Read a preview of All the Ways to Here, the sequel to my LGBTQ teen novel, Future Leaders of Nowhere, due out in November this year. Finn and Willa return to real life after a month at a future leaders camp, where they learned more than just how to take charge.
In this sequel to Future Leaders of Nowhere, Finn and Willa come home from camp to find everything is different. Even as they grow more sure of their feelings for each other, everything around them feels less certain.
When Finn gets involved in a new community project, she’s forced to question where her priorities lie at school. Meanwhile, her dad has moved interstate, her mother is miserable, and her home feels like a ghost town.
Willa’s discovering how to negotiate the new terrains of romance and school friendships when an accident at home reminds her just how tenuous her family situation is. Suddenly, even with her dad in town, she’s shouldering more responsibility than ever.
As they try to navigate these new worlds together, Finn’s learning she has to figure out what she wants, and Willa how to ask for what she needs.
When the bus swerves into her stop, Willa hauls her bag onto her shoulder and peers through the window.
Finn’s leaned against a brick wall, hunched over her phone. Willa stares, struggling to compute the exquisite knowledge that the girl in the striped school dress, her hair blowing forward in the wind, is waiting for her. Just for her. Because that girl couldn’t wait another two days to see her.
Finn squints into the sun, smiling and clutching a small white take away cup as they meet in the middle of the footpath. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Finn looks different. Maybe it’s seeing her here with the heavy urban grey as backdrop, instead of that strident green of camp. Maybe it’s the demure pinstripe of her school dress and her hair looking like it knows what a brush is. Maybe it’s the hint of eye make up. She’s like the smoother, city version of Finn.
They eye each other for a moment, and then Finn, ever the brave one, folds her into a brief hug. It’s awkwardly platonic, a hug that feels like a lie because it’s pretending they are something they are not.
Willa panics at the strangeness of it all. Like she suddenly can’t find their them-ness. This is exactly what she’s worried about every night, in those lights-out moments when Finn inevitably invades her thoughts. What if they can’t find what they had at camp? What if it can’t be shifted and still hold its form, instead collapsing like a piece of clay being moved before it’s solidified?
“You know,” Finn says. “I usually hate it when people state the obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway: it’s really, really good to see you.”
And that candid smile pulls Willa back from the brink. Because there she is. And here they are.
They stroll the asphalt stretch that splits the cool green centre of the park. Finn checks her watch. “So, by my calculations, we have about fourteen minutes before you have to go get Jack.”
“And how many seconds?”
“Don’t tease. A good stalker always knows these things.”
At the top of the path, they drop their school bags and settle onto a bench. Finn sits cross-legged and holds out her cup. “Want some? No sugar, though.”
The coffee is mind-blowingly strong. Willa flinches and hands it back.
Finn gives her a bashful smile. “Sorry I was all weird and desperate and couldn’t wait to see you.”
Willa laughs and shakes her head.
“Why are you laughing?”
“You shouldn’t be sorry. I wanted to see you, too.” Her face is instantly hot. Why does she have to be so self-conscious?
“Good.” That’s all Finn says as she plucks Willa’s hand out of her lap and weaves their fingers together on the bench.
Willa stares at the sudden cacophony of colour between them. The clash of blue check and purple stripe, the chipped bottle green of the bench. The silvery residue of worn graffiti, Finn’s freshly mulberry nails and her plain ones.
Finn’s smiling at her like it’s a question. Like she’s asking if it’s okay to hold her hand here. Probably because Willa’s the private one. But all Willa knows is that Finn’s holding her hand on a bench in the park and how incredible it feels. It will have to be okay.
A clutch of kids stalks by in her old school uniform. A short squat guy with a straggling effort at a goatee leads, mouthing off about some argument with a teacher as he tosses his bag high in the air and catches it. A pair of girls trail the group, cutting straight through the pond that surrounds the broken fountain, school shoes in hands. As they clamber out, wet footprints ghost their steps. One girl eyes Finn and Willa and mutters something to her friend. She turns and stares, then shrugs.
“I wonder if they’re talking about the fact we’re holding hands, or the fact that we’re in two different school uniforms,” Finn muses.
“Probably the uniforms.” Kids at Willa’s old school hated the Brunswick Hill kids on principle. “An interschool relationship? It’s very Montague and Capulet.”
“So, how is it being back in Gandry’s clutches?”
They talk quickly, making a feast of the minutes. They even talk about the things they’ve already talked about on the phone because it’s different when they’re together. Better. It still stuns Willa how easily talks comes to her when she’s with Finn. She never feels tongue-tied or too earnest like she does with girls at school.
She tells Finn about Riley’s meltdown over some science project about plants last night, and how it just got worse as Willa struggled to explain it simply enough so her sister will get it. “I’ll never be a good teacher.”
Finn tells her how a group of kids at her school got in trouble for making a GIF of the principal shaking his finger at them and putting it at the top of the online school newsletter. “I thought it was genius,” she says.
“No one would dare do anything like that at Gandry.”
“Kids at mine dare, and then get detention for weeks. Hey, is your nan feeling better now?”
“Well, she’s not sick anymore.”
“That’s good.” Finn’s thumb grazes the back of her hand. “Right?”
“Yeah.” Willa doesn’t tell her that the worry’s not gone. That even though Nan’s better, she doesn’t seem completely right. Sometimes Willa catches her stopping and taking long breaths as she works, or sitting in her chair when she’d usually be buzzing around her garden. But Willa doesn’t want to talk about it, because that makes it real. Instead, she focuses on the sooth of Finn’s thumb sliding across her hand.
Finn checks her watch and clicks her tongue. “That went too quickly.”
“Way too quickly.”
“So are we still going to hang out on Friday?” Finn asks as Willa heaves her bag onto her shoulders.
“Do you still want to?” Sometimes she’s scared Finn’s going to change her mind. Going to realise this was all just a dumb camp thing.
“Of course I do. Should we take your brother and sister to the movies, still? Some Disney Pixar whatever?”
“Are you sure?”
“Wait until you meet them.”
“The Willa siblings don’t scare me.”
“They should.” She smiles as Finn turns toward the soccer fields. “Hey, you don’t have to walk me all the way there.”
“Yes I do. My place is on the other side of the park, remember?”
“Of course.” Damn. Because what Willa really means is they should say goodbye here. Because here she can say goodbye properly. If they part ways at the soccer field, she can’t. Not in front of a whole lot of gawking boy children and a brother who knows nothing about Finn.
Finn starts to walk again, but Willa grabs her hand and pulls her back. She kisses her. A whisper of a kiss, really, because she’s too shy to dare anything more. But she can’t not do it, either.
A slow smile spreads over Finn’s face. She plays with Willa’s blazer lapel, pulling her closer. “You look younger in uniform.”
“Well you look girlier in yours. I mean, not to say you don’t look like a girl…” Willa blushes. “I just meant—”
“It’s okay. I know what you mean.” Finn takes hold of her hands and grins. “You kissed me first.”
“I kissed you first.” Willa leans in and does it again, like she means it this time. “And second.”
“Good.” Finn drags her back onto the path. “You’re nearly caught up.”
“Shower and change.” Willa pushes open the front door. “Then we’ll start homework.”
“Okay.” Jack bolts upstairs, his too-big soccer shorts flapping around his knees.
Willa aims straight for the kitchen and the food smell.
Nan’s at the bench, stripping stems of basil, a loaf of bread cooling on a board on top of the stove. “How was school?” she asks, without even looking up.
“Good.” Willa dumps her bag by the dining table and leans over to sniff the loaf. One of her favourite smells. “We could buy bread. They have sourdough at the market.”
“Doesn’t taste the same.”
“I know, but it’s so much work, and y—”
“Hush, or you won’t get any of my cashew pesto. Made with basil from the garden and biodynamic nuts from the market.” Nan tosses a handful of leaves into the food processor and frowns. “Someone should bloody ask those climate change deniers why, if the world isn’t getting any warmer, I have basil thriving in late September.”
Willa smiles and takes a branch. She slowly adds to the pile of green sacrifices. “You should call the papers. Maybe they’ll write about it.”
Nan swats at her with a ravaged stem. “Don’t be smart, my girl.”
Every female under sixty is ‘my girl’ to Nan. A leftover of thirty years of wrangling teenagers into obedience at a country boarding school. It’s always said in this part affectionate, part-remonstrative way, as if Nan expects you’re being naughty and she’s onto you, but she can’t help liking you anyway. And her students must have adored her frowny affection, because they still write letters and send Christmas cards and baby photos.
“Want help with the rest of dinner?”
“Helping like you are now?” Nan gestures at the one stem that Willa’s managed to strip in the time it’s taken Nan to finish the rest of the pile. “I’ll be fine on my own. Anyway, you’ll want to do your homework.”
True. There’s no avoiding the pile of books in her bag. Willa tosses the stalk in the compost bin and heads for them.
“Did you have to stay back? You usually come home and get changed before you pick up Jack.”
“No, I hung out in the park.”
“You don’t just hang out.”
“I do sometimes.” Willa bites down hard on her lip. It’s annoying how well Nan knows her.
Willa traces a crack in the chopping board so she doesn’t have to meet Nan’s eye. “No. With a girl I met at camp.”
When she finally looks up, those grey-blue eyes are on her. Nan nods slowly and turns to run her hands under the tap. “Do you have something to tell me, Willa Brookes?”
“No.” Willa heads for the stairs, as if she suddenly remembered something vital she has to do. Something not-coming-out-to-Nan vital. But before she even reaches her bedroom guilt grabs her by the scruff of the neck and marches her back down the stairs.
In the kitchen, Nan gives her a look. “So you do have something to tell me.”
Willa stares into the sunlight streaming through the back door. “I guess.”
“You met someone at camp?”
“And are you seeing this girl?”
If Willa were Riley, she’d tell Nan no one calls it that any more. But she’s not. She’s Willa. Stilted and weird, and making this as awkward as she possibly can. “Yes.”
Nan pushes a bowl of beans at her. “Right then. You better top and tail those and tell me about her.”
Read a post about what to expect from the story of All the Ways to Here, and why it won’t be a ‘relationships complications’ sequel. HERE
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