You better get up here. Room 940
I look up to see her reflection in the mirror. “We need to get upstairs. Now.”
She steps up to the sink and calmly washes her hands, dries them. She smooths her hair and touches up her lipstick with a tube from her clutch. Aside from the wet spot down the front of her clothes, she looks a little flushed but camera ready, as always.
Luckily, we’re not alone in the elevator; I know Melly well enough to know that she would change the subject as quickly as possible and I’m grateful I don’t have to answer any questions about James. The people with us either don’t know who Melly is or are too polite to mention it, thank the Lord. My phone starts vibrating with increasing frequency by the second floor, and by the time we make it to James’s room there are a handful of messages from James, some from Robyn, and shit—one from Ted.
Judging by the look on James’s face, his says the same thing:
Ella @1967_Disney_bound • July 12
HOLY SHIT THEY CANCLED THE TOUR?
TMZ @TMZ • July 12
Cameras catch lovers’ spat as Melissa and Rusty Tripp dine together amidst rumors of infidelity and scandal. Promo tour canceled. www.tmz.com/2L6Kz8l
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@1967_Disney_bound I cannot be reading this right. They lost it in front of an entire restaurant? And what cover up are they talking about in the article?
@booksnbangtan Like you couldn’t just eat your pasta primavera and be nice?? Not positive on the rumors but it’s been a circus the last few months. Remember this doozy?
TMZ @TMZ • April 4
Melissa Tripp out with friends. Sources say mysterious bruises have team concerned www.HollywoodLife.com/2L6Kz8l
@1967_Disney_bound WHY ARE THEY SO MESSY THO?
And mysterious bruises? Please, if we going knock down drag out my money is on Melissa. A lot of pent up rage behind all that makeup
@booksnbangtan idk take your pick lol. I know people suspected rusty had a drug habit after he lost some weight last year, and don’t get me started on their kids
@booksnbangtan @1967_Disney_bound I was supposed to go to the Seattle event and they canceled at the last minute.
@1967_Disney_bound I have a friend who knows their son from school and said he has a thing for hookers and vegas. Do with that what you will.
@booksnbangtan @1967_Disney_bound no shit??
Part of me is relieved to see the lights fading away as we leave the Portland city limits. But the other part is anxious about what’s ahead: we’ve essentially been banished until the first season of Home Sweet Home airs.
The four of us are on our way to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, meaning the gloves can truly come off. With every mile we move farther from civilization. I’m not one hundred percent sure where we’re going, but I know one thing: nobody can hear the screams from this far away.
It’s absurd, really, that we’re still expected to chaperone this nonsense, but my assumption is that everyone is worried that, left to his own devices, Rusty would rather catch a cab home and leave Melissa behind than stay sequestered with his wife in the woods. Just as I’m about to quietly run this theory past Carey, a crash comes from the back of the bus, and Melissa storms out of the lounge, throwing herself on one of the couches toward the front of the cab. Breathing heavily, she closes her eyes and rubs her temples. They’re not even trying to pretend anymore.
“I swear to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” she hisses. “That man—”
“TJ and Kelsey.” Carey calmly reminds her boss of the two most important reasons why Melissa can’t murder her husband. “Also, you’re building a house in Aspen that is going to be gorgeous. You can’t decorate it from a jail cell.”
Melissa takes a few deep breaths and then opens her eyes to smile gratefully at Carey. What the hell would Melissa do without her?
My phone lights up with a text sent to me, Carey, and Ted from Robyn. It reads simply:
Carey grimaces at me and types up exactly what Ted can do with his getaway, before erasing it all.
She slides her phone onto the bus bench between us, gives me a half smile, and leans her head back against the cushion. The metaphorical handcuffs have been clicked into place.
I grew up in the Southwest, and I’m familiar with Jackson, of course—obviously it’s where the Tripps are based—but I’ve never traveled the almost four hundred miles to Laramie. The size of the sky out here blows my mind. Half of the circle of my vision is a clear, startling blue. The other half is an explosion of green: hills, grass, plains that go on forever.
We drop off the tour bus in Laramie and, with as little fanfare as possible, we’re done. We say goodbye to Joe and encourage him to schedule a long vacation. He takes a final look at the Tripps and wishes us luck—their mutual silent treatment commenced as soon as we got on the bus, and we’re all tired of breathing such pressurized air.
Also ready to be rid of us, driver Gary ushers us from the bus into a sleek black sedan waiting nearby. I’m sure these two are about to get very, very drunk. I don’t know what happens to our bags, but the car is pulling away from the curb before I have any sense that things have been moved; it’s a Secret Service–level transfer. Ted apparently does not fuck around.
With Rusty in the front, and Carey situated between me and Melissa in the spacious back seat, we leave Laramie proper and drive about a half hour into what can best be described as the middle of nowhere, where houses become spaced farther and farther apart, the soft rolling hills so green it seems impossible that they’re real. I’m grateful for the silence, because the view is unbelievable. The Laramie River winds its way through the landscape, glittering in the late-afternoon sun like a trail of jewels.
Our driver turns down a series of increasingly rustic dirt roads before pulling up in front of a sprawling log cabin set only about forty feet back from a wide bend in the river. I peek down at my phone: no cell service. I doubt Wi-Fi is robust here, either. Good news, bad news: Melissa won’t be able to see reviews, tweets, or Instagram photos of her from her bad side, but we also won’t be able to easily check in with the outside world. We are a good half-hour drive from any stores, and—I note with some degree of trepidation—at least as far from any hospital.
Rusty climbs out and disappears around the back of the cabin, muttering something about needing some air, and I note that Carey and I both relax a bit when we only have one Tripp to manage at a time. Maybe if they don’t speak to each other for an entire week, everything will blow over. One can hope.
Melissa stares up at the hulking cabin and lets out a long-suffering sigh. “I guess it’s big enough.”
I can’t tell if she’s trying to be funny, or if the woman who helps families fit into the shoe boxes they can afford has genuinely become that spoiled: the home in front of us is easily big enough for twenty people.
There’s a dusty old sedan parked along one side of the house, and I’m hoping the keys are inside. As we approach the front door, I see our bags are waiting for us on the porch.
“I have no idea what kind of magic was involved in them beating us here,” Carey says under her breath, “but I’m into it.”
There’s an envelope taped to the front door, and I pull it off. Opening it, I find a key and a short welcome note from the property manager. Once I have everything unlocked, Melissa sweeps past her luggage and disappears inside.
A glance at Carey’s hands tells me she’s not having a good day: they’re rock solid, curled into fists, and even when she tries to shake them out I know that carrying even the smallest bag inside is going to be a challenge. How physically exhausting must it be to focus on every movement, to feel like your own muscles are fighting you, I think. I’m suddenly and blindingly furious with Melissa for being so consistently inconsiderate.
But Carey is Carey, and immediately reaches for the closest suitcase. I wave her off, she gives me a tiny, grateful smile, and guilt drills a hole in my stomach. If it weren’t for my encouragement, she would have quit before we got to Portland and would probably be home by now. I remind myself that in a few weeks we’ll both be out of this mess and in a better position. “Go figure out where we’re all sleeping, and I’ll bring these in.”
When she disappears inside, I take a moment to appreciate the masterful design of the property. The porch platform, columns, and cornice are constructed from the same beautiful redwood that frames each window; the finial and valleys of the roof are deep, sharp angles that make my blood sing.
Inside, the front door opens to an enormous entryway: The house is two broad stories and the second floor overlooks the foyer, with a knobby cherry railing lining a circular view down onto the gleaming hardwood floor. There is a huge living room straight ahead of me, a fireplace flanked by twin casement windows with lead glass, from floor to ceiling, that overlook the river. An expansive chef’s kitchen stretches to the right of the front foyer, and a hall to the left of the entryway leads, I find, to a family room, entertainment suite, and game room.
Carey calls from upstairs: “I have Melly and Rusty each situated, and there are ten bedrooms left. How picky are you feeling?”
“I feel like a room with a bed is fine,” I tell her.
She leans over the railing, looking down at me, and I wonder if she feels it, too, that heat that seems to blanket us whenever we’re making contact—whether it’s physical, verbal, or just eye contact like this across an open space. Do I want my room to be next to hers so that we can sneak into bed together in the middle of the night? Yes, absolutely. Is that the best way to make sure this week doesn’t end in disaster? Probably not.