My china tea cup slips from my fingers, then shatters on the tiled floor. Heat claws at my neck, making my skin itch. It’s always been this way in Noel’s presence. My older brother’s best friend and my teenage crush.
“I got it, Glory. Don’t move.” Julian bends and sweeps the broken china into a dustpan. The brush sweeps over my sea-green painted toes in my sandals. With Noel’s gaze on me, I couldn’t move if I wanted to.
Noel’s eyes rake down my body from head to my overly large chest. I’ve definitely filled out these last few years while he’s been living in California. No longer the spotty, flat-chested girl with braces that he knew in his twenties. I’m like the ugly duckling that turned into a swan, only less graceful and chubby. Okay, I’m a goose.
My brother, Gray, brushes past me, striding over to him. “Hey, man, good to see you. When did you get back to town?”
“Yesterday. The crew is here in Candy Cane Key, filming a Christmas movie. I’m staying in my parents’ beach rental.” He points to the twinkling tree display. “This looks great.”
“Glory created it. You know she’s a fully qualified production designer now.” Gray’s smile widens.
Noel’s eyes rake over me again.
“Dude.” Gray knocks his shoulder. “Can’t you get her some work experience? You must have some sway on set, being the director of photography. Let’s not forget that magazine that dubbed you the heartthrob behind the camera.”
Noel blinks, ignoring my brother’s teasing, and focuses on my face. “I’ll see what I can do. One of the assistants didn’t fly out, so there might be an opening.”
My mouth parts. “You’d do that for me?”
“Sure I would, sprout.”
I roll my eyes at the childish name he’s called me since I was a teenager. Is that all I’ll ever be to him? Gray’s little sister. I tug on my vest top, accentuating my best assets, showing him just how much I’ve sprouted since he’s been gone.
Gray clears his throat. “Well, thanks man for looking out for my little sister.” He stresses the last two words.
Noel runs his fingers through his brown hair, kissed by the sun on the tips. “Of course.” He tears his eyes away from my chest and back to Gray.
I’m grateful for my brother, but he is such a pain in the ass sometimes. With Noel’s attention elsewhere, I’m able to move. Julian clears the remaining shards from around the tables and I slip into the back to make Noel his favourite Earl Grey tea with syrup and cream. He likes the syrup.
Gripping the handlebars of my bicycle, the front wheel takes on a life of its own, snaking me down the road. I haven’t biked in a long time, but I was running a little late this morning after fussing with my hair and makeup and three outfit changes later. I’m not usually this finicky, but I want to make a good first impression. Noel pulled some strings getting me this job, so I want to look my best.
Since when did this bike become so uncomfortable? My ass swallows the leather seat, reminding me how much weight I’ve gained since my last bike ride. Student life mixed with afternoon delights in the tea shop hasn’t done me any favours this last year, but I don’t weigh my worth on the scales. I love my curves and so do most of the guys I’ve dated. I’m pretty sure I saw Noel checking me out, too. A small shiver runs through me as I remember Noel’s eyes raking over my body yesterday.
Birds sing their morning chorus as I ride down the quiet street at this early hour. A flock of seagulls takes flight in my stomach when I spot Noel standing outside the studio, waving at me as I ride down Snow Street.
His bright smile reflects the summer sun, causing my heart to flutter. I lift one hand from the handlebars and wave, mirroring his bright smile. His eyes widen, his wave now frantic, and I pinch my eyebrows together.
The impact of my front wheel hitting a lamppost forces my body over the handlebars. My head bounces off the metal post before my body tumbles to the ground. It seems to happen in slow motion and I see myself lying on the ground as if having an out-of-body experience.
“Glory,” a voice calls to me, but it seems so far away.
I open my eyes. The sun casts a halo behind the hunkiest angel I’ve ever seen. I’ve died and gone to heaven.
“Glory. You all right?” Noel’s voice sounds better than any dawn chorus. Everything is hazy like a dream. Noel’s lips are so close, I lean forward and press against them, just like in my teenage fantasies.
He jolts back as if I’ve given him an electric shock. His eyes scan my forehead. “Woah, Glory you have a huge bump on the head!”
I lift my hand to my forehead and see blood on my fingertips. I’m not dreaming. The sharp shooting pain in my temple brings me back to reality along with the creak of my back as I move. This is reality. Noel is very much awake, and unfortunately, so am I.
Heat claws at my neck. My cheeks burn, emanating enough heat to warm the entire town, but it’s already so hot and the morning sun blinds me. Why did I have to kiss him? Play dumb. I really want to play dead right now, but I have a job to do.
He pulls a tissue from his pocket and dabs at my head. “That’s going to be one hell of a goose egg, little sprout.”
Ugh, that childish name again. “Is it bad?”
“You don’t need stitches, but you might have a concussion. Let me call your parents.” He holds out a hand to help me to my feet.
Once standing, my head dizzies, and my body sways, but he steadies me. “I can’t go home on my first day. I’ll be okay.”
He stares at me for a moment, making my dizzy head worse as heat rises in my cheeks, frazzling my senses. “Let’s get you inside and clean you up.” His arm slips around my waist and he pushes my bike with his other hand. The bent wheel makes it difficult to steer. It’s well and truly wrecked.
“I still think I should get you home. I can call Gray?”
“I’m fine, really. Don’t worry. I won’t try to kiss you again.”
He scratches the back of his neck. A red hue paints his face. “About that? Let’s not mention that to Gray. You weren’t thinking straight.”
“No. I didn’t know what I was doing.” Although nothing ever felt more right, but I don’t get what it has to do with my brother.