You have to hand it to her: Abby Suso is certainly dedicated.
Like all of us, she was thrilled to bits when Simon got himself a boyfriend. And not just a boyfriend - Bram Greenfeld, of all people. I think I've spoken more to Bram in the past two weeks than in my entire life before then, and as far as I know the same is true for Simon, so it was kind of a surprise when all of a sudden they were spending all of their time gazing at each other like the sun shone out of their asses, and holding hands under the lunch table.
I mean, I don't think I've ever seen Simon look so giddy and happy in all the time I've known him, and it was such a relief to be best friends with him again - stupid, emotional Hufflepuff - that I was ready to let it slide that Simon and Bram became boyfriends seemingly out of nowhere. And, to her credit, Abby managed about two weeks getting by on just the knowledge that the two of them are sickeningly adorable, but now it's a Friday lunchtime and two particular seats at the table are conspicuously empty, and I can tell immediately that Abby's curiosity has finally reached its breaking point.
I sit down with my lunch tray, and Abby smiles at me. I smile back, and it's only a little awkward. We've been getting along better recently, after my showdown with Simon in the car. Really, everyone on our table seems to be getting on better lately. It's like Simon and Bram have bridged the gap, and now it's not just Nick who's friends with the soccer guys. Anyway, for the moment, everyone's too happy about the general state of things to pick at each other.
Nick sits down next to Abby, and smirks at Simon and Bram's empty seats. "I see our two lovebirds are off at it again."
Abby smiles at the seats like a proud mother, but there's something thoughtful on her face.
"Did anyone ever find out how the two of them got together? I didn't even know they were friends," she says.
Nick frowns, like the thought hadn't even occurred to him. "That's a good point, actually. I don't even think they had each other's phone numbers until two weeks ago. Leah? Any ideas?"
I shrug. "Simon's never mentioned it to me."
Nick chuckles. "Whatever it was, it has something to do with a t-shirt."
Abby snorts. I've been filled in on the story of drunk Simon and his precious t-shirt, and the image is so ridiculous that I made up my mind when I heard about it that I almost didn't care any more that I wasn't invited. Almost.
At this moment, Garrett appears with his own lunch. As soon as he sits down, Abby zeroes in on him.
"Garrett! Do you know what happened with Simon and Bram? Like, how did they end up becoming boyfriends?"
Garrett grins, and takes a swig of his drink. Abby gasps. "You know?" she cries, only it's more like "YOU KNOW???????"
You can practically hear the string of excited question marks.
Garrett shakes his head. "No, not really, but I do know a few bits. Greenfeld came out to me a couple weeks before they started dating, and I know it was something to do with emails. Or the tumblr? Something like that. At the time it didn't seem to be going all that well, though. I think there was some sort of drama, aside from everyone being a dick to Spier after Christmas, but I didn't get much else out of Greenfeld then. I mean, he had just come out to me."
I can tell the exact moment that Abby's brain begins to explode with questions. "Emails? What were they doing over email?"
"So did Bram tell you he had a crush on Simon when he came out?"
Garrett smirks. "Oh, that was obvious. It all clicked as soon as he told me he was gay. He was always so painfully shy around you guys, I knew there had to be something - and he had a very weird reaction when Spier got outed. He's been pining after Spier since he met him."
Abby leans back in her seat, looking for all the world like there's never been anything more exciting than this mystery. You can practically see the cogs whirring in her brain as she digests this latest information. I catch Nick's eye, and we quickly look away from each other to keep from laughing.
Abby shakes her head, leaning forward again. "I say the time has come for the two of them to stop being so damn mysterious. I'm dying over here. Whatever the story, it's got to be about the most precious thing that's ever happened. I mean, it's Simon and Bram."
Nick rolls his eyes and grins at me. "And how do you propose we get this story from them, Inspector Suso? I really don't recommend getting Simon drunk again."
Abby gets a thoughtful look on her face. "Anyone fancy waffles tonight?"
We're meant to be meeting Nick, Bram and Garrett at WaHo, after they finish their soccer practice. I offer to drive, so it's me, Simon and Abby - Simon next to me in the front passenger seat, Abby in the back. Simon wastes no time in sorting through the cassettes in the glove compartment, and ends up picking out a Fleetwood Mac album, even though it's not really that far from his house to the restaurant. He and Abby start singing loudly when The Chain comes on, and I can't help it. I join in on the chorus, subconsciously tapping on the steering wheel in the place of a drum set.
We're all feeling loud and giddy and happy, and I can't quite believe it.
When we get to the restaurant, Nick's car is already in the parking lot. We make our way inside, and spot the boys at a booth near the back. Both Bram and Simon light up like the sun when they catch sight of each other; it's almost comical. When we get to the booth, Simon reaches out instinctively for Bram, who takes his hand and - I kid you not - softly kisses the back of it. Because that's the sort of thing Bram and Simon do now. They're like two gay Disney princes, and I don't even have the heart to be cynical around them, because even I can admit that they're goddamn adorable.
We all file in around the table - Garrett, Bram and Simon on one side, Nick, Abby and I on the other. Nick and Garrett greet us, then continue their soccer conversation, with Bram giving occasional input and Abby trying - and failing - to keep up. Simon is quiet, but there's this smile on his face. His fingers are tightly linked with Bram's, though they move their hands below the table when the waiter comes over to take our orders. Once he's gone, Simon glances around. The restaurant is fairly full, but here at the back there's not really anyone looking at us, and the back of the bench must seem like a safe sort of shield, because Simon squishes closer to his boyfriend, and lays his head on Bram's shoulder. He smiles up at me, and nudges his converse up against the toe of my boot. I smile back, and we have an entire conversation in silence, while the others natter on about forwards and left backs and penalties and other things I don't understand.
And look - I'm a cynical, sarcastic Slytherin. I really am. But right now, Simon Spier is looking so perfectly, impossibly content that it's hard not to feel a little bit soft. You can almost see the waves of love pouring off him. And it's not even just about his boyfriend, though he's even more gross than Abby and Nick when he's looking at Bram. No, you can see in his eyes how fond he is of everyone here, sitting around this table, waiting for our waffles to arrive.
When you're faced with something like that, it's hard not to feel happy. Like I said: stupid, emotional Hufflepuff.
I love him for it.
Abby manages to make it about halfway through her first waffle before she finally asks the question.
"Right, then. I'd say I've gotten you filled with enough sugar that it's time to get some answers," she declares out of nowhere.
Simon looks at her and raises one eyebrow. "Answers? About what?"
She gives a triumphant grin. "A certain pair of lovestruck nerds who are yet to tell their friends how they went in one day from painful, awkward shyness to spending all their lunchtimes making out in God knows what corner of our school."
Simon chokes on his waffle and blushes furiously. "Do you mean to tell me that this whole night out has been orchestrated just to interrogate me about my boyfriend?"
Abby reaches across to pat his hand sympathetically. "Oh no, don't worry. We're also interrogating Bram about his boyfriend."
Nick and Garrett start laughing uncontrollably. Simon stares around the table. Even Bram is laughing quietly - a little self-conscious, but as good-natured as ever. Simon's eyes come to rest on me. I shrug, and smile apologetically. Simon rolls his eyes. "Remind me not to make friends with AP kids next time. They're too damn curious," he mutters, then he laughes too. There's companionable peace for a moment, while we stop laughing, and then Simon looks from Abby - bursting with apologetic curiosity - to Bram. He shrugs at Bram. "What do you think? Are they ready to meet Jacques et Bleu?"
He says this last bit in a really over the top French accent. Bram starts giggling. I mean it. Giggling.
"Who and who?" Nick asks. Bram's giggling intensifies, and it's somehow even more funny because the rest of us are so utterly lost.
"I mean," he finally says in his quiet voice. "I don't see why we shouldn't tell them. But it might take a while."
He and Simon start laughing all over again. Abby looks ready to combust. I know what she's thinking: this is going to be a better story than she ever hoped for.
Simon sees the look on her face, and stops laughing enough to say, "It's really all because of the tumblr. And Bram's poetic writing style and grammar skills."
This sets Bram off laughing again - and this isn't even giggling. This is laughing. Like, proper, full-on, unrestrained laughter that shakes his whole body. He collapses into Simon and hiccups into his shoulder, and Simon is giggling along with him, his arm curled around his waist.
We're all staring at Bram like we've never seen him before. And maybe we haven't, not properly. Maybe Garrett has, I don't know. I've certainly never seen him act like this before - free, affectionate, deliriously happy.
The thing with Bram is that he never really spoke much before, other than when he was being polite. I always thought he was a nice kid, but he was kind of just there, and he was so reserved that I'd just accepted that he was one of those people that I'd never really get to know, though he was certainly intriguing. I know I've wondered on multiple occasions how in hell he ended up as the best friend of Garrett, who's basically the most straightforward person ever. And yet now here I am, watching Bram Greenfeld collapsing into breathless laughter over waffles, and every single sentence that comes out of his mouth is full of fondness for my best friend.
I mean, if his aim was for us all to like him, he's done a good job. Staying out of drama until you fall in love is apparently a good method. As is saying soft things about Simon Spier, and making him the happiest little bean to ever live.
Simon tightens his hold around Bram, and I honestly think that at this point he's beyond caring that we're in public. He still has a plate of waffles in front of him, and pauses to eat some of it - one-handed, of course, because he doesn't seem able to let go of his boyfriend for two seconds. Finally, he grins at his assembled audience. "Do you want me to start, or you?" he asks Bram.
"You can," Bram says softly. "You're the performer."
And then he leans up and kisses Simon on the cheek, and there's this moment where they just look at each other, and I know that for those few seconds the rest of us at this table don't really exist.
Then Simon turns back to us, goofy grin plastered on his face, like nothing happened. I nearly lose it at everyone's expressions. We're all just kind of speechless. Nick looks like he doesn't know what's hit him. I guess it must be weird when the guy you've known since you were four gets a boyfriend who softly kisses him in front of you. I tell you what, though, Nick doesn't half look happy. We all do - we're all stupidly fond, I guess. And proud. They're out here, in WaHo, on a Friday evening, being more adorable than should be allowed, and we're all here for it.
"So," Simon grins. "It all started back in August---"
"August?" Abby says, incredulous, pausing with her waffle halfway to her mouth. "This began in August?"
A mock stern expression crosses Simon's face. "Do you want me to tell this story or not?"
Abby grins. "Sorry."
Simon continues. "It all started in August, when one Mr Greenfeld put an utterly beautiful anonymous post on Creeksecrets talking about loneliness, and distance, and being closeted, and being gay."
He squeezes Bram tighter, and Bram looks at him with a face full of adoration.
"And, you know, there was no way I could pass up the slightest possibility that I could talk to someone who was like me. I hadn't told anyone about being gay, and it wasn't really that I was scared. It was like, I knew that when I did it would mean changing, and acknowledging that I was changing, and that's a big deal sometimes."
There's this stillness around the table. Nick and Abby and I are all gazing at Simon attentively. Garrett too - and I feel like giving a surprised smile, because who knew that Garrett Laughlin, soccer star, would one day be sitting in a cosy Waffle House in the rain, listening thoughtfully to his best friend's boyfriend talking about being gay?
Garrett's a pretty cool guy.
"I knew as soon as I read the post that I had to talk to this person," Simon says, then pauses slightly, probably for dramatic effect (damn theater nerds). "So I commented on it. And then I posted an anonymous email address."
Abby gasps and sits up straight. "Oh. My gosh."
Simon nods. Bram grins into Simon's shoulder, and I can't even describe the look on his face. It's ridiculously soft. He's still curled into Simon's side, and it's like some kind of elementary school storytime, where Bram is that one kid who always has to sit right up close to the teacher while they read. Except more romantic.
"So, Bram sent me an email from his own anonymous account, and we started to talk. And it was amazing. I mean, I could tell even over email that this guy was unbearably cute." There's a pause for a disgustingly in-love Look. "We weren't ready to tell each other our real identities, so we avoided anything like the names of our friends, and we called ourselves Jacques and Blue."
Nick and Garrett both open their mouths at the same time. Simon quickly cuts them off.
"Blue was from his name - Bram Louis. And Jacques---"
"Jacques a dit," I say, smug.
Simon's face falls. "You got it? I thought that was so clever," he says, though he's laughing.
"Sorry," Nick says, "can someone speak in English, please?"
"Jacques a dit is the French version of Simon Says," Simon says. Ha.
Nick's mouth forms a round 'o'. Abby swats at him.
"I can't believe you had anonymous e-mails. This is so precious," she says.
Simon's mouth twists. "Yeah, well, this is where it gets less fun." And he looks at her intently for a few moments.
All of a sudden, Abby's eyes widen in realisation. "Martin," she says quietly. "He found your emails, didn't he? That's how he knew."
Simon nods, and Bram reaches up to tuck a stand of Simon's hair away from his face. He rests his knuckles on Simon's cheek for a few moments. "Simon only told me this bit a few days ago," he says softly. He looks up at Simon as if wordlessly asking permission to tell us, and Simon nods and smiles gently, so Bram does, though he keeps his eyes on Simon's face. "Martin Addison found one of our emails when Simon forgot to log out of his account. And he used Simon's secret to blackmail Simon into..." He trails off, and looks at Abby, questioning.
"He tried to get Simon to persuade me to go out with him," she says.
"He what?" Nick yelps. And then, "Oh, my god. He's the asshole that made that post on the tumblr at Christmas, isn't he?"
Garrett lets out a low whistle. "That's fucked up."
I say nothing; I've just come to the same conclusion, and I feel this anger bubbling deep in my gut. That disgusting little snake.
"That's sick," Nick says, shaking his head. "And not in the good way. I can't believe that. Oh my god."
I nudge my boot so it's touching Simon's shoe again, and he smiles softly at me. At all of us, all ready and rearing to protect him. His smile is ever-so-slightly angry, but not sad. "It's okay. I mean, it sucked. A lot. But it's okay now."
Nick looks unconvinced, but Simon smiles directly at him, so Nick smiles back uncertainly and relaxes again. Simon looks at me, and takes in my probably-sincerely-pissed-off expression. "Leah, promise you won't go beat him up or anything."
I swallow. "Not if you don't want me to, of course."
He looks relieved. "Thanks. I just - I'd rather just forget about it now."
I nod, and his mouth forms another small smile. Bram strokes his cheek gently. Out of the corner of my eye, I realise that the waiter is looking at us, and at Bram and Simon, blatantly tucked up together. I prepare to give him my most intense stink-eye ever, but then he catches my eye and he smiles softly, and I remember that not everyone in Georgia is actually homophobic.
"What happened next?" Abby is asking quietly. We've long since finished our waffles, but the waiter nods at me before turning away. It doesn't look like they're going to kick us out any time soon. I turn back to the conversation.
Simon groans slightly. "Okay, the next chapter in this story is definitely called 'Simon Spier is a monumental idiot.'"
Bram rolls his eyes. "Don't say that," he says softly.
"Well, it's kind of true. We came back from Christmas break, and everyone knew I was gay. And of course Bram knew it was me that was emailing him."
"I think I should mention that Simon was already pretty obvious," Bram says, laughing.
I snort; I can imagine.
"And then came the worst bit of Simon logic ever known," Simon continues. "I tried to guess who Blue was, and of course I was wrong."
I snort again, fondly; I can imagine that too.
"I mean, you can kind of guess what happened over the next few weeks," he says. "I guessed the wrong person, then the emails became awkward, but then Bram bought me the Elliott Smith t-shirt---"
"Oh no. Not the Shirt," Abby says, and we all start laughing all over the place.
"But it's not for wearing!" Nick says.
"Oh no," say Abby seriously, "he has to sleep with it under his pillow."
We all lose it again. Simon blushes, though he's laughing too, and he rolls his eyes. "Oh man, you don't know the half of it. I really messed up bad on that one." He pauses. "Bram's phone number was inside that shirt all along, and I only found it weeks after we'd stopped talking. The first time I wore it was at the carnival, after the Sunday Matinee, when I'd sent one last email to Blue, asking him to be there if he still had any interest in me at all. Not realising that he must have thought it was me with no interest in his phone number."
He speaks very quickly, looking down, and his cheeks are still slightly pink, which I guess is only natural considering he's telling us the story of how he and his boyfriend mutually pined over email for five months. Abby sighs softly. "That's so adorable," she says, smiling at the two of them.
I didn't know people still had stories like this. I can't believe this was all happening to Simon, and none of us had any idea. I believe every word of his story, though. And I understand, now, why Simon and Bram are so happy: I guess they fell in love slowly, with their personalities first, and then they found out that they were both physically attractive to boot. I mean, it must have been a huge mystery, and then they were both thrilled with the answer to it. I can't believe it.
There's stillness at our table again, and Simon and Bram look at each other, and smile like nobody's watching.
"And then I came to the carnival," Bram says, not breaking eye contact. "And I found him on the Tilt-A-Whirl. And everything was magical."
There's silence in our booth. I mean, what do we say to that? Where do we begin?
Abby says quietly, "Wow."
Garrett leans over and very gently punches his knuckles into Bram's arm, which I guess is the Garrett equivalent of a big hug.
Bram pecks Simon on the lips. In public. In Georgia. And he grins.
And then Simon turns to me, and I say, "You're ridiculous, Simon Spier. Completely ridiculous."
Before I can stop myself, I reach over and squeeze his hand.
And, I mean. It's so different. Everything's so different now to what it used to be.
We've all changed this year.
And I think now I get it more than ever. Because we all have so much going on in our lives that other people only ever glimpse. Simon sure kept a lot secret from me, but it's not like I blame him. We all have so many secrets.
And I've always felt alone when I've thought about that. I still have secrets hidden away, lots of them. But I don't know; somehow, listening to the most ridiculous love story I'll ever encounter - a love story I, really, had very little part in, even though it's my best friend - it makes me realise that maybe we're all like that. What matters is the people we choose to share part of our lives with, even if we never share everything.
"We've all got vast rooms and tiny windows," Bram says, and he's looking at me, and I swear it's like he's reading my mind. The others turn to him. "That's what I wrote. It's like there's an ocean between people, and we don't really know what's going on in each other's lives most of the time. But the whole point is to find a shore worth swimming to."
And he's looking at Simon.
My heart twists, and Simon looks back into his eyes, and there's silence between them. And then Simon's smile breaks out all over his face, and he's laughing, and pulling Bram into a hug, and Abby looks like Christmas has come early, and Nick looks like he's about to cry. Garrett is beaming and Abby grins at me and I grin back.
It's at this moment that a different waiter turns up to ask if we're finished, and, I mean. Timing.
Someone makes a funny comment, and the waiter collects our empty plates, and someone makes a different unrelated funny comment, and the conversation moves on as we get ready to leave. And then we all pour out into the rain. Simon and Bram, I swear, take a good five minutes in saying goodbye to each other, and then it's me and Simon and Abby in my car, and for a moment we just stop and catch our breath and laugh.
"So, Abby," Simon finally asks. "Was that the answer you were after?"
Abby leans forward and pokes his cheek. "Are you kidding? I can hardly believe that all of that actually happened."
Simon grins. "It did. It really did."
Abby smiles, and then I start the engine, and the Fleetwood Mac cassette starts up again. The first song that comes on is You Make Loving Fun, and we start to sing, and it's kind of perfect.
"I love you both, you know," Simon says a bit later into the song.
"Likewise," Abby says. And I nod.
It's been a weird year. And it's going to continue being a weird year. And, okay, I'm not over all of my weird feelings or the Abby Thing or my dad or any of the rest of it.
But I would never have believed that any of Simon's story could have happened if you'd asked me a year ago. And even if I did believe it was possible, Simon Spier and Bram Greenfeld are definitely the least likely candidates to dramatically fall in love over email with a backdrop of blackmail and secret t-shirt phone numbers. And yet that all happened. I believe them completely.
Out of my tinny car stereo, Christine McVie is telling me to believe in miracles.
And yeah, Christine, you're right. I think it's time to try.