Six months ago, Zoey’s life went off the rails. After the tragic loss of her brother, she partied her way to oblivion, estranged her best friend, Cass, and pushed away her now ex, Finn. But when her destructive behaviour reaches dangerous heights, Zoey realises she needs to pull herself together and get her old life back, including her ex. There’s just one complication: Finn is now dating Cass.
Now, it’s the last week of summer and Zoey, Cass and Finn are setting out on the road trip of a lifetime to see their favourite musician, Gray, perform live, joined by Finn’s infuriatingly attractive bad-boy cousin Luc and his vibrant younger sister Jolie. Zoey thinks this is her chance to put things to rights and convince Finn they should get back together. But she wasn’t counting on her friends’ lingering resentment, Luc’s disarming sincerity, and Jolie’s infectious love for life to turn her plans upside down.
This emotional coming-of-age story will resonate with anyone who’s ever messed up, fallen in love, or taken off on an adventure.
My plan to get back with my ex falters as soon as his new girlfriend—my best friend—opens her front door.
Maybe I haven’t completely lost my sense of decency after all.
Cass is wearing her favourite summer dress and a panicked expression. ‘I’m so not ready,’ she says, spinning on her heel and leaving me to follow her down the short hallway. ‘They’ll be here any minute.’ She stops in her bedroom doorway and looks back at me, her jaw hanging open. ‘What happened to you?’
My fingers go to the soft ends of my light brown hair. Last time she saw me it was bleached yellow with a pink stripe. I resist tugging at my shorts, or the hem of my tank top, which reveal exactly none of my bikini, for a change. ‘Nothing,’ I say.
Nothing except the wake-up call of passing out drunk behind the wheel of a car before I’d had a chance to start it, thank god. The realisation that I could have driven in that state still makes me shudder.
She must be stressed about the trip—she lets me get away with the blatant lie. ‘We’ll talk more about this transformation later,’ she says, entering her room. ‘I need help. What are you wearing to the concert?’
I follow. The contents of her wardrobe cover every surface of her tiny room. More items lie on her bed and floor than in the half-open suitcase that I nearly trip over in the doorway.
‘Melbourne will probably be cooler than here,’ I say. ‘I’ve packed jeans and a long skirt—I’ll decide on the night.’
‘You’re no help.’
I force a grin and hold up a pink-and-black striped jumpsuit that was draped over her lamp. ‘What about this?’
Her nose crinkles. ‘Don’t even joke about it. Mum bought it last week. She has a matching one. For dates.’ She shudders.
I drop the offending item and lean back against the doorframe. ‘This is a road trip, not the apocalypse.’ When she glares, I sigh, and hold up a cute denim skirt. The kind her boyfriend Finn—my ex—would love. Ignoring a pang of regret at sabotaging my own interests, I suggest, ‘What about this?’
She shakes her head. ‘Too cutesy.’
‘Guess I really am no help.’ I don’t mean to sound bitter, but it must come through.
She freezes, a black bra dangling from one hand, and gives me that concerned look she’s managed to perfect over the last six months. ‘I didn’t mean …’
I wave my hand, cutting her off. ‘It’s fine. I’m fine. So how did you convince your mum to let you come? I thought Finn’s presence would have been hard to ignore.’ Cass’s mum might be young and kind of cool in the scheme of things, but her daughter going on a road trip interstate to see a concert with her boyfriend isn’t something she’d normally allow.
‘She thinks it’s just us girls—thankfully she had an early shift at work.’ Cass’s cheeks redden. ‘I might have said you needed me for this final fling before Year 12
Maybe I should be annoyed that she’s used my grief over my brother’s death, but I’m not. It’s exactly the kind of thing the old me would have done. ‘I do need you,’ I
She rushes over to give me a hug I don’t deserve, then leans back and sighs. ‘We all missed you at camp.’
The annual musical theatre camp I’ve attended with Finn and Cass for the last three years is two weeks of mad rehearsals, ending with a stage production. Missing camp helped cement my decision to get my life back to the way it was before. Not singing hurt, but I’d been too busy partying my pain away to try out.
I figure if I can get back to the way I was before, everything else should fall into place.
I pretended I didn’t care at the time, but the lie won’t come now. ‘I hated not being there.’
Her eyes widen, as though my admission is an even bigger deal than the change in my appearance. ‘It wasn’t the same without you.’ She grins. ‘Although I probably
ended up with a better part because you weren’t there.’
‘Do not talk yourself down.’
She shrugs off my admonishment and returns to her dilemma, deliberating between black skinny leg pants and a super-short gold dress.
There’s a tap on the front door. Cass’s phone buzzes with a text at the same time. ‘Can you get the door?’ she asks me.
‘Sure.’ I must sound more casual than I feel because she doesn’t look up. She’s focused on her phone.
Maybe seeing Finn just isn’t that important to her.
I push the thought away. He’s not mine anymore. I hurt him and she was there to pick up the pieces. When Cass suggested this trip I was worried it would be awkward between the three of us, but she promised me it wouldn’t. If I’m right about who’s at the door, this will be the first test.
My heart is beating double time as I take the few steps down the hallway on shaky legs. It will be Finn, not his two cousins, who are also coming. I’d know his knock anywhere. I hesitate at the door and take a steadying breath.
And I realise this is the moment my transformation was for. The long afternoon at the hairdresser, digging out my old clothes and practising acting normal. Acting
like me again. It was all for Finn.
I haven’t seen him since … I can’t let myself think about it. Another screw-up in a long line over the last six months. Everything’s different now. I’m different.
But he’s with Cass.
I was supposed to accept the fact of their relationship because it was my fault they got together, but it still stings. They’re together. Sure, I wasn’t capable of being anyone’s girlfriend then, and I wasn’t much of a best friend either, but when we split up, he sought comfort in her arms.
I turn the knob and push open the door. My mouth dries.
His mouth curves up in that easy grin I’ve missed so much. There was a time when Finn smiling at me was so normal I could take it for granted. I’d give anything to feel like I did back then.
‘Hey, Zoey,’ he says.
‘Hey,’ I reply, instantly wishing I’d thought of something more interesting to say.
‘Looking good this morning.’
The warmth in his words takes me back to a time when Finn’s approval of an outfit and company on a date were my biggest concerns.
His compliment gives me an excuse to look at him in return, and I’m not disappointed. He’s his usual adorable self. Sun-streaked blond hair carefully spiked, perfect white teeth, eyes so blue they stand out like a splash of sky when he’s on stage. He’s all shower fresh and clean cut. ‘Not looking too bad yourself.’
He frowns and I realise I’m standing, blocking the doorway, staring at him.
I step back to let him pass. ‘She’s still packing.’
‘Great.’ As he moves inside he pauses. ‘It’s really great to see you.’
I hear everything he doesn’t say. Specifically, that I’m ‘back to normal.’
Unable to speak in case the lump in my throat exposes how un-normal I still am, I smile and step outside. I retrieve my bag from the front step and head across the small lawn under the pretence of checking out the van Finn’s hired for us to drive from Adelaide to Melbourne. We’ll fly home after the concert, to make sure we’re back before school starts.
Finn has left the rusted aqua and dirty-white van parked out on the roadside with the passenger doors flung open, exposing two rows of vinyl seats in the back, the last stretching the whole way across the width of the van.
Metal roof racks already have Finn’s bag and surfboard tied on. As I approach, I realise why he left it open. The musty smell hits me before I’m within touching distance. Once I would have known where the hell he got hold of it, but now I’m standing out here wondering, and he’s inside with Cass. Not for long, if things work out like I hope. It’s not that I want them to break up, exactly. More that I can’t stop thinking about the way things used to be. They need to see they’re better off as friends.
I lean back against the side of the van, lowering my sunglasses to shield my eyes from the early morning sun, and stifle a yawn. Hopefully my body clock will remember what mornings feel like when conscious and sober sometime before school starts next week.
I try to project cool and casual. Anything but the crazy mess I’ve been for the past six months.
My right hand wraps around my left wrist, enveloping the letters scrawled there.
The tattooed words my parents haven’t even noticed are lyrics from a song by Gray that’s become my anthem over the last few months.
A car pulls up at the kerb. It’s a fancy businessman’s ride with tinted windows and absolutely no personality. One of the back doors opens and a girl, maybe a year or
two younger than me, with a short blonde bob gets out and practically bounces around to the back. She bangs on the boot, calling, ‘Open up, please.’
So she’s one of Finn’s cousins. Cass said he promised they’ll be good company. I wondered why I didn’t know they existed, then focused on my relief that it won’t be only the three of us.
The boot pops up and the front doors of the car open. An older man climbs out the driver’s side, but it’s the other occupant who catches my attention.
The guy pushes dark shaggy hair off his face, revealing harsh angles and strong features that somehow combine to make a heart-stopping package, ruined by a grumpy glower. His long, straight, classic nose and fine neck are somehow at odds with his smouldering intensity, inky eyelashes and high cheekbones. Clean cut meets bad boy. His black T-shirt and fluoro boardies show off lean, tanned limbs.
Exactly the kind of guy I went looking for when I wanted to wipe everything from my brain. That blur of parties and bad boys got old fast, but not thinking had an appeal I couldn’t resist.
I’m over that now.
I’m tired of everyone worrying about Zoey the screwup, and I’m going to make it right. Locking eyes with darkly attractive guys who have surly expressions and feeling shivers snake down my spine is not on the agenda.
He doesn’t say a word, heading around to the back of the car. The moment of connection was probably all in my head. Both men are intent on helping the girl and keeping their distance from each other. With their matching broad shoulders and dark hair, they’re clearly father and son. And with their matching stiff backs and frowns, they’re clearly in the middle of an argument … or maybe a war.
The girl seems oblivious, chattering away about how the trip and the concert are a total dream come true.
They stack bags and a bodyboard on the grass and then the girl throws her arms around her dad’s neck. His eyes close as he holds her tight for a moment and then drops his hands to his side.
‘Don’t worry, Lucien will look after me. He promises.’
She glares at her brother. ‘Don’t you?’
The dad opens his mouth, and his eyes narrow. Parental lecture time. But then he closes it.
Father and son share a look. The summer air is so thick between them I swear the light breeze flows around rather than through.
The dad shoves his hands in the pockets of his shorts and shrugs, blowing air out through thin pursed lips. Something like amusement flashes across the hot guy’s face, then he turns his back to pick up a bag and the dad gets back in the car. The girl waves as he accelerates away down the small cul-de-sac, turns the corner and is gone.
As they head across the lawn I grab my bag and make my way around to the back of the van. But my plan to avoid the cousins fails—Mr Grumpy is already there. Refusing to let him see me scamper, no matter how much I want to, I pull at the back door and prepare to load my bag. Of course he moves to do the same thing with a floral case that must be his sister’s, and he’s right in the way.
His dark eyes sweep over me, head to foot, without lingering. ‘So you’re Zoey.’
I fight not to squirm beneath that knowing gaze. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
He shrugs, putting the case in first and then tossing a duffel bag into the back of the van. ‘It might not mean anything.’
He’s mocking me, this stranger who thinks he knows something about me. I heave my bag on top of his, ignoring the hand he offers grudgingly to help. ‘Except that it does. Well, whatever you think you know about me, it’s wrong.’
One brow arches. ‘You’re not the Zoey who broke my cousin’s heart?’
I glance towards the front of the house, where Finn and Cass stand, their heads close together. ‘He looks pretty fine to me,’ I say sweetly.
‘Luc,’ Finn calls.
The annoying guy turns and I’m left staring at his broad back as he lopes up the path towards his cousin. They do some blokey back slapping thing and then Finn turns to the slender girl. His whole face softens and he gives her one of his tender smiles. ‘Hey, cuz.’
She throws her arms around his neck. ‘It’s so great to see you,’ she says. Then, as I slowly cross the lawn to join them, she looks between me and Cass. ‘Hurry up and introduce us already. We have to get moving. Gray takes the stage in mere days.’
Finn shakes his head but he’s smiling as he performs the introductions. He gestures to his cousins first. ‘Luc, Jolie, this is Cass and Zoey.’
Instead of a nod or even a handshake, I find myself encased in an eager hug from Jolie. ‘It’s so nice to meet other Gray fans,’ she enthuses. ‘I can’t wait for the concert. Isn’t he just the best? And so hot.’
Luc’s dark eyes flick over Cass and me. ‘Hi.’
He couldn’t be less impressed. It’s not that I think I’m gorgeous, but after a few months of living in my slut clothes, as Cass often called them, I’m not used to being dismissed so easily. I bet he’d react if I was wearing my leather mini and sparkly bra-top, but showing skin for attention was never one of my better ideas. The interest it generated did nothing to fill the emptiness inside me.
I mumble ‘Hi,’ back at him and Cass smiles, her hand in Finn’s.
Jolie waves at the old van. ‘Isn’t it perfect? I always wanted to do a road trip in a kombi. And that blue says summer to me.’
Obediently we all look at the van. It’s bright in the sunshine and it does make me feel like adventure is ahead. There’s a buzz in the warm morning air. The trip we’ve been planning over the last few weeks is about to begin, and the possibilities are endless.
‘The blue might say summer, but what does the rust say?’ Luc’s expression would be better suited to someone about to have a filling than a holiday.
Jolie ignores him. ‘I think we’ll call her Beryl.’ She crosses the lawn and stretches her arms across the bonnet.
‘Beryl, this is going to be the best trip ever. I know it.’
I can’t help sneaking a glance at Finn’s familiar profile.
I hope Jolie’s right.
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