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Between the Bars

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Bram’s never been good at lying to his mom. Even when he was a toddler he’d confessed to all the stolen cookies and scrapes from climbing too high in the tree in his backyard. There was something about the look she would give him… or maybe it was just unnerving to lie while looking at someone who has your own eyes. No matter the reason, it has made keeping his secret from her all the harder, and now that he’d told her, now that he’s come out, he doesn’t know what to say.

“Your soulmate is a boy then?” She’d asks once the tears and the hugs and the reassurances have passed, and Bram doesn’t know what to say, because he’s absolutely done with lying (in general but most importantly to his mom), but at the same time, he’s just come out, and saying he doesn’t have a male soulmate would cast a shadow of doubt into her mind. That’s the last thing he needs.

No one ever wants to have to tell their mother they don’t have a soulmate.

So he does something in between. He walks the line of truth and fiction, shrugs his shoulders a little and twists his mouth to the side in a complicated smile that could always be a grimace, and thank God for mothers, because Bram’s mom purses her lips but her eyes are warm and she reaches over to give Bram one more hug, as if she knows he doesn’t want to talk about it.

Bram goes to bed earlier than usual that night. He supposes he should feel relieved, and he honestly does, but he can’t stop thinking about how he’s existed in a world of noise for what feels like forever, how none of it has ever been what he needed to hear, how there must be something wrong with him.

He can remember when Garrett first came to after-school soccer practice halfway through 8th Grade with a dopey smile on his face, spinning about as if to music.

“You good?” Bram had asked, trying to stifle his amusement.

“Bram! This is the best day of my life!” Garrett had catapulted straight at Bram, giving him an enthusiastic back-thumping sort of hug. “I got my soulmate song!”

Bram had been happy for his best friend, but as the year progressed and he was forced to watch the same thing happen to most the kids in his class, he felt the approaching dread start to consume him. That had all stopped (briefly) on a hot June day. That had been when Bram had first heard it.

It had been a song he’d never heard before, something slightly poppy but also strange and somewhat sad in its own right, and he’d run straight home from the park where he’d been reading. As soon as he’d gotten upstairs, he’d danced briefly in a very un-Bram-like manner, and he’d smiled all through dinner, and the world was so bright and so full of wonder that he had been enamored with just about everything.

But that all came crashing down a week later, when a different song he’d never heard of came into his head. Because, as it turns out, nothing ever goes for Bram the way he wants it to, and someone out the really must have it out for him because every once and a while he’ll have a song stuck in his head he thinks he’s never heard. He knows he must have heard them at the store or in the hallways, that in this world of his that’s so full of music, he must have heard them somewhere. Because he has no soulmate. Because hearing song after song in your head isn’t called having a soulmate song, it’s called being a good listener. He has no favorite song he’s never heard.

From that summer on, Bram had tried as hard as he could to stay away from a favorite song. To this day, he shuffles random Spotify mixes and never listens to the same album twice. He supposes he isn’t one of those people that can’t go without music, because most of all, he doesn’t want to be the perfect person for someone when he knows full and well there is no perfect person for him. He can’t put someone through that. Hell, he can’t put himself through that.

So Abraham Louis Greenfeld doesn’t have a soulmate. He tries not to let it bother him. He tries to tune out the random songs that get stuck in his head because music for him has become just another reminder that he’s different, that he’s broken, weird, and, on a particularly bad day where he wants nothing but to stay in bed forever, unlovable.

Things started looking up when he got an email from a boy named Jacques. He emailed back, and pretty soon he’s  falling in love with the boy’s sentence fragments and his Oreo fixation. The day after he comes out to his mother and after months of emails he gets this at the end of one of them.

 

    By the way, you should check out Elliott Smith. He’s a freaking lyrical genius.

 

Two sentences, fourteen words, twenty syllables, even. That’s all it takes to send Bram into a full blown, ‘can’t breathe, curled up on the bed crying’ panic attack, because this is the closest they’ve even gotten to talking about Soulmates, that capital-letter-S holy freaking big deal, and Jacques probably thinks Blue’s his soulmate, probably thinks the cute Blue he’s been emailing isn’t broken and sad and unable to listen to music for too long without feeling that hollow ache start up in his abdomen that’s always sure to stick around for days.

When Bram’s calmed down, he pulls up Spotify on his phone and searches for the man anyway, because he’s an idiot, and because by this point he’s pretty sure (and by that, he means he’s basically praying) that Jacques might be Simon Spier, and the both of them have always had an unfair pull on Bram Greenfeld, and he’s somewhat curious about what Simon might be listening to all the time on his iPod.

He clicks on ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ for the pure irony of the title, and he lays back, lets the guitar settle over him, and begins to cry again.

Bram breaks his rule that night. He listens to the song three times all the way through, just staring at the ceiling and listening, and when he’s done, he goes to the album and plays it start to finish until he drifts off to sleep, homework still not done, shoes still tied to his feet.

Bram’s used to the sound of music following him, though he’s not used to it being purposeful, and so he sinks into the album like it was made for him. Half a mile away, Simon Spier is sitting by his window, looking out at the darkening street and ruminating on silence.

Silence is something Simon is used to. It’s there in his response when Martin Addison approaches him every day after school and tries to blackmail him. It’s there when his dad goes to make a gay joke and glances at him from the corner of his eye and stops with an aborted sharp inhale. It’s there when he thinks about his soulmate. Because he’s never heard his soulmate song.

Because he doesn’t have a soulmate. Which freaking sucks because he’s emailing this amazing boy and he loves him just a little too much but he knows he can’t be what the boy wants. He can’t be that to anyone, which has made the whole coming out thing a lot harder, but also in some respects a hell of a lot easier. It’s the Martin thing again. He hasn’t done anything yet, and Simon’s only attempt to help him has been reading lines with Abby and him at Waffle House. He loves Blue, he really does, and he’s not ready to come out yet, but a part of him, the part that feels like what silence would feel like if it were an emotion every time he thinks about love, honestly can’t be bothered to care. He’s romantically doomed anyway, so he doesn’t really see how it matters in the end.

This is why he doesn’t think twice about mentioning music to Blue. He’s come to not even associate music to soulmates anymore, in fact it’s become a sort of escape for him. He hates the silence, absolutely hates it, and so his escape comes from Tegan and Sara, Troye Sivan, classic rock like Bowie and the Ramones, classic-er rock like The Beatles and The Kinks… and Elliott Smith. Especially Elliott Smith. Ever since the summer after 8th Grade year, when Simon first started to suspect he was the 0.001% of the population who didn’t have a soulmate, Simon had drowned himself in music like Ophelia to a lake (looking back, he hopes Blue might appreciate the twisted literature metaphor), and since then it has been, in the words of his mother, ‘a new obsession every week’.

Simon settles into his desk chair as soon as he sits send, and he puts a record on to fill the silence.

It’s two weeks later when he’s eating lunch with his friends that the barrier between himself and his love life comes crashing down. It starts with Leah dropping her phone onto the table like it’s burned her. A few scattered kids around the room begin to whisper as they pass their phones around. Leah can’t look anywhere but Simon, her eyes sympathetic and sad.

“What is it?” Bram says as he reaches over to take one of Simon’s fries. Leah looks like she’s about to cry, which is a so strikingly new that Simon knows more than he did at the look in her eyes that something has gone terribly wrong.

“We need to go,” she says, looking around to notice only a few isolated people looking in their direction. She stands up quickly and before Simon can ask what’s going on, she’s dragging him outside away from prying ears and news that is quickly beginning to spread, and his friends are following behind confused, Bram directly behind Leah and Simon (Bram’s almost certain Simon is Jacques by now, because the clues are just too obvious to miss), his face painted with a sick kind of worry, because if Simon is Jacques, there’s really only one thing this can be.

As soon as they find an isolated table against the side of the school, Leah pushes Simon down to a seat and gives him her phone.

He stares, he just stares, his face blank, and all he can hear is silence.

There it is. His biggest secret, broadcasted for the entire school to see, but all he can think about is the fact that Blue is going to know who he is, and he’s going to most likely be disappointed. Even if by some miracle he isn’t, he’s going to realize that he’s not Simon’s soulmate because that’s not a secret Simon could lie about to the face of the boy he loves if Blue were to ask him in person. He wouldn’t do that to Blue, he wouldn’t lie.

Simon doesn’t realize he’s hyperventilating until Bram’s hand comes to rest around him as he tries to get him to take deep breaths.

“It’s true,” Simon says once his breathing is more under control, and Leah is crying for real now. Abby, Nick and Garrett don’t know what ‘it’ is, but they feel their heart breaking anyway. “I’m,” Simon almost thinks he prefers the silence to what he’s about to say, and considers letting it swallow him up like it’s always wanted to… but then he looks at Leah with her supportive smile and Bram with his warm eyes and his cute hand running along his side comfortingly, feeling so natural there pressed close to him, and he knows he can’t lie any longer.

“I’m gay.” Simon knows he friends aren’t going to react badly, but when Abby, (who already knew but looks immensely proud nonetheless) Nick, and Garrett almost simultaneously surge forward to wrap their arms around him in a hug, he breathes out a sigh of relief nonetheless.

They all smile brightly at him. Nick says he’s proud. Garrett gives him a fistbump. Abby ruffles his hair jokingly. Simon is happy, but as soon as he realizes why he’s come out in the first place, it’s like a bucket of cold water has been poured all over him.

“Someone outed him on Creeksecrets,” Leah says, anger in her voice as she glares down at her phone like it’s personally wronged her, and in a way it has.

His friends, loyal to a fault, are absolutely fucking pissed, and even angrier when he explains who did it. He tells them about Martin, how he found something on the computers and took pictures (Simon doesn’t specify what exactly Martin saw-that would be unfair to Blue).

“He wanted me to help him get with Abby. I didn’t think he’d actually do anything. Thank God he didn’t post the emails,” his friends either don’t question what he means or they don’t hear him. To be fair, they all look like they’re about to go kill Martin Addison.

Simon doesn’t notice Bram stiffening beside him at the mention of emails.

“I’m gonna tell your math teacher you won’t be in for eighth period. I’m sure he’ll understand,” Leah says, and Simon feels a swell of gratitude. Knowing the whole school knows is bad enough… having to sit through an entire class period with their eyes and their whispers would be more than he could handle.

“And I’ll tell Ms. Albright,” Abby says, smiling at Simon, and even though the situation is shitty, he’s so glad he at least has his awesome as fuck friends here to help him through it. Leah and Abby make their way inside after giving Simon parting smiles and squeezes on the shoulder, and Bram and Garrett sit down and begin to strategize something - a silly exaggerated revenge plan, likely to make Simon feel somewhat better. However, what does it for him, what somehow fills the silence that seems to always be encroaching, is Bram. Cute Bram Greenfeld is still half hugging Simon as he pulls out his phone and gives Simon an earphone.

The opening drum beats of Waltz #2 begins to drift into Simon’s ears, and if he didn’t feel so tired and emotionally gutted, he would have marveled over how Bram seemed to know about his favorite singer. At this rate he’s given up all hope the Bram could be Blue, or even be gay, but it’s nice to sit there under his arm, leaning into his torso and subtly breathing him in and feeling safe for the first time in a while. It almost feels like what having a boyfriend must feel like. The four of them sit until the lunch bell rings, and through some unspoken communication, they decide at least one person should stay with Simon before he can drive everyone home. Garrett has a sort of smirk on his face as he nominates Bram, and the part of Simon that’s jumping up and down excitedly at the prospect of sitting there another 90 minutes with his schoolboy crush tries not to take anything from that.

“How ‘bout you stay out here Bram,” he says, with a smile. “It’s a beautiful day.”

And though Bram is a stickler for attendance, the idea of moving his arm, of leaving Simon, his Jacques, who has just gotten outed in the most horrifying way makes him feel physically uncomfortable. Guess that’s love for you , Bram thought. You find the person you love with your whole heart but you know that they’re not meant to love you with their soul .

“Yeah,” he finally replies as he subtly stares at Simon. “Beautiful.”

The two of them sit there, touching for the entirety of the period, listening to Simon’s favorite singer. Simon thinks he’s going to combust if he’s around Cute Bram any longer, but he thinks Death By Cute Boy might be the best way to go. He has to remind himself of the Halloween party every few minutes, remind himself that Bram is not Blue, that he’s proved that ages ago because he’s Not Gay, that even if he was it wouldn’t matter much because no one is his Soulmate, not Blue, and certainly not Cute Bram. Despite this, he still feels so safe next to Bram, and though none of them are talking, it’s the farthest from silence Simon’s ever been.

But, like all good things, this comes to an end. Nick drives everyone home in Simon’s car as soon as school ends, and Simon and Bram listen to Elliot Smith the whole ride to Simon’s house. At one point, Simon picks up Bram’s phone and hands it to him with a question in his eyes. Bram unlocks it and hands it back without a word, and Simon plays Between the Bars on repeat. It’s a sad song, that Bram knows, but the more he listens to it, next to Simon in the backseat of his car ( which smells like him, though that’s probably a really creepy thing to notice ), the happier it sounds. He wants to kiss Simon the way Elliott Smith sings, and Between the Bars is his favorite song.

Oblivious to Bram’s thoughts, Simon spends the ride in turmoil over what’s happened, and when he gets home he immediately crashes. As soon as he’s within three feet of his bed, he falls into it and sleeps for two hours. He finds that listening to more Elliott Smith doesn’t feel right without Bram, so, because he can’t even nap without some sort of substitute to fill the silence, he settles back into the The Kinks phase he’s been in. He thinks Waterloo Sunset is his favorite at the moment, though his favorite songs change constantly. Before he drifts off, he can’t help but think that if he had a soulmate, it would really suck for him to have Simon’s constant roster of favorite songs playing. When he wakes up, it’s to a pleasant hum of Between the Bars in his head. He smiles, because it’s a great song, and he sleepily turns to his phone. Before he can pause the Beatles song that has come on, it hits him. Because that isn’t his voice singing. It isn’t stuck in his head, fragmented like an earworm, it’s being played in his head.

He shoots straight up and rethinks everything he he’s known since he was fourteen. He doesn’t sleep at all that night, and when he trudges into school, he barely even pays attention to the eyes on him, the whispers and the occasional quiet slur. It all flies over his head, he barely pays attention in first period, and he flunks his History test. Because there’s only one person he knows that’s just listened to Between the Bars on repeat. Only one person who’s shown signs of being Blue for months. He can’t even use the image of Halloween to dissuade him, because the evidence is right there. By the time English rolls around, he’s already crafting a plan.

Simon finds his way to the library. He knows he’ll have to make up all of English but that doesn’t really matter because he kind of sure than Bram Greenfeld is his soulmate, and he’s pretty sure he’s also Blue. He drafts the email almost on autopilot. His words come so naturally, and he feels like he did pressed into Bram’s side yesterday-safe, at ease, natural.


 

Of course, Bram gets to English before his other classmates. He’s shaking his head like an etch-e-sketch, trying to dislodge the song that’s been stuck up there lately. It’s The Kinks, he thinks, but he doesn’t really care to look it up. This is a normal occurrence for him, and he tries not to feel sorry for himself.

He saves spots on the couch in English for Abby, Garrett, and Simon and tries to focus on anything but the song. It’s catchy, sure, but it’s coming in much stronger than the songs usually do. It’s almost full in length, which is surprising to Bram, because, as always, he feels like he’s never heard it. He’s still puzzling over it when he hears his phone chime. He sees an alert for an email and opens it without a second thought.

    Blue,

    So, something happened yesterday, but I think you already know that. Well. Two things happened yesterday, one of which     I’m sure you know. The second thing, though…

    Before I say this, I wanted to let you know that I think I know who you are. And I’m really sorry, I know you wanted to keep     this anonymous, but once I started to piece things together, everything just kinda made sense.

    Okay. So, my news. I know we’ve never talked about Soulmates, because I thought I didn’t have one. I’m sorry. I didn’t want     to give you hope or anything… Blue, I really thought I was just meant to be alone But then. Then yesterday, I sat with this         really cool guy. His eyes remind me of coffee and he’s really good at making me feel a little less surrounded by silence. And     he listened to my favorite singer with me, one song in particular. (Blue, if you are who I think you are, and I really do think     that you are, thank you, it really helped). When I got home, I had a song. A Soulmate Song.

    So Blue, please, if you listened to Between the Bars with me yesterday, meet me outside at lunch at the table we sat at. I’ll         be there, I’d really like to talk to you directly. There are some things that are a bit too personal to say over email.

    Love, Simon.

 

Bram is in shock. He honestly doesn’t know what to think except for the memory of ‘ He wants to kiss Simon the way Elliott Smith sings, and Between the Bars is his favorite song ’. His favorite song. He’s Simon’s soulmate. Simon really is Jacques. Simon wants to talk to him, he wants to talk to his soulmate, his pen-pal. He wants to talk to Bram.

He wars with himself for all of English, because he had thought he wouldn’t be ready. That a direct invitation to meet instead of a mere mention would make him want to throw his guts up… but he feels surprisingly ready. Maybe it’s that, because he’s gone his whole life thinking he doesn’t have a soulmate, he assumed he wasn’t someone else’s soulmate either. Unrequited soulmates were so rare nobody ever really worried about that, so Bram had just assumed he was… you know, alone. But now… like Simon (Jacques, technically) had said, things were starting to fall into place. Being with Simon feld right. It just did. And in the matter of Bram not having a soulmate… well, maybe all the noise he’s heard over the past few years hasn’t been so random after all. Now that he thinks about it, Bram’s never seen Simon without his iPod somewhere close by. It isn’t unheard of for a person’s Soulmate Song to change, and though it’s unlikely, Bram is going to take all the hope he can find right now.

His mind is made up before the bell can even ring, and so he spends the remainder of the period with his leg bouncing up and down, daydreaming about a boy with soft hair and moon grey eyes who might possibly (hopefully, because it seems a bit too good to be true) be his soulmate. He’s up out of his seat the split second before the bell can even ring, and other than the song stuck in his head that may or may not be his soulmate song, it’s the best sound he’s ever heard.

Bram practically sprints outside, but as soon as he sees Simon, he slows down, because he honest to God feels like the star of some Disney movie, running towards his happily ever after and his nervous Prince Charming.

And Bram’s freaking out, but as he gets closer he sees a telltale blue box - Simon bought Oreos for him. A little closer - they’re the orange special Halloween kind (and it’s nearing late December, so how Simon found them Bram has no clue), and he’s so fucking in love with this boy that his heart clenches.

“Hi,” Simon says, sounding a little breathless. “You came.” And Bram doesn’t feel as nervous anymore. He feels comfortable, like he is starting to always feel around Simon.

“Course I came,” Bram said. “I’m your soulmate,” he looks down, the words making him bashful. Simon exhales at the word and when Bram looks back up, he almost looks like he’s going to cry. “I’m Blue.”

“I’m Jacques,” Simon says, and his voice is strangled, and suddenly Bram is laughing, and Simon is laughing too, and they’re falling towards each other and they’re somehow suddenly kissing. And it’s so warm that Bram forgets how to breathe because he loves, loves, loves this boy.

“I'll kiss you again between the bars,” Bram whispers onto Simon’s lips, even though it's probably the corniest thing to ever happen. Simon giggles and wraps his arms around Bram’s waist standing so close they're practically hugging, and Bram’s happier than he's ever been.

“You freaking better,” Simon says before he goes in to kiss Bram again, and when they separate, Bram can't help but start rambling.

“I thought I didn't have a soulmate. Simon, Jacques, I still might not have a soulmate, because what I thought was my soulmate song was the first in a long line of songs I just somehow got stuck in my head and I thought I was, you know, I thought I was broken, and I really don't want to be broken for you, so before we do this I had to make sure you knew-” Simon cuts Bram off with a kiss because rambling is supposed to be his department, damn it!

When he pulls back he moves one hand up to cradle Bram’s face.

“It's a good thing I’ve had a lot of favorite songs over the years, then, huh,” Simon says and then he’s kissing Bram again, and Bram starts laughing a moment later, completely giddy because he has a soulmate, he loves his soulmate, and the noise that's always followed him around is now just a testament to that.

“I love you,” Bram says, and he's so filled with love and joy he can feel it spilling out his ears like steam in an old fashioned cartoon. Simon sighs into him and rests his hands on the nape of Bram’s neck.

“I love you too,” he says, and it sounds like how Bram felt when he realized he finally had a favorite song. It sounds like how elated Bram was when Between the Bars turned happy instead of bitter, all because Simon was beside him.

The two spend the rest of lunch sitting in the grass and eating Oreos and kissing sweetly. Bram thinks about how excited he is to go home and tell his mom that yes, his soulmate is a boy. To tell her that Simon Spier, love of his life, loves him back, and is a freaking holy big deal all in himself, through silence and noise and windows and bars, right to the center of Bram’s heart.