Well, yesterday was a weird day. I’ll tell you that for free. But do you know what today is? Do you know?
That’s right. It’s release day!
For college drop-out Lauren Scott, Kalamazoo, Michigan, is the perfect place to lay low and avoid her politically mobile East coast family. Though working two jobs and counting every last penny is a thousand times harder than accepting checks from home, she can’t fulfill her parents’ conservative expectations without sacrificing her conscience.
For struggling singer-songwriter and full-time nurse assistant Daniel Ebbing, Kalamazoo is the place he wants to escape. Ever since the death of his mother, Daniel has regretted not returning to England with his father. Moving across an ocean costs far more than he anticipated, and his bank account is caught in a one step forward, two steps back dance.
Now, fate has made them the solution to each other’s problems. She needs a roommate. He needs a cheap place to live.
What could go wrong?
So, quick rundown of this book:
- New Adult contemporary romance
- Sarcastic heroine with rock solid personal principles.
- Cinnamon roll hero
- Nobody is a billionaire
- Look, if someone can write a Harry Styles book and we’re all just giving it a pass, I can exercise my Ed Sheeran crush in prose.
Now, please enjoy this free look at the first chapter of Where We Land.
The chimes above the door at Sugar Magnolia, the only store in Kalamazoo that could meet the needs of both stoners and disc golf enthusiasts alike—although there was a staggering overlap of those two demographics—heralded the arrival of customers who annoyed Lauren Scott on sight. Though working at a headshop was as chill a job as she could have ever hoped for, the proximity of the store to Western Michigan University’s campus led to Friday night influxes of feral white bros like the ones who strolled through the door.
“Hey, guys!” she called with her best customer service voice. “How’re you all doing tonight?”
They were doing high already, judging from the cloud of stench that clung to their hoodies, polo shirts, and cargo shorts. Lauren could appreciate a nice, lingering pot scent, but Axe body spray was not a successful cover for cheap ditch weed hot-boxed in somebody’s car. They ignored her greeting and headed over to the racks of Frisbees, pausing to laugh uproariously at a blown glass pipe shaped like Pickle Rick.
Letting her I’d-be-happy-to-help smile drop, she hid behind the display of incense on the counter. She pulled a stick of strawberry from one of the jars and lit it up, hoping to cover the Eau du Bro. The strip mall Sugar Magnolia resided in stood directly across the street from the campus’s west exit and within spitting distance of a number of fraternity and sorority houses. Despite the recent legalization law, selling marijuana was still prohibited, and cops stopped in plenty to make sure the store only dealt in smoking accessories. A “tobacco shop” couldn’t afford to reek of pot.
She checked the time on her phone and tipped her head back, closing her eyes in frustration. She still had two hours to go. God, I hope Jason gets back from break before the Abercrombie & Dick crew starts asking to see every damn item in the case.
The plastic shower curtain that served as the back room’s door pushed open, rattling on its rings. Jason stepped out and, at the sight of the customers, ducked behind the incense display with her. He peered through a plexiglass case of Zippos, studying the customers intently. He glanced to Lauren, put his thumb on his chin, and flexed his index finger twice in the ASL sign for “Who?”
She held her hand below the counter and fingerspelled “B-R-O-S.”
Becoming friends with Jason in ASL 101 had been one of the top five smartest things she’d done in college. It was possibly the only useful thing she’d done before dropping out.
Jason rolled his eyes and grabbed a fitted baseball cap from beneath the counter. He slid it on backward, unlatched his hemp necklace, and stood up, outfitted for battle.
“Hey, what’s good, y’all?” he called to the group of decidedly caucasian dudes whose response when faced with the possibility of talking to a cool black guy was nothing short of ecstatic. Lauren shook her head fondly. Jason was like a chameleon, able to shift from mode to mode depending on the customer. Acting was a way of life, he was fond of telling her. Customer service gave him a chance to hone his craft outside of his classes and rehearsals. She’d once watched him assist sales with a stoner Frolf enthusiast, an old-school metalhead, and a bachelorette party at the same time, somehow finding a persona that could relate to all three at once. The chimes jingled again. Lauren glanced up.
The guy who lowered his head as he walked through the door really didn’t need to. He was kind of short. His shaggy ginger hair was tousled like it had been recently rubbed vigorously with a towel. A red plaid shirt open over a faded Frankenstein tee and jeans ripped at the knee marked him out as a likely time traveler from the 1990s, but he seemed more shy than suspicious, so she didn’t worry too much about him causing trouble or shoplifting. Which was good. The door had barely closed when it flew open again, and her roommate, Chelsea, whipped in like a hurricane. And Hurricane Chelsea required a lot more attention than some nerd who didn’t look like he exactly craved interaction with salespeople.
Damnit. I’m probably going to have to bust a hobbit for shoplifting.
“Hey, bitch!” Chelsea drew out the word in a long, nasal delivery that made Lauren’s skin crawl with unease. The higher Chelsea’s voice pitched, the more likely she was to be angling for something. “I need like, the tiniest little favor.”
Of course, you do. “What favor? I’ll decide how tiny it is.”
“So, I have a date with that guy from Insta,” Chelsea began, reaching into her purse for her phone. Her fingers flew dramatically over the screen before she turned it so Lauren could see. The Aaron Paul doppelganger had been all Chelsea had been able to talk about for a week that had felt like a lifetime. “But it’s like…tonight?”
Lauren’s stomach sank. “No. Nope, no, nope. Not tonight.”
“Please?” Chelsea wheedled, her hands clasped dramatically together, pressing the phone tight against her chest like a love letter in an Elizabeth Gaskell novel. “I know you need the shift. I heard you ask Paul for extra hours.”
Damnit. Chelsea had her there. With the recent hike in rent—and Chelsea’s “forgetfulness” about the last two electric bills—Lauren really did need a bigger paycheck that week. But she’d been working both of her jobs eight days in a row already, and Friday nights at Boogie’s were the worst.
“Come on. It had to be tonight?” she asked impatiently. “Douchebag with a guitar night?”
The Weasley standing by the “staff picks” bong display made a weird cross between a snort and chuckle. He glanced up guiltily, flushed at being caught eavesdropping, then averted his eyes again.
“Ugh, fine,” Lauren groaned. “I’m upping our ‘Wonderwall’ bet, though.”
“That’s not fair!” Chelsea whined.
Lauren shrugged and held her hands up. “It’s not fair that I’ve had to cover the electricity for the past two months either.”
Chelsea blew out a long breath of frustration. “Fifteen.”
Lauren narrowed her eyes. “Twenty. The last guy did an uncomfortably passionate rendition of ‘All Star’ by Smash Mouth. I’m not budging.”
Chelsea stamped her black leather ankle boot on the cracked tile. “Oh my God, fine!”
“You call Paul and tell him we’re switching. I’m not off the clock here for another couple of hours. Text me what he says.” There. My Friday night signed away. Not that she would have been doing anything with it, anyway.
Chelsea shook her phone in the air in victory. “Yes! Thank you! You’re the literal, literal best.”
“Yup.” Lauren lifted her hand with a pained smile and watched Chelsea leave, the chimes above the door singing again.
The ginger approached the counter, clearing his throat. Lauren was used to nervous customers. They usually didn’t have an I.D. because they weren’t eighteen. This guy was definitely over eighteen. Maybe he was just garden variety shy.
“Did you want me to open the case?” she asked, nodding toward the display he’d been studying.
He looked over his shoulder, then said, “Oh, no. Um, just a pack of Zig-Zags? One hundred millimeters.”
So, he’d been waiting the entire time Chelsea had been there. A-plus customer service there, Lauren. “Sorry about your wait.”
He reached for his wallet. “No, it’s not a problem at all. I just didn’t want to interrupt.”
Lauren’s brain paused a second. People came to Kalamazoo from all over; three colleges and two major pharmaceutical companies made for an interesting mix. But an English accent wasn’t one she heard a lot. It made the guy seem even more like a Weasley than before, and she smiled to herself as she turned to get the papers off the shelf. A Harry Potter joke would probably not be appreciated.
“Okay, that’ll be a dollar-twenty-five,” she said, punching it into the iPad that served as their cash register.
“What kind of incense is that?” he asked, pulling two crumpled dollar bills from his wallet.
“Strawberry.” Lauren took the cashbox from under the counter and unlocked it. “Do you hate it?”
“No, I like it.” He opened his wallet again. “How much?”
“Well, it’s twenty-five cents apiece or ten for two dollars,” she said, counting out his quarters. “But since you had to wait through my roommate’s drama, and since you’re the only person I’ve ever met who actually liked the strawberry one, I think you should take five on the house.”
“Yeah, all right.” He put his hand out and Lauren dropped his change into his palm. He pocketed it and stepped aside, taking one of the long plastic bags in front of the incense display. While he opened it, he asked, “May I ask what the ‘Wonderwall’ bet is?”
She couldn’t see the harm in explaining it while he bagged up the sticks of incense. “She and I both work at Boogie’s, on Academy. They have live music on the weekends, and it’s pretty much always some douchebag with an acoustic guitar, and they almost always sing ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis. Chelsea thinks I’m exaggerating how often it happens, so we made a bet, and now every time one of these dorks plays ‘Wonderwall’, I get ten dollars of her tips from her next shift. And if they don’t play it, she gets ten dollars of my tips.”
“But tonight, it’ll be twenty. If the douchebag with the guitar plays it,” he clarified.
“Right. Because she’s a pain in my ass.” She pushed the rolling papers across the counter. “Don’t forget these.”
“Thanks.” He held them up and gave them a little shake as he backed toward the door. “And thanks for the, uh, the strawberry.”
“Have a good night,” she called after him. Her phone notification dinged at the same time the door chimes went off. As expected, Paul had immediately approved the switch. He was probably stoked about it; Lauren was faster than most of his baristas. So, she’d go off to her second job on aching feet. What was new?
It wasn’t as though she spent time with her friends anymore. Not since she’d gone from college student to de facto townie. It was amazing how hard it was to synch schedules while employed at two full-time jobs, and she never had the money to go out, anyway. The only constants in her life were Chelsea and Jason, and it helped that she worked with both of them and lived with one. If she had to monetize her social life, she would. Her parents had stopped sending her anything a while ago.
“When you get your priorities turned around…when you want to be an asset to this family, then we’ll help you. But we won’t help you squander your potential.”
Ugh. Thanks, Dad.
It had never been about her potential. Her father just didn’t want his daughter’s opposing political views messing with his senate campaign.
Jason led the bros to the register. Lauren stepped into the back room and leaned against the wall. It would be so easy to just walk away from her life. Go back to college and money from home. Get her degree. Or just stand beside her father at some rallies, swallow her shame, and accept the checks.
She wasn’t cut out for it. She wasn’t really cut out for anything.
When she heard the chimes over the door herald the departure of their worst nightmare, she emerged again. Jason already had the baseball cap off. He ruffled his short, spiky dreads. “Oh my god. Girl, I never thought they were going to leave. I really didn’t. I thought they were going to ask me where to buy drugs.”
“At least they didn’t try to sell you drugs. Remember that time?” Lauren reminded him.
“Do I sound like I do drugs?” Jason demanded. “I have the voice of an angel. I can’t smoke anything. Especially tonight.”
The comment shot a thought through her head like a bullet through the fuselage of a plane. “Oh no…”
“Uh-uh.” Jason shook his head. “You did not just switch shifts with Chelsea on the night of my recital. Again.”
“Okay, but to be fair, I only did that one time before and her grandmother had just died, and you have a recital like once a month.” Jason wasn’t just a musical theater major. He took every extracurricular opportunity to sing in front of a crowd that he could possibly get, from jazz choir to glee club to community theater. But he also stuck by her when she’d dropped out, so supporting his passion wasn’t exactly a hardship.
Until it came to scheduling her support.
“What was her excuse this time?” he asked, drumming his fingers on the counter.
“Date,” Lauren said, unable to meet his eyes. “I know. I know she takes advantage. But besides you, she’s all I got. And last time I checked, Antoine didn’t want me moving in with you guys.”
“I don’t want you moving in, either.” Jason examined his fingernails. “I’ve seen your bathroom. It’s a mess. I don’t know how you live like that.”
Lauren walked around the counter and went to the rack of novelty ashtrays to straighten them. Not that they needed straightening. She just had to do something with her hands. “The bathroom is mostly Chelsea. And I live like that because I don’t have a choice.”
“No. You have a choice. You’re probably the only person I know who chooses to be poor on purpose. Don’t pretend you’re on the same level as people who aren’t a phone call away from hope,” Jason scolded her.
He was right. In a way. She did scrabble for rent, eat rice and beans, and ride her bike even when the snow was so deep, she had to walk it most of the way on purpose. But it hadn’t been a choice. Not really.
She’d traded her parent’s money for the ability to sleep at night.
* * * *
Boogie’s Cafe was a wedge-shaped building on a wedge-shaped corner at the intersection of Academy and W. Michigan Ave. Lauren rode a winding route through campus to avoid the long stretch of Stadium drive that was too isolated to be safe. She’d never thought about that kind of thing when she’d had a car. People rarely got knocked out of their cars and dragged into bushes.
The ancient-looking single-pane windows of the old brick building were already fogged up from the inside. The lights were lower than usual on the main level so all the students that treated the place like a study hall would be in the loft. Acoustic guitar amplified via mic floated out the door as a woman exited. Lauren chained her bike to the no parking sign at the curb and pocketed the key to head inside.
Her second foot had barely crossed the threshold when she jolted to a halt.
Seated on a stool in the center of what was usually the reading area, the Weasley from earlier in the day strummed his guitar. His eyes were closed as he sang into the microphone, some song Lauren didn’t recognize. It must have been an original, and she’d caught the very end of it. As the last note faded away, the audience that had assembled at the tables and chairs around him applauded far more enthusiastically than Lauren was used to hearing for their usual Friday night musical acts.
“Thank you,” the guy said, leaning over to grab a bottle of water from the floor.
Lauren tried to tiptoe along the back wall unobtrusively, hoping he wouldn’t notice her. Hoping he’d forgotten how huge a bitch she was. God, she hoped he wasn’t the kind of person who was going to gloat or make a big deal out of something as small and insignificant as being insulted directly to his face. She chanced a look at him. He locked eyes with her as he twisted the cap back onto the bottle. Adjusting his guitar on his knee and his fingers on the strings, he cleared his throat and said, “Anyway, here’s ‘Wonderwall’.”