Saturday, March 20, 2010

From the tentatively titled Hollywood Ex-Pat:

This is what I read at the Olive It Cafe last night. I've just started work on this story again, and it's all very first draft still.

Some background info: Dominic Graham is the son of a famous actress, Edie St. James, who has recently been nominated for two Golden Globes and has a French boyfriend nearly half her age, Andre. One of his sisters, Gretchen, is only 25 and already a successful movie director. Living on his own in Spokane and away from these crazy prodigies, Dominic has recently started a relationship with an old friend. This picks up when Gretchen is driving Dominic back to the airport after Christmas in Malibu.

Gretchen decided to drive me to the airport again. With such an early flight, we pounded three espresso shots each before getting in the car. “No traffic, at least,” she said, pulling her hair back before starting the car. Without her makeup, I’d forgotten how many freckles she had. She turned down the stereo. We didn’t need any peripheral noise.

“What do you think of Andre?” I said after we’d reached the main road.

She glanced at me. “I know what you think of Andre.”

“Now, what’s that supposed to mean? What exactly do you think I think?”

“That he’s empty, that Mom’s too good for him, that he can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag.”

“That’s . . . not entirely true.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I probably wouldn’t cast him, but you know, I’m around him more than you are. He’s honestly not empty.”

“I know.”

“Do you?” She headed towards the highway.

“Mom’s happy, so it’s fine. I don’t know . . . I mean, she was too good for our dad, but here we are.”

“Right. There’s an upside.” She nodded, but her mouth flattened. Gretchen’s opinion of our father fluctuated, and this morning she seemed to be erring on the side of forgiveness. “Who knows what will happen with the two of them, but he doesn’t screw around on her, and they’re happy. What else is there to say?”

“You’re right.” I sighed. The caffeine pushed its way through my bloodstream and I rubbed the last bits of sleep from my eyes. “Can I ask you something else?”

“We have a drive ahead of us, so may as well, big brother.”

“Do I seem like a sad person?”

“Sad, like pathetic? Or sad, like depressed?” Her face revealed no surprise at the question.

“Shit, I guess either.” I asked for it.

She cracked a charitable smile. “Well, you can stop worrying about being pathetic cos you’ve never been a speck of it. Don’t let anyone think you’re squandered potential, all right?”

“Okay. Thanks, I guess.” She could always sniff out the unsaid, which made me nervous for what came next.

“Now, sad in the other way?” She paused. “Who knows, big brother. You were happy when you got off the plane, and I liked seeing that, so maybe you’re not anymore.”

“So, yes, then.” I swallowed.

“In general, sorry, yes. Sometimes, you seem depressed. And I know some of it used to do with being sick, but some of it just seems like your . . . constitution.”


“I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but you did ask.” She shrugged and glanced in the rearview mirror before passing the slow Taurus ahead of us. “Jeez, I’m the last person on Earth to pin hopes and dreams on a relationship, but maybe now that you’re with someone again, it’ll do you some good. Mom mentioned him way back when you were in college, but you know, I had high school junk going on.”

“Gretch, you practically had a production company at fifteen.” I laughed.

“Well, the so-called ‘film’ department at my school was garbage, you know that.” She smiled. “And I had that dumb boyfriend. Bobby.”

“Which one was he again? The one who wore a cape?”

“No, no, that was the gay one. Esteban. God, he was beautiful.” We were both laughing now. “No, Bobby was the stagehand who fell off the catwalk.”

“Ah yes, the body-cast boyfriend.”

“Serves him right for making out with Melissa Van Buren on the side.” Her eyes narrowed into a faux-serious glare before the inquiring grin reappeared. “But I’m curious to meet your boyfriend, man. Is he cute?”

“Of course he’s cute,” I said.

“Zac Efron cute or Hugh Laurie cute?”

“God, I don’t know. Mere mortal cute.” Jon Hamm cute, I thought.

“I heard Mom gave you three grand.”

I sighed. “Yeah, like I’m going to spend that much on two suits, but she wouldn’t let me say no.”

“Ah, put it towards the plane tickets. I’ll get us all into the Vanity Fair party. Be a part of the cool kids’ table and whatnot.” She snorted. “It’s fairly ridiculous that I’m invited at all.”

“Gretchen, come on. You’re like the new Sofia Coppola. Only, you know, your movies don’t have frustrating ambiguous endings.”

She gasped. “Do you know how much younger than Sofia Coppola I am?”

“Well you know those awards panels. They just see that you’re a girl and all and give you a nice pat on the head.” I braced for the inevitable punch in the shoulder.

“That’s it. I’m cleaning up next year,” She smacked the steering wheel instead and laughed. “Watch your back, Marty. Clint, Roman, Steven, I’m kicking all your old white asses.”

“With your itty bitty feet of fury,” I said.

“Shut up.” She pointed at me. “You watch. This movie I’m shooting right now? Instant classic.”

Gretchen likes to puff herself up every so often, the degree to which depends on how well shooting has gone. Based on the last on-set phone call I’d received, she must have had some doubts. Any time a person does not live up to my sister’s expectations, it kills her. She puts on a good show — Everyone else is the idiot, Everyone else is causing these problems — but I know what she’s thinking. I hired them. What does that say about me?

“All your movies are good,” I said. “And I don’t just say that because we share some genes, okay?”

“Damn straight.” She nodded.

When we pulled up to the airport drop-off area, she put her hand on my arm. “Hang on, I have something for you before you go.” Her other hand dug into her back pocket. “Close your eyes.”

“They don’t like people to idle, terrorist,” I said.

“Shut up and close your eyes.” I did. Into my hand, she slid a cold, round piece of metal. “Open up,” she said.

She’d made me a button. Purple background, one word: Bivalve. I started to laugh. “Oh, oh, I see what you did there.”

“I dare you to wear it at the Globes.” She beamed.

“I will consider it.” I slipped it into my bag. “Maybe on the inside of my jacket. Thank you.”

“Good. Did you know that there are certain kinds of oysters that can change gender?”

“Yeah, that’s not really in my skill set.”

“You sure?”


“Until next time, big brother.” We hugged goodbye, and I left her car feeling good. As badgering as Gretchen enjoyed being, I couldn’t ask for a better sister.

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