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“I’m writing fiction now, you knew that, right? It’s total trash but there’s something cathartic about leaning into that without any fear. So what if I want to write a book about a vet falling back in love with her high school boyfriend in Montana? I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my Yale degree will now be utilized to provide comfort for people I’ll never meet. And that’s okay.” While she’s been talking, Emilia has whisked three eggs with some cream and salt. She drops the mixture into a frying pan and stirs absentmindedly with a pale blue spatula.

“Of course Able is mortified. He’s always been such a snob, even though he’s the one from Utah.” She rolls her eyes again and shoves a loose strand of hair back behind her ear. She still has that perfect blond hair—glossy and tumbling, forming a wave over her shoulder and down her back like a cartoon. You can tell everything you need to know about Emilia from her hair, I think now, perhaps unkindly.

I watch as she scrapes the scrambled eggs onto a plate and then stops, frowning. “I’m sorry. Did you say you wanted eggs?”

“Okay,” I say, sitting down at the farmhouse table. I feel as if I’m in a dream, watching everything unfold around me without my permission, even though, like always, I’m the one who set it in motion.

Emilia smiles as she passes me the plate and a knife and fork, and then at the last minute she rips into a loaf of sourdough and drops a chunk on top.

“You’re young—you can still eat gluten, right?” she asks as she sits down opposite me.

“I’m so sorry, Grace, were you expecting to find Able here? He got rid of his assistant because he thought he could run his own calendar better, but he’s just horrible at it. Did he tell you he was away for the next couple of weeks? He’s doing reshoots in Utah and promised me he’ll be back to help get everything ready for Christmas, but you just never know with him. Do you want some wine? I have the least addictive personality, so I can do things like drink wine at one p.m., but most of my friends can’t.”

“I’m okay,” I say, but I watch as Emilia takes two wineglasses down from the cabinet over the sink anyway. She pours a full glass for herself, then a smaller one for me. She is warm, relaxed, no hidden indignations or insecurities sharpening her angles. Her life is easy, I realize now, watching her.

“Well, I can’t be drinking alone when the girls come home,” she says, smiling, and it’s okay, because I already know I won’t touch it. I need to stay focused, alert in this house.

I’ve never been less hungry, but I eat a small mouthful of the eggs. I can tell instantly that they are perfect, steaming hot and creamy, falling apart as soon as they hit my tongue.

Emilia watches me closely, and I concentrate on eating normally: chew, chew, chew, swallow.

“Come on then. Tell me everything I need to know about you. You look great, but then you always did, and Able told me to stop worrying about you even when you became emaciated for that war film.”

“He did?” I grip the fork tightly. I manage to swallow something sour at the back of my throat before I stick my fork into the pile of eggs again.

“Oh, you know.” She waves her hand. “I think he just knew you so well, knew what phase you were going through and when. I was always an outsider with you two, in the best way.”

I focus on pushing the last mouthful of eggs onto a piece of bread, trying to disguise my trembling hands.

“You know, I’m pleased you’re here, and I know Able will be, too, when I tell him. The kids would also love to see you—can you wait around until four?”

The kids. Two little girls who cried when they had to go to bed at my sixteenth birthday party. Able’s hands clamped on their shoulders in the photo on his office desk. The room fragments around me, fraying at the edges so that I have to place both palms on the table to steady myself.

“I actually have to get back now. I have a meeting,” I say, and before Emilia can ask me anything else, I stand up and loudly scrape the chair underneath the table.

“Another time then. The girls are nearly nine, if you can believe it? Silver is very bright but can be a monster when she wants to be, and Ophelia is just a pleasure to have around. Everyone says you don’t have a favorite, but my God, do you. Luckily, Able prefers Silver—he’s always liked his women complicated.” Emilia laughs as she follows me out of the kitchen, seemingly unaware of my urgent need to be anywhere but her house.

When we reach the front door, Emilia seems immediately despondent at the thought of me leaving, asking in a childlike way, “Do you really have to go?”

“Thanks for having me, Emilia,” I say. “I’ll see you around.”

“Gracie?” Emilia calls after me, just as I reach the fountain in the middle of their expansive drive. I stop and face her, the gentle sound of trickling water accompanying her words.

“Take care of yourself,” she says, but she looks like she wants to say more. For the first time, I wonder whether she feels guilty about how everything turned out for me. I nod and turn back around, forcing myself to continue slowly, calmly down the hill to Coyote Sumac. When I reach the bottom, I look back up at the peach house. Emilia is still standing in the doorway, watching me.

* * *

? ? ?

I’m covered in sweat by the time I reach the sand. Panic is pressing through my veins, and I don’t know how to make it stop. I don’t know what I was doing, moving here and going back up to the house on my own. Letting Emilia cook for me and say his name ten times. I don’t know what I would have done if Able were there with her. Was I planning to confront him? Would I have kissed him on each cheek as if nothing had ever happened? Would I have taken a kitchen knife from the island and plunged it into his neck in front of Emilia, watching the terror in his eyes as they bulged out of his head, crimson blood spraying over us all like something out of a cheap horror movie? What do you do when you can’t even trust yourself?

I stand in front of the ocean and try to remember how it felt to be underneath the surface, the burning pressure in my lungs as the need for oxygen tore through me, the sun sparkling just above. I try to remember that I chose to be here. I sink into the sand and breathe slowly, cupping my hands over my mouth and breathing hard as tears roll down my cheeks. When none of it works, when it still feels as if my brain is covered in thousands of scuttling beetles, I text Laurel to ask her to come over. At the last minute I add another line: Bring some of our old friends.

I never said I was very good at protecting myself.


Laurel pulls out two bottles of Casamigos tequila and a large vial of white powder. She places it all on the glass table in front of the sofa and smiles at me innocently.

“I assumed you meant these old friends, because we hate everyone else.”

I look for a couple of glasses in the kitchen even though I know I don’t have any, and I can feel the familiar anticipation building in my chest. This is what it used to be like, back when I did this every night. Sometimes I wanted feverish pain and sometimes I wanted blinding euphoria, and then there were the times I just wanted to feel my body jerk and burn as I threw up. I wonder what type of night it will be tonight.

“I don’t have any glasses,” I say as I sit next to Laurel on the sofa. She pulls the stopper out of the tequila and has a long swig before she passes it to me. I have a smaller sip, and it burns the back of my throat as it hits.

“How are you finding your new home?” Laurel asks, with obvious distaste as she racks up a couple of lines. She remembers how I like mine, skinny and long. I keep my eyes trained on the coke, ignoring her question.

“If Dylan the Saint could see us now,” she says when I lean over to snort mine using the straw she passes me. The coke tastes metallic, cut with something petrol-like, hopefully not actual petrol.

“Did you go to rehab last year?” she asks after doing her own line, which is much smaller than mine. I shake my head, wishing she’d stop talking for a minute so that I could feel the adrenaline make way for the strange buzzing calm, closely followed by an intense spike in clarity.

“For fuck’s sake, Grace, talk to me.”

“I told you, I went to my parents’.”

“For the entire year? You were in Anaheim for a year. Less than one hour away. What were you doing there?”

I try to remember. What was I doing there? Now I can feel the coke flooding through me. My skin feels tingly, and I’m already clenching my jaw, so I grab the bottle of tequila and have another swig. It’s always a balancing act between the two. Too much coke and you feel on edge, too much alcohol and you feel weighed down.

“I think I was trying to make my parents like me.”

“Did it work?” Laurel is talking faster now, leaning toward me. Urgency drills through me, and it’s bordering on too intense, and I know that the only way to harness it is to grab it quickly and channel it somewhere. I focus on Laurel, the concern in her eyes that I’m only now thinking may actually be real. I always get everything wrong.

“My mom said it was ‘illuminating’ spending so much time with me.”

“As in, you lit up the entire house?”