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Home is Wherever You Are

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June 22

Simon

I’m sitting on a branch several feet above the ground, just beyond the tree line of the woods, and I can see so much from up here. I can see mine and Baz’ houses and the farms and Ebb’s cottage. Everything looks a bit different when you’re sitting in a tree.

Baz and I used to climb up here all the time when we were younger. Sometimes we would pretend we were on an adventure or we would be reading books about adventures or we would simply be talking. It was a place that we could go to get away from the rest of the world.

That’s what I’m doing up here today, getting away from everything else.

Yesterday was my birthday, and while it was a good day, it would have been better with Baz. But of course, he still isn’t talking to me. He hasn’t spoken to me in over two years. I try not to think about him though because there isn’t anything I can do about it. If he wants me to leave him alone then that’s what I’ll do. Even if not talking to him has hurt every day. Even if he is the one person I want to talk to at the end of the day. Instead of thinking about how we don’t talk anymore, I try to focus on everything around me.

From up here, I can see the farms where Baz and I grew up. I can see Baz’ backyard where we spent most of summers. There’s the hammock that we would sit in to talk when we wanted to relax (as much as we could relax in the unforgiving heat of the summer sun.) Next to the hammock is the place where we would occasionally pitch a tent and camp in the backyard. That was the closest either of us ever wanted to get to actual camping.

After dinner, we would make s’mores on the stove or in the microwave and bring them out to the tent where we had already set up our sleeping bags and pillows. We had lanterns and books and various other objects to keep us occupied inside the tent, but we would spend most of the night lying in the grass under the stars, pointing out the few constellations we could identify. We only ever spent one night in the tent at a time because it only took us a few hours to remember all of the noise you could hear coming from the highway and the bugs. We would also wake up with our arms and legs covered in bug bites. And it was too hot to sleep comfortably.

As we grew older, we pitched the tent less and less until that tradition was completely gone. We found that we could stay up just as late talking in one of our bedrooms while we looked out the window at the stars. It was more comfortable that way, and it was something we did all the time anyway since we lived on neighboring farms.

I can see the window in Baz’ room that we spent countless nights staring out of from where I sit in the branches. His curtains are drawn, so I can’t see in his room, but I still remember exactly how the inside looked the last time I was there. There were two bookshelves bursting with books, and there were stacks of books on the floor next to the shelves and on his desk and even more in his closet.

Baz loved reading, and he loved collecting books of all kind. I never could get into reading the way he did, but it was interesting to watch him read; the way his eyes flicked back and forth across the pages, the way his lips turned up when something amused him or turned down when he didn’t like the way the plot changed. The best part was when he finished a book. His eyes were wide and bright with new information, and he was different for a while after finishing a book, more alive. He would summarize the book for me, telling me about all his favorite and least favorite parts. I would listen to him rant about the themes of the books and how he thought the book could have gone. I loved that side of Baz, the side that was always so open. I miss that side of him. Now, he is completely shut off to me, and sometimes it feels like we were never really friends at all.

Baz

It's the day after Snow’s birthday, and I wish I could just walk over to his house and tell him happy birthday. But I can’t, and it’s no one’s fault but my own. I’m the one who pushed him away before Sophomore year. I’m the one who decided that not talking was a better idea than actually dealing with my feelings. I was (and still am) the only thing standing in the way of me and him being friends.

I take a sip from my iced tea as I listen to the cicadas and crickets that fill the night air with noise. These sounds are a peaceful reprieve tonight. I finally came out to my father and stepmother today. Daphne seemed to be alright with it; she wasn’t really surprised since I had never talked about girls or brought any home, but my father was a different story. He wasn’t angry exactly, but I could tell he wasn’t happy with the news. I think he was more displeased by the fact that I wouldn’t carry on the Pitch name than the fact that I like boys. He would probably rather I liked boys and girls; that way maybe I would marry a girl and produce an heir.

My father disappeared to his study after we talked and hasn’t come out since. He didn’t even come out for dinner. He’s probably trying to figure out a way to get me to marry a girl anyway. He might even be trying to arrange a marriage for me. (He has always been fond of that idea.)

I rub my eyes, trying to push all thoughts of my father and marriage out of my head. When I open them, I see a small light off in the distance. It’s coming from the woods over on the other side of the Salisbury farm. It’s probably just Snow. He always did like sitting in trees until the sun went down. That used to be something we did together. Before I went and messed everything up.

I wonder if he still carries that flashlight I gave him when we were little. When we were about 10 years old, we thought that amazing things happened in the woods late at night while we slept. So, one night, we waited up until midnight and snuck outside while everyone else was sleeping. I’m not sure what we thought we would find out there, but we were so sure there would be something.

Simon was staying over at my house that night, so I let him use one of my flashlights. It was a plain blue color, but the color was almost the same shade of blue as his eyes. We weren’t in the woods long before we both got spooked by the sounds. Looking back, it was probably only the wind shaking the branches, but to us, it sounded like someone was walking through the woods toward us. We took off running back to my house as fast as we could. We didn’t stop running until we were safely locked away in my room. It took almost an hour for us to calm down and fall asleep.

The next day, before he went home, I gave him the flashlight and told him he could keep it to use on all of his wild adventures (as long as they didn’t involve me going off into the woods with him late at night again.) I had written the letter ‘S’ on the side of it while he slept. It looked almost like blood, but it looked nice contrasted with the blue.

I doubt Snow still has it or still carries it around. Even if he does, the S has probably faded away. There is a small part of me that hopes he does still have it and that he thinks of me when he sees it. But that’s nothing more than wishful thinking. Knowing Snow, he lost it the day after I gave it to him because we never went back into the woods together that late at night ever again.

Simon

I turn my gaze from Baz’ bedroom to their back porch. It’s getting late, so it’s too dark and his house is too far away to see it very well; it’s mostly shadows. Baz and I spent many hours sitting on that porch sipping iced tea and lemonade. It was a nice way to cool down after helping out on our respective farms. Those moments were the best part of day. We didn’t talk much; we simply sat and enjoyed each other’s presence.

When it is almost too dark to see the branches below me, I climb down using the small flashlight that I brought with me to see the branches I need to step on. The flash light is a light blue color and has the letter S handwritten on it in blood red ink. I’ve had it for years; I can’t remember where I got it, but I still carry it with me when I go out in the evenings. I’ve replaced the batteries countless times and have been careful not to lose it. For some reason, I feel like losing it would be like losing a part of myself because I’ve had it for so long. I’ve never been as careful with any of my other possessions as I am with this flashlight.

When I break through the tree line, I see a light on in Ebb’s cottage and think about walking over there to see her. I don’t though, deciding that I still want to be alone.

Ebb has been living here since before I was born. She’s a couple of years younger than my mom, and my mom told her that she could move in with us after she graduated high school. She used to live in the house with us when I was little, but she has since moved into the small cottage on our property. She says she prefers it out there; it allows her to be closer to the goats that she cares for.

Penelope told me once that she thought it was weird how close my mother and Ebb are. She wanted to know how they met and became friends when they were a few years apart. She also wondered if there might have been something more between them. I tried to tell her that they were simply really good friends, but she wouldn’t take my word for it. She said that just because they aren’t in a relationship, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something emotionally between them.

She wanted me to investigate and see if I could find anything out, but I told her that was an invasion of their privacy; it wasn’t any of our business. If I had thought that there was actually something between them or that my mom would even tell me about it if there was, I would have asked. But my mom doesn’t even talk to me about my father.

He apparently left right before I was born. She won’t tell me why or where he went. She will only say that he isn’t a good person and that I shouldn’t go looking for him; it’s for my protection. Ebb has agreed with her on this point, even though she doesn’t usually like to talk poorly about other people.

Even Penny’s parents didn’t like my father. He was apparently a very unlikeable man. Penny’s mom was best friends with mine when they were in high school, but they drifted apart after they graduated. My mom moved in with my father, and Penny’s parents went away for college.

Penny’s family moved back here a couple of years ago, before we started high school and right after Baz stopped talking to me. When I went over to her house for the first time, her mother was interested in who my parents were. When she heard my father’s name, her demeanor changed. She got really still and quiet for a moment before excusing herself.

A few days later, Penny told me that her mother had acted so strangely because she has a high distaste for him. Her mom wouldn’t tell her why though. She did hear her mom refer to him as “Davy Dickhead” a few times when she was talking to her father, but that’s all that she could find out about him.

I don’t actually know much about my family except for Lucy. Her parents quit talking to her when she ran off with my father because they didn’t approve of him. And she and her brother were never very close, so I’ve never met him. My mother is the only family I have. Baz’ family was almost like a second family to me, but that’s all over now.

When I finally make it back to my house, there are lights on in most of the rooms, but I can’t find my mom anywhere. She must have stepped outside for a minute; I guess I just missed her. After a quick shower, I head to bed. I hope the rest of the summer isn’t spent like this, missing Baz and hiding from the world in a tree.

Chapter Text

July 10

Baz

Every year, during the second week of July, I go and stay with my aunt in whatever city she’s currently living in. She hasn’t stayed in one place for more than a few months in years. After my mom died, Fiona moved in with me and my father for a while, but she moved out once he married my stepmother, Daphne. Now, she’s constantly on the move, travelling from city to city. She travels all around using family money and whatever money she saved up back when she still worked.

For our week together this year, Fiona brought me to France. This is the first year that she’s taken me out of the country. I think it might have something to do with this being my last summer before I graduate high school. I think she wanted to do something different and special because she feels like things will be different once I start college. And things will be different, but I’ll still make time to visit her.

We arrived in Paris Sunday evening after a ten-hour flight. We spent the next few days exploring the city and just hanging out. I’m pretty sure she intended for me to practice my French while we were here. Just to spite her though, I have spent the whole week pretending not to be able to speak a word of French. It has made for some interesting moments.

Not only did we leave the country this year, but her boyfriend also came with us. Fiona and Nico have been dating on and off since high school. I think that they would have made it official by now if my aunt wasn’t afraid of losing someone else that she loves. (I don’t blame her.)

We spent most of the week staying at a hotel in Paris, but my aunt and her boyfriend also made plans to go skiing while we’re in France. So, yesterday morning, we got up at the crack of dawn in order to catch a train at six-thirty.

After three hours and three changes between trains, we made it to Chambery, where we then had to ride a bus for two hours to get to the hotel in Tignes that we’re staying at now. We got here at noon yesterday and spent most of the day resting in our suite until it was time to eat dinner.

I stayed in my room reading while Fiona and Nico watched TV. At one point, I think I even heard my aunt giggle. This is something that I have never heard her do before. She is usually the person in the room with the snide remarks and harsh laugh. She’s the fiercest, most guarded person that I know, and it is strange to hear her giggle. She must be really happy with Nico.

I wished for a moment that I could tell Snow about this. He wouldn’t have believed it either, and we could have taken turns trying to imagine just what Nico had said to her to make her sound like that. I can’t talk to Snow though, so I pushed that thought out of my head.

Dinner consisted of a seven course meal that I barely ate because I don’t particularly like eating in front of people that I don’t know, like the other guests and Nicodemus. Even though they’ve been dating for a long time, this is the first time I’ve actually spent any time around Nicodemus. He doesn’t live my aunt, and he spends holidays with his family. I actually know more about his twin sister, Ebb, than I do about him.

After breakfast today, Fiona and Nico headed out to the resort to ski while I stayed here in the hotel. Fiona tried to get me to ski with them, but I refused. I told her I’d rather spend the day resting inside than getting cold and wet out on the slopes. They were gone for a few hours, and they left again after changing their clothes. They said that they were going to go walk around the town and maybe go to the cinema. I could have tagged along, but I was tired of being the third wheel all week, so I chose to stay in the hotel again.

Now, it’s late, and they still haven’t returned. I’m sitting in a chair out on the balcony even though it’s freezing out here. I take a drag of the cigarette I’m smoking and look out at the small French town that is covered in a blanket of snow. Snow is one of my favorite sights because it reminds me of Simon. It doesn’t snow that often where we live, but I’d rather be looking at him than actual snow anyway.

During this entire trip, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him. A part of me had been hoping that having nearly five thousand miles of distance between us would help me forget about him, at least for a little while. I should have known that it wouldn’t work since these past two years of pushing him away haven’t changed how I feel about him in the least. (Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.)

Now, we have one last year together before we part. We will most likely go to different colleges and almost never see each other again. This is the last year that we will really be near each other, and I don’t want it to disappear, even if we don’t talk during it.

We used to be best friends. Then, I freaked out about my feelings and what they meant, and I pushed him away. He can barely even look at me now. He hates me, and there’s nothing I can do to fix it. I can’t even try to explain why I became cold around him because Snow would probably be as disgusted with me as my father seems to be.

It has been over two weeks since I came out to my father, and he still won’t talk to me. Whenever he looks at me, he shakes his head like he doesn’t understand what happened, like he can’t believe that I’m his son or that his son turned out this way. I’m still hoping that once he finishes processing this, he will be okay with who I am. If not, I might just have to marry some girl in order to please him.

This week has been a nice break from his disappointed looks. I haven’t told Fiona yet because I’m afraid that she will stop talking to me, too, and that I will lose the last connection to my mother that I still have. She might even decide to leave me in France to fend for myself. That sounds like something my aunt might do.

Daphne, on the other hand, has not started treating me differently. I wonder if that would change if she found out that I’m in love with the boy who lives next door.

I have had feelings for Simon Snow since the day I found out what a crush was. I never told anyone, and I had hoped that it would go away eventually. But then came that day when I realized that I had fallen in love with him.

I had fallen in love with my best friend, the boy who knew everything about me. The boy I had stayed up countless nights talking to. The boy I had pointed out constellations to as we lay on the grass in my backyard. The boy I had spent almost everyday of the first fifteen years of my life with. This boy had stolen my heart, and he had no idea.

Everything changed when I realized how deeply my feelings for him ran. Every time he looked at me, my heart seemed to stop. Everything he did made me want to kiss him more than ever. I found my self constantly wanting to run my fingers through his hair and to count the freckles and moles that covered his skin.

I became afraid of my own feelings, so I slowly began to push him away. I spoke to him less and less each day, and I made up lame excuses for why I couldn’t hang out with him. I know he didn’t believe me; he had to have known that I was lying because I had never been too busy to hang out with him before.

With each new day, he looked more confused and hurt than the day before. I couldn’t bear to look at him sometimes. His eyes held so much sadness all the time, and he barely smiled. I had broken the person who could always put a smile on other people’s faces, and that hurt me more than anything. I pushed him away to avoid getting hurt, and I ended up in pain anyway because I had hurt him.

One day, he finally quit trying. He quit coming up to me in school and stopped coming over to my house. We didn’t look at each other in class (at least not when the other person could see.) And we found different people to eat lunch with.

Then, it was the summer before high school, and we barely saw each other. We didn’t spend any nights stargazing, and we didn’t go swimming at the lake together. We avoided each other completely.

When my father asked what happened between us, I lied and said that we had had a fight. Daphne tried to assure me that we would make up and things would go back to normal, but she had no idea. She didn’t know that I was in love with him or that I wanted nothing more than to make up with Snow. But I couldn’t.

I had already ruined things, and I couldn’t play with his feelings like that. It wouldn’t have been fair to him. None of it was really fair to him; he hadn’t done anything wrong. He hadn’t done anything to deserve me being so cold to him, but he was probably better off without me in his life, so I never tried to fix things between us.

He really did seem fine without me though. We started high school, and he found a new best friend. He even has a girlfriend now. He doesn’t need me in his life; I’m not good for him. I would just mess everything up again.

I finish the rest of my cigarette and head back inside. I have the entire upper level of our suite to myself. There is a bedroom, a bathroom, and a living room with a TV. After taking a warm bath and dressing in pajamas, I climb into one of the beds and shut off the lights. I turn to face the other bed in the room and wonder what it would have been like if Snow had been on this trip.

I still wouldn’t have gone skiing although it might be amusing to watch Snow try to ski. He is rather clumsy, so it would probably be a disaster. Instead of skiing, I would have taken him down to that pizza place in town that I saw when I went out for lunch today. He would love it there. And we could have gone swimming in the hotel’s heated pool.

We also would have had a lot of fun in Paris. Snow would have wanted to do all of the tourist-y things, and I wouldn’t have felt like a third wheel to Nico and Fiona the entire time.

I roll back over and stop thinking about “what ifs.” That will get me nowhere. I force my eyes shut and try to sleep. We’ll be leaving early tomorrow morning, and I’ll be back home by tomorrow night.

Before I drift off to sleep, I wonder if Simon even realized that I was gone or if he was glad to have me far away from him for the week. He will probably be happy when we go our separate ways.

I won’t be happy when we do. I’m afraid it might kill me.

Simon

Baz has been gone all week, and it’s strange how much I have noticed the lack of his presence. He always leaves for a week during July, but it feels different this time. Next year, he’ll go off to college in a town far away from here. I don’t know where I’ll be, but I do know that he’ll be happy that he will finally be able to get away from me.

This makes me sad to think about it, so I add it to the list of things not to think about. This list is now mostly Baz related things, but not thinking about him is one of the hardest things I have ever tried to do. He used to be such a large part of my life. In most of my memories, he is right there next to me.

There are still some mornings when I wake up and think about all of the things I could do with Baz that day. That doesn’t happen very often anymore, but it still hurts when I remember that we aren’t friends and that we won’t be hanging out again anytime soon.

He should be back home sometime tomorrow night. Before we stopped being friends, he would always come over to my house to stay the night when he returned from his aunt’s house. We would stay up all night as he told me stories about his aunt, and the city they were in that year.

Ebb says that they went to France this year. This is the first time they’ve gone out of the country, and he probably has some great stories that he will be recounting to his friends, Dev and Niall, instead of me. Ebb’s brother, Nicodemus, is dating Baz’ aunt Fiona. Apparently, they have been dating on and off since they were in high school. Ebb thinks that this will be the time they’ll stay together. I didn’t ask her how she knew that.

I try to imagine what it would be like to date the same person you dated in high school for the rest of your life. I used to think Agatha and I would be like that. We’ve been dating since the beginning of sophomore year, but she’s been acting really distant recently. She hasn’t shown any interest in hanging out this summer. She barely responds to my texts, and when she does, it’s to say that she is busy even though she also told me that she didn’t have any plans this summer.

It’s starting to feel a lot like it did back when Baz stopped talking to me.

I think Agatha might even like Baz, and he seems interested in her, too. I saw them talking and hanging out a lot right before school let out for the summer. Penny thought that I was just overreacting until we saw them holding hands on the last day of school. I definitely think that there is something going on between them, but Penny says that I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, that I should just talk to Agatha. I haven’t been able to talk to Agatha about it though since she won’t talk to me, and this isn’t a conversation I want to have over text anyway. I guess I’ll just have to wait until August when school starts again.

I just hope things don’t end the way things ended between me and Baz.

Chapter Text

July 14

Simon

Baz is back from France. Technically, he’s been back for a few days, but I still haven’t seen him. There’s a part of me that expects him to have come back looking different, to have completely changed during the week that he spent with his aunt.

One year, he did come back different. It was the summer after he stopped talking to me, and he underwent a complete makeover while he was with his aunt. Gone were the overalls and boots and flannel shirts. He started wearing dark skinny jeans, and a jean jacket that I’m sure his aunt picked out for him. He also stopped letting his hair fall down in soft waves around his face. He started slicking it back and no longer wore it in bun. He looked good but completely different from the person that I grew up with.

There’s a knock on my bedroom door, and I pause the movie that I was barely watching. “Come in,” I call.

“Hey, Simon.” It’s my mom. Her curly, blond hair is piled on top of her hair, and a few strands have fallen out. Her blue eyes light up as she smiles at me; they’re much bluer than mine. Hers are like the ocean, and mine are just a plain blue, nothing special. “I found this box of your stuff when I was going through the hall closet. I thought you could go through it and see if there is anything worth keeping in it.”

“Sure,” I say, standing up to take the box from her. “Thanks.” I set it down on my bed and turn back to face her.

“I saw Baz this morning,” she says.

“Really?” I ask in what I hope is a calm voice. My heart is suddenly racing, and I’m afraid I will stop breathing in a moment. My mom and I don’t really talk about him anymore. I wouldn’t tell her what happened between us a couple of years ago, so she eventually dropped the subject. I didn’t know how to tell her that I didn’t know what had happened either, and I really just didn’t want to talk about it.

“He was at the grocery store with one of his sisters. His appearance really has changed, hasn’t it?”

“People change,” I say. I don’t add that his appearance isn’t the only thing that has changed about him.

“I suppose that’s true. Well, dinner will be done in about 20 minutes, okay?”

“Sounds good.” I give her a smile that I don’t feel. Thinking about Baz always makes me sad. I just wish I didn’t think about him constantly.

When she’s gone from my room, I tug on the flaps of the box, letting it fall open. It’s a small box, so there isn’t much in it. There’s a book, a keychain, a sweatshirt, some seashells scattered throughout, and a piece of paper that has been folded in half.

I pick up the piece of paper and open it. I glance over the contents of the page, and that’s when I remember what this box is. I remember the day I bought the key chain on a class trip, and the day that Baz and I went to the lake and searched for seashells that weren’t just broken pieces. The sweatshirt is the one that Baz made me buy because “it matches my eyes or whatever.” I wore that sweatshirt so much that the ends of the sleeves have holes in them, and the color has started to fade. Baz also bought me the book because it was one of his favorites that he let me read, and I loved it, so he got me my own copy.

All of these items have very strong Baz memories attached to them, so I boxed them away one day when I was angry at him because he wasn’t talking to me. I wanted to throw it all away, but I packed them away instead, in case Baz and I ever became friends again.

The piece of paper, it contains the strongest memories because written on it are the spells that Baz and I came up with when we were younger.

When we were eleven years old, Baz and I pretended that we had magic. We would use sticks as our wands and make up our own spells. Baz liked to use song lyrics or popular phrases as spells, but I wasn’t very good at them. When Baz saw how disappointed I was at not being able to cast spells the way he could, he decided that I could also have a magical sword.

I had decided to give up on our games of magic when he thought up the sword. He had found me sitting alone in my favorite tree one summer afternoon instead of meeting up with him at his house to play.

“Finally,” he said breathlessly as he came crashing through the trees. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. I thought we were playing together today.” His clothes were always a little bit too big for him back then, so the legs of his overalls were rolled up with his boots sticking out of the bottom.

He was staring up at me, waiting for an answer, but I didn’t say anything, so he climbed up the tree to sit on a branch close to mine.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I said, looking away from him.

“Come on, Snow. Let’s go play.”

“I don’t want to today,” I murmured.

“Why not?”

“Because I’m no good at it. I can’t remember the spells. You’re always better at it than me.”

“It doesn’t matter who’s better. It’s just a game, and we’re on the same side.” I didn’t say anything. He didn’t understand. After a few minutes of sitting in silence, he exclaimed, “I have an idea!”

Before I could respond, he had already started climbing back down the tree. He only looked back once to make sure that I was following him, and he didn’t speak again until we had made it to his back yard.

“How about I use magic, and you can use a sword.”

“A sword?” I asked dubiously.

“A magical sword,” he said excitedly. “It can only be used by you, and it only comes when you call. And it’s invisible!”

“Invisible?”

“Yes! Just like our enemies, which probably makes your sword more useful than my wand.” I knew he was just attempting to cheer me up, but it worked.

I became really good at defeating our invisible enemies with my invisible sword. I still used my wand occasionally but only when absolutely necessary. I loved those games we played together. We would run around for hours creating our own world of magic and creatures. We could do anything that we wanted.

We played the games for several years, and one day I thought that we should fight a dragon. I had my sword and I was ready to kill it. But Baz stopped me.

Baz loved dragons. (He probably still does.) And he hated the idea of having to kill one, so he decided to make it a harmless creature. Instead of letting me kill it, he spelled it away with an old lullaby he remembered from when his mom was still alive. I stood there, stunned, as he put his heart and soul into casting a made-up spell to get rid of an invisible creature.

This fake spell seemed to take a lot out of him that day. It was like suddenly this spell was about more than just a game.

This lullaby was one of the few connections he still had to his mother. From where I stood watching him, it felt like he was trying to reach out to her with it. I could feel his words inside of me, and it was almost like he was actually using magic. Something in the air changed. I couldn’t put words to what it was.

As he finished the spell, his whole body shuddered with the force of the tears that had begun to fall, and he collapsed to the ground. I hurried over to him and wrapped my arms around his shaking frame. He turned his face and buried it in the front of my shirt. I didn’t know what to say, but I didn’t have to say anything. I just had to be there next to him.

That day was the most broken I have ever seen Baz.

***

When my mom comes back upstairs to call me for dinner, I have already returned all of the items to the box and stowed it away under my bed.

Maybe someday, I’ll have a reason to pull it out again

 

July 24

Baz

I’ve been home for nearly two weeks, and I haven’t done much besides mope around in my room when I’m not doing chores around the farm. Niall just texted me to ask me if I wanted to hang out, but I told him that I wasn’t in the mood to do anything today. He was cool about it, and we’ll probably hang out next week.

Truthfully, I’m just sitting at my desk staring out my bedroom window. Usually, I would be able to see the cows grazing in the field from here, but it’s pouring down rain and the cloud coverage makes it seem like it is late evening instead of early afternoon.

As I stare out at over the farm, at the murky shapes of the barns and trees, I remember the day that Snow first found out that the animals we raise on our farms are eventually used for food.

When Snow finally realized what happened to the cows and other animals we have on our farms, he cried. He was young, and he couldn’t believe that we killed the animals that we spent so much time feeding and taking care of. He knew that animals were used for meat; he just didn’t realize that our animals were used for it.

When Simon – I still called him Simon back then – ran off, I was the one who went after him to comfort him. I had been walking over to his house to see if he wanted to hang out when I saw him come tearing out of the back door and across his yard, toward the trees.

His mother met me on the back porch. “Is he okay?” I asked her.

She shook her head slowly, solemnly. “He found out that we use our livestock for food.”

“But… I thought he already knew that,” I said, slightly confused.

“I thought he did, too. But I guess he thought that the animals we raise here weren’t used like that.”

“Oh,” I said, beginning to understand.

“I’m going to go look for him, okay? You can head back to your house; he probably isn’t in the mood to hang out today.”

“I could go after him. I think I know where he went.” He always went to the same place when he was upset.

“You don’t have to do that,” she said softly. “I can find him.”

“But I want to,” I protested.

“Okay but if you can’t find him, let me know. And make sure he comes back home before it gets dark. I don’t want to worry about him.”

Without responding, I turned and took off running in the direction that he went.

I found him easily. He had run into the trees that lined the property of his family’s farm. There is a tree there that is easy for climbing, and it’s his favorite place to go when he just wants to get away from people. I was the only one that he would allow to climb it with him. When I found him though, he wasn’t up in the tree; he was sitting on the ground at the base of it.

I didn’t say anything to him. There was nothing I could say. He just needed time to process it all. Instead of talking, I sat beside him, a comforting presence. I was there in case he decided that he did want to talk.  

“It’s so sad,” Simon mumbled at one point, and all I could do was nod. He rested his head on my shoulder, and we just sat there, two young boys, taking comfort in each other’s presence.

After a while, he stood up, dusted off his pants, wiped away his tears, and gave me one of his blinding smiles. I don’t know how he managed smiles like that. I have always been best at scowls and sneers, smiles are a rarity. Except around him. He was always the one person who could bring a smile to my face, no matter what.

***

A small smile plays on my lips as I remember that day. His mood turned around so quickly, and he was suddenly himself again. And all I had to do was sit with him and let him know I was there.

It wasn’t long after that day that I began calling him Snow. It was actually his idea for me to start calling him by his middle name.

He said that it was only fair that I called him by his middle name since he calls me by mine. I enjoyed this more than I ever let on. It was something just between us. No one else was allowed to call him Snow, just me.

No one calls me Tyrannus, not even my father. It’s a family name that my mother insisted on giving me, but my father has never liked it. Most people call me Baz, and my father mostly calls me Basilton. Or he does when he’s talking to me at least. He hasn’t even asked me about how my trip was, and it’s been more than a week since I returned. He’s still ignoring me.

Snow’s name is a different story. It has this beautiful alliteration that rolls off the tongue easily. Simon Snow Salisbury. Of course, Snow had a lisp when we were younger which made it difficult for him to say his own name. Other kids used to make fun of him, but I quickly put an end to that. Most kids think I’m cold and unfriendly, but that’s only because I would do anything to protect Snow. That includes never being friendly to the kids who have made fun of him.

After being teased, Snow was super upset, so I worked with him to help him get over the lisp. He was already in speech therapy, but he began to work extra hard to get rid of the lisp. It didn’t just happen overnight, but eventually Snow could speak without a lisp. The first time he said his full name clearly, without any hint of a lisp, a grin spread across his face so wide that I thought it might split. He had worked so hard to get to that moment, and he was so proud of himself. It was the happiest I had ever seen him, which is saying something because Snow was always a happy kid.

He continued to work hard on his speech after that. He continued with therapy, and I helped him sometimes until it wasn’t so much of a struggle for him to talk without a lisp. When Simon decides to do something, he doesn’t give up. He perseveres until he gets what he wants. He’s a stubborn person, and I admire this about him.

***

The rain has started to let up, and the sun has begun to break through the thick layer of clouds. I glance out the window that faces Snow’s house, and there he is. He’s wearing a red rain jacket and black boots, walking along the side of his house. I have the sudden urge to open the window and call out to him. But I don’t. Instead, I turn away from the window and pretend I didn’t see him.

There is still a smile on my face though. I’ve been back home for almost two weeks, and seeing Snow was the first time that it really felt like I was home.

 

Chapter Text

August 6

Simon

“What about this one?” Penny asks as she spins around, showing off yet another of her seemingly endless supply of sweaters. I sigh and look up at her from where I lie on the carpet of her bedroom floor.

She’s been trying to pick her first day of school outfit for the past hour. I tried telling her that she still has almost two weeks before school starts, but she said that she wanted to figure it out now. So, here we are.

“It looks just as nice as the last ten did,” I tell her. She rolls her eyes at me. “Why do you need a sweater anyway? It’s still going to be extremely hot outside.”

“It’s always cold in the classrooms, and some of us aren’t hot all the times.” At that, she leaves the room to go show her new outfit selection to her mom. The only person more excited about going back to school than Penny is her mom.

I, on the other hand, am not so excited to be starting our last year of high school. I am dreading having to sit in a classroom with twenty other students, who want to be there even less than I do as I struggle to keep up with the classwork. I’m not a terrible student, but I’m not the best either.

That would be Penny. Or Baz. They’re both super serious about their grades and have been competing to be ranked first in out class for the past three years.

“She says that this outfit is the one,” Penny says, walking about into the room a minute later.

“Finally,” I mutter. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with Penny. But I couldn’t care less about what she wears. I barely even notice most of the time.

“I heard that,” she says, flopping down on her bed. “So, what do you want to do now that I’m done trying to get fashion advice from you?”

“Watch a movie?” I suggest.

“Fine, but I get to pick the movie. You have terrible taste.”

***

Halfway through the second movie and after we’ve eaten various kinds of snacks, there’s a knock on her bedroom door.

“Come in,” she calls, pausing the movie.

“Hey, Simon.” I quickly sit up and look at where Premal stands in the doorway.

Penelope has four siblings. I told her once that I was jealous because I wished that I had a sibling, and she told me that I could have as many of hers as I wanted. Premal had overheard us and pretended to be offended by this. I wouldn’t actually mind being around him more.

 “Hey, Prem.” I smile at him. His tall figure leans against the frame of the door as his large, caramel brown eyes glance around the room. He doesn’t actually come in though. “You leaving soon?” I ask.

“On Saturday.” His eyes sparkle as he smiles back at me, and he runs a hand over his dark curls.

His eyes hold years of wisdom, and when he looks at me, it feels like we are the only two people who exist in that moment. It seems like all of his attention is on me, and it almost makes me feel special.

My chest starts to fell weird as I watch him. It does this a lot when he’s around actually. It’s not a bad feeling though, just weird.

“Yeah, yeah, who cares?” Penny interrupts, reminding me that Premal and I are not actually the only two people in the room.  “You’re leaving to go to school a couple of hours away. We’ll see you again soon enough.” Penny thinks that it’s a waste that he chose to go to school so close to home when he could have gone anywhere.

He probably could have, too. He’s really smart.

Anyway, Penny doesn’t like big goodbyes, so she really doesn’t like the big farewell they have for Premal each time he heads back to college. She acts like she won’t miss him while he’s gone, but I know she does. I do, too. I don’t know him as well as I know Penny, but it feels weird not to see him during most of the school year.

He comes back for school breaks, so I’ll see him then if I come over. But Thanksgiving is months away, and it will be a long time before I can see him again. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if he and I just hung out, without Penny. That would be weird though, to come over and not hang out with Penny.

“Is there something you wanted?” Penny asks in that annoyed voice that she uses when talking to her siblings.

“Yes.” His eyes land on mine, and I get that weird feeling in my chest again. “Simon, your mom is waiting for you in the car. She came to the door and asked me to come get you for her. I offered to let her come in, but she said waiting in the car was fine.”

“Okay,” I say. “I’ll be there in a moment.” My mom never comes in. She and Penny’s mom haven’t spoken since before I was born, and she says it’s too late to try to mend that relationship now. That’s most likely how I will feel about Baz someday, wishing I could talk to him but not knowing how.

“Bye, Simon. I’ll see you in November,” Premal says with one last smile.

“See you, Premal.”

 

August 15

Baz

There he is, looking as amazing and golden as ever. He glows in the sun with his sunkissed skin and bronze curls that are unfortunately covered today by a straw hat. He’s traipsing around his yard doing who knows what. His tanned arms and chest are uncovered as he isn’t wearing a shirt under his overalls. I wish he were both closer and farther away. If he wasn’t so close, I wouldn’t be tortured by the sight, and if he was closer, I would be able to see the freckles and moles that cover his body.

He steps out of view, and I mentally shake myself and turn my attention back to my own yard.

Today is the end of summer barbeque that my father and stepmother host every year. Daphne sent me outside while she finishes the last of the preparations. The food has been prepped, the tables and chairs have been set up, the house has been cleaned, my younger siblings are dressed. There isn’t really much for her to do. I guess that’s why she sent me out there.

So, I’m lying in the hammock, trying to read a book, waiting until guests start to arrive. That won’t be for another couple of hours though.

In the past, when Simon and I were still friends, he would have already been over by now. He would have helped set things up, and he would be sitting beside me in this hammock. Or we would be shut up in my room, hiding from the guests.

It’s harder to get away with disappearing when you have no one to hide with, and when you’re getting older. Mordelia could probably get away with, but she seems to like having everyone’s attention on her.

Maybe no one will notice if Dev, Niall, and I disappear later. There will probably be too many other people around for them to notice our absence. It will be my chance to talk to them before school starts again.

***

The party is worse than I remember. All of my parents’ friends are here, talking loudly over each other as they eat. Mordelia is prancing around the yard, smiling at everyone who gives her the slightest bit of attention. I’m not sure how she stands having everyone’s eyes on her. I hate being asked questions and trying to form an acceptable answer that my father would approve of.

Dev, Niall, and I are sitting at end of one of the tables, as far away from everyone else as we can get. They’re both done eating, and I’ve mostly just picked at my food, having only taken a few small bites.

My father and stepmother are on the other side of the yard, so I turn to my friends and ask, “do you want to get out of here.”

“Yes, please,” Dev says, just as tired of these big events as I am.

We gather our trash wile I glance around to make sure no ones watching, and we make our way into the house and up the stairs into my room. This is the perfect opportunity to finally tell them my biggest secret.

***

“Why him?” Niall asks. He’s sitting in my desk chair, and Dev and I are on the floor, leaning against my bed.

“What?” I ask confused. That was definitely not the reaction that I was expecting when I decided to come out to them.

“Why Simon?” Niall asks again.

“Yeah, is Niall not pretty enough for you?” Dev asks jokingly. I think he’s trying to lighten the mood, but I’m still surprised by the way that they’re reacting. At least things are going better than they did with my father.

“I tell you guys that I’m gay and in love with Simon and your first response is to ask why him?”

“Wait a second. In love? You didn’t say anything about love a minute ago,” Dev says.

I sigh. I hadn’t meant to tell them that I am in love with Simon. I just wanted to let Dev and Niall who I had feelings for. That way the truth all came out at once.

“Yes,” I say, not seeing a reason to try to deny it now. “I’m in love with him, okay?” I don’t mean to snap at them. I’m just frustrated with myself. It is still difficult to even admit that I liked guys, let alone that I am hopelessly in love with one.

“We don’t care that you’re gay, Baz. We just want you to be happy,” Niall says.

“That’s right,” Dev chimes in. “So, if Simon makes you happy, we will be okay with that, too.”

“I appreciate that,” I begin, “but he and I aren’t even friends anymore.”

“Then, fix that,” Dev says.

“I don’t think he would want to talk to me anymore. He probably hates me now.”

“I doubt that,” Dev says, and Niall nods his head in agreement. “You’re forgetting that I was around when you two were friends. You two were inseparable, practically joined at the hip. Unless you did something to actually hurt him, I find it impossible to believe that he hates you.”

I think about that for a moment. Dev could be right. Simon probably doesn’t hate me, but that doesn’t mean he’ll want to be friends again.

Did you hurt him?” Niall asks, taking my silence as a confession of guilt.

“No,” I say, firmly. “I didn’t hurt him. I just stopped talking to him.”

“Why did you stop talking to him?” Dev asks curiously. “You two used to hang out all the time. Now, you barely even look at each other.”

I don’t know how to respond that. I don’t want to admit that I stopped talking to him once I realized that I was in love with him. It would sound ridiculous, and they wouldn’t understand.

“It doesn’t matter now,” Dev says once he realizes I’m not going to answer him. “All that matters is that you try to talk to him.”

“And how do you propose I do that?” I ask with a grimace.

“You could start by saying hello,” Niall suggests. He even sounds sincere, not sarcastic in the least.

“He’s right,” Dev says before I can think of a snarky reply. “School starts on Wednesday, and you two will probably have at least one class together. Just say hello and see what happens.”

“What if he doesn’t want to talk to me?” I ask, warming slightly to the idea of trying to start a conversation with Simon. The worst that can happen is that he ignores me, right?

“You won’t know for sure unless you try. And anything will be better than you staring and pining after him for another year.”

“I was not pining!” I say defensively.

“Sure Baz,” Niall says, rolling his eyes. “Then, what would you call what you’ve been doing every day for the past two years?”

“Yeah,” Dev says. “Now that I know you like him, all those times you stared at him in class and during lunch are suddenly becoming clear to me. I always assumed you were just glaring at him, but this makes so much more sense.”

“I was never staring at Simon,” I say indignantly, but Dev and Niall just shake their heads. “Whatever. I’ll try to talk to him on Wednesday. But you two have to be there to witness how horribly it goes.”

“Fine,” Dev says, “but it won’t be that bad.”

At that moment, there’s a knock on my bedroom door before it swings open.

“You’re supposed to wait until I say you can come in,” I say to my little sister, Mordelia.

“At least I knocked this time,” she retorts.

“What do you need?”

“Dad says he wants you to come back down to the barbecue.” She doesn’t say why, but she doesn’t have to. I already know.

“We’re coming,” I say with a sigh.

Of course, he had to send up Mordelia to retrieve us. He couldn’t come himself because he still won’t talk to me. At this point, I’m over it. If he can’t accept me for who I am, I’m not going to worry about it anymore.

My being gay is exactly why my father sent Mordelia up anyway. He probably thinks that I was up here doing something with Niall. And who knows what he thought Dev was up here doing. He probably just got this idea in his head that I was doing something wrong. It didn’t matter whether or not it made sense or that it wasn’t right.

My father would never admit that that is why he sent her up here, but I’m probably not wrong. I wish I was though.

“Let’s go back and join the party,” I say bitterly to Dev and Niall, standing up from my position on the floor. I could ignore Mordelia, but sometimes it’s just easier to do what my father wants than try to go against him.

Someday, I will go against his wishes though, by refusing to marry a girl like he’s still hoping I will do.

 

August 18

Simon

I’m stretched out on the couch with my feet propped up on the coffee table. The floor is littered with the school supplies that my mother brought home the other day. I told her that I don’t need to take anything with me tomorrow because we don’t ever do anything on the first day of school, but she is insisting that I take a bag of supplies “just in case.”

So far, I’ve placed two notebooks and a pack of pens in my bag. The rest of it I’ll just put away in my room later. I turn, moving my legs to spread them across the length of the couch and look out the window.

Down the road, I see a pair of headlights moving closer until they slow and turn into Baz’ driveway. In the fading light, I can just make out the figures that step out of the car. I watch as Mordelia jumps out of the car and runs toward the house. Then, Baz steps out, but he waits a moment to help his father carry in his twin sisters. Then, his mother is the last one to follow, with the baby.

It seems so strange that I’ve know Baz our whole lives but, apart from Mordelia, I know nothing about his siblings. I don’t even know the gender of the youngest child. So much has changed since the last time we talked. I wonder what kinds of things have changed that I don’t even know about.

“Simon,” my mother says loudly, startling me so much that I nearly fall off the couch. “Didn’t you hear me calling you?”

I shake my head and sit up, placing my feet firmly on the floor. I was so deep in thought I hadn’t even seen her come into the room.

“What were you looking at out the window?” She asks.

“Nothing,” I say, a little too quickly.

Her eyebrows wrinkle as she stares at me for a moment, but she doesn’t push it. “Well, dinner’s ready. Go wash up, and you can finish putting all of this away later,” she says, gesturing around the room.

***

That night, I struggle to fall asleep because my mind is racing with thoughts. Tomorrow is the beginning of the end of high school, and we have to start thinking about our futures seriously. And I can’t help but wonder if this year would be better if Baz and I were still friends.

Chapter Text

August 19

Simon

“Look at the s’mores,” Penny says.

We’re sitting on the hard plastic of a bench in the courtyard, watching the other students filter in from the bus lot and drop off zone. We got here early this morning and have been sitting in the courtyard for nearly half an hour.

She’s wearing a completely different outfit from the one that she had picked out when I was at her a couple of weeks ago. “They look so small and scared,” she adds.

“We were sophomores just two years ago, Penny. They aren’t that small.”

“I know, but I don’t remember being that scared, do you?”

“Yes,” I say candidly. “I was terrified. Plus, my one good friend had stopped talking to me right before we started this daunting new school.” My voice grows quiet as I think about Baz. I can’t believe how much I miss him still.

“I keep forgetting that the two of you used to be friends. Do you still not know why he quit talking to you?”

I frown, thinking about it. This is something I’ve been asking myself for more than two years.

“Nope,” I say, shrugging. “Speak of the blood sucker,” I say, when I see Baz and two of his friends walking on the path in the direction of our bench.

He looks nice but not like he tried too hard. He looks effortlessly flawless. Typical Baz.

He’s wearing tight, dark skinny jeans with a v-cut black t-shirt that shows off the olive skin of his chest and a black leather jacket that I’ve never seen him wear before. His hair is slicked back, and my hands itch at the thought of messing it up and making him look even better.

I pull my gaze away from him to stare at my backpack on the ground next to my feet and wait for him to pass.

“He’s coming over here,” Penny says, jabbing me in the side with her elbow. You’d think that the thick sweater she’s wearing would have softened the blow, but it doesn’t.

“What are you––?” I don’t finish the question because when I look up, I see that Baz is indeed walking towards us. I can’t read the expression on his face, and I hate that. I used to know how he was feeling by the way his lips twisted and how far he raised his eyebrows. But now, the book on that part of our lives has been slammed shut, and I’m staring at the damage.

He adjusts the strap of his messenger bag as he steps up in front of us. His friends are flanking him on either side, like they’re his bodyguards or something.

My stomach does a couple of weird flips, and my heart starts beating faster. It’s worse than the feeling I had when I first arrived at school early this morning. Why is he coming over here? Is he actually going to talk to me?

“Simon,” he says coolly. His voice never used to sound like that when we were friends before. Or maybe my memory of his voice is wrong. It’s sad to think that I don’t know him the way that I used to.

“Tyrannus,” I reply, my voice just as cold. Two can play at this game. It’s childish, but Baz makes me feel like a child. He always makes me want to go back to when we were children. To when things were happier. To when we were friends.

His mask of indifference slips for just a moment before he sneers at me and walks away.

“What was that?” Penny asks when he’s out of ear shot.

“I’ve no idea. He hasn’t talked to me in a long time. Why start now? And why didn’t he actually say anything?”

“Not that,” she says with a sigh. “Although, yes, that was weird. But what was with you calling him Tyrannus?”

“That’s his name, right?” I yank my bag up off the ground and stand up. I’m suddenly in a sour mood. I’m so confused. It’s the first time Baz has willingly talked to me in years, and he doesn’t even say anything.

“Yeah, it is, but no one calls him that. The teachers don’t even call him that.”

I shrug and say, “he called me Simon.” It’s petty and stupid, and it hurt me more than it should have. It was like a twist of the knife he had already stabbed in my back.

He used to call me Snow. It was our thing. When we were little, I decided that he should call me by my middle name since I call him by his. I thought it would be ‘fair’ that way. I don’t know why it wasn’t fair the other way, but I preferred it that way, with him calling me something that no one else did.

He was the only person who was allowed to call me Snow, which is what made it seem so special. It is also what makes it hurt so much now. He has removed himself so far from me that he calls me by a different name than he used to.

“That’s your name, and people actually call you that,” Penny says now.

“Yeah but––.” I stop my self from trying to explain that he always used to call me Snow, and that I was caught of guard when he called me Simon this time. She wouldn’t understand. “Never mind,” I say with a sigh. “Let’s just go to the assembly.”

Baz

After walking my cousin, Marcus, to the football field where the sophomores are having their beginning of the year assembly, I spot Simon sitting on a bench with his friend Penelope. It isn’t hard to find him. I would recognize those golden curls anywhere.

“Isn’t that Simon,” Niall asks as we got closer. I nod, pretending like I didn’t see him as soon as we stepped foot into the courtyard. “Go talk to him.”

“What?” I ask, unprepared to be faced with this so soon. I thought I would have more time to think about it before I actually had to talk to him.

“You heard me. You said you wanted to talk to him. Well, here’s your chance.”

“Do I have to right now? Can’t it wait?” I’m nervous, and I’m afraid of how he will react.

“Why wait? You can even ask if he wants to sit with you at the assembly,” Dev says with a mischievous grin. He’s acting like I’m about to ask Simon to go on a date with me.

“I’m not going to ask him that.”

“Then, I’ll do it for you.”

“No,” I hiss. We’re almost at Simon’s bench. If I can distract Dev and Niall long enough, we’ll pass right by him, and I won’t have to think of something to say.

“Either you talk to him or I ask him to sit with us,” he says stepping in their direction.

“Fine,” I sneer. “But you will pay for this later.”

“Not if everything goes well,” he says with a smirk.

I turn my attention to Simon, and Dev and Niall slow their pace so that they’re walking behind me, and I’m left alone at the front. Simon is already looking at me, and his brows are wrinkled like he’s thinking deeply about something.

Our eyes lock, and my stomach does somersaults. I should have thought of a way to begin this conversation. Should I apologize? Should I just say hello and ignore the obvious tension between us?

I want to turn and keep walking, but he and Penelope are both watching me. And Dev and Niall have me blocked in on either side.

“Simon,” I say emotionlessly without even adding a ‘hello’ before it. I know I’ve messed up. I need to say more, but I can’t think of what.

“Tyrannus,” he says before I come up with something.

My entire body goes still, and it feels like ice is running through my veins. He sounds so cold, like he couldn’t care less about my presence or who I am or what we used to be. And maybe I deserve it for the way that I have treated him the past couple of years, but it hurts even more than I thought it would.

Without responding, I turn and walk away, almost shoving Dev out of my way to get past him.

“Are you alright, Baz?” Dev asks as I storm off down the path that will lead us to the auditorium.

“I’m fine,” I sneer. But I’m not. I’m angry. Angry at Simon, angry at myself, angry at my father, angry at everything. I just need a moment to cool off. I need to get away from Simon before he can see how much that one word upset me.

“No, you’re not,” Niall says matter-of-factly. “What happened back there? I thought you were going to talk to him.”

“I tried.”

“All you did was say his name and walk away.”

“Because he called me Tyrannus. No one does that.”

“That did seem a bit cold,” Dev says. “Your father doesn’t even call you that.”

“I know that,” I sneer. I don’t need to be reminded of my father, especially not when I’ve just made a fool of myself.

I can’t believe I let them talk me into this. I should have just minded my own business and left him alone. Instead, I did what they told me to, and look what that got me. Simon could barely even look at me. It was like I don’t even matter to him anymore.

“You could try again,” Niall says.

“Why would I want to make a fool of myself twice?”

“Niall’s right. You have to try talking to him again. Did you really think that he was going to just jump into your arms the moment you said his name? You have to give it time.”

“Of course not,” I say indignantly. I didn’t think he was going to jump into my arms. (Although that is a nice thought.) I had just hoped that he would at least want to talk to me, but he didn’t. He made that perfectly clear when he called me Tyrannus instead of Baz.

He has always called me Baz. Occasionally, he would call me Basil, but I didn’t mind that. He has never once called me Tyrannus though.

Once we walk into the auditorium, I don’t say anything else. I don’t want to have this conversation anymore. I tried to talk to Simon, and it didn’t work, so I’m done trying now. I just have to get through this one last year with him.

Simon

Penny and I are one of the last people to arrive at the senior assembly. We planned it this way so that we could be the first people out and not get stuck in the large crowd when it’s over.

It only takes me a few seconds to locate Baz. He’s sitting a few rows in front of us between Dev and Niall.

The assembly begins after a couple of minutes. The principle starts by introducing himself, which is completely unnecessary since this our third year here, so we all know who he is. He goes on about how this is our final year of high school and how we should have fun (but not too much fun.) I tune him out after a while, sinking down into my seat.

I think about Baz and that weird interaction that we just had. He didn’t say anything. He just said my name and walked away. Was he trying to talk to me? Did he want to talk to me? Why? I mean, talking to him would be nice. It is what I’ve been wishing we could do for a long time. But why now? It’s been so long, and we’ll be going our separate ways soon. So, why now, the first day of our last year of school? And why didn’t he actually say anything?

Hundreds of these questions are flying around in my head while the rest of the senior class sits around me, listening to our last start of year assembly. They have no idea how much not knowing what Baz wanted is driving me crazy. Penny is sitting right next to me, and even she has no idea that there’s something wrong.

My eyes wander around the room while we sit there, and they keep coming back to land on Baz. I wish he was closer, that he was sitting right next to me, so I could talk to him. I want to ask him what he wanted in the courtyard.

Maybe I’ll ask him later during one of the many classes we’re bound to have together. We always share at least half of our classes. We can’t seem to get away from each other, no matter how much Baz probably wishes we could.

I’m still staring in his direction, ignoring everything else, when Penny taps me on my shoulder. When I look at her, she’s standing up, and so is everyone else in our row.

“It’s time to go. Get up.” I grab my bag from the floor and scramble to follow the flow of students out into the lobby. There are tables set up where we can get our schedules and new student IDs for the year. Penny and I split up for a minute as we go to different tables, and we meet back up by the doors, schedules in hand and IDs safely tucked away so that no one can see the inevitably terrible pictures from last year’s picture day.

As we walk out of the building, I glance through the classes on my schedule.

“What do you have first?” Penny asks.

“Math, you?”

“History.”

That means opposite sides of the school. Once we get out of the way of the other students leaving the building, we stop walking and compare schedules.

“We have the same lunch,” I say.

“And we have class together right before it.”

“That’s the only class we have together,” I say, disappointed.

That’s when I realize that this is something that I should be doing with Agatha. We should have sat together during the assembly, and we should be comparing schedules and hoping we have lunch together.

I haven’t thought about her at all today though, which is terrible to admit. I’ve been preoccupied with thoughts of Baz.

“So, what’s going on with you Agatha?” Penny asks.

“What?” I ask, surprised. How could she have possibly known what I was thinking about?

“She just passed by, and she didn’t even glance in your direction. Didn’t you guys talk over the summer?” She asks me with a pointed look.

“Um, no.”

“Why not?”

“She was always busy when I texted her, and we still don’t know why she was holding hands with Baz at the end of the year.”

“That’s exactly why you need to talk to her. Don’t you want to know what is going on with them?”

“Not really. They can do whatever they want.”

“But she’s your girlfriend.” She pauses, then adds, “right?”

“Yes, and he used to be my best friend. Look at where that’s gotten us.”

“You can’t just avoid her.”

“I’m not avoiding her. Like you said, she’s the one who just walked by without saying anything.”

She sighs and shakes her head like I’m not getting the point. And I’m not. “If you don’t want to be with her, then, you need to break up with her.”

“Who said I didn’t want to be with her?”

“You just said that you didn’t care what she does with Baz! I’m pretty sure that means you do not want to be in a relationship her. Or you don’t care if you are, which is worse in a way. Why would you stay with someone that you don’t truly care about?”

“I want to be with her. At least, I think I do.” I’m confused now. Agatha and I have been dating since our sophomore year. We can’t just break up, but maybe Penny is right.

“Plus, I saw the way you were looking at my brother when you were at my house this summer.”

“Your brother?” I ask, confused at the sudden change in topic. “What are you talking about?”

She just looks at me for a moment, like she’s trying to read my expression. “Nothing. Never mind.”

I’m relieved when some of the teachers start shouting that we need to head to class and not just stand in the courtyard. Now, I don’t have to try to figure out what she was trying to say about me and
Agatha and her brother. There are a few groans from other students as they start to disperse in different directions. With a wave, Penny turns in the direction of her class, and I turn in the opposite direction.

When I walk into the classroom, there are only a few other students there. The teacher says to sit anywhere, so I head to back corner of the classroom. I listen to the sounds of the other students out in the hall as they run back and forth, greeting friends, and talking about their summers.

After a couple of minutes, the teacher steps out into the hall to join the fruitless effort of the other teachers to try to corral students into their various classrooms. A few more students trickle into the classroom, and Baz is one of them.

I stare at him, hoping he’ll notice me, but he sits down in one of the desks near the front without looking around. I continue to watch him as he places his bag on the floor by his feet. I guess I’m hoping that he’ll feel me watching him and turn to look at me. He doesn’t though, and class starts soon after, once the halls have emptied and most of the other seats have been filled.

The teacher begins to call role, and I glance around at the other students in the room. I recognize most of them from classes we’ve had together in previous years, but I’m not really friends with any of them.

When Baz’ name is called, my eyes are drawn to him. A few names later, mine is called. I raise my hand and say here, and when Baz’ head starts to turn in my direction, I quickly turn away so that he doesn’t catch me watching him.

When the teacher has finished calling role and has started passing out the syllabus, I glance in his direction once more. He turns toward me at the same time, and our eyes meet.

It feels like the world stops for just a moment, like it’s just the two of us. Then, the teacher walks down one of the aisles between us, and our eye contact is broken, severing our connection once more. I manage not to look at him for the rest of that class, so I don’t know if he ever tried to catch my gaze again.

Baz

I walk into third period, and there he is again. Simon is sitting there at one of the lab tables with Penelope. Agatha is in this class, but she’s sitting on the other side of the room next to Philippa. I think they’re both majorettes and play in the band. They’re all very carefully avoiding eye contact with each other, and it makes for an amusing sight. There must be trouble in paradise.

I walk to one of the tables that’s as far away from either of their tables that I can get and sit by one of the color guard girls, Trixie.

Trixie is always wearing glitter in one form or another. Usually, it coats her face in the form of makeup, but sometimes I’m pretty sure she just dumps it in her hair and on her clothes. The color guard team seems to be a perfect fit for her because they are all covered in glitter when they perform at the football games. (Rumor has it that they just dump buckets of glitter on them every Friday before the games.) Her girlfriend, Keris, is in color guard, too.

The entire class period, I stare straight ahead at Mr. Minos, our teacher, and try to ignore the tension in the room. Both Agatha and Simon continuously glance at me, and it seems to be angering Simon that his girlfriend is paying more attention to me than to him.

It’s a relief to finally be able to leave the room because I can breathe without feeling like there is someone watching my every move. If that class is going to be like that every day, I might need to get my schedule changed.

Simon

Agatha, Penny, and I walk in an awkward silence to the cafeteria together. I don’t know what to say to them. Luckily, it’s a short walk, and Agatha brought her own lunch from home. We part at the doors as Agatha goes to find a table and Penny and I head toward the lunch line.

Baz made it to the cafeteria before we did, and he is sitting near the entrance with most of the other soccer players. He doesn’t notice me as we walk by, on our way to the lunch line. I’m too busy waiting for him to turn and notice me, and I nearly run into a couple of people walking in the opposite direction.

Luckily, Penny pulls me out of their way just in time. She gives me a weird look but doesn’t say anything about it. She just grabs my arm and steers me around the other students and away from Baz until we reach the end of the lunch line.

I can feel her staring at me, waiting for me to say something, but I pretend not to notice. I stare straight ahead as the line inches slowly forward, not meeting her eyes. I know she’s dying to say something though. Either about Baz or Agatha or maybe both.

After we get our food, we search for Agatha. It takes a moment to find her in the cluster of circular tables. She gives me a small smile as we sit down, but that’s it. She hasn’t said anything me today, and it doesn’t seem like she is about to start now.

Penny sits down and looks back and forth between us before saying, “are we really not going to talk about this?”

“No,” I say firmly. “I don’t want to know.”

“Well, I do.”

“Know what?” Agatha asks. She’s being serious. She either doesn’t know what we’re talking about, or she’s pretending not to.

“Don’t Penny. It doesn’t matter.”

“It should matter!” She says loudly, drawing a few looks from people at the surrounding tables. She lowers her voice and says, “you should care at least as much as I do about this, if not more.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Agatha asks, sounding a bit annoyed.

“Why were you holding hands with Baz on the last day of school?” Penny asks before I can stop her.

Agatha looks down at her food and bites her lip. “It was nothing,” she says, but it was clearly something. Otherwise, she would be able to look at us when she says it.

“It wasn’t nothing,” Penny says. “And I think Simon deserves an answer.”

“He didn’t ask,” Agatha says. “You did, and I didn’t realize you were his spokesperson.” She sounds upset. She has always seemed a bit jealous of how close Penny and I are, no matter how much we insist that there is nothing going on.

It’s just that Penny was the first person I actually made friends with when we started high school. I think I was also her first friend in this town. But there has never been anything more between us than that.

“Simon is just afraid of the answer, so he won’t ask you. He’d rather live without knowing than hear the truth.”

“Whatever,” Agatha says, packing away her lunch and standing up. “I’ll see you guys later.”

“Why did you do that?” I ask Penny once Agatha has left.

“She didn’t even try to defend herself or deny any of it. Aren’t you the least bit curious?”

“Yes, but you didn’t have to make her mad.”

“She’s only mad because there’s something going on. Otherwise, she would have stayed and wouldn’t have been so offended.”

She has a point, but “you still didn’t have to upset her,” I say.

We spend the rest of lunch eating in silence, but my gaze keeps wandering in the direction of where Baz sits.

Baz

For most of the afternoon, it feels like I see Simon everywhere. I can’t escape him.

Every time I turn a corner, he’s there, walking in front of me. Every time I look across the hall, I see him chatting and laughing with someone else. One of his seemingly endless number of friends.

He never sees me though. He is getting on without me, living his life free of thoughts about me. I wish I could be like that. I want to stop thinking about him. To stop wanting to talk to him or kiss him or count his moles or run my fingers through his hair.

All day, this is what I think about it, and I can only hope that it gets better as we get into the rhythm of school and avoiding each other. I have to stop thinking about it or I won’t be able to make it through this school year.

At least this week will be over soon, one of the perks of the first day of school being on a Wednesday. Just two more days to get through, then, I will have a break from seeing him. I will just have to avoid going outside too much, so I won’t see him when we’re at home.

Simon

I don’t see Baz again until last period when I walk into the gymnasium for last period. Our bowling class is meeting in the gym for the first week before we start heading to the bowling alley.

I’m sitting on the third row of the bleachers, next to Gareth. We’ve already chosen our teams that we’ll be bowling in for the semester. Almost everyone else in a group of three, but Gareth and I are a group of two since there weren’t enough people.

Baz is sitting down in the front row with Dev and Niall. I don’t know why he’s here. It’s not like he needs the PE credit; he gets that by being on the soccer team. I was never very good at soccer, so I never tried out for the team even though I thought about it once or twice. I used to love playing it though.

Those three are in a group together, and they’ll probably be our biggest competition when we begin the bowling tournament towards the end of the semester.

Baz and I used to go bowling most weekends. One of our parents (usually my mom) would take us to the bowling alley on Saturday mornings, and we would stay there for a couple of hours, bowling and eating food from the snack bar.

We both got pretty good until we almost always got scores in the 100s every time. Sometimes, we managed to score in the upper 100s, but that wasn’t that often.

I don’t remember when or why we quit going, but it was sometime before we stopped talking. It’s been years since the last time I went bowling.

Coach Mac, the soccer coach, is in charge of the is class. At the moment, he is explaining the basics of bowling. He’s going through the four and five step techniques, which we will be practicing over the next couple of days. Then, he starts to explain how we will be learning how to calculate our own scores tomorrow and Friday.

I only half listen to what he’s saying because I already know how to do all of these things. Coach Mac talks the entire time, and before we leave, he tells us that the first time that we will be going to the bowling alley will either be Monday or Tuesday of next week depending on how well everyone learns the steps and how to score by then.

***

When class lets out, I meet up with Penny at the front of the school, by the front offices.

“Hey, Simon. How was the rest of your day?”

“Fine. Yours?”

“Boring as ever.” She pauses like she’s debating whether to say what she says next, then, “how many classes did you have with Agatha?” I think she’s worried that she’ll upset me after the whole thing at lunch. I’m not mad at her though, so it’s fine.

“Just science.” Which was awful. She kept turning to look at Baz, and I kept looking between the both of them, trying to figure out what was going on between them, if anything. It was a difficult task since they were both sitting behind me. That’s when I decided that I shouldn’t try talking to him. If he was going to try to steal my girlfriend, why would I want to be friends with him?

Penny began to get annoyed my constant movement and threatened to move seats if I didn’t be still.

I didn’t hear anything that our teacher said because I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the two of them. Of course, Baz seemed as focused as ever, as if he didn’t notice either me or Agatha looking at him.

“I had three classes with Baz, though,” I say, even though she didn’t ask. “We have bowling together,” I say matter-of-factly.

“Hmm,” she says, thinking.

She is probably wondering why I brought up Baz when she asked about Agatha. I don’t blame her. I mean, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I stop thinking about him?

It’s probably just because I have to get used to seeing him everyday again. The summer months are hard, being unable to see him. But the school year is harder because I’m constantly near him, but I can’t talk to him. It’s something I have to adjust to each year.

But this is the last time. What will it be like when we graduate and don’t see each other at all? Will I finally stop thinking about him? Will he be glad? Will he forget about me completely?

“I had another class with her,” Penny says, pulling me out of endless questioning.

“Who?” I ask, mind still on Baz and not what we were talking about.

Agatha. Are you paying attention at all?” She doesn’t sound actually annoyed, more like she’s trying to figure out where my head is at. (I wish I knew.)

“Oh. Yeah, sorry. What class?” I ask, unsure how she expects me to respond to that.

“Math,” she says simply. I think she might be disappointed that I didn’t ask more, but I can’t be sure with her. It’s difficult to tell what she’s thinking sometimes.

“How many classes do you have with Micah?” I ask, changing the subject.

“A few.” She says without elaborating. “Well, my mom’s here. I’ll see you tomorrow, Simon.”

 

August 21

Baz

It is only the third day of seeing Simon every morning, but I don’t think I will ever be able to get used to it. Not this year. And maybe I don’t want to. I don’t want to get bored of seeing him, and I don’t even want to think about what next year will be like.

I can feel him watching me during class when we’re supposed to be taking notes. I wish that I could turn around and tell him to cut it out. Only, that would mean admitting that he is on my mind, and I do not need him to know how often I think about him. (Or how I can never seem to stop.)

So, I just sit there and try to ignore him, which doesn’t work for long.

Second period is easier. I have English with his friend, Penelope, and she’s rather brilliant. A lot of the other kids in our class seem to be either scared or jealous of her. I think some them are both. They feel intimidated by her brilliance and her confidence.

I am looking forward to hearing her thoughts on some of the books that we’ll be reading this year. She seems like she would probably have some interesting ideas, and it is always nice to be in a class with someone that you can have a real discussion with.

If she wasn’t best friends with Simon, or if Simon and I were still friends, I think that she and I would get along and maybe even be friends. Alas, that isn’t possible. It will never be possible.

Simon

After science, Agatha pulls me aside in the hall and asks me to wait a moment until everyone else is gone. She says we need to talk. She looks nervous as she shifts her weight from side to side, watching people pass by until the hall is empty.

“I think we should break up,” she blurts quickly. Or it sounds quickly to me. Also, a bit cold and heartless, similar to the way that Baz treated me but at least she’s actually telling me that we’re over. Instead of leaving me to wonder for years what happened.

“Why?” I ask her, even though I’m pretty sure I know why. It’s Baz. It’s always Baz. He’s always there, in class, in the halls, in our neighborhood, in my head. I can’t escape him, not even with my girlfriend. Or maybe my ex-girlfriend now.

“Can you honestly say you want to be with me?” She asks softly.

“Yes,” I say without hesitation. She seems irritated by this.

“Why? Why do you want to be with me?”

“Because you’re my girlfriend.”

“In name. In what way do we act like a couple anymore? We didn’t even talk or see each other all summer. That isn’t the way this should be.”

“I tried to talk to you. You didn’t want to.”

“I didn’t want to hear you ask a bunch of questions about me and Baz.”

“I don’t care what happened between the two of you, and I promise I won’t ask anymore.” Technically, Penny was the one who asked, but I can get her to stop, too. I will if it means we don’t have to break up.

“That’s the problem, Simon,” she says sadly. “You don’t care. You don’t care why I was holding hands with another guy.”

“Is that what this is about? Baz? You would rather be with him because you think he would actually care about you?”

“Maybe he would. But that isn’t why I’m breaking up with you. Neither of us are really happy like this. We’re just going through the motions.”

“I hate to break it to you, but he wouldn’t care,” I say bitterly. “He will drop you like a bad habit without a moment’s notice, without telling you why. He’ll just leave, and you will be left by yourself to pick up the pieces.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” she says quietly.

I want to argue with her, but I don’t, for fear of sounding like more of a scorned lover than I should. I hadn’t meant to sound so upset about Baz. I just don’t understand where this is coming from, why she’s breaking up with me.

“But I love you, Agatha.”

“I love you, too, but it would be better if we weren’t together.”

“Better for who?”

“For both of us. For you. For me.”

“Why? So that you can be with Baz?”

“I didn’t say that, Simon.”

“But you want to, don’t you? You want to be with him?”

“I don’t know.”

“So, this is it? We’re over now?”

“Yes. I’m sorry, Simon.” She gives me a sad smile and turns and walks away.

The halls are empty now. Everyone is either at lunch or in class. I lean my back against the wall and sink to the floor. I close my eyes and try not to think. I just need to be alone for a moment.

Penny will be wondering where I am, but I can’t talk to her right now. I’ll explain it to her later, after some time has passed, and I can figure out what just happened.

Baz

I’m headed back to the science hall because when I got to the cafeteria, I realized that I left something in the classroom and had to come back for it. I turn the corner, and Simon is sitting on the floor outside the classroom. His eyes are closed, and I freeze, trying not to disturb him. It’s too late though because he already heard me coming.

“Are you alright?” I ask gently.

“I’m fine,” he says numbly. He isn’t fine. Something happened. I take a few steps closer to him, and he looks up at me.

I had forgotten how blue his eyes are. I miss that color. I miss him.

 “What happened?” I ask, not letting him get away with the lie. Even if we don’t talk anymore, we’ve known each other too long for me to just ignore the fact that he’s upset.

“Agatha broke up with me,” he says, turning his head to stare at the wall. He looks broken. I wonder if this is how he looked when I quit talking to him. Probably not since he never felt that way about me.

“I’m sorry,” I say sincerely.

“You should be,” he says so quietly that I almost don’t hear him.

“What?”

“She likes you, and you like her. She didn’t want to be with me anymore. So, it’s your lucky day. You are free to try to date her now.” He doesn’t sound like himself. He sounds numb, like this hasn’t really sunk in yet, like he’s still processing.

“I don’t want to be with her,” I tell him. What I want to say is I want to be with you.

“Whatever,” he says, closing his eyes again. “Just leave me alone. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”

So, I do. I turn and walk away. He wants me gone, so I leave. And I’ll stay gone if that’s what he wants. I’ll stay away forever if that’s what makes him happy.

Chapter Text

September 7

Simon

I’m riding the bus to school, and there are signs of fall everywhere. The leaves are changing color and some have already fallen, sprinkling the ground with spots of red, yellow, and brown. The air blowing in through the windows is brisk, and it smells less like freshly-mowed grass and more like crisp autumn air.

It’s been a while since that day in the hall when Agatha broke up with me. She no longer eats lunch with me and Penny. Instead, she and Philippa sit with a couple of the other majorettes at a different table, and Penny and I sit at our table alone.

Agatha and I have been avoiding each other, but Penny thinks that we need to get over it so that we can all be friends again. She says that it wasn’t like we were truly much of a couple anyway. So, it shouldn’t be such a big deal for us to go back to just being friends.

She also thinks that it was for the best that we broke up. She told me that she could tell that neither of us were happy in that relationship. How could she tell though? It’s not like we hated each other or were fighting. We were just us. I never felt not happy with Agatha. I also never thought that we would break up. It all came as a surprise to me, so how could it have been obvious for Penny?

The conversation with Baz that day in the hall is pretty much just a blur. I can’t remember what all was said because it felt like I was just going through the motions after Agatha walked away. It was like I was watching things unfold around me instead of actually living.

I think that he was genuinely trying to be nice though, which is strange. Especially considering that he went right back to being his cold and distant self after that. I probably could have been nicer to him, but he was the last person I wanted to talk to in that moment. I just needed to be alone, and I couldn’t even look at him. He symbolized another great loss that I had faced, and he was only three feet away. I couldn’t talk to him, not then. Although, now I wish I could.

October is coming, which marks the shift from us being close friends to barely talking three years ago. School had just begun that year, and we had been hanging out a lot. Then, Baz changed suddenly. He wouldn’t talk to me or come over to my house. He just cut me out of his life without so much as a goodbye.

Baz

I’m walking through the hall on the way to third period when I see Dev and Marcus standing together, talking, and they wave me over when they see me.

“I haven’t seen you all day. Where have you been?” I ask Dev.

“We have something that we need to tell you,” Dev says. He’s rarely ever this serious.

“What’s going on?” I ask cautiously, and the minute bell rings as I say this.

“We’ll be late to class,” Marcus says.

“You go,” Dev says. “I can tell him.”

“No, I want to be there when you tell him.”

“Okay. But we need to get out of the halls so that we don’t get in trouble.”

“Math hall bathroom?” I ask them even though I have no idea what is going on. No one ever uses those bathrooms though. They’re the worst bathrooms in the school.

They nod, and we head in that direction, making sure that no teachers catch us.

“What’s going on?” I ask them again once the door is shut.

“Your father talked to our parents,” Dev says.

“Both of your parents?” I ask them, and they nod. “About what?”

Marcus looks to Dev, apparently waiting for him to take control of the conversation. What is going on? What could my father possibly have said to their parents that would make my cousins act so strangely? They’re starting to worry me now.

“I’m just going to give it to you straight.” Dev says. Then, he stops and frowns. “Maybe that was not the best choice of word considering what he said.” He seems kind of uncomfortable now.

“Just get on with it,” I say with a sigh, preparing myself for whatever horrible thing my father must have said about me.

“He told them that you’re gay and that he was not going to support your decision to be like this,” Dev says finally.

“My decision?” I ask in disbelief.

“I know it’s awful. Our parents don’t agree with him though. At all. And they told him so.”

“My parents said that if you ever need a place to stay for any reason whatsoever that you could come live with us,” Marcus says quietly. “They think that he is being ridiculous, and that he shouldn’t be treating his son this way.”

I’m speechless. I knew that my father was treating me differently after I came out to him, but I guess I was still holding out hope that he would get over it, that he would come to accept me. Now, I know that I was wrong to hope for that.

“Baz…” Dev begins, but he drifts off because what can he say? What could anyone possibly say to make this better?

“We have to go,” I say, but my voice shakes. My eyes burn with the tears that I won’t shed, and I want to hit something. I want to get mad and yell. But I can’t. I’m in school, and Dev and Marcus don’t deserve to feel this wave of anger that is building up inside of me.

“Come on, Baz,” Dev says. “Let’s just skip. No one will care if we skip one class.”

He’s right. No one would care, especially not my father. But I can’t. “No,” I say, shaking my head. “I don’t want to skip class. And I don’t want to talk about this anymore right now.”

They both just stare at me for a moment before Marcus nods and turns toward the door. Dev stares at me for a moment longer, giving me one last chance to change my mind, but I don’t. I can’t deal with this right now. I just want to go on with the day and forget about this. I know that it isn’t possible, but I can try. I do appreciate their concern though.

Simon

Class started five minutes ago, and I’m practically running to get there. I had to stay after class last period to talk to the teacher, so I didn’t have much time to get here. I probably would have made it time if I hadn’t seen Agatha standing in the hallway and turned and walked in the other direction.

I’m not sure why I did it. I mean, we have this class together, so it’s not like I thought I could avoid her forever. I guess I haven’t been around her too much since she broke up with me. We haven’t spoken yet, and I just kind of panicked when I saw her. I didn’t want to feel obligated to talk to her since she was right outside the room.

Of course, this meant that I had to take the long way back around to get to class, and now I’m very late.

When I open the door, all heads turn to look at me. I avoid making eye contact with anyone as I search for an empty seat.

“Hello, Simon,” Mr. Minos says. “Do you have a pass?” I shake my head. I should have gone ahead and asked my teacher for one. “Okay, that means lunch detention.” He doesn’t sound as pleased by this as some teachers do. “Take a seat at one of the open tables. Everyone else has already been paired up for the projects that we are beginning today, so you will just have to wait and see if anyone else deigns to show up today.” I nod at him and head toward the open seat behind Penny. I climb up on the stool and drop my bag to the floor.

Mr. Minos continues to address the class, talking about the projects. He doesn’t get far into his explanation before the door opens again and in walks Baz.

“Ah, I see you’ve finally decided to join us, Baz,” Mr. Minos says. He sounds more annoyed than he did when I walked in. Probably because this is the second interruption since class began. “And only ten minutes late. Do you have a pass or care to explain why you are so late today?”

“No, sir,” Baz says politely.

“Alright. Then, you can join Simon in lunch detention today since neither one of you seem to know how to make it to class on time.” Mr. Minos pauses and waits for Baz to nod before continuing. “You and Simon will also be partners on the projects that we are starting today.”

I gasp quietly. Of course. Lunch detention isn’t enough. Now, I have to spend the next week sitting next to Baz as we try to get along long enough to get through this project.

I look at him to see what his reaction is, but the only sign that Baz has been affected by this is the thinning of his lips and the slight lift of his eyebrows. Other than that, he doesn’t seem to care. Of course, he doesn’t. Why would he care that he’s going to be spending time with me?

I watch him as he makes his way from the front of the room towards me. He winks at Agatha as he passes by the table where she’s sitting with Philippa. I grip the edge of my stool and clench my jaw.

Seriously? He’s going to flirt with her now, right in front of me? I guess him trying to be nice to me in the hallway that day was just for show or a fluke or something.

Baz slides his messenger bag off his shoulder and sits on his own stool without so much as a glance in my direction.

“As I was saying,” Mr. Minos begins, and I turn my attention back to the front of the room. “Over the next three days, you and your partner will be working together to research a topic that I give you. You will then have to give a presentation to the class on either Thursday or Friday.”

He goes on to talk about how there has to be some kind of visual aid to accompany the presentation, but I tune him out. I turn my attention back to Baz instead.

I wonder why he was late. What was he doing? I want to ask him, but I can’t. He wouldn’t tell me anyway.

He seems rather tense. He’s sitting rigid in his seat, and his jaw is set. One of his hands is gripped tightly in a fist. Does he want to hit me? Was I wrong about him not caring about being near me? Is he so upset about having to sit next to me that he wants to hit me?

“Did you get all of that or were you too busy staring at the side of my face?” Baz sneers when the teacher starts walking around the room, assigning topics.

“I’m fine,” I say, but I can’t hide the color that I can feel rising to my cheeks.

I keep my gaze trained on my lap until Mr. Minos makes it to our table.

“You two will be presenting on invasive species,” he says, setting down two pieces of paper in front of us. All of the instructions you need are on here.” He waits for us to nod before he turns and moves to the next table.

I pick up one of the pages and glance through it. He wants us to research six different invasive species. Three of them have to be found around here, and the other three can be anywhere in the United States. We will have to report on where they originate from and the effects that that they have on the environment. It sounds easy enough.

“If you have any questions, let me know,” Mr. Minos says when he makes it back to the front of the room. “Today, you should discuss how you plan to get this done and what you want your visual presentation to be. You can use your phones to do research, and I have a few school laptops up here if you need them.” With that, he sits down at his desk.

I sit there quietly, avoiding looking at Baz while everyone else begins to talk about the assignments. I tap my fingers against my leg and pretend to be reading through the instructions again.

“We should split up the research,” Baz says. I glance at him, but he isn’t looking at me either. “It will be easier that way. Then, we can put together the visual part together.:

“Okay,” I say, nodding.

“Would you prefer to do the local invasive species or the other ones?” He asks. I’m almost surprised that he asks. I half-expected him to just take over and dictate who did what.

“The local species,” I say quietly, stilling my fingers and laying my hand flat against the side of my leg.

“Okay,” he says simply. Then, he pulls a highlighter out of his bag and uses it to highlight the portion of the instructions that go over his part of the project. I had forgotten how organized Baz is.

Baz

I try to ignore how close Simon is, and I do my best to avoid looking at him. It’s difficult though. I’m sitting as close to the edge of my side of the table as I can, but he’s still too close. I can feel his body heat rolling off of him, and I want to move closer, to share in that warmth.

Being this close to him is both a distraction and a comfort. I wish that we were still friends so that I could at least have the option to talk to him about what’s going on. Although, that would also mean that he would have to know that I’m gay, which he can’t know because he can’t know how I feel about him.

“Here, do you want to highlight your part, too?” I ask, holding out the highlighter and looking in his general direction.

I’m a bit worried that if I see the blue in his eyes or the moles on his face that I won’t be able to stop staring. That I won’t want to stop looking at him.

“Sure,” he says with a shrug. He reaches out to take the highlighter from me, and our fingers brush. I feel a jolt of electricity go through my body, and I suck in a breath. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by it though.

I watch him as he slowly, carefully highlights his part. His face is screwed up in concentration like he’s trying really hard to not mess up this simple task. He looks so cute like this.

“Thank you,” he says, and he carefully places the highlighter down on the table next to my paper.

I’m both relieved and disappointed that I don’t have to try to take it from his hand. After that, we both begin to work in silence. We get computers and spend the rest of the class period doing our separate research and not talking.

Just before the bell rings, Mr. Minos stops by our desk to hand us our detention slips. Great. I had almost forgotten about this. Now, I have to spend an extra hour stuck in a small room with Simon, not talking to him.

Simon

I keep glancing at the ticking clock, counting down the minutes until lunch is over. Thirty-one more minutes until we can leave.

Baz and I are the only people in lunch detention today, and we’re sitting on opposite sides of the room, not looking at or talking to each other.

As soon as we returned from the cafeteria with our food, the teacher who is supposed to be in charge of detention left the room and has not returned since. He left us in here alone, which might be a good thing for anyone else, but it just makes this hour even more uncomfortable since Baz and I aren’t talking even though we now could without being reprimanded for it.

All Baz got for lunch is an apple and a bottle of water. I want to ask him if that is all that he is going to eat, but I don’t. Baz has always been self-conscious about consuming food in front of other people, and it gets worse when someone points out how much he is or is not eating. Even though we aren’t friends anymore, I still don’t want to be one of those people that makes him even more uncomfortable than he already is about it.

So, I don’t say anything to him at all, and he doesn’t say anything to me. I just sit and eat my own lunch while I wait for the bell to ring. Only twenty-six minutes to go.

Baz

When I step out of the classroom where lunch detention is held, Dev and Niall are waiting for me.

“How come you didn’t get lunch detention?” I ask Dev.

“The teacher can’t give me detention if I don’t show up for class,” he says with a grin.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Dev skips class a lot and never seems to get into any actual trouble. If I skipped class like that, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to be one of the starters in the soccer games when we begin playing.

I roll my eyes at him, and he laughs.

“So, Simon got detention, too? What did he do?” Niall asks.

“He was late to class, too, which of course means that we got paired together for this project that we have to do,” I say bitterly.

“Hmm, interesting,” Dev says.

“What is interesting?” I ask.

“You two being put together. This is another opportunity for you to attempt to get on better terms with him.”

I never told them about that day in the hallway when he said that he didn’t want to talk to me. Simon was upset, and he probably didn’t mean that he never wanted to talk to me, so it felt kind of ridiculous to make a big deal out of it. It still stings though, and there is the possibility that he actually does never want to talk to me again.

“I’ll think about it,” I say because I know that if I don’t agree to it that they will never stop bugging me about it.

“Good,” Niall says. Then, he changes the subject, and I’m grateful that they don’t feel the need to dwell for too long on my love life.

This week will be interesting enough as it is, trying to work with Simon, and I don’t want to make it any weirder by trying to have an actual conversation with him. I’ll just see how this week turns out and go from there.

 

September 8

Simon

Baz and I were both on time for class today, and we get started working right away.

“How much do you have left to do?” Baz asks me.

“I’m done,” I tell him.

“Really?” He asks, sounding way too surprised.

“Yes, really,” I say slowly, slightly offended by his astonishment.

I pull out the pictures that I got printed out and picked up last night along with all of my research on the three invasive species that I picked to learn about.

I hand him the photographs and set the papers down on the table between us.

“You took these pictures yourself?” Baz asks, sounding even more surprised. I nod. “They’re really good.”

“Thanks,” I say quietly. Why is he so surprised that I actually did my work? Did he think that I wouldn’t and that he would have to pick up the slack?

“Wait, this looks familiar,” he says holding up the picture I took of cogon grass. The white tips of the grass were swaying gently in the breeze when I took that picture, and I like the way that it turned out.

“It’s from that empty field across from my house,” I say, looking away from him. I fidget with the papers in front of me instead, straightening them.

“Oh,” he says. “What about this one? Where was this taken at?” He’s holding up the kudzu this time.

“It’s growing on the side of an abandoned building further down our street. It was an old farmhouse I think.”

He nods before flipping to look at the last picture. I press my lips together, waiting for him to say something. I know that he’ll recognize where I took this picture.

“It’s the honeysuckle we used to eat when we were children,” he murmurs, and I nod.

The honeysuckle grows up and around some of the trees around the edge of the forest next to my house. During the summer, Baz and I would sit in the shade of trees, picking the honeysuckle and eating them.

“How much of yours do you have left to finish?” I ask after a minute of us sitting in silence, looking at the pictures.

“I’m done, too,” he says. “But my pictures aren’t this nice. I just got them from google.”

“That’s fine,” I tell him.

“I’ll go ask Mr. Minos for a poster board. Then, we can figure out how we want to display everything,” Baz says, sliding off of his stool. I nod and try not to stare as he walks away.

Baz

The pictures that Simon took are amazing. He managed to capture the cogon grass in such a way that you can almost see the movement of it. He did much better work on this project than I thought he would. I forgot that he isn’t a terrible student; he just struggles with some subjects, like English. He has always struggled with words, so a class full of reading and writing definitely isn’t his strong suit.

We don’t talk much as we begin to place things on the poster board, and I do my best not bump into him with my arm or stand too close to him. It is not an easy task to accomplish since we are both trying to move things around at the same time.

At one point, our hands brush against each other, and I forget how to breathe for a moment. His hand is warm against mine, and I want to take hold of it and never let go. I don’t though. Instead, I just watch him move things around for a bit while I watch the way his curls fall onto his forehead and the way he chews on his lip while he works.

Then, I think about kissing his lips, and I lose focus again.

By the time the bell rings to dismiss class, Simon and I are almost completely done with our project. We just need to print out some titles for the different parts, which I told him that I would do tonight. We roll up the poster board and wrap a rubber band around it so that it will be easier for me to carry around and start quickly putting away our things so that we can head to our next class.

As we quietly put everything away, I want to say something to him. I want to try to start a conversation with him, but after all this time of silence between us, I don’t know what to say. My heart races at just the thought of saying something, so I change my mind.

“See you later,” he says quietly, as he zips his backpack shut, and I’m so caught off guard that all I can do is nod at him.

Simon

“How is your and Baz’ project going?” Penny asks me during lunch. We’re sitting outside today at one of the picnic tables in the courtyard.

“We’re pretty much done,” I say. “What about yours?”

“Trixie is still insisting that we cover everything in glitter. She wants to use glitter glue to make the title.” Penny sounds extremely bitter about this.

She and Trixie have never gotten along very well, and she thinks that it’s my fault that she has to work with her. If I hadn’t been late to class yesterday, we could have worked together. She’s right but working with Baz hasn’t been that bad.

“Does that mean that things are going well with Baz?” She asks. I shrug, taking a bite of my food. “Have you guys started talking to each other now?”

“Not really. We only talk about the project.”

“But this is your chance to try to be friends again. You’re already being forced to spend time together, so why not take advantage of it? Talk to him.”

“What’s the point? He doesn’t want to be my friend, and he has made that perfectly clear.”

“It’s been over two years. Maybe he has changed his mind.”

 “If he has, he should tell me that.”

“Maybe he can’t because you won’t talk to him.”

“I’ll talk to him,” I say, “but only if he talks to me first.”

“You’re being ridiculous. Both of you. Just talk to him, and maybe you’ll be surprised by what happens.”

“I don’t know. Maybe,” I say, but I know that I won’t talk to him. Not unless he starts the conversation.

She sighs and shakes her head at me. She pushes her extra basket of fries towards me across the table without saying anything else.

Penny always gets extra food and gives it to me because there’s no way that she can eat it all. I’m pretty sure she does it on purpose since I can’t buy myself extra food. I can only get what little I’m allowed to have since I get free lunch.

She started doing this last year, and at first, I felt bad because it meant that she was spending extra money on food that she wasn’t eating. I tried to protest once, but she told me that it was fine. She that she didn’t want me to be hungry because I wouldn’t be able to learn if I was distracted by stomach.

I think she’s worried that I don’t eat enough at home, which isn’t true. My mom and I have plenty of food. We just don’t have enough money to buy extra food. Also, I eat more food than most people, so that is a problem at times.

While we finish eating, I watch a group of guys throwing a frisbee back and forth across the courtyard. Baz is one of the guys, and he has a good throw. He’s pretty good at catching it, too, when the other side actually throws it where he can reach it.

I don’t realize that I’ve been staring at Baz until one of the teachers starts ringing a cowbell to signal that it’s time to head back inside. I tear my gaze away from him as he pushes his hair out of his face, and I glance at Penny. She’s picking up her trash, and I think that maybe she didn’t see me staring at him. I hope so anyway.

 

September 10

Baz

My twin sisters have ruined the science project that Simon and I worked on. I came home after soccer practice, and Daphne showed it to me. It was covered in some bright red juice that almost looked like blood.

I had spread the poster board out on one of the coffee tables in the living room so that it wouldn’t try to roll shut when we presented tomorrow, but that is now the least of my problems. I have to figure out a way to fix this.

After I’ve finished dinner and most of my homework, I get a towel and try to dry out the poster board, but there is no taking away the red circle in the middle of it. I attempt to at least salvage the beautiful pictures that Simon took, but they are warped and crinkly and one of them starts to rip from the weight of the juice it soaked up. There is no saving this project, and I’m going to have to walk over to Simon’s house and tell him.

I’m frustrated by the ruined project, but I can’t get angry at my sisters. They’re small, and I know they didn’t mean to ruin it. I just hate that I have to go and tell Simon that we’re going to fail the assignment because I left it sitting out in my living room instead of keeping it in my room

“Is there anything you can do to save it?” Daphne asks, walking into the living room.

“No,” I say, sighing.

“I’m sorry. They weren’t supposed to have their cups in here.”

“It’s fine. Maybe the teacher will let us redo it if we tell him what happened. I’m just going to walk over and tell Simon what happened, so we can figure out what to do.”

“Okay. I’m going to get Mordelia in bed, and then, I’ll probably go to bed, too.”

“Goodnight,” I say, giving her a small smile. She smiles back before leaving the room.

I slowly pull on some shoes, wanting to put off getting to Simon’s house as long as possible. I take my time walking down the road toward his house. I kick at a few leaves in the road, sending them up into the air and watching them float back down. In the dark, it’s hard to see them though.

When I arrive on his porch, I just stand there at the door. I don’t know how to knock on the door. Well, I know how to physically do it, but what am I supposed to say when he opens the door? There are so many unspoken words that I’ve locked up inside of me that are just waiting for the chance to break out. What if some of those words come out instead of what I need to say?

Maybe I should just go back home and forget about this. What’s the difference between me telling him now and me telling him in the morning? It might even be safer to do it tomorrow while we’re at school.

Simon

It’s ten o’clock, and I’m finishing up some math homework. I’m sitting on the floor, using the coffee table as a desk. I could be sitting at the kitchen table or in my mom’s office, but I find that I like it better here on the floor. The contents of my backpack are scattered around, covering the coffee table and most of the couch behind me.

I’m in the middle of working on the last math problem when someone rings the doorbell.

“Simon, could you get that please?” My mom calls from upstairs.

“Sure,” I call back. I put down my pencil and walk into the entrance hall.

“I know it’s late, but we have a problem,” Baz says as soon as I pull open the door. He doesn’t even say hello.

I almost shut the door in his face because I would rather not deal with him tonight, but I don’t because that would be rude. Also, I’m curious about why he’s here.

Baz

He just stands there staring at me for a moment. He’s so still that it doesn’t look like he’s even breathing.

“Are you alright?” I ask.

“You’re – you’re wearing overalls.”

This seems rather obvious. And why is he acting so strange? It isn’t like he hasn’t seen me in them before. I changed into them when I got home and didn’t think to change before coming over.

“I am. And you’re wearing footsie pajamas.”

His face turns an adorable shade of red as he looks down at his clothes. I try not to think about how cute he looks in them. His cheeks are almost the same color as the red of the dragon onesie that he’s wearing, and I ignore the thought of what it would be like to kiss him there where his face is the reddest.

“Oh, uh, let me go change.”

Please don’t, I want to say. Instead, I say, “you don’t even know why I’m here yet.”

“Right. You said we have a problem? What kind of problem?”

I scratch the back of my neck and avoid making eye contact when I say, “my sisters might have destroyed our project while we were at school today.”

“But it’s due tomorrow,” he says, stating the obvious. “What are we going to do?”

“There isn’t much that we can do right now. I just thought that you should know now instead of waiting until tomorrow to tell you.”

“We could redo it,” he says.

“How? We don’t have much time, and we’d have to redo everything.”

“We’ll stay up all night working on it. I have an extra trifold board upstairs that we can use, and we can just retype and reprint everything.”

“Okay. I tried to salvage the pictures that you took, but there was too much damage done to them.”

“No, it’s fine. I have extra copies of them.”

“Really?” I ask, surprised. I’m amazed that he seems to have everything we need. He is so prepared for something that we didn’t know would happen.

“Yes. Now, come in. I’m going to go upstairs and change, but you can go sit at the kitchen table and wait for me.”

I step into his house, and nothing has changed. The furniture is all the same, and he has his school stuff scattered all over the living room floor from where he must have been doing homework when I arrived. It’s exactly how I remembered it.

“Simon, who was at the door?” His mom asks, coming down the stairs. When she looks up, she sees me, and her eyes widen. “Oh, Basilton. It’s been a long time. How are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” I say quietly.

“Our project got ruined, and we have to redo it before tomorrow. We’ll be quiet so that we don’t wake you.”

“That’s fine. Just don’t stay up too late, okay boys? I’ll be in my room reading until I go to sleep. Come get me if you need anything.”

“Okay mom. Goodnight,” Simon says as he moves past her towards the stairs. “I’ll be right back, Baz,” he calls over his shoulder, leaving me alone with his mom.

“It’s nice to have you here,” she says. “It’s been so long since you were last here.”

I nod awkwardly at her, unsure of what to say. I don’t want her to start asking me what happened between her son and I because I wouldn’t know what to say.

“Well, goodnight,” she says before turning and heading back upstairs.

I stand there a moment before heading into the kitchen.

Simon

I quickly throw on some jeans and a t-shirt so that I don’t look totally foolish in front of him anymore. I have a tri-fold board that I was going to use for a different class, but I can buy another one later. This is more important.

I have a drawer in my night stand of pictures that I have taken and had printed.

There are a lot of pictures in there. Some of me and my mom, me and Ebb, me and Baz throughout the years. There are also a few of various creatures that have entered the yard. They range from raccoons and opossums to birds and rabbits. I’ve gotten a few interesting shots before.

I ignore the large pile of pictures of me and Baz and pick up the top three pictures on the stack of nature images. I can have more copies of these printed out later. I grab the poster board and head back downstairs.

I walk into the kitchen, and Baz is still wearing the overalls. I mean, of course he is. It’s not like he could take them off. But it’s been so long since I’ve seen him in them. I mostly just see him in what he wears to school now. This is different.

He’s sitting at the table, and he doesn’t hear me come in. He seems to be in some kind of weird staring contest with the table.

“Hello,” I say quietly, and he looks up at me. His expression is unreadable as his eyes track my movement across the room to the table. I set the stuff down and tell him I’ll be right back.

I move into the living room where my notes for this project and my computer are. I gather them all together and take a deep breath. Working with Baz all night is going to be difficult. But maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe we’ll sit quietly and work separately like we did in class.

When I enter the kitchen again, Baz is looking at the photos. His eyebrows are pulled down low over his eyes, and he doesn’t look up when I set my stuff down.

“Can I, um, get you something to…drink?” I ask awkwardly. Apparently, my ability to act calmly in front of him left me as soon as I hit the stairs.

He looks up and quirks an eyebrow at me. “You’re getting pretty good at the whole southern hospitality thing, aren’t you?” He asks, and it almost sounds like he’s teasing me.

“Oh, shut up,” I say, but it doesn’t have any bite to it. It almost came out as playful.

He mumbles something under his breath that almost sounds like “make me,” and I’m not sure what to do. I stand there with my arms resting on the back of one of the dining chairs as he stares fixedly at a spot on the table.

“So, a drink?” I ask quietly after a minute of awkward silence.

“I’m fine, thanks.” It sounds so formal and impersonal.

Alrighty then. I guess that was the extent of us talking about something that isn’t the project.

“I can work on retyping our work while you work on the layout of the pictures on the poster board. It doesn’t have to be the same as before. We just need to get it done.”

“Sounds good,” I say with a nod.

Baz

When I offered to type, I thought it would be the quickest way to get things done, but I significantly underestimated how illegible Simon’s handwriting is. Every few words, I have to stop and figure out whether that letter is supposed to be an a or an o, and if that one is a c or an e. It makes the process go much slower than it should.

It also doesn’t help that I keep getting distracted by Simon. Every time he moves or hums to himself, I glance over at where he’s adjusting the pictures on the poster board, which causes me to lose my place in his notes.

There are only six images, the three he took and the three I printed out, but he gingerly moves them around, adjusting them ever so slightly. At one point, I get so distracted watching him that he looks up, presumably because the typing has ceased. I quickly look away and pretend to be intently reading his notes.

“If you’re having too much trouble reading my handwriting, I can type it for you,” he offers quietly.

I glance at him again, but he’s looking at the pictures on the board.

“It’s fine. I’m almost done actually,” I say, and it’s true. I just have to adjust the font sizes and make the titles and subtitles now. Then, it will be ready to print out.

Simon curses under his breath, and at first, I think it’s because of something I’ve said. But when I look up, I see that he has bumped into the poster board, knocking the pictures askew.

“Do you need help?” I ask, pushing my chair back.

“No. It’s okay. I’m going to move this into the living room and restart in there. It might be easier to work on the floor,” he says gathering the pictures up. “Come join me when you’re ready to print everything out.”

***

When I step into the living room with the laptop, Simon has strategically weighted down the corners of the poster board with books so that it won’t shift and mess his work up. He is meticulously adjusting the final picture and looks up at me when he’s finished.

“Are you done?” He asks, standing up.

“Yes, it’s ready to go.” I hold out the computer to him so that he can take it.

“I’ll go print them, and I’ll be right back.”

Simon

The printer is in my mother’s office, so I take the computer in there and plug it into the printer. I glance through the pages that he has typed and hit send.

While the pages print out, I head to the kitchen to get drinks and snacks. I don’t want to disturb my mom by cooking anything, so I just grab soda, water, and an assortment of fruit from the fridge and a box of crackers from the cabinet.

I take it into the living room, and Baz is still standing where I left him. He doesn’t look like he has moved at all since I left.

“You can sit down, you know,” I say as I set the food down on the coffee table, pushing aside some of my books.

“Right,” Baz says, but he doesn’t move.

“Eat some snacks,” I say, grabbing a can of soda and leaving the room again. I stay in the office until everything has printed out.

I take two pairs of scissors from one of my mom’s desk drawers and go back to the living room. Baz is sitting in the floor near the poster board with a water bottle in his hand. The box of crackers is open, so that hopefully means he ate something.

I grab a handful of grapes and sit on the floor a foot or two away from him. Without saying anything, I hand him a pair of scissors and some of the pages so that we can begin cutting things out.

We sit in silence as we slowly and carefully cut everything out. Then, we move to the poster board and start positioning things before we glue them on. We only talk to suggest placing something a different way on the board. Every once in a while, Baz eats a cracker or a couple or grades, and I’m glad that he isn’t too uncomfortable around me to eat.

Once we’re done with the inside of the poster board, I suggest decorating the outside with a title and maybe a couple of other pictures, and Baz agrees. We stay up late working on the project, and we fall asleep on the floor at some point after we finish.

***

When I wake up in the morning, it takes me a moment to remember where I’m at. My back aches from sleeping on the hardwood floor in the living room all night. I stretch and sit up, and that’s when I see Baz lying on the floor next to me. I vaguely remember telling him that he could stay here for the night.

I look at the clock that hangs on the wall above the fireplace, and it says that it is nearly seven fifteen. I’ve missed the bus, and if we don’t hurry we’ll be late for school.

“Baz,” I say quietly, kneeling next to him. I place my hand on his shoulder and lightly shake him. “Wake up.”

 “I’m up,” he mumbles, slowly opening his eyes. Up close, his eyes look dark grey with specks of a lighter color throughout.

My heart does a weird flip as he blinks up at me. I move my hand away and stand up, putting some distance between us.

“Oh, you boys are finally up. I was just coming down to wake you up.”

“Good morning, mom,” I say, taking a few more steps away from Baz, feeling this weird need to put as much space between us as possible. Maybe I just don’t want him to feel uncomfortable about being in my house when we aren’t friends anymore.

Baz stands up, rubbing his eyes and yawning. He’s still wearing the overalls, and there is no way that he slept very well in those last night. I should have offered him something of mine to wear last night, but I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open.

His hair is a sight to behold. It’s a tangled mess that falls around his face instead of being slicked back. He tries to run his fingers through it to straighten it out, but his efforts are useless. He’s going to need a brush for it.

“Good morning,” Baz says, but I’m not sure if it’s directed at me, my mom, or the wall that his eyes seem to be fixated on.

“You boys are going to be late if you don’t hurry up. Baz, I can give you a ride to school if you want.”

“Thank you,” he says, and my heart does another flip at the thought of being in a car with him. “But I need to go home and check in with my family. I’ll probably just drive myself from there.”

My heart sinks a little as I watch him move towards the door where he left his shoes when he came in last night.

“Alright. Well, it was nice having you here.”

There’s an awkward silence as he pulls on his shoes. I feel like I should say something, but I don’t know what there is for me to tell him. We didn’t even talk about anything last night, so what could I possibly say to him today?

He turns to face us again and says goodbye quietly before he leaves.

“So, did you boys finish your project last night?” My mom asks.

“Yeah. We were up pretty late, and we fell asleep down here. I didn’t think he should walk home that late.”

“That’s fine,” she says. “Why don’t you go shower and get ready? Then, we can go out for breakfast together.”

“We won’t have time for breakfast. I’ll probably be late as it,” I tell her.

“You can skip first period, right?”

“I suppose so,” I say. I’m not going to say no to breakfast. I love food.

 

September 11

Baz

I’m sitting in first period, and I can’t focus on the math problems that we’re supposed to be solving. I can’t stop thinking about Simon and the hours that we spent working together last night. I turn to look at his seat where he usually sits at the back of the room, but he isn’t there. He hasn’t shown up yet.

Where is he? Why isn’t he in class yet? I’m pretty sure that he left with his mom before I left my house this morning, so he should be here. I hope he gets to school before third period since I left the project with him this morning. Surely we didn’t stay up all night just for him to not show up.

I give up on trying to solve the math equations and think about the conversation we had late last night before we fell asleep. It’s weird to think that last night was the most that we have spoken since that day at the pumpkin patch almost three years ago.

It was almost one in the morning, and we were finally done with the project. Both the outside and inside of the tri-fold board looked amazing. There was no more work left to do, which meant that I didn’t have a reason to stay there any longer.

We were just sitting in his living room in silence, not doing or saying anything. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence though. It reminded me of years ago when we would hang out and just be in the same room together, but we wouldn’t have to say anything. There was no need to fill the silence because we were content with just being near each other.

“I should probably head home now,” I said, finally, breaking the silence.

Simon looked up at me from the floor when I spoke. He was curled up in a ball, using one of the couch cushions as a pillow. I was leaning against the couch with my legs stretched out in from me. He looked so small and innocent like that, like nothing and no one had ever hurt him, but I knew that I wasn’t true.

“It’s late,” he said simply. He yawned at that point, which caused me to yawn, too.

“That’s exactly why I should go,” I said, but I didn’t make any move to leave yet.

“But it’s dark,” he mumbled. “You shouldn’t have to walk home when it’s this late and dark.”

I froze then, thinking. Was he trying to say that he didn’t want me to go? No, I thought. That couldn’t be it. He was tired and was probably just trying to be polite. There was no way that he wanted me to stay.

His eyes were starting to droop shut as he fought off sleep. “Don’t go,” he whispered.

“Okay,” I said quietly. “I won’t.” But he was already asleep. I grabbed one of the other cushions from the couch and let sleep take over me as well.

Being woken up with Simon leaning over me is one of the best and worst ways to wake up. His face was so close to mine, close enough that if I leaned forward ever so slightly, I could have kissed him. But of course, I couldn’t kiss him, so his proximity was also quite tortuous. I had to pretend like it wasn’t bothering me, like I wasn’t thinking about kissing him, and get up and leave.

When I returned home, I was surprised to find out than anyone had noticed that I was gone and cared that I hadn’t returned. I told Daphne where I was going last night, but I hadn’t told her how long I would be gone. I had left my phone at home since I didn’t think that I would be gone for long, and it would have been too late to call before we went to bed anyway

I honestly didn’t think that any of them would notice if I wasn’t at home this morning or that I missed breakfast, but as soon as I walked in the front door, Daphne asked me to come into the kitchen.

“You’re home,” she said, and she sounded relieved. “I was worried when you weren’t in your room this morning.” She doesn’t say we, and I know that my father either didn’t notice I was gone or didn’t care. I shouldn’t care what he thinks after what he told my aunts and uncles, but I do. I want him to accept me for who I am.

“I’m sorry. Simon and I stayed up late redoing our project, and I decided to just sleep there instead of walking back home in the dark.”

“It’s fine, and I’m glad you’re safe. Just please call next time.”

“Okay,” I said quietly. I hadn’t meant to worry her.

“Baz,” a voice yelled then as someone came running into the room. It was Mordelia. “You missed breakfast!” She continued to shout.

“I know. I’m sorry,” I said, turning to face her.

She hugged me tightly around my waist, then asked, “where were you?”

“I spent the night at a friend’s house.”

“But you have school. And what friend? Was it Niall again?”

“No, Mordelia, it wasn’t Niall.”

“Then, who was it?”

“It was Simon,” I admitted, hoping my face didn’t turn red as I thought about him.

“The boy from next door?” She asked with wide eyes.

“Yes.”

“But I thought––.”

“Honey,” Daphne interrupted, putting an end to Mordelia’s questions that could have gone on forever if we had let her. “Why don’t you go get your backpack? We’re going to be late.”

“Okay!” She shouted cheerfully before running out of the room.

“You’ll be home after school, right?” Daphne asked me. I nodded. “Alright, I’ll see you later.”

I spent the next ten minutes rushing around, showering and getting ready for school, so I wouldn’t be late. I just barely made it to the classroom before the late bell rang. Now, I’m just waiting for the bell to ring to dismiss class so that I can stop looking at the door every five seconds, hoping that Simon will walk in. He doesn’t, and I worried that he won’t come to school today until I walk into third period later and see him sitting at our table.

When he looks up and sees me walking towards him, a small smile plays on his lips as he tugs at his curls. He looks so cute, and it makes my legs feel like jelly beneath me. I consider turning and walking out of the room for a moment before I pull myself together and cross the room to sit down beside him.

Simon

I don’t mean to smile at him when he walks into the room, but I can’t stop myself. As soon as I see him, I want to talk to him. I want to say something about the project, about last night, about anything. But then, I remember that we still aren’t actually friends and that we aren’t the kind of people who just sit around and talk anymore, so I don’t say anything at all.

I hope that he will say hello or something that will be an opening for a conversation, but he doesn’t. He just sits down on his stool and barely even looks at me. I’m not sure what this means. Did I do something wrong? Is he going to go back to pretending like I don’t exist now that we’re done working together?

We are the first group to present, and it goes pretty well. Baz does most of the talking because I still struggle to talk in front of large groups of other people after being made fun of so much for my lisp when I was younger.

As we return to our seats, I realize that this will probably be the last day that we sit next to each other. Now that we’re done with our project, we won’t have a reason to continue sitting at the same table. I wonder if this will bother him as much as it will bother me. Or if he’ll be relieved to not have to sit with me anymore.

Maybe we’ll still sit next to each other anyway and start talking to each other, but that’s as about as likely as me figuring out what their weird fluttery thing my heart keeps doing is.

I consider talking to Penny about what this weird feeling in my chest is at lunch, but she would probably look at me like I’m crazy, so I don’t. I wouldn’t even know how to describe what it feels like, and I don’t want to admit that I’ve only really felt like this around her brother and Baz. I decide to just keep quiet about it.

Baz

“You spent the night at his house?” Niall whispers loudly.

It’s the end of the school day, and we’re on the bus on the way back from the bowling alley. Simon is only sitting a few seats in front of us, and I don’t want him to overhear our conversation.

“Be quiet,” I hiss, glancing at Simon’s bronze curls.

“I’m sorry,” Niall says, quieter this time. “But you actually did?”

“Yes. That’s what I just told you. We had to redo our project, and it was too late to walk home. That’s it.”

“But that’s progress, right?” Dev says. “If he hated you, he wouldn’t have let you stay.”

“Maybe. Or maybe he was just being polite.” I’m thinking that maybe I shouldn’t have told them about last night, but I wanted to talk to someone about it. I should have realized that they would make it into a bigger deal than it was.

“Do you honestly believe that?” He asks, and I don’t know how to answer.

I don’t want to believe that, but I also don’t want to get my hopes up just to have them crushed. Maybe this could be the start of something new though. Maybe Simon and I actually could use this as an opening to start over and be friends again. I just have to figure out if that is even something that he would want to do.

Chapter Text

October 14

Baz

“Before the bell rings, I’m going to pass back the grade sheets for everyone’s projects last week so that you can see how you did,” Mr. Minos says. “Remember that you might have a different grade from your partner. I took those evaluates you did of your partner’s work into consideration when I did the grading. Some of you worked well with each other, and others did not do so well.”

He pauses for a moment, and I wonder if he is talking about Simon and I. Does he think that we did not work well together? I mean, we didn’t talk much during class, but we did get the project done. Even if it was last minute.

“So, if your partner said that you barely helped,” he continues, “that will be reflected in your grade. If you have any questions about the grade that you received, you may come talk to me after class.”

Great. My grade depends on what Simon said about me. What if decided to tell Mr. Minos that I let our first project get destroyed and that any mistakes were my fault? I wouldn’t blame him if he did that, but I hope he didn’t. It isn’t like we are friends, so he doesn’t have any reason not to throw me under the bus.

I didn’t say anything bad about him in my evaluation. He did some really good work, and he didn’t get irritated when we had to completely redo the project. He probably even did better work than I did, which is difficult to admit because I pride myself on the hard work that I do.

When Mr. Minos hands me my grade sheet, I’m surprised to see that I received a perfect grade. Simon didn’t write anything negative about me, which he had every reason to do. Maybe I misjudged how much he disliked me. Perhaps there is still a chance for us to be friends, for me to fix what I have broken between us.

I look over at him to see what his reaction to his grade is, if he is as surprised as I am. He is sitting at the table next to mine, so there is only the space of the aisle between us. We aren’t as close as we would have been if we were sitting at the same table, but at least we aren’t on opposite sides of the room like we were before last week.

Simon

“Look at this,” Penny says, leaning over on her stool to show me the piece of paper with her grade on it. She’s pointing at one line at the bottom of the comments section. “‘I would appreciate the use of less glitter next time.’ I didn’t even want to use glitter at all. I can’t believe that this might have affected my grade.”

“I don’t think he graded you on the amount of glitter you used,” I tell her. “And you still got an A, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but that isn’t the point,” she says huffily. Mr. Minos walks over and hands me my grade, and she asks, “how did you do?”

I turn the paper so that she can read it, and I watch as her eyes widen slightly.

“Simon, that’s amazing.”

“Thanks,” I say quietly. I rarely ever get a perfect score on anything, and I feel really good about this.

I look over at Baz, and he’s already looking in my direction. I show him my grade, and he shows me his. I smile bashfully at him. He’s slow to return the smile and I watch as it slowly spreads, revealing the dimple on the right side of his face.

This moment feels like an opportunity, a chance to start a conversation with him. I want to try at least. I start to open my mouth to say something, but the bell rings right at that moment. Baz turns away from me to pack up his stuff and the moment is gone.

“Simon are you ready to go to lunch?” Penny asks. She’s already standing up with her backpack on.

“Yeah, just a second.” I look back towards where Baz was just sitting in the hope of getting another chance to talk to him, but he has already started walking out of the room.

Baz

The way he smiled at me stole my breath way.

His eyes shone that blue color that can only be seen in the sky on a sunny, cloudless day. His mop of messy curls fell onto his forehead, and my heart pounded in my chest when he smiled at me like that. He hasn’t looked at me like that in a long time.

That smile filled me hope. It made me feel like there was hope for me, that I could take things back to the way they were. Then, the bell rang, bringing me back to reality.

I don’t want things to go back to the way they used to be.

I want things to be different because we are different from who we were before we started high school. Things won’t be able to just go back to the way they were. We will have to relearn how to be around each other, and I’ll have to figure out a way to not think about how beautiful he is every time he smiles at me.

***

“What’s up with you?” Dev asks when I sit down at our usual lunch table, jarring me from my thoughts about Simon.

“What do you mean?” I ask him, as I set my food down and slide my bag off of my shoulder.

“Something is different. I just can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“Nothing is different, Dev. I didn’t suddenly change over the weekend. Perhaps it is you that has changed.”

He squints his eyes at me and frowns with concentration. I roll my eyes at him and unscrew the cap on my water bottle. “There’s definitely something different about you,” he murmurs, more to himself than to me.

I ignore him and pick a small piece off of my sandwich and chew it slowly. It’s easier to eat in front of Dev and Niall because I’m used to being around them all the time. Plus, they don’t stare at me while I do it or comment on what I’m eating.

After a couple of minutes, Niall joins us with his lunch and slides into the chair next to Dev.

“Niall, don’t you think that Baz looks different today.” Dev asks, and I sigh. He isn’t going to let this go.

“I haven’t changed,” I sneer at him while Niall frowns and tilts his head at me slightly.

“Oh! I figured it out!” Dev says excitedly. Why is he so enthusiastic?

“What?” I sneer.

“You’re been frowning and sneering less,” Dev says triumphantly. “At least you were until I annoyed you.”

“Well, you can be quite annoying at times,” I tell him and take a swig of my water.

“Oh, come on. You know that you love me.”

“Debatable,” I say.

“You can’t hate me. I’m your cousin.”

“I can hate whoever I want. Regardless of whose blood runs through their veins.”

“Was it completely necessary to phrase it like that?” Dev asks, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes,” I say, forcefully screwing the cap back onto my water. “It was.”

“So, what’s got you in such a good mood today?” Niall asks, speaking for the first time since he arrived. I can’t tell if he’s joking or not, so I just ignore him.

“He’s in loooove,” Dev says mockingly, dragging the word love out.

“If you don’t shut it, your blood will no longer be running through your veins,” I say in a low, dark tone.

“No need to be violent,” Dev says. “I was merely stating that your love for a certain someone has made you soft.” I swing my leg out and kick him. “And I am now starting to see that I was wrong,” he grits out as he rubs his shin.

“Okay, boys,” Niall says. “Let’s stop acting like children and eat now.”

“I was simply pointing out that he was acting different,” Dev says. I glare at him and proceed to eat my food.

I would never admit this to him, but maybe he is right. I might have changed a bit since last Monday. I feel lighter, like there isn’t a giant elephant resting on my chest. It feels like a smaller one is sitting there now because not everything has been solved. My father still won’t talk to me, but at least Simon and I are on friendlier terms.

I look up from my food, and I find that Niall is staring at the side of Dev’s face with a strange expression. He looks like he wants to say something to him. I watch, waiting to see what will happen, wondering what has got Niall acting strangely. But when Dev turns to look in his direction, Niall quickly looks back down at his food, the tips of his ears turning a light shade of red.

Dev opens his mouth, like he is about to say something to Niall, but he closes it quickly and looks away again. They seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that I am sitting right across from them and can see everything that they are doing. Or perhaps my presence is exactly what’s keeping them from saying anything.

I’m not sure what to do. Should I say something? Or would it be better to pretend like I didn’t notice anything at all? I decide not to say anything. I wouldn’t even know what to say to them if I did. And it would probably make things uncomfortable, so I keep quiet and finish my lunch in silence.

When the bell rings, I hurry to leave before them. Hopefully, that will give them the chance that they need to work through whatever is going on between them.

In my hurry to leave the cafeteria, I don’t watch where I’m going and nearly run right into Simon. When he looks at me, I’m expecting him to smile at me again. This isn’t the case, though. It’s almost the opposite actually. He grimaces at me and turns away as quickly as possible.

I’m not sure what that was about, but it definitely does not look good for me. Did I do something to upset him? I don’t see how that is possible when I haven’t seen him since right before lunch. He must have changed his mind about being my friend. Receiving our grades must have been the end of our alliance or new friendship or whatever it was that was happening between us.

I don’t understand him. Was he just faking the friendliness? Or did he change his mind?

I must have messed up. I waited too long to try to be friends with him again, and now it is too late. There is no way that I can fix this, and I’m just going to have to live with that. It’s my fault.

Simon

“Simon,” Penny says, and judging by the tone of her voice, it isn’t the first time that she’s called my name.

“Oh, sorry,” I say, looking up at her. “You were saying?”

“What is going on with you?”

“Nothing,” I say, looking down at my food again, unable to keep eye contact with her.

“It’s Baz, isn’t it?” She asks, and I just shrug. “I thought you two weren’t friends.”

“We aren’t,” I mumble.

“Then, why do you keep looking at him?”

“I don’t,” I say, too quietly. It’s a lie, and we both know it.

“Simon, I know you want to be friends with him like you used to be, but let’s think about this for a moment.”

“What is there to think about?” I ask her. Thinking is the last thing I want to do. I’ve done enough thinking about Baz, and I just want us to be friends again. What is so wrong about that?

“Well, for starters, he tried to steal your girlfriend.”

“We don’t know that for sure.”

You were sure about that last year and when school started again this year. You were the one who was convinced that Agatha wanted to be with him.”

I shrug. “So, what? That doesn’t mean Baz and I can’t be friends.”

“No, but it does mean that you can’t trust him. At least, not until you know for sure what went on between the two of them.” I frown and don’t respond. This causes her to sigh and look at me with pity in her eyes. “I know you want things to go back to how they once were, but, Simon, you have to be careful. He stopped talking to you once; he very well could do it again.”

I still don’t say anything for a moment. After a minute, I finally sigh and say, “you’re right.” It hurts me to say it, but it’s true. “Perhaps being friends with Baz is not a good idea. I will only get hurt again.”

“I just don’t want you to get hurt,” Penny says.

I force myself to smile at her and say, “thank you.”

This is how, a few minutes a later, when I almost collide with Baz, I force myself not to smile like I want to and practically run away. It takes everything I have in me to not say something to him.

This feeling that I have inside of me is strange. It’s different from before, when we used to be friends. These emotions feel stronger, like Baz has a better ability to affect my moods. If not talking to him is really going to hurt this much, should I go along with it? Wouldn’t it be better to talk to Baz about what happened and go from there?

I have to try. I can’t just ignore him and let myself be hurt by this. Penny was right, though; I can’t be friends with Baz if I don’t know what happened between him and Agatha. That just means I have to find out what happened and use the answer to decide if I can trust Baz. I can’t throw away any chance I have of being friends with him just because I am afraid of the truth.

So, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll talk to him, and I’ll figure out where to go from there.

Baz

Simon and Gareth are bowling in the lane next to the one Dev, Niall, and I are at. I can’t seem to make myself stop watching Simon. Dev has already caught me staring twice, and we’ve only been her for fifteen minutes.

“Just go talk to him,” Dev says, the third time that he catches me staring at Simon.

I’m watching him as he takes the four steps toward the lane with a frown of concentration and lets the ball free of his hand. It slides smoothly down the side of the lane, dangerously close to the gutter. At the last second, the ball curves, taking out all of the pins.

“I have no idea who you’re talking about,” I say smoothly, as I pick up my ball from the ball return.

“You haven’t stopped ogling his butt since we got here,” Niall says, sounding annoyed. He’s sitting on one of the chairs, waiting for his turn.

“I haven’t been staring at anyone’s butt,” I argue, almost forgetting to lower my voice.

“Then, what, pray tell, have you been staring at this entire time?” Dev asks, with raised brows and a smirk on his face. Our argument at lunch has been completely forgotten by both of us. It was nothing, just a bit of teasing.

“His ball. His bowling ball,” I amend when Niall raises his eyebrows at me. “I hate both of you,” I say, turning away and preparing to throw my ball down the lane.

“It might be easier to believe you if you weren’t so obvious about it,” Dev says as I release the ball.

“I’m surprised he hasn’t noticed you watching him yet,” Niall adds as I watch my ball roll down the lane and knock over all of the pins except for one.

“Simon is quite oblivious though,” Dev says. “Even more than you.”

I turn to face him as I wait for the fallen pins to be cleared and my ball to return.

“What exactly am I oblivious about?” I ask them.

“Several things,” Dev says confidently. “For example, you haven’t noticed that Niall and ––.” He cuts himself off when Niall swings his foot at him, kicking him in the same spot that I did earlier. Niall’s expression of pain is short-lived, and he straightens up quickly.

“You agreed that we wouldn’t tell him yet.” Niall says quietly through his teeth, giving Dev a look that I can’t read. There’s still something weird going on with them. They must not have worked it out after lunch.

“You’re right,” Dev says, nodding at him once. This entire exchange is weird, and I feel like I’m being left out of something. “Anyway,” he says, turning back towards me, “there are plenty of other things that Baz hasn’t noticed.”

“Are you going to actually tell me any of these things, or are you going to continue to be vague?” I ask, picking up my ball when the ball return finally spits it back out.

“I think that we will continue to be vague,” Dev says, tilting his head slightly. “It’s more fun that way.”

“Whatever,” I say, throwing my ball. I watch as it rolls down the lane and knocks down the remaining pin.

Simon

I manage not to watch Baz during bowling even though all I want to do is look over at him to see if he has noticed how close we are. Every time that I get a strike, I want to smile over at him and celebrate this small victory with him. I don’t, though.

I keep my eyes on my lane throughout the entire class period and make polite conversation with Gareth. He goes on and on about this guy he thinks he might like and this girl who he thinks he could like if he got to know her better. This is what he usually talks about, the people he thinks he could possibly have feelings for, but nothing ever seems to come of it.

I listen to him and try to tell him the things that I think he wants to hear, but I don’t really know him well enough to actually be of any help. He also never mentions any names, so I have no idea who he is talking about. It makes having a conversation with him difficult and exhausting.

When our game is finished, I change back into my own shoes, and Baz and I end up at the counter returning our bowling shoes at the same time. I hand mine to the guy behind the counter and turn to face Baz.

This is my chance. We can talk now and maybe even on the bus back to school. All I have to do is start the conversation. I open my mouth to talk to him and ––.

“Come on, everyone,” Coach Mac calls. “It’s time to get on the bus.”

Baz hands his shoes to the guy, but he doesn’t walk away immediate, so I think that I might still have a chance to talk to him. He turns away from the counter and looks at me.

His hair falls slightly in his face, and he pushes it away. His grey eyes look dark, almost black, in the poor lighting of the bowling alley. He’s wearing the black leather jacket that has become his signature look. It fits him nicely, and I wonder if it’s the same on that his aunt bought him a few years ago when he changed the way he dressed or if it’s a new one.

Maybe his closet his full of identical leather jackets, and he wears a different one every day. The t-shirt that is clinging to his chest is white today instead of the usual black. It looks crisp and new, like he has only worn it a handful of times. I wonder if it would be soft to the touch.

“Simon! Baz!” Coach Mac calls from where he stands, holding the door open. “Are you coming, or do you plan on walking back to school?”

Right. School. I shake my head, trying to clear my thoughts. I realize at that moment that I haven’t actually said anything to Baz. I was too busy looking at his clothes to remember how to piece words together. I glance at his face but it is as impassive as ever.

Why didn’t he say something? Was he just allowing me to stare at him and make a fool out of myself so that he could make fun of me for it later? What was I thinking?

Obviously, talking to Baz is a terrible idea, and the universe seems to be trying to make me see that. First, with the bell this morning. Then, with Penny at lunch. And now, with the teacher, twice.

These are all signs that I should not talk to Baz and that I should stop trying. I can see it clear as day now. It is too dangerous to keep ignoring the signs, so I will not try to talk to him again.

I turn away from Baz and quickly walk out of the bowling alley and onto the bus. I take my usual seat in the middle of the bus and keep my eyes trained out the window as Baz follows me on and walks past me to the back of the bus, where Dev and Niall wait for him.

The entire way to school, I fight the urge to turn around and look at him. I wonder what he thinks of what just happened. He must think I’m weird for standing there and not saying anything. I have no idea what is going on with me or why being around Baz is affecting me this much.

Baz

“What was that about?” Dev asks, turning around to face me as the bus starts moving. He and Niall are sitting together in the seat in front of me.

“I have no idea,” I say, glancing in the direction of where Simon is sitting.

“What did he say?” Niall asks.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?” Dev repeats.

“Yes, Dev. Nothing.”

“But,” he creases his eyebrows, “that doesn’t make any sense. He looked like he was going to say something when we saw you two standing there together.”

“I thought he was going to, but he just stood there staring at me. I half expected to feel holes being burned into my chest as he glared at me.”

“That’s so strange,” Niall says. “Why would he just stare at you?”

“No idea,” I say, shaking my head.

They turn back around after that, and the subject is dropped. I spend the rest of the very short bus ride staring out the window, thinking about how Simon was looking at me.

He looked like he was thinking deeply about something, but I have no idea what. The corners of his mouth were turned down, and his eyebrows were pulled down low over his eyes.

I just stood there, waiting for him to say something. He opened his mouth to speak at one point, but no words came out. It’s almost like he forgot how to speak. I don’t know what he wanted because he just turned and took off.

Between this and what happened in the cafeteria, trying to figure out what is going on in Simon’s head is proving to be much more difficult that I thought it would. Would it be easier to just try to forget about him and not worry about him for the rest of the year? It might be less painful that way. There would be less room to have my heart broken by him.

By the time the bus pulls up in front of the entrance to the school gym, I have made my decision. I will stay away from Simon. I won’t try to talk to him, and I’ll do everything I can to avoid him. Then, maybe after Christmas, I’ll have a schedule that will put me in less classes with him. I will have to worry about running into him less after that, and I’ll just have to make it through to graduation. Then, I will go off to college and will no longer be around him so often.

This plan sounds perfect.

 

September 26

Niall

“Ready to go?” I ask Dev when he climbs into my car and pulls his seatbelt on. He nods but doesn’t say anything.

We ride in silence as I drive down the familiar streets that will take us to Baz house. I try to focus on the car lights in front of me and not think about what I plan to tell Baz this afternoon. When he invited me and Dev over to hang out, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to tell him about the secret that we have been keeping from him, but now I’m starting to rethink that decision.

How do you tell one of your best friends that you’ve been keeping a secret from them for a long time? He managed to tell us that he was gay, and this is not that different, but I don’t know how he did it. Was he terrified of what we would think of him? Did he worry that we would get upset and stop talking to him, like I am afraid that he will do to us?

“You’re sure that you want to tell him?” Dev asks me.

It’s almost like he can read my mind. Or maybe he was thinking about the same thing, and he is just better at voicing his thoughts than I am. But he’s also asked me this several times since I told him that I was ready to tell Baz.

I quickly glance over at him, where he’s sitting in the passenger seat before returning my eyes to the road.

“Yes,” I say with a sigh. “How many more times are you going to ask me that before we get there?”

“I just want to make sure that you aren’t doing something that you don’t want to.”

I roll to a stop at a red light, and I turn to look at him. “I want to tell him,” I say, and I do. I want to tell Baz, but I worry that he’ll be mad that we waited so long to tell him. Or that he won’t approve of what we’re doing. We have to tell him eventually, though. “He told us his secret. Shouldn’t we tell him ours?” I ask Dev.

“Exchanging secrets isn’t a good enough reason to do this,” Dev says seriously.

I know it isn’t. “It isn’t the only reason,” I say, placing my right hand on Dev’s leg for a moment. “He’s our friend, and I want him to know the truth.”

“Okay,” Dev says, smiling. “If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure,” I say, returning the smile.

The light turns green, and I move my hand back to the steering wheel. We don’t say anything else, and I take the next right onto the long, quiet road that Baz lives on.

Baz

“Baz are you listening?” Dev asks me.

“Yes,” I say. I’m lying, and I’m pretty sure he knows it.

I haven’t been listening to them at all the past few minutes. We’re sitting out on my back porch, enjoying the night air and talking.

Somehow, the conversation turned to the topic of pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns, and I started to think about Simon and that last day that we hung out together.

We went to a pumpkin patch, and we had a nice day hanging out together. It was the most fun I can remember ever having with him. I will never forget how alive and happy he looked that day.

Of course, I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle how deeply I felt about him or how much I wanted to express that, so I pushed him away. I pushed him away, and I continue to regret that decision almost every day. I can’t fix it though. So, I have given up trying.

Nothing has changed between us. I still feel the same way about him that I did on that day, and he still sees me as the boy next door that he has known his entire life. He will never see me as anything more, and I am just going to have to live with that. I have to move on. It’s going to take time, but I will continue to work on it until it gets easier.

It has been almost two weeks since I decided to put more space between me and Simon. It wasn’t difficult because he seems to want to be around me even less than I want to be near him.

We went back to sitting on opposite sides of the room during science, and we’ve been keeping our distance during bowling. It is almost possible to completely forget that Simon is even there.

Except, I can’t forget. I can’t forget that he’s there, in the same room, with his blue eyes and bronze curls. I can’t ignore how good he is at bowling, almost better than me. I can’t help but feel a rush of warmth through my body when he answers a question during class, and I hear the familiar sound of his voice.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t get away from him, and I can’t stop thinking about him.

“I think we’re going to head home now,” Dev says.

“You don’t have to leave yet,” I say, feeling bad for ignoring them. Here I am, messing up two more friendships because I’m so focused on the one that ended a long time ago. “You could both probably stay the night, if you want. You can sleep on my floor. We haven’t done that in a long time.”

Niall quickly looks at the ground, and Dev seems to be trying to look anywhere but at him or me. They are still acting weird when we’re all together. I thought it was getting better, especially tonight, but maybe I was wrong. Something must have happened between them, but they aren’t talking to me about it.

“Thanks,” Dev says, “but my parents are expecting me back home. And Niall has to go, too, since he brought me here. Maybe another time?” He asks, standing up.

“Of course,” I tell them. “I’ll see you guys on Monday.”

“See you,” Niall says, tearing his eyes off the spot on the ground that has kept his attention for the past couple of minutes and standing up, too.

I watch them as they move around the side of the house and out of sight. I stay out on the porch for a while longer, enjoying the crisp fall air and gazing up at the stars.

I stand and walk out into the backyard so that I can see the stars better. The wind starts blowing, and leaves rain down around me, mixing colors of red and yellow and green, barely seen with what little light the porch light gives off.

I reach out my hand out and pluck a leaf out of the air. When we were little, Simon would run around trying to catch leaves because he believed that he would get a wish if he caught one that fell from a tree before it hit the ground. He did manage to catch a leaf a few times, but he would never tell me what he wished for because he also believed that it wouldn’t come true if he said it out loud.

The leaf that I have caught is mostly yellow, edged on one side with red and spotted in the middle with a light color of green. It’s smooth to the touch on the top but rough and dry on the bottom.

I twirl the stem of the leaf between my fingers as the wind dies down, and the leaves quit falling. I close my eyes and make a wish before I head back inside and tuck the leaf between the pages of one of my favorite books. I don’t think my wish will come true, but I will just have to wait and find out.

Dev

We have the windows rolled down in Niall’s car, and the chilly night air rushes in as he drives well over the speed limit down the empty roads, back to my house. He is upset, and he shouldn’t be. I need him to know that it is fine. I take a drag of the cigarette that I’m holding as I watch the trees go by in a blur.

“So…” I begin quietly, exhaling the smoke out the window.

“Shut up,” Niall says, grinding his teeth.

“You didn’t tell Baz,” I say gently, trying not to upset him anymore than he already is. It doesn’t work because his grip tightens on the steering wheel. “Hey, pull over for a moment.”

“I’m fine,” Niall says, relaxing his jaw.

“I know you are, but just pull over so that we can talk.”

He sighs, then says, “fine.”

It’s late and the street is empty as he slowly pulls to the side of the road and cuts the engine.

“I was going to tell him,” he says quickly. “But he was distracted, and I didn’t know how to do it.”

“It’s okay, Niall.” He shakes his head and won’t look at me. I toss the butt of my cigarette out the window and turn in my seat so that I can look at him better. “Niall,” I reach out and take his hand in mine. “We don’t have to tell him right now. There is no rush, and I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”

He turns and looks into my eyes. “I’m not uncomfortable, especially not with you. I like being with you.”

“I know you do,” I smile at him and rub my thumb slowly across the top of his hand. “And I like being with you, too.”

He finally smiles at me. He turns his hand slightly and intertwines our fingers. I lean closer to him, as close as I can get to him with the console separating us. He leans towards me, too, until our faces are inches apart.

“Niall,” I whisper, before he closes the distance between us and kisses me lightly.

“I’ll tell him,” he says as he pulls away. “I just need time.”

“You can take all the time in the world. Whatever makes you happy, love.”

 

October 17

Simon

I’m finishing up some homework at the kitchen table while my mom searches through the fridge for something to cook for dinner. This morning, Penny came over and let my mom do her makeup for the homecoming dance tonight. She and Micah are going together again this year, and she liked the way my mom did her makeup last year.

My mom still hasn’t said anything about the fact that I’m not going. I kept waiting for her to say something and ask if I had a date, but she didn’t. I think that she didn’t want to bring it up in front of Penny.

She straightens up and closes the fridge door. She watches me for a moment before saying, “so, you and Agatha decided not to go to homecoming this year?”

Oh. I forgot to tell her.

I never told her that Agatha and I broke up. Maybe this is why she hasn’t said anything yet. I meant to tell her, but I didn’t want to talk about it at the time. Then, I got busy with the project and everything with Baz, and I forgot that she didn’t know about Agatha.

“Actually, mom, we broke up,” I say quietly.

“Oh, my rosebud boy,” she says sweetly, moving closer to me. “What happened?”

“I – I don’t want to talk about it.”

I’m too embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t a very good boyfriend and that Agatha and I were barely a couple. Because it’s true. It took me some time to see that and to accept the fact that Agatha and I really were not good together, but that does not mean that I am ready to admit that to my mom. I don’t want her to think that I am anything like my father was.

“Are you sure?” She asks placing her hand on my head and running her fingers through my hair soothingly. It’s been a long time since she has felt the need to comfort me like this. It’s probably been almost two years actually.

“Yes,” I tell her, smiling, so she knows that I mean it.

“Do you want to go out and get ice cream?”

“Thanks, mom, but I’m fine.”

“Okay, but if you change your mind, just let me know.” She waits for me to nod before she steps away. “Okay. Well, I’m going to go to the store to get food since we don’t seem to have anything here. Do you want to go with me or stay here?”

“I think I’ll stay,” I tell her. I’m almost done with this assignment, so I want to go ahead and get it done.”

“Okay. I’ll see you in a bit.”

“Bye, mom.”

It only takes me a couple of more minutes to finish my homework. It is unusual for me to get my homework done on a Saturday, but I have been trying to keep myself distracted all day. I don’t want to think about the dance tonight or about Agatha or about who she might be going with and dancing with.

I can’t stop thinking about it now that I’m done, though. I keep imagining Agatha in a beautiful dress, dancing with Baz, who is sure to be wearing a magnificent suit. Agatha will be unable to resist the way he looks, and on Monday, I will have to hear all about how the two of them are dating now after dancing the night away at homecoming.

This really isn’t such a far out there idea. Last year at homecoming, Baz kept trying to separate me and Agatha from each other. He asked her to dance several times, claiming that she deserved to have a dance partner that could actually dance, and she went with him willingly.

This year, I won’t be in the way. They will be free to dance with each other as much as they want to.

I can’t believe that I was considering being friends with him again. How could I let the few nice moments that we have had eclipse the way that he has treated me for the past two years? I was being foolish, and I am glad that I realized my mistake before I could get hurt by him again.

Baz

“He isn’t here,” I say, fighting the urge to rake my fingers through my air because it would mess it up.

I’m leaning against the wall, under one of the basketball goals in the school gym with Dev and Niall while we watch our peers dance out on the floor.

“Well, he did just break up with his girlfriend,” Niall says. “He probably didn’t have anyone else to go with.”

“I know, but I thought that he might have come with Penelope.”

“And be the third wheel with her and her boyfriend all night?” Dev asks. I just shrug. “What would you have done if he was here anyway? Stared at him wistfully?”

He smirks at me, and I want to hit him because he isn’t saying anything that isn’t true. It’s not like I would have asked him to dance or anything. I’d probably be in this same spot, just watching him dance with someone else. Perhaps it’s a good thing that he isn’t here.

“So, are we just going to lean against this wall all night then?” Dev asks. He only sounds like he’s half-joking.

“What do you suggest we do then?” I ask. “It isn’t like any of us have dates to dance with.”

“Actually…” Niall says.

“You have a date?” I ask dubiously. If he has a date, why is he hanging out with us instead of them. I expect Dev to ask something about it too, but he’s just staring at Niall with wide eyes.

I watch them as Niall slowly holds his hand out to Dev and shyly asks him, “do you want to dance?”

“Of course, I do,” Dev says, grinning at him widely and reaching out to take his outstretched hand.

So, this is why they have been acting strangely around each other. They weren’t fighting; they were far from it in fact. They were just keeping a secret from me. I feel a bit bad because they felt the need to keep this from me, but I’m not mad. They were doing what was best for them, and I’m just glad that they feel comfortable enough to be open about it now.

“Wait,” I say, and they both turn to look at me.

Dev’s smile begins to falter, and I think he’s worried that I’m going to object to them being together. I didn’t mean to make it seem that way. I don’t have a problem with them being together; I’m just surprised.

“You should have told me that you two were here together,” I say, smiling so they know I’m not trying to tear them apart. “I would have given you some space instead of being the third wheel for the past hour.” I pause as they take in what I’m saying, and Dev’s smile returns to full force. “Now, go. Have fun.”

“Are you sure? We don’t want to leave you all alone,” Dev says, but I can tell that he would rather go dance with Niall.

“I’ll be fine,” I tell them. “I’ll probably head home soon anyway because you’re right, leaning against this wall is not how I want to spend the night.”

“Okay. Well, we’ll see you Monday then,” he says. I nod at them as they walk away. Niall laces his fingers through Dev’s, and I imagine for a moment what it would be like if I could do that with Simon.

My imaginings are quickly interrupted as Penelope walks over and leans against the wall next to me. She is wearing a purple dress that poofs out slightly at her waist and hits just above her knees. The color almost perfectly matches the purple in hair from where she died it.

“Here by yourself?” She asks. She doesn’t look at me while she talks. Her gaze is trained on the crowd of our peers in the school gym, dancing.

“Not exactly. I came with Dev and Niall.”

“Isn’t that them over there dancing together?”

“Yes.”

“So, you tagged along on their date?”

“No. I didn’t know that they were together until about two minutes ago.”

“I see.”

“And where is your boyfriend?”

“He stepped outside for a minute. I saw you standing here and decided to come over and say hello.”

“Right.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t ask Agatha to be your date,” she says, and now she turns to look at me, making full eye contact.

“Why would I do that?” I ask, confused by the sudden shift in the conversation.

“You tried to steal her from Simon, so I just thought that you would try to make a move now that she’s single.”

“I didn’t try to steal her from him. Why would you think that?”

“Simon and I saw you holding hands with her last year in the hallway.”

“Wait, no. That isn’t what you think it was. You’ve got it all wrong.” That isn’t what happened at all, and I do not want to talk about it with Penelope at a school dance.

“I’m not the one that you should be trying to explain this to.”

“What do you mean?”

“It takes more than working on a school project with someone to earn back their trust.” She’s talking about Simon. She thinks that he’s upset with me still. “Anyway, I’ll see you around, Baz. Have a nice night.”

She pushes off the wall and walks away, leaving me there alone again. Was she trying to help me by telling me that Simon was upset? Or was it a warning that he and I couldn’t be friends again?

It isn’t long after that that I leave the dance and head home.

Niall

“Wait, let me see if I’ve got this right,” Dev says. His arms are wrapped my neck, and we’re dancing to the slow song that the DJ is playing. A smile plays on his face as he thinks over what I have just told him.

We received a few surprised stares and heard a couple of whispered conversations when we stepped out onto the floor holding hands, but everyone quickly lost interest after a few minutes. No one has said anything to us, except when Trixie skipped over with her girlfriend and told us that she was happy for us.

“You were more worried that Baz would be upset with you because you were dating his cousin than he would be by the fact that we kept this a secret?”

“Baz can be a bit scary sometimes, and he is very protective of his family. I just thought he might worry about you,” I say. Then, I lower my voice and look away, “or that he would think that I wasn’t good enough to date his cousin.”

The smile drops from Dev’s face as my words sink in. I hadn’t meant to upset him; I just wanted him to know the truth.

“Of course, you’re good enough, Niall,” he says quietly, but he sounds deadly serious. “And if he didn’t think you were, I don’t think he would be your friend. He cares about you, and he would never say something like that about you.”

“I know he wouldn’t, but I was still worried,” I admit.

“Well, now you don’t have to worry anymore. You told him, and it went well.”

I smile at him, and I wish that we were not surrounded by people so that I could kiss him. I will have to wait until after the dance. For now, I can be happy, dancing in his arms, no longer worrying how people will react to us. I can finally breath again, and I have never been as happy as I am in this moment.

Simon

It’s almost midnight when Penny calls me. I’m in bed reading and should be asleep, but I can’t stop thinking about what might have happened at the dance tonight.

“How was the dance?” I ask her.

“It was alright. The same as last year.”

“Did you and Micah have fun together?”

“Yeah, we danced quite a bit.” There’s a smile and her voice. She really likes him.

“That’s great,” I tell her. I want to ask her about Agatha and Baz, but she starts to get annoyed when I talk about him too much, so I don’t

“I saw Agatha there,” she says after a moment.

“Did she have a date?” I ask. She brought it up, so it can’t hurt to try to get information from her while she is offering it.

“No. I think she and Phillipa just went together as friends.”

“Oh,” I say quietly. “So, she wasn’t with Baz?”

“No.”

“How much did they dance together, though?” I ask. I can’t help it. I have to know.

Penny sighs. “I didn’t watch them the entire time, Simon, but I also didn’t see them dancing together. I don’t think Baz danced at all. With anyone.”

“Really?” I ask, surprised. At every school dance that we have gone to, Baz has always danced with someone. He is an amazing dancer, so I’m surprised that he didn’t this time.

“Yeah. He stood at the side of the gym the entire time.”

“By himself?”

“Well, he was with Dev and Niall for a while, but then he realized that they were there together.”

“Wait, Dev and Niall went together?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, that’s nice.” I never would have considered those two as a couple. I knew they were close friends, but I never thought that they would date.

“It is,” she says through a yawn.

“You should probably go to bed,” I tell her. “It’s late.”

“So should you,” she retorts.

There is silence from both of our ends as we consider the idea of sleeping. “Penny?” I say quietly.

“Yes?”

“He really wasn’t there with Agatha?”

“No, Simon. He was all alone.”

“Okay.”

“Goodnight, Simon.” She says after a moment of neither of us talking again.

“Goodnight, Penny,” I say and hang up.

 Penny

These boys are going to be the death of me. They are so oblivious.

Baz spent the entire time that he was at the dance looking for Simon and being disappointed when we he didn’t show up. It’s so obvious that he is in love with Simon, but he will never say anything. He looked so jealous as he watched Dev and Niall go off to dance. He must have been thinking about what it would be like if he could dance with Simon.

And then, there’s Simon. He is utterly confused because he has no idea how he is feeling. He is torn between being upset about Agatha and wanting to be friends with Baz. I know that I tried to keep Simon from talking to Baz a few weeks ago, but that was before I truly understood the way that Baz was looking at him.

I thought that I was protecting Simon from getting hurt, but I think that maybe I was wrong. I still think that they need to sit down and talk before they become friends again, but I no longer think that Baz will intentionally hurt him. I just have to help Simon see that it is okay, that he should feel comfortable trying to figure it all out.

I want him to know that I am fine with however things turn out.

 

October 31

Simon

It’s Halloween night, and I am hanging out at Penny’s house because very few of the trick-or-treaters ever venture all the way out to my house. So, I’m sitting with Penny in her living room, watching scary movies and eating popcorn and the candy that we’re supposed to be handing out to the trick-or-treaters. Penny says it’s fine though because there is plenty of it.

When I arrived, Penny said that I didn’t look like I was in the Halloween spirit because I chose to wear blue jeans and an old school t-shirt. She isn’t exactly dressed up, but she is wearing black pants with a black shirt that says “witches get stiches” in purple lettering. I think it suits her quite nicely.

The door bell rings, and it’s my turn to go answer it. Penny hits pause on the movie, and I take the giant bowl of candy from her lap and go answer the door.

It’s Baz. He’s standing there with his little sister, Mordelia, who is dressed up as a witch. Her hair falls in curls out from under her sparkly black witch’s hat and lands on her black dress, and she is carrying a wooden broom.

Baz is also wearing a costume tonight. He’s dressed as a vampire with plastic fangs and fake red blood running from his lips that are stained cherry red. He’s wearing a maroon waistcoat that fits him perfectly over a grey shirt that almost perfectly matches the color of his eyes. The costume is completed with a black top hat and a black cape that is lined with red on the inside.

“You’re – you’re wearing eyeliner,” I say, feeling similar to they way I did when he showed up at my house in overalls.

“I am. And you’re not wearing a costume,” he says, looking me up and down.

I feel my cheeks warm under his gaze. Why do I still react like this to him when I want to not care about him anymore? It shouldn’t be this hard to stop caring about him. He did it easily years ago, and he never even looked back.

“I’m not trick or treating, so I didn’t have a reason to dress up.”

“So? You can still dress up just for fun.”

“Is that why you dressed up?” I ask, eyeing the way his dark pants cling to his legs. “For fun?” I take delight in the way his cheeks turn red, just barely showing through the white makeup that he is wearing.

“Trick or treat,” Mordelia says, saving Baz from having to answer. I tear my gaze away from Baz to look at her. “You’re the boy from next door, aren’t you? You used to come over a lot.”

“Yes, I am,” I say while I pick out a couple of pieces of candy to give to her.

“Why don’t you come over anymore?” She asks.

I glance at Baz and he looks horrified, but that might just be an effect of the blood on his face. “Uh, we don’t – we don’t really talk that much.” I stutter out, dropping the candy into her bucket.

“Why not?”

I don’t know how to answer her since I don’t even know why not, so I wait to see if Baz says something. We all three just stand there for a moment as Baz avoids making eye contact with me, and Mordelia looks back and forth between the two of us.

She must get bored after a minute because she says, “come on, Baz. We have more houses to go to!” Baz doesn’t move right away, so she has to tug at his hand. “Bye, Simon,” she says with a wide smile.

“Happy Halloween,” I call as she runs down the walkway, pulling Baz with her.

“What took you so long?” Penny asks when I return to the couch. “Were there a lot of trick-or-treaters out there?”

“No. It was just Baz and his sister.”

“Baz?” She asks, sitting up, suddenly interested. “Did you talk to him?”

“Kind of,” I say, giving her a weird look. She seems oddly interested in Baz all of a sudden. “He asked why I wasn’t wearing a costume, and then, his sister started asking questions.”

“That’s it?” She asks, sounding slightly disappointed.

“Yes. Why? Were you expecting something else?”

“No. I just thought it might be a little more interesting seeing as you were at the door for a long time.”

“It wasn’t that long,” I say, picking up the abandoned remote.

I feel her eyes linger on my face for a moment after I hit play on the movie. She is acting weird, and I am not sure what it means. She told me to stop trying to be friends with Baz, and I did, so what is it that I did wrong this time?

She finally turns back to the movie, and I let out a sigh of relief. I don’t know what to expect from her sometimes.

Baz

Mordelia skips ahead of me down the sidewalk to the next house, her long hair flying out behind her. I smile as she skips up the walkway to the door along with a few other kids wearing various costumes.

I stand at the end of the driveway with the parents of the other kids, and I think about previous Halloweens. The ones when Simon and I were little and went trick-or-treating with each other every year.

I almost always dressed up as a vampire. I’m not sure why but it was my favorite costume. Simon liked wearing different costumes each year. He also had a favorite one, though. It was zombie costume.

His mom went all out with the makeup. It was amazing. His t-shirt was carefully ripped, and strips of it hung off of him, looking tattered. His jeans had holes torn in them, and the hems were ragged and caked in dirt. He even had some old shoes that had fallen apart, and the sole of one of them had fallen mostly away from the rest of the shoe so that his socked foot showed through.

I have a picture somewhere of us together that year. I think it was one of the last years that we went trick-or-treating. We were both undead monsters, and his mom did my makeup, too. It looked much better than what I attempted to do tonight.

“We still have more houses to go to, right?” Mordelia shouts, as she comes running over to me.

“Yes, a few more.”

“Yay!” She shouts. There is so much loud energy in this small girl. She’s so alive with happiness. She reminds me a bit of how Simon was.

“Come along, dear,” I say to her in a terrible accent. “On to the next house.”

“You make a terrible vampire,” she tells me in a serious tone. “But it’s okay because I still love you, Baz.”

Then, she takes my hand and starts running to the next house, pulling me along behind her. The rest of the night goes by quickly. I struggle to fall asleep because my head is filled with thoughts of Simon.

Chapter Text

November 24

Dev

“Do you think he’s serious?” I ask Niall. My head is in his lap, and I’m watching the clouds drift slowly across the sky while he runs a hand through my hair.

“Do I think who’s serious?” He asks.

“Baz. Do you think he’s serious about trying to move on from Simon?”

“Well, he really hasn’t talked about him in a few weeks. So, maybe.” He shrugs. “I think that he is at least trying.”

“Yeah. This will be good for him. He can’t keep pining after someone who doesn’t show any interest in him.”

“You really think that Simon isn’t interested in him?” He asks, gazing down at me.

“No, but I do think that Simon is confused and that Baz shouldn’t have to wait around, hoping that he figures it out sometime soon.”

“You’re right. Baz deserves to be happy. Just like us,” he says with a goofy smile.

“You’re such a dork,” I say. Then, I push myself up so that I can face him and whisper, “but you’re my dork” before I kiss him.

His hand is still in my hair, and I place my hand gently on the side of his face, running my thumb gently across his cheek.

“Ugh, I was gone for less than five minutes, and you two started acting all romantic.”

“Jealous that you aren’t the one kissing Niall?” I ask, pulling away and arching an eyebrow.

“Definitely not,” he says, feigning disgust.

“I think I should be offended by that,” Niall says.

“You can be whatever you want as long as you two stop making out in front of me,” Baz says sitting down in the grass with us.

“Fine,” I say, rolling my eyes. I move away from Niall but only by a couple of inches.

Baz

They look so happy together, and it is almost sickening. I’m happy for them; I really am, but sometimes I do get jealous. Not because I want to be kissing Niall. No, that’s not it at all. I just want what they have. To be with someone and be happy and accepted.

Moving on from Simon has not been easy, but I’m working on it. After homecoming and Halloween and seeing Dev and Niall together, I knew that things needed to change. I have to stop pining over a boy who will never feel the same way about me.

This is easier said than done of course. I can’t just flip a switch and be over him (although that would be nice, wouldn’t it?) I’ve known him my entire life and have loved him for almost that long. I can’t just turn off those feelings. Otherwise, I would have done it along time ago. At least then, we would still be friends.

I am hanging out with Dev and Niall at Niall’s house because it easier to go to one of their houses than to have them over when my father is home. Dev is my cousin, but I am pretty sure that my father gets suspicious about Niall coming over. If only he knew the truth about it all. But then he probably wouldn’t want Dev to come over either.

Life at home has become increasingly complicated, especially since I have the week off for Thanksgiving, and I am glad that I come over here every once in a while to get away. Luckily, my father has been so busy that he has barely noticed that I am home.

I cannot wait until I graduate and move away so that I will no longer have to worry about my father and the way that he looks right through me when we are in the same room. I just have to make a little bit longer. Then, I can go to college somewhere far away from here.

Simon

The TV is on and mine and Penny’s textbooks are scattered around her living room. We are supposed to be working on the homework that our teachers assigned us to do over the break. You would think they would give you an actual break when you get a week off, but that never happens.

I am neither watching the show that is playing on the television nor am I making any progress on the worksheet in front of me.

“Would you please stop that?” Penny asks suddenly.

“Stop what?” I ask.

“Tapping your fingers on the arm of the couch. It’s driving me crazy.”

“Oh, sorry.” I curl my hand into a fist, to still my fingers. I hadn’t noticed that I had been doing that.

“Are you alright?” She asks me, turning down the volume of the television.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You seem really...anxious. Like you’re waiting for something to happen.”

I still my right leg, which has now decided to start bouncing up and down. I take a deep breath to calm my nerves and say, “I’m not waiting for anything.” She frowns at me.

Before she can say anything else, the front door opens, letting in a cool gust of air. I was lying to her. I was waiting for something, and this was it. Premal.

I thought that he would have been home already by the time I got here today, but Penny said he had one more class early this morning before he could drive back to town. I don’t mind that he was late. I am glad to see him again.

My heart feels like it is trying to beat out of my chest as I take him in. He is wearing a long coat that almost reaches the top of his knees, and he has on plain jeans underneath it.

He doesn’t notice us as he unbuttons his coat and hangs it on one of the coat hooks in the entryway. It isn’t until he turns to head our way that he sees us.

“Oh, hey Simon,” Premal says with a smile as he unravels his red and grey scarf from around his neck. “How are ya?”

“I’m good,” I say, returning the smile. “How’re your classes going?”

“They’re alright. One of my professors is a really tough grader, but his class is so fun and interesting.”

“Oh yeah. I’m sure mom and dad will be okay if you fail as long as you had fun,” Penny says sarcastically, rolling her eyes.

All she and her siblings do is bicker. Well, that is all they do when they actually talk to each other. Usually, they are all sitting in separate rooms doing their own thing, not talking or looking at each other when they happen to be in the same room.

“I didn’t say I was failing, Pen,” he says, shrugging off his jacket. “I just have to work a bit harder in order to get the grade that I want.” He ruffles his hair, and my stomach does this weird flip. “Well, I’m going to take my stuff up to my room. I’ll talk to you more later, Simon. Don’t leave until you come say goodbye, alright?” I nod as he turns toward the stairs.

“Simon, I think that we should talk,” Penny says, once her brother has gone out of ear shot.

“About what, Penny?”

“You,” she pauses for dramatic effect, “and my brother.”

“How do you mean?”

“Look, you know it would be alright if you liked him, right.”

“Of course, I like him. He’s really cool.”

“No. I mean,” she pauses again, thinking for a moment. “It would be alright if you had feelings for boys instead of girls. Or even if you had feelings for both.”

“Wait. You think I have feelings for your brother?”

She shrugs. “It would explain why you were acting so shifty before he got here.”

“But…I don’t think I like him.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“What about Baz?”

“What about him?” I ask, even more confused now.

She sighs. “Do you like him?”

My first instinct is to say no, but then I start to think about it. It might explain some things if I did, but there is no way that that is true. I would surely know if I had feelings for him. “I-I’m not sure,” I admit.

“Okay, tell me this. How do you feel when you see him? Do you feel nervous and get butterflies in your stomach?”

“Yeah, but I thought it was just because it was weird being around him because we aren’t friends anymore.”

“How else do you feel around him?” Penny continues. “Does your heart start beating faster? Do you find yourself watching him a lot? Let me answer that one for you. Yes. You do.”

She doesn’t say it in a mean way. And I mean, she is right. I do watch him a lot. During class and lunch and when happen to see him in the hall, I can’t keep myself from watching him. I always thought that it was just because I missed being friends and talking to him.

I know that’s it. That has to be all it is because I cannot like him.

“Why are you doing this?” I ask, not voicing any of my thoughts about Baz aloud. “It isn’t like it matters. He doesn’t like me like that. He doesn’t even like me as a friend.”

“I just wanted you to know that it would be okay if you did have feelings for him. Or for Premal. Well, maybe not for Premal because you know, he’s my brother,” she jokes, probably trying to lighten the mood. I didn’t mean to get upset. “But it is okay if you like boys.”

“What if I’m not sure?” I ask slowly. “What if I’m confused about it?”

I think I am confused. Maybe it is only because she put the idea in my head or maybe because it is actually possible that I could like him. Either way, I don’t think I can make up my mind about it right now.

“That’s alright, too,” she assures me with a smile, reaching over to pat my shoulder. “You don’t have to figure it out right now. I just want you to know that however you feel is okay. It won’t change how I see you, and I want you to know that I am here if you ever want to talk about it.”

Baz

“How long have you two been dating?” I ask. “When did you two get together exactly?”

We have moved back inside to Niall’s room because it was growing colder outside as the day went on. We all are sitting on the floor, but they are practically sitting in each other’s lap again. I realize that I am probably interrupting what was supposed to be their alone time. I offered to leave about an hour ago, but they insisted that they would prefer it if I stayed. So, I did. I am still not sure if I made the right decision, though.

They exchange looks before Dev says, “you can tell him the story if you want.”

Niall shakes his head. “No, you tell him. I’ll jump in if you start to get carried away and start exaggerating about your part in it again.” He gives Dev a knowing smile, and I almost feel left out for a moment. But I don’t because I am happy for them, and I am glad that they have their own special moments together.

Dev shoves him with his shoulder before beginning the story. “Well, it actually happened because of you.”

“Because of me?” I ask, surprised. What could I have done that would have caused them to get together?

“Yes. When you came out to us, it gave us the opening that we apparently needed to talk to each other about how we felt.”

“So, you got together that day after the back to school dinner at my house?”

“Not that same day. It took Niall a while to come around to the idea of going out with me.”

“That is not true,” Niall interjects. “I told you how I felt the first day of school, and you acted like you would never see me that way.”

“No, I didn’t,” Dev argues. “I just wasn’t sure whether you actually meant that you liked me as more than a friend or if you were just telling me that you really liked being my friend.”

“I told you that I wanted to be more than friends. How could I have been any clearer?”

“You could have meant that you wanted to be best friends,” Dev says, his face turning a light shade of red. “How could I be sure what you meant?”

Niall starts laughing and leans his head against Dev’s shoulder. “You are such a disaster.”

“I am not,” Dev says, crossing his arms, which only causes Niall to laugh harder.

“You are both disasters,” I say.

“You’re one to talk,” Dev says. “What about the way you act when you see Simon?”

“We aren’t talking about me right now,” I say, firmly shutting down that conversation. “You two are supposed to be telling me how you got together.”

“Right,” Niall says. “I think I’ll take over from here so that Dev can’t make up anymore lies about what happened.

“I didn’t lie,” Dev says.

“Whatever,” Niall says lightly. “Anyway, it was a about a week after I told him that I liked him as more that a friend that he finally asked me what exactly I meant by that and—,” he cuts himself off suddenly. “And now, we are dating.”

“Oh no you don’t,” Dev says, grinning maniacally at him. “You are not getting away with skating over what you did next.”

“What did he do?” I ask, both interested in what happened and slightly regretting asking. I did not realize how complicated this story would be, but it is really sweet.

“He kissed me,” Dev says dramatically.

“And?” I ask, not getting why this is such a big deal.

“Right, context is important here. We were at his house, watching a movie with his family. I had been whispering to him about it because I didn’t want his family to overhear our conversation, but my efforts to keep quiet were pointless because then he just kisses me right there in front of them.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think about you not wanting them to know,” Niall says. “I should have thought about it before I just kissed you like that.”

“Wait,” I interrupt. “So, you were already out to your parents?” I ask, curiously.

“Yeah,” Niall says with a shrug. “I told them a little more than a year ago. I knew that they would be okay with it since my sister had already come out as bi, and they accepted her. I think she paved the road for me to be able to talk to them about it.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” I say, meaning it.

“Yeah but that means that I didn’t think about the possibility of Dev not wanting to be outed to them when I kissed him. And I felt really bad about it.”

“I wasn’t mad, though,” Dev admits. “I was just surprised. And so was your family. You should have heard the collective gasps,” Dev says, directing this comment to me. “I jumped away from Niall, thinking that something big happened during the movie, only to realize that they were looking at us and not the TV.”

“Dev’s face was pretty priceless honestly,” Niall says. “He looked mortified.”

“I was. You had just kissed me in front of your entire family, and I didn’t know what I was supposed to say when they asked if we were a couple.”

“What did you end up saying?” I ask, reminding them that I am still there because they are staring into each other’s eyes in a way that is making me feel uncomfortable about being in the same room with them at the moment.

“I asked him if he wanted to be a relationship,” Niall says. “And he said yes.”

“So, now here we are,” Dev says. “And to answer your earlier question, we have been together for about two and half months.”

They seem like they have been together for much longer than that, the way that they act. Maybe they have secretly had feelings for each other for much longer than they have officially been together. It probably just took them this long to admit it to each other. I love that they are so happy together.

Simon

“Hello, Simon,” Penny’s mother says walking into the living room, where we are now actually doing some homework. We turned the TV off a while ago so that we could at least get this science worksheet done before I have to leave.

“Hi, Mrs. Bunce.”

“Will you be joining us for dinner tonight? You are more than welcome to of course.”

“Actually, I was just about to leave. Thank you for the offer, though.”

I am actually surprised by the offer. Penny’s family rarely have a family dinner together. When I’m here, I usually just see her siblings and parents moving in and out of the kitchen, getting cereal or something else that doesn’t take make preparation. I wonder if the dinner is for Premal, since he is back from college.

“Anytime. It was nice seeing you again,” she says politely before walking out of the room.

“Let’s finish these three questions, and then my mom should be here to pick me up,” I say to Penny.

“You should probably go up and talk to my brother first,” she says. “That way you have time to talk to him before you have to leave.”

“Okay,” I say, setting down my pencil. I will be back in a couple of minutes.”

***

When I get to Premal’s room, he is sitting at his desk, staring intently at a piece of paper that he is writing on. I knock lightly on the doorjamb, so that he knows I’m there.

“Hey, Simon,” he says, smiling up at me and adjusting his glasses. I nod at him but don’t make a move to enter his room.

I’ve never been in here before. It’s messier than how I imagined it would be. He has two floor-to-ceiling bookcases crammed full of all different kinds of books. They don’t seem to be organized in any kind of way, and some have just been thrown in front of others. His desk is covered in loose paper, pens and pencils, colorful paperclips, and various other items. The doors to his closet have been pulled shut, but I am almost certain that if they were open, I would see a mess there.

His bed is made, but that is probably only because he just got back home today. His bag is on it, though, and his clothes and school things are spilling out of it. The floor is pretty clean. The mess seems to just be on surfaces above floor level.

I always thought Premal would have an immaculate room because he seems so prim and proper, but I was wrong. This room is worse than mine, and that is saying a lot. It doesn’t really bother me; I’m just surprised.

“Come on in,” he says. “I’m not going to bite you.” My stomach does a weird flip again, but it isn’t that noticeable. It isn’t exactly like the butterflies that Penny was talking about.

I take a few steps into his room, and he beckons to me to come closer.

“I have something for you,” he says, standing up from his desk and moving toward his bed. I follow behind him as he picks something up from the top of his bag.

“You got me something?” I ask, surprised.

“I made something actually,” he says, holding out the object in his hand.

I slowly take it from him. It’s one of those thin floppy disk cases, and it is a light blue coloe. On the cover, it says ‘for Simon’ in Premal’s messy scrawl. I pull it open, and on the disk, it says, “Simon’s Mixtape.” There is a list of songs on a piece of paper that has been taped to the inside of the front cover of the case.

I’m speechless. What do you say to someone when they make you a playlist?

“Th-thank you,” I stutter out.

A wide smile spreads across his face, and I return it, just as bright. My heart beats slightly faster when he looks at me like that, but I don’t think this is quite like what Penny was describing either. It isn’t like the feeling that I have had before with someone else. I know I’ve felt that strong feeling before, but I can’t remember who with.

This is different from that. I like Premal, and maybe at one point I had a crush on him. But I didn’t think about him when Penny was describing the way it would feel if I did. I didn’t think about Agatha either because she is not the person who I have feelings for.

This probably means that I do not, in fact, have feelings for Penny’s brother.

“This is really amazing, Prem,” I tell him.

“I’m glad you like it.” He looks like he is about to say more, but then the doorbell rings.

“That’s probably my mom,” I say, and he almost looks disappointed. “I’ll see you the next time you come back in town?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says, smiling again.

I leave his room, mixtape in hand, and go back to the living room to gather my things up.

“What is that?” Penny asks, gesturing to the CD in my hand.

“Premal gave me a mixtape,” I say, unable to contain the smile that the thought brings to my face.

I haven’t really had any friends that I have been close enough who would do anything like this. Penny and I are close, but she isn’t really the type to do something like this. I think it is probably to sappy feeling for her.

“Oh, that was nice of him,” she says, but she has an odd expression on her face. I am not sure what it means. “Your mom said that she would wait in the car for you by the way.”

“Okay. I’ll see you on Monday,” I tell her.

“Bye, Simon. Have a good Thanksgiving.”

Penny

“So, you gave him a mixtape?” I ask Premal after dinner.

I’m standing just inside his room. He was listening to music when I came in, and I wonder if he was listening to the same playlist that he made for Simon.

“Yeah, so?” He responds shrugging.

“That’s really nice,” I say genuinely.

“I guess.” He fidgets with his headphones for a moment. Then, he says, “I don’t think he feels the same way about me.”

I am not sure what to say. I know that I should tell him the truth, but the truth is that I’m pretty sure that Simon used to like him but that he doesn’t anymore, that he likes someone else. Telling this to Premal won’t make him feel better, though.

I don’t think it will help him to know that he missed his chance with Simon or to know that Simon likes someone else. I don’t want to lie to him, but maybe not knowing the entire truth would be best.

“I just think he is confused right now,” I say.

“Do you think that there is a chance that he will like me?”

“I don’t know,” I admit. “But I do know that you would probably be better off with someone who is already in college. I am sure that there are plenty of nice boys and girls at your school who would love to date you.”

“Well,” he says shyly. “There is this guy one of my lit classes.”

“And?” I prod.

“And we hang out sometimes. I was thinking about asking him out to coffee when we return from break, but I don’t know if I will.” He shrugs again. Premal gets like this sometimes, where he isn’t very self-confident. He usually just needs a small push in the right direction. A reminder that it is okay to go after what he wants.

“I think you should do it,” I tell him. “Especially if you think that it will make you happy.”

“Okay,” he says smiling. “What about Simon and the mixtape that I just gave him?” He asks, his smile already starting to falter.

“Don’t worry about Simon. He probably won’t even realize what you meant about it. I’m almost positive that he thinks that you gave it to him as a friend.”

“Are you sure?” He asks.

“Yes,” I assure him. “Maybe you should think of songs that you would want to put a playlist for that boy in your lit class. Just make sure that you know that there is a possibility that he likes you back first, okay? That way you don’t have to worry about what he thinks it means.”

“Thanks, Penny.”

“Yeah, yeah. You better be lucky that Simon can be really oblivious sometimes and that I’m such a great sister,” I add, smirking at him before walking out of his room.

 

November 26

Baz

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day of being thankful for the things that you have and the people in your life, but I am having a hard time feeling that way this year. It is not easy being thankful when your own father won’t acknowledge your existence or look at you.

I am thankful for my stepmom and half-siblings, though. They are great, and Daphne still hasn’t started treating me differently. I am thankful that she is in my life.

I’m picking at my food, trying not to make eye contact with any of my various family members who are sitting around our large dining room table. Off to the side is another, smaller table. This one is reserved for the younger kids.

Usually, Dev and I would be at that table, but this year, we were finally upgraded to the ‘adult table.’ Part of me wishes that I was still at the other one so that I would be at a different table than my father. Ebb is sitting over at the kid’s table even though she could be sitting over here with the rest of us. She said that she liked sitting with the children because they reminded them of her goats.

I am still not sure what she meant by this or whether it was a good thing or not.

It has been a while since I actually took a bit of food when Fiona stands up and makes her big announcement of the day.

She stands up from the chair she was sitting in between my father and Nicodemus. Silence slowly falls over the table as people realize that she is waiting for us to give her our full, undivided attention. I set my fork down on my plate and wait. Nico stands, too, once everyone’s eyes are on Fiona.

He smiles encouragingly at her, and she exclaims, “Nico and I are engaged!”

She doesn’t give the details or gush about how romantic it was. I’m not surprised, though, because that really isn’t like her. Marcus’ mother stands up and walks around the table to get a closer look at her engagement ring, and Dev’s father shakes Nico’s hand, congratulating him.

Fiona’s eyes find mine, and I give her the smile that she is waiting for, to let her know that I approve of her engagement. Her own smile widens, and I can see how happy this makes her. I’m glad that she found someone that she wants to spend the rest of her life with.

“So, tell us everything,” Dev’s mother says. “How did it happen?”

Fiona takes her seat again, next to Nico, before she starts in on her story. While everyone’s eyes are still on her, I take a few more bites of my food.

“We have been talking about getting married for a long time now,” Fiona says, squeezing Nico’s hand and smiling fondly at him. I didn’t know about this. She never told me anything about it. I never even saw my aunt as the type to settle down with someone. “And while we were in Paris,” she continues, “I decided to go ahead and ask him if he wanted to get married.”

I am not surprised that Fiona was the one who asked; that is to be expected with her. However, I am surprised that she proposed while they were in Paris. She must have waited until after I left to propose. I wonder why she waited so long to tell everyone. I want to ask her, but I don’t want to sound rude. I also don’t want everyone’s attention to turn to me, so I decide to wait until later.

Fiona continues to talk about the details of their engagement with Dev’s parents, and everyone else goes back to eating. I look over at Daphne, and she is frowning across the table at Malcolm. That is when I notice that he has not said a word to Fiona about her engagement, and I am almost certain that he has not said a word to anyone at all since we sat down to eat. He has taken this silent treatment to a whole new level.

Simon

Thanksgiving is always a quiet celebration around my house. Usually Ebb is here with us, but this year, it is just me and my mom.

Ebb is next door, having Thanksgiving with Baz’ family because her brother is there and insisted that she come over to their house this year. She told my mom that we were welcome to join them, but my mom said that she did not want to intrude on someone else’s family dinner.

I am glad that she declined because I am not sure how well I would have faired if I had had to spend all day in the same house as Baz. It would have been awful to spend several hours with him right there and with Penny’s voice floating around in my head, reminding me of all of the signs that I could have feelings for him.

I have been trying for the past two days to forget about her suggesting that I could like him, but it hasn’t worked. I have been thinking and rethinking about all of our interactions this year. Like when he stayed the night – when I asked him to stay the night – was that because I liked him? Or was I just trying to be nice and not make him walk home in the dark like I told him?

What about on Halloween when I couldn’t stop staring at his costume? Was it because I liked it? Or because I liked the way it looked on him?

These questions and others like them have been running through my head nonstop, and I still have not come to any conclusion. I definitely do not need to be around him because that would have just added to the confusion.

I don’t mind it just being me and my mom anyway. It is nice and quiet, and I don’t really know anything different than this. Her family doesn’t talk to her, so we have never visited to them for Thanksgiving, and they have never come here.

My mom and I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this morning like we do every year while we ate some snacks. Then, she put the turkey that she had brined over night on to cook. Now, we are sitting on the couch watching whatever movies are being played on the television today.

We sit quietly for most of the day. I wonder for a while if I should ask her for her opinion on the whole Baz situation, but a small part of me is afraid that she might not react will to the idea of me liking boys. I am grateful when it is finally time to eat and I no longer have to think about trying to start a conversation with her.

Even though my mom got the smallest turkey that she could find, it is still awfully big for two people. There are plenty of left overs even though I eat quite a bit of it on my own. We eat in silence, but every once in a while, she looks up and smiles at me. I wonder what she is thinking in these moments.

Baz

“Okay, what is going on with all of you?” Fiona asks suddenly, and everyone turns to look at her for the second time today. If I didn’t know her, I would think that she was just doing it for the attention.

Dessert has just been served when she has this outburst. There are plates with pecan and pumpkin pie, topped with large piles of whipped cream, in front of everyone. Conversation has mostly dwindled at this point anyway, so the silence is not anything new.

When no one answers her, she turns her gaze on Malcom, her eyes narrowing as he holds her gaze.

“What ever do you mean, Fiona?” He asks, obviously goading her.

“There is so much tension in this room that I could cut it with the pie server, and you seem to be the root of it.”

“What gives you that impression?” He asks calmly, folding his hands in front of him.

“For starters, no one here seems to want to talk to you.” I glance around the table as my aunts and uncles shift uneasily in their chairs and avoid eye contact with each other. Marcus is staring down at his plate, and Dev is watching Fiona intently.

Dev told me once that he thinks Fiona is fierce and awesome and that he wishes that she was his aunt. I can see why he would want that. I am thankful every day that I am related to her, even if she is a little bit eccentric at times.

“Not only that,” Fiona continues, “but you also haven’t said a word to Baz or even looked at him since I arrived. So, what is the problem?”

I curl my fingers into fists beneath the table and clench my jaw, bracing myself for whatever horrible way my father is about to phrase the truth to Fiona. I prepare myself for my aunt to look at me with disgust when she finds out the truth about her sister’s only child. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Dev glance over at me with a worried expression. I don’t look at him, though, choosing instead to stare at my plate and wait for the inevitable blow.

“I don’t have a problem, Fiona,” my father says, coolly. He says it so calmly that I might have believed him if I didn’t know the truth.

“Excuse me,” I say quietly, placing my napkin down beside my plate and standing up. I can feel everyone’s eyes following me, but I ignore them. I need to get out of here.

“If you hurt that boy, Malcolm, I will make you regret it,” I hear Fiona say as I leave the room.

I head up to my room and collapse onto my bed. I close my eyes and try to slow my breathing. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears, and I want to scream. I want to throw something. I want to go back downstairs and yell at my father, to ask him what is so wrong with my being gay. I don’t do any of these things because I refuse to go downstairs and make a scene. I refuse to show him how much he has hurt me because that would mean my father has won.

I cannot wait for this day to be over and for everyone to go home.

Less than two minutes after I’ve come up to my room, someone knocks on the door. Before I can invite them in (or more likely tell them to go away) they are opening the door and letting themselves in. I sigh and sit up, cursing myself for not locking the door. I had been more focused on getting away than keeping people out when I came up here.

Fiona steps into my room, and I know that the bad day is not over yet. She doesn’t say anything; she just stands there watching me. I know that she wants an answer to what she just asked in the dining room, but I am not going to just tell her.

Once I do, it will all be over. Things will change. The last connection to my mother will either walk out of the door with acceptance or will walk out and never come back.

“So, you’re engaged?” I say slowly. “For how long? Four months?”

“About that long, yes.”

“Why did you wait so long to tell us?” I ask her.

“We wanted to wait until everyone was together so that we could tell you all at once.”

“What about Nico’s family?” I don’t mean for it to sound rude. I am just on edge and want to keep the conversation off of myself for as long as possible. Part of me even hopes that she will forget all about the reason she came up here.

“Well, his sister, Ebeneza is here. She was the person that he most wanted to tell, and we will tell the rest of his family when we go visit them for Christmas.”

“Do you always go with him over Christmas?” I ask curiously. I have always wondered why she never comes to our house for that holiday, but I figured it was just because she was travelling again or that she didn’t want to be with us all the time. That would be understandable, considering my father and the way he is acting.

“Last year was the first time,” she says, smiling like she’s thinking back to that day. “They were all very kind to me, and that was the first time that I met anyone from his family besides Ebb.”

“That’s great that they like you,” I say, running out of things to say.

“Do you have anymore questions or are you done avoiding what I actually came up here to talk to you about?” She asks it gently, but I can tell that she is very serious and ready to move on from talking about her.

“What did you want to talk about?” I ask, feigning ignorance.

She sighs before moving across the room to sit on the bed next to me. “Baz,” she says softly, drawing my name out as if she is afraid of scaring me off. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing is going on,” I say, staring out the window at the bare trees. One leaf clings onto a branch, trying to hold out just a little bit longer.

“Come on, Baz. I know you. And I know your father. He has never treated you that coldly before.”

I watch as the leaf loses it’s hold on the branch and floats down, out of view from the window.

“That was before he knew the truth about me,” I say, unable to keep out the bitterness that seeps into his voice.

“The truth?” She asks calmly. “What are you talking about?”

I continue to stare out the window, not able to face Fiona as tears burn the backs of my eyes. I take a long, shaky breath before saying, “I’m gay.”

It comes out as almost a whisper, but I don’t want to repeat it. Fiona doesn’t make any sound. There’s no sharp intake of breath, no cry of disgust. There is nothing.

I am almost certain that when I turn to face her, she will be gone. She will have managed to sneak quietly out of the room to get away from her disappointment of a nephew.

When I finally turn away from the window, she is still there, but she has tears in her eyes. I can feel the disappointment she has. I can see that she wishes that this wasn’t true.

“I’m sorry,” I say quietly, looking down at my lap.

“No,” Fiona says finally, forcefully, and I turn my eyes back to look at her. “Never apologize for who you are. Never let anyone make you feel like less of a person because of who you like.” Her voice begins to soften as she continues on, “there is nothing wrong with you, Basil. And if anyone has a problem with you, then there is something wrong with them, not you. Okay?”

I nod, holding back tears. This is not the reaction that I had been expecting. I thought that when I told her, she would be gone from my life, that she would leave and never come back. I never expected her to be so accepting. I highly underestimated my aunt.

“Come here,” Fiona says softly, pulling me into an embrace.

I freeze at first. I’m not used to being hugged, and I never thought that Fiona was much of a hugger either. My father was never one to show affection like this. I know he cares about me. {Or he did before I told him that I was gay.} He never hugged me much back when he did care about me, though.

After a moment, I lean into the hug and let Fiona hold me while a few tears slowly slide down my cheeks. When she pulls away, we are both wiping away tears. A laugh nearly bubbles up out of me at how absurd this all seems. My aunt and I have never gotten this emotional around each other, not since I was little and my mom passed away. Even then, I know she tried to hide her tears from me.

“You are going to come stay with me,” Fiona says decisively.

“What?” I ask, surprised.

“Come stay with me and Nico. He won’t mind, and I don’t want you here where you own father doesn’t care for you.”

“But,” I begin, thinking about it, and I no longer feeling like laughing. “Where do you even live? Do you even have a place to stay around here?” I ask. I know that she has an apartment in a few different places, but I didn’t think she had one nearby. She has never asked me to stay over there if she does.

“Nico and I got a place a few hours from here. It’s in a bigger city because you know I have never been one for country living.”

“I can’t,” I say, even though I wish that I could.

“Why not?” She asks.

“It’s my senior year. All of my friends are here. And Daphne and Mordelia and…” I stop myself from adding and Simon.

I am supposed to be trying to move on from him and adding him to the list of people that I will miss if I leave will just prove that I am in no way over him. Fiona doesn’t need to know about him anyway. I still can’t leave right now. This is my last chance to be near Simon. And even if we aren’t friends and I am trying to move on, that does not mean that I want to be hours away from him.

He isn’t the only reason that I don’t want to leave. I don’t think that moving to a new school right before I graduate will be any better than staying here. I will probably only feel more alone there, without Dev and Niall there to talk to.

“There is a boy, isn’t there?” Fiona asks, as if she can read my mind. I look down, my cheeks warming. I can’t keep anything from her apparently. “And you really like him.” It isn’t a question.

I wish that I could say no and have it be true. I want to be able to honestly tell her that I have not been hopelessly in love this boy for years. I neither deny nor confirm what she said, but she can tell that it’s true.

“There will be other boys, Baz,” she says gently. “Right now, you need to take care of you. You need to get out of this place and go somewhere that you will be accepted.”

She’s right. I know she is, but how can I just get up and move several hours away? I have less than a year left of high school and moving to a new place will not solve all of problems. If anything, it will be another reminder of how much my father hates me because he couldn’t even care about me enough to want me to stay in this house with him. I know he wouldn’t put up a fight if I said I was leaving to go live with Fiona.

Daphne might care, and I would be sad to leave her and all of my half-siblings, but I have to be honest with myself. Getting away from my father might be exactly what is best for me.

“Can I have a few days to think about it?” I ask Fiona.

“Of course. There are only a couple of more weeks before winter break, isn’t there?” I nod, and she says, “you can finish out the semester at your school, and when Nico and I return from his family’s home after Christmas, you can move in with us if that is what you decide. And that is the best option that I can see for you right now.”

I nod again, but I don’t know what to say. I love my aunt, but I don’t know if I want to go live with her right now. I might have to think of a way to get out of this.

“Okay,” she says, squeezing my hand comfortingly. “I think that Nico and I should probably leave now before your father kicks us out. Call me if you need anything at all.”

“I will.”

“I love you, Basil,” she says softly, smiling. “Remember that.”

Dev

After Baz leaves the table, the room is silent. No one moves or speaks or even breathes. Even the children over at the other table, who have no idea what is going on, get suddenly quiet. Fiona stands there fuming for a moment, probably waiting for Malcolm to say or do something. When he just sits there stubbornly, she storms out of the room and upstairs after Baz.

We all just sit there in silence, unsure of what to do. I know that Malcolm is not going to do anything to try to fix things with Baz. I have heard enough from Baz about the way that he has been treating him to know that nothing anyone says is going to change the way he is acting.

Marcus and his parents get up and leave after a couple of minutes, not saying anything to Malcolm as they go. They do thank Daphne for dinner and having them over, though. They tell her that they are sorry that they cannot stay any longer. I do not blame them for leaving.

Marcus’ parents do not try to hide the glares that they cast Malcolm’s way on their way out. They are not happy with what he is doing, but they do not dare say anything against him either. I know that they tried when he told them about Baz, but I am not sure if they have tried to talk to him about it since then.

I wonder what would happen if we all decided to just cut ties with him. Would he even care? Would he take it out on Baz since Baz would be the only one still here? I wonder whether his entire family ignoring him the way that he is ignoring his own son would cause him to see the error of his ways and make him change how he is acting. I highly doubt it.

Daphne stands up and starts clearing the table once Marcus and his parents have gone. My parents get up to help her, and I go over to the kid’s table to help clear off that one. Nico moved over there when Fiona left, to sit with Ebb, who has gotten a bit weepy about all of the fighting. He nods at me as I move around them, and I nod back, not sure whether I should say anything.

I help Mordelia and the two younger girls move into the living room to watch TV while the rest of us clean up. They all seem happily ignorant of what is going on with the rest of the family. I envy their innocence. They do not yet understand the way that family can turn on them at the drop of a hat.

When I return to dining room, Malcolm is gone. He must have slipped out to get away from everyone instead of helping clean up. I know it is too much to hope that he went after Baz and Fiona to apologize. It is unlikely that an apology from him will come anytime soon.

This becomes even clearer when Fiona comes down the stairs and heads straight for the door. Nico goes to meet her at the door, and they have a whispered conversation, after which Fiona leaves and Nico returns to Ebb’s side. She probably needs some space from everyone for a minute. I know that I would if I were in her position.

I carry a stack of dishes over to my mom, who is helping Daphne load the dishwasher. I hand them to her and say quietly, “I’m going to go upstairs and check on Baz.”

“Okay,” she says with a small, sad smile. “Just don’t stay up there too long. We plan on leaving soon.”

I nod and begin to turn away when I feel her hand on my arm, stopping me. “Remind him that he is still welcome to come stay with us.” She says this quietly, as if she is worried that Daphne will overhear her. I feel bad for Daphne. She is stuck in the middle of all of this, and I know that she sees Baz as her son. How would she feel if he left?

“I will,” I assure her, and I head up the stairs to Baz’ room.

Baz

Not even five minutes after Fiona leaves, someone else is knocking on my bedroom door. They don’t just let themselves in this time, so I know that Fiona hasn’t come back and that it isn’t Mordelia. Sometimes I think she takes after Fiona even though they aren’t actually related. I am sure that she will be just as fierce and stubborn as her one day, though.

“Come in,” I call, not wanting to get up off my bed.

I should have just let them stand out in the hall so that I didn’t have to deal with anymore people today, but I let them in anyway. Luckily, it’s only Dev.

“Are you okay?” He asks gently, shutting the door behind him. I just shrug. “Do you want to talk about it?”

I shrug again. I do want to talk about it, but I also don’t. I just want to forget about this feeling that I have. I want my father to accept me for who I am so that I don’t have to decide whether or not I should go live with my aunt. I want to feel welcome in my own home again.

“Fiona wants me to go live with her,” I tell him.

“Oh,” he says, walking across the room and sitting in my beanbag chair. I slide off of my bed and onto the floor, leaning against it so that I’m facing Dev. “Are you going to do it?”

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I would have to transfer schools in the middle of our senior year.”

“You could still come live me and my family,” he offers.

“I don’t want to leave this house at all. I grew up here, and I hate feeling like I don’t belong anymore.”

“But if you aren’t happy here, is it really worth staying?”

“I don’t know,” I say with a sigh, letting my head fall back against my bed.

He doesn’t say anything else, and I’m grateful for that.

“I was surprised that she was okay with me being gay,” I admit quietly after a minute, picking absentmindedly at the black rug on the floor and staring at the ceiling.

“Why? She loves you.”

“I thought my father loved me, too,” I whisper, fighting back tears for the second time today.

Dev moves off the beanbag and crawls over to sit beside me. “Hey, it will be okay,” he says, wrapping an arm around my shoulders.

“How do you know that?” I ask. “I don’t think he will ever come around.”

“If he doesn’t, then just forget about him. There are plenty of other people who care about you, like me and your aunt and Niall and your stepmom. I know you care what your father thinks, but you can’t let his opinion destroy you.” He pauses for a moment before saying, “I can’t imagine what it must be like to have one of your parents stop talking to you because of who you love, but I do know that he is not worth the pain if he can’t even try to come to terms with that.”

I sit quietly for another moment, waiting for my breathing to slow and for the tears to stop burning the backs of my eyes. When I finally speak, I say, “have you told your parents yet?”

“Yeah, I told them the other day.”

“So, it went well?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says quietly, and I know that he is trying not to make me feel any worse since his parents both accepted him and mine didn’t.

“That’s good,” I say, forcing a smile and trying to be happy for him.

I am happy for him. I’m just feeling sorry for myself.

“So, what did they say?” I ask him.

“That they were glad that I felt comfortable enough to tell them about it, and—” he pauses before continuing. “And they said me that it might be best if I didn’t tell your father. You know, because of how he reacted to you,” he says awkwardly.

“Right,” I say, nodding. “That is probably for the best.”

“Baz,” he says softly.

“It’s fine,” I tell him, and I mean it.

“So, he really isn’t talking to you still?” He asks after a moment.

“Nope.”

“But it’s Thanksgiving,” he says feebly. “Today is the day that he should be thankful for what he has, and that includes you.”

“Tell that to him,” I say bitterly.

“Baz…”

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I am tired of wasting my breath talking about someone who doesn’t even care that I exist.” I know that I’m brining down the mood, so I say, “I really am happy for you. I’m glad that you have that support and that you and Niall are happy together.”

“Thank you,” Dev says bashfully. It is very unlike Dev to be bashful, but I can see that being with Niall has changed him in a few ways. In good ways, too.

Dev’s phone goes off as he receives a text message. “Everyone is leaving, and my parents are waiting for me downstairs,” he says, reading it. “I have to go.”

“Alright. I will see you at school on Monday then.”

“I could ask to stay over if you want,” he offers. “Or you could come stay the night at my house if you want. My parents really won’t mind.”

“That’s okay,” I tell him, giving him a small smile, the best that I can manage right now. “I think I just want to be alone right now.”

He nods, then says, “See you Monday.”

Once everyone is gone, I take a shower and climb into bed with a book an music, glad that the day is finally over and ready to block the rest of the world out as much as possible. I can finally rest and not worry about anyone else coming in to bother me. I’m actually glad that there are only a few more days left of break so that I can go back to school and be around my father less.

 

December 12

Simon

I’ve just gotten home from school, and the sun has already begun to set. Fall is slowly coming to an end, and the days are shorter. I kick at a pile of leaves on the walkway that leads up to my front door. They are the only leaves left. The rest have been raked into piles and bagged up. The air is crisp, but it no longer smells like dried leaves like it did back in November.

Before I reach the steps to the door, I look over towards the side of the house, and I see Baz. He’s leaning against the barn that’s close to the fence that marks the line between our two properties. It’s not a barn exactly; it’s more of a shed. The position of the building keeps him out of view from anyone that might be standing outside his house. If anyone were to come out looking for him, they would not be able to see him. We learned this when we were little by accident.

We had been playing together all day, and we decided to take a break by leaning against the wall of the shed. We were sitting there, listening to the birds and watching a couple of squirrels chase each other around a tree.

I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I remember was Baz nudging me in the side, telling me that I needed to get up. I lifted my head off of his shoulder and rubbed the sleep from my eyes, trying to figure out where I was and what was going on.

Baz’ stepmom, Daphne, was standing over us, and I could see my mom making her away across the yard over to us. Daphne’s eyes were red, so she must have been crying, and she had a phone gripped tightly in her hand.

“I was looking everywhere for you boys,” I remember her saying.

I remember thinking that that was weird since she knew we were playing outside, and we had stayed in the backyard like we were supposed. It took me a while to understand why she had been so upset that day.

Later that day, when I returned home, my mom would explain to me everything that happened.

 Apparently, Daphne had come out to check on us and see if we wanted snacks. When she couldn’t find us, she worried that we had wondered off and gotten lost or something worse. She said that Daphne had looked everywhere for us, but I guess she forgot to walk around the barn.

After frantically searching for us, she called my mom, hoping that we had just walked over to my house to play. My mom told her that she hadn’t seen us since she walked me over to their house that morning. She agreed to look around for us, though, to make sure that we weren’t in my backyard, playing together.

She told me that she was trying to stay calm until she knew for sure there was a reason to worry. When she stepped out onto the back porch, she looked around, and she nearly laughed when she saw us in Baz’ yard. As soon as she knew we were safe, she went back inside to get the phone and tell Daphne that we were safe and that she could see us from where she was. Then, she headed over to get me for dinner.

From what she said, Baz had apparently not fallen asleep that day. He had let me rest on his shoulder because he didn’t want to wake me. When they asked him why he hadn’t answered when Daphne called for him, he told them that he hadn’t heard anyone calling for us.

I wonder if Baz remembers that day. And if he does, does he remember why he just let me sleep on his shoulder for who knows how long while he just sat there on the hard ground?

I’m not sure why I decide to walk over to him now. Maybe I’m feeling sentimental, maybe I’m thinking that I can ask him if he remembers that day that his stepmom thought we were missing. Maybe remembering back to when we were close friends made me suddenly believe that I could fix things between us. Whatever it is, it sends me walking across my yard, climbing over the fence that divides our two properties, and sneaking up behind him.

“Cigarettes will kill you, you know,” I say, walking up beside Baz.

He jumps slightly. Somehow, he managed not to hear or see me walk over to him. Just like that time so many years ago when he didn’t hear his stepmom calling for him. This place really is a blind spot.

“Who cares?” He asks, letting his eyes fall shut as he takes another drag of the cigarette in his hand.

He sounds serious, like he really believes that no one cares. Something must have happened. I wish, for who knows what time, that we were friends so that I could ask him what is wrong.

“I do,” I say softly, moving right up next to him.

I can feel the fluttering in my stomach, similar to what Penny described at her house, and it is much stronger than what I felt around Premal. I know what this means, but I decide to ignore it. I cannot allow myself to think of Baz in that way.

Baz

Suddenly, I can feel Simon right next to me, but I don’t open my eyes. My heart does leaps at his proximity and at the way that he sounds like he actually cares about me.

I feel betrayed by my own stupid heart. How can I get over Simon when this is what it decides to do when he so much as looks at me?

But he is doing more than looking at me. He is standing right next to me, and he is talking to me and acting like he actually cares about my self-destructive habits.

Smoking isn’t actually a habit. I don’t do it that often, and this is the first time that I have smoked since the time that I spent in Paris. Dev and Niall smoke more often than I do, which is where I got this cigarette. They gave it to me the last time they came over, but I didn’t want to smoke it then. I just needed it right now, so I pulled it out of the jacket pocket that I had been wearing that day and came out her to smoke.

“I would care if you died,” Simon says, filling the silence between us.

“Why? We stopped being friends years ago,” I sneer.

I hear a thud and open my eyes just in time to see Simon kick the side of the barn again. If he isn’t careful, he might damage it. Just like that day that he drove a tractor into the side of it when he was first learning how to drive it. There’s a section of the fence between our properties that is slightly different from the rest of it because it had to be replaced after that incident.

Simon’s face is red, and his hands are in fists as he says, “that’s not true.” He says it quietly, but I can hear the anger in his voice. “You stopped being my friend years ago. You stopped talking to me, and I was left to wonder what the hell I had done to make you hate me so much.”

He doesn’t raise his voice once, which worries me more than it would have if he had just yelled at me. He looks really upset, and his stupid, beautiful eyes sparkle, almost like he’s holding back tears.

I want to say something. I want to tell him that he is wrong, that I don’t hate him, but I am worried that Simon will actually yell at me or even punch me if I do. So, I just stay quiet. I drop my cigarette to the ground and stamp it out as I wait for Simon to make his next move.

His next move is not one that I am expecting, and it catches me off guard. He moves even closer to me, and I push back into the side of the barn, waiting for him to hit me or something. He doesn’t, though. He just leans his face closer to mine.

I hold my breath and let my eyes flutter shut as he moves closer and closer. All he does is whisper in my ear.

“I never stopped caring about you, Baz,” he says.

I am so stunned that I can’t seem to make myself move. I open my eyes again and watch as Simon steps back and turns and walks away.

I wonder for a moment if I should go after him. I want to. I want to tell Simon that I don’t hate him, that it is quite the opposite actually, but I can’t.

I can’t risk Simon reacting poorly. I can’t risk him hating me as much as my father already does. I can never let Simon know the truth. I would rather let him think that I hate him than have him look at me with disgust.

I sink to the ground and let my head fall into my hands, frustrated with myself for not being able to just move on.

Simon

My heart is racing as I try to calmly walk away from Baz. The butterflies in my stomach are slowly starting to calm as I put some space between us. Why did I just do that? I can’t believe that I just got so close to him and whispered that I cared about him in his ear so intimately. He must think that I’m crazy. I just hope that he doesn’t realize that I think that I might have feelings for him.

No, I can’t do that. I can’t like Baz. He doesn’t even want to be friends with me, so there is no way that anything good could come out of liking him.

I will not allow myself to fall for someone who will only hurt me. I just hope that telling myself this will be enough to help me forget the way my heart remembers that feeling of being so close to him. The feeling of wanting to be even closer.

I shake my head to clear these thoughts away and head inside my house. Time and space. That’s what I need to stop feeling this way. I just have to make it through these next couple of weeks of school, and then I will hopefully be able to stop thinking about him.

***

In my room after dinner, I throw open the window and let the cold air wash over me. I can’t help but glance over at the barn where I last saw Baz. It’s too dark to make anything out from this distance, but I doubt that he would still be there anyway.

I can see my breath as I lean out onto the windowsill and look up at the stars. It’s a cold night, but the cold air helps clear my thoughts. It feels nice and relaxing. Leaving the window open, I turn and climb into bed. Maybe the cold air will keep me from thinking about Baz as I try to fall asleep tonight.

Baz

I don’t get up for a while. Not until long after the sun has set and the stars have come out. I don’t want to get up at all, but I have to go in and let my family know that I am alright so that they don’t start to worry.

The reason I came out here in the first place was to get away from them. Or more accurately, to get away from my father. He has been acting differently ever since my aunt confronted him on Thanksgiving.

You might think that this would be a good thing, but it isn’t. While my father is not completely ignoring me anymore, he still isn’t treating me like his son. He is treating me more like a stranger who is staying in his house and eating his food than someone he raised and took care of for eighteen years.

He occasionally makes polite conversation over breakfast about the weather or something he read about in the newspaper that morning. He even gave me a ride to school all last week when my car broke down and had to go to the shop to get fixed so that I wouldn’t have to try to catch the bus.

Maybe this is progress on his part, but it feels like he has put even more distance between us. I am no longer the child whose well-being he cared about. I am no longer the son he worried about after my mother died. I am no longer the child whose future he cared about.

I am just a boy living his house. I no longer have a place in his heart or a spot on the list of things that he cares about.

I almost miss when he was ignoring me because I knew that he was being honest about how he felt about me then. Now, he is pretending to want to talk to me and pretending like he cares whether I make it to school and back home again.

I know that he is only do this because he is afraid of Fiona. Everyone is because she is fierce and will stand up and fight for what she believes is right.

I have been catching Daphne looking at me worriedly more often, like she can sense that this change is not any better, but there is nothing she can do to change it. I have heard them arguing about it a few times. Well, I have heard Daphne trying to get him to talk about it, but he just dismisses it by saying that he is not treating me any differently. Sometimes I want to break something or do anything that will get my father’s attention, to make him angry. At least then, I would know that he still cared.

I don’t do that, though. I just sit quietly and wait for the day that I can get out of this house and away from him. Whether that will be going to Fiona’s house or Dev’s house or away to college. I hold on to the thought that someday things won’t be this hard. Someday, I will be happy, and if my father doesn’t want that for me, then I don’t want him in my life.

If he somehow decides that he does want to be part of my life, then we will talk. But first he has to work through whatever problem he has with me being homosexual. Then, we can talk and decide whether him being in my life is what is best for me.

When I finally pick myself up off the ground, I go quietly into the house and up to my room without eating dinner or talking to anyone. Daphne sees me from where she is sitting in the living room, but she doesn’t try to stop me. I am glad because I don’t think that I can handle talking to anyone right now.

 

December 18

Simon

Coach Mac has apparently given up on trying to get us to do anything productive during class today. He gets credit for trying harder than any of the other teachers to keep us doing work. We have been watching movies all week in most of my other classes. This is the first time all week that Coach Mac has let us just sit around and talk and play on our phones.

The bowling tournament ended last week, and Baz’ team won. Gareth and I came in second place, losing by only a few points. It was fun, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t distracted all week, watching Baz’ bowling techniques. Or really just watching him in general.

Watching the way that he interacts with his friends, and the way he runs his fingers through his hair as if to push it out of the way even though it has so much product in it that it is unlikely that even a single strand of hair could get free of it.

I even found myself noticing the way the shade of grey in his eyes looks different in various lightings. I’ve found that it usually looks the color of wet pavement during science, and it is keeps me from focusing on anything that Mr. Minos is saying even more than usual. Baz is a distraction all around. Like now.

I’m sitting and talking with Gareth several bleachers behind Baz and his friends, but I cannot seem to stop glancing at him every once in a while. I keep hoping that he will turn around one of these times and look at me, but he keeps his back firmly to me. He probably hasn’t even noticed my presence there.

“This semester has been really fun,” Gareth is saying when I tune back into him this time. “I’m glad I was on your bowling team.”

I feel bad that I haven’t been listening to him the entire time, but Gareth could probably carry on an entire conversation all on his own without ever realizing that I wasn’t responding. I usually like talking to him, but today I am extra distracted.

It is the last day of school before Christmas break begins. It is the last time that I will see Baz until after the new year. We won’t have bowling together anymore, and who knows if his schedule will be a lot different next semester. Mine will be relatively the same. I will just have health last period instead of bowling. I wonder if Baz will have that class, too.

“Well, we lost,” I say to Gareth.

“Barely. And you were great. If I was as good as you, we totally would have won.”

“I am not that good but thanks anyway,” I say, smiling at him.

He has been really kind to me all semester, and I am going to miss going bowling with him every day. It has been nice getting to know him better. He is a pretty cool guy.

“So, I’m going to be out of town over the break,” Gareth says, “but we should hang out sometime when we get back.”

“Sounds like fun,” I say genuinely. I guess he liked getting to know me, too. I can always use more friends since Penny is the only person who I hang out with anymore.

“Great,” he says, grinning widely at me.

Then, he pulls out his phone and starts texting someone, effectively ending the conversation. I don’t mind, though. I prefer sitting in silence to talking anyway. I glance around at the rest of the kids in our class, and almost all of them are also on their phones. This a great last day of class before the break, not talking to anyone around us or saying goodbye.

I consider taking my phone out and texting Penny, but it isn’t likely that she will have her phone out in whatever class she is in. I’ll see her soon in the courtyard after class anyway, so there isn’t really any point. I decide to just stretch out across the bleacher I’m sitting on and close my eyes until the bell rings.

Baz

I try not to eavesdrop on Simon and Gareth’s conversation, but I can’t help it. They are sitting only a few bleachers above us, and Gareth’s voice is loud and travels. I can’t believe he just asked Simon out. I’m not sure if Simon even realized that that is what just happened either. I don’t think he did.

I shouldn’t be jealous, but I am. Simon isn’t even gay, so it isn’t like he would go out with Gareth. But what if he goes out with him but doesn’t realize that it is a date? What will happen then? Will Gareth try to kiss him?

I groan and let my head fall into my hands. I have to stop thinking about this. I’m not supposed to be thinking about Simon at all.

“Come on, Baz,” Dev says. “Don’t be jealous. Gareth flirts with everyone,” Dev smirks at me. “I’m sure Simon didn’t even notice.”

“I’m not jealous,” I say, lifting my head to sneer at him.

“Maybe you should ask Gareth out,” Niall suggests.

“What?” I ask, looking at him sharply.

“It’s not such a crazy idea. You said that you would never try asking out Simon, so why not find someone else?”

“Niall’s right. Gareth isn’t a bad guy, and I don’t think he would say no.”

Gareth is an interesting guy; I know that. I don’t know him that well, but he does seem like a pretty decent guy. I just don’t know if I could ever see myself with him.

He is smart, and if I am being honest, he is very attractive. There is just one big thing about him that is keeping me away from him. He isn’t Simon.

I know that it isn’t fair to compare him to someone I’ve known my entire life and that if I continue to do this, I will never find anyone to go out with. But it is difficult not to when Simon is the person that I think about the most during the day. Maybe I should give Gareth a chance. It might help me get my mind off of Simon, and I might even turn out to actually like him.

“He’s a decent guy,” Dev says. “Give him a chance.”

“It’s not like I’ll even be here if I move away,” I say. “So, there is no point in even considering this.”

“You can still try. You won’t be that far away. And you never know, maybe you’ll actually like him,” he says, echoing my thoughts.

“If you think he is so great, why don’t you go out with him?” I ask. I’m obviously not being serious, but I hate when the conversation stays on me and my love life for so long.

“I have,” Niall says, surprising both me and Dev.

“You what?” Dev says.

“I went out with him,” Niall shrugs. “It was a couple of years ago, and it wasn’t much of a date. We just went to a football game together one Friday night.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Dev asks, and I can tell that he is trying his best not to sound hurt. “We’re your best friends.”

“It was a bad date, and I was still questioning whether I was actually attracted to guys. I didn’t want to tell you guys that I had gone out with someone and that it was terrible. I just wanted to forget about it.”

“That’s alright, Niall,” I say when Dev doesn’t respond. “Not every date is a good one, and we aren’t mad at you. Right, Dev?” I add, nudging him with my foot.

“Right,” he agrees, nodding. “I was just surprised is all.” He smiles at Dev to show that he is fine, and I look away, not wanting to be part of what should be a private moment for them.

Thankfully, the bell rings, signaling the end of the day, and I can get up and give them some space. I grab my bag, and I am glad that I won’t have to worry about them trying to push me towards Gareth for at least two more weeks.

I walk down the bleachers with the other students for our class, and Simon and I reach the doors at the same time. I had been so distracted by Niall’s confession that I had stopped paying attention to Simon and his whereabouts. I even almost forgot that I would not see him again until after the new year. That is if I don’t go live with Fiona and transfer schools.

I stop at the door to let him pass through first so that we don’t end up in the awkward position of both of us trying to walk through it at the same time, but then he stops, too.

“Have a good break, Baz,” he says with a small smile before exiting the gym.

I just stand there for a moment, stunned, as the rest of the kids from our class file past me.

“Hey, you alright, Baz?” Niall asks, clapping me on the shoulder.

“Yeah, how ‘bout y’all?” I ask, eyeing their joined hands.

“Wait, did you just ‘y’all’?” Dev asks, wide-eyed.

“No, definitely not,” I say, turning away from them and walking out of the gym and back into the main school building.

“Yes, you did,” Niall says. “I can’t believe it. You, who always acts like you’re above the rest of us southerners just said ‘y’all.’”

“No, I didn’t. You two must be hearing things.” They will never let me hear the end of this.

“Man, Simon really must’ve done a number on you to make you do that,” Dev says. “What did he say to you?”

I shrug. “He just said ‘have a nice break.’”

“What do you think it means?” Dev asks.

“That he wants me to have a nice break?” I say.

“Or that he will be thinking about you over break and hoping that you’re having a nice time.”

“No.”

“What?”

“He doesn’t think about me,” I say. “We aren’t friends.”

“That doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about you,” Dev says, pushing open the doors that lead out to the courtyard.

“Yeah, you think about him,” Niall adds.

“But that’s different,” I tell them.

“Is it, though?” Niall asks.

“Why wouldn’t it be different?” I ask. “He doesn’t like me.”

“If you say so,” he says, looking at Dev, who shakes his head.

It’s like they have their own secret code, and I don’t know what they are thinking or what they are trying to say. I don’t even bother trying to figure it out.

I’m glad that I didn’t tell them about what happened outside of the barn last week because they probably would have tried to make a big deal out of that, too. I have been trying to forget about it myself since I know it didn’t mean anything. He was just angry at me for not talking to him anymore.

It doesn’t matter anyway. I need to stop thinking about Simon because that might have been the last time that I will ever see him.

Simon

I’m a fool. That’s the only explanation for why I just did that. At least I wasn’t a big enough fool to stick around and wait for his reaction. He no doubt was horrified by the fact that I was talking to him. I bet that he is glad that I did not stick around so that he didn’t have to talk to me.

I walk as quickly out of the building as I can without running. I am glad that he no longer rides the bus because it will give us space. And he will hopefully have forgotten about it by the time we return to school after the new year.

I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to say anything to him. He was just there, right in front of me, and I knew that I wasn’t going to get to see him again for a couple of weeks. My heart started racing as he stopped to let me pass, and I thought why not? Why not make a fool of myself by telling him to have a good break and then practically running away from him?

It is definitely a good thing that I won’t have to face him again for a while. Maybe by then I will have had time to work through this feeling in my stomach and my heart. I don’t want to like Baz. I cannot like him. It will only lead to me getting hurt even more than I already am.

Penny is standing by the gates that open out to the bus lot when I find her. She doesn’t ride the bus home, but since I do, this is where we decided to meet up.

“How was your last day before break?” She asks, rubbing her gloved hands together to warm them.

I shrug. “It was fine, nothing out of the ordinary,” I lie.

“Really?” She asks, crossing her arms. “Because your face says otherwise.”

I curse myself silently. My body has betrayed me by turning bright red.

“So, what happened?” She asks as she adjusts the scarf around her neck.

She is bundled up in several layers of clothing. It dropped to almost freezing today, so most people have donned hats and glove. I, on the other hand, am only wearing my coat. I have a pair of gloves that my mom insisted that I wear this morning, but they are tucked up inside my bag because I got too warm in them this morning and didn’t want to wear them anymore

“N-nothing,” I say, shrugging.

“It was something with Baz, wasn’t it.” It is more of a statement than a question.

“It-it might have been,” I say, staring at the ground.

“What was it?”

“I told him to have a good break.”

“And?”

“And nothing. I walked away.”

“Oh, Simon,” she says softly.

“What?”

“That is so sweet.”

“What is?”

“You are going to miss him.”

I rake a hand through my hair. I never should have told her that I thought that it was actually possible that I might have feelings for Baz.

I called her last week after the whole incident outside of the barn to get her opinion on what happened, and now anytime that I mention Baz, she makes it sound like I can’t stop thinking about him. Which might be true, but I don’t need to be reminded of it. I need to stop thinking about him altogether.

“I never said that,” I mumble, even though it is true.

“Then, why else would you say that?”

I start to shrug, but then I think about it for a moment. “Wait,” I tell her, “do you think that it is possible that Baz thinks that that is what I was trying say to him? That I was telling him that I was going to miss him?” Great. I might have just made a bigger fool of myself than I thought.

She thinks about it for a moment before shaking her head. “No, I don’t think so. He most likely thinks that you were just being polite or whatever.”

“Okay, good.”

We just stand there for a moment, watching kids pile onto buses and into cars. Then, Penny says, “he lives right next door to you, you know?”

“Yes, I do know that Penny. He has lived there my whole life.”

“No, I just meant that he is going to be right there the whole time, so you don’t have to miss him. You could just try talking to him.”

“No, I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I just can’t,” I say vaguely.

I don’t want to admit that I think I have already fall hard enough for Baz that him rejecting me reaching out as just a friend might break me. I do not want her to know that I think that I have had feelings for him for much longer than just since this school year. I barely want to admit that to myself, so I cannot admit it to her.

“I have to go catch my bus before it leaves,” I say.

She frowns like she wants to continue this conversation, but she doesn’t say anything else about it. “See you after the break,” she says.

I think about trying to hug her, but she has never been big on goodbyes, so I don’t. I just wave as I walk backwards away from her.

Of course, I should have known that walking backwards was a bad idea. I see Penny’s eyes widen before I feel myself knock into the person who is walking behind me. I turn around to apologize to them, but I freeze when I see who it is.

“Baz,” I breathe.

Baz

I walk with Dev and Niall to their buses after class after they decline my offer to drive them home today. This means that I am the perfect position for Simon to walk into me when he isn’t paying attention to where he’s going.

He looks like a deer caught in the headlights when he sees that it is me when that he ran into. He probably didn’t expect to see me again today.

“I-I’m sorry,” he manages after a minute.

“It’s alright,” I tell him.

I begin to turn away from him so that I can get out of there before anything else weird can happen, but I stop when I see his face fall in disappointment. I want nothing more than to reach out to him and tell him that I still want us to be friends, that I have never wanted to stop being friends with him. I want to let him know that he is not the only one angry at me for what I did, but I don’t know how to put these thoughts into words.

Penny

I watch the interaction between Simon and Baz from afar, and I have half a mind to go over there and tell them both to stop being oblivious idiots. I decide to just let them work it out on their own instead. I am sure that they will figure it out someday.

Simon acts obviously flustered with cheeks reddened from more than just the cold and he fidgets while he struggles to stand still. Baz is flustered is less obvious ways. He runs his fingers through his hair much more than is necessary, and he almost looks like he wants to turn around and run away.

They don’t seem to be actually saying anything to each other. They just stand there staring at each other, both of them waiting for the other to make some kind of move.

Then, the buses start moving, and Simon has to run to catch his bus. I shake my head, turning to walk toward the drop-off area, to wait for my mom. I wonder if those two will ever get it together and open their eyes to see what is going right in front of them. I hope that they do it soon, so that I can stop watching them pine after each other constantly.