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Authors: Rachel Hollis

Sweet Girl

BOOK: Sweet Girl
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Also by Rachel Hollis

Party Girl

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Text copyright © 2015 Rachel Hollis

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle

 

www.apub.com

 

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Lake Union Publishing are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

 

ISBN-13: 9781477829516

ISBN-10: 1477829512

 

Cover design by Elsie Lyons

Cover photo by Cortnee Brown

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014920770

For my big sister Melody Daily, the greatest baker I know.

Chapter One

“Landon, I swear on all that is holy—” I growl without looking up from my laptop.

“Max, don’t break a commandment! It’s not even dark outside yet!” she calls from across the living room.

I assume she means to sound fierce, but the twang in her accent kills whatever force the reprimand might have taken on, and in typical Landon style, her reasoning makes little sense to anyone but her. I glance quickly at the sliding doors that lead to the miniscule balcony off our apartment to confirm her statement. It’s past six, but because summer is just around the corner, she’s right—it’s still not dark out.

“So it’s OK to use the Lord’s name in vain after hours?” Even as I ask, I still avoid looking up. If I have to review another one of her outfits today, I might start bleeding from the eyes.

“Of course not; it just seems a little less offensive. Like drinking a wine cooler, or going braless in front of company. It’s never really the right thing to do, but at least after dark it’s less pronounced. Besides that, you promised you’d try to work on your language, remember?”

“That promise was made under duress,” I grumble.

“That promise,” Landon challenges, “was made under vodka. That’s not the same thing and you know it.”

I snort inelegantly and continue to scroll down the page on my Mac until I’m momentarily distracted by the picture on the screen.

. . .
topped with caramelized bananas and a buttered-rum sauce.

I drag the photo from Pinterest into a file on my desktop and try to ignore my roommate’s mewling on the other side of the room.

“Please, Max,
please
? Scout’s honor—I really think this is the one!”

“You dress yourself every day, and you seem to have made it this far in life without my help.” I whip one hand off my keyboard. The bracelets on my left wrist jangle in protest as I run my fingers through my messy pixie cut. “I’m not exactly the reigning fashion plate.”

I point out my faded
Charles in Charge
T-shirt. It’s the one where Scott Baio is wearing a suit and casually looking over his neon Ray-Bans like an eighties creeper. The shirt is classic, but my pairing it with faded gray thermal pajama bottoms and the disposable flip-flops I wore home from my last pedicure should deter anyone from asking me for fashion advice.

“And yet when you need to, you can somehow bust out a designer ensemble and makeup inspired by
WWD
,” she says, working her way across the living room. “And yeah, you only wear black nail polish, but you and I both know it’s Chanel. You know, at first I thought your bipolar style was accidental, but then when you did that smoky purple eye for Miko’s party and it was
exactly
like the last Burberry ad, I—”

“Oh, for freak’s sake!” I slam my laptop closed and look up at her with a scowl. This little interlude has gone on long enough. “Look, you’ve been my roommate for six months—”

“Seven and a half.” Landon cuts me off with a smile.

I ignore the correction.

“And in that time you’ve managed to start
and lose
a job working at one of the biggest event-planning firms in the nation. I get that your boss was a soul-sucking nightmare, and that likely made your first months in LA feel like a profound life experience. Then, in sheer defiance of the laws of reality, you and Miko start your own company—”

“All because of your support and encouragement,” she interrupts again.

Again, I ignore her.

“—and you’ve actually managed to grow your client base, which is, frankly, way more than anyone expected so soon. Top it off with the fact that you’re officially dating Brody now.”

Her happy sigh travels all the way across the room.

“That’s a lot of big things in a short period of time, and I can understand how you’d think that somehow bonds us or whatever, but—”

“Oh, come off it, Max.” She giggles. “I just want you to help me figure out what to wear. Like it or not, that’s what friends do, and despite your gruff exterior, your constant scowling, and your pretended indifference, that’s what we are. Now”—she wiggles her eyebrows—“what do you think of this one?”

She poses expectantly in between our dinosaur of a TV and the breakfast bar that separates the kitchen from the small living room. She’s waiting for my opinion on the eighth—wait, no. This is the
ninth
outfit she’s tried on. I recognize that at this point it’s easier to acquiesce than to keep rebelling against the idea of playing fashion police.

This time she’s chosen something a bit more sophisticated than you’d normally find her in. A tight white T-shirt tucked into a tea-length pleated silk skirt, with black booties and a little black leather jacket. Her hair is in a chic chignon. It’s the smallest I’ve ever seen her typically gigantic blonde mane.

I get what she’s going for here; it’s all very Parisian cool, and she’s actually totally pulling it off despite the fact that she’s neither Parisian nor cool. Even though she’s annoying the hell out of me, this look is actually really pretty, and I start to tell her so. But before the words fall from my mouth, something about that little leather jacket sparks a memory. That memory flares to life, and I remember another girl, years ago, who wore her black leather jacket every day. If this look reminds me of her, then surely it’ll remind him of her too. That can’t bode well for their first date.

“Not that one,” I say, before quickly looking away.

“Really?” Landon does a little twirl and the skirt flares out dramatically just as she intended. “It’s so cute, though.”

She looks down at herself as if trying to guess what I dislike about it. But that’s impossible; it’d take a shared family history to understand what’s wrong with this look.

“Really. Put the red one back on.” I open my computer back up and hope that she gets that I’m over this conversation.

“You don’t think that’s too loud? Too, I don’t know, colorful for Hatfield’s?”

No such luck.

I don’t need to look up at her to know she’s biting her lower lip nervously. I hate seeing her second-guess herself all because she’s putting so much effort into impressing a man. It pisses me off.

“Clearly he likes loud and colorful, or he wouldn’t be dating you, right?” I demand. “Honestly, I hope you’re embarrassed by the way you’re acting. I know drag queens who don’t spend this much time debating what to wear!” I scowl down at my keyboard.

I hear her giggle as she turns to go back to her room, presumably to try on thirteen more outfits before he gets here.

Her ability to laugh off my bad moods is one of the things that makes our friendship work. That and the fact that she’s not easily offended, which is vital to hanging out with someone like me since I basically hate everyone.

“You’re right, girl. I know you are. It’s just our first
real
date.” I can hear the smile in her voice, though I don’t understand what it’s for. “I wanna look nice. I needed a second opinion on what he might like.”

“Yeah, because I’m the reigning intellect on what a man wants!” I call after her.

I can’t even remember the last time I cared enough to try to impress a man—or actually, I can, but I do my very best not to.

“—do too.” The sound of her voice breaks into my thoughts, and I blink hard to pull myself back into the conversation.

“What?” I ask, still distracted.

“You do too know what a man likes. Particularly when the man in question is your brother!” she calls back with a laugh.

She’s right, obviously, but I refuse to validate her comment with a response. Imagining your best friend dating your big brother is eight kinds of wrong, and so, like all the other uncomfortable thoughts, I just try not to think about it.

I’m fully immersed in the images on my screen. Some of them I save for later, but most of them I mock. I know it’s rude, because a lot of these food bloggers are trying really hard, but picking apart a recipe is my favorite hobby. Actually, it’s my only hobby—and we should all be allowed one, right? I can’t help checking my Pinterest feed every day to see what’s new. In some cases the visual is gorgeous, but if you read through the recipe, you can tell that there’s no way those ingredients would actually taste good together. In others, it looks like they took the photo in a dark closet with an iPhone 3. No matter how delicious a recipe might be, nobody is going to give those mutant cookies a chance.

Though it would shock anyone who knows me, I get way too excited about people like Ina Garten or Joy the Baker. Both are chefs who use quality ingredients to reinvent the classics and present them beautifully. I’m never going to be a food blogger (I can barely style myself, let alone a photograph), but I love following people who are, and Pinterest is baker mecca. My favorite is when everyone online fanatically jumps on a recipe bandwagon. For instance, why is everyone so obsessed with covering everything with sprinkles right now? Is this 1987?

I can fall down this rabbit hole for hours, so when I hear the knock at the front door, I have no idea how much time has passed. I look at the empty hallway with a sigh. There’s no way she’s going to answer the door herself, because my roommate lives to make a grand entrance. I close down my computer and head to the entryway.

Our peephole dates back to the seventies, along with the rest of the building, so the view is slightly yellow and distorted, but it’s easy enough to make out Brody standing there. I open the door to let him in.

He’s dressed to the nines, but the slightly disheveled hair and the tan from spending the morning on a surfboard always make his style seem effortless rather than overly polished. Landon will probably have a seizure when she sees him.

I acknowledge him with a nod. “Captain.”

“Tennille.” He smiles back indulgently.

It’s the same smile he’s been giving me since I first met him sixteen years ago. I was a shy nine-year-old and was utterly terrified to meet the Ashton brothers in the lobby of their father’s hotel. They were teenage boys, after all, and I wasn’t sure how they’d treat my little sister and me, especially after the recent announcement of our parents’ whirlwind engagement. I made myself sick imagining every possible scenario and prepared for the worst. I expected that they’d be angry or, best-case scenario, that they’d just ignore us. It’s not like I had any other men in my life for comparison. I walked into that lobby prepared to meet bullies; instead I met my two big brothers.

Brody and Liam accepted Malin and me from the very first moment, and I always thought our relationships were stronger than those of regular siblings because we didn’t have a blood obligation to love each other; we chose to, which is way more powerful.

I turn and head into the kitchen, and I hear the front door close as Brody follows me. He walks around to the other side of the bar, and he’s smart enough to sit on the one barstool that isn’t warped and janky. Guests only make that mistake once.

I start to pull ingredients out of the cabinets to make drinks like I have on a million other nights. Only this time we aren’t headed to a family dinner. This time he’s not here for me, which is awkward.

“What are you in the mood for?” I ask over the sound of ice cubes hitting the bottom of the shaker I’m filling up.

“Scotch, I think.”

I turn around in surprise. I always mix him a cocktail. Straight scotch is reserved for nights when he’s stressed out from work or when we’re headed out to meet whatever asshole Malin has convinced herself she’s going to marry this time. I look closer at him, trying to figure out why he needs a strong drink. He’s fidgeting with his phone on the countertop, pulling the protective case off and snapping it back on again. He does it over and over like a nervous tic, which wouldn’t be weird for a twelve-year-old but looks ridiculous for a man in his thirties.

“You seem—wait, are you
nervous
?” I half hiss, half laugh at him.

His fingers pause on the phone, and he checks over his shoulder to make sure we’re still alone. He looks at me sheepishly.

“It’s just, I’ve screwed up once already and—”

“And so has she,” I remind him pointedly, and turn to grab a lowball glass from the cabinet. I own exactly two nice glasses for this purpose alone; I don’t want to get crap from Brody and Liam when they slum it down to my cruddy Hollywood apartment for a drink. Everything else in our cabinets is a hodgepodge. It’s a plastic menagerie of juice glasses, old Tupperware, dollar-store coffee mugs, and a handful of reusable plastic cups Landon received as part of a kids’ meal. God forbid she order a normal-sized dinner like an actual adult.

“Yeah, but she was being naive,” he says. “I was just being a prick.”

I hand over two fingers of the Glenlivet 18 I keep at the back of the shelf for him.

“Well, she’ll have to get used to that if she’s going to date you,” I say.

“True.” He laughs once before taking a sip. “How is everything with you?”

I force a grin, mildly annoyed at his fishing.

“Probably the same since you asked me that yesterday.”

I start to muddle together mango and mint for my own drink, and I stare down at my hands while they work. He doesn’t respond, so I know he’s waiting for me to elaborate. Honestly, you’d think he’d be used to limited conversation with me by now. When I finally glance up to grab the bottle of Ketel, his eyebrows rise an inch in invitation.

BOOK: Sweet Girl
5.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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