Five Months Earlier …
It was the kind of day that was made for kissing, Sophia London thought, and immediately wished she hadn’t.
Still, there was no denying it. Blue sky, puffy clouds, rich buttery light that gave everything it touched a slight golden sheen, turning skin luminous and the grass that bordered Beverly Boulevard a rich green. Behind her, her younger sister Ava tried to coax her puppy, Popcorn, away from a particularly delectable fire hydrant. It was warm with a hint of breeze, just enough to make you want to nestle against someone’s neck and get them laughing as your hair tickled their nose …
Stop it, Sophia told her brain.
And no checking messages, she ordered her hand, already on its way to the pocket of her bright coral blazer.
Sophia caught her hand sneaking back toward the pocket and rerouted it to check the bow at the neck of her lacy cream blouse. There wasn’t a message; there wouldn’t be a message. There shouldn’t be a message.
So why did she care so much? Her life was pretty much perfect—ideal, she corrected herself, just the way it was. Sure it was a lot of work, but it was still amazing, a dream. What else could you call waking up every morning in Los Angeles, a place where the weather was almost always fantastic and you could find yourself in line at the supermarket next to someone you’d been watching on TV the night before? Living in Hollywood with Ava, seeing where they could take the London Calling brand, every day a new adventure—she had everything she needed.
And yet there were days, days like this one when everyone around her seemed to be living in a romantic comedy movie montage, strolling arm in arm and feeding each other strawberries from a farm stand and talking about what movie to see and smiling up into each other’s eyes and giggling for no reason and running to catch lights and exchanging quick, intense kisses …
Days like this Sophia felt a little lonely. As she toyed with the ends of her blond hair she thought that it didn’t help that today was—would have been, she corrected herself—her third anniversary with Clay Cutter, the football player with the boyish smile she’d dated from the summer after her freshman year of college until three months earlier. She could still picture him standing there in his tuxedo, his face all gorgeous and intense in the light of the full moon, could still smell the slight perfume from the red rose boutonniere she’d pinned to his lapel, could hear the sounds of music and laughter from the Valentine’s Day formal behind them, could feel the fingers of cold creeping over her as he said—
“Do you think I should shave my head?”
The sound of Ava’s voice next to her jolted Sophia out of the memory, but it took her a moment to register what she’d heard. Ava and Popcorn shot by her so she had to rush to catch up with them. “Did you just ask if you should shave your head?”
Ava nodded, her dark brown ponytail bobbing up and down. “I was trying to see if you were listening.” Popcorn zigzagged across the pavement in front of them, rushing from side to side to sniff at everything. “Do you have any idea what I’ve been talking about for the last five minutes?”
“Of course,” Sophia said, pretending to be hurt by the accusation.
Ava moved her eyes from Popcorn to her sister. “Really? Pinkie swear?”
Sophia sighed and her shoulders sagged. “Well. No.”
Ava stopped walking, much to the dismay of Popcorn who began popping up and down at the end of his leash like he was trying to live up to his name. Crossing her arms over her chest, she said, “Are you finally going to tell me what’s wrong?”
Sometimes Sophia wished that Ava didn’t know her as well as she did. It was like being scrutinized in a slightly-too-effective magnifying mirror.
“It’s Clay, isn’t it?” Ava said, her eyes filled with sympathy.
“Yeah, I guess I’m still feeling a little bruised.” Sophia let out a deep breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. Just saying it out loud made her feel a little better. Acknowledging how one minute she’d been a princess in a fairy tale heading into the Happily Ever After sunset with her Prince Charming and the next she’d been frozen on the steps of her sorority house, staring into the empty space where he’d stood, back at square Once Upon a Time and wanting to be anywhere but there.
“Alright, I know just what you need.” Ava nodded positively, pulling out her phone. “I’m staging a sistervention.”
And that—as well as some string pulling by their connected-to-everyone-and-their-housekeeper neighbor Lily van Alden—was how half an hour later Sophia found herself seated at the coveted corner table on the patio at Toast with Ava, Popcorn, Lily, MM (no one knew what the initials stood for but when asked he said, “It’s pronounced mmmm mmmmm like the Campbell’s Soup ads, because I’m that good”), MM’s new boyfriend Sven, and a massive cinnamon roll.
“No pausing!” Ava ordered. “And no sharing! You have to eat the whole thing right away for the cure to work.”
“Cinnamon rolls are not medicine,” Sophia said, hastily taking the pastry back from MM.
“Wow, remind me to get Ava a prison guard uniform next time I’m shopping with you two,” MM whispered to Sophia.
She and Ava had met MM one day when they were having coffee at a Starbucks between appointments, before they’d even moved to LA. They’d already had three meetings that morning and were so exhausted they weren’t even talking. Then out of nowhere this guy about Sophia’s age had come up to them, said, “You two are adorable. Is that jacket vintage or vintage nouveau? I’m a stylist and have a client who would die for it.” They spent the next hour chatting and made a shopping date for the next day. That’s when they discovered he was not just a stylist but on his way to becoming the go-to stylist for young Hollywood after making a splash with what the blogs called his “boho-mod” look. As fashionistas themselves, he was a good person to know. But it was clear from day one that he was more than just a professional contact—he was an instant BFF.
Now he was eyeing Ava with a combination of surprise and fear. “I wouldn’t have thought Little London had it in her. She’s scary when she’s like this.”
Sophia nodded. “You think this is frightening, you should see her on her third cup of—”
“No talking!” Ava said sternly. “And you”—she looked hard at MM—“stop distracting her or I’ll sick the guard dog on you.” She held Popcorn up and made growling noises, but his menacing appearance was reduced by the way he started licking her face all over.
“I am unsure,” Sven said to MM with a concerned frown. “Which one is it who we should be scared of?”
Sophia nearly choked on the coffee she was sipping, and everyone else cracked up too except Sven, who continued to look confused.
Which was pretty much his standard expression—whether because he didn’t understand English well or because, as Lily thought, all the cells that should have gone to his brain went instead to making him godlike in his handsomeness, was unclear.
He and the super-outgoing MM were opposites not just socially but physically as well. MM was barely five and a half feet tall with cinnamon-colored skin, dark curly hair, and a wiry, lean physique, while Sven, a foot taller and blond, with the chiseled proportions of a bodybuilder, looked like he could hoist MM with one bicep. MM was always cleverly dressed with every detail attended to like the way the penny in his just-the-right-amount-beat-up loafers was tarnished the same color as the band on his coconut-husk fedora; Sven, on the other hand, wore only warm-up suits with the names of Eastern European countries on the back. And yet, somehow their relationship seemed to be working.
How, a tiny voice inside Sophia’s head asked. How come they could do it and she couldn’t?
Glancing across the table and seeing Ava’s eyes on her, she quickly pushed the thought into a corner of her mind, stopped shredding the napkin she’d been destroying in her lap, tucked a stray strand of blond hair behind her ear, and broadened her smile. She really appreciated what Ava was trying to do and she wanted her to know that her sistervention had been a success.
She whispered, “Thank you,” and was rewarded with a big grin from Ava. They spent the next twenty minutes being entertained by Lily, who launched into a guided tour of the plastic surgery on display at the tables around them.
Although Lily’s thick, wavy blond hair, olive skin, light green eyes, and perfectly symmetrical features were natural, she’d been raised around so much plastic surgery that she was an expert and she prided herself on her ability to recognize different doctors’ work. Or, as she called them, “market enhancements.”
It was one of the legacies of growing up in LA as the great-granddaughter, granddaughter, daughter, and niece of movie stars. Despite having the looks and the storied van Alden name, she’d chosen not to follow in her ancestors’ footsteps. When Ava, who had a secret fantasy about being in movies, asked her why, Lily said, “I want to watch movies, not live them. Like a normal person. That way I get all of the perks without the stint in rehab.”
Lily’s version of “normal” wasn’t exactly, well, normal though. Like the way Sophia and Ava had met her when she’d knocked on the door of their apartment the day after they’d moved in, introduced herself as their neighbor, and asked if they had any lace doilies she could borrow because she had to go to a black-tie dinner that night and she had nothing to wear. They’d lent her a dress instead, which she’d worn backward and somehow landed on four Best Dressed of the Week lists, and they’d been friends ever since.
Now Lily was excitedly zooming in on a woman three tables away who was a prime example of the latest in nose jobs—“You see how the curve of her nose plays off the curve of her chin? That is true artistry!”—when Sophia’s pocket started to buzz.
Sophia jumped. She’d been so distracted she’d forgotten to think about checking it but now her heart began to race. It won’t be him, she told herself sternly.
Still her fingers were shaking with excitement as she reached into her pocket to pull it out and turned the screen toward her.
It wasn’t him. You knew it wouldn’t be, she reminded herself. And yet—
“Anyone exciting?” Lily asked.
Sophia swallowed hard and kept her eyes down, blinking back the tears that were burning at the corners. “Just my date from the other night,” she said.
Lily lost interest in the nose and directed her green eyes to Sophia. “Wasn’t that the doctor who started talking to you in line at Starbucks?” she asked, excited now. “The one who seemed nice? Spinner?”
“Skinner,” Sophia corrected. “He was nice and smart. And he made me laugh, a lot. And he likes me.”
“But…” Ava prompted.
“But.” Sophia flashed them a gorgeous smile. “He collects spiders.”
Ava goggled at her. “You just made that up!”
“No,” Sophia said brightly. “He claims they are the only ecological pet.”
“This is a fact,” Sven confirmed, nodding vigorously. “The spiders they are very good pets.”
For a moment everyone just stared at Sven. MM patted him on the thigh, said, “Thanks for that, sweetie,” and returning to Sophia asked, “So, how long did you last?”
Sophia’s fingers picked at the edge of her napkin. “I made it through the main course but left before dessert.” She looked at Ava. “I’m afraid you had an emergency.”
“Always glad to help,” Ava said. “Was it something gross?”
Sophia shook her head. “You locked yourself out of the house. In your pajamas.”
“Nice detail. I like that better than the time I was lost in the Valley.” Ava sighed.
“How come you never use me?” Lily wanted to know. “I’m dying to be locked in a Tijuana jail.”
“That can be arranged,” MM said. He ignored Lily sticking her tongue out at him and went back to Sophia. “Is that a new record? Making it through the main course is longer than your last date, right?”
“Yes.” Sophia sighed, shredding another inch of her napkin. She had no problem getting dates, it was just getting through them could be a challenge. “I left that one before the food even came.”
Lily leaned her chin on the palm of her hand and assumed a look of intense concentration. “Was he the agent who brought the fake bug so you could get your entrée free, or the screenwriter who interrogated the waitress about whether the pine nuts were harvested during the day or by moonlight and if she could ask the chef precisely where the striped bass was caught because he didn’t eat fish from certain latitudes? Or was he the one who talked about himself like he wasn’t there and in all caps?”
“BLAIN KNIGHT!” Ava yelled happily, then lowering her voice two octaves, “BLAIN KNIGHT! would like a double cappuccino!”
Sophia dumped a handful of shredded napkin snow onto the table. “None of those. It was that real estate developer who tried to convince me to go see his therapist because she’d really helped him and he could finally admit to his mother it was him that stole her lace underwear when he was twelve, not his sister.”
“I can’t believe you left that one so early,” Lily said, meaning it. “Just think what else he could have shared. But I like the spider one best. He reminds me of the Buddhist guy who refused to exterminate his cockroach-infested apartment because the roaches might have been his reincarnated ancestors.”
“Gross!” Ava and Sophia said in unison.
“Yeah, I totally bugged out,” Lily said, grinning at MM’s groan. “But that’s why I decided to do a boytox.”
“A what?” Sophia asked.
Lily’s eyes got huge. She turned and grabbed Sophia’s wrists and said, “You should do it with me. It will totally help with your dating block.”
“I don’t have a dating block.” Sophia tried to gently pull away. “It’s just that I think I attract weird men. Seriously … who else here can say they have gone on dates with such strange guys? All of whom were perfect on paper and very good looking.
Lily kept hold of her wrists. “Uh, Spider-Man, BLAIN KNIGHT!, and lace underwear guy sound like a dating block to me. Something is out of balance about the romantic energy you’re sending out, so you’re attracting the wrong kind of person. I learned all about it in my ‘use your energy to save the world’ seminar.”
Ava’s dark ponytail slid over her shoulder as she tilted her head to one side and said, “But what is a boytox?”
Lily addressed the whole table. “A boytox is like a cleanse, but for your personal life. I read about it in a magazine.” On her left MM began folding his napkin into a noose. Lily ignored him and went on. “It’s a way to clear out stagnant dating energy. Like after you end a relationship. A lot of times after a breakup people distract themselves by taking ‘manex,’ which means having flings or going on dates with lots of different people. But that just leads to more negative energy. The way to heal is to stop going on dates entirely—do a total boytox. If someone asks you out, you automatically say no. It takes away the pressure of thinking you should be dating.”
Sophia frowned. “I’m not sure that sounds fun.”
Lily shook her head emphatically, sending a wave of thick golden hair swinging back and forth. “It’s the complete opposite of that. I know someone who knows someone who did it and said it’s the best way to meet men. It’s like they can smell your unavailability. So while you’re avoiding bad dates, you’re meeting tons of guys and then when you’re done with your boytox, you can choose the ones you connect with. Think of it like being at a fat-free buffet, all the choice and none of the downside.”
Sometimes I go to buffets just to look at the food, but then I don’t eat any of it. Is it like that?” MM asked.
Lily ignored him and stayed focused on her sales pitch. “If not for yourself, do it for me. In fact, let’s all do it together in a spirit of sisterdarity.”
“I don’t know…” Sophia said. She looked at Ava. “What do you think?”
Ava toyed with her fork for a minute, looking torn, then spent a little too much time straightening the napkin in her lap. But when she finally looked back up she gave a smile and said, “Sure. So, how long does a boytox last?”
A nail polish collection the size of a nail salon
Being forced to eat an entire large cinnamon roll yourself. Rude.
Boys who collect spiders
People who talk about themselves in all caps
Puppies who don’t act menacing when you need them to
Ava after more than one cup of coffee
Sophia before one cup of coffee
Copyright © 2012 by Elle and Blair Fowler