• Sheila & Swede

The Hills Have Lies - Ep. 2

The Hills Have Lies © 2018 Lili Grouse

Premiere Day

“Come on, guys, make some room,” Cole says as we enter his living room where everyone is already lounging in front of his 60-inch flat screen.

Less than a minute ago I was standing on his doorstep holding a box of apple cider donuts – his favorite, as I’ve come to learn over the past months working with him – and stressing over how to act at a cast party slash premiere episode viewing. Then Cole opened the door, grabbed the donuts from me and ushered me into the living room while somehow managing to hide the sugary treats somewhere along the way.

“Hey, Han, there’s room over here,” Lauren waves me over to her slice of the sectional and I smile and wave before making my way over.

Everyone calls me ‘Han’ now. I have Cole to thank for that, as he can’t be bothered to pronounce my full name and is a natural trendsetter. Only Alison still calls me Hannah. I wish I could have invited her tonight, but it’s ‘Cast Only’ – Crystal’s proclamation, obviously.

We’re supposed to take photos for our Instagram accounts to promote the show and live tweet as the episodes air. I’ve mostly been taking pictures of my trailer and camera equipment so far – I’m worried about leaking information and making embarrassing rookie mistakes.

Besides, it’s not like I have a ton of followers or anything. Now and then, Cole mentions me in a tweet and I gain a dozen followers or so, but they soon realize I’m boring and unfollow me again. Cole has well over half a million followers on Twitter. As of today, Crystal has 460,451. I’m one of them. Lauren showed me how to mute a user’s feed. Best. Invention. Ever. I was going crazy seeing her tweets, retweets, and favorites every five minutes. I haven’t figured out how to mute her Instagram feed, though, so I’m constantly exposed to pouty lips and posing-in-front-of-a-mirror shots.

“Sally, take a picture of us,” Crystal orders Sally, who plays one of Crystal’s minions on the show. It’s eerie how much life imitates art.

Sally takes Crystal’s phone and Crystal gets on Cole’s lap for the photo-op. She wraps her arms around his neck and presses her lips against his cheek, all the while keeping an eye on the camera. Sally snaps a couple of shots and hands the phone back to Crystal, who doesn’t bother saying thanks before she’s tapping away at her screen again.

“All right, guys, go and like my pic,” she says and puts her phone down, staying on Cole’s lap.

While a couple of the others – Derek, Sally, Tom, and Nick – do as instructed, Lauren snags a carrot stick off the table and I try to look away from Cole and Crystal. She’s running her fingers through his hair and Cole is trying to keep her from messing up the carefully windblown style, but not pushing her off his lap. Then her phone is back in her hand and they’re squeezing together to take a group selfie (or a groupie as Alison calls it).

I can’t resist checking Cole’s Twitter feed and he’s retweeted Crystal’s newly posted pic with a comment of his own. Watching #HillsHaveLiesPremiere with my awesome co-star @crystalline – gonna be a gr8 season! #THHL

I snap a photo of the healthy snacks on the glass-top table and manage to get a shot of the TV as the opening credits roll. There. Job done.

Cole pulls up the Twitter feed for the hashtag the show’s using on part of the screen while showing the episode at the same time, meaning we get to see people’s reactions as the episode progresses. A lot of the comments are about how hot Cole is and some about what amazing chemistry he has with Crystal. Then my character is introduced. I feel a lump form in my throat, another in the pit of my stomach. My head is pounding as I wait for the comments – if there are any.

Ah, and there’s the duff, one tweet reads. Oh, crap.

Pretty cliché, rite?

Calling makeover team, stat

I feel like crying. Correction, bawling. This is so humiliating. I just want to run and hide, but I’m at the far end of the room, with all my cast mates between me and the door. No dignified escape. Then the scene changes over to introduce Derek’s character, Evan, and the commentators move on to compare his blond, preppy good looks to Cole’s bad boy style.

A commercial break comes on and I take the opportunity to sneak off to the bathroom. As I stare at myself in the mirror, willing the tears not to fall, I try to remind myself that people are only reacting to what’s on screen, and to the character, not necessarily to me. Once they get beyond first impressions, I’m sure they’ll grow to really care about Kate-Lynn. I do.

After leaving the bathroom, I take a detour into the kitchen in search of something sweet or salty. I spot the donut box on the counter and head on over. I’m just opening the lid when I hear footsteps behind me. I turn to see Cole there.

“Oh. Hey. I was just-“

“I know what you were doing.” He wags his finger at me. “You were trying to get into my stash. Sorry, they’re mine now. And I’m not sharing.”

“I thought friends always share,” I cross my arms and lean against the marble counter.

“Not when it comes to apple cider donuts.”

“Duly noted. But seeing as how I just got totally trashed by the viewers, I think I deserve a sugar high, don’t you?”

“That?” he hikes his thumb in the direction of the living room. “That was nothing. It can get a whole lot nastier.”

“Ooh, goodie, something to look forward to,” I say drily.

“My point is, you can’t let it get to you.”

I nod, my eyes drawn to the floor. It’s spotless. He must have a cleaning service or something.

“Hey,” Cole says and his feet are suddenly in my line of sight. Black socks on a charcoal floor. I look up at him. “I’ve got an idea.” He reaches into his back pocket and produces his cell phone.

“Uh, no,” I shake my head. “I don’t like being in photos.”

“You’re an actress,” he points out.

“Well, that’s different. I’m playing a part – and wearing tons of makeup. Plain old me isn’t camera ready.”

“That’s just silly talk,” he clicks his tongue and steps up next to me, wrapping an arm around my shoulder while holding up the phone with his other hand. “Smile for the audience, Hannah-Banana.”

I paste on a smile and refuse to look at the result. Cole, however, is satisfied. “Check your phone,” he says after he’s finished typing. I sigh and check his feed.

Hanging w/ my bb – the awesomely talented @hannahHHL

A few seconds later, there’s a reply from Lauren. Hey, @stonecoled93, hands off! @hannahHHL is *my* bb.

Before I can think of a reply, Cole has already mentioned us both. @laulau94 @hannahHHL Friends share, remember? ;-)

“Commercial’s over!” someone hollers from the living room – Tom, I think – and Cole gestures for me to go first, no doubt because he wants to make sure I don’t steal his donuts.

As the final credits roll, I can’t help but feel proud of us all. The premiere teased a lot of different storylines, and everyone character had their own individual scene at the end of the episode, bringing home that it’s an ensemble cast.

Crystal’s faults aside, there’s no denying she can act. Hers was the last scene before the end of the episode as it had great shock value. The camera followed Crystal as her character Michaela got ready for a date – a close-up of the swipe of her makeup brush across her cheeks, the mist of perfume sprayed on the swell of her breasts, the application of lip gloss that beaded on her bottom lip. Then it cut to Michaela walking down a hotel corridor with luxurious decor and carpeting, stopping in front of a door to one of the suites, casting furtive glances up and down the hallway before tapping on the door. It opened for her and the final shot was that of Michaela stepping into the room and turning to face whoever had opened the door for her, then dropping her coat, leaving her in lingerie as a weathered and wrinkly hand reached out and closed the door on the camera.

Sally is the first to applaud and I quickly join in as the others do. I hadn’t realized this is something you do after watching your show premiere on television. My Lifetime movies – or Cruiseliner, for that matter – never had a theatrical release, so there were no red-carpet events, no promotional parties, and no cast get-togethers.

High-fives are exchanged, but Crystal doesn’t participate. Instead, she looks smug as if everyone is applauding her performance and not the group effort of actors, producers, and editors. She’s also the first to bow out.

“Well, I have to get going. Lucien wanted me to stop by one of his events to do some publicity, and I said I’d try to make it. It’s been fun. I’ll see you tomorrow, Cole.”

After planting a kiss on Cole’s cheek, she waves at us over her shoulder. “Later.” Well, at least she didn’t tack on ‘Losers’ or anything like that to her farewell.

Crystal sees herself out, and once the door closes behind her, Cole is on his feet. “Okay, who wants potato chips?”

“Here, here,” Lauren raises her hand high and I smile. Of course the veggies did nothing to curb her appetite. The guys also voice their approval, while Sally is looking completely scandalized. I say nothing. I cannot pig out on carbs or fatty snacks if I want a future in this business.

Cole soon returns with two bowls of potato chips, then goes back for more beer. Lauren claims one of the bowls for herself, muttering something about grubby paws. She offers the bowl to both Sally and me, but we both shake our heads no. Sally takes this as her cue to leave.

“I should get going, too,” she says, standing.

“Are you sure?” I say, feeling bad that she seems so uncomfortable around the group. It’s like the only reason she came tonight was for Crystal, and with her lifeline gone, she’s sinking fast.

“Yes. I have an early day tomorrow, so…”

“We all do,” Lauren points out, speaking around a mouthful of chips.

“Lauren’s right,” I say to Sally. “We won’t stay much longer. We could share a cab if you want.”

A couple of us stay in studio rented apartments not too far from the set, and Sally is one of my neighbors. It’s modest living, and the rent comes out of our paychecks, but it’s convenient, not having to find a place of your own. I was offered the apartment around the same time that my lease was up on my old apartment in Lompoc, and so I took the housing offer.

“Thanks, but I’m just gonna go now,” Sally says, and there’s something in her eyes that I recognize, something that makes me stand up as well.

“Okay. I’ll go with you.”

“You don’t have to-“

“Oh, it’s purely for selfish reasons,” I say dismissively, then I add in a stage whisper, “I don’t know how much longer I can resist the potato chips.”

“Okay,” Sally says and heads for the door. Lauren catches my wrist as I move to leave.

“What’s up? If she doesn’t want to be a part of the group, she doesn’t have to be. Don’t let

Crystal’s little lapdog cut your fun short.”

It’s a mean thing to say, but I can understand Lauren, too. Sally has stuck to Crystal’s side like glue since day one and ignored our attempts at conversation. At the same time, I suspect there’s more to the story.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, ‘kay?”


I can tell from her clipped tone and the way she’s avoiding eye contact that she’s annoyed. There’s no point in arguing about it now, though. I’ll just bring her a mocha latte tomorrow morning.

“Night, guys,” I say as I pass by the others. Cole gets out of his seat to see me to the door.

“Thanks for having us,” I tell him, putting on my jacket. Sally is already dressed and ready to leave.

We hug and I’m proud of myself for not getting flustered about having his arms around me. Cole is a physical guy – he’s a hugger and he’s always either shaking hands, patting people on the back or just wrapping an arm around your shoulders.

“See you tomorrow,” he says as he lets me go and I nod.

“Have a good night.”

“I ordered a cab,” Sally says, checking her phone as we head down the stairs. “It should be here in five minutes.”

“Okay, great.”

“I didn’t mean to cut your night short,” Sally says and I get an uneasy feeling in my gut that she might have overheard Lauren’s comment.

“You didn’t.”

We descend the remainder of the stairs in silence. When we step out onto the street, I hug myself against the chill in the air. “So… do you enjoy being on the show?” I ask, trying to make conversation and gain some insight into Sally at the same time.

“Sure,” Sally replies. “You?”

“Oh, it’s great. It’s very different, though. I haven’t done any promotional stuff like this before. It’s kinda scary.”

“Social media’s a big part of everything these days.”

“Yeah. How do you handle it?”

She shrugs. “Like everyone else, I guess.”

“My parents were pretty strict when I was growing up. They always warned me against giving out my name and things like that online. It’s a bit of an adjustment for me. What do your parents think about your job?”

She shrugs again. “It’s not really their thing. Cab’s here.” Sally waves at the approaching car, making it clear she’s not a fan of chit-chat and can’t wait to be rid of me for the night.

The cab ride is quiet, and I’m relieved when we arrive at the apartment block so that we can go our separate ways. As soon as I’ve unlocked my door, I flip the light switch. Ever since I moved to California, I have a habit of making sure the lights are on before I enter a room.

Come to think of it, that habit probably kicked in while I was doing Cruiseliner. You can’t star in a low-rate horror movie without picking up a few tricks on how to stay alive – just do the exact opposite of everyone in it.

The second thing I do when I get home is send my parents a text. When I moved to California, they made me promise to let them know whenever I got home at night, no matter the time. That’s also why I don’t go out much or stay out too late. It’s possible that was exactly their intention. I’m 22 years old, but I’m still keeping a curfew. Maybe when I turn 23 next month I’ll be let off the leash.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take more than a minute from sending the ‘I’m home’ text before Mom is calling me on the apartment landline. Yes, I have a landline, courtesy of my parents. Dad insisted that in case of emergency, I would save valuable seconds by calling 911 from an easily traceable landline. I can’t help but think that they also see it as a valuable tool in confirming I’m not just sending them a text from somewhere else. Who needs a chaperone when you can get a landline?

“Hi, Mom.” I try not to sigh. It’s sweet that she cares, it really is.

“Hi honey, are you just getting in?”

I take a moment to check the display for the time. It’s not even ten o’clock. Then again, with the time difference, that makes it midnight in Minnesota.

“Yes, I was at a cast party. We were watching the premiere.”

“Oh, that’s right. Were you happy with it?”

“Did you watch?” I already know the answer, but I guess I’m a glutton for punishment because I still ask.

“Oh. No, but Daddy recorded it for you.”

I press my lips together and hold my tongue. There’s no point in getting upset about the fact that they still think my acting is a phase and are determined to treat it as such.

“Okay, Mom. How was your day?” I ask, changing the subject. As she talks about the new calf the vet had to help deliver, I take the cordless into my bedroom. As I walk in, I’m reminded that I need to do my laundry. The apartment building has its own laundry room, but I avoid it as much as I can. It lacks windows and the light always flickers ominously whenever I run the dryer.

“Are you listening to me, Hannah?” I realize that I’ve let my mind wander when I hear my mom’s questioning tone.

“Sorry, I guess I’m just really tired. I have an early day tomorrow, so I should really get some sleep. Talk to you tomorrow?”

“All right, honey. Sleep well.”

“You too. Say hi to Dad for me.” We hang up and I change into my pajamas before brushing my teeth in the little en-suite.

I’m just getting ready to crawl into bed when I notice my phone is blinking. It’s an alert for a new direct message on Twitter. I pull it up and can’t help but smile. It’s from Cole.

Thanx for the donuts. Sweet dreams.

I bite my lip, trying to think of the perfect reply, but I come up empty. I close the app and put the phone down. One day soon I’m going to be good at this. I’m almost certain of it.

To be continued...


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