—June, Four Months Later—
Crumpling her written words lifts a weight.
It’s something I should’ve done the morning I found this very sheet of coffee-stained paper taped to my door. Instead, I’d folded it neatly and placed it inside my wallet, like a tiny shrine I carry with me wherever I go.
I’ve always pined over the scraps of love she leaves behind, littered throughout my life. Then, at the worst possible times, I stumble across them again. Like now, while an epic party rages all around me and I forego a perfectly good opportunity to just be young and free. Why? Because rummaging through my clutch for a stick of gum led me to this note and I’m suddenly stuck, contemplating Mom’s twisted version of love. I should be chatting up some cute guy, or dancing like the world is ending tomorrow, but nope.
“Found you! Looks like my hoe-bag radar is still spot on,” Jules slurs.
A smile replaces my true expression so quickly it’s scary.
“You say such sweet things,” I tease back, smoothing both palms down the white, linen shorts she insisted I borrow. They were part of a package deal—black tank, black heels and silver hoops included. The only visible article that actually does belong to me is my clutch.
More playful than usual, Jules gently tugs the blonde, fishtail braid on my shoulder. She’d styled it for me while we waited for our ride a few hours ago. Could’ve done it myself, but this stupid splint on my finger makes the simple things practically impossible.
For future reference, the downside of punching someone in the face is the fractured knuckle that comes along with it. But I gotta be honest; it was so worth it. Even if it did result in an end-of-year expulsion and nearly cost me my impending shot at Cypress Prep.
It isn’t something I’d do again, but also isn’t something I regret.
Taking note of Jules’ glassy eyes, her intoxication means I’ve failed. It was on me to make sure she didn’t get out of hand tonight, but finding the letter served as the perfect distraction.
“Whoa! Where’d you come from?” she hiccups, speaking directly to the brick wall she’s clumsily stumbled into.
My hand shoots out to steady the klutzy red-head now leaning beside me. She’s lucky I have quick reflexes.
“Enjoying yourself yet?” she asks reluctantly. “I know you’d rather be at the court or something, instead of hanging on the north side, but I think tonight’s important.”
“So you keep telling me,” I murmur.
Her eyes dart to the back of her head when she rolls them. “Because Jules knows best,” she so readily reminds me.
This—the party scene, these clothes, the lashes and makeup—it’s all her thing, not mine. Especially in this part of town.
As if cued by the universe, sharp screams pierce the air. I look left, toward a trio of girls cannonballing into a well-lit, turquoise-colored pool.
North Cypress is home to the wealthy, the elite. Southsiders like Jules and me stick out like a couple sore thumbs. I can feel it. Standing here—on the lawn of some privileged, rich dick’s sprawling estate—I’m more than aware that we’re out of our element. Yet, I kept my word and came.
Sure, the lure of free drinks and an overabundance of eye candy played a part in Jules insisting I be dragged here against my will, but it’s more than that. This is her way of helping me get acclimated to this world, before I’m shoved into it without a harness at the start of the coming school year.
Starting early September, I’d be at their mercy Monday through Friday. Only to make the trek back to reality at the end of the day, back to my side of town where every night ends the same. With me being serenaded to sleep by the only tune South Cypress has ever known—police sirens and barking dogs.
Home sweet home.
“Do you even know anyone here?” As soon as I ask, my eyes follow a couple who pass by without even noticing us. Mostly because they’re tearing at one another’s clothes like animals, before slipping into the guesthouse through the side door.
“Nope,” Jules answers. “Pandora mentioned the party would be wild, dropped the address here in Bellvue Hills, and I decided we had to crash. Don’t even know whose pad this is.”
I love that she decided my fate before I was even made aware.
Jules nods. “Mystery girl who tells everyone’s business on all her social accounts.”
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