Preview the first three chapters of my new book The Influencer’s Heartbreak.
I stared at the headline on the screen. Influencer Amber West Caught Cheating Again? Everything in the article was wrong. From the picture of me with my older brother and ex-boyfriend, Joshua, to what they said about me. Once again, I had let another influencer-romance ruin my self-image. Another one that used and manipulated me for clout. It was disgusting. Unfortunately, I did it to myself by not seeing this coming.
I felt so overwhelmed. The articles were being posted every few minutes, and I was trending on Twitter. People who knew nothing about the situation were commenting as if they actually knew either of us. They said things like: “I knew she was a cheater. Poor Dan.” and “Honestly, Amber should just go die. She never treated him right.” And I had to admit, it was the latter that was getting to me.
My phone rang, and I didn’t even have to look down to know exactly who it was. “Hey mom.” I wanted to burst into tears as soon as I spoke those words.
“Honey, please get off social media.” She said. She was always checking to see if I was trending or if people wrote less than savory things about me on the internet. Then she would try to protect me from it. I felt thankful to have a mom like her during those times but hated that she held that burden.
“You saw?” The tears started, and I used the back of my Supreme hoodie sleeve to wipe them away.
“Of course, I saw. Please come home for a little while.” She had never suggested it before. I knew it must have been a lot worse than I had originally thought. She must have seen things I hadn’t seen yet.
“Okay, mom.” I said, crying hard.
We got off the phone shortly after, and I found a flight back to Atlanta for that night. I hurriedly packed as many things as I could into three suitcases and two bags. Not wanting to bring too much, but just enough that I wouldn’t have to worry about certain things while I was away.
“What are you doing?” My roommate and L.A. best friend, Lauren, asked, startling me.
I stopped packing and faced her. “Packing. I’m going home for a bit, I need to.” There wasn’t anything else I needed to say. She knew what was going on and what was being said about me.
“I understand. It’ll do you some good to get back to that little town and get away from all the bullshit here.” She said.
She gave me a hug, and I cried some more. “Do you want to talk about it?” She asked. I shook my head. I really just wanted to get out of there and get back home to see my mom and dad. Maybe even my brother, Jacob.
“Okay. When do you leave?” She asked.
“I have a cab coming within the hour to take me to the airport.”
“Let me help you pack.” She said and squeezed past me to put some of my things into other suitcases.
Three hours later, I boarded my flight to head back home. It took everything in me not to look around at the people or check any sort of social media. I felt so out of my element. L.A. had not been very kind to me.
I had only been home once since I initially left the small town five years ago. And that time was for my grandma’s funeral. I had been there three days before leaving to head back to the one city I thought I could make it big in. I was learning quickly that L.A. might not have been the place for me and that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to make it big anymore.
It was hard to get through the plane ride without thinking about Dan and the events that had been unfolding. I had been dating him for only three months when I caught him in bed with another influencer. I didn’t want to stay, and he begged me to. He said that we were working so well together. He had more views than he ever had. That was the final straw for me. Another clout chaser. He wasn’t the first, but I was damn sure going to make him the last.
I felt utterly exhausted by all of it. They would come when their views or sales or whatever were down and would try to sweep me off my feet, though no one had swept me off my feet since Joshua. But that was a long time ago, and it had nothing to do with him. No one swept me off my feet because no one compared to him.
I always wanted to be the one to keep things on the DL and out of the media, but these guys would convince me to come out as a couple. Or they would be the one to break the news that we had broken up, usually spinning it to make me look like some sort of evil serial-dater or cheater. This was the second cheating story.
I was so over all of it. Even my friends in L.A. were all fake, like the cubic zirconia they tried to pass off as real.
I was excited to get back home and see my best friend in the entire world Gabby. She might have been a “stayer” (as we referred to people who never left Georgia Springs), but she still kept in touch with me almost every single day.
I realized I forgot to tell Gabby about what happened and that I was coming home.
“Oh, shit.” I said out loud before realizing I had done so and startled the person next to me. “Sorry.”
She gave me a dirty look and went back to reading her magazine. I was just glad my face wasn’t on the outside. I rarely made it into magazines. Just on their influencer section on their online version. I couldn’t figure out if I loved it or hated it.
I was sure my mom filled her in. She was the town gossip. I loved her for it, but it also meant that I slipped into her gossip often. It was usually good things, but I had quite a few “scandals” over the last couple years. Ones that were completely out of my control.
I suddenly wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back home. What if everyone hated me now? What if there were people back home following my every move and laughing at me for failing at trying to make it big? Or what if they did when I got there? I knew it was the anxiety from all of my time in L.A. talking, but I still had to talk myself out of a panic attack. I didn’t want to startle the lady next to me again.
I felt indifferent when my plane landed in Atlanta. I wasn’t excited to be home, nor did I feel upset. My parents, however, were very excited that I was home. I spotted them waiting by the baggage claim when I was walking to it, carry on in hand.
“Oh, Amber honey. It’s so good to see you.” My mom said and pulled me into a big bear hug.
“Hi mom. It’s good to see you, too.”
“Don’t listen to anything they say.” My dad said when he hugged me.
“Thanks.” I became more anxious because of his statement. What was being said about me? And what would everyone think when they learned I ran back home to my mommy and daddy. I’m sure that did nothing for my image.
We drove north toward Georgia Springs, which was only about 30 minutes away from Atlanta. It was a tiny town with around 8500 people. 8501, now.
“I made your favorite pumpkin cookies.” My mom turned around in her seat to speak to me. “Although your dad already ate a couple.”
“You know I love my pumpkin.” My dad winked at my mom. Whose nickname was indeed “pumpkin”.
My parents were still so madly in love that they often made cute banter with one another, and I loved it. It made Jacob yell at them to stop, or they’d make him sick. But it made me happy.
“Thanks mom. I’m kind of tired though, I think I’ll just go to bed when we get there.”
“Your bed is all made.” She said. Her upbeat attitude told me she was trying way too hard to make me feel better.
“Your brother is in his room.” She said.
“Why is he home?” I didn’t know that Jacob was back at home.
“He lost his job again.” She said, sounding remorseful.
“Oh wow. That stinks. I think I just lost mine too.” I said.
“You did not, sweetheart. You just need to take a break for a couple weeks or a couple months.” She said.
“I hope so.” I couldn’t imagine living back with my parents for that long. It was far too depressing to think about. My house in L.A. was bigger than theirs, but also almost 10 times the price. I split it with multiple friends, but my rent was still double their house payment.
We pulled into the driveway of my childhood home and I felt an uneasiness from bedtime coming. Bedtime during high drama was always the hardest for me. I had trouble sleeping as is. But during times like these I could completely forget about sleeping, even though it’s all I wanted to do. To just lay in bed and shut the world away. It seemed to work great for other people.
My dad brought my bags in and commented about how I must have packed my entire giant house. I laughed and told him I practically did.
“Are you going to be okay?” He asked, setting them in my room.
“Eventually.” I said.
“That’s my girl. If you need anything at all, just let me know.” He said.
He left my room only for my mom to enter a few minutes later. “Looks like Jacob is already asleep.”
“That’s okay. I think I’m going to sleep, too.” I said.
“Okay. I’ll see you in the morning. I’ll make some pancakes with fruit.” She seemed happy to have both of her kids home again.
“Sounds good, mom. Goodnight. I love you.” I had to be the one to end the conversation or she would continue talking, and I really needed to be alone.
She said goodnight and then I closed the door behind her. I changed my clothes and crawled into the queen-size bed I had bought a few years back when visiting for my grandma’s funeral, so they could use the room as a guest bedroom. Then I laid there in the dark. Just staring up at my ceiling, thinking. I did it for hours, unable to quiet my mind enough to sleep. And when I woke up at ten a.m. the following day, it took a lot to make sure I didn’t check any news sources. I had this insistent need to want to check them and I hated it because I knew what it would do to me, but the urge took over when I sat down with my cup of coffee. I pulled up twitter and saw that #CancelAmber was still trending and now so was #AmberIsOverParty. There were quite a few people sticking up for me, including fellow creators that knew who Dan really was, but it still didn’t help quiet down all the negative noise. I started crying right as my mom entered the kitchen and she took my phone.
“Nope. We will not do this.” She said turning it off and placing it on the counter.
“Give it back. It’s my phone.” I cringed at how much of a teenager I sounded like.
“I’m trying to protect you, sweetie. Look who I brought with me from the grocery store?” She was deflecting, and I was okay with it.
I turned around and saw Gabby standing there.
“Gabs!” I jumped up, and we excitedly wrapped our arms around one another.
Jacob appeared in the kitchen. “Oh, great. It’s too early for this.”
“Shut up, Jacob.” I said.
“Yeah, shut up, Jacob. Your sister is having a hard time.” Mom said.
“Maybe she should stop dating idiots from L.A.” He grabbed a bowl and started filling it up with Lucky Charms and milk. My teeth hurt from looking at the bowl full of sugary cereal.
“At least I didn’t get fired for the fourth time.”
He laughed. “At least I didn’t get cancelled on social media for the fourth time.”
“Kids quit it. You’re both here to figure out your lives. Let’s not see who can out petty who.” She said.
“Let’s get out of here.” I said to Gabby. “Can I at least bring my phone with me?” I asked mom before leaving the kitchen.
She handed it back and looked at Gabby, “keep her off social media please.”
“You got it.” She said and snatched my phone from me. “I’m logging you out of all social media platforms and your stupid news apps are now deleted.” She handed it back to me, looking very proud of herself.
I ran upstairs and threw my hair in a ponytail and changed my clothes, threw on a hat and some sunglasses and met Gabby by her car.
“What’s up with the hat and sunglasses?”
“I don’t want anyone to recognize me. I’m not ready yet.” I said.
She laughed, and I shot her a glare.
“I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing that you think people around here pay that much attention to social media.” She said.
“Some do. You do.”
“I post pictures of myself and my husband and then get off because it’s so toxic. I check Twitter twice a day for the news.”
I shrugged. Gabby had always been the one that tried to talk me out of all the social media influencer things I was doing. She was always telling me about how it was “toxic”, and it was ruining my “mental health”, etc. She was never unsupportive of me. Quite the opposite, really. She was just concerned for my wellbeing, and I always appreciated it. But there were times for those kinds of conversations, and this was not one of them.
“So, what do you want to do?” She asked when I still hadn’t responded. She took the hint that I didn’t want to talk about it.
“I have no idea. Where are is Mark? How long are you free for?” I asked.
“Mark is working. He told me to go enjoy myself.” Mark was her boyfriend, starting our freshman year. I could tell those two would be inseparable from the moment they met in kindergarten. Sometimes I was jealous of their life together.
“Alright, awesome. What is there to do around here?” I asked.
“Wanna go to Atlanta?” She asked.
“Hell no, I just had a meet and greet there a couple months ago. It’s far too soon for me.” I said.
“To the outlet mall it is!” She said and headed for the string of outdoor stores that sat on the opposite side of the highway. Along with a new subdivision, I had noticed the night before.
“This place is really growing, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s kind of sad, but it’s been good for the town, so whatever.”
I wished I could be more like Gabby. She let things roll off her sleeve so well and let nothing get to her. She went with the flow and had a nonchalant way about life. My life felt like constant worry. Most things being 100% out of my control. Like the Dan situation. No matter what I did, I still worried.
“There’s a party tonight at Cody Meyer’s house.” She said.
“No way.” My ex and first love, Joshua’s, face popped into my head.
I gave her a look so she would know exactly who I was talking about.
“You’re not worried about seeing him again, are you?” She asked. “It’s been what, five years?”
“Okay, so five years. That’s a long time I’m sure you’ll be okay. Besides, it’s not to see him. It’s getting you to do something fun and to get your mind off all the bullshit.”
“Fine.” But I wasn’t fully fine with it. I wasn’t ready to come face to face with my problems back home. Or with Joshua.