The first time you sleep together, it's because he shows you the divorce papers. He has been wooing you for months. Flowers in your dressing room. The way he looks at you while you deliver lines in rehearsals, the way he challenges and presses you -- it is how a man behaves when there is a woman he wants in front of him. You're young, but you recognize it.

(The divorce isn't your fault. There's another madwoman in his attic, but he swears to you she's nothing anymore. Just an impetus, an inevitability. His heart wants you. Would he wait so long if it was something as fleeting as silly, childish lust?)

You don't deny, that night in the hotel, that there is passion. There is desire. There is champagne licked off of fingertips and the heady, bubbly drunk you feel only when you're so acutely desired. This is an affair. You remember thinking it as you brush your hair out in the mirror, naked, while he watches you, leaning in the doorway. This is an affair. There can be passion and desire between the two of you, but there will never be equality. There will always be the confusing disparity of power between the two of you. He is the director. The realisateur. The visionary, the genius, the scholar, the artist. You are the actress, the great beauty, the talent, the muse.

You don't know what love feels like, but you know this isn't it.

Eventually you drift. The madwoman shares the spotlight with him, and that's fine with you. There are other men, other directors, but you feel the gravitational pull of his orbit. It takes years of spinning to right yourself. It's a pendulum, swing forward, swing away, and always the same hotel, always the same sweet words in your ear, the name he calls you, the name no one else dares. Sometimes you wonder if it's a trick you fall for over and over.

When you win your Oscar, you thank him, you can't help it. You say, thank you for taking a chance on me, thank you for being a great teacher, for being my friend.

(It's no different, that night, the hotel, the champagne, the discarded frill of your dress -- when the madwoman finds out, she leaves him for good.)

You have other small, impatient loves. Momentary ones, the eccentric, the neurotic, the Frenchman. All of them need you, all of them hold your hands in theirs and look at you with that plaintive stare, that hungry desire, as though they're awaiting something. But what? You have no cure for what ails them. You're not some bandage. You can't wrap yourself around them until they heal.

The space of years yawns this time, he works, you work, he marries, you meet an actor, an American. He scoffs when you tell him one night on the phone, you in Monte Carlo on holiday, he in South America. "Some actor's little wife," he says with derision. "Pajarita. You're meant for much more than that."

"What, you'd rather I be your little wife? The director and the actress? Don't make me laugh."

"Do you think that this could possibly make you happy?"

The silence stretches. You have to go. Your husband returns.

When James kisses you goodnight, you think that you don't know what love feels like, but this might be it.

When you find the earrings, the paper trail, the woman in your bed that he wanted you to find, you know you were foolish, you know the director was right and it sears you like a brand. Forever changed. No longer the woman he knew. No longer the little bird in the palm of some man. You leave California, the wreckage of a motorcycle in your wake. When you land, without a home, you take up residence in the hotel.

Late one night, you call him. You banter. Your invitation is implied.

"I'm married," he says, and your laughter is the laughter of a woman who could level cities.

"Married," you repeat, incredulously. "What does that have anything to do with it?"

And the answer is nothing, when he shows up at your door, when you drag him in by his collar, when you have him again and again over the course of six months, behind the back of a wife you don't know, because you can, because you own him, because you are a woman who gets what she wants.

--

And what changes? You don't know. The desire to self-destruct, to hold onto anything that proves you to be powerful -- it all fades, at some point. The distance between you stretches open again. You work with the dedication of a proper demon. You take on projects, campaigns, you meet new people, you forget about love and what it feels like. You meet Kevin, social circles overlapping, you talk to him about a project he's developing, about the theater he's heading up. You are relieved to speak to a man who doesn't want to hold you in the palm of his hand. Who levels a look at you like you are a force to be reckoned with. This isn't love. This is friendship. Kinship. You feel relief to be around him.

(Late one night in a bar, a man who could very well be a boy sidles up to you and makes you a drink. He is fearless. He knows you, and still nothing in him wavers. When you lift your chin, he lifts his in response, not deferential, not posturing, he doesn't crowd and pose. His kiss is the kiss of a man who'd be happy to step aside if you asked him, but who steps up when you expect it. You ask Kevin about him. "Oh," he says. "That one's something else."

At his stage door, one night, flowers in hand, you think, for the first time you have the space and freedom to be yourself, entirely. You've known him several weeks. He expects nothing from you but what you give him. And what you give him is yourself, the sharpness and the softness. You apply no filter, you adjust no behavior. You are raw, beating desire, and sudden hungry need. He rises to meet every challenge.

Several months in, lying in his bed, the sun streaming in, he's reading the paper and stroking your hair at the same time. You breathe in his smell. You think, you know what love feels like. It's security. It's equality. It's desire and hunger uncorrupted by power.)

--

"This actor. This boy."

"Enough. You have a wife."

It's a sharp exchange in a ballroom, you are dripping in diamonds -- a security guard hovers in the corner of the room, watching you not for your safety but for the Harry Winston on your neck and ears.

"This matters to you now?"

Out of the corner of your eye, your partner of nearly two years is working the room as only he can, drink in hand, charming and sweet. He casts looks over his shoulder at you and you can't help but beam back at him, not a glimmer of hesitation. The director buries his scoff in his drink.

"You know how this goes. He'll get tired of you. He'll find someone less complicated, less difficult, less... intelligent. And that's what's easy for men like him, at this stage in his career. Everyone wants him. Just like everyone wanted you. He thinks he's untouchable."

You look back at him, your stare piercing. "He is quite untouchable."

--

Meet me.

Don't be daft.

Pajarita.

It's done. We've been over this.

You're heartbroken. I understand. Loves like his come and go. The nature of the young and untouchable.

Don't be reductive.

Did you tell him about me?

He knew. He knew it was over.

And still.

It was a mutual decision.

Do you think he's home aching like you are?

I'm not going to discuss this with you.

Pajarita.

Silence.

Meet me.

Silence.

Alette, don't be so cruel.

Silence.

You know it's always been you.

--

(You lie in bed alone. Outside, it rains, a heavy pour that beats your window. You remember France in spring, the same heavy gray, the director beside you. He traced the curve of your body, inch by inch, with fingertips, with kisses. It was a time you felt wanted. He poured honey into your ears.

It's no comfort. It's not what you hunger for. You want summer, always summer, the heat, the sun, the way Clarence Locke looked at you over his sunglasses, his devil's grin, crooked, like he was always thinking of some scandalous idea. You want the comforting feeling of him in the bed at night, the way no matter what silly huffing argument you may have had that day, he always reached to pull you against him. His pout. His petulant voice -- don't be cross.

There are tears on your cheeks. Christ. You swipe at them. You hear your mother's voice. Do not cry so much, Alette-Marie, it makes you look foolish. You sit up. You agree. You're weak. So weak. Weak enough to reach for your phone, to thumb through the numbers, to find the name you typed in for him, not his name, lest you ever lose the thing. You cue up the number. You stare at it. It's late.

Fuck.

When he picks up, his voice is clumsy, curious, full of sleep. You've startled him. It's been nearly a year.

Alette? Is everything alright?

You have a choice. Vulnerability or cold cowardice. You're silent for thirty seconds, but he can hear you breathing, you know it. He waits.

You swallow hard. You sweep at the wet planes of your cheeks again.

I'm sorry, Clarence, I know it's late.)

--

When the director contacts you again, it's the same flash of words on a screen.

Meet me.

Absolutely not.

Not the hotel, pajarita. For lunch. For business. There's a film.


You look up at your phone to where Clarence is playing tug of war with the dog, laughing, yanking and snarling with him. He glances up and meets your eyes. He's beaming. You can't help but beam back. He's fearless. Confident. And you remember, you are not weak. You are a woman in love. It gives you a spine of steel. Your thumbs flick across the screen.

Business only. Don't call me that anymore.

Business only. As you like it. How have you been? How's your untouchable boy?


You say nothing back. You call your partner's name across the yard and he looks up, waves you over, and you follow.