O L I V I A H I L L
2 0 0 3
1 7 y e a r s o l d ; 1 0 9 l b s .
I’ve been watched nearly as long as I’ve been alive. I was used to being stared at. Observed. Followed. Probably why I didn’t notice we had a shadow until Miranda, the younger of my two little sisters, twisted around in the passenger seat and said, “That car’s been on us since we left the house.”
A glance in the rearview mirror told me she was right. A black SUV hung back a hundred yards. I would have tried to lose him, but Mulholland Drive—a snaky, two-lane strip of road balanced on the ridgeline of the Santa Monica Mountains—was no place for evasive maneuvers, especially at night. Below us, Los Angeles was a blanket of rusty stars, but Mulholland was lit only by the occasional lights of foliage-cloistered, multimillion-dollar homes.
“One of the usuals?” I asked, referring to the gaggle of photographers who stalked my other sister, Gemma, and me so regularly we had their license plates memorized. We knew their nicknames. Their girlfriends’ and wives’ names. Even a few of their birthdays.
“He’s too far away. I can’t tell.” Miranda faced forward again. “We should go back.”
“Gemma needs us.”
Miranda snorted. It was an ugly sound. Too bitter for her age. Fourteen and already jaded, but justifiably so.
“Neither of us can give Gemma what she needs.” She dug absently at the dime-size hole she’d gouged in her arm that morning. There were others hidden from view on her legs and back. A few years ago, Desiree (I stopped calling her Mom after she appointed herself my manager) took Miranda to a Beverly Hills psychiatrist to find out what was wrong with her. What she really wanted was to know why Miranda wasn’t like Gemma and me. Why didn’t she want to act or sing or dance or model? Why didn’t she cooperate and justify her existence in Desiree’s life? Why didn’t she earn?
Anxiety, depression, perhaps a dash of ADD and a sprinkle of OCD. That’s what the shrink proclaimed, and wrote several prescriptions. But no combination of pills would change Miranda’s circumstances. With a different mother, a different set of sisters, growing up in a different city, she might have been a different girl. One who didn’t pick at an unblemished canvas of skin until it was spattered in sores. Who didn’t wake up every morning knowing the woman who gave birth to her would have traded her in for another model if she could have, preferably a model who wanted to model.
Behind us, the road went dark. I checked the rearview again and sighed in relief. The headlights were gone.
“She wouldn’t lift a finger for you unless it was scripted,” Miranda said, continuing to scrape at her wound. There was no love lost between my sisters. Gemma followed Desiree’s lead and treated Miranda with the same cold dismissal as our mother did. So I wasn’t sure why I’d dragged Miranda with me to retrieve Gemma, except there had been something in Gemma’s voice when she called, a note of terrorized, alcohol-slurred desperation, and I didn’t want to go alone.
Olivia, can you come get me? I’m at a party. I don’t know whose. I just need to get out of here. Don’t tell Desiree. Please hurry. I want to come home. I can’t live like this anymore. I can’t be this person anymore.
She had said it in an urgent whisper, like she was afraid someone might overhear. What was I supposed to do, tell her no? I’d never heard her sound like that. Weakened. Vulnerable. If Miranda had heard her, even she might have softened toward Gemma.
I can't be this person anymore...
I’d waited a long time for Gemma to say those words. I hoped she still meant them when she was safe and sober.
So here we were, after midnight, racing toward some sleazy Hollywood party in the red BMW Desiree had bought me for my seventeenth birthday. A car I hadn’t asked for, purchased with money from my trust fund that I was not allowed to access until I was eighteen, just a few months away, thank God. At the rate Desiree was spending the money Gemma and I earned on our show, there would be nothing left by the time we were able to touch it. Desiree claimed there was plenty to go around, and it wasn’t like Gemma and I were going to stop working, so we ought to enjoy our success. Gemma didn’t argue with Desiree. She already had a taste for Dom Pérignon and four-hundred-dollar shoes. She owned handbags that cost as much as a semester at UCLA.
Maybe it was because Gemma didn’t get her first job until she was nine years old, and all of this—the attention, the money—still seemed new and shiny to her, whereas I’d been working nonstop since before I could eat solid food. I’d heard Drew Barrymore got her first job when she was eleven months old because a dog bit her during an audition, presumably because the producers were afraid her mom would sue if they didn’t cast Baby Drew. I got my first job in a national diaper spot because the casting director said my tiny baby nipples were the perfect color. Pink, but not too pink. Desiree reminded me of this every time I stipulated I would never do a topless scene.
Miranda picked up the Post-it note on which I’d scrawled the address Gemma had given me. “Why didn’t she call Desiree? She always calls her when she needs to be evacuated.”
This was not the first time Gemma had gotten hammered at a party and needed an exit strategy. But Miranda was right. Gemma always called Desiree, and tonight she had specifically asked me not to tell our mom, which was easy since I didn’t even know where our “momager” was. Probably schmoozing it up at some studio exec’s mansion, working an angle to get Gemma or me or both of us cast in a teen rom-com or a slasher movie. I’d play the final girl, Gemma the one who has sex first and is promptly slain, if anyone would cast her these days with all the rumors circulating that she was a drunk and a liability. Yet another teen star destined for rehab. There was talk that Gemma might be written off the show we’d starred in for two seasons, and Desiree was frantic to segue her little moneymakers into film.
A flash of light in the rearview. The SUV was back, following more closely now. I jammed my foot down on the gas pedal, accelerating past the speed limit as I envisioned a telephoto lens snapping rapid-fire pictures of me crutching my wasted sister to the car. If a single one of those photos ended up in People or In Touch or US Weekly, it would be the end for Gemma. I didn’t want that for her, even though I had a strong suspicion that she wouldn’t mind if I derailed my career and disappeared from the spotlight.
The road curved suddenly. I made the turn too fast, and Miranda sucked in a sharp breath. I spotted a line of cars parked along the road and pulled over abruptly, killed the engine, cut the lights. The SUV rounded a curve behind us and sped past without slowing. I exhaled a breath and reached for the door handle.
“I’m staying here,” Miranda said, crossing her arms and glaring out the windshield.
I left the keys in the ignition, too tired to argue. Too proud to tell her I didn’t want to go in there alone.
“Keep the doors locked. And if you spot that SUV again, duck.”
Halfway to the house, I felt a crawling sensation between my shoulder blades. I paused, looked around, expecting to spot the manic, lidless eye of a telephoto lens clicking at me from the bushes. I saw nothing. Heard nothing.
But the feeling remained.