Flirting with Fireworks, Celebration Series Book 9
Chapter 1 – Brandy
“I can’t believe I finally got up here to see you. I’ve missed you so damn much!” I squealed for, like, the fifteenth time since she had picked me up from the airport.
“I know, I’ve missed you, too.” Casey grinned happily from beside me in the car. Casey’s dark hair whipped around her face from the open window, and I inhaled deeply. The air was so much more refreshing here in northern Pennsylvania. In South Carolina, I couldn’t walk out the door without my hair frizzing from the humidity. I studied Casey. She looked so much more relaxed than the last time I’d seen her right before Christmas.
She replied sheepishly, “Sorry, work is crazy, and there are so many things going on around town. I think about calling you all the time, but then something happens and I get busy again and forget.” She reached over and squeezed my forearm, “Trust me, I think about you constantly, and I have missed you so much. You seriously have no idea how wonderful it is to see you.”
“But things are good for you here, right?” I studied her profile for any signs of deception, but all I saw was happiness.
“Brandy, I love it here. I am so in love with Thad and cannot wait for our wedding in December—and this town,” she sighed happily, “this town is amazing. The people are incredible, and, oh man, I don’t even know how to explain it. You just have to wait and see it for yourself.”
“Well, I look forward to seeing it. You talk about it so much, and I see so many pictures on social media of everyone here that I feel like I know your friends, especially Corrine, Harper, Riayn, Paige, and Hope. You’re always posting pictures with them.”
“Sorry,” she winced coyly.
I laughed. “Don’t be. I love seeing that you’re happy. Seriously, when I left you here last year, I worried about you. I thought you would become a little hermit, only leaving your house to go to work, but you haven’t.”
“No, I have a wonderful life. This place is almost magical, Brandy. Except for you, I’ve never had so many people I could call family. You’re going to love it here so much, you’re not going to want to leave.”
I laughed, “Sorry, I’m glad you are enjoying your small-town life, but I happen to enjoy the city, besides, I have a surprise.”
Her face spun toward me, “What? You’ve been keeping something from me?”
“No, I just found this out yesterday. I mean I’ve known about it, but I just got the good news yesterday.”
“Well, tell me!” she shouted.
“I was just offered the position as nurse in charge of the ER.”
She whipped her face my way, “What? You want to leave labor and delivery?”
I shrugged, “Yeah, I guess I’m ready for a change.”
“Because the position is open in the ER, and I want a promotion.”
“Well, that’s great, Brandy. I’m really surprised that you want out of L and D, but change is good. So you took it, right?”
“They didn’t want my answer until I got back from vacation, but they know I’m going to take it. It’s a ten percent raise, and my hours will shift a little bit but not much. I’ll have more overtime available to me, and since I’ll be doing the schedule, I’ll be able to get the days off that I want.”
“Oh, yes, that’s one of the best parts, except when people call out and you wanted to take off, and you can’t find anyone to cover, and you have to do it.” She rolled her eyes.
“Does that happen a lot here?”
“No, it has happened a time or two, but it’s not really a problem. I have a great group that works with me at the ER. I can’t wait for you to meet them all.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
I stared at the window for a moment as I tamped down my envy. Granted, I had a very busy life in South Carolina, but I missed Casey something fierce. She was my best friend, and no one could take her place. Now she was living here in Celebration Township and had so many friends, a sexy-as-hell fiancé, and a job she loved. I sent the little green monster back into his cave and focused on my sincere happiness for her.
“Well, I’m off work this week, but there are a bunch of things happening this weekend, and I have to help with some of the parade and fireworks arrangements for the Fourth of July, and Paige’s wedding, but I’m mostly open—except,” she peeked my way, “I hope you don’t mind, but one of my friends is trying to sell her place and she needs help painting. I told her I’d stop by and help her paint this afternoon. I forgot you were arriving today when I told her I could help.”
“No, that’s fine.” I tried not to be upset, even though we had been planning this for two months. Actually, it would be nice to hang out with some of her friends and get to know the area more. Maybe I wouldn’t worry about her if I saw for myself that she was doing well and was surrounded by people who did care about her.
“I’m sorry, Brandy. I really am. You’re going to see that when someone needs help, people are always around to pitch in. It’s hard not to want to help the people of the community, especially your friends.”
“It’s okay, Casey, it’s not like we can spend my time here hitting one shopping mall after the other. They don’t even have a mall in Celebration.”
“Oh, man, I do miss retail therapy. I think that is the one thing that I really do miss.”
“Is there a mall around here?”
“There is a small one in Middletown, but it’s nothing major. I do most of my shopping online for things that I need, but around here I don’t need fancy purses, shoes, or dresses. I don’t go to thousand-dollar fundraising dinners. I head over to the tavern or diner, and I wear jeans or yoga pants.”
“You wear yoga pants in public?” I stared at her wide-eyed.
She laughed, “I even have sweatpants that I wear in public.”
I shuddered playfully, “Oh, my god, you need an intervention.”
Our laughter filled the car. “So how about we drop your things off at my place, and then we’ll head over to Sophia’s house.”
“Is she moving out of town or just redecorating?”
“Sophia just moved in with her boyfriend. She’s almost two months pregnant, and he lives in a big house.”
“Is Sophia the woman who used to be a stripper?”
“Yeah, but she says she was a dancer, not a stripper.”
I shrugged, “Okay, to each their own, I guess.”
“You are going to love Sophia. She’s just like us, a tell-it-like-it-is person.”
“Awesome, I can’t wait,” I said happily, and I was happy. I was just happy that I was here with Casey. “Seriously, woman, you have no idea how happy I am to be here. I have missed you so much.”
“Me, too,” she said.
I wondered if she really did miss me, or if I was going to be cramping her style by being here. Maybe she had thrown herself so much into her new life that I was a painful reminder of the past.
I watched the scenery pass by as I thought about when I’d left her here eight months after what—I thought—had been a crazy move here. I mean, yeah, her father had been arrested, and the family fortune had disappeared, but I didn’t think she had needed to hide. Maybe I would have wanted to hide from the asshole to whom she’d been engaged—who was already married and her father’s partner in crime—but I didn’t think she needed to move this far way. She’d said that she wanted to get away from the media and start a new life, so she’d found a new job and picked up and left. Now she had a new life, and I felt a little bereft.
Casey and I went to her house and changed. She somehow talked me into wearing a pair of her old jean shorts and a t-shirt so I wouldn’t get paint on my good clothes.
Once we were ready, we headed to her friend’s house. I had to admit that as we drove through the town, I found it very cute. People were everywhere, and Casey was constantly waving and pointing things out to me. She turned down a side road, and there was a crowd of cars around one house near the end. She pulled in behind the last car and turned off the engine.
Casey glanced at the cars, “Well, it looks like Harper is here, and that’s Nolan’s truck over there, and Levi’s. Levi runs the car repair shop downtown. Chase is here, and I’m sure George is, too. Sophia and Scott will both be here, and I see Corrine’s car down at the end.” I didn’t think much of the names as she called them out, although I’d seen pictures of most of her friends. “Thad’s not here?” I asked as we walked toward the front door. Music and laughter filtered out the open windows.
“No, he had to work the day shift today, you’ll get to see him tonight.”
“I look forward to it.”
Casey pulled the front screen door open, and we ventured in. It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the darker light, and as soon as they did, I found myself surrounded by people.
“Hey, everyone, this is Brandy. Brandy, this is everyone.” Casey held her arms out to encompass all the people in the room.
A short woman with dark hair put her paint roller down and rushed to hug me. I laughed nervously as I glanced over her shoulder at Casey who winked. “That is Harper.”
“And that is Corrine,” Harper started pointing people out. “Nolan is on the ladder behind her. The guy with all the ink on his arms on that ladder is Levi. Watch out for him! He likes his women and his beer.”
“Hey!” Levi called out jokingly and then leered at me, but in a friendly way, “I’d like to refute that, but she’s right. I totally do.”
I chuckled as Casey pointed to another couple, “That is Sophia and Scott. This is her house we are working on today.”
“It’s nice to meet you all.”
“Where are Chase and George?” Casey asked as she looked down a hall.
“They’re changing the light fixtures in the bedroom and bathroom. They wanted to get that done before Paige showed up with lunch.”
“Oh, should I call and order another two plates for us?” Casey asked.
“No,” Harper said, “we added two because we knew you’d be here when it arrived.” Harper turned her attention toward me, “How was your flight?”
Before I could finish she held up her finger and spun around to grab the paint roller, thrusting it into my hand. “Here, you paint that wall, and I’ll work on the trim while we talk.” She glanced at Casey, “There is an extra roller over there for you.”
I moved to the paint tray, dipped the roller into the paint, and wondered if I should I tell them that I’d never painted anything but my nails before. I stood and watched as Casey rolled her roller in another tray, and then I mimicked her actions.
As I rolled the paint on the wall, I heard two male voices headed our way.
“Hey, Casey, you made it. Did you get your friend?” an older man said, and I peered around the ladder where Levi was working to see a man in his late fifties enter the room.
“Yeah, Harper already has her working.” She pointed toward me and another man stepped around the older one and the ladder.
The paint roller fell from my hand as I stared at the man who had just come into view. “Chase?”
“Brandy?” He jerked back in surprise, bumping into the ladder upon which Nolan was perched. Nolan tried to grab the paint tray balanced on the top, but it began to fall toward Corrine. I jumped forward to catch it, but Chase was moving for it, too.
The two of us crashed into each other as the paint tray tipped over and rained white on us, coating our clothes from chest to waist.