About the Book
From the highly acclaimed author of Don’t Try to Find Me and This is Not Over comes the unforgettable, harrowing story of a young broadcast journalist who discovers a mysterious diary from a female broadcaster in 1991 featuring startling—and frightening—parallels to her own life.
You might be wondering what a diary from 1991 has to do with you. You’re about to find out. Those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it…
Twenty-four-year-old Cheyenne Florian has just received her dream job offer. On the strength of a few vlogs, she’s recruited to be the new correspondent on the recently hatched Independent News Network, INN.
With the slogan “Because independent thinking is the only way out,” INN has branded itself as innovative. Yet once Cheyenne joins the INN team, she finds age-old dynamics in play. Some of the female staff resent her meteoric rise, while a number of the men are only too happy to welcome her. Then there’s the diary left for her anonymously, written in 1991 by a female broadcaster named Elyse Rohrbach. The mysterious diary is accompanied by a note, urging Cheyenne to learn from the past. She wants to believe it’s intended as inspiration and friendly advice, or at most, a warning. But as disturbing—and increasingly dangerous—parallels begin to emerge, she starts to wonder if something more sinister is at work.
It’s almost as if someone is engineering the similarities in Cheyenne’s life to match those from Elyse’s past, like she’s a pawn in a very twisted game. But Cheyenne is determined to rewrite the rules and play her own game. Though they’re separated by more than twenty-five years, Elyse and Cheyenne are forced to learn the same lesson: Nothing is more threatening than a woman who doesn’t yet know her own power…
psychological insight and empathy.”
They’re watching me, I know that. And I’m not talking about the viewers at home, though it’s no coincidence that ratings are up.
If they killed once, they can kill again. No one’s loyal to me. Conspiracies are real.
I can feel my knees buckling, about to give way. While the past two months have been a crash course in power and paranoia, the truth is, I don’t have any real journalism training—or nearly enough life training—to stand up to . . . who? Who’s the real puppet master? How deep does it go?
At least I have the diary.
I can do this. I will do this, because I have to. They need to be stopped.
This can’t be the end of my story.
Eight Weeks Earlier
Has he already seen me naked?
It’s usually my first thought when I encounter a new male.
This time, though, it’s not about my professor or a stranger walking toward me on the street or the cashier or someone who was supposed to be my friend but it turns out really only tol- erated me for Chase’s sake and who might very well be post- ing anonymously behind my back. This time, I’m thinking it about billionaire Edwin Gordon, he of the ordinary name and the enormous wealth, who helms INN, the Independent News Network (“Because independent thinking is the only way out”).
I almost didn’t come here today, figuring the invitation was most likely a cruel joke. One of the internet trolls decided to get creative and was nearby filming, ready to expose me as I craned my neck, searching for the private jet that supposedly had me listed on the manifest. He was waiting to catch me in the act, guilty of the ultimate hubris: believing I’d been marked as special, that Edwin Gordon actually wanted to meet me. But I decided that I wasn’t going to pass this up, on the off chance it was real. It wasn’t until I was in the Lyft headed for the Palo Alto Airport that it occurred to me that humiliation might be one of the better scenarios. A pro-rape activist who’d targeted me online could be luring me to the airport to kidnap me and carry out his sick fantasies. It might not be a joke but a trap.
Four months ago, that would have seemed beyond paranoid. Four months ago, I didn’t know that “pro-rape activists” existed.
For the most part, I don’t need to worry about the trolls anymore. About being heckled or threatened. About being photographed or followed. About my phone being hacked and my private texts and photos made public. That’s because I shut it all down. I let them run me off the internet in exchange for some peace of mind. It wasn’t a fair deal, but it was the only thing on offer from the police, and while I don’t really have peace yet, I’m a lot closer than I was.
But this is no joke. I’m really here, on a private plane as sumptuous as I imagine a suite at the Ritz-Carlton would be, not that I’ve ever been in a Ritz-Carlton. I’m a twenty-four- year-old recent college graduate, and granted, that college is Stanford, where silver-spoon kids have been on many private planes and in many Ritz-Carltons, but I’m not one of them. I was raised in Tulip, Montana, a small town two hours north of Missoula, where my father ran a grocery co-op frequented by ranchers and aging hippies. The mother I never knew must have thought it hilarious to name me Cheyenne, so I could spend the next however many years I’m on this planet telling people that I’m not actually from Wyoming but from a state nearly as underpopulated.
Yet none of those silver-spoon kids are here, on a silk couch, across from Edwin Gordon. My legs are crossed chastely—has he already seen in between them?—while Edwin has his shoes off, his navy-blue-striped shirt untucked and unwrinkled, and a bourbon in his hand. When asked by a flight attendant, I declined not only alcohol but water. I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep anything down. I’m glad my long red hair is pulled back in a low ponytail, so I can’t fidget with it.
Edwin is in his early forties, his dark hair silvered in a way that looks strategic and a ridged forehead that’s supposed to signal he’s eschewed Botox, though the rest of his tanned face is suspiciously boyish. He’s not exactly handsome, but his level of power makes up the gap so that he’s just about the most at- tractive man I’ve ever seen in the flesh.
Not that it matters, because I have a boyfriend, and every- one knows that, to his credit, Edwin dates women his own age or older. They’re entrepreneurs and philanthropists and humanitarians whose accomplishments are matched only by their immaculately preserved beauty, as if they’ve been cryo- genically frozen and revived moments before their latest public appearance.
Edwin smiles and says, “You want to know why you’re here?”
I’m too nervous to smile back, sweating in the summer- weight light gray blazer and skirt I bought for interviews, of which I’ve had only three since last month’s graduation. My GPA was a 2.9, and my major was sociology. Every time a prospective employer googles my name, autofill will suggest the search “Cheyenne Florian naked.”
Yes, I definitely want to know why I’m here.
“You’re my dream girl from when I was a twenty-something,” Edwin says, and my green eyes widen in shock. Plenty of men hit on me—and worse—but this is Edwin Gordon. “I’m hoping that you’ll speak at some point in this conversation. That would be what defines it as a conversation, as opposed to a monologue.”
Then suddenly, the flattery wears off, and I get it. I want to ask if this plane is taking off or if I’m just a stopover. A quickie. I’ve been sexualized by strangers, without my consent or my intent, for months now.
“I’m going to get off now,” I say. Then I turn red, realizing that my language itself was inadvertently sexualized. Mine- fields everywhere. I stand up. “Nice meeting you.”
“Wait, what just happened?”
“Like you haven’t seen the pictures. Maybe you saw the video that sparked it all, maybe not. But I’m not who people have made me out to be. I’m an actual flesh-and-blood human being and not anyone’s fuckbot. So, nice meeting you.”
I start to head for the door, pushing past the two men who could be most accurately described as goons and who are stand- ing sentinel on either side of Edwin’s couch.
Edwin gets up and makes a move as if to block me. I can’t help it, I flinch. I never used to flinch when a man was in my path. These months have changed me, which makes me even madder.
Edwin steps back and raises his arms in the air, like he’s a hostage. As if he knows anything about that. About having to restrict his movements out of fear. About making his world small. Making himself small. Wishing for invisibility.
“I’m sorry,” he says in a low voice, “for the terrible things people have done to you.”
I look at him and find that he does seem truly sorrowful. But as much as I never wanted to be a sex object, I never wanted to be an object of pity either.
“I want to help you turn it all around,” he says. “To use what happened to you to make a difference.”
“What are you saying, exactly?”
“I’m here to offer you a job. I watched your videos. All of them. I was following you for months before everything hap- pened. Scouting you.”
Honestly, this is one scenario that never crossed my mind.
“Could we sit down? I’m an old man. I’ve got bad knees.” He smiles. “Please?”
I pause a few beats, just trying to push through the absurd- ity of all this. Besides, it never hurts to make ’em wait. Slowly, I nod.
We retake our seats. He’s on his silk couch, I’m on mine. It’s really a very feminine jet. Is it possible it’s borrowed? Or maybe one of his many women decorated it.
“When I said you were my dream girl—bad leadoff, by the way, I apologize—that was when I was what would now be called a millennial, though I was Generation X. Not that it matters.” He shakes his head, impatient with himself. Is Ed- win Gordon actually nervous talking to me? I almost want to smile. “I believe that the under-thirty set hasn’t changed that much in their tastes. I want that demographic for INN. But I think you’ll appeal to all males, really, including the old-timers who remember Rita Hayworth. Right now, the elderly watch the news. Fox, especially, is watched by men over sixty. Based on the originality of their programming, MSNBC and CNN seem content to let news die a natural death along with its viewers, but I have other plans. INN’s going to succeed by try- ing where no one else has.”
“I thought INN was already successful.”
“We’re not making the money we could.”
“I thought it was a passion project.” I like challenging him. Keeping him on his toes, after I’ve spent so much time lately off-balance.
“In my experience, passion equals profit.”
I’m oddly disappointed. I’ve never watched much televi- sion, choosing to get my information from a handful of fact- checking websites and trusted blogs until the past few months, when, in addition to shutting down, I’ve been tuning out. That means I’ve barely seen INN since it launched a year ago, but I’ve been rooting for it. Its stated mission resonates with me: context-rich journalism, a pursuit of the truth, and a nonpar- tisan commitment to the public good. Other networks are as beholden to special interests as the politicians themselves, but INN isn’t beholden to anyone, because Edwin is its owner and only funder, putting principle above profit.
So much for that. I should have fact-checked INN’s propa- ganda before this meeting.
“If I have to keep funneling my own money to stay in the game,” he says, “I always will. Because this is the cause of my life. Because I’m a patriot, not in any partisan sense of the word. A well-informed electorate is the only thing that’ll save this country, and INN is the only network that’s really invested in creating that. I want those advertising dollars because that means that I’m getting to the demographic that can change the future.”
“You think only millennial men can change the future?”
“I think millennial females have done all they can, and now the men need to get on board. I know you care about the direc- tion of this country. That’s why you made those videos, right?”
I used to care about the country. Lately, all I’ve cared about is myself, and staying safe.
“After all, you are the independent vlogger with the red-state name.”
So he didn’t just watch my videos; he read the comments. And that’s before the one went viral. “I’m not a vlogger anymore.”
“I was sad when you let those assholes run you out.”
Let them? Like I had any choice. I give him a stony stare.
“I’m sorry. That came out wrong. I just meant I’ve missed your videos. I’ve missed your voice.”
Our eyes meet. It’s a loaded moment. An intimate moment.
“Then I realized that’s where I come in. You went viral once, so you can do it again, on a much larger scale, with the INN machinery behind you. You’ll be unstoppable.”
A much larger scale. That sounds . . . terrifying.
“That video was an aberration,” I say.
“No, it wasn’t. I loved your videos. I loved that you weren’t right or left. You’re a true homegrown independent, Cheyenne, and that’s what I’m looking for.”
I’m my father’s daughter. I believe ranchers and hippies should be able to talk politics, and everything else. I believe in solving problems through information and discourse. But that doesn’t make me a broadcaster.
“I see some of Ty Fordham in you,” he says.
I haven’t watched much INN, but everyone knows about Ty Fordham. He’s the Angry Independent, INN’s biggest star, combining Sean Hannity’s vitriol with Rachel Maddow’s brains. “I’m not really very angry.”
“You could have fooled me.”
“Well, I wasn’t, before.”
He doesn’t have to ask “before what?”
“You’re not angry by nature, which is good. No one wants to see women truly angry. But they like to see fire. Did you ever watch Megyn Kelly at the height of her power, back when she was still on Fox? That was barely contained fury, right there. That’s righteous indignation. There’s an appetite for that sort of thing that you can fill.”
“I’m not that righteously indignant anymore.” When your energy is wrapped up in survival, outrage becomes a luxury.
“You sure know how to sell yourself, don’t you?”
“I’m not the one doing the selling.” He smiles. He likes my fire. I used to like it too.
“You’re a natural, and a critical thinker. Everything else can be taught.”
It’s a good line, sure, but can it really be true?
“I know what I’m looking for, and I know what you’ve got. You’re gorgeous, with a true independent streak. That’s a devastating combination from where I’m sitting. This time around, you’re not just going to withstand controversy; you’re going to reap the benefits.”
Last time, I had to retreat. It was the only way to feel safe. I didn’t have a news organization behind me then, but still. “Do I need to be controversial?”
“You will be, because of how you look and because you’ve come out of nowhere. Right out of the gate, there will be the Tomi Lahren comparisons.”
After my viral video, I endured plenty of those. Tomi Lahren vaulted to fame (or ignominy, depending on your perspective) straight out of college with her big blond hair and big boobs and conservative views, expressed in the most provocative and incendiary ways. Some call her the next Ann Coulter, others “White Power Barbie.” She was referenced in a Jay-Z song, and not in a good way. But then, for Tomi, there seems to be no bad way. All press is good press.
“I’m nothing like her,” I say.
“I know. If you were, you’d have capitalized on your video in- stead of pulling it. So we need to work on thickening your skin.”
“I don’t like being followed by strange men. I don’t like being the object of their rape fantasies on Twitter. I don’t like women calling me antifeminist, or a traitor. I don’t like—”
“Learn to like it. It means you’re part of the conversation. People are interested.”
“I don’t want that kind of interest.”
In response to my raised voice, he drops his, scooting closer. “It’s a platform. You did those vlogs for no other reason than because you cared. You were crying out for a mission, and I heard you. That’s why I’m here.”
It’s harder to think now that I can smell his cologne, warm and earthy and a little bit spicy. Or maybe that’s just him.
“You weren’t ready for the barrage last time. This time, you will be. INN will protect you.”
He’s close enough to touch. “What would I be doing at INN?” I ask softly. We haven’t gone anywhere, so there’s no roar of engines to overcome. It’s like no one else is here—not the flight attendants or the goons. It’s just Edwin and me.
“You’d start out as a cross-show correspondent, which means you’d be everywhere. The viewers will get to know you, and that’s just the beginning. There are no limits.”
When everything went down four months ago, all I wanted was to be anonymous again. Now I’d be putting myself di- rectly in the line of fire. But who could turn down a chance like this? Who doesn’t want to be unlimited?
“Can you work hard?” he says. I nod. “Like I said, what you’ve got can’t be taught. But you have a lot to learn. You’ll need to take full ownership of a story, and then you’ll be the network expert across the shows.”
“What story?” I ask, a touch suspiciously. “We’d need to figure that out.”
“Would you be the one figuring it out with me?”
“No, that would be your supervising producer. We’re going to take very good care of you, Cheyenne.” That grin again. His teeth must be regularly whitened. He could be an anchor himself. “I’m not around all the time, but whenever I am, my door is open to you.”
“Is there much security at INN?”
“It’s tight. And if you need your own, I’m happy to provide it. But none of my other anchors have needed it, including Ty. With online trolls, it’s all bark, no bite.”
“That’s not true. They hacked my phone. Speaking of which, do you really want a news correspondent with a bunch of naked pictures online?”
“Yes, I really do.”
I get it: He doesn’t think the pictures will hurt me; he wants to use them. They’ll help lure more millennials.
I should be offended, yet strangely, I’m not. Edwin said that it’s my turn to reap the benefits, and it’s an enticing idea. I didn’t like being silenced.
“I’ll keep you safe, Cheyenne. You’re not just going to be a star; you’re going to be an influencer. You’re going to change the world.”
This is too heady. I need to talk to someone. My father, or Chase.
“Come to New York,” Edwin says.
“Now. I’ll take you straight to the studio and show you around.”
“So I’d have to move to New York. I mean, if I took the job.”
“I have a boyfriend.” As soon as it leaves my mouth, I realize how stupid it sounds. A boyfriend is not a mission. Chase has his own mission. He’d never give it up for me, and I’d never ask him to.
Edwin doesn’t even dignify my comment.
“Let’s go,” I say.