It’s time to feed your e-reader with this adorable romance, for only $1.99! Today marks the book birthday for THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z by Natalie Blitt – the perfect on-the-go read for fans of Stephanie Perkins of Jenny Han! Remember a few months ago when we asked you guys to vote on the cover? Well now the book is here and it’s only $1.99––and no, that’s not a low price promotion, that’s the full, forever price of this e-only novel!
About the book: Seventeen-year-old Abby has only one goal for her summer: to make sure she is fluent in French—well, that, and to get as far away from baseball and her Cubs-obsessed family as possible. A summer of culture and language, with no sports in sight. That turns out to be impossible, though, because her French partner is the exact kind of boy she was hoping to avoid. Eight weeks. 120 hours of class. 80 hours of conversation practice with someone who seems to wear baseball caps and jerseys every day. But Zeke in French is a different person than Zeke in English. And Abby can’t help but fall for him, hard. As Abby begins to suspect that Zeke is hiding something, she has to decide if bridging the gap between who she is and who he is is worth the risk.
To give you a taste of what lies ahead in this digital original novel, we’re giving you the first chapter for free! Go ahead and start reading, book nerds!
IT STARTS WHEN JED MAKES the final turn off I-495. My legs shake, my stomach turns, and there doesn’t seem to be enough oxygen in the minivan. No, scratch that. There’s clearly not enough oxygen. It’s probably because the stupid minivan is so damn old.
“Stop.” Jed’s eyes don’t leave the road.
My whole body is bouncing, just tiny movements but enough that I debate telling Jed to pull over. Just a bit of air. That’s all I need. Fresh air to replace the recycled air I’ve been breathing for the last three days.
“Do you want me to pull over?” “No.”
“Are you going to be sick?” “No,” I croak.
My brother turns briefly to check my face, but I know his tricks so I copy his movement, rotating to look out the window. If his eyes meet mine, he’ll know how terrified I am.
He could always tell. Back when he’d coach my little league team, I’d be up on the mound, breathing unevenly, trying to silently talk myself into not freaking out. Perfect games don’t matter, he’d say, his knees bent so he could find my eyes under the brim of my baseball cap. He said once he could tell by the way my blinks slowed, like I was using the movement of my eyes to quiet my breathing. It’s a good thing you don’t play poker, he’d laugh. Your anxiety is written all over your face. I know right now he’s concerned. I know he’s just trying to help. But if we can just get to Merritt, get me on campus, I’ll be able to breathe. It’s hard to believe I’m almost there.
We’re stopped at a red light and he turns to look at me head on. “Abby, you’ll be great. You’ll learn all the things you want to learn and totally geek out on . . .” He pauses for effect and bites the corner of his lip. “Italian?”
I roll my eyes.
“Stop playing with her, Jed.” Simon speaks up from the backseat, a yawn distorting his words. “You know how irritated she gets. It’s Mandarin she wants to learn.”
And then they’re both laughing. Jed who’s twenty-eight and Si who’s twenty-five, guffawing like a couple of cartoon characters.
I know they’re teasing. But still, my anxiety has now been replaced by a singular thought. My need to get to Merritt, New Hampshire, to Huntington University, is all I focus on for the next hour. At Huntington, I’ll spend the next eight weeks geeking out in French, proving my fluency, and securing my exit route in the process: my ticket to France.
Exit ticket, I remind myself over and over again. Billet de sortie.
There’s silence in the car when we pull up to the Ballentine dorm, my new home away from home.
A sense of calm finally takes over.
“Cubs win?” Si asks, slipping on his ball cap and rolling his head to get rid of the kinks. He slides his white sneakers on, easy to do with the laces always open, and unclicks his belt.
I count to ten. In French. And then to twenty. And then from there I skip by tens to trente, quarante, cinquante, and then I slow down again for the bizarre ones. Like seventy, which doesn’t have its own unique number; instead it’s just referred to as soixante-dix, as though counting went from sixty-nine to sixty-ten to sixty-eleven. And then up to eighty, which is quatre-vingt, four twenties, and then four-twenty-one and then—
“She’s an expert at tuning you out.” Jed’s voice interrupts my review session just as I’m about to get to quatre–vingt–dix– sept, or four-twenty-ten-seven, also known as ninety-seven. “Maybe I should just turn on another baseball game.” Si shrugs, but I turn and give him the evil eye because I’ve lost count and suddenly I can’t remember the larger numbers. Cent is one hundred, but what about a thousand? There’s million and mille and milliard and I can’t for the life of me remember which order they go in.
Because once again we’re talking about baseball.
That’s why I needed to get out of Chicago. That’s why I couldn’t just study French at Northwestern or at the Alliance Française.
Because all my family talks about is baseball. Baseball and whether the Cubs have a chance at the World Series this year. Or really, how they don’t. But how if they just . . .
I’m in a family made up entirely of armchair quarterbacks.
It makes my blood boil. It makes me feel like I shouldn’t be held responsible for my actions.
It’s a problem because, as my grandmother used to say, the thing with justifiable homicide is that even if it’s justifiable, it’s still homicide. Mind you, when she said that she was screaming at my Grandpa Adam when he threatened to take a hit out on the fan who attempted to catch a foul ball and wound up deflecting it out of Alou’s mitt, thereby “ruining” the Cubs’s 2003 attempt to win the National League Championship. In our house, you don’t even say the name Steve Bartman as a joke. It’s still too soon.
“Did Rodriguez homer?” Si asks. I don’t even growl at the conversation anymore. I don’t think they’d hear me if I did.
Jed gives Si a play-by-play of the game, the litany of missed opportunities and bad plays, as I try to tune them out.
Try. As in, unsuccessfully.
Jed shakes his head, and Si sighs. “They’re playing a doubleheader,” Jed adds, refocusing the conversation on “happier” topics, “so if we can get Abby moved in quickly, we can probably find a sports bar where we can catch the second game against the Red Sox.”
And because it’s been three days of baseball talk, three days during which I have asked—no, begged—them to not subject me to it, I finally lose it.
I agreed to let them stop to watch two live games during the three-day drive from Chicago to Merritt. Two. It was sup- posed to be in exchange for three days of no baseball talk. No baseball talk and no games on the radio. That lasted until we hit the Skyway into Indiana and then they just needed to check the score. And then they just needed to hear the next play, and then check . . .
I didn’t take the Cubs paraphernalia off our car as I’d threatened to do before we left: the fourteen different bumper stickers, the fake baseball that appears to have been “smashed” into the rear window, and the giant Cubs decal that covers most of the hood. Not to mention the Cubs flags waving out of each window—yes, all four—in rain or shine, sleet or snow.
The truth is, I don’t really blame my brothers. They were raised this way.
I blame my parents.
I blame my grandparents and their parents before them. My great-grandparents, who I bet got off the boat at Ellis Island, took the train to Chicago, and stood in line for season tickets for the Cubs.
I am the lone sane person in my family, going back generations.
“Is there any chance we can get me moved in without talking about baseball?” I spit out.
I keep telling myself that it was generous of my brothers to drive me out here. Generous, and it shows they care. And that they love me. And—
“Of course.” Jed smiles, attempting to placate me.
“Just tell me what time the second game starts?” Si calls to the front, pulling off his sweatshirt.
“I think we have half an hour or so.”
“Got it. We can probably do this fast,” Si says. That’s when the little mini tornado of rage inside me turns epic. I swing open the car door, ready to grab my stuff and dump it on the lawn, to move it up to my room alone, piece by piece.
Which is when he shows up. The tall guy in the backward cap, blond curls peeking out from under the rim, thick brown plastic glasses awkwardly perched on his nose. From the corner of my eye, I see him glance over our decked-out minivan, license plate CUB5 FAN, and he smiles and says:
“Great play by Martinez in the bottom of the fourth.” And I can’t help myself.
In my defense, it’s hard for me to deal with my family’s Cubs/baseball obsession at the best of times. But right now? After three days of nonstop talk of baseball statistics, baseball recaps, classic baseball plays, baseball jokes, and baseball trivia? After three days of my brothers’ half-assed explanations why “This is going to be the Cubbies’s year!”? This is not the best of times.
“Eff off,” I shout.
Hello, first impression.
By the time my brothers leave me in my dorm room with five minutes to spare before the second game, my head is ready to explode. There was a time that I wasn’t sure that I could do eight weeks away from home, but after this trip, I’m not sure I’ll be able to go back. I love my family, but there’s only so long you can feel like the foundling child before you crack.
And apparently, this car trip was my breaking point.
I scan the small dorm room, the empty white walls, the unadorned dresser and closet, the bare desk. As I empty my duffel and fold my clothes, I take deep breaths, quietly arranging the space. My space. My time here. My place where what I love is perfectly acceptable. Where I’m not constantly reminded how different I am from everyone else in my family.
I flop onto my newly made bed. The sheets smell like home, like the jasmine laundry detergent my mom favors only for washing sheets and towels, the small girly indulgence she allows herself in a house filled with boys. I still need to put up my posters of France, and the pictures I downloaded of the school in Paris where I want to spend my last semester of high school, the motivation behind this summer college program for rising seniors. If I can prove that I’m truly fluent in French, I’ll be accepted to the Paris School, which in turn will make it easier for me to get into a French university. And everything will unfurl from there. I’ll make my home in a city that prizes culture over everything else. Culture over sports. Or at least, I’ll get four and a half years of all things French. At minimum.
I know this summer won’t be perfect. I know that it’s entirely possible that my roommate is here for an easy A in Introduction to Family Dynamics or Astronomy for Arts Students. Or she’s meek and mousy and will annoy me by going to bed at nine, and have a row of colored highlighters lined up on her desk. It may be that she’s just as gum snap- ping, hair swishing, athlete loving, and makeup obsessed as everyone else is at Wilmette Academy. I know that.
But still I hope. I hope and I hope and I hope. I hope until I fall asleep.
I awake to a pounding on the door. “Dorm meeting in five!” Merde. My room is dark and the bed across from mine is still empty. Yawning, I glance at the clock. The shouting voice outside is right. It’s five to five, which means I’ve been asleep for more than two hours.
I wipe the sleep from my eyes as I jump out of bed. Four minutes. I hate being late. Dragging my fingers through my tangled curls, I slip on my flip-flops and stretch out my limbs. I don’t have enough time to find my toothbrush and the bathroom, so I opt for gum. Three pieces, killer minty. Good in a pinch.
One more yawn and then I force myself out my dorm room door and follow the hordes.
Scanning the rapidly filling common room, I find a small opening on the floor against the wall, a great perch for people watching. The only reason my mom agreed to this was that while I’d be taking classes with college students, our dorm is limited to high school students with residential advisors to look after us. I would have been perfectly fine with living with college students. But maybe it’s not so bad that we’re all the same age here, and that there appears to be a pretty neat distribution between the sexes. For the first time in a long time, I’m in a room where nobody is wearing a Cubs T-shirt. And that fact alone makes me smile.
“Mind if I sit here?”
I scoot to the right, making room as what appears to be a very large boy body slides down the wall to sit next to me. At first all I see are his well-worn red Chucks, unlaced, and his muscled legs as they fold themselves into a cross-legged position, his knee swiping mine.
I love Chucks.
I love Chucks unadorned, none of those foofy colors, plaids and stripes and patterns. I like pure, simple Chucks.
Boys who wear red Chucks? My kind of boys.
“Zeke Martin,” the boy says, sticking a remarkably large right hand in front of me.
It’s only then that I glance up and see the cap, the hair, the glasses, the easy smile. The boy from outside. The boy who mentioned Martinez’s play.
Merde. If he follows baseball enough to reference yesterday’s Cubs game, he’s into sports. And Chucks wearing or not, I’m not looking for a guy who’s into sports. My life is already filled with them.
“Abby Berman,” I mumble, figuring the odds are slim he’ll even remember our encounter. He looks like a golden boy with an easy tan, pale blue eyes, and the faintest evidence of scruff on his cheeks. He’s probably already hung out with half a dozen girls who are far more memorable than me in the last hour. I slip my hand into his giant paw.
“Cubs fan, right?” he asks.
Clearly the odds are not in my favor.
“Sorry, sorry!” He laughs at my reaction, dropping my hand and putting his hands up, like don’t shoot. Very funny. I’m about to open my mouth for a good retort when a voice booms through the room. “C’mon, guys, give Taylor your attention!”
The bellow comes from another giant with a baseball hat standing in front of the windows, remarkably similar to my boy. Not mine. The one beside me. The one who’s thankfully turned to listen dutifully to the small girl with thick black hair at the front of the room.
“Thanks, Mike,” she says, a lilt in her voice. She smiles and it’s genuine, one of those grins that you can’t help but want to mirror. “I’m Taylor and I’m the head RA for Ballentine. The loud guy behind me is Mike, and on either side of him are Yosh and Amiel. On my other side are Kristy, Ava, and Priya. Boys for the boy floors, girls for the girls . . .”
She laughs and everyone laughs along. Apparently we’re that kind of crowd. But given that I’m doing it too, I’m not judging. Especially since I have these fluttery feelings inside me listening to baseball-cap boy beside me guffaw. Sorry. Zeke. Zeke Martin.
Zeke Martin, who is either from Chicago or is an avid sports fan. Either way, 100 percent not my type. Chucks or not.
“So, we’re going to do a little icebreaker here. Turn to the person beside you, and I want you to find as many things in common with them as you can. The pair with the most in common wins a prize.”
I look to my right but the girl next to me now has her back to my legs, and she’s giggling at a short guy with a purple fauxhawk. Maybe when I shift left, Zeke will already be talking to the person on his other side.
“Nah, I’m going to do it with Abby,” I hear, followed by a female sigh.
Now I have to turn around.
He’s grinning. Front tooth chipped. Twinkling eyes behind fake Clark Kent glasses. “So, tell me all about your- self,” he starts, his body leaning into mine.
It’s at that moment that I realize that despite my rudeness, despite my glare at his Cubs reference, he’s flirting with me.
And while I want to stop time and do a freaking cartwheel because it’s not like this happens to me all the time, I have to remember that he’s an athlete.
He’s an athlete just like Eddie and Ryan and even my seventh-grade short-lived romance with Ben Miller. Apparently I only date people who dream of playing professional ball.
Dated, not date. Because that’s behind me; I’m not going down that road again. Even for a boy who wears perfect Chucks. I’m looking for loner artists with Prince Valiant hair. The ones who will write me poetry. The guy who will weep when we finally make love because it’s just too much.
I have it all planned out.
I take a deep breath and paste a fake smile on my face, and begin Operation Not Interested/Operation Don’t Be Inter- ested in Me.
“Any chance you would rather eat slimy bologna than watch a game of baseball?” I ask, and the grin on his face dims.
“Uh . . . no. I like baseball,” he says, the words coming out like he’s struggling to understand exactly what he’s being asked. And I’m actually disappointed by the frown that takes residence on his forehead. So sorry, frown lines, but I need this.
“Then we don’t have the most important thing in common.” I shrug.
His face falls, either in disappointment or confusion as to why I’d lead with what we don’t have in common.
“We probably have something in common. . . .”
“Where are you from?” I’m giving him a smile that is so plastic I’m a little worried it will stick like this. I’ll give him Chicago, we’ll play a little geography, and I can move on.
“San Diego.” Apparently not.
“I’m from Chicago. Across the country. I’m sure I’m closer to Alaska than I am to you.”
I’m doing a great job of finding all the things we don’t have in common. Our team might not win the dorm game but hopefully I’ll win the game I’ve created.
“Okay. Well, we both have four letters in our names. Unless you’re Abby with an i–e at the end.”
I’m not. His smile is hopeful.
“My name starts with the first letter in the alphabet and yours is the last one.”
His smile falters.
“Well, we each have two consonants and two vowels. And if Abby is short for Abigail, then even our full names have the same number of letters. Seven each.”
I’d dispute whether y is really a vowel but I can’t remember the rule, and I have a bad feeling that not only will he know the rule, but it will be in his favor.
I turn to our last names. Nope. Martin and Berman, same number.
“Yup, six letters,” Zeke quips and winks. It’s the wink that drives me to desperation.
“I’m Jewish,” I blurt out, as though I’m exposing a deep, dark secret, like I have seven toes on one foot.
Based on the sly smile that extends across his face, I can’t believe that I thought I might have won. So before I can answer, I pull out the only thing I can say with certainty we don’t have in common. Though with my luck . . .
“Well, you’re a boy and I’m a girl.”
His eyebrows rise, and I know I’ve lost. Because that was ridiculous, even for me.
I pull in a deep breath. By now he’s probably no longer interested, I can back off of the crazy-lady act. “I’m sorry. I think we might have gotten off on the wrong foot.”
“Was it the comment about the Cu—”
“Don’t say it. If we can stay away from the team that shall not be mentioned, we should be able to make it through the summer.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” He smiles. “I’d hate to have made a mortal enemy on my first day.”
I need to relax before I become known as the freak who despises the Cubs instead of the freak whose family adores the Cubs. I just want a summer without baseball. How hard can that be?
“How about we try this again?” I say, holding out my hand this time. A winner has been declared in the room, with fif- teen similarities between two random students. But I don’t care and neither does Zeke, it seems. I can be friendly with him because there are a hundred other students in this pro- gram. We don’t need to be best friends; we don’t even need to see each other on a regular basis. “I’m Abby Berman. I’m from Chicago, and I’ll be doing the intensive French language program here this summer.”
Zeke’s mouth widens, like a lovely dance between a smile and a laugh. Does he think it’s funny that I’d elect to study French—
“Zeke Martin, from San Diego.” His hand grasps mine and there’s something gentle in the way he holds it. “And I’ll be doing the intensive French language program here this summer.”
I let out a chuckle. “No, this is when you’re supposed to tell me what you’re taking. I’m doing Intensive Intermediate French. It counts for both of my classes.”
His grin doesn’t falter and suddenly the impossible seems like . . . No. What would someone who looks like him care about French?
“Me too. So I guess we’ll be practicing our French together.”
And then, in a move that couldn’t possibly be more clearly designed to make me want to hit him, he gives me an exaggerated wink.
Kill me now.
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