The Hills Have Lies - Ep. 8
When I arrive at Cole’s on Saturday night, I’m wearing a new dress in a wrap style that covers a lot more than Lauren’s did. With this one I actually don’t feel like I have to constantly tug at it to preserve my modesty. I let Lauren curl my hair and now it falls down my back, looking a lot more Hollywood than it usually does. As of yet, my character on the show hasn’t adapted to the glamorous life of her peers, so I’m not used to being dolled up. Still, it’s nice to dress up for a party – especially since it’s Cole’s.
I take a deep breath and ring the doorbell. I really hope Lauren is here tonight. I have a feeling I won’t know many people at this party and I don’t want Cole to think I’m a boring wallflower. Even though he probably thinks that already…
Cole opens the door and grins at me. “You made it. Come on in,” he says and pulls me inside, wrapping an arm around my shoulders and hugging me to his side as he steers me towards the kitchen. “I haven’t talked to you properly since you were last here. Are you doing okay?”
“Yeah, just a bit tired. It’s been crazy on set this week. Well, I don’t have to tell you that,” I add with a chuckle.
We had a behind-the-scenes thing shooting this week and between doing our usual work and interviews and promotional shoots, there hasn’t been much time for socializing.
“Well I’m glad you came tonight,” he says and I manage to just smile back at him and not grin like a lovesick puppy. I really need to get over this crush or whatever it is. We’re supposed to be professionals, and friends. Time for me to start acting like an adult.
I’m not sure exactly when Cole decided to adopt me as his friend slash pet project, but I’m slowly starting to get past my doubts about whether he actually likes me as a person or if he feels it’s his duty to look after the newbie. After all, he’s not taken Sally under his wings, and she’s just as green in terms of network TV as I am. It’s still hard to see him as an equal, though. Not because of the age difference – we’re only three years apart – but because of the level of experience he has. Cole was a big deal even before he was cast for the show, and he has thousands upon thousands of devoted fans in whose eyes he can do no wrong.
“I’m sorry this isn’t donuts,” I say sheepishly as I hand over a gift bag. “I figured you could always use more wine when you’re hosting a party.”
“You didn’t have to bring anything, you know,” he says and hugs me briefly before inspecting the wine. “Mm, Californian.”
“That’s just something my parents drilled into my head,” I shrug. “Gift giving, not Californian wine,” I clarify needlessly.
“Or what some people call ‘good manners’,” he smiles. “Yeah, I got a lecture or two on the subject myself growing up.”
“Where did you grow up, by the way?” I ask, leaning against the kitchen counter. I can hear voices coming from the living room and music playing, but I’m in no hurry to join the party.
Neither is Cole, it seems.
“Washington state. Relatively small community. Townhouse in a middle-class neighborhood. Mom and Dad liked to entertain, and they often went over to the neighbors’ houses for dinner or drinks.”
“They must have been really close with their neighbors, then.”
“Yeah. A little too close.”
What does he mean by that? I’m curious, but I don’t want to pry, so I hold my tongue. It seems Cole interprets my silence as waiting for him to elaborate, and he does.
“My mom had an affair with one of the neighbors, and when it came out, two moving vans drove off never to return.”
Oh, wow. “Did you stay with your dad?” I ask tentatively.
“How old were you?”
“Like 13? You know what the real kicker was?”
“I had a major crush on the neighbor’s daughter, and we were just heading towards second base when everything came out. She went with her dad and I never saw her again.”
“Your mom and the neighbor didn’t stay together, then?” How awkward for him if he had a stepsister he’d once had a crush on.
“No. You know how they say ‘once a cheater, always a cheater’? I guess they both realized that the odds would be stacked against them if they tried to make an actual relationship work.”
“I’m sorry. That must have been really rough on you,” I say, sympathetic. I just want to hug him, but he’d probably object to a pity-hug.
“At the time, yeah. But I got into sports and spent a lot of time on the track. My way of escaping, I guess.”
“How’d you get into acting?” I ask, changing the subject.
“This is going to sound crazy, but I was out running one day and this woman flagged me down. I thought she was hot, in a cougar sort of way, so I stopped to talk to her. She asked me how old I was and if I’d be interested in earning some money for college.”
My mind is spinning, thinking the worst. Clearly, my face is an open book, because Cole laughs.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too, at first. But she went on to explain that she was the owner of the new local sporting goods store and that they were looking for models and spokespeople to attract the younger crowd. She gave me her business card and told me to ask my parents and have us all come down to the store to talk about the campaign.
“Long story short, the ad campaign caught the attention of a couple of people in the modeling industry outside the state and before I knew it, I was booking modeling gigs left and right. I got an agent, who suggested I take a couple of acting classes since I apparently was a natural at spouting clichés in commercials, and it just went from there.”
Cole laughs again. “I’m sure there are way crazier stories out there. As far as a career path in this business goes, I think mine is pretty standard.”
“What about you?” he asks, pouring me a glass of the wine I brought. “What made Hannah Miller leave her peaceful existence on the Minnesota farm for the glitz and glam of slasher movies?”
I chortle. “It was one movie, and there was nothing glamorous about it. I-“
The sound of the doorbell cuts me off and Cole excuses himself to go answer it. I sip my wine, trying my best not to feel awkward standing alone in Cole’s kitchen, and I hear Cole greet the new arrivals. I relax a little when I hear Lauren’s voice.
Moments later, Cole leads Lauren and Tom into the kitchen with the offer of wine as a welcome drink.
“Hey!” Lauren exclaims, clearly surprised to find me alone in the kitchen. “You never made it past the kitchen, huh?” Her eyes dart to Cole, who’s got the refrigerator door open, and then back to me with a questioning look. Typical of people in relationships to be seeing potential romances everywhere.
“Cole and I just got to talking.” I shrug, hoping that the look I’m giving her sufficiently puts an end to her speculations. Of course, there’s a reason why words were invented in the first place – it’s simply not possible to convey entire, complicated messages by eye contact alone. Unless you know Morse code really well and don’t mind blinking like a crazy person.
“Here you go,” Cole says and hands Lauren a glass of wine and Tom a bottle of beer.
“Thanks, man,” Tom says and strolls out of the kitchen towards the living room.
I’m torn between hanging back in the kitchen and continuing my conversation with Cole, and doing the proper, polite thing and interacting with the other guests. Tom and Lauren will make my sudden appearance less awkward, as the others might think we all came together.
I don’t have to make a decision, though, because Lauren makes it for me.
“Come on, let’s go mingle,” she says and hooks her arm with mine. I glance over my shoulder to find Cole’s eyes meet mine with a smile on his lips. Then he grabs a couple of bottles and follows us into the living room.
Lauren and Tom both seem to know most of the people at the party, and introductions are quickly made and just as quickly forgotten. I’ve never been good at mingling. I want to push through my innate shyness, but it’s like I’m in a bubble and I can’t think fast enough or get any words out before other people lose interest and focus on someone more outgoing instead. I don’t blame them.
I sip my wine and pretend to admire Cole’s view from the balcony as if I’ve never seen it before. It does look different at night, though. The city lights sparkle in the distance, like lightning bugs on a hot summer’s night.
“It’s a lovely view, isn’t it?” a deep voice says from behind me and I turn my head to see who’s talking. I blink just in case I’m temporarily blinded by the lights and just plain seeing things.
“I’m Max,” the man says, extending his hand. “And you are?”
“Hannah,” I smile and return his handshake. I have to crane my neck a little to actually meet his eyes, which are a dark brown and what one would probably describe as soulful. Even if he hadn’t just introduced himself, I still would have known who he was.
Max Didon is closer to 35 but has the face of a much younger man, something that has brought him a long modeling career. His dark skin is unblemished and there’s not a wrinkle in sight. Cole has mentioned Max a few times in passing, but I didn’t expect to actually meet him in the flesh.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet the leading lady Cole speaks so highly of,” he says with his faint French accent. I know Max moved from New Orleans to New York to pursue modeling long before he got to Los Angeles and ended up at the same agency as Cole. The way Cole has described him, Max acted as a big brother and coach all wrapped into one.
“Oh, I’m not her. That’s Crystal Witt.”
“I know who Crystal is, and I know who you are, Hannah Miller.” Max’ smile is warm and his voice calm and soothing. The kind of voice one could listen to all night.
“Oh.” Max Didon knows who I am. Cole’s talked to him about me? Why would he do that? I’m no-one.
“I can see why Cole is so fond of you.”
Whoa. Where’s that evening breeze when you need it? “Of me?”
“Of course. Cole values those who are kind and humble. I have not met many who fit that description in this industry.”
I glance inside where the party is going on. Aside from myself, Lauren and Tom, Cole hasn’t invited anyone from the cast. I thought that Crystal couldn’t make it tonight, but maybe she wasn’t invited in the first place. I know Cole said I could bring Derek, but I didn’t get around to asking him. The people I’ve met tonight have all been friendly and open; not once have any of them turned up their nose, even if they’ve moved from one conversation to another.
I tuck a lock of hair behind my ear and look back up at Max. “You’ve known each other a long time.” It’s not a question, but he answers it nonetheless.
“We have,” Max says with a smile that’s closer to a grin. “I know many of his secrets.”
“None of which you’ll be sharing with my girl here,” Cole breaks in and my heart skips a beat. Did he just call me his girl?
Max chuckles, a deep rumble that reverberates in my chest as Cole drapes his arm over my shoulders. He has a beer bottle in his hand and it dangles between his fingers, brushing against the fabric of my dress. He’s relaxed and smells faintly of alcohol, and I suspect he’s had a couple of drinks since I last talked to him. It should make me want to put some distance between us, but a part of me is aching to find out if he’ll actually make a move on me, even if it’s just a drunken mistake on his part.
“I believe that is my cue to bow out,” Max says and winks at me. “Enchanté.”
Cole scoffs but bumps Max’ fist with his free hand as we’re left alone out on the balcony.
“Having a good time?” he asks me, still with his arm over my shoulders.
I turn my head so I can look up at him. “I am. You?”
He sighs and looks out over the valley below. “Do you ever feel like you’re not really here? Like everything is moving at lightning speed around you and no-one knows you exist?”
I pluck the bottle out of his hand and take a sip. I’m not a beer drinker, but I need some sort of buffer between us. Especially when he’s so close I can feel his breath and every movement of his muscles.
“All the time. I never would have thought you did, though.”
“Why? Because I’m famous?”
He snatches the bottle back from me and I turn to face him, my back against the balcony railing.
“No, because you’re you,” I say softly. “You’re always talking to people, making them feel… noticed. You have that power, Cole. Other people look for your approval, for your attention. You could never be invisible.”
He stares at me for a moment, and as he reaches out to brush the hair out of my face, his fingertips linger on my skin. I shiver, but not from a chill in the air. I wait breathlessly for his next move, but it never comes. Instead, he appears to shut down and steps back from me, shaking his head.
“The smog’s fogging up my head tonight,” he mumbles. “You should grab some food before Lauren eats it all.”
He turns away and then he’s gone. Lost in the throng, surrounded by his friends. And I’m frozen in place out here, all by my lonesome. Just the way it’s meant to be.
To be continued...
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