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I don’t know when we all realized that the movie was going to be a flop, but by the end of the forty-day shoot, the atmosphere on set was pitiful. Elon had only become more petulant as the shoot went on, and by the end he was flat-out refusing to try Mandy’s suggestions, occasionally even stealing my lines if he saw them landing better. The director seemed as jaded as the rest of us by then, and at some point she just seemed to relinquish control. I couldn’t even blame her: at that point we were all just trying to wade through to the end of the project.

On the final day of the shoot, just when I was counting down the seconds until I was free again, my publicist, Nan, showed up. It turned out that Elon was also her client, and she sat us down in his trailer to talk about the burning wreck we’d all created. Elon watched a baseball game on TV as Nan told us that the studio had suggested we construct a relationship in order to generate some early publicity for the movie. She said that it would help reduce some of the stigma around the release while also showing the studio how committed we were to the project. Obviously we wouldn’t actually have to date each other; we just needed to be spotted at key places around LA for a couple of months. Elon shrugged his consent while I slipped out of the trailer to call Nathan.

“Elon is repellent,” I said to Nathan when he answered. “This is insane.”

“You don’t have to actually date him,” Nathan said. “You barely have to talk to him.”

“Does Able know about this?” I asked. “This was never part of the plan. I’m supposed to be unattainable, not dating some man-child from Nickelodeon.”

“Elon wasn’t on Nickelodeon. And Able isn’t a part of this project,” Nathan reminded me. “He doesn’t have input in what you do or don’t do here.”

“He’ll care though,” I said, instantly pushing the image of Able breathing heavily in my ear out of my mind, just like I always did.

“Please, Nathan. This isn’t a good look for me.”

“This was why Able came up with the plan in the first place,” Nathan said grimly. “So that we could control all of this. You made your choice, Grace. You just have to live with it for a couple more months. Come on, it could be a lot worse. Millions of girls would kill to go on a date with Elon Puth.”

I watched as Elon climbed down the steps from his trailer then. He was holding his phone up in selfie mode and was filming himself talking seriously into the camera, as I’d seen him do countless times during the shoot. His videos always started with “hey, guys, so sorry for the wait,” as if his fans had been lying dormant all this time, just waiting for him to bring them back to life with tales of the offerings from craft services that day, or updates on his sleep cycle the night before.

I thought of Able again, and the realization that everything I had relinquished may have been in vain nearly winded me.

“But why didn’t he try to stop me?” I asked quietly.

* * *

? ? ?

My first “date” with Elon was at the ArcLight in Hollywood a couple of weeks later. We were supposed to look like any regular couple—just like you, but better of course. I didn’t actually know what people my age wore on dates, so in the end I chose a tiny red dress and an old jean jacket with some sneakers. Elon picked me up in his orange Lamborghini, and he laughed when I flinched at the sight of it.

“Pretty obnoxious, right? What did you expect?” he asked, and since it was the closest he’d ever come to self-awareness in my presence, I thawed ever so slightly toward him.

I’d suggested we go to the movie theater so that we wouldn’t have to talk to each other, but almost as soon as we sat down, Elon started to shift restlessly in his seat next to me, playing on his phone and scrolling through various flashing apps. After about half an hour, he grabbed my arm and leaned in close.

“Do you want to get out of here?”

I shrugged.

Elon led me through the lobby and out toward the car, grabbing my hand when the paparazzi crowded around us at the exit, calling both our names and shouting questions about how long we’d been dating. Elon turned and smiled at me, and his eyes were so warm and enchanting that I wondered how they’d seemed so lifeless throughout the shoot. I smiled shyly at the cameras before holding up my hands to cover my face.

“What are you doing?” Elon asked me under his breath, but I pretended not to hear him. It didn’t make sense that I’d suddenly be lapping up this kind of attention after I’d made such a point of being so private in the past. I wasn’t going to completely obliterate the image we’d so carefully curated just because I’d made one bad choice.

Elon pulled off as soon as we were inside the car, and we headed into the hills.

“Come to this party with me,” Elon said, and just when I was worried he was going to try to blur the lines of the arrangement, he added, “It will look good.”

“Whose party is it?” I asked as we drove up one of the winding canyons. I had never been to a Hollywood party without someone from my team, and even then I just dropped in to charm whoever I was instructed to charm.

“Clint Eastwood’s lawyer’s son,” he said, and he frowned when I laughed. “What?”

“Oh, sorry, I thought you were joking,” I said, and he turned away from me. I stared silently out the window as the lights of Los Angeles twinkled below us.

* * *

? ? ?

The party was in a white palace at the top of Benedict Canyon. Elon knew the security code of the gate, punching it in before holding it open for me. We walked around the house and straight through to the backyard, where water cascaded over terra-cotta boulders into an Olympic-sized swimming pool. A guy in white Calvin Klein briefs threw a shrieking woman into the water, and Elon grinned at me before excusing himself to find the host. People swayed in the water and whispered about me from behind their raised red cups, while I stood awkwardly alone by the sliding doors into the house.

After a few minutes, I let myself into the house and found the kitchen. I opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of vodka. I’d drunk a little before but never by myself—I was too much of a control freak. As awful as it had been, however, the experience of shooting the film and spending time alone with Elon gave me a sense of independence, and I figured that now could be the time to start making a few of my own decisions. A girl wearing a shimmering white jumpsuit approached me just as I was pouring vodka into a red cup. I quickly topped it up with a splash of orange juice before she could see how much vodka I’d used. When she got closer I noticed that she had tiny crystals embedded in her eyebrows. I took a sip of my drink, wincing as it burned its way down my throat.

“You came with Elon, right?” the girl asked, and she instantly seemed too friendly for one of these parties.

“Yes,” I said, smiling politely at her. “I should maybe go look for him.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t bother,” she said, laughing. “He’s probably giving someone a BJ in the guesthouse.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Didn’t you know?” she asked, and I shrugged.

“I don’t really care,” I said, and she laughed again, seemingly delighted with me. I already felt better from the alcohol, giddy almost.

“I’m Alaia,” she said at the exact moment I decided that I liked her.

“Grace.” I nodded back at her.

“You know, you look like you could use a real party,” she said after a moment, and she waggled her tiny, fluffy purse at me. “Wanna join?”

I stared at her for a minute, uncomprehending, and she grabbed my hand, smiling.

“Come with me.”

* * *

? ? ?

Alaia led me up the marble staircase to a bathroom on the first floor, where a rose quartz bathtub glowed beneath a window overlooking the pool. I sat on the closed toilet seat and watched with interest as Alaia portioned out two neat lines of white powder along the edge of the bathtub. She used her gold credit card to chop and press the powder until it was as fine as dust. I watched as she ran her finger along the card and then put it in her mouth. When she held the card out to me, I did the same. After that, Alaia took a metal straw out of her purse and hoovered up one of the lines in less than two seconds. When she was done she stood, pressing up the tip of her nose and inhaling sharply. The sound was surprisingly guttural, like the noise an animal might make before a fight.

Alaia gestured to the line on the edge of the bathtub, and I slowly eased onto my knees. I took a gulp of my drink, and it was so strong that it made my eyes water. I tried to remember how Alaia had done it as I bent over the powder with the cool straw resting lightly inside my nostril. I inhaled and felt the burn inside my nose. I thought instantly of Esme, and decided that I would call her when I left the party if it wasn’t too late.

Alaia smiled at me.

“You okay?”

“I think so,” I said, but I was already enjoying how I could really feel my brain working in my skull for the first time. It felt as if I could finally control my wayward mind, choosing exactly what I wanted to zone in and focus on with military precision. I felt an immense surge of appreciation for this stranger who had somehow known exactly what I was searching for.

“It’s fair trade,” Alaia said brightly as she leaned in toward me from her position on the edge of the tub. I looked at her uncomprehendingly. “The coke, I mean. Nobody died to get it to us.”