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Love's the Burning Girl

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If your ship doesn't come in, swim out to it.

Jonathan Winters

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me," Zoe says, wedging the phone between her ear and her shoulder. She knows it's terrible for her cervical spine, but she refuses to be one of those people with their phone clipped to their ear. It's just freaky, those headsets and the Bluetooth earpieces, and she has some self-respect left.

Also, those people are assholes on the sidewalk.

Much the way Chris is an asshole on the phone. He's a good guy, really he is, but his ability to pick up on vocal cues is close to non-existent. Give him facial expressions, body language, something to work with, and he's actually sensitive and aware of nuance; leave him alone with a cordless phone and he is a bulldozer in a china shop.

Or something. Her metaphors are lousy when she's distracted.

Which she is now, hunting down her stray socks and talking to Chris and waiting for her toast to get to just-shy-of-burned. "It's called acting," she explains as she shakes a dust bunny off the heel of her stripey kneesocks. "I do not actually want to sleep with Zach, and I say 'sleep with' in the euphemistic sense, because yes, we have napped on trailer couches at the same time and I have no doubt it will happen again the next time we're on set for twenty hours straight, but Zach's boyparts will never touch my girlparts if I have anything to say about it, okay?"

"So you would consider having sex with me? 'Cause if you were acting that kiss on the transporter pad, logically you were also acting the rejection in the bar!"

She rolls her eyes and switches the side of her head the phone is on. The plastic is warm and kind of slippery against her cheek. "Hmmm, let me consider it. No. And Chris, cliff's notes, try to keep up — I'm not acting now. I'm actually rejecting you." She can hear him pouting. And her toast is done, so she heads toward the kitchen. "Anything else?"

"Yeah, what are you wearing?"


"Tonight! Jesus, bite my head off, why don't you."

"Alexis Mabille," she says, spreading peanut butter on her toast. "That, like, pseudo-Victorian cocktail dress. And some funky shoes, I think, something strappy and colorful. You?"

"Navy suit," Chris says. "I was thinking of the silk tie with the houndstooth pattern, but I dunno if the photographs will pick up on the texture, and I cannot believe that sentence just came out of my mouth, oh my god, Zoe, the world is crumbling around me, who the fuck am I?"

"I'm hanging up now," she says, amused despite herself. "I'll see you tonight, asshole."

She eats her peanut butter toast and takes her multivitamin and dumps the tail end of a few packages of frozen fruit into the blender. She throws all the rediscovered socks into the hamper and spends almost ten minutes hunting for the left shoe of the ballet flats she wants to wear in the precious few hours she has before she has to go work.

It's not that she doesn't like Vera, her makeup artist, or that she doesn't like dressing up in these amazing clothes (the structure of the seams in the Vivienne Westwood thing she got to wear a few weeks ago still leaves her kind of breathless and turned on). It's just weird that her job is going to parties. Well, part of her job. It's in her contract that she has to go, which makes it her job.

That does not make her a streetwalker. Red-carpet-walker, maybe, but whatever.

She blames Chris and Zach for her newfound willingness to make jokes like that, and she blames Chris's whining, half-serious question for lingering in her brain during her ballet class. Normally, she doesn't think about much during class, just her metatarsals and the tip of her pelvis, her body's stretch and arc. She and Zach have talked about how yoga has helped him calm down over the past few years; you play a serial killer, it is generally a good idea to have some way of walking out of his head and into your own.

Even if she's not going to get to play a serial killer anytime soon (damnit), ballet's been good to her in the same way. Now that she's not in the studio six hours a day, not fighting for a space in the corps, she loves it afresh, loves the steady heartbeat of barrework and adage and allegro.

But today she's off in some indefinable way, her psoas clenched up annoyingly, and it is Chris's fault somehow.

She'll yell at him tonight for distracting her. That'll make her feel better.

And no, there is nothing wrong with the fact that a colleague teasing her has got her all flustered. She's been working nonstop since 2005, when Orlando introduced her around after Haven, and while she really does like her job, it doesn't leave much time — or interest, truth be told — for dating. Sets are full of good-looking people (even the crew tends to be full of pretty to keep an eye on, even the many people who aren't failed actors), and it is just faster and more straightforward to keep her hands in her pants and her head in the game.

She doesn't want to sleep with Zach. She isn't a fan of beard burn, even when she's in the heterosexual part of her cycle, and she definitely doesn't want to sleep with Chris, who would make it all about the orgasm. Just the thought of it, the singleminded murderous focus Chris brings to things, makes her simultaneously weak in the knees and pre-emptively bored.

But after class, when she drinks her one self-indulgent shot of espresso and stops by Staples to get a fresh pack of Sharpies for later and buys gerbera daisies on her way home because she can, damn it, the image of Chris's face contorted in pleasure, the sound of Zach's breath hitching and stuttering, lingers in her mind.

She doesn't tease them, even once they're inside, away from the reaching viney microphones and the bright popping flowers of flashbulbs. She sticks close to Rachel and Jennifer, as much as she can without making it obvious that she's avoiding Chris and Zach.

Because she's not. Not exactly.

She just — would suddenly like to lock them in a room with Viagra and a camcorder, that's all. She's pretty sure she's not the only one.

And okay, that doesn't mean this isn't weird and awkward, but an entire internet of pervs perving on perv-worthy guys can't be wrong! The wisdom of crowds. Something. It's, like, the principle the entire blockbuster genre is based on, and considering how well the blockbuster movie is treating her, she should respect it in the morning.

It would be really nice if her mind could stop running on the continuous loop of SEX SEX SEX SEX WOOO SEX, but it's not happening tonight. She takes a cab home and skips the shower that usually winds her down after one of these things. She doesn't trust herself not to get off to Chris' breathy laugh, the memory of Zach's mouth, shining with Campari and melted ice.

Her white noise generator is good. But she sleeps uneasily anyway, and in the morning, can't remember her dreams.

There is one blessed, blessed Thursday-through-Sunday in her calendar when she doesn't have to show up anywhere or be anyone she isn't. She takes her plane from Burbank instead of LAX and lands in the exhaust-and-urine stink of Newark fucking New Jersey. The cabbie is Jamaican and tells her about his grandchildren as he drives.

No one knows she's here. Mama is in the DR visiting her brother, and her sister is on a thirty-six-hour ER rotation. She goes down the block to buy empanadas, hat pulled firmly over her eyebrows, and the bag is transparent with grease by the time she gets back inside, nose freezing cold. Never mind distilled, de-ionized water or macrobiotic sushi; she is eating beef and onions and flaky lard dough, and she is going to enjoy every damn bite.

She is also going to enjoy every note of the Julietta Venegas CD she puts on over dinner. She knows that it is ridiculous and overwrought and not particularly good, musically, and she doesn't care. It makes her happy.

Happiness should be a good enough reason for pretty much anything. She likes being happy, the same way she likes beef empanadas and stripey legwarmers and swimming laps in a heated pool. So when her mind drifts to that conversation with Chris, and the word yeah drifts up from her mind, she doesn't stomp on the thought.

She's spent more time considering Spock's sexiness than Zach's, to be honest, trying to get into Nyota's head, and that was months ago anyway. But she's not blind. She wouldn't kick him out of bed for eating crackers, let's put it that way. She also wouldn't think to invite him in there in the first place, if she's being honest — he's not her type, too solid in the shoulders and torso, and the degree of contrast between his skin and hair and eyes (and the sheer amount of hair he has) just doesn't ping her low in her belly.

But hey, if the beaming tech broke and dumped Zach into her bed — what, she's been a sci-fi geek for years, it's nothing new, now she just has a proprietary feeling about it — she would be totally happy to get someone else's fingers on her thighs and scratching at the insides of her arms. And Zach's got nice hands, strong and square-tipped, and holy shit, she is never going to be able to get the thought of this out of her head, she can tell, there are tiny muscles she doesn't know the names for, fluttering deep inside her.

She is never speaking to Chris again.

Which of course makes her remember that he suggested himself as a candidate for FutureSex/LoveSounds, and she wants to die. She wants to wash her brain in rubbing alcohol and cut Chris's tongue out of his head with a light saber and point Sarah Connor at her phone with a big damn gun.

Instead she turns on the TV and watches the Alfred Hitchcock movie that's on Turner Classics until she can't keep her eyes open any more.

The morning comes far too fucking early, even if she doesn't have a makeup call, and she dumps herself into a hot shower (fuck it, her skin can drink all the moisturizer it wants, she is not up to facing lukewarm water first thing in the day) and eats two bowls of cereal and skips makeup and heads into Steps. She's lucky enough to get a parking space right outside the studio, and she is pretty sure that it is going to be a good day, just from that.

Steps smells of sweat and printer ink and floor cleaner; she can hear someone cracking the shank of her pointe shoes a few floors up. This isn't home anymore, but it's good to visit sometimes. She goes easy on herself; gives the chick at the desk, a white girl who has a ballet bun streaked with bright blue, a twenty, and takes an intermediate pilates class. When she comes out, she wraps her favorite fleece scarf back around her face, puts some more quarters in the meter, and wanders off down Broadway.

It's all changed since she was here last, which is one of her favorite things about New York, how it's never static. She tries not to regret the disappearance of the Belgian soup-and-frites place; there is a new storefront that specializes in granola only a few doors down, and hey, granola specialists! It's almost worth the price of her plane ticket just for that. She takes a photo of the sign and texts it to Zach, who's got an appreciation for absurdity. Besides, Chris wouldn't get it; he's a West Coast boy, much as she loves him.

Granola specialists are normal, that side of the Hudson.

(It's not that she regrets moving to LA, or that she wants to move back anytime soon — she likes the sunshine and the good Ethopian food and the fact that it is way easier to get cast when you are in town for auditions — but it still bemuses her sometimes. Just sometimes. Mostly she's gotten used to it.)

Twenty minutes later, Zach calls her, and she considers not answering — she's an actress more than she is a dancer these days, but she is still pretty high on endorphins from pilates, and in the cold bleached light of mid-morning autumnal Manhattan, she knows full well that she doesn't want to fuck Zach, or have him fuck her, or any possible variation on it. She's just not sure if she knows that she knows that yet.

There is a non-zero probability that Zach will know something's up, just by the way she answers the phone. He, unlike Christopher fucking Whitelaw Pine, can listen to someone and actually hear what they're not saying.

By the time she finishes dithering, Zach has left her a voicemail. She doesn't bother listening to it, just calls him back. "Hey!" she chirps.

Chirps. She is going to murder Chris in his sleep, and then she's going to learn necromancy so she can bring him back to life and kill him again. The second time, she's going to explain to him why he gets to die, at the top of her lungs. Possibly in Na'vi.

"What the fuck, Saldana?" Zach demands.

"What the fuck what the fuck," she says. "That any way to greet a lady, bitch?"

"If there were any ladies in this conversation, I'd care," he says. "Seriously, a store full of nothing but granola? Someone thought they could make money off that? Where the fuck is this?"

"Broadway and Fifty-eighth," she says. "Northwest corner."

This, of course, is totally meaningless to Zach, who has never had the pleasure of a gridded city. "Are you high?"

"New York is awesome," she tells him seriously. "You wish you were half as awesome as this city."

She can hear people around him during the long pause that ensues. He's probably buying more of that godawful indie coffee. "Okay, one, I am way more awesome than New York City could ever hope to be, because I have the best dick in the hemisphere and New York has the Stock Exchange, two, I hope you bought a shitload of granola for me, and three, why are you in New York City? Is your family okay?"

"Free weekend," she explains. "The staycation is so over. I'm a trendsetter now, I know these things."

"Oh," Zach says, and she listens to him breathe for a second. "You're really okay? Everyone's fine, your mom?"

It' of the things she likes about him. His ability to care. In a totally platonic way.

But that's not what he likes about her — he likes that she is tough and funny and irreverent and stands up to JJ Abrams and James Cameron and Gore Verbinski. (He was there when she turned down the offer to go back to Pirates of the Caribbean. It's not a proud moment for her. The words "will never again work for someone who doesn't fucking cast women full stop or actors of color in the fucking Caribbean and if you call me or my agent again I will fucking cut you" were uttered.) So instead of letting her voice soften into reassurance, she says, "You're secretly a sixty-year-old woman with blue hair, aren't you, Zachary?"

He laughs, reassured through the magical power of sarcasm and impugning his masculinity. "Okay, my order's up," he says. "When you get back, want to do drinks?"

"What the hell. Chateau Marmont?"

".....seriously, are you high?"

"It's the squash blossoms," she explains. "They are my soulmate. Seriously, I'm thinking of proposing, I think it's time we made the relationship a committed one."

"I'm hanging up now," Zach says, but she beats him to it.

She buys herself a pretzel from the vendor outside Central Park and licks all the salt off. She could walk across the park to Bloomingdale's, or she could decide that pilates is enough virtue for one day and head home and watch wuxia movies.

Wuxia wins. The BQE is a bitch, and by the time she gets home, she deserves asskicking.

She's on vacation, and she is going to act like it. So she stops by the omnipresent Duane Reade and buys half a dozen nail polishes in neon colors and settles onto the couch with a mug of cocoa and schnapps. It's a good evening; she wouldn't want to do this every night, or anything, but it's good to have silence inside her head every now and then.

But she's man enough to admit that she's glad to be home when she steps inside her apartment, even with its mess and the angular 26 blinking at her from the answering machine (it's sleek and black and looks like something out of a dystopian future where radioactive mutant ants rule the earth). She still has the varietal colors on her nails; it'll have to come off before anyone sees her, but it makes her smile as she fast-forwards through almost all the messages. Jesus assfucking Christ, can't people get to the goddamn point? Entourage lies like a — okay, it lies like an agent. Okay.

That was her last moment of calm for six months, she realizes with a sinking heart. Okay. She can handle this.

She handles it just fine for the first three weeks, and then she handles it just goddamn fine for the next three weeks, and then she handles it just goddamn fucking asskicking fine after that. Then Sam pinches her ass while they're milling in the antechamber for the Paris red carpet and she loses it.

First, she punches him — luckily, not in the face, because there are makeup artists around but she prides herself on her left hook; all that time watching Chris getting the shit kicked out of him paid off — and then she bursts into tears. There is very little she hates more than crying, the clogged nose and the headache and the horrible wheezing sounds she makes when she sobs, and also she fucking hates fucking crying in front of other fucking people. "Uh," Sam says helplessly, and she would laugh if it were fucking funny, but it's not, it's fucking humiliating, and she hates her life.

"Get your ass out there," Siggy snaps, pushing Sam toward the doors. "Charm them. Do you understand me?"

Sam, thank god, doesn't argue. It's kind of hard to argue with Sigourney Weaver even when she isn't in full mama-gorilla mode, and it's harder when you're an inch and a half shorter than she is. So he's basically screwed on all cylinders, and Zoe is sobbing onto Siggy's shoulder, utterly overwhelmed with tired and cranky and something that feels like grief even though she isn't sad. People keep touching her, and she can't get the ghosts of their hands off her skin. She feels covered in oil from the pads of their fingers. "I feel like a moron," she admits, and sniffles.

"Oh, honey," Siggy says, and cups her jaw, and Zoe will appreciate that her hair is not being messed with in a few minutes. Siggy's smart like that. "It's okay, don't worry about it, we all hit a wall at some point, and hey, you have had a nonstop time of it, you're totally entitled to hit people as much as you want, okay, that's not true but it sounds good, all you need to do is breathe, the reporters will wait and if you want to skip the carpet tonight you can, I will make it happen, let's get you something to drink and a couple of minutes without assholes looking at you," and she leads Zoe a little further away, keeping up a steady flow of nonsense talk, and Zoe swallows hard and slides her hand into Siggy's.

"Thanks," she says, and means it. It's good not being the only person with more than one X chromosome around for once; say what you will about science fiction growing up and letting the girls in during the seventies, even with Star Trek as Gene Roddenbury's utopian vision of the future where prejudice is erased, it got really tiring being alone. Zach gives amazing hugs, and the space between his neck and shoulder is just the right size for her head, but he smells like a guy, and that's not always the most comforting smell in the world. Especially after eighteen hours on set, when they are all sweaty and gross.

Siggy squeezes her hand once. "As far as I'm concerned," she says, "you could have cabana boys fanning you twenty-four seven, and a daily crushed-sapphire-and-placenta facial, and Jim would still owe you for everything you have given him over the past three years."

She laughs, shakily, and wipes her eyes. Her mascara is a mess, and her eyes sting from salt and whatever chemicals are in Chanel's eye makeup. "Placenta facials?" she repeats.

"That does sound pretty disgusting," Siggy admits, and she has the best laugh in the universe. Zoe can feel it clattering between her ribs, and she sighs.

It's pretty easy to fix her face once she's calmed down — visine, fresh concealer, a half-bottle of water, and she stands still for a nice white girl to pat powders on her eyelids again. The carpet isn't even harder than usual, she's in a weird daze, answering questions, once they're translated, mechanically. She's been doing this for too long, she thinks, blinking away the last of the after-image from the cameras.

She's thirty. She shouldn't have to be so nice to people.

That night, she sits in the dark in her hotel room for twenty minutes before she reaches for her cell phone. There are several appropriate ways to have an existential crisis, and they all require emo moping for at least a little while. But her sister's house is chaos even over the phone line — the dogs are squabbling, the boyfriend, whose name Zoe should really learn if he's stuck around for eight months, is trying to get Cisely to taste the spaghetti sauce before he takes it off the heat, and the 1010 WINS traffic report is on high. Her bad mood flees to quieter realms as soon as Cisely answers the phone with a barked, "Remind me why I'm talking to you again?"

"Because I'm your very favorite big sister ever?" Zoe suggests, and flicks the lamp at her bedside on.

"Maaaaaybe," Cisely says. "Maybe. How you doing, gorgeous?"

It's hard to answer, harder than it should be. It's hard to stop the automatic reply from rising in her throat like bile. "...not so great," she says, eventually, when she knows her hesitation would have made any other answer a blatantly obvious lie. Cisely is smart enough not to say anything, just hums a soft D-flat and waits. There's still a total racket going on behind her, but Zoe can hear her own breathing for what's maybe the first time in weeks. Maybe she hasn't been breathing at all.

This is probably going to be the most epic phone bill in the history of phone bills, because in the wake of admitting how much the Louboutins hurt her feet and how ashy the skin on her shoulders has gotten and how much she wants a hug, she starts crying again; at first, she wipes the tears away with the back of her wrist, and then she gives up and reaches for the tissues. "I don't know what would make me feel better," she admits when the skin under her eyes starts feeling raw. She knows that window-shopping won't do it, and there's just not enough downtime for her to spend a day wrapped in mud and seaweed, which might not actually make her more able to face whatever's wrong, but has a pretty reliable placebo effect.

Cisely hums again. "Okay, indulge me for a few minutes here," she says, and runs through the list of questions she has to ask the people who turn up in her ER, even the ones who know what's wrong with them. She eventually gets to "what have you been eating?" and Zoe realizes, with a slow feeling of horror, that she basically hasn't been; she's begged off nights out with Sam and his girlfriend the last few times they've asked, and she never finishes anything room service brings her because it's only edible while it's still warm, and her blood sugar is probably in negative numbers by now. Fuck. That would do it.

"I can't believe Mama lets you out of the house," Cisely says, mock-despairingly, and Zoe manages to dredge a laugh out of her diaphragm. It doesn't sound like she thinks anything's funny. "Sandwich," Cisely prescribes. "Sandwich and chocolate milk and a big salad with no iceberg lettuce, and eat all of it, you hear me?"

"Yeah, yeah," Zoe says, but there's something lighter about it. "Call you back in an hour."

There's no chocolate milk available anywhere in France, possibly in Europe, so she settles for Ovaltine. Ovaltine and a panini with Swiss and roasted vegetables, and she even eats the eggplant slices. She doesn't like endive, so she skips the salad. Maybe tomorrow she'll be a diva and send one of the PAs out to get lettuce.

…Maybe not. But she feels so much better it is unquantifiable. There's still something small and hard tucked under her solar plexus, and if she skips breakfast (again), she'll be right back there with the out-of-character weepiness and everything, but better is good enough, for now.

Cisely even lets her get away with it, extracting only a promise that she'll call again in the next 48 hours, and then talks her ear off about the grandfather clock she bought at the flea market over the weekend, her new favorite bike route, which has a pet store along the way so she can coo over the kittens in the window ("no, I'm not getting one, I promise," she says, and Zoe doesn't believe her for a single second), and the total failure of her New Year's Resolution to quit Diet Coke.

By the time she hangs up, she should have been asleep hours ago, but she doesn't care; she is anchored by plans to buy her sister the most godawful glittery catnip toys she can find, and that is better than a dozen hours of sleep.

When she wakes up, she hasn't moved an inch all night; the covers are utterly smooth over her body. She stretches, feeling her latissimus dorsi lengthen, and wiggles her toes. She dresses cute, jeans and a short-sleeve button-down, the pink one that made Chris whistle through his teeth when he saw her wearing it to an early read-through, and oh Christ Jesus, she hopes he wasn't serious with that terrible attempt at talking her into sex, that he hasn't been nursing a crush all these months, and her favorite big earrings, the ones that really helped her get into Nyota's head, because you move a certain way when you're used to wearing dangly earrings. It won't actually help her apologize to Sam, but it can't hurt, either.

He accepts her apology so fast her head spins. Violence is supposed to have actual consequences; she was in The Green Table when she was fifteen. "Really, I ought to say sorry to you," he insists. "I know better than to make a girl cry, and people keep askin' you such stupid things, there's no surprise you lose your sense of humor."

"My sense of humor is perfectly fine," she says, tipping her chin up. "And I will beat you to death with a packet of pretzels if you contradict me."

"Okay! Okay, okay, I'll just…be over here. Away from you and your deathly pretzels. Yeah."

It is entirely possible that she has scared Sam Worthington. She isn't sure if she should be proud of that or apologize again. But Sigourney isn't scared of her, and Sigourney smells better anyway, and Zoe goes to sit next to her while they're waiting for the plane to let them on and take them to Moscow. Sigourney is reading one of her endless back issues of the Economist and doesn't look up.

Zoe watches her for a couple of minutes. Sigourney's not wearing any makeup, and the creases framing her eyes are like the most delicate feathers. It is astonishing, how the tiny, invisible muscles in her face are so mobile, so flexible; she can actually see Sigourney thinking as she reads. "Are you any good at lying?" she asks, when they're settled in their seats but the fasten seat belt sign isn't on yet. Sigourney is in the row ahead of her, and she just has to lean forward to speak directly into her ear.

"Yes," Signourney says. "But only when it matters." She doesn't turn around, but she doesn't sound irritated, either. "You'll learn," she says, a moment later, and Zoe shakes her head. She's not worried about that.

But she doesn't say anything; it's the second flight they're on in two days, and the merriment they all had yesterday has drained away. This is ordinary now, and she leans back in her seat and lets Sigourney read. It's one of those flights where she can feel her skin turning into crepe-paper, even though she sucks down three bottles of water and smears moisturizer on her face and hands every hour on the hour. She declines the horrible snack they offer her, sticking to the celery sticks and baby carrots she brought, while she starts triaging the scripts her agent's e-mailed to her over the last few weeks.

Anything sci-fi gets shoved into a folder labeled "are you typecasting me, bitch?" The sassy black girlfriend parts go straight into the trash. Fuck that, and fuck being the go-to girl for race — the Nylon and Glamour and Entertainment Weekly interviews were the last damn straw. She's got a surprising number of action scripts, which is nice — apparently the word is getting out about how much Jim's CGI depends on adapting original performance — but she's not sure she wants to spend the next few years getting paid for convincing audiences her body is something it isn't. It feels a little bit too much like being fifteen again, still, and spending hours with her palms on the barre, crossing her ankles tighter, pushing her ankles and knees and hips flat against the imaginary transverse plane that she could feel dividing her into decorated-and-presentable-Zoe and hooks-and-knots-Zoe.

Just because it was a decade and a half ago doesn't mean the memory isn't raw; just because she hasn't bled into her pointe shoes recently doesn't mean the calluses are gone.

She cannot afford to play another lesbian anytime soon, and she's kind of sorry she blew her chance at a gay role so early; it would be nice to do that and have more than seventeen people see the film, but regret about how she got here is an express ticket to crazy, lunacy next stop, that way lies madness! Which means that the romantic comedies she takes the time to skim are all straight roles, and blah blah fucking workaholic high-powered executive of a department store blah shy seasonal employee blah blah abandoned baby blah blah shenanigans blah hijinks blah misunderstandings blah soft-focus kiss, she wouldn't pay actual physical cash money to see this, much less have to say nice things about it in public, much less spend two months of her short — and getting shorter by the minute! — career creating it.

The few days she spent working on Death at a Funeral were fun, but comedy is way harder than it looks.

Enough is enough, and she leans forward to ask Sigourney if she has anything to read that isn't the Economist. "Cannot cope, off to Mordor," she says, fluttering her lashes, and reflexively glances over her shoulder to ward off Karl. Wait, no, wrong promo tour, and Sigourney is handing her a New Yorker. Thank fuck.

The cartoons are an uneven mix, but the ones that are funny are genuinely funny, and Paul Rudnick's humor piece is hilarious. She skips the investigative reporting article; it's a profile of some EPA official, and political is not a good look first thing in the morning. The short story is self-conscious, but pretty good, and by the time she finishes it, they are landing.

Moscow, city of onion domes and borscht, awaits.

The production company has booked them into a full day of sightseeing; she hooks her arm through Siggy's while they're waiting for their luggage and says, "So when we're done being cultured, want me to buy you dinner?"

Sigourney's eyebrow speaks volumes, but Zoe smiles the most innocent smile she's got in her arsensal. "Men have died for that invitation," she says a moment later, and that gets Siggy, who throws back her head — Zoe can't help but stare at the clean line of her jaw and throat, bone and airway intersecting — and laughs.

"And how could I decline such a charming young lady?" Siggy says, drawing in a deep breath. "Lay on, MacDuff!"

Zoe feels like they've been led through half of Moscow by the time they're set free. There's some time before the photocall (cattle call, Chris mutters, and just when did she give him permission to sublet her fucking brain, pray tell?) and the premiere, and she intends to take advantage of every second. There will by god be no discussion of work whatsoever.

Instead, she and Sigourney talk about philanthropy, St. Jude's and the Fossey Foundation; Sigourney tells her about the retrofittings she's done to her house to make it closer to carbon neutral, and they trade book recommendations. Apparently her costar, Stanford BA, Yale MFA, has been indulging herself recently with Georgette Heyer novels, and gleefully spends the time that Zoe devotes to her chocolate mousse recapitulating the plots. For a given value of plot. "And then they live happily ever after?" Zoe supplies once she pauses for breath.

"I don't know, we never get that far," Sigourney admits. "The proposal is the point, not the marriage. That's usually when the book ends, come to think of it."

"No sex?"

"No. There are barely kisses, you filthy-minded woman."

Zoe rolls her eyes, and scrapes the last of the chocolate up. "How's the granita?" she asks, and Sigourney hands her a spoonful. The bitterness of coffee bursts over her tongue and she closes her eyes.

It's time to go back to work. It is totally unfair that Sam has another half-hour of fucking around on his GameBoy, or whatever, but putting on her face, in spider-web thin layers of Chanel and Nars and MAC, is a familiar routine. Game face, she thinks, and rolls her eyes at herself in the mirror. She strips herself down first, tidying her brows and tying her hair off her face. She is a blank canvas, tabula rasa, empty face to be transformed into someone else's.

"I will show you my bones and you will call me beautiful," she promises the empty room.

Foundation, concealer, blush: the camera's eye is unforgiving, so she builds her cheekbones like mountain ranges. The ombré shift keeps the orange away from her face and lets her spread her hand against the warmth of the color, and she stands tall in her heels, moving her vertebrae in a sine wave, and walks out. Sigourney is already waiting for the elevator in the hallway, hair smoothly curled behind her ears. They share a silent smile and Zoe expands her ribcage. "Does this ever get normal?" she asks when they hit the lobby together, her heels striking the carpet with dull thumps.

Sigourney shrugs. "You're talking to the woman who was five-eight by age ten. I think people staring at me is normal."

"Yeah, okay," she admits. Sam waves, and their small band of wanderers bunches together. She can't stand next to Sigourney in the photos — can't give the impression that women actually like and support each other by occupying the same space — so she brushes her knuckles against the back of her hand and goes to tower over Jim. A flare of frustration in her chest makes it hard for her to keep the faint smile on her face; Jim is wearing baggy trousers and a broken-in shirt. There is a seam stiff from the tailoring of her dress against her shoulderblade, and she would give damn near anything to scratch it.

She sleeps for the whole flight to London, knees propped up over the arm rest between the seats. She's got so many frequent flier miles and she's only racking up more; she's probably flown to the moon and back, this year alone.

Okay, maybe not. But she's definitely flown ahead and back of her internal clock so much that it's probably ruined for life; when they get to the Dorchester, she texts Karl to apologize for yelling at him, all those times he showed up late, and leaves Cisely a message asking her if she wants anything from London.

The premiere that night is utter madness.

There's a lot of screaming for Sam, for Siggy, a certain amount for Jim, but she's the one the security guys pay attention to. The flashes slam against her eyes; her pupils must be pin-points. When they're inside, she excuses herself to go tremble in a stall in the ladies' for four minutes and thirteen seconds. It's like they love her, all those people, but they don't know her, and they'd turn on her in a second if she weren't what they wanted, what they expected; they'll forgive her for not actually being blue or having a tail only as long as she smiles and flirts and makes them feel loved right back.

She never wanted to be a star. She just wanted to do something that was like ballet but didn't leave her unable to breathe from pain, and acting fit the bill. (There's a reason she isn't afraid of stunt work, why fight choreographers love her; nothing will ever equal spending hours on end in pointe shoes. They call her fearless; she just has a warped sense of what unendurable is.)

And watching herself-but-not-herself on the screen is weird, suddenly; she's seen the final cut, of course, she knows how much her tiniest movements were transformed and retained, but you can see her breathing. She took those breaths in 2007. That inhalation has been over for almost three years, but it will still be there in a hundred.

She's gonna live forever in Neytiri's skin.

For the next half-dozen years, this will be the benchmark for moviemaking. Then it will be a historical curiosity, the first awkward effort, once people learn to use the tech like extensions of their hands, and then it will be the harbinger of a new age, an extolled example, and all the while, people will be watching her.

She can't say no any more. She can't disappear, ever again.

So instead she flaunts herself, afterwards, when everyone is a little bit high on how much the audience loved it, and most people are a little bit drunk, twirls to make her skirt flare out, twines her fingers in her necklace, shrugs extravagantly so people will see the folds of fabric at her shoulders. They're looking at the dress and the jewelry as much as they're looking at her face and her body, might as well make it easy for them.

She doesn't take more than a few sips of her champagne, and when it goes flat, she puts it down on the first horizontal surface she finds. There has to be a way out of here, but everywhere she looks, she sees only bodies, flesh and satin and emeralds and skin. She knows it's cold outside, raw the way only England is, but in here, she's sweating, damp down the line of her spine and in the gap between her arms and her ribcage.

It's December for the rest of the world. Her world has a different calendar; she's been living in the future since 2007.

When she finally makes her way out to the waiting car and the waiting hotel room, all night she dreams of flying on the back of a giant golden beast.

The dream lingers all through the next day, through the transatlantic flight and cabbing over to the Gansevoort and ordering in a medium-rare burger with every trimming that Five Napkins has in the kitchen — "yes, bread and butter pickles, please and thank you." She feels warm, buoyed up by something she can't see, wrapped in wings veiled to human sight. The only way she can express it is to wriggle her toes deep into the fluffy carpet.

"Hi," she tells Chris' voicemail when he doesn't pick up, the fucker; she was looking forward to hearing his voice outside her head. "I had the best dream last night, and since you can't tell me to shut up, I'm going to recount it to you. And maybe at the end, there will be some sexual imagery, so you can't just delete this. Perv."

She licks the last of the burger from her fingers as she settles into the story. She was good and told them to hold the fries, so there is no sting of salt on her lips, just the umami richness of good ground chuck and the sweetness of the tomato, even out of season. "And then all the leaves on the trees turned into script pages, which is pretty unsexy, but maybe there was a topless scene on the pages, which I didn't get to read before I woke up," she finishes. "And hey, you have been permitted a glimpse into my subconscious, which is sort of like hearing all my secret dirty fantasies, wrapped up in symbolism. I'll see you when I get back."

It probably would have been a good idea to threaten him with castration to keep him from selling his voicemail to TMZ, but it's not like he doesn't know she knows where he lives, and that she owns a pair of nail scissors.

Beef makes everything better, and the feeling of cow-based happiness lasts long enough for her to be charming to David Letterman, whom she really doesn't like, and when she gets back to the green room for her stuff, her phone is doing the Chris-Pine-is-calling dance. It's almost exactly like Sam's I-drank-too-much-beer-and-I-need-to-pee-right-this-second dance, but a little more subtle. With a little less hip-wiggling. "Good timing!" she say when she grabs it.

"You," Chris informs her, clearly trying for gravitas, "are a fucking tease. Promising me pornographic imagery and then making me dig out my freshman psych textbook to figure out the symbolism?"

She rolls her eyes, kicks the stilettos off to step into the wedges she brought along, grabs an apple from the fruit bowl, and heads for the elevator, fending Letterman's staff off along the way. "Oh, you poor baby," she coos, and then stops short. "Wait, were you really hoping to jerk off?" she demands, at once creeped out and aware of a tiny thrill of satisfaction.

"Seriously, tease," Chris repeats. "And that is all I will say on the subject."

"Oh, baby, don't stop there," she says. "What did your freshman psych textbook say about my innermost desires?" She doesn't regret going straight from backstage at Technicolor Dreamcoat to the set of Center Stage (with a small, barely noticeable stop in the OR on the way, fucking tenosynovitis) instead of Queens College; her work ethic can probably kill small rodents. She wouldn't have gotten that in eight AM World Civ classes. But she did feel a little left out when John and Chris were swapping stories about what had changed on the Berkeley campus between John's graduation and Chris beginning. She doesn't have a freshman psych textbook. She doesn't have a box in her closet with old notebooks and syllabi she never threw out, the way Zach does. It's not regret that laces her voice when she asks Chris what eldritch Freudian horrors lurk inside her head. She doesn't know what it is.

It's a good thing, really, that she called Chris; Zach is more uncomfortable with how different her background is, how she approaches the world in a way he can't and never will. Chris just asks questions when she surprises him and moves on, and although she hates to admit it, she forgives him a lot for that. She listens to Chris explain what it meant when she told him about the mountains, hazed in the distance, and approaching them at impossible speeds through the pine-scented air. She chews on the apple while she waits for the elevator, enjoying the sweet, sweet blood sugar rush. "Hang on, hitting the sidewalk, phone needs to be away for a second," she breaks in as the doors open to the lobby.

As she smiles pretty for the cameras outside, curls her fingers around a Sharpie, and widens her collarbones for everyone to see, she can hear him breathing in her pocket. It is way more comforting than it should be. She would swear under oath she can feel the flashes on her skin like punches. The dark glass of the waiting car shields her a moment later, not a moment too soon, and she exhales. Carbon dioxide leaves her body like the poison it is. When she presses her ear to the phone again, the only thing she can think of to say is, "This is not what I want to do."

Chris doesn't say anything, and they listen to each other breathe until she loses the signal in the parking garage underground.

It's almost Christmas. Maybe she'll get the present of knowing what the hell she wants to do with her life.

Oh, shit, it's almost Christmas and she hasn't done her fucking shopping. Her mother is going to kill her. Her mother is going to maim her, kill her, and eat her.

She's up at way too fucking early o'clock the next day, and dumps her luggage in the cloakroom at Saks as she goes on a blitzkreig before her flight. She texts Zach three times before ten AM Eastern time (do u want shaving stuff or cologne 4 xmas?; ttly getting CP moar scarves wheee; why am I telling u this stuff you have no taste
), spends enough that three salespeople are trailing around after her by the time she leaves, and gets to the airport just in time, laden down with 80% of her presents for professional people. She'll deal with her family later, like after she's unpacked her suitcases for the first time in six weeks.

Thank goodness neither of her 2009 releases are Christmas ones; she's already too late to get anything from Harry & David, so she braves the crowds at the Promenade. Last year she was able to start shopping almost a month early. Next year, she might well be on location for all of November and December.

At least that would make her mom's present easier to get; she can just steal something from props if she gets desperate. She won't, because she loves her mom, but she could. But this year, she buys her a clock to replace the awful flea-market one in her bedroom and a bottle of some local fruity wine. Cisely is getting a box full of cat toys and half a dozen cashmere scarves so fine they can be drawn through a size ten ring. She finds Mariel a gorgeous antique silver necklace. Her Dominican relatives get perfume sets, and watercolor kits, and her little cousins will — she hopes — be thrilled with the sparkly barrettes and Legos she dumps in a pile on her kitchen table.

She managed to keep her cool while faced with the faceless hordes, but when she is thirty minutes into wrapping the fucking things, and approximately thirty hours away from even starting to address and stamp the pacakages, she snaps and calls Siggy. "Help," she says weakly.

Siggy stops wheezing about ten minutes later. And then she hangs up. Because Sigourney is mean. (As Zoe informs her voicemail.) Also, she apparently thinks Zoe's a grownup or something, and capable of defeating the wrapping paper on her own.

She tries to live up to Siggy's expectations of her for maybe another twenty minutes. Well, fifteen. Almost fifteen. Five is like fifteen, right?

And then she calls Chris. Chris-the-optimist, Chris-the-sunshine-man, Chris-who-is-spending-the-day-with-his-sister. Damn him for having a family he is close to, geographically and personally. Doesn't he know he is supposed to be at her back and call? Didn't he get the memo?

That's actually a good idea; the next time she wants to mess with him, she'll tuck an official-looking memo that's actually fanfiction in with script changes and call sheets. Because there is nothing funnier than the word "penis." She's tempted to start googling for traumatizing porn now, but presents won't wrap themselves and it'll be months before read-throughs start. Is this what Siggy was talking about? Because it sucks.

Zachary, however, is at home. Zachary is lying on the floor with his cat on his head and his stupid slobbery adorable mutt chewing on his cuffs and Lady Gaga playing just below audibility. ("Bad music doesn't count if it's subliminal," he tried to convince her all those months ago when they shared his split headphones. She's lucky the expression on her face didn't make it into the blooper reel, because it was pretty priceless. One, Gaga is awesome, and two, bad music only doesn't count if you blast it and dance to it in your socks and underwear. How has he reached the age of thirty without learning this?) It is the work of a moment to convince him to come over for Thai.

It's easy to learn Zachary's weak points: noodles, built men with huge dicks, whipped cream in his burnt-tasting coffee, and did she mention the muscley men with really tremendous cocks? Because they are his favorite.

She can't promise him that, but she does have neapolitan ice cream in the freezer and Siam Palace on speed-dial. And he can never figure out how to work the locks on her door, so once he's here, he's here until she sets him free. It's like having a genie, except he doesn't shut up when he's in the bottle.

There are worse fates than listening to Zach, though; he's got a nice voice, well-trained, and he says things she enjoys hearing, like "god, the pad thai is amazing, where did you order?" and "I'll load the dishwasher, you go switch the CD" and "oh, hey, I have an extra ticket to see the LA Philharmonic Sunday night, want to come?" He also says things like "I can't believe you got me over here under false pretenses to wrap presents. Aren't there, like, people you can pay to do shit like this? Wait, is this for me? Oooh, can I have this? This is awesome. I want this."

"You know how people start to look like their dogs?" she demands, ripping some Scotch tape off with perhaps a little more force than is strictly required. "You are starting to think like one. Maybe cut down on the animal shelter benefits for a little while."

"Zoe," he says, looking up through his lashes with an expression of gravity on his face. "They hand me puppies to play with. I have a medical condition, I have to play with fluffy puppies at least once every two weeks or my heart shrinks two sizes and I die. Do you want me to die, Zoe?"

"Your what?" she fires back. "Don't lie, I could disassemble you like a Terminator. You are a cyborg from the future, powered by eyebrows, a heartless bitch with a hollow in your chest the size of a Buick."

"No no no, it is my dick that is the size of a Buick. My heart is the approximate size of your breasts. And the source of my power is not my eyebrows. That is a low blow."

She stares at him, fingers tangled in the yellow ribbon she is trying to knot around a misshapen package. His glasses have slipped down his nose and his lips are chapped. "I can't tell if you're trying to say something nice about me or make an overblown claim about yourself," she says eventually. "Because I know you would never participate in the body-shaming culture of contemporary American society. Zachary."

He opens his mouth and closes it in quick succession. "Here, give me the scissors, I'll cut the paper and you tape it," he says and swallows.

"That's what Mama likes to hear," she tells him, dragging her chair a little closer to where he's sitting, bowl of melted strawberry ice cream at his elbow.

They are quiet together for a few minutes, the only sounds the slicing of shiny paper and the tinkling of the Regina Spektor CD she put in after the noodle extravaganza. It was that or Charlotte Gainsbourg, and she knows that it drives Zach crazy when he doesn't understand every word in a song. "Okay, I'm sorry," he says, tossing the scissors down. "This music is winding me up like a yo-yo. Can I turn on the TV instead?"

She waves a hand toward the set; she doesn't really care. "No Lifetime dramas," she says, and he nods as he gets to his feet.

It is awfully quiet when he turns off the stereo, and it almost makes her panic for a second; before she can really tense up, though, Zach says, "Look, it's me!"

The son of a bitch has found a Heroes rerun. Sylar is draped over a log, his ass in the air; Zach's hands are on his hips as he studies himself. "You are going to be useless until this episode is over, aren't you?" she sighs. Whatever, they have finished almost a dozen of her gifts and it is not getting less brain-numbing; a little ridiculous science fiction might be just what the doctor ordered.

Well, ridiculous science fiction and mocking Zach. Two great tastes that taste great together.

She takes a last bite of her ice cream and stretches out on the floor. "Hmmm?" Zach says. She rolls her eyes, and kicks his ankle lightly.

"Sit," she says. "We can take a break and watch you be evil."

"Man, this was so long ago," he says, walking blindly to the sofa, eyes never leaving the screen. "I don't think I'd even met you when we shot this." Her ankle pops softly as she rotates it. She splits her attention between the Zachary in her living room and the Zachary in pixels. They don't look like the same person, exactly. They look like — distant cousins, at best. Maybe it's just that she can read Zach, knows him, and Sylar isn't her friend. She recognizes Zach. Sylar creeps her out. "Is it narcissistic to watch my own show?" he asks when they break for commercial shortly thereafter, finally looking at her. "And why are you sitting like that?"

"'Cause it's comfortable," she says, not bothering to add duh. If he has the sense God gave a piece of cheese (delicious, delicious cheese, it's the one flaw that Asian food has, no cheese; she cannot wait to retire just so she can eat cheese whenever she wants), he will have heard it in her voice. "And it depends on why you're watching. If it's because you think you're hot shit, then yes. If it's because you think your coworkers are amazing and talented, then no."

"Safe, then," he says, and stretches out an arm for his ice cream. "Mmm, it's all gooshy."

"You are so gross," she accuses, but there's no heat in it.

"Hush, Miss Blue Cheese Dressing, I'm watching Cheetos dance. It's the pinnacle of, uh. American ingenuity. And shit."

"So gross," she repeats. Blue cheese dressing is nothing compared to the tofu wraps he tried to foist on her (Once. He knows better now.), and definitely compared to Cheetos, which aren't even good for pouring into hollow trailer walls for soundproofing. She wraps her hands around the balls of her feet and tugs gently, exhaling into the stretch.

Zach is kind enough to catch her up on the backstory, in bits and pieces, as scenes whip by; she's met Kristen, of course, and probably the rest of the cast regulars, but doesn't really remember them, much less the intricacies of their show.

It is an amazingly dumb episode, even for Zach's nonsensical sci-fi series — one day, she will get him to admit that Demigods and Semidevils kicks his show's ass and makes it look easy — and she just lets the sounds wash over her skin, a sonic cellulite treatment, and rests her forehead on her knees. She can almost feel each muscle fiber tremble in the backs of her thighs.

As she releases the stretch, she can feel her heart rate slowing. She licks her lips and presses her palms against the floor. "Oh, this was fun, I got to seduce her for most of the second season," Zach says. The look on his face is indecipherable, and she honestly can't tell if he's being sarcastic.

"I'm kind of surprised that they didn't go the route of making Sylar creepy and gay," Zoe observes a few minutes later, watching Sylar do a truly terrible job of projecting "sincerity." Or maybe that's Zach doing an excellent job of projecting "crazy." She sees him shrug out of the corner of her eye, and guesses that this is a sore spot.

But it's not her problem. Zach is a grownup. He has his own production company, he has a savings account, he can take care of himself.

They finish watching the episode in silence. Zach takes his ice cream bowl to the sink when the girl who looks like Mariel kisses him, and stands, shoulders hunched, until they've cut away to the next scene. She represses a smile whenever the adorable little boy who looks like her oldest cousin's younger son, Rafael, is on screen; among the many conversations she doesn't want to have with Zach is anything involving the words "biological clock."

She should make an itemized list of those conversations, except that (a) she'd have to name and delineate them to do that, and (b) the prospect of anyone finding that list is enough to make her mouth taste like she's knocked back three Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters and given a blowjob to a Vogon.

When it's over, she lets Zach decide what to say first. He rubs his palms over the fabric covering his thighs and twirls ribbon around his thumb before deciding to start with, "Do you want to finish this now, or should we knock off for the night?"

"I want to be done," Zoe says, and she's not really talking about the presents. "But," she adds hastily, because she really cannot face any more tonight, "we can leave it for tomorrow, maybe I'll have a present-wrapping party. You can go home if you want."

He laughs. "After seeing that? Hell no. I'm going out and getting laid. Want to come with?"

It's a little tempting, the prospect of getting out of her head for a while, drinking enough for a buzz, maybe critiquing some tourist's clubwear. But not tempting enough. "Are you fucking kidding me?" she says. "After watching that? I have lost any and all respect I once held for you, and I am not trashing my reputation by being seen with you in public."

There's enough truth in it for her to bite her lip as soon as she says it; not the part about Heroes lessening her esteem for Zach, but the part about being wary of associating herself too closely with him. She'll happily work with him again, she'll let Colin record their embrace for the ages, without objection — hell, if they try to cut it, she'll kick up an unholy fuss — she'll kick her feet up into his lap for massages between interviews, but she will not let her name be linked to his for public consumption.

"Bitch, please," Zach drawls, sticking his hands in his pockets. "You're just scared you'd have to buy your own drinks."

She sticks her tongue out at him, and he laughs as he leaves. She watches the door close behind him, and then sits on the floor, wrapping her arms around her knees.

It's too late to call her sisters, and she doesn't want to talk to anyone, not exactly. She wants to be able to say something, but she doesn't know what it is — if she could just get past all the clutter in her vocal cords, the words would be there. She's sure of it.

Maybe it's like trying to think of something on the tip of your tongue; stop thinking about it, and the word floats up from some dark Amazonian river of the subconscious. If she leaves it alone, doesn't startle it, maybe her own mind will tell her what she needs to know. She stares at Jay Leno, a half-dozen inches tall, until her eyes ache. Without the sound, late-night TV is better than an Ambien or melatonin; the cameras barely move, and the lighting is all white and blue, spotlights and overheads, nothing interesting or subtle, and okay, it's a live show, but surely they can be a little more creative, make their show a little less static?

The afterimage lingers on the inside of her irises when she turns the screen off, and she stumbles into the bathroom to brush her teeth. She has a mouthful of cinnamon foam when it fades, and when she spits, she looks at her face in the mirror for a long moment and says, testing the words, "Production company."

It's not right. That's not what she was trying to say.

She shakes her head at herself and touches the glass. She can barely hear herself when she says, "When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep."

She knows something she didn't know this morning, she just doesn't know what it is yet.

In the morning, the knowledge is still sitting in her chest like a hollow pearl, smooth and impenetrable. She tries not to let it interfere with her day, but she leaves the TV on mute while she combs her hair, soaking the tangles in sweet almond oil until they slide apart, and if she has to, she will round up every cinematographer in the film industry and lock them in a room and force them to watch their own work until they stop pretending to be Christopher Doyle.

It sets the pattern for the next few days. She spends a whole afternoon playing with her collection of ridiculous and probably useless cosmetics, Shiseido and SK-II masks, kaolin clay, strawberry-and-oil scrub, and she probably smells terrible by the end of it, but she had fun. Outside, it is on the high end of "cool enough to bake," but she makes cookies anyway, calls Cisely while she's frosting them, and spends a few hours getting pink sugar in her hair and under her nails with her sister making fun of her over speakerphone. They talk about the butterflies Cisely is already fighting off because she is spending Christmas Eve with her boyfriend's parents, Chris Rock's hair documentary Zoe managed to catch on one of the shorter flights she's taken recently, the taste difference between caffeinated and decaf Earl Grey tea.

She's no longer sure what constitutes "normal," if this kind of low-key routine is what real people live in the midst of; she knows that the past six-to-eight months weren't normal, but she doesn't think she could live like this for much longer either.

Maybe she could. But she doesn't want to.

"It's the point of departure that's confusing me," she says. "I mean, I know spending five days on three different continents and six different countries is objectively insane, but I'm not sure where to draw the line any more. If I want to stay grounded, where is my ground, you know?"

"Uh, LA, dumbass," Cisely says.

"Yeah, thanks, that's not what I meant. Like, metaphorical ground. I can't figure out my new normal. I would go absolutely bugfuck crazy with your life, and even this whole domestic hibernation thing I've been rocking this week is going to last maybe three more days before I start climbing the fucking walls. But at the same time — if I ever even talk about doing two summer major releases again, sit on me until I come to my senses, because I can't do this again."

"Too old for this shit?" Cisely says, and it's a good thing her sister amuses herself, because she is laughing her ass off over there. Zoe can't bring herself to crack a smile; it feels as though her face will shatter if she tries.

"Yes," she says forcibly. "I am too old to be telling other people's stories."

"...Okay," Cisely says. "Start from the beginning."

She eats three cookies while she talks about how awful it feels to have people call her beautiful when she's wearing clothes she didn't pick herself, the way she loses every argument about dialogue whether it's on-set or at table readings, when shit is supposedly up for discussion, the extent to which she wants to stab Zach in the eye for his periodic self-important hipster sulking and how guilty she feels over not being kinder to him, how much she wishes she'd gone for the nice straightforward talent development position Sabina had offered to put her up for, back in '99, instead of submitting herself to the control of a bunch of invisible white guys.

"You don't mean that," Cisely tells her.

"I do and I don't," she says. "I was right to turn the interview at the Ballet Nacional down then. But I wish I had the option now."

"Don't you?"

She shakes her head, even though Cisely can't see her. "Been out of it too long. I don't have the network any more, and you can't build it coming in from the outside, you have to be at the barre to make that happen. Dancers —"

"Are a clannish bunch, yeah," Cisely finishes for her, and hums. It's the same sound she used to make, hunched over her biology homework. "You realize we had this conversation a month ago, right?"

"Last time my blood sugar was in the — what's the opposite of stratosphere? This time, I have been eating just fine, and I'm caught up on sleep and everything. This isn't situational, Cisely, not unless the situation is my life."

"Yeah, okay. And then you were just generally despairing, this time you're, what, angry?"

"Not quite," Zoe says. "But that's the closest I can come. Like, the actual feeling is a soutenu en tournant but I keep using tours chaînes instead."

"Okay, whatever, I have no idea what that means. Don't explain it. And stop eating cookies, you're going to get a sugar hangover."

"Madagascar vanilla," Zoe says, letting herself be distracted for a moment. "It is like crack."

"Don't even joke about that," Cisely says, her voice sharp, slicing through whatever she's been thinking. "I had a drive-by victim come in the other day, sixteen-year-old kid, he went into shock and multiple organ failure before we could even get him prepped for the OR. Over enough coke for maybe one high."



"Well, now I feel like a fucking tool."

"Pain isn't relative," Cisely says, harshness softening. "Yours isn't diminished because some boy died a few thousand miles away and probably left a baby or two behind, or whatever horrific scenario. You're hurting."


"Fix it," Cisely says, and hangs up.

Her sister is kind of a bitch sometimes.

Zoe goes to brush the sugar off her teeth and drink two glasses of tap water, tasting vaguely toothpastey, so she can stave off the worst of the sugar hangover; the most annoying thing about her sister being a bitch, and far more bossy than her baby sister ought to be, is that she tends to be right.

When she comes back, there is a text message waiting for her, and she ignores it. She puts the cookies away and wipes down her counters, channel-surfs for a few minutes, and boots her laptop out of sleep mode. She dicks around on etsy for a while, but she can't find anything she wants to add to her favorites list, not even a new scent of goat's-milk soap.

The text message reads: b the hero of yr own story.

That is so fucking helpful.

They're skipping the big Christmas family shindig this year, but Mama wouldn't let them get out of Epiphany if she were in a coma, so Zoe has to get her ass on a plane to the DR right after New Year's. She tried to convince her family to visit her for once, but it never works. Her mama should have been a lawyer.

Maybe teaching kindergarden is why she is the stubbornest person Zoe knows, though. And Zoe just came off three years working with Jim Cameron, who could crush rocks with his teeth if he wanted to badly enough.

She still thinks she would've won the argument if it had come down to Queens versus LA, but it is never New York versus California in her family. It's not that the DR always wins, it's just that it exerts a gravity of its own.

Zoe may be part of the grown-up generation now — it is so profoundly weird to walk in the house here and not get thwapped across the shins by her grandmother's cane — but she is not and never will be allowed in the kitchen while Mariel is alive. "You burn water," Mariel says, and actually shoves her outside. "Go hang decorations or something, I don't care, just don't come within breathing distance of my kitchen."

"You don't live here any more than I do!" Zoe shouts back, but it's not like she minds being sent away from the open flames. Seriously, open flames.

Cisely is sitting on the porch, her legs dangling. "So?" she says, sounding excited. "Did you get your head out of your ass yet?"

Zoe sticks her tongue out and kicks off her flip-flops, settling onto the railing next to her. "My gorgeous ass," she corrects.

"Okay, whatever, your gorgeous ass. Is your head out of it? Or do I have to yank?"

"That is possibly the grossest thing I've ever heard you say," she says, and raises a hand. "And no, that was not an invitation to tell me tales from the ER, were you raised by wolves?"

"Oh, bite your goddamn tongue," Cisely says, sticking her own out. Zoe narrows her eyes at her and licks a sloppy line over her cheek. "Ew, ew, ew!" Cisely shrieks, flailing around and almost falling off. "You are a twelve-year-old boy, I swear to god, how the fuck have you convinced all the white people out west that you are a nice girl?"

"Watch your fucking language!" Mariel yells from inside; Zoe can almost hear the sweat dropping onto the surface of the stove burners. "And get me some more olive oil!"

"You are not the boss of me," Zoe calls in, but she nods when Cisely holds up her wallet, and they head into town, knuckles brushing as they walk along. It hasn't rained in long enough that her feet feel dusty within a dozen steps, and she makes a face.

"So, who is the boss of you?" Cisely asks, suspiciously mildly; Zoe refuses to answer on the grounds that she has some semblance of a self-preservation instinct, but when they're coming back she says, "Me," under her breath. Cisely grins like she's a particularly pretty toddler who has just taken a single sock out of the dryer and declared HELPING in a tone more suited to winning wars.

She spends the next few days lying in the sun until her vision shimmers and then going inside to look at photographs of the spring collections, trying to pick her dresses for the next few events she has on her calendar; Cisely hangs over her shoulder and kibitzes. Thank goodness that they got DSL in here last year, because if she had to contend with dial-up while doing this, she might kill somebody. They don't talk about Zoe's career or what she's going to do about the recurring conversation they keep having.

Instead, Cisely tries to talk her into wearing the ugliest damn dresses Zoe has ever seen; while she will admit that she has a weakness for sequins, there is no excuse for some of these creations. Thankfully, Mariel ignores both of them and sticks to feeding everyone in a six-block radius. (She loves Mariel, but one of these days she needs to burn most of these clothes in her sister's closet, especially the ones that are cut all wrong for a woman who has no tits.) Cisely at least doesn't disgrace the Saldana name when it comes to jeans and cute tops, when she can be bothered to wear something other than scrubs, but she doesn't have any eye for what looks good in photographs. There are some pieces that could be decent if they weren't in such reflective fabrics, or patterned in ways that Zoe just knows will be wrong on her. "Come on," Cisely pleads. "It's a gorgeous color!"

"It has ribbons hanging of the shoulders," Zoe says flatly. "You could pull on one of them and the whole damn outfit would unravel like a ball of yarn."

"Tell me you don't care what the Fug Girls say," Cisely says as Zoe closes the tab, and she shakes her head. "Good, because I thought you were going to make sure you were the one having fun from now on," she says, and leaves it there, and even that gentle prodding makes Zoe's stomach tighten.

"Givenchy," she declares. "Let's look at what they've got, and then I'm giving Dilia Mieses a call."

"How very Jackie O. of you," Cisely says, and Zoe gapes at her. "What? Just because I don't give a shit about most fashion doesn't mean I don't know anything. Give me some credit."

"Visa or Mastercard?" Zoe murmurs as she starts poking through the runway shots. "God, was this designed at Studio 54?"

It's all black and jumpsuits; Cisely makes a retching noise. "Do you need Maalox?" Zoe demands. "I am working here, woman."

"Nah, let's finish this up," she says, and leans her cheek against Zoe's shoulder. She can feel the hardness of bone under the skin.

It's a good thing they stick with it. The next dress they see, both of them love, albeit for different reasons; Zoe loves it because it's so different from everything she's been rejecting, sculptural and architectural and dramatic, and she will not lie, she loves the sparkle and the way it looks like psychedelic ocean foam. It is like a tutu, only even more awesome. Cisely mostly loves it because Zoe cracks up the second she see it and because it doesn't take itself seriously. Over the next six weeks, all Zoe has to do, every time someone tries to get her to reconsider Miss Mam'zelle Greta von Lyxzen (she usually just calls it Greta, and lets people think it's for Garbo) for the Academy Awards, is remember that if she doesn't wear it, Cisely will expect her to explain why. Her makeup artist and hair stylist are scary, but they pale in comparison to her sister.

She gets a lot of practice in reminding people that she gets to make the final, call over those six weeks.

It gets exponentially less nerve-wracking every day.

She almost reconsiders in February, when she's in Milan for a few days, but she's not going to let them think that when she says no, she means, "no, unless you can persuade me." Just before she steps onto the red carpet at the Kodak and onto every worst-dressed list in the country, she reminds herself, "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." As long she wakes up human in the morning, she's doing pretty good.

She flirts with everyone she sees on the red carpet, not because she has to — not only is the voting over, but she wasn't even freakin' nominated — but because it makes her smile more real when she can watch "She's wearing what?" turn into flirting back. Yeah, that's right, Greta is one hell of a dress, but she is wearing the hell out of it, and conventional wisdom can bite her. Preferably gently up from her knee along the fragile skin of her inner thighs, but Zoe does like to think of herself as an open-minded woman, so if conventional wisdom has an alternative proposal, she's up for it.

She is also totally up for people telling her how awesome she looks. The various media scattered around try hard, but Chris makes the best face ever when he catches sight of her, and she forgives him because he pulls her tight against him, ignoring the dress in favor of her. That's really what she wants, to be here, to be present, never mind the clothing. His bow-tie is crooked, and she barely restrains herself from tidying him. "Hi," she whispers into his ear. "Oxygen, please?"

"Pussy," he says, but loosens his grip. "How's it hanging, Zoe?"

"I'm good," she says, and it's true. Chris looks half scared out of his mind; she pinches his ass and they come within a breath of getting into a slapfight right there. When he remembers where they are, the rod is out of his ass, and that's really all she wanted. Chris is generally miserable at press-heavy events, and tonight is no exception. He's not very good at hiding it.

He leans in and whispers, "Should I use the joy buzzer I brought on George Clooney or Ryan Seacrest?"

"Clooney, definitely," she whispers. "Wait, why are those the two choices?"

"Because Tom Cruise would put my head on a pike," he explains, as if to a very slow child. She nods. Of course.

"If you do it to Seacrest on camera, I will say nice things at your funeral," she offers, and Chris laughs. "It's a one-time offer, though." Everyone else is doing much the same thing as they are, greeting friends and acquaintances and pretending to have a great time in between saying the blandest, most inane things they can think of; when she and Chris have to split up, she brushes her index finger across the back of his hand. It's almost like a Vulcan kiss, if a few inches off, and Chris gives her a grateful look over his shoulder as he is towed away.

She works her way toward the theater, and she's pretty proud of herself for not tripping once. Heels have been a staple of her wardrobe for years, but she's not usually wearing them with a fucking train, much less whipping her head around as people call out her name. She's graceful, and she has damn good balance and reflexes, but she isn't Buffy. (Which is a good thing, really, there were many good things about that show but the wardrobe department was not one of them.)

"No, no, it was my performance, that's the amazing thing about all the work Jim put in, that's me," she tells Kathy Ireland, and smiles, trying not to look defensive; she did that work, she's telling the truth. She's telling the truth every time she says it; that they keep asking says more about them than her.

Inside, it is almost shockingly dark; she squints until her pupils dilate enough to see where the hell she's walking.

One day, she will understand why Sam is allowed to attend the Academy Awards with stubble and she has to wax everything off except her goddamn pubic hair, but that day is not this day. This day, she kisses the air near his cheek and kicks off her shoes as soon as she sits down. Her segment doesn't require her to be backstage until the third commercial break, and until then, she is pretty comfortable saying that the carpet in here is clean enough for her to pad to the ladies' and back in bare feet.

Carey Mulligan, whom she met yesterday, waves to her from across half a dozen rows; they didn't have much of a chance to talk during rehearsal, and probably won't get much more today, but maybe one of the after-parties will be chill enough for them to chat. She likes Carey, based on the little she's seen of her (even though she's known for a few weeks they'd be presenting together, she's never actually watched any of her performances). Zoe blows her a kiss, and Carey laughs, looking delighted and very, very sparkly. "She's so adorable," Siggy whispers next to her. "Looks like a doll."

"I just want to draw all over her face with markers," Zoe agrees, superficially solemn, and Siggy elbows her. Overhead, the woman on the PA is encouraging people to make their way to their seats, and Zoe really hopes that anyone trying to get into their row will come from the next aisle over. There is no way, no matter how she scootches, that this dress will let anyone squeeze past her.

There's ages yet before the opening sequence, so she and Siggy and Jim start betting on the winners of a few categories: animated, foreign-language, and adapted screenplay are the ones they get into the most animated discussions about. Anything where Avatar is actually nominated, they pretend doesn't exist, especially the directing category.

Or, at least, Zoe thought that was what they were doing; in the middle of Siggy explaining why In the Loop is a piece of modern-day genius, Jim bolts out of his seat. "Katie!" he calls, and a woman swings around and fixes him with a glare that should light him on fire. "Kathryn," he corrects himself, and she owes him and he's a brilliant man, but she would totally be on Kathryn's side if she decided to beat him to a pulp right here.

"Jim," she says, and holds out a hand. "How're you doing?"

As they chat, far more at ease than Zoe would have expected for exes, she can't help but stare a little. Siggy elbows her again. "She's way too old for you," she hisses, and Zoe elbows her right back.

"Shut up," she murmurs, and stands in a rush of decision. "Hi," she says, breaking in.

Up close, she can see Kathryn's crow's-feet and the loose skin on her arms. But she can also see a gleam of triumph in her eyes, and Zoe smiles right at that, hoping to get through. "Zoe, right?" Kathryn says. Her palm is warm and dry.

"Yeah, Zoe Saldana. Listen, while I am not taking sides," she glances at Jim, raising one palm self-protectively, "I really did love The Hurt Locker, I loved the way you shot the bombs going off, using the digital high-speed camera against the slow-motion shots for emphasis, the heartbeat rhythm of it, and one of these days I will figure out how you managed to get the color aberration of the blue-yellow shift not to be too distracting."

"You know your explosions," Kathryn says, a smile tugging at one corner of her mouth.

Zoe shrugs, more self-conscious than she really wants to admit. "I'm a sci-fi geek," she says. "My sisters and I played Star Wars all the time when we were kids, and when we couldn't think of what should happen next, we'd blow something up."

"Sound narrative choice," Kathryn says, and it is ridiculous how happy that makes her. "You picked a smart one, Jim, I hope she told you when you were being an idiot."

"Sure thing," Jim says, and grins at her. "Even better, when I was being an idiot, she'd come up with better ideas."

Kathryn raises both eyebrows; she might be one of the few women in this room over fifty, and almost certainly the only one over fifty who hasn't had her forehead Botoxed into oblivion. "So what you're saying is, I should be up against her for the Oscar, not you?"

She can see Jim getting ready to start bellowing and fuck the venue, and she can see suddenly why they divorced. "Give me a few years," she says, and grins, one of her wide-open Caribbean smiles she normally doesn't use in Los Angeles. Kathryn's gaze sharpens.

During the opening sequence, she and Siggy thumb-wrestle. They have to look rapt while the awards stuff happens, but when the cameras are on the stage, they can kick back a little more. Siggy catches her up on the exploits of her daughter, and then segues into the hijinx the characters in the novel she's reading are up to. Zoe just listens and watches the back of Kathryn Bigelow's head. She loses five dollars on the animated film winner — someone had to bet on The Princess and the Frog — but that means they're one award closer to the first commercial break, and she is running out of time. The big awards are back-loaded onto the schedule.

Everyone is going to swarm Kathryn, of course, but she is sitting close by; all the best picture and director nominees are seated in a clump, and her function here is basically to look pretty and reflect glory on Jim.

The problem is, other than the major dance sequences, there's no way to guarantee that the cameras aren't looking for reaction shots; this is really designed for TV more than the actual people attending. She takes the risk and perches on the arm of Jim's seat while a couple of absurdly young white girls are on stage and terrible music is playing — not as bad as the Motown that was playing earlier, though, and small mercies are worth being grateful for. Around them, the seat-fillers are shuffling in and out; Zoe ignores them as best she can.

Kathryn twists in her seat. "So, smart girl," she says, and wow, this is going to be easy, is everyone in here as restless as she is? "Have you learned to dive yet?"

Zoe smiles, slow, tooth by tooth. "I don't need to," she says. "He couldn't have made this fucking movie without me and he knows it." Most people, she wouldn't say that to; most people aren't up for a best picture Oscar against Jim after being married to him. Most people, she doesn't want to look at her the way she wants Kathryn to look at her.

"That so?"

"Yeah," Zoe says, and leans a little closer. "He was building a universe. I was embodying it. Different skills, and Jim is terrible at being someone else."

Kathryn chuckles, a choppy, almost barking sound. "One of his great virtues," she says, fondness scraping against irritation so long-standing it's calcified. "Jim is always, always Jim, no matter how politic it would be to dial down the Jimness of him."

She's not kidding. Jim has, in fact, wandered off to the bar in the lobby, because he doesn't give a shit about pretty much everything happening in here, and he would probably rather watch monkeys fucking a football, than talk to industry types. So Zoe can say, "Yeah. I swear, if I had a dollar for all the times I considered sabotaging his diving gear and taking over the shoot myself, I could produce the sequel to this thing myself."

Scuba sabotage isn't really funny, except that this is Jim Cameron they're talking about and the only way to survive him (and Zoe only had to deal with him for sixteen-hour days two years ago, and she got to have a nice Kiwi physical therapist bang on her trapezius muscles afterwards; she can't imagine having sex with him) is to fantasize about otherwise socially-unacceptable actions. He is an asshole.

"You sure about that?" Kathryn says. "Jim treats his producers worse than he treats his actors."

"Yeah, well," Zoe says. "Producing isn't really where I want to head next." Kathryn probably knows what's coming next, so Zoe goes for the maximum absurdity value, batting her lashes and shifting the register of her voice. "What I really want to do," she says as breathily as she can, given the constraints of the bodice, "is direct."

It looks as though it is causing Kathryn actual physical pain to suppress her laughter. It's a good thing that Zoe is an actor; she keeps the muscles of her face as still and relaxed as she can. They break for commercial again, and Zoe stands. "I'll let you handle your adoring public," she murmurs, still breathy. "I need to head backstage and collect the envelope for the short film category."

Kathryn doesn't even have time to quirk a brow before she has to deal with half a dozen men in penguin suits; Zoe waves jauntily anyway as she shoves through the crowd as best she can. Please god, there will be no visible footprints on the train; that would suck beyond the telling of it, and while she isn't in danger of hocking anything to pay rent, she probably can't afford to get this cleaned. It's not really the kind of thing she's going to leave to the corner dry-cleaners.

Backstage is fucking chaos, which is just the way it should be. Backstage chaos is a special kind of controlled environment. There are wardrobe crises, people smoking where they shouldn't be, and wow, where have all the lighting and sound crew gone? This is supposed to be their territory, but Ben Stiller is using up all the available oxygen.

She stares while they put the finishing touches on his makeup, and barely restrains herself from marching over there and yelling at them for using the wrong shade of blue, and the shadowing on his face is seven different kinds of fucked-up, and — deep breathing, yoga breathing, Lamaze breathing, she has ninety seconds of live television coming up, the important thing is not Ben freakin' Stiller. Who isn't going to be funny.

She got here just in time; they're first up after the break, and as they wait for their cue, she leans over to Carey. "Bet you one of us trips going down those fucking stairs," she whispers.

"Sucker bet," Carey whispers back, and one of the ASMs waves them onstage. She makes it down the stairs a little awkwardly — Jesus, who designed this set? Clearly someone who has never had to walk in heels and a long gown — but neither she nor Carey make fools out of themselves at the mic, and by the time she's made her way back to her seat, Stiller is long off the stage, she has a glass of one of the better Napa whites in her system, and she's just in time to blow kisses as Siggy hands Jim a little golden dude.

The next move is Kathryn's. If she's played her cards right. She worries the ruffles with her thumb, hoping she hasn't overplayed her hand, hoping she hasn't underplayed it.

Because she wasn't playing. She wants this; now that the words are out of her mouth, her palms are damp and she has to stop herself from scrubbing them dry on her skirt. What I really want to do is direct, she said, and she keeps repeating the words to herself. What I really want, she said, and she made it sound like a joke, and if Kathryn didn't take her seriously, she is going to have a hell of an uphill walk to fix it.

What I really want — every thud-ump of her heat is a repetition of it. What I really lub want dub is to lub direct, and she's waiting, now, for the valve to close.


She's not a very patient person.

She got bored in the line for patience when everyone was getting virtues, up in heaven. She wandered off and got a double dose of stubbornness instead.

By the time Kathryn is backstage, probably dearly tempted to hit people over the head with the six — six! — Oscars her movie has won, the hinge of her jaw is throbbing. She fakes excitement as best she can for the cameras on the way out, but everyone is interested in people carrying statues of neutered men, and she scrubs the makeup off her face as fast as she can when she gets back to her place, knocks the bobby pins out of her hair and onto the bathroom floor, and turns her phone off.

Kathryn won't call, Kathryn doesn't have her fucking phone number, and Zoe's not stupid, she knows this is the adrenaline crash but it still sucks, still hurts, she is beginning to be very curious about her future and it feels as though overhead, without any fuss, the stars are going out.

But Kathryn does call. Not that night, and not the next morning, not even the next afternoon; in the sky over Los Angeles, the sun is long gone when Kathryn calls.

"My ex-husband says you have a filthy mouth and the stamina of a Recon Marine, and I noticed you have an eye for color and motion. What else are you good at?"

It is a close call, but Zoe doesn't mention faking orgasms. She hasn't had much call to confirm that she's still good at that in the last few years. Instead, she says, "I make a hell of a margarita."



"I've always been partial to a good handmade Singapore sling," Kathryn says.

"I bet I could persuade you," Zoe tells her. "Got anything to do tonight?"

"I'm an Academy-Award-winning director," Kathryn says. "And this is Los Angeles."

"So come over, I'll get you drunk, and you can repeat that to yourself as many times as you need to until you believe it," Zoe suggests. "Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow. It has a ring to it, don't you think?"

"Yeah," Kathryn says, and Zoe can hear her inhale. "Yeah, okay."

Zesting the limes keeps her hands busy until Kathryn arrives; she usually likes muskier, spicier scents, but there's something clean about citrus, something straightforward, that's appealing tonight.

They talk about alcohol for a while, tequila brands, overly-chatty bartenders, how neither of them understand the appeal of beer, and then Kathryn drains her glass and sets it down. "Academy-Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow," she says, "is in demand now, you know."

"I can imagine," Zoe says, and takes a half-gram sip of her margarita . She's pretty pleased with how these came out, sweet and strong, and she pokes her tongue into the corner of her mouth to catch a stray grain of salt.

"What do you want?" Kathryn says, and Zoe puts her drink down. This is no time to be hiding, even behind something as clear as glass. (What happens when you take away the glass?)

She leans forward. She could make light of the moment again, soften it, give it an expected shape — what I really want to do is direct — but if she does, she won't get what she wants. Not the way she wants it. "I want to do what you do," she says. "I want to know what you know. I want to make things happen."

"Yeah?" Kathryn says.

"Yeah," Zoe says.


And that's it. It's that easy. Kathryn leaves not long after, and Zoe stares at the door behind her. In the morning, a courier comes to her apartment with a half-dozen flimsy paper boxes with Roman numerals on them. She almost starts with VI just to be contrary, but thinks better of it.

Box I holds a half-dozen sheets of non-disclosure agreements, which Zoe doesn't bother to read; it's what underneath that's interesting. 100 pages of goldenrod paper, Courier font, and halfway down the first page is the word ICARUS.

The current, third draft of Kathryn's next film. She doesn't read it yet, ripping open the next box eagerly.

It's full, to the brim, of post-its. Kathryn's handwriting is unexpectedly chicken-scratchy; she clearly writes with cheap Bics and writes until the ink runs dry and a few letters beyond. She must go through a hell of a lot of pens.

Somehow she thinks she needs context for these to make sense. Box III has several CD-ROMs in it, documentation for the programs on the CDs, and a single sheet of thick cream paper with Kathryn's chicken-scratch on it. She squints, and makes out you'll prob. want a laptop just to devote to this proj. — these are all cpu-intensive apps and the multiple iterations of schedules &the like are memory hogs. K.B.

Okay. She can afford a new laptop, easily enough; she's not computer-illiterate by any means, so the idea of learning a bunch of new applications on the fly doesn't make her want to pitch herself out a window. The sheer bulk of the material, though; that's a little startling. She hadn't even known Kathryn had a next project all lined up, much less started.

This is getting thrown in at the deep end feels like. She recognizes it. She better learn to swim, and fast.

She can do this. Well. She can help do this one. The next one, though? That's going to be all hers.

Until then, she needs to kick ass in every possible way. Ordering a new Mac takes all of ten minutes, and it's only that long because she dithers over getting the extra gig of memory right off the bat. She'll deal with the software stuff tomorrow. Right now? She's got a script to rip apart.

Annoyingly, she's only got one copy, so she can't physically attack it with scissors and highlighters.

But she can dance around her apartment when she hits the scene where Susan leaves coded messages for Richard in the trash (MBDPR IELYZ YHLZN XPASX ONCJU KC apparently translates to FUCKI NGINT ERAGE NCYRI VALRI ES, and she's pretty sure that's going to get cut even before they start shooting); these two are adorable, in that way where they are ruthless fuckers with god-complexes, and she's pretty sure that Kathryn can bring that, and their humanity, out, all at the same time.

"I guess this doesn't suck," she tells Kathryn's voicemail, later. "If someone's fool enough to give you money to make it, don't turn 'em down."

Translation: OMG, please can I help? Pretty please? Pretty please with a cherry on top?

Kathryn is apparently a night-owl; when Zoe gets up, there is a message waiting for her. "Glad to hear you want in," she says, voice buzzy at the edges; phone companies haven't really invested in decent sound reproduction, and they probably never will. "The lawyers need those NDAs back, and we've got casting videos to look at this week, I'll want a breakdown of possible locations ASAP, that's what the scouts sent over in the fifth box, if you couldn't figure out why I gave you snapshots of god's own bureaucracy, and I'm pushing Adam to get a final draft onto hard copy by the end of the month, so get any notes on my desk soon or we'll have to duck-and-weave on set, which I fucking hate doing, and how's Wednesday for lunch and introducing you to the people I keep around for their brains instead of their looks?" She draws a single breath. "Having fun yet?"

Zoe grins, makes herself a smoothie, heavy on the protein powder, and calls to say Wednesday's fine, before she sits down to take notes.

She plays Kathryn's message a few times over throughout the morning, trying to figure out what Kathryn wants from her specifically and what's just general information; one thing she needs to find out at lunch, and if she has to, she will ask flat-out, is what the hell position she's going to be playing in this production. It's obvious from a cursory glance at the cast breakdown that she can't play any of the roles except, like, bit parts, so being That Actor Who's Always Hanging Out With the Rushes isn't even an option, not that she would want to be that girl.

But Kathryn's already got a team; she's been doing this for near on twenty years, and you don't break up a production team just because a pretty girl with no credentials whatsoever says she wants in. Not when you're just coming off a damn Oscar.

Of course, you generally don't win an Oscar for a war movie without any stars and a female director, either, so maybe the word "should" really isn't in Kathryn's vocabulary.

She brings a legal pad full of notes — her handwriting is far more legible than anything on those post-it notes, thank you very much — to lunch at Kathryn's. The house is all one level, open plan, pale Swedish blond wood furniture and Middle Eastern carpets and colors. There's no pool, and the only door that's shut is the one to the bathroom; Kathryn's bedroom looks like a college student's, albeit with a luxury futon and limited-edition poster prints on the walls.

"So," Kathryn says, and bites a Kalamata olive in half. "We just won Best Picture, I'm thinking it's time to have a little fun. Who's with me?"

"You thought shooting in a fucking sandstorm was fun," Barry, who was introduced to Zoe as the cinematographer, points out. "I am still picking sand out of my ass crack, so I'm laying down the rules right here, right now. No fucking sand. I want that in my goddamn contract."

"You can have it in your goddamn contract," Kathryn says. "But you can't eat all the baba ganoush, come on, share." Barry sighs, and shoves the takeout container toward the center of the table, where it's promptly set upon. The half-dozen people around the table here, which seats eight or ten at a squeeze, could really be kept around for their looks, or at least have been sent over from Central Casting from a sheet requesting "smart, but not intimidatingly so." "Rule number one, Zoe. Food is communal."

Zoe nods, and rips open her second pita, steam dampening the whorls of her fingertips. "I can live with that," she says.

"Rule number two," and everyone chimes in on this, "never make the same mistake twice!"

"Translation," someone named David says. "There's not going to be sand on this shoot because we already made that mistake. This time —"

"This time," Kathryn says grandly, "we're going to fuck up on a whole new scale."

"I'll drink to that," David says, and raises his bottle of beer.

They all do, and formalities over, begin peppering each other with questions, not bothering with concepts or theories, moving straight into the practicalities of the shoot. Either they've all been told beforehand why Zoe's there, and Zoe hasn't, or they don't care about spilling secrets.

If it's the latter, she's got to wonder what the hell the point of the NDAs was. Afterwards, when they've settled on preliminary palettes for the lighting, and gone through a double-dozen of the dialogue-heavy scenes, ripping out chunks wholesale, she asks, "So, who am I supposed to be for you guys?"

"Set decoration," someone suggests, and she's shocked at how fast how her eyes sting, how overwhelming the sensation is, like having someone reach straight into her gut, grab hold of all the organs nestled there, and twist.

"Fuck you," she spits out.

"The next person who says that," Kathryn says, a moment later, her voice deadly quiet, "is simultaneously volunteering to take notes at the rest of my script meetings with Jim. We clear?" She uses every inch of her almost six feet as she glares around, even seated, and Zoe tries not to sniffle, tries not to break the moment. "Zoe's here because she's in charge of the second unit, because I want her here."

Holy shit, in charge of the second unit?

She tries very hard not to look as startled by the news as she is, but she figures it's okay to be startled by the whoops that greet Kathryn's statement. "All right!" she hears. Someone claps her on the shoulder, and she's nearly lifted off the ground by someone else hugging her from behind. "Fuckin' A."

"Second unit last time around was a hothouse of misery," Kathryn says when the cheering dies down. "So you've got very low standards to surpass."

"I can do that," Zoe says, and stacks her vertebrae on top of each other, cervical spine, thoracic spine, pelvic spine, all balanced exquisitely. Her fingertips are sparkling, and not from her nail polish, from the desire to get to a notebook, a computer, and start doing this. She can do more than surpass very low standards, she can leap right the fuck over them and pour effort into the empty space below her and make things happen. Yeah.

She isn't afraid of hard work, and by the time they're six weeks into pre-production taking up eight to fourteen hours a day, she's pretty sure she's already got most of the guys at that lunch on her side. She makes sure to get out of the house occasionally, though; she won't be any good to Kathryn or her crew — her crew! She gets a crew of her very own! — if she burns out in the first six months of pre-production. Before Zach leaves for New York, they have a farewell dinner.

She meets him at the bar of the Chateau Marmot, where he's already got a glass of white wine waiting for her, and is halfway done with his own G&T. "You want to get appetizers here?" he asks before ordering a second round. She shakes her head; she's been here often enough over the past few years that the menu is familiar, and she hasn't entirely recovered from having what felt like the world staring at her all last summer. "Cool, I'll just circulate for a few minutes while you put a dent in that, and we'll go somewhere quieter so we can actually talk."

"Ethopian?" she says, and he makes a vaguely pained face. "God, you are such a white boy, I can't believe it. Fine, whatever, you're the one who's going to be stuck on a plane tomorrow, you choose."

"Thai," Zach says promptly. She should have known, and really, it's her own fault for not laying down limits. Zach could hardly know how much takeout she's been eating over the past couple of weeks, ever since the Oscars, ever since awards season ended and she could stop fretting over the lack of forgiveness in really high-quality satin.

"Thai," she agrees, suppressing a sigh, and waves him off to do the networking thing. He's going to be away for months, and Heroes is dead in the water; being nice to people might not get him gigs, but it certainly can't hurt. Just because it's never been effective for her doesn't mean she should begrudge Zach the time to do it.

She drinks her wine and draws patterns in the moisture on the glass, sketching rough storyboards, made up of stick figures, of where she's going to shoot Susan's body standing outlined against the explosion of the FBI building. They haven't even started on casting yet, but she intends to argue for someone who looks good and not breakable in silhouette. Apparently Adam, whom she still hasn't met, and who hasn't sent around a fresh draft, subscribes to the "if you can't think of something to do, blow shit up" theory of writing.

Zach does his thing with the rest of the overpaid clientele in the bar, pays for their drinks, and escorts her into his car. She lets him be in charge, mind picking over the intricacies of the cameras she spent the day studying; she's not responsible for making them click and whir, mechanical and magical all at once, but she feels like she should be able to understand the camera ops when they talk and bitch and coax their instruments to sing.

By the time they're seated at Bangkok Temple, he's run through his store of gossip and mildly salacious anecdotes about his recent sexcapades (the internet has a lot of things wrong, but it really does get this right: Zach is a total fucking slut, and not embarrassed about it in the slightest), and she probably should have paid a lot more attention to what he was telling her about Margin Calland Angels in America, but life's full of regrets, and that's not one that's going to haunt her, most likely. "Mmmmm, bird chiles," Zach hums as they open their menus. "What's up with you? You're awfully quiet tonight."

She twitches one shoulder, trying to play it cool. They should probably order first, even have the plates in front of them, so they won't be interrupted, but she cannot contain herself one more second. The news has been growing inside her with every inhalation, and bird chiles are nothing compared to that gleeful burn. "I'm working with Kathryn Bigelow," she starts, and Zach grins.

"I hadn't even heard she had a new project! That's fucking awesome, Zoe, congratulations."

"Thanks," she says automatically.

"What's the part?"

This is how all these conversations will go, probably; it's a sort of wearying prospect, but there you have it. She hasn't even directed music videos or commercials, of course everyone is going to assume Kathryn's the one directing her. "I'm running the second unit of her next film," she says, tilting her answer to face the question he didn't know to ask.

Zach just looks confused. "What the fuck are you talking about?" he says, shaking his head so his hair flops into his eyes. She kind of wants to hit him. It is not that complicated. He knows perfectly well what a second unit is, the word "running" is not unfamiliar to him, and if he decides to play stupid with something this important to her, she may have to break his face.

"Me, directing, second unit, Kathryn Bigelow," she snaps, and shuts her menu. It is not a night to experiment with crab-and-grapefruit spring rolls (which would probably work better in a Vietnamese place as summer rolls, one part of her mind notes absently; that's exactly the kind of thing that throws you out of a scene) or peanut dumplings. She's going to stick with a nice straightforward tom kha soup and crispy noodles, the kind of thing that holds no surprises.

He blinks, and carefully puts his menu down. "Not acting?"

"No," she says. "Directing."

"Since when do you want to do that?"

She can be fair. This wasn't what he was expecting, and Zach does not cope well with surprises, she knows this. She can be fair. So she manages to say, "Well, I do. I want to be in charge, I want to make things and be responsible for them from start to finish," even while she wants to drop him down a well and ignore Lassie 'till kingdom come.

He nods, slowly, as if he's looking over her shoulder for convenient people with butterfly nets. "Yeah, okay. So you're excited?"

"I am," Zoe says. "Excited" isn't really enough to contain the hodgepodge of emotions she's been feeling ever since she committed to Icarus — terrified, fascinated, delighted, intimidated, hopeful, suspicious, elated — but it will have to do for now. And seriously, does Zach think she wouldn't be thrilled beyond words to work with the first female director to win an Academy Award in whatever capacity she could get? How hard is that to empathize with? "I really am."

"Congratulations," Zach repeats, and he manages to meet her eyes, and smile. It's a good thing he doesn't do comedy, because when he fakes laughter, he looks like he's having a seizure; he's not much better with smiles.

Life would be so much simpler without relationships. One of these days, she should really look into uploading herself to the Matrix, see if that's an option for getting out of horrible, awkward, emotional conversations.

"So what are you — doing, what's your job with this?" Zach asks, and holds up a hand when she starts to answer. "But — ah, after we order. Mmmm, lemongrass, never not delicious and appropriate."

"Like blowjobs?" she jokes.

"Well, I don't know about delicious," he says, mock-seriously. "But there's certainly no moment at which a blowjob is not appropriate and much appreciated."

One day, she will upload herself to the Matrix and not have to worry about horrifying waiters. But that day is probably very far in the future. She's just glad she doesn't blush visibly; Zach has the embarrassment quota of a Dalek and smiles happily at the poor kid waiting to take their order. Who, on second glance, is a little charmed by him, and boys are such a mystery, as much as they were when she was twelve and seventeen and twenty-six, they never start making sense.

It hasn't been long enough for her to have all that much to say that isn't covered by the NDAs, and she's nowhere near sick of the people she's working with or the text she's working on, so she can't bring herself to be brutal and funny, the way Zach's used to. So she talks about how much she's learning, the things Kathryn does that Zoe wouldn't (like keeping all her notes on post-its), the things Kathryn's doing that Zoe never would have thought of but are strokes of genius (like having most of the preproduction meetings take place over food so people are relaxed and less defensive and territorial). She talks about how much she loves watching the rest of the crew work, bring the fierce weight of their knowledge to bear on the paper of the script, and how the script can take that pressure.

"So, wait," Zach says eventually, brows drawing together. "When is all this happening? You've got a finished script already, right?"

"Well, finished," Zoe says, making air-quotes with her fingers and laying heavy emphasis on the first syllable. "Finished enough that we can show it to the money and not-finished enough that they can have influence on minor things and feel useful and interfering."

Zach chuckles. "Hey, careful there," he reminds her. "I'm the money sometimes and my script notes are totally useful and artistic."

She raises her hands. "Whatever you say, sweetheart," she says. "We haven't really started casting yet, but I'm hoping that won't be too painful a process, since there's a prestige value to Kathryn now, so we shouldn't have to beg people to send in tapes."

"So, what, three months for that?" Zach guesses. His eyes are half-closed, as if he's trying to look at a calendar tattooed on the insides of his eyelids. "That takes you into, what, July-August-ish territory, assuming no cock-ups."

"A little later," Zoe corrects him. "I have publicity for Death at a Funeral and Losers coming up, which pushes back the stuff I can be involved in face-to-face. We won't get started on casting seriously until June at the earliest."

"September then," Zach says. "Do you know something I don't about theTreksequel? I heard we were starting shooting in December, which would put us in rehearsals right around October, earlier for fight training."

She raises an eyebrow. "Have you seen a script for that?" she asks, unnecessarily. "We haven't even had a table read. The only way we're going to be on set for that in this calendar year is if someone at Paramount has a really bad divorce and needs alimony money from the box office."

"Point," Zach admits. "But still, they're not going to let Bob and Alex get away with fucking around for much longer. Even if we don't start shooting until late next year, they will get their 2012 release if they have to work us into the ground for it."

"Scheduling Trek isn't my problem," Zoe says, and tries to shrug, as if it really isn't. "I haven't heard anything about much action stuff for me, and I'm coming off Losers and Avatar, so I'm pretty much good to go with fight scenes anyway. If they deign to let me do anything that fun."

She spent a lot of time in early 2008 bitching about how much time she was going to spend sitting still on-camera. It didn't get her any new scenes that got her blood pumping, but maybe it made an impression; there was a writer's strike looming or on the whole time, and of course, the female lead wasn't a rewriting priority when they were under that kind of time pressure.

Apparently she put on her optimism underwear this morning.

"Even so," Zach says. "Zoe, don't think I'm trying to rain on your parade or anything, but have you thought about this? Second-unit is a twelve-to-eighteen-month commitment. When do you have twelve to eighteen months you can block out? If casting goes smoothly for this — what's it called again?"

"Icarus," she says.

"Right, sorry, okay. Assume you don't have to panic and go hunting for leads, you cast by September thirtieth, mininum six weeks for contract negotiations if you get anyone with a persnickety agent or lawyer, which is fucking everyone who could be above the title, and oh look it's already mid-November and you're due on the Paramount lot January third for Trek. You can't shoot a second unit in the four weeks you'll have before Christmas and New Year's."

She's saved from having to submit a counter-argument immediately by the flourishing presentation of her soup and Zach's mango salad. She gets fresh water in her glass, Zach asks for another beer, and they're left alone again. She hurriedly puts a spoonful of tom kha in her mouth, fuck fuck hot ow, her vocal cords have seized up from the chile oil, ow, and she coughs and drinks water and wipes her eyes on the paper napkin. Fucking goddamn ow, mucuous membranes are such fragile delicate flowers, fuck.

"You okay?" Zach says, pushing his untouched water glass toward her. She nods, and slips another ice cube into her mouth. She's going to sound like someone punched her in the throat when she tries to talk, and won't that be impressive and convincing.

Splutter hack wheeze, okay, the burn has died down enough that she can stop making such a fool of herself. Ow. "Ow," she tries, cautiously, and it's not quite as Mickey-Mouse as she feared. "Remind me to let this stuff cool more next time." She blows on the next spoonful, and Zach takes a bite of his salad. There's still a tingle as she swallows, but it's bearable, almost pleasant. That is, after all, why she ordered the stuff. And she didn't sign the contract to direct Icarus's second unit because she thought it was going to be easy, either.

Zach is watching her, and she doesn't have to answer him. But she will.

"It's cute the way you think it's going to go that simply," she tells him. "I said we weren't starting casting talks until June at the earliest. There's a producing crisis every week, it seems like, thank you Wall Street for fucking over every single industry in the country, and one of these days it'll pan out to us losing a third of the already-pitiful budget we're working with, and you know how hard it is to get money for something that breaks formula, which this does in several ways. When that happens, we'll stop, Kathryn, Peter, and I will take up residence at the corner of Beverly and La Brea with the discards from my closet and Peter's guitar, and try to raise ourselves enough money for a craft services table."

He laughs a little, but he's still watching her, seriously, irises such a dark brown they're almost indistinguishable from his pupils.

"Don't knock busking," she says. "I used to sneak out from the academia on weekends and dance on street corners, made enough for ice creams and sodas when I got liberty passes. Anyway, yeah, pre-production I can neglect and back-burner for long enough to shoot Trek, and there's no way Icarus is going on location before that. The Avatar sequel is even further off, and those are the only two commitments I've got, other than this." She shrugs. "It's not a perfect solution, I'll grant you that, but I'm not an idiot, I talked with Peter — I mentioned him, right? The first AD — who's in charge of scheduling, and he didn't shoot me through the heart and throw my body into the surf at Hermosa Beach, so I think I'm okay."

"Hunh," Zach says, and dabs his fork at the last scraps of mango. The expression on his face is indecipherable.

She's almost out of breath, and swallows some soup. Now it's unpleasantly cool, so she pushes the bowl a little further away and crosses her arms on the table. "Do I pass muster, Maestro?" she says, gentling the mockery in her voice as much as she can bear to.

"It wasn't a test," Zach says, and smiles absently at the waiter who comes to take their appetizers away. His mind is still clearly chewing on everything she blurted out, but the waiter can't tell, and leaves blushing furiously. "Those are really the only things you have coming up?" he says, a moment later.

"Yeah. I mean, there were other parts I was up for, but..." Her mouth is full of saliva, so she swallows twice, and then says, "I want this more than I wanted them. They can recast, but I may never find anyone else willing to gamble on me this much. So. If there were a perfect part, yeah, I might go after it, but I never — acting wasn't the plan. Giving it up isn't all that wrenching."

"Every time," Zach says, leaning back in his chair. "Every time I think I know you, you startle me. I'm not sure if it's a good thing."

"Man the fuck up," she says, as brightly as she can, and smiles; trust Zach to make this about him.

The rest of the evening, they spend talking about the Prop 8 case and the landscaping Zach's doing on his back yard. When he drives her home, he walks her to the door of her building and kisses her cheek; she doesn't invite him in for coffee, even though he's got a parking spot that's fine for half an hour. "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help with Icarus," he says, as he turns to go, and she nods. She won't.

She doesn't turn the lights on when she unlocks her door, just stands in the middle of her living with her arms stretched wide and tries to feel the air on her face, her palms. She presses the old calluses on her toes against the floor through the thin soles of her flats, lifts her kneecaps and lets them drop, breathes from her diaphragm for as long as she can bear it. The she hisses breath out through her teeth and strips naked, dropping her clothes on the floor where she stands.

It's not much better, but it is enough better that she can feel it. The light coming through the windows from the street below is a bleached pumpkin color. She stands there until she's cold, until she feels a little silly.

But she still doesn't sleep well.

It's no surprise that she wakes to Chris calling her; she's only surprised that either Zach waited until morning to tell him or Chris restrained himself from calling last night. But Chris doesn't sound as though Zach has been editorializing, so maybe the news came to him via text, or maybe, just maybe, it's a total coincidence.

And maybe a few more tractors would restrict life to the garden philosophers keep talking about. She figures it's about as likely.

"Yo," Chris says. He's not a morning person, but he apparently mainlined enough caffeine today that he can fake it tolerably. Chris is her golden boy, sunshine skin wrapped around blue-sky eyes, and it's warming even over the phone; she smiles even though he can't see her, even though he's probably only calling because Zach hinted he should. It's nice to get that sunshine on this overcast morning.

"What up," she says, hitting the final syllable as hard as she can.

"The contents of Beau's stomach," he says, and he doesn't sound all that chipper about it. She blinks.

"Uh, what?"

She has let it be known that she disapproves of the on-and-off thing Chris and Beau have had for the past few years; "either dump her or marry her," she told him the first time he mentioned how often they've broken up and gotten back together since their teens. "Next to being married, a girl likes to get her heart broken every now and then." Chris took that pretty badly, and she can understand why, a little; any fool could see he's not ready for marriage, and she can see the appeal of the inertia in dating and not-dating the same person, the same faults, the same quirks. Beau took it worse; apparently Zoe personally set feminism back thirty years.

Chris has since had the common sense — or at least enough desire to retain his limbs in their current configuration — to keep the two of them apart.

"I took her out for dinner last night," he says, and now she can hear tension gripping his vocal cords. "And first we had an argument over the tiramisu, and then she started throwing up on the way home. Apparently the salad was covered in pesticides, or something, because she's feeling pretty shitty."

Zoe wouldn't wish food poisoning on anyone. "I'm sorry," she says, meaning it. "You're taking care of her? Gatorade so she stays hydrated and everything?"

"No," he says grimly. "She was still mostly okay when I dropped her off at her place, and she told me not to come in. She keeps texting me profanity in between vomiting sessions, but she won't pick up when I call. I let her sister know, but other than that, I'm kind of at a loss."

"Yeah, you're fucked coming and going," Zoe says.

"No kidding. And I'm supposed to spend the weekend out of town, too. She was going to come with, but even if she were speaking to me, somehow I don't think she'd want to drive up to the Berkeley campus."

There's something to be said for subtlety. There's also something charming about Chris's straightforwardness — yep, there it is: "Want to come?"

"I've got a lot of work," she says. It's true; her to-do list stretches to two pages, and she's conscious afresh of how tight her calendar is going to be for the next two years if she doesn't propitiate the scheduling gods . She's got the time now, so she should get everything done that she can. "Why are you going to Berkeley?" she asks, despite her better sense.

On the other end of the city, Chris rolls his neck; she can hear the small bones pop and crackle in their sockets. "It's admitted students weekend," he says. "I'm on a panel about my experience on campus."

She snorts, she can't help it. "Are you scared of the ickle firsties, sweetie?"

"You're hilarious," Chris says. "No, I agreed to go because the spaceflight club is launching a couple of rockets into the upper atmosphere, and apparently they're — I don't remember the details, but I have four words for you: teddy bears in space."

"What," Zoe says.

Chris is pacing as he talks, stepping over the stacks of DVDs he keeps everywhere. If she had to guess, he's in the front hallway of his place, where most of the piles are Eastern European superficially impressive art-house pieces. "Seriously! Listen, here, the launch of Nova 9 is in collaboration with Parkside Elementary School. Students in the fourth and fifth grade science classes have designed insulating space suits for six teddy bears, and will be responsible for reporting on the results from the flight, which is planned to reach thirty kilometers above the Earth's surface.

Zoe has been laughing steadily since the words "insulating space suits for six teddy bears," and she doesn't bother trying to contain herself. "Okay, I'm in," she says. Fuck the work, she can bring the new laptop and some of the folders full of papers, Chris is right, teddy bears in space is enough reason to ditch her plans for the next few days.

"Excellent," Chris says, sounding better already. "They're expecting me to bring a plus-one anyway, and you'll have way more fun than Beau would anyway."

"Do me a favor," Zoe says, and Chris hums inquisitively. "Make that the last time you compare me to her, ever."

"I wish you two liked each other better," he says, a little wistfully. "But okay."

"Your sister thinks I'm awesome, so you get — hey, why aren't you inviting her?"

"Katie has Saturday clients," he reminds her; it's some kind of rule in his family that the women dabble in acting briefly and then become useful members of society, psychologists or therapists or whatever. One of these days, she really should introduce Katie to Cisely, they'd have an infinite amount to talk about. "I'm supposed to be there for some dinner at the President's house by seven."

"Oh, god, do I have to come?" Teddy bears in teeny little spacesuits are not enough to talk her into that.

"Nah," Chris says. "I'll just explain my guest isn't feeling well, you can eat bonbons and watch TV, or whatever."

"Okay," she says, and by noon, she's throwing a duffel into the trunk of Chris's car in the sun outside — the cloud cover broke while she was packing — and popping his iPod out of the stereo system. "No, we are not listening to Glenn Gould playing Bach for the next six hours. I refuse."

"Fine," Chris sulks, and if he had a stick shift, he would grind the gears to show displeasure. But his Prius just rumbles smoothly as he pulls out, and Zoe scrolls to the string quartet covers of Gershwin as a compromise.

They're quiet until they've threaded their way onto the 5, and Chris glances over at her. "You mind if we stay on the freeway until Castro Valley? It's a little boring, but a lot faster than any other route."

"Yeah, it's fine," she says, and tilts her seat back. "I'm probably going to fall asleep anyway, you know how moving vehicles I'm not in control of affect me."

Chris nods; her ability to nap in the little golf-carts they had to use to get around the Trek set was the subject of much envy from the rest of the principal cast. When her eyes are shut, gold and red patterns dancing behind her lids, he says, "I'm glad you came." She makes a vague noise intended to convey that she's already dozing, that she may-or-may-not remember whatever he says when they park at the other end of the highway. A few minutes later, he turns the music down and says, "Beau's going to be pissed, but I don't really care. I love her, I have for years, but I like you."

Zoe's not surprised. While she won't deny that the thought of pushing Beau out of Chris' life appeals, that wasn't the reason she said okay. She likes Chris, is fond of him, is glad they'll be working together again. She enjoys him in a way she doesn't generally enjoy actors.

She drops off for real not long after that, and if Chris says anything revealing, she doesn't hear it. The steady hiss of the tires is the most soothing lullaby imaginable.

She wakes up only because Chris has pulled over at a trucker's stop. "Had to reassure myself about my tool of patriarchal oppression," he says when he climbs back in the car. She rolls her eyes, and pulls the seat upright as they merge back onto the freeway.

"Porgy and Bess?" Chris suggests. "In keeping with the Gershwin theme." Zoe scrolls through the "opera" category, and sure enough, there's not only Porgy and Bess but also John Adams' Doctor Atomic and Tony Davis' X. Chris has not-unexpected depths.

When the overture is over, they've got another four hours of driving ahead of them. "I can take the wheel for a while," she offers.

Chris shakes his head. "In a while," he says. "I'm in the groove."

"Okay," Zoe says, and twists in her seat to get her messenger bag out of the back. Outside, the land is well on its way toward "lunar." She hasn't spent much time in northern California, a few weekend trips to vineyards, that's all.

"What've you got?" Chris asks, changing lanes for no good reason. Zoe shrugs. Either Chris is a lot more patient and understated than she has ever given him credit for, or he hasn't talked to Zach in the past eighteen hours, and she's not sure which is more likely. "Scripts?" he guesses. "Anything good? Anything with a part for a dashing young man?"

Actually, Chris might be good for the part of the officious, ambitious bureaucrat, but she doesn't say that. She'll mention it to Kathryn and Mark, the casting director, on Monday. "No, not scripts," she says, and lets the muscles of her throat work on air for a moment. "I've actually turned down all the scripts I've gotten in the past six months or so."

"Picky is good," Chris says mildly, and Todd Duncan's bass vibrates in the tiny bones of her hands and feet. "Means at least you get harassed because you worked hard on material you're proud of."

She glances up from the charts she's been working on. "How was the Unstoppable shoot?" she asks, and Chris smiles, flexing his buccinator muscles enough that she can see his incisors.

"It was a privilege to work with Mr. Washington," he says, and if they hadn't done shots together with a slew of YouTube videos from the Trek press tour, she wouldn't know what's in his voice. "He's a true professional," Chris continues, and yep, she recognizes that tone, the things Chris says so he doesn't say other things. "I learned more than I can say just watching his approach."

"Sucked that much?" she says, not unsympathetically.

"More," Chris says. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Okay." She turns back to her work, humming vaguely along with the jazzy melodic line. Pre-production work is like trying to put together a Lego design, in the dark, with bricks made out of play-doh instead of molded plastic. It takes all of her concentration to balance the precarious intersections, and she startles when Chris says, "So what have you got, if you've been so picky for the last few months?"

She looks at him, his profile, the clean line of shadow from the sunvisor across his face, and says, "I'm directing the second unit for Kathryn Bigelow's next project."

The California freeway is a straight line across the landscape, so Chris can take his eyes off the road for a full five seconds. He doesn't say anything. Her palms are sweating.

"Yeah?" he says. She can't read his expression.

"Yeah." She draws a breath, and the 68-degree air hurts as it hits her lungs.

"You're going to be amazing," he says. Relief breaks over her so powerfully that sweat prickles between her breasts and in the small of her back. It should sound casual, automatic, empty; it doesn't. "I hope you'll let me watch."

"I'll make sure to invite you to the premiere," she says, prickles stabbing and deflating the softness rising in her chest.

"Watch you," Chris says, and flicks off the autopilot as they approach a rest stop. There's a McDonald's and a White Castle and a California Tourist Board shop, and she suddenly has to pee really, really badly. She crosses her legs and tightens every muscle behind her abdominal wall; she almost misses what Chris says next. In fact, it's not until she's washing her hands in lukewarm water that she processes it: "I'm proud of you. I'm glad you're in my life."

But it would be unendurably uncomfortable to bring up when she goes back out, and Chris is sitting in the passenger seat, legs stretched out on the asphalt, with half a cheeseburger down his gullet, a McDonald's frappucino and vending-machine granola bars on the dashboard for her. "My turn?" she asks, and he nods, making squashed sounds through his mouthful of plasticky beef and cheese. "God, you're disgusting," she says, and drinks deep from the frap.

When they're back on the road, heading almost due north at seventy miles an hour, according to the displays in front of her, Chris asks, "So what were you working on?"

She keeps her eyes front, but explains how one of the sequences that she's primarily responsible for is going to involve a lot of steadicam work in an awkward exterior location, with a lot of hills, and she's trying to work out how to cross-cut the shots she needs without tripping over herself. "Obviously I have to run it all past Kathryn when I finish, since it's her show, but I want to get it right," she says.

"Well, yeah," Chris says. "You've got high standards for yourself. I've seen you work before, I've seen you prep." He's utterly serious, not looking at her, not trying to gauge her response, and she glances down at her hands, placed at two and ten on the wheel. She's glad her blush isn't visible.

"Let's stop talking about me," she proposes. "Half of why I want to do this is for just that reason."

Chris huffs air through his nose. "Maybe I should do the same," he says, and oh shit Chris is getting some kind of noble harebrained idea about his career.

So she distracts him by singing along with the last track of the CD; Zoe has many virtues and many talents, but singing is not among them. She can barely stay in one key, much less hit all the notes, and Chris actually has a good baritone voice and can carry a tune in a bucket with holes. He starts squirming in his seat, pressing his palms to his ears, and she grins and sings louder.

"If you're going to sing, don't desecrate good music," he says eventually when the track is over. "We might be close enough to Berkeley to pick up KALX, and they play a mix of stuff, some of which is terrible, and some of which is better than it has any right to be, or I can try to build a playlist we can both live with."

She nods, and asks, "When do I turn off the freeway?"

"Pull over when you see the signs for the Tracy exit and we'll switch, there are some shortcuts I know once we're closer," he says, clicking through the static of the radio stations. She doesn't try to make him stop on any of the Spanish news she catches fragments of, but he does anyway.

There's nothing specific she can point to, no exact muscles which have loosened, but the closer they get to the Berkeley campus, the more relaxed Chris is next to her. He's not a high-strung guy normally, but he's no stoned pothead, either, and this approaches mellow. She's never thought of Chris as mellow before, California born and bred though he may be.

Once they're installed in the guest suite that the university is providing for them — it's her fucking tax dollars at work, and Zoe firmly does not feel weird and guilty about showing up and getting a nice place to stay, no questions asked — Chris installs himself in the shower. Zoe leaves him to whatever grooming routine blond stubble and a longish crew cut demand, pops her earbuds in, and gets back to work. Final Draft is such a fucking diva.

Maybe a break in routine is exactly what she needs; she barely notices when Chris dresses in a conservative steel-grey suit and struggles with his tie, she's so absorbed in the first flashback sequence.

But the desk chair isn't meant to be occupied by human-shaped people for any length of time, and typing cross-legged in on the bed makes her feet fall asleep. She tries stretching out on the bedspread, but gets a crick in her neck, and okay, okay, all right, she gets it, it's been a long day, enough work for now.

The steam is mostly gone from the bathroom when she steps in to wash her face; there are a couple of hours of daylight left, and she's a little cramped from the hours in the car. Berkeley's campus tries hard to look more dignified than the people it contains, judging by the graduates she knows, and she wouldn't be surprised if the landscaping were aping Central Park with a little added Mission architecture. If they are, well done them — always steal from the best.

That's not a bad thought, actually — one of the things she and Kathryn and Barry have been struggling with is the visual language to evoke for Icarus. Kathryn's very clear that she's not interested in re-shooting Hurt Locker again, so anything that draws on cinéma vérité is out. But Zoe would be willing to bet large sums of money, and possible public humiliation, that they can get the digital cameras to work like the Technicolor, super-saturated style of studio films from the 1950's, and make the political landscape of Washington, D.C., into a sort of hallucinatory experience. It just might work.

She was dumb enough to come outside without her moleskine, so she scrawls TECHNICOLOR on the flesh at the base of her thumb, which should be enough to remind her of the thought when she's done wandering. When she figures out where she is and how to get back to the guest rooms that she and Chris are staying in.

...She's going to have to text Chris and demand he fetch her. She has no idea what the layout of this place is, and the only reason she's reasonably sure she's still on the campus itself is that all the buildings have names.

But it's still a gorgeous day, and the brick steps on Hilgard Hall are warm through her thinnest jeans as she sits and stares into space, enamored of this fresh idea. She can shoot action scenes that look like Busby Berkeley remixes, and the insert shots will jump off the screen if she can talk Kathryn and Barry into this. It will be amazing and unusual and it may set them back a while in terms of the work they've already done, but it won't cost them all that much and she suspects that they will jump at the chance to play with an approach this fun.

Possibly she is trying to convince herself, but she doesn't think she's too far off the mark. Nothing they've come up with so far has really satisfied Kathryn, the closest they've come is aping Fellini, and even that she had to be talked into.

Apparently daydreaming takes a lot of time, if you do it by watching a hypothetical movie, because Chris comes walking by, his hands in his pockets — ruining, completely ruining, the line of his suit — before she's dug her phone out of her pocket to get him to rescue her. "Hey," he says. "What're you doing here?"

"Got bored and wanted to stretch," she says, standing up so she doesn't get another crick in her neck looking up at him. "And while I was out, I got a really cool idea for Icarus and sat down to think it through."

"The kind of idea that becomes more real when you talk about it, or the kind that you need to kick around inside your head for a while?"

"I want to run it past Kathryn and the rest of the first unit crew, and then if they like it, I will talk your ear off," she says. Chris nods. She gets the sense he's a little disappointed, but he doesn't say anything, just nudges a pebble with the toe of his shoe and goes on walking. "How was dinner?" she asks.

"Eh. Overcooked vegan gluten-free food, and I pretended to be a responsible adult and only had one glass of wine. But the other people there were pretty interesting, so not a total loss." He tips his head back to watch a flock of birds wheel overhead.

"I'm glad," she says. "What time's your panel tomorrow?"

"Noon," Chris says, and catches her elbow to turn her to the right. "There's breakfast at eight in the student center if you want it, or I'm happy to buy you pancakes at the one good diner in the neighborhood. I'm supposed to be at the Hearst Theater by ten-thirty, but I should be done by noon, which is good, because even if people swarm me after, the rocket launch isn't until three."

She nods. That's a good chunk of time to sketch and email and maybe she'll call Cisely now that she's signed the contract with Kathryn's production company and turned down all the outstanding parts she had kicking around; she didn't bring earplugs to muffle her sister's shrieking, but the longer she puts it off, the harder it will be to do. "No contrary winds?" she says.

"They're doing it from the lee side of the athletic building," he says, pointing in the direction of what she assumes is the launch site.

"Cool," she says, and that's really all the conversation they have for the rest of the night; Chris is clearly not really watching the TV he turns on in the sort-of living room, but she doesn't want to know what is going through his mind. It's none of her business. She spends a quality hour typing up her Technicolor idea, and then she wastes ten minutes trying to scrub the Sharpie ink off her skin, before giving up and opening the book of Billy Wilder interviews she's been using as bedtime reading. It comes in handy bite-sized chunks, and there's always the chance of finding a nice photograph of Marilyn Monroe on the next page, since everyone asks about Some Like It Hot.

In the morning, the diner has blueberry syrup for her blueberry pancakes, and she gets a pot of crazy hippie blueberry tea to go with them; it's kind of disgusting, but that's not the point. She sends Chris off with a belly full of almost-burned bacon and a strawberry-wheatgrass smoothie, and takes out her phone as she heads for the student center, where (Chris says) she doesn't need an ID to get in, and where (Chris says) there is wireless.

Despite the fact that she and Chris lingered over breakfast and New York is five hours ahead of California, Cisely sounds groggy when she picks up. But she wakes up fast enough when Zoe tells her about Icarus. It takes Zoe a second to parse the excited spluttering on the other end — evidently Cisely really liked Hurt Locker and for the first time Zoe can remember, she actually wants to meet someone in the industry. Usually she just puts up with being polite to her big sister's colleagues and has fun messing with their heads by telling stories about the shenanigans ambulance crews get up to.

Zoe's okay with that, because (a) she works with a lot of assholes who could use some intimidating, and it is hilarious watching their expressions as her baby sister terrifies them, and (b) she kind of hates meeting Cisely's co-workers, especially the doctors, most of whom are arrogant fucks and think they're smarter than she is, which, just, no.

"So, okay, tell me everything," Cisely demands, when she's done explaining to Zoe how amazing Kathryn is. Zoe's pretty proud that she has not rolled her eyes audibly. She is fully aware of Kathryn's virtues and talents, thanks.

"I —" Zoe says, and stops. "I've got nothing to complain about," she says. She could, theoretically, bitch about Quickbooks or her dislike of the twenty-four-hour day when she has twenty-eight hours' worth of work to do, but that would be bitching for the sake of bitching. And while Zoe is not one to oppose a good healthy pointless whine, she really truly — realio trulio little pet dragon — has nothing worth complaining about. "As soon as I have to be in charge of the unit crew, you're going to have to remind me why I thought this was a good plan, but this is the good part," she says. "I'm having so much fun, Cisely, I can't even explain."

"You don't have to," Cisely says. "I haven't heard you sound like this, this good, in a long time. A really long time."

Zoe swallows. Her mouth still tastes a little like blueberry, sweet and acid and temporary. She hadn't been that unhappy, not for that long, but it's not a fight she really wants to have. Not today. Probably not ever. It's not important anymore. "Can we stop talking about me?" she asks, instead.

"A few more minutes," Cisely promises. "I still need to yell at you for dropping off the face of the goddamn planet for two months."

"Cisely," Zoe groans.

"You could have been dead in a ditch!" her sister shrieks; Zoe knows exactly the expression that's on her face, the one that is eerily like their grandmother at her most matriarchal. "I could have been dead in a ditch! With mud! And frogs! A ditch full of typhoid!"

"When are you in a twenty-mile radius of a ditch?" Zoe asks when Cisely pauses to inhale. "You live in Long Island City."

"And what do you call the East River?" Cisely asks right back. Zoe rolls her eyes again, but this time it's fondly. "Seriously, what have you been doing?"

Zoe hesitates; if she says "working," Cisely will transition straight into her well-practiced speech (Zoe suspects her of rehearsing in front of a mirror) about the necessity of knowing your limits and setting appropriate boundaries and — "This weekend I'm hanging out with Chris in northern California and watching teddy bears being shot into the upper atmosphere," she temporizes.

"Explain," Cisely says, her voice edged with suspicion, and Zoe happily does — Beau's food poisoning, Chris' promise to be on the Berkeley campus, the spaceflight club's project. She's the real science-fiction geek among her sisters; Cisely never got much past a crush on Han Solo, and Mariel has only read I, Robot and The Ugly Little Boy of Asimov's entire oeuvre, but it's good to see that appeal of teddy bears on a rocket is universal.

They spend long enough enthusing over the mere idea that Zoe has to rush off to make Chris's panel; he's not expecting her and she hasn't gotten any work done, but it might be fun. Worse comes to worst, it's an hour out of her life. She has time.

Chris has put his face on, she sees when she slips into the auditorium; he's the only one on stage whose face isn't shiny along the cheekbones and in a broad stripe over his forehead. And he's smiling in a way she recognizes.

It's the same smile she's hoping to deploy only a few more times.

She's pretty sure no one recognizes her; her hair's twisted off her face in a bun, and a batik-print skirt and tank top is squarely in the middle of what everyone's wearing, even if she is a decade older than most of the girls in here.

Zoe's pretty sure she never looked that young, even when she was eighteen.

The panel is boring despite Chris's best efforts to be self-deprecating and spontaneous. It's not his fault, though, there's a probably a limit to what he can do with a filter on his tongue that keeps his stories rated PG-13. And the other people onstage have all the charisma and glamour of post-rehearsal pointe shoes, although she is pretty sure they aren't as sweaty and bad-smelling. He does get some laughter that isn't derived from celebrity when he talks about making friends over ruined laundry his first weeks in the dorms, so as far as she's concerned, he has nothing to complain about.

He tries, briefly, afterwards, just to keep up appearances, and while she's willing to let him moan for sixty-five seconds about how people were approaching him with invasive questions, she shuts him down when he tries to pick at his own performance on the panel like a fresh scab. She'll probably have to be nicer when she's on-set, and has talent with egos more fragile than hers to coddle, but right now she's just a girl talking to a friend, and she can tell him to stop looking for affirmation from her. "You're a reasonably smart guy," she says, "and they wanted to like you. They did half the job before you even smiled."

"You're so comforting," he says, but reality is even more of a bitch than she is, and he knows it as well as she does.

They take a circuitous route toward the launch site; Chris points out his favorite library and the spot where he fell into the creek not once, not twice, but four times, and the street sign with the duct tape over the E in the middle so it reads BAT MAN ST. She watches him, the way he's talking with his whole body, hands and forearms and face, the way even his skin is engaged, and then tilts her head back to watch the slow click and sweep of the second hand on the clock tower, far above them.

By mid-afternoon, they are sitting on the grass, faces tipped to the sky, as the rocket arcs upward in a thin white line, leaving the fire and noise behind it. Zoe's hands are cupped over her ears, the ocean thrum of her blood almost overtaking the sound of the launch.

The teddies are a little smaller than she expected, small and uncuddly, but they are wrapped in aluminum-foil spacesuits with tiny handmade helmets, and it is sort of appalling how cute they are. She catches herself thinking of them as "brave," as they're fastened into the rocket, and bangs her forehead on Chris's shoulder, trying to knock the thought out via her ears or something. "You okay?" he asks, glancing at her.

She waves a hand, and Chris lets it drop, reading it's nothing don't worry about it just having a brief cucumber error please reboot universe moment in the flutter and ripple of her fingers though the air. He's one of those people who exists anchored in what's going on around him; Terry Pratchett says that we're all a little unfocused in time and that's why we get premonitions and feelings of déjà vu, but Chris is, she thinks, one of the few people utterly distinct in the world, crisp at the edges.

Oh, he remembers what has happened to him in the past, he'll read mind-bendingly boring books about history, and he'll speculate about the results of the midterm elections as happily as anyone she knows, but he is not drifting through reality the way almost everyone else she knows is. She glances away from the bright pinpoint of where the rocket disappeared into the sky and smiles at him; he doesn't see, face soft in wonder as he gazes up toward something invisible.

"I wonder where it's going to come down," he says, a while later, as the crowd disperses, lying back on his elbows. He's rolled up his sleeves so the grass stains will be on the inside of the cloth, but they will never come out. He'll carry those marks with him.

She shrugs and lowers herself to lie next to him. "It didn't go up ruler-straight," she says lazily, flapping a hand in the general direction of where the rockets headed. "Is that west? 'Cause if it is..."

"It'll come down somewhere over the Pacific," Chris finishes for her. "Yeah, I bet that was what they were trying to do."

"Maybe they have radios or tracking chips in the teddies so they can get them back," Zoe says; overhead, through the needles of the white pine they're lying under, she can see a cloud shaped like Texas.

"Mmmm," Chris says. "I'd make a joke about Chekov and Spock's mom, but I can't think of a punchline."

"Also we'd both really like not to think about Trek for a while," she suggests.

"You're fucking uncanny," Chris says after a moment.

She can't really stretch out the little muscles in her ankles while she's wearing shoes, even ballet flats, but she can pull her toes in toward the bulk of her body and rotate everything below the coxal joint. It feels good, like her body's opening up, mimicking the ways her mind's felt cracked apart and illuminated over the past several months. She must make some small sound of pleasure, some feline rumble of satisfaction, because Chris tips onto his side to look at her. "Fucking uncanny," he repeats, smiling a little. "You may be the smartest person I know. Maybe the bravest. Something."

"Okay, that is, like, the second time in a day that you have been nice to me. This shouldn't be taken as a sign that I like you or anything, but — what the hell?"

"It's nothing," he tries, and she rolls her eyes.

"Okay, one, I don't care enough to put actual effort into persuading you to tell me whatever's running through that hamster-brain of yours, so if you don't talk now, I'm not offering again, and two, you are a shitty, shitty liar."

She thinks for a minute that he's not going to take her up on it, and she was telling the truth when she said it was not important enough for her to chase him down. He can afford a therapist if he needs to. But then he lies flat on his back and closes his eyes and says, "You decided what you wanted and made it happen and I'm hanging around my old college, jealous of eighteen-year-olds because they have time and they're so hopeful and oh, fuck me, I sound like a self-pitying asshole and I swear I know how lucky I am, how fucking ungrateful, so if you want to tell me to count my blessings or about the starving actors in Brentwood, just....don't, okay?"

"Nah," she says. "Where's the fun in that?"

"My parents seem to think it's the best game ever," Chris mutters.

"I mean, I can see the fun in mocking you and your middle-class white boy angst," she says, as seriously as she can. "Because it's made of industrial-grade crazy. Like, weapons-grade crazy."

"Fuck you," Chris says, and she can see the teeth in his mouth. She just can't hear them. So she closes her eyes. Someone in this conversation is lying, and it isn't her.

"I will give you ten dollars and a package of bacon if you can tell me what it is you want to be doing instead of what you are doing," she says.

She can hear squirrels in the branches over her head. She can hear Chris swallow, next to her. "I want to lie on the couch and read Weetzie Bat and Julie of the Wolves," he says.

She opens her left eye and no, he is not fucking with her, or if he is, he can hold a straight face really well. "Well, that's a hell of an ambition," she says. "I mean, you probably could, assuming you got paid somewhere over union scale for Trek and Unstoppable, you could take some time off."

"And then what?" Chris says. She shrugs.

"You tell me," she says. "Feel better having expressed your inner manpain, baby?"

"There are days when I kind of want to send swarms of killer bees after you, you know," Chris tells her, and sits up. "Bubble tea and dumplings sound good for an early dinner?"

While they're walking to the hole in the wall that apparently makes fantastic gyoza and shumai, he asks about Icarus, and she finds herself telling him about how much she loves Susan. "Like, I know she's a white woman who's twenty years older than I am, in a totally different line of work, there are basically no points of similarity between us —"

"Also she's fictional," Chris says, that fucking irrepressible grin creasing around his eyes. He's going to age well, she thinks, more Newman than Redford.

She flaps her hand from the wrist at him. "Technicalities," she says airily. "It's just, I believe in her. I think she's — reasonable. She makes sense as a person. You know?"

Chris nods, but she barely notices, she's so wrapped up in trying to describe what it is about Susan that appeals to her. It's got something to do with how much of a survivor she is, the sense of gritted teeth and patience that comes through in her every line. "Scar tissue," she says. "That's it —" and fumbles in her bag for her moleskine. "Hang on," she mumbles around the pen cap in her teeth, and tows Chris to the nearest bench she sees. She starts scribbling, and doesn't bother swatting him away when he leans over her shoulder.

"It's like that bit in L'Engle," she says, as he watches her. "The thing about scar tissue being the strongest in the body, so it's probably the strongest in the soul as well." They chorus the last few words, and she looks him in the eye, startled. His face is only a few inches from hers. "How do you know that?" she asks carefully, trying not to imply why do you know girls' books?

"I was going to get a doctorate in children's lit if the acting thing didn't work out," he says, and steps out. "How do you know it?"

"Sci-fi geek," she says. "A Wrinkle in Time has time-travel in it, I read my copy until it fell apart. Then I read everything else she wrote, even the unphysicsy stuff." She turns back to her notebook and finishes writing out the paraphrase, adds the notation Re: Susan, character desc., for casting sides?, dates the page, and slides the elastic around the whole thing.

Chris is smiling at her, almost tender, and she wiggles her fingers with pleasure. "Such genius deserves the very best bubble tea my alma mater has to offer," he says, and sweeps an arm in the direction they were walking in before. "Do you get ideas this frequently when you're home? Or it is just the intellectual ferment here?"

"I'm hitting the point in this where I've been immersed in the world long enough that my subconscious is coming up with good ideas and presenting them fully-formed," she says. "And it helps that I want to think about it, that spending time at my desk Frankensteining the script into a movie still feels pleasurable."

"You have no idea how curious I am about the script now," Chris says, and she laughs.

"Buy a ticket when it comes out," she says, and twirls right there on the sidewalk as it hits her all over again, like a meteor burning its way through the atmosphere: when it comes out. "Oh, my god, Chris, I'm making a movie and it's going to be real and people are going to see it."

"Yeah," he says, and she goes on twirling, her skirt fluttering around her calves. It's real. She's a real person. Icarus is real.

The canvas of her director's chair hasn't been worn in by her ass yet. It's steady under her as she sits down, crosses her legs at the knee, and inhales. "All right, everyone," she says. "Let's get to work."

And they begin.