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Mary and I met when we were seventeen, volunteers at a winter weekend for the summer camp we attended and where we would spend several years working. It was only a matter of time before our paths would cross, given the size of the camp and the summers we spent sharing a bunkbed, but I firmly believe we would have found each other, no matter the circumstances. Mary is a friendmate, and I am lucky to call her mine.

13If you’ve never worked as a summer camp counselor, then you can’t understand the pressure and responsibility, or how close you become to your co-workers. For eight straight weeks we slept little, worked lot, and survived on the snippets of adult conversations – treasures found late at night, or around the morning coffee pot. Mostly, they were in front of foggy mirrors in the staff bathrooms, while we combed clay out of our hair and scrubbed tie dye from our skin.

We spent those two shared summers working in the arts and crafts barn, singing, creating, and causing general chaos. I believe our friendship hit a true peak just before our second summer, when we took a week-long road trip to New Orleans, one of many such adventures to follow.

I have known Mary for over seven years, but it feels as though our friendship was forged in the fires long before our time – only not from brimstone or ancient witchcraft, but romantic comedies, road trip horror stories, love, book, and career advice, and so much more.

In addition to being so many things to me, Mary is my unconditional inspiration and support in the world of the romance novel. I can honestly say I owe my career to her – and Eloisa James, whom I would never have picked up, were it not for Mary’s suggestion. I checked out my audiobooks on her library account. We shared romance novels over the long summers at camp and far beyond, read historical romance aloud on our way to Louisiana and North Carolina, then got drunk and read them even louder on the beach together, all fueling a love for the genre and strengthening a powerful friendship.

The very first ‘romance novel’ I ever wrote was a fantasy short story involving Mary and a mutual friend of ours that I would go on to self-publish. It is not the only book I wrote with Mary as my heroine, and I’m sure there are more to come in the future. She has provided me inspiration of character, plot construction and research. Her influence fundamentally altered the course of my last novel, and it turned out far better for it. Just this week, we fangirled for two hours straight, as Eloisa James, Lisa Kleypas and Damon Suede spoke at a panel in Manhattan.

Mary is a remarkable woman, and I marvel at her strength, endless kindness and sense of self. She is the friend who I can buy underpants for, who will climb into bed with my boyfriend and I to watch sitcoms, and who will always, always be there when I need her, even if I don’t know it. I owe her my career and so many wonderful (and scary) memories. Admittedly, we can get ourselves into trouble if we’re not careful, but Mary inspires the committed, intelligent, healthy female friendships that I strive for in my books. I only hope everyone is lucky enough to find a Mary of their own.