For the first time, I didn’t skimp on the shampoo or turn off the water in between rinse cycles. This time, I took my time and let myself dream.
For the first time ever, I had options. Every option. I could disappear. I could reinvent myself. I could have the life, any life, that I wanted.
EMMA: 849 FOLLOWERS
I thought, foolishly enough, that with money came friends. And it could, in the right way, buy a certain amount of interaction. But fame was the real draw. In Los Angeles, everyone wanted to know someone famous. I learned that from Vidal Franklin. I learned everything from Vidal Franklin.
“Take what you know, honey. All of it. Take it and throw it out the window.” Vidal was porcelain white and bald, with eyelashes so thick they looked fake. “You know nothing, understand?”
“Sure.” I nodded, because when you pay someone ten thousand dollars a month, you listen to them. And, Vidal was right. I knew nothing.
“Now, on the phone you said that you wanted to be an actress. Why?” He had a coffee cup set before him, the lid off, upside down, and placed meticulously to one side. His long fingers pinched a silver spoon and stirred the contents, which already had four sugars and one cream.
Why did I want to be an actress? I struggled with the truth—money, fame, adoration—and some less vapid motivations, none of which came to mind. “Umm… I like to act.”
“Are you good at it?” He cocked one pierced brow, and he was intimidatingly beautiful. Impressive bone structure. A perfect complexion.
“Well…” I shifted in the seat. “I think so?”
“You’re not good at it.” He shook his head, and I got a whiff of his cologne.
“No. If you were good, you wouldn’t have a question mark at the end of that sentence. And in this town, hot white girls with some acting talent are everywhere. Leave this coffee shop, and you’ll trip over one on your way out.”
Hot white girls. Was that what I was now? Was I, with a new haircut, spray tan and fixed teeth, suddenly hot? I held my breath and hoped desperately that it was true. It would mean a peek at a world I’d never known, one where I could smile at someone without them flinching, walk into a room without my guard up, and be flirted with, minus the cruel punchline.
“Here’s what we have.” He took the empty sugar packets and lined them up in a row in front of his cup. “We have money. We have fame. We have celebrity.” He stabbed each packet as he spoke. “And then we have talent.” He moved the fourth packet away from the others. “Talent is something I can’t teach you. You either have it, or you don’t, and there’s a big difference between pretending to be something you aren’t—which is something that we all do every single day—and acting out a role on camera. So let’s talk about these other things. Money, fame, and celebrity. Those, I can get you, but it’s going to require that you trust me implicitly and give me a full year.”
I looked at the three sugar packets and tried to figure out what, out of everything, I really wanted. “I don’t have a lot of money.” A million dollars had seemed like so much money initially. Then, after state and federal taxes, three dental surgeries and tooth implants, plus a year of guilt-free living, I was down to just over four hundred thousand dollars. At ten thousand dollars a month, a year with Vidal would take a sizable chunk out of that.
“Look at me.” He placed a hand over mine, his touch warm and comforting. “LOOK at me.”
“Do you want to be somebody? Because I can make it so that every person on this earth knows Emma Rippensky’s name.”
“It’s a horrible name,” he said dismissively. “But go ahead and answer the question. Do you want to be somebody?”
I warmed at the words and nodded.
“Then you’ve got to trust me. You found me because you needed me. Let me help you become famous.”
It’s really sad to say, especially now, with everything that ended up happening, but I fell a little bit in love with him at that moment. Because that was my moment. When Emma Ripplestine died a quiet death—and Emma Blanton was born.
It wasn’t a bad death. It was quiet. Unobserved. No one even noticed I was gone.
“She was Emma Ripplestink or something like that when she came to me. That was one of the first things we changed. You can fix a lot of things, but there’s no point in trudging uphill against a bad name. So we changed it to Emma Blanton. It had a nice ring, and was easy to spell and to remember. Plus, it sounded rich.”