When Bram looked back on the past few days, everything unraveled the moment he told Simon he knew who he was.
He knew it wasn’t fair to expect Simon to guess his identity in one try. Even if they sat at the same lunch table and shared a few classes, they hardly ever spoke. Bram thought leaving the shirt with his phone number on Simon’s locker would make Simon see that he still wanted him just as badly, but Simon’s response never came, and Simon never wore the shirt to school.
His last bit of unspoken hope was for Simon to put together the numbers at the end of his email with Leah bringing him a cake into school, but even then, his email stayed silent and no new phone numbers texted him.
Bram tried not to believe that whatever they had was over, but each passing day of silence from Simon was like another nail in the coffin of their relationship that never really lived anyway.
On the Friday after the play when Bram’s inbox was still empty, he got the hint.
The following morning Bram had soccer practice, so he let himself get lost in synchronized drills and the burn in his chest as he ran up and down the field in a scrimmage. It had a way of distracting him from the crushing inevitability of the end of his emails with Simon.
At the end of practice, he sat on one of the benches and sighed. Of course, Garrett sat next to him a moment later.
“You okay, bro?” Bram looked to him and said nothing. That was something about Garrett; Bram never had to pretend around him. Garrett squeezed his shoulder. “Wanna come play CoD at my place? I think my dad still has some beer in the garage from New Year’s.”
Bram chuckled. “It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go to the school play if we’ve been drinking.”
Garrett narrowed his eyes. “We’re going tonight?”
Bram knew what he wasn’t saying.
“We can play after,” Bram told him, deflecting.
Garrett didn’t push him when he knew Bram wasn’t ready to talk, and that was why he was Bram’s best friend.
The play was just as great as the previous two times. Bram watched Simon every second he was on stage. Though there nothing was off with his performance, Bram couldn’t help but notice the way he seemed to fidget more than normal. Maybe it was his way of dealing with things.
Bram tried not to scowl too much whenever Cal Price spoke.
After the play, Bram fulfilled his promise to Garrett and powered up his PlayStation. There was a certain way of losing yourself in the mashing of buttons and the sickening crush of animated brains that Bram always liked. It was mindless and called his focus in the same way soccer did, just without the running. Bram listened to Garrett yell in his ear and laughed along with his running commentary. He could tell that Garrett was trying to help him get his mind off school and Simon, and though his efforts were futile, Bram appreciated them all the same.
Simon wanted Blue to look like Cal Price, wanted him to be charismatic with effortless good looks. Simon didn’t want Blue to be him.
“Dude!” Garrett yelled at him through the headset.
“Crap, sorry,” Bram watched as the game camera zoomed out from both of their characters as they got ripped apart by a pack of rabid zombie dogs.
Bram looked at his phone while Garrett set up a new match for them. He frowned when he saw a small (1) notification by the Gmail app. He could have sworn his email was set to notify him if he got any messages.
There was a message from Simon.
His hands shook as he read the subject line time-stamped from almost twelve hours prior.
Bram felt the controller buzz against his leg but he ignored it.
“Bro,” Garrett said.
Bram didn’t answer. Every word Simon wrote was a thud in his chest and by the time he got to the bottom, his heart raced. His eyes darted up to the clock in the corner of his phone and just as quickly as his pulse raced, his stomach dropped.
He was two hours late.
“I have to go,” he told Garrett.
“What? Dude no, revive me!” Garrett shouted into his ear. Bram tugged off the headset with a quickly shouted apology. He watched as Garrett’s character died on his screen just as the system powered down. Dropping the controller, Bram made a beeline for his car keys.
“I’m going out, Mom!” he called as he ran for the door.
“Abraham Louis, wait just one minute!” his mother called from the kitchen. Bram winced and stopped in the doorway.
“I – I forgot I had plans tonight,” he quickly lied as she stepped into the room. “I’m late.”
“Where are you going?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.
“The carnival at Perimeter Mall,” Bram said impatiently. He looked down to his watched and stared at the number eight flashing back at him. “I really have to go, Mom.”
“Is all of your homework finished for Monday?” she asked.
Bram sighed. “Yes.”
Her serious expression finally broke into a small smile. “Be home by eleven.” Bram grinned and kissed her on the cheek before running out the front door. “Drive safe!”
The clock on his dashboard said it was 8:15 as he pulled out of the driveway at a mother-approved speed. The Perimeter Mall was fifteen minutes away from their house if every light was green, and Bram made it there in ten. He would leave out that detail if his mom asked.
Even though the carnival would be closing soon, the parking area was still packed. Bram drove around the lot twice until he finally saw a pair of taillights backing out. He threw on his signal and tapped his thumbs on his steering wheel impatiently. God, he knew this was it; if he didn’t show up tonight, he knew what Simon would think it meant.
He threw his car into park and popped the glove box to pull out the free ride tickets all the students of Shady Creek got. Shoving them in his pocket, Bram took off towards the bright lights and festive laughter at a run.
He had to find Simon. Simon had to be there.
Bram’s head was spinning. Lights flashed and there was joyous screaming coming from the Ferris wheel in the middle of it all. Everywhere he looked there was a blond head of hair, a boy in glasses, but none of them were Simon. In the ocean of people in front of him, Bram was drowning.
There was a shriek of laughter from the Tilt-a-Whirl, and Bram’s heart gave a heavy thud when he looked towards the ride.
Simon handed the ride operator a ticket and entered the line.
He wanted to yell but his stomach felt like it was in his throat.
Bram jumped and tore his eyes away from Simon. Nick and Abby were suddenly in front of him, smiling happily. They were holding hands and Nick was carrying a few carnival prizes under his arm.
“Uh, hey guys, sorry, I can’t talk right now. I’m – meeting someone.”
It had to be the Tilt-a-Whirl. A group of girls ran into the line behind Simon.
Nick and Abby were both grinning when he apologized to them, and they parted so he could run through. He wiped sweat from his forehead as he stopped in front of the ride operator. He had the metal chain to close off the line in his hand.
“Please.” Bram took a deep breath. Memories of deep fried Oreo-induced nausea flashed in his brain. “I need to get on this ride.” Bram felt bad for the guy; he couldn’t have been more than one or two years older than him, and he looked like he just wanted the night to be over.
The ride operator sighed and held out his hand. Bram dug in his pocket and shoved every single one of his free tickets into the guy’s hand. He dipped under the metal chain and ran to the front of the line.
One of the girls was getting her height checked, and when they were all in the clear, Bram stepped onto the hollow metal platform right behind them. He could see Simon climbing into one of the pods, a flash of blond hair disappearing into the dome shaped seat. The platform clanged under Bram’s feet as he walked to Simon.
When Bram reached him, Simon’s eyes were closed. Bram’s heart clenched at how sad he looked. God, Simon was there for hours, his hope dwindling down to nothing while Bram wasted time playing video games and sulking. Of all the emails for his phone not to register.
Bram took a deep breath to steady his nerves. He was never going to be the cause of Simon’s sad expression ever again. Even if he vomited directly after.
“Can I sit here?”
Simon’s eyes opened, and Bram fell in love with him all over again. The flashing lights of the ride reflected in the gray, dancing across his eyes and beckoning him forward.
Simon’s smile was polite as he let Bram into the seat belt with him. He watched Simon so much he knew that Simon still didn’t get it.
“I like your shirt,” Bram tried. I’m sorry it took me so long.
“Thanks, it’s Elliott Smith.”
The seconds dragged. The guy who let them him in after the gate was closing pulled the bar down over both of them, oblivious to the moment in front of him. Bram watched Simon, watched the moment the wheels turned quick enough and the dots all connected.
The ride spun to life.