Hello, friends! Below is Chapter 1 of my upcoming YA holiday romance, The 12 Dates of Christmas. Enjoy this sneak peek!
There is a perfect seat to sit in at the movies. Some people know this, and some don’t. Most don’t care. I always buy tickets on Fandango early to ensure this cinematic perfection. The perfect seat is in the middle row of the theater, centered in the middle of the screen. Hopefully, without someone annoying on either side of me, but of course, I can’t control that. At the movies, in the perfect seat, is my happy place.
I, Daniela Bellamy, am an unabashed, hard-core fan of romantic comedies. Unlucky in love myself, rom-coms are my shining beacon of hope for what will one day come. A meet-cute with an impossibly gorgeous guy, who I maybe hate at first because he’s a “bad boy.” But we’re always thrown together by unfortunate yet hilarious circumstances, and we slowly fall in love. That’s only one of several rom-com tropes, but one of my favorites. Probably because I’ve never dated a bad boy, but from what I understand, it’s a rite of passage. I can ‘t wait!
Thinking of my gorgeous future bad boy, I shove a handful of popcorn in my mouth, then hear the familiar laugh coming from my right. That high-pitched laugh is unmistakable. It’s my best friend Rachel, which means that my other best friend, Sadie, is in tow. What are they doing here? They’re supposed to be indoor rock climbing with Sadie’s twin brother, Sebastian. I made up an excuse to get out of rock climbing so that I could come to see the latest holiday rom-com. I’m about seven seconds away from being busted. Dammit!
Yes, Sadie and Rachel are my best friends in the world. We’ve known each other all our lives, and yet, I’ve never confessed my secret shame to them.
A wave of panic washes over me. What do I do? I can make like I’m putting my purse under my seat. It’ll be five minutes at least until the house lights go down, and I’d still have to get out of here when the movie is over without being seen. Like a rat in a cage, I’m trapped with nowhere to go.
“Daniela?” That’s Rachel, clearly confused. Then, “What the hell?” That’s Sadie, who sounds outraged. They scoot by a mother and daughter pair sitting at the end of the row and take the seats on either side of me. “Hi, guys!” I try to sound nonchalant, even though I’ve just been caught in a lie.
“Don’t ‘Hi, guys’ us,” says Rachel. “You’re supposed to be volunteering at the food bank.”
Not only did I lie to my two best friends, but I used a charity to do it. I’ve probably earned a special place in hell for that. Thinking quick on my feet, I say, “Yeah, I was, but I got a call from someone saying they had enough volunteers for today, so they asked if I could come on Friday instead.” Another lie, of course. Sometimes they really come quickly to me. I do volunteer regularly at the food bank, but I’ll really need to step it up a notch to make up for this. Karma doesn’t play around. “Why are you two here? Aren’t you supposed to be indoor rock climbing with Sebastian?”
Sadie huffs. “My stupid brother forgot that he promised my mom he’d help out at the store. The doofus actually forgot that it’s the day before Thanksgiving and that mom needs him to unload boxes.” Stupid and doofus are the two main words Sadie uses to describe her brother. Sebastian is six feet three inches, a football player with muscles for days, and has a movie star smile to boot. Those are the things he gets from his British father. His almond-shaped eyes that look like pools of melted chocolate, as well as his good manners and book smarts, come from his Chinese mother. Sebastian is about as far from being a stupid doofus as you can get. Sadie inherited all those things too, except the height and good manners. At only five feet two inches, she does martial arts and boxes and absolutely does not take crap from anyone. She’s tiny but fierce and rough around the edges. I’m surprised Sadie isn’t the one at the store throwing boxes around.
Rachel speaks again. “So, why this movie? I’d have thought you’d see that new sci-fi blockbuster thing. The one with all the human cloning. Do you even like romantic comedies?” Since I’m a math and science whiz, my friends assumed years ago that science fiction must be my favorite movie and book genre. It’s not, and I’ve never corrected them. A girl needs some form of escapism.
I took a deep breath, let it go, and look between my two best friends. “Okay, I never told either of you this, but I love rom-coms. More than love. It’s more like an obsession. I watch them all the time.” Rachel and Sadie say nothing for a few beats. Rachel breaks the silence first. “Why did you keep that from us? It’s not a big deal or anything.”
I open her mouth to answer, but Sadie cuts in. “It’s not a big deal, but I didn’t take you for the rom-com type. You’re always Miss Sensible. And no offense, but rom-coms are kind of silly.” This coming from the girl who’s into action movies with massive explosions that the main character inexplicably walks away from without a scratch. I’m about to point out to Sadie that she’s about to watch one of those “silly” movies when she cuts me off again.
“I know, don’t say it. This one practically dragged me here,” Sadie said, jabbing a thumb in Rachel’s direction.
“Not all rom-coms are silly.” I’d taken a bit of offense at Sadie’s comment. I’ve never made fun of the type of movie Sadie is into. Not out loud anyway. “Besides, my own love life has been a hot mess. And you two know I’ve tried. Apparently, I’m just missing that thing that a lot of girls our age have. That flirty, almost effortless way with guys. Maybe by watching these movies, I’ll learn a little something.” What I don’t say is that I really don’t want to go off to college romantically challenged. Of the three of us, I’m the least experienced. Rachel has been dating her boyfriend forever, and Sadie, well, she’s the hit it and quit it type. They have different approaches, sure, whereas I have no approach at all. The house lights start to dim, and I wiggle down in my seat and get comfortable. “You two better get to your seats. The movie’s about to start.”
As the coming attractions start to roll, Rachel whispers, “Oh, no. We’re staying right here.” The theater isn’t that crowded, and evidently, those two seats weren’t sold. So much for enjoying a little “me” time.
Even though it is now dark in the theater, I swear I see Rachel and Sadie exchange a look.
When the movie is over, the three of us walk into the lobby, right by the enormous Christmas tree. I think what I always think when I see a Christmas tree before Thanksgiving: would it kill you to wait until after Thanksgiving to put out holiday decorations? As soon as Halloween is over, boom, the Christmas decorations are up. I like Christmas as much as the next person, but that’s ridiculous. Thanksgiving is so overlooked.
My strong opinion on retail holiday decorations leaves my mind as soon as we step outside into the crisp air of a late autumn afternoon. “Be honest, wasn’t that a cute movie?” I look at my friends, hopeful that they enjoyed it at least a little. And that they don’t think I’m a total twit for liking romantic comedies. They do get such a bad rap.
“I loved it! Unlike our dear friend here, I watch all kinds of movies. I don’t judge you.” Rachel smirks at Sadie.
Sadie immediately retorts. “Hey, I don’t personally see the appeal of rom-coms, but I’m not judging either.” She gives me a quick, playful punch on the arm. Rachel leans in to give me a quick hug and adds, “In the grand scheme of things, yours isn’t a terrible secret. It’s not like you run over puppies for fun on the weekends or something. That, we would definitely judge you for.”
I laugh. “Thanks, guys. I know it was a silly thing to keep from you, and I’m not even sure why I did.” I dig my car keys out of my purse and check my phone for the time. “Oh, I gotta go. I told my mom I’d stop at the store to pick up a few things for tomorrow.” I look at both of her friends and smile. “But, I’ll see you guys tomorrow night at our annual Thanksgiving sleepover, okay?” Every year on Thanksgiving night, after Rachel and I have stuffed ourselves with turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, we go to Sadie’s house for a sleepover. The first Thanksgiving sleepover was in sixth grade, and somehow it became a tradition.
We say goodbye to Daniela, and when she’s out of earshot, I turn to Sadie. “My place? We’ve got some planning to do.” Sadie nods, and we head to my car.