Authors: Becky Albertalli
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: Oct 17 at 12:06 AM
SUBJECT: Re: when you knew
That's a pretty sexy story, Blue. I mean, middle school is like this endless horror show. Well, maybe not endless, because it ended, but it really burns into your psyche. I don't care who you are. Puberty is merciless.
I'm curiousâhave you seen him since your dad's wedding?
I don't even know when I figured it out. It was a bunch of little things. Like this weird dream I had once
about Daniel Radcliffe. Or how I was obsessed with Passion Pit in middle school, and then I realized it wasn't really about the music.
And then in eighth grade, I had this girlfriend. It was one of those things where you're “dating” but you don't ever go anywhere outside of school. And you don't really do anything in school either. I think we held hands. So, we went to the eighth-grade dance as a couple, but my friends and I spent the whole night eating Fritos and spying on people from under the bleachers. And at one point, this random girl comes up to me and tells me my girlfriend is waiting in front of the gym. I was supposed to go out there and find her, and I guess we were supposed to make out. In that closed-mouth middle school way.
So, here's my proudest moment: I ran and hid like a freaking preschooler in the bathroom. Like, in the stall with the door closed, crouched up on the toilet so my legs wouldn't show. As if the girls were going to break in and bust me. Honest to God, I stayed there for the entire evening. And then I never spoke to my girlfriend again.
Also, it was Valentine's Day. Because I'm that classy. So, yeah, if I'm being completely honest with myself, I definitely knew at that point. Except I've had two other girlfriends since then.
Did you know that this is officially the longest email I've ever written? I'm not even kidding. You may actually
be the only person who gets more than 140 characters from me. That's kind of awesome, right?
Anyway, I think I'll sign off here. Not going to lie. It's been kind of a weird day.
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: Oct 17 at 8:46 PM
SUBJECT: Re: when you knew
I'm the only one? That's definitely kind of awesome. I'm really honored, Jacques. It's funny, because I don't really email, either. And I never talk about this stuff with anyone. Only you.
For what it's worth, I think it would be incredibly depressing if your actual proudest moment happened in middle school. You can't imagine how much I hated middle school. Remember the way people would look at you blankly and say, “Um, okaaay,” after you finished talking? Everyone just had to make it so clear that, whatever you were thinking or feeling, you were totally alone. The worst part, of course, was that I did the same thing to other people. It makes me a little nauseated just remembering that.
So, basically, what I'm trying to say is that you should
really give yourself a break. We were all awful then.
To answer your question, I've seen him a couple of times since the weddingâprobably twice a year or so. My stepmother seems to have a lot of family reunions and things. He's married, and I think his wife is pregnant now. It's not awkward, exactly, because the whole thing was in my head. It's really amazing, isn't it? Someone can trigger your sexual identity crisis and not have a clue they're doing it. Honestly, he probably still thinks of me as his cousin's weird twelve-year-old stepson.
So I guess this is the obvious question, but I'll ask it anyway: If you knew you were gay, how did you end up having girlfriends?
Sorry about your weird day.
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: Oct 18 at 11:15 PM
SUBJECT: Re: when you knew
Yup, the dreaded “okaaay.” Always accompanied by arched eyebrows and a mouth twisted into a condescending little butthole. And yes, I said it, too. We all sucked so much in middle school.
I guess the girlfriend thing is a little hard to explain. Everything just sort of happened. The eighth-grade relationship was a total mess, obviously, so that was different. As for the other two: basically, they were friends, and then I found out they liked me, and then we started dating. And then we broke up, and both of them dumped me, and it was all pretty painless. I'm still friends with the girl I dated freshman year.
Honestly, though? I think the real reason I had girlfriends was because I didn't one hundred percent believe I was gay. Or maybe I didn't think it was permanent.
I know you're probably thinking: “Okaaaaaaay.”
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: Oct 19 at 8:01 AM
SUBJECT: The obligatory . . .
(Eyebrows, butthole mouth, etc.)
THE SHITTIEST THING ABOUT THE
Martin situation is that I can't bring it up with Blue. I'm not used to keeping secrets from him.
I mean, there are a lot of things he and I don't tell each other. We talk about all the big things, but avoid the identifying detailsâthe names of our friends and anything too specific about school. All the stuff that I used to think defined me. But I don't think of those things as secrets. It's more like an unspoken agreement.
If Blue were a real junior at Creekwood with a locker and a GPA and a Facebook profile, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be telling him anything. I mean, he is a real junior at Creekwood. I know that. But in a way, he lives in my laptop. It's hard to explain.
I was the one who found him. On the Tumblr, of all places. It was August, right when school was starting. Creeksecrets is supposed to be where you can post anonymous confessions and secret random thoughts, and people can comment, but no one really judges you. Except it all kind of devolved into this sinkhole of gossip and bad poetry and misspelled Bible quotes. And I guess it's kind of addictive either way.
That's where I found Blue's post. It just kind of spoke to me. And I don't even think it was just the gay thing. I don't know. It was seriously like five lines, but it was grammatically correct and strangely poetic, and just completely different from anything I'd ever read before.
I guess it was about loneliness. And it's funny, because I don't really think of myself as lonely. But there was something so familiar about the way Blue described the feeling. It was like he had pulled the ideas from my head.
Like the way you can memorize someone's gestures but never know their thoughts. And the feeling that people are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows.
The way you can feel so exposed anyway.
The way he feels so hidden and so exposed about the fact that he's gay.
I felt strangely panicked and self-conscious when I read that part, but there was also this quiet thrum of excitement.
He talked about the ocean between people. And how the whole point of everything is to find a shore worth swimming to.
I mean, I just had to know him.
Eventually I worked up the courage to post the only comment I could think of, which was: “THIS.” All caps. And then I wrote my email address. My secret Gmail account.
I spent the next week obsessing about whether or not he would contact me. And then he did. Later, he told me that my comment made him a little nervous. He's really careful about things. Obviously, he's more careful than I am. Basically, if Blue finds out that Martin Addison has screenshots of our emails, I'm pretty sure he'll freak out. But he'll freak out in a totally Blue way.
Meaning, he'll stop emailing me.
I remember exactly how it felt to see that first message from him in my in-box. It was a little bit surreal. He wanted to know about me. For the next few days at school after that, it felt like I was a character in a movie. I could almost imagine a close-up of my face, projected wide-screen.
It's strange, because in reality, I'm not the leading guy. Maybe I'm the best friend.
I guess I didn't really think of myself as interesting until I was interesting to Blue. So I can't tell him. I'd rather not lose him.
I've been avoiding Martin. All week, in class and rehearsal, I see him trying to catch my eye. I know it's kind of cowardly. This whole situation makes me feel like a coward. It's especially
stupid, because I've already decided I'll help him. Or I'll cave to his blackmail. Whatever you want to call it. It honestly makes me feel a little sick.
I'm distracted all through dinner. My parents are especially jolly tonight because it's
night. I'm dead serious. As in the reality show. We all watched the show yesterday, but tonight is the night we Skype with Alice at Wesleyan to discuss it. It's the new Spier family tradition. I could not be more aware that this is perfectly ridiculous.
I don't even know. My family's always been like this.
“And how are Leo and Nicole?” my dad asks, mouth twitching around the edges of his fork. Switching Leah's and Nick's genders is like the pinnacle of Dad-humor.
“They're amazing,” I say.
“LOL, Dad,” Nora says flatly. My little sister. Recently, she's been using text abbreviations out loud sometimes, even though she never uses them in actual text messages. I think it's supposed to be ironic. She looks at me. “Si, did you see Nick playing guitar outside the atrium?”
“Sounds like Nick's trying to get a girlfriend,” says my mom.
That's funny, Mom, because get this. I'm actually trying to prevent Nick from getting the girl he likes, so Martin Addison won't tell the whole school I'm gay. Did I mention I'm gay?
I mean, how do people even begin with this stuff?
Maybe it would be different if we lived in New York, but
I don't know how to be gay in Georgia. We're right outside Atlanta, so I know it could be worse. But Shady Creek isn't exactly a progressive paradise. At school, there are one or two guys who are out, and people definitely give them crap. Not like violent crap. But the word “fag” isn't exactly uncommon. And I guess there are a few lesbian and bisexual girls, but I think it's different for girls. Maybe it's easier. If there's one thing the Tumblr has taught me, it's that a lot of guys consider it hot when a girl is a lesbian.
Though, I guess it happens in reverse. There are girls like Leah, who do these
pencil sketches and post them to websites.
Which I guess is cool with me. Leah's drawings are actually kind of awesome.
And Leah's also into slash fanfiction, which got me curious enough to poke around the internet and find some last summer. I couldn't believe how much there was to choose from: Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy hooking up in thousands of ways in every broom closet at Hogwarts. I found the ones with decent grammar and stayed up reading all night. It was a weird couple of weeks. That was the summer I taught myself how to do laundry. There are some socks that shouldn't be washed by your mom.
After dinner, Nora sets up Skype on the desktop computer in the living room. In the camera window, Alice looks a little disheveled, but it's probably the hairâwood-blond and
rumpled. All three of us have ridiculous hair. In the background, Alice's bed is unmade and covered with pillows, and someone's purchased a round, shaggy carpet to cover the few feet of floor space. It's still strange to imagine Alice sharing a dorm room with a random girl from Minneapolis. Like, who would have ever guessed I'd see anything sports-related in Alice's room? Minnesota Twins, indeed.
“Okay, you're pixelated. I'm going toâno wait, you're good. Oh my God, Dad, is that a rose?”
Our dad is holding a red rose and cackling into the webcam. I'm not even kidding. My family is all freaking business when it comes to
“Simon, do your Chris Harrison imitation.”
Fact: my Harrison imitation is utter and complete genius. At least, it is under normal circumstances. But I'm not at the top of my game today.
I'm just so preoccupied. And it's not just Martin saving the emails. It's the emails themselves. I've been feeling a little strange about the girlfriend thing ever since Blue asked about it. I wonder if he thinks I'm really fake. I get the impression that once he realized he was gay, he didn't date girls, and it was as simple as that.
“So Michael D. claims to have used the fantasy suite for talking,” Alice says. “Do we believe that?”
“Not for a minute, kid,” Dad replies.
“They always say that,” says Nora. She cocks her head, and
I just now notice that her ear has five piercings, all the way up and around.
“Right?” says Alice. “Bub, are you going to weigh in?”
“Nora, when did you do that?” I touch my earlobe.
She kind of blushes. “Last weekend?”
“Let me see,” Alice demands. Nora turns her ear toward the webcam. “Whoa.”
“I mean, why?” I ask.
“Because I wanted to.”
“But, like, why so many?”
“Can we talk about the fantasy suite now?” she says. Nora gets squirmy when the focus is on her.
“I mean, it's the fantasy suite,” I say. “They totally did it. I'm pretty sure the fantasy doesn't involve talking.”
“But that doesn't necessarily mean intercourse.”
“MOM. Jesus Christ.”
I guess it was easy being in relationships where I didn't really have to think about all the tiny humiliations that come with being attracted to someone. It's like, I get along well with girls. Kissing them is fine. Dating them was really manageable.
“How about Daniel F.?” Nora asks, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. Seriously, the piercings. I don't get her.
“Okay, Daniel F.'s the hottest one,” says Alice. My mom and Alice are always using the phrase “eye candy” to talk about these people.
“Are you kidding me?” my dad says. “The gay one?”
“Daniel's not gay,” Nora objects.
“Kid, he's a one-man Pride Parade. An eternal flame.”
My whole body tenses. Leah once said that she'd rather have people call her fat directly than have to sit there and listen to them talking shit about some other girl's weight. I actually think I agree with that. Nothing is worse than the secret humiliation of being insulted by proxy.
“Dad, stop,” says Alice.
And so Dad starts singing that song “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles.
I never know if my dad says that kind of stuff because he means it, or if he's just trying to push Alice's buttons. I mean, if that's the way he feels, I guess it's good to know. Even if I can't un-know it.
So, the other issue is the lunch table. It's been less than a week since the blackmail conversation, but Martin intercepts me on my way back from the lunch line.
“What do you want, Martin?”
He glances at my table. “Room for one more?”
“Um.” I look down. “Not really.”
There's this weird beat of silence.
“We've got eight people already.”
“Didn't realize the seats were assigned.”
I don't have a clue what to say to that. People sit where they always sit. I thought that was basically a law of the universe.
You can't just switch around the lunch tables in October.
And my group is weird, but it works. Nick, Leah, and me. Leah's two friends, Morgan and Anna, who read manga and wear black eyeliner, and are basically interchangeable. Anna and I actually dated freshman year, and I still think she and Morgan are interchangeable.
Then you have the holy randomness of Nick's soccer friends: awkward silence Bram and semi-douche Garrett. And Abby. She moved here from DC just before the beginning of the school year, and I guess we were sort of drawn to each other. It was some combination of fate and alphabetical homeroom assignments.
Anyway, that's the eight of us. And it's basically locked down. Already, we're squeezing two extra chairs into a six-person table.
“Yeah, well.” Martin tilts backward in his chair and looks up at the ceiling. “I just figured we were on the same page here with the Abby thing, but . . .”
Then he raises his eyebrows at me. Seriously.
So, we haven't exactly laid out the terms of this blackmail arrangement, but clearly it goes something like this: Martin asks for whatever the hell he wants. And then I'm supposed to do it.
It's just so fucking awesome.
“Look, I want to help you.”
“Whatever you say, Spier.”
“Listen.” I lower my voice, almost to a whisper. “I'm gonna talk to her and stuff. Okay? But you've got to let me handle it.”
I feel his stink-eye on me all the way to my table.
I have to act normal. It's not like I can say anything. I mean, now I have to say something about him to Abby, I guess. But it'll be the exact opposite of what I want to say.
It may be a little hard getting Abby to like this kid. Because I kind of can't stand him.
I guess that's beside the point now.
Except the days keep ticking by, and I still haven't handled it. I haven't talked to Abby, or invited Martin along to crap, or locked them into empty classrooms together. I don't even know what he wants, honestly.
I'm kind of hoping to avoid finding out for as long as humanly possible. I guess I've been doing a lot of disappearing. Or glomming onto Nick and Leah, so Martin won't try to talk to me. I pull into the parking lot on Tuesday, and Nora hops outâbut when I don't follow, she pokes her head back inside.
“Um, are you coming?”
“Eventually,” I say.
“All right.” She pauses. “Are you okay?”
She looks at me.
“Nora. I'm fine.”
“Okay,” she says, stepping back. She shuts the door with a soft click and heads toward the entrance. I don't know. Nora's weirdly observant sometimes, but talking to her about stuff can be kind of awkward. I never really noticed it until Alice left for school.
I end up playing around on my phone, refreshing my email and watching music videos on YouTube. But there's a knock on the passenger side window, and I almost jump. I think I've started expecting to see Martin everywhere. Except it's just Nick. I gesture through the window for him to come in.
He climbs into the seat. “What are you doing?”
“Watching videos,” I say.
“Oh man. Perfect. I've got this song in my head.”
“If it's by the Who,” I inform him, “or Def Skynyrd or anyone like that, then no freaking way.”
“I'm going to pretend you didn't just say âDef Skynyrd.'”