Working with her best friend
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.48(d)|
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I flung a glob of black paint at the canvas, pretending it was Aiden's head.
My best friend Zoe entered the old garage turned art studio in back of my house and pointed at my latest artistic endeavor. "What are you doing?"
I repeated the maneuver and enjoyed the wet splatting sound the paint made when it hit the canvas. "I call this piece 'Artistic Anger Management.'"
"Is Aiden still playing the we're-just-friends game?"
"Yes, and he's acting like we never kissed." That ticked me off the most. Because we had kissed, and it had been awesome, or so I'd thought. But perhaps he didn't agree.
I studied the black-and-red modern art project that was the expression of my abject frustration over the object of my affection. "I think it needs some orange."
Zoe frowned. "Maybe you should ask him out."
"Nope. We had one official date, and since then, all we've done is hang out with you and Grant. You guys are attached at the lips half the time, which you'd think would inspire Aiden to try and kiss me, but so far, not so much." And I'd initiated the kiss on our first date, so it was his turn to make a move.
"Sorry," Zoe said. "I could ask Grant to help prod him along."
"Don't you dare." I flung a glob of orange paint at the canvas and watched as it smacked dead center, sending out tentacles of color. "It's not like he's the only datable guy on the planet." And not that I'd say it out loud, but I didn't think I should have to work to make a guy like me. Either he wanted to kiss me, or he didn't.
"Fine." Zoe sat on the wooden bench, which was the only piece of furniture in the room. "We really need to get you a couch. This thing is not comfortable."
"If you're going to decorate the place for me, I want a couch and a coffeemaker."
"Sure, I'll get right on that," Zoe said. "On to more important matters. What do you want to do this weekend?"
"I'm still waiting to hear back from Betty's Burgers."
Things had been a little tight around my house since the washing machine and the water heater had both crapped out in the same week. You'd think appliances would have the decency to die a few paychecks apart, but apparently not, which made me feel bad about asking for money. I'd rather work part-time at Betty's Burgers and Pies after school to pay for my artistic habits than watch my mom or dad dig into their anorexic wallets.
My cell rang. I checked the caller ID. Betty's Burgers flashed across the screen. Fingers crossed, I answered the phone.
One short conversation later, I was newly employed. After hanging up, I played it cool, walking over to the sink and rinsing out my paintbrushes. "So do you want to come with me to Betty's to pick up my uniform?"
"You got the job?" Zoe asked. "That's great."
I put the brushes in the drying rack, turned around, and struck a movie star pose. "You are looking at the new Pie Princess."
"I even get my own tiara." The job entailed serving and boxing up pies at the dessert counter. If anyone eating dinner had a birthday, I'd serve them a piece of pie topped off with a candle while singing "Happy Birthday." So much less complicated than being a regular waitress. The only down side was I'd be working with Jack, Zoe's older brother, also known as Jack-the-Jerk. He pretty much felt like my older brother because I'd known him forever and had the according amount of disdain for him.
"Don't tell Jack the good news. I want it to be a surprise. Now let's go pick up my tiara."
"I'm parked behind you, so I can drive," Zoe said with a little too much enthusiasm.
What is that about? When I rounded the house to the driveway, a block-shaped blue SUV sat parked behind my truck. "You got a new car?"
Zoe gestured toward the SUV like a floor room salesman. "Allow me to introduce you to Francine. She's a 2012 Sky Blue Metallic Subaru Forester with many years of life left in her. Or so the used-car salesman convinced my mom."
"That's awesome. I bet Jack is ticked off."
"Not really. They gave him the option to trade in his car, but he said my grandmother's old Honda Accord gets better gas mileage, so he wasn't interested. Plus this way, we don't have to share a vehicle anymore which means, according to my grandmother, we should fight less."
I laughed. "Having your own car won't stop Jack from being an overbearing jerk."
"True, but this worked out in my favor, so I don't care. Now let's go pick up your uniform."
I climbed into the Subaru and buckled my seat belt. Since Zoe's grandfather and father had died from injuries sustained in the same car crash, I wasn't surprised they'd bought her a super-safe automobile.
"When do you start your reign as the Princess of Pie?" Zoe asked.
"Tomorrow night. So I can't go out with you."
"That sort of sucks."
"You've gotta do what you've gotta do." And secretly, I didn't mind. Hanging around Aiden, trying to figure out what was going on in his brain, had become an unhealthy hobby. Who knows? Maybe I'd meet a great guy while I was working at Betty's. Who could resist a girl in a retro waitress uniform wearing a tiara?
I pulled into the employee parking lot at Betty's Burgers and Pies with five minutes to spare. Sometimes working at a burger-and-pie joint sucked, but I liked getting out of the house, and it wasn't a difficult job. I parked my car and jogged over to the back door. The outdoor grills were up and running. The scent of hamburgers and barbecue drifted through the cool fall air, making my mouth water.
"Hey, Jack." Todd waved at me from one of the grills. "Did you hear Betty hired a new Pie Princess?"
"I don't know her name yet, but she's hot." Todd grinned. "You should ask her out."
Dating someone you worked with had bad idea written all over it, but Todd, who was a few years older than me and had been dating the same girl since sixth grade, seemed to be under the impression he was my wingman. "I'll check her out."
I headed to the front register, where Betty herself was ringing up customers. "What are you doing out here?" I asked, stepping in to take her place.
"Keeping an eye on the new girl." Betty nodded toward the bakery case to my right. "So far, so good. She's a genius with those ribbons, and she can actually sing 'Happy Birthday' on key."
"That's a plus." Jenny, the last girl who'd been in charge of birthday pie, couldn't carry a tune to save her life. Kids had cried when she sang to them. Not the recipe for a happy birthday.
"It's your turn to spy. Let me know if she has any problems."
That made me feel sort of creepy, but I nodded. "Sure." I took care of the next guy in line while I checked out the girl who was boxing up a pecan pie and decorating it with some sort of fancy ribbon. Watching her wouldn't be a hardship. She made the retro waitress uniform look good. If she looked as good from the front as she did from the back, maybe I would ask her out.
She turned around and handed the box to the customer at the counter, and my world turned sideways. It was Delia. My younger sister's annoying best friend. The girl who was practically a member of my family. When had she become hot? I blinked, hoping maybe I'd seen wrong. Nope. Same blonde hair with hot-pink stripes, which I'd always thought was stupid. Now, wearing the Pie Princess tiara and some sort of glittery lip gloss, she looked wild and kind of sexy. And that was just wrong.
I focused my attention on the cash register, taking money and making change. God forbid I make eye contact with her and she could tell what I'd been thinking.
When the line dwindled down to zero, I straightened out the receipts and opened the box of Bic pens we kept under the counter to add a few more to the mason jar by the cash register. Customers always seemed to walk off with the pens. Maybe Betty should install those pens on chains, like they had at the bank.
"Are you pretending I don't exist?" Delia's voice came from behind me.
Startled, I dropped the pens, which rolled in all directions on the hardwood. I turned to her and pointed at the floor. "Your fault."
She laughed. "Oops."
I squatted down and picked up half a dozen Bics. "So you're the new Pie Princess."
"Yes. I impressed Betty with my ribbon-curling skills, the fact that I don't mind singing 'Happy Birthday' to strangers, and my complete lack of embarrassment about wearing a tiara." She pointed at the ridiculous silver crown on her head.
"Did that always have pink rhinestones?" I didn't remember them from before.
"No." She framed her face like she was posing for a picture. "I bedazzled it to match my hair."
"Of course you did."
A farmer in dust-covered overalls came up to the register and smacked his receipt down on the counter. "I don't have all day, son."
Delia retreated back to the dessert case, while I focused on not cursing the man out. This guy was just a jerk who was in a hurry. He didn't know my dad had died a few years ago and that anyone calling me "son" made me want to punch them in the throat.
I picked up the receipt along with the twenty he'd laid on the counter. "How was everything?"
"Fine." He jerked his thumb toward the dessert case, where Delia was cutting a slice of pie for a customer. "New Pie Princess?"
"Can she sing?"
I'd heard Delia belting out songs along with the radio since she was five. While she wouldn't make it to the final round on America's Got Talent, she wasn't bad, so I nodded as I counted out his change.
He stuck a dollar in my tip jar. "Good to know."
The dinner rush started, and I spent the next two hours taking cash and making change. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught glimmers of hot pink rhinestones or maybe that was Delia's hair. Either way, I ignored it. Delia had been a pain in my ass for more than a decade. She'd come home with Zoe during kindergarten and had never gone away. To make matters worse, she was into the best friend of the tool my sister was dating. Tool was the friendliest term I could use when I thought about Grant. He wasn't quite the asshole I originally thought, but I still didn't like him with my sister.
Over the next couple of hours, it was strange to witness Jack being polite to everyone at Betty's. He'd been a thorn in my side since I'd started hanging out with Zoe. Then again, he was paid to be polite at work, so that didn't mean it was a predominant personality trait.
"If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't believe it," an all-too-familiar male voice said behind me. I turned to find the object of my possibly unwanted affection, Aiden, studying me with a perplexed look on his face. He wore that look around me a lot. Maybe that was part of the problem. I didn't fit into his people-shape-sorter.
Zoe stood behind Aiden, holding Grant's hand. This had to be her meddling. Aiden had never been to Betty's Burgers before.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, like I hadn't already figured it out.
"Zoe called Grant and asked him if he wanted to grab a burger while I was at his house, so he invited me to come along." He pointed at my tiara. "Why are you wearing a crown?"
I adjusted my freshly bedazzled headgear. "It's a tiara, and it's part of the uniform when you're the Pie Princess."
"And it doesn't bother you to wear it?" He pushed his glasses up on his nose, framing his coffee-colored eyes.
"Are you kidding? It feels like the accessory that's been missing from my wardrobe all my life." I struck a pose. "Admit it. You think I look awesome."
He chuckled and shoved his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. "You always look good, but that tiara is ridiculous."
I latched onto the first part of that statement and ignored the second. A waitress came over to me with a piece of paper. "Excuse me, but you're up, Pie Princess. The little girl at table four wants chocolate cream pie for her birthday, with extra whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles."
"Duty calls. I'll come visit you guys if I can." Turning my back on Aiden, I cut a piece of pie, added a mountain of whipped cream and a dash of chocolate sprinkles. Now where were the birthday candles? I checked all three drawers, and of course, they were in the last spot I looked. Hopefully, Betty wasn't timing me. After adding the candle and lighting it, I was ready to make my debut ... but wait a minute ... I had no idea where I was going, and the waitress who'd told me about the birthday girl was nowhere in sight. Several of the tables had families with little girls. Crap. I sidled over to Jack. "Which one is table four?"
He looked at me like I was an idiot.
"While you're judging me, a little girl is waiting for her pie."
He pointed out the table without commenting, and I approached the little girl and her family. "Is it someone's birthday?" I asked, because I wouldn't put it past Jack to lie to me for his own amusement.
"It's mine." A kindergarten-aged girl wearing a Hello Kitty dress wriggled in her booster seat.
"Do you want me to sing?" All conversation in the dining room stopped. Good thing I didn't mind being center stage.
"Yes, please," the girl said.
I cleared my throat and sang "Happy Birthday," sticking to the basics, not adding any embellishments or many mores at the end. The little munchkin blew out her candle and dug in. Mission accomplished. Now on to my sales pitch. "Would either of you like to order a piece of pie?" Betty had stressed the order part because she wanted the parents to know that the free pie was limited to one piece for the birthday boy or girl.
"We'll split a piece of pecan," the mom said.
"Speak for yourself," said her husband. "I want my own slice. If you can't finish yours, I'll take care of it for you."
The wife laughed. "Fine. Two pieces." She pointed at her husband. "And if you aren't sharing, neither am I."
"I'll have those right out for you."
I headed back to the dessert case. Zoe waved at me from across the room where she sat with Grant and Aiden. I nodded at her and went to cut two more slices of pie.
When there was a lull of customers waiting for dessert and no one in line to check out, I approached Jack. "I know you'll be painfully honest, so how did I do?"
"If you're fishing for compliments, go ask Aiden."
And there was the Jack I knew and didn't care for. "I'm not asking you to stroke my ego. I'm asking what Betty will think."
What could I say? "Your singing didn't make the little girl cry, and you sold the family extra pie. She won't fire you."
Okay. I was being a bit of jerk, but it was self-defense. I didn't need Delia hanging around and becoming chatty with me. I wasn't here to be her BFF or her personal tour guide on how Betty's Burgers worked. She could pick it up as she went along, just like everyone else had.
"Thanks," Delia muttered and went back to her post.
When my shift ended, I headed out to my car, which was finally all mine. My mom and grandma had gotten sick of Zoe and I griping at each other about whose turn it was to use the car, so they'd bought her a butt-ugly powder blue SUV I wouldn't be caught dead in. The silver Accord had a few dings, but it was still way cooler than Francine, which was a stupid name for a car, if you asked me. Everyone thought of this as my grandma's car. Not me. It was the car my grandpa had secretly taught me how to drive when I was fourteen. I was responsible for several of the dings on the fender, which he'd taken the blame for. Driving the car reminded me of him and made me feel like part of him was still around, like maybe he was watching over me.
I made a pit stop at home for a shower and then headed to a bonfire at Trevor's house. After his older brother had OD'd a few years ago, his parents liked to know where he was at all times. Sometimes it sucked, but it also meant they always had good food, the coolest video games, and the latest movies. Tonight it was supposed to be all-you-could-eat pizza and breadsticks. After working with burgers all day, pizza sounded good.
There were a dozen cars lining the side of Trevor's driveway when I pulled up. The good thing about living in the middle of nowhere is you could park your car wherever you want. No need to find a skinny spot between two yellow lines. As long as you didn't mess up someone's landscaping or garden, you were golden.
I parked behind the last car and walked up the gravel drive toward the bonfire I could see out back. The scent of wood smoke filled the air. It smelled like fall. I loved this time of year. It always seemed like a fresh beginning. We were a few months into the school year, and Thanksgiving break was just around the corner.
"Jack." Trevor waved at me from his seat on the split-log bench we'd made this past summer.
"Hey, how's it going?" I asked.
"Pretty good." He leaned back on his elbows and then nodded to the right. "See for yourself."
Excerpted from "Boomerang Boyfriend"
Copyright © 2017 Chris Cannon.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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