Home > Silent Night

Silent Night
Author: Danielle Steel

Chapter 1

“Your mother is dead, Bethanie. You have to face it. You can’t run away from it forever.” As a tall, handsome man with a craggy face delivers the crushing message, we see a little girl’s face crumple with deep emotion, as though she were dissolving from within. Suddenly her eyes shoot fire, as rage mixes with grief, and she backs away and begins to run. He makes no attempt to chase her. She turns once and looks back at him with fury and determination.

“I hate you!” she screams and we can see that she means it. The girl is barefoot, wearing a blue cotton dress, her blond hair disheveled, her exquisite cameo-like features perfect, her eyes blazing and swimming in tears. She is tiny, delicate, elfin, with an inner strength that nothing he has said can diminish. She runs as far and as fast as she can, trying to outrun what he has said to her. She disappears into a thicket of trees as he watches her with fury in his own eyes, and then he relaxes. All the tension goes out of him, and the little wood sprite reappears, grinning, and skips back toward him, barefoot as she crosses the field. There is applause from a handful of observers.

An unkempt-looking woman in torn jeans and a T-shirt shouts, “Perfect,” and the beautiful blond child takes a mock bow, delighted. A moment later, she is surrounded by her fellow actors. She is Emma Watts, the youngest member of the cast of a hit TV series called The Clan, a weekly saga of a powerful family living in the Pacific Northwest. Emma recently turned nine and has been on the show for two years. Her mother approaches, looking pleased, as Emma and the man who portrays her father walk back to their trailers, with sound men, costumers, makeup artists, and hairdressers trailing behind them. The director confers with an assistant.

“Good job, Em.” Emma’s mother, Paige Watts, praises her. “Aren’t you glad we worked on that scene again last night?”

Emma shrugs, looking unimpressed. “Yeah, maybe. I swallowed my gum when I was running.” Her mother rolls her eyes.

“You’re not supposed to chew gum on the set. You know that. You could choke on it.”

“But I didn’t.” Emma is a bright girl, and has become one of the most celebrated child actors on TV, since she joined the show when she was seven. She’s a natural, a born actress. She had to give up going to school when she got the part, and is tutored on the set by a teacher licensed by the state of California, Belinda Marshall, a beautiful African American woman, who does voice-overs, commercials, and occasional bit parts on other shows. She wants to be an actress and has both the talent and the looks for it. Her ancestors were Ethiopian and there is a regal look to her, along with her quick mind and warm heart. Emma likes Belinda, as long as she doesn’t give her too much homework, which she can’t do on nights that Emma has a lot of lines to learn for the next day. It’s why regular school doesn’t really work for her with the demands of the show.

Emma’s mother, Paige, keeps a close watch on all aspects of her career. She coordinates Emma’s voice coach, drama coach, speech coach, and dance classes. She takes hip-hop, tap, and ballet, and has a remarkable singing voice. Paige’s own acting career never took off, but anyone can see that Emma will be a big star one day. She has given her mother’s life purpose, meaning, and direction. Paige had Emma start modeling as a baby, after listing her with an agency nearly at birth. At six, she had Emma start acting, and within a year, she had landed the part as the youngest child on The Clan. There are two other children on the show, Adam Weiss, who plays Emma’s twelve-year-old brother, and Virginia Parker, who is now sixteen and just got her GED high school diploma, and plays Emma’s fourteen-year-old sister. All three of them take classes on the set with Belinda. There’s no time for school in the life of a child actor, no play dates, no friends other than fellow actors. Life on the set is intense, with work first and foremost, and their childhoods second. Paige knows what it takes, and also that Emma will thank her for it one day, when she wins her first Oscar for a movie or an Emmy for the show she’s on.

They have a decision to make at the moment, a big one. Emma has been offered a part in a Broadway musical, a starring role. She has the voice and the talent for it, and the big question is what will further her career the most: staying with the series or taking a shot at Broadway. She could win a Tony for the part in New York, or an Emmy or a Golden Globe if she stays with The Clan. Her mother will make the decision for her, as she always does. Emma wants to stay in L.A. Paige hasn’t made up her mind yet. Emma’s career is all consuming. Paige looks a great deal like her daughter, with the same delicate blond beauty, but she never had her daughter’s talent. She had given up on her own acting career years before, and concentrated on Emma’s as soon as she was old enough to have one.

They are the descendants of Hollywood royalty. Paige’s mother, Elizabeth Winston, was the biggest film star of her day. Paige grew up watching her mother on the set of her movies, when she was allowed to. She and her older sister, Whitney, were brought up by nannies. Their mother was always making a movie somewhere. Liz Winston had been a legend, an icon, one of Hollywood’s great beauties and most talented actresses. She had won two Oscars, before she died tragically early at fifty-four. Her death had shattered Paige’s fragile balance. She was twenty-four and had been trying to start her own career then but got lost in the shuffle in L.A. Her father, Bill Watts, had told her bluntly that she didn’t have what it took and needed to find another outlet for her talents. He knew without a doubt that she’d never be an actress of her mother’s stature. Her mother had been remarkable on screen and Emma was too. Paige didn’t have their gift, and finally admitted it to herself. But she found her purpose in life when Emma was born.

Bill Watts had been the most important film agent of his day. He had discovered Liz, masterminded and controlled every aspect of her career brilliantly, and knew he had found an actress with incomparable beauty and rare talent the moment he saw her. He had never made a mistake with her, and Liz hung on his every word. They married when Liz was twenty-five and Bill was sixty, and she had rapidly become his most important client. She made no decisions without him. He orchestrated every move she made.

Liz had Whitney, their first baby, when she was twenty-eight, and took six months off between pictures. Paige was born two years later, and Liz was an even bigger star by then, and had no time to spend with her. All Paige had ever wanted growing up was her parents’ attention, which was hard to come by. And she longed to be as big a star as her mother one day.

Her sister, Whitney, could have cared less, had always hated everything about Hollywood. She wanted nothing to do with a life like their parents’. It was Paige’s dream, and Emma had finally fulfilled her dream for her. Paige was convinced now that she didn’t have her mother’s talent, but that she did have her father’s gift for recognizing star material when he saw it. She controlled every aspect of Emma’s career, just as her father had run her mother’s. Liz hadn’t decided what to have for breakfast, let alone what parts to take, without him. He made all her decisions for her. Just as Paige made Emma’s. The only difference was that Emma was a child. Liz wasn’t, when Bill was making her decisions for her, and running her career and her life.

“Nice work today, Squirt,” Charlie Daly, the actor who played her father, said as he walked past and ruffled the almost white blond hair. “At least I didn’t have to chase you up a tree this time,” he said, and they both laughed. “You’re off for the rest of the day, aren’t you?” Everyone in the cast loved her, and she had become their mascot. Emma was outspoken and observant, smart as a whip, read voraciously, and was precocious, since her whole life was lived among adults.

“Yeah, but I have school,” she said glumly as they reached their trailers.

“Don’t tell me your sad stories, you’ve got Belinda wrapped around your little finger. All you have to do is tell her you have too many lines to learn for tomorrow and she lets you off the hook with no homework. I’ve seen you do it.” He was on to her, and Emma guffawed, with an anxious glance at her mother.

“Don’t blow my cover,” she whispered to him. But her mother was on to her too. Paige’s main interest was in Emma’s acting homework anyway. Paige thought Emma could always catch up on school later, though she’d actually never fallen behind. She was up to speed with her fourth-grade work, and doing fifth-grade reading. Despite her own acting ambitions, Belinda was conscientious about her teaching, and everyone on the set respected her. She had the occasional battle with Paige, who didn’t want Emma to miss her work with her drama coach, or voice lessons, but Emma always managed to do it all. What she didn’t get to do was hang out with kids her own age, or play, except with adults. Charlie had taught her to play chess, and she actually managed to beat him once in a while. He thought it was incredible how smart she was, and how diligent. He shared Paige’s view that Emma would go far. Acting was the only life she knew, and it was in her blood. The family talent had skipped a generation but had come out in spades in Emma, and Paige was going to do everything she could to nurture it. It was no secret on the set that Paige was the stage mother of all time. Some of the other actors felt sorry for Emma, she never got to be a child and Paige pushed her hard, but Emma didn’t seem to mind. She loved some of her lessons, like hip-hop and ballet. Sometimes she complained that her voice lessons were boring, and she said her drama coach was mean when he made her go over a scene again and again, but he did his job well. Emma almost never missed her lines, and was more accurate than most of the adults she worked with. She often knew their lines as well as her own.

Emma groaned when she saw Belinda waiting for her in her trailer with math homework to correct. Paige ordered her lunch so they could get started. Emma had ballet that afternoon, and a voice lesson that night, which was important if Paige decided Emma should take the role on Broadway. It was all part of the master plan. There were no random decisions about Emma’s work. Paige went to return some calls, while Emma did the math with Belinda. There were two messages from the Broadway producer, and Paige closed her eyes for a minute while she thought about it. She hadn’t made her mind up yet. There was no room for a mistake. Giving up a hit TV series was a big decision, and so was starring in a Broadway show with major actors, at nine. Paige wondered what her father would have done about it. That was the question she always asked herself, every step of the way. Her father had been infallible in her eyes, and her mother’s incomparable career had proved it. She wanted Emma to be as big a star as her grandmother one day. Paige knew that would be her achievement in life, just as her mother’s success was her father’s.

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