And, as it turned out, he wasn't a prince or a king. But he was someone special.
He looked at me for a long time, my face reddening under his gaze, then squatted down to look me in the eye. “Is this your sister?” he asked me.
I nodded, too shy to speak.
“You’re going to have to say something,” he said. “What’s your name?”
“River,” I said.
He smiled and nodded. “It’s perfect,” he said, and stood up. “You’re perfect. Abso-fucking-lutely perfect. Where are your parents?”
“My mom’s at home,” I said. “Her boyfriend’s there.”
He just nodded, didn’t say a word for a minute, and I sat there on the curb, rolling a pebble around underneath my foot.
Then he cleared his throat. “When’s the last time you kids ate?” he asked.
I shrugged. I was used to being hungry. Had I eaten breakfast? I couldn’t remember. “Last night?” I asked.
“Where do people eat around here?” he asked.
~ ~ ~
The rest was history. The man was an major Hollywood producer and, cleaned up, I became the darling of one of his films. The first of many films. And my life became a carefully crafted Cinderella story, one that glossed over the more sordid details of my childhood, at least in the more reputable magazines. Every so often, the tabloids tried to dredge up details of the past- to interview one of my mom’s old boyfriends or talk to someone from my hometown. But mostly, they let me play the role of fairytale princess, the girl who was plucked from obscurity and swept up into Hollywood glamour.
It was supposed to be roses and sunshine, designer shoes and expensive champagne for the rest of my life. That was the fantasy. That was what people wanted when they looked at me- they wanted to believe in the power of fate, in the suggestion of possibility- that they too might be whisked away from their lives into the castle to live with a prince.
It was the reason that my wedding, the live broadcast to millions of viewers, was such a big deal. I’d grown up in front of cameras- and now I’d be married in front of them too.
Inside the hotel room, I opened a box of hair dye, a dark brown color I selected at the drugstore where I’d made a pit stop to buy pajamas and toiletries, my fingers lingering on the box of fuchsia I’d briefly considered, my whole body longing for a change. I wanted to be something else, someone other than the person I had become.
But in the end I chose sensible brown, something that wouldn’t call attention to me.
I still didn’t know what the hell I was doing, here in a hotel, dyeing my hair like I was some kind of fugitive. I needed to turn around and face things. I needed to go back home. I just wasn’t sure where home was anymore.
After I finished the dye job, I raised the scissors to my hair, snipping at the long tresses, now brown instead of blonde, a huge part of my identity.
My image was polished, classic- the past few years, I’ve been compared to Grace Kelly. The thing was, I'd always empathized more with Marilyn Monroe. She was tragic, her demons so much a part of her that they eventually destroyed her.
That was something I could understand.
The pieces fell into the sink, curling at the ends, scattering on the flat surface of the countertop. I chopped with the scissors until I resembled something I hoped was more pixie-punk than cut-by-a-lawnmower.
When I was finished, I surveyed my work in the mirror. The girl looking back at me, all big eyes and suddenly prominent cheekbones, looked nothing like the “me” I knew. At a glance, I was starkly different. I thought I would be able to pass undetected in a public place.
I grabbed a mini-bottle of vodka from the refrigerator, hearing my mother’s scolding voice in my head.
Always choose vodka, she would say, making a clucking sound and shaking her head. It’s the skinniest.
She would f**king know, skin and bones, her meals mostly diet pills and booze.
I slid the vodka back into the refrigerator and chose something else. Rum. My hand reached automatically for the diet cola and then I chose the regular one, the one with all of the calories.
It was only after I finally sat down on the bed that I allowed myself to cry. I breathed in deeply, and began to sob, the sound loud in the stillness of the hotel room.
I was selfish, feeling sorry for myself. I lived a charmed life. I was marrying one of the hottest rock stars on the planet. I made an incredible amount of money making films.
A little cheating came with the territory, right? So what if Viper was sticking his dick down my sister’s throat? He was a rock star and I was a starlet. It was to be expected.
It’s not that I was ungrateful for my life. Exactly the opposite. I knew what it was like to be hungry. I knew what it was like to be beaten within an inch of my life, and worse. And now I knew what it was like to have everything I could ever want, and more. I knew what it was to have the adoration of millions of fans.
And yet, I also knew what it was like to be so incredibly lonely that you ached for something - anything - that would make you feel like someone else.
“Shit, man, you’re not going to pu**y out on us, are you?” Adam turned to me and asked. He was the last in the group, headed down to the casino and the strip club and the club to drink and pick up chicks.