Bohemian Girl (Southern Girl Series Book 1), Page 2Georgia Cates
“I think you’re good.”
Kelsey bought this brand-new BMW 6 Series after she got a raise at work a few months ago. She’s so proud of it, babying the thing as though it’s her child. The love for an expensive luxury car is something I’ll never know. I dig my restored ‘83 Jeep Wagoneer too much to ever trade it for another vehicle.
Suffocating heat engulfs us as we get out of the car and retrieve all of our beach crap from the trunk.
Ivy cups her hand over her eyes, blocking the sun as she looks toward the water. “It’s going to be a scorcher today, bitches. I hope one of you remembered to bring sunscreen because I ran off and left the brand-new bottle that I bought for today.”
“I brought some SPF 70.” I don’t play around when it comes to sunburns. I haven’t since I was seven years old.
“Mommy, my skin hurts so bad. It burns.”
“Well, maybe you shouldn’t have been so stupid to stay out in the sun all day like an idiot. Serves you right. Now get out of here and shut the door so I don’t have to hear your whining. Or his. It makes my head hurt.”
It was mid-July. The inside of our rented trailer was blazing hot because the power had been turned off. Jimmy and Christie had chosen to buy heroin instead of electricity that month. It never mattered to those bastards how miserable Ollie and I were as long as they were able to get high.
By some miracle, our water hadn’t been turned off. It was the only relief we had from the heat during that unforgiving July and one of the few ways we were able to have fun.
I was a kid and had never been taught about sunscreen or why it should be used. Not that Christie would have bought any for us anyway.
“I’m so sorry, Ollie. This is my fault.”
By that night, Ollie’s skin was red and covered in watery blisters. Mine too. It was a misery like I’d never known. And trust me, I’d known some misery by that point.
He was only four but had already learned to cry silently so he didn’t bother Jimmy and Christie. A few beatings from our sperm donor was all it took for Ollie to learn how to hold his tongue. We did our best to not be seen or heard, but most importantly, we didn’t disturb the monsters for fear of their wrath.
No lotions or aloe vera. No type of pain medication. No relief. We had nothing to ease our pain except for the brief moments when we were lucky enough to fall asleep. But sleep never came easily around our house. It couldn’t when you heard screaming and fighting or partying most of the night.
“Look what I brought.” Kelsey lugs the cooler out of her trunk and dips her hand into the ice, pulling out an amber bottle. “I don’t have sunscreen but I do have ice-cold Pale Hazel.”
Pale Hazel is light and non-filling so it’s the perfect summer beer. My brother and Porter knocked it out of the park when they created it. “My favorite on a hot day.”
We have a ton of crap to carry to the beach from the car. I’m drenched with sweat, petered out, and annoyed when Ivy comes to a dead stop right in front of me, almost causing me to crash into her. “This sucks. We need some guys to carry our stuff for us.”
I consider myself an independent woman who can handle most things on my own, but even I wouldn’t turn down an offer of help at this point.
Kelsey calls out behind me, “Hey, you, the one up there complaining. You want to carry the cooler of beer? ’Cause I’m happy to trade you this heavy bastard for those lightweight bags you’re carrying.”
“The bags I’m carrying weigh as much as that cooler.”
Ivy has the lightest load of any of us. “Sorry, but I smell eau de bullshit.”
“Just suck it up a little longer, hooker. We’re almost there.”
We reach the top of the wood-planked walkway leading to the beach and discover the huge crowd of beachgoers. “What the shit biscuit?”
“Looks like everyone decided to hit the beach today.”
“Well, more people mean better odds of meeting cute guys.”
As always, Ivy has one thing on her mind.
Luck is with us and we find three available loungers for rent. Surprising, considering the swarm of people.
Ivy takes out her portable Bluetooth speaker and connects it to her phone. “What kind of music are we listening to?”
I need something soothing. “I could stand some James Bay or Jack Savoretti. Something along those lines.”
“How about we do a James Bay station and switch it to Jack Savoretti in a little while?”
“Move Together” is the first song to play. “I love this one.”
“I didn’t like James Bay’s music that much the first few times I heard it, but now I can’t get enough of it.”
Ivy is so weird. “I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t like his music. He sounds so much like Ray LaMontagne.”
“Yeah, I guess that I can see that.”
I’m the first to go fishing in the cooler. “Who’s ready for a cold one?”
“Me,” Ivy and Kelsey reply simultaneously.
I dig through Kelsey’s bag for plastic cups since glass containers aren’t allowed on the beach. “It’s too bad we don’t have frozen frosty mugs for these.”
“Oh God. That would be divine,” Kelsey says.
Ivy pulls her cover-up over her head and tosses it in the direction of her beach bag, overshooting by a full foot. She didn’t miss her calling for the WNBA.
She adjusts her boobs in her top and I notice Kelsey studying Ivy’s bikini bottom, which is level with her eyes. “Good Lord, Ivy”
“The camel called. He wants his toe back.” Kelsey holds up her hand placing a barrier between her and Ivy’s crotch. “Do something about that.”
She looks down and inspects her bikini bottom, adjusting it. “Better?”
The heat is fierce and I down my Pale Hazel quicker than I should. Only one beer and my head is already buzzing. “How much alcohol do you think is in one of these?”
“Let’s have a look.” Kelsey fetches a bottle from the bag we’re using to collect trash. “It’s not for a lightweight. It’s eight percent.”
Ivy tosses back the last of her beer. “Oliver has never been known for brewing weak beer.”
I wipe the water and sand from my hands and reach for my phone, checking to see if I’ve missed a call from my brother. “Still nothing from that little shit.”
He’s avoiding me, and I want to know why.
Kelsey points at our makeshift trash bag. “Get the bottles out and let’s take a pic with our beers to send him.”
“Let’s do it. He always gets a kick out of that.” And it should catch his attention.
The girls love sending Ollie random photos of us drinking Iron City beer. I guess it’s sort of our “where will your beer show up next” groupie project.
“I’m sure he won’t mind getting a picture of the two of you in bikinis.” That will gain his attention when nothing else does.
Kelsey calls out to our neighboring beachgoer, a middle-aged gray-haired man with a huge potbelly. “Excuse me, sir. Could I bother you to take a picture of my friends and me?”
“I’d be happy to.”
I bet Kelsey just made his day. Probably his year.
Our three-girl posse strikes a pose with our empty Pale Hazel bottles, each of us pointing to the label like always.
“Say cold beer,” the man says.
“Cold beer,” we repeat in unison.
“Some mighty pretty girls in these pictures.”
“Thank you. That’s a sweet thing to say.”
He returns my phone to me. “I took several. I have three daughters, so I know all too well how you girls can be about the way you look in pictures.”
“Thank you so much.”
“You’re quite welcome. You girls have fun and stay safe. Don’t have too many of those beers. They can get you into a heap of trouble.”
like something my dad would say. “Yes, sir.”
Kelsey holds out her hand for my phone. “Gimme. You’re not sending it if I look like a fat ass.”
Kels is gorgeous but has this ugly little habit of only seeing negative things about herself. Drives me crazy.
She doesn’t use self-criticism as a ploy to gain compliments like a lot of women. The girl truly believes she’s overweight. Too curvy. That’s what she calls herself but she couldn’t be more wrong. She’s sexy as hell.
“Stop already. You haven’t taken a bad picture in your life,” Ivy says.
“Not true.” She uses her hand to shade the screen. “It’s not a terrible picture of me, best I can tell.”
“Let me see.” Ivy swipes my phone from Kelsey and studies it. “Well, I won’t be putting it on my Christmas cards, but I guess it passes inspection.”
“I’m not posting it. It’s just going to Ollie.”
Lawrence: Having an Iron City brewski with K & I at Tybee. Wish you were here. Miss your face.
“If he doesn’t reply to this message, one of you is going to let me take a picture of your boobs.”
“I nominate Kelsey.” Ivy pats her chest. “I doubt he’d get very excited over these B cups.”
Our nominee’s head spins in Ivy’s direction. “I don’t think so.”
“I vote for you getting in your car and taking your ass to Birmingham to see what his problem is if it’s bothering you so badly.”
Ollie is twenty-seven years old. He may no longer be that little boy I have to shield from real-life monsters, but he’ll always be my baby brother in my eyes. I’ll never stop worrying about him.
I haven’t been to Birmingham in a long time and it could be time to pay the boy a visit. We have things to discuss. Things that I’ve been putting off for a while because I don’t want to have the discussion.
“His big beer fest is coming up next weekend.” Iron City Brewery is hosting this year and I’m certain it’ll be a blowout. It would be a fun time to visit.
Kelsey reaches into the cooler. “Maybe all three of us show up in Birmingham without warning. Make a girls’ weekend out of it.”
Ivy groans. “I can’t go. I’m scheduled to work next weekend.”
“Take off,” Kelsey says.
“Right. Like I can just call up my supervisor and tell her that I won’t be there all weekend.” Ivy shakes her head and I’m certain she’s rolling her eyes beneath her dark sunglasses. “You know I have to request vacation time six weeks in advance at the hospital.”
Ivy loves her job but the inflexibility of her schedule sucks. She misses out on a lot because she can’t make spur-of-the-moment plans like Kelsey and me.
“I want to check on my brother but this might not be the best idea. I’m not sure Ollie will be happy about me showing up during one of his busiest events.”
“You want to know what’s going on with him. The best way to get down to the bottom of it is by showing up unannounced. The element of surprise.”
I want to know what’s going on with Oliver, but I don’t want him to be angry because I showed up uninvited, knowing that he won’t have time to spare. “I don’t mind surprising him but the timing is all wrong.”
“He’s crazy about his big sister. He won’t be mad about an impromptu visit.”
My visit would be twofold. I could ensure that all is well within his life and break the news to him about our birth mother. That’s not something I can do over the phone.
Ollie is talented at hiding his emotions, another lesson he learned early in life. I need to look into his eyes, see his face, when I tell him about Mommie Dearest’s request.
“Do it, Law. You’ll feel better after seeing that everything is all right with him. And you’ll have a good time at the festival while you’re there.”
“I guess I could schedule Winter to manage the store for a few days.”
“You’re the owner. You can do whatever you want.”
It sounds so simple coming out of Kelsey’s mouth, but leaving the shop for three or four days means that I must place confidence in someone else to run my business. Can I do that?
“Winter is the best employee you’ve ever had. She can handle the boutique without you for a few days,” Ivy says.
Winter is young but she does an excellent job of managing my business. She handles most things the way I would.
“You’re going to work yourself into an early grave if you don’t learn to delegate jobs to your employees. That’s why you hired them.”
I’ve been hearing this for three years from Ivy, Kelsey, and my family. But it’s so much easier said than done. At least I know that things have been done correctly when I’ve done them myself.
“Give Winter a chance to prove herself. It isn’t possible for her to run the shop into the ground in only a few days. If she screws up, never leave the responsibility in her hands again.”
I haven’t gotten away in so long. I think a break would do a world of good for me. “Okay. You’ve talked me into it.”
I glare at Oliver’s phone on my desk, buzzing like a high-powered vibrator.
It’s Sunday and I’m at the office, which means I’m in a shit mood, and Oliver’s sister is making it significantly worse by repeatedly texting. Doesn’t she ever give it a rest?
I lift the phone to see what the chatterbox is saying this time, and I’m pleasantly surprised to see a photo of three smokin’ hot women wearing bikinis, each one holding an Iron City beer in her hand.
“Now, this is the kind of text that I don’t mind receiving.”
Variety pack. The women, not the beer. One redhead, one blonde, one brunette. I’m instantly interested in finding out which woman I’ve been messaging back and forth during the last seven days. “You officially have my attention, Lawrence Thorn. But which one are you?”
I can’t decide. All three are hot but I think I’m mostly drawn to the blonde. I’ve always had a preference for a fair-haired beauty. And for the first time, I want to reply to Lawrence, but I’m clueless about what to say.
A streak of blue moves past my office door. “Porter?”
“Yeah?” He almost instantly appears in my doorway. “What’s up?”
“This.” I hold up Oliver’s phone. “I know you’re busy but I need help. I don’t have any idea how to respond to the texts Oliver’s sister has been sending.”
Porter comes in into my office and falls into the chair across from me. Damn, he looks like hell. We’re all tired from prepping for the festival, but Porter more so than anyone else. He’s been on double duty since Oliver went to rehab.
“What’s been your approach with Law so far?”
Only one word adequately describes my strategy. “Vague.”
“That’s not gonna fly with her. She’ll know something is up for sure because she’s tight with Oliver. As close as any siblings I’ve ever seen.”
“So he wouldn’t ignore her texts because she’s being pesky?”
I shouldn’t have agreed to this. This shit is already going sideways on me. “Oliver told me to respond to her as though she was my sister. And I would ignore my sister if she was irritating me.”
“That’s going to be a red flag for Law. Those two have been through a lot together. He’d never leave his sister hanging.”
This is so fucking hard. “Oliver and I talked about Lawrence, but there’s no way he could prepare me for everything. I know how deeply you’re snowed under but I really need your help.”
“What does her last text say?”
“Having an Iron City brewski with K & I at Tybee. Wish you were here. Miss your face.”
I turn the phone around so he can see the picture. He smiles but doesn’t seem nearly as enthused as I was. “Lawrence, Ivy, and Kelsey take selfies of themselves drinking Iron City beer in different places and send them to Oliver. They do it al
l the time.”
“Which one is which?”
“The redhead is Kelsey. The brunette is Ivy. And the blonde is Lawrence.”
I wouldn’t have pegged the blonde as Oliver’s sister. “If you’d have asked me to guess, I would have gone with the brunette.”
“You can’t see it in this picture because she’s wearing sunglasses, but they actually look a lot alike. It’s mostly their eyes.”
“She’s a hot chick so it’s hard to imagine her looking like Oliver behind those glasses.”
“Don’t let Oliver hear you say anything about her being hot. He won’t like it. Never mind that she’s the older one. He’s super protective of her and vice versa.”
I’m realizing in this moment just how little I know about my own business partner. “Aren’t most brothers protective of their sisters?”
“Yeah, but Oliver and Law’s relationship is different from most. Those two had a rough start in life. I’m not sure about all the details. They don’t talk about it much but it was bad enough that child protective services took them away from their parents. They stayed in foster care for a while before the Thorns adopted them.”
Okay. Hearing this gives me a little more insight into why he would go to such extreme measures to not worry or disappoint his sister.
“I’ve never heard him mention a word about foster care or being adopted.”
“You wouldn’t. Lawrence and Oliver never talk about their birth parents. In their minds, the Thorns are the only mom and dad they have.”
Now I feel bad for ignoring Lawrence. She doesn’t deserve to worry about her brother, especially because I’ve been acting like an ass who didn’t have time to be bothered by her. “Will you help me come up with something to say to her? Maybe something to ease her worries.”
“Let me think a minute.” Porter closes his eyes and rests his head in his hand. He stays that way for a few moments before his eyes pop open. “I got it. You ready?”
I type as Porter dictates. “Looks like fun. Wish I were there with you instead of here working my ass off for the festival this weekend. By the way, tell K & I they’re looking insanely hot. I’ll call when I get caught up at work. Love you.”