“I was as surprised as you.” My mom rose and made her way over to me, her steps awkward and gangly, due to the four-inch wedge sandals that were tied around her ankles with canvas ropes. I studied them warily, then stiffened as my mom wrapped her arms around me and squeezed much harder than was necessary. “To think—you’re on a TV SHOW. Very, very, fancy Emma.”
“The lawsuit really wasn’t necessary,” my dad huffed from his seat. “Look at all of this!” He raised his hands, indicated the impressive room. “You obviously don’t need the money.”
“It’s not my house, dad. It’s for the show.”
My mom stumbled two steps to the right and not-so-gracefully sank into a chair. “Don’t talk back to your father. He knows that you don’t own this house. The point is, you’re living in a mansion, filming ads in your underwear, and you don’t even return our calls.”
I looked at Dana, who was scribbling something on her clipboard. “Is there a storyline here, or are we just talking about what horrible people we are?”
“Your parents are here to meet your boyfriend,” Dana responded, fiddling with the knob on her walkie talkie. “So just give us a few minutes of small talk, and then we’ll bring in Cash.”
“Uh—no.” I shook my head. “They aren’t meeting Cash.”
“Of course, they are.” Dana smiled at me. “You’re going to sit on the couch, argue with them about your lawsuit for a bit, then tell them that you’ve met someone, someone you really care about.” She peered at me. “Isn’t that what you told me, when you ran out of here the other morning and let us all waste our entire day chasing you around?”
“This is what episode 7 is? No one cares about this,” I argued.
“You wanted airtime, and I’m giving you an entire episode, so play nice, and we won’t crucify you in edits. You know your contract. Sit down.”
My father raised his eyebrows at me like I should stand up for myself, like he had encountered situations like this in his tiny cubicle, editing articles on tomato fertilizer in summer months. Dana was right. I did know my contract. There were certain things I had veto authority on, but a simple conversation with someone I didn’t like–that wasn’t one of them.
I sat down and tried not to recoil when my mom reached over and patted my arm. “I think it’s good that we’re getting this time to talk. Like your father says, you won’t return our calls.”
Their calls had all hit Michelle’s voicemail, who had forwarded on the recordings to me. They were correct, I hadn’t returned their calls. All three calls had been about money. What they needed. What I had. Asking what kind of ungrateful and selfish daughter didn’t help out her parents in their moment of need. Their need, on the latest call, had been a hot tub, which my mother was certain would help with her restless legs and which my father had thoroughly researched and already put down a two hundred and fifty dollar deposit.
“Maybe you should have called me before you took three hundred thousand dollars for an interview. Remember that?”
“We aren’t here to talk about the article,” my father huffed out, as he used one pinky to clean out his ear.
They must be getting paid. No way they came here to talk to me without some form of compensation. “Well, Dad,” I said tartly. “That’s what reality tv is. You do things you don’t want to do.”
“You know, we were going to donate that money to charity,” my mom hastened, her eyes darting to the camera. “An AIDS baby program. I had the brochure and everything.”
I’m not sure what an AIDS baby program was, but my mom used to drop pennies into the Salvation Army Santa’s bucket and act like it was a hundred dollar bill, so I was going to call bullshit on that one.
“Paula,” Dana began. “What made you do the Celebrity Star interview? What was it you wanted to say?”
Yes, Mom. What did you want to say in those six pages? Because whatever it was, I missed it.
“Well, you know.” She looked at Dana.
“No, speak to Emma. Pretend like me, and the crew aren’t here.”
“Okay.” She swallowed and cupped one hand over the other on top of her knee. She had a fresh manicure, a coral shade that almost matched her hair, and the same tiny diamond set in a gold ring that Dad had given her when he proposed. “Well, Emma. We just felt disconnected from you. And hurt.” She glanced at my dad. “Right, Ted? We were hurt. It was like, overnight, you just cut us out of your life, and we couldn’t figure out why.”
I shifted in my seat, irritated with where this conversation was going. Unfortunately, she was correct. I did cut them out of my life. I remember being relieved when I did it, like I was shedding a bad habit and moving forward with a lighter step and renewed purpose. And why? They weren’t like Cash’s mother. They weren’t monsters. They were selfish—like me. Self-absorbed—like me. Stingy and frugal and a little cold in their emotional connection—which wasn’t that different than me. And maybe that’s why dissected myself from them. When I became Emma Blanton, I wanted to be different. I wanted to be interesting and beautiful and not Emma Ripplestine. I wanted to fall in love and be loved and not be that ugly girl from that rundown trailer whose parents didn’t even like her that much.