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Sneak Peek at Edge of Glory
Some girls have all the luck and some girls spend New Year’s Eve working at their parents’ restaurant.
“Order up, Lia.”
I turned toward the kitchen just as a wave of steam from a plate of linguini rose up and hit me in the face like a giant, pungent cloud.
“Ack.” I vigorously wiped my eyes and hoped I didn’t have dough underneath my fingernails that would blind me.
“Sonny, can you warn me next time you are about to put down a plate of food?”
“Ey, I said order up,” My brother , Sonny, yelled over the clanging of pots and pans. The only thing I could see was the top of his head and the shine on his slicked back hair.
“Hey, no fighting the two of you. Che Cazzo!” Ma’s voice boomed.
“We weren’t fighting, Ma, Lia just can’t take a joke,” Sonny said, giving her his trademark shit-eating grin.
I glared at my older brother. The pain in the ass. Of course, Ma smiled at him. Every Italian mother loved her son, and my ma had two of them. My older brother, Nicky, was married and living with his wife in town, but I had a feeling Sonny would never move out of my parents’ house.
Sonny graduated from Texas A&M and then moved right back in. I thought maybe with him back home my parents would ease up their strictness on me. No such luck.
Just like always: Sonny could do no wrong and Rosalia was the delicate flower.
“It’s not bad enough that I have to spend my New Year’s Eve stuck here,” I mumbled, grabbing the tray of food and quickly darting toward the nearby tables, so I wouldn’t have to get an earful from my mother.
The air was stiff in the restaurant, every single booth was full, and every time the front door opened, everyone leaned in to catch some of the cold, Texas air, which was an oxy-moron in itself. It never got cold in Texas and now that it was in the teens, everyone thought it was the end of the world. Stores were out of milk and bread, and everyone coming into the restaurant was layered in whatever warm clothes they could find.
I dropped off the tray of pasta to its respective table and headed over to a corner booth that had just piled in. I tried to put on my best smile and then a squeaky voice caught me from a table behind one of the lemon trees.
“What is with this restaurant? We’ve been waiting like forty-five minutes. It’s times like this that I really miss Austin. At least they had more than one decent restaurant.”
As if my night wasn’t bad already, it had to be Christy Quinn’s whiney voice behind the tree. I would rather be cleaning up Nonna’s goat’s poop than deal with her. I put on the best smile that I could and walked over to her booth where, of course, she had to be sitting with the rest of her drones. Seriously, carbon copies of her that just said what she wanted them to say.
Why. Why. Why couldn’t she stay at University of Texas over winter break? It had been so nice these last few months without her.
“Welcome to Conti’s. I’m Lia, and I’ll be your server tonight, is there anything that I can start you out with?” I could have said that line in my sleep and no matter how much I hated staring at Christy’s stupid powder-covered face, I could still take an order.
“Do you have anything that is, like, not carb filled or fried?” Teagan Munson’s hair was so blown out and hair sprayed I wondered if she was actually hiding an entire colony of bees in there.
“Teagan, you know this is an Italian restaurant, right?” Marcus Benjamin laughed. He looked even more like a horse face when he laughed, with his stupid overly bleached teeth taking over his whole face.
“Yeah, but they have to have something else.” Teagan turned toward Joey Bianchi. “You’re like Italian, or whatever, don’t they have something else?”
“Yeah, Joey, you even dated our friend Rosalia back in the day, so I’m sure she could point you out to all of the best sausages,” Marcus quipped.
Neighhhhhhhhhh, Neigggggggggggggh. It was the only thing I could think every time the guy opened his mouth.
“Oh please, Marcus, you know that Lia doesn’t like sausage.” Christy tossed back her glossy, black hair.
Obviously, I was still standing right there.
“Do you guys still need a few minutes to look over the menu?” Don’t cry Lia, don’t cry. A few more months and you’ll be away at school and away from the lame lesbian jokes.
With very strict parents, I didn’t have much of a social life in high school. I had an early curfew and didn’t do many extra circulars. Since I didn’t dare try to date anyone and have to bring them home to my overbearing parents, I was labeled as a lesbian early on. I guess it was the best comeback that kids could come up with and it stuck.
“Yeah, that’d be great.” Joey didn’t even try to look at me.
Grow a foot, learn to play football, and all of a sudden you forget whom your friends are.
I made my way back to the kitchen when my overly pregnant sister-in-law, Dana, stopped me.
The girl was petite, blonde, and a complete sweetheart. The opposite of my brooding oldest brother. They always gave me a little bit of hope that maybe I could find a guy for me, but then of course my parents would have to remember that I’m almost twenty and not a little girl that couldn’t leave the house.
“Hey, Lia, do you mind covering this next booth for me?”
I rolled my eyes. “Really, Dana? I’m already covering half your tables.”
“Please,” she pleaded with those pre-natal vitamin dilated pupils.
“Ugh, fine.” I rolled my shoulders and craned my neck from side to side.
“Thanks, Lia, you’re my favorite sister-in-law!” She beamed and then waddled toward the bathroom.
“I’m your only sister-in-law,” I yelled back as I reached into my apron to pull out my note pad.
I turned toward the booth, not looking up as I flipped through my book for a fresh page. “Welcome to Conti’s. I’m Lia and I’ll nguhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
I froze. Directly facing me was Olympic swimmer, Jay Morningstar…and I just made an idiot of myself.
The rest of the table looked up to see my standing there with my mouth practically gaping. His coach, who I recognized from TV interviews, and even two other swimmers from the Olympic team. They didn’t say anything; they didn’t even blink.
I couldn’t even put together my words and Jay Morningstar was just staring at me with that Wheaties box smile and those icy blue eyes.
What was I supposed to say? Sorry I just made a weird noise; it’s just that I have a poster of you on my wall where you are wearing nothing more than your gold medals, a smile, and a pair of man panties?
What the hell was he doing in Friendship anyway? Not that I was stalking the guy, but there were a lot of rumors floating around the internet about him and unflattering pictures of him partying along with a mugshot. I never believed all of the celebrity rumors, or followed them like my best friend Sofie, but I knew he’d disappeared for a while. I guess Friendship was the place to go and not be noticed.
“Don’t worry I get it all the time.” His coach tossed his hand out and the rest of the table let out a stifled laugh.
“Well is there anything that I can start you out with tonight? Our house wine is a—”
Shit. Jay was my age and pretty sure the mugshot was from a DUI. But the other guys were older, maybe I needed to offer it to them. Gah. I couldn’t think.
“Lia, that’s an interesting name, is it short for anything?”
Oh em Gee, Jay Morningstar was actually talking to me and addressing me directly. I could literally feel the blood rise to my face.
I tried staring at his chiseled jaw and that damn dimple on his chin, but my eyes kept lingering over the shirt that stretched across his broad chest. He supposedly had a wingspan that was longer than his six-foot-two frame and what a girl wouldn’t give to be wrapped in those long arms.
“Uh, it’s actually short for Rosalia, the Patron Saint of Palermo, where my parents are from.” Geeze, Lia, I’m sure he didn’t want to hear your whole life story. Way to go.
“I like it. It suits you.”
He was still staring at me. I was trying my hardest not to stammer or faint or just trip over something and look incredibly stupid.
“Are you going to keep flirting with the waitress or can I order some food? I’m freaking hungry,” Scotty Forrester, the red-haired, freckled face Olympian who supposedly broke some records in the pool and some other ones outside of it for most hook ups post games.
At least that’s what Total Celebrity Network said.
“There’s really no point in flirting with Lia, she’s not into dudes.”
Ugh, Christy poked her shiny head through the lemon tree and was looking right at Jay.
“Well I’m sure that Scotty could change that.” The other swimmer, Johnny Laughlin, laughed, pointing in Scotty’s direction.
“Well if you’d like a girl that doesn’t smell like olive oil, my friends and I will be up at the Q Ranch in the hot tub all night after this.” She fluttered her too-long-to-be real eyelashes and I saw that all the attention was definitely off of me.
“Um…I’ll go get you guys some waters and be back to take your order,” I squeaked, practically running back toward the kitchen.
“Is that..?” Sonny leaned on the counter as I approached it. I rested my hands on the cool, granite top, hoping that would do something to keep my temperature from boiling over.
“Yeah, that’s the Olympic swimming tri-fecta and I just made an ass of myself in front of them.” I couldn’t look up. Christy Quinn, once again, made an idiot of me.
“I was actually going to ask if that was Julie Quinn’s hot little sister, but that answer works too.” He shrugged, turning back toward the kitchen.
“I’m really not in the mood to hear about all the girls you want to bone in the restaurant tonight.” I picked at a piece of dough that had managed to get stuck on the hairs on my arm.
“Well, I don’t want to hear about you boning that spiky-haired dude whose poster takes up your entire room.” He turned back to me, flashing that cocky grin of his. I swear I didn’t know how he got so many girls. Our nonna always said he reminded her of a young Marlon Brando, I just thought he was a minchia
“Would that be the cereal box poster or the underwear ad?”
I turned to find myself face to face with spiky-haired one himself. He was grinning, making that damn dimple and pearly white smile shine. I couldn’t stop staring at him.
“Uhhhhhh…” If my face wasn’t already red enough, it was now probably darker than the pizza sauce.
“Oh, it’s definitely the underwear ad.” Sonny poked his head out from behind me in the kitchen.
“SONNY.” I whipped my head around, hoping that I didn’t hit Jay in the face with my ponytail.
“Well, he asked.” Sonny leaned back, holding his arms up in the air.
“It’s cool. I like that one better too.” Jay leaned in so his face was just inches from mine, I could almost smell his toothpaste and it was very minty. I wonder if he tasted like that. Mint and Chlorine I imagined.
“Uhhhmmmmm…” I rubbed the back of my neck, trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t sound stupid and of course trying to suck in my stomach at the same time. Try meeting the man of your dreams and your covered in pizza dough and been eating breadsticks the past hour.
“I’m sorry about my teammates back there, they were just messing around, so don’t worry about them.” No wonder he was on the cover of a cereal box, in person, his smile was even better. No neighing horse teeth.
“Oh, it’s fine, I’m used to it. I have two older brothers and, well, you already saw what I have to put up with.” I let out one of those silent giggles where it’s just blowing air out of your nose. But my nose isn’t all that small so I was a little afraid that I might have blown the hair off of his head or scared him with my large, Sicilian nostrils.
“And sorry about that rude chick. I don’t know what her issue is with you, but I just wanted to come and say something because…well…” He laughed slightly. “I don’t know, I guess I didn’t want to come off as a dick.”
“I’m not a lesbian, you know,” I blurted without even thinking what I was saying.
He blinked slightly then smiled. “That’s good to know that trying to flirt with you could actually work then.”
My eyes widened and every part of my body awakened. Was Jay Morningstar really flirting with me? Did he flirt with every waitress at every restaurant?
“Rosalia! Does this young gentleman need a drink order?” Dad’s gruff hand was on my shoulder.
Dad was a few inches shorter than me and balding with a thick, graying mustache, but still commanded power like he was the biggest Don in Texas. Though, I was pretty sure the man never had any mafia ties.
“No, sir, just apologizing to the waitress for my table’s rudeness.” Jay put on the extra charm with each word, but Dad’s stern expression didn’t change.
My eyes trailed down to the Olympics ring tattoo on Jay’s arm. I’d only seen it in pictures, but I found myself staring at it and wondering about the other tattoo that I’d only seen in pictures. The one that his Speedo barely covered.
But I had to shake those thoughts out of my head.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you when you come back with the waters…” He curled his lips into a sort of awkward smile in my direction before he turned and headed back to his table.
Okay, so I couldn’t help but watch him walk away. The guy had an amazing body. I’d seen it on TV in a Speedo, but in person, he had a body that had to have been sculpted by the Greeks. And whatever jeans those were, he should have been a butt model for them.
“I’ve never seen that boy before in my restaurant,” Dad said.
“That’s Jay Morningstar. The Olympic swimmer,” I blurted.
“An Olympian in Friendship, Texas?” Dad asked.
“I guess so.”
Dad shook his head. “That boy looks like trouble, Lia. If he starts asking for more than breadsticks, you come have me deal with him, capeesh?”
I nodded slowly. “Uh. Yeah. I understand.”
“Good.” Dad walked toward another table and greeted some locals.
“So are you going to bring his table their water or are you just going to gawk at the customers all night?” Sonny poked my back with a basket of breadsticks.
I rolled my eyes and grabbed the basket and a tray of water, sauntering toward the swimmers’ table. “Shut up, Sonny.”
“Ugh, finally I’ve been starving.”
The last person I wanted to see smashed in-between Scotty and Jay was Christy, pawing at Scotty’s hair and smiling like a Cheshire cat at Teagan, who was sitting at the other side of the table. I didn’t see where Marcus and Joey went, but let’s just say I was concentrating more on not jumping across the table and strangling Christy.
I set the waters in front of each person, trying not to let my temper get the best of me.
“Can you hurry it up a bit? These boys have been training all day and I know they just can’t wait to get into my hot tub.” Christy giggled.
Jay’s coach looked between the three boys. “I assume you’re all going to be back by curfew?”
“Yeah, yeah, Coach. We can handle ourselves,” Scotty or Johnny said.
I wasn’t paying attention to who it was. I didn’t want to look at any of them. I just turned and walked back toward the kitchen and then out the back door to the Texas night air.
I kicked the brick wall which only amounted to my feet hurting. Stupid shoes did nothing for arch support, my dad was right, but I wasn’t going to admit that to him.
This always happened to me. Christy Quinn got everything when we were in high school: first chair flute, student council president, and the best locker. Now, even out of high school, she was still getting everything, including my dream man: Jay Morningstar.
I tried my hardest not to cry, but my eyelashes were getting heavy with frozen tears. I had to start peeling the little ice cubes off of my lashes as I hopped on one foot, staring at the other one.
“It’s a little cold to be hanging outside by the dumpsters, don’t you think?”
I looked up to see Jay staring down at me with an eyebrow cocked and his head titled to the side.
“Uh…that’s why I’m hopping.” I stopped jumping and put my foot down, wincing a bit.
“Really?” He shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. “In sixteen degrees weather without a coat?”
I could feel my face flush, which made me realize just how cold I actually was. I started rubbing the goose bumps off my arms. “Yeah, you know, just a quick break. What are you doing out here anyway?”
Was he following me? Should I have been worried? Okay, I wasn’t worried in the least bit. There was something about him that wasn’t threatening at all. Something almost endearing.
Every interview I’d seen of him, he was like a giant goof. Usually the internet would come up with tons of memes of his dumb answers to every question. But I wondered if I would actually have better answers than someone who was ambushed right after swimming all day, like TNC seemed to bombard him right outside where he practiced in LA.
Not that I watched every single one of his interviews.
Slowly he slid his giant, blue down parka off of his shoulders and stepped behind me.
“Can’t a guy just take a nice little stroll behind a restaurant in Texas when it’s sixteen degrees out?”
He stepped closer. “Here, I’m sure this place wouldn’t be able to operate if you were out of work from getting sick.” He draped the jacket over my shoulders then I turned around to face him.
“No, it’s fine, really I’m fine.” I lifted my hand to take the jacket off of my shoulders when he put his hand on top of mine and let it sit there.
“No, really.” The temperature in my hand pricked up to a million degrees. Every part of me was aware of his hand on mine. He smiled a tight-lipped smile that filled his whole face.
I just stood there staring at our hands, not noticing that he was completely staring me down with those ice blue eyes.
“Uh…” I stammered, “Thanks. I mean. This is nice. What are you doing here anyway? Don’t you live in California or something?”
Way to go, Lia. Just go and ask questions and start poking around.
He smiled, nodding slightly. “Yeah. It’s where I usually live, but Coach found a place for us to train out here, so we thought we’d get away from everything and spend some time in Texas. I am a little disappointed that I haven’t seen many cowboys, though.”
I snorted. “Go to the rodeo and you’ll find the real ranchers and the K-Mart cowboys that wouldn’t know a donkey from a mule.”
“I don’t think I know the difference.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m not sure I actually know either.”
His smile turned into an all-out grin. “Oh, good I don’t look like the asshole then.”
“I don’t think you could be an asshole.”
Shit. I grinned like an idiot, staring at his panty-dropping smile.
“That’s not what everyone else seems to think,” he muttered.
He shook his head. “Nothing. Sorry. Sometimes I get into my own head and say things out loud I shouldn’t. I guess that’s why I always end up looking like an ass when I’m on TV and not in a pool.”
“I’m sure TV crews can make anyone think what they want.”
He sighed. “I guess it’s my own fault too, you know? Win a few gold medals, break a few world records, and you go crazy. Instead of focusing on the sport that got me here, I took the newfound celebrity status and ran with it. Now I’m here, trying to get back to the sport.”
I never thought I’d meet Jay Morningstar, let alone have an actual conversation with him. Now here he was, telling me his whole life story, or at least the recent life story, and all I could do was stare at him.
He smirked, pulling his hand back and pulling a vape out of his pocket before taking a long drag of it. “Sorry about that. I shouldn’t have spilled all of that. It sort of just happened. I think I just get nervous when I see a beautiful girl.”
I swallowed hard, trying to ignore his comment, but could barely get my words out. “Should you be doing that? Isn’t that bad for your swimming lungs?”
He laughed, shaking his head. “You don’t tell my teammates and I won’t tell that angry, Sicilian guy inside that I saw you out here.”
My eyes widened. “Shit, what angry Sicilian guy? I’d better go inside.”
He put the vape back in his pocket. “Too bad, I thought we could hang out and you could try and Google what the difference was between a donkey and a mule. Or maybe even talk about your taste in music and shirts. Is that a Sam Smith reference?”
I looked down at my black stained t-shirt with Stay With Me scrawled across it.
“My taste in music isn’t that bad, this is for The Dictators. I mean, unless you’re into Sam Smith then I’m sorry you have bad taste in music, and I should really stop rambling.” I gave a lame little laugh, but stopped myself before I snorted, which I came awfully close to and had to catch my breath. Then he actually laughed in return. And not a “ha-ha you’re dumb” laugh, but like he actually found me funny!
“Well, I’m glad that it’s for The Dictators. I was going to feel really stupid if it was for Sam Smith. I don’t think I’ve ever met another person who listened to them.”
“Yeah. I kind of like old school punk. You definitely didn’t sound stupid. I don’t think you ever could sound stupid.” I winced, okay now I was just sounding like a gushing teenage girl, which I actually was.
“Then you obviously haven’t been around me long enough…” His words fell flat. I wanted to know more and of course I couldn’t help it, I had to ask more as my finger lingered on the door.
“Well are you going to be around here awhile? I mean it’s not like we get many famous people walking into the restaurant.” I crossed my arms over my chest, his coat had practically molded itself around me, and I felt guilty for still wearing it when he was just standing there in a thermal and jeans. But he did look really good with the shirt hugging each line of his chiseled upper body.
“Well…” He shoved his hands back in his pockets, the cold didn’t really seem to be bothering him. “Coach is from this area originally. They built some new training center for elite swimmers a few miles from here and his family owns an old ranch up the road. I guess he figured it would be a good spot for us to train for a few months. Get away from the So-Cal madness.”
The madness. I wanted to ask how many of the TNC and tabloid rumors were true. If the girlfriend from a reality TV show was still around or if he really was on probation.
But I didn’t.
Truth was, I didn’t care about his past. I didn’t care what the media said about him. There was something about the guy that I liked. More than I even thought I would from my fantasies that involved him in just his medals and Speedos. He was a genuinely nice guy, the first I’d been in around in a long time.
“So…uh…I guess I should get back to work and you should get back to um…your friends.” I was trying to hide the nervousness in my voice, but I couldn’t help but trip over my words. I slid the coat off of my shoulders and handed it back to him. He took the coat and shrugged it back over his arms. I tried not to stare as his thermal lifted ever so slightly to reveal his defined abdominal muscles that definitely came from spending a few hours in the gym every day and not sitting in the kitchen, eating mozzarella.
“Uh…yeah…I’ll see you around…” I turned and started to creak open the back door.
“Wait!” I looked over my shoulder to see that he had his phone out.
“Do you mind if I get your number or something?” he stuttered, not looking up from his phone as he started tapping away at the keys. “It’d be kind of nice to talk to someone that wasn’t one of my teammates or coaches and since we’ll both be around, I just figured we could exchange numbers or whatever.”
My mouth actually gaped open. Was he serious? But what about Christy? Would he forget about me as soon as he spent a night in the hot tub with her? Well, I figured that if he was going to stand out in the cold with me, I guess he must be semi-interested. Or he would realize that I was just a lame ass community college student with strict parents.
“Yeah. I can do that.”