Chapter Thirteen

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When five days pass with no word from Riley, I'm pretty sure something is up with him, or maybe with his phone. The text messages I sent all went through, though, and are even marked as read. His voicemail picked up the one time I tried calling. This leaves me with one conclusion: it's him. Okay, it's what he thinks about me. If I had to guess, I'd say my birthday dinner was a date and I blew it big time. That's exactly what I'd want to happen under normal circumstances, but this is about as far from normal as anything gets. It's his fault for not making it a pity dinner.

Now I'm left with a huge problem. If Riley is avoiding me, then I can't help him. If I can't help him, then both of us are in big trouble. And it's not like I can show up at his doorstep and insist we hang out. For one thing, that's pretty much like stalking him. For another, I don't even know where he lives.

Any brilliant advice, Noah? I think. The only sound I hear is clothes dropping onto the floor as I rummage through one of my still-unpacked suitcases, looking for my running shoes. Yeah, I should have known.

I toss a shirt out of the suitcase. There's one shoe, anyway. I start to reach for it but stop when the doorbell rings.

That's weird. No one in L.A. but Riley knows where I live, so it's either him ringing my doorbell, or it's some door-to-door solicitor. I'm pretty sure solicitors don't canvass houses in the Hollywood Hills, though. With so many of the houses behind locked gates, I can't see how it would be worth their time. I leave the running shoe where it is and get up to see who's at the front door.

The doorbell rings seven more times in the few seconds it takes me to get there. "All right, already," I say out loud, rounding the corner into the foyer. Then I stop mid-step.

My aunt is standing on my doorstep, and I can see her scowling face through the pane of glass beside the door. It's too late to run back to my bedroom and pretend nobody's home, mainly because she's peering through the window and staring straight at me. She looks far from happy. I'd rather walk barefoot on burning coals than deal with an unhappy Aunt Sarah, but I've already been spotted.

I curse under my breath and square my shoulders. Then I take another two steps and reach for the door handle, knowing full well I'm letting a human hurricane into my house.

"Took you long enough," she snaps when I open the door. As usual, not a single auburn hair on her head is out of place. I can't spot even the slightest wrinkle in the fabric of her tailored pantsuit. Her blue eyes are icy cold, which is no different from the last time I looked into them before I left Boston. It's possible they're icier than Selena's were when I saw her at the yoga studio, and that's hard to beat.

My aunt pushes past me, stepping inside the house. It's then I see her two large suitcases on the doorstep. That's definitely not a good sign. The last thing I need is my aunt setting up camp in my house.

"Wh—what are you doing here?" I ask, looking at her and then back to the suitcases. I think I saw a horror movie start this way once.

"I flew out this morning," she says, waving her hand to dismiss my question as though flying across the country and showing up unannounced at my house in L.A. is the most normal thing in the world. "Could you make yourself useful and get my suitcases before you shut the door?"

I hear her. I don't make a move for her suitcases, though, or shut the door.

"Why are you here? Aren't you missing your ladies' lunch or something?" She never misses that lunch. It's how she catches up on the neighborhood gossip.

"I'm here to take you home," she says, sounding surprised. "What did you think was going to happen after you pulled that stunt with Harvard?" She gives a little huff when she realizes I'm not moving, and walks past me again to retrieve her suitcases from outside.

Of course. This is my punishment. Reminding her I'm now eighteen years old and legally out from under her thumb is likely to have the same effect as yelling in a wind tunnel.

"I am home," I remind her, although I'm sure these are all wasted words. "This is my house, if you've forgotten. It officially became mine on my birthday."

She rolls one of her suitcases into the foyer. "No, dear. You're going home to Boston, where you're starting college in a few weeks. You're not staying out here."

"The hell I'm not."

"Watch your language, young lady." The second suitcase rolls past me and she stops, letting go of the handle and putting her hands on her hips. "No niece of mine is going to waste her life as a college dropout, boozing and partying it up in Hollywood. I'm not letting you rot your brain until you're just some junkie, squandering the money your parents left you."

I stare at her. "What movie did you get that from? I don't drink, I don't party, and I'm sure not a junkie. And by the way, you can't drop out of college if you haven't even started yet." Yeah, that last point probably won't fly. It's true, though.

"Oh, you're starting. I'm not about to let you wreck your future just because you feel like it."

The woman is hopeless. I count backwards from ten before answering her.

"I'm not going with you, so you can turn around now and go right back to Boston. I'll call Uncle Mike and tell him when your flight gets in."

A tight smile appears on my aunt's face. "It's a nice thought, but you have to come with me. I've already spoken to the dean of admissions and assured him it was all a misunderstanding. That took a lot of work, but I got you back in for the fall semester. I suggest you wipe that look off your face and go pack your bags."

Same Aunt Sarah. It always has to be her way. Not this time, though. I can't go anywhere until my job is done, and the only place I'm going then is The Life-After.

"I'm not going back to Boston," I repeat. "And I'm not talking about this anymore."

"Fine," she says, walking past me and down the hall into the living room. I follow her. Sudden acceptance without a full-blown tantrum definitely doesn't sound like my aunt when she isn't getting her way.

"Fine?" I echo.

"Mmm-hmm." She sits down on the sofa.

"So you're going home, then?" I ask.

"No," she answers, a smile still fixed on her face. "This just shows me you can't be trusted to make decisions for yourself. Eighteen or not, you clearly still need adult supervision, so I think I'll stay for a while. It's for your own good."

No, this isn't a horror movie. This is the very definition of hell.

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