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Fumbled Love by Lila Rose (1)

Chapter One

Reagan

The day was going to be a terrible one. I knew it the moment I woke up late, having slept through my alarm again. I really had to get one that sounded like a freight train going through my house because when I slept, I did so deeply.

To make matters worse, I raced from my room, skipped around the Pomeranian named Fozzie, and then slipped in still warm poop.

Gagging and cursing him black and blue, I quickly used some paper towels to wipe it off my foot and I let him out the dog door, which was already built in the door when I bought the house. Thankfully, Fozzie was my parents’ dog, and it was my last night minding the little fella.

The cleanup took longer than I thought, which added extra time on my lateness. But I refused to leave my house stinking like dog doo-doo. It wasn’t like I could go to work smelling like poop. I could already imagine the less-than-creative names my students would come up with.

Finally managing to get out the door without another incident, it was then I realized I’d put on the panties I should have thrown away a dress size ago. Yes, those deadly small panties. It meant the whole walk to work, they kept making friends with my butt crack. Mid-step, I glanced down and groaned; I’d also managed to pick out the worst outfit ever. A long red skirt, which had a tear in the middle, and a rainbow-colored tee. Not only did I look homeless, but it was like a Skittle had thrown up on me.

Of course, as I ran through the halls of Radley High School, where I taught English, the principal stepped out of nowhere, and I nearly collided with him.

With just one look at me, Tom Gallegan’s eyes widened. “What happened, Reagan?”

“A rough morning.” I hadn’t even had the chance to inhale my much needed three morning coffees.

He cleared his throat, apparently not wanting to touch on the fact a unicorn farted rainbows all over me. His lips twitched. “Right, ah… I need your help. It’s school assembly in a few minutes and Khloe is out sick. You’ll need to fill in on stage.”

And the morning just got worse.

Khloe was Tom’s assistant; she regularly stood on the stage in assembly and, well, assisted with whatever she had to do. I didn’t take much notice of what she actually did. I liked hiding in my corner with Brooke, my friend from college, who happened to get a job at the same school as me. We stood in the back and… to be honest, we bitched. Mainly about Elena, the witch I’d gone to high school with, and who’d made my experience hell. She also, unfortunately, worked at the same school as us as the family and consumer science teacher. I’d spent probably far too many hours considering other meanings for FACS, which seemed fitting for Elena. Though, my favorite was: Facts About Cockup Slags

“Erm, I can’t.”

Tom crossed his arms over his chest and rested them against his beer belly while he stared me down. We all liked Tom; he was a great guy to work for, like a father figure in a way, but there wasn’t a chance I was getting up on that stage and pretending I wanted to be there. Tom tended to drone on and on and on. Once, Brooke had even elbowed me hard in the ribs because I’d dozed off standing up.

I could take him on in the stare down.

I really could.

With my hands on my hips, I leaned in a bit and stared right back.

Neither of us blinked, and my left eye started twitching seconds in.

The man was a master at the stare down. Damn him.

Sighing, I blinked a few times, and said, “Fine.” I started stalking off, ignoring his grin of triumph.

“You’re going the wrong way,” he called.

“I need to see if Brooke has a spare top or I’ll never live it down with the kids,” I called over my shoulder.

I loved my students, and they loved me, but they could also be little shits. One time, I’d somehow managed to go to class with my slippers on, and a Twix chocolate bar stuck in my hair. I blamed the Supernatural marathon I’d had the previous night. However, I’d heard their murmurs of how they’d thought I’d been dumped and was wallowing in depression. Then there was also the day I’d got caught, after a quick visit to the restroom, with my skirt in my panties. They’d thought I’d ducked out for a romp with the phys ed teacher. After I’d swallowed the bile in my mouth—because no one would want to romp with stinky Steve, who I was sure didn’t own deodorant, regardless of how many times Brooke and I chatted about how good deodorant was in front of him—I assured them it was an accident. I’d been rushing back so they wouldn’t get into too much trouble. Or more specifically me, as I really should not be leaving the classroom unattended. But when I needed to pee, nothing was getting in my way.

I managed to catch Brooke as she was leaving her office. She was the school counselor.

My dear friend took one look at me and started laughing. “Oh God, Ree. Did you not look in the mirror this morning?”

“I was running late. Do you have a shirt I could borrow? I have to take Khloe’s place on stage.”

“Yeah, sure. It’s in the locker.” She stepped away from the door and started down the hall. “I’ll see you on stage. Apparently, I have to help with something too,” she yelled back.

Thank the high heavens I wouldn’t be alone up there.

Quickly, I slipped into her office and took out a black shirt, then cursed. Damn Brooke was only a size smaller than my size fourteen, but I was larger in the chest area. My boobs looked like they wanted to burst free from the buttons. At least it was a bit better than my rainbow tee. I squished the girls down, so I didn’t look like a tramp, and made my way into the gymnasium.

Bustling along with the other teachers and students, I managed to make it on stage just as the final bell rang. Tom ushered us to the left, near the opened curtain, and placed a huge-ass trophy in my hands. It also covered my chest nicely, thank God. Then he placed a small banner into Brooke’s hands before he shuffled off. Brooke and I looked at each other. She then read what was on the banner before I could.

“Oh,” she whispered.

“Oh? Oh, what?”

“We forgot.”

“Forgot what?” I asked snappishly, because her concerned tone was freaking me out.

“That Carter Anthony was coming today.” She winced at my face paling, and I knew it was because I suddenly felt sick.

Carter Anthony.

How could I have forgotten he was showing?

Maybe because I’d put it at the back of my mind, in the very back of my mind.

“It’ll be okay. You don’t even have to talk to him.”

Nodding, I replied, “There is that. And anyway, it’s not like he’ll remember me. I was a nobody back then. We didn’t even talk.” He’d just been my high school crush, the popular football player, and I’d let my infatuation last for years. My love died once I heard him join in with his jock friends laughing at plus-size girls. It also happened to be just before he left town, accepting the big football scholarship with some college out of town. Apparently, he was still a star player and two years ago, he got transferred to one of our city’s NFL teams, whatever they were called. Only he still opted to live away from his home stadium, picking to travel the few hours drive instead. Although, it could be possible he already had a place set up back where he was and didn’t want to leave it. I’d also heard some talk he was thinking of moving back to settle down. While I knew next to nothing about the sport or even teams, I wasn’t surprised by his success. He’d been a brilliant player even in high school. The most recent news I’d overheard was that Carter was finishing up his final year playing, and that he wanted to coach at a local college.

Not that I stalked him. I didn’t. It really was the gossip around town…. Okay, so it was one night—two months ago when we found out he was going to do a talk at our school—Brooke and I were drunk and she’d googled him.

Shifting from one foot to another, since my tight panties had ridden up, again, I took the steps needed to move to the spot Tom gestured us to with an annoyed look on his face; we were off to the side, near the curtain.

“Stupid tight panties,” I grumbled under my breath. I hadn’t had a chance to pull them out discreetly. I scanned the audience and spotted Elena standing on the floor by the stage at the opposite end to us. She appeared eager, and I knew why. Carter had been her high school sweetheart for two years before he’d moved away.

Snorting, I took notice of her outfit, and I’d been worried about my top. Her breasts were close to popping out to say hello.

“What are we snorting about?” Brooke asked discreetly.

Her.”

Brooke looked at Elena. “Oh, her,” she snarled. Elena was the worst. One of the coldest people I’d ever met. It was as if she was stuck back in high school and still thought she shit roses.

As Tom finally took to the microphone, I leaned into Brooke, and said, “Her boobs are so perky they’re like a Disney Princess’s on crack.” Brooke coughed through her laugh. “Actually, I bet she’d want to be Dora the Explorer right about now.”

She glanced at me, then back out to the audience of pubescent teens. “Why?”

“She’d want to be the first to explore Carter’s whole body with her tongue.”

She snorted. “Would she be the only one?”

“Yes.” I nodded. I rolled my eyes as Tom went on and on about the great Carter Anthony. I was sure Tom had a guy-crush on him, like a lot of males all around the country. Even some of the male staff were salivating for a peek at Carter. Except for Larry, one of the math teachers, who I wasn’t sure had moved out of his mom’s yet, despite being thirty-seven.

“Why are you moving like that?” Brooke hissed at me. “Do you need to pee?”

“No, I have a wedgie,” I whispered.

“What?”

“My panties are riding up my butt. You need to pull it out.”

She swung her gaze my way and looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “Come on,” I pleaded. “I can’t continue like this the whole time. It’s so uncomfortable. My panties are up there making out with my butthole. This thing is too heavy to hold with just one hand while I fix the problem.”

“I am not—”

“Remember the time you had me check your boob for a lump? I fondled it for a good while and only found a pimple under it.”

“But—”

“Or the time you broke your arm and had trouble dressing, showering, and going to the toilet?” Looking over to Tom, I pretended to pay attention, and snapped in a low tone, “It’s only a piece of fabric, but it’s annoying the heck out of me. Can you please…?” I felt fingers on my bottom, and then sweet relief. My panties were adjusted. Only what was strange was when my friend patted my ass after it. Still, I said, “Thank you.” Then I glanced back to Brooke who had wide eyes. I added, “See, it wasn’t that hard.”

“Reagan—” Brooke bit out. However, Tom then boomed through the room, “And here he is. Please welcome, Carter Anthony.”

Cheers and claps erupted. I shifted my gaze to the far side and behind the curtain, only Carter didn’t step out.

My body tensed as I felt a presence step up beside me. “Anytime you need help, I’ll be there,” Carter’s deep voice said out the corner of his mouth while he waved to the audience. Then, as he walked toward Tom, he glanced back and winked.

I felt the need to vomit, pee, poop, scream, and cry all at the same time.

He couldn’t have been the one who’d pulled my panties out of my ass.

Nope.

It wasn’t him.

“Reagan—”

“No!” I hissed through my heavy breathing as I tried to calm myself. “It was you,” I stated in my do-not-screw-with-me tone.

“Oh, got it. You’re playing dumb. Right, yep it was totally me who had my hand on your ass adjusting your panties and then patted your rump.” She scoffed. “I also whispered that my helping hand was willing to do it again and then winked at you.”

She quickly looked away.

Huh, guess my death glare does work sometimes.

God, how long had he been standing behind the curtain?

Shit, shit, shit. I didn’t, couldn’t think about it, or about what he heard…. Did he hear me talk about Elena? Had I said her name? She was currently sending him sultry “come screw me” eyes while he was on stage talking about how awesome his life was.

Actually, I couldn’t hear what he was saying because my ears were ringing while my blood pumped frantically through my body because I was having a breakdown.

“Reagan,” Brooke barked lowly.

My body jolted. “What?”

“They’re calling you.”

I froze. They were? Glancing at the microphone, I saw Tom glaring at me while he waved me over. Carter stood beside him smirking. At least Gerry Understock, a top sports student was smiling.

Leaning in a little toward Tom, I whispered-yelled, “What?” I rose my brows at Tom. He sighed and thumped his forehead.

“The trophy in your arms is for Gerry,” Brooke supplied.

“Oh, right.”

She laughed. “Get it over there before Tom strangles you.”

“Reagan.” Tom hurled my name at me as if he were praying it would catch me on fire.

I snorted to Brooke. “He’s thought it many times, but he would never do it. He loves me too much.” I started toward the microphone. In fact, I was sure Tom thought of me as his adopted kid.

Stopping in front of my adopted dad—who I just claimed, something I would tell him later when he tried to kill me—I smiled. He covered the microphone and clipped, “I’m going to staple information about assemblies to your forehead. Then maybe you’ll remember what’s going on.”

Okay, I was his annoying adopted child.

I’m usually down there.” I gestured with my head. “Bad move on your part to have me up here. I get bored easily.” The only way I didn’t get bored was when I read or watched movies and TV shows. I’d even taken up walking on those random days nothing else satisfied me. Brooke had checked my temperature when I told her that. However, after the first few times, I realized I enjoyed it.

Gerry snorted out a laugh, until Tom scowled at him, then he quickly shut up. And Carter—the sexy mountain-of-a-man Carter—stood off to the side smirking once more. I narrowed my gaze his way; his smirk changed into a shit-eating wide grin. Did I have something on my face? God, his eyes were mesmerizing. I suddenly felt an urge to paint or draw them. Although, I still hadn’t passed the stick-figure pictures, so I knew I’d totally suck at it. While I could explain the difference between a simile and metaphor, my artistic credentials sucked.

“Reagan, pass the trophy over to Carter,” Tom snapped.

Shaking my head to clear my mind from stick-figures, I then nodded, “Right. Of course.” I nodded again like an idiot, and stepped up to Carter, practically throwing the heavy trophy at him. I did it all without meeting his hypnotizing gaze.

“Reagan,” Carter called, in his sensual voice.

Goddammit all to hell. The man was sex on legs. He knew it; heck, everyone knew it, and I didn’t want to fall into his trap. The one where he’d undoubtedly captivate me, then BAM, he’d friend-zone me so fast I wouldn’t know what hit me.

It was not happening. So, ignoring his call, I tapped Gerry on the arm, and said, “Congrats on your, um, award, trophy, thingy, Gerry. Top notch, young boy. Brilliant job.” Shit. I needed to get out of there. I patted Gerry’s arm once again and then made my getaway back to Brooke.

Facing the audience, while they listened to Tom and then Carter talk again, I whispered out the corner of my mouth, “Did I look like a total idiot that whole time?”

“Sure did.”

“Thanks. I thought I had. Can you please bury me this afternoon?”

“Can do. I’ll even bring wine and say something nice after you’re in the ground.”

“You’re sweet.”

“It’s what best friends are for.”

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