Riding the Tilt-a-Whirl is definitely one of those ideas that was better in his head. A Grand Romantic Gesture! Let nothing stand in the way of revealing who he is to the boy he loves!
Not that he puts that much thought into it. He just sees Simon sitting there on the ride, in the Elliott Smith shirt, looking morose and heartbroken like his world has ended, and the only thought in Bram’s head is that he has to go fix it.
So he climbs onto the ride and he asks to sit with Simon, which a small part of him feels should be enough for Simon to figure it out. They share a lunch table, not carnival rides out of the blue when there are plenty of empty pods.
But Simon doesn’t get it, so Bram tells him he likes his shirt, which a larger part of him feels should definitely be enough for Simon to figure it out. But even though Simon is at this carnival to meet a boy from his class who gave him that shirt, he still doesn’t put it together. In his adorable distraction, he just thanks Bram and tells him the name of the singer.
“I know,” Bram says, as pointed as he can be without coming right out and saying It’s me! I’m Blue! and honestly, a part of him thinks it may still come down to that. But then, something clicks. Something clicks, and Simon turns, and his realization is played out all over his beautiful face, and Bram can’t breathe, but he wouldn’t trade this moment away for anything.
“It’s you,” Simon whispers, his voice full of wonder and disbelief and recognition.
“I know I’m late,” Bram says, and he almost flinches because out loud, the words sound cheesy as hell, and this is why he doesn’t talk to cute boys. But then Simon smiles, and nothing else matters, and his heart is lurching--- and, no, no, that’s his stomach, his stomach is lurching because the ride has started and---
This was a very bad idea.
He wants to grab the metal wheel in the center of the pod and do everything in his power to stop the endless spinning, but even more than that, he wants to not throw up in front of Simon Spier, so he clamps his hands over his mouth and shuts his eyes and breathes in sharply through his nose and focuses every ounce of his willpower on not throwing up in front of Simon Spier.
An eternity later the ride ends, and he exchanges some meaningless nothings with Simon that he barely remembers because he just needs to be someplace where the world is steady underneath him, which is how he ends up sitting on a curb with his head between his knees.
It’s strangely easier to talk to Simon this way. Apparently focusing so much energy on not throwing up overrides the part of his brain that shuts down around cute boys.
“I thought I was so obvious,” he says. And also, “I think I wanted you to know.” And also , “I thought maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see,” which is perhaps the most terrifying thing he’s ever admitted because what if he’s still wrong about this? What if there’s still more on his end than on Simon’s? What if Simon is sitting here still wishing he was Cal Price?
But no. No. He has to forcefully remind himself about the email that brought him here. About I don’t have a freaking clue if it’s possible to fall in love over email and I want to try this and I can’t imagine a scenario where I won’t want to kiss your face off as soon as I see you. He said he loved Blue, whoever Blue was, and Bram has to take a leap and trust that that is true.
And as they keep talking, and Bram keeps pushing through the fear of being rejected by Simon, keeps reminding himself that he’s just talking to Jacques, it gets easier. Simon’s shock falls away, bit by bit, as he rewrites his world with this new reality, and he turns these thousand-watt grins in Bram’s direction, and he scoots closer, and it’s perfect.
“I can’t believe you rode the Tilt-a-Whirl for me,” he says at one point, hardly any space left between them.
“I must really like you,” Bram replies. The fluttering in his chest is all giddy anticipation now, especially when Simon leans in close and lowers his voice.
“I want to hold your hand,” he says softly, and it’s not a line. It’s not a move. It’s a quiet asking for permission. Because there are people around. Because Bram isn’t out to more than a handful of people. Because Simon wants to make sure it’s okay.
His heart is in his throat, but there’s no hesitation as he says, “So hold it.”
There is a second, when Simon’s hand slides into his, that Bram forgets to breathe. When he remembers, and the air rushes in in an audible gasp, Simon catches his eye and squeezes his hand. Bram squeezes back and can’t keep the smile off his face. Simon scoots closer still, until their whole sides are touching, and they sit like that without speaking, wrapped in beautiful, harmonized silence, and it’s perfect.
Bram’s not sure how long they’ve been sitting there when a carnival worker not much older than they are comes up from behind them and says, “Hey, we’re, uh, closing, so . . .”
The second Bram realizes someone is there, he drops Simon’s hand, then immediately regrets it. He was startled and it was an impulse, not something he did consciously, but he hates that that was his impulse. He reaches for Simon’s hand again, but Simon has already withdrawn it.
“We’re on our way out,” Simon says, standing, and Bram follows suit.
As they make their way toward the cars at the far end of the lot, Bram wants to reach out and taken Simon’s hand again. But Simon’s hands are deep in the pockets of his jeans. They reach Simon’s car first, and stand by the driver’s side door. Simon makes no move to get in.
“So . . .” Simon says.
“So,” Bram says, and they smile awkwardly at each other. Bram hates that they’ve lost that feeling of perfect, quiet harmony they had on the curb by the Tilt-a-Whirl, but he doesn’t know how to do this part, and he’s nervous as hell. “What now?” he finally manages to ask, not even sure if he means for the evening in general or for them as a concept.
One of Simon’s hands emerges to rub at his neck with a look that is part regret, part embarrassment. “Now, I . . . actually need to get home. I’m technically grounded.” Bram raises an eyebrow. “I got paroled for the weekend because of the play,” Simon says, answering the question Bram didn’t ask. “But I probably shouldn't push it by missing curfew.”
“What did you do to get yourself grounded?” Bram asks with a breath of laughter. “Your parents don’t seem like the type.”
“No,” Simon agrees. “But even the most laid-back of parents can’t ignore their son coming home absolutely wasted.” Both eyebrows go up at that. Simon grimaces. “Not my finest hour. But also, not entirely my fault. Nick and Abby took me to a gay bar in Atlanta and lost track of me. Cute boys were buying me alcohol and I was in a weird place, so I drank it.”
“And Nick and Abby took you back to your parents absolutely wasted?” Bram asked, ignoring the bright flash of jealousy at the idea of cute boys buying Simon alcohol. “Clearly I need to remind Nick of proper drunk-friend etiquette.”
“Know a lot of that, do you?” Simon asks with a grin. Bram shrugs, a warmth in his belly at the sight of Simon’s smile and the knowledge that he put it there.
“I am best friends with Garrett Laughlin.”
Simon laughs and shakes his head. “No, it wasn’t their fault, it was completely mine. The plan was to crash at Abby’s, but I made them take me home. There may have been drunk crying involved; it’s kind of a blur.”
“No sense of self-preservation when you’re drunk?” Bram’s trying to keep the banter going because this is easy and wonderful, their emails brought to life, and he wants it to last as long as possible. But a very strange look passes over Simon’s face at the question.
“You know, now that I’m halfway through the story, I’m remembering how it ends, and it’s super embarrassing. Especially for me to tell you, so I think I’m gonna not.”
Bram raises both eyebrows. “Too embarrassing to tell me? C’mon, you told me about turd in a pool; this is worse than that?”
“This is worse than that,” Simon confirms.
“Well, now you have to tell me,” Bram informs him. “I’ll just ask Nick for details if you don’t.”
Simon groans good-naturedly and slips both hands under his glasses to cover his face. “I do not want to hear the story the way Nick would tell it,” he mutters. “Fine.” He sighs, readjusting his glasses in such an adorably Simon way that Bram is, for a moment, distracted. “I made them take me home to get the shirt.”
“This shirt,” Simon clarifies. “Drunk Simon couldn’t stand -- God, I can’t believe I’m telling you this -- couldn’t stand the idea of sleeping without it.”
“You’ve been sleeping in my shirt?” Bram asks, a soft smile on his face. Simon closes his eyes, in almost visible pain.
“No, it’s so much worse than that,” he says, and drops his face into his hands again. The next words are so muffled and said so quickly that Bram almost misses them. “I’ve been sleeping with it under my pillow.”
The warmth in Bram’s belly ignites at that, and he can’t breathe again, and he’s frozen, unable to move. While he’s standing there staring at Simon with something like fire in his eyes, Simon peeks out from behind his fingers, and the second their eyes meet, Bram knows Simon feels it too.
His hands lower slowly, and Bram is suddenly aware how close they are. How little distance he would have to cover to reach out and take Simon’s hand. One little step would take him there, one tiny lean forward would bring his face level with Simon’s, a face that is angled up towards his, lips slightly parted, and God , Bram wants to kiss him. More than anything else in the world, he wants to close the gap, pull Simon close. He’s only been dreaming about it in the abstract for two years and in the distinct particulars for a month. They are so close. It would be so easy.
But something moves in his periphery, reminding him sharply and suddenly that they are not alone. So instead of moving forward, Bram forces himself back, breaking the moment with a tense and ill-placed, “Well, I should -- I should let you get home.”
Simon stays frozen a second longer, then nods and says, “Yeah,” maybe a hair too quickly. “Curfew and all that.” His eyes are dark and unreadable.
“I’ll -- see you at school tomorrow. I guess.” And in the most awkward way possible, he nods at Simon, turns on his heel, and heads for his car, refusing to look back, cursing himself the whole way.
The moment, or lack of a moment, bothers him all the way home. It bothers him as he deflects his mother’s questions about whether or not he had a good time tonight, as he sits at his desk and tries to focus on the English reading, as he relives the night over and over again, imagining everything he should have done differently.
He didn’t kiss Simon. He had the perfect moment, and he didn’t take it. And he has no idea what Simon is making of that, or of his hasty and awkward retreat.
Eventually, he gives up on The Awakening, and picks up his phone -- only to remember that he doesn’t actually have Simon’s number. He groans audibly, and throws his head back, staring at the ceiling, weighing his options.
He could get Simon’s number. He could ask Nick. But Nick would want to know why he wanted it, and Bram is . . . not ready to answer that question. So after a moment of thought and a heavy sigh, he sits up again, pulls his laptop toward him, and opens up an email.
Date: January 25, 10:13pm
Subject: Why I didn’t kiss you
He stares at the subject heading for a long moment, fingers resting against his lips as he tries to figure out what to say.
I know you must be wondering. At least, I hope you’re wondering. I hope you noticed the moment when it almost happened, followed immediately by the moment when it didn’t.
With a frustrated sigh, he holds down the backspace key until the message box is empty again, then runs a hand over his forehead.
His phone lights up with an incoming text from an unknown number.
It occurs to me that you probably don’t have my number.
He can’t stop the smile that blooms across his face. Simon? he types back.
You get so many texts from unknown numbers that you have to check?
Maybe he’s reading too much into their parting. Simon doesn’t sound like Bram made things super awkward, and his tone in his writing is usually pretty transparent. Maybe Bram’s making something out of nothing.
I just don’t want to make any assumptions that could prove awkward later on, he sends back.
What are you doing right now? Simon asks, and Bram smiles, then chews his lip, wondering how honest to be. But it’s Simon. It’s Jacques, and apart from keeping his identity a secret, he has never been less than honest with Simon.
I should be finishing the chapter for English, but instead I'm writing an email, he says.
To who? Careful how you answer -- jealousy is not a good color on me. The joke makes him braver.
A knock knock joke? Okay, I'll play. Who’s there?
Actually, it’s to WHOM.
There’s a bit of a pause after Bram’s punchline before Simon texts back. This is my life now, isn’t it? Bram laughs, but before he can answer, he gets, What’s the email about?
Bram stares at the words. He can feel the old, familiar nausea rising up. It takes him a long moment to bring himself to type It’s about why I didn’t kiss you, and another, longer moment to work up the nerve to hit send. He holds his breath as he waits for Simon’s reply.
Bram. It’s okay. I get it.
He lets out the breath on a long, slow exhale. I wanted to. I need you to know that I wanted to, he sends back.
He quickly decides that the “dot dot dot” of someone typing is a form of torture. Especially when it appears, then disappears over and over without any response coming through. He doesn’t know if Simon is searching for something to say, or writing and erasing, or just composing a lot of thoughts all at once before he sends any. But the waiting and the watching is torture, and he has to get up, leave his phone on the bed, and pace his room to escape the nausea, and he doesn’t get it, how he can be this nervous after everything that’s happened.
His phone chimes and he practically vaults his bed to get to it. Simon’s words nearly bring him to tears.
Bram, I didn’t think for a second that you not kissing me was because you didn’t want to. I know I’ve been a little clueless, but trust me, I have NOT missed the fact that you want to kiss me. I really did mean that I get it. You didn’t kiss me because there were people around, and I’m okay with that. You don’t EVER have to apologize or explain yourself to me about PDA, okay? Not ever. You didn’t get forcibly outed to the universe. You get to decide when and how and who knows. That’s yours. I don’t want anything to take that away from you. Not even me.
God, he loves this boy. He almost tells him, but he pulls himself back, because he thinks that may be too much, too fast, too soon. He contents himself with reading the words again and again and just letting the feelings swell up in his chest. Simon is completely wrong about the why behind the not-kissing, but damn it if Bram doesn’t fall more in love with him reading his response.
He’s glad they’re doing this over text. He doesn’t know if he’d be able to say what he wants to say out loud. But texting, that’s pretty close to their emails, and from the beginning, Simon and his writing have drawn more out of Bram than he ever thought he’d share. Simon’s words make him braver and bolder. Simon’s words pull out his own. He types and sends sentence after sentence in rapid succession, not letting himself think about the words too much, not giving himself the chance to edit. Just sending truth out into the world.
I didn’t kiss you because there were people around.
But it wasn’t because I’m not out, or because I was afraid of what they would think. It was because you got outed to the universe, Simon.
You were forced into revealing this huge part of yourself in a way you didn’t want, and weren’t ready for.
And even if it ended well eventually, the memory of those moments will always be marred by the fact that they were forced on you by something ugly.
I wanted to kiss you. I have wanted to kiss you for longer than I think you realize. I think about it all the time. But I didn’t because there were people around, and I didn’t know how they’d react.
Maybe it would have been fine, maybe no one would have even noticed, but maybe not. Maybe they’d have catcalled, or made snide comments or stupid jokes. I couldn’t risk that.
I wanted, I WANT our first kiss to be nothing but a good memory. I don’t want it to be marred by some potential ugliness. You deserve better than that.
After everything you’ve been through, you deserve a moment that is perfect. I want to give you that, and I didn’t know if I could tonight.
He’s breathless when he’s done, when it’s all out there for Simon to read and understand. He awkwardly ends it with So, anyway. That’s why, and waits.
Simon’s response, when it comes, is not what he expects. Where are you right now? Simon asks.
My bedroom. Why?
Because I’m driving there right now to kiss the crap out of you.
Bram laughs out loud, and it’s like this huge weight has disappeared from his chest. He’s able to sink onto his bed with his phone, tension and worry draining out of him. What about curfew?
Screw curfew. I’m seriously on my way there because you can’t say things like that and seriously expect me to spend the next twelve hours not kissing you.
You don’t know where I live, Bram points out.
Don’t bother me with details.
Pretty important detail.
Ugh, fine. I’ll just sit in my room and pine. And then, I wish I could call you.
Why can’t you? Bram asks, heart hammering because the conversation at the carnival was hands down the most he’s ever said out loud to Simon, times like a thousand, and he doesn’t know if he can actually figure out how to do this out loud. But he wants to try. He wants to find his voice, be Blue in real life, and this seems like a good place to start.
My sister is in bed, and she’ll kill me. She has a strict no-noise-after-bedtime policy. The walls are thin.
He gets distracted thinking about what might have led Simon’s sister to lay down a no-noise-after-bedtime-because-of-thin-walls policy, so he’s still thinking of something to say when Simon texts again, a text that does not help get his thoughts back on track.
Do you really think about kissing me all the time?
Bram grins and bites his lip. This boy may be the death of him, and really, he’s okay with that.
Think about it. Dream about it. Wish for it. Constantly.
Careful. My sentence fragments are infecting you.
I guess I have a thing for sentence fragments.
Just to be clear, I’m ‘sentence fragments’ in this scenario, right?
Yes, Simon. You are sentence fragments.
And you think about kissing me all the time.
There’s a mischievous smirk on his face as he texts back Kissing you . . . and the like.
Simon literally sends him an ellipsis, three little dots taking up a line on the screen, followed immediately by, Give me three good reasons not to be on my way to your house right now. Bram hears the pause and the sentence in Simon’s voice as if he was there in the room with him, and he laughs.
One, you still don’t know where I live. Two, I’d like you to not be grounded very soon. Three, you probably haven’t finished your English homework yet.
LIKE I’M SUPPOSED TO FOCUS ON ANYTHING OTHER THAN THIS CONVERSATION FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.
There’s a ridiculous grin on his face that he can’t convince to go away, not that he wants to. He can’t quite believe that he’s here, in his bedroom, flirting over text message with the guy he fell for not once but twice. He doesn’t know how life got this perfect, but he’s not going to argue.
They text a little longer, then Bram does the responsible thing and convinces Simon that they really should try to sleep to be ready for school in the morning.
You’ll save me a spot on the couch, right? Simon asks.
I guess it depends on how late you are to English, Bram sends back.
Rude, is Simon’s reply, then, I can’t wait to see you again, and that feeling of giddy anticipation is back.
Same, he says. Then, because he’s feeling brave, I hope I don’t disappoint you in person.
You never could, is Simon’s almost immediate response. Besides, in person is the only way that kissing happens.
True. Then . . . kiss you tomorrow?
He sinks back onto his pillows, deliriously happy, though he’s going to be exhausted tomorrow. It’s already late, and he doesn’t imagine he’ll be getting much sleep, not with everything that’s happened today and the fact that his mind is already spinning out plans for tomorrow.
His phone chimes, but it’s not a text. It’s an email. It’s just one line, one sentence fragment that brings the grin back to his face and the fire back to his gut. He really does need to make tomorrow perfect, especially if Simon is raising the stakes.
Date: January 26, 12:02am
Subject: Kiss me tomorrow?
Not if I kiss you first.