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Auld Lang Syne

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Bram looked up at the clock above his dad’s fireplace as he dropped onto the couch. His dad took the seat next to him, and his stepmom raced to the bathroom, muttering something about the baby squishing her bladder so bad that she was going to be the one in diapers.

It was nine in the evening on New Year’s Eve.

If he wasn’t sitting in Savannah right now, Bram could have taken Garrett up on the offer to go to his place and hang out with the soccer team. Or, better yet, he could have convinced Garrett to abandon his plans and take up Nick’s offer. The thought made him sigh. If he wasn’t in Savannah ringing in the fake new year four hours before the real one, he could be at Simon’s party. Simon’s party, as Nick put it, was, ‘Just a quiet thing with a few people in Simon’s basement; it’s sort of a tradition.’

It sounded perfect when he read Nick’s text in the middle of packing for a week in Savannah.

And really, the party wasn’t all bad. He got a chance to sneak away from 3D ultrasounds and fetus stories to hang out with his cousin Sarah Jane, where after a few quiet moments exchanging school stories through chattering teeth on his stepmother’s grandma’s porch, he quietly came out to her. He smiled at the memory of the way ancient porch swing groaned in protest as she lunged to hug him.

But now, he just wished he was back in Shady Creek. The idea of spending the next three hours staring mindlessly at the television waiting for the peach to drop so he could drag himself to a room that barely could be called his was absolutely daunting.

While his dad flipped through channels to find the broadcast, Bram pulled his phone out of his pocket. He spent a few absentminded minutes refreshing Gmail in hopes to get something from Jacques, but he knew that Simon was mid-basement party at this point, and probably wasn’t thinking about Blue.

His eyes flicked to the Tumblr app. He hadn’t been on Creeksecrets since August, having been more than satisfied with the outcome of his first and only foray on the site, but he knew as well as any Creekwood student that it was a great way to waste time.

“I’m really glad you’re here, B.”

His finger hovered over the blue app, but he looked up to his dad. He was wearing his normal dorky attire, and his hair was combed over in a way that did a horrible job of hiding the way his hair was receding. But he was smiling, and it was so genuine, that Bram shut his phone screen off.

“Thanks, Dad. I’m glad too.”

“I hope it wasn’t too bad skipping out on being with your friends to hang out with your old man tonight,” he said, leaning over to nudge Bram’s arm with his knuckles. “And hey, at least you got to see Sarah Jane and Jon!” He chuckled to himself. “I still remember how much you used to tag along behind him when you were a kid.”

Bram started coughing to cover his embarrassment. What his dad remembered as an adolescent fascination with his stepmother’s cousin, Bram remembered very differently. After referring to him as Mr. Sexual Awakening in emails with Jacques for the last three months, Bram found it impossible to look him in the eye for the entire party.

“You were such a great kid to watch grow up, B,” his dad continued. “You were always so careful, but whenever you got used to the people around you and opened up, it was just the best thing to witness.” He leaned forward and patted Bram on the knee. In a sadder tone that surprised Bram, he said, “Every time I see you it’s like you’re another foot taller and another year older. I feel like I’m missing it.”

“Come on, Dad,” Bram said, chuckling a little, “I’ve grown at least two feet since Hanukkah.”

His dad’s laughter startled out of him. Bram watched him lean back onto the couch, shaking his head, an easy smile pushing away his sadness.

It was a moment. It was Bram’s moment.

“Hey Dad, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.” As the words came out of his mouth, he felt a jolt of his pulse go all the way from his heart to the tips of his fingers. Saying the words to his mom, to Garrett, to Starr and SJ should have been sufficient practice, but he still felt his face flood with color as his dad looked at him curiously.

“What’s up, B?”

He took one last breath, ignoring the fluttering in his stomach and the way he couldn't help but wring his fingers together in his lap.

“I’m gay.”

A tilt of his dad’s head. A part in his lips. A pause. And finally, a quiet, “Oh,” breathed out in surprise. And then another, “Oh!” this time louder. “Well that’s- I’m so glad you feel comfortable telling me.”

Bram bit his lip so hard he felt like he might actually chew through it. So many words fought their way to come out of his mouth, but none of them made it through. “I- is-”

“Hey, hey,” his dad said, “Bram.” His dad reached over and squeezed his shoulder. “I love you so much, kid.”

Bram closed his eyes and nodded, and exhaled. His dad’s hand slipped off of his shoulder, squeezed his arm, and Bram opened his eyes when his dad pulled back.

“I love you too, Dad.”

After the peach dropped and hugs were shared, Bram snuck away from his dad and stepmom to the room that was always his when he stayed. His dad’s house had enough bedrooms that this would still be his even after little fetus was born; he’d overheard his stepmom and Mr. Sexual Awakening’s wife talking about plans to convert the downstairs guest room for the baby.

When Bram woke up the following morning, the first thing he did was check Gmail. A flutter of excitement swelled in his chest when he saw a new message waiting for him. Without moving from his bed, he smiled and laughed softly to himself at Jacques’ tired rambling. The timestamp on the message was from past four in the morning, and his message was filled with the same cute rambling as the email that came the day after Simon’s birthday. He still remembered the feeling in his stomach when his brain put together too much sugar yesterday with the cake at their lunch table the day before, and the exhaustion in Simon’s eyes in English that morning.

In this message, Jacques wrote about spending time with a few close friends, and told him how he came out to the rest of them, even though they already knew. Bram’s heart ached. Outed to the universe. He rambled about it being an awkward night full of Straight Drama because one of his friends likes another, but that friend likes a different friend, and if Bram didn’t know Simon’s friends, he would have surely gotten lost in Simon’s tired attempt at being vague. At the very bottom of his message, Simon wrote that he was sending Blue a virtual New Year’s kiss.

He sat up a little to write his reply. His laptop was in his backpack on the other side of the room, so he favored typing on his phone over getting up to get it. He told Jacques about the party with his family and Mr. Sexual Awakening’s 3D ultrasound. He thought about telling Jacques about coming out to his dad, but decided against it when there was a knock on the door of his room. He finished his message with the same Love, Blue that he and Jacques had been using but hadn’t talked about, and called out to the knocker.

His dad peeked his head in. “Your mom’s going to kill me if I send you back with a screwed up sleep schedule.”

Bram rolled his eyes. “I don’t start school for four more days.”

“We’re making breakfast if you want to put that phone down long enough to join us,” his dad said, chuckling at what Bram was sure his dad considered peak humor. But he spared his dad the sarcastic answer since it was his last day in Savannah, and told him he’d be there in a few minutes.

He got another email from Jacques on the car ride back to Shady Creek that afternoon, but didn’t open it until he was home. Reading in the car never turned out well for him. He couldn’t fight the smile at their conversation topics even if he tried, even through the flood of guilt of Jacques’ joking-but-not-really sign off about exchanging phone numbers.

The phone numbers. He couldn’t explain it to Jacques without giving away his suspicions about Jacques’ identity.

The truth was, he was scared of the change it would cause between them. No matter how much Jacques insisted, he knew that things would change if he knew Blue’s true identity. The emails that they shared were so personal, and sometimes so random and funny and sometimes so meaningful. Bram couldn’t fathom how he’d ever be able to talk to Simon in person the way he could talk from behind a screen.

But it was more than that. Bram knew the people that Simon was closest to, and saw the way he interacted with them. Bram loved being able to have a place close to Simon too, even if his was a viral one. When he compared that to the way Simon interacted with him, or Garrett, or even Morgan and Anna at lunch, Bram knew he couldn’t go back to just being someone that Simon addressed with his walls up ever again. As Blue, he got to be close to Simon in a way that he never could as Bram, and he wasn’t ready to give that up.

The rest of winter break passed in emails and homework, and on the first day back at school, Bram felt like there was a shift with the new year that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He thought it might be his excitement for soccer tryouts that afternoon, until Garrett jolted him out of his thoughts with a slap of his hand onto the locker next to Bram’s.

“Greenfeld! Not one text message over break! Not one!”

Bram shook his head, smiling slightly. “What’s up, Garrett,” he said, bumping his fist against Garrett’s waiting knuckles. Bram looked back to his locker and started unpacking all of the stuff he brought home for winter break, until he realized that the excited grin Garrett greeted him with hadn’t faded. In fact, he was barely blinking.

“I’ll call more on spring break?” Bram attempted, as it was obvious Garrett was waiting for something.

Garrett punched Bram’s shoulder.

“Dude, what is wrong with you?” Bram said indignantly, rubbing his arm.

“Jesus Christ, you didn’t hear,” Garrett said, bewildered. He leaned in, and Bram resisted the urge to immediately lean away. “Spier came out.”

Bram blinked. Garrett started rambling about how, well, he wasn’t sure if he came out or got outed, or if the sophomore he heard it from even actually knew, and other things that Bram’s brain couldn’t process.

Simon was out. Jacques was outed to the universe.

Words struggled to push their way forward, the desire for Garrett to stop talking at the forefront, but Bram couldn’t force any of them out. But thankfully, Garrett’s eyes flicked past him, and his expression schooled itself into a neutral one.

“What’s up, Spier?” An easy, genuine smile lit up Garrett’s face, in the same way it always did when he greeted people in the hallway. Bram turned just in time to see Simon nod back. Simon didn’t say anything to Garrett in return, but an uneasy half-smile touched the corners of Simon’s mouth, that he gave to both of them. If it wasn’t for the fact that Bram spent more time than he was willing to admit staring at Simon, he would have missed the spark of gratefulness that his eyes seem to show.

When Simon was safely out of hearing distance and around the corner towards the English wing, Garrett punched Bram’s shoulder again.

“Bro. BRO. What are the chances!?” Garrett said, practically dancing on the tips of his toes in excitement.

Well, Garrett, more likely than you think. “You said he got outed?” Bram asked, trying to keep his voice neutral.

“Yeah, I don’t know, you know that sophomore that got his dick stuck in a beaker like a month ago? I heard him telling that one freshman theater chick.” Garrett’s expression was uneasy, like he wasn’t sure how to navigate.

“Did you hear how?” Bram asked.

Garrett shook his head, apologetic. He could tell that Garrett couldn’t quite figure out what to say next, and Bram was too grateful for the silence to help him out.

Through the rest of the day, none of the overheard conversations that surrounded him gave him any more information about the events leading up to Simon being outed. For the gratefulness he gave Garrett and Bram in the hallway, when Simon walked into English not ten minutes after, he looked completely crumpled. Bram’s heart hurt for him so much that he actually considered just telling Simon who he was, if only with the hope that it would make his day just a tiny bit better.

But even if he found a way to let the thought simmer into fruition, Simon wasn’t alone long enough for Bram to have the chance. Leah and Abby walked with him between every one of his morning classes, and Bram didn’t have any with him after first period.

His half thought plan came to a startling halt at lunch when Simon zeroed in on him and angrily told him to ask Leah out. If anything, it was a pretty obvious statement of, ‘I have no idea you’re Blue.’

His thoughts made their way back to Simon’s tired, angry statement through the rest of the afternoon. He was so lost in thinking about Simon, that he went through the motions of the rest of the day without focus or his normal attention.

At the start of soccer tryouts, their coach had them run laps around the entirety of the field. Bram jogged next to Garrett and Nick, letting their chatter fill the silence as they parted to pass Jaxon Wildstein. 

As they passed their starting point to start their second lap, their coach called out, “Greenfeld, come’ere!” Bram gave Garrett and Nick a confused look, but broke away from them and jogged over to his coach.

“I need you to take this to the office and have them start putting together progress reports for everyone,” their coach said as he held out a sheet of paper to Bram. This was typical, as anyone failing a class wouldn't be allowed to play at games. “I know I don’t have to worry about your grades.”

Bram nodded and accepted the sheet of paper, glancing down at the list of names.

“Got it. Um, do you want me to drop it off after?”

“Nah, run up real quick right now while-” His eyes darted past Bram to the field. “-WILDSTEIN, I KNOW YOU’RE NOT WALKING ALREADY!”

Bram took that as his cue, and took off in an easy jog back up to the school. He stopped jogging after he was past the girls team, and let the patter of his heart slow as he walked the rest of the way.

He cut through the gym and the locker room, and started making his way through the empty hallways of the school. He didn’t really notice the quiet until a voice broke it, and he turned the corner to see Abby and Taylor standing near the wall across from the auditorium.

“Hey, hey,” Abby’s voice was gentle, but firm. She had both of her hands on either one of Taylor’s shoulders. When he walked closer, he saw that Taylor’s face was bright red, and her breathing was labored, littered with tiny coughs and short gasps. “Taylor? Where is your inhaler?”

He didn’t want to make things worse for Taylor by offering to help, so he walked past as she dug the plastic out of a pocket in her dress. As he walked the rest of the way to the office, he made a plan to text Taylor later that night to make sure that she was okay. They weren’t great friends, but she was his biggest competition for top of the class, and the place gave them sort of a bond.

In the office, Bram was surprised to see the fiery red hair of the theater teacher as she stood in front of two guys from the football team. His eyes flicked from her to the one wearing a skirt, and back to her as she chastised them both. Across the office, the door to Ms. Knight’s office opened and Ms. Albright snapped at the boys to go.

“Can I help you?”

Bram tore his eyes away from whatever was going on with Ms. Albright and two boys who were clearly not in drama club, and hurried up to the secretary’s desk. He gave her the list and told her the coach’s request, and after she told him to let the coach know they’d be in his inbox in a few hours, Bram went back to practice.

Whatever happened with Ms. Albright, it was enough to cancel drama club. While Bram appreciated seeing Simon where he wasn’t expecting to, Garrett’s relentless grins through the rest of the practice made him question if it was worth Simon’s adorable embarrassment at his slip up.

(The answer was yes.)

At home after practice was over, Bram greeted his mom in the kitchen as she sat at the table and sorted through a small stack of mail. She asked about school and practice, to which Bram replied with quick answers as he dug through the refrigerator.

“Oh and hey,” she said, “A package came for you today.”

He looked up from the refrigerator, and leaned back to see her. She nodded to the table, where a small plastic package sat next to ripped open envelopes. He snagged a container of leftovers and a fork, and grabbed the package off of the table.

“Don’t ruin your appetite, Abraham!” his mom called as he hurried down the hall to his room.

Bram shut his bedroom door behind him and walked over to his desk. He set down the tupperware container and his fork, not wanting to touch the food until he was done with the contents of the package. His gift would be a little moot if he gave it with a giant red sauce stain on the front.

Carefully, Bram pulled at the perforated plastic until it ripped open. The t-shirt was in another clear piece of plastic, so Bram slid it out and tossed both pieces towards his trash can. Then he grabbed the shirt by the stitching on the shoulders and held it up to inspect. His eyes followed the swirls of color as he grinned to himself.

It would fit Simon perfectly.