Chapter One: Aubrie
Those words are meant to evoke glorious, sun-filled afternoons lying by the pool or in the sand. Summer vacation is supposed to be relaxing, stress free, an escape from the daily struggles of normal life.
As I lugged my suitcase up the front steps of my dad’s huge Colorado house, I knew my summer vacation would include absolutely none of that stuff.
Two weeks before the end of the semester, I got a call from my stepmother. Julia was an ex-supermodel, and although she was pushing forty, she was still drop-dead gorgeous. She didn’t do photo shoots anymore, and so she spent most of her time organizing charity events and appearing on minor fashion TV programs. I could still remember what I was doing just before I picked up the phone that day: booking a plane ticket to L.A. to stay with a friend. Just before I could click “Confirm,” she called, almost like she had a sixth sense for anything fun about to happen.
Stupidly, I answered. “Hello?”
“Aubrie? Hi, sweetie!”
“Hi, Jules. How are you?”
“Oh I’m great. How are you? Semester is almost over, right?”
“Yeah. Two weeks from now.”
“Wow, that’s so amazing. Look at you. Almost a senior.”
“I know, it’s crazy.”
“Listen, sweetie, what are you doing this summer?”
I should have lied. I should have told her that I had already made super-important plans, which was only half a lie, since my plans were mostly beach oriented. Instead, I told the truth. Like an idiot.
“Well, I might go out to L.A. with a friend and just hang out all summer.”
“Oh that would be so fun. But listen. I need a huge favor?”
I should have just hung up the phone.
“What is it?”
“We’re having a few charity gatherings this summer, all held near your dad’s place in Boulder. I was really hoping you’d consider coming home and helping me organize it all.”
I should have screamed no. I should have thrown my phone down and ran the other way. I should have clicked “Confirm” and never thought about it again.
“Do you really need me?” I asked instead.
“Oh, I really, really do. And it would mean so much to your dad to have you home all summer. You know how he misses you.”
That was it. She had me. She knew exactly what to say to guilt me into canceling all of my plans (hot surfer guys, lots of sun, reading too many books) and making the long trek out to Boulder, Colorado.
Which was how I ended up lugging my suitcase into my dad’s big foyer two weeks later.
“Hello?” I called out. The place was eerily quiet. The only sound was the cab I had taken from the airport turning around and driving off.
I looked around the empty space. Home again. Or, back to one of my dad’s several homes again. He was a pretty successful businessman turned director and producer, and that kept him busy. Our main house was the Boulder estate, which was where I grew up, though he had places in New York and Napa Valley as well. Despite the film industry gigs, he wasn’t much of a Hollywood person and preferred to live as far away from there as possible.
As I moved into the large main building, I looked around. It looked exactly the same as it had the last time I was there briefly during Thanksgiving, which was actually pretty surprising. Jules loved to redecorate. Like, she loved it a little too much. For a while, the whole place was purple and had this weird Arabian Nights theme going on. That is, until she watched The Lion King and suddenly everything was safari.
I liked Jules. I liked her a lot. She was kind and caring and one of the most genuine people I had ever met in my life. She laughed at my jokes and took an interest in what I said and did. But she wasn’t the brightest bulb.
Frankly, she was a little dumb.
But she was so sweet. I hated being mean to her, even just mentally, but I couldn’t help it. Jules was like a Golden Retriever: loyal, fun-loving, always happy, but a little bit slow.
“Hello?” I called out again as I made my way into the kitchen.
I sighed. It was typical of my family to completely forget about me. Dad was probably somewhere going through his latest film footage, and Jules had probably gotten distracted by a shiny, faux-vintage vase at some fancy, fake secondhand shop over in town.
As I dropped my bag and opened the refrigerator to grab something to drink, I heard an incredibly strange noise. It was somewhere between a grunt and a moan, almost as if someone were having sex in the next room over.
But that couldn’t be possible. Right? Nobody would be having sex loudly, out in the open, especially with me coming home. I was just imagining things. I probably forgot the kind of noises the house made all on its own, the creaks and groans.