Just when I’m sure she’s bound to say no, Dori Cantrel surprises the hel out of me again.
I answer on the first ring and she says, “I’m here,” her earlier conviction al but gone.
I don’t give her the chance to slip from doubt to regret.
“Cool. I just hit the gate remote.”
“Okay. It’s opening now.” She’s definitely panicking.
“Reid, maybe I—”
Oh no you don’t. “Pul in and park al the way to the right, I’l be right out.”
My bright idea: If we don’t actual y go out, the paparazzi wil have no way to photograph us together. Sadly, that’s as far as I got with the devious plotting, and this wil only last as long as we can occupy ourselves inside my house. I’m trying not to think about the activities with which I’d most like to occupy her time.
“Hey,” I say. Her Honda is at least ten years old. The door squeaks when she opens it, and her mouth twists almost imperceptibly. Glancing behind me at the multi-bay garage that could possibly contain her entire house, she’s speechless. Her eyes range over the rest of the place and I imagine it from her perspective. I want to impress her, sure, but there’s a difference between impressing and intimidating. I take her hand and push the car door closed.
“Stick-shift, huh? Sick.” I’ve never met a girl who can drive a stick. That is unbelievably hot. Down, boy.
Pul ing her hand from mine, she swings her bag onto her shoulder and tucks her hair behind her ear on one side.
“Yeah, my dad loves manual transmissions for some reason, and we share the car, so I kind of had no choice.” She’s stil staring at the back of my parents’ house.
Hands in my pockets, I ask her to fol ow and turn to walk inside. It’s like a reverse of our very first interaction, right after I convinced her of what a complete dick I was by scanning her from top to bottom. I wonder if she walked into the Diego house that day wishing I’d just go away, or worried that I might not fol ow, like I’m worrying now that she’l abandon the whole idea of spending the evening here, get back in her car and peel down the long driveway.
Immaculada left dinner in the warmer as I requested, and I admit that no, I didn’t cook any of it, though I’m surprisingly skil ed at table-setting. We eat in the kitchen, and I tel her about the two projects I’m comparing, both filming next fal . I can’t do both, but I can’t decide which one to reject.
“Ignore the critical regard thing for a minute,” she says.
“Because honestly, I’m not convinced you care so much about that.” We’ve pushed our empty plates to the center of the table, and her legs are folded into her chair, one knee poking up. She fixes me with an earnest, direct look, one elbow on the table as she leans forward. “When you talk about the first one, your eyes light up. Like they could almost not pay you to do it, and you’d stil want to.” God, she reads me easily sometimes. “They will pay me, though. A lot.” I get up to make coffee.
“Does that make you feel guilty about wanting to do it?
Not tortured artist enough for you?” Her voice is teasing, and right next to me. She’s brought the dishes to the sink. If I don’t stop her, I bet she’l wash them, too.
I take the plates from her, set them on the counter.
“People in my business crave recognition. It’s in our natures
—it’s why we step on stage, get in front of cameras. We want admiration, approval. We want to be the best at what we do. And Oscars say ‘You’re the best’ like nothing else in the film industry does.”
I push the button and the coffee maker grinds the beans, empties them into the coned filter and starts to brew. I lean against the counter and she leans next to me. “Okay,” she says. “Imagine you have one of those golden guys. He’s sitting on your mantel. Your talents have been recognized by your peers, and al manner of critical acclaim is yours.
From now on, you’l be solicited to do more of the same type of work, al the time. How do you feel about that?”
“Bored,” I answer, surprising myself. She smiles at me like my dad did the first time I tied my shoes by myself.
Mom tried, but Dad had the bunny-running-round-the-hole trick in his arsenal. He taught me to use chopsticks and floss and do long division, too. Somewhere after that, we lost each other. The first time Mom failed out of rehab, maybe.
“Reid?” Dori’s head is cocked to the side, a smal crease in her forehead.
“Sorry.” I blink the memories away, turn to pour the coffee. “Let’s go watch a movie. I’l let you pick.”
“What about something of yours?”
“God, no. I hate to watch myself onscreen.” I own copies of everything I’ve ever done, but I only watch them alone, the way an athlete might use game footage as a training tool.
Like an athlete, I think some of the footage is genius… and some is so atrocious that if I could destroy every known copy, I would.
“Real y? I always thought that was something you actors just say. That secretly you watch yourselves and think Oh, man, look at me. I’m so brilliant.”
“You caught me,” I chuckle at how close she comes to the sometimes-truth. Narrowing my gaze, I smirk and lift one eyebrow like a classic vil ain. “Although, I am so bloody bril iant,” I say in my best pseudo-English-aristocrat, and am rewarded with a laugh and the ear I can see darkening to an unanticipated shade of rose. Hmm.
*** *** ***
Gosh almighty, when he uses that English Boy accent and skewers me with that look simultaneously, he’s sin-on-a-stick, as Aimee would say.
The “media room” is across from his bedroom, and these are the only two rooms in this section of the house.
Unable to stop myself, my mouth drops open. “Holy cow, you have your own theater.” The room features four rows of theater seating and an angled floor. He steps down to the front row—which is actual y a long sofa—and picks up a remote. At the push of a button a screen descends from the ceiling against the far wal . I’m stil gaping when he glances back.
“You know, making movies is what I do for a living.
Watching them is sort of like homework.” He plops onto the sofa and I snap my mouth closed and join him. From the digital menu, we choose a recent Oscar-nominated film that neither of us has seen.
“Wel , this is depressing,” Reid says an hour later, during a lul between stretches of dialogue.
“Critics say it’s gritty, realistic and ultimately uplifting.” He’s right, though, it is depressing. I should have pushed for the chick flick or the animated film.
“I’m just saying, something uplifting better happen soon or this glass wil be flying at the screen,” he mumbles.
“Bit of an over-reaction, don’t you think?” Just after I utter this, the cancer-ridden child of the main character dies.
Reid turns his head and points at the screen, brows raised. “Mmmm?”
“Wel , yeah,” I concede, rol ing my eyes. “There’s only so
“Wel , yeah,” I concede, rol ing my eyes. “There’s only so far you can uplift from kil ing off a seven-year-old.” Our faces are inches apart, both of us slouched into the comfortable sofa, feet propped on a huge leather ottoman.
“I have a proposition,” he says, and my breath goes thin. I wait for him to continue, relishing the excuse to stare at him unguardedly from such a close range, wary but mesmerized. “I think you went to that club because you were in the mood to be a little… reckless. And when I took you away from that douchebag, you didn’t have the chance to meet your, ah, objective.”
Whatever I might have expected, this isn’t it. My objective? The people onscreen erupt into a ful -scale screaming match, but neither of us is paying attention now. I stare at my hand, resting an inch or two from his, and murmur, “I hope you don’t think I’m upset with you for that.” His fingers stroke over the top of my hand, and my breath hitches tight like my lungs are frozen. “The thing is…
if you’re determined to be reckless, you might as wel be reckless with someone relatively safe.” He turns back to the movie, his hand resting over mine. During the next hour, he makes a few more remarks on the film and invites me to join in, but he makes no further move beyond the pressure of his hand on mine.
When I get into my car, he stands with his hands shoved into the front pockets of his jeans, hunching his shoulders in his white t-shirt. The air is crisp and smel s like rain, too chil y out for his short sleeves and bare feet. He raises a hand as I put the Civic in reverse and do a three point turn my dad would admire. In the rearview mirror, I watch Reid jog back to the house. He didn’t ask for a kiss or try for one, and now kissing him is al I can think about.
I’m back to the impression I had months ago: Reid Alexander is the Devil. Except now it’s easier to understand the angels who chose to fal from heaven with him.
“Hel o sweetheart!” Mom says to Deb, and I bite my lip, turning to swap the faded, drooping roses on Deb’s dresser for the fresh tulips in my arms. I don’t think I’l ever get used to Mom’s fake-cheerful voice. Maybe it’s always been in her repertoire—something she uses on patients at the hospital, perhaps—and I just never noticed it.
I could visit Deb alone, but then no one would be talking.
I take my time folding the dying flowers into the trash and rinsing the vase. In my bag are Deb’s floral shears, which cannot be left in a place like this—where people of various abnormal mental states are housed together. I trim an inch from each stem, careful y removing the limp lower leaves.
Placing them in the vase one at a time, I arrange and rearrange until they fan out evenly, sunny and happy. By the time I’m satisfied with how they look, Mom is almost finished feeding my sister strawberry yogurt, spooning it between her lips in miniscule bites like she did in old videos of Deb as an infant, long before I was born.
This undertaking brings me to my knees to watch, so I don’t.
We wash Deb’s hair, grown in where it was shaved for surgery. It’s been kept short al over for ease of care, and fal s in wisps and curls around her stil -pretty face. I dig my lip balm from my bag and run it over her chapped lips just as her roommate shuffles in and eyes us, wearing the bathrobe Mom bought for Deb last month, the one we’ve been unable to find since we left it here in her closet. Also missing are every pair of socks with a pink Nike swoosh and her smooth wood-based hairbrush. Mom’s jaw clenches, and she complains to the front desk when we leave. We’re told they’l “look into it.” Neither of us believes they wil .
We’ve driven almost al the way home in silence when Mom says, “I wish she had her own room.” Her voice startles me even though she speaks softly. She’s taken on extra shifts to afford Deb’s shared room; we can’t afford an upgrade to private. There’s no need to remind her of this fact. She knows it as wel as I do. I find her hand and squeeze it once between shifting from fourth to fifth. At least this is something on which we can agree.