Who else knew that? Who else knew I was sleeping at Cole's? Emma was the only person who knew I wasn't at home. I can't think of anyone else who knew that information and would want to use it against me. Jesse knew about my feelings for Cole, but he helped me with the dean. If Jesse wanted to get me in his bed, he could have said yes when I asked him to my rebound guy. He said no. I scrub my other arm and then wash my hair. The wound on my leg is finally healing. The hot water makes it itch. I turn off the shower and dry off, wrapping my towel around me as I head out of the steamy little bathroom.

As I pad barefoot to my bedroom, I feel uneasy again. My stomach curdles and the hairs on my neck raise. I clutch the towel and shift my eyes through the room. I'm the only one here. The sensation of being watched floods me. Heart racing, I wonder if I'm overreacting or if someone is really there, looking in the window. Silently, I walk to the windowpane and stand off to the side, looking out. The street is busy like always, but no one stands at a lamppost staring at my window. I drop the mini blinds, and touch the back of my head to the wall and sigh.

I'm paranoid. When did this happen? It never spooked me to be alone before, and now I am acting like the stupid chick in a horror movie, jumping every time I walk out of the shower. Annoyed with myself for being so twitchy, I dress quickly, but I can't shake the feeling. The goose bumps won't go down and I still feel eyes on me. I pull on jeans and a tank, grab my helmet, and dart out the door. It's too damn hot for the leather jacket today. On my way out the front door, I smack into Edward.

He takes my shoulders and steadies me, "Whoa, there. Sorry, I didn't see you coming through the door."

"She's not here," I say, ignoring Edward's apology and shaking him off. I ran into him. I realize I'm acting like a bitch and turn back, practically hopping on one foot, as I fasten my helmet under my chin. "She's at work until 5:00pm. Em started that new job today."

He looks at me from under those dark eyebrows, a grin forming on his face when I smile at him. "Why are you home?" he asks, confused.

A smirk lines my lips. "I quit." That was the first time I said it, the first time that I admitted what I had done. Damn, it felt good. I couldn't stop smiling. I'm going to make my own future, become my own woman. I hid in college long enough. Those who couldn't do, teach, and those who are too chicken to try, hide out in the classroom until they need walkers. Screw that. I'm ready to try it on my own and I know exactly what I want to do. I busted my ass to get this far. I'm not wasting another day.

Edward's jaw drops open in shock. "What?" he squeaks, but I only smile broader in response.

As I skip across the street, I wave good-bye and run toward my bike without explanation. I can't wait to tell my parents what I did. There's no way in hell they'll understand, but all the same, my heart is pounding against my ribs because I know what I want and I'm finally content with that decision.

"You did what?" Ma snaps, cookie half way to her mouth. It dangles there in midair between her forefinger and thumb. Her pinky is extended - a remnant of an old life.

"I quit. Sottero held my future in her hands and there's no way in hell I was staying there, not after what she did to Cole. And, then I was thinking about why I went to grad school in the first place. You know what the answer is Ma?"

"Cause you wanted to be successful. Because you wanted to be the best in your field!" She tells me, her voice growing louder - if that's possible - as she speaks.

"No, Ma. I went because I was following in Sottero's footprints. I wanted to be like her and now I don't. She's a fraud and one of the worst people I've ever met. I don't want that life anymore, Ma. I don't want to be a wedding photographer." My words drop like little bombs, each one decimating years and years of careful articulation about my plans for the future.

From the way Ma is looking at me, I can tell she thinks I've lost my mind. Daddy is leaning against the counter, his arms folded across his chest. He's yet to say anything. He watches me and my mother, his eyes shifting between us. Frankie the dock dude is smarter than most people think.

Ma presses her fingers to her temples, trying to keep her brains from exploding and messing up the rose wallpaper she loves so much. In an even tone, she asks, "Then, what do you want to be, Anna?"

I look at Ma and then at Daddy. They aren't going to like this. I didn't really mention what I was shooting at Le Femme, but I was good at it. "A boudoir photographer."

In unison, they say, "A what?"

"A boudoir photographer. It's like a pin-up photographer."

Daddy catches on first, "Like what you were doing for Cole?"

I nod, "Yeah, I liked it and I was really good at it."

Ma shakes her head and slams her hands on the table. The entire thing shakes under the slam of her hands. "No, Anna! What about college? What about all that money you spent getting that degree? You can't honestly tell me that you're quitting college when you're so close to graduating."

"Ma," I groan like a little kid, wishing she'd understand, "I took all my classes. Those were for me. The information's already in my brain. I don't need a piece of paper to tell me that."

Ma huffs. "That piece of paper cost you twenty grand and you've got nothing to show for it."

"I will. I'll use everything I learned." I take a breath and spit it out. It's the plan I came up with on the drive out here. "I'm going to open my own studio."

Ma's lips part, but she says nothing. She looks at Daddy like I've gone crazy and urges him, "Say something."

Daddy nods his head for a moment, then tilts it to the side, asking, "Will this make you happy? Working for yourself is hard and the only person to blame when things don't work out is you. You think you're up for that Anna?"

Meeting his gaze, I nod. "Yeah. I'm good at it, Daddy. I know what I want to do. I know how long it will take to turn a profit. I don't expect to ever be what Cole was, but I know I can support myself. All that money I saved to do post-graduate work is there as a cushion. I don't need more school, Dad. I need more guts. I've been hiding behind books for too long. It's time for me to get off my ass and start living my life. I'm not letting another day slip between my fingers."

Daddy smiles at me and my heart soars. It deafens me to my mother's voice as she screeches about how irresponsible it is for me to not finish something I started. She doesn't understand, but Daddy does. I am finishing what I started. My time with Cole changed me, for the better, and I'm ready to be that woman.

Chapter 5

Sitting at the counter, I shovel a spoon filled with Cheerios into my mouth. This will be the lunch of Anna Lamore until I can generate some income. From my awesome math skills, I deduced that I can live off of Ramen noodles, spaghetti, and Cheerios for seventy-three months and still manage to pay rent. If I can't manage to make my studio profitable in six years, then I'll move onto plan B. Honestly, I don't have plan B. This is it. And right now, I'm looking at the newspaper trying to find studio space, but everything is so expensive.

Jesse sits across from me and Emma is on the couch. Jesse shakes his head and says, "I can't believe you did it."

"Neither can I." I'm beaming, I can't help it. I'm so excited and terrified. I glance up at Jesse to see his big blue eyes looking at me in awe.

"I bet your mother chewed you out and threatened to throw you off the Brooklyn Bridge," Emma says, frowning. She's trying to figure out how to use crochet hooks. It's not going well. So far, she's managed to create a lovely knot.

"Pretty much," I agree. "But, Dad understood."

"I don't understand," Emma replies with her dark eyebrows disappearing under her bangs. She loops more yarn around the needles and moves them like chopsticks. "I mean, you did a 180, like a total reversal in a couple of months. You were all wedding photography this and bridal pictures that for the past half-decade and now you're all wanting to shoot naked chicks. It's not like you."

Jesse grins. I kick him with my foot and answer Em, "It's not naked chicks, you perv."

I finally focus on Emma. She's biting her tongue and beating the crap out of the yarn, stabbing it with the needles into the couch cushions. "Die, beanie hat, die! I hate you!" She stills and looks at me. "What?"

"You have the attention span of a chimp." I smile at her, but she looks like she still wants to stab the yarn.

Jesse shakes his head, "Nah, chimps can knit. It's more like the attention span of a fish. They seem to forget what they're doing and blink a lot." I laugh, which makes Jesse happy.

Emma on the other hand, slaps down the yarn and walks over to me. "Chimps can knit," she mocks, and makes a face at Jesse. Em stops behind me and looks over my shoulder at the newspaper in my hands. "So, say I want to be supportive of this new you. What do I do?"

"Well, let's see." I tick the things off on my fingers as I say them. "You can keep an eye out for studio space, encourage me when I'm sick of cereal and noodles, and pretty much accept that this is what's going to make me happy." When I say it, my voice drops. I would have been happy with Cole. This will make me content. Happy is the wrong word. Emma sees it in my eyes.

I'm trying hard to keep moving forward and not look back. Cole hasn't called me. He didn't show up, crawling to me on his knees, apologizing. I don't know where he is and I don't want to know. He rejected me. I did nothing wrong, and he turned on me. From talking to my Dad I can understand how Cole could act that way, but I can't let it go. Maybe Cole was blindsided, but I could have turned on him when I first heard of the lawsuit and I didn't. Sottero's allegation was crap. I knew it. I didn't even ask him.

The empty place in my chest aches. I want to hear Cole's voice again, but I know I won't.

Jesse senses my mood and quickly tries to lighten it again. "There's one other thing she forgot to add to that list: Be nice to Jesse, who is the best friend I never had."

Emma's hands are on her hips; her long dark hair trails down her back. She laughs in his face and things feel normal again. I don't know what it is with me. One moment I'm fine and the next I feel like I'm made from old parchment that's turning to dust. Night time is the worst. When Jesse leaves and Em is asleep in her room, I stare at the walls waiting for sunrise. Every time I close my eyes, I see Cole. His voice echoes in my mind asking what if...

What if we didn't fight? What if he believed me?

The thoughts come unbidden and don't stop. By the time dawn creeps across the night sky, dousing the city in golden light, I'm a nervous wreck. Insomnia doesn't look good on me. There are dark circles under my eyes. No one says anything about it. They try to act like I'm fine and hope that I will be, which is what I want.

Looking at paper, I point at Jesse with my pen and say, "What he said."

"Oh my God. You two are a pair of - " Em starts to say, but I cut her off.

"A pair of what?"

She grins, "A pleasant pair of people to spend a Sunday morning with." She purses her lips and widens her eyes until she looks like a fish caught in a vacuum cleaner hose.

I laugh and shake my head. I've circled a few possibilities for studio locations. They're all small, under 1,000 square feet, but I don't want to bleed my budget on the shooting room. I have one chance at this and that's it. If I do it wrong, I'll spend all my money and have no income. That part scares the crap out of me.