Anahata

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The next morning, Riley made her decision. It was last minute, but she decided not to attend the gala with Paige and Clint, not even if she was supposed to be meeting Jesse for the first time.

The gown was stunning—last season, but still beautiful—and it fit her like a glove. It hugged all her curves, accentuated her breasts, and had sequins along the hem of the skirt, which flared enough at the hips to fall with a swishing sound at her feet. It made her look and feel like a princess who had just stepped off the movie screen and into the real world. There was no way Jesse wouldn't fall for her, Paige reminded her, not when she looked this fantastic.

The only caveat was that Riley had to wear four-inch heels to pull off the princess look, a prospect that scared her half to death because she'd never been able to walk straight in them. Three inches had always been her limit, no matter how fabulous the Louboutins made her legs look. My sis has legs for days, was how Paige described it on her Instagram.

But now that she'd made her decision not to go, she wouldn't have to worry about that four-inch heels or looking fantastic with her stomach pulled in all night. Instead, she'd get to spend her Saturday night the usual way with Miss Bailey purring by her side, possibly reading a book that had belonged to her mother, maybe even with a few of her mother's handwritten notes along the margins.

Saying 'no' would be easy, Riley thought as she stared at Paige's number on her phone. But if it was so easy, then why couldn't she simply dial Paige's number right now and tell her that she wasn't going after all? Surely it wouldn't matter to Paige and Clint. It wasn't like she was the one invited to the gala. She was just a guest of a guest, so it would be no big loss for Paige if Riley didn't come along. Paige could focus on her usual socializing and not worry whether her kid sister was getting it on with Jesse, or tripping and falling down the red carpet in her gown.

The ringing of her phone interrupted her thoughts and Riley made a face as Paige's name showed on the display. Oh, crap, I spoke too soon.

"Are you excited yet?" Paige asked as Riley answered the phone.

"I know that you are," Riley replied, "but I've decided not to go."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm not going," Riley said, keeping her eyes focused on the small TV set in front of her. "I need a break. I've been working a lot lately, and I'm tired. I want to stay home and lie low. I mean, what if someone there recognizes me as the girl who kissed Gareth?"

"So?" Paige asked, her voice clipped. "It's not like you're still in the news, Ri. Even if anyone recognizes you, so what? You did nothing wrong."

"That's not what they think," Riley said, remembering the lively conversations in the fan forums about that skank named Riley. "Look, maybe I should just lie low instead of attending some gala where people only go to be seen and make a fool of myself."

"We go because it's for a good cause, Ri," Paige said. "It's for disadvantaged children all over the world and each ticket cost, at least, $1250. It's being held at the Museum of Natural History."

"Jeez, Paige, I'm sorry," Riley said. Twelve hundred dollars was a lot of money. "I thought I was a guest of a guest. The last thing I wanted was for you and Clint to pay for my ticket. I could have met Jesse at the Library for free."

"Well, for your information, Riley, you're an official guest, and you really ought to be there. You agreed to come, and now you're backing out on me at the last minute. That's just not cool. But why am I even surprised?" Paige said, sighing. "It's so like you."

Now Paige was just being mean, Riley thought, though she had a point. Riley had agreed to go. She'd lost weight to fit into the dress, snacked only on carrots, celery, and juices to look, well, gaunt, really, if she were honest.

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