This is definitely not how I imagined the end when the ruse was finally up. I duck my head and let my hair obscure my face as I push through the hordes of reporters congregating in front of school.
“Em! How did you manage to keep this under wraps for so long?” one particularly pushy man asks, shoving a microphone in my face.
“No comment,” I mumble as I reach the doors. Everyone stares at me as I shuffle past. I can feel their stares, burning holes in the back of my head. I spot Lyle up ahead. Maybe he can cheer me up in the midst of everything that's happened.
“Lyle!” I shout. “Wait up!” He keeps walking as though he didn't hear me. Except for the fact that I know he did since I saw him stiffen at the sound of my voice. I catch up and fall into step beside him. Just as I open my mouth to speak, he cuts me off.
“I just can't do this right now, okay.”
“Wait, what? What do you mean you can't do this right now?” I ask bewildered.
“I need some time to sort everything out.”
“What's there to sort out?”
“You, me, the lies, and secret keeping.”
“I thought you were different, Lyle. I really did. I guess you're just like everybody else though. I know you don't want to hear this but I'm going to tell you anyways. I really liked you, what we had between us was real. I thought, you know what I don't know what I thought. That's why I did this. To have what we did, not to deceive anyone, not to intentionally hurt anyone, especially not you. I did it so I could be normal, have a normal life for a while and get away from all of that out there,” I say gesturing to the crowd accumulating outside the building.
“I'm really sorry it ended up this way, goodbye.” I turn and walk away. He doesn't follow me, but stands watching as the distance between us grows large all because of me. I just wanted to have a normal life for once, I still do. This isn't how it was supposed to end.”
Why me? I think to myself as Cecilia drones on about the movie premiere. Or was it a fashion show? Backstage concert passes? I don't remember. At this point I've stopped paying attention other than smiling, nodding, and politely explaining that I can't do them this favor which inevitably leads them to either hating me or ignoring me. Sometimes that's the only reason people are my “friend.” They think I can get them something they want because of who I am and unfortunately who my mother is.
“Hello? Emerelda? Are you even listening to me?” Cecilia is looking at me hopefully.
“Hmm? Yeah, just remind me what we were last discussing.”
“Okay,” she says so cheerfully it should be a crime this early in the morning before school. “We were talking about the premiere this weekend.” So it was a movie premiere. It also happens to be the one my mother is forcing me to go to this weekend when I would rather be anywhere else…. really anywhere else. Seriously though the couch, a blanket, a good book, and no disguises is how I wanted to spend my weekend until I was informed by my mother that I would accompany her to this premiere. Ugh. It's not even a movie worth seeing. The cliché girl meets a boy who changes her life but he breaks up with her for someone else, then she realizes they weren't right together and falls in love her with best friend who's loved her his entire life. Sound familiar? Yeah my thoughts exactly. It would be one thing if it were an action movie in which people get shot at and there are explosions. There's a new Marvel movie coming out soon that I really want to see, but instead I'm going to a “chick flick.”
“Right,” I respond. “I don't think I can round up any extra tickets for you. Once they've been sent out, it's a done deal. Sorry.”
“I understand,” she admits sullenly, “I just thought if anyone could, it would be you. I just wanted to make my mom’s birthday special.” She looks at me pleading.
“I'm sure you'll come up with something,” I reassure her. “Nice talking to you but I'm late meeting Todd and Sadie.” I put in earbuds and turn up the volume to tune out her reply and discourage anyone else from striking up a conversation with me as I head to meet my friends before class begins.
As I walk towards them, Todd spots me first. He leans over to whisper something in Sadie’s ear, after which she turns to me with wide eyes.
“What happened this time?” she asks.
“Just another favor, Cecilia wanted me to get her tickets to the movie premiere that my mother is forcing me to go to this weekend. I hate it! How they are all nice and suck up to me hoping I’ll get them exclusive concert tickets, movie release tickets, the number of some hot model I ‘must’ know. They all pretend to be my friend and don’t even know the real me!” I rant.
“Then maybe you should let them know the real you,” Todd says.
I sigh, “You know I can’t do that.” When I was younger, I always liked to play dress up or so my mother tells me. After a point, she began to dress me up to look like a little version of her, or the daughter she always wanted. We would go out in public she would always get so many comments about how I “looked just like her” and “wasn’t I just the cutest thing, looking like my mommy.” So rather than letting me live my life the way I want to, instead I get to be Emerelda Lily Joelle, spitting image of my mother. It all started because I take after my dad with light brown/blonde hair and his eyes, which are a light blue with grey around the pupils. My mother, however, has dark brown wavy hair and piercing, bright green eyes. Enter years of wigs, colored contacts, and uncomfortable designer skirts and blouses. By the time I realized what my mother had subjected me to all my life, it was too late to stop. All anyone really sees of me is the image my mother wants them to. As much as I hate that image, I don’t want to be the downfall of her career.
“I just wish I didn’t have to hide behind this identity,” I admit.
“I know sweetheart,” Sadie says consolingly. “That’s what we’re here for!” Todd and Sadie are the only two that know my secret besides my mother, her new husband, and my dad. I eventually told them when I couldn’t take it anymore. Sure, they were surprised at first but understood why I do it. Todd is a firm believer that I should reveal the truth to the world, “screw what everyone thinks.” I don’t have the guts to do that though even if it is what I really want.
I laugh. “Seriously though, if I didn’t have you guys, I genuinely think I would have gone insane by now. Come on! We’re going to be late!”
“Off to another boring, dull, and redundant day in the torture of high school,” Todd laments dramatically, before taking a bow. Sadie and I clap for him. He turns gesturing at all the other students giving us strange looks.
“Thank you folks! I’m here all day!”
“Emerelda? Emerelda Joelle?” the sub asked tentatively as she did roll call since our history teacher was in meetings all morning today.
“I’m here,” I answer glancing up to where she stood at the front of the room. Mrs. Tracline, she said her name was.
“I loved you mom’s last shoot in Cosmopolitan,” she adds as if she just can’t resist it. Of course she’s seen the shoot. At this point who hasn’t?
“Thanks,” I say quietly while looking down at my desk. Sadie reaches over to put her hand over top of mine and squeezes it knowingly. Todd knocks his knee against mine in understanding. Thankfully they get it. The worst part about your mother being famous is the fact that you can’t ever be invisible even when you want it most. All eyes are on you all the time. Todd and Sadie understand as their parents are prominent figures as well. Todd’s dad is a businessman and travels all over the country and world for his job, so whenever he actually is home, they have a family dinner. His mom, Laurie, is a wedding planner. This means she's home more than her husband but not much due to sudden bridal disasters that pop up. You wouldn't believe how many of those happen in a day. Essentially Todd was raised by his older sister, Elsie, from middle school on. When his mom’s business grew and his dad’s product skyrocketed they both began to spend less time at home. Nowadays neither of them are home often or even at the same time.
“Francis Nasmin? Are you here?” our sub asks. I see Sadie grimace at the use of her given name.
She sighs, “I’m here but I don’t use Francis. I go by my middle name, Sadie.” Other than the unfortunate name, Sadie’s family is slightly more normal. Her mom is an editor for many famous authors. She also doesn’t spend much time at home due to long days at the office reading and editing manuscripts as well as scheduling book tours and attending bookstore guest speaker events with various authors. Her dad works from home on his computer and is the one who is usually around for Sadie and her twin brother Reilly. She complains about Reilly a lot but she secretly loves him. Just doesn’t like to admit it.
“Hey, you guys want to come over and hang out after school? I'm going to need it if I'm expected to go to that movie premiere this weekend,” I ask when the sub has finished taking attendance.
“Only if I get to help pick out what you wear,” Sadie agrees.
I turn around. “Todd?”
I smile, “Perfect.”
“Nope the other one was better,” Sadie critiques.
“Are you done yet? You've been doing this forever.” Todd groans and buries his face in the pillow he's holding.
“I'm sorry Todd, but you know I do need to have something to wear to this premiere. Preferably something presentable and mother approved. Plus we all know Sadie has way better style than me.”
The pillow muffles his reply. After ten more minutes of trying on various items in my extensive closet, which if it was up to me would be full of jeans and tee shirts but sadly those only take up a small portion, the rest is filled with designer skirts, dresses, and blouses, we make a decision.
It is a pale pink and purple dress, which ends just above the knee, and is sleeveless with a sheer flowy overlay, lace flowers twine up along the edge giving it a spring faerie like feel.
“Just pair it with some silver flats or heels and earrings and you're good to go. Oh! And you could braid your hair off to the side and weave in some flower hair pieces!” Sadie exclaims excitedly.
Todd picks his head up from the pillow. “Does this mean we can watch a movie or something now?”
I sigh, “Yes Todd we’re done torturing you now.”
“Hallelujah. And nice work Sadie, that's looks really good on you Em.”
Sadie blushes, as she does whenever someone compliments her styling, “Thanks.”
“Seriously, Sadie. You're the best.” I go to hug her but get cut off.
“Watch the outfit! Don't waste all my hard work!” Sadie glares at me.
“Sorry.” I smile sheepishly and put my hands up in a placating gesture. “Hey Todd, how about you pick out a movie and Sadie will join you while I,” I give a pointed look to Sadie, “carefully take off the dress and the rest of my look? Sound good? Perfect. Now shoo.”
“But-” Sadie starts to protest but I cut her off.
“Nope. I'll join you in a couple minutes.” She let's out a huff but doesn't argue and follows Todd out of my room. I'm taking off my contacts when my gaze catches on one particular picture taped to my mirror. It was taken last year during one of my visits to the California coast to see my dad, Chris Sayler.
My parents met 19 years ago, when my mother was 22 and my dad was 26. She always visited his favorite beach while he was surfing. He noticed my mother immediately because she was different from her friends he said. The only reason she went was because her friends wanted to sunbathe and watch the surfers. He claimed she always looked bored so he was determined to make her notice him. My dad would pull out his best moves on a surfboard. Surprisingly none of them worked though because she was always lost in thought not watching the show like her friends were. Finally one day my dad had had enough so while my mother was walking along the edge of the water, he surfed right up in front of her and introduced himself. After that she returned to the beach to watch him and they began dating.
Naturally he was both shocked and at the same time not when he found out she was a model. He'd never really payed attention to that type of stuff and hadn’t recognized her. Somehow they made it work and were married a year later. My dad said that they married early on because they didn't want to spend a minute apart. Whatever the reason they really did love each other.
My mother’s parents weren't thrilled about the fact that my dad wasn't from a rich family but they supported their daughter’s decision. They were happy for a while together. I was born about a year into their marriage and gradually things got worse. I was 10 when they got divorced. Over time they got sick of each other. My dad hated the fact that my mother didn't spend as much time at home as she should since she had a young daughter. And my mother wanted my dad to get off her case and let her live her life and do her job. I do remember that in the six months before they separated they fought a lot when they thought I wasn't close enough to hear, not paying attention, or not listening.
The divorce ensued with a custody battle over me. Of course my mother won and moved me across the country as far away from my dad as possible. I'm allowed to see him for a week three times per year. No it's not fair but those were the terms my mother set during the trial.
My parents continued on with their lives. My mother still modeling, meaning I had a lot of babysitters and my dad opened a water equipment business where he could introduce people to the world he loves so much.
He remarried a year after the divorce to a woman named Tammy Kennon. She's super sweet and nice. She welcomed me with open arms when I visited their new home. Now six years later, they have a 5 year old son named Benny and a border collie named Mackie.
My mother remarried a year later as well, to Don Sigmore. Thankfully he isn't home all that much meaning I don't have to see him often. Usually he's somewhere exotic doing who knows what for his business. Needless to say I'm not his biggest fan.
“Em!! You coming? The movie’s up!” Todd shouts.
I holler back, “I'm coming! Don't start without me!” I take one last look at the photo before joining my friends on the couch in the living room.
We laugh, joke, and just hang out which definitely helps take my mind off the impending movie premiere tomorrow. But after they leave I go to bed dreading the day to come.
The sharp sound of my alarm pierces the silence, jolting me awake. I roll over and groan before hitting the snooze button. I must have forgotten to turn it off last night since today is Saturday and I don't need to get up for school. I close my eyes and burrow deeper beneath my blankets, causing me to fall back asleep.
Two hours later I open my eyes feeling as though I've forgotten about something important. Except there isn't anything going on-
“Dammit!” I say and groan. “How could I have forgotten about this,” I put my head in my hands. Tonight I have to go to the premiere with my mother, which means she's home and I get to deal with her critiquing and polite suggestions again. I was really enjoying the quiet for the last couple days.
As if on cue, I hear her bedroom door open and her footsteps on the stairs that signals she's heading down to the kitchen. I sigh and fall back into my bed knowing that I'll have to get up soon and face the day. Maybe this time will be different. Right? It has to be.
After mustering up the courage, I walk down the stairs to find my mother, without a hair out of place, sitting at the counter. It should be physically impossible for anyone to wake up looking like that but, of course, Celia Joelle defies the rules.
“Hi Mother,” I say as I walk over to the cabinet for a plate. “How was your shoot?”
“Divine. Did I tell you it was in the Cook Islands?” she fawns.
I murmur under my breath, “Only about a hundred times.”
“What was that?”
“Nothing. I said it sounds amazing.”
“Oh it was, you really should have come.”
I gape at her, “I have school remember?” She shrugs and frowns at the waffles that I've stacked into a tower on my plate and am now drowning in syrup.
I raise my eyebrow, challenging her to comment. “Something wrong?”
“No of course not. It's nothing.” I turn back to the fridge for the whipped cream when she speaks again.
“It's just, are you sure you want to eat all that? What about some yogurt and granola?”
I sigh. I knew it wouldn't take long for her to find something to criticize. If it's not my appetite then it's always something else.
“Yes Mother. I want to eat this and plan to. Thank you for your concern though.” I give her a tight smile and carry my plate and cup out on the balcony to eat my breakfast in peace and call Sadie.
Sadie answers on the first ring. “I win, coffee’s on you next time.”
“Damn. How long did it take this time?”
“Five minutes after I got out of bed,” I sigh. “I was being judged on the stack of waffles residing on my plate under a sea of syrup and whipped cream.”
“Really? That's the battle she chose?” Sadie scoffs, “She should have at least picked one that she had a shot at winning. Anyone who knows you knows that you are perpetually hungry and eat like a pig.”
“I'm not sure that was a compliment, but I'm going to take it as one. I guess it goes to show how much my mother really knows me,” I shovel more waffles into my mouth. “This premiere is going to be painful.”
“I have no idea what you just said but I'm guessing it was something along the lines of the premiere being not fun later.”
I nod, before realizing that she can't see me and swallowing to voice my agreement. I hang up and manage to avoid my mother for the rest of the day up until about an hour before we leave.
“Emerelda! Are you ready yet?” I hear from downstairs.
I yell back, “We don’t need to leave yet! I’ll be ready on time, don’t worry!” That seems to satisfy her for the time being but I’m sure she’ll be on my case again in 5-10 minutes. I put down the lipstick tube and survey my handiwork. When I’m finished I really will echo a spring deity, with my dress, flowers woven into my hair, and my makeup in pastels to compliment my dress. And then I’ll play my part just as usual, the happy, loving daughter of a world famous model.
Once I am done, I fasten one last piece around my neck. The old key on a chain doesn’t exactly go with the rest of the look but it will be tucked into my dress so it doesn’t matter. My dad gave it to me years ago. I don’t know where it came from but I loved it from the moment I first saw it. It keeps me grounded and provides comfort during events like this. I never go to one without it, not that anyone knows that though. I always keep it tucked into my shirt or outfit at the time. This necklace is one of the few constant elements in my life and I have a feeling I’m going to need its familiar weight around my neck for tonight.
When I walk down the stairs, my mother exclaims, “You look beautiful honey!” Well at least that’s what I wished had happened. In reality, she looked me once over and nodded approvingly before going back to whatever she was looking at on her phone before I walked down. I sigh and head towards the elevator that leads to the lobby where I’m sure there is a limo waiting to escort us through the busy streets of New York City in style.
She calls out to me just as I reach the elevator, “Oh, and Emerelda…. Just remember that this is a very prestigious event with lots of press coverage-”
I cut her off, “Yes, play the part as usual. Again, Mother, I have been doing this for quite some time now. I know the drill. You don’t have to worry about me embarrassing you.” I close the elevator doors behind me, not wanting to hear her reply. I sag against the wall as soon as the doors close, letting out a deep sigh. I’m already exhausted and I’m not even at the premiere yet.
The flash of the cameras blinds me as I get out of the limo with a smile that couldn’t be more fake pasted on my face. The noise of the paparazzi and the raging fans is deafening to my ears but somehow I manage to block most of it out, as what my mother said keeps playing over and over in my head.
We hadn’t been in the car 5 minutes when my mother began grilling me about school. Except it wasn’t your normal, “How are your grades? Classes? Teachers?” No, because while my grades matter to me, my mother would rather hear about the drama, gossip, and social scene of the academy.
“So, Emerelda, tell me how’s your junior year going? Any juicy details? Are you the queen, with everyone looking up to you?” she asked, breaking the silence that I had been enjoying. I just raised one eyebrow and gave her an incredulous look.
She shrugged, “What? You can’t blame a mother for being curious.”
“No,” I sigh. “No drama or gossip, at least that I know of. Then again I try to stay as far away from that kind of stuff as possible. And I am most definitely not the queen or most popular. I have no desire to be and think the whole thing is quite stupid.” That was not the right answer.
“What! How can you not care? Don’t you want the satisfaction of knowing that everyone looks up to you as a role model?” my mother counters.
I grimace, “No. I would rather be invisible. It’s exhausting keeping up an image for everyone to see.”
“Well, you are definitely your father’s daughter. I think you might like it if you try it though,” she snaps, as if it hurts to say. The way she said it continues to plague me as I smile for the camera and answer questions with fake enthusiasm.
“Emerelda!” a short, persistent female reporter calls out as I am climbing the steps into the theater. “What’s it like to be Lucille Joelle’s daughter? Do you two go to shoots together? Have mother daughter shopping trips?”
“Well, actually-” I begin but my response gets cut off by my mother.
“Oh, absolutely! We have so much fun when I’m not on location and she’s not at school,” she proceeds to launch into a lengthy explanation of all the things we do together, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I just smile and nod until I can politely escape without making a scene.
Once inside, I stalk off in the opposite direction of my mother and find a seat between an older gentleman with his granddaughter and a girl not much older than I am with a guy who must be her boyfriend based on the possessive well-manicured hand she placed on his arm when I sat down.
Thankfully, neither group tries to make conversation with me, sensing my mood, as I am probably not doing very well hiding it. I don’t pay attention to a word that is said on screen. All that I can think about is the disappointment on my mother’s face when she realized I’m not like she was in high school.
As soon as the end credits roll onto the screen, I bolt out of my seat intending to stew alone in the limo until my mother is ready to leave. In my rush to leave, I crash headfirst into a girl who appears to be my age.
“I’m so sorry!” I exclaim. “Are you okay? I guess in my hurry to get out of here, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.”
“That’s okay,” the stranger laughs, “I clearly wasn’t watching either. I’m Becca by the way. Becca Oraci.”
I smile and offer my hand. “Pleasure. I’m Emerelda. Emerelda Joelle.”
She takes my hand and smiles warmly, “As nice as it was to meet you, I’m afraid I have to go. I’m late meeting my agent and really would like to avoid her wrath at all costs.
“Of course. I understand. Sorry about that.” She waves while walking away, which I return. I make it to the limo with no more incidents and refuse to speak to my mother on the way back to the apartment, feigning exhaustion.
The first thing I do when I arrive is change into sweats and call my dad. He answers just before I go to voicemail.
“Em! I’m so glad you called! How’s life in NY?” I can sense the genuine smile on his face in his voice over the phone.
“It just got better that’s for sure.” I already feel some of my anger fading away, talking to my dad always cheers me up. “I just got back from a movie premiere with my mother and well… I’m sick of the lies and secrets. Today it was about mother daughter bonding time. She always tells the press what they want to hear not the truth.” I rant about all of my feelings on the matter.
It’s a few minutes before he speaks again, “I’m sorry, honey. I wish there was something more I could do about it. Have you told her how your feel?”
“I know, thanks anyways. And yes, I’m pretty sure she knows how I feel.” I groan, “Why can’t I just come live with you and Tammy in California? Life would be so much easier.”
“You know that I want that just as much as you do, but if taken to court your mother would probably win if I sued for custody of you,” my dad admits.
“I know, but it doesn’t change how I feel,” I relent. The next thing he says surprises me.
“How about I come out there to visit for a week?”
“Yes!” My dad laughs at my enthusiasm. “That would be awesome!”
“Alright, I’ll book my ticket and see you soon. Love you.”
“Love you too.” I add before hanging up. I’m so excited. This is just what I needed to list my spirits.