Don’t think about the photos.
I scrolled mindlessly on my phone, trying to muster enough energy to do something. Something, anything, to take my mind off recent events. Work out in the gym? My muscles, which had been at their peak when I finished filming the latest Muscle Man movie just months ago, had started to atrophy. Swim in the infinity pool? Perhaps the view over the hazy urban sprawl of LA would put my problems in perspective. Or take Alfie, who was wrestling with his favorite toy alpaca on the rug, to the yard to burn off steam? Some fresh air might do me good.
After this morning’s stomach-churning realization that the milk I’d been pouring into my coffee on autopilot—and, apparently, drinking on autopilot—for the last two weeks was well past its expiration date, I’d sworn things would change. That is, after I’d finished spitting out the coffee and dry retching.
But here I was, back on the couch, like every other morning.
As if he’d read my mind, Alfie abandoned the alpaca, bounded up to me, and started tugging at my sock with his teeth. He looked up with his best puppy dog eyes, and a pang of guilt vibrated through me.
I should give the little guy some attention.
I was leaning down to grab my shoes, much to Alfie’s joy, when my phone buzzed. I sat up and groaned when I saw who it was—Serena, my agent.
“Sorry, buddy. I just have to take this first.”
Alfie whined and slumped down into a furry golden puddle by my feet, unimpressed.
Bracing myself, I answered the phone. I needed to rip the band-aid off. The curled milk incident was a wake-up call. I couldn’t hide from her forever.
“Chris? I’m so glad I finally got ahold of you. I’ve been trying to reach you for ages.” Serena sounded surprisingly upbeat for an agent whose star client’s reputation had been torn to shreds. “Did you get my messages?”
I winced. I’d been ignoring Serena’s calls, voice mails, emails and texts for days. “Err, sorry, Serena. I’ve been a bit distracted recently,” I said after an awkward pause.
“Of course, that’s totally understandable.” Her voice softened. “How are you holding up?”
Alfie raised his head off the ground. I could have sworn he lifted a skeptical eyebrow.
“Hmm. Have you been getting out and about? It’s not good for your mental health to be cooped up by yourself.”
“Yeah,” I said noncommittally.
Alfie shook his head in despair. Or maybe he was just scratching himself. Whatever Alfie was doing, he knew the truth. I hadn’t left this monstrosity of a mansion for almost two months.
“Anyway, you’ve been to my house. I’m not exactly cooped up here.”
While there were a lot of things I now hated about this house, you couldn’t accuse it of being cramped. With twelve bedrooms, fifteen bathrooms, a gym, a pool, a home cinema, and an expansive open-plan living area, there was more than enough space for me and Alfie. Too much space. More than once, Alfie had gotten lost in it and had to bark for help. Hell, even I’d gotten lost in the damn house. Cold and sterile, it felt more like an airport terminal than a home, with its soaring ceilings, blank white walls, and polished concrete floors Alfie constantly slipped on. I’d bought the house because Vanessa loved it, but we’d never gotten around to decorating it.
“Ha! That’s true.” Serena paused. “Have you spoken to Vanessa?”
“No,” I said firmly, staring at the letter sitting unopened on the coffee table in front of me.
It had arrived from Vanessa this morning, but I couldn’t bring myself to read it. There was nothing she could say that could make things better. While our relationship had been rocky, I never expected it to end like this. Vanessa might have been stubborn and impulsive, with questionable taste in houses, but I’d loved her. And trusted her.
“I haven’t spoken to her since the photos came out, and I’m not going to. Look, I don’t want to talk about her. So what were you calling about?”
“Ah, yes!” Serena’s tone brightened. “Well, I have just the thing to cheer you up! Matt Brandon pulled out of the lead role in a period drama due to start filming in London in a few weeks. Clare Caldewald is co-starring, Melanie Chester is directing, and the film already has Oscar buzz…and they want you to take Matt’s role! I emailed you the script the other day, but I’ll send it to you again. I’ve read it, and I think you’ll love it! You’d play a troubled duke who has to overcome his demons to keep his title and find love.”
Serena was bursting with excitement. I imagined her pacing up and down in her shiny glass office in Beverly Hills, yelling into her headset, her black curly hair bouncing as she walked.
I sat up, the most interested I’d been in anything for months. Serena’s enthusiasm was contagious.
“That’s not a terrible idea. It would certainly be a refreshing change from Muscle Man.” After five Muscle Man films, the novelty of playing a superhero was wearing thin, and the risk of being typecast was growing exponentially. “And it would be nice to get out of LA for a while.” And this goddamn house, with its constant reminders of Vanessa. “And if it really was Oscar worthy…Well, being connected to an Oscar-winning film, or even being nominated, might help redeem my reputation.”
It wasn’t just that. For the sake of my mental health, I needed to start working again. Acting kept me sane. While I’d lost some of my passion for it recently, I loved the challenge of becoming someone else, of losing myself in a character and experiencing everything through another person’s eyes. It allowed me to forget my problems, escape the everyday reality of my life.
And I currently had a lot of problems that needed forgetting, and reality that needed escaping.
“Chris, I’ve told you so many times, but I’ll say it again. Your reputation doesn’t need redeeming. I know it’s been an awful few months for you, but you didn’t do anything wrong. You were the victim here. And if anything, the photos made you more popular. Your Instagram followers increased by half a million after they were made public.”
My chest tightened as I began to spiral thinking about the photos, but Serena’s words pulled me back.
“Chris, are you still there?”
“Yes, sorry. Sure, send it to me again and I’ll take a look. When do I need to decide?”
“Officially, it was yesterday. But if we come back to them today, it’ll be fine. I’ve just sent it. It should be in your inbox now.”
Alfie, who had remained at my feet the entire call, bounced into action as soon as I hung up. He grabbed one of my shoes in his mouth and dragged it toward my foot.
“Very subtle, little man,” I said, tussling his golden head.
Energized by the phone call, I got off the couch, pulled my shoes on, and made my way to the yard, grabbing one of Alfie’s tennis balls on the way. He bounded after me, barking with joy. As much as I was itching to read the script, Alfie clearly needed to burn off some steam first.
* * *
A few hours later, I called Serena back.
“I’m in! It’s great. My only concern is the accent. I’ve never had a great ear for them. The last thing I need right now is to be ridiculed for that as well.”
She let out a squeal and clapped her hands.
“Fantastic! Don’t worry about the accent—we’ll get you a dialect coach, and you’ll be speaking flawless Queen’s English in no time. You’re going to be fabulous, Chris!”
I really hoped she was right. After the last few months, I couldn’t afford to be anything less than fabulous.