SAMPLE CHAPTER 2 of 7
Hollywood, California | Three years later
In three. Out five.
In three. Out five.
I did my best to take steady breaths as I rested my hands in my lap, adrenaline pumping through my veins. Addison and Cassidy were in the limousine seats beside me, chatting idly, while our mom and dad were across from us, already having a little glass of champagne.
With me working on my second album, Cassidy on a press tour, my dad filming, and Addy and mom going back and forth from Addison’s modeling jobs, my family hadn’t been all together like this since five months ago. It was ironic that, nowadays, our once close-knit unit saw each other more at public events than we did in our own home.
Fidgeting with my hands, I examined my nails. They perfectly matched my off-white, jewel-studded dress. We were all dressed in different pastel colors. Addy, the youngest, in a pure white and Cassidy, the oldest, in a light shade of golden yellow. It was the night of Cassidy’s latest movie’s premiere, and she had to stand out from the three of us while we still looked cohesive.
“We’re pulling up now!” Mickey, our driver, called to us from the front seat.
Through the window on the far side, I could see people bustling around the red carpet’s entrance a few yards away. Even through the tint, flashing bulbs and lights were visible.
I gripped the hem of my dress tightly. I could feel my heartbeat pick up pace, and my breathing becoming shallow. I did my best to push the feelings away.
Grabbing my cell phone out of my clutch bag, I turned on the camera and checked my reflection. No mascara streaks—check. Lip gloss evenly applied—check. Not one hair out of place—double check. This was a big night, and the paparazzi would look for any minor flaw to plaster all over next week’s tabloids.
When we got to the start of the carpet, Mickey jumped out of the car and ran around to Cassidy’s door. She would be the first one to step out and greet whoever was waiting.
When the car door flew open, all one could hear was screams. My entire body tensed up. One after another, Cassidy and Addison filed out of the car. The shouting increased in volume. It was as if my butt was glued to the seat. I couldn’t move.
I fixated my gaze on the crowd outside. There were so many of them. So many cameras. So many opportunities to catch me falter. I opened my mouth to respond to my mother, but no words came out.
Mom’s hand came down lightly over mine on my lap, and I flinched. I turned to her, and a concerned look overtook her face.
She averted her attention to my father. “You go with the girls. Tell them to get started. Evie and I will catch up.”
She and my dad stared at each other in silence for a few seconds, seemingly having a conversation that didn’t need words. Dad nodded at her, before giving me a comforting smile and placing his hand over mine and my mom’s. “Okay. We’ll see you out there soon, kiddo.”
I returned the grin, despite the fact that inside I was a disaster. A cocktail of anxiousness, anger, and disappointment surged through me. This shouldn’t have been this bad anymore. I should’ve been able to get out of this car.
The screams of the premiere’s spectators became muffled when my dad closed the car door behind him.
“What happened last week won’t happen again.”
At my mother’s words, I bit my bottom lip and started to smooth out my dress.
I knew exactly what she was talking about.
I hated that I remembered everything clearly. The tears, the cold sweat, the inability to breathe, the inability to stand. It was the result of nearly thirty hours without sleep, sitting in a meeting to confirm tour dates, schedule rehearsal times, plan interviews and studio sessions, and undergoing a “character check” to make sure I was being perceived well by the public, all coupled with the ever-present stress that had loomed over me with the pressure of creating a second album. Eventually, it was all too much information for me to take in, too much to decide, and my mind went haywire. I felt overwhelmed and completely out of control.
For the first time in a really long time, I had a full blown, mental breakdown level, panic attack.
“I’m fine.” I turned my head away from her, but still watched from the corner of my eye.
Mom leaned back in her seat and whipped out her cell phone. She began typing. The intimidating atmosphere that always surrounded her when she went into “mom-ager” mode filled the car. “I’ll tell Pam to let the media know you aren’t doing any interviews tonight.”
I threw my hand up to signal her to stop texting my publicist. “You don’t have to do that.”
Mom dropped the phone to her side. “You’re just going to go say hi to some fans, smile for some pictures, and then go inside the theater.”
I didn’t protest what was more of a command than suggestion. She was right. That may have been the safest way to tackle this.
“Are you sure you’re fine?” Mom asked.
I ran my hand over my hair. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
“And you want to go do this?”
“Of course. I want to support Cassidy.”
“Okay, as long as you’re sure you feel alright.”
I gave her a tight-lipped smile, then proceeded to check over my appearance again. I definitely didn’t feel that great, but I had an obligation. Hopefully, I’d be able to detach myself from my feelings enough to make it through.
After Pam texted Mom back and assured her no one would try to interview me, she allowed me to exit. I slid over on the seat and tapped on the window. Mickey was waiting by the door. When he pulled it open, screams, once again, rang through the air. Taking a deep breath, I stepped out of the car and stood tall, plastering a smile on my face. Stars shined in my vision after I was greeted by some flashes. They were followed by shouts of my name.
When I was younger, all I could ever do was dream that this would become my life—a legitimate career in music, the opportunity to share what I love with millions, using it to make people happy, bring them together. I never thought it was possible for someone like me. Yet, here I was, being shouted for and photographed at a Hollywood movie premiere.
Everything had changed so drastically for me in three years that it made my head spin.
I stepped to the side, waiting for my mom to join me. It looked like the rest of my family heeded her words and went ahead. Just as Mom stepped out, Pam darted up to us. She was sporting an unassuming black dress, head-set, credentials around her neck, and despite the fact the sun had been setting, sunglasses.
She looked my outfit up and down. Her hands worked to smooth out the sides around my hips. “Eh, presentable.”
I had to resist the urge to burst out laughing. Pam had always been two things, loud and blunt, but she worked her butt off for me, and I appreciated it more than anything.
After Mom was by my side and the car sent away, she, Pam, and I took a few steps towards the start of the carpet.
Pam ran through the game plan, her voice booming to compete with the commotion around us. “Okay, first up, we’ll hit the barrier, so you can quickly sign autographs with fans. After that, we have pictures. Cassidy’s already there with some of the cast. Addy’s doing some solo shots, but I don’t think she’ll be much longer. We’ll bring you up, you’ll take some pictures with your sisters, then some by yourself. And if you’re a hundred percent sure you don’t want to hit the press at all, then we’ll head inside.”
I ended up spacing out a bit. The plan was typical to most carpets I’d attended, and I was too preoccupied thinking about how unsettled I felt. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get a quick shot of nerves before any big event, be it a performance, an interview, or a carpet, but this time, things felt different. It didn’t feel like I could swallow the panic down like usual.
The three of us made our way to the fan section, where it looked as if everyone had been corralled like cattle. There was a system to it all. Little pockets of celebrities made their way down the line quickly with a marker in hand to sign whatever they could. They were flanked by bodyguards who were there to make sure no one tried to grab them, and occasionally, they would shout at those getting too rough inside the enclosed space.
I felt terrible as I heard people wailing that they were being pushed by those in the back. It was controlled chaos. Not necessarily what I needed.
Pam tapped me on the shoulder and handed me an uncapped sharpie. “You can’t stay long. Two minutes. Sign as much as you can.”
Suddenly, a couple burly men in black suits came up to us. For a second, they looked extremely intimidating, but then they grinned.
“You ready?” One of them asked. He looked like a giant teddy bear.
I smiled back and nodded.
The other turned to Pam, who would be walking down the line with us. “No pictures, right?”
“Correct,” she told them, “and preferably, only one thing signed each person. Do with that what you will.”
“Got it, boss,” the “teddy bear” man affirmed.
Before I knew it, it was my turn to start heading down the line. Frantically, I started writing my name on whatever was in front of me. People were aggressively shouting for my attention, things were being shoved in my face, and cameras flashed in my eyes.
It felt like my entire body tightened up and like someone was pressing down on my chest. I could sense paranoia setting in. I’d felt like this very recently, and it was a week ago in that meeting at my house.
You’re fine. You’re fine. You’re fine, I coached myself. Just breathe. Smile. You’ve done this before. You can’t break down here.
When I was through signing autographs, I couldn’t even manage to sigh in relief.
Pam and Mom came up beside me.
“Alright, let’s go find your sisters.” Pam started to nudge me in the right direction.
Initially, my feet felt glued to the floor, but I stumbled into a walk. In the distance, I could see Cassidy, Addison, their handlers, and my dad. They were waiting to trail across the line of photographers stretched about seventy feet down. There were about three rows of them, the second and third on risers so they all had a clear shot. Their cameras were pointed at the other celebrities standing against the white backdrop donning the movie’s title.
I could hear their yelling.
“Hey, to your left!”
“To your right!”
“Left! I said left!”
“Over your shoulder!”
“Give us a smile!”
“Left! Left! Left!”
Sweat prickled on my skin. There was no way I could handle being shouted at or photographed right now. I didn’t know if I looked as bad as I felt, or worse, if I’d lose complete control and start panicking on camera.
I couldn’t do this.
I darted my gaze around me. There had to be a way for me to get away from all of these people. I spotted a glass door that looked to lead to a different part of the theater behind the backdrop set up for pictures. The area had been blocked off from the public and wasn’t being used for anything with the premiere.
Taking my chances, I broke away from Mom and Pam and headed towards it. It was tinted, and I couldn’t tell what was on the other side.
I ended up in a hallway that was pretty empty, save a few theater workers. They looked at me with surprise on their faces, and before they could say anything else to me, I pushed through another door.
This time, I was completely alone. What I could only guess was a meeting room was completely silent. I walked over and placed my hands on the long table in the center of the room. I hunched over, panting.
Why is this happening to me again? I curled my outstretched fingers into fists.
My struggles with anxiety weren’t new. They dated back to when I was a child, and everyone thought I was just shy. I only had two close friends at the time in Adam and Grace (who, of course, would go on to be really awful people), and besides my family, they were the only ones I would to talk to. It wasn’t until one of my elementary school teachers told my parents I may have had an anxiety disorder, and I started working with our guidance counselor that I began to get better at managing it.
Deep breathing, therapy, and being encouraged to explore my love for music and writing made a difference, but not as much as being shown what a strong support system I had around me. Between my parents, my sisters, Adam and his family, for a little while, Grace, and eventually Valerie, by the time seventh and eighth grade hit, I almost felt like I was “cured”. Like I finally had control.
But then my entire world was shaken freshman year in that courtyard—when my support system, the one I relied so heavily on to keep me sane, started to crack and fall apart.
I slammed my fist down on the table. My anxiousness was slipping into anger.
I hated feeling like this.
I hated feeling like I was regressing. I hated feeling like I was alone. I hated feeling like I was letting people down by not being able to keep myself together.
Suddenly, the door to the room swung open, and I looked up to find my mother bounding towards me. There was worry painted all over her face. “Evie, what’s wrong?” She came up behind me and placed her hand on the exposed skin of my back.
I shook my head and took a step away from her. “I’m not fine. I’m not okay.”
Mom rested her hands on my shoulders and rubbed them up and down my naked arms. She absolutely hated hugs, so I knew this was the most affection I’d be receiving from her.
She wasn’t speaking, either because she didn’t know what to say or because she wanted me to elaborate. I assumed the latter.
“It’s like I can’t get out of my own head. I’m getting anxious about being anxious. I feel like I’m constantly in fear of having a breakdown.” Pulling away, I wrapped my arms around myself and began pacing around the room. “I haven’t felt this way since I was a kid and basically cried and puked every morning before you brought me to school. I never thought I’d feel like that again. I prayed I’d never feel like that again. But now I feel like I’m reliving it all over. I feel like I’m losing it.”
“Is this all because of last week?” Mom asked.
I stopped moving and faced her. It only took a few seconds for me to think about my answer. “Honestly, I feel like it’s been building for a while.”
She sighed, running her tongue over her teeth. “Like since we moved to California?” I bit my bottom lip so hard it hurt, and upon seeing my reaction, she pressed further. “Since you started your career?”
I felt my eyes widen, and I immediately threw my hands up in protest. “No! Well, yes. But it’s just because it’s been—a lot. I love what I do. I love singing. I love performing. I love my fans. It’s everything I’ve ever, ever wanted. Which is why the fact I can’t just go out there and do this is killing me.” I slumped, starting to toe the ground with my heel. “I don’t know why it’s been so hard for me to adjust. Why I can’t get myself together. Why can’t I just work through this?” The last question was more to myself than her.
In my peripheral, I could see Mom slowly come closer. She lifted my face. “What do you think about taking a break?”
“A break,” she repeated, dropping her hand. “Your father and I, we’ve been talking, and we think that maybe it would be good for you to step away for a while. Before the big tour.”
“Like what? A vacation?”
“We were thinking a little more than that.” She hesitated. “We were thinking about having you stay with Aunt Mil in Anadale.”
“Anadale? You want me to go back to Connecticut?”
“It’s not just Connecticut, Evie. It’s home,” she said. “Having something familiar might be good for you. Finishing high school with all your friends. It could be like a little ‘reset’. Then the tour will start up in June and—”
“Wait, high school?” I shrieked in surprise. I quickly looked around to make sure no one heard me. “What do you mean finish high school?”
“Roosevelt,” she confirmed. “It wasn’t fair that we ripped you away from everything and everyone you knew so abruptly because of Cassidy. We made you leave your home, your friends. Seeing Adam and Valerie again may—”
“I do not want to see Adam again.” I felt my stomach twisting in knots.
I hated hearing his name. I hated thinking about that school, about that town.
In an instant, I was transported straight back to that courtyard, staring down Grace as she waved my song sheet like she’d won the lotto.
“Are you still mad at him for dating Grace?” She took my initial silence as a response. “Honey, you can’t hold that against him, no matter how awful she turned out.”
I opened my mouth to actually respond, but only an exasperated breath came out. Mom really didn’t know the truth about what happened that day at school. I’d never been able to bring myself to tell her. All she knew was that I wasn’t thrilled Adam and Grace had begun dating earlier that year. To her, it just looked like a simple best friend doesn’t get along with the girlfriend situation.
I placed my hands on my hips. “Do you know how crazy this sounds? Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’m not the same girl I was when we lived there before. It could be mayhem in that school if I go back. It could be mayhem in that town. Switching coasts doesn’t keep media away.”
“We thought of that. Well, Aunt Mil thought of that. She figured that if you were going to staying at her house, it’d be better if no one knew you were Evie and Addy Chase. That way there wouldn’t even be a whiff of paparazzi around, and school would be easier. I mean, it would be difficult for you to focus on your studies if you were constantly being approached for pictures and autographs.”
"Addy’s coming? Why would you send her away?”
“Her life got flipped around too, Evelyn. She’s young, she could use—”
Something in her previous statement finally hit me. “Wait, what do you mean, if no one knew we were Evie and Addy Chase? What are we doing, going incognito?” My words dripped with sarcasm. Mom remained silent. I felt my jaw nearly hit the floor. “You’re not serious.”
“Very.” Mom tapped her foot agitatedly. “I don’t know if you realize how much you’ve changed over the past three years. Your face, the way you speak, the way you carry yourself. Even without a disguise, you’d be a completely new person to everyone. Add on new layers to hide your identity, and we think you’d get away with it.”
“This is insane.” I started pacing again.
She wanted to send me back to Anadale, back to Roosevelt. Back to everyone who stood there and laughed at me. Everyone who barely gave me the time of day as it was. Back to Grace. To Adam.
But despite how awful that part sounded, going off the grid didn’t sound too bad. And really, neither did the disguise. The thought of being able to walk down the street and go to a store without fearing I’d be mobbed or have an unflattering picture snapped and plastered all over the place was enticing. Being able to relax. Take a breath. Hit a mental reset.
But going back to Roosevelt. . . I could never.
“You’re going in two weeks.”
I snapped my head up. So much for never.
“It’s happening?” I narrowed my eyes at my mom. “I thought this was all hypothetical.”
Mom shook her head. “It’s already been settled. We talked to the school yesterday. They said it could be arranged.”
“When were you going to tell me?”
“Tomorrow morning. We wanted to get through Cassidy’s premiere first.”
It was as if I were in a permanent state of discomfort. My heart had never returned to an easy rhythm. My breathing never steadied. Right now, I needed something, anything to let my mind escape. To let me just stop thinking.
I was thankful they were going to show a movie in a half hour.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” My heels clicked loudly on the floor as I stomped by my mom to leave the conference room and make my way to the theater.
“Evelyn, where are you going?”
I threw the door open and glanced at her over my shoulder. “To support my sister.”