A Good Guys Novel
My infatuation with Ezra Johnson started how all obsessions begin—with a simple
crush. Over the years I silently soaked up every shy smile and random act of
kindness, wrestling them away to a secret place in my heart meant for
Because if it wasn’t for the fact that I tutor him once a week, I’m pretty sure
he wouldn’t even know I exist.
Then I find his sketchbook.
And it changes everything.
There are two certainties in my life: I’ve been in love with Kayla Reynolds
since I was fourteen, and I can’t have her.
I’ve spent years settling for a two-dimensional fantasy world, capturing her
beauty with a pencil and paper. She’s kind, smart, gorgeous…
And she belongs to someone else.
Or so I thought.
An interesting turn of events makes me realize things aren’t always how they
appear on the outside, and now I’ve got my chance to be the man she deserves.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been called a loser. The cripple. An
But maybe—just maybe—this time the good guy won’t finish last.
fourteen years, she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.
new student, and from the teacher’s brief announcement I learned she was
originally from Cleveland. When Mr. Marks asked her to stand in front of the
class and introduce herself, her hands anxiously twisted together as she
quietly let out the name I’d say in my head thousands of times over the next
tiny thing in a gray T-shirt, skinny jeans, and Chucks. Skin the color of
coffee with a healthy dose of cream, light green eyes, full lips, and her hair
was red. Not fiery-red—a deep auburn that reminded me of my favorite kind of
of the wild ringlets seemed out of place with her caramel skin, and it was like
all her features had been put together with a bunch of mismatched pieces.
combination was stunning.
whispers filled the classroom. I wasn’t the only one studying the new girl.
Heyworth, Ohio wasn’t the most diverse town, and Kayla’s distinct
characteristics made her stand out like a candle in the dark.
shifting from one foot to the other, she sent a pleading look to our teacher.
take a seat,” he told her, and she shuffled to the empty desk in the front row,
just diagonal from me.
uncomfortable, she quickly glanced around before looking down at her clasped
enough coming to a new town, but freshman year started two weeks ago. Everyone
had already gotten time to get acquainted and, truth be told, most of us had
been in the same grade since kindergarten.
here she was, unfamiliar and different.
pretty that made hearts hurt with longing or jealousy. Longing for those who
wanted to be with her, and jealousy
for the ones who wanted to be her.
Both could bring out a darkness we all had somewhere deep inside.
the former category but instead of letting it bring me down, I felt my heart
lift a little. Usually school was hell for me, but the thought of seeing her
every day made it a little more bearable.
around us continued as our peers blatantly discussed the most interesting thing
to happen in our grade for a long time. I didn’t hear all of what they said,
but caught the words “Carrot Top” and “Chia Pet.”
people have to be such dicks? I should’ve known it wouldn’t take long for them
wanted to tell everyone to stop gawking and mind their own fucking business.
blond hair almost smacked me in the face as she whipped her head toward the new
are you?” Leaning to the right, she giggled as she pulled at a strand of
Kayla’s hair. “Like, are you Hispanic or something?”
my eyes at the rude girl in front of me.
don’t know,” Kayla responded, squirming away from the hand petting her head. “I
she has two dads,” Abby, Anne’s best friend, whispered loudly from somewhere
behind me. “Gay dads.”
broke out among the class. Kayla’s delicate hands balled into fists until her
knuckles turned white.
ignited in my chest.
stood up for anyone before, not even myself. I wasn’t witty in the heat of the
moment. I always thought of the best comebacks hours after it would’ve been
useful. I didn’t know the first thing about defending someone.
couldn’t do nothing.
started to stand—with zero plan in place—a heavy hand landed on my left thigh
and my leg buckled. I dropped back in my seat with a grunt as pain shot through
you think you’re doing, Slug?” AJ sneered.
at the awful nickname. Not slug as in slugger,
a baseball champ. Slug like the fat, slimy, slow-moving lumps that came out
after too much rain.
he mocked with a laugh. Then his tone turned deceptively kind as his hand left
my throbbing leg. “Hey, you know what you should do?”
a response, I gave him a skeptical glare.
one word for AJ Nelson: bully. Okay, there were a lot of words for him, but
none of them were nice.
barked out the command, and my cheeks flared against my own will. I knew if I
looked in the mirror, I’d see a bright red flush all over my face.
part about being made fun of wasn’t the hit to my self-esteem. It wasn’t
feeling unloved or unpopular. It wasn’t even knowing so many of my peers stood
by and watched it happen, silent and unwilling to intervene.
humiliation of being put in my place. The degradation of being constantly
reminded that my body betrayed me. That I wasn’t in control; they were. And
people like AJ took every opportunity to let me know it.
I dipped my head so no one would see, but it was too late. The new girl had
rotated in her seat, looking over her shoulder at me with so much empathy, it
only made the heat in my face worse.
a timid, yet brave smile. “Hey, what’s your name?”
call him Slug,” AJ supplied, and she gave him a fierce scowl.
could form a response, a booming voice came from the back of the classroom.
Come sit next to me.”
see Gavin, the star linebacker for our football team. Dude was a beast.
Freshmen never got put on the varsity team, but the coach had made an exception
for the 6’4”, 210-pound giant. He was a nice guy, though. Soft-spoken and
polite. He mostly kept to himself, so it was unusual for him to make such an
cleared his throat. “That’s not Kayla’s assigned seat, Gavin.”
teacher a hard stare. “It is now.”
wide eyes bounced back and forth between the two until Mr. Marks waved his hand
gathering her books, she trudged to the back row. Gavin gave a gentlemanly bow
before pulling out her seat. The frown on her face was replaced with a grin,
and a bolt of jealousy shot through me because I couldn’t be the one to protect
hadn’t been in my way, I would’ve fumbled over my words. I wasn’t intimidating.
I wasn’t commanding.
Johnson, the cripple.
was why a girl like Kayla Reynolds would never be interested in a guy like me.
briefly met mine before Gavin snagged her attention away. Tipping his head
toward her, he whispered something I couldn’t hear, and she giggled.
know who’s getting some from the new girl,” AJ remarked crudely, earning a few
was nothing I could do about it. If I told him to shut up, he’d just remind me
how powerless I was.
burned with anger as I opened my brand-new sketchbook to the first page and
started to draw.
Marks droned on about American history, my pencil moved over the paper. I
didn’t need to look at my subject to get the details right; the image of her
was etched into my mind.
heart-shaped face. The slight upturn of her nose. Plump lips. Corkscrew curls.
satisfied with the rough outline of her beautiful features, I wrote the first
of many letters she’d never see.
best, because I found out love at first sight really does exist. The worst,
because I had to watch someone else be your hero.
cornfields. Although she no longer lives in the country, her dream is to return
to rural living someday. As a stay-at-home mom, she spends most of her days
running back and forth between her two wonderful kids and her laptop. She loves
her family, iced coffee, and happily-ever-afters.