Rising Ridge Chapter One

One

Hot tea.

Her eyes were closed. She willed herself to sit up. Just sit up, and the day will begin, she thought. Imagining her favorite spiced chai, filled to the brim with intoxicating aromas all but moved her from beneath her blanket. Yet, the sunlight that poured through her bedroom window was warm and wrapped around her, enticing her to stay put. Maybe just a few more minutes of this.

“Get up,” she moaned. For the first time, she opened her eyes and saw daylight fill her room.

Olivia preferred natural light, and as annoying as it was to be awake at 7 a.m., she loved being woken by the peeking rays of sunlight through her blinds rather than the blaring noise of an alarm clock. Just to be responsible, she would set her clock for 7:30, but found that she rarely needed it. No, dreams of that hot cup of chai were enough to move her from the bed.

Finally giving in to get her day started, she slid out of bed and stretched. As with every morning, before moving one inch, she gazed outside the window looking for nothing in particular. She just wanted to see “it”—FREEDOM. She smiled. Now the day could begin.

Making that chai was now her only goal. As she walked into the living room, she noticed that Debi, her roommate, had already left for the day. Debi was in nursing school and was the perfect roommate. They met a party, and hit it off. Although Debi was her exact opposite, Olivia loved her for it. She was tall, loud, fun, and free. Everything they did together was an adventure. It was just what she needed at this time of her life.

They found a small one-bedroom apartment that was way too expensive for either of them to afford alone, but together they could swing it. Best of all, it meant they didn’t have to live in New Jersey. Together, they painted the walls a warm yellow and filled the small rooms with sensible furniture of multi-purpose from Ikea. Debi chose to sleep on the pullout sofa in the living room because of her long, hard hours in nursing school. In exchange for the bedroom, Olivia would do all of the cooking. It was a partnership that worked well for each of them.

After whipping together a quick breakfast of eggs and toast to go with her chai, she ate while scrolling through the morning news and social media feed on her laptop. Nothing caught her attention this morning, so she closed it and started to wash her dishes. Then the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Are you ready for this? Are you sitting down? Jesus Christ, Livy.”

Olivia smiled. Wiping the eggy soap off her hand, she sat down as Elle recommended. Elle was one of Olivia’s oldest friends, and of all of them, her favorite.

“I’m sitting,” she said as she wrapped her hands around her second cup of tea that had been waiting for her on the table.

“Everyone on earth is an asshole today,” Elle informed her.

“Oh? Why is that?”

“Because they are. I started my day getting pulled over, and it’s been downhill since then.”

“It’s only…” Olivia looked at the clock on the stove “…7:30, Elle. This is a record for even you. You got pulled over?” she chuckled.

“This morning at six. Running a red light.”

“Why did you run a red light?”

“There was a bee in my car! A big, fat, monster bee!” she shouted. “I was sitting at the light, feeling all good about myself. I’ve got this new shirt, and it makes my boobs look fantastic. I’ve got the music turned up, singing along. And then this thing zips by my face. It was a freaking killer bee! I panicked and hit the gas, and it made me go through the light.”

“Elle!” Olivia smacked her free hand on the table. “You have got to get over your fear of bugs! They’re not going to kill you!”

“Whatever, be quiet. OK, so I get through the light, and I pull over as quickly as I can so I can get that bee off me. I’m waving my hands like a maniac trying to keep from getting stung. And wouldn’t you believe it? There’s a freaking cop right behind me! He pulls over and doesn’t know what to make of the whole thing. I’m lucky he didn’t shoot me. He just starts yelling ‘Ma’am…Ma’am…what is happening?’ Can you believe he called me ma’am in the first place?! I’m not a Ma’am! I’m young and hot! Anyway, I start yelling that there was a bee, but of course where is that little asshole now? Gone! It must have flown out the door when I opened it!”

“So you got a ticket?” Olivia did her best not to laugh.

“No. He actually thought it was pretty funny. He even checked my car to make sure it hadn’t flown back in.”

“Well, then why is everyone an asshole today?” Olivia asked.

“Because that made me ten minutes late to my spin class, and because of that I couldn’t find a spot. Then I had to park a mile away, and that made me miss my class altogether. So now my only options are the treadmill and the stair climbers. It’s now 7:00 and you’re not going to get anything then. This perky little bitch looks at me from her treadmill and just gives me that yeah right look as she ups her speed. How dare that judgy yoga pants bitch give me that look! So now I’ve wasted all my time, got no workout in, and have to turn around and go to school.”

“So, when you say everybody is an asshole, you mean the bee and the Miss judgy yoga pants bitch. They speak for the entire nation?”

“Yes! Exactly!”

“Ohh-kay then. Well, are you on your way to school now?” Olivia got up and headed to her bedroom to get herself ready for the day.

“Yes. And I can’t be late there. This one class is kicking my ass. Plus, there’s a really cute boy…”

“And THAT’S why you’ve got the fantastic boob shirt on!” Olivia said smugly.

“Yep,” Elle said confidently.

“You’re a nut! Listen, I gotta run, but call me later, OK?”

After hanging up, Olivia shook her head. Elle was her favorite person in the world and one of her oldest friends. They had met at recess one afternoon on the kindergarten playground. Elle turned up in several of Olivia’s classes over the years, and they developed a bond that would last a lifetime. They did what all girlfriends do—sleepovers full of sugar and secrets, talking about boys, dreaming about boys, dating boys, and getting through those really gut-wrenching heartbreaks. They had been through it all together.

There were, of course, the long breaks, especially when they both fell into a relationship. Elle was now attending college in their hometown, and between work and school, Olivia had only been home for Christmas. Elle had been up a couple of times, and they enjoyed long weekends in the city. They almost never saw each other, but it didn’t matter. A day, a month, a year…Elle would call and start a conversation in the middle of the story. Olivia would always take that minute for one of her very favorite people in the world. It would never change—they both knew that.

Olivia grabbed her purse and locked up the apartment. She jogged down the steps and pushed open the building’s door. She smiled. Deep breath in, this never gets old. It was a gorgeous June day, and it promised to be nice and hot. It had been a particularly rough winter and cold spring, so she found herself soaking up the sunshine as much as she could. She regularly used the subway because she had to be realistic, but if she had the time, she much preferred walking. It would take a long time to walk, sure, but it gave her the ability to look at the buildings that kissed the sky. She’d smile at the people passing by, and giggled at the children who were running to be somewhere fun in the city. She often wondered how anyone in a cab or car or on the train would volunteer to miss this. Walking to and from work was quite often the best part of her day.

“Good morning,” Olivia greeted Dave as she let herself into the locked bank. She turned to relock the door before giving him a chance to answer.

“Mornin’ doll,” he said as he took his first sip of coffee and sat down at his desk.

“What’s on for today?” Olivia asked.

“Not much. We’ve got a few overdrafts but nothing major,” he said.

“Good. Is Kurt here yet?” She grabbed the keys to the vault to get her cash drawer in order to set up her station for the day.

“He should be here soon. He overslept,” Dave said as he rolled his eyes.

Kurt was twenty, the same age as Olivia, but very much a wild child. He partied hard, often, and into the mornings. He was a hard worker when he showed up, but mornings were tough for him, especially when they happened on a Monday. Olivia loved him because he’d been born and raised in New York. He was exactly what she had pictured in her mind when she closed her eyes and thought of a New Yorker.

Olivia started working as a part-time teller at Twin Ridge Bank just after her junior year of high school. She loved the job, but after high school, she felt like she had to get away from small town life. And where do you run when you live in a small Maryland town? New York.

With little research, and the savings she had from babysitting and her bank teller job, she got on the bus with lots of dreams and no plans. She’d just figure it out when she got there.

As luck would have it, one of the larger banks in the city was hiring, and she was hired. And the best part of the job was learning how to deal with big city culture. Her coworkers helped her learn that.

For one thing, she learned that when you live in New York, you have two jobs: what you are, and what you do to make money. Dave was a forty-year-old bank manager who had been working at the bank since he was thirty. That’s what he did to make money. What he WAS, however, was an artist. He could capture emotion and beauty with just a single piece of paper and a pencil. He was amazing, but amazing didn’t put food on the table for his wife and daughter consistently. Welcome to New York!

Olivia loved that everyone who worked there seemed to identify themselves in some way other than their career at that bank. Dave was the artist. Kurt was the musician. Audrey was the dancer. Olivia’s goal was to live her “larger life” like they were.

She worked at a bank—that’s what she did to make money, like everyone else around her. What she WAS, though, was a student. She was taking classes part time. Sometimes she felt she only did it in order to appease her parents, but since they paid her tuition, she didn’t mind that at all.

So far, she loved learning about money. Who knows? She could be the next financial adviser with her own television show. But that wasn’t all she liked. She also enjoyed creative writing. Maybe she could be a best-selling author. She learned that she was absolutely no good at art. Everything she attempted looked better in her mind than it did in real life. She liked interior design, but she didn’t have the desire to learn the architectural side of the career. And she also had a passion for travel and photography. If she ever became rich, she thought she would take a year and travel through foreign countries with camera in hand, just to one day have a book sitting on a coffee table with stunning photos in it. Oh that? Those are just some pictures I took while in Dubai. The truth is, she had no idea what she wanted to be or how to even get there. It’s why she came to New York, to find out.

Just before they opened the doors, the phone rang.

“Good Morning, New York Central Bank. This is Olivia, how may I help you?” she cheerfully greeted the customer on the line.

“Hi,” her brother, Connor, said.

“Oh, hi. What’s up?” she asked as she continued processing the night deposit bags from the weekend.

“Liv, I’ve got some news.”

Her hands slowed. She and Connor kept in touch quite often, but he rarely interrupted her at work.

“What’s wrong?” she asked in a quieted tone.

There was a silence that sent a cold chill down her back. One…two…three…

“Connor?” she stopped what she was doing completely when his sigh came through the line.

“Mom and Dad.” Another sigh. “There was…an accident. Late last night. They’re gone, Liv.”

She was in shock but somehow managed to ask about the how and the where. Her brother told her the police had knocked on his door just a few hours ago and informed him about the accident. Apparently, their parents had been out past midnight on their way home from a real estate seminar and another car had crossed into their lane and hit them head on. He said the police think the other driver had fallen asleep, but no details were in, except the fact that everyone was dead.

Olivia stood at her desk. The phone trembled against her ear, and she remained silent as her brain tried to process everything Connor had told her. Dave walked in front of her and smiled, unaware that her world was being torn apart. It was time to open, and he unlocked the door to let the first customer of the day in.

A man walked in as Dave went back to his desk. He was tall and well built. His dark hair, though trimmed, possessed an unusual combination of imperfect perfection. As he walked up to her station, Olivia slowly made eye contact with his deep brown eyes, and the remainder of the color that she had left in her body drained out in an instant. Was he real? She nearly reached out her fingers across her station to touch him. He was the ghost who had been haunting her dreams for the last two years.

“Dean’s here,” she heard herself saying to her brother.

“He’s there for you, Liv. You need to come home.”

Just like that, her whole world changed.