“Cammy, baby, it’s so nice to hear your voice and know you’re okay,” my mother, Holly Rossi-Dresden, breathes a sigh of relief into the phone.

“Mom…” tears overflow and run down my face.

“I left your dad. After you ran off, he became angry all the time. He picked fights with your brother and me whenever he could. I don’t know if we’re getting back together,” she confesses.

“Mom, I’m so proud of you,” I weep. He’s a destructive force that cannot be reckoned with.

I hear her crying on the other end. “I miss you so terribly. How are you doing?”

I sniffle a few times and wipe my tears with the back of my hand. “I’m really good. I’ve met so many amazing people and I have a job at a bar.”

My mother, who is half-choking on her sob, interrupts me. I know she’s judging me. “A bar?” she asks dubiously.

“Well, I don’t know if that’s going to be permanent. I’m hoping to…find another job or something related to music.” I thought back to Nick’s words. “The music industry is just so cold right now.”

“As long as you’re happy, I’m happy.”

“Nice and understanding looks good on you, Mom,” I reply with a smile in my voice.

“While you were gone, I took some time to reflect on how truly awful your father was to you, and I couldn’t stand it any longer. Will you think about coming to visit some time? Or move back, maybe?” I can hear a hint of pleading breaking a hole in her brand new wall of confidence.

“Mom, I’m not moving back. I have a life here now. But of course I’ll visit, mom. Where are you staying?”

She sighs deeply into the receiver. “At Grandma Rossi’s house that she left here in Atlanta.”

“I’ll definitely come down once I’m fully settled in here.”

The door to my apartment opens and closes. “Cammy!” I hear Laila’s sing song-y voice echo through the open space.

“I hear you have company. I’ll let you go. Call me once in a while, will you?” My mother asks.

“Will do. I love you, mom.” It’s the first time I say that in a while and mean it as well.

“Bye, sweetheart.” I hang up the phone and mop the remaining tears from my wet cheeks with my now-tear-stained shirt.

“Cammy? Cam? Are you okay?” Laila finds me sitting in the tan armchair next to the phone.

“That was my mom.” Laila stares at me with wide eyes, so I give her a full recap of what just happened.

“Are you moving back to Atlanta?” Laila asks uneasily, her voice wavering.

“Why would you even ask that question? You can’t get rid of me that quickly,” I say with a smile.

Laila jumps out of her seat to hug me tightly. “Please don’t ever go. Permanently, at least. I really do enjoy having you here.”

I hug her back firmly. “I don’t think I’d be able to. This is my home now. Speaking of home…where have you been?”

“I met up with Doug to have a drink after work,” Laila smiles like a giddy schoolgirl.

“Wow, you really are smitten with this one.”

“Most definitely.” She giggles. “What do you have going on tomorrow? Maybe the three of us could hang out,” Laila suggests.

“I have…a friend date tomorrow with this guy I met from the bar…Nick. He’s really cool and he’s just like Jared…” I’m interrupted with an almost-admonishing look from Laila. “Chill out! I meant to say that because I think he and Doug would get along quite well. So, maybe the four of us could hang out? Nick wants to take me on a music tour of the Music City.” I say with a chuckle.

“Hmm, that could be fun. I’ve never really done that. I’ll give Dougie a call right now and let him know.” Laila hops up from her seat to snatch her phone from the coffee table. She gets up to walk into the other room to carry on her conversation.

“Hey…right back atcha…yeah yeah I miss you already too…no you’re definitely the whipped one…whatever. Cammy thinks we should hang out with her and her new friend Nick tomorrow.” Laila’s voice drifts loudly through the apartment.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The week is uneventful and drags by slower than imaginable. Much of it is spent with Nick, Doug, and Laila bonding over shared interests.

Wednesday night, Nick and I are sitting sharing a bowl of popcorn in front of the TV in my apartment watching the season finale of American Idol when my phone rings. Lily’s number lights up the screen, and I grab the phone to stop the annoying sound…and to talk to my friend.

“Hello?”

“So we don’t speak in three whole days and that’s how you greet me? With a hello?” She laughs on the other end of the line.

“Hey, it wasn’t my choice to run away to the beach and abandon your life and friends!” I giggle softly.

“I must admit…it was pretty refreshing. Either way. Remember when Jessie and I visited you at the bar and we promised you girl bonding time?” Lily asks tentatively.

“Yes…” I remember that night like it was yesterday.

“Well tomorrow night, Jessie and I formally invite you to our slumber party at the Followill family ranch. Sans boys, of course.”

“Hi Cammy!” I hear Jessie yell in the background on Lily’s end.

“Tell Jessie hey for me, and that I one hundred percent accept your invitation. On one condition…”

“Oh man, make it good.”

“You paint my nails,” I demand.

That’s your demand? Well then in that case it’s on. We’re heading back tomorrow…the boys are driving in their own car so we can pick you up so we’ll swing by at around…say…two o’clock and we can go catch a movie or something and then go to the farmhouse.”

“Sounds like a plan. See you at two!” I giggle to myself and hang up the phone.

Laila waltzes into the room and plops down on the couch in between Nick and me.

“Hey,” I look over at her. “I have a slumber party date with Lily and Jessie tomorrow night, so I won’t be home.”

“Yes!” she exclaims. “I mean…I’ll miss you terribly,” she pouts at me.

I laugh. “Yeah, I know you’re going to have Doug over. Don’t do anything stupid,” I advise her. Last time, they somehow broke one of Laila’s mom’s vases that she gave Laila to furnish the apartment. I don’t even want to think about how that happened.

“Hey! That’s not fair. That was just one time! You can’t blame me for trying to please the best boyfriend in the world,” Laila quickly examines her chipped, pastel-colored nails, attempting to look innocent.

Nick pushes himself up from the couch and stretches out his tall, lean body. “Well,” he sighs, “I think I’d best be going.”

“Nick, it’s like…9pm.” I look up at him.

“Yeah but we’re hitting the studio tomorrow and my vocal chords need their beauty sleep.” He smiles at me.

“Well let me walk you to the door.” I heave myself up from the couch and follow Nick to the door. “We’ll hang out soon, okay?”

“Pinky promise me!” He sticks out his pinky, just as I’ve taught him.

I laugh out loud. “Okay, fine, I pinky promise,” I say as I hook my pinky with his. I lean in for a tight hug, basking in his warmth and the comfort I feel when we’re together. I let go to open the door for him. “Text me soon, brutha.”

“Will do. See you later, skater.” He waves over his shoulder as I shut the door. I run back to the couch and sink into the cool leather.

“He reminds you of Jared, doesn’t he,” Laila concludes.

“Sadly, he does. Too much, it seems.” I sigh deeply.

“What do you want to watch tonight?” She lets me choose for once.

“Let’s watch Whip It. I’m absolutely obsessed with Ellen Page, and I’ve been wanting to see that movie for months.”

Laila presses a few buttons and the movie comes on. I hear a few familiar chords. Could it be? The beautiful sound of one of my favorite songs, Knocked Up, fills the room. Jared’s bass pours through my ears and I close my eyes, bathing my mind in the sound. Goddammit, does he have to follow me everywhere? Just as soon as I was getting fine without his texts or the assurance of his friendship, I’m right back where I started a week ago. Shit happens, I guess.

Laila and I settle in next to each other and before we know it, it’s morning.

I sleep super late this morning. It may have something to do with the light rain drumming against my window and the muted light flooding my room, or because I have zero obligations today. From under the mound of covers, I peer over at my clock glows a late 1:24pm. I stretch my arms over my head, hop out of bed and quickly remember that Jessie and Lily are picking me up at 2 o’clock. I check my phone for any missed calls and see that I have an unread text. I open it quickly, and a picture downloads.

(Lily): On our way to you! Hope you’re ready ;)

The picture shows the smiling pair. Jessie is driving the convertible and Lily leans in to smile with her in the sun. I grin at seeing my new best friend again and hanging out with Jessie for the first time.

As the clock ticks towards two, I pack my bag for the night ahead.

Soon enough, my buzzer groans, begging me to let in whoever is waiting at the door. “Guess who!” two female voices yell from the speaker.

I sling my bag over my shoulder, call out a goodbye to Laila, and rush down the stairs to meet my friends. On my way down, I run flat into the one and only Douglas Chabbot. As I continue to jet down the flights of stairs, I call over my shoulder, “I already told Laila, but don’t do anything stupid! Have fun, kiddo!”

I hear Doug laugh as I clomp down the stairs.

“Hey Jess, do you hear somebody?” I hear Lily say loud enough for me to hear on purpose. I chuckle softly through my panting.

“You know what Lil, I don’t. I think we should leave.” Lily laughs loudly.

“I’m here, everybody can chill out now.” I finally reach the bottom of the stairs, out of breath but still somehow appearing put together.

Lily suddenly attacks me. “I’ve missed you!” she yells in my ear.

“Hello to you too, friendo,” I smile. “Jessie,” I turn to the pretty blonde and give her a hug as if we’ve been friends for a lifetime.

“So are you ready for a full 24 hours of fun that will blow your mind to pieces?” Jessie asks me with a huge grin spreading across her face.

“Hell yeah!” I pump my fist in the air and jump into the back of their convertible.

“For activity number 1,” Lily announces, “we’re going to the movie theater to see Across the Universe. I’m absolutely in love with Jim Sturgess and everybody loves the Beatles.”

“You read my mind! I’ve wanted to see that since it went into theaters. I went through a serious Beatles phase my freshman year in college, you know,” I reply.

“Same!” Jessie exclaims. “But thing is…I’m still in that phase,” we laugh loudly together.

We watch the movie and leave the theater inspired.

“That made me want to go paint a mural or something,” Lily proclaims.

“We’ll find you a canvas once we get to the farm,” Jessie promises and pats Lily on the back. She chuckles in return. “We have to keep moving!”

We pile back into the car and start heading towards the suburbs. I assume we’re heading towards the Followill farm.

“Activity 2,” Jessie turns around to face me. “Every Followill girl has been swimming in the pond behind the house, so now you get to go too!”

“But I don’t have anything to wear!” I protest.

We pull into the driveway of the gorgeous house.

“But I do!” Lily trills. “We’re the same size, I’m sure. Follow me!”

I hang my bag over my shoulder and Lily leads me to her room and opens a drawer full of an endless amount of undergarments and bathing suits.

“The perks of being a Victoria’s Secret model,” she chuckles. “Take your pick.”

I pluck out a turquoise bandeau with a matching bottom and quickly change.

The three of us scamper outside without towels or anything through the tall green forest, and find the shining, glittering swimming hole that they have been raving about for the past hour.

After about twenty minutes basking in the warm water, the heavens open and it starts to pour.

I throw my head back and laugh out of the sheer irony of the situation.

We decide to splash around for a little longer before heading back.

“Jared really likes you, you know. He’s been acting a lot different since you kind of denounced your friendship.” Lily confesses as she swims over to me.

“Yeah well hopefully he’ll clear things up soon.” I sigh deeply. “I’ve been a bit out of sorts too.”

“You guys are always better together. I can tell. He just seems like he has more fun when you’re around,” Lily continues.

I nod my head in agreement. The rain begins to pour even harder. Thunder cracks in the distance. We take that as our cue to jump out of the warm water and dash back to the house.

Once we get back, we all go to our respective rooms to take showers and change into our pajamas. Lily and Jessie go to their boys’ rooms, and I’m left with the open one at the end of the hall.

I let the boiling water wash away any worries that I’ve had in the past week.

Once I get out of the shower and dry off, a knock sounds loudly at the door. The doorbell rings three times consecutively right after. Rain pounds ominously against the windows as I run towards the racket.

“Who is it?” I ask the door tentatively.

“Just open the door, already!” the voice yells. It sounds familiar, but somehow distant at the same time.

I open the door slowly to reveal a wet, hooded figure. My breath catches in my throat. 

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