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Natalie, aged 21
Two things surprise me about the therapist.
First off, she’s huge. I don’t mean overweight. She’s super tall, and broad to match. Kind of like a regular slim person has been scaled up. You don’t see that very much in LA.
The second surprising thing, is that her room doesn’t look like a therapy place.
All the others had a luxurious couch, or chair, or even a chaise lounge, like in the old movies.
That was a reason why I stuck with one therapist for so long, actually. I liked his chaise lounge. It meant I could lie back and pretend I was some glamorous fifties starlet, like Marilyn Monroe. Instead of a failing actress, barely out of her teens, with a drugs habit she can’t kick.
This therapist’s room couldn’t be more opposite. It’s small, with a really ordinary looking desk – the kind you’d expect a teacher to have – and two plain swivel chairs. One for her, and one for me, I guess. The one on her side of the desk isn’t any bigger than mine. Which is weird. Cause you’d think she’d want to make a point, that she’s the expert here.
Her desk is covered in papers, and books with scrappy bookmarks stuck through them, to mark the place. It looks a bit disorganised, and I get a thought, that perhaps I’ve wandered into the wrong room by mistake. It’s easy to mess up like that, when you’re high or hung-over all the time. But the recognition in her face reassures me.
“Natalie.” She gives me a warm smile – a real one (I can always tell), and stands to shake my hand.
As her long fingers enclose my small hand, I have the feeling of disappearing. But it’s not a bad feeling. I find myself examining her. She has a great wave of dark hair, brown eyes, and heavy eyebrows which fall just on the right side of dramatic. Her features are striking, and classic.
“Please sit down,” she says, and as soon as her hand leaves mine, I feel cold. The familiar feelings seep in. This is never going to work. There’s no getting away from who I am.
I toss my hair distractedly as I sit.
“Hey, can I get a glass of water?” I say. I’m not really thirsty. But I’m feeling difficult.
“Sure.” The therapist has a lilt to her accent I can’t quite place. Australian maybe, or South African. But it’s blended with Californian. She gestures to a jug of water on her desk, and removes a glass from a drawer.
I shake my head, and give her my most engaging apologetic smile.
“I’m sorry,” I reply, “I only drink Fuji, or Evian.”
The therapist’s expression stays put.
“I don’t have either of those,” she says. “Just filter water.”
I wait a moment, expecting her to apologise, or find a way to fix the problem. But she doesn’t.
I frown slightly. This is unexpected. “Really,” I say, letting her see that I’m getting upset. “I can only drink those two brands. It’s the mineral content. It’s important to me.”
“We don’t have those brands here,” she repeats, giving no indication she’s the least bit bothered by her failure to meet my preferences. “Let’s try this next hour, without your preferred brand of water, You might surprise yourself.”
I’m completely unused to this kind of attitude towards my requests. And I realise, that she’s calling my bluff. I’m so familiar with people obeying my stupid commands, that I never expected them to be questioned. Least of all by someone I’m paying to make me better.
I feel a wave of respect for her. Maybe this will be different after all.
I shrug, and frown. But we’ve no established, that I won’t walk out, over bottled water.
“So,” the therapist sits, and puts on a pair of narrow glasses. “I’ve been reading through your notes.”
“You have?” I feel myself sitting forward. “I didn’t realise therapists did that. Read accounts from other therapists, I mean.”
She looks up at me. “Some people like to start from scratch,” she says. “But I think there is a lot to be gained from reading previous sessions. Not least so we can avoid going over old ground,” she adds, looking at me over her glasses.
I get a sense that she’s understood a lot about me from her reading. Because one of the things which drives me crazy, is saying the same thing over and over to different people.
“I was intrigued,” she adds, “by a memory you had in one session, which I don’t think was really explored. Do you mind if we start by talking about that?”
“Sure,” I shrug, and smile at her, sitting back slightly in my chair. “Ask me anything.”
I move easily into Natalie-in-therapy-mode now. It’s a role I’m used to. I become an affable teller of secrets, and I breeze through, like nothing bothers me.
The therapist settles her chin on her thumb and forefinger, and fixes me with a look.
“Natalie,” she says gently, “you don’t have to do that.”
I blink, and sit up in the chair. How did she know I was getting into a role? The thought disconcerts me. I’m usually able to fool anyone, with my acting.
“Just tell me what you really feel,” she adds.
I open my mouth and shut it again, not sure how to respond.
“Alright.” The therapist pulls out a paper, examines it, then rests her brown eyes on me again.
“Do you remember talking about, when you first landed your big acting role?”
“Not really,” I answer honestly. I’ve been high at so many therapy sessions, it’s difficult to know what’s been said. The only reason I’m half sober today, is because the therapist arranged the session early, at a time when it’s difficult to score drugs. Something I’m fast suspecting was deliberate.
“You were eleven,” prompts the therapist, “and your father was waiting in the wings the whole time. Often he would offer direction for your acting, when a scene had finished.”
I nod. I do remember this.
“He would tell me stuff, about my acting,” I say. ‘Mostly stuff I did wrong.”
“Did no one mention that as strange?” she asks, “that your father got so involved in your acting?”
I shake my head slowly. “I didn’t think it was strange at the time,” I say.
But now I’m thinking it, I guess it is a little unusual. I’ve acted in a ton of movies since. And I’ve never seen the younger cast members being coached by their parents.
“You mention something else,” the therapist adds. “You say that you often acted for your father, as much as you did for the director. Tell me how you feel about that.”
Other therapists have asked how I feel about things, and I’ve always hated it. But somehow, it’s different, coming from her.
“Um.” I think carefully. “It’s hard to know. I was so young I guess. But it didn’t feel as though I could ever please my father. Looking back, I don’t think he saw me as a separate person back then. I think I was just an extension of his ambitions.”
I shrug, and look at her. “You know my father was into direction, right? But it never worked out for him.”
She nods. My father’s ambitions and failings are common knowledge in LA.
“I’m cool with it,” I add, “He wanted me to act, cause he hoped it would get him further into direction. I mean, I’ve picked over all this stuff already. Pushy parent, neglected child, blah blah. I know, it’s messed me up.”
The therapist gives me a cool smile, as though she sees through me.
“From what I can see, it was very important to you, to be liked as a teenager,” she says. “And then something changed. Almost as though you went the other way.”
I roll my eyes. I know what she means. The whole diva thing.
“Look,” I sigh. “My job is hard. I need certain things around me.”
“Have you ever thought, that your making demands, is a way to stop people getting close to you?” she asks.
I swallow, genuinely surprised by the question.
“No,” I say sharply. “I haven’t. If a man made the same demands, no-one would call him names. You should hear some of the things Brad Pitt wants in his trailer.”
Suddenly, I want more than anything, for a line of coke. Or a drink. A shot of something.
“I think you are a very likable and intelligent young woman,” says the therapist. And the words shoot an unexpected lightening bolt through my heart.
“Does that make you feel uncomfortable?” she adds. And I realise I haven’t managed to mask my expression. Which is a first.
“I… Yes.” I admit. And to my embarrassment, tears have sprung to my eyes.
“Why is that hard for you to hear?” she asks gently. “Can you tell me?”
“I think… I’m not sure.” I struggle with the whirl of thoughts in my head.
“Actresses want to be liked,” says the therapist, “much, much more than most people. It’s why they work as hard as they do. So when I see an actress like you, working hard not to be liked, I wonder if maybe she has fears. Maybe she thinks that everyone will betray her in the end. Maybe she thinks, at her heart, she’s unlikable.”
I suddenly find I can’t speak. Because, really, she’s described it all so perfectly.
“What I’d like to work on with you,” she continues, “is helping you realise how likeable you really are.”
I feel my mouth twist, in an uncertain expression. Because if this is her intention, then she’ll wind up very, very disappointed.
A secret scene from the bestselling Spotlight Series.
Hungry for more? The Final Act is due out in August.
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