“Where on earth did you come from, Gracie?”
I try to concentrate as Emilia tells me the address of the school, and how I need to ignore Silver when she tries to sit in the front of the car, but my mind is already somewhere else. Sometimes, things start to fall into place so naturally, so neatly, it’s as if you have been planning them that way all along, without ever realizing it.
* * *
? ? ?
I’d like to tell you that I didn’t go straight home and put on an eighties-style red bodysuit with a pair of vintage Levi’s jean shorts and a Gucci belt. That I didn’t run a brush through my hair, choose my best pair of sunglasses, the black ones with the gold rim, or that I didn’t apply a slash of bright red lipstick just before I left the house. I’d like to tell you that I didn’t wave to Emilia from the car as if nothing had changed, that I didn’t text Laurel with the address and time of the school drop-off. That I didn’t smile directly into the lens when the photographer started taking photos. That it didn’t cross my mind that the image would be circulated instantly, tearing through social media like the Napa Valley wildfires. That I had no idea Able would see them.
But I would be lying, of course.
Am I angry? All the time.
* * *
? ? ?
Once I’ve handed the girls over to a blond teacher I think I recognize from an episode of CSI, I drive back to my rental. I make myself some scrambled eggs the way Emilia taught me, and then I sit on the porch and stare at the plate, waiting. At five p.m., Laurel messages me a link. There is a story online about me being back in LA and looking better than ever. The main image is a photo of me holding each of the girls’ hands and leading them from my car, followed by smaller images of me handing them over to the teacher. I do look good, smiling widely with my white hair glittering under the LA sunshine, my eyes covered in black sunglasses. The girls’ faces have been blurred, but you can clearly see Silver’s sparkly sneakers and the twins’ bright red hair.
Laurel sends me a couple more links, the last one a piece reporting that I left town because Able and I were having an affair. The photo they’ve used is one from the Lights of Berlin premiere in London, Emilia and I on either side of a frowning Able. Emilia’s mouth is open because she’s in the middle of a sentence, and her makeup is wrong for the lighting—her skin coated in a bright white powder that catches the flash. I look relaxed on the other side of Able, and my perfectly made-up lips are pulled into a small, glossy smile. I try to remember the dread I felt when I was posing for the picture, but the memory feels out of reach now that I’m looking at the evidence.
The story is from a trashy, disreputable website, but the thought that Able could be reading it, too, that he might be the one who is scared, powerless to stop whatever move is next, makes me feel more alive than I have in years. That’s when I receive a message from a number not saved in my phone, the only one I will never be able to erase.
What are you doing???
The inevitability of his words nearly winds me, because isn’t this what I’ve been waiting for this whole time?
I delete the message before I can count the question marks or think about where he is, whether he can get to me again. Maybe from now on, Able can be the one to wait, to have to guess my next move. Maybe my time for winning has only just begun.
How did you find me?” I ask when I open the door to find Camila, the journalist from Vanity Fair, standing on my doorstep the next morning. I have just woken up from a night of fractured, adrenaline-laced sleep, and I’m unconfident in my ability to handle this interaction. I look around for someone to save me, but the other residents of Coyote Sumac are all either already in the water or still in bed.
“I asked around,” Camila says, and she seems calmer than when I first met her. “Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.”
I smile wryly because we both know why she’s here.
“I’m actually on my way out,” I say then, even though I’m clearly still in my pajamas.
“I saw the stories about you and Able.”
“It’s just trash, Camila,” I say, folding my arms across my chest.
Camila studies me for a moment before changing tack. She leans in toward me and starts to speak softly. “Look, I want to be clear with you. I am going ahead with a story about the systemic abuse of power in Hollywood, and it is up to you whether you want to be part of it or not. I don’t need you, but I would like your voice to be heard. I have a former colleague of his implying that your relationship with Able wasn’t strictly professional. I also have an eyewitness account that he bullied you on the set of every movie you worked on together.”
I curl my trembling hands into fists by my sides.
“Without my side of the story, that’s just conjecture. I thought Vanity Fair had higher journalistic standards than that.”
Camila watches me, sensing my hesitation.
“You’re still trying to force me to do something, you know,” I say quietly. “I still don’t have control over it.”
Camila pauses. “I’m trying to give you the choice. Can you understand that?”
Of course I understand that Camila isn’t trying to catch me out. She’s just like the rest of us, trying to match her job to her ambition, without thinking about the fallout for anyone else. It’s just, when I think of the message from Able last night, the thrilling sensation that ran through me at the sight of those four words, it makes me wonder something . . . Why am I always the one who has to jeopardize everything I’ve built for myself? Why can’t Able suffer in silence for once while waiting for my next move, as his loved ones quietly pull away from him like he’s a virus nobody wants to catch? Why should I be the only person with nobody in the world to turn to?
What are you doing???
I’m closing in on you.
“I’m not ready,” I say slowly. “But I might be able to give you something else. Do you want to come inside?”
* * *
? ? ?
We plan the shoot in under twenty-four hours. Emilia instantly agrees to let me use the peach house for our location, as I knew she would. She is due to fly to Salt Lake City for Able’s screening that evening, so the twins are already at a sleepover with a friend from school, and she jumps at the chance to help me out. I wonder what Able will think when he sees the interview and photos of me in his house. Whether he can feel me circling ever closer to him even from all these states away.
When I arrive at the peach house, Emilia throws open the door. She looks immaculate again, more than ready to charm whomever I need her to.
“Did you see the stories about us all?” she asks, laughing, and I wonder what it would be like to feel so sure of your own place in the world that you never once paused to question anybody’s intentions.
“I’d hoped you hadn’t seen them,” I say, because it isn’t necessarily a lie.
“Oh, trust me, we’ve all been in this business long enough to know that reporters just tell whatever story they want to tell. It will blow over, just try not to worry. They can sense your fear.”
“I’m not scared,” I say, wondering whether it could be true this time.
“I know, darling, of course you’re not,” she says, and I immediately feel embarrassed, like I’m a sulky teenager whose ego needs to be stroked. Somehow I always seem to say the wrong thing around Emilia, even though she tries her best not to let me realize it. I force a smile, trying to piece my facade back together.
“Thank you for letting me do this here. Honestly, I couldn’t let anyone see my dump of a house,” I say, and Emilia instantly waves her hand in the air.
“Oh, please, don’t mention it again.”
* * *
? ? ?
I have promised Camila an exclusive on the reason I left Los Angeles, the state of my marriage and a vague confirmation of the demons everyone now suspects I have. It’s not exactly what she wanted, but it’s an exclusive all the same: a rare glimpse into the life of someone notoriously private. As I wait for her to arrive, I sit cross-legged on the sofa and give myself a pep talk: Make yourself seem fragile at times but never broken. Don’t demand anything of Camila, or the people who are going to read the profile. There’s nothing more desperate than a celebrity seeking the validation of strangers. Forget the notion that she wanted to talk to you and therefore you don’t need to sell yourself. Remember that you always need to sell yourself. Keep your jaw pushed forward to avoid a double chin, and don’t frown too much. Seem uncomplicated and appealing and, above all, grateful for everything the public has given you. Never mention how quick they were to take it away.
“Are you feeling okay about this?” Emilia says as she passes behind the sofa, touching me gently on the shoulder.