Once he got over that hurdle though, putting Rachel out of his life was going to be much easier than he'd thought last night, because, he admitted to himself, whatever he'd felt for her when they were married three years ago had vanished shortly afterward. Since then, they'd been nothing but a sexual and social convenience for each other. Without Rachel, his life was going to seem no emptier, no more meaningless or superficial than it had seemed for most of the past ten years.
Frowning at that thought, Zack watched a tiny insect make its arduous way up a blade of grass near his hip, and he wondered why his own life frequently seemed so frustratingly aimless to him, without important purpose or deep gratification. He hadn't always felt like this, though. Zack remembered…
When he arrived in Los Angeles in Charlie Murdock's truck, survival itself had been a challenge, and the job he'd gotten on the loading docks at Empire Studios with Charlie's help had seemed like an enormous triumph. A month later, a director who was shooting a low-budget picture on the back lot about a gang of inner-city thugs that terrorized a suburban high school decided he needed a few more faces in a crowd scene, and he recruited Zack. The part required only that Zack lean against a brick wall, looking aloof and tough. The extra money he'd made that day had seemed like a boon. So had the director's announcement several days later when he sent for him: "Zack, my boy, you have something we call presence. The camera loves you. On film, you come across like a moody, modern-day James Dean, only you're taller and better-looking than he was. You stole that scene you were in just by standing there. If you can act, I'll cast you in a Western we're going to start shooting. Oh—and you'll need to get a waiver from the union."
It wasn't the prospect of being in a movie that really excited Zack, it was the salary he was offered. So he got a waiver from SAG and learned to act.
Actually, acting hadn't been all that difficult for him. For one thing, he'd been "acting" for years before he left his grandmother's house, pretending things didn't matter when they did; for another, he was totally dedicated to a goal: He was determined to prove to his grandmother and everyone else in Ridgemont that he could survive on his own and prosper on a grand scale. To achieve that goal, he was prepared to do almost anything, no matter how much effort it required.
Ridgemont was a little city, and there'd been no doubt in Zack's mind that the details of his ignominious departure were common knowledge within hours after he left his grandmother's house on foot. When his first two movies were released, he went through every piece of fan mail, hoping that someone he used to know would have recognized him. But if they did, they didn't bother to write.
For a while after that, he fantasized about returning to Ridgemont with enough money to buy Stanhope Industries and run it, but by the time he was twenty-five and had amassed enough money to buy the company, he'd also matured enough to realize that buying the whole goddamned city and everything in it wouldn't change a thing. By then he'd already won an Oscar, gotten his degree from USC, been hailed as a prodigy, and called a "Legend in the Making." He had his choice of starring roles, a fortune in the bank, and a future virtually guaranteed to be even more spectacular.
He'd proven to everyone that Zachary Benedict could survive and prosper on the grandest of scales. He had nothing else to strive for, nothing left to prove, and the lack of both left him feeling strangely deflated and empty.
Deprived of his former goals, Zack looked elsewhere for gratification. He built mansions, bought yachts, and drove race cars; he escorted beautiful women to glittering social functions, and then he took them to bed. He enjoyed their bodies and often their company, but he never took them seriously and they rarely expected it. Zack had become a sexual trophy, sought after solely for the prestige of sleeping with him and, in the case of actresses, coveted for the influence and connections he had. Like all the superstars and sex symbols before him, he was also a victim of his own success: He could not step off an elevator or eat in a restaurant without being accosted by adoring fans; women shoved hotel room keys into his hand and bribed clerks to let them into his suite. Producers' wives invited him to their homes for weekend parties and slipped out of their husbands' beds to climb into his.
Although he frequently availed himself of the banquet of sexual and social opportunities spread out before him, there was a part of him—his conscience or some latent streak of conventional Yankee morality—that was revolted by the promiscuity and superficiality, the junkies and sycophants and narcissists, everything that made Hollywood seem like a human sewer, a sewer that had been sanitized and deodorized to protect the public's sensibilities.
He woke up one morning and suddenly couldn't tolerate it any longer. He was tired of meaningless sex, bored with loud parties, sick of neurotic actresses and ambitious starlets, and completely disgusted with the life he'd been living.
He started looking for a different way to fill the void in his days, for a new challenge and a better reason to exist. Acting was no longer much challenge, so he turned his thoughts to directing instead. If he failed as a director, he'd be a very public flop, but even the risk of laying his reputation on the line had a stimulating effect. The idea of directing a film, which had been hovering on the fringes of his consciousness long before that, became his new goal, and Zack pursued it with all the single-minded determination he'd devoted to achieving his others. Empire's president, Irwin Levine, tried to talk him out of it, he pleaded and reasoned and wheedled, but in the end he capitulated, as Zack had known he would.
The movie Levine gave him to direct was a low-budget thriller called Nightmare that had two leading roles, one for a nine-year-old child, another for a woman. For the role of the child, Empire insisted on Emily McDaniels, a former child star with Shirley Temple dimples who was almost thirteen but looked nine and was still under contract to them. Emily's career was already on the downslide; so was the career of a glamorous blonde named Rachel Evans, who they cast in the other role. In her prior films, Rachel Evans had only minor parts, and none of them showed much acting ability.
Zack's studio had foisted both females off on him for the patently transparent reason that they wanted to teach him a lesson—that acting was his forte, not directing. The film was virtually guaranteed to barely earn back its investment and, the studio executives hoped, simultaneously put an end to their most famous star's desire to waste his moneymaking potential behind the cameras.
Zack had known all that, but it hadn't stopped him. Before they went into production, he spent weeks looking at Rachel's and Emily's old films in his screening room at home, and he knew there were moments—brief moments—when Rachel Evans actually showed some genuine talent. Moments when Emily's "cuteness," which had faded with her adolescence, was replaced by a charming sweetness that spoke to the camera because it was genuine.