I walked downstairs the next morning with no idea of what I was getting into. Emma was perched at the kitchen counter, a sprinkled donut in hand, and glanced up at me, then lifted a few fingers of her hand in a wave.
I nodded at her and headed for the coffee, fumbling with the single-serve packet and brewer lid.
Johno came beside me and made a show of opening the cabinet to get a cup. “When did she get back?” he muttered.
I shrugged, then managed to get the pod in place.
“Okay, since there are four of you here, I’ll get this out now, then update Eileen and Layton once they are up.” Dana walked to the center of the kitchen and tented her fingers together as if she was about to deliver something profound. I leaned against the counter and waited. Emma picked a sprinkle off her donut and avoided looking at anyone. “Yesterday was a disaster, obviously. We’ve spoken with Emma and the D.A.’s office, and they will not be filing charges, but we are officially on their radar, which isn’t a good thing. And the press has caught wind of things. So, some rules.” She cleared her throat and looked around, making sure that we were all listening. “First, and I can’t believe this has to be said, no hitting anyone.” She glared at Emma. “Okay?”
Emma took a bite out of the donut and stared back at Dana with a level of backbone you couldn’t help but respect.
“Second, every tweet, post, story, and snap has to be run by our team before it goes out. Do NOT make me take your phones from you. We need a spoiler-free season, and I want you spilling your emotions in the confessional booth, not on social media. Emma, everyone hit the confessional booth yesterday except for you, so finish breakfast and go with Jonah. Cash,” she looked at me. “We want you to go in again. In fact…” she straightened up as if she’d just had an idea. “Let’s get the two of you in together.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Emma said.
I nodded. “Yeah. I thought the point of the confessional was—”
“The point of the confessional is whatever the hell I want it to be,” Dana snapped. “And thanks to you guys, we’re having to rewrite storylines for the entire season, so stop being difficult and do what you’re told.”
Beside me, a trickle of dark black liquid splattered into my cup. Johno mumbled something under his breath, and Dana’s attention ricocheted to him. “Johno, we’re filming you and Layton today discussing what happened yesterday while you hang out at the beach. Lay off the donuts because we’re going to be showing plenty of abs.”
Marissa, who had been quiet until now, pipped up. “When will we see the new storylines?”
“Soon,” Dana promised, which meant we’d probably have them in hand minutes before the cameras rolled.
I had a bigger issue than Marissa’s storylines—the fact that I was about to be side-by-side with Emma, on camera, while they unleashed whatever horrible questions they had lined up. Yesterday’s confessional had been a careful avoidance of minefields that I had skirted without issue, thanks in large part to my years of training as Jocelyn Mitchell’s son. My mother’s emotional manipulation made this—all of this—transparent. I wasn’t worried about me, but Emma—I had no idea how Emma would handle it.
Dana looked down and tapped the front of her watch. “Cash, take that coffee with you. Let’s get both of you to hair and makeup before we lose another hour.”
“Good luck, guys,” Marissa drawled. “Try not to hit each other in there.” She smiled sweetly at me as she passed, a green juice in hand. There was a clod of something in her teeth that missed the juice strainer.
I said nothing, and she passed. Emma was still in place on her stool, one bare leg hanging loose from a pair of baggy boxers that had emojis all over it. She wore a boatneck sweatshirt that hung off one shoulder and had her hair twisted into a low and messy bun. I tried to remember what she was wearing last night when she had come into my room. Not the bikini. A collared shirt, turned inside out. I remember tracing my finger over the back of the embroidery, about to ask her about it, when she pushed my hand away.
Now she stood and crumbled the napkin in her hand, then licked the sugar from the tops of her fingers. Between us, Dana stood like a court marshal, her gaze darting between us. Emma took her time in moving to the trash can, her bare foot (pale blue pedicure) stepping on the lid lever with almost excruciatingly slow precision. Dropping the napkin in, she moved past me and to the sink. I stayed in place, hyper-aware of her behind me as she turned on the water and washed her hands. She was a thorough washer, and I could see the irritation building in Dana’s eyes as she watched the entire process through narrowed slits of dark eye shadow. Finally, the water flow ended.