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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: Chapter 18


I DON’T WANT TO DO this,” Celia said.

She was wearing a tailored black dress with a deep-V neckline. It was the kind of dress I could never wear out of the house or I’d be picked up on a prostitution charge. She had on a diamond necklace that Don had persuaded Sunset to loan to her.

Sunset wasn’t in the business of helping freelance actresses, but Celia wanted the diamonds, and I wanted Celia to have anything she wanted. And Don wanted me to have anything I wanted, at least most of the time.

Don had just starred in his second Western, The Righteous, after he had lobbied Ari Sullivan hard for one more crack at bat. This time, however, the reviews were telling a different story. Don had “manned up.” He was convincing everyone, on his sophomore try, that he was a formidable action star.

Which translated into Don having the number one movie in the country and Ari Sullivan giving Don anything he asked for.

That’s how those diamonds made their way onto Celia’s neck, the large center ruby resting at the top of her breasts.

I was in emerald green again. It was a look that was starting to become my signature. This time, it was off the shoulder and made of peau de soie, with a cinched waist, full skirt, and beading on the neckline. My hair was down in a brushed-under bob.

I looked over at Celia, who was looking in the mirror at my vanity, fiddling with her bouffant.

“You have to do this,” I said.

“I don’t want to. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

I picked up my clutch, made to match my dress. “Not really,” I said.

“You’re not the boss of me, you know,” she said.

“Why are we friends?” I asked her.

“Honestly? I don’t even remember,” she said.

“Because our whole is greater than the sum of our parts.”

“And so what?”

“And so when it comes to what acting roles to take and how to play them, who’s in charge?”

“I am.”

“And now, when it’s the opening of our movie? Who’s in charge then?”

“I suppose you are.”

“You suppose right.”

“I really hate him, Evelyn,” Celia said. She was messing with her makeup.

“Put the rouge down,” I said. “Gwen made you look gorgeous. Don’t mess with perfect.”

“Did you listen to me? I said I hate him.”

“Of course you hate him. He’s a weasel.”

“There’s no one else?”

“Not at this hour.”

“And I can’t go alone?”

“To your own premiere?”

“Why can’t you and I just go together?”

“I’m going with Don. You’re going with Robert.”

Celia frowned and turned back to the mirror. I saw her eyes narrow and her lips purse, as if she was thinking of how mad she was.

I grabbed her bag and handed it to her. It was time to go.

“Celia, would you cut it out? If you’re not willing to do what it takes to get your name in the paper, then why the hell are you here?”

She stood up, ripped the bag out my hand, and walked out the door. I watched her go down my stairs, into my living room with a grand smile, and then run into Robert’s arms as if she thought he was the savior of all mankind.

I walked up to Don. He always cleaned up nicely in his tux. There was no denying that he was going to be the most handsome man there. But I was tiring of him. What’s that saying? Behind every gorgeous woman, there’s a man sick of screwing her? Well, it works both ways. No one mentions that part.

“Shall we go?” Celia said, as if she couldn’t possibly wait to show up to the movie on Robert’s arm. She was a great actress. No one has ever denied that.

“I don’t want to waste a minute more,” I said, looping my arm into Don’s and holding on for dear life. He looked down at my arm and then at me, as if pleasantly surprised by my warmth.

“Let’s see our little women in Little Women, shall we?” Don said. I nearly smacked him across the face. He was owed a smack or two. Or fifteen.

Our cars picked us up and drove us to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Parts of Hollywood Boulevard had been blocked off for our arrival. The driver pulled up just behind Celia and Robert outside the theater. We were the last in a line of four cars.

When you are one of an ensemble of female stars in a movie and the studio wants to make a big show, they make sure you all show up at the same time, in four separate cars, with four eligible bachelors for dates—except, in my case, the eligible bachelor was my husband.

Our dates stepped out first, each standing by and offering a hand. I waited as I watched Ruby step out, then Joy, then Celia. I waited just a beat longer than the rest of them. And then I stepped out, leg first, onto the red carpet.

“You’re the most beautiful woman here,” Don said into my ear as I stood next to him. But I already knew he thought I was the most gorgeous woman there. I knew, very acutely, that if he did not believe that, he would not have been with me.

Men were almost never with me for my personality.

I’m not suggesting that charming girls should take pity on the pretty ones. I’m just saying it’s not so great being loved for something you didn’t do.

The photographers started calling our names as we all walked in. My head was a jumble of words being thrown in my direction. “Ruby! Joy! Celia! Evelyn!” “Mr. and Mrs. Adler! Over here!”

I could barely hear myself think over the din of cameras snapping and the crowd buzzing. But, as I had long ago trained myself to do, I pretended as if I felt perfectly calm inside, as if being treated like a tiger at the zoo was my most comfortable situation.

Don and I held hands and smiled for every flashing bulb. At the end of the red carpet stood a few men with microphones. Ruby was speaking to one. Joy and Celia were speaking to another. The third put his mic in my face.

He was a short guy with small eyes and a bulbous, gin-blossomed nose. A face made for radio, as they say.

“Miss Hugo, are you excited for this picture to come out?”

I laughed as kindly as I could to disguise what a stupid question he was asking. “I’ve waited my whole life to play Jo March. I’m incredibly excited for tonight.”

“And you seem to have made a good friend during filming,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“You and Celia St. James. You seem like you’re great friends.”

“She’s wonderful. And wonderful in the film. Absolutely.”

“She and Robert Logan seem to be getting hot and heavy.”

“Oh, you’d have to ask them about that. I don’t know.”

“But didn’t you set them up?”

Don stepped in. “I think that’s all for questions,” he said.

“Don, when are you and the Mrs. going to start a family?”

“I said it was enough, friend. And it’s enough. Thank you.”

Don pushed me forward.

We got to the doors, and I watched as Ruby and her date, followed by Joy and hers, walked through.

Don opened the door in front of us, waiting for me. Robert held the one on the other side for Celia.

And I got an idea.

I took Celia’s hand and turned us around.

“Wave to the crowd,” I said, smiling. “Like we’re the goddamn queens of England.”

Celia smiled brightly and did exactly as I did. We stood there, in black and green, redhead and blonde, one of us all ass and the other all tits, waving to the crowd as if we ruled them.

Ruby and Joy were nowhere to be seen. And the crowd roared for us.

We turned around and headed into the theater. We made our way to our seats.

“Big moment,” Don said.

“I know.”

“In just a few months, you’ll win for this, and I’ll win for The Righteous. And then the sky’s the limit.”

“Celia is going to be nominated, too,” I whispered into his ear.

“People are going to leave this movie talking about you,” he said. “I have no doubt.”

I looked over to see Robert whispering into Celia’s ear. She was laughing as if he actually had anything funny to say. But it was me who got her those diamonds, me who got her that gorgeous picture of the two of us that would make headlines the next day. Meanwhile, she was acting as if he was about to charm her dress off. All I could think was that he didn’t know about that line of freckles on her hip. I knew about them, and he didn’t.

“She’s really talented, Don.”

“Oh, get over her,” Don said. “I’m sick of hearing her name all the damn time. They shouldn’t be asking you about her. They should be asking you about us.

“Don, I—”

He waved me off, determining, before I’d even said anything, that whatever I had to say was useless to him.

The lights dimmed. The crowd quieted. The credits started to roll. And my face appeared on the screen.

The entire audience stared at me on-screen as I said, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!”

But by the time Celia said, “We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” I knew it was all over for me.

Everyone was going to walk out of this theater talking about Celia St. James.

It should have made me afraid or jealous or insecure. I should have been plotting to one-up her in some way by planting a story that she was a prude or sleeping around. That is the fastest way to ruin a woman’s reputation, after all—to imply that she has not adequately threaded the needle that is being sexually satisfying without ever appearing to desire sexual satisfaction.

But instead of spending the next hour and forty-five minutes nursing my wounds, I spent the time holding back a smile.

Celia was going to win an Oscar. It was as plain as the nose on her face. And it didn’t make me jealous. It made me happy.

When Beth died, I cried. And then I reached over Robert’s and Don’s laps and squeezed her hand.

Don rolled his eyes at me.

And I thought, He’s going to find an excuse to hit me later. But it will be for this.

* * *

WAS STANDING in the middle of Ari Sullivan’s mansion at the top of Benedict Canyon. Don and I had made it up the winding streets without saying much of anything to each other.

I suspected he knew the same thing I did once he saw Celia in that movie. That no one cared about anything else.

After our driver dropped us off and we made our way inside, Don said, “I need to find the john,” and disappeared.

I looked for Celia but couldn’t find her.

Instead, I was surrounded by brown-nosing losers, hoping to rub elbows with me while they drank their sugary cocktails and talked about Eisenhower.

“Would you excuse me?” I said to a woman in a hideous bubble cut. She was waxing on about the Hope Diamond.

Women who collected rare jewels seemed exactly the same as men who were desperate to have just one night with me. The world was about objects to them; all they wanted to do was possess.

“Oh, there you are, Ev,” Ruby said when she found me in the hallway. She had two green cocktails in her hand. Her voice was lukewarm, a bit hard to read.

“Having a good night?” I asked.

She looked over her shoulder, put the stems of both glasses in one hand, and then pulled me by the elbow, spilling as she did.

“Ow, Ruby,” I said, noticeably perturbed.

She nodded covertly to the laundry room to the right of us.

“What on earth . . .” I said.

“Would you just open the goddamn door, Evelyn?”

I turned the handle, and Ruby stepped in and dragged me with her. She shut the door behind us.

“Here,” she said, handing me one of the cocktails in the dark. “I was getting it for Joy, but you have it. It matches your dress, anyway.”

As my eyes adjusted, I took the drink from her. “You’re lucky it matches my dress. You nearly poured half the drink on it.”

With one of her hands now free, Ruby tugged on the pull chain of the light above us. The tiny room lit up and stung my eyes.

“You have absolutely no decorum tonight, Ruby.”

“You think I’m worried about what you think of me, Evelyn Hugo? Now, listen, what’re we going to do?”

“What are we going to do about what?”

“About what? About Celia St. James, that’s what.”

“What about her?”

Ruby hung her head in frustration. “Evelyn, I swear.”

“She gave a great performance. What can we do?” I said.

“This is exactly what I told Harry would happen. And he said it wouldn’t.”

“Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

“You’re losing out, too. Or do you not see that?”

“Of course I see it!” I cared, obviously. But I also knew I could still win Best Actress. Celia and Ruby would be competing for Best Supporting. “I don’t know what to tell you, Ruby. We were all right about Celia. She’s talented and gorgeous and charming, and when you’ve been bested, sometimes it’s good to recognize it and move on.”

Ruby looked at me as if I had slapped her.

I had nothing else to say, and she was blocking my way out of the room. So I put the drink to my mouth and downed it in two gulps.

“This is not the Evelyn I know and respect,” Ruby said.

“Oh, Ruby, put a lid on it.”

She finished her drink. “People have been saying all sorts of things about the two of you, and I didn’t believe it. But now . . . I don’t know.”

“People have been saying all sorts of things like what?”

“You know.”

“I assure you, I haven’t the faintest.”

“Why do you make things so difficult?”

“Ruby, you’ve pulled me into a laundry room against my will, and you’re barking at me about things I can’t control. I’m not the difficult one.”

“She’s a lesbian, Evelyn.”

Until that point, the sounds of the party going on around us had been muted but still distinct. But the minute Ruby said what she said, the minute I heard the word lesbian, my blood started beating so fast that my pulse was all I could hear. I was not paying attention to what was flying out of Ruby’s mouth. I could only catch certain words, like girl and dyke and twisted.

The skin on my chest felt hot. My ears burned.

I did my best to calm myself. And when I did, when I focused on Ruby’s words, I finally heard the other piece of what she was trying to tell me.

“You should probably get a better handle on your husband, by the way. He’s in Ari’s bedroom getting a blow job from some harpy from MGM.”

When she said it, I did not think, Oh, my God. My husband is cheating on me. I thought, I have to find Celia.


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