My Funny Valentine: Chapter One

Only 2.5 weeks until the release of My Funny Valentine. I hope you’re as excited as I am! I know I say this all the time, but I seriously cannot wait for you to meet Dean and Iz, get to know who they are, and live in their world for a while.

Since 2.5 weeks is still a long time, I figured now’s the perfect time to share a sneak peek at what you can expect in this upcoming novel. So, this weekend, please enjoy reading the first chapter of My Funny Valentine.

If you haven’t done so already, now’s the perfect time to pre-order your signed copy.

Chapter One: Isobel

Lethologica/n: The inability to remember a particular word or name.

I wish there was a word you could use when you forget more than a word. More like an entire sentence. Better yet, the entire long-term career goals you’ve had memorized since you were twelve years old. That’s what I’m experiencing right now. I know the word—rather, phrase—for forgetting all sense of ambition and goals: Thesis paper.

For the past three days, I’ve been staring at an empty notebook, hoping the words will come to me. It’s not for lack of trying that my notebook remains empty. It’s actually lost about twenty pages from me starting a sentence, only to rip and crumble the page before tossing it into the nearly overflowing wastebasket next to my bed.

Why write a thesis paper with a pen and paper like an old-school writer? That was on the suggestion of my roommate and best friend Suzanna. She thought my laptop was too distracting, you know, with the World Wide Web tempting me to buy unnecessary home décor items to furnish our miniature two-bedroom apartment or a new bathing suit for our upcoming trip to Punta Cana, but Suze was wrong. Unlike her, I’m not into passing the hours by scrolling through Instagram or whatever online shopping place she’s raving about this month. In fact, I’m quite minimalist and prefer not to waste my money on nonsense things Mark Zuckerberg thinks I want.

I’d rather spend my time researching which companies match my aspiration to feed the world. I’m clearly getting ahead of myself because, if I can’t get this damn thesis paper—which is really more of a personal essay—submitted in the next few weeks, I can kiss my dreams of saving the world goodbye.

The strangest thing is that any other time I have no problem blabbing for hours on end about my hopes, dreams, and all the ways I’ll use my programming experience. But now, with a blank notebook in front of me and a pen that’s almost out of ink shoved in the coil of my spiral-bound notebook, I can’t remember a single idea I’ve ever had. All I can think about is the essay topic that haunts every second of my life.

Write about a problem you wish to solve in your lifetime. Explain its significance to you and what steps you plan to take to solve said problem.

Easy enough, right? I couldn’t be more wrong.

Mick, my other roommate, is an artist. I think he does paintings, but I honestly have no clue. I’ve never actually seen his artwork. Anyway, he says this is what writer’s block is. I’ll take his word for it because I’ve experienced nothing like this in my life. Sure, I write all day, but writing the same code over and over into a new program every quarter leaves no room for creative blocks.

For the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve worked at iBotics, an artificial intelligence company with the mission of creating solutions to global issues. What drew me to this company is its dedication to food solutions around the world. When I got the job, I thought I was on the right path to leaving a positive mark on the world, but boy, was I wrong.

In two-and-a-half years, iBotics has been full of glitches and program failures—hence the new program every couple of months. It downsized from the beautiful office that overlooked Back Cove with close to 500 employees that, on the surface, presented a threat to other tech startups in Silicon Valley and New York City to a measly shared office space with a little over 100 employees. The only reason they kept me on was because I still have an entry-level position, meaning they could pay me a fraction of what the senior programmers make.

I’m sure when they took me to my new desk in the windowless basement and I didn’t complain, they knew they made the right decision. Needless to say, that day, a little over eighteen months ago, was when I applied for online grad school. Stupid me thought that getting into grad school would be the hardest part. Little did I know that putting my desires about feeding the hungry on paper is the true challenge.

Ohhh, desire to feed the hungry. Write that down. It’s a start at least. Knowing this “breakthrough” will leave my brain in two seconds, I pull my phone out of my pocket, open the Notes app, and type FEED HUNGRY in all caps. It’s a small victory, but I’ll take any inspiration I can get.

Even with the office change, my apartment isn’t far from work. Only a fifteen-minute walk. Though it’s the middle of February, I don’t mind. It gives me a chance to think. About the paper. About what the next chapter in my life will look like. The walk always seems shorter than it is. Before I know it, I’m pushing open the door of the apartment, ready to tackle a few paragraphs before my flight…that is, until I take one look at Suze.

As a true Irish descent, her skin is creamy and speckled with freckles all over her body. Years ago, she mastered how to manage her curly mane that reminds me of that girl in Brave. What I’m trying to say is that her skin is flawless, her hair is always perfectly styled, and she’s dressed like the love of her life is about to walk through the door at any moment. But today, Suze looks like I usually do: pale, grungy, and unkempt.

Suze is curled in a ball on the couch with her hair thrown messily on top of her head and, is she? She is! She’s wearing the extra-large USM sweatshirt I got my freshman year at college and a pair of my baggy sweatpants.

“Jesus Christ, Suze! What happened to you?”

In all the years I’ve known Suze, I’ve never so much as seen her in joggers, let alone sweats. Though, her sense of fashion choice isn’t nearly as concerning as the muted green color of her skin. Touching her forehead, she feels hot and clammy to the touch.

“Suze, you’re like a million degrees.”

She barely musters a groan in response.

“Was it something you ate? Do you need to go to the hospital?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Mick says, waltzing into the shared room with one of our puke buckets. He puts the bucket next to the couch in time for Suze to lean over and empty the contents of her stomach, which I assume isn’t the first time today. I jump back just in time to avoid any splash-age.

“She’s got the flu,” Mick says.

“I’m so sorry, Iz,” Suze whines once the bucket is full, and she’s stopped heaving. “I’ve ruined everything. There’s no way I can get on a plane.”

Internally, I do cartwheels. I never wanted to go on this belated birthday trip to Punta Cana. Suze talked me into joining her by saying that February is the best time to go, and she was invoking The Best Friend Clause that said I need to support her through her latest breakup. Apparently, dumping Rodger or Ronnie, or whatever his name was not even two months into their relationship, meant flying 1,700 miles to an island in the middle of winter.

When I still wasn’t on board, she pulled the “one last hurrah” card before I inevitably move to a different city, leading us to have different zip codes for the first time in over five years. I initially put my foot down and refused. But the more she talked about the trip, the more appealing it sounded. I finally caved and agreed to go.

Now that my travel companion and the reason we’re taking this trip can’t join me, though, it seems as if I just won a one-way ticket to keeping my feet firmly on the ground and in Portland.

Externally, I put on a pouty face to mask my excitement.

“Oh no,” I whine a little too fake, so I pull back on the theatrics. “Are you sure you can’t make it?”

Suze’s atomic vomit-colored face stares at me with deadpan eyes.

“Okay, okay. Dumb question. But what do we do? Should I call the resort or something and cancel?”

“No! Don’t do that!”

Suze lunges forward like she’s about to jump off the couch, only moving a couple of inches before collapsing, completely spent.

“Suze, you have the flu. You said it yourself. You can’t get on an airplane. We need to let them know we’re not coming. We got travel insurance, so it should cover everything for something like this. No worries.”

I move to my laptop at the kitchen table to pull up the flight and resort information. I get halfway there when Suze’s words stop me dead in my tracks.

“I want you to go without me.”

I use my finger as a makeshift Q-Tip to make sure I hear her right. When I’m still not fully convinced, I make her say it again.

“You what?”

“I know you heard me. I said I want you to go without me.”

“Why on Earth would I go to Punta Cana without you?”

“Because you need it,” Mick chimes in with the newly cleaned puke bucket in hand. “Just look at you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask with an edge in my voice.

Mick, now in the kitchen and drying off his just-washed hands, takes a sip of his coffee, rolls his eyes, sighs, then answers like I’ve asked the dumbest question for the second time tonight.

“It means you look like shit. You’re so pale you’re almost translucent. Your hair is lifeless, and your skin is dull. You need more time in the sun and less time huddled in the basement you call an office. You’re in your early twenties for Christ’s sake, and you look like you’re a mom with two kids under two who hasn’t slept in months.”

My mouth hangs open for a moment before everything in my body tightens. I cross my arms over my chest, clench my jaw, even curl my toes. One of my friends said that I look like a train wreck without remorse.

When Suze and I met Mick a month before graduation, I knew of his habit of being blunt with his thoughts, even if they aren’t what you want to hear. Somehow, I managed to go two years—one of which is spent living together—where I avoided his to-the-point opinions. Even with my tough skin, I hope to God I’m never on the receiving end again.

“Babe, you know I mean that with love,” he says, softening his tone. “I was just hoping you’d wake up and realize it yourself without me having to say it.”

“It’s not my fault I got shoved in the basement. At least I kept my job.”

“You know he’s right,” Suze pipes up.

“Wow. That means a lot coming from you right now, Suze. Have you seen yourself?”

Curled in on herself, arms wrapped around her abdomen, Suze’s only response is flipping me the weakest middle finger in the history of mankind.

“My wardrobe is fine, thank you very much.”

Mick walks over and sits at the other end of the couch, takes one look at Suze’s just-been-punched position, and moves to the yellow high-back chair we got at the estate sale of some Epicurean in town.

“For Portland maybe. But this definitely won’t fly in Cali or New York. Time to stand out, Babe. Make a statement.”

So what if my wardrobe mainly consists of extra-large flannels and oversized sweaters? I enjoy being comfortable at work. A lot of what I wear is hand-me-downs from my dad, too. How can I get rid of his clothes? Plus, it’s not like I don’t have nicer, better-fitting clothes for when I go out. But…it would be nice to stand out a bit in my new city—wherever that may be.

“Well…maybe my wardrobe could benefit from an update.”

“That would be a start,” Suze moans into the bucket. “Some highlights would be even better.”

“Ohhhh makeover!” Mick yells.

I cringe. Since the first time we met, all Mick has talked about is giving me a makeover. Each time, I have an excuse. I’m growing my hair to donate it. I’m trying to save money for tuition. Before today, I always had a way out. I chopped my hair to my shoulders over the summer. My last tuition payment was months ago. I’m all out of excuses today.

“If she’s going to make her plane, we don’t have time for a makeover,” Suze says, giving me a quick wink.

“Ugh, fine. But if you’re not going on the trip, I’m giving you a makeover tonight.”

Mick’s dark brown eyes level with mine and pierce into my soul. Those are my two options then? Go to Punta Cana alone or have Mick throw out all of my clothes, max out my credit card, and do whatever else he’s plotting in his head? I hate to say this, but going to another country alone is the appealing option.

“If I look so sickly and need to spend more time in the sun, then I guess Punta Cana is my only option. Not a lot of sunshine opportunities in New England this time of year.”

Both Suze and Mick cheer, making me wonder if this whole makeover thing was some ploy to get me to agree to this now-solo trip they worked on before I got home. I should be annoyed, but there’s a part of me that’s buzzing with anticipation to get away from what’s left of the office. Plus, a week alone? I’ll have plenty of time to work on my paper. What’s the worst thing that can happen?

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