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“Hey, Grace. Do you think maybe I was the vain sister in a past life?” Esme asks then, grinning smugly at me. I roll my eyes at her. Of course she thought my interview was idiotic.

The next dress Xtina hands me is yellow with long sleeves and a cream silk bow at the neck. I raise my eyebrows at Esme in the mirror, and she shakes her head slightly back at me. It’s too fussy, too prim.

“What about that one,” I say, pointing to a slithery gunmetal dress hanging at the end of a rail Xtina hasn’t touched since I’ve been here. The rail has been pushed into the corner of the room behind another rail filled with fake fur coats and brightly colored stoles.

Xtina shakes her head, playing with the end of her braid. “I’m sorry, that one doesn’t work.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s hard to explain, but only certain designers are available for certain clients and events.”

I wonder if someone else is wearing it, and that makes me want to wear it even more. Esme smirks at me in the mirror.

“I think she means that whoever designed it doesn’t want you to wear their clothes,” she says, trying not to laugh.

“Look at all this other stuff though!” Blake says loudly, pointing to the pile of dresses I’ve already tried on.

I walk over and touch the gunmetal dress, the heavy material surprisingly soft in my hand. It is made up of thousands of tiny sequins that give the overall impression of an impenetrable suit of armor.

“Can I try it on at least?” I ask, and Xtina nods at me, because even though my value is currently somewhere around basement level, she still works for me. I slip into the dress, and the fabric settles onto my skin, cool and slithery. The dress is skintight around my breasts and waist before skimming off my hips and around the softness of my belly, ending exactly at my toes. It is the first dress I’ve tried on today that hasn’t been chosen solely to mask my new “fuller” figure; dresses with sleeves that cover my upper arms, or capes cascading over my shoulders and down to the hem of the dress. As I stare at my reflection in the mirror, Xtina smiles reluctantly.

“It does look cute.” She holds her phone up and takes a photo of me. “I’ll send it to their PR and we’ll see what we can do, okay? No promises though.”

“Thank you,” I say, and I think they’ll let me wear it once they read the Vanity Fair interview.

Esme and Blake are watching me in the mirror.

“I’m loath to admit it,” I start, smiling at them both, maybe because I think my sister might even be impressed for once, “but this feels good.”

I turn slightly in the mirror so that the dress catches the light and shimmers back at me like a snake.

“Are you still going to do it?” Esme asks then, catching my eye. “Like we talked about?”

I frown at her and turn back to Xtina instead.

“Do you have anything I could wear over the next few days? I’ve got a couple of lunch meetings and things.”

“Let me think about it. I have another appointment now, but I can get some looks together and courier them over to you later? I feel like white is really working on you with that hair.”

I can feel Esme’s eyes on me as I change out of the dress and into my regular clothes, but I ignore her. I try not to think about her question, about what it would mean for the baby steps I’ve been taking to reclaim parts of my life I thought I lost years ago. I think about Emilia’s fierce, seemingly unconditional belief in me, and I know that its value is something my sister would never be able to understand because she’s never lacked it from my parents, and I try not to resent her for it.

“What?” I ask eventually, when we’re in the elevator going down to the lobby, because Esme is still studying me as if she’s trying to work something out.

“Nothing. I just thought you said that none of this stuff was real,” she says.

“Of course it’s not,” I say. “It’s all bullshit.”

“You sure seem to be enjoying it a lot for someone who thinks that,” Esme says sort of smugly, as if she’s won a debate I didn’t even know we were having.


In my experience, women who don’t say a lot are one of two things—exceptionally stupid or exceptionally smart. I figure you’re the latter, but nobody has given you the chance to show it,” John Hamilton says as he leans back in the wicker chair on his deck. We are at his house at the very top of the hills, so high up that the air feels thinner and the city unfolds beneath us like a game of Chutes and Ladders. John claims that the house was owned by a famous pop singer before him, the evidence to prove this being four Grammys left behind, because wherever she was going, she didn’t need them anymore.

“Mmm,” I say. The hot tub is bubbling away next to us, but I pretend not to notice. “And that’s just women?”

“Well, women are more extreme than men, wouldn’t you agree? There are a lot of mediocre men in this town, and not enough brilliant women.” John smiles winningly at me, and I can’t work out if what he said was actually an improvement because I’m blinded by his little marshmallow teeth, incongruously set somewhere in the middle of his large, fleshy face.

“You must have met my agent and manager then,” I say, and he just stares at me.


“Mediocre men?”

“Ahhh. Ha. Ha ha, that’s funny,” John says, folding his arms across his chest. “See . . . ? You’re smart.”

I nod, wondering if I’m supposed to congratulate him on being smart enough to notice my smartness.

“Speaking of smart, that was a great interview you did,” John says then, and I look at him, surprised that he bothered to read it.

“It’s already Vanity Fair’s most shared piece this week,” I say, remembering now that Nathan told me to mention this. I hope I worded it correctly.

“That’s great. Like I said, it was a good move. So tell me . . . how much weight have you actually put on . . . ten, fifteen pounds?” John asks, his eyes narrowed as he assesses me. I can’t quite believe that this was his only takeaway from the interview, but, then again, maybe I can. I try to keep my face open, even though John must weigh nearly three hundred pounds himself and hardly seems qualified to be making this assessment. He smiles approvingly after a moment.

“Emilia told me it suited you and it does. Some women can’t carry it off, but your face is . . . I don’t know. Less harsh. You look like you could play a suburban mom now instead of the school drug dealer. A beautiful, young suburban mom, but you know . . . Hey, it’s a compliment,” he adds when I don’t respond, because I’m thinking about how glad I am that everyone feels so qualified to comment on my appearance in this way. I wonder whether all women are subjected to the same running commentary on their weight, or whether it’s reserved solely for the complicit, those of us trading in our looks for cash.

“So the project . . . ?” I say after a moment.

“Are you single right now?” John says, leaning back in his chair.

“Excuse me?”

John is sitting with his knees spread wide and his arms behind his head. He is both excessively comfortable in his own space and assured of his own power. I should stand up and thank him for his time, then walk out before he has the chance to demean me any more, but instead I am leaning toward him, my ten-to-fifteen-pounds-overweight body curving in on itself while I work hard to keep my tone light, my forehead uncreased, my jaw defined.

“You and Dylan . . . you guys broke up, right? I was sorry to hear it. I thought about hiring Dylan on this movie, give him that step up into features, but then I heard you guys were done, and I wanted you for the project more.”

“I think Dylan wants to stick to documentaries, actually,” I say, and I can hear how defensive I sound. I start again. “Tell me about the project, John. I really can’t wait to hear about it.”

“All right. You’re focused, that’s a good start. So it’s called Anatopia, and it’s this epic love story set in space. There are four planets that make up the dystopian galaxy of Anatopia: Neutron, Hydron, Platon and Euron. You’re Sienna, queen of Euron, and you’re at war with the other planets, only you’ve fallen in love with the son of the leader of Neutron. Your sworn enemy—”

“What are we at war over?”

“What?” he says, unimpressed at having been interrupted.

“What are we fighting about?”

“We’re still finessing the details,” he says. “We had a script but we weren’t happy with some parts of it, so we’re looking at some different names for a rewrite. Big names.”

“Big names! The biggest names you’ve ever seen!” I say, and he frowns at me.


“Trump?” I say, grimacing. “I’m sorry, I think I’m nervous.”

John starts to laugh, thumping his hand against his thigh so animatedly that the housekeeper comes out to check on him.

“Agnes, great. Another La Croix for me—you want one, Grace? And can we get some of those smoked almonds, the ones with the low sodium? Don’t bring them out if they’re not low sodium—I’ll be able to tell.”