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“I can’t believe it!” she shouted, looking me up and down as she released me out of her hug. “I mean, Icanbelieve it, you’re brilliant; you getting your master’s was always going to happen. But you know what I mean.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I know. And thanks. Seriously.”

Mom and Dad stepped through the crowd and approached. Mom was all me, blonde and curvy, just as pretty as she was in the pictures I’d seen of her from when she and Dad were my age. She was dressed in her usual flowy, linen clothes, an eager demeanor about her.

“Alright, Haley,” Mom said, sidling around her. “You better not hug this girl out.”

Mom opened her arms and pulled me into an embrace, squeezing me tight.

“This is a heck of a day,” she said, stepping back with her hands on my shoulders as she looked me up and down. “You should be proud as hell of yourself, Georgie.”

Dad was tall and broad shouldered, his square head topped with close-cropped silver hair, wearing a simple button-up shirt tucked into his jeans, his belt decorated with a buckle that left no doubt which state he was from. As he approached, his cowboy boots plodded on the auditorium floor.

“Never thought I’d see the day,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Not only are you the first in our family to go to college, but you’re also the first to get a damn master’s degree.”

Dad was a self-made man through and through, starting off as a cashier at a local hardware store called West Side Builders in Dallas and moving up through the ranks until he was the owner of not just that store but a whole chain of them. Mom and Dad were the heart and soul of the operation; Dad handled the books and Mom used her abundance of charm to be the face of the stores.

“You did this,” Dad said. “And I couldn’t be prouder.”

What I saw next shocked the hell out of me… it was a tear. Dadnevercried. Though, to be fair, what he was doing in that moment wasn’t really crying. The tear lived for only a split-second, catching the sunlight beaming in and glistening just a bit before he wiped it away. There were no sniffles, there was no blubbering.

All the same, it moved me deeply. In fact, it was almost surreal to see my tough-as-nails dad break his typical emotional restraint.

“Anyway,” Mom said, clasping her hands together. “We need to go out for a little dinner and celebrate. That’s what we’re here for, right?”

“Dinner sure sounds good,” Dad said, placing his hand on his middle, which was surprisingly flat for a man his age who loved meat and potatoes the way he did.

Haley grinned. “How about pizza? There’s the best place here in Denver that does Colorado mountain pizza, super thick with crust that you dip in honey.”

My stomach growled. “That works for me. You two have any objections?”

Mom cocked her head to the side. “Georgie, it’s your day. We can go get those fancy Japanese steaks if that’s what you’re in the mood for. What’re those called? Woo-goo?”

That got a laugh out of me.

“As long as there’s drinks so we can make a proper toast,” Dad said. “I’m game for anything.”

His words made my stomach tense. A toast would mean alcohol, and there’d be no way to bring up the subject of me not drinking without explaining why. Andthatwould mean breaking the news.

“You alright?” Dad asked, putting his hand on my shoulder in the way he always did when he suspected I wasn’t feeling myself.

I shook my head. “Totally fine. Just, uh, just thinking about what I want on my pizza.”

Dad was as sharp as they came, and the way he regarded me with an expression of skeptical concern let me know right away that he could sense that something was up. All the same, he’d never been one to pry, and he took his hand from my shoulder.

“Alright then, let’s do this.”

The drive was only fifteen minutes, Haley in the car with me and Mom and Dad in the other.

“So,” Haley said a few minutes into the trip. “You hear from him?”

I winced. I’d told Haley about what had happened during my trip to Greece, how I’d hooked up with the hottest guy ever—and on his yacht, no less. Ever since then, and even though I’d made sure to tell her that we hadn’t exchanged contact info, she’d asked me about him every time we’d hung out.

“Same answer as the last time you asked,” I said. “And the time before that…”

“I know, I know,” she said. “No phone numbers, no last names, no nothing. Still, he’s rich!”

“And what does that have to do with anything?”

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