How (Not) to Fall in Love

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Excerpt from
How (not) to Fall in Love
by Lisa Brown Roberts

Copyright © 2015 by Lisa Brown Roberts. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.


“Hey Darcy! You’d better get outside. There’s a tow truck hooking up your car.”

I stared at Ryan, with whom I’d been in lust since seventh grade, trying to make sense of his words. It took a moment to realize he was not, in fact, admitting he’d been madly in love with me for the past five years, but was instead jabbering about my car.

“Tow truck? My car?” It was like he spoke Klingon and I didn’t have a universal translator.

“Yeah.” His blue eyes flashed with excitement. “You should hurry. They can really screw up your transmission.” He tossed his messily perfect bangs out of his eyes. “I guess they’re serious about us not parking in the handicapped spots. But dude, that’s harsh.”

Handicapped spots? I never parked in those. My brain finally kicked into gear and I slammed my locker shut.

“Thanks.” I took off down the hall, out the main doors, then cut across the manicured soccer field toward the parking lot. As I ran, my stomach roller-coastered. Did I really park illegally? Dad would kill me if he had to pay to get my car out of an impound lot.

My Audi was already loaded onto the tow truck by the time I got there. A swelling crowd of my classmates milled around, pointing and exclaiming. The one using great dramatic expression and lots of gesturing was Sal, my best friend and queen of the theater club, AKA “DQ” for Drama Queen. Sal was always on the verge of being in full costume, like today in her weird grandma prairie dress and suede-fringed boots with fake spurs. She looked like a demented cowgirl, especially with her short spiky black hair and goth makeup.

“I demand to see a warrant! You can’t just come onto private property and take

someone’s car. My father is a lawyer and—”

“Can it, kid,” said the tow truck driver. He hopped off the back of the truck where he’d been adjusting the cobweb of chains trapping my car. He paused before climbing into the truck, then his voice boomed loud enough to reach the whole crowd. “When the bills ain’t paid, the car goes away.”

I froze. Bills not paid? That was impossible. My dad was Tyler Covington, the face of Tri!Umphant! Harvest Motivational Industries. He had his own TV show. Just on PBS, but still. Money couldn’t possibly be an issue.

No one had noticed me yet. Maybe I could duck behind the other cars and hide until the tow truck left. Unlike my dad and Sal, who both thrived on an audience, I was queen of the mice, always skittering around corners and on the watch for potential traps.

Sal spotted me. “Darcy!” Everyone turned to stare. So much for avoiding the spotlight. “Darcy, come tell this man this is your car. Show him your driver’s license or something!” Sal was freaking out like it was her car being towed.

The tow truck man leaned out of his window. “Like I said, if you don’t pay your bills, you don’t keep your car.” The truck roared to life, slowing as it passed me. The driver tossed an envelope out the window. As it fluttered to the ground, Sal ran to grab it.

“When you come get your car out of the impound lot,” the driver called, “bring cash. We don’t take bad checks.” He laughed and cranked the steering wheel hard, making my Audi wobble like a toy as he exited the parking lot.

The hive of students buzzed with excitement as Sal rushed over to hug me. Her thick black eyeliner magnified the panic in her worried brown eyes. “Oh my God, Darcy. I can’t believe this. What an ass. This can’t be right. He can’t just take the car from—ˮ

I held out a hand for the envelope. “Let me see it.”

She handed it over and I tore it open.

Notice of Intent to Sell

This notice informs owner TYLER COVINGTON that vehicle 2013 Audi VIN 214081094809148 has been repossessed due to nonpayment after notice to cure was sent via certified mail. This vehicle will be sold in thirty days at auction. All proceeds will be used to pay off the loan. To redeem this vehicle, bring full payment in form of cashier’s check to High Plains Deals impound lot, 1301 Mountain Avenue, Denver, Colorado.

A few kids wandered closer to us, oozing curiosity. Sal glared at them. “Back off. Give her some privacy, dorks!”

Something was wrong. Horribly wrong. This couldn’t be happening. But it had, in front of the entire school. The parking lot was full, with everyone leaving for the day. I imagined Ryan’s face when he heard my car had been towed because it wasn’t paid for, and I felt sick.


Things like this didn’t happen at Woodbridge Academy. WA was the most elite private school in Denver. Ninety percent of the kids came from wealthy families. The other ten percent were scholarship students.

“I can’t go back in there,” I whispered, tilting my head toward school where my books waited in my locker. My hands shook as I crumpled the repossession notice and tried to unzip my messenger bag. Sal took the paper and refolded it neatly. She unzipped my bag and tucked the letter inside, then put her arm around me.

“We’re getting out of here. Now.” We hurried to her car, a yellow Beetle with daisy hubcaps and DRAMAQN on the license place.

She tore out of the parking lot, slowing only to flip off a couple of football players who yelled at her to slow down. The Beetle squealed around corners, hopping the curb more than once.

“God, Sal, chill out. This isn’t a NASCAR race.” I was going to hurl if she kept driving like a spaz.

She glared at me and then refocused her stare over the dashboard. “We have to get you home. Your parents need to call the tow truck company and get your car back before that asshole ruins it towing it around like a load of trash.”

My stomach clenched. Did mistakes like this really happen? Did banks screw up that badly?

Sal shifted gears angrily. The way she drove her car it’d be lucky to last another year.

“Sal.” I hesitated. “What if it’s true? What if we do owe a bunch of money on my car? And somehow didn’t pay the bills?”

She glanced away from the road to gape at me. “Are you nuts? Your family is freaking

loaded, Darcy. This has to be a mistake.” She chewed her bottom lip. “You can probably sue,

you know. For damages to your car, pain and suffering, all that jazz. I’ll ask my dad about it.”

I rolled my eyes. Sometimes her never-ending drama wore me out.

“Forget it,” I said. “I’m sure my dad will fix this.”

“Exactly,” she agreed, blowing through the stop sign at the end of my block. Her car lurched to a stop in our driveway.

“Thanks for the ride,” I said, “but maybe I’ll sue you for whiplash.”

She didn’t laugh. “Just get inside and get this handled. I’ve got to get back to school for auditions.”

“Sorry.” I felt a twinge of guilt. She didn’t need to drive me home; I could’ve called my mom.

“Don’t apologize. That’s what best friends are for, right?” She grinned at me then peeled out of the driveway. I wondered how many speeding tickets her lawyer dad made go away.

I opened the wrought iron gate on the side of the house, looking for my dog, Toby, but he wasn’t waiting for me like usual. I hurried past the swimming pool, already covered in anticipation of winter, and through the French doors into the kitchen. I had to find my dad to get him to call and get my car back.

Something was off. I didn’t smell dinner cooking, which was weird since Mom, who could have her own Food Network show, always had exotic ingredients simmering on the stove.

Toby came running from the dining room, wriggling with happiness, and I dropped to my knees for a dog hug.

“Hey, boy. What’s going on?” I looked into his devoted Labrador eyes as I rubbed his chocolate brown fur. “We’ll run in a little bit. I need to find Dad first.” I opened the pantry to grab him a Scooby snack. He caught it easily when I tossed it in the air.

“Mom?” I called, as I left the kitchen. I was starting to get worried. “Dad?”

No answer.

I wandered into the dining room. We only used it for dinners with Dad’s premier clients and family holiday extravaganzas. The rest of the time it lurked empty yet imposing. The sleek, spiky silver chandelier made me think of knife blades poised above us while we ate, but Mom bought it during a European shopping spree, so we were stuck with it.

“Mom?” I yelled louder this time. Toby barked for emphasis.

I heard muffled voices from the library. It sounded like Mom and Dad talking, not Mom and one of her perky tennis buddies having their post-game Perriers. That was a relief. I couldn’t deal with perky after the drama in the parking lot.

I flung open the door. “You guys won’t believe this. Some jerk took my…” I trailed off when I saw it wasn’t Dad with Mom, but J.J., Dad’s business partner.

“Darcy.” J.J. turned toward me, flashing his movie star smile. It was almost as blinding as my dad’s trademark grin.

“Sorry to interrupt,” I said, backing toward the door. “I thought Dad was in here.” I glanced at Mom, who sat in a leather wing chair, her fingers twisting her gold serpentine necklace. Why did she look like she was fighting back tears? I glanced at J.J., whose smile had vanished.

Something inside my stomach twisted and I reached down to pet Toby, wanting to keep him close. “Everything okay?”

J.J. and Mom exchanged one of those condescending we-have-to-tell-her-something-but-let’s-not-tell-her-too-much looks.

“What is it?” My stomach knot twisted tighter. “Is Dad okay?” Visions of fiery plane crashes played on the TV screen of my mind.

“Sure, sure. He’s fine,” J.J. blustered, not looking at Mom. “But he’s, ah, had a change of plans. He won’t be home tonight.”

“But he’s got the game tonight. He can’t miss that.” Dad was the official team motivator for the Denver Broncos and never missed a game. I stared at Mom, who was staring at J.J. She still hadn’t looked at me. I heard echoes of the cackling tow truck driver’s laugh and a nibble of fear tickled the base of my neck.

“Mom? What’s going on?” Now they both stared at the ground. Toby leaned against my leg and let out a soft whine.

“I need to talk to Dad,” I said. “Because this crazy thing happened at school today with my car.”

J.J.’s head jerked up. “What happened?” His voice was sharp, surprising me.

“Were you in an accident?” Worry creased Mom’s face.

“No.” I rubbed Toby’s head. He leaned into my hand, making me feel safe like he always did. “Worse. This jerk tow truck driver took my car from the school parking lot, in front of everyone.” I cringed, reliving the humiliation.

J.J. and Mom stared at each other, their expressions making goose bumps rise on my arms.

“But I thought her car was paid for,” Mom whispered, her eyes fixated on J.J.

J.J. glanced at me. “Darcy, your mom and I need to talk. Alone.”

I swallowed. Normally I’d leave without question, but something was seriously wrong. “No.”

Mom raised her eyebrows. “Darcy. Please.”

The knot in my stomach had morphed into a balloon now, swelling with anxiety and worry. “No,” I repeated. I never argued with adults, but I was freaking out and needed to know what was going on. “Dad’s not home for a Broncos game, which he never misses. Some jackass stole my car right in front of me. What’s going on?”

“Don’t say jackass,” Mom said softly, but her heart wasn’t in it.

J.J. loosened his tie and walked to the window, staring out at the trees bending in the breeze. I waited. I’d win this battle, no contest. I spent most of my life waiting and watching other people. Most of the time I was like a shadow no one noticed.

“Your father,” Mom started, then stopped to swallow and compose herself. Her cloudy gray eyes met mine. “Your dad is taking a little vacation.” She fiddled with her watch. “He’s been working too hard. He needs a break.”

My heart sped up. A break? Was that code for something else? A break from us? From Mom? I looked at her red-rimmed eyes. God, I hoped this didn’t mean divorce. I glanced at J.J., who still stared out the window.

“So is he going up to the cabin for a few days?” I asked. “Or staying in L.A.?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure what he’s doing.” Mom turned to look at me. “He called J.J. from the airport to say he’d be back next week sometime.”

“He called from L.A.?” I looked at J.J., willing him to turn around and tell me what he knew.

Mom spoke again when J.J. remained silent. “No, he called from our airport. As soon as he got off his plane, he got in his car and hit the road.”

“He what?” That didn’t make any sense. What was Dad doing? My heart raced even faster. He was a freak about keeping his word, never being late, never missing appointments. Missing tonight’s game was completely unlike him.

“You have to tell her,” J.J. said, his voice low. “It’s already started, with her car.”

The fear I’d been tamping down tore through me now as he turned toward us, his expression hard and unreadable.

“What’s started?” I hated how weak and tinny my voice sounded. Why couldn’t I sound strong and passionate like Sal or my dad?

“We… There might be…” My mom tried to speak but couldn’t finish, tears choking her voice.

“Harvest is going broke, Darcy,” J.J. bit out the words. “Which means your family is, too. So don’t plan on getting your car back anytime soon.”

I stumbled backward as if he’d slapped me. His words echoed in the room as Mom collapsed into sobs.

“I…but I…” I struggled for words, fear and confusion shutting down coherent thought. “But,” I tried again, my voice rising in panic. “My dad… Where’s my dad?”

J.J.’s mouth thinned into a bitter smile. “That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?”

No one spoke, all of us staring at each other in frozen silence. I couldn’t believe what J.J. said. My dad wouldn’t just go AWOL. Every minute of his life was scheduled and planned. And broke? What did that even mean?

“I need to go,” J.J. said. “Since Ty’s not here for the football game, somebody needs to greet his clients in the stadium box.” He wiped a sheen of perspiration from his forehead.

“You’ll let me know?” Mom whispered. “If you hear from him again? And tell him to call me. Please.”

J.J. frowned at Mom. “He hasn’t called you?”

Tears spilled down her cheeks as she shook her head.

He heaved a deep sigh then lumbered across the room. He closed the door behind him without saying good-bye.

For some reason, I thought of this old movie with a badass guy who does slow-mo acrobatics to avoid flying bullets. He has to choose whether to take a red pill and wake up to reality, or take a blue pill and stay in a fake world. That was me right now. Did I want to take the blue pill and live in denial of whatever was happening with my dad? Or did I want to take the red pill and have the truth crash down on me?

I was such a wuss. I’d pick the blue pill every time.