A lot has changed since then. Movies are more expensive, which means schedules are tight and everything is budgeted, overseen, and accounted for. There’s still sex, but drugs tend to be hidden and sexual harassment and discrimination policies mean most people are on their best behavior. But it can still feel a little wild and free, especially on a set like this, with all of us essentially cut off from the rest of the world and seeing the same people day after day.
Dressed back down in jeans and a sweater, I leave the warm coziness of my cabin, and begin the short, energizing trek up the hill to the Community House. The breeze tugs on the ends of my hair as I walk, carrying with it the smell of charcoal barbecue and damp grass. Up ahead, the tent for the town dance party scene is still up and glows like a star against a dark sky.
I’m not really sure what I expect to find inside. Sam or no Sam. Nick, my dad—with his girlfriend or without. Sam and I mostly keep to our own circles. He spends time with Gwen, Deb, and Liz—though I do notice he slips away every night to call his family back home. Usually, I convene with Charlie, Nick, and Trey at the end of the day. Devon floats between the groups, being generally adorable until about nine every night when he wisely decides to go to bed—after all, if he lets me sleep as late as possible and is always at my door around four thirty, he must be getting up at the crack of hell-dawn.
And then there’s Dad. Mom was absolutely right: I went into this project knowing what it could do for my career, but I’d hoped something else would come from it too. Even now, time with him is so fleeting: a holiday here, a dinner there. The one time I spent Christmas with him, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in hospitals, visiting with sick kids. It felt . . . amazing, really, and I couldn’t fault him for lacking paternal sentimentality when I watched him moving from bed to bed with a gift and smile for each person. And the way he looked at them—the way he listened to what they had to say—for those few seconds, they must have felt like they were the only person in the room.
And then we just . . . went our separate ways with a quick, tight hug. There was no delayed celebration for the two of us. I went home to Mom’s gentle enthusiasm and Nana’s stoic I-told-you-so’s, and he caught a flight to Mallorca to spend a week with his then-girlfriend, who was at least a few years older than me.
So when I see him tonight, Marissa on one side and an empty chair on the other, I’m hit with a wave of sadness I wasn’t really expecting. He really did bring her as a buffer between us.
People load their plates with fruit and salads and meat straight from the grill. I debate lingering to fill a plate of my own and avoid what is surely to be an awkward conversation—the first round of real hang-out time with the new girlfriend—but don’t have much of an appetite. The Loving Daughter move here would be to seek him out, and with everyone around, that’s exactly what he’s expecting me to do.
With an early call tomorrow, I grab a bottle of sparkling water from a huge ice-filled tub and make my way over. I catch Sam talking to some of the crew near the bar, but I force my eyes not to linger.
Busy listening to something Marissa is saying, Dad doesn’t look up when I sit. I feel like an old toy put on a shelf, waiting to be wanted again. I open my bottle and bring it up to my lips and wonder if there will ever be a time when I’ll stop trying so hard and embrace the welcome void of indifference.
Finished with his conversation for the moment, Dad seems to finally notice me at his side. “There she is,” he says. “I wondered if you were coming out.”
“Hey Dad, hi Marissa.” I lean forward, giving her a little wave.
I take in her perfectly contoured makeup and miles of tousled hair. She’s beautiful—they all are—but she’s in heels and a Gucci jacket outside at a campfire. It leaves me wondering if maybe we have more in common than I originally thought: Daughter or Girlfriend, we both always have to be on around Ian Butler. “How are you enjoying being on set?”
“It’s been so amazing,” she says, a little giddy, a little breathless, and looks between us. “Okay, seriously? I still can’t believe how much you two look alike. I’ve seen pictures, obviously, but God. You must hear it all the time.”
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, that’s for sure,” he says to me, eyes sparkling in the reflection of the fire.
With a pang, I register that Dad only has a handful of these parental catchphrases. His idea of being a public Dad is tossing out the wink-and-ear-tug sayings:
She’s a chip off the old block!
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!
Like father, like daughter!
It’s depressing, frankly, but I guess it should help me understand why he sees my career as an extension of his.
My attention returns to his girlfriend, who I barely know at all. To be fair, Dad’s supporting role means that he’ll have several days in a row without a call time, so I know he and Marissa finally left the set and took a couple day trips up and down the California coast, but still: we’re three weeks in and I’m not sure we’ve exchanged more than a dozen words before tonight. “I don’t think I ever heard how you two met,” I say.
“At UCLA. I’m a grad student there, and he was a speaker at an event on campus.” Her eyes shift adoringly to him. “He asked me for a drink . . . and here we are. That was six months ago.”