Eighteen had brought me to a new conclusion about birthdays: they were the ultimate best ever! It was a never-ending day of gifts and chocolate cupcakes, and the best part hadn't even occurred yet. Trace had a big night planned, and he'd conned Wynn into babysitting the restaurant for the evening. For once I hadn't spent my entire birthday wondering when the fun would begin.

I had one more stop to make before going home to get ready for the big night. The warm smell of cake met me at the door of Grandma's house. Mr. Snuggles wound his body around my legs, purring as he went. My mouth watered as I entered the kitchen, seeing Grandma sitting at the table. I sat down opposite of her, pulling her from her tired daze. "Oh! Cammie! Happy birthday," she said with a grin. I thanked her and did a quick search of the room for any gift boxes that might be lying around.

The recovery of her stroke was a slow one, and even though a lot of the physical signs were gone, her personality had continued to be a little off. Perhaps it was the lack of energy, but something was missing. Grandma used to have a spark, but even as I sat right across the table from her I couldn't see it. I wondered if any amount of therapy in the world would bring that back.

"I heard you've been doing a great job with the restaurant," Grandma said over cake. I took in another scrumptious forkful of cake with a nod. "Maybe next week I can get back up there." Grandpa had said she'd been restless.

"Trace is taking me out tonight," I said. Grandma wore the look of someone desperately trying to remember something. Eventually she gave a small smile.

"Yes, I like Trace. He's a good boy," she said. Grandma raised her fork to her lips, lost herself in a daze, and then replaced it to the plate. She rose from the chair in just the same whimsical manner.

From the adjacent room I heard her talking. "It's not as good as I'd have liked it to be, but I had limited time to make it… Oh here it is!" Returning to the kitchen, Grandma had a large, intricately designed quilt draped over her arms. My heart fluttered as I ran my fingers over the soft material. "It's a little early, but it's for college. Maybe this is one piece of Decatur you wouldn't mind taking with you." Even in her weariest state Grandma Ginny knew how to provoke thoughts and emotions that no one else could. I hugged the handmade quilt against my body as I looked into her already tired eyes. I would miss her the most.


In honor of my birthday Trace, Lily, Roberto, and I were going to the Verve in Anniston, a club that as of that day I was finally old enough to get into. It wasn't your run of the mill nightclub; it lacked all of the slutty girls and drunken guys tossing around bad pick-up lines. The Verve was known for three things: its great atmosphere, its live music, and its open mic night. Get a few drunkards in front of a microphone and you've got yourself a stomach-cramping laugh.

Per Lily's request I wore the Celtic love knot, a piece of jewelry I'd retired since the incident at Trace's house. That was behind me now, all of the heartache. I was turning eighteen and ready to start a new chapter of Cambria Holloway as we knew her. Though it was only January and I wouldn't leave for college until September, I could already taste the freedom. I was on to new things, and the past was nothing but a blurry nightmare.

Trace stole another kiss from me as we sat in our semi-circular booth at the Verve. He'd been giddy all night, stripping away his shy exterior and becoming the life of the party. His arm hung proudly around my shoulders, and I nuzzled my cheek against his neck. "Thanks so much," I whispered.

"The fun is just beginning," he said, pointing up to the stage.

Lily elbowed me excitedly. "You have to sing before the night is over," she urged. I laughed in her face and shook my head.

"Nah, I'm the Birthday Girl. How about y'all get up there and make fools of yourselves for me?" I said. This sounded like great fun to me, but Lily pouted in protest. Roberto had to peck her cheek before she came around.

The first performer was a regular with a smooth voice who provoked nothing but a grand set of applause at the end. The next guy wasn't half bad either, which sent us all into our own conversations once again.

Each with a daiquiri in our hand, Lily thought it'd be a great idea to recall the events of the past year. She sounded a lot like Grandma Ginny when she said, "You can't be sure of where you're going until you know where you've been." Ignoring her greeting card preface, the trio around me began to weave a tangle of memories, Lily's going farther back than the others.

"You turned seventeen. You broke your foot jumping out of your second story window," she reminded me.

Trace's eyebrows raised. "You jumped out of a window?"

"And broke her foot," Lily added. I smiled, thinking in retrospect how stupid the idea was.

"To stupid mistakes," I said as a toast. We all clicked our glasses together and took drinks before bursting into laughter.

"Then you broke up with Matt, best thing you ever did," Lily said.

Trace squeezed his arm more tightly around my shoulders. "Cambria, the heartbreaker," he said in a teasing tone. I leveled a grinning stare with him before he surprised me with another kiss. More laughter broke out at our table.

Lily's fingers remained poised around her condensation covered glass. The index finger tapped as she thought. "You called me complaining that you hated your biology class. You spent the whole first week of school trying to get your schedule changed because the teacher hated you," she said. Looking back, I was glad how it worked out. From the half-grin Trace offered I could tell that he was too.

"You met Steven and Trace," Lily continued.

Roberto propped his elbows on the table. "You became a regular for the last few of our Sunday afternoon football games," he said with his heavy, foreign accent.

"You had a great tackle," Trace offered. The scene of slamming into him even though he was on my team came to mind, more vividly than I'd ever remembered anything. I could feel my body falling atop his, the beating of his heart against my chest, and how the mud stuck to me as I rolled off of him. This warranted a big smile.

"You scored the scholarship with UAM. Annette McMahon is basically a personal friend of yours," Lily said. Everyone was smiling now, thinking of anything they could to contribute to our story.

"You became the girlfriend of the biggest geek in school," Trace said, laughing at himself and placing a kiss on my forehead.

"You're basically running Ginny's. That'll look good as far as work experience," Lily said. She'd carefully left out the part about Grandma Ginny's stroke, so I pretended that I wasn't thinking about it.

"To birthdays," Roberto said, raising his glass.

"To good times," Lily added, mimicking his pose.

Trace raised his glass and waited until his brown eyes had locked into mine before he said, "To the most amazing girl I have ever met in my entire life." My heart swelled as my cheeks turned pink and I smiled.

Completing the circle, I raised my glass. "To the best friends anyone could ever ask for," I said.

We clinked our glasses together dramatically. "Cheers!" we simultaneously said before tipping our drinks back.

Applause echoed off the walls of the club. Catching up to the scene around us, I saw one performer leaving the stage and the spotlight going to the MC. "We've got a new performer here…"

"So about Spring Break. How does Florida sound?" Lily said, drawing us back into our private world.

Roberto offered that his SUV could hold all of us. If we all chipped in on gas and a hotel it would be a cheap trip. Trace began to whisper into my ear all of the highly intriguing things that could happen were we left alone together in Florida. Lily chattered on and on about the beach and shopping.

The voice on stage reconnected us with the rest of the club. I recognized it, as offkey and horrible as it was. The song was extremely recognizable as well, being one that I'd heard over and over Freshman thru Junior years in high school while we girls got ready to go out. The brunette on stage was slaughtering the "Bohemian Rhapsody," while unsteadily holding a bottle of beer in her hand. My heart stopped about the time most everyone else in the club began to laugh.

"Cambria, is that…" Lily began with wide eyes.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. "Kirsten."


We'd apprehended her just offstage and had promptly dragged her outside, to the edge of the building where we were safe from prying ears. Lily was protectively touching Kirsten's arm as she leaned drunkenly against the block-wall. Her expression was one of bitter resentment.

"Kirsten, what's wrong? You shouldn't be drinking so much," Lily said. As much as I hated it, she sounded like a parent. Kirsten sensed it to and shrugged her off.

"You're not my mother," she slurred. While Lily grew helpless, I grew defensive.

"Kirsten, give her a break. We're trying to help," I said. Her eyes were the only thing that turned toward me. Even in the dark I could tell she had difficulty focusing.

"I," Kirsten said, "don't need help from anybody, especially you. Sorry, princess. Go back to your goddamn table with your goddamn friends and your Bill Gates boyfriend. So you noticed I'm a little fucked up, congratu-fucking-lations." I bit back a lot of angry words as I watched her stumble over her own. My whole body was tensing and relaxing as my logical mind and instincts fought against each other. "Wanna know why I'm not your friend anymore?" She kicked at the sidewalk. "Because I got sick and tired of watching you get everything I wanted."

I grabbed Lily by the arm. "Come on, Lil. It's not worth it," I said. Helping her was a mistake.

Kirsten, however, didn't stop rambling. "How does it feel, Cammie?" she asked, dragging out my nickname mockingly.

An exhausted sigh escaped me. "What?" I prompted.

"To know that you're the one who fucked up my life," she said. No matter how hard I tried to walk away after that, I couldn't. Drunk or not, she was out of line.

"Kirsten, you think this is my fault?" I demanded. "I haven't done a damn thing to you."

She snarled at me. "I tried to get back at you. I tried… but you never stop. I hope you all fucking burn, in, He—" A loud oomff escaped Kirsten as she doubled over. My fist began to throb. Adrenaline was pumping, but Lily grabbed my shoulders before I had the nerve to do it again. Kirsten sunk to the ground; she didn't fight back.

"Wanna know why you're like this?" I yelled at her. "Huh?" There was a pause in which she groaned but said nothing. Anger still fueled my words. "Because you let yourself be. You're only as worthless as you'll let yourself be." Lily's trembling hands were on my shoulders. Paranoia that I'd soon be handcuffed for what I'd done had Lily tugging me away.

Kirsten's hair hung over her face in the dark. Every second brought her closer to the concrete. "He still loves you," she said. My back was to her, and with Lily behind me there was no chance of turning around. Instead I just stopped, feeling my pulse speed up again. A sob pierced through the calm air. "He, still, loves, you! Why?" For a moment she forgot to breathe, her sobs overlapping to the point of asphyxiation. "What'd I ever fuckin' do to you?" she yelled weakly.

Lily pushed against my back. "Just go," she urged.

I felt like I was walking in lead shoes. My stomach threatened to turn on me any moment. The taste of bile was nearly in my mouth. A headache formed from trying to force my thoughts on something besides her pitiful sobs and my angry conscious.

Returning to the table, Trace tenderly examined me. "You okay?" he asked. With a shaky nod, I uncertainly returned my hands to my daiquiri glass. The chill stung my palms, but I was frozen still as I stared ahead. "I've got another present for you."

My eyes sunk to my lap as I feigned excitement. "Really?" My own voice sounded foreign.

Trace reached over and squeezed my hand with a mischievous grin. "I left it in the car. I'll be right back," he said. Returning his smile, I watched him retreat bouncily through the club.

Lily moved in to recovery mode. "So has Annette gotten back to you yet?" she asked. It took a nudge before I replied.

"She sent me an e-mail yesterday saying that Almost Famous was due in Atlanta within the next couple of weeks. Told me to be patient and all that stuff," I said. With every syllable my mood lightened. I was still peeved, Kirsten's spiel weighing heavily on my conscience, but not as edgy.

Roberto leaned over the table. "Maybe you can spend our first college Spring Break in Spain," he said. "You could stay at my house. You like Spain?"

"I've never been," I admitted, still distant. Knowing I'd just brushed off a free trip to Spain, I questioned my sanity. I rethought my statement to Roberto and paired it with a weak smile. "It sounds—"

There was a tapping on the mic. A clearing of a throat. A familiar chuckle through the speakers. "I'd like to go sappy on everyone for just a moment and dedicate this song to the girl who stole my heart." Appreciative laughter rose up from the crowd as he shifted his weight. The spotlight glinted off of his glasses the same way the fluorescent lights did everyday in biology. "I wouldn't normally do this, stand up on stage in front of a bunch of strangers. It's actually freaking me out a little, but on to the real reason I'm up here. It's Cambria's birthday today, and I wanted to show her a good time." He chuckled again and ran a hand through his brunette hair. "I have an awful voice so if you would please hold down your laughter and sing along, all right?" Amazing. This reserved boy had the entire crowd captivated. And he was doing it for me.

It wasn't until the music started that I realized he was actually going to sing. My jaw dropped into a shocked smile. I grabbed Lily by the arm. "What's he doing up there?" I asked. She shushed me with a dazzling smile. On the edge of my seat, I prepared myself for this unexpected performance.

"It's by Almost Famous," Trace added into the mic. A few random people cheered and hollered. I recognized the upbeat, feel-good tune instantly, biting my lip in excitement.

"This is your night…

the clock is striking seven,

I'm waiting by the door

but there's no rush.

I swear it's all right

that you don't even like to dance

unless you're singing in your hairbrush

to some old Van Halen song.

Cause this is your night…

It can be anything you wanna…

We can do anything you wanna…

I can promise you it's gonna be great.

So tell me once again

what color you wanna paint the town,

and how you always drive too fast,

radio up and windows down.

So tell me one more time

what beat your heart takes

when reason has no rhyme…

I'll tell you what I'm feeling…

it's so… sublime.

Lose the heels, let down your hair.

Where you wanna go?

I'll take you anywhere.

London, Paris, that one spot on the beach

where you can lay in the sand

and the world is out of reach.

We'll have our own private party

drink too much, soak up the sun,

sing some old Beatles song.

If you don't know the words

turn up the volume and just hum along.

We'll make our own fun.

So tell me once again

what color you wanna paint the town,

and how you always drive too fast,

radio up and windows down.

So tell me one more time

what beat your heart takes

when reason has no rhyme…

I'll tell you what I'm feeling…

it's so… sublime.

everything about you is so… fine.

I can't believe you're all… mine."

I was floored. Absolutely floored. My hands hurt from the frenzied clapping. The audience loved him. But he squinted through the spotlight, picked me out in the crowd, and blew me a kiss. "Happy birthday, Cam," he said into the mic before hopping off of the stage. The crowd was still going crazy, then burst into a chorus of "Happy Birthday." Still the noise raged on. And I couldn't stop smiling.

Trace's face was pink when he returned to the table. He looked at me for approval, and all I could do was pull him straight into my arms. "I love you," I said. We both laughed.

"What do ya say we get outta here?" he asked. I could tell the attention was too much for him. Lily suggested milkshakes and that's all it took to get our group shuffling for the door.

Trace and I were linked arm in arm, waiting politely for some people to enter before we made our way out. I leaned over to whisper something to Trace, but felt Lily's elbow jut into my ribcage. Before I could snap at her I saw the couple that had just entered.

I can't explain exactly how I felt. It wasn't jealousy or anger, but just this extreme weirdness. I felt like I'd been thrown into an alternate dimension where everything was the opposite of how it actually was. Any moment now I expected to see Madonna enter a monastery or Michael Jackson look normal. No matter how hard I stared I saw the same scene: Eira and Steven.


Ohhhh hahahaha. And you thought it was all rainbows and butterflies from here on out. You thought it was over. HA! Yeah, I'm having too much fun with this. So sorry it took longer than usual to get out. I was experiencing temporary writer's block. But as you can see it's all cleared up. School is starting for me on Monday the 8th so if my updates get slower blame it on the pointless thing they call high school. Anyway, gimme your thoughts on the chapter. Thanks again.

Never-ending Jell-O shots going out to:

basicMEYou're the most inquisitive reviewer I've ever seen, but that makes for pleasant reviews. You know that I can't spoil things for you by answering all of your questions so the only thing I can say is keep reading!

Alyssa – I hope this chapter came with a few big grins as well.

written off as theatrical 1986 – So glad to see you're still around. I've been wondering about your screen name. It's interesting. Any story behind it?

pawprintsaly000 – I love you. Haha. Wanna know why?? Because you are my oldest reviewer… that I can think of… that's still around. So for that you get to pick the flavor of your Jell-O shots. LoL.

Mizu Sennyo – Haha. Is this more enough for you?

Queen-of-Daydreams – Yeah I name chapters for reference instead of creativity. Lame but I have my system. How was this one?

DuchessYappingDogYup, don't you just want to puke at how cute they are?? Please don't though, cause I want you to enjoy your Jell-O shots ;) and the rest of this story.

KiraThanks, thanks, thanks. Haha. Which of the characters is your fave?

mudonthetiresOh yes it's all in good fun. Like the fun in this chapter? :)

Lonely ForestWe're all worried about Grandma Ginny. But wasn't Cam's b-day cute? Haha.

BetweentheSensesKatie! Finally back from Italia and now gone to NY. You're actually not lucky, ya know, because you're missing vital chapters. LoL. Can't wait to see you back around, chick.

DragonFaeLynnWelcome back!! I'm all for mental pictures. Good ones, that is. Haha.

Again, BIG thanks. There's more to come so put this on Author Alert and stick around!