Sweet Filthy Boy (Wild Seasons #1) by Christina Lauren

Chapter ONE

Mia

THE DAY WE officially graduate from college is nothing like how it’s depicted in movies. I throw my cap in the air and it comes down and cracks someone in the forehead. The keynote speaker loses his notes in a gust of wind and decides to wing it, delivering a thoroughly uninspired commencement address on turning mistakes into the building blocks for a brighter tomorrow, complete with awkward stories about his recent divorce. No one on film ever looks like they’re going to die of heatstroke in their polyester gown . . . I’d pay someone a lot of money to burn all the pictures that were taken of me today.

But it still manages to be perfect.

Because holy shit, we’re done.

Outside the restaurant after lunch, Lorelei—or Lola for the rare few who make it to her inner circle—pulls her keys from her purse and shakes them at me with a celebratory shimmy. Her dad kisses her forehead and tries to pretend he’s not a little misty-eyed. Harlow’s entire family forms a circle around her, hugging and talking over each other, reliving the Top Ten Moments of When Harlow Walked Across the Stage and Graduated from College before pulling me close and doing the same rehash of my own fifteen seconds of fame. When they release me, I smile, watching them finish their sweet, familiar rituals.

Call me as soon as you get there safely.

Use the credit card, Harlow. No, the American Express. It’s fine, honey, this is your graduation present.

I love you, Lola. Drive safe.

We shed our sweltering gowns, tumble into Lola’s old beater Chevy, and escape San Diego in a plume of exhaust and giddy catcalls for the music and booze and madness that await us this weekend. Harlow pulls up the playlist she made for the trip—Britney Spears from our first concert when we were eight. The completely inappropriate 50 Cent song our class somehow negotiated to be the theme for our junior homecoming. The bass-heavy hair metal anthem Lola swears is the best sex song ever, and about fifty others that somehow build our collective story. Harlow cranks the stereo loud enough for us all to scream-sing above the hot, dusty air blasting in through all four windows.

Lola pulls her long dark hair off her neck and hands me a rubber band, begging me to tie it back for her.

“God, why is it so damn hot?” she yells from the driver’s seat.

“Because we’re hurtling through the desert at sixty-five miles an hour in a late-eighties Chevy with no air-conditioning,” Harlow answers, fanning herself with a program from the ceremony. “Remind me why we didn’t take my car again?”

“Because it smells like Coppertone and dubious choices?” I reply and shriek when she lunges for me from the front seat.

“We’re taking my car,” Lola reminds her as she turns down the volume on Eminem, “because you nearly wrapped yours around a telephone pole trying to get away from a bug on your seat. I don’t trust your judgment behind the wheel.”

“It was a spider,” Harlow argues. “And huge. With pincers.”

“A spider with pincers?”

“I could have died, Lola.”

“Yes, you could have. In a fiery car wreck.”

Once I’ve finished with Lola’s hair, I sit back again and feel like I’m able to exhale for the first time in weeks, laughing with my two favorite people in the world. The heat has sapped every bit of energy from my body, but it feels good to just let go, close my eyes, and melt into the seat as the wind whips through my hair, too loud for me to even think. Three blissful weeks of summer lie ahead before I move across the country, and for the first time in forever, I have absolutely nothing I need to do.

“Nice of your family to stay for lunch,” Lola says in her steady, cautious tone, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror.

“Eh.” I shrug, bending to dig in my purse for a piece of gum or candy, or whatever will keep me busy long enough not to have to try and justify my parents’ early exit today.

Harlow turns her head to look at me. “I thought they were going to lunch with everyone?”

“I guess not,” I say simply.

She swivels fully in her seat, facing me as much as she can without taking off her seat belt. “Well, what did David say before they left?”

I blink away, looking out at the passing, flat scenery. Harlow would never dream of calling her father—or even Lola’s—by his first name. But ever since I can remember, to her my father is simply David—said with as much disdain as she can muster. “He said he was proud of me and he loves me. That he was sorry he didn’t say it enough.”

I can feel her surprise in the answering silence. Harlow is only ever quiet when she’s surprised or pissed.

“And,” I add, though I know this is the point where I should shut up, “now I can pursue a real career and contribute meaningfully to society.”

Don’t poke the bear, Mia, I think.

“Jesus,” she says. “It’s like he loves to hit you right where it hurts. That man lettered in being an ass**le.”

This makes us all laugh, and we seem to agree to move on because, really, what else can we say? My dad is kind of an ass, and even getting his way when it comes to my life decisions doesn’t seem to change that.

The traffic is light and the city rises up out of the flat earth, a tangled cluster of lights glaringly bright in the fading sunset. With each mile the air grows cooler, and I sense a rebound of energy in the car when Harlow sits up straighter and puts on a new playlist for our final stretch. In the backseat, I wiggle, dancing, singing along to the catchy, bass-heavy pop song.

“Are my girls ready to get a little wild?” she asks, pulling the passenger sun visor down to apply lip gloss in the tiny, cracked mirror.

“Nope.” Lola merges onto East Flamingo Road. Just beyond, the Strip spreads brightly, a carpet of lights and blasting horns rolling out before us. “But for you? I’ll do gross shots and dance with questionably sober men.”

I nod, wrapping my arms around Harlow from behind and squeezing. She pretends to choke, but puts her hand over mine so I can’t get away. No one rejects cuddles less convincingly than Harlow.

“I love you psychos,” I say, and even though with anyone else, the words would get lost in the wind and street dust blowing into the car, Harlow bends to kiss my hand and Lola glances over to smile at me. It’s like they’re programmed to ignore my long pauses and pluck my voice out of chaos.

“You have to make me a promise, Mia,” Lola says. “Are you listening?”

“This doesn’t involve me running off and becoming a showgirl, does it?”

“Sadly no.”

We’ve been planning this trip for months—one last rush before grown-up life and responsibility catch up with us. I’m ready for whatever she’s got for me. I stretch my neck, take a deep breath, pretend to crack my knuckles. “Too bad. I could work a pole like you don’t even know. But okay, hit me.”

“Leave everything else back in San Diego tonight,” she says. “Don’t worry about your dad or which fangirl Luke is banging this weekend.”

My stomach tilts slightly at this mention of my ex, even though we parted on good terms nearly two years ago. It’s just that Luke was my first, I was his, and we learned everything together. I feel like I should be earning royalties on his current parade of conquests.

Lola continues. “Don’t think about packing for Boston. Don’t think about anything but the fact that we’re done with college—college, Mia! We did it. Just put the rest of it in a proverbial box and shove it under the proverbial bed.”

“I like this talk of shoving and beds,” Harlow says.

Under any other circumstance, this would have made me laugh. But as unintentional as it may have been, Lola’s mention of Boston has just obliterated the tiny window of anxiety-free space I’d somehow managed to find. It immediately dwarfs any discomfort I felt over the subject of my dad’s early departure from the biggest ceremony of my life or Luke and his newfound slutty side. I have a rising tide of panic about the future, and now that we’ve graduated, it’s impossible to ignore it anymore. Every time I think about what comes next, my stomach turns inside out, ignites, chars. The feeling happens so much these days I feel like I should give it a name.

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