Greta is standing at the window of a hotel in West Hollywood when her brother calls for the third time that day. Across the street, there’s a billboard with a sleek white yacht surrounded by turquoise water, an ad for a new kind of beer, and something about it—that feeling of being adrift—makes it easier to say no when she finally picks up the phone.
“Come on,” Asher says. “It’s only a week.”
“A week on a boat.”
“It’s a ship,” he corrects.
“It’s the last thing I need right now,” Greta says, turning from the window, where the light outside is dreamy and pink. She’s just come from a photo shoot for the cover of her second album, which has been pushed to July. If it were up to Greta, she would’ve moved it back even further, but apparently, that’s no longer an option. Instead, she’d been summoned to Los Angeles to spend three days in a warehouse surrounded by flashing cameras and frowning studio execs in suits and sneakers, the pressure to get this right all over their faces.
It’s been two months since she last performed live—not since the week after her mother died, when she fell apart onstage—but everything else has continued to march ahead, the business part of things still grinding forward mostly without her.
On the desk, next to the hotel stationery, there’s a plate of chocolates with a note from the hotel manager that says, We’re so happy you’re with us. Automatically, Greta thinks of her mom, who no longer is, whose absence feels so breathtakingly final that even this is enough to make her heart drop.
“Why don’t you go?” she says to Asher, trying to imagine spending all that time on a boat with her dad. The Alaskan cruise had been her mother’s idea. It was all she talked about for nearly a year, right up until March, when an artery ruptured in her head and the whole world seemed to stop.
Now it’s only a month away. And her dad is still planning to go.
“We can’t let him do this alone,” Asher says, ignoring her question. “It’s too sad.”
“He’ll hardly be alone,” Greta says as she wanders into the bathroom. “He’ll have the Fosters and the Blooms. They’ll take care of him.”
She stares at her reflection in the mirror, her face still made up from the shoot. Red lips, white skin, green eyes lined with charcoal. Her dark hair, usually so wild, is now sleek and tamed. She sets the phone down on the sink and switches to speaker, then twists the tap and begins to scrub it all off.
“He’ll be a fifth wheel,” Asher insists, his voice bouncing around the bathroom. “It’s depressing. One of us has to go with him.”
“Right,” Greta says. “You.”
She straightens again. Her skin is now pinkish, but she looks more like herself, which is always a relief. She grabs a towel and pats at her face. “The thing is,” she says, picking up the phone again and walking back out into the room, where she flops onto the bed, “he actually likes you.”
“Greta,” he says, impatient now. “You know I can’t do it.”
She knows this, of course. Asher has a wife and three girls under the age of five. He has a job with a boss and a regular work week, an HR department, and a set number of vacation days, which mostly get used up when the kids are sick. He hasn’t been on a plane in years.
Greta’s already been on three this week.
She sighs. “What are the dates again?”
“End of May, beginning of June.”
“I’ve got to be in the city for Gov Ball on the fifth,” she says, almost indecently relieved to have a legitimate excuse, no matter how much she’s dreading it. But this does nothing to deter Asher.
“Lucky for you,” he says, “it gets back on the fourth.”
“You know this isn’t just any show. It’s important.”
“More important than Dad?”
“That’s not fair.”
“It’s not like I’m asking you to choose,” he says. “You’ll be back in New York in time to do your thing. And I’ve heard Alaska is beautiful this time of year. Still a little cold, maybe, but that was just Dad trying to save some money—”
“I don’t think I can do it.”
“Sure you can. You love the water. Remember that time we took the canoe out on—”
“You know what I mean.”
He goes silent for a moment, then says, “It wouldn’t just be for him, you know.”
And that’s what finally gets her.
Copyright © 2022 by Jennifer E. Smith. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.