Born Lilian Marie Benjamin, everyone called her Lily.
She was an actress who found her fame early. Her first film production was at 9, a brooding drama about a broken down, drug addicted single mother. The film won the writer a statue and her the dubious honor of being the youngest Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actress, a hint to the bigger things to come. The expectations were high and the demand grew as she did. She managed the push and rush of a shooting star career with surprising grace and sensibilities for someone so young still learning who she was and who she wanted to be.
At 10, she had chalked up appearances in two full length features. By 15 she had two minor Broadway productions on her résumé and two more films. By 16, she had tutored her way through an early high school diploma and was a bankable young leading lady. The frenzy of her young career subsided when she took a break to continue her education and develope her craft, attending NYU's Tisch School of the Arts where she earned her MFA. She struggled to complete her final semester on schedule after the sudden loss of her mother to a drunk driver in her adopted home of LA. She succeeded though, and found a new drive in the limelight.
She took on voice and dance lessons to broaden her versatility. A move that, at 20, garnered her a leading role in an elegant Baz Luhrmann production that proved she had never left the top of the mountain, she had only stepped aside for a moment. Nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, she lost without complaint to a Hollywood legend and took home a Golden Globe in consolation. Her résumé at 25 included a long list of supporting and leading roles, independent and powerhouse director's films alike, and a shelf full of minor and major awards. And a growing reputation as "difficult".
The pressure of perfection in the spotlight was daunting. It hadn't gone beyond anyone's notice that her red carpet demeanor had slowly changed after the loss of her mother. Her first manager and biggest fan, she had encouraged and protected her young daughter in a precarious balancing act. Negotiating deals, smartly handling her money, and insisting upon her proper education and as many "normal" childhood experiences as could be had, the woman was business savvy and a loving mother first.
After her return to Hollywood, the offers poured in and her calendar of commitments filled quickly. She averaged two or more roles a year, slowing down with a stage run here and there to keep her theater skills sharp. Her privacy all but vanished as cameras followed her to and from home, on shopping trips and to the gym, to lunches with friends and dinners with what the press would have you believe was a revolving door of handsome and high profile lovers. No one should have been surprised when she began hiding behind sunglasses and hats, even at night.
Her management team had learned, quickly, how to put out the fires caused by a profane gesture or push back at physically intrusive paparazzi, and the public demanded more. Rumors and bleary eyed photos of the beautiful starlet outside bars and clubs painted her as reckless and a poor role model. Tailored suits and speaking engagements for charitable causes showed she was still respectable and enlightened. The public rallied on both sides, decrying the lost innocence of America's sweetheart and defending her right to be left alone. She was loved or hated, with very little room to be in between.
"Welcome, everyone!" the director exclaimed, arms raised and open wide to punctuate his slightly self-indulgent and rallying speech.
It was a collaborative effort of several New York fine arts institutions and foundations that got her to New York City. A bold idea to put on six different plays, celebrating the stage and great play writes, to raise money to fund enrichment programs and renew aging playhouses in the city. A mix of Hollywood and Broadway to perform the half dozen plays in two week runs at multiple houses in the theater district over a two month span.
The project brought names from far and wide. 'A Street Car Named Desire' begged Lily to The Abassador Theater. Among the names to join her was Sebastian Stan. They had met in 2009 when they both mentored a New York City children's acting camp for a week. The pair became fast friends, making the rounds of the New York nightlife and keeping in sporadic touch over the years. When filming found him in Los Angeles, they toured the LA club scene and lunched when their time was free. She was a "worthy ambassador of the West coast" he had told her, almost convincing him the town was worth a permanent change of address in his more capricious youth.
Lily had come in mid-speech. Her flight delayed by weather rerouting her over the Midwest around some storms and her commute damned by Manhattan rush hour, she slipped in the side door and took a spot at the back of the group of talent and crew in the orchestra seating. The house lights were up and she saw the side eye the director gave her when she finally appeared. She had the casting list from her agent, but hadn't reached out or heard from any of the other actors on the production. There had only been a brief phone call from the director and a few ass kissing calls from producers and fund leaders to thank her for lending her name and talent to the cause. With her feet kicked up on the back of the seat in front of her and eyes on her phone, she was surprised when a hand slapped the side of her knee and she looked up with a start.
"What's up, Benny?" Sebastian asked, with a smile as wide as the stage. "Glad to see you made it."
Lily dropped her feet to the floor as he settled in the aisle beside her, leaning to sit against the back of the chair behind him. "Good afternoon, sir," she smiled back.
"Come here," he said, a hand circling at the wrist, pleading for her to stand. When she took too long to put her phone back in her purse and get up, he grabbed her forearm to finish pulling her to her feet and tugged her in for a hug. "How come you didn't call?" he asked, giving her a squeeze.
"Busy," she shrugged, as they parted and she looked him over. "You look good."
"Naturally," he agreed, with a cocky smile and raised eyebrow.
She gave him a push in the shoulder and took up her purse, turning to move out of the aisle and head backstage to be measured for costumes. "Good to know the city's keeping you humble," she noted.
Sebastian chuckled, following her up the stairs at the edge of the stage. "You don't look so bad yourself. Blood of virgins? Voodoo?"
"Deal with Satan himself," she corrected, the tone somewhere between disgruntled and proud.
"Nice," he nodded. "I was a little surprised to see you attached to this."
"Me too," she quipped, pausing for a step at an intersection in the hall and moving on when Sebastian pointed her left. "Guess I needed a change of pace for a minute."
"So I've heard," he told her, his voice dropping a level. Lily threw him a quick scowl over her shoulder and he let out a small and apologetic sigh, as he reached ahead of her to push open the door. "That sounded mean," he admitted. "Sorry."
Her brow shrugged the comment off. "Yeah. Everybody's heard, I guess," she said.
They split to opposite sides of the room, taken in different directions by different seamstresses. "Same number?" Sebastian asked, as he followed his Wardrobe guide.
"Yes," Lily answered.
"We'll talk later," he promised.
Her suite in The Plaza overlooked Central Park and the view held her bored gaze. The evening light falling into her living room window was cut into slices by the buildings of the city skyline. In the doorway ahead of her, her suitcases were still stacked and unopened in the bedroom. She fought her management team to come alone, insisting even her personal assistant stay behind, to give her space to clear her head. Her manager was the most vocal opposition, believing she needed to be chaperoned even going to the bathroom she had given him so many headaches in the last year. In the end, though, the girl who brings in the money makes the decisions. The one person she permitted on the trip was the head of her private security, Drew.
A tall and imposing, 16 year career Marine who maintained a standard issue high and tight and a warrior's physique. He was appropriately intimidating and, at 42, levelheaded enough to keep her safe from the world and herself. She footed his expenses and set him up in a room down the hall, so he was close if she needed him. His only rules were her absolute assurance that she never went anywhere he didn't know about and always did as he said when they traveled or were at events. To her, he came off as more fatherly than frightening and she trusted him implicitly. After six years in her employ, he had muscled and counseled her out of enough bad situations that she honestly didn't really trust anyone else more than him to come with her. Her inner circle had shrunk drastically in the last few years, an unfortunate but necessary result of people using friendships and selling stories for their own gain. Drew was as much friend and family to her as anyone, considering she really had none. If it were out of pity for her, he never let on and she appreciated it. In return, she treated Drew and his team exceptionally well.
Her phone buzzed, dancing on the coffee table in the middle of the room. She grabbed it on her way to the door to let in Room Service. The New York area coded phone number above the preview wasn't in her phonebook but the message let her know who it was and she smiled at the screen, as the server set her dinner on the dining room table. Tipping the staffer on his way out, she locked the door and opened her phone to save the new number- Seb Stan.
Lily: Yes, dear
Seb: What are you doing?
Lily: Having dinner.
She pulled out a chair to sit at the table and sipped the glass of wine that came up with her steak.
Seb: What's for dinner?
Lily inched back from the table to take a photo of her dinner service and forwarded it along.
Seb: Yum where are you?
Seb: Of course you are.
Lily: Can't beat the view
Lily: New number?
Seb: Yeah. Had to last year
Lily: So I couldn't have called you anyway.
Seb: Touché. Save me now?
Lily: Already saved. Always save room for Sebastian Stan;)
Seb: That's why you're my favorite. I'll let you get back to dinner. Good to have you back in NY. See you in the a.m.
She put her phone aside on the table. Picking up her knife and fork, she paused. Staring blankly at her meal, she took in the quiet of the room. The traffic whispering up from the street was the only sound to compete with her breathing. The stillness was refreshing. She cut into her steak and chewed with an unexplained smile at the corner of her mouth. It wasn't for the meal. It wasn't the best steak she'd ever had, but it was worth the price. Her head tipped thoughtfully, she sipped from her glass and realized she felt relaxed for the first time in weeks. She cut herself another piece and sent a message to Drew that she was in for the night.