“I guess I’ll see you in a couple of days?” she says, holding out her hand.

I’ve kissed this girl. Made out with this girl. Still remember her breathless, “Yes,” from that afternoon when I told her I wanted her in my bed, before everything fell apart. Somehow, though, none of those memories feel connected to her—this girl standing in front of me, extending a hand for me to shake like we’re respectable business colleagues and I’ve never had my tongue in her mouth or my hands up her shirt.

I’ve gotten way too good at my own ability to disengage.

I take her hand, but instead of merely shaking it, I lean forward and pull it up to my lips, kissing her just behind the middle knuckle. “I guess you’ll be meeting me in San Fran after all, huh?”

She inclines her head and smirks, pulling her hand from mine and readjusting the laptop strap. “I guess. But I get the feeling that meeting Monday and Tuesday mornings at 5:00 a.m. for more morning show interviews isn’t what you had in mind.”

Correct. “Come on, Emma. We have to go somewhere cool Monday night.” I turn to walk back around to the driver’s side, because we’re getting some attention from other departing passengers who’ve begun to figure out who we are. She’s flying home to Sacramento while I’m driving back to LA alone. “San Francisco is a culinary heaven. And I’ll have you back to your room in time for your Skype appointment.” I wink at her and she rolls her eyes.

“Oh-kay,” she says, as though she’s exasperated and I’ve worn her down.

I feel as though she just moved a game piece that puts her that much closer to check mate, and I can’t help thinking what a bastard I’ve turned into.

All’s fair in love and war. A fine sentiment—if this was either.

“John. Please tell me you have something stimulating on tap for tonight.”

I-5 is two hours of spotty cell service with occasional ocean views, until it veers away from the Pacific and loses all aesthetic appeal, becoming frequently punctuated with snarls of traffic in heavily populated areas. I’m already bored out of my mind and I still have at least another hour to go, probably two, because of traffic anywhere near LA this time of day.


“That depends what you mean by stimulating, man. On a scale of one to porn, where do you wanna be?”

There’s a car full of girls next to me, all of them trying to see through the nearly opaque window tint. Right before the light turns, I roll the windows down and glance over, watch their mouths all turn into “O” as the signal switches to green and I’m gone. “One to porn. Hmm. I’d say a solid eight or nine would do.”

John yawns into my ear. “Eight isn’t out of the question. This girl who was on my econ project team is having a dinner party tonight—”

“Dinner party? What the hell man—we’re not thirty-five.”

“Yeah that’s what I thought, until she dragged me to one last week that her sorority sister was hosting. Basically everyone sits around being all pseudo-intellectual and getting stoned. All I had to do to seem like the smartest guy there was shut the fuck up.”

“So pretty much your natural state when stoned.”


Less than two weeks until the premiere—at which point one of two things will happen. Most likely: Brooke will succeed with Operation Graham, and Emma, in her emotionally defenseless state, will fall into my arms with one good pull. Less likely: Brooke will fail, Graham and Emma will run off into the sunset holding hands and making everyone within a ten-mile radius vomit, and I’ll be free to go back to the openly hedonistic life that other nineteen-year-old guys would kill to have. It’s win-win, if I can just get to it.

When we arrive, John’s girl answers the door, pressing herself into him. “You’re late. I thought you weren’t coming,” she chides. She’s one of those squeaky-voiced girls, which fits her tiny size. Standing behind him, I can’t actually see her. I only know she’s on the other side of him because I can hear her.

He hitches a thumb over his shoulder. “I had to pick Reid up. You said you needed another guy for the boy-girl balance, so I delivered.”

Her eyes peek over his shoulder then, and immediately widen. “You brought—Reid Alexander?” she squeaks. “That’s who you meant when you said you were bringing Reid?”

John isn’t usually one to keep our friendship secret, our relationship being a major part of his social resume. Then again, he sometimes savors other people’s shock when he introduces me as a friend in person. I don’t mind. I actually sorta like it.

“Didn’t I tell you that already?” His voice is all blasé and it’s an effort for me not to laugh. He glances back at me with the same laugh-evading expression I’m wearing. “I’m almost sure I did.”

“Uh, no. I’d have remembered that. Ohmigod.”

I step up to stand next to John, handing over a bottle of wine I took from Dad’s collection right before we left. Hopefully it’s something old and expensive, but not old enough to taste like shit.

John makes the introductions, epitomizing the perception of no big deal. “Reid, Bianca. Bianca, Reid.”

She takes the bottle with a strangled, “Nice to meet you.” John chuckles when she tosses a small glare at him, mixed with newfound appreciation, before turning and walking into the open room and announcing, “Hey guys, this is John, and, uh, Reid…”

Five people—three girls and two guys—sit mashed around a table that looks thrift-store shabby but upon closer inspection was just made to look that way. The chairs and dishes are mismatched, too, as though this in itself coordinates with the cinderblock walls and exposed pipes. Pretend grunge annoys the shit out of me for some reason, but I’m not here to pass judgment on the décor.

Four people stare at me, open-mouthed. The other guy looks at me, then John, then the others, and back around full-circle, confusion etched on his face. He says something to the girl near him, who says something back. “Ohhh,” he says, and then his expression catches up with everyone else’s: slack-jawed awe at a celebrity, in the flesh, at their intimate little dinner party. I glance at John. He eats this shit up.

Bianca and one of the other girls share the open-loft apartment. Everyone attends USC, where John is, shockingly, still on track to complete the business degree his CFO father expects. We’re lingering over the barely-edible pasta the girls made and John is opening our fourth or fifth bottle of wine, and the talk has strayed to classic hipster topics—philosophy and music—neither of which will ever have a definitive answer. Animated conversation ensues, and John and I follow his earlier edict for dealing with this kind of bullshit: shut up and stay that way.

Bianca’s roommate, Jo, has turned narrowed eyes on me several times. So far, I’ve been ignoring her. Finally, while the others all talk over each other, I lean up, catching her pointed stare and hold it. “Do I know you?” I ask, and she laughs without a trace of humor.

“Really? I thought you celebrity types were above lines, especially something so passé.” Her voice is a direct contrast to her roommate’s—husky and almost masculine.

“You think that was a pick-up line?” I laugh once and shake my head. “Sorry, sweetheart, but no. I was just wondering what I’d done to earn the death-stare. I figure either I screwed you at some point and I don’t remember—and you’re pissed… or I didn’t bother—and you’re pissed. So which is it?”

Her mouth drops open and her eyes blaze. Grabbing two of the empty wine bottles, she stomps into the kitchen. I think about following her, but decide against making the effort. At least now she has a reason to hate me.

A couple of hours later we’re like a heap of puppies on the floor, heads on thighs, feet in laps, arms draped over abdomens. People get a lot friendlier when they’re high, though not necessarily more interesting. Bianca’s reclining halfway on one of the guys, who’s delivering an address about what constitutes a lie, philosophically speaking, and quoting Kant and Augustine. John is caressing Bianca’s calf, making her moan and then giggle once he gets to her ankle. She sits up and swats his hand, and then they’re kissing. Easy enough to see where this party is going.

When I look away from them, I catch Jo giving me that same glare from the other side of the circle. Hell, even being high doesn’t calm her inner bitch. She would incinerate me on the spot if she could, and I have no idea why. I give her a hooded smile.

When Bianca takes John’s hand and pulls him down the hall, one of the other couples breaks off into a recliner in the corner, leaving Jo, me and two other people who look like they’d rather mess around with us than each other. We ignore them and they eventually take the hint, twisting around each other on the sofa, and then Jo gets up and walks to her room down the hall. I get up and follow.

I wonder if she’ll bite my tongue if I go for it, if she’ll draw blood. She’s standing in the middle of her room and I walk up to her, leaning down to kiss her, nothing touching but our mouths. I trace her lips with my tongue. When she opens and I thrust my tongue in her mouth, pulling her closer, it’s good for a few seconds… and then she’s shoving her tongue in my mouth, pulling my hands down to my sides and taking charge.

I don’t mind aggressive girls—hell, Brooke had no problem telling me what she wanted and how she wanted it, and some of my older partners have been the same way. Telling me what to do, where to go? No problem. Sticking a tongue down my throat? No thanks. What’s arousing and what isn’t is individual, and there’s no changing it.

This will require as little kissing as I can manage.

I close the door and pop the lock as she’s unbuttoning her blouse, and I’m still curious about the earlier animosity. Especially now. “You have to tell me.”

She shrugs off her shirt. “I don’t have to do anything. Just shut up and get undressed.”

For half a second, I consider. It’s no-strings sex, and she is attractive. Most guys don’t generally turn down sex in these circumstances.

I’m not most guys.

I turn and unlock the door, pulling my phone from my pocket to call a taxi. This situation is close enough to humorous that I’m smiling. Before I get the door open, she’s pushing it closed, taking a deep breath. “Okay, wait. Yes.”

My hand is still on the doorknob. “Yes what?”

“It was the second one. We were at a party, making out, and some blonde whore walked up and grabbed your hand and you just went off with her.” She says all of this in such a rush that the words run together. “It was years ago. Before anyone knew who you were. I remembered, though, because no guy had ever humiliated me like that. No one’s done it since, either.”

The blonde was undoubtedly Brooke. This was one of her favorite little games—she’d pick some random girl at a party or a club, and tell me to go get her mindless. And then she’d just walk up and take me away. I was so hot for Brooke that I never really thought of how the other girls felt, being deserted like that.

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