By: Mary Calmes

A year later, when Charlotte’s father died unexpectedly from a heart attack, I made the trip to Texas with her to hold her hand, tell her jokes, and just keep her sane. Rand wanted her home, but both she and her mother thought that the best place for her was in school. I was the one who finally told him off, telling him that what he wanted didn’t mean shit to anyone. His father, Charlotte’s father, James Holloway, had sent his daughter to school because he wanted what was best for her. Just because it would be easier for Rand if his sister went home didn’t mean she was going to go.

When he roared back at me that the tuition could no longer be paid, I told him that he didn’t have to worry. I would help my friend stay in school. I would get as many jobs as it took to make sure that she didn’t have to be stuck living anywhere near him and his narrow-minded view of the world. While Charlotte and her mother hugged and kissed me, Rand had stalked from the room like a wounded animal. It became clear that it wasn’t just gay men her brother had a problem with, it was also women who wanted to be more than housewives and mothers. And while Charlotte wanted a husband and lots of cute kids, she also wanted the job that a college education could provide.

As soon as we got back home to Tempe, my best friend got two jobs and I got another in addition to the one I already worked five nights a week. It was hard: sleep became a treat and not a given, but we paid her tuition plus our bills. When we both got promotions, we could actually go out again and do some drinking and dancing, even see the occasional movie. A year later, when Rand offered to start paying her tuition, as he had the ranch back to where it was making money, I took great pride in the fact that she said thanks, but no thanks. He called me on my cell phone to tell me to stop being such a self-righteous prick and pressuring his little sister into decisions she didn’t need to make. With Charlotte listening, I told him to go to hell. She had her own mind, and if she trusted me more than him, maybe that had more to do with him and less to do with me. It was a priceless moment when I got to hang up on him and not pick back up the other twelve times he called. Charlotte had dissolved into laughter watching me dance around the apartment.

Over the next two years, the animosity just escalated. When we graduated, I was sad because I would miss her, but the bright spot was that I would never be subjected to Rand Holloway again, nor the mandatory trips to Texas.

I didn’t go near the Lone Star State, and with Rand never leaving the ranch, my vacations with my friend were evil-free. I was not surprised when Charlotte called to tell me that Rand’s wife had left him after only a year of marriage. I had been more surprised over the news that he had gotten someone to marry him in the first place. She called me a jerk, but her new boyfriend Benjamin Cantwell had agreed with me. Rand wasn’t his favorite either.

Six months ago, Charlotte had asked me to show up for her mother’s sixtieth birthday party. The day afterward, the three of us—Char, Ben, and I—were flying out to Cancun to meet friends. When she told me we were going to the ranch, I was worried, but I figured it was only one day. What was the worst thing that could happen?

I was standing with Charlotte’s uncle Tyler, having a good time, asking him questions while he barbequed, when Rand came by. He told his father’s oldest brother not to waste his time talking to me because I wasn’t really listening anyway.

“I am, actually,” I had snapped at his retreating back.

“Bullshit,” he barked back at me, having wheeled around. “Stefan Joss never listens to anything anybody says.”

“No,” I said coolly, staring directly into his eyes. “I just don’t listen to you.”

The muscles in his jaw clenched, the veins in his neck corded, and his eyes narrowed. “Well, that’s certainly good to know.”

I shrugged, and he walked away without another word.

“You know—” The older man had chuckled, which brought my attention back to him, “I have never seen anyone get a rise out of Rand like that.”

“Sorry,” I said, ready to walk away.

He stopped me with a gentle hand on my arm. “No.” His smile was wide. “It was fun.”