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The In Between
By Marc Klein
Formats and Prices
- ebook $8.99 $11.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
- Trade Paperback $10.99 $14.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 1, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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This heartbreaking story—perfect for fans of If I Stay and Five Feet Apart—follows a girl swept up in the magic of her first love, until it all comes to a tragic end that might lead her into the afterlife itself. Soon to be a motion picture on Paramount+ starring Joey King!
After bouncing around in foster homes for most of her childhood, seventeen-year-old Tessa Jacobs doesn’t believe she deserves love—not from her adoptive parents, and certainly not from anyone at school.
But everything changes when she has a chance encounter with Skylar, a senior from a neighboring town who’s a true romantic. Their budding relationship quickly leads to the kind of passion you only see in the movies. As her heart begins to open, Tessa starts to believe she might be deserving of love after all.
When tragedy strikes, Tessa wakes up alone in a hospital room with no memory of how she got there. And then she learns the horrifying news: Skylar is dead. As Tessa searches for answers, Skylar’s spirit reaches out to her from the other side. Desperate to see him one last time, Tessa must race against the clock to uncover the shocking truth of their relationship—a truth that might just lead to the afterlife itself.
"This story and Marc had such a big impact on me. Somehow my heart breaks and swells all at the same time while reading this. A powerful telling of love and loss.” —Joey King, star and producer of The In Between
First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—
It had always been Tessa’s favorite color. And not because the influencers spoke about how black was the default couture color for the rich and famous. And definitely not because the bubbleheaded fashionistas were continually asking the proverbial question: Is gray the new black, is white the new black, hell, is magenta the new black?
No, Tessa loved black because it represented absence. The absence of color, the absence of light, the absence of form. Put simply, black didn’t draw attention to itself. It was invisible. And that had always been Tessa’s desire in life: to stay invisible. But the black surrounding Tessa right now wasn’t the invisible kind. It was a black of presence.
Where was she anyway? Last she remembered, she was getting off the city bus. It was raining outside, and with no umbrella to protect her from the downpour, Tessa was soaked from her mad dash to Skylar’s house. Turning the corner, she saw his jeep backing out of the driveway, its red taillights shimmering through a wall of rain. And then…
… in an instant…
Tessa felt a sudden flutter of fear, disoriented by the void that had enveloped her. She was adrift in space, alone, with no stars to guide her way.
Where could she be? And more important, where was Skylar?
“I’m right here,” Skylar said.
That was strange. Tessa hadn’t spoken, but Skylar answered her anyway. Even stranger: She couldn’t see Skylar but could sense his presence drifting beside her in this peculiar blackness with no beginning or end.
Something was weird about all this. Tessa’s best guess was that she was dreaming. It was one seriously messed-up dream, but like most of them, by the time she was brushing her teeth the next morning, she’d have forgotten this craziness altogether.
Just then, a pinpoint of white light pierced the blackness. But this was no ordinary light. It was radiant and purifying, like a thousand suns of compressed love, lulling her forward, beckoning her to join with it. Tessa had never really been interested in doing drugs, but if this was what it felt like to be high, she was prepared to reconsider.
“My God, it’s beautiful,” Skylar said. “Let’s get closer.”
That was so Skylar. Always rushing toward the unknown, not away from it. With Skylar around, Tessa felt like nothing bad could ever happen, because nothing bad ever did. So she willed herself toward the light alongside him. And that was when she began to see shapes. They were fuzzy and formless at first. But as she drifted closer, the pinpoint of light grew larger and brighter, and she saw the translucent outline of her grandma Pat. Only not the way she’d looked when she was suffering in bed those last days of her life. Backlit like a rock star, Grandma Pat was now young and vibrant.
“Uncle Andy!” Skylar screamed.
“No,” Tessa said. “It’s my grandma Pat.”
Somehow, they were seeing different deceased relatives. How was that possible?
“Can you hear them?” Skylar asked.
There was a long pause. And Tessa suddenly sensed something was terribly wrong.
“Tessa, they’re saying… you have to go back.”
“What do you mean, back? Back where?”
There was now painful regret in Skylar’s voice. “They say it has to be this way. That it’s not your time yet.”
And then something took hold of Tessa. A force. It started pulling her away from Skylar.
“Skylar, wait!” she cried.
“I’m sorry, Tess. I love you.”
Everything began receding in a fast-moving blur. Tessa screamed and willed herself to stay, but the white light grew smaller and dimmer, like a dying star in a distant galaxy…
TESSA COULD SENSE THE SNOW EVEN BEFORE SHE OPENED HER eyes. It was an intense, luminous brightness penetrating her eyelids, urging her to consciousness. When she finally woke, the first thing she saw was light gleaming off her “Wall of Inspiration.” It was a collage of words and photos on her ceiling that served only one purpose: to make Tessa feel better about her life. There were quotes (PRESERVE YOUR BUBBLE), mundane reminders (GET OFF THE INTERNET!), arty black-and-white photos (Robert Frank, Brassaï’s rain-soaked streets of Paris), and even a few sketches that Tessa had drawn before she discovered her real talent lay in photography.
Most seventeen-year-olds would be rejoicing at the sight of all that fluffy whiteness outside—it meant school was canceled. But Tessa wasn’t most seventeen-year-olds. For her, school was the only escape from the strangers she lived with.
Years earlier, one after the other, Tessa’s real parents had disappeared without a trace. What followed was a revolving door of foster homes. Some were better than others, but most were terrifying. As for Mel and Vickie, they were the most recent childless couple who’d taken her in. Now past the one-year mark, they were undoubtedly the best of the bunch. But even though they’d recently signed her adoption papers, Tessa still couldn’t fully embrace them. That would require trust, something that didn’t come easily to her.
Tessa slipped some clothes on and grabbed her vintage Minolta camera, the one that was never more than an arm’s length away from her. She was halfway down the stairs when she smelled a sweet aroma drifting from the kitchen. That meant Vickie had worked the night shift and was making herself breakfast. Tessa was determined to pass the kitchen silently so as to not be seen or heard, but evidently Vickie had bionic ears.
“I made pancakes,” Vickie called out.
Tessa ignored her and kept moving down the hallway. She reached into the foyer closet and grabbed her puffer jacket. Vickie appeared at the entrance to the kitchen, still dressed in her casino dealer’s uniform, her shiny maroon vest buttoned snugly around her torso.
“You going somewhere?” she asked.
“Out to shoot some photos,” Tessa said, slipping her arms into the sleeves of her jacket.
“Now? They haven’t even cleared the streets yet.”
Tessa opened the front door. “I don’t want to lose the morning light.”
“When you get back, maybe we should do a little college research?”
“Why? Are you thinking about going back to school?” Tessa said sarcastically.
“Be serious, Tessa. It’s never too early to start applying for scholarships. You have so much potential—I don’t want to see you throw your future away.”
What was it about Vickie that bugged Tessa so much? Was it the suffocating friendliness? The embarrassing desperation to form a mother-daughter bond? Maybe it was just something chemical—like the way dogs sometimes lunged at each other for no discernible reason. Thankfully, Tessa had discovered that a well-chosen comeback was always the quickest way to fend off Vickie’s advances.
“Vickie, you’re starting to sound like a refrigerator magnet.”
Vickie sighed and silently retreated back into the kitchen. Tessa felt a glimmer of guilt, but not nearly enough to apologize.
Outside, the air was crisp and motionless, the sky flooding with pale light. Tessa began to wander the forsaken streets of Margate, the tiny seaside town where she lived. With Tessa’s iPhone blasting her favorite indie playlist and her camera in her hands, all that existed was the rectangular world inside her viewfinder.
She snapped dozens of pictures, but found herself particularly fascinated by cars in their driveways, buried beneath snowdrifts shaped like sand dunes. It was as if Mother Nature were attempting to erase her enemies from the planet.
She continued walking through the ankle-deep snow, eventually making it to the Douglas Avenue beach. It was misty here, the sand covered with a pristine carpet of whiteness. Tessa felt like an astronaut on an alien planet, her every step disturbing the untouched perfection of the landscape. Everywhere Tessa looked, she saw something else she wanted to photograph. The foamy, white-capped waves. The weather-beaten pier that jutted out into the ocean. And a single lifeguard stand, its legs half-sunken in a snowdrift.
Far down the shoreline, Tessa noticed a lone figure materialize from a blanket of fog, like the ghost of a drowned sailor haunting the beach. All she could make out was a fiery orange baseball cap that stood out among the plumes of grayness. This was a brave soul who, like her, saw the deserted beach as an invitation to detach from the world. She took a single photograph of the orange-capped figure before they were swallowed up by the mist.
For the first time that morning, Tessa felt discomfort. There was a cold wetness on her toes. She looked down and realized she’d forgotten to put on snow boots. The sudden discovery made her conscious that her feet were on the fast track to deep freeze. By now, she was a thirty-minute walk from home. And the streets still weren’t plowed, so calling Mel to come pick her up was out of the question. Maybe something in town would be open? A coffee shop or diner. Anyplace to thaw out.
When Tessa made it to Ventnor Avenue, everything appeared lifeless. Block after block, she searched for a store to rescue her from the cold. Now her feet were going numb—not a good sign. Her last hope was the town movie theater. She knew that Sherman, the owner, lived in a room adjoining the projection booth, so there was no need for him to commute. It was a long shot, but for the survival of her toes, Tessa forged ahead into the cold rush of wind.
Every time Tessa laid eyes on the Little Art Theater, she wondered how it stayed in business. It only had fifty seats, most of them lumpy with protruding springs and worn-out fabric. And now that Sherman’s wife had passed away, it was strictly a one-man operation. Sherman ran the register, sold you soggy popcorn, and, when he felt ready, threw the switch on the old rattling film projector. Despite these less-than-ideal conditions, Tessa figured Sherman could have made a decent living for himself if he simply ran the latest indie movies. Instead, he chose obscure foreign films that featured lots of nudity and old B movies starring actors no one had ever heard of. One weekend, he screened nothing but famous Hollywood bombs: Howard the Duck, Battlefield Earth, and John Carter—a triple feature of cinematic awfulness.
As Tessa turned the corner, she was relieved when she saw Sherman sitting in the ticket booth, counting out the register. Tessa didn’t even bother glancing at the marquee to see what was playing. She walked to the window and knocked on it. “You open, Sherman?”
Sherman looked up and smiled. He knew Tessa well because she was a frequent customer. “I am for you,” he said, pressing a button. The machine below him spit out a ticket, which he slid through the hole at the bottom of the window. Tessa pulled a fistful of crumpled bills from her pocket and counted them out.
“Sorry,” Tessa said. “I think I’m a little short.”
“It’s no crime. I’m only five foot six.”
Tessa smiled. “I meant short of cash.”
Sherman snatched the ticket back and ripped it in half, then pushed the remaining stub beneath the box-office window. “Enjoy the show, Tessa.”
The musty theater was comfortably warm and smelled of burned popcorn. Tessa took a seat in the center aisle and slipped off her coat. Best part of all? She was alone. It was like her own private screening room.
Just as the lights dimmed, the door at the back of the theater swung open. A triangle of amber light widened across the floor, swimming up the walls. Tessa saw a person’s shadow float across the soiled movie screen as they entered. Usually, Tessa’s reaction to company in this situation would be disappointment. When in doubt, she preferred to be by herself. But somehow, she sensed that whoever had entered the theater was a friendly presence. The stranger found their way to a seat two rows behind her and sat down.
The opening credits of the movie snapped Tessa back into focus. They were all in French, even the film’s title, so she had no idea what the movie was called. The first image was stark: a naked man and woman, furiously making love on a bed. Tessa began to hear a narrator speak over the images. But oddly, when she glanced to the bottom of the screen for subtitles, there were none.
In the next scene, the same couple was frolicking on the deck of a cozy beach shack, nuzzling and kissing each other. But still, no subtitles.
She had to admit—Sherman had finally outdone himself. Not only was he running films that no one wanted to see; now he was running films that no one could understand!
Tessa called out to the projection booth. “Hey, Sherman! Where are the subtitles?”
At that moment, Tessa heard the stranger behind her get up. She assumed they were going to exit the theater and complain to Sherman. Instead, the person walked down the aisle and turned into Tessa’s row.
He looked to be around the same age as her, and there was just enough light in the theater to make out his shaggy mop of chestnut hair and tall, wiry frame. He took the seat next to hers, and his smell instantly enveloped her. Woody and sweet, it embodied the perfect combination of welcoming and elusive.
Despite his benign presence, Tessa couldn’t ignore the fact that this boy was a stranger. Worse still, she was totally alone with him. That meant no one could help her if he planned on doing something creepy, like flashing his privates.
You need to get up, Tess. You need to get up right now and walk out. And whatever you do, don’t look back or else he’ll get the wrong idea.
Tessa’s hands clenched the padded armrests and she leaned forward, ready to bolt. But before she could stand, the boy spoke.
“It’s called Betty Blue,” he said. “You watch, I’ll translate.”
He had said it kindly, but why did it feel like a command? Tessa watched him turn his head to the screen. Then, without missing a beat, he began to whisper the dialogue out of the corner of his mouth, effortlessly translating the film from French to English.
Well, that settled it. If Tessa left now, it would be rude. No, it would be more than rude—it would be like telling the universe to go to hell. A stranger had generously offered to help her, and she was just going to blow him off? Granted, she was no expert on psychopaths, but how many of them smelled so good, you felt the urge to take a bite out of them?
For the first half hour, Tessa couldn’t concentrate on the movie at all. She was too conscious of the warmth of his breath on her neck and the way he pronounced certain words. She tried to guess where he was from. Was his accent from New Jersey? New York? Over time, it didn’t matter anymore, because his voice began to fuse itself to the film. And before long, Tessa found herself completely immersed in the story that was unfolding before her.
The film was a tale of obsessive love. Betty, a beautiful drifter, seduces Zorg, a hapless handyman who lives in a worn-out beach shack. As their love deepens, so do Betty’s spells of self-destructive rage. After discovering she was mistaken about being pregnant, Betty sadistically gouges out her own eye and winds up in a mental hospital, catatonic. In a final act of love, Zorg suffocates Betty beneath a pillow, bringing the tale to an appropriately French conclusion.
Nearly three hours after the film started, the credits began to roll. Tessa looked down and noticed her fingers clutching her translator’s arm.
“Gah! Sorry!” Tessa said, abruptly releasing her grip. “How long was I doing that?”
“I don’t know,” the boy replied. “I lost feeling about an hour ago.”
She felt hopelessly embarrassed. “How come you didn’t say anything?”
“I don’t know, I just assumed you were soothing me. It’s a very depressing movie.”
“It’s a love story,” Tessa said matter-of-factly.
He frowned. “Not all love stories are depressing.”
“The good ones are.”
Seeing doubt in his expression, Tessa proceeded to prove her point. “Romeo and Juliet, Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights, The English Patient. The list goes on and on. It’s always the ending of a relationship—its demise—that makes a love story memorable.”
“What about Pride and Prejudice? Or Jane Eyre? They have happy endings,” he said.
“Only because those writers chose to end their love stories prematurely, before things turned dark.”
“That’s an interesting way of… not admitting you’re wrong.”
“Oh, come on,” Tessa said. “Just imagine if Leonardo DiCaprio had survived at the end of Titanic.”
“Do I have to?”
“Jack Dawson. A jobless, penniless gambler who possessed—at best—marginal artistic talent.”
“I concede his technical skill was amateurish, but he saved Rose’s life!”
“Only after he love-bombed her and stole her away from her fiancé! And poor Rose was so hypnotized by this f-boy that she actually believed he’d deliver her a life of passion and adventure. Pleaaasssse. More like abject poverty and dehumanizing infidelity.”
“Titanic Two. If you thought part one was a disaster, wait until you catch the sequel,” he replied.
Tessa broke out laughing, caught off guard by his quick wit.
As the movie’s credits came to an end, the theater’s lights rose up. And that was when the boy’s piercing green eyes revealed themselves. Tessa had never seen anything like them. They were eyes that betrayed no hint of insecurity yet still gleamed with excitement for all the unknowns that lay ahead.
“Well, I hope my translating services were satisfactory?”
“More than satisfactory,” Tessa said. “If I ever become the ambassador to France, you’re my go-to guy.”
He smiled, then began to slip his arms into his vintage trench. When he rose to his feet, Tessa did, too. She followed him up the aisle, continuing the conversation.
“So how did you learn to speak French so well?” she asked.
“I didn’t really have a choice,” he said. “My dad’s a professor of linguistics. When I was born, he started developing a new way to teach foreign languages, and I was his lab rat. By the time I was twelve, he had me fluent in French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian.”
“You can’t be serious. Do you ever get them mixed up?”
“Only when I dream. My dreams are totally chaotic. Someone will ask me a question in Spanish, but I’ll answer them in French, and then they’ll respond in Italian. Seriously, I kinda feel bad for my subconscious. Dreams are hard enough to figure out as it is—imagine if everyone in yours was speaking a different language.”
By now, they had passed through the lobby and made it outside. Tessa loved emerging from a movie theater into the bright light of day. It felt like she had spent the past few hours secretly hiding out from reality. In front of them, Ventnor Avenue had finally awakened. The streets had been plowed, and cars were delicately navigating the icy pavement.
“That’s some pretty old gear you’ve got there.” The boy was now looking at Tessa’s camera, which was slung around her shoulder. “You don’t shoot digital?”
Tessa shook her head. “I get a much higher dynamic range on film. Plus, I’m addicted to the smell of the developing chemicals. The fumes make me delirious.”
“Kind of like what your eyes are doing to me right now.”
Her heart fluttered. Had he just said what she thought he had? The answer came when his face turned red with embarrassment.
“Crap,” he said. “That came out way cheesy.”
“No,” she insisted but then decided to rib him. “Well, maybe a little bit?”
“I swear, it sounded perfect in my head.”
“In that case, let me imagine that version.…” Tessa shut her eyes, took a few deep breaths for dramatic effect, then popped them open.
“Still bad?” he asked.
They both laughed. Behind them, Sherman had returned to the ticket booth and was staring at them. This private little moment was no longer just theirs.
“Well, I should probably, you know—” He raised his thumb and pointed over his shoulder, indicating it was time to go.
“Yeah. Me too,” Tessa said quickly. She immediately worried her response was too eager, an obvious attempt to disguise her disappointment.
“Thanks for letting me whisper into your ear for three hours.”
With that, the tall boy with the greenest eyes Tessa had ever seen waved goodbye. She watched him head down the sidewalk, making tracks in the snow. Each step he took away from her made something inside Tessa fade a little bit—like a candle’s flame getting dimmer and dimmer until all that was left was a curly wisp of smoke.
She was surprised to see him poking his head out from behind the corner store at the end of the block.
“My name. It’s Skylar.”
“Maybe I’ll see you here again?”
“Yeah. I mean… I’d like that,” Tessa said.
And then he was gone.
Tessa stood in place for a few moments, attempting to process the rush of emotions she felt. Euphoria came first, a lightness that traveled through her body and threatened to lift her off the sidewalk. But this wonderful feeling was quickly undermined by a familiar sense of self-doubt. Did I say the right thing? Did I look okay? Did he really like me or was he just being friendly?
At that moment, Tessa felt an unconscious absence around her body. Her jacket. She’d been so consumed by this wonderful stranger, she’d left it back in the theater.
Inside, Tessa found her puffer and moved back up the aisle. But something caught the corner of her eye. It was under the seat Skylar had first taken before he sat next to her. She walked down the row, kneeled, and slipped her hand into the shadow beneath the seat. Her fingers took hold of something and pulled it out. When it hit the light, she wasn’t surprised at all. She now realized that the universe had wanted her and Skylar to meet that day. It had failed the first time, that morning on the beach, but had succeeded the second.
Because lying in the palm of Tessa’s hand was an orange baseball cap.
SHANNON YEO MAY HAVE BEEN THE LEAST-EXCEPTIONAL JUNIOR attending Atlantic City High School. In no particular order, she was obsessed with: her hair, wearing the trendiest clothes, masturbation jokes, memorizing the lyrics to Drake songs, finding the perfect face moisturizer, the secret ingredient to her favorite low-fat cupcake (was it really chalk?), and spending Saturday nights with drunken jocks in the hope that one of them would make a move on her before he barfed himself unconscious.
For all these reasons and more, Shannon should have been the last person on earth who Tessa would have enjoyed hanging out with. But in a sublime display of cosmic ridiculousness, Shannon had been Tessa’s best friend since they were twelve years old.
Shannon had arrived in Margate in the middle of the school year, transplanted by her parents from South Korea. Her father, a renowned plastic surgeon, had made a clear statement when he purchased the most expensive house on Bayshore Drive—then razed it to make room for an even bigger monstrosity.
On Shannon’s first morning in her new middle school, she had taken the empty desk next to Tessa and immediately behaved as though they’d been best friends forever. “I’m Shannon,” she’d said, her eyebrows arched like crescent moons. “I’d like to apologize now for talking too much. It’s an issue I’m working on.”
True to her warning, from that moment on, Shannon’s mouth never stopped moving. It was like her voice box was powered by nuclear fuel. And it wasn’t just during class that she subjected Tessa to her opinions on all things mundane. There was lunchtime. Bathroom breaks. The bus ride to and from school. Even on weekends, Shannon showed up unannounced at Tessa’s foster homes for playdates. But the truth was, Shannon didn’t need to work so hard. She was Tessa’s only friend.
Tessa tried to build up the nerve to explain to Shannon that she wanted to be alone, that she actually preferred to be alone. But she could never manage the words. Too many times in her own life, Tessa had felt the sting of rejection. She’d rather dissolve in acid than inflict on others what she herself had endured.
But then, as the two girls grew up together, something miraculous happened. Through sheer grit and determination, Shannon had turned them into inseparable best friends. True, they still didn’t have much in common. Shannon shopped in boutiques with pretentious names; Tessa bought everything in musty thrift shops. Shannon yearned to be noticed; Tessa was desperate to evaporate. Shannon dragged Tessa to nail salons; Tessa took Shannon to obscure art exhibits. It was a match made in opposites heaven. But when the shit hit the fan, did it matter if your bestie preferred Nicholas Sparks to Maya Angelou? What mattered most was loyalty. Someone you could count on. Someone who’d never leave you high and dry.
Maybe that was why the moment Tessa emerged from the theater holding the orange baseball hat, her feet took her to the place they knew she needed to be: Shannon’s house.
When the front door swung open, Tessa was met by Shannon’s mother, whose face was always pinched in a state of concern.
“You look blue, Tessa. Where are your snow boots?” she asked.
“I really need to see Shannon, is she home?”
“I’m afraid she’s sick. Some kind of infection in her throat.”
“Jesus, Mom, I’m fine!”
Tessa glanced up the stairs and saw her best friend in faded sweats, looking dehydrated and pasty.
“A radiant, swoon-worthy ghost story, combined with an empowering story of a young woman finding her creative voice. I absolutely loved this book.”
—Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, author of Trinkets and screenwriter of 10 Things I Hate About You and Legally Blonde
“An original take on the personal nature of grief and a strong choice where YA romances are popular.”
- On Sale
- Jun 1, 2021
- Page Count
- 304 pages