Brad had never sworn me to secrecy, or asked that I kept things from the girls. But I knew what would happen if I told them. Judgment. Judgment of my morals, Brad, and me. Questioning of our relationship and how it would ever work. I didn’t need that. I didn’t need or want to explain my life and my choices. So I chose the suitcase of secrets and their belief that I lived a perfect, normal existence. Yes, there was now distance between us, but at least we were still friends. At least they were somewhat supportive of my relationship.

♦♦♦

“It’s absolutely gorgeous, Jules. Totally you.” Becca beamed at me over the rim of her Diet Coke, her blonde hair shining in the afternoon sun.

“It’s true. I think it really fits you,” Olivia added, settling back in her chair.

We sat on the outside deck at Cucumbers, a trendy sushi restaurant downtown, the table covered with sushi rolls, edamame shells, and chopsticks. Franco’s had actually been fun, Becca and Olivia running interference between me and the snobby saleswomen, and I had known instantly when pulling on Dress Number Three, that I had found the one I wanted. It was there, in the chandeliered, plush dressing room of Franco’s, with Becca and Olivia grinning behind me, looking in the mirror, that I felt it. Excitement. I had always been excited about marrying Brad, but it had been the marriage that I had looked forward to, not the act of getting married. The wedding had been a byproduct, one that—due to Brad’s family—I had been dreading. But there, in that dress, seeing my reflection, I felt a quiver of breathless anticipation. I allowed it, allowed visions of walking down the aisle, feeling the strength of his hand sliding a ring on my finger, words spoken, rice thrown, cake and music and toasts and dancing. And for that moment, that brief, fairytale moment, I was naively happy about the wedding.

“Earth to Julia.” Becca snapped her fingers in my face, and I scowled, pushing her hand aside and grabbing my chopsticks. “Did you hear what I said? I sent in my app to NYU.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “That’s not an application. That’s a reservation for a donation. Has your dad already stroked the check?”

Becca sputtered out a few expletives, causing Olivia and I to burst out laughing. I grabbed a napkin, passing it to Becca, and she wiped her mouth, shooting Olivia a dirty look.

“Have you decided? That’s your first choice?” I asked Becca, fighting to keep a smile off of my face.

“Pretty much.” She shrugged. “I like New York. I’m applying to UCLA also; I always wanted to be a California girl.”

Olivia snorted. “That’s smart. Choose your schools based on shopping and beaches.”

“Do I detect a bit of bitterness in your tone?” Becca asked, sharply raising an eyebrow.

“I’m still undecided,” I said brightly, trying to interrupt the incoming argument.

“Undecided? I assumed you’d stay here with me.” Olivia’s eyes honed in on me, all thoughts of over-privileged Becca forgotten.

“So did I, but Brad is pushing me to apply at other schools.” I inwardly winced, hating how the statement came out. Olivia pounced on it like a rabid dog.

“Who cares what Brad wants. What do you want?”

I shot her an irritated look. “I’m a grown woman, O. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. What I want.”

“This is bullshit, him pushing you into what he wants.”

I stared at her. “What are you talking about? He wants me to make the same choice I would if I was single. He doesn’t want my law school decision to be affected by our marriage. Because of his money and connections, I can look at schools I never would have been able to go to. And you’re trying to turn it into a negative? What the f**k?”

Becca started to chime in, to voice her support, but Olivia held up a hand. “Becca, stay out of this. Julia, I just don’t like how everything seems like it revolves around Brad.”

I bit back a laugh at the ridiculousness of that statement. Wasn’t that what marriage was all about? Pushing aside single life to start a new life together? It would be ridiculous not to include him in this thought process, seeing the effect my law school would have on our marriage.

I had no intention of having one of those marriages—two people who cohabited the same house but otherwise lived separate lives. Brad had become my best friend, the person who I shared my thoughts, dreams, and life with. He had, in the process, overshadowed Olivia. Her hostility, resistance to anything Brad-related? She tried to hide it. Times like that morning had actually succeeded, playing the role of supportive friend well. But I could feel the tension, worried over the chips and cracks that were forming in our bond. I never realized, in falling in love, that I might lose a friend in the process. She just didn’t realize the depth of emotion I had for him. No one did. We were surrounded by casual love, which found our singular focus bothersome. Now, almost nine months into our engagement, her snide comments were wearing my nerves raw. I had started to reach the stage of not caring, of indifference. I loved Olivia, had spent almost four years as her best friend. But our friendship, our connection, paled in comparison to what Brad and I had. And if she couldn’t handle the change in my life, then how strong was that friendship? I met her critical look squarely.

“I’m sorry you don’t understand my relationship,” I said tartly.

It was Becca’s turn to play peacemaker, and she jumped in with a cheery smile only to be cut off by Olivia.

“You weren’t like this with Luke. Or with any of your boyfriends for that matter. We never see you anymore.”

“Really? You’re using Luke as a positive example? I’m treating this relationship differently because it is different. I’m sorry I don’t go to parties anymore or stumble in and out of clubs with you and Becca. But don’t blame Brad for that. My life is changing; I’m getting married.”

She stared at me fiercely, the sushi forgotten, fire in her brown eyes. “You’re making a mistake.”

She may have been right, but not for the reasons she thought. Brad and I had our share of problems, but they all started and ended with the Magiano family, not with us.

Chapter 50

JULY

Days until the wedding: 33

I waited at the light, my turn signal on, Becca’s voice whining through my vehicle’s speakers. “Come tonight ... please. Your college career is about to be over. You have an obligation to party with me one last time before graduation.”

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