Authors: Lauren Smith
l a u r e n m i c h e l l e s m i t h
STORY MERCHANT BOOKS
Copyright © 2014 by Lauren Michelle Smith All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author.
Author Lauren Michelle Smith
Email: [email protected]
Story Merchant Books
400 S. Burnside Ave. #11B, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Editor: Lisa Cerasoli
Interior Design: Lisa Cerasoli & Danielle Canfield
Cover: Stephanie White, Steph’s Cover Design, www.StephsCoverDesign.com
Bikes Font: Lauren Ashpole, www.LaurenAshpole.com
a m e l i a
There’s something very scary yet refreshingly liberating about not knowing who the hell you are or where you’re heading in life. As I make my way from my hometown of Lindsborg, Kansas, to Austin, Texas, I’m currently experiencing this phenomenon. Pushing my Aviators up over my eyes, I’m closing in on the last leg of the trip. With my windows down and my dark brown hair whipping around my face, nothing but the tastes and smells of my new city infuse my senses.
It’s October, which is my favorite time of year to make this drive. The vibrant colors of autumn in the Midwest are nothing short of spectacular. The leaves change to rich shades of orange, red, and yellow. Once in a while, Mother Nature will treat you to some purples and pinks. Lucky for me, this is one of those years. The flat plains of Kansas can be extremely boring, so if you’re going to road trip across Middle America, why not do it when it’s the most beautiful time of the year?
Just as I’m merging onto South Mopac, my phone lights up with Raven’s smiling face. Raven is my very loyal, and very impatient, best friend. I grab the phone and slide my finger across the screen.
“Hey, baby girl. When are you going to get here already?”
I roll my eyes to high heaven but secretly smile. She just called me fifteen minutes ago asking the exact same thing. I wasn’t joking when I said she was impatient. This woman has high standards for everything, and for her, bigger means better. So, it’s probably a good thing she lives in Texas.
“I just hopped on Mopac, so I’ll be there in less than twenty minutes.”
“My God, that long? All this waiting is killing me, Mia.”
“I know. It’s so much harder for you than it is for me—the one making the actual ten-hour drive,” I say sarcastically.
“Yes, it is. I’m so glad we understand each other on that. Oh, and before I forget, Eric called. New game plan: we’re going to unpack and head straight to his place. He’s having a few friends over and he offered to cook. I’m thinking this needs to become the norm, you know, him cooking for us all the time.
“Yes, I agree. I’m starving and haven’t eaten much today. Maybe we can go there, eat first, and unpack the boxes later?” I suggest.
“Sure, that works for me.”
“Awesome. I’ll see you soon.”
I hang up the phone and crank up the music, letting The Black Keys carry me the rest of my journey.
Five songs later, I’m pulling into Raven’s apartment complex. I punch in the code that she gave me via text, the gate slowly opens, and I cruise on through. Lifting my sunglasses onto my head, I keep my eyes peeled for her building number. Spotting it, I park in the closest space, turn off the car, and pop the trunk. I shoot her a text letting her know I’m here, and asking her to help me haul up boxes. We won’t have time to unpack them before we have to leave, but I want them out of my car. No more than thirty seconds later, the sound of heels clacking against the pavement creep ever closer.
Then comes the screech I know so well. “Ahhhh, Mia!”
I turn around and am nearly trampled by a very boisterous Raven. Laughing at her uncontained excitement, I hug her hard before releasing. Looking stylish as ever, she has on a tight, white lace camisole that makes her Italian “features” pop, a loose black skirt that hits a couple inches above the knee, and ankle-high, black leather boots. Her long hair falls down her back in chocolate waves, and she has just the right amount of makeup and accessories on to accentuate everything perfectly. Her warm, brown eyes find mine, as she regards me lovingly. While any other woman wearing this outfit might look straight up slutty, Raven looks like the fabulous diva she is.
Ravenna Bellotti was raised in a big, wealthy, Italian Catholic family, and like any true Italian, style and good food are no joking matters to her. She can cook with the best of them, and has brains and personality that rival her beauty. She’s a couple inches taller than I am, coming in at approximately five-foot-seven. Her parents own Bellotti’s—a fine Italian restaurant in Austin that’s run primarily by family. She’s also currently studying business management, and is set to graduate in May with her bachelors.
“I’ve missed you so much, Rave.”
“Don’t even get me started. I’ve been waiting for you to get here all day. Here, let me help you with those boxes, and then we’ll head to Eric’s. I’ll drive.”
I walk into the apartment to find everything sleek, clean, and orderly.
Seriously, who the hell lives like this?
There’s a spacious dining room complete with a table and chairs. In the center of the table, an array of dark, colorful candles are lined up neatly. The living room has high, vaulted ceilings with an open kitchen attached. The walls are painted a warm taupe, the carpeting is light and creamy and looks brand new. The dark brown couches are decorated with rustic orange and red pillows on either side, and a gorgeous, mahogany coffee table sits in the middle. It’s huge, Texas huge. A large flat screen TV is mounted on the opposite wall. Beneath it, there are shelves filled with movies and books—all in alphabetical order.
The kitchen has granite counter tops—
at least I think they’re granite
—stainless steel appliances, dark cupboards, and a center island lined with bar stools on one side. The laundry room, full bathroom, and then our two bedrooms are all down the hallway. We have a room for laundry. I’m very well aware that most college students do not live like this. Hell, the house I grew up in isn’t even half as nice as my new, “humble” abode.
Looking around, I spy many framed photos on the walls. I come across one that was taken a few years back of Raven, Eric, and me at one of her birthday parties. Eric is positioned in the middle, as usual. He has his arms around us, and we are all giving the camera our most ridiculous faces. It’s one of those photos where we were trying to portray how totally cool and laidback we thought we were, but really we come off like pretentious douche bags. I wish I could tell you that we’ve grown into really well-rounded, respectable adults.
Eric, Raven, and I go way back to the days of braces, awkward first kisses, and training bras. Yes, Eric was there for my first bra. He wasn’t happy about it, but the three of us spent every single day together that first summer...and so he was there. I was too mortified to ask my dad to go bra shopping with me, so Raven stepped up to the plate, and tackled the challenge like a pro. Even then, she was determined to find me the best training bra that my money could buy.
Now that my dad is gone, the two of them are about the only real connections I have here. When you grow up and leave home, you realize that you
choose your family despite being told otherwise. Raven and Eric are my family. The three of us hit it off so well, and meld together so perfectly, that I often wonder why I couldn’t have met these two crazy souls sooner—like at birth.
After my parents divorced when I was a kid, my dad moved to Austin. I made sure to visit him every chance I had. That was how I met Raven and Eric. I loved spending time with him and I would’ve given anything to live here, but he didn’t want to uproot my life and all I knew back home. Plus, he didn’t want to take me away from my mom. So, I stayed behind and watched her spiral into a life of guilt, regret, and alcoholism. To say that I was the parent in that house would be the understatement of the century. I was trapped working two jobs, and put off continuing college in order to keep the bills paid. In my dad’s defense, he had no idea how bad things became after he left.
There came a point when I realized that I had to start living my life for myself, and not for other people, even Mom. For me, there had been one too many sacrifices, one too many fights, and one too many times of not feeling safe in my own home that brought me to that conclusion. I quit both jobs, packed my things, and finally did what I should’ve done years ago—drove to my “family” without a second thought. Now, at twenty-two, I feel like I can start living my life again. Twenty-two is incredibly young in the grand scheme of things, but most days, I feel forty.
“Raven, your place is gorgeous.” I exhale the words.
place,” she corrects, “and thank you.”
She grabs one of my boxes and leads me down the hallway. “Your room is the one on the right. I’m sorry that there isn’t more furniture, but I didn’t know what all you would be bringing or shipping. We can always go furniture shopping this weekend if you need more stuff.”
My bedroom has a full bed with a nightstand next to it and a big open closet for my clothes. “That isn’t necessary, Raven. This is more than enough, really. I don’t know how to thank you for letting me move in with you on such short notice.”
“Hey, don’t mention it. That’s what friends are for. Now let’s get the rest of your boxes up here and get ready to head out.”
After we clear everything out of the car, I make one last trip down to grab a spare outfit out of the back seat that I keep for desperate times. I never knew when I was going to come home from work only to end up arguing with my mother and getting kicked out of the house for a night—the house that I was paying the bills for. The irony is not lost. I grab my black tube top, skinny jeans, spare underwear, and red Chucks—they’ll be perfect for the first night in my new life.
I take the fastest shower known to man, washing off all of the disgusting travel grime. After I’m fully dressed, I dry and straighten my hair and then apply some makeup to my overly tired face. I load up my hazel eyes with some black eyeliner and mascara, giving them a sharp intensity. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m not one for girly things like skirts, heels, anything pink, and I rarely dress to impress. It’s not my style. I’ll go for jeans and sneakers any day of the week. I lace up my shoes and grab my phone and wallet. That way we can stop at the store and buy some beer on the way—my treat.
Eric only lives about five minutes away, so we arrive in no time.
“Y’all are late!” A male voice shouts, startling us as we climb the stairs to his place.
I look up to find Eric watching us from the balcony. “First of all, it’s
are late, not
. Secondly, we most certainly are not late, you wench!” I shout back.
He shakes his head back and forth and laughs. “Man, I missed you, Strawberry.”
He has called me Strawberry for years because I always use the same strawberry shampoo when I wash my hair. He loves the smell. It’s weird. Coming from any other guy, that term of endearment would be creepy as fuck, but because it’s Eric, and I love him to pieces, I allow it.
“Come on, let’s go,” Raven chuckles.
I open the door and step into an overflowing sea of people. Smells of sweat and alcohol permeate the apartment. The kitchen counter is littered with tequila bottles and different types of mixers. I walk over to the fridge, weaving my way through the masses, and set the beer inside. Robin Thicke’s “Take It Easy On Me” is seeping through the speakers, and groups of people are dancing seductively in the living room. I immediately feel uncomfortable, unhook my Aviators from my tube top, and slide them over my eyes—the perfect hiding place.
I’d never admit to this aloud, but whenever I feel uncomfortable, I use sunglasses to diffuse my awkwardness. In reality, I’m sure it only makes the situation worse, but I can never seem to tell because, by that point, I’m hiding out. It’s like when you recognize someone, and then act like you didn’t just see him, so you whip out your phone and pretend to text or call somebody. Meanwhile, you’re hoping to God that he doesn’t notice you. Yeah, I’m
girl. I don’t handle intense emotional situations very well, so my sunglasses protect me from those—at least that’s what I keep telling myself.
I close the refrigerator door, and turn to make my way out onto the balcony. Suddenly, a bleach blonde in sky-high heels comes crashing into me from around the corner, effectively spilling part of her drink down my top.
You’ve got to be kidding
. I instantly tense up and clamp my mouth shut to keep from yelling. Thankfully, my shirt is black and not white. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, trying to simmer down, and give her the benefit of the doubt.
Blondie staggers back, tipsy, and grabs ahold of the kitchen table to steady herself. “Oops, my bad,” she sarcastically snipes.
Hmmm...ballsy little Barbie.
I narrow my eyes and adjust my top. Just as I’m about to step forward and say something, I feel a small hand wrap around my arm. Raven comes up and positions herself beside me.
“Hey, are you alright?” she asks.
“Fine,” I respond through clenched teeth. Raven turns her head to glance at Barbie and then back at me. I’m sure it didn’t take her long to sense the tidal waves of tension rolling off my body.
“Let’s go say hi to Eric,” she suggests, pulling me away.
We move past the blonde, who’s now on a mission to refill her drink.
Yeah, because you really need another one of those, sweetheart.
Raven opens the sliding door and we step out onto the balcony. The breeze feels so good against my skin. The scent of smoke fills the air like it’s coming from a pile of burning leaves. Eric turns to look at us, and his face lights up with a mischievous grin. He sets the tongs down, strides over, and swoops me up into a hug that immediately causes any anger I have left to evaporate. I smile and wrap my arms around his neck, squeezing him back tightly.