• Sheila & Swede

The Hills Have Lies - Ep. 21

The Hills Have Lies © 2018 Lili Grouse

We stay later than expected at the diner, having dessert and sharing stories. I surreptitiously check my phone from time to time, hoping Cole has texted. Every time I put it away again, I cover a sigh.

“Everything okay?” Seth asks, studying me. Apparently, I’m not as stealthy as I thought I was.

“Yeah. Just checking the time.”

“Worried about your dad?”

I am, but I know Mom would have called me or Seth if there was any news. Or the doctor would have.

“Just… a little preoccupied.”

“I can drive you back to the farm right now if you want,” he offers. “Or you could meet Bruce.”

I frown. “Bruce?” He better not be talking about-

“My dog. I dropped him off at my sister’s house when I got your mom’s call about Ed. I should pick him up before my niece goes to bed so she can say her proper goodbyes.”

“Um…” I like animals, and I’m actually a bit nervous about going back to the farm, but it’s a bit weird meeting Seth’s family when we’re not even good friends yet.

“Don’t worry,” Seth says with a wry smile, “my sister isn’t the matchmaker type.”

“Really? I thought that was a typical family thing.”

He shrugs. “She’s a single mom, and doing an amazing job at it. She’s expressed once or twice that she’s happy her ex took off when he did.”

“But she would still want her brother to be happy with someone, right?”

“Oh, sure, but she knows I’m not looking, so she wouldn’t push anyone on me.”

I grimace. “Like my mom did.”

Seth chuckles. “Yeah. But I’m happy she forced us to meet. I don’t have much of a social life here – I think I’ve seen more places with you these past few days than I have during this whole year. It’s nice to spend time with someone other than yourself sometimes.”

“Well, in that case,” I say and stand. “Let’s go meet Bruce.”

Christie Carson – CeCe for short as she tells me seconds after our introduction – is a few inches shorter than her brother but stands taller somehow. Her rye-blonde hair is cut in choppy layers and she has paint splatter on her clothes.

“Come on in, Cecily is in a time-out,” she says, wiping her hands on a paint-spattered towel.

“She got into your coloring box, huh?” Seth says, kissing his sister’s cheek as he passes her.

CeCe swats him with a towel. “They’re acrylics, and she knows my studio is off-limits.”

“You paint?” I ask, which is probably a dumb question as she just said she had a studio with paints in it.

“It’s my creative outlet,” she says, smiling as she looks down at her clothes, “apparently my daughter takes after me.”

“Hannah is one of those creative types, too,” Seth says before disappearing down a hallway.

CeCe looks at me with renewed interest. “Really? What do you do?”

My cheeks heat up as embarrassment washes over me. I don’t think of myself as a creative, and now CeCe is probably expecting me to say I paint or write…

“Um… I’m an actress.”

“Wow. Really? Have I seen you in anything?”

A dog suddenly comes running and I’m distracted by the cuteness of the retriever mix barreling down on me. Bruce launches himself at me and I barely keep myself upright.

“Bruce, down,” Seth commands and Bruce gives me a sad look before dropping down to all four paws and settling for wagging his tail.

“He’s adorable,” I say, reaching out to scratch his head.

“He’s a scamp,” Seth says affectionately. “And so’s this one,” he adds, pointing at CeCe.

“Don’t pretend like you don’t recognize her, I already told her you made me Google her.”

CeCe stares at her brother, as if mentally saying ‘Really?’ Then she turns back to me, smiling sheepishly, “Sorry. I didn’t want to go all fan-girl on you and make you uncomfortable.”

“You’re a fan of the show?”

“Yeah… I know it’s mostly aimed at the 18-24 bracket, but I’m a sucker for high school drama.” She gives a little laugh. “I probably shouldn’t be, given all the actual high school drama I have to deal with at work. But it’s a nice escape when it’s only on TV.”

“I love teen dramas, too,” I say, smiling. “I don’t know if you ever grow out of it.”

Seth raises his hand. “Uh… I can honestly say I’ve never been into teen dramas.”

CeCe rolls her eyes. “Don’t listen to him. Do you want some coffee? I just need to tuck Cecily in and I’ll be back.”

“Oh, I’m-“

“We had coffee at the diner. I only brought Hannah over here so she could meet Bruce – not so you could interrogate her,” Seth says, clipping a leash on Bruce.

“I wasn’t going to-“ CeCe starts to object, but Seth cuts her off with a kiss on the cheek.

“Yes, you were. Cecily’s fast asleep in her room, by the way. I tucked her in. See you tomorrow.”

“Come back any time,” she says, looking at me. “I’d love to hear what it’s like to live on the west coast.”

I smile even as Seth herds me out of his sister’s house. “Thank you, I’d like that.”

“She’s great,” I say as we get into his car. “So’s Bruce.”

“Well, if you ever feel up to dog sitting, I’m sure he’d be happy to hang out at the farm.”

“That sounds like fun, actually. So does coffee with your sister.”

Seth chuckles. “Just wait until she gets going with her questions. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

After saying goodnight to Seth and checking on Dad – all better and a clean bill of health from the doctor – I head up to my room. I still haven’t heard from Cole, and I’m starting to worry.

I check social media, feeling like a stalker as I check Cole’s profiles, then Lauren’s, then Tom’s, and finally Crystal’s.

My heart squeezes painfully when I see Crystal’s tweet from a few hours ago. Getting naked with @stonecoled93 today ;) Obviously, it’s a teaser for the photo shoot, but it still makes my stomach turn. So does the fact that she has hundreds of likes and replies. I click on her tweet to see some of the comments, and they’re all encouraging.

Disheartened, I turn off the sound on my phone and crawl into bed.

When I wake up in the morning, I see the notification light blink on my phone and I grab it off the bedside table. My vision is a little blurred with sleep, but I rub my eyes and it clears. I have several messages from Cole, and a Twitter notification saying I’ve been mentioned in a tweet. I check the tweet first, which is from Cole’s account.

Had great time @ GlamSports photo shoot with some of the cast of #THHL. Next time, I’m sure @hannahHHL and @dereckless will join ;)

I don’t check the replies just in case they say that I don’t belong on a sexy shoot. Like I don’t know that already. Instead, I pull up WhatsApp to read Cole’s messages.

2.10 am – Sorry, got dragged off to party after shoot

Meant to text sooner

Guessing you’re asleep

2.20 am – Wish u were here

Wish I coulda done shoot w u

2.22 am – Miss u

3.30 am – I didn’t sleep w C

Please trust me

I frown as I read the last messages. Why would he think I thought he slept with Crystal? I have a knot in my stomach as I pull up Google and search ‘Cole Crystal THHL’. I filter it to News, and a number of gossip sites show up in the search results. They’re wild speculations, all of them, so I switch to an image search instead. As much as gossip sites lie, pictures usually don’t.

I bite my fist as I see the paparazzi shots of Cole and Crystal outside some club, her arms wrapped around his neck and her body pressed up against him. In another photo, she’s leaving his apartment building with mussed hair. I guess Sid was fast asleep at that time of night.

Well, I guess that explains his texts… Now that I’ve started, I can’t stop myself from finding out whatever I can. So for the next hour, I read every stupid article about them and searches their names on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

There are fan videos on YouTube. People have assembled photo montages of Cole and Crystal from various publicity shots and clips from shows or movies they’ve been in apart from scenes on THHL. There is an outpour of love on the Internet for Cole and Crystal’s budding relationship, and I’m curled up crying in my old bedroom in Minnesota. Complicated just went to a whole other level.

My phone’s display lights up with Cole’s face and name, and I dismiss the call. Then I pull WhatsApp back up and type.

I can’t

It’s not actually a response to his plea to trust him, and I realize this once I see my message on the screen, so I type out another.

I trust you, but I don’t think I can handle this. I’m sorry

Seconds after my message goes through and the blue double checkmarks indicate he’s read it, my phone lights up again with his name and face.

I don’t want to talk to him right now for fear I won’t be able to keep my tears at bay. As much as it pains me, I know pulling the emergency brake on whatever we have is the right thing to do for the both of us. Cole doesn’t need someone as insecure as me when he’s just trying to do his job. He’ll only end up resenting me and I’ll lose one of the few real friends I’ve ever had in my life.

I stare at the screen. He’s not giving up. What kind of friend am I if I can’t be a grownup about this? I take a deep breath and answer.


“Hannah. Don’t shut me out. Talk to me.”

“I’m sorry. I should have picked up sooner.”

“Never mind about that. I’m more concerned about you saying goodbye to me.”

“I’m not. I just… I can’t do the relationship bit with you right now. Can we just go back to being friends before anything happens between us that we can’t come back from?”

“Plenty has happened already, and I don’t want to forget one minute of it. Do you?”

“No… but… I want to press pause. Let’s just wait until things cool down. I’m finding out some stuff about myself that I didn’t know was there, and I need to work on that. Alone.”

“Okay… well, I guess we won’t talk every day, then, so… I’ll see you when I get back?”

“I’ll tell you what, just text me whenever you text Lauren, because friends keep in touch. If we go all radio silent, that’s not friendship. That’s a breakup. And we weren’t even dating.”

“Call me whenever you want, Hannah. Any time you need to talk, I’ll be here.”

“Same,” I say softly and hang up, burying my head in my pillow.

To be continued...


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