To celebrate the release of my first book, I’m going to be posting a new “Behind the Scenes” exclusive about The Next Together daily until September 3rd. You can find them all here, along with extras I’ve released in the past like An Interview with Kate, Locations of The Next Together and more.
I’m releasing the first chapter from the point of view of Matthew Galloway. It’s always been my head-canon that Matthew knows a lot more about reincarnation than he lets on. While Kate is blundering through her double memories and deja vu, thinking she’s going mad, Matt accepted the whole thing years ago. He probably used to have an imaginary friend called Kate when he was a kid (awwwwww).
It had been a long week, full of paperwork and phone calls, but he’d finally managed to transfer over to Biology. It hadn’t taken long being a Chemistry undergraduate – one lecture on organic mechanisms, thirty minutes of an inorganic reflux experiment, and one visit to the nurse with a burn and a cut (on the same hand), to be exact- before he’d realised it wasn’t for him.
His mum hadn’t been impressed, but his brother Tom had taken two gap years because he kept starting and restarting degrees before he settled on computing, so she had no reason to complain. At least he wasn’t changing universities to get away from an ex-girlfriend, like her other offspring.
Matt didn’t even have any ex-girlfriends.
Now he was starting Biology – a week behind everyone else, without any of the textbooks, or any friends, or having studied any Biology for months, or – he took a deep, calming breath. He could do this. He had moved to England for a reason, and he wasn’t going to mess it up by freaking out before his first lab.
It was all going to be fine, and nothing terrible was going to happen – nothing as bad as spilling acid down his labcoat and then catching his sleeve alight on the Bunsen Burner in panic.
Nothing could be as bad as that . . . right?
Except being late . . . which he was.
By the time he’d found the right lab, everyone else had already started working. A tired looking postgraduate demonstrator was sorting pipette fillers, with a disinterest that spoke of poor pay and a distracted mind. Matt walked over and cleared his throat.
“Hi,” he said, when she looked up. “I’ve just changed to Biology. This is my first lab.”
“Right, hey. ” She pulled out a folder from under the stores desk. “Matthew Galloway, right?”
“Here’s your folder. It has instructions for all the experiments for the semester. There’s one a week, and you have to hand in the questions on the pre-lab at the start of each session, as well as your report from the previous week. Does that make sense?”
“Great,” she said, and turned back to her pipettes.
He hovered for a moment, and then cleared his throat once again. “So, where do I work?”
“Oh, right.” She blinked. “I think there’s one kid without a partner. You can work with her.”
He thought about objecting to being part of an age group she called “kids”, but instead followed quietly in her wake. He looked around the lab, trying to predict who he would end up hanging around with for the next three years.
Those indie kids, headphones around their necks and hair in their eyes?
The group of hungover guys in low slung jeans, who were chatting up a couple of disinterested blonde girls?
Or the group of other international students, who had segregated themselves on the far workbench, away from the English?
Matt wondered why they were studying in England rather than their own countries, and whether they had another reason for being here, like himself. If all he had cared about was getting an education, he wasn’t sure it would have been worth it. Why commit to spending three years in a country that was on the brink of war with the rest of the world, just for a university with better ratings? Why not stay at home, where the danger was so much lower?
The postgrad stopped next to a student, and tapped her on the shoulder. The girl turned around, revealing labcoat, goggles, and a mass of red hair. The sight of her pulled Matt out of his thoughts with a rush of adrenaline.
She was . . . incredibly, unnaturally familiar for someone he’d never met before. Suddenly all of the half-remembered dreams that he’d been replaying in his head since he was a kid, playing in the garden with his imaginary friend Kitty, came back in perfect clarity.
She looked just like . . . was she really . . . ?
“Hi,” she said, in a voice that made the hair stand up on his neck. Her gaze passed over to him. Matt tried not to react, and just nodded imperceptibly.
That voice. It was her. It was actually her.
He scanned her face, looking carefully for any sign of recognition. Matt tried desperately to keep his face blank, to not show the shock he was feeling. She was fiddling with something in her pocket, and didn’t’ seem to be perturbed by the sight of him – a sign she probably didn’t know.
She stared at him a little more. He shuffled awkwardly, tried not to act like someone who was hiding a huge, potentially mind-blowing secret.
“Welcome to my lair,” she said. “Make yourself at home.” Her voice sounded strange, like she was maybe a little suspicious. He wondered for a second if she had guessed already, and then realised how impossible that was.
He nodded again and immediately started hating himself intensely. He was going to have to speak eventually. He’d been silent for too long now, she was going to think that he was actually incapable of forming vocal sounds soon.
He opened his mouth to speak, realised his mouth was bone dry and closed it again. He really wanted a beer. He could feel himself sweating. His head hurt. He felt like he was going to pass out.
It was actually her. He had no idea what to do about it.
He dumped his stuff on the lab bench. She was still staring at him. Why did he ever think that he was cut out for this stuff? He couldn’t even lie to his mum about not emptying the dishwasher.
He pulled on his labcoat, trying to ignore the way his hands were trembling slightly. He couldn’t remember ever feeling this nervous, not even during his university interview. She was going to guess something was wrong – there wasn’t any way she couldn’t.
When he turned back around, she was watching him. This time her gaze wasn’t so much bemused as it was . . . hungry. Matt could feel himself blushing, and hated himself even more. He had absolutely no game, and it was obvious.
Oh God, she thought he was a moron, he could tell.
“So, I didn’t actually download a copy of the lab book,” he blurted out, and pushed his tablet – which was clearly and blatantly open to display the lab book – under his bag. “What experiment are we doing today?”
She frowned at him.
He couldn’t blame her.
After an awkward pause when Matt’s whole life flashed before his eyes (she was going to say something, he was sure she was. How could she not know?), she joked, “Cleaning up horse muck, by the look of it.”
She gestured to a group of students gathered around a foul smelling spillage on the floor. He blushed again, smiling weakly at her. He’d been so preoccupied with seeing her, in real life, right in front of him, that he hadn’t even noticed.
“What’s your name?” Matt said, pretending to be calm and collected like he wished he was; like he had absolutely no chance of being.
He nodded like he was absorbing this totally new information. “Matt,” he replied. “Matt Galloway.”
“Hi, Matt, nice to meet you. Welcome to Biology, etc., etc,” she continued. “I know you from somewhere. Have we met before?”
His heart jumped. She remembered. Or, at least a tiny part of her did, somewhere in her subconscious.
She smiled at him, strained and awkward. He realised his mouth was hanging open and closed it, tried to regain his poise.
“We haven’t met before,” Matt said, assuredly. Seeing as he’d been looking out for her ever since he’d found out she came to this uni too, it was hardly likely he would have missed her. “I would have remembered.”
As soon as he’d finished speaking he realised how much of a pervert that made him sound. “I mean, I haven’t even been to this country before. I moved here for university.”
She tried to hide a smile, the corners of her mouth twitching up. “Why are you transferring over to Biology, anyway?”
“There weren’t as many explosions as I was hoping for in Chemistry,” he joked. God, it had been better when he hadn’t spoken at all. He sounded so weird.
“Well there aren’t nearly half as many giant octopuses as you’d want in Biology either, sorry,” she replied, sending a sly smirk at him. She really was pretty. He hadn’t expected that. Even if she had used the wrong plural for octopi.
“Shame. How’s the Physics department here?”
“I’d give the physics lot six out of ten. There aren’t enough brunets,” Kate said, and gazed off into the middle distance with a genuine air of disappointment.
He was startled into a laugh. Their eyes caught and held and suddenly it felt like no time had passed at all since they’d last done this, since she’d surprised him by saying something ridiculous.
She had great eyes. Bright, with these long eyelashes and, just – really great eyes.
“But I hear their MRI research rivals Cambridge’s,” she said half-seriously.
“I’ll look into that, then. If the octopi don’t work out.” He was surprised to find himself playing along with her. Usually he didn’t banter with people. He was never sure what to say. But she was just so – nice.
“I’m sure they will. No sea monsters today, though.” She turned to the neglected lab bench, and Matt stared down in surprise at the abandoned experiment. He’d completely forgotten they were supposed to be doing something. She was very – distracting. “We’re testing fertiliser effects on the development rates of bacteria cultures.”
“Sounds a lot easier than Chemistry labs. I had to bring an acid to boil. On my first day.”
Matt flexed his hand, which was still bandaged. It stung faintly with the memory of the failure.
“Ouch. Well, I’ll look after you today.” She smiled at him, and once again he couldn’t look away. Her hair was like gold. It was great.
She was great.
Kate handed Matt a pair of latex gloves. He took it, brushing her thumb with his, half on purpose. And then everything went blurry, and he couldn’t remember where they were – which life this was, and whether they were married or hadn’t even kissed yet.
One thing was undeniable: he’d met Kate before.
If you want to know more about Kate and Matt, you can read the first chapter of The Next Together from Kate’s point of view here, and buy the book in the following places:
In other news: On October 3rd I’m going to be appearing at Waterstones Birmingham New Street on a ‘Ladies Night’ Panel with Jenny Valentine and Jenny McLachlan! Tickets are available now by calling 0121 631 4333!
I did an interview with the lovely YA romance writer Beth Reekles (whose blog is amazing!) here.
A rebloggable version of this post can be found here.