Chapter 1⎮Tea And Crotches

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"We should probably go to the beach later," said Mom, turning her face up to the Florida sun. The early light lovingly burnished the dark russet shades in her hair.

I shrugged my shoulders noncommittally, my knee bouncing underneath the table, as I watched an excited black Labrador running into the water in pursuit of its frisbee.

It was still early and not many people were on the beach yet, mostly just the diehard joggers and the fishermen on the pier. The waves were no more than ripples brushing the sand with languid strokes. The humidity had already plastered my hair damply to my neck.

"It'll be your last swim for a while," she went on, her smile indolent.

"I'll have you know—" with amusement "—there are beaches in Alaska, Mother."

Mom favored me with a deadpan expression. "Better pack your drysuit then."

I snickered. God, I'd miss my mother. How had I, a solitary moth, come from such a beautiful social butterfly? A question I pondered often.

We were sitting in our usual seats at The Turtle. The cafe, like the beach, was largely empty at this early hour. I had hung my apron up for the last time yesterday afternoon, and it was disquieting to realize that I would no longer be slogging around these wobbly tables for middling tips. And, tragically, I would no longer get to perv on Andy anymore.

All my raunchiest fantasies featured Andy. Only in my daydreams did I have the confidence to manhandle him like a drunken cheerleader—my fists balled in his shirtfront to yank him down for a passionate snog. Afterward, I'd shoot him a flirty wink and then master the perfect pirouette on my six-inch heels before walking out and leaving him absolutely gobsmacked and hopelessly in love with me (a toothless Mr. Horvath cheering me on all the while). Obviously it would be the best kiss of his life, and obviously (in this fantasy at least) I'd be wearing the type of sexy black barely-there dress I'd never have the guts to wear in real life, and his eyes would, all the while, be glued to my backside as I made my grand exit. Then he'd rush out after me and—

"Can you hear me, Major Tom?"

"Hmm?" In an instant, the daydream dispelled like fractured glass. I turned a guilty flush toward Mom who was waving her hand in my face.

"Where'd you go?"

"Nowhere interesting," I lied. "Was just 'floating around my tin can', ya know?"

"Uh-huh. Well, you had a really strange look on your face."

I hurriedly misdirected her with a pithy response. "You mean the look of abject terror? Yeah, moving across the country will do that to a girl."

"Actually you were smiling like a lunatic. So either you're really excited about dog-sledding and woolly long johns...or you're thinking about finally proposing to Andy."

God, she knew me way too well. "I've already bought the engagement ring," I joked.

"And his one-way ticket to fireside paradise."

I waved my hand dismissively. "Nah, I'd planned on restraining him with some pink fluffy cuffs and shoving him in my suitcase."

"Don't forget to poke breathing holes in your luggage then." Her smirk no doubt mirrored mine, but after a moment her gaze turned serious. "You are excited about the move, though, right?"

"Excited. Nervous. I can't tell one from the other most of the time." Both made me feel light-headed. Admitting to my mother that I was afraid was easy, but to Gramps I never could. He'd just tell me that I could "find sympathy in the dictionary between shit and syphilis". I dropped my gaze to the insipid bowl of grits in front of me, finding it poignant that my life, till now, sort of resembled it—colorless and unappetizing. I'd also discovered an intrusive little hair squatting in my porridge, and it certainly wasn't mine. Gross. "Flight's booked," I went on, pushing the bowl aside, "I'm going. Gramps did say I should figure my shit out." Actually, he'd told me to pull my head out of my ass and do something with my life, but I wasn't going to split hairs.

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