Authors: Becky Albertalli
“Not even a little bit.” I lean back into the seat.
“So you're carjacking me.”
“Oh,” I say, “I guess so.”
“Fucking unbelievable.” She shakes her head. But a moment later, she starts driving. She stares straight ahead with her mouth in a line, and she doesn't say a word.
“I know you're pissed at me,” I say.
“And I'm sorry about Midtown. I really am.”
“Will you just say something?”
“We're here.” She puts the car in park. The lot is almost empty. “You can get your fucking waffle or whatever.”
“You're coming with me,” I say.
“Um, yeah, no.”
“Okay, then don't. But I'm not going in without you.”
“Not my problem.”
“Fine,” I say. “We'll talk here.” I unlatch my seat belt and turn toward her.
“There's nothing to talk about.”
“So, what? That's it? We're just not going to be friends anymore?”
She leans back and shuts her eyes. “Aww. Maybe you should go cry about it to Abby.”
“Okay, seriously?” I say. “What the hell is your problem with her?” I'm not trying to raise my voice, but it comes out booming.
“I don't have a problem with her,” Leah says. “I just don't know why we're suddenly best friends with her.”
“Well, because she's Nick's girlfriend, for one thing.”
Leah whips her head toward me like I've slapped her.
“That's right. Keep making this about Nick,” she says, “and we can all just fucking forget that you're obsessed with her, too.”
“Are you kidding me? I'm gay!”
“You're platonically obsessed with her!” she yells. “It's cool, though. She's such a fucking upgrade.”
“Female best friend four-point-fucking-oh. Now available in the prettiest, perkiest package ever!”
“Oh, for the love of God,” I say. “You're pretty.”
She laughs. “All right.”
“Seriously, just stop it. I'm so fucking tired of this.” I look at her. “She's not an upgrade. You're my best friend.”
“Well, you are. Both of you. And Nick. All three of you,” I say. “But I could never replace you. You're Leah.”
“Then why did you come out to her first?” she says.
“Leah,” I say.
“Justâwhatever. I don't have the right to give a shit.”
“Stop saying that. You can give all kinds of shits.”
She's quiet. And then I'm quiet. And then she says, “It was just so, I don't know. It was obvious that Nick liked her. None of that's been a fucking surprise. But when you told her first, it was like, I didn't even see that coming. I thought you trusted me.”
“I do,” I say.
“Well, apparently you trust her more,” she says, “which is awesome, because how long have you known her? Six months? You've known me for six years.”
And I don't know what to say. There's a lump in my throat.
“But whatever,” she says. “I can'tâyou know. It's your thing.”
“I mean.” I swallow. “Yeah, it was easier to tell her. But it's not about trusting her more or you more or anything like that. You don't even know.” My eyes prickle. “It's like, yeah. I've known you forever, and Nick even longer. You guys know me better than anyone. You know me too well,” I say.
She grips the steering wheel and avoids my eyes.
“I mean, everything. You know everything about me. The wolf T-shirts. The cookie cones. âBoom Boom Pow.'”
She cracks a smile.
“And no, I don't have that kind of a history with Abby. But that's what made it easier. There's this huge part of me, and I'm still trying it on. And I don't know how it fits together. How I fit together. It's like a new version of me. I just needed someone
who could run with that.” I sigh. “But I really wanted to tell you.”
“It's just, it got to the point where it was hard to bring it up.”
I stare at the steering wheel.
“I mean, I get that,” she says finally. “I do. It's like the longer you sit with some shit, the harder it is to talk about.”
We're both silent for a moment.
“What happened with your dad?” My breath hitches.
I turn my head toward her.
“Well, it's kind of a funny story.”
“Um. Not really. He hooked up with this hottie nineteen-year-old at his work. And then he left.”
“Oh.” I look at her. “Leah, I'm so freaking sorry.”
I spent six years not asking that question.
God, I'm such an asshole.
“Stop blinking like that,” she says.
“Don't you dare cry.”
“What? No way.”
Which is the moment I lose it. Full-on, puff-eyed, snot-faucet crying.
“You're a mess, Spier.”
“I know!” I sort of collapse into her shoulder. Her almond shampoo smell is so perfectly familiar. “I really love you, you know? I'm so sorry about everything. About the Abby thing. All of it.”
“Really. I love you.”
“Um, did you get something in your eye, Leah?”
“No. Shut up. You did.”
I wipe my eyes and laugh.
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: Jan 29 at 5:24 PM
SUBJECT: sorry doesn't even begin to cover it
I'm assuming you hate me, which would make absolute sense under the circumstances. I don't even know where to begin with all of this, so I guess I'll just start by saying I'm sorry. Even though I know that sorry is a completely inadequate word, and maybe I should be doing this in person, but you probably don't even want to look at me, so I guess it is what it is.
Anyway, I can't stop thinking about our conversation in the parking lot and what you said about what I took from you. And I really feel like I took something enormous. It's like I didn't let myself see it before, but now that I see it, I can't believe the things I did to you. All of it. The blackmail, and you're right, it was actually blackmail. And the Tumblr post. I don't know if you realize, but I took the post down myself before the mods could even deal with it. I know that doesn't really make it better, but I guess I want you to know that. I just feel sick with guilt about the entire thing, and I'm not even going to ask you to forgive me. I just want you to know how sorry I am.
I don't even know how to explain it. I'll try, but it's probably going to sound stupid, most likely because it is in fact stupid. You should know first that I'm not homophobic and I honestly think gay people are awesome or normal or whatever you prefer. So that's all good and everything.
Anyway, my brother came out over the summer, right before he went back to Georgetown, and it's been this huge deal with my whole family. My parents are trying to turn it into this big awesome thing, and so now our house is like this gay utopia. But it's so totally weird, because Carter's not even home, and he never actually talks about it even when he is home. My parents and I marched in the Pride Parade this year, and he wasn't
even there, and when I told him about it, he said, “Um, okay, cool,” like maybe it was a bit much. And maybe it was. And that was the weekend before I logged into your email. I guess I was in kind of a weird place.
But I'm probably just making excuses, because maybe it was all about me having a crush on a girl and feeling desperate. And me being jealous of how a girl like Abby could move here and choose to befriend you out of everyone, and you have so many friends already, and I don't think you even get what a big deal that is. I don't mean to call you out or insult you or anything. I'm just saying that it seems like it's so easy for you, and you should know you're actually really lucky.
So I don't even know if that makes any sense at all, and you probably stopped reading this ages ago, but I'm just putting all of it out there. And for what it's worth, I'm so incredibly, impossibly sorry. Anyway, word on the street is that you are now deliriously happy in gay love with one Abraham Greenfeld, and I want you to know that I'm way beyond happy for you. You deserve it completely. You're an awesome dude, Spier, and it was cool getting to know you. If I could do it again, I would have blackmailed you into being my friend and left it at that.
THE TALENT SHOW STARTS AT
seven, and Nick and I arrive just as they're dimming the lights. Bram and Garrett are supposed to be sitting in the back toward the middle, with two seats saved. My eyes find him immediately. He's twisted all the way around in his chair, watching the door, and he smiles when he sees me.
We squeeze through the row, and I sit beside Bram, with Nick and Garrett on either side of us. “Is that a program?” Nick asks, leaning over me.
“Yup. Want it?” Garrett asks, passing down an already-worn cylinder of paper.
Nick scans through the list of acts, and I know he's looking for Abby.
“Bet she comes on first or last,” I say.
He smiles. “Second to last.” And then the houselights shut off.
The audience chatter tapers off as the stage lights come up, and Student Council Maddie steps up to the microphone. I lean closer to Bram. And because it's so dark, I slide a hand onto his knee. I feel him shift quietly as he laces his fingers through mine. He lifts them and presses his lips to the edge of my palm.
He pauses, holding them there. And there's this fluttery yank below my navel.
Then he lets our intertwined hands fall back onto his lap. And if this is what it's like having a boyfriend, I don't know why in God's name I waited so long.
Onstage, it's one girl after another. All in short dresses. All singing songs by Adele.
And then it's Abby's turn, and she emerges from the wings, dragging a skinny black music stand to the edge of the stage. My eyes cut to Nick, but he doesn't see me. He's staring raptly forward, with straight posture and a smile edging his lips. A blond sophomore girl steps out with a violin and sheet music. Then she tucks the violin beneath her chin, and looks at Abby. Who nods at her and inhales, visibly. And the violinist starts to play.
It's a strange, almost mournful version of “Time After Time.” Abby's movements convey every note. I've never watched anyone dance solo before, beyond the awkward showboating that happens when people circle up at bar mitzvahs. At first,
I have no point of reference. In a group, you can look for synchronicity. But Abby controls her own motion; and yet, every movement and gesture feels rich and deliberate and true.
I can't help but look at Nick as he watches. He smiles quietly into his fist the entire time.
Abby and her violinist finish to surprised, appreciative applause, and then the curtains close partially while the stage is set for the final act. They pull out a drum set, so I guess it's some kind of band. Maddie takes the mic and makes a bunch of announcements about various ways you can give the student council money. There are a few experimental twangs and booms from behind the curtain as the instruments are plugged in and tested.
“Who is this?” I ask Nick.
He checks his program. “They're called Emoji.”
The curtain opens on five girls with instruments, and the first thing I notice is the colors. They're all wearing different patterned fabrics, and the colors are so bright that it's weirdly punk rock. And then the drummer kicks in with a fast twitchy beat.
Which is when I notice that the drummer is Leah.
I'm actually speechless. Her hair hangs past her shoulders, and her hands move impossibly quickly. And then she's joined by the other instrumentsâMorgan on the keyboard and Anna on the bass. Taylor on vocals.
And my sister Nora on lead guitar, looking so relaxed and confident that I almost don't recognize her. I mean, I'm gobsmacked. I didn't even know she was playing guitar again.
Bram looks at me and laughs. “Simon, your face.”
They cover Michael Jackson's “Billie Jean,” and I'm not even kidding. It's absolutely electric. Girls are getting up and dancing in the aisles. And then they transition straight into the Cure's “Just Like Heaven.” Taylor's voice is sweet and high and effortless, and it's somehow perfect. But I'm still so stunned. I can barely process it.
Bram was right: people really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it's a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.
“Nora's not bad, right?” says Nick, leaning toward me.
“You knew about this?”
“I've been working with her for months. But she told me not to tell you.”
“Because she knew you'd make it a big deal,” he said.
I mean, that's my family. Everything's a freaking secret, because everything's a big deal. Everything is like coming out.
“My parents are going to go nuts about missing this.”
“Nah, I got them here,” Nick says, pointing across the aisle, where I can see the backs of their heads a couple of rows up. They're leaning toward each other with their heads together. And then I notice the messy knot of dark blond hair sitting next
to my mom. It's funny, but it almost looks like it could be Alice.
Nora smiles her tiny smile, and her hair is loose and wavy, and there's actually kind of a lump in my throat.
“You look so proud,” whispers Bram.
“Yeah, it's weird,” I say.
Then Nora's hand stills against the body of the guitar, and Taylor stops singing, and everyone stops playing, except Leah, who gets this pissed-off, determined look on her face. And then she launches into the most freaking awesome, badass drum solo I've ever heard. Her eyes are focused and her cheeks are flushed, and she really looks so pretty. She'd never believe me if I told her.
I turn to look at Bram, but he's turned the other direction, facing Garrett, and I can see from his cheeks that he's grinning. And Garrett shakes his head and smiles, and says, “I don't want to hear it, Greenfeld.”
The song ends, and people yell and cheer as the houselights come on. There's a swell of movement out the back to the atrium, and we let it pass us. Abby comes out and finds us directly. And then a guy with brown hair and a short red beard slides into the empty row in front of us and smiles at me.
“You're clearly Simon,” he says.
I nod, confused. He looks familiar, too, actually, but I can't quite place him.
“Hi. I'm Theo.”
“Theo, like . . . Alice's Theo?”
“Something like that,” he says, grinning.
“Is she here? What are you doing here?” My eyes flick automatically to where my parents had been sitting, but their row is already empty. “It's nice to meet you,” I add.
“Likewise,” he says. “So, Alice is in the lobby, but she sent me in with a message for you and, uh, Bram.”
Bram and I exchange glances, while Nick, Abby, and Garrett look on with interest.
“Okay,” he says. “She wanted me to tell you that your parents are about to invite you to some place called The Varsity, and you're supposed to say you can't go. And the magic words are that you need to catch up on homework.”
“Because,” Theo says, nodding, “apparently, it takes half an hour to get down there, and half an hour to get back, plus all the time spent ordering and eating.”
“Which is completely freaking worth it,” I inform him. “Have you had their Frosted Orange?”
“I have not,” Theo says. “Though, in fairness, I've spent a lifetime sum total of five hours in Atlanta. So far.”
“But why doesn't she want me there?”
“Because she's giving you two hours at home unsupervised.”
“Oh.” My cheeks are burning. Nick snorts.
“Yup,” Theo says, grinning briefly at Bram. “So, I guess I'll see you guys out there.” He heads toward the atrium.
I look at Bram, and his eyes are lit with mischief. It's very un-Bram-like.
“Oh, were you in on this?”
“No,” he says, “but I stand in support.”
“I mean, it's a little creepy having my sister orchestrate the whole thing.”
He smiles, biting his lip.
“But kind of awesome,” I admit.
So, we head out to the atrium, and I make a beeline for Alice. Bram hangs back, standing with Nick, Abby, and Garrett.
“I can't believe you're here.”
“Well,” she says, “little Nick Eisner clued me in that something big was happening. But I'm sorry I missed the play last week, bub.”
“It's fine. I met Theo,” I say, lowering my voice. “He's cool.”
“Yeah, yeah.” She smiles self-consciously. “Which one's yours?”
“Gray zippy sweater, next to Nick.”
“I'm lying. I've been stalking him on Facebook,” she says, hugging me. “He's adorable.”
And then the side door swings open, and the girls of Emoji step into the atrium. Nora actually yelps when she sees us.
“Allie!” she says. She launches toward her. “What are you doing here? Why aren't you in Connecticut?”
“Because you're a rock star,” Alice says.
“I'm not a rock star,” Nora says, beaming.
My parents have a majorly Seussish bouquet for her, and
they spend about five minutes gushing about her guitar skills. And then they want to gush about the rest of the band and Abby, so we sort of converge into one big group. And Nora is talking to Theo, and my parents are shaking hands with Bram, and Taylor and Abby are randomly hugging. It's a surreal, wonderful scene.
I walk over to Leah, and she grins and shrugs. So I give her this crushing hug. “You are a freaking boss,” I tell her. “I had no idea.”
“They let me borrow some of the school drums. I've been teaching myself.”
“For how long?”
“About two years.”
I just look at her. She bites her lip.
“I guess I'm awesome?” she says.
“YES,” I say. And I'm sorry, but I just have to hug her again.
“All right,” she says, squirming a little. But I can tell she's smiling.
So I kiss her on the forehead, and she turns unbelievably red. When Leah blushes, it's so hardcore.
And then my parents walk over to propose a celebratory trip to The Varsity.
“I should probably catch up on homework,” I tell them.
“You sure, kid?” asks my dad. “Want me to bring you back a Frosted Orange?”
“Or two,” says Alice. And then she grins.
Alice tells me to keep my phone on, so she can text me when they're on the way home.
“And you won't forget the Frosties.”
“Simon. I believe this is known as having your cake and eating it, too.”
“Large ones,” I say. “Souvenir cups.”
There are probably a hundred people still walking toward the parking lot. I'm riding back with Bram. It's too public to hold hands. This being Georgia. So, I walk next to him, leaving a space between us. Just a couple of guys hanging out on a Friday night. Except the air around us seems to crackle with electricity.
Bram is parked in the raised area of the parking lot, on the top level. He unlocks his car from the top of the stairs, and I walk around to the passenger side. Then the car next to me comes noisily to life, startling me. I wait for it to pull out before opening my door, but the driver doesn't move. And then I look into the window and see that it's Martin.
We lock eyes. I'm surprised he's here, because he wasn't in school today. Which means I haven't seen him since he emailed me.
He rakes his hand through his hair, and his mouth sort of twists.
And I just sort of look at him.
I haven't written back to his email. Not yet.
I don't know.
But it's chilly outside, so I slide into the car, and then watch through the window as Martin backs out.
“Are you warm enough?” Bram asks. I nod. “So, I guess we're going to your place.”
He sounds nervous, and it makes me nervous. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah,” he says, eyes flicking to me. “I mean,
“Okay. Yeah,” I say. And my heart pounds.
Stepping into the entryway with Bram is like seeing it for the first time. The random painted wood dresser against the wall, overflowing with catalogs and junk mail. A creepy, framed drawing of Alvin and the Chipmunks that Nora made in kindergarten. There's the muffled thud of Bieber jumping off the couch, followed by jangling and clicking as he skitters toward us.
“Well, hi,” Bram says, practically crouching. “I know who you are.”
Bieber greets him passionately, all tongue, and Bram laughs in surprise.
“You have that effect on us,” I explain.
He kisses Bieber on the nose and follows me into the living room. “Are you hungry?” I ask. “Or thirsty?”
“I'm fine,” he says.
“We probably have Coke.” I very badly want to kiss him,
and I don't know why I'm stalling. “Do you want to watch something?”
I look at him. “I don't.”
He laughs. “So, let's not.”
“Do you want to see my room?”
He smiles his mischievous smile again. So maybe it is Bram-like. Maybe I'm still figuring him out.
Framed photographs line the wall by the staircase, and Bram pauses to look at each one. “The famous trash can costume,” he says.
“Nora's finest hour,” I say. “I forgot you knew about that.”
“And this is you with the fish, right? So obviously thrilled.”
In the picture, I'm six or seven, sun-flushed, my arm extended as far away from my body as possible, dangling a caught fish from a piece of twine. I look like I'm about to burst into horrified tears.
“I've always loved fishing,” I say.
“I can't believe how blond you were.”
When we reach the top of the stairs, he takes my hand and squeezes it. “You're really here,” I say, shaking my head. “So, this is it.”
I open the door, and try to kick some of the clothes aside as we walk in. “Sorry about . . . all of this.” There's a dirty-clothes pile next to the empty hamper, and a clean-clothes pile next to the empty dresser. Books and papers everywhere. An empty
bag of Goldfish crackers on the desk, next to a nonfunctioning Curious George alarm clock, my laptop, and a plastic robotic arm. Backpack on the desk chair. Framed vinyl album covers hanging askew on the walls.