I was on the edge, and when I crashed over, it was his face I saw.
I walked through the hotel foyer, my bag slung over my shoulder, the few things I had with me stuffed inside the makeshift suitcase. Between the new hair and the sunglasses, I was hoping to avoid being recognized. I hadn't watched television. For all I knew, my mother had called the cops, reported me kidnapped or something.
That would be something she'd do. That would be something my manager would be more than happy to do, cover up the real story, the fact that everything wasn't actually a fairy tale between the poor-little-girl-turned-movie-star and the rocker who had it all. That was the most important thing. Protecting my brand, my manager called it. You must protect your brand. Always.
Damage control, my manager would be advising right about now. I could hear her words, without even having to stretch my imagination. Are there any other girls? She'd ask. Of course there were other girls. There were always other girls.
Never my sister, though.
My manager would sigh. In that case, Viper will go to rehab for sex addiction. You'll stand by him, deliver a teary-eyed speech about how much you've been hurt by his misbehavior. You'll take a primo role - something classy, not trashy, right now, given the circumstances- I'm thinking something about a strong woman persevering despite her no-good man. Too soon? It doesn't matter. You'll do something big, while he's away in rehab. Something meaningful. It's Oscar time for you.
The spin. It was always about the spin. Sometimes it was exhausting.
Poor little rich girl.
It’s how my mother referred to me now. I was privileged, I knew it. But inside, I was still River Gilstead, the girl from the trailer park. I couldn’t quite shake the feeling.
I always felt lost.
I checked out at the front desk, watching the clerk from behind my sunglasses, stealing glances at the other people in the lobby from my peripheral vision. My heart raced, even though there was nothing wrong. I just wanted to slip out of here unnoticed.
I had no actual plan, though.
Get in the car and drive. I could get away, someplace private. I could keep heading East... a small town or something, rent a condo, figure out what the hell I wanted to do now.
Maybe I'll go overseas. I could hang out in obscurity, sip a cocktail on the beach somewhere.
Poor little rich girl.
I'll figure it out tonight, I promised myself. Tonight, I'll get a plan together.
Outside the hotel, I handed the valet my tag.
And then I saw him, coming for me - a man with a camera. "River!" he yelled. "River Andrews!"
I held my bag up to cover the side of my face, but he was taking pictures. He was the only one, but I knew there would be more. I backed inside the hotel door. Didn’t this place have security?
People were staring, and I felt a flush of shame.
Everyone knows, I realized. They have to. It will be all over the TV. I swallowed the bile I felt in my throat.
The photographer followed me inside, persistent, and I shielded my face from him. Then I heard someone shriek, a female voice. "That's River Andrews!"
I turned around. I'll go back the way I came, back toward the elevators, I told myself, get one of the front desk staff to do something.
But instead I ran into him.
My palms hit his chest, and I felt him grasp my elbows. I knew the photographer was taking pictures of us, something that would wind up plastered all over the papers, something that women could point to and say, See? She was whoring around on Viper after all. That stuck-up bitch deserved everything she got.
I knew all of this, in the back of my mind. But right there, in the moment, with his hands on me, everything stopped. All of the other things going on faded, instantaneously, into the background, this blur of white noise. He looked at me, this wrinkle between his eyebrows. I couldn't tell if it was a sign that he was worried or annoyed.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
I shook my head. "No," I mumbled. "I need to get out of here. The camera...I just...can't."
He didn’t say anything. He let go of me, stepped forward, and yanked the camera out of the photographer's hand.
"You're going to regret that!" the photographer yelled. "I'll f**king sue your ass for assaulting me! That's a thousand dollar camera!"
The photographer lunged toward us. Before I could blink, he- my savior- punched the photographer in the face. I just stood there staring, paralyzed. I had to force my mouth closed.
His friends moved between us and the photographer, and I felt his hand on my arm, and heard him speak. "My car should be out front," he said.
I didn’t know exactly why I did it, but I walked with him out the door of the hotel. I could feel eyes on us as we left, and I saw someone with a cell phone, recording, a pretty brazen move, considering this guy just punched someone in the face for taking photos of me. The valet wasn’t back with my car, and I felt my rescuer's hand on the middle of my back, guiding me forward. He pointed. "Right here," he said, opening the door and shielding me from the stares of onlookers as I slipped inside his car.