“Wow,” Eileen blinked up at them. “That’s… big.”
“That’s what she said,” Layton cracked, then grinned at me. “Right, Cash?”
I let Eileen stuff a piece in my mouth just so I wouldn’t have to answer.
“Excuse me.” A voice sounded from behind me. “You’re Cash Mitchell, right?”
I turned, and it was a girl, phone clutched in her hands, a tentative and embarrassed grin spread wide across her face. She had braces and couldn’t be older than fourteen. “Yeah, I’m Cash.”
“And you’re all on House of Fame, right?” She tucked a red curl behind her ear. “That’s what they’re filming?”
“Yeah,” Eileen said.
“Can I get a picture?” The girl passed her phone to her friend and stepped on the picnic table bench, then sat on the surface, putting herself in the middle of us without waiting for a reply.
We all leaned in and smiled, then waited for her friend to get in the shot. A line began to form, and a producer snapped into action, getting footage of the buzz. Emma gave her stuffed animal to a girl with a fanny pack and neon pink sunglasses, and Layton did a handstand contest with a trio of guys from Florida. I took a dozen selfies with fans before one of the producers finally clapped his hands.
“Okay, we’ve got to run. Everyone who didn’t get a pic, we’ve got House of Fame stickers and koozies for you. Talk to the guy in the yellow hat—Bryan, raise your hand.”
A crew member in the back raised his hand, and the producer nodded. He turned to me and said something, but I didn’t catch it because right then, I saw Layton lean into Emma.
Her hands gripped the front of his shirt.
His mouth lowered.
Her chin turned up.
There was a collective hush from the group of fans, and I felt like my skull was going to break open in the moment when her mouth met his. The camera beside me zoomed in, and I could have dropped my pants, and no one would have noticed because everyone was watching them. I wanted to turn away but I couldn’t. His hand tightened on her waist, and he pulled her closer to him, and it was right then that I realized I was jealous.
I was jealous of Layton Barnett. I had to sit back down on the picnic bench just to absorb the fact. I was jealous of him kissing her.
“Are you okay?” Eileen asked. “You look funny.”
“I’m fine.” I rested my head in my hand and tried to wrap my head around the fact that this building irritation and frustration over the last few days could be due to jealousy. Yes, I had known that I was attracted to her. Who wouldn’t be attracted to her? But I had also thought that any moments of chemistry between us had been fleeting and misguided—brought on by nostalgic memories of what might have been, if I hadn’t lost her at that party.
It was a few minutes at a party five years ago, yet I had couldn’t seem to forget that version of her. It was insane and proved by the fact that her tongue was down Layton’s throat, and I was the only one who seemed to give a damn about it.
I stared down at the table, not trusting myself to look up until I heard Emma’s voice, clear and unrestricted by a kiss. She said something about heading down to the beach, and then Eileen was standing, and everyone was moving, and I followed like a sheep.
“Dana had two cameras on Layton and Emma and one on Cash, and she was right. The minute that Layton moved in for the kiss, his entire face changed. It was kind of heartbreaking in a way, and we caught it all. That was when I knew that something would happen between them. I didn’t know what, but something was coming, and we were going to catch it on camera when it did.”
Paulette Reyes, Camera Operator, House of Fame
On a regular night, with a normal girl, I’d sip beers with my friends and watch her social media and distract myself with someone close by and friendly and try to avoid thinking about her until the moment that whoever it was inevitably called.
They always called, or commented, or private messaged, or showed up, their face appearing on the door cam, inhibitions shed somewhere between Beverly Hills and my house.
Emma wasn’t most girls, and if I distracted myself with Eileen or Marissa, she’d probably cut my balls off with a butcher knife.
If I waited for her to call or come after me, she wouldn’t—not unless she punched me again and needed to apologize. While her fist had stung, I was willing to accept the pain but didn’t think the show would look too kindly at another fight.
So I was lost, sitting on my ass on a log that some production member dragged out to the middle of the beach, staring across the fire at a girl who I didn’t particularly like but was somehow falling for. The one girl who didn’t seem to like me any more than I liked her. The girl who Layton was currently running his hand along her leg and whispering something in her ear.