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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: Chapter 36

I WAS NOMINATED FOR BEST Actress for Carolina Sunset.

The only problem was that Celia was nominated that year, too.

I showed up on the red carpet with Harry. We were engaged. He’d given me a diamond and emerald ring. It stood out against the black beaded dress I wore that night. Two slits on either side of the skirt went up to my mid-thigh. I loved that dress.

And so did everyone else. I’ve noticed that when people do retrospectives of my career, photos of me in that dress always make it in somehow. I made sure it would be included in the auction. I think it could raise a lot of money.

It makes me happy that people love that dress as much as I do. I lost an Oscar, but it ended up being one of the greatest nights of my life.

Celia arrived just before the show began. She was wearing a pale blue strapless gown with a sweetheart neckline. The color of her hair against the dress was striking. When my eyes set on her, for the first time in nearly five years, I found myself breathless.

I’d gone to see every single one of Celia’s movies, even though I was loath to admit it. So I had seen her.

But no medium can capture what it is to be in someone’s presence, certainly not someone like her. Someone who makes you feel important simply because she’s choosing to look at you.

There was something stately about her, at the age of twenty-eight. She was mature and dignified. She looked like the kind of person who knew exactly who she was.

She stepped forward and took John Braverman’s arm. In a tux that seemed to strain at his broad shoulders, John looked as all-American as a husk of corn. They were a gorgeous couple. No matter how false it all was.

“Ev, you’re staring,” Harry said as he pushed me into the theater.

“Sorry,” I said. “Thank you.”

As we took our seats, we smiled and waved to everyone seated around us. Joy and Rex were a few rows behind us, and I waved politely, knowing people were watching, knowing that if I ran up and hugged them, people might be confused.

When we sat down, Harry said, “If you win, will you talk to her?”

I laughed. “And gloat?”

“No, but you’d have the upper hand that you seem to so desperately want.”

“She left me.”

“You slept with someone.”

“For her.”

Harry frowned at me as if I was missing the point.

“Fine, if I win, I’ll talk to her.”

“Thank you.”

“Why are you thanking me?”

“Because I want you to be happy, and it appears I have to reward you for doing things in your own favor.”

“Well, if she wins, I’m not saying a single word to her.”

“If she wins,” Harry said delicately, “which is a big if, and she comes and talks to you, I will hold you down and force you to listen and speak back.”

I couldn’t look directly at him. I was feeling defensive.

“It’s a moot point anyway,” I said. “Everyone knows they’re going to give it to Ruby, because they feel bad she didn’t get it last year for The Dangerous Flight.

“They might not,” Harry said.

“Yeah, yeah,” I told him. “And I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.”

But when the lights dimmed and the host came out, I was not thinking that my chances were slim. I was just delusional enough to think the Academy might finally give me a goddamn Oscar.

When they called out the nominees for Best Actress, I scanned the audience for Celia. I spotted her the very same moment she spotted me. We locked eyes. And then the presenter didn’t say “Evelyn” or “Celia.” He said “Ruby.”

When my heart sank into my chest, aching and heavy, I was mad at myself for believing I had a chance. And then I wondered if Celia was OK.

Harry held my hand and squeezed it. I hoped John was squeezing Celia’s. I excused myself to the bathroom.

Bonnie Lakeland was washing her hands as I came in. She gave me a smile, and then she left. And I was alone. I sat in a stall and closed the door. I let myself cry.


You don’t spend years pining away for one voice not to notice it when it finally appears.

“Celia?” I said. My back was to the stall door. I wiped my eyes.

“I saw you come in here,” she said. “I thought it might be a sign that you weren’t . . . that you were upset.”

“I’m trying to be happy for Ruby,” I said, laughing just a little bit as I used a piece of toilet paper to carefully dry my eyes. “But it’s not exactly my style.”

“Mine either,” she said.

I opened the door. And there she was. Blue dress, red hair, small stature with a presence that filled the whole room. And when her eyes set on me, I knew she still loved me. I could see it in the way her pupils widened and softened.

“You are as gorgeous as ever,” she said as she leaned against the sink, her arms holding her weight behind her. There was always something intoxicating about the way Celia looked at me. I felt like a rare steak in front of a tiger.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” I said.

“We probably shouldn’t be caught in here together,” Celia said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because I suspect more than a few people seated in there know what we once got up to,” she said. “I know you’d hate for them to think we were up to it again.”

This was a test.

I knew it. She knew it.

If I said the right thing, if I told her I didn’t care what they thought, if I told her I’d make love to her in the middle of the stage in front of all of them, I just might be able to have her back.

I let myself think about it for a moment. I let myself think about waking up tomorrow to her cigarette-and-coffee breath.

But I wanted her to admit it wasn’t all me. That she had played a part in our demise. “Or maybe you just don’t want to be seen with a . . . what was the word you used, I believe it was whore?”

Celia laughed and looked down at the floor and then back up at me. “What do you want me to say? That I was wrong? I was. I wanted to hurt you like you hurt me.”

“But I never meant to hurt you,” I said. “Never once would I have done a single thing to hurt you on purpose.”

“You were ashamed to love me.”

“Absolutely not,” I said. “That is absolutely untrue.”

“Well, you certainly went to great lengths to hide it.”

“I did what had to be done to protect both of us.”


“So debate it with me,” I said. “Instead of running away again.”

“I didn’t run far, Evelyn. You could have caught up with me, if you wanted to.”

“I don’t like being played, Celia. I told you that the first time we went out for milk shakes.”

She shrugged. “You play everyone else.”

“I have never claimed that I wasn’t a hypocrite.”

“How do you do that?” Celia said.

“Do what?”

“Act so cavalier about things that are sacred to other people?”

“Because other people have got nothing to do with me.”

Celia scoffed, somewhat gently, and looked down at her hands.

“Except you,” I said.

I was rewarded with the sight of her looking up at me.

“I care about you,” I said.

“You cared about me.”

I shook my head. “No, I didn’t misspeak.”

“You certainly moved on fast enough with Rex North.”

I frowned at her. “Celia, you know better than that.”

“So it was fake.”

“Every moment.”

“Have you been with anyone else? Any men?” she asked. She was always jealous of the men, worried she couldn’t compete. I was jealous of the women, worried I wouldn’t compare.

“I’ve had a good time,” I said. “As I’m sure you’ve had.”

“John isn’t—”

“I’m not talking about John. But I’m sure you haven’t kept chaste.” I was fishing for information that might break my heart, a flaw of the human condition.

“No,” she said. “You’re right about that.”

“Men?” I asked, hoping the answer was yes. If it was men, I knew it didn’t mean anything to her.

She shook her head, and my heart broke just a little bit more, like a tear that deepens from strain.

“Anyone I know?”

“None of them were famous,” she said. “None of them meant anything to me. I touched them and thought of what it felt like to touch you.”

My heart both ached and swelled to hear it.

“You shouldn’t have left me, Celia.”

“You shouldn’t have let me leave.”

And with that, I had no more fight in me. My heart cried out the truth through my throat. “I know. I know that. I know.”

Sometimes things happen so quickly you aren’t sure when you even realized they were about to begin. One minute she was leaning against the sink, the next her hands were on my face, her body pressed against me, her lips between mine. She tasted like the musky creaminess of thick lipstick and the sharp, spiced sting of rum.

I was lost in her. In the feel of her on me once again, the sheer joy of her attention, the glory of knowing she loved me.

And then the door was flung open, and the wives of two producers walked in. We broke apart. Celia pretended she had been washing her hands, and I moved to one of the mirrors and fixed my makeup. The two women talked together, caught up in their conversation, barely noticing us.

They entered two stalls, and I looked at Celia. She looked at me. I watched her turn off the faucet and take a towel. I worried that she might walk right out the bathroom door. But she didn’t.

One of the wives left, and then the other. We were finally alone again. Listening closely, we could tell the show had come back from a commercial break.

I grabbed Celia and kissed her. I pushed her up against the door. I couldn’t get enough of her. I needed her. She was as much of a fix to me as any drug.

Before I even stopped to consider the danger, I lifted her dress and slipped my hand up her thigh. I held her against the door, I kissed her, and with one hand I touched her the way I knew she liked.

She moaned slightly and put her hand over her mouth. I kissed her neck. And the two of us, our bodies tightly wound, shuddered against the door.

We could have been caught at any moment. If one woman in the whole auditorium chose to visit the ladies’ room during those seven minutes, we’d have lost everything we’d worked so hard for.

That is how Celia and I forgave each other.

And how we knew we couldn’t live without each other.

Because now we both knew what we were willing to risk. Just to be together.


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