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“I don’t . . . Did you speak about it with . . . Able?” I ask, wondering if Emilia will notice the uneven edge to my voice when I say his name.

“He thinks it’s a great idea,” Emilia says confidently, in a way that makes me think she hasn’t told him. I wonder what he’d say, whether he’d be able to tell her it was a bad idea without a valid reason or better option. Even I can see that Emilia is right; objectively there is no more suitable, no more press-worthy option for the event than to have me present the award to Able. I try to picture the look on his face as he comes up to the podium. Would he even be scared of me? Or would he never believe in a million years that I would expose him, knowing it would mean destroying myself in the process?

“You don’t have to say yes now, but wouldn’t it be perfect?”

“It could be,” I say, staring into the water in front of me as all of the nerves in my body start to tingle, making me feel as if I could peel off my skin at the kitchen table and step right out of it if I wanted to. “Perfect.”


So, I think it’s pretty simple. You just press this button and point the camera in the right direction,” I say, watching as Esme turns the camera over in her hands and studies the back closely. We are sitting in a lobster shack on PCH, and I’m not sure she can actually hear me over the noise of different football games blaring from twenty screens around the restaurant. I had a shower before I came out, and my hair is hanging in wet clumps above my shoulders, dripping down the back of my oversized T-shirt.

“There’s a ton more options than that, Grace, but I guess that’s the general idea,” she says, shaking her head while I signal for the waitress.

“Smart-ass,” I mutter as I scan the menu, even though I’m trying not to laugh. We order a small seafood platter to share.

“Why was this so urgent?” Esme asks, holding up the camera. “I had to bribe Blake to drive me here outside of her therapy schedule.”

“I don’t know, I just wanted you to have it,” I say, already losing faith in my idea. “How’s Anaheim?”

“Still Anaheim. The most barren of cultural wastelands,” Esme says importantly, as if she heard the phrase somewhere and memorized it. For some reason I think of Emilia, how I could deliver the phrase to make her laugh, even though making fun of where my parents live is always a cheap shot.

“How’s Mom?”

“Why don’t you call her and ask her yourself?”

“It’s complicated,” I say.

“Don’t bullshit me, Grace. ‘It’s complicated’ is what adults say when they don’t have an answer.”

“Are you . . . mad at her sometimes?” I ask slowly.

Esme turns her phone over and traces the sparkly Union Jack on the back of the case with her finger.

“Sometimes,” she says eventually.

I change the subject before she can ask me the same question.

“How are you feeling about going back to school soon?”

Esme glances at me, then back down at her chipped fingernails, which were once glittery gold.

“Unfortunately, school is the least of my problems. There’s a loose behavioral code that most people adhere to when faced with another human. That goes out the window when said human is replaced by a screen.”

“What are they doing now?”

“Honestly, Grace? I appreciate that you want to help, but I just don’t know if I can explain it to you. I’m totally aware that it’s this ‘different world’ from hearing Dad say it four hundred million times, but it’s also impossible for me to put it into perspective for you. Like movies and TV shows about kids my age? If they were actually trying to show our real lives, it would literally just be a bunch of kids staring at their phones. They’ll have to stop making movies about kids born past the year 2000.”

“It can’t be that bad,” I say, aiming for soothing but unsurprisingly not pulling it off.

“You have no idea. This is like trying to talk about Bitcoin to someone out of a Jane Austen novel. You’re bubble girl,” Esme says, eyeing me with disgust. I try not to show my surprise at her anger, and I realize I was probably the same when I was her age. Maybe I still am.

“It’s like they forget that I’m a human. Or that they are. This whole generation is screwed.”

I want to tell her that she’s lucky she has a generation and that she isn’t just some weird outlier who can’t relate to anyone, but I know it won’t work out well for me. Instead, I swirl my straw around in my drink to buy myself some time. I was never exposed to any of the things she’s talking about, and I have no idea how different my life would be if I had. Maybe I would feel less alone, but more likely it would have been just one more way to ruin everything.

“You have access to billions of people, though, right? Can’t you just connect with the good ones?”

Esme frowns, concentrating as she tears off a corner of the white paper tablecloth. I hope she doesn’t start to cry. “It doesn’t work like that,” she says. “I’m at school with them. You have to play by their rules, but the rules change every day. You can’t win.”

“Do you want me to talk to Mom about transferring schools?”

“She’s never going to listen to you,” Esme says, rolling her eyes. It’s a little harsh for her to put it like that, even if it’s true.

“Does she know that we hang out . . . sometimes?” I ask.

Esme shrugs, and then shakes her head.

“I think it would hurt her feelings,” she says, and I don’t ask anything else.

The waitress arrives with our seafood platter. She places it on the table between us, and we both just stare as the dry ice steams off it like a cheap special effect.

“I just shouldn’t have sent that photo,” Esme says miserably. “I wish I could go back in time.”

I watch her, trying to figure out how to word what I say next, even though I’m losing confidence in the idea that felt so perfect when I thought of it last week. The right words feel just out of reach, and I feel stupid for thinking I’d be able to find them.

“I think I wanted you to have the camera so you could use it to tell your side of the story. I thought maybe it could help,” I say slowly.

“You know I can just film stuff on my phone.”

“I don’t know, I thought it could help to keep something separate from what’s happening in your phone. Is that na?ve?” I ask, realizing that this could be the equivalent of when I sliced the tip of my finger off during a shoot and my homeopathic on-set guardian gave me a cup of cinnamon powder to manage the pain. When Able found out, he fired her on the spot and called a doctor to come straight to the set. He waited with his arm wrapped tightly around my shoulders while the doctor gave me stitches, and he had such a gentle, fatherly expression on his face that I thought maybe everything would be okay after that.

“Kind of,” Esme says, and I pull my attention back to her because the memories of him being kind to me are always the worst ones.

“I’m just saying, I understand that sometimes the worst part of it all is that you lose control of your own story.”

Esme frowns and then holds the camera up to me. The red light is blinking.

“How do you know so much about this?” she asks, and I put my hand out to cover the lens. “Seriously, sister, tell all.”

“Come on, Esme.”

She wriggles away from me but flips the camera shut and puts it back on the table next to her plate.

“I’m just saying you seem to know a lot about this shit.”

I pick up a ring of calamari while I decide what to do. I put it in my mouth and chew it quickly, the hot oil inside the batter burning my tongue. Esme folds her arms across her chest, waiting for me.

“Do you remember back home in England when we used to lie on the grass and look up at the sky on Hampstead Heath?” I ask suddenly.

“I guess so, kind of,” Esme says, watching me strangely.

“Didn’t everything seem just so possible back then? Like we could do anything we ever wanted?”

“I guess?” Esme says, humoring me, and then she shrugs. “Remember I was just a kid, Grace.”

“Okay. Well, I remember, and the world felt pretty fucking big back then. But what if every time something bad happens, it just makes your world a little smaller.” I take a deep breath in because the words are tumbling out now, racing to catch up with each other. “Until some days, you can’t even see the sky anymore.”

“No, Grace. That’s not possible,” Esme says, looking at me as if I’m losing my mind. “Do you mean figuratively? What are you saying?”

I tear off a corner of the tablecloth, balling it up until it’s just a damp shred of paper in my palm. A silence stretches between us while I wonder whether we’ll ever understand each other implicitly again, or whether too much time has passed.

“Is this because of Able?” Esme asks quietly, and the air stops dead around me.

“What are you talking about?” I ask, each word a sliver of glass. I watch them float in between us for a moment before Esme meets my eyes defiantly. The shards fall onto the table.