Home > The Gift

The Gift
Author: Alison Gaylin

Day One


When the first call comes in, Lyla McCord is at the London premiere of her new film, Desire of Annabeth. She is posing on the red carpet, done up in freshly highlighted beach waves and heavy false lashes that make her eyes sting, about five inches of high-def makeup, and a skintight Elie Saab dress that would have been a lot more comfortable had she opted to remove a few ribs before putting it on. She resents this. All of it. It was bad enough caking on the foundation and squeezing into getups like this one when she was just another girl on a teen TV show. But she’s a serious actress now, an Oscar winner. Will there ever be a point in her life when she doesn’t feel as though she’s being examined under a microscope?

Lyla is smiling, though, because that’s what’s expected of her. She sticks a spray-bronzed leg through the slit of her torturous dress and strikes a pose for the bank of British photographers and reporters and smiles until her lips start to spasm.

She does notice the vibration of her phone in the borrowed $500,000 diamond-encrusted Chanel clutch—but only as a nuisance that momentarily throws her off her game. She wishes she’d given her phone to someone else—her UK publicist, Claude; her assistant, Gigi; one of the bodyguard detail. Anyone.

Who could be calling? Actually, she never asks herself that question because she doesn’t care. Her daughter, Fidelity, never calls; she texts or FaceTimes, and Fidelity is the only one who matters to Lyla. So when the Chanel clutch begins vibrating yet again, Lyla is irritated, nothing more.

A Cockney-accented reporter shouts, “Where’s Nolan?” and Lyla recovers. She aims her emerald eyes at him and gives him that smoldering gaze she’s practiced in the mirror hundreds of times since she was a teenager, the Lyla Look, as it’s been dubbed in the press. “He’s home with our baby,” she says.

For a moment, she envisions the three of them, back when Fidelity truly was a baby. Lyla, Nolan, and Fidelity, all in their pajamas. A lazy Sunday morning watching Elmo on TV, as close to real as she’s ever felt. “I miss them.” She says it unprompted. The reporter eats it up. “I miss my family.”

Her phone vibrates again. Lyla feels like throwing the clutch to the ground and stomping on it till it shatters.

 

After she thanks the British press and before she goes into the theater, Lyla slips the phone out of the purse and turns it off. And so she doesn’t see the dozen consecutive calls, one minute apart, all from the same number: Fidelity’s nanny.

As she makes her way to her seat, Lyla receives a standing ovation from the audience. This is far from a normal occurrence, but advance buzz has been that good for Desire of Annabeth, the story of a young woman on death row for killing both her parents. Thanks to the truly gifted Lyla McCord, the Variety critic had written, what could have been a downer of a film turns out to be a revelation.

Lyla is basking in the glow of the ovation, the word revelation, the very beauty of it, lighting up her mind, when a man in a dark suit approaches, tapping her politely on the arm. Behind him stand Claude and Gigi, wearing identical grave expressions. She holds a finger up at this trio, takes a bow for the cheering audience, and lets the lights go down before following them up the aisle and into the theater’s lobby.

“Ms. McCord.” The man’s voice is as dark and somber as his suit. “I’m Inspector Harrison. Scotland Yard.”

“Is there a problem?”

“I’m afraid so.”

Lyla takes a deep breath—the last one she’ll be able to take for a long time. “What does this problem concern?” she says.

“Your daughter, Fidelity,” he says. “It appears she’s gone missing.”

The inspector keeps speaking, about the New York State Police and being contacted by the FBI and providing an escort to the airport. But soon his words turn to fog, and all Lyla can hear is the thump of her own heart. She drops her bag. Her legs give out from under her. Claude and Gigi catch her before she hits the floor.

 

 

Day Two


By the time Lyla arrives at her country home in the tiny Catskills town of Shady, she hasn’t slept or eaten in more than twenty-four hours. Everything feels blurry and surreal—the brightness and cool of the early spring day, the crunch of her sneakered feet on the gravel driveway as she hurries to the door, Gigi trailing after her. As she runs, she notices two parked police cars and a few dark sedans she doesn’t recognize.

“God,” she whispers, wanting to pray herself awake. Please let this be a dream. Please let this just be a terrible dream . . .

She disables the alarm and pulls open the front door, her breath echoing throughout the empty great room, the house heavy and dull from the lack of her, the lack of Fidelity, her Fidelity. Her baby. What would I be without her? What sort of horrible thing would I be?

She hears her own voice, calling out her daughter’s name. And then another deeper one booming from the kitchen.

“Ly! Is that you?”

She follows the voice. He’s here. Nolan’s here. Nolan Carnes, her husband. Her soul mate, she’s called him in the press, which has, in turn, fused their names. Lylan. Nola. McCarnes. Ironic, really, since Lyla and Nolan, the human beings, aren’t fused at all. In fact, they’re rarely in the same zip code.

The magazines ship you and Daddy, Fidelity told her once last year. Fidelity, fluent in preteen speak, even at the age of seven. When Lyla had asked her what that meant, Fidelity had said, It makes them happy to think of the two of you together.

Do you feel that way too? Lyla had said. Do you ship me and Daddy?

Fidelity had just giggled. You sound funny when you say that, Mommy.

Lyla calls out Nolan’s name. It feels strange on her lips. For the past six weeks, he’s been in the wilds of the Arizona desert, some bleak spot with patchy cell phone service, shooting an as-yet-untitled Netflix movie that takes place after the apocalypse. She hasn’t spoken to Nolan or even texted with him in more than two weeks.

Thinking about him during the plane trip back to New York, Lyla had wondered if Nolan even knew about Fidelity’s disappearance. She imagined it might have been difficult even for the police to track him down.

Lyla had pictured her husband with a prop gun in his hands, sweat stains sprayed onto his tight, ripped T-shirt, acting out a pretend crisis as a real one unfolded back at home. She’d texted him herself. Left voice mail messages. But all went unanswered.

“Nolan,” she calls out again, her voice cracking as she moves into the kitchen, where her husband sits at the long table they’d had custom made from the door of an eighteenth-century barn, the bright pool of the skylight pouring down on him. Nolan is bearded and rangy from the pretend crisis of his movie, and for the briefest of moments, she doesn’t recognize him. But then he looks up at her, his eyes red rimmed and shattered, and he’s Nolan again. The father of her child.

Also at the table are Fidelity’s nanny, Courtney; two uniformed police officers; Nolan’s bodyguards, Aziz and Jerry; and a staid-looking group of suits Lyla has never seen before—three young men and one young woman, all staring at her as though she’s a bomb about to detonate. By now Gigi is in the room, too, and Lyla feels surrounded. She wants to scream.

Nolan moves toward Lyla and takes her in his arms. She smells the sweat on him, the panic, and everything shifts focus—from a nightmare to something awfully, unquestionably real. Fidelity is gone. Fidelity is gone. Fidelity is gone. Lyla’s stomach clenches up, her vision blurs, and her head turns swimmy. She feels as though she may faint again but wills herself not to.

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