“I can’t really afford to go.” There. That sounds like a perfectly good excuse.
“What do you mean? If you can’t afford college, you should look into scholarships. There are a ton of them out there,” Chelsea says.
“I probably wouldn’t qualify for any of them.” When they stare at me blankly my brain scrambles, trying to remember what my high school counselor told me. “Um, I’m still considered a dependent on my parents’ taxes, so that’s why I don’t qualify. They make too much money.”
Way too much money, but they don’t need to know that tiny fact.
“Ah. I get it.” Chelsea nods. “Yeah, that happened to me too, even though my parents weren’t contributing anything toward my college fund. Considering they couldn’t, since my dad was in jail.”
Wait. What? My eyes go wide. Her dad is in jail? I can’t believe she just admitted that.
“I’m so sorry.” I don’t know what else to say.
She shrugs. “He stole millions of dollars from his clients. He deserved to be in jail, though he’s out on parole now. Got out early for good behavior. My mom took him back too. I’m sure they’re very happy together.” The sarcasm in her voice is evident.
“Chelsea doesn’t really talk to her parents right now,” Fable says to me in a low whisper, making Chelsea laugh, though there’s not much humor there.
“Understatement of the year.” Chelsea shakes her head, her gaze sympathetic when it lands on me. “Sorry to dump on you the first time we meet. But this is as real as it gets around here with the Maguire-Callahan family.”
“No, I get it. I—” My voice falters. “I don’t get along that well with my parents right now either.”
“You don’t?” Fable looks surprised—and concerned. I’m learning this is typical Fable. She’s always watching out for others. “Please don’t tell me it has to do with all those false stories swirling around you and Drew.”
I shake my head. “No, what happened between us was before I came here, though I’m sure they’re pissed about the naughty nanny story, too.” I hesitate. They’re being so truthful with me, so should I do the same? I have nothing to lose here, I guess, except respect. “They’re mad at me because I lied to them.”
And then I decide to lay it all out. I launch into the story about my senior year, lying about how I got into college, and how my parents caught me in my lies. How they kicked me out of the house and left me on my own.
“How awful,” Chelsea murmurs when I finish.
“But look at how well you’ve done since you’ve been doing it on your own, Sydney. Maybe it was a good thing, what they did,” Fable points out.
I like that she’s trying to keep this positive. I can appreciate that. At the time my parents kicked me out, it didn’t feel like a good thing. I’d been terrified. Scared I’d fail, afraid I’d have no one to count on.
But now, I’m not scared. I feel…strong. Despite the disaster with the media and all the gossip, I’m with people who want to help me. Who are there for me. I don’t think I could say that before, when I was still at home and living a shallow, meaningless life.
In the short time I’ve worked for the Callahans, I’ve found some purpose. I’ve found meaning. I haven’t figured everything out yet, but that’s okay.
I still have time.
That night, we all go out to dinner, like we’re one big cozy family. Which I guess we are, if you look at the main players in the group. The six of us plus the two kids go to a nice family-style seafood restaurant in downtown San Francisco, where we stay for almost three hours, laughing and eating and talking so much, my throat is getting sore. The restaurant is full of tourists who stare goggle-eyed at Drew most of the time, some of them even coming up to ask for his autograph, which he gladly gives them. He takes photos with them too, telling them to get Owen’s and Wade’s autographs as well, since they’re both going to be famous football players someday.
It’s nice, to witness Drew so easily include Owen and Wade with the fans. Drew is such a good guy. I respect him more and more as every day passes. I feel the same about Fable.
Same with everyone here at this table tonight.
“You still want to stick with this guy after dealing with us all night?” Owen asks from where he’s sitting across the table, pointing at Wade, who’s sitting next to me. “He comes with a lot of baggage, you know.”
I laugh, sending Wade a quick glance only to discover he’s watching me carefully. “You guys don’t scare me,” I tell Owen.
“Well, we should,” he says, lowering his voice like he’s about to reveal a juicy secret. “I have so much dirt on that guy. I could tell you stories for hours.”
“When we get back to Drew and Fable’s, you should tell me a few,” I say, making him laugh. “Seriously. I’d love to hear them.”
“I don’t think so,” Wade says, his voice firm, his gaze blazing fire at his best friend. “He doesn’t need to reveal all my secrets.”
“Really? What about the time you—”
Chelsea clamps her hand over Owen’s mouth, effectively silencing him, making everyone else laugh.
“Time for you to keep quiet,” Chelsea singsongs before slowly removing her hand from Owen’s mouth. Owen glares, seemingly irritated, but then he reaches for her, slinging his arm around her neck so he can pull her in for a lingering kiss.