Britney squeaks out from under her bodyguard's eye and hops in the car. She stops at an ATM less than a mile away. She has a debit card and three credit cards in her purse. She withdraws the maximum from each of them, which leaves her with eight hundred dollars. She hopes it's enough.
She gets over the border into Mexico without a problem and ditches her car in a parking lot in Tijuana. She finds a store where she can buy some cheap hair dye and a pair of scissors, and then checks into a cheap motel. She pays cash for everything. She scrubs the makeup off her face and cuts and dyes her hair red.
She goes back out and listens to college kids spending the weekend in TJ until she overhears a couple of them talking about where to get fake IDs. She finds a guy who'll sell her a driver's license and birth certificate with any name she wants on it, so she forks over a hundred bucks, lets the guy take her picture, and becomes Kelly Smith from Reseda.
Kelly has enough money for clothes and a bus ticket. She leaves Britney's clothes and empty purse in the hotel room and tucks Britney's credit cards and cell phone deep into the backpack she bought to carry her new stuff.
The bus takes her south and west. Two days later Kelly Smith arrives in an off the beaten path but still kind of touristy beach town. There's a restaurant with an English Speaking Help Wanted sign in the front window, and she becomes a waitress. One of the other waitresses directs her to a cheap but not too sleazy apartment building where she can rent a studio on what she'll be making at the restaurant.
Britney worked out when they told her to and hated it. Kelly runs on the beach in the sun every day and loves it.
Britney whored her body out, if not literally. Kelly delivers food and smiles not too brightly at tourists for tips.
Britney had a huge wardrobe. Kelly owns two pairs of jeans, a skirt, and a handful of loose tops.
Britney spoke only English. Kelly is learning Spanish from the kitchen staff, swear words and come-ons first.
Britney had an army of minders and a shrink she hated. Kelly lives alone and goes to a doctor who keeps up her lithium prescription without caring too much about anything but whether or not she pays him.
Britney had two kids. Kelly feels the pain of missing them every day.
She's there three months before anyone recognizes her. Carmela has a large table of tourists and asks her to help carry the food out. She's changed her hair, her look, even tried to change the way she moves, but Justin knew her intimately, and his eyes widen when he sees her.
She doesn't throw up or drop their food all over her shoes. She's wearing a nametag that says Kelly, and she can see Justin's lips shape the word.
He doesn't say anything.
She gets off late, and he's waiting for her outside.
"I know a place we can talk," she says. The bar she takes him to is a locals only place, and she's enough of a regular that Miguel is already popping the top off a Coke bottle for her when she reaches the bar. Justin orders Coke too and pays for both of them. She takes him to a table in the corner.
"Jesus, Brit," he says.
"Kelly," she corrects him.
"You've been missing for three fucking months. Do you have any idea how many people are looking for you? Your mom. The record company. The press." His words are angry, but he keeps his voice low. "What about your kids?"
"I think about them every day," she tells him just as fiercely.
"Then what the hell are you doing?"
"Living." Her hands are shaking too hard to pick up her Coke. "If you tell anyone I'm here, I'll run again."
"Can I at least tell them you're okay?"
She shakes her head. "You can't tell anyone. Please," she says, and again, "Please."
He takes her hand, and it reminds her of a time when she thought she had everything she wanted. "I think you should come back."
She shakes her head and slips her hand out of his. "I can't."
He watches her not drink her Coke and finally pulls a pen out of his pocket. "This is my number." He writes it down for her. "If you need anything, I'll answer."
She looks at the number, but tears blur her eyes. "Thank you."
He stands up. "I think you should come back," he says again. He leans down to kiss her cheek before he leaves.
Three months after Justin showed up at the restaurant, Kelly tells Manuel, who owns the place, that she's leaving in two weeks.
On her last night, she goes to the bar with the other waitresses and sips two Cokes while they drink beer and tequila.
Two days later, she's back in Tijuana. She uses Kelly's driver's license and birth certificate to get back across the border. She doesn't even bother looking for her car - if it's still there, it probably doesn't run, and it's probably still in a database somewhere - so she calls a cab just over the border and asks the driver to take her to the nearest car rental place.
She uses Britney's driver's license and credit card to rent a car, and it's so busy the clerk doesn't even blink, just gets her signature and initials and gives her the keys.
A couple of hours later, she's back in front of the gates of her own house. It's quiet and dark, but the alarm codes are the same and her keys still work.
The house smells musty and unlived-in, but not layered in dust, so obviously someone's been paying for the housekeeping. She changes the sheets on her bed for clean ones anyway.
It's weird to get in her old shower in the morning and see the caddy filled with so many products. Kelly used a plain shampoo and soap. Britney uses the plainest things she can find and puts shampoo and soap at the top of a shopping list when she gets out.
You can get anything delivered in LA, so her first call is for coffee and bagels. She walks down to the gate to wait for it, and wishes she remembered what they told her about programming the security system. Although it's possible that no one ever told her about it; why would they when someone else was going to be taking care of it anyway?
She tips the delivery guy a ridiculously extravagant twenty, and starts eating on the way back up the drive. After breakfast, she starts making calls. The first one is to a locksmith, who agrees to be there by noon. Her second call was going to be to the security company, but she thinks she remembers someone filing crap away in the office. She's rummaging through file drawers when she hears a voice.
She follows the voice out to the kitchen where a young woman in a blue uniform is standing uncertainly in front of the corner.
"Hello," Britney says.
"Hello," the woman says. "I didn't know there was anyone here."
Britney recognizes the accent, and she holds out her hand. "Me llamo Britney." It's the first time she's ever introduced herself as Britney in Spanish. "Mucho gusto."
"Me llamo Caridad," the woman answers, and there's something Britney likes about her.
"Who's paying you?" Britney asks.
Caridad looks uncertain. "The agency sent me."
"You weren't hired by someone specifically for this house?"
Now Caridad just looks confused. "No. I work for the agency." She points at the logo on her chest.
"¿Puede cocinar?" Britney asks. She's starting to make a plan, and she's never really learned to cook.
"¿Y los niños, le gustan?" This will only work if Caridad can work with kids.
"Sí, Señora. Vivo con mi hermano y sus hijos."
"Good," Britney says. She's not sure she has the Spanish for precision. "I'd like to hire you to work just for me. It'd be housekeeping and some cooking. I'll pay you a lot, you can live here, and you'll have to sign a legal document saying you won't talk about me to the press." Britney smiles at Caridad's continuing confusion. "You don't have to decide right now. Just let me know." She rips a piece of paper off the notepad that also has her shopping list on it and writes down her numbers - house, cell, and the cell she'd been using in Mexico - for Caridad.
"I have calls to make. I'll get out of your way." Britney takes the notepad and both cells outside to the patio. It's sunny out, and Kelly learned to love the sun in Mexico. She'll have to come back to the alarm codes.
She calls Kevin first, and uses the cell from Mexico. She doesn't want Britney Spears showing up on his caller ID.
"Hi, Kevin," she says when he answers.
There's nothing but background noise for a moment, and then a door closing, and then Kevin says, "Britney, where the hell have you been?"
"Mexico? And you couldn't fucking call? Do you know what we've all been through? You've been missing for six fucking months. Do you have any idea what that's been like for the kids? What the hell were you thinking?"
"I was thinking that being Britney Spears was going to kill me." Britney turns her face up to the sun. "I thought the kids would be better off with a missing mother than a dead one."
She's actually stunned him into silence for a while. She waits.
"You're not getting custody," he says.
"I know." Her throat tightens. "I know I'll probably never get custody. I'm trying to get my shit together, and I hope you'll let me visit them sometime." They'll have to do all this again with lawyers, probably.
"I'm not putting them through this again." Kevin hangs up on her.
She wraps her arms around her knees and reminds herself that Kelly found a job and a place to live in a country where she didn't speak the language.
She calls her mom next.
"Hi, Mama," she says when her mom answers her cell.
"Britney Jean Spears, where the hell have you been?" her mother yells into the phone. Britney holds it away from her ear. "We've been worried sick!"
Britney pulls the phone back to her mouth and says, "I'm sorry I worried you, but I'm back now."
"I'm buying a plane ticket, and I'm coming to see you," her mom says firmly, and Britney can hear keys clicking in the background.
"No!" Britney actually bounces up off the lounge chair. "No, Mama. I have some things I need to take care of."
"Don't be silly," her mother says. "I can be there tonight."
"I'm having the locks changed." That actually silences her mother.
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm sorry I worried you, Mama, but I have to take care of some things. You can come visit in a couple of weeks, okay?"
"Britney." Her mom sounds like she might cry now.
"Really, I'm fine." Britney makes her voice soft. "I'll call you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay." Her mom doesn't sound happy about it, but she lets Britney say goodbye and hang up.
She uses her own cell for the next call, but gets voice mail anyway and leaves a short message. "Hey, Christina. It's Britney. I remember you sued your manager a while back. I was wondering if you could give me the name of your lawyer. Thanks."
The next call also goes to voice mail: "Hi, Justin. I came back. I'm back. I was wondering if you could give me the number of your realtor. Call me, cell or house. Thanks."
She goes back in the house and goes back to the files in the office. Eventually she finds instructions for the security system. She changes the codes and gives the new ones to Caridad.
The locksmith arrives just after Caridad leaves. Britney has him rekey all the doors. She pays extra because it's a rush job.
She orders pizza for lunch, and makes the next call after she eats. She hopes against hope that the number she has is the right one.
"Hello, this is Oprah."
Britney smiles. "Hi, Oprah, this is Britney Spears."
"Britney. No one's heard from you in a while." Oprah sounds cautious.
"No," she says. "I want to come on your show."
"Okay," Oprah says. Britney can almost hear her thinking about how high her ratings will go. "When would you like to do that?"
"I can be there tomorrow," Britney says, but she laughs so Oprah knows she doesn't mean it has to be that way.
Oprah laughs with her. "How about next week?"
"It has to air same-day," Britney says. She knows it'll play hell with promotion, but she doesn't want the tabloids picking up rumors of what she has to say to Oprah before people can see it for themselves.
"Those are my terms," Britney says. "I'm sure Barbara Walters would love to talk to me."
"Of course we can do that," Oprah rushes to assure her. "Next Friday. We'll tape in the morning, and it'll air in the afternoon."
"Wonderful. I'll see you next Friday."
With all of her calls made, Britney takes her rental car and goes shopping. She gained some weight as Kelly, and Britney wants to dress a little more like Kelly now. After buying a whole new wardrobe, she stops at a grocery store for some food. She makes herself macaroni and cheese for dinner.
It takes three days for the paparazzi to figure out she's back. By then, she's had her first appointments with Christina's lawyer and Justin's realtor. She ignores the photographers camped out in front of her house and just goes about her day. She obeys traffic laws and does her grocery shopping. They take a lot of pictures and shout questions at her, but no one tries to touch her or come inside the gates, so she just keeps ignoring them.
"Being Britney Spears was killing me," she tells Oprah. She knows everyone in the known world will be watching her say this on TV or YouTube, and she says it anyway. She's lived her whole life in the public eye. "I didn't want that, and I didn't want that for my kids."
"When you say it was killing you," Oprah prods.
"I was going to die," Britney says. "I would have killed myself or overdosed on something or been so tired that my body just gave out. I had to escape."
"You look different," Oprah says, and Britney laughs. She knows what Oprah's really saying.
"I gained some weight," Britney says. "I spent a lot of time in the sun. I ran every day."
"So are you happy now?"
And that's the question, isn't it? "I don't know," Britney answers. "But I know I'm not going to die."
"So you disappeared and now you've come back. What's next for Britney Spears?" Oprah asks later.
"A house on the beach," Britney says. "I don't know what else. I hope I can see my kids again. I know I wasn't ready to have them, but I do love them, and I want them to know that."
It's the highest rated Oprah episode ever.
A week later, the realtor shows her the perfect house. It's on the beach with lots of windows. She can't wait to go running along the beach just outside her back door. She puts in a bid that's higher than the asking price.
Two weeks after that, she's fired or reached settlement agreements with every last one of her previous minders. She talks to Christina and Justin and hires a new management company. They give her some names of songwriters who might be able to collaborate with her, and they both offer to write with her.
She's been putting off her mom, but she finally lets her come visit. Kelly didn't have a mom, and Britney finds she kind of appreciates hers, even when she's telling Britney how crazy she is for firing everyone and that she need to lose fifteen pounds.
Two months later, Kevin calls and says she can come visit the kids for half an hour, at his house, with him there. She's called once a week to ask him about the kids, but she hasn't done anything legal. He sent her a copy of the current custody order giving him full legal and physical custody once, but then he started telling her about them.
Jayden doesn't recognize her, and Preston turns his back on her. She tries not to cry and talks to Jayden about the toys he was playing with when she got there.
"Give them some time," Kevin says. He actually puts an arm around her. "It's going to take a while."
Britney nods and swallows back her tears. "Can I come back?"
"Yeah," Kevin says. "How about next week? Same time?"
Britney nods. That's an appointment she will keep no matter what. "Yeah, yeah. Thanks, Kevin."