Starlet’s Web

by Carla J. Hanna

About The Book

The Starlet Series is a snapshot of a Hollywood star’s life as she gains independence from those who control her every move. This is not a paparazzi-laden story. It is a realistic, coming-of-age fiction. The actress is a Lawrence or Steinfeld, not a Lohan. She’s an isolated actress with the responsibility of the success of multimillion dollar projects – a product of Hollywood – a young woman.

Get Up To Speed

Liana Marie Michael is an exhausted teen actress and misses her ex-boyfriend, Evan, who broke up with her to help improve her brand but also because he recognized that she loved someone else: Manuel.

The Hook


My Globe loss and the public embarrassment of Evan cheating on me put me back on top. I did a few interviews that went just fine. My trailer on set shielded me from the paparazzi. Women liked me again. I worried that an Oscar win would re-ignite the hate but Mom explained that the Academy Awards that night offered me freedom. An Oscar equaled royalty. She assured me that all women loved princesses.

I texted Mom when Byron and I arrived at the hotel in which Franz and his team of artists would transform us into movie stars for the Oscars.

Byron had a typical lean and toned ideal Hollywood build. He had light brown hair, perfectly bronzed skin, and expressive eyes. His features were precisely balanced, but also unique because when he smiled, he had adorable, childlike dimples in his cheeks. His smile often took my breath away because of the contrast between the chiseled marbled smoothness in his pensive expression and the warm youthful glow of his smiling expression. It didn’t seem possible that both faces originated from the same striking man. Byron was number one on my personal hotness list. I just wished he had more talent.

We sat down on the couch together in the hotel lobby. He leaned into me so quickly that he managed to kiss my lips.

“Stop!” I scolded, surprised by the intensity of my voice. “I asked you to stop doing the Hollywood hello. I want you to be my friend and co-star. That’s it, no romance. Remember, I’m seventeen and you’re twenty-one. You don’t want to get arrested for dating a minor. You know that’s statutory rape.”

“Marie, you’re the star of another major motion picture, your seventh feature. You’re Muse. You’re not a teenager. You’re wonderful, gorgeous, smart, sweet, and talented. I’m not insincere. I love you and that’s that.”

Byron’s blue eyes silently stunned me. They swooped in, blocked my thoughts from logical reason, and replaced them with an acceptance that he was beyond reproach.

He continued speaking in his melodic Australian accent, “Besides, I just turned twenty-one a month ago and you turn eighteen in two months. You know as well as I do that it wouldn’t be statutory rape.” His voice pulsed in my ear, “It would be making love because I love you.”

“Well, maybe for you. I’m not interested whatsoever. Actually, I’ll be looking into getting a chastity belt until I can become a nun.”

I eyed him again to access his truthfulness. The “love you” talk was typical for Hollywood. I tossed the sentiment around, too. Byron was new to the business and sometimes I couldn’t tell if he meant it when he said he loved me.

After a lengthy silence, he asked, “Marie, are you afraid of attention?”

“Definitely. The press had a field day with my parents’ divorce. It was pretty sad to see my mom go through so much pain while the whole world was happy that the perfect Hollywood marriage failed. My mom was a faithful and loving wife. People couldn’t get enough of her ruin. It hurt a lot, more than you could imagine. The press also turned my words after my first Oscar nomination. Then look at what just happened with Evan. Total nightmare. I trust absolutely no one in the media and, I don’t want to be preachy, but please don’t say that you love kissing me on set. It’s so over-the-top.”

I was nominated before, for Best Supporting Actress, three years prior for my very first film, Left to Die, but didn’t win the Oscar. Mom told me I wouldn’t win. It was a step towards veneration, and it would increase exposure of the film and hopefully increase box office revenues by at least $30 million. She practiced with me for hours about how I would go to the Academy Awards, pose for the cameras, sit patiently and uncomfortably in the Shrine Auditorium, smile when I lost, showing support for the actor who won, and pretend that I was not disappointed. The evening I lost, I was painfully embarrassed and nauseous. I stained my dress from perspiration. When we reviewed the video, I seemed completely composed. I smiled and gave the impression that I was happy for the winner. I remembered that I blushed, but I had so much makeup on that the cameras didn’t pick it up. There was no strain on my face from the uncomfortable, painful gown. There was no sign that I was sweating buckets. That was the night I learned that I could act. That night Mom won her Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Left to Die.

Byron ignored my request. “You seem like you know that you’re going to win? Is it rigged?”

“Michelle and Richard wrote Jefferson’s Muse, released the feature film during Thanksgiving break when every American in the audience would be thankful for our American forefathers, maintained heavy worldwide promotion in December, and made sure the film would be nominated for an Oscar in January.”

“So? Why would that mean you’ll win?”

“Well, here’s how it works: there are five steps. Step one of the nomination game is that each member of each American Academy branch nominates a talent. The Director Branch of the Academy nominates the directors. The Acting Branch nominates the actors, and so on. The top nominees are selected from each branch. Matthew and Grant had no chance at being nominated, since most of the Acting Branch members are older actors who, for the most part, don’t even watch films in theaters or see the actor’s actual performance. I’m a household name. They know my talent with scripts; there are only a few of us who can do that.

“Step two, the top votes from each branch become the nominees for each category.

“Step three is a massive marketing push by each studio’s and talent’s publicists to all members. In my case, the producers—my mother, Richard, and Ira—promoted Muse to the members non-stop.” Richard Conning was the director working for Ira Goldberg Studios.

“Step four, all of the members vote on the selected nominees, no matter to which branch they belong.

“Step five is the Academy Awards show, where the industry members congratulate themselves and reinforce their influence as American film making royalty. Which, honestly, is absolutely true.”

Bryon laughed. “It’s so political, interconnected. I had no idea.”

I nodded. “I think of it as a web, the fans are the flies, and the insiders are the spiders. Sometimes I think I’m the web. Right now I think we young actors are flies. It’s impossible to escape the web.” My eyes watered.

Camille, my therapist, and Mom kept talking “victim” but I kept thinking “fool.” I had responsibility for letting the public dictate my love life just to be liked. I should not have willingly kissed a man when I knew it was against a law made to protect me from a creep. Although Matthew didn’t rape me, he betrayed me. My fans betrayed me. I participated in my own exploitation. I betrayed my ‘self’.

But there was a change in me. Being a good girl meant being alone. Losing Evan made me question two things: why I gave everything of myself to entertain an unappreciative audience and why isolating myself to protect my private life was worth it.

I considered Byron who thought he loved me and doubted my resolve. He filled a void. Why not date him, be vulnerable? Could I survive it?

Byron patted my leg sympathetically and changed the subject, “So are you ready for today, babe?”

“I’m worried that I’m going to win,” I admitted. I was conflicted. I never wanted to be an actor. Many of my contracts would have to be renegotiated, five-year contracts that were set up to expire when I turned eighteen. I wanted to sign nothing and walk away. Winning this award would make walking away very, very difficult for me and for everyone who owned a piece of me.

I did have to finish the “Muse” series, though, so I knew walking away would be relative. It would probably take two to three years to get out of the business, given that I was obligated to finish Constantine’s Muse, the film I was working on presently. I knew that I’d still be part of my Hollywood world.

“Why wouldn’t you want to win an Oscar? You’re a great actress. Is it true that you don’t go to the screenings, that you don’t watch your work?”

“True. I’m too sensitive to the stress the director feels when everyone in the room second guesses him, advocates for an actor to get more screen time, worries about their return on their investment, and threatens him in order to make the changes they want. It’s this room full of spiders stressing about how they can catch the most flies.”

“Marie, after tonight, you’ll be a spider.” Byron smiled. “Lean on me if you get overwhelmed. I understand.”

“Thanks. But I don’t want to eat flies.”


Mom arrived in jeans and a tee. Sage was already in full makeup but the stylists had not started on her hair.

Sage was a beautiful woman, my height with long black hair, dark skin and green eyes. I didn’t know if she was Persian or Turkish, perhaps Indian. Her name was also her trademark. I loved her eyes, not just the sage color or the contrast with the green against her skin, but also the depth of emotion that her eyes expressed. From her eyes, I knew I could trust her and that she was genuine. She was in her mid-thirties but looked a few years older than Mom. Dad hired her when she needed a job after she bombed out as a performer. She was a huge teenaged success, starring in a cute young adult motion picture series in which she also performed the vocals for the key tracks. She had instant fame but couldn’t handle the pressure from both Hollywood and the concert tours. She was a complete drunken slut there for a while. Her second album was a flop. Her production studio didn’t renegotiate her contracts and no one gave her another chance. She went to rehab, cleaned herself up, reconnected with her Muslim roots, and fell in love. But she was a has-been in the entertainment industry. That’s when Dad hired her to manage his and my engagements around Mom’s busy schedule. When he moved to Montana and I became an actor, I became her sole client. Since she lived the jet-setting celebrity teenaged life and then found God again, Dad figured she’d know the game and help me from imploding. And she did. She was a terrific manager, protecting me from making her mistakes.

“Mom!” I hugged her. “I forgot to ask you yesterday. How’s your project going?”

“The film will be wonderful. But I’m still disappointed we have to shoot in Vancouver. I’d like to be closer to you, Marie. I love you so much. I’ve missed you more than I can say.” She sighed and hugged me tighter. “I’m so proud of you. You did such a great job on Jefferson’s Muse and Richard says you’re even more tremendous in Constantine’s Muse. Wow, honey; good work.”

“Thanks.” I let go. “Hi Sage.” I hugged her too.

“Great job, Marie. It’s always a pleasure working for you. I’m so proud of you, too.”

“Thanks, Sage. And thanks to you, I have nothing to worry about. Except tonight. I’m terrified. Can we practice again, Mom?”

“That’s why I’m here. But let’s make sure your dress fits first.”

Mom turned to Byron and shook his hand. “Hello, Byron, I’m Michelle Michael, co-producer of the film you are wrecking. Please learn how to act.”

Byron shook her hand but said nothing. He smiled and winked at her. For a moment, I thought Mom had turned him on or something. We walked uneasily to the elevator and to the hotel room.

Mom hugged Franz and the three of them left the room to the adjoining room to brief Franz’s team.

Byron kissed me again from out of nowhere.

“Stop! Dude, I didn’t see that coming. I’m aware that you’re standing next to me, and then boom, out of nowhere! Please, my nerves are completely rattled. Don’t kiss me.”

“I thought it would relieve some tension, that’s all.”

I searched his face and shook my head. His eyes expressed sincerity and face was relaxed, showing no sign of tension or worry. I pleaded, “I don’t want to be just another girl to you. I want it to be special, with someone who only loves me. Please, I’m not a trophy.”

He stepped back from me and waited until I acknowledged him. He explained using his most patient voice, “You don’t fool me, Marie. I see how lonely you are. I’m your guy. I can give you so much love.”

“Byron, you think I’m this innocent virgin. I’m not. I have chosen not to be promiscuous. I used to party, too. I’ve seen it all and don’t want it. I’m not going to attend gross parties, blow you, or go through rehab again. I’m completely not your type.”

He shook his head. “You’re wrong about me, Marie. You’re right that I get pissed too much. And these girls, they’re everywhere, aggressive, in line. I won’t deny myself but I don’t want you in the way I have them. I respect you, admire you.” He looked down and his lips slightly puckered into a sexy pout. “I want you to move into my condo with me until we finish shooting. You won’t be lonely anymore. I won’t be either.”

I shook my head. “Be realistic. We wrap. We say a painful goodbye. We both feel more alone afterwards as we go on to the next project. You’re incredibly hot, Byron. Your line of girls will never stop. You’ll continue to lose yourself each time you’re bashed online. You’ll keep changing who you are for a fickle audience. I’ll miss you too much. An affair is temporary. It’s not what I want.”

He sighed, looking deflated. “Okay. I’ll back off.”

“Promise?” I asked.

“You have to know the effect you have on me. I love the color of your eyes and the mind hidden behind them, and I only get to see them if I’m really close. Babe, we connect. But I’ll do my best.” Byron crossed the room and slouched onto the couch. “I wrote you a song. Please just let me sing it to you when we get back to the set.” He picked up the remote and turned on the TV.

He didn’t promise. A song would completely wear me down. I answered, “Just take no for an answer.”

Mom came in to get me to try on the dress. She assessed the situation.

She walked directly to Byron and put her hand on his shoulder, looking at him with knowledge and purpose. “Byron, back off from my daughter. You’re co-stars. You’re not romantic. Use your feelings on screen. Repress them when you’re off the set. Marie is not Muse. You touch her without her permission and you’ll wish you stayed down under.”

Byron put his hand on hers and returned the stare with conviction. “I’m in love with her. I know she’s more than Muse. She’s perfect, one-of-a-kind, extraordinary, and beautiful. But she’s so lonely. I can replace that loneliness with my love if she’d let me.”

He took Mom’s hand off of his shoulder and kissed the top of it as he got up from the couch. He held her hand as he walked her to me.

“You both are absolutely gorgeous. I promise I’ll try, Marie.” He smiled and put Mom’s hand in mine. Then he walked back to the sofa, sat down, and watched TV.

Mom and I watched him. I wondered if any want-to-be or unproven actor but Byron had the nerve to treat Mom that way. Mom was a diva and most people tried desperately to kiss her ass.

Then I noticed Mom. Her face glowed from the confrontation and she shifted her body, accentuating her legs. She actually had an insurance policy on her perfect legs. I shook my head in disbelief. She giggled and tossed her hair as she pulled me to the adjoining room.

I was going to scold her for flirting but Franz was positively giddy when I entered the room. I thought he would be stressed out about how Mom would react to the dresses but he grinned and tried not to bounce. His hands were clasped together. I eyed Sage and Mom. They smiled, too.

I asked, “What is it, Franz?”

He squealed, “Your Oscar presents! Your own collection! What do you think?”

He unveiled a collection of Anabelle by Marcia Sherrill handbags, totes, evening bags and a cute little backpack. Her trademark was a pink pineapple, which always brought me back to comforting thoughts of looking out of my terrace in Santa Monica at all the palm trees in the canyon.

“I love them! Thanks! These are in my collection? What does that mean?”

“Marcia named the bags after you. You’ve got a Liana bag and a Marie tote from your favorite Palm Springs line. This gorgeous bag for tonight is the Marie Michael from the Hollywood line! We got it in both black and gold. I figured the Durglo backpack would be your favorite.”

Mom hugged me. “I got a set for everyone! Renee wears hers tonight, too. I’m so proud of you, Marie, so very proud.” Mom got down to business. “Now let’s get ready!”

I sat in a swiveled chair in front of the bathroom mirror. Franz’s team had several stations throughout the hotel room. He turned the adjoining room into wardrobe and catering. Franz was working on my makeup first. Someone else would do my hair.

“Franz, Byron insists that he’s in love with me and wants to date. He’s completely hot. I like him but, you know?”

“If you date someone, date Evan again. You two are beautiful together in every way. Byron doesn’t deserve you. You’re too good for him, Marie.”

“I have such a hard time. I kiss him a lot off set, ya know, at least a couple times a week. I… it’s always in response to him kissing me. I just don’t know why… It’s like I don’t see it coming and then it’s, ‘wow’, and then I stop kissing him back when I remember that he’s shallow.”

“I don’t think Byron is shallow. He loves you but he’s not right for you. He’s new to this world and from what I can tell will crash like most of them. Can I tell you what I see?”

“Of course, Franz. Please.” Although I had to be careful with what I revealed about myself with him, I could trust that he would tell me the truth.

“I’ve watched you for years on set and at home. All your co-stars love you. You’re sweet and naturally beautiful inside and out—one in a billion. But, you, my dear, are in love with only one boy and until you tell Manny how you feel, you won’t be able to date anyone.”

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I blushed. I shook my head. “It would hurt too much to tell Manuel. He doesn’t love me that way. He hates that I’m an actor. He thinks I’m his sister.”

Franz put his hand on my shoulder and stopped applying my foundation. He looked me in the eyes and pleaded, “You need to tell him that you’re in love with him, take the chance.”

“I kind of did. I kissed him and he pushed me away.”

One of his assistants entered the room. Franz shooed him out and closed the door. He continued, “I hate seeing you so lonely. I know Evan didn’t cheat on you. You broke up because you loved Manny. Manny thought you were mental when you kissed him and pushed you away. Renee told me. Nothing will change for you unless you’re honest with the people you love. I personally like Evan better, but you and Manny have a stronger bond. Manny doesn’t play games. You played a kissing game.”

I chuckled and then explained, “I’ve kissed Manny twice, actually. The first time was playing spin-the-bottle. The second time I pretended to demonstrate Byron’s surprise kiss. Both showed that he didn’t care while both tore me up inside.”

“Manny is dense, darling. But he’s absolutely in love with you. I can feel it in the room when you both are together. Michelle knows. Evan knows. Beth knows. Kate knew. You two are the only ones in denial. You need to be straight with him.”

“I’m afraid to. He’ll reject me and then what?” I asked and then turned from him, embarrassed that he saw through me so clearly.

“Then you’ll have closure. I’ll be here for you, as is Renee. Evan would jump at the chance to date you again. You can find some peace because then you’ll know where you stand with Manny.” He giggled. “Besides, Evan is ready for commitment and is mature. Manny needs to grow up and be more open-minded. I saw him roll his eyes behind my back when I was getting you ready for the SAG awards. I kindly ask you: never invite him to come by again while you’re in hair and makeup. Please.”

Franz smiled and added, “And he should praise you after your transformation into a goddess, not complain that you’re more beautiful without makeup. I also don’t like that he acts like the keeper of your modesty. You have the best figure in Hollywood and should flaunt your perfection, not hide it.”

Franz stopped his rant. “Darling, I like Evan. He’s worldly, beautiful and wise.” He raised his eyebrows. “Tell Manny how you feel. If he doesn’t feel the same, call Evan and this time love him in return and you’ll be so happy with him.”

I nodded but didn’t feel like talking anymore. I would be so vulnerable if Manuel rejected me. I’d feel like a complete idiot after he gasped at my admission of love and withdrew from my life. But then I would have the freedom to let myself love Evan. Franz was right that Evan would take me back. I let it play out in my head. Nope, I would miss Manuel too much. He had to stay in my life. I needed him on a deep, almost spiritual level, even if it was just as a brother.

Franz got down on his knee in front of me and held my hand. “Marie, I know you’re my boss, but you can trust me. I’m a gossip. I am. But I won’t betray you. You’re one of my best friends and I know I’m yours. Well, I share that role with Manny. Listen, I see everything, hear everything. I put things together. I heard about Matthew. You’re right to want to destroy him. You’re considering dating Byron. From the swelling around your eyes, you’ve been crying. I’m here for you, can support you. What you’ve been through is too much. I love you. Please let me help.”

I hugged him and tried so hard not to lose it. Tears fell anyway. He held me while I cried it out.

I pulled myself together. “Thanks, Franz.”

“Let’s start over, my beautiful friend.” Franz handed me a cold wash cloth to wipe my tears and sooth my eyes.

After he finished reapplying my foundation, he opened the door and called in his assistants. It was time to transform. At least I had my black handbag with embroidered pineapples that could remind me of nature, peace, and home.


I had just spent one hour on the red carpet with Byron as my date, being ushered by bodyguards and told to whom we should greet and talk, walking from my Academy-provided limo to my seat in the auditorium with Byron kissing my cheek for the cameras and putting his arm around me any opportunity he found during the times we were together. We were finally in our seats. My feet were killing me in the silver stilettos. My gown probably weighed fifteen pounds and hurt my body from the moment Franz helped me into it. My breasts were taped to provide the right amount of cleavage and uplift. My skin itched everywhere. I was a little sweaty. My face was heavy from the makeup and the false eyelashes pulled at my eyelids. My hair was dark, long and flowing. I had a terrible headache, but I was used to that. Since just after my fourteenth birthday, I always had a headache.

As in all of the awards shows, I was acting at the Oscars, trying to show that I was not acting. TV viewers wanted to think that I was being myself, but if I were myself, I would have been inside my home, looking out the window at the peaceful view, wearing sweats and no makeup, and talking in short bursts of thought as appropriate for a teenager. I would not be with Byron. I’d be hanging out with Manuel. Fortunately, thinking of Manuel and some of his goofier moments helped me get through the night until Evan, who I knew in advance would be the presenter, announced the nominees for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

The Academy selected the clip of my monologue in which Muse inspires the young Thomas Jefferson to look beyond building Monticello, challenge who he is, change the new world, and build the dream of a United States of America. Muse moves him to action, to dream of universal liberties, and to create a government that serves the people. Muse is passion and hope. I nailed the difficult dialogue and even cried in the scene. I was certainly convincing.

As Evan introduced the last nominee, I continued to smile, knowing the cameras were on me, but I could taste the acid in my mouth and my body shook. I whispered to Byron, “Help me.”

He quickly held my hand and smiled at me, knowing that now the cameras focused on both of us and our possible love connection. I breathed, relieved to share the pressure.

Evan announced, “And the Oscar goes to Marie Michael, Best Actress in a Leading Role.”

I sat there, certain that I did not want the honor. Who was I but some ungrateful kid who did not want the attention?

Byron gently shook the hand he held, trying to help me save face and get going. He kissed my cheek and whispered, “Marie, get it together. Get your ass up there.”

He stood up and carefully pulled me up on my feet, grinning the whole time and whispered again while he hugged me, “You’re an actress, Marie. Go act.”

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I composed my face, smiled, and got to the podium. Evan sensed my struggle so he met me at the top of the stairs, embraced me, and kissed my cheek. I didn’t care that the audience would be confused by Evan’s sweetness. I didn’t care that our publicist would be mad that we ruined the charade.

He smiled at me and whispered, “You can do this, ma Cherie. You’re my girl who totally rocks.”

His encouragement calmed me and I took a moment to smile at him before he escorted me to the podium, tell him with my eyes that I would be stronger for both of us. I received my unwanted statuette of a naked, anatomically ambiguous actor. I had the speech my mother wrote memorized. I performed it. I smiled. I leaned on Evan and walked off the stage gracefully to where Mom was waiting for me backstage.

I quickly embraced Evan. “I love you, Evan. Screw the criticism and humiliation just to sell more seats in a theater. I’ve missed you.”

He let go and put his hand under my chin. “I agree and love you always but dating still doesn’t make sense.” He squeezed my shoulder and let go. “I’m proud of you, sweetheart.”

I stared at him while Mom hugged me with enthusiasm.

“Oh, Marie, I’m so proud of you!” She said as she held me.

I nodded at Evan to say au revoir.

I whispered, “Mom, I’m going to puke…hurry.”

Mom smiled to everyone around her as she pulled me quickly to where Sage stood for the handoff. Sage pulled me into a small closet-like room and I threw up into the plastic-lined trash bag she gave me. I dropped to the floor and uncontrollably shook the statuette that was still in my fist. Sage held me in silence until she could see that I had calmed down enough for reason.

“We’ve arranged for you to exit quickly. Sashi will drive you back to the Muse set. Michelle and I will stay. Richard is here, of course, to represent you and his film. You did a great job. Do you think you could handle one more hour backstage?”

“I’d rather not,” I answered. “I’d rather die and go to hell.”

“I know how you feel. I was there, too, but imploded. I’m here so you won’t be me. I’ll fix your makeup and get you in the car. Byron will ride with you back to the set. We’ll give the paparazzi what they want with you two leaving together. Look happy. Carry your Oscar proudly; smile. I’ll get the Oscar for engraving right before you get into the limo.” Sage smiled at me and cleaned up the mess I had made of my face. She sprayed some breath mist into my mouth. They were definitely prepared for me to lose it.

Sage sent some texts and tied up the plastic bag of puke like it was a baby’s dirty diaper. I wondered if Sage had any kids. I knew she was married. I got an email or several emails from her each day, every day. She was more than my manager, she was my crutch. I trusted her but she definitely was a professional who worked for me. We didn’t confide in each other—ever. I was shocked that I never asked about her family.

“I’m sorry I don’t know tons about you. Do you have kids, Sage?”

She smiled at me and then simply said, “You’re my boss. I’m your employee. You have enough on your plate that you don’t have to worry about me, too. I have two boys and a great husband. I love my family and my job. I will always be thankful that your dad hired me. I’m grateful that you give me every Friday afternoon off so I can pray at my mosque. And you pay me very well, thank you.”

She patted me on the shoulder and lifted me up to a standing position. I repositioned my stilettos.

“Ready?” She asked.

“Yeah.” I sighed. I was sure I could make it to the limo.

I stopped to pose with my Oscar and then Byron. I endured the gauntlet of photographers with the protection of our bodyguards. I gave the Oscar to Sage, wishing she could unzip me from the tight dress so I could breathe. I got in the limo and waited for Byron. The door closed behind him, and I felt a wave of relief flow through me.

“You did it, babe! I thought you were going to go into shock. Damn, you’re one hell of an actress.” Byron put his arm around me and kissed my cheek.

I shifted away from him and removed my shoes. My feet were throbbing. “Thanks, Byron. I suffer from stage fright. I sure didn’t want to win tonight. But it’s good for the Muse brand, bad for the Marie Michael brand.”

“Yeah, thanks for being so awesome. I get paid $100,000 for my role in this project and then will make millions because you win the Oscar for best actress. Now everyone will see Constantine’s Muse. You just made my career. Thanks.”

I joked, “Byron, ya know it’s your agent, manager, publicist, stylist, trainer, lawyer and bartender who will get most of that.”

The mention of a bartender immediately made Byron pour himself a drink from the bar and light a cigarette. Byron was a chimney.

I really felt for him. He probably couldn’t quit acting for another five years with the contracts to which he was bound, and he was a walking time bomb of self-destruction. He had no handle on the fame. He repeated the same story about himself to everyone he met and, after he was smashed an hour later, told the same story again. He probably thought people cared but would soon learn that nobody did. He’d soon learn to trust no one.


I fumbled through the bag left for me in the limo and found my cell phone. Dad and Celia sent a text praising me. I texted a return thanks. I called Manuel.

“Bueno,” he answered. He and his father said ‘bueno’ instead of ‘hola’ and I never truly understood why. He said it was just a greeting and didn’t mean “good” in context.

“Hey, Manuel,” I said as I closed my eyes, instantly feeling relief from hearing my best friend’s voice, feeling loved.

“You did it. My mom cried, ya know. Thanks for thanking us.”

“Ugh, I wanted to die. It was excruciating.” My lungs constricted just thinking about the stress.

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I know. Just keep in mind that you did it. You’re awesome.”

“Thanks.” I sighed, ready to change the subject. “Byron and I are heading back to San Diego. So what are you going to do tonight?”

“I’m going out on a double date with Alan to some fight, I guess. Alan is paying. He got a driver so it should be an easy date.”

Alan Goldberg, my producer’s son and our classmate—when I went to classes—was a compelling jerk, one of those mega rich guys who was the life of the party, knew everyone, treated girls as whores, made enormous social errors, and then apologized sincerely for being an ass. He was scrawny, only a few inches taller than me, and completely un-athletic.

All of us had sworn off our friendship with him and yet we all somehow forgave him. Each time we forgave him, we felt like fools and the cycle continued. Now that we were seniors in high school, with the exception of me at work most of the time, we finally gave up trying to exclude him since the effort was futile anyway.

“I thought you’d never get set up again with Alan. I mean, you’re on the seventh girl you thought was a slut and moved too fast for you.” I had counted.

“They are all so vacant. I just can’t deal with anyone I’ve dated since Kate. But Alan set me up with that cute girl I like from Brentwood when I called him to get her number. Her name is Trish. She goes to the school where Beth’s dad teaches. Tuition there is $32,000 per year, for a high school! That’s so insane! I asked Beth’s dad about her.” He sighed. “Beth and I got into a huge fight this morning. Anyway, Trish doesn’t take his classes, but she’s really smart and plays classical guitar and piano. She’s a singer. She’ll probably think I’m a total loser but I gotta try, right? So, Alan’s taking Sherry since she knows her.”

My heart sank but I tried my best to sound supportive, “You’re trying to impress a girl by taking her out on a Sunday night with Alan? Are you mental? Take her out to Malibu and have a stroll on the beach. Please, Manuel, don’t take her out with an asshole and his slut to a fight!”

“I can’t. I don’t have a car. What am I gonna do? Ride the bus to Brentwood to pick her up on my bike?”

“No. Wait a second. Take my car. It’s in the garage at my house,” I urged and then felt stupid for giving him the means to have a successful date.

He laughed. “You’re really trying hard to get this girl to like me. Thanks, I guess, my little match-maker, but no. Alan has it all set up.”

“Well, okay. Tell me how it goes.”

“I will. I hope I like her. She’s cute and smart and there sure aren’t many girls like that. I figured I’d ask her to prom if we click. I’m running out of time.”

“It’d be a bummer to miss prom,” I confirmed. It was early, at the end of March, because of all the budget cuts in the public schools. The administration had to cut off several weeks of school. Every senior had to do two independent study projects to make up for the lack of education. I was worried that I’d miss prom if Byron kept messing up and delaying the schedule.

Manuel sounded shocked. “Are you going?”

“Yeah, my mom said I’d regret not going. Don’t tell anyone, but I paid for renting out the Getty Mansion off the PCH for the school so we could go there—my donation this year. Alan asked me to go with him, but I figured I’d ask someone once I knew for sure that we’d wrap by then. Otherwise, I told Alan that I’ll drive down that afternoon and go with his group and then come back to the set the next morning.”

Byron interrupted, “I want you to ask me to your prom, babe.”

I laughed. “I guess I already have a taker.”

Manuel interrupted, “I’m mad. You should’ve told me. We could have gone together. I’ve been wasting all this time looking for a girl to ask to prom and could have gone with you? Damn, Marie.”

“I’m sorry. I just figured you wanted a real date since you have to go. If I said I go with you and then couldn’t and you get crowned then what, you’d go to prom by yourself? I mean, what prom king does that?”

“Marie, I’m not going to be prom king. Sam will be. Kate will be queen. We broke up. Sure I was nominated, but I’m a geek. Kate’s the popular girl. Sam’s a dude.” Manuel paused. “Listen, I like Trish. I’ll ask her to prom if we click. If we don’t, will you be my date? If you can’t go, I’ll go by myself in Alan’s group. Deal?”

“Sure, yeah. But don’t you want a romantic prom or something?”

“Yeah, but… So we have a plan?” Manuel grumbled.

I agreed, “Yeah. Cool. Will we be doubling with Beth and Mitch?”

“No. I…I kissed Beth today. She’s beyond angry with me.”


“Yeah, I’m gonna deal with this one myself. So, let’s not talk about it.”

I didn’t know what to say. I swallowed. My insides ached as I lost another piece of ‘me’.

At that moment, Marie Michael determined that she was not going to give loving Manuel another thought. Mom said the key to happiness was acceptance of what you cannot change. Marie had to stop wishing for something impossible and deal with life as it was, not as she wanted it to be. She or me—whoever—had to accept that Manuel loved me as his sister and make the most out of the fact that Marie Michael was, and would continue to be, an actor.

“Anyway, I should go. I love you, Marie. You rock.”

The-Artist-Formerly-Known-as-I ended abruptly, “Okay. Bye.”


Marie Michael did it. After a week of anxiety it was over. Sage had my Oscar. Whoever I was did not feel the pride appropriate for the honor. I felt the relief from the pressure. I just desperately wanted to get out of my dress and put the whole experience behind me.

“Byron, don’t get any ideas but please unzip me. I’ve got to get out of this dress before it suffocates me.”

“Sure, but I always have ideas. Your lips, just…wow, and your body…mmm.”

“Byron. Just treat me like your little sister and don’t try anything. I warn you, my driver will kick your ass. Please?”

I turned my back to him and lifted my hair off my back. He pulled at the zipper. I added, “It’s sewn closed. Rip it.”

He tried. He reached for the bar. “Maybe the bottle opener will work.” He tried again and asked, “So are you dating Manny?”


“I’ve seen you look at him. The only time you’ve blown your lines was when he was on the set last fall. You think he’s hot; so why the best friend bullshit?”

“It’s not bull. We’ve been best friends since we’ve been in diapers.”

“Marie, I look at you and see a woman who needs a hug and a friend. I can give you that comfort.”

I wanted Byron that way, especially since Trish would be falling in love with Manuel even though he loved Beth, not me. I could feel my eyes water and worried that I was going to break down in tears if I said anything to him.

Of course Byron noticed. “Oh, Marie, don’t cry.” He stopped ripping the threads, moved next to me, and held me as I cried. He didn’t try to kiss me.

“Byron, please just unzip me. Honestly I didn’t need friends before this messed-up month. You’re right that I’m lonely.” I wiped my tears with my hand. “But I can barely breathe in this dress. I’m suffocating.”

He unzipped me, handed me a tissue, and poured himself another drink. I inhaled deeply and unwound. I changed while he told stories about his glorious high school days. With my t-shirt covering me, I pulled the tape off my ribs and breast. I was free of all my Oscar trappings. I could breathe.

Byron noticed that I relaxed again and put his arm around me but was careful not to push me. “Babe, it must be pretty cool to have an Oscar. You can do whatever you want now with your career. What do you think you’ll do?”

I gawped at him, puzzled. I didn’t know what he was talking about.

He explained, “Now you control what projects you want to take on. You’ll now be a member of the Academy. You get to choose, not your mommy, doll. You’ve proven yourself.”

I confessed, “My mommy is in charge of my career. I’ve entertained ideas of being in charge, but could I be, really?”

“Yes, absolutely, babe. You’re a spider. You’re in charge now.”

I smiled. A feeling of heaviness lifted from me. I floated on a web.

“So, Byron, who were you in Australia? What were you like before all this fame?”

Byron was a nice guy and loved his family. He is the youngest of four kids. He missed his brothers but missed his sister the most. His parents just celebrated their forty-year anniversary, and he was mad that he couldn’t make it to the celebration.

He talked and talked and had just started to repeat one of his stories when we got back to the San Diego set.


It was Thursday. We were several hours behind schedule. The scene was supposed to take place at dusk, but the end of dusk passed long ago and was replaced by yellow floodlights. We did at least thirty takes of a complex scene. Most directors would shoot short takes, but Richard wanted to capture it as a flowing conversation between the queen, Muse and Constantine, creating a sense of union between the three individuals that he didn’t think he could accomplish in editing the short takes. He was a director who ventured on that fine line between boring his audience with more than a minute on the same actors in the same scene. Most directors focused on an actor for no more than 30 seconds. He was particularly challenged with Byron since he had very few lines.

In the scene, Constantine enters Rome as the victorious ruler of the Roman Empire in the West. It is the year 312 AD. His queen mother begs him to favor the Christian church, which is a minority group in Western Europe and had been severely persecuted under previous Roman rule. He is popular and successful and knows that accepting Christianity would put him in a risky political situation in the West but improves his political aspirations of conquering the East. Christianity is already popular in the Eastern Empire, in Byzantium, but he had yet to conquer it and wouldn’t until 324 AD, at the end of the film.

Byron was either massively unprepared or completely vacant. Richard yelled at him to understand Constantine’s motivation. “You’re an asshole. Your mom is telling you to embrace Christian ideals and you just want to leverage Christianity so you can take over Byzantium. You’re nervous your buddies in Gaul are gonna bail on you. You still need lots of slaves to fight your battles and support the Rome Empire. It was nice to enslave Christians, Goths, non-Roman citizens and criminals. It supported your economy. It’s a slippery slope. You see the advantage of Christianity. You want to please your sweet mommy. Muse explains your out. You adopt Christianity and compassion and you get everything you want. No more Christians get tortured and killed in the West, you make your mom happy, you get political treaties in the East for becoming a Christian, and everyone wins.

Byron yelled, “Okay, shit, I got it.”

We all went back to our positions and he didn’t have it. After another thirty minutes, Richard was done.

“Cut! Sara! Rewrite the scene—set it during the day this time. Give Marie all his lines. He’s going to nod and look soulful, if he can manage that!” Richard shouted.

We all broke for dinner.

My completely annoying assistant brought me my cell phone, a bag of nuts, and a bottled water. I immediately read Manuel’s text asking me if he could borrow my car to take Trish out on their second date. I texted back with a ‘yes’ even though I was absolutely boiling over inside with jealousy.

I was frustrated with being an actor, having no life—angry with everyone. I could hear a pin drop from the silence as we headed to the costuming trailer to get out of our painful garments.

Manuel texted back a thanks. They’d go out after her performance that night. I just shook my head to myself as we walked.

I’d be going to prom with Alan’s group. There was no chance I’d go with Byron with how much he aggravated me. Then I thought about it more. Why not take Byron? I needed to move on, have friends. Watching Manuel date Trish was going to be as painful as when he and Kate fell in love.

Byron tried to talk to Renee. “I’m sorry you’re so pissed. I just get flustered when I have to remember so much.”

Renee sneered at him. “I have commitments. Marie wants to go to her prom. I expect professionalism. Time is money. We’re already so behind schedule. Run lines a thousand times a day so you can do your job. Stop drinking and screwing girls and get to work!”

“Marie, will you run lines with me?”

“No. Work with Sara when she’s done with the new script.”

“Please, Marie. I do everything right when she and I run lines. I only blow everything because when I look at you my mind goes blank. I get struck each time I get near you.”

Renee interrupted. “Don’t blame this on her. It’s your job to control yourself.”

“But it’s true. I’m in love with you Marie and I can’t think straight when I’m around you!” Byron left us and headed over to Clyde, the assistant director, to talk about his failings.

Renee eyeballed me as we entered the costume trailer. She asked, “What is it about you? Evan was in love with you, too. My nephew is careful to fall in love, but he does with you. You two were a perfect couple, perfect. And your relationship: nothing. Byron can’t think and it’s hurting the project. Are you a tease, Marie?”

“What? No! I just don’t want to sleep with them. I just want to date, kiss and hold hands.”

“Darling, in this business, there’s no middle ground. You either hang out with your girlfriends or you screw your boyfriends. There is no kissing and holding hands.” She eased up and put her arm around me. “I know; you’re so young. But that is just the way it is. You can’t have friendships with men.”

I said nothing as I got out of my dress, hurting Franz’s feelings somehow, but not taking on any responsibility for his sensitivity. I was so mad that I couldn’t even get out of my corset without someone’s help, furious that I was surrounded by people all the time but was completely alone.

I stormed out of the trailer to get my dinner and ate it at an unoccupied table, mad that men were so damn shallow and angry that I didn’t have any girlfriends.

I went back to my trailer and threw my iPhone against the wall, disappointed that it didn’t break.


I had a text from Richard when I got out of the shower. I changed into sweats and met him in his trailer. Clyde, Sara and Byron were there, too. Richard handed me the new script.

“Marie, run lines with Byron. Clyde and Sara will work with Renee. You have a ton to memorize.” Richard gave me a hug. “And thank you, honey, for stepping up to the plate again and again. You’re awesome.”

“Sure. No problem.” I told Richard, still completely annoyed with my life.

Richard nodded, “Clyde, move Byron into a trailer here on set. You are now this asshole’s babysitter so he doesn’t ruin the project.”

Byron and I left Richard’s trailer and headed for the catering tent.

“Shit, I guess it’s my last night in my condo. Let’s go there. Everyone hates me here. I can’t concentrate.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “But only if we just practice. You promised you’d control yourself.”

“I promised that I would try, and I will. Trust me. I don’t want to get screamed at again tomorrow. Richard said that just cost him fifty thousand dollars and told me he’s taking it out of my percentage. I feel awful that I’m dragging down the project.”

He put both of our scripts in his backpack and he put it on my back. We got on his motorcycle and were at his condo within ten minutes. I noticed the photographers.

“Why the paparazzi?” I asked as we headed to the door. I felt better. The ride on his motorcycle was fun and kind of sexy. I liked holding him. It was comforting. I liked being close to his body without him having the opportunity to kiss me.

“Oh, they want to see who I’m with today.”

“Why are you such a slut? Don’t you find it, like, empty?” I asked. He went straight to the kitchen fridge and got two microbrews out, opened the tops, and handed me one. I could drink one beer but that was all. I was on a one-drink maximum policy since recovering from my almost alcoholism.

“No, honestly. What I feel is out of control. I’m not me. The girls back home were much harder to impress. Actually, I was innocent until my recent fame. I won a reality TV talent show in Australia and immediately got cool when I was just a normal guy before. I’m a singer/songwriter, not an actor. I’ve never even had an acting class.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I get surprised that the women in L.A. are so aggressive.” He grinned. “I don’t love them and they don’t seem to care. I only love you.”

“Ugh. Byron, why do you keep saying that? It’s absurd, ya know.” I probably downed half the beer in just one swig. It tasted so good.

“No, it’s not. You’re the sweetest girl in Hollywood. I’ve never met anyone like you before, ever.”

I dismissed him. “Thanks. Now let’s start.” I went ahead and just finished the beer.

“Hey, do you want another beer?” He noticed, finished his, and got another.

“No, thank you. I can only drink one.” I laughed. I wanted another and another and another. “As you can see why, I love beer!”

We ran through the script changes several times and were finally perfect. His six pack of beer was gone. He was drinking a Long Island iced tea, and I wondered how I’d get home since I didn’t want him to drive drunk. He had four beers and I had two. I went over my one drink maximum and felt lousy about it.

“Byron, good job. You rocked it. So, I need to get back to my trailer.” I grabbed my iPhone. “I’ll call a cab. Where are we?”

“I don’t want you to go, yet. It’s not even ten o’clock.”

Within a second, he was in front of me, holding me. I pushed against him to refuse him, but he seemed so sincere, so in love. I hesitated, studying his face to determine if he could be telling the truth. Did he, could he, really love me? In the next second, we were kissing.

I stopped the kissing again. Without arguing, he picked up his guitar and sang the song he wrote for me. He had a beautiful voice that drew me in. I stood still in the center of the room between the door and him sitting on his couch, moved by the sound of his voice. The words were lost on me but the emotion caused shivers to run down my spine.

I needed to get some friends. Manuel kissed Beth, showing a love so deep that he’d betray Mitch, which seemed so impossible to me. Beth rejected him, but I couldn’t compete with that kind of love. Manuel was dating Trish. She’d fall for him. Byron was right in front of me, loved me. I didn’t love him, but maybe I could. Waiting for the man I wanted to marry wasn’t working out for me. I was losing myself, becoming disconnected and detached from the social world. There was no reason why I needed to abstain any longer, except that I was scared.

He finished the song, got up, and embraced me. I remained motionless and undecided.

“Marie, let go. Release the tension.”

“My mom’s threat is true. If I try but change my mind, can I trust you?”

He asked, “You’re scared?”

I nodded.

“Let’s start with kissing and see where it takes us. If you want to stop, we will. I promise.” He kissed my forehead, “Kiss me like you kiss me on set. I love how you kiss me on set.”

And I did. I let go of my restraint and hesitation, feeling a little tipsy but not drunk. I relaxed as I relaxed when Manuel hugged me. We made our way to his bed. I continued to kiss him and let him explore my body. I did the same to him. I let go of my mind and let it feel nice. I didn’t feel much desire for him, certainly not how I felt when I had my first kiss, but it was fine.

* * * * *

My first kiss was on set for Left to Die, my first film. It was based on the true story of a Texas woman who sought revenge against a man who abducted and raped her, slit her throat and left her for dead on a fire ant hill when she was eight years old. In real life, the woman, Mom’s character, didn’t come back and kill her rapist twenty years later, tell her story, confess her crime, learn that revenge is bitter and then kill herself. In the movie, the girl, my character, was abducted walking home from middle school by someone she recognized. Other than that, the film was pretty true to the real story. It was a gripping, intense and shocking film, so the critics loved it.

In the editing room, the director didn’t feel like the abduction came across as monstrous and horrible as he thought it should. The original script had the rapist taser the girl as she walked home from school alone. In the next scene, she was found by a group of children in a park, lying naked and bloody on a red ant hill.

My mother was all for shooting additional scenes just in case they would improve the intensity of the movie. I had just turned fourteen the day before we filmed the additional scene. I was a child actor so the director had to be very careful with what was shown, he could not exploit me in any way: no nudity could be shown and no sexual act. With Mom’s permission, he decided to shoot the rape scene in its intensity and then edit as necessary. There was a lot of tension on the set that day between the Screen Actors Guild representative and the director. My lawyer, Martin, was there talking to the SAG gal and had me sign some papers with Mom that morning before the shoot. Everyone on the set knew the director was walking a fine line with a child actor but trusted his judgment. I just went with the flow. I didn’t think it was a big deal and wanted the SAG lady to just go away.

The actor who played the rapist, the gorgeous TV veteran Rex Huxley, was 40—Dad’s age at the time. During the original filming, the two of us had little dialogue or interaction in the scenes that set up the abduction. The scenes show Rex as a stalker asking me a question or two in different settings. As if the rapist was watching me intently, the camera focused on my face or on my neck and chest as I breathed or on my thigh while I sat on a swing, played in the park, teased boys, and laughed with friends. I never even talked with Rex off set.

On the set for the added rape scene, Mom prepared me. I would never be naked. Rex would cut my panties but I would never be exposed. Rex would kiss me but there would, of course, be no physical sexual contact. There would be multiple cameras going at once from different angles so that we’d do as few takes as possible. The primary camera would be to the right of the bed. I needed to remember not to block the shot.

I read the non-verbal script. My hands are bound to the bed frame, the rapist kisses me, I struggle, he cuts the thigh seam of my underwear with a knife and pulls up my sundress, he moves on top of me, director cut.

I met Rex and he asked me if there was anything he could do if I felt nervous. No. I was fine.

And then we started the scene. With over twenty people around me, including Mom, I had my first kiss with a man as old as Dad. His lips were fervently on mine. I felt a rush of heat and desire excited my body. I froze and gaped at him, shocked that I wanted to kiss him. I blushed, completely embarrassed, and then moved my face to the primary camera’s side and to the other side and back to the camera’s side, trying to keep my lips away from his, trying to get away from his face. “Yuck. Gross,” I thought. Then I felt a deep tingling sensation everywhere as he touched my body. I squirmed, kicked, and screamed, “Get off of me, get off!”

He cut my panties off at my left hip seam, my pelvis throbbed with desire, and then he cut the panties at the right hip seam, and placed the knife next to the primary camera’s side of the pillow while he carefully rolled on me to hide my skin from the cameras. I kicked my knees up trying to get him off of me. I felt his body on top of me and his hands under my dress on my skin moving up too close to my breasts. I was on fire. This time I really tried to get him off but couldn’t even move under the pressure of his body with my hands bound, and I froze again staring at him with absolute hatred in my eyes. Cut.

Rex immediately got off me and pulled down my dress to cover me up. He stared back at me for a moment and tenderly said, “So sorry.” We waited in position for the director to review the take.

He knew. I knew. I wasn’t really acting. I really wanted the bastard to get off me. But only we knew those were my real feelings.

The director and crew were clapping. It was a wrap on the first take. Someone was untying my wrists. I was applauded for my outstanding acting. I could feel the relief from every adult in there worried that they had crossed a line. The emotions I expressed on camera seemed so real, so genuine. It was perfectly executed.

Mom came over to me ecstatic, “Marie, you’re a natural! You really are outstanding. I’m so proud of you!”

* * * * *

Byron wondered why I stopped kissing him. “Marie, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I was just thinking about my first kiss with a man, actually. You know, not a boy.” My first kiss with a man was with Rex. My first kiss with a boy was with Manuel. Both kisses were in front of a crowd and were not supposed to be romantic. But both ignited my body.

I sat up from the bed and noticed that his clothes were off. “How did you get your clothes off?! I’m not even close to ready to get naked with you.”

He sat up next to me with the sheets covering himself and put his arm around me. “I don’t understand why you won’t let people love you. It’s not just me. Your best friend is Franz and you shield yourself from him, too. But I see through your shield. I can feel that you’ve never been loved physically.”

“Honestly, I don’t even know what to do, how to… I know what to do on set, how to touch you for the takes, because it’s blocked for me. But this is real. And I like kissing but not…” I wanted to explain my sexual hesitation with men but I didn’t trust Byron with my secrets. I didn’t trust anyone with my secrets.

I continued, “When I partied, I saw lots of drugs and people doing it so casually. I’m sure you’ve seen it, too. I was also raised Christian and should only make love to the guy I want to marry.”

He interrupted with a whisper and kissed my ear and neck. “We’re in Hollywood, babe. There’s no such thing as that kind of love in Hollywood. It’s an illusion, unrealistic. It never lasts, can’t last. Your mom is a good example. She’s the devoted Hollywood good girl who got dumped anyway.”

Byron put his hand behind the back of my neck and kissed me again. I loved the feeling. And he was right. Dad dumped Mom anyway.

He continued, “What I know is that I’m completely in love with you. You’re just scared. I’ll help you.” He laughed. “Honestly, it will be my first time to make love, too.”


“The girls are frantic to get my clothes off and have theirs off in seconds while I’m still finishing my drink. Look at you, you’re still dressed. We’re taking our time, loving each other. That’s what I want with you. I want us to enjoy each other, babe.”

I let him pull me on top of him, still separated by the sheets. While his lips were kissing, his hands moved all over me and he put my hands under the sheets where he wanted them to be on his body. It was easy and moved very quickly. Before I knew how, I was clothed but under the sheets with his naked body.

“You’re so incredibly soft, like heaven. Please, Marie,” he begged, “relax.”

He kissed me again gently along my chest, neck, cheeks, and lips. He gently caressed my body and lifted up my shirt to kiss my stomach and touch my breasts. He paused and when I opened my eyes to see why, I saw that he was protected. I froze.

Byron whispered, “I feel like I’m with an angel. There’s no one like you, Marie. You’re so beautiful.”

Words didn’t come when he pulled off my sweats and panties a second later. He kissed my neck again. I couldn’t move. I didn’t speak. I stared at him. He opened his eyes as he got himself into position over me and beheld me with love in his eyes at first, shock second. He instantly moved to the side.

“Whoa, babe. You look scared. You’re not ready. Please talk to me, tell me what you’re thinking so we can get you ready.” He kissed my cheek. “This is about both of us, you and me together, not about me. What can I do to help you, Marie?”

“You’re right. I’m not ready. I didn’t expect this. I need to use the bathroom,” I lied.

“Perhaps a nice massage for you?” Byron suggested. “Your shoulders are tense. I could work out your muscles, help you relax?”

I left him in the bed, grabbed my sweats and panties, and grabbed my iPhone. He urged me to come right back and told me he loved me again. My shirt and bra were still on. I put on the rest of my clothes, sat on the bathroom floor, and cried.

I needed to get out of there. I hated that I almost slept with him. I didn’t want to look at him, talk to him, or be near him. I was close to being one of his hundreds. I felt stupid. There were photographers outside. I couldn’t think. I texted Manuel.

“Please help. Got to get out of Byron’s condo. Photographers outside.”

Manuel texted me back. “Byron too drunk to drive?”

“Don’t want to see him.”

“I’ll get a cab. Where r u? Look at map.”

I didn’t think of that. I got out my map on my iPhone and pressed the location button. It searched the GPS and gave me the pin. I texted the location to Manuel.

“Okay, cab is on its way. ETA 5 min. It’ll wait. You ok?”

“No. I messed up.”

“Txt when you’re safe at home.”

“K. Thx.”

I washed my face and composed myself, taking up the few minutes. I opened the door to the bedroom and saw Byron smoking a cigarette as he smiled at me.

“Hey, babe…”

I stopped to explain, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a tease. I don’t want to sleep with you.”

“Marie, please come back to bed. I won’t hurt you, babe. I promise.”

“I can’t,” I responded as I stood there in the doorway. He shifted his body in the bed and looked like he was going to get up and walk toward me, naked. I ran out of the room, out of the condo, and into the cab. Yuck.

Byron called. I ignored it. He texted. I ignored it. He called again.

I texted him, “Sorry. It went too far. Not what I want. Talk tomorrow?”

Steve paid the driver and drove me in his security golf cart to my trailer. I lost it when I got inside. My head pounded and vision blurred. I vomited. I immediately found my prescription bottle of Vicoden—desperate to relieve the pain from my instant migraine. I stared at it, fought the urge to take the pills, and threw the bottle at the wall. I crumpled to the floor and let my head throb.

I thought of Matthew. I was scared this time, too, but it was more than that.

There was something wrong with me. Hormones were supposed to be released in my body so that I could be ready. But I felt no desire for the most beautiful man on the planet. I wasn’t turned on, just like when Evan and I tried to get me ready—nothing worked.

I was embarrassed that I overreacted and didn’t communicate.

Perhaps true love in Hollywood was not a realistic ideal. Perhaps casual sex is as much a part of the cultural fabric as a prayer is to religion. But I didn’t want it. I didn’t want Byron, not him. Evan was perfect and I loved him, but not Evan either because I didn’t see a future with him. I cared about companionship, trust, and reliability. I didn’t need to love a lot of guys. I wanted the one who would love me and stay with me for the long-term.

Byron was excessively pushy but didn’t do anything wrong. He was being his normal player self. It was me who should not have been there and should not have lost control. I needed to stay as far away from Byron as possible because I could not trust myself to do the right thing around him. There was no middle ground in Hollywood. I needed to stop being a tease.


A few hours later, I woke up to Manuel’s ringtone.

“Hey. Thanks for the cab,” I answered. “I messed up tonight, couldn’t think straight. I shouldn’t have texted you. Sorry.”

Manuel answered, “I’m here, at security.”

“What?” He was seventeen and had a provisional driver’s license. Minors are not allowed to drive from 11 pm to 5 am in the State of California. It was after midnight. I was shocked that he broke a rule even though he had recently kissed his best friend’s girlfriend, an action completely against his rules.

“Cool, okay.” I shot up out of bed and slid on my shoes. I was in my pajamas but just threw on a jacket and hat. I ran down to the security checkpoint. My heart leapt when I saw Manuel and tears swelled in my eyes.

Manuel was more white-looking than Latino. He was absolutely beautiful, not sexy or hot like my co-stars. He was too real, humble, and warm to be classified as a heartthrob. He had that geeky, intellectual nervousness when he talked that charmed me. It took away that stud factor he could have projected if he kept his mouth shut and replaced it with an instant ease that everyone felt from being around him.

I hugged him, instantly feeling relaxed and grateful to have my best friend alleviate the loneliness. I signed him in and held his hand while we walked to my trailer. After we were in the privacy of the trailer, he put his bag on the floor in the kitchen and hugged me again.

“Hi, Marie. It’s okay. Ya know, I love you no matter what, all the time, no matter what happened.”

“Nothing happed. I just freaked out.” I started to explain but my eyes watered and my knees buckled, yet another overreaction to the situation. Manuel picked me up and carried me to the bed, grabbed a blanket, and put it on me.

He got a drink of water from the kitchen, used the bathroom, and reclined next to me on the bed. I cried because I felt like such an idiot again.

He soothed me, “It’s okay. You can cry it out.”

I rolled on to his chest. I felt my drained battery recharge.

“Did he…force you?”

“No.” I admitted, “I must be beyond stressed because crying is so over-dramatic. I’m a fool. I participated until it happened so fast. He stopped before we did it. I’m just a total prude, an idiot. The poor guy is probably so confused right now. I was not turned on, whatsoever. There’s something wrong with me, Manuel. I have absolutely no desire for the hottest guy in Hollywood. And not doing it with Evan was just completely mental. I know I love him. This stupid break-up is too much, and I miss him.”

“I’m so sorry, Marie.” Manuel continued to hold me. He asked, “Are you drunk?”

“No, I only had two beers, but that’s one more than my maximum.”

“Well, that’s awesome!” Manuel turned to face me, smiling. “You stopped at two? No way! I’m so proud of you!”

I grinned sideways and agreed. “Yeah, I guess I did. I also threw my Vicoden against the wall. That’s pretty good. Way better than last time.”

He stretched out again on the bed and I put my arm across his chest. He patted my shoulder. “Yeah, that sucked. I’m sorry Kate was such a bitch about teasing you for dating Evan when you never saw each other. I still remember the look on your face when she told you to dump your phantom boyfriend and hook up with Matthew. I don’t blame you for having a drink. I just wish I knew a way to make you stop drinking and smoking when you get like that.”

I was going to say something but my throat was too tight. I would fall apart if I spoke. We laid there for about thirty minutes. I fought memories about Evan, Matthew, and Byron. I fought the desire to tell Manuel that I was in love with him, that I wanted him to be my boyfriend. But I would ruin everything so I said nothing.

Manuel whispered, “Are you asleep?”


“You should try to sleep. Let me tuck you in.” He got out of bed and pulled the sheets and comforter over me. Rejection overwhelmed me.

“This is nice. Stay with me, please.” I begged him to stay in bed with me.

“You need to rest. I’m sure you’ll be booked with talk shows this weekend to promote your Oscar.”

“No. Ira cancelled all my appearances. He’s gonna work Matthew to the bone. I also don’t have to do the Bafta, Spirit, or Kids’ Choice awards since we’re behind schedule. I’ve earned a rest.”

“Wow! That was nice of him…and shocking.” He pinched his forehead and stared at me. “Part of Matthew’s punishment?”

“Yep. He knew the rules. Turns out it was in his contract that he agreed not to pursue me. I don’t think he finds out until his March royalty statement.”

Manuel raised his eyebrows and nodded approvingly. “I’ll use the couch. Is it okay if I take this extra blanket?”

I resigned. “Sure. It’s a sleeper sofa. The sheets are in the coffee table next to it. Anyway, thanks for being here, Manuel. That was really nice of you to drive down.”

“Claro. You’re my best friend and I love ya. You shouldn’t have to deal with life trauma all by yourself. You were there for me with my breakups with Beth and then Kate. I’m here for you now.” He added, “I hope it’s okay that I drove your car.”

I laughed. “Of course.” I added, “Sorry I ruined your date.”

He whispered, “No, it’s fine. Trish’s sweet but you’re much, much more important to me. I forgot there’d be paparazzi. I’ll have to explain the photos.”

He whispered a prayer as he pushed the hair off of my face and tucked the sheet under my chin again.

“You still pray?” I asked. “I mean, I know you pray when you play sports. We’ve all seen it, but do you, like, still believe in everything we learned at church, ya know?”

He whispered, “Yes, mostly.”

I wondered, “Why?”

“Praying helps me be a better person, humbles me. I’m not that great of a person if left to my own devices.”

“I don’t know about that. We all have faults.”

“Yeah, but I doubt you want to pummel Alan just about every day. And want to…” he stopped abruptly and shook his head.

“You’re human, Manuel. So am I.”

He leaned over and kissed my cheek. “I love you, Marie.”

I relaxed into my pillow. “I love you, too, more than words can say.” I lightened the mood. “Thanks for breaking the law to drive down, Señor Self-righteous.”

“¡Claro! I’m cutting school, too.” He turned at the doorway and switched off the light. “I’d break every rule for you, Liana Marie. Buenos sueños.”


The next morning, I woke up to the sound of Byron’s motorcycle. I lurched out of bed, afraid to see him. I felt nauseous and ran to the toilet to throw up. Manuel was there in the doorway, watching my reaction.

“You okay?” Manuel asked as he put on his shirt. “Do you want to talk to him?”

“No.” I scanned him, hiding that I was impressed with his muscles, and raised my eyebrows. “But I have to. I work with him. I can’t exactly act like it didn’t happen.” I rinsed my mouth, took two Excedrins, put on my jacket and went outside.

“What the hell, Marie?” Byron demanded.

“I’m really sorry I freaked out but I didn’t want to drink or do it. I was just helping you with the script.”

Byron shoved his hands in his pockets. “You weren’t even turned on. That’s never happened to me before.” He grumbled, “You don’t love me at all?”

“I don’t want to be one of your hundreds. I’m done partying. You’re beginning it. Now, please, leave me alone for the rest of the project. Okay?”

“One of my hundreds?! This is bullshit, Marie!” He shook his head.

“Byron, I’m broken. Just forget about me.”

“No, Marie, you listen…”

“She’s told you to back off for months.” Manuel interrupted from behind me. “Marie, you’ve said plenty. I’ll take it from here. Byron, we need to talk.”

Byron objected, “Damn, Manny, how do you deal with her?”

I avoided eye contact with both guys and went inside. If I searched Manuel’s eyes I would know exactly what he was thinking and I didn’t want to know what he thought of me. If I looked at Byron, I’d feel sorry for him and guilty for being a tease.

I brushed my teeth and got dressed while I heard their muffled conversation. Byron didn’t know what he did wrong. He loved me and wanted to show me. He could tell I wasn’t ready so he was going to do more foreplay to help me. But I freaked out. He was worried that I was sexually shut down from some horrible experience and needed some help working through it.

Manuel explained that I told him to back off. Byron needed to respect my words and not push me all the time to give it up to him. He told Byron that I knew that the Hollywood party life was not what I wanted and I was trying so hard to reject alcohol, to stick with my ‘none or only one’ drink mantra. Manuel asked him to stay away from me.

Manuel returned and sat next to me on the bed. “With your reaction, I thought the worst. Somehow, though, the stuff you’ve seen has traumatized you. Has anything happened to you?”

“Growing up in Hollywood happened to me. I just don’t fit in this life whatsoever. Renee complained to me yesterday about me being a tease. I said I just wanted to kiss and hold hands with the guys I dated. She said there was no middle ground. I either hang out with girls or sleep with the boys. She said I can’t be friends with men.”

“You’re friends with me, Mitch, Franz, and Evan.”

I agreed. “Yeah, but you see me as your sister. Mitch is dating the love of your life.”

Manuel interrupted, “Beth’s not the love of my life. Dating her was a nightmare.”

“Yeah, you guys still bicker all the time. But I see your connection. You’re so protective of her so she can do her workouts without worrying about some guy trying to abduct her.” I asked, “But if she’s not the love of your life, then why did you kiss her?”

He explained, “We got into a huge argument about me being late for our ride last month. I kissed her to prove something to her. It’s complicated, and I don’t want to explain. Mitch understands.”

I smiled and leaned into him. I continued, “Franz is gay. Evan lost patience.” He put his arm around me. “Except for Matthew, most guys are afraid to get near me with Martin representing me, but that safety net will be gone when I turn eighteen. It still bugs me that Matthew called me a tease.”

“You’re not. I’m glad you didn’t get messed up with anyone. Kate’s clip of you kissing that girl really freaked me out.” He laughed. “Here you are a hot actress and a sweetheart. It seems impossible.”

“Hey, it was Kate’s idea. She figured I should try since no guy turned me on. And that kiss only lasted a second. It’s a bummer Kate and Alan got clips of the few stupid things I did.”

“We all do stupid stuff. It’s just you kid actors who have to act so mature. The ones who don’t protect themselves get messed up with drugs and parties.”

He stroked my hair and then stopped. I loved the feeling and didn’t want him to stop.

“That Byron is a complete ass. But I think he’s telling the truth that he loves you. I told him to leave you alone. If you want to date him, I don’t think you burned a bridge. Is it because he’s so good looking that you have a hard time dissing him?”

“Yeah, but it’s not just that. Byron moves too fast for me. My mind can’t keep up. He watches me and knows exactly what I’m thinking. Most people say they don’t know what I’m thinking. He always knows. My mom knows. So do you.”

He disagreed. “No, I don’t when we’re together. Evan can read you; I can’t. Maybe that’s why Evan’s such a great guy, because he’s sensitive. You should date him again.” He moved my hair off of my arm. “Since we email and text most of the time, I have a pretty good idea of what you’re thinking. But today, last night, I don’t know.”

Manuel morphed into a stone. He gently pushed my head off his chest and got off the bed. I ignored my feelings of rejection. He urged, “I think it’s probably time for you to eat breakfast. It’s after six. When I talked to Byron, I saw that a lot of people are already up. He left your script.”

He went to the bathroom while I took my medicine and some painkillers for my headache. I was finishing my water at the kitchen sink when he reached around me to grab his shaving kit. He smiled at me but blushed and went back into the bathroom to brush his teeth and shave.

Manuel announced, “I figured I’d leave tonight or late tomorrow morning. I can run with you before I go. I’m no five minute mile, like you, but can run the distance easily. I need to be at work at 4 pm tomorrow.” He stood by the trailer door and continued, “But you don’t need me. So maybe I should drive home after we eat, ya know, when you go to makeup.”

I didn’t want Manuel to leave. I asked, “You’re tense. What’s up with you?”

“I’m thinking that you are thinking something that I know you’re not thinking.” Manuel scrunched his face, shook his head, and grumbled, “Forget about it. Let’s eat.”

“What do you think I’m saying?” I demanded.

An intensity, almost hostility, emanated from him. “It’s absurd and not what you’re saying.” Manuel held his fists so tightly that he was white-knuckled. He crossed his arms. “Stop playing games, Marie. Tell me what you’re thinking.”

I stared at him, feeling his irritation from two feet away. I was absolutely in love with my best friend and wanted to marry him. I wanted to push the subject so he could leave the trailer in shock, get back into my car, and drive out of my life. Franz was right. Manuel was the reason I couldn’t love any other guy. I needed to tell him, get closure, and move on.

“I’ll lose you if I tell you. But obviously, my life will continue to be a living hell until I tell you.” I stepped back from him and likewise folded my arms across my chest, ready to see him gather his things and bolt out of the door after I told him.

“I don’t see you as my brother and never have. I was insanely jealous when you dated Kate and am disappointed that you’ve never asked me out.” I took in a breath and decided to tell the truth. “I’m in love with you. I want to marry you and live happily ever after.”

I gulped and shrugged my shoulders, bracing for the big rejection. Enormous regret for speaking up tore through my weakened body. I could not lose Manuel.

His jaw dropped. I blushed from the embarrassment of telling him how I truly felt, closed my eyes, exhaled, and wanted him to leave the trailer immediately. I took a deep breath and then opened my eyes. His stare turned into a smile.

“Marie, I’ve loved you always and will forever. But I didn’t think you ever felt the same way. I’m just me and you’re perfect, unattainable, completely out of my league.”

Shocked, my arms fell to my sides. My heart raced and tingled. I needed some clarification. “No, I mean, I love you, like, you know, I want to kiss you and have babies, a family, and grow old together. I love you that way.”

“Liana Marie, I love you that way, too.”

“Really? You mean it?” I squealed and smiled. “But you’re wonderful, so honest and real. You’re always there for me, and I’m this weak wreck of a thing—a puppet—that gets played every minute. You’re strong while I’m so…so unsubstantial.”

I was stuck in my spot and couldn’t move.

He smiled back. “I really love you and know who you are. You’re so special.” He held out his hand and I took it. “I can’t move, so come here, mi cariño.”

Manuel pulled me to him and we embraced. The tightness in my neck and shoulders subsided. We were in love, finally!

He kissed my forehead. “Marie, will you go to prom with me?”

“Yes, Manuel. Thank you, yes.” I cried, surprising myself that I had tears rather than a more appropriate desire to make out with him.

He kissed my forehead again and smiled at me. He gently cupped my cheeks in his hands and wiped my tears with his thumbs while we gazed lovingly at each other. Slowly, as if it were still impossible to be so close to each other, we united our lips. My lips tingled and warmed. Profound relief washed over me. Our kiss was brief but intense. I stepped back to regain my balance, giggled, and embraced him, nestling my cheek into his chest.

“Marie, that was an amazing kiss, electric, tingly.” He sighed. “I think I might need to take some baby steps or I might have a heart attack.”

I self-consciously put my hands around his strong neck, into his hair and gently pulled his lips down to mine again. The kiss transformed from awkward to perfect. I relaxed into the pleasure of kissing his lips. He picked me up effortlessly and leaned me into the wall while I continued to kiss him and felt his back, shoulders, and arms with my hands. The feeling I had with him wasn’t sexual but not platonic either. It was joyful and easy, unconditional love.

I smiled, thrilled. “Wow! You’re so strong, beautiful.” I took several slow, deep breaths. “You always smell incredible. Your natural scent is heaven.”

“I must be your match.”

I agreed. “You are my match. So, about the next steps…”

He interrupted, “Well, given that you just had a traumatic event, we’ll just kiss and hold hands. Don’t worry about doing it and I won’t either. Marie, I’m thrilled to be able to kiss you.” He smiled and patted my shoulder. Then he walked to the fridge and opened a bottled water.

Confused, I watched him, feeling rejected but also grateful that he loved me. “Shouldn’t you, like, kiss me again?”

“Marie, I don’t know how to act.” He turned around and leaned against the sink. “That week after Christmas at your house was pure torture. I thought you saw me as your brother.”

“Yes, it was for me, too.” I walked to him and put my arms around him. “I wanted to invite you into my room every night.” I took his water and put it on the counter. I put my hands under his shirt, hoping to make him crazy so we could get past the sexual stuff and relax together. He pulled my arms away and kissed my hands.

“Marie, you’re turning me on. Let’s get breakfast,” Manuel suggested with a smile.

“No,” I stammered, afraid to let go. “I mean, not yet. How can this feel so wonderful and awkward at the same time?”

I kissed him again while I unzipped his pants. He shuddered and put his hand on mine to stop. I moved my hand onto his toned stomach, feeling his creamy skin.

“What are you doing?”

“You don’t want to?”

“Want to? Yes. Choose to? Undecided. You’re the girl I was waiting for, that I’ve always wanted. So I can tell that my rules don’t apply to you. I more than want you. But there’s a question of ‘should?’ Which is a ‘no.’ You’ve been through a lot.” He loosened his grip on my hand and hugged me into his soothing chest. “Love you? Always.”

I whispered, “I want you,” while I pulled off his shirt and kissed his very strong chest. I felt the contours of his muscles and noticed how much he had grown since Christmas. I closed my eyes to ignore his tattoo and kissed his chest again. I pushed down his pants and moved my hand over his underwear. I heard him stop breathing. I assured him, “It’s okay, Manuel. I love you.”

“I love you so entirely,” he mumbled and then exploded into action. He had my sun dress off in an instant and roamed my body. I welcomed the touch, thrilled to feel his body. He kissed my neck and carried me to my bed. I wrapped my legs around him and then stretched out my torso to center myself.

“This is surreal.” He whispered, “I can’t believe I get to kiss you, your beautiful body.” He kissed my stomach and then rolled my back against his chest as we got under the sheets. He ran his hand along the contours of my stomach and bra while he kissed the nape of my neck. A tingle ran from my pelvis to my toes. Then in another burst of energy, he pushed my back against the bed and rolled on top of me.

“I love you with all my heart,” I confirmed. I breathed in his essence and relaxed. We smiled at each other. “I feel a tingle. That’s a first.”

He closed his eyes and then kissed my lips while he thrust his body against mine. I worried that it was going to happen. I wanted more tingles first. He rolled us together to our sides, kissed my neck, pulled my top leg over his hip and slid his hand under my panties. I blushed from the embarrassment. He stopped abruptly and opened his eyes.

“You’re not turned on.” He groaned and moved me. “Are you sure, Marie?”

I felt his eyes on me. I nodded even though I was afraid to speak and afraid he’d remove our underwear.

He exhaled and demanded, “This is confusing. You push me to make love but you look scared. I can’t do this, like this. I hoped it would be different with me, but it’s the same old problem, isn’t it?” He pushed me away. “Why are you playing with me? Because you know I’m your faithful little puppy?”

Panic that he’d leave replaced worry that he was angry with me. I explained my actions, “I’m broken. I love you and am supposed to, so I’m not a tease.”

“You don’t love me. You’re…so… full of it!” He sat on the side of the bed, his body stiff with his back facing me, emitting hostile energy.

“Beth’s right. I’m such a weakling around you. I break all my rules just because you smile at me. I need to get out of here, take a walk.”

I desperately wrapped my arms around his tense body. “Please don’t leave me,” I begged.

The anger that flowed from his pores subsided, replaced by his signature calm glow.

He slouched while he picked up the photo of us that was on my nightstand. I realized that for all this time, Manuel contained his passion. It was physical and emotional for him. When he released his tension, he surrendered to me again.

I viewed the photo, too.

It pictured us and our dads in front of the Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Both of our dads are gorgeous men with ethnicity that’s not immediately obvious. Carlos, his dad, is the son of a German Jew and Argentinian Catholic. My dad is Bitterroot Salish Native American. In the photo, Manuel and I were fourteen and did a ‘vision quest’ the night before. We talked and held hands when we slept outside in our sleeping bags after hiking fifteen miles on Navajo tribal lands. I enjoyed the warmth from his hand and breathed in his body’s comforting aroma. That night I first hoped that Manuel would someday be my husband.

He turned to me and studied my face. “I’m sorry. Marie, you’re my best friend. I was mad but not anymore.” He relaxed completely. “I need to understand what’s going on in your mind. You never said you were scared with Evan, just that you guys got frustrated. But to me and Byron you said you’re broken.”

He turned into the bed and covered both of us with the sheets. He asked, “What happened with Matthew?”

Relieved that he understood me, I closed my eyes. “I told you. He would have raped me if Sashi wasn’t there. If I made it public, I’d be skewered in the media and he’d barely suffer. So we punished him by taking away his millions in royalties and dumping his contract. I feel betrayed but also responsible for kissing him when I knew I shouldn’t have. But I hate him. I hate the look he had in his eyes. I hate that he called me a tease.”

I put my hand in his. “You know what hurts, not as intensely, but thoroughly? Ira and Richard would sue me if I quit. Mom won’t support me quitting, either. I can barely breathe when I think about it.”

“You’ve learned to shut up and take it. Please unlearn that—you need to speak up.” He caressed my arm. “Why did you mess around with Bryon so soon?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “The UARYs have changed me.” Manuel knew I talked about the movie awards season. He had an alternative for the acronym: Use Awards and Ruin Yourself.

“I’m so lonely—empty. And Byron has some power over me.” I felt compelled to kiss his chest.

“You were pretty focused on making love just now. Why?”

“Losing Evan cut me but losing you would kill me.”

“I’m not following you. Why would you lose me?”

I admitted, “Evan didn’t think I loved him because I didn’t want to sleep with him. I’m not going to let my dysfunctional body come between us. Elise says it only hurts for a minute. It seems like the price to pay to keep you as my boyfriend.”

“That’s messed up, Marie. You actors think about suffering all wrong. You think that getting reamed is the price of fame. Isn’t it enough that you work so hard so that people can enjoy your movies? I mean, do you think anyone could act? I couldn’t do it. Byron can’t. The director says “go” and you can just put who you are in a safe deposit box and start crying, screaming, pleading, or looking forlorn…”

I interrupted with a chuckle, “It’s not a safe deposit box. We say “emotional safety box.” Mom calls it “compartmentalizing.”

“No. You put all of your treasures and the contracts that bind you into a safe deposit box. You pay fees to have some bank hold your box outside of yourself so you still have everything important to you after your house burns down. I’ve seen you act, and I’m your fee-free bank.”

I stared at him, surprised that he saw my life more clearly than I did.

He asked another question, “Why do you think people have a right to invade your privacy, too, just because you’re paid well? Professional athletes have lives. Doctors and lawyers have lives. Hell, CEOs and Wall Street partners have great, anonymous lives and get paid more than any of you do. No one has the right to destroy you emotionally.”

He was right. I loved his insights. I needed to see life through his eyes. “You’re so smart, my man. Thanks.” I smiled at him appreciatively. “So you’ll stay, wait for me until I get off work?”

He put his hand on my cheek. “Liana Marie, I’m yours, forever. If you start it, I’m gonna want to and will be really mad if you’re playing games. You have to understand, I could never forgive myself if I hurt you. Sure, I’m religious, but I have no problem justifying making love with the only girl I’ve always loved and want to marry.”

He got up and helped me off the bed. He shuddered and smiled when he glimpsed my body. “Wow. You’re impossibly hot.”


He kissed my cheek. “I promise; I’m not going to bail on you if I don’t get some.”

I melted into his honest eyes. “I love your values.”

“You have great values, too. You’re a little confused, but I’ll help you get back on track. You’re so strong already.”

I kissed his perfect lips. Comforted, I relaxed for a minute.

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