One day, Z will stop surrounding herself with artistic boys made for martyrdom, but tonight she is in Alex’s living room dancing with Gabe Saporta who is so much taller than she is that every drink they match feels like a dumbbell slung across her shoulders, gradually increasing in mass.
He is one of those people she doesn't mean to know, he simply happened upon her like a bruise. She thinks she'll still know him when they're eighty and all of their friends have have died of cirrhosis of the liver.
The two of them, they're the kind of things that outlive plagues, just keep carrying the disease.
He pulls her close grinding into the small of her back and from the corner of the room Brie laughs and Z can't make her liquor soaked brain comprehend that a married washed up rock star is trying to breed the base of her spine and her best friend is marrying an Oscar winning superhero, and her other best friend and occasional booty call has the kind of literary heritage that would make her sixteen years old self slick.
When she was sixteen she was in the pages of Nylon magazine. When she was seventeen she was taking Charlotte with her to prom, the two of them wolfing down spiked punch and making out behind the stage to make the teachers uncomfortable.
She just threw a prom for her adulthood, and she had traded in a Charlotte for a Ryan, but then, he's a symptom of a different problem entirely.
She throws up once the next shot of tequila lands, and Gabe laughs, holding back her hair for her. “I don't know why you're friends with me,” he tells her, looking at himself in Alex’s expansive bathroom mirror.
“You remind me adulthood is only as valid as my last drink.” She tells him, because even when she's got her face sunk into a toilet bowl, she's damn well eloquent. “And one day I might take up peyote.”
That night in the diary she still keeps because Tennessee is infectious and Ryan is always leaving notebooks in her house, ripe for appropriation, she writes I will stop surrounding myself with boys who are much more famous than I was or will ever be.
She laughs when she turns out the light.
When she was growing up Z would listen to Jim Morrison, Lou Reed, Bolan, Bowie and tear into her own heart with masculine dysfunction. She was never thinking: I wanna marry that boy and make a God out of him.
Scrawling lyrics in her notebook, mutating boys twisting girls around their fingers to girls twisting boys hearts out.
She first cuts her hair off listening to Nico sing the blues. She scribbles her eyelids in black kohl whilst Debbie Harry and Cherie Curie debate wildness on two separate speakers. She cuts her palm and sacrifices her girlhood on the altar of Dusty Springfield and thinks about being so powerful her voice could send a shiver thrumming down someone's spine.
She remembers her father watching a documentary about Charles Manson when she was reading a book of poetry and thinking:
maybe when I grow up I want to be a cult leader.
She writes a song about killing everyone she touches and Charlotte reads it over her shoulder and hisses her laughter into the curve of Z’s throat.
Mark Ronson still calls her sometimes, because she knows LA's underground better than he or his sister ever did.
They talk on the phone like old friends. He likes to pretend he's a nobody and she entertains him the way she always has with Alex and his rotating gaggle of Hollywood friends. Mark calls her Hipster Jesus , ticking off a list of up-and-comers to feature on his next ambiguous project. He promises to mix Cooler into his next set.
She calls him King of Bullshit, asks if he remembers the summer of 2009 when he recorded her crooning out the end of the world, but not the way he'd watched her line her eyes in his rearview mirror knowing she could possess and ruin his heart for other girls.
He asks if she remembers how she talked and talked about Alex like he hung the moon because he wrote the theme song to The O.C. and had dragged them along whilst they were still babies on tour and she tells him she does remember it, like a past life, she and Alex eternally wrong for each other but in all the right ways.
“You let him sing on the album, King, I think you're sweeter on him than I am.”
Mark laughs that London laugh, slippery like footsteps in a thunderstorm. He sings a few bars of Sweetest Thing down the phone.
She hangs up on him, because no one is going to to out-asshole her, not when it's this hot and she's this bothered about… whatever.
She tells Ryan she's worried about him for the third time this month, mainly for something to do, and because the boy forgets to eat half the time unless she or Dan is buying it.
It’s a little hypocritical, since she's pretty sure she's his bad influence original sin, but then, he's known Gabe for longer than she has.
She tells him she's worried after having drunk three mimosas and stolen a single bite of his pain au chocolat, and all he does is ruffle her hair and feed a slice of ham to his dog under the table.
“I'm worried you're running out of ways to kill me,” he says to her. She isn't sure why she chooses to notice then, that his skin is so pale, even after all this time in L.A.
No wonder she's always building a corpse out of him.
“I'm worried you've squandered your talent and your money and you can't afford to pay for my mimosas.” She pretends to look at Instagram, idly hovering over Langley's latest sketch work.
He looks at her and then the phone. “I'm worried our relationship was a stopgap between you and lesbianism.”
“I'm worried that you think the girl-kissing only happened post-you. Stage gay doesn't only happen in Vegas and Chicago, kid. Tenn and I we're practicing our mouth work before you had your first wet dream.” She laughs, because it'll make him uncomfortable and because she wants another bite of his pastry so it's best to distract him first. He likes to think he was her first everything. God complex. Catholic school will do that to a person.
She tears off a chunk, and it's so warm in the noon sunshine that a long line of chocolate drips down her thumb and gathers in the curve of her wrist. “So, why Gabe?”
He coughs on his stolen mouthful of mimosa, which serves his mostly sober ass right. “Huh?”
“Of all the boys to choose in the divorce, you pinned your little paper heart on Gabe and Ryland and the rest of them. I always wanted to ask. Guess I was never drunk enough before.”
He purses his lips. “You've been plenty drunk, babe.” He runs his right hand through his curls like the humidity hadn't done enough damage. “Frankly, I don't think they gave me much choice in the matter. Anyway,” he scoops the chocolate from her wrist with one spindley finger and licks it up. It's weird how much she used to watch his throat move without ever really paying attention. “There are worse people to get stuck with.”
“Right on,” she says, lifting her champagne glass in salute.
He laughs a lot more now, than he used to. On one hand she loves that he's a person and not a ghost hanging around a body anymore.
On the other, she kind of wanted to be the one to break him for the last time.
Gabe invites her to karaoke, because Ryan asked him to, and that little shit clearly has a death wish.
She goes anyway, because a stage is a stage and Gabe is… Gabe.
She sings Rip Her To Shreds, looking him in the eye the whole time. She uses everything she has to whip the crowd into a frenzy, make them watch how she throws herself around the stage like a woman possessed and howl out the last few lines like the wolf Langley says lives inside us all.
If she were on a real stage this would be the part where she climbed up the rigging and swung around like a dandelion seed in the sun.
When the hands the mic back everyone is wild-eyed and she is soaked to the skin with sweat. Gabe sweeps her up into an embrace, eyes shining with that thing she recognises in the base of her soul.
She misses it, too. Even if for her it's only on a brief hiatus.
“You murdered it, kid,” he tells her, flicking the sweat from her forehead onto the floor. So, of course she ruins it. Of course she tips her head up and kisses him like all the boys did onstage way back before she was on the mind of anyone but hipster bloggers and Sundance snobs.
She kisses him like she doesn't know he's a married man. She is so full with the moment, with her blood pumping and her mind ablaze she doesn't really notice whether he kisses back or not, only that when he pulls back his eyes are impenetrable.
“Elizabeth,” he says, slowly, feeling his way around her name and she feels like an idiot child.
“I'm sorry,” she says but she thinks he can tell.
Really. She's not sorry at all.
She texts Langley late in the night, when the ocean seems so loud around her she thinks her migraine will smother her to death.
Why are you friends with me?
Langley calls her, because she knows these black moods better than Z does, and the first thing she says when Z answers is, “Is that fucking Radiohead I can hear?”
And no, it's not, it's The Velvet Underground, but saying that is probably worse.
“Z, Baby, love of my young life. I'm friends with you because you can get me vintage guitars for free.”
Z laughs. “Oh, not because I'm such a great kisser.”
“Oh honey, who told you that? I think I might have to drop by and give you a lesson.”
Langley is kind of terrible. Everything is almost a joke, until it's not, and that might be what Z likes best about her.
Z sings the words, “I'm waiting,” lowly down the phone.
On a Sunday evening whilst Brie is out filming, Z and Alex pretend to write their next song. They go to pick up Chinese take out after he loses his phone in her swimming pool.
These things just seem par for the course, really.
Whilst their dumplings fry she studies him in the awful light of the take out place, like a still from a seventies movie she would have made a religion out of as a teenager.
She snaps some pictures of him, pale by neon, and he pretends not to notice. He's good to her like that.
Idly, whilst teasing a dreadful knot from his hair with her fingers she asks why he wanted so badly for her to romance his girlfriend on their music video when their music was just a project to pass the time.
He laughs and tells her it's because it's just like watching himself, just with the legs for a miniskirt.
It's not the answer she was looking for, but their food arrives before she can broach the subject any further, and he cracks open her fortune cookie, looking her straight in the eye.
You are destined for great things.
He laughs again, so easy.
Yeah, she thinks, and what about the last fifteen years?