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The Safety of Secrets

Chapter Four

Patricia is late as I wait at Geisha Nail Salon on Melrose in West Hollywood for our manicure/pedicure to finally celebrate my birthday that was two months ago. She has been late her whole life, as if the earth should slow down its rotation so everyone else can get on her time. As if the earth had it wrong from the beginning, and her birth marked the start of the new standard time --- Patricia Woods Time. Even when I make allowances for her to be late, she is late, so I pick up a magazine from the pile on the chrome and smoked glass coffee table to look at houses and clothes I can't afford, and wouldn't buy even if I could afford, thereby feeling deprived and satisfied all at the same time.

It takes me a second to adjust to how Patricia looks when she walks in the door. Fabulous. Coddled. And with a hundred and twenty five thousand dollars a week radiating from her skin. She has looked this way for over a year now, ever since the TV show she is on became the surprise national hit thereby catapulting her income, career, life, and therefore looks into another realm.

Patricia is a hostess/judge on a network TV show called "Sports Giant," a reality show where ordinary, and I mean ordinary, people compete in a variety of extreme sports, none of which they are the least bit able to do. Most of the show's appeal (who are we kidding?) is the thrilling possibility that one (or more) of the contestants will seriously wipeout and end up... Well, no one honestly wants that to happen. But then why were the Roman coliseums always so full? However, according to the show's promos that run ad nauseam, the whole point of "Sports Giant" is for "the common man or woman to test him or herself beyond their limits and find the 'Sports Giant' within." Oh. And when a lucky contestant finally does win, he or she has to scream, "I'm a Sports Giant! I'm a Sports Giant!" over and over while staring straight into the camera. The winners usually accompany that with some sort of physical gesture, like pumping their fists in the air or jumping up and down, which is meant to convey extreme joy and strength, but only serves to show even more clearly how out of shape they are and makes the audience marvel at how this person was able to survive what he or she endured in the first place, while fooling the viewers into believing that they would do better if they ever got on the show which they then try to do.

When Patricia first landed the job, she brushed aside any qualms about leaving the "legit world" of scripted TV and film, and was beyond ecstatic about 1) the money (who wouldn't be?) and 2) no longer doing the attractive-but-not-sexy-and-beautiful best friend roles. This was finally her big chance, she told me. Why wait around hoping to get a break-out role in a small, but important independent film to put her on the map (like I still am) when she could make bank, have her own show (so to speak), and finally be "the Girl" as she called it, I could hear the quotation marks around the words. But once "Sports Giant" was off and running, it quickly became apparent that her role was going to be the lone holdout for women's dignity while being treated like one of the guys.

Today, however, she does not look like one of the guys. Patricia is wearing a stunning skirt that looks easy and fabulous with her snug T-shirt and strappy, high heel shoes. She clearly dressed for me. Now I realize that our mani/pedi is not the only thing on her schedule for today, but I don't know a woman on this planet, at least any of the ones in this universe known as L.A., who doesn't dress for her female friends. Any red-blooded, pussy-loving man is happy to see a woman in as little as possible, fashion trends be damned. Only a woman cares about skirt silhouette or what the new black is or which designer T-shirt is this season's must.

Not that I haven't dressed for her, too. I have. And I love the clothes I'm wearing: a little spaghetti strap top with a bias cut skirt. And while I did purchase them two weeks ago at Barney's (when I had no idea that I probably hopefully won't be able to fit into them months from now), it is strikingly clear that they hail from the yes-expensive-but-not-insane third floor while Patricia's come from the hard-core, high-cost designer second floor.

As I stand up to hug her hello, the magazine slips from my lap, falling open to a page bearing the same skirt that Patricia is wearing, though there it is worn by another actress, a film star whose TV star husband recently left her after a supposedly (nationally, at least) secret, but actually (in LA) very public affair with his co-star. The fashion magazine spread is clearly a publicist's orchestrated attempt to show how gorgeously and independently the rejected wife is handling that blow, though inside rumors around town have her flying to Vegas every weekend to gamble away huge sums in the poker craze that has hit Hollywood because every young actor here thinks they can bluff their way through a bad hand as if it were a bad script.

"Well, this is gonna be fun," I say. Patricia's cheek is next to mine as we embrace. She shot up two inches in eighth grade and we have looked eye-to-eye ever since.

"Why'd you think I was gonna tell someone your news?"

I pull back from her arms, and sit down again on the couch. The dark eyes of the Vietnamese women glance up at Patricia, and then quickly dart back to the nails they are filing, the feet they are pumicing, and the legs they are kneading. I can't tell if it is Patricia's fame or what she said that intrigued them.

"I didn't. I said that I didn't. I just don't-"

"Then why'd you call and tell me not to tell anyone? I mean, who would I tell?"

And that was stupid and weird because we only know all the same people. A small, pretty woman motions us towards two empty pedicure chairs that are padded like the La-Z-Boy loungers that my father never owned. I climb up into the throne of one of them. A small moat of water starts to bubble in front of me, as another small and dark haired woman gently guides my feet into the swirling pool.

"And not to be ugly, but who cares?" Patricia says. "I mean, not who cares, I care, but everyone has something big going on-" I can easily imagine which particular realm of "big" Patricia is referring to. "You being pregnant is just one thing."

"Okay, good, then I don't have to worry because it's not interesting enough to tell." I start to climb out of the chair, my wet feet slipping a bit on the platform built around it.

"I forgot to pick a color," I say to the woman at my feet. "I'll be right back." Patricia, of course, has brought her own color, probably some mixed-just-for-her enamel that her make-up artist cooked up at home. I hope it stains her nails.

"First off," I say to Patricia as I settle back into my chair, the red polish I picked ready and waiting like the aftermath of a battle in a bottle. "I clearly said in my message that I didn't think you were going to tell, and I was only saying it out of respect to my husband." Ever since last summer when Patricia's fiancé dumped her completely out of the blue, I have been careful about using the husband word around her, but now I don't care. "And you act like you've never told things before and that is so not true." 

"What have I told?" 

"How about, 'Don't tell anyone where you got it.' Does that ring a bell?" 

"Alright, so your name slipped out. It wasn't that big a deal." Patricia says, as a small and silent woman massages her hand. 

"I got suspended. Not to even mention what my mother did to me. So yes, in fact, you have told." 

"Okay, already, but never anything that matters." 

"Define matters." 

"Fi," Patricia shoots me a look that is her mother all over. Her mother on the rare occasions when Vicky had managed to summon the time, energy, and information to actually try to take an interest in her daughter's life. "The tree house." 

"Are you nuts? Especially here." 

"I wasn't. Jesus." 

I glance down at the women doing our nails, but neither gives any indication that they were listening. Not that they could have figured out what we were talking about anyway, but for Patricia to even mention that in this public place is a shock. Especially since they could be spies for The National Enquirer for all we know, making thousands of dollars on the side. Not that I think that they are, but with what they must hear, they could probably have quite a racket on the side like the maitre d's who call the paparazzi the minute stars show up at their restaurant. 

"No cutting, please," Patricia says to the Vietnamese woman who is kneeling at her side and working on her nails. Patricia flashes her a grin that would not be out of place on the red carpet. I wonder if she is practicing. Or maybe her physically higher position has mentally bumped her into the Hollywood royalty role of dealing with service where the unspoken but understood agreement is that the servers are getting more out of it than the stars. Supposedly. 

"The cuticles, no cutting," Patricia says, grinning madly again. 

The woman doing my manicure has already clipped the skin around my nails with a zealous precision that I was glad for. I imagine Patricia's make-up artist condemning the practice vehemently. 

Patricia is staring raptly across the room at a soap opera playing mutely on the TV as if it is the greatest acting she has ever seen. I wonder if now that she is on a TV show, and no longer goes from guest star role to guest star role with the occasional independent film like me, she has embraced every series-regular actor on TV as if they are her long lost perfect family. I really hope to God she has not. Please have the same taste as before. Soap operas have always reminded me of Kabuki. Not that I have ever seen Kabuki theater, but from the little that I know about it, the artificially heightened and artificially real emotions are the same. They should dub this soap in Japanese. 

"How's 'Sports Giant'?" I say at the commercial break. The wonderful/horrible thing about having a friend who is on the hottest national TV show is that it must always be asked about. Not that everyone doesn't have something that should always be asked about, but most other people's jobs are not in everyone's living room once a week. So, Patricia's job must always be addressed, like an insistent child that accompanies her wherever she goes, demanding time and attention and praise. I want to call it "Sports Brat." 

"It's great," Patricia says, putting her fingers into the mini nail dryer that the small woman has brought out. "Karen Blake is guest judging this week, so that's cool. She's great." 

I nod my head. If I let myself speak, I will have to scream. Then when I stop screaming, I will have to ask Patricia how and when her conversion occurred. Patricia and I have detested Karen Blake together for a very long time. Okay, maybe not detested, but have been equally baffled by her movie stardom because Karen Blake is basically, we think, talent-free. And it isn't like she has the to-die-for body of the other talent-free-but-have-careers actresses in this town. In fact, other girls' bodies have famously stood in for hers on the posters for her films. And her face isn't even beautiful. At best, it is non-threatening in a nicely symmetrical way. Karen Blake is the sort of girl you remember from the school bus in fifth grade, so why she has a career Patricia and I have never understood. Not even great tongue technique can get an actress that far. 

"Ugh, I have to go," Patricia says. "I have to get all the way over to Santa Monica for a fitting. Did I tell you I'm doing a shoot for "InStyle"? 

"No, that's great." I think about the rest of my day, which basically is just going to the gym, and wish we could trade. Then don't because then I'd have to have her whole life, too, i.e. no Neil and no pregnancy, but still. In fucking Style. 

"Yeah. Then Zane and I are going to Vegas tomorrow for a long weekend, so." Zane. Whenever I hear the name of Patricia's boyfriend of six months, I imagine some woman in a lonely rural town stuck with dusty old videos of "Shane" and "Zorro" to get her through her pregnancy, then in the delirium of her labor, naming her child Zane in deference to them. In reality, he was probably named Jim. 

Not that I've ever met him and that does feel weird since she is my best friend, but he's been on a big shoot, and Patricia keeps saying, "Soon," whenever I bring it up. But I have seen a couple of the films that he's done since he retired from his professional snowboarding career and became a movie star and I never would have pictured Patricia with him. Mostly because he has a kind of "Can't decide if you want to want to fuck him or smack him" quality which I don't associate with Patricia because none of the guys she's ever been with were like that. They were more the brotherly type, but also because after a certain amount of time I think that that quality would automatically default into only the "smack him" part. But she seems happy. I guess. 

"Well, happy late birthday! We should have had lunch." Patricia touches the arm of a Vietnamese woman walking by. "Can you take my wallet out for me? My Amex card is in there." 

"No credit card," the woman says. "Cash only." 

"Cash?" Patricia says, as if the concept is as foreign as the woman's accent. "Shit, I don't... Is there an ATM around here? Maybe I can just... Fuck, I don't have time to..." 

I have to physically stop myself from shaking my head and rolling my eyes. I read somewhere once that the Kennedy's never carry cash, and I wonder if Patricia is going all out in trying to be American royalty, an oxymoron if there ever was one. 

"Patricia, you know this place only takes cash." 

"No, I didn't." She looks hurt and confused, as if the rules were changed on purpose and just before she got there to insure her failure at paying for my birthday celebration. I think of the hundreds of times we have met here for manicures. What black hole in her brain did the details of those experiences disappear into? Or maybe her brain has become its own black hole thanks to TV stardom. 

"Here." I carefully snag my wallet out of my bag, and hand it to the Vietnamese woman. "Take out sixty to pay for us both, please."

"Sorry, Fi, I'll pay you back. I mean, it is your birthday present, and all." 

"Whatever. I really don't care." Because if I did, I would have to kill her. But I do, so I might. 

Patricia is wearing an expression I have seen a thousand times. Her mouth is tucked in as if she is bracing against a frown while trying to smile. Her eyes are looking into mine with a searching, worried gaze. And she looks deeply disappointed, as if I am the one who has let her down. I want to slap her. And rewind this to the beginning when she walked in to see if we could do a better take. Like happy best friends. Like that acting technique of working from the outside in. Do the physical and the emotions will follow. Not that I ever believed in that technique, but maybe it could work this time.

"Well, I need to run," she says, standing up and stepping off the platform. I consider staying in my chair. Its throne-like cushy-ness is more embracing and comforting than my oldest and best friend. But stay for what? More conflict acted silently on the small screen? I step onto the floor, and slip into my sandals. 

"Oh God, your belly! I almost forgot!" Patricia puts her hand on my stomach, and rubs it a bit, which is odd because it doesn't look any different than it did last week. She's basically rubbing cells. I hate when Patricia tries hard. 

"Yeah," I say, forcing a smile. One of the manicurists looks at us with an opaque gaze. I can only imagine what she is thinking.

"It's gonna get so big!" 

"One hopes." I am shocked at how quickly something that felt like it would forever supercede any other emotion has already succumbed to my best friend's killjoy behavior. 


Patricia seems to be having a hard time leaving. I realize that I have no choice but to walk outside with her where there won't be manicurists and customers to chaperone us. Not that I think we will do anything untoward, but suddenly I really do not want to be alone with her, even on a sidewalk, where the distance and discomfort between us will be even more apparent. I feel like I'm in the soap opera on the TV, but can't remember my exist line, so will be stuck here for eternity. I decide to use that stupid outside-in acting technique, hoping that doing the action will imbue it with meaning, so I give Patricia a hug. She seems almost startled, then when I try to let go, she keeps holding on to me, so I stop letting go, but then she pulls away. 

"Well, talk to you soon." 

"Yeah. We're leaving tomorrow afternoon, so maybe in the morning," Patricia says. 

I start to tell her that I have an early call for the TV movie that I booked, but then don't because I'm not going to initiate our phone call anyway. And I seriously doubt that she will. Though if I did call her, I know that she would act as if she was just about to call me. 

We pick up our bags, and walk out the door onto Melrose Avenue, heading our separate ways in the unforgiving afternoon light. 

Excerpted from The Safety of Secrets © Copyright 2012 by DeLauné Michel. Reprinted with permission by Avon A. All rights reserved.

The Safety of Secrets
by by DeLauné Michel

  • paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0060817364
  • ISBN-13: 9780060817367