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Stone Cold
Author: Winter Renshaw

 


Chapter One

 

 

Jovie

 

* * *

 

Three back-to-back text message chimes wrench me from the deepest sleep I’ve ever known. My head throbs as I lift my cheek from the pillow and squint toward my nightstand where my phone glows in the early morning darkness of my room. Heaviness sinks into my bones and my vision is bleary, but I grow more awake with each passing second.

A fourth chime beckons me, followed by a fifth.

Inching across my bed, my legs tangled in hot sheets, I grab the electronic banshee, tap in my code, and attempt to find out what all the fuss is about.

MONICA: Jovie … omg!

MONICA: Girl, wake up. It’s urgent …

MONICA: Seriously. This. Is. Not. Good.

MONICA: Okay, you really need to wake up now. Everyone is seeing this.

MONICA: This is legit a personal emergency of the worst imaginable kind. If I don’t hear back in two minutes, I’m coming over.

Monica is my best friend and I love her dearly, but she’s also the queen of personal emergencies. Everything is urgent in her world.

I tap her name and lift my phone to my hear.

“Oh, my god, you’re awake,” she says in one long gasping breath.

“What’s going on?” I ask, glancing at the time and wondering if she realizes it’s not even 6 AM. I attempt to pull in a long, deep breath only to forget that my nostrils aren’t working thanks to this nasty head cold I’ve been battling all week.

After several days of not getting an ounce of sleep, I make an executive decision to down some heavy-duty cold medicine I found in the back of my cabinet and slept like a log … until now.

“I tried signing on to your Facebook account but you must have changed your password,” she says, which only begs an entirely different realm of questions.

“Why would you need to log into my account? Is it Chauncy?” I ask. Her husband is a bona fide ladies’ man with a shameless wandering eye, and she is equal parts jealous and loyal. It’s a toxic combination and this wouldn’t be the first time she’s needed to do some internet sleuthing via my account.

“No, no. Jovie, this isn’t about me,” she says. “It’s about you.”

I sit up, my heart inching up the back of my throat. “Wait … I’m confused.”

“So you didn’t do it on purpose?”

“Do what?”

“Tag yourself in Jude and Stassi’s engagement photo.” Her words blur together and sound far away at the same time.

“Mon, I would never,” I say with a chuckle. While last night is a bit of a Nyquil-induced haze—and I’ve been known to social media creep my exes out of sheer boredom—tagging myself in my college boyfriend’s engagement photo is the last thing I’d do.

“But you did,” she says. “It’s there. It’s there for all the world to see. Well, at least his eleven hundred twenty-seven friends, her six hundred and two friends, and your seven-hundred eighty-nine friends. “Hang on.”

My phone buzzes five seconds later, gifting me with a screenshot of a smiling Jude looking down at his blushing-bride-to-be, his arms wrapped around her whittled waist as she gazes up at him with stars for eyes.

I put the call on speaker.

“Zoom in,” Monica says.

I pinch and zoom, inspecting the image.

And then I see it.

My name in the upper lefthand corner of the image, parallel to the orange-sicle sunset in the background.

“H … how?” I manage. “This is … I didn’t do this.”

“Then who would?” she asks.

“I … I don’t know?” I sit up, brushing the hair from my face as I study the image. I haven’t spoken to Jude in years.

Five years, to be precise—not that I’m counting. It’s basic math.

He dumped me shortly after our college graduation, after going on a guys’ trip to Tulum with ten of his closest friends. While most of them came back with things like suntans and gift shop t-shirts and hangovers … Jude came back with her.

Stassi Guinness.

They met at a bar the second night of the trip (she was there for her sister’s bachelorette party) and they were inseparable from that point on (or so I’m told). In the blink of an eye, our three-year relationship came to a screeching, grinding halt. My place in Jude’s heart was replaced by a head-turning leggy blonde with family money and access to her daddy’s private jet at all times.

Not that I’m bitter.

I just didn’t expect for my steady, no-frills, drama-free college relationship to go down in a blaze of humiliating glory accented by every cliché in the book.

Two months before his trip, we were ambling through the local mall, hand in hand, sipping matching matcha lattes, window shopping for engagement rings, and talking about what our next move was going to be.

And then … plot twist … Stassi happened.

No one saw it coming—but once it did, it was all anyone could talk about in our overlapping social circles. For months, my inbox blew up with messages from people I hadn’t talked to in years. The worst ones were from friends who thought they were doing me a favor by sending me screenshotted photos from Stassi’s private Instagram account. They’d always come with a message like, “Ugh, she’s insufferable” or “if she were any more plastic she’d be a human Barbie.” They meant well, but after a while I had to ask them to stop sending me those.

Jude had moved on, and I was trying to.

“Can you remove the tag?” Monica asks.

“Yeah, of course.” I place the phone aside and grab my laptop off the nightstand. Only when I crack the lid open, the screen stays black and the password prompt doesn’t appear. “Shit. I think my computer’s dead.”

“Just do it from your phone,” she says.

“I deleted the app on my phone when I did that social media fast last month,” I say. If I install it, I’ll have to re-enter my password using one of those code generator authenticator app things and to be honest, I’m not even entirely sure how those work. I just know that I made my account so insanely secure that I basically made it impossible for me to get back in—at least on my phone. Everything’s good to go on my laptop … if it would just start. “Hang on. I need to find my charger.”

Untangling myself from my sheets, I all but trip to the door, burst down the hall, and locate my laptop cord in my office.

“Okay, I’m back,” I say as I finagle the plugs. A minute later, I’m logged into my computer.

Double-clicking on the web browser, I clamp my hand over my mouth to stifle a gasp when I realize I’m already logged into Facebook … and the last image pulled up is the very same one I’m tagged in. There’s no denying I did this.

“You’re quiet,” Monica says. “Everything okay?”

It’s true.

It’s real.

It happened.

“How would I … why would I … I don’t understand …” I can’t finish my sentence. If I could crawl into a hole right now and die, I would.

“Can you remove the tag?” Her question is frantic. She fully understands the nature of this grave mistake.

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