Curse your beautiful face

When a series of zany mishaps leaves our brave hero Ryan without clothes, he must bravely hide and hope nobody sees his naked ass. While hiding on a farm with a pretty boy nearby, there are so many potential pitfalls the young hero must avoid. This scene is from the free YA LGBTQ book When We Were Strangers.

The following scene is an example of that moment in love stories where your enemy will one day turn into your love interest, so you hate them but must grudgingly admit their hotness.

Ryan

Just when I began relaxing in my relatively secluded hiding spot, I wasn’t alone anymore. Most people were still right over there. Except for Luke Chambers. His evil hotness was right here, so close to me, only separated by a thin thing that separated us. I cursed him. I cursed you, Luke Chambers. Hopefully not out loud because we were close enough for him to hear me speak.

Which meant I was stuck.

Fuck. Fuck me. Fuck Luke. Fuck me and Luke, but in what order? Nope, there could be no fucking of anyone. Not while I was naked and about to be discovered at any moment. Because I couldn’t be excited when he caught me. And also, Luke was evil. Hot, yes, but things that start with ‘f’ could never happen with him, including but not limited to friendship.

There were noises as Luke worked. I peeked out and there was all his hotness. I got distracted watching his muscles work as he lifted things, all strong and sexy like. His bronze skin glistened with sweat, begging to be licked. He ran a hand through his blonde hair, and I swear it happened in slow motion as my eyes zoomed in on every tempting, appealing detail.

AH! I ducked back into my hiding spot as he looked around, muttering something about leaving his water bottle somewhere else.

“So freaking hot,” he said. Yes, yes he was. “Might be the hottest day yet.” Oh, he meant the weather. Not himself. Yeah, would be weird if he just talked to no one about how hot he was whenever he was alone. Though, real talk, if I looked like him? I would do that all the time. The air would need to know how gorgeous I was.

“Hotter than fucking hell,” he muttered next. How would he know? Guess he’d visited hell before. Maybe it was where he lived. Yep. Because in case it wasn’t clear, he was the devil.

~

YA authors are recommending other YA books in this BuzzFeed list of The Best YA Books To Gift This Holiday Season, According To YA Authors. Some of the queer books mentioned are The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, Here the Whole Time by Vitor Martins, The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta, and You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson.

Holy afterschool special, Batman

Here is a story about a loner who may want to be less alone. So Lydia takes a break from her busy schedule of hating everything and makes a new friend. This comes from When We Were Strangers, which is the free introduction to the characters in the One More Thing Series. This post is the introduction to the introduction. Or something.

This image perfectly sums up Lydia. And you can read this scene or the whole story at anytime because it is free. In case you missed any of the times I said free, I’m going to say free again. Free!

~

Lydia

What a beautiful summer day. With fresh air, flowers blooming, and sunshine shining down… everything was super annoying. I hated days like today. I hated most things, but I especially hated today.

Despite protests, I somehow ended up at a church picnic with my family on the other end of the park. I could only survive a few minutes of everybody praising the lord for this ‘blessed’ day and being offered potato salad from people way too intense about potato salad. Naturally, I fled.

In the back corner of the park, there lied a neglected area where public space met someone’s private, unkempt property. Sitting on top of the backrest of a hard as hell bench, I smoked a cigarette in solitude.

Hard to say what was more isolating: being alone in a crowd or being free and almost wanting to go back because maybe terrible company would be less lonely than no company. If being alone wasn’t good, and being with people wasn’t good, then how did I win?

Suddenly, I wasn’t alone.

“Does being such a cliché ever bother you?” a voice asked. The speaker stepped into view, a girl with burgundy hair, wearing a light blue shirt.

“Excuse me?” I responded coolly, steadying myself by resting my free hand on the concrete slab doubling as my seat, though I gave no other indication she startled me.

“Bad girl in black smoking by herself,” she elaborated, small smile on her lips. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, 10/10 on the aesthetic. I can feel the angst even from a distance, but it’s a little obvious, isn’t it?”

“Who are you?” I kept asking my own questions instead of acknowledging hers.

“Alicia Phillips, we go to the same school.”

“I believe you.” If I wanted to know my peers better, I… nope, I couldn’t even finish the thought.

She forced a laugh, smile turning tense. “You have no idea who I am, do you? It’s fine.” The confidence she possessed to speak to me so boldly evaporated as if it never existed.

I raised a hand, indicating she should stay while I considered her. I… she… huh.

Studying her, her blue shirt displayed a small white logo near the right sleeve, part of a uniform for a counselor at a summer camp near the outskirts of town. She wore khaki pants with her hair tied back in a ponytail. Her skin had more color than my vampiric whiteness, her figure fuller and curvier. It was hard to place her because she might look different during the school year.

Alicia Phillips. She wasn’t afraid to give me attitude, yet she acted embarrassed when I failed to recognize her. A girl both at home and uncomfortable in her own skin. Capable of brief moments of bravery… like when in front of an audience.

“I recognize you,” I realized. “You’re in plays, right? Plays are… cool.” Plays weren’t cool, but I was trying to be polite. Rudeness was more satisfying when it was earned. 

“Wow, you couldn’t sound even the slightest bit convincing, could you?” she asked in that gently teasing manner she kept addressing me with.

I should put her in her place, eviscerate her. It may make me feel better. Because I was confident, scary Lydia Smith, the badass in black clothes. People wanted to know more about me but weren’t stupid enough to come ask. I was unapproachable. Nobody talked to me like she did. I would be annoyed, but curiosity won out.

“Wanna help me be less of a cliché?” I asked.

“Huh? You’re not suggesting a makeover, are you?” Never. Wordlessly, I held up the pack of cigarettes in an offer. “Oh, smoke with you?” She neither accepted or refused, talking to herself as she continued, “Peer pressure. This is, I’m being pressured by a peer. Holy afterschool special, Batman.”

Hopeless theater weirdos were the last thing I needed, people who didn’t know how to talk without a script, so I wasn’t charmed. I laughed anyway. “You’re strange.”

“Yeah, well.” She met my eyes, held her head higher. Impressive. “I’m a proud drama kid, and my best friend is a bad influence on me.”

~

The rest is available here. For free!

(not) New Cover

When a new cover got made for One Little Word, I showed it off on my mailing list. I did not remember to post it on my blog, which I only discovered when I couldn’t find the cover in my images. Oops. Better late than never?

Quick summary: A jock screws up and must depend on the one guy who hates him while they try to sell the ruse of their secret fake relationship, which is getting less secret and fake with each passing day. This involves lots of hand holding, which brings us to the cover:

This isn’t the first time I’ve had an illustrated cover made, but it’s the first time I knew I was getting an illustrated cover. Technically, their heights should be reversed as the guy in pink is taller, which I keep telling myself doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Also, maybe he’s slouching or they’re standing on uneven ground.

Anyway, I also wanted to share an excerpt from the book. I did not know which part to share, so I decided to use one of my favorite scenes. In it, Ryan and Luke are at a grade school fair, and they are turning every game they play into a competition.

As this bit has two lines I love, that’s probably part of why I enjoy it so much. Especially since these lines, in my opinion, don’t make for great quotes and are hard to appreciate out of context, so I unfortunately haven’t made image quotes with them. If you want to guess the lines I love, go ahead. I’ll tell you after the scene.

~

Ryan

LUKE STARED DOWN MY GRINNING FORM, his arms crossed against his chest, a reverse of our earlier position. Except his arms were more impressive with muscles bulging and straining against the material of his shirt.

I teased him to avoid the distraction. “Now you’re the sore loser.”

He wasn’t impressed with my victory. “Cakewalks are entirely luck based.”

“There was no rule there had to be skill involved.”

The possibility of him winning sweet treats kept him from complaining when I selected the cakewalk. Maybe I had good karma stored up because I always won cakewalks. I held a cake wrapped in plastic in my hands, funfetti with white frosting and sprinkles. Luke wanted me to pick brownies instead; he was so weird. Funfetti was the best.

“You’re at least sharing that cake with me,” he argued.

“Keep dreaming.”

Luke had given me a root beer when he won the ring toss, an unexpectedly sweet gesture. He wanted to bribe me into the dunk tank, so the present wasn’t sweet. The nice part was how he remembered my beverage of choice. I may share my dessert, but he didn’t need to know that yet.

We did basically every event, jostling and trash talking each other at the slightest opportunity. Things that weren’t even really a competition we turned into one, like the duck pond. Except we got into an argument about what constituted winning, getting a duck with a higher number attached or drawing a duck that earned two candies instead of one.

We had time for one more game before heading back to our booth. The objective for our last game was to knock down cans with beanbags. This was another activity where Luke had an advantage, but Alicia was manning the booth for community service credit, so maybe she would help me out.

She stared at us incredulously when we stepped up to her table. “Isn’t this game a little too easy for you?”

Luke nodded. “For me, but I have to give Ryan a fighting chance.”

“Tell that to the duck pond, jackass,” I fired at him hotly.

I won the duck pond,” he argued immediately. “Not you.”

Before we could get into it further, Alicia held up her hand. “Yeah, this and the duck pond are for kindergarteners. You know that, right?”

We looked around. The cans were regular empty pop cans, and the beanbags were at least half their size, so it did seem pretty simple. Unless you were five and could barely aim. And the kids in this line were especially young and all of them had parents holding their hands. The adults behind us watched us with exasperation.

The little competitive bubble Luke and I were in burst. It had been so easy to get absorbed in trying to beat him, everything else faded into the background.

“Oh, I guess we shouldn’t do this one then,” Luke said, sounding as silly as I felt.

“No, don’t let that stop you,” Alicia told us. “By all means, play the angriest game of Can Knock-Down the world has ever seen.” Her sarcasm skills were almost as good as mine.

We retreated from her booth as she laughed at us for being giant children. Damn, I wished I hadn’t drunk the root beer Luke gave me. I could have chucked it at her.

While our competition was intense, it had almost been fun. I hadn’t minded being in Luke’s presence then. I’d stopped keeping score at one point, only wanting to beat him so he wouldn’t be as smug.

Plus, maybe he had this ridiculous pout whenever he lost that I wanted to kiss away. Ugh. Being attracted to someone I hated was difficult. I’d feel the urge to punch him one moment and want to shut him up with my tongue in his mouth the next.

“I’m not getting in the dunk tank again,” Luke declared when we got back to our booth. His artificially orange skin looked like a bad spray tan. Yet even orange, he was still hot.

I couldn’t pull off that look so well. “What if I promise not to accidentally dunk you?” I offered.

“That doesn’t stop everyone else who tries to hit the bullseye.”

I smiled. “I may be able to help with that too.”

“I knew it!” He rounded on me in anger. “You’re such a cheater!”

“Do you want to cry about it, or do you want me to rig the game?”

He stopped and paused. Then he decided, “Definitely, definitely rig it.”

–The rest of the story is available here. My favorite lines are ‘Tell that to the duck pond, jackass,’ and ‘By all means, play the angriest game of Can Knock-Down the world has ever seen.’

Behind the scenes

Welcome to my dilemma, already in progress. I have a free story called When We Were Strangers, which is part of a series that already had around five books when I wrote it. So I think of it as a prequel because I wrote it later and it comes first chronologically. But I feel weird calling it a prequel because its listed first since it’s free and serves as an intro to the series. Being a writer is hard.

For three out of the four stories in this pre-story, I based them on anecdotes from the series. Which I had a lot of fun with. Ryan’s story is called ‘The Most Embarrassing Moment of Ryan’s Life (so far)” and it comes from One Little Problem. The gang is playing Never Have I Ever, and Ryan has to put a finger down.

~

Luke

“Never have I ever gone streaking,” she said instead.

Ryan put a finger down.

“Up is down, black is white,” I deadpanned. “My whole life is a lie, nothing makes sense.” I focused on teasing him so I wouldn’t imagine him naked.

“Not a big deal,” he started.

“Don’t sell yourself short, babe,” I teased.

“As cute as this is,” Zach said, though his voice implied it wasn’t very cute. “Let’s not build this story up as if it’s anything other than a series of increasingly zany situations that ended with Ryan losing his clothes, getting locked out of somewhere, and running around like a chicken with its head cut off, until he found clothes or a sheet or a big leaf.”

Ryan pouted at Zach, so it was totally something like that. “This was, like, the one thing I got to put my finger down for! You took all the fun out of it.”

~

Zach’s version of events is pretty close to the real thing. Here’s a scene.

Ryan

When I fell into the water trough, the day was going great. Since most of my thoughts trended sarcastic, I should be clear. That wasn’t sarcasm, it was a true statement. Falling into barn animal water was excellent, because even as I heard the splash and my mouth flooded with gross water, I understood there were much worse things on this farm I could have fallen into.

Then some normal stuff happened. Like taking a shower to get clean. The owners of the farm had really fancy soap in their bathroom. My skin was so soft and smelled like daffodils! Not the manliest scent but a ton better than animal spit.

When putting on clothes after my shower, I ran into an unexpected obstacle… there weren’t any clothes where I was told there would be clothes. Then things got less normal and more terrible. I went to search for clothes, clad in only a towel, part of which was stuck in the bathroom door. I just didn’t know the last thing until I heard voices, the bathroom door wouldn’t open, and I ran to hide in the opposite direction of where the voices came from. During this, I lost the towel.

There was some panic, a lot of panic, and somehow I ended up outside. Who could say who was to blame for this development? I couldn’t say for certain it was my fault because I had no clue how I ended up here. It all happened so fast! The door I exited locked behind me. I planned to try a different door—

OH MY GOD. PEOPLE WERE COMING OUTSIDE. And then I was hiding in a barn.

~

Explore the World in YA LGBTQ books

Taking readers to new worlds is one of the pleasures of literature, but being transported to different lands from the comfort of one’s couch has become especially important in these times. Here’s a virtual travel guide of YA books that spans the globe. All you need is your imagination and a good book to immerse yourself in a new culture. I used the Buzzfeed list by Dahlia Adler to narrow the list down for those who want their globe trotting exploration to include queer characters.

Who: Adib Khorram

What: Darius the Great Is Not Okay

Where: Iran

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming—especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Key elements: mental health, coming of age, friendship, self confidence, bi POC, immigration, religion


Who: Agay Llanera

What: Another Word for Happy: A story about coming out

Where: Philippines

Since he was thirteen, Caleb has always known he’s gay. Now a college freshman, he falls in love for the first time. If it’s true that love conquers all, then will Caleb finally find the courage to reveal his secret?

Key Elements: college, coming out, Filipino, art, religion


Who: Ciara Smyth

What: The Falling in Love Montage

Where: Ireland

Saoirse doesn’t see the point in igniting any romantic sparks if she’s bound to burn out. But after a chance encounter at an end-of-term house party, Saoirse is about to break her own rules. For a girl with one blue freckle, an irresistible sense of mischief, and a passion for rom-coms.

Key elements: romantic comedy, WLW, humor, dementia, best friends, angst



Who: Lucas Rocha

What: Where We Go From Here

Where: Brazil

Ian has just been diagnosed with HIV.

Victor, to his great relief, has tested negative.

Henrique has been living with HIV for the past three years.

When Victor finds himself getting tested for HIV for the first time, he can’t help but question his entire relationship with Henrique, the guy he has-had-been dating.

Key elements: friendship, mental health, gay rights, Latnix, multiple POVs, toxic masculinity


Who: Emily O’ Beirne

What: Points of Departure

Where: Australia

Five girls, five tickets overseas. It’s exactly what they all need after the final slog of high school. But when Kit’s suddenly forced to drop out, Liza’s left with three girls she barely knows.

There’s Mai, committed only to partying. There’s Tam, who already has her doubts about leaving her sick father behind. And there’s Olivia, so miserable about screwing up exams she’s not even sure she wants to get out of bed, let alone on a plane. Meanwhile Kit’s stuck working double shifts to pay off a debt, wondering if she’ll ever get it together.

Key elements: road trip, friendship, multiple main characters, standalone, coming of age, WLW


Who: Adiba Jaigirdar

What: The Henna Wars

Where: Ireland


When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.

Key elements: rivals, Muslim characters, WLW, cultural appropriation, bi POC, sisterhood, enemies to lovers


Who: Vitor Martins

What: Here the Whole Time

Where: Brazil


What would you do if you had to spend the next 15 days with your lifelong crush?

Felipe’s mom informs him that Caio, the neighbor kid from apartment 57, will be spending the next 15 days with them while his parents are on vacation. Felipe is distraught because A) he’s had a crush on Caio since, well, forever, and B) Felipe has a list of body image insecurities and absolutely NO idea how he’s going to entertain his neighbor for two full weeks.

Key elements: body issues, self esteem, Latnix, coming of age, sweet, pop culture



Who: Tochi Onyebuchi

What: War Girls

Where: Nigeria


Across the nation, as the years-long civil war wages on, survival becomes the only way of life.

Two sisters, Onyii and Ify, dream of more. Their lives have been marked by violence and political unrest. Still, they dream of peace, of hope, of a future together.

And they’re willing to fight an entire war to get there.

Key elements: dystopia, war, WLW, fantasy, historical, adventure, family, bi POC


Who: Cecilia Vinesse

What: The Summer of Us

Where: Europe


American expat Aubrey has only two weeks left in Europe before she leaves for college, and she’s nowhere near ready. Good thing she and her best friend, Rae, have planned one last group trip across the continent. From Paris to Prague, they’re going to explore famous museums, sip champagne in fancy restaurants, and eat as many croissants as possible with their friends Clara, Jonah, and Gabe.

Key elements: road trip, summer, adventure, coming of age, standalone, WLW


Who: Elizabeth Acevedo

What: Clap When You Land

Where: Dominican Republic

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Key elements: poetry, grief, family, bi POC, Latinix, WLW, historical, immigration


Who: Sabina Khan

What: The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali

Where: Bangladesh

Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.

But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart.

Key elements: WLW, arranged marriage, abuse, standalone, social issues, emotional


Who: Randy Ribay

What: Patron Saints of Nothing

Where: Phillipines


Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.

Key elements: some LGBT representation, politics, Filipino characters, death, drugs, mystery


Who: Cindy Pon

What: Want

Where: Taiwan


Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

Key elements: queer supporting characters, cyberpunk, dystopia, sci-fi, action

Sweet and salty, a winning combo

When a night out gets cancelled early due to a drunk friend, two boyfriends discuss what to do next in this scene.

~

Ryan

The drive had been close to an hour both ways. We hadn’t spent that much time in the club, not even close. Only a few songs. Lydia would have to learn to pace herself. I didn’t give that advice in the silence of the ride back home. There was just the radio playing softly and soothing noises from Alicia.

Our first double date wasn’t a huge success. But that was the good thing about having first experiences: it took away the nerves and things could only get better.

Despite very little quality time with my boyfriend and too much time with an annoying drunk girl, I was optimistic. Alicia was fine to drive when we got back to Luke’s house, and we said goodbye and then Luke and I headed inside to change while we discussed ways to salvage our night.

“Ice cream?” he suggested.

That wasn’t a terrible idea and we already ate earlier, but I only asked, “You think I’m a cheap date?”

“That French place we went to before?” he suggested. Oh god.

“Don’t even joke about that,” I warned.

“You started it.”

“Okay, ice cream is fine.” Was this night better or worse than the French food date? They were both bad in different ways.

Luke saw me thinking unpleasant thoughts. “Hey, it’s not that bad,” he told me gently. I sent him a very unimpressed look. “Alright,” he amended. “It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t you and me that ruined anything. It’s totally Lydia’s fault.”

I thought about that. “Yeah, that makes me feel better.”

He shook his head. “Because you’re a terrible person.”

“I am getting all the toppings and three scoops,” I told him seriously.

Luke scoffed. “You won’t even eat that.”

“That’s not the ice cream I’m getting to eat.” I smiled sweetly. “It’s the one I’m getting to spite you.”

“Okay, now you’re the one ruining it,” he said but with a smile.

-This is an outtake from One Little Lie

Plancakes, scene from YA novel

Ryan and Luke are the main characters of the One More Thing Series, but in Falling in Love and Other Bad Ideas, they are supporting characters. Which means they get up to even more nonsense than usual, something I hadn’t known was possible until writing this book.

Here is a quote and a scene from the story. In it, Ryan and Luke are trying to uncover the secret, painful backstory of their friend Zach. Partly because they are trying to figure out why he never dates and partly because Ryan is nosy. Ryan and Luke both came up with plans for finding the truth, and this is from Luke’s plan.

~

Ryan and Luke are the main characters of the One More Thing Series, but in Falling in Love and Other Bad Ideas, they are supporting characters. Which means they get up to even more nonsense than usual, something I hadn’t known was possible until writing this book.

Here is a quote and a scene from the story. In it, Ryan and Luke are trying to uncover the secret, painful backstory of their friend Zach. Partly because they are trying to figure out why he never dates and partly because Ryan is nosy. Ryan and Luke both came up with plans for finding the truth, and this is from Luke’s plan.

~

Ryan

Luke! Plan! Plancake! I think that summed up the relevant information, though the last one was ‘plan’ and ‘pancake’ combined. Okay, ambushing Zach at his locker was probably the best part of this plan. The rest of Luke’s plan was like him. Simple yet beautiful. No, wait, I was only thinking of Luke. Luke was beautiful. His plan was—

Luke said, “There must have been one girl you were crazy about.”

“You should check your facts again,” Zach responded.

Luke’s plan was stupid.

Normally, it would be Ryan who barreled on anyway. But in this case, I pulled a Luke and stayed silent until I knew where this was going. Luke pulled a me instead and… none of this was the right way to phrase… any of this.

“Come on,” Luke insisted. “There were some girls who lasted longer than the others. You must have really liked them.”

Suspicious but not annoyed enough to leave the conversation, Zach only shrugged and said, “Maybe.”

“Any you still carry a torch for?”

“Nope.”

“What about a guy?”

“Still no.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh.”

Oh my god. I brewed a truth serum and Luke’s plan was asking Zach basic questions. The terribleness was so terrible that the only option was for me to begin a sarcastic slow clap.

“Oh wait,” Luke said before I could clap. “We were talking about people you dated. What about people who didn’t fall for your charms?”

“Those people are fictiona—”

“I was there,” Luke interrupted. “At least sometimes. What about A Girl’s Name?” Yes, Luke said the actual girls name, so I paraphrased. “Or Other Girl? Could it be this Other Girl’s Name?” He asked things like that, with Zach responding in the negative each time.

Until Luke began, “What about Danielle N—”

 Zach cut in with, “I thought you were forbidden from ever speaking of her again?”

“Jackpot,” I breathed.

-The rest of the book is available here.

Sneak peek at new gay romance

In romcom terms, Zach Ahmad is the playboy who never falls in love. Here he is living his best life at the start of Falling in Love (and Other Bad Ideas).

Zach

Some people thought there were no guarantees in life. Those people hadn’t met Macy Owens. As far as sure things went, her level equaled water being wet or my best friends saying moronic stuff. Simply put, the girl was easy. Did I seem too mean? Game respected game. And me? I was easy, breezy, beautiful—no, that was something else.  

While rejection seemed unlikely, I couldn’t go out looking average. If flirting and having fun were official sports, I would be a major leaguer. My professional pride prompted me to be at my best. Checking my reflection in the glass door of the restaurant I stood in front of, I spotted a handsome bastard. Me, of course. I also thought I saw this guy I used to hook up with working inside, but no, I was the pretty one.

We should take a moment to admire my soft, lovingly moisturized brown skin free of pores. Or my expertly styled dark hair, athletic body, and cunning smirk. And as a high school senior, I swaggered around like I ruled the world. Though to be fair, I did that even before this year. Dressed in tight jeans and a snug old baseball t-shirt, the total Zach package was, in a word, irresistible.

This rural town lacked an abundance of dining options, but this establishment was one of the mid-priced chain restaurants we did have called, I don’t know, Bland White People Restaurant. My company for the evening wanted to eat here before the fun part, so she selected this place. I agreed because she had a belly button ring and her parents weren’t home for the weekend.

I typically won contests of style, but Macy bested me in the fashionably late game we were apparently playing. The guy I used to hook up with, Brendan Carver, tended bar for the evening, so I went to speak to him. Recently 21, he took classes at a local community college, had insane upper body strength, and I probably couldn’t list anymore facts regarding him. Fortunately, I arrived in front of him at the bar.

“Want a drink?” he asked.

I grinned. “Oh forward, I like that in a man.”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m the bartender.”

“Another great quality,” I enthused in fine form. I could go from zero to flirty quicker than a snap of the fingers.

Crossing his arms, he wouldn’t play. “Knock it off.”

Pouting slightly, I told him, “I forgot you’re no fun.”

Brendan went back to work, which I expected. We hadn’t hooked up in a while. Several guys I used to fool around with were more careful when near me in public. It made sense as I came out while they were still in the closet. Sitting on a barstool, I could still enjoy the view in front of me. A view which was…. okay, mostly average. In looks and in that watching a guy slice lemons wasn’t exactly the highlight of my life.

The assembly line which produced Midwest farm boy types gave Brendan a no-nonsense set to his jawline along with plain brown hair and eyes. A boring picture suited to this boring town. Except for his muscles, which were glorious. His sturdy frame exuded strength from working on his family farm and wrestling all through high school. Hey, I knew more facts. Guess he got a second job here.

Brendan had never been much of a talker, and no temper went with his strength typically. However, if provoked in the right way, or if I asked very, very nicely, then things could get interesting. This one time—

“Stop it,” he ordered, feeling my stare.

Innocence wasn’t well suited to me, but I tried my best.  “I’m not doing anything.”

“Stop it,” he repeated.

“Is that any way to talk to a paying customer?” I scolded lightly.

“You haven’t ordered anything yet.”

Don’t mind if I do. “I’ll have a margarita on the rocks with a double shot of tequila.”

“Nice try.” Yes, I was 18, not 21, and— “We both know how you get with tequila in you.” Oh, well look who came out to play.

Eyes locking, focus narrowing, the atmosphere between us became positively smoldering. I smirked, body going loose and inviting. He did the opposite, crossing his arms as his face closed off. Yet his eyes radiated heat. If the bar weren’t in the way, one of us would be closing the distance between our bodies. Well, I wouldn’t let a little obstacle like that stop me. I reached out and—

“I told you to knock that off,” he spoke gruffly, side stepping my hand.

“You started it this time.”

“High school boys are so juvenile.”

“That’s not what you said when we—”

“I have another customer.” He left to bring a man at the other end of the bar his check. I watched Brendan’s green work shirt stretch taut over his big shoulders when Macy found me.

“Are we eating at the bar?” she asked as Brendan finished with his customer and came back our way.

“Nope.” I nodded over to him. “Just trying to sweettalk the barkeep here into parting with some of his finest or cheapest liquor, but he refuses.”

“I see. Maybe I could convince him?” She pushed her cleavage out towards him.

“Not a chance,” he answered without taking the bait.

“I’ll go get us a table,” she said to me and left.

“I see why you two get along,” Brendan noted.

I feigned offense. “If you’re implying that me or my lady friend are promiscuous—”

“I wouldn’t say anything of the sort about a nice girl I don’t even know.” He looked around before getting out a shot glass and filling it with tequila. “You though.” He slid the shot to me discreetly. “You’re a slut,” he said with a wink, his voice as dark and rich as the top shelf whiskey behind him.

“It pays off.” I down the drink quickly, feeling the heat of it in my throat, liquor seeming potent when coupled with his gaze. I took a breath, nodding to him and preparing to leave to go find my date.

“Hey, wait. Did you know I got accepted to Brown?”

“Mazel tov,” I responded, ignoring how the words felt somewhat unsettling on my tongue due to a complicated situation that had virtually nothing to do with me.

“Yep, so next week, I’m telling my parents I’m ga—” His eyes scanned our surroundings, afraid of being overheard. “Well, you know what I’m telling them.”

“I understand.” It would suck if someone overheard him here and outed him right before he planned on doing it himself.

“Anyway,” he spoke while bestowing me with the gift of another shot. “If you wanna get together after the big announcement? We could do something. You can help me celebrate if it goes well, or distract me if it doesn’t.”

This shot tasted even better than the first, head swimming pleasantly with liquor and ideas for our future encounter. I nodded my assent. “See you then.”

I went to join my date for the evening. I knew I was good, but setting up plans to hook up with one person while on a date with someone else?  Sometimes I even surprised myself. And these two people were both good times, and they weren’t looking for anything serious from me, exactly what I was looking for from them.

Basically, I was the best. My life was the best. Everything was incredible and not at all boring… okay. Occasionally, a stray thought about where I went from here entered my mind. How did one improve upon perfection?

Whatever. Life was good. And if I had to choose between life being good but boring or terrible but interesting, well. Luke once told me never to answer that question. It might be the only time he said something sensible enough to listen to.

-Order your copy here. The book comes out on Oct. 18

Meeting the parents is always awkward. Even (or especially) if you aren’t really dating.

On Wednesdays, we wear pink. But on Mondays, we post outtakes from novels. Or at least I do. It’s fetch? No, stop trying to make fetch happen. I got started on a Mean Girls thing and now I can’t stop. Or maybe I can.

Alright. This is a deleted scene from One Little Lie. The first one was about fake dating, and this is the second one, which is totally different. And also about fake dating.

Luke and Ryan fake dated in the first book, due to Reasons That Made Sense at the Time, but they’re real dating in this one. As Luke and his friend Lydia aren’t ready to come out yet, they pretend to date each other instead. This is where Luke is about to meet Lydia’s parents.

~~~

bookb

Luke

My parents were like… damn, I should have asked Ryan for a simile. Introducing them to Lydia was super easy, so they were something like that. Lydia’s parents were the opposite of whatever the super easy thing was. I wasn’t very good at this to begin with and then having to smile and make nice with the homophobes…

No, Lydia’s parents. They were homophobes, but they were also Lydia’s parents. This was important to her and I didn’t want to face her wrath. Ugh, there were so many reasons to be nervous I couldn’t pick just one.

“Do I need to take off my shoes when I get in there?” I asked. That had never been a house rule at any home I went to regularly, but maybe people with teenage boys gave up on cleanliness. Lydia shook her head.

We had just pulled up to the house in my car.

“Should I make the sign of the cross in front of them or something?” I asked next. They were religious.

“Relax.” She looked pretty calm, just uncomfortable. “I didn’t think I’d have to remind you we aren’t actually dating.”

“I know, but you’re, uh.” I sighed and rested my head against the headrest. “I know you need this. I don’t want to mess it up.”

“It’ll be fine.” She smiled and placed her hand on top of mine for a moment. “Thank you.”

We got out of the car and looked towards the house together. It was large enough for their big family but relatively small, like they had only as much as they needed, and the plants and decorations outside were sparse. There was a little stone cross decoration in one of the flower beds, and the area was neat and well-kept but modest.

Modest. That was a good word for the whole house. My parents liked having the nicest things, without being too flashy for a farming and agricultural community like this, but Lydia’s parents kept everything at a minimum. It was clean and simple with pale yellow paint on the house, but the light blue shutters looked pretty. Should I tell them that? I’d been a guest in people’s homes before but now I couldn’t remember how to act.

“Should I have brought a housewarming gift?” That was a thing people did on TV shows and in movies.

Lydia sent me a look that translated to stop being weird. “My parents have lived here since before I was born.”

“Oh. Should I have brought a gift for that?” I asked, unable to stop being weird. She grabbed my hand and pulled me along.