Abroad: Book One
Hellum & Neal Series in LGBTQIA+ Literature • Release Date: June 27, 2017
Print ISBN: 978-1-942083-62-7 • EPUB ISBN: 978-1-942083-65-8 • Kindle ISBN: 978-1-942083-63-4
Brain Mill Press offers Abroad: Book One in ebook and in a limited fine first edition printing of signed, numbered paperbacks. Ebook buyers receive access to MOBI (Kindle), EPUB, and PDF files, offered without DRM restrictions. Print book buyers receive a physical copy of the book and access to the ebook files in all formats.
"A nuanced and sexy take on growing up and learning to accept who you are."
"A fresh take on the NA genre with a slower pace that feels both realistic and allows the characters to explore identity, culture, sexuality and self discovery in a way that allows all of life’s complexities to shine through."
—For What It's Worth Book Reviews
"Abroad … really spoke to me in a way that a book hasn’t done in a while."
—Just Love Reviews
"Written from a beautiful and intimate ‘own voices’ perspective, Liz Jacobs’s ABROAD is a delight. Accurate and nuanced writing is becoming the norm with Brain Mill Press, and ABROAD continues this trend, and raises the bar higher."
—All About Romance, "Desert Isle Keeper" review
Nick Melnikov doesn’t know where he belongs. He was just a kid when his Russian-Jewish family immigrated to Michigan. Now he’s in London for university, overwhelmed by unexpected memories. Socially anxious, intensely private, and closeted, Nick doesn’t expect to fall in so quickly with a tight-knit group of students from his college, and it’s both exhilarating and scary. Hanging out with them is a roller coaster of serious awkward and incredible longing, especially when the most intimidating of the group, Dex, looks his way.
Dex Cartwell knows exactly who he is: a black queer guy who doesn’t give a toss what anybody thinks of him. He is absolutely, one-hundred-percent, totally in control of his life. Apart, maybe, from the stress of his family’s abrupt move to an affluent, largely white town. And worrying about his younger brother feeling increasingly isolated as a result. And the persistent broken heart he’s been nursing for a while . . .
When Nick and Dex meet, both find themselves intrigued. Countless late-night conversations only sharpen their attraction. But the last thing Nick wants is to face his deepest secret, and the last thing Dex needs is another heartache. Dex has had to fight too hard for his right to be where he is. Nick isn’t even sure where he’s from. So how can either of them tell where this is going?
A master of building tender and meaningful characters with heartbreaking stakes, Liz Jacobs deftly introduces audiences to the compelling, deeply personal narratives possible in coming-of-age and New Adult romance. ABROAD is an instant classic that approaches LGBTQIA+ and immigrant experiences from a powerful own-voices perspective.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liz Jacobs came over with her family from Russia at the age of 11, as a Jewish refugee. All in all, her life has gotten steadily better since that moment. They settled in an ultra-liberal haven in the middle of New York State, which sort of helped her with the whole “grappling with her sexuality” business.
She has spent a lot of her time flitting from passion project to passion project, but writing remains her constant. She has flown planes, drawn, made jewelry, had an improbable internet encounter before it was cool, and successfully wooed the love of her life in a military-style campaign. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her essay on her family’s experience with immigration.
She currently lives with her wife in Massachusetts, splitting her time between her day job, writing, and watching a veritable boatload of British murder mysteries.
AN EXCERPT from Abroad: Book One by Liz Jacobs
© Liz Jacobs, 2017
Nick stared out the plane window knowing he was being abominably rude and still unable to help himself.
“So, tell me a bit about your family. Why didn’t you go to Israel, instead of the States?”
Nick shut his eyes and leaned back in his seat. Because none of your business? Because why are we even talking right now? Because screw this, that’s why?
By the time he looked at his motherly neighbor lady, he hoped his smile was more polite. “Didn’t make the cut, I suppose.”
She pursed her lips then said, “Well, that’s a shame. It’s important, you know, for your people to head to the homeland, so to speak. I’ve always been a big advocate.”
Yeah, Nick had picked up on that. His luck that he’d be stuck next to a surprise “Jews, go to your island” lady, which had sort of derailed his plan of spending the whole flight sleeping or playing mindless on his phone. He either needed to be unconscious or putting together jigsaw puzzles, or he would vibrate right off his seat.
“Yeah, well,” he said, unsure how to respond to something seemingly well meaning wrapped in blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric. Of course his parents had tried for Israel first–that’s what Russian Jews did. Applied for interviews, began to study Hebrew under the cover of darkness, told their curious children that those were Chinese textbooks. Got denied, all three times. Eventually gave up, and on a lark, threw their lot in with those clamoring to get out at all, even if it meant America.
“Well, you should obviously do Birthright,” the woman said.
Nick wished he could remember her name, but he’d been sort of running on autopilot when she’d sat down next to him, and while he remembered giving his name, he couldn’t recall her introduction. She was just Unexpectedly Anti-Semitic Missionary Woman now.
And Nick was probably Unexpectedly Rude Russian-Jewish Boy In Need of Saving.
Knowing that he would probably never see her again and being up thousands of feet in the air gave him the perverse courage to be honest, even if it meant opening up another door he’d rather remain shut. “I’ve thought about it, but it doesn’t seem to be for me.”
As expected, she was shocked. Shocked. “Why not?” Her eyes grew genuinely huge, and her mouth did a turning down thing that reminded him sharply of his mom. “You’re only, what, eighteen, nineteen?”
“Twenty,” he supplied automatically.
“Plenty of time, and you’d get to know where your people come from. I advocate this on all my missions. Such an important part of your heritage.”
Nick was tired. Tired and wired, actually, so he wanted to pick at this like a child. He had nothing to prove, but he couldn’t help himself. “My people came from Poland,” he told her. “And Ukraine.”
“You know what I mean, honey,” she said, smiling and undeterred. “But it’s okay, you’ve got time.”
Nick gave up. “Sure.” He stretched a little, bumping his knees against the tray table, then lifted it out of the way, secured it with the little latch. It felt greasy on his skin. He wiped his thumb on his jeans. Then he crossed his arms over his chest, and lay back as far as the seat would allow, compounding the rudeness. If he were on the ground, he would probably be cringing at his own rudeness.
The recycled air of the plane was cold and dry on his face. He wanted to shut off the AC knob, but he didn’t want to move again and disturb the silence that finally descended between him and his neighbor.
He fell asleep with his knees digging holes in the plastic seat in front of him.
All around him, movement. Overhead luggage compartments thumped as they were relieved of their overstuffed contents, phones chimed and came back to life, and sorry’s and excuse me’s echoed all around. Tension and urgency after being suspended in the air for seven hours.
“Now, here, let me write down my name and email, all right?” his neighbor lady said. She had a little notebook in her hands and he watched her scribble everything down. His first instinct was to politely refuse, but the better part of valor would be to take the piece of paper quietly, which he did.
“Don’t hesitate to contact me, all right? I know you’ve never been to London, and I worry about you,” she said as he pocketed her info. “I’m here for a month, so let’s have tea, okay? I know Russians love their tea as much as these Brits.”
She was simply full of fun stereotypes. Though, Nick really did love tea. For a moment he even resented that fact.
“I will, thank you,” he lied, smiling. He tugged his overstuffed backpack from under the seat and shouldered it.
“And don’t just live on Cup Noodles or whatever it is you young people exist on. You’re scrawny as it is.”
Nick’s smile felt brittle, but at last, she was turning around and joining the line down the aisle. He guiltily eyed her giant bag. Did she need help negotiating it off the plane or at the airport? Although, with his own giant suitcase waiting for him on the other side, he probably wouldn’t have been much help, anyway.
He rubbed a hand over his face and felt along his jaw. He wondered what his hair looked like, and if he was the only one getting off the plane reeking of exhaustion.
He was up next, so he scooted himself awkwardly over three seats and let an old man and his granddaughter out before lining up behind. Flight attendants said goodbye in a British accent to everyone who walked past them while Nick kept a firm hold on his backpack straps and eyed the trash left over by the other passengers. Magazines, cookie wrappers, headphones. He was marched past the curtained-off area where the other half lived, with individual pod-like beds and glasses that had clearly been filled with complementary alcohol before being abandoned. Emptying planes always reminded him of disaster movies for some reason.
Then he was off the plane and on British soil.
Grey walls vaulted towards the ceiling and ended with glass at the top, sharp corners, all very monotone and quiet. Every sign looked foreign, despite being in English. Even with shuffling behind all the other passengers, Nick’s perception of the corridor was a dreamlike emptiness.
The pouch his mom had given him for his passport and boarding passes was damp in his hand. He’d checked its contents three times on the plane, then zipped it up in the backpack, then took it out again because he thought he’d forget where he’d stuffed it.
He was being ridiculous. Here was a grown-ass man, scared of traveling by himself.
Last time he’d made a transatlantic flight, he’d been ten, his hand gripped firmly by his mom, and JFK had been in utter chaos. He thought it might have been under partial construction at the time. He remembered colorful balloons with hearts on them greeting someone at the gates. He remembered the four-hour wait at border control, standing behind a pregnant woman who’d been on their flight, and his mom leading her to the bathrooms as she sniffled and blew her nose into Nick’s dad’s handkerchief. She couldn’t have been older than he was now.
He felt like he might jitter out of his skin.
He took out his phone with sweaty hands. He couldn’t afford to keep himself on his mom’s plan, so this was strictly for WiFi and emergencies. He’d need to figure out a more permanent solution soon, but he couldn’t think about that now or he’d–yeah. Not thinking about anything but the customs line and keeping track of his passport.
When his phone woke up, it was on Ann Arbor time. It was still the middle of the night.
Heathrow kindly offered him forty-five minutes of complementary WiFi if he watched an ad, which he did dutifully while yawning. The WiFi chugged slowly, but he could, at least, send his mom and sister an email telling them he’d landed and then check his bank account, just in case.
Every now and then he’d shove his backpack forward as the line shuffled ahead.
Forty-five minutes later he was handing his passport and boarding pass to a tired-looking customs lady who asked him–in a British accent; someday he’d probably get used to that, but not today–if he was here on business or pleasure. She eyed him pretty heavily. It took him a moment to figure out why, then he remembered the born in field in his passport.
So many reminders today.
“School.” Belatedly, he handed her the customs slip he’d filled out on the plane.
“And where are you staying?”
Sharp eyes softened by a practiced casual voice. Nick swallowed, wondering what would happen if she decided for whatever reason he wasn’t trustworthy, then said, “In a dorm.” Right. He cleared his throat and gave her the actual address. “Ma’am.”
“Do you have your return flight information, Mr. Melnikov?”
Nick was blessed with an obsessive-compulsive mother. After some fumbling in his backpack — Take these on the plane with you, in case your luggage gets lost. And take a toothbrush, too. Oh, and Pepto. Na vsiakiy sluchay — Nick managed to tug out his flight reservation printout. Scary customs lady took it from him wordlessly.
“Welcome to London, Mr. Melnikov,” she told him eventually, after stamping the shit out of his passport. “Next, please!”
Suddenly released, he gathered up all the papers she’d thrust back at him and legged it out of there before she could take it back.
The rest of the journey, he was at once aware of everything he had to do and completely separate from it. It felt like when dawn intruded on his all-nighters, illuminating the papers strewn all over. and his laptop groaning under the weight of all the tabs and Word documents. He had written all those words, but he couldn’t quite remember how.
When he emerged from under ground, his arms were ready to fall off. He had packed for a nine-month stay, but even so, the weight of his belongings felt excessive.
He pulled out a map. Embarrassing, but necessary. London surrounded him on all sides, but he couldn’t appreciate that fact yet. Pulling himself out of the way of jostling locals, he stared at it.
After several accidental detours and backward walks, it began to make sense. He desperately needed to pee, and to sleep, and to stop feeling like he was driving the wrong way down a one-way street. It took him an embarrassingly long time to stop looking for street signs on the actual street instead of the buildings. He desperately needed to pee, and to sleep, and to stop feeling like he was driving the wrong way down a one-way street.
His dorm appearing around the corner–clearly labeled and everything–was such a relief, he nearly burst into tears. Putting his bags down on the floor once he’d wrestled them through the heavy glass doors was a satisfaction previously unknown to mankind.
What was even better, however, was seeing the smiling girl wearing a lanyard and holding an iPad, greeting the incomers.
“Heya!” she said. British accent. British accent! “Are you here to check in?”
Numb, Nick nodded. “Yeah, uh, hi.” It had been a while since he had to worry about how out of place and wrong his accent sounded. “Do you need my last name or proof of anything? I was told to just come here and–”
“Sure, yeah–you’re one of our twenty international students, I believe,” she said, looking down at her iPad while Nick felt the creeping of his blush begin somewhere in the vicinity of his chest. He waited until she looked back up to give her his name, and then spell it out after she gave him an apologetic, sheepish grin. “Melnikov, sure… Oh, there you are. Nikolay?”
“Nick,” he said, then stuck his hands into his pockets.
“That’s a cool name, where’s that from?”
She was pretty, Nick noticed. Wide grey eyes, dimples on her cheeks, a dusting of freckles across her nose. He might not have noticed her on the street, but standing here, having a conversation, her simple features sort of forced him to look twice.
“Oh!” She looked back down. “It says here you’re coming from Ann Arbor in Michigan…”
“Yep,” he confirmed, nodding. He resigned himself to having this conversation several dozen more times in the near future. “We immigrated. A while back.”
“Oh, cool.” She smiled at him, and then he watched as she clearly remembered why he was there in the first place. He stood there with bags at his feet while she fished through the tote on her shoulder, and let her speech roll over him like a warm wave. “Right, so… This is your key,” she said, handing it over, “and these are the instructions on the wifi and such. If you log into the system, it’ll take you through the steps of all of that. You can create your email from there, too–it’s all automatic, so you don’t have to go to IT or anything.” She paused. “Oh, but you can, if you’re having trouble with it or whatever.”
He accepted the key and the instructions with what was possibly excessive gratitude, but he wasn’t really operating on all cylinders anymore. Then he heaved his backpack back onto his shoulders and took hold of his suitcase.
“The lifts are just down there,” she pointed towards the back. “And oh! I’ve been ordered on pain of death to tell you all that there’s an international student mixer tomorrow night in the blue room of the Student Union. At seven.” She smiled, clutching her iPad to her chest. “There’s a campus map in the instructions. Welcome to London, yeah?”
Nick smiled back, exceptionally aware of how unshaven and dirty he was, and thanked her again. Then he trudged towards the elevators. Lifts.
The only thing he had any presence of mind to do before falling onto the empty bed was set his alarm to go off in three hours and take out his contacts. Then he balled up his hoodie under his head, which smelled like plane seats, draped a coat over himself he’d extracted from his suitcase, and passed out.
He woke up slowly. He should have been focusing on how much his neck hurt because he didn’t have a pillow yet, and how he could not even begin to assemble all the crap he’d need just to live like a normal human, and how overwhelmingly huge London seemed now that he was inside it. But he wondered, instead, what Lena was doing now, and what time it was in Ann Arbor, and whether or not she hated him as much as she’d shown, hissing over the phone for him to stop being a whiny dick and just let her get on with her life.
They’d planned on staying together, but a month before leaving, Nick had ended it. She’d been pissed. She didn’t want to stay friends, she didn’t want him to call, she didn’t want him to write. She blocked him on Facebook.
Selfishly, for a while, Nick missed her like a sore wound. A week after the break-up, he’d begun to doubt himself. He’d begun to forget, in that way that bodies had of forgetting pain as soon as it dissipated, how being together had suffocated him, like a yoke pulled too tight. Awake at three in the morning, he would think, maybe if I tried harder, tried more, maybe if I could remember what brought us together in the first place. He’d think this, and he’d call up her number on his phone the next day, and then he’d stuff it back into his pocket.
Because she was right–once he’d decided it was over, there was no going back. He’d called before he left just to say goodbye. She hadn’t liked that.
He blinked and looked around, taking in the details of the room that he’d missed earlier.
It was tiny–cell-like–but it had one distinction few American dorms had: it was a single. It even had its own bathroom. A desk, a set of shelves, and a wardrobe spanned one wall, with the bed barely two feet across from them. A window connected both sides in the small space, and an old-school radiator rattled below. It was utilitarian, drab, and all his own.
He stretched and luxuriated in the secure knowledge that absolutely nobody could walk in on him once he was inside with the door closed.
Then, slowly and laboriously, all thoughts of home pushed firmly to the side, he began the process of unpacking and figuring out his life for the next nine months.
- Learn more at AbroadtheBook.com
- “Best Queer Books To Celebrate Pride 2017,” Teen Vogue
- Liz Jacobs “On Being a Queer Russian Immigrant and Getting To Tell My Own Story in My Own Words” at The Mary Sue
- “Liz Jacobs on When She Knew Abroad Was a Romance” at USA Today’s Happy Ever After
- Liz Jacobs is interviewed at LGBTQ reads about Abroad, being an immigrant teen, and more
- An excerpt from ABROAD at Heroes & Heartbreakers
- “Queer Reads You Need,” Teen Vogue
- “Rainbow Trends: Let’s Talk About Coming-of-Age Books with Author Liz Jacobs,” Happy Ever After, USA Today