How Not to Fall in Love

How Not to Fall in Love

by Jacqueline Firkins
How Not to Fall in Love

How Not to Fall in Love

by Jacqueline Firkins


    Qualifies for Free Shipping
    Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Thursday, June 15

    Sorry! Store Pickup is currently unavailable.


A hardened cynic and a hopeless romantic teach each other about love in this swoony and heartful romance that’s perfect for fans of Tweet Cute and The Upside of Falling.

Harper works in her mom’s wedding shop, altering dresses for petulant and picky brides who are more focused on hemlines than love. After years of watching squabbles break out over wedding plans, Harper thinks romance is a marketing tool. Nothing more. Her best friend Theo is her opposite. One date and he’s already dreaming of happily-ever-afters. He also plays the accordion, makes chain mail for Ren Festers, hangs out in a windmill-shaped tree house, cries over rom-coms, and takes his word-of-the-day calendar very seriously.
When Theo’s shocked to find himself nursing his umpteenth heartbreak, Harper offers to teach him how not to fall in love. Theo agrees to the lessons, as long as Harper proves she can date without falling in love. As the lessons progress and Theo takes them to heart, Harper has a harder time upholding her end of the bargain. She’s also checking out her window to see if Theo’s home from his latest date yet. She's even watching rom-coms. If she confesses her feelings, she’ll undermine everything she’s taught him. Or was he the one teaching her?

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780358467144
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/21/2021
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 455,586
Product dimensions: 8.40(w) x 5.60(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Jacqueline Firkins is a playwright, screenwriter, and comics artist who’s been creating worlds and characters as a set and costume designer for the past twenty years. She’s on the fulltime faculty at the University of British Columbia where she also takes any writing class they’ll let her into. When not writing, drawing, or sewing, she can be found running by the ocean, listening to earnest love songs, and pretending her dog understands every word she says.

Twitter: JFkillsdarlings
Instagram: jfkillsdarlings 

Read an Excerpt

I’m kneeling in front of Frosty the Snowman’s lesser-known and more flamboyant cousin, Fluffy the Sparkle Monster. Buried inside Fluffy is a very slim, very non-fluffy bride-to-be. Her name is Karen, but she prefers to go by Kay-Kay. Her long brown hair is poker straight. Her narrow features are pinched into an expression of mild but palpable dissatisfaction. She pats down the organza ruffles that spill out from her waist. They bounce back into place as if determined to display their full glory.
      “It’s huge.” A reedy girl in double topknots shakes her head in wonder. I think her name’s Hallie. She’s the bride’s younger sister. She’s wearing a navy spandex mini-dress and a skintight bolero. Every piece of clothing probably seems huge to her.
      The bride’s mother steps back, tapping a finger to her lips.
      “Is it supposed to be so . . . white?” she asks.
      The bride shoots her a glare. “What should it be? Scarlet? Puce? Puke green?”
      A trio of the bride’s friends chimes in, all offering cheerful but bland support on how Kay-Kay would look beautiful in anything. The bride pouts, her mother scolds her, her sister offers a biting retort, a bridesmaid snaps back, and soon everyone is squabbling. I wait until the noise dims. Then I ask the bride to make a quarter turn to her left so I can continue pinning her hem. It’s a glamorous task. No doubt I’m the envy of all my peers.
      My mom enters from the back room, carrying a tray of fruit and cheese. Her sleek dark hair rises in a tidy twist, the perfect match for her equally sleek black suit. We all wear black at Beneath the Veil, not because it’s timeless and chic, but because we’re not supposed to be seen. All eyes should be on the bride. My mom smiles as she sets the tray down next to several flutes of sparkling cider. Her smile looks warm and genuine, honed from years of practice. I’ve tried to mimic it, but I don’t have it in me. I can push out a bland compliment here and there, but the wedding industry irritates the crap out of me. It advertises a beautiful, blissful fairy tale. What happens in this shop is anything but.
      I keep pinning the hem while my mom checks the fit of Kay-Kay’s bodice. It has so many beads, I’m not sure how she finds the seams.
      “I can give you another half an inch on the sides,” she offers.
      The bride whips toward her, sweeping a swath of ruffles across my face. “I don’t need half an inch. Why do you think I need half an inch? I don’t need any halves of any inches!” Her voice is practically manic. Her fingers tense and curl like claws.
      My mom takes a step back, renewing her smile. “Of course. My error.” She doesn’t look my way, but she flashes me two fingers behind her back. We’re not letting out the dress half an inch. We’re going for the full inch. That way the bride will not only fit, she’ll think she lost more weight than she planned. The happier she is, the better her review will be, and the more likely my mom’s business will stay afloat another year.
      The bride tears up, blubbering about the cookie she shouldn’t have eaten last night. One of her friends finds the tissue box we keep handy near the cluster of faux baroque sofas and chairs at the center of the store. The other girls coo and coddle, patting Kay-Kay’s hair and rubbing her back.
      “I’ll lose the last ten,” she sputters through her tears. “I can do it, right?”
      Her friends all chime in on cue.
      “Of course!”
      “You’ll look perfect.”
      I grit my teeth around the end of a safety pin. If the bride loses ten pounds, she’ll disappear. The groom will have to marry the dress. I hope they’ll be very happy together.
      My mom and I spend two hours with the bride. We could do the fitting in less than half that time, but we pad the appointments to allow for the preening and bickering. Sure enough, by the time I hang the dress on its padded hanger, Kay-Kay’s friends and family have argued about the dress, the shoes, the hair, the venue, the food, the flowers, the table decorations, and everyone’s all-time favorite: the guest list. No one has mentioned the word love. They haven’t mentioned the groom, either. He appears to be less important than gluten-free crostini. Like usual. After working in this store from the time I was old enough to thread a sewing needle or tally a spreadsheet, it’s hard to believe weddings have anything to do with love. Frankly, it’s hard to believe in love at all.
      Pippa enters the shop as we’re finishing with Kay-Kay’s bridal party. She greets everyone before scheduling the bride’s final fitting and the bridesmaids’ dress alterations. Thank god we’re not building them all from scratch. And thank god for Pippa. She’s not only brilliant with scheduling and handling the calls, she can smile through anything. And her smiles aren’t even fake. She’s happy by nature, infectiously so. She credits her unrelenting cheerfulness to her many freckles. Apparently when she was little, her mom told her freckles resulted from fairy giggles. With all that mirth and magic stamped onto Pippa’s skin, how could she not be happy?
      With a few artfully delivered compliments, my mom ushers Kay-Kay’s group out, causing the jingle bells on the door to ring. That sound is my cue to relax. I sink onto the green velvet chaise at the center of the room, surrounded by tossed-aside veils, unboxed satin pumps, and several padded hangers with the store’s scrolling gold-print logo. Pippa joins me, collecting scattered shoes and pairing them up in their boxes.
      “How you holding up, Harper?” she asks me.
      “Need coffee. And anti-bride spray.”
      She rolls her eyes, unimpressed with my snark, as usual.
      “Let me guess,” she says. “They wanted everything to be perfect.
      “That word should have a trigger warning.”
      “Going to make it through three more fittings today?”
      “As long as they’re ‘perfect.’” I fall sideways onto the chaise, wishing school was still in session so I wasn’t working here basically all the time. “Saturdays are the worst. Especially in June. Is the entire state of Pennsylvania getting married this summer?”
      “Get that attitude out of your system now,” my mom scolds from the fitting room, where she’s collecting undergarments. “I need you smiling by the time the Smith-Whartons arrive. Gloria’s bringing all seven bridesmaids and—”
      “—and her influencer account has over ten thousand followers. I can’t ignore that kind of press. She’ll spread the word if she’s happy with everything.”
      “No bride is happy with everything.” I drag myself off the chaise and help Pippa tidy up as my mom takes the wedding gown into the back room so she can start picking off beads. It’s the only way to get to the seams she needs to alter. Once the seams are altered, we sew all the beads back on again.
      I grudgingly gather the pins and measuring tools while Pippa boxes up shoes as though the task is actually fun. She has a bounce in her step and a smile on her face, as usual. Even her clothes are chipper. Unlike my mom and me, Pippa expresses a strong sense of personality through her wardrobe. Maintaining her personal style was a stipulation of her hire, and it works since she doesn’t have to kneel at anyone’s feet, trying not to detract attention from a bride-to-be. She’s in the requisite black, but where my mom and I wear tailored basics, Pippa’s in a cute fit-and-flare dress, a fuzzy cardigan, and a pair of thigh-highs with cats on her knees. With her bright blue pigtails, she looks like she popped out of a comic book. I look like a lazy funeral attendee.
      “It’s going to be a long summer if you’re already miserable,” she says.
      “I can’t help it.” I grab a wedding magazine from the glass coffee table. A happy bride and groom run hand in hand along a beach. Four words cross the glossy surface: love, family, community, happiness. I hold it up to Pippa. “Look at this.”
      She blinks at the image through dense lash extensions.
      “How is a magazine making you miserable?” she asks.
      “It’s not just a magazine. It’s an entire industry using love as a marketing tool, encouraging couples to hemorrhage their income on an absurd me-party so they can capture their moment of curated bliss and repost it once a year on social media. Look how happy we are! Look how in love we are! Don’t you wish you were us? Meanwhile they’re fighting over where to spend the holidays or how to load the dishwasher. It’s nauseating.”
      Pippa rolls her eyes again as she restocks shoeboxes in a wall of white and gold cabinets that look like they’re from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, without the singing.
      “Have you always been such a grouch about weddings?” she asks.
      “No. Not always.” I set aside the magazine and glance around the shop, taking in the accessory displays, the beautifully dressed mannequins that pose by the windows, and the long racks of sample gowns. Everything’s light and airy, as though it fell from a snow fairy’s wand. My irritation ebbs, replaced by an odd sense of nostalgia. “I used to love hanging out here. I’d twirl around in my mom’s creations, imagining an endless row of Prince Charmings desperate for my affection.”
      Pippa stifles a laugh. Badly. “What happened?”
      “Twirling’s cute at age seven. At seventeen, it’s self-indulgent. Also, no one gets through adolescence still believing in Prince Charming.”
      “You sure about that?” Pippa checks her phone. “Twelve ten. Bet he’s over there.” She scurries toward the big picture window at the front of the shop, tucking herself behind a mannequin dressed in an ivory charmeuse halter dress with a train that ripples like newly stirred cream. Pippa nudges aside the train as she waves me over.
      I join her, though I avoid the duck-and-cover spy routine in favor of calmly adjusting the dress’s neckline. Together, we peer out the window. Past a row of cherry trees and across a quiet street are a card shop, a chocolatier, and Blue Dog CrossFit.
      “I was right,” Pippa says, her voice low as though she’s worried the other mannequins will hear her. “He’s there.”
      I nod appreciatively. Yes. He. Is. He is Felix Royce, or “Flex” as Pippa likes to call him. He’s sitting on a workout bench doing curls with a barbell. His soft caramel waves sweep over his broad forehead, pulled to the left by a stubborn cowlick. His lips press together as he strains to draw the barbell toward his chest. He’s in a sleeveless shirt today, providing us an excellent view of his biceps. He’s a track star, not a body builder, so he’s not crazy ripped, but he’s tall and strong, with chiseled features, deep-set gray eyes, and full lips more than one girl has sighed over. Admittedly, I might be one of those girls. Also admittedly, he’d fit very nicely in a Prince Charming costume.
      He glances our way, halting mid-curl as the corners of his lips lift. I become deeply interested in a chiffon rosette that adorns the dress. Pippa shakes her head at me.
      “I can’t believe you haven’t asked him out yet,” she says.
      “Of course I haven’t asked him out. We go to the same school. If he said no, the humiliation would follow me all through senior year.”
      “And if he said yes?”
      “Even worse. I’d have to date him.” I force a smile but Pippa purses her lips, seeing right through my vain attempt to dodge her question with humor.
      “Isn’t it about time to revoke the No Dating manifesto?” she asks.
      “Why? So one day I, too, can force my friends to wear mauve satin while my mom weeps over her hundred-dollar corsage and some dude jams cake into my face?”
      “‘Some dude’? Seriously, Harper? Forget all this.” She flings out her arms to take in the whole room. “We’re not talking about marriage. Just a date. See a movie together. Hold hands. Look longingly into each other’s eyes.”
      “Long is a jacket measurement. Not a verb or an adverb.”
      Pippa marches back to the seating area and whisks a used napkin off an armchair.
      “Fine,” she says. “But I’m not stupid. You spend way too much time ogling that guy to claim you’re not interested. You know damned well a date doesn’t equate to a wedding. You’re not antisocial, and I don’t believe for a second that you read Jane Eyre three times for its biting religious criticism.”
      I open my mouth to tell her I read Jane Eyre three times because the wife shreds the wedding veil, but it’s not true. Pippa’s right, and we both know it. My transition from dreamy kid playing dress-up to hardened cynic didn’t happen that long ago. And it isn’t only a result of spending too many hours in the narcissist factory. As I wilt against the mannequin, I expect Pippa to pounce at my obvious defeat, but she doesn’t. Instead, she drops the napkin onto the fruit tray, her eyes brimming with sympathy.
      “Flex isn’t Liam,” she says.
      “Liam wasn’t Liam. Until he was.” I flash through memories. Meeting at counselor orientation for sleepover math camp last summer. The instant spark of attraction. Six weeks in which we were inseparable. Marking tests side by side. Sharing massive sundaes in the cafeteria. Making out in our dorm rooms when our roommates weren’t around, also in classrooms, restrooms, closets, parks, anywhere we could steal a moment alone. Working up the courage to say I love you. Two naked bodies colliding in the dark. And then . . .
      I stop fussing with the dress. “I can’t be another guy’s summer fling.”
      “You’d seriously give up a summer making out with that incredible specimen of manhood”—she flaps a hand toward Felix—“because you think the moment you get attached, he’d dump you?”
      “Stranger things have happened.” I sneak another look at Felix. He sets down his barbell and checks his phone. Whatever’s on the screen draws out his smile. Something shifts inside my chest, as though his smile’s settling into my heart like a book sliding onto a library shelf. He’s so beautiful. He’s also nice, the sort of guy who holds doors and says bless you and gets signatures on environmental petitions. But I just . . . can’t.
      Pippa shakes her head at me as though I’m a child and my bumbling missteps have grossly disappointed her. She has no right to act parental. She’s only two years older than I am, and just as single. Since she moved to New Hope and started the job here a little over a year ago, she’s dated a few guys she met through her community college art classes. Nothing lasted past a month or two. More proof that dating is pointless.
      Before we can argue the matter further, my mom peeks into the room and asks if one of us will make a coffee run. Pippa volunteers, but as my mom takes in the shoeboxes that still scatter the floor, she suggests I go instead.
      “If we let Harper finish here, she’ll be packing those shoes for hours, making sure she doesn’t add new creases to the tissue paper.” She and Pippa exchange a sly smile at my expense. I shrug off the joke. My mom has a point. Pippa’s far less obsessive than I am. She’s also less likely to get my coffee order right. So I make the run.
      As I head down the street, I do the very thing I keep promising myself I won’t do again, always right before I do it. I peek at Liam’s Instagram account. After a shot of his band and another of his dogs, I find a photo of him with his arm around his most recent girlfriend. He looks like he did last summer: hipster fauxhawk, worn-out concert tee, cuffed black jeans. Too bad his affection is less consistent than his personal style. And too bad we met when I was still a gullible fool, ready to believe that when a guy said he loved me, he didn’t mean he’d only love me while I was convenient.
      We’d never make it, he said on the last day of camp. A few emails, maybe. Some dirty texts. Within weeks we’d be fighting about a flirty photo one of us saw on Insta or a text the other didn’t respond to fast enough. We’d spoil a perfect summer fling with jealousy and insecurity. Is that really what you want?
      No, I told him. I want you to love me back. Not just in words but for real.
      It didn’t matter what I said. He returned to Allentown, I returned to New Hope, and what I thought was the start of a relationship became the end. Just. Like. That.
      I’m so busy staring at my phone, my pace propelled by mounting resentment, I smack into a tree. As I stumble backwards, I realize I didn’t hit a tree. I hit Felix Royce.
      We leap away from each other, sputtering apologies and slipping quick heys between the sorrys. I jam my offending phone into my back pocket. He hikes his gym bag up on his shoulder, looking as sheepish as I feel. The two of us shift and shuffle as though we’re trying to outdo each other for sheer awkwardness. I open my mouth to say something, but I have no idea what, so I close my mouth and step past him, assuming the best plan of action is to pretend the last ten seconds never happened.
      “You in a hurry?” he asks through a soft laugh.
      “Urgent coffee run,” I say through no laugh at all.
      “Coffee’s urgent?”
      “You haven’t seen my mom uncaffeinated.” I try to slip my hands into my pockets, only to remember I have no side pockets because women’s fashion is a farce.
      Felix peers past me toward Beneath the Veil. A trio of pale blue awnings caps the windows. The outer ones are just big enough to display a pair of my mom’s designs. The central window provides a view of the entire shop from the front desk all the way to the mirrored fitting area and wall of cabinets. Maybe Felix has seen my mom without her coffee. Maybe he’s seen a lot of things, like a girl who spends a lot of time on her knees, groveling for divas. I don’t know why I care if he’s seen that, but I guess I do.
      “I should, you know, the coffee,” I stammer. “Sorry I bumped into you.”
      His forehead rumples with confusion. “You are?”
      “The collision? Just now? You, me, zero space between us?”
      “Zero space, huh?” He grins a little, offering me a quick peek at his perfect teeth. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was blushing, but the slight flush on his cheeks is more likely an effect of all the time he spends running outside.
      Determined to give his cheeks no further thought, I wave and turn to go.
      “Hey, Harper?” he calls after me. I stop and face him. He tugs on his earlobe. The habit’s weird but cute. He does it all the time, like when he takes tests or sizes up his competition at a track meet. “Do you, I mean, would it be . . . ?” He jams his hands into his pockets, which he can do because he wears boy clothes. “Where’s the nearest coffee shop anyway, you know, if I wanted to get some, too?”
      I point down the road to the left. “Drip House is that way. Only a block. Bland but drinkable.” I point to my right. “C Factor’s that way. Better coffee. Worse service.” I snake a hand farther to my right. “Down that alley, left at the end, right at the four-way stop, and you’ll find Beans ’n’ Leaves. Totally worth the walk.”
      “Unless the situation’s urgent?”
      “Right. That. Better get to it.” I sense that he’s teasing me, but I don’t know what to do with that information, so I wave again and take off. Halfway to the coffee shop, I realize his question made no sense. He spends almost as much time on this block as I do. Even if he didn’t live at the gym, this town is hardly a sprawling metropolis. It’s so cute, they almost put the whole thing on a postage stamp last year. Anyone who’s lived here longer than a month should be able to map every decorative streetlamp and ivy-covered balcony. So why did he ask where to find a coffee shop? And why does that little shelf in my chest feel another addition to its inventory slipping into place?

Customer Reviews