Happily Never After
Happily Never After is my current work. I am super excited to share this project. Here you will find extras, such as character information, artistic works for this novel, insight into motifs, etc.
Happily Never After
Gemma Richards is smart and beautiful. She has everything going for her. A best friend who will do anything for her, a loving family, and the world at her fingertips. But she worries she won't have much time left. At fifteen, she is diagnosed with cancer. But no one knows. Not even her lifelong best friend, Nathan Foster.
When Gemma learns she has to tutor football quarterback Ryan Davis in chemistry, she is the opposite of happy. She is livid. But she can't say no. The success of the team depends on her. If Ryan fails, he can't lead them to play-offs.
She reluctantly agrees. During their tutoring sessions, she learns there's more to Ryan than meets the eye. Along the way, she realizes she has feelings for him...and Nathan.
Then everything changes when the news of her cancer comes to light, drastically changing her relationship with everyone.
When I was thirteen, my parents brought me to church, where the pastor stood in the pulpit and declared the grace of God to a congregation of nearly one thousand people. He explained the importance of giving your life to Christ. If you didn’t, you’d burn in the fiery pits of Hell. He had cartoon images and everything. I think it’s fair to say that it scared the crap out of me. So I did just that. I gave my life to Christ. And I continued going to church. And I invited my friends to church. And I volunteered. I gave an offering every Sunday in the youth service. I once even bought a homeless man a meal. So, I think it’s safe to say that I’m guaranteed a one-way ticket to heaven. The express lane. First-class.
And then my mom died and everything changed. And I saw church in a different light. Because when I went to church a couple of weeks after her death, I was accused of sinning. She was gone because of my negligence. I left the service crying that day. I’m pretty sure my older brother, Tony, was about to beat someone up. I never went back. And I stopped believing. So, that one-way, first-class, express ticket? I’m pretty sure it’s been torn to shreds by this point.
“Did you even hear a single word I just said?” a voice asks, bringing me out of my train of thought.
“Hm?” I ask, looking at my best friend, Nathan.
Nathan Foster. My long-time best (and only) friend. We’ve lived next door to each other for my entire existence. He’s a year older than me, but that doesn’t mean we’re not the best of buds. Because we definitely are. He never really hit it off with my brother, who’s the same age as him. I like to think he was hooked on my stunning beauty at the age of basically eight months, and the rest is history. We’ve done everything together. Made mud pies in the backyard (which my parents definitely loved, especially when we brought them in the house), walked to school together, and even went to our first middle school dance together, which was completely platonic.
Nathan has been there through everything. We’ve always had each other’s backs. When his mom lost her job, my parents and I always made them dinner. When my dad lost his job, Nathan and his family did the same. The dinners just kept going after my mom’s death. He was the first person I told. The first person I cried to, hugged. He was there when I told him I was never going back to church. He even helped me focus more on my studies. I guess I have him to thank (partially) for my freakish brain and for helping me skip a grade. Which was one of the best things to ever happen because now we’re in the same grade. High school seniors. We always said we’d graduate together, not actually understanding how the schooling system worked when we were in pre-k. But here we are. I like to think that we made that come true. The power of friendship.
A lot of people seem to think Nathan and I are a thing. But we’re not. It would be too weird. But I’d lie if I said I didn’t once consider it. Sure, who doesn’t imagine dating and falling in love with their best guy friend at least once? But that’s not who we are. He’s into the brave, slightly obnoxious girls, who love to shop and go out every Friday night. And that’s definitely not me. I’m the book nerd who has straight A’s and thinks a fantastic Friday night is a night in with a good book and unlimited cups of tea. I want to travel to England for school. I want to walk down the Italian streets, visit Greek state marks. We just don’t match in that way, and that’s okay. Not to mention, Nathan is a Christian, and I am most definitely not. So, it wouldn’t work out in the slightest. A friendship, however. That works for us. It always has and it always will.
“I asked,” Nathan says, “if you studied for the Chemistry test today.”
I roll my eyes and nudge him with my shoulder, careful not to drop any of the school books I’m holding. “No, I stayed up watching The Bachelor the entire night. It was so uncool that Arie chose Lauren instead of Becca.”
Nathan laughs and shakes his head. His messy brown hair flops around the crown of his head. “You did not and you’re a few years behind.”
I shove his arm and stop by my English class. A few students file into the room.
“Whatever. The point is, of course, I studied for the chem test. Who do you think I am? My brother?”
I look back into the classroom and swallow the lump in my throat. It’s presentation day. Which I hate. Public speaking has never been one of my strong suits. I was hoping that I could get a job behind the scenes. Not have to speak to people.
“Hey,” Nathan says. He places his hand on my right shoulder and looks at me. “You’ll do great. I don’t think Shakespeare could have analyzed his work as well as you can.”
I roll my eyes and shrug his hand off. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Anyone can analyze a dead guy’s life work.”
“You know that’s not true,” he says, shaking his head. “You are going to kill it. Now get in there before you’re late.”
My brother, Tony, and his friend walk down the hall towards the classroom. I take a deep breath and nod.
“Right. See you in chem.”
I walk into the dimly lit classroom and head for my seat. Unlike my other classes, the seating chart for my Senior English class isn’t based on last names. Mr. Bright, one of my favorite teachers on the face of the planet, probably drew names out of a hat and put us in random seats. While it makes me cringe at the idea of no actual system, I do feel rather blessed that I was placed in the last row. I’m not called on out of the blue like other students. It’s not like I would need to be called on. I participate every chance I get. English is easily one of my favorite classes and Mr. Bright makes learning the material fun and easy. Or, at least I think so. It’s hard to dislike him.
I set my yellow backpack on the ground as I sit in my seat. It’s presentation day, which means anything can happen. I.e., I could get called on to present. I loathe the idea of presenting. It makes me feel sick to my stomach. Especially when I know where I fall on the social chain. Like every other high school, Windsor High School in Windsor, Colorado, has the cliche groups. There are the populars, who sit at the top of the totem pole. Up there resides the jocks, the cheerleaders, and, basically, anyone else deemed worthy. Below them are the smart “chic geeks.” They’re the ones who are really smart but are also deemed cool. They have tons of friends and are guaranteed a spot in some of the top schools. At least five of them have already been accepted to Harvard, Yale, and Colombia. They kind of carry on the stereotype, but it’s not too bad, I guess. After that, you’re either a stoner, a total nerd, a band geek, or just complete loners. I reside in this area. Basically a place of no return. I mean, I should be considered the top of the totem pole because of my close association with some who are part of that group. But no one really notices me. I just kind of blend in.
Just as I set my black English notebook on my desk and a couple of pencils, I watch my brother walk in. Tony Richards. One of the newest additions to group one. He’s the football team’s new kicker, which makes him a prime candidate for the group. He’s a year older than me and completely mortified by the fact that we share not only a class but the same grade, too. Tony likes to pretend that I don’t exist in class. Keep up the whole act of “I’m super cool now, so act like you don’t know me.” I mean, it’s not like we grew up with the same people for about sixteen, seventeen years. How could anyone possibly know? The dirty blond hair, emerald green eyes, and same face shape don’t really scream siblings.
Walking in behind him is football prodigy, Ryan Davis. The female population basically swoons over him. Every single girl. Except for me. I can’t stand the guy. While Nathan is the type of guy a girl can make mud pies with and laugh about it, Ryan is the type of guy to make a mud pie and shove it in someone’s face. He’s arrogant. And rude. And has pretty much brain-washed my brother to treat me as a social outcast. We weren’t always that way. Especially after our mom died. We had to stick together. But then he joined the football team and joined Ryan’s group. Nathan, who is on defense for the team, doesn’t hang with that crowd. He doesn’t take a liking to them. And that breaks my heart even more.
Remember how I mentioned that whole seating chart thing? One thing that makes my skin crawl is the fact that I have to sit right next to Ryan. If I could change seats, I would in a heartbeat. But it won’t work. Ryan’s girlfriend, Tiffany Matthews, has already tried so many times. All to no avail. I guess there is a silver lining. Tony sits in front of Ryan. But I still haven’t exactly decided if that’s a blessing or a curse.
“Hey, man,” Ryan says to Tony as they sit down in their seats. I tie my hair up in a loose bun, trying to ignore their conversation. I’m basically trying to ignore their existence, but that hasn’t exactly worked out for me.
“How was that party last night?” Ryan asks.
Oh, you mean the party you invited him to right in front of me and didn’t bother to invite as well? That party? I’m not salty. I swear. Just clarifying.
“It was amazing,” Tony says as he sets his backpack down. “I wish you could have been there.”
“Me too, man. But you know how things are. If your girlfriend wants a night out, you give her a night out.”
I roll my eyes and sit back in my seat.
“Ryan!” a high-pitched voice calls out.
Speak of the devil. Tiffany walks in and makes a beeline to our little corner of the classroom. Any fragments of peace that were still there are now gone. Obliterated. Never to be seen again.
“Hey,” she says, placing a perfectly manicured hand on his right shoulder, “we need to talk to Mr. Bright about changing our seats.”
“Tiff,” Ryan says with a sigh, “he’s not going to change it. We’ve tried for weeks. It won’t work.” He shrugs her hand off his shoulder and shifts closer to the window. Weird. “Besides, it’s just one class. What’s that little nobody going to do for forty-five minutes? Plus, she’s easy to cheat off of.”
“The better grades I get, the closer we get to play-offs.”
“Wow, a little nobody? And here I thought we were best friends.”
I didn’t realize I said anything until the words are hanging in the air. Impossible to take back. Heat creeps into my cheeks. I clear my throat and act as if I’m talking to myself. If they already think I’m crazy, what’s the harm?
“I guess you’re right,” Tiffany says, implying none of them had heard what I said. Which is typical. Why did I even bother to think I was that important? Or that I was even noticeable. I could probably punch one of them in the shoulder or face and none of them would notice. But I’m too scared to try. No one needs to die that early.
“Anyway,” she says, as if she finished the hardest part of her day. “How about we hit the mall after school? What do you say?”
“Sorry, Tiff. I already have plans with Tony.”
“But you’re welcome to join us. We’re probably just going to play video games or something,” Tony says.
I hear Tiffany gag. “Um, thanks, Tony. But I think I’ll pass.”
The bell finally rings. The chatter comes to a minimum as Mr. Bright walks into the classroom. Tiffany blows Ryan a kiss and walks back to her seat.
“Okay, class. Sit down, sit down,” Mr. Bright says as he sets a stack of papers on the mahogany desk at the front of the classroom.
“Do you think those are our tests on Hamlet?” Tony asks, turning to face Ryan.
Ryan shakes his head. “I hope not. I totally bombed that test. If my parents find another failed assignment, they’re going to kill me.”
Mr. Bright starts to take attendance before grabbing more papers from his brown briefcase.
“Well, lucky for us I have a brainiac of a sister.”
I shoot Tony a look. He glances my way and rolls his eyes. Just kidding is what he would say. But he definitely isn’t. The Windsor Wizards haven’t made it to playoffs in a long while. As the quarterback, it’s Ryan’s job to lead us to victory. If he’s out, there’s no telling what will follow. I would guess all-out war.
I see Ryan glance at me from my peripheral vision. Idiots, I think.
“All right,” Mr. Bright says, bringing attention back to the front of the class. The whiteboard reads WHY IS SHAKESPEARE SO IMPORTANT TODAY? in green marker.
“Today we start our presentations on Shakespeare’s importance. You’ve had a week and a half to prepare for this, so I expect stellar outcomes. However, because I’m aware you have other classes and responsibilities, I will give you the first twenty to twenty-five minutes to make some additional changes to your reports.”
He walks over to the trash can and throws in a red whiteboard marker.
“This is your last time to prepare before we start. Unless you do not present today. We’ll only have time for one or two presentations today. Remember, this project is worth 15 percent of your quarter grade. So, make sure your information is accurate and your debate is applicable to why Shakespeare is important and suitable for an academic environment. I will start to call names after the allotted time is up. Get working.”
I pull out my red erasable pen from my pencil pouch and open my notebook to a series of unorganized pages of research. Quotes and points are scattered and scribbled over a total of seven pages. While my notebook looks like a mess, my notecards are pristine.
As I start to add more information—such as how Shakespeare understood his audience, which in turn helps us to understand the culture during the rule of Queen Elizabeth and King James—I try to organize my final thoughts and tune out my classmates. Like always, the sounds of beeping phones, soft snickers, and the lone sound of pen to paper fill the small room.
I set my pen down on my desk and bend over to grab my notecards from my bag. They’re all color-coded to make my presentation go a little smoother. Hopefully. Blue represents textual evidence, pink is historical evidence, and yellow focuses on opinions. More specifically, why I think Shakespeare is important today.
I hate presentations with a burning passion. Basically, anything that involves public speaking. Which means plays or talent shows, too. The memory of throwing up on Jake Kaminski during my presentation in the fifth grade still haunts me to this day. I shudder at the thought and try to clear my head. My stomach tumbles. Jake wasn’t really a fan of mine after the incident. If I recall correctly, he got his parents to homeschool him after the disaster. I don’t think he ever forgave me.
As I unzip my backpack, I hear my pen start to roll off my desk and hit the floor. Sighing, I switch positions and reach for the runaway utensil. My head is almost completely under my desk when I see another hand—that is definitely not mine—grab it before me. I glance over to find bright blue eyes staring at me, my pen in his hand.
Ryan Davis is holding my pen. My pen! Out of fear, I quickly sit up, hitting the back of my head in the process. The next thing I hear is a roar of laughter as I sit upright in my seat. Heat begins to creep into my cheeks. My hands feel sweaty. Blood rushes to my ears. My stomach tumbles, yet again. Game over.
Ryan laughs a little as he places my pen on the tan surface of my school desk. Mr. Bright turns around and the class silences immediately.
“I guess that means we’re ready for presentations.” He stops and scans the room. I look away, rubbing the back of my head. “Gemma, would you mind starting us off?”
I’m pretty sure my heart plummets to the pit of my stomach.
“Um, Mr. Bright, I don’t know if that’s—”
“You either present now or you receive a zero.”
I take a deep breath and try to compose myself. The back of my head is throbbing as my stomach does several flips. As I stand up out of my seat, I try to make sure my knees don’t buckle beneath me. It’s highly plausible they will. Especially with the day that I’m having.
It’s just a presentation. You’ll be fine. Everything will be fine. I step behind the mahogany podium at the front of the class and set my notecards down with shaky hands. Deep breaths. I wipe my palms on my jeans and take a deep breath.
“W-William Shake-Shakespear,” I start, “is important in an academic setting because—”
I hear my stomach rumble. Oh no. I turn to Mr. Bright and look at him, my eyes slowly filling with tears.
“I’m, um, I’m not feeling good.”
“Uh-oh,” Tony says, smiling. His left arm rests on the back of his chair as he leans his back against the window. “You better listen to her, Mr. Bright. The last time she made a presentation, she threw up all over Jake Kaminski. The kid was never seen again.”
Laughter bounces off the walls in a deafening manner. I can feel the bile travel up my throat and, before I know it, I’m emptying my stomach all over Tiffany’s black floral print Doc Martens. Did I mention she sits in the front row?
Tiffany screams and looks up at me, her eyes an icy blue. They scream pure evil. Well, I’m dead. I cough and stand upright, grabbing a tissue to wipe my mouth. I’m sure by this point my face has turned at least fifteen shades of red. I glance over at Tony, who is laughing hysterically, pounding his fist on the desk and his head thrown back.
“Ms. Richards, you can present the project to me the Monday after next,” Mr. Bright says as he dials the front office. “Hello, we need a custodian in room 160. A student threw up in class. Thank you.” He hangs up the phone.
I make my way down the walk of shame to my desk. After sitting down, I set my head down on my arms, trying to avoid any and all eye contact. Maybe I can ask my dad if I can be homeschooled after today because I certainly can’t show my face around here again. Or maybe I’ll live under a rock like Patrick Star. The rock sounds more promising. I can die in peace.
The bell rings just as the school custodian walks into the classroom. I quickly grab my stuff and rush out the door. Some students exaggerate taking a deep breath once they escape the confines of the small room.
I’m sure the news of my incident has traveled across campus by now. I would be surprised if it didn’t. Last year, there was a minor bus crash while the seniors were on their class trip. Within five minutes the news wasn’t only spread around school, but it made headlines on the local news. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a video, too. If I wasn’t too mortified, I’d be laughing right now. The look on Tiffany’s face was actually pretty great. It morphed about five times before settling on complete disgust with the intended message of “I will annihilate you.”
I walk up the stairs to my last class of the day: Chemistry. Hopefully, Nathan will give me the biggest hug and offer to hide under a rock with me for the rest of eternity. Who needs education, anyway?
Unfortunately, Ryan seems to occupy this class, as well. He’s not exactly someone I want to see right now. I walk into the classroom and sit in my seat. Thank goodness for seats in the back.
When I sit down, it dawns on me: I forgot my notebook. Great. Pushing the thought to the black hole of my mind, I set my head over my arms and try to avoid eye contact as much as possible. I already hear the whispers filling the room, “Gemma” being a common denominator. I groan.
“It was bad, wasn’t it?”
I look up as Nathan sits in his seat in front of me. I nod and set my head back down again. “I threw up all over Tiffany’s shoes.”
“What?” Nathan asks.
I bite my lip and look up at him again. “I threw up all over Tiffany’s shoes.”
Nathan stares at me for a few seconds before a slow grin begins to form on half of his face. He laughs and shakes his head.
“You’re serious,” he says.
I nod. “Yep. I mean, if I wasn’t completely mortified, I’d be reveling in it right now. She had the audacity to convince Ryan to switch seats again.”
Nathan shifts in his seat and grabs his textbook and notebook from his backpack.
“And why does that matter to you?”
I feel a pang in my chest. Why does it bother me so much that he’s not as offended as I am? Am I overreacting? Is it really not that big of a deal?
“Because it’s rude,” I finally say. “And then Tony and Ryan proceed to treat me like trash. So, it bugs me.”
Nathan shakes his head and smiles slightly. “No, I get it. It’s the stupid social norms of high school. I would be upset, too.”
“Would you?” I ask without thinking.
Nathan opens his mouth to probably make some sort of retort, but he doesn’t get the chance. Someone stands by my desk, a soft shadow looming over me.
“Gemma,” he says.
I groan again. Why? Why me? Can’t the universe find someone else to torment?
“Hey,” he says and glances at Nathan. Nathan nods in acknowledgment and turns back in his seat to face the front of the classroom. “You left your notebook in class.” The notebook lands on my desk with a plop.
“Since we have Chem together, I thought I should bring it. I also wanted to check in and see how you were.” Nathan snorts then pretends to cough. I smile. “That was pretty embarrassing,” Ryan continues, ignoring Nathan’s reaction. He starts to laugh. “Good thing Tony gave the warning, or—”
I glare at him. Ryan coughs and rakes his hand through his dirty blond hair. Before he can continue, Mrs. White walks in and heads in my direction. Great.
“Hey, Gemma,” Mrs. White says, stopping in front of my desk. She has her long auburn hair tied in a low bun. “Are you okay to sit in class today? I heard you weren’t feeling well.”
I nod. “I’m fine. Presentations and I don’t mix well.”
Mrs. White smiles and nods. “I’m glad to hear that. If at any time you’re not feeling well and need to leave, you can do so.”
She walks away and stands behind her desk, gathering papers before the bell rings. I look to my right to find Ryan still standing by my desk. He looks as if he’s about to say something, then he stops and walks back to his seat.
“Are you okay?” Nathan whispers, turning back around in his seat to face me.
I nod. “Yeah. I just want this day to be over.”
“Hey,” I hear Joey Frost whisper to Ryan, “did Gemma really throw up all over Tiffany?”
My stomach twists in ways it should not twist.
“She got nervous,” Ryan responds.
“All right, settle down,” Mrs. White says. “After looking over the scores of your last test, I decided to postpone today’s test.”
Everyone claps and begins to turn to their friends, sharing their excitement.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” Mrs. White continues. “I’ve decided today will be a review day. Some of you need the extra help. So, I’ll be assigning some of you tutors. I have asked these students beforehand if they are available to be a tutor. They have the best scores in the class. Take advantage of their knowledge.”
“Are you a tutor?” Nathan asks.
“Yeah. Are you?”
He shakes his head and shuffles in his seat. “I would, but I have too much going on. You know, with being a genius and a pro football player and all.”
I suppress a smile and roll my eyes. “The horror. How in the world do you survive?”
“I have my ways,” Nathan says with his signature lopsided grin.
Mrs. White walks around, handing out study guides and assigning tutors to prospective students. She approached me late last week asking if I could spare the time to help a student study. I won’t lie, I almost passed, but I thought it would also look good on my resume. When I agreed, I could tell I had just helped in lifting a massive weight off Mrs. White’s shoulders. I won’t know who I’m tutoring until the student approaches me. But I happen to overhear the conversation to my left.
“Who’s my tutor?”
Knots instantly form in the pit of my stomach. The rock really looks good right about now.
“You’ll have to discuss scheduling with her,” Mrs. White continues. “If you fail another test, you risk failing the course completely. Take advantage of this setup. It’s meant to help you.”
I groan and fold my arms over my desk, setting my head on the soft flesh.
“Feeling sick, Gee?” Nathan asks. “Since this is a study session, I’m sure I can see if I can drive you home. We don’t really need to be here today, anyway.”
“I wish I could,” I say, the desk muffling my voice. “But I have to meet my tutee.”
“Who is it?”
I look up to find Nathan sitting backward in his chair. My heart flutters as I see the concern in his face. I try to ignore it and take a deep breath.
“I’ll give you three guesses.”
He laughs and shakes his head. “Only your arch-nemesis?”
I roll my eyes. “He’s not my arch-nemesis.” I look over at Ryan, who is talking to some of his football buddies. He laughs and gives one of them a high-five. “He’s just my brother’s idiot best friend.”