You ask him to come to the meeting for a long list of reasons, most importantly, that it makes you feel more comfortable. This happened to him. This happened to both of you, in a sense. This isn't his management team, but he can provide context -- anything they ask of you gets framed within the context of your relationship, something you've never been shy about with your team, even if the rest of the world remains on media lockdown, your lips sealed shut now and what seems to be forever.
It's a Tuesday morning, the office is familiar, everyone is cordial. Noureen, your agent, sits perched against the desk, her white hair piled on top of her head. Mark, your manager, beside her, and across the way, your publicist, Lucas, younger than both Noureen and Mark, separate from them. You read his body language, the jostle of his knee, the way his chin rests on the heel of his hand. He is nervous, brimming with something unsaid. When you look across the way at your partner, it's with a knowing look, communicating that you both have taken notice of this man. That you both have seen the same thing.
They don't say anything you didn't expect. We know he isn't our client, but we'd feel more comfortable if he would agree to--- You wave that off. No. It won't happen. You redirect them in the precise, clear way you always have. These meetings have always been clinical. You trust this team because they've done right by you for years, but you aren't by any means warm and friendly with them. If you want to continue your career along the trajectory we've always discussed, you should consider-- This is where the words turn watery in your ears. You know what they're saying but a mechanism in your head seems to switch off, muting them, muffling them in an act of self-preservation. It's only when you see your lover's eyebrows jump in surprise that you sharpen your hearing again.
It's Noureen who's speaking, calm, even. "We recognize how important it is for the two of you to maintain silence in regards to your relationship. We just think that perhaps if you're going to maintain that silence, you also ought to be more aware of when you are and aren't making yourselves available for public scrutiny."
You cross your legs. You take stock of yourself. How do you look? You look formidable. A crisp white top. High waisted slacks, a pair of heels. You came dressed appropriately. There's no mistaking your message or your authority.
"So, you think this is ... that we've been somehow inviting this." The words that come out of your mouth aren't confrontational. They're clarifying. When Lucas, in the back, finally speaks up, it's with a rush of something. Aggression maybe. Frustration.
"Stop showing up places together. Just stop it altogether. It's not good for either of you."
You know Clarence is biting his tongue out of respect for you, but you can feel something radiating off of him in waves. Your hands fold in your lap and you look at Lucas squarely, plainly.
"Could you expand on that?"
"It's only a PR boost for you when he's not completely fucking himself with 20th Century Fox, and you by association. You want a spin plan for this? No more red carpets, no more awards ceremonies, no more cozy little lunches al fresco. Distance. As much of it as you two can possibly create between yourselves during promotion and then afterwards, completely. It's the only way. You want to keep climbing, you've got to cut ties with the chain around your legs."
Something hot rises in your throat. You feel a creep up against your skin. Heat. You're flushing, not out of embarrassment, but adrenaline. It surges through you and you look over at him again, his fist folded against the arm of the chair, his jaw is working.
"I don't think that's a feasible media plan," you answer, your hands folded in your lap.
"Well, thank god you hired me to think of the feasible media plans, honey."
It's the sickeningly sweet way he says honey that is the hinge on which this entire endeavor turns. Some switch inside of you is flipped. Lucas has always been eccentric. Trustworthy, thorough, but a big personality. You hired him because he got the job done, because he was a young upstart. Because you thought he would make sense. This has clearly rattled him. He's crossed a boundary. You see it on Noureen's face, the way she knows this is all balanced very precariously.
You look between Mark's face and Noureen's, looking for some kind of recognition, an understanding. They stare back at you, blank. Nervous.
"Do you agree with him, Mark?"
Mark nods, after a moment, quick.
"And you too?"
It takes Noureen a moment longer, but she nods. "Yes," she says, in a sympathetic way, like she feels guilty for having to say it.
The switch in you flips again. You feel cornered. These people think they have you cornered. That they, as a united front, can bend you however they like. It becomes clear to you in a way it's never been clear before. They want to control you. You are supposed to be the good girl, obedient, your head bowed, your eyes on the path they've cut for you. No questions. No deviations. The past ten years become clear, right before your eyes, and you're horrified. Lucas thinks he's won.
"Well. I appreciate everything you've done for me and how much you've thought this strategy through but I don't think I'll be needing any of your services any longer."
There's a silence in the room that almost makes you nervous. Noureen is gripping the pen in her hand for dear life. Mark is already doing the numbers in his head. It's Lucas who's standing from his chair, approaching you as you slide your things back into your bag.
"You're making the wrong decision. This is the wrong move."
"Yes, well, it's my move to make."
"You think you stand a chance out there on your own? No representation? No publicist? You want to run around rogue like they let him run around at WME? You don't have that kind of ability, Letty. You're almost forty. You know what that means. You have five years left if you're lucky, ten if you're really, quite lucky. Every day is a fight to keep your head above water and your name in the ring. You don't see that, that's what you bloody pay us for, but it's true. You think you've got two Oscars and you can just coast on your name? That isn't how the game works. You aren't Sloane Sedler with your whole life ahead of you. You're forty. Do you understand what that means? It means the next person who picks you up is picking up an sinking ship that's bleeding money. And you won't even fight to preserve what little time you have left by getting rid of the thing that's going to drag you down? What kind of death wish is that?"
"You're completely out of--"
"No. Don't talk. Don't say anything. You're fucking all of us. Yourself especially. And for what? Because we think you two need to cool it with the appearances unless you want all of the fucking 18-45 year old viewing market to hate you? You think we don't see what's happening here? Last minute trips with barely any notice, forgetting that it might not be Oscar season, but you're still running a press campaign. And for what? You made him. You know you made him. He was a bartender treading the boards as a hobby until he started up with you. Until you passed him a script. Until you made him marketable. You do this, Letty, this is a thing that you do. You meet some man and you think he's going to give you something you want and you give up everything else. You did it with James Elkin, but at least then you had hitched yourself to the right star. This is just suicide for you. Complete career suicide, and you're too fucking old in this business to take that kind of a risk. Maybe if you were turning thirty. But you aren't."
He looks at Clarence once. Only once. But you know what he's thinking. Suddenly you feel the weight of thirty-nine years in your shoulders and hips. You know that if you look at your hands, they'll look different from when they were seventeen. And you feel that youth. The feeling when the man at the petrol station wouldn't sell you those cigarettes. The feeling when, at twenty-one, it was apparent that you'd never dance professionally. It makes your jaw tense and your fists shake. Noureen looks devastated, embarrassed. Clarence looks focused, intent. You feel bewildered. You are scrambling for an emotion. Any emotion. Which one will work?
You open your mouth. Nothing comes out.