January 11, 2008


Emily Bellecastle had an idea in her mind of how she wanted the morning to go.

Instead of driving, she would ride her bike over to the Budds’ house. The front basket of her bike would be full of flowers picked fresh from her mother’s garden, and would also hold the vintage Polaroid camera her boyfriend Alexander had gotten her two years before. She’d share a sisterly hug with Lillian and a passionate but short clinch with Alexander. Then, after some snapshots (two goofy, one serious) she would look into her boyfriend’s eyes and promise that no matter how long he was gone—two weeks or even a month—she would never forget him.

As they pulled away, she had planned to make the sort of dramatic scene that Alexander would have loved: standing in the middle of the street, she would wave her handkerchief after his quickly disappearing car, as though he were leaving forever. Her crying eyes would be covered by a large pair of sunglasses, and a discreet scarf would cover her hair. Au revoir! Au revoir, my love!

It didn’t quite turn out that way. First, she was run out of her mother’s garden by her mother’s gardener before she could pick a single flower. Second, her camera was out of film and only the camera shops still carried the old kind of film it used. Finally, she couldn’t decide what to wear. She knew the sunglasses and scarf were perfect—Alexander would love it—but what about the rest of her? By the time she finally settled on a pair of capri pants and a fitted top, she realized that she was running late.

The bike ride was a little longer and a lot hotter than she’d anticipated. Even at nine o’clock in the morning, New Orleans in June was not the Proper place for a head scarf. Just around the corner from Alexander’s house, she realized that it was just sticking to the side of her face and she ripped it off and threw it in the bike’s empty basket. Unfortunately, the scarf grabbed a barrette on the way off and she had to stop her bike to fix her hair.

Frustrated, she snatched the scarf back up and, removing her sunglasses, wiped off her face. She looked up at the sky…though hot and humid, it was actually a bit overcast. No need for sunglasses, really. Defiantly, though, she slipped them back on and pushed her bike around the corner to the Budds’ house.

There were two cars parked in front of the house. The first was a non-descript sedan that might as well have had UNMARKED POLICE CAR stenciled on the side of it. A full-faced man with graying red hair turned his head to watch her in the side mirror as soon as she came into view. Emily ignored him.

The second car was—“Oh, fuck me.”—an ActionNews 12 van. Of course, the whole street had been crammed with local news crews two weeks ago, when Lucas Budd had been arrested, but Emily thought they would have all cleared out by now. Then again, not a lot happens in a Louisiana summer.

The passenger door opened and a young lady hopped out, taking one last bite of a danish and grabbing a microphone off the floor. She was smartly dressed in a cute no-name skirt and matching blazer. Emily knew who she was: Alyssa something. The boys in The Gang had recently wasted a Thursday evening compiling (and loudly debating) a list of the “hottest” local newscasters. Though not the winner, Alyssa had ranked high on their final list. In real life, though, Emily saw just how much make-up she wore and how that only barely hid her poor skin.

“Ms. Bellecastle? A word?”

Emily laid her bike down on the driveway and looked around, as though the reporter were talking to someone just behind her. “Uh, how did you know my name?”

The reporter offered her hand, and Emily took it slowly. “Alyssa Beam, ActionNews 12. I covered your father’s press conference after the lawsuit over you was filed last year.” She smiled, turning her head to the side. “You looked so cute up there in that peach dress. What was that, Dior?


“And how are your parents, anyway?” Alyssa Beam asked. Emily’s mother had been an infamous New Orleans debutante who’d left home at 17, traveling the world as the high-profile girlfriend of minor rock stars and B-list actors, before finally marrying a wildly-successful international financier who was only 32 years older than her. Thanks to her mother, Emily was one of the cutest girls at Beaumonde, and thanks to her father, she was certainly the richest. This made her the ideal candidate to be Alexander’s girlfriend.

Emily started to answer, but the large side door to the van slid open and a skinny cameraman hopped out. He flipped on a bright lamp on top of the camera, and a small red light came on just over the lens. Emily jumped back with a yelp and, on instinct, raised both of her middle fingers in front of her face.

The skinny cameraman laughed, but Alyssa stopped smiling and cocked her head to the other side. She frowned a little, like Emily was a difficult toddler. “Now, there’s no reason to be rude…”

Emily didn’t answer, backing a bit farther up the driveway. She still stared at the scene through both of her middle fingers. The cameraman took a step towards her, but stayed on the sidewalk. “It’s so we’ll have to blur her face,” he chuckled.

“Yeah, no kidding,” Alyssa whispered back. “Let me do my job.”

But Emily had already gotten out of their earshot and turned her back on them. Her cell phone began vibrating in her pocket, and she fished it out. She could still feel the camera’s attention on her back; she hoped she didn’t have a wedgie from riding her bike.

The caller ID said Alexander and she flipped her phone open. “Well, congratulations: you finally got the media circus you’ve always wanted.”

“Emily?” It was Alexander and Lillian’s mother, Anita Monroe-Budd.


“Emily, don’t talk to that girl!”

“What? I wasn’t!” Emily turned around a little, and saw that the cameraman had inched a few feet onto the driveway. She pointed at the ground at his feet and yelled “Private property! Private property!”


“I’m here! I just came over to say goodbye to Alexander and Lillian, can somebody let me in?”

“Oh, Emily, honey, we’re really busy right now. We’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off.”

“I know, I’m not-”

“I’m afraid we don’t have any time for a big scene. Alexander will call you when the three of us get settled in Lafayette. Okay, sweetheart?”

Emily heard the van door shut behind her…the cameraman had gotten back in. Alyssa Beam still stood on the sidewalk, though, her microphone by her side. One of them had stood her bike up and put the kickstand down.

“But all I want to do is say goodbye…” Emily hated the wet pleading in her voice.

“I know, I know,” Anita Monroe-Budd said, in a soothing but distracted voice. “Don’t worry, three months isn’t that long-”

Three months?”

“I know it seems like a long time now, but it’s not. And if we decide to come back in the fall, you’ll be the first to know…”

Emily straightened up immediately. “What do you mean, if? You mean you might not come back?”

“No, no…we plan on coming back, we really do. But we’ll just have to see how the youknowwhat turns out. We can’t exactly make 100% definite plans in this situation. You understand, don’t you?”

“I guess so,” Emily said. They might not come back! “Well, uh…well, maybe I can visit you guys over the summer, then?”

There was some sort of commotion on Anita’s end of the line. “Alexander, I said two suitcases, period…no, that certainly does count as a suitcase.”

“Are you there?”

“Emily, dear, I have to go. We’ll call you when we get there.”

“Okay…” She said, but the line was already dead. Taking a few backward steps, Emily looked up at Alexander’s window, and she was surprised to see his silhouette in the window. She waved at him, then gestured for him to come down. He didn’t respond, and after a few minutes she realized that, with the still-rising sun in her eyes, she couldn’t tell if he was facing the window and silently watching her, or if he had his back to it. A few seconds later he moved off to the side, and it was the last she saw of him.

With a shaking sigh, she walked back to her bike. No, the morning hadn’t turned out the way she’d imagined at all. As she pushed her bike back to the street, Alyssa Beam came back over to her. “Now do you have anything to say?”

“Moisturize?” Emily offered, hopping on her bike. As she pedaled away, the man in the police car folded down his newspaper and watched her pass without interest.

Five minutes later, Emily sat at an abandoned bus stop drying her eyes on a not-too-sweaty part of the head scarf. Don’t cry, you baby, she told herself. Alexander wouldn’t want you to cry for him. No, wait, he totally would, but he’d at least want you to do it in front of him.

A middle-aged jogger passed her, his eyes mirrored by hideous Oakleys. Emily watched him pass, snuffling a little to herself. He doubled back and stared at her, jogging in place. “You cool?”


“Hold on.” He took one of his headphones out of his ear. “Are you cool? You’re crying?”

“No, no…I’m fine. Thanks, though.”

The man was still jogging in place. “’Cause if you want to talk about it…”

“What? No. I’m okay.” She laughed a little, but it didn’t sound terribly convincing.

“Suit yourself,” the man shrugged. “I’ll be back by in, let’s see, 24 minutes. If you change your mind.”

That’s great, I’ll keep that in mind. “Mom, Dad…this is my new boyfriend. He’s twice my age, but he’s such a good listener! Oh, how did we meet? Funny you should ask: I was crying at a bus stop and he came jogging by…”

Emily sat staring at traffic for a few minutes. Two more joggers passed her as she folded her scarf up (Who are these people? It’s nine-thirty, don’t they have jobs?) and decided whom to call first. Probably Michael Karlinoff, Lillian’s boyfriend, but she guessed he already knew. With a quick flash of jealously, she wondered if he got to say goodbye to Lillian. Or, oh god, was he in the house when she came over? That would be…that would be so unfair.

She wished she’d come off a little better with Anita Monroe-Budd. Emily was usually more self-possessed around adults, but today she wasn’t herself. And then she had made that stupid joke to Alyssa Beam, who had registered a quick wounded shock beneath her professional demeanor. Emily had actually hurt her feelings…which made sense, since Alyssa had probably had skin trouble since she was Emily’s age and now her face was her job. Emily knew she shouldn’t have taken her frustration out on her.

A bus pulled up and opened its door. Emily smiled at the driver—an older, but muscular, black guy—and watched to see who was getting off. Nobody stood up from their seat, though. The driver turned towards her, and Emily waved at him a little.

“What’s up?” the driver called to her.

“What do you mean? Oh! No, god, sorry…I was just sitting here. I have my bike.”

Slowly and almost sadly, the driver shook his head at her as he closed the door. With a blast of dark fumes, the bus jolted back into traffic. Emily sighed and watched it move down the street. She knew what she had to do.

Alyssa Beam sat in the ActionNews van, going through the email on her Blackberry. She had five new messages, but all of them were dumb forwards from her mom. Is there anything more depressing than an inbox full of mail from your mom and all the subject lines begin with ‘fwd:’? Well, at least her mom wasn’t trying to get her to move back to Tulsa.

Derek, the skinny cameraman, sat in the back of the van in one of his yoga poses, going through a pocket dictionary with a highlighter. He’d been doing this for a few hours now, and always in a really obvious way that meant he wanted Alyssa to ask him about it. She refused to give in, though, if only on principle. Though admittedly something of a show-off herself, she deplored the trait in others.

There was a quick blur to her right and then a tapping on her window, right by her head. Alyssa jumped and cried out, then rolled down her window. Standing on the sidewalk, straddling her bike, was the Bellecastle kid from a few minutes before. Alyssa wished she could remember her first name.

“Hey. Jesus, I didn’t see you come up.”

“Sorry,” the girl said. (Was it Amelia? No, Emily!) “I just came back to say that it was shitty of me, what I said.”

“Why, what did you say?”

“You know, about moisturizing?” Emily mumbled.

“Oh. Uh, it’s okay.” Alyssa shrugged. “I’m pretty tough.”

“I was just upset, you know? But it wasn’t cool to take it out on you.”

Alyssa glanced at her cell-phone and put it in her lap. “Well, it was cool of you to come back like this. Very…ha. I was about to say ‘very mature,’ but then I remembered I wasn’t your grandma.”

Emily smiled at her, brushing her bangs out of her face. She really was a cute girl…Alyssa wondered what she was doing with the Budd kid, who was by her esteem a couple rungs down the cuteness ladder.

“So, why didn’t you stick around to see your boyfriend leave?”

Emily’s face fell. “They’re already gone?”

“Yeah, they pulled out a few minutes after you left.”


“They’re just going away for the summer, right? It’s for the best, it really is. Things are pretty crazy here with their dad and all. You can understand why their mom doesn’t want to be around.”

“Yeah, I know.” Emily looked up the street and put her foot up on one of her pedals, about to push off. “How did you know I was dating Alexander?”

“My keen journalistic instincts. Hey, it’s pretty crazy about their dad, huh? Did you ever see him acting weird or anything?” Alyssa winced even as she said it, at the way she must have sounded.

Emily rolled her eyes. “Heh. Nice try.”

“Hey, just doing my job.” She started digging in her purse, a Louis Vuitton that Alyssa put in her lap, hoping Emily saw the logo. “Look, here’s my card. If you want to talk—on the record, off the record, whatever—give me a call.”

Alyssa watched Emily chuckle at the card. Alyssa had two sets of business cards; one was totally professional, but the other was for people she was trying to loosen up. Along with her phone numbers and email address, it said:

Alyssa Beam
Big-Time Reporter
ActionNews 12

“Well, don’t count on it,” Emily said, tucking the card in her back pocket.

“I’m not. Hey, be careful on your bike.”

“I will, grandma,” Emily said, pushing off. Only too late did Alyssa realize she should have asked Emily something about her dad’s lawsuit. And then she got bummed out thinking about how she would have bungled that, too, with that insincere “just rappin’ with the kids” tone she’d somehow developed since becoming a reporter. I’m only 24, she thought. Am I already too old to talk to teenagers?

Alyssa happened to glance over at the Budd house and did a double-take. Standing in the large picture window, the curtains pulled back just enough, an unshaven Lucas Budd watched Emily ride away.

“Derek.” Alyssa twisted around in her seat. “Derek!”

“What?” The cameraman looked up slowly from the dictionary, his highlighter poised.

“…never mind.” As soon as Emily had turned the corner, the curtains had twitched and Lucas Budd had retreated back into his dark and newly empty house.