I stare at the three available jobs advertised in the weekly paper with slumped shoulders, realizing with a staggering clarity just how bleak my prospects are.
I don’t even think most newspapers have jobs in them anymore, but when you’re looking for employment in a small town like Cedar Point, an online job system just seems superfluous. So, businesses like the craft store and the coffee shop and the grocery store advertise their open positions on flyers in their front windows—generally horribly designed, usually with fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus—or in ads in the Cedar Reader.
Grocery store cashier.
Those are my options.
If I’d moved home at the start of the summer, maybe I could have found something else. The tourist season in Cedar Point always tends to provide employment opportunities that at least sound enjoyable.
Lifeguard at South Bank Resort.
Counselor at Cedar Lake Summer Camp.
Bartender at Dock 7.
Back in high school, I worked a catch-all job at the community library, shelving returned books and cataloguing new ones, ordering supplies, leading a weekly class on basic computer skills for seniors. But the little spot at the end of Main Street that served as my haven was torn down a few years ago and replaced with a row of shops that are, admittedly, very cute and probably do good things for locals. A bakery. A cute little art gallery. A rustic home goods store with hand-painted signs and quilts and little tchotchkes that say things like Life is better on the lake.
I’m sure if I talked to my dad, he’d have some sort of insider knowledge of a job I could find that isn’t listed in the Reader, but asking either of my parents for help kind of defeats the point of, well, not asking for any more help. They’ve already allowed me to move back into my childhood bedroom—a shame I never thought I’d have to face—in the wake of my recent breakup and decision to leave behind the life I’d created down the mountain. I can’t also expect them to find me a job, too.
I’m back in Cedar Point. Single. Broke. Unemployed. And, if I’m honest, a little lonely and a lot lost. Moving home with my tail between my legs definitely wasn’t something I ever could have envisioned, but that’s just life. I need to accept the circumstances I’m faced with, no matter how distasteful they might be, and that includes working whatever job will pay me, even if it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.
I cross out the nanny job I’m not qualified for and mark an X through the barista position that won’t be enough hours, circling the full-time cashier job at One Stop Shop with a bold red pen.
Truthfully, it’s the only choice if I’m going to get some serious hours under my belt, even if it is minimum wage.
A job is a job, and money is money. The last thing I want—even less than having to move home—is to leech off of my parents for any longer than I absolutely have to. My mom and dad are two of the most generous and loving people out there, and it wouldn’t feel right to take advantage of the fact that they’d be more than happy to take care of me. They usually manage a pretty good balance between nudging us kids out of the nest to face the world and providing a safe space to come home to when that world is as cruel as can be.
Even so, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still pull on my big-girl panties and get my butt to work.
Besides, my younger sister lives at home, too, and Bellamy manages a part-time waitressing job along with a full load of college classes online; she’d never let me live it down if I chose to laze around the house all day for months.
Speaking of my sister…
“Can I borrow your car?”
Bellamy pauses, a tortilla chip with an aggressive amount of salsa hovering in midair as she looks over to me and lifts a brow.
“Where are you going?”
I nibble on the inside of my cheek as I decide what to say.
My younger sister gives off the vibe of a totally rambunctious ball-busting 21-year-old, but she’s a lot more observant than she lets on. She’s been watching me wander almost aimlessly around the house since I moved home about a month ago, and I’m sure it hasn’t gone unnoticed that I haven’t gone anywhere in town even once.
Nowhere requiring a car, at least. I don’t need to drive if I’m running the trails, which has been my primary method of relieving stress since I was in junior high. Other than that, I’ve stuck close to the house, preferring to avoid any unwanted run-ins with curious townies who are likely to have questions about why the eldest Mitchell daughter has suddenly moved home.
Regardless, it makes sense for my sister to be curious if I’m wanting to borrow her wheels.
“One Stop. Need anything?”
I know I could tell her I’m applying for a job, but I’m not in the mood for the trail of questions that will come in the wake of revealing the fact that I’m planning on sticking around for a while. Telling my sister I left my ex and my old life behind with basically nothing to my name is a conversation for another day.
“Nah, I’m good,” she says, stuffing another chip into her mouth and returning her eyes to her computer.
“Okay. I’ll be back soon.”
She waves a hand but doesn’t look in my direction again, her eyes already scanning whatever she’s staring at on her screen. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got my first test tomorrow so I’m not going anywhere. Take your time.”
I head out of the kitchen and through the living room, stopping in the entry to nab the last pair of car keys on the little table by the door.
Realistically, I could take the one-mile stretch of road between our house and town and walk to One Stop in about twenty minutes. I don’t need a car to get there, and since I’ve never owned my own car—my ex and I used to share his—I’m used to having to walk or bike to get places I need to be.
But as I pull out of the front drive and head in the opposite direction of town, opting to take the longer route around Cedar Lake with the windows down and the country CD Bellamy likes to keep in her stereo on blast, I decide I need to do this more often. Instantly, I feel like I can breathe deeper, and I take my time enjoying the sun on my face and the wind in my hair.
I don’t know why, but visiting my hometown has always made me feel a little itchy, like I’m being shoved into an old flannel shirt that’s too small. It makes me feel shitty, especially because I really do love my family, and I know my mom works hard to make my childhood home feel warm and welcoming.
My sister loves living here and never wanted to leave, and I’d bet money that my three other siblings will return at some point, even if they’re off exploring and doing other things right now. Me? I’ve always known living in a small town just isn’t something I’m interested in.
Sure, there’s something whimsical and wonderful about the small, lakeside town where I grew up. Cedar Point is tucked away in the Tahoe National Forest, a pass-through between the much larger cities of Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. It’s a beautiful place to live if you enjoy having to drive an hour to go to the movies, are happy with only having two options for places to go out to eat, and don’t mind shitty cell service.
Okay, that’s not fair.
There are lots of wonderful things about my hometown. It’s a friendly community filled with locals who are legitimately invested in where they live. There’s the obvious benefit of living on a beautiful lake, the calming scent of pine and cedar trees, and the fantastic hiking trails and outdoorsy activities you can only find in the mountains.
But there’s something about small-town life that’s just always felt…well, small, I guess. So the second I was able to move away, I was out of here like a shot, off to the bright lights of San Francisco as fast as my long legs could carry me.
My parents were sad to see me go, but they were much happier with my choice to live three hours away than with my brother Boyd’s cross-country move to Boston. Thankfully, he took the brunt of their frustration, and by the time I turned 18 a year after he did, mom and dad pretty much gave me a thumbs-up as I drove out of town to go to college down the mountain.
I just knew getting outside of Cedar Point would finally make me happy. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do, but I had lots of ideas. Big ideas and big plans for the big life I was going to live in the big city.
Pretty much nothing has gone according to plan.
As I round the farthest point of the lake and begin to move closer to town, I breathe in the crispness of the late summer air. The first official day of fall is next week, and I can already feel the weather starting to change, which is one of the few things I really do miss about living in Cedar Point.
California is a desert. Everything on TV and in the movies makes it seem like all Californians live at the beach and enjoy sunny weather year-round.
The summers are dry and hot, with temperatures rising up to 115 degrees on the really bad days, and there’s hardly any wind if you live inland and away from the beach cities.
And then there are the crazy dips in temperature during winter, though only at night. During the day, it still cranks up into the 80s and 90s, making it necessary to constantly carry around a backup sweatshirt in case the weather suddenly changes.
Ultimately, California’s seasons can be summed up in just a few words.
Summer. Fire season. False winter. And spring—oh wait, just kidding, it’s already summer again.
Living in Cedar Point is unlike any other part of California. It’s like a completely different world, which means I get to experience my favorite season.
I love when the foliage begins to change. Even though the majority of trees around the lake and in Tahoe National Forest are evergreens, there are still enough deciduous trees sprinkled in, the ones that get the orange, red, and yellow leaves, to make it really feel like fall.
If I’m going to be back at home for a while, at least I get to enjoy the best time of year. It means I’ll get to wear sweaters and scarves and the temperature will dip enough to enjoy coffee on the back patio in the morning. Mom and I can go get warm apple cinnamon donuts like we used to do when I was in high school.
As I pull up in front of One Stop Shop, I admire the way the sugar maple trees lining Main Street are starting to show just the barest hints of orange and red. I take a deep breath, trying to remember that life could be crazier. Things could be worse. I made a choice to leave my old life behind. It’s only natural for it to take a while to figure out what’s next.
You’re not stuck here forever, I remind myself. Just until you figure things out.
When I see Andrew Marshall walking toward me from the back, I’m unsurprised by the little shiver that rolls through me when he sends a charming smile my way. Though he’s always been an attractive guy, I don’t remember him being quite so…muscly. Or tall. Like a slightly younger Henry Cavill.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen the grocery owner’s son. He was in the athletic crowd with my brother Boyd, which meant he came over to our house for dinner a lot and ruffled the top of my head like I was a puppy instead of a teenage girl with hearts in her eyes.
Mostly I remember Boyd and all his friends as a group of guys who liked to spend their time in pointless competition with each other over everything. Physical activities. Major league sports. Drinking challenges. Even dating was practically a sport, and I can remember quite a few nights when I’d sit at the top of the stairs and listen to Boyd’s friends talk about the girls from school like they were playing tug of war.
Andy, though…he was different. Charming, sure, but genuine in a way the rest of their friends—sans Boyd—never were. He always had that kind of warmth to him that was incredibly disarming, and I looked at him like he’d hung the damn moon.
It’s hard not to notice a guy like Andy Marshall.
6’2” with a swimmer’s build and a smile that sends a bowling ball through my stomach. The thing I found most attractive was when he studied at our house and wore a pair of glasses as he read from his textbooks. On days like those, I might have made several trips to the bathroom or kitchen or who the hell cared, just so I could make extra passes by Boyd’s bedroom to see Andy hunched over a book with those black rims on—not that I ever let him catch on to my observations.
The way I felt about Andy back in high school was this frustrating dichotomy I could never seem to manage. Wishing I had his attention yet fleeing the room any time he came over. Daydreaming about the day he’d notice me then just staring at him blankly when he’d actually ask me a question.
Though it wouldn’t have mattered even if I had tried to find a way to get on his radar. High school boys go after girls who think flirting is part of the curriculum, the ones who develop boobs early and drive down the mountain to buy makeup on the weekends and know how to throw their hair over their shoulders with a seductive smile.
By the time I hit the ninth grade, I was taller than most of the boys in my class. Nobody teaches you how to be the beanstalk, and I struggled with some insecurities that I dealt with by keeping to the outskirts, choosing things that were a little nerdier and a lot more autonomous.
Working at the library.
Running on the cross country team.
Volunteering at the nursing home.
If nobody looked my way, I could avoid the attention I so desperately did not want.
Eventually, I got over that incredibly awkward stage once I left for college. That long-ago interest in Andy, though…it hasn’t ever faded away. Not when I had that weasel of a boyfriend in high school. Not when I moved away for college. Not even when I moved in with and then got engaged to my ex, Chad.
Andy might not be a person I think about often, but he can still cause a pretty hefty swoop in my stomach when he comes to mind, that sensation you get when you accidentally step off a curb.
Sometime back in college, after having a few of my own shitty experiences with men and watching many of my friends go through the same, I began to realize I’m not a big fan of that heart-in-your-throat kind of feeling. It always seemed to lead to nothing but heartache.
Unfortunately, that perspective doesn’t seem to stop my mind and body from reacting whenever I see Andy Marshall.
Like now, as he walks toward me wearing a pair of well-worn jeans and a dark red polo with the One Stop logo on the left sleeve. Damn if he doesn’t look like he could grace the cover of a magazine. Strong jaw, artfully messy hair, and a little bit of stubble. All of that topping off a long, lean frame that looks both strong and soft at the same time.
I look away from him, embarrassed by my train of thought.
Strong and soft? I can’t remember ever thinking about a man like that before. Certainly not Chad, that’s for sure. My ex is a nice-looking guy, but he never elicited those kinds of feelings in me at just a glance, even back in the beginning. And I preferred it that way.
I clear my throat and try to shove my weird thoughts to the side. Ogling Andy is the last thing I need to be doing in this moment. I’m here to get a job, and I’d do well to remember that.
“Briar Mitchell,” he says once he’s finally a few feet away from me, tucking his hands into the pockets of his worn Levi’s. “Long time, no see.”
I try to give him a friendly smile that doesn’t hint at where my mind was roving just a second ago, though I’m sure whatever expression I’m wearing looks less easygoing and more What’s that smell?
Relaxed conversation has never been my strong suit.
“Good to see you. How’s the fam?”
I lift a shoulder. “Pretty good. Same old, you know.”
“Ah, that’s not what I hear,” he responds, that grin on his face growing slightly. “Word around town is that you’ve moved back.”
I nibble on the inside of my cheek, wishing people weren’t so damn talkative.
“Yeah,” is all I offer as an explanation, choosing to sidestep any gossip that might arise from going into further detail. I don’t need the town tongues to start wagging any more than they probably already are. “And I’m looking for a job, if you haven’t filled that cashier position.”
His eyebrows rise and he rocks back on his heels, as if I’ve stunned him.
“Briar Mitchell wants to work at One Stop?” he says, surprise and disbelief coloring his voice. “Never thought I’d see something like that happen.”
I frown, his words hitting a place in my chest that I don’t like.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Andy lets out a laugh that’s one part humor and much more than a dash of condescension, his laidback demeanor shifting away from friendly as he crosses his arms over his chest. “You don’t have somewhere better to be than bagging groceries for the little people of Cedar Point?”
My nostrils flare, but I push back my irritation at how quickly he’s decided to put me into a box he thinks he understands.
“I came in here looking for a job,” I reply, my voice low even though the store is completely empty apart from the two of us and Lois, the sixty-something-year-old cashier who was reading The National Enquirer at her check stand when I walked in the front a few minutes ago. “Is it company policy to mock potential employees?”
He drops his hands down to his hips and pins me with a look that dismisses me outright. “You’re not a potential employee, Briar. You’re bored and looking for a way to get your parents off your back. I’m not looking to hire someone who will just waste my time, require a bunch of training and handholding, and then quit once she’s bored.”
My entire body bristles at his words.
I don’t know what I’ve ever done to deserve Andy’s ire. As far back as I can remember, he’s always been approachable and warm. At the very least, I assumed being the younger sister of one of his best friends from high school would assure me some sort of friendliness, as surface level as it might be.
Clearly, I was wrong on all accounts.
My face is flushed red, and his sharp barbs have lanced me with embarrassment, not only regarding the fact that I’ve had to move home, but also due to what seems to be his opinion that I’m a lazy snob who thinks she’s too good for a minimum-wage cashier position.
I should tell him exactly what I think. I should tell him he should give me a chance before judging me so harshly. That he’s wrong in his assumptions. That he has no idea what the hell he’s talking about.
But I’ve never been good with my words, so I don’t do any of those things.
Instead, I turn away and march out of the store, flight being my chosen response when faced with the choice between being belittled in the middle of the grocery store or hightailing it out of the line of fire.
I’m normally really good at regulating my emotions. It’s rare for me to be in a position that causes me to feel a significant emotional surge—positive or negative—that I’m not expecting. And because I’m usually really good at anticipating things, I’m able to avoid letting my emotions get the best of me in situations like my interaction with Andy.
But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined those statements coming out of Andy Marshall’s mouth, completely unprovoked.
What the hell did I ever do to him?
When I moved back to Cedar Point, I assumed I’d be leaving my feelings of unhappiness and inadequacy behind, not storming out of the grocery store, swallowing down the same kinds of sensations my ex elicited from me for so long.
Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’m reading too much into what Andy said. But I swore to myself when I moved home not too long ago that I’d never allow myself to feel small ever again.
Oh, how quickly I was proven wrong.
The Opposite of Falling releases October 5th on Amazon! Pre-order your copy today!