The first note I left for Emma was in Austin, after she told me about her mother’s death and we fell asleep watching television. That one was the result of several longer, more maudlin versions. I left the abbreviated edition on her night table, and threw the others away in my room. Since then, I’ve crafted poems to her in my head (discarded without being jotted down), written her two letters (put through the shredder in Mom’s home office), and tapped out multiple soul-baring texts (deleted without even being saved to drafts).

As I pull her door shut and it locks behind me, I have a two-second panic attack about the note I just left for her before I take a deep breath and head for my room. There’s no taking it back, apart from the fact that I don’t actually want to.

I round the corner and inexplicably, Brooke is standing in front of me. “Graham?” Her expression is bemused, head at an angle like a bemused puppy. She frowns at the ice bucket in my hand. “Are you… getting ice?” She points back to where the vending alcove is, which I’d have passed if I was coming from my room.

“Um. No?” My mind is blank. I have no idea what to offer as an excuse. Thank God I’m wearing pants.

She glances behind me towards Emma’s door, but thankfully, she doesn’t voice the question that flashes through her eyes, because I’d have to tell her it’s none of her business, which would answer her curiosity in any case. For some reason, she directs her best faux-smile at me. I seldom get the faux-smile from Brooke. “Are you about to check out?” she asks. Her Louis Vuitton overnight bag is slung over her shoulder, D&G sunglasses perched on her head, and I’m not sure what label the stilettos are, but I’d be willing to bet they’re the ones with the red undersides. She’s a walking LA-girl stereotype.

“Yeah. I’ve gotta grab a quick shower and then get a taxi to LAX.”

“I can take you.” She shrugs and turns to walk to my room with me. “It’s not like I have a booked schedule. And we didn’t get to hang out much this trip.”

I have been focused on Emma for the past three days. I didn’t consider that Brooke might want face time, too. “Oh. Okay, cool. Thanks.”

When we get to my room, I tell her to make herself at home while I shower. Twenty minutes later we’re crossing the lobby as Reid is coming in with his bodyguard. “You two leaving?” he asks, unnecessarily, since we’re both holding luggage.

I’m anticipating Brooke’s sure-to-be acerbic answer when she says, without a trace of condescension, “Yeah, I’m taking Graham to the airport.”

“Cool.” He shoves his mirrored shades up and sticks a hand out. “See you guys in three weeks, eh?” I shake his hand, and then he gives Brooke a quick hug as I begin to wonder what kind of twilight zone I’ve entered.


When he walks off, I’m staring at her, perplexed. Sunglasses in place, she says, “What?”

I shake my head. “Oh, I don’t know—possibly the hug and friendly banter with a guy I nearly decked in the middle of a nightclub for you a few months ago.”

She shrugs. “I guess we needed to get that shit out of the way. It was all a long time ago. I’m trying to move past it. Okay?”

I nod. “Sure. Okay.”

A valet pulls up with her black two-seater Mercedes, and I put our bags in the trunk while she tips him. I’ve barely clicked my seatbelt in place when she pulls into traffic. “So tell me… just how serious is this thing with Emma?” Her tone is very nonchalant.

“We’re not really revealing anything about it yet.” My attempt at being evasive earns me a smirk.

“Yeah, I figured that much. Because of the studio edict for Reid and Emma to look like a real-life love-match?”

“Who told you about that?”

She flips her hand off the top of the steering wheel. “He did, I guess. I don’t remember.”

This is more and more odd. So now they’re chatting? “Hmm.”

Glancing at me through her sunglasses, she says, “You can tell me, right? You know I won’t say anything to the freaking media.”

In four years of friendship, Brooke has never given me a reason not to trust her.

“All right. It’s semi-serious.”

She shoots me a look over the top of her sunglasses.

I shrug and look out the window. “And I want it to be more than semi.”

Her faux-smile is back, but she’s directing it out the windshield. “That’s new for you.”

Isn’t it though. “Yes.”


While I’m packing up, I text John to find out if he wants to go out tonight, and he calls me back while I wait in the lobby for the valet to bring my car around.

“Hell yeah, you know I’m game,” he says. “Any ideas?”

“I was hoping you had something. No clubs—I’ve got studio orders of exclusive coupledom until the premiere. Can’t risk taking anyone home if it could get leaked.” Not to mention the fact that Brooke will hang me up by my balls if I screw up this elaborate scheme of hers. “Any private parties?” John’s network includes plenty of the bored rich kids of LA’s most prominent cosmetic surgeons, Hollywood execs, and professionals like our dads. He’s even better connected for that shit than I am.

“Yeah, sure, there’s at least one or two that might not prove lame. Pick you up at ten?”


John and I have known each other for three years, ever since a party during which I thought I was going to die.

I was hitting on this girl, and she was hitting back like a pro. We found a shadowy spot near the pool waterfall to make some semi-stoned explorations and get better acquainted—all fine and good until someone yanked me away from her with the clear intent of ripping my arm from its socket. Apparently she had a boyfriend who was a bit disappointed to find her with her shirt hanging open and one hand down the front of my jeans.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” he screamed, eyes crazy and swinging back and forth between us. His hand was still clenched around my nearly dislocated arm as she stumbled backwards. He was smaller than me, but older and really pissed off.

When he let go, I tried to just retreat and take the loss. No sense getting my ass kicked for some girl who hadn’t bothered to volunteer her name or ask mine, as far as I could remember. “Nothing, man, seriously,” I mumbled, still high but sobering up fast. Unfortunately, my unzipped jeans and the fact that she was fumbling to rebutton her shirt contradicted my words.

He stepped closer to me, his wiry neck muscles bulging. “I’m gonna kill you.”

That’s when John popped up next to me. I’d never seen him before. “Hey! Do I know you?” At first I thought he meant me, but a quick glance told me he meant pissed-off guy.

“Back off, dickwad.” The guy stabbed a finger at me. “This is between me and him.”

“Oh yeah? This is my house. So why don’t you back off.” John was smaller than both of us, but he was gushing righteous indignation.

That’s when pissed-off guy’s six-foot-four, linebacker-width friend materialized. Gaping at him, I thought: I’m dead. Holy shit, I’m totally dead. Expressionless, he stared back as I contemplated whether or not it was even remotely possible for me to get in one punch that might stun him long enough for me to make a run for it. I couldn’t look away from his glassy-eyed gaze until he cracked his knuckles.

I swallowed, trying one last stab at conciliation with the pissed-off boyfriend. “Hey, uh, sorry, dude—I didn’t know she was taken.”

“Not good enough, dude,” he sneered, unappeased. He didn’t want apologies. He wanted blood. Mine.

That’s when John sidestepped me and meaty guy, all 140 pounds of him barreling straight into pissed-off guy. Knocking the guy flat on his ass, he commenced to beat the shit out of him, fists flying. Great, I thought, my eyes sliding back to the huge thug whose neck was the size of one of my thighs, now I’m definitely getting my ass kicked.

I stood straight, fists clenched, certain that if that guy landed one punch, I was going to be (a) unconscious and (b) not nearly as attractive as I began this lousy evening. And then meaty guy breathed a deep, frustrated sigh, rolled his eyes, and leaned down to grab his friend out from under John. Making for the side gate, he towed his bleeding, stumbling comrade along. Without a word, the girl followed.

This all happened in the time it took me to blink twice.

Like a prize fighter, John rocked his head back and forth a couple of times, popping his neck, and then looked at me. “Come on, man, I’ve gotta ice my knuckles.” He grinned idiotically as he pumped his hands open and closed as though that would help the pain. “God damn, that hurts.”

I shook my head at him. “Uh, thanks?”

“No prob. That guy was a dick.” I followed him into the house, where he opened a drawer in the freezer and rummaged through ice packs of various shapes and sizes. “My step-mom does kickboxing,” he said, in explanation of the ice packs. I tried and failed to imagine my mom kickboxing. Pulling a hand-sized pack from the freezer drawer, he said, “So, you’re Reid Alexander, yeah?”

At sixteen, I was still on the outer fringes of celebrity. “You know who I am?”

I had no idea then how much everything would change, or how quickly. Meeting John was one of the earliest indications of the approaching shift in my social status. John is one of my closest friends now, but he’s always been conscious of who’s who, and I’ve wondered if our friendship would have ever occurred if he hadn’t known who I was that night.

“I know Karen and Olivia, and they said they were bringing you tonight.”

The last glimpse I’d gotten of Karen and Olivia, they were dancing together and driving every guy in the vicinity nuts. Too bad for the guys, because neither girl would be interested in any of them. They were much more interested in each other… which is why I’d gone looking for my own amusement.

Taking two beers from the fridge with his uninjured hand, John handed me one.

I twisted the cap off and shook my head. “Guess I got lucky that big guy wasn’t in the mood to fight, eh?”

John shrugged. “The smaller guy was the douche. I figured, take him out, problem solved.”

Risky guess. “Yeah, well, thanks.”

Chapter 16


I wake up alone, with bits and pieces of last night and this morning floating back to me. The first thing I remember is the last thing that happened—Graham leaving a piece of paper on the night table before he leaned over, hands on either side of my head, and kissed me goodbye. I drifted back to sleep with the taste of him on my lips.

I sit up a bit, scooting back against the pillows and rubbing my eyes, and the note is there, where I remember him leaving it. The clock reads 11 a.m., so he must have left three hours ago. He’s somewhere between California and New York, probably flying over a patchwork quilt of corn and wheat fields. The room-darkening draperies seal out the sunlight completely, so I have to switch the lamp on to read his note. I run the pad of my finger over his familiar scrawl, my name at the top and his at the bottom.

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