He’d said he had an early soccer game, so I headed to the fields before my classes. His intramural team had enough of a crowd that I could slip in unnoticed to watch the last ten minutes. There was something exhilarating about watching him streak across the field, about seeing his intense expression as he passed the ball, watching his team jump all over each other when they scored.
At the way his muscles tensed and relaxed, the way he was completely zoned into the action. Passion, of a sort. I pressed my fingers to my throat. I knew that look so well. Remembered how it had been focused on me, long ago.
At the final whistle, I caught up with him on the sidelines.
“Josh, can I have a minute?”
He looked at me over his water bottle. I had just finished studying the lines of his neck and shoulders as his head tipped back for a drink. A couple other guys exchanged a look but Josh shrugged coolly and dropped his bottle in his bag.
“See you guys later,” he told them. He shouldered his backpack and stood with an exaggerated sigh. “Where to?”
“We can walk, if you don’t mind.”
I led him blindly away from the field. I wasn’t sure where to go. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted from Josh.
He could tell.
“Here,” he said, stopping me with a touch of his finger on my arm. “Come down here. I need to drop these cones in the equipment room.”
In the equipment room, dust swirled among the limited oxygen supply and the smell of sweat soaked leather dominated everything else. I plugged my nose and gave Josh a look.
“This was the only place you could think of?”
He leaned against a steel frame rack of football helmets.
“You’re the one who needed alone time. Damon not meeting your needs anymore?”
I hated how we flip-flopped. How one moment with him could be absolute perfection, and the next a battle. Josh had no right to act jealous. We were nothing to each other. No matter how he made me feel. And the way he made me feel…frustrated me. I picked up a plastic orange cone and launched it. He ducked with an exasperating laugh.
“Shut up, Josh. When’s the last time you had a girlfriend?”
It wasn’t as though I expected him to list them. We both knew he wasn’t lonely. But he shrugged the question off, folding his arms across his chest, refusing to answer me. His eyes, usually so warm and inviting, were closed to me.
“What do you want, Katie?”
I retrieved the cone, being sure to avoid Josh’s personal space, and replaced it at the top of its stack. I straightened a shoulder pad on the shelf behind me, realized what I was touching, and wiped my hand on my skirt. Ew.
“Did you find anything yet? About Chelsea’s – about the frat guy?”
“You mean anything in the very short span of time between yesterday afternoon and now? What did you expect from me?”
“I’m so sorry to expect anything from you.”
“Believe me, I already know that.”
A heavy silence hung between us.
“Why aren’t you over that, anyway?” he continued. “They arrested the janitor, didn’t you hear?”
I picked a stopwatch up off one of the shelves and played with the buttons, resetting the time to zero. I set it back down quickly, hoping no one was saving that time for something important.
“Yeah, but I’m just not sure –.”
“Just not sure what?”
When I failed to answer him he heaved a sigh.
“What do you want from me, Katie?”
I blinked back a surprise rush of tears. How could I tell him I wanted both everything – and nothing – from him, but that I knew I deserved less than either?
“I want to find . . . I want to know who . . .” I shook my head. Why was Josh the hardest person on the planet to talk to, when I knew for a fact he was the easiest person to talk to?
“It’s not your job to solve this crime,” he said, after the silence between us filled the room, pressing against our skin painfully. “You need to give your energy to dealing with it in other ways.”
“Chelsea’s murder,” I corrected. “Not just some random crime. I don’t think the janitor did it.”
“Stop it,” he whispered. He started to reach a hand out to me, but pulled back before touching me. I couldn’t tell him that I wanted him to. To reach out to me. To touch me. To everything.
“I can’t. Please.” I’d lowered myself to whimpering. My shame had no end when it came to Chelsea.
“I don’t have anything for you.”
For a moment, my heart melted under the regret in his voice. But then I realized I was doing it again: setting him up to get hurt. I replaced my guilt with anger.
“Then why did you bring me in here?”
“What? I’m not the one who dragged me into this equipment closet.”
I smirked. I had him there.
“Actually, yes you did.”
“Right. The idea to be alone with you was mine.”
I bit back my retort and paused. Wait. He didn’t want to be alone with me? What boy wouldn’t?
“I just wanted to ask you about the username. Somewhere where your entire soccer team wasn’t going to overhear. You were the one dragging us into rooms that reek of the gladiators time forgot.”
He pushed off the rack and came within a foot of my face. Electricity fizzed in the air. I clutched the rack behind my back to keep from curving my body into his.
“So, you’re saying you don’t want to be alone with me? Katie Sawyer, you break my heart.”
His mouth hesitated around the next word, the one he didn’t say but that we both knew had almost spilled out: again.
1. You have a Young Adult novel out now (NOBODY BUT US) and another one coming out next year (EVERY LAST PROMISE), in addition to your New Adult debut, SURFACING. What are some of the differences between writing YA and NA?
I love writing both Young Adult and New Adult. It’s been interesting seeing some of the differences in my writing style between the two, but also noticing what is the same. My Young Adult novels are upper YA, so there’s not a lot of disparity in content. Having said that, my New Adult projects definitely feature more sexytimes as an essential part of the plot. I also feel like the plot itself takes a bit more spotlight in my New Adult projects, which is fun, while my Young Adult books feel a bit more character-driven and perhaps more crafted at the line level. Still, whether I’m writing New Adult or Young Adult, the books are definitely “me” and are getting the best of my ability.
2. What are your inspirations?
SURFACING, in particular, is inspired by two of my favorite things to watch: Veronica Mars and the movie, Clueless. I like writing emotionally complicated characters who have to face their own demons as they are also trying to come to terms with an event that doesn’t have easy answers. There is a mystery element to this book, but it isn’t quite at Nancy Drew levels. It’s a little more about finding oneself than about finding a villain, even though there certainly is a villain!
I have also been inspired by the setting. I love the beach as much as Katie does, which is why it plays such a role in this story. And I’m a huge fan of female friendships and of women living together and interacting on a daily basis, which is why I chose to set this, and all the companion books, in the Delta Gamma sorority. It’s a good place to explore female dynamics in a real and empowering way.
3. SURFACING has a mystery element. Do you think that makes it different from other New Adult books?
SURFACING does have a mystery element, and I think it’s something that’s a little different than a lot of what’s out there right now in New Adult. But it also has a lot of the elements that I think New Adult readers like to see: identifiable female characters, great men, sexual tension and personal growth in a turbulent life stage. I like to think I’ve taken the popular contemporary romance and given it a little twist with the mystery.
4. Do you have favorite characters in your books?
Not usually. I sometimes like my characters, I sometimes dislike them. Either way, I always love writing them. I do have to admit, though, that Josh is a really, really, really good guy (in so many ways) and also, you know, hot, and if I had to pick a book boyfriend, it would be him.
5. What are your future New Adult plans? Any previews you can give us?
I have lots of fun plans for my future New Adult projects! Right now, several more books featuring the ladies from Delta Gamma are in the works. Some of the characters you’ll see in SURFACING get their own turn in the spotlight, and there will even be a change of setting for a couple of them to some of my own favorite places to visit (Scotland! Snow-capped mountains!). Hopefully, I’ll be able to share previews soon, so stay tuned! A good place to keep up with what’s new is my twitter @KristinHalbrook or my Tumblr page: www.tumblr.com/KristinHalbrook