Chapter 1

Book 1: Meredith Westbrook


“No! No! No!” The blue-and-white Explorer window pulsed in the wake of my horror.  A glare from the winter sunlight glinted off my laptop; I squinted against the blinding brightness.  The text became blurred smudges between my lashes.

“What? What? What?” Lena Whyte shouted from her bedroom down the hallway.  My best friend’s words grew progressively louder as she bounced into view.  She took one look at my disgusted profile and sobered.  “Mer, what’s wrong?” she asked, racing to my side and offering me a steadying hand on my shoulder.

“Do you remember Julie Young?” My voice croaked in a parched whisper.  I licked my chapped lips—a painful result of braving the bitter winds that had bent and twisted the saplings next to our apartment.


“Julie Young.”

“Is she the one who works at Mario’s?”

“No.  That’s Juli-a.  Julie went to high school with us,” I clarified.  Five years later, high school had become a hazy memory of adolescent priorities.

“Ummm, Julie Young…” she repeated, rolling her eyes as she searched her memory for some catching detail about the faceless girl.  Lena’s blue eyes snapped open; recognition lit her features.  “Was she the chubby one with the bulky braces and home-spun perms?”

“I was going to say the one who played saxophone in the concert band, but yeah,that Julie Young.”

“Okay, I vaguely remember her.  What does she have to do with the look of disgust on your face?”

“She’s engaged.”  My mood soured further as I spoke the vile word aloud.

“How do you know?” Lena asked.  She stepped closer to peek over my shoulder.

“The same way we know every inconsequential detail in our non-friends’ lives.”

We both read intently as our social network revealed trivial information no one needed to know but constantly fed upon anyway.  A gaudy photo of Julie Young’s left hand, adorned with a diamond solitaire, mocked our empty ring fingers.

“She must not be my friend on here,” Lena muttered.  I ignored her, unable to pull my eyes from the stone’s glittering facets.  “Her ring is ugly.”

I secretly agreed but kept silent, attempting to control my outrage.  Reluctantly, I shifted my focus to the specks of dust clinging to the beige walls of my bedroom.  “Who cares?  She’s getting married.  Julie didn’t even have a boyfriend in high school!”  In contrast, I had been with my boyfriend since my senior year.

People constantly asked me why we weren’t engaged yet; I had run out of valid excuses two years ago.

“Neither did I,” Lena pointed out.

“Lena, if you get engaged before me then I really will give up.  Maybe I should just become a nun and save myself the trouble.”

“You’re not Catholic.”

“Minor detail,” I countered.  “Converting isn’t out of the question.”

“You look horrible in black?”

“Good point.”

She chuckled.  “Julie must have gotten rid of the braces; there’s no way anyone could have gotten close to those horsey teeth.”  To reinforce her words, Lena did her best impression of Mr. Ed.

“We should be happy for her,” I said after inhaling a reassuring breath.  “After all, it’s engagement, not the plague.”

“We should be,” Lena agreed, still hovering over me.  “Good people would send her a generic message of congratulations even though they barely remember her and haven’t talked to her since graduation.”

I stuck out my lip and pouted silently.  Perhaps I would feel more polite tomorrow.

“We aren’t good people, Mer,” Lena added.

“Speak for yourself,” I said through clenched teeth, vowing to force the politeness today—even if it killed me.

But what should I write?

The message had to be strategic; Julie could mistake my interest and think I had nothing better to do than stalk her—which wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate.

Lena sighed as she collapsed onto my double bed in a huff of blonde hair and tanned limbs.  “It is a bit depressing to read about how everyone else’s lives are progressing.  Marriage, kids, houses…. How many does that make this month?”

“Five pregnancies and eight engagements from our class alone.”  And our graduating class had been small: 150 students.

I moved from the offensive screen to lie on my faded quilt beside my best friend and contemplate a standard congratulatory message that didn’t reek of jealousy.

“Why do you suppose we’re not engaged?”

It was meant as a rhetorical question, but Lena had an answer.  She didn’t even have the decency to hesitate with her response.  “Because we date hot guys.”

An embarrassed chuckle escaped.  It was a good thing we were alone.  If outsiders could hear most of our private conversations they’d think us catty—or call us another five-letter word.  “You are vicious.”

“Honestly, Mer.  Look at him,” she said, pointing back to Julie’s digital album.  The token photo of Julie and her fiancé, Ben, smiled happily at us.  “Would you even consider going out with that guy?”

I grimaced at the ceiling.  Ben was homely at best and mildly grotesque at the very worst.  There was no point in being kind; Lena would only call me out on the lie.


“Exactly,” she said smugly.

I felt sorry for Ben and other unattractive men like him because shallow women like us would never offer them a passing glance.  Then again, Ben was the one engaged; he should be the one feeling sorry for us.

“It’s too bad though,” I mused.


“Because he’s probably the sweetest guy in the world.”  Sure his eyes were beady and his nose was too big for his elf-like head; his skin wasn’t clear and his ears were overwhelming, but he was probably a loyal partner with a giving heart—one who cooked dinner and washed the dishes.

I hated washing dishes.

“Does it matter?”
“Unfortunately, no,” I admitted, envisioning my own boyfriend.

Holden’s sly smile and artfully messy golden hair still sent shivers down my spine.  He was one of the most attractive men I had ever met.  Why he was still with me after five years was baffling.  Of course, why we were still wandering in dating-limbo after half a decade was also past logical explanation.

“Exactly,” she repeated, interrupting my fantasy.  “I don’t know why you’re worried.  I’m not worried at all.”

“You wouldn’t be.”  Although Lena was further from the altar than a rotting corpse, she couldn’t be happier with her non-matrimonial state.

“If I were married I wouldn’t be any fun at all,” she said.

“What are you talking about?”

She let out a resigned breath.  “I’m sad to say that fun-Lena would melt away into a sensible, minivan version of me.  I’d probably end up wearing those horrible jeans that rest just below the bra-line and tuck in my ratty Hanes t-shirt.”

“That’s one of the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard you say.” And Lena was known for some bizarre statements.  “Fun is in your genes; it’s not like marriage can alter your DNA.”

She peeked at me from beneath mascara-darkened lashes.  “You’re just saying that in a useless attempt to make me feel better.”

More often than not, my best friend was absolutely ridiculous; when she was in the mood to be stubborn there was no reasoning with her.  “You’re right, Lena.  You’d suck if you were someone’s wife.  Thank God you’re just about as far from exchanging vows as a person can be.”

“Thanks, Mer.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Our conversation pulled me unwillingly toward a question I did not want to voice aloud but felt compelled to ask.  “Do you think we’re destined to remain unwed?  Are we just supposed to accept our non-matrimonial fate?”

“First, who says unwed in this century?  Second, I’m afraid we might have to lower our standards if an aisle is in our future.”

“Speak for yourself.”  My standards were right where I liked them: exclusive.

“I am.”

“Lena, you’re not really known for your… high standards.”  It was just the opposite.  My best friend, for lack of a more respectable term, was easy.

She pursed her perfect lips into a delectable pout and twirled some blond strands around her French-tipped finger.  “I have standards for boyfriends.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised by her admission.  In the past, Lena had shied away from that particular b-word.  The fact that she would even consider a monogamous relationship was epic.  “I had no idea.”

“That’s probably because I have yet to meet one who makes the cut.”

“So do you think we’re just biding our time until someone better comes along?”  Holden’s face came to mind again; this time he was smiling broadly and his white teeth sparkled against his deeply tanned skin—a perk of living in vitamin D-soaked Florida.  “Maybe not better,” I amended.  “But men willing to exchange I-do’s this decade?”

“What is this we business?  I’m just waiting for someone to come along in general—preferably a guy who doesn’t bore me to tears in less than an hour.”

“Fair enough.”

“Honestly, Mer.  I don’t know why you’re so worried about this.”

“Neither do I.”  Holden would propose… eventually.  We may both be on our deathbeds, but he would figure out that I was the best thing to happen to him since his football team won the Maryland State Championship title his senior year.

“Why are you in such a rush to get married anyway?  I mean, what are you supposed to do if you’re engaged or, heaven forbid, married and you meet someone you’re interested in?  Then you’re stuck wondering how ‘new sexy’ compares to ‘stale sexy!’”

“I have yet to meet a man I’d even consider a viable replacement for Holden.”  Which was a blessing considering we had committed to a long-distance relationship for the foreseeable future.

She grunted—likely a blessed alternative to what she really wanted to say.  “Enough about you.  Let’s talk about me.”

“What about you?”

“Well, for starters, I don’t appreciate it when you choose to dwell on such depressing topics.  It brings me down as well.  Before I walked into this pit of despair, I was happily listening to music in my room.”

She was right; there was no point in fixating on situations ultimately out of our control.  “Okay.  Are you ready for the semester to start?”

“Are you going deaf?” she shouted, rattling the vintage picture frames hanging above my bed.  “I thought I said no more gloomy conversations, Mer.  Come on!”

“Then why don’t you tell me what we’re allowed to talk about since everything I say annoys you?”

“If you were merely annoying I could handle it.  But your conversations are downright miserable.  I’m borderline suicidal here.”

“You’re such a drama queen, Lena.”

Deceptive heat from the late afternoon sun filtered through the frozen window of our two-story townhouse.  Every once and a while these disheartening thoughts would pop into my head.  What if there really was something wrong with me?  Was I the only reason Holden didn’t want to get married?  If I had been dating someone else would I be the one posting the happy news online?  Would he have to look like Ben?

Instead of attempting to answer the barrage of questions assaulting my mind, I turned to study my gorgeous roommate, losing myself in her obvious beauty.

Lena Whyte was the girl everyone stared at.  Women glared at her perfect hair, skillfully applied makeup, and Victoria’s-Secret body, and hated her.  To make matters worse, Lena was charismatic to the point of being irritating.  It was impossible to blame the hatred on anything besides envy and spite, which was even more infuriating.

If she’d had a flaw then a woman could blow it out of proportion to assuage her ego.  Unfortunately for women everywhere, Lena was flawless.

Men gawked at my friend’s curves and wanted to be with her—in any capacity.  She was a magnet that only attracted and never repelled.  Everyone on Frostburg’s campus knew of Lena Whyte—whether she was famous or infamous was still being determined.

Lena was a goddess among mere peasants, and I was her faithful albeit less stunning best friend.

She was the sun to my moon; the only reason people could see me was because her invisible rays reflected off my ordinary surface, placing me in a muted spotlight.

Lena and I were polar opposites.  However, like most successful relationships, our differences complemented one another.  She was the outgoing, blond, tanorexic bombshell, and I had been cast in the cliché role of the witty, subdued brunette.

I wasn’t putting myself down in any way.  Looks of interest and glares of envy had been cast my way—and not just because I had been in Lena’s company.  In my own right I would be considered attractive, but when I was next to Lena—which was all the time—her brightness overwhelmed and outshone my more melancholy outlook on life.  Just like the moon, I was in the sky, but people couldn’t always see me due to the orientation of the sun.

Maybe it was because I had a boyfriend that I was content with a second-place life and allowed myself to fade into the background.  Lena was blissfully single and on the hunt for men who were the same.  I had gladly accepted my role as her doting guardian angel and the voice of reason whose warnings she rarely heeded.

“What are you thinking about, Mary?”

I tried not to wince at the pet name, a term of endearment as she had previously assured me.  “If I tell you then you’d end up going through the house looking for a razor blade.”

Since Ms. Mitchell’s second-grade class, my best friend had created many nicknames for me; as the years progressed they grew more risqué.  But no matter what she called me, I knew she loved me—even when she claimed she didn’t.

Lena needed me.

And I needed her.

My best friend was the impulse in my life, the one who dragged me out of bed at 2AM to run to Wal-Mart and who coerced me into a random trip to Europe one summer.  Once, on a whim—her whim—we drove the entire way to Niagara Falls to watch the sun rise.

If it weren’t for my best friend I would be antisocial—and well rested.

“Do you want to know what I’m thinking?”

Probably not.  “Sure.”

“Zuckerberg should re-name Facebook.”

Her statement knocked me out of my inner monologue.  “What would you suggest: I’m-getting-married-and-you’re-not-book?”

“Too long.  Besides, it doesn’t cover all those people who are popping out kids or buying mansions on the lakeshore.”

“Right.  What did you have in mind?” I asked, wincing in anticipation of her response.

“How about rub-it-in-your-face-book?”


* * *

Click HERE to continue reading…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: