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I nod and then I quickly turn around, pushing open the door and running as fast as I can to the first crossing on PCH. The paparazzo is only three seconds behind me and I can hear the frenzied clicking of his camera. At this point I have a choice between running across four lanes of fast-moving traffic in my Crocs, or being a sitting target for him while I wait for the light to change. I look down at the sweat marks on my stained shirt, the brown paper bag in my hand with grease spots already soaking through, and I make my choice. The first lane is clear so I run straight through it, slowing to weave in between two cars in the second. A car honks at me, and someone shouts something imperceptible out the window.

“What are you doing, you crazy bitch?” the photographer shouts after me, and even through the traffic sounds, I can hear how much he’s enjoying himself. Cars honk at me as they speed past, hot air whipping my face. I wait half a second and then I take the third lane, ducking in front of a VW camper van moving more slowly than the rest. One more lane to go. I can taste the sweat on my lip as I spot my moment, after a black Range Rover with no traffic behind it. I have timed it perfectly, ready to duck behind it as soon as it passes, when the driver spots me and panics. She slams on the brakes and I catch the rear bumper with my thigh. I tumble to the ground but I’m not hurt; in fact, I feel amazing, invincible, like a superhero stopping traffic. I jump up and streak across the road and into the woodland opposite me. I think I can still get down to Coyote Sumac this way, but the paparazzo won’t know that’s where I’m going.

The wooded area is cooler, shaded by pines and eucalyptus trees. I run through the thicket, navigating the dry, crumbling hill down to my house in my Crocs. Its starting to feel unnecessary, tripping over branches and rocks like I’m fleeing a monster, but I can’t risk the photographer finding out where I live and camping out, waiting for me to do something dumb again. The adrenaline is slowly wearing off, replaced by the anxious fog from the night before.

When I get to the bottom of the hill, I realize that I made a shitty decision, running like a wild animal instead of handling the situation. My frazzled, drug-addled brain finally catches up with what just happened when I stop moving and sit down on the steps of my porch. The photographer isn’t anywhere near me because he was never following me. He didn’t have to because he’d already got what he needed. I open the paper bag in my hand. I dropped the motherfucking slice of pizza when I was crossing the road.


I turn my phone off like Esme taught me, knowing that it’s just a matter of time before the calls and texts come from Laurel and Nathan, asking why I so happily exposed myself like that, running across the road like someone was threatening to give me a lobotomy if I didn’t make it over at that exact moment.

I change into a black T-shirt and a pair of Levi’s that I have to leave unzipped because they don’t fit me anymore, and I settle on my sofa with a jar of peanut butter and a banana. I am alternating bites of banana with gratifying spoonfuls of thick, claggy peanut butter when there’s a knock at my front door.

I wipe my hands on my jeans and warily open the door. Emilia is standing on my doorstep, carrying three full Whole Foods canvas bags. When I see her looking, I pull the black T-shirt down over my exposed stomach.

“Oh God. It’s worse than I thought,” she says, pushing past me and heaving the bags onto the Formica countertop of my kitchenette.

“What is?” I ask defensively.

“Sorry, darling, I didn’t mean to sound rude. It’s just, I saw how you inhaled those eggs yesterday and I figured you don’t have anyone around to . . . do anything for you. I always got the impression that Dylan looked after you. I don’t know, the thought of you being here on your own broke my heart.”

My face heats up with shame that Emilia would be the person to identify that I’m not coping in some significant, crucial way and would try to fix me. I wonder if Able knows Emilia is here and whether she’s already told him how lonely, how tragically incapable, I am.

“I’m okay,” I say as Emilia opens the kitchen cabinets. I know that they are all empty except for the one above the sink that houses the dusty thermos lid that was here when I moved in. Emilia pulls out four beautiful peach-colored plates from one of the canvas bags, and stacks them in the shelf next to the oven. While she’s doing it, I nudge a pile of empty pizza boxes underneath the table with my foot, and Emilia pretends not to see.

“I’ve got you some things but we’re going to need to order more. Unless you think you won’t be here for too long?”

I just shake my head in response, thinking of the look on Dylan’s face when he saw the scene in my living room earlier.

“Okay. That’s fine. I think this could be great for you. A life-defining moment. I’m going to start unpacking, and you just stop me if you don’t like any of it, because Silver will eat it. She’d eat our neighbor’s dog if I let her, I swear to God. Just like her father.”

She stacks my fridge with mainly green things, kale, spinach, avocados and other dark leafy vegetables, and then she fills my empty cupboards with dried pasta, beans and rice, and cans of organic soup.

“You know, I actually spoke to Able this morning, and, between you and me, he’s freaking out about John Hamilton’s next movie. They’ve always had a friendly rivalry, you knew that, right? And everyone is talking about this new project of John’s like it’s the answer to the great myth of the universe, and it’s so different from the one Able’s working on that it’s really thrown him. I can tell he’s nervous because he’s asked me to fly out to Utah next week so that I can be there when he shows his new producers the director’s cut. Able’s already had some problems with them, so he’s worried they’re going to be difficult about it. You know how protective he is of his ‘vision.’”

I note the slight rush I feel at the thought of Able having any sort of crisis in confidence, even though I know it won’t last long. I try to memorize Emilia’s words anyway, storing them up to devour later like scraps of food.

As she talks, Emilia takes out a carton of eggs, a pint of cream, butter and some salt and pepper in deep blue grinders, and she lays them out on the surface next to the oven. She finds a frying pan in a drawer that I didn’t know existed and she washes it in the sink, using her fingers to pull off the flakes of old grease stuck to it. When she’s finished, she wipes her hands on her jeans and turns to me.

“Is your boiler working? The water’s cold.”

“I had a hot shower earlier . . .” I say, remembering the water burning my shoulders as I curled up on the shower floor. I make a note to locate the boiler once Emilia has left, even though I don’t know what I’m looking for.

“It should last longer than that. Let me send my guy around to look at it,” she says, then laughs. “Listen to me—‘my guy.’ It’s a plumber, for God’s sake. I’ve been in this city too long.”

She puts the frying pan on the stove and lights one of the rings, after a couple of attempts.

“I didn’t realize how close you were. We’re practically neighbors,” she says, dropping a peel of butter into the pan.

“I can see your house from here,” I say, but she’s not really listening to me.

“When you buy eggs at the grocery store, you have to open the carton to see if any of them are broken, okay?” she says, then glances at me to check whether it’s okay that she’s doing this. After that she carries on more confidently. “Some people use milk instead of cream when they make eggs, but the increase in calories is negligible when you take into account how much of a difference it makes to the taste. I’m from the East Coast, and we just don’t buy into all that crap. If you go into a coffee shop in Connecticut and ask for anything other than full-fat cow’s milk, they’ll just think you’re a millennial snowflake.”

She turns back around and starts to stir the mixture with a fork. I pretend not to watch as I lean against the fridge. A strange, adrenaline-fueled disappointment sets in, and I have to force myself not to say anything that will lead back to Able. I forgot how familiar picking at the scab feels, and the realization that this might be what sustains me causes me to burn with shame.

“Did your mom teach you to cook anything?”

“I left home before she really had the chance,” I say, and I think Emilia winces slightly. I decide not to mention that when I was back there I didn’t want to let on just how incapable I was to either of them, how poor a job I’d done growing up without them.

“You know, I remember that dinner at Nobu as if it were yesterday. It’s funny how the mind works, isn’t it?” Emilia muses as she stirs with the same baby-blue spatula she used at her place. “Your mom is such a character and so beautiful.”

“Yeah, I guess she is.”

“You look like her, you know.”

I try not to think of my mother now—the empty look on her face as she watches TV all day, the bones jutting out of her tiny frame.

“We’ve had some problems,” I say, before I know I’m going to, and I’m annoyed once I’ve said it. Emilia looks over her shoulder in concern. She drops the spatula onto the countertop and turns around to face me.

“Well, I’m sure it will work out just fine. She’s very lucky to have you as a daughter,” she says, as confident in her assessment of my abilities as a daughter as she is about everything else.