We are already SWOONING over Cameron Lund’s debut, The Best Laid Plans. This hilarious and heartfelt story follows Keely Collins as she takes on first loves, first friends, and first times in this sweet, sex-positive rom-com for fans of Meg Cabot and Jenny Han.
Let’s get to the excerpt!
“Now that I’m a woman, I’m going to order an espresso,” Danielle says from the driver’s seat on our way to Dunkin’ Donuts the next afternoon. “That’s the little one without any milk and sugar, right?”
“Yeah, and it tastes like gasoline,” Ava answers from shotgun. “Besides, you’ve put five Splendas in your coffee since seventh grade. I don’t think one magical night can change that.”
We’ve just spent all morning cleaning Andrew’s house—scrubbing down counters, loading and unloading the dishwasher, shoveling the driveway so everyone’s footprints and tire tracks are gone. Andrew’s mom is a bit crazy about the house—she refers to her bedroom as “the sanctuary” and spends so much time at Crate and Barrel, she probably gets the employee discount. So we know she’ll notice if something is out of place. The morning after a party is always a several-hour ordeal if you’re nice enough to stick around. Guys like Jason Ryder never do.
I have this idea in my head that things will be different once I get to California, that the kids there are classy and drink wine with their pinkies out, that the guys don’t get drunk on Keystone Light and try to write their names in the snow when they pee. But maybe people are the same everywhere.
We’ve been sent on a dumpster drive, so the car is piled with bags of trash we’re supposed to drop—empty bottles and cans from the night before that we couldn’t leave as evidence inside the house. I’m in the back seat with Hannah, who looks a little green, probably from the smell wafting out of the trash bags. Unfortunately for all of us, Ava loves musical theater, so we’re currently listening to a song from Wicked that’s about three octaves too high for the morning after a party.
“For the love of God, can we turn this off?” Danielle reaches for the stereo but Ava slaps her hand away.
“No! ‘Defying Gravity’ is literally the best song of all time. Are you telling me this doesn’t make you feel something?”
“Yeah,” Danielle says. “It makes me feel like I want to die.”
“Careful,” Ava says. “I could put on the one where all the songs are about pee instead.”
Ava has been the star of every school musical since freshman year. She’ll be at NYU next year with Hannah, and although their majors are different, the image of the two of them exploring New York City together makes my heart hurt if I think about it for too long.
“Is there one where all the songs are just relaxing ocean sounds?” Hannah asks, leaning her head against the window.
We’re on a curvy back road lined on either side with pine trees. Prescott is full of roads like these, carving through the middle of nowhere. Downtown is only a four-block strip lined with shops and restaurants. In the summer, the nearby lake draws tons of tourists: families with inner tubes and giant tubs of sunscreen, or hikers with backpacks and dreadlocks passing through on the Appalachian Trail. Fall brings the leaf-peepers, city people from New York or Boston who drive so slowly on the roads they’re a hazard to traffic. But in early March, we’re a ghost town.
As we pull onto a busier street, Dunkin’ Donuts appears on our left, a glorious pink and orange beacon of all things good in the world. Danielle drives right past it.
“What are you doing?” Ava shrieks. “I need caffeine! I have a headache!” This is hard to believe from the decibel of her voice. Ava always projects like she’s trying to reach the back of an auditorium. Sometimes people get on her about being too theater kid, but I kinda like that about her. She always feels everything totally and completely. One time in ninth-grade English she cried while reading this poem out loud to the class and she wasn’t even embarrassed about it.
“We’re going to the one on Base Hill instead.” Danielle rolls her eyes as if this should be obvious. Dunkin’ Donuts locations dot our town like confetti. There are three in our county alone, even though we don’t even have a movie theater and have to drive almost an hour to get to a mall. “They just put one in right next to that gym where all the EVmU guys work out.”
Eastern Vermont University, our local college, is known for its herbology department, if you know what I mean. Lots of kids from Prescott go there on the weekends to crash parties, but I’ve never wanted to put myself through that; a college party sounds like literal torture.
“What, now that you’re a woman you only want college boys?” I ask Danielle, grinning.
“We’ve given high school boys too many chances,” she says.
“I hate that expression by the way,” Hannah says. “The concept that you have to get penetrated by a peen in order to become a woman. Like, why are we giving guys so much power?”
“And what about lesbians?” I add.
“Yes!” Ava says. “Chase Brosner does not have a magical penis.”
“Thank God,” Danielle says. “His ego is already big enough.”
“No guy has a magical penis,” I say, laughing. “They all just think they do.”
“Have you talked to Chase?” Hannah asks. “You know . . . since?”
Danielle pulls the car sharply into a turn, ignoring a yield sign. “We both got what we wanted. He’s an idiot if he thinks it’s ever going to happen again after that show last night.”
“He’s such an asshole.” Ava nods in agreement. “It’s like Charlie all over again.” She glances back at Hannah. “They act like they care about you, but it’s all a big joke, isn’t it? They only care about you until they cum.”
“There’s already a bag of trash sitting next to me,” Hannah says. “Do we really have to talk about Charlie?”
“I’m just being honest,” Ava says, her voice rising. “Isn’t it depressing that none of us is still with the guy we lost our virginity to? When you care too much, it just hurts you.” She turns around in her seat, eyeing me pointedly. “Keely, you’re lucky you’re still a virgin.”
“Whatever. I don’t regret it.” Danielle pulls into the parking lot and stops the car in front of the gym, shifting a little too forcefully into park. We watch as a beefy guy in his mid-twenties pushes open the gym door, holding it for a girl behind him. She walks through into the cold air, wrapping her arms around his waist like she belongs there.
“It’s only going to get worse in college,” Danielle says. “You’re supposed to be done with the awkward part, right? You’re supposed to get that out of the way in high school.” She looks right at me. “Being a virgin in college is like having a disease.”
Ava was right about the espresso, of course. Penetration did nothing to change Danielle’s taste buds, and after one sip, she orders something that’s mostly whipped cream. While she and Ava wait at the counter for her second drink, Hannah and I walk our coffees back to a table in the corner.
“Danielle’s just putting on a show, you know,” Hannah says, taking a hesitant sip of her latte. “She’s pretending she doesn’t care, because Chase literally screwed her over. That thing she just said about having a disease is such an unhealthy mind-set.” She fiddles with the lid of her cup. “Honestly, virginity shouldn’t even be that big of a deal. We only make it a big thing because we put all this pressure on it. You shouldn’t worry about being a virgin. Everybody thinks it’s fine.”
“That’s the problem though.” I set down my drink. “Everybody knows. Everybody shouldn’t think it’s fine, because everybody shouldn’t know.”
I went with Hannah to The Rocky Horror Picture Show last Halloween, dressed up in wigs and corsets. When we first arrived, the show’s emcee took a tube of bright red lipstick and drew a big V on each of our foreheads to let the rest of the audience know we were “Rocky Virgins” and this was our first time seeing the show. This is how I feel every day in the halls of Prescott—like everyone in school can still see that big red V on my forehead, like I never washed it off.
My parents have always been really open with me about sex. They very willingly gave me the “birds and the bees” talk in fourth grade, going into way more detail than was absolutely necessary at the time. The phrase “clitoral stimulation” will probably be seared into my brain for the rest of eternity.
We aren’t a town of churchgoers for the most part, at least not in the way you’d think. It’s not uncommon here to identify as “spiritual” instead of “religious”—to believe in an energy in the trees or to look for guidance from the stars. My family celebrates Christmas, but it’s always been more about presents than anything else. Danielle has always described herself as Jew-ish; she never bothered with a bat mitzvah and usually cheats during Passover, saying she could never last more than a day without a bagel.
I know in some other parts of the world, in cultures different from ours, religion plays a much bigger role in shaping ideas of sex and purity. For some people, sex comes with marriage. It’s not embarrassing to wait, it’s expected. Sex is a demonstration of love, something sacred.
But then, Hannah thought her first time was sacred. She loved Charlie, and he claimed to love her back. She waited for the moment it felt right. When he suggested they spend the night at his lake house, she knew what was implied. It was romantic, special—perfect. Until the next week, when he dumped her for Julie Spencer.
I’m not waiting for marriage. I’m not even really waiting for love. What I want is respect and trust. I want to know that whoever I have sex with will make me feel safe, that they won’t leave me for a junior in their French class, or never talk to me again, or tell everyone at the party in a matter of minutes. I don’t think I could handle a public humiliation as well as Danielle did. For that matter, I don’t think I should have to.
Wait until you’re ready, people always say. But how are you supposed to know when you’re ready? Do you wake up one day and suddenly feel more grown-up, more like an adult? I don’t feel like an adult at all. If having sex means opening yourself up to heartbreak, or ridicule, or pain, I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready.
“If it’s this bad now, how’s it going to be next year?” I ask miserably. “We’re going to college in the two biggest cities in the country. There probably haven’t been any virgins in LA since the eighties.”
“We have six months until college,” Hannah offers. “You still have time. And next year is our fresh start, remember?”
The little bell above the door jingles and a cold gust of air swoops into the store, blowing a guy inside with it. He looks college-aged, probably an EVmU student coming from the gym next door. I watch as he puffs into a pair of fingerless gloves, rubbing his hands together. He’s all dark hair and clean lines, with warm chocolate eyes and hard cheekbones tinged pink from the cold. And I swear—he’s the best-looking guy I’ve ever seen in real life. Hannah and I gape at him, pausing mid-conversation.
“He looks like James Dean,” she whispers, slack-jawed. Hannah knows this because I’ve had a Rebel Without a Cause poster tacked to my wall since fifth grade. It’s one of my favorites.
Our eyes trail him as he approaches the counter, coming up behind Danielle and Ava. He’s wearing a leather jacket that covers his butt, and I inwardly curse the cold weather. I can tell the moment Danielle notices him. She nudges Ava, who stands up straighter, hands reaching up to smooth her pink hair. They both turn to face him at the same time.
“You’re up,” Danielle says. Then she licks a dollop of whipped cream from the top of her drink, staring at him like she’s licking something else. Danielle’s stare is a powerful thing; she uses eye contact like a weapon.
“Uh, thanks,” he says. His voice is like warm, hot fudge.
The girls rush back to the table.
“Did you see that guy?” Ava hisses, probably not as quietly as she should.
Danielle takes a long frozen sip of her drink. When she pulls her mouth away, there’s a red lipstick mark on the straw. Before Danielle, I always associated lipstick with old ladies, the smell of powder perfumes and hairspray that always hovered around my grandma. But lipstick is Danielle’s signature.
“I should go back and talk to him.” She glances over her shoulder.
“Yeah you definitely should!” Ava nods vigorously.
Danielle looks back at him and shrugs, then walks to the door instead. “Whatever, he’s not worth it.”
It’s not like Danielle at all to shy away from a guy, especially one as good-looking as James Dean, and I wonder if Chase has messed her up more than she’s letting on.
I glance back once more as we leave, just to get another look at James Dean, and feel myself flush with excited embarrassment when he looks right at me. Then he lifts a tiny cup of espresso to his mouth and takes a long sip.
The Best Laid Plans is hitting shelves April 7! Pre-order your copy here!