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Page 20


Outside, I catch a cab that takes me back out to my mother's place in Malibu. The house is empty, the sound of my footsteps on the floor echoing through the space. I'm tempted to yell 'hellooooo' like a fucking kid, just to listen to my voice reverberate through the rooms.

The place looks ridiculous. Everything is white -- white marble floors, white walls, white sofa with chrome legs resting on a white area rug. This is what I've returned to, the newest redecoration of this place, Ella's attempt to "cleanse" everything.

Walking into my remodeled bedroom the other night was a grand surprise, with the white bed in the middle of the room and a white bedspread that is practically blinding. I considered hiring painters to paint the whole fucking place black, but decided it was too much effort to spend on irritating my mother.

The only color in the whole damn place are the paintings, some modern art shit she has hung on the walls so people will think she's more than just a movie star. She's an art aficionado. She has taste, people. She has class.

Yeah, right. She can pretend she shits roses all she wants, but it's still shit. I know the truth, about Ella's past and about my father that Ella tried so desperately to bury. I'm the reminder that no matter how many awards she wins, no matter how much public perception about her has changed since she's started devoting all her time to causes and visiting war-torn countries, she can't get away from the past.

I lay down on the bed without bothering to take off my boots. Ella will just have someone fix the designer bedspread that I'm sure is spun with only the finest silk imported from Mongolia or some shit. I don't know if they make silk in Mongolia, but it sounds like something Ella would pay for.

People think I'm just a spoiled rich kid, way too privileged and full of angst about my fairy-tale life. I'm over-privileged, but I'm not full of angst. I just don't play a role like these other assholes, the Hollywood types or the uptight kids at Brighton who step on each other as they claw their way to the top. I'm honest and people don't like it.

My mother certainly hates it.

But I don't hide who I am under a veneer, white-wash my life like this damn house. And that's good enough for me.

I'm leaving tomorrow for New Hampshire. The power couple has requested my presence, and Ella has booked me a first class ticket. There's a fucking pancake breakfast -- how hokey is that? We're all going to sit around and pretend to be one big happy family, eating breakfast in front of the cameras. I'm going to pretend that I'm adjusting to life with Daddy Dearest and his perfect daughter. The daughter I get hard just thinking about.

It's fucking New Hampshire. I might even wear a polo shirt. That will give Senator Douchebag a damn coronary.

"She's a total bitch, right?" Jo asks, snapping her gum. "Or she's got some kind of terrible real-life deformity that never shows up on the cameras? Tell me she's not perfect." Jo squeezes out a giant gob of sunscreen and slathers it across the creamy skin on her arms, setting the bottle in between us. I pick it up and do the same. Rose is right; the sun feels warm on my skin, and Jo's presence here lifts my mood.

It's almost enough to erase the sense of impending doom I feel thinking about my father and Ella's arrival tonight. I don't know when Caulter is coming, and I don't want to know -- I didn't even dare to ask my father earlier when he called to relay his travel plans.

I'm already paranoid that my father can smell my lust for Caulter, like I'm some kind of animal in heat.

I sigh, spreading lotion over my legs. "Ella is...okay, I guess."

Jo leans back on the towel laid on top of the boat dock, pulling at the edge of her black-and-white checkered swimsuit, this retro number with straps that come up like a halter at the back of her neck. The tattoo she got this year, cherry blossoms intertwined with Japanese characters, goes down the side of her hip, half under the swimsuit and half out. I don't know why we're laying outside in bathing suits, soaking up rays; we're slathered in enough sunscreen to drown, and wearing floppy hats big enough to practically require their own zip codes. But this is what we do here during the summer, so it's force of habit, I guess.

"Okay?" she asks. "Ella Sterling is just...okay? The Dick is marrying a big celebrity and he only just told you about it -- and that's all you've got for me? Spill it." She looks at me from behind her huge dark sunglasses, but I can't see her eyes. Then she slips them dramatically down to the edge of her nose. "Details. I want absolutely every last detail."

"She's just...okay, I guess," I say, realizing I mean it. "She's not really a bitch, I guess. She's actually kind of...blah?"

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