Gia by Carly Keene

CHAPTER ONE

 

GIA

My cousin Dana sits down in my chair, the tall barstool one that I keep near the Dogwood Inn’s front desk so I can do paperwork or check online bookings without having to stay on my feet every single working hour.

“Oh, this is nice,” she says. “Cozy little workspace.”

“I know. Get your butt off my chair.”

Dana looks at me in surprise. “Possessive much?”

“You have an office, Miss PR-and-Wedding-Planner Person. I have the front desk. I don’t come into your office and park my hind end in your padded high-back swivel office chair behind your desk, do I?”

Dana blinks. “You’ve got a point,” she says. “But I bought that chair myself, so it wouldn’t be an Inn expense.”

“Right,” I say, and hop onto my barstool. “I bought this one.”

She laughs. “Okay, okay. I’ll get out of your hair.”

Dana intimidates the hell out of me sometimes. She’s older than me and better dressed than me, better educated . . . more put-together. I mean, she does her eyebrows every day, and her reddish-chestnut hair is always sleek, and she wears tailored clothes that skim her curves.

Most of the time I just drag my long brown curls into a ponytail. Clothes? Well, they’re clean and they fit, but next to Dana I look like an unmade bed.

Dana smiles. “Want me to bring you one of Ivy’s sandwiches for lunch?”

“That’d be great, thanks. French dip, if it’s on the menu today?” I plead.

“Sure.” She starts to walk through to the restaurant, but stops and turns back. “Oh. I forgot. I hear some local boy made good has moved back to town. Neesey from Channel 10 in Boone wanted to do an interview with him and called to see if she could film in front of the inn this afternoon for the evening news. I don’t remember him, but maybe you might? Boyd Kelly. Played in the minor leagues for some years, apparently.”

I can feel the flush from my toes clear up to my hairline. My only consolation is that my sister Sharra and I are the only ones who don’t really blush. Iris and Ivy and Ada are all blonde, so they have pink complexions and they blush. Dana’s hair is darker, but she has that kind of redhead skin that looks like porcelain, and she blushes. Sharra and I have brown hair and eyes like our mom and you can’t see a blush on us.

Thank every god there is.

Because Boyd Kelly is home.

Dogwood Falls’ answer to Brad Pitt. Baseball star. President of the senior class. My secret crush for more years than I’d like to admit.

I used to daydream about him: being his wife, having his kids, listening to him tell me that he loved me.

Sigh.

“So you remember him?” Dana asks.

“Oh yeah,” I say without thinking. Damn. “Yeah, he was a few years ahead of me. He graduated with Sharra’s class.”

“Ah, so definitely I would have been out of school when he went through, then,” Dana says, nodding. “Well, any publicity for the Inn is good, even if it’s only a local hero standing in front of the building. French dip coming your way soon.”

Then she’s gone, and I’m sitting in my chair at the front desk freaking out.

Boyd Kelly will be here this afternoon.

Oh my god, I need a haircut. And a manicure. Fresh makeup, or at least mascara.

And maybe I could raid Dana’s closet.

Ada, the Inn manager, walks through the lobby on her way out. “Hey, I’m having lunch with Spencer,” she says, waving, and then she stops. “Is something wrong?”

I shake my head.

“You look like you ate bees,” Ada says, and walks back over to me. “Are you sick? Did the computer freeze on you again?”

I shake my head. “Go. You have a lunch date.”

“Spencer can wait,” Ada says. “Something is wrong. Can I help?”

My shoulders go up. “You remember Boyd Kelly? From high school?”

“Yeah,” Ada says slowly. “Older than us. Kinda looked like Brad Pitt, kind of a jock? And he was dating cheerleader Emily Harshbarger.”

I nod. That witch Emily.

“That witch. Didn’t he get a baseball scholarship or something?”

“Clemson. And then he played in the minor leagues.”

“Oh, right,” Ada says. “So?”

“So he’s back home. Doing an interview with Channel 10 here this afternoon,” I say. “And just look at me.”

Ada looks. “Oh.” Then she smiles. “When I get back, I’ll cover the desk and you can go freshen up. Okay?”

I nod. “Say hi to Spencer for me.”

She bursts into a huge grin. “I will.” Her boyfriend came to Dogwood Falls on a mission from his land-greedy boss, looking for property to develop. But Spencer fell in love not just with Ada, but with the town too. Now he’s the town’s economic developer.

It’s not that I’m jealous of Ada. Spencer’s nice, and smart, and really good-looking, but he’s not . . . well, he’s no Boyd, is what I mean.

When Ada comes back, I run into Ivy coming out of the restaurant, her hair up in a scarf, looking sweaty and exhausted. “Ugh,” she says, “I’m gonna go grab a shower before the dinner rush. I feel awful.” She takes a closer look at me. “And where are you off to?”

“I need to change,” I say, gesturing at my blue button-down shirt and my messy hair. “I just—”

“Uh-huh,” she says, and smiles. “Come on. I have a sweater at the apartment that I’ve been meaning to give you. It’s ivory, and I bought it thinking it would be neutral and classic, which it is, but it washes me out. It would be great on you.”

Ivy’s sweater is simple, but she’s right: it looks good against my olive skin. She bustles around, tossing things on her bed. “Here. These olive-green pants look good with it, and how about these black half-boots with the silver studs on them? Businesslike but sort of funky.”

I make a face. I feel like a fraud in funky clothes.

“No, really,” Ivy says. “Come on, I never get to dress up, I’m always in chef whites. Indulge me.”

Half an hour later, I’m looking in Ivy’s mirror at myself and not in despair. The olive sweater and the green pants and the black boots look good. She did something to my hair, to coax my curls into looking groomed. She added a teeny bit of champagne eye shadow and mascara, and gave me a light pink lip gloss, and I look as put-together as I’ve ever looked in my life, except maybe for prom.

“See, that was easy,” Ivy says. “Now I’ve gotta run. If you ask me, we need another chef if the restaurant stays as busy as we’ve been. I can’t keep going all hours of the day and night.”

“Thanks, Ive,” I say, and hug her. She smells like roast beef.

When I get back to the Inn, Neesey Payne and the news crew from Channel 10 are setting up on the Dogwood Inn’s front porch. And there he is.

Boyd Kelly. In the flesh.