Page 35

In a way, it is sort of the whole truth, but Emilia is still waiting, her head tilted to one side. I remember now that she was a reporter for years.

“He wanted me to be someone I couldn’t be. I could never live up to his perfect vision because I’d had . . . a life before him,” I finish quickly, because I don’t know what else I can say.

Emilia studies me for a moment.

“Well, isn’t that just the most absurdly male quality,” she says finally. “So you weren’t saving yourself for Dylan. They always want to be the first to discover anything. They want to be Christopher Columbus or Neil Armstrong. They want to stick a flag in it and own it.”

I look at her, surprised by her tone, and I can tell that she wants a back-and-forth, but the pressure of it all, of having this conversation with the only other woman who may have been able to stop it all if she’d known, is paralyzing.

“I have trust issues,” I say lamely, wiping my palms on my jeans.

“Don’t we all,” Emilia says lightly, but before either of us can dwell on it, she’s speaking again. “And what’s happening with work? Are you looking for your next project?”

I shrug, avoiding meeting her gaze. Emilia seems frustrated with my ineptitude, and I have to work harder to pretend I don’t care than I do with most people. I know that she’s trying to understand exactly what happened to me, but it’s the one thing I can’t tell her. I need to take control of the conversation, but I can never seem to find the right thing to say around her.

“Grace, I know it seems like I’m being nosy, but I just can’t help but feel like we’re similar in so many ways, and that I could help you. I’ve been where you are now, and sometimes when I look at you, I see your vulnerability so clearly that it rattles my insides, do you know what I mean?”

“I guess so,” I say as Emilia’s pale eyes stare into mine.

“You know, I never said I’m sorry,” she says, blinking for a moment, as if to dismiss an unpleasant memory. “I told your parents that I would look after you, but I didn’t. Everything after the twins were born is a little . . . hazy. If I’m being honest, it was a shock that none of it came easily to me, and I just had to focus on getting through each day for a while. But you were too young to be alone, and I shouldn’t have made a promise I couldn’t keep. So I am. Sorry, I mean.”

I shrug, staring down at the tiled floor, not trusting myself to speak.

“And now I’m going to offer my help to you in any way that I can, just on the off chance that one day you may feel like accepting it. It may not feel like it right now, but your life is only just beginning, Grace, and all this is my incredibly convoluted way of telling you that I’m not giving up on you, do you understand?”

Emilia’s blinkered faith in me is palpable, a third presence in the room, and I try to ignore the warmth that spreads through me without my permission. I know this sort of promise doesn’t mean anything.

“What do you mean that we’re alike?” I ask slowly.

“Well,” Emilia starts, putting her head to one side. “Do you know that I left my parents behind too? They couldn’t have been less impressed when I told them I was moving to LA. They would have preferred I was crawling the streets, as long as I stayed in New England while I was doing it, I swear to God. Good thing they didn’t know about the trashy books back then.”

“I don’t know if I left my parents behind, exactly,” I say, because it’s always been more complicated than that.

“Maybe you didn’t mean to, but we all do in the end,” Emilia says, raising her eyebrows. “And for me, it was because I cared too much about what they thought. Not caring at all is so much easier.”

“About anything?”

Emilia frowns slightly. “About what you can’t control.”

“What if you can’t control any of it?” I ask, and Emilia studies me then, thinking about her answer.

“You know that at some point you have to make a choice. Life can be cruel and, even worse, random, and if the only way to get through it is to protect yourself, to find the good where you can and just forget about the rest, then is that such a bad thing?”

“I don’t know if that’s ever been an option for me,” I say, staring down at the melting ice cubes in my glass. Suddenly, I feel inexplicably sad to realize that maybe Emilia really does know exactly who I am, and still wants to be around me. That somehow she understands me better than anyone else, and, in another reality, we could have been friends. I can feel Emilia’s eyes on me before she drains her own glass, and I realize that I’ve broken my ninety-minute rule by at least three hours at this point. I’ve outstayed my welcome and I’m about to dispel the myth that is Grace Turner, if I’m not careful. I take a deep breath and piece her back together, trying to appear interested but ultimately untroubled by whatever Emilia has to say next.

“Well, I think we can both agree at least that you need to start working again, and whatever it is needs to be so dazzling, so outstanding, that nobody in the industry will be able to ignore you,” she says brightly. “I know Able was just devastated when there wasn’t a role for you in this movie. I saw what it did to him.”

“What did it do to him?” I ask, my heart pounding in my chest.

“Well, it broke his heart,” she says, having a sip of her drink. “Of course it did.”

Like hell it did. The silence in the room feels heavy, but I don’t rush to fill it.

“Look, I know Able can be difficult,” Emilia starts slowly, as if she’s reading my mind. “But it’s easy to forget that he didn’t have the traditional upbringing that we had. Honestly, it still surprises me how insecure he is, even after all this time. You’re probably the only other person in the world that knows the full extent of it.”

Insecure. I roll the word over in my mind a few times, basking in its familiarity. I understand better than anyone how tempting it is to view Able’s behavior as the natural outcome of his insecurity—the result of some trauma, some life-defining humiliation that occurred in his early childhood. We are all primed to seek order, causation, in this way, but it is only ever to comfort ourselves: Able seeks power because he was born with nothing. Grace is a disaster because she was broken. Grace was broken because she wanted too much. Be good and dream small and it could never, ever happen to you. I silently reject Emilia’s hypothesis even as I’m nodding at her words.

“I have a meeting, with someone else,” I say slowly. Emilia leans forward in anticipation.

“What’s the project?” she asks.

“It’s the new John Hamilton project,” I say, before I can stop myself from lying. “That one you mentioned the other day. It’s kind of feminist and subversive, and he really wants me for a role. I think it’s a black comedy.”

“Grace! That’s fantastic. That would be perfect. Subversive and funny would be ideal—I always thought you would be outstanding in a comedic role. You’re so funny when you want to be, and it’s such a waste not to use that timing.”

I smile slightly, because her claims are both generous and wildly inaccurate, and she squeezes my shoulders from behind on her way to the wine fridge. “How sly of you not to have mentioned it the other day! I need to remember what a talented actor you are.”

Emilia selects a bottle of Sancerre and turns back to me.

“That’s just reminded me actually—I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something . . .”

I try not to tense as I wait for her to finish.

“You know when you wake up at five a.m. and can’t get back to sleep because everything you’ve ever said or done comes hurtling back into your mind to haunt you?” Emilia asks. I nod but I don’t tell her that she’s just described every waking moment of my life.

“Well, the other night, that happened to me, and I was thinking that of course you should be the one to present Able with his lifetime achievement award. Doesn’t that make sense to you? He always did his best work with you.” Emilia leans forward again, taking my hand in hers. Her touch is smooth and warm.

I stare down at the table, my fingers tracking the grooves filled with glitter from arts and crafts sessions.

“It could also be just what you need too. To get back out there after . . . missing it all last year. You know? The show is on January eighth, so you have exactly a month to decide.”

“I have to think about it,” I say quietly, all the while telling myself that there’s no way she knows about any of it, that this could never be Emilia’s warped way of assuaging some of her guilt.

“Of course,” Emilia says soothingly. “Take as long as you need. A friend of mine is heading up the committee this year and she just asked me who would be most appropriate to do the honors, but if you don’t feel ready, then we can always find someone else.”