A few months later, my new manager strongly suggested speech therapy to rid me of my accent. I jumped at the chance. The most puzzling thing was Reid’s objection. “I like the way you talk,” he said, running his fingers through my hair as I lay with my head on his lap while we watched a movie. “It’s different. It’s hot.”

“Pshh! No it’s not. I sound like a redneck with a fifth grade education.”

“But you’re not.”

“It’s what I sound like, so it’s what everyone thinks.”

“Who gives a shit what everyone thinks?” he said. I see now that this has long been some sort of mantra for him. I’ve never been that free. I want to be, and sometimes I pretend to be, but I’m not. I’m forever chained to giving a shit about what someone thinks.

“Is she your girlfriend now?” Cara’s idea of whispering is anything but.

I’ve made it a habit to avoid my younger half-siblings when possible—all too simple, living in another state, especially after passing the age of mandatory visitation. So I don’t spend much time in the company of small children. I’m not used to the way a kid Cara’s age just blurts out indelicate questions. In the middle of dinner, no less.

Every eye at the table shifts to Graham, who chuckles at his daughter. “No, Brooke is a really good friend—like Daniel or Rob.” These two are classmates of Graham’s. We’re going to a party tomorrow night that one of them is hosting. I’m not so sure I want to be grouped with a couple of guys in Graham’s head. Talk about the friend zone.

Audible exhalations of relief come from his mother and his sister, Brynn, who came over for dinner tonight because she can’t take off work for the ceremony tomorrow morning. I plaster a rigid smile on my face at their oh-thank-God sighs. What the hell.

The kid taps her fork against her plate, her head angled like a puppy hearing an unfamiliar noise. “So Emma is your girlfriend?”

Graham sighs. “Cara, it’s time for dinner, not twenty questions.”


She gives him a cheeky look. “That was two questions, Daddy. Two.”

“Yeah, well, just because you ask a question—or two—doesn’t mean you get an answer.” He winks at her and she rolls her eyes like she’s heard that before and digs into her lasagna. Then Graham turns to his family and says, “Brooke is going to be filming a romantic comedy here in New York, starting—when is it, Brooke, mid-August?”

“Yes.” He’s letting his family know I’ll be around in the future. This is good. I’m closer to being able to tell him that I’ve sublet an apartment with a lease running from the beginning of August through December.

“Are they still talking to Efron about the male lead?”

“No. I think he’s had some other contract he can’t get out of. I’m not sure who they’re considering now.”

“Congratulations, Brooke,” his father says as his mother and Brynn mumble vague acknowledgements.

On the outside, I thank them graciously and smile obliviously, like the vacant little bimbo they seem to think I am—totally unaware of their disdain.

On the inside, I’m snarling fuck all y’all.


Cara gets a case of the giggles when she sees me in my graduation garb, and I haven’t even donned the cap yet. I shake my head as she collapses onto the bottom stair, sliding into a prone position and laughing like she does when Brynn tickles her. Finally, she pauses long enough to tell me that I look like Cinderella, before she dissolves into another round of unreserved laughter.

“She has a point, Graham,” Cassie says, juggling Caleb. “You are rockin’ the baby blue satin in that commencement dress.”

Cara slaps the wooden step with her small hand, howling with laughter. I’m afraid to put on the cap and tassel in front of her, because she might lose the ability to breathe. Mom insists, though, because the ceremony is outdoors and unless she pins it beforehand, one gust of wind could send it flying. Once the cap is affixed to my head, Cara is beside herself for another five minutes, and I wonder how she’ll react when confronted with several thousand graduates in light blue caps and dresses.

Brooke’s eyes are sparkling, and for a split second I realize how rare it is to see them free of her guarded cynicism. She seems like she’d be the last person on earth to censor herself, when in actuality, that’s all she does.

A few hours and a long, strangely exhilarating ceremony later, I text Emma to tell her I’m an official college graduate. We arrange an early Skype time because of the graduation party tonight and her flight from Sacramento to Burbank tomorrow morning. Neither of us mentions the fact that Brooke will be tagging along to the party, meeting my school friends and possibly inciting more photos and stories for the rumor mill.

“So… do I look smarter as a college grad? Or at least hotter?” I smooth my hands over the light blue Columbia t-shirt before shrugging into a plaid shirt, leaving it open over the t-shirt and dropping into the desk chair. I angle the monitor so that Emma’s face is clear.

She laughs and looks me over. “Definitely both. I like the baby blue on you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in that color.”

“I do tend to prefer black.”

“You should meet Emily. Black is ninety percent of her wardrobe.” She gnaws her lip for a moment. She’s been a bit pensive the past few of days when we talk, and I find myself wishing I knew her better, so I’d know if she’s worried or upset, or if she’s just got something on her mind.

“I definitely need to meet Emily,” I say. Wanting me to meet the childhood friend, the best friend, the like-a-sister friend is the equivalent of me taking her to meet Cassie. “Maybe after the premiere—”

“I was thinking—”

We both stop. “Go ahead,” I urge, hoping she’ll tell me. “What were you thinking?”

She sighs and looks down, probably picking at her fingernails—something she does when she’s nervous. “I was thinking I could… maybe…” She sighs, and I wait.

Out with it, Emma. Just tell me.

“How would you feel if I move to New York early? Like, before the end of summer?”

My answer comes in a rush, uncontainable. “I would love that.” I try to remain calm, as though we’re discussing some mundane order of business. “How early are we talking about?” I’m envisioning her here, in my city, in all the places that—five minutes ago—were just familiar landmarks of my life.

She shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe next month? I don’t know how long it would take to find an apartment…”

I almost tell her I can start looking tomorrow. Tonight. Screw the party.

But then I recall scraps of our conversations about her desire to do the normal-girl thing, and I wonder if getting an apartment has too much to do with me. I don’t want her to give up a single thing she wants or needs, because she’s had to do that for far too long. I swallow my selfish excitement and say, “I thought you were determined to live the whole dorm experience?”

A slight crease mars her forehead. “Since NYU doesn’t really have a campus, the dorms are all over Manhattan anyway. I thought having my own apartment would be more private…” This is because of me. Because of us. “You don’t agree?”

My inner Graham is roaring just say ‘yes, I agree,’ you dumbass, but I shove what I want aside. What I want doesn’t matter. This is her college experience. She’ll only do it once, and then it will be over. Having graduated today, I know this. Cara was born two months before I began college, so I never even considered leaving home. I was lucky that home was New York City, and my academic record got me into the Ivy League school I wanted to attend.

“I don’t know, Emma.” I force a contemplative expression onto my face. “You should definitely think this over. Even if the dorms aren’t clustered on a traditional campus, there are all-night study sessions, pillow fights in the hall, roommate quarrels, someone sneaking in a keg for a floor party… essential components of the full college experience.” I smile, but her eyes are downcast again and she doesn’t see it.


There’s a tap at my door and when I look up, Brooke is standing in the doorway holding two tops on hangers. I could have sworn I’d closed the door all the way, but I must have left it ajar.

“Hey, I need your assistance in choosing what you want me to wear tonight.” She glances at the screen in front of me. “Oh, Emma! Oh shit, I’m totally interrupting—so sorry!” Emma blinks, looking at Brooke, who is no doubt appearing behind me now on her screen. “You might as well give me your opinion, since you’re almost like right here. What do you think—this one?” She holds up short-sleeved, dark purple, cleavage-baring cashmere sweater. “Or this?” She switches to a silky baby blue top that matches her eyes and the t-shirt I’m wearing.

Emma clears her throat. “It’s a Columbia graduation party, so the blue, I guess.”

“Oh, you’re so right!” She turns to me, her fingers grazing my chest. “And it coordinates with what you’re wearing, Graham.” The sparkle in her eyes from earlier today gone. Her shields are back up. She couldn’t have known I’d be Skyping with Emma now, or I’d think she planned this interruption.

“I’ll be ready in like, half an hour.” She turns to go and I see that she’s wearing a tiny bathrobe that just barely covers her butt.

I turn back to Emma, whose eyes are on Brooke’s retreating, scarcely-clad backside. “I’m getting ready to go out with Emily, so I should probably get ready, too,” she says.

We’d planned to talk for another half an hour, until it was time for me to leave. She’s clearly upset, and Brooke’s untimely appearance in my bedroom wearing a skimpy robe has to be the reason. I clench my jaw. Tomorrow, Brooke will be back in LA, and Emma will return home from her last interaction with Reid for the week. Everything will work itself out.

“Have fun with Emily,” I offer, and she nods.

“Enjoy the party. Talk to you tomorrow.” Her smile appears forced, and before I can say a proper goodbye, she signs off.

“So you guys are a couple, huh?” Daniel hands me a beer and clinks his bottle to mine. Half the eyes in the room follow Brooke as she winds through the crowd on her way to the bathroom.

I glance in her direction and back at him. “No, we’re not.”

He arches a brow. “Dude. Have you told her that?”

Wouldn’t that be awkward. “Unnecessary. We’ve been good friends for several years. It’s never been like that.”

Daniel’s roommate confers with him about a beer run while I think about Emma, wishing she was here with me instead of Brooke. That line of thinking leaves me feeling guilty. Brooke is taking time from her life to be supportive to me, and I should be more appreciative. I watch the mouth of the hallway where she disappeared. She’s had a couple of beers, but she seems fine.

Most Popular