A hollywood starlett, her best friend, and fame gone wrong. (First chapter)
| Chapter One-Maggie
It was strange how it happened, how I became the keeper of one of Hollywood’s deepest, darkest secrets. In my little town of Oak Park, Indiana, the closest tie most people had to fame and fortune was through the latest edition of People Magazine. But not me, I was her best friend.
You know her story. Everyone does. She is the childhood star who tasted success long before she hit puberty. She’s the one who made it big and then gave it all up to try out life as a normal kid, but was too extraordinary to stay away from the spotlight for long. She’s the one who never quite fit in in high school, but had no problem assuming the role of Teen Idol. She is the one who exploded overnight, the one who did it all: modeling, singing, and acting, but still seemed to keep enough time open for a fast and exciting social life. She is the one who dated too many guys, spent too much money, and partied too hard. She is the one who got too much, too fast.
That was when the trouble started, when Bella Blake, America’s Sweetheart and my best friend decided that she had had enough of having too much.
I got the call early on a Monday morning. It wasn’t the weak desperation I heard in her voice that put me on alert, but rather her request for me to come and visit her in LA. Bella’s life had been spinning slowly out of her control for awhile, and as it gained speed, she had taken to sending me out to visit only when she was in the middle of a catastrophe, as she liked to call it. I tried not to take offense to this. Friends are supposed to be there in times of need, and I was sure that, if I ever had a “catastrophe”, Bella would be by my side all the way. The thing was that my catastrophes were basically non-existent while Bella had a new one popping up monthly.
The second bad sign came when Bella’s driver, after picking Connor and I up from the airport, exited onto Sunset Boulevard rather than driving toward Malibu, the location of Bella‘s beach-side condo. This could mean only one thing: Bella was hiding out inside her favorite bungalow at the Chateau Marmont Hotel, the place that she only escaped to when there was something very serious to escape from.
“Connor,” I whispered in the backseat. “What happened? Why is Bella here again?”
He shrugged and tried to look unfazed, but he was worried too, I could tell. I, on the other hand, needed answers.
“Excuse me.” I leaned up toward the partition between the front and back seats. “Where are you taking us?” I was pretty sure I knew the answer, but I had to make sure.
“’Ze Chateau,” the driver replied. ‘Miss Bella has been in ‘ze Chateau for a long time now. I have not seen her in a week, at least.”
I raised my eyebrows in Connor’s direction, but he ignored me.
“A week?” I repeated, in case he hadn’t heard. “You know that last time, after she caught Reed with that model, she only stayed for three days.”
“Yea, I know,” Connor said. His calm and collected exterior was really starting to get on my nerves, especially because I knew that, under his cool exterior, he was as worried as I was.
“It has to be something bad,” I continued. “ Really bad. Oh my God, what if she’s pregnant with Reed’s baby. What if she’s pregnant with someone else’s baby?”
Connor chuckled, but he would not look at me. “You can’t predict what Bella’s going to do next,” he said. “You just can’t.”
I was about to point out that, while we might not be able to predict what she would do next with complete accuracy, we could still try, but I was interrupted when the driver took a sharp right, sending us heading straight for the castle-like exterior of the Chateau Marmont’s main building, and causing a colossal lump to form in my throat. I did not heave a single good memory of this place, I realized as we wound our way through the narrow road that would take us to the private bungalows. All around us, enchanted-looking oaks swooped down at the car, threatening to scrape its top, but all I could think of was the time that we found Bella underneath one of them sobbing and disoriented.
The legendary hotel for the rich and famous was woven into the
When we finally pulled up to the expansive bungalow, my memories fast-forwarded to our last visit, the time she locked herself inside its bathroom with her bag of cocaine and sworn never to come out. The terrifying thing was that I knew when I went inside, she would be worse than that last visit. I could not quite imagine how it was possible.
“’Zey are waiting for you inside,” the driver said. He came around to open my door, but I had already let myself out. He was a new driver which didn’t surprise me since Bella fired members of her entourage and added new ones almost constantly, but he hadn’t yet caught onto the fact that, though my best friend was a celebrity, I was not used to being treated like one, whether I was in Hollywood or not.
“You ready for this?” Connor said as we made our way through the heavy august air up to the bungalow.
“No.” I tried to laugh, but it a high pitched grunt came out instead.
“It’ll be okay, just take a deep breath.” He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it firmly. It was just a coincidence, I decided, that my stomach flip-flopped at that exact moment. Of course it was because I was nervous about seeing Bella. Connor was just our third best friend who was possibly still in love with his first girlfriend, the one and only Bella Blake. Whatever crush I had had on him since I first met him at Edy’s burger joint freshman year was totally gone.
The bungalow’s door swung open before we reached it, and a burly man dressed in a pinstripe suit stepped out.
“Gray, What’s up man?” Connor greeted him. The two shook hands and patted each other on the back in a sort of man-hug.
“How you guys doin‘?” His deep voice echoed off the bungalow’s adobe exterior. Gray was Bella’s longtime body guard. Unlike her drivers, he was never replaced. Gray was the best of the best.
“Where’s Bella?” I asked, eager to cut to the chase.
“Just down the hall. I let her know you were here.” Gray pulled the door closed behind us, revealing a small tattoo between his thumb and forefinger that he had acquired in prison. Bella would never tell me what he had done time for, but I understood that, for some reason, his criminal record made her trust him even more. He resumed his post at the front door and Connor and I stepped into the bungalow’s heavily air conditioned art deco style living room. The room was empty except for a briefcase and a slew of papers scattered on top of the coffee table.
I could hear the muffled sounds of a TV coming from one of the bedrooms down the hall. I motioned for Connor to follow me and cracked open the door. A handsome man that I didn’t recognize, stood on the other side, dressed smartly in a dark shirt and expensive looking slacks. He peered at me with bottomless black eyes for a couple solid seconds before motioning for us to come in.
“Connor,” he said. “And Maggie. We’re so happy you could join us.” The man swung the door closed and flicked off the TV in one fluid motion.
I tried to take it all in at once, but there was too much. Bella’s thin and frail body was buried in a thick layer of crisp white linens on the bed where she sat, propped against the headboard, wearing only a large cotton nightshirt. Her mother, Karen sat at her side, dabbing her head with a wet washcloth. Another man, almost as striking as the first stood at the window peering outside through a complicated-looking pair of binoculars. The man who had answered the door nodded at him and he closed the blinds.
“Hey you guys.” Bella looked up at us with what seemed like considerable effort. Her voice was barely audible.
“Please sit,” the more handsome man said. He kept his eyes locked on us as he pulled out two chairs at the large cherry wood desk opposite the bed. I sat gratefully. I had been feeling quite faint ever since we entered the bungalow.
“I’m Jackson Kilbourne,” the man said suddenly, and extended his arm across the desk. “I’ll be doing some work for Bella.”
“Hi, Mr. Kilbourne,” I said, too loudly. I surmised that this man was a lawyer, but the thought made me feel even queasier. I hadn’t predicted legal trouble.
“Nice to meet you,” Connor added. He glanced sideways at the man. Connor was always suspicious of the men who worked for Bella.
“I’ll only take a moment of your time,” Mr. Kilbourne continued. “I know you’ve had a very long day of travel. You have been called here on some very special circumstances, and I would like to request a longer meeting with you tomorrow morning to discuss matters further.” Bella turned her head away on the pillow. “However, I must set out a few guidelines for your time here. First and foremost, you are not to leave this hotel, under any circumstances. You will be staying in the main building under the names Catherine Carnige and Will Handley. You are to leave your rooms only when coming directly to this bungalow, and only when escorted by Gray. You are to order all meals, as well as anything else you should need, from room service, and you are to call your families immediately and you are to inform them that you are here celebrating Bella‘s birthday. Is all of this clear?”
I just looked at him, and Connor nodded politely. “Sir, if you don’t mind,” he said, “I’d kind of like to know what’s going on here. Why all the secrecy?”
“It will all be explained tomorrow,” Kilbourne replied calmly. For an instant I thought he looked vaguely familiar, though I didn’t think I had ever seen him with Bella, but then it was gone and he was a stranger again.
“But Mr. Kilbourne--” I said.
“That will be all. We will reconvene here at nine o’clock tomorrow morning.” He stood abruptly and walked to the doorway. Bella was still turned away and did not offer any explanation.
“Remember what we discussed, Bella,” Kilbourne said. “Only a few minutes to catch up.” She nodded weakly.
A bit of tension seemed to lift from the air as soon as Mr. Kilbourne and the man who I took to be his assistant left the room.
“Oh Kids.“ Karen stood from the chair at her daughter’s side and put an arm around each of us. “Thank God you came.” I had always thought that Karen, though a bit plump, was pretty with her natural blond hair and dainty features, but right now she looked nearly as wrecked as Bella.
“Yea, thanks for coming you guys.” Bella’s voice crackled as she adjusted herself on her pillow.
“Of course Bell,” I said. No one seemed eager to fill us in--to explain the presence of this illusive and intense Mr. Kilbourne, the reason for his requests, or the cause of Bella’s sickly appearance.
“So, how’s Oak Park?” Bella asked after awhile. Her triple-process thousand dollar blonde locks fell around her shoulders in limp, greasy tendrils.
“Oh, you know,” Connor said. “Same old thing.” He didn’t lift his gaze from the floor.
“Never changes, does it?” Bella asked. A hint of a smile passed her lips, and then it was gone. I had always envied Bella’s brilliant green eyes that changed colors with her emotions, but tonight, there was not a bit of life in them.
“Boring as usual,” I confirmed. The small talk between us was unnatural, and it made me almost as uncomfortable as Mr. Kilbourne had.
“You know, sometimes I miss it,” Bella whispered. She looked like she was far off, her mind somewhere else entirely. I couldn’t help but shoot her a questioning look. The girl who had wanted nothing more than to get out of her hometown, to break away from the mundane day to day life of suburbia actually missed Oak Park?
“It’s just that, there, you know who you are. I mean, look at you guys. Connor, you’re probably the only genuine guy inside the state of California right now, and Maggie, you haven’t really changed since second grade.” I didn’t know whether do be offended or flattered.
“Bell,” Karen reprimanded. “Sorry kids, it’s been a crazy couple of days around here.” Bella wasn’t usually one to let others make excuses for her, but this time, she didn’t counter her mother. She stared hard into the bathroom on her left, concentrating on a spot on the wall.
Connor paced around the room for a minute.
“Karen,” he said finally. “what exactly is going on here?” She looked genuinely pained,
“I’m sorry, Connor. Mr. Kilbourne runs a tight ship. But I promise he’ll fill you in tomorrow.”
“But who is he?” I persisted. “He’s a lawyer isn’t he?”
“Tomorrow,” Karen repeated. Everything went silent except for a tiny sound of Bella whimpering.
“Bella,” I called out too urgently. She jumped at the sound of my voice. I could tell that she had been crying when she turned her head away. For a moment I considered turning away from her to ask Karen another question, but I couldn’t. Ever since the first time I saw Bella let out a real, emotional cry, the day she discovered that her dad hadn’t really died in a motorcycle accident, but had rather left her for a new life with a new family, I felt sick to my stomach when I saw even a single tear escape from her eye. Though Bella’s acting coach had taught her to cry on demand, a true cry from her was uncommon and meant that there was most certainly something very wrong. Bella began to cry harder when she noticed my eyes on her. She let out a sob and tried to pass it off as a cough.
“Oh Bell,” I said. I perched on the edge of the mattress.
“It’s okay, hun,” I whispered. Bella shook her head and clenched her eyes together.
“No, no it’s not.”
“Why? What happened?” I tight feeling crept up my stomach and into my throat. Connor and Karen hovered somewhere above us, but I didn’t really notice them.
“Look what I did,” Bella cried. And in an instant, there it was: undeniable proof that Bella had reached her breaking point. I had witnessed her spiraling downward, set off by the pressures of fame, but I never believed that she would make it all the way to the bottom. Never.
I was the only one who was looking when she pulled the covers back. Connor starred pointedly out the window and Karen raised her head to the ceiling as if she was in prayer. I wish I had been smart like them, realizing what she was about to reveal and turning away, but was not. Instead I starred straight at Bella’s perfect pale left arm, and saw something that I had never imagined, even with all my predictions: two partially-healed cuts tracing her veins from her wrist all the way to her elbow. In that instant, everything I thought I knew about my best friend fell away.
The real trouble started when I met Reed. It began like your average Hollywood relationship, and I should know, I have been in enough of them. He was the next up-and-coming filmmaker and I was Tinsel Town’s favorite new actress. It as only natural for him to want me as the star in his next movie. I wasn’t surprised in the least when my manager got a call from his, but I was surprised when I heard the message he left.
Reed couldn’t stop thinking about me since he spotted me from across the pool at The Inn at the Spanish Steps in Rome, where we had both attended a wedding the night before. He was convinced that I was his muse, and the inspiration he found from watching me on my lounge chair (sleeping off a hangover and drooling I might add--privately) was so powerful that he had been compelled to write a whole script just for me. At least that’s what his manager told my manager.
Dating in Hollywood is quite strange, really. There are not many jobs where your manager sets up a first date for you.
Reed spent a good majority of our first dinner together on his cell phone. Just before the waiter brought out the main course, I made like I was going to walk out on him, testing to see if he would chase me, but he didn’t. This had never happened before. I was the heart breaker, the one who always had the upper hand in a relationship. Even with Connor back home, even with my other boyfriends who were probably wealthier and more famous than Reed, mind you, I had been the one who got chased after, not the one who did the chasing.
I nearly made it to the sidewalk, before I turned around, ready to demand an explanation. For my whole life I had prided myself on being the girl who could not core less, was impossible to impress, and wouldn’t fall in love with you if you romanced her the way that Tom Cruise romanced Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire, and I was not going to let Reed Ginelli, some stupid movie producer, put all that in jeopardy.
So I teetered back in on my Manolos with all the pride I could muster and stood directly above Reed, who was still seated at our table, still yelling into his receiver about lighting and camera angles. I would just tell him calmly that I hoped he enjoyed dinner, and then I would take his cell phone out of his hand and delete my number from it. Easy.
“Reed,” I began. “I’d just like to say that--”
“I thought you left,” he interrupted, snapping instantly out of his seemingly-inescapable cell phone trance. I shook my head and tried to look dumbfounded. “Bella, I saw you out there on the sidewalk.” He didn’t set his phone down, or even courteously cover the mouthpiece with his thumb.
“I thought I was your muse,” I erupted without warning. “I thought you could not keep your mind off of me. My voice rose in both decibels and octaves, and I got that horrid tingly feeling in my nose that always comes just before I begin to cry. At the next table, an old man who I vaguely recognized turned to stare.
Reed shrugged. “It’s business, babe,” he said, finally looking up at me. “My career is very demanding.”
“But I have a demanding career too.” Reed shook his head and laughed at me. I wanted him to glance my way again; his eyes were absolutely to die for, but he didn’t.
“Jake, sorry,” he said, into the phone. “I’ll call you back. I have a situation.” And he hung up. I had never found another man so attractive as Reed was in that moment.
“A situation?” I tried to remain composed. I was one second away from slapping him, but I was even closer to falling into his lap and pulling his head of perfect blonde hair at mine.
“Sit Bella,” he said. “Our food is on its way.” I sat.
That night, Reed took me home to his amazing town house, and I slept with him. He was really quite the gentlemen after we got past the whole “situation”, except for one teeny-tiny thing. Rather than finding him lying next to me when I woke up the next morning, I found the script for his new movie.
Naturally, I took the part. I needed more time with Reed to make him fall in love with me so I could break his heart and get back to my normal self, but it didn’t exactly work that way. I spent the whole six months of filming distraught over the lack of attention from him, always trying to pull a new stunt that would make as whipped for me as every other male I’d ever dated. This, in turn, made my acting terrible, and I rightfully received horrid reviews.
The day the movie came out, Reed wouldn’t answer any of my phone calls. That night, I went to the Sky Bar with my Hollywood best friend, Chanel model Alexis, just to get my mind off things. She was the one who spotted him first, lounging outside the bar on one of the cozy white mattresses, making out with a certain former costar of mine who I shall have the dignity not to name. Things basically went downhill from there.
I would never let on that we had problems, except to Maggie and Connor. They were my best friends--my only real friends, though I’d never tell my Hollywood friends that. They were the ones I called when things got bad, for the very simple reason that they would do anything for me. That was why there was no question in my mind that they were the ones for the job.
I tried to be nervous or excited or something that morning when they came for our meeting with Kilbourne. This was, after all the beginning of the end and, they kept telling me, a chance for a new beginning. The truth was that I did not feel anything.
“They’re here!” my mother said from her post by the front door. She had not slept all night, but was as anxious as I had ever seen her. I pushed my plate of uneaten omelet and fruit to the back of my bedside table and strained to hear the insults that I was sure my friends were throwing around about me, but I couldn’t make out any words over the drone of the Full House reruns that were playing on my bedroom TV.
They all came rushing in to the same room where we had met last night at once--my mother, Kilbourne and his assistant, and finally Maggie and Connor.
“’Morning Bella,” Maggie said. Her gaze traveled toward me, and she scanned the bits of me that were not hidden under clothing and blankets as if she was looking for another cut or scar. She seemed to relax a bit when she did not find anything.
“Welcome back,” Kilbourne said, all business. “Please sit. We have much to go over and very little time.” I wanted him to ease his demeanor, unfurl his eyebrows, and give them a smile, but he did not. Even for me, even with my need for his help, Jackson Kilbourne was difficult to warm up to.
While Kilbourne moved to the TV to shut it off, the rest of the group, including my mother, sat down at a small table across from my spot at the bed. Without the hum of that old, comforting TV show in the background, I was forced to focus on them, but somehow, they seemed unreal to me. It was as if I was watching a movie play out in front of me, unable to control what would come next, appeased only by the notion that somehow, in the end, it would all turn out okay.
“Firstly we would like to thank you both for coming here on such short notice,” Kilbourne said and sat down.
“Yes, thank you,” my mother repeated. “I know you’ve gotten kind of used to it lately, but we really do appreciate it, especially now.“ Her gaze darted back and forth from Maggie to Connor, who were both making their best effort to cover up their confusion, and then to Kilbourne.
“That’s right,” he said. “You’ve been called here on some very special circumstances, as I’m sure you’ve already realized, but it’s time that we fully explain the situation to you.” Maggie twirled a piece of hair that had escaped from her curly brown bun around her finger and Connor nodded intently.
“Bella has decided to fake her death,” Kilbourne said. I watched Maggie’s back go rigid and saw her freeze.
Connor looked to Maggie, but she only blinked at him.
“Now kids, I know this sounds strange,” my mother explained. “But we’ve looked into it. This is what is best for her.”
“Fake her death,” Connor repeated. Maggie turned in her chair to stare at me, and despite my efforts to muster a reassuring smile, I stayed expressionless.
“Yes Connor, fake her death,” Kilbourne said.
“People don’t really do that. It’s urban legend.”
“In fact, they do, but I’ll take it as a compliment that you believe those rumors of faked death to be urban legend. It means I’m doing my job.” Kilbourne smirked much the way that I had seen many directors smirk when their movies hit number one in the box office.
“And what is your job, exactly?” Connor asked.
“I run a small company that specializes in the fabrication of celebrity deaths and the concealment of the celebrity in his or her life thereafter.”
“It’s really quite the business, believe it or not,” my mom said. Kilbourne nodded modestly.
“Isn’t that, like, illegal?” Connor said.
Kilbourne shook is head. “Not if you do it right.”
“They keep it so only a limited number of people know the truth,” my mom explained. “They create a quiet death, get the funeral over as quickly as possible, and then Bella goes into hiding until things die down. She will take on an assumed name and go on living her life.”
“Living her life,” Maggie repeated, and then froze again.
“We’ll stage a drug overdose back in Oak Park next Tuesday,” Kilbourne said. “No one will be extremely surprised I’m sure.” I faked a cough to remind them that I was still present in the room, at least in some ways.
“What are you saying?” I rose from my bed but only had one foot out from the covers before my mother reached me and eased me back. I began to shake and breathe heavily. “Listen to him mom. You really think he’s trying to help me.”
“Shush, Bell," my mom said. Jackson wants the best for you. He’s just stating that we’ve got a good plan to keep your secret safe. It’s okay.” I quieted, but stole sideways glances at Kilbourne while the conversation continued.
“You might be wondering where you two come into the picture,” Kilbourne continued. “We need you to be with her when we stage the overdose. One of you will discover her dead. This is mainly to gain credibility for our story. We’ll set you two up with a national interview after the death. You just need to sign here,” he handed them each a thick packet of freshly printed text and opened to the last sheet, where there was in official looking document. “It says you agree to assist us in the staging, and that you will follow all guidelines set by us in order to keep her secret safe.”
“This all seems a little sudden,” Connor said. Maggie watched the conversation as if it was a ping-pong match, bobbing her head back and forth, but not saying a word. They weren’t going to be as easy to convince as I had imagined.
“Well, it’s not just for the publicity,” I said, realizing how Kilbourne had sounded. “I wanted you guys to know because you’re my best friends, and if I didn’t tell you, well, you wouldn’t know me anymore.”
“She really needs you kids,” my mother said. “For help and support.” Kilbourne looked satisfied with her.
“I don’t think I’m speaking for myself when I say that I will help and support Bella one-hundred percent,” Connor said. He looked to Maggie for agreement, but received none. “I just think that there might be better ways. I know a great treatment program that my aunt went to when she was having her trouble with bipolar disorder and alcoholism.”
“We’re sending her to a world-class treatment facility in Idyllwild, up in the San Jacinto Mountains,” my mom said. “They’ll help her with the substance related issues, and the eating disorders, and the depression, plus they will keep her safe,” my mom continued. “We’ll change her appearance and only one counselor will know her true identity.”
“Can’t she go there without faking her death? ” Connor said. “Couldn’t she--”
“The decision has already been made,” Kilbourne interrupted. “This is what Bella wants.” I nodded.
“It is what I want, you guys,” I said.
“Why?” Connor asked. “Tell me why you want to escape from this life and all the things you could have? Tell me why you want to lie and hurt people who love you.”
I had not expected this. I was no longer the audience for this movie; I had now entered as a major role, but I was forgetting the script. All the coaching that Kilbourne had offered beforehand, all the advice he had given, seemed like a blurry memory.
“I screwed up, okay,” I said. Don’t cry, don’t cry. Make them believe you’re sure. “I’ve screwed up too many times, and I’m done with it.”
Maggie seemed to come back from her daze, and her gaze shifted to me.
“This is because of Reed,” she said. ”Isn’t it?”
Connor looked confused. “Bell, you’ll move on from that. There are other guys, you know.”
“Don’t be stupid, Connor,” Maggie said. “It’s not because he broke her heart, she’s scared because she fell in love with him. You know how Bella feels about falling in love.” She knew me too well.
“A lot has happened since last time you visited, okay?” I said. “I don’t really want to talk about it, but the point is, that I’ve lost control, and this is my only way to get it back.” I was shaking more violently now, and I aws sure they noticed.
“The point is,” Maggie said, “that you think you fell in love with Reed because you couldn’t get him to love you, and he rejected you, and you actually cared. The point is, that now you’re even more scared of falling in love than you were before, and that you want to get away from it before it gets to you. It doesn’t work that way you know.”
“I know,” I said, hoping it wasn’t true. I wasn’t going to let this turn into another Maggie vs. Bella debate about the pros and cons of falling in love. It was the one thing we would never agree on. “But my problems go a lot deeper than that,” I said, suddenly remembering my lines. “It’s not realistic to think that I can work them out, that I can get off of cocaine and start eating again, and cure my depression while living my life this way. I can’t take this lifestyle any more. I just can’t.” I started to cry, and though Kilbourne had instructed against it, I knew it was not a mistake when I saw Connor pick up his pen.
“I have been worried about you,” Connor said. “It seems like every time you start to get better, you get some new pressure here, and you go back to the way you were before.”
“That’s right,” my mom said. “She can’t get well with all the people and the pressures. She deserves a normal life, just like you two.” She was right on cue.
“Promise me you won’t regret this,” Connor said. “And that you’ll get better.”
“I promise,” I said. Connor’s dark eyebrows wedged themselves together to form an almost uni-brow as he pursued the document.
“I know there are lots of questions that we haven’t answered yet,” Kilbourne said. “But much of our procedures are covered in this packet, and we will go over the plan for the staging later today. We just need you to agree to help your friend out.”
Connor concentrated a moment longer and took his time to sign his name. Kilbourne reached out to shake his hand.
“Pleased to be working with you,” he said. I turned my head away.
“Go ahead Maggie,” Kilbourne said.
“She’s making a mistake,” Maggie said. She was breathing heavily and the wooden bangles on her wrists knocked around as she jiggled her hand under the table. “You’re making a mistake.” That was my cue. I did just as Kilbourne had told me, and uncovered my scarred arm, just the same way I had the night before.
“I need you,” I said, and let the tears fall.
It worked. Maggie picked up her pen, signed her name without looking, and closed the packet promptly.
I gave Connor my best attempt at the silent treatment beginning the moment Bella’s driver dropped us off at LAX airport, and ending only when we reached turbulence over the Great Lakes.
“Is it going to be okay?” I asked him.
“I hope so,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
“Well, I don’t know what to say. All we can do is be there to support her and hope that she knows what’s best for herself.”
“What?” I turned away from the small airplane window that I had been intently peering out of. “Oh my God,” I said. “You think I’m talking about Bella?”
“I was talking about the turbulence. The airplane.” I rolled my eyes.
“Sorry.” He played with the snap on the tray table in front of him with a sheepish look on his face.
“You’re obsessed with her,” I said. His head snapped up and his eyes got wide.
“Maggie, you know that isn’t true. She’s my friend and that’s all.”
“I’m her friend,” I said. “And if all she is is a friend to you, then you would have done what I did. You would have tried to stop her.”
“That’s not fair.”
“So it was fair for you to make the odd one out, trying to convince her that she was making a mistake even though you know it as well as I do? Just because you want to say the right things now so you don’t hurt your chances of getting her back later?” Connor reached for his headphones and made like he was going to put them on.
“You think what you did was fair?” he said. “Bringing up all that love bullshit when you know it upsets her? She’s in a really fragile place right now.”
“Am I the only one who understands this?” I said. “She’s making a mistake.”
“Maybe she is,” Connor said. “But it‘s her life. That’s the journey.” I propped my stewardess-administered pillow against the window and closed my eyes. If Connor was going to start talking about the journey, I was done with this conversation. I saw his reflection in the window shake it’s head at me, and then I closed my eyes.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent and request that all electronic equipment be turned off and stowed at this time,” the voice of the flight attendant came through on the loudspeaker about ten minuets later.
“Maggie,” Connor whispered and leaned close to me. I ignored him. “Hey Maggie.” He poked my shoulder hard.
“What,” I groaned.
“Listen, I’m sorry, okay. I think we’re both just a little on edge right now.” He paused for my response, but there was silence. “I just got set off when you said that I still loved her. I thought you would know by now that I don’t.”
“I didn’t say you loved her.” I kept my head rested on the pillow at my side. “I said you were obsessed with her.” Connor smoothed his palms over his khaki shorts.
“Okay, well I‘m not, alright? And I’m sorry.”
“What’s wrong?” He leaned in closer to me.
“You can‘t let this get to you,” he said, his voice coming out in hushed, soothing tones.
“I just--it’s like we lost her already, whether her death is fake or real, we lost her.”
“I don’t know,” Connor said. “Maybe this is just the beginning of her comeback.”
“I just want her to be okay.” Tears began to form somewhere below my eyes. “I just want this to be over.” One crept out and I buried my face deeper into the pillow. “And she’s doing it all wrong,” I added.
Connor breathed out. “It’s her life,” he said.
“You don’t get it,” I said. “It’s our lives now, too. This is going to affect us. It’s going to be hard for me--”
“What?” he said.
“It’s just going to be hard,” I covered up. “That’s all.”
“Well I’m here for you.” He began to stroke my arm gently, and blood rushed to my head. “Even if no one else can be,” he finished.
If only he had known that what I had really intended to say was that it would be hard to fall in love the way I had always intended, if I had to keep this part of my life secret forever. But he doesn’t know, I reminded myself.
When I got home, I headed straight for my bedroom, leaving my luggage in the trunk of my car, in fear of waking my parents. I needed sleep; my legs swung reluctantly below me, heavy and aching, and my mind yearned for an escape from all that had happened, but there was one last thing I had to do before I went to bed. I had to write.
My online journal had become my confidant after Bella moved back to Hollywood. She was rarely available when I needed someone to talk to, and a lot of the thoughts that needed relief were certainly not suitable for Connor’s ears. In the past few years, it had become my stress reliever, my friend, and at times my enemy.
In the later part of our meeting with Kilbourne, I was warned that it would need to be closed down by Tuesday, the day of the staging.
“How do you know about it?” I had asked.
“Bella told me,” he said, uninterested.
“No one reads it,” I said. “It’s just for me.” It was sort of comical to think that someone would actually suspect me of holding a secret of this magnitude.
“Deleted by Tuesday,” Kilboune said for the second time. End of discussion.
But I couldn’t bear to let it go without one last entry. It was too much a part of my life.
I made my way through the maze of packing boxes that filled my room and sat down at my computer. My eyes stung in the glow from the screen as I logged into my account on the yourspot.com webpage.
Things have changed. I typed in the entry blank. And again, it’s for the worst. I can’t say much, except that this will be my last entry. It’s really out of my control. I pushed the submit button and tried not to think about the fact that this would be the way my three year journal had ended. It certainly took away any option for it to be made into a best selling book, if I ever did anything exciting like win the Nobel-Prize for inventing some new medicine. Still, I couldn’t offer any more explanation. If Kilbourne’s objective had been to scare us into secrecy, he had been successful, but secrecy wasn’t the only thing he had scared me into.