Really Deep Thoughts

Chapter One

Bianca fingered the ends of her cropped mane, transfixed by her reflection in the mirror. The lustrous blonde locks she had sported for years, the envy of every girl she knew, now lay on the counter, braided and waiting to be shipped off to charity. Loren, her stylist, had gushed that some unfortunate soul was going to love the wig made from Bianca's hair … that was, after she'd convinced him that chopping off her gorgeous locks wasn't going to earn him a place in hell reserved for hair stylists with bad judgment and weak wills.

"I love it," she said, ruffling her fingers through the dark brown hair that brushed her shoulders.

"I didn't think I would," Loren confessed, leaning a hip against the counter and studying her through heavily lined eyes. "But it's actually more you than the blonde, and you look like Joan Jett out to break someone's heart—only cuter, of course. Less eighties rock, more Donna Karan," he amended hastily, catching sight of her glare.

Mollified, Bianca turned back to the mirror and tilted her head to the left, then to the right, affecting a pouty, kittenish stare. Definitely not Joan Jett, she thought. More like Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, minus the leather and the fangs. Well, minus the leather, at least; she was a teenager in high school, after all. Fangs were de rigueur.

Angling for the highest tip he could, Loren continued, "And you know Spencer will just die of regret." He had the authoritative tone that all hair dressers possessed; their first job was hair, but their second job was the minds and hearts of their patrons. "He'll be begging you to come back before you can say homecoming week. He'll regret that he ever laid eyes on that Taylor Swift wannabe."

The mention of Spencer and that train wreck of a new girlfriend of his froze the smoldering looks Bianca had been directing at herself. "This isn't about Spencer," she muttered, running her fingers one last time through her hair. "Or that hipster slut with the fake glasses. This is about me."

Who was she kidding? "Of course it is, honey," Loren said consolingly, and then paused to reconsider. He wasn't long out of high school; he'd been a senior when Bianca Finley had just entered her freshman year at Holyoke Academy. He'd seen her destroy girls—and guys—years older than her, and with reputations much more firmly secured. Consolation wasn't what Bianca Finley needed, nor was it what he needed to deliver, if he was going to get the tip he wanted. He thumped his fist into his palm. "And you look fan-fucking-tastic, doll," he said, ignoring the pearl-clutching of a grand old dame a few chairs away. "Forget that loser. You can do better."

He almost felt sorry for Spencer Dalton.

Bianca's step was light as she left the salon, and it wasn't just because she'd lost about a foot of hair (though that had something to do with it, sure). She'd sent Caroline a text as she'd waited on Loren to return with her card, and her best friend was waiting on her on the Starbucks patio.

"Got you your usual," Caroline said, pushing a non-fat iced caramel macchiato across the table toward her. Then, she drew down her sunglasses and gaped.

"You like?" Bianca said, preening as she reached for the drink.

"I, uh … I don't hate it," Caroline said, pushing her sunglasses back into place. Bianca's pleasure swiftly curdled.

"You hate it," she said irritably.

Caroline shook her head violently. "No, Bee, I don't hate it at all," she protested weakly. "I just don't know why you'd change a good thing. I mean, girls get their hair cut after a bad break-up, right? But not all of it. And you dyed it black."

"It's not black," Bianca corrected, "it's 'deepest mahogany' mixed with 'chocolate caramel.' I swear all the girls from school will be asking Loren for the same color, now, and I threatened him within an inch of his life if he tried to replicate it on any of those losers. Blonde is so over."

Caroline lifted a hand to her own blonde locks, immaculately dyed by Loren. "It is?"

"It is now," Bianca said brusquely, and took a long sip from her drink.

Caroline looked as though she'd rather be anywhere, even Wal-Mart. "Look, I'm just worried about you, okay? I know you thought you and Spencer were going to live happily ever after, and he was going to make junior partner in your father's law firm, and you were going to have two-point-five kids—how do you even have two and a half kids?" she asked sotto voce, and then shrugged. "But the point is, your beautiful hair! You've never wanted to change—"

"God damn it, Caroline," Bianca said, with feeling. "It's not about Spencer, okay? I've had the same hair for years and years. I wanted something new. I wanted to change. High school is, like, the most limiting experience. How are we supposed to grow if every change we make comes under suspicion? I have been, like, unapologetically myself for years now—and I don't intend to start apologizing for when I finally want to change, either."

Caroline, who'd stopped to listen to Bianca with shock, now regarded her with awe. "That's so deep, man," she said. "You're never this deep. Where'd get you get the weed?"

Ignoring her best friend's last statement, Bianca leaned forward conspiratorially and whispered with unholy glee, "Besides, Loren said that Spencer's going to kill himself when he sees I'm even hotter without him!"

Bianca made it home just before dinner, and she followed the scent of steamed broccoli into the kitchen. Her mother was on another health kick, and demanded that her family follow suit. She found Francine Finley transferring a veritable feast's worth of food into serving dishes.

Bianca recognized the fancy china. "What's all this for?" she asked, swiping a cantaloupe cube from an avocado fruit salad.

"Don't pick at the food," Francine said automatically. "We're having guests, or did you forget? I've been in here all day, and could have used your help, young lady."

Bianca pursed her lips, swallowing the cantaloupe. She was certain Francine had been in the kitchen all day, unwrapping food from whatever catering service she'd ordered all this from. She refrained from mentioning it; playing hostess always stressed Francine out.

"Your father's invited over the new partner and his family," Francine continued. "He's one of your father's old college buddies from Vandy, but he's from New York. He has a daughter your age. You'll both be seniors together, so you'll have to show her around at school."

Bianca was barely paying attention at that point, having pulled outbut her mother's sharp voice brought her back to the present. "Can you please change into something more appropriate for dinner?" She shot a caustic glance at her daughter's low-slung shorts, tank top, and sun-burnished shoulders. As a southern woman of a certain age, Francine Finley disapproved of showing shoulders in company, at church, and in general. "Afterward, I expect you down here to help set the table and greet the Delano family." She paused and stared, frozen wrist-deep in the salad bowl. "What the hell did you do to your beautiful hair?"

"Took you long enough to notice," Bianca muttered and, after filching another cantaloupe cube, took the stairs two at a time up to her room.

One fresh coat of mascara later, Bianca descended the stairs at a more sedate pace and waltzed into the kitchen, twirling in her full-skirted, strapless Lilly Pulitzer dress. "Good evening, papa!" she sang and kissed Brandon Finley on the cheek. Her father, taken off-guard by his surly teenage princess's good mood, grasped Bianca by the shoulders and held her at arm's length. After surveying her for a few long moments, he nodded jovially. "I like it," he pronounced.

She accepted the compliment as her due and dimpled prettily under her papa's adulation, ignoring her mother's gimlet-eyed stare, and took an armful of fine china. The dining room glittered under a crystal chandelier; she shook her head lightly, enjoying the feel of her hair brushing her bare shoulders, and began setting the table.

From the other room, her father and mother talked in low tones ... alas, not low enough to prevent Bianca from actually hearing, as she'd mastered the art of eavesdropping at a young age. Her father was saying, "It's her hair, Frannie, she can do what she wants with it ... she's not seven anymore."

"I just think this is another example of her acting out, Brandon," came her mother's strained tones. "Dyeing her hair black, cutting it all off. What will her cheerleading coach say? She'll have to have new head shots for when she applies to college, if they even let some ... some gothic girl on the cheerleading squads in college. It's that boy, Spencer, he's broken her heart and as a mother I just have to say that..."

A long, drawn-out pause, tense even to Bianca's straining ears. She imagined her father had pulled her mother close and was rubbing her back.

"Honey, it's just hair. You're just all wound up because we've got a family of bona fide Yankees coming over, and you're wonderin' what your UDC ladies are going to think. Just relax and we'll have a good time." Bianca heard Francine sniffle, and rolled her eyes. "But I have to tell you about Ben Delano's oldest girl..." His voice trailed off as they moved further from the dining room. Bianca huffed and went about setting the table, and then retreated to her room until her mother's shrill call came from downstairs: "Bianca Marie! The car just pulled up!"

She clattered down the stairs, stowing her iPhone in a clever little pocket hidden by the folds of her dress. What was so important about Ben Delano's oldest girl that her father had to warn her mother ahead of their arrival? Maybe the Delano daughter was a knockout, a rival for homecoming queen or—perish the thought—prom queen. Bianca smirked as she slipped into the foyer and ducked under Brandon's arm, leaning against her father as Francine opened the front door. She'd be damned if she saw either of those crowns on another girl's head.

"Hello, hello!" Francine sang, ushering Ben Delano and his family into the foyer. Bianca chewed thoughtfully on her bottom lip, watching the telltale throbbing of the vein in her mother's forehead. It wasn't that she liked seeing her mother like this—it was rather embarrassing, truth be told.

She liked to think that she got her self-possession from her father, the charming southern lawyer.

"Francine, nice to see you again." Ben Delano took up the entire room, not because he was a big man (though he wasn't small) but because he had one of those personalities: jovial, red-cheeked, larger-than-life. She could see her father and Mr. Delano living it up at Vandy, years and years ago, knocking back a few cold ones, riding the highs and lows of law school together.

"It's so good to see you!" Francine gushed. Ben Delano moved out of the way, making room for the entrance of his diminutive wife.

Francine air-kissed Mrs. Delano, the way she thought all Yankee women did, probably; her eyes were on Mrs. Delano's Calvin Klein shoes, her vegan leather handbag, the youthful glow of her cheeks. As if on cue, her babbling picked up. Bianca resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Come in, come in, this is Bianca—she's a little older than the last time you saw her, but that was only Christmas cards, hmm? And is this—is this little Ellie—?"

"It sure is," Mrs. Delano replied, her tone a little too cheery, her smile all teeth. "Christmas card pictures don't do our beautiful children justice."

"Hi, Mrs. Finley. I prefer Elliot." This from the tall, broad-shouldered apparition who followed Mrs. Delano into the foyer. Not a rival for the homecoming queen's crown, after all, Bianca thought with a smirk.

Ben Delano's oldest girl was a dyke.

Suddenly the weight of her phone in her pocket was unbearable. She just had to tell Caroline.