“I love the view,” Rain says, holding a tumbler of tequila, standing on the balcony overlooking the city. I’m staring past her down at the empty space on Elevado where the Jeep was parked and it’s three in the morning and I come up behind her and down below the wind gently drapes palm fronds over the rippling water of the Doheny Plaza’s lit pool and the only light in the condo comes from the Christmas tree in the corner and Counting Crows’ “A Long December” plays softly in the background.
“Don’t you have a boyfriend?” I ask. “Someone . . .more age-appropriate than me?”
“Guys my age are idiots,” she says, turning around.
“Guys my age are awful.”
“I have news for you,” I say, leaning into her. “So are guys my age.”
“But you look good for your age,” she says, stroking my face. “You look ten years younger,” she says. “You’ve had work done, right?” Her fingers keep combing the hair that had been dyed the week before. Her other hand runs along the sleeve of the T-shirt with the skateboard logo on it. In the bedroom she lets me go down on her and after I make her come she lets me slide in.
During the last week of December if we aren’t in bed we’re at the movies or watching screeners and Rain simply nods when I tell her everything that’s wrong with the movie we’ve just seen and she doesn’t argue back. “I liked it,” she will say, putting a light touch on everything, her upper lip always provocatively lifted, her eyes always drained of intent, programmed not to be challenging or negative. This is someone trying to stay young because she knows that what matters most to you is the youthful surface. This is supposed to be part of the appeal: keep everything young and soft, keep everything on the surface, even with the knowledge that the surface fades and can’t be held together forever—take advantage before the expiration date appears in the nearing distance. The surface Rain presents is really all she’s about, and since so many girls look like Rain another part of the appeal is watching her try to figure out why I’ve become so interested in her and not someone else.
“Am I the only one you’re interested in?” she asks. “I mean right now, for the part?”
My eyes scan the bedroom we’re lying in until they land on hers. “Yes.”
“Why?” And then a teasing smile. “Why me?”
This question and my subsequent nonanswer leave her wanting to impart information that, in the bedroom on the fifteenth floor of the Doheny Plaza, has no reason to even exist. You ignore why she left Lansing at seventeen and the casual hints of an abusive uncle (a made-for-sympathy move that threatens to erase the carnality) and why she dropped out of the University of Michigan (I don’t ask whether she’d ever enrolled) and what led to the side trips to New York and Miami before she landed in L.A. and you don’t ask what she must have done with the photographer who discovered her when she was waitressing at the café on Melrose or about the career modeling lingerie that probably seemed promising at nineteen and that led to the commercials that led to a couple of tiny roles in films and definitely not putting all her hopes into the third part of a horror franchise that panned into nothing and then it was the quick slide into the bit parts on TV shows you’ve never heard of, the pilot shot but never aired, and covering everything else is the distant humiliation of bartending gigs and the favors that got her the hostess job at Reveal. Decoding everything, you piece together the agent who ignores her. You begin to understand through her muted complaints that the management company no longer cares. Her need is so immense that you become surrounded by it; this need is so enormous that you realize you can actually control it, and I know this because I’ve done it before.
We sit in my office naked, buzzed on champagne, while she shows me pics from a Calvin Klein show, audition tapes a friend shot, a modeling portfolio, paparazzi photos of her at B-list events—the opening of a shoe store on Canon, a charity benefit at someone’s home in Brentwood, standing with a group of girls at the Playboy Mansion at the Midsummer Night’s Dream Party—and then always it seems we’re back in the bedroom.
“What do you want for Christmas?” she asks.
“This. You.” I smile. “What do you want?”
“I want a part in your movie,” she says. “You know that.”
“Yeah?” I ask, my hand tracing her thigh. “My movie?
“I want the part of Martina.” She kisses me, her hand moving down to my cock, gripping it, releasing it, gripping it again.
“And I’m going to try and get it for you.”
The pause is involuntary but she recovers in a second.
If we aren’t in bed or watching movies we’re at the Bristol Farms down the street buying champagne or at the Apple store in the Westfield Mall in Century City because she needs a new computer and also wants an iPhone (“It’s Christmas,” she purrs as if it matters) and I’ll hand the BMW over to the valet at the mall and notice the looks from the guys taking the car, and the stares from so many other men roaming the mall, and she notices them too and walks quickly, pulling me along, while talking mindlessly to no one on her cell phone, a self-protective gesture, a way to combat the stares by not acknowledging them. These stares are always the grim reminders of a pretty girl’s life in this town, and though I’ve been with other beautiful women, the neurosis about their looks had already hardened into a kind of bitter acceptance that Rain doesn’t seem to share. One of the last afternoons together that December, we’re heading to the Apple store drunk on champagne, Rain nestling into me, wearing Yves Saint Laurent sunglasses as we walk beneath the overcast sky looming above the towers of Century City, the chiming bells of Christmas carols everywhere, and she’s happy because we’d just watched her reel, which includes the two scenes she was in from a Jim Carrey movie, a drama that tanked. (After squinting hard at the screen, I enthusiastically complimented her and then asked why she hadn’t listed the movie on her résumé, and she admitted the scenes were cut.) She’s still asking me if I’m telling the truth about her scenes as we move toward the Apple store and I assure her that I am instead of admitting how dismaying the performance actually was. There was no way those scenes should have been kept in the movie—the decision to remove them was the correct one. (I have to stop myself from wondering how she got the part, because that would be entering a maze with no escape.) What keeps me interested—and it always does—is how can she be a bad actress on film but a good one in reality? This is where the suspense of it all usually lies. And later, for the first time since Meghan Reynolds, I think hopefully—lying in bed, lifting a glass filled with champagne to my lips, her face hovering above mine—that maybe she isn’t acting with me.
We’re shopping at the Bristol Farms on Doheny for another case of champagne in the last week of December when I lose her in one of the aisles and I become dazed when I realize that the market used to be Chasen’s, the restaurant I came to with my parents on various Christmas Eves, when I was a teenager, and I try to reconfigure the restaurant’s layout while standing in the produce section, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” playing throughout the store, and when nothing comes it’s a sad relief. And then I notice Rain’s gone and I’m moving through the aisles and I’m thinking about pictures of her naked on a yacht, my hand between her legs, my tongue on her cunt while she comes and then I find her outside, leaning against my BMW talking to a handsome guy I don’t recognize, his arm in a sling, and he walks away as I wheel my cart toward them and when I ask her who he was she smiles reassuringly and says “Graham” and then “No one” and then “He’s a magician.” I kiss her on the mouth. She looks nervously around. I watch her reflection in the window of the BMW. “What’s wrong?” I ask. “Not here,” she says, but as if “not here” is a promise of somewhere better. The deserted parking lot is suddenly freezing, the icy air so cold it shimmers.
During that week we spend together things aren’t completely tracking—there are lapses—but she acts like it doesn’t matter, which helps cause the fear to fade away. Rain replaces it with something else that’s easy to lose yourself in, despite, for example, the fact that a few of my friends still in town wanted to get together for dinner at Sona but the invitation caused a low-level anxiety in Rain that seemed alien to her nature and this became briefly revealing. (“I don’t want to be with anyone else but you” is her excuse.) But the lapses and evasions aren’t loud—Rain is still soothing enough for the texts from the blocked numbers to stop arriving and for the blue Jeep to disappear along with my desire to start work again on any number of projects I’m involved with and the long brooding silences are gone and the bottle of Viagra in the nightstand drawer is left untouched and the ghosts rearranging things in the condo have taken flight and Rain makes me believe this is something with a future. Rain convinces me that this is really happening. Meghan Reynolds fades into a blur because Rain demands that the focus be on her, and because everything about her works for me I don’t even realize it when it slips into something beyond simply working and for the first time since Meghan Reynolds I make the mistake of starting to care. But there’s one dark fact humming loudly over everything that I keep trying to ignore but can’t because it’s the only thing that keeps the balance in place. It’s the thing that doesn’t let me fall completely away. It’s the thing that saves me from collapsing: she’s too old for the part she thinks she’s going to get.
This excerpt was first published on NERVE in 2010. Copyright © 2010 by Bret Easton Ellis. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.