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All Alone with You



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About The Book

Hacks gets a romantic twist in the vein of Jenn Bennett in this “simmering” (Publishers Weekly) novel about a standoffish teen girl whose loner status gets challenged by a dynamic elderly woman and a perpetually cheerful boy.

Eloise Deane is the worst and doesn’t care who knows it. She’s grumpy, prefers to be alone, and is just slogging through senior year with one goal: get accepted to USC and move to California. So when her guidance counselor drops the bombshell that to score a scholarship she’ll desperately need, her applications require volunteer hours, Eloise is up for the challenge. Until she’s paired with LifeCare, a volunteer agency that offers social support to lonely seniors through phone calls and visits. Basically, it’s a total nightmare for Eloise’s anxiety.

Eloise realizes she’s made a huge mistake—especially when she’s paired with Austin, the fellow volunteer who’s the sunshine to her cloudy day. But as Eloise and Austin work together to keep Marianne Landis—the mysterious former frontwoman of the 1970s band the Laundromats—company, something strange happens. Eloise actually…likes Marianne and Austin? She isn’t sure what to do with that, especially when her feelings toward Austin begin to blur into more-than-friends territory.

And when ex-girlfriends, long-buried wounds, and insecurities reappear, Eloise will have a choice to make: go all in with Marianne and Austin or get out before she gets hurt.


Chapter One

This loneliness will cease in a heartbeat All my mistakes turned us bittersweet

—The Laundromats, “Aftertaste” (1981)

Senior year was always destined to be a dumpster fire, but today takes it to a whole new level.

I frown at the pamphlet and handout my guidance counselor, Ms. Holiday, slides across the desk. The pamphlet is for some retirement home; the glossy trifold shows an elderly woman sitting alone in a rocking chair, staring forlornly out a window. I shift the pamphlet aside and pick up the handout.

“You really think community service”—I don’t bother hiding the derision in my voice—“will help my application stand out?” I stare at the handout so intently, I’m amazed it doesn’t burst into flames.

“For the scholarships? Yes, I do.” Since it’s the first week of school, Ms. Holiday looks frazzled as hell. Her ponytail is sliding down the side of her head, and no fewer than five mini cans of Dr Pepper clutter her desk. And this is the woman in charge of my academic future. “Your grades and test scores are fantastic. You have a great shot. But everyone applying to USC—both for freshman year and for scholarships—has equally good numbers. The rep I spoke with over the summer emphasized community involvement, especially for scholarship applicants.”

My dentist keeps warning me about bruxism, but I grind my molars anyway. For the last three years, I’ve had one goal: getting into the University of Southern California. Until last month, I was intent on laser-focusing on my fall grades, playing video games in my spare time, and senioritis-ing my way to graduation once that acceptance pinged my inbox. Then Dad lost his job.

Now it’s either loan city or scoring a scholarship if I have any chance at affording a private, out-of-state college like USC.

“And there aren’t any scholarships based on academic achievement?” I scan the handout Ms. Holiday put together for a second time. As if there’s some secret code, a solution to my problems, to unlock.

But the handout is just a summary of what I’ve done so far for my college apps, and what needs to be done before now and the end of November. SAT and ACT scores: 1520 and 33, respectively. My current GPA: 4.1. Class rank: second—but watch out, Mindy Channing, I’m coming for valedictorian. Extracurriculars: Computer Science Club Secretary. But the black hole on this sheet of paper is the space beside Community Service.

“Academic achievement doesn’t cut it anymore, Eloise. You know that. If you want the full-ride scholarship, you’re gonna have to round out your application—with something nonacademic.”

I lift my eyes from the handout, my stomach already twisting and turning into little anxiety knots. “How many hours?”

Like most guidance counselors, Ms. Holiday is preppy and cheerful, and most of her office is either pink or covered in glitter. Sometimes both. There’s even one of those kitten-hanging-from-a-branch posters on the wall to my left, which I thought only existed in corny nineties movies. But she doesn’t bother hiding her sigh of annoyance as studies me from the other side of her desk.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ms. Holiday talks about me and my attitude problem in therapy.

“There’s no magic number. Most schools ask for anywhere from fifty to two hundred hours, but USC is looking at more than just metrics. They’re looking for investment and involvement. A true passion for helping your community.”

I frown. Because I might be the least involved student at Evanston High. Or in the Seattle area altogether. I’ve never volunteered a day in my life, I don’t talk to anyone—my fellow peers, bus drivers, baristas, our mail person—if I can help it, and I don’t give a shit about the neighborhood. “So. Like seventy-five hours or…?”

“If numbers are that important to you, Eloise, sure, shoot for seventy-five hours to start. I’m not telling you all this to be a pain in the you-know-what. I’m saying this because you’re smart and any college would be lucky to have you.” She gives me an imploring look, like the bigger her eyes, the easier it’ll be to get through to me. “But sometimes you have to jump through some hoops, especially if you’re looking to land a full ride. They don’t give those out to everyone with a 4.0.”

“4.1,” I correct, and Ms. Holiday’s left eye twitches.

The literal definition of high school is jumping through arbitrary hoops. Grades and tests and placement exams. Numbers that will mean absolutely nothing in a year. But the University of Southern California has been my dream since freshman year, when I built my first computer. Since I fell in love with computers and coding and video games like my favorite MMORPG, Realm of the Ravager. USC has one of the—if not the—best computer science programs in the world for video games. They even offer a BS in Computer Science Games. Why would I go anywhere else?

My parents have stressed, ad nauseam, that they don’t want me taking out loans for college. Especially with a solid school like University of Washington fifteen minutes from our house, in-state tuition included. And I get it—my parents still have outstanding student loans—but USC is my dream. I’ll gladly go into debt until my forties for my dream, but a scholarship would probably be less devastating to my future credit score.

“I really think you’ll love LifeCare,” Ms. Holiday says once she realizes I’m not going to reply, and nudges the pamphlet closer. “It’s a great program—”

“No need for the hard sell, Ms. H.” I shove the paperwork into my overstuffed backpack. “I don’t really have a choice, do I?”

“Ever the pragmatist, Eloise.” She sighs again and types, her glittery fingernails punching at the keyboard. “But yes, LifeCare is your best bet. They’re the only program paired with Evanston that can provide the number of hours you’ll need. The coordinator is named Donna, and she’ll email you about coming in this weekend. Sound okay?”

“Yeah.” I tug the zipper of my backpack shut and lift the bag from the floor. “Can I go?”

“One sec.” Ms. Holiday rests her elbows on the table and props her chin with her hands. “Are you… How’re you doing? Is senior year treating you better than last?”

“Considering it’s been five days, it’s kind of too soon to tell.” I try to keep the snark out of my voice—I know better than to openly antagonize my teachers and administrative staff—and force a smile onto my face to show her that I Am Totally Okay.

The worry on Ms. Holiday’s face eases. “Excellent,” she says with a tentative smile. “Well, don’t let me keep you! I’m here if you have any—”

But I’m already out the door. No offense to Ms. Holiday or anything—she’s nice enough—but I’m low-key panicking. If I want to shoot for seventy-five hours, that’s about six hours a week on top of my AP classes, homework, babysitting my trashball of a little sister, and living my life. And by living my life, I mean playing Realm of the Ravager with my guild during every moment of my free time.

The guidance counselors’ offices are in Evanston High’s creepy sublevel basement, and I begin my ascent up the linoleum-tiled staircase. Panic sweat gathers beneath my armpits and against my lower back, causing the fabric of my skull-patterned button-down to cling to me. Gross.

Since Ms. Holiday sent me a note to meet her right after my sixth and final period, the hallways are nearly empty. Evanston High is three stories—four, counting the probably haunted administration basement—with brick and ivy and stained-glass windows. The kind of high school you see in movies and teen dramas. I used to love Evanston. But lately, its halls just fill me with an unshakable sense of dread.

Most things do, honestly.

I cross the hallway and push open one of the heavy double doors leading outside. We’re less than a month away from fall, and the maple trees lining the cobblestone pathway to the street hint at their turn, green leaves dulling in brightness, rusting around the edges. Even though I’m dying to move south, I’ll miss the weather. Especially fall. The turning of the leaves and maple lattes and how the city comes alive once summer comes to an end.

The breeze feels good against my bare arms as I hop down the stairs, and I try to calm myself with each step. Seventy-five hours isn’t unrealistic. Totally doable. And working in a retirement home probably will consist of handing out Jell-O cups and calling bingo. I ignore Ms. Holiday’s note about passion and investment. If I have the hours, the scholarship committees won’t know the difference.

The street that runs in front of Evanston has bumper-to-bumper traffic since the elementary school is down the road, and I hit the crosswalk button with my elbow. Seattle drivers are notoriously passive-aggressive. Meaning they’ll go out of their way to break traffic laws in the name of being nice, which inevitably causes traffic jams, which then causes people to lay on their horns or run red lights. It’s chaos.

As I wait, I dig out my headphones from the side pocket on my backpack. They pair to my phone, and I pop them on, but not before noticing the car to my left, stuck in the long line of traffic. It’s just a navy Camry, but I’d recognize that dented bumper anywhere.

I can only see the back of their heads. But the sight of Lydie’s sleek black bob and Jordan’s sporty blond ponytail is enough to make my stomach sour. When the crossing light turns, I dash to the other side of the street, taking short, quick steps—even though I want to break out into an asthma-attack-inducing run—until I’m out of view. I shouldn’t care if they see me, walking home all by myself on the first Friday of senior year. And I don’t care. But that doesn’t mean I want to make accidental eye contact or anything.

I hit play on one of my newest playlists, full of loud, angry perfection, as I head home. We live between Greenwood and Ballard, in an old neighborhood with equally old houses. Although half have been remodeled into weirdly vertical, modern town houses. Nothing is uglier than a house built in 1920 beside an all-angles town house with solar panels, but here we are.

The more distance I get from Evanston High, the calmer I become. The vague nausea in my stomach fades, although it’s not completely gone. My psychiatrist said this is because of my anxiety disorder—you have a ton of neurons in your gut, releasing all sorts of neurotransmitters. While my depression has become my most debilitating disorder, the anxiety is the most constant. A low-level hum in the background of my everyday life.

When I reach my house, I’m relieved to find the driveway empty. Since our house was built in the early 1900s, our garage is better suited for tiny cars and horse-drawn carriages—not my mom’s massive minivan. And my dad bikes everywhere. Everywhere. He wears those gross spandex shorts and everything. After he lost his job, Dad made biking his life. Mom jokes that it’s a midlife crisis, but there’s a nugget of truth at the core.

No car in the driveway or bike locked to the porch railing means no one’s home to ask if I sat with anyone at lunch today or what my weekend plans are.

I dig my keys out of my backpack and let myself inside.

“Hello?” I call out, just to be sure, and no one answers.

I kick off my Doc Martens before I drift into the kitchen, fill up a mug with cold leftover coffee from this morning, and grab a protein bar. Then I head to the basement.

My room used to be upstairs, next to my parents’, but when my mom had my sister, they turned my bedroom into a nursery and banished me belowground. Just kidding. Sort of.

Mom and Dad handled the situation well—considering Ana was an accident, a fact I can’t wait to rub in her face when she’s older—and made sure I found my banishment fun and exciting. We remodeled the old office space into my bedroom, decorated it and everything. Now, at seventeen, I’m glad I don’t share a bedroom wall with my parents.

I set my snacks beside my computer and dump my backpack onto the floor.

The room isn’t large by any means—it’s narrow and the ceiling is six inches shorter than it is in the rest of the house, for no reason whatsoever. My double-sized bed is tucked into one corner beneath the egress window, and the dark-blue walls are covered in one-of-a-kind prints for my favorite video games and movies that I found on Etsy. And the love of my life sits before me: my computer.

I boot up the tower, turn on my display, and then sink into the cushion of my gaming chair. Log in to Monsoon—the gaming client for Realm of the Ravager—and wait as it updates. RotR is my go-to whenever life becomes too much—and let’s face it, senior year is off to a shitty start. Plus it’s Friday, and I’ve earned endless hours of gaming.

When I’m focused on leveling my rogue, I don’t have to think about going to LifeCare this weekend. I don’t have to think about Lydie and Jordan, best friends forever. I don’t have to think about anything. Because that’s the beauty of video games. You can slip into a different world. You can become someone else. You can be a hero—or a villain.

I even have some friends on RotR. No one I know in real life, but people in Unarmed Rage, my guild, who I play with several times a week. Online, I’m less awkward. Online, I have control over who I interact with, and I always have an escape route. Unlike in real life.

Needless to say, I prefer my virtual life over my current reality.

That’ll change next year, though.

Come next August, I’ll pack my bags for Los Angeles and never look back.

About The Author

Photo by Sarah Deragon

Amelia Diane Coombs is the author of Keep My Heart in San FranciscoBetween You, Me, and the HoneybeesExactly Where You Need to Be; and All Alone with You. She’s a northern California transplant living in Seattle, Washington, with her spouse and their Siberian cat. When she isn’t writing or reading, Amelia spends her time playing video and tabletop games, road-tripping, and hiking the Pacific Northwest.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (July 25, 2023)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534493575
  • Grades: 9 and up
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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"A delightfully compelling coming-of-age romance."

– Kirkus Reviews 

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