Famous Last Words(2)

By: Katie Alender



“Really?” Mom said. “We love her movies! Willa, remember those old musicals we used to watch at Grandma’s house?”

A vague memory bubbled to the back of my mind — kaleidoscopic arrays of dancing girls with fluffy skirts and huge headdresses, armies of bright-eyed young women cheerfully marching around in tap shoes.

“Sure,” I said.

“She was big in the thirties, and then she had a string of flops. She got a reputation as box office poison and retired.” Jonathan sounded a little apologetic, like he wished he could give us a better movie star.

“Amazing.” Mom ran her hand over the banister. “Just think of all these walls have seen and heard.”

“People have probably died here,” I said.

Mom winced a little, then tried to laugh. “Oh, Willa.”

But Jonathan nodded. “I’m pretty sure Diana Del Mar did die here. I don’t know the exact story of when or how, though.”

“We could look it up online,” Mom said. Her frantic agreeableness made my brain itch.

“Or we could ask her ghost,” Jonathan said, winking at me like we had an inside joke.

I turned away, a chill passing up my spine.

Does he know?

He can’t possibly.

My mother wandered a little farther into the foyer, and I wondered if she felt as out of place as I did — or even more so. After all, I still got to be a relatively normal teenager. For her, this house represented a whole new identity, as the glamorous wife of a famous Hollywood film director.

It was hard to reconcile that with the picture I’d always had in my head of her as a decidedly non-glamorous suburban mom. Still, she was slim and pretty — my height, five foot six, with the same dark chocolate-brown hair as me. Our eyes were the same muted blue that edged into gray. I had her high cheekbones, but softer features in general — people had always said I looked more like my dad.

I could almost picture Mom at a movie premiere, walking the red carpet. Jonathan told us he wasn’t famous enough for the paparazzi to care about, but his agent had already called him about magazines wanting the inside scoop. Rich, successful director sweeps small-town widow off her feet. Whirlwind romance leads to Valentine’s Day wedding at City Hall. Apparently there was a Cinderella element to the story that people found irresistible.

Only … if my mother was Cinderella, what did that make me? One of the dancing mice? Maybe a pumpkin.

Jonathan led us on a tour of the house. The gourmet kitchen that overlooked the backyard. The dining room, with its massive oak table. The den, with a huge flat-screen TV and oversize leather couch. The formal living room, with a fireplace big enough to park a golf cart in. The powder room. The other powder room. The study, with shelves and shelves of DVDs. The master bedroom, with its soaring beamed ceiling and four-poster bed. There were even a maid’s room and a butler’s room and a chauffeur’s quarters out near the garage — though, as Jonathan pointed out, we had neither a maid nor a butler nor a chauffeur — just a cleaning lady named Rosa who came twice a week.

And that was just the ground floor.

Upstairs were four more bedrooms, each with its own attached bathroom. And at the end of the hall, Jonathan’s office, where he and his assistant worked on the days when Jonathan wasn’t needed on set or at the studio. I pictured an uptight secretarial type lurking around and decided I might be spending a lot of time in my room.

Jonathan had lived alone since he bought the house a year earlier, but it was furnished for a family of eight or nine people, with enough bathrooms for all of them to go at once. Even with the three of us, it seemed echoing and empty.

The last stop on the tour was my bedroom.

“If you want one of the others, feel free to switch,” Jonathan said, pushing the door open. “We put you here because it’s the most private.”

It was a nice room, with a big window looking down over the backyard. The furniture was heavy wood and clearly expensive — definitely not the kind that came in a box with its own little tools for assembly. The pictures on the walls were of fruit and sailboats. I walked closer to inspect them and found they weren’t just prints — each one was an actual painting, with brushstrokes and a signature and everything.

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