“I told you that you’re talented,” she says. “Why do you think I’ve spent the last two months cajoling you into letting me show your work?”
It took her two months to convince me to show my charcoal sketches, mostly because I didn’t trust that her interest wasn’t simply related to the fact that I’m Senator Harrison’s wayward daughter.
My father and I haven’t spoken in months. He has no interest in the way I’m “choosing to throw away” my life. But I’m proud of myself for choosing UCLA, and for choosing art.
I’m not proud of myself for the way things ended with Caulter. That conversation in the hallway outside of the wedding reception still haunts me. It replays in my head over and over, his “I fucking love you.”
I didn’t say it back. I stood there while he looked at me, giving me everything he had, knowing that Caulter wasn’t the guy who said something like that.
And I didn’t say it back.
When he tried to explain, I said I wanted nothing to do with him. I was overwhelmed with everything that had happened -- in the public eye, no less.
I didn't think he would just leave. Even afterward, I thought I'd be able to track him down in Hollywood, and I tried. When I emailed Ella, she had no idea where he was. Thailand, she thought. India, maybe. He was backpacking around Asia. I wrote him a hundred emails I never got the courage to send, telling him how I felt about him, that I loved him too. But it was too much to put in an email. The ugly truth is that I was just too much of a chicken shit to say how I felt.
For the first few months after he was gone, I expected him to knock on the sliding glass door of my patio and just walk inside, with that stupid smirk on his face. But it never happened.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about him all the time. But as it turns out, life isn’t really a fairy tale after all, no matter how much I’d like to believe it is.
I think if Caulter were here, he’d be proud of me. And I think he’d laugh when he saw the subject matter in my gallery exhibit.
But he's not here. Neither is my father. My friends from school are here, though, and so are a handful of professors from the art department. Standing here, surrounded by my drawings, I'm pretty convinced this is the best things can ever get for me. I'm ecstatic, even if part of me knows something is missing. Caulter is missing.
A reporter from a small, arts-focused paper wants to interview me. He asks about the inspiration for the show. I don’t lie, but I don’t tell the truth.
“It was inspired by a friend of mine,” I say. I don’t elaborate.
“It’s an interesting title choice -- Prick,” he says. “Some friend.”
“It’s a friend,” I repeat.
“I’m not sure I’d say that.” The voice hits me like a ton of bricks. His voice. Like some ghost from my past, because he is a damn ghost from the past. I whirl around.
Caulter fucking Sterling, in the flesh.
In the holy-shit-still-gorgeous flesh.
Caulter has changed. His hair is longer, scruffier, more unkempt, mussed like he’s just gotten out of bed. But in a sexy way. And he’s wearing a suit. And a tie.
“You,” I say. It’s the only word I can spit out. You. That’s what I say to the person I love, after a year of not seeing him. That’s what I say to the person who looks back at me in real life instead of from my drawings.
“Prick,” he says, looking at me meaningfully. He can’t help but recognize the sketches -- none show his face, but he knows it's him.
“It’s the name of the exhibit,” the reporter intrudes, his voice sounding more nasal than it had seemed before.
I turn around, giving him a look. “Could you excuse us, please?”
“The interview --” he starts.
“Just give us a moment, please.” I don’t look to see if he’s gone before I turn back to Caulter.
“Prick,” I say.
“Frigid prude,” he says. And there’s the old Caulter, the Caulter I loved. The Caulter I still love now. A grin spreads slowly across his face, that same grin that made my heart leap before.
I grin, the biggest fucking smile I’ve ever smiled. “Asshole.”
“Princess.” He says the word, and I know what I’ve always known. I know what I should have known back then, when I let him go.
And I know what I have to tell him. The logical part of me is saying, no, it’s been a year, he has a girlfriend or he’s shacking up with twin actresses from Paris. It's telling me, be reasonable. Be appropriate.