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By:Lulu Pratt & Simone Sowood

I laugh, rolling my eyes. "She's not a cliché," I point out. "She's picky, anyway. Always has been."

"Picky never lasts that long," Dad counters.

"Obviously it does," I tell him. "Seeing as how she isn't with anyone right now."

"Speaking of which," Dad says, "when are you going to get tired of the merry-go-round and settle?"

"Not anytime soon, I can tell you that," I reply.

"I get the allure," Dad says, finishing off his meatballs. "But at some point, whatever your career trajectory, you're going to appreciate having someone who can make things stable, hold everything down."

"I don't even know what my ‘career trajectory' is," I tell him. "I don't know what I'm going to be doing in the next six months."

"You'll figure it out," Dad says. "I mean, after all, whether or not you're seeing someone seriously will probably figure in whether or not you decide to reenlist."

"Whatever, old man," I say, rolling my eyes. "I'm nowhere near figuring that out yet."

"You should figure it soon," Dad says to me. "And expect that people are going to ask you about it this week."

"Not if you and Mom don't tell them about it," I point out.

"People are going to do the math, son," Dad counters. "They're going to figure you're close to finishing your time. Even if they don't, you're going to get the question of what you plan on doing after the army anyway."

Before I can say anything to that, there's a knock at the door and I get up to answer it. The first of the guests is one of my dad's coworkers and his wife. Mom comes out of her room before I have any chance to say anything other than hello, and I move out of the way to let my parents take over.

It's going to be rough until some people's kids get here, I think. At least Harper should get here soon, and I'll have someone to talk to.



I follow my parents across the lawn to Bev and Nolan's home where the party's already in progress. The tables look great, the candles lit, the flowers all perfect, and with the sun starting to take on the gold-yellow glow of late afternoon, it's magical. A few people are milling around outside, smoking cigarettes and chatting, eating the snacks that either Bev made or people brought with them.   


Most of the people at the party are folks I recognize more or less immediately. The neighborhood party would be in a few days, and then my parents were going to have the Lewises over for dinner after that.

I'm carrying some stuff that Mom and I prepped for the party - pasta salad that I made, and Mom's yogurt dip with some veggies and some pita chips. I hurry into the house while Mom and Dad are saying hello to everyone outside, and spot a handful of people my own age.

"Hey, good to see you," one of Bev's coworkers' kids says to me, and I smile at her. She helps me open up the yogurt dip and snags a taste of it, leaning in closer. "Be on the lookout," she murmurs, "the parentals are trying to play matchmaker."

"Oh God," I groan, opening my pasta salad container and shaking my head.

"I know, right?" I remember suddenly that her name is Natasha. "I haven't told my parents I'm seeing this guy, so they think I'm still single, and they have not got off my case all night."

"Probably something about how ‘romantic' it is that we're all celebrating a twenty-fifth anniversary," I say, shaking my head again. "Ugh. At least we're all drinking age." I spot the table with the pitchers of red, white and rosé sangria, along with bottles of Champagne and soft drinks and I suddenly want nothing more than to mind the bottles and stay out of the way. But I know that's not an option.

"Harper! Good to see you, girl!" I give Natasha a wry grin and let myself be hugged by one of Zane's aunts.

"You too! Oh wow, it's been a long time, hasn't it?" I manage to stop her at the drink table and at least pour myself a glass of the red sangria before she's steering me to other people in the room, reminding everyone that I was "Marshall's daughter."

"You've been living in New York all this time, right?"

"Since I graduated, yeah," I reply, keeping a smile on my face.

"How are you liking the city?"

My attention is torn in five different directions. I'm not sure whether I should try to find my parents or try to make a break for it altogether. Instead, I tell everyone I've suddenly been surrounded by about my job with the publishing company, keeping mum on the big news I haven't even told my parents about yet. Finally, my parents appear, and for a second I think I'm saved.

"There you are, Harper!" Mom cuts through the crowd around me and pulls me away, saying that the guests should all be swarming the couple of the evening anyway. "There's someone I want you to meet."

"Mom," I say, pulling my hand free of hers.

"Just meet him, sweetie," Mom says.

"How am I going to meet anyone here? I already know everyone," I point out.

"There are at least six people at this party this evening that you don't know," Mom tells me. "Nolan's department just hired four new people since you were last in town, and three of them have sons."

"Mom, don't do this," I insist.

"Just meet them, sweetie. I'm not, like, trying to plan your wedding or anything," Mom says. "I just thought you might like to meet some nice boys while you're in town."

"So that I'll go on dates with them, fall in love and move back from the city, I'm sure." I roll my eyes at her. "Don't you think it's going to look really weird if my mother is introducing me?"

"Not at all, sweetie," Mom replies. "That's what people do at parties, introduce people to folks they might not already know."

"Mom, let me meet people on my own," I protest. "I've got a drink, I'm going to get something to eat as soon as I can get away from people trying to corner me, I'll be fine. Go …  meet people with Dad, or something."

I spot Zane. I can only hope that he'll save me from the situation. I duck out of my mom's sight and try to take the least obvious course to get to him. On the way, I grab some crab dip and some of my pasta salad, and make sure Mom isn't following me.

"Oh-my-God," I mutter as I get close to him. "Are your parents going crazy with introducing you to people too?"

"All the parents are trying to play matchmaker," Zane replies. "Most of us aren't having it."

"Most of us?" I look around the room. "Who's the turncoat?"

"Chelsea," Zane says, pointing her out. "Apparently half the girls from her sorority are married or engaged, so she's looking to get on the fast track." He sips his sangria.

Zane then looks at me with a smirk, "It'd be better if my parents had thought to have something other than this to drink. Beer or some liquor."

I roll my eyes at him. "You didn't get enough of that during your party year? Or at base bars?"

"When a man finds his best option, he doesn't vary the tune," Zane says, looking at his glass of sangria with distaste.

"Sangria is perfectly fine," I insist. "Especially with everything else going on food-wise."

"Yeah, if you're a woman," Zane counters.

"Get a life, Zane," I say, turning away from him. In spite of myself I can feel a little jolt of warmth working through me. It's because he's dressed up and all muscly from being in the army, that's all it is. That and because you've been deprived so long, I tell myself.

I wander around the party, chatting with a few people, drinking sangria and trying to ignore Zane. I hear people asking him about the military, and every so often, we catch each other's eyes and make faces at how ridiculous the whole situation we're in is.

I manage to get a decent buzz going on after a few glasses of sangria, and I actually start to loosen up a bit. I keep seeing Zane and can't help but notice how hot he is, over and over again. I try to keep my mind on the party, and maybe even try to meet a few new guys, but by the time the party ends and Mom, Dad and I walk back across the lawn to the house, I don't find anyone else worth really investigating.



I finally walk into my room after the party, feeling almost as tired as I normally do after a personal training session, and almost as jazzed at the same time. I turn on the lights and untuck my dress shirt, kick off my shoes, and sit down in front of my TV, starting up my old PlayStation to play a few rounds against the computer to tire myself out.

I'm playing by autopilot, reacting to the action on the screen without even really thinking about it, since I've played the game so many times I don't need to focus. I start thinking about the party. For the most part it was silly, but I have to admit to myself that Harper was looking really good, even better than when I'd seen her the night before, or even that morning.

I see movement in the corner of my vision and pause the game for a second. The movement is in my window, or more accurately, it's across the yard, in the other window. Harper's room. I start to go back to my game, but as soon as I see what she's doing, I forget about the game altogether. She's taking off her dress. Apparently she doesn't remember her curtains are open.