Authors: Becky Albertalli
I love messing with Nick.
We end up watching part of an episode of
as a compromise, and it's the exact perfect distraction. I keep an eye on the clock, because I don't actually want to miss English class. I just want to cut off that margin of time before class begins, where Martin might try to talk to me.
And it's funny. I know Nick can tell something's up with me, but he doesn't ask questions or try to make me talk. It's just one of those things about us. I know his voice and expressions
and his weird little habits. His random existential monologues. The way he taps his fingertips along the pad of his thumb when he's nervous. And I guess he probably knows the same kinds of things about me. I mean, we've known each other since we were four. But really, I don't have a clue what goes on inside his head most of the time.
It actually reminds me a lot of the thing Blue posted on the Tumblr.
Nick takes my phone and starts scrolling through the videos. “If we can find one with Christ imagery, we can totally justify skipping English.”
“Um, if we find Christ imagery, I'm using
for my free-response essay.”
He looks at me and laughs.
The thing is, it isn't lonely with Nick. It's just easy. So maybe it's a good thing.
I'm a little early for Thursday's rehearsal, so I slip out the side door of the auditorium and walk around to the back of the school. It's actually pretty chilly for Georgia, and it looks like it rained sometime after lunch. Really, though, there are only two kinds of weather: hoodie weather and weather where you wear a hoodie anyway.
I must have left my earbuds in my backpack in the auditorium. I hate listening to stuff through the speakers of my phone, but music is always better than no music. I lean against
the brick wall behind the cafeteria, searching my music library for an EP by Leda. I haven't listened to it yet, but the fact that Leah and Anna are obsessed is a promising sign.
Suddenly, I'm not alone.
“Okay, Spier. What's your deal?” Martin asks, sidling up beside me against the wall.
“I think you're avoiding me.”
We're both wearing Chucks, and I can't decide if my feet look small or if his look huge. Martin probably has six inches on me. Our shadows look ridiculous next to each other.
“Well, I'm not,” I say. I step off the wall and start walking back toward the auditorium. I mean, I'm not trying to piss off Ms. Albright.
Martin catches up to me. “Seriously,” he says, “I'm not going to show anyone the emails, okay? Stop freaking out about it.”
But I think I'll take that with about a million fucking grains of salt. Because he sure as hell didn't say he was deleting them.
He looks at me, and I can't quite read his expression. It's funny. All the years I've been in class with this kid, laughing along with everyone at the random shit he says. All the times I've seen him in plays. We even sat next to each other in choir for a year. But really, I barely know him. I guess I don't know him at all.
Never in my life have I underestimated someone so severely.
“I said I was going to talk to her,” I say finally. “Okay?”
My hands are on the auditorium door.
“Wait,” he says. I look up at him, and he's holding his phone. “Would it be easier if we exchanged numbers?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“I mean . . .” He shrugs.
“Jesus Christ, Martin.” I grab his phone, and my hands are practically vibrating with total fury as I punch my number into his contacts.
“Awesome! And I'll just call you so you have mine.”
Fucking Martin Addison. I'm definitely putting him in my contacts as “Monkey's Asshole.”
I push through the door, and Ms. Albright herds us on stage. “All right. I need Fagin, Dodger, Oliver, and boys. Act One, Scene Six. Let's go.”
“Simon!” Abby flings her arms around me, and then pokes me in the cheeks. “Never leave me again.”
“What did I miss?” I kind of force a smile.
“Nothing,” she says under her breath, “but I'm in Taylor hell here.”
“The blondest circle of hell.”
Taylor Metternich. She's the worst kind of perfect. Like, if perfection had a dark side. I don't know how else to explain it. I always imagine her sitting in front of a mirror at night, counting strokes as she brushes her hair. And she's the kind of person who posts on Facebook asking you how you did on the history
quiz. Not to be supportive. She wants to know your grade.
“Okay, boys,” says Ms. Albright. Hilarious, because Martin, Cal Price, and I are the only ones onstage who technically qualify. “Bear with me, because we're going to do some blocking.” She combs her bangs out of her eyes and tucks them behind her ear. Ms. Albright is really young for a teacher, and she has bright red hair. Like, electric red.
“Act One, Scene Six is the pickpocket scene, right?” asks Taylor, because she's also the kind of person who pretends to ask a question just to show off what she already knows.
“Right,” Ms. Albright says. “Take it away, Cal.”
Cal is the stage manager. He's a junior like me, and he carries a double-spaced copy of the script clipped into a giant blue binder, exploding with pencil notes. It's funny that his job is basically to order us around and be stressed out, because he's the least authoritative person I've ever met. He's a little bit soft-spoken, and he has an actual southern accent. Which is something you almost never hear in Atlanta, really.
He also has those kind of shaggy brown bangs I like, and dark, ocean-colored eyes. I haven't heard anything about him being gay, but there's this kind of vibe I get, maybe.
“All right,” says Ms. Albright, “Dodger has just befriended Oliver, and he's bringing him back to the hideout for the first time to meet Fagin and the boys. So. What's your objective?”
“To show him who's boss,” says Emily Goff.
“Maybe to mess with him a little?” says Mila Odom.
“You got it. He's the new guy, and you're not going to make it easy for him. He's a nerd. You want to intimidate him and steal his crap.” That makes a couple of people laugh. Ms. Albright is moderately badass for a teacher.
She and Cal put us into positionâMs. Albright calls it “setting the tableau.” They want me lying down propped up by my elbows on a platform, tossing a little coin bag. When Dodger and Oliver enter, all of us are supposed to jump up and make a grab for Oliver's satchel. I have the idea to stuff it under my shirt and stagger around the stage with my hand on my lower back like I'm pregnant.
Ms. Albright totally loves it.
Everyone laughs, and honest to God, this is the absolute best kind of moment. The auditorium lights are off except for the ones over the stage, and we're all bright eyed and giggle-drunk. I fall a little bit in love with everyone. Even Taylor.
Even Martin. He smiles at me when he catches my eye, and I really just have to grin back at him. He's such a freaking asswipe, seriously, but he's just so gangly and fidgety and ridiculous. It takes some of the passion out of hating him.
So yeah. I'm not going to write a poem in his honor. And I don't know what he expects me to say to Abby. No clue. But I guessâI'll think of something.
Rehearsal ends, but Abby and I dangle our feet off the edge of one of the platforms, watching Ms. Albright and Cal make notes in the big blue binder. The south county late bus doesn't
leave for another fifteen minutes, and then it's another hour until Abby gets home. She and most of the other black kids spend more time commuting to school each day than I do in a week. Atlanta is so weirdly segregated, and no one ever talks about it.
She yawns and leans back flat on the platform with one arm tucked behind her head. She's wearing tights and one of those short patterned dresses, and her left wrist is loaded with woven friendship bracelets.
Martin sits across the stage, a few feet away, zipping his backpack so slowly it must be deliberate. He seems to be making a point of not looking at us.
Abby's eyes are closed. She has the kind of mouth that always rests in a faint smile, and she smells a little like French toast. If I were straight. The Abby thing. I do think I get it.
“Hey, Martin,” I say, and my voice sounds strange. He looks up at me. “Are you going to Garrett's tomorrow?”
“I, uh,” he says. “Like a party?”
“It's a Halloween party. You should come. I'll send you the address.”
Just a quick text to Monkey's Asshole.
“Yeah, maybe,” he says. He leans forward and stands, and immediately trips over his shoelace. Then he tries to play it off like some kind of dance move. Abby laughs, and he grins, and I'm not even kidding: he actually takes a bow. I mean, I don't even know what to say to that. I guess there's this hazy
middle ground between laughing at someone and laughing with someone.
I'm pretty sure that middle ground is Martin.
Abby turns her head to look at me. “Didn't know you were friends with Marty,” she says.
Which is just about the most hilarious fucking statement ever.
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: Oct 30 at 9:56 PM
SUBJECT: Re: hollow wieners
I guess I never tried to pull off something truly scary. My family is really all about the funny costumes. We used to get competitive about whose costume would make my dad laugh the hardest. My sister was a trash can one year. Not Oscar the Grouch. Just a trash can full of trash. And I was pretty much a one-trick pony. The boy-in-a-dress concept never got old (until it did, I guessâI was
in fourth grade and had this amazing flapper costume, but then I looked in the mirror and felt this electric shock of mortification).
Now, I'll say I aim for the sweet spot of simplicity and badassery. I can't believe you're not dressing up. Don't you realize you're throwing away the perfect opportunity to be someone else for an evening?
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: Oct 31 at 8:11 AM
SUBJECT: Re: hollow wieners
Sorry to disappoint. I'm not opposed to dressing up, and you make a compelling case for it. I completely see the appeal of being someone else for the evening (or in general). Actually, I was a bit of a one-trick pony myself when I was little. I was always a superhero. I guess I liked to imagine myself having this complicated secret identity. Maybe I still do. Maybe that's the whole point of these emails.
Anyway, I'm not dressing up this year, because I'm not going out. My mom has some kind of work party,
so I'm stuck at home on chocolate duty. I'm sure you understand that there's nothing sadder than a sixteen-year-old boy home alone on Halloween answering the door in full costume.
Your family sounds interesting. How did you talk your parents into buying you dresses? I bet you were an awesome flapper. Did your parents try to ruin all your costumes by making them weather appropriate? I remember throwing this ridiculous tantrum one year because THE GREEN LANTERN DOES NOT WEAR A TURTLENECK. Though, in retrospect, he actually kind of does. Sorry, Mom!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy your day off from being Jacques. And I hope everyone likes your ninja costume (that has to be it, right? The perfect mix of simple and badass?).
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: Oct 31 at 8:25 AM
SUBJECT: Re: hollow wieners
A ninja? Suck a good guess, but no dice.
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: Oct 31 at 8:26 AM
SUBJECT: Re: hollow wieners
Aaaahâautocorrect fail. DICK a good guess.
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: Oct 31 at 8:28 AM
SUBJECT: Re: hollow wieners
SUCH a good guess. SUCH. Jesus Christ. This is why I never write you from my phone.
Anyway, I'm going to go die of embarrassment now.
HONEST TO GOD, THERE IS
nothing better than Halloween on a Friday. All day in school, there's a kind of charged feeling, and it seems to make the work less boring and the teachers funnier. I've got felt cat ears duct taped to my hoodie, and a tail pinned to the butt of my jeans, and kids I don't know are giving me smiles in the hallways. Laughing in a nice way. It's just an awesome day.
Abby comes home with me, and we'll walk over to Nick's later so Leah can pick us all up. Leah's already seventeen, which makes a difference in Georgia with your license. I can drive one other person at a time besides Nora right now, and that's the end of the story. My parents aren't strict about a lot of things, but they're evil mad dictators when it comes to driving.
Abby collapses to the floor to cuddle with Bieber as soon as
we walk into the kitchen. She and Leah may not have much in common, but they're both obsessed with my dog. And Bieber is now lying pathetically on his back, belly exposed, staring up at Abby dreamily.
Bieber is a golden retriever, and he has these big, brown, kind of manic eyes. Alice was way too pleased with herself when she came up with his name, but I'm not going to lie. It seriously fits.
“So where is this thing?” Abby asks, looking up at me. She and Bieber are intertwined in an eternity embrace, her headband sliding down over her eyes. A lot of people did the toned-down school version of Halloween todayâanimal ears and masks and things like that. Abby showed up wearing a full-on, head-to-toe Cleopatra costume.
“Garrett's house? Somewhere off Roswell Road, I think? Nick knows.”
“So it's going to be mostly soccer people?”
“Probably. I don't know,” I say.
I mean, I did get a text from Monkey's Asshole confirming he'd be there. But I don't feel like bringing him into the conversation.
“Well, whatever. It'll be fun.” She tries to extract herself from the dog, and her costume rides almost all the way up her thigh. She does have tights on, but really. I guess it's funny. As far as I know, everyone thinks of me as straight, but already Abby seems to have figured out that she doesn't have to be
self-conscious around me. But maybe that's just how she is.
“Hey, are you hungry?” she asks. And I realize I'm supposed to have offered her something.
We end up cooking grilled cheese in the toaster oven and bringing it into the living room to eat in front of the TV. Nora is tucked into her corner of the couch reading
. I guess that's kind of Halloween-ish. Nora never really goes out. I catch her eyeing our sandwiches, and then she slides off the couch to make one for herself. I mean, if she wanted grilled cheese, she really should have just told me. Our mom gives Nora crap about being more assertive. Though I guess I could have asked if she was hungry. I have a hard time getting into other people's heads sometimes. It's probably the worst thing about me.
We watch some random shows on Bravo with Bieber stretched between us on the couch. Nora comes in with her sandwich and goes back to reading. Alice, Nora, and I tend to do our work in front of the TV or with music playing, but we all get good grades, regardless.
“Hey, we better get dressed, right?” Abby says. Abby has an entirely different costume for the party, because by now everyone has seen Cleopatra.
“We don't have to be at Nick's until eight.”
“But don't you want to dress up for the trick-or-treaters?” she says. “I always hated it when people weren't in costume.”
“Um, if you say so. But I promise you, the kids here are all
about the candy, and they seriously don't care where it comes from.”
“That's a little concerning,” says Abby.
I laugh. “Yeah, it is.”
“Okay, well, I'm taking over your bathroom now. Time for the transformation.”
“Sounds good,” I say. “I'll transform in here.”
Nora looks up from her book. “Simon. Eww.”
“It's a dementor robe over my clothes. I think you'll survive.”
“What's a dementor?”
I mean, I can't even. “Nora, you are no longer my sister.”
“So it's some Harry Potter thing,” she says.
Garrett bumps fists with Nick when we walk in. “Eisner. What. Is. Up.”
And there's this throb of music and random bursts of laughter and people holding cans that aren't Coke. Already, I'm feeling a little out of my depth. So, here's the thingâI'm used to the other kind of party. The kind where you get to someone's house and their mom shows you down to the basement, and there's junk food and Apples to Apples and a bunch of people randomly singing. Maybe some people playing video games.
“So, what can I get you to drink?” Garrett asks. “We have beer and, um, vodka and rum.”
“Yeah, thanks, no,” says Leah. “I drove.”
“Oh, well, we have Cokes and juice and stuff.”
“I'll have vodka with orange juice,” says Abby. Leah shakes her head.
“A screwdriver for Wonder Woman, coming right up. Eisner, Spier? Anything? Can I get you a beer?”
“Sure,” I say. My heart is doing some noticeable thumping.
“Spier, a beer,” Garrett says, and then he laughs. I guess because it rhymes. He disappears to get us drinks, which my mom would probably say is really excellent hosting. Not that there's any way in holy hell I'm telling my parents about the alcohol. They would be too goddamn amused.
I pull my dementor hood over my head and lean against the wall. Nick has gone upstairs to get Garrett's dad's guitar, so it's that weird quiet tension of being alone with Abby and Leah. Abby sings along under her breath to the music and kind of shimmies her shoulders.
I feel myself kind of shrinking toward Leah. Sometimes I just know she's feeling the exact way I am.
Leah looks at the couch. “Wow, is that Katniss making out with Yoda?”
“Who making out with who?” says Abby.
There's this pause. “Yeah . . . forget it,” says Leah.
I think Leah gets extra sarcastic when she's nervous. But Abby never seems to notice that edge in her voice.
“Where the heck is Nick?” she asks.
Just hearing Abby say Nick's name makes Leah suck in her lips.
“Feeling up a guitar somewhere?” I suggest.
“Yeah,” says Leah. “Most awkward way ever to get a splinter.” Which sets Abby off giggling. Leah looks kind of flushed and pleased with herself.
It's the weirdest thing. There are these moments with Abby and Leah where it honestly just seems like they're showing off for each other.
But then Garrett walks over with an armload of drinks, and something in Leah's expression slams shut.
“All rightâscrewdrivers for the ladies . . . ,” Garrett says, handing one to each of them.
“This is . . . okay,” says Leah, rolling her eyes and leaving the drink on the table behind her.
“And a beer forâwhatever the hell you're supposed to be.”
“A dementor,” I say.
“What in God's holy name is that?”
“A dementor? From Harry Potter?”
“Well, put your hood back, for the love of Jesus. And who are you supposed to be?”
“Kim Kardashian,” says Leah, just completely deadpan.
Garrett looks confused.
“I . . .”
“It's a manga,” she says.
“Ah.” There's a crash of dissonant piano notes from across the room, and Garrett's eyes skate past us. A couple of girls are
sitting on the piano bench, and I guess one of them knocked her elbow into the keys. There's this burst of wild, drunk laughter.
And I almost wish I were home with Nora, watching Bravo and listening for the door and stuffing my face with fun-size Kit Kats. Which, for the record, are way less fun than full-size Kit Kats. I don't know. It's not that I'm having a bad time, exactly. But being here feels strange.
I take a sip of my beer, and it'sâI mean, it's just astonishingly disgusting. I don't think I was expecting it to taste like ice cream, but holy fucking hell. People lie and get fake IDs and sneak into bars, and for this? I honestly think I'd rather make out with Bieber. The dog. Or Justin.
Anyway, it really makes you worry about all the hype surrounding sex.
Garrett leaves Nick's drink with us and joins the girls at the piano. I think they're freshmen. Their costumes are surprisingly cleverâone of them is wearing a black silk nightgown with a picture of Freud's face taped to the front. A Freudian slip. Nick will like that. But they're Nora's age. I can't believe they're drinking. Garrett quickly pulls down the lid over the piano keys, and the fact that he's worried about the piano makes me like him better.
“There you are,” says Abby. Nick is back, holding on to this acoustic guitar like a lifeline. He settles onto the floor to tune it, his back against the side of the couch. A couple of people glance over at him without breaking their conversations.
It's weird, because pretty much everyone looks familiar, but it's all soccer people and other miscellaneous jocks. Which is fine, obviously. It's just that I don't really know them. It's pretty clear that I won't be seeing Cal Price in this crowd, and I don't know where the heck Martin is.
I sit, and Leah slides down the wall next to me, leaning against it with her legs tucked awkwardly to the side. She's wearing a skirt with her costume, and I can tell she's trying to keep her thighs from showing. Which is so ridiculous and so Leah. I scoot close to her, and she smiles a little bit without looking at me. Abby settles in cross-legged facing us, and it's really kind of nice. We basically have our own corner of the room.
I feel kind of happy and hazy now, and beer doesn't taste so bad after the first few sips. Garrett or someone must have turned the stereo off, and a couple of people have come over to listen to Nick. I don't know if I mentioned this, but Nick has the most raspy-perfect singing voice in the world. Of course, he has this weird, dad-like obsession with classic rock, but I guess that's not always a bad thing. Because right now he's singing Pink Floyd's “Wish You Were Here,” and I'm thinking about Blue. And I'm thinking about Cal Price.
Here's the thing. I have this feeling in my gut that Blue is Cal Price. I just do. I think it's the eyes. He has ocean eyes: just waves and waves of blue-green. And sometimes when I look at Cal, I feel like we understand each other, and he gets it, and it's perfect and unspoken.
“Simon, how much did you drink?” asks Leah. I'm twisting the ends of her hair. Leah's hair is so pretty, and it smells exactly like French toast. Except that's Abby. Leah smells like almonds.
“One beer.” One most excellent, most delicious beer.
“One beer. I can't even begin to express how ridiculous you are.” But she's almost smiling.
“Leah, did you know you have a really Irish face?”
She looks at me. “What?”
“You guys know what I mean. Like an Irish face. Are you Irish?”
“Um, not as far as I know.”
“My ancestors are Scottish,” someone says. I look up, and it's Martin Addison wearing bunny ears.
“Yeah, exactly,” I say as Martin sits beside Abby, close but not too close. “Okay, and it's so weird, right, because we have all these ancestors from all over the world, and here we are in Garrett's living room, and Martin's ancestors are from Scotland, and I'm sorry, but Leah's are totally from Ireland.”
“If you say so.”
“And Nick's are from Israel.”
“Israel?” says Nick, fingers still sliding all over the frets of the guitar. “They're from Russia.”
So I guess you learn something new every day, because I really thought Jewish people came from Israel.
“Okay, well, I'm English and German, and Abby's, you
know . . .” Oh God, I don't know anything about Africa, and I don't know if that makes me racist.
“West African. I think.”
“Exactly. I mean, it's just the randomness of it. How did we all end up here?”
“Slavery, in my case,” Abby says.
And fucking fuck. I need to shut up. I needed to shut up about five minutes ago.
The stereo kicks back in again.
“Hey, I think I'm going to grab a drink,” Martin says, jumping up again in that spastic Martin way. “Can I get you all anything?”
“Thanks, but I'm driving,” says Leah. But she wouldn't be drinking even if she wasn't driving. I know that. Because there's this invisible line, and on one side are people like Garrett and Abby and Nick and every musician ever. People who go to parties and drink and don't get wasted off of one beer. People who have had sex and don't think it's a huge deal.
On the other side of the line are people like Leah and me.
But the one thing that makes it weirdly better is knowing that Blue is one of us. I'm reading a little between the lines here, but I actually don't think Blue has ever kissed anyone. It's funnyâI don't even know if it counts that I have.
I've never kissed a guy. That's something I think about all the time.
“Spier?” asks Martin.
“Anything to drink?”
“Oh, thanks. I'm good.” Leah makes this little noise like a snort.
“I'm done, too. Thanks, though.” Abby kicks her foot against my foot. “At home, I'd just take the Metro and sneak in through our back door, so it didn't matter.” When Abby says “home,” she's still talking about DC. “But I figure Simon's parents don't need to see me drunk.”
“I don't think they would care.”
Abby pushes her bangs to the side and looks up at me. “I think you'd be surprised.”
“They let my sister pierce her ear a million times.”
“Wow. Nora's such a badass,” says Leah.