You know that thing Eleanor Roosevelt said about friendship? Something about how only true friends leave footprints in your heart? Well, the footprints in my heart are Ryn Cole’s. They’re about a size 7, give or take, never exactly subtle, and always tennis shoe-clad.
One of the greatest things about having Ryn as my best friend is that no matter what time of day or night, she’s always there with a ready smile, a witty comment, and advice that fits me just right.
We get one another. We work.
You see, Ryn and I have been best friends since we were kids, ever since she told Macauley Gellert to back off from taunting me over the fact that I had no dad or she’d stab him in the arm with her pencil, at seven years old. She didn’t do it. She didn’t need to. Macauley dropped his gibes—and me? Well, I found my best friend.
We both grew up in Hunter’s Creek, in the great Pacific North West state of Washington, where the trees are tall and the flannel is rightfully plaid. Where you get good, decent, straightforward people who care about one another, even if they do sometimes tend to lean toward gossiping and meddling.
Sometimes? Who am I kidding? It’s all the time. In fact, I’d go so far as to say without the anchor of meddling and gossip, Hunter’s Creek might get washed away in the famous Washington rain.
But you know what? I’ve never known another life, and I never want to. Hunter’s Creek is where my heart is, and it’s where my best friend, with those footprints of hers, is too.
What did I do to deserve a best friend like Ryn Cole?
I got lucky, I guess.
I park my truck in our usual spot, a clearing off the road at the edge of the thick woods just out of town. Hunter’s Creek is built on the back of the lumber industry, and without these trees, stretching for mile upon mile, our town wouldn’t exist.
The night sky is nothing short of magnificent right now, the only lights coming from town a couple miles away. Framed only by the silhouettes of the towering trees, the night sky canopy over our heads is like a blanket perforated with millions of tiny, light-filled holes.
I know, I’m getting lyrical. It’s hard not to when you’re surrounded by such beauty. And it’s all on our doorstep, waiting to be enjoyed.
Which is what my best friend, Ryn, and I are doing right now.
“Is that the Big Dipper?” she asks, as she points at the sky.
I’m grateful for the heat from the engine against our backs as a cool early-summer breeze chills the night air.
I follow where she’s pointing to a collection of stars. When you connect them together it looks a little like a big shovel. I nudge her with my elbow. “You been studying up or something?”
“I’m just naturally gifted,” she replies with a smile, her hazel eyes glinting in the dull light.
“You’re naturally gifted at knowing constellations? Is that even a thing? I mean it’s not like being gifted at math or writing symphonies.”
“I can do math.”
“And you could sit down and write a symphony if you wanted, too?”
She lets out a light, tinkling laugh. “Sure. Why not? Remember, I played the triangle in the school band?”
“Once, Ryn-Ryn. You played the triangle in the school band once, and we both know it was on a dare.”
She lets out a contented sigh, gazing back up at the night sky. “Easiest twenty bucks I ever made.”
I laugh as I shake my head. That’s the other thing about me and my best friend: we rib each other. A lot. Rib, tease, make fun of. It’s fun and it’s familiar and it’s a big part of who we are. Big kids, I guess. In fact, we made a pact when we were teenagers that we would never grow up. We are Peter Pan and Petra Pan of Neverland.
We couldn’t come up with a better name.
We figured that adulting comes with responsibilities and seriousness, and neither of us wants any of that. We want to live in the moment, never worrying about tomorrow. Live our best lives, the way they are right now.
You may think that makes us immature, stuck maybe. At twenty-three, we should know better.
I think it makes us fearless.
“I’m gonna get a Big Dipper and add it to my home collection,” she tells me. “It would really round off the whole celestial sphere I’ve got going on.”
I chortle. “You refer to your bedroom ceiling as a ‘celestial sphere’ now?”
“It is a celestial sphere, G,” she says, using the nickname only Ryn calls me. “It’s the Ryn Cole Celestial Sphere, for obvious reasons.”
“Those famous astronomers name constellations after themselves all the time. I’m just following in their footsteps.”
Ever since I’ve known Ryn, she’s had those glow in the dark plastic stars on her ceiling. She arranges them artfully, guided by the actual night sky. Or at least that’s what she tells me. We may spend a fair bit of time gazing up at the stars together throughout summer, but I’m here more for the company than some astronomical education.
I sweep my gaze across her out of the corner of my eye. Not in a creepy way, you understand, rather in a she’s my buddy and I’m just looking at her kind of way. Her face is upturned, her nose straight, her long, thick strawberry blonde hair falling in cascades against the cool windshield behind her head. She wears a tank top tonight with her usual jeans and sneakers. It’s figure hugging, showing off her curves in a way her standard t-shirts definitely hide.
Not that I should notice these things, of course. Best friends, remember?
But I am still a guy.
She’s completely unaware of how beautiful she really is. I know it’s a total cliché, but in Ryn’s case it’s one hundred percent true. She’s beautiful and funny and, evidently, knows where the Big Dipper is located.
Seriously, what more could a guy want?
You know, as a best friend, that is.
I take a sip and the cool, bubbly liquid slips down my throat. “Did you get The Question today?”
“Of course I did. I’m a piranha in a pool of goldfish.”
I chuckle. “Piranha? That’s a new one.”
“When you get asked continually about your dating life and get told you shouldn’t be single, you come up with new ways to describe yourself. You know that. You get The Question every day, too.”
“But being a piranha in a pool of goldfish suggests that they think you’re gonna eat them for breakfast.”
“Maybe I will,” she replies with a grin. “How many times were you asked about your dating life today?”
I think back on my day spent between doing the lunch shift at the Black Bear Bar in town and my apprenticeship at a glass blowing studio on the edge of town. A typical Sunday for me, and never a day of rest. I’ve got too much going on for that, no matter what Mom would have said about the need to relax. This is my relaxation, hanging out with my best friend on the hood of my car.
“I dropped in to the Second Chance,” I reply, mentioning the Main Street coffeehouse where Ryn works these days.
“Right. So, my Aunt Sheila happened.”
“She sure did. She asked me why you and I aren’t dating. Again.”
“What did you tell her? No, wait. Let me guess. You said something like ‘I’m keeping my options open’ because you can’t bring yourself to lie, Mr. Honest-to-a-Fault. Tell me I’m not wrong?”
“I’m not honest to a fault,” I protest. “It’s true, I value honesty above a lot of things, but it’s not like it’s a fault. I’m honest with the people in my life, and I expect honesty in return.”
She snort-laughs. “You’re Captain Honesty. I wonder what your super power is? Ooh, I know, it’d be like Wonder Woman’s rope.”
I’m not sure I want to know the answer, but I ask anyway, “Wonder Woman’s rope?”
“You know, when she wraps it around a person and they cannot lie?”
“I could do with one of those.”
She shoots me a sideways look. “Not everyone is a liar, G,” she says softly.
I pull my lips into a tight, thin line and return my attention to the stars. We both know what she’s referring to. My dad left my mom and me when I wasn’t even a year old. Not an uncommon story, I guess. Plenty of marriages break up early on, particularly when the couple is young, like my parents were. What wasn’t so common was that after he left, Mom learned that he’d lied to her about their entire relationship. He had another family in the neighboring town. She was left literally holding the baby, with a marriage that never existed.
Unsurprisingly, it totally rocked her and she never got over it. What she did do though, was teach me the importance of honesty, and I make sure to surround myself with people I can trust wholeheartedly.
Friend that she is, Ryn changes the subject. “You know, one of these days you’re gonna have to get yourself a new girlfriend so that this town can stop matchmaking us with one another. Why they can’t see that a guy and a girl can be best friends without complicating things with romantic feelings is beyond me.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
We tap our cans, both take a sip of our sodas, and return to a comfortable silence.
That’s one of the other great things about my best friend. We don’t always have to talk. She understands that sometimes just being together is enough.
Ryn’s phone buzzes and she instantly reaches for it.
“Leave it,” I tell her, not wanting our moment to be interrupted.
“But it might be Ivy. You know how she is with forgetting her keys. She might be locked out again.”
Ivy Fenwick, Ryn’s new roommate—and my ex from high school. We get on fine these days, which is just as well, because you can’t exactly be anonymous in a place the size of Hunter’s Creek.
Before I can protest further, Ryn hands me her soda can, picks up her phone, and begins to read her message. The bright light from her phone illuminates her face, and I watch as her eyes widen, her features morphing from a look of shock into excitement.
She bolts upright, taking me by surprise. “Oh, my,” she says, her voice suddenly breathless.
I lean back, close my eyes, and ask, “‘Oh, my’ what?”
“It can’t be true.”
My eyes open a crack. “What is it?”
“She can’t be serious,” Ryn mutters, her eyes glued to her screen as her mouth drops open.
“What can’t she be serious about?” Concern worms its way across my chest. I push myself up so we’re sitting side by side as I balance both of our soda cans.
“But that’s the best thing that could happen to this town ever.”
Relieved it’s not bad news, I say, “You know you’re gonna have to tell me at some point, don’t you?”
“Read it,” she declares as she thrusts the phone in my face.
I take it from her and skim over the message.
You are not going to believe this. I just heard a Hollywood film crew is coming to our boring little town NEXT MONTH. Call me! NOW!!!
Ivy has definitely used up her exclamation point quota for the week.
“A Hollywood film crew?” I arch an eyebrow at Ryn as I hand her back her phone. “Unlikely.”
“What do you mean ‘unlikely’? Of course it’s likely. Ivy said so right here.” She holds her phone up as evidence.
“Come on, Ryn. Ivy doesn’t exactly have contacts in Hollywood, unless I missed something and she’s a secret Hollywood insider and not in Accounts Receivable at the mill.”
“You can believe what you want to believe, Gabriel Hartmann.”
In one fluid movement Ryn pushes herself off the hood and her sneaker-clad feet land on the dusty ground, like a gymnast dismounting from a beam.
“What’s with calling me Gabriel all of a sudden?” I swing my own legs off the edge of the truck and jump down.
“Because you’re not listening to me, Gabriel.”
“Chill out. I’m listening.”
“I believe Ivy. Why would she make something like that up?”
Because she’s attention seeking and probably bored with her own life? I don’t say it. Ryn and Ivy are friends and new roommates. Plus, small town, remember?
It’s not that I don’t like Ivy. I do. She’s great. She’s just like a lot of people here in town: ready to believe anything new and exciting to spice up their quiet lives.
Ryn taps out something on her phone and then climbs up into the truck, closing her door. It’s a completely unsubtle way of telling me she wants to leave.
“I take it you want to go home?”
“If that’s okay with you, Mr. Cynical.” She doesn’t look up from her screen.
I let out a laugh. “I’ve gone from Captain Honesty to Mr. Cynical in one night?” I pull my own door open and climb into the truck. “Think about it. Why would a film crew come to Hunter’s Creek?”
“Lots of reasons,” she replies pointedly. “Lots and lots of reasons.”
She lowers her phone and taps her leg in irritation. “Are you gonna drive, G? Or do I have to come up with another name for you?”
“Since you asked so nicely.”
She shakes her head. “Don’t go getting all older brother on me. I told Ivy I’m coming home.”
“Because a Hollywood film crew is coming to town this very minute?”
“Obviously not this very minute, but we’ve got things to talk about before they do.”
“You put the key in there and then you turn the ignition to start the car,” she tells me, gesturing at the steering column.
“Where would I be without you?”
“Please?” She pulls her full lips into the smile that gets me every time.
We both know I’m going to do as she asks.
I let out a resigned breath as I turn the ignition and my truck begins to rumble. I drive carefully across the uneven ground and onto the paved road.
“This is going to be so epic.”
I glance at her shining face, alive with excitement. “Let’s think logically here. Why would Hollywood want to come to Hunter’s Creek?”
“Because it’s a beautiful place, especially in the summer.”
“Lots of places are beautiful in the summer.”
“Because of all the trees. I mean, look at them. There are literally millions.” She gestures out the window.
“Lots of places have trees, too.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s because we deserve some excitement around here?”
“That’s bound to be it. Some Hollywood bigwig was sitting at his desk, looking at a map and thinking, what small town in the middle of nowhere needs some excitement? Oh, I know: Hunter’s Creek, Washington.”
“So young to be so cynical.” She nudges my arm.
I look at her and we share a smile.
A short drive later, I pull my truck into her driveway. No sooner do I turn to face her than she plants a quick kiss on my cheek, pushes the door open with her feet, and jumps out onto the driveway.
“Thanks for tonight, G. See you tomorrow?”
It’s a question, but she’s not waiting for my reply. A flash of her smile and a wave of her hand and she dances up the steps and into her house, the door slamming closed behind her.
“See you tomorrow,” I murmur as she disappears from sight.
I put my truck in gear, the engine rumbling, and drive away, wondering whether this whole Hollywood film thing is real, and if it is, what it could mean for our town.
~ 1 month later ~
Nothing ever happens in Hunter’s Creek, this teeny, tiny town I’ve called home for my entire twenty-three years and seven months of life.
Well, not until today, that is.
I can barely contain my excitement because today is the day everything changes. And I do mean everything.
What’s happening? Only the single most exciting, totally out of the blue, utterly unexpected thing to happen in Hunter’s Creek since the first ever tree was chopped down and taken to the mill that created this town—and let’s face it, that’s hardly exciting.
Today is the day that Cambri-oh Entertainment—yes, the Cambri-oh Entertainment that has made huge box office smash hit movies, such as Die for Tomorrow, Gold for the Soul, and the total tear-jerker, Samuel—comes to town for three whole months to film a rom com.
That’s three months of movie crew and movie stars and everything that goes with it, right here in the town where nothing ever happens.
I could pinch myself.
Ivy was right. She had heard through the Hunter’s Creek gossip network that Mr. Cantor, the former owner of the town’s mill and the big man around town, had struck a deal with Cambri-oh Entertainment to film a movie on his land.
I’ve barely met the guy, but I think I love him.
I’ve tried to stay calm. Believe me. I’ve tried to focus on making the coffee and arranging the muffins and delivering slices of pie and donuts and all the other things the people of this town like to have mid-morning on a Tuesday. It’s been an effort. A freaking huge effort. All I can think about is that sometime today forty people—probably more when you think about entourages and makeup artists and stunt doubles and the people who hold those fluffy microphone things overhead when they’re filming a scene—will descend on Hunter’s Creek, literally changing the landscape of this place. For the better. The much better.
Despite my best efforts to focus on my job, I gaze out the window of the Second Chance Café in expectation.
So far, nothing.
“Table 7 said they ordered some hotcakes about half an hour ago,” says my aunt, the coffeehouse owner and my boss.
I drag my eyes from watching the empty street through the front window. “Sorry, what did you say?”
Aunt Sheila shoots me a stern look. “Hot cakes, Ryn. Table 7.”
“What about them? Oh, do they want some hot cakes? I can go take their order right now if you want?”
I glance at the people sitting at Table 7. It’s the members of what I call the Hunter’s Creek Ladies’ Committee, a group of women with too much time on their hands, who love to get together and gossip about everybody in this town—and matchmake the single folk among us.
Gabe and I are their frequent targets.
All of them turn and glare impatiently at me.
What is with them?
Aunt Sheila throws her hands onto her apron-clad hips. “What’s going on with you today, Ryn? You dropped an order of scrambled eggs in poor Samuel McNaught’s lap, you gave your sister an empty plate when she’d ordered a slice of pie, and worst of all, you used decaf beans in the coffee machine and everybody complained.”
I scrunch up my face. “Decaf?”
“Decaf. Not one single person in this town has been caffeinated this morning, thanks to you.”
I swallow. “That’s not good.”
An un-caffeinated Hunter’s Creek is a grumpy Hunter’s Creek.
“No, Ryn, it’s not good,” she repeats, her features hardened at the dire situation the town now faces.
I’m surprised they haven’t called a state of emergency.
“Do better, Kathryn. Do better.”
Her use of my full name has my belly tying in a knot. I might not be the best waitress this side of Idaho, but I’m not usually this terrible.
But then it’s not every day that Hollywood comes to town. So why aren’t they here already?
“Sorry, Aunt Sheila. I’ll do better. I promise.”
My eyes drift back to the window, one hundred percent out of my control.
Seriously. I can’t help it.
Aunt Sheila throws her hands on her hips. “Oh, I see. You’d rather stare out the window than do your job?”
“It’s just—” I begin, but I know I don’t have a leg to stand on. “Sorry.”
Her face softens. “Sweetheart, we’re all eager to see the movie people, but we still have a business to run and customers to feed and caffeinate.”
I bite down on my lip and nod. “The right beans in the machine and hotcakes for Table 7. I’ll get on it.” I collect my order pad and pen, but before I get the chance to make my way to Table 7, my aunt puts her hand on my arm.
“They’ve already ordered their hotcakes and they would like to eat them now. Deliver these muffins to Christopher and Alfred Whitlow at table 4.” She thrusts two plates at me. “And then go see Lisa in the kitchen.”
“Sure thing, Aunt Sheila.” I take the muffins across to Christopher, my sister Harper’s boyfriend, and Mr. Whitlow. As usual, the two lawyers are deep in conversation. Christopher bought Mr. Whitlow’s law practice when he moved permanently to Hunter’s Creek and the two men have become good friends.
“Apologies for the delay,” I say as I place the muffins on the table.
“No delay, Ryn. In fact, we just ordered them,” Christopher replies with a smile.
He’s always nice to me.
“You’re efficiency itself,” Mr. Whitlow adds.
A rare waitressing win for the day.
I flash them a smile, turn on my heel, and make my way through the swing doors and into the kitchen. I find Lisa frying up bacon, humming a tune. Her graying hair is tied up in a neat, low bun, and she’s wearing the same lemon-colored apron as me, with the words Get a Second Chance at the Second Chance Café splashed across the chest.
I’ve never liked the tag line, least of all the fact that I have to wear an apron with those very words and a ruffle every day.
So not my style.
I’ve often wondered why Aunt Sheila named this place “Second Chance”. I mean, it’s not like she hasn’t been married to Uncle Johnny for a gazillion years. High school sweethearts, they got hitched at just nineteen and have been happily together ever since. There have been no Second Chances in the love stakes, as far as I can tell.
They’re pretty standard here in Hunter’s Creek. You either leave town straight out of high school to go to college and don’t return, or you stay here and get a job at the mill as you select your life partner from the severely limited pool, marry them, and then spend the rest of your life gossiping about and matchmaking the rest of the town.
Somehow, I managed to escape both well-trodden paths. No trip to college and beyond, and definitely no child bride, straight out of high school.
Us single, never-left types—like me, Ivy, and Gabe—are such a rare breed here I’m surprised a group of psychiatrists in white coats with a row of multi-colored pens in their pockets haven’t stuck us in a laboratory to study us.
It could happen.
And you know what they’ll find when they study me? Someone who’s content with her life, even if it’s maybe a little on the dull side at times. They’ll find someone who’s happy for others to go out there and achieve big things. They’ll find someone who’s comfortable with their lot in life, someone who knows they’ll never amount to anything particularly special. And I’m good with that, because you know what? I’m happy to have left the over achieving to others.
The problem for me is that I have two older sisters who are both contestants in the Miss Perfect USA pageant, and a couple of parents who wonder why I’m not like them. I’ve told them all I’m working on being a social media influencer so they think I’m doing something with my life, when in reality that’s the last thing I would want to do. But at least it made my parents stop hassling me about not having a career, mainly because they have no idea what an influencer actually does.
Did I mention it’s super fun to be me?
And anyway, I know I could never compete with my sisters, so why try? My sisters have always been super close, sharing their life secrets—and always leaving me out. To them, I’m the little sister, the hot mess of the family who could never achieve their levels of perfection.
I know, I hear it. You’re thinking I’m suffering from youngest sibling inferiority. In fact, that might have been hinted at by some people in the past. But I know my sisters have always looked down on me. I’m the baby of the family, the kid sister who is just that: a kid.
You know what? Being the little kid of the Cole family is fine with me. It comes with its perks. I don’t need to have a big career. I don’t have to have the perfect relationship. I don’t have to work my butt off for some tough boss in the big city, or be the best teacher at Hunter’s Creek Elementary.
I can just be me.
Carefree, happy, easy-going, fun.
“Hey, Aunt Lisa,” I say, because of course we’re related. This is Hunter’s Creek after all. Limited gene pool, as Christopher likes to point out.
She glances up at me from the sizzling bacon. “Hi, sweetie. Any sign?”
She doesn’t need to add the words “of the Hollywood film cast and crew”. We both know what she means.
“Not yet,” I reply with a sigh. “I’m here for the hotcakes for Table 7.”
“Do you mean the ones over there?” She gestures at three plates adorned with stacks of hot cakes, cream, strawberries, and a pool of maple syrup. “They’re probably less hotcakes and more cool cakes by now, honey.”
“I might have forgotten about them,” I mumble. “Do you think you could do me a solid and heat them up?”
She tilts her head, her lips tightening.
The bacon sizzles and spits.
“Please, Aunt Lisa?” I ask in my best youngest member of the family voice.
I notice my aunt’s features soften. “Sure thing, honey. You scrape off the cream and strawberries and I’ll heat them right up.”
“Thank you so much,” I simper, before I do as she says.
Sometimes using my status as the baby of the family works out nicely for me.
I carry the three plates of freshly heated hot cakes to the disapproving ladies at Table 7, effusive with my apologies and an offer of free coffee for their trouble.
“I’ll even put caffeinated beans in this time,” I tell them, with what I hope is a winning grin.
“You don’t have to do that, honey,” says Mrs. Ashbridge
“You’re wrong on that front, Suzie. We need caffeine,” her friend, Mrs. Jacobson, states as she waves her empty cup in the air.
“Definitely,” agrees the third member of the party at the table, my former elementary school teacher, Mrs. Sommerfeld.
“You know something, Ryn?” Mrs. Ashbridge says in a low, conspiratorial voice and I place my hands on my knees and lean in. “We’re all supposed to be doing the keto diet right now. You know, the one where you don’t get to eat carbohydrates?”
“These hotcakes aren’t exactly part of the plan. Just promise me you won’t go telling anyone about it.”
“Your secret is safe with me,” I tell her, straightening back up.
“We’re only eating carbs because it’s a special day,” Mrs. Jacobson explains.
“On account of the expected new arrivals, you understand,” adds Mrs. Sommerfeld.
Personally, I don’t need an excuse to eat carbs, but I’m not a member of the Hunter’s Creek Ladies’ Committee, population these three plus Aunt Sheila.
“I wonder when they’re going to get here?” Mrs. Ashbridge asks, and all of us turn to look out the window onto Main Street.
As if perfectly planned for that precise moment, a stampede of black shiny cars slink past.
Could it finally be…?
All four of us share a brief look before the women collectively push their chairs out from the table, and together we dash to the window to get a closer look.
We’re not the only ones. Half the coffeehouse and even Aunt Sheila crowd around us as vehicle after vehicle slinks by, like a stream of oversized polished ants. Following black cars come vans and trucks, all shapes and sizes, and all heading in one direction: the movie set they’ve been working on for two weeks already, on Mr. Cantor’s land just out of town.
“Do you think they’re going to stop for some coffee?” someone asks.
“Oh, they definitely should. Sheila’s coffee is the best in town,” someone else replies.
“Only when it’s caffeinated.”
There’s a rumble of dissatisfaction.
“We all know Sheila’s coffee is the best in town, but they don’t.”
“Someone really ought to tell them about the coffee here.”
Forget the fact there are only two coffeehouses in Hunter’s Creek. Competition isn’t exactly stiff in the town coffee stakes.
Or in any stakes.
“Everyone drinks coffee, you know. Even Hollywood stars. They’re always photographed in the magazines leaving Starbucks, clutching their fancy coffees.”
“Stephanie’s does pretty good coffee too, you know.”
“Shh! You can’t say that here.”
“Why not? It’s the God’s honest truth.”
I turn to see Stephanie herself standing among the group of eager spectators. I raise my eyebrows at her in question.
She shrugs. “This place is on Main Street. Better view of the newcomers,” she says by way of explanation.
And then the impossible happens.
A shiny black limo slows, its turn signal blinking. It pulls into a parking spot right outside the window where we’re all gathered.
As though the glass has suddenly mutated into an electric fence, everyone clambers back to their tables, bumping into one another as we clumsily move around. Ouches and ows and that’s my seat echo around the room and I make a beeline for the register, figuring if the occupants of that vehicle were to actually walk into this coffeehouse, I want to be the one to serve them.
And I’ll make dang sure to remember their order, too.
Anticipation grips the room.
The coffeehouse door swings open and we hold a united breath as every eye in the place zeroes in on who is about to walk through the door.
It’s only Gabe.
There’s a collective deflated sigh as eyes swivel from Gabe back to the window once more.
No offense to my best friend, but when you’re expecting a Hollywood star and you get a local you’ve known all your life, it’s hard not to feel let down.
He looks around at everyone uncertainly. “What’s going on?”
Aunt Sheila elbows me. “Look, Ryn. It’s your future husband.”
“For the eleven-ty millionth time, Aunt Sheila, Gabe and I are just friends,” I protest, and it really feels like it’s for about the eleven-ty millionth time.
That’s not to say my best friend isn’t hot. Because he most definitely is. Even I can see that. Enough of my friends have fallen for his charms to rank him as one of the most eligible bachelors around. He’s good looking in that square-jawed, plaid flannel and jeans-wearing, he really should be a lumberjack, kind of way, with sandy blonde hair, gray-blue eyes, and broad shoulders. At 6’2” any woman would be lucky to claim him as her boyfriend.
Experience tells me that the woman who does end up with Gabe will be the north to my south, in both looks and personality. Gabe has always gone for the tall, slim, brunette type who has drive and ambition. Me? Short, shapely, definitely not a brunette—strawberry blonde, thank you very much—and as far as drive is concerned, I tend to leave that for when I’m behind the wheel.
Gabe’s questioning gaze lands on mine, a half-smile forming on his face as he strides across the coffeehouse floor toward me.
Aunt Sheila, self-appointed leader of the Hunter’s Creek Ladies’ Committee, waits for him to arrive at the counter before she throws in today’s comment. “Solve a riddle for me. Why aren’t you two together?”
“Because we’re not,” Gabe replies.
“Yeah. What he said,” I add.
“Look at the two of you. You’re best friends. You tell each other everything. What’s more, you look super cute together. Why not actually be together?”
“Because…she’s Ryn,” Gabe replies.
“And he’s Gabe,” I add, and Gabe high-fives me.
Aunt Sheila rolls her eyes. “Okay, you two. Whatever you say.”
The door to the limo that had just finished parking opens and a hush descends on the room as all eyes turn to see.
Are the people from the car coming in here?
And, more to the point, who are they?
Part of me wishes they were the stars of the movie, the famous and very beautiful Charlene Kemp, or, much more thrillingly, the hero of the movie, none other than heart throb Leonardo Finch, the object of all my teenage fantasies.
“What is with everyone? They’re all acting so weird,” Gabe complains.
“Did you see who was in the car out there?” I ask, my attention back on the door like everyone else’s.
I glance at him in irritation. “The black limo, of course!”
We don’t get a lot of limos here, other than on prom night.
“Nah, I didn’t see who was in it. It’ll be some rich —”
Whatever else he says, I don’t hear because in that moment the coffeehouse door swings open and in walks a group of well-dressed people, people who don’t look like they’re from around here. They’re well-groomed and chic, exuding otherness as they make their way across the floor.
Most amazingly of all—and I could pinch myself right now—the group includes the ridiculously handsome and famous, Leonardo Finch.
You know when you see a celebrity in the flesh and you get a zap of electricity telling you that you are in the presence of someone you feel you already know, but of course you don’t know at all? That’s what happens to me.
And yes, he’s someone I may very well have had pictures of on my bedroom wall as a teenager—and quite possibly have dreamt of him turning up to take me to prom, of him declaring his love for me and asking me to marry him.
You’ve probably guessed that none of those things have happened.
But then, just as I’m getting my fangirling under control for Leonardo Finch, someone else saunters into the room, totally pulling my gaze.
And with good reason.
This guy looks like Anthony, Lord Bridgerton, only without the formal clothing and frankly ridiculous sideburns. He’s probably a few inches taller than me, with thick chestnut hair and piercing blue eyes. He’s in a pair of ripped black jeans, a gray t-shirt under a black leather biker jacket, with hair he’s just run his fingers through after taking off his motorcycle helmet.
Gabe might be saying something to me, Aunt Sheila might be nudging me furiously with her elbow, the room might be abuzz with excited chatter at the sight of Leonardo Finch, but I’m deaf to everything.
Everything but the guy in the leather jacket.
Want to read more? Faking It With My Best Friend is out on June 15th