Echo:A Dark Billionaire Romance(5)

By: A Zavarelli



I stared at the letter through bleary eyes. This was it. The pièce de résistance. I wouldn’t be able to recover from this.

“Hey, Brighton!” Nicole called out as her fancy pink sneakers came into view.

I swiped at the tears trailing down my cheeks and shoved the letter into my bag. Looking up at her with what I hoped was a smile, I saw her frown.

“What’s wrong?” she cocked her head to the side and scrutinized me with her bright green eyes.

I waved it off and leaned against the tree, plucking a piece of grass to twirl between my fingers. “It’s nothing.”

I didn’t know Nicole well enough to be spilling this kind of drama. Not yet anyway.

She was the first person I met in San Francisco when I moved here, and oddly enough it was in this very spot. We both walked the same path in Golden Gate Park every morning, and after bumping into her every day for a couple of weeks, she decided to say hello. We bonded over our mutual Midwestern accents right away, and after that, we started walking together.

“Why don’t we skip the walk this time.” She sat down beside me in the grass. “I bought us some breakfast anyway.”

She dug around inside of her oversize hobo bag, pulling out random objects until she found what she was looking for. A pink bakery box that she handled like it was made of glass.

As she set to work on it with her dainty fingers, she flashed a smile that lit up her entire face.

I imagined Nicole as one of those perky cheerleader types back in high school. She had a perfect figure accented by her Lululemon clothing and long blonde hair that had every man in the park turning their head. She never seemed to notice.

I felt like the poor man’s version. My hair was strawberry blonde, or as I liked to call it, the devil’s mark. It was an unfortunate inheritance from my mother’s Irish roots, which only made me resent it more. I’d also inherited her porcelain skin and hazel eyes. They often changed colors to reflect my mood, but today they were a cloudy hue of gray.

“Here you go.” Nicole wiggled a fluffy pink cupcake in front of me.

“Breakfast?” I laughed.

She handed it off with a flourish and licked the residual frosting from her thumb. “When isn’t a good time for cupcakes? And I promise you, these are the best.”

I twirled the pastel confection in my hand, enjoying the scent of vanilla that wafted into the air. It almost looked too good to eat.

“Thank you, Nicole.”

“No problem,” she said. “Now, I have a question for you.”

“Okay?”

Her face grew serious, and she set her cupcake down before giving me her full concentration. “Would you say you consider me a friend?”

“Of course.” I gave her a weak smile, already knowing where she was going with this.

“Well, friends talk to each other, don’t they?”

“Yes.” I sighed. “But this feels a little too personal. I don’t want to dump my problems on you after only knowing you for a couple of weeks.”

“Well, that’s too bad.” She rolled onto her side and propped her head on her hand. “Because I’m going to have to insist.”

I pulled my knees into my chest, trying to find the right words to describe my situation. I never talked about my problems to anyone, and I feared once I opened that door, I wouldn’t be able to shut it again. There was a lot that could have spilled out of my mouth. Like how difficult the last five years had been. How my brother’s accident had destroyed my family and broken my heart. How I barely managed to graduate high school or how I thought San Francisco was my golden opportunity.

But all of those things were too close to my heart, and Nicole and I weren’t quite on that level yet. So instead, I told her the simple truth of my most urgent problem.

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