My name is Willow Avery.
Yes, that Willow Avery—that actress. The one who went off the deep end three years ago. The one whose face is plastered all over the tabloids this morning. They don't give a shit if there's more to me than meets the eye, that there's so much more to my fall from grace, even if nobody—other than my parents and agent—knows what that is. Well, at least nobody knew until a few hours ago.
And the thing is I’ve always cared about what everyone thought of me, even when it seemed like I didn’t. No matter how hard it hurt, and no matter what I had to give up, there was this sick part of me that wanted approval. That still desperately craves it. It’s just that now, I’m not sure if I mind that everyone knows the truth about me. Now, there's this guy and he's not waiting for me to screw up. He doesn’t care that I have screwed up.
But I guess all good movies stories begin with a guy . . .
The driver my agent had hired for the day slammed on the brakes, squealing the SUV to a halt only a few inches from an orange Metro bus. Behind our Mercedes, someone laid down on his horn hard, blaring it for what seemed like five minutes. I welcomed the sound because it was something other than the excruciating silence that had consumed my life for the last six months. Kevin, my agent, wasn’t so appreciative. He turned where he was sitting beside me in the backseat and flipped his middle finger up at the rear window, even though the other guy couldn’t possibly see through the tint.
“Fucking idiot should get a ticket. Too stupid to see traffic is deadlocked,” Kevin muttered. Then, rolling his gray eyes, he sighed. “It never changes, does it?”
I dropped my head back against the beige leather headrest, lolling it to the side so that the air conditioner blasted my face, and stared out the window. Next to us, a couple waited in traffic on a candy-apple red Ducati motorcycle. Both of the woman’s arms were tightly wrapped around the man’s waist, and she rubbed her fingertips up and down the crotch of his jeans. He was wearing a huge, shit-eating grin. If it weren’t for the cop in front of them, they’d probably be completely naked.
“No.” I exhaled a whoosh of air. “Never changes. It’s insane.”
And that insanity was what I loved the most about Hollywood. Somehow during my 180-day stint at Serenity Hills I’d forgotten just how hectic this place was—how it was all abuzz, even at ten in the morning when most people were just now rolling out of bed. This past round of rehab had been just the opposite.
Serenity Hills was all peace, all therapy, and all “confront your personal demons to save yourself”—all the time.
I had hated it, but as of an hour ago, my six months were up. Freedom had never felt so good. This time, I wouldn’t let it go so easily. This time, I’d be smart enough to limit myself and dull my senses just enough to forget, but not to the point of obliterating my reality.
I quickly shook that thought out of my head, ashamed of myself. No, this time—this time I would be different.
I sure as hell would never go back to rehab.
“I am in control of myself,” I mouthed before averting my gaze away from the PDA-happy couple. I gave Kevin a sweet smile as I combed my fingers through strands of my long, chocolate-colored hair. “You’re taking me to my hotel, right?” I asked.
I was dying to submerge myself back into the chaos and noise. For anything but silence. That moment wouldn’t come until I shook free of Kevin and his driver, who he said doubled as a temporary bodyguard since my own had quit last year.
Kevin’s thin lips parted in surprise, and he stared at me like I was an idiot. My hands froze, tangled in a wavy kink of hair. I sucked in my cheeks as Kevin rubbed the corner of his bottom lip between his fingers thoughtfully. I’d never liked when he did that because it always meant bad news for me. Like he was about to reveal the reason my parents hadn’t picked me up was because they were waiting for me in court.
Apparently, getting custody of your adult child is the new thing.
Straining his neck against the collar of his fluorescent yellow Polo shirt, Kevin stopped fussing with his lip to say, “You’ve got a lunch meeting with James Dickson in forty-five minutes. Your dad said your mom wrote you . . .”
My parents had written me about lawsuits and judgments and more lawsuits and on Easter, they’d sent me a glittery card with a creepy grinning rabbit on the front. Not once had they mentioned anything about lunch with a film producer, on the same day I left rehab. This move was so typical of them that I wasn’t the least bit surprised, just angry. And hurt.
“Cancel it,” I said, pointing at Kevin’s iPhone; it was sitting between us in the leather cup holder.
He shook his head, dipping it slightly so the thinning patch in the middle was visible. When he first started representing me, ten years ago, he’d had a full head of auburn hair, but now he kept it short-cropped.
“Not smart,” Kevin said pointedly.
“I just got out.”
“People have gone back to work way sooner, Willow.”
“I went back to work like this last time and look what happened,” I snapped. It had been a sitcom that was panned by critics and charred to a crisp by everyone else. There was nothing like reading about how hollow your acting was, how far you’d fallen. Green eyes as flat and lifeless as a porcelain doll, or worse, like a TLC pageant contestant, one of the trashy gossip websites had written.
And then I’d relapsed.
“My mom wrote that you guys were booking me a new hotel, until I can find a new place to rent,” I said in a calm voice.