The second question comes in, and I find myself holding my breath, even though I know it won’t be personal. It’s asking for a short summary of the movie. And the one after that asks what films or shows we’ve seen lately and loved. Two more softball questions, and we’ll be done.
I type Marco’s answers, add the hashtag, and try to keep my heart rate as even and slow as possible. It isn’t the official Twitter questions that bother me—those are all standard—it’s the others I notice, the ones I know see right through me.
Why would you do a movie with that piece of shit womanizer? #AskButlers
I want to have Ian’s babies and don’t even care that he could be my grandpa. #AskButlers
Wait, I thought they hated each other? #AskButlers
If Tate hates him so much, she can get the fuck out of the way. #AskButlers
This is such an act. They look like strangers. #AskButlers
IAN BUTLER I WANT TO HAVE YOUR BABIES! #AskButlers
The feed scrolls continuously on the enormous screen above our heads, and I can see the press reacting to every single one of them—pointing at some, laughing and nodding at others. Dad remains oblivious, seeing only what he wants to see and happily typing out his perfect, off-the-cuff answers. He’s used to living inside the heat of the sun, the pressure of the public opinion. Fourteen years later, I’m still figuring out how to navigate the good and let go of the bad.
When the chat finishes, Marco is up front, apologizing immediately, and explaining that we need to get rolling. But Dad stalls us, managing to give me a tiny look that communicates, This is your job, give them what they want. What they want is us embracing, his lips pressed to my cheek, and—just before Marco hauls me out of there—Dad picking me up around the waist in a hug, swinging me around as I laugh in delight.
Finally, we push through the doors and into the suffocating September heat. It’s so warm the concrete weaves in front of us.
“Okay, let’s hustle,” Marco mutters, and waves as our car pulls around the front of the building. We’re leaving straight from here to go to the farm in Northern California where we’ll start shooting in two days. I can tell Marco doesn’t want the press to catch on that we’re not sharing a car up there with Dad.
But Dad stops us just as I reach for the car door. “Cupcake,” he calls out, and his smile is captured by a photographer only a few feet away. But then his voice goes soft enough that only I can hear it. “Everything okay, kiddo?”
“Yeah,” I say, and motion for Marco to climb in ahead of me. “Just excited and anxious, I think.”
“Okay, good. I wanted to check in.” He smiles warmly at me, but there’s an edge there I can’t miss. “You weren’t your usual perky self in there.”
My stomach tilts. “I wasn’t?”
“A little off, I guess?” He presses a hand to my face, eyes wide and so full of concern that even I could believe it’s real. “Be sure to rest up next time we have to do some press together. We always want to finish strong.”
The rebuke lands like a small shove, and I nod quickly. “Absolutely.”
“Just remember,” he says, and his hand slides up from my cheek so he can tug on my earlobe, “people want to see us having fun together.”
With a little wink, he strides off to the other car at the curb, where Althea waits by the open door.
A few photographers linger nearby, snapping pictures of Dad’s departure. I struggle to look nonchalant and tack on a breezy smile as I climb into the car.
As soon as I sit down, Marco doesn’t even blink. “You were not off.”
“I don’t know, maybe I was.”
“No.” He turns to face me as the car surges forward and we pull away from the curb. “If you were off, I would tell you to get your shit together. I’m not telling you that, because I don’t need to.” He lifts a hand, holding up one finger. “Pay attention, Tate, because what I’m about to tell you is something you’re going to have to repeat to yourself a thousand times in the next month and a half. Are you listening?”
I smile at his ready-to-battle tone. “Yes.”
“Your dad is insecure,” Marco says. “He’s not the name he used to be.”
This pings a strangely tender, protective bone in my chest. “I know.”
“You are on your way to becoming a huge star,” he continues, “up-and-coming. You are the lead of this film. He is in a supporting role.”
“But he’s still Ian butler, and he’s going to make sure you know your place.”
I swallow, hating that he’s right. It’s another point of contrast between my two parents: Mom lifts me up. Dad lifts me up so that he has a higher perch to stand on.
“Some people rise to the top on their own merit, and some people get there by stepping on heads.” Marco reads my mind. He takes both of my hands in his. “Do not let him step on you.”
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay. I won’t.”
It’s a three-hour drive to the set, and both Marco and I pass out for the first hour of the drive. But when I wake up, he’s thumbing through a stack of photos.
“These are the Vogue covers. We have approval in the contract.”