They are all giants. Like, at least six foot three or more. Most of them are examining me as if I’m a Big Mac with fries, and it’s creeping me out. But I won’t give them the satisfaction of knowing they are getting to me. Schooling my features into a disinterested line, I stare impassively at them.
One of the guys hangs back. He’s very good-looking with blond hair and crystal-clear blue eyes. He shoots me a sympathetic look, and I smile. The boys in front of me go wild, and some jackass starts spouting crap about pretty Irish eyes and smiles. I tune them out as I wonder what kind of stuff is in the water around here.
“Clear out! Coming through,” a confident female voice shouts out, and the hot crowd dispels. I slump in relief. The pretty waitress with the pink hair slides a plate in front of me, nudging the remaining guys out of the way with her hip. “Get lost, Jeremy, or I’ll have you thrown out.”
“You wouldn’t dare, Rosie,” he retorts.
Fixing her hands on her slim hips, she glares at him. “For the millionth time, my name is Rose. R.O.S.E with no I. And I would, and you know it.”
He backs up, palms raised. “’Kay. You win. I’m going. Lovely to meet you, Ireland.” He winks, blowing me a kiss before he reclaims his seat.
Ugh. I shiver all over.
I look up at Rose. “Thanks.”
“No problem. He’s a total jerk, and he’s riddled. You should steer clear.” She winks as she moves on to the next booth.
“Does everyone from your school come here then?”
“It’s a popular hangout,” Keaton confirms, before taking a huge bite of his burger.
After we’ve finished eating, Keaton heads to the bathroom while I studiously avoid looking in Jeremy’s direction. He has barely taken his eyes off me the entire time.
A sign on the far wall summons me, and my feet move of their own accord. Leaning over the counter, I gesture for Rose’s attention, pointing at the notice. “Are you still looking for a waitress?”
“Yeah. You interested?”
Something flickers in her eyes. “Any experience?”
“I worked part time in a restaurant back home in Dublin, and I’m a quick learner.”
“You can handle yourself?” She gives me a brief once-over.
“Yep.” My eyes drill into hers, daring her to challenge me.
She ponders for a minute or two. “Yeah, I think you can. Hang tight.” She darts into the back, returning a moment later with an older man with dark hair and hard hazel eyes. His skin is heavily tanned and lined, and it’s hard to gauge his age. He is tall and broad with a flabby stomach that hangs over the band of his trousers. “I’m David.” He offers me his hand, and I shake it, trying not to grimace at his clammy grip. “I own this joint.”
We talk for a few minutes, and I notice Keaton hovering beside me with an amused expression on his face. David asks me to come back on Friday for a working trial, and I leave the diner with a massive smile on my face.
“Why the hell did you do that?” Keaton asks once we’re securely tucked in the back of the car.
“I need a job.”
He almost gags. “For what?”
“For money. What else?” I pin him with a skeptical look. “Haven’t you ever had a job?”
“Nope, and I plan to stave that off for as long as possible.” He leans back in his seat, holding his hands behind his head.
“I like working. It’s good to feel independent. And I like having something else besides school and swimming.”
“You don’t need to. You’ll get an allowance like the rest of us. Dad’s going to blow a gasket.”
“He’s not my dad, and I don’t get why it’s such a big deal.” I cross my arms, as a surge of irritation surfaces. I agreed to come and live with them, and I will be respectful of their rules, but they’re not going to cage me, or turn me into something I’m not. I’m no sponger, and I like to be financially independent. I refuse to take their money.
The car drops us off at the front entrance, and the door opens immediately. A gorgeous blonde-haired girl waits to greet us, and I blink profusely. For a minute there, I thought it was Alex. Or a green-eyed younger version of Alex. This girl sports the same edgy haircut, the same type of stylish clothing, and an equally warming smile, except hers doesn’t quite meet her eyes.
“Courtney,” Keaton greets the woman. “You’re early.”
“No,” she chastises, pinching his cheek in an affectionate manner. “You’re late!”
I stand awkwardly in front of them, feeling like an intruder. “You must be Faye. I’m delighted to meet you.” If her grin was any wider, it’d split her face.
“Nice to meet you too.”
“Come on through,” she says, motioning me forward. “We have lots to get sorted.” She steers me to my bedroom, locking the door firmly behind us. “You didn’t email me your sizes, so I had to improvise.” She looks me up and down with a contemplative expression.
“My phone is broken. Sorry.”
“Oh, yes. Of course. Here you go.” She extracts a shiny, silver phone and hands it to me. “I switched your old sim over and transferred all your data so you should be good to go.” My mouth hangs open. This is the latest model and so hard to get back home. Plus, I have a custom Kennedy Apparel phone cover.
“How did you kn—”
She ushers me into the walk-in wardrobe. “It’s my job to know these things. Come, let me show you how to coordinate your outfits.”
I don’t know how long we stay in there, but it feels like centuries before we emerge into the fading daylight. Who knew trying on clothes could be so exhausting? I feel like I’ve just swum one hundred lengths of the pool with a ten-ton weight strapped to my back. I have never seen so many expensive clothes in my life. Thank God, none of them had any labels on. I’d probably collapse if I knew exactly how much my entire wardrobe cost.