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Ricky stood back for a moment and tried to get Kit to look at him, but she averted her gaze.

“Kit?” Ricky said.

“What?” she asked.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Why wouldn’t I want to do this?” Kit said.

“I don’t know.” Ricky shrugged. “I was just getting the impression maybe you weren’t into it.”

“Well, I am,” Kit said.

“OK,” Ricky said. “If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure,” she said and she pulled him to her and kissed him again.

• • •

Kit was hiding, and she knew it.

She understood, very clearly, that once she admitted to herself she didn’t like kissing Ricky, she would have to admit she didn’t want to kiss men at all. That she didn’t like their roughness, their smell, the coarseness of their faces. That she’d never once looked at a man and desired him.

She knew that as soon as she pulled away from Ricky Esposito, she was going to have to accept that she had always, her entire life, desired softness. Curves and smooth skin and long hair and soft lips. She had always ached to be touched with gentle hands.

Kissing Ricky felt all wrong because he wasn’t Julianna Thompson. He wasn’t Cheryl Nilsson. Or Violet North. He wasn’t even Wendy Palmer, the waitress at the restaurant with whom Kit always felt a thrill when they shared a shift. She wished, for just one moment, he was that cocktail waitress she’d met earlier tonight, the one with the red hair. Caroline. But Kit kept kissing Ricky, hoping some internal desire would kick in, even though she knew that she had all the answers she’d been looking for.

Kit knew now—in her heart, in her body—that she liked girls the way other girls like boys. All she had done this evening by finally kissing a boy was show herself just how much she’d never cared about kissing a boy at all.

She pulled away from Ricky. “You’re right. I can’t do this.”

“OK,” Ricky said, backing off. “Sorry if I pushed you or anything.”

“No,” Kit said. “It’s fine. I …” She wasn’t sure how to finish her sentence and so, instead, she sat down on the bench in the shower.

Ricky sat down next to her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t think I’m … this kind of person.”

“What kind of person?”

Kit wasn’t sure how to say it or even what she wanted to say. “The sort of person that wants to make out with a dude in an outdoor shower right now.”

Ricky nodded, forlorn but keeping a smile on his face as best he could. “OK,” he said. “I got it.”

“It’s not you,” Kit said.

Ricky looked at her. She was finally looking him in the eye. “But I should take the hint that this is probably it for us, huh?”

Kit smiled at him, kindly. “I think maybe we should think of ourselves as friends.”

Ricky nodded and stared at his own feet.

“But, like, real friends,” Kit added, trying to get his attention back. “Like I sincerely mean that. If I was going to like a guy … I think it would be you.”

Ricky cocked his head to the side, not quite sure what she was trying to tell him.

“Ricky …” Kit said, unsure if she could even complete the sentence she was starting. But didn’t she have to start somewhere? And wasn’t this the safest place to start? With someone she could avoid for the rest of her life if need be? “It really isn’t you. It’s …”

Ricky caught her eyeline. “It’s what? You can tell me, honestly. I’m a really good listener.”

Kit closed her eyes and let it fly. “What if I told you I like … girls?” She opened her eyes, unsure what she might see on Ricky’s face.

Ricky was quiet for a moment. All Kit could discern was surprise.

“That makes sense. Girls are hot,” he said, nodding. And then he laughed.

And Kit laughed, too. She threw her head back and cackled, her shoulders moving up and down as the laugh ran through her.

Ricky looked up at her and felt even more drawn in, the way her eyes looked so warm and bright, the way her smile created little dimples on her cheeks. He had been so close to the girl he’d always wanted. And now he understood it truly was never going to happen. But that’s how life goes, Ricky thought. You don’t always get the things you want.

“Thank you,” Kit said. “Thank you for that.”

“Hey, that’s what friends are for, right?” he told her.

“I guess so,” Kit said. “Yeah.”

“So, look, here’s the real question: If we are actually friends, as you say … does that mean you might teach me to surf?” he asked her.

Kit laughed. “You don’t know how?” She really did like him. He was easy to be around.

“I’m not very good,” Ricky said. “Certainly not as good as you.”

“Nobody’s as good as me,” Kit said.

And Ricky laughed. “I know! So you gotta teach me.”

Kit smiled at him and hoped that one day she might meet a girl like Ricky. Someone kind. Someone who didn’t have anything to prove. She had so much to prove. There wasn’t any room for anyone else to prove much.

“All right,” Kit said. “I’ll teach you.”

And then she leaned over, and she kissed Ricky on the cheekbone. It was the first time Kit had kissed someone with all of her heart.

Tarine had been wrong. Brandon wasn’t packing Nina’s things. He had taken a bottle of Seagram’s upstairs and sat down in the first open bedroom, one of the guest rooms. And now he was wallowing on the floor.

This was the room he’d imagined would belong to his first child. Now, he was sitting in it, crying by himself, back against the nightstand, drinking whiskey out of the bottle.

What the fuck is the matter with you, Brandon? Either one of those women would have made you happy, would have given you more than you ever deserved. How did you fuck that up?

God, this was bad. He really didn’t want to be left alone at the end of all this.

He drank more of his whiskey and gagged at the sheer amount that was flowing down his throat. He wiped his mouth.

He had to fix this. He had to get one of them back. He had to. And he could! He knew he could. All he had to do was convince one of them that he wasn’t a shit. Which was easy enough because he really had not been that much of a shit until recently. Even the tabloids would tell you, he really was a good guy!

He just needed to listen to his gut and choose the love of his life. And then he would get her back and be a good husband and have children and win more titles and have his life look just like it looked on the pages of the magazines. Just like it was supposed to.

Brandon Randall was about to pass out but once he woke up, world, watch out. He was gonna go get one of those women back if it was the last thing he did.

Jay was searching for Hud everywhere.

He scanned the crowds in every room, pushing through people giving him dirty looks at being moved aside, smelling cigarette smoke and skunkweed, body odor and perfume. Hud was not in the front yard, downstairs, or upstairs. He was not in the backyard as far as Jay could see through the windows.