Let’s dance into 2019 with a delightful book, shall we? Take a look at the cover for Kristina Forest’s debut YA novel, I Wanna Be Where You Are, out June 2019. Check out the synopsis below, and keep scrolling to read an excerpt from the novel!
When Chloe, a young black ballet dancer, devises a secret plan to take a road trip to a life-changing audition, she hits her first speed bump when her annoying neighbor Eli insists upon hitching a ride, threatening to tell Chloe’s mom if she leaves him and his smelly dog, Geezer, behind.
Filled with roadside hijinks, heart-stirring romance and a few broken rules, I Wanna Be Where You Are is the YA rom-com of your dreams, perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Save the Last Dance.
Read An Excerpt From I Wanna Be Where You Are
“What’s up, Chloe?”
I don’t mean to shriek, but I do it anyway. I clamp my hand over my mouth and stumble backward. Eli Greene is standing there with his fist raised, ready to knock. He grins at me, and I think about the Big Bad Wolf when he came for the Three Little Pigs.
“Sorry!” Eli says, holding up his hands in apology. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
I stare at him, willing my pulse to return to normal. It’s just Eli. Not a killer. Not someone coming to abduct me. Not Mom or Jean-Marc returning for another forgotten item, about to catch me in the act.
“Shit,” Eli says. “That scream was loud.”
He grins from ear to ear, flashing his white teeth. I think of the Big Bad Wolf again. Eli always smiles like he knows something that you don’t. With that smile and his light-brown complexion, he looks like the lead singer of an R & B group. Except I know he can’t sing . . . or dance.
“What do you want?” I finally ask.
I step outside and lock the door behind me. Eli only moves back a few inches, so when I turn around, he’s right there. I get a whiff of cigarette smoke and fresh laundry. He keeps getting taller. Right now, he towers over me. It’s hard to believe we were once the same height.
He’s wearing his usual getup: a T-shirt, basketball shorts, and Timberland boots. Today everything is black, aside from his bright-blue Phillies baseball cap. He’s a modern-day grim reaper.
“Where are you going?” he asks. His eyes shift to the duffel bag slung over my shoulder.
“I—” Play it cool, Chloe. “Nowhere. Mind your business.”
The corner of his mouth twitches. “You’re hiding something.”
“No, I’m not.” I push past him and walk toward my car, but he falls into step right beside me. His boots clomp annoyingly with each step. “Go away.”
“Let me guess,” he says. “You’re running away. But the question is, to where? The circus? To be with some old dude your mom doesn’t approve of? Nah, that’s not like you.” We reach my car and he leans against the driver’s-side door, blocking me from grabbing the handle. “Ah, I know. You’re going to a convent. That’s a great choice. You’d make an amazing nun.”
I glare at him. He laughs.
“Move.” I try to push him out of the way, but he doesn’t budge.
“Where are you going? I promise I won’t tell.”
“Why do you want to know so badly?”
He shrugs. “You never go anywhere or do anything, so I’m intrigued.”
“I do things all the time. I just don’t tell you about them.” Relax. He’s trying to bait you. Stick to the plan. “I’m going to Reina’s house, okay? That’s it. Nothing special. Now go away.”
“Interesting,” Eli says. “Isn’t Reina working at some camp over spring break?”
“What?” HOW COULD HE POSSIBLY KNOW THAT? “How . . .”
“I heard Reina talking about it in the hallway. You know she’s loud as hell.”
His ear-to-ear grin returns. “So you must really be running away if you had to lie. You know, when they report that you’re missing, they’re going to interview me because I’ll be the last person who saw you before you left. They might even show the interview on 20/20. You should watch if you have access to a TV in the convent.”
“I’M NOT RUNNING AWAY.”
So much for keeping my cool. But I don’t care. I won’t tell him anything. His mom, Ms. Linda, is Mom’s best friend. And the last thing I need to do is slip up and tell him where I’m really going so that he can tell Ms. Linda, and Ms. Linda will call Mom, and then Mom will call me, and she will be on the first flight back to New Jersey, and all of my plans will be ruined. I’ll never get to audition. I’ll never be a professional ballerina. I’ll never—
“Hey, did you hear me?” Eli snaps his fingers in my face.
“Don’t do that. It’s rude,” I grumble, pushing his hand away. “What do you want?”
“I just told you. I need a favor.”
The last time Eli asked me for a favor, I was eleven and he was twelve. He told me he dropped his house keys in the thornbush in front of his porch, and he asked me to grab them because my arms were skinnier. To prove I wasn’t afraid, I dove my arm into the thornbush just for Eli to tell me he’d never actually dropped his keys. He was only joking, and he didn’t really think I’d be brave enough to do it.
I glance down at the thin scar that trails up my right forearm. Eli follows my gaze. I know he remembers, because he looks at my arm and winces.
“Come on,” he says. “That happened when we were kids.”
“I have to go.” I throw my duffel bag in my back seat and reach for the driver’s-side door.
“Wait,” he says, pressing his palm against the handle.
I sigh, frustrated. “How many times do I have to tell you to go away?”
“Listen, I know you hate me, but—”
“Is that what you think? That I hate you?”
He blinks. “Well . . . yeah.”
“I don’t hate you,” I say, because it’s true. Hate is a strong word that shouldn’t be used lightly. Do I dislike him? Yes.
Eli looks hopeful.
“But that doesn’t mean I want to help you. Even if I did, I can’t,” I say. “I’m already running late.”
“Cool. Whatever.” He turns on his heels and stomps down the driveway. He looks silly. Like a six-foot-tall child who is angry that he couldn’t get his way. “When my mom gets home, I’ll tell her you were packing up your car and refused to tell me where you were going. She’ll call the cops in two seconds.”
My stomach drops, but I try to hide my panic. “It doesn’t matter if you tell your mom, because my mom already knows where I’m going!” I call to him as he walks away, but he just glances over his shoulder and shrugs.
“If that’s true, then it won’t be a big deal when my mom finds out.”
When he’s almost across the street, my panic gets the best of me.
“Fine!” I shout. “I’m going to a dance audition, okay?”
He turns around and raises an eyebrow. He slowly makes his way back across the street, and my blood boils as I watch him take each step.
“Where at?” he asks once he’s in front of me.
“Don’t worry about it. Just know I’m going to an audition and I’m coming right home afterward.”
“I’m afraid that’s not enough information. I’m still going to have to tell my mom just in case something bad happens to you.”
“The audition is in D.C.,” I hear myself snap.
Slowly, his whole face lights up. “D.C.? For real?”
No, no, no. WHY DID I JUST TELL HIM WHERE I’M GOING?
I try to keep my voice calm. “Yeah, so don’t tell your mom.”
“This is perfect,” he says. “I have to go to North Carolina to see my dad this week, and I was gonna ask you to give me a ride to the train station, but I can catch the train from D.C. and cut the trip in half.”
“Wait . . . what?”
“You can drop me off at the bus station on the way to your audition thing.”
“No.” My mind is reeling. “No. No. No.”
“No?” He looks genuinely surprised.
“No! Why can’t you drive yourself?”
He gestures across the street to his empty driveway. “My mom’s car is in the shop, so she borrowed mine.”
“No.” It’s fascinating how my vocabulary has been reduced to one word.
“Come on,” he says, clasping his hands together in prayer. “Do this solid for me. I hate the train ride from Jersey to North Carolina. I’ll be stuck on that shit all day.”
“Why can’t you call your mom and ask her to take you?”
He glances back at his house and scowls. “I did call her, but she’s not answering. She was supposed to be back in the morning to drop me off at the station, but she’s still out with her new boyfriend, I guess.”
Great. Now I feel bad for him.
“Come on.” He turns to face me again. A grin replaces his scowl. “If you take me, I promise not to tell my mom where you’re going.” When I start to speak, he holds up his hand. “And I know your mom has no idea what you plan to do because there’s no way she’d let you drive to D.C. by yourself.”
I shake my head. “I seriously can’t believe you’re blackmailing me right now.”
“‘Blackmail’ is a bit much, don’t you think? Think of it more like, ‘I won’t scratch your back if you don’t scratch mine.’”
He smiles. I guess his intent is to charm me. Girls at school swoon over him and his clichéd bad-boy mojo whatever-you-call-it. Eli is handsome and he can be charismatic when he wants. I’ve always known this about him. But what a lot of people don’t know is that Eli might be nice to look at, but underneath he’s rough and calloused. Like a pair of battered feet hidden inside pretty pointe shoes.
I don’t want to drive anywhere with him. Walking to D.C. would actually be preferable. And it’s already stressful enough to drive on the highway by myself. Having him there would only make things worse.
But I can’t risk him telling his mom. If he does, everything will be over for me.
I can’t believe he’s stooping this low.
And I really can’t believe I’m about to say this.
I gulp. “Fine . . . I’ll give you a ride.”
“Cool.” Eli grins and claps his hands together. “Just let me grab my bag, and Geezer, and—”
“Geezer?” At the sound of his name, Geezer sits up on Eli’s porch and perks his ears. “No way.”
Eli pauses. “What’s the problem?”
“Geezer can’t get in my car! He stinks and he’ll get hair all over my back seat. And I don’t even think he likes me.” He barks at me whenever I walk by their house, which is proof enough.
Eli narrows his eyes. “Geezer does not stink. I wash him weekly.”
“No.” I shake my head. “And how are you going to put him on the train with you, anyway? That’s probably not allowed.”
He doesn’t look fazed. “Don’t worry about it.”
How did my morning come to this? I’m being punished for lying to my mom. It’s the only explanation.
“He’s old, Chloe,” Eli says. “I just want to take him to the beach by my dad’s house so he can run in the sand one last time before he dies.”
I roll my eyes. “He’s not that old.”
“I won’t speak a word to my mom if you take me and Geezer.” He drums his fingers against the hood of my car. “A favor for a favor.”
I squeeze my eyes closed. “Okay. Geezer can come, but you have to hurry up, because I have to be in D.C. by—”
Eli sprints across the street before I can finish my sentence and, presumably, before I can change my mind. He comes back with Geezer on a leash, a large duffel bag slung over his shoulder, and a sketchbook in his other hand.
“I really appreciate this,” he says.
“I don’t,” I mutter.
I glance down at Geezer and crouch so we’re at eye level. He’s pretty small for a pit bull. His blue eyes shift from my face to the car keys dangling in my hand. Instead of smelling musty like I expected, he smells like cherries.
Maybe Eli does wash him weekly.
I reach out a hand to pet him, because if we’re going to be stuck together, we might as well try to be friends. But Geezer only grumbles as my fingers graze the short gray fur on his head.
Okay. Maybe not friends.
“Give him some time,” Eli says. “He needs to warm up to you.”
“He sees me every day,” I point out. “He should already be warmed up to me.”
Ignoring me, Eli helps Geezer get settled in the back seat, and then we both climb in the front. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that this is really happening.
“Road trip.” Eli grins. The dimple in his cheek is so deep it looks like someone scooped it out with a spoon. “This’ll be fun.”
I ignore him as I start the car and back out of the driveway.
We drive in complete silence. I’m still fuming, and Eli is busy texting. Once we’re on the highway, he says, “Just so you know, I was never really gonna tell my mom. Do I look like a snitch to you?” He snorts like that idea is unimaginable.
I grip the steering wheel. “I can’t believe you.”
If I turned around to take him back home, I’d lose time. We’re too far from our neighborhood. And who knows if he really would tell his mom after that. I’m stuck with him.
I take back what I said earlier. Maybe I do hate him.