As fans of Lauren Miller’s Free to Fall and Parallel, we’re thrilled to reveal the cover for her newest book, ALL THINGS NEW, along with a sneak peek into Chapter One!

     

Seriously…this cover is everything. And Lauren shares, “All Things New is a love story about what it means to be real. My main character, Jessa, is like most of us—hurting on the inside and hiding it. But when she meets Marshall, a boy whose heart is literally broken (because of a heart defect), Jessa stops wanting to pretend.  It’s a novel about the wounds we all carry and what it’s like to be seen and understood, not just as we appear to be, but as we actually are.”  

Hold on to your heart for this one! The book won’t be released until August 1, but in the meantime you can read this sneak peek…

Chapter One

It catches my eye as it goes dark, lights blinking out all at once, upstairs, downstairs, front porch, snap, like someone hit a master switch.   There are a few others like it, little dark voids in the expanse of bright rectangles below, a constellation of houses and restaurants and nightclubs that all look the same from up here.   It’s the reason Wren’s parents bought this house, for the view.  The view, and the fact that everyone knows just by the neighborhood how much they paid for it.

On a clear day, you can see past downtown and almost all the way to the beach from up here.  But tonight the sky is muddy with haze.  The skyline looks as if someone has wiped parts of it away, the buildings fading into a brown blur, the furthest ones totally out of sight.  It’s eerie.  I bring my eyes back to the house that just went dark and wish that I could do that right now, flick off my lights, done for the night, Do Not Disturb.  Instead I have to turn back around, look straight into the high beams.

          i don’t want to have this fight

“Jessa.”  His voice is impatient.  “Are you even listening to me?”

“Of course I’m listening to you,” I say, twisting back around.  I bring my eyes back to his, resisting the urge to turn away from him again.  i hate when you do that, Wren said when I did it a few seconds ago, his voice sharp and accusing.  I tried to laugh, to make light of it, but the sound got caught in my throat.  why is he being so mean?

He knows I’m trying.  I’m doing the best I can.  Neither of us ever says the words anxiety or panic disorder, but he knows.  We weren’t dating when things were really bad, but the summer after freshman year, right after my mom had the twins, I stopped being able to feel my feet for a couple weeks and kept tripping over them.  I tried to feign clumsiness but Wren didn’t buy it and thought something was really wrong with me.  So I told him all about middle school and the panic attacks and the therapy that didn’t work and the trophy I got, haha, for maladaptive coping techniques and how stress sometimes makes the symptoms come back.

Wren exhales and his breath is visible.   “It’s not even about the physical thing,” he’s saying now.  “I can deal with the fact that we basically don’t hook up.”  He’s all magnanimous, as if he deserves a thank you, a gold star, as if it’s even true.  We hook up all the time.  Then he adds, “But we barely ever talk.”  He makes it sound as if talking is the highest aim of a relationship, which it might be for some people, but not for Wren.  Talking is overrated, he whispered right before he kissed me for the first time, two years and two months ago exactly, on Halloween freshman year.

“I want more,” he tells me now.  “I need more.  Connection.  Depth.”  He runs his hands through his hair.  “I can’t do this surface crap anymore, Jessa.  It’s not enough.”

My throat constricts, like someone is squeezing it.  where is this even coming from?  Somewhere deeper, in a room I don’t go into, there are answers I don’t want.  I reach for a strand of my hair and start twirling.

           here i go down circle road strong and hopeful-hearted through the dust and wind up just exactly where i started here i go down circle road strong and hopeful-hearted through the dust and wind up just exactly where i started

Two times through and the lump in my throat loosens, slides away.

I look up at Wren.  The skin between his eyebrows is bunched up and his lips are pursed in a pout.  The face of a cranky toddler, the same face my half brothers make when they don’t get their way.  Give me what I want or I will make your life suck, that’s what that face says.  But there is no toy to jam in Wren’s hands, no fist full of Cheerios to dump on his tray, there, done, happy now?

          i can’t give him what he wants

          he wouldn’t want it even if i could

I shrug these thoughts off, quickly, before they stick.  This isn’t about me.  This is about Wren, horny and frustrated because I won’t sleep with him.  He’s making it about something else because he knows that’s not a good enough reason to pick a fight with me.  I could call him on that, but it’s New Year’s Eve, when everything is supposed to be awesome and hopeful and possible, and I don’t really care why we’re arguing, I just want to make up.

“C’mon,” I say lightly, sliding my hands around his neck.  “Kiss me already.”

But then his hands are on my shoulders and he’s pulling away.  “Stop it, Jessa,” he says in a rough voice.  “Get off.”

I jerk back like he hit me, like he’s punched me in the face.  My spine bangs into the railing.  It makes a jarring sound, bone on metal.  Bones becoming metal as I steel myself against this moment.  I can almost feel them, the little walls that come up inside my skull, tiny compartments of quarantine where the hurt, isolated and cut off, quickly suffocates and dies.

Shaking, I brush past him, click click click, my black heels harsh and grating on the deck’s polished slate.  I wait for the scuff of his shoes on the stone, his voice calling out for me to stay.  But the only sounds I hear are coming from the party inside.  I’m at the door now, can either turn around or go inside.  I inhale sharply as I open the sliding glass door, one quick motion, like ripping off a band-aid.

The noise on the other side is too much.  Not loud, exactly, just discordant, out of tune with the pitch in my brain.  I know everyone here, but, really, I know only Wren.  The rest are just faces I pass in the hall at school or at parties like this one.  Eyes I avoid making contact with, out of habit, out of fear.

Some guys from the lacrosse team stand in the kitchen, drinking champagne from plastic cups.  Wren’s older sister bought it for us, on the condition that everyone would spend the night.  There’s a vase filled with car keys by the front door.  The girls are scattered around the living room in little groups.

         i don’t belong here

It’s how I always feel, at Wren’s parties.  At any party.  Like the girl no one knows what to do with.  I suck at small talk, I hate dancing, I don’t drink.

In the hum of voices, I suddenly hear his.  I look back at the deck but don’t see him, only the outline of my own reflection in the sliding glass door.  Hair spilling over thin shoulders, wide eyes and high cheek bones, my almost-button nose.

I step up to the door, peering through it and am confused for sec, where did wren go?  I didn’t see him come in.  But then I hear him, in the kitchen, laughing with his friends.  He’s holding a champagne bottle, filling a plastic cup to the brim.  Heat shoots up my neck, explodes on my cheeks.  He came through the door at the other end of the house so he wouldn’t have to walk by me.

One of the guys in the kitchen sees me watching, lifts his hand to wave.  My eyes drop to the carpet.  I fight the urge to run.

          out get out

I fumble for my pocket, pretend like I’m getting a call.  Press my phone to my ear so hard it hurts.  oh hey how are you oh really that’s crazy no way.  I’m moving toward the door now, keeping up my end of this fake conversation, smiling like everything is normal, like I’m not humiliated inside.  I glance at the foyer mirror on my way out and feel a tiny flash of relief.

          i look fine

          no one can tell

Some girl calls from the couch, hey Jessa!  I tug at my puppet strings, 1, 2, 3.  My head turns, hand lifts, and the corners of my mouth draw up into a smile.  Then I’m sliding past her, digging out my keys from the bottom of the vase, opening the front door, walking down the driveway to the street.  Still clutching my phone to my ear, just in case someone followed me out.

My mom’s car is parked around the corner, two houses down.

          unlock the doors

          get inside

          turn the key

Only then do I acknowledge that I have no place to go.

Where I want to be is my bed, buried under the weight of my goose down comforter, but my mom and Carl are hosting a “grown-ups” dinner at our house and have turned my bedroom into a maze of overpriced travel cribs.  I imagine walking through the front door as they’re serving dessert, the look on my mom’s face, what are you doing here?, the smile she’d put on quickly but not fast enough.

I pull out my phone and begin to scroll through pictures.  wren, me and wren, mirror selfie, wren, wren, wren.  Three of the same shot, a few seconds apart, taken two nights ago in my mom’s car, this car.  He’s in profile, laughing, slightly out of focus, and my arm is out-stretched from behind the camera, the palm of my other hand flat on his cheek, trying to turn his head.  I’m staring right at the camera, my green eyes all lit up and sparkly, blond hair messy around my face.  We were parked at one of the overlooks on Mulholland, pretending to look at the lights but mostly making out.  We look happy.  We were happy.  He wasn’t complaining about us or pushing me away.  Two nights ago, everything was okay.  We were us, we were Jessa and Wren.

It’s not like our relationship is perfect or anything.  The eye contact thing really bugs him.  And he gets annoyed that I don’t make more of an effort when we hang out with his friends.  But when we’re alone it’s awesome.  I can almost forget that I don’t have any girl friends, and that my grades suck, and that sometimes the panic is so bad I can’t get out of bed.  Or maybe it’s just that none of that stuff matters as much when I’m with him.  And, yeah, it’s lame that the only good thing in my life is a guy, but isn’t love supposed to blur everything else out?

All at once it seems ridiculous that I’m out here, sitting in the car at ten forty-eight on New Year’s Eve.

I go back inside.

The girls on the couch glance at each other when I come in, trading looks I cannot read.  “I think he went up,” Samantha Levin calls.  As I’m turning toward the stairs I see the girl next to her jab a pointy elbow into Samantha’s ribs.  The gesture tries to burrow itself into my brain, pay attention to me, but I don’t let it.  I start up the steps.

I hear his voice first, coming from his bedroom, the first door on the right.  I walk lightly in case he’s on the phone with his parents.  I’m at the edge of the doorframe when I hear her.  Alexis Duffy, the girl who called to me from the couch before.  She was gone when I came back in.  I look over my shoulder, expecting to see her coming out of the bathroom behind me.  It doesn’t cross my mind that she’s in the bedroom, too.  That he’s in the bedroom with her.

“I don’t want to be the bad guy.”  Wren’s voice.  Defensive, like it’s an excuse.

“I get that,” Alexis says.  “Which is why you should do it already.  Stop leading her on.”

My heart stops.

“Keep your voice down,” Wren says.

“It’s not like it’s a secret,” Alexis says.  “They all know.”

I picture the girls on the couch downstairs, that elbow poking Samantha Levin’s ribs, the knowing looks.  My face flames.  look at jessa, what an idiot

“I don’t understand why you haven’t done it already,” Alexis is saying.  “It’s been two months, Wren.  This isn’t fair to me.”

“I told you,” Wren says.  “It’s complicated.”

“I know, I know.  Barbie’s unstable.”

The fire creeps down my neck, explodes inside my stomach, a furnace of humiliation that will swallow me whole.

          this isn’t happening

          he wouldn’t do this to me

“Don’t be a bitch, Lex.”

“I can’t help it,” Alexis pouts.  “I want you all to myself.”

I want the sound to cut out, my ears to fall off, anything to keep from hearing more.  And through the crack in the door I see her unbuttoning his shirt and I get my wish.  I can no longer hear them.  All I hear is my heart, banging around my ribcage like a fish in a dry box.  My bones cannot contain it.  It will burst through my chest.

          i am dying

          i can’t breathe

I jam my thumb into the hollow spot between my collarbones so hard it makes me cough. The vise around my throat releases.  Air rushes in.  The smell of Wren’s cologne.

The breaths come fast now.  I am woozy with them.   I fumble for a piece of hair.

          here i go down circle road

          here i go down circle road

The hair slips through my fingers, the rest of the poem slips away.  My chest aches.  My lungs burn.

I clasp a hand to my mouth, forcing the air through my nose, and start again.

          here i go down circle road strong and hopeful hearted through the dust and wind up just exactly where i started

At last, my breathing slows.  The hallway comes into focus.  The flopping and flapping in my chest goes still.  Inside the bedroom, it’s quiet.  But not completely.  Wren’s bed creaks.

          i can’t be here

          nobody wants me here

          nobody wants me

As soon as the thought forms I am in motion. I can’t get out of there fast enough.  I can’t be far enough away.

Someone calls after me but I don’t slow down.  Door, sidewalk, driveway, street, and then I’m in the car pulling away.  My vision blurs.  I blink to refocus, but the clarity doesn’t hold.  A flash of red to my right, a stop sign I just blew past.

          barbie’s unstable she’s right

I make a left onto Laurel Canyon.  Traffic slows and I am stuck.  My bones are itching.  My skin is too tight on my face.  Everything is closing in.  There are no side streets, no shoulder to pull off on.

          get out of here i have to get out of here

The line of cars in front of me inches forward.  There is nowhere to go.

          get out of here i have to get out of here.

I ride the bumper of the car in front of me, urging it forward, please move faster please.  I fixate on its tail lights, the eerie red glow, and for a moment there is silence and peace.  But then it stops suddenly and I slam my foot on the brake and my mind cartwheels away.

Red lights blink white and suddenly we are moving again, snaking up Laurel Canyon, accelerating toward the top.  The light is green at Mulholland.

I hit the crest of the hill and jam the gas pedal, a surge of elation that I am finally free.

I don’t see it.  The black Escalade headed east on Mulholland, rounding the curve without slowing down.  I only hear the sound of crunching metal as it hits me, and then I hear myself scream.