Broken (Redemption #1)


by Lauren Layne

CHAPTER ONE

Olivia

Only in Manhattan would parents throw a dropping-out-of-college party for their daughter. And only on the Upper East Side would people actually show up.

Now, to be fair, the invitations didn’t actually acknowledge the whole dropping-out bit. Nothing so crass as that. I mean, this is New York, after all. People have standards. At least when other people are watching.

See, the twelve-dollars-each invitations spun the whole debacle as a “sending-off celebration for Olivia Elizabeth Middleton.”

Sending-off indeed.

The destination? Bar Harbor, Maine.

The reason? Charitable endeavors.

Ahem. Not exactly. At least they got the location right, although even that’s a bit of a joke. It’s not exactly Rwanda or Haiti or any of the places that Olivia Elizabeth Middleton originally intended to go with the intention of saving the world. But when your parents know someone who knows someone who knows everyone, you’re bound to get hooked up with someone who needs help a little closer to home. So Bar Harbor, Maine, it is.

But the whole do-gooder motivation? Total bullshit. I should know.

See, I’m Olivia Elizabeth Middleton: NYU drop-out and soon-to-be resident of Middle-of-Nowhere.

And let me tell you, my reasons have nothing to do with charity. I’m not that good. Not even close. I certainly don’t deserve a freaking party for the things I’ve done.

But I’m a Middleton. Parties are what we do. At this point, I’m just counting myself lucky I talked my mother out of the Mother Teresa ice sculpture.

I wish I were kidding.

So here I am, dressed in a brand-new Versace cocktail dress, trying to make everyone believe I was bitten by the philanthropic bug just in time to bail on my senior year of college.

The most depressing thing is that everyone seems willing to just go with it. Well done, Liv! So proud of you, Olivia. Lovely inside and out.

Blech.

My best friend, at least, doesn’t seem to be buying it. “Liv, you can’t be serious. I mean, where are you going to get your hair highlighted all the way up in Maine?”

Some deep part of me wants to snap at my oldest friend to stop being so superficial. But the other part of me—the one that’s more familiar—is dying to grab her by the shoulders and give her an oh-my-God-I-know! shake. Because the truth is, I’ve spent way too much time wondering about how I’m going to keep my honey-blond hair from returning to its natural mud color while in Maine.

Bella Cullinane and I have had the same hairdresser since our mothers decided it was time we become versed in the difference between highlights and lowlights. We were thirteen. But Bella and I were inseparable long before that. She was the cute brunette to my classy blonde all through twelve years of private school. Bella taught me the art of rolling my plaid uniform skirt just enough to be interesting without being obvious, and in return, I was her alibi when she let Todd Akin talk her out of her couture lavender dress on prom night. Even when Bella went off to Fordham and me off to NYU, we made a pact to see each other at least a couple times a month. So far we’ve stuck to it.

And since I dropped my off-to-Maine bomb on her two months ago, she’s been telling me she’ll be my best friend no matter what (the no matter what, of course, being the not so minor fact that I won’t be finishing my senior year with that management degree I’ve spent three years chasing).

But deep down, we both know things have changed. Phone calls just aren’t the same as Wednesday wine nights. And even when we do see each other again, we’ll have nothing in common. Bella will be knee-deep in studying for her LSATs and cherry-picking the law school of her choice while I’m shuttling a war vet back and forth to physical therapy and coaxing him to eat split-pea soup, or whatever it is irritable elderly people subsist on.

“I’ll be home for Thanksgiving,” I say by way of response to Bella’s horror over my hair crisis. “I’ll make an appointment then.”

My best friend purses her glossy lips and takes a sip of Taittinger champagne—a tiny one, since champagne has carbs, and Bella lives in constant fear that her hourglass figure will turn lumpy before she can make it down the aisle in a size-2 wedding dress.

“So three-plus months,” she says, giving my hair a once-over. “Your ends might survive it if you don’t flat-iron your hair, but the roots . . . ugh.”

“Maybe I could just wear a bag over my head,” I say, taking a sip of my own champagne. A bigger sip than Bella’s, because unlike my curvy friend, I’m more of the willowy (read: flat-chested) type, and if my parents’ genetics are any indication, my beanpole figure will probably outlast my teeth.

Being able to legally drink at my parents’ frequent social gatherings is pretty much the only good thing about getting older. I suspect that’s one of the reasons the drinking age is twenty-one. It’s as though some wise person way back when knew that alcohol would start to get reaaaaally helpful at that point of your life. I’m nearly twenty-two, and God knows I’ve found a drink handy a time or two. Especially in the last year.

I catch a whiff of candy-scented perfume a second before an arm goes around my waist.

“You’ll never guess who dared to show his face,” my friend Andrea murmurs in my ear. “And he brought her.”

Bella and Andrea are giving me that wary, wide-eyed look that everyone gets when Ethan Price and I are in the same room, and before I know it I’m flanked by four of my other friends, all nearly identical in jewel-colored cocktail dresses and designer high heels.

I don’t have to turn around to know that the girl Andrea is so concerned about won’t be matchy-matchy with anyone. Ethan’s new girlfriend has a distinct style that the socially polite set refers to as unique and the total snobs among us would call weird. In my circle, there’s nothing worse than weird.

“What the hell is she wearing?” Sarah asks cattily.

It’s no secret that my friends fall into the snob category, Bella excepted most of the time. Sarah’s the worst of the lot, and not for the first time in my life I wonder why I continue to let her pretend we’re friends.

Knowing that they’ll continue to hover around me like a pack of glamorous guard dogs until I’ve dealt with the newcomers, I sneak a tiny peek over my shoulder at where Ethan and Stephanie stand talking to a mutual family friend.

My heart twists the tiniest bit at the sight of Ethan. In his gray slacks, perfectly tailored white shirt, and Burberry tie, he looks as well groomed and gorgeous as ever. He has the dark blond hair and broad shoulders better suited to Hollywood than the Manhattan business world, but luckily he’s got the brains and the charm to keep his head above water amid the Manhattan sharks.