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Perfect Always
Author: Tricia Copeland

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“You’re quiet. What’s wrong?” Bree makes bug eyes as the car jerks to a stop in our parking space.

“Just tired.” I pull the handle and push my shoulder against the door. Heaving my pack to my shoulders, I meet her at the front of the car.

Smoothing back her dark, silky hair, Bree hooks an arm in mine. “I usually can’t shut you up. Talk to me.”

“I miss Adam. It’s been a month since we’ve seen each other. I don’t know if I can do this anymore.” I focus on my torn nails as we amble across the parking lot.

“What do you mean? Stay here, or stay with him?” She stops in front of the entrance doors.

I swipe my key card over the security lock and swing the door open. “I love him. We’re miserable apart, and we have two more years of school.”

“It’s only a week till summer break.” She skips ahead of me and presses the elevator button. “Let’s do a movie night. We’ll order pizza and eat popcorn.”

“Yeah, but with my job, I only get three days of break.”

“It’ll work out. You’ll see. Focus, Chloe, movie night.” She lays her arm over my shoulders as we exit the elevator.

I divert the conversation to her weekend plans as we weave through the maze of halls. Inside our apartment, we dump our books by the door, she dismisses every movie I suggest, and I refuse her horror film ideas as we stow the groceries in the kitchen. Hand to her hip, she looms over me as I fill a pot, start the burner, and lean against the counter, staring at the floor.

“Chloe Pham, since when do we mope? All this negativity is bringing me down. We’re goddesses who find a way to overcome no matter what. So, how do we raise the mood?” She ducks down so we’re eye level and wags a finger at me. “Forget movie night. We should go out.”

I stare at her for a good five seconds, square my shoulders, and stomp my foot. “You’re right. There’s been way too much studying.”

Bree lifts her arms and sways her hips. “Yes, girl! Dancing is what we need, although I do at least have to read some chapters for my lectures tomorrow.”

We grab our textbooks and eat as we work. I hop in the shower and exit to the sound of a myriad of voices wafting in from the living room. Still, I take my time drying my hair, relishing in the hot air and feel of the brush pulling through my dark strands. Energized by the tinkling of laughter from the other room, I loop portions of my hair around a hot iron. I brush my face with powder and apply blush, eyeliner, mascara, and a hint of pink eye shadow for effect.

I survey my closet and lack of clothing and fight the next negative thought threatening to ruin my mood. So what? You don’t have tons of clothes. I yank the first dress in the line off the hanger and shimmy into it. It’s a slim-fit cocktail dress I wore to the Winter Formal. I pull the straps down over my shoulders; grab my lace-up, black, heeled boots for a different look; and then exit the room before I can talk myself out of it.

“Wow! You’re putting us all to shame tonight. I like it, girl!” Dani wraps an arm around my waist as I enter the living room.

I spin to show off my outfit, prompting whistles from each of my friends. Surveying their faces, Bree, who’d been my roommate since Freshman year, and Ella, Dani, and Caroline, sorority pledge classmates, my heart warms. I couldn’t have made it through the past two years without Bree’s no-nonsense temperament, Ella’s undying optimism, Dani’s unbridled spirit, and Caroline’s huge heart.

Glass in hand, Bree crosses to me. “This is for you.”

“Where did you get this?” I take the red concoction. “And we’re drinking already?”

“Dani.” She points to our sorority sister and clinks the glass to mine.

I rub a hand down my thigh and take a huge gulp. My psyche needs a drink to be at a club without Adam. Fun is a good thing. Going out with girlfriends is completely acceptable.

“Party Chloe is in the house.” Bree bumps her hip to mine.

“I don’t know about that. I don’t usually go out without Adam.”

“Well, alcohol will help. Plus, we have a designated driver with a curfew, so it won’t be too crazy. Drink.” She cuts her eyes to my glass.

After a few more sips, I start to relax and take a seat beside Dani. As much as I miss Adam, I can’t imagine being away from these girls. We’ve become so much more than pledge sisters. Stretching an arm over the cushion, I focus on them, blending into the conversation as it bounces from classes, to sorority news and events, to gossip.

“Okay, we’ve devolved. It’s almost ten. We should get going.” Bree jumps up and grabs her bag.

The five of us squeeze into Ella’s hatchback. It’s a short drive to our favorite Thursday hangout, and we pile out of the car.

Bree grabs my hand. “When was the last time you were here?”

“Fat Tuesday, I think.”

“That was a fun one. Man, it’s been way too long.”

The line reaches to the end of the building, but Ella leads us to the door. She greets Max and Hank with hugs, and Max unhooks the rope for us to enter. Hank checks our identification and waves us in. A few people litter the dance floor, but most are huddled around the long bar. We weave to the end, and Bree and I slip between the bodies to order drinks.

“Why do we always get put on drink duty?”

“Because I’m tallish, and you’re usually sober.” Bree stretches over the bar and raises her hand.

I scan the room while we wait for our order. “Wow, it’s packed. Everyone is out tonight.”

“Yeah, because it’s like the last hoorah before finals.”

“Here you go.” The bartender slides me three sodas.

I pocket my credit card and inch back through the mush of people to our group. Ella slips a flask from her bag and adds some vodka to our glasses. If my mom could see me now. You deserve this. All work and no fun will make you crazy.

The music dies, and a band takes the stage. Bree grabs my hand and pulls me to the dance floor. We set our drinks beside the stage as the group starts a fast dance mash. Moving to the beat, I let the thump of the bass replace my worries of Adam, finals, and summer.

A few songs later, I notice Bree greets a couple of guys. She waves me over and introduces them, yelling names over the booming bass. I nod, committing the names to memory—Dominique, Koen, Gareth, and Isaac. Or Mr. Blue Eyes. The thought pops into my head before I can stop it. I bite my lip and tuck my hair behind my ears, shaking the thought from my brain.

“How do you know Bree?” When I glance up, I find Isaac’s gaze focused on me.

“We’re roommates.”

He bends down so his face is inches from mine. “Cool.”

“How do you know Bree?”

“Freshman orientation. We bonded over me being tall and her being tallish, wherever that word came from.”

“Tallish, totally a Bree-ism. I would not have been included in your club.”

“Being tall isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

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