PART TWO - Chapter 2

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ZACH

Mom and Dad had me penned in near the fireplace. I glanced around Paul's living room, hoping to spot Emma and use her as a reason to bail on the conversation, but she was nowhere in sight.

"I hope you know, son, that if Columbia doesn't work out, Harvard and Yale will be waiting for you. You just say the word, and I'll get the ball rolling at either school." My dad clapped me on the shoulder, as if we'd just successfully negotiated a business deal. "Yale is even close to New York, so you'd be able to get a fix of city life any time you wanted."

I took a deep breath and tried not to look frustrated. He meant well. "I appreciate that, Dad, but I have a feeling Columbia is going to be great."

My mom stepped closer and scanned my face, like she used to do whenever I got in trouble for fighting on the playground. "I want you to promise you'll reach out to us if you start to feel overwhelmed. Law school is very stressful. You don't have to go it alone."

My body tensed a little. I heard what she was saying, and I knew she cared. But part of me knew she'd never trust me to deal with stress without hitting the bottle and throwing my life away. "You don't have to worry, Mom," I said carefully. "I can handle it. And I'm done with the partying, I swear."

"I didn't say anything about partying," she said, sounding a little too defensive. "I'm talking about a support network."

Her eyes got shiny, and I immediately felt sorry. "Thanks, Mom," I told her softly, and pulled her in for a hug.

Over her shoulder, I glimpsed Genie across the room. My body tensed for real this time. She stood near the front door, laughing and talking animatedly with Paul. What part of 'this is not okay' did they not understand? If they ruined this party for Emma, they'd both be hearing from me.

***

As hard as it was, I waited until Paul moved on before walking up to Genie. When she grinned up at me like nothing was wrong, I just couldn't help myself. "So, is it awkward for you? Bringing your boyfriend to the home of your old man crush?"

Her eyes got really wide, then narrowed into slits. "In case you've forgotten, brother, a party is when people get together to have fun, not to be jerks to each other." She took a big gulp of her drink. "I made a mistake, okay? Are you going to hold onto it forever?"

My conscience pinched me. She kind of had a point.

"And you're one to talk," she continued. "As I recall, you have some experience with mistakes. But did I turn on you when I found out you made that video of Bianca? No. I stood by you. Why can't you do that for me?"

By now, her eyes were blazing, and I knew I'd made a mistake. "Hey," I started. "I—"

She held up a hand to stop me and shook her head hard enough to flutter her dark curls. "Save it. Even Emma has let it go, but if you're just not mature enough to move on, then we don't have anything to talk about." She stomped toward the kitchen, leaving me spluttering and sorry. No one spoke my truth like my twin sister.

"Geez, man, what did you do? I can actually see the steam coming off Genie's head." Brett handed me a beer and took a big drink of his own.

I huffed and shook my head. "I saw her talking to Paul and said more than I should have, I guess. She's right to be mad."

He leaned against the wall and studied me. "You've got to get over this, buddy. She's with someone else, now. And they didn't even do more than kiss, did they?"

"Over the line, dude." I took a slug of my beer, trying to dull my reaction. "We're not going to talk about what they did or didn't do."

"I just mean that it doesn't seem like it was a big deal to either of them."

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