In Sarah Watson's YA book Most Likely, out in March 2020, the future leader of the free world is just high school senior with a crush and a crew of three inseparable best friends. Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha are all destined for great things — and one, for the presidency.
Most Likely is Watson's first book, but it draws on the same themes of The Bold Type: "How women support each other, and how we make each other better," Watson tells Refinery29 over the phone.
The idea for Most Likely sprung up following the 2016 election. "Like everyone, I expected we’d have our first female president, and then we didn’t. Who would be our first female president when it happened?" Watson says.
With Most Likely, she answers her own question. According to Watson, the first woman president will become a smart, decisive, and compassionate president. "Which is what I'm craving," Watson adds.
Originally, Watson planned to set Most Likely in the '90s, so the character could become president around 2016. Her plan changed after Parkland. "The way those kids rose up and used their voices — I was like, Oh, that's the generation I want to believe in. That’s the generation that’s going to save us all," Watson says.
Like Casey McQuiston's popular book Red, White and Royal Blue, which envisions a women getting elected in 2016, Most Likely is a much-needed turn toward optimism. "I wrote my fantasy," Watson says.
But the book itself is bipartisan. More than politics, Most Likely focuses on the future president's most important relationships — including her husband, whom she met in high school. "For a while there was a trend and belief that in order to be a strong woman we had to shut the love side of us down. I don't think that’s true at all," Watson says. "I want my characters to be able to fall in love. But their friendship and their selves always come first, which is why they have successful love stories."
Speaking of successful, ambitious women: Watson is busy adapting Most Likely into an Amazon Prime series, working on The Bold Type, and writing her next book. But let's kick back, relax, and read the first chapter of Most Likely.
The following excerpt is published with permission of Hachette.
January 20, 2049
January 20, 2049
The morning sky is a deep shade of blue, and for a moment, I wish I’d gone with the crimson coat. The contrast of red wool against blue sky would have been powerful. But it’s too late to change now. This is what I’m wearing. Cream-colored coat over a crisp white suit jacket and matching pants that the designer made personally for me. We’d originally talked about doing a skirt, but the January air is cold and I’m glad for the last-minute change.
My husband and I both turn at the sound of our last name, but the Diffenderfer they’re looking for is me, of course. The professional young woman whose job it is to tell me where I need to be and when says, “We’re five minutes to go time.”
Five minutes. The moment is so close and yet it still doesn’t feel completely real. My friends will tell you that they always knew. That out of all of us, I was always the most likely to end up here. Respectfully, and with love, I think they’re full of crap. The truth is, if someone had told me back in high school that this is where I’d end up, I never would have believed it. In some ways, I still can’t believe it’s happening to me. And I really can’t believe it’s about to happen to someone with the last name Diffenderfer.
Diffenderfer. Ugh. I wonder for the millionth time why I took his name. It was a choice, of course. But I was heavily advised to choose it. People told me that it would make me seem more relatable. More approachable. More…“traditional” is the word that one brave soul used before I kicked him out of my office. The reason it pissed me off so much is because I knew he was right. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s important to put on a bit of an appearance. So as much as I hate my husband’s last name, I made the traditional choice and took the damn thing.
I look over at the man who gave me the gift of being a Diffenderfer and smile. He winks back. “Big day,” he says.
“Is it?” I tease, and take his hand. I’m surprised to find it shaking slightly. He’s nervous, and this fills me with such a sudden sense of tenderness that I’m momentarily overwhelmed. I give his hand a squeeze. He squeezes back. Twice. To tell me that he loves me. “Don’t be nervous,” I whisper.
“Aren’t I supposed to be saying that to you?”
“But I’m not nervous.”
“Of course you’re not.”
I lean in and kiss him. My makeup artist, Margot, will have to refresh my lip gloss, but I don’t care. I may not love his name, but I do love this man. I have ever since high school. I’ve told the story of senior year and that first kiss close to a thousand times now. People apparently like that my love story is uncomplicated. Uncomplicated. It always makes us laugh. It’s only uncomplicated because they don’t know about the complicated parts—which are actually my favorite parts. Those definitely wouldn’t have helped my image, though. So we’ve kept it our little secret. Thinking about this makes me smile. I like that, in spite of everything that’s happened, there are still a few things that belong only to us.
The young woman with the headset walks up to tell me that it’s time. My husband gives me a look. “You ready?”
“Yes,” I whisper back, even though the answer is no. How can I ever truly be ready for something like this? The most important moments of my life have been the ones that terrified me. Like that first kiss. Not the story we’ve told a thousand times. The real one. The one that was messy and excruciating and painful and exhilarating. The one that broke my heart and healed it all at the same time.
I take a deep breath and give my husband’s hand one more squeeze. I suppose it doesn’t really matter that I share my last name with him. Because the title they’re about to put in front of it will belong only to me.
I, and I alone, will be president of the United States of America.
Logan Diffenderfer kept a strong pace as he rounded the track. His sweat-soaked shirt clung to his body, and his brown hair bounced as if to the beat of some tragically hip but perfectly rhythmic song.
It was completely annoying.
The space underneath the bleachers was usually the best place at William McKinley High School to have a private conversation. CJ couldn’t believe she’d forgotten about cross-country practice when she suggested that she and her three best friends meet there after school. “Maybe we should go somewhere else,” she said. Up until this year, CJ had been on the team too. She’d never been a particularly strong runner, and she reminded herself that quitting made sense. She needed the time in her schedule to study for her SATs. (Another thing she wasn’t particularly strong at.) And to save the world. (Something she was actually pretty good at. She had more volunteer hours than anyone in the entire school and no intention of slowing down.) Still, it was weird to watch her old team practice without her. “We could try the library. Or that spot behind the cafeteria dumpsters.”
Martha looked at the time on her phone. “I have to be in the car in five minutes. Not walking toward it. In it.” CJ didn’t hold it against her for being in a hurry. Martha was the only one with an after-school job. She was also the only one without a car, so she looked desperately to Ava, who had agreed to give her a ride. “Please tell CJ it’s safe to talk here.”
Ava shrugged. “It’s totally fine. Literally nobody can hear us.”
This prompted Jordan to look up from her phone. “That is literally not even remotely how you use the word ‘literally.’” She closed out of Snapchat and opened Instagram. Earlier that day she’d posted a photo of herself in her new ’50s-style midi dress with the “J” for Jordan embroidered on the pocket in a shade of purple that perfectly matched the stripes of color running through her hair. CJ was more of a “jeans and T-shirt” kind of girl and didn’t totally get Jordan’s look, but she’d already clicked on the little heart next to the post and left a comment. Because that’s what you do when one of your best friends is trying to boost her social media following. “Ava has a point, though. Literally. Nobody.”
It’s not like CJ wasn’t aware that literally nobody could hear them, and it’s not like it really mattered if anyone did anyway. Every senior at McKinley was having some version of the same conversation that they were about to have. It’s just that she was really missing her old team and starting to regret her decision to quit.
Martha looked at the time. “Four minutes. I have four minutes.”
Jordan put her phone away. “So, tonight, who’s going to drive and who’s going to bring…wait. What do we even need to bring?”
They all traded looks and shrugs. None of them had ever done anything like this before.
“Something sharp, I guess,” CJ finally said.
“I’ll handle that,” said Ava. “But how sharp are we talking?”
As they debated just how sharp of a sharp object Ava should bring, a loud whoop came from the track behind them. They all turned to see that Logan Diffenderfer had just crossed the finish line. As he slowed to a walk, catching his breath in big heaping gulps, he pumped his fist triumphantly into the air and let out another whoop. CJ felt a pang of jealousy. She missed that feeling of crossing the finish line in a flurry of relief and excitement. She watched as the cross-country coach handed Logan a bottle of water and gave him a pat on the back.
CJ felt another pang. Everything always came so easily to Logan. Not that he didn’t work hard. Back when she was on the team, they were the only two who consistently logged extra miles and didn’t roll their eyes when their coach shouted inspiring things at them in the middle of practice. For Logan, this extra work resulted in first-place medals and broken records. For CJ, it barely put her in the middle of the pack.
Sometimes CJ couldn’t understand how Jordan had ever dated him. (Sure, it was only for about five minutes during freshman year, but still.) He was too perfect. It made him boring. Right then, Logan peeled off his shirt and used it to dab the sweat off his chest. Well, that certainly wasn’t boring. It was intimidating, though. With his shirt off, his tan skin and carved shoulders, which he’d earned teaching summer swim lessons at the rec center pool, were on full display. CJ folded her arms over the pooch of her stomach self-consciously. She’d spent all summer swimming too, and all it had given her was a face full of freckles.
“Maybe I am into dudes.”
This was Martha talking. Logan had taken a bottle of water to cool down, but instead of drinking it, he touched it to the back of his neck. Ohio summers had a way of lingering, and the air was heavy with humidity. Sweat and water dripped down his shoulders.
“You can be into dudes,” Ava said. “But please not that one.” Logan started running the bottle of water up and down the line of his neck. Up and down. Up and down. “Oh, come on,” Ava huffed. “He’s doing that on purpose. He wants people to stare.”
“It’s working,” Martha said.
CJ laughed. Martha’s sexuality had been a question ever since they all watched the second-to-last Harry Potter movie. After it was over, CJ announced that she wished she could be Hermione Granger, and Martha announced that she wished she could make out with Hermione Granger. Whether her feelings were specifically directed toward Gryffindor’s most notorious female or toward females in general was yet to be determined. Martha was waiting to actually kiss a girl before she officially declared her sexuality.
“Come on, ladies,” Jordan said. “Martha’s gotta get to work. So what’s the deal?”
“I’ll drive,” CJ said. “Ava’s got the sharp thing covered—”
“Right. But seriously. Like how sharp?”
“Your choice,” Martha said. “I’m working until eight. Pick me up then?”
This would make them late. They’d be some of the last to arrive. But it’s not like they could ask Martha to blow off work. She was already a total stress ball about how she was going to pay for college next year.
So they agreed on 8 p.m., and then they discussed and settled on an appropriate level of sharpness, and that was that. They’d been talking and dreaming about this night for so long that it almost seemed surreal that it was finally happening.
As they walked away from the bleachers, CJ looked back for a second. She’d meant to catch her old track coach’s eye. She wanted to give her a nod, a wordless way to let her know that even though she’d quit, she was still thankful for three years of coaching. CJ accidentally caught Logan’s eye instead. He quickly glanced away, but not before she realized that he’d been staring at one of them. What was impossible to tell, what she did not know, was which one of them it was.