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“I’m sorry, something still isn’t working. Can we take the makeup off?”

“Sure,” I say as an assistant appears to hand me a face wipe. I can tell by the slight grimace on his face that his empathy levels are too high, that he probably feels things too strongly for this industry.

I turn around and wipe my makeup off, trying to compose myself. I know this is the thing I can do, the one thing that always came naturally to me. The assistant holds his hand out, and I drop the dirty face wipe into his palm.

“Do you mind if I go to the bathroom quickly?” I ask, and John checks his Rolex before waving me in the direction of the public toilets. I walk past him, ignoring the crew setting up on my way, some of whom stop what they’re doing to stare at me.

The toilet seat is yellowing, cheap, but I never actually learned to squat, so I unzip my jeans and sit straight onto it. I try not to cry out when my skin gets caught in one of the cracks in the seat. I feel like I can’t get enough air into my lungs, and I wish I’d listened in all those meditation classes Laurel made me do, but I could never seem to get the right parts to expand when they were supposed to.

While I’m peeing, two women walk in. One is wearing a red latex bodysuit and a tiny matching mask over her eyes, and her hair is scraped back into a ponytail heavy with extensions spilling down her back, nearly to her waist. The other one is dressed normally, and from the way she hovers around the first woman, I figure she’s probably her assistant or an old friend from school she brings with her for support.

I watch them both through the gap in the door, realizing that the woman in the mask is the lead actress in the film they’re reshooting in the parking lot. She was on a huge network TV show for a couple of years, and Nathan told me she had left it to make the move into features, booking John’s action movie as her first role. She’s a couple of years younger than me, and she seems glossy, uncomplicated, enjoying it more than I ever could, but maybe I’m too quick to judge.

“Did you see her?” she says, addressing her friend, while still staring at herself in the mirror.

“She looks different. Kind of like a caricature of herself?” the friend says, her words peeling up at the end as she watches the actress for cues.

“Right,” the actress says, leaning in and dusting something from her cheek. “But I think she’s still kind of beautiful. There’s something eerie about her.”

The friend leans in closer. “You know I heard they’ve already cast the role she’s auditioning for. I think they’re only seeing her today as a favor to someone.”

“Shit. And I heard she overdosed last year,” the actress says, making a sympathetic noise at the end.

“Did you read that interview she did? She seemed kind of unhinge—”

I cough loudly before flushing the toilet and unlocking the toilet door. The two women are horrified but they recover quickly, and the actress holds her arms out to embrace me even though we’ve never met and I haven’t washed my hands yet. I stand stiffly and let her hug me anyway, catching the eyes of my reflection in the mirror as I do. That’s when, from nowhere, I hear Emilia’s voice, as clear as if she were standing next to me in the bathroom.

They don’t want you to win.

* * *

? ? ?

I walk back into the corner of the parking lot and stand on my mark. Nobody is looking at me anymore, punishment for wasting their time while I was in the bathroom.

“I’m ready,” I say. “Give me one more take.”

The assistant turns the camera back on, and the producer stands behind it. I drop the script onto the floor at my feet and inhale a deep, shuddering breath.

They don’t want you to win.

I let the negative energy bubble up inside me, summoning it, trying to mold it into something else: a protective shield of armor around me. They don’t want you to win. I breathe in and out, every nerve in my body firing until I start to fill the whole fucking parking lot with my light, soaring above these people and their impatience, their passive-aggressive power moves and their time commitments. I channel Sienna, queen of Euron, gathering her strength to defeat the final galaxy, her reluctance to lead ending up being the very source of her strength.

“I never asked for any of this, don’t you understand that?” I start, and my voice rings out, clear and perfect through the air. I can see the assistant glance quickly at me out of the corner of my eye, but I keep my gaze focused on the producer, burning into him with every word I say. “I’ve always seen it as a sign of weakness. That people who want too much of anything are flawed.”

My words cut through the open structure like flaming arrows, pulsing out of my body one after the other at lightning speed until they create a ring of fire around me. The casting director puts her phone down and watches me with interest. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as the power flows through me in intense waves.

“But after what they’ve done, do you think I have any choice? That I have any other possible life to live?” I continue, my eyes filling with tears as I say the lines because at least I know now that nobody can take this away from me, however hard they try. This is what I do.

“So you ask me why I want to win this war, and I’ll tell you this: I never once wanted to rule over Anatopia. It is my destiny.”

When I’m finished there is a silence, before the casting director turns off the camera and John nods approvingly.

“Great job, Grace,” he says warmly. “Do you want to watch any of it back?”

I shake my head. I already know I nailed it from the look on his face.


I park on a side street off Melrose, underneath a blossomless jacaranda tree, and check the directions to the restaurant that Laurel texted me. I feel invigorated from the audition, as if I’ve just remembered who I am after the longest time away. As I walk, I call Emilia to fill her in on my screen test, but it rings through to her voicemail. I haven’t heard from her since our talk in her kitchen yesterday, but I feel so relieved about that now, too, safe in the knowledge that I made the right decision in not telling her the truth. Maybe the past really is just that, something to forget ever existed. I feel wildly happy all of a sudden, like maybe if I run fast enough I could even take off from the ground. The feeling is vaguely familiar to me but in the past it was only ever drug induced and not caused by something that genuinely has the power to save me, like this god-awful, beautiful fucking movie.

There is a magazine stall on the corner of Melrose and I slow down, scanning the titles. My face is on the cover of at least five magazines, but only one of them is still leading with the deranged photos from PCH. The rest have followed Vanity Fair’s lead in recasting me as a survivor, traumatized by a life spent in the spotlight. I lift one up so that I can read the headline: “Grace’s Tragedy: The Real Reason She Left LA.”

I drop the magazine without reading it and walk into the restaurant. A woman on her way out recognizes me and digs her daughter in the ribs, but she’s too late, I’ve already passed them.

Roots is a new vegetarian restaurant, right in the heart of Melrose, with swaths of outdoor seating so that everyone can see you from the street. Green cacti swing in macramé planters above jewel-toned velvet sofas, and trays filled with brightly colored food decorate the gold tables. Everyone is beautiful and tattooed and locked in intense conversations, but they all still stare at me as I make my way through the restaurant. Laurel is already waiting at a table just inside, set back behind a giant cactus.

“Didn’t they have a table outside? I’m worried nobody will see us here.”

“Wow, hi to you, too, Grace. Since when do you care about being ‘seen’?”

I sit down opposite her and roll my eyes. “I was talking about the servers, obviously.”

“Sure you were,” Laurel says, studying her menu. “How was the audition?”

“I think it was good. It felt good. You were right, it turns out I don’t know how to do anything else.”

“And John? I’ve heard he’s kind of a creep.”

I think about it for a moment. “I guess kind of, but in a nonthreatening way.”

Laurel raises her eyebrows. “Thank heavens for that.”

“I mean, at least it’s all on the surface with him,” I say, thinking of Able’s perfect white teeth that will drain your blood faster than a leech, before I quickly add, “I did feel a little like he was pushing for a date more than the movie at first . . . Do you think that’s crazy?”

“Probably not. As I said, he doesn’t have the best reputation,” Laurel says.