Part One: Tabloids and Trauma

1

THE FIRST thing I saw when I entered our apartment was a copy of Flick! magazine crumpled on the kitchen table. I picked it up and smoothed out the pages. The top story was an editorial fantasy about Prince Harry’s “secret lover,” but underneath, in letters almost as big, was the headline:

MELANIE POTTER DRUNK AND DISORDERLY!

I poured myself a glass of Coke and sat down to read the article. The paparazzi had caught up with Mel on the way home from a nightclub in Soho. The photos they’d taken of her weren’t flattering—in two of them it looked like she was about to throw up, and in another, her blonde hair hung limp and greasy over her face.

The tabloids sometimes doctored photos to make celebrities look terrible, the same way advertising agencies photoshopped them to look perfect. But I knew these photos hadn’t been touched. I’d been there at the party with her and seen her at her worst. I’d even rubbed her shoulders while she vomited into the gutter.

It was the least a best friend could do.

“Mel?” I called, rubbing my thumb across a tear in the page. “Are you home?”

“No,” I heard Mel wail from her room.

I ran my finger around the rim of my glass and sighed. “Okay, then.”

“Did you read it?”

“Yeah, I read it.”

I heard the sound of her bedroom door opening all the way and then soft footsteps in the corridor. “I hate them, Jack,” she moaned. “How did they know where I was going to be?”

“All publicity is good publicity. Isn’t that what they say?”

“I’ve got an audition for Katherine’s Ocean tomorrow. They aren’t going to hire me for a family-friendly role when all the tabloids are full of pics of me puking and crying in Soho. That article just cost me a job. A good job too.”

I’d forgotten about the audition. “Oh yeah,” I said. “That’s… unfortunate.”

“You said it.” Melanie Potter—star of the soap opera Geresby and almost B-list celebrity—entered the kitchen and immediately flopped into my lap. “I might as well not turn up. I was too old for the part, anyway.”

“You’re twenty-two!”

“Exactly! They won’t want a twenty-two-year-old to play a fifteen-year-old. And Katherine is meant to be beautiful. Beautiful enough that every guy who meets her falls in love with her… and I’m just not.”

She looked up at me hopefully for reassurance. Mel was always worried she wasn’t attractive enough to be on TV. Without makeup, she was quite normal-looking. If she passed you on the street, you wouldn’t do a double take. It took a clever makeup artist to do justice to her cheekbones and wide mouth.

One critic had said she had a face like a canvas, and I understood what he meant. With the slightest change to her makeup, you could make Mel look like anything you wanted: a fantasy princess, a 1920s flapper, a glamour model, a girl next door.

“You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever met,” I said, stroking her hair.

“I guess you don’t meet many girls, then.” Mel wrinkled her nose and then pressed her head against my shoulder. “They came after Katie too,” she said. “The paps. Remember how she met that bloke in France, and they had that steamy holiday romance?”

“Vaguely?” I lied. I remembered all Katie’s stories vividly, mainly because she had a habit of shouting them at me while drunk. Katie Marshall was one of Mel’s soapie costars and part of Mel’s “in crowd”—the group of actors and musicians she (and I) hung out with. Katie was also one of my least favorite people. She was loud and crude and embarrassing. Every time we went anywhere with her, she made a scene.

“It was all over the papers last week,” Mel said. “They hunted down the guy, Jean-something, and got him to spill his guts about her. It was gross. He got right into the details. What they did, where they did it, what she wore, and all the things she said to him….”

“Sex sells, babe,” I drawled, and then immediately thought better of it when Mel turned on me.

“It’s not funny! Katie wasn’t selling sex and neither am I.” She glowered and stood up, giving me a slight shove as she did so. “They’ve got no right to do that to us. To expose us. I’m sick of it. Every time I read about myself in the tabloids, I want to hide in my room for the rest of the day.”

I sighed. “Don’t do that, Mel.”

“I worry about what my family must think when they see pictures like that,” she said, pointing at the “drunk and disorderly” article. “I look a mess. It’s horrible. I want to call them and apologize for being such a terrible daughter. But more than that, I want….” She gritted her teeth. “More than that, I want to punch the stupid paps in the face.”

“That will definitely get you another front-page story,” I said.

She wasn’t in the mood. She pouted out her lower lip, pushed her hands deep into her pockets, and flounced for the door. “You don’t understand, Jack, because they don’t come after you,” she called over her shoulder. “If you ever actually get a job, a real role like mine, you’ll find out what it’s really like.”

That stung, but I didn’t let it show. I’d lived with Mel for six months and had gotten used to her occasional barbs about my out-of-work-actor status. It was her favorite way of putting me down when she felt insecure. If it were anyone else, I would have retorted with something equally cutting, but Mel was my best friend. Also, I relied heavily on Mel for her industry contacts.

Jeopardizing our friendship would jeopardize my career… such as it was.

“I guess you’re right” was all I said.

She slammed her bedroom door.

I opened up Flick! again and smoothed out the crinkled-up photo pages. Mel’s bloated, boozed-up face stared out at me, her expression as blank as a mug shot. Her eyeliner was runny and her lipstick was gone except for a thin pinkish rim around her mouth.

There was a black pen lying on the kitchen counter. I used it to give Mel a handlebar moustache.