The “What If” Guy ~ Brooke Moss

What would you do if you’re “what if” guy showed up at the lowest point of your life?

(Autumn Cole clocked hers with an encyclopedia.)

After losing her job at a swanky Seattle art gallery and finding out her father has been hospitalized, single mother Autumn Cole reluctantly returns to her tiny hometown of Fairfield, Washington to put the pieces of her life back together.

Her disgruntled twelve-year old son isn’t thrilled about going from hip to hick, but Autumn’s got it worse. She resumes her role as the daughter of the town drunk, promptly facing a crisis with her father that’s been decades in the making.

Running into Henry Tobler, and nearly breaking his nose, is almost more than she can handle, but can rediscovering love–and herself–with her “what if” guy teach Autumn to forgive before it’s too late?

ASIN: B005EZ44T4
Brooke writes complex, character-driven stories about kismet, reunited lovers, first love, and the kind of romance that we should all have the chance at finding. She prefers her stories laced with some humor just for fun, and enough drama to keep her readers flipping the pages, and begging for more!

When Brooke isn’t spinning tales, she spends her time drawing/cartooning, reading two books a week (ask her who her faves are), watching movies then comparing them to books, and, of course, wrangling four kids, one hubby she lovingly refers to as her “nerd”, and attempting to conquer the Mount Everest of laundry that is the bane of her existence.

Excerpt #2: The What If Guy, by Brooke Moss
I knocked on the door of room five. Elliott briefly slipped his hand into mine and whispered, “Love you, Mom.”

I squeezed his hand. “Love you, too, buddy.”

“Come on in,” a male voice called.

The classroom looked and felt exactly the same way it had when I was a kid, including the judgmental stares from the students. With his back to the class, the teacher scribbled a makeshift map on the whiteboard at the front of the room. All of the students’ eyes shifted to Elliott. Some looked at him with interest, but others already glared with disapproval. I wished that El hadn’t been wearing his yellow and black checkered vest and a bow tie when I’d thundered down the stairs to find him waiting at the front door, tapping his foot. What had been stylish in his funky Seattle school was a blinking neon sign declaring I’m an oddball at a small country school like this.
“Um, hi?” Elliott’s voice cracked. “I’m Elliott Cole, and I’m, uh, new.”
Pride swelled in my chest, and I beamed at my son. I leaned down and whispered in his ear. “You’re awesome, El. I love you.”
He gave me a stiff nod. “Thanks.”
“Welcome, Elliott, it’s good to have you.” The teacher spoke in a low, gravelly voice. 
I straightened and smiled at the teacher. “Thanks…”
All the oxygen left my lungs, and I stood paralyzed. The class became silent. Elliott’s teacher and I stared at each other, dumbfounded—mouths open, hands half-extended, eyes round and wide like headlights set on bright. My insides vibrated like the engine of an idling grain truck. All in response to the teacher, who gawked at me with what appeared to be the same mixture of shock and disbelief.
Elliott’s teacher was Henry Tobler.
“What are you doing here?” I whispered.
I regretted my words the moment they came out. I should have said something eloquent or profound. Something that would have made seeing each other for the first time in over a decade less awkward. As if that were remotely possible.

Henry’s eyes, that rainy-day shade of gray, narrowed, a
nd a line formed between his eyebrows. “I work here.”
I couldn’t help staring. Henry looked like a teacher, but no teacher I’d ever had at Palouse Plains. He wore a grayish-blue button-down shirt, untucked, and a worn, olive-colored sport coat. His wavy, brown hair was cut shorter than I remembered. Even at ten o’clock in the morning, he sported a sexy five o’clock shadow that made my stomach twist. I remembered those whiskers well.

He still resembled the young man I’d made eyes at across the lecture hall during college, so long ago—his face chiseled and rugged-looking. Back then, a perpetual smile had teased at one side of his mouth. Now, I saw no hint of that smile. But his eyes still revealed his emotions, no matter how hard he tried to hide them. I wish he’d outgrown that, because his eyes screamed, I’m not happy to see you.

“Y-you’re a teacher now?” I stammered.

“I’ve always been a teacher.”

“Right, but…”

I opened and closed my mouth two or three times like a deranged fish. Henry looked so good. He wore the years well, whereas I looked like I’d been working underneath cars with very little time left for grooming for the past twelve years. Yeah. I looked that bad.

I slapped at a strand of hair that had fallen across my forehead. I couldn’t believe that I was facing my long-lost love for the first time in years in Fairfield, of all places.

 “You were… Your degree was… Art history.”

A hint of pain flashed in Henry’s eyes. “I changed my major.”

Elliott shifted his weight between feet. “I take it you guys know each other?”

I started. I’d forgotten about Elliott. I put my arm around him and tried to smile. “Yup. El, this is Henry… er, Mr. Tolber.”

 Elliott looked around self-consciously. “Geez, Mom, chill. I already know this is Mr. Tobler.”

 “Of course you do. Sorry. I just… He’s um….”

Henry stood frozen in place, staring at me as if I were a ghost.

I trembled, struggling to regain composure. “He’s an old friend.”

Elliott squinted at me for a few beats, then turned to Henry. “I’m sorry. She’s… uh, wired this morning. Where do you want me to sit?”

Henry’s mouth remained set in a line. “There’s an open seat by the window. Go ahead and grab a textbook off of my desk.”
“Okay. Mom, you can go.” Elliott bumped my toe with his.
I waved at him and backed toward the door. “All right. Have a good day… And you,” I said to Henry, “have a good, um, class.”

“Yes.” Henry nodded stiffly.

I misjudged and backed into a bookshelf, ramming my butt into a sharp corner. A shockwave of pain shot through my right cheek, and several encyclopedias tumbled onto the floor.

The kids laughed. Elliott sat at his desk, then covered his face with his hands.

“I’m so sorry.” I bent to pick up the books, hot tears of embarrassment pricking my eyes
Henry stepped closer and reached for one of the encyclopedias. “Here, just let me—”

“No, I’ve got–”

I stood, bringing an armload of the thick books up as I did. Whack. The books collided with Henry’ nose. Bright-red blood instantly flooded all over the ‘G’ encyclopedia and the sleeve of my shirt.

“Argh.” He grabbed for the box of tissues on his desk, leaving a trail of blood droplets on the floor.
The kids gasped, and Elliott slowly laid his head on his desk. One girl in the back of the room grabbed her stomach. “I’m gonna puke, Mr. T.”
I dropped the encyclopedias onto the desk of a very pale-looking boy, and he shrank from the bloody mess.
“Oh, shit,” I muttered.

The students giggled.

“She said shit,” a kid in the back of the room whispered to his friends.

They giggled more.

I pointed my bloody finger at them. “Don’t repeat that. It’s a bad word. I made a bad choice in choosing to use that word. What I meant was—”

A girl with braces grinned smartly. “You’re sorry for breaking Mr. Tobler’s nose?”

“Yes.” I pressed my lips together tightly.

The braces-girl said, “Want me to go get the nurse, Mr. T?”

Henry whirled around with a softball-sized wad of tissue pressed against his nose, drops of blood trailing down the front of his shirt. “My node id not broken.”  His voice was muffled by the tissue, and I winced. “I broke id playing Frisbee in college. When I get hit in the nose now, id bleeds. I don’t need the nurse.”

“Frisbee?” The boy sitting next to Elliott frowned.

Henry glared at me from behind the bloody wad. “It was extreme Frisbee.”

Elliott caught my eye and mouthed the words, Please leave now.

“I… I should go.” I wiped my hands on my jeans and walked toward the door. “Unless there’s something I can do?”

“No.” Henry said, “Just go.”

I was pretty sure that every one of Elliott’s classmates thought I was clinically insane by the time I finally left their classroom. I bolted to the parking lot as quickly as my legs could take me.

I’d just seen my “what if” guy for the first time in fourteen years. I’d busted his nose with an encyclopedia and made him bleed profusely in front of a classroom of twenty twelve-year-olds.

I wanted to die.