Read an excerpt from chapter 2 of Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera's new rom-com
This holiday season, Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera are bringing back on-again, off-again couple Arthur and Ben for another New York City love story. In Here's to Us, which will hit shelves on Dec. 28, we check in with the protagonists as they stumble back into each other's lives while they're both working on their dream careers. Read an excerpt from the first chapter here, and take a peek at the second chapter below.
Saturday, May 16
My clothes are on the floor, and Mikey's in my bed. Well, he's on my bed. He's propped against my pillow pile, wearing flannel pajama pants and his glasses and nothing on top, with a full face of finals-week stubble. Not that I'm complaining. Scruffy Mikey is my favorite Mikey.
Still, he's a beacon of order and symmetry, and you can tell at a glance which of my boxes he's packed. They're the ones lined up evenly against the foot of my bed, filled with neat piles of towels and sheets, each one labeled in Sharpie. Arthur linens. Arthur textbooks. Right now, he's taking down my photographs, lumping all my blue poster putty into one egg-sized mega-wad.
I plop down beside him. "You know what this looks like?"
"Let me give him an eye hole." I poke my finger into the putty and look back at him expectantly.
"Poster putty with an eye hole?"
"Mikey! It's the blob guy from Monsters vs. Aliens!"
"Ah." He globs another little wad of putty onto its head, like a toupee.
"Yeah, now he looks like Trump." I quickly flatten him into a pancake and toss him onto my nightstand. "Much better."
"Such activism," says Mikey.
"Hush." I lean in to kiss him. "Guess what."
"Thanks a lot," he says.
"Of packing." I push his bangs off his face and kiss him again.
"You know, we're never going to finish if you keep doing that."
I just smile, because Mikey's so thoroughly Mikey. He still gets flustered when I kiss him. Sometimes he'll clear his throat and say, Well then. Or he'll check the time or ask whether the door's locked, and for weeks I thought that meant he was looking for excuses not to kiss me. But now I get it. Mikey's one of those people who gets what he wants and then panics.
I rest my head on his shoulder and survey the room: piles of books, scattered papers. All my big hoarder energy.
Mikey, of course, packed up his entire room four hours ago.
"Thanks for being here," I murmur.
If he wanted to, he could be in Boston already. But we both know there was never a universe where Mikey didn't stick around to rescue me.
I roll up a yellow-striped polo shirt I stole from a box of my dad's high school heirlooms and shove it into my New York bag—a giant camp duffel bag, already bulging with shirts, jeans, and books. Dragging everything onto the train tomorrow is going to be An Experience, but at this point I'm just hoping I actually make it to New York. Which won't happen until I clear my thirty metric tons of shit out of this dorm room.
I nudge a cardboard box aside with my foot, hands in my hair. "What am I forgetting? Chargers, shirts, jeans—"
"Underwear?" Mikey says.
"Work clothes? Suit and tie?"
"Suit and tie? So I can look like Chad from corporate?"
I shake my head. "Michael McCowan, this is queer off-Broadway theater! I'll be laughed off the stage."
"Off the stage?" Mikey squints. "You're an intern to an assistant."
"Intern to the director's assistant. Do you even know how many people interviewed for this job?"
"Exactly. Sixty-four," I say, feeling just a little sheepish.
So maybe I've talked Mikey's ear off about my internship once or twice or possibly a few hundred times. But can you blame me? It's my ultimate top-tier pie-in-the-sky dream job. I don't think I've even fully processed it yet. Starting in less than a week, I'll be working for Jacob freaking Demsky, Lambda Award–winning playwright and two-time New York Innovative Theatre Award–winning director. How could I not jump for joy, at least a little?
I was kind of hoping Mikey would do a little joy jumping, too. Or just, you know, try not to look like Eeyore whenever I mention it.
I mean, I get it. Of course I get it. We had our whole summer mapped out perfectly: living in Boston, staying in Mikey's sister's guest room, working at a day camp. Not exactly a résumé game changer, but I wasn't in it for my résumé. I was in it for Emack & Bolio's ice cream, Union Square Donuts, and day trips to Salem and Cape Cod on the weekends. I was in it for Mikey.
But then Jacob Demsky announced his internship, and I couldn't get it out of my head.
Yeah, the stipend was less than half of what I'd be making as a camp counselor. But I could always save money living in Uncle Milton's apartment. Missing that time with Mikey would suck, but it's not like I'd be moving to the moon. And it was just for the summer. Also, there was no point even worrying about the logistics, because Jacob was never going to pick me. Every queer Broadway nerd in the country would be vying for this, and some of them probably had more impressive theater credits than Beauregard and Belvedere in Ethan's basement.
Still. I poured every bit of my heart into that email and pressed send.
Then I mostly tried to put the whole thing out of my mind. I focused on Boston and Mikey and frantically teaching myself how to make yarn looms, because, wow, I was not born with camp-counselor skills. But I was going to be a camp counselor. In Boston. Because Boston was real, and New York was a pointless secret email sent into the abyss.
Until two weeks ago.
I'll never forget the way Mikey froze when I told him I'd been offered a Zoom interview.
I study him now for a moment. Mikey Phillip McCowan, my pale-shouldered nervous wreck of a boyfriend. He's sitting with his knees tucked up, hugging them, not looking at me.
"Mikey Mouse," I say quickly. "Put on 'Don't Lose Ur Head.'"
If any album can pull a smile out of Mikey, it's the original cast recording of Six.
He grabs my phone off the charger, tapping in my password to unlock it. But then his face sort of...stalls out. He stares wordlessly at my phone screen.
He's definitely not smiling.
My heart kicks into high gear. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah. Yes." He taps the screen a few times, and Anne Boleyn's voice jumps to my wireless speaker. Normally Mikey sings along under his breath, but now his mouth's a sullen straight line.
It's like the air pressure changed.
I run my hand down the edge of one of the cardboard boxes marked for storage at my bubbe's house. "I should probably bring this down to the car."
"What if you just . . . don't go?"
"To the car?"
"To New York."
I stare at him, and he stares back through his glasses, his eyes plainly serious.
"Mikey." I shake my head. "I have a job—"
"You had one in Boston, too," he says softly.
My stomach twists. "I should have told you sooner.
Mikey, I'm so—"
"Stop. You don't have to apologize again." He shakes his head, cheeks flushed. "I'm just not ready for tomorrow."
"Me either." I sink onto the bed beside him.
"I wish you were still coming to Boston."
The song switches—"Heart of Stone." I take Mikey's hand, lacing my fingers through his. "Well, luckily it's just two months."
"Fine, ten weeks. But it'll go by so fast, I promise. We won't even have time to miss each other."
He smiles sadly. "I kind of miss you already."
I look up at him, so startled I lose my breath for a second.
I kind of miss you already.
I mean, I know Mikey's into me. I've never doubted that. But he's not usually quite so direct about it.
"Me too. But at least I get you back in two weeks." I nudge him sideways. "And I'm taking you to every single one of my favorite places. Central Park, Times Square, Levain Bakery, you name it."
Mikey's brow furrows.
I narrow my eyes. "What?"
"I didn't say anything."
"You made an eyebrow face."
Mikey disentangles our hands. "It's just . . ." He pauses, rubbing the back of his neck. "Did you go to those places with Ben?"
"Oh. Well, yeah." I feel suddenly flustered. "But that was two years ago. Ben and I haven't even talked in ages. Since February."
Mikey shrugs like he doesn't quite believe me.
But it's true. It's been months since Ben and I have talked or even texted. I even tried FaceTiming him on his birthday in April, but he didn't pick up. He didn't even return the text I sent later.
Mikey's looking at me now with his basset-hound eyes.
"Are you going to see him?"
"You mean Ben?"
"You'll be in the same city."
"Mikey, seriously. I haven't talked to him since February.
He doesn't even know I'm coming."
"I think he knows."
There's something about the way Mikey says it.
"What do you mean?"
The song switches again. "I Don't Need Your Love." I swear I can hear Mikey's heartbeat change tempo. He leans sideways, gropes around for my phone, and passes it to me.
The Instagram notification pops up the moment I tap the screen. @ben-jamin liked your photo.
It's the first time Ben's liked one of my photos in months. My heart leaps into my throat. I've been trying not to let the Instagram thing bother me. It's normal for people to drift, right? Especially when it's your ex-boyfriend.
I just didn't think it would happen to us. To Ben and me.
I kind of thought we were indestructible.
And in the beginning, we were.
I'll never forget that first week back home after leaving New York. Ben and I talked every single night until our phone batteries died. And for the rest of senior year, we never went more than a day without texting. I used to walk around the house on FaceTime so often, my parents started shouting, "Hi, Ben," whenever they saw my phone.
Then sometimes Diego and Isabel would shout back, and the four of them would be off and running with some side conversation. Ben and I complained about it constantly, but I think we both secretly loved that our parents were lowkey obsessed with each other.
I mean, I liked to think Ben and I were lowkey obsessed with each other, too.
And I thought college would be the same. Or better.
Definitely better, because at least I wouldn't have to deal with my mom's knowing looks every time I stepped out of my bedroom. For the record, that's a barrel of laughs: trying not to be in love with your ex-boyfriend when he rants adorably about story structure over FaceTime and having your parents see right through every single denial. All the boyfriend-related parental teasing without the actual boyfriend.
So. Privacy was good. And Wesleyan's proximity to New York was even better. Just over three hours by train—two if I left my car at Bubbe's house and took the train from New Haven. It's not that I expected our relationship to pick right up where we left off—not necessarily. But Ben seemed really happy I was moving closer. He brought it up constantly for months.
Of course, once I was actually in Connecticut, things got weird really fast.
We still talked all the time, and Ben was always saying he missed me. Or I'd wake up to rambling remember when texts. But when I mentioned train schedules, he'd change the subject so fast it made my head spin.
Once he sent me a screenshot of my own Instagram selfie, followed by a single heart-eye emoji. Which led to two hours on FaceTime with Ethan and Jessie, trying to pinpoint the most casual-yet-effective way to say, Um, I think you're joke-flirting, but in case you're also real-flirting, might I remind you that I have a single dorm room.
It was bewildering and infuriating, and I was a Benaddled mess all over again. I thought about blocking his number. I thought about showing up on his doorstep. I was surrounded by cute boys with loud opinions who liked kissing, so I tried that. But I always ended up alone in my dorm room, poring over Ben's texts.