Emily purses her lips and lies back down, still holding my hand like we’ve been doing since we were five. “Wow. That sucks ass.”



Yesterday morning, I woke up in bed with Brooke. Dressed and on top of the covers, but still. Not exactly the sort of thing I’d want my mother, my daughter or my girlfriend to walk in on, no matter how innocuous it was.

She woke when I was starting to move out from under her leg (imprisoning my thigh) and her hand (on my chest, gripping my t-shirt). Smiling up at me, she said, “Morning.”

I froze. “I’m sorry. I guess I was pretty wiped last night.”

“Me, too. It’s no problem. I liked sleeping with you.”

What the hell could I say to that?

And then she shifted up and kissed my jaw. I was fully awake by the second kiss, which landed just under my ear. She made a disappointed noise when I sat up, while I scrambled for something to say. Sitting up behind me, she pressed her chest to my back, her fingers trailing down my arm, and I stood and spun around to face her.

“Brooke, I hope falling asleep next to you didn’t give you the wrong impression, but nothing’s changed between us. You’re one of my oldest friends—but that’s what we are. Friends. You understand that, right?”

She smiled with those shuttered eyes. “Yes, I know, Graham. And I’m fine with that.”


I know Brooke has different relationship parameters than I do, but she’s going to have to defer to mine. Kissing? Sleeping together? Not things I do with friends. “Um. Okay.”

She swung her legs to the ground and took my hands in hers. “That doesn’t mean I’m blind to how great you are, or that I don’t sometimes, you know, think about you in other ways…”

Shit. “Brooke—”

“Hey, shh, I’m just talking. No danger, see?” She dropped my hands, still smiling. “Emma better take good care of you, though, or she’ll have to answer to me!” Her tone was so lighthearted that I felt almost silly for the warning I sensed under the words.

“It would probably be better if you don’t stay here anymore—and I know you’ll be in New York while you’re filming this fall—”

She waved a hand. “I’m getting my own place. No worries.”

“You are?”

“Yeah, I figured I was going to be here three or four months, and I’ve recently considered moving to New York, so I thought I’d sublet a place, see how I like it.”

While I was trying to imagine Brooke—every inch a California girl—living in Manhattan instead of Hollywood, she tossed her empty suitcase on the bed and gave me a gentle push. “Now scoot. I have to get packed and ready to go back to LA.”

Emma’s phone has been off since late yesterday, right after she hung up on me. She never signed in to Skype last night, I don’t know her home number, and it’s unlisted. I don’t have Emily’s number, either. My choices were limited to watching her on Ellen or getting on a plane.

I opted to do both.

I’m not a guy who makes rash decisions. Yet, I boarded a cross-country flight five hours ago with no thought in mind but see Emma.

I still don’t understand the whole photo-in-bed thing, and Brooke never answered my text asking her about it. If such a photo exists, Brooke must have taken it… and texted it to Reid? In what universe does that make any sense?

Watching Emma and Reid on Ellen supplied my final incentive to do something, anything. When he took her hand and kissed it, I had to stand and pace the room to keep from destroying the TV. And when he said, “We might as well come clean,” I think my heart actually stopped beating. He then proceeded to take every bit of tabloid gossip ever written about them and weave it into one insane story, but the way he looked at her said more than his words.

I know he wants her still. Why wouldn’t he? Even if I doubt his capacity to comprehend what a loving, compassionate person she is. He’s shallow and he has access to beautiful girls everywhere he goes, but it’s rare when one turns him down. He may want her for no other reason than to clear up that misstep in his perfect record, and that rouses the protective, possessive thing in me like nothing ever has.

I get a taxi straight to the hotel I booked, since even gaining three hours between New York and California didn’t get me here early enough to casually stop by her house. It’s almost 11:00 p.m. When I’m checked in, I try calling her again. Her phone is still off. That, or she’s blocked my number. My God, she’s stubborn. I can’t help smiling at that, because her obstinacy is what kept her from sleeping with Reid last fall.

I hit Brooke’s speed-dial number. If she’s not answering texts, maybe she’ll answer a call.

“Graham! Hi, baby.” Great. She’s more than a little trashed.

“Hey, Brooke. Quick question—I texted you last night about a photo you may have taken of the two of us…?”

The blaring pop music and voices yelling back and forth in the background tell me she’s at a club. “A photo? What? I can barely hear you.” She giggles and says something about another round to someone. “Oh, do you mean the one I took of us sleeping? Oh shit—I deleted that! How did you get it?” Well, that answers one question.

“Who did you send it to, Brooke?”

“What? Oh. I think just Reid.”

“You think—” I stand and pace. Inhale. Exhale. “Why in hell would you send him that? In fact, why in hell did you take it?”

“Don’t be mad, Graham. I’m really sorry. I was still a little hammered when I did it. It was stupid. I’m really, really sorry!” My teeth grit and I almost hang up, because I’ve got the information I need and she’s so out of it she probably won’t even remember this conversation.

“Fine. I’ll see you next week, Brooke.”

“Wait. Graham, please don’t be mad, okay? I’ll tell him to delete it. I’ll threaten him. I’m soooo sorry.”

“S’okay. Later.” I hang up and sit on the hotel bed, staring out at the Sacramento skyline, the sprawling suburban neighborhoods so unlike New York.

This situation is far from okay. Brooke wasn’t drunk when we got home from Daniel’s party. A little buzzed—maybe. But drunk? No. I can’t fathom what gave her the idea to stage that photo, and even more confusing—why she sent it to Reid Alexander. I don’t know what the hell is going on between the two of them, but I’m quickly progressing to not giving a shit.

Emma’s feelings are all that matter. I don’t really have a plan. I feel like I just leapt from a plane without checking to see if there’s a parachute strapped to my back. I’ve always been the guy who analyzes and evaluates everything. I consider pros and cons. I weigh options. I make informed decisions. These precautions don’t eliminate mistakes, but they certainly reduce the likelihood of them.

And then I met Emma, and as logical as she is, she makes me feel reckless. I’m heedless of consequences. My plans and targets and goals and common sense go out the window in the face of what she makes me want. She scares the hell out of me and calms my soul at the same time. Maybe that’s what love is—a total contradiction that somehow balances out.

Chapter 28


Emily is dropping me off at home just before noon. She has a twelve-to-six shift at the mall, so she’s decked out in Hot Topic gear. Today’s version is oddly similar to Chloe’s Madonna circa Like-a-Virgin costume from last Halloween.

I’m so not going to mention that thought to Em.

“We’ll pick you up at 7:00. Be ready, and be hot. Because Joe is tssss.”

“Emily, I really don’t feel—”

“Eh-eh-eh!” She holds up a hand and closes her eyes, like these things will keep her from hearing my objections to being set up with another of Derek’s friends.

I try a different approach. “I’ve intruded on the last two nights with you guys… Don’t you want some time to yourselves?”

She lowers her chin and levels a look at me over her purple-lensed sunglasses. “Yes. That’s why we’re pawning you off on Joe for the night. Now be a good girl and play nice. I’ll see you at 7:00.”

I pull my overnight bag onto my shoulder in defeat. I know she and Derek are only trying to dissuade me from wallowing in depression over Graham, but it took me months to get over him last time, and there wasn’t even a significant relationship to get over. I’ll probably be twenty-five before I get over this. I can’t divulge such a pathetic outlook to my best friend, though, because she’d likely answer, “Challenge. Accepted.” And then I’d be subjected to a parade of boys all summer long… Although it appears that strategy has already begun. Ugh.

She cranks her stereo and pulls away as I trudge up to the house, where I’ll no doubt be assaulted by the smell of Pine Sol and bleach. Saturday is housecleaning day, and Chloe loves Pine Sol. When I was eight or nine, I asked her why, and she said, “It smells so clean!”

“It smells like a hundred car air fresheners hanging in a hospital,” I retorted before Dad said my name in his stop-taunting-your-stepmother voice. I’ve been cleaning my own bathroom since then, using the same non-toxic, environmentally safe stuff Mom used. I’ve heard that the sense of smell is more powerful where love is concerned. I don’t remember if my mother wore perfume or if her shampoo was scented like flowers or fruit, but I remember the minty smell of the kitchen after she’d wiped down the countertops.

I unlock the front door, and surprise, Pine Sol. Blech. “Dad, Chloe, I’m home!” I call, closing the door and heading for the stairs and the sanctity of my room, inside which no Pine Sol is allowed.

“Emma?” Dad calls from the living room. “Come in here, sweetheart. You’ve got a visitor.”

I still smile when Dad calls me sweetheart.

And then I register the other part, and turn back from the staircase. I have a visitor? Dan, maybe? He’s only been here a handful of times, but Reid and I are doing Conan on Monday, so maybe—

Graham is sitting on the sofa.

Graham. Is sitting. On the sofa.

I’m frozen on the opposite side of the room. Staring at him. Speechless.

“Well, come on, Chloe, we’ve got cleaning to do.” Dad hustles her from the room.

His eyes never leaving mine, Graham stands, smoothing his hands down his thighs in a nervous gesture. He seems taller, standing here in my living room. He’s wearing his thick-soled boots, barely laced, jeans haphazardly rolled at the bottom, t-shirt inscribed with (of course) the name of the band Emily was just introducing me to in her car.

Graham runs a hand through his hair and takes a deep breath. Finally, with a determined scowl, he crosses the room. My flip-flops leave me more than a head shorter and craning my neck to look at him, because he doesn’t stop a safe distance away. His hands grip my shoulders. “We are not,” his voice is a gentle tremor, “breaking up.”

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