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Lies are so easy to tell, and sins are so hard to forgive. It’s odd how even something as simple as a coat of paint can be deceptive until viewed in the right light. I never knew what I preferred—a pretty lie or a sorry sinner—until now.
The room has been redone to have a sleek, modern appeal. Everything is white and minimal with clean lines and the most abstract of abstract art, but the stale scent of cigarette smoke still hangs in the room. It's proof that Vegas is a city out of time, or maybe just one unhinged from reality. If it weren't for the acrid smell assaulting my nostrils, the space might actually seem luxurious. No doubt the renovation had been a ploy to try to convince visitors the hotel is worth the hefty price tag.
Next month, I will have some serious explaining to do when my mom and Hans get my emergency credit card bill. But if this situation doesn’t count as a crisis, nothing ever will.
I sit on the edge of the bed and wait with my hands folded in my lap. Being nervous is strange. Of course, I’ve never called a service before. Until a few days ago, my only contact with call girls had been my shoes on the fliers littering the streets. Somehow it still feels inevitable. I'm in too deep not to follow the clues.
But this room, in this hotel, in this city could never hope to be more than a mirage. Because the one thing tourists never see is the truth. The bones of Las Vegas are rotten, weakened by greed and excess. Even in a fancy hotel room I can’t see past that fact.
A knock on the door startles me, and I stand, smoothing my dress as if I need to impress her. When I open the door, I'm met by familiar, if surprised eyes. The shock mirrored in them quickly shifts to anger.
Stepping to the side, I hold out my arm. “Won’t you come in?”
“Don’t forget your sunscreen,” Mom calls to me from across the patio. She eyes me watchfully from under the black brim of an oversized sun hat.
If only this were about sunscreen. I sigh and pick up the bottle of SPF 50 she sets out for me every morning. Slathering it on my legs, I’m careful to avoid the cuts that are still healing from the incident, as she calls it.
It’s only 10 a.m., but I’ve already reapplied twice. That’s Palm Springs for you. If you don’t melt in the sun, your sunscreen will. In some ways, the desert city is a lot like Vegas, particularly when it comes to their heat indexes. But what had once been the exclusive playground to Hollywood is now more of a retirement community.
There isn’t much to do here, which is why I like to visit. It’s a break from the frenetic hustle of Las Vegas. But given the circumstances of my early exodus to my mother’s house, she’s been constantly hovering. It’s like having a bodyguard without the perks of being a rock star. No sex, drugs, or rock-n-roll under her watch.
Lying back on the chaise, I shut my eyes tightly to the sun, which is creeping steadily toward the center of the sky. I can still feel its heat as its blazing light burns through my eyelids.
Palm Springs is my place to relax—at least it usually is. But Zen is in short supply these days. On the glass table next to me, my phone buzzes. I don’t have to look at the message to know who it’s from. There are only two people in the world who would bother to text me, and one of them used his one phone call weeks ago to reach someone else. I can’t exactly blame him. After he was arrested for assaulting my father, the police had held him while they continued to investigate his father’s murder. Without a law degree, I’m useless to Jameson West. It’s been even harder to be supportive since my mother whisked me from the hospital straight to California. Between my absence and my paranoia that he might be a murderer, I’m a shoo-in for girlfriend of the year.
My dad didn’t object to the rearrangement of custody, but he’d been avoiding me since our last father-daughter brawl. So I know the text is from neither of them, which only leaves Josie. Pushing myself up, I catch the strings of my bikini top and tie it tightly around my neck. I grab my sunglasses and my phone, but as soon as my feet hit the searing heat of the cement, Mom’s face appears from under her hat.
“Drink some water,” she advises.
“I will,” I promise, forcing myself not to sound too sarcastic. If she doesn’t ease up, I’ll make good on that promise by drowning myself. The weight of the water would be a lot less oppressive than her nagging.
She’s scared, a small voice in my head reminds me.
That makes two of us, another retorts.
Great. Now my inner monologues are fighting, too.
I pause near the sliding glass doors and for a second, the sound of shattering glass and the sharp sting of shards piercing through skin overtakes me. The memory overrides the present until I shake it off.
“Everything okay, Emma?” Mom asks.
I swallow before I nod. “Everything is fine, but I wanted to talk to you about something.”
She abandons Oprah’s latest book club pick and turns to face me. “Yes?”
“It’s just…I promised Dad that I would be around this summer…” I begin, leaving out that I no longer feel obliged to keep that promise—not after I’d been the unintended recipient of his fist. I self-consciously stroke the yellow remnants of the bruise he’d given me. He might have been aiming for Jameson, but he got me. Conveniently for him, no one questioned where the injury on my stomach came from after the accident that night. “So I think I need to head back to Belle Mère.”
Her lips purse as if my words taste funny, and she shakes her head slowly. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. With everything going on there–”
“That’s exactly why I need to go back,” I interrupt. She had to know this was coming. I’ve never stayed at her resort in Palm Springs longer than two weeks. As of today, I’ve been here almost a month. “I’ve been here a lot longer than usual.”
“And you spent the first week on narcotics,” she reminds me.
“I’m fine now.” I cross my tan arms over my chest, my golden skin serving as further proof that I’ve spent enough time lounging poolside.
“And you haven’t outstayed your welcome,” she says as if that’s the reason I’d feel obliged to go.