Good morning, everyone! As I promised earlier this week in my last post, here's the first chapter to Wrecked. This is a NA STANDALONE novel that is approximately 100,000 words (my longest book to date!). The official release date for this will be officially announced when it comes back from my freelance editor later this month, but the date is sooner rather than later (think early March).
This book can be found on Goodreads here: WRECKED on GOODREADS
Last night, I dreamt about my sister.
She looked the same as the last time I saw her, with her golden brown hair pulled into a tight ponytail at the nape of her neck, her red and white track windbreaker halfway unzipped, and the corners of her honey brown eyes crinkled because she was smiling. Always smiling. That was what everyone loved about Lily, and one of those things that had frustrated me to no end when she was still alive. I’d been too much of a bitch to appreciate her optimism while I still had her, and even after I realized just how much I lost the day she died, I was too selfish not to feel sorry for myself.
“Get up and get it over with, Evie. You’ll thank me when you graduate,” Dream Lily had whispered. It was the same thing she’d said to me every morning when she dragged my ass out of bed for school, and just like two years ago, I got up. But this time, I was soaked in cold sweat, and I hadn’t argued. I had slid my feet into a pair of worn flip-flops and crept silently down the hall, past my mother’s bedroom door and down the steps, taking care not to topple over any of the boxes and luggage waiting to be taken off to my new college the next morning.
I had downed a glass of OJ, not caring that the expiration date was three days ago, and then I had sat on the floor next to the fridge with the hardware from one of the cabinets shoving into my back. I’d hugged my knees close to my chest and clenched my hands.
“I can’t screw up this year. I won’t. I will not wreck things this time,” I’d said.
Now, twelve hours later, that mantra, the same one that I’ve been repeating for a little over three months, since the start of May when I returned home to Bristol, pings sharply through my mind. It seemed to help during summer break. I hadn’t gone out of my way to screw up my own life—hadn’t tried to see how far I could push myself away from everyone I know, everyone who’s left. But then again, I guess the fact I had exiled myself to a house that could only be described as a warzone thanks to my parents couldn’t really be described as progress.
This year was going to be different. Everyone who’s screwed up says that, but I owed it to myself, to Lily. And it wasn’t just because I dreamt of her last night. My sister hadn’t even had a chance, and yet I had all but ripped apart every opportunity I’ve been given.
The sensation of someone’s bony fingers squeezing my shoulder, followed by a soft voice saying, “Evie? Hey, Evie, are you okay?” jerks me back to reality. Which, at the moment, is freshman orientation. It’s the second one I’ve attended since I graduated from high school fifteen months ago.
My first two semesters of college? Just one of the many things I’ve ruined over the last couple years.
“What?” I snap a little more briskly than I intend to as I stare down at my new roommate, Corinne.
“You’re not, you know, ADHD or something, are you?” Throwing back her mane of dark brown and red corkscrew curls, she shields her green eyes with one hand and squints up at me inquisitively. “Because, I’ve been talking to you for a good minute or two, and you haven’t heard a word.”
She and I have known each other for approximately three hours. Not only has she given me her entire life story—she’s seventeen, she graduated a year early, her boyfriend and she are taking a break, she’s a communications major but she’s seriously considering education—she’s already telling me that I’m distracted. It reminds me of my mother, who spent all summer pointing out everything that’s changed about me over the last two and a half years.
And that irks me.
“Having a filter is a good thing.” Shoving my hands as far as they’ll go into the shallow pockets of my frayed shorts, I manage a taut smile. “But, no, I’m not ADHD. Are you?”
She flinches, twisting her glossy lips to the right as she lowers her eyes to the stretch of sidewalk that we—along with forty other freshmen who live on the seventh floor in the Campbell building—are loitering on, accompanied by the resident advisor who’s been tasked with introducing us to the campus.
“No … crap, sorry about that. Sometimes I don’t …” Corinne cuts herself off and looks straight ahead, nervously biting her bottom lip.
I bite the inside of my cheek. Okay, my tone was harsh. And still being on edge from spending the summer with my separated parents is no excuse for being a bitch for no reason. While I doubt I’ll ever be “besties” with Corinne—or anyone else at this university, for that matter—I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot.
“Don’t worry,” I begin, and Corinne’s face snaps back up to mine. “I’m not pissed. Trust me, I get that question a lot. Maybe a little too much.” Running my tongue between my teeth, I grimace sheepishly as her shoulders relax. “What is it you wanted to tell me?”
She moves her petite dancer’s body to the side to let a huge guy with the body of an offensive lineman shuffle between us. Once he’s out the way, she sidles up to me again. “Nothing, really. Just that this place is even more amazing than it was when I came here in March.” Bouncing on the toes of her cushy flip-flops, she drops her voice to an excited whisper. “I mean, I still can’t believe we’re here! Parties and being away from my dad … Ahh! I’m in heaven.”
Whoa. This all feels way too déja vu.
In fact, it feels like I’m looking at the Evie Miller from exactly a year ago. Only then, I’d been speaking to my boyfriend James in that same conspiratorial whisper. I had already started drinking, mapping out my party plans for that evening as we followed our annoyingly perky sophomore tour guide around a campus a quarter of the size of this one. Now that I think back on it, I’m 99 percent sure James had been just as wasted as I was during that campus tour last year, even though he’d sworn he was fine.
Not that it matters now. Plus, thinking about my ex puts a sour taste in my mouth. I try to swallow it down. Focus on something other than bitter memories that are impossible to change.
Clenching my fingers in the thin, soft fabric in my pockets, I rake my gaze over my new surroundings. We’re standing in front of the health and fitness center, fifty feet from the main campus courtyard, where an elaborate fountain sits in the center of lush green grass and red brick sidewalks. And staring at it all, taking in the numerous faces that pass our group, I’m relieved.
I don’t tell Corinne, but this morning was the very first time I’d laid eyes on this place. The first time I’d ever even stepped foot in Richmond. I had applied last minute without visiting the school, letting the photos on the website act as my guide. The fact that they accepted me despite my shit grades from last year, that was a definite plus. But the biggest draw is being four hours from my last school, and nearly five hours from Bristol, where I grew up.
Nobody here knows me.
Corinne clears her throat. “And you’re doing it again.”
“This place is amazing,” I agree, meaning every word. Because nobody knows me here. “Happy?”
“Are you always sarcastic?”
Snorting, I suppress a grin. “Almost. Just about every time I open my mouth.”
We shuffle across the courtyard, which is teeming with students back from break, and up the dining hall’s back steps behind the rest of the rest of our hall’s residents. Corinne steers the topic to a party she was invited to by the hot juniors—her words, not mine—who helped her move this morning. I pretend to focus intently on the RA at the head of the group. She’s giving us a frazzled, over-rehearsed spiel about the wonders of on-campus food. I’ve heard all this before, but it’s better than talking about party plans.
I partied so hard last year that I still feel a little tipsy.
“Never heard someone talk about it like that.”
Startled, I look to my left to the boy speaking to me. He’s a couple inches taller than my five foot seven, and he’s squinting up the stairs toward our RA, but once he realizes he’s snagged my attention, he drops his gaze to my face. He has classic good looks: brown eyes, curly blonde hair, and athletic body—the kind I used to see plastered on the walls of Abercrombie and Fitch. My sister used to drag me with her to that store every time we went to the mall.
I swallow hard, hoping to push down the painful vise that squeezes around my throat whenever I think of Lily in the past tense. It still doesn’t seem right, even after two years. It probably never will.
“Talk about what?” I ask Abercrombie, my voice hoarse.
“Steak wraps. She’s used the word ‘succulent’ three times already.”
“I don’t know. I’m pretty sure using the word ‘succulent’ is a prerequisite for any of those Food Network shows.” I tilt my head to one side, causing a few strands of my wavy chestnut hair to fall out from under the floppy hat I had jammed on my head before leaving my room. “But, then again, I’m not a steak girl.”
“Still, it’s kind of sexy, don’t you think?” His brown eyes dance in amusement, but I don’t miss how they dip to give me a swift once-over, from the brown suede fringes of my sandals to the hat on my head, taking in every inch of my olive skin that’s visible along the way. “The food talk, that is.”
“Right.” I feel Corinne nudge me knowingly on my right side, but I shoot her a glare before adding, “Sadly, chipotle dip and the softest whole grain wraps in history don’t do it for me.”
Abercrombie winks at me. “I’ll remember that.”
“Looks like we’re going in.” I climb two of the steps towards the cafeteria, putting a little distance between us as I give him a serious look. “Make that steak wrap your bitch, okay?” I don’t hear his response because Corinne links her arm in mine and drags me up the rest of the steps to where our group is filing a few at a time through double glass doors.
“Okay, he was hot,” she murmurs, obviously impressed. “Totally different from the guys back home.”
“He is? I could’ve swore I’ve seen him at least a dozen times under the tiki hut at Hollister.”
Corinne snorts in disbelief. “Do you at least know his name?”
I shake my head. “Not my type and no, I don’t know his name, but I’m sure you’ll run into him sooner or later so you can ask him yourself.”
After all, we live on the same hall.
Rolling her green eyes dramatically, Corinne let go of my arm and steps inside, muttering something that’s lost on me as she rushes off to catch up with everyone else. Fussing with my hat and hair, I follow her blindly, jerking to a stop only a moment later when I ricochet off a tall, incredibly toned male body trying to leave.
“Holy shit, watch—”
His quick apology, murmured in a slight Southern accent, brings my chastising words to a sudden halt. “You all right? Sorry ‘bout that.”
A few years ago, I’d picked up my mom’s copy of A Literate Passion—her book club’s flavor of the month—and had flipped through it, pausing briefly on the line about voices reverberating against bodies like a caress. Now, hearing that accent asking me if I’m all right once again, I have an idea of what Anaïs Nin was writing about.
I glance back just as he turns to look at me. His mouth is the first thing I notice—full lips framed by the faintest dark stubble—followed by a straight nose and strong, square jawline. But it’s his eyes that steal the air from my lungs. Set in a face that’s still a little tan from summer vacation, those eyes are beautiful, not quite green or blue but an unsettling place in between.
Come to think of it, everything about this boy, this man, is just a touch unsettling and without a doubt beautiful.
And also, oddly familiar.
“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” he questions, his eyebrows—the same off black shade as his messy, medium-length hair—arched together in concern.
“No, I’m fine, I swear.” I take a few steps back, until my shoulder blades bump a wall covered in flyers and brochures. I know I’ve seen this guy before. The question is … where?
He’s not from Bristol, is he?
“You dropped your hat when you tripped all over yourself.” He gestures down to the floor between us but doesn’t budge move to pick it up.
I belatedly realize my hair is all over the place, obscuring parts of my face, and my hands automatically fly up to smooth down the untamed locks. He’s watching me carefully, smiling at me, which means I probably look like a dumbass.
“I’m pretty sure you tripped all over me,” I say, but he shakes his head.
“I wasn’t the one staring down at the floor.” He cocks his head to the side, squinting at the student ID badge hanging on a lanyard around my neck. “Evelyn.” Very few people call me Evelyn, but hearing him do it sends a little shiver through me, despite the stifling heat inside the dining hall.
“So I guess I just won the graceful freshman award, huh?” Before I can move, he kneels, keeping those eyes on mine the whole time. Holy hell. Standing, he places the floppy fedora in my outstretched hands, his thumbs skimming my fingertips as he pulls away. “Thanks,” I say, my fingers tingling as I dust the brown felt material off before pulling it over my head.
He backs away slowly, drawing his bottom lip between his straight white teeth as if he’s fighting the urge to smile. Or laugh at me. “If it makes you feel any better, I can name about ten people right off the top of my head who could beat you for that clumsy freshman award. Myself included, many years ago.”
So what does that make him? A senior? A graduate student? Better yet, why do I even want to know so badly and where the hell have I seen him before? I cross my arms over my chest. I can feel my heart pounding against my forearm, and I don’t like it one bit.
“It doesn’t help,” I say, “Not even a little.”
The corners of his mouth finally pull up in a crooked, apologetic smile, and he rubs his palm over his straight brown hair. “Sorry, again, but the damn doors are too tight for the two of us.” He dips his head at the orientation group. “You should catch up with the rest of your group, Evelyn.”
I whip my head around. Sure enough, the rest of the orientation group is several feet away, moving through the wide space between two pillars into the seating area. When I return my gaze to him, all I see is the back of his gray Lucky Brand tee shirt that hugs his ripped shoulders and biceps as he ducks through the double doors.
Instead of catching up with Corinne and everyone else, my feet take me in the opposite direction. I stare out the glass as he jogs down the brick steps, desperately trying to remember how I know him. He stops for just a moment in the courtyard to speak to a blonde girl, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he laughs at something she says before wrapping her up in a quick embrace. When he pulls away from her, she too is left staring after him long after he’s gone.
I snort, irritated with myself. Ugh. First drop-dead gorgeous guy I run into, literally, and I fall all over the place thinking I somehow know him. What I do know is I can’t afford falling for anything this year.
“I can’t screw up this year. I won’t,” I whisper, my voice a broken hiss. “I will not wreck things this time.”
I had done enough of that last year to take me through the next three and a half years.
I push myself away from the doors and trudge through the dining hall in search of my group. Corinne spots me first, waving her hand wildly, and I sit down beside of her. Across the table from us, Abercrombie is sliding a saltshaker between his hands, and he lifts his chin in acknowledgement before I tune in to our tour guide, who’s currently rambling on about D-hall hours.
“Ugh, I’m starving,” Corinne complains. She looks back at me. “What happened to you? Did you get lost?”
“Something like that.”
“Daniel and his roommate have invited us to Baseball House for a party tonight,” she says. When I cock an eyebrow because I have no idea who she’s talking about, she bobs her head toward Abercrombie, who sends me a tiny smile. “Are you in? Because I am.”
Maybe it’s because I’m still so flustered from running into the guy with the eyes or because I know the crap that happens at these parties and Corinne is so new to it—so much younger than I am—that I shrug distractedly.
“Whatever, I’ll go for a little while.”
And here I am, less than half a day in and already throwing myself headfirst into another potential screw-up.