• Sheila & Swede

The Hills Have Lies - Ep. 9


The Hills Have Lies © 2018 Lili Grouse

“I can’t believe it’s the mid-season finale already,” I say to Lauren as we head up a winding path carved out of the rock to get to Crystal’s house. The house itself is shielded from view by massive cypress trees lining the property.


“Yeah, the weeks sure fly by when you’re acting your ass off,” she replies and lets out a sigh when we reach another set of steps. “Seriously, she should have an elevator put in.”


“Maybe it’s to keep the paparazzi out? I mean, those aren’t the fittest men you’ll ever come across,” Tom says from behind us.


“Unlike you, you mean?” Lauren shoots back over her shoulder. “I don’t see you taking the steps two at a time.”


“Someone has to watch your back. I’m happy to do it,” he shrugs and pointedly drops his gaze to Lauren’s glutes.


“Speaking of watching our backs… you’re keeping an eye on Crystal’s knives tonight, right?” Lauren says to Tom. “If she gets into the vodka before she sees my scene tonight, she’s going to be unpredictable at best.”


“Marsha and Greg confirmed your secret will be revealed tonight?” I ask. There’s been some discussion on what should be the ultimate cliffhanger for the mid-season finale, and Lauren’s scene hasn’t been teased in the promos. It’s going to come out of the blue.


“Mm-hm. Crystal might actually be outshined tonight,” Lauren grins and I can’t help but match her smile.


So far this season, the storyline has centered around Crystal’s character Michaela and her secret extracurricular activities, together with the budding romance with Dean, Cole’s character, and glimpses of Dean’s relationship with his abusive father. Lauren’s character Deanna has so far been depicted as an aloof outsider with an interest in computer science, and her friendship with newcomer Kate-Lynn is in the early stages, as she isn’t one to open up to people easily. Obviously, the viewers have picked up on her innate sexuality, and Lauren and Crystal are neck-and-neck in various comparisons on social media and entertainment blogs.


I am slightly out of breath after climbing all the steps and I hang back as Tom rings the doorbell to Crystal’s white-washed, Mediterranean style house. By the time Sally answers the door, my breathing is back to normal. but Sally. As we head inside, Lauren whispers in my ear, “She’s the help now?”


“Hello, welcome!” Crystal greets us with air kisses and Lauren and I exchange looks. Have we entered the Twilight Zone or something? Then Lauren jerks her head in the direction from whence Crystal came, and it all makes sense. Marsha and Greg are here, and they’re joined by Cole.


“Ladies,” Greg greets Lauren and me with cheek kisses and shakes Tom’s hand, “Gent.”


Marsha hugs us all to her bony body and gushes over how beautiful we look tonight. I don’t exactly feel beautiful, more like hot and clammy. I’m wearing a floral wrap dress with capped sleeves, and I’ve twisted my hair up. Meanwhile, Lauren is wearing a royal blue sheath with curled dark hair spilling over her shoulders and down her back. We look as different as day and night, or as Beauty and the Beast.


“Selfie ready as always, I see,” Cole says and hugs Lauren first, then me.


It seems as if his hand stays on my lower back a few seconds longer than necessary, but that’s probably just wishful thinking. He’s wearing a black button-down shirt tonight with black slacks, and that just makes his eyes stand out even more.


“Tommy-boy,” Cole claps Tom on the back. “I heard you beat your racquetball record last week. We should play sometime.”


“I don’t know, I worry I’ll mess up that pretty-boy face of yours and you’ll sue me for all I’ve got.” Tom shakes his head as if genuinely concerned – either for Cole’s well-being or for his own finances.


“What would I do with an old Saab and a storage space full of old Playboys?” Cole says, deadpan.


“I wouldn’t worry about Cole’s face, anyway,” Lauren interjects. “He’s got that old mug insured – teeth and all. Isn’t that right, Cole?”


“Han, please save me from these crazies,” Cole rolls his eyes and slings his arm over my shoulders, steering me further into the house. “Come on, I’ll give you a tour.”


“Uh, Cole?” Crystal says sharply and I turn my head to see her with one hand on her hip and her eyebrows raised. “Do I need to remind you that this is my house?”


“I’m sorry, Crys, I take it you’d like to lead the way?” he says, gesturing for her to go ahead.


“I have to attend to my guests,” she says and turns up her nose. Her heels click on the marble foyer floor as she walks into a large room filled with people.


“It’s quite a party, isn’t it?” I say to Cole as we head over to an alcove with a view of the valley below and the infinity pool overlooking it.


“Typical Crystal. Go big or go home. I think she has that in needlepoint somewhere,” he muses and looks around as if searching for throw pillows or wall decorations.


“Crystal does needlepoint?” Now it’s my turn to raise my eyebrows.


“She probably pays someone to, don’t you think? I’ll bet she has a bed full of little pillows just to show off on TV or for a magazine article on how the obscenely rich live.”


“I take it you have yet to find out for yourself?” I say before I can think twice about it. Why am I asking questions I don’t want the answer to?


Cole looks a little surprised by the question – possibly because it’s coming from me – but then he smiles. “A gentleman never tells. But I can tell you that if I ever do find out, it’ll be from a photo, not in person.”


“This is a gorgeous view,” I say, quickly changing the subject. I don’t want to dwell on how relieved I felt hearing that just now. “I wouldn’t want to climb all those steps every day, though. Even if it would save me money on a gym membership.”


Cole frowns. “You guys took the steps?”


“Um… yeah,” I say, turning to face him. “That’s what Crystal’s directions were.”


Cole shakes his head and I can see his jaw working. “I don’t make a habit of calling people names, and especially not women, but Crystal can be a real bitch sometimes.”


I sigh. “There’s another entrance, isn’t there?”


“Yup. The kind where you drive all the way up to the front door. There are two sets of gates on the way up, though, and you either have to be buzzed in or have a code. You also have to drive up from the other side of the hill to reach it.”


“We probably shouldn’t tell Lauren about this.”


“No, I can imagine there’d be an exchange of words. Or worse.”


I bite my bottom lip. “Lauren is expecting attitude from Crystal about the show tonight.”


“I wouldn’t worry too much about it. She’ll keep her cool tonight when she’s got an audience.”


“How is that going to work, by the way? Is it the same kind of setup as it was at your place? With the split screen?”


“Yeah, pretty much. Crystal has a screening room that fits about twenty-five people, so we’ll watch it there together with Marsha and Greg and those involved with the show who are here tonight. The TV will be on in the lounge room for the other guests if they want to watch. We’re expected to stay in the screening room and do a Q&A Twitter session with the viewers for about half an hour after the end of the episode. After that, we’re free to leave, but mingling with the other guests might not be such a bad idea. You can make some valuable connections that way.”


“Okay.”


“There’s one other thing,” Cole says and pulls me into a corner when a couple of guests pass by the alcove.


My heart rate picks up and I can practically hear the blood pulsing through my veins. His hand on my arm has my skin burning hot and my mind is racing. Does he want to talk about our moment at his party? We’ve both avoided the subject since then and I honestly thought he’d forgotten it. But maybe-


“Crystal and I are going to stage a kiss tonight,” he tells me in hushed tones and my heart sinks. “There’s going to be people taking photos and posting them, and Crystal is going to have Sally snap a couple of photos of the guests where she and I are in the background, supposedly unaware there are pictures being taken.”


“I see.” I can’t think of anything else to say, and I really hope it doesn’t come out sounding as disappointed as I feel.


“I just wanted you to know because... well, we’re friends, and I didn’t want you to feel ambushed when it hits the Internet.”


I nod, dropping my gaze to the floor. “Thank you. That’s very considerate of you.”


“Hannah-“


His voice is soft and pleading, and I want to look up at him to find out if he’s feeling the pull between us, too, or if I’m only imagining it. Instead, I turn back around so I can focus on the view instead. The sun has set and with the faint light in the alcove, I can make out our reflection. What was I thinking? Of course he doesn’t like me that way – I’ve got nothing on the likes of Crystal Witt.


“I’m not going to ‘like’ your photo. Just putting that out there.”


“That’s fair. I haven’t ‘liked’ any of the photos of you with Derek.”


“There are photos of us?” I turn around, surprised I haven’t seen them. Then again, I’ve been steering clear of social media for the past few weeks, trying to focus on my performance on set instead of obsessing over what people may or may not be thinking about it.


“Just some behind-the-scenes promotional snaps, like of you guys rehearsing a scene, checking the script, talking, that sort of thing. You’re not licking whipped cream off his finger, or anything.”


“Ew. No, it’s safe to say that would never be caught on camera.”


“What’s so bad about whipped cream? Are you allergic?”


“No. It’s just… licking someone’s skin… it’s gross. What if he hasn’t washed his hands?”


“Okay, wait… So… I have to ask…” Cole shakes his head. “On second thought, I’d better not.”


“What? Ask me.”


“No… I think that’s probably a question only women can get away with asking.”


I’m about to prod him for more hints when a bell rings. Not a doorbell, but something like a cowbell. We have an old one back at the farm.


“We’re being summoned,” Cole says and heads for the foyer.


Confused, I follow a few steps behind him. When we reach the source of the noise – Crystal – Lauren is already there, giving me yet another questioning look. After Cole’s party, she grilled me about my relationship with him – or possibility thereof – and whenever we’ve hung out after work she’s been gauging our reactions to different topics of conversations etcetera.


“Cast and crew of The Hills Have Lies, please follow me to the screening room. Be careful on the stairs if you’re wearing heels,” Crystal trills.


“Oh, goodie, more steps,” Lauren mutters and I glance over at Cole to see him covering a smile.


The viewing room looks like an actual movie theatre, right down to the red, plush chairs, and I take a seat between Lauren and Derek on the third row while Crystal and Cole take the front row together with Marsha and Greg.


The room is abuzz as people settle into their seats and Alison sets up the split screen.


“Okay, everyone.” Greg stands and claps his hands together to bring the room to order. “I’d like to ask you all to put your phones on silent for the duration of the episode and the Q&A session that will follow. We encourage you to tweet your own reactions and to share photos from tonight’s mingle using the hashtag #THHL. You’ll be able to see the news feed of the hashtag on the screen as the episode airs and we ask that if you’re mentioned personally, please try to respond to as many followers as possible. If there are questions directed to the cast as a whole, Marsha and I will do our best to answer those. You ready?” he shouts and there is a chorus of agreement in response. Then he holds up his phone, snaps a picture of us all, and within a few moments, we can see his tweet on the screen.


Ready to be blown away by tonight’s episode? We are! The cast of #THHL will be live-tweeting tonight, so keep those questions coming!


I feel a surge of nausea wash over me and then settle like a tennis ball in the pit of my stomach. I haven’t checked my mentions in days, and now I won’t be able to escape it any longer.


Just like in a movie theatre, the lights dim and the sound comes on in surround as the intro to The Hills Have Lies start playing. It’s not one of those catchy theme songs, more like something in between the campy tunes of 90s teen dramas and the powerful swell of HBO dramas. I imagine they’ll reshoot it for next season and add scenes to introduce the main cast, but for now it’s all about high school life interspersed with darker images – like news footage of abuse, prostitution, shady business dealings and so on. None of them feature any of the actors, and our names are not listed until the episode actually begins.


My character isn’t in a lot of scenes this episode, as it’s focusing on building up to the reveal of Lauren’s secret, and I’m relieved that I’m not being mentioned or commented on in the Twitter feed. Public humiliation in cyberspace feels ten times worse when there are people around to witness its impact in real-time.


There are a lot of tweets directed at Cole and Crystal, and many of them go unanswered as they’re about whether or not they’re hooking up in real life. I guess they’ve decided that the ‘no comments’ approach will garner more interest and make for a bigger splash when the candid photos hit the web.


From my phone’s clock, I can tell that we’re nearing the end of the episode and out of the corner of my eye, I see Lauren sitting up a little straighter. She actually looks nervous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lauren nervous before.


“You okay?” I whisper, leaning in.


She nods, keeping her eyes on the screen. “Yeah. I’m just anxious to see how it turned out.”


On the screen, the camera shows Lauren’s character Deanna entering her apartment. Deanna is emancipated and lives alone. It’s assumed she has a trust fund, or, as her nemesis Charleston – played by Tom – suspects, that she earns a fortune from hacking. Deanna drops her backpack on the ratty carpet in the hallway and goes into the kitchenette to pour herself a shot of vodka. She downs it in one go and wipes her lips with the back of her hand. Then she walks into her bathroom and wipes the black makeup off her face, takes out her fake nose ring and eyebrow piercing. The camera shows her black clothes hit the bathroom tiles and then she turns the shower on.


While the camera zooms in on Lauren’s face as Deanna closes her eyes against the shower spray, I glance over at the Twitter feed and the response so far is pretty positive. Some tweets are expressing surprise that her piercings are fake, while others are demanding that the camera zooms out. Tom quotes one of them.


RT: “Sloppy camerawork there, buddy, you missed all the good parts” – My thoughts exactly ;) #THHL


Lauren smacks Tom’s arm and there are a couple of chuckles heard in the room.


In the next shot, Lauren is dressed in a white lacy bra and panties, showing off a butterfly tattoo on the curve of her lower back while the reflection in the bathroom mirror shows that she’s putting on fresh makeup, this time making herself look very different from the almost-goth look she was sporting before her shower. Her lips are filled out and her lashes lengthened while her straight, dark-brown hair is curled into smooth waves framing her face.


I know Lauren is gorgeous, but I don’t think I’ve seen this particular look before. It’s amazing how she can be transformed with just a few tricks and be made to look a lot more exotic than she does in everyday clothes and makeup.


The camera follows Deanna as she walks over to her couch, draped in a silky-looking fabric, and sets up her computer. She adjusts the webcam and starts typing on the laptop. After a few moments, the camera moves to show her face-on instead of in profile, with the laptop covering most of the cleavage brought about by the push-up bra. Deanna smiles at the webcam, reaches up and hooks her thumbs underneath her bra straps, pulling them down seductively while she speaks in flawless, seductive Russian, the subtitle reading ‘You like?’


The screen fades to black and we all applaud. I turn to congratulate Lauren on her performance, but she’s already lip-locked with Tom, so I turn to Derek to commend him on his scene, which was also great.


“Great job, everyone,” Greg booms from the front of the room. The screen behind him is now filled up by the Twitter hashtag search. “We have another half an hour set aside for Q&A, and then I suggest you all try the buffet.”


Marsha stands up, too, and makes her own announcement. “As you all know, we only have a couple of episodes left to shoot for this season, and once we wrap, Greg and I are planning a little getaway to Catalina Island for our wonderful cast. I hope you’ll all be able to come with.”


We applaud in response and Greg and Marsha take their seats again to get on with the Q&As. I check my mentions for questions, but so far, there aren’t any. I’m mentioned together with Derek, but the questions are for Marsha on whether the audience will be seeing our relationship evolve over the course of the season.


From the feed up on the screen, it’s obvious that Deanna’s secret being revealed had the desired effect. There’s wild speculation on the details of her double-life; how come she speaks Russian, why does she dress like a Goth, is she doing some sort of undercover work for the government, and so on and so on.


I look over to see how Crystal is reacting, but she has her nose buried in her phone, answering tweets. I see them come up on the screen, and they’re all sugary sweet even though I can hear her muttering from time to time about ‘stupid jerks’.


“Hey,” Derek leans in and points to my phone. “We’re supposed to be tweeting up a storm.”


“But I don’t have anything to reply to.”


“Sure you do. Do a hashtag search on your phone so you can see all of them.” I do as he says and scroll through the tweets. Derek, with his eyes glued to my screen, points. “What about this one?” The tweet reads ‘Do nerdy girls end up with jocks by default, or what? #THHL


“I can’t reply to that,” I protest. “It’s rhetorical.”


“So? Trust me, they’re gonna love being noticed. Here,” he says and snatches my phone away.


“Hey!” I exclaim, trying to grab it from him, but he turns in his seat and types away.


“There,” he says as he hands it back, looking pleased. “You’re welcome.”


I check the tweet and he’s written a reply to the girl’s comment that says ‘I sure hope so ;) #THHL


Seconds later, Derek has written a tweet in reply from his own account. ‘Here, here ;) #THHL


It doesn’t take long before another tweet shows up in my mentions. ‘OMG! @hannahHHL and @dereckless saw my tweet! Love you guys!’


“See?” Derek winks at me and types a reply. ‘We love you too. Keep watching, it’s gonna be a great season #THHL


“But we’re not getting together this season, are we?” I frown. Does Derek know something I don’t?


“Not on the show…” he shoulder-bumps my arm and I roll my eyes.


“So that’d be a ‘no’, then.”


Derek laughs and gets back to answering questions in his mentions. With his help, I actually do okay with the session. No mean comments or disparaging GIFs tonight, which is a huge relief. Nonetheless, I let out a sigh of relief when Greg and Marsha declare the Q&A session closed.


“Finally. I’m starving,” Derek groans and stands to stretch his arms. “Buffet?”



To be continued...

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