Dear Amber Prescott,
Congratulations! It is our pleasure to inform you that you have been selected as a recipient of the Brewster Town Hall Scholarship in the amount of $20,000. We commend you for your musical talents and contributions to the community.
To celebrate your achievements, we invite you to dine with Mayor Timothy Meinot and the other five scholarship recipients on Tuesday, February 4th, at 7 p.m. at the Chesterfield.
Again, congratulations, and we look forward to meeting you at the Chesterfield.
Brewster Town Hall Scholarship Committee
I spent the last hour wondering if I would die tonight.
You can drop dead from a heart attack at seventeen, right? The prospect of tonight’s dinner party made my heart ricochet off my rib cage so fiercely I was convinced my days were numbered.
What’s so bad about a dinner party? Let’s start with the fact that my boyfriend, Robbie, was also invited to this little shindig, and we were on shaky ground. Our post-graduation plans were at odds, to say the least—and as senior year dwindled, the tension mounted. It didn’t help that soon-to-be-valedictorian Diego scored an invite, too. Our friendship had recently morphed into something else—something that made my cheeks flush, my nerves tingle, and my heart swell like a submerged sponge.
Putting the three of us in the same room could be catastrophic. If Robbie suspected I liked the class nerd, he’d introduce Diego to his fist in front of everyone. I had bigger issues with Robbie than another boy. But strike a match in a room doused with lighter fluid, and you’re bound to get burned. If I were even slightly capable of hiding my emotions, I might get through the night unscathed. Unfortunately, I’m a crap liar, so splitsville with a side of bruising was basically inevitable.
Yep. A heart attack was imminent. I just had to get tonight over with, and everything would work out.
I cranked up the Harry Potter score in an attempt to quell my nerves and ransacked my wardrobe, quickly determining that everything I owned looked hideous. I could either go ultra-casual or concert black (or funeral chic, as Sasha liked to call it) and either option was downright depressing.
After most of my clothes were heaped into a pile on the floor—much to the delight of my cat, Mittens, who swiftly nestled in—I discovered an old emerald sequined number I wore to a piano recital years ago. The dress now ended well above my knees, but it was the only garment within reach that wasn’t a complete waste of space.
“Amber, you look great!” Mom said as I raced up the stairs from my basement bedroom, tugging at the dress’s hem.
“You’re only saying that because you’re my mom.”
“Don’t get all self-deprecating on me.” She scrunched one of my red curls, which already threatened to go limp. Her own red, stick-straight hair was cut in a typical mom-bob. “You look sophisticated. Though that dress could stand to be a little longer—”
“Is Robbie here yet?” He was already ten minutes late. I peered out the front door’s stained-glass window, searching for his black SUV while fidgeting with my amethyst bracelet. Mittens rubbed against my ankles, getting his white fur all over my black velvet peep-toe shoes.
“You’re not allowed to date ’til you’re forty-seven,” Dad shouted from his office down the hall.
“Is this a bad time to point out we’ve been dating for like a year?” I said. Even Mom mirrored my exaggerated eye roll.
Just as I rattled off a text to Robbie, his headlights flooded the driveway. I dropped my phone into my purse, and Mom handed me a jacket and kissed my cheek before I could bolt out the door. “Text me when you get there.”
“God, Mom.” I wiggled into the coat. “In a few months, I’ll be in college. Should I text you whenever I go anywhere then, too?”
“That’d be great, thanks for offering!” Her eyes twinkled mischievously, though with the flicker of sadness that never really left them. “Love you.”
“Bye!” I called over my shoulder as I raced into the unseasonably muggy night and down the front walk, my unzipped coat flapping behind me. Mom wasn’t exactly overprotective. She let me do whatever, as long as I constantly let her know I was still alive.
I couldn’t say she didn’t have a good reason.
Robbie tossed his baseball mitt into the backseat. “Hey, babe—”
“Fifteen minutes late, Robbie? Really?” I slammed the passenger door and clicked on my seat belt in one fluid motion. I wasn’t usually one to pick a fight, but my nerves had me on edge.
“Amber. Chill. Practice went a little late.” His go-to excuse. Robbie leaned over and kissed me, the sweet scent of soap and hair gel flooding my senses. He gripped the back of my headrest and backed down the driveway. Mom gave a little wave from the living room window, and the curtains fluttered shut as Robbie floored the gas. “Besides, I had to stop at home to grab your present.” He reached behind my seat without taking his eyes from the road, grabbed a small box, and tossed it onto my lap.
“My . . . present? For what?”
“Open it.” He grinned, the corners of his gray eyes crinkling as dimples creased his cheeks. Curious, I plucked open the red ribbon securing the small white box and found a charm bracelet inside. Several tiny silver music notes dangled from an amethyst-beaded band. “I thought it’d go with your other bracelet.” He motioned to my grandmother’s amethyst bracelet on my right wrist.
My anger dissipated, replaced by a confusing mix of joy and dread. “But what’s this for?”
“What, I can’t get something nice for my girl for no reason?” His smile widened—that infectious grin that always made me feel like I was somehow the brightest star in his sky. It seemed genuine. Everything about Robbie was genuine. He wore his heart on his sleeve, which was a blessing and a curse—I never had to wonder how much he loved me . . . or how annoyed he was with me, especially recently. But the musical theme of his gift caught me off guard.
My music had been a sore point for us lately. Robbie wanted me to follow him and his baseball scholarship to Georgia Tech, as if ditching my dreams of studying music at USC or Berklee wasn’t that big a sacrifice. “But you can play music anywhere,” he’d insisted. A couple of months ago we had a huge fight about it, and he convinced me to apply to Georgia Tech, suggesting we put off the discussion until I heard back from them.
Then I got my acceptance letter. That’s when I knew we were going to break up.
I might’ve fallen in love with Robbie, but I’d been in love with music for as long as I could remember. I couldn’t let him tempt me into abandoning my dreams. Despite my resolve, I hadn’t figured out how to break the news.
But this was a shocking turn of events. I ran my fingers over the music note charms. It was such a thoughtful gift. Did he finally see my point of view? Was he willing to compromise?
As if on cue, he said, “I know we haven’t talked about school and stuff in a while.” School and stuff. How neatly all of my musical ambitions could be packed into one word. Stuff. He smoothed back his short dirty-blond hair. “Have you heard from Georgia Tech yet?”
My shoulders tensed. “No. Not yet.” Fortunately, the darkness obscured my flushed cheeks. I was so pale, my own blood always ratted me out: Liar.
“Well, it has to be soon. I want to be with you.” Keeping one hand on the steering wheel, he entwined his fingers with mine. “We can figure this out together. I love you, Amber.”
“I . . . me, too.” Oh, God. What should I do? He kissed my hand and released it, and I fumbled with the clasp on my new bracelet, securing it on my left wrist. I leaned against the window, watching identical two-story colonials whip by. We drove the rest of the way in silence until fat raindrops pelted the car, drowning out my thoughts.
“Ah, crap.” I zipped my jacket under the seat belt. Just like washing a car, using a curling iron on my hair pretty much guaranteed rain. If we moved to California, I could singlehandedly resolve the drought crisis.
The corner of Robbie’s mouth quirked up. “It’s only water.”
“Explain that to my hair, would you?” I brushed aside my bangs.
Robbie glanced at me as he slowed in front of the Chesterfield. “Hey. You look beautiful. Hair included.”
My cheeks flushed again. “Thanks.” I shook away my anxiety and scanned the street for a parking spot. The Chesterfield was an upscale restaurant in the basement of an old warehouse converted into high-end retail space. On the weekends, locals bustled around this area pretending they lived in a vibrant city, when in reality, three square blocks constituted our entire “downtown.”
There was no fooling anyone. We were lame suburbanites, through and through.
Fortunately, it was a Tuesday, and there were plenty of spots around the corner. Once Robbie parked, I unclipped my seat belt and bolted out the door. I held my hood over my head as I rounded the corner, careful to avoid any puddles. The sidewalk was deserted except for two middle-aged women dashing to a nearby car under huge black umbrellas. I hustled down the steep steps to the Chesterfield’s front entrance without waiting for Robbie to catch up.
God forbid he rush to anything besides home plate.
I shook the water from my jacket in front of the host podium. Beyond, crimson velvet booths lined either side of the dimly lit room, and a bar stretched across the opposite wall. A pyramid of wine and liquor bottles towered behind the bar, light streaming out between them to create a halo effect. Classical music flitted from speakers dotting the ceiling above the tables.
The room was deserted.
To find out what happens next, you’ll have to pick up All Your Twisted Secrets.