This is a snippet from my latest project. The story revolves around mental health, anxiety, and panic attacks -- subject matter that is close to my heart. The characters are reminiscent of people I knew in my youth and still know to this day, and there are moments in the romantic relationship that mirror my own experiences. Needless to say, this story means a lot to me.
Generation Z, the generation that comes after mine, is full of young people who are more self-aware than I could ever hope to be. With the unique stresses of the past 20 years, it seems today's kids were born to be anxious. I not only empathize with their struggles and worries, but I share a lot of them. And according to readers and writers I've spoken with, there needs to be more mental health representation not only in YA, but in diverse literature.
So, here I present to you... all of the above. Sebastian is Latino. Ally is black. Sebastian struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. Ally has a few secret struggles of her own. They're seniors in high school, and when they meet, their love is cosmic and passionate star-crossed. Are Sebastian's feelings for her worth more than his own mental health? He'll have to choose. Or will he?
This is the story I completed in 21 days, so it of course has been heavily edited. Still, I haven't been so passionate about anything I've written in a long, long time.
So enjoy (or maybe be stressed out by?) this moment between Sebastian and Ally. I promise there is more to come, especially as I wait for feedback from one specific literary agent ***insert nail-biting emoji here, yeesh***
She walked up to him slowly, clutching her shoulder bag to her chest. “It’s late,” she said. “You showed up anyway. You must really want to talk.”
He blew out a sharp sound. “I -- yeah, Ally. I’ve been trying to talk.”
“Well, I wasn’t ready,” she said. She was trying so hard to appear unphased by his presence, it was kind of sad. The incident was still far too raw for her to convince him of that. It was probably one of the many reasons she’d been avoiding him.
“I know. That’s why I left you alone, but --” he took a small step forward, but her head cocked in warning and he dropped his shoulders. “We’re graduating in the morning. All I need is a minute.”
She stared at him for a moment, her expression growing incredulous, then she closed the space between them and dropped her bag down on the pavement.
“No. You give me a minute.”
His mouth snapped shut.
“You’re leaving. You’re going to be gone soon.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, “I know.”
“And you always intended to leave, this whole time. The whole time with me, you were planning to leave.”
“Not the whole time.”
“Don’t.” She put a finger up. “Don’t do that. You never intended to stay, and now it’s almost time for you to leave.”
“It’s not that simple anymore.”
“It’s very simple, actually.” Her expression was tense, daring him to lie again. “You have two choices: stay or go. And your plan the whole time, since you got here, was to go.”
“‘Was.’ Past tense.”
“You still have a choice. Why would you choose me?”
“Why would you choose me when you already have your life figured out?” she asked, cutting him off, paralyzing him. “Why?”
“Because --” His eyes searched the parking lot for help, any way to get what he was feeling through to her. “Because I fell in love with you while I was here.”
Ally dropped her head, shook it. “Don’t say that,” she whimpered.
“Don’t say it.”
“It’s true. And you don’t want me to say it because you fell in love with me too, didn’t you? Didn’t you?”
She kept shaking her head, her eyes welling with tears.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not telling you what was going on. I was wrong, but I’m trying to make it right here.” Sebastian took a deep, shaky breath, and ran both his hands over his hair from forehead to nape.
“I don’t want to fight. That’s the last thing I want, okay? I don’t want to hurt you, and I’m not trying to make you sad.”
“I’m not sad. I’m angry,” she snapped -- first her voice, then her head. “I’m angry because I always get what I want. And I haven’t given a damn about most of it. From the time I was a kid until now, I’ve just been messing around, seeing what I could get away with.” She clenched her jaw so hard it pulsed, her teeth audibly grinding.
“I don’t care about Chapel Hill, Sebastian! It’s a good school, and it’s an amazing opportunity, and it’s the complete opposite of what I want. I’m going there because it makes my mom proud and my family proud, and because I’ve been working towards a school like that my whole life, but I want something else. I want more. I want different. I want out of North Carolina.”
Sebastian stared at her.
“You… you are different. You are more. And now… the one time I really want -- the one thing I--” The words tangled in her throat, choking her up. She stopped and inhaled, collecting herself.
“I played too much,” she said, her voice even again, “and the Universe got me back. I’m not going to get what I want now, because you’re leaving. So. We both know it’s the better thing to just… stop.”
“Stop, like…?” His heart pounded. “What are you saying?”
“Stop this. Stop talking. Stop going forward. Cut the ties so you can go back, like you wanted. So I can stop feeling like this.”
“But you’re not even -- Ally, it’s too late for that, and you know it.”
She threw her head back and studied at the edgeless black above them, the few stars visible beyond all the city light.
“What if there was something we could do?” Sebastian asked.
She snorted. “Like what?”
“I don’t know!” he raised his voice, frantic, making her jump. “Why don’t you try figuring it out with me instead of just… throwing me away?”
His voice broke on the last part, betraying everything he’d tried to hold in so he wouldn’t lose control of the situation and lose her to emotion.
They stood there for a long time, Sebastian’s eyes begging silently in a way he could never put into words. Ally’s face morphed between anguish, anger, sadness, unsureness. Her face was a war. Whatever she’d been plied with that night most certainly added to the confusion, her true feelings overridden by -- or maybe just competing with -- her feelings of betrayal. Their nonverbal conversation was intense, but in the end Sebastian felt it all slipping away, felt her choosing no.
“We both know what direction we’re going in already,” she said finally, her voice raw like she hadn’t spoken in days. “If we try to push things off track, it’s going to hurt more in the end.”
His face twisted. “Sounds like you think there’s going to be an end either way.”
She shook her head. “I hate lies. I hate them. I can’t handle knowing this is what we had the whole time.”
“It’s not,” he said. He wanted to sound how he felt -- he wanted the words to burst out of him, wanted to scream them at her. But in the end, he just sounded defeated. Pitiful, even.
“I don’t want to make it worse. I want to have something happy left when I think about this year, about you. So that’s how I’m going to do it.”
You’re running. He would never say it out loud, but Juju had been right. He saw the fear all over her face.
“I don’t think I could do a long-distance relationship anyway,” she said. “Maybe I could have considered it, if I’d been given the chance a long time ago, but it’s too late for that now.”
He put his head down. “I know.”
She waited until she could see his face again before she spoke. “Good luck, Sebastian.”
His face grew hot as he watched her pick up her bag. She gave him one last, long look, like she was trying to commit him to memory. Then she turned and walked to her building.
He stood there until it made the least amount of sense to still be standing there, and then he got into the car, turned it on, pulled away. The whole time, from the moment she turned away to the moment he got into his bed, he tried to think of ways he could have told her to make them work. He hadn’t come up with much.
His last thought, turning off his lights and closing his eyes, was the only solution he would have felt sensible giving her: Try. Try.
It wouldn’t have been enough for her, but he hated knowing he hadn’t said it anyway, and that he would never get to.