“I already did,” I mumbled, my eyes filling. I blinked back the tears and pinched my own forearms, determined to stay enraged.


I snapped my arms straight, fists at my side. I felt hard, but brittle, like I was made of concrete. One solid whack and I’d crumble into dust. “I said I already did. You’re going to hate me now, and I’ve ruined our friendship.” My voice broke again and I realized I was more angry at myself than I was at him. “I just want someone to care about. Why is that so wrong?”

He closed his eyes. “It’s not wrong.” When he put his arm around me and led me to the door, I didn’t fight him. We walked a couple of blocks before I pulled to a stop and whined that my feet hurt and I was tired, and he hailed a taxi to take us back to his parents’ house.

It was late, and the house was quiet. He stopped outside the guest room door, his voice hushed. “Brooke, you haven’t ruined anything.” He sighed. “Can we just forget this happened? You mean a lot to me. You’re one of the few friends I have who even know about Cara. You had a lot to drink. It was a silly mistake. And I could never hate you.”

For a moment, before I call my travel agent and make reservations for a Tuesday flight, I mull over that sentence: I could never hate you. What it meant to me at the time. What it means to me now. And I almost chicken out.

But I’m right for him. I know it. I just need the chance to prove it.

Chapter 17


No matter how many times we’ve woken up hungover, or how many times we’ve mumbled I will never do that again to ourselves and each other, John and I tend to slam back drinks until we can’t see straight the next time we go out. The exception is when we get high instead.

We didn’t even bother with a hangover Saturday morning—we just went straight into the next binge, making Sunday’s hangover a real bastard. It’s late afternoon before either of us can move, and somewhere in the back of my mind is the nagging philosophical question of the moment—was it fun if I don’t remember it?


There’s some chick passed out on John’s couch, and neither of us remember who was responsible for bringing her back to his apartment, or what was done with her once she was here. For all I know, we all fell asleep. Her makeup is smeared to hell and she’s lying on her stomach with her skirt and top weirdly twisted, lots of skin exposed, and all four limbs extended as though she was tossed there.

“She’s kind of tall. Probably yours,” I say, due to John’s known weakness for models.

“She’s kind of blonde. Probably yours,” he returns. He prods her hip with his foot. “Hey. Wake up.” She releases an annoyed grunt but otherwise doesn’t react.

This is really, truly wrong, and insanely hilarious. Unfortunately, it hurts my head to laugh. “Shit, John, she’s not a bum.”

He exhales and blinks slowly, his eyes squinting at her in the not-that-bright light of day—the blinds are still shut tight. “Dude, I beg to differ. She’s unconscious, somewhere she doesn’t belong, where nobody knows who she is. That’s pretty much the definition of a bum.” He leans over and tries nudging her shoulder—with his hand this time. She moans again and he recoils. “Oh for chrissake, her breath sure smells like a bum’s.”

I dig my phone out of the jeans I was wearing last night, which I find slung over the back of a nearby chair. “I’ll call a cab. You find some ID. We’ll load her in, throw some twenties at the cabbie and send her on her way.”

Holding his head, John casts around for a purse while I make the call. “Wallet!” He says finally, his hand emerging from between the sofa cushions. “Okay, who are you…”

“The taxi will be out front in five.” I collapse into the chair just as John utters a string of curse words at a much too elevated volume. “Dammit John, shut the hell up,” I hiss, pressing my palms to my temples.

“Yeah, okay. Look.” He hands me her ID.

I don’t recognize the name or address, but the taxi sure as hell won’t do any good. “Shit—San Diego? We can’t send an unconscious girl to San Diego in a cab.”

John shakes his head minutely. “No man, that’s not the problem.” He lets loose with another string of curses, softer this time, staring at her like she’s a zombie and any second she’s going to wake up and attack.

“What, then?” I ask, and he hands me another ID. I didn’t really look at the photo of the first one, or the age. I do now. The photo could be her—twenty-one year old Amber Lipscomb… Until I look at the second ID, which is clearly the girl on the sofa—seventeen-year-old April Hollingsworth. “Oh, shit.” I knew the club was a bad idea. I knew it.

“We are so screwed.” He stares at zombie girl, no longer making any effort to wake her up.

My phone launches into its ringtone, startling us both. “Yeah?” I croak, mouth parched and heart rate spiked. And I thought my head was pounding before. Ha. “Okay, thanks.” I look at John. “The taxi’s here.”

His eyes swing to me. “Put your pants on and get out of here, man.”

“Are you serious?”

He’s staring at her again, wary. “I’m nobody. She can’t prove shit about who she was with last night, and there’s only so far she can get with a damned good fake in her possession, and being in a 21-up club. We’re nineteen, which makes this a misdemeanor at worst. No one will do anything to me for such a minor offense—but someone would find a way to make you pay for it. So get out of here.”

John and I have been in tight spots before, but this is probably an all-time low. If this goes poorly, his father will torch him. I never could have imagined John throwing himself on that grenade for me. I can’t wrap my brain around it. “Look, you woke up in your room, I woke up in the guest room, and clearly she hasn’t budged from the sofa since she landed there. Maybe nothing happened.”

“Maybe,” he snorts. “Reid. Take that taxi and go home. And perform some sort of ritualistic sacrifice once you get there, man. I’ll call you later.”


Derek and Emily picked me up at the airport Friday afternoon, and almost forty-eight hours later, they’re dropping me back off.

Riding in Derek’s Jeep gives me a déjà vu of my excursion to Griffith Park with Graham. I pull my hair into a ponytail and recall the pleasure of huddling together to watch the sunrise, and the feel of his mouth on my neck as he murmured you’re so beautiful. I’ve reread his note several dozen times, and only the fear of it being ripped from my grasp by a gust of wind keeps me from pulling it out now. Our three weeks are counting down.

I didn’t know, last fall, in my back-and-forth skirmishes with Reid, that this is how it’s supposed to feel. Not relentless internal questions of should I give in or am I ready yet, not a constant feeling of defending my borders—but yearning for this next step, this connection. An inherent trust that it means everything it should mean.

From the back seat, I watch Derek and Emily communicate without speaking, something they’ve probably learned to do of necessity in this open-air vehicle. Their hands are clasped over the center console—his strong, tan forearm brushing against her paler, fragile-looking skin. I can’t help but smile. Thanks to the Jeep and a host of new outdoor activities, Emily has actual tan lines. They’re the faintest tan lines ever, due to her liberal all-over use of sun block, but still.

Derek has gotten my best friend into rock-climbing recently—something that made Mrs. Watson stop speaking to him for a week except for under-her-breath asides about danger and her baby girl and imminent death. Emily says he finally made a concerted effort to explain all the details of the pulley system and the fact that as a novice Emily was always hooked up to it, in the end convincing her mother that he would allow absolutely nothing to happen to the girl he loved.

“It was all very sitcom-sappy,” Emily told me Saturday morning as we lounged in her bed. “I told Derek he wasn’t allowed to speak to my mother that way—all that mushy stuff—which of course bonded them immediately.” Her sly smile made me laugh out loud, and I wondered how Dad and Chloe would handle the news of Graham and me.

By Friday night, photos of me with Reid outside LAX were plastered all over the Internet, along with rampant speculations about our possible relationship. “I figured that this crap falls under need-to-know,” Emily sighed, turning her monitor to face me. The time of day he dropped me off, some sites insisted, confirmed the probability of our having spent the night together.

I texted Graham so he wouldn’t be caught unaware, again, of a seemingly intimate photo of me with Reid. He texted back: Vultures. Thanks for letting me know.

Emily wasn’t the only one who kept an eye out for incriminating photos of me. I should have known right away from Chloe’s patronizing questions over dinner last night that she’d discovered them, too, but my mind was so occupied with thoughts of Graham and his promises for our Skype-time later that I was running on auto-pilot answers and all but ignoring her.

When she passed the vinaigrette, she said, “Emma, you sneaky thing … how was LA?”

I dribbled dressing over my salad, vowing to squeeze in a long run in the morning. “It was fine. Pretty clear this trip, actually,” I said, alluding to LA weather and the always-welcome lack of haze.

As I passed the bottle to Dad, Chloe gave him a self-satisfied see there? sort of look, which made him frown.

“Everything is definitely clearer lately.” This was a Chloe attempt at being cryptic, but nothing about my stepmother is ever obscure or even vaguely mysterious. Her thoughts and designs are transparent, unconstrained by silly social constructs like tact or poise. I’ve learned to count this as one of her positive traits, in the same way you know a shark is capable of biting your arm off because you can see the teeth.

First, I registered the fact that she called me sneaky. And then the clearer comment.

Recognition dawned. “Ah. You’ve seen photos.” I turned to Dad’s concerned eyes. “You know how Dan said that the studio wants Reid and me to look like a couple until the premiere? Well, that’s what we’re doing—just so you know. Nothing is actually going on between us.”

“Why in the world not?” Chloe was incredulous. “He’s gorgeous!”

Dad’s frown turned into a scowl. “For God’s sake, Chloe, I don’t want my daughter hooking up, or whatever, with that adolescent Casanova.”

I almost choked on a tomato hearing my father say hooking up, which he air-quoted.

Chloe sighed heavily and rolled her eyes like she was twelve. “I’m just saying that since she’s abandoning the film industry, she’s not likely to get a shot at anyone like him ever again.”

“All the better!” Dad countered, following that with a harrumph as he stabbed a forkful of salad and stuffed it in his mouth.

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