February 13, 2013
Because she does not want to be unkind, even when provoked, she will never admit that she was initially attracted to him because of his father. The two men look enough alike that for the first few weeks she dated Will, it felt as if she were with the famous man rather than his undistinguished son. She knows that Will suspects this fact; he has teased her about how he is sure that she wishes the actor rather than his boring son were offering to take her to San Francisco for a long weekend, or to Rome or Rio or Montreal, wherever it is she wants to go. They can travel anywhere she would like to because he can give her many of the same things his father can. He isn’t famous but he is young and has money, although he isn’t the person who earned most of it. He also has time, which his famous father generally does not.
Danielle met Will through a friend who went to high school with him in Pasadena, the city where his mother moved them after she and Will’s father divorced. Renn Ivins kept the house in the Hollywood Hills and still lives in it, though he has since married and divorced a second woman, one who moved to Big Sur with her divorce settlement and alcoholism, an affliction she has publicly blamed Renn for. Despite the cheapness of the gossipy industries that surround the truly famous, Danielle finds these mean-spirited declarations fascinating and knows that many people do. Will has told her more than once that if he had fewer scruples, he could make quite a lot of money disclosing to gossip columnists details about his father’s personal life. He wouldn’t have to work at all if he were willing to play the double agent.
He doesn’t have to work anyway, a fact she doesn’t remind him of because it upsets him. He also isn’t privy to many of the details of his father’s private life because after thirty years of working in the California film industry, Renn Ivins is skilled at avoiding the more lurid of the spotlights. He confides in very few people, with Will’s sister Anna among these confidantes more often than Will is. The three times Danielle has seen Renn in the fifteen months that she and Will have been dating, he impressed her with his kindness and sense of humor and how politely he treated the servers at the restaurants where they met for dinner. In her most honest moments, she knows that the accusations Will could assail her with are true: If he asked you out, you’d leave me for him in a second. You wouldn’t have given me the time of day if I weren’t his son. Realistically, how could she not feel this way about Will’s father? Long before they met, he was more familiar to her than many of her own family members. She has seen almost all of his movies, a number of them long before she started to date his son.
And yet, whatever her feelings for his father, she probably cares for Will as much as she has for any man since the college sweetheart she married during their senior year at UCSD, but the marriage lasted only two years. Her husband enlisted to fight in Iraq without first discussing it with her, she seeing his enlistment as a betrayal, he as an honorable and patriotic act. Joe is now stationed in Afghanistan, but the last time she saw him, at a college alumni party two years earlier, he was almost unrecognizable, not so much because of his physical appearance as his rigidity and quickness to perceive insult when no one was, in fact, insulting him. His face reminded her of certain landscapes she had seen in photographs, ones ravaged by fire.
She is older than Will by four years, and already tainted by domestic failure (a feeling she has trouble suppressing), whereas he has never been married or engaged. She is a tall, pretty redhead who regularly attracts the attention of other men, but she likes being with Will. Even if he doesn’t yet have a career, he is reliable, smart, and not self-congratulatory in the way that the close relatives of famous people she knew in college sometimes were. His plan, before he went to New Orleans for two and a half weeks to help his father, was to take the LSAT a second time and apply to law schools. But upon his return from Louisiana, he decided not to fill out applications for next year. What happened while he was working on Bourbon at Dusk isn’t clear to her, though her impression is that he wouldn’t take orders as noncommittally as expected, being prone to bad moods and intractability where his father is concerned. If she hadn’t been in Maui with two college friends when Will’s father called suddenly to ask him to come to New Orleans, she would have advised him against it.
Her own career, reorganizing and streamlining work and living spaces for restless wealthy people, is profitable, and, she has found, more fulfilling than she had expected when she began to work as a Life Space consultant, a title she made up for her business cards. She admires simplicity, uncluttered rooms, natural light. Will has let her redesign his place, which is in a high-rise just off of Sepulveda Boulevard. His neighbors are all doctors or movie people or privileged offspring like himself living on inherited money.
He has been back from New Orleans for a couple of weeks when he tells her that she can move in with him if she still wants to. It is something they have discussed a few times but usually without any real conviction on his part and hurt or irritated feelings on hers. When he makes this suggestion, he is rinsing a glass in the kitchen sink, his back turned. She is sitting at the table, eating some of the fresh strawberries she cut up for dessert and laced with honey. He hasn’t eaten any of them. He didn’t eat much of the baked chicken she made for dinner either. He has lost weight since he left to work on his father’s production and seems likely to lose more if he keeps going on the long runs he has added to his mornings without eating enough.
When she doesn’t reply, he turns and looks at her. “So what do you think?”
Her mouth is full of half-chewed strawberries. She has to swallow one almost whole to keep from choking on it. “I like the idea, but I need a little time to think about, Will,” she finally says. “I didn’t think you were interested in living together.”
“I was always interested, but I wasn’t sure.”
“You are now?”
He nods. She sees that his hairline really is receding, something that bothers him so much that he has already looked into hair transplant surgery. “Yes,” he says. “What do you think? You could have one of the bedrooms for your office or we could put up a wall in the living room and make a new space. I’m sure that I could get the condo board to approve it.”
She shakes her head. “If we put up a wall, it would darken the rest of the space quite a bit.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” he says.
“I think you probably would.”
“All right. No wall. Whatever you want,” he says with forced lightness, turning back to the sink.
“Let me think about it for a couple of days,” she says.
“I thought you were gung-ho about living together.”
“I don’t know if I was gung-ho exactly, but I thought that at some point it might be nice.”
He shuts off the water and turns to look at her again. “If you don’t want to live with me, that’s fine. I just thought you wanted to.”
“Why are you so ready all of a sudden?”
“I’m not sure. I just am.”
She gazes at the remaining strawberries in her bowl but doesn’t feel like finishing them now. Will’s phone rings, his ringtone the sound of crickets chirping. When he looks at his phone’s display, he makes a sound of dismay.
“Who is it?” she says.
“You don’t want to talk to him?” she says, realizing as soon as the words are out that it’s a stupid question, the answer as obvious as a scream.
“He can wait. I’ll call him back when we’re done with dinner.”
They are done with dinner, but she says nothing while he fills his rinsed glass with orange juice and drinks all of it in one swallow.
“Is he still in New Orleans?” she says.
“I think so.”
“When’s his movie supposed to wrap?”
“This week, as far as I know. Unless something gets screwed up. Don’t let him hear you call it a movie. It’s high art. A film. That’s what he’d say anyway.”
“You don’t think it’ll be good?”
“No, it probably will be. It’s going to be great if he doesn’t get too carried away. He’s due for another Oscar, this time for best director or screenplay. Maybe both.” His tone is ironic, even a little sneering.
“Why are you so mad at him?” she says. “Are you still waiting to get paid for New Orleans?”
Will snorts. “He paid me. He always pays me.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
He pours himself more juice. “He thinks I’ll never make any money on my own. It drives me crazy.”
Do you really plan to? she could say but doesn’t. She looks down at the table, afraid he will read her mind, but he has turned away again.
His phone rings a few minutes later and this time he picks it up without hesitating. Even before he says her name, Danielle can tell from the way his voice softens that it’s his sister. She sets her dishes in the sink and goes into the living room. His offer that she move in with him has startled her. She hadn’t expected it to come so soon, if at all. The last time they talked about it, a couple of months earlier, he was so evasive that she assumed it wouldn’t happen at all. She loves his place, which is more spacious than her own, and closer to the neighborhoods where most of her client base is, but since returning from New Orleans, he has sometimes been so closed off that it makes her nervous to think about having to live with these unpredictable, almost hostile silences. All he would tell her about his premature return from Louisiana is that he and his father did not get along as well as they should have because Renn refused to accept any criticism, no matter how tactfully it was offered. “I have a brain too,” Will had grumbled. “He’s not the only one who knows how to get things done.” He also said that his father wanted him to be on call 24/7, which was ridiculous because as far as Will could tell, no one else on the crew was expected to be.
From the other room, Danielle hears him say, “He’s here right now? That must be why he called me. Oh great.” There is a pause before she hears him say, “I didn’t feel like picking up, that’s why.”
She feels almost lightheaded from the realization that she will probably see Renn again very soon. The last time was the previous spring, but Will had had a cold and was such a grouch the whole time that she had to stop herself from apologizing to Renn for Will’s rudeness. More than once she has wondered if he thinks she is a gold-digger or an idiot, possibly both, for dating this son who is so often surly and combative with his father.
But how unnerved and giddy she feels in Renn’s presence. Her girlfriends teased her while they were in Maui one night when she turned on the TV before bed and was immediately drawn into a movie from 1985 that starred Renn as a jungle explorer who spoke six languages and knew Morse code. At the time of the movie’s release, he was about the same age Will is now. “Is he still as sexy?” her friend Michelle asked, tickling Danielle’s side, making her squirm away with annoyed impatience. “Tell me he’s not, because if he is, you’re in trouble, Dani.”
“He’s not that sexy anymore,” she lied.
Michelle smiled, showing all of her very white teeth. “You’re full of shit. Men like him don’t spoil with age. But no matter how much Botox we girls stick in our faces, we’ll still get old.”
That night after her friends had fallen asleep, Danielle’s heart continued beating out its traitorous message: Movie star. Movie star!
Renn looks as handsome to her at fifty-two as he did at twenty-six. Maybe even more so because she knows him now, and knows that he likes her too.
When he hangs up with his sister, Will takes a couple of minutes to make his way into the living room to tell her that his father wants to meet for drinks. He’s in town for a day and a half and wants to see his kids. Does she feel like coming with him? It might be boring and his father will probably be distracted by his cell phone or strangers stopping by the table to tell him how great he is. Even in the nicer places, he’s sometimes pestered. “He picked Sylvia’s so it won’t be too much driving for Anna or me. How thoughtful of him,” says Will, the sneer there again.
“I’ll go with you,” she says, careful to keep her tone neutral. “It sounds like fun.”
“All right, but don’t blame me if you regret it.”
“Why would I?”
“I don’t know. You might.”
“Only if you two argue.”
“I’m not planning on it.”
“I wonder why he didn’t invite us to his house instead. It’s not any farther than Sylvia’s.”
“It is for Anna.”
“It’d only be a couple of extra miles for her, wouldn’t it?”
“Why do you think he chose Sylvia’s? He wants to be seen.”
She blinks, suppressing a flare of impatience. “Is he never supposed to leave the house because he’ll be recognized?”
Will laughs in a harsh burst. “Who hired you to defend him? Trust me, he doesn’t need it. He’s got plenty of other people making excuses for him.”
“What happened when you were in New Orleans? You act like you hate him now.”
“I told you what happened. He acted like an asshole and I wasn’t going to stick around to put up with it any longer than I had to.”
She wonders why he has agreed to meet his contemptible father at all tonight but she wants to go and doesn’t intend to say anything to make him change his mind, even if her hunch is that it won’t be the most pleasant evening of her life. Will is ready for a fight and unless Renn marshals all of his paternal restraint, he will get one.
Christine Sneed’s second book, the novel Little Known Facts, is out on February 12, 2013, from Bloomsbury. Her first book, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, won AWP’s 2009 Grace Paley Prize, Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year, and Ploughshares Zacharis Award for a first book. Portraits was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, first fiction category. She lives in Evanston, IL and teaches for Northwestern University and the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University.
Adapted from Little Known Facts by Christine Sneed. Copyright © 2013 by Christine Sneed. With the permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury USA.