She walks over, embraces a board-stiff Melissa first, and then kisses Rusty on both cheeks. Carey and I stare at the three of them like we’re watching a grenade with the pin pulled free. The room is filling with people with Instagram and Twitter locked and loaded on their phones, and who’d love to drop that they’re hanging out backstage with the Tripps!
To her credit and my unending shock, Melissa manages to slap on a gracious smile and let out a thrilled “Stephanie! Oh, my goodness, what are you doing here, silly? What a surprise!”
Carey sidles up next to me, tucking her hands beneath her crossed arms. “Holy shit. This is bonkers.”
“It’s like watching a car sail off a cliff,” I agree.
“I was really hoping the shit wouldn’t hit the fan at the second tour stop,” Carey hisses, glancing to where Melissa and Stephanie chat like they’re old friends catching up after months, instead of secret enemies who saw each other less than a week ago. “What is she doing here anyway?”
“She doesn’t know that Melissa knows,” I remind her. “In Stephanie’s mind, she’s just one friend popping in on two others. Not a—”
I glance down to see her already smiling up at me. My blood heats at her proximity and the glint in her eyes that I know comes from being exhausted and stressed but translates as fuck-it-all mischievousness. Holy shit. I like her.
“That nicely sums it up.” I turn back to the two women. “So what do we do? Melissa is a mess with or without the backstabbing asshole, and there’s a room full of people out there and a lot more of these events to come.”
“First,” she says, “we have to keep her off the review sites. I’ll set up a blacklist of words to mute on Twitter and compile all of our four- and five-star reviews. If I give her a new list every day, it should be enough to keep her ego going.”
“And second?” I ask.
“Second?” she says, and then exhales as we both watch Rusty walk back over to the snack table, and catch Stephanie eyeing him like there might be time for a quick round of Hide the Hammer. “Second, we keep those two away from each other and just … hope the creek don’t rise.”
Even though I’ve never heard that phrase in my life, I know exactly what she’s saying.
It’s a tall order, but Carey’s intervention and Rusty’s hug appear to have scraped together a little team spirit: Melissa seems determined to keep it together. Walking behind Stephanie, Melissa smiles brightly at everyone she passes. It looks like Rusty is doing his part as well, and has a guiding hand pressed against his wife’s lower back as he walks beside her. Carey and I bring up the rear, and it’s only from this angle that you’d notice Rusty’s only touching his wife with his fingertips, like he’s rationing out how much physical contact he’s going to deliver.
With every step I think, I could just turn around and walk out of here and not come back. I could start over, work as an entry-level engineer somewhere in Omaha, Topeka, Sioux Falls. I’d have to live on instant ramen and roll pennies to pay for gas, but would that be worse than this?
I’m ripped from this internal debate when we stop just at the edge of the bookstore floor. There are streamers and balloons, and posters of the New Life, Old Love cover everywhere. The crowd erupts in a deafening cheer when the Tripps step inside, and then loses it again when they see the bonus appearance of Stephanie Flores, who gives a humble little wave and indicates she’ll be standing in the back, a simple fan just like the rest of them.
“Thank you so much for joining us tonight,” Amy says by way of introduction. “This has been quite a ride for you two, hasn’t it? I hear you’re traveling by bus?”
On cue, Melissa and Rusty share a fond look.
“Yes!” she sings. “A big, beautiful bus.” She’s careful to smile and make eye contact with individual members of the audience, and it’s easy to see why millions of women feel like they know her.
“But even a big bus can feel really small when you’re traveling with an entire team of people,” she continues with a self-deprecating smile. “Let’s just say I’m going to be better about picking up my shoes when I need to.”
“I almost went to the emergency room! They’ll tell you!” Rusty says, pointing to the back of the room where Carey, Joe, and I—their team—stand. We all shrug and play along with this fictional moment. The audience eats it up. They leave their shoes on the floor! They’re just like us!
The next question comes from a twentysomething woman in the back of the room. “Do you remember the first window display you ever did that made someone come in and say, ‘That. I want that’?” she asks.
And without waiting for his wife to reply, Rusty looks to the back of the room again and says, “What was that first window you did, Carey-girl? The dining room one, right?”
Carey stiffens at my side as the entire room swivels in their seats to look at her. Silence swallows the space, because the way he cut Melissa out of this recollection is palpably awkward. When I take in Carey’s horrified expression, I realize that this is definitely more than easy Team Tripp banter: Rusty has just dropped a bomb in the middle of the bookstore.
Vic @aCurlieee_doll • July 8
Ummm did anyone else hear the rumor that Rusty Tripp is banging his costar?
19 replies 39 retweets 194 likes
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@aCurlieee_doll SHUT UPPP I REFUSE
@Jeseylovesshoes I just spent an hour on a reddit thread written by someone who was at their event. “They were in a back room and not even speaking—and that was before the side piece showed up. They got it together but there was an ~edge”
@aCurlieee_doll SHE SHOWED UP? Wow wow wow the balls on that one
@aCurlieee_doll ok troll. There’s no way. Have you seen them together? Relationship goals.
@aCurlieee_doll holy shit did Melissa lose her mind?
@aCurlieee_doll @Wide_eyedbitchy90 I heard that Rusty wants out and melly isn’t having it. Why would she? The endorsement deals alone. They make so much money it’d be best for her to look the other way. people would be pissssed if it all turned out to be a sham. Imagine their sponsors
@ablazeaverysmom @aCurlieee_doll speaking of their book, aren’t they on tour? God I hope they’re paying their handlers well
@aCurlieee_doll they just finished their show. Anyone know if they’ve announced anything else? My spidey senses are tingling
@1967_Disney_bound @aCurlieee_doll FBI should really hire fandom. I heard there’s dirt on their kids too. Rich kids are all the same. Can’t wait for this one to blow
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Back at the hotel in San Francisco, somewhere between Melissa seething “You have no idea what I’ve sacrificed for this family—no idea!” and Rusty’s growled “Our kids think every day is Saturday and every bill in your wallet is for them!” Carey and I give up on trying to get the Tripps to stop shouting at each other. They barely notice that we’re standing there, watching their nuclear meltdown from just inside the door of Melissa’s hotel room.
Which is another thing I discovered—the Tripps haven’t shared a bed in two years, at home or at hotels. Carey tries to book them adjoining rooms under the pretense that they like a lot of space. When connecting rooms aren’t available—and, conveniently, they often aren’t—the Tripps are happy not even being on the same floor.
“This is a clusterfuck,” I mutter, and feel the way Carey turns to look at me. “What?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you swear before,” she says in wonder.
“I do. Sometimes.”
Something crashes farther in the room, and it sounds like a remote control hitting a wall.
“Yeah,” she says, “but in your suit with your combed hair and glasses, it’s like hearing a toddler curse.”
“You know toddlers in suits and glasses?”
Carey cracks a smile and starts to respond, but our attention is yanked across the room when Melissa opens the drawer of the nightstand and hurls the Gideon’s Bible at Rusty, hitting him in the shoulder.
“Melly,” Carey says gently, “can I grab you some dinner?”
The air seems to cool as she turns to face Carey. Her chest is heaving, and her face is flushed from yelling.
“Can you get me dinner?” she asks, her face contorted in rage. “Dinner? Are you kidding me? You and Russell humiliate the fuck out of me in front of two hundred people and now you want to shut me up with food?”
I hold up a hand. “Sorry, I’ve got to jump in here. Carey didn’t have any part in—”
“I wasn’t talking to you, James.” Melissa spits out my name. “This is between the three of us. Carey has just tried to take credit for my fucking life’s work, so maybe you should just go back to your room, read a calculus book, and stay out of this.”
I look to Carey to see what she wants, and she gives me a little It’s okay nod and tilts her head toward the door.
I don’t want to abandon her, but I have no idea what protocol is in this type of situation. There’s no HR to guide me. We don’t even have Robyn’s clumsy presence here, worried about the legalities of Melissa speaking to an employee this way. Refusing to leave and continuing to defend Carey might just get me fired, and for the first time, the prospect of being fired doesn’t send even a mild pulse of relief through me, because it would mean I’d leave Carey to manage this alone.
She sees my hesitation and opens her mouth to speak, but I see her embarrassed blush. God, this is painful. “Okay,” I relent. “Call me later?”