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Chapter 1

It’s hard to leave the past behind when it’s glaring at you from across the room.

Unfortunately, my past doesn’t want to let me go and has a bad habit of following wherever I run. It comes with a stupid nickname, too. If everyone called me Jimbo, I’d wonder what I’d done to deserve such punishment rather than wear the label like a designer suit.

Jimbo’s real name is James Fossoway—Jimmy when we first met—and I’m blissfully ignorant of when that changed. I am not, however, blissfully ignorant of his presence. Especially when his shirt is damp with sweat and clinging to his body in such a disgusting way, his stupidly veined, muscly arms crossed over his broad chest, and the way he mouths angrily at me, Pay attention.

I’m going to continue to zone out just to spite him.

Actually, I’m flirting with unconsciousness because I’m pretty sure I’m dehydrated. And maybe a tiny bit too proud for my own good. Jimbo offered me his water bottle when he found out I’d forgotten mine during morning drills in the blazing sun, but I’d sooner swap spit with a rabid opossum than ever drink from anything his lips had also touched.

“Now, I know you’re all wondering who will be head drum major this year.”

The booming voice of our band director, Dr. Kimball, snaps me out of my brain fog. As does the smug grin spreading across good ole Jimbo’s full lips. If he’s going to ruin my life with his persistent existence in my world, then I can at least enjoy watching him be disappointed over and over again. I’m a shade petty that way.

“As I’m sure our rookies have learned by now, college marching band isn’t like high school.”

Awkward, exhausted laughter ripples through the band room. 

“You might have felt like freaks and geeks as the band nerds wherever you came from, but here, at this level, we work our asses off because we’re not satisfied with mediocrity. In the words of the late George Parks, ‘A band is not proud because it performs well; it performs well because it is proud.’”

The cute freshman babies gasp at our director’s use of a curse word. Sweet, innocent, young things have no idea how real shit is about to get at this level of geekdom. I almost wish to go back to that time. When the world was still my oyster, anything was possible, and a whole new life of experiences and opportunity was waiting to kiss me with its gift of hope.

That was all, of course, before I spied the ugly mug of my sworn enemy among the ranks of other trumpets my freshman year at State’s mandatory band camp. 

The director continues after silence blankets the auditorium once more, “Our drum majors are leaders by example. They were chosen as the best of the best from among your ranks through rigorous auditions. But this year, we want you all to be involved in choosing the candidate who best meets your needs as a collective group and as individuals on the cusp of making smart decisions to launch you into adulthood.”

Jimbo’s posturing deflates a bit, and I hate, hate, hate that I share his sentiments.

For the last three years of my time with the State Miners Marching Band, the first night of band camp has always been revered as the traditional announcement of the head drum major. Sure, in a band of over three hundred members at one of the most prestigious football schools in the country, a group of five drum majors is chosen every year to lead. But being the head drum major is a mark of distinction. You’re not just the cream of the crop; you’re the crème de la crème. You’re like the valedictorian of Harvard Law’s graduating class. You are it, and you are going places.

“Throughout this next week of full band camp, your drum majors will be competing against each other for one thing—your vote. This is an opportunity for you to be involved in a democracy where you choose your ideal leadership and for them to become worthy of such an honor. To that end, we will make the announcement for head drum major before our first halftime show of the season. May the best candidate win!”

A ripple of shock from the upperclassmen and confusion from the freshmen volleys through the band room.

But from across the room filled with sweat-soaked bodies who have given their all for the day, my past sets his shoulders in a way that can mean only one thing.

Game on.

The first cry of, “Jimbo for DM!” reverberates through the wide space of our band room. 

As expected, it comes from a sophomore female flautist, who gazes at him with hearts in her eyes. I almost feel bad for her because I can practically see her train of thought. He’s gorgeous. He’s built. He’s a stud. Moreover, he has just enough of that bad-boy air to make her think she’s going to be the one to finally tame him.

Sadly, I know something she doesn’t. James Fossoway is the second in line on a list of Fossoways who can’t be tamed. They are womanizers, plain and simple. No supermodel could ever be enough motivation for them to commit. His older brother, Alex, was a star player on the football team here. His reputation should precede him, but unfortunately for the gaggle of women echoing the first’s sentiment, enough time has passed on such a large campus that none of these students even know or remember how Alex Fossoway plowed his way through the female population at State, leaving a trail of disappointment in his wake. If they knew all those facts, they’d recognize Jimbo for the prince of panty-collecting that he is.

All these ignorant young women have to go on is the bright smile, muscly muscles, and heretofore, only loosely lassoed relationship status they know as the current Jimbo Fossoway.

I gag at his confident smile. 

A body shifts me off-balance, so I glance to my left.

“Sophia.” My BF squints at me. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah.” No. “Why?”

“You gagged. Like, visibly gagged. If you’re going to blow chunks, make a run for it, and I’ll cover you.”

Bless Shannon. Bless her to the moon and back. I could not have found a better friend in all the world.

“I can’t believe I have to run an election campaign against that cretin,” I hiss, so no one else will hear. “Why can’t he just disappear already?”

She raises her eyebrows. “I’ve been begging you for years to let me help you murder him and hide the body. For some reason I can’t figure out, you’re not as homicidal as you pretend to be.”

“If I’m going to go to prison for someone, it’s not going to be for him.” Even under layers of anxiety, I can’t keep from grinning. “It’s probably going to be for you.”

She snickers. No one cares anymore that we’re not paying attention to the director. He’s dismissing the band by section for the night anyway. Student leaders are always last on that long list. “Hey, no one caught us stealing that Licking Pike street sign. You didn’t go to jail for me that night.”

“What about the time we did get caught stealing that Caution: Wet Floor sign from the dining hall?” I really thought I was going to be expelled from State. Truly. I’m ninety-nine percent sure the only reason I wasn’t is because someone lit a couch on fire across campus, and all the security patrols were summoned to that hot mess.

She knows it, and she chuckles in response. “Miracles do happen? Besides, it was for the annual Iota Tau Kappa scavenger hunt. I wasn’t going to lose that!”

No, we almost lost our scholarships instead. “Look, you know I want head drum major more than anything, but please, please promise me you’re not going to do anything stupid to help me.”

“Fine.” She rolls her eyes. “I won’t do anything stupid to help you. You should help yourself this time anyway. Join ITK this year! Being part of the coolest frat in band will definitely give your image a boost!”

I hate to admit she’s right, but … she’s not wrong. ITK is the coed band fraternity. It’s not like the nationally recognized music fraternities and sororities, but it’s more part of the long-held tradition of State being a total party school. Only these parties are for band geeks. 

“Rush doesn’t even start until after the first game of the season, and you heard Dr. Kimball. I only have two weeks to convince all the bandies to vote for me! Joining ITK can’t even help me now.” I think I’m hyperventilating. Can someone hyperventilate when they’re also dehydrated? “I need a plan. I don’t have a plan for this.”

“Just do what you’ve always done.” Shannon shrugs. “Beat him.”

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