Perfect Couple

Page 11


I knew how he felt. That's where I'd fallen in love with photography, taking pictures of the palm trees, the sand, the boats on the water. Everybody saw the same thing, but a photographer framed it to focus on one object in particular, telling a certain story.
In fact, I was afraid I was a little too much like Granddad. Someday I would inherit his house on one side of downtown and his strip of beach on the other. Like him, I'd hole up with my art and resent having to interact with other people when I went to the grocery store once a week.
I enjoyed being alone on the beach, but sometimes I wished my friends were there. This weekend, the public beaches were crowded enough that I could hear families laughing through the palms. As I swam out into the warm waves, I could see kids splashing together over on the park side. A teenage girl hugged a guy in the water with her legs looped around his waist. He kissed her ear. They laughed and whispered.
Brody was probably over there too, with Grace.
Never mind. I had work to do.
* * *
Monday morning, I got up early, as if it wasn't a holiday, because it wasn't-for me. I chose a fitted blouse tucked into a trim pencil skirt I'd made, and my most professional-looking glasses. I pulled back my hair into a classy bun at my nape. Then I walked from the small house I shared with Mom, which had been converted from a coach house, over to the huge Victorian, her bed and breakfast. Mom was already there, cooking her boarders' one expected meal of the day. It was my job to help serve.
I hated doing this. Since my parents had separated two years before, I'd tried to be supportive of Mom, but the first thing she did to rebuild her life without my dad was to borrow money from Granddad and buy a B & B. She loved people. She thought living on top of a constantly rotating group of strangers was a fun way to spend her days. It was like a sickness. She'd dreamed of running a B & B in the beach town where she grew up. Obviously Granddad's introverted gene had skipped a generation. To me the B & B was a nightmare.
I stood outside the pink clapboard back of the house. Palmettos shaded me from the bright morning sun. My kitten heels ground the seashells in the path. I took a few deep, calming breaths. Then I opened the door into the kitchen.
"Good morning," Mom sang, pulling homemade orange rolls from the oven. She wore a long, flowing beach dress and feather earrings, and she'd put up her dark hair in a deliberate tousle. Her feet were bare. She liked to dress ultra-casual so her guests would feel at home with the beach lifestyle, but I was pretty sure serving orange rolls in bare feet was reason for an inspection by the Health Department.
She turned away from me to snag a bread basket from a shelf, but I heard her say, "You look [unintelligible]."
I didn't ask her to repeat herself. I'd heard all her comments about my fashion sense before.
She kept on me. Handing me a pair of tongs and the basket of rolls to pass out to guests in the dining room, she looked me up and down and said, "I thought you were photographing the 5K this morning ."
"I am."
"You don't look comfortable."
Well, I wasn't comfortable right then, living out somebody else's dreams of owning a business. I didn't say this, because it wouldn't do any good.
"Smile," she said, touching my lips, possibly smearing my perfect red lipstick. Now I would have to check my face before I left the house. Then she tapped her finger between my brows, possibly transferring the lipstick up there, and reminded me, "Nobody likes a pouty B & B." She swung open the door into the dining room, where eight strange adults eagerly awaited me. They would ask me embarrassing, none-of-their-business questions they would never ask if they weren't on vacation, such as, Do you have a boyfriend?
Answer: I wasn't sure. Kennedy hadn't so much as texted me since Friday at school.
After the guests were served, Mom sat down to eat with them, putting on her best "colorful local character" act. She was their font of information on the best beaches and restaurants and sights in St. Petersburg and Tampa.
She set a place for me at the table too, but breakfast was the one time I suddenly took great interest in making sure the B & B ran smoothly. I always volunteered to stay in the kitchen and unload the dishwasher or watch the next batch of rolls. I was able to get away with this only because Mom's first rule was never to have an argument where the guests could hear. At the B & B, we were a hotel staff, not a family.
I wasn't trying to sabotage Mom and her business. The truth was, I couldn't stand to sit at the dining room table and talk to a new group of strangers each week as if it was a family meal. I didn't want to answer a million questions about my school and my friends and my boyfriend. It was too much like making get-to-know-you small talk every time Mom brought home some guy she was dating. Inevitably she whispered to me that this one was the one.
I supported her dreams. I only wanted her to leave me out of them.
This morning, I hid in the kitchen, periodically dropping a knife in the sink to make actually-busy-in-the-kitchen noises while I noiselessly opened the three-times-weekly local newspaper to the sports page. I expected a triumphant review of Friday night's game. Reading about Brody as a hero would give me the fan-girl fix I'd been bluesing for. Simultaneously it would remind me how out of reach he was.
But the headline was cruelty in six words: LARSON DISAPPOINTS IN PELICANS' FIRST WIN.
The article explained that Brody's signature as a quarterback was his willingness to wait until the last nanosecond to pass the ball. That increased the chances he'd be sacked-tackled, clobbered, hit incredibly hard by the other team, who wanted to take him out of the game so we'd have to rely on our second-string sophomore. Brody didn't care. He braved getting hurt, which gave him more time than quarterbacks normally had to choose a receiver for his long, accurate passes.

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