Ten Years Ago…
I HAD JUST graduated from St. Vincent’s Academy and I couldn’t have been happier to be done with high school. Especially since my best friend, Aspen, and I were heading to her grandparents’ beach house on Tybee Island for a week of girl time.
The past two years could only have been described as a miracle. Starting with the arduous process of emancipating myself from my adoptive parents and taking refuge with Aspen’s family. I’m sure my birth parents had given me up for adoption to give me a better life, but they failed… miserably.
“You ready?” Aspen asked from the doorway of my bedroom.
I grinned and zipped up my bag as I bit back a yawn. “More than ready.”
“Are you dreaming again?” she asked.
I sighed. “Yes, but nothing violent. Just weird things like fire and sugar.”
Aspen laughed. “Like you’re burning sugar?”
I shook my head. “No, just something’s burning in a fire and I’m pouring sugar in a bowl. It’s super random and weird.”
“No, you’re just super random and weird.”
I nodded. “True dat.”
Aspen Westwood and I came from the same “stock” as my mother always used to say. Wealthy debutantes who were full of southern charm and grace. Of course, my mother was insane and didn’t actually know Aspen. If she did, she’d know my bestie took shit from no one and if she didn’t like something (or someone), her southern charm went right out the window as she told you exactly what she thought. It’s what I absolutely loved the most about her. She was the reason I was still sane, and probably the reason I was even still alive.
“What’s with the serious look?” she asked as she drove.
I shook off my maudlin thoughts. “I was just thinking about how much has happened over the last two years.”
“Holy cow, you went there?”
“Yeah.” I giggled. “But not in a bad way. I feel great. I get the first grant from my trust in two weeks and can stop living off your parents.”
“They don’t mind. Plus, it’s awesome for me. I have a real-life sister and can try to forget the fact I have three stupid brothers.”
I laughed. “Oh, it’s so hard for you having three older brothers who dote on you. Wanna trade?”
“No.” She gave me a sad smile. “Sorry, I really shouldn’t complain.”
“Aspen, I didn’t say that so you wouldn’t complain,” I countered. “My brother is a psychopath who’s finally locked up, which means I, as well as all woman-kind, are safe from him. It’s all good. I just wish my parents would have been held responsible.”
“They had to pay money, right?”
“Ten-thousand dollars,” I ground out. “My dad makes that in less than a day.”
My parents had hidden Jethro after he’d attacked and attempted to rape a freshman girl two years ago. My father had almost got him out of the country, but the FBI had caught them trying to leave on one of the company planes. I didn’t know how it all went down, only that I had to make a tough choice in the wake of Jet’s arrest. Nothing could have prepared me for that day.
“He does?” Aspen asked, surprised, once again pulling me from my thoughts. We really didn’t discuss the level of wealth our parents had amassed… it didn’t really make any difference in the grand scheme of things. We were at an exclusive all-girls school and had a nice group of friends away from the popular cliques, so we’d built our own safe world.
“Yeah. I really wish they’d put my parents in jail as well,” I lamented. “They’re the ones who created the monster.”
“I still wonder how you turned out so normal.”
I chuckled. “My Nana. And you guys. Seriously, I’d be useless without you… plus I think nature vs. nurture plays a big role in this.”
Aspen nodded. “That is so very true.”
I let out a quiet snort just as Aspen pulled into the garage of the beach house. We climbed out, grabbed our bags, and walked into the refuge that was called “Weekend’s Worth.”
I took in a deep breath and sighed. “There is nothing like the sea air.”
“No doubt,” she agreed as she flipped on lights and then headed to the smaller master bedroom overlooking the ocean.
I could have chosen to sleep in the other master bedroom, but instead I chose the blue room, even though there were only a full-sized bed and no attached bathroom. It was my favorite place in the whole house. It always had been. Periwinkle blue walls with white wainscoting and thick floor and ceiling molding gave the room a rich and classic look. It had a large picture window overlooking the dock that led straight to the open ocean, and on a clear day I could see dolphins playing in the water.
I threw my bag on the bed and changed into my bikini before meeting Aspen in the living room. “Swim first, then—?” she asked, her nose scrunching up in apprehension.
“Um, duh,” I interrupted. “Swim most definitely first.”
“It’s freezing,” she complained.
“It is not freezing,” I countered. “It’s just right.”
She grumbled, but followed me down to the water where we had a quick dip (it was actually really cold), and then headed back to the house to shower and eat.
I pulled my long blonde hair into a scrunchy on top of my head to let it dry and then headed to the kitchen. Aspen peeked her head in a few minutes later. “Whatya cookin’?”
“It looks like Gran’s housekeeper left us a few things in the freezer,” I said, and waved my hand over the neatly stacked frozen foods. “Lasagna?”
“How long will it take to reheat?”
“The label says thirty to forty minutes.”
Aspen shrugged. “Sounds good. Need help?”
“Nope, I’ve got it.”
“Meet me in Grannie’s parlor when you’re done. I have something to show you.”
I preheated the oven, slid the glass dish with the premade lasagna in, and set the timer, then went looking for Aspen. Grannie’s parlor looked like something out of the thirties, floral and over the top, and it was awesome, because it was all Gertrude Westwood. I don’t think she’d ever changed anything in this room from the time they built it. Aspen had a large photo album settled on her lap.
“Whatya got there?” I asked, flopping onto the antique settee against the wall.
She grinned and slid it to me. “I found it when I was going through the closet.”
“Are you allowed in the closet?”
She rolled her eyes. “If I wasn’t allowed in the closet, they would have locked it.”
“Aspen,” I said, in suspicion.
“Okay, if I wasn’t allowed in the closet, they shouldn’t have made a lock that was so easy to pick.”
I coughed on a giggle sliding the album back to her. “You scare me sometimes, you know that right?”
“Of course.” She pushed the book back. “But look. Grannie wrote a list and then put Grandad’s picture next to it.”
“What kind of list?”
“I think it’s a wish list. A man wish list.”
“What the heck is a man wish list?” I leaned in trying to read the faded lettering. “Two-inches taller, no more. Ah, green eyes—”
“No,” Aspen corrected. “Green eye.”
I wrinkled my nose. “She wanted a short man with one green eye?”
Aspen giggled. “Grandad does have only one green eye.”
“He’s not a Cyclops, Aspen.”
“No, but he has one green eye and one blue.”
Aspen nodded. “Yep.”
“I can’t believe I never noticed that before,” I said, and turned back to the list. “Look like Anthony Perkins.” I frowned. “The Psycho guy? Wasn’t he gay?”
“I don’t think they knew that back then.”
“But he’s so… I don’t know, emaciated looking.”
“He had the skinny nerd thing going on, though. Of course, not sure how you could find Norman Bates sexy, but Gran’s always been a little weird.”
“I think if I was her age, I’d have gone for 1950s Clint Eastwood.”
“Oh, yeah, he was hot.”
“Okay, what else?” I mused, and then giggled. “She wrote on here, Carnie.”
“What?” Aspen leaned in. “Ohmigod, it does say Carnie.”
“Like, as in carnival worker?”
“Andi, Grandad was a mechanic who fixed carnival rides.”
“Shut up! When?”
“A million years ago. I think it was when they first met.” She took the album back and flipped to the back page and blank pages of stationery fell out. “Oh, crap.”
I dropped to the floor to help her gather the pages. “This looks like the same paper she wrote the list on.”
“I think it is,” Aspen agreed, and then smiled up at me. “Do you think…?”
“That we should write a list of what we want in a man?” I sat back on the sofa. “On your Grannie’s special paper, no less?”
“Come on, Andi, it’ll be fun.”
“We have already invaded her privacy, Aspen. I don’t feel comfortable stealing from her, too.”
“It’s paper, honey, not the family jewels.” She grinned. “You could list all of Dalton Moore’s attributes and see if he comes to you.”
“Comes to me? Like in a vapor?” I joked.
“That would be so cool!”
My heart stuttered and feelings I’d stuffed deep inside long, long ago, slid into my mind briefly. “What brought that on?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I just thought of him.”
I shook my head. “Weird.”
“Yeah, it is.” She shrugged and pulled out her phone. “You know what? I’m going to call Gran.”
I groaned. “Don’t bug her, Aspen.”
It was like she never heard me as she dialed the number and put the phone on speaker. “Hello?”
“Hi Grannie, it’s Aspen and Andi.”
“Oh, hello, dears. Is there a problem with the house?”
“No, nothing like that. Um, Andi and I were in your parlor… and we found an old album. It had some pretty paper—”
“So you picked the lock on the closet, hmm?”
“Yes, she did,” I said, totally throwing Aspen under the bus.
“Traitor,” Aspen whispered.
Grannie chuckled. “Lovelies, I don’t care if you look in the closet and, should you like to use my stationery, you are welcome to it.”
“Thanks, Grams,” I said.
“Yes, thanks. And, um, sorry for invading your privacy.”
“Don’t worry about it, honey. If I didn’t want you to see something I wouldn’t keep it behind a flimsy locked door.”
Aspen waggled her eyebrows at me. “That’s what I told Andi.”
“Well, thank you, Andi, for being her conscience.”
“You’re welcome to find someone else to take the job, Grannie,” I said dramatically. “I’m exhausted.”
Her giggle tinkled through the phone. “I love you both. Now, I have to run.”
“’Bye,” we said in unison.
“I could rule the world if you didn’t get in my way, you know,” Aspen complained.
“Have at it, honey. I like the idea of a world ruled by you.”
I grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen and faced Aspen. “Let’s grab some Coke and take this project out onto the deck.”
“I like that idea, lovie,” she said, mimicking Grannie’s voice.
Chuckling, we grabbed a couple of sodas, checked the time on the oven, and headed out to the deck.
As the sun set over the water, I jotted down my list of what I wanted in a man, the vision of a love lost long ago flashing in my mind. Dark hair, hazel eyes, the sweetest kisses I’d ever experienced. None of those attributes matched my current boyfriend, Jeremy, which should have concerned me much more than it did. But Dalton Moore was the only man on earth I would never be able to have, so the fact he invaded my dreams kind of pissed me off.
As the futility of such an exercise began to invade my heart (and the timer on the oven went off), I followed Aspen back into the house, and promptly threw my sheet of paper into the fire. I was far too jaded to believe in the hope of a pure and lasting love. The best I could hope for was Mr. Right Now, and that was Jeremy Roth. He was a good guy. I’d been with him for a couple of years now and I knew he’d take care of me. It was good enough and more than I could wish for.