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Past Present Future

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They fell for each other in just twenty-four hours. Now Rowan and Neil embark on a long-distance relationship during their first year of college in this romantic, dual POV sequel to Today Tonight Tomorrow.

When longtime rivals Rowan Roth and Neil McNair confessed their feelings on the last day of senior year, they knew they’d only have a couple months together before they left for college. Now summer is over, and they’re determined to make their relationship work as they begin school in different places.

In Boston, Rowan is eager to be among other aspiring novelists, learning from a creative writing professor she adores. She’s just not sure why she suddenly can’t seem to find her voice.

In New York, Neil embraces the chaos of the city, clicking with a new friend group more easily than he anticipated. But when his past refuses to leave him alone, he doesn’t know how to handle his rapidly changing mental health—or how to talk about it with the girl he loves.

Over a year of late-night phone calls, weekend visits, and East Coast adventures, Rowan and Neil fall for each other again and again as they grapple with the uncertainty of their new lives. They’ve spent so many years at odds with each other—now that they’re finally on the same team, what does the future hold for them?

Excerpt

Chapter 1: Rowan 1 ROWAN
ROMANCE NOVELS DON’T talk about what happens when the heroine and hero go off to different colleges.

Of course, this is usually because both people are gainfully employed adults. Maybe they’re lobbying for the same promotion, or one is an environmental activist trying to protect a park from a real estate developer—and its unfairly charming CEO. Or one is a governess to three wild rascals whose father is a grumpy, dashing rake with a hidden vulnerability at his core.

There aren’t many rakes who attend small liberal arts schools on the East Coast.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Neil starts, surveying my room with a grim expression, eyes narrowed behind his glasses, “but I think you might be bringing too many books.”

I glance up from where I’ve been pleading with my suitcase’s stubborn zipper. “If they’re not close to me, how will I be inspired by them?”

Except he might be right, a statement I’d never have allowed to cross my mind until three months ago, because the suitcase is too small and too full and there are still too many things I can’t take with me. In my defense, most of my stuff is already packed and waiting in the hall downstairs. This is my last suitcase. The one I’ve been dreading, because of everything it symbolizes.

When the zipper doesn’t budge, I dig a hand inside and extricate two pastel Nora Roberts paperbacks, weighing them for a moment before putting one back on my bookshelf.

Neil lifts an eyebrow. His arms are crossed over his chest, giving him the appearance of a stern, extremely cute statue.

With a groan, I add the other one to the shelf too.

“You said you needed help,” he reminds me. “In fact, ‘I need you to be ruthless’ were your exact words when you sent me that SOS text this morning.”

“Yeah, but not about Nora.” I return my attention to the suitcase, and after an initial stutter, the zipper slides shut. “You know, I think I’ve been demonstrating extraordinary restraint.” I walk over to my closet, nudging aside a few dresses to reveal the stack of mass-market paperbacks that don’t fit on my bookshelf, most of them collected from garage sales and thrift stores.

Neil doesn’t even look surprised. “Ah, yes. That infamous Rowan Roth restraint. She never exaggerates. Never bends the truth. Never romanticizes anything.”

I give him an intense side-eye, and his faux seriousness finally cracks, gaze softening and mouth tilting into a grin.

Late-August sun arrows through my window, illuminating the freckles on his skin and the lovely golden undertones in his auburn hair. This time of year, it doesn’t get dark until after ten o’clock, and we’ve been taking advantage of those daylight hours as much as we can.

Most people seemed to think we wouldn’t last the summer, but the past two and a half months have been the best of my life—and that’s not an exaggeration at all. Some days Neil would hole up in the café where I work, sitting in a corner with an iced chai, busy with his own summer job—remote transcription for a local law office—and when Two Birds One Scone closed, we’d take unsold pastries to a park or sneak them into a movie theater. We’d bring his sister to the beach or skate park, double-date with Kirby and Mara, argue about Star Wars with his friends. A few days ago, we celebrated my nineteenth birthday with a ferry trip to Whidbey Island. We have eaten too much gelato and squinted too many times into the sun, picked out books for each other to read and mapped the entire city on foot. We’ve gotten great at pushing curfew, chasing sunsets, “just ten more minutes.” And then fifteen more after that.

The whole time, what we’ve really excelled at is putting off talking about the inevitable: the fact that tomorrow, I fly to Boston while he boards a plane to New York.

I turn away from the closet. “You like telling me what to do,” I say, placing the tip of my index finger on his sternum and slowly inching it upward. Teasing, which is still one of my favorite things to do to him.

He’s already blushing, long lashes fluttering shut. At the beginning of our relationship, I worried he might stop blushing altogether, and it’s been the sweetest surprise that he hasn’t, that he wears his emotions so plainly for me. “Only because there’s no other circumstance under which you’d allow it.”

The spark in my chest when I tug him closer by the collar of his T-shirt is a familiar little thrill. I intend for it to be a quick peck, but the moment my lips meet his, I dissolve.

His hands come up to my hair, deepening the kiss as I propel us backward, shoving at my suitcase to make room for us on the bed. Then I’m in his lap, his earthy scent altering my brain chemistry, each ragged exhale making me crave the next one. His fingertips on the waist of my shirtdress. My mouth on his throat.

There is something about this boy that undoes me every single time, and sometimes I still can’t believe all of it is real.

As though perfectly attuned to what’s going on behind it, there’s a knock on my half-cracked door. Neil and I spring to our feet, smoothing our hair and pretending to be immersed in separate tasks: me, unzipping and rezipping the suitcase, Neil, examining the mug on my desk where I keep my pens and pencils, the one with a watercolor splash of the Seattle skyline.

We’ve gotten good at that, too, almost as good as my parents are at knowing exactly when we’re about to cross the line into PG-13.

It’s become something of a joke, albeit a frustrating one: the fact that it’s nearly impossible to find some alone time. When we slept together for the first time on the last day of school—or I guess technically, the day after the last day of school, since it happened around four in the morning—neither of us had intended for the relationship to progress that far. I definitely hadn’t woken up that day and imagined I’d be kissing my longtime rival Neil McNair, let alone sneaking him into my bedroom. But it had just felt right, the two of us being connected in that way. I had this new, persistent ache that I’d never be able to get enough of him; I wanted to have long, sometimes contentious conversations about the world just as much as I wanted to learn all the ways our bodies could fit together. Because even if we went from zero to one hundred in a single night, there’s still plenty we haven’t done, bases we’ve skipped that I’ve been hoping we can find our way back around to.

His sister just hit the age where their mom is comfortable leaving her home alone all day, and my parents work from their downstairs office. A few times, we tangled ourselves in the back seat of my Honda Accord, at least until a police officer banged on the window and it spooked us so much we haven’t tried it since.

My dad steps inside my room and greets Neil with a wave before turning to me. “Ro-Ro?” he says, leaning against the doorframe. “You just about ready? We should leave soon if we want to get there by five.”

Before answering him, I take a moment to gaze around the room. The bulletin board above my desk, where I’ve pinned photos of my friends and academic ribbons and a list Neil and I made on the last day of school: Rowan Roth’s Guide to College Success… and Beyond! My senior yearbook with his love confession in it, an item too precious to transport across the country because I’m not sure I could bear it if an airline lost it.

And Neil, standing there with an easy smile, one stubborn strand of hair refusing to lie flat.

Yes, and no.

Theoretically, I’m ready, but I’m also not sure how fearlessly I can let go.

“As I’ll ever be,” I say, and when I close the door, it somehow feels like I’m shutting away so much more.

My parents insisted on a send-off before I leave, a picnic at Green Lake with black-bean burgers and roasted corn. Kirby Taing and Mara Pompetti are already there, no doubt ready to gloat about their extra weeks of summer because the University of Washington doesn’t start until the end of September.

Eager to have a job, my dad lights the grill while my mom passes out compostable plates. Neil’s mom, Joelle, arrives with a Tupperware of cubed watermelon and a wide-brimmed sun hat. A family of redheads means a lot of SPF.

It’s only mildly embarrassing for your parents to meet your boyfriend’s mom, something I discovered last month when all five of us went out to dinner. It hadn’t happened with my past boyfriends, felt too serious for those relationships. A strange kind of So, how about our kids’ raging hormones? But they clicked instantly, bonding over their opinions about the new Seattle waterfront (mixed) and whether the Seahawks have a chance at the playoffs this year (no).

We take a few minutes to settle in, exchanging hugs and hellos. All around us, people are playing croquet and walking their dogs and Rollerblading, the latter two occasionally done at the same time, Seattleites soaking up what might be the last nice day of the season. Because in this city, you just never know.

“If someone doesn’t promise me this isn’t the end, I might cry,” Mara says. Her wavy blond hair is in a loose bun, and a minidress emphasizes her calves, toned from years of dance.

With one eye, I watch Neil and my dad standing semi-awkwardly at the grill, as though they’ve decided that this is how they Bond as Men, though Joelle is the one to inform them that the burgers are starting to burn.

Next to Mara on the park bench, Kirby gives her shoulder a squeeze. “It’ll be okay. Just think, only one hundred and twenty-two more days until we’re all reunited.”

“That’s supposed to make me feel better? That’s an eternity.”

I reach for a passionfruit LaCroix and pop the tab. “Just think about all the times I’ve annoyed you over the years,” I say. “You’ll be too busy to miss me. How many credits are you taking again, Mara?”

“Only twenty-two,” she says innocently. “I just want to get all my prereqs done as soon as I can.” Kirby, long known for trying to get as much done with as little effort as possible, is taking the recommended fifteen credits for freshmen, unsure what she’ll major in.

“And I still think you should have decided to take Anthropology of Ice Cream with me,” Kirby says. “Although if we don’t actually get to eat ice cream, I may riot.”

Burgers and corn are passed around while we talk more about our fall schedules. My creative writing class is the one I can’t wait for, taught by a darling of the literary fiction world whose books I devoured earlier this summer. In college, I will be entirely unashamed of my dream career, and Miranda Everett’s class—undeniably full of other aspiring novelists—will be where I take the first step.

Mara bites into her burger. “If your roommate is cooler than we are, please don’t tell us.”

“Speak for yourself,” Kirby says, miming putting on boxing gloves. “Personally, I think it’s more advantageous to know your enemies.”

“I’m not replacing either of you!”

Neil slides in next to me with his plate of food, our parents immersed in a conversation about the rising cost of textbooks. His knee nudges mine. “Neither am I. Who else could mercilessly torment us about our relationship like you, Kirby?”

It’s true: Even though my friends knew how I felt about him before I did, they rarely hesitate to joke about our four-year rivalry and the game that made us realize what idiots we’d been. Lovingly, of course.

Kirby beams. “I try my best.”

“Seattle’s definitely going to feel smaller without both of you,” Mara says as Kirby sinks her teeth into her ear of corn, the kernels blackened and buttered, and it’s then that I realize something else: I’ve been so caught up in the logistics of packing, I’ve barely processed the fact that in twenty-four hours, I will no longer live here.

The place I’ve spent my whole life, the city that’s just as much a part of me as my troublesome bangs or my affinity for vintage clothes. Case in point: the lavender floral shirtdress I’m wearing now, plucked from a rack at Red Light last month.

I wonder if thrift shopping will be as fun in Boston without my best friends.

Just as the black-bean burger starts to turn uncomfortably in my stomach, my mom calls out to get everyone’s attention, lifting her can of seltzer in a toast. “Hear, hear,” she says. “To Rowan and Neil, and all the adventures you’re going to have next year on the other side of the country. We’re all going to miss you, but we know you’re going to do great things.”

Joelle holds her own can high. “That’s lovely, Ilana. To having new experiences and meeting new people, and then coming home and telling us all about it.”

“To trying a slice of real New York pizza,” Neil says.

“To exploring Boston’s independent bookstores,” I add, even as a lump forms in my throat. “And never being embarrassed to be caught in the romance section.”

Everyone toasts. Sips. The fizz settles my stomach, and I try my best to banish my nerves for the rest of the evening. Because in a matter of hours, this—my life in Seattle—is really, truly ending. I thought I’d made peace with it, allowed myself to mourn while leaving space for all the excitement I’m taking with me to the East Coast. But now I’m just not sure.

Maybe that’s how you’re supposed to feel on the precipice of drastic change.

By the time the sun begins its descent in the sky, Joelle has to leave to pick up Neil’s sister from a friend’s house, and my parents, perpetual early risers, are starting to yawn, a fact we considered when we took separate cars. Kirby and Mara, realizing that Neil and I might want just a little more time to ourselves, hug us tight as I promise to text them the moment I land.

It’s gotten chilly, but it’s nothing that can’t be solved by burrowing closer to Neil on the picnic blanket. I brought his heather-gray hoodie with me, the one I don’t plan on ever giving back, but I left it in the car. His body heat is so much better.

“On a scale of one to ten, what do you think is the likelihood that our parents will become best friends while we’re gone?” he asks, draping his arm across my shoulders and pulling me against his chest.

“At least a nine. It’s cute, though. I don’t want any of them to be lonely.” When I let out a sigh, it sounds much more agonized than I’m anticipating. I’d hoped we could end the night without a therapy session, but apparently I was wrong.

“You’re anxious. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Oh, just the usual fear of the unknown,” I say. “I think the worst part is that I don’t know any of what to expect. Every single part of it will be new. I can visualize the campus, but not my dorm room or my classrooms. I don’t know what Boston’s transit cards look like or if my professors will like me or where I’ll sit when I’m calling you.”

“Is it unhelpful if I remind you that you don’t have to have it all planned out right now?”

“No, but it doesn’t change the fact that I want to,” I say with a small whine.

For a few thoughtful beats, he lets his fingertips play through my hair. A gentle rhythm. “Do you remember,” he says, “sophomore year, when honors English went on that field trip to see a modern reimagining of Macbeth and we wound up sitting next to each other?”

“Shhh! The Scottish play,” I quickly correct him. As if I don’t remember all of it. Every moment of the last four years. “The one where all the characters worked in a McDonald’s, and Lady Macbeth kept trying to scrub ketchup off her hands? Of course. I should probably apologize, huh. I think I tried to get Sean to switch seats with me.”

His laugh drums against my cheek, that sound I love becoming something almost tangible. “You asked, once, if I remembered when I started having feelings for you. And I think that was it. The whole time we watched, I could hear everyone else making fun of it, but you were so quiet. You paid attention because it was school, and the fact that it was a field trip didn’t change that. When you laughed, it was genuine. Sincere. The acting was terrible, but you took it seriously. And a couple times, you glanced over at me to see if I was laughing too.”

“You were,” I say, that seemingly trivial day coming back to me. A dark theater, my nemesis next to me. The pride that comes with getting the humor, obnoxious smart alecks that we were. Are. “At the same time, usually.”

“Right. And it made me feel so connected to you, the fact that you were curious if I found the same things funny. Plus… you smelled really nice. I went home and thought to myself, ‘This is it. This is the girl.’ I was done for.” His thumb travels down the length of my neck, and it would be so easy to close my eyes and fall asleep like this as the sky turns dark. Then he buries his nose in my hair, takes a deep inhale. “Still just as intoxicating.”

I laugh-yelp as he does this, pretending to push him away.

“You’ve been important to me for years,” he continues, as though he knows I need the reassurance, and I tuck those words right next to my heart. “The distance isn’t going to change that.”

We shift on the blanket, Neil sliding me on top of him while he kisses me, and it isn’t long before I’m pressing myself more firmly against his jeans, grateful the park has emptied out. I’ve given a little thought to missing him like this, the abject neediness of his breaths and mine. The groan when my lips settle in the spot where his neck meets his shoulder. His hands on my hips and mine on his face, as though if we just cling tight enough, we can make those weeks go by that much faster.

I never expected to fall so hard, so quickly for someone right before our lives split in different directions. Even if my feelings had been dormant for most of high school, that night in June put the past four years in such sharp, renewed focus. A rose-tinted filter. While I also never thought I’d be starting college with a boyfriend, I can’t imagine how I’d feel if we’d given ourselves an expiration date, the way some couples in our graduating class did, determined to go to school with zero attachments. A few times, I wondered if we’d break up before August and wouldn’t have to worry about it.

But the thing is, dating Neil McNair isn’t actually all that different from sparring with him. We just get to make out afterward.

Being with Neil, I realized a few weeks into our relationship, is easy. Which naturally makes me more convinced the universe was playing a trick on us this summer, two and a half months of bliss before catapulting us into a long-distance relationship.

All my years of planning and daydreaming, the times I swore I’d be different and live more in the moment, and the imminence of it takes me completely by surprise. It’s nerves and uncertainty and a touch of nausea knotted up in one twisted ball.

It’s the fear that once I drive away tonight, we will never again have what we had this summer.

Eventually we have to head back to my car, one of the last ones in the parking lot after we circled and circled to find a spot hours ago. His hair is wonderfully mussed, my body still buzzing with a desperate electricity. As though my bones and muscles cannot bear to let him go.

The drive is too short—we pull up to his house after several detours and “just five more minutes” that somehow last almost thirty. With more effort than it’s ever taken, I shut off the engine and engage the parking brake, an ominous silence filling the car.

“We were too spoiled,” I say, staring directly ahead because if I look at him, I might not be able to hold it together. “Seeing each other nearly every day for the past four years.”

Neil shakes his head; I catch the motion out of the corner of my eye. “No, no, no. I was pining for most of those four years, absolutely tortured because the girl I liked couldn’t stand me. You were simply going about your life, vaguely annoyed by some guy with too many freckles.”

“Maaaaaybe. But before we got together, I couldn’t imagine not seeing you every day. Did I ever tell you that?” I turn to him, and the look on his face tells me that I did not. “The few weeks leading up to graduation, I’d get your texts in the morning and feel a little sad that they were coming to an end.”

A patented Neil McNair smirk. “And you, connoisseur of romance novels, didn’t realize you were madly in love with me.”

“Yeah, well. We all have our flaws.”

When he reaches for my hand, there’s no trace of humor in his expression. “I miss you already,” he says as we thread our fingers together. “Is that weird?”

“We’ll text and talk all the time. I already have my train ticket for the end of September.”

“And then I’ll be in Boston for Thanksgiving.”

“Why does that feel so far away?”

Suddenly I’m worried we haven’t discussed it enough, that we spent too much time living in the moment this summer when we should have mapped out call schedules with color-coded spreadsheets.

It’s what High School Rowan might have done, but I guess that’s not who I am anymore.

“We’re going to be okay.” His voice is solid, and his eyes on me will never not make me feel so wholly seen. “I can’t wait to show you New York. Assuming, of course, that I know my way around after a month.” A soft smile. “I love you, Artoo.”

The nickname has its intended effect: to remind me that all our history cannot be undone just because we’ll be in two different states.

“I love you too.” I hold him close. Inhale deeply. One more kiss, and then another. “Fly safe and don’t forget me.”

“Impossible.”

I try to stop the statistics about long-distance relationships racing through my mind as he opens the passenger door, kisses two fingers, and holds them to his heart. With a grit I honed over four years of trying to best him, I push aside the anxiety and replace it with a fierce resolve.

We’re going to be the ones who make it.

After all, overachieving is kind of what we’re known for.

About The Author

Photograph by Sabreen Lakhani

Rachel Lynn Solomon is the New York Times bestselling author of Today Tonight TomorrowThe Ex Talk, and other romantic comedies for teens and adults. Originally from Seattle, she’s currently navigating expat life in Amsterdam, where she’s on a mission to try as many Dutch sweets as possible. Learn more at RachelSolomonBooks.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (June 4, 2024)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665901956
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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* "Distance and personal growth challenge Neil and Rowan’s once-perfect romance in this follow-up to 2020’s Today Tonight Tomorrow...a gorgeous portrait of two people learning to love themselves before they can truly love each other."

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

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