The past few years have been pretty rough in terms of my writing. In 2020, I had a hard time finding the motivation to write anything – even a text to friends. But I still was able to write a little. 2021? Even less. But this year, I was able to change some things around. It took a lot of work and a lot of time. Now, it’s finally happening. After a few years of edits and updates and multiple re-reads, my newest and favorite novel has almost arrived.
I would like to introduce you to my newest MC, June ‘Birdie’ Bello. She is many things. She is cold and jaded and trying everything in her power to turn her life around and become something different than what her father raised her to be – something just shy of a criminal.
And it’s easy in the sense of not easy at all. She thought going to college would be about learning new things and being around brainy people. Instead, she gets a roommate who wants to go to parties all the time with a guy who is rumored to do numerous illegal things. That shouldn’t make her intrigued, right? And she’s not. Definitely not. Not at all. But Miles Caldwell is more than just the things he does with his family. And his family? June is most definitely not intrigued with any of them. Definitely not fascinated with the eldest brother, Mason – the coldest of them all. No, definitely not intrigued. At least that’s what she tells herself.
October 1st is almost here, and I am so unbelievably excited.
Because it’s almost here, below is the very first chapter of my newest book Birds Must Fly.
I hope you enjoy it almost as much as I do. And just remember – “Friends buy each other tacos.”
Birds Must Fly – Chapter One
Reinvent yourself—what a load of shit.
That’s what my foster parent, Gem, said when she suggested I attend college.
‘A fresh start. A way to reinvent yourself. To be someone different.’
But here’s the thing: do you know how hard it is to reinvent yourself?
What do you do when the things you want to change are ingrained in you? For me, the things that need changing are my basic instincts. Like right now. My roommate is yapping, talking a mile a minute about the guys she’s seeing and what amazing thing he did recently. And my first instinct, the thing I really want to do? It is to punch her in the face. I don’t want to hurt her. No, I just want to stun her enough that she’ll stop talking for a full minute. After three weeks of living in a room with her, I’ve only been able to get a word in a few times. Yeah, sure, I’ve never been a girls girl or good at small talk. But what Alex does is neither small nor talk. Instead, she rants about whatever is going through her head and doesn’t let me join her on the rare occasion I try to.
I watch Alex continue talking, seriously regretting saying yes to going out with her tonight. I wasn’t supposed to go out. I’d gone out partying the first weekend I had arrived on our small Californian College Campus. I did not intend to do that when I came to college, but I was trying to bond with her. Yes, I have a terrible reputation for having friends and a bad attitude. Still, I was willing to try when I got here. I even went so far as to ask her about herself. Alexandria Martin comes from a small town a half-hour away from where her mother and little sister live. When she told me she had a deadbeat dad she hadn’t seen in years, I thought, ‘well, maybe we could be friends.’ After all, I know everything about having a deadbeat dad.
That first party was fun until she got white girl wasted, and then I had to shuffle her back to the dorm while frequently stopping so she could throw up. The following day while she was nursing a massive hangover, she told me all about the amazing man she had met the night before. For her, that party was a win.
The second weekend, I was able to resist going out. I’d spent the week preparing for the start of the semester. I even read a book. A. Book. I didn’t finish it. I’ve only been able to read a few pages daily because it was so dry and dull. But you want to know when I last read a book? I. Don’t. Remember. That’s how long it’s been. So, I felt accomplished with this whole re-inventing myself thing and didn’t want to screw it up. That said, when Alex asked me to go out with her last weekend to a frat party, I kindly said no. First of all, ew. A frat? No, thank you.
Buttttt, then Alex asked me about an hour ago if I wanted to go with her and her guy somewhere tonight. I’m sure she asked to be nice, but I could use the reprieve, so I said yes. This past week all I did was work and go around campus to look for a second job between watching TV and sleeping. Alex spent most of her time in the room watching TV with me or the guy she’s been seeing, so I haven’t seen much of her lately.
I can only grow so much before I start to die of boredom. So, I said yes. It’s still ‘change’ if I don’t say yes to a party every time, right? Plus, what’s the harm in going? I don’t go to drink. Sure, I’ll have a drink, depending on the mood, but that’s not why I like to go out. I crave the noise. I want to be in places so loud you can’t hear yourself think.
Again, what’s the harm? It’s just a party. It’s just one night.
And that’s how we got here. Alex stands across from me with her long black hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun and large silver hoop earrings hanging from her ears. She’s wearing a white lacy crop top showcasing her small tattoos that litter her arms and stomach and a pair of jean shorts that show off her tan, toned legs. She’s a few inches shorter than me, but she wears wedges that put her up to my height tonight.
As for me, I’m wearing an old AC/DC shirt with a ‘V’ cut out on the chest that has been replaced with a mesh insert and ripped black jean shorts. I decided to pair it with flops because, in summer, it’s all about the ‘flops. My curly blonde hair goes off in all different directions. I tried to tame it before we left, but it didn’t work out well, and I sort of… gave up.
I get a moment of sweet relief from Alex’s talking when she takes a deep breath and digs her phone out of her back pocket.
“Ugh, he should be here by now,” she huffs before shoving her phone back into her pocket and looking around as if her man friend will just randomly appear.
I say ‘man friend’ because the guy she’s been seeing for almost two weeks doesn’t strike me as the monogamous boyfriend type. Also, I can’t remember his name. I met him briefly when I returned to the room, and he was leaving. It’s safe to say the man is downright gorgeous. He’s well over six feet. I would say somewhere around six-three if I had to guess, with broad shoulders and big muscles. The kind of muscles I could say without a doubt, he looks like he could lift me clear over his head without struggling. And that’s saying something, considering I’m a five-foot-eleven girl, size sixteen. I’m a big girl. When I met him, he also had a ‘Back the fuck off’ attitude, and I’m not sure if that was because of the timing or if he always looks like that.
Alex turns to the front entrance of the parking lot just as a black jeep turns into the parking lot. He swings around the cars and comes to a stop in front of us.
“That’s our ride,” Alex says to me with a grin as she steps up to the car. “Hey, Miles,” she says to him with a grin.
That’s right! His name is Miles.
“You remember my roommate? This is June,” she says as she climbs into the front seat of the doorless Rubicon.
Miles slides his shuttered gaze to me. No, he looks like that all the time. But he surprises me when he grins. He’s wearing a sleeveless t-shirt with most of the side cut out so you can see his hard stomach. It looks like he’s got cargo shorts on and air force ones on his feet. He’s got a black cap backward on his head, covering his hair.
“‘Sup, Junie,” he greets. “Need help getting in?”
“It’s just June,” I reply. “And no.”
Grabbing the bar up top, I place my right foot on the wheel, pull my body up, swing my left leg over and settle into the backseat, making sure to put the seatbelt on. The moment the metal clicks together, Miles takes off, the car rocking as he turns hard to get out of the lot.
Staring out at the red-rimmed sky, I take in the colors of the sun as it slowly sets. It’s more peaceful out here than I thought it would be. Way different than I’m used to. The wind whips loudly in my ears. And I’m grateful for not having to make small talk. I glance at the front to see Alex lean in and whisper something in Miles’ ear. I turn away before I can see his reaction.
I’ve never done well with people. Small talk has never been my thing, and I spend more time around people trying to figure out their intentions rather than listening to what they’re saying. That’s why I like doing things that make my brain go silent. I hate the constant thinking. The constant worrying. It’s exhausting.
I might be able to change my name. I change some things, but I cannot change how I think. Sorry, Gem.
Miles slows the car down, and we come to a red light.
“So, where are you from, June?” He asks me.
It takes me a moment to realize he’s talking to me. I’m still not used to people using my real name. One of my father’s lackeys gave me a nickname when I was a kid. Eventually, everyone started using it – even my father. But that name… made me who I was, the person I’m trying not to be now. So when I came to school, I decided to have people call me June.
When I say college is a fresh start, I mean it wholeheartedly. It was a way to break the mold I had grown into. To break away from the people that wanted to keep me the same. To keep me from the man who would ensure I stayed the same. My father is a user. He’s used me my entire life, and it took me a long time to see it. But now that I do, I refuse to be an errand girl. I refuse to think that some little bits of attention is love. So, I got a friend to hack into the school system and change my last name. I’m not naïve. I know that one day my father will find me – I’m not hiding that hard, but I need that day to be far enough away that I can change who I am. So the person he finds is no longer the girl he thinks he knows. That’s why today I’m June Bello, no longer Birdie Cassidy.
Realizing Miles is still waiting on an answer, I snap my head forward and meet his eyes in the rearview mirror.
“A small town a couple of hundred miles away,” I tell him elusively. I don’t tell him or anyone else I’ve met that I’m from Chicago. Even though it’s hundreds of miles away, it just takes one person to know a person, to have heard of this person who happens to know who my father is. Once one person finds out, they’ll all know, and then coming here to reinvent myself will have been for nothing.
“Get homesick yet?”
“No,” I say, chuckling at the thought. Hard no. I think to get homesick, I’d have to have a home first. I did, once. When I was a kid, and my mother was still alive, sure I had a home. But in my teen years, I spent my time couch surfing to escape my father and the kinds of men he had around. It wasn’t until I had to live with Gem that I had a bed to sleep in, but even then, that wasn’t my home, and we all knew it.
Miles watches me in the mirror, and I hold his gaze, not backing down.
He must see whatever he needs to because he nods and looks back to the road.
We drive for a few more minutes, and Miles pulls into an empty parking lot.
Miles and Alex climb out, so I stand and prepare to jump down. Out of nowhere, a hand pokes through my line of vision. I see it’s attached to Miles, and I’m stunned like I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it. Tentatively, I reach out, placing my hand in his, and hop from the car, landing on my feet on the pavement. Miles drops my hand, and he and Alex start walking ahead.
Miles’s whole demeanor is badass and angry. Not gentlemanly.
I shake my head against the odd feeling he gives me, and I start to follow after them.
We walk out of the parking lot and across the street, into the shopping mall on the other side. It’s one of those small malls with five buildings and a small parking lot. There’s a dry cleaner at the far right end. Next to that is a shady-looking pizza place. After that, what seems to be an abandoned clothing store, with the windows boarded up in the center. A Chinese food place is on the other side, and a bridal store takes up the left end.
Miles starts walking into the Chinese place. Alex glances back at me. I must have a question on my face because she shrugs as if saying she has no idea what we’re doing.
Before Miles steps in the door, he spins around to face me. I come up short, almost running into Alex.
“I don’t think I need to say this, but I’m going to anyway; what you see here tonight doesn’t get repeated to anyone. That means anyone. Got it?”
Alex nods enthusiastically. I stare at Miles through narrowed eyes. What exactly am I getting into here? I thought we were going to a party.
Miles looks at me, waiting.
“I don’t have friends,” I tell him with a shrug.
He watches me for a moment. “Good. Don’t use me to get new ones.”
I scoff. “I don’t even know who you are.”
This makes Miles grin like he’s got a huge secret.
“I’m a Caldwell, baby. Don’t you forget it.”
Satisfied, he turns around and pulls open the door to the restaurant.
“Wait, what are we doing that can’t be repeated?”
I want to shake myself because I should have asked this before getting in the car. I don’t know him. I don’t know Alex. And yet, I broke my cardinal rule. Don’t trust anyone. Dammit, Birdie.
This is not the kind of change I was talking about.
Miles throws a smug look over his shoulder. “Why scared? Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.”
Alex and Miles walk inside, but it takes me a second to move.
I could leave. Right now, I could leave and walk back to campus. We’re not that far away. I don’t have to go in there. I don’t have to find whatever it is that needs to be kept secret.
But I want to. My skin tingles from the anticipation of what we’re going to find. My adrenaline pumps at the idea that we might be doing something dangerous. Scary. Reckless.
Miles and Alex are waiting on the other side of the glass door.
I take a deep breath.
Yeah, Miles, I’m scared. Scared that I might like whatever lays beyond this door.
Before my brain decides, my hand is already reaching out for the handle.
This is so not a good idea.
The end of chapter one! What did you think??
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