“So then i can add the url here.”
“So then when you swipe they go there?”
“Yeah. I’ve been doing so much random stuff.”
Emily was proud to have this feature. It was so fun to use. Lane loved it and thought of all the things she would do with it.
“This is fucking awesome.”
Emily was on the Jitney. When she got to East Hampton she would grab an Uber. Even though she had never been to a beach town, Emily was ready for this week. She was prepared to be totally relaxed and open for whatever came her way. She knew she looked good and she knew she had packed every right article of clothing for the trip. If she and Tara stayed at the house all weekend, she would have a great time living in luxury, knowing she literally had no responsibilities for a week. If Tara took her to a party every night, she would party and have a great time and look great. Either way she would be living her best life, having fun, clocking in a minimum 35 likes per minute for at least the first hour on every post. She sent Lane a private instastory of her on the Jitney. In it, she gave a look of terror toward the camera and mimed a scream. If Lane had come, Emily thought, she could have had fun, but this way would be more relaxing. Beyond Tara, no one knew Emily, and Tara barely knew her. This would be a group of society Emily had of course encountered and engaged with in the city, but whose spaces she had never truly entered. It would be an adventure, one where the company of someone familiar with your personality would only be a hindrance toward bold behavior.
The Uber pulled up to Tara’s house. It was fucking huge. It looked like two houses. Emily felt wild pulling up in a private circular driveway in an Uber. She thought about Wolf of Wall Street and Leonardo DiCaprio crawling toward that car. Emily had texted Tara as she entered the driveway and Tara was now opening the front door of the biggest house Emily had ever been inside. “Yes bitch, a Highlander!” Tara said. Emily laughed as she got her other bag out of the trunk. She felt so fucking stupid for putting the bag in the trunk. This was taking forever and the driver came out to help. Emily wanted to just know everything was fine and that she could own the situation, but she felt dumb for putting such a tiny, second bag not on the seat next to her. Emily shouldered both bags and as she turned to say something about how nice the house was she was hit with an incredible stench. She flashed back to a time when she was young and had found a dead racoon in her family’s shed. It had been pulsating with maggots and other insects feeding on the animal. Her face paled and she could see in Tara’s eyes but not the rest of her face that she saw this change in Emily. “It’s some kind of fucking fertilizer. It stinks like shit because it’s all natural. It’s literally such a fucking nightmare.” Tara said and ushered Emily into the house.
Once upstairs in the room she was going to be staying, Emily felt light-headed. Her head was spinning with ideas for photos: on the large staircase in the entry hall, in the cast iron clawfoot bathtub, in the enormous kitchen surrounded by all the produce that was just sitting out already perfectly arranged. The house felt like one of those $35 a ticket “museums” that are just a bunch of setups to take photos for social media. Any room of the house was the image of the best-life fantasy Emily wanted to project. She figured that made sense. This was a family with more money than could ever be spent in a lifetime. They could afford to live their best lives. This was the best life. There was no need to isolate and create the perfect image. Everywhere she looked was perfect. She walked out onto the balcony in her sunglasses, bathing suit, and jean shorts. The wood was stained dark brown, almost black. The view was perfect. The sand dunes and grasses in the distance, the blues of the Atlantic ocean and the sky, the whites of the clouds. Emily took a picture and posted it. In one minute she had 80 likes and 9 comments.
Tara appeared at the door. “Come on, bitch, we’re going.”
The set-up on the beach was insane. A fire-pit with perfectly charred wood surrounded by benches that looked just enough like logs gave it a rustic feel. Nearby was a huge canopy with daybeds if you wanted something more luxurious. Several giant floatation devices shaped like a rainbow, a swan, a pig, and a silver dollar were next to that. There were eight of them there, including Emily. Tara introduced her to each one and she tried to remember their names, but was overwhelmed by the scene. Each and every one of them was perfect. Emily wasn’t sure how consciously they were moving themselves or thinking about what they were saying, but all of them seemed effortlessly in control. Their bodies, their hair, everything made Emily jealous, even though she was confident that she looked just as good as they did. She had worked hard over the last two years eating right, limiting alcohol, and exercising, and she felt amazing finding herself amongst these beautiful people and knowing she belonged. The group photo she knew they would be taking at some point would be the first in a series of very important social media moments for Emily this weekend. She decided to make sure she would be in a good position for that. She walked up to one of the girls, she literally couldn’t remember her name, who was standing close to the water, letting the waves lap up on her feet.
“If I were you, I’d go home.” the girl said without turning to Emily.
“They don’t think of you as one of their own. They never will. You aren’t.”
“I know I don’t belong here. Tara’s my friend. It’s just a vacation. I don’t expect anyone to let me in or give me special treatment.”
“What are you doing here then?”
“I’m just having fun. It’s nice to meet new people and explore new places.”
The girl took one step closer to the ocean. “You won’t survive. They move faster than you. They’ve been doing this their whole lives. They know your motivations. They can see through your words and your body and your past and will always maintain a dominant position. They’ll take what they want from you and when you have nothing left to give them, they’ll throw you away.”
Emily decided she wouldn’t let this girl intimidate her. “I’m sure they are. Maybe I spend the week here living in a big house with everything paid for and at the end I go home. Maybe I make a friend or two here. These people aren’t evil. I’ve been friends with bitches before. You don’t have to talk to me.”
“If I were you, I’d go home.”
Emily went into the ocean. She swam out a ways and turned to look back at the beach and the large house behind it. The ocean felt endless behind her and beneath her. She thought about the animals swimming in it. Emily thought about the girl and what a fucking asshole she was. Emily had a lot to give. She was funny, talented, attractive, hard-working, kind, and knew how to charm people. She knew these people wouldn’t be hard to win over, no matter how awful they were. Emily didn’t think rich people were better or worse than other people. They could be defensive and protect their own, but they liked to have fun and at the end of the day were just people like anyone else. Emily kept treading water. There wasn’t any real difference between her and them. They would go to the same places in New York and took in the same media and shopped at the same places and now she was here with them. Yes, her apartment was smaller and she had to be more mindful of how she spent her money and they took way more vacations than she did, but they didn’t feel so different than her. She felt something cold push against her ankle. She jerked her leg and tried to look down. It had felt like a tentacle. Three tentacles. It had grabbed her and when she moved it had immediately let go. She pictured the creature in her mind’s eye. Some kind of octopus with a deep intelligence in its dark eyes. Feeling for her. Testing to see if she was food. She couldn’t imagine there would be an octopus swimming around in this shallow water, here off the shore. The water was dark. She quickly kicked back to shore.
The group photo was taken on the daybeds. Everyone had set themselves up so that it looked candid, but that they were all being physically violent with each other, pulling hair, biting, kicking. In one minute, Emily had 102 likes and 12 comments.
It was Tuesday. Emily hadn’t seen Tara all morning. She figured she was still in bed hungover. Emily was. Last night was the hardest they had partied in a long weekend of partying. It had been exhausting. Emily thought back to the girl on the beach, Ingrid was her name, and the things she had said. She thought about the million conversations she had had over the past few days and the amount of energy she had expended on them. They were faster, she thought. They all knew everything to say or do to maintain their power in any conversation. Everyone was on and although Emily was skilled, she could feel that they outranked her. Some people wouldn’t give her the luxury of eye contact. Some people would talk to her as long as it took for them to figure out that they were more successful than her. Some people would talk to her and make jokes with her, but would constantly send her subtle reminders that they were better than her. Emily didn’t let it faze her, though, or change her mind about these people. There were assholes in every part of society. Also some of them had been kind. She had talked to a girl for an hour about Kim Gordon, potted plant care, and the possibility of Twitter removing the ‘like’ function. They both thought it would be at the very least really cool to see how it changed their own personal relationship with the site.
Tara slammed the door open. “OH MY GOD, I’m fucking sorry. Jesus.” She fell onto the bed. “I’m ordering shit, let me know what you want.” Tara held her phone out and Emily took it. Emily started scrolling through the bagel and acai bowls.
“You know this house is haunted?” Tara said as she began to rub her temples. “I fucking saw it last night. It’s been this way ever since I was little.”
Emily kept scrolling through the menu.
“My grandma told me about it. In the 40s, this woman lived here. Most of the people in the town hated her because she was always bringing up artists from the city and they were fucking conservative assholes. At some point, people stopped seeing her and when someone came to check on the house they found her dead with her throat cut. She had been rotting here. One of the people she had brought up had killed her, but because nobody talked to her, nobody knew who the fuck she had brought by. But it’s way crazier because when they were clearing out this woman’s shit they found all these skulls and bones among her things. Nobody knows what the fuck happened, but it looks like either she or someone had been killing other people. Probably she was trying to kill someone and they got her instead. It’s all fucked up. Nobody even cared. But I’ve seen the woman. Everyone in my family has. Usually on the second floor. It fucking creeps me out, but it’s kind of cool.”
Emily selected a few random things and handed back the phone. Tara took a photo of them in bed. They arranged themselves under an old quilt and Tara put Emily’s hair over her face. In one minute, the photo got 52 likes and 15 comments.
Everyone was down by the fire pit. Emily was walking along the dunes back toward the house. It was cold. She was drunk. She pulled her cardigan tight around her and got out her phone. 822 new likes since she checked last. 42 comments. 14 new followers. 3 heart emojis from Lane on a photo of her on a wooden row boat. She looked at her direct messages. There were too many to respond to. No one she needed to respond to. She scrolled through her feed. Everywhere was skin and water and sand. Her friend David on Fire Island surrounded by bodies. Some girl named Anna-Marie on Lake Tahoe with a Bud Light. A group of women in on the Dalmatian Coast with at least 30 different shades of blue surrounding them. Emily liked them all and kept walking. It was dark and she stumbled on the grass. She was glad to be leaving the group for a minute. The energy had been intense. In conversations, people’s reactions depended more on who was looking at them and what it would mean if they laughed or agreed with the person who had been speaking. The politics of it all weren’t unknown to Emily, but it was overwhelming.
Inside, the house lights were off and for the first time Emily realized she didn’t know where the light switches were in the huge rooms that made up the downstairs. She felt like an idiot for turning the flashlight on her phone, but had to in order to see anything. She was in the living room and made her way to the smaller back staircase to get up to her room. She could smell the fertilizer again. The same smell from the first day. It turned her stomach a little, but she was dulled enough by the alcohol not to care. She figured someone had left a window open in this back half of the house. Emily put her foot on the first step when she heard the voice.
“Who are you?”
Emily turned around and peered into the darkness. She didn’t want to blind anyone with her flashlight.
“Sorry, it’s Emily. I didn’t know where the light switches were. I just came in to get a jacket.”
“You shouldn’t be here.” the voice said.
“I’m sorry? I’m Tara’s friend. I’ve been staying in the green room upstairs.” Emily’s mind searched for who could be speaking to her like this. She had briefly met Tara’s mom one morning in the kitchen making coffee. The fact that this person had been sitting here (somewhere) in the dark began to make Emily nervous.
“Oh, I know you. Yes. You shouldn’t be here.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’ll just run up to my room.”
Emily heard a creak to her left. Instinctively she brought the light up to see what was there. She saw a table with an old clock and a landscape painting behind that.
“You need to leave. Now. You don’t belong here.”
Emily straightened up. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m Tara’s guest. I’ve been here all week. If you have a problem with what I’m doing, you can talk to her.”
“You think you can be here? You think it’s OK? I know where you’re from. I can smell it on you. I can see every movement your body makes. Every twitch in your eyes and mouth. You can’t mask it. The people who live here aren’t like you. You aren’t safe. You aren’t them. You are less.”
Emily knew Ingrid was down at the beach. Unless she had run past her. Another creak in front of Emily made her swing her flashlight again.
“What the fuck is your problem? What the fuck are you doing here alone in the dark? You’re a fucking freak trying to scare me? If you don’t like me, whatever, plenty of people here do.” Emily turned around and stormed up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs, Emily turned right to head to her room and as she swung the flashlight toward the door, she saw the woman. She was dead. Her throat had a huge gash in it, but blood didn’t flow out.
Emily packed up her things. The last two days had not been good. She hadn’t slept much and was ready to head back to the city. After that night, Emily had been on edge. She knew that Tara and the rest had noticed. They could see every slight show of discomfort and it made Emily toxic to them. No one was close enough to her to ask why she had changed moods. No one cared. Now that she wasn’t able to steel herself in confidence, she wasn’t able to keep up with their bits and ever changing moods. She had fallen. She couldn’t wait to get back to New York. She needed to recuperate. Take some time. She texted Tara “Where are you? I’m about to call my Uber”.
She was outside waiting for the Uber. She texted Tara again to thank her for everything and told her sorry for being so weird. She would see her back in the city. She took one last look at the house. It was so big. Bigger than any house she had ever seen. It smelled like a rotting corpse.
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