I freeze at the bottom of the porch steps. Emilia is sitting on a lounge chair, smoking a cigarette with her hair coiled into a low bun like she’s Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy reincarnated. She is dry as a bone and a soaking white umbrella lies on the deck next to her Gucci loafers. I remember now that I don’t trust anyone who remembers to carry an umbrella in Southern California.
“How are you?” Emilia asks softly.
I shrug, not wanting to move any closer to her but needing to rest my leg, which is currently sending white-hot signals of pain to my brain.
“Okay,” I say, climbing up so that I’m leaning against the porch railing, my leg extended in front of me.
“It really is a miracle that you are okay,” she says. “That you’re both okay.”
“When did you start believing in miracles?” I say, refusing to play the game with her.
“Look, Gracie. I came here because I wanted to . . . ask you something,” she says, looking down at her cigarette and then back up to me. “It’s not easy for me to say, but I hope that you’ll understand.”
I watch her stub her cigarette out on the deck, and then she just stares at it for a moment, unsure of what to do with it. She takes a deep breath, collects herself and meets my eyes again.
“I’m so sorry for what happened to you. I have tried over and over again to work out if I could have stopped it in some way,” Emilia says. “And you know I will never try to excuse it.”
“The thing about saying you’re not trying to excuse something is that you kind of already are,” I say, folding my arms across my chest.
Emilia blinks. “Able is in recovery in Utah as we speak.”
“Recovery,” I say, trying to wade through her words.
“He’s in therapy. He’s coming back for the awards ceremony tonight, and then we’re going to pack up the house and move to Greenwich to be nearer to my family. Permanently.”
I start to speak but she holds up a perfectly manicured hand to stop me. I look down at my own hands. My fingers are red and raw, the nails bitten down to the quick.
“It’s over, Gracie. We want to leave this here. You have my absolute word that he will never work in the industry again, or try to contact you. We won’t be coming back to LA.”
“Well, I’m so relieved that you’ve taken this opportunity to finally get what you want,” I say to her. “I hear Connecticut is beautiful in the spring.”
“Gracie . . .”
“You know that only you and Able actually call me Gracie, and it’s only ever when you want something from me, or when you’re trying to make me feel like a child.”
Emilia takes a deep breath before turning back to me.
“Please let me help you, Grace. Able wants to press charges against you for the accident. He has a statement ready to say that whatever happened between the two of you was when you were of legal age, and to his knowledge, fully consensual. I can stop him.”
I shake my head, and for just a moment, I think I must be dreaming.
“Did you know that he molested me when I was underage? Did he tell you that part?”
“It’s highly unlikely that your case would even make it to court. It’s not like in the movies,” Emilia says quietly. “There wouldn’t be enough evidence to sustain the molestation charges, and there are hundreds of people to testify how much you were drinking and doing drugs around that time, how you’d followed him around like a lost dog for years.”
“Were we ever really friends?” I ask her, because while she’s been talking, I realized how much we must have hurt each other.
“Don’t oversimplify things, Grace. You’re smarter than that. What did you expect to happen?”
“What do you actually want from me?” I ask, not able to look at her anymore.
“Do I need to tell you that I’m sorry again?”
“You’re not the one who should be sorry.”
“He’s the father of my children, Grace, and he made a mistake. He misread your feelings, and he was weak, and stupid, but what else can I do? What would you do if you were me? Of course I am so deeply, painfully sorry that this happened to you.”
“You keep apologizing for what ‘happened to me.’ Nothing happened to me. It wasn’t an accident. He did it to me,” I say slowly. “I know that you don’t like to think about bad things, but sometimes you have to.”
“Please, just tell me that you’ll think about what I’m saying.”
“You know, I really have to think that you don’t understand what you’re asking of me,” I say.
Emilia watches me, and then something crosses her face. “Of course I know exactly what I’m asking of you, and you may not see it now, but this is the only solution for any of us. If it even made it to court, which isn’t likely, the case could take years to build, and you’d be in career purgatory for that entire time—nobody would hire you while it was pending. The trial would then be covered on news channels around the world, and you would turn up to court every single day to find that every minute, private detail of your personal life now exists solely as material for the jury and the public to judge you on. You think you’re being judged now, but you can’t even imagine the things they’ll say about you. Every text message to Able, questions about your sex life with Dylan, even the medical report from the time you overdosed. I’ve heard your own team wanted to commit you because they thought you could be bipolar. Do you really want to put your parents through that? Do you want to put Dylan through that? You have to admit that you’re not the most reliable witness.”
It starts as a tingle, but by the time she’s finished, every single nerve in my body feels as if it’s on fire. I am roaring from the inside out, a lioness gathering myself up and protecting myself against the predators trying to ruin me.
“I need you to get away from me right now,” I say, and I hope my voice sears deeper into Emilia with every word as she stands on the porch in front of me. I hope she never forgets this moment, just like I know I never will. After a couple of seconds, she starts to climb slowly down the steps, stopping when she’s at the bottom, her umbrella forgotten as the rain skims down her face too.
“We can’t all be heroes, Grace.”
And who knows, maybe if she didn’t look so sad while she was saying it, I might have actually been able to do what she was asking of me.
I watch from the side of the stage as the young actress introduces Able simply, ridiculously, as the man who saved independent cinema. She’s never been in one of his films, and I can’t figure out the connection between them. When her introduction ends soon after that, I realize it’s because there isn’t one, that she’s just one more person desperate for the chance to be somebody else. I can tell from the surge in applause that Able has started to make his way up to the stage from his table in the middle of the floor, and that’s when I stroll past the event organizers at the side of the stage who are holding clipboards and timing everything perfectly down to each second. A woman in a headset puts her hand out to stop me, and I shake it off. “I’m Grace Turner,” I say scathingly. “I’m Able’s surprise guest.”
The woman sighs and waves me on, because her only other option is to physically remove me herself before I make it onstage, or to wait for security to escort me offstage when everyone is watching and the cameras are rolling. She knows who I am, and the risk is too high for her.
I showed up late to the awards show, missing the specific time slot that Nathan texted me for my entrance. I called Camila before I came, figuring if I lied my way through my last interview with her, at least I could give her the real story now. Camila escorted me down the red carpet, understanding implicitly how to sidestep the inane chatter from TV presenters about my dress, and other questions about my miraculous escape and appreciation for the man of the hour. I moved slowly on one crutch, and was stopped many times by my peers who wanted to tell me how brave I was just for being there after what happened. I kept my mouth closed, and I posed in front of the IFA branding for the pit of photographers, my gunmetal armor dress catching the light of their flashes and glittering perfectly. The paparazzi called out for me like I was already a legend, and I tried not to believe them this time.
* * *
? ? ?
When I think that Able is close to the stage, I limp out into the spotlight, joining the actress behind the podium. She is confused, blowing a kiss to Able before she sashays off, leaving me alone in front of the audience.
“Hi, everyone, please excuse the change of plan. I only decided to come half an hour ago,” I say, and the audience titters politely. Able has stopped on the stairs next to the stage, gripping the handrail. His head has been shaved all over, and he has the gash over his left eyebrow, the perfect mirror image of my own.