What is this new book you ask? Well, it's a blog-subscriber-only young adult rom-com! Yep. Only blog subscribers have access to the book until it is complete. And bonus, if you're a subscriber, you will get a free e-book download once it is edited and ready to go into the wide world! I'm still posting chapters of The Fallen on the VIP page on Fridays, but I thought a story straight to your inbox would be fun, too! Look for The Trouble with Thomas on the first Saturday of each month (the same day my newsletter goes out!)
Without further ado... here is the first chapter!
THE TROUBLE WITH THOMAS, CHAPTER ONE
The trouble with Thomas was that he was terrified of life, but he hid it behind a veneer so thick, it took a chisel and a hammer to break through to the boy underneath. Good thing my father was a sculptor, and I’d spent a lot of time in his studio.
That’s a bit far into the story, so let me back up to the most logical place to begin—the beginning. Also known as the day Thomas Whitmire fell madly in love with my best friend after she single-handedly beat him in a high-stakes game of checkers—yes, checkers. The stakes? Mint chocolate chip cookies, of course.
It was a rainy day, which meant Mr. Decker, the senior class physical education instructor, wasn’t in the mood for anything that required more effort than dragging a stack of board games out of the janitorial closet. A third of the basketball team was in our class, so they held an unofficial practice while the rest of us finished our homework or played the musty, old games.
Mina, my very best friend since her family moved next door when we were four, had just put the last period at the end of her English literature essay and wanted something else to do while I trudged through my Physics homework. Cue Thomas, who had sprained his ankle and was sick of watching everyone else have fun shooting hoops.
As far as meet-cutes go, it was unremarkable. At least, that’s how it looked from the outside. But underneath all that shiny veneer, Thomas Whitmire was coming undone one kinged checker at a time. Once Mina had captured every red piece on the board, she took his mint chocolate chip cookies, climbed the bleachers, and shared the spoils of her victory with me.
Neither of us knew it then, but Thomas saw Mina. He actually saw her. He saw more than her unruly curls, her mismatched eyes—how she has one green and one brown, I will never know—the gap between her top teeth, and that weird gulping noise she always made when she was nervous. Thomas found the gorgeous girl beneath all the quirky (and sometimes off-putting) behaviors, the same one I knew and loved. All in all, Thomas had reached a level most high school boys never did—his definition of traditional beauty had been redefined the moment Mina stole his heart.
All over a game of checkers, folks. Who knew?
Three weeks after that fateful match, Thomas approached me during Health and Wellness class just before the late bell rang. We were supposed to sit with our chosen partners—not that I had a partner, but I certainly hadn’t expected Thomas to choose me—so once the bell rang, we were sealed as partners for our next project. Four weeks of fake baby-sharing bliss… yay.
“Um, you know we’ll be stuck together for at least four weeks taking care of an electronic bundle of anxiety wrapped in a onesie, right?” I asked, peering at him through my glasses.
Thomas, whose teeth were perfectly straight, white, and even just as any proper, young adult novel basketball superstar’s should be, chuckled and settled deeper in his seat. He was committed, and he wasn’t going anywhere.
“Yeah, I know. You’re, like, the least annoying person in the class, so I figured raising a kid with you wouldn’t be half bad. We might even get a good grade,” he said, swiping a hand over his meticulously combed hair.
I twirled a lock of dull blonde-brown hair around my finger and shoved my glasses back to their proper place. “So, you’re using me to get a good grade?”
Thomas shook his head, sending a breeze of nice-smelling boy soap my way. Seriously, are there conventions or something? Where do teenage boys go to learn how to smell like those cologne ads inside fancy magazines?
“Uh, we just buy the cologne,” Thomas said, answering my question though I had not intended to ask it aloud.
My cheeks flushed as I tried to sink into my chair enough to disappear. He chuckled again and pulled me into an upright position. “No, I’m not trying to use you to get a good grade. I’m an A-plus student, actually, and I don’t cheat. I do need a favor, though, and I was hoping we could work out an arrangement.”
“An… arrangement?” I drew out the words, cautious since they might mean anything from doing all the work myself to cleaning out his sock drawer.
He leaned forward to ensure every ounce of my attention was on him—where else would it be—and glanced around the room. “Okay, here’s the thing,” he whispered. “I really, really like Mina, and I wanted to ask her out, but I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m an idiot jock who can only dribble a ball.”
“You sprained your ankle walking down the hall,” I said, peering at his completely perfect hair without a single strand out of place.
“And? What has that got to do with anything?”
I waved my hand to distract myself from his perfection. “I was merely pointing out that I doubt Mina thinks anything about you other than you cannot walk like an adult human being.”
Thomas winced and sat up slightly. “Yeesh. I thought you were nice. Where do you keep all that sarcasm?”
“What do you want me to do, Thomas?” I asked. “If you want to ask my best friend on a date, then just ask her. What’s the big deal?”
“I told you. I don’t think she likes me, but that’s where you come in. See, I thought if we hung out a little, then maybe she might get to know me and realize I’m not the guy she thinks I am.”
I blinked. Then I blinked again because… what?
“How will doing a school project with me help her get to know you? Just because she lives next door and we spend every possible waking moment at each other’s side doesn’t mean… Okay, I see where you’re going with this.”
Thomas grinned, which, admittedly, was not awful. As far as looks went, he had that box check-marked, italicized, underlined, and bolded, but Mina wouldn’t give him a second look based on that alone. Fortunately, I hadn’t had much interaction with the guys on the basketball team—not that they were the usual jerky jocks or anything. Most of them were nice and polite, but we just didn’t have anything in common.
Which was why Thomas’s plan would crash and burn on the runway.
“Look, Mina is shy and quiet, but under all that is something like a monkey on a sugar high. When she’s with people who love her, she’s not exactly the same person she is at school, okay?”
Thomas arched an eyebrow and grinned again. “I have no idea what a monkey on a sugar high is like, but I’m willing to take that chance.” He scooted closer and wiped the grin from his face. “I’m serious, Brenna. I really like her, and it’s not just a… a… like an accomplishment or something. I want to ask her to that winter formal thing.”
Oh, that. My stomach twisted just thinking about it.
“She won’t go to that. We made each other a promise we wouldn’t even worry about it.” I shrugged and pulled my textbook out of my bag.
“Why did you do that?” he asked, his green eyes sparkling with something I could not identify but was sure meant nothing pleasant. The way he studied my face said he already knew the answer and had a counteroffer prepared just as soon as I spit it out.
I fidgeted with the corner of the textbook as a blush crept up my cheeks. No way would I tell Mr. Popular we agreed to ignore the whole winter formal debacle because we knew no one would ask us. The stress alone was not worth the worry, so we made plans to do something else—eat chocolate and ice cream while watching rom-coms all night.
“Uh… we’re going to visit her sister that weekend, so we’re leaving right after school. We won’t be in town for the formal,” I said. Lies, lies, lies.
“You’re visiting her sister at college?” he asked. “Over winter break?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that.” I nodded, letting him fill in the gaps with the most logical information he could gather from staring at the side of my tomato-red face.
He chuckled and leaned closer, just enough that only I could hear. “Mina told me her sister was coming home for winter break, Brenna. Then she killed my last checker and stole my cookies. What’s the real reason?”
I licked my lips, wondering where our lousy teacher was. Of course, when I needed an adult the most, there were none to be found. So much for starting class on time and saving me from the most awkward conversation in the history of Brenna Charles and her rambling mouth.
“Were you worried no one would ask you?” he asked, also a whisper.
I nodded slightly and groaned, covering my face with my hands.
“It’s okay, really. Don’t do that.” Thomas tugged my hands from my face. Gone was his boyish grin and mischievous, glinting eyes. Instead, his features were soft and kind.
“That look says it all. No one wants pity because they can’t get a date to a high school dance, Thomas.”
“It’s not pity. You’re pretty, and despite my earlier comment, you are nice. I’m sure some guys want to ask you. But I’m not worried about that. My cousin will be staying with us for the holiday. His parents are going skiing, and he didn’t want to go, so I can ask him to take you.”
“That is the exact definition of a pity date, Thomas!”
Thomas dropped his head on his desk and whined, earning the attention of several other students. “Please, Brenna, help a guy out. I’m begging you. Be my matchmaker, and I’ll pay you a gazillion dollars.”
“You don’t have to pay me to—wait, do you have a gazillion dollars?”
He sprang upright with wide eyes. “Yes. Yes, I do.”
“That’s not rainbow-colored and covered with Monopoly trademarks?”
He dropped his head again, but this time it actually tugged on my heart. My cold, dead, disinterested in high school romance heart.
“Look,” he said, “I just want a chance, okay? It’s all I’m asking. Do this project with me, see if I’m good enough for your best friend, and if I pass the Brenna Charles test, then stamp me approved and send me off into the sunset with Mina.”
I studied him. I mean, I bored holes into his head while he sat there waiting patiently for my response. On the outside, the boy was hot. Like, the kind of hot that made girls swoon and fall all over themselves just to get an ounce of his attention. Only girls didn’t do that because they knew he wouldn’t respond. He never did. The more I thought about it, I realized Thomas Decker had never had a girlfriend. He was too driven and focused on school and basketball.
Just as Mr. Rochester entered the room with a stack of paperwork, I sighed and relaxed. “Okay, I’ll be your matchmaker if you promise not to screw around with my friend’s heart.”
Thomas crossed his heart and offered his hand. I shook it, but I couldn’t help worrying that I’d just made a deal with the devil. That smirk. Ugh. If anything caught Mina’s attention, it was a boy who dropped a smirk like it was his job, and Thomas Decker was the CEO of Cool Guy Smirks Unlimited.
“Are you kids ready for four weeks of pure, unadulterated misery?” Mr. Rochester pointed to a stack of bags in the corner before pulling out the assignment sheets. Once he began passing them out, Thomas leaned closer.
“He’s kidding, right?”
I shrugged. “I’ve never babysat or anything, so I don’t really know much about babies. I would assume it’s not impossible since people do it all the time.”
Mr. Rochester dropped our sheet on Thomas’s desk, then moved on to the next group. We looked over it, focusing on the bulleted list of things we could and could not do. With each line, my anxiety grew. Who knew babies were so needy?
“If you punk out on me with this assignment, I’ll kill you,” I said.
“Ditto. This looks like the very definition of suck.” Thomas shook his head and turned the sheet over. “Oh. There’s more. This is a nightmare.”
“I think that’s the point. You sure you want to have a baby with me, Thomas?” I asked, hardly able to control my giggling.
“I don’t wanna have a baby with anyone. I wonder if we can get a free pass by proclaiming that to the entire class?”
I let out the giggle, the one that sounded like a donkey getting kicked in the knees, but Thomas only smiled and wrote our names on the top of the assignment sheet. I liked that. Score one point for the injured basketball golden boy with the Adonis-like face. At least I knew I could laugh at Mina’s ridiculous jokes without Thomas rolling his eyes or hiding from embarrassment.
“So, say Mina agrees to a date. Then what? What if things work out?” I asked.
Thomas didn’t even lift his eyes from the page. “I’m not stealing your best friend, Brenna. I promise.”
“I can be annoying,” I said, tapping my pencil on the desk.
“So? Isn’t that kind of the deal if you like someone? You must also put up with their annoying best friend?”
I shoved his shoulder, this time eliciting a chuckle. He lifted his gaze to me with that million-dollar smile. “I don’t think you’re annoying, and I have my moments. I’m not asking her to marry me or anything. It’s just a date. Besides, my cousin is kind of a brooding, introverted loner. If you agree to go to the dance with him, then I’ll owe you one. The least I can do is tolerate a little annoyance.”
Score point two for Mr. Might Be Right for Mina. Wait… a brooding what?
“What do you mean you’ll owe me if I go to the dance with your brooding cousin? I thought he was a pity date. He’s not like, a serial killer in the making or anything, is he?”
Thomas raised his eyebrows and sighed. “I mean, maybe?”
My wide eyes amused Thomas, but our incessant chatter did not entertain our teacher. “Quiet, please, and read over your assignment. I want a detailed schedule by the end of the hour, so get to it.”
Thomas rolled his eyes and whispered, “I was kidding. He’s a good guy, just… maybe a little intense, that’s all. He’ll take you if you want to go. That’s if Mina agrees, I guess.”
I ran my tongue over my teeth, a nervous habit that helped me think when put on the spot. It likely served no purpose other than making people think I was a giant weirdo, but at least it was a distraction. I had already agreed to help him get a date with Mina. There was no way out of that, but did I have to go to the dance? Yeah, of course. Mina wouldn’t go without me.
Thomas’s cheeks pinked. His eyes went a little wild like I might take it all back, then run to Mina and tell her she had a stalker or something, thereby ruining any chance he had to run off into the sunset with her.
“I could ask a guy on the team if you’d rather. Like I said, you’re nice and pretty, and I think there are at least a handful of guys on the team who’d like to take you. Not that you couldn’t just go ask them yourself. You definitely could, but if not, I can help you out. Or maybe there’s some guy you already like? That might be even better. You help me, and I’ll help you.”
I felt every crease in my forehead go mega-sized as he tripped over his own train of thought in a haphazard attempt to convince me I was not a cyborg incapable of snagging a date to a ridiculous winter-themed dance. Before he lost consciousness from lack of oxygen during a ramble-fest, I put my hand up.
“It’s okay, really. I’ll just go with—what’s your cousin’s name?”
“Marco Gable. He went here for a few months. You remember him?”
Did I remember him? Did I REMEMBER him! Marco Gable was possibly the most anti-human being possible with his go away underling stares, too-long hair, cliché leather jacket, and motorcycle. How did I not know they were cousins? Moreover—how could Thomas set me up with a guy who clearly hated the very existence of other humans on earth?
“Okay, that was probably a bad idea. You do remember him,” Thomas said.
I nodded, eyes still so wide I felt a breeze drift over my eyeballs.
“He’s changed a lot, though, trust me. Two years in a private military school, and he’s like a different person.”
“Define different person,” I said, waiting to see if Thomas would end up in a negative point situation by the time the bell rang.
“Ditched the motorcycle, cut his hair, learned French, and has impeccable manners. Seriously, it’s actually a little scary how much he changed in two years.”
I was two seconds away from calling off the whole thing. Two. Seconds. But there’s one thing that gets me every single time, one thing both Mina and my little brother both knew would make me cave every single time—puppy eyes. And darned if Thomas didn’t have the smirk and the puppy eyes down like a pro.
“Fine. Fine, if Mina says yes, I will go to the formal with your weird cousin Marco.”
And cue the stupid smirk. “Perfect. You’re the best, Brenna.”
Just to seal the deal, Thomas took the baby for the first day, leaving me with one last night of blissful sleep before our lives were uprooted by a maniacal baby, a winter formal gone sideways, and a tuna fish. Yeah… a tuna fish.