Home > Nothing But Trouble (Malibu University #1)

Nothing But Trouble (Malibu University #1)
Author: P. Dangelico

Chapter 1

Present Day

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” —Steve Jobs

Alice

I’m roasting. The class valedictorian drones on and on about taking life by the short hairs, something she knows nothing about, while the pale skin of my forehead gets blowtorched. The diplomas haven’t even begun to be handed out yet. At this rate, I’ll resemble extra crispy barbecued pork by the time it’s over.

From my seat on the outskirts of the audience, I glance over my shoulder and search the crowd. The view of the Santa Monica Bay from the side of the hill where the graduation ceremony is being held is surreal, picture perfect. The water Zen-like calm. The treacherous blue sky cloudless. The sight never gets old.

“Who you looking for?” Zoe queries on my right.

“I thought we agreed we weren’t going to bring him up today?”

Am I surprised, however? No. As a general rule Zoe has never met an order she didn’t love to trample under her Chanel motorcycle boots.

“So you were looking for him.”

I snatch the graduation program out of her hand and fan myself. It was probably a mistake to wear black but it matched my mood.

“No. Just bored,” I casually answer without making eye contact. I don’t even know why I bother. She’s much too perceptive for her own good. If Zoe Mayfield ever decided to give a shit, she could rule the world.

“Riiight,” she drawls while casually inspecting her short, dark nails. The sun catches the stacks of skinny diamond rings on her long fingers and returns a spray of light.

“I’m not looking for him,” I mutter. A bold-faced lie. It’s wrong how easily it trips off my tongue.

Meanwhile my neck heats, and a blazing path of pure embarrassment climbs over my face which has nothing to do with the Southern California sun. I can’t bear to look pathetic anymore. It’s time to move on. It’s been time for a while now.

Expression completely blank, Zoe gives me the universal gesture for hand job and I snicker.

“I don’t read sign language,” I whisper.

“How about this? You read this?” She flips me the bird and I chuckle.

Two seats down, Blake leans over and glares at us. I shrug and point to Zoe. She shakes her head. No need to explain. She knows Zoe better than I do seeing as they’ve been best friends since junior high. Next to her, Dora rolls her eyes.

“What time does the party start?” I say in an attempt to drive the conversation elsewhere and fast.

“Nine at Shutters on the Beach––”

Two girls seated directly in front turn around and shush us. Zoe makes a face and crosses her tanned legs. The white Stella McCartney dress she’s wearing hikes up to mid thigh, making them look like they go on for weeks. “We got a block of rooms so no one has to drive,” she explains.

The two girls in front take it to the next level, graduating from shushing to giving us dirty looks. Filled with irritation, Zoe’s gaze snaps back to them and I brace for the inevitable. I know that look. And more importantly, I know what comes next.

She rests her elbow on the back of her chair and swings her crossed leg. “Mind your own business, or I’ll rip off those caterpillars glued to your eyes.”

And there it is.

Horrified, the girls swivel around to face ahead.

“There’s still time. Maybe he’ll show up,” she continues, completely unfazed by the exchange.

As much as I want to believe that, I promised myself that I was done pining like a war bride. It wouldn’t be so bad if I knew he was safe and happy, living his best life. The life that he chose for himself and not the one mapped out for him. But I don’t know. And I have to accept the fact that I may never know.

Looking into the sympathetic eyes of my well-meaning friend, I shake my head. “I haven’t heard from him in four months.”

“Do you want me to ask––”

“No––don’t.”

The hope in Zoe’s eyes dims. And even though I can tell she wants to argue, all she does is nod. Curbing the urge to take one last look around, I force my attention onto the podium.

“So in closing, I give you the words of a truly inspiring First Lady, Michelle Obama––” Squaring her shoulders, the valedictorian beams, sunshine reflecting off her wide bright grin. “It is absolutely still possible to make a difference.”

Applause explodes all around me. Everyone stands while I remain seated. This should’ve been his graduation day. In which case, I would’ve been on my feet, cheering him on. Except I’m not. Instead, I’m left to watch everyone else celebrate while a heavy weight settles in my gut.

“It’s time to move on,” I mumble more to myself than anyone else. I just want to forget. Except the yawning void where my heart used to be won’t let me.

Alice

Ten Months Ago

Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

I lift my forehead off the steering wheel and peer through the windshield of my brand-new, old car. Smoke billows up from the faded pistachio green hood of the ’84 Jetta I purchased only two days ago.

I’m pretty sure this is how the term “hot mess” was coined.

Through the smoke, my gaze finds the brass plaque that reads Malibu University fixed to the stone pillars that mark the entrance on the south side of campus.

Just livin’ the dream, Bailey.

Funny thing, despite appearances I am living the dream. I’ve been working most of my life to get here, to transfer from my small community college back east to this school. And it’s taken everything and I mean everything I had––time, money, blood, sweat, and tears. A little thing like a smoking car is not about to dampen my mood. My mood is as dry as the parched earth of the Malibu hills.

On the passenger seat, my cell phone rings and my father’s face appears, his handsomeness marred by the cracks on the screen. A minor miracle this thing is still working with how many times I’ve dropped it.

“Dad, I can’t talk right now––” I say without preamble.

Minor or not, I don’t have the luxury of dwelling on miracles right now. Not when I have a major problem on my hands.

“Too busy for your old man already?”

“No…” My voice fades. I cringe because my father is nothing if not predictable. “The car crapped out on me. Don’t say I told you so.”

Two days. Two frigging days this jalopy lasted. Okay, yes, I only spent three grand. But two days? C’mon, it should’ve at least lasted three.

A heavy sigh comes through, then, “I told you––”

“I know––” I cut him off. “I know. But it was the only one I could afford. Can I call you back?”

Here’s an interesting nugget, Los Angeles is sadly lacking in public transportation. The neighboring boroughs even worse, practically none to speak of. Compared to back east, it’s a joke and nothing to laugh at. Pair that with the fact that Malibu is not the small quaint beach town most people imagine it to be. It’s a sprawling thing, running along one of the busiest highways in America (Pacific Coast Highway). Ergo, a car, any car, is better than no car at all.

Unless it’s a car that doesn’t start….and has you stuck at the bottom of a mountain.

“Call me as soon as you get home safely. Love you, Button.”

“I will. Love you too.” Ending the call, I grab my purse and rummage inside for my sunblock.

I’m going to have to walk home. That’s one grueling uphill mile. But safety first. Because I’m the safety girl. My mother died of cancer when I was five. I don’t take my health lightly and the Baileys are staunchly Anglo and tragically pale. Sadly, I’ve inherited this burden. No tanning for me unless I want to look like a Roma tomato.

That said, I pull my extra large tube of sunscreen out of my bag and get busy applying it. It’s not the amateur drug store variety, either. Nope. It’s the all-natural, thick-as-paste and dense-as-spackle zinc one. The kind that no matter how much I try to rub it in still makes me look like a walking corpse.

I cover my bare legs all the way up to the frayed edges of my jean cut-offs. My arms to my shoulders where skin meets my black sleeveless t-shirt. And lastly, I smear a good amount across the bridge of my nose.

Once my armor is fully on, I tie my chin-length bob back in a tiny ponytail, shake out my bangs, and jump out. No need to lock it. Having this junker towed will undoubtedly cost me money that I don’t have to spare. I can only pray someone comes by and steals it.

I slip on my backpack that carries my precious camera equipment and start the hike up the winding road that leads to my dorm.

Malibu University is built on a chain of hills and mountains overlooking the Santa Monica Bay. A labyrinth of snake-like roads connects the buildings on campus. It’s heaven on the eyes and murder on the hamstrings. On the flip side, no need to bother with squats anymore.

Soon I’m sweating everywhere. It dribbles down my temple. Between my breasts. Down my back. My feet too. Good stuff (heavy sarcasm). They keep slipping out of my silver flip-flops, making the trek three times more arduous than it needs to be.

And it’s hot. Sweet bee stings is it hot. Heatstroke is fast becoming a very real possibility.

I’m busy sweating when the loud purr of an approaching car gets my attention. I immediately perk up, hopeful that I could possibly bum a ride. Until a red BMW comes racing down the road and immediately snuffs out that dream.

It’s a convertible. Top down. Filled with girls I’ve seen around campus. Hair whipping in the wind, they’re laughing and singing along with Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Getting Back Together at the top of their lungs.

Welcome to Wonderland. It is not a myth. Los Angeles is populated by a disproportionate amount of pretty people. A few weeks ago this would’ve had me staring with my jaw unhinged, but the sight has become so common it doesn’t even warrant a second glance anymore.

Not a single one of them notices me as they drive by. My foot slips out of the flip-flop, making me stumble a few steps. Luckily for me, I manage to right myself before turning into roadkill.

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