Tony sat in the backseat of his sister, Chiara’s, car, his arms crossed. Despite how sunny it was outside, Tony was feeling rather gloomy. In fact, the sun was actually part of the reason why he was gloomy. He hated the feeling of sun when it hit his skin, honestly. It was why living in New York City had been perfect; while it got sunny, it wasn’t as constant or as powerful as it was in Newport Beach.
Because, yeah, he was in fucking southern California now. In a suburb . And, okay, maybe, yes, he lived in Long Island and not the city -city in New York, but it counted, okay? At least he could wear all black during fall without having to worry about dying from over-heating or whatever.
His family had made the move only about a week ago and he was about to finally start at his new high school. Both him and his older sister, Angie, were, that is. And whereas Angie was excited to start her senior year, Tony was dreading it. He didn’t fit in when he lived in New York, and at least people there were diverse. Or, at the very least, Jewish. Tony hadn’t seen much of Newport Beach yet, but he knew the demographics and he knew that it was loaded with WASPs. At least in New York he could blend into the crowd to avoid getting picked on for reading Poe or wearing black or being a bit smaller than the jocks and stuff. But in Orange County? Yeah, he was gonna stick out like a sore fucking thumb.
“I know starting at a new school is scary,” Chiara said from the driver’s seat. “And I know it’s different from New York, but I’m sure you guys will like it here. I wish I got to go to school in California. It’s like Saved by the Bell ; how cool is that?” That was Chiara for you, always trying to be positive.
Then, the other part of Chiara’s personality came out: her mothering-ness. “But, of course, it might take the kids a little while to get used to you. I don’t think many new kids come through this town.” Tony held back a snort at that; it was just another way he was going to be noticed. And, yes, Tony loved the spotlight, but he liked it when he got to control it, not when he was forced to stand out as the New Kid. “So, don’t be surprised if they don’t accept you right away; they will soon enough. Just give them a chance and I’m sure you’ll fit right in.”
Even if her eyes hadn’t darted to Tony in the rearview mirror, Tony would’ve known the speech was meant just for him. No one had to worry about Angie not fitting in; Angie was perky, blonde (with the help of a lot of bleach), pretty, and, frankly, easy. And Tony said that out of love, since Angie was definitely his favorite of his siblings. But, still, he was honestly already annoyed that he had to deal with being in a new school, so he really didn’t want to deal with his oldest sister lecturing him on giving the kids a chance.
“I’ll try to help Angie through this difficult transition, Kiki,” Tony said as she pulled up to the curb of the Balboa High.
Thankfully, like usual, the nickname made Chiara frown and she stopped talking. “Bye, Lite-Brite!” Angie said cheerfully as she got out of the car. Tony stepped out a beat later, only to find guys obviously leering at his sister already and a few girls giving her approving looks.
Tony rolled his eyes yet again as Angie gave a flirty look back to one of the guys. “What do you think of him?” Angie asked her brother under her breath. “He’s cute, right?”
“You know I like tall guys,” Tony muttered back.
Oh, yeah, Tony was bi, which was just another thing he didn’t feel like sharing with his new classmates. It had been a mess having to tell his family—well, besides Angie. She had been supportive from the get-go and it ended up bringing them closer together.
“He’s totally my type, though, right?”
“He’s breathing, isn’t he?” Tony responded dryly.
Angie glared at him before leading the way into the school building.
Much like Tony had assumed, everyone already had their own cliques. Also much like he had predicted, Angie managed to find her way into one of them right away. Maybe even multiple ones. He spotted her throughout the day talking to cheerleaders, some girls he just knew had to be popular, and lots of guys in letterman jackets. While Angie had promised him they could have lunch together, she was surrounded by a whole bunch of new friends that he didn’t want to meet. They were probably a whole bunch of shallow, popular kids who wouldn’t want to associate with him.
He had no idea why Angie dealt with that, honestly. She was so smart and funny and actually interesting , so he had no idea why so many of her friends turned out to be dumb, shallow, and boring .
Some would possibly say Tony was just jealous or bitter or something, but, well, whatever. He preferred eating lunch by himself with a book instead.
As part of the small group of new kids at school, Angie and Tony were given an official tour and met with a guidance counselor during study hall. At first, Tony assumed they were going to talk about classes or his goals or colleges or something, and he was prepared to tell the counselor how he was only going to apply to colleges in New York City and how he was willing to take extra classes over the summer to graduate early if possible. But, nope, he realized soon enough she was trying to do some psych evaluation of him.
They were easy to spot when you were given enough of them, and Tony had been screened a lot . Lots of people assumed he was depressed because he wore all black and he sat by himself and all of that, so that was part of it. But the real reason he had been given psych evaluations a lot was because his older brother, Daniel, tried to kill himself when he was in high school.
Daniel was doing a lot better, even if he was still living with the whole family nearly a decade later. But, with the family history of bipolar disorder, Tony had been poked and prodded by psychologists and psychiatrists and counselors of all kinds as a precaution in the near decade since his brother’s suicide attempt. It was honestly just annoying at that point. Didn’t they have notes on how he was perfectly sane on his file?
Tony slouched in his chair and crossed his arms as the counselor held up a picture of a boy and a girl talking, their bodies in silhouette, and asked what he saw. “I don’t know…a herd of beautiful wild ponies running free across the plain?”
“…No, it’s a picture of two people talking.”
“Last time I took one of these, they said it could be anything I wanted,” Tony said, hoping the pointed response would help her realize he had been through this stuff before.
“That’s a different kind of test. In this test, they’re people, and you tell me what they’re discussing, Antonio.”
“I’m sorry…Tony,” she said. “Now, what are they discussing?” She looked at him expectantly.
Tony rolled his eyes. “Okay…it’s a guy and a girl and they’re discussing…” he smirked and said, “A herd of beautiful wild ponies running free across the plain.”
She didn’t seem to find it nearly as funny as he did.
“So, they immediately let me join the cheerleading squad,” Angie said excitedly during the Wunderlich family dinner. “And I might join the fashion club later, I don’t know if I want to yet. But they said I’m welcome to join whenever I want.”
“That’s wonderful, Angie,” their mom, Giulia, said. “I knew you’d fit in right away!”
“Yeah,” Angie said with a broad grin. She had told Tony on their walk home that she already had been asked out on three dates, but she knew better than to bring that up already in front of their parents, especially their dad.
“And all those activities will look great on your college applications,” their mom continued. Their dad, Dan, nodded in agreement.
“Of course,” Angie said, holding back a sigh. She wanted to do beauty school, not college, but their parents wouldn’t listen to her on that subject.
“Well, what about you, Tonio?” Giulia said, turning to him. “How was your first day?”
“Okay,” Tony replied with a shrug.
He shrugged again. “It was fine.”
“Did you make any friends?” His mom asked hopefully.
Daniel snorted. “It’s Tony, mom; come on.”
Tony glared at his brother. “Did someone miss a dose of their meds?”
“Nope. I’m just being honest,” Daniel said, even as both their mom and Chiara scowled at him.
“Be nice,” Chiara said. “It’s difficult to make new friends in a new place, especially with someone as…shy as Tony.”
“Tony’s not shy; he’s a little bitch,” Daniel said. Their mom hit him on the head and scolded him for swearing and insulting his younger brother.
Tony was used to it, though. And, hey, Daniel was right. Yeah, most of the reason why he was so isolated in school was that he was weird, but it didn’t help that he was less than enthusiastic to even try to make friends. He just didn’t enjoy things most people did, so he didn’t see the point.
By that he meant he didn’t enjoy most things. He kinda hated most things.
Thankfully, at least, the commotion got the attention off of him for a moment. By the time his mom looked back at him, looking worried that he had a horrible day, Tony sighed internally, forced on a smile, and said, “It was fine. Really.” He didn’t want to make her worried about nothing.
But, apparently, the school was going to make her do that anyways.
After the twins told them all about their first day—well, Pip told them all about it (including several stories about this weird kid in their grade who was really pale and kept asking for his mother even though they were in fourth grade), while her twin, Michael, just nodded in agreement, like usual—Lizzie launched into how great her first day had been. She was just talking about being placed in some advanced classes in her eighth grade class when the phone rang.
Their mom answered the phone, Tony not really paying it any mind. It was hard to focus on anything when Lizzie kept going on about her day. She was such a freaking loudmouth.
Finally, Giulia sat back down and, obviously not really listening to Lizzie, she said, “That’s great, Lizzie.” She turned her eyes to Tony and Angie and said, “You two took a test today?”
“Just one of those psych ones,” Angie said with a shrug. “We had to, like, make up a conversation between a guy and a girl. So dumb. I made mine rant about how uncreative dates are these days.”
Angie asked, “Why’d you ask? They said they weren't graded or anything.”
Their mom looked to Tony and delicately said, “Tony, they want you to take a special class for a few weeks after school—”
“Tonio? Why? Do they think he’s crazy?” Angie asked. “Is it just because he’s bi?” She turned to her brother, “Did you tell them that?”
“No!” Tony said firmly. He was confused as to why he was being forced into some class as well. “And it’s not like it’s the fifties anymore, Ange! They won’t call me crazy for that!”
“Hey, we prefer mentally ill, dude,” Daniel said with a laugh. “Get used to correcting people on that.”
“No, they don’t think he’s mentally ill,” Giulia said tightly. She looked at her husband and spoke as if only he could hear her, “…They say he has low self-esteem.”
“What?” Dan asked incredulously.
“What does that mean?” Pip asked.
“It means he doesn’t believe in himself and thinks he’s a loser,” Lizzie told her. “So, I mean, he’s right, but it still sucks.”
“Elisabetta Maria!” Chiara and Dan scolded at the same time.
“No wonder our poor baby has low self-esteem!” Giulia said dramatically.
“Oh my god,” Tony said under his breath. In a louder voice, he tried to tell them, “I don’t have low self-esteem.”
Of course, being in the exact middle of a big family meant he was used to getting ignored. Pip was loudly asking why Tony had low self-esteem and if it was contagious while their father tried to answer her questions, even though she was barely pausing for breaths. Lizzie was arguing with Chiara about how she was just teasing and everyone teased her, so why couldn’t she do it back, while Chiara tried to explain that it wasn’t the right time to do so. Giulia was insisting they always tried to call him special and he just didn’t listen while Daniel backed her up by asking what was wrong with him. Angie was trying to calm their mom down, meaning she was also yelling at Daniel to shut up. The only people who weren’t talking were Tony and Mike, but seeing as his little brother barely said a word, especially when his twin sister was around to do the talking for him, that wasn’t that unusual. Tony sighed and looked at his little brother. Mike looked back and shrugged before going back to eating.
Finally, tired of being talked about by everyone, Tony stood up and started to put his empty plate in the dishwasher. “Great!” Angie said, glaring at Daniel. “Now he’s going to brood! Are you happy now?”
“When does Tony not brood?” Daniel shot back.
“Stop making fun of him!” Giulia exclaimed with worry.
Tony groaned loudly and started to leave, but Dan managed to shut everyone up as he called for Tony to stay where he was. At first Tony tried to leave anyways, but his mom dangerously called out, “Antonio Franceso Wunderlich! ” Lizzie and Pip both made a low ooo in response to the full name.
With a sigh, Tony turned back around. “You don’t need to worry about me. There must have been some sort of mistake. I don’t have low self-esteem.”
“Yeah!” Angie said with a defensive tone. “If anything, he has low esteem for everyone else.”
Despite the obvious mistake the counselor made, Tony was told he had to go to the first meeting of that low self-esteem class that afternoon. He swore the counselor just had something against him; he had no idea what. Maybe she just didn’t like ponies.
It left him in a particularly sour mood, which just made him snarkier than usual. Everything seemed to piss him off more. And when some blonde girl bumped into him in the locker bay and kept walking by without any regard to him, he nearly growled. He opened up his locker and shoved his books back into it and grabbed his physics textbook. Tony looked back over to where that girl had gone, spotting her talking to some guy he vaguely recognized as another junior. She was obviously trying to flirt, but the guy looked kinda nervous, maybe not interested.
“The guy’s clearly not interested,” Tony remarked to himself. “And with that outfit, it’s clear why.”
There was a snort from behind him and a voice said, “I know, right? Her outfit’s so tacky.”
Tony froze for a moment. He wasn’t used to people actually listening to him, especially when he was just talking to himself. After a minute, he turned around to see another blonde girl, this one with some streaks of blue and pink on her tips. Her eyes narrowed as she watched the blonde girl from earlier. “Sadly, the guy actually is interested—I have no idea why —but he can’t talk around her without sticking his foot in his mouth.” She sighed to herself and shook her head before leaving without another word.
Huh. That was weird.
Tony hoped the sooner he got to the class, the sooner he could be done with it. He figured it was going to be some sort of one-on-one thing, or maybe just a couple people at most, so it couldn’t take that long, right?
But as a few more students started to trickle in after him, no teacher or counselor in sight, he started to realize that, no, this was going to take a while. He groaned and shifted in the seat he had gotten near the back, but not in the actual back row. He didn’t go all the way to the back, since he knew that would draw more attention to himself, and he didn’t want all these new kids to think he actually did have low self-esteem.
He brought out his notebook and started doodling, not looking back up until he heard the clack of heels on the tile floor. Assuming it was the teacher of the class, he looked up, but, instead, he saw the blonde girl from earlier. The one with streaks in her hair and had actually listened to his remark and commented back, not the rude one. She was wearing a pair of sunglasses, and at first Tony assumed she was pretentious or something, but then he realized she was trying to be incognito. She was obviously failing, something she seemed to realize as she self-consciously crossed her arms. After scanning through the seats, she ended up choosing a spot next to Tony.
She gave him a small nod to acknowledge his existence, but didn't say anything to him. At least not at first. Tony didn’t particularly care or notice, seeing as he was soon trying to follow the teacher’s lecture. Trying being the key word.
“Excuse me, but what does ‘realizing your actuality’ mean?” Tony asked the teacher once the man finally acknowledged he had his hand up.
The teacher looked shocked at being asked something. “Uh…” He looked around and then said, “I think the video will explain that, so just wait for that, okay?” Before Tony could even respond, the teacher started droning on about whatever he had been saying before.
The girl leaned over to whisper, “He doesn’t know what any of this stuff means. Just tune him out.”
“But how am I supposed to pass this dumb test if I don’t know what he means?”
She gave him a thoughtful look. After a moment, she said, “I can fill you in later. I’ve taken this course, like, six times.”
The girl’s name turned out to be Lindsay Bluth, a last name she said with a hint of pride. When Tony introduced himself, including his own dumb last name, Lindsay raised her eyebrows. “Are you Angela’s brother?”
Tony loved the fact that only he was allowed to call her Angie, by the way. Even his other siblings didn’t get to do that.
“Uh, yeah, she’s my older sister,” he said. “How do you know her?”
“She’s in my art class. I thought she was kinda cool, but then she became a cheerleader. Cheerleading is so last year, to be honest; I’m so glad I’m not one anymore.”
“You were a cheerleader?” Tony asked as they walked out of the school building, “What the hell are you doing in this dumb class?”
Lindsay rolled her eyes. “Sally Sitwell.”
“That girl we were talking about earlier in the locker bay?” Lindsay said. Tony hadn’t realized that really counted as a conversation, but Lindsay went on. “They make the cheerleaders take that test every quarter because they think we all have some eating disorder. The test can be really hard because so many of the answers are long, right? But I finally passed out of it last year. And I was about to become the cheerleading captain. Like, everyone knew it. And I was so psyched last semester on the day they announced it because I knew I was getting it. But then Sally told our coach that she saw me trying to make myself throw up after lunch and I got kicked off the squad until I ‘got better’ and my counselor sent me straight back to this class.” After a moment, she assured Tony, “I’m not some bulimic or something.”
“Right,” Tony said.
“Seriously, I’m not,” she insisted. “Sally’s just jealous and knew the only way she’d get the head cheerleader position would be by doing some something like this. As if her dumb prank actually scares me or something.”
“It’s whatever. I’ll take this stupid class again. It’s not like I have anything better to do after school now. And I know all the answers anyways,” Lindsay said. “I’ve actually known them for a while now.”
“Then why did you keep taking the class?”
Lindsay stopped talking for a moment, pausing her walk as well. “…I don’t know. I guess I kinda like the affirmations and stuff,” she said. “We do that a lot throughout the class, like, where people compliment you and then you have to repeat their compliments. It’s nice hearing a bunch of people compliment you and stuff.” She shrugged.
“Oh,” Tony said. Honestly, it sounded like she did have low self-esteem. He almost wanted to say maybe she really needed the class, but, then again, the first day already proved that the teacher had no idea what he was talking about.
“Anyways,” Lindsay continued, “Next week we’re gonna start the role-playing stuff. Then we split up by gender. The girls talk about ‘body image’ or whatever.” She wrinkled her nose, “I’ve heard the guys talk about, like, nocturnal emissions and stuff.”
Tony shuddered. “God. I do not want to hear him even say that phrase.”
The two of them started walking again as Lindsay laughed. “Yeah. It pays being a girl for once.” She smiled and then, pulling a set of car keys out of her pocket, she asked, “Need a ride home?”
Tony was about to tell her he was fine since it wasn’t a super long walk, but then she pressed a button and a white Jeep convertible beeped in response. His mouth dropped open; he knew he went to a rich kid’s school, but damn.
“You drive Cher Horowitz’s car?” Tony asked.
Lindsay smirked, “Cher Horowitz drives my car.” She started walking and gestured for Tony to come with her.
For the first time since he got to that dumb school, he actually gave a genuine smile.
“So, do you have any other siblings?” Lindsay asked Tony the next day after their self-esteem class. “Or is it just Angela?”
“I have six—four sisters and two brothers.”
“Jesus,” Lindsay said. “And I thought I had it bad. Are they all older?”
“I’m right in the middle—three older and three younger.”
Lindsay winced. “God, that’s gotta suck.”
Tony shrugged. “Yeah, kinda. I don’t mind them all the time, I just wish I had my own room.”
“You have to share?”
“Yep. The girls are divided into twos and I have to share with both my brothers,” Tony said miserably. “You’d think my little brother could be with his twin or something, or that my older brother would’ve moved out by now—not to mention my oldest sister—but, nope.”
Lindsay gave him a solemn look. “That sucks.”
“Tell me about it.”
“My older brother says he used to share a room with Michael in our old apartment back when we were really little. Michael says he doesn’t remember it, but I kinda do. I always remember more stuff from our childhood than him,” Lindsay said. “Oh, yeah, Michael’s my twin—that guy Sally was hitting on?”
“Really? My little brother who’s a twin is also named Michael,” Tony said. “Well, we call him Michael or Mike, but his real name’s Michelangelo.”
“I think that counts as child abuse.”
“Right?” Tony said with a laugh. “We all have Italian names but only our grandparents really use them; everyone else tends to call us by nicknames that are actually okay. I think Angie’s the only one who made it out with something normal.”
“Angie?” Lindsay asked, raising an eyebrow.
Tony laughed a little. “Don’t call her that unless you want her to kill you. Only I get to call her that.” Lindsay nodded and the two continued walking out the school building.
“I never would’ve guessed you and Michael were twins,” Tony said.
Lindsay looked flattered. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. But I meant more, like, my twin siblings are just so weird together. Like, the whole psychic twin connection thing, you know?” Tony said.
Lindsay looked thoughtful. “I’ve heard about that stuff. And I think we kinda have one, but I don’t know. Everyone always thought I was my older brother’s twin, actually, but I think it’s just because I hit my growth spurts ridiculously early…I guess we’re also a bit more alike than Michael and I are. Like, we like to actually have fun. And he was popular back in his day, too…I mean, I’m not a cheerleader anymore, but I’m still kinda cool. I guess. Not that it matters.” She shrugged. With a grin, she changed subjects and asked, “So, what’s your weird Italian name?”
“Don’t,” Tony said with a groan.
“Come on! It can’t be that bad. Tony’s a nice name; it’s like West Side Story. I love that movie.”
Tony had to admit he liked that reference. “Fine,” he said with a sigh. “It’s Antonio.”
“See? That’s not so bad,” Lindsay said cheerfully. She unlocked her car with a beep of her keys and asked, “Want a ride home?”
The next several days went more or less the same. Tony and Lindsay would pass notes throughout their self-esteem class, they’d talk on their way out, and then Lindsay would give him a ride home. Sometimes they’d say a hi in passing to each other in the hallway, Lindsay often asking if Tony had seen whatever horrid outfit Sally had on that day. It was actually kinda nice.
On the third Monday of the semester, Lindsay changed things up a bit.
Tony sat down in what had become his usual corner of the cafeteria and played music on his walkman and pulled out a book. It had become a force of habit as he ate his packed lunch. That was why it took a minute for him to even register that someone had sat in front of him.
He looked up from his book, sure for a moment that either someone had sat there by accident or that Angie had taken pity on him again or something. But, much to his surprise, Lindsay was sitting there.
“Hey, mind if I join you?” Lindsay asked after Tony slipped off his headphones. “Sally’s being so obnoxious.”
“Oh…uh, yeah, sure,” Tony said. He marked the page he was on in his book, since it seemed rude to keep reading when someone was joining him.
“Thanks,” Lindsay said. “Ugh, I don’t get why so many guys are into her. Between her annoying laugh and that disgusting perfume she wears? It’s like she bathes in it or something.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty strong,” Tony agreed.
“Right? I was sure I was gonna, like, throw up or something.”
“And you don’t need her to try to add more fuel to the fire of the whole bulimia rumor.”
“Exactly,” Lindsay said. “See? You’re smart, you get it.”
Tony wanted to add that her getting some small salad from the school cafeteria probably didn’t help those rumors, either, but he refrained.
“I don’t know why I bother sitting with any of them anymore, anyways. Like, I like having people who throw parties know I’m around still, but…I don’t know,” Lindsay said, shaking her head. “They’re always talking about football and cheerleading as if those are the only things that matter. They never have anything interesting to say.”
Tony nodded. “Yeah. It’s why I don’t get why Angie hangs out with them.”
“Sometimes it’s nice to have a break from having a brain, I guess,” Lindsay said, shrugging a shoulder. “Your sister seems great, though. One of the few good ones.”
“Thanks. She is.” Tony snorted, “Better than most my family, too.”
“Yeah…” Tony planned on leaving it there. But then Lindsay was looking at him, and he couldn’t stop himself from continuing, “My family’s Jewish and Italian. So they’re just so… overbearing. My mom’s a complete stereotype, always worrying about everyone—and she wasn't even born Jewish, she just converted for my dad. My oldest sister is basically the same way—she’s nine years older than me, so she’s super protective. My older brother’s just a dick. My younger sister, Lizzie, is just such a know-it-all and skipped a grade and all of that. The twins are basically in their own little world. And my dad…he tries, but I don’t think he realizes what’s going on half the time. Angie’s just…a lot better than that.”
Tony didn’t know why he felt like telling Lindsay all of those things, but it actually felt nice to say it.
Lindsay nodded. “I can’t imagine being in such a big family. I already feel so lost in mine, sometimes. Like I’m not there. I can’t imagine having six siblings to compete with.”
"Sometimes I'm completely invisible, and sometimes, like when the counselor puts me in a low self-esteem class, I can't get their attention off of me," Tony said with a roll of his eyes. "My mom's trying to force me to spend some 'quality time' with her, which included shopping with her this past weekend."
"Shopping can be fun," Lindsay said.
"Not when it's shopping for her work wardrobe," Tony said, rolling his eyes. "I ended up just repeating stuff from the class when she liked an outfit just so she'd leave me alone."
"What line did you go with?"
"It stands proudly and proclaims, 'I am!'"
Lindsay snorted. "Good choice. I think I would've gone with something like 'You are special. No one else is like you.'"
"I'll try that next time."
As usual, Tony was eating in relative silence as his family talked about their days. He had given his stock answer that school had been okay and assured his mom that his self-esteem was seriously fine, but that had been it.
However, Angie dragged him into conversation once she talked about her day. “Oh, and I think Tonio has actually made a friend,” she teased lightly.
“What? You’re kidding!” Daniel said.
“Nope!” Angie said. “I saw him talking with someone at lunch.”
Tony rolled his eyes as his family made it into a big deal. “It’s not like I’ve never had friends before.”
“So she is your friend,” Angie said excitedly.
“She?” Daniel asked. “You sure it’s not a girlfriend?”
“She’s not a girlfriend,” Tony said with another roll of his eyes.
“Oh, right, the gay thing.”
“I’m not gay; I’m bi,” Tony said for what had to be the millionth time.
“Same thing,” Daniel said.
Before Tony could launch into a rant, Angie said, “Her name’s Lindsay. She’s in Tonio’s grade. Blonde and super pretty."
“Ooo, Mr. Popular,” Lizzie teased.
“I know, right?” Angie said. “How did you even meet her?”
Tony shrugged. “I don’t know. She overheard me saying something and it made her laugh. And we have class together.”
“Oh, Tony, you were talking to yourself again?” His mom asked with concern.
“No. I was ranting about some rude girl to…myself…” That didn’t make it sound any better.
“Was it Sally?” Angie asked. Tony nodded. “That makes sense. It’s so obvious Lindsay hates her. I think Sally hates her back, though, so it’s whatever.”
“Why does she hate her?” Their mom asked.
“They’re both blondes in the same grade who both wanted to be cheer captain,” Angie said with a shrug. “And Sally got it, so I guess that’s that.”
“And Sally’s trying to get with Lindsay’s twin brother,” Tony said.
“Yeah…” Angie looked thoughtful. “From what I can tell they used to be pretty close, actually. Like, really good friends. I guess Sally getting captain ruined things. Like, Lindsay must have quit the team over it.”
“No. They kicked her off because Sally accused her of having an eating disorder,” Tony said, finding himself feeling defensive over Lindsay. “It’s why she’s in the self-esteem class.”
While Angie had a contemplative look on her face, Giulia said, “See! This class is already helping you! Giving you a friend and everything!” Tony just scoffed and went back to eating.
But, well, his mom did sort of have a point.
“You have any plans for tonight?” Lindsay asked on Friday after class.
“Nope,” Tony said.
“Me, neither,” Lindsay said. She looked towards the football field, where some people were already gathering for the game, and rolled her eyes. “I just need to get out of her ASAP. Our football team sucks, anyways.” She looked at Tony and asked, “Wanna grab a soda and some food at the mall or something?” Lindsay asked. “With everyone here for the game, it probably won’t be too packed.”
Surprising himself, Tony actually agreed right away. It was surprising because he wasn’t really, you know, social . Ever. Well, yeah, that was pretty obvious since he wasn’t really drowning in friends or anything, but even when he had the chances to make friends, he normally shied away from them. Most people annoyed him, after all.
And Lindsay was someone who should’ve annoyed him. She had been a cheerleader and she still seemed fairly popular and she liked fashion and all of that stuff. But she kinda reminded him of Angie, who was quite possibly his favorite person. Lindsay may have been bubbly on the outside, but she was cynical underneath that in a way that blended well with Tony’s own jaded attitude. And he had to admit her smile was pretty contagious. Not in a way that he was, like, attracted to her or anything, just in the way that he found it hard not to smile a little around her.
…God, hopefully she didn’t think he was attracted to her. That would be a weird convo, especially given the whole low self-esteem thing.
As if she was thinking the same thing, when she pulled into the mall parking lot, she turned to him and said, “You know this isn’t a date, right?”
“Oh, god, yeah,” Tony agreed.
“Good. ‘Cause you’re not really my type. I mean, no offense.”
“Yeah, well, you’re not really mine, either. Also no offense.”
“Well, yeah, I just wanted to make sure you knew I wasn’t interested in trying to make you straight or something,” Lindsay said nonchalantly.
She started to get out of the car, but Tony just stared at her. When he didn’t move, she turned back to him and raised her eyebrows. “Yeah?”
Tony blinked a few times. “H-how did you know that? Did Angie tell you?”
Lindsay looked confused. “No? I just thought it was kinda obvious that you’re gay.”
“Bi,” Tony corrected automatically.
“Oh. Cool.” Lindsay shrugged. She closed the car door behind her and, after a moment, Tony got out and followed her into the mall.
“…I didn’t realize I was that obvious,” Tony said quietly as they walked.
“I don’t know if it is to everyone else. I’ve always been good at telling if people are gay or not,” Lindsay said simply. “So, it’s obvious to me, but probably not everyone, no.”
After a moment, as they walked through the doors of the mall, she added, “I’m not gonna tell anyone, you know. I don’t think that stuff’s anyone’s business. And, like, yeah, I love gossip, but I don’t find this stuff that juicy. Like, it’s the 90s. People should be over it by now.”
Tony nodded with a small breath of laughter. “Yeah, you’d think.”
“It’s why I always tell my brother he should get over it and come out anyways.”
Lindsay laughed. “Oh, god, no. Michael’s the straightest straight who ever lived.” Tony had to laugh, too; he hadn’t really interacted with the guy, but he came across as extremely straight to him. “No, no, I meant my older brother. He’s gay. Or maybe bi. I don’t really know. I just know I’ve seen guys sneak out of his bedroom in the middle of the night or the next morning more than once. He doesn’t like talking about it, so I don’t know for sure.” She shrugged and added, “I can’t blame him, not with our parents being our parents.”
“Well, this is Orange County,” Lindsay pointed out. “And my parents, especially my mom, always worry about how we’ll appear to the press with how much my dad’s company is growing.”
“What does his company do?”
Lindsay gave Tony a look. “…You’ve seriously never heard of the Bluth Company?” Tony shook his head. “Oh. Well, I guess it’s a big deal here. It’s…I don’t know, something with real estate development. Whatever that means.”
“What do your parents do?” Lindsay asked.
“Nothing like that. Well, not really,” Tony said. “My mom does some accounting or something, I don’t know. That’s why we’re here; she got offered a transfer with a lot of money that we could really use.”
“Does your dad not work?”
“Oh, no, he does,” Tony said. “He’s just self-employed, so he can work anywhere. He’s a baker—we opened up the new bakery a couple weeks ago. We all have to take turns helping out there—baking, cleaning, helping with customers.”
“They pay you at least, right?”
Tony shrugged. “A little.”
Lindsay led Tony to a pizza place in the mall, a thoughtful look on her face. “Well, food’s on me, then.”
“What? No, you don’t have to—”
“Hey, I invited you out, so I should pay,” Lindsay said. “Besides, what are friends for?” Tony wanted to argue, but he ended up nodding in agreement before they ordered.
Soon enough, they were sitting down, each with a slice of pizza on a plate. Tony noticed that Lindsay dabbed her pizza to get out the grease, but she still ate it. He had to admit he was a little concerned what with the bulimia rumor and the self-esteem class and the salads at lunch.
“So, I guess this is kinda the funnest thing around here?” Tony asked. “I don’t really know what you guys do for fun.”
“Well, yeah, this is an option,” Lindsay agreed. “The coolest part of being here, though, is probably being right on a beach. There’s a lot of boating things, too. You can see whales and take a ferry to Balboa Island. Or just sit on the beach and chill.”
Tony wrinkled his nose. “I’m not really an outdoors-y person.”
“Yeah. I can tell. You’re pretty pale.” Lindsay thought about it. “There’s museums and stuff, too. Lots of restaurants. Pools. The country club…”
“I don’t think most country clubs are into Jewish members,” Tony snorted.
Lindsay nodded and thought on it some more. “Oh, duh! There’s a pier full of things, including the Balboa Fun Zone—that has rides and stuff, like an off-brand version of the teacups from Disney and this huge ferris wheel.” Lindsay’s face had lit up at that. “You totally need to check that out.”
“Not sure on the teacups thing, but I could try the rest of it out,” Tony agreed.
“Are you free tomorrow?”
Tony blinked; he hadn’t expected to be asked so fast. “Um…I think I have to work. Unfortunately,” Tony said. “I work most Saturdays.”
Tony nodded in agreement. But then he slowly grinned and said, “I think I can get out of it, though.”
As soon as Tony opened the door, his mom called out, “Tony? Is that you?”
“Yeah?” Tony called back as his mom rushed into the living room.
“Where have you been?” Giulia asked. “I was worried sick!”
“What? I’ve just been out,” Tony replied, looking at the clock. It was still before his curfew; in fact, he was sure the game was still going on, meaning Angie wasn’t home, either.
“Out? Did you go by yourself?”
“No, I was with a friend,” Tony said as he walked past his mom to the kitchen. He didn’t get the big deal.
His mom followed him into the kitchen where only his dad was. “Oh…”
“Lindsay invited me to pizza and a soda at the mall. I thought that would be okay,” Tony said as he poured himself a glass of water. “Was I supposed to ask or something? Angie never does.”
“What? I…no, I guess that’s fair…” Giulia said slowly. “I just didn’t expect you to…” she looked at Tony, who had raised an eyebrow, daring her to say she didn't expect her son to have a reason to be anywhere but home or the bakery or school. “I mean, I didn’t know you and Lindsay had gotten so close.”
Tony stared at her for a while before shrugging. “I guess we have. She’s pretty cool.”
“Well, I’ll start to expect you coming home later,” his mom said with a smile. “But you know that any friends of yours are allowed to come over after school, too.”
“Yeah…” Tony cleared his throat and then asked, “Speaking of, can I get out of work tomorrow?”
“What?” Dan said, finally joining the conversation. “No. We need you there.”
“Oh. Okay…” Tony sighed dramatically. “I guess I should call Lindsay and tell her I can’t make it.”
“Can’t make it to what?”
“Oh, nothing. She just invited me to go hang out with her. You know, go out and explore this new town that's supposed to be my home.” Tony saw how his mom looked a bit shocked but delighted at the news. “Don’t worry; I’m sure me bailing on her won’t destroy our friendship…” His mom and dad looked at each other with concern and it took all of Tony’s strength not to smile. “Well, hopefully. It’s still so new and fragile…kinda like my self-esteem. I’m sure losing a friend wouldn’t help that, either.”
Tony started to reach for the phone when his mom suddenly said, “Take the day off.”
Tony looked over at his parents slowly. “Are you sure? I know how important it is for me to work—”
“We can have Angela fill in,” Dan said quickly. “Or maybe start teaching Lizzie some more things.”
“You should really hang out with your friend. She sounds nice.”
“Well, okay,” Tony said. “Thanks, guys. I really appreciate it.”
“Of course, kiddo,” Dan said.
“Friends are definitely more important than work,” Giulia said with a nod. “Now, you should probably run upstairs and head towards bed; you have a big day tomorrow.”
Tony nodded and soon ran up the stairs, only daring to smirk when he got to the second floor. Damn, that self-esteem course really did teach him a lot.
“Oh my god, I told you I shouldn’t do the knock-off teacups,” Tony groaned. He sat down on a bench and bent over, trying to calm his stomach.
Lindsay winced and rubbed his back for a moment. She had insisted that Tony ride it, since it was her favorite one. Instead of being in a teacup, like at Disney, it was a little drum-shaped ride instead. She always found it funny. But due to the smaller amount of room to move and the higher speed limit of the drums, compared to the teacup ride, it definitely made you dizzier. “Sorry. I should’ve at least warned you it’s worse than the teacups.”
“It’s fine,” Tony said, still bent over. “I’ve never been on those, either, so I wouldn’t know the difference.”
“Really? Well, now you live so close that we have to take you on it sometime!” Taking in her new friend’s position, she hastily added, “Or maybe we’ll stick to Haunted Mansion instead.”
Despite the severe motion sickness, Tony had been having a surprisingly great time. The ferris wheel was fun. There was a bumper cars ride that had been pretty sweet. And he had enjoyed just walking around and talking with Lindsay, even if he still wasn’t fond of the whole being in the sun thing.
At least the bench was in the shade.
“Sorry I’m kinda ruining the day.”
“You aren’t,” Lindsay said. “Take as long as you need to feel better. I’d prefer if you didn’t throw up on me.”
“Yeah. Wouldn’t want more bulimia rumors to spread.”
“Yeah. Right.” Lindsay paused for a while as Tony continued to work on breathing through his nausea. Finally, she said, “Sally really didn’t catch me throwing up when she said she did.” She paused for a beat before admitting, “But she had caught me before.”
Tony straightened himself up and looked over at her. “…Oh?”
Lindsay nodded. “Yeah. Just a couple of times. I really don’t have a problem, you know. Like, I know I’m hot.” Tony couldn’t help but laugh at that a little, and Lindsay did, too. “But you can’t be at the top of the pyramid if you’re even a couple of pounds too heavy.” Tony slowly nodded, not sure what else to do.
“They offered me a spot back, you know,” Lindsay continued. “If I pass the self-esteem course, I can join. They even offered to let me take it early so I could join before the first football game.”
“Why didn’t you take it?”
“…I spent a lot of time this summer thinking about it,” Lindsay said. “At first I was sure I’d join ASAP. I have the test answers, so it’s not like I couldn’t pass it. But, I don’t know. I started spending time doing things I hadn’t in a while, since I was always so consumed with cheerleading and then the dance team and going on dates and all of these things my mother wanted for me. You know, since being popular is the most important thing in her book. But I spent the summer painting and hanging out with my older brother, Gob, and just…not thinking about being popular and having to look a certain way or anything. It’s why I added the streaks.” She looked down at the colors in her hair. “I know it’s kinda dumb, but I never did anything but highlights before, so it was fun.”
She sighed. “But I guess once I pass the text next week, I’ll be back on the team. I haven’ t told my mom about that part yet, but I’m sure she’ll be thrilled.”
Tony frowned. “You don’t have to do that.”
“Well, I don’t want to fail the test and take the class yet again, affirmations or not.”
“I didn’t mean that,” Tony said, shaking his head. “You’re obviously happier not doing it, so why start up again? And if your mom doesn’t know about it, you don’t even have to worry about her getting mad about it. Plus, if it made you do that, you really shouldn’t be on it.”
For a long while, Lindsay was silent again. Finally, she slowly smiled and nodded. “You know what, you’re right. Honestly, I’ve had more fun with you in that class than I ever had as a cheerleader.” Tony smiled a little and Lindsay looked over at him. “Thanks, Tony.”
“Of course,” Tony said. “What are friends for?”
When they finally finished that dumb self-esteem course, Lindsay asked Tony, “Wanna come over to my house to celebrate? We officially have adequate self-esteem and I don't even have to cheer about it.”
He didn’t have to work at the bakery or anything, so he immediately agreed. “You sure your parents will be okay with it?” Tony asked as he hopped into her car.
“Yeah, they probably won’t even be there,” Lindsay said with a shrug before starting her engine. “Mom spends most of the days at the club or somewhere else and my dad’s always working. It’s normally just us kids at home. And Michael’s car is still here,” she pointed to a rather boring looking four-door sedan, “and Buster’s still at school. If anyone’s there, it’ll just be my older brother, Gob. Who's probably sleeping. Still.”
After a moment, Tony asked, “Are your parents religious?”
Lindsay laughed loudly before starting the drive. “What? Why would you think that?”
“Because your brother’s name? Job?”
“Ohhhh. No, they’re not. That’s just a nickname from his initials—George Oscar Bluth II. G-O-B. Gob.”
“…Weird,” Tony said. “How much older is he?”
“About three years,” Lindsay said.
“Is he in college or anything?”
Again, Lindsay laughed. “No way. He almost was. He got accepted to a few—including one of the big ones in New York, actually.”
“No. Juilliard,” Lindsay said simply, like people did that every day. “He’s a pianist—a really good one, too.”
“Why didn’t he go?”
“He wants to do a different kind of music. More rock than classical.” She shrugged. “Plus, he’s kinda lazy. I’m not sure he would’ve cut it at Juilliard. I love the guy, but he’s not the hardest worker.” Tony nodded and left it at that.
The Bluth’s house turned out to be huge. Like, really huge. Even with each of the four kids and their parents having a room, there was still a guest room. There was a living room that hosted a grand piano, a great room with a large TV, a surprisingly small yard (“mom doesn’t like dirt being tracked in”), and an immaculate marble kitchen that had a maid in there when they got there.
“Hey, Rosa,” Lindsay said briefly in greeting, grabbing an apple for herself. “This is my friend, Tony.”
“Hey,” Tony said quietly, offering her a small wave. He was so amazed by the house that it was kind of overwhelming. He could barely speak.
Thankfully, getting to her room helped. Unlike the almost creepishly cleanness of the rest of the house he had seen, Lindsay’s room was a bit scattered. She had posters all over the walls and art supplies all around the floor. She had an easel set up where she was working on something that seemed to be inspired by cubism. It was actually really good. “You’re really talented.”
“Thanks,” she said brightly. “I never really thought I’d get so into art, but, I don’t know, I really love it.”
“Yeah. I’m the same sort of way with writing,” Tony said with a nod. “And photography. I’m pretty into that, too.”
Soon enough, the two were simply chilling on Lindsay’s bed watching TV. They were only halfway through the rerun of Happy Days they had stumbled upon when Tony heard the sound of a piano being played loudly in the middle of nowhere.
“You’re as cold as ice, willing to sacrifice…”
Lindsay barely seemed to register that anything was happening. “What’s that?” Tony asked.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, I’m used to it,” Lindsay said with a shrug. “That’s Gob. He just randomly plays throughout the day. Sometimes rock, sometimes classical.” Tony nodded and she asked, “Wanna meet him?”
“Uh, sure,” Tony said. She led him out of her room and back down the stairs.
Lindsay started to enter the living room the piano was in, but Tony pulled her back. “Shouldn’t we wait until he’s done playing?”
Lindsay rolled her eyes. “Once he starts, he won’t stop for hours or until someone makes him. Trust me.” Tony nodded and followed her in.
Tony watched as she went over to the guy sitting at the piano and pushed his shoulder. The guy immediately stopped and asked, “Hey, what the fuck?”
“Come on, I want you to meet my friend,” Lindsay said. Tony couldn’t help but smile a little at being called a “friend”. It was still weird to realize he had one. Like, a real one.
“Is this some other slutty cheerleader—”
“No! I told you I’m not a cheerleader anymore, anyways.”
“They were still slutty—”
The guy turned around on the bench. Lindsay said, “Gob, this is Tony Wunderlich. Tony, this is my older brother, Gob.”
“Hey,” Gob said. His voice was deep and pretty raspy. Sexy. He stood up and walked over to Tony, offering his hand.
Tony took his hand, his own eyes wide, his heart pounding in his chest, and his cheeks heating up.
“…H-hey,” Tony finally managed to say. His voice sounded higher and reedier, at least in his own ears. Pathetic. Why did he sound like that? Did he really sound that weird or was it just him overthinking things? He vaguely noticed Lindsay raising an eyebrow at him, so he probably did sound weird.
“Cool piercings,” Gob said.
“Th-thanks,” Tony mumbled out, nervously running a hand over one of his earrings.
Gob turned to Lindsay, “Is Rosa still here? I haven’t had breakfast yet.”
“It’s 4:30 in the afternoon, Gob.”
Lindsay sighed. “She was in the kitchen when we were last in there.”
“Cool. Thanks.” Gob turned to Tony again and said, “See ya later.”
Tony couldn’t even get out a reply as Gob left. He was just happy his breathing went back to normal and his heart stopped pumping so fucking hard when he did.
After all the things Lindsay had told him about herself, how did she fail to mention that he was so fucking hot? Tall, dark hair, handsome, talented, and that low voice? Tony could still feel himself blushing.
“Wow,” Lindsay said, a big grin on her face. She crossed her arms and sarcastically said, “Nice conversational skills.”
"You know, I've seen plenty of girls and definitely some guys flirt with my brother, but I've definitely never seen someone be stunned speechless," Lindsay said. Tony glared at her. "It's honestly kinda adorable."
“I hate you,” Tony responded immediately, shaking his head while Lindsay continued to smirk at him.
She was totally going to have fun with this.