Julia bit her lip and stifled a sob.

“I knew you’d take the news hard. She was like a mother to you, and Rachel was such a good friend of yours in high school. Have you heard from her?”

“Um, no. No, I haven’t. Why didn’t she tell me?”

“I’m not sure when they found out that Grace was sick again. I was over to the house to see everyone earlier today, and Gabriel wasn’t even there. That’s created quite a problem. I don’t know what he’s walking into when he arrives. There’s a lot of bad blood in that family.” Tom cursed softly.

“Are you sending flowers?”

“I guess so. I’m not really good at that sort of thing, but I could ask Deb if she’d help.”

Deb Lundy was Tom’s girlfriend. Julia rolled her eyes at the mention of Deb’s name but kept her negative reaction to herself.

“Ask her, please, to send something from me. Grace loved gardenias.

And just have Deb sign the card.”

“Will do. Do you need anything?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Do you need any money?”

“No, Dad. I have enough to live on with my scholarship if I’m careful.”

Tom paused, and even before he opened his mouth she knew what he was about to say.

“I’m sorry about Harvard. Maybe next year.”

Julia straightened her shoulders and forced a smile, even though her father couldn’t see it. “Maybe. Talk to you later.”

“Bye, honey.”

The next morning Julia walked a little more slowly on her way to the university, using her iPod as background noise. In her head, she composed an e-mail of condolence and apology to Rachel, writing and rewriting it as she walked.

The September breeze was warm in Toronto, and she liked it. She liked being near the lake. She liked sunshine and friendliness. She liked tidy streets free of litter. She liked the fact she was in Toronto and not in Selinsgrove or Philadelphia — that she was hundreds of miles away from him. She only hoped it would stay that way.

She was still mentally writing the e-mail to Rachel when she stepped into the office of the Department of Italian Studies to check her mailbox.

Someone tapped her on the elbow and moved out of her periphery.

She removed her ear buds. “Paul…hi.”

He smiled down at her, his gaze descending some distance. Julia was petite, especially in sneakers, and the top of her head merely reached the lower edge of his pectorals.

“How was your meeting with Emerson?” His smile faded, and he looked at her with concern.

She bit her lip, a nervous habit that she should stop but was unable to, primarily because she was unaware of it. “Um, I didn’t go.”

He closed his eyes and leaned his head back. He groaned a little.

“That’s…not good.”

Julia tried to clarify the situation. “His office door was closed. I think he was on the phone…I’m not sure. So I left a note.”

Paul noticed her nervousness and the way her delicately arched eyebrows came together. He felt sorry for her and silently cursed The Professor for being so abrasive. She looked as if she would bruise easily, and Emerson was oblivious to the way his attitude affected his students. So Paul resolved to help her.

“If he was on the telephone, he wouldn’t want to be interrupted. Let’s hope that’s what was going on. Otherwise, I’d say you just took your life into your own hands.” He straightened up to his full height and flexed his arms casually. “Let me know if there’s any fallout, and I’ll see what I can do. If he shouts at me, I can take it. I wouldn’t want him to shout at you.”

Because from the looks of it, you’d die of shock, Frightened Rabbit.

Julia appeared as if she wanted to say something but remained silent.

She smiled thinly and nodded as if in appreciation. Then she stepped over to the mailboxes and emptied her pigeon hole.

Junk mail, mostly. A few advertisements from the department, including an announcement of a public lecture to be delivered by Professor Gabriel O. Emerson entitled, Lust in Dante’s Inferno : The Deadly Sin against the Self.

Julia read the title over several times before she was able to absorb it into her brain. But once it had been absorbed, she hummed softly to herself.

She hummed as she noticed a second announcement, which mentioned that Professor Emerson’s lecture had been cancelled and rescheduled for a later date. And she hummed as she noticed a third announcement, which declared that all of Professor Emerson’s seminars, appointments, and meetings had been cancelled until further notice.

And she kept right on humming as she reached back into her pigeon hole for a small square of paper. She unfolded it and read:

I’m sorry.

— Julia Mitchell

She continued to hum as she puzzled over what it meant to find her note in her mailbox the day after she’d placed it at Professor Emerson’s door.

But her humming finally stopped, as did her heart, when she turned the paper over and read the following:

Emerson is an ass.

Chapter 3

There was a time when, in reaction to such an embarrassing event, Julia would have dropped to the floor and pulled herself into a fetal position, possibly staying there forever. But at the age of twenty-three, she was made of sterner stuff. So rather than standing in front of the mailboxes and contemplating how her short academic career had just gone up in flames and been reduced to a pile of ash at her feet, she quietly finished her business at the university and went home.

Pushing all thoughts of her career aside, Julia did four things.

First, she pocketed some cash from the emergency fund that was conveniently located in a Tupperware container underneath her bed.

Second, she walked to the closest liquor store and bought a very large bottle of very cheap tequila.

Third, she went home and wrote a long and apologetic condolence e-mail to Rachel. Purposefully, she neglected to mention where she was living and what she was doing, and she sent the e-mail from her Gmail account rather than her university account.

Fourth, she went shopping. The fourth activity was intended only as a weepy and somewhat heartbroken tribute to both Rachel and Grace, because they had loved expensive things, and Julia was in reality too poor to shop.

Julia couldn’t afford to shop when she came to live in Selinsgrove and met Rachel in their junior year of high school. Julia could barely afford to shop now, as she eked out a meager living on a graduate student’s stipend, without the eligibility to work outside the university to supplement her income. As an American on a student’s visa, she had limited employability.

While she walked slowly past the beautiful shop windows on Bloor Street, she thought of her old friend and her surrogate mother. She stood in front of the Prada store, envisioning the one and only time Rachel had Sylvain Reynard

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