“I can’t believe you’re going to your high school reunion,” Val said to Jolie. “It’s so… Midwestern of you.”
“Want to come?”
Jolie chuckled. Valentino Gonzalez, who rarely allowed himself to travel west of the East River, sprawled in a chair in the corner of her bedroom and leafed through her yearbook. With each page he turned he passed judgment on yet another of her former classmates. “Ugh, look at this hair. Someone should have told her plaid is not a good look on her. Oh, honey, get some contact lenses.”
“I’m sure your graduating class was filled with nothing but runway models and budding fashionistas.”
“My class at Glenwood Boys Academy wore matching blue blazers and red bow ties. We were all absolutely divine as I recall.”
“Uh-huh.” Jolie sorted through her underwear and nightclothes, putting those she wanted into the open suitcase on the bed.
“I found you!” Val exclaimed. “Weren’t you the busy bee?” He put his finger on the page and read aloud: “Varsity cheerleader; Drama Society; French club.” He glanced up. “You speak French?”
“Oui, oui, monsieur.”
She turned to the closet as Val continued to read. “Homecoming court; Prom queen.”
He snorted. “Prom queen? How did I not know this about you?”
Jolie laid several items on the bed and began to slip them off their hangers to fold. “I don’t believe you ever asked.”
“There must be pictures.” Val began turning pages until he found them. “Oh. My. God! Look at you! You were a fairy princess amongst the trolls.” He studied the picture. “Your design?”
Jolie made a face. “Of course.”
“I love it.”
“You love everything I design.”
“Yes, but you were only what? Seventeen? Eighteen? Even then you had talent. Good thing you got out of that burg when you did, before the trolls ate you alive.”
Jolie silently agreed. She had escaped Oak Ridge, Illinois, but she hadn’t escaped the person she’d become while growing up there. This trip, she’d already decided, was about making peace with her past, her parents and anyone else she should have treated better or appreciated more.
“Who’s Courtney Harrison?”
Jolie stared at Val as a kaleidoscope of images spun through her brain from childhood to high school graduation.
“Jolie? You okay?”
Jolie snapped out of her memories. “He was the boy who lived next door.” She turned back to the closet and pretended to rummage through her clothes again even though she had everything she wanted.
“He wrote an entire page in your yearbook. The guy worshipped you.”
Jolie returned to the suitcase with two pairs of shoes and focused on wrapping them and tucking them into side pockets.
“Jo-lie,” Val singsonged.
“Tell me about the boy next door. Please?”
When Val smiled like that, Jolie found it hard to refuse him anything. He was the most divinely good-looking man she’d ever met. His bedroom brown eyes melted hearts everywhere. Men either envied him or lusted after him and women wept when they learned he was gay. “I’ll tell you,” she said. “But I’ll need a glass of wine first. Maybe two.”
Jolie gazed out the window of the 727 and tried to put her thoughts in order. Before
last night, she’d never discussed her relationship with Courtney Harrison with anyone. She hadn’t wanted to examine that self-centered, seventeen-year-old self too closely. Even Val, who knew her probably better than anyone, had been mildly shocked by her behavior.
“Quite the bitch, weren’t you?” He’d used a teasing tone, but he spoke the truth, neatly defining her behavior with Courtney in five words.
“I was horrible to him,” Jolie admitted out loud for the first time in her life. “Do you think he’s forgiven me?”
“Let’s see. He was in love with you. You broke his heart. You’ve avoided him for ten years and you’ve never apologized. I’m sure he’s fine.”
Jolie stared into her wine glass, not wanting Val to see how painful this conversation had become.
But Val was highly intuitive about such things. “Come on. It was high school,” he reminded her gently. “I’m sure he’s matured in the last ten years.” Val’s gaze softened on her and he tugged on a lock of her hair. “You did, didn’t you? You’re no longer that self-centered teenager. You’re sweet and kind—”
Jolie giggled. “I am not.”
“—sexy, sophisticated, smart and talented,” Val continued, ignoring the interruption. “I couldn’t be best friends with a snotty bitch.”
But Courtney had. He’d looked past all her faults back then and saw something more underneath. Jolie squirmed in her seat, knowing that was what frightened her the most. The boy next door had known her better than anyone. And had loved her anyway.
NOBODY’S FOOL release date January 6, 2015
Discounted Pre-order on Amazon here: