Chapter 1: Dust
She's got the pedal to the floor in a hand-me-down Ford,Yeah, the only thing that's left to doIs catch a couple green lights and those baby blue eyesAre leaving nothing in that rearviewBut dust, nothing but dust'Dust' – Eli Young Band
I stretched my tingling arm as far as it would go before finally rolling the window down and hanging it from the open window. The salty breeze rushed into the truck blowing my long, wavy hair into a tangled mess. I yawned just as the sun was just starting to bathe the small sleepy town in a soft amber glow and looked over at my sister, Bee. She too was starting to stretch and rub the sleep from her eyes.
"I can't believe we're finally here. That was the longest drive in history," She muttered stifling a yawn. Creaks filled the tiny space as she too rolled her window down letting the morning breeze hit her face.
The faint melody of "Play it Again" by Luke Bryan hummed itself through the car, and I quickly turned the radio up causing Bee to sit back in exasperation. "Oh my God, how many times can this song play in a thirty hour span?"
"Excuse me, this is my favorite song. It's only fitting that it plays one last time before we finally make it to the house." I replied with a grin already starting to sing along to the tune for what felt like the one-hundredth time since we left Alabama.
According to the GPS, we were only ten minutes away from our destination, and I was shaking in anticipation and fear that it wouldn't be everything we were expecting it to be.
As we passed the town border, the Now Entering Anchor Bay, California sign sat in a mound of sand reminding me of just how different California life would be from the small town country life we were used to. In all of our years growing up, we were always forced to drive at least three hours one way to get to the beach. Now our backyard would be a sandy walkway leading straight to the ocean. Anchor Bay, California also happened to be a lot smaller than the town we grew up in.
It was a pretty penny to get a house located right on the ocean, but my sister and I saved for years both knowing this is exactly where we wanted to be someday. It just made sense to spend time pooling our resources together for a move like this.
I don't know what initially pushed Bee and I to settle on Anchor Bay once we both decided we needed to get away from the south for a while, but taking in the spectacular ocean views as we drove down the coast made the reason for the decision seem obvious.
“Wow,” Bee muttered jumping out of the truck as soon as I shifted the gear into park. I looked up at the house understanding her astonishment. The small beach house was even better than what was shown in pictures with bright yellow siding and white window shutters. It was elevated off of the ground, to keep the house from flooding during storms, and a set of white steps lead directly to an immaculate front porch. It looked like the house was pulled right from a magazine. The real estate agent said the only thing we would have to do is paint the inside when we moved in, and as I looked at the freshly painted porch, I knew she was right.
I could hear the ocean roaring from behind the house, and my excitement only grew with each sandy step I took. Bee was already dashing up the stairs and fumbling with the key, and I barely caught up just as she was pushing the door open and walking inside. My smile widened as we walked into a very bright front room filled with nothing but natural light. The floors were completely made of tile, and a huge bay window covered the back wall of the house giving us a perfect view of the ocean.
To the left of the front door stood an open concept kitchen with a bar allowing us to see into the living room. A small dining room table with four chairs separated the kitchen from the living area, and it was already furnished with what looked like a brand new sectional couch and end tables. The real estate agent gave us the option of getting the house furnished, and because Bee and I didn't want to move a ton of furniture across country, we instantly agreed. The only furniture we did bring was what we needed for our bedrooms.
"I call this room!" Bee yelled snapping me out of my thoughts. I followed the sound of her voice and found her in a large room with a walk-in closet and private bathroom. I wasn't surprised that she had jumped on this one without even looking at the others.
"Fine, let me go see what you left me with then," I smiled walking back towards the living room to the right side of the house. On the other side of the house two rooms were connected by a large bathroom, and considering we were going to make the extra room an office, I was perfectly fine with this arrangement. I spent most of my time writing, so having the office close to my room would be a plus. I walked into the room to the left of the small hallway and couldn't keep the grin from taking over my face. It had a large window seat looking out over the ocean. Bee would be mad she jumped at the first room she saw when she got a look at what she left me with. As if right on cue, she walked in behind me.
"Are you kidding me? I would accidentally give you the room with the best view," she complained walking over to the closet, no doubt, to make sure she didn't forfeit the biggest one of those as well. Happy with what she saw, she walked back over to the window admiring the view.
"Hey, let's go check out the back porch," I told her already turning to walk out of the room.
Standing on the beach with my toes in the sand, the reality of the move hit me in waves. The idea of this trip had been more than stressful on several occasions, but looking out at the horizon, it was hard to remember why. "So, we made the right decision, didn't we?" I asked looking at Bee for another quick pep talk.
“Raleigh, loosen up! You know more than anyone that we needed this. We were stuck in Alabama waiting for our lives to change or by some miracle to meet a guy we didn’t want to kill. It wasn’t happening. We needed a change, and we made the right decision. I need you to stop worrying and enjoy this beautiful ocean view you’re going to get to wake up to every morning.” I sunk my toes deeper in the sand allowing myself to relax. I know Bee was probably tired of having to remind me of why we were here, but she's always been the one to push me to act on my decisions. And even I had to admit, the idea of walking from my backdoor to the shore every morning made all the worry seem unnecessary.
“Okay, you’re right,” I relented lifting my hands in defeat. I’m just going to have to meet a few people and make this move what I truly intended it to be. After being a reader and writer my entire life, introvert had become my middle name. Sometimes it's all too easy to for me to lose myself in the books I'm reading or writing and forget there is an entire world out there that I'm completely ignoring. The people I did know weren't exactly supportive of the life I chose to live. This is why I really needed a fresh start and an opportunity to meet new people.
“Well, I’m going to start unloading the U-haul. Are you coming or what?” She was already prancing her way back down the sandy walkway to the back deck. The lightness in the way she walked barely left footprints in the sand, and I wasn't surprised that she was already jumping into action. Bee was always on the move to say the least. Even after driving halfway across the country, it didn't surprise me in the slightest that she already wanted to start setting things up.
“Actually, I could really use a coffee. I’m going to see if I can walk to this five star coffee shop the tourist sites keep raving about. According to the town map, it should only be about ten minutes down the road, and it's the only place in town that is open this early.”
Before we decided to move here, I looked at the city website at least a hundred times, and the one place that constantly caught my eye was Blue Canoe Coffee and Tea. Hopefully it would be as cozy in real life as it looked in the pictures.
“Okay, well have fun. Don’t meet any cute guys without me.” Bee chirped already pulling the U-haul door open. I slid my flip flops back on and started walking before she could argue me into staying and helping her.
I made my way to the main road and shook the excess sand off of my legs. That would be another thing to get used to, but it was infinitely better than the hot southern summers and the bugs and stickiness that came along with it. The South had it's benefits, but the weather definitely wasn't one of them.
I continued walking until small businesses, such as Mariachi’s Mexican Restaurant and the Anchor Bay Grocery Store materialized before my eyes. Considering most of the local businesses were located right on the main strip near the coast, I knew Blue Canoe couldn’t be too far off. Not even five minutes later, I was jingling the bells on the door of a small cozy building with a sign that read Blue Canoe Coffee and Tea.
The minute I walked through the door everyone in the room looked up. Everyone being two people, but it was uncomfortable nonetheless.
“Oh! You must be one of our new residents!”
I looked for the source of the voice, and a short older woman rushed around the corner to greet me. With her hair pulled into a messy gray bun and a flower covered dress flowing to the floor, she reminded me of my grandmother.
“Yes, ma’am. It’s very nice to meet you.” I answered with a sweet smile. I could hear the southern accent leak out of my voice the second I started talking. Luckily, the warmness radiating from this woman made the entire situation more comfortable than I would have expected.
“You hear that, Blake?” Her attention moved to someone behind me, “This girl clearly knows what manners are. I don’t know why you kids never learned about respecting your elders around here.”
Turning to find where her attention had moved, I became distracted by a beautiful reading nook in the corner of the shop holding two bookshelves overflowing with books. I took this moment to admire the rest of the shop and noticed a patio door that led out to what looked like an outdoor seating area. It was much roomier than I would have expected from the website, and every wall was painted a bright shade of yellow giving the place a very open and airy feeling.
I moved my attention back to the bookshelves and found a guy who looked to be near my age stacking books on the smaller of the two bookshelves. I was caught off guard when he made eye contact with me, and I realized not only was he around my age, but he was also incredibly good looking. I averted my eyes feeling much more uncomfortable than I had only minutes previous.
“You do realize how unfair it is to compare all of us to the two tourists that came in earlier right? Those guys were jerks,” He answered with a husky voice sending chills up my spine. He placed the book in his hand on the top shelf before standing up and walking over to join us near the front entrance. He looked at me again, and I could feel the heat rising to my cheeks. Being an introvert definitely left my knowledge of how to deal with random guys to a minimum.
“Hey, I’m Blake.” He held out his hand with a swaggering smirk, and I cringed internally. Guys that looked like him and smirked like that were typically bad news in my part of the country. It was clear by looking at him that Blake was one to draw attention in a crowd with his messy chestnut hair, tall and athletic figure, and dark California tan. As if that wasn't enough, his piercing blue eyes made me feel as if he was peering straight through my body and right into my soul. They were so vibrantly blue it looked as though they were pulled straight from the ocean. We certainly didn’t make them like him in the South, at least from my experiences.
“I’m Raleigh. It’s nice to meet you,” I answered hesitantly taking his hand in my own. He may be good looking, but I refused to allow that to dictate how I reacted to him-- well, at least how I reacted going forward from this moment. He looked like the kind of guy who was used to female attention, and I didn't want to add myself to the list. The last time I jumped on the pretty boy boat, it kicked me in the ass, and I sure as hell wouldn't be going back down that road anytime soon. The last thing I was looking for with this move was another relationship.
“Let’s get you some coffee or a cookie. It’s on us today!” The older woman grabbed my arm pulling me from my thoughts. She lead me over to the counter, thankfully, dragging me away from Blake's gaze.
“I'm Anne, by the way, but you can call me Grandma. Everyone else in town does. It annoys my grandson here to death." Realization overcame me as I looked between the two. It made sense he was her grandson being in a town this small. They even looked alike. This meant if I wanted a decent cup of coffee everyday, I would have to get comfortable being around him.
“Yeah, yeah, I don’t think a stranger is going to call you grandma,” Blake answered following us over to the counter. The way he said stranger caught my attention, and I immediately wanted to contradict him. What was the harm in calling her grandma anyway? It made the town feel even more warm and welcoming.
I plastered a friendly smile across my face before saying, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. I don’t mind paying, Grandma” I raised my eyebrow at him, and I could see a slight smile playing on his lips.
“Oh! I like you already, and that southern accent of yours is to die for! Now Blake, stop standing there and go make this girl some coffee. I’m sure she has had a long trip,” I nodded my head in agreement as Blake rolled his eyes and walked around the counter to, I assume, make my coffee. As annoyed as he tried to look, I could still see the small smile etched across his face.
Blake or no Blake, this place was something southern charm couldn't contend with, and I knew, without a doubt, I would be spending quite a bit of time in here. Blake took no time in handing me an impressive cup of coffee in a large blue mug with cute frothy swirls coating the top, something I had only ever seen in pictures. I immediately brought it to my lips hoping it tasted just as good as it looked. Unfortunately, before my lips could even touch the rim of the mug, the front door slammed open nearly making me spill the coffee all over myself.
“Raleigh! You will not believe what this jerk just did!" Bee barged through the front door not even taking a second to notice the other people in the room. "This idiot just hit me in the head with his frisbee,” Bee held up a bright yellow frisbee, and I had to force myself to keep a straight face seeing the red mark already appearing on her forehead. I guess she found the Blue Canoe and made a new friend in the process. Why did this not surprise me in the slightest?
“Hey now! I didn’t see you there. Maybe if you would have moved your big head out of my way, I wouldn’t have hit you. Blake, can you believe this chick?” Another gravely voice cut in, “Who does she think she is stomping through town yelling at me. Somebody better put her on a leash.”
I quickly found the source of the extra voice pushing through the door behind Bee. With his shaggy blonde hair, swampy green eyes, and dark Indian-like tan, the guy basically had beach bum stamped across his forehead. He clearly hadn't realized it yet, but Bee was not someone to contend with. She was a blonde haired, blue-eyed, super short firecracker ready to blow at any second, and in my opinion, she looked like she was nearing her breaking point.
“Look here Shaggy!” Bee growled pushing her finger into his chest, “I live here now, so you can either get used to me, or I will show you where you can stick your frisbee.” The guy jumped back eyeing her up and down, and I could tell from his wide eyed expression he was trying to decide whether to take her seriously or not. He clearly saw something in the way she was looking at him, because he ran around the counter hiding behind grandma.
"Grandma, make her stop!" I could barely hold back my laughter watching the fear radiate from his eyes. Seeing Bee put people in their place is something I could grab a bowl of popcorn and watch for entertainment.
I turned to Bee crossing my arms with a wry smile “You just make friends everywhere you go don't cha'?” At least she isn't afraid to tell people like it is. She had been doing that since the day she was born, and I should really learn to take a leaf out of her book most days.
“Teddy! You quit being mean to this young woman. They are new around here and deserve to be welcomed properly.” The fact that grandma was scolding Teddy rather than helping him caused Bee to nearly lose it in a fit of giggles. "You mean Teddy, as in the bear?" She was now holding herself up on the counter to keep from falling over in laughter. I glanced over at Blake, and he was looking at her as if she was the most insane person to walk through those doors in ages. I mean if we were being honest, she probably was.
Teddy was quick to ignore grandma's comment once Bee started joking on his name. “Oh really? You're joking on my name? Bee, as in bumble?” He retorted without missing a beat.
She started to say something, no doubt, snarky back, but grandma cut her off. “Well, at least now I can meet you both” She rushed over to Bee to introduce herself, and I didn't fail to notice how she conveniently blocked Teddy from Bee's view.
I decided I better step in as well before things got out of hand. “Grandma, this is my sister Bee. Bee, this is Anne, but everyone calls her grandma.” I could see Bee gathering herself before putting a big smile on her face for grandma.“Oh! It's so nice to meet you! I’m sorry it was under such terrible circumstances, “ She answered shooting Teddy a scornful look before continuing. ”Do you own this place?”
“Why, yes we do! It’s been in the family for generations.” That would explain why Blake is working with her. He is probably next in line to take over the place. I chanced a glance over at him, and he was watching me curiously. Damn, would he never stop looking at me? I quickly looked back at Bee hoping the heat I could feel rising up my neck wasn't too noticeable.
“Well, this is the cutest coffee shop I have ever seen. I bet I won’t be able to drag Raleigh out of here most days.” Bee looked away from grandma to take in the coffee shop and her eyes landed on Blake. She froze and looked at me eyebrows raised. There was no hiding it. The boy was gorgeous.
“You girls are welcome in here anytime. We need some people who will actually hang around rather than grab their coffee and go. These days people are too worried about the hustle and bustle to stop and smell the roses, much less to get to know their neighbor. It would make our work day go by so much faster having people in here to chat with." Bee turned her head back to grandma and smiled warmly. I imagine hanging around a coffee shop all day with nothing to do but reorganize books could get pretty old.
“Thank you! You have been so welcoming,” She told her before reverting her attention back to me. I could already see what she was going to say before she even opened her mouth. “He is cute girl. I told you not to meet any cute guys without me.” I quickly elbowed her in the side to shut her up, but the cheeky smile on Blake's face was sign enough that he had heard her.
“So, what kind of work do you girls have to get done?” Blake cut in handing Bee her own cup of coffee, which she ogled at for a good twenty-seconds before taking a picture to most likely post to her Instagram later. She was a sucker for artsy photos and would stop at any opportunity to take one. Blake raised his eyebrow at this, but clearly thought better of saying anything.
“We just have to paint the inside of the beach house, and then get the truck unloaded. We pretty much got here less than an hour ago, so we haven't done anything yet,” I answered drawing his attention back to me.
“Wait, the beach house? You mean old man Thompson’s old place?” Blake asked, “I didn’t think that man would ever pass on. I bet it needs more than just a good paint job.”
“You know ladies, Blake here is quite the handyman around town. I bet he would just love to help you guys out, right Blake?” Grandma chimed in nudging him with her elbow. I could read that universal look she gave him a mile away and instantly blushed. My grandma was constantly trying to push new guys on me and Bee, so I could read that look on anyone.
“What, you don’t think I can help?” Teddy jumped in cutting her off, “I will have you know I am actually a very handy person myself.”
“If you think I am letting you anywhere near my house, you are clearly more delusional than you appear.” Bee looked up sharply from her coffee just begging someone to argue with her.
Much to her dismay, Bee was no match for grandma, because twenty minutes later we were pushing open our front door with Blake and Teddy in tow.
“Wow, this place is actually not as bad as I expected. Mr. Thompson must have hired some help through the years,” Blake’s tall stature allowed him to easily look over my head and take in the newly renovated condition of the house. He looked down realizing the large difference in our height and smiled widely, “Has anyone ever told you how short you are?”
“You're kidding, right?" I retorted before walking towards the bedrooms rolling my eyes in the process. I could feel his eyes following me a grin clear as day on his face. "Less talking and more working! We have a lot to get done today." I added trying to ignore the heat rising on my neck.
“Hey! We are volunteering for this. No bossing around,” Teddy grunted as he made his way through the door attempting to pull a five gallon bucket of paint behind him with Bee hot on his heels.
“Nobody asked for your help,” Bee snapped quickly, “You can’t even pick up a bucket of paint. Move and give me that!” She pushed him aside picking up the bucket easily and carrying it to her room leaving him wide-eyed behind her.
“Those two are going to kill each other,” Blake said before grabbing his own bucket of paint with no problem and making his way towards the room I had claimed as mine earlier.
I grew a bit apprehensive when I turned around and realized Blake and I would be in the room alone. The last thing I wanted was an attraction to someone this quickly into our move. “You’re actually painting your entire room teal?” Blake asked snapping me out of my thoughts. He had pulled the lid off the bucket of paint and was looking at me skeptically.
“What is wrong with teal?” I crossed my arms defensively. Teal is my favorite color, and I would not be told it isn't a suitable color to paint my room.
“Nothing, It’s just an unusual color to paint your entire bedroom,” He shrugged stirring the paint. I could see small drips hitting the floor, and I was immediately grateful the entire house had tile floor.
“Well, I like it. It reminds me of the ocean,” I opened the pack of rollers and paintbrushes before pulling a ladder from the hallway into the room. As short as I am, there is no way I'm reaching the upper parts of the wall without it.
“Hey, I'm not arguing with you. I like it too. I just didn't expect this to be the color you picked,” He smiled at me, and I could feel the goosebumps rise on my arm. I quickly averted my attention to the wall I was now painting. I would not be another girl he had no problem getting, especially after everything I had been through. I couldn't be, and the way he was looking at me now was making it extremely hard to remember that.
I knew I wasn’t the most hideous girl with my long, wavy brown hair , bright green eyes, and super short, petite figure, but anytime a guy looked at me like that it shot tingles throughout my body making me immediately self conscious. It didn't help that I had changed into cut off jean shorts, kicked my shoes off, and put on an old t-shirt before throwing my hair into a messy bun. I probably looked like I took no pride in my appearance, but old habits die hard with us southern girls.
I knew just what I needed to kill the awkward silence forming between us and darted out of the room only to return with our old radio/ CD player in tow. Putting in one of the mixed CD’s I created for the road trip, I pushed play and country music filled the air.
“You are not seriously listening to country music.” I looked up, and Blake had completely stopped what he was doing to stare at me in horror. It wasn't surprising he was not a fan of country music. I didn't expect to find too many people who were country fans over here.
“Country music is the best kind of music there is, and I refuse to listen to your argument against this. It fits every aspect of life from love, break ups, family, town pride, must I go on? There is not an event in life that could happen, and there not be a country song to fit it.”
“I beg to differ,” He countered as expected, and I prepared myself for the same argument I've had with numerous people just like him as he continued, “Every country song I’ve heard is about some sappy break up” I rolled my eyes in exasperation. Why did everyone have this misconception that country music could only be about break ups?
“No, they are not! You can try to prove me wrong, but there is nothing in life that doesn’t have a good country song to go with it,” I answered turning the radio up, “Take this song for instance. This song is called Dust by the Eli Young Band, and it perfectly describes my leaving Alabama to move here. Just listen.” I stopped talking long enough for the song to very conveniently say,
“She’s got the pedal to the floor in a hand-me-down Ford
Yeah, the only thing that’s left to do
is catch a couple green lights and those baby blue eyes
Are leaving nothing in that rearview
But dust nothing but dust”
“So… basically you left because of a boy, is that what you're saying? You don’t have blue eyes by the way,” He had a coy smile playing on his lips knowing I had just helped him make his point.
“You completely missed the entire point of the song! You laugh now, but I'll prove I'm right,” I retorted turning my back to him. I could feel his eyes still on me staring at me humorously, and I turned the radio up louder just to spite him. Unfortunately, the music failed to block out the laugh that erupted from him at my reaction.
We worked in that way for at least an hour with me swaying to the country music as I painted, and him grumbling to each song that played in protest. We didn’t put the paintbrush down until the unmistakably loud scream of Bee erupted from the room next door.
“OH MY GOD, YOU ARE A COMPLETE IDIOT!” She shrieked loud enough for the entire town to hear. The site that met our eyes when we entered the room had me rolling on the floor in laughter. Bee was covered from head to toe in bright yellow paint.
“What in the world is going on in here?” Blake asked clearly trying to hold back his own laughter not wanting to get Bee angry at him too.
“Raleigh, this is NOT funny!,” Bee growled at me, “Idiot here is dancing around on the ladder to your stupid music not paying attention and knocked the paint bucket down on top of me. Do you know how long it's going to take to get this out of my hair!”
“Hey, at least your look matches your name bumble bee,” Teddy joked jumping off of the ladder. This was clearly the wrong thing to say, because Bee took off after him trailing yellow footprints all over the house as Teddy attempted to dodge her.
“Bro, you better run fast! I’m pretty sure her sting is worse than her bite,” Blake yelled now laughing as hard as I was, “It's a good thing you have tile floor. Otherwise, you'd never get that paint out of everything.”
“That’s true, we better go stop her before she kills him or worse gets paint on some of the furniture.”
After stopping Bee and finally getting back into our groove we made pretty quick work of things. About eight hours, two showers, and at least fifty fights later we were done painting the entire house, and the boys had helped move in our stuff, so we would have somewhere to sleep. As much as I wanted to avoid having any form of a relationship right now, I couldn't help but be grateful for Blake and Teddy's help today and the quick friendship we formed with them. Maybe the move would be good for us after all.