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Chapter Two:

| Whitney |

Humming along to the Zelda soundtrack playing in her left Bluetooth earbud, Whitney finished counting down Pencil Me In’s last register and recorded the numbers with efficient accuracy. She figured it might be a busy night with all the summer specials they had going on, but instead it was unusually quiet. Not that Whitney was complaining; The lack of customers gave her plenty of time to finish the tasks on her to-do list before clocking out and not worrying about the art store for the next two weeks.

Oh! Which reminded her.

“Hey Jenny, do you need any help pulling the old tags off?” Whitney shouted clear across the isles on her way to the manager’s office with the newly filled out revenue reports. She tucked a strand of black curly hair behind her right ear as she continued walking in search of Pencil Me In’s latest scheduled employee, stocker Jennifer Vaughn.

“Naw I’m about done. Thanks though!” Jen’s voice hollered from somewhere near the sketch pads. Every new sale usually meant the elimination of another, and Jennifer was always pretty good about pulling the old sale advertisements off and applying the current ones. Still, Whitney wanted her to know she wasn’t alone in case it started getting overwhelming. Which it could, and anyone who’s worked retail can attest to that.

“Good deal!” The enthusiastic shift leader slipped into Pencil Me In’s managerial office and closed the door behind her with a dreamy sigh. She’d spent the last month living in her own personal rat race, ignoring Hollis’ blatant warnings about putting everything off until the last minute. Whitney did this by choosing to focus on her usual duties before everything she had to do wound up literally staring her in the face. Still, it would be worth getting to gloat about how much time she saved after showing Hollis she met the deadline.

As Whitney hastily filed away the various sheets of paper she held in her hands, her mind began trailing off to the last few remaining things she and Jennifer had to check before they could jet.

Store vacuumed? Yep!

Trash taken out? Right, I watched Jen do that twenty minutes ago.

All that left were the tags, but just as Whitney was about to ask for an ETA Jennifer came around the corner briskly with a large plastic bag containing at least a hundred expired ads. “Done, boss. I was able to get all the new tags set up, too. Need anything else before I take off?” The twenty two year old stocker grinned, making the multi-colored braces she wore glint in the fluorescent lighting. Jennifer’s usual black leggings and muscle shirt ensemble did just fine considering her position with the company, and Whitney had to admire the tenacious attitude she always came to work with. Ready to help all while manning their supply.

“Great job today.” Whitney held her hand up for Jen to high five, and laughed when she did so rambunctiously. “I’ll see you in a few weeks. Keep it up!”

“Can do. Have a great trip Whit, and tell Hollis ‘hey’ for me.” Jennifer started undoing her high ponytail, and chestnut waves tumbled loosely around her neck and shoulders as she hauled the trash bag behind her toward the front door. Prior to Whitney landing a job at Pencil Me In, Hollis had taken an interest in the artsy store and was in at least a few times a month asking questions about different products she wanted to surprise her girlfriend with. Once Whitney had been hired and the staff put two and two together, they’d all laughed and shared adorable stories of Hollis admitting she didn’t know shit about this or that and requiring their assistance quite often. She seemed to always run into Jennifer in particular, and since then they started playing ‘hi’ tag with Whitney acting as their messenger.

“I’ll let her know, and thanks!” The dark haired girl chirped while turning the lights out and bounding close behind Jennifer. After she set the alarm and locked up, Whitney smoothed her hands over the front of her pink silk top and hurried to the little black Prius she’d driven all the way from California in almost a year ago. Her life had changed so damn much especially in the last few months, and having this job was such a blessing in more ways than one. It'd always been her dream to work with her passion, even if it was retail to start. Ringo's was great in it's own right, but she just couldn't bring herself to go back to working for them. Not after everything that happened with her family and Hollis. Quitting without much of an explanation left her feeling terribly guilty, even after her girlfriend insisted Evan would understand. The staff were mostly all fantastic people, and she was glad to have had the opportunity to work for them.

Whitney contemplated this as she selected an early 2000′s Pop playlist she was following on Spotify until surrendering herself to the infectious music. Starting the ignition to drive in the direction of home, Whitney’s thoughts drifted to her girlfriend who wouldn’t be swinging by until around 2:30 A.M.

In almost every way, the lovers' fierce bond continued to grow as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months. Whitney hadn't been prepared for Hollis' tendency to run and overreact when things weren't going great between them, but she'd promised to work on herself and was definitely improving. There was just one conversation waiting to be had, and Whitney didn't have the first clue how to bring it up.

Did they want to move in together?

By nature, Whitney had always been slightly careless and messy when it came to the way she chose to live. Moving to Auburn hadn't changed much, and she always left her discarded clothing draped over her vanity chair or just chilling on the floor. She was forever forgetting to rinse off her dishes before Kendra got stuck with them, and getting her to stick to any kind of chore schedule was damn near impossible. Whitney lived 'in the moment' so to speak and aside from ensuring nobody would slip on a colored pencil, wasn't too keen on keeping up with putting all her art supplies away when she was done with them for the moment.

What for? She'd just be inconvenienced when she wanted to use them again the very next day. It was enough to drive her poor roommate insane. The same way it irritated Whitney's parents and whatever maid they hired on at the time.

In contrast, there was neat freak Hollis, who always seemed to be helping Whitney pick up while she was over. Without asking, she'd just start putting things away all the while muttering under her breath. Whitney insisted it wasn't the end of the world over and over, but the blonde wasn't interested in hearing her out. Her own bedroom was free of any obstructions, and everything down to the paperclips she brought home from Ringo's had it's place. Dalton was the same way, but his long time girlfriend Nina didn't seem to be on board. It really wasn't funny, but Whitney couldn't help but giggle upstairs in Hollis' room when she'd hear her girlfriend yell for Nina to come get random miscellaneous items that found their way into common areas such as the kitchen.

Hair scrunchies, bras. Once, Hollis found Nina's white silk panties on their granite countertop and almost blew a gasket. Whitney felt for them both, because 1. how embarrassing, right? and 2. who wants to look at their brother's girlfriend's intimates? NOPE.

While the lovers spent a great deal of time at each other's houses, the subject of actually sharing a living space hadn't come up yet. On one hand, Kendra had already offered and was more than thrilled at the prospect of her childhood best friend bunking up with the two of them. As great as that sounded, Hollis might not want to move out of the house she shared with her disabled brother. Even if Nina was around to care for him now, Hollis and Dalton had always been extremely close and asking her to move in with her was a big deal. Ripping the band aid off was probably for the best either way.

I'll bring it up to Holly tonight.

Satisfied with her decision, Whitney took a sip from her hot pink canteen just as she pulled into she and her roommate Kendra's powder blue home. Spring brought the willow trees surrounding the spacious front lawn back to life, and their magnificent beauty never failed to take Whitney's breath away. The native Californian's perseverance through her first harsh Maine winter hadn't gone unnoticed, and Hollis kept swearing through it all that it'd be worth it once everything started growing back. Auburn's sparkling bodies of water and lush, abundant trees failed to disappoint. Her native Mainer girlfriend wasn't lying for damn sure.

Five minutes later, Whitney finished writing herself a memo for when she returned to work and stashed it in the center compartment. Exiting her vehicle, she bounced all the way to the front door with an upturned nose. There wasn't anything in the world like crisp Maine air.

"Hey dude! You're home early. Hollis with you?" Kendra Neilson's tired voice called from where she was bustling around in the kitchen. Whitney stifled a snicker and slipped inside. The entire house smelled like buttery mashed potatoes, sweet corn, and barbecued chicken thighs. Kendra had made it enough times that her roommate never had to guess.

"Nope, she's working tonight too. Won't be by until after 2:00 to come get me so you'll probably be passed out. How were your exams??"

Kendra didn't believe in taking breaks, not even during summer vacation. She hired a tutor to help prepare her for the difficult math courses coming up in the fall, in addition to signing up for a few random extracurricular classes. Whitney admired her need to stay busy and loved hearing all about the ambitious girl's accomplishments.

"I think I skated by...but I always think that before acing my tests." Kendra snorted, stooping to retrieve her delectable chicken from the scorching oven it'd been baking in. Since having to shave her dreads off after taking a non profit medical position, the alternative woman's golden blonde hair had grown into an almost pixie style. As soon as it started getting warm, Kendra traded in her heavy sweaters and combat boots for ripped jean shorts and light long sleeved shirts paired with converse sneakers. She was in a category all her own, but Whitney still couldn't believe she wasn't into girls. Ken was definitely one tough cookie, and routinely gave Hollis a hard time. These days though, it was all in good fun and Whitney enjoyed watching them go at it.

"You're literally the only person I know who does great, but constantly thinks she's failing. I'd hate to be your teachers." Whitney admitted with a giggle, gratefully taking a plate heaped with potatoes and corn. She'd declined the chicken, since eating too much this late was liable to put her in a food coma. Hollis was coming over right after work, and she still had a few things to pack beforehand. Her girlfriend lived to give Whitney shit but it wasn't going to happen tonight.

"Eh don't worry too much about those assholes. I don't bug 'em that bad." Kendra's mischievous green eyes shone as she served herself a plate and gestured to their white fridge. "I made sweet tea earlier so help yourself. There's plenty for you and Hollis. Feel free to fix her up a plate too if she wants. I've never known that girl to turn down mashed potatoes."

"Thanks as always, Ken. I'll take this up since I've got some last minute packing to do." Whitney savored a mouthful, closing her eyes and moaning in ecstasy as she made her way upstairs. The distracted brunette didn't have any time to eat earlier since she chose to visit with Hollis, and that first bite of fluffy potatoes and corn felt like heaven melting against her taste buds.

"You? Last minute packing? I don't believe it. Oh if I'm not awake, tell Holl I said what's up." Kendra shouted after her. It was amazing how when Whitney first moved to Auburn, her roommate and girlfriend hadn't spoken a word to each other in six years due to a falling out. Here they were now almost a year later, best fucking friends again. All it took in the end was forgiveness on Kendra's part, and Hollis' promise to get and stay clean.

"Crazy, right? Hahaha will do. Night, Kendra!"

As far as Whitney was concerned, her little life and everyone in it was absolutely perfect. She'd finally achieved pure, unbridled happiness. Everything her parents and older sister told her she couldn't have without fame, fortune, and a size 0 body she'd achieved. Away from Hollywood. Without tabloids following her around, or popping diet pills. Whitney made amazing friends like feisty Kendra, and was loved unconditionally by the previously distant Hollis Bogard. She enjoyed her job and her privacy. Most importantly, she wasn't being harassed by her snotty Californian family any longer. Everything was coming together like a bright, neatly tied red ribbon.

After swallowing the last forkful of corn, Whitney gently set her plate aside to kick her ballet flats off and climb into bed so she could text Hollis.

SMS: Off work FINALLY. Ugh, it was mad slow. I miss you baby. Do you think Evan might let you leave a little early since it's Wednesday night?

Occasionally during slower nights, Ringo's bar shut down about an hour early. Whitney was hoping her girlfriend would get that chance tonight, because she couldn't wait to be swooped up in Hollis' strong arms before they set off for her house. The girls had been especially busy for the last month, and tonight would start their technical vacation away from all the normal routine craziness.

As Whitney was changing into a white Roxy tank and matching boy shorts, she heard her iPhone vibrate from where it was left on her bed. With a breathless squeal, she rushed back over and excitedly ran a hand through her black curls after snatching the device. The second she scanned over Hollis' reply though, her honey brown eyes widened with bewilderment.

SMS: Not likely West Coast. Got some shitty news earlier. I'll swing by as soon as I can and tell you what it is in person. Ditto pretty girl, I love you.

Shitty news; Way to be vague. That could mean anything.

Whitney bit her lip in thought, wondering if she should push or just wait until she saw Hollis to find out. After a minute, she fired a text back.

SMS: I hope everything is alright...I love you too Holly I'll leave the door unlocked in case I'm sleeping.

Not trusting herself to leave it at that, Whitney powered the phone off and forced herself to survey the four suitcases jam packed beside her closet with an inward groan.

That's what you get for procrastinating! She could hear Hollis' teasing voice now, and despite whatever it was that they needed to talk about in a few hours, it made Whitney grin as she heaved herself up and gave in to the idea of getting this pesky packing done once and for all.

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