Authors: Becky Albertalli
“Seventeen,” I whisper, feeling sheepish.
He looks at me and shakes his head. “Oh, honey,” he says, smiling sadly. “No. No.”
“No?” I ask.
“Who did you come here with? Where are your friends, cute Simon?”
I point out Nick and Abby.
“Ah,” he says.
He helps me up and holds my hand, and the room keeps lurching, but I end up in a chair somehow. Next to Abby and across from Nick, in front of an untouched cheeseburger. Cold, but totally plain and perfect with nothing green and lots of fries. “Good-bye, cute Simon,” says Peter, hugging me, and then kissing me on the forehead. “Go be seventeen.”
And then he stumbles away, and Abby and Nick look like they don't know whether to laugh or panic. Oh my God. I love them. I mean, I seriously love them. But I feel sort of wavy inside.
“How much did you have?” asks Nick.
I try to count it on my fingers.
“Forget it. I don't want to know. Just eat something.”
“I love it here,” I say.
“I can see that,” says Abby, shoving a French fry into my mouth.
“But did you see his teeth?” I ask. “He had like the whitest freaking teeth I've ever seen. I bet he uses those things. The Crest things.”
“Whitestrips,” says Abby. She's got her arm around my waist and Nick's got his arm around my other waist. I mean my same waist. And my arms are around their shoulders, because I love them SO FREAKING MUCH.
“Definitely Whitestrips.” I sigh. “He's in college.”
“So we've heard,” Abby says.
It's a perfect night. Everything is perfect. It's not even cold out anymore. It's a Friday night, and we're not at the Waffle House, and we're not playing
in Nick's basement, and we're not pining for Blue. We are out and we are alive, and everyone in the universe is out here right now.
“Hi,” I say, to somebody. I smile at everyone we pass.
“Simon. Good lord,” says Abby.
“All right,” says Nick. “You're taking shotgun, Spier.”
“Because I don't think Abby needs your vomit in her mom's upholstery.”
“I'm not gonna vom,” I say, but as soon as the words come out, there's this ominous twist in my gut.
So, I take the front and crack the window, and the cold air feels sharp and refreshing on my face. I shut my eyes and lean my head back. And then my eyes snap open. “Wait, where are we going?” I ask.
Abby pauses to let some car pull ahead of her. “To my house,” she says. “College Park.”
“But I forgot my shirt,” I say. “Can we stop at my house?”
“Total opposite direction,” says Abby.
“Fuck,” I say.
Fuck fuck fuck
“I can lend you an extra shirt,” says Abby. “I'm sure we have some of my brother's stuff down here.”
“Also, you're wearing a shirt,” says Nick.
“Noooo. No. It's not to wear,” I say.
“Then what's it for?” asks Abby.
“I can't wear it,” I explain. “That would be weird. I have to have it under my pillow.”
“Because that's not weird,” says Nick.
“It's an Elliott Smith shirt. Did you know he stabbed himself when we were five? That's why I never made it to his shows.”
I close my eyes. “Do you believe in an afterlife? Nick, do Jewish people believe in heaven?”
“All right,” says Nick. He and Abby exchange some kind of look in the rearview mirror, and then Abby moves over to the right lane. She takes the turn for the highway, and when she merges on, I realize we're going north. Back to Shady Creek. Back to get my shirt.
“Abby, did I mention you are the absolute best person in the entire universe? Oh my God. I love you so much. I love you more than Nick loves you.” Abby laughs, and Nick starts coughing, and I feel a little nervous because now I can't remember if it's a secret that Nick loves Abby. I should probably keep talking. “Abby, what if you became my sister? I need new sisters.”
“What's wrong with your old sisters?” she says.
“They're terrible,” I say. “Nora's never home anymore, and now Alice has a boyfriend.”
“How is that terrible?” asks Abby.
“Alice has a boyfriend?” asks Nick.
“But they're supposed to be Alice and Nora. They're not supposed to be different,” I explain.
“They're not allowed to change?” Abby laughs. “But you're changing. You're different than you were five months ago.”
“I'm not different!”
“Simon. I just watched you pick up a random guy in a gay bar. You're wearing eyeliner. And you're completely wasted.”
“I'm not wasted.”
Abby and Nick look at each other again in the mirror and bust up laughing.
“And he wasn't a random guy.”
“He wasn't?” says Abby.
“He was a random
guy,” I remind her.
“Ah,” she says.
Abby pulls into my driveway and puts the car in park, and I hug her and say, “Thank you thank you thank you.” She ruffles my hair.
“Okay. One second,” I say. “Don't go anywhere.”
The driveway is a little lurchy, but not so bad. It takes me a minute to figure out my key. The lights in the entryway are off, but the TV is on, and I guess I thought my parents would be asleep by now, but they're tucked onto the couch wearing pajama pants with Bieber wedged between them.
“What are you doing home, kid?” asks my dad.
“I have to get a T-shirt,” I say, but I think that might not sound right, so I try again. “I'm wearing a shirt, but I have to get a shirt to bring to Abby's house, because it's a certain shirt and it's not a big deal, but I need it.”
“Okay . . . ,” my mom says, and her eyes cut to my dad.
“Are you watching
?” I ask. It's paused now. “Oh my God. This is what you do when I'm not home. You watch scripted TV.” And now I can't stop laughing.
“Simon,” says my dad, looking confused and stern and amused all at once. “Is there something you'd like to tell us?”
“I'm gay,” I say, and I giggle. Giggles keep escaping around the edges.
“Okay, sit down,” he says, and I'm about to make a joke, but he keeps looking at me, so I sit on the arm of the love seat. “You're drunk.” He looks a little stunned. I shrug.
“Who drove?” he asks.
“Did she drink?”
“Dad, come on. No.” He tips his palms up. “No! God.”
“Em, do you want to . . .”
“Yup,” my mom says, shifting Bieber off her legs. And then she gets off the couch and goes out through the entryway, and I hear the front door open and shut.
“She's going out there to talk to Abby?” I say. “Seriously? You guys don't even trust me?”
“Well, I don't know why we should, Simon. You show up at ten thirty, obviously drunk, and you don't seem to think that's a problem, soâ”
“So you're saying the problem is I'm not trying to hide it. The problem is I'm not lying to you.”
My dad stands up suddenly, and I look at him, and I realize he's really freaking pissed off. Which is so unusual that it makes me nervous, but it also makes me a little fearless, and so I say, “Do you like it better when I lie about things? It probably sucks
for you now that you can't make fun of gay people anymore. I bet Mom won't let you, right?”
says my dad, like a warning.
I giggle, but it comes out too sharp. “That awkward moment when you realize you've been making gay jokes in front of your gay kid for the last seventeen years.”
There's this awful, tense silence. My dad just looks at me.
Finally, my mom comes back in, and she looks back and forth between us for a minute. And then she says, “I sent Abby and Nick home.”
“What? Mom!” I stand up too fast, and my stomach flips. “No. No. I'm just here to get my shirt.”
“Oh, I think you're staying in tonight,” says my mom. “Your dad and I need a minute to talk. Why don't you go get yourself a glass of water, and we'll be right in.”
“I'm not thirsty.”
“It's not a request,” says my mom.
They have to be fucking kidding me. I'm supposed to sit here and drink my water, and they just get to talk about me behind my back. I slam the kitchen door shut.
As soon as the water hits my lips, I gulp it down so fast I almost forget to breathe. My stomach is churning. I think the water makes it worse. I pretzel my arms on the table and tuck my head into my elbow. I'm so freaking tired.
My parents come in a few minutes later and sit down next to me at the table. “Did you have water?” asks my dad.
I nudge my empty glass toward him without lifting my head.
“Good,” he says. He pauses. “Kid, we've got to talk consequences.”
Right, because things aren't shitty enough. People at school think I'm a joke, and there's a boy I can't seem to stop being in love with, and he just might be someone I can't stand. And I'm pretty sure I'm going to puke tonight.
But yeah. They want to talk consequences.
“We've discussed it, andâpresumably this is a first offense?” I nod into my arms. “Then your mom and I have agreed that you'll be grounded for two weeks starting tomorrow.”
I whip my head up. “You can't do that.”
“Oh, I can't?”
“It's the play next weekend.”
“Oh, we're well aware,” says my dad. “And you can go to school and rehearsals and all of your performances, but you'll come straight home afterward. And your laptop is moving into the living room for a week.”
“And I'll take your phone right now,” says my mom, putting out her hand. All business.
“That's so effed up,” I say, because that's what you say, but I mean, honestly? I don't even fucking care.
IT'S MLK WEEKEND, SO WE
don't get back to school until Tuesday. When I get there, Abby's waiting in front of my locker. “Where have you been? I've been texting you all weekend. Are you okay?”
“I'm fine,” I say, rubbing my eyes.
“I was really worried about you. When your mom came out . . . your mom is actually kind of terrifying. I thought she was going to give me a Breathalyzer.”
Oh God. “Sorry,” I say. “They're really intense about driving.” Abby steps aside, so I can twist in my locker combination.
“No, it was fine,” she says. “I just felt bad leaving you. And then when I didn't hear back from you all weekend . . .”
I click the latch open. “They took my phone away. And my computer. And I'm grounded for two weeks.” I dig around
for my French notebook. “So yeah.”
Abby's face falls. “But what about the play?”
“No, that's fine. They're not messing with that.” I push my locker closed, and the latch clicks dully.
“Well, good,” she says. “But I'm so sorry. This is all my fault.”
“What's your fault?” Nick asks, falling into step with us on the way to English.
“Simon's grounded,” she says.
“It's not your fault at all,” I say. “I'm the one who got drunk and paraded it in front of my parents.”
“Not your best move,” says Nick. I look at him. Something's different, and I can't quite pin it down.
Then I realize: it's the hands. They're holding hands. My head snaps up to look at them, and they both smile self-consciously. Nick shrugs.
“Well well well,” I say. “I guess you guys didn't miss me too much Friday night, after all.”
“Not really,” says Nick. Abby buries her face in his shoulder.
I pry the story out of Abby during small group conversation practice in French class.
“So how did it go down? Tell me everything.
C'Ã©tait un surprise
,” I add as Madame Blanc makes her way up my row.
.” You have to love French teachers. They make such a big freaking deal about
gender, but they always pronounce my name like
. . .” Abby smiles up at Madame Blanc, and then waits for her to move out of earshot. “Yeah, so we dropped you off, and I was kind of upset, because your mom seemed really mad, and I didn't want her to think I would drink and drive.”
“She wouldn't have let you drive home if she thought that.”
“Yeah, well,” Abby says, “I don't know. Anyway, we left, but we ended up just parking in Nick's driveway for a while, just in case you were able to talk your parents into letting you come back out.”
“Yeah, sorry. No dice.”
“Oh, I know,” she says. “I just felt weird leaving without you. We texted you, and then we waited for a little while.”
“Sorry,” I say again.
“No, it was fine,” Abby says, and then she breaks into a huge grin.
Lunch is actually amazing, because Morgan and Bram both had birthdays over the long weekend, and Leah's very strict about everyone getting their own giant sheet cake. Which means two cakes, both chocolate.
Except I don't know who brought the cakes today, because Leah never shows up for lunch at all. And now that I think about it, she wasn't in English or French.
I reach into my back pocket automatically, but then I remember my phone is in custody. So, I lean over toward Anna,
who's wearing two party hats and eating a pile of straight-up icing. “Hey, where's Leah?”
“Um,” says Anna, not meeting my eyes. “She's here.”
“She's at school?”
I try not to worry about it, but I don't see her all day, and then I don't see her the next day either. Except Anna says she's here. And her car's in the parking lot, which makes it so much weirder. And her car's still in the parking lot at seven, when we finally get out of rehearsal. I'm not sure what's going on.
I just want to make contact. Maybe there are missed texts from her on my phone that I don't even know about.
Or maybe not. I don't know. It just sucks.
But on Thursday afternoon, in that narrow window between school and rehearsal, I finally see her stepping out of the bathroom near the atrium.
“Leah!” I run over to her and catch her in a hug. “Where have you been?”
She stiffens in my arms.
I step back. “Um, is everything okay?”
She looks at me with jagged eyes. “I don't want to talk to you,” she says. She tugs her shirt down and then folds her arms up under her chest.
“What?” I look at her. “Leah, what happened?”
“You tell me,” she says. “How was Friday? Did you, Nick, and Abby have fun?”
There's this beat of silence.
“I don't know what you want me to say,” I tell her. “I mean, I'm sorry.”
“You sound really sorry,” she says.
A couple of freshman girls scamper past us, shrieking and chasing each other and body slamming the door. We pause.
“Well, I am sorry,” I say, once the door shuts behind them. “I mean, if this is about Nick and Abby, I don't know what to tell you.”
“Right, this is all about Nick and Abby. I mean . . .” She laughs, shaking her head. “Whatever.”
“Well, what? Do you actually want to talk about it,” I ask, “or do you just want to be really sarcastic and not tell me what's going on? Because if you're just going to laugh at meâseriouslyâyou're going to have to wait in line.”
“Oh, poor Simon.”
“Okay, you know what? Forget it. I'm going to go to my fucking dress rehearsal now, and you can find me whenever you're ready to not be an asshole.” I turn around and start walking, trying to ignore the lump rising in my throat.
“Awesome,” she says. “Have fun. Say hi to your BFF for me.”
“Leah.” I turn around. “Please. Just stop.”
She shakes her head slightly, and her lips are pulled in, and she's blinking and blinking. “I mean, it's cool. But next time you guys decide to all hang out without me,” she says, “text me
some pictures or something. Just so I can pretend I still have friends.”
Then there's this noise like an aborted sob, and she pushes past me, straight through the door. And all through rehearsal, all I can hear is that noise over and over again.