Able was beautiful in the most obvious sense of the word, but I was beautiful, too, so I didn’t dwell on it other than to clock his two perfect dimples, just like mine. His wife was easier to overlook at first, less shimmering, less glamorous, except for her hair—creamy blond and thick, unlike anything I’d seen before. I could tell she was pregnant from the soft swell of her stomach underneath her cashmere sweater, and the way she instinctively touched her bump whenever she spoke.
My dad was wearing the same black suit with shoulder pads that he wore on his wedding day, and his trousers were bunched up over his Clarks shoes. As I watched him stab at the rolls of sushi and soft-shell crab with one chopstick, he seemed to belong to a different generation than the other men at the table, even though they were all around the same age. My mom wore a tight velvet dress that she had found in a thrift shop on Melrose earlier that week, and I went from feeling so proud of her beauty to mortally embarrassed as soon as I saw Emilia’s jeans and sweater, and the looks on the other diners’ faces as they stared at us. I didn’t know why or how, but I knew that my parents had gotten it wrong, and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t realize it too.
I held my breath as Able offered me the job right there at the table, even though, for some reason, he was looking at my parents when he said it. He spoke quietly, so that they had to move closer to hear him, and after a while I realized that he appeared to be convincing my parents to let me take the role, something I had assumed was a given since we had flown across the world for it. I watched as Able assured my parents that if we moved to Los Angeles to do the trilogy, I would be completely looked after, that my education would actually improve under world-class, private tuition. He said that he wasn’t just talking about this one project—he wanted me for longer. Able had identified the inevitable road bumps in the career of any young actor and was removing the variables. He wanted Marilyn without the overdose, Winona without the shoplifting, Gwyneth without the health shit. I wouldn’t waste my time or reputation on any trashy projects because I would work solely with Able. He would be my filter, my translator and my protector all in one. I wouldn’t go looking for any trouble because I would have everything I ever wanted given to me.
My parents listened in awe as Able laid out his plan, and, perhaps noting their implicit consent, Able subtly adjusted his rhetoric from the hypothetical to the concrete. The people around the table that night would perfect everything about me—my backstory; my classic, insouciant style; even my sarcastic interview manner—before my face ever appeared on a screen. They talked about changing my surname to Turner, evoking images of two Hollywood icons, Lana Turner and Grace Kelly yes, but also to separate my two identities so that I could always return to who I had been before. I would be reborn, and the best part of it was that it was a no-risk situation. There would be so many people watching over me, people personally invested in my career, that nothing could go wrong. I would have Able and Emilia to protect me in my parents’ absence. I would never make a sex tape or shave my head or be caught drunk driving, because I was in on the act: I had never really been Grace Turner at all.
I’d like to say I didn’t understand what I was agreeing to, but I think it would be a lie—even back then I knew I was giving a part of myself away. Only, sitting there that night, watching these glossy strangers talk about me as cool, buttery sashimi slick with soy sauce melted over my tongue, it just didn’t seem like the worst choice in the world. What I couldn’t have predicted was how people would want more and more of me; I didn’t yet know how closely praise is linked to punishment, how I would never again determine my own value because I wasn’t so much a person as an idea, shaped not only by the people around the table with me that night but by the millions of people who would pay to watch my movies in the years to come.
My mom behaved strangely at dinner, laughing loudly at the wrong moments and fluttering her eyes at Able like a marionette. Emilia smiled reassuringly at me whenever I looked at her, but I could tell she pitied me for my mother’s theatrics. I frowned at my mom and watched as my dad stared somewhere over my manager’s head for most of that first dinner, and all of the subsequent ones.
In the end, it didn’t matter anyway, because these strangers were all only tolerating my parents to get to me. I tried to be lively and entertaining whenever they spoke to me, and I told myself that I was doing it for all of us, to let these men know that we were in on the joke, when I gestured to my parents and apologized for bringing the Addams Family. The men erupted into laughter, Able whacking the table repeatedly even as he apologized to my dad, and Emilia allowing herself a small smile. My mom seemed confused at first, but then she joined in, grinning and laughing loudly along with them. I hated to see her make a fool of herself, but the men, who had been studying me closely since I arrived, were charmed, and that was what we had all dressed up for, wasn’t it? She’d been so excited all week, and I told myself that I could give all of this to her for the rest of her life if tonight just went well. I tried not to notice the growing patches of sweat underneath her armpits, or the way she kept licking her lips before she spoke.
The more she drank, the more revealing her stories became. We were all used to her being the heartbeat of any group, but it turned out she didn’t know anything about this new world I was joining, and she told embarrassing stories that always circled back to her modeling career. At one point she described in excruciating detail exactly how her career had been hindered when she married my dad instead of moving to Los Angeles as a teenager herself. Able listened patiently and asked the right questions about my dad’s construction company, but even then I realized that he was just handling them both. For the first time I saw my parents through someone else’s eyes and felt embarrassed for them. I interrupted them both after that, cutting across their stories, and in doing so I understood implicitly that I was giving the men permission to do the same. My mom stopped talking as much, and I tried not to see the disappointment in my dad’s eyes. After a while, it just became easier not to look at either of them.
My parents’ role in the plan was laid out from the start. All they needed to do was create a loving and stable home environment for me to return to, and since their role was to treat me like a regular kid, it was better that I didn’t associate them with work in any way, or vice versa. As soon as the visas were sorted, my family obediently scuttled away to their new home. Anaheim was the only place in America we’d ever visited as a family, and I guess my parents liked the convenience of being so close to Disneyland or something. Or maybe it was the relentless sunshine and right-wing politics. I don’t know, I have no idea why they chose Anaheim, but I’d rarely slept more than five nights in a row at their house until last year. From that first movie on, my mom and I fought like rabid dogs, or like two people more similar than they would ever admit. As far as I knew, my mother never tried to find modeling work in California, and they certainly didn’t make any effort to find new friends. I never knew if she was bored, lonely, envious or a combination of all three, and I didn’t hang around to find out. Of course I understand that I was the one who’d left them behind, but I also understood that they’d let me. By the age of fifteen, I was more used to being alone on a movie set than with my family, in theory watched after by a guardian, but in reality tethered to absolutely nothing at all.
I tried to keep in touch with Esme, sending her gifts when I remembered, but soon after moving to Anaheim she applied to a boarding school for gifted children, and she gradually turned into just another person around whom I had to play a part, only this time I was pretending that I was still her big sister.
Able was the writer and director of that first movie, and every movie I made after that, except for one disastrous horror movie that was sold to me as the new Scream. It was supposed to set me free but it tanked, and, under the advice of my agent, my manager, my parents and basically every single person that I met in the street, I ended up back with Able. My fate was more sealed than ever before—I was his muse and he was my Svengali. His work was at its most brilliant when I was in it, and, for my part, I glowed on-screen like nobody else around me. The other two assassins faded into adolescent obscurity after the second film, but not me. I was untouchable, unstoppable, hurtling down a path to immortality so rapidly, so immaculately, that not one person stopped to question how it all worked so well, a fortysomething man and a teenager being so inextricably linked.