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Read Chapter One of Trusting November!

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

This story was so much fun to write, and I hope you fall in love with Kris and Hayley the way I have. You can grab your copy here or keep reading for a sneak peek at chapter one!

Chapter One


My feet carry me across the quad and toward the student center at a record speed as I fumble to keep ahold of the books spilling out of my arms. I grunt in frustration, finally managing to shove my English Literature and Composition book down in the crook of my elbow so tight that it pinches my skin—but at least now I won’t drop it again.

Panting, I use my bodyweight to thrust open the first set of large and considerably heavy glass doors and then do the same with the second, completely ignorant to everyone behind me. When I finally come to a halt next to the round wooden tables that sit in the entrance, making a nice and quiet study area for students who grab Starbucks at the counter a few feet away, I allow all my textbooks to fumble out of my arms with a heavy sigh. Half of them land on the table, the other half on the chair, and a handful of reading packets float to the ground and slide across the floor.

My burning shoulders thank me immediately.
Several disapproving stares eye me over their computer screens or glance up at me from notebooks being ferociously written in. We’re only a few weeks away from finals, still recuperating from midterms, and just finished scheduling for next semester—one I hopefully won’t be here for.
“Took you long enough,” comes a voice from my right. I roll my eyes, squatting down to pick up my papers while simultaneously holding out my hand, which an iced coffee is promptly placed in, courtesy of my roommate/best friend.
“I’m sorry,” I grunt, sliding my book bag off my shoulders and shoving the remainder of my clutter inside of it. I let out a frustrated breath that blows the brown hair out of my eyes and finally stand up to greet my best friend. “Thank you for the coffee. I promise I’ll pay you back.”
My eyes trail to the long line that I would be waiting in had she not gone ahead and bought mine with hers. Allie shakes her head like it’s nothing, but this isn’t the first time she’s had to buy my coffee, and we both know very well that Starbucks isn’t cheap.
“I’ll just add it to your tab,” she says flippantly, giving me a wink. Her eyeliner is flawless, per usual, and her latest fashion obsession is with athleisure, so she’s currently sporting these adorable green sweat-pant-jogger-type things and a white, long-sleeve crop top. The beanie on her head matches the shade of her pants, and her shoes are pure white, accenting the shirt. Allie’s a fashion icon—at least in my eyes—and if she’s not either a famous model or fashion designer in the future, then the universe did something very, very wrong. The two of us have very different styles—where she’s flashy sweatpants and sneakers, I’m suede boots and fringe jean jackets. We’re the perfect representatives of our hometown roots. I’m a local, Nashville born and raised, but Allie transferred to our school from the heart of Florida last year as a sophomore—a year above me.
“Or better yet…” she continues, watching me with an excited glint in her eyes. “When you’re big and famous and way too cool for me, I’ll just send you a bill. With interest.” She brings a finger to her mouth, tapping it on her bottom lip thoughtfully as her emerald eyes flick to the side. “Now, let’s see… that would take like, what? Five years unless you blow up right away? So…” she pauses, licking her lips as though she’s really trying to work out how much I’ll owe her one day. “Carry the one…”
“Stop trying to do math,” I say, rolling my eyes and swatting her hand away as she reaches for her phone, no doubt to pull up a calculator app. Math and Allie are not friends. She once thought three plus three equaled nine because she accidentally multiplied the numbers instead of adding them. “At this rate, by the time I pay you back, you’ll be able to buy the Starbucks corporation with my tab.”
She grins mischievously, brows waggling as she plays with the edges of her short hair. “All part of my plan, sweetheart.”
I laugh, taking a sip of my decaf caramel macchiato with a pump of mocha—I’m a little particular when it comes to coffee, whereas Allie could drink it black without complaint. “Wait, this is decaf, right?”
Allie rolls her eyes. “Of course it’s decaf.”
“Good.” I take another sip, tapping my thumb against the side of the cup. I’m anxious enough about the coming weeks without an extra caffeine boost driving me up a wall. “Wanna head home?”
Allie nods, standing up and tossing her drink in the garbage can. I must have been later than I thought if she’s already done. We head toward the student parking lot and she bumps into me with her shoulder, a wide grin overtaking her face. “Everything ready for tonight?”
My heart surges at her implication, sending waves of excitement sparking through my body. I nod, bouncing on the balls of my feet as I walk.
“Hayley?” Allie prompts, scrunching her brows together.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.” I wince, realizing that I’m supposed to answer the question instead of wallowing in my excitement. My mind goes off track fairly easily and very frequently, so Allie’s always pulling me back to reality, whether she knows it or not. “Everything’s ready. I bought a few Halloween-themed card games in case the conversation runs dry. Nia bought the wine, because, you know.”
“Dad owns a liquor store,” Allie supplies, nodding in understanding. Nia doesn’t get the wine for free, but she does get a hefty discount. Besides, Allie doesn’t turn twenty-one for another two months, and I still have a year to go, so we couldn’t have supplied the alcohol anyway.
“She dropped it off this morning after you left for your 8 a.m. Rae’s bringing chips and dip, and Kelly’s ordering the pizza for six o’clock. I also spent hours making chocolate-covered strawberries this morning, so brace yourself for Hurricane Kitchen when we get home.”
She waves her hand to the side, pulling out her keys once we reach her car, which is parked in the same spot as it is every day—behind the student center, next to a large pine tree, and over the yellow line so no one can park next to it. Allie’s very protective of her 19th-century beater.
Okay, so it’s not that old, but we’re lucky it starts at all. She has earlier classes than me, so I walk to campus most days and she drives me home, but I can’t count the number of times she was almost late because her car wouldn’t start. “We can clean up tomorrow. If I know Sophie, she’s going to drink herself drunk on a half-bottle of wine, then spill the rest of it all over the carpet. Again.”
I blink rapidly, nodding. “Tomorrow it is.”
The second she puts the key in the ignition, “abcdefu (angrier)” blares through her speakers at an intolerable volume, and unlike most people, she doesn’t make a move to turn it down, just starts belting out the lyrics to the song. What disturbs me even more than her ridiculously loud volume preferences is the fact that this is what it was set to last time she turned her car off… at around seven forty-five this morning. What kind of psychopath listens to this type of music, this loud, that early in the morning?
Allie. That’s who.
But I know better than to touch the controls of her radio, and I know even better than to complain. Her car, her music. The first time we really hung out together after she moved here was when she drove me to the school’s fall concert, and I learned that day to never acknowledge her music in any way. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but I think she quoted some TV show my brother used to watch. Something about shutting my cakehole and letting the driver pick the music. I don’t know, but just thinking about it reminds me of the sting of her hand slapping mine when my fingers wrapped around the dial.
So, I simply groan inwardly and try to think of a fun country song in my head during the short drive to our apartment—during which we listen to the same song on repeat.
I’m not just particular about my coffee, but my music as well. I love country—Jason Aldean, Chase Rice, MacKenzie Porter, and I’ll even listen to some of Carrie Underwood’s pop-country stuff. However, that’s the extent of my music education. Despite my undying love for Taylor Swift, even she lost me when she started producing pop music. I can’t help it. It’s just not my thing.
How I ended up living with a borderline goth-on-the-inside princess from hell, I have no idea. But Allie’s my best friend, and she’s the most loyal and supportive person I know.
The car rattles when we hit a speed bump pulling into our apartment complex—yes, the rattling is audible even over the radio—and when she parks and starts to hop out of the car, I take a deep breath and blurt, “I’m playing at Bourbon Street Bar again tomorrow.”
She halts, one foot still in the car as she turns on me, hair a mess and beanie crooked from all of her head banging and shout-singing. I gnaw on my inner cheek while I await her response. I’m not one to brag or fish for validation like most do when they think they have a talent and want to know if the people close to them think they’re good enough to go somewhere with it. In fact, I don’t like recognition at all. When my friends heard me sing for the first time—either along to the radio or the few notes that always slip out when I’m cooking or cleaning—their jaws practically hit the floor with shock. I used to think they were just patronizing me, that because I could sing on key they thought I had the power to become a superstar. Singing is my passion, but I find it strange when people fawn over my voice, so whenever I get an audition or the chance to perform at a local bar, I usually don’t tell anyone.
“Again? —that’s twice this week!” Allie says, floored, clutching the roof of the car as though she’s going to scale it just to hug me. “Hayley, this is huge! Did you hear back from Legend’s Corner?”
I purse my lips and twist the edges of my hair at her mention of one of the most popular bars around here. It’s where all the locals go for a good time.
Eventually, I nod in confirmation because saying the words out loud makes all of this unbelievably real. “They want me to play there on Saturday. I think people are getting wind of my audition. The possibility that I could go somewhere makes them more interested in me.”
Over the summer, I made a deal with myself.
One shot.
One last chance to make a name for myself and chase my dreams before I succumb to a boring desk job that leaves me uninspired and unsatisfied.
So, a few months ago, I convinced myself to try out for Tennessee Talent, a seven-round singing competition that’s largely popular in Southern states and filmed in Nashville. Just like other talent shows, such as The Voice and American Idol, it’s prerecorded and televised nationally. If I make it through the first three rounds, however, the remaining four air live and viewers can vote for the contestants they want to win. Before this year, the competition was small, watched and appreciated only in the South—it is country-music-based, after all—but the producers are looking to expand, and this year, the show will be aired nationally.
Despite my apprehension about being on national television, I really want to make this work. I went through countless pre-auditions and performed in front of the world’s rudest executive producers to prove that I was worthy of a spot on the real, televised audition round. Just as I began to lose hope, I received a call two weeks ago that I’d been accepted.
There are four staple judges, but every season the show brings on a fifth mystery judge who isn’t revealed until you either walk in the room to audition, or episode one airs on TV. The mystery judge is different every year, which gets fans even more excited for each coming season, trying to figure out who it might be.
“That’s amazing,” Allie breathes. Her white platform sneakers clunk across the sidewalk and she engulfs me in a hug. “That means that even if you don’t win, you’ll have peoples’ attention. You’ll gain some credibility. I mean—just making it to the audition round is extremely difficult. More and more people are going to want you performing at their—”
“You know I have to win,” I interject, stepping out of her arms.
She rolls her eyes futilely, keys dangling from her fingers. “We’re just going to skip this argument because I’m really happy for you right now.”
I knock my shoulder into hers in thanks as we head up the steps, walking on either side of the crooked and rusted railing until we reach the sidewalk, where Allie veers up another set of steps with me close behind.
My stomach churns in anticipation, and I stand on our brown and black welcome mat as Allie inserts her key into the door before we head inside and out of the chilly fall air. I still have a week until my audition, and I’m so nervous that I’ve hardly slept or eaten anything at all. My nerves are only worsened by the prospect of yet two more performances so soon before the big day. I’m built for this—music, singing, songwriting—but at the same time, my stomach knots and my legs turn to jelly every time I step on a stage, almost as though my body is rejecting what my heart wants.
On top of my already stress-filled life, making it on the show means that I could potentially miss the remainder of the fall semester—should I advance beyond the audition round—so I made arrangements with my professors to get all of my assignments in advance. In the past two weeks, I’ve done six final projects and taken three final exams on top of the weekly assignments I would have received throughout the next few weeks.
My brain has been a frazzled puddle of mush, but at least the work has kept my mind off things.
Stepping into the kitchen, I immediately get to work cleaning up the mess I left this morning, despite agreeing to wait, and Allie paces the length of our tiny living room with a giddy smile on her face. “I can’t get over this. Bourbon Street Bar and Legend’s Corner? The girls are going to be so excited when you tell them.”
I laugh. “Well, then it’s a good thing we’re having a girls’ night to celebrate my audition.”
“Icing on the cake, baby,” she says coolly, draping her arm across my shoulders and dragging me toward the couch. “Stop cleaning. Big things are about to happen for you. I can feel it. Soon enough, you’ll be hiring a maid to do this shit.”
I roll my eyes, willing some of her optimism to rub off on me. If only I shared that same mindset. “I don’t know…”
“Nope. Uh-uh. None of that unsure, belittling your talent bull crap. You’re good, Hayley. And if all goes well, soon enough people with way more important opinions than mine are going to know it.”
I sigh, surrendering my argument for the time being. Truth be told, I know I have a good voice. I know I’m talented—people have been telling me that all my life. But it just feels like any other compliment that you receive growing up—you’re so pretty, you’re so nice, you’re so smart—meaningless pleasantries people tell you because they think they have to. Because it’s a societal expectation. Just the sort of thing you say to someone you think needs to hear it.
Deep down, I worry that I’m not cut out for this competition or the celebrity lifestyle—the lack of privacy, standing on stage in front of hundreds of people… Still, singing is my dream, and I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself if I don’t go through with this audition, even if I’m positive I won’t go far.
So yeah, I know I’m good. That doesn’t mean I’m good enough.

* * *

At the last minute, I decided to bake a small tray of brownies just in case the girls want more dessert later.

Yes. I’m a raging stress baker, and I belong in stress-bakers’ anonymous.

I’m a stress-bake-aholic.

I’m also an irrational thinker when I’m overly nervous or excited. It’s like my mind flits around like butterflies, but with ant bodies weighing them down—their wings flutter, drooping and flying crooked, and they bang into my skull, knocking loose the most absurd thoughts possible. Sometimes, they even knock said thoughts into my mouth and plummet into a verbal existence.

Between the brownies, chips and dip, pizza, popcorn, chocolate-covered strawberries, and wine, I think we should be set for the night. It may sound like a lot of food for six skinny college girls, but we’ve never been ones to hold back on carbs. Especially not when wine is involved. Something about alcohol makes me eternally hungry for junk food.

I’ll admit, I was a bit apprehensive about this celebration—it feels stupid to celebrate something that isn’t a certainty—but getting everything ready has done wonders for keeping my mind off of the looming audition. Plus, even when the topic comes up tonight, I’ll hopefully be distracted enough by girl talk that I won’t have time to obsess over the likely possibility of making a fool of myself on stage.

The clock on my desk tells me I have two minutes until everyone is supposed to arrive, and I haven’t even made my bed yet. I know I’m going above and beyond for tonight and that this isn’t the first time my friends have seen my apartment, but I love how my room looks with my blue and white pillows placed prettily on the bed, with my white comforter draped over the rumple of un-matching blankets and sheets hidden beneath. I fumble around the small space, cursing when I stub my toe on the dresser while trying to tug the heavy comforter up the length of my bed at record speed.

By the time I’m finished, sweat has broken out on my forehead. I plop down on the bed, turning around to find Allie looming in my doorway. She’s still dressed in the same clothes she wore to school, but her beanie’s missing, so her hair is sticking up at odd angles on top. I assess her, scooting to the edge of my bed and crossing my legs beneath me. It’s unlike her to be anything less than perfect. Even if Allie’s life is falling apart, she won’t be caught dead with a hair out of place. When her grandmother passed away over the summer, she was a blubbering mess before the funeral, and when I tried to help her fix her hair, she informed me that God made hats for that very reason—to be our styling product when we can’t muster the will to use a flat iron.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, panic clinging to my chest like a second layer of skin. Allie has her my grandma’s just died and I don’t have the strength to do my hair face on, which is never, ever a good sign.

She bites her lip and laces her fingers together, wringing them back and forth anxiously before she lifts her eyes. “They’re not coming, Hales.”
I glance at the clock, noticing for the first time that it’s already a quarter after six. They’re fifteen minutes late, and our friends are usually right on time. Still, I blink uncertainly, shaking my head in denial. “What do you mean, they’re not coming?”
“They said—”
“R-Rae’s bringing the chips and dip, and Kelly’s ordering the pizza. I mean, Nia already dropped off the wine, for God’s sake,” I babble on, cutting Allie off when she tries to speak again. “We’ve been planning this for two weeks—ever since I found out that I made the cut for Tennessee Talent.”
“I know.” She runs a hand through her hair. “Rae said she got called into work at the last minute, Kelly’s not feeling good, and Nia and her boyfriend broke up.”
I scoff, rolling my eyes and falling back against the bed, nearly hitting my head on the wall it’s pushed up against. “They broke up again?”
“Apparently,” she says, sarcasm dripping from her tone. She drops down beside me and leans back on the mattress so we’re both staring up at the chipped paint on the ceiling. Disappointment weighs on me like an ocean wave crashing down and knocking me under. They knew how important today was for me, how excited I was, and yet they aren’t here.
“Wait, what about Sophie?” I ask, realizing Allie hasn’t mentioned her. There’s a chance she might show up.
I feel Allie shrug beside me. She raises her arm and gestures around the room before stopping her jerky motion at the alarm clock on my dresser. “She’s not here, is she?”
I pull out my phone, firing off a quick text to my friend. Moments later she replies with the shortest, barest apology possible.
Sophie: Hey, no, I’m not coming. I decided to go home for the weekend—needed
a break from all the stress of college, ya know? Have fun! See you soon, superstar.

Nice of her to tell me.
I grit my teeth, tossing my phone aside without bothering to answer. “Well, this sucks.”
“I take offense to that.” Allie frowns, then grabs my hand and tugs me off the bed and into our small living room, but the decorations she hung just look sad now—the congratulatory sign sags depressingly from the ceiling, and the numerous bottles of wine set up on our kitchen table, surrounded by various desserts, seem futile. “Come on. These bottles of wine won’t drink themselves.”
“Ah!” Allie holds up a hand, clenches her jaw, and glares at me, button nose scrunching. “You’re going to shut up. Then we’re going to drink. And then we’ll eat way too much—” I start to interrupt but she straightens her still-outstretched hand and points at me instead “—I’m not finished, Hayley! —and then we’ll be so wasted on junk food and damn-fine wine that you’ll be glad those assholes were too jealous to show up because, let’s be honest, they don’t bring anything to the table anyway.”
“I just want to go to bed,” I say, and the appalled look on her face tells me I’ve offended her more by being tired at six-fifteen than the girls did by ditching us for what we both know were no doubt fake reasons.
“I don’t remember listing ‘bedtime’ as one of the items on our agenda tonight,” Allie says, crossing her arms over her chest. “You know just as well as I do that they’re going to come crawling back the second they realize they should have had more faith in you than self-pity for themselves. They’re too self-centered to be happy for you because all they can see is what they’re lacking. Besides, I have enough excitement for this entire campus.” Allie grabs the wine opener and begins working out the cork. She pours us two, way-too-full glasses and sits on the couch, turning on the TV. I settle beside her, touched by her faith in me. I haven’t slept in days—hell would freeze over before I could fall asleep this early in the evening anyway. As an afterthought, Allie turns to me, propping the hand holding the remote on her knee. “You haven’t paid Nia for the wine yet, have you?”

I look at her plainly. She of all people knows how long it takes me to pay someone back. “Of course not.”
She shrugs, taking an improperly large gulp of wine and causing a singular drop to seep out the corner of her mouth and down her chin. She wipes it away and smiles at me greedily. “Hmm. That’s too bad.”

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