ree stretched out her calf muscles, which were stiff after a night of clubbing. Two of her vixen friends from the music video industry were visiting from LA, and they'd danced for hours. Today Bree was paying the price, and the freezing wind cutting through the trees of Central Park made it worse. Even in her hot pink, velvety Juicy Couture tracksuit she was cold. Bree's running partner, downstairs neighbor, and best friend, Sutton, actually preferred running on winter mornings like this one; the cold made her run faster, and the sooner they finished their nine-mile route, the sooner she could hop into a hot shower. Bree preferred to run on the hot, humid days that exhausted Sutton. It was her mother Ameera's Sudanese heritage coming outâBree would be perfectly happy racing cheetahs across African savannahs, a million miles away from crowded New York City.
Not that Bree minded life in New York. She just wasn't one of those New-York-is-the-center-of-the-universe types. She spent almost as much time in Malibu at her dad's as she did at her mom's place on Central Park West. She had also traveled all over the world with her mother, who had returned to modeling two years ago after a fifteen-year retirement.
Part of the problem with New York, at least in Bree's opinion, was also one of the things that made it great: it rivaled LA as the entertainment capital of the world. Megastars like BeyoncÃ© Knowles came to New York regularlyâto make movies, record songs, buy the latest fashions. Tourists were constantly on the lookout for celebrities, their expensive digital cameras with telephoto lenses at the ready. And since Bree had both the good luck and the bad luck to look a lot like BeyoncÃ©, all too often those cameras were focused on her.
“Get over yourself,” Sutton said, balancing on one long, slim leg while hugging the other one to her chest in a classic quadriceps stretch. “I'd rather look like BeyoncÃ© than a starving horse.”
“You do not look like a horse,” Bree said for the millionth time. “You look like a Bergdorf blonde who hasn't had her first boob job yet.”
“Or my first nose job. Or collagen injection,” Sutton added unhappily.
“You don't need plastic surgery,” Bree insisted as she rose slowly to her feet. She really was awfully stiff.
Way too much dancing last night,
she thought. But she always overdid when Selah and Melikka were in town. Bree had been in a few videos herself, in the background in club scenes, but Selah and Melikka were the real thing: they made a thousand dollars a day dancing in videos. They were used to doing the same moves for twelve hours straight, until the director was happy with every aspect of the sceneâand that was after days of rehearsal. So when they danced for fun, they could really move and they never got tired.
But Bree wasn't a professional dancer, and she didn't want to be, either. Selah and Melikka were both twenty-two, and their careers would be over in five years. Bree had asked them once or twice what they were going to do then, but neither of them had a real answer, except, “Hopefully I'll be married, so it won't matter.” Bree knew how long LA marriages usually lastedâher parents had done pretty well with seven yearsâand she knew that anyone Selah and Melikka were likely to marry would demand an ironclad prenup. But what could she say to them that would make any difference? They were from the wrong side of LA, the kind of girls that Bree never would have met if they hadn't been in so many of her father's videos. But they knew how to take care of themselvesâat least, Bree hoped they did.
“Where is your head today?” Sutton asked, breaking into a slow jog down the path. They always started their run by the reservoir, near the center of the park, and then meandered through the park on the woody trails. “After
You don't need plastic surgery,
you usually say,
And you don't really want it anyway.
want it, though,” Bree said, ignoring Sutton's question. She didn't want to get into a discussion with Sutton about Selah and Melikka's problems. There was no way Sutton would understand. Her parents had started out as poor kids in Brooklyn, but after law school they turned themselves into five-star Manhattanites. Sutton's mom had actually taken a class to lose every trace of her borough accent. Bree's mother Ameera was the complete opposite: she dragged Bree to Dinka lessons at a language school near the UN once a week so that she would have someone to talk to in her native tongue.
When Bree tried to discourage her friend from having plastic surgery, it didn't help that Sutton's mom was addicted to cosmetic procedures. She looked Barbie-perfectâif you ignored the faint scars along her jaw. But the first time the girls saw the drainage tubes after Mrs. Harris's second tummy tuck, when she and Sutton were just eight, they both swore that they would never go under the knife.
“Okay, I wouldn't really have surgery just to look better,” Sutton agreed. From the look on her face, Bree could tell she was remembering one of her mother's surgeries. “But I wouldn't mind being supermodel gorgeous. Like you.”
Bree rolled her eyes. They'd had this conversation a thousand times on a thousand different morning runs. She had memorized her lines perfectly a long time ago, but she was good at that. After all, she was an actress.
“Sutton, you look more like a model than I do. You have to be tall and thin and elegant, not short and round. My butt is way too bigâ”
“Your butt is not big!”
“âfor runway. And you need an oval face with sharp cheekbones, not a round face with a pointed chin. I look nothing like a modelâ”
“Your mom is a model!”
“And I look nothing like her. Which is actually a good thing. Because Mom is so beautiful she's barely human. She could be a visitor from some planet with less light and less gravity, where everyone is six-and-a-half feet tall with eyes as big as hubcaps. Mom can't play the girl next door, or the funny best friend, or somebody's older sister. And if I want to act, I have to be able to do all those things.”
“Fine, you don't look like a model,” Sutton admitted as she stepped up the pace a little. Bree had to take two steps for each of Sutton's longer strides. That was another thing about being shorter than her best friendâit made running together a lot harder. Good thing Bree loved a challenge. “But you're still gorgeous.”
“No. I'm just cute. People like Mom are gorgeous. And being cute hasn't helped me any, except in acting jobs. Even then I never know how much of that is me, and how much is Dad helping me out.” She knew that he had everything to do with her presence in music videos, and though her agent claimed all the credit for getting her the two tiny bit parts in movies, she suspected her dad had probably had something to do with that too.
Most of the time, Bree appreciated her dad's help. It was hard to get ahead in Hollywood without connections in the industry, even if you were pretty and a genuinely talented actress. But Bree always wondered if she could make it without her parents' helpâor if she would always owe all her success to Rashid and Ameera.
“You're a great actress, Bree.” Sutton actually slowed down a little, so Bree knew she was serious. “I mean, aren't you screen testing for
A World Apart
today? That's the real thing.”
“It's a soap opera!” Bree laughedâwhich was not good, since she needed to save her breath. They had miles and miles to go before heading to school for a quick shower and then class. Bree didn't like a lot of things about their tiny, exclusive prep schoolâmost of the boys, for instanceâbut the pristine locker rooms, with showers almost as nice as the ones in their apartment building, the Edwardian, weren't on the list.
“It's an ongoing role in the most popular new soap on the air. That's killer!” Sutton protested.
“It'll only be killer if I get it,” Bree said softly.
“You'll get it,” Sutton said with the perfect confidence she had about nearly everything except her looks, a blind spot that drove Bree crazy. After all, Sutton was the one who had to use every excuse in the book to fend off all the boys in their class at Rittenhouse Academy. Half the time Sutton claimed that she was going out with their friend Kylian, who had come out to Sutton and Bree during their freshman year. The rest of the time she made up stories about boys in boarding school, or mysterious older men. There wasn't actually anything wrong with the guys at Rittenhouse, but Sutton and Bree had known most of them since preschool. The Rittenhouse boys had been their dates for cotillions, and probably would be their dates for weddings that would be covered in
, but they weren't guys they wanted to date for real.
And they weren't all that interested in Bree anyway. It had less to do with the race thing than with her career. According to Kylian, the guys at school were intimidated by Bree.
“How could they find me intimidating?” she had asked one time, amazed. “They've known me since I didn't have teeth.”
“It's the LA thing,” Kylian had explained. “They've seen you dancing with Usher and drinking coffee with Orlando Bloom.”
“I wasn't drinking coffee with Orlando Bloom. My character served coffee to Orlando Bloom's character in a scene that was cut to twenty seconds.”
“Whatever,” Kylian had shrugged. “You were in a movie.
movies. That means you're out of their league. But it's not like you want to go out with them either.”
“Still, I wouldn't mind if they
me out once in a while,” Bree had admitted in a small voice. It had been months since that conversation, but it rang in her ears as she and Sutton rounded the northern-most point of the reservoir trail.
“I'd love to get a role in
A World Apart
,” Bree told Sutton. “But honestly, I think I'd rather have a boyfriend.”
“Wait! What happened between you and Jake? I thought things were pretty hot.”
“They were, until he realized that I wasn't just playing hard to get.”
Sutton laughed. “No one is that good an actress. Not even you.”
“Someone should have told Jake that.”
Bree and Jake had met at the cattle call for
A World Apart
and wound up hanging out at Starbucks afterwards, then getting Thai takeout and heading up to Bree's apartment. Jake was hotter than Bree's pad kee mao, with skin dark as wild honey and startling bright green eyes. After an intense half hour of spicy kisses on the sofa, Jake suggested that they move to the bedroom. Bree suggested that he move on home. The next two dates continued the pattern of fun hanging out, hot making out, and Bree ordering him out. On the fourth night, though, Jake really thought that he was going to see what Bree's sheets looked like.
But, contrary to every stereotype about actresses, and especially those who turned up in rap videos, Bree was not a slut. Technically she was still a virgin, though she had done some things that might qualify as sex, depending upon who you asked. The truth was that Bree had never really had a boyfriend. She had never even gone on more than five dates with the same guy. She met lots of them, of course, at auditions and clubs, but things never worked out. It always went one of three ways: One, the guy flipped when Bree wouldn't put out on their third date. Two, Bree dumped him when he asked too many questions about her father and how to get into a music video. Three, Bree got bored.
Usually it was option three. Guys asked her out because of how she looked, and she said yes because of how they looked, and after an hour or two of trying to talk to them, Bree realized that physical attraction was not enough to keep her interested.
“So what did it take for Jake to finally get the message?” Sutton asked as they headed off the main path and into the woods.
“I told him that if he didn't cool down, I was going to bite off the next thing he tried to shove in my mouth.” Bree grinned, showing off her perfect white teeth.
Sutton laughed so hard she had to stop, doubling over in the middle of the path.
“I meant it, too,” Bree said, taking the chance to stretch her hamstrings while Sutton caught her breath. “I am so sick of trying to teach guys that no means no. That's pretty basic English. Even dogs understand no!”
“Some dogs are pretty smart,” Sutton said, easing back into her stride, Bree pounding along with her. “Boys, not so much.”
“No kidding. Well, except Kylian, of course.” Bree loved having one guy in her life that she knew would never try to pressure her to do much of anything.
“Well, obviously when I say guys I don't mean Kylian.”
“Hey now, you know how he hates us insulting his masculinity.”
Sutton laughed again, a little more breathlessly this time. “I don't think Kylian is smart because he's gay. He's smart because he's our friend, and not so obsessed with getting laid that he can't remember how to spell his first name.”
“No, no, he's our friend because he's smart, not the other way around,” Bree insisted.