Title: Boyfriend by the Book
Author: Laura Briggs
Release Date: July 19th, 2016
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Excerpt from Boyfriend by the Book:
“Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre?”
Stephanie waved the DVDs around like bait, waiting for us to vote. My mouth was full of popcorn, and Monique was talking on her cell phone--as usual. That left Kristen, who claims to have read Pride and Prejudice the novel more than fifty times. Guess which movie she chose.
Romance movie night. This was how my circle of friends loved to kill a Friday evening that wasn't spent on a date. Or, for that matter, any free evening. They squeezed into my cozy apartment, a spot which was always a jumble of books, magazine collages, and other clutter that I had collected over the years. I loved big stuffed armchairs and my chintz sofa with its brightly-colored pillows was oversized and comfy -- that was the reason they picked my place, I felt. That, and my special popcorn made with a light dusting of garlic and chipotle.
This evening, however, was the beginning of where everything went wrong for me, not that I knew it at the time. I thought it was just another innocent movie night, which proves I'm not psychic in the least -- otherwise, if I had seen the future, I would have ejected that DVD and opted for a horror movie instead.
“Wouldn’t you kill to be Lizzie for a day?” Kristen asked, pulling her blond layers into a ponytail as Jane Austen’s characters shared an elegant dance on the screen. “You’d spend all your time drinking tea and going to parties at English manor houses.”
I was pretty sure that wasn’t an accurate description of Regency life, but Kristen would just roll her eyes if I said that. You're being a spoilsport, Jodi, she would say. Next to me on the carpet, Stephanie wore a dreamy smile, chin propped on her knees. “I could do tea and dancing for awhile,” she decided. “I mean, who couldn’t?”
“Sure, you could,” Monique quipped. She was curled up on the sofa behind us, laying claim to my plushiest throw pillow, a pink one embroidered with flowers. “Someone like me would be stuck serving the tea or cleaning up the mess that’s left after the ball,” she added, with a reference to her dark skin and sleek, black hair with its natural kink tamed by a salon. “Plus, electricity and plumbing weren’t invented yet. Think about it, girls.”
We shared a collective giggle for this. Stephanie reached for the popcorn bowl, exclaiming over the fact it was almost empty. “What, did you guys skip dinner or something?” she asked. Stephanie herself eats like a bird and has the figure to prove it -- skinny and sleek, perfect for her red hair and ceramic skin. Grabbing the bowl, she headed towards the kitchen, muttering something about bad manners. Meanwhile, on the screen, Darcy and Lizzie shared a look fraught with significance.
“Can’t you just picture yourself in Lizzie’s place?” Kristen asked, still clinging to her fantasy.
I tried to summon a vision of myself in a beautiful empire-waist gown like the one in the movie, but it didn’t work. All I could think of was my uniform at the hotel. Knee-length black skirt, a matching vest and silk tie over my crisp white blouse. My dark hair in a neat ponytail as I asked Mr. Darcy if he wanted a pot of tea sent up to his room, or needed additional clean towels? I smiled at the ludicrous thought.
“I just think foregoing modern conveniences would be worth it to dance with Mr. Darcy,” Kristen continued. “Don’t you think so, Jodi?”
“Not really,” I admitted, reluctantly. “I mean, I can’t really picture it. It’s just a story, after all.”
Bad choice of words. Kristen immediately turned defensive. “Just a story? How can you say that? It’s the most romantic piece of fiction written in the last two hundred years!”
“Whoa,” I said, holding up my hands. “Sorry. I just never got the whole obsession with it, that’s all. It's a great book, sure ... I just don't think of Mr. Darcy as the ideal.” Or as reality, I wanted to add, but didn't.
“So what’s your obsession, then?” she asked. “And please don’t say Fifty Shades of Grey.” As she made a gagging motion at the thought.
“I don’t think I have one,” I answered. Truthfully, I didn’t get caught up in movies and books the way my friends did. Sure, I had my favorites. But I didn’t get that deeply invested. I didn’t picture the hero falling in love with me instead of the heroine on the page -- or picture myself taking the heroine's place in the arms of Mr. Darcy or Ross Poldark, for instance.
“You’re telling us you’ve never dreamed about starring in some epic romance?” Monique raised an eyebrow, unconvinced. “Come on, Jodi, there must be something. Little Women? Lorna Doone?"
I shook my head. “There’s no secret book crush. Believe me, I grew out of those years ago, along with episodes of Saved by the Bell and Backstreet Boys CDs.”
“But I thought you liked romance books,” Kristen said. She scrutinized me closely, as if I might have an alter ego that didn’t enjoy romantic novels. I laughed.
“I love all kinds of books,” I scoffed. “You know that.” Kristen works at Book Bound, where she keeps her friends supplied with a steady source of reading material via her employee discount, including me. “They’re just books, though,” I continued. "Just an escape on paper. I don’t picture myself being part of the story. That would just ... seem kind of silly.”
To my friends, this seemed weird, I knew. They couldn't imagine not fantasizing about secret heroes and perfect guys -- too perfect to be real, that is.
Kristen shook her head at me. “That is just so sad. I thought everyone lived vicariously through fiction. Pictured themselves as Lizzie with Darcy. It’s like your anti-romantic or something.”
That one stung. I was about to defend myself when Monique told her, “You know, I could see that being true. I mean, you’re talking about someone who didn’t cry at the end of Titanic.”
A shocked gasp escaped Kristen. “Jodi, how could you not be moved by their tragic romance?”
“I thought it was kind of sappy,” I defended, meekly. I glanced at the rug, feeling self-conscious all of a sudden. I might not be the girliest girl on the planet, but I couldn’t be the only one who didn’t go to pieces over every Hollywood tearjerker. Or got a little tired of hearing that Celine Dion song about the heart going on. And on, and on, and on…could I?
“You know,” Kristen said, “maybe this explains why you’ve never had a boyfriend.”
“Who’s never had a boyfriend?” Stephanie set down the bowl of freshly-made popcorn. “What, never?” she asked.
She hadn't known me nearly as long as my other friends -- not long enough to know this semi-shameful secret. Well, shameful to the rest of the girls in our circle, since to me it was only one of those unfortunate things that happens when you're not the most gorgeous girl on the planet, but just an average girl next door. Cute, even pretty at times, with my dark hair and medium-shaded skin, but hardly a supermodel.
I nodded. “Why? Is that illegal?”
“It’s not exactly normal at your age,” she said. As if twenty-seven was some old-maid status, the way it was in Jane Austen’s day. “I mean, you must’ve had one at some point,” she continued. “High school? Or college at least?”
"Okay, let's correct this a little. I have dated. I've gone on second and third dates with guys. I just haven't been in an actual relationship. You know, where you call each other 'girlfriend' and 'boyfriend.'"
I had dated exactly four guys in college, and none of them had lasted beyond a handful of movies and dinners out. The guy I had really wanted to notice me--Connor Mills, campus hottie and star of the basketball team? He’d been completely out of my league back in my adult-braces-and-bad-perm freshman year of college. But still nice enough to trade study notes and share a table at the cafeteria when our mutual friends happened to sit there.
Just thinking about it brought a tiny smile to my lips, which Stephanie quickly misinterpreted to mean I was thinking of some deeper relationship.
“There was someone!” she guessed, triumphant sounding. "Who was the secret love of your life, Jodi? Tell us!"
I had to burst her bubble.
“Sorry, no." I shook my head. "I was telling the truth. Just a few dates that led nowhere. Like most dates do in the real world,” I added, in case they needed any further explanation for why I hadn’t been seeing anyone lately. "Let's face it. Happy endings are harder to find than the movies make them look."
Fishing out a handful of popcorn, I pretended to focus on the movie again, where Lizzie was fending off a marriage proposal from the horrible Mr. Collins.
“Are you just giving up then?” Kristen’s voice held an accusing note this time. “Just resigning yourself to a life without romance?”
“I didn’t say that,” I protested. “I’m just not that worried about it. I’ll meet someone. Eventually.”
“You haven’t been on a date since what--Christmas? And that was only because I set you up with my neighbor for that holiday party at the condo,” she remembered.
“A party you left early because you had a work-related issue,” Monique said. “That’s why you canceled that blind date, too. The one I set up for you with Justin’s copilot. Now he’s seeing someone else, so that chance is gone.”
I had been fairly sure the copilot and I weren't a good fit from the start, judging from Monique's stories about him. I had agreed only to be polite -- and I was fairly sure that he breathed a sigh of relief when he heard that Monique's friend wasn't available that night for a dinner date. So who's complaining?
“This isn’t a good pattern, Jodi.” Stephanie was looking at me with a cross between pity and reprimand. “You can’t just take opportunities like that for granted. They don’t come along all the time.”
They were ganging up on me now, the movie all but forgotten as they dissected the nature of my so-called love life. I needed to stop this before it ruined the rest of the evening.
“You know my work has to come first,” I told them. “It pays the bills and keeps me from starving in the streets. Plus, hundreds of customers depend on me. That's important to the hotel.”
I could practically hear them roll their eyes for this. My friends tended to view my job at the Regent as that of a glorified errand girl. They didn’t understand how much the guests relied on me to help ensure the perfect vacation, a comfortable stay, or the right experience for a successful business deal. And they didn’t see how being a concierge could lead to bigger, better things down the road.
In short, they didn't see it as a dream I could possibly want. Like being the manager, or even the owner of my own hotel someday. To them, all my books on hospitality and international etiquette, all the magazine articles on the world's best hotels which I pinned to my computer station's corkboard were just homework. My career was just a way to pay the bills in their eyes, which was the reason I led with that argument in the first place.
“We’re all busy,” Monique insisted. “All of us have jobs and responsibilities. But we still manage to have a life too.”
Meaning, you all have boyfriends. You're all in love. And you think that being single is the worst thing that could happen to anybody. All three of them were in serious relationships now, with Monique newly-engaged to Justin, a pilot she had met at the airport where she worked.
And that was great. For them. It didn’t mean I was jealous, or felt left out whenever they discussed their love lives. Not most of the time, anyway.
“Trust me, I like my life the way it is,” I assured them. “Now, can we get back to watching this movie before we miss the whole thing?” As I turned up the volume on the TV so loud it made further conversation all but impossible.