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Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between
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Charming, bittersweet, and full of wisdom and heart, this irresistible novel from Jennifer E. Smith, bestselling author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Field Notes on Love, explores the difficult choices that arise when life and love lead in different directions.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of The Geography of You and Me
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The High School
In the car, Aidan pauses before turning the key in the ignition, and for a brief second, Clare lets herself imagine that they're on their way out to dinner or a movie, or anywhere, really, even just the kind of aimless, purposeless drive that's been the only thing on the agenda so many times before. Their nights always seem to begin in this way: the two of them sitting in Aidan's dusty Volvo, trying to decide what to do.
But tonight is different.
It's not a beginning at all. Tonight is an ending.
Aidan's hand is still hovering over the keys, and Clare glances down at the piece of notebook paper on her lap. During the short walk over to the Gallaghers' house—a walk she's made about a thousand times in the past two years—she folded and refolded the page so many times that it's already soft and wrinkled.
"Maybe we should just take off or something," Aidan says, looking at her sideways. "Just keep driving till we hit Canada."
"Canada, huh?" Clare says, raising her eyebrows. "Are we going on the lam?"
He shrugs. "Fine. Maybe just Wisconsin, then."
She reaches over, resting a hand on the back of his neck, where his reddish hair is newly trimmed, cut close in a way that makes him look older somehow. "I'm leaving first thing in the morning," she says gently. "The car's already packed. And your flight's at noon."
"I know," he says, but he won't look at her. His eyes are fixed on the closed door of the garage. "That's my point. Let's skip it all."
"College?" she says with a smile, letting her hand drop.
"Yeah," he says, nodding now. "Who needs it? Let's run away together instead. Just for a year or so. We'll start a new life. In the country. Or better yet, a deserted island."
"You would look nice in a hula skirt."
"I'm serious," he says, though she knows he's not. He's just desperate and sad, nervous and excited, wildly unsure of everything as they barrel toward the invisible line that will separate their lives into a before and an after. Same as her.
"Aidan," she says quietly, and this time, his eyes find hers. "This is happening. Tomorrow. No matter what."
"I know," he admits.
"Which is why we have to figure out what to do about it."
"Nope," she says, cutting him off. She holds up the piece of paper. "No more talking. We've been talking all summer, and it's gotten us nowhere. We've just been going around in circles: Stay together, break up, stay together, break up.…"
"Stay together," Aidan finishes, grinning a little.
Clare laughs. "The point is that we're hopeless. So no more talking. For now, let's just drive, okay?"
He leans forward, reaching for the keys, and then turns over the engine.
"Okay," he says.
Their first stop isn't far away, and they drive in silence, all the familiar sights of the town slipping by outside the window: the bridge over the ravine, the road lined with pine trees, the gazebo in the park. Clare tries to absorb each one of them as they whip past, because by the time she returns at Thanksgiving, she knows she might be someone entirely different, and she suspects that—because of that—all this might look different, too. And something about that scares her. So one by one, she tries to pin them in place: each tree, each road, each house.
This is how it all started this morning, when she woke up in a panic about how many goodbyes she still had to say. Not just the people: Aidan, of course; and her best friend, Stella; Aidan's sister, Riley; and his pal, Scotty; plus the handful of their other friends who are still around.
But there was also the town itself. All the landmarks that had been the background to her childhood. She couldn't leave without going to the village green one more time, or getting one last slice of pizza at their favorite spot. She couldn't possibly take off without one more trip to the beach, one final party, one last drive past the high school.
And so she made a list. But it didn't take long for her to realize that most of the things that meant something to her were inextricably tied to Aidan. This place was a ghost town of sorts, littered with milestones and memories from their nearly two-year relationship.
So it had turned into something else, this night: a nostalgia tour, a journey into the past, a walk down memory lane. It would be a way for her to say goodbye to this town where she'd lived her whole life, and maybe—somehow—to Aidan, too.
She can't help shivering a little at the thought of this, and she presses the button on the car door, closing her window.
Aidan glances over. "Too windy?" he asks, rolling up his own window, and she nods. But it's more than that. It's the same icy dread that fills her each time she starts to imagine it; not just the goodbye, but everything that's to come afterward: the hurt that will surely trail them to opposite coasts, so strong that she can already feel it even now, when he's only inches away.
The truth is, she's still waiting for her heart to get on board with the decision her head has made. But she's running out of time.
When they reach the long drive leading up to the high school, Aidan frowns. "So tell me," he says as they pull up to the front of the sprawling building and into one of the empty parking spots. "Why exactly are we here?"
It's early evening on a Friday toward the end of August, and the school sits hushed and empty. Though she spent four years here, Clare's already having trouble remembering the feel of the place when it's full of students, everyone spilling out the wooden doors and onto the front lawn. It's only been two months, but somehow, all that seems like a very long time ago.
"Because," she says, turning to Aidan, "it's the first stop on the list."
"I know that," he says. "But how come?"
"It's where we met," she explains as she gets out of the car. "And the idea is to start at the beginning."
"So this is a chronological scavenger hunt, then."
"It's not a scavenger hunt at all. Think of it more like a refresher course."
"A refresher course in what?"
She smiles at him over the top of the car. "Us."
"So kind of like our greatest hits," he says, twirling the keys on his finger as he walks around to her, and for a moment, it's like none of the rest of it happened. Just now, just for this second, he's not the person she knows best in the world, but the new kid again, the one who'd shown up on the very first day of junior year, all red hair and freckles and ridiculous height, appearing out of nowhere and turning her inside out.
The slanted light is at his back, forcing Clare to squint as she studies him for a few long seconds. "Did I ever tell you," she says, "that I used to be late to English every single day, just so I could bump into you on your way to Pre-calc?"
"Well, now I feel kind of bad," Aidan says, his eyes creasing at the corners. "If I'd known that, I would've tried to be more punctual."
"It wouldn't have mattered," she says, remembering the way he used to come loping around the corner, his books tucked under his arm like a football, always missing the bell, at first because he'd get lost, and later because he'd always manage to lose track of time. "I would've waited all day. I probably would've waited forever."
She's not serious, of course, but there's something wistful in his smile.
"Yeah?" he says.
She shrugs. "Yeah."
"I wish you still would," he says, though not spitefully; he says it quietly, evenly, a simple truth, an earnest request.
But it still leaves a mark.
"You have to stop doing that," Clare says. "Stop being the romantic one."
Aidan looks surprised. "What?"
"It's not fair," she says. "I hate that you get to be the good guy here. It's not like I want to break up with you. It kills me just thinking about it, but I'm trying to be practical. Starting tomorrow, we're gonna be a million miles away from each other, and it doesn't make sense to do this any other way. So you have to stop."
"Stop… being romantic?" Aidan asks, looking amused.
"Have you ever thought that maybe you need to stop being so practical?"
Clare sighs. "One of us has to be."
"The one who planned a romantic scavenger hunt for our last night?" he says, looping an arm around her shoulders and giving her a little squeeze.
She rolls her eyes. "It's not a scavenger hunt."
"Well, whatever it is, I think it's suspiciously romantic for someone so annoyingly practical," he says, drawing her closer. Her head only comes up to his chest, so she has to tip her chin up to look at him. When she does, he leans down to kiss her, and even though they've kissed a thousand times before—have kissed, even, in this very parking lot—it still makes her stomach go wobbly, and she's seized by a sudden worry over how few of these they have left.
Together, they walk up the front steps of the school, and Clare tugs on the handle of the big wooden door, but it refuses to budge. She knocks a few times, in case there might be a security guard inside, but nobody answers.
"It's still a couple weeks till classes start," Aidan points out. "I'm sure nobody's here on a Friday night."
"I thought maybe there'd be summer school or something.…"
"Let's just skip to whatever's next."
Clare shakes her head, not sure how to explain that this is the whole point of the night. To fit two whole years into one final evening; to dump all the pieces out of the box and then put them back together again in the right order so that they can see the whole thing spread out before them.
And so that they can say goodbye.
But to do that, they need to start at the beginning.
"No," she says, looking up at the stone building. "There has to be a way in. It's the first place we saw each other.…"
Aidan smiles. "Mr. Coady's Earth Science class."
"Exactly," she says. "Not that you remember."
"Of course I do."
"You do not. At least not that first day."
"Oh, come on," Aidan says, laughing. "How could anyone not remember you?"
"Impossible," she agrees, though she knows that's not true. Clare's been called a lot of things—smart and funny, driven and talented—but memorable certainly isn't one of them. The most important things about her—the ones she's most proud of—are apparent only once you get to know her. At first glance, she's almost entirely unremarkable: brown hair and brown eyes, average height and ordinary looks. Mostly, she just blends in, which has always been fine with her: You could do a lot worse in high school. But that meant that before Aidan, no boy had ever really noticed her before.
That first day, he'd sat down at the desk right behind hers. The teacher was handing out geodes to pass around the room, and when it was her turn with one of them, Clare cupped it in her hands. It looked like a regular old rock on the outside, but inside, it was full of glittering purple crystals. When she turned to pass it to the new kid, he kept his eyes on the stone. But later—after he'd finally noticed her, after they'd both realized that this was the start of something—she would come back to that moment again and again. Because that's how she felt when she was with him—like she'd been a rock her whole life, ordinary and dull, and it wasn't until she met him that something cracked open inside her, and just like that, she began to shine.
"We have to get inside," she says now, feeling oddly desperate.
Aidan gives her a strange look. "Does it really matter?"
"Yes," she says, rattling the door handle once more, though it's clearly useless. "We have to start this thing right."
She knows he doesn't understand why this is so important to her, and she's not sure she could tell him even if she tried. It's just that the clock is ticking down fast toward tomorrow, when everything will change. And this—this plan for their last night together—was supposed to be the one thing she could control.
All summer, Clare has been poring over class descriptions and campus maps and messages from her new roommate, trying to get a clearer picture of what her life will soon look like. But as much as she's read, as much as she's tried to find out, it's impossible to imagine the details. And it's the not knowing that's the hardest part.
There's so much of it, too. She doesn't know whether she'll be able to balance Intro to Psychology with History of Japan, or whether she'll find someone to sit with in the dining hall during those first few crucial days, when loose collections of strangers start to solidify into groups of friends like hardening cement.
She doesn't know whether she'll get along with her roommate, a girl from New York City named Beatrice St. James, who seems to only want to talk about what bands she's been seeing this summer, and who—Clare suspects—will end up wallpapering their room with concert posters.
She doesn't know whether it's a mistake to leave her winter coat behind until Thanksgiving break, whether she'll find it unbearable to share a bathroom with twenty other people, whether girls from the East Coast will dress differently than the girls here in Chicago. She doesn't know whether she'll stand out or blend in, sink or swim, feel homesick or independent, happy or miserable.
And mostly, she doesn't know if she'll be able to survive all this without having Aidan on the other end of the phone.
Now she steps back from the wooden doors of the school with a defeated sigh.
"This," she admits, "is not a great start."
Aidan shrugs. "Who cares? I mean, don't you think this is close enough?"
"Close enough isn't good enough."
"Of course not," he says, rolling his eyes, but he follows her anyway as she makes her way along the building, past the staff parking lot and the auditorium and the whole east wing until they loop around to the back. Each time they pass another door, one of them jogs over to try it, but they're all locked, every single one of them.
Finally, just behind the school, they stand at the ground-floor window of Mr. Coady's classroom, their hands cupped against the glass as they peer inside. The room is dark and quiet, the chalkboard wiped clean, the black tables coated in a thin layer of dust, the rocks and other samples stacked neatly in cases along the opposite wall.
"It looks different," Aidan says. "Doesn't it?"
Beside him, Clare nods. "It almost seems like it's smaller or something."
"That must be because we're such big-time college students now," Aidan says with a grin, and they both step back again. He puts a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry we couldn't get inside."
She doesn't answer him; instead, she lifts her gaze to the top of the enormous window, then runs her fingers along the edges before rapping on the glass.
"I wonder if—" she begins, but Aidan cuts her off.
"No way," he says. "Don't even say it."
"I wonder if we could break in somehow," she says, ignoring him.
"Are you kidding?"
She blinks at him. "Not entirely."
"I don't think this is exactly the right time for either of us to get arrested," he says, the color rising in his cheeks, as it always does when he gets frustrated with her. "I have a feeling UCLA might frown upon that sort of thing, and I don't need to give my dad another excuse to be disappointed in me. Not when I'm just about out of here."
He holds up a hand, stopping her before she can continue. "I bet Dartmouth wouldn't be too thrilled about it, either," he reminds her, then gestures at the window. "Besides, we're right here. I realize the phrase 'close enough' isn't in your vocabulary, but why is this so important to you?"
"Because," she says, holding out the piece of paper, which is now balled up in her hand, "because this is our last night. And it's supposed to be perfect. And if we can't even get this right…"
Aidan's face softens. "This isn't a metaphor," he says. "If we don't check off everything on this list, all that means is we're flexible. We can roll with the punches. And that's a good thing, you know?"
"You're right," she says, swallowing hard. "I know you're right."
But still, she feels inexplicably sad. Because of course Aidan would think that. He wants desperately for everything to work out between them. If he walked over a patch of sidewalk right now that read CLARE AND AIDAN SHOULD ABSOLUTELY BREAK UP TONIGHT in brightly colored chalk, he'd still manage to somehow explain it away, to turn it around and make it into something positive.
Maybe the world isn't full of signs so much as it's full of people trying to use whatever evidence they can find to convince themselves of what they hope to be true.
For Clare, it seems pretty clear that a start like this doesn't bode well, and she feels a small glimmer of satisfaction at this: the prospect that she's been right all along, and that now, even the universe agrees that the only logical thing to do is part ways with Aidan.
But this is followed by a powerful wave of grief over the thought of actually having to do this, and she inches closer to him, feeling a little unsteady.
Aidan circles his arms around her automatically, and they stand there like that for a moment. In the distance, a car engine roars to life, and a few birds cry out overhead. Around them, the sky is fading from blue to gray, the edges going blurry, and Clare presses her cheek against the soft cotton of Aidan's shirt.
"Has anyone ever suggested that you might have some control issues?" he says with a smile, stepping back again. He takes the paper gently from her hand and smooths it out again. "Looks like this rules out number eight, too."
"The fall formal," she says with a nod. "Our first dance."
"Right," he says. "No chance of getting into the gym, either. Too bad I'm not allowed to be romantic, or else I'd make you dance with me right here."
"That's okay," she says. "I've already seen your moves."
"Not all of them. But don't worry. The night is still young. I'm saving my best stuff for later."
"I can't wait," she tells him, realizing just how much she means it.
Whatever happens later, they still have the rest of tonight.
And maybe that will be enough.
She links her arm with his, leaning into him as they start to walk back to the car. A breeze picks up, and for the first time Clare notices there's a bite to it: an early hint of autumn. Normally, she loves this time of year, and for weeks now, whenever she's told someone about Dartmouth, they've brought up the fall foliage in New Hampshire: the brilliant reds and yellows and oranges spread out over the campus and beyond. Clare has no doubt she'll find it enchanting once she gets there. But right now, she doesn't want to think about the coming of a new season. She just wants to live in this one for as long as she possibly can.
They're nearly to the car when she stops short.
"Shoot," she says, glancing back over her shoulder. "I meant to get a souvenir."
"So this is a scavenger hunt."
"I just thought it might be nice. You know, to have something from each place we stop tonight."
Aidan tilts his head at her. "You sure this wasn't just an elaborate plan to steal all those precious gemstones from the Earth Science classroom?"
"I think precious might be overstating it," she says. "But no."
"Okay, then," he says, stooping to grab an ordinary-looking rock from the ground at his feet. It's slate gray and rounded at the edges, and he rubs at it with the end of his plaid shirt before handing it over with a solemn look.
"Here," he says, and Clare feels the weight of it in her palm. She runs her thumb over the smooth surface, thinking back to that first day she'd seen him in class, the way his face had lit up when he turned over the rock to find all those purple crystals, like it was a fortune cookie or an Easter egg, the best kind of surprise.
"By my authority," Aidan is saying now, "as a B-plus student in Mr. Coady's junior year Earth Science class, I'm pleased to inform you that this little gem is now officially considered precious."
And here's the amazing thing: Now it was.
The Pizza Place
For a while, the two of them stand just outside Slices, peering in through the fogged windows at all the unfamiliar faces.
"Didn't take them very long to move in, huh?" Aidan says, squinting at a corner booth that used to belong to some of his lacrosse buddies and that is now occupied by a cluster of sophomore girls all huddled over their phones.
"Out with the old…" Clare says lightly, though she feels a bit unsettled, too. After two weeks of goodbyes—two full weeks of sending their friends off one at a time—it feels like the town should be empty now. But here, it looks like any other night, the place completely packed, full of laughter and gossip and noise.
It's just that it's no longer their laughter and gossip and noise.
Aidan turns to face her, his blue eyes bright. "Let me guess," he says, rubbing his hands together. "First place I spilled something on you."
Clare shakes her head. "Nope."
"First place you saw me trip over my own feet? First time you saw me eat four slices of pizza in under ten minutes? First time I did that trick with a straw wrapper?"
"First place we talked," she says, stopping him, because she knows this could go on all night. "Not that it was much of a conversation, but it was the first time you spoke actual words to me."
"Oh, yeah," he says. "I remember now. I'm pretty sure I said you were the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen, and then asked you out right there on the spot."
"Close," Clare says with a smile. "You asked me to pass the Parmesan."
"Ah," he says. "One of my lesser-used pickup lines."
"Worked on me," she says as he pulls open the door.
Inside, the restaurant is thick with steam and filled with the smells of tomato and mozzarella. There's exactly one middle-aged couple in the far corner, hunched over their pizza and looking hassled by the chaos all around them. Otherwise, pretty much everyone is under the age of eighteen. That's the way it's been for as long as anyone can remember—this place isn't so much a restaurant as an off-campus lunch spot, an after-school meet-up point, a weekend hangout for the high school crowd. With its cracked leather booths and basic brown tables, the row of aging video games along one wall and the ironclad rule that slices come plain only, it's always sort of belonged to the town's younger population.
Just inside the doorway, Aidan stops short, and Clare sees that their usual table is occupied by a few of the underclassmen from the lacrosse team. When they notice Aidan, they start to scramble to their feet, but he waves them back down again.
"Sorry," one of them says. He looks like a younger version of Aidan, round-faced and broad-shouldered and easygoing, but all the confidence drains right out of him at the sight of his former team captain. There's a note of awe in his voice as he apologizes. "We thought you'd already skipped town."
"Just about," Aidan says, clapping him on the back. "I'm headed out tomorrow."
"Do practices start right away?"
Aidan nods. "Preseason."
"Well, good luck, man," he says, and a few of the others chime in with well wishes, too. "Can't wait to hear all about it at Thanksgiving."
As they walk away from the table, Aidan takes Clare's hand, and she gives his a little squeeze. She catches sight of their reflection in the darkened window and realizes how lost they both look, like they've walked into a familiar room to find that all the furniture has been rearranged. But then they recognize a voice over near the register, and they both turn to see Scotty, leaning against the counter and scraping his pocket for coins.
Aidan steps up beside him, slapping down a five-dollar bill.
"It's on me," he says, reaching out to punch his friend's shoulder, but it doesn't quite land because Scotty manages to dodge him, cuffing Aidan's ear before ducking away again. Clare hangs back as the two of them tussle the way they always do, circling each other like boxers until they notice Oscar—the hulking, largely silent cashier who has been there forever—watching them from behind the counter, looking entirely unamused.
"How many?" he asks, raising one eyebrow.
Aidan coughs, straightening up again. "Five," he says. "Please."
Oscar skulks off toward the oven without another word, and Scotty reaches over and gives Aidan's arm one last thump. "Thanks, man."
"I feel like I should start some sort of charity pizza fund for you before I go," he says. "I'm worried you'll starve without me."
"I'll manage," Scotty tells him, pushing up his thick-framed glasses. His dark eyes move between Aidan and Clare. "So," he says, "this is it, huh?"
Aidan nods. "Last night."
"For a little while, anyway," Scotty says.
Clare gives him a reassuring nod. "Just for a little while."
"And you two are, uh, doing okay?" he says, though it's clear what he's really asking is this: Have you two decided what to do yet?
"We're fine," Clare says, exchanging a look with Aidan.
"Who's fine?" Stella asks, appearing at their side. She's wearing all black, as usual, from her boots to her jeans to her shirt and all the way up to her earrings, two feathery-looking things that get lost against her jet-black hair. She always manages to look as if she's preparing for a burglary, and Clare can't help feeling conspicuous next to her in spite of the fact that she's wearing a completely normal spectrum of colors: a blue sundress with a green cardigan.
"Where've you been?" Clare asks. "I thought you were coming over this afternoon."
"Oh," Stella says, twisting her mouth up at the corners. "Yeah. Sorry about that. I got caught up with something."
"With what?" she asks, but Stella's eyes have drifted over to Scotty, who is busy pouring oregano directly into his mouth. Most of it lands down the front of his Batman T-shirt, and he coughs and pounds on his chest, his eyes watering as he attempts to swallow the rest.
"Over one epic evening, Jennifer E. Smith expertly captures every painful, perfect nuance of first love. I didn't want the night--or this book--to end." —Sarah Dessen, New York Times bestselling author
"Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between is the love story of Clare and Aidan, high school sweethearts who spend one last day together before college separates them, possibly forever. It's also the love story of good friends, of home, of what used to be and what's to come. This latest stunner from Jennifer E. Smith will linger in your aching heart. (But it's a good ache. The best kind.) It's an ache that comes from characters who are so real they breathe, and a relatable story that generates feels-lots of them- on every page."—Jennifer Niven, New York Times bestselling author of All the Bright Places
Praise for Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between:* "The teen characters display authentic voices as the break-up defines the final few drama-filled hours before the group splits for university or community college. The conflicts among them ring true as each tries to stay true to him- or herself, although the four realize the end of this journey is here when others are just starting. Smith is a winning choice for teen girls..."—VOYA (starred review)
"What keeps [the story] fresh and on the literary side of the genre are engaging, closely observed characters, Clare and Aidan among them, portrayed with such intimate, intense authenticity that readers too feel invested in their choices. Another smart and savvy book to add to Smith's oeuvre."—Kirkus Reviews
"Students approaching the college transition, those who have already experienced it, and fans of romantic, realistic fiction will most enjoy this relatable, emotive story."—SLJ
"Fans of sentimental and intelligent romances will be drawn to this smart approach to relationships."—School Library Connection
- On Sale
- May 17, 2016
- Page Count
- 272 pages