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Sneak Peeks

Start reading #Wibbroka’s newest romance WITH AND WITHOUT YOU

#Wibbroka is back with another swoony YA–this time tackling long-distance relationships, in a novel based on their own romantic history.

If high school seniors Siena and Patrick were a superlative, they’d be Couple Most Likely to Marry. Three solid years of dating, and everyone agrees they’re perfect for each other. But with college on the horizon, Siena begins to wonder whether staying together is the best idea. Does she really want to be tied down during the most transformative years of her life? So she makes a decision to break up with Patrick, convincing herself it’s for the best. Though, before she can get the words out, he beats her to the punch: his family is moving. He’ll be spending senior year in Austin. A thousand miles away. Caught off guard by the news, Siena agrees to stay with Patrick, believing their relationship will naturally fizzle out with time and distance. But over a series of visits throughout the school year, Siena begins to see a different side of Patrick–one that has her falling in love with him all over again.

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“I want to break up.”

The words feel weird passing my lips. I can’t quite believe them even though I’m the one saying them. Maybe there’s just no way to prepare for the end of stories like ours.

The whole thing is made weirder by the fact I’m f  loating in a swimming pool, sheltering from the hundred–degree Phoenix sun. On days like this, I never know where the droplets of chlorinated water on my shoulders end and where my sweat starts. Right now, though, I’m pretty sure I’m mostly sweat. Not just from the heat, either.

“Patrick,” I continue before I lose my courage. I have a whole speech planned out, and I’m determined to give it. “You know how much you mean to me,” I go on, working hard to keep my expression contrite yet respectful. “You’ve honestly been the best boyfriend—-”

From across the pool, he interrupts me. “And you’ve been the best girlfriend.” He’s treading water in the deep end, sweat beading on the brown skin of his brow.

I grimace. “Thanks,” I say through my teeth. It’s the worst kind of thank you. Not grateful, just necessary. “But what I’m trying to say is that we’ve been together for nearly three years. I’m just wondering if . . . maybe we’re too young for this kind of commitment.” I hear my voice grow stronger by the end of the sentence, which is good. It’s the only thing making this bearable, really. I believe what I’m saying.

“Siena, you’re my world,” he protests. “You’re my everything. You have been since we were fifteen.”

My mouth f  lattens. Some stinging combination of sunscreen and water has slipped into my eye, and I rub it, grateful for the moment to regroup. “That’s my point, though. It’s been almost three years.” There’s more I don’t say. We haven’t even saidI love you. We haven’t had sex. We discussed early in our relationship wanting to wait for the “right time.” Which . . . somewhere in these three years, shouldn’t I have felt like it was the right time? “Do you want to graduate high school having only dated me?” I ask.

His reply is immediate. “Yes! I literally only want to date you!” He looks genuinely confused by my question. Then his expression clouds over. “Wait, who else do you want to date?”

I’ve been bobbing lightly on my toes in the pool, but when I sink down, I realize I’ve drifted into the five–foot section. I’m only five foot six, and I find the water rising past my mouth. I’ve lost my footing, conversationally and literally.

Paddling into shallower water, I force myself to remain clear and calm. “Nobody in particular,” I say. “I just feel like I need freedom. Not to date exactly, but to explore who I am.”

I breathe out. That’s it. That’s what I’ve been feeling this summer, in the months leading up to Patrick’s and my senior year. The truth is, if I examine who I am right now, I’m not very interested in what I find. I’m incredibly, painfullynormal. I just exist, filling days with the routines of life. I go to school. I do Model UN. I’m not very good—-I never gavel. Besides, I joined the extracurricular for Patrick. On Saturday nights, I go to the movies or McDonald’s with the same group of friends I’ve had since elementary school.

Honestly, my most defining feature is my boyfriend. Patrick and I are The Couple. The couple our circle of classmates can only imagine as a unit. No one even says our names separately. It’s onlySienaandPatrickPatrickandSiena. SienaandPatrick are in our prom limo.PatrickandSiena were the only people not drinking. Which isn’t Patrick’s fault, not in the least. But itis our relationship’s fault. When everything I do involves or centers on him, it’s hard to figure out how to be my own person. I just know I can’t stand it much longer—-I’m desperate for something to change.

His voice cuts harshly into my thoughts, louder now. “So, what? We’re over? Three years, and you’re throwing me away?”

I’m caught off guard. I f  latten my feet on the rough concrete of the pool for some sense of stability. “It’s really more like two and a half years,” I point out, then wince.

“Like I’m garbage?” he goes on emphatically.

“Patrick, you’re—-you’re not garbage.” I kick under the water to move closer, reaching out for him.

He pushes away from me, splashing dramatically. “You were everything to me,” he says. “I guess I was nothing to you. I don’t even know who you are anymore. The Siena I knew would never do this to me,” he wails.

I open my mouth to reply, then—-

Instead, I sigh. Dropping the contrition from my expression, I frown. “Okay, this isn’t helpful,” I inform him.

He stops f  lailing immediately, mirroring the change in me. “Too much?” he asks apologetically, his expression completely changed.

“Way too much,” I confirm. “You have to be realistic, Joe. Patrick won’t make a scene.”

My best friend nods, considering my feedback like an actor hoping this performance wins him his Emmy. “He will be heartbroken, though,” Joe says matter–of–factly.

Ruefully, I realize he’s not wrong. While Joe obviously doesn’t know Patrick quite as well as I do, he’s received more secondhand knowledge of Patrick Reynolds than anyone on the planet. I made a point of having the three of us hang out often so that Patrick never got jealous of Joe and Joe didn’t feel like I ditched him when I got a boyfriend.

Joe’s my closest friend and has been since we were five years old. We met in kindergarten, our friendship founded on having the same Wonder Woman lunch box. These days, Joe is much cooler than me. I can’t explain why we’re friends except to say we just get along. On paper, we don’t have much in common—-Joe is Black and wealthy, plays drums in the jazz band, and hangs out with athletes and drama kids instead of my friends in Model UN—or MUN for short, as in, rhymes with fun. But it doesn’t matter.

It’s why I’m here. When I decided today was finally the day I would break up with Patrick, I texted Joe, who promptly invited me over.

I didn’t hesitate. First, Joe’s house has a sweet pool, and it’s ridiculously hot out. Second, I needed to get out of my apartment before my brother, Robbie, started making out with his new girlfriend on the couch. Most importantly, however, I wanted to rehearse my speech.

Joe agreed, probably out of boredom, when I explained I needed him to play the role of Patrick. We’ve spent the past final weeks of summer supposedly enjoying the homework–less emptiness of each day, but really doing nothing. I know Joe has more parties, more obligations, more unread group chats on his phone than Patrick and I do. Even for him, though, I think summer has started to feel a little listless.

Hence him getting carried away with the role of Patrick, my soon–to–be ex–boyfriend.

“Patrick’s too nice to get argumentative,” I point out. “Honestly, he’ll probably end up consolingme after I dump him.” The thought douses me in guilt. Despite the heat, the water feels cold and clammy on my submerged skin. I don’twant to hurt Patrick, partly because he really is that nice.

Joe ducks his head under. Coming quickly back up, he blinks water out of his eyes. “Well, you know he’s going to be crushed, even if he doesn’t show it.”

“Are you trying to make me feel worse?” I’m going for joking and end up sounding miserable.

“No,” he replies gently. “Just—-are you sure about this?”

I weigh the question seriously as if I haven’t asked myself the same thing every night for weeks, staring at the small photo of Patrick and me from a Model UN conference in the craft–store frame next to my pillow. It’s not that I don’t love Patrick. I’m just not in love with him.

Deep down, I know it’s not just lack of passion driving my decision, either. I’m scared of staying the same girl I was when I was fifteen, when I started dating Patrick. I feel stilted, confining myself to fit my relationship, to stay the person who fell for Patrick three years ago.

The thing is, I know it doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve been friends with Joe longer than I’ve been dating Patrick. But my friendship with Joe hasn’t kept either of us from changing over the past eleven years. Joe, with his enormous video game collection, his skateboarding scabs. I never felt trapped into being that kindergartener with her Wonder Woman lunch box in order to stay friends with him.

Yet with Patrick, I’m stuck. Our relationship is routinized. We have every excuse to do the same things, have the same conversations, see the same people. It’s why I really haven’t changed since we started dating. I’m afraid if I stay with him, comfortable in our complacency, I’ll be forever the fifteen–year–old who watches YouTube home renovations late into the night, does puzzles for fun, goes to the same café every Saturday afternoon. The girl Patrick loves.

Everyone else gets to change. I look at my friends, look at Joe’s older sister, Hailey, who’s home from her freshman year at Rice. She’s vegan now. She listens to music she calls chillwave and deep house. She’s training to run a marathon. It’s like she discovered this whole other person within herself.

I don’t want to run a marathon. I did not enjoy the chillwave she played for me. But I do want to discover new sides of myself.

“Yes,” I say honestly to Joe. “I’m sure. Breaking up won’t be easy, but it’s the right thing to do.”

“Then you don’t need to practice,” Joe replies. “Just be honest with him.”

I smile weakly. I hate this, even though I know it’s right. Patrick is the kindest boy I’ve ever met. He’s probably the kindestperson I’ve ever met. Breaking up will hurt us both. But that’s no reason to put it off.

I hoist myself out of the pool, immediately feeling the oven–like heat. The pavement sears my feet, and I spring lightly for my sandals. Wrapping my towel around my shoulders, I turn back to the pool.

“By the way,” I call to Joe, “you’re my world?”

Hearing his words repeated, Joe waves a hand carelessly. “I don’t know what Patrick says to you in your intimate moments.”

I laugh despite myself. “Well, it’s not you’re my world.” I pull on my dress over my wet bathing suit, knowing the fabric will dry in minutes. Glimpsing my ref  lection in Joe’s glass sliding doors, I notice the damp boob stains outlined on mydress, my hair—dark brown, usually straight—-hangingtangled and stringy down my back. “Should I shower and change before I meet up with him?” I ask Joe.

Joe climbs up onto one of the rafts f  loating in the crystal water. “You’re about to dump the man and you’re worried about how you look?”

I wind my hair into a bun using the hairband I keep on my wrist. It looks a little better. “I just want him to know I respect him,” I say.

Joe closes his eyes, stretching out on the raft. “Siena, don’t procrastinate,” he says. “Go put him out of his misery.”

I cross the hot concrete to the glass doors. “Okay, I’m going,” I grumble. “The next time you see me, I’ll be single.”

It’s unexpectedly reassuring to say. I’ll be single. Once I get through this conversation, I won’t be Patrick Reynolds’s girlfriend. I’ll be someone else—-me, or the beginning of who I might become.

Penguin Teen