Bram tapped his fingers on his desk as Mr. Wise walked up and down the aisles. He thought he did okay on the essay they were getting back, and he knew he needed to start saving some of his better ones to give to his father. His father loved to talk about Thoreau in that way that made everyone around him slowly pull out their phones while they pretend to listen.
Mr. Wise licked his thumb and handed Simon Spier’s paper back to him, before making his way down the aisle and up the next one. Bram kept his eyes on Mr. Wise as he waited, and not on Simon across the aisle. He watched as Garrett got his back and immediately shoved the paper covered in red marks into his bag, uncaring if the essay got wrinkled.
Bram jumped when he felt a tap on his shoulder. When he turned, his heart stuttered. Simon leaned towards him.
“Looks like this is yours.”
Bram felt his brain slam the lock shut. He thought that maybe he could manage a thank you, but he really wasn’t sure if the words he thought he should be saying matched the words coming out of his mouth. He watched Simon’s eyes drift from the paper to where Bram reached for it.
“No problem. I mean, I’d keep the grade if I could.”
Bram chuckled nervously. Simon smiled at him, and Bram’s composure crumbled. He felt like his hands were too big and his face was too hot. It felt like the room was spinning around them, and the only anchor was the spot where they both touched the paper.
For the first time in his AP English career, Bram couldn’t care less what his grade was.
He set his paper on top of his notebook with the grade facing down and stared at his desk. Simon always had this habit of staring longer than he realized, and Bram knew he would give himself away if Simon really, really looked.
Bram tried to take notes through the rest of the class, but focusing on what Mr. Wise was explaining wasn’t happening. Every time Simon shifted in his seat or cleared his throat, Bram gripped his pencil tighter. By the end of class, he had less than a page of notes. He only managed to subtly turn and look at Simon once.
There was a thing about want that had a way of manifesting in very unwanted ways. Simon was ridiculously cute, that was a fact. But Bram also felt a certain loyalty to the boy he’d been emailing with for a while, Jacques, and him thinking about Simon Spier would probably make Jacques jealous.
The thing about want was, Bram was starting to want Jacques to be Simon to the point that he pictured Jacques as Simon. Jacques was smart and funny, and Simon was in AP classes and always had their whole lunch table exploding with laughter.
Of course there was the fact that Simon made no indication to the world that he was gay, and he was really close to Abby Suso and Leah Burke. Simon could easily start up a relationship with either one of those and Bram wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest.
Want was an ugly thing.
“Bro,” Garrett said, snapping Bram out of his thoughts. “What happened with Spier back there?”
“Nothing,” Bram said, too quickly.
Of course, Garrett didn’t believe him. “Okay…”
Butthole mouth and all.
“Mr. Wise gave my paper back to him on accident,” Bram told him. “I think he was disappointed; I don’t think he did very well.”
Garrett snorted. “Yeah, none of us did very well.” He put emphasis on ‘well’ like he was making fun of Bram’s correct grammar.
Garrett went on to talk about Christmas break, and Bram tried to forget about it.
If trying to forget about it meant it was all he thought about for the rest of the day.
For not the first time, Bram wondered how Garrett would react if he told him he was gay. The thing was, he really didn’t know where Garrett stood on the topic because it wasn’t exactly something they ever talked about. Garrett never said anything blatantly homophobic, but that didn’t mean he would be okay with Bram.
Bram hated feeling like he was lying to his best friend.
To get through his feelings, Bram wrote them out to Jacques. He started telling him about Googling his way to Elliott Smith and how he secretly looked all week to see if Simon Spier wore any band t-shirts – of course, he omitted the Simon part.
He let his thoughts fill the page as he talked about Hanukkah with his dad and the idea of coming out at the hotel. Compared to most of his peers, he felt like he was pretty close to his parents, and he wouldn’t feel right telling Garrett without telling them first. If anything, telling his dad would be practice to get use to saying the words out loud when he did decide to come out to Garrett.
Jacques’ reply appeared in his inbox a few hours later. The familiar feeling of a smile he couldn’t quite help strained his cheeks as he read Jacques’ perfect response. He was already well on his way to falling in love with the boy on the other end of his emails.
He re-read Jacques’ response and looked at the phrase I am basically glued to my iPod again.
Simon always had headphones wrapped around his neck. It was such a trivial thing to connect that Bram felt like he wasn’t being fair to Jacques. If Jacques wasn’t Simon Spier, the only thing he was doing was distracting himself from figuring it out.
He found himself Googling Elliott Smith merchandise over the next few weeks, thinking about what Simon would look like wearing it.
Garrett bumped into him the following week in the hall after his history class and Bram’s study hall period.
“Adderall tripped over a desk in class,” Garrett told him as a greeting, as if it was the most important thing in the universe.
“Martin?” Bram asked. He felt bad that people called him that, especially because it seemed like he and Simon were kind of friends.
“Pretty sure he’s got a hard on for Abby,” Garrett continued, as if Bram hadn’t spoken. “Think we should warn Eisner?” Before Bram could answer, Garrett smirked. “Or maybe he’s got one for Spier.” Garrett looked at him, waiting for his response, because Martin being gay was the punchline of his joke.
Bram frowned. As Jacques would say, he couldn’t even.
“I have to get to Chem,” Bram said, walking away before he could see Garrett’s reaction.
Even if he tried, Bram couldn’t stay mad at Garrett for very long. Considering Garrett didn’t even know why Bram was upset in the first place, Bram figured he couldn’t be that mad. When he got a text from Garrett that afternoon inviting him over to play video games after Hanukkah, he accepted the invite.
Coming out at Hotel Hanukkah didn’t happen. The weird combination of the obviously straight books and the care his dad put into setting everything up surprised him, and really reiterated how distant he was from his father. As the words he so carefully planned out mulled around in his head, he remembered how his mom was probably sitting at home at that very moment doing nothing, waiting for him. He couldn’t bring himself to tell his dad he saw a few times a year before his mom that he lived with every day.
As always, writing out his feelings to Jacques helped him a lot. He didn’t get a reply until the following afternoon, so full of compassion and humor that it made Bram fall in love with him just a little more.
Until he got to the last line.
Mr. Wise says I have a thing about sentence fragments.
Maybe want was okay if what he wanted was the truth.
Jacques was in AP English and Mr. Wise only taught two junior classes. Jacques never wore band t-shirts and was always glued to his iPod. Jacques was smart and funny and always knew just the right thing to say, and Bram was maybe more than a little in love with him.
There was too much coincidence, too many similarities.
He wrote a thank you to Jacques and tried to keep it as light and casual as he could. Just because Jacques’ English teacher was Mr. Wise didn’t automatically mean he was Simon.
Bram spent the rest of the following week watching Simon at lunch and planning with Jacques how he was going to come out to his mom. Nick and Garrett spent most of their lunches talking animatedly about soccer starting back up after the break, and it was all Bram could do to nod along with their conversations while he watched Simon help Abby with her lines for the school play.
Coming out to his mom went better than he expected it to. He over-prepared for her to bring up religion and she didn’t, so half of his defense went right out the window when she only nodded and listened carefully. His other half crumpled when his voice started shaking and she pulled him into a soft and sturdy hug.
Of course, she gave him a very thorough talk about sex after, so his jitters were quickly replaced with mortification. As soon as she said the phrase Every Time, Including Oral, he knew he needed to escape so he could tell Jacques. Jacques would probably laugh uncontrollably at it.
In Jacques’ response to his story of coming out, Jacques told him he also came out to one of his best friends that night.
Bram wondered if he could text Nick. Would there even be a scenario of texts that Bram could think up that would lead to Nick giving up Simon’s secret? And it might not even be Nick, Simon could have told Leah Burke or even Abby. They were all close.
He gave up on the idea before a full thought even formed, and because the exhaustion from the school day and from the conversation with his mother was finally to the point that the adrenaline couldn’t keep it at bay.
The following week, Garrett shoved his phone into Bram’s face at the beginning of algebra.
“Dude, did you see this?”
“Dude, I can’t not see it,” Bram said. He pushed Garrett’s hand away.
“Some sophomore tried to fuck a beaker in the chem lab,” Garrett said, a wide grin spreading as he took the desk in front of Bram.
Bram took Garrett’s phone from him and held it at a readable distance. He hadn’t been on the Tumblr since he posted about being gay that summer. His post was most likely lost in the void of gossip, but it still felt strange that Garrett might have read it.
He handed Garrett’s phone back with a chuckle, and Garrett turned around when their teacher called their attention. When she turned her back to the class Garrett passed his phone to Nick, who laughed and passed it right to Simon. Bram blushed when Simon grinned at the post, chuckling silently before handing Garrett’s phone back. Simon glanced at him for just a second as their teacher turned back, giving him a smile that made Bram’s heart skip a beat.
After class, Garrett was still talking about the post. Bram listened and added commentary when he felt like he should.
He thought about his and Jacques' talk about walls coming down. There was one more wall in Bram's life that he needed to take care of.
“Hey, do you want to hang out tonight?” Bram asked him. Garrett shrugged, and after a stop at their lockers, they both drove to Bram’s house.
His mom was home when they got there and Garrett greeted her with a hug.
“I think we’re going to work on homework,” Bram told her. When Garrett went to their refrigerator for drinks, Bram’s mom gave him a look.
“Make sure your door is open,” she said, and God, Bram would give anything for Garrett to keep his head in the refrigerator for about ten minutes longer. Bram shot her a look right back and got an eyebrow raise that made his cheeks flush.
Garrett stood, clutching a few cans of his mom’s Diet Coke, oblivious to the exchange. Bram rolled his eyes; his mom would never let him take more than one can at a time of but said nothing to Garrett.
Of all the people for his mom to assume.
Bram left the kitchen silently with Garrett right behind him. His room was at the end of the hall and he said nothing until they were both inside.
Bram sat at his desk and Garrett sat sideways on his bed.
“What’s up with your mom?” Garrett asked him, cracking open one of the cans. Bram watched as the can fizzed a little extra and Garrett hurried to drink some of it before it spilled over.
Bram looked down to his desk. The different scenarios of Garrett’s reactions crashed around in his head.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you,” Bram finally said. When he looked back up, Garrett was looking at him with an expression of concern. He felt nauseated.
“What’s up, bro?” Garrett asked.
Bram set his pencil down and folded his hands together to stop them from shaking.
It was just Garrett. Garrett constantly complained to him about how Leah hated him and how nice her hair smelled at the lunch table. Bram could tell Garrett he liked boys.
“Bram? Are you okay?”
Bram looked at Garrett. He was never just Bram unless Garrett was being completely serious.
Bram took another deep breath.
The wall tumbled down and he was on the other side.
Garrett was quiet. Bram tugged at a fraying spot on his jeans. When Garrett said nothing, Bram started talking. “So yeah. She was weird because –”
“Do you like me?” Garrett asked.
Bram looked up. “What? No!”
Garrett looked relieved. “Sorry, I thought – I don’t know – and your mom. Sorry! Dude, that’s great.”
“Really?” Bram asked. Relief washed over him.
“Yeah, dude! I was worried you were going to tell me you were moving to Savannah or something.”
Adrenaline fueled laughter bubbled out of him. “Somehow I think my mom would be less okay with that.”
Garrett laughed from the bed. He was quiet for a moment, before he asked, “Have you told anyone else?” Bram shook his head. “Are you going to? Like Nick or on Facebook or whatever?”
“Not yet,” Bram told him. He thought about Jacques.
He thought about Simon being Jacques.
“Eventually, but I want to talk to my dad first,” Bram explained.
“Makes sense,” Garrett said. “Well, your secret is safe with me.” He made finger guns at Bram, and Bram rolled his eyes.
The other side of the wall felt new and strange and different, but at least some things would never change.