"I can't believe your stepdad is famous," says Bree. "You're so lucky."
Emma wrinkles her nose. "You promised me you wouldn't get weird about it."
"That was before I knew what your secret was! If I'd known you were gonna tell me that you're related to Drake Ramoray, I would've qualified my promise a little."
Scooping ice cream at the Coldstone on Figueroa, Emma doesn't feel particularly lucky. She should've taken that internship that Joey's assistant had offered her at Paramount; tourists are the worst. "This is LA, Bree. Half the people we meet are related to someone famous."
"I absolutely loved him in the new Lost in Space tv show," Bree says dreamily, ignoring completely the half-done pile of dishes in front of them. Emma frowns at her friend and resentfully picks up another plate and starts scrubbing. "He was a perfect John Robinson. Dreamy, but also paternal, you know? Kind of mischievous but in a corny way, so he wasn't threatening. A real down-to-earth action movie dad."
"Do you need a minute alone?" Emma asks dryly.
Bree blinks at her. "Is he really gonna be in the new Avengers movie? Or whatever they're called now - the Eternals? It's just a rumor, but…"
"No," Emma says flatly. Joey had auditioned, sure, and the director had liked him, but about a week into negotiations they'd gotten a copy of the contract, and her mom had flipped her lid at it. Plus, everyone knew the shooting schedule for those Marvel movies was ridiculous; they'd never see him again. "He wants to stick to indies for now. He's about to start a film with Dee Rees in a few weeks - I met her once, she's so cool - "
"Do you get to go to movie premieres?" Bree asks, her eyes bright. "Like when he presented at the Oscars, were you like, there?"
Emma sighs. Another friend bites the dust. "Can we just finish the dishes so we can get out of here on time? Please?"
"I heard the Golden Globes are like, one big drunken party," Bree continues, oblivious. Emma scowls at the dirty dishwater. She should've known better; Bree totally lost her shit that time when Colin Hanks came into the store with his kids. That should've been Emma's first warning sign.
Emma lives with her mom and her stepdad in a really nice apartment in Santa Monica, where she has her own room and a really great piano she can practice on whenever she likes, as loud as she likes, because their neighbors are all really rich too and none of them care. Her dad bitches constantly about this, since he thinks Joey's trying to "woo" Emma away from the East Coast with his rich and famous lifestyle (that's exactly the way he says it too: "woo! He's wooing you!" with his crazy eyes out, full force) but Emma knows Joey's too oblivious to the ongoing tension between her mom and her dad to even notice, let alone plan out some big evil master plan. If her dad were actually smart, instead of just thinking he's smart, he'd catch onto the fact that the reason Emma likes living out here during the school year is because her mom and Joey never yell at each other the way her dad and Charlie do.
Emma goes to a performing arts high school where she studies piano, and her mom insists that she's got a great shot at Julliard for college, even though Emma knows she's not really that good. She's sort of...mid-level, when it comes to talent, mostly because she's not as invested in it as some of the other hyper genius kids she goes to school with, which suits her just fine. She wants to stay in California for school anyway - UCLA, or USC, maybe. She's still into music, definitely, but she's not sure she wants to commit to it as, like, a life path.
Joey's the only one she's told about this so far; even her mom will give her some grief about it, Emma knows. She can be a little uptight about Emma's future too, especially ever since Aunt Amy's stepson got that full ride to Oxford. Emma and Joey have been giving Mom some space about that one.
"Well, if you don't want to do piano in college, then that's fine, I guess," Joey told her, over deep fried Pop Tarts at Beer Belly. One of the absolute coolest things about her stepdad being a rich movie star is, Emma will admit, the bomb dessert spots he takes her to all the time. "Just as long as you're not not doing it because you're a big fat scaredy cat."
"I'm no scaredy cat," Emma said back, sticking out her tongue at him. "But Dad wants me to be like, the 21st century Mozart, and Mom just wants me to show up Aunt Amy's rich husband, and nobody's really asking me what I want, which is...something I haven't figured out yet."
"Your mom will understand," Joey was quick to reassure her. "I can talk to her about Amy if you want me to."
"No. No - it'll only hurt her feelings. She means well, I know that."
"You could talk to her about it," Joey said, faux-innocently, "especially if she's making you feel bad."
"She's not making me feel bad, exactly, which is why I wanna deal with it on my own," Emma insisted. "I don't even know if I got in anywhere yet. USC is a good school and my grades aren't that good."
"You'll get in," Joey said, with the simple, straightforward confidence he always says things like that. Like "Emma can handle a couple of measly bullies," or "my stepdaughter's coming with me to Paris, and she can figure out the language. She's a big smarty pants!" It always made Emma feel like she could do anything, simply because Joey believed it. "And hey, you've got plenty of time to figure out what you wanna do with your life. I didn't figure it out myself until I was like, twenty-five."
Emma laughed a little. "Didn't you start acting when you were nineteen?"
"Like I said," Joey said with a shrug, spearing the second half of his fried Pop Tart with his fork. "Plenty of time. Hey, take my picture like this." He shoved the entire thing in his mouth, grinning at her with his mouth stretched grotesquely by the Pop Tart. Emma burst out laughing. "Mmph 'ou ah 'ouwr, Ewwahhhhh!"
"I have no clue what you just said," Emma replied, snapping his photo with her phone. Like all the other embarrassing photos she has of him, this one's earmarked for a memoir or something one day, should Emma really fuck up her own life and need some bailout cash, quick. Joey already gave her permission to do it, as an extra gift on her twelfth birthday.
Emma's life is a good one, divorced parent problems aside. Sure, it's annoying when things like what happened with Bree fuck up her chances for decent friendships, but Emma likes what she gets in the trade off: her mom's happier than anything, and Joey is Joey: goofy and loyal and loves Emma and her mom so much it feels like a gift. It's not hard to make him happy: a hug is all she needs to give him, most days. Plus there's all the famous celebrity stuff, which isn't an insignificant perk - Bree wasn't wrong about the Oscars. Emma didn't have very much fun, but she was there, which she guesses is kind of impressive to people.
They've been married for ten years now and counting - Joey's planning something ridiculous for their anniversary, which Mom already knows all the details of but is pretending not to, for his sake - and Emma splits her time between their apartment in LA and her dad's house in upstate New York, in the summers. Her dad's on-again off-again girlfriend Charlie is there a lot, and Emma doesn't get along with her as well as she gets on with Joey, but that's okay - Charlie's not mean, or anything. They just don't have much in common, which is fine.
Plus, she gets to see Ben when she's in New York, who's pretty cool as far as older brothers go, and runs killer interference with Dad. His moms are awesome - they take Emma to concerts - and Aunt Monica and Uncle Chandler throw great parties. And Mom and Dad's old friend Phoebe lives in the city, and her husband Mike is a pianist too - he took Emma to his piano bar once, and let her play, which was so cool - and last year on Christmas, they all surprised Mom by showing up in LA on Boxing Day, which was a lot of fun. (Phoebe really liked LA - Mom and Joey spent all night working on her and Mike, trying to get them to move. Emma thinks they're getting pretty close to convincing them.)
Whatever problems Emma has with her dad, in terms of getting along with him, seem sort of silly in the face of the rest of her family, which is pretty great. And it's not like Dad really means to be a jerk - it's just sort of his unintentional personality. Emma feels sorry for him, more than anything else.
"Sweetie, you know he loves you more than anything," her mom told her, one of those times when Dad had made a scene and embarrassed Emma in public, or - or something. Emma doesn't remember; every time Dad comes out to LA it ends in yelling and tears. "He's just not very good at keeping his issues with me separate from his issues with you."
"That's stupid," Emma said, curled up her mom's lap like a little kid. But that was what was great about her mom; Rachel Green never said a word about that sort of thing. Probably because she didn't have much room to talk, in terms of acting like a kid. That was sort of her unintentional personality. "Just because you married his friend, doesn't mean he can - "
"It's more than just that," Mom interrupted. "It's complicated, Ems."
"Doesn't seem that complicated to me," Emma grumbled. She still remembers - dimly, but still - the time of her life when her parents were together. There had been a lot of yelling. But Dad just...yells all the time, still. Maybe that's just what he does. "He doesn't own you, Mom. He doesn't get to be jealous because you married someone else - he was the one who dumped you, the last time!"
Mom was quiet for a second, and when Emma peeked up at her, she was grinning to herself, her cheeks flushed. "Man, I really love you a lot, kiddo. You're the best."
"The best of the best," Mom continues, smoothing Emma's hair back gently. "You don't even know."
Emma closed her eyes and snuggled closer, smiling to herself.
"But," Mom continued, "still. He's your dad, and...I don't want to ruin your relationship with him based on what you might have overheard me saying, or the way Joey and I make fun of him sometimes - I know that's mean, we're totally mean when we do that, and I didn't think you could hear us that one time at the Belvedere - "
"Mom," Emma said with a snort, "come on. Everyone makes fun of Dad. It's not just you and Joe."
"Well, okay, fair," Mom said reluctantly. "But honey...he's your father. He'll always be your father. And he loves you. That counts for something, right?"
Maybe. Emma's still trying to figure out exactly what. But in the meantime, she's got Mom and Joey, and Ben and Carol and Susan, and Monica and Chandler and the triplets, and Phoebe and Mike and their kooky, fun daughter Saffron, who's already way cooler than Emma even though she's only in eighth grade. She hangs out at jazz clubs in Manhattan and has like, a million followers on Instagram. (Emma just sort of follows her around in awe, honestly.)
Maybe going to school in New York wouldn't be so bad. She wouldn't have to live with her dad. Right?
Mom and Joey's anniversary falls about a week before he starts work on his new movie, which is filming in Louisiana. Mom can't leave her job at Gucci for that long - the whole office would fall apart without her, the way she talks about it - but they are gonna visit him for a weekend or two, they've decided. Joey and Emma have already charted all the gourmet dessert places in New Orleans, plotted out on a wall map in the living room.
There's a party at a fancy hotel, with a bunch of fun famous people that Mom likes - Joey only ever makes friends with the ones Mom wants to meet - and afterwards Joey gives her the necklace Emma helped him pick out, and Mom pretends to be surprised. The tears are real, though.
"Oh, Joe," she says, and lays one on him right there in the middle of the street, like there aren't photographers stepping over each other to try to get a shot of them walking out of the hotel. Emma rolls her eyes and ducks behind the street light, so they don't catch her face - the only thing Mom loves more than meeting cool famous people is getting her picture in the tabloids, which Joey is more than aware of. As they break apart from their kiss, they both turn in tandem and shoot movie star smiles at the paps - her mom even waves. (Dorks, the both of them.)
Dessert is at home, and is much more low-key - they might love being famous, but they also know Emma hates it, so they try to compromise sometimes. Emma sits between them on the couch, holding the giant sundae, while Mom and Joey eat around the sides, leaving the middle strawberry part for her - it's a well-worn tradition, by now. They've been eating sundaes the same way since Emma was six. She's gonna miss this, when she goes away for school. Not that she's made a decision, yet.
"I"m sorry about your friend at work, honey, but you're probably better off," Mom says around the spoon hanging out of her mouth, tapping something out on her phone. Work, probably - Emma shoots a withering look at Joey, who rolls his eyes affectionately. "What kind of a name is 'Bree?' Her parents are probably hippies."
"It's short for Brianna," Emma says.
"Seemed kinda weird to me," Joey chimes in. "She was lookin' at me weird, that time I picked you up."
"Because you're famous, Joe," Emma says, rolling her eyes. "She was weird about it, yeah. That's why it didn't work out."
"You'll meet people who are more used to it at your new job," Mom says, finally tearing her eyes away from her phone. She immediately hones back in on the rocky road, tearing off a big hunk of marshmallow. "I'm glad you decided to take Natalie up on her offer. You'll like it at the Paramount offices - that one Joe got you into is real laid back."
"Yeah, can't wait to do all that exciting filing and phone calling," Emma says. "A real peek into the movie star world. It's gonna be great."
"She'll be running it in a few weeks," Joey boasts, over Emma's head to Rachel. "Gotta keep an eye on her. If we're not careful they'll make her CEO."
Rachel giggles a little, at the dramatic way Emma rolls her eyes. "Dream on, Joe."
"What? You're smart!"
"Not that smart, and you're so cheesy sometimes I can't believe it - "
"Aw," Mom interrupts, leaning down to smack a chocolatey kiss against Emma's cheek. Emma shrieks, wiggling away and wiping her face. "We're just so proud of you, baby, we love you sooooo much - "
Emma wiggles right out of their embrace - both of them leaning in to press annoying kisses against her face - and leaps to her feet - but not before depositing the sundae carefully on the coffee table. No need to waste perfectly good ice cream, after all. "You guys are disgusting. I'm going to bed."
"It's our anniversary, we're allowed," Mom says, sliding blithely into the space Emma's just departed, with a big sappy smile at Joey. "One day a year when we can be as embarrassing and gross as we want, isn't that right, Joe?"
"I'm embarrassing and gross all the time, Rach, I don't know what you're talkin' about," Joey says. He snatches the sundae back, cradling it on his lap, and scoops up a spoonful to feed to Mom.
Emma wrinkles her nose. "Okay, time for exit, pursued by bear. Goodnight guys, love you, happy anniversary, et cetera - "
Neither of them look away from each other. Mom's giggling a little, around her mouthful of ice cream.
"Right," Emma says ruefully, laughing to herself as she flees. Gross dorks, more like.
Yeah - complicated, weird, messy and full of ice cream: Emma's got it pretty good. Her mom's house is vastly superior to her Dad's in that sense, even if she does have to wear noise-cancelling headphones at night a lot. But it all comes out in the wash, as they say. Maybe New York would be good - at least for a couple years. She can always come back, if she doesn't like it.
Well, she's got time to figure it out. Emma's not the type to stress.