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Damage Control

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“Emma…”

She raised her head, in a move he’d seen for the press a thousand times, the “haughty starlet” look that she’d perfected. Because if the world saw her as untouchable, they’d never look for the cracks. Emma Carter was a brand as much as a person, hard and brilliant as a diamond, aloof, offering a sort of classical glamour and elegance that Hollywood hadn’t seen for decades. It was like if Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Claudia Schiffer had a baby together. 

 

“Richard.” It would’ve been more convincing if her voice wasn’t wavering. 

 

Even though his phone had been ringing off the hook all morning, he’d hoped that he was able to reach her before the news did. 

 

He opened his mouth to remind her that she couldn’t waver for the press - She was a better actress than that, only for her to look at him and, then, he deflated. Even if the press mobbed the place, no one would have recognized the woman on the bed, still in her pajamas, as Emma Carter. She looked so small - Emma wasn't particularly tall, but she had the sort of presence that made up for it, easily filling a screen with charisma alone.  

 

The TV was still running, that...piece of shit’s face grinning at him from behind the latest gossip channel. 

 

Breaking news: Up and coming star Emma Carter’s ex spills all in a shocking tell-all interview! Next, on-

 

He didn’t even remember the man’s name, really. It wasn’t important. (Usually, his mind helpfully supplied his name as “Boytoy.”) He’d never really seen what Emma saw in the man - In terms of looks, the man wasn’t bad, a little too much like a high school jock, with a grin that always ran a little too wide for Richard’s taste, anyways, but he wouldn’t have picked him up from a crowded bar. 

 

It looked like he’d underestimated the man’s acting skills, though. 

 

Along with the reports of some shocking diva behavior, Carter is also unusually close to her manager, Richard Rattinger. Uh oh! Could this spell trouble for the blonde bombshell? Rattinger’s often been seen-

 

Without saying anything, he reached over to the stand, clicking the TV off, and then sat by the edge of the bed, more than an arm’s length from her, nearly falling off the slick satin sheets until he stabilized. Normally, it was easy to know what to do - People were suckers naturally, it was just a matter of reading the room and figuring out what approach to take - Whether it was schmoozing them, threatening them, or bribing them. He’d learned from his father - a middle-grade used car salesman in the Midwest who couldn’t help his son with his social studies homework (“What do you need that stuff for, anyway? Come to the dealership, I’ll show you how to get ahead in life!”) but taught him everything he knew, anyway. 

 

But convincing a big movie exec that, really, what he needed was something new , something fresh , something that will really sell that artistic vision he’s going for, and boy, did he have the star for him was very different to...whatever it was. This was. 

 

The silence was awkward for both of them - Emma was always more abrupt, more blunt, he thought it was an Austrian thing, but he usually filled in enough for both of them. They didn’t talk that much about themselves, but they always had something to say, whether it was a new movie, an awards show, a press meeting, an Instagram selfie. 

 

His chest burned, each slow breath he released deliberate because that isn’t how you did things on Hollywood. If you showed a real emotion, then that meant that you could be controlled. He didn’t have a weakness. It was just bad for business. He’d created her, he’d created her and then that little prick put him in this position, threw him a curveball and now, because he’d decided-

 

It was fine. It was fine. This was fine. Nothing to be angry about. No reason to be angry at all. They could do this, they could do this. He wasn’t angry. He’d never been angry, ever. 

 

Celebrities had survived worse. 

 

Male celebrities had survived worse. 


The first thing to do would be to get the lawyers on it, cut him off at the source, possibly get a restraining order if they could handle it, then to fight the image of Emma as a spoiled diva, that was the first thing to do. Making this about her pain could get some public sympathy, especially from the feminist sector, might earn her some continuing goodwill, though there would always be the men who thought she was a bitch, and-

 

Then, he looked back at Emma, throat bobbing as she tried to hold back a sob, mascara smeared, and then that feeling of….uncertainty filled him again. It was like being at the top of a ferris wheel, legs dangling out as the box rocked back and forth, back and forth. Except for instead of being able to see the whole county, it was all dark, all foggy. He’d had everything mapped out for Emma’s path to success since almost the moment she walked into his office, but now, for the first time, he didn’t know what to do. 

 

He weakly raised both his hands in a half-hearted shrug. “Wie geht’s?” 

 

They shared an uncomfortable, strained laugh. 

 

His German was bad, a few phrases he’d picked up from a tourist’s book (like any self-respecting Midwesterner, he’d taken Spanish the mandatory two years and forgotten everything the day after class ended) and generally so flat that Emma was known to look at him like he was a dying cat - Sympathy and horror all in one. (It wasn’t his fault the r’s hurt his throat.) 

 

Then, Emma stopped, shaking her head and, in a quiet voice, said, “He took everything, Richard. Things from my childhood, photos, videos, things I’d said, it’s all there . I-I didn’t even know he’d-I didn’t give him permission , he’d-I’m not that stupid .” She pulled her legs under her chin, moving into a fetal position. “I didn’t know.” 

 

Emma was a contradiction in terms. She wanted to escape from something, he recognized that off the bat about her. After spending his entire life clinging to one lifeline after another, he could recognize another survivor. It was one of the things he liked about her - Underneath those wide eyes, there was a bit of steel. But, then there was this softness that was going to get her killed one day, this want to lead a “normal life”. They were Hollywood, no one came to Hollywood for “normal”. “Normal” got you…

 

Again, that stomach twist when he looked at her. She didn’t rock back and forth, but her wrists hung over her knees, twitching as if they held all the energy in her body. 

 

This. 

 

But, that was why she had him. 

 

If she’d just listened to him- 

 

Put all the personal stuff on a shelf, focus on the big picture, on the money-

 

Why wasn’t it just enough when it was the two of them? They made a good team. Significant others in Hollywood, especially normal ones, were a drag. The best move was to pick someone just as rich as you, date long enough to get the paparazzi’s tongues wagging, and then split up dramatically. No need to actually get involved with someone. It’s Hollywood

 

“I’ve managed to get a meeting with your legal team in two hours, press conference at 2 PM for you. The major players are promising not to print anything until you’ve given your statement.” He couldn’t pay off all the minor gossip rags, but at least it meant that the places with the biggest reach would keep quiet until their side of the story got out, kept things more contained. 

 

She tried to clear her throat. “That quickly?” 

 

“We’ve got to strike while the iron’s hot, unless you want him to get to control how this leaks to the press.” He paused. “Emma, we will get through this, alright?” 

 

She nodded, not entirely meeting his eyes. “Of course.” 

 

Then, before he had any idea of what he was doing, he squeezed her hand, pulling it off of her knee. He hadn’t spent too much time imagining what Emma’s hand felt like, but whatever he’d thought of didn’t prepare him for how cold and clammy it was, like she’d been out in the rain all day. Still, he didn’t release it, even if anyone else would have had him reaching for his silk handkerchief in seconds. 

 

He was her manager. 

 

He wasn’t her friend

 

His job was to shape her into the star that she could be, maintain her image, arrange meetings and press releases, and then retire on a pile of money when it was all over. They weren’t personal

 

And then she was clinging onto his hand for everything it was worth, clinging onto it until her knuckles were white against her already washed out hands. And then he was slowly, awkwardly wrapping an arm around her shoulder and she was leaning into him. 

 

He wasn’t used to comforting people - This wasn’t what he was paid for. Of the two of them, Emma was the most affectionate. It had been one of those strange culture shocks with their early relationship, that Emma was more willing to show physical affection to her friends, he’d had to explain to her several times that she had to be careful because otherwise people would think-

 

What they already thought. 

 

But...

 

She looked more like herself now, still tired, still drained, but at least like Emma

 

“It’s two hours until the meeting?” She asked into his shoulder.

 

He nodded stiffly. 

 

She didn’t move, only leaning in more to him. “I can get ready in one.” 

 

It was irresponsible to wait, these things always took more time than they’d think. They should be moving, moving, moving - God knew that Boytoy would be, he’d probably gotten all his press appearances booked for the next month. 

 

But…

 

He looked at her. “One and a half, I know your schedule.” The makeup alone...

 

“One, if you’ll help me.” 

 

He opened his mouth to protest that it would take her at least one and a quarter, but then he saw, for the first time that morning, the slightest sign of a smile on her tear-blotched cheeks. “Fine, one, but don’t complain when we have to rush.” 

 

By the time she showed up to the press conference, lawyer by her side, there was no sign of the wreck he’d seen curled up on her bed. No, this was the Emma that the world knew, in a black and white dress that she carried like a queen attending court, her makeup spotless beneath heavy sunglasses. 

 

The statement they’d worked on together had been firm, eloquent, and tactful, focusing on the hurt and violation that she’d felt upon getting the news while saying, firmly, that what happened in her personal relationships should remain personal, that none of the material had been recorded or released with her consent, and that she was pursuing all available legal recourses. Emma delivered it exactly as she needed to, back straight, dry eyes staring down the camera. 

 

An hour later, a few Hollywood stars started to support Emma on social media, retweeting the statement in solidarity and congratulating her on her bravery. 

 

Two hours later, the press had decided which side to choose, running thinkpieces on misogyny in Hollywood that ignored that, just that morning, they’d been trying to buy her pictures off of her ex the same as anyone. (The asking price, by the time they'd gotten it shut down, was $500,000 for a video.)

 

Six hours later, those tweets had gained tens of thousands of likes, Emma’s Twitter gaining over a thousand followers out of nowhere. 

 

The next evening, there was no talk about Boytoy, it was all about Emma and her statement.

 

Within a week, a judge had agreed to a formal restraining order against Boytoy and agreed to block the photos and videos, over obligations from Boytoy’s lawyers that they constituted freedom of speech. 

 

The day after that, Boytoy dropped a whingeing phone call to Richard that he left to voicemail. 

 

“You’ve got to talk to Emma-Look, this all got out of hand, I-”

 

Richard rolled his eyes, disconnecting from voicemail. 

 

That’s showbiz, kid. 

 

By the end of the month, Emma was smiling for the paparazzi as she attended an awards show alone, her gown glittering underneath the camera flashes, pointedly ignoring any questions about possible boyfriends and saying, instead, that she was going to focus on her career for the near future. 

 

The world at large would never see the cracks beneath the brand that was Emma Carter. 

 

That was his job.