We love an awkward and messy story and bestselling author Cynthia Hand delivers with With You All the Way, a funny, altogether honest coming-of-age story about one girl’s attempt to make the most of a summer in paradise—perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han.
Ada’s life is a mess. She just caught her boyfriend cheating on her after a humiliating attempt at losing her virginity, and she’s had it up to here with her gorgeous older sister’s unsolicited advice.
But things really hit the fan during a family vacation in Hawaii, where Ada discovers her own mother is having an affair. Apparently, everyone is falling into bed with people they shouldn’t. Everyone except Ada. But when Ada decides she’s going to stop trying and start doing—sex, that is—her best laid plan overlooks an inconvenient truth:
Feelings, romantic or not, always get in the way.
Starting reading a sneak peek of With You All the Way below!
“My mom isn’t home,” Leo says as he opens the door.
That’s when I know that he wants to have sex.
“Oh” is all I can think to say.
“She’s out of town until Tuesday.” It’s Friday afternoon. He definitely wants to have sex. We’ve been dating since February (this being mid-June), kissing a lot, making out whenever we can find somewhere private to hide away. Sex is the obvious next step.
“So we’ve got your place all to ourselves,” I say a bit giddily. I’ve been thinking about Leo all day, wondering when I would get to see him, daydreaming about the smooth warm feel of his lips against mine. When he texted that he wanted to hang out this afternoon, it was the best kind of surprise. And this, well, it feels like I’m having a sexy dream about Leo.
Only this is real.
Leo smiles, a little-kid-about-to-open-his-birthday-present type smile. “You could even—I don’t know—stay the night?”
I laugh, that giggle I hate, the one I do so often around Leo. Stay the night. Wow. How can I even pull off being gone all night? My parents will notice if I don’t come home. Pop will notice, anyway. Mom probably wouldn’t notice if I went missing for a week.
“You could tell them you’re sleeping over at a friend’s house,” Leo suggests. That’s the obvious play. My best friend, Lucy, will go for it, too; she’s so excited that I—quiet, nerdy Ada—finally have a verifiable love interest. At first they teased me that I made Leo up, this perfect boy I kept talking about. I had to practically beg Leo—who hates high school dances—to take me to prom, just to prove he was real. Ever since then my friends have been referring to Leo—popular, non-nerdy Leo—as “The Miracle.” And this—him wanting to have sex with me, not just once, apparently, but all night long—seems miraculous, too.
I nod. Laugh again. “Okay.”
His smile grows wider, kid-on-Christmas-morning level excited. “Okay? Really?”
I try to act like my heart isn’t thudding in my chest. “I mean, Friday’s family night, which is seriously sacred to my stepdad, but I can miss it. We’re going out of town next week, so we’re going to have a lot of family time, so—”
“I’m going to miss you,” he says, “when you’re in Hawaii.”
I smile. “I’m going to miss you, too.” Stupid compulsory family trip to Hawaii. “So yeah, I guess, I can stay the n—”
“So you really want to?” he asks.
“I do,” I say breathlessly. I get out my phone and text Lucy, who enthusiastically agrees to be my alibi, and text Pop that I’m having a sleepover at Lucy’s.
Have fun! Pop texts back.
Then Leo takes my hand and leads me toward what I’m guessing is his bedroom.
His house is in Santa Clara, a few train stops before San Jose. It isn’t a large house. Three bedrooms, two bath. From the street it looks tiny, especially if I’m comparing it to my own house in Redwood City. If I’m being nice—and my default setting is nice, I can’t seem to help it—I’d say it was “refreshingly minimal.” When I picture myself as an artist (like Leo’s mom, who’s a famous local sculptor) I can imagine living in a house like this.
I’ve never seen Leo’s room before. He’s invited me over a few times since we started going out, but his mom was always home. There was some unspoken understanding between them that we wouldn’t hang out in his bedroom, so we stayed in the kitchen or streamed movies on the living room sofa. Now, as we move down the hallway toward the inevitable (!!!) sex we’re about to have, I pause to look at the framed photographs hanging on the wall. Most of them are of Leo and Diana with various people I assume are relatives. I point at the photo of a toddler with something bright red—beets? tomato sauce?—smeared all over his face. “Aw. Look at you.”
He cringes. “My mom won’t take it down. She loves to humiliate me.”
“I think it’s cute,” I say.
“You’re cute,” he counters.
We come to a room crammed with tables and sculptures in various states of progression: his mom’s studio. She works with wax and clay in there and then takes it to a place in the city to cast it into bronze. I barely resist the urge to go inside and attempt to absorb some of her genius.
Leo, however, is not impressed. He tugs on my hand to get me moving again, toward a smaller bedroom at the end of the hall. His.
“Welcome.” He ushers me inside. Closes the door. “Make yourself at home.”
There’s nowhere to sit but on his bed. I perch on the edge and fold my hands into my lap, gazing around at the various posters on the walls. Most of them are of swimmers. Leo’s captain of the swim team at his school. By the look of it, he’s obsessed with Michael Phelps, and this other guy with a huge tattoo that covers most of his left arm.
I wouldn’t have pegged Leo for a posters-all-over-the-walls kind of guy.
“That’s Caeleb Dressel,” he explains almost shyly. “Two gold medals. Holds the world record in the hundred-meter butterfly.”
“Nice.” I try to seem appreciative, but it’s weird to be admiring these spandex-clad older men. I can’t imagine sleeping in here with their eyes on me. Or sleeping in here, period.
“So,” says Leo.
“So,” I say. My heart is skittering again. I’m okay, I tell myself. I’m sixteen, which I consider old enough to make a mature decision about it. Leo’s seventeen. We’ve been dating for almost five months. I like Leo, really like him. I’m curious about what sex will be like. With Leo, like everything has been with Leo so far, it will probably be great.
“Do you want to listen to some music?” He reaches around me to turn on a speaker on the bedside table. Then he thumbs through his phone to find a soundtrack for the business at hand. The first song is about (you guessed it) having sex. It’s a little cringey, how Leo obviously googled the best songs to have sex to. I hope there’s not an entire playlist of sex songs.
Leo sits down next to me. We kiss. He buries one hand in the hair at the base of my neck, cradling my head. Kissing him is always so good. Delicious. I can’t define what he tastes like, exactly, but it’s not similar to any food or drink I know. Not sweet, but spicy isn’t right, either. He tastes like Leo. Which I like.
After a few minutes he pushes me gently back onto the bed. I hang on to his shoulders. Leo has broad, muscly shoulders, from the swimming. He’s a big guy—six three, solid, which is one other reason I like him. Leo being so big makes me feel smaller, in a good way.
His mouth is on my neck now. Goose bumps jump up along my arms. I tilt my head to give him better access. He moves to my ear. I predict he’s going to stick his tongue in there. He’s done that before, and I wasn’t really a fan. I turn so he won’t. Touch his face so I can pivot him back to my mouth. Kiss him again. Again. Exploring. Trying the different angles.
He moves on top of me, his large body stretching over mine. For a few seconds I feel smothered; he’s too heavy, squashing me, but then he shifts his weight onto his arms and I can breathe again. His body against mine is familiar, but the way he’s moving is new. The bulge—that solid bump that I know is his, uh, junk, what my mom would insist on calling his penis, because Mom refuses to be anything but technical and precise about naming things—presses against my thigh.
Oh god, I’m thinking about my mother. I squirm, and Leo pulls back. His face is so red it makes his eyebrows stand out against his skin, like furry caterpillars clinging to his forehead. It’s distracting.
“You’re beautiful,” he mumbles.
“You too,” I say automatically, and blush so hard it feels like my cheeks and neck have been scalded. Leo keeps kissing me and touching me, and I’m totally into it. At least my body is. My lower half seems to be transforming into hot liquid. There’s a knot of sensation building between my legs. But the further along we get, the closer to the actual sex that’s going to be happening any minute now, the more weirdly disconnected I feel. To the point where I can almost slip out of my body and float over us. See myself from the outside.
I’m wearing a red Harry Potter shirt from last year’s trip to Orlando. It reads “9 ¾” on the front. It’s childish—I can see that so clearly now—and unflattering, a size too big for me, because I prefer loose-fitting clothes. Leo is pulling this shirt up, exposing my very white, not-very-flat belly, and underneath he discovers a gray sports bra, which confounds him because it doesn’t have any kind of hook or clasp. My mind whirls trying to remember what panties I’m wearing. Hopefully not the plain white cotton with the hole in the butt, which I should have thrown away months ago, but they’re the most comfortable pair I own. Shit. It’s probably those. My hair is tangled around my head. My chest heaves behind the sports bra, which is dark in places, because I’m so sweaty.
From this vantage point, the one in my imagination—seeing as how my eyes are actually squeezed shut—I know I’m not beautiful. Leo only said that to try to make me feel sexy. So I would want to have sex.
I do want to have sex, don’t I?
Yes, I tell myself. Relax. This is fine.
But then Leo’s hand is on the button of my shorts, and my upper half turns to ice. Wait, I think. Wait, and then I almost knock heads with him as I try to sit up.
He examines my face. “Hey. Are you okay?”
I swipe at a strand of hair that’s clinging damply to my cheek. “I’m good. Sorry. Can we just take it slower?”
He nods. “Of course. Whatever you want.”
“Okay.” I lean in to kiss him again. We do that for a while, and the tension in my shoulders eases. He’s very good at kissing, and I’m not so bad at it, either. It’s not sloppy or teeth-banging. There’s just the right amount of tongue involved. His arms feel solid around me. His hand squeezing my breast is good. I try to touch him, too, running my hands along his back, his swimmer’s chest. Then lower.
“I love you,” he says then, softly.
My hand stills. He’s never said that before, the L-word. Neither of us have.
He says, “I should, uh, get some protection.”
I blink up at him. Somehow I’m lying down again, although I don’t know when that happened. “What?”
He spells it out for me. “A condom.”
“Oh. Right. Yes.” How responsible of us.
He gets up and goes out of the room. I wonder where he’s going for this condom. Is he ransacking his mom’s bedside table? Or the bathroom, where he has a stash for situations such as these? Has he done this before? We haven’t talked about it. We really should have talked about it. At least then I would know what to expect.
I smooth my clothes back down over myself and take a steadying breath. The gray jersey sheets beneath me smell like fresh laundry detergent. I sit up. I’m surprised, actually, by how clean Leo’s room is. There are no piles of dirty laundry like you’d find on the floor of my room. The carpet even has vacuum lines in it.
How long has he been planning this? Did he wake up this morning thinking tonight’s the night? Did he tidy up and wash his sheets and hug his mom goodbye with a secret smile because he knew he was going to get laid? When all that time I was thinking that we were simply going to a movie this afternoon, then maybe we’d go back to his house, have dinner and talk art with Leo’s mom, stream a show. Most of our relationship consists of watching various things together. And making out while his mom isn’t looking.
It’s unfair of him, springing this on me. I would have dressed better if I’d known, done something with my hair. Picked different underwear, at least. Shaved my legs.
Oh god. I haven’t shaved my legs in days.
I glance around wildly like a razor is just going to magically materialize. Michael Phelps glares down at me from the walls. One of the posters reads, FEARLESS. If you want to be the best, you have to do things other people aren’t willing to do.
And Leo just said he loved me. Was he being serious? Did he mean love the way you can say, I love peanut butter cups? Or the real way? Was I supposed to say it back? I like him, yes, so much, but could I say I love him? I mouth the words “I love you,” and it feels fake. Maybe I could mean it in the peanut-butter-cup sense. But it’s too late to respond now, anyway. He said he loved me, and I didn’t say anything, and now we’re on to the sex.
This is happening. I’m about to have sex.
Leo returns. He holds up a foil packet triumphantly. “Okay, let’s do this.”
That’s when I know I can’t do this.
“Actually, let’s not.” I stand up, eager to get off the bed.
His smile fades. “What? What happened?”
“Nothing. I . . .” I choose my next words very carefully. “I just don’t want to go all the way. Not tonight. Okay?”
Now he looks like a little kid who’s opened his Christmas present to discover a sweater. “But why not?”
“I’m not ready. I thought I was, but I’m not. Sorry,” I tack on, and then hate myself for apologizing. I’m not supposed to be sorry. But I am.
Leo’s frowning, but he says, “All right. I don’t want to do it if you don’t want to do it, obviously.”
I smile. “Thanks.”
Silence builds between us. A new song starts pouring out of the speaker, a song I know this time, a slow song by The Weeknd called “Earned It.” Over Leo’s shoulder I read another inspirational Michael Phelps poster. You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.
Leo puts the condom on the bedside table. “So what do you want to do?”
I wouldn’t mind making out some more, but that could send a mixed message. Besides, my lower half is starting to ache, a tight but heavy, decidedly unpleasant feeling, like period cramps. I try to smile at him. “I don’t know. Maybe we could watch something?”
“Sure,” he says dully. “Whatever you want.”
“I thought you were staying at Lucy’s tonight,” Pop says when I come into the kitchen later.
“I just wanted to be home.” Things were awkward with Leo, so awkward that I finally said I wasn’t feeling good—which wasn’t really a lie—and he insisted on walking me to the train station.
“You’re my little homebody,” Pop says now with a smile. Like that’s cute.
My five-year-old sister, Abby, is sitting at the counter coloring while Pop makes dinner. “What’s a homebody?” Abby asks.
Pop continues dicing a stalk of celery. “A homebody is someone who loves to be home more than anywhere else.”
“I like to be home,” Abby announces. “But I also like to go places. Today we went on an African safari. I made a batik.”
It takes me a second to realize that Abby is talking about the day camp she goes to during the summers, since Pop works nights at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, and Mom works days at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto. Although to say that Mom works days is inaccurate. Mom works all the time.
Speaking of which: “Where’s Mom?”
Pop keeps chopping vegetables. “She said she’d be home in time for dinner. It’s family night, you know.”
“I know.” Normally I would stay and help him finish making the salad, but that could lead to conversations like “How was your day?” and I don’t want to go there. So I grab a carrot and flee upstairs to my room. I close the door and go straight to my desk, where I take out my journal and art pencils and begin to sketch Leo.
I can still see him clearly in my mind’s eye. That expression on his face when I said I didn’t want to go all the way. The way his eyelids lowered, not squeezing into a squint or a glare, but dropping like protective shutters over his eyes. His eyebrows angled up at the inner edges, pressing together, causing two small bumps to appear in the space between them. The discontented downturn of his mouth.
My pencil practically dances over the paper, capturing that look. It takes me ten minutes, and the moment I finish I know it’s one of the best sketches I’ve ever done. It illustrates the moment perfectly—the feeling in it, the tension. Strange how the worst experiences can lead to the best art. But that’s life, I guess. Beauty in the pain.
I pick up the carrot I stole from Pop and crunch on it miserably. Clearly I’ve made a huge mistake here. Why didn’t I want to have sex? Was it the I love you bit? Do I believe, deep down somewhere, that to “make love” you need to be in love, and I don’t love Leo enough for that? Do I love Leo? I’ve never considered my feelings like that before: either love or not love. I like Leo. I love being with him. I’m attracted to him. Shouldn’t that be enough?
Or was it the unshaved legs thing? The holey underwear? The sports bra? Am I so uncomfortable in my own skin that the idea of Leo seeing me naked is more than I can handle? I know I have body issues, but am I really that self-conscious?
Or maybe it was Michael Phelps.
Whatever the reason, it was the wrong call. Leo was offended. He might say it’s all right and that he respects me and that he can wait, but he got instantly distant with me after I wanted to stop. He couldn’t help it. He was disappointed.
Yeah, well. I’m disappointed, too.
I sign and date the sketch. It needs a title. I scrawl a word I like: crestfallen. That’s what Leo was. His crest had definitely fallen. I snort, then erase the word carefully. Not ready, I write instead.
Not ready. I sigh. I flip back through the journal, past the pages and pages of sketches like this one, documenting the moments of my life as intimately as any diary would. There are so many drawings of Leo. Leo on the beach at Santa Cruz, the sea breeze ruffling his hair. Leo tying his shoe. Leo in swim trunks that one time we swam in his aboveground backyard pool, his back to me as he stood at the edge of the water, the muscles tightened as he prepared to dive in. He’s beautiful. Built. Sexy. What is wrong with me?
I flip back a few more pages, to February and the first sketch I ever did of Leo, at his mother’s show.
He was slumped in a chair to one side of the gallery, a modern teenage boy as Rodin’s Thinker, rumpled hoodie, holes in his jeans, elbow propped on his knee and his chin in his hand. I knew after two seconds of seeing him that he was Diana Robinson’s son. For a minute I just stood there, looking, internalizing his shapes and shading for this sketch, the one I’d do of him later. Then I actually went over and talked to him, a move so unlike my introverted self that thinking back on it surprises me every time. How was I so inexplicably brave that day?
“It must be weird” is what I said to him.
He looked up, startled. “Weird?”
“To be your mom’s, like, muse.” Almost all of Diana Robinson’s sculptures featured a little boy doing something strangely adult: reading Proust, driving a car, shaving, fastening a cuff link to his sleeve. I’d recognized Leo from the back—that cowlick he has on the right side of his head. It’s in every sculpture, that uncooperative swirl of hair.
“How did you . . .” Leo seemed confused at how I knew who he was, but then he glanced around and realized. “Uh, yeah. It’s weird. Little bit.”
We struck up a conversation, and at the end of it he asked me out. This still feels like the most improbable thing ever. A guy asking me out doesn’t seem like something that is possible in my world, which consists of Notre Dame High School (Catholic, all girls), babysitting my little sister, hanging out with my big sister, and my art stuff (a largely solitary obsession). I’d never been asked out before. And then suddenly—bam—there was Leo. Athletic, affable Leo. Who likes me, maybe even loves me. Who wants to kiss me.
And other things.
God, I think. What have I done?
There’s a single sharp rap on my bedroom door. Pop’s voice. “Dinner.”
“Okay,” I call back faintly. “I’ll be right down.”
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