Annabeth had first met Laura two years earlier, at a party in the Hollywood Hills where a lady elephant had been hired to entertain the guests. It was in the spring, or maybe late winter-at any rate, on a clear, pleasant evening like so many in Los Angeles. It was late and the elephant had been retired to the bottom of the driveway-available for photographs with anyone bored or stoned enough to step away from the hustle and into the cool, jasmine-scented night. The creature was wearing a gold lamé circus-performance outfit that might have convinced small children that she was gay and happy, an entertainer by choice. There were, however, no small children at the party.
"Stand back," the trainer said to Annabeth, as she wandered down the hill. "She's about had it with this job, and she's got a temper."
"Really?" Annabeth asked, not meaning it. It seemed to her she could do nothing right at these insider parties-even the pachyderm was bored with her. She shouldn't leave the house when she was feeling this way; her neediness was on her like a stink. Are you my mother, Mrs. Mean Lady Elephant? Mr. Tortured Comedy Writer? Ms. Unbearably Arch Indie-Feature Producer?
"She doesn't like women much, either," the trainer added, assuming quite correctly that Annabeth-with her skulking stance and her formless T-shirt-was not anyone he needed to cultivate. Annabeth looked more closely at the elephant's enormous brow and tiny eye and felt defeated; nevertheless, she headed back up the driveway to the house. She could hear the giant animal's breathing and its anxious shifting of weight as she pulled herself uphill. Then the faint smell of hay, or something like it, triggered an emotion-regret? nostalgia?- and she turned to take a last look at the scene: tarted-up elephant, crabby guy in track suit, metal folding chair, BMW, Jeep, Mercedes, asphalt, cypress trees, enveloping lights of the L.A. basin.
Annabeth encountered Laura, dark-haired, black-clad, near the patio. It was almost midnight, but she was just arriving. She'd had to park a good way down Hollyridge Drive and so, though sleek, she was also somewhat sweaty.
"What's with the elephant?" she asked Annabeth.
"She's mean, apparently," said Annabeth, "and she hates women."
"You don't say," said Laura. "How did you manage to learn all that?"
And that was when Annabeth realized she was talking to Laura Katz. The Director. She'd seen Two Chevrolets at Sundance in '91 and had been following Laura's career in the trades ever since. Photographs had not done this woman justice, though. Golden skin on a taut armature, eyes impenetrably dark-she was Annabeth's opposite, her contrary. Successful people always turned out to be beautiful, too . . . well, successful women in Hollywood always turned out to be beautiful, or it seemed so to Annabeth, who was pretty when she tried to be-which was never.
Normally Annabeth would have been much too self-conscious to crassly accost this woman at a party, but it was already too late to get flustered, so she just answered Laura's question, providing additional details she'd heard earlier: that the elephant was a "picture" elephant ("You mean it's in the Screen Elephants Guild?" quipped Laura); that their host had hired it to be "the elephant in the room," so people would discuss it instead of his latest series-a wildly successful, utterly tasteless sitcom; and that the handler was peddling a wacky comedy about an experience he'd had during the Vietnam war with an elephant in a starring role.
"Too perfect!" said Laura.
"So you're Laura Katz," said Annabeth, immediately regretting her phrasing. Somehow, she had made it sound like an accusation.
"I am?" said Laura, half-teasing. "Sorry, I'm not used to being recognized-I guess I should be a little more gracious."
"That's okay," said Annabeth.
"Who are you?"
"Annabeth Jensen. I used to work with Janusz?"
"With Janusz!" said Laura.
"You were at AFI together."
"God, don't tell anyone that-they'll figure out how old I am." But seeing Annabeth retract, she added, "Jesus, you're skittish-were they serving paranoia weed in there or what?"
"No," said Annabeth, realizing a second too late that Laura's question was rhetorical.
Laura walked ahead toward the patio's bamboo gate, but Annabeth hadn't really made up her mind to go back to the pool area. Before her visit to the elephant, she had found herself on the outskirts of a conversation there that she'd found deeply disturbing-a conversation among sitcom writers. These were well-bred, well- educated young men who had probably not fared well in the social maelstroms of high school and college and who, in their late twenties and early thirties, had come to Los Angeles to exact their revenge. One aspect of their code of honor was that none of them ever laughed out loud at a joke-his own, or anyone else's.
The comedy guy Annabeth had had her eye on at the elephant party was named Andrew something. She'd met him a few weeks earlier at a Sunset Boulevard pub where he and his fellow wits had a standing weekly get- together. While waiting for refills at the bar that night, Andrew had told Annabeth he didn't really like Guinness; he just drank it to seem cool. This had felt to her like an intimate admission, although probably only because she was drunk and he had the comedy-guy characteristic of looking meaningfully into her eyes while cracking wise. In any case, he had charmed her, and when she saw him again that night at the party, she wandered over to stand nearby, joining an ad hoc audience that loosely ringed his circle of humorists.
At first, she felt perfectly content to be idling there. Then she noticed that the other bystanders were all men-the next generation of Ivy League comedy guys. She didn't like to stand out, and she hated the role of female acolyte. But when the wisecracking started to die down, she thought that the little knot of wits might untie itself enough for her to catch Andrew's eye. And, as it happened, he seemed to look directly at her as he spoke, answering a question she hadn't heard.
"Elizabeth? Fuckable?" he said, "I don't know . . . I think I'd really rather douse her in Sterno, sodomize her, and set her on fire."
Elizabeth was the girlfriend of their host, and Elizabeth-although blond and lovely-had a summa degree from Yale in Middle Eastern studies. Andrew's joke, as Annabeth ultimately parsed it, was about the unlikeliness of anyone ever doing any such thing to Elizabeth, especially anyone as fine-boned and circumspect as Andrew appeared to be. But, even among the comedy writers, in the laughless vacuum that was their air, this joke was not funny. At all. And that was the experience that had sent Annabeth down to visit the elephant in the first place. She had no desire to recount all this to Laura, but she did want to hold on to her new ally for as long as possible. When Laura reached out to open the gate that led to the pool area, Annabeth hesitated.
"What's the matter? Is there some guy in there that you slept with and shouldn't have?" Laura asked.
"Uh," said Annabeth, but Laura had already opened the gate and stepped through, leaving her no real choice but to follow.
Annabeth called Laura a few weeks later, after much anxious consideration. Was it too soon? Was she imposing? But they had had a good time together and Laura had volunteered her phone number. Still, Annabeth didn't really know how to call someone up just to chat, especially not someone so much further along in the business than she was. Ultimately, she decided to suggest lunch, but when she got Laura's answering machine, she choked and left only her name and number.
Laura called back the next day, which Annabeth took to be a sign of interest and enthusiasm. Usually, if she had the temerity to call a director about a job, it took at least three tries to get her call returned, often by an assistant. She didn't expect Laura to have an assistant ("Can you hold for Laura Katz?"), but she also didn't expect to get so rapid a response. However, Annabeth herself was out at the time of Laura's call-riding her bike along the bike path on the beach, which she did almost every afternoon when she couldn't stand her roommates for another second.
When the two women finally did connect, they had trouble finding a conversational stride-they'd both been drunk when they'd met, after all, and by then the elephant party was almost a month in the past. Laura had been the one to place the call. She'd just read in the trades that Becca Lawson, a hair-tossing bimbo with whom she'd gone to UCLA, had been made Meg Ryan's "head of production." This could have meant almost anything, but it activated the engine of envy in Laura's heart. Calling Annabeth was a way of rebalancing herself, making sure there were still people who wanted to be her the way she wanted to be . . . well, she didn't want to be Becca, she just wanted to make Trouble Doll, already. She wanted to see her own name in the trades, again. And so she called Annabeth and pretended that her movie was just a little bit closer to going forward than it in fact was.
"So, do you know Mia Goldman?" she asked Annabeth.
"A little. Not really. I mean, she's always been incredibly nice when I've called her about assisting, but I've never worked with her or anything."
"I'd heard she was interested in doing another indie project," said Laura.
Annabeth knew that Laura was shopping her next project around, hoping to make it independently. "Have you found a producer yet?"
"Actually, I met a guy I liked last week, Arthur Simpson?"
"Did he do In the Soup?"
"Unh-uh. He's been in London, at the BBC or something. But he's American-very midwestern and aw shucks. Disarming. He kind of reminds me of you, in fact."
Annabeth didn't know if this was a compliment or an insult. "Really?" she said.
"Anyway, he had some good ideas. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for the writer to finish the draft we've been talking about . . . For. A. Year. It's so irritating."
Annabeth paused, wondering how to reintroduce the subject of lunch or whether she should. If Laura was thinking about Mia Goldman, there was no way she was going to hire Annabeth, who'd only just gotten her first full editing credit.
In the silence, Laura went back to the previous topic. "He was wearing a seersucker suit-when was the last time you saw one of those?"
"Wow," said Annabeth. Her father had worn seersucker suits. At least she thought she could remember him wearing one.
"Anyway, lunch," said Laura. "How about the week after next? Wednesday? I have a screening in the afternoon so maybe, I don't know, the Newsroom on Robertson?"
"Sure, that sounds great."
"But call me first," said Laura. "Friday? Just in case things get screwed up?"
Which, of course, they did.
David was then working in the recorded music collection at the Beverly Hills Public Library, a little-known pocket of hipsterism. The Moorish façade of the building looked very beautiful whenever Annabeth drove past, but she had been living in Los Angeles for over ten years before she first went inside. She was in her seventh month of unemployment after finishing Golden State, and she was always on the lookout for a good, cheap source of a few hours' entertainment. One afternoon when it was too windy for bike riding, she and her Honda found their way into the library's recently renovated parking structure.
While still working as Janusz's assistant on Golden State, Annabeth had spent many fruitless hours searching for a song that the scatterbrained editor had heard on the radio. He'd lost the scrap of paper on which he'd written its name but could whistle part of it, was reasonably sure the word apple was in the title, and could think of no more perfect underscore for the chase sequence at the end of the movie. Abandoning her search for this nameless, wordless tune had been a personal defeat for Annabeth. Though Golden State had long since been locked and timed and prints struck with an old Steely Dan song doing the job of the fugitive tune, she still had fantasies about identifying it and sending a tape to Janusz at his new home in the Netherlands. But she had never even tried the public library.
David, whose candid brown eyes belied the negativity of his kill rock stars T-shirt, was the first person she talked to at the Music Collection desk. He was immediately hooked by Annabeth's challenge. Especially after she whistled the tune for him, leaning close, at library-whisper pitch. It was the most erotic thing he had ever personally witnessed at the BHPL, or perhaps anywhere. He got on the case immediately. The first step was to brainstorm, with Annabeth, all the names of rock 'n' roll songs with the word apple in them that they had heard of . . . or could imagine. This was fun, but it didn't get them very far: After "Little Green Apples" and "Apple Scruffs" they were largely stumped. They then amused each other for a while with hypotheticals: "Bite the Apple!" said Annabeth. "Fruit of Eden!" rejoined David. After a moment, he added, "Crabapple Jam?" Then they discussed the funny pronunciation of the name of the Simpsons' schoolteacher, Mrs. Crabapple. Was it some pun they just couldn't hear, some obscure reference too inside for the likes of them? Anyway, after their brainstorming project sputtered, they decided to divide and conquer: Annabeth would scan back issues of Rolling Stone and David would visit the various Usenet sites he had recently learned to watch for music news.
They never found Janusz's song, which was, in fact, "All Apologies." (The apple clue had masked its identity even to David, who knew every note of every Nirvana song recorded to date.) But they bashfully agreed to meet at closing time at the peculiar Pico Boulevard bar called the Arsenal. It had real guns on the walls and a mock-Latin verse about buses full of livestock printed on the napkins. Heading west in their individual vehicles (David drove a brown 1984 Dodge Aries; Annabeth, a silver 1982 Honda Civic), they both listened to All Things Considered on KCRW, which was the only way either one of them ever really consumed national news.
They didn't go home together that night, mostly out of shyness, which may have been why their relationship lasted as long as it did. And when they did first lie down together two weeks later, the sun had not yet set. The plan had been for the two of them to meet at David's apartment, then head over to Sunset Boulevard for dinner before catching Morphine at the Troubadour, but David had news: at the last minute, he'd been offered a tryout at KCRW, subbing in the midnight- to-two a.m. slot. When Annabeth had stopped saying "Omigod" and "That's so amazing," he took her hand and led her to his bedroom.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from My Liar by Rachel Cline. Copyright © 2008 by Rachel Cline. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.