Marci Emerald checked herself for ketchup stains on her Tupac t-shirt, then ordered her friend Bethany to take the picture. She gave a wry grin, held up her middle finger on both hands, and waited for Bethany to complete the task.
Bethany returned the iPhone to Marci Emerald and the social media influencer marveled at how good she looked. The sun was setting and it cast the perfect glow the back porch of her home in the Village of West Clay. In fact, the lighting was so good that Marci Emerald decided that the picture didn’t need any Instagram filters or manipulation. The picture was perfect. She was perfect. And her life would get back to perfect soon, she was convinced.
“Screw them. Screw them all,” she said. “I’m tagging CNN, Huffpost, and all the rest.”
This was to be her last image on Instagram before going dark, she had decided. Her family attorney urged that her previous post should be her last. But Marci Emerald was accustomed to getting the last word. If she had to sign off to social media for a while, then she was going out with a bang.
The reason for her lawyer-imposed social media silence was the legal scandal in which her mother and father had recently found themselves. Marci Emerald was the daughter of Shelly Sanders-Russo. Shelly, when she was just Shelly Sanders, was the star of the eighties hit show Our Happy Family. In the 90s, she married Mario Russo, the Italian race car drive. Eventually, when she stopped acting and he stopped racing, they settled in Carmel, so he could manage an Indy Car racing team. Shelly still did made-for-tv movies, but mostly she managed her daughter Marci Emerald’s burgeoning career as an influencer.
Marci Emerald had 4 million Instagram followers, all of whom hung on every image of the “virtual perfect life” of social media celebrity. And brands lined up to shower her with clothes, cosmetics and accessories so that 4 million sheep with less than perfect lives could buy a piece of perfection. However, perfection has a shelf life. And it seems that Marci Emerald’s expiration date was nearing sooner than it should for a 19-year-old.
It all started when a teen vogue reporter went to do an article on Marci Emerald and discovered that she was listed on the Stutz University website as a volleyball player. Unfortunately for Marci Emerald, the reporter actually played volleyball for cross-town rival University of Indianapolis and knew all the players on the Stutz team. When she asked the influencer questions a volleyball player should know, she was stumped.
It appears that Marci Emerald, along with the help of her mother and father, faked a sports history to get her into Stutz University, the most prestigious private school in Indiana, next to Notre Dame. The coach was implicated along with a company that arranges these sort of things and a national scandal was created.
Stacy Sanders-Russo vehemently denied all wrongdoing. Her attorney had instructed her and her husband to continue to deny wrongdoing from their yacht in the Mediterranean. Stacy Sanders-Russo felt this was a good plan as denial is bad for the complexion and should be warded off by sunshine and sea air.
Their attorney agreed to guide Marci Emerald in making a statement and wrapping things up in Indiana while preparing her for the inevitable “gap year” that she would need to take from her studies. The companies that supplied Marci Emerald with all of her freebies decided that other rich young girls with unattainable lives would be better vehicles to sell their wares and wished her the best.
So, Marci Emerald was mad at the world. Mad at her parents. Mad at her sponsors. And mad at the attorney. And this was her statement—to send a final Instagram post to the world— giving it the bird. The world, as it seemed, was about to return the favor.
Melissa Hewitt walked into Carmel City Hall and asked reception for the office of Carmel Art Grants. She was wearing a conservative business suit with sensible heels. Everything about her appearance hid from the world that she was in fact, Mandy Pepperhorns. Sonny had put her up to this and even paid for the suit. It was good money for not having to dance or take her clothes off and she thought the idea was funny.
Inside the small office of Art Grants, an employee asked, “Can I help you?”
“Yes, I’m here to drop off a grant application.”
The harried employee responded, “We’ve been getting those in all day. Everyone who waited until the last minute has been her with a packet.” She pointed to a box filled with large envelopes. “Put it with the rest.”
“Oh, I didn’t just come in person because of the deadline.” Melissa paused and gave her most genuine disingenuous smile, “I wanted to talk to a real person.”
The employee looked skeptical. “About what?”
“About this grant competition. What really are my chances?”
“As good as the rest, I suppose.”
“It means a lot to me and I know it would mean a lot to the seniors.”
Marjorie Tillman was the only full-time employee managing the Grants program. She also had a mother who was in the Blue Magnolia Senior Center. She was intrigued. “What’s this about seniors?”
“My grant application is for dance performances to be held at local senior living spaces.” Melissa managed a sad frown, “So many of our parents and grandparents love the arts but can’t get about. We want to bring dance performances to them. On a small scale, of course, but allow them to experience the thrill of live dancing once again.”
Marjorie’s mother was a ballerina when she was young. Her mother reminded Marjorie of that fact all the time. She reached for the application from Melissa. “Let’s make sure that this goes in a special pile,” said Marjorie.
“You’re very kind,” Mellissa said.
Marjorie was clutching the grant packet Melissa delivered as if it was her very own child, “Thank you for bringing dance to these deserving souls.”
“Oh, we can’t wait to perform for those who deserve it,” Melissa answered.
Marjorie hugged her before she left, and Mandy Peppercorn burst into laughter as soon as she stepped outside the Carmel City Center.