opened slowly and reluctantly. They were beautiful eyes; almond-shaped
with long lashes and irises of a blue so light they almost appeared
devoid of color. But the beauty carried a harshness, an edge of
danger, a sense of calculating and unforgiving judgment formulating
within those perfect orbs.
Donna Sylvan rubbed the slumber from those perfect
eyes and stroked her smooth, equally flawless face. Tall, thin,
angular, gorgeous and wealthy to an absurd degree, at 21 she had
already graced countless magazine covers, guest-starred on tacky
sitcoms and reality shows, and guaranteed the success of trendy
nightspots from New York to Melbourne simply by being photographed
having a good time inside. Having a good time was her unofficial
occupation, although at the advice of her accountants Donna listed
herself as an ”entertainer” on her tax returns.
Without demonstrating a hint of outward enthusiasm,
Donna slithered her long, slender body along $2,000 pink silk sheets
into an upright position against a hand-carved redwood headboard.
Despite the array of penthouse suites and vacation homes she maintained
in Malibu, Manhattan, the Hamptons, London, Paris, Milan, and Tokyo,
Donna had spent the night in what remained her favorite residence:
her father’s Beverly Hills mansion.
As president of movie and TV production empire Sylvan
Films, Donna’s father Bill Sylvan was rarely home, and her
mother, the one-time soap opera star and current socialite Bliss
Toogood-Sylvan, had left behind Bill’s infidelities and temper
tantrums long ago. That meant Donna had the 18,000-square-foot classically
architected mansion practically to herself.
Her bedroom, the size of a studio apartment with
its own full bathroom and kitchenette, was a mix of purple velvet
and erotic artwork that one tabloid magazine had proclaimed in a
headline as a “Swamp of Depraved Lust.” This came from
a direct quote by an aspiring fashion photographer who Donna had
picked up for a one-night stand and refused to speak to afterward.
He got revenge and a healthy career boost by telling the story to
a leading celebrity scandal sheet, comparing Donna’s bedroom
to a “wetlands where promiscuity and sexual abandon breed
The heavy oak double doors shielding Donna’s
private ecosystem from the world at large swung open, letting in
an unwelcome burst of sun from the giant skylight in the hallway.
Since Bill Sylvan was on location in Madagascar and the housekeeping
staff knew never to disturb her before 2 PM, Donna realized only
one other person could be responsible for the intrusion: her older
Melinda Sylvan, 25, every bit as pretty as Donna
but shorter, stockier and less severe, strolled into the room. “It’s
almost 11 AM, Donna,” she announced.
“Thanks for the time update,” Donna
replied. ‘Do you do the weather, too?”
Melinda tossed her curly blonde hair over her shoulder
and sighed. “You are so irresponsible,” she stated.
“You told me a month ago that you would help me at the rally
today, and then you go out partying till God knows what time last
night and totally blow it off.”
Melinda had made a name for herself as a teenager
starring in a wholesome TV drama her father had produced about a
God-fearing family struggling to keep its farm in 1930s Oklahoma.
She had then obtained a degree in environmental science from UC
Berkeley, and ever since had devoted herself as a full-time activist
for ecological preservation in California while writing a column
on sensible dating for a teen magazine in her spare time.
“Don’t get your granny panties all bunched
up, Melinda,” said Donna, dragging out the vowels in her sister’s
name. “I didn't blow off anything. I've gone out clubbing
every Saturday night since I was 14. Why would last night be any
“Great attitude,” said Melinda. “I
try to keep up the family name and you've been tearing it down by
whoring around since you were 14.”
“I suppose I could have been a respectable
young lady like you and saved myself till I was 15,” said
Donna. What Melinda had managed to keep secret from the tabloids
and her parents, but not her kid sister, was that from ages 15 to
18 she had spent almost every off-camera minute on the set of “Family
Pride” in a trailer having sex with the hunky young actor
who played the town minister’s rebellious teenage son.
Melinda’s jaw dropped, then she set it firmly
in an expression of rebuke that Donna had see many times before.
“That was one boy and we were in love,” said Melinda.
“I’m not saying it was right, but by age 15 you had
slept with the prep school football team and half of your friends‚
“Don’t forget Lorenzo, the hot school
custodian with the Aztec sun tattoo on his ass,” Donna cheerily
reminded Melinda, who stormed out of the dark, fetid bedroom into
the welcoming light of the hall.
An hour later, Donna was lazily reclining in the
passenger seat of Melinda’s cherry red Volkswagen New Beetle,
consuming a brunch consisting of a can of Diet Pepsi and a low-tar
cigarette. She had put on a pink halter-top, black microminiskirt
and stiletto heels, which she figured would annoy Melinda even more
than smoking in her car without asking permission. Melinda, decked
out in her usual protest outfit of Sierra Club T-shirt, denim shorts,
and sandals, disapprovingly glared at her sister but said nothing.
“Just because we’re hugging trees or
whatever doesn't mean you have to dress like a refugee from a Dave
Matthews concert,” said Donna. “You can save the environment
“We’re not hugging trees and I like
the way I’m dressed,” Melinda responded curtly. “David
liked it, too. You don’t have to dress like a tramp to get
men to like you.”
“At least not dorky men,” said Donna.
Melinda’s most recent beau had been a tall, bearded fisheries
management grad student and environmental activist who Donna considered
as interesting as the wood he so passionately defended. Melinda
let the comment pass.
When the ash reached the filter of Donna’s
cigarette, she idlely flicked the butt out the open passenger side
window onto the highway. Melinda screamed so loudly Donna feared
they were about to collide with a logging truck. “How dare
you?” shrieked Melinda. “We’re on our way to a
rally to save the forest and you throw your filthy cigarette butt
out the window? It’s bad enough you pollute the air with the
smoke from those things. What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking you need to chill,”
said Donna, indigent but utterly calm. “Sorry, I wasn't consciously
thinking when I did that. I'll write a check to plant a tree to
make up for it, or something.”
Melinda pounded her fist on the steering wheel hard
enough to send vibrations through the whole car. “Throw money
at the problem,” she exclaimed. “Great. That’s
so typical of this whole consumer-driven society. Go around trampling
and destroying everything and then make a fifty-dollar donation
so you can sleep at night. Maybe you should have just stayed in
bed this morning.”
“I’d say that’s a definite,”
pouted Donna, slumping in her seat. For the rest of the ride she
silently studied the bright, radiant colors of the fresh roses Melinda
had placed in the flower vase that came as part of the Beetle’s
The rally took place in a large clearing at the
edge of a forest in danger of being razed to make way for condominiums.
A large stage and sound system had been erected and about 3,000
people, most of whom Donna quickly classified as “granola
heads”, gathered around the stage. On the stage were an assortment
of environmental speakers and activists, as well as a smattering
of celebrities Melinda had lured with the Sylvan name and promise
of free publicity. Donna observed the action from a folding chair
at the rear of the stage, admiring the view of the nearby mountains
and thinking how nice it would look from the deck of a luxury condo.
Donna shifted her head from the mountain view to
look at a tall, muscular, well-tanned man of about 27 dressed in
a silk shirt and white linen pants who was standing next to her.
He was too well-dressed and good-looking to be anything but a celebrity
who had tagged along for the exposure.
Donna said hello and learned he was Brett Jenkins,
a mildly famous movie actor who she dimly remembered making out
with at a Berlin discotheque about three years earlier. Her attention
quicky refocused to Brett, and they spent the next half-hour discussing
clothes, private beaches, and ugly people who somehow managed to
be popular. Inevitably, the conversation shifted to the day’s
“I mean, I like trees and all that, but do
these people really have nothing else to do today?” Brett
wondered aloud. “I gave up the chance to play golf in a foursome
that included Jack Nicholson because my agent said this might get
me in good with Bill Sylvan.”
Donna laughed so loudly that the Native American
poet addressing the crowd from the front of the stage paused and
turned his head. She stifled further giggling and whispered, “Daddy
doesn't give a shit about any of this. He writes a seven-figure
check once a year and then goes back to screwing starlets and terrorizing
directors. I’m your ticket to Daddy. I’m his little
Brett slipped his arm around Donna’s shoulders.
“That’s good to know, he said, “because I still
may meet up with Jack later tonight and I could certainly impress
him with a pretty girl like you as my date.”
Donna said nothing, but simply moved closer to Brett.
She had been around Jack Nicholson once or twice and found him charming
enough to consider sleeping with despite being close to the same
age as her grandfather. She wouldn't mind meeting him again.
The poet concluded his verse to a round of hearty
applause. Brett rolled his eyes and Donna laughed again, knowing
the crowd noise would obscure the sound. Suddenly she leapt to her
feet. “Let’s give the trees some edge,” she said,
and ran to the front of the stage. She grabbed the microphone from
the startled poet. Raising her arms above her head, Donna twirled
for the audience. The applause was deafening.
“Hello, nature lovers!” Donna shouted
into the microphone. “How do you feel?” The crowd responded
with more enthusiasm than it had demonstrated all day. “All
right! I love day spas and shopping on Rodeo Drive, but I love nature,
too! Let‚s hear it for the trees!” The crowd roared
in agreement. Smiling, Donna bowed, making her skirt hike up to
expose even more skin than it would normally reveal, and handed
the microphone to Melinda, who was frowning behind her with tightly
“Let’s hear it for my kid sister, everybody’s
favorite party girl, Donna Sylvan,” Melinda said with minimal
emotion. The crowd roared yet again. Her good deed for the day behind
her, Donna flounced back to her seat and returned all her energies
to raising Brett’s interest without making him think sex would
be a sure bet.
The ride home took about 90 minutes with traffic.
Melinda remained totally silent for the first hour, and Donna made
no effort to initiate any conversation. Instead she fiddled with
the business card of Brett’s agent, on which Brett had scribbled
his cell phone number.
“I suppose you’re proud of yourself,”
Melinda said, finally breaking the silence.
“Proud of myself for what?” asked Donna,
steeling herself for the verbal deluge that was about to come her
way. She had been waiting for this precise moment to light a cigarette,
since Melinda was already going to yell at her, anyway.
“For ruining the entire event!” exclaimed
Melinda. “We put together an educational, entertaining program
on why these woods are worth saving and you ruin it within 30 seconds
by tarting it up!”
“The program may have been educational, but
it was hardly entertaining before I showed up,” said Donna.
“Did you see the way the crowd responded to me? It was the
best thing to happen all day! That footage will make its way to
news shows all over the world! There’s no way those condos
are getting built now.”
“Even if you saved those particular woods,
you set back the movement as a whole,” said Melinda. “We’re
trying to get people to take the cause seriously, and you turn it
into one more tawdry episode of the Donna Sylvan Tabloid Sitcom.
“Stop being so dramatic, Bessie,” said
Donna, calling Melinda by the name of the high-strung, serious farm
girl she had played on “Family Pride.” “The people
who already believe in the cause won’t change their minds
because of me. The people who already think it’s a joke might
use me an example, but nothing will change their minds, either.
The other 95 percent of the world might see a pretty blonde girl
in a miniskirt saying she loves trees and think twice the next time
they’re about to litter. What else can you really hope for?
“Plenty,” said Melinda. She sunk back
into silence. Donna returned to smoking her cigarette, carefully
blowing the smoke out the window so it wouldn’t stink up the
car. She began mentally sorting through her immense walk-in closet
for clothes to wear that night. When she had finished her cigarette,
she prepared to flick it out the window, then caught herself and
opened the car’s ashtray. It was gleaming silver inside. Pure,
untouched, virgin metal. She felt a pang of regret at sullying it
with her cigarette, but better to wreck that little environment
than the big one outside. Donna sat still for a moment, then decided
to reignite the conversation.
“If it makes you feel any better, Melinda,
I honestly think you did a good job today,” said Donna. “I
think people listened.”
“Really?” asked Melinda. She kept her
voice even and dull, but her mouth slightly twitched upward. "Definitely,"
said Donna. "As much as you could hope for." Then she
leaned back, closed her eyes, and let the cool, fresh late afternoon
breeze blow through the window into her face as she dreamed of another
late night on the streets of Hollywood.