didn’t seem the type,” I say as we join the queue.

“That’s guys online for you,” Esme says airily, and it doesn’t seem like she’s not enjoying this. “Get any cretin behind a screen and they think they’re Ryan Gosling.”

“So it turns out,” I say. Silence again, this time stretching as flat and wide as the San Bernardino Valley. I pretend to be excessively interested in the ice cream flavors on offer.

“I’m getting Rocky Road. You?” I ask. Rocky Road was our favorite flavor before I left home, but now Esme looks at me like I’ve just suggested eating my own hand.

“I’m going to get a kombucha from next door,” she says haughtily.

I pay for my ice cream and follow her around Whole Foods until she finds the brand of kombucha she likes—the apple-flavored one made with stevia, not cane sugar.

The guy ringing up Esme’s drink is only a little older than her, and he’s cute in that baby-faced way that never lasts long. He will no doubt soften over the years to come, his features filling out to form something only vaguely reminiscent of his former self, in the way that has happened to most child actors I’ve worked with. Esme fidgets excitedly next to me anyway, and when I try to give her a fifty-dollar bill to pay for her drink, she bats my hand away, pulling out a credit card I didn’t know she had. I try not to smile when her cheeks turn pink underneath her mortician’s powder as she says good-bye to him.

We’re nearly back at my car when I feel a hand on my shoulder. The guy who was serving us has followed us out. Esme holds her breath next to me, and her obliviousness to what’s happening makes my chest feel tight for a moment.

“Did we forget something?” I ask, even though I know what he wants. In the past, it was rare for me to be found anywhere like this. Whenever I spent too long in a public place, I’d start to notice people staring, whispering, and then before long they would approach me with their phones gripped tightly in their palms. It was like something out of a zombie movie; everywhere I looked there would be another stranger sliding toward me, sometimes shyly but more often than not brazenly, hungrily, as if they owned part of me. I could never work out whether they did or not.

“No . . . I just . . . I fucking loved you in that hooker movie. I think I watched it every day for the whole of last summer,” he says, grinning widely as if to reinforce the point that he can see my naked breasts anytime he wants. “Do you think I could get a photo with you?”

Esme makes a frustrated sound and is stalking around to the passenger side of the car when he calls after her, waving his phone.