It's out (yay!) and I'm so proud. I'm traveling from Las Vegas back home today, so I'll post the backlist bump on Tuesday and talk some more about RT on Wed. In the meantime, enjoy Connor--I so much loved having him in my head.
_ _ _ _
One year ago, actor Connor Montgomery lost the love of his life to a drunk driver. But what’s worse for Connor is what he still has: a lifetime of secrets born of hiding his relationship from the glare of Hollywood. Unable to let go of the world he and Vinnie shared, Connor films a drunken YouTube confession on the anniversary of Vinnie’s death.
Thankfully, the video was silent—a familiar state for Connor—so his secret is still safe. He needs a fresh start, and a new role on the hit TV show Wolf’s Landing might be just that.
The move to Bluewater Bay may also mean a second chance in the form of his studio-assigned assistant. Noah Dakers sees through Connor’s facades more quickly than Connor could imagine. Noah’s quiet strength and sarcastic companionship offers Connor a chance at love that Hollywood’s closet has never allowed. But to accept it, Connor must let Vinnie go and learn to live again.
There was a terrible sound—a shrill cacophonic assault—and I closed my eyes against the crippling brightness in our—my—beach house and whimpered.
What had I done?
The cacophony erupted again, and I rolled to my side, pulling the covers over my head, groaning. I’d left the patio door open, and the ocean roared carelessly on outside. It should have been a soothing sound, but my brain felt like a land-mine detonation facility. The phone rang again, and another bank of explosives went off, including a few in my stomach that would have sent me running to the bathroom if I could move.
I couldn’t move.
“Vinnie,” I moaned. “Vince . . . baby . . . get the phone . . . Oh fuck.”
My voice pitched on the “fuck,” because I remembered why Vince wasn’t there. Suddenly my hangover was nothing, a torn cuticle, a pimple, a plucked hair, compared to that terrible, terrible voiding pain of the severed half of my heart.
Vince wasn’t there. He’d been gone for 366 days, and he wasn’t coming back.
Nope, Con, I’m not there. You need to get the phone, you lazy bastard.
The phone rang one more time, and I fumbled at the end table and answered it because that beat the alternative.
“Do we need a Bloody Mary?” Jillian Lombard’s voice was like a spring-powered launch of ice picks, all of them driven through my left eyeball to the back of the brain.
“I can’t do bitchy,” I whined. “Why are we bitchy? Make the bitchy stop.”
“I’m sorry, sweetums, am I bitchy?” she asked pleasantly. In the background I heard the sound of a lighter flicking, and a heavily indrawn breath.
“You started smoking again?” I was concerned. Jillian was in her early fifties and built like a fireplug. “That’s not healthy, Jillian—I thought you’d quit.”
“I did,” she snapped bitterly. “I did quit, because you and Vince were happy, and you were making scads of money, and suddenly, my shoestring operation was in the black and I could afford to worry about my health. Things have changed, buttercup, oh how things have changed.”
I wanted to bitch and moan, but I couldn’t. Instead I swung my bare legs off the white-sheeted bed, leaned forward on my knees, and massaged the back of my neck, trying to remember grown-up skills. I’d had grown-up skills once—I was famous for them. In a land where people were prone to excess, where you had to talk your boyfriend into rehab once every three years or so, the guy who didn’t drink too much, didn’t do too much blow, didn’t party too much—he was considered a grown-up. I was that guy. I didn’t get into fights, I didn’t slip up our little cover, I didn’t make scenes on set. I did my job, I did it professionally, and I enjoyed the hell out of it—my God, I worked hard on my reputation as a good guy in Hollywood, I really fucking did.
Or I had.
“I told you yesterday,” I said, after a heavy silence between us. “I’m throwing my hat back in the ring. Go ahead—sell me. I’m product. Auction me to the highest bidder. I’ll do it—I’m raring to go.”
My voice held all of the excitement of a boiled eel. I was not, as I said, “raring to go.” I was, in fact, not raring. And not roaring. And not going.
I was pretty sure that yesterday’s conversation with Jillian, in which I pronounced myself so “raring,” had been the beginning of last night’s bender. I remembered, I was standing on the balcony, looking off into the poetic ocean distance, talking to Jillian and taking healthy swallows from a bottle of Pinot Grigio. In my head I could hear Vinnie chiding me for drinking what he called “flat 7 Up,” because I never had developed a palate, and in my ear, I could hear Jillian telling me that I’d been grieving for a year, and it was time to jump back into the shark pond again.
“You wouldn’t say that to me if we’d been out and married,” I’d snapped, aching. Because you got more time to grieve a lover than a “bro,” didn’t you? With a bro, you were expected to carry on, but if we’d been married . . . if we’d even been dating . . . no.
For ten years Vince Walker had been my shadow, my lover, my best friend, the one person on the planet I could tell my secrets to. I’d chivvied him into rehab and supported him when he came out, and together we’d been the nonparty boys, the most clean-cut actors in Hollywood, hosting clean and sober parties in my place or his. We’d been photographed for three years in a row, having Christmas in his place, with his family, and pretending I only spent the night in his room on Christmas Eve so there could be space for his brother and two sisters and spouses and kids and such to take over his place for the holidays.
We’d bought houses right next to each other in Malibu, but so what? So had Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, right? We were like Alex O’ and Scott Caan, or . . . or . . . oh Jesus, who cared.
Because we weren’t like those guys at all.
We were in love, and we’d started working in this business when you just didn’t fucking come out, not if you wanted to be leading men in big-budget movies, and so we hadn’t. We’d just bought our big fucking houses and took turns sleeping over and quietly building a life together, only it wasn’t together, it was separated by two walls, a hedge, and a big fucking swimming pool.
So, yeah. I may have been bitter when I told Jillian that I was willing to be thrown back into the shark tank.
I must have been bitter when I told her that. Because I remember taking a healthy swallow of flat 7 Up, and then another one.
And then another one.
And then sitting on the balcony, staring into the orange sunset, and thinking about Vinnie.
And then waking up to the phone.
“You’re right.” Jillian’s voice came from an entire continent of pain away. “You’re right. I wouldn’t throw you back into the pit if you’d been married. But do you think you could have said that yesterday?”
“I thought I did,” I mumbled.
“Yeah, and then you said okay.”
“Then why are we having this conversation?” Oh God. When Vinnie was alive I wouldn’t have gotten this drunk. When Vinnie was alive, I’d very, very carefully only had a social drink of wine in company, because Vinnie wasn’t drinking at all and I knew how hard that was on him.
“Because it was most obviously not okay!” Jillian burst out, an exhalation of smoke hitting her receiver as hard as her voice.
“I don’t remember saying that,” I said plaintively. Don’t make waves. Treat your agent with respect. Remember, most people in Hollywood would sell their souls to be you and sell you out in a hot second if they even suspected you and Vinnie were an item. I remember thinking all of that, but I don’t remember saying anything at all resembling the truth.
“That’s because you didn’t!” she snapped, setting off a trash-can chorus in my head.
“Then how do you know it wasn’t okay?” I demanded, because God, it was like “Carol of the Bells” was being played in broken glass between my ears.
“Uh, Connor?” For the first time something akin to sensitivity tinged Jilly’s voice.
“What?” I asked suspiciously. “What’s wrong? Why do you sound like that?”
“Connor,” she said slowly, and I remembered the last time she tried speaking slowly to me.
My stomach wasn’t feeling great, and when my bowels contracted in an icy heave I contemplated running for the bathroom. Oh, dear Lord—no. How bad could this be? I’d already survived the worst, right?
“What? What’s wrong? Who’s dead?” I asked, aware that after the last year this wasn’t hyperbole and not the least bit funny. I needed to know how my world was going to be turned upside down as soon as possible, so I could hide all the hurt and pretend it didn’t happen.
“Who’s dead?” she repeated. “Your career, honey. You killed it last night on YouTube.”
I closed my eyes and tried to think. What had been the last thing I’d done as the wine had weakened that brick wall between myself and my grief? I remember seeing the camera Vinnie had kept on the mantel. He’d been so good at social media—had taken short videos almost constantly.
And then edited them.
On my computer, I had the video of us kissing on a private beach, the camera held selfie-distance away from our faces, my blond hair riotous in the wind and Vinnie’s shorter, darker hair barely ruffling. We’d both closed our eyes at the end, and the camera had dropped as we’d gotten lost in the kiss and the smell of the ocean and the wind and the sand under our feet. The end of the shot had been a ragged series of frames as Vince had struggled to turn the thing off one-handed so that kiss could be the focus of our lives.
The world had the first part of that picture—“Hey, here’s the sunset in Hawaii! And here’s my buddy, Connor, ready to do some surfing!” I’d waved and winked, and lights out.
Last night, I’d looked at that camera, thought of my computer memory, crammed full of what our life had really been, and thought of what the world knew. Who cared, right? Who cared if the world knew we’d been together since our first audition, both of us nervous and cocky at the same time, neither of us getting the part.
It hadn’t mattered—we’d been in Vince’s shitty one-room apartment about thirty minutes after leaving the studio, Vince filling the condom inside me, both of us screaming loud enough to wake the neighbors.
I’d been sleeping in a burned-out car then, two months into Hollywood after leaving my home in Northern California with the scornful injunction not to come back until I’d stopped being a fag. (Well, you know, get caught deep-throating the starter of your school’s basketball team when you were a drama queer, getting kicked out of the house was bound to happen.)
I’d been desperate—desperate enough to blow a photographer to get my headshots. Desperate enough to have blown businessmen for food.
Vinnie had let me move in that day—a little banter, some hot eyeball action, and one quick fuck, and there we were, sleeping on his twin bed and throwing in for rent together. It might not have been love at first—in fact, at first I think it was mostly necessity—but after a year, and a few successful auditions, and a little bit of fucking around on both our parts, we had enough money to each rent our own apartments.
And we’d . . . decided not to.
Because what had started out as lust and convenience had turned into something more. Something bigger. Something that had us both getting tested and giving up condoms (most of the time)—but keeping the lube.
Then I’d landed a supporting role in a small television show on the CW. And then I’d been courted to be the leading man in another one when the first one folded. That gig had lasted three years, and when I’d left it because . . . reasons . . . I’d landed my first movie role. B-level action flick, yeah—but it paid decent, and I got another one, an A-level after that. Vince’s career had taken off too—he was usually the broody guy who got offed, or sometimes the villain—but he worked consistently and got paid well.
Eventually, Jilly (who had signed us by that time—she’d gotten me the gig at the CW) said we had to get houses. If we didn’t, the press would talk, the fan fiction would get out of hand, our careers would be in jeopardy.
I remembered asking, “Can’t we just come out?” Neil Patrick Harris had come out. George Takei had come out. Six years ago there had been enough out celebrities that it shouldn’t have made a difference, right?
Jillian had looked at me, pity in her cobalt-blue-tinted contacts. “Honey, you’re just not that good.” She shook her head. “Those other guys can do it because they’ve got balls-out talent—you and Vinnie, I love you guys, you’re my first big hits and my bread and butter, but you’re . . . you know. Beefcake. You’re decent enough actors to not embarrass yourselves, but mostly, sugar, you’re just a pretty face.”
I’d done a shitty job of concealing my hurt—I’d loved drama in school. I hadn’t wanted to be beefcake, I’d wanted to be an actor, damn it! But Vinnie had let it roll off his back.
“Whatever you say, gorgeous,” he’d purred. “As long as we’ve got backdoor access to each other’s pads, I’m good with that.” But he’d looked at me searchingly over her head, with a little bit of pity and fear. His family still loved him, and I knew because he’d told me that he dreaded, more than anything, losing that support.
Jilly hadn’t seen that look, though. She’d touched his nose like wasn’t he just the cutest thing? Vinnie got that a lot. “You gay guys—you flirt like gangbusters, but do you ever put out? Done, then—I’ll tell the real estate lady to look for properties next to each other, relatively private. No one will ever know.”
And no one had ever known. Ten years of a relationship forged in the crucible of Hollywood, and my only proof was a laptop full of memories that only two people had shared.
And now it was down to one.
I pulled myself back into the present with a sick thump. “Jillian . . . did I post a video last night?”
Her laugh was weak and stringy and hysterical. “Oh, honey.” I heard a shaky draw on the cigarette. “That’s like asking if the Washington Monument is a little bit of an erection.”
I didn’t look. I couldn’t look at my Washington Monument of YouTube selfies. Just getting out of bed and into the shower took everything I had. After that, it was a fight against vomiting, and I needed all my strength for that.
Forty-five minutes after Jilly hung up, she was at my house—had arrived, in fact, while I was still in the shower. When I emerged, a towel wrapped around my waist, I was surprised and touched to see she’d pulled up my comforter and cleaned up the bottles for me.
Jillian was a four-time combat veteran of the marital wars, and the mother of two. She hardly twitched a sculpted eyebrow as I started rustling around in my drawers for some yoga pants and a T-shirt. She’d once walked into the tiny bathroom of a guest-star trailer to have me sign my next contract. I’d been taking a stellar dump at the time, but she hadn’t even wrinkled her rhinoplasty. I loved her like a mother, but there was no doubting the fact that she had iron-clad tits in a stainless-steel bra.
Or so I thought.
She was sitting at my personal desk, sifting through my laptop browser when she cast a look over her shoulder and recoiled.
“Jesus, kid, you’re scrawny as hell.”
“I work out,” I mumbled, taking a hungover look at my wardrobe. I had a maid service that came in and did laundry, which was awesome—but all of my clean, pressed yoga pants and T-shirts had holes in them, and I let out a sigh. Yeah, it had been a while since I’d gone shopping.
“Who gives a shit if you work out? Do you I?”
I tried to remember the last meal I’d had, and drew a blank. “I must eat,” I muttered. “Otherwise, I couldn’t work out.”
“Right.” She shook her head and continued to browse. After a moment, she sighed. “You let your porn subscription lapse.”
I made a hurt sound, and she looked back at my computer like it held the secrets of the universe.
“And you’ve been looking at this file with Vinnie every fucking day.”
I stopped searching for clothes without holes and grabbed some boxer briefs, yoga pants, and a T-shirt and threw them on haphazardly. The T-shirt was a basic cotton tourist T—we’d gotten it on a trip to the Grand Canyon two years ago. For a while, we’d fought over it, playfully, because we never let ourselves get photographed in the personal shit, and if one of us woke up and put on that shirt, it meant he was staying inside all day and hopefully not alone.
“What do you want me to say?” I was working so hard on leeching the tears out of my voice that it came out flat, no affect, dead.
“I want you to say you want to live!” she half laughed. But she was looking at me soberly, and real concern showed, even through the trowel-thick mascara and the psychotropic contacts.
“Jillian . . .” I didn’t know what to say.
She shook her head and waved her hands in uncharacteristic agitation. I hadn’t seen her do that since the day we got back from Vinnie’s funeral. I’d asked her if she wanted to come inside—basic courtesy, really, I hadn’t expected her to take me up on it. The place had been . . . Well, I’d needed to find a different maid service after that week.
She’d helped me clean up the broken glass and the ripped-down curtains, all without a word. I’d apologized, humbly, feeling like a spoiled child, as she’d sat me down with some delivered pizza and a glass of soda, and she’d done . . .
That. Held her hands up, palms toward me, waving them back and forth as she’d tried not to see . . . me. My pain. The thing she couldn’t fix.
She did that to me now, and then glared, her eyes watering. “This here is an intervention,” she said briskly, and we both ignored the way her voice got thick. “Connor, you need to work again. You need to see people again. You need a fucking goal, even if it’s just to know your line and hit your mark and look into the goddamned camera. You want to see how bad it is? You showed the world how bad it is.”
And with that she shifted aside so I could see the computer. Then she hit Play on the Washington Monument of selfies.
I watched dumbly for a moment as the camera came on, the lens showing a fish-eye view from the mantel in the living room. The furniture was there, fabric couches, matching throw pillows, complementing love seat and recliner, as well as the little conversation pit, and, against the far wall, the 116” flat-screen TV.
Some bozo in board shorts and a tank top was blocking the view, but he backed up like he’d been trained with cameras, and knew about how far he needed to go to be seen in the whole frame.
I stared at my image for a moment. Jillian was right. I look like hell. My hair was usually sort of a sandy blond, but I highlighted it because it was Hollywood. You could see about three months of growth between my part and the blond, and there was some silver in that, even visible in the grainy, badly colored shot.
You could see my ribs. Yeah, sure, there were lumps of muscle, but you could see my ribs.
I had a sort of long face, with a bold nose and a full mouth—when I was full blond I was an Aryan wet dream, really—and really nice cheekbones, sharp and distinctive. It had been the cheekbones that had convinced me I could make it in Hollywood when my parents insisted that if I wasn’t following my father into farming I would pretty much only succeed as a computer technician or an auto mechanic and nothing else.
I’d seen myself in the mirror, stared longingly at my heroes on the screen, and thought, Look at that. We have the same faces. We can be the same.
In the video I appeared . . . rodent-like, almost, and feral. My prized cheekbones threw the thinness of my face into stark relief.
I stared at my own image for a few wordless seconds before it hit me.
“What am I doing? And why isn’t there any sound?”
“There’s no sound through the entire thing,” Jillian said irritably. “Did Vinnie not show you how to work the damned camera?”
I gaped at her, and then I gaped at the computer, because no. No, he had not.
I was actually grateful as I watched what followed.
If you asked me on any given day what the worst part of this video was, I’d give you a different answer on each and every different day. I could point out the fact that my eyes were half-mast and my mouth kept opening while I stared at the ceiling in between sentences. I could say it was the beginning sequence when I seemed to be just yelling incoherently at the camera, one hand on my cocked hip, one hand waggling my index finger like a teacher drunk on his or her own power.
But it was obvious that I wasn’t drunk on power.
My tirade, whatever it had been, ended, and apparently it was time to fly. Yes, fly—flap my arms and run around the kitchen and pretend to be an airplane or a condor or a butterfly or what the fuck ever—I was gonna fucking achieve liftoff and zoom overhead, I just knew I was . . .
Right until I face-planted, arms outstretched, on the couch.
“Wow,” Jillian said, like she was impressed.
“Wow, that’s the end?” I prayed.
“No, wow, I can’t believe your luck that you missed the floor. And you only wish that was the end.”
I looked at the counter below the frame.
“Seven minutes?” Of which we were apparently only two minutes in. It went on. There was the Batusi and the bunny hop. At one point I was singing—obviously singing—head back, belting it out. I tried to read my own lips for a moment, before I gave up.
“‘Sloop John B,’” Jillian said without glancing at me.
“What?” I could not seem to look away from the . . . the train wreck of my life, on display for YouTube viewers everywhere. Oh Jesus. I had over five hundred thousand hits, and it was less than twelve hours old.
“It’s what you’re seeing. See? Right here, you can see that last part.” Oh yeah. It was clear I wanted to go home.
“Oh!” And then, as a capper to the madness, we both sang along with my silent movie self as the timer counted off twenty more seconds of my career-dissipation light.
And then . . . Oh God. On the screen I was sitting on the couch, one ankle crossed philosophically over one knee, leaning on my elbow and talking earnestly to the camera.
And then . . .
“Turn it off,” I said thickly.
I’d pulled up a picture on my phone and was showing it to the camera. It was nothing incriminating, just me and Vinnie, standing on my balcony, leaning back against the railing, sunglasses on, our faces toward the sun.
We looked so happy.
The other me, the skinny, drunk, pathetic me, just broke down and cried.
Then that same guy stood up and drew really close, so close you could see my rib cage through my tank top, so close the frame went black.
Jillian and I slumped in the desk chairs, while I thought of something to say.
“I’m sorry, Jilly,” I managed after a moment.
“It’s my fault,” she said quietly. “I thought you were okay. You said you needed time to grieve, I said sure—that’s what I did. Gave you time to grieve. I didn’t realize you were here, all alone. You weren’t getting better. You were just . . .”
“Just being sad,” I said, closing my eyes. Behind them I could see that icky, rainy May morning we’d gotten back from the funeral, when Jillian had come inside and helped me eat, and I’d told her I just needed time.
There might not be enough time in the world.
“Well, you had a right.” She clasped my hand. “I was sad—I don’t know if that helps, but I was sad as fuck. You remember when I called Christmas Eve?”
I nodded. I’d been alone, in my house, while Vinnie’s family had held a quiet celebration next door. They hadn’t asked me over. They hadn’t known about us, of course, but you’d think they might have asked Vinnie’s friend over, right?
I wasn’t sure if that meant they were insensitive, or grieving, or just . . . just users, hanging on Vinnie’s fame like my family had offered to do with mine a couple of times since I’d hit it big.
I didn’t want to think of Vinnie’s family that way. For a few years, I’d been able to pretend I had family for the holidays. It had been nice. I didn’t have much to pretend right now—I could probably just pretend they were grieving and had forgotten me.
That was easier.
“I remember,” I said, to try to pull myself away from my post-Vinnie Christmas featuring me, a bottle of wine, a steak, and a laptop full of memories. “You were the only voice I’d heard in a week.”
She rubbed the back of her neck. “Yeah.”
“Is my career over?” I had money in the bank. I’d probably have to sell the beach house if I never worked again, but I could live pretty comfortably on what was left.
“No.” Jillian rolled her eyes. “I thought it was when I called you—man, my heart almost stopped. But I’m telling you, on my way over here, I fielded about six different calls from people who want your story.”
“Do you think I don’t know that?” She simultaneously looked around for an ashtray and fished in her purse for cigarettes. Vinnie hadn’t let people smoke in the house, but you know what? Vinnie wasn’t fucking here.
I’m not even sorry.
I opened the sliding glass door and grabbed an ashtray from outside—we kept a few for guests. The wind caught me square in the face, and I leaned into it, closing my eyes.
“God, I love the ocean,” I said, thinking wistfully of when I’d have to sell the house.
“Do you?” she asked. I turned back inside and set the ashtray down for her, and she lit her cigarette with a shaky hand and a gold lighter.
I moved away from her and crossed my arms, leaning against the doorframe and letting the breeze cleanse away some of my despair.
“I really do. I wish I could live somewhere like . . . like Oregon, or Washington, or even Crescent City. Somewhere it’s cold.” Where it was cold, and the sky was blue, and the water fought an endless, frothy battle for dominion over cliffs and outcroppings of stone.
“You know,” she said tentatively, “you’ve gotten a couple of offers from television in the past months. A lot of shows are still shooting up north. Are you game?”
I nodded, exhausted, even though I’d only been awake for a few hours.
“Yeah,” I sighed, closing my eyes against the sun. “I’d love to go do something like that. Something not . . . here.”
“Well, I think I’ve got just the thing,” she said, checking her tablet. “It’s late—they might have asked someone else, because shooting starts, like, immediately. Let me make a few calls—it might be temporary, you know. Just two months of relocation, and then back here. But it’ll be enough to get your feet wet. And the show films just outside of Seattle—”
“Do you even want to hear what it is?”
With my eyes closed, I could hear the two pulses in the wind. The first one was the ocean, and it pulsed with everything I loved.
The second one was emptiness. And it pulsed with He’s not here. He’s not here. He’s not here. Vinnie’s not here, he’s not here, he’s not here.
It was that second one that made me crave another bottle of wine before I’d even eaten breakfast.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said honestly. “It’s perfect.”
“What makes it perfect?” she asked, exhaling smoke.
“It’s somewhere not here.”
If I could have teleported directly from my balcony in Malibu to a beach house outside of Seattle, I would have, but that would have been too easy.
Jillian, apparently chock-full of remorse after I almost torpedoed my career, set about making me “presentable” before sending me away. I spent a day at a stylist’s getting highlighted, vacuumed, manicured, massaged, and waxed, and then another day with her personal shopper. I fought bitterly for the right to my and Vinnie’s old T-shirts, and in the end I won custody of three of them while she had the rest boxed and put into storage.
I got an entire drawer full of new yoga pants and underwear, as well as jeans, flannel shirts, and sturdy boots that really were made for the outdoors and not the movie set.
There wasn’t a hole in sight.
Jilly also fed me constantly—by the time I got on the plane for Seattle two weeks later, I’d gained five pounds, but she still wasn’t happy.
Oh well—agents. Jillian was the best of them, but it was the nature of the species.
And she really was the best of the lot, because I wouldn’t be getting on that plane alone.
“I’m getting you set up in the house before I leave,” she said sternly. “And you have a driver—”
“I can drive!” I protested, but she waved me off.
“Yeah, you say that, but you know what? We both know you still get lost in Hollywood, and you’ve lived there for ten years.”
“Everybody gets lost in Hollywood,” I grumbled. “This is Seattle—it’s not nearly as big.”
“Honey, you get lost in Nordstrom’s.”
“Everybody gets lost in Nordstrom’s.” Yeah, right. I’d once wandered the women’s department so long I’d bought lingerie for my supposed girlfriend and sent it to Jillian as a joke. But it rankled—my sense of direction was horrible. In fact, my horrid sense of direction was the reason Vinnie had been driving alone that night—that and exhaustion. He’d been going to a party out at the canyon, and I’d been fresh off the shoot for Jupiter Seven—I’d be no help finding the house and no fun at the party. I’d elected to stay in.
“I’m just going to drive out, make an appearance, drive back—it’ll be a few hours, I know, but don’t worry. We’ve got some making up to do!”
It was part of the job, right? We both knew that. You put in an appearance, air-kissed a few people, jumped back in the car, rolled down the top, and enjoyed the trip from the mountains to the beach.
Or got T-boned at an intersection by a guy with three times the legal blood alcohol and all the coke you never snorted pulsing through his bloodstream.
Jillian must have heard what was in my silence because she stopped buying tickets on my laptop and turned around to grab my hand. “Yeah,” she said quietly. “I think about what if you’d gone with him too. You know what I think?”
“That I should have been there?” Who didn’t think it?
“I think that he would have been driving anyway, Con. He had no alcohol in his bloodstream—you would have had no reason to drive. And then you’d both be dead.”
My heart constricted, and I fought off the temptation to point out that I hadn’t done much living in the last year. “We would have been legend,” I said, trying to be blasé about it. “All our movies would have become instant classics, and you would have been rich beyond the dreams of avarice.”
She slapped me.
It was weird; her expression didn’t change. She just pulled back for some awesome momentum and slapped me.
“Don’t be an asshole,” she said shortly, and then she turned to the computer like it held the secrets to all of Christendom.
I rubbed my cheek and watched a hot tear plop down on the touch pad, and she swore. I’d done that before—the cursor started going batshit almost instantly.
I handed her a tissue, and she blotted the touch pad, and I handed her another one and she blotted her face.
“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling empty. “I . . . I don’t know how to be about that.” When in doubt, state the obvious. “I miss him so bad.”
“Of course you do.” She patted my hand but didn’t look away from the computer. “You guys lived here. These two houses, they were your heart. But there’s more houses out there. Once you get away, you’ll see.”
“You want me to forget him?” I asked, my voice pitching querulously. No!
“No.” This time she did glance at me. “I want you to remember you can live without him. Here we go,” she returned her attention to the screen. “Two tickets, first class, no connecting flight. You get out the luggage and pack, I’ll call the house and pool service, and we can leave in three days.”
“You’re sure you want to come?” I asked, confused but grateful.
She hit the appropriate keys on the computer to make her purchase go through and then looked me dead in the eyes. “I miss the motherfucking rain. You’d better bring all the new clothes we bought—it’s going to be colder than you’re used to, and I don’t want you throwing some shitty sweatshirt you wore in high school over PacSun’s finest. My boys . . . my boy doesn’t go anywhere looking low-class.”
I nodded, and pretended not to hear the slipup. She’d known we were lovers from day one, and she’d been great at helping us fool the world. She once rerouted me through four different countries to trick the paparazzi into thinking I was having a meetup with a girlfriend, when Vinnie and I had been fucking each other’s brains out in a villa off the coast of Spain for two weeks. “Anything to keep my boys sexed up and sexy,” she’d said.
At the time, I remembered thinking that we were the best meal ticket she’d ever had. I felt ungrateful for that thought now, and unkind. Apparently she’d been doing what Vinnie and I had been doing—not the fucking part, just doing her best.
It was plenty right now. I found a smile—a real one—in the pit of my stomach and graced her with it like a gift.
“Thanks, Jillian. We can be in the rain together.”
She lifted her hand, and for a moment I wondered what I’d said, but she only patted my throbbing cheek.
“So,” she muttered, turning back to the screen, “designer umbrellas . . . who can I find that will deliver overnight . . .”