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Shopping for Love(5)
Author: Renee Carlino

“I despise Brad Pitt.”

“Really? You despise him?” Who despises Brad Pit!? She keeps walking ahead of me. “Wait, hold on,” I say as I grab her hand and spin her around. “Listen, I’m really proud of you. I’ve known you for less than one day and look how much you’ve accomplished. That took a lot of guts. I understand you feel a little out of your element, but you did great back there. And you have a lot going for you. How about we get a burger and a beer and talk about it?” I smile wide, attempting to goad her.

She hesitates, then nods, and I’m glad. It’s time for me to do some ego boosting.

We end up at Vortex Bar and Grill. I order us both Coronary Bypass burgers and twenty-two-ounce beers. She looks at the beers and burgers like they are the strangest things she’d ever seen.

“They’re delicious, trust me,” I say. “After that day of shopping, I think we’ve both earned a treat.”

“How am I supposed to even eat that?” She tilts her head down near the plate, inspecting every inch of the double burger like she’s afraid to touch it. “Is that a fried egg in there?”

“Yes.” I say with conviction. “Just pick it up and take a bite. Wash it down with that deliciously refreshing pilsner I picked out for you.”

“Do you eat like this all the time?” Caroline asks skeptically. She still hasn’t touched the burger.

“No, otherwise I’d need an actual coronary bypass. But I don’t shy away from this stuff anymore. I was anorexic for six years. I don’t let myself go to that place again. So I’ll eat part of this tonight, maybe even treat myself to a little ice cream, and then during the week I’ll eat healthy again.”

That gets her attention. She’s staring at me intently. “I’m sorry about your anorexia.”

“It’s okay, it’s in the past.” I take a bite of my burger and she follows suit. As I chew the delicious food, I wonder, not for the first time, how my mother never noticed that her five-foot-five, seventeen-year-old daughter weighed eighty-eight pounds. I guess she was so busy working for the money to take care of us that she couldn’t actually take care of us.

“Oh, my,” Caroline says with a dreamy expression on her face. “This burger…it’s like sex in my mouth. Wait…no. This is better than sex.”

“I told you. Small pleasures, Caroline.”

She eats about three-quarters of the Coronary Bypass, but drinks her entire beer before ordering a glass of wine. One glass, then two, and then three, all while she talks my ear off. Who knew she had it in her?

“I’m so glad I met you, Hayden. I loved today. I feel liberated. I have to call Blake and tell him to come down and try one of these burgers. Will you wait with me until he gets here? Then he can drive me home and you don’t have to backtrack to Decatur.”

“Of course,” I say. I’m curious to meet the guy. My mind goes to a distinct mental image—a plain guy wearing khakis and an argyle sweater vest. Maybe even an awkward comb-over. I instantly feel bad for the thought. After all, it’s poor Caroline’s wardrobe that’s lacking…not her. She’s quite pretty and pleasant, underneath the wall she’s put up. She’s been worked to death without any time for herself—I’m sure she just needs someone to prod her back to life and help her open up.

As we wait, Caroline and I continue bonding. “You don’t have to answer this if it’s too personal, but how did your parents handle your anorexia?” she asks.

“I don’t mind, but the answer is they didn’t. I don’t really have a dad. I mean I do…I just don’t know who he is.”

I watch Caroline’s eyes grow to the size of small saucers.

I went on. “He took off when I was a baby. And my mom was really busy working throughout my childhood, trying to provide for us.”

Caroline shakes her head frantically. “Wow, so you don’t have a dad? I’m so sorry. I get it, well, sort of. It was hard growing up with my dad…he’s actually kind of a dick.” Caroline puts her hand up to her mouth, surprised she let that out. I guess the wine is helping her unload. “My mom gives in to whatever he wants. My aunt, the one you know, is the only member of my family that doesn’t put up with him.”

I nod along as she talks until my eyes are suddenly drawn to the entrance and I notice a really hot guy walk in. God, my poor hormones.

He’s the kind of guy I’ve always been attracted to. A full head of tousled brown hair, a hint of sideburns, long-sleeve flannel with tattoos peeking out at the wrists, a slim waist in black jeans, and tattered Converse to finish it off. Damn, if only he were wearing combat boots. But then again, it’s best he’s not, otherwise I’d probably turn into some kind of hormone-raging lunatic before scaling the booth and flying into his arms.

“CC?” the guy calls out. He seems to be looking for someone.

Caroline turns around and waves him over. “Blake, over here.” She looks at me and whispers jokingly, “I mean, seriously, how many redheads are there in this place?”

This is Blake? I’m speechless.

He walks up and Caroline introduces us before he slides into the booth. I reach out my hand and he shakes it. His mouth is moving but I can’t understand what he’s saying.


“I said it’s nice to meet you,” he says with a genuine, beautiful smile as he looks directly into my eyes.

“Likewise,” I squeak, barely able to catch my breath. Oh, boy.



Chapter 4


“So, Hayden, CC tells me you’re going to snazzy up her wardrobe?”

Blake is sitting next to Caroline and they don’t seem to be touching, until he leans over and kisses her on the cheek. I’m watching them closely. Caroline doesn’t blush, but I do for some reason. She continues looking at me, barely acknowledging his gesture.

“Yes, Blake, Caroline and I are definitely going to snazzy it up.” He’s playful, very different from Caroline. He drifts his arm over her shoulders. “How long have you two been together?” I ask.

“Since high school,” Caroline says.

“You went to high school together?”

“No,” Blake answers. “I grew up in Montauk and—”

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