Authors: Christina Lauren
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #United States, #Women's Fiction, #New Adult & College, #Contemporary Fiction, #Sagas, #Romantic Comedy, #Coming of Age, #Contemporary Women, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Fiction, #dpgroup pyscho
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This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings
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First Gallery Books trade paperback edition May 2014
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Interior design by Davina Mock-Maniscalco
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is TK
ISBN 978-1-4767-5181-8 (ebook)
K and R,
for coming with us to Paris and letting us bring it home
HE DAY WE
officially graduate from college is nothing like how it’s depicted in movies. I throw my cap in the air and it comes down and cracks someone in the forehead. The keynote speaker loses his notes in a gust of wind and decides to wing it, delivering a thoroughly uninspired commencement address on turning mistakes into the building blocks for a brighter tomorrow, complete with awkward stories about his recent divorce. No one on film ever looks like they’re going to die of heatstroke in their polyester gown . . . I’d pay someone a lot of money to burn all the pictures that were taken of me today.
But it still manages to be perfect.
Because holy shit, we’re
Outside the restaurant after lunch, Lorelei—or Lola for the rare few who make it to her inner circle—pulls her keys from her purse and shakes them at me with a celebratory shimmy. Her dad kisses her forehead and tries to pretend he’s not a little misty-eyed. Harlow’s entire family forms a circle around her, hugging and talking over each other, reliving the Top Ten Moments of When Harlow Walked Across the Stage and Graduated from College before pulling me close and doing the same rehash of my own fifteen seconds of fame. When they release me, I smile, watching them finish their sweet, familiar rituals.
Call me as soon as you get there safely.
Use the credit card, Harlow. No, the American Express. It’s fine, honey, this is your graduation present.
I love you, Lola. Drive safe.
We shed our sweltering gowns, tumble into Lola’s old beater Chevy, and escape San Diego in a plume of exhaust and giddy catcalls for the music and booze and madness that await us this weekend. Harlow pulls up the playlist she made for the trip—Britney Spears from our first concert when we were eight. The completely inappropriate 50 Cent song our class somehow negotiated to be the theme for our junior homecoming. The bass-heavy hair metal anthem Lola swears is the best sex song ever, and about fifty others that somehow build our collective story. Harlow cranks the stereo loud enough for us all to scream-sing above the hot, dusty air blasting in through all four windows.
Lola pulls her long dark hair off her neck and hands me a rubber band, begging me to tie it back for her.
“God, why is it so damn hot?” she yells from the driver’s seat.
“Because we’re hurtling through the desert at sixty-five miles an hour in a late-eighties Chevy with no air-conditioning,” Harlow answers, fanning herself with a program from the ceremony. “Remind me why we didn’t take my car again?”
“Because it smells like Coppertone and dubious choices?” I reply and shriek when she lunges for me from the front seat.
“We’re taking my car,” Lola reminds her as she turns down the volume on Eminem, “because you nearly wrapped yours around a telephone pole trying to get away from a bug on your seat. I don’t trust your judgment behind the wheel.”
“It was a spider,” Harlow argues. “And huge. With pincers.”
“A spider with pincers?”
“I could have died, Lola.”
“Yes, you could have. In a fiery car wreck.”
Once I’ve finished with Lola’s hair, I sit back again and feel like I’m able to exhale for the first time in weeks, laughing with my two favorite people in the world. The heat has sapped every bit of energy from my body, but it feels good to just let go, close my eyes, and melt into the seat as the wind whips through my hair, too loud for me to even think. Three blissful weeks of summer lie ahead before I move across the country, and for the first time in forever, I have absolutely
I need to do.
“Nice of your family to stay for lunch,” Lola says in her steady, cautious tone, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror.
“Eh.” I shrug, bending to dig in my purse for a piece of gum or candy, or whatever will keep me busy long enough not to have to try and justify my parents’ early exit today.
Harlow turns her head to look at me. “I thought they were going to lunch with everyone?”
“I guess not,” I say simply.
She swivels fully in her seat, facing me as much as she can without taking off her seat belt. “Well, what did
say before they left?”
I blink away, looking out at the passing, flat scenery. Harlow would never dream of calling her father—or even Lola’s—by his first name. But ever since I can remember, to her my father is simply David—said with as much disdain as she can muster. “He said he was proud of me and he loves me. That he was sorry he didn’t say it enough.”
I can feel her surprise in the answering silence. Harlow is only ever quiet when she’s surprised or pissed.
“And,” I add, though I know this is the point where I should shut up, “now I can pursue a real career and contribute meaningfully to society.”
Don’t poke the bear, Mia,
“Jesus,” she says. “It’s like he loves to hit you right where it hurts. That man lettered in being an asshole.”
This makes us all laugh, and we seem to agree to move on because, really, what else can we say? My dad
kind of an ass, and even getting his way when it comes to my life decisions doesn’t seem to change that.
The traffic is light and the city rises up out of the flat earth, a tangled cluster of lights glaringly bright in the fading sunset. With each mile the air grows cooler, and I sense a rebound of energy in the car when Harlow sits up straighter and puts on a new playlist for our final stretch. In the backseat, I wiggle, dancing, singing along to the catchy, bass-heavy pop song.
“Are my girls ready to get a little wild?” she asks, pulling the passenger sun visor down to apply lip gloss in the tiny, cracked mirror.
“Nope.” Lola merges onto East Flamingo Road. Just beyond, the Strip spreads brightly, a carpet of lights and blasting horns rolling out before us. “But for you? I’ll do gross shots and dance with questionably sober men.”
I nod, wrapping my arms around Harlow from behind and squeezing. She pretends to choke, but puts her hand over mine so I can’t get away. No one rejects cuddles less convincingly than Harlow.
“I love you psychos,” I say, and even though with anyone else, the words would get lost in the wind and street dust blowing into the car, Harlow bends to kiss my hand and Lola glances over to smile at me. It’s like they’re programmed to ignore my long pauses and pluck my voice out of chaos.
“You have to make me a promise, Mia,” Lola says. “Are you listening?”
“This doesn’t involve me running off and becoming a showgirl, does it?”
We’ve been planning this trip for months—one last rush before grown-up life and responsibility catch up with us. I’m ready for whatever she’s got for me. I stretch my neck, take a deep breath, pretend to crack my knuckles. “Too bad. I could work a pole like you don’t even know. But okay, hit me.”
“Leave everything else back in San Diego tonight,” she says. “Don’t worry about your dad or which fangirl Luke is banging this weekend.”
My stomach tilts slightly at this mention of my ex, even though we parted on good terms nearly two years ago. It’s just that Luke was my first, I was his, and we learned everything together. I feel like I should be earning royalties on his current parade of conquests.
Lola continues. “Don’t think about packing for Boston. Don’t think about anything but the fact that we’re done with college—
Mia! We did it. Just put the rest of it in a proverbial box and shove it under the proverbial bed.”
“I like this talk of shoving and beds,” Harlow says.
Under any other circumstance, this would have made me laugh. But as unintentional as it may have been, Lola’s mention of Boston has just obliterated the tiny window of anxiety-free space I’d somehow managed to find. It immediately dwarfs any discomfort I felt over the subject of my dad’s early departure from the biggest ceremony of my life or Luke and his newfound slutty side. I have a rising tide of panic about the future, and now that we’ve graduated, it’s impossible to ignore it anymore. Every time I think about what comes next, my stomach turns inside out, ignites, chars. The feeling happens so much these days I feel like I should give it a name.
In three weeks I’m leaving for Boston, to business school of all places, and about as far from my childhood dreams as I could have imagined. I’ll have plenty of time to find an apartment and a job that will pay my bills and accommodate a full schedule of classes in the fall when I finally do what my father has always wanted and join the river of business-types doing business things. He’s even paying for my apartment, happily. “Two bedrooms,” he’d insisted, magnanimously, “so your mother and I and the boys can visit.”
“Mia?” Lola prompts.
“Okay,” I say and nod, wondering when, out of the three of us, I became the person with so much baggage. Lola’s dad is a war veteran. Harlow’s parents are Hollywood. I’m just the girl from La Jolla who used to dance. “I’m shoving it under the proverbial bed.” Saying the words out loud seems to put more weight behind them. “I’ll put it into the box with Harlow’s scary sex toys.”
Harlow throws me a sassy kiss and Lola nods, resolute. Lola knows better than any of us about stress and responsibility, but if she can put it away for the weekend, I can, too.
WE PULL UP
to the hotel and Lola and I tumble from the car, holding our simple duffel bags and looking like we just emerged from a dust storm. I feel gross and filthy. Only Harlow looks like she belongs here, climbing from the old Chevy as if she’s exiting a shiny black town car, somehow still presentable and wheeling a glossy suitcase behind her.
Once we get upstairs, we’re all speechless, even Harlow—clearly this is the
form of her silence. There are only a couple of other rooms on the floor and our Sky Suite is enormous.
Harlow’s father, a big-shot cinematographer, booked it for us as a graduation present. We thought we were getting a standard Vegas hotel room, some complimentary shampoo, maybe we’d even go crazy and raid the minibar, charging it to his card. Snickers and tiny vodkas for everyone!
We were not expecting this. In the entryway (there’s an
), and tucked next to a decadent fruit basket and a complimentary bottle of champagne, there’s a note. It says we have a butler on speed dial, a masseuse to come to the room when we need it, and Harlow’s dad is more than happy to provide unlimited room service. If Alexander Vega wasn’t the father of my best friend and happily married, I might offer sex acts to thank him.
Remind me not to tell Harlow that.
I GREW UP
wearing barely anything onstage in front of hundreds of people where I could pretend to be someone else. So even with a long, jagged scar on my leg, I’m decidedly more comfortable in one of the dresses Harlow chose for us than Lola is. She won’t even put hers on.
“It’s your graduation present,” Harlow says. “How would you have felt if I turned down the journal you got me?”
Lola laughs, throwing a pillow at her from across the room. “If I’d asked you to tear out the pages and make them into a dress that barely covers your ass, yes, you would have been free to turn down the gift.”
I tug at the hem of my dress, silently siding with Lola and wishing it was just a touch longer. I rarely show so much thigh anymore.
“Mia’s wearing hers,” Harlow points out and I groan.
“Mia grew up in
; she’s pocket-sized and built like a gazelle,” Lola reasons. “Also? I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I could see her vagina. If I’m five inches taller than she is, you’ll practically be able to see my birth canal in this dress.”
“You’re so stubborn.”
“You’re so slutty.”
I listen to them argue from where I stand near the window, content, watching pedestrians walk along the Strip, and forming what looks like a trail of colorful round dots from our view on the forty-fifth floor. I’m not sure why Lola continues to fight this. We all know it’s just a matter of time before she gives in, because Harlow is a giant pain in the ass and she always gets her way. It sounds strange to say I’ve always loved this about her, but she knows what she wants and goes after it. Lola is the same in many ways, but a bit subtler than Harlow’s in-your-face technique.
Lola groans, but as expected, eventually admits defeat. She’s smart enough to know she’s fighting a losing battle, and it takes only a few minutes for her to slip into her dress and shoes before we head downstairs.
IT’S BEEN A
long day. We’re finished with college, have washed the dust and real life worries from our bodies, and Harlow loves ordering shots. More than that? She loves watching everyone else drink the shots she’s ordered. By the time nine thirty rolls around, I decide our level of drunk is sufficient: we’re slurring some words, but at least we can walk. I can’t remember the last time I saw Lola and Harlow laugh like this. Lola’s cheek is resting on her crossed arms and her shoulders shake with laughter. Harlow’s head is thrown back and the sound of her giggles rises above the thumping music and clear across the bar.
And it’s when her head is back like this that I meet the eyes of a man across the crowded room. I can’t make out every feature in the dark bar, but he’s a few years older than we are and tall, with light brown hair and dark brows over bright, mischievous eyes. He’s watching us and smiling as if he has no need to participate in our fun; he simply wants to appreciate it. Two other guys stand beside him, talking and pointing to something in the far corner, but he doesn’t look away when our eyes meet. If anything, his smile gets bigger.
I can’t look away, either, and the feeling is disorienting because normally when it comes to strangers I’m very good at looking away. My heart trips around inside my chest, reminding me I’m supposed to be more awkward than this, maybe suggesting I focus on my drink instead. I don’t do eye contact well. I don’t usually do conversation well, either. In fact, the only muscles I never seemed to really master were the ones required for easy speech.