Page 69 of The F List

“Who’s the dick in the Maserati?”

I didn’t turn, because it couldn’t be her. Instead, I stayed in place, my back to the voice, and watched Trevor, whose eyebrows hit the top of his forehead and stayed there.

“Wow,” Paul spoke from the kitchen. “Let me guess. You’re Emma.”

“Unfortunately.”

I turned, and my features didn’t know what to do, my mouth scrambling to find a position that wasn’t a smile. I ended up with a grimace of sorts, one that seemed to feed the wary look in her eyes.

She was in white shorts and a baby blue tank top, her blonde hair down and pulled back by a giant pair of sunglasses that sat on top of her hair. Her eyes were bloodshot, her face pale, and she looked like I felt. Exhausted and, in a sea of people, alone.

“I didn’t do anything with Wesley other than be his friend.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I know.”

“And I never asked him about you. I—”

“You know, I’m gonna head out.” Trevor snapped the recliner shut and stood, tucking his laptop under one arm. He squeezed past me and headed for the kitchen. He passed Paul, who looked from Emma to me, then back at Emma.

“Yeah. Uh. I can’t really leave because I got manicotti in the oven, but I’m going to head out to the backyard for a smoke break, if that’s cool.”

I nodded and didn’t look away from her. “Why were you there?”

“Initially?” She moved closer until the couch was the only thing between us. “I wanted to see Wesley. What kind of conditions he was living in. What he was like. I was curious.”

A protective bolt of anger surged through me. “He’s not a carnival attraction, Emma.”

“I know that!” Her forehead pinched together. “But I didn’t know anything about him the first time I went to the Ranch. Part of it was just selfish curiosity. Part of me was concerned about him. And I thought if I could see your brother locked away—then maybe I could hate you for it. And if I could hate you for something legitimate, then maybe I wouldn’t love you.” Her lips pinched together, and she blinked rapidly, then inhaled.

“You didn’t know me,” I said. “You couldn’t love me.”

“I didn’t love you.” She shook her head fiercely. “I didn’t. But I did love the idea of you. You were…” she looked to the left, toward the kitchen and paused, wiping underneath one eye with the back of her hand. “You were like, the guy. The guy that I had always yearned for. The guy in high school who everyone worships, and he just smiles at you for one stupid moment, and then you’re his. You… I loved your mom. I loved the idea of her, and the idea of you, and this life you lead, and that’s why people follow you, you know? It’s because they want so desperately to be a part of your world. They want you to like just one of their comments. Or to show them just one stupid and insignificant piece of your life. I get it because I am them. And when I was at the Ranch, and I saw Wes—I had to say something to him. I had to sit down with him. It was wrong, and it was stupid, but it was the closest I would ever get to you, and I craved that one tiny moment. That connection.”

“No.” I squeezed the back of my neck in frustration. “That’s bullshit, Emma. Because we’d had lunch at Frenchy’s and before that, we’d met at my party. You didn’t have to—”

“I didn’t know that you recognized me at the party.” She took a step back and embarrassment flooded her face. “My teeth—”

“You were just as pretty back then, you just didn’t have the confidence.”

She massaged the tips of her fingers into her eyes with a groan, then dropped them with a sigh.

“Okay, yes—I’d seen you at the party, and yes—I’d had a horrific date with you at Frenchy’s. And I went to the Ranch to find a reason to hate you but visited with Wesley because a part of me was crushing on you. And then…”—she searched for the right words—”he was just, so freaking pure. So simple and good, and he looked at me as if I was a good person. And Cash… no one had looked at me like that in a really long time. Honestly, the last person who looked at me like that was you—at that party—and that moment almost broke me, but with Wesley, it was like it healed me. Like maybe I didn’t have to be this hateful person online just to get followers. Like maybe other people would see what he saw.” Her shoulders lifted limply, almost in surrender. “So I went back to the Ranch again. And again. Not for any reason other than because I loved spending time with him. And it made him happy, and it made me happy, and that was it.”

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