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“I’ll be right down.” Turning to Brance, I half smile apologetically. “I need to go. I will call you tonight. You gave Reed your number, right?” He looks disappointed but recovers quickly.

“Yeah, I gave him my number. I would love to talk later on. I never sleep well when I take pain medication. I’ll probably be up all night.” Nodding, I’m surprised at my connection with this guy.

“Well, if you are feeling better tomorrow, maybe we can hang out? My mom is picking me up in the morning at Reed’s. She’s recovering from another round of plastic surgery.” Reaching over, I give him a hug. He clings to me for a moment then backs away.

“I would love that. Alejandro, please see Tess down.” He grabs the remote as he slowly sits on the couch.

“Perfect.” I wave at the scowling doctor as I walk by. The whole ride down in the elevator, I can’t stop smiling. I’ve found my new best friend.TESS

Past – fifteen years oldToday is my fifteenth birthday, and I wake to find my mother sobbing at the edge of my bed.

“Mom,” I groan, barely opening my eyes, “what time is it?”

“We have to cancel your party!”

Sitting up, I blink away the sleep. “What are you talking about? It’s only us, Reed, Jax, Brance, and Brad and Caroline.” She continues to sob.

“What’s wrong with you?” I’m getting aggravated until she raises her face, and I gasp in shock.

“Holy shit! What have you done to yourself?” Her left eye is literally drooping shut.

She wails again. “I went to get my monthly Botox and look what happened.”

I’m horrified and genuinely sorry for her. She looks like she had a stroke!

Crawling over to her, I rub her back. “Mom?” I keep my voice calm, trying to be soothing. “Did you call the doctor? I mean… it won’t stay like that, will it?” I have never understood my mother and her constant need to get plastic surgery, collagen, Botox, whatever new thing that comes out. She has made herself look like an embarrassment.

I don’t even remember what she originally looked like. Her puffy red eye looks at me; the other, well…

“You don’t understand, Tess. All I have ever wanted was to be beautiful.” She throws her arms in the air. “I was always plain, and then I had you, and you really were beautiful. I wanted to be someone you could look up to.” Throwing herself dramatically on my bed, she covers eyes with her arm.

“Okay, let’s not panic.” I jump up, trying to find my phone. My mom is whimpering on my down comforter.

“Mom!” I clap my hands to get her attention.

“Focus. We need Brance. I’m sure he can fix you.”

Her face lights up at the mention of Brance. She has become a Brance groupie. From the moment I introduced him to my mother she loved him. He encourages it too. I think it’s because Brance’s mother died when he was five. So, he has basically moved in with us. He dresses me and picks out how I should wear my hair and makeup. It’s like having my own personal stylist, and I love it. After he discovered that my mom was completely hopeless at making herself look good, he took it as a personal challenge to help her. We have done more shopping and spent more time together than I have ever spent with my mom before. I guess I have Brance to thank for that. Unfortunately, besides shopping and spa days, I have nothing in common with her.

At long last, I locate my phone at the bottom of my purse. Dialing his number, I try not to look at her.

“Pretty Girl.” His gravelly voice indicates I’ve woken him up. “Happy Birthday.”

“Thanks, Brance. I know it’s early, but we need you. Mom got Botox yesterday and her left eye looks like she had a stroke.” I wrinkle my nose as I look at her. She sees me and starts wailing.

Sitting up, she grabs the phone from me. “Brance! Oh God, I need you! When are you coming over? You will?” She sighs, her face relaxing, well, as much as her face can. “Okay… Okay, I will stay calm.” Then she smiles, actually smiles. Who is this person?

“Absolutely… I will stay lying down until you get here.” She hangs up, tossing the phone back to me.

“Well?” I demand. “What did he say?”

“He said he can fix me and it will get better each day. Nothing to worry about.” Waving her hand, she looks like a queen.

My phone beeps, and I look down at my incoming text.

I don’t know how you survived without me!

Love you, Pretty Girl.

Smiling, I shake my head. He’s right. My life has become a whole different experience. Before, all I had was Reed and Jax, but now I have Brance. And he is all mine, loyal only to me. And I am loyal to him. We’re like peanut butter and jelly.