New York City never could compare to the palm trees of L.A. While both cities were one in the same, both places highly romanticized, both places where only the elitist of the wealthiest of the savviest could make it, you knew where you wanted to be. It wasn’t here.
Heels clicking on gray stone pathways drenched in amber leaves wasn’t you either, but it was where you found yourself. Here. Now. Strutting past the well-manicured lawns of Columbia in a lively group of trust fund babes. You were one, after all, and this was your world. It always had been.
Same people, same parties, same circles and brands and bags. Different city. Your belonging was confirmed by the girls’ immediate approval, sealed with a crooked smile.
“She’s completely zoned out. You there Erica?”
You smiled. “Am I ever?”
This merited a few laughs. “You were barely awake during Lit today,” Ashley said, taking an appreciative gulp of coffee.
“Only here for the good times, girls.”
And for Mom and Dad. Always for Mom and Dad.
Ashley’s eyes narrowed. Out of all the girls you’d aligned yourself with, she was the one that liked you the least. She was from the Upper East Side. Straight-laced, the poster girl for the young up-and-coming socialite. She never could understand self-branding, putting out a line of luxury surfwear, or teaming up with Chanel to create a line of waterproof makeup. Why spend time in Belize for photoshoots and promo deals when law school was oh-so-classy and accessible? Old money, old ways. You would forever be green to her.
“As long as you’re not gonna sleep through the gathering tonight.” Ashley pursed her lips. “A lot of effort went into it.”
You nodded. “Yeah, yeah. C’mon, when have you ever known me to sleep through a party?”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Give me a break. Your rager two weeks ago was an intimate get-together.” You laughed, but Ashley didn’t.
“Parties are for frat boys at state schools,” she observed.
You and Charlotte exchanged looks. Charlotte came from a long line of brains and bucks, but unlike Ashley, she also had the sort of bravado and security that money can’t buy. She’d liked you from the start, suggesting that you could be a “fun time”.
Charlotte flashed a quick grin at Ashley, then at you, dark eyeliner making her sleepy expression more vibrant. “Don’t worry, Ash. We will be alive, amiable, and affable. Right Erica?”
You shrugged. “We’ll see.”
“Will be some good time to schmooze,” Charlotte said. “Promoting all of your overpriced beach bum crap.”
You didn’t even get a shot to agree with her before the hurricane came: a statuesque blonde adorned in sweats and Nikes approached you, calling your name, smile a mile wide.
“Hey! Hey, sorry to bother you. But, uh, aren’t you Erica Castro?”
Charlotte and Ashley exchanged looks. “Yep. And yes, my mom is Elle Newman and my dad is Ernesto Castro. Any questions?”
Charlotte snorted, and Ashley sighed, as if being friends with you and dealing with your many curious inquirers and admirers was the great tragedy of her life.
“Uh, okay? I just saw your name on the roster, and I figured I’d say hey, since we’re gonna be teammates, and all that. I’m Britney.”
Your mouth got dry. “Wh-what? What roster?”
“The basketball roster. I’m a recruit too.” When you didn’t say anything, Britney raised her eyebrows. “You-you are Erica Castro, right?”
“Of course she’s Erica Castro,” Ashley said. “And she doesn’t play basketball. She’s a surfer.”
Britney shrugged. “Whatever you say. Like it or not, your name is on the roster. You must have been pretty good though, to come here as a recruit.”
Charlotte threw her arm over your shoulder. “Yet another hidden talent of the amazing Erica Castro! Why didn’t you tell us you were so good at basketball? Trying to retain your air of mystery and elusiveness?”
You licked your lips. The only time you’d ever even touched a basketball was when your mother suggested you try posing with it for a few pictures to show your business partners that you were capable of expanding your line of surf-gear to other sports. You’d rejected her proposal, but she was so persistent that you agreed to a few pictures.
You always acquiesced to her wishes. She had always been a bit of a helicopter parent, and yet, everything was always for Mom and Dad. After all, everything they did was for you.
The image of your mother, staring at the pictures on her laptop after it was all over, is burned in your brain.
“Earth to Erica. Zoned out again.”
“Water. I need water. Char, do you have water?”
Charlotte’s face fell, and she studied you as she pulled her half-drunk Fiji bottle out of her backpack. All you could hear was the sound of your own greedy swallows of water and the chatter of the students walking past the four of you, trapped in this small pocket in time, the last moment of your life before it all fell in shambles around your feet.
You should have known better, should have known your place, should have paid more attention to that helicopter, that sword of Damocles dangling over your head.
But it was too late now.
No. You never belonged here.