I’ve been procrastinating about writing this blog post for a while now. If Only is my favorite book in the series and it’s also the one I’ve taken the most heat for. I’ve defended this book numerous times and I feel a lot like it is my baby, so I’ve learned that I cannot be objective when people criticize it. I go into ‘mamma bear’ mode and feel the need to protect my characters; Tommy and Brittany more than any others.
I’ve always wondered why I have this reaction to Tommy and Brittany’s story and not really to the other books. I love the other books, don’t get me wrong, but this one was different for me. I think it is more ‘me’ than any other book I’ve written.
In writing If Only, I had a few unique challenges. I needed to show Brittany and Tommy’s back story in a way that allowed the reader to know a fraction of what they had been through before the crux of the story began. I knew it was a calculated risk, starting the book with a rape scene, although I was very careful not to be too graphic or get too much into what she went through. I needed the reader to find that out when Tommy did. I needed the mystery to be there.
I also needed people to know the shock Tommy suffered with the loss of his parents. I wanted to show the moment it happened and how he and Jack responded. I needed people to know that he was a good man because I knew he was about to be a giant ass to Brittany. 🙂
I also had the luxury of having already introduced Tommy in Nothing Matters, but we never heard his full story.
Bringing Brittany to the hospital as a doctor was my way of introducing her through Stephanie. Steph is one of my most likable characters and I figured if she was so close to Britt, then it would allow everyone else to know she was worth it. I was also really excited to bring in a friend for Stephanie and to give her an outlet like Jack had with Tommy.
The conference room meeting was important. I didn’t really know it was going to play such an important role in their story down the line, but I wanted to show Tommy’s need to make things right for his tiny patients. I also wanted someone to stand up to him and put him in his place.
“It doesn’t matter if the paperwork got screwed up. Never mind, I will go and talk to the people in there myself,” Tommy hung up the phone and walked to the room. He didn’t know why he was so worked up over this, but the family he was helping had a rough road ahead of them and he really felt for the young parents. He walked into the room and saw a doctor he didn’t recognize talking to a very pregnant woman and her husband. The whole room was basically empty. “Excuse me, I need the room now,” he stated bluntly.
“Excuse me, I am in the middle of a meeting,” the doctor said. She stood up and looked at the family sitting there. “I’m so sorry, I will be right back,” she walked to Tommy and led him out to the hall. “What is your problem? Are you an idiot? Can’t you see I am in the middle of something?” she seethed at him, astonished at his arrogance. “How about knocking and waiting for an answer? I would think a friend of Jack and Stephanie would have better manners.”
Tommy was taken aback that she seemed to know him, but he shook it off. “I’m sorry, but why do you need an entire conference room to talk to a pregnant woman and a guy? You could accomplish the same thing in your office, you know, the things each of us have here?” he said in a sarcastic tone, noting she almost matched his height, shorter by only a few inches. Her long red hair was tucked neatly into a clip and as she shook her head in anger a few tendrils came loose. She angrily tucked them behind her ears and he realized he almost reached up to do it himself, a thought that completely stunned him.
“Who the hell are you? It is none of your business why I am in here and you are completely out of line. I have half a mind to call the chief of staff and report you for harassment,” she yelled at him, her brilliant blue eyes flaming at him. The door of the room opened and the woman and her husband walked out.
“Dr. Anthony, I think it’s best if we go,” the woman said, nearly in tears. Her husband had her arm in a tight grip.
“No, please, it’s fine, let’s go back inside,” Brittany said frantically, glaring at Tommy and trying to convince the couple to stay.
“Actually, you can continue this in Dr. Anthony’s office. It is Dr. Anthony, right?” Tommy said, realizing there was probably more going on here than he thought, but too stubborn to change his demeanor.
The woman looked fearfully at Brittany. “You know I can’t do that,” she murmured. She turned to her husband who appeared livid.
“We need to go, now,” he grabbed her arm roughly and they rushed off, the woman turning with another look of fear at the doctors.
Tommy moved to them. “Hey, I’m sorry,” he began, but they quickly left. He forgot for a moment the fury that was standing behind him.
“Unbelievable, just unbelievable. Are you happy? Do you have any idea what you just did?” Brittany flamed at Tommy, her blue eyes full of fire. “What is wrong with you?” she stared into his emerald eyes, searching for an answer, her arms crossed in front of her chest.
He shook his head, trying to clear the flush he felt in his face. “I’m sorry, but I don’t care. I have a consult coming in and I need this room, so if you will excuse me,” he looked at her and felt the need to look away, as if she was seeing something he wasn’t ready to share. He walked into the room.
“Oh, I don’t think so. We are hardly finished here. You are the most arrogant asshole I have ever met. You can’t come in here and boot my patient out just so you can have the room and then act like everything is okay,” Brittany stated, her astonishment apparent. “You don’t know what you just did.”
“Look Red, I don’t have time for this. I have a young couple coming in with their 6-year-old son who has a rare form of Leukemia. They want their little boy to have a good experience here and not see the hospital for what it is, the place where he will probably spend most of the rest of his life. I don’t have time for your hissy fits or your soap box because your clients will have a beautiful bouncing baby soon enough and they will go on with their blissful existence and be none the wiser. Now move aside so I can make the room kid friendly,” Tommy walked past her and closed the door, separating her from him and the room.
Brittany stood there in silence, the heat ruminating from her face. This wasn’t over, not by a long shot.
So much happened in this short meeting. Tommy was truly stunned by meeting her and to hear she knew who he was surprised him. He was also an arrogant jerk and he knew he was wrong, but was too stubborn to stop things.
He also called her “Red” for the first time.
They were both immediately affected by each other and for both of them, that was startling. They needed to figure out what was happening, and how to deal with it.
The issue was much more complicated than simply getting to know each other. Brittany had so many secrets and they were hard and painful to deal with. She had never met anyone worth telling and she was terrified of Tommy’s reaction. It wasn’t that she felt he would be prejudiced or angry, but it always changed things. In her experience, it never ended well.
That’s why I loved that Stephanie knew it all. Brittany needed that outlet, that friend who had her back, no matter what.
I knew from the beginning, that Brittany’s stalker would resurface. I also knew that I needed to develop the start of a relationship between Tommy and Britt before that happened. My first job was letting Tommy (and the reader) know about Brittany being HIV positive.
It needed to come from her and it needed to be a private conversation between them. I didn’t want him to overhear it or find out and act weird when he saw her. He overheard about the rape, but the rest was up to her to tell.
The moment she told him was one of my favorites and his response was simple and endearing.
It meant everything, but it changed nothing. He was falling for her and the more he learned, the more respect he had.
Their first date was a disaster, because of the phone call Tommy received from Julie. He was so worried about the potential health crisis Julie might be facing that all pretenses were gone. Brittany comforted him and he let his guard down. They ate and laughed and it was the most honest they had both been with anyone in a long time.
Another one of my favorite scenes was at the hospital and Brittany tried to help a pregnant patient who was in an accident. She revealed her health status and they chose to wait for someone else. It is something that happens countless times in all fields, and for Tommy, it was a game changer.
Brittany walked over and checked the monitor. She motioned for Jack and Tommy to move over. “I need to complete my exam now,” she put on her gloves. She walked to the side of the bed. “I need to inform you both that I am HIV positive. I take all necessary precautions and there is a minimal chance of any risk to you or your baby,” she said to the parents.
The man looked at her. “I want another doctor,” he said in a calm voice. He looked at his wife who nodded in agreement.
Tommy was enraged and Jack felt his heart sink. “What the hell is wrong with you? She is the best OBGYN you will ever see.”
Brittany was surprised at his outburst. She held up her hand. “It is completely understandable. I will see to it that you have another doctor come in. It will be a few minutes, but you need to try to relax. Good luck to you both,” she turned and walked out past Jack and Tommy.
Tommy went to say something to the couple when Jack pulled him out into the hall by the arm. “What the hell, man? I have to say something to that asshole. He is discriminating against her and it isn’t right.”
Jack sighed. “You need to respect Brittany here. I have learned that it does nothing but draw more attention and she doesn’t want that. She has been fighting this battle for a long time and you can’t just step in and make it better.”
Tommy looked at him. “I don’t accept that,” he said and walked away.
I loved this because it was a way for him to see into her daily life. The conversations they had after were beautiful and heartfelt and finally, Tommy began to see Brittany in a new light. She also began to feel things for him that scared her, but in a good way.
Then all hell broke loose.
Having Tommy and Jack learn who Brittany really was together was also important. It helped Tommy to have someone try and make sense of all of this with him and it helped Stephanie bring Brittany’s story out in the open. Her knowledge of the initial attack shed a lot of light on what Brittany had lived through.
A little behind the scenes: I wrote the scene where Tommy found Brittany and cared for her in the cave overnight before I wrote anything else. I had that scene in my head and wrote it before knowing how to get the characters there. I knew I wanted him to have to hold her all night and I wanted him to see what she had gone through. It was a profoundly personal moment for both of them, and it changed them.
This is where the story really begins.
Tommy offering his home for Brittany to come recuperate was a huge step. She was hurt and scared and desperate for someone to help her feel safe. I don’t know that I’ve ever written someone as completely independent as Brittany, and to be this vulnerable was terrifying.
The way Tommy cared for her was something I loved writing. My favorite line of the whole series came from that first moment at his house. I’ve references it numerous times in later books.
She wiped her tears. “Why are you being so nice to me? You don’t even know me.”
“Because I think you’re worth it. I think you’re an amazing woman who has survived because of the strength of your spirit. I think I feel things for you that I have never felt before, and I know that you have some feelings for me,” Tommy stopped and looked at her.
“I have already told you that I can’t have a relationship with you, it wouldn’t be fair. I could never be the woman you deserve, Tommy. I am so very messed up from everything in my life and I just won’t ever put you at risk for anything,” she said. “I just can’t do it.”
He touched her face and looked at her. “You could never hurt me,” he leaned closer to her. “You just need to learn to trust me, and I will help you to do that.”
She closed her eyes. “You are an amazing man, Tommy. I wish I could repay you.”
He sat next to her and she ever so gently leaned into him. “When you’re here, my world is a lot less scary.”
He smiled. “Well, that’s a start,” he smoothed her hair as she closed her eyes.
So simple, yet it’s always remained so true. Tommy just makes her feel safe.
Part Two coming soon…