Something Like Perfect by S.C. Stephens

Chapter One

It was a chilly night in LA, and I wrapped my jacket tighter around myself as my friends and I walked down the sidewalk to our favorite club. I was exhausted, and I really wanted to go home to my apartment and sleep for about a hundred years, but I couldn’t. Today was my best friend’s birthday, and we were celebrating.

“Valerie, why do you look like you’re about to pass out?”

I looked over at the tall redhead walking beside me. Stephanie, the birthday girl and my best friend. “Culinary school is kicking my ass,” I told her. She frowned, like she was worried about me, and I quickly swished my hand to wipe away her concern. “It’s a good tired, I swear. I love school.” Even as I said it, visions of soufflés, risottos, and tartars filled my head. God, I couldn’t wait for Monday.

Smiling, her blue eyes shining with joy, Steph looped her arm around mine. “Well, I’m glad you’re coming out with us. And not just because it’s my birthday. You need to unwind.” Steph had always been the protector of our little group, caring and empathetic. She was the one we all went to when we needed a shoulder to cry on.

I grinned at Steph, and the smile instantly turned into a yawn. On the other side of me, my friend Alicia smacked my arm. “Stop that. You’re making me tired, and it’s not even ten o’clock.” Her dark eyes sparkled with mischief as she smirked at me. Where Steph was sweet, Alicia was blunt and outspoken. She told the world exactly what she felt about it; I loved that about her.

“Sorry,” I said, clenching my jaw to stop myself from yawning again.

My third friend, Chloe—walking behind me with my sister, Kylie—started giggling. Cute, sweet, and so short you could almost tuck her in your pocket, Chloe was the official jokester of the group; she found everything funny and had a way of making everyone else see the humor in any situation.

At hearing Chloe snort, Kylie started laughing too. I tossed a glare at her. The sister code clearly stated that she shouldn’t laugh at my misery. Kylie cringed in apology, then continued laughing. So much for the sister code.

Rolling my eyes, I twisted back around to face the club that was now just a few feet away. The thumping music inside the building was so loud I could feel it vibrating through my chest. Its energy perked me up a bit. Maybe Steph was right. Maybe this was exactly what I needed.

The five of us walked inside and headed straight for the bar. Dancing was always better once you had a shot or two dulling your senses. I ordered a round of whiskey for everyone, then passed them out.

After everyone had one, we formed a circle—a symbol of our impenetrable bond. “To Steph,” I said. “The best one of us.”

“I don’t know about that,” Alicia quipped, fluffing her dark wavy hair. “I’m pretty fabulous.”

We all laughed, then clinked our glasses together. “To Steph,” we all said as one, and then we tipped the glasses back. It burned in the best possible way, and I was immediately back at the bar, ordering another round. This night was going to be so expensive but so worth it.

Kylie joined me at the bar while I waited for the bartender to precisely fill each shot glass. My sister was chewing on her lip, looking really guilty about something, so I couldn’t help but ask her what was going on. “You okay?”

She grinned as she tucked her long blonde hair behind her ears. “Yeah, why?”

“I don’t know. You just seem like you want to say something, but at the same time, you don’t want to say something.”

With a groan, she dropped her head back. “Ugh, I hate how you can read me like a book.”

Half smiling, I shrugged. “That comes with being a big sister.”

She raised a pale eyebrow, amused. “You’re ten months older than me. That hardly qualifies you as being wiser than me.”

My smile grew as I grabbed some of the finished drinks. “All that matters is the older part. Doesn’t matter if it’s ten months or ten minutes. I’ll always know best.”

She laughed at my statement, then bit her lip again. “Okay . . . I have a secret.”

Handing her two of the glasses, I let out a loud groan. “Oh my God, Kylie . . . how many times have I told you the first step to spilling a secret is telling someone you have one? Seal those lips.”

She giggled again, then shook her head. “Oh, I’m not spilling anything yet.”

“Then why did you tell me? Are you trying to drive me insane?”