Southern Girl Series Bundle: Bohemian Girl, Neighbor Girl, Intern Girl, Page 2Georgia Cates
Kelsey glances over at me. “What’s got you so perturbed?”
“Ollie and I haven’t spoken in a week. I’m worried.” We’ve never gone this long without checking in with one another since he left Savannah and moved to Alabama.
Ivy leans up from the back seat. “I thought you said that he’d been texting.”
I don’t want texts. I need to hear my brother’s voice. “Occasional vague messages. That’s all I’ve gotten from him this entire week.”
He’s been acting strangely the last few months, but his texts have been different this week. So much weirder than usual.
“The brewery has grown a lot this year. I’m sure that a successful company like his demands a lot of his time.”
I’m sure that Ivy’s right, at least partially. The brewery wouldn’t be thriving if he wasn’t devoting the majority of his time to it. But there’s something more to it. I feel it deep down in my gut.
“I understand that he has a lot on his plate, but he always makes time for me. Lately, it feels like we’re a million miles apart instead of four hundred.” I don’t like the growing distance between us.
Kelsey briefly takes her eyes from the road and glances over at me again. “Do you think something else is going on with Oliver?”
I sure do. “I don’t think that he’s gotten over Eden and what she did to him.”
“It’s hard for me to imagine Oliver being upset over a woman. He’s always the fun-time guy. The life of the party. A manwhore.”
I don’t like hearing Ivy call my brother that name even if it’s probably true.
“It’s been months since their relationship ended. He must have loved her if he’s still upset.”
I love Eden and I’m going to ask her to marry me.
I can still remember the joy in his voice. The smile on his face. The sparkle in his eyes. I’ve never seen my brother look so happy. He loved her with all his heart.
His heart, his trust, his love… those aren’t gifts that he easily gives to anyone. And she completely shit all over them.
“He told me that he thought Eden was the one.”
The one. Separately, those words mean little, but together they become very powerful.
“What in the ass?” Ivy swiftly brings her hand down against my seat. “I can’t imagine those two words coming from his mouth.”
“I know. I thought I’d heard him wrong when he told me.”
Ivy pokes her head into the front seat. “I can’t see him settling down for anyone. I thought he loved being the life of the party too much for that.”
“He does, he did, but he changed that part of himself for her.” Because he thought he’d found someone he could trust with his heart.
I’m devastated for Ollie. Because I’m the same way, I know how hard it was for him to open his heart to anyone.
My brother and I are alike in so many ways, both so careful who we choose to connect with and how we choose those connections. It’s a lesson we mastered very early in life. We were children who learned how to emotionally disconnect before we knew our ABCs thanks to Jimmy and Christie.
God, I need to talk to my brother so badly.
“If you’re that worried, call Porter. Tell him to have Oliver get in touch with you.”
Kelsey’s suggestion isn’t a bad one, and I will if it becomes my only choice, but the thought annoys the piss out of me. I shouldn’t have to do that when all he has to do is return my call.
Kelsey pulls into the public parking area for North Beach, taking the last spot. “Looks packed today, girls.”
No surprise there. It’s crowded every day in the summer. Vacationers come from all over to swim at Tybee Island Beach.
Kelsey pulls in and backs out, driving forward again to the left, maybe scooting over all of one inch. “How does it look over there, Law?”
I bet she’d be directly in the middle of the parking spot if we took measurements. “Looks centered to me.”
“Think there’s enough room so they won’t hit my car when they open their doors?”
I carefully swing mine open to measure while holding it to ensure I don’t hit the car beside me. Kelsey would have a shit fit if I did.
“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 hu
ge 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.”
That sounds 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 whil
e 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?”