Home > You and Me (A Misty River Romance)

You and Me (A Misty River Romance)
Author: Becky Wade

 


Chapter One

 

 

Connor Bryant’s biggest crush ever struck when he was in the seventh grade.

Sixteen years had passed, and he was finally on his way to do something about that crush. He zipped his quilted gray jacket as he navigated around the residents and tourists packing Misty River’s historic downtown. Light spilled over him from one storefront window after another as he made his way through the dark, cold, crisp December night toward the town square.

When he was a kid, he’d been an ingredient list of things that had helped him go unnoticed. Shy, pale, skinny, red-haired, not very athletic. By the time he’d graduated from elementary, his approach to school had been cemented.

He kept his head down. He was polite. He was quiet. He was kind. He flew under the radar. Which explained why, when he showed up for seventh grade art class at Misty River Middle School, he slightly acknowledged the kids he knew but didn’t register the strangers at all. Shay Seaver was a stranger to him, so it hadn’t been crush at first sight.

It was only over time that he began to notice the tomboy girl who wore her light brown hair in a ponytail. She wasn’t an over-talker, but she also wasn’t afraid to contribute in class. In fact, she didn’t appear to be afraid of anything. Almost every other middle schooler, including him, was sixty percent self-conscious. Not her.

She didn’t seem to feel the need to impress anyone. Trends in clothing, music, and TV were of no interest to her. She ran cross country, never wore makeup, hated spiders, loved her two good friends, was a huge fan of the Miracle Five, and memorized Broadway show tunes. Shay Seaver knew who she was.

Connor’s crush on her developed like a photo in liquid solution—over time.

He reached the end of the block and turned left. The town of Misty River sat in the Blue Ridge mountains of northern Georgia like a toy boat in the swells of the sea. It was Saturday, December fifth, and the annual parade and Christmas tree lighting would occur soon, which explained the crowd and the fact that all the businesses were still open, hosting “open houses,” and giving away hot cider, Christmas cookies, fudge, and more.

In a nod to its 1823 founding, the historic district was decorated in an “Old-Fashioned Christmas” theme. Fake fruit and nuts dotted the greenery woven around lampposts and tied with large red-and-white-checked ribbon. Matching wreaths hung on almost every window. More than one truck driver had lived to regret their decision when they’d tried to pass under the white Christmas lights zigzagging back and forth across the cobblestone streets.

It had been at Christmastime all those years ago when his crush on Shay had reached full force. At that point, it became the most overwhelming crush anyone had experienced since the beginning of time. He’d been physically heartsick over her when they were apart. When he was near her, his pounding pulse and his fear of saying the wrong thing meant that he’d spoken to her very little.

Instead of having actual conversations with her, he’d imagined the ways he could become her superhero. Someone would trip her in a cross-country race. She’d twist an ankle. He’d carry her over the finish line, set her down, then punch the guy who’d tripped her. But then he’d remember that she probably only competed against girls and suddenly punching a girl in the face didn’t seem very heroic.

He’d imagine that her house was on fire, and he’d rush inside, calling her name. Courageously, he’d guide her from the collapsing building. Her sooty face would look at him with a dawning sense of love. But then he’d remember that she probably wouldn’t have been home alone and leaving the rest of her family members inside the burning building didn’t seem very romantic.

He’d imagine she was giving a presentation in the auditorium when the kids started to boo her. He’d stand and yell that Shay, and her presentation, were wonderful and perfect and if they couldn’t see that, they were all idiots. Shay, grateful tears in her eyes, would draw him up the steps beside the stage, pull him behind the curtain, and hold his hand. But then he’d remember that there were probably administrators behind the curtain, which didn’t seem very intimate.

Those were just three of the scenarios he remembered. Eventually, he’d dreamt up hundreds. Not only had none of his scenarios ever happened, but it had turned out that Shay wasn’t the type who needed rescuing.

The storefront of Shay’s stationery shop, Papery, came into view.

Both he and Shay continued to choose art as their elective all the way through high school. Painting was Connor’s passion, calling, dream. Shay had been drawn to calligraphy and graphic design.

Across six years of art class together, he’d gradually gained the ability to speak to her—mostly because she was outgoing and genuine, one of the easiest people to talk to in their entire grade. They grew to be friends. Not close friends. But friends.

He’d carefully watched for even a small signal that she was interested in more than friendship with him. But that signal had never come.

When he’d graduated from high school, his primary feeling had not been excitement. His primary feeling had been grief over losing his connection to Shay. As he’d driven across the country in a packed Suburban so that his mom could move him into the housing at California Institute of the Arts, all his thoughts had been for Shay.

It seemed impossible that a girl who’d never been his girlfriend could break his heart. But his heart had broken across that first semester.

To his surprise, plenty of college girls had been eager to raise his spirits. They’d pursued him. They’d seen him the way he’d wanted Shay to see him. In response, he’d done his best to find happiness in them, in partying, in physical pleasure. He’d gained experience, sure that the next girl or the next would finally remove his feelings for Shay.

Ultimately, his actions hadn’t brought him happiness. Just emptiness.

He’d rediscovered his faith and, with it, his center. Graduated. And worked in LA for the next four years.

Through it all, Shay had stubbornly remained in his mind and dreams. He’d returned to Georgia for visits and seen her from time to time—which never failed to send a shaft of electricity through him. They’d talk, and he’d experience euphoria. Sorrow, too, for a few reasons. One, he’d catalog the changes in her and realize how much he’d missed. Two, he’d been painfully aware their time together would end too quickly. Three, she was always dating someone and he wasn’t the type of guy who’d tell a woman how he felt about her while she was in a relationship with another man.

He pushed open Papery’s door and walked inside. Her shop reminded him of his niece’s birthday parties. Creative, festive, full of bright pastels. Pale blue walls and white shelving neatly stocked with products framed the central table she used when she met with clients. At the moment, the whole place was decked out with Christmas items. Little trees. Gifts, ornaments, cards, and more.

He didn’t see Shay, which meant she’d probably ducked into her office. Tonight was an important night for her business, so she’d be here somewhere.

Gabe, Shay’s one employee, was waiting on a group of four customers. At seven feet tall, Gabe had dressed in a blue shirt, suspenders, trousers, and a cap. Clearly, he’d taken the town up on their invitation to business owners to dress in 1800s style.

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