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Misconception (Coming Home)
Author: Kaylee Ryan







The bell chimes over the door, and I glance that way to greet whoever walked in. When I see who it is, I plaster a smile on my face and pretend that my pulse didn’t just spike to an unnatural level and that my scissors are not slipping in my instantly sweaty palms. Lowering my arms, I wipe my hands on my apron and regroup.

It’s always like this when he’s around.

“Hey, Hudson,” I call out to my sister’s best friend like he doesn’t cause my heart to skip a beat.

“Hey, Hud.” My sister, Raven, lifts her chin in greeting, then carries on with the foil highlights she’s working on.

“Do one of you ladies have time for a quick cut?” he asks, flashing his dimple. Miss Betty sighs heavily where she sits in my chair, and I want to pat her on the shoulder and tell her I understand. Hudson Fleming and his dimple are going to be my demise.

“Sorry, bud,” Raven replies. “I’m going to be here at least another twenty, and I have a cut in between.”

“Riley?” he asks hopefully.

The way he says my name sends shivers down my spine. “I can get you in once I finish up with Miss Betty.” I’m mentally going over my schedule. I had a small thirty-minute break after Betty.

“You’re the best. I’m going to run next door and grab a coffee. Do either of you want anything?”

“No thanks,” I say, swallowing hard to keep myself from replying “you.” I would never, but that’s the first thing that always pops into my head. This crush, or whatever I have on him, isn’t going away. I thought I’d grow out of it, but the truth is that I’ve wanted Hudson Fleming for as long as I can remember.

And I’ve never told a soul.

At first, it was because I thought my sister was into him. I was convinced there was no way they could be just friends, but with each passing year, they proved that they were exactly that.

Just friends.

That should give me the green light to make a move, right? Wrong. Raven is my twin. While we’re not identical, we are still just an extension of one another in this town. Gotta love small-town living.

“Raven?” he asks.

“I’m good. Thanks, though.” My sister doesn’t even turn to look at him again. Instead, she keeps her attention on her client in her chair.

I never pass up the opportunity to look at him.

How she’s immune to him and those striking blue eyes, I’ll never know. Then again, maybe she’s just really good at hiding it. They’re always together, and I’ve heard them defend their friendship more times than I can count. They got seated next to one another in kindergarten, and they’ve been thick as thieves ever since. Me? I was seated next to Howard Morris. He picked his nose and ate it. No lifelong friendship there. I shudder at the thought. Howard moved away when we were in second grade. I think about him from time to time, but not because I miss him. I think about how things would have turned out if I had been assigned to sit next to Hudson instead of Raven. Not that it would have mattered. I would still have these feelings for him. You’d think at twenty-three I’d be able to let this schoolgirl crush I have on my sister's best friend go, but here we are.

“Miss Betty? Carly?” he offers, to which they both decline. Hudson shrugs and turns to walk back out the door to grab his coffee.

“My oh my.” Miss Betty fans her hands in front of her face. “If only I were fifty years younger.”

“Miss Betty!” I pretend to be appalled when, really, I understand the feeling all too well.

“Girl, I’m old, not blind,” she responds. “That boy there is a looker. I can’t believe that someone hasn’t snatched him up yet.” She makes a humming sound that causes the room to erupt in laughter. “Raven?” she asks my sister hopefully.

“Nope.” My sister is quick to reply. “Yes, I’m aware he’s gorgeous, but he’s my best friend. I just don’t see him that way.” She pretends to gag. “Ugh, can you imagine? Kissing him would be like kissing my brother.”

“We don’t have a brother,” I remind her. I don’t bother to mention that when I imagine kissing Hudson, it’s nothing like what I assume thinking about kissing your brother would be like. Nope. Instead, it’s his big, calloused hands cradling my face as his body is aligned with mine. Shit, I can’t go down that path of thinking. Not here. Not when he’s about to be in my chair.

“I’m married, but I can look,” Carly Sanderson chimes in from her spot in Raven’s chair. “Even saying that makes me feel like a cougar.” Her laughter fills the back area of the shop and does wonders to help me shake my thoughts of Hudson and me in a compromising position.

“Stop.” Raven laughs. “You are not a cougar.”

“I’m old enough to be his mother,” Carly counters.

“Don’t think about that,” Miss Betty tells her. “Just think about those arms and that chiseled jaw.” She hums, and once again, we fall into laughter, and that’s how Hudson finds us.

“You ladies are having too much fun,” he says as he saunters back into the working area instead of sitting in the small waiting room. “What did I miss?”

“How are you still single?” Miss Betty asks him. I know she’s turning the heat from us to him. Not to mention that all four of the females in the room are curious. Well, maybe not Raven, according to her claims, but the rest of us definitely want to know.

I want to know.

“Miss Betty.” Hudson flashes her his dimple. “Is that your way of asking me out?” He wags his eyebrows, and if I wasn’t watching her, I never would have believed that she’d be blushing, but sure enough, light pink tints her cheeks. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Hudson just has that effect on people.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” She waves her hand in the air at him, and he chuckles.

For the next ten minutes, Hudson trades barbs with Miss Betty, which has us all smiling. And Miss Betty? Well, this is making her week. I can hear her now, down at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall playing bingo and telling all the ladies how Hudson was flirting with her.

“You’re all set, Miss Betty.” I remove the cape and help her stand from the chair.

“Thank you, dear.” She slips her arm through mine, and we slowly make our way to the reception area to cash her out. She digs into her purse and hands me a small white envelope. Miss Betty is in her late seventies and has been a widow for as long as I can remember. She lives on a fixed income. Each month, she makes a budget, and she always sets money aside to have her hair done. We raised our prices a year ago, but neither Raven nor I have the heart to tell her. What she doesn't know won’t hurt her, and we like being able to help her. I think she enjoys the company as much as she enjoys having her hair cut and styled.

“You got me down for four weeks, right?” she asks.

“I do. You’re going to be scheduled with Raven. I already have an appointment in the 10:00 a.m. slot that day.”

“Oh, that’s fine, dear. You girls are one and the same to me.” She gives me a kind smile, and I return it as I spot Hudson heading our way out of the corner of my eye.

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