Sarina Bowen

USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance

Sarina Bowen is the author of contemporary romance and new adult fiction, including The Ivy Years Series, The Year We Fell Down, The Year We Hid Away, and also the Gravity series.

Other spellings: Sabrina Bowen, Serena Bowen

First Chapter: Hello Forever


Chapter 1

Axel

It all began on an ordinary Friday night.

The ordinary part was that I was home alone and settling in to watch a basketball game. And if my favorite team—the Chicago Bulls—had been playing that night, my life might not have changed.

The Bulls weren’t on, though. And I was enough of a basketball nut to find another game to watch. I loved the sport in all its forms. College hoops? I’m there. A pickup game at the gym? Pass me the ball.

Basketball was my sport, my hobby, my obsession. But until that Friday night in November, I couldn’t have said that a basketball game changed my life.

Now I could.

The game I’d chosen to watch wasn’t even televised—I’d had to dig through several pages on the Barmuth University website to find a live-streaming link for the school’s game against Northern Mass.

I’d wanted to see the Barmuth Brown Bears in action, because Barmuth U. in Henning, Massachusetts had just offered me a job, and I needed to know what I was getting into.

Might be getting into. I hadn’t yet decided whether I was going to accept the position.

The job offer was in their athletic department, where I’d be employed on their budding sports-marketing team. In many ways it was my dream job. I loved sports, and I had a newly minted degree in marketing. Instead of trying to push toothpaste or insurance products, at Barmuth I’d be responsible for marketing the school’s sports events to the community and to the college’s wealthy alumni.

It sounded like a whole lot of fun.

On the other hand, Henning was a tiny, tiny town a thousand miles from my mother’s home in Ohio. And it was two and a half hours from Boston and three and a half hours from New York.

For a young, gay, single man, the location was less than ideal.

Then again, I didn’t have a lot of better options. I was living in my childhood bedroom, working an internship that did not pay. All of my friends had moved away from Columbus after graduation. There was really no reason to stay.

I was already lonely. How much worse could it be out in the woods in western Massachusetts?

My boyfriend had dumped me the day before we both graduated from OSU. “We’re too young to be serious,” he’d said. But what I heard was, Later, sucker. Thanks for all the blow jobs that I didn’t reciprocate.

So there I sat, my face close to the computer screen, watching a basketball team that would probably never darken the door of the NCAA playoffs.

Barmuth was a small, private liberal arts university. It was prestigious for both its academics and its long history. I’d done a lot of reading on the school’s website, and it seemed like a nice enough place. They had an LGBTQ students’ union, which was a good sign. And theoretically, liberal arts colleges in New England were as gay-friendly as any place on earth.

But would all that rainbow-powered goodwill extend into the dusty corners of the athletic department? That was my big concern.

At the end of my interview, my potential future boss had asked if I had any further questions. My last question should have been, “Will it ruffle any feathers if the new marketing person is as gay as a rainbow parade?” But I hadn’t asked, because I wanted them to offer me the job.

The college’s anti-discrimination policy would be wholly on my side, though there were no guarantees. And moving a thousand miles away to join a department full of strangers scared me more than I wished to admit.

On the screen, Barmuth scored a couple of three-pointers in a row. The team had some talent. I tried to imagine them as my team. In a month, I might be sitting at the officials’ table, making notes for a boosters’ press release and updating the team’s Facebook page.

And here was a strike against Barmuth—the school’s colors were an unfortunate combo of brown and white. I’d be sitting at that table wearing a brown tie.

But a guy couldn’t have everything. At least the mascot was cute. I wondered who was inside that giant brown bear costume.

When the announcer mentioned the game’s attendance was two thousand people, I cracked a smile. That was a far cry from an Ohio State game. But unlike my alma mater, Barmuth had offered to actually pay me for my labor. And working for the Barmuth Brown Bears would be a hell of a lot more fun than ending up in a cubicle at some faceless corporation.

I leaned closer to my screen, as if the proximity of my nose to the video feed would make the decision easier. When the refs stopped the game to review a play on video, I got a closer look at the officials’ table. There sat Arnie Diggs, the head of the athletic department. I recognized him from my Skype interview. He was an older man and the typical plainspoken jock.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just wished I knew whether he was a tolerant man. Would I feel welcome in his department?

He wants to hire you, though, I reminded myself. His judgment couldn’t be that bad. Obviously.

The camera moved slowly across the stands, and I scanned the basketball-loving population of Henning, Massachusetts for clues. Could I make a life there? As the announcer yammered about a two-for-one special on pizza slices, I watched the crowd’s faces.

It was right then that my night took a turn for the weird. Because one of those faces was really familiar.

He was in the third row. My eye snagged on a set of handsome cheekbones and a cleft chin. A face I’ll never forget…

“Oh my God,” I said aloud. It couldn’t be him, my mind chided. But it really looked like him. Really. A lot.

Cax Williams.

Naturally, the shot cut away before I was ready. The camera went back to a view of the basket, and a player about to try for a free throw. But I was no longer interested in the players. They were just a blur to me now.

Instead, I sat there quietly freaking out, trying to decide if my subconscious had played a trick on me.

The last time I’d seen Cax Williams had been here in Ohio. We were sixteen. He’d been important to me back then, even if I’d never told him so. We went to the same church retreats from third grade up until the awful day when I last saw him.

It had been Labor Day weekend, and the church diocese had rented out a girl scouts’ camp to host the youth retreat. Cax and I had gotten caught doing something decidedly secular in nature. Although one of us might have said, “Oh, God.”

We’d been on a church retreat, for fuck’s sake. Not my sharpest hour getting caught with Cax in a liplock. The pastor in charge had stumbled across us in the woods. He’d had a proper fit and marched us into the office, where they’d yelled at us in separate rooms. Sin and hellfire and all that.

They’d also called our parents.

From what I could gather, our parents had vastly different reactions to our stupidity. After having stern words with my mom, the pastor had finally handed me the phone. And my mother had laughed.

“Oh, honey,” she’d said with a giggle. “I’m so sorry to laugh. But you’re going to have to work on being subtle. Do you want me to pick you up? The director said I could decide whether to bring you home a day early or to wait until tomorrow, like normal.”

“I don’t need to come home,” I’d choked out. Not if I could stay one more night at camp with Cax. Even if they treated me like a convict, I still wanted to be near him. I needed to know if he was okay.

“All right, sweetie. Don’t take their proselytizing too hard. And call me if you change your mind.”

That was how I came out—or got outed. My mom, who’d raised me on her own and had hippie tendencies, had been typically cool about it.

But Cax? He’d disappeared.

I hadn’t seen it happen. The camp director sent me off to dinner after another long lecture and a few threats. But Cax never returned. I’d spent the last twenty-four hours at the retreat watching for him, feeling devastated.

When I’d gone home, the news only got worse. I found that I’d been blocked from his Facebook account and from his phone. He never showed up at another diocese event.

Over the intervening years, I’d thought about him. I wondered where he’d gone, and if he was happy. I’d Googled his name a few times. But “Cax” was just a nickname. His real name was Henry Caxton Williams, and there were enough Henry Williamses on the Internet to populate a small country, so I never found a reliable hit.

Now, several years later, I could swear I’d just spotted him on camera in a tiny Massachusetts town.

For the rest of the basketball game, you would have needed a hammer and chisel to pry me away from the screen. Every time the camera panned the crowd, I squinted at the third row. I spotted my mystery man each time, but I’d need another close-up shot to decide if it was really him.

In the meantime, I tried to figure out who he was sitting with. On one side sat another guy, his head down, as if he were tapping on his phone. And on the other side sat a woman.

None of this told me anything. But all of it made me crazy.

Finally (finally!) there was another close-up of the team’s bench. And there he was—his brown hair as thick and shiny as I’d remembered it. His gorgeous movie-star chin. That masculine, kissable jaw…

The broadcast cut to a commercial break, and another shred of my sanity flew out the window.

But wait! Now I could search for him on the Internet, because I had a little more to go on. I typed “Henry Williams Barmuth University” into the search box. A millisecond later I was clicking on the first link that came up, which led me to a page at Barmuth.edu. Henry C. Williams, Teaching Assistant, History Department.

Hot damn. There he was, looking back at me from the department’s website. I’d know him anywhere. The familiar, shy smile in the photo made me ache. It had been a long time since I’d allowed myself to wonder what happened to this boy who had accidentally broken my heart. I didn’t realize I’d gasped until I heard my mother’s voice.

“Axel? Is something wrong?”

I killed the browser tab so fast my thumb cracked on the button. “Nothing,” I said, determined not to be caught stalking my first love. Didn’t want my mom to know that six years later I was still thinking about the first boy I’d kissed. “Just watching a Barmuth game.”

“Are they any good?” My mother stuck her head into the den and smiled at me.

“Um,” I said, realizing I had no idea how the actual game was going. “They’re okay. They’ll be better when I’m working there.”

Mom’s eyes opened wide. “Did you decide? Are you taking it?”

“Yeah,” I heard myself say.

She came all the way into the room and hugged my head in one arm. “I’m proud of you. But I’ll miss you! Can I visit?”

“Of course.” I hugged her back a little awkwardly.

“I worry about you.”

“Why?” I chuckled. “Because I have no job, no friends and no boyfriend?”

Mom grabbed the back of my neck and shook me a little. “You have a job, but it doesn’t happen to pay actual money. You have friends, who all moved to Chicago and New York. And your boyfriend was a dick.”

“Jeez, Mom. Tell me how you really feel.”

“I hope you meet a nice boy in Massachusetts. That place might be a little lonely.”

It might. But I’d already decided I was going, whether it was crazy or not.


Get Hello Forever at: Amazon | iBooks | Nook | Kobo 

First Chapter: Blonde Date

A blind date. A nervous sorority girl. A mean-spirited fraternity prank. What could go wrong?


As a sorority pledge, there are commandments that Katie Vickery must live by. One: thou shalt not show up for the party without a date. Two: the guy shall be an athlete, preferably an upperclassman. 

Unfortunately, Katie just broke up with her jerkface football player boyfriend. Even worse, her last encounter with him resulted in utter humiliation. She’d rather hide under the bed than attend a party where he'll be. 

Yet staying home would mean letting him win. 

Enjoying herself tonight was out of the question. She could only hope to get through the evening without her blind date noticing that he was spending the evening with a crazy person. 

Andrew Baschnagel is living proof that nice guys don’t finish first. He’s had his eye on Katie since the moment her long legs waltzed into his art history class. So when her roommate sets Andy up to be Katie’s date, he’d be crazy to say no. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a lot of practice with either girls or parties. Yet.


Chapter One

Andy

With a growing sense of panic, I pawed through the clothes in my narrow little dorm room closet. For five long minutes I’d stood there inspecting my shirts, tossing them one by one on the bed. That was four more minutes than I’d ever spent before trying to decide what to wear. But I still didn’t have a freaking clue.

It was time to call in the big guns.

Luckily, my older sister answered on the first ring. “I need a consult,” I said. Delia was in med school, and you got further with her if you spoke in medical terms.

“Where does it hurt?” she asked.

“I have a date, and I don’t know what to wear.”

Her laughter was so loud that I had to hold the phone away from my ear. “How old are you?”

“Old enough to ask for help when I need it.”

“Fair enough. What’s the occasion?”

“That’s the tricky part. First there’s a charity bit, where I’m helping a bunch of sorority girls with their community project. Setting up a Christmas tree, or something.”

Delia laughed again. “What do you know from setting up a Christmas tree, Jew boy?”

“How hard could it be? But there’s also a tree lighting, and, like, cocktails.”

“Hmm,” my sister mused. “And where does this event take place?”

“In their preppy white sorority house with the big columns on the front.”

“Well… This really could go either way. Casual or dressy.”

“That’s what I was afraid of. How should I play it?”

“Who’s the girl? Anyone special?”

Why yes. But I wasn’t going to tell my sister that just hearing this girl’s name gave me a thrill. Katie Vickery. When she’d called to invite me to this thing, she’d opened with “you don’t know me…”

But she’d been wrong. Very wrong. I knew exactly who she was.

In the first place, if you were a lonely junior at Harkness, noticing the frosh girls was like your job. And she made my job easy. I’d picked out those long legs the very first time they’d walked into my art history lecture. And — lucky me — summer’s warmth had held on an extra week or two this year, treating me to a steady parade of Katie’s short skirts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning.

The most attractive thing about her, though, was her laugh. It was deeper and huskier than you’d expect from someone so slight and fair. I loved the sound of it. Whenever I heard her laugh, my brain took a short trip around the block.

God, she was hot. But she also had unattainable practically stamped on her forehead. Because Katie was the sort of girl that everyone noticed. And I wasn’t even a little bit surprised when she started sitting with the football crew during lectures.

I didn’t dwell on this. Girls like Katie Vickery were out of my league, and I didn’t bother to sit around wondering why. Some things just were.

As the fall semester wore on, Bridger, my next-door neighbor, started spending a lot of time with Katie’s roommate, Scarlet. So I sometimes overheard updates about Katie. Scarlet mentioned that they sometimes went jogging together. After that, Katie’s long legs began loping through my dreams in spandex shorts.

But that wasn’t a premonition, or anything. It was just the work of a shy guy’s subconscious. In a million years, I’d never thought I’d be standing here, dressing for a date with her. And if she hadn’t invited me out of sheer desperation, I wouldn’t be.

“Um, earth to Andy!” my sister prompted. “I asked you a question. Is the girl anyone special?”

“We don’t really know each other,” I admitted. “She dumped her football player boyfriend a few weeks ago and needed a date for this thing. Enter me.”

“So this is a date of necessity. But how did you get the nod? She must not know your track record with women. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” My sister snickered.

“Come on, now, D. If I wanted to be mocked, I would have called my other sister.” Our younger sis was kind of a bitch. “You remember Bridger?”

“Who could forget him?” Delia asked. My neighbor was kind of a stud with the ladies.

“Well, this whole thing was his girlfriend’s idea.”

“I knew I liked that guy,” Delia said. But of course she did. All the women did. “And his girlfriend has good taste, too.”

“In me? Or in Bridger?” I teased.

“Both. And this sorority girl is going to love you. You’re pretty cute for a skinny guy.”

I didn’t have time to argue with her. But even if it was true, pretty cute for a skinny guy probably wasn’t going to be enough to win me Katie’s undying affection. I’d been invited on this junket because the newly single Katie was apparently done with football players. “And jerks of all stripes,” Scarlet had explained. “I told her, ‘Andy is absolutely not a jerk.’”

For a second I’d felt awesome about that. But then I’d realized that being absolutely not a jerk also wasn’t enough of an endorsement to fill the utter void that was my love life.

Oh, well.

“Are you going to help me or what?” I prodded.

“Of course. So you want to impress her, but you don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard,” my sister said.

“Exactly. So tell me what to wear. While I’m young, if possible.”

“Well, when the Jew boy goes to the Christmas tree lighting at the WASPy sorority house, he should always wear nice pants. You have some wool trousers, right?”

I looked at the three pairs I’d draped over my desk chair. “Won’t that be too dressy?”

“Not if they’re khaki-colored. How about the ones you wore when we saw that show in Boston?”

How did she even remember that shit? If Delia asked me to name three items of clothing that she’d ever owned in her lifetime, I couldn’t do it.

I lifted the pants off their hanger. “All right. What else?”

“The shirt should be a dark color. Dark blue, maybe? With the collar open. Whatever you do, don’t button that sucker all the way up. Wear a t-shirt underneath, and it’s okay if the t-shirt is visible at the collar. That takes you one notch back toward casual. And no tie.”

See? This was why a guy called his sister. I hopped into the pants using one hand. “And the shirt is tucked in, right?”

“Tuck it in! Absolutely. Unless you really don’t want to get laid.”

I laughed and had to grab the phone to keep it from hitting the floor. “That’s not happening.”

“Are you saying that because you’re talking to your sister? Or because you really believe it?”

“Uh, why? Are you doing a psych rotation at school, or something?” I pulled a clean t-shirt over my head.

“I was only teasing about your record with girls. You know that right? You’re a catch, Andy. As long as you tuck your shirt in.”

“That must be what I’ve been doing wrong.”

My sister laughed. “Your only real problem is confidence.”

I stuffed my feet into a pair of shoes. “Am I wearing a jacket, too? Or just my coat?”

“Your plain black sport jacket. It still fits, right? God, I hope your arms aren’t getting any longer. Because you’re already kind of like an orangutan.”

“And you wonder why I don’t have any confidence,” I mumbled.

“Kidding! But seriously, if the jacket sleeves are too short, then skip it. And you need to shine your shoes.”

“I don’t have time.”

“What? When is this date?”

“Ten minutes.”

“Andrew Isaac Baschnagel! Did you shower and shave?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Hang up and go meet your girl. Crap. I wanted you to send a picture before you left. In case you need tweaking.”

“No time for tweaking. Bye, Delia! Thanks.”

“Bye, orangutan.” Then she clicked off. Delia loved getting the last word.

But never mind. I put on exactly what she’d told me to. I hung up the pants that hadn’t made the cut. Then, shoving my keys and my wallet into a pocket, I ran out the door and down the entryway stairs. Checking my phone, I saw that I had plenty of time. It was a two-minute walk to Katie’s dorm, and I had twice that.

My phone buzzed with a text from Delia. Good luck with the WASPs, string bean.

Holding up my phone and grinning like a dork, I took a selfie and sent it to her.

The clothes look great. But UR hopeless, she replied.

That was probably true. And I’d never admit it to my sister, but she wasn’t totally off base with her remark about my confidence. Some guys just had a kind of swagger that worked for them. My neighbor Bridger? All he had to do was walk into a room, and the girls hurled themselves at him, like moths at a window screen on a summer night.

But what was swagger, really? It came from the belief that hot girls wanted to take you to bed. So, to acquire it, you’d need at least a little evidence that this was true.

Yeah. I didn’t have that. All I had was evidence that a hot girl needed a date for a party. But that was better than nothing, right? And I’d have a couple of hours in the company of the lovely Katie Vickery.

Life could really be worse.

Apparently Delia wasn’t done with me, though. When my phone buzzed again, she’d written: Ask her out on your way home 2nite. Don’t chicken out.

I hadn’t thought that far ahead. But my sister was a smart girl. Okay. If things go well, I’ll do it, I replied.

If U do, I’ll buy you a sundae at Lou’s. If U chicken out, I win a sundae.

That seemed like a perfectly good incentive to do something that I already wanted to do. Deal, I replied.

First Chapter: The Shameless Hour

It had been two hours since I blew out twenty candles on the cake Ma made for me, but my ass was still parked in a chair at Restaurante Tipico.

It was always hard for me to get away from the Dominican joint that my extended family ran. I needed to be on a train headed back to Harkness College. But here I was at table seven in the back corner, rolling silverware for the evening rush, the same way I’d done my whole life...

Read More