“So, are you ready for tonight?” Madison asks.
The heat of the sun intensifies with the mention of tonight. It’s beating down on me, building up the pressure, circling me in an inferno of what’s to come.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous in my entire life. Even when I was forced to go with Danny Leshay to senior prom because it was part of my father’s business deal with a client. My dad buys out a lumberyard, and in return, I have to go with the guy’s son to prom. Thoughts of being stabbed and murdered on the side of the road by someone I didn’t know terrified me. Thanks, Dad!
“I’m prepared but so freaking nervous.” I turn on my side and face Madison. “I have that sinking feeling he’s going to say no.”
“How can he say no, G? You’ve run through your presentation a million times. I’ve seen it. You are solid with all your numbers, with your projections; it’s an easy yes.”
“To any other businessman, my presentation is an easy yes, but to my dad . . . I have this horrible feeling it’s going to be a hard pass.”
And that’s the honest truth. He’s a good man, but when it comes to me, I’m his little girl, not an aspiring entrepreneur.
“You might be surprised.” Madison takes a big sip from her drink. “He wasn’t happy at first about you going to Northwestern and earning your master’s in business, but he changed his mind about that.”
I roll my eyes. “Yeah, because on paper, I’m more appealing to one of the ‘husbands’ my dad has chosen for me. An educated girl is a girl with goals and motivation, one that will be able to participate with knowledgeable commentary in dry, pointless conversations at charitable events. My entire life leading to this point has been a long and drawn-out finishing school run, and operated by my father, preparing me for the very moment I meet the one man I can stand at his side, woo his clients, and be the trophy wife I’ve been morphed into.” I set my drink on the table between us and rest my hands under my cheek. “I want so much more, Madison.”
“If you had red hair and was brushing it with a fork right now, I would think you were the little mermaid.”
“I’m serious.” I laugh just as cursing from a thousand men breaks up our little conversation.
From the side of the pool where renovations for the pool house are taking place, the lone construction worker is holding his finger between his jean-clad legs.
Madison sits up and lifts her sunglasses to get a look at the commotion. “Did you hammer a nail into your finger over there?”
The man who’s been working on the building for a few weekends looks up at us. His head is covered by a backward black baseball cap, his chest is bronze from working many hours outside this summer, and it’s hard not to notice the corded muscles wrapped around his entire body, from his chiseled stomach to his powerful biceps. To be honest, it hasn’t been a chore watching him these last few weekends.
What’s-His-Name looks up and pops his finger in his mouth, sucking on it as his body ripples under the brightness of the sun.
“Damn,” Madison mutters under her breath just as the man pops his finger out of his mouth. “Mama likes.”
Unable to hear Madison slowly discredit his self-respect, he gruffly says, “I’m good.” Not giving us a second thought, he shakes his hand and turns back toward his project.
Never having spoken to the man—I’ve only seen him around—I cautiously say, “You sure? Kind of looks like you’re hurt.”
Slowly he turns his head in my direction, his eyes cutting me a look of indignation. “I’m good, Princess. No need to set your cocktail down to check on me.”
Pardon me? Was that attitude?
I sit up, my legs straddling my lounge chair and tip my sunglasses up so he can see my dissatisfaction in his choice of words. “It’s Georgiana, not princess.”
Picking up his hammer, he shoves it in a holster attached to his side and says, “Could have fooled me.”
“Oooooo,” Madison says as if she’s in grade school. “Burned.” She sits back in her chair, taking a sip of her drink as if she’s preparing for the show of a lifetime, one she might just get.
Slowly, I set my drink down and stand. I adjust the fabric of my swimsuit bottom so it’s covering my ass and saunter over to the man, now sorting nails as he casually glances in my direction.
When I stand in front of him, I watch his eyes travel over my barely covered frame until he meets me head-on. His staggering height doesn’t intimidate me, even though he towers over my petite frame. He appears strong and powerful with a hard set in his jaw.
“What did you say?” I ask, a hand on my hip.
Not giving me his complete attention, he says, “You heard what I said or else you wouldn’t be over here trying to put on a front.”
“Put on a front?” My voice sounds a little shrill from the accusation. “I’m not putting on a front.”
“Yeah?” He pulls a rag from his back pocket, lifts his hat, and wipes his brow. His blond hair sticks up in all different directions with beads of sweat at the tips that aren’t covered by his hat. “So you’re not trying to act intimidating in front of your friend? You know, push around the hired help to make yourself feel better?”
“Excuse me?” Two seconds ago I was irritated, now I’m mad. “How dare you make such an awful accusation about me. You don’t know a thing about me.”
“I know enough,” he answers and turns around to nail another board for the new siding. His incessant hammering has ensured a headache all morning.
“Hey.” I poke his sweaty back, trying to ignore how amazingly tight it feels under my index finger. “I suggest if you want to keep your job you show a little respect.”
Whoa, can we all say it together? Georgiana, you’re a bitch. The words felt dirty leaving my mouth. I really don’t act like this, like my—gulp—parents, but I’m tired, anxious about meeting with my dad, and irritated. It’s a cataclysmic combination and when that happens, nothing good comes from it. I’m about to apologize when he starts to go off on me.
“Respect? You want to talk respect?” He spins on his heel and holds up his hammer. “What do you know about respect, Princess? From where I see it, you know nothing. Every weekend I’ve been here, you’ve ordered people around, watching them wait on you hand and foot, complained about not having any money, gossiped about every bad boob job in town, and have yet to be pleasant to anyone who stands an inch beneath you.” He goes to hammer again but turns around once more and says, “And the heels you just had to wear out to the pool ripped a fucking hole in my nail gun hose, giving me no other option than to nail these boards by hand, adding on time I can’t afford. So, Princess, excuse me for upsetting you, but I’m sticking with the nickname. It fits you to a T. Oh, and just so you know, sandals. Sandals are the proper footwear you should be wearing around the pool.” He rolls his eyes, turns around, and starts hammering another nail into the siding of the pool house.
How dare he!
“That’s what you think I am? Some whiney brat?”
“If the unnecessary high heel fits, Princess.”
Unsure of what to do. I stomp my foot and say, “Well, I’m not.”
Pretty sure my reaction just solidified his assumption.
“Tantrums don’t work on me; try your daddy.” He continues to hammer away, his back muscles shimmering with each movement.
“Maybe I will. We’ll see what he has to say about this little conversation.”
He places another nail against the board and starts hammering. “Wouldn’t be shocked if you did. You step on my hose, ruin my chances of getting this project done today, which only prolongs my time here, cutting down on my chance to make more money since I’m getting paid a flat rate, and now you want to get me fired. Sounds about right. Can’t take the blame for anything.”
No one has ever been so disrespectful to me.
“How was I supposed to know I stepped on your stupid hosey thing?”
“Maybe if you pay attention to people and objects around you, you may have noticed.”
“You’re a jerk, you know that?” He has me all wrong, and it is really bothering me that he pictures me as a spoiled, inconsiderate, self-consumed brat. That’s not who I am at all.
“How do you figure? Because the way I see it, you’re the jerk.” His body fully turns around to face me, challenge in his eyes, maybe a bit of humor at the corner of his lips as he awaits my answer.
Holding my chin high, I say, “Because, instead of having a hissy fit like a petulant child, you could have come over to me and said, ‘Miss Westbrook, sorry to bother you, but you seem to have poked a hole in my hose.’ But instead you decided to stew over here and then pick on me when I was trying to see if you were okay from your inability to hammer a nail into a piece of wood properly. It’s called being an adult.”
He studies me, hands on his hips, not showing any kind of reaction. “Being an adult, huh? And you think you’re an expert at that?”
“I would say I’m well-versed in the topic.”
He nods, his teeth biting down on his lower lip as his eyes flick to where Madison is sitting. “Well-versed, interesting. Tell me, when did adults start eating dinosaur chicken nuggets for lunch?”
Just when I’m about to reply, Madison calls out, “Nuggies are ready, G. Come eat T-Rex’s arms with me. Roar!”
I shut my eyes tight, willing for this moment to disappear, maybe praying for the ground to swallow me whole due to Madison’s poor timing. The infuriating man says with a smile, “Your nuggies are ready, Princess. Don’t want them getting cold.”