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“Cheeseburgers!” I shout at the top of my lungs.
Jessie pulls me through the club, shoving people out of the way. “Move, people! We’re getting cheeseburgers!”
“CHEESEBURGERS!” I shout again, but few hear me over the thumping of music and drumming of feet against the dance floor.
Everything goes dark, and I realize my eyes are closed. I take a sip of my drink and giggle as mystery shoulders rub against mine and Jessie’s grip tightens on my hand.
“Em!” she calls. Her voice sounds miles away. “Wake up, babe!”
“I’m awake,” I mumble, then open my eyes to find us walking past the bar toward the exit.
“Hey,” a cute girl by the bar calls. “Are you Emmy King?”
I do a curtsy and smile. “Indeed I am. And what is thy name, fair maiden?”
Jessie snakes an arm around my waist. “Uh-oh,” she says. “That’s Outlander talk. You’ve officially reached peak drunkenness.”
The girl at the bar holds her phone out. “Can I have a selfie with you?”
I stumble toward her and take her phone. “Aye, t’would be my most high pleasure.”
“Um,” the girl says. “What?”
Jessie laughs. “She means yes.”
I start taking photos with her phone, sticking my tongue out and blowing kisses and crossing my eyes and giving the finger, but Jessie snatches the phone away and gives it back to the girl.
“C’mon, Em,” Jessie says. “I’m starving.” She takes my hand and pulls me away. We’ve been dating for almost six months, but she still gets a tad protective when fans pay me a lot of attention. It’s kind of cute seeing her freckled nose scrunch up like that when she’s jealous.
I bow to the girl, spilling some of my drink. “Fare thee well, my sweet, for I musteth findeth cheeseburgers, lest I waste away from hunger. My heart doth long for the day we may meet again!”
We walk through the dining area and I spot Alfie and Ryan in a booth in the corner. I give them my widest grin. Alfie Jones and Ryan Cho are my two bestest buds in the whole universe. And they’re my bandmates. I get to rock out all around the world with my two fave people and get paid for it. Hashtag blessed.
Still grinning, I reach a hand out to Alfie as we pass. He takes it and stands.
“Where are you off to?” he says in my ear.
“CHEESEBURGERS!” I yell, and he laughs.
“I should have known,” he says.
My best friend, Chloe, is dancing their butt off in the middle of the club. I wave to them and mouth that I’m leaving. They blow me a kiss, and I pretend to catch it.
Jessie pulls on my hand and I wobble off-balance, but Alfie steadies me.
“Whoa,” he says. “You okay, Em?”
I nod. But then my stomach lurches, and I groan.
Alfie takes one look at me and furrows his brow. He taps Jessie’s arm to get her attention.
“I think Em’s gonna be sick,” he says. I shake my head slowly even though they’re not looking at me.
Jessie rolls her eyes. “She’s fine.”
“Nah,” he says. “She’s doing that face she always does before she voms.”
They both look at me, and I smile, but it’s delayed and lopsided.
Jessie sighs and pulls me closer to her. “Em,” she says sternly. “Are you gonna hurl?”
I shake my head and pout. She gives Alfie a look that says told you so and turns to keep walking.
And then I barf all over the floor.
People around us jump away from me, shrieking in disgust, but I’m too drunk to care. I buckle over and heave again. Jessie stands over me, laughing and holding my hair, while Alfie takes my drink and rubs my back.
I stare at the puke-covered floor and laugh. “It’s blue.”
“It’s from the cocktails,” Jessie says.
Flashes of light hurt my eyes, and Alfie tries to cover the lenses of people’s phones as they take pictures of me. Ryan joins him, spreading his arms wide to cover me.
“Let’s get you some air,” Alfie says.
With one arm around Jessie and one around Alfie, I stumble to the door of the club.
Jessie takes a moment to fix my hair, tucking some behind my left ear and letting the right side of my bleach-blond lob hang forward.
“Remember,” she says. “Act neutral. And sober.”
* * *
Neutral. That’s how we block the paparazzi. No weird facial expressions, no smiles, no frowns, nothing for them to use to spin fictional tales of our lives.
“Neutral,” I say, nodding. I take her hand, and she opens the door to the busy West Hollywood street.
Immediately, paparazzi start yelling questions at me and sticking cameras in my face. I shield my eyes.
“Em! Emmy! Hey, Em!” they shout. I keep my gaze on my blurred feet, focusing as hard as I can so that I don’t trip or stumble in front of them.
“What are you and your gal pal up to tonight?”
“Is Jessie your girlfriend?”
“Have you been drinking?”
“Aren’t you underage, Em?”
“Are you going back to your place to continue partying?”
Alfie steps in between us and the cameras. They start pestering him instead. It’s like I’ve disappeared. I keep my head down, letting my hair fall in front of my face.
“Hey, Alfie, did you get lucky in the club tonight?”
“What do you think about your ex being spotted with that basketball player?”
“Where’s Ryan tonight?”
“Yeah, where’s Ryan? Is there trouble in Brightsiders paradise?”
Meanwhile, it’s taking all my brainpower just to put one foot in front of the other. I hold my breath like it’s going to help me walk straighter. One stumble is all it could take for me to land on tomorrow’s front pages.
Ryan emerges from the club, carrying a bottle of water. He catches up with us as we power-walk to the car and the questions start flying his way, too.
“Hey, Ryan!” a photographer says. “Where you headed, man?”
“You happy to see Strange Welcome still topping all the charts?”
The four of us ignore the interrogation and climb into Jessie’s Range Rover, and I’m impressed with how well I did pretending to be sober.
“Alfie,” Jessie says, turning to him from the driver’s seat as he and Ryan climb into the back. “What are you doing?”
“Cheeseburgers,” he says.
“Same,” Ryan adds.
I laugh because cheeseburgers suddenly sounds like the funniest word in the history of all words.
“Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezzze…,” I say. “Buuuuuurrrrgerrrrrrrr zzzzzzzuuuuuhhhhhhh!”
Alfie and Ryan cackle. Jessie glances at me, but I’m too far gone to understand what she’s trying to communicate with me.
“Do you three have to do literally everything together?” she asks with big puppy-dog eyes. “Just because you’re a band doesn’t mean you have to follow each other around twenty-four-seven.”
“Hey,” Ryan says, handing me the bottle of water. “We’re friends. Friends hang out.”
I take a long gulp of the water, hoping I can keep it down.
“Can’t me and Em have a night to ourselves?” Jessie asks.
Paparazzi surround us, sticking their lenses right up to the windows.
“Can we go, please?” I ask. “I don’t feel so good. They can’t see me throw up.”
Jessie crosses her arms over her chest, pouting. “Why can’t we just be alone? Just the two of us.”
“You two spend tons of time together,” Ryan argues. “We hardly saw Em all summer.”
Alfie leans forward between the seats, a smile on his face so the cameras don’t know we’re fighting. “You’re not seriously going to kick us out?” he asks.
Ryan groans. “You’re going to leave us to the wolves out there?”
I stroke Jessie’s shoulder. “Why are you mad? It’s only Alfie and Ry. Let’s just go. We can drop them home and have together time. It’s cheeseburger time!” I drum my hands on the dashboard, but stop when a gross burp seeps out of me. “We need to go. Don’t make me spew all over you.”
“No,” she says, then looks at them in the rearview mirror. “Get out.”
“What the hell?” Alfie asks.
Ryan shakes his head. “You know kicking us out in front of everyone is going to start a billion rumors about the band breaking up, right?”
She shrugs. “I could care less.”
I giggle. “Thy mean thy couldn’t care less. Saying thy could care less means that thy doth care. Thou thinks thy doths care a lot.”
Alfie laughs. “Wow, you really are wasted.”
“Thus!” I say, springing upright in the passenger seat. “Hence! Why we should leaveth, lest the treacherous paparazzi uncover mine drunkenness.”
Jessie leans back against her seat.
Alfie sighs. “Fine. Fuck you, too.”
Before I can tell them to stay, Alfie and Ryan force their way out of the car and disappear into a sea of flashes and questioning.
“Whyyyyy?” I moan, resting my head on the seat. “Why did you do that?”
Jessie starts the engine and smiles at me like nothing happened. “I just wanna be alone with you, babe.”
I pull out my phone and text Alfie and Ryan.
ALFIE: not your fault
RYAN: All good, Em. Good luck not vomming!
ALFIE: drink lots of water:)
Jessie toots her horn at the photographers standing in front of her car before making a sharp turn onto the road.
“Huh,” she says, glancing in her mirrors. “The paps are following us.” I think I see a hint of a smile on her face, but maybe my vision is just blurry.
I turn in my seat to look out the rear window. Jessie slams on the brakes, the tires screeching across the asphalt. The Range Rover spins and skids to a halt, the force knocking me off my seat and into the dashboard.
“Shit!” Jessie cries, punching the steering wheel.
I rub my back where it hit the dash. “Ow.”
Other cars in the intersection toot their horns at us, and then something hits us from behind. It slams into us so hard that our car moves forward into the middle of the intersection. We scream as another car skids to a stop just feet away from my side of the Range Rover.
I jump out of the car and immediately throw up. My arms and legs tremble from the shock, and when I wipe my mouth I see blood smeared across my hand.
Jessie runs around the car to reach me, taking me by the shoulders. “Em? Are you … Oh shit, your nose is bleeding.” She lifts my chin to dip my head back and pinches the bridge of my nose. It takes a second for me to realize it hurts, and I swat her hand away from my face.
“Owwww.” I lightly touch my nose. “I think it’s broken.”
More cars pull up, and the same group of photographers jump out and run toward us, filming video and taking pictures. Jessie unleashes her wrath on them.
“Get the fuck out of here, you vultures!” she screams. “I’ll call the police on you! I’ll have you arrested! What kind of people see a car accident and take photos to sell instead of helping the victims?”
“Jess!” I call. “Stop!”
I can taste blood in my mouth.
“Victim?” one of the photographers says to Jessie, laughing. “Doll, you’re the one who’s about to be arrested if you’ve been drinking.”
Jessie’s hands fly up to her mouth, and then she throws a punch at him, missing completely. Sirens sound in the distance, and within minutes police cars arrive in a flash of blue-and-red lights.
The last thing I see before I pass out is Jessie swearing at the police while they handcuff her.
So much for neutral.
Copyright © 2018 by Jen Wilde