Hello. AMH Johnson here. This is my newest book, available for sale on June 2, 2019. The first several chapters will be posted here weekly. But if you’d like to read the book in full, the link is here (available in both ebook and print):
WARNING: For Mature audiences only.
His green eyes settled on me as he added the final blow, “Of the two of us here, one is a writing student and the other is a published short-story author. So, maybe you could learn a thing or two from me, like, I don’t know, not getting caught up in looking the part of the writer to forget to actually write … or humility. Take your pick.”
Rebel Young is the epitome of the millennial artist. A writing student at VCU who focuses on being ahead of the newest trend, as well as good access to the nearest Starbucks.
Mike Davis is the opposite of Rebel. He doesn’t care about trends, and his style exemplifies that. He’s “Vanilla,” in Rebel’s words. And worse, he’s Rebel’s arch-rival in their writing classes.
So, when Professor Harris pairs them together for the class group project, writing a novel for NaNoWriMo, their philosophies on art, as well as their rivalry will come into question. Sparks fly in this romantic comedy. Maybe opposites really do attract.
Call me Rebel. Because, you know, that’s my name. Rebel Young to be exact. I know. A bit on the nose, given my style and hobbies. I think that’s because my parents knew I wasn’t going to go with the grain of society, even as a baby. I’m different. And I’m proud of that, as everyone should be. If everyone is supposed to be unique, why would you strive to be normal? That just didn’t make any sense. I embraced my differences whole-heartedly. Hell, I strived to be more different than my bourgie family even tried to be. And trust me, that’s saying something. But I’m sidetracking.
The point is, I’m different. Because I’m different, I look at things differently. I’ve always been the one my friends go to for fresh advice on the world, solicited or not.
I walked down the main street of VCU campus (Virginia Commonwealth University in the small “city” of Richmond, Virginia, for those of us in the know), sipping on my double tall pumpkin spice mocha latte and off to my favorite college class of the semester, Internet Writing. Pretty much in this class, we studied memes and how they catch on so quickly in society. It’s cool seeing how trends piggyback each other into something new. We even learned where the word “meme” comes from. Did you know that it actually came from the genetics term “mimetics,” derived from the Greek word “mimema,” which roughly means “that which imitates or copies”? See? And you just thought it meant a popular joke online. You learn something new every day.
Anyway, I’m a creative writing major with a minor in philosophy. I know, people always say that liberal arts degrees won’t get me a job, but what do they know? My sister, Lucy, was an economics major with a minor in business, a degree everyone preaches will guarantee earn you a job once you turn the tassel on your graduation cap. And yet, she still doesn’t have a job after she graduated a year ago. So, knowing I’m not getting a job out of college anyway, I’d rather pursue my passion than struggle in a major I don’t get or believe in because it looks better on a resume.
The campus was alive and thrumming with the sounds of students lively chatting, and the birds chirping. The fall air was brisk and fresh, and the wind sweeping through the campus ran its fingers through my black hair with rainbow colored tips. I dyed it specially that way after I saw it pinned on my Pinterest wall. My newly polished fingertips (yet, already chipping! How does that happen!?) had to keep my black wide brim hat from flying off my head to dance with the wind.
I checked my phone as I walked, hoping to find a couple more likes or retweets on my tweet from the campus Starbucks, “@starbuckscoffee: getting a pumpkin spice latte before class! #totesdelish, #skoolzhard, #PUMPKIIIINSPIIICE.” Yeah, I made that last one up, but I’m sure it’ll catch on. Like “Fetch.” And hey, look a new follower!
I downed my drink and tossed it in the recycle bin outside before I entered the computer lab where the class is held. I logged in and pulled up my blog for the class and read over my homework. I usually wrote poems about cute pictures I found on Instagram every week. This week’s post was about a couple kissing in the rain under a red umbrella. #TotesAdorbs.
The class filled in slowly, everyone taking their seats at their respective computers. Our professor, Ms. Alma Harris, waltzed in taking her place in front of the projection screen and smiled. I always loved her style. Her blonde frizzy hair was tied back in a bun, with wisps of it haloing her face. Her lips were painted a bright red, making her fifty-something year old smile look younger. Her brown horn-rimmed glasses hung around her neck over her black turtleneck. She also wore black skinny jeans and brown suede ankle-boots. Her one pop of color was her red and brown geometrically designed wool poncho, which accentuated her thin frame.
“Welcome back, class,” she greeted with a smile. “Now, I saw all your posts for the weekend, and I’ve got to say your posts this semester have been top notch. But I’m sorry to say, this weekend was the last post you’d be making on your blogs.”
My heart froze. Last post? Why would she be cancelling our normal homework?
“Since it’s November, and almost the end of the semester,” she added the second part almost begrudgingly, “we are going to start the final group project with one of, probably, the most important internet contributions to the writing world, National Novel Writing Month, or more commonly known as NaNoWriMo.”
Suddenly, I was excited … and nervous … and not really listening to Ms. Harris explain the origins of NaNoWriMo, or its significance in the writing community. I knew some of it already. Well, not how it started, but I knew the effect it had on publication and the publishing process. But what was more important was I had never written a novel before. Actually, I doubt anyone in my class had written a novel before. But, in all honesty, which I would never admit out loud, I hadn’t really written a story either. I mean, I had plans for stories, but my work always turned out more poetic than prose. But group project? How was that going to work?
“Over the past couple months, I’ve been reading your posts, and I’ve set up groups based on your writing styles,” Ms. Harris explained, opening her teacher’s notebook. “Now you will be in groups of three or two, with a total of five groups in the class. What everyone will do is once you hear your assigned group, I want you all to join each other and discuss your novel for the rest of the class period. Ready?” We eagerly nodded. She whipped out her list and began reading. The other students began standing up when their names were called and congregating in different corners of the room.
“Group Four: Rebel Young.” I beamed as I stood up, eager to find my partner. “And Mike Davis.” My good mood and excitement instantly drained, and the room’s volume notably went silent. And here I thought my multicolor pastel nail polish chipping this morning was going to be the bane of my day today. Thanks Ms. Harris for proving me wrong. I turned to see Mike sitting in the corner, a sardonic smile on his face as he shook his head.
How could I describe Mike? Vanilla? Yeah, vanilla. He was cookie-cutter vanilla. He was your standard frat guy, aka “Skittle Shirts,” as my friend Aimee and I liked to call them. He regularly wore standard jeans, a polo, and Sparries. I’d give him credit for not popping his collar, but still. His light brown hair was short and had no sense of identity. It looked like he went to the barber with one of his frat bros, pointed to his friend’s head, and said “I want that.” Remember when I said, “If everyone is supposed to be unique, why would you strive to be normal?” Yeah. He was the guy striving to be normal. Again, I don’t get it.
The only standout feature he had were his bright green eyes that seemed to hold back a biting wit. A biting wit that I had been on the receiving end the previous semester in our Intro to Creative Writing class in the Spring. A class half of our current classmates were in with us. And who had all witnessed the verbal shit-storm and breakdown that sprung from that biting witty critique he made about one of my pieces. I was an artist! Who was he to say I had no sense of creative writing?
Slowly, I grabbed my things and made my way over to his spot as our professor continued calling out the last team. I plopped my notebook and purse in the chair next to him, sitting down with a huff. My tongue rubbed against the cold metal of my lip ring, a habit I picked up not long after I got the piercing.
His smile was pearly white as he said, “Hello to you, too.”
I only graced him with a small, “Ugh.”
“Alright, class. Begin,” Ms. Harris called out.
As the class began the slowly increasing volume of noise that came along with class discussion, I remained notably silent, picking at the dirt under my nails. There was no point on getting started on an assignment that I wouldn’t be finishing. Definitely not with Mike.
“So,” he started, tapping the eraser of his pencil on his open notebook, “what are we going to write about?”
“We aren’t writing about anything,” I snipped back, crossing my arms and giving him a scathing look. “I am talking to the professor to get switched out of this group.” She was one of my favorite professors, always complimenting my posts and work. If she knew how much we hated each other, she surely wouldn’t force us to work together for a whole month.
His green eyes shone with an evil delight before he said, “Well, you better think of a quick argument, because she’s on her way over here.”
The hairs on my neck stood on end as I heard Ms. Harris step up behind me and ask, “So, are there any ideas being tossed around?”
“Well, Rebel had an idea,” he said sarcastically, holding up an offering hand as he gave me the floor. That evil little glimmer in those green eyes shone a little brighter with glee. What a jerk.
I shot him a short glare before turning and smiling at our professor. “Yeah, see. I don’t think our group is going to work. We,” I gestured between Mike and I, “kind of hate each other.”
Ms. Harris smiled. “I know.”
My smile fell a little. “You know.”
Ms. Harris nodded sagely. “There’s a reason I put you two together. You both are my top students, and I realized that you each push each other as rivals to do better. I wanted to harness that potential in this project,” she explained.
My smile was forced now. “Right.”
“Now,” Ms. Harris continued, “if you don’t want to work with him, that’s fine. But I will have to give you a zero on the project if you don’t actually work together.”
“Right,” I repeated, my gaze drifting to an ancient stain in the middle of the floor.
“What about you, Mike? Do you want to switch?” Ms. Harris’s gaze switched to Mike’s, and it was clear that it was a challenge. One that no student in their right mind would try.
“No, Ms. Harris. I’m good,” he replied in an almost jovial voice.
“Good, get to work.”
I refused to look at anyone as Ms. Harris walked away. There was a soda stain on the carpet. It looked old. I focused on that, finding it easier to muse how someone broke the one computer lab rule than face the reality that I had to work with a jerk like Mike.
“So,” I heard him start again, sounding so smug, “what are we writing?” I clenched my fist I tried to let out a calming breath, something I learned in my Zen Yoga class two semesters ago. I’m not normally the violent type, but it was taking a lot of restraint to not punch him in the face.
“Come on, Rebel,” Mike grumbled into his notebook on the desk. “We have to settle on a topic to write on.”
“I said a dystopian romance,” I replied nonchalantly. An hour had gone by, our classmates had left with their novel plans fifteen minutes ago, and he and I still sat there with not even a theme for our book.
“No!” he groaned, not lifting his head. “Something easy that we can plan and crank out in a month. Something like a mystery.”
I scoffed. “How do you know a dystopian romance wouldn’t be easy?”
Mike finally lifted his head and gave me a long hard stare. He narrowed his eyes as he hissed, “Fine. Since dystopian romances are ‘easy,’ according to you, what’s the plot?”
I stopped in in my tracks. “Plot?” Always my soft spot when it came to writing. Of course he knew that from our previous class together. Now he was just trying to goad me.
“Yeah,” he growled back. “Who are our star-crossed lovers? How does their love transcend and expose this dystopian society? How do they realize they love each other?”
“Uhm,” I stammered, “I don’t know.” He groaned, dropping his head in his hands. “Well, yet! We just got the genre!”
“A genre means nothing without a plot!” he snapped back. “Hell, a book is nothing without a plot!”
“Well, then, help me!” I fired back. “I’m not the only one supposed to be working on this!”
“I would help you, if you didn’t shoot down all my ideas.”
His green glare pierced my own, causing my breath to catch in my chest. Maybe I was being a little bit one-sided and sore about working with him. I looked down at my hands, fiddling with an antique opal ring I had worn on my left index finger. It was my favorite thrift shop find. Mostly because it was so simple, and beautiful.
“Fine,” I breathed. “What do you suggest?”
He leaned back in his chair with a huff. “Let’s meet in the middle,” he started. I frowned. In the middle? “You want to do a romance, fine. We’ll do a romance as a sub-plot to a mystery or thriller novel.”
I sank in my chair. I wasn’t going to get to go into all of my descriptive writing like I’d want to in a mystery or thriller. And that was what I was good at. But I did have to admit he was right, as much as I hated it. This project was only lasting a month, and most authors couldn’t produce a good manuscript for a novel until after a year.
“What do you say?”
I let out a long breath before I replied, “Mystery. Mystery and romance.”
Finally, a relieved smile appeared on his face as he said, “Good. Now before we plan out the plot, is the romance a tragedy or not?”
I shrugged. “Why don’t we see what the characters say?”
“No,” he snapped, his pointed frown back. “That’s not how authors write.”
I frowned back at him. Now, I know that that was bullshit. Authors let the characters write their stories all the time. The good ones, at least. That’s what every Hollywood and indie film about authors told me.
I crossed my arms, and snarked back, “Then how do authors write, Mr. Professional-Writer?”
“They make a plan. Every author worth their salt knows where the plot is going,” he explained tiredly, rubbing the base of his temple. “It may be an abstract plan or incredibly detailed, but it’s still a plan. So, again I ask, are we setting this romance up to fail or prosper?”
I narrowed my eyes at him before stating, “I don’t think I want to write a romance with you.”
That did it. He banged his head against the desk and groaned, “I swear to God, you are going to drive me insane!” Before I could make a snide comment back, he shot up from his chair and grabbed his things.
“Wh-what are you doing?”
“What’s it look like?” he snapped back. “I’m leaving.”
“B-but we haven’t gotten a story figured out yet,” I started, sounding a little lost, “or characters, or a schedule. Who’s posting the first chapter? When?”
“Look, I’m leaving because you clearly don’t want to work on this, and I refuse to sit here and do nothing except argue for another hour,” he growled, slamming things in his army green and taupe satchel. “As far as a schedule and plot goes, I’ll write up a plot and email it to you, as well as a schedule. Hell, I’ll post the first chapter tonight.” He ripped a page from his notebook and wrote down a number briskly, then slid the page over aggressively. “Text me your email.”
Then he walked to the door, leaving me alone in the computer lab, and a little lost about what just happened. Did he just say he’s doing this alone? I looked at the paper, which read “Mike Davis: 570-241-9960.” I shot from my chair and almost ran after him. Luckily, he hadn’t made it to the outside doors just yet when I called out to him. “Mike! You can’t just leave!”
“See, that’s where you’re wrong,” he replied, not even looking back at me as he pushed open the door, letting the chilly November air pass in through the hallway.
I huffed, and stomped my foot. I wasn’t going to follow him out there. I didn’t even have my jacket on. I stormed back into the computer lab, snatching up my things. I grabbed my phone and paused. Maybe I could have the last laugh. I typed his number in the top bar for contacts and picked my words carefully. If you think that I’m just going to let you assume control of our project, you’re dead wrong! I hit send. I packed up my stuff in a flurry. Then let out a huff. How could someone be such an ass? I looked back at my phone. We do have to work together.
firstname.lastname@example.org I typed. I set my phone down and shook my head. What the hell was I getting myself into?
As I finished packing up my things, my phone buzzed against the desk. I frowned as I picked it up, and swiped it unlocked.
K? Is the “O” so hard to type?
I huffed, looking at my phone. I needed some stress relief. I hit the contact button of a friend and called. “Hey, meet me at the Camel in thirty minutes.”
“THAT ASSHOLE!!!” I huffed, slamming my third glass down on the bar. I was starting to feel the effects of my drinks, not that I’d admit that to anyone.
“You said that,” Aimee sighed, sipping on her third glass of whiskey on the rocks, her yellow with rainbow trim wristband showing. I had forgotten that the Camel was hosting an LGBTQA event that night, and everyone got a band, according to your letter of sexuality. Mine was purple with rainbow trim since, sadly I was only an “ally.” They had the letters painted on a rainbow flag so there was no confusion. L was red. G was orange. B was yellow. T was green. Q was blue. And A was purple. When we had walked in, I said we needed one red and one purple originally, which peeved Aimee as she went back to get herself a yellow one. “You know I’m bi, not a lesbian,” she’d reminded me. I argued that she had told me before that she preferred girls to guys, but apparently that didn’t mean anything. And that wasn’t why we were here, anyway.
Aimee was one of my prettier friends. Long blond hair, which she stylistically shaved on one side. She had fair skin, thick rosy lips, and piercing blue eyes hiding behind long eyelashes. Just under the base of her skull on her neck was the word “Love” stylistically scrawled in curvy letters. Her long nails were always manicured in a pale purple, playing off the lilac tattoo on her inside forearm. Tonight she wore a denim jacket over a white lace cut-off tank top, showing off her toned abs against black ripped skinny-jeans.
“It’s just … I can’t believe she paired me with that asshole,” I stated angrily.
Aimee nodded knowingly, as she muttered, “You said that, too.”
“Ok,” I groused. She was annoying me a little right now. “Whose side are you on?”
Aimee gave me a pointed look, putting her drink down on the table. “Look, I know you hate the guy, but do you want to fail the class?”
I pouted. “No.”
“Ok then,” Aimee sighed, stirring the ice in her drink.
She gave a pained smile to a larger woman with buzzed hot pink hair and earlobe plugs. She wasn’t unattractive, compared to some of the women I’d seen Aimee date. Most of them looked more like men who had boobs, while this woman looked more feminine with her pink hair. I had noticed the woman was trying to wave her down earlier for a drink. This was the second time.
“You should go to her,” I stated, looking at the woman at the bar.
Aimee shook her head. “I’m not ditching my friend on her night of crisis,” she said laughingly with a smile.
“Don’t you mean ‘bestie’?” I corrected, still smiling. Aimee looked away, still smiling as the band started their next song. It was Hudson and his band, Troubled Youths. He caught us staring and gave us a wink as his fingers plucked elegantly along the guitar strings. We’d be seeing each other later. A lot of each other later, I hoped. Recently he hadn’t been as active in the bedroom. Stress, he said.
How could I describe Hudson? Well, he was everything Mike wasn’t. Individual. A piece of art himself. His hair was dark and quaffed perfectly to the side, with messy locks draping a little over his ears, which were adorned with black plugs in the lobes. His full beard accentuated his angled nose and chiseled cheekbones. His red plaid flannel shirt, which was usually buttoned to his neck, laid open showing off his chest and his detailed tattoo of two hands opening with the word “Dreamer” splayed between the fingertips. He had more, but that one was a personal favorite of mine. He was ruggedly handsome. And an artist, just like me. He sang and played acoustic guitar for his band that played regularly here, at The Camel. He had written a few of his own songs, but his voice when he sang “Wonderwall” would make any girl’s legs turn to jelly. Just thinking about it made me tingly.
He was singing one of his originals now, “Your Taste.” It was a slow romantic song. A panty-dropper, as his bandmates said. The way he moved with the song was sensual, intoxicating. It sent soothing chills down my spine.
I smiled back, drinking in the vision of him. “He’s in rare form tonight,” I stated. “Don’t you think?” Aimee nodded, her eyes back to roving around the room. “Aimee?”
“What?” she asked, a little nervously, which didn’t make much sense to me.
“Are you ok?”
She waved me off. “Yeah, fine.” She reached for her drink again as she asked, “Hey, so how are things with you and Hudson?”
I rolled my eyes. Wasn’t that the question of the year. “We’re good I guess. I dunno.” Aimee gave me a concerned pout at my answer. I could feel her psychically urging me on to spill. “Sometimes I feel like I’m not enough, or I’m holding him back.” I didn’t wait for Aimee to rebuke me before I scoffed. “I know. It’s stupid.” The song was dying down, with the drums beginning to amp up into their next song. It was a favorite of mine, which probably explained why Hudson was looking at us so intently.
Aimee grabbed my wrist and said, “Come on. We’re dancing.” I let her pull me to the center of the dance floor, our bodies close as we swayed to the music. I felt her hands on my hips, swaying me with her. I could see Hudson smiling back at us as I ran my hands over myself, catching my hair through my fingers. He enjoyed the show.
We danced until we were breathless, with the song dying out. Another bi woman on the other side of the stage flashed the band with a loud “WOOOO!!!” They had a groupie.
“Alright! We’re going to take a fifteen-minute break!” Hudson called into the mic. He moved off the stage towards the back room.
“Man, I’m thirsty,” I breathed out.
Aimee looked off to the side as she replied, “Hey, why don’t you get us some drinks. I need to reapply my make-up.”
I frowned, worry taking over me a little. “You need me to join?”
Aimee rolled her eyes. “I’ll be fine. Go.”
Whatever. I pulled out some cash for the bar as I made my way over. I leaned over the bar, showing my cash among the sea of arms also waving money for drinks.
“Hey,” a voice behind me said. I turned to see an average sized guy wearing a V-neck t-shirt, that showed off a little chest hair. He had a curly red-headed mop for a hairstyle. He flashed a toothy grin behind thin lips. Clearly, he was a little drunk, but he thought I was drunker. I checked his wristband. Yellow. Bi. He might hit on me. If I decided to flirt back, though, my plans would be ruined with Hudson, replacing it with a ridiculous fight that left the sheets cold and empty.
“Hi,” I replied nonchalantly, still looking for the bartender, the always personable, lovely, and stylish Jake.
“You having a good night?” I didn’t dignify the no-name with an answer. “You want to make it better by coming over to my place?”
I pursed my lips before answering, “I’m sure there are plenty of guys here to take you up on that offer.”
“I don’t feel like playing bottom bitch tonight,” he replied wistfully.
Oh … my … god … EW! I believe my lunch was about to make an encore. I swallowed down my gag as I replied, “You know, on a list of shit I didn’t need to know ever, that’s probably at the top.”
“Come on, what do you say?” He reached out for me, and I shied away. Seriously, NO THANK YOU.
“I say ‘I have a boyfriend.’” Kind of.
“I believe the lady said no.” Thank God for Jake the bartender! Jake was fierce, and didn’t take shit from anyone. And that modern Greyworm (or Jacob Anderson from Game of Thrones for the peons who don’t watch. Google him.) look was really working for him tonight.
The no-name raised his hands in surrender and walked away. About time. Why don’t the creeps ever get it the first time around? No means no. Just fucking NO.
I smiled at Jake, letting out a tired sigh. “My hero.”
He waved me off, grabbing a rag to wipe up some spilt drink. “What’s the drink?”
I hold up a finger, telling Jake to hold on for a second. My phone was needing me. Hey, maybe I got another follower on twitter. I checked my notifications, seeing my email.
Mike Davis: NaNoWriMo Mystery.
Nothing like a reminder that you’re tied to your mortal enemy for a month to ruin a good night. Ok, minus the creep, a good night. Now I wouldn’t be in the mood for Hudson later.
Clearly, my emotions showed. “Bad news?”
I pouted, putting my phone back into my pocket. “The worst.” I let out a huff. Sorry Aimee. But I’m getting two drinks for myself. “What’s the strongest thing you’ve got?” It was going to be one of those nights.