Rosie and Bethany laughed and they threw up their hands. “Just Us League.”
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Kristin squealed, rushing into the room. Georgie and Bethany’s sister-in-law floated like an early Disney princess, humming to herself and catching the light with her diamond earrings. She was a ball of sunlight and southern gentility. Until you pissed her off or she didn’t get her way. Hence Georgie attending her Zumba class even though she’d like to be sitting in front of the television with a nice cheese plate. If Georgie skipped the class, Stephen would suffer the consequences, and it was only a matter of time before the fallout trickled down. Once, Georgie declined a fresh-baked muffin from Kristin because it contained lemon zest. Which was gross.
Kristin put those little yellow rinds in everything for six months.
“Your brother is very handsy after a few beers,” said Kristin. “I didn’t make it through the kitchen before—”
Georgie groaned. “We don’t need to know.”
“Very well,” Kristin said primly, hooking her iPod up to an adapter. She swiped across the screen and a Latin beat pumped into the room. “Who’s ready to Zumba?”
The three of them rose to their feet like cranky zombies, but managed to get through the hour without taking a flying leap through the plateglass window onto the street to escape. Georgie couldn’t help but feel . . . energized after class ended, though, and it had nothing to do with suggestive hip movements. Starting tomorrow, things were going to change.
First order of business? Fix her own damn fireplace.
And maybe get a new haircut in the name of symbolism.
Travis stared into his empty refrigerator and listened to his stomach growl.
He’d eat a muddy fucking boot about now, but none of the takeout menus in his drawer appealed to him. It pained him to admit it, but what he wanted was more of Georgie’s leftovers. The chipotle meatloaf had ended up being his favorite, because Georgie had hidden peas underneath the mashed potatoes, so the little green balls ended up in every bite even though he couldn’t see them. Like a sneaky way of making him eat vegetables.
Travis closed the refrigerator with a frown and leaned back against it. It had been two days since he’d missed their appointment and she hadn’t shown up again. He’d half expected her to barge into the apartment by now and launch more lo mein at his head. Actually, with every day that passed, he kind of wanted her to arrive in a snit and bean him with noodles. It was worse wondering if he’d hurt her feelings. And Jesus, this was why he’d wanted her to leave him alone in the first place. Now he was staring at the blank wall in his goddamn kitchen, concerning himself with someone he shouldn’t have been associating with in the first place.
An image of her opening the door with a messy apron, trying not to get emotional because no one had shown up for brunch, bombarded Travis’s brain. He fell into that category now, didn’t he?
His stomach gave an uncomfortable twist. The kitchen seemed really small and dark all of a sudden. “Shit,” he muttered, shoving a hand through his hair.
The kicker of it all? He kind of wanted to tell Georgie about the possible commentator job. More than he wanted to tell Stephen or Dominic. What the fuck was up with that?
She would tell him the truth with none of the bullshit. That’s what was up. He would get her honest reaction or nothing at all. Right now when nothing in his life made sense, that truthfulness was valuable. He’d had team managers smile to his face while preparing to blindside him with a trade. Had teammates clap him on the shoulder and tell him another opportunity would come, when they both knew damn well it wouldn’t. To know with 100 percent certainty that Georgie would shoot straight with him . . . it made him itch to have her in front of him. Just for a little while.
If he had her phone number, he would have given her a call to reschedule the appointment. But he didn’t have it. And he was not about to ask Stephen to slide him those little-sister digits. There was no doubt in Travis’s mind that Stephen would get the wrong idea. Travis didn’t have any interest in Georgie beyond redoing the fireplace no one else seemed to have time for . . . and maybe confiding in her about things he didn’t plan on telling another soul. Not a big deal.
“Christ. You need your head examined.” He turned and threw open an overhead cabinet, looking for anything that resembled food. He wasn’t totally useless in the kitchen. As a kid, he’d spent a lot of days and nights fending for himself. When his father was too depressed and drunk to cook, Travis scrambled his own eggs and made his own school lunches. Fried his own burgers. His meal choices had been made on the fly until he’d read an article in Sports Illustrated that outlined the daily protein intake of Sammy Sosa. Steaks, vegetables, fish, brown rice. All things he’d been missing.
Convinced he’d never make it to the pros without the proper diet, Travis started a paper route, just so he could buy the right groceries. His route was done on foot, since his parents couldn’t afford a bike, but he’d gotten up earlier than the other paper route kids and made it work. After school, he’d go to the store himself and walk the half mile home, arms wrapped around two paper bags. Travis could still feel his father sneering at him from the kitchen archway while he tested the temperature of his first steak.
Someday you’ll realize it was all a waste of time.
Swallowing the fist in his throat, Travis circled the kitchen table. Yeah. It wasn’t so much that he couldn’t make his own meals. Apart from his lost month after being cut from his last team—when he’d gone on a takeout-and-booze bender—he’d been pretty handy in the kitchen. He didn’t necessarily need Georgie to fill his fridge with tasty goodness.
But it had been really nice opening the fridge and knowing someone cared. Travis never had that in his life. Sure, when he’d become friends with Stephen, the Castles invited him over for dinner at least twice a week. Those nights had been a godsend when his paper route money ran out, but in the later years, Vivian had started splitting duties with Dominic’s mother. Who’s going to feed the Ford boy tonight? Despite their best intentions, they’d inadvertently made him a charity case.
Nothing remained permanent. For those few nights when he’d had someone’s leftovers in his fridge to come home to, though . . . for once, something had seemed constant. Tangible.
Travis didn’t realize he’d moved into the bedroom until he started pulling on some sweatpants. He threw on a gray World Series champs shirt, leaving it untucked, and stuffed his feet back into his work boots. Trying to shake the inconvenient sense of dread, Travis plucked his tools and a legal pad from where he’d left them near the door and headed for the truck. It would take only ten minutes to measure Georgie’s fireplace and then he could get back to enjoying his night alone.
Travis turned the corner onto Georgie’s block and saw the small brick ranch-style house at the end of the cul-de-sac. The sun was setting, outlining it in a pink glow. He didn’t know how much money Georgie pulled down from her clown gigs, but the Castle influence had probably gotten her the house for a steal. It wasn’t the nicest house on the block, but it was the most colorful. Red and white and yellow flowers were planted along the walkway. Instead of a sprinkler head, she had a giant rotating frog plopped down in the center of her lawn. Flip-flops lay forgotten on the porch, lit up by the glow of the porch light. Homey. Bursting with character like the owner. Someday a bunch of kids would be playing tag in the yard.
It probably wouldn’t happen for another decade, though. At least, right?
A honk jolted Travis and he found himself idling in the middle of the street. Trying to figure out why he’d gone from starving to zero appetite, he pulled forward and let the neighbor pass and turn into his own driveway. But where he would have parallel parked at the curb in front of Georgie’s house, as he’d done at brunch, Travis was surprised to find another truck parked out front. One just like his.
Who did it belong to? A man?
Travis’s pulse started kicking at the base of his neck, but he didn’t know why. Georgie had to have friends. Girls she’d gone to school with who still lived in town. The truck probably just belonged to one of them. Toolbox in hand, he passed behind the truck and spotted an I’D RATHER BE REELING IN A BASS bumper sticker and paused. Okay, probably not a girl.
Georgie didn’t have a boyfriend—she’d lamented that very fact to his face. Had she met someone since then? Shouldn’t a new guy have to go through some kind of vetting process? When Travis reached the door, he laughed when he realized he was bracing himself, shoulders squared. For what? Why the hell did he care if Georgie was in there hiding peas under mashed potatoes for someone else?
He blamed the humidity for the sweat popping up at his hairline.
Georgie answered the door . . . only she looked slightly different. As in not the same. As in the haphazard knot stuck through the back of a baseball cap was gone. Chocolate waves stopped just beyond her shoulders. Down. Her hair was down. And shorter, maybe? A big chunk of it had been cut right in front. Bangs. They were called bangs and they didn’t hide her green eyes, like the hat tended to do. Nope, those eyes were right there in the open, big and questioning.