Main Before Him

Before Him

“Think of the worst breakup you ever had. If it didn’t end with your boyfriend asking you for a threesome the day after taking your virginity, I’ve got you beat. All I’ve ever wanted was to experience a love like my parents had. They told me all those stories about love when I was a little girl, and how it’s the key to living happily ever after. Well, I started to think those were all lies. Love is a trick, and it doesn’t exist. Who needs romance when it only ends with you crying your eyes out? So I went on strike two years straight: no love, no men… and it was going well! But then this guy Steven smiled at me and then his best friend Michael kissed me and, well, this story is so complicated there has to be a good ending to it. Right? Or maybe my Fairy Godmother’s a major bi-tch.”
Language: english
File: EPUB, 195 KB
Download (epub, 195 KB)
 
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
1

Dark Portrait

Language: english
File: EPUB, 215 KB
2

A Christmas Kiss

Language: english
File: EPUB, 339 KB
before him





portia moore





Portia Moore Books





Contents




Prologue





Chapter 1



Chapter 2



Chapter 3



Chapter 4



Chapter 5



Chapter 6



Chapter 7



Chapter 8



Chapter 9



Chapter 10



Chapter 11



Chapter 12



Chapter 13





Fourteen



Also by portia moore



About the Author





…to my long time readers and inspiring writers. thank you for making me believe again…





Copyright © 2019 by Porsche Moore All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.





This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.





Cover Design:Opium House Designs Editor:Angela Walker





Created with Vellum





Prologue





…the seed is planted.


“…And Cinderella lived happily ever after.”

That might have been the end of the story, but I wasn’t ready to go to bed yet. I decided to start my endless stream of questions. “And what happened after that?”

“What do you mean?” Auntie Raven asked. I liked that she let me call her by just her first name. It made me feel grown-up.

“After they married, what happened then?”

She hesitated for a moment and looked deep in thought. “Well, I’d personally like to think Cinderella made some forward-thinking initiatives for women to advance in the kingdom.”

“What’s an initiative?” I asked, and my auntie sighed even though she had a soft smile on her face.

She leaned down to kiss my forehead and pulled the covers up around me. “I think it’s time for you to close your eyes and go to sleep, little princess.”

“Auntie Raven, will I live in a big palace with mice one day?” I questioned, a little confused. If I was a princess like the one in the story, then that’s what would happen.

Auntie Raven smiled. “Do you want to live in a palace with mice?”

I thought for a moment, and tapped my finger against my chin. We used to have a cute little white mouse in my class last year, but it did smell really bad and it never sang any songs like the ones who lived with Cinderella.

“I don’t know. A castle is probably really big and I’d be a little scared all by myself, and mice are kind of stinky. So… maybe?”

My auntie laughed and gave me a tight squeeze as I giggled. “Well you won’t be lonely if you have lots of babies with a really handsome prince,” she teased before tickling me. After she stopped, I caught my breath and stuck my tongue out at her.

“Don’t you have to kiss boys to have babies?”

Auntie Raven lowered herself so she was laying next to me on the bed. She twirled a piece of my hair in her hand. My hair was almost as dark as my black crayons. Auntie Raven’s hair was bright red, just like my favorite skittles.

“There’s a little more to it than that, but when you get older you just might want a beautiful little girl to tell stories of your own to,” she answered.

I thought about that for a minute. Having a baby of my own would mean I would have someone to tell stories to. Just like the stories my Auntie Raven told me. I could even bake my baby cookies, just like my mom used to do for me!

“Mallory says she wants to have a million babies with Bryan,” I said.

Mallory also told me that I was supposed to keep that a secret between just me and her. I’m pretty sure telling my Auntie Raven doesn’t count since she’s not a kid and doesn’t even know Bryan.

“I think that Mallory should focus on her schoolwork until she gets old enough to make money to take care of all of those babies with Bryan,” my auntie said as she tucked me into bed.

“Well, there is more to it than it looks. Is he kind?”

“What does kind mean?”

“Kind is like being nice,” she explained.

“Yeah, he’s nice. He doesn’t yell at any of us girls, and he always shares the markers and crayons at art time,” I informed her.

“That’s great because those are the important things. Even more important than how a boy looks,” she said, getting out of bed. It made me sad. I still wasn’t ready to go to bed. I wanted my Auntie Raven to stay and talk to me some more.

“Was my daddy kind?” I asked.

When she answered this question, she also sounded kind of sad. “Your daddy was one of the kindest, strongest, bravest men I knew,” she assured me with a small smile.

“And my mommy?”

“Your mommy was beautiful, and they both loved you very, very much.”

That was nice of her to say, but I couldn’t help but feel unhappy when I thought of them. I don’t remember much about them since they went away, but I remember my mommy used to read me stories, just like Auntie Raven does, and I know my mommy and daddy had to be kind since they left me with her. Auntie Raven’s really nice.

“Was Daddy my mom’s prince? Like the one Cinderella had?” I asked.

“Yes, I think he was.”

“Do you think one day I’ll have my Prince Charming?”

“I sure hope so, sweetie. He’d be lucky to find you and win you over,” she said.

“I think I would like it if I had a prince like my daddy,” I sighed.

Auntie Raven smoothed my hair back and said, “Me too.”

“But what if I do find my prince and he goes away like my mommy and daddy did?” I wondered.

I meant the question but I felt slightly bad for asking it. It made my Auntie Raven look so sad. I hated it when she looked sad. That’s why I tried not to ask her about my parents much, but I missed them. Before Auntie answered my question, she leaned down to give me a kiss on my forehead.

“You are going to grow up to be super strong, brave, and kind. The prince that finds you is going to be one of the luckiest in the entire kingdom because of that. You won’t have to worry about losing him because he’s going to hold on to you so tight that he’ll never be able to let you go.”

“I hope he will, but how will I breathe?” I asked, confused, which made her laugh.

She stood up and reached into the top drawer of my dresser, in a place I had never thought to look before, and pulled out a brand new black spiral notebook.

“Here,” she offered, and placed the book in my lap. “I want you to start drawing. Your mom was really fond of it, and I can sense your creative spirit.”

I looked at it, turning the book over in my hands, and smiled so big my face sort of hurt. I knew I’d use it every day. I wanted to be just like my mom. I opened my mouth to ask Auntie a question but she waved her fingers to stop me.

“Come on, let’s stop stalling and say your prayers,” she stated.

I snuggled down into my pillow, pulled the covers closer around me, and closed my eyes.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless Auntie Raven, my friends, and my mommy and daddy in heaven,” I said, before I added one more thought to the end of my prayers. “And my Prince Charming, whoever he is. Amen.”





One





A secret love…


I had my first taste of puppy love on the first day of kindergarten. Long before I even understood what love was. At the time, I didn’t even know what a crush was. All I knew of it was when someone put butterflies in your tummy and a smile on your face, and Cinderella had a crush on Prince Charming.

I met him my first day of kindergarten. I walked into the classroom and instantly noticed how everything was colored. Backpacks, bulletin boards, everything! The room was much bigger than my preschool room. The teacher led us to our seats; mine was near the back, and for that I was grateful since I could blend in more. There were so many new kids in this class that I didn’t know! I pulled out my drawing book and put it on top of my desk. I had the biggest box of crayons—a 432-pack—which was a gift from Auntie Raven. I started drawing a flower.

“That looks pretty.”

He was standing up over my desk, bright brown eyes shining down on me. His hair was the color of Stanley, my favorite teddy bear. I had never been around a boy before that made me feel like he did, so I didn’t know what to say. He picked up one of my red crayons and scribbled something. I watched his hands.

“It says ‘Daniel,’” he said.

I smiled at him. “My name’s Lauren.”

“Hi, Lauren.”

He turned back to his desk and saw a group of boys pointing and laughing at him. There was a big pasty boy at least five inches taller than us, with bright red hair and a smattering of freckles across his face. He wore a green striped shirt that pulled tightly over his belly and a pair of khaki cargo shorts.

“Daniel likes girls!” the boy screeched at the top of his lungs.

“No, I don’t!” Daniel replied. He walked quickly away from my desk. I looked down at my flower and tried not to cry. The teacher settled down the class and began her lesson, but I still couldn't concentrate, and I ended up feeling sad the rest of the day.

We didn’t talk for weeks after that. Sometimes I thought I could see him giving me looks over the edge of his paper, and at lunch, he would look at me from across the room, but when I looked back he’d act like he wasn’t.

When he finally talked to me again it was during nap time.

“Hey.”

It took me a moment to focus and open my eyes. He kicked the side of my bare leg and I sat straight up, ready to protest.

“Shhh, you’ll get us in trouble,” he warned.

I looked over our teacher, who was fast asleep at her desk. “The boys are supposed to sleep over there.” I pointed for emphasis.

He held out one of his hands. “I have to show you something cool.”

I sighed, but I could feel my heart skip when I took his. My heart didn’t feel like that when I had held hands with my girlfriends or other boys during games and stuff. I wasn’t sure if I was sick, but I was really glad he was talking to me again. I got up and followed him. He was at least a foot taller than me, so he easily reached the doorknob and slowly pulled the door open without so much as a peep.

The empty halls made my heart race—I could hear my heartbeat in my throat. He hadn’t let my hand go.

“I don't think—” I started, but he pulled me down the hallway, past the other classrooms on the left. He made a sharp right and pulled me by the water fountain.

Suddenly, Daniel kissed me hard on the mouth.

“Ow!” I was startled, and it sort of hurt.

He shrugged, unmoved. “My brother said when you like a girl, you’re supposed to kiss her hard, like in the movies.”

I rubbed my cheek. “You like me?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yup,’’ he said matter-of-factly.

“Then why don’t you talk to me?” My voice quivered and I was more upset than I’d been in a long time.

He looked down at his feet and shrugged again. “I don’t know. Those boys were making fun of me, which is why we have to keep this secret.”

My heart fell. “Secret?” I stammered.

“Don’t worry, it’ll be fun. We have our own little secret, okay?” He kissed my cheek.

My body all but turned to mush as we walked back to the classroom.

Ever since that day, Daniel made my heart skip a beat and we’ve been inseparable.





On the first day of seventh grade, Daniel asked me to go with him to the carnival, which was to be our first actual date.

“Do you want anything to drink?” he asked.

I smiled at his nervousness. His hands were slightly shaking as he reached into the pocket of his blue jeans and pulled out a brown leather wallet.

“Coke is fine.” I looked up at all of the flashing lights, and at one of the drop rides. I shuddered.

I heard him curse under his breath. I looked up to see Coke dripping down his plain white shirt. An older teenage boy laughed, leaning over and holding his stomach. “Sorry, man!” He could hardly get the words out through his loud, exaggerated laughing.

Daniel's face was blood red; I didn’t know if he was more angry or embarrassed.

“It’s okay,” I told him with a warm smile. I pulled his hand. “Ooh, look! I love these.”

It was a kiosk with bright red stool seats and water guns that pointed to bright red bullseyes. The kiosk was decorated in a plethora of stuffed animals—a dark brown teddy bear caught my attention.

“I’ve got to have that one!” I squealed, jumping up and down.

“I’ve got this.” Daniel pushed me slightly aside and sat down on the stool. Just then James and Amy walked up. James, Daniel's best friend, looked at him with his eyebrows raised. He had short black hair cropped close to his head and spooky grey eyes. Amy, his girlfriend, held a giant stick of green cotton candy in her hand. It was all over her face; I was surprised it wasn’t in her hair. She was slightly taller than me and a little heavier… not very pretty, and her attitude made her look even worse. I wasn’t actually sure what James saw in her.

“He couldn’t win if he tried. You might as well sit down next to him,” James cautioned me.

“Shut up, James,” Daniel muttered under his breath. He grabbed both handles and squinted his eyes at the bullseye. I eased myself down too, suddenly unsure. The last thing I wanted to do was embarrass Daniel, given the string of events that just happened.



“Alright, Danny!” James clapped as the game started. Slowly, the game began and the water level in the game raised. It pinged a few moments later. Daniel sighed beside me and it was then that I noticed it was mine that had reached the top.

“Damn, bro,” James laughed, but he was looking at his phone. I looked to Amy, who was snickering, and then to one of the workers. I pointed at the large brown teddy bear, squealing as the worker gave it to me. I looked down at it, but then reached my arms out.

“Thanks for letting me win.” I smiled at Daniel, who looked embarrassed, but I gave him a knowing look.

“Yeah, anytime babe,” he said with a wink.

Auntie Raven showed up shortly after. We all said our goodbyes, but I noticed that James whispered in Daniel’s ear right before he piled into the backseat of the car.

“Did you kids have fun?” Auntie Raven asked. She seemed a bit cheerier than usual, and even the music in the car was changed to an upbeat pop station, much unlike her choice of adult alternative.

“Yes ma'am,” Daniel acknowledged. He looked over at me and smiled widely, making me feel like I had butterflies in my stomach. I was glad to know that in spite of all that had happened, he was at least somewhat in a good mood.

“What do you kids think about a movie? I went to the DVD kiosk earlier today. I thought it would be a great way to end the night,” Auntie Raven suggested.

Now it was my turn to feel nervous. I’d never had a boy over at my house before.

“Sounds good to me,” he said, his cheeks tinged red. It felt hot, and I could feel a burning on my own cheeks. We pulled up into the driveway and a few moments later we went inside.

Auntie Raven pointed to the DVD on the nightstand and reminded me that I knew where the popcorn and everything was. I poured two glasses of soda and gave one to Daniel.

“Well, you know I have to be at work a little early, Lauren. I’m not off this Sunday.” She turned to walk away. Daniel got down on the floor and fumbled with the Blu-Ray player.

Auntie whispered my name and I turned in time to see that she winked at me. I turned back to find Daniel still on the floor messing with the Blu-ray player. My hands suddenly felt clammy, and I felt like I was going to faint.

“Ugh, why is this thing acting like it doesn't want to work?” I hit the play button over and over several times.

“Maybe because the DVD isn’t in yet?” Daniel smiled slightly, his warm brown eyes bringing me back to the present. He reached for my hand, grabbed the DVD, and pushed it into the drive.

I stood up abruptly, kneed him in the chin, and knocked his glass of soda out of his hand. Most of it ended up on his T-shirt.

“Oh! Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” I apologized.

“It’s okay,” he assured me. He stood up slowly and grabbed my hand, running his thumb back and forth over it.

“Popcorn!” I exclaimed almost in a shout. I was such a duntz. He arched a curious brow at me, and I practically ran to the kitchen. Stupid!

I came back with the hot bowl in my hands but Daniel wasn’t in the room.

He then came from around the corner, and I realized he’d gone to the bathroom to clean up. I noticed his wet T-shirt bawled up at his fist, and his black hoodie zipped up slightly so that a portion of his bare chest was just visible. I set the popcorn bowl on the glass coffee table with a clatter.

“Do you have somewhere I can put this?”

He reached out his hand and held the wet T-shirt. I felt his eyes on me, but it felt like they were staring right through me. I could feel a warm wave rush over me, the butterflies having a parade in my stomach.

“Y-Yeah,” I stammered, knowing that there was absolutely nothing underneath that jacket. I took his wet shirt and put it in an empty Wal-Mart bag and then sat by him on the couch, where he was holding a Lion King DVD. I felt like I was going to die of embarrassment right there.

“Ooh, I love Disney movies!” he said excitedly.

My humiliation started to subside. “You do?” I asked hesitantly. He nodded with that bright smile that made me blush.

“You want to watch it instead?” I cocked my head to the side.

“Hakuna Matata!” he sang playfully, and the nervousness in my stomach instantly went away. I switched out the DVD that was in and put in Lion King. We watched the movie in silence for a while, and I felt myself relax a little. Maybe I could do this.

“Oh yeah, popcorn? I did pop it after all.”

“Oh yeah!” He grinned. “I totally forgot about it.” He stuck his hand into the bowl and took a fistful, dropping popcorn all over himself.

“I’m such a klutz today!” He laughed and brushed popcorn off of himself and onto the floor. I saw a kernel poking out from the edge of his shirt. My insides screamed, but I felt myself reaching into his shirt.

“Missed one,” I said.

Almost as if on cue, Can you feel the love tonight started to play. We both laughed at the awkwardness. I looked down at the loose kernel and pushed it between my thumb and forefinger before looking up to him. We were only inches away from each other now; I could almost taste how heavy his breath was.

“Just come over here already,” he whispered, and pulled me gently by my waist. The cotton was soft against my fingertips. His lips were so soft and he tasted like Mountain Dew.

My mind halfway lingered to first grade. It was the water fountain again, except this time it wasn’t as innocent. There was something else too, a longing for more… almost an urgency. I was pulled back to the present as his fingers made their way through my hair. My mind was clouded with thoughts of him, my body was going insane, I was warm, my heart was beating too fast, and everywhere tingled. I rubbed the palm of my hand against his sweatshirt and felt his warm, large hand hold onto my arm. His hand held me at my side as his tongue entered my mouth. I reached under his shirt to find his bare chest, my fingers tenderly tracing against the sleek, toned, uncharted territory. His hands worked their way over to my bra before I stopped him.

I cleared my throat. “W-What time is it?” I mumbled and ran my hand through my hair.

“Oh, yeah… time.” His voice sounded strained.

He took out his phone. “Yeah, my mom called me three times.” He snatched the Wal-Mart bag from beside the couch. “I’ll see you later?” He leaned down to kiss me, but I recoiled quickly.

“Um, yeah,” I said, looking over to the TV as Nala and Simba argued about Simba running away and not wanting to come back.

His face deadpanned as he quickly rushed out the door.

The rest of middle school went like that, the on and off journey from friends, to boyfriend and girlfriend, and then back to friends. There was no official makeup and breakup, it was just like we both understood there were times that we didn’t talk and times that we did.





Two





…puppy love is for kids…



By freshman year, Daniel had shot up from 5’1” to 6’0” in one summer. Everyone pushed him to try out for the basketball team since he was so tall. He did too, even though he had told me all summer his goal was to join the science club and become president. If I had to pinpoint one moment when everything changed, it was the day Daniel officially became a part of the team. He dramatically shifted from being my sweet, caring, sensitive best friend to a loud, cocky, athletic teenage boy. I tried to ignore the change. I was just happy that he found something he was so good at. He turned out to be amazing at basketball.

Before Daniel was on the basketball team, I was the only girl that paid attention to him. I always knew when his warm brown eyes lit up that they were magnificent, my hands had felt how thick and soft his chocolate brown hair was, and I noticed years earlier how his long lashes were thick and enviable. I was the only one who noticed he had a dimple that only appeared when he was nervous. I’d always known he was as handsome as Prince Charming. But once he was on the basketball team, everyone else began to notice, and as my best friend Mallory put it, Daniel had somehow gone from cute to smoking hot.

“Daniel’s so hot,” I heard Candice, a sophomore girl, say as most of the school watched him play. I swallowed down my jealousy. She was just a wide-eyed underclassman in awe of Daniel just how most of the other girls were. It was our senior year, and throughout our on and off periods, we were on, and it was still hard dealing with the attention he was always getting.

I watched him wipe sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. He jogged to another teammate and noogied him on the head. His smile was infectious, and just one glance from him could make you swoon like you were in a 1950s teen flick. It was magic! I couldn’t even attempt to fight the smile that spread across my face in response to him.

Mallory nudged me. “You’ve got it bad, girl.”

“I don’t,” I defended myself.

“Well you’re one of the only girls who doesn’t, then?” she teased, gesturing to all the girls around us staring at Daniel.

“Where’s James?” I asked, wanting to change the subject. After a heated breakup between James and Amy, Mallory swooped in and they had really hit it off during the summer and were now dating—six months strong.

“Concessions. I told him I needed some sour punch straws.” She shrugged, easily tossing her long red hair over her shoulder.

“Let’s go, Daniel!” someone in the crowd yelled in a scruffy voice.

“Oh, look at fat Amy down there.” Mallory pointed down to the cheerleaders who had begun to cheer for the Hawks, our school team.

“Be nice…” I said, and opened my sketchbook again, which was almost full, and began to draw her.

“Got the snacks, Babe.” James sat on the bleachers beside Mallory and kissed her hard on the mouth before he slapped her thigh. I tried not to roll my eyes.

Mallory hit my arm playfully. “If we win tonight, you know what that means? Party!”

“Ugh, yeah, a party. To be honest, I’m not looking forward to it.”

“It’s high school, Elbee. You seriously need to live a little.” Mallory shoved two sour punch straws in her mouth. I looked over to James, who was deep into his phone.

“I am living.” I said defensively. Then I sighed, contemplating whether or not I should tell her. Mallory and I had had a love-hate relationship. We had been best friends in kindergarten all the way up until sixth grade, but then she became more interested in boys than dolls. She started to hang with the seventh-and eighth-graders and took every opportunity to make fun of me when she came around. In high school, after we were in four out of six classes together, and she started to get a huge thing for James, we became really close. She’s been a good friend since then, picking me up for school, helping me learn to do my makeup. She has killer taste in clothes and is super generous with spending her dad’s money—and she’s had my back when more than one girl tried to start crap with me over Daniel. Still, every so often, I wondered if she really was my friend because of me or just because we dated guys in the same crowd.

I leaned over and whispered in her ear, “I think it’s going to happen tonight.” Her head snapped towards me, her eyes wide in shock with a huge smile on her face.

“Get out!!” She slapped me hard playfully.

“Maybe,” I said, backtracking. I had been on the fence about it but it was senior year, and Daniel was the only boy I’d ever dated, and I knew that he loved me. He had told me a million times, and it would be cliché to wait for prom.

“It’s about time,” Mal said, squeezing me in a half hug.

I twirled my pencil in between my thumb and forefinger. “What does that mean?” I asked nervously.

Mallory rolled her eyes. “Look at the boy… no, not boy. Man. How much longer you think you’re going to keep him without letting him get a cookie out of the jar? Especially with so many bakers wanting to give him a sample.”

Before I could respond, James had pulled her towards him and they were full on making out. She was right. Daniel had been patient and never pressured me. I was probably one of fifteen girls who were seniors and still a virgin.

I just wanted it to be special and I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect than Daniel. My parents were high school sweethearts and married, so I’m sure my mom gave hers to my dad. I thought about them every day. I feel more connected to them now. I’m close to the age they were when they married. I’d be a liar if I said I secretly didn’t daydream about having that same thing with Daniel. I couldn’t imagine myself with anyone else.

I watched Daniel as he walked off the court; he looked up at me with a dazzling smile and mouthed, “I love you.” My heart melted. I’d made up my mind. It was happening… I just didn’t know when.





Three





Will it be like in the books..?



I stared at myself in the mirror, wearing the pink lacy bra and a panty set I had bought from Victoria’s Secret yesterday with Mallory. My cheeks flushed as I realized it would be the last thing I’d wear as a virgin. Whenever I thought of that word, my stomach became an expert gymnast, flipping back and forth. I showered, shaved, and sprayed perfume places I never have before. Tonight is going to be it. The night I share myself with the boy who has had my heart since the first grade. It should all work out perfectly. Daniel’s parents were out of town for a week and almost the entire senior class would be there. My Auntie Raven was in Lansing for a librarian conference, of all things, and I would have the house all to myself. I’d go to the party, hang out with Mallory and Daniel with his millions of friends, and afterwards… well, I’d be a woman. By the time the clock struck twelve I’d be seventeen and no longer a girl, but a woman.

God that sounds so cliché. The last time I heard someone call me a woman was Auntie Raven, when I started my period. Yet this doesn’t make me want to cry. I can’t stop smiling, like there’s a secret that only I know. I guess there is.

The breeze was perfect that night. The sunset crept away, bringing me closer and closer to what would be one of the most memorable nights of my life. I sat and waited for Daniel’s green Jeep, that his parents gave him for his birthday last month, to land in my driveway. I was surprised when it was Mallory’s silver Lexus that pulled up instead.

“Get your cute ass in the car,” she sang out to me, and tossed her long red hair over her shoulder like she always does. It wasn’t straight, but in beautiful waves that made her look more like a college senior than a high school one.

“What are you doing here?” I asked her before we pulled off.

“Wow. How about a ‘Thanks for picking me up’?”

I sighed. “I’m sorry. Thanks for picking me up Mal, but Daniel was supposed to pick me up.”

“He had to help James with some last minute party stuff. So he asked me to come scoop you up.” She glanced at me, then did a double take, no doubt noting the extra care I had put into my hair and makeup.

“You look hot. Not that you don’t always,” she clarified quickly.

“Thank you,” I said, texting Daniel that I was on my way.

“The whole senior class is going to be at this party. This night is going to be a movie and the perfect kickoff to your birthday!” she squealed excitedly, lowering the volume on the latest Rhianna song that was blasting from her car.

“So have you changed your mind yet or are you really going to get you some tonight?” she whispered sneakily, even though it was only us in the car. My stomach dipped just at the question.

“I’m going to see how it goes, but I think I’m ready,” I said as confidently as I could.

“Well you look ready,” she giggled.

“What do you mean?” I asked, looking down at myself. I didn’t want to look like I wanted to have sex. I just wanted to look and smell nice in case I did.

“The dress, it’s shorter than I’ve seen you wear, and easy access in case you have to do it quick.” She laughed. I glared at her.

“I hope to God it isn’t quick,” I said, a little offended.

“Oh, I don’t think you’ll have that problem with Danny,” she said, a little too confident for my liking, but of course she’d seem confident for me at least. I sure as hell knew she was experienced. She could probably tell which guys were good and which ones weren’t just by glancing at them.

“I didn’t mean it like that. I meant rushed, like in the back of a car or something,” I corrected her.

“Oh Lauren, you’re such a novice. Car sex can be some of the best sex you’ll have in your life!”

“I’d prefer to not lose my virginity that way,” I said, a little less offended.

“Yeah, it’s not ideal. But anyway, the more important thing we should be discussing is if you have everything you need.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, feeling a bit embarrassed at not having the slightest idea what she was talking about.

“Uhm. Earth to Lauren! Condoms, spermicide at least. Are you on birth control?”

I rolled my eyes. “Yes,” I said simply. Her eyes widened and she smiled almost proudly.

I knew what she was thinking but it was actually nothing lurid. I had been on birth control since I was thirteen to control my periods.

“What kind did you get?” she continued. I should have known that wasn’t going to be the end of it.

“Pills.”

“Condoms. You got to have the right kind, lubricated, and you have to know the size of his c—”

“God Mal! I’m leaving that up to Daniel. I’m sure he has some.”

“No—are you crazy? You need to have them! If you only learn one lesson from being my friend it is to always have your own protection, just in case. Guys love to get you all riled up and say ‘Oh babe, I forgot. Just let me pull out.’ The next thing you know you’re knocked up and fat as hell, and holding a screaming baby.”

“I promise you I won’t let him touch me without a condom,” I tell her, sort of touched that she cared so much.

“Good girl,” she said, pinching my cheek like my grandma did when I was five.





When we arrived to the party there was already an endless stream of cars out on James’s parents’ sprawling front yard. They have one of the largest houses in our town. James had always been upset about not making the basketball team with Daniel, and Daniel always pointed out that he didn’t need to be a basketball player when he was as rich as he was. James was famous for throwing the most insane parties, which put him on the same level as the most popular athletes in school.

I briefly glanced in the mirror before stepping out of Mallory’s car. I waited a few minutes while she continued to primp her makeup and push up her boobs. She linked arms with me when she got out of the car, and we made our way through a crowd of students gathered on the front lawn, smiling and saying hello to them. The music was loud and pulsed from the yard, but was even louder once we entered the house. Mallory pulled me by the hand towards the kitchen, which was so huge that I could fit my entire living room in it. The large island was covered with liquor bottles and red cups. Mallory grabbed a bottle of Jose Cuervo and poured us both some.

“You know I don’t drink,” I reminded her.

“It’s to calm your nerves and loosen you up,” she chided me. I sighed and she leaned in. “You’re going to need it for tonight,” she said cheekily, and took a big gulp from her cup before grabbing my empty hand.

I humored her and took a few sips of mine before putting it down. I followed her through the gyrating bodies dancing to the music and the loud drunken conversations, and we finally made it to James’s den. They had a big table set up large enough where one half of the table was playing Dominoes and the other half some kind of card game. We spotted James, who had just slammed down a fifty dollar bill on the table.

“You thought you were going to come and win in my house? Think again, losers!” he shouted in victory before picking up the pile of cash.

“Yes baby!” Mallory squealed, jumping into his arms and planting a long kiss on him. My eyes scanned the table for Daniel but he was nowhere in sight.

“Where’s Daniel?” I asked reluctantly, interrupting their mini make out session. He wiped Mallory’s lipstick from his lips; his face went blank for a minute and he rubbed the back of his neck.

He suddenly remembered. “Oh! Yeah, he went to the bathroom upstairs.”

“No he’s out by the pool, remember?” Jeff, a guy who was in my math class, said before downing the rest of his drink. James glared at him. I looked between them both suspiciously and at everyone else at the table, who all openly avoided my gaze. Then I looked at Mallory, who was frowning at this point. My feet started to move before my thoughts even did as I pushed my way through the people and out to the patio. There was only about ten people outside, most making out, and I felt a tightening in my chest. I looked behind me to see Mallory and James following, with James walking as slowly as he could, phone in his hand, fingers moving furiously. As we rounded our way to the pool house, a girl walked towards us. She was beautiful with long straight blonde hair, wearing a cute pink and black dress that was more appropriate for a club than a high school party. She stood out completely and I didn’t recognize her from our school. She flashed me a snide grin before moving past us.

“See you, James,” she purred before making her way back to the house. Mallory glared at James evilly.

“Who was that?” she demanded, pushing him.

“Just a girl from Bryer,” he said defensively.

“How do you know her?!” Mallory questioned him, her annoyance growing. Before he could answer, Daniel was making his way towards us. He looked amazing with his brown curls perfectly messy, his brown eyes mimicking the color of rustic honey from the light lining the pool.

“Hey beautiful,” he said enthusiastically. He was wearing just a white T-shirt and blue jeans. His lean defined arms grabbed my waist and pulled me towards him.

“You look incredible,” he said before pulling me to him in a breath-stopping kiss. I wasn’t sure if it was the drink Mallory made me or if my senses were heightened, but he felt firmer than normal, his kiss softer, and he smelled better than he ever did.

“You like Bryer whores!” I heard Mallory spit viciously at James.

“Hey Mal, don’t be like that. Jessica’s cool, she’s got a linebacker boyfriend that would break James in half. He doesn’t want that kind of trouble,” Daniel said, easily pulling her towards him in a half hug. She pushed him away playfully. James rolled his eyes but seemed grateful for the interference. Daniel’s intervention had diffused the situation instantly, and I was glad. I had seen Mallory’s temper, which was terrible, and I didn’t want the night to be ruined with us both coddling them.

We all made our way back to the party. Mallory told the boys no more games and that she wanted to dance, so we all made our way to the living room, which had become the designated dance area. Mallory’s favorite song (and apparently the entire senior girls’ class favorite song) by Maroon 5 came on; all of them squealed and began to sing along to the lyrics. I wasn’t the biggest fan of it but I was grateful it was something I could easily move to without looking like a moron. The boys jokingly performed some exaggerated moves, like they were members of a boy band, before retreating to their signature back and forth swaying, letting us girls do most of the work.

After a few songs, Daniel took my hand and led me away towards the basement. I knew he wanted to play ice hockey. James’s parents had a man cave that was enviable: 50-inch flat screen TV, a pool table, skee-ball, table hockey, and two retro arcade games. The basement was usually a main attraction but it was virtually empty, aside from a few guys crowded around the pool table. We made our way to the ice hockey table and I rubbed my hands together in anticipation.

“Oh look at that, you look like you might actually think you’re going to win, Brooks,” Daniel teased.

“You know I am the master of ice hockey,” I said confidently. It was true, I was beyond good and Daniel knew it. He turned it on and we both grabbed the goalies.

“Oh, but I’ve been practicing. Your ass is mine!” he said with a confident smile. I playfully shrugged and blew him a kiss.



“And game!” I shouted, as my puck snuck its way into his slot. I was ecstatic! It was only by one point but I had beat him for the third time in a row. He pouted and folded his arms in defeat. “You’re the man,” he said begrudgingly with a shrug, making his way towards me. I put my arms out wide for him to come give me a hug. He lifted me up in one swoop and I was against his chest, my toes barely touching the floor and my arms wrapped around his neck.

“Nope, not a man at all,” he said with a teasing grin, as his hands pressed against my lower back. I was warm from the tips of my fingers to the bottom of my toes. I gave him a quick kiss; it was meant to be quick but it lingered, my lips on his as I pressed tighter up against him. His lip trapped between my teeth. I felt his hands, bigger than I remember them ever being, clasping the swell where my leg and backside met. I pulled away, but just my lips; our bodies remained close.

I sensed the tension and energy that always crept between us when we had our normal make out sessions. They weren’t as often as Daniel wanted but enough to keep me up at night wondering what would happen if I didn’t stop him. If I let his hand go further up my thigh, if I didn’t pull away from being pressed up against him. Today was different, though. I wasn’t pulling away or telling him we had to get going. The room was quiet, the crowd at the pool table gone. It was just us, alone, the music from upstairs the only thing vibrating through us and the room. My heart was beating faster than it ever had before. I was nervous, anxious, and excited all at once. His eyes locked on mine, squinted slightly with a half of a grin, as if he knew what I was thinking, realizing he’d never gone this far with me. I took in a deep breath and kissed him again, this time slow. I coaxed his tongue into my mouth and when I felt his hardness I didn’t pull away. His breath was heavy now, as if carrying the tension between us.

“Does the door lock?” I breathed out, my voice sounding unfamiliar. He pressed his lips together, showing the one dimple that he always did. He threw his head back in frustration and I knew it didn’t.

“Does it need to?” he asked, his tone sitting between pleading and frustrated.

“Yes,” I snapped immediately. He let out a labored breath and lowered me back to the ground. I took a minute to compose myself, fixing my hair and smoothing my dress down. His arms were folded and I could see for once the annoyance hidden under frustration, and his forced smile. Had it always been there when I stopped things?

“Daniel,” I said quietly, and just like that the annoyance was gone, replaced by the boyish grin I fell in love with.

“Let’s get back to the party,” he said, pulling my hand behind him. I followed him in silence, a million thoughts going through my head, but I knew I had to say it before I lost my nerve.

“Or we could go to my house?” He stopped dead in his tracks and looked back at me. I forced myself to refrain from laughing out of nervousness, and tried to look sexy.

“Auntie Raven isn’t home. She won’t be until Sunday,” I said quietly, in a voice I thought would sound seductive. His eyes widened and his dimple was showing again so I guess I did it right.

“You sure?” he asked, making it clear that this wouldn’t be a chaste sleepover, but there would be a promise. I swallowed the lingering doubt that had been gnawing at me from when I saw him approach us earlier. The way the beautiful blonde glared at me, not Mallory. Like she held a secret I should know but didn’t. A big part of me wanted me to ask him about her but there was another part just as big that didn’t want to. Not yet.

“I am.”





Daniel had been in my house a million times. He’d been up my stairs the same amount, in my room at least once a week… but it was different today. As he sat on my bed, I approached him cautiously. We both knew this was not the same. My hands felt shaky, my body felt light, and my voice was gone.

“You okay?” he asked softly. Softer than he had ever spoken to me before. I nodded. It was dark, aside from my lamp in the corner of the room.

“Yeah. Just thinking,” I answered, sounding awkward to myself. He let out a light chuckle.

“Come here,” he said, sounding more like himself. It eased my nerves. I walked over and sat on the bed next to him.

“Lauren,” he began, taking my hand in his. He never really said my name; he always called me Brooks, beautiful, or babe.

“Nothing has to happen that you don’t want. You know me,” he told me, turning my face towards his. I cupped his face in my hands and kissed him gently on the lips. The kiss was different from how it was earlier. Then it was full of need, lust, and fueled by anxiousness. My body wanted it then but my heart didn’t. But now, as he kissed me back gently, I knew there was no one else I wanted to experience my first time with.

I climbed on top of Daniel and edged my fingertips through his hair. Soon I felt his strong arms pull me closer to him. I tugged at his shirt, the urgency starting to grow. He slowly pulled my dress over my head, and I sat there on top of him, wearing the lingerie set I had looked at earlier. It was really happening.

“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered, kissing my shoulder and neck. I pulled his shirt over his head and admired the chest sculpted from daily drills in basketball practice. He was stunning—fit to be on the cover of any teen magazine—and he was mine. I reached for my purse, but he expertly reached into his pocket and tore the square foil packet with his teeth. I held him by his neck.

“You sure?” he whispered into my neck.

“Yes.” And I was sure. As he moved into me, and with me, even though it hurt like hell, it felt like love. And that’s all I could ever ask him for.





I awoke the next morning. Daniel was asleep despite the beaming sun shining down on us. I kissed him lightly on the cheek but he still didn’t stir. My eyes roamed his lean long body, barely covered by my sheet. I really did have a naked boy in my bed.

I had sex!

Me!

I lifted myself out of bed and went to the bathroom. As I brushed my teeth and showered, I thought about how different things were going to be now. I went back upstairs and saw that Daniel was still fast asleep. I grabbed my phone and noticed I had four missed calls, one from Auntie Raven and three from Mallory. I immediately felt guilty seeing my auntie’s name. Not because of what I had done, but the fact that Daniel was still sprawled out in my bed naked. I quickly decided to call Auntie Raven after Daniel was up and out of the house. My phone rang again before I could decide if I would call Mallory back or not.

“Soo!” she squealed excitedly into the phone.

“So what?” I asked casually, as I attempted to fight the laughter trying to escape.

“What do you mean so? Did you do the deed?” she asked urgently. I let out a deep breath, stepping out of the room once again.

“Maybe,” I said simply.

“You did! O-M-G, welcome to womanhood, my friend! How was it? Tell me everything!” she demanded.

“I’m not telling you everything.” I giggled and I could practically hear her pout. “It was nice, it was special.”

“Ugh, special, really Lauren? You think those are the details I want to know?” She laughed. “Only you could suck the fun out of a first-time story,” she teased me, and I rolled my eyes but I wasn’t even irritated with her. After last night, nothing could ruin my mood.

“Well whether it was good or not, I think you made the right choice. He’s hung in there even when you didn’t sleep with him after junior prom. It’s only fair you give it up to him because it’s better than having a drunken one-night-stand when you’re in college.”

“There’s not going to be any drunken one-night-stands. Me and Daniel... we’re…” I trailed off. I didn’t know why I was so hesitant to tell her. “We have a future, this isn’t just some high school thing.” I told her confidently.

“You’re kidding, right?” she said with a laugh.

“Wow, so I guess there isn’t going to be a ‘You’re right, Lauren, you guys are great together’ convo huh?” I joke.

“No I mean it’s just… it’s Danny we’re talking about.”

“Right, Daniel, who I’ve been friends with since I was knee-high and who has practically been my boyfriend since the first grade,” I said, just a slither of sharpness in my tone.

“It’s just… Daniel isn’t… I know you know him as your boyfriend but… the Danny that I know is barely ready to be someone’s high school boyfriend let alone a long-distance college one. And he’s going to straight up party USA… I thought if anything, if you did it, it would be more of a goodbye parting gift and not the segue into matrimony.”

My stomach was on a seesaw. I swallowed the nerves that were fighting to come up from my chest to my stomach.

“I didn’t say we were getting married, it was just that how we were last night, he said he didn’t want to be with anyone else but me. I love him. Is it so bad to be hopeful, optimistic?”

“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying that you’re both young. You haven’t even slept with anyone other than him. You don’t know anyone other than him. You’re going to CSU next year. He’ll be in Michigan. You’re an artist; Danny likes football, alcohol, and girls gone wild.”

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I didn’t want to get mad. I was trying not to but I felt anger and hurt in every fiber of my being. Like I just got slapped in the face. Still, it was Mal, and I knew that she spoke before she thought. When I attempted to speak I knew my voice was going to quake. The nerve endings in all of my body were on fire, urging me to move. She was just jealous! She had to be, right? I ignored the gnawing in my chest. Wasn’t what happened last night magical and amazing… and just the beginning of something great?

“We’re different, yes, but what couple isn’t? It would be boring if we liked all of the same things, but I love him and he loves me and it’s going to work.”

There’s silence on the other end of the phone. I checked to make sure the call didn’t drop.

“I think you’re being an idiot.” The coldness in her voice sent a shiver through me, and my mouth fell open.

“Excuse me?” I said, knowing that I couldn’t have heard her correctly.

“I am so tired of you walking around like you’re so much better than everyone.”

Her tone was so full of spite, I almost dropped the phone.

“What are you talking about? I don’t think that I’m better than anyone!”

“You’ve always had this superiority complex and it’s so annoying! You’re no different than any other girl, Lauren. Just because you gave away your special virginity, it’s not going to make a manwhore turn into a priest!” she spouted sharply.

“Are you kidding?” I asked, thinking it was a big joke and I was on some hidden camera TV show.

“You know the girl from yesterday?” She laughed bitterly.

“What girl, what are you talking about?” I asked, completely confused.

“The Bryer whore, Jessica. She wasn’t there for James. She was there for Danny! Because while Danny’s been waiting on you to give him your precious flower, he’s been screwing her.”

My mouth was open but no words were coming out. My throat was tight and tears were fighting their way out of my eyes all at once.

“Oh, and by the way, I went down on Danny. It was freshman year and I did it because he told me he would be my boyfriend and he lied, and then the next week he made you his girlfriend. And when I confronted him about it he said it was because I was a slut and he wanted someone innocent like you.” She was laughing viciously now. “Only thing is, you’re not innocent—you’re naïve and he’s liar! So you’re perfect for each other. I wasn’t going to say anything but you need to wake up from your perfect little fantasy land. You’re not a special princess, you’re just like the rest of us. So grow up!”

I dropped the phone after that, unsure of who ended the call. I was breathing so hard I saw my chest heaving. I was so angry I was shaking. Tears of rage and shame cascaded down my face. My best friend, or who I thought was my best friend, hated me for God knows how long… and the man I just gave my virginity to had been cheating on me!

This wasn’t happening, it wasn’t real. It was a joke. They were playing a joke on me, a cruel joke that I wouldn’t forgive either of them for. When I made my way back up to my room, I saw Daniel was up and tapping into his phone.

“Hey, you,” he said chipperly, until he saw my face. He jumped out of the bed and rushed over to me.

“Babe, what’s wrong?!” He pulled me into his arms and I wanted to close my eyes and savor the moment. Being in the arms of a boy I thought loved me, who had been my best friend, my first kiss, my first everything. I hoped with all that was in me I was wrong, but I knew after that moment nothing would be the same.

“I talked to Mallory,” I told him, my face buried in his chest, and I felt his body slightly stiffen.

“And what happened, you guys fought?” he asked cautiously, but continued to stroke my back. It felt like a knife, one so sharp that you didn’t know it cut you until it was too late. I used all the energy I had to pull away from him.

“She told me about Jessica.” My voice sounded broken. Daniel looked at me with confusion until I said her name; he stepped away from me but quickly regained his composure.

“You cheated on me?” I asked, not able to stop the tears coming out of my eyes.

“I-It wasn’t cheating, really. It wasn’t like that. I messed up, and you weren’t ready. I didn’t want to pressure you!”

“Get out!” I yelled, my throat burning.

“No. I’m not leaving. It’s not what you think, she wasn’t just some random girl I snuck around on you with...” His tone was so genuine it made me want to vomit.

“I… Jessica knows about you and… I really want us all to…” he trailed off, pacing himself. Was he serious? Why is he even still in front of me? He thinks it makes it better that he cares about her? That broke my heart even more.

“I want us to be together, just once.”

I didn’t know if he was serious, I didn’t know if any of what was happening was real. It couldn’t be. No way was he asking me what it sounded like he was asking me. He came towards me but I stepped back in horror.

“You’re seriously asking me to have a threesome with you?”

“Look, babe, it’s not that big of a deal. I just thought that you would be really into it and it could be another first for us,” he said with a straight face. I started to laugh. Laughter collided against tears and introduced itself to fury.

I couldn’t look at his beautiful face any longer. My eyes traveled down to the spot he was sitting in. The exact spot on my bed where I had given him my virginity just a few hours before. That night, beautiful words had flowed from his plump lips. Soft touches and sweet kisses. He had gently told me pretty lies. God, I was so stupid! This wasn’t what I wanted, this wasn’t love, this was nothing like what my parents had! This was a horror movie, not a romance novel.

My nails dug into my palm as I balled up my fist. I kept hoping that it was a joke. That he’d start laughing at any moment and call me gullible, and Mallory and James would be downstairs pointing and laughing about how they got me. But that wasn’t going to happen. It was real and it was the most painful thing I’d ever experienced.

I had no words, but he didn’t take that as a signal to leave or apologize. He just stood there, continuing to try to make his case.

“It’s not just about me, L,” he sighed. “All my friends have done it... I waited for you for so long. We should take it to the next level before it’s too late. We’re both going to college next year and neither one of us want to go with barely any experience. Besides, my brother told me that most girls at college are bisexual. It would be more special if we did it together.”

I clenched my teeth so hard that I was slightly nervous they would break. My devastation was morphing, turning into rage. “Special. Just like when we gave each other our virginity?”

His soft, boyish features shifted until they were guilty and irritated. He shrugged as he said, “You were my first, Lauren. The first girl I ever slept with that I loved.”

I didn’t even let him finish before I ran into him, throwing my fists with as much fury as I could muster. “How could you do this to me? You lied to me! You’ve always been a liar!”

He took a couple of steps forward and tried to grab me. I quickly maneuvered out of his grasp and started hitting his chest.

“I didn’t lie!” he yelled back. “Not exactly! Can’t we just talk about this?”

“You weren’t a virgin! You cheated on me and now you’re trying to get me to have a threesome with you. You fucking asshole! You made my best friend despise me!”

I didn’t hear my door open. All I did know was that Raven had come into my room and pulled me off of Daniel. He shot her a look of relief.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but Daniel—leave. Right now. Okay?” she said, out of breath after separating me from him. He looked like he was about to argue and she gave him a look that could’ve set him on fire. He grabbed his stuff and ran out of my room half-naked, without a second of hesitation.

Raven wrapped me up in a tight hug and squeezed me as I cried into her shoulder.

“I’m a gigantic idiot,” I managed to say in between sobs. Realizing that my entire love life was a sham, an utterly gigantic fail. “I just want the kind of love that Mom and Dad had.”

She gently pulled me away from her and gave me a stern look. “Lauren, you’re so young. I know this seems like the end of the world, but you’re going to fall in love. Probably more than once. You will find the right one someday.”

“But why does it hurt so much if he isn’t the right one?” I cried. “I just want to give up.”

She didn’t say anything in return. She simply wrapped me back into her arms and held me tight.

“Honey please, I know it hurts but this will pass. You’re seventeen and it’s sort of a rite of passage to have your heart broken.”

Oh my God, I totally forgot it was my birthday. I began to cry harder.

“This is the worst birthday ever,” I moaned.

“How about I call Mallory for you and we’ll eat ice cream and watch movies? Then I’ll take you shopping,” she said, trying to soothe me.

“Mallory hates me!” I said, my entire body shaking now. Not only had I lost Daniel, but Mallory too. Auntie let out a long sigh and kissed me on my head.

“It’s not over yet,” she assured me. “Close your eyes and I’ll be right back.”

I wasn’t in the mood for anything, but I didn’t want to disappoint her. So I did as she said and patiently waited for her to come back into my room.

“Okay, you can open them.”

When I opened my eyes, Raven placed a beautifully wrapped box into my hands. I immediately started to open it. I couldn’t stop the smile that spread across my face when I saw a stunning red leather sketchbook. It even had my name engraved in the bottom corner!

“Raven, it’s beautiful!” I exclaimed as I threw my arms around her.

“Always remember that you’re in charge of your story. Names and characters may change but you’re always one decision away from something amazing.”

The words she spoke meant something to me. Her gifts were always special. Last year she let me start to call her by her first name as a sign of my maturity. Now this. As I looked down at the delicate sketchbook, I made myself a promise. I was going to focus on myself. I was going to have great experiences and fill every page of the book with my story, and it didn’t need to be about love or a man or chasing a fairy tale. In fact, it’d be no boys allowed. Who needs love anyway?





Four





A New Chapter…


October 15th, 2007



What the hell just landed on top of me? It’s heavy and bouncing and whatever it is has started to scream. “Guess what?”

I open my eyes, a scowl already on my face. I slowly pry open my eyes to see Angela. Her full lips curve up into a devilish smile, her massive mop of kinky curls bounce as she does on top of me. She’s gone insane!

“I don’t know,” I mumble before I guess. “You won the lottery?”

“Nope! It’s your birthday!”

Now she’s dancing on top of me, whooping and singing. God, it’s too early for this. My sore muscles don’t appreciate her enthusiasm, even though my heart does.

“Aren’t you my best friend?” I groan as I pull a pillow over my face.

Angie promptly snatches it off and grins down at me again. “Of course I am! I’m your bestest friend in the world.”

Luckily, she rolled over so that she’s laying beside me now. “If that’s true then you would know that I hate birthdays,” I remind her.

I can practically feel her roll her eyes as she says, “You do not hate birthdays. You went all out for mine! You even scored us fifth row Drake tickets. And you took me to my favorite five-star restaurant!”

“Okay, fine,” I lament. “I hate my birthday.”

“It doesn’t matter if you hate your birthday, because this is a special one,” she says matter-of-factly.

My eyebrows shoot up to the top of my forehead as I grumble, “Special as in what? Because I still can’t legally drink or go to any clubs.”

“Look, I totally get why you think you don’t like your birthday. If I went through what you did on my seventeenth birthday, I would’ve ended up in jail. But tonight is going to be amazing and this year is going to fucking rock!”

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m sort of curious.

Angie has always had a way of pulling me out of a funk. We had first met two years ago after the crime of the century that Daniel and Mallory perpetrated on me. Auntie Raven introduced us; she and Angie’s mom were sorority sisters. Angie was already attending the school that I wanted to transfer to after I finished my general education at community college in Michigan. We clicked instantly and ever since that day, she’s called me her vanilla soul sister.

“Why is tonight going to be amazing?” I ask reluctantly.

“Because life starts right here, right now, Ms. Brooks,” she says, grinning.

I stare at her, confused. “My life has been going for a while now, Angie.”

She rolls her eyes and sighs at me. “Yeah, I know. I get it. You’re doing amazing in school, living in a big city, and all that jazz. But there’s something missing. Know what that is?”

“I’m sure that you’re going to tell me,” I say through a yawn.

Angie doesn’t let my lack of enthusiasm dissuade her. She reaches into her pocket and thrusts a small little square into my face.

I laugh at it. “You made me a fake ID?”

She nods, and somehow the grin on her face is getting bigger. I reach out and take the plastic card from her. I bring it to my face and examine it. It looks real.

“Wow, is this actually legit?”

“Only the best for you, sweetheart. It cost me a pretty penny too, if you were wondering,” she replies.

“Angie,” I exclaim as I frown at her. “I hope it didn’t cost too much.”

She rolls her eyes at me and waves off my concern. “It actually didn’t cost me anything. I just had to go on a date with Devon and let him get to third base last weekend.”

Angie winks at me and I laugh. I know that was the best payment plan that she could imagine. Devon was a gorgeous basketball player that she had met two weeks ago while working.

“So you know what this means,” she squeals.

“That I’ll start buying alcohol for girls night?” I guess.

She shakes her head. “It means that you can finally score an interview at the gig!”

That gets my attention! Angie works at the Vault, one of the hottest night clubs in the city that I don’t care too about much, but she rakes in the cash. One night she made three thousand dollars. I’d have to work six months at the bookstore to earn anywhere close to that.

“Are you serious? You think it’s that good?” I ask her cautiously.

She nods excitedly. “It’s better than good. Besides, you’re hot. Ryan won’t really care. He’ll just need to have something on file.”

“Do you really think he’ll hire me?”

This job could be life changing for me. I would even have more time to invest into my art. I would probably be able to pay off the majority of my student loans before even graduating.

“Uh, yeah. You’re hot as hell, Lauren. I know you’ve sworn off men, but girl, you’ve got it whenever you want to get it,” she teases me. “All you need are some lashes, a little blush, and a push-up bra. Especially considering that you have an interview on Tuesday.”

“You’re kidding!”

Angie shakes her head. “I would never joke about something like that. If you snag this gig, which I know you will, you’ll finally be able to get out of that crappy dorm room.”

“It’s not that bad,” I say with a shrug. But in reality, it is. It’s incredibly small. My roommate never cleans up after herself. Plus, she didn’t have any common courtesy. She plays loud music when I try to study. Or plays her guitar while I try to sleep. It would be so much better if I was able to move out, especially if I could live on my own.

“Do you remember Hillary? You met her a few months ago. She has long blonde hair. I think it was streaked with purple when you saw her.”

“I think so?”

“Well, she’s looking for a roommate, and she needs one soon. She lives in this cute little two-bedroom apartment. It’s only four blocks from school. When you get the job, the other room is yours.”

Was I dreaming? There was no way this was real! I was about to interview for the job of a lifetime. A job that would give me so much more freedom. A new apartment, a new phone, and so many more possibilities. I always have bad luck. There was no way that this was actually happening to me.

“How did you do all this?” I question, fighting the tears in my eyes.

Angie pulls me into a big hug as she teases, “It’s all a part of being an amazing black woman, hon. Didn’t you know we have magical powers? Do you wanna know what else makes this birthday extra awesome, aside from all of this and drinks on me at the club tonight?”

“You’ve already outdone yourself. I don’t know what else you could possibly do.”

In a sing-songy voice she says, “It’s been two years.”

“Two years?” I ask.

“The day that you met me, you swore off men for exactly two years. Back then, I thought you were just hurt and you were exaggerating. I thought you would get over that promise in a couple of months. But you didn’t and I respect your self-restraint, but the drought is finally over.”

Technically, Angie was right. It had been two years since I had sworn off men. But it hasn’t been like I’ve been counting down the days. I’ve gotten so used to ignoring men that it’s second nature.

“Oh, God,” I groan, throwing my head back in exasperation. “Please tell me that you didn’t sign me up for online dating or something like that?”

“Nope. I did something even better.”

“Which is?”

“I have a guy that I think you might really like.”

I groan again as I lay back down and pull her thick down comforter over my head. “Angela, no. We were doing so good. Why do you have to ruin it?”

“You trust me, right?” she whines, as she struggles to pull the comforter off of me.

“It’s not about trust. It’s about not wanting to get involved with anyone. Ever. I don’t care how long it’s been. Dating, relationships… all of it sucks!”

“That doesn’t even count anymore. That’s not what dating is like as an adult. That was a failed high school relationship. Most people have one. You can’t become a nun because of a horny idiot,” she tries to reason.

I pull the comforter back down and roll my eyes. “I’m not joining a convent. I just want to concentrate on school, and hopefully, this new job.”

“You are an honor roll student. The job is going to be way easier than what you’re currently doing,” she says as she frowns down at me, even if it does look more like a cute pout. “Honey, you’re young. It’s time you live a little.”

I know that Angie means well. She’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. She always gives me good advice. She’s compassionate and understanding. Even honest to a fault sometimes. When I met her, I understood that meeting your best friend normally happens in college, not high school. Or, I guess you could say, kindergarten.

I sigh.

“Please, Lauren. I really want to tell you all about the amazing sex that Devon and I had. And hopefully will have again soon. But I can’t unless you’re getting some too. Or else I’ll feel bad.”

I can’t help but laugh at her reasoning.

“Do you miss it?” she suddenly asks me.

I can feel my cheeks heat up at her question. “I only did it once, Angie. And it wasn’t really all that spectacular. So how could I miss it?”

A sly smirk spread across her face. “That’s even more reason for you to go out and get it. Trust me, good sex is completely life changing.”

That makes me think about all the romance books I’ve read. In most of them, when the woman loses her virginity, she ends up having multiple orgasms. My first time wasn’t anything like that. It lasted about ten minutes and it hurt. I definitely didn’t have an orgasm. But that wasn’t what was important to me. When I thought that Daniel and I were losing our virginities to each other, I felt so connected to him in the moment. I thought we were making love. I didn’t care if I didn’t experience the orgasmic bliss I had seen described. Plus, the cuddling had been nice. My mind begins to drift. What if the actual act could be pleasurable for me too? It doesn’t matter, though. Men bring tears, and I cried enough of those. I want to make this money.

“I just really don’t want to be set up, Angie,” I say as politely as I can. I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I mean, I know she cares, but I don’t want to think about it right now.

“It won’t be a setup, like a double date or anything. I just want you to come with me to the club tonight. Hillary will be there too. You can get the chance to meet your future coworkers. Ryan will just get a tantalizing glimpse of you. It’ll be so much fun, I promise!”

“I thought we were going to drink wine and eat pizza in our pj’s?” I groan. I was actually looking forward to that.

Angie waves off my words. “We can do that any old day. It’s your birthday, and more importantly, the start of a more exciting life for you. So, you’re going to let your hair down, lift your tits up, and wear an embarrassingly short dress. Then we’re going to dance the night away, got it?”

I sigh and shrug as I relent. “I guess.”

Angie squeals and throws herself on top of me again. “You won’t regret it!”

I try to keep the small smile off of my face as I say, “Get off of me! I can’t breathe!”





“If you don’t stop pulling your skirt down, then I’m going to pinch you like my grandma did when I used to talk in church,” Angie scolds me as we walk into the Vault.

I scowl at her. “Well, I wouldn’t be pulling it down if you let me wear something a little more reasonable.”

It is unusually warm for an October night. I’m thankful, because if it was freezing I wouldn’t survive in this skimpy ass outfit. I can hear the dull thump of the music playing inside, and can feel the ground pulsing to the beat as we walk towards the entrance. There are already about thirty people lined up, waiting to get inside.

As we approach, the men in line turn their attention towards us, their eyes roaming our exposed skin. Not to mention that this bra made my small B cup breasts look like Double D’s. This tiny black dress barely covers my ass. Even though these six-inch heels are more comfortable than I originally thought, it was taking all my concentration to walk in them, and goosebumps are breaking out all over my skin at the thought of being so exposed.

What am I doing here? This is a big jump from the small bars Angie has snuck me into a couple of times. An even further leap from the high school parties that I attended.

“Maybe this isn’t a good idea, Ang,” I whisper in her ear as we walk to the front of the line. “All these men look like they want to rip my clothes off.”

Angie throws back her head and laughs. “That’s the point, Lauren.”

When we reach the entrance, Angie smiles widely at the huge guy that’s standing at the door. His hard facade breaks as soon as he sees her.

“I didn’t know that you were working tonight, Ang,” he greets warmly.

“I’m not! I’m just here to celebrate my girl’s twenty-first birthday,” she sings as she gestures at me.

I give a forced smile and a weak wave as his calculating eyes turn towards me. He nods after looking me up and down. I guess that was his sign of approval. I nervously hand him my ID. This is the moment of truth. What if this ID isn’t as good as Angie thinks?

The man looks at the card thoroughly. Even though he’s friends with Angie, I almost hope that he’ll find something wrong with it before I get myself into trouble with the card.

“Smile, sweetheart,” he jokes as he hands my ID back to me. I give him a weak smile back.

“Lauren, this is Big Dave,” Angie introduces him before saying, “Lauren is interviewing with Ryan next week.”

Big Dave looks me up and down one more time before he says, “If she can stop looking like she gonna shit herself, then she’s definitely got the job.”

My nerves are quickly replaced with burning anger. “Excuse me?”

But he just grins. “There ya go. Anger is sexy, scared shitless isn’t.”

Angie swats him playfully as he winks at me. She glares and points a finger at him. “Play nice!”

I scowl at Big Dave as Angie pulls me past him and into the club.

When I Grow Up by the Pussycat Dolls is blasting through the club. I follow closely behind Angie as she starts strutting to the beat of the music. Her hand is clasped tightly around mine as we make our way through the crowd. She glances over her shoulder at me and gives me a nudge, signaling for me to relax.

I almost have a heart attack as arms wrap around my waist from behind. I turn around to see a man hanging onto me. “Let me buy you a drink, beautiful,” he slurs. I yank myself away from him as if he has the plague.

Angie appears behind me once more. “She’s okay!”

She grabs me once again and pulls me behind her. Before we make it another yard, another guy grabs my hand. What the hell are these men’s problem? They don’t have any respect or sense of boundaries.

Before he can even say anything, I blurt out, “No, thank you!”

I pull my hand from his and scurry back to Angie’s side.

She looks at my sympathetically. “Hun, that’s going to happen all night. Just be polite and let them know that you’re not interested. If they get aggressive I’ll have Big Dave kick their ass.”

We squeeze our way past withering bodies and to a stairwell; several hands grab at me. I can see the same thing happening to Ang. I’ve been in Chicago for almost two years and I’ve seen all the landmarks. Even a few bars. But this is a completely different experience. There’s so much energy surrounding me from all sides. There are people of all different ages and ethnicities all in one place—it’s electrifying and intimidating.

We reach the second floor, to what I assume is the VIP area. There’s another big security guy guarding the entrance.

“Lauren, this is Big Mike, Big Mike, this is Lauren,” she introduces us. “How’s it been tonight?”

Big Mike shrugs as he responds, “Busy as always. If you guys need anything, let me know.”

He smiles at both of us and we smile back, I like his vibe a lot more than Big Dave’s. As we walk past him, Angie pulls me over to whisper in my ear, “He means if you need him to break anyone’s hands that he’ll gladly do it.”

I quickly glance over my shoulder and see the dangerous man grinning at me. We make our way over to a table where there’s already several people sitting. There are three gorgeous girls sitting next to each other. One of them has deep red hair that’s similar to my Auntie Raven’s. The girl sitting to her left has long blonde hair that is completely straight. Her boobs are actual Double D’s and not fakes like mine, that are only enhanced by the $50 bra I’m wearing. The last girl looks vaguely familiar. Her hair just barely brushes her shoulders. It was blonde with bright purple tips. Angie runs up to the table, dragging me behind her as she excitedly announces, “Hey girls! This is Lauren.”

They all look up and say hello. They all are so beautiful and confident. Next to them, I feel like a ten-year-old trying on her older sister’s clothes and trying to be cool.

“Lauren, this is Trish, Tori, and Hillary. They round out our little crew here. They will become your new best friends as you navigate working here,” Angie says enthusiastically.

“She already got the job?” the redhead, Trish, asks. She has a small smile on her face, but her tone makes me think that she’s slightly annoyed.

Not yet, but she will, hun,” Angie replies, her voice strained.

Trish gives me a forced smile. Angie moves towards them and gestures for them to make room on the large, leather couch. My feet are glued to the floor. I’ve just got a terrible feeling of dread and panic. This was a ginormous mistake. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I’m not ready for any of this. How am I supposed to go from working in a bookstore to being a waitress in the hottest nightclub in Chicago?

The four girls sitting on the couch completely fit the image. They’re glamorous, confident, and sexy. I’m well aware that I’m pretty. But these girls were in a whole different league than I was. They were stunning and they owned it.

Angie breaks me out of my panic by urging, “Come on, L. Sit down.”

Hillary, the girl with the purple tips, gives me a genuine smile, much unlike Trish’s. “Yes, we don’t bite. We’ll just scratch if you piss us off.”

I know that she’s joking, but it doesn’t do anything to help my nerves. Nonetheless, I finally feel my feet move so I can sit next to Angie.

“Happy birthday,” says the girl with long blonde hair. I think her name is Tori, even though I can’t get a read on her yet.

“Thank you,” I reply as I sit down. I purposely clasp my hands together so I won’t start tugging on my dress again.

“Birthday shots for everyone,” Hillary excitedly exclaims as she throws her hands up in the air.

I immediately shake my head and I honestly tell her, “I’m not much of a drinker.” Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Trish snicker behind her hand.

“You smoke?” Tori asks genuinely.

“No, not really,” I answer. I have never tried it, and I didn’t plan on it in a place like this.

“X?” Trish asks, her expression sitting somewhere between bemused and exasperated.

“She’ll have an Amaretto Sour, and we’ll take the shots for her. How does that sound ladies?” Her tone is enthusiastic, but it was hiding a warning inside of it.

Thanks for saving me from the firing squad, Angie.

“She will graduate to much better things. Stick with us and you’ll be able to drink your guy under the table.” Tori winks at me.

My stomach starts to flip at her words. Angie tosses me a big smile and squeezes my hand. She’s reminding me not to let any of the girls get to me. Don’t run away. She knows me too well. The only thing I want to do at this point is conjure up a pair of tennis shoes and make a break for it.

It doesn’t take long for the drinks to come. Once they arrive, Angie insists everyone listen to her birthday toast, which they, for the most part, seem uninterested in, but she corrals them in much to my embarrassment.

“I don’t know where either of us would be if we wouldn’t have met two years ago. Cheers to the best birthday of your life and a new, exciting start. Happy fucking birthday. I love you!”

“Happy birthday,” everyone chimes before they take their shot. I take a few sips of my drink.

Hillary tosses her short hair over her shoulder and asks me, “How old are you turning, girly?”

I answer without a second thought, “Twenty.”

Angie’s head whips around to face me with an arched brow. “One,” she reminds me.

“Yes, twenty-one. It always takes me a couple of days to get used to my new age.” I nervously chuckle. I try to ignore Trish, who is eyeing me with intrigue.

“When’s your birthday?” she suddenly asks. Interested in me and not her drink for the first time since I’ve been here.

Angie scowls at Trish, obviously unhappy with where this situation is going. “This isn’t twenty-one questions. We’re here to celebrate Lauren’s birthday and her future employment with us. I thought you all would be the perfect welcome wagon since we’ve all been the little fish in a big pond before.”

My eyes widen at her words. These girls didn’t seem like little fish to me. They were sharks, if anything.

“You’re right, Angie. We’ve all started wet behind the ears once. I’m from Ohio,” Tori says before she lifts her drink and downs the rest of it. She’s not kidding about drinking guys under the table with the way she’s throwing them back.

“Trish is from a little town in Kentucky,” Angela quips, and Trish rolls her eyes.

“I’m from a quaint little city, if you could even call it that, in Michigan,” Hillary adds.

“Really? So am I,” I told her, relieved. “What part?”

Before Hillary could answer, Trish jumps back in, “Is this a birthday party or a support group for the boring and sheltered?”

I’m honestly starting to get fed up with her rude comments. “Excuse me?”

Trish doesn’t respond. Instead, she gets up from the couch and pulls Tori along with her. They started dancing as if the music is made just for them.

“Don’t mind Trish. She’s a bitch, it’s just who she is,” Hillary assures me.

Angie’s annoyance is showing full-force now. She’s leaning against the couch with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face, and if her skin wasn’t so deep I’m sure she’d be blushing. “I don’t know why I let you talk me into inviting her,” she says to Hillary.

A Cheshire grin spreads over Hillary’s face. “Because if she’s here then the drinks are free. You know, since her and Ryan are a thing now.”

Angie’s eyes bulge out of her head in shock at Hillary’s words. “You’re kidding!”

Hillary starts to laugh and shakes her head. “You didn’t hear it from me, though!”

I was glad to know that I wasn’t the only one Trish was a bitch to. Hillary and Angie don’t like her that much either. It’s good to know she isn’t just targeting me.

A bottle girl approaches our table. “Angie, can you come with me real quick?” The waitress is as glamorous as the rest of the girls that I had met that night. She’s wearing a name tag that says Carly, long dark blonde hair in beautiful curls drape her back.

Angie gets up and grumbles, “Damn, it’s my day off!” Before she disappears completely, she looks back, her face full of concern. “Are you going to be okay?”

I hate feeling like a baby, but the truth is I do want Angie to stay with me. But instead I smile and say, “I’ll be fine.” I’m not sure I’m convincing because Hillary senses my nervousness. She slings her arm around my shoulders and says, “Of course she’ll be fine. She’ll be with me, won’t she?”

My worried eyes watch Angie as she walks out of VIP and disappears.

Now it’s just me and Hillary sitting on the couch together. If I have to be left alone with any of the three girls that I met today, I’m glad that it’s her. She seems to be the nicest out of all of them.

“So, what do you think? Are you completely overwhelmed? Ready to run away screaming?” she questions. Her expression is softer now that none of the other girls were around.

I sigh. “It’s a little more than I expected.” I’m nervous but decide to take a chance and confide in Hillary. Yeah, there’s a chance she can use the information against me, but Angie wouldn’t suggest I move in with someone who isn’t to be trusted. I hope.

“You’ll get used to it,” she tries to comfort me. “The rules are as follows. One, always stand up for yourself. Two, look better than you feel. Three, never let anyone here pressure or guilt you into doing something that you’re not comfortable with.”

Wow. I really didn’t expect that.

I glance at her and give her a sincere smile. “Thank you. That really does help. Do you work here?”

“No, I used to. I sort of had to resign. It turns out that dating multiple coworkers isn’t the greatest idea. Especially when they start fighting during your shift. It’s not good for business and Ryan wasn’t too happy with me,” she admits.

She bursts out into laughter after her confession and I join her. So she did have a wild side to her. She adds with a pout, “I really miss the money, though.”

“So, the money really is that good?” I knew that Angie made good money here. But she’s outgoing, with an amazing personality. It could be that she was making more money than the rest of the girls.

“The money here is amazing,” she promises me. “You won’t make money like this anywhere else unless you’re swinging around on a pole. Not that I haven’t thought about it once or twice. I think it would actually be an interesting experience.” Hillary slaps my knee at the last part, and both of us dissolve into another fit of laughter. I’m not sure if she’s serious or not, but I laugh anyway.

Hillary sighs. “Now, I work part time at a boring manufacturing company doing administrative work. I guess I can’t complain. I’m off nights and weekends. Plus I get benefits. I figure that it’ll be good for my resume after graduation.”

I nod. “That makes sense.”

“There are also a lot of hot guys at the warehouse.” She winks at me. I guess she still hasn’t added “don’t date coworkers” to her to-do list yet. “Anyways, enough about me. What about you? Ang told me that you draw or something?”

“Yeah, I do. I’m only minoring in art, majoring in English. I figured it was the safe thing to do,” I told her.

Hillary nods. “I can understand that. So when do you want to come by and see the place?”

I have to admit that I’m caught slightly off guard by her question. Angie may have mentioned moving in with Hillary, but I didn’t know she’d be so receptive to it.

“Well, I would love to see it, but I just need to make sure that I get this job first. There’s no way that I can afford to live off campus with what I make now. How much is the rent?”

“$1,400,” she says simply. I try not to choke on my drink that I’ve been sipping.

“I know that sounds expensive, but we’ll be going halfsies. When you get the job, you’ll be able to pay for your half with the tips you get on a good weekend.”

Being able to pay rent on a nice apartment with a couple night’s work sounds like a dream. I just don’t know if I’m going to be able to handle working in a place like this.

“We’ll just have to see if I get the job first,” I say with a nervous laugh.

“Girl, have you looked in a mirror? You’re going to get the job. You just have to speak it into existence.” Funny, she is starting to sound like my auntie.

“A little secret? Do everything you can to work in VIP. You’re going to have to get it over Trish’s dead body, but I believe in you. So many guys come up here and are dying to flaunt their money. Your tips will double or even triple.”

I can’t believe that she’s giving me so much information about working here.

“Oh, also make sure not to become a drunk,” she adds. “Tori is dangerously close to becoming one. Tipsy is cute, being drunk is not. In fact, it’s as far from sexy as you can get.”

“I’m not a big drinker. Men are as far from my mind as Dubai,” I told her.

“Well, when you work here, men are going to be everywhere. And they’re going to try and be all over you. Whatever your type is, you’ll be able to find it here. What’s your type?”

I swallow hard at her question. It definitely catches me off guard. I really don’t think about men anymore. The only guy I’ve been with is Daniel. Hell, he’s the only boy I’ve ever had a crush on—well, aside from Justin when he was in *NSYNC. I really don’t know if I have a type. I guess my type is a man who won’t lie and cheat on me. But it doesn’t matter anyway. My main focus is to get this job and to graduate with good grades.

I haven’t thought about love or being with someone in a long time. I don’t even know if I believe in love any more. My parents had true love; maybe it died with them. What’s the point if love isn’t involved? It doesn’t matter what Angie or Hillary thinks. I want a better place to live and to start paying off my student loans. Hillary lost this job because of men, and no offense to her, but that’s not going to happen to me.

“Boys…” I begin, trailing off. I really don’t know where I want to take this statement. Hillary interrupts me before I could get back on track.

“Not boys,” she corrects. “Men. There’s a big difference.”

I wave my hand in her direction. “Men, whatever. The point is that I’m not focused on any of them right now. I don’t even have a type.”

Hillary laughs as if that was the funniest thing that she’s ever heard in her life, “Are you kidding? Who doesn’t have a type?”

I guess it’s an odd answer. I’m twenty-years-old. I should know what my type is. Why was I attracted to Daniel in the first place? At first, it was his kindness. Raven had always told me that kindness was important in a man. That’s what attracted me to him, I think. Sure he was tall, had great hair, and a killer smile, but it was our history.

While I try to think, Hillary reaches for a pitcher. It’s filled with a bright pink liquid. She pours a glass and offers it to me. I look at it cautiously.

Hillary gives me a smile. “It’s way better than an Amaretto Sour, trust me.”

I reluctantly take the glass and sip it. It’s sweet and I don’t even taste any alcohol. I take a bigger sip than the first time.

“Slow down there, girl. It’s not Kool-Aid,” she laughs. I give her a sheepish smile. “Tell me more about the guys you’ve dated.”

“Guy,” I correct her. “There’s only been one,” I admit to Hillary reluctantly, but I’m not going to lie. It shouldn’t be anything to be embarrassed about, but for some reason I am. When her mouth falls open in shock, my cheeks burn. I guess I was wrong.

I sigh. “It was a bad breakup and I kind of swore off men for a while.”

“So, let me get this straight, you’ve only been with one guy?” she asks in awe.

I’m starting to feel like an exotic animal at the zoo, and I look away shyly. “Kind of,” I say quickly.

“When was the last time you had sex? If you don’t mind me asking.”

Somehow, I suddenly don’t feel as awkward answering her questions. “A little over two years ago.”

“Get the hell out,” Hillary exclaims, playfully slapping me on the shoulder.

I giggle. “It was only once too!”

“Wait. You’re telling me that you’ve only had sex once? Like in your entire life?” she questions in disbelief.

“Well, I didn’t plan on it to only be once. But that’s what happened.”

“You’re shitting me. You’re almost like a virgin.”

I shake my head. “I’m definitely not a virgin.” It may not have lasted long, but I know it was official.

“I’m not saying that you are. Just that you basically are. Wow, you’re like the last of a generation,” she gasps.

I frown slightly at her. I don’t mind sharing information, but I don’t want it shoved back into my face.

She leans over and gives me a little hug. “Oh, no offense, hun. I think it’s actually kind of awesome. Well, except for all of the good sex you are missing out on.” I giggle and hiccup, and she laughs right along with me.





Hillary and I fill the rest of the time with conversation. We’re getting to know each other and becoming fast friends. I hope that I get the job so I could get the chance to live with her! She’s so much better than whatsherface.

Angie’s back! But this time she has a guy with her.

I stand up quickly, a little too quickly because I sort of stumble a little. I rush over and give her a really big hug. “Hi, Angie!” I’m so excited to see her. I pull back and smile widely. Instead of smiling back, she gives me a weird meanish look.

“Uh, hi,” she says, looking me up and down. “Are you having a good time?”

I nod enthusiastically. I had been so hesitant about this night, but now that I’ve loosened up a little, I’m having a fantastic time. “I am! I’m having a really good time,” I assure her. “I was so intimidated at first, but I’ve been talking to Hillary and this place doesn’t seem so bad anymore.”

Angie grins at me as she grabs my hand and leads me back to the couch. “Is that right? Have you only been drinking Amarettos?”

“Nope, I’ve been drinking some pink lemonade stuff that Hillary gave me.”

Angie turns her attention to Hillary. “How many glasses did she have?”

Hillary shrugs and innocently says, “I just wanted her to loosen up a little bit. I think she only had two or four.”

“It’s really, really good! You can’t taste the alcohol at all!” I say, and I remember that Angie brought a guy back with her. I peep over her shoulder to see him sitting on the couch. He sort of looks like Matt Damon. He has really white teeth and dark blond hair, and his smile is kind of nice, no not kind of nice—it’s brilliant. “Who are you?”

He grins at me as he reaches out his hand to shake mine. “I’m Steven. You’re Lauren, right?”

I nod as I shake his hand. “You look like Ben Affleck.”

Damn. That wasn’t right. I meant the other guy.

Angie pours a glass and forces it into my hand. “Lauren, why don’t you have some water?”

“You’ve been serving her the good stuff, haven’t you, Hillary?” Matt Damon asks.

Hillary hugs me as she defends herself. “Hey, I just wanted her to have a good time! It’s her birthday!”

I look over and notice that Angie doesn’t look that happy. What is her problem? I was finally having a good time!

Hillary gets up from the couch. “Come on, Lauren! Let’s leave grandma and grandpa here to be old and boring. Let’s dance!”

I’m not normally much of a dancer, but I’m having such a great time. Not to mention, who doesn’t love Beyonce? I get up and follow her, only stumbling over my stilts once. We stop to dance next to Trish and Tori, but somehow they didn’t seem so intimidating anymore. Hillary grabs my hips and we begin swaying to the music. I throw my hands up in the air. I can’t remember the last time that I felt so carefree. Angie’s right. This is the best birthday that I’ve ever had.





I have a concussion.

That’s the only reason my head hurts so bad and feels like it was crushed by a building. I slowly sit up in my bed, holding my head.

Wait a minute. This wasn’t my bed. I start to panic before memories of the night before slowly start to come back to me. I glance around the room, but I still don’t know where I am. This isn’t Angie’s or my room.

“Oh, God. What did I do?” I shriek. What if I left with some random guy and did something crazy?

“Don’t panic,” a voice says. Thank God it’s female. I look over to see Hillary going through a closet. “You’re just at my house, hun. Nothing crazy happened last night. Angela got so drunk that I couldn’t let you drive back to the burbs like that. Do you want coffee or a Red Bull?”

“Uhm, water. And if you have an aspirin, I wouldn’t mind one of those.”

“Okay,” she chirps. She has way more energy than any sane hungover person should have. She’s back in a couple of seconds with a glass of water and Tylenol.

“Aspirin on an empty stomach is a disaster waiting to happen. You really are a novice.” She laughs as she sits next to me on the bed.

“Thank you,” I groan and I throw the Tylenol down my throat and down the entire glass of water. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thirsty in my life.

“Hey, slow down. That’s what got you into this mess in the first place,” she teases me.

I scour my memories of the night before. “I don’t remember what happened last night.”

Hillary laughs. “You let loose. Real loose. You brought in year twenty-one the right way.”

“Good to know,” I groan as I massage my aching temples.

“You know, Lauren, I’ve decided that we’re going to be best friends.” I look at her, strangely amused, before she goes on. “I think we really balance each other out. You seem so reserved, logical, and maybe a little boring. I’m wild, you know, act now, think later. But together we’ll totally even each other out.”

Is she trying to compliment me?

“Yeah, you have to be kind of crazy since you’re offering for me to live with you without running a background check or something first,” I retort.

She giggles, unphased. “Exactly. That’s the kind of thing that I would never think of. It’ll make me lighter and you heavier, if that makes any sense.”

I try to fight the smile that’s spreading over my face. Hillary’s energy is completely infectious. She’s definitely fun, and somehow she knows how to get me to have fun as well.

She throws her arm over my shoulder. “See, like right now. I can tell that you’re doing a lot of thinking.”

“I know that we hung out last night and had fun, but are you sure about me living here?”

“Of course I’m sure,” she reassures me. “Besides, Angela vouched for you. I know that she wouldn’t suggest someone who was a lazy, dirty psychopath to be my roommate. No matter how much I get on her nerves sometimes.”

“Well, since I’m here. Can I look around the place?”

She starts to laugh. “I gave you a tour last night. You said that you loved the place, but I guess that I could give you a sober tour. You know, one that you could remember.”

Hillary stands up from the bed and grabs my hand, pulling me up with her. She turns me around to look at the room fully. It was nice. It was pretty and airy. Large enough to have a king-size bed and dresser at least.

“This would be your room.” Then just like that, she’s pulling me out of the room to see the rest of the house. The whole place had light pouring throughout it. My dorm room didn’t have a window so it was something I appreciated. She led me through the rest of the apartment. There were a lot of windows that allowed sunlight to spill into the place. The kitchen was slightly small, but I’m not much of a cook anyways. This apartment is a whole other world from my shabby dorm room.

I turn to look at her. “If I get the job, I would love to be your roommate.”

She grins at me and bubbly insists, “Roommate and best friend?”

Angie groans from underneath the covers on the couch. “Ugh, what am I? Chopped liver?”

Hillary skips over to the couch and jumps on top of Angie, giving her a tight hug. “How could you be my best friend when you’re already my sister?” Hillary peeps over at me.

“Come get some of this, Lauren.”

“Are you sure that you want all of this?” Angie teases sarcastically.

All I could do for a moment was stand there and grin at the two of them. Growing up, I had friends. People I hung out with because we had classes together. I shared things that I thought were important. I had thought that they were true friends. But that’s the thing about growing up. When college happens, everything changes. You’re suddenly shoved into a completely new world, meeting so many new, different people every day. When you don’t see your old friends anymore, you grow apart. Or they turn out to be psychotic evil cunts. So I definitely had room for a new friend or two.

I slowly make my way over and joined them. Hilary automatically opens up her arms and wraps me into a bear hug. “You’re stuck with us now,” she says, laughing. Angie and I join in. When we settle back into silence Hillary asks, “So, when are we going to egg Daniel’s car?”





Five





Rewriting the story…


Angie is staring at me intensely with her hands on both of my shoulders. “Don’t be nervous, L. Just know that you got what it takes. Be confident. Confidence is very sexy.” We’re standing outside of what I hope to be my future manager’s office. It’s time for my interview at The Vault and I’m so nervous. Angie’s coaching me like she has been for the past two days. She even got me dressed for the interview and shoved me into another little black dress. It’s not as short as the one that I had worn for my birthday, but it still doesn’t feel right for an interview. I have a lot of skin showing. Angie told me that I had to show off what I was going to bring to the company.

“I just wish that I had more experience to offer,” I whine. “I don’t even know the difference between vodka and tequila.”

“None of that matters! All he wants are pretty girls who can sell expensive bottles to anyone that they can.”

That doesn’t ease my mind. “What if he finds out that I’m not really twenty-one? Can’t he be shut down for me working here? I can’t have someone’s failed business on my conscience!”

“Would you stop it? You’re freaking yourself out and you’re starting to freak me out.” She lets out a frustrated sigh. “Look. Forget everything I said. Don’t try to be sexy or flirt. Just be nice and your normal clever self. How about that?”

I nod my head. “Nice. I can do that.”

“You can send Laura in now,” I hear a man shout from the other side of the door with a distinctive English accent.

My stomach drops. “Am I Laura?”

Angie pats me on the shoulder. “You’re whoever he wants you to be.”

It’s time.

Angie turns me around and gives me a little push towards the door.

“You got this,” she whispers after me.

I open the office door and walk inside. The room is large and sleek. There’s a humongous window behind the desk. Bottles of unopened liquor line the desk with a half-eaten Big Mac sitting in the middle. I look around for Ryan, but no one’s in here.

“Over here, luv,” the deep English accent murmurs. I spin around to see who I assume is Ryan. And to my surprise, Trish is practically latched on to him like a second skin. He instantly waves her off when he notices me. “Out baby, I have some business to attend to.” She rolls her eyes and walks to the door, without a glance of acknowledgement of me.

“Later, baby.” His voice is a lot bigger than his body. He’s a slender man with bright blond hair, wearing a black button-up with matching slacks