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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: Chapter 15


A WEEK INTO REHEARSALS, DON and I were lying in bed. He was asking how it was going, and I admitted that Celia was just as good as I’d thought she’d be.

“Well, The People of Montgomery County is going to be number one again this week. I’m at the top of my game again. And my contract is up at the end of this year. Ari Sullivan is willing to do whatever I want to make me happy. So just say the word, baby, and poof, she’s out of there.”

“No,” I said to him, putting my hand on his chest and my head on his shoulder. “It’s OK. I’m the lead. She’s supporting. I’m not going to worry too much. And anyway, there’s something I like about her.”

“There’s something I like about you,” he said, pulling me on top of him. And for a moment, all my worries completely disappeared.

The next day, when we broke for lunch, Joy and Ruby went off to get turkey salads. Celia caught my eye. “There’s no chance you’d want to cut out and grab a milk shake, is there?” she asked.

The nutritionist at Sunset would not have liked me getting a milk shake. But what he didn’t know wouldn’t kill him.

Ten minutes later, we were in Celia’s baby-pink 1956 Chevy, making our way to Hollywood Boulevard. Celia was a terrible driver. I gripped the door handle as if it was capable of saving my life.

Celia stopped at the light at Sunset Boulevard and Cahuenga. “I’m thinking Schwab’s,” she said with a grin.

Schwab’s was the place everybody hung around during the day back then. And everybody knew that Sidney Skolsky, from Photoplay, worked out of Schwab’s almost every day.

Celia wanted to be seen there. She wanted to be seen there with me.

“What kind of game are you playing?” I asked.

“I’m not playing any game,” she said, falsely insulted that I’d suggest such a thing.

“Oh, Celia,” I said, dismissing her with a wave of my hand. “I’ve been at this a few more years than you. You’re the one who just fell off the turnip truck. Don’t confuse us.”

The light turned green, and Celia gunned it.

“I’m from Georgia,” she said. “Just outside of Savannah.”

“So?”

“I’m just saying, I didn’t fall off a turnip truck. I was scouted by a guy from Paramount back home.”

I found it somewhat intimidating—maybe even threatening—that someone had flown out to woo her. I had made my way to town through my own blood, sweat, and tears, and Celia had Hollywood running to her before she was even somebody.

“That may be so,” I said. “But I still know what game you’re running, honey. Nobody goes to Schwab’s for the milk shakes.”

“Listen,” she said, the tone of her voice changing slightly, becoming more sincere. “I could use a story or two. If I’m going to star in my own movie soon, I need some name recognition.”

“And this milk shake business is all just a ruse to be seen with me?” I found it insulting. Both being used and being underestimated.

Celia shook her head. “No, not at all. I wanted to go get a milk shake with you. And then, when we pulled out of the lot, I thought, We should go to Schwab’s.’ ”

Celia stopped abruptly at the light at Sunset and Highland. I realized at that point that was just how she drove. A lead foot on both the gas and the brake.

“Take a right,” I said.

“What?”

“Take a right.”

“Why?”

“Celia, take the goddamn right before I open this car door and throw myself out of it.”

She looked at me like I was nuts, which was fair. I had just threatened to kill myself if she didn’t put on her blinker.

She turned right on Highland.

“Take a left at the light,” I said.

She didn’t ask questions. She just put on her blinker. And then she spun onto Hollywood Boulevard. I instructed her to park the car on a side road. We walked to CC Brown’s.

“They have better ice cream,” I said as we walked in.

I was putting her in her place. I wasn’t going to be photographed with her unless I wanted to be, unless it was my idea. I certainly wasn’t going to be pushed around by somebody less famous than I was.

Celia nodded, feeling the sting.

The two of us sat down, and the guy behind the counter came up to us, momentarily speechless.

“Uh . . .” he said. “Do you want menus?”

I shook my head. “I know what I want. Celia?”

She looked at him. “Chocolate malt, please.”

I watched the way his eyes fixed on her, the way she bent forward slightly with her arms together, emphasizing her chest. She seemed unaware of what she was doing, and that mesmerized him even more.

“And I’ll have a strawberry milk shake,” I said.

When he looked at me, I saw his eyes open wider, as if he wanted to see as much of me as he could at one time.

“Are you . . . Evelyn Hugo?”

“No,” I said, and then I smiled and looked him right in the eye. It was ironic and teasing, with the same tone and inflection I’d used countless times when I was recognized around town.

He scattered away.

“Cheer up, buttercup,” I said as I looked at Celia. She was staring down at the glossy counter. “You’re getting a better milk shake out of the deal.”

“I upset you,” she said. “With the Schwab’s thing. I’m sorry.”

“Celia, if you’re going to be as big as you clearly want to be, you need to learn two things.”

“And what are they?”

“First, you have to push people’s boundaries and not feel bad about it. No one is going to give you anything if you don’t ask for it. You tried. You were told no. Get over it.”

“And the second thing?”

“When you use people, be good at it.”

“I wasn’t trying to use you—”

“Yes, Celia, you were. And I’m fine with that. I wouldn’t have a moment’s hesitation in using you. And I wouldn’t expect you to have a second thought about using me. Do you know the difference between the two of us?”

“There are a lot of differences between the two of us.”

“Do you know the one in particular I’m talking about?” I said.

“What is it?”

“That I know I use people. I’m fine with the idea of using people. And all of that energy that you spend trying to convince yourself that you’re not using people I spend getting better at it.”

“And you’re proud of that?”

“I’m proud of where it’s gotten me.”

“Are you using me? Now?”

“If I was, you’d never know.”

“That’s why I’m asking.”

The guy behind the counter came back with our milk shakes. He appeared to have to give himself a pep talk just to give them to us.

“No,” I said to Celia, once he was gone.

“No what?”

“No, I’m not using you.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Celia said. It struck me as painfully naive, the way she so easily, so readily believed me. I was telling the truth, but still.

“Do you know why I’m not using you?” I said.

“This should be good,” Celia said as she took a sip of her shake. I laughed, surprised by both the world-weariness in her voice and the speed with which she spoke.

Celia would go on to win more Oscars than anybody else in our circle back then. And it was always for intense, dramatic roles. But I always thought she’d be dynamite in a comedy. She was so quick.

“The reason I’m not using you is that you have nothing to offer me. Not yet, at least.”

Celia took a sip of her shake again, stung. And then I leaned forward and took a sip of mine.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Celia said. “I’ll give you that you’re more famous than me. Being married to Captain Hollywood can have that effect on a person. But other than that, we’re at the same place, Evelyn. You’ve turned in a couple of good performances. So have I. And now we’re in a movie together, which both of us took on because we want an Academy Award. And let’s be honest, I have a leg up on you in that regard.”

“And why is that?”

“Because I’m a better actress.”

I stopped sipping the thick shake through the straw and turned myself toward her.

“How do you figure that?”

Celia shrugged. “It’s not something we can measure, I suppose. But it’s true. I’ve seen One More Day. You’re really good. But I’m better. And you know I’m better. That’s why you and Don almost had me kicked off the project.”

“No, we didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. Ruby told me.”

I wasn’t mad at Ruby for telling Celia what I’d told her, the same way you’re not mad at a dog for barking at a mailman. That’s just what they do.

“Oh, fine. So you’re a better actress than me. And sure, maybe Don and I discussed getting you fired. So what? Big deal.”

“Well, that’s just my point exactly. I’m more talented than you, and you’re more powerful than me.”

“So?”

“So you’re right, I’m not very good at using people. So I’m trying this a different way. Let’s help each other out.”

I sipped my milk shake again, mildly intrigued. “How so?” I said.

“After hours, I’ll help you with your scenes. I’ll teach you what I know.”

“And I go with you to Schwab’s?”

“You help me do what you’ve done. Become a star.”

“But then what?” I said. “We both end up famous and talented? Competing for every job in town?”

“I suppose that is one option.”

“And the other?”

“I really like you, Evelyn.”

I looked at her sideways.

She laughed at me. “I know that’s probably not something most actresses mean in this town, but I don’t want to be like most actresses. I really like you. I like watching you on-screen. I like how the moment you show up in a scene, I can’t look at anything else. I like the way your skin is too dark for your blond hair, the way the two shouldn’t go together and yet seem so natural on you. And to be honest, I like how calculating and awful you kind of are.”

“I am not awful!”

Celia laughed. “Oh, you definitely are. Getting me fired because you think I’ll show you up? Awful. That’s just awful, Evelyn. And walking around bragging about how you use people? Just terrible. But I really like it when you talk about it. I like how honest you are, how unashamed. So many women around here are full of crap with everything they say and do. I like that you’re full of crap only when it gets you something.”

“This laundry list of compliments seems to have a lot of insults in it,” I said.

Celia nodded, hearing me. “You know what you want, and you go after it. I don’t think there is anyone in this town doubting that Evelyn Hugo is going to be the biggest star in Hollywood one of these days. And that’s not just because you’re something to look at. It’s because you decided you wanted to be huge, and now you’re going to be. I want to be friends with a woman like that. That’s what I’m saying. Real friends. None of this Ruby Reilly, backstabbing, talking-about-each-other-behind-our-backs crap. Friendship. Where each of us gets better, lives better, because we know the other.”

I considered her. “Do we have to do each other’s hair and stuff like that?”

“Sunset pays people to do that. So no.”

“Do I have to listen to your man troubles?”

“Certainly not.”

“So what, then? We choose to spend time together and try to be there for each other?”

“Evelyn, have you never had a friend before?”

“Of course I’ve had friends before.”

“A real one, a close friend? A true friend?”

“I have a true friend, thank you very much.”

“Who is it?”

“Harry Cameron.”

“Harry Cameron is your friend?”

“He’s my best friend.”

“Well, fine,” Celia said, putting out her hand for me to shake. “I will be your second-best friend, next to Harry Cameron.”

I took her hand and shook it firmly. “Fine. Tomorrow I’ll take you to Schwab’s. And afterward, we can rehearse together.”

“Thank you,” she said, and she smiled brightly, as if she’d gotten everything she’d ever wanted in the world. She hugged me, and when we broke away, the man behind the counter was staring at us.

I asked for the check.

“It’s on the house,” he said, which I thought was the dumbest thing, because if there is anyone that should be getting free food, it isn’t rich people.

“Will you tell your husband I loved The Gun at Point Dume?” the man said as Celia and I got up to leave.

“What husband?” I said as coyly as possible.

Celia laughed, and I flashed her a grin.

But what I was really thinking was, I can’t tell him that. He’ll think I’m making fun of him, and he’ll smack me.


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