Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
MY FATHER’S MOST FAMOUS SONG goes, You’re not drowning if your eyes are closed.
That’s not how I see it. But as Makeup Lady dabs shadow onto my lids, I hold my breath for as long as I can handle, until the burning in my lungs blots out the chaos around me, and the only sounds are ocean ones. Roar of walkie-talkie static. Photographer’s assistants squawking like gulls.
Makeup Lady switches to my other eye and says relax. Relax, sweetie—no need to be nervous.
“Not when you have such striking eyes.”
“Thanks.” I shiver.
“They’re your father’s.”
My eyes flash open, and I see everything at once: gawkers and Makeup Lady’s too-red mouth and the whitewashed set behind her. Last of all, I see myself, in the mirror. I blink and my eyelashes rustle. Not mine—I felt her press them on. Tragic purple bruises my lids. I’ve never had this much makeup inflicted on me in my life, but beneath it, my eyes are as uninspiring as ever. Watery blue. I glance from Makeup Lady to the mirror, unconvinced.
“Most people think I look like my mom.” My mouth is black, practically necrotic. I squish my lips together. Wearing lipstick makes me immediately want to chew it off.
“Oh.” She laughs. “No. You resemble Mack.”
A jolt goes through me.
Like she knew him.
“He was very talented,” she says quietly.
A girl with a gravity-defying blond ponytail hustles in to replace her, clipboard clasped to her chest. “Koda?” she chirps. “We’re ready for you, hon.”
Great. Fantastic. Lovely, as Mom would say.
Ponytail leads me onto set. Even the stool they want me to sit on is white. Photographer stands several feet away, viciously adjusting the settings on his camera. He’s dressed completely in black. Long and skinny, like a knife, and something about the gleam of his bald head beneath the lights suggests he must be famous, probably the best photographer ROCK has to offer. “Um. Excuse me?” I wait. Photographer thrusts his camera at an assistant, who immediately passes him another, identical one. “Hi, um, do you want me to… do I sit?” Our lawyer, Mr. Todd, strides by, blah-blahing into his phone. I practically lunge for him. “Is that Mom?” I ask, but he doesn’t hear me either. Okay. I eye the stool.
Mom promised that makeup, the photo shoot, this whole ordeal, would be easy.
She’d know if I should sit.
Ponytail whispers to Photographer, and his head jerks up. “There she is!” he exclaims. I’ve been here since noon—three whole hours—and it’s like he’s just noticed me. “Happy birthday, darling!”
Definitely famous. And French. All those swallowed vowels. “Thanks.” My birthday isn’t for months. April 1. Ha ha. But we’re doing the photo shoot in December because ROCK’s editor-in-chief deemed it would be so. Probably this has to do with running a monthly publication—interviews must be conducted, articles written, pics shot and Photoshopped a gazillion weeks in advance, especially when the feature story is as momentous as this one. It’s not every day a dead rock god’s only kid turns eighteen.
An impatient flap from Photographer—sit—and I ease onto the stool, feeling faint. The shirt Wardrobe buttoned me into is only soft on the outside. Inside, it’s a web of frayed stitches, scratchy tight. The pants too. Leather. Hair tickles my nose, but it took Stylist so long to set the curls that I’m afraid to move. Clearly he expected me to show up with something he could work with, instead of the same sad haircut I’ve had since I was four.
Sweat pools in my butt crack. The pants are that hot. I grind my palms into my thighs as Photographer snaps what must be test shots, aiming his camera at my face, the wall, my face. “Hmm.” He grimaces. Seemingly in pain, if not blinded. Like the set, I am astonishingly white. Did nobody think this through?
Okay, okay. Right. Mom and I talked about this, and we agreed that inspiration is all about summoning the right mental images. Looking the part. As Photographer advances, hunched behind his camera, I pull my shoulders back. Take a deep breath that is the opposite of drowning.
The set has gone completely silent. Just him and my swim pose and the steady ping of his camera’s touch display. Finally, he lifts the camera to his eye. “You are having a big New York birthday?” he asks.
My chest sizzles. Heartburn. Amazing it waited this long. “Maybe. I mean…” It’s like talking to the dentist when his hand’s halfway in your mouth. Am I even supposed to answer? I give it my best. Slowly. Letting my lungs expand. “I want to, but my friends aren’t exactly down with leaving LA in the middle of—”
“Don’t tense,” he scolds. “Give us a pout, eh?”
My nose prickles. Oh no. No. I can’t cry. Not now. I’ll ruin the makeup. Everybody will be so mad. Quickly, I glance away, tilting my face to rock the tears back. Mom’s trick, but it doesn’t work. God, if only she could’ve come. If only she could’ve been here, instead of whatever it is she’s doing at the office.
“Go on,” says Photographer. “Show us what made your father famous.”
How? My father’s face was 90 percent dimple. I don’t have dimples. Just fat lips—Mom swears they’re not, but they are—and too much forehead and, worst of all, these ugly, blocky cheeks. I am the lowest possible form of my father. A bootleg copy. My lip quivers.
“There!” Photographer murmurs. “A little bird could perch on that lip.”
Was that a compliment? Can’t tell. Too stunned by the flash. The camera clicks. Click click click!
He retreats to study his efforts on a laptop. I stare at the floor.
Photographer comes stalking back. “What is your favorite memory of your father?”
Somebody reaches to fluff my hair.
Does he not… can he seriously not know? “I—I… I don’t have any. He died when I was a month old.”
He snorts, like this is entirely beside the point. “Yes, but you have seen things? Read things? Your father was absolutely unknown when I photographed him, and yet his magnetism was undeniable. ROCK’s best-selling cover to date. I need you to channel those images, Koda Rose. Become him. Embody the essence that was Mack Grady. So.” He taps his camera. “Smile. You can do this? You know your father’s smile?”
Everybody knows my father’s smile. See above: dimples. And maybe I don’t know the exact pictures Photographer’s referring to, but if he showed me an example…
Somehow, I doubt that’s an option. I look up again, avoiding Photographer’s glinting stare.
“Go on,” he coaxes.
I smooth on what feels like a smile—a Mack smile—and I guess I do it right, because my mouth is so stiff it sticks that way until Photographer announces, “Okay, we are done smiling, Koda Rose. Let’s look serious. No, serious—how is it possible to have those eyes and not know how to use them?” Click! “The key is to not be pretty.” Click! Click! “Plenty of girls are pretty. It is not so hard to do, and fans’ expectations for this feature are astronomical. You must—”
In photos my father is pretty. Not much older than me.
“Worthy?” What? My back tightens, this urge to defend myself—well, I am his kid, whether you think I deserve to be or not. But my mouth only flops.
Three days since we moved from LA, and nobody has ever spoken to me like this.
Photographer yanks the camera from his eye, motioning frantically for intervention. Ponytail. She lights a cigarette and drops it between my fingers.
“Oh,” I say. “I don’t—did my mom agree to this?”
Exasperated, Photographer explains that I don’t have to smoke it. I’m just supposed to let the smoke snake around me because my father smoked, it’ll be like this echo thing, utterly brilliant—he stops. Ponytail manipulates my fingers, showing me how to hold the cigarette without getting ash all over myself. Then she steps back, and somebody goes, “Shh!” Through my eyelashes I watch as two mouths, many mouths, drop open.
Slowly, Photographer says, “Move your head.”
I move it. This cigarette reeks.
I move it less.
“That’s it,” he mutters. “That’s it!” Spasms. “There he is. I knew you had him in you!” Click! “Yes!” Click! “Brilliant brilliant brilliant. A little more, darling—” I let the cigarette dangle, like the Mack in pictures I have seen, and—“There! Yes! Beau-ti-ful! Extraor-dinary! Blue eyes, and auburn hair, you fucking ex-qui-site china doll…”
By the time it’s over, I kind of wish I did smoke, and that Mom could’ve let me in on a few more tips. Also maybe that I could look the tiniest bit more like my father, so I wouldn’t have to turn my head to remind people I’m his.