One of our recommended books is The Idea of You by Robinne Lee

THE IDEA OF YOU

A Novel


Solène Marchand, the thirty-nine-year-old owner of an art gallery in Los Angeles, is reluctant to take her daughter, Isabelle, to meet her favorite boy band. But since her divorce, she’s more eager than ever to be close to Isabelle. The last thing Solène expects is to make a connection with one of the members of the world-famous August Moon. But Hayes Campbell is clever, winning, confident, and posh, and the attraction is immediate. That he is all of twenty years old further complicates things.

What begins as a series of clandestine trysts quickly evolves into a passionate and genuine relationship.

more …

Solène Marchand, the thirty-nine-year-old owner of an art gallery in Los Angeles, is reluctant to take her daughter, Isabelle, to meet her favorite boy band. But since her divorce, she’s more eager than ever to be close to Isabelle. The last thing Solène expects is to make a connection with one of the members of the world-famous August Moon. But Hayes Campbell is clever, winning, confident, and posh, and the attraction is immediate. That he is all of twenty years old further complicates things.

What begins as a series of clandestine trysts quickly evolves into a passionate and genuine relationship. It is a journey that spans continents as Solène and Hayes navigate each other’s worlds: from stadium tours to international art fairs to secluded hideaways in Paris and Miami. For Solène, it is a reclaiming of self, as well as a rediscovery of happiness and love. When Solène and Hayes’ romance becomes a viral sensation, and both she and her daughter become the target of rabid fans and an insatiable media, Solène must face how her romantic life has impacted the lives of those she cares about most.

less …
  • St. Martin's Griffin
  • Paperback
  • June 2017
  • 384 Pages
  • 9781250125903

Buy the Book

$16.99

indies Bookstore indies Bookstore

About Robinne Lee

Robinne Lee is the author of The Idea of YouThe Idea of You is actor, writer, and producer Robinne Lee‘s debut novel. A graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, Robinne was born and raised in Westchester County, New York. Robinne has numerous acting credits in both television and film, most notably opposite Will Smith in both Hitch and Seven Pounds and as Ros Bailey in Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.

Praise

Included on The Skimm’s 2020 list of Eight Books Both You and Mom Will Love

“The sleeper hit of the pandemic . . . . There is no escapism like reading about a nearly middle-aged woman embarking on a glittering, global love affair with a thoughtful young sex god . . . . It’s electric, triumphant to read.” —Vogue.com

“An OMG page-turner.” —Gabrielle Union

“Actress Lee, who appeared in Fifty Shades Darker, debuts with a beautifully written novel that explores sex, love, romance, and fantasy in moving, insightful ways while also examining a woman’s struggle with aging and sexism, with a nod at the tension between celebrity and privacy. A fascinating, thought-provoking, genre-bending romantic read.” Kirkus Reviews

“This sexy and bittersweet debut by actress-turned-author Lee zeros in on Solene’s struggle as she is torn between her desire for Hayes and her need to live a normal life.” Booklist

“Captures what fame looks like, and how it affects us all…a fun, juicy love story!” —Elizabeth Banks

“Not only is this romance a fun ride, but it also draws on themes of celebrity and sexism that will give you something to think about after you’re done.” —Bustle

Discussion Questions

1. We are all combinations of head and heart. What do you think is the balance of head and heart in Solène? In Hayes?

2. There are numerous examples in fiction—and movies—of older men–younger women couples, everything from Jane Eyre to Pretty Woman. But there are very few examples of the reverse. Why do you think that is?

3. How do you feel about the term “cougar”? Would Solène rail against it?

4. From Love’s Labours Lost to Sex and the City, a happy ending is indicated by a marriage, or at least a proposal. How would you describe the ending Robinne Lee gave Solène and Hayes? Is there more to their story? Does the traditional marriage ending of novels close off further speculation about what happens to the characters?

5. Do you think Solène and Isabelle have a fairly typical mother–teen daughter relationship? How much does it change over the course of the novel?

6. Readers have embraced Solène and Hayes as a couple. Who are some of your favorite couples in fiction (and why)?

7. Is the moment when the media intrudes on Solène and Hayes’s relationship the moment it’s destined to change? Could any relationship withstand that intrusive level of scrutiny?

8. Talk about the differences between the male gaze and the female gaze—is Robinne Lee reclaiming something for women that’s traditionally been the province of men? Or is she trying to create a new dynamic when it comes to romantic relationships?

9. Solène teaches Isabelle—and also Hayes, to some extent—about art. And Isabelle instructs her mother about her generation’s music (August Moon). What does Hayes teach Solène?

10. Despite his being only twenty, one of the appealing things about Hayes is that he’s not a typical twenty-year-old. He may make pop culture, but he doesn’t seem mired in it. Do you agree? In what ways does he show his age? And in what ways does he seem more mature than his chronological age?

11. How important is Solène’s French heritage? Does it allow her to be in but not of some of the “very American” life that’s around her?

12. When Solène and Hayes have their first lunch, she tells him she doesn’t think men in Los Angeles even see women over a certain age, and if they do, “they register them as either ‘mom’ or ‘business.’” Solène, of course, is both of those and much, much more. Does she challenge herself to add a third, secret “ID”?

13. Solène’s sexual/relationship radar isn’t broken: she senses immediately how Hayes approaches her. Does she “let it happen”? Urge it along? Or is, for all their age difference and the difference in their circumstances, Hayes and Solène’s relationship a relationship of equals?

14. It’s a cliché that certain men are all about what—and who—they’re attracted to. Solène often seems to be leading with her sexuality, but is more in touch with it than the stereotypical man who lets sexual attraction lead him. Solène often is aware that her body is communicating one thing and her head another. And with Hayes, she usually follows her body. Why?

15. Solène seems both very connected to Isabelle but also somewhat removed, particularly as her relationship with Hayes progresses. Does Solène go too easy on herself by attributing some of that distance to teenage transition years?

16. Does Isabelle’s reaction to her mother’s changed relationship at the end of the book show that Isabelle is growing up? Is it Isabelle and Solène’s version of the classic divorced family switch-up, where the child ends up parenting the parent?

17. How does Solène’s opinion of August Moon change over the course of the novel?

18. Does Solène make the right choice at the end of the novel? In your opinion, does she have her priorities straight? Or is she in some ways martyring herself to her responsibilities toward her daughter?

Excerpt

las vegas

I suppose I could blame it all on Daniel.

Two days before my planned getaway to Ojai, he showed up at the house in a tux with our daughter, Isabelle, in tow. He’d left the car running in the driveway.

“I can’t do the Vegas trip,” he said, thrusting a manila envelope in my hand. “I’m still working on the Fox deal and it’s not going to close anytime soon.”

I must have looked at him in disbelief because he followed that up with:

“I’m sorry. I know I promised the girls, but I can’t. You take them. Or I’ll eat the tickets. Whatever.”

An unopened package of Da Vinci Maestro Kolinsky brushes was lying on the entry table, alongside a set of thirty-six Holbein watercolors. I’d spent a fortune at Blick stocking up on materials for my artist retreat. They were, like the trip to Ojai, my gift to myself. Forty-eight hours of art and sleep and wine. And now my ex-husband was standing in my living room in formal black tie and telling me there’d been a change of plans.

“Does she know?” I asked. Isabelle, having retreated immediately to her room—no doubt to get on her phone—had missed the entire exchange.

He shook his head. “I haven’t had time to tell her. I thought I’d wait and see if you could take them first.”

“That’s convenient.”

“Don’t start, okay?” He turned toward the door. “If you can’t do it, have her call me, and I’ll make it up the next time the group’s in town.”

It was so like him to have a Band-Aid for everything. To walk away from commitments guilt-free. Would that I had acquired that gene.

Isabelle and her two girlfriends had been counting down the days to see the band August Moon, a quintet of handsome lads from Britain who sang pleasant pop songs and drove tween girls mad. Daniel had “won” the tickets at the school silent auction. Paid some formidable amount to fly four to Vegas, stay at the Mandalay Bay, and attend the concert and a meet-and-greet with the band. Canceling now would not go over well.

“I have plans,” I said, following him out into the driveway.

He slipped around the back of the BMW and withdrew a cumbersome bag from the trunk. Isabelle’s fencing equipment. “I assumed you would. I’m sorry, Sol.”

He was quiet for a moment, drinking me in: sneakers, leggings, still damp from a five-mile run. And then: “You cut your hair.”

I nodded, my hands rising to my neck, self-conscious. It barely reached my shoulders now. My act of defiance. “It was time for a change.”

He smiled faintly. “You’re never not beautiful, are you?”

Just then the tinted window on the passenger side rolled down and a sylphlike creature leaned out and waved. Eva. My replacement.

She was wearing an emerald-green gown. Her long, honey-colored hair twisted into a chignon. There were diamonds dangling from both ears. It wasn’t enough that she was some youngish, stunning, half-Dutch, half-Chinese star associate at the firm, but that she was now sitting in Daniel’s 7 Series in my driveway looking every bit the princess while I was dripping sweat—now, that stung.

“Fine. I’ll take them.”

“Thank you,” he said, handing over the bag. “You’re the best.”

“That’s what all the boys say.”

He paused then, screwing up his aristocratic nose. I anticipated a response, but none was forthcoming. Instead he smiled blandly, leaning in to do the awkward divorcé cheek kiss. He was wearing cologne, which he’d never done in all his years with me.

I watched him make his way over to the driver’s side. “Where are you going? All dolled up…”

“Fund-raiser,” he said, getting into the car. “Katzenberg’s.” And with that, he pulled away. Leaving me holding the baggage.

* * *

I was not a fan of Vegas: loud, fat, dirty. The underbelly of America convened in one garish skid mark in the desert. I’d visited once, years before, to attend a bachelorette party that I was still trying to forget. The smell of strip clubs and drugstore perfume and vomit. Those things linger. But this was not my adventure. This time I was just along for the ride. Isabelle and her friends had made that clear.

They spent that afternoon running circles around the resort on a quest to find their idols, while I followed dutifully. I had become accustomed to this: my passionate daughter trying any- and everything, setting her mind and forging her way. Isabelle and her American can-do spirit. There was trapeze school and figure skating, musical theater, fencing … She was fearless, and I loved that about her, envied it even. I liked that she took risks, that she did not wait for permission, that she followed her heart. Isabelle was okay with living outside the lines.

I was hoping to convince the girls to visit the Contemporary Arts Center. It would have been nice to squeeze some real culture into the weekend. To imprint something worthwhile upon their impressionable minds. I’d spent countless hours trailing my mother through the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as a child. Following the click of her Vivier heels, the scent of the custom-made fragrance she bought every summer in Grasse. How knowledgeable she was to me then, how womanly. I knew the halls of that museum as well as I knew my third-grade classroom. But Isabelle and her cohorts had balked at the idea.

“Mom, you know at any other time I would say yes. But this trip is different. Please?” she’d implored.

They’d come to Vegas for one reason only, and nothing would thwart their mission. “Our lives begin tonight,” Georgia, with the silky brown skin, had proclaimed on the flight in. Rose, the redhead, agreed, and the three quickly adopted it as their mantra. No expectation too high. They had their whole lives ahead of them. They were twelve.

* * *

The meet-and-greet was at six o’clock. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, something slightly elegant, civilized, but no. They crammed us into a fluorescent-lit holding room in the bowels of the arena. Fifty-odd worshippers in various stages of puberty: girls in braces, girls in wheelchairs, girls in heat. Wide-eyed and smitten and on the verge of combustion. It was at once beautiful and desperate. And it pained me to realize that Isabelle was now part of this tribe. This motley crew searching for happiness in five boys from Britain whom they did not know, could never know, and who would never return the adulation.

Several parents were scattered throughout. A select swath of Middle America: jeans, T-shirts, practical shoes. Faces pink from a brutal introduction to the Vegas sun. It dawned on me that I would be lumped in with these people. “Augies,” as the media had dubbed the fandom. Or, worse yet, an “Augie Mom.”

The girls were beginning to fidget when a side door opened and a hulking bald man with a neckful of laminated passes entered. “Who here is ready to meet the band?!”

Shrieks pierced the air, and I suddenly remembered that I’d forgotten my earplugs in the hotel room. Lulit, my business partner and confidante in all things worth confiding, had mentioned it yesterday at the gallery, told me I’d be crazy to step into a stadium of Augies without a pair. Apparently, she’d once attended a concert with her niece. “The boys are adorable, but my God, the fans are loud.”

Beside me Isabelle’s entire body had begun to shake.

“Excited?” I squeezed her shoulders.

“Cold.” She shrugged it off. Ever the aloof one.

“The guys are going to be five more minutes,” the hulking man continued. “They’ll stay for about twenty. I need you all to form a line up here to the left. You’ll each get your turn for a quick hello and a photo with the group. No selfies. Our photographer will take the pics, and you’ll be able to download them later online. We’ll provide you with the link. You all get that?”

It seemed so impersonal. Certainly there were better ways Daniel could have spent his money. I was thinking, as they steered us into line, that I was overdressed in Alaïa sandals and out of place. That I was pulled together and polished and that once again, for better or worse, I stuck out. This, my father’s mother had explained to me on numerous occasions, was my birthright: “You are French, at your core. Il ne faut pas l’oublier.” There was no forgetting it: my Frenchness. And so I resisted being grouped in with these women, but at the same time I was keenly aware of their selflessness, their patience. The things we did for our children. What kind of mother would I be to begrudge Isabelle this moment?

And then they entered. The five of them. There was a groundswell and audible swooning, and Rose let out a little yelp like a puppy that had her tail stepped on. Georgia threw her a look that said, Get it together, sister, and indeed Rose did.

They were young—that was my first thought. They had dewy, fresh skin, as if they’d been raised on an organic farm. They were taller than I’d expected, lean. Like the swim team at Brown. Only prettier.

“Now, who is who?” I asked, and Isabelle shushed me. Right.

We migrated to where the boys were positioned before a banner with the August Moon logo: big yellow letters across a gray backdrop. They seemed happy, giddy even, to be mingling with their fans. A mutual love affair. The way they hammed it up for the camera and put the awkward adolescents at ease, the way they flirted with their older fans—sly, but not crossing the line—the way they engaged the tweens and charmed the mothers. It was an art. They’d nailed it.

When we were next in line, Isabelle leaned into me. “Left to right: Rory, Oliver, Simon, Liam, and Hayes.”

“Got it.”

“Don’t say anything embarrassing, okay?”

I promised her I wouldn’t.

And then it was our turn.

“Well, hullo, lasses!” Simon bellowed, eyes wide, arms outstretched. He had an impressive wingspan. Isabelle had mentioned on the plane that he’d rowed crew in boarding school. “Step right up, don’t be shy!”

The girls did not need a second prompt. Georgia lunged into Simon’s arms, and Rose sidled up next to Liam, the baby of the bunch, he with the green eyes and freckles. Only Isabelle hesitated, her eyes darting back and forth. Eenie, meenie, miny … Quite the candy store.

“Having a hard time deciding?” The tall one on the far end spoke. “Come, come stand near me. I don’t bite, I promise. Now, Rory, Rory might bite, and Ollie’s unpredictable, so…” He smiled this dazzling smile. Wide mouth, full lips, perfect teeth, dimples. Hayes.

Isabelle smiled and made her way in his direction.

“Ha! I win! I win … What’s your name, love?”

“Isabelle.”

“I win Isabelle!” He flung his arm over her narrow shoulders, protective-like, and then glanced over to me. “And you must be the big sister?”

Isabelle laughed, covering her mouth. Her features delicate, like a little bird. “That’s my mom.”

“Your mum?” Hayes raised an eyebrow, holding my gaze. “Really? All right then. Isabelle’s mum. Do you want to join us for the picture?”

“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”

“You sure? Promise to make it worth your while.”

I laughed at that. “I’d like to see you do that.”

“I’d like to show you.” He smiled, bold. “Come on. You’ll want something to commemorate our wild night in Vegas.”

“Well, when you make it so appealing…”

* * *

The first photo I have of myself with Hayes is of the nine of us, in the basement of the Mandalay Bay. He has one arm draped around me and the other around Isabelle. I’d ordered two copies. In time Isabelle would destroy hers.

* * *

“I’m impressed you flew out here just for us.” The guys were in full conversation with my brood, making the most of our ninety seconds. Liam was asking Rose about our trek to Sin City, and Simon was touching Georgia’s hair.

“I love these curls.”

“Do you?” Georgia gave as good as she got. She’d benefitted from an older sister.

“That’s quite an indulgence, flying in for the day.” Hayes was engaging Isabelle, leaning on her shoulder like a big brother. Like he’d known her all her life. I knew inside she was dying.

“Two days,” she clarified.

“It was a gift from her father,” I volunteered.

“‘Her father’?” He looked over to me. There was that raised eyebrow again. “Not your husband?”

“He was my husband. Now he’s just her father.”

“Well…” He paused. “That’s serendipitous, isn’t it?”

I laughed. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

There was something about him in that moment. His ease. His accent. His cocksure smile. Disarming.

“Next!” Our time was up.

* * *

He humored us again at the end of the meet-and-greet. When everyone had taken their requisite photos and the group was signing autographs, we filtered over to him amidst a sea of moving bodies. Fish swimming upstream. All around us there was collective squealing and swaying and “Hayes, can I touch your hair?” But my group was holding it together. It might have been that jaded L.A. thing: that they were used to seeing the likes of the Beckham boys at the local park, or “Spider-Man” in the carpool lane at drop-off. It took a bit more to faze them. They were, despite all their exuberant canvassing of the resort that afternoon, surprisingly poised.

“I’m really loving the Petty Desires album. It’s deep on so many levels,” Georgia gushed.

“Yes,” Rose chimed in. “Such clever lyrics. I love ‘Seven Minutes.’”

“You like it, do you?” He glanced up from where he was signing a T-shirt.

“It’s like … you’ve really tapped into our generation. You speak for all of us.” Isabelle flipped her hair, an attempt at flirting, but the awkward pursed-lipped smile belied her youth. There were braces under there. Oh, sweet girl, in time …

She had my face. Large almond-shaped eyes, pouty French lips, a fair olive complexion. Her hair thick, brown, almost black.

I watched Hayes take the girls in. His eyes moving from one to another, amused. I imagined he was used to this. Finally, he landed on me.

“Where are you ladies sitting?”

The girls rattled off our seat numbers.

“Come backstage after the show. I’m going to have someone come and get you on the floor. Don’t leave.” He looked to me then. Piercing blue-green eyes and a mass of dark curls. He couldn’t have been more than nineteen. “All right?”

I nodded. “All right.”

* * *

There was something mind-bending about emerging from an intimate conversation with a member of the biggest boy band of the last decade and being thrust into an arena with twelve thousand of his shrieking fans. There was a shift of equilibrium, a disconnect. For a moment I lost sense of where I was, how I’d gotten there, what my role was supposed to be. The girls were buzzing with excitement and rushing to find our floor seats, and I was spiraling. I was not prepared for the onslaught: the roar, the pitch, the energy level of so many adolescent girls at the peak of arousal. That this, all of this, could be for the boys we’d just left in the basement seemed inconceivable. They were bewitching, yes, but still flesh and blood.

The screamfest started before the guys hit the stage and continued without pause for the next two and a half hours. Lulit had been right. It was at a decibel level that was near impossible to get used to. Particularly for a woman pushing forty.

The year I turned sixteen, I saw the New Kids on the Block at Foxboro Stadium during their Magic Summer Tour. A handful of us went for Alison Aserkoff’s birthday. Her father had finagled floor seats and backstage passes. It was loud and unwieldy and not typically my thing. Boy bands were not part of the prep school culture. We grew up listening to the Stones, U2, Bob Marley. Music that never got old. So five working-class boys from Dorchester, Mass., should theoretically not have had any appeal.

But there was something there. The rush, the hormones, the heat from the stage. The idea that they were longed for and lusted after by so many made them exponentially more appealing. And for a brief moment I thought I could let myself go, in the madness. But then I realized how indelicate that would seem, how unbecoming. And I remembered who I was supposed to be, at my core. And whatever wanton adulation might have occurred I stopped before it could take root. Well before the encore at the New Kids concert.

A near quarter-century later, it was threatening to play out again.

Despite the noise and the hormones coursing through the Mandalay Bay, the band put on a great show—although whether a group could truly call themselves a band if they didn’t play instruments was unknown to me. Rory stroked the guitar for a handful of songs, and Oliver sat down before the piano once or twice, but other than that, the only instrumentation came from the accompanying backup band. Mostly the guys sang and jumped about onstage like young virile pogo sticks. There was lots of roughhousing and clowning around and very little choreography, but the fans did not seem to mind.

“I love them! I love them! I love them!” Georgia proclaimed after a rousing rendition of “Fizzy Smile,” the titular track from the band’s first album. There were tears streaming down her doll-like face, and her curls had begun to frizz in the humidity. “They touch my soul.”

Rose was clearly in agreement, shrieking every time Liam walked the extended platform that brought him within feet of us. Isabelle was in her own trance, singing and swaying deeply with the music. They were a happy bunch. And in that moment, I forgave Daniel for welshing as he often did, because his flounder had gifted me the opportunity to witness the girls’ rapture. One could not put a price on that.

Like clockwork, a burly black man wearing credentials arrived at our section just as the band exited the stage after the final encore. Hayes had kept his promise.

“Is one of you Isabelle?”

I barely made out what he was saying through the incessant hum in my ears, the sense of conversing underwater. But we followed him to the gate, where he presented each of us with wristbands and all-access lanyards.

No words were spoken on the long walk backstage. I suspected the girls did not want to ruin the moment, to be woken from the dream. Their expressions were expectant, serious. They could barely look at one another for the excitement. Our lives begin tonight.

I got the impression that the security guard was used to this, plucking young girls from the audience to hand-deliver to the band. For a moment I feared what we might be getting ourselves into. Where was he taking us exactly? And at what point might I be liable for child endangerment? Because certainly handing over a trio of twelve-year-olds for consumption would constitute some sort of misdemeanor, if not felony. No, I would not let them out of my sight. This was Vegas, after all.

But as we entered the after-party it became apparent that my worries were unnecessary. Girls for consumption seemed few and far between: a couple of unrecognizable models, the Dane from the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, a reality star, and an actress from the new Netflix series. Other than that, it appeared to be family and close friends: a bunch of Brits and industry types and a handful of well-behaved, lucky young fans. It felt decidedly safe.

Eventually the band emerged, freshly showered, hair damp and void of product. There was applause and whistles and the pop-popping of champagne. And I had to wonder if this happened every night. This sort of self-congratulatory celebration. Isabelle and her friends wasted no time flocking to Simon and Liam at the party’s core. Composure regained, they were once again on a mission. I wasn’t certain what that mission was exactly: “Make said member of August Moon fall in love with me” sounded about right, and yet surely they must have realized that was highly unlikely. As it was, Rory was chatting up the swimsuit model in a corner. Beanie pulled low on his brow, hands jammed deep into his pockets, forcing the waist of his black jeans lower than their already ridiculous latitude. The incline of his head and his body language conveyed all: he had claimed her.

Oliver was deep in conversation with what I took to be a record exec—some guy in a gray shiny suit who might or might not have been hitting on him. He was the most elegant of the group. Willowy and thoughtful with hazel eyes and golden hair. The type I would have fallen in love with in college only to discover he was gay. Or far too profound to be interested in an art history major. Either way, he would have broken my heart.

And then there was Hayes. Holding court like Simon and Liam, but in a manner that seemed more deliberate, intense. From my vantage point on the far side of the room, where a writer from Vanity Fair was chatting me up, I could see Simon goofing off and Liam being young, both captivating their fans. But Hayes was harder to read. Hayes’s attention appeared sincere. Even from a distance, his conversation with his sycophants seemed earnest.

It wasn’t until thirty minutes or so later, when I’d almost polished off a glass of Perrier-Jouët and extricated myself from the writer, that Hayes approached me in the corner.

“Well, hello, Isabelle’s mum…”

“It’s Solène.”

“So-lène…” He took his time with it. “Like, ‘So, lend me some money and I’ll pay you back’?”

I laughed. “Exactly.”

“So-lène,” he repeated. “I like that. It’s French? Are you French?”

“My parents are. Very.”

“So-lène.” He nodded. “I’m Hayes.”

“I know who you are.”

“Yes. Fancy that.” He smiled this half smile, the left side of his mouth turning up at the corner, putting precious dimples into relief. His mouth was too big for his face—wide and unapologetic. But he had dimples, and what might have been arrogance came across as endearing. “Are you enjoying yourself?”

“I am, thank you.”

“Good.” He stood there, grinning, arms folded across his broad chest. He was doing that thing that tall guys sometimes do, copping a very wide stance to bring him closer to my eye level. “Did you like the show?”

“It was … entertaining.”

His smile widened. “You didn’t like it.”

“It was surprisingly loud,” I laughed.

“No one warned you? I’m sorry, Solène.”

There was something about the way he kept saying my name: raspy voice, unwavering gaze, the roll of his tongue. It felt … intimate.

“I was warned, just not enough, clearly. Your fans are—”

“Excitable.”

“That’s one way of putting it.”

He laughed, tossing back his head. He had a beautiful jawline. “They’re a wild bunch. Next time we’ll get you headphones.”

“Next time?”

“There’s always a next time.” He said it with a straight face, but there was something there that gave me pause.

“How old are you, Hayes?”

“Twenty.”

“Twenty,” I repeated, and then downed the rest of my champagne. One gulp. Well, at least that was better than nineteen.

“Twenty.” He bit down on his bottom lip and smiled.

Right then would have been a good time to excuse myself. Collect the girls and call it a night. But I could see the expressions on their faces from across the room. Simon was patting Georgia’s hair again, and Liam was showing off his breakdancing moves, and the euphoria was palpable. We’d been there less than an hour. Pulling them now would be cruel.

“You’re thinking about leaving, aren’t you?” Hayes’s voice drew me back in. “Please don’t. I’m going to get you another drink.”

“No, I’m good, thank you.”

“Rubbish. It’s Vegas.” He winked before taking the empty flute from my hand and heading over to the makeshift bar.

There hadn’t been many since Daniel: a series of dates with one of the dads from Isabelle’s fencing team and a two-month dalliance with the TV writer from my spin class. Neither had been consummated. Once they’d threatened to go beyond casual flirtation, I’d closed up. I’d shut down. And while three years of accidental celibacy had been oftentimes miserable, I was not going to jump into bed with a rock star barely half my age because he’d winked at me at an after-party. I was not going to be a cliché.

Before I could fully plot my exit, Hayes returned with another glass of bubbly and a bottle of water for himself. His hair had dried into an enviable mop of silken curls. There were blogs dedicated to Hayes’s hair—this I would learn later—but there in the belly of the Mandalay Bay, I resisted the urge to touch it.

“So, Solène, what is it that you do when you’re not attending August Moon concerts?”

“You are amusing, Hayes Campbell.”

“Ha. You know my last name…”

“Yes, because I live with a twelve-year-old girl.”

“But not your ex-husband?”

“Not my ex-husband, no,” I laughed. “I could be your mother, you know.”

“But you’re not.”

“But I could be.”

But you’re not.” He held my gaze, smiling his half smile.

I felt it then, that little flip-flop in the pit of my stomach that told me that whatever this twenty-year-old was doing, it was working.

“Are you going to give me that glass? Or did you just bring it over here to tease me?”

“To tease you,” he laughed, and took a sip of my champagne before handing it over. “Cheers.”

I stood there, staring at him, not drinking. Enjoying it. “You’re bad…”

“Sometimes…”

“Does that work for you?”

He laughed then. “Mostly. Is it not working now?”

I smiled, shaking my head. “Not as well as you think it is.”

“Ow, that hurts.” His eyes darted across the room then, searching. “Oliver!”

Oliver looked up in our direction. He was still being cornered by the guy in the shiny suit and seemed eager to have an out. I watched as he excused himself and made his way over to us.

“Ol, this is Solène.”

“Hi, Solène.” He smiled, charming.

The two of them stood peering down at me, equally tall, equally confident. And for a moment I wished I hadn’t worn flats, because even at five foot seven, among these boys I felt small.

“Tell me, Ol, could Solène be my mother?”

Oliver raised an eyebrow, and then took an extended moment to look me over. “Most definitely not.” He turned to face Hayes. “And your mother is a very beautiful woman…”

“My mother is a beautiful woman.”

“But she doesn’t look like this.”

“No, she doesn’t.” Hayes smiled.

Oliver’s eyes were arresting. “What are you doing slumming in Vegas?”

I took a sip of champagne then. Game on. “I got roped into attending an August Moon concert. You?”

They were both quiet for a second. Hayes laughed first. “And a brilliant wit, to boot. Ol, you can go.”

“You just invited me to the party, mate.”

“Well, now you’re being uninvited.”

“Hayes Campbell. Doesn’t play well with others,” Oliver said, deadpan.

“I just saved you from the wanker in the bad suit. You owe me.”

Oliver shook his head before extending a graceful hand. “Solène, ’twas a pleasure, albeit brief.”

Albeit brief? Who were these guys? This rakish quintet. Clearly Isabelle and the other umpteen million girls around the world were on to something.

“‘Doesn’t play well’?” I asked once Oliver had departed.

“I play very well. I just don’t share.”

I smiled up at him, taken. His face, like art. His mouth, distracting. And that which crossed my mind was not all pure.

“So,” he said, “tell me about you.”

“What do you want to know?”

“What are you willing to share with me?”

I laughed at that. Hayes Campbell, twenty, and making me sweat. “As little as possible.”

He smiled his half smile. “I’m listening…”

“So you are.” I took a sip from my glass. “Where to start … I live in L.A.”

“Are you from there?”

“No. The East Coast. Boston. But I’ve been there for a while now, so … it’s home, I guess. I own an art gallery, with my girlfriend Lulit.”

“Girlfriend?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Not that kind of girlfriend.”

He smiled, shrugging. “Not that I was judging…”

“Just that you were fantasizing?”

He laughed, loud. “Did we just meet?”

“Do you want to know more or not?”

“I want to know everything.”

“We own an art gallery. In Culver City. We sell contemporary art.”

He let that sit there for a second, and then: “Is that different from modern art?”

“‘Modern art’ is a broad term that covers about a hundred years and encompasses many different movements. Contemporary art is current.”

“So your artists are all still alive, I gather?”

I smiled. “On most days, yes. So…” I was going to need more champagne. “What is it you do when you’re not attending August Moon concerts?”

He laughed at that, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m not sure that I remember. This has kind of consumed the last few years of my life. Touring, writing, recording, publicity…”

“You write your own music?”

“Most of it.”

“That’s impressive. You play piano?”

He nodded. “And guitar. Bass. A little saxophone.”

I smiled at that. Clearly I’d been underestimating boybanders. “Do you ever just go home and do nothing?”

“Not often. Do you?”

“Not as much as I’d like.”

He nodded slowly, sipped from his water, and then: “What does it look like? Your home?”

“It’s modern. Clean lines. Lots of midcentury furniture. It’s on the Westside, up in the hills, overlooking the ocean. There are walls of glass, and the light is always shifting. The rooms change, at dawn, at dusk. It’s like living in a watercolor. I love that.” I stopped then.

He was standing there, staring at me in a way that he probably should not have been. He was so ridiculously young. And I was someone’s mother. And in no world could this lead to anything good.

“Wow,” he said, soft. “That sounds like a pretty perfect life.”

“Yeah. But for—”

“But for the ex-husband,” he finished my thought.

“Yeah. And everything that comes with that.”

As if on cue, Isabelle skipped up to us, wide-eyed and happy. “Mom, this is the best party ever! We were talking about it, and this is even better than Harry Wasserman’s Bar Mitzvah.”

“Not Harry’s Bar Mitzvah?” Hayes had snapped out of wherever his thoughts had taken him and returned to teen idol mode.

She blushed, covering her mouth. “Hiiii, Hayes.”

“Hiiii, Isabelle.”

“You remembered my name?”

“Lucky guess.” He shrugged. “What’s Liam doing over there? Is he showing you how he does the worm? You know I taught him everything he knows, right? Shall we have a worm-off? Liam!” Hayes called across the room. “Worm-off! Now!”

I could sense Isabelle bursting out of her skin when Hayes threw his arm around her shoulders and began leading her away. “Excuse us, Solène. There’s a competition to be had.”

The sight of the two of them, my awkward daughter and the comely rock star, making their way across the room was so bizarre and ironic, I had to laugh.

Hayes was in his element. In no time, he’d become the center of attention, lying prostrate on the floor, psyching himself up for the competition, his bandmates and fans swarming around him. While Liam’s wiry frame and jerky moves might have made him the more natural dancer, Hayes was far more captivating. There was a grace to him, sliding across the floor in his black jeans and boots. His feet kicking high up into the air, lifting his hips intermittently off the ground. Arm muscles straining with each thrust. A sliver of abdomen peeking out from beneath his thin T-shirt. He was such a vision of virility, it almost felt dirty to watch.

There was hooting and whistling, and when Hayes finally rose from the floor, Simon grabbed him in a man-hug. “This lad right here!” he howled, his blue eyes wide, his blond hair standing on end. “Is there nothing he can’t do?!”

Hayes threw back his head and laughed, hair in disarray, dimples blazing. “Nothing.” He beamed. But at that moment his eyes caught mine and the charge was so strong, I had to look away.

* * *

We left shortly after the “worm-off.” When a lithe, questionably legal brunette had situated herself atop Liam’s lap, and Rory’s lips were on the neck of the swimsuit model in the corner, and at least half a dozen of the crew had slipped out and then reappeared glassy-eyed, I figured it might be a good time to get the girls out of there. The Vanity Fair writer was long gone.

“We’ve had such a lovely time. Thank you for inviting us.”

We had congregated by the door, Rose wilting, Isabelle yawning, Georgia’s hair growing to impressive proportions.

“I can’t convince you all to stay longer?”

“It’s late and we’re flying out in the morning.”

“You could change your flight.”

I could feel my eyes narrowing, some involuntary tic I must have picked up from my mother.

“Right, okay, so that wouldn’t be a good idea,” he backpedaled.

“Probably not. No.”

“This was the best night ever,” “Brilliant,” “Epic,” the girls all said at once.

“Glad you had fun.” Hayes smiled. “We’ll do it again sometime, yeah?”

There was unanimous agreement from my entourage.

“So, um…” It was he who was stalling, eyes searching, fingers running through his poufy hair. “What did you say the name of your gallery was? You know, should I ever be in California and desire some contemporary art…”

“Marchand Raphel.” I smiled.

“Marchand Raphel,” he repeated. “And you would be—”

“She’s the Marchand,” Georgia volunteered.

“Solène Marchand.” His smile widened. His teeth were decidedly un-English. Big, straight, white. Someone had spent good money on those teeth. “’Til next time, then?”

I nodded, but the seed had been planted. If I hadn’t had the girls …

And then, completely aware of what I was suggesting and with surprisingly little hesitation, I laid the bait: “There’s always a next time.”

Copyright © 2017 by Robinne Lee

Interviews

Q&A with Robinne Lee

Readers have noted that Hayes resembles the front man of an internationally successful boy band—did you, as the creator of these characters, have anyone in mind when you invented Hayes? What about Solène?

The characters came to me in different ways. From the beginning, I knew who I wanted Hayes to be. And really, it was like my perfect guy, but in the package of a twenty-year-old boy bander. I’d recently discovered Harry Styles, and he was a lovely jumping-off point.

But I’ve always been more attracted to posh types, and so it was really important to me that Hayes had a level of worldliness and sophistication that went along with that kind of upbringing: elite private schools, ski holidays in Switzerland, a cottage in the Cotswolds, summers in Majorca, etc. I wanted him to feel like a young Prince Harry. Confident, well spoken, self-assured, at ease in his skin. And so I borrowed some of Styles’s sex appeal and sensitivity and mixed it with a myriad of posh boys I’d researched and the best qualities of my ex-boyfriends and my husband, and kind of molded my own person. I am absolutely 100% in love with this boy. But sadly, he only exists in my head. And now here, on the page.

My original inspiration for Solène came from a woman I spotted years ago at an art fair in Aspen. She was absolutely exquisite. Olive skin, dark hair, haunting eyes, full lips, killer cheekbones, no makeup. She was understated and elegant, and I could not stop staring at her. I pointed her out to my husband and whispered, “That is my dream woman.” Almost two years later I began writing The Idea of You. Hayes was very clear in my head from day one, but it took a few weeks to find Solène, and the moment I realized I was going to put her in the art world, I remembered that woman’s face, and I thought, “That’s it! That’s her. That’s Solène.”

Why did the art world appeal to you as a professional milieu for Solène? Does a successful art expert have the kinds of characteristics that allow Solène the relationship she has with Hayes (an appreciation of beauty combined with discretion and a head for business)?

I knew who Hayes was before I knew Solène. I knew he was going to be this posh, smart, witty, sophisticated, confident, well-adjusted young man with the world at his fingertips. And so I needed to create a woman that would not only hold his attention but also bowl him over. I wanted her to have a job that was international and glamorous, but at the same time cerebral. And the art world just kind of came to me. I think I often give my characters careers I wish I’d chosen for myself. And I welcomed the opportunity to learn as much as I could about a new industry. I loved the idea of Solène surrounding herself with beauty and art and interesting, diverse people. Of her having a job that required a good deal of travel and wining and dining and speaking different languages and immersing herself in different cultures. Everything about it was appealing to me. It was a steep learning curve: acquainting myself with the major players, high-profile galleries, and both big-name and up-and-coming contemporary artists. And both the big picture and the day to-day business of it. I was very lucky to discover that a mom in my daughter’s preschool owned a mid-level gallery located in the very same block where I’d imagined Marchand Raphel. She became an invaluable resource.

How did you research the locations—many of them glamorous—where Solène and Hayes meet? Which ones have you visited yourself?

One of the most enjoyable parts of writing this book was finding and researching the various locations. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to structure the story by having their relationship blossom through numerous locales throughout the world. And so I cobbled together a combination of places I knew well, places I’d visited, and places that sounded compelling on paper and fit into either the art world calendar or his tour schedule. At the time I wrote the book, I had visited or had lived in New York, Paris, Los Angeles and its environs, the Côte d’Azur, Anguilla, Miami, Aspen, the Hamptons, Las Vegas, and São Paulo. So much of my research was just refreshing myself about places I’d been. Finding the perfect hotels and restaurants that I thought would suit my characters.

There was a lot of Googling while writing, and then quite a few fact-checking trips, which is always fun. Walking through the villa in Anguilla that I’d found for them online and retracing their footsteps was quite magical. Dropping in at the Hôtel Martinez to make certain they used key cards and not keys. Cocktails accompanied by live music in the bar at the George V. Dinner under the stars at Casa Tua, and a fabulous night at The Setai Hotel, where I made certain there was a back gate to the beach and that a resident would be able to lock it. All those little details were very important to me and made the story that much more real.

You are an actress and producer as well as a novelist, and had roles in Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, based on characters created by E. L. James. Were James’s novels and her characters in your mind when you wrote The Idea of You? Your sex scenes are particularly good, and they are especially difficult to do well!

So, full disclosure, I cut my teeth writing sex scenes way, way, way back in junior high and high school. I was obsessed with Duran Duran and wrote some rather juicy fan fiction. Although we didn’t call it that, back in the day. And at some point I discovered it was much more fun making characters up than simply imagining celebrities in various scenarios.

I’d always been interested in psychology and human development and used to check out many books from the library on human sexuality. And that was really my introduction to sex. It was very forthright and authentic. I didn’t read romance novels because I found many of the sex scenes either heavily veiled or full of euphemisms, and I didn’t feel that I was getting what I needed from them. I didn’t want flowery language; I wanted the truth. And so when I started writing my own stories, those scenes were as straightforward as I could craft them—having no actual sexual experience of my own. But they caught on amongst my friends, and I would bring pages to school and pass them out in between classes. To the guys and the girls. Everyone seemed to enjoy them.

Fast-forward a few decades and I was working on another novel when Fifty Shades of Grey became a hit. Quite a few friends from high school reached out to me then with messages like, “Hey, have you seen this woman’s success?? You used to write great sex stories, why don’t you do something like this?” But I was busy with my manuscript at the time, which skewed more literary, and so never got around to reading them. When I started writing The Idea of You, it was kind of just an exercise for me. I didn’t want to compare it to anything out there. At that time, I was very sure of my story and my voice and didn’t want to be influenced by authors doing anything even slightly familiar. I mostly read literary fiction, and so those were my greatest influences. But I knew I also had the ability to craft a decent sex scene, and I didn’t want to shy away from them.

I booked the part in Fifty Shades when I was doing rewrites for The Idea of You. As it was, I’d given myself a deadline, but the Fifty Shades project kind of bumped it up. Because I didn’t want to read the scripts until I read the books. And I didn’t want to read the books until I’d finished writing my own. And so, literally, the day I sent it off to my agent, I downloaded Fifty, and then lost myself in that world for about four months while we shot.

I will say it was an absolute pleasure working with and getting to know E. L. James. She is incredibly generous and accessible, and has been very supportive.

What kind of music do you listen to? What did you listen to when you were working on the novel?

My musical tastes are fairly eclectic. I’m all over the place. But when I was writing this book, I created a playlist that was very much of the time. Music I thought Hayes would listen to. Music that evoked August Moon. Music that I thought Solène would enjoy. It was quite varied. There was lots of Ed Sheeran and The Fray. Lifehouse and Coldplay and Beyoncé. James Blake, Sam Smith, One Republic, Sanders Bohlke, Jessie Ware, John Legend. The 1975, and a little One Direction.

Has your daughter read the book? What did she think?

Oh dear God, no. My daughter is about to turn twelve. When I was writing The Idea of You, she was five years old. And when the book was first published, she was eight. She has a general idea of what the story is about, but no inclination to read it anytime soon…I hope.

You wrote the book five years ago, in what seems a much more innocent time. How would The Idea of You be different if you wrote it today?

I wrote this book between 2014 and 2015. And yes, it was a much more innocent time. In the US, we had an administration that was considerably less tumultuous, and so there was no huge political upheaval to factor into the storyline. The #blacklivesmatter movement had just begun, and so I included it. But this was still prior to Brexit and the wave of xenophobia that I think would have definitely influenced the story. This was still prior to #metoo, which Solène would have definitely referenced in regards to the girl crying in the hallway at the hotel in Beverly Hills.

I could not begin to imagine what Hayes and Solène’s journey would look like if told today. The pandemic has obviously altered life as we know it. The loss of international travel, stadium shows, art fairs, indoor dining…All that human interaction we took for granted. And that, compounded with a massive movement for racial equality, a divisive presidential election, and an insurrection…We are living in a very different world.

You use the fact of social media deftly in The Idea of You: it’s a presence, but doesn’t end up becoming the central topic of the book. Was that a conscious choice? How has social media accelerated since you wrote the novel?

I wanted to illustrate just how toxic social media can be. It’s not all bad, of course, but for many of us in entertainment and the arts who use it to promote our work, it can be a bit of a double-edged sword. It’s a wonderful way to connect with fans or followers. To network. To make friends. But it also opens you up to various commentary and makes you accessible to strangers who might not have pleasant things to say to you. While researching the book, I became hyperaware of how often fans cross boundaries. How comfortable they are posting ugly or hateful things in places where the person being discussed could view them. How they could be downright vicious. Particularly when it came to the love interests of their idols. It was fascinating to see, but it also made me very uncomfortable. And I wanted to kind of shine a light on that. In the years since I wrote the book, there are only more social media platforms where such interactions can occur. Snapchat and TikTok, which skew younger. And the harassment and bullying has not stopped.

You don’t describe Solène’s physical appearance right away in the book. Was that intentional?

Yes. I had a very specific idea of Solène in my head. I had a visual in mind, but it was more the essence of her that I wanted to convey. The grace and elegance and confidence. And the particulars of her face were not as important. I also thought the more vaguely I described her, the easier it would be for the reader to place herself in Solène’s shoes. As a reader, I am very conscious of how seldom it is that I come across characters that physically resemble me. And depending on the story and how it’s being told, that can pull me out of the narrative. So with Solène, I wanted to give my readers the opportunity to kind of lose themselves in this character and to experience her journey as if it were their own.

Is there any significance to the age gap between Solène and Hayes? Did you consider making the difference bigger? Smaller?

Prior to writing The Idea of You, I spent a good six years working on another novel where the twenty-five-year-old protagonist has a relationship with a twenty-year-old. It was semi-autobiographical, and he was a character I knew intimately and felt very comfortable writing about. So when I first had the idea for The Idea of You, I thought, “Well, write what you know.” I knew twenty-year-old boys. Well. And I knew twenty year-old boys in love. And I knew what it was to be a woman turning forty and questioning everything. My worth? My value? My viability? Forty is very much a milestone birthday. And I wanted some conflict for my story. It would have been too easy to make Hayes twenty-five or twenty-seven. It would have been too easy to make Solène thirty-six. A twenty year gap was enough to be scandalous. To feel reckless. And I embraced the challenge: being able to convey their love and attraction for each other—in a very honest and genuine way.