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@alex: Is it wrong to hate someone who used to be your best friend? Please talk me down from planning his funeral. Again.

I send a quick reply—

@mink: You should just leave town and make new friends. Less blood to clean up.

If I look past any reservations I may have, I can admit it’s pretty thrilling to think that Alex has no idea I’m even here. Then again, he’s never really known exactly where I’ve been. He thinks I still live in New Jersey, because I never bothered to change my profile online when we moved to DC.

When Alex first asked me to come out here and see North by Northwest with him, I wasn’t sure what to think. It’s not exactly the kind of movie you ask a girl out to see when you’re trying to win her heart—not most girls, anyway. Considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films, it stars Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, and it’s a thriller about mistaken identity. It starts in New York and ends up out West, as Cary Grant is pursued to Mount Rushmore in one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. But now every time I think about seeing it, I picture myself as the seductive Eva Marie Saint and Alex as Cary Grant, and we’re falling madly in love, despite the fact that we barely know each other. And sure, I know that’s a fantasy, and reality could be so much weirder, which is why I have a plan: secretly track down Alex before North by Northwest plays at the summer film festival.

I didn’t say it was a good plan. Or an easy plan. But it’s better than an awkward meet-up with someone who looks great on paper, but in real life, may crush my dreams. So I’m doing this the Artful Dodger way—from a safe distance, where neither of us can get hurt. I have a lot of experience with bad strangers. It’s best this way, trust me.

“Is that him?” Dad asks.

I quickly pocket my phone. “Who?”

“What’s-his-face. Your film-buff soul mate.”

I’ve barely told Dad anything about Alex. I mean, he knows Alex lives in this area and even jokingly dangled this fact as bait to come out here when I finally decided I couldn’t handle living with Mom and Nate anymore.

“He’s contemplating murder,” I tell Dad. “So I’ll probably meet him in a dark alley tonight and jump into his unmarked van. That should be fine, right?”

An undercurrent of tension twitches between us, just for a second. He knows I’m only teasing, that I would never take that kind of risk, not after what happened to our family four years ago. But that’s in the past, and Dad and I are all about the future now. Nothing but sunshine and palm trees ahead.

He snorts. “If he’s got a van, don’t expect to be able to track it down.” Crap. Does he know I’ve entertained that idea? “Everyone’s got vans where we’re headed.”

“Creepy molester vans?”

“More like hippie vans. You’ll see. Coronado Cove is different.”

And he shows me why after we turn off the interstate—sorry, the “freeway,” as Dad informs me they’re called out here. Once the location of a historical California mission, Coronado Cove is now a bustling tourist town between San Francisco and Big Sur. Twenty thousand residents, and twice as many tourists. They come for three things: the redwood forest, the private nude beach, and the surfing.

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