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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Now That I've Found You

Kristina Forest

Roaring Brook Press

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Chapter One


FRIDAY, MAY 15

“Ms. Jones, how does it feel to have such a breakout role so early on in your career?”

This is asked by a press reporter who stands in a sea of other reporters, photographers, and fans. They stare at us eagerly, stare at me. I’m sitting onstage at the Los Angeles Palooza Film Festival on a panel with the legendary Paul Christopher to talk about his new movie, Deep Within. We start filming in a few weeks.

“It’s surreal,” I say with a small laugh. I swallow and remind myself to smile brighter. I cross my legs and will my heartbeat to slow down. I just want everyone to like me.

“I can’t believe this is my life right now,” I say. “When I got the call that Paul wanted me to audition for this movie, I almost fell out.”

Everyone laughs at this, and I unclench a little. Be cool, I think to myself. Be charming. Be the best that you can be! God, I sound like an after-school special.

“Evie is one of the most talented students I’ve witnessed come out of Mildred McKibben,” Paul Christopher says in his elegant British accent. He turns to me and smiles, adjusting the brim of his gray newsboy cap. His white hair is pulled back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. “She really understands character in a way I haven’t seen from someone so young. We’ve already done great work together on Mind Games, and I’m looking forward to working with her on Deep Within.”

I smile and try my best to pretend that I’m not completely freaking out at his praise. Paul Christopher is in his midsixties, not that much younger than my grandmother, and he’s been making twisty, critically acclaimed thrillers for decades. I’ve sat at home on my living room floor, watching his movies on a loop, my bowl of popcorn sitting untouched because I was so engrossed in the story.

Now maybe someone will stop eating popcorn in order to watch me.

People in the room are recording us on their phones, and I’m once again thankful to my agent, Kerri, who hooked me up with a stylist last week. In my opinion, I’ve always had good fashion sense. I mean, that’s what happens when your grandmother is Evelyn Conaway. (Yeah, that Evelyn Conaway. Basically the biggest movie star ever.) But the bright-orange Carolina Herrera minidress and white Christian Louboutin pumps I have on today is maybe the best outfit I’ve ever worn.

I imagine the number of times I’ll be tagged in videos and posts on Instagram and sit up a little straighter. I’ll have a lot of DMs to respond to tonight.

I turn to Kerri now, who is standing off to the side. She gives me a subtle thumbs-up, and I nod. As thrilling as this is, having her here makes me feel less alone, less like I’m in a fishbowl.

“Ms. Jones, you have quite the family legacy,” another reporter says. “Do you feel any pressure now that you are following in the footsteps of your grandmother, specifically?”

“Of course,” I say, answering honestly. “But I’ve wanted this my whole life, so I feel ready. I’ve been waiting for a really long time.”

A really long time meaning basically since birth. I grew up watching my grandmother’s movies. My parents wanted me to have a “normal” childhood, so the plan was that I couldn’t go on auditions until after I graduated high school. But then Paul Christopher came to our spring showcase last year and was so impressed with my performance, he offered me a role in Mind Games on the spot. Technically I didn’t break Mom and Dad’s rule because I didn’t have to audition. And then they couldn’t really say no when I was invited to audition for Deep Within after the senior showcase a few months ago.

“It was just announced that Evelyn Conaway will receive the lifetime achievement award at the FCCs this year,” a third reporter says. “Do you have any thoughts about the stir she caused at the FCCs eight years ago, when James Jenkins received the same honor?”

I blink and glance at Kerri, who glares at the reporter. She looks at me and tightly shakes her head. That’s our sign for no comment. But I do have a comment about this.

“My grandmother is one of the most talented actresses of all time,” I say. “She couldn’t be more deserving of this award. If it were up to me, she’d have received it in 2012, every year before that, and every year after.”

There’s a collective “aww” from the crowd. I’m glad they find my honesty so endearing. I shoot another glance at Kerri. She gives another thumbs-up, and I relax again.

Thankfully, the rest of the questions are directed at Paul Christopher. Then the panel ends, and I’m ushered offstage toward Kerri.

“You are a rock star,” she says, grinning at me like she might burst from excitement. Kerri looks more like a fashion model than an agent, tall and slim with flawless dark-brown skin and long, sleek extensions in her hair. She’s only twenty-two and fresh out of college. Paul Christopher cast me in his movie before I had an agent, so I had to act fast. Kerri was referred to me by my school advisor. And I’m glad I went with her, because she’s a shark. In one month alone, she’s secured a stylist, hairstylist, makeup artist, and two endorsement deals.

She talks a mile a minute as we walk, her heels clicking with each step. “I would have never believed that was your first panel. You were so well spoken, and you didn’t get off topic. And you—”

I turn to her when she abruptly stops, and that’s when I realize Paul Christopher has appeared on my other side.

“I’ll see you in a few weeks, Evie,” he says. “Take care.” He tips his cap in goodbye and walks away, surrounded by his team.

Paul Christopher just tipped his hat to me. He told me to take care. What is life, even?

Said life gets even more exciting as we make our way outside and are hit with a wall of sound.

“Evie! Evie! Evie!”

Fans and paparazzi always wait outside the festival to see their favorite stars, and I can’t believe that some of them are waiting out here for me. Mostly it’s because Paul Christopher has a cult following. Ever since my role in Mind Games last year, I’ve gained hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and people recognize me at the most basic places, like Target and McDonald’s. Two girls even recognized me once while I was waiting in line at the DMV.

“Hi, everyone!” I wave enthusiastically, and a security guard appears to escort Kerri and me, whisking us away into a black Expedition. My best friend, Simone, is waiting inside. She was in the audience at the panel, and now she stares at the crowd with wide eyes as we drive off.

“That was nuts!” she shouts, grabbing my hands. Her thick box braids are pulled back and wrapped in a tight bun at the top of her head, and her bun wobbles as she scoots toward me. “Oh my God, Evie.”

“I know.” I give her hands a squeeze and match her wide grin.

She continues to stare at the crowd in wonder until we can’t see it anymore. We’ve been best friends since our freshman year at McKibben, and we used to sit at lunch, dreaming about the day we’d experience what’s happening right now. I’m so glad she’s here to witness all of this with me.

Our hands are still clutched together when Kerri, who has been busy clicking away on her phone answering emails, suddenly shouts, “YES!”

“What?” I say, spinning to face her.

She turns her phone so that I can see the email she just received. “Guess who has just been asked to be the face of Beautiful You’s newest campaign?”

Beautiful You is the number one Black hair-care company in the country. I’ve only been using their products for, I don’t know, my whole life?

I blink at Kerri. “Me?”

“Yes, you!”

The three of us squeal so loudly the driver swerves in shock.

“But, I mean, of course they want you,” Kerri says. “Your hair is already amazing.” She nods at my curly hair, which frames my face and head like a cloud, then adds, “Oh, and someone from James Jenkins’s team reached out again for another meeting. I said you weren’t available.”

“Good.” I frown. “I don’t know why they’re trying to get in contact, but he is persona non grata in the Jones/Conaway household.”

Kerri nods. “I know. I basically told them as much.”

“Thanks, Kerri. For everything.” I hug her, and she stiffens for a second because she thinks physical contact is unprofessional. But she eventually relaxes; I’m starting to wear her down.

I lean back in my seat, grinning. I can’t believe this is all happening. I know it sounds cheesy, but dreams really do come true.

* * *

After Kerri and I go over plans for the next few weeks, I’m finally off the hook. Simone and I are dropped off at my house in Malibu, where I live with my parents.

It’s empty once we walk inside, of course. My parents, Andrew and Marie Jones, indie darlings of the documentary genre, are hardly ever here. Right now they’re working on a new doc about the horrors of elephant poaching in Botswana. They’ll be back in August for Gigi’s FCC ceremony. Their long absence is nothing new, really. And they trust that I won’t do anything out of control while they’re gone.

“I’m heading out to the deck,” Simone says, grabbing a can of soda from the fridge and opening the patio door.

Simone basically lives here. The guest bedroom is filled with all of her things. She has free rein of the house, just like me.

I nod and say, “I’m gonna call Gigi. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Okay,” she says over her shoulder.

* * *

I take off my heels as I walk upstairs to my room and close the door behind me. I sit on my bed and dial Gigi’s number, glancing at the framed photograph of the two of us on my nightstand. It was taken the day I was born. Gigi is holding me, and I’m wearing one of those little pink hospital hats, and she’s dressed glamorously in a white wrap dress. Her hair wasn’t so gray then, but it was still curled the same way she wears it now.

Gigi lives in New York City. I used to see her every day when I was younger, back before she divorced James Jenkins and moved out of Beverly Hills. Now she never comes out to LA. She never leaves New York, actually. For almost a decade, I’ve had to settle for phone calls to keep in touch, only seeing her in person when I visit. Most recently, that was last Christmas.

The phone rings one more time before someone finally picks up.

“Hello?” A boy’s voice.

I frown and pull my phone away from my ear. Did I call the wrong number? No … this is Gigi’s number. The same number I dialed just two days ago.

“Um, who is this?” I say slowly.

“Milo…,” he answers. His voice is deep and melodic. “Who is this?”

Milo?” I repeat, bewildered. “This is Evie. I’m calling for Evelyn Conaway? I’m her granddaughter.”

“Oh, Evie! What’s up?” His voice immediately brightens. “How’s it going?”

How’s it going? Who is this guy? Has some mad fan broken into Gigi’s house and taken her hostage?

“Um … where is my grandmother?” I ask, growing frantic.

“She’s in the sitting room,” he says calmly. It sounds like he’s moving pots and pans around in the background. “I’m answering phones for her. She said you might call.”

“Oh, you’re her new assistant,” I say, relieved. This all makes sense now, and I stop thinking about calling the cops. “Wait, what happened to Esther?” Esther has been Gigi’s personal assistant for as long as I can remember, since the ’70s or something.

“She retired.” He laughs a little and adds, “And I’m not your grandma’s assistant, just a friend.”

“A friend?” Now I’m wondering if Gigi has turned into some kind of Manhattan sugar mama. Or worse, is this guy trying to take advantage of her somehow? Horror stories of old ladies giving strangers their Social Security numbers flash through my mind.

But no, Gigi is smart. She wouldn’t let something like that happen … would she?

Before I can really start to freak out again, Milo says, “And I deliver her groceries. That’s why I’m here right now. Just dropping some stuff off.”

“Oh.” But I’m still feeling a little suspicious. “Can you put her on, please?”

“Of course. And hey, congrats on the Paul Christopher movie. Great stuff.”

“Thanks so much,” I say. Odd, so odd. I can hear the sound of him walking through the house and carrying the phone to Gigi.

“Hello, Evie Marie, my love,” she says, her voice husky and velvety. Gigi and my parents are the only ones who call me Evie Marie, my first and middle names. Evie is for Evelyn. Marie is for my mom. “How was the film festival?”

“Oh, it was amazing, Gigi,” I say, flopping backward onto my bed.

“You deserve it, baby. You’ve worked really hard at that school. I’m proud of you.”

Hearing those words means so much coming from her. Especially because Gigi never wanted me to get into acting. She thinks everyone in the film industry is untrustworthy and that my grandfather Freddy was the only person she could depend on.

“A reporter asked me about the FCCs, and I told them you should’ve received the award years ago,” I say.

Gigi sucks her teeth. “I wish everyone would just be quiet about this ceremony. You should’ve told them to mind their business.”

I laugh. “I’ll make sure to say that next time.”

I don’t bother telling Gigi that James Jenkins has been trying to get in touch with me. It would only upset her. I’m not sure why she hates him so much or what he did to make her blow up at him on live television. I just know it’s bad, so bad that she still refuses to talk about it eight years later. I don’t even know what he wants, but I have no interest in finding out. My loyalty is to Gigi. James might have been like a grandfather to me the first few years of my life, but I haven’t seen him since they divorced when I was ten. He’s a stranger now.

In the background, I can hear Milo say something to Gigi. She mumbles in response. Then, “Evie Marie, my love, I have to go. It’s time to cook dinner.”

Cook? You?” I’ve never known Gigi to even boil ramen noodles.

“You can learn new things, even in old age!”

I laugh again. “Okay, Gigi. I’ll talk to you soon. I love you.”

“I love you too.” She sounds distracted for a moment, the sound of Milo’s voice getting louder. But then she’s back. “I’m so proud of you, baby.”

When the line goes dead, I remind myself to ask for more information about this Milo kid the next time I call her. Gigi is smart and a great judge of character, but we all have our lapses. I’d hate it if he were some gold-digging boy looking for a handout. But I’ll think about that tomorrow. Today is meant for celebrating.

Simone is slouching in a deck chair when I finally make it outside. I’ve changed out of my dress and put on a T-shirt and cutoffs. LA is the best city in the world, especially during summer, and we have an awesome view of the ocean from the patio. The perks of living in Malibu. I take a deep whiff of the salty air and plop into the seat next to Simone.

I check my Instagram, and like I guessed, I have thousands of tags and DMs from today’s panel. Everyone loved the outfit and my hair. Lots of people want to know when I’ll be in their cities next or when I’ll start filming Deep Within.

I post a selfie that I took with Paul Christopher right before the panel started, and within five minutes I have over two thousand likes.

All the love is making my heart grow ten sizes. It’s wonderfully overwhelming, like a rush. All these people—strangers—who are invested in me, people who take time out of their day to say the nicest things. Their support makes me feel so worthy of the roles that have come my way.

“I could get used to this,” I say to Simone, showing her the post of Paul Christopher and me. The likes keep ticking up and up.

She smiles a little and looks down at her own phone.

I wait for her inevitable wisecrack about how I always hold the camera too close to my face when I take selfies, but she’s staring off into space, unusually quiet.

“Hey,” I say, waving to get her attention. “Everything okay?”

She pulls her legs up onto the chair and wraps her arms around her knees. “I’m just wondering when all of these great things are going to happen for me too.”

I wince and look down at my toes. Simone and I were in the same play during the senior showcase. After watching in the audience, Paul Christopher asked a handful of us to audition for Deep Within. Simone and I both auditioned for the lead role of Shay, a girl who investigates a classmate’s murder at her ritzy New England boarding school. But Paul Christopher chose me. It was a little weird between us at first, but that went away eventually. I didn’t know she was still upset.

“Your big break is coming,” I say. “I just know it. You’re way too talented.”

And I mean that wholeheartedly. Simone was one of the best actresses in our senior class. Hell, even at all of McKibben.

“Sometimes I just feel like you get everything so easily,” she says, still not looking at me.

Her words are like a punch to the gut. That’s what everyone at McKibben used to say, that every lead role I got came down to nepotism because of my parents and Gigi. No one thought about how I had to audition just like everybody else or how hard I worked to prove I wasn’t some legacy with a name. It’s why I don’t have any friends, except for Simone. She never seemed to care about any of that.

Except maybe she did.

“You know that isn’t true,” I say quietly.

She glances at me and shakes her head. “Never mind, don’t listen to me. I’m just being stupid.” She jumps up out of her chair, a mischievous look on her face. “This is a cause for celebration! I’ll be right back.”

The tension in my stomach recedes as I watch her skip back inside.

I take a deep breath and wait for my heartbeat to slow down.

Gigi is all the way in New York, and my parents are never around. Simone has been my family since our freshman year. Our white classmates at McKibben thought we actually were related, even though we look nothing alike and all we have in common is our light-brown complexions. After a while, we began tricking people into believing that we were sisters.

If I lost Simone, I don’t know what I would do.

When she returns, she’s carrying a bottle of champagne from my parents’ bar, which is strictly off-limits. But they’re never here, and Simone is grinning, so I reach for the champagne flute she hands me. With a flourish, she pulls the cork, and it shoots out with a loud pop. We both jump back in surprise and laugh.

Simone pours the bubbly champagne into both of our glasses. “To your much-deserved success,” she says, holding up her flute in cheers.

I don’t usually drink, because I hate the taste of alcohol. But I’m so happy, and I do deserve a little celebration.

“Cheers,” I say, knocking my flute into hers.

We sit back down, and I pull up a playlist to match our good mood. Every time one of our glasses is close to empty, Simone quickly fills it to the top. The warm summer air feels amazing on my skin, and I take a deep breath every time a breeze blows. I feel myself swaying in time to the rhythm of the ocean waves, and that’s when I realize I’m buzzed. I’m such a lightweight.

We’re both humming along to Janelle Monáe when Simone suddenly smiles and says, “Hey, do that Paul Christopher impression.”

“No,” I say, laughing. “It’s so bad, and it does him no justice. I don’t sound nearly as dignified.”

“Oh, come on!” Now she’s laughing too. “Your British accent is so good.”

No.” I shake my head, laughing even harder. “I did it that one time because I thought I could pull it off! I won’t embarrass myself again.”

“Do it, do it, do it,” she chants.

I easily give in to the peer pressure. “Okay, okay.” I stand up and push my thick curls away from my face, pulling them into a ponytail just like Paul Christopher’s. In my best British accent, I say, “The psychological-thriller genre continues to grow more and more each year. You’d better bet your fannies that Deep Within will be my greatest work yet. Better than anything you’ve seen thus far, because I am better than every other director there is, and you’d be a fool to think otherwise.”

Simone giggles, whispering “fannies” to herself. She pulls out her phone to record me. She hiccups and says, “Keep going.”

I start laughing again but force myself to stop, schooling my face into seriousness. I sit up straight and look down my nose at Simone. “Everyone is always going on and on about the awards I’ve won, but is it real talent on my end? Or have I just hypnotized you all with my posh accent?” I say, giggling. “Oh, who am I kidding? Of course it’s talent! Tarantino who? Christopher Nolan? Please. Scorsese? Not bloody likely. I’m leagues better than the rest of these sorry chaps. Cheeky bum, bloody numpty, knickers, knickers, loo.”

As my performance devolves, we laugh so loudly I’m nervous the neighbors might hear us. All the tension and awkwardness from a few moments ago slide away, and what’s left is a feeling of extreme contentment.

“Okay, that’s enough,” I say, flopping back down in my chair. “Paul Christopher is one of my heroes, and I hope he never hears my terrible impression.”

Simone stops recording and puts her phone away. She wiggles her eyebrows at me. “I don’t know, that accent is pretty great. Maybe he’ll cast you in the next movie he films in the UK.”

I snort. “Yeah, right.”

I lean my head on Simone’s shoulder. After a moment, I say, “Thanks for being here for me. I’ll be right there with you when it’s your turn.”

She doesn’t say anything in response, just wraps her arm around me and gives me a sideways hug.

As I watch the sunset in my backyard, I figure today has probably been the best day of my life.

Article from TMZ.com—May 16, 2020, 11:45 A.M. PST

EVIE JONES, WOULD-BE HOLLYWOOD STARLET, HIRED THEN FIRED!!!

Just a month ago, it was announced that Evie Jones, granddaughter of the great Evelyn Conaway, would star in the next Paul Christopher thriller, Deep Within, alongside a slew of other A-list actors. But that excitement was short-lived to say the least. This morning, footage leaked of Evie mocking Paul himself!

In the video, she’s visibly drunk, swaying side to side as she makes fun of Paul’s accent in a surprisingly good impression.

Apparently, Paul was so offended by the video, he fired her on the spot! He’s already hired another newbie, Simone Davis, as Evie’s replacement. And get this, Simone went to the same high school as Evie. Apparently they were best friends. Can you say awkward? We doubt that friendship is gonna last …

A petition (most likely created by Paul Christopher superfans) went around online, begging directors and producers not to work with Evie. Our sources tell us that some big-deal people in Hollywood are already way ahead of them and Evie’s name has made it onto a blacklist.

Evie has yet to make a statement, and she hasn’t been seen out in public. Sounds like a certain grandmother of hers …


Copyright © 2020 by Kristina Forest