Tessa Tarrington's life is swirling out of control. No job. No apartment. Sick Dad...And she’s back in high school!
Teaching at her Gibson's Run alma mater would be tolerable, except she’s sharing purgatory with her mortal enemy, Ryland Jessup. But eight years post-high-school, and after tragedies she can barely understand, Ryland no longer fits her mental image of the over-sized bully he was when they were growing up. In fact, much to her disgust, with each passing day, he’s finding his way into her heart.
Ryland Jessup is slowly pulling the pieces of his life together. After the sudden death of his wife, he hung up his professional shoulder pads and picked up a whistle. Now he’s focused on coaching the high school football team and raising his daughter. The sudden return of his childhood crush, Tessa Tarrington, has reawakened long-ago feelings. But if God's giving him a second chance to impress Tessa, the Man Upstairs has a funny way of showing it. Just when Tessa starts to lighten up, Ryland's best friend returns.
Will the always-irresistible Joey Taylor stifle any hope Ryland has to ignite the dream of a relationship with Tessa?
Tessa Tarrington’s life was in the toilet.
Dad? Heart attack.
Current residence? Childhood bedroom.
Love life? Non-existent.
Her life was swirling in the bowl, just waiting for the ultimate flush.
Until a few months ago, everything was tripping along at a wonderful pace. Great job. Fantastic apartment. Friends. Not a toilet bowl in sight. After graduating from college nearly one thousand miles from her childhood home of Gibson’s Run, Ohio, she’d landed a job as a writer with Evanston and Evanston, a specialty publisher located in New Orleans.
The small print house specialized in untold stories and memoirs. But they had a dirty little secret: none of their authors wrote a single word, except their names at book signings. E&E relied almost solely on ghost writers.
Four years into her career as a ghost writer, Tessa’s assignments were far-reaching. She’d written about a politician’s wife’s story of cancer survival and a bestselling song artist’s memoir about rising from poverty in Canada. She’d shared stories that needed to be told while remaining neatly tucked away in the shadows—the credit for her beautifully crafted words resting on the stars of the stories themselves. The number one goal of a ghost writer: remain a ghost. And she performed her duties flawlessly until…the terrible, awful day.
While away at her college homecoming, her apartment was robbed. Notes for two current pieces and four future contracts were stolen—sold to the highest tabloid bidder. Her anonymity went from walking down a street unhindered to hiding from paparazzi. No longer the writer of stories, she was the story. Clients dropped her like a hot branding iron, leaving her unemployed and a pariah in the world of publishing.
While her professional life was falling apart, she received the phone call she’d dreaded since her mother’s funeral three years earlier. Her father was in the hospital with a suspected heart attack.
One flight to Columbus and seventy-two hours later, she’d accepted a long term substitute position at her alma mater. She returned to New Orleans long enough to pack up her coupe and head home to the town she’d left in the dust. Being near her father was necessary. The lone bonus for returning to her hometown of nearly three thousand residents was that the publicity about her came to a screeching halt.
And now, the one threshold she’d promised to never cross again was about to become her daily purgatory for the foreseeable future. She was back in high school. Her years of matriculation in the Gibson’s Run Local Schools were a series of embarrassments, humiliations, and harassments. All beginning with her sixth birthday when Ryland Jessup gave her “Days of the Week” panties.
Holding the seven pairs of egg-rolled undies in their long rectangle box, with embarrassment she had piddled in her white overalls from Suzi’s On Main. From her sixth birthday through the seventh grade, she’d been known as Pee-Pee Tee-Tee. Thankfully, the when she’d entered McKinley Jr. High, the taunt became too long for the cool kids, but the ever clever Ryland shortened the dreaded nickname to T.T.
Throughout her Ryland-tortured adolescence, she sought the simple comfort of blending into the halls, the back row of class, and the loser lunch table for one. She’d been an above average student who only received knocks for shyness, and lack of class participation.
The one bright spot was Joey Taylor, the starting centerfielder for the GRHS Grizzlies and the center of her tiny universe. He was the lone reason she shoved the comforter from her face every morning. Not that he knew she existed beyond the praise band at church, and when the Grizzlies won the state baseball championship Joey Taylor had swung completely out of her orbit along with the last good thing about Gibson’s Run.
Despite vowing never to return, she had a reoccurring fantasy of coming back to town to be honored as a Hall of Fame alumna. And, maybe she’d imagined Joey Taylor giving her introduction speech. And maybe, just maybe, she’d envisioned Ryland Jessup fifty pounds overweight and balding, sitting in the audience while she gave her acceptance speech.
“Well, as I live in breathe. If it isn’t T.T. Tarrington.”
A shiver ran down her spine at the sound of the voice she would recognize fifty years from now. Swiveling, Tessa locked her gaze with steely gray eyes that seemed to twinkle with a bit of the devil.
Full head of hair and the evidence of a flat belly beneath his GRHS polo shirt.
Question 1: 1. At the opening of the story, Tessa faces numerous obstacles. How have you found ways to endure when tragic moments seem to derail your journey?
Question 2: 2. Ryland is trying to move forward with his life, following in his dad’s footsteps and leaving his wife’s death and betrayal in the past. How did he struggle with his transition? Where did he succeed?
Question 3: Joey showed signs early on of struggling, but his friends and family let it pass. Why was the confronting his issues such a challenge for Ryland and his family?
Question 4: 4. How do you think the terrible, awful day impacts Tessa’s ability to build relationships and try in her career?
Question 5: 5. “‘From where I sit, you’ve tried to make your life mistake-proof.‛ His voice [Ryland] was a deep whisper. ‘Mistakes are a part of life. How we respond to the mistakes determines how well we live our lives. You’ve an extraordinary opportunity to respond with all of the grace and beauty God poured into your spirit. You just have to choose.’” One of Tessa’s lifelong struggles is with the need to be “mistake-proof”. How do you see this as a common thread throughout the story? Is she able to shake her perfectionism or does she continue to try to be perfect regardless of what this longing costs her?
Question 6: 6. How does Ryland’s marriage to Macy influence his ability to create new relationships? What impact does her infidelity have on Ryland’s view of himself? How does it shadow his view of Joey? How do his experiences with his wife cloud his relationship with Tessa? How could he have avoided the complications in his relationships?
Question 7: 7. Tessa weighs the pros and cons of nearly every situation. How does this approach benefit her in her relationships? How does it challenge her ability to move forward?
Question 8: 8. How does Tessa’s tendency to hide from difficult situations impact her ability to make a choice between Ryland and Joey or make choices about her career?
Question 9: Both Tessa and Ryland have solid relationships with God, yet they naturally tend to turn away from Him when they struggle with life. Tessa runs. Ryland judges. How does their transformation and their forgiveness process reflect their deepening trust in the Lord?
Question 10: 10. Tessa has an intuitive nature. She can sense that something is wrong with Joey and understands the core of her obstacles with Ryland. How is she able to use her intuition? How does her lack of self-awareness challenge her ability to help others?