Today Tonight Tomorrow(3)

I’m so close to valedictorian. Three more hours, like his first message so helpfully reminded me. During the farewell assembly, the Westview High School principal will call one of our names, and in my perfect-last-day fantasy, it’s mine. I’ve only been dreaming of it for years: the rivalry to end all rivalries. The velvet bow wrapped around my high school experience.

At first, McNair will be so devastated he won’t be able to look at me. His shoulders will hunch and he’ll stare down at his tie because he always dresses up on assembly days. He’ll feel so embarrassed, this loser in a suit. Beneath his freckles, his pale skin will flush to match his fiery red hair. He has more freckles than he has face. He’ll cycle through five stages of grief before arriving at acceptance of the fact that after all these years, I have finally bested him. I have won.

Then he’ll glance up at me with an expression of utmost respect. He’ll dip his head in deference. “You’ve earned this,” he’ll say. “Congratulations, Rowan.”

And he’ll mean it.

Meet Delilah Park TONIGHT in Seattle!

Delilah Park Publicity <[email protected]> to undisclosed-recipients June 12, 6:35 a.m.

Good morning, lovers of love!

Internationally bestselling author Delilah Park’s Scandal at Sunset tour continues this evening with a stop at Seattle’s Books & More at 8:00 p.m. Don’t miss your chance to meet her in person and take your photo with a ten-foot replica of the Sugar Lake gazebo!

And be sure to grab Delilah’s new book, Scandal at Sunset, on sale now!

X’s and O’s,

Delilah Park’s publicity team

6:37 a.m.



Gray skies rumble with the threat of rain, cedar trees shuddering against the wind. Coffee is my first priority, and Two Birds One Scone is on my way to school. I’ve been working there since I turned sixteen, when my parents made it clear there was no way we could afford out-of-state tuition. While I’ve spent my entire life in Seattle, I always wanted to leave for college if I could. Scholarships will cover most of my first semester at a small liberal arts school in Boston called Emerson. My Two Birds money will cover everything else.

The café is decorated like an aviary, plastic ravens and hawks watching you from every angle. They’re famous not for their scones but for their cinnamon rolls, which are about the size of a small baby, slathered with cream cheese icing, and served warm.

Mercedes, a recent Seattle U grad who works mornings so she can play in her all-female Van Halen cover band, Anne Halen, at night, waves at me from behind the counter.

“Hey, hey,” she says in her too-chipper-before-seven-a.m. voice, already reaching for a compostable cup. “Hazelnut latte with extra whip?”

“You’re wonderful. Thank you.” Two Birds is small, a staff of about eight with two working per shift. Mercedes is my favorite, mainly because she plays better music than anyone else.

My phone buzzes while I’m waiting, Mercedes humming along to Heart’s Greatest Hits. I’m positive it’s McNair—but it’s something much more exciting.

Delilah Park’s book signing has been on my calendar for months, but in the midst of my last-day-of-school-isms, I somehow forgot that tonight I am going to meet my favorite author. I even stashed a few paperbacks in my bag earlier this week. Delilah Park writes romances with feminist heroines and shy, sweet heroes. I devoured These Guarded Hearts and Lay It on Me and Sweet as Sugar Lake, for which she won the country’s highest romance-novel award when she was twenty.

Delilah Park is the person who makes me think my journal scribbles could be something someday. But going to a book signing where the books being signed are romance novels means admitting I am someone who loves romance novels, which I stopped doing after that fateful ninth-grade essay contest.

And maybe admitting I am someone who is writing a romance novel too.

Here is my dilemma: my passion is, at best, someone else’s guilty pleasure. Most of the world takes any opportunity to belittle this thing that centers women in a way most other media doesn’t. Romance novels are a punch line, despite being a million-dollar industry. Even my parents can’t find respect for them. My mom has called them “trash” more than once, and my dad tried to take a box of them to Goodwill last year, simply because I’d run out of space on my bookshelf and he thought I wouldn’t miss them. Fortunately, I caught him on his way out the door.

These days, I have to hide most of my reading. I started writing my novel in secret, assuming I’d tell my parents at some point. But I’m a few chapters from the end, and they still don’t know.

“The finest hazelnut latte in all of Seattle,” Mercedes says as she presents it to me. The light catches the six piercings in her face, none of which I could pull off. “You working today?”

I shake my head. “Last day of school.”

She holds a hand to her heart in mock nostalgia. “Ah, school. I remember it fondly. Or, at the very least, I remember what the bleachers looked like when I was behind them sneaking joints with my friends.”

Mercedes won’t charge me, but I drop a dollar bill into the tip jar anyway. I pass the kitchen as I leave, calling out a quick hello/goodbye to Colleen, the owner and head baker.

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