I love getting packages in the mail.
Not just presents, although I especially like presents, but any box will do. It could be something silly I saw on late night TV and sleep-ordered or the latest pair of shoes from my favorite designer that hadn’t yet hit the stores. Even if it’s a power cord for my cell that I had to buy because I’d somehow misplaced the forty other ones—as long as it comes shipped to my house in a sturdy brown box, I’m a happy camper.
This particular box was heavy and I tore into the industrial strength packing tape with abandon. My thirtieth birthday was fast approaching and I just knew it had to be something wonderful. I peeled back the final flap and plunged my eager fingers into the plethora of pink packing peanuts. Finding something solid to grasp, I carefully lifted my prize into the light.
I had to sit down to study the decomposing piece of metal that had emerged from the depths. I’m not usually the ungrateful type when it comes to gifts, but when your big brother sends you a dirty piece-of-crap sculpture for your thirtieth birthday… well, let’s just say I wasn’t overwhelmed by the warm-fuzzies. No card, of course, because that wasn’t Luke’s style. I knew it was from him; even without a return address on the label, I recognized my brother’s chicken-scratch writing style.
Happy-freaking-birthday to me.
I removed my gaze from the disappointing relic to look out the window at the snow falling lazily toward Central Park and tried not to feel sorry for myself. It was a peaceful scene and one which I normally appreciated throughout the year and especially so during the holiday season. But recently everything around me, like my latest gift, appeared tarnished.
My elite address at 15 Central Park West had been a bribe from my father, a way to get me to accept a summer-long mission of mercy on behalf of Avalon Pharmaceuticals. Spending three months in war-torn and impoverished countries all over the globe had not been my idea of a good time. Especially when my friends were spending their summer after college graduation cruising the Mediterranean on private yachts or other more leisurely pursuits.
Okay, I don’t have a lot of friends, but I have a few—alright, one—and she had certainly not been flying coach—on standby—to every hellhole on the planet.
“Daddy,” I had whined. “What if I get sick? Are you really going to send your daughter into the bowels of humanity so you can get a little publicity?”
“It’s not as if you have something more important to do. Now stop being a brat and start packing. I don’t expect much from you, but when I tell you to do something you’ll do it without question.”
“But…but Daddy, they sleep in tents! This isn’t like sharing a bathroom in the sorority house. This is serious. Why can’t we just give them the medicine we’re donating and call it even? I don’t want to go!” I had tried to look pathetic and vulnerable. It had never worked before, but I was desperate enough to resort to begging.
“Chloe,” he warned, unmoved by my display. “You will do as I ask. You will do it for me, you will do it for the company and most of all you will do it for yourself.”
I rolled my eyes and stuck my tongue out as he turned to leave. “I just know I’m going to come home with malaria or leprosy, or something! You’ll be sorry when that happens!” I had shouted at his retreating back.
Fortunately—or unfortunately, as I saw it at the time—I hadn’t contracted any of the terrible diseases I had feared. But it took most of that summer to work off my mad at the unfairness of my plight. The experience had affected the way I viewed the world, not enough to deny myself the multi-million dollar piece of real estate in the heart of New York City, but it had changed me all the same.
Looking back, I should have respectfully declined the carrot and hopped right out from under my father’s controlling thumb. Because I hadn’t chosen the route that might have actually given me some character, I’d become a high-priced whore in his pharmaceutical brothel. My official title is Director of Marketing, but what that really means is I’m in charge of hiring and approving the people who actually have the talent to make the synthetic drugs we thrust upon the healthcare industry sound sexy.
Am I qualified? Who knows—and who really cares. What matters, at least to my father, is that I’m not an embarrassment to the Avalon name. Even I have to admit that I’m a bit wishy-washy when it comes to goals—although I still don’t know why he insists heiress isn’t appropriate for my résumé.
In fact, who needs a résumé when they have a trust fund?
And that kind of thinking is exactly why you’re a worthless piece of crap, I silently chastised myself.
I may not need qualifications to maintain my financial status, but with the big 3-oh-shit rapidly approaching I was falling more deeply into a funk each day. I was turning bitter and couldn’t seem to stop myself. I felt trapped within the stereotype I’d perpetuated—an aimless, careless and socially inept spoiled little rich girl. My entire family thought I was odd. I was a disappointment to my father, a conundrum to my mother, an annoyance to my sister and irrelevant to my brother.
And the worst part about this burgeoning insight was that I couldn’t figure out a way to change any of it. It was easier to lash out and play the part of the unrepentant bitch that had taken over the person I’d wanted to become. Maybe I’d buy myself a gift for my birthday—a tiny dog to complete the image.
But that really has nothing to do with my current rant—which has everything to do with my bad-gift-giving older brother. Geesh, that statue is fugly! Where in the heck was I supposed to put it? And why on earth would Luke think I’d want it? At least my baby sister, Sophia, had the good taste to get me samples from her latest photo shoot. Luckily it was cosmetics, since she’s six inches taller than me and my left boob weighs more than her torso.
Have I mentioned I’m a tad bit envious of the genetic cards my sister was dealt?
Sophia currently sat across from me, looking at the hunk of junk like it was emitting a foul odor as well as visual flatulence. “Luke really is an ass,” she declared in a stilted British accent. “At least he gave me a weekend of indulgence at Elizabeth Arden.”
“Stop talking like that. You’re an American and everybody knows it.” I was annoyed in general, not really at Sophia in particular, but she was my sister and therefore had to put up with my moods. And she was prettier than me, so she could just suck it.
“But don’t you think it makes me seem more mysterious?”
“No. You sound like you’re mentally deficient… and possibly Chinese.”
“I know! I can’t get it right.” She kicked at my tufted brocade ottoman and sent the cardboard box flying, packing peanuts and all, straight to the newly refinished hardwood surface that had been previously unblemished. The resounding thunk had me leaping from my chair.
“Dammit, Soph! You dented my freaking floor!” The relic was heavy, at least twenty pounds, and now there was a big nick in the ebony surface.
“Sorry,” she said, looking moderately contrite. Not that she offered to help pick up the forty gazillion Styrofoam nuggets static-clinging all over the room.
I grabbed the vacuum from the hall closet and started sucking them up—only to realize the tiny holding tank on the deafening contraption was half the size of the box that had spilled. Ugh! I have very few opportunities to use the vacuum, so sue me for not figuring it out before the damn thing was completely clogged.
“Help me pick these up,” I demanded.
“I can’t. I have a shoot tomorrow and I don’t want bruises on me knees… so slutty.”
I rolled my eyes, crawling around the floor chasing the magnetized curly-cues that jumped out of reach as soon as my fingers got close. It was bad enough that I’d gotten a crappy present, but now I had to deal with this too? My life sucked.
Not really, but right then it sorta did.
When all the pieces had been collected—at least those that hadn’t run to hide beneath every piece of furniture in the room—I picked the statue up and carried it with me to the couch, wondering what to do with it. Sophia wasn’t any help, as she was busy studying her manicure. She spent as much time grooming herself as a cat, which further irritated me as apparently she had gotten the perfect nails DNA, as well as the good birthday presents. Everything was getting suckier by the second.
“Where is Luke anyway? I thought he was busy with the Levitrasis drug launch.” The package had been shipped from the Bahamas—lucky bastard. We weren’t the tightest of families, but I think I would have heard if Luke was on vacation so close to the holidays.
“How should I know? You’re more involved with Avalon than I am.”
This statement wasn’t actually true, other than the fact that my paychecks came from Avalon Pharmaceuticals. I worked from home and hadn’t set foot in the Avalon headquarters for months. The only contact I had was the occasional lunch with my father to get final approval for any new campaigns I was working on. I usually spent the time nervously stuffing my face to keep from saying something stupid while he looked on with an expression of disgust.
Dad ruled his kingdom with absolute authority, which was another reason Luke mailing me a less-than-desirable birthday gift from a tropical locale so close to the launch of a new drug was strange. Unlike me and Sophia, Luke was the chosen heir to the Avalon throne. I’d been watching our father attempt to mold him into version 2.0 of himself for years.
Sophia wouldn’t know or care about that though because the only contact she had was when she needed to dip into her trust fund. Not that I could fault her for that, I may have acquired a softer heart for the needy than my younger sister possessed, but a girl couldn’t pass up a new pair of Louboutin’s could she? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.
“I’m calling Mom. She hasn’t even mentioned having dinner to celebrate Christmas and my birthday.” It had become a tradition for the family to celebrate at Elaine’s and I was looking forward to it. I grabbed my cell and punched in the number.
“Hi honey, I was just thinking about you and what happens? My phone rings.” Mom started on one of her interconnectedness rants and I phased out.
“Are we still going to dinner for my birthday?” I interrupted when she finally took a breath. I hoped I wouldn’t have to wait for her to consult her psychic—she had been on a New Age woo-woo kick recently and I wasn’t in the mood to hear it. My mother was addicted to two things—fad religions and cooking. If they ever made a Real Housewives of Connecticut, she’d provide hours of entertainment.
“Of course we are. Even with your brother off on his quest, the party must go on.”
“Quest? Where is he?”
“Oh, you know your brother. He’s off to discover the next wonder-drug.”
I had put the phone on speaker so Sophia could hear both sides of the conversation and she piped in with an annoyed, “What in the hell does that mean?”
“Darling, please don’t swear. It’s so unbecoming.”
It was hard to suppress my giggle when Sophia screwed her face up into a cartoonish sneer with her eyes crossed. I made a slashing motion across my throat at her until she went back to her previous preoccupation with her cuticles. “So where is he?” I asked.
“You know I don’t involve myself in the business, love. I overheard your father speaking to him last week, so I know it’s someplace warm. Maybe next year we should go somewhere tropical for the holidays.”
I didn’t want to go anywhere for the holidays, next year or any other. I loved the traditions we had, even if there weren’t that many. I let the comment slide because Mom was always on some kick or another and they rarely came to fruition. Besides, getting Dad away from his desk was like separating an addict from his needle. It wasn’t going to happen without medical intervention and a lot of kicking and screaming. If we wanted to be together, we did it right here, because that was the only way we’d catch a glimpse of the Dadasaurus Rex. Not that any social occasion involving my father was enjoyable.
I got to the other point of my call before she could think of some other weird topic to discuss. “He sent me a very strange birthday present. It’s a statue and it looks really old.”
“And it’s ugly too,” Sophia put in for good measure.
“Well now, that’s odd. He sent your present here because he knows you always open everything before you’re supposed to. He wanted me to give it to you at your birthday dinner.”
Sophia and I exchanged confused glances and I took another look at the weird relic that had been delivered. “Maybe he felt bad for sending such an atrocious gift, so he got you something else,” Sophia offered. She looked a bit upset by the idea. Sophia was the baby, and therefore spoiled beyond rotten. It would not be pleasant if I received two gifts to her one.
“My instructor is here,” Mom suddenly interrupted. “I’ll see you girls on Christmas Eve.” She hung up before we could say goodbye.
“I don’t even want to know what she’s being instructed in now,” Sophia quipped.
“She’s wacked,” I agreed.
“If I can’t have a British accent, then you can’t be ghetto,” she complained.
“Wacked isn’t ghetto, it’s a colloquialism.”
“Total ghetto,” she countered.
“Whatever. So why do you think Luke sent me this ridiculous statue?”
“Who cares, get rid of it before it infects your apartment.”
“It looks old. Maybe it’s valuable.”
“It could be worth a million bucks and I would still tell you to toss it in the trash. If you’re feeling generous, donate it to a museum or something.”
“Maybe it has something to do with what he’s working on and he didn’t want to send it to his empty apartment.” I have a habit of not being able to let anything go. I push and push until I have the definitive answer—which is probably why I’m not very popular in appropriate social circles where everything is sugar-coated.
“Then why didn’t he write a little note or something?” she snapped, obviously becoming bored and irritated with the topic.
“How should I know? I’m just glad it’s not my only birthday present.”
“Word.” Sophia threw me her version of a gang sign, which ended up looking like the emblem for Chanel.
“Now who’s ghetto?”
“Just keeping it real. I can’t let you be the only homegirl,” she added with a wink.
“Sophia to earth. Stop playing around. I’m getting a weird vibe from this.”
“Now you sound like Mom.”
“Not funny. Seriously, there’s something strange going on here. The base of this is pearls.” I tested my theory by scraping my teeth against the little orbs encrusting the lower edges of the statue—gritty.
“Chloe!” Sophia exclaimed in shock. “What have I told you about putting strange objects in your mouth? Go brush your teeth before your tongue falls out.”
While not the germaphobe that my sister is, I wasn’t going to argue the point. When I returned with minty breath, Sophia was holding the statue and rubbing a dishrag over the surface. “I think there’s some sort of writing on here.”
When wet, the thick layer of corrosion covering the top portion of the statue—which looked like a dark, miniature version of the national monument—did appear to have something inscribed into its surface. “Are those hieroglyphics?”
“Beats me, it looks like a story made from tiny pictures.”
“Which is as close to the definition of hieroglyphics as you’ll ever get,” I teased.
I hated the stereotype. When your baby sister not only looks like a super-model, but is fast on her way to becoming a household name, of course the plain older sister would be dubbed the smart one. If I could choose between beauty and brains, I would definitely pick brains—because beauty was fleeting (at least it was a reassuring thought). Unfortunately I got neither. I just happened to be more book-smart than Sophia was… not a big accomplishment. When you don’t fit in with your peers, you have a lot of empty hours left in each day. I filled mine with books.
I may have been born with a Tiffany teething ring, but so had everyone else I knew. The fact that I was an heiress to one of the largest pharmaceutical empires in the world didn’t make up for the fact that I was too curvy and too plain to compete in the Paris Hilton leagues.
“What did you get the parental units for Christmas?” I asked. A change in subject was in order or else I was in for a lecture on dressing better, showing off my ass-ets and a whole other slew of unwanted beauty tips.
“I had my last few covers framed.”
Of course she had. It was the perfect gift. My parents would love it. I’d gotten the whole family matching Christmas PJ’s. Totally lame. As if anyone other than me would actually wear them. I don’t know what I had been thinking… we’d all congregate around the tree on Christmas morning and pose in our matching flannel for a nostalgic family photo? As much as I longed for a normal family life, it was never going to happen.
Yes, I long for normal… it goes better with my wardrobe. Even with a limitless budget, it’s hard to find haute couture in a size eight.
When my ruminations went on too long, Sophia prompted, “What did you get them?”
“I can’t say because I got the same thing for everyone. I don’t want to give it away.”
I’d also had a charm made for the bracelet I’d given Sophia on her tenth birthday. The links were so full that the bracelet weighed about a hundred pounds now, but again, I clung to traditions like a spider monkey.
Sophia threw me a knowing look, basically calling me pathetic. “You got us matching pajamas, didn’t you?”
Had I mentioned it or was I really that predictable? “I can’t say, so stop guessing,” but my blush surely gave it away.
“Jesus, Chloe. When are you going to realize you’re an heiress? We’re never going to be all Little House on the Prairie and shit, no matter how hard you wish we were. And I will never understand why you’d want that anyway!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I just wish we did more things as a family.”
“Why? It’s not as if being together is fun, or even tolerable for that matter,” she spat vehemently.
Her outburst shocked me. Our father doted on her as if the sun rose each day simply for her benefit. How could she not understand why I’d want to feel a bit of that myself? “Don’t you ever wish you’d had a mom that had taken you school shopping instead of having the housekeeper buy your supplies and a stylist deliver your wardrobe? Or a dad who actually came to your school plays or, holy hell, your graduation?” But Dad had shown up for Sophia’s graduation, so the argument would be pointless to her.
“Get over it. Family bonding is totally overrated. And you have met our mother right? Good god, I would not have wanted her dragging me through the office supply store to pick out pencils. Are you high? Was there some weird hallucinogen on that statue? I told you not to go and lick it.”
“Stop being so bitchy, I’m not suggesting we spend every spare moment together. I just wonder what it would have been like if we hadn’t grown up like we did.”
“Well stop it. I don’t want to even imagine going to Walmart to pick out my three new outfits for the year!”
“You are such a snob.”
“Whatever. I think you might be having a mid-life crisis.”
“Thirty is not mid-life,” I corrected her.
“Close enough. I noticed you have a hair on your chin that is considerably longer than the rest of the fuzz. Ever hear of a new-fangled invention called a laser?”
I was tempted to throw the ugly statue at her and wondered if there was a ‘new-fangled’ laser that would remove the giant dent I wanted to put in her head. I restrained myself because the last girl-fight we’d had, I had definitely not been the victor. “Don’t you have somewhere else to be?”
“Are you trying to get rid of me already? It usually takes hours to piss you off to the point where you throw me out.” She must have been having an off day because she didn’t even come up with a parting shot as she left.
The first thing I did when the door slammed on her too-tiny ass was grab my tweezers and hunt down the offending whisker. Dammit! There it was, shiny and proud, sticking out like a billboard announcing I was thirty, directionless and single. I know there aren’t too many people out there who are going to feel sorry for the poor little rich girl that was me, so I sat down and cried for myself.
When the doorman announced that Hannah was on her way up, I rinsed off the remains of my pity party with cool water and met her at the door.
“Your sister is such a bitch,” she announced, walking past me and dropping onto the sofa.
“I am very aware of that fact, but what did she do to you?”
“I saw her stomping through the lobby and the skank had the audacity to look right at me and wait for me to open the door for her. Which, of course I did. Then she pirouettes around on those gorgeous boots—they aren’t even out in the stores yet—and blows me a kiss with her middle finger.”
“She’s just jealous because we’re more like sisters than she and I ever will be.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s it. Sophia Avalon is jealous of me.” Hannah struck a pose.
I attempted to throw an errant packing peanut at her, but it decided it wanted to attach itself to my boob like a misshapen nipple. Perfect. “What are you doing here? I thought you were going skiing in the Alps for the holidays. Shouldn’t you have left already?”
Hannah’s face fell. “This is so embarrassing, but Daddy cut my allowance—again—and I don’t have the cash to go anymore.”
“What?” I faked my horror for her benefit.
Hannah Carlisle had been my best friend from birth, but the girl was seriously spoiled. I knew damn well that her monthly allowance was more than most Americans made in a year. And it hadn’t escaped my notice that for someone whose father was the president of a very large bank—read: serious bailout money—her spending habits over the last few years had been inappropriate.
I’d been noticing little things like that on a more frequent basis lately and really wished I could stop.
“It’s too bad you don’t ever want to go away for the holidays. I could have crashed with you. Now I’m stuck here while the ‘rents pretend that we’re one big happy family. Hah! I’d rather chew off my own leg than drive to that mausoleum for Christmas.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to invite her to spend the holiday with us, but… traditions. And Hannah avoided any family gathering, not just her own. I did feel sorry for her though—her dad had always given me the creeps. He was like a slimy used-car salesman in a ten-thousand-dollar suit. And I’d felt that way before the twins grew big enough to hold his attention during our rare conversations. Eew.
She huffed a sigh, clearly understanding that an invitation wasn’t coming, yet conveying it wouldn’t be completely unwelcome. The statue caught her attention and she wrinkled her nose in distaste. “What’s that?”
“Luke sent it to me. I have no idea what it’s supposed to be.”
“Creepy. It looks like some sort of medieval torture dildo.”
Her observation startled a laugh out of me. “It does!”
“Is it a gift?” She stepped forward to take a closer look.
“I thought so at first, but Mom said he mailed my present to her.”
“I wonder what the inscription is,” she murmured, running her fingers over the depressions in the metal.
Like me, Hannah is passably pretty, although she downplays her better features by dressing like GI Jane. Unlike me, she is a certifiable genius. If she ever used her powers for good, she’d basically be a superhero. “Do you know hieroglyphics?” I ventured.
“No, but I bet we can find something on the internet.”
An hour later, Hannah had researched the best translation software available. After seeing the outrageous price tag, she had quickly hacked into a museum’s mainframe to “borrow” it for free.
“You should work for the CIA,” I commented.
“I might have to if Dad keeps tightening his death grip on my checkbook.” Her attention was diverted as more nonsensical information scrolled across the screen. “Get a piece of paper and a pencil.”
I snagged paper from the tray of the printer before rummaging through the desk drawers and finding a handful of pens and one lonely crayon—no pencils. “What do we need it for? Will any of these work?”
Hannah took her eyes off the screen long enough to look at the wad of writing utensils I held in my hand. “We need something soft… this will do.” She waited for me to put the others back before handing me the crayon. “Wrap the paper around the statue and rub the crayon over the surface—lightly. That should give us a pretty good transfer to scan in. Then we can let the computer do the rest of the work.”
I did as she asked, feeling pretty proud of myself when the hieroglyphics began to appear. “Here,” I thrust the paper at her.
She waved the page away. “Put it in on the scanner.”
I felt a little put out by her bossy tone, but she was trying to help me so I let it slide. After I’d once again followed her instructions, she began typing furiously and the scanner beeped and hummed to life.
“Hurry up!” she yelled, making me jump.
“With what?” I looked around for what I’d missed. “I didn’t know I needed to do anything else.”
“Not you. I think I tripped a firewall. I’ve got you set up to be a ghost, but if we’re on here too long…”
Her serious tone sent up a red flag. “How illegal is this?”
“I’ll need to borrow money for my defense,” she quipped.
“Jesus, Han! Get out now!”
“I’m holding the security off, but eventually it will find me. The pings are getting too close for comfort, but we’re not at DEFCON yet.”
My foot was tapping of its own volition and my heart was running a marathon. Hannah had almost gone to juvie in the sixth grade for hacking the school’s computer system so that she could look at porn. It was a little funny now, but at the time it had been terrifying. I’d been guilty by association and geography (I’d been by her side when the dean had caught her red-handed) and my family had done everything in their power to break our bond.
It hadn’t worked.
I tried to love my family, quirks, neuroses and all, but there was something in Hannah that drew me to her. It’s not like we’re lesbians, in fact, I think we may have been the only two girls in our exclusive boarding school who hadn’t experimented. But we were soul-sisters. She was the family I’d chosen.
My wayward thoughts were interrupted by an alarm sounding from the computer, simultaneously followed by the printer churning out pages and Hannah issuing a girly war cry. “I’m out!” she exclaimed, hitting a few more buttons before closing my laptop with a resounding click.
I rushed to the printer and looked at the pages, reading aloud, “A piece of Imhotep is in the air we breathe, the ground upon which we walk, the sun that lightens our days and the stars that guide our journey through darkness. Life is given and taken away, but the power to conquer death is with Imhotep. Imhotep is in your hands.”
Hannah grabbed the sheets from my hands, giving me a paper cut in her rush to view the results of her hacking. I sucked on the tender wound, lazily seeping blood, leveling my best death-stare at her. “You almost cut my thumb off,” I accused.
Hannah ripped my hand away from my face and looked at the thin line. “It’s not even bleeding.”
Her dismissal pissed me off, but before I could voice my complaint the page once again caught my attention. “Are you sure you did it right?”
She gave me her are you seriously doubting my mad skills look. “Not that I’m an expert or anything, but this is what the damn statue says—or as close as we’ll get to a complete translation without taking it to an expert.”
“Isn’t Imhotep that creepy guy from The Mummy?”
“Yeah, but in real life he was the Egyptian god of medicine and healing.”
I shook my head in wonder—how did she know this stuff?
“Maybe we should get a second opinion,” I suggested.
“Seriously? If you do that, my ass is in deep doo-doo.”
It took me a minute, but I finally got it. “There’s a record of what we did.”
“They won’t ever find out who ran the search unless you go waving it in their faces.”
“Dammit! Now we don’t have a way of verifying this.”
“Does it really matter?”
“I guess not. But if the translation is correct there may be some historical significance to the statue. I mean, Imhotep is in your hands? That’s basically saying we’re holding God. If whoever crafted this thing really believed that, then it should be in a museum.”
“Why? So it can be one more priceless artifact catalogued and forgotten? You remember that eighth grade field trip to the museum where they took us under the building and showed us miles of hallways with all those rooms filled with shit just like that statue. The world will keep spinning if nobody ever finds out about one ugly relic.”
“You’re missing the point. Luke sent that thing to me for a reason.”
“A reason he couldn’t be bothered to tell you about. Forget it.” Hannah tossed the pages on my kitchen table and shrugged into her jacket. “I’m hungry. Let’s go get something to eat.”
My house phone rang, but I was starving so I let the machine pick up. I listened to a computer-generated voice instructing the caller to leave a message. I keep an old-school answering machine because I like to screen my calls, and old habits are really hard to break.
The beep sounded. “Hi Chloe, this is Jagger… um, Jagger Riley—Luke’s friend. Call me back when you get a sec.” He rattled off the digits and hung up.
“Whoa. What else have you been keeping from me?” Hannah placed her hands on her hips.
“Huh?” My brain had momentarily ceased processing all information. The man’s voice lulled me like a hypnotist’s swinging pocket watch. My mind emptied of everything but decades-old memories of wanting to catch the eye of my big-brother’s bestie.
Jagger Riley was the ultimate catch. He was handsome, rich, smart—basically every woman’s dream man. I had put him on a pedestal from the first day I’d met him, following him around until Luke had taken me aside to inform me I was making a fool of myself. Just hearing him say my name, even all these years later, gave me the incredible urge to start writing Mrs. Jagger Riley on every scrap of paper I could get my hands on.
“What’s up with that?” Hannah demanded, raising an artfully sculpted eyebrow.
In a fog, I noticed that she didn’t have any errant facial hair and wondered how I had missed the bus. I forcibly snapped myself back to the present. “I’m not hiding anything from you. Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Then why is Jagger Riley leaving messages on your machine asking you to call him? Hell, if I were you I’d totally be creaming my panties right about now.”
“He’s probably trying to get in touch with Luke.”
“He didn’t say to have Luke call him. In fact, he didn’t mention your brother at all.”
She was getting my hopes up when I knew my infatuation with Jagger was a lost cause. “Stop. I haven’t seen Jagger in years. I guarantee that he wasn’t calling to talk to me.”
“Well, I think you should call him back right this second. What if he’s in town and needs someone to keep him company?” She waited for me to do… anything. When I remained frozen in my tracks, she said, “If you won’t do it, I will.”
I grabbed her arm before she got her hands on the telephone and pulled her towards the front door. “Let it go. You’ll embarrass me if you call him back. It would be like sending him a note asking to check ‘yes’ if he wants to be my boyfriend for the week.”
Hannah reluctantly relented. “Fine, but you really should call him back. It’s not every day a guy like Jagger rings you up.” A mischievous gleam entered her eyes and she said, “Actually, playing hard to get might work in your favor. Letting him think you’re not interested can only make you seem that much more desirable, right?”
“Stop with the Cosmo gibberish and be real for a second. Jagger Riley is not interested in me. He never has been and never will be. I’m his best friend’s little sister and that’s all. Now let’s get out of here so I can drown my sorrows in something containing lard.”
“Like I spend my days reading Cosmo,” she scoffed indignantly. We were out the door when Hannah did an about-face. “Do you care if I take the statue home with me over the holidays? I’d like to do a little more research, see if you’re right… maybe it is important.”
I shrugged in agreement as she put the statue back in its box, tossing the printouts on top before closing it up. I didn’t really care one way or the other, but if there was something to find, Hannah was the woman to uncover its secrets.
As soon as I locked the door, the statue was pushed from my mind in deference to the much more important issue of where to eat. It took hours of self-recriminations for me to do the same with Jagger.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this sample of A Dose of Reality! It is currently on sale for only $.99 through Memorial Day. I love to hear from readers, so please feel free to leave a comment below.
Sincerely ~ Heidi