“You live with your parents?”
If you’re a celebrity and over twelve, people don’t expect you to live with your parents, if they even imagine that you have parents. Movie stars are believed to spring fully formed into apartment-acquiring adulthood. Older girls are the worst offenders when it comes to these expectations of independence, and the one leaning against me now is no different.
Her question is whispered in response to me shushing her as I’m trying to fit the key in the lock and get the two of us into the house and into my room without any interference. Now she’s giggling, both hands over her mouth, muffling the sound—though maybe I can’t hear her because my ears are still ringing from the concert in which she was on stage with an electric bass in her skilled hands while I watched from the VIP section.
I squint at her, because I’m swaying and she’s swaying and our movements are not synchronized. “I said I was turning eighteen tonight, not thirty. Where do you expect me to live?” There’s no rancor behind the slurred words, and luckily she seems to deduce as much from my tone.
“Okay, okay, Jesus. I forgot what a baby you are.”
I arch a brow at her as the key slips into the dead bolt with a metallic scrape. “Nope. Tonight, I’m a man. Remember?” I won’t bother to tell her that other girls her age didn’t wait until I was a legal adult; I prefer to let her assume she has something to teach me. Who knows, maybe she does. I turn the key until the lock clacks, depress the lever and push a shoulder against the door. We’re in. Putting a finger to my puckered lips, I repeat, “Shhh,” while I wrestle the key from the door.
This time, she nods, swaying closer with a wicked smile, inclining against me while I grab the door frame for support. Her makeup is smeared and she smells like stale cigarettes and beer—but so do I. “I remember.” Her voice is raspy, like the teeth of the key against the lock.
Alcohol-induced dreams are always weird and crude—and I mean that in the best possible way. Then comes the unfortunate act of waking up. By that point, the buzz is long gone, inhibitions are flooding back, and the only thing hammered is the inside of my skull. Add an outside stimulus like, say, a ringing cell set on level wake-the-fuck-up, and I’m propelled to the opposite of a pleasant stage of inebriation. Suddenly a brain-rototilling free-for-all is taking place in an enclosed space, right behind my eyeballs. Welcome to hangoverland.
I click talk to make the screaming stop (I like this song? Really?), but don’t bother trying to answer, because my mouth is a desert and speech is improbable. There’s a water bottle on the bedside table, but when I stretch to grab it, I drop the phone, which emits the barely audible voice of my manager, George. “Hello? Reid? Hell-o-o?”
Shit. Swiping the phone from the floor, I nearly fall off the bed. “’Lo?” My voice sounds and tastes like it’s flowing through gravel.
“Rough night?” George is sarcastic, but not callously so. He’s my manager, not my parent. I assume he’s grateful to the universe, fate, God, whatever/whoever’s in charge for that. I’m a better client than I am a son. Just ask my dad.
I lift my head a fraction, to see if that hot little bass guitarist from the band John and I saw last night is still here. I vaguely remember her stumbling around my room with me, giggling like she was thirteen instead of the twenty-whatever she said she was. She’s nowhere, but a barely legible note is under my water bottle, the ring around the bottom splotching the ink. I take a generous gulp from the bottle and check it out: Reid—awesome night. More please? I put my number in your phone—Cassandra
Cassandra. Did she ever say her name last night? I can’t remember.
“Reid?” George’s voice. Crap.
“Yeah.” I lurch to a seated position on the side of the bed, my head in one hand and the phone in the other, trying to decide if I need to throw up or not. Verdict: possibly.
“Richter just called—you got the part in School Pride. He said he’s looking forward to working with you.” Adam Richter is one of Hollywood’s leading directors. The man is a legend with an eye for teen dramas. “You’re scheduled to do a two-minute spot on ET tomorrow, by the way, so rest up. Also, Richter wants you in on auditions for the Lizbeth role. Those will start in a couple of weeks. We’ll discuss all of this on Friday.”
“Sure.” God, my head feels like it’s going to fall off. “What’s the location?”
“They’ve decided to film in Austin.”
“Last time I checked, yes, that’s where Austin is located.”
School Pride, ET, auditions, Austin. Christ, my head is splitting. Why don’t I ever remember that mornings like this are the predictable conclusion of nights like last night?
*** *** ***
My father ladles Alfredo sauce over bowls of linguini while I set the table for three. “Dan called this afternoon,” he says. Dan is my agent, and this is my cue to brace for a new audition. What this time—a tampon commercial? Another side role in a Lifetime movie? “He got you an audition for the lead role in a wide-release film. How would you like to play—” his hands move into frame-the-shot mode “—Elizabeth Bennet?”
I frown. “Another remake? But they just did a Pride and Prejudice adaptation a few years ago.” Then there’s my rusty (and honestly, sort of abysmal) British accent.
“That’s the thing—this isn’t nineteenth century England. It’s a modern version, set in a suburban American high school.” He waits for my enthusiasm, but all I can think is: Yay! A cute role in a corrupted version of one of my favorite novels ever.
Before I can stop myself, I go one better than a simple lack of enthusiasm. “Pride and Prejudice. Set in a high school. Seriously?”
He sighs and tosses the script packet on the kitchen table, and we don’t discuss it further. This is our standard resolution to this sort of conflict: we both pretend I’m all good with what he wants. In this particular instance, I’ll take the packet to my room and start memorizing lines, and he’ll tell Dan how psyched I am about the audition.
Landing this role would be career-altering, no doubt about it. All the bit parts, the commercials for department stores and bacon and grape juice have led up to this moment… where I try to win another (more prominent than anything before) girl-next-door role. Truth is, I’m not just tired of one-dimensional roles. I’m sick of doing films, period.
When I was thirteen, I was one of the fairies in a local stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I loved the live performance, the thrill of the audience reaction. I’ve pleaded to do more live theatre in the four years since, but it’s never going to happen, because Dan and my manager-father consider my role in Midsummer a one-time community service project. They want Emma Pierce to be a household name, so there’s no time for silly local theatre roles.
As a compromise, I’ve tried suggesting quirky, edgy independent film scripts. Every time, they shoot me down. “I don’t think this is what we want for your career,” one of them says, and I fold up and cave, because when it comes to running my own life, I’m a yellow-bellied coward.
Just this morning, I felt like a regular girl—scanning my computer and phone for overnight messages, planning a trip to the mall with Emily. A day of typical spring break activities with my best friend was exactly what I needed to make me feel normal. We rolled down the windows, sang along to our favorite songs, talked about boys we know, and speculated about the ones we haven’t met.
I’m not a regular girl, though. I’m a working actress. I don’t attend school; I have tutors. I don’t hang in the commons at lunch with my friends; I grab something from the caterer on set if I’m filming, or make myself something in the kitchen at home if not. I read scripts and review lines while exercising, do homework on set.
In the past year, my relationship with my father has grown more strained than ever, but it hasn’t been great for years. I inherited little from him apart from his gray-green eyes and a passion for running. In every other respect, we’re polar opposites. He doesn’t get me. I don’t get him. End of story.
“Your father says he’ll be home tonight. Please, Reid?”
Shit. “Yeah, sure, Mom.”
Dinner with Mark and Lucy—always entertaining. I avoid it when possible, but Mom’s got me cornered before I leave for my meeting with Larry, my PR guy. She’s so persistently anxious that it’s hard for me to say no to her. Dad doesn’t seem to have the same struggle. She’s got this idealistic vision of the three of us as a happy little family: if we sit down together at the dinner table, domestic bliss will magically occur. Why this doesn’t strike her as wishful thinking given the fact that it’s never worked before, I don’t know. I’ll be gone soon anyway. I refuse to contemplate how far she’ll sink then.
I haven’t decided when I’ll actually move out. My room has a separate entrance and is more like an apartment attached to my parents’ house than a room within it. My grandmother lived with us until she died a few years ago, and this was her suite. Not long after she was gone, I talked Mom into letting me switch rooms. Dad was pissed because I was like fifteen and could then come and go without their knowledge, but it was a done deal by the time he noticed, and I just entrenched and ignored him until he quit blustering.
“Congrats on getting School Pride, man.” Larry’s toadying, as usual. We’re at a sushi place on Ventura, and he’s annoying the crap out of me. He can’t even use chopsticks correctly—it’s like his hands are retarded. That may sound like a pretentious prick thing to say, but he chose the place. Plus, my gut says he’s bitter about what I make compared to him. There’s a lot of envy in this business. The more successful you are, the larger the target.
“Thanks.” I pop a piece of salmon sashimi into my mouth.
He clears his throat. “Okay, so, well…” Shit, man, spit it out already. “We’re thinking that you should, uh, align yourself with some charitable efforts, now that you’re an adult.” He has this look like I’m going to have a problem with that, which makes me wonder if I should have a problem with it.
I eye him, still chewing. “Like what?”
I swear to God he squirms in his seat like a kid on the verge of peeing his pants. “Well, lots of options. Telethons, or, uh, a day or two of something like Habitat for Humanity, or you could endorse adult literacy or childhood vaccinations with a television spot.”
I forgot about Larry’s tendency to well and uh when nervous. It makes me want to shovel sushi into his mouth until he can’t speak at all.
“I’m not doing some telethon, or manual labor. And childhood vaccinations?” I quirk an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t that be left to people with kids?”
He mops his face with his napkin. “Well…”
This is going to take all damned day. “Anything else?”
He pokes at his tuna slices. “You could visit schools, participate in drug and alcohol awareness presentations—”
“Um, no.” The irony would be too hilarious, but I’m not doing it. It would be like those teen celebs who pretend virginity, wearing chastity rings and preaching abstinence to other teens, only to get caught with their pants down at some point. Literally. I get enough close scrutiny from the press without daring them to catch me plastered or high.
“Well… uh, you could just donate cash—”
“Let’s go with that. Check with my dad, he’ll handle it.”
“Do you have a cause in mind?”
I look at him blankly. The only cause I believe in is my own. Chicks like animals, right? “Something with animals.” Stipulation: the cuter the better. “But no crazy activist groups. And domesticated animals—not some endangered salamander or shit like that.”
“Oh-okay, well... domesticated animals—like the SPCA?”
“Sure.” SPCA. Something-something-something-animals.
*** *** ***
I’m removing my dinner of reheated leftovers from the microwave when my cell plays Emily’s ringtone. She doesn’t wait for hello. “Turn on channel ten!”
“Okay, just a minute—”
I head obediently for the television. “Keep your shorts on, I’m going. What’s on?”
“Who’s on, you mean.”
I key in the channel on the remote and the screen erupts in flashing images and the familiar theme music of Entertainment Tonight. “…and he’s here tonight to talk to us about a new project in the works,” the host says as the 52-inch screen catches up with the surround sound system.
The camera cuts to Reid Alexander, the hottest guy on film. “Yeah, I’m really psyched about it.” He swings his dark blond hair out of his eyes and smiles that trademark smile: a little shy, sorta humble, totally hot.
“Oh. My. God,” Emily breathes.
Reid Alexander is flat out eye candy: dark blue eyes and facial features bordering on pretty—long, dark eyelashes, almost pouty mouth—but the lines of his face are all male. His hair is perpetually disheveled, but it’s a flawless sort of mess. He doesn’t seem real; he’s like an artist’s interpretation of an eighteen-year old sex god.
“We hear the film is going to be an adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice?” The host holds the microphone under his chin.