The Sequel to The Book of Luke is Out!!!

It’s (finally) here! The Next Chapter of Luke is available and you can buy it here.

It’s been a long time coming (as many of you have reminded me… often.). So what took so long?

  1. Well, to start, it was hard. When I wrote The Book of Luke I didn’t plan to write a sequel so I didn’t purposely leave any loose ends. The story ended and that was it. Even when people asked me about a sequel I always said no, because I didn’t know what happened next – as far as I was concerned there was no next. So how do continue writing a story you thought was finished? It’s not easy.
  2. Then, one day, I knew what happened. I saw Luke and Emily’s story continue after graduation, and so I started writing. I still wasn’t sure exactly what would happen along the way, but I knew where they’d start and where they’d end.
  3. And once I started writing the story kept evolving. There are things that happen that I didn’t even know would occur until they just did.
  4. About 3/4 of the way through I knew that Luke needed to have his say. Suddenly I wanted Luke’s point of view. I thought it was important to understanding what happens and who he is without Emily around. I wanted to get inside his head.
  5. So I had to go back and insert the chapters where I thought it made sense. Luke’s chapters always appear in a certain place, a location that is “his” for the summer. When the story takes the reader to that place, Luke owns the story being told.
  6. I couldn’t stop writing. This is the longest book I’ve ever written (and I’ve written ten!). Honestly, I could have kept going and going and going. But then I’d keep getting emails asking what the heck was taking so long.

So that’s how we got here, to publication day. I don’t know if the story goes the way readers want it to go, or what the reaction will be, but it’s done. On to the next book.

Here’s an excerpt for The Next Chapter of Luke:


Long-Distance Relationship Tip #1:
Absence makes the heart grow fonder . . .
if by “fonder” you mean batshit crazy.


Chapter One

Two months ago, the Heywood Academy gym fell silent as the entire school witnessed a brown spiral notebook turn my life upside down. Back then, the only sound I could hear was the hammering of my heart as it tried to pound its way through my chest, pummeling me from inside as if trying to beat me to the door of the gym and escape.

Today, the polished wood floor once again reflected the light beaming through the gym windows, the banners hanging from the metal rafters still announced our league championships, and the bleachers were extended accordion-style to handle the overflow of people. But there was one big difference.

Today we were graduating.

As the Heywood Academy senior class erupted into a chorus of cheers, I could hear two people above everyone else, their voices so familiar I would recognize them no matter how many people clapped and whistled and celebrated our big day at the top of their lungs. We were seated alphabetically, which put me first in our row and on the aisle, but there was nothing that could keep me from reaching over to hug both of them, not even the eight seniors whose last names, and legs, came between us.

“We made it!” Josie yelled, and Lucy made a loud whooping sound in my ear.

Lucy pumped her fist in the air in triumph, and the three of us fell together into a huddle of caps and gowns. I squeezed my eyes shut and let my face get buried in Josie’s hair, my arms tangled with the billowing sleeves of Lucy’s gown.

“I can’t believe it’s over!” Lucy shouted as our headmaster’s voice reverberated off the cavernous ceiling and directed us outside for our class photo.

The band stood to play the recessional, signaling it was time for our class to line up and exit down the center aisle, led by yours truly—the only senior whose last named started with an A, and the only student in Heywood history to turn the senior class time capsule into the biggest mistake in her life—Emily Abbott.

We’d finally made it. High school was over, my hellish semester was a distant memory (well, if not exactly distant, at least behind me). And, even if there was a time after my public humiliation when it looked as if I’d ruined everything, I still had my best friends. Maybe that’s why I paused before leading my class out of the gym, why I let my eyes fall on the details of the place where I once felt completely alone. I wanted to imprint this moment in my brain—the crisp, clean smell of the recently polished wood floor filling up my lungs, the sounds of horns and drums and stringed instruments mingling together as they waited for me to step into the aisle and take one last walk out of high school, and the feeling of being hugged tight by my two best friends who weren’t quite ready to let me go. This was how it felt to be at the exact point of pivoting from a before to an after, from the end of something familiar to the beginning of unknowns. From having best friends for years to being on the brink of starting over.

Although we wouldn’t have to really say good-bye until college scattered us in different directions in a few months, there was a part of me that knew it would never be the same after this, even if we were going to spend the summer together on Cape Cod. Even if we kept telling each other that nothing would change no matter how far apart we were.

The irony of that wasn’t lost on me, even though I never actually said it out loud to Josie and Lucy. We’d spent months of our senior year trying to show that people could change, to prove it by having me turn the worst guy in school into the type of guy any girl would want to have as a boyfriend. And now here I was wanting everything and everyone to stay exactly the same.

“Come on, it’s time to go.” I felt an elbow in my side as someone between A and H reminded us that our graduation ceremony wasn’t quite over yet. We still had one more walk down the makeshift aisle, and then we were free.

I reluctantly pulled away from Lucy and Josie and glanced down the row behind us on my way to reclaim my spot in front of the first folding chair on the aisle. There was one more person, near the end of the alphabet, who I needed to see in that moment. One more person I wanted to glimpse before turning my back on our senior year.

Luke sat two rows behind me and practically at the opposite end of the aisle. I’d kept my eyes straight ahead as we listened to our headmaster’s words of wisdom, the valedictorian speech that just six months ago I’d thought would be mine, and the various awarding of accolades for members of our class. We’d practiced our graduation ceremony twice before the big day, so the fact that I couldn’t see Luke wasn’t a surprise to me, but I still wished I could have them together in my sight one last time—my best friends and my boyfriend.

“Let’s go!” Ricky Barnett was waving for me to take my place at the head of our row.

I hesitated, glancing past the jumble of caps and gowns once more before I had to turn around. And then I saw him, and the cheering almost seemed to dim as we silently recognized one another with a smile, his eyes steady on mine even as our classmates celebrated around us, pushing us in different directions.

And then, like that, he was gone, black caps and gowns tumbling between us like curtains closing a performance.

When the band hit the note I’d been instructed to listen for, I led the line of seniors out of the gym. I passed the applause of my parents and TJ, who just nodded at me as I passed by, an acknowledgment that while I may have graduated, he wasn’t as grateful for my diploma as he was the fact that he’d no longer have to share the bathroom with me.

I nodded back, and TJ actually cracked a smile. I guess even my brother wasn’t completely immune to the pomp and circumstance of a big day. Either that or he was laughing at how I looked with a square of cardboard bobby pinned to my head.

As the person leading the recessional, it was my job to take the snaking line of Heywood Academy seniors out to the front lawn, where our parents and family members would meet us. While I knew my parents would want to hug me and ooze lovely sentiments about how proud they were, all I really wanted to do was find a way to sneak away and meet Luke, just like we’d planned.

But before I could even find Luke in the crowd, our families descended upon us, my mom leading the pack with open arms, my dad still fiddling with the buttons on his new digital camera. TJ lagged far enough behind to demonstrate he wasn’t enjoying the confines of his navy-blue blazer and tie.

Even as the throng of ecstatic well-wishers filled the manicured lawn, and while my dad endlessly instructed me to smile into his camera lens, I searched for the one person I wasn’t able to find among the bodies.

“Look over here,” my dad coached me, as my eyes darted around in search of Luke.

Over the past six months, I’d memorized everything about Luke—the way his hair curled up around his collar, how it reminded me of the swirls of steamed milk the Starbucks baristas created on the surface of a latte, and the perfectly effortless pale highlights against the mop of hair that always seemed to be in need of a cut. I loved the dimple at the base of his left earlobe, so small you wouldn’t even notice it if you didn’t know to look, and how it created a shape exactly like an upside down heart. I thought I’d recognize Luke in the sea of black caps and yellow tassels, only I couldn’t find him as he blended in with the rest of my class.

My father continued to insist on capturing this proud moment in a series of photographs that required my mom, TJ, and me to stand in twelve different positions while he learned how to use the new camera purchased specifically for my graduation. I thought digital cameras were supposed to be easy, and that there was nothing wrong with the camera on his phone, but apparently the hyped-up model my dad selected had so many buttons and dials he practically had the camera in one hand and the instruction manual in the other at all times. For a second, I considered trying to find Josie and asking her to help my dad. Even though Josie had been old-school about her photography, insisting on developing prints in the dark room at school or the one her dad built in their house, she’d decided that from graduation on it was all digital all the time. Leaving her dark room behind when she left for college was part of the reason, the other was that she’d asked for a crazy professional digital camera for graduation. I had no idea what a 70-200 f/2.8 zoom lens with ultrasonic focus and image stabilization could do, but apparently it was going to make Josie an even better photographer, and she was already pretty amazing.

I raised myself onto my tiptoes and tried to catch a glimpse of Josie in the crowd.

“I think I’ve got it this time,” my dad insisted, as his camera let out a series of rapid clicking noises. I assumed that meant he’d just digitally recorded me frowning at a rate of sixty frames per minute.

One of them had to be half okay, right?

“I’ll be right back,” I finally told my parents, and ducked into the swarm of shimmery black gowns and out of my mom’s grasp as she reached for my sleeve in an attempt to hold me in place.

I politely excused myself through the buzzing crowd of congratulations and selfies, and made my way toward the side of the building, the noise fading as I turned the corner and saw him in the courtyard. Luke was there, waiting for me under the apple tree beside the cafeteria doors, just as he’d promised. His head was down as he stared at the diploma in his hands, the tassel from his graduation cap dangling beside his face while he read the calligraphy that formally declared the end of our time at Heywood.

He didn’t notice me coming toward him, and so I stopped walking, letting the moment steep in my mind until it was saturated with this memory and impossible to forget. I watched as he ran his finger inside the collar of his shirt, loosening the tie that all graduating guys were required to wear under their gowns. I knew his hands so well by now, was familiar with the soft pillows of skin at the base of each finger, which surprised me the first time he reached for my hand and I’d been expecting to find oval calluses where they rubbed against the metal shaft of his lacrosse. I knew that he cracked his knuckles when he was nervous, and that he didn’t believe the old wives’ tale that it would make his knuckles grow bigger. Without even trying, my hand always naturally found his, as if our fingertips were magnets that required the other’s to complete some law of science. Somehow, over the past months, Luke had become stitched into my life, a thread that seemed to hold all of me together and kept me from unraveling.

I’d fallen in love with him. He knew that. My friends and family knew it, too. But at that instant, watching Luke alone as he waited for me, the sensation that surged through me with the urgency of an electrical current was new and unsettling. Because suddenly I realized that I didn’t just love Luke. I needed him.

Luke looked up and noticed me. “So, do you feel any different?” he asked, letting his hand with the diploma drop to his side.

“Why, do you?” I asked, walking toward him.

“Not really, it’s just a diploma,” he reminded me, and I realized he was talking about graduating, not about us.

“It does make it official, though. As do the four hundred pictures my dad took. I think my retinas are permanently scarred from repeated flash exposure.” I leaned in close so he could get a good look. “Can you tell I’m still seeing stars?”

Luke bent down a few inches until we were eye to eye, and we stayed like that for a long minute, our noses practically touching while we gazed silently at one another as if it was just the two of us outside the cafeteria like any other school day, or like the beginning, when it was always just the two of us trying to figure each other out.

The sound of our headmaster calling our class together for an official photograph broke the spell and reminded me that it wasn’t just the two of us; it was our entire graduating class and at least two hundred of their closest friends and family nearby.

I pulled away. “This is ridiculous. Enough with the pictures already.”

“Come on, one day when we’re too old to remember this, we’ll look back and be thankful we have a picture of all the people whose names we can’t recall.”

Luke managed to make me laugh despite myself. “I think I’m all smiled out.”

“One more won’t kill you,” Luke insisted, and I knew he was right, although I suddenly had a new appreciation for those beauty pageant contestants who slicked Vaseline across their teeth to make constant smiling-on-demand more effortless. It sounded disgusting, granted, but effective. And effective was what I could have used right then.

“I’m fine with one more picture. Not hundreds,” I replied, and then added. “Besides, there are some parts of this year I’d rather not remember.”

Luke shook his head and a slow grin slid across his lips. “Not me. All I remember is good stuff.”

I rolled my eyes, silently letting him know I thought he was crazy, but I couldn’t help smiling back. I guess I did have one more smile in me.

Luke gave me a nudge. “Come on, just one more picture. Besides, we better go over there before we’re stuck in the back behind Ian.”

Ian O’Carroll was six foot six with another four inches added from a headful of bright red curls he grew out during every basketball season in a superstitious ritual that, this year, lasted even after Heywood won the league finals.

Luke reached for my hand and wove our fingers together as we walked toward the sound of our headmaster pleading for a group of rowdy seniors to stand on a grassy hill in some vaguely organized manner.

“Emily!” Josie was waving me over toward her. She pointed to the small open space to her left, where Lucy was doing her best to keep anyone else from slipping between them and into the slot they were saving for me.

Luke started to lead me toward the row where the rest of the seniors from the lacrosse team were standing.

This was always the problem. Choosing. Constantly.

Luke must have felt me hesitate because he stopped walking. “What’s wrong?”

I looked over at my friends.

“Really? You’re going to spend the entire summer with them. Can’t they spare you for one picture?”

Whenever the subject of this summer came up, I knew better than to remind Luke that he had made plans to go away, too. We’d been going back and forth about our plans for weeks now trying to figure out how we were going to spend time together and still do everything else that was pulling us in a million different directions—my summer on Cape Cod with Josie and Lucy, my job at Josie’s dad’s ice cream stand, Luke’s lacrosse camp, his job as a counselor, not to mention the inevitable end of the summer when we left for college. Graduation was one more reminder that deciding between time with Luke and time with Lucy and Josie was just the beginning of the end.

Shitty girlfriend or shitty friend? Lately, those seemed like my only choices.

“Come stand with us.” I tugged Luke along behind me and led him through the crowd of parents and relatives, not once looking back at him for fear I’d see that, once again, I was letting someone down.

When we reached Lucy and Josie, they grabbed the sleeve of my graduation gown and pulled me beside them, leaving Luke to find his way behind us to a spot of his own, hovering over my right shoulder.

I didn’t have to look back to know he wasn’t happy. All I had to do was glance over at his friends, who were laughing at him and shaking their heads. I didn’t have to hear what they were saying to know what they were thinking.

I’d won. Luke had chosen and he’d picked me. So why did I feel so bad? Probably because I’d chosen, too, and that’s why I was standing between my two best friends. Sure, I wanted to be with them, to have the three of us together in the official school photo that would arrive in the mail over the summer, reminding me that, even after everything we’d gone through, we stuck together until the end. But that wasn’t the only reason I hadn’t followed Luke as he led me away from Lucy and Josie and toward his teammates. I still couldn’t help but feel like I had to make up for what I’d done—to prove that Lucy and Josie hadn’t made a mistake when they’d decided to forgive me.

I craned my neck and turned to look back at Luke. “You can go over,” I told him. “It’s fine.”

Luke bit his bottom lip as he tried to figure out if I meant what I was saying or if this was a test to see what he’d do.

But I wasn’t testing him. I really did want him to be with his friends, even if partly because I was still trying to repent for what I did to Luke, too. When I started writing the guide for our senior time capsule, I may have wanted to prove I wasn’t the nice person everyone expected me to be, but now I almost felt like I had to prove that I was. Nice, and not psycho, which is what most of the school called me when they found out about the guide.

“Seriously.” I grabbed for his hand and squeezed. “Go.”

Luke paused for a moment and then squeezed back. “You sure?”

“Yes,” I told him, and let go.

Luke bent down and kissed me, his lips lightly brushing against mine, like a feather landing before being blown in another direction. He slipped away before I could pull him in closer and keep his kiss from floating off.

“Okay, everyone, smile!” Our headmaster commanded, “One . . .”

As our headmaster counted down for the photographer, I looked over at Luke, hoping for one more glance, a sign, that even though the school year was over and a whole new chapter of our lives was about to begin, nothing would change between us.

I watched him, the broad shoulders of his graduation gown wedged against Owen and Joey as they huddled together for the final photo of our high school careers.

“Two!” I was still looking at Luke when the photographer and our headmaster shouted the number out in unison.

Only two wasn’t the number worming through my head as I heard voices around me humming cheese through gritted teeth. It was the number seventy-eight.

Only seventy-eight more days before we left for college—I’d counted. Eleven weeks of summer. Just over two months. And then Luke and I would be 108 miles apart (I’d calculated that, too).

“Three!” A flash of light lit the space around our senior class as the photographer recorded our graduation day for the school archives.

In a few weeks, when our senior class photograph arrived in a cardboard envelope with a letter from our headmaster wishing me well in my future endeavors, I would remember that moment. How, unlike Lucy and Josie and the rest of my class, I wasn’t looking into the camera and grinning on cue with the other ecstatic graduates. Instead I was looking over at Luke, hoping that he would look over at me, waiting for him to give me some sign that our story wouldn’t end once summer was over.

Do you feel any different? Luke had asked me as we stood outside the cafeteria. Although I didn’t answer him at the time, I knew that the answer was yes. Because there was only one word to describe the girl standing beside Lucy and Josie in our class photo. And that word was scared.