Famous Last Words

By: Katie Alender

Nothing glittered.

I’d never been to Hollywood before, but like any other person with eyeballs and a television, I’d seen it a thousand times. I expected wide, palm-tree-lined roads and mansions that overflowed with fabulous movie stars.

What I got was a normal city. Except the sky was pale brown, and the freeways went on forever in every direction. The houses crept up the sides of distant mountains like a fungus. Nobody looked particularly fabulous, especially not the roving bands of tourists taking pictures of every street sign, sidewalk, and tree.

I felt a little cheated, to be honest.

“There’s Hollywood Boulevard,” my new stepfather, Jonathan, said. “That’s where you’ll find the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre. We should go there tomorrow.”

Party foul. “Tomorrow’s Monday,” I said. “I start school.”

“Oh, right.” He was quiet for a second. “Well, they’re nothing special. Just a bunch of old footprints and handprints. Movie stars had tiny feet.”

“Even the men, right?” my mother piped up. “I think I read that somewhere.”

I didn’t reply. Not speaking when I had nothing to say had become a bit of a habit for me.

“Look, Willa! The Hollywood Sign — right through those buildings!” Mom’s nose was practically pressed up against the glass, and her voice had the chirpy cheerfulness of a preschool teacher.

I squinted to see the line of writing on a far-off hillside. “Oh … yeah,” I said. “Cool.”

“Are you all right?” She studied me, concealing her anxiety beneath a thin veneer of calm. “Do you have a headache?”

“Why would she have a headache?” Jonathan asked.

My mother clamped her mouth shut.

“I’m good, Mom,” I said.

As exciting as it was to ride from the airport to our new house in a stretch limo, the limitations of this mode of transportation were tragically apparent. I sat on the front bench, facing backward, with Mom and Jonathan on the forward-facing bench looking directly at me. It was like being in a fishbowl. Give me the backseat of our old Camry anytime — at least there was relative privacy.

But there was no more old Camry. No more old anything. My new stepfather was rich, which meant Mom and I were rich, too … unless I messed everything up.

No. I’d already destroyed our lives once. It wasn’t going to happen again.

If we had to leave, what would we go back to? Joffrey, Connecticut — a town where we no longer belonged. No house, no job, no car. No friends.

This new life in California was the end of the line for us. It was going to work out.

Because, well … it had to.

We followed a series of labyrinthine streets to 2121 Sunbird Lane. There was a little hiccup in my heart as our new home came into view.

Jonathan always referred to it as simply “the house,” but apparently he had a pretty warped idea of what a house was, because this was obviously a full-on mansion.

It was separated from the road by a tall privacy hedge and a metal-spiked fence. The front yard was huge and perfect, with freshly mowed grass and a fountain in the center.

I stood in the driveway looking around while Jonathan and the chauffeur got our bags out of the car. The house (there, see? I was doing it, too) was an elegant old Spanish-style with crisp white stucco walls and a red-clay-tile roof. Its beauty was simple, unadorned … and expensive-looking.

“Willa?” Mom called. “You coming?”

With a start, I realized that they were waiting for me on the front porch.

Jonathan unlocked the dead bolt. “The door’s original,” he said, sounding proud — as if a plank of wood lasting almost a hundred years was somehow a credit to human ingenuity and not, you know, trees.

Inside, the house was cool and open. Pale sunlight streamed in, reflecting off the cream-colored walls and gleaming hardwood floors. Overhead, a heavy iron chandelier was chained to the wall from three sides, like a wild animal. A set of stairs curved gracefully toward the second story.

My mother spun in a circle, taking in all the details. “It’s gorgeous, Jonathan. When was it built?”

“Nineteen thirty-three,” he said. “For an actress named Diana Del Mar.”

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