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Have you ever woken up and expected to see destruction everywhere?
In 48 hours, I lost everything. I came home to find my girlfriend of four years with another man. The next day a plane crash ripped my family away from me, shattering me in the process. In many ways, I died that day, too. The fun-loving man who’d lived in the fast lane and loved his career in the film industry was gone. Left was a forty-year-old shell that dwelled at the bottom of a bottle.
Only one person knew what I was going through. My sister’s stepson, who hadn’t been on the plane. Julian knew what it was like to lose everyone he loved, too. He’d stopped showing up at reunions when he was a teenager, so I didn’t know him very well. But I told him at the memorial service he could come out and visit me in LA whenever. One day he did, and I guessed it was as good a day as any to start picking up the pieces and see what was left of us.
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I was usually exhausted after a day of traveling. I’d woken up in New York, flown to LA to pack some essentials at my place there, and now I was home. Mendocino. Northern California, where the summers were stunning enough to knock the air out of your lungs, where I was away from the Hollywood noise, and where I had my last name painted on an old-fashioned mailbox outside my house.
It was a different world, and tonight, I wasn’t drained. It had been two long months without Emma. I was ready for a spectacular night—me and my girl.
We needed it.
I just had to wrap up the phone call with my sister first.
“Noah, are you even listening to me?” Mia asked.
“Yeah, sure.” I got off the interstate, the roads empty in the small town. “You were saying something about jet lag.”
My sister lived with her family in Berlin. With Emma and me in Cali, Mia in Germany, and our folks in Pittsburgh, we only got together—all of us—once a year. This time, we were heading for Disney in Florida. I couldn’t give two shits about roller coasters, but it’d be nice for my niece and nephew.
They’d flown in from Germany today, meeting up with our parents in Philly where they’d spend the night, and then tomorrow everyone was flying down to Orlando.
Emma and I would join them in a couple days.
“You can complain when you travel as much as I do,” I said.
Mia huffed. “You used to be nicer.”
What the hell? “No, I didn’t.” I chuckled and adjusted my earpiece. “It’s my job to annoy you.” But I supposed I could play nice for one night. I was the one, after all, who had called her. “I wanted to check in.”
“In the middle of the night?” she whined.
“When you sound like that, I forget you’re forty-three,” I noted.
“When I see your face, I forget you’re forty,” she mocked.
Was that an insult?
I checked the rearview mirror and drew a hand over my jaw. Sophie, one of my closest friends, had used the word distinguished last time I saw her. I kinda dug that.
“You know what might stop the whining?” I asked. “Moving back stateside. No more jet lag, and you wouldn’t deprive your kids of seeing more of their favorite uncle.”
“Only uncle,” she snickered. “But speaking of, we’ve actually discussed moving back home.” That was certainly good news. I knew our folks missed them like crazy, especially the kids. “Makes sense now that Julian’s graduated from uni, and James can easily find a good position at the New York office. Or maybe the one in Philly.”
“Jesus,” I muttered. “Julian’s that old already?”
He was James’s son from his first marriage, and the kid couldn’t have been more than sixteen last time I saw him. He was always too busy with school and friends to come to reunions.
“Twenty-three,” my sister replied dryly. “One might think you’d know, or did you get some PA to send the card to him two weeks ago?”
I winced and made a turn to get onto my street. “There was a gift too, wasn’t there?” But yeah, it was possible my assistant had taken care of it. Last month, I’d been balls deep in post-production.
“Money,” she said. “We were hoping to throw him a graduation party in Orlando. We’re so proud of him—two majors and all—but—”
“Wait up.” I slowed down the car in front of my house, my eyes narrowing.
The driveway was full. Emma’s Mercedes was in its place, but there was a brand-new lookin’ truck, too. If she’d made another impulse buy, I’d be irritated as fuck.
“Looks like I have a fight to come home to,” I told Mia. I killed the engine and sighed. We could catch up in a few days, and I’d see Julian then, too. No need to hear everything about him right now.
“Uh-oh.” She chuckled. “What did she do this time?”
I grunted and got out of the rental. “She might’ve bought another car.”
I was torn between anger and feeling like a prick. Emma didn’t use to be materialistic, but something had changed this year. We’d argued more, and I’d been gone a lot… I wasn’t sure. Then again, every time I asked her to come with me—hell, I’d even offered to take on fewer projects—she wouldn’t have it.
Sometimes, it felt like she was picking fights as a way of punishing me, but she was a good person. And maybe I was reading too much into things.
“Uh, Noah?” My sister’s voice was tinted with wariness. “You’re a day early, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, so?” I grabbed my bag from the back and slammed the trunk shut. “I told you—I got all this romantic shit planned. We gotta talk and solve our problems.”
“Okay. Yes. Christ, let Sophie and Brooklyn be wrong.” She sighed, and I was confused. I didn’t know she was that close with my friends. “Just…call me if you need me, all right?”