I don’t know what I’m doing. Actually, I do: I’m on the train home — and by home, I don't mean my apartment in Manhattan, I mean Savannah — watching the world move outside, while I’m sitting still. What I meant is: I don’t know how I feel.
Simon’s email crushed me. I felt hurt, I felt numb, I wanted to cry, to run. Which is exactly what I'm doing right now — running. Away from it all. I still want to shout in his face — how the fuck did he not realize it was me? — seriously, I even want to punch him. But I also just want to curl up in a ball and slowly drown in self-pity.
But you can't really do that when you're in a compartment with seven other people.
All I want is to go home. I need to go home. The world feels cold and dark and awful ever since I received Simon's last email, and I need to feel safe. And there’s no place safer than home.
Also, I need to be as far from him as I can. I don’t think I can even stand being in the same city, not to mention share a class with him. Which is why I haven't gone to any class all week. I spent my days mostly by watching Cal, the lovey-dovey mess he is these days, freaking out over his upcoming date.
I know I should have told him. And I should have replied to Simon's email by now, telling him that he guessed wrong. But I just can't get myself to do it.
Cal knows about the Thirty-Six Questions Experiment. I told him as soon as Abby made me sign up for it. He thought it was a good idea — especially for someone like me who has basically no game at all. And because we're best friends, I also told him when I felt myself really falling for the guy from the emails. I never told him that it was Simon, though. And now, again, because we are best friends, I don't have the heart to break the news to him. He really likes Simon. He told me after we went to see the Marvel movies in his parents' cinema.
The thing is — I like him too, a whole fucking lot.
So now I need to think; I need to decide what I'm going to do with all this. I need to understand how I feel in the first place because the truth is, I just don't know. Everything is a mess.
I sit squeezed in-between a rather large woman and the window, my backpack on my lap, my phone in hands. I already have a playlist cued up. It's all The Maine and Lorde and The Smiths. But there's one thing I have left to do before I can let myself fall fully into the melancholy.
I open up Gmail and tap the reply button to Simon's email. It's already past six, he must be on his way to the date with Cal. Okay, I know this is kind of cruel, breaking the truth to him when he's literally on the way to a date. But I kind of hope I fuck it up for them this way. He wouldn't do anything with Cal if he knew Cal wasn't Blue, right?
DATE: October 3 at 6:28 PM
SUBJECT: Re: You
I'm sorry. I'm not who you think I am. I think we should stop this.
I let my finger hover over the send button for a solid minute, but then I press down on it. I think we should stop this. I mentally nod to myself and tap my way into the 36 app. It's Simon's turn to ask the next question, so my screen is blank except for the small red cross in the top right corner. Without thinking too much, because I already know it's the right thing to do, I press down on it.
Are you sure you want to quit the experiment?
I click Yes. A small survey pops up and I'm asked for my reason to end the experiment early. I don't bother answering.
"Bram?" Mom's eyes grow huge. "What are you doing here?"
I can't even say anything. I just collapse against her body, face first, buried into her shoulder. Maybe it's because I've been awake for thirty hours but I physically can't hold it together any longer.
Her arms wrap around my body immediately, pulling me inside the house. Mom was never a person to push someone, so I'm not surprised when she doesn't say anything. She lets me have my moment of crying against her shoulder. And I'm really thankful for that.
She gently drags me into the kitchen. Music is playing from the small, mint-green radio Dad and I got her for her birthday earlier this year. My mom is big on music, especially jazz. She pushes me down on a chair. Seconds later, I have a bowl of noodles in front of my face.
"I just put Caleb down for a nap", she says, pushing the bowl further in my direction.
Only when the smell of the spaghetti reaches my nose do I feel the hunger basically beating my stomach up from the inside. I haven't eaten since I left my apartment in New York. Which was approximately twenty-four hours ago.
I wipe the sleeve of my hoodie over my eyes and cheeks before I reach for the fork.
"How’s he doing?", I ask, my voice hoarse, "Caleb, I mean."
"He’s currently trying this new thing where he screams at the top of his lungs whenever he doesn’t immediately get what he wants."
"You say that now", she points her index finger at me warningly, "Give it two days and your ears will bleed."
A grin stretches on my face and it almost hurts. The last time I’ve truly smiled must have been, like, a week ago. The feeling is weird, almost like the muscles in my cheeks are sore.
"So", Mom tilts her head a little to the side, causing her long black hair to fall over one shoulder, "I’m happy that you came for a visit, sweetheart, but… Aren’t you in the middle of the semester?"
Instead of answering, I stuff my face with a fork full of noodles.
"Bram, I told you, it’s okay if you want to reconsider Columbia. Or the choice of your major. Just give it a little more time, it’s not—"
"It’s not that", I say, "It doesn’t have to do with college."
"So what is it?" Her fingers gently graze over my forearm. "Talk to me."
"It’s a boy." I try to focus entirely on my noodles, trying to get as many of them on the fork, but somehow, I think I’m trying too hard because my mind is everywhere but with the noodles.
Mom is perfectly silent for a few seconds. This is still new for her. I mean, I've come out to her and Dad a month ago, pretty much exactly on the date, but I guess that wasn't enough time for her to get truly used to it. Which is fair, to be honest. It's a different thing to get used to the idea of your son being gay and actual being confronted with it.
Not that she's taking it bad right now. She just takes a moment to adjust to the conversation's topic.
"A boy", she says finally, "What boy? Is it your roommate? Cal?"
I close my eyes at the name for a second — which I know is ridiculous. "No. Or yes. It's not him but it has to do with him."
"Bram." She shakes her head almost unnoticeably. "I can't— Please talk me through this."
I lean back against the backrest of my chair. I mean, I guess I'm kind of a private person, even to my parents. The fact that I am gay isn't the only reason why I have never talked to them about crushes. Putting myself out there just feels strange to me. Even though this is my mother, even though I know that I can trust her, I feel like everything I say can and will eventually be held against me.
"His name is Simon", I say.
Her mouth twitches a little as if she wants to let out a little smile.
"So, I did this thing." I clear my throat. "Or Abby made me do this thing."
Mom's smile grows even wider at the mention of Abby Suso. That's the effect Abby has on people, not just parents, she puts a smile on everyone's face, no matter if she's in the room or not.
"It's an experiment. You're basically paired up with a partner and you ask each other thirty-six specific questions over email, taking turns. Everything in complete anonymity."
"The thesis is that two people are able to fall in love just by asking each other these questions", I explain, "It's a psychological thing. Abby was really excited about it. Anyway. So I was paired up with a guy that called himself Jacques…"
The more I talk, the more weight seems to be lifted off my chest. It's almost like I'm kicking it off myself with each word. I didn't think it would actually feel so freeing to tell the whole story out loud to someone who isn't tangled up in all this mess.
So I tell my mom everything, even that I already had a crush on Simon to begin with, before I knew he was Jacques. That it was kind of love at first sight, from the moment he walked into the first lecture we had together and fell over his untied shoelaces. I smile at the memory.
When I reach the present part of the story, the part where Simon and Cal, my fucking best friend, are on a date, Mom interrupts me: "But why didn't you say anything?" Her hand is still laying on my forearm as if she's scared I will close up again if she let go of me.
"It's not… I…" I sigh, then take a deep breath in. "I couldn't break Cal's heart like that. When he told me about that date, he had this look in his eyes, Mom. As if he'd been waiting for that to happen for a long time."
"I mean", she says, "Why didn't you tell Simon right away that he guessed wrong? Things like that happen, Bram. People make mistakes. It doesn't have to be such a big deal."
"I just. I was so sure he knew it was me", I say. And suddenly, I feel even more guilty for leaving Simon hanging for a full week. I probably made it worse with that. "But I guess… I guess he was just seeing what he wanted to see. Cal."
Mom actually rolls her eyes at me. And I can tell it's the highly logical Epidemiologist in her speaking when she opens her mouth, "Bram, this is pathetic. I understand that your ego is a little hurt right now, but you're probably overthinking the whole thing. How would you feel if you were the one that guessed wrong? If Jacques wasn't Simon. Would you feel different about him?"
"No, I—" I stop. Suddenly my mouth feels dry. What am I even doing here?! Why did I quit the experiment? I should have just told Simon and moved on. It's not a big deal, Mom is right. "If I were the one to guess wrong I wouldn't want it all to stop. I mean. Mom… you're right, I—"
More tears. Just when I thought there were none left.
She scoots closer to me with her chair, laying an arm around my shoulders, pulling me into her chest. "Hey. It's okay, honey. You're confused. That's what love does. There are chemicals in your brain going insane right now, you can't do anything about it."
"But it's not too late. You told Simon he guessed wrong at least. And even if he didn't read it before his date with Cal, he probably has figured out by now that he was wrong." She presses a kiss on the top of my head. "Just don't make it too hard for him now. Let him explain why he thought the way he did. Think about what you said. You said your feelings for him wouldn't have changed if the roles were flipped. It's the same for him. I can tell."
I stare at my knees. The smell of the spaghetti is starting to make me feel nauseated.
Mom is right. I imagine Simon on his way to meet Cal receiving the email, stopping in his tracks, reading it. The world probably fell apart for him. I wouldn't be surprised if he just turned around and ran away, leaving Cal waiting for the whole night.
I should check up on Cal. He's probably heartbroken and doesn't even know why.
Mom must have interpreted the mildly tensed expression on my face correctly because she's taking the bowl of noodles away from me to the sink and starts to clean it up.
I fish my phone out of the pocket of my jeans. It has five percent of battery left. Enough to send a quick text, I'm sure. Except when the screen lights up, I'm greeted with the notifications of two missed calls and three texts from Cal.
Cal (11:46 am): fuck bram something happened
Cal (11:46 am): please call me back asap
Cal (11:47 am): i'm so sorry