But how could I say that? I couldn’t, especially not with the camera on, this moment captured in crystal clear 4k.
I swallowed. “I needed a fresh start and—”
“And you were ashamed of us,” my dad finished. “Right? We didn’t fit into your new image?”
“I wasn’t ashamed of you. We were crafting a narrative, and it didn’t include a backstory.”
“Well, even if you didn’t want to plaster our photos all over your social media, you could have still called us each week.” My mom brushed her bangs to one side, and she was right. I could have talked to them each week, but what would I have said? I couldn’t have told them what I was doing. The dental surgeries, the dialect classes, the clothes… they would have ridiculed me. They would have picked apart each of my actions and made me feel selfish and guilty for them.
And maybe they should have. All of this was an extremely shallow and one-sided quest. I sank deeper into the chair. Five minutes with them, and I already felt like garbage.
The sliding glass door squeaked along the track, and I sighed, turning as Cash stepped in, his gaze warily moving over the room and assessing the situation. He found me, and something warmed in his eyes. He smiled.
I thought of him at the movie awards, scowling as he stood up and practically stomped down the aisle of seats.
Him doubled over in mock laughter at the thought of me competing with him.
Our first fake date, the moment he leaned over and called me white trash.
I hammered the images into my heart, trying to wedge them in between my organs to stop the warm goo that was spreading across my chest. How had so much changed in the last four weeks? And how was I supposed to hold my own against a smile and look like that?
My mother stood and oh-no-no-no I didn’t want this to happen. “You must be Cash.” She stuck her hand out, fingers down, as if she expected it to be kissed. “I’m Tonya.”
He gave it an awkward shake, then turned to my father.
“Sir? I’m Cash Mitchell. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Ted Ripplestine.” My dad stood, shook his hand, then adjusted his belt and retucked in parts of his shirt. “You’re dating Emma?”
Cash nodded. “I am.” He glanced at me and winked. I looked away and tried not to surrender to that weak part of me that was still madly crushing on him. This was a battlefield. Me and my parents, fighting over him. I had to stay strong and focused and play some serious defense.
“It’s about time Emma got a boyfriend.” My dad settled back down and picked up his glass tumbler. I glanced toward the crew and wondered how long they had been feeding my parents alcohol. “You know, there was a period when we thought she might like the ladies.”
“Oh, Ted.” My mom giggled, and I looked for her drink, then found it by her original spot on the couch. A vodka tonic, if I had to guess, a lipstick print on the glass. “She was just a slow bloomer. What were you, Emma, sixteen before you started wearing a bra?”
I ignored the question. How long, contractually, did this hell have to last? An episode was twenty-two minutes. A half-hour would give them plenty of fodder to work with. And it had been a least… I glanced at my watch. Four minutes. How the hell had I only been here for four minutes?
“I can see where Emma gets her beauty from.” Cash sat on the wide arm of my chair and put his hand on my shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.
“Oh, please,” my mom sputtered, but I could see how she warmed under the comment.
“It’s an exotic beauty that you both have. Where is your family heritage from?”
“Well, French mostly.” My mother preened, literally smoothing down her hair, and her nose rose in the air. “And some Italian. Ted is actually a little Native American. Emma got some college money, though I don’t know how they proved that. I think there’s a registry of sorts for that kind of thing.”
The window of time before my mother said something offensive was rapidly closing, especially with this vein of conversation. I jumped in with the one thing guaranteed to distract my mother.
“Cash’s mother is an actress.”
“Oh, really?” She mused, skeptical. “Anything I would have seen?”
“Not lately.” Cash’s hand stiffened along my back, and he probably hated talking about his mother as much as I hated being around my own. Too bad. We were going to suffer through this damn thing together. “It’s been a few years since she had anything—”
“His mom is Jocelyn Mitchell,” I interrupted. “From Beverly Hills.”
My mother straightened. “You mean, Adel Berkshire?” All the color blanched from her face. “That’s… that’s your mother?” Her hand, which had been pushing up the right sleeve of her cardigan, stalled.