Only Ever You Excerpt
RACHEL'S GOING TO HER PARENT'S HOUSE FOR CHRISTMAS. SHE DOESN'T KNOW THE BOY NEXT DOOR AND HIS FAMILY ARE GOING TO BE THERE AND SHE'S IN FOR THE SHOCK OF HER LIFE.
I turned into my parents’ driveway at 6:04 p.m. and parked behind Dad’s SUV. I was starving, and I really had to pee.
The side door was open. As soon as I walked in, I could smell turkey and mulled wine.
“Is that you, Rachel?” Mom’s voice was one of many coming from the dining room.
“I’ll be right in!”
I rushed toward the half bath in the back hall, and because I was hungry and dehydrated, I didn’t look where I was going.
Which was why I reacted with a wide-eyed gasp when I almost crashed into him. And maybe that was why I didn’t recognize him right away, besides the fact that he wasn’t human. I mean, he had all the traits. Six feet. Black hair cut just below the ears and set in careless yet precise disarray. Expressive eyebrows over sapphire eyes. Human, except he looked like he’d stepped out of a magazine cover.
This couldn’t be . . .
“Hey,” he said.
Jesus, the smile. Shoot me now.
“Sebastian. I . . .”
Were those biceps stretching the sleeves of his cardigan?
“It’s nice to see you.”
His voice. Not squeaky but deep, confident, adult. Was that my bladder pressing against all my female parts?
Get your shit together.
This was Sebastian Barton. So skinny he’d once escaped a particularly bad taunting by slipping through the vertical bars surrounding the schoolyard. So weak I’d had to help him carry his books home. This was a kid who ducked his head and flailed roundhouse-style at Scott Turner, shocking him enough to get a clean shot. A kid I got suspended for because Scott was a bully as well as a crybaby who fell like a house of cards.
He snorted when he laughed, was allergic to air and water, was socially stunted and intellectually advanced, walked like a grandma, and dressed like a grandpa.
“Nice cardigan,” I said, crossing my legs and bouncing a little.
“It was my grandfather’s.”
Thank God some things hadn’t changed.
She hadn’t changed at all. She had an easy beauty, and I wasn’t just talking about her looks, which were still stunning. She cracked a joke about my sweater without actually cracking the joke. She got it. She got me. She’d always understood me.
“Your grandfather still has amazing taste.” Her legs were crossed, and she bounced up and down.
“Had amazing taste. Are you all right?”
At that moment, four-year-old Lala Garcia pulled her father down the hall, crying, “Poo potty, poo potty.” He rolled his eyes as he passed.
“Stay single, man.” They went into the bathroom.
Rachel looked down the hall, bouncing. I assumed it was the Christmas music. Or maybe she always did that, and I’d forgotten?
No way. I didn’t forget anything about her.
“I heard you sold your company,” she said. “Congratulations. I don’t know if that’s what you say when someone sells for millions?”
“It is, but I sunk a bunch of it into a finance modeling . . . never mind. It’s boring.”
“I’m sure it’s not.”
“Tiny company not even worth talking about.” I lowered my voice. “Carol’s disappointed. She thinks if I’m in finance, I’m going to die young like my father.”
“Is that you, Rachel?” Her dad, Rob Rendell, casserole in quilted-mitten-covered hands, had taken a detour between the kitchen and dining room.
“It’s me,” she said, bouncing. “Merry Christmas.”
“They’re in here!” he called into the dining room.
“Are they talking about the wedding?” her mother said from behind the wall.
Rachel’s eyes met mine, wide with surprise. She even stopped bouncing for a second.
“They saw the card?” I asked. She nodded as voices started talking over each other.
“Rachel turned thirty in April,” Carol said.
“And Seb three weeks ago, right?” Mrs. Rendell was trying to sound casual.
Tiffany cried, “What’s going on?”
“You didn’t hear?” Mr. Rendell said as he disappeared into the dining room with his casserole. “Rachel and—”
“—had this deal—”
“—and Sebbie are getting—”
I held my hand up to Rachel, who looked overwhelmed.
“I have this.” I stepped into the dining room and clapped my hands once. All eyes were on me. Good.
Rachel’s mother had on a loud Christmas sweater and a flashing clip that held her long salt-and-pepper hair in a twist. My mother, Carol, wore her standard muumuu with ten pounds of beads and crystals around her neck. My sister, Tiffany, was in a hoodie, staring at a phone in a Tiffany Blue case. The two oldest Garcia kids, in an untucked holiday shirt and askew dress, couldn’t sit still while their parents chatted with ours about our marriage pact.
“Listen up,” I said. “Rachel and I—”
“It’s about time,” her father said.
“I always knew,” Carol added.
“Dad!” Rachel had come into the dining room behind me.
“Lasagna!” Two-year-old Oliver leaned over the hot casserole dish, banging his silverware on his plastic plate. Lala, back from the bathroom, joined him.
“A deal’s a deal,” her dad said, cutting the lasagna with a spatula.
“Is it true?” Mrs. Rendell asked, hands over her heart.
“No.” Rachel’s fists were balled up, and her legs were tightly crossed.
Mr. Rendell pointed an odd-shaped wooden spoon at me. “He said—”
I cut in. “Rachel and I had an agreement to get married if—”
“I ran the dates.” My mother’s big soft brown eyes fell on me. “That’s what I’ve been telling you.”
“Are you serious?” Mrs. Rendell was bent over the table to look at my mother.
“I showed you their charts.”
My mother, the online psychic, astrologer, and tarot-card reader, was a fantasy maker. Her biggest fantasy had always been that one day I’d marry Rachel.
“They were always such good friends,” someone said. “I remember—”
“You showed me when she was eleven,” Mrs. Rendell said to Carol. “She’s not a child bride!”
“I’m thirty!” Rachel cried.
“Wait!” I barked. Everyone shut up. The kids stopped banging their spoons.
Rachel was looking at me with her eyes a little wider, mouth a little slack with surprise. She bounced once.
“Go to the bathroom,” I said, suddenly realizing what she was dancing around about. “I’ll take care of this.”
“I can wait.”
“We made a dumb deal when we were kids. If we were single at thirty, we’d get married. It wasn’t a serious thing. Okay? It was never a serious thing.”
Silence. Then Oliver banged his spoon on his plate. Throats cleared. Dad stuck the serving spoon in the lasagna. Evan and Lala returned from the “poo potty.”
“Gross,” Tiffany said, looking up from her Tiffany-encased phone long enough to meet Rachel’s glance. “Marry a dweeb.” Nose wrinkled, she put her eyes back where they always were.
“He’s not a dweeb.” Rachel defended me. I smiled, remembering all the times she’d objected on my behalf.
“You could date.” Mrs. Rendell shrugged, picking up her glass. “Rachel’s single.”
“Weird!” Tiffany said.
“So’s Sebbie,” my mother offered.
“Sebastian,” I corrected.
“It’s not . . .” Rachel’s face twisted into a grimace, and she bent over slightly. “You really should go,” I said, and this time she took off like a shot.
ONLY EVER YOU is an Amazon exclusive, Kindle Unlimited book releasing July 9th.
Simultaneous audio release with Andi Arndt and Brian Pallino.