It seems with each book I write, I get a little braver and move out of my comfort zone a little more. Writing about teenage girls and horses is familiar and safe. Writing from a male POV and about football? Not so much. But that’s exactly what I’ve decided to do in my latest project. I’m testing out uncharted waters, ya’ll!
I’ll admit, I haven’t spent as much time immersed in this book as I’d like. I’ve been busy revising book #3 (Seeking Sara Sterling) as I wait for beta readers to give me feedback on book #4 (The Bug Collector’s Bucket List). So this one may come along at a much slower rate than the previous few books, but it’ll get there. For now, I’m devoting at least an hour or two one day a week to working on it.
I’m calling this new book Romeo and The Scarlett Letter. And as the name might suggest, it’s about a hopelessly romantic boy, determined to re-invent himself by joining the football team at his new school and a scorned girl who’s sworn off boys–especially football players. The two develop an unlikely bond over a certain book (which shall remain nameless for now!!!)
So without further ado, I thought I’d share an early excerpt. In all its imperfect glory, here is chapter one of Romeo and The Scarlett Letter:
by Romeo Ramirez
Your lips, pale pink
Your eyes, steel blue
You ran away with my heart
And I was happy to let you
I thought it was love
You thought it was a game
My glass heart shattered
Nothing will ever be the same
I punch the bag with everything I’ve got. Miriam. Miriam. Miriam. In my head, I yell her name with each hit. Not that I’d ever hit her. God, no. I’d never hit a girl. But releasing her name with each punch helps to ease the pain a little.
Sure, there are other names I could say, too. Lilly, Tasha, Cassandra. A girlfriend for each year since the eighth grade. Only Miriam had stuck around past the six-month mark. Then she cheated on me with Jeremiah Rogers.
Have I mentioned I have terrible luck with girls?
Yep. My name might be Romeo (thanks, Mom), but I’m nothing like Shakespeare’s character. Because in the end, the girl always chooses someone else, and I’m left locking myself in my room, listening to depressing music. And writing poetry, of course.
Maybe I should rename my last poem. Miriam sucks. Or Miriam, the Cheater. But it just doesn’t have the same ring to it. . .
I punch the bag again.
“Yo, Romeo. Your turn’s up.”
I wipe the sweat from my brow with the back of my arm and turn to face a six’ two linebacker. Doug or Darren or Dillon or something. “Oh. Sorry.”
He points to the leg press. “You’re over there now.”
I give him a thumbs up. “She’s all yours.”
Big D slams into the bag with his shoulder and then starts pummeling it far harder than I ever could. Man, dude’s got some aggression issues. Or then again, maybe he’s got girl problems to work out too. Who am I to judge?
The gym smells of sweat and Axe body spray. I’ll admit the Axe is all me. I sprayed a healthy dose on before workouts this morning. With the weight limit set to two hundred, I settle onto the bench and start my leg presses. It’s too easy, so I up it to two-fifty. Ah, I can feel the burn now. Fifteen reps in, my legs start to quiver, but I keep going. I may be on the team, but physically, I’ve got a ways to go to catch up with the rest of these guys. I haven’t played football since the Lilly era—otherwise known as eighth grade.
I switch to the free weights and start my bicep curls as Big D falls onto the leg press bench which creaks beneath his hefty weight. I may be one of the smallest guys on the team, but I’m fast. Prime running back material for sure. My track coach from Jade Springs wrote me a recommendation letter, and lucky for me, it worked. I may not get to play this fall, but at least I’m on the team. Step number one toward a brand new identity. I’ve got a fresh start at Wainswood. No one here knows the old, pathetic Romeo who kept getting his heart stomped on, year after year. Here, I’m a new man. A senior. A football player. Maybe I’ll even be popular.
One thing’s for sure. No girlfriends for me this year. A fling or hook-up—well, maybe that’s a possibility. But nothing serious, for sure.
I grimace as I turn to stare at the mirror beside me. Veins throb in my right bicep as I lift the weight up and down. Man, I’m already getting swole. Sweat trickles down the side of my face, and my eyes are dark and brooding.
Yep, I’m gonna be a whole new Romeo this year, for sure.
“How was practice today?” Dad asks as soon as I’m through the front door. Boxes line the far wall in the living room, and a foreign smell lingers in the air—like mothballs and Lysol. It still smells like someone else’s house. But I should be used to that by now, as many times as we’ve moved. I toss my backpack into my bedroom and head to the kitchen, where Dad’s making ham sandwiches.
“It was good. Just a workout day, but things are going well. Think I’m gonna like being on a team again.”
Dad smiles and hands me a sandwich. “Proud of you son. Can’t wait for the first game.”
Dad played all throughout high school, so it made his day—or probably his whole year—when I told him I wanted to play again. It’s not that I suddenly had a change-of-heart—it’s Miriam’s fault, really. Since I already knew we were leaving Jade Springs, the decision hit me a few days after we broke up. It seemed like the perfect way to create a new me.
I plop down at the kitchen table and chomp off half of my sandwich in one bite. Dad tosses a bag of Doritos my way and finishes his own sandwich off in a matter of seconds.
“Leftovers are in the fridge for you and Nina tonight.
I nod and pull out my phone, scanning through my old texts. I’m double checking to make sure any trace of Miriam has been deleted. No need to torture myself reading that stuff. A high-pitched voice carries from the other end of the house—saying something about being the mom. A second voice chimes in, but I can’t tell what she’s saying.
“JoAnna’s here for a few hours,” Dad says. “Her mom will pick her up by three.”
Great. As if babysitting my sister isn’t enough, I’ve got to keep an eye on her friend as well.
“At least she’s already made a new friend,” Dad says, as if he’s reading my mind.
“Dude, we haven’t even been here a month yet. Get off my case, will you.”
He holds his hands up. “I’m not on your case. I’m sure you’ll be fine. You’re on the team now, after all.”
I know what he’s leaving unsaid though. You should make some real friends this year and quit worrying about girls. I’ve heard it all before. Besides, I had friends back in Jade Springs. Antonio and Josh and I still text some. But after you move four hours away, there’s not much to talk about. It’s not like we can hang out any time soon. Or ever again for that matter.
“Alright, I’m gone,” Dad says like he does every time he’s leaving for work now. He winks. “Don’t wait up for me.”
I’m usually a late night person—either reading or writing or watching movies— but since workouts start at seven a.m., I’ve been in bed by ten this week. Sometimes, I haven’t even made it ’til then. Between the Texas humidity and three-hour practices, I’ve been pretty beat.
“I won’t,” I say, but the screen door’s already clapped closed.
“Rommmeooo,” Nina screeches. “Come play with me and JoAnna.”
I sigh and push back from the table, returning the half-eaten bag of chips to the cupboard. There are no doors on any of the bedrooms here, which to me, seems like a complete invasion of privacy. Dad said we can put them on later this summer. He acts like he just doesn’t have time, but I know the moving and new house costs are wearing things thin. He probably needs to get caught up on bills first. I wish I could get a job and help out, but with Mom in Afghanistan again, someone’s got to be around to watch Nina. I’m the perfect man for the job according to Dad.
I lean against Nina’s doorframe. “Whatcha playing?”
“Barbies!” she says with a gap-toothed grin.
I rub my hands together, playing at anticipation. “My favorite.” I come in to sit on Nina’s bed, watching the girls bounce their dolls around the floor for several minutes before deciding to change their clothes yet again.
“We’re having a fashion show,” Nina tells me.
“Where’s Ken?” I ask. “I’ll be him.”
Nina frowns. “Don’t know. I haven’t seen him since we were at our old house.”
“Oh no. We’ve got to have Ken.”
JoAnna bursts into a fit of giggles. “So they can kiss!”
Nina laughs too, and then turns to grin up at me. “My brother knows all about kissing. He’s kissed lots of girls.”
“I don’t know about lots.”
JoAnna’s looking at me with something like admiration now.
“I saw you kiss Miriam,” Nina says, giggling again. She makes a smoochy face and pretends to kiss the air.
I breathe in deep, resisting the urge to roll my eyes. “Well, that’s over. Miriam’s back in Jade Springs. And I’m here.”
My little sister and her friend don’t need to know the details of our break-up. As far as Nina knows, we just moved and that was that.
“I know!” JoAnna says excitedly. “Our girl Barbies can kiss. My big sister kissed a girl before. She told me.” I’d noticed JoAnna’s sister when she dropped her off last time. She’s somewhere around my age, with sleek, red hair and shapely legs. Definitely decent-looking.
“Uh huh,” I say, absently. Normally, I’d be turned with the idea, but I’m too distracted by thoughts of Miriam.