Ben Barnett, Frenchy’s busboy
“I don’t understand.” Vidal perched in the driver’s seat of his Mercedes and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. “I had three things you weren’t supposed to talk about. Politics. His movies. And….” He looked at me as if it was a quiz.
“Wesley,” I supplied.
“Right.” He eased up to a stop sign and peered left. “And four minutes in—FOUR minutes—you asked about Wesley.”
“Well, I actually asked about the Ranch,” I said tartly, pulling out the row of bobby pins that were pinching my scalp.
“The Ranch that Wesley is at.”
“It was a valid question,” I continued. “Why are they hiding him away there? It’s like they want to pretend he doesn’t exist. Cash has a gigantic house. There’d be plenty of room for him there.”
“It’s not any of your business,” Vidal said clearly, enunciating each word as if he was suddenly respectful of people’s personal space. The man had examined my bikini line yesterday. Personal boundaries and nosing around in people’s business were why he had a job.
Vidal glanced toward the backseat. “Tell me you at least got a good picture.”
“Oh, I got lots of good pictures.” The hired pap hunched over his camera and tabbed through the photos. “Great pictures, actually. Just not sure they fit the story you were trying to tell.”
“He had us make a donation to the Ranch,” I argued. “He’s the one who brought it into this. I gave them eight grand, I have the right to ask why he’s keeping his brother there.”
“You realize that everyone loves him, right?” Vidal skidded to a stop, and a poodle in a tutu passed, the leash delicately held by a woman who should have stepped away from plastic surgery a long time ago. “No one is going to side with you on this. Cornering Cash Mitchell to drill him about his disabled brother is not going to win you any fans.”
He was right. It didn’t win me any fans. In fact, for a good eighteen minutes, on the top fold of TMZ—I was the new wicked witch of Los Angeles. I still have the glossy printout, the headline in bold 18 pt font.
Hollywood Nobody Lectures Cash Mitchell on Date
It was a horrible article, one that painted me out to be a desperate Cash-clinger, one who had cooed across the table at him, then viciously attacked his personal virtues and integrity. It was complete with four photos that showed me snarling, Cash wincing, Cash glowering, and the moment he had stood up and leaned over, delivering the line that was still taunting me.
We were, of course, responsible for the article, one that included my name fourteen times. The copy had been agonized over for countless edits before it went to Vidal’s TMZ contact. And during those first eighteen minutes, before my story was replaced by something else, my social media accounts exploded.
It didn’t win me any fans, but it did get me something better. Followers. Twenty-one thousand new followers in eighteen minutes.
Later we laughed that the headline that called me out as a Nobody was the first thing that made me a Somebody. That date, even though it had been a disaster for my and Cash’s relationship, had been precisely what I needed. Vidal had known it, even as he had banged a manicured hand against the Mercedes’ steering wheel and ranted on about personal privilege. I had known it, even as my cheeks had burned while I ate Cash’s grilled cheese scorned and alone.
Some women were made to be loved. I was made to be hated.
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My first visit to the Outlier Ranch was plagued with ill intent. I walked in the facility hoping to decimate my opinion (and pathetic crush) of Cash. I handed my donation to an adult woman with Halloween-colored braces and insisted on a tour of the property. I took my time, dragging my leather flats across bleach-white tile as I mentally picked apart the private suites, food, and the staff. I peered critically at a bored teenager who could use a haircut and winced at a screaming child who was completely ignored by a nearby employee. I searched every face, hoping for a glimpse of one who looked like Cash, and struck out. And I decided, somewhere between the nature trail and the medical center—that they had Wesley Mitchell locked away. Probably gave him thirty minutes of sunshine each day and kept him doped up on meds the rest of the time.
“It’s so nice to see your interest in the Outlier Ranch,” my guide beamed as she held her badge against a sensor and unlocked the door. “We love visitors. Do you have any relatives with disabilities?”
“No.” I avoided touching the door as I stepped through. “Just worked with a lot.”
The joke went over her head. “Oh, that’s marvelous to hear. You should consider becoming a volunteer.”