For my family and friends. Love ya like I love cake.
I stared at the pile of boxes in my new bedroom, wishing the Internet had been hooked up. Not being able to do anything with my review blog since moving here was like missing an arm or a leg. According to my mom, “Katy’s Krazy Obsession” was my whole life. Not entirely, but it was important to me. She didn’t get books the way I did.
I sighed. We’d been here two days, and there was still so much left to unpack. I hated the idea of boxes sitting around. Even more than I hated being here.
At least I’d finally stopped jumping at every little creaking sound since moving to West “By God” Virginia and this house that looked like something straight out of a horror movie. It even had a turret — a freaking turret. What was I supposed to do with that?
Ketterman was unincorporated, meaning it wasn’t a real town. The closest place was Petersburg — a two or three stoplight town near a few other towns that probably didn’t have a Starbucks. We wouldn’t get mail at our house. We would have to drive into Petersburg to get our mail.
Like a kick in the face, it hit me. Florida was gone — eaten by the miles we’d traveled in Mom’s mad dash to start over. It wasn’t that I missed Gainesville, the weather, my old school, or even our apartment. Leaning against the wall, I rubbed the palm of my hand over my forehead.
I missed Dad.
And Florida was Dad. It was where he’d been born, where he met my mom, and where everything had been perfect…until it all fell apart. My eyes burned, but I refused to cry. Crying didn’t change the past, and Dad would’ve hated to know I was still crying three years later.
But I missed Mom, too. The Mom before Dad had died, the one who used to curl up on the couch beside me and read one of her trashy romance novels. It seemed like a lifetime ago. It certainly was half a country ago.
Ever since Dad died, Mom had started working more and more. She used to want to be home. Then it seemed like she wanted to be as far away as possible. She’d finally given up on that option and decided we needed to drive far away. At least since we’d gotten here, even though she was still working like a demon, she was determined to be more in my life.
I had decided to ignore my inner compulsive streak and let the boxes be damned today, when the smell of something familiar tickled my nose. Mom was cooking. This was so not good.
I raced downstairs.
She stood at the stove, dressed in her polka-dotted scrubs. Only she could wear head-to-toe polka dots and still manage to look good. Mom had this glorious blonde hair that was stick straight and sparkling hazel eyes. Even in scrubs she made me look dull with my gray eyes and plain brown hair.
And somehow I ended up more…round than her. Curvy hips, puffy lips, and huge eyes that Mom loved but made me look like a demented kewpie doll.
She turned and waved a wooden spatula at me, half-cooked eggs splattering onto the stove. “Good morning, honey.”
I stared at the mess and wondered how best to take over this fiasco in the making without hurting her feelings. She was trying to do mom-stuff. This was huge. Progress. “You’re home early.”
“I worked almost a double shift between last night and today. I’m set to work Wednesday through Saturday, eleven till nine a.m. That leaves me with three days off. I’m thinking of either working part time at one of the clinics around here or possibly in Winchester.” She scraped out the eggs onto two plates and set the half-burned offering in front of me.
Yum. Guess it was too late for an intervention, so I rifled through a box resting on the far counter marked ‘Silverware & Stuff.’
“You know how I don’t like having nothing to do, so I’m going to check into them soon.”
Yeah, I knew.
And most parents would probably saw off their left arm before thinking of leaving a teenaged girl at home alone all the time, but not mine. She trusted me because I never gave her reason not to. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Well, okay, maybe it was.
I was kind of boring.
In my old group of friends in Florida, I wasn’t the quiet one, but I never skipped class, maintained a 4.0, and was pretty much a good girl. Not because I was afraid to do anything reckless or wild; I didn’t want to add to Mom’s troubles. Not then…
Grabbing two glasses, I filled them with orange juice Mom must have picked up on her way home. “Do you want me to get groceries today? We have nothing.”
She nodded and spoke around a mouthful of eggs. “You think of everything. A grocery trip would be perfect.” She grabbed her purse off the table, pulling out cash. “This should be enough.”
I pocketed the money into my jeans without looking at the amount; she always gave me too much in the first place. “Thanks,” I mumbled.
She leaned forward, a twinkle in her eyes. “So…this morning I saw something interesting.”
God only knows with her. I smiled. “What?”
“Have you noticed that there are two kids about your age next door?”
My inner golden retriever kicked in and my ears perked up. “Really?”
“You haven’t been outside, have you?” She smiled. “I’d thought for sure you’d be all over that disgusting flower bed by now.”
“I plan on it, but the boxes aren’t unpacking themselves.” I gave her a pointed look. I loved the woman, but leave it to her to somehow forget that part. “Anyway, back to the kids.”
“Well, one is a girl who looks about your age, and there’s a boy.” She grinned as she stood. “He’s a hottie.”
A tiny piece of egg caught in my throat. It was seriously gross to hear Mom talking about boys my age. “Hottie? Mom, that’s just weird.”
Mom pushed off from the counter, picked up her plate from the table, and headed to the sink. “Honey, I might be old, but my eyes are still working fine. And they were really working earlier.”
I cringed. Double gross. “Are you turning into a cougar? Is this some sort of midlife crisis I need to be concerned about?”
Rinsing off her plate, she glanced over her shoulder. “Katy, I hope you’ll make an effort to meet them. I think it would be nice for you to make friends before school starts.” Pausing, she yawned. “They could show you around, yes?” I refused to think about the first day of school, new kid and all. I dumped my uneaten eggs in the garbage. “Yeah, it would be nice. But I don’t want to go banging on their door, begging them to be my friend.”
“It wouldn’t be begging. If you put on one of those pretty sundresses you wore in Florida instead of this.” She tugged on the hem of my shirt. “It would be flirting.”
I glanced down. It said MY BLOG IS BETTER THAN YOUR VLOG. There wasn’t a thing wrong with it. “How about I show up in my undies?”
She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “That would definitely make an impression.”
“Mom!” I laughed. “You’re supposed to yell at me and tell me that’s not a good idea!”
“Baby, I don’t worry about you doing anything stupid. But seriously, make an effort.”
I wasn’t sure how to ‘make an effort.’
She yawned again. “Well, honey, I’m going to catch up on sleep.”
“All right, I’ll get some good stuff at the store.” And maybe mulch and plants. The flower bed outside was hideous.
“Katy?” Mom had stopped in the doorway, frowning.
A shadow flickered over her face, darkening her eyes. “I know this move is hard for you, especially before your senior year, but it was the best thing for us to do. Staying there, in that apartment, without him…It’s time we started living again. Your dad would have wanted that.” The lump in my throat I thought I’d left in Florida was back. “I know, Mom. I’m fine.”
“Are you?” Her fingers curled into a fist. The sunlight coming through the window reflected off the gold band around her ring finger.
I nodded quickly, needing to reassure her. “I’m okay. And I’ll go next door. Maybe they can tell me where the store is. You know, make an effort.”
“Excellent! If you need anything, call me. Okay?” Mom’s eyes watered on another long yawn. “I love you, honey.”
I started to tell her that I loved her, too, but she disappeared upstairs before the words were out of my mouth.
At least she was trying to change, and I was determined to at least try and fit in here. Not hide in my room on my laptop all day like Mom was afraid I’d do. But mingling with kids I’d never met wasn’t my thing. I’d rather read a book and stalk my blog comments.
I bit my lip. I could hear my dad’s voice, his favorite phrase encouraging me, “Come on, Kittycat, don’t be a bystander.” I squared my shoulders. Dad had never let life pass him by…
And asking about the nearest store was an innocent-enough reason to introduce myself. If Mom was right and they were my age, maybe this wouldn’t turn out to be such an epic fail of a move. This was stupid, but I was doing it. I hurried across the lawn and across the driveway before I chickened out.
Hopping onto the wide porch, I opened the screen door and knocked, then stepped back and smoothed the wrinkles out of my shirt. I’m cool. I got this. There is nothing weird about asking for directions.
Heavy footsteps came from the other side, and then the door was swinging open and I was staring at a very broad, tan, well-muscled chest. A naked chest. My gaze dropped and my breath sort of…stalled. Jeans hung low on his hips, revealing a thin line of dark hair that formed below his navel and disappeared under the band of the jeans.
His stomach was ripped. Perfect. Totally touchable. Not the kind of stomach I expected on a seventeen-year-old boy, which is how old I suspected he was, but yeah, I wasn’t complaining. I also wasn’t talking. And I was staring.
My gaze finally traveling north again, I noted thick, sooty lashes fanning the tips of his high cheeks and hiding the color of his eyes as he looked down at me. I needed to know what color his eyes were.
“Can I help you?” Full, kissable lips turned down in annoyance.
His voice was deep and firm. The kind of voice accustomed to people listening and obeying without question. His lashes lifted, revealing eyes so green and brilliant they couldn’t be real. They were an intense emerald color that stood out in vibrant contrast against his tan skin.
“Hello?” he said again, placing one hand on the doorframe as he leaned forward. “Are you capable of speaking?”
I sucked in a sharp breath and took a step back. A wave of embarrassment heated my face.
The boy lifted an arm, brushing back a wavy lock of hair on his forehead. He glanced over my shoulder, then back to me. “Going once…”
By the time I found my voice, I wanted to die. “I…I was wondering if you knew where the closest grocery store is. My name is Katy. I moved next door.” I gestured at my house, rambling like an idiot. “Like two days ago—”
Ooooo-kay. “Well, I was hoping someone would know the quickest way to the grocery store and maybe a place that sold plants.”
For some reason, it didn’t sound as though he was asking me a question, but I rushed to answer anyway. “Yeah, see, there’s this flower bed in front—”
He said nothing, just cocked a brow with disdain. “Okay.”
The embarrassment was fading, replaced by a growing surge of anger. “Well, see, I need to go buy plants—”
“For the flower bed. I got that.” He leaned his hip against the doorframe and crossed his arms. Something glittered in his green eyes. Not anger, but something else.
I took a deep breath. If this dude cut me off one more time…My voice took on the tone my mother used when I was younger and was playing with sharp objects. “I’d like to find a store where I can buy groceries and plants.”
“You are aware this town has only one stoplight, right?” Both eyebrows were raised to his hairline now as if he were questioning how I could be so dumb, and that’s when I realized what I saw sparkling in his eyes. He was laughing at me with a healthy dose of condescension.
For a moment, all I could do was stare at him. He was probably the hottest guy I’d ever seen in real life, and he was a total douche. Go figure. “You know, all I wanted was directions. This is obviously a bad time.” One side of his lips curled up. “Anytime is a bad time for you to come knocking on my door, kid.”
“Kid?” I repeated, eyes widening.
A dark, mocking eyebrow arched again. I was starting to hate that brow.
“I’m not a kid. I’m seventeen.”
“Is that so?” He blinked. “You look like you’re twelve. No. Maybe thirteen, but my sister has this doll that kinda reminds me of you. All big-eyed and vacant.”
I reminded him of a doll? A vacant doll? Warmth burned in my chest, spreading up my throat. “Yeah, wow. Sorry to bother you. I won’t be knocking on your door again. Trust me.” I started to turn, leaving before I caved to the rampant desire to slam my fists into his face. Or cry.
“Hey,” he called out.
I stopped on the bottom step but refused to turn around and let him see how upset I was. “What?”
“You get on Route 2 and turn onto U.S. 220 North, not South. Takes you into Petersburg.” He let out an irritated breath, as if he were doing me a huge favor. “The Foodland is right in town. You can’t miss it. Well, maybe you could. There’s a hardware store next door, I think. They should have things that go in the ground.”
“Thanks,” I muttered and added under my breath, “Douchebag.”
He laughed, deep and throaty. “Now that’s not very ladylike, Kittycat.”
I whipped around. “Don’t ever call me that,” I snapped.
“It’s better than calling someone a douchebag, isn’t it?” He pushed out the door. “This has been a stimulating visit. I’ll cherish it for a long time to come.”
Okay. That was it. “You know, you’re right. How wrong of me to call you a douchebag. Because a douchebag is too nice of a word for you,” I said, smiling sweetly. “You’re a dickhead.”
“A dickhead?” he repeated. “How charming.”
I flipped him off.
He laughed again and bent his head. A mess of waves fell forward, nearly obscuring his intense green eyes. “Very civilized, Kitten. I’m sure you have a wild array of interesting names and gestures for me, but not interested.” I did have a lot more I could say and do, but I gathered my dignity, pivoted, and stomped back over to my house, not giving him the pleasure of seeing how truly pissed I was. I’d always avoided confrontation in the past, but this guy was flipping my bitch switch like nothing else. When I reached my car, I yanked open the door.
“See you later, Kitten!” he called out, laughing as he slammed the front door.
Tears of anger and embarrassment burnt my eyes. I shoved the keys into the ignition and threw the car into reverse. ‘Make an effort,’ Mom had said. That’s what happens when you make an effort.