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Authors: Lauren Sabel

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BOOK: Vivian Divine Is Dead
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Chapter Four

F
EAR FLOODS INTO ME LIKE
ice water.

Tears drip down Mary’s cheeks and pool on the floor beneath her. That scares me even more, because in the two years of being side by side every second of every day, I’ve never seen her cry, not even at Mom’s funeral. “I’m sorry,” she says. “You were—you are—too young to know this.”

“Is it about Mom’s . . . passing?” I definitely can’t say the
M
word.
Murder
means something heavier, like she could have been in pain or tortured, or worse.

“Before your mom . . . passed,” Mary says, “she got a package in the mail.”

“A package?”
Oh God. I don’t want to know where this is going.
“What was in the package?”

“A DVD. It was just like this one. It showed . . . how she died,” Mary says. “Then three days later, she was found dead.”

This can’t be happening.
“What did she do?” I ask.

“She went to the police. They said they’d protect her. But a few hours later she disappeared.”

“And then?”
Don’t tell me. I know the end to this story.

“And then she was murdered.”

Murdered.
I still see Mom’s white shawl stiff with blood, her shining blond curls splayed across the floor.

“Why didn’t you tell me all this before?” Anger at Mary is filling me now, and anger feels good, better than fear.

“There’s a lot you weren’t told,” Mary says. “We had to keep secrets. For your own protection.”

“Protection against who?”

“The ones that killed your mother.”

 

Mom’s death started with a secret. A secret behind closed doors, hidden in angry words and fights sharp as swords.

I saw the secrets behind Mom’s eyes. So did the press. They were waiting for the leak, but secrets don’t leak; they explode.

My first understanding of secrets came in the form of a death threat, delivered a month before she disappeared. A crinkled piece of paper, hidden from me by my mom’s shaking hands. And it said: “I’m coming for the girl.”

When I asked Mom about it, she started shaking so violently Dad had to lead her away. But before they left, I saw his eyes. He didn’t know any more than I did. Mom wouldn’t hide anything from us—would she?

Then for a month, we didn’t get another letter, so I thought it was over.

I was wrong.

The day before Mom disappeared, our mailbox was stuffed with letters. There must have been two hundred, shoved into every inch of the box. The postal service said they didn’t deliver them, and the police were even less helpful. They couldn’t do anything because the letters came from nowhere. From nobody. Mom wouldn’t let me read them, but I saw that there was the same date on every letter. September 25. The day I was born.

 

My body is heavy and numb. I curl into a ball and bury myself in my covers, bundling the pink feather duvet over my head. “What do you think I should do?” I ask Mary from under the covers.

Under the thick material, her voice sounds muffled and wavy. “Hide somewhere safe for a few days. If nobody can find you, nobody can hurt you,” she says. “That’ll give us time to figure out who’s after you.”

“But what if we don’t figure it out?”

“What else do you suggest we do?” Mary asks. “Go to the police? That’s what your mother did. And look where she ended up.”

Like I need a reminder.
“But I can’t disappear in the middle of shooting! Not during this movie!” It’s true: the twisted love story between the murderous, demented Don Juan and his kidnapped young love, Ines, is one of the most famous stories in history and, if rumors are true, my most important role since my Oscar-nominated debut in
Abandoned
. “Can’t I just hide at home?” I ask, glancing nervously around the trailer.

“They can find you there. You can’t even leave your closet without being photographed.”

Mary’s right. Paparazzi and tourists hide along our fence every day, trying to get a shot of me. There are photos of me everywhere: in my room, eating breakfast, stepping out of my closet in my fifteenth wardrobe change of the day. And if the paparazzi can find me, anyone can.

“I’m not going anywhere,” I say, flinging open my closet and rummaging through dozens of designer dresses until I find Mom’s favorite stretchy green Pucci dress. It hasn’t been dry-cleaned, so I can still smell her on it, like lying in a field of lavender. “Except home,” I insist.

As I tug the dress over my round hips, I think about how Mom didn’t run, leaving her family and career behind. Pride surges through me. Mom fought for us until the end. She wouldn’t want me to run; she’d want me to stay, to fight.

But then again, she didn’t run. And look what happened to her.

 

After glancing at myself in the mirror, I walk down the stairs and throw open the trailer door.

Flashes stun me from every side, popping in my face. Nearly blind, I stumble forward, fighting to keep my smile on.
Keep walking. This will end soon.
But the flashing only increases, and faces of reporters, their eyes hidden by shiny black cameras, appear and disappear in lightning strokes. I can’t see anything as I stumble along, imagining a killer’s face in every grasping, screaming journalist.

“Did you know about Pierre and Sparrow?” a reporter calls out, pushing a microphone in my face. I attempt to break out of the crowd, but someone grabs the hem of my dress. I try to paste on a bright smile, but my lips are trembling, so I’m half smiling, half frowning, and my waving hand feels disconnected from my body. I feel like I’m being sucked underwater by a surging, screaming undertow.

“How does it feel to be replaced?” a journalist asks. I know what he wants me to say, so he can splash my heartbreak all over his trash magazines, but I can’t speak. My words waver, disappear.

“Did you and Pierre break up?” another reporter asks.

Break up?
Until last night, Pierre had been the only person besides Mary who I could trust. He was the person I told all my secrets to, sometimes talking on the phone until the early hours of the morning. I had even told him my deepest secret: how I thought I could never feel happy again.
And now I never will.

“Everybody, back up!” Mary yells, popping out of the trailer behind me, but the reporters just jostle closer. “I’ll call security,” she says.

It’s too late. The press is already here.

Then I see, through the flashes, what drew them here. In the middle of the crowd are Pierre and Sparrow—together.
That’s why all the paparazzi are here. To see the bloodbath.

My skin bristles with anger. “What do you want?”

“We need to talk to you,” Sparrow says, pushing through the reporters. Her whiny voice reminds me of the nights we used to stay up with Mary, listening to stories about first kisses and true love. Since Sparrow went to an all-girls school and I was homeschooled by a private tutor neither of us knew much about boys, until I started dating Pierre.
Before she stole him from me.
“It was a mistake,” Sparrow says.

“Kissing my boyfriend was a mistake?” I shriek so loudly the reporters take a step back before lunging forward again.
Get it together. Never lose your temper in front of the camera
. I can see the headlines:
Teen Star Slaps Former Best Friend in Fit of Rage. Career Plunges.

“V, please.” Pierre leans toward me, placing his hand gently on my arm. He’s as sexy as ever, with his dizzying blue eyes and his shock of white-blond hair. I see the past year of my life in his eyes: the way I felt when he sang my song, how we talked each other to sleep at night, the tremble in his lips when he kissed me. I automatically suck in my stomach—Pierre likes skinny girls—but I let it out again when I see his other hand entwined with Sparrow’s. “There’s something you should know—”

“I don’t want to hear your excuses!” I pry Pierre’s hand off my arm. The tears have broken through my wall now; they’re streaming down my face, probably completely ruining my makeup. “You said you loved me,” I mumble, just loud enough for him to hear.

Before he can respond, studio security surrounds the crowd and Mary whisks me off toward the limo.

“Vivian!” Pierre yells as I climb into the limo. “I need to tell you—”

I slam the door and his voice snaps into silence.
What do you need to tell me, Pierre? That when you said “forever” you meant “until someone better comes along”?
Or that you never loved me in the first place?

As Mary gets into the driver’s seat, I curl up in the backseat, trying to get away from Sparrow and Pierre, and from the blackest hole in the universe: my broken heart.

 

I press my face up against the hard ridge between the backseats, where the leather’s cool on my feverish skin, and focus on breathing in the smell of leather polish. I feel small and scared, like I’m drowning in water no one else can see.

The smell of Mom’s lavender perfume suddenly washes over me, as strong as a pillow pressing down on my face. Then Mom’s shaking hands holding the letter that said, “I’m coming for the girl,” flashes through my mind. I bury my head deeper into the leather seats.
Why did they kill you, Mom? Is it my fault?

“Vivian!” The voice sounds like it’s coming from a great distance. “Vivian! What’s wrong? Speak to me!”

The smell of leather polish fills my senses again, and all I hear is Mary calling my name from the front seat of the limo.

“Are you okay?” Mary asks. She’s pulled onto the shoulder of the empty road and backed against a rock overhang so the paparazzi can’t sneak up and take pictures from behind.

I must look like a lunatic.
I sit up and uncurl my fists, feeling the stiff muscles of my hands. I’m suddenly grateful that Mary’s in charge of driving me to the studio, because she knows how to avoid the press.
What if the paparazzi caught me like this? They’d say I was having a breakdown. And maybe they’d be right.

“Have you talked to your dad about these feelings yet?” Mary asks.

I shake my head
. When have I talked to my dad about anything?
As hard as I try to push it away, the guilt keeps coming back. Mary’s always telling me it’s not my fault, but it doesn’t help—the feelings grab me like a fist, shaking me until my core rattles with pain.

When Mom first died, Mary suggested I see a therapist, but Dad doesn’t believe in therapy. He’s from the generation of men that thinks you should be able to cure yourself, just like he believes that “bootstraps were made so you could pull yourself up.”
How many times have I heard that?

“Let’s just go home,” I whisper, chewing nervously on my lower lip.

But before Mary can turn back around, a silver sedan pulls onto the shoulder, cornering us against the rock overhang. Someone gets out, leaving the blinding headlights on.

“Who’s that?” I ask, putting my hand in front of my face to block the light.

“I don’t know,” Mary whispers. “But he’s blocked us in.” With our back bumper against the rocks, and the man standing against our front bumper, we can’t move. It’s too dark to see his face, but his spiky gray hair and black suit cut a sharp outline against the sky. Light streams around him, lighting him from behind like an evil archangel.

A rush of dizziness fills my head.
He’s going to kill me here, on the side of the road.
A familiar terror is washing over me, like I’m locked inside a box, my muscles cramping from cold. The man’s lips are opening and closing, but with the doors closed, I couldn’t hear him if he were screaming through a megaphone.
He’s probably telling me he killed my mom, and now I’m going to die.
In slow motion, I watch the man pull a gun from his pocket and aim it at the windshield.

“Vivian! Get down!” Mary yells. She hits the gas, and the limo smashes into him. He catapults onto the hood, his face spreading out across the windshield. For a second, his eyes, one blue, one brown, stare straight at me. Then he flips over the roof and disappears from view. A streak of gold slides down the glass, catching on the windshield wipers.

Mary gets out of the limo, shoots me a look like an owner telling a dog to stay, then locks the door behind her. I lean against the back window, my forehead making a sweating moon in the glass.

As Mary searches the ground around the limo, bad endings of B horror flicks keep running through my head. I’m imagining his hand shooting out from beneath the limo, grabbing her ankle, and dragging her under. I picture her legs kicking the air, the sound of her bloodcurdling scream—

A knock on my window makes me jump. It’s Mary. And she’s holding an FBI badge.

Chapter Five

W
HEN WE GET HOME
, M
ARY
ushers me up the grand staircase to my room, the clicking of my heels echoing through the empty house. After she locks the dead bolt on my bedroom door, she hands me the FBI badge, its shiny pendant faceup. “To Protect and Serve,” the letters under the pendant say.
And to kill.

“Vivian, that means—”

“The FBI tried to kill me.” Pounding starts inside my head. I drop onto my canopied feather bed, too tired to stand. “What do we do?”

“We don’t tell anybody,” Mary says, “until we know who’s after you. But for now, we need to think about other options.”

“Other options?” I ask, scanning through my list of options: I could go to the police, like Mom did, but she ended up dead. I could call the FBI, but they might be trying to kill me. I could stay here and hope no one comes to kill me. Or I could hide. Go to a place where no one would ever find me.

“If I hid,” I ask, “how long would I be gone?”

“Just for a few days,” Mary says. “Until we figure out who is after you.”

My chest tightens into a fiery ball. I feel like I’m burning from the inside out.

“Your dad and I tightened the security to protect you,” Mary continues. “But if the police are involved, and the FBI . . . then it’s not safe for you to be here.”

“But even if we disappeared,” I ask, “where would we go?”

Mary shakes her head. “You’ll be safer going alone. If we’re both gone, they might notice and come after you. But if I stay here and say you’re sick, I can buy you some time before anyone notices you’re missing.”

“No,” I say, shaking my head until it feels like it’ll spin off my neck. “I’m not going anywhere alone.”
Has she completely lost her mind?
I’ve never been anywhere alone. I have trainers, bodyguards, handlers to make sure I’m taken care of, that my every need is met. I’ve never even gone to the other side of L.A. alone.
But if Mary’s right, could a few days save my life?
“If I went,” I ask, “where would I go?”

“My friend Roberto builds safe houses for abused women, asylum seekers, anyone in real trouble. Six months ago, he helped me set up a safe house for your mom in Mexico, but she never made it.”

We both know why, although neither of us says it:
If Mom hadn’t trusted the police, if she had gone to the safe house instead, she might be alive today. If I don’t go, will I end up the same way?
I take a few unsteady breaths. “So if I did go, how would I get there?”

“You’d have to go by bus,” Mary says.

“By bus? To Mexico?” I shriek. “Don’t people get, like, decapitated on buses? It happened in Canada. Some guy fell asleep and slash! Straight across the throat.”

“But buses take cash, there are no names, no records. Even the police don’t know who’s on a bus.”

I shiver.
Who do you trust if you can’t trust the police?

 

Operation Vivian Transformation makes me feel a little better. Mary cuts and dyes my hair, picks out an ugly black T-shirt and jeans from my character wardrobe, and finds me a pair of brown contacts, which I’m used to wearing, thanks to my months of demon-red contacts in
Zombie Killer.
Then instead of my pink Fendi suitcase, she hands me a horrid camo-print backpack and turns me around to look in the mirror. I’m shocked. I don’t recognize myself.

Not at all.

“Not bad,” I comment, momentarily forgetting my heart-stopping fear. I remember how Mom used to tell me never to leave the house without putting my “best face” on, and for once, I’m living up to that. I mean, I’m normally cute: big blue eyes, pouty lips, long copper curls. But this is gorgeous. My short black hair falls straight and glossy as a waterfall; my eyes are melting chocolate. “I’ll call Dad and tell him what’s happening,” I add.

“What if they’re tapping his phone?” Mary’s face wrinkles with worry. “If these people think he knows where you are, they might force him to talk.”

Force him. Like torture.
My throat swells, making it hard to breathe.
If I get Dad involved, he could get hurt. Even killed.
I bite my lip hard enough to draw blood.
No way. I’m not bringing him into this.

“Once you’re safely out of the country, I’ll call your dad and let him know you’re okay,” Mary says, pulling a piece of paper out of her purse. “These directions will get you to Roberto,” she continues. “And call me every day, but only on the number I programmed in. The phones could be tapped.”

“All right.” I’m getting more nervous by the second, sweat making my hands so slippery I almost drop my über-ugly backpack.

“Most importantly,” Mary says, “don’t tell anyone who you are. If anyone recognizes you, and knows they can get a ransom for you . . .” She shivers. I do too. I’ve seen the TV specials, where girls disappear and never come back.

I feel shattered, ready to break apart at the seams. I throw the bag over my shoulder and take a step toward the door. When I look back at Mary, it’s like I’m looking down a long tunnel leading to my past.

BOOK: Vivian Divine Is Dead
13.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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