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Freaking Casanova

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Bram tapped his thumbs on his steering wheel. He was at a red light, and it was reflected all across his windshield in the drops of rain. His dad was already at the hotel, according to the text he received before he left his house. He offered to pick Bram up, but after thinking it over, Bram wanted to have a quick escape in case things didn’t go well that night.

He was going to come out to his dad. Or at least try to.

He went over different scenarios all day while he worked on homework and avoided Garrett’s requests for him to get online and play video games. He knew his dad always voted democrat, but some of his dad’s other family members were the hardcore Facebook-religious-posts type. Just last week his Facebook timeline blew up when someone he was distantly related to posted a grammatically-lacking homophobic ‘meme’, and his cousin SJ spent the night going back and forth fighting with her.

It was like he told Jacques - you just never knew.

The light switched to green. Bram eased his foot off of the brake pedal and accelerated through the intersection.

On the seat next to him, as promised to Jacques, sat a bag of Aurora Coffee wrapped in paper with tiny snowmen - the most non-religious his mom had - and a small pile of his essays and quizzes from English class. On top wasn’t his most recent or even his best; it was the one that Mr. Wise accidentally handed back to Simon Spier.

He was alone in his car and it was already dark, but he still felt sheepish as he smiled to himself. The memory of Simon’s smile in class that day, all soft, blushy and apologetic, still made Bram feel warm. Even at lunch later that day when Garrett and Leah complained about their grades on it, Simon’s eyes flicked over to him as if he couldn’t help it. When Simon shot him the same soft, private smile over the lunch table, it had Bram wishing Mr. Wise would mistake the two of them more often. Or all the time. Bram could deal with his nerves going rampant if it meant sharing secret smiles with Simon every day.

Bram flipped on his signal light when the bright neon from the hotel came into view. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. The song playing over the speakers was soft and melodic, and Bram let it wash over him. He asked his dad for one of Elliott Smith’s albums as a last minute Hanukkah gift, but after caving and listening to it on YouTube, he downloaded it anyway. It was another soft song from Jacques that surprised Bram, but it was exactly what he needed. It was like Jacques was there with him telling him everything was going to be okay.

While he waited for a car to pass to turn into the hotel parking lot, Bram glanced at his reflection in the rear view mirror. As he was writing to Jacques about the idea of coming out to his dad, the realization that he’d never said the words I’m and gay together and out loud weighed on him uncomfortably. He’d typed them loads of times to Jacques, but there was something so permanent about saying the words when he didn’t have a backspace button right below his fingers. He looked to the rear view mirror again.

“Dad, I-” He stopped. His voice sounded groggy and foreign to his own ears. If he couldn’t even say gay aloud to himself, he had no idea how he was going to tell his dad. He sighed in frustration.

Bram pulled into the parking lot. Maybe he would wait until they visited for a little while. That way, his voice wouldn’t sound like he was trying to speak from underwater. His dad would want to talk about school, and anything new going on with his step-mother’s family, and their Hanukkah and his Christmas plans. There was also the matter of Bram’s visit for a week over New Year’s. He could use that time to get rid of the lump in his throat.

He should have practiced first. Garrett was the obvious choice for that; he could have told him over the PlayStation headset so he wouldn’t have to see his reaction.

Jacques’ music was the only thing he could hear when he turned off his car, filling the space where the sound of his engine just was. Even the sound of the rain seemed to dull in comparison. Bram gathered his English papers and the coffee and opened his car door. With one more glance to his reflection, Bram took a deep breath and started walking towards the hotel.

While he took the stairs to his dad’s room, Bram thought about Jacques’ music and Simon’s easy, lingering smiles, and the very possible idea that Simon was actually the one distracting him from all of his English essays. He thought about walking through school holding Simon’s hand while he wore a band t-shirt that Bram bought for him. He thought about what it would be like to talk to Simon about being gay. He had a feeling that he and Simon could have - and maybe already were having - long, meaningful discussions that Bram would never get sick of. He thought about the warmth in his stomach whenever Simon smiled at him. How it never really felt like a just friends smile, and how it gave him the same flutter as it did to see a new email from Jacques.

Bram knocked on the hotel door. Dad, I’m gay. The handle twisted, and the smell of latkes hit him.

“Hey, B, I was wondering if I should call, I was getting worried!” Bram walked into his outstretched arms and accepted his hug.

Hey, Dad, before we start... “Sorry, I got stuck at the light on Shady Avenue.” When his dad let go, his smile was huge. Bram couldn’t help but smile back. His dad was wearing a blue and white striped polo shirt with a dreidel stitched on the pocket, and looked like a complete dork. Behind him, Bram saw that his dad already had two glasses of chocolate milk on the nightstand next to the menorah.

He would wait.

“Well, come on in,” his dad said, pushing the door shut and walking around one of the beds. Bram followed him and sat on the bed opposite him. “How’s school?”

His dad picked up a tupperware container and an empty plate. It was a decorative one, with tiny hand-painted Stars of David. It looked expensive. Bram watched as he took the latkes out one at a time with a napkin and placed them all around the plate. They smelled amazing, but his stomach still lurched. He didn’t know if eating something deep fried would make him feel better or worse.

Behind the menorah there were eight neatly wrapped presents. Everything looked like it was meticulously arranged. For all of the time Bram spent loathing coming here, his dad put so much effort into setting things up.

“B?”

Bram blinked and looked up. “Sorry, what?”

His dad chuckled. “I asked about school, but maybe I should be asking if everything is okay? You seem a little lost.”

“Sorry,” Bram said, giving his dad a smile, “School is good. I’m getting ready for soccer to start back up after the break.”

I’ve also been emailing a boy about being gay. We talk almost every day and I’m pretty sure I’ve had a crush on him since we moved here and may be falling a little in love with him.

His dad took a large bite of one of the latkes, and chewed and swallowed before answering. “How are Garrett and… and Nick?” He gestured towards the plate, so Bram picked up the smallest one.

“They’re good.” He needed to give his dad more than good for every question. His dad was obviously trying, even though Bram didn’t miss the pause on remembering Nick’s name. “Garrett has a thing for one of Nick’s best friends.” And I have a thing for the other one.

His dad laughed at that, and Bram took a bite of the latke in his hand. And another. His step-mother was a great cook. His dad chatted for a bit about their plans for the holiday weeks and Bram found himself reaching for the plate again. He could feel some of the tension in his shoulders relax as he ate. He decided to wait until after they exchanged gifts to talk to his dad about anything deeper than small talk.

“Mr. Wise was sad to miss you at parent-teacher conferences,” Bram said as a segue to handing over his small stack of essays. He looked down at the score Simon saw one last time. As soon as his dad flipped the stack over, he smiled at it.

“An A on a Thoreau quiz? I’m impressed, B,” his dad said, grinning. “I don’t think I’ve given an A for Walden in years.” His dad flipped through them while he ate another latke and took a long drink of his milk. Every silence in the room felt echoing and palpable; it was opportunity after opportunity to fill the silence, but couldn’t bring himself to do so.

“And, um, here,” he added, handing the snowman package over. His dad wiped his hands on his dress pants before accepting the gift.

“You didn’t have to get me anything, B.”

He was pretty sure parents were obligated to say that, even about completely underwhelming things like coffee grounds. Still, when his dad opened it, his smile was genuine.

“This is the one thing your step-mother demanded I bring back from Atlanta,” he said, standing up and offering another hug.

When he sat back down, he nodded towards the pile of gifts. “Go ahead and open ‘em up.”

Bram glanced at the carefully lined presents and grabbed the one closest to him. It was heavy, and screamed book . His dad watched with a smile as Bram ripped the paper. After skimming the title, he gave his dad a wry look. He was grinning like a loon. “Acing the ACT and SAT. This is like the high school version of socks.”

“Socks!” His dad let out a loud belly laugh. “When did you get so funny, kid? Your PSAT scores were great, don’t get me wrong, but maybe you’ll find some bit of advice you didn’t know before. Humor me.”

Bram rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Dad.”

He picked up another gift, a flat and square one that was in different paper from the rest. Before he started ripping the paper he guessed it was the Elliott Smith CD. He felt his cheeks go warm.

“Thanks, uh, Nick’s friend talks about him a lot and he said I would like his stuff.”

“I was surprised,” his dad said through a bite of latke. “I didn’t know kids your age still listened to stuff from the nineties.”

Bram set the CD down and grabbed another gift. He opened a new pair of cleats and a few t-shirts next, labeled from his step-mother. One had The Flash’s lightning bolt and the other had an assortment of mainstream Marvel heroes. He picked up another book shaped package next.

“Wow, Dad, I didn’t know they made SAT prep books in hardcover.”

“Just open it, my not at all sarcastic teenage son.” His dad rolled his eyes, and Bram laughed. He watched his dad for a second. His mom always said they had the same eyelashes, and that girls would always be jealous of both of them. Sometimes it felt like that was the only thing that he had in common with his dad. Eyelashes and English. Now, his dad was looking at him with the same sparkling smile he wore on his wedding day. His dad was always kind of hardcore giddy in his presence. Bram looked down to where the grin seemed like it would crack in his face. The stubble on his face had quite a few more gray hairs that he remembered.

Bram opened his mouth and braced himself for the smile to falter.

“Go ahead, B.”

He exhaled and nodded, the moment gone. Bram tore at the paper and read the title of the book.

And the author.

And then the title again.

He looked up at his dad. “Casanova?”

His dad’s grin was wolfish. “Don’t look at me like that, B, just because your mother and I aren’t together doesn't mean she doesn’t tell me that you’re constantly smiling at that phone of yours.”

Bram looked back at the book and gave what he hoped was convincing laughter. Inside, he felt nauseated. It was such a painfully straight gift. Like country music straight. He could picture Jacques’ response instantly. Freaking Casanova!? Bram bit his lip and looked at his dad. “You are both so weird.”

His dad gave another belly laugh at that, and went on to say how he should send his mother and step-mother a picture of his reaction. Which made Bram think about his mother even more. He thought about how she would feel if she found out he came out to his dad before her.

She would be logical, like everything, but he knew she’d be disappointed on the inside. In a lot of ways, he and his mom were a lot closer than he was with his dad. It was more than the obvious fact that he saw her a lot more. His dad had a whole new family with his step-mother, and on the other side, he always sort of figured his mother would never remarry.

So, while his dad emptied his glass, Bram changed his coming out plans.

After gifts were opened and the latke plate was empty, they went through all of the conversation topics his dad could find. While his dad talked about pregnant relatives and some of his students, Bram’s phone buzzed in his pocket. A little while later while his dad used the bathroom sink to rinse the crumbs off the decorative plate, Bram pulled his phone out of his pocket just enough to see the Gmail notification from Jacques.

His dad came back and offered him the other hotel bed for the night, but Bram declined. He was itching to see what Jacques said and to tell him all about this strange night. After his father’s knowing smiles and freaking Casanova, Bram didn’t think he’d be able to type out an email to Jacques without his father giving him a look. After a round of goodbyes and see you soons, Bram left the hotel.

While his car warmed up, Bram pulled up the Gmail app and smiled at Jacques’ subject line. Coming Out Thing. The email was only one sentence, and laughter bubbled out of him before he could help it. He crafted his reply in his head while he drove home. As with everything in his life as of late, he thought of ways he’d be able to spin the story to be entertaining to Jacques. Somehow, he knew Jacques would understand the struggle of being so close to coming out, and yet still feel so far away from it.

In a small way, Bram was okay with the night’s events. He was still on the safe side of the fence where he could take as much time as he needed to plan exactly what he wanted to say to his mom.

She was awake when he got home, and after he declined her offer of something to eat, he slipped into his room for the night. Recalling the events to Jacques made the tension in his shoulders fade.

Bram didn’t receive a reply from Jacques until the following afternoon, well after they were home from church and settled in for the day. He was really feeling the clash of celebrating Hanukkah one night and waking up for mass the following morning. He waited until his mom was occupied with her laptop before he snuck off to his room to read Jacques’ message. It was sincere and funny, just like Bram knew it would be. When he got to the bottom of the email and read Mr. Wise says I have a thing about sentence fragments, he leaned back in his desk chair and stared at the screen.

There were too many coincidences for him to count. He could perfectly picture Simon saying every one of the sentences in the email in front of him.

He wondered if mentioning Mr. Wise was Simon’s way of giving him another clue, in return for the clue about him being half Jewish. It stuck with him all through classes on Monday and Tuesday. In Tuesday’s algebra lesson, he watched Simon frantically dig through his backpack while their teacher wrote homework problems on the board. When Simon looked up and scanned the room, Bram looked away right away. A second later when Simon leaned over and asked Bram to borrow a pencil, no words found their way to Bram’s lips. He had an extra sitting next to his notebook, and he handed it to Simon. Before the last thread of his composure snapped, Bram looked back down to his notebook and tried to hide his blush.

That night when he finally wrote back to Jacques, he dropped in a line about freezing up around cute guys, hoping somehow, maybe, Simon would put it together with algebra. When he wrote that Simon was dropping a lot of clues, he wanted to reach through the screen and make sure Simon put together his clues.

On Thursday, Bram changed shirts a few times before deciding on The Flash one from his step-mother. Simon knew he liked superheroes. Part of him - a really big part - was screaming that he was getting ahead of himself. But a small, hopeful part of him filled his morning with daydreams of Simon coming up to him in the hallway and holding his hand. As terrifying as it was to think about meeting Simon’s eyes in first period and knowing, That same tiny part of him held onto the hope.

If he was being honest, he had a crush on Jacques even before he knew - basically knew - he was Simon. Connecting the dots only amplified both crushes. If Simon felt the same even a little, Bram was sure he could also connect the dots.

With all of his nerves running rampant, Bram managed to get to school early and was one of the first ones to Mr. Wise’s classroom. He was so early that he managed to snag the left armrest of the English couch. Mr Wise was at his desk at the front of the room and nodded to Bram.

“Mr. Greenfeld, I just finished reading over your Dickinson thesis.” He looked up from his desk when a few more students walked in. “Are you sure I can’t further interest you in that TA spot next year? I promise most of them don’t copy from Sparknotes until at least sophomore year.”

Bram chuckled, feeling a little self-conscious. Abby dropped on the couch next to him, on time to class for once. Martin was in the door right behind her, and stared at the couch for a second, before rubbing his elbow and slinking into a desk near it.

“I’ll think about it, Mr. Wise,” Bram told him earnestly.

Mr. Wise gave him a small, coy smile. “Please do, it comes with college credits and a glowing recommendation letter.”

Bram opened his mouth to answer, but before he could, Nick and Simon walked in in a rush of hallway noise. His reply died at the sight of Simon. His hair looked extra messy, like he pulled a hoodie off and didn’t bother to smooth it down. From across the classroom, Bram wanted to reach up and fix it. Nick dropped on the other side of Abby, and Simon took a desk towards the back of the classroom. Bram pretended to look through his backpack for something to write with as he watched the way Simon seemed to silently survey the classroom. Technically, Bram didn’t say he also had Mr. Wise for a teacher, but Simon complimented his grammar in their emails multiple times. At least Simon didn’t walk in two minutes earlier to hear Mr. Wise’s very public request for him to be a TA.

For as much as Mr. Wise’s request flattered him, Bram wasn't able to recall a single detail from his lesson that day. He was lost in all things Simon.

The relief that he felt about Simon missing the comment surprised him. When the whole lesson passed and Simon didn’t look to the couch even once, Bram found himself yet again feeling okay with things not going as planned. As much as he thought he wanted Simon to figure it out right then and there, relief washed over him when Simon left the classroom without so much as a glance to him. Before he headed to the science wing, Bram made a stop at his locker and pulled a soccer sweatshirt over The Flash logo.

He wasn’t ready to come out to his dad, and he wasn’t ready for Simon to know. But he was okay with them both, because he knew whenever they did happen, he knew it would be the right time.