TJ and Amber walked into Cloud Ten, ignoring the closed sign on the door and entering the chaos that was their friends getting ready for the Shadyside Pride Festival. There was music playing softly in the background. On the chair closest to the door, Cyrus was sitting with his back to them while Bex finished his makeup. She waved to the Kippens but put Cyrus’s hand down when he tried to wave too. Amber walked passed Cyrus and Bex to where Andi was doing Buffy’s makeup on another chair, but Bex wouldn’t let TJ follow her, refusing to let him see Cyrus until she was done.
TJ talked to Cyrus and Marty while he waited. It was slightly (ok, very) frustrating that Marty could see Cyrus and TJ couldn’t. And it didn’t help that Marty kept making vague comments about it. After what felt like much longer than it probably was, Bex turned Cyrus’s chair around. TJ immediately decided it was worth the wait. Cyrus was wearing rainbow eye shadow and pink lipstick and had rainbow glitter on his cheeks. He was wearing a light grey short-sleeved button-up with little rainbow pride flags all over it and white shoes with rainbows painted on them (courtesy of Andi, of course). TJ took a step closer and held Cyrus’s hands, noticing that his fingernails had each been painted a different color, forming a glittery rainbow.
“What do you think?” Cyrus asked
“You look beautiful, Underdog.”
Cyrus smiled and stood up, kissing TJ on the cheek.
TJ wrinkled his nose slightly. “You didn’t just get lipstick on my face, did you?”
Cyrus just gave him a mischievous smile and refused to answer, but Bex interjected. “Nah, that lipstick isn’t gonna come off that easily.” TJ looked in the mirror and saw that she was right. She gestured to the chair and raised an eyebrow at him.
He shook his head. “No thanks.”
She shrugged. “Fair enough.”
As Cyrus dragged him away, Marty took Cyrus’s spot in Bex’s makeup chair instead. They said hi to Andi and Buffy. TJ noticed that Andi was braiding Buffy’s hair, having finished her makeup. To TJ’s surprise though, Cyrus walked right passed them towards the counter in the back, near where Bowie and Jonah were talking. They waved at them, and they waved back, both complimenting Cyrus’s makeup before going back to their conversation.
Cyrus grabbed something off the counter, which was full of various pride paraphernalia, and held it out to TJ.
TJ raised an eyebrow at Cyrus. “What’s this?”
“I knew you probably didn’t have anything gay to wear today.” TJ glanced down at the basketball t-shirt he was wearing. “So I got you this.” He unfolded it, and TJ saw that it was a white t-shirt that said ‘Born this way’ in a rainbow gradient. “You don’t have to wear it if-”
“I love it.” TJ smiled, and Cyrus smiled back at him.
“Well, go put it on then.” Cyrus shoved him in the direction of the bathroom.
When he came out of the bathroom, he shoved the shirt he had been wearing before into his bag, which already had clothes in it for the sleepover they had planned for that night. He saw that Cyrus was now sitting on a counter, watching Andi do Amber’s makeup and talking to the two girls. Buffy had moved over by Marty, who was still having his makeup done by Bex. TJ hopped up on the counter next to Cyrus, joining in on the conversation and holding his boyfriend’s hand.
When Andi was done, she spun the chair around so Amber could look in the mirror. Amber smiled and squealed excitedly. She said something as she hugged Andi, but TJ had long since tuned his sister out. Andi turned to TJ. “Your turn?”
“No thanks. I’m good.”
All three of them turned puppy dog eyes on him. Amber’s had stopped being effective years ago, but combined with the other two, it was hard to resist. “Come on. How often do you get to do something like this?” Cyrus asked him. TJ had a brief flashback to Amber attempting to put makeup on him when they were kids and shuddered internally.
“Can I at least just put like a rainbow on your cheek or something? I promise it will wash off.” Damn, Andi’s puppy dogs eyes were almost as cute as Cyrus’s.
He looked between the three of them and sighed. “Ok fine. But that’s it. And I can take it off whenever I want.”
Andi nodded excitedly and pulled him off the counter and into the chair. She started painting his cheek. He hadn’t expected it to be so cold. She hit him on the arm lightly. “Stop moving.”
“It tickles,” he whined. He heard Amber snort and glared at her in response; she, of course, had no reaction. Andi finished the rainbow and somehow managed to convince him to let her put mascara on him because it “brings out your eyes” or something. It was a weird feeling, having something so close to his eyes. Sure, he put his contacts in every day, but he had never had someone else put something so close to his eyes before. When she was done, she let him look in the mirror, and ok, it didn’t look that bad.
He got up and turned to Cyrus, who put his hand on his not-painted cheek, and said, “Beautiful” before kissing him. He blushed.
“That’s pretty gay.” He turned to his sister and rolled his eyes. He so badly wanted to reply, ‘ so are you ,’ but he knew he couldn’t. Not yet anyway. Not when she was still questioning and had only told him and Cyrus. Oh well. One day .
He and Cyrus moved out of the way as Amber and Andi moved on to trying to get Jonah to let them put makeup on him. TJ noticed that they didn’t turn the triple puppy dog eyes on him , which didn’t seem very fair, but whatever. Jonah didn’t do dressing up.
Marty seemed to be done with his makeup and had been replaced by Bowie. He was wearing blue, white, and pink eye shadow and had blue glitter on his cheeks. Marty walked passed them and over to the counter covered in various pride stuff. He held up two pride flags that had been sitting on it and looked between them. “Should I wear the trans flag or the bi flag?”
“What do you mean?” Jonah asked.
“I wanna wear it like a cape.” The others gave him skeptical looks. “As the only one here who’s actually been to pride before, I promise you that’s a thing people do.”
“You’re such a dork.” Marty pouted at Buffy as she walked up to him. “A cute dork, but still a dork.” She kissed him on the cheek. “And you should wear the trans one. Your shirt is already bi.”
He smiled. “Thank you.” He put the bi flag down and started trying to tie the trans one around his neck. Buffy rolled her eyes and took over, tying it for him.
Bex and Bowie came over to join the kids. “Ooh. If you aren’t wearing the bi flag, can I have it?” Bex asked.
Marty tossed it to her. “Go for it.” Instead of tying it around her neck like Marty, Bex tied it around her waist into an asymmetrical skirt. Marty pulled his phone out of his pocket. “We should probably get going. My moms are already there.” He showed them all his phone, which had a selfie of Marty’s moms with a dog wearing a rainbow bandanna. It was undeniably adorable.
Everyone spent the next couple minutes frantically running around, gathering their stuff, adding last-minute adjustments to their hair and makeup, and putting on buttons that had been provided by the Macks and Marty.
“Oh. I almost forgot.” Andi ran up to TJ and handed him something. It was a rainbow bracelet. TJ noticed that it matched the one Cyrus was wearing almost perfectly. The only difference was that where Cyrus’s had a little dinosaur charm on it, TJ’s had a little basketball.
“Thank you,” he whispered as she helped him put it on. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had made him something. She just smiled and then walked away to give Marty a similar bracelet that had the bi and trans colors with a little gym shoe on it. TJ noticed that Andi’s parents were also wearing similar pride bracelets.
“Hey, how come we don’t get bracelets?” Buffy asked, jokingly offended, gesturing to herself, Jonah, and Amber.
“That’s what you get for being straight,” Cyrus responded. Marty and TJ both snorted, and Buffy just rolled her eyes.
“Are we ready to go now?” Bowie asked, seeming slightly impatient.
“Yep.” Andi smiled, grabbing her purse and heading toward the door.
TJ grabbed Cyrus’s hand and followed. Bex locked the door as they left, and they all started walking to the park together.
TJ had never seen so many queer people in one place before. It was incredible. He normally didn’t like crowds very much, but somehow this was different, better. Walking into the park, it was like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Suddenly, he didn’t have to hide who he was. He didn’t have to worry about what people might say when he held Cyrus’s hand. And everything was so bright and colorful. There were so many pride flags everywhere; he was a little surprised by how many he didn’t even recognize. And he quickly realized that Marty had been right; there were in fact several people wearing pride flags like capes.
At the look on Cyrus’s face when he saw someone walk by with a rainbow flag, TJ immediately decided that he was going to buy him one. So he did. He didn’t think it was possible for Cyrus to get any more adorable, but as TJ helped him tie the flag around his neck, he did, and TJ couldn’t stop smiling the whole time.
Everyone had split up into smaller groups as soon as they’d arrived, and Cyrus had spent most of the morning with just TJ, which was perfectly fine by him. TJ had just left him alone briefly to go get them both some lemonade, and Cyrus was patiently waiting for him and considering buying him one of the buttons he was currently looking through at a nearby booth.
He turned around at the sound of a familiar voice saying his name and came face to face with someone he had not seen in more than a year. Iris was decked out in glitter, flowers, and various pride merch, including a beautiful flower crown that he had noticed another booth selling; everything on her body was blue, yellow, and pink. He registered the shock on her face, which probably matched his own, as she took in his similar rainbow-colored attire. The shock quickly transformed into a smile though, which he happily returned.
She pulled him into a quick hug. “Oh my god. It’s been so long. How are you?”
“I’m good. Gay. In both senses of the word.” He gestured to, well, everything, on his body.
Iris laughed. “I can see that. I guess that’s why we,” She gestured between them. “didn’t exactly work out?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry for not telling you.”
“Hey, it’s fine. You don’t have to tell anyone anything. And I’m happy for you.”
“I’m happy for me too.” They both laughed slightly. “I wish we had actually stayed friends though. I wanted to, but you know, life got in the way I guess.”
She shrugged. “Me too. But it’s fine. Besides, next year we’ll be in the same school, right?” He nodded. “So you won’t be able to escape me.” They laughed again.
He heard footsteps behind him and saw Iris’s face fall. He turned and saw TJ and Amber standing there, holding strawberry lemonades. TJ blindly handed Cyrus one, but his eyes didn’t leave Iris. He had his ‘scary basketball guy’ face on, which Cyrus hadn’t seen in a while. Amber, meanwhile, was looking at the ground, her face almost as pink as the drink she was holding.
He grabbed TJ’s hand, which caused his gaze to drop from Iris to Cyrus and soften considerably.
Iris looked between the two of them and their hands. “Oh,” she said softly. They both looked back at her. “I should probably get going. I’ll see you around, Cyrus.” She smiled at him and turned to walk away but was stopped by a voice.
“I’m sorry,” Amber said, so quietly Cyrus almost didn’t hear it.
Iris didn’t even turn back around. She just said, “Me too,” and left.
Cyrus watched Iris walk away, and then looked back at Amber, who looked like she was holding back tears. TJ had his arm around her, which he didn’t do very often. Cyrus was beyond confused. “What just happened?”
TJ just shook his head and silently led the two of them to a shady, somewhat secluded, patch of grass, where they all sat down.
They sat in silence for a while, just sipping their lemonade and listening to the sounds of people and nature around them. Cyrus watched some kids playing in a nearby pond as the three of them sat cross-legged with their knees touching. TJ and Cyrus were still holding hands. Cyrus wanted to ask them what’s going on, but he knew he shouldn’t push; Amber would tell him when she’s ready.
He heard Amber take a deep breath and looked over at her. She was still looking at the ground. “You know how I told you that I think I might like girls?” Cyrus nodded. “Well, Iris is kind of the person who made me realize that, but I didn’t realize it until it was too late, and I screwed everything up.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know how I used to be… not the nicest person?”
TJ snorted. “That’s one way to put it,” he muttered.
Amber sent her brother a look but otherwise ignored him, turning back to Cyrus to continue her story. “Right. Well, I guess Iris finally got tired of it and called me on my shit. And we got into this huge fight. And she hasn’t talked to me since. I tried texting her, but she blocked my number. And I tried talking to her at school, but she wouldn’t even look at me. I kind of just gave up trying. And we didn’t even have any classes together last year, so I haven’t even seen her.”
Cyrus nodded. She took another deep breath. He set his lemonade down and wiped his hand on his pants, so he could hold her hand. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s just.” She looked up at him. “I miss her so much. And I didn’t even realize how much I liked her until she was gone. And I thought I was over her; I hadn’t even thought about her in months, but then I saw her just now, and it’s like I was just hit with those feelings all over again.”
He squeezed her hand reassuringly. “It’s hard to get over someone if you don’t actually deal with those feelings. I mean, I don’t think I could have gotten over Jonah if I hadn’t talked to Buffy and Andi about it and especially if I hadn’t become friends with him.”
Amber laughed humorlessly. “Well, I don’t think Iris wants to be friends with me right now.”
Cyrus smiled sadly at her. “Do you want to be friends with her ?”
She shrugged. “All I know is that I miss her. And I would give anything to have her in my life again. In any way. But seeing her after all this time, especially here of all places, seeing her so confident in herself, while I’m still pretending like I’m just here for you two; it hurts.”
“I’m sure if you talked to Iris, she’d be willing to give you another chance; she’s a pretty forgiving person, and she was always the first one to defend you back then, even when you didn’t always deserve it. And I know you’ve changed, and I’m sure she’d see it too if you let her.” He squeezed her hand. “And hey, if you aren’t comfortable being out, especially before you’re even sure how you identify, that’s ok. And it has nothing to do with Iris. You shouldn’t compare yourself to anyone else. Where you’re at now is exactly where you need to be. To quote the wisest person I know, ‘You don’t have to be you yet. You’re still figuring out who you are, and that’s ok.’”
Amber smiled. “Who said that?”
He smiled back at her. “Bex. And it was exactly what I need to hear when I was in the middle of my Gay Crisis.”
“Wow. When I went to Bex for advice, she ripped off my eyebrow.”
“That was an accident,” Cyrus pointed out.
“Yeah, I know, but still.”
At the memory of Amber with one eyebrow missing, Amber started laughing, and the other two quickly joined in. They laughed until they forgot what they were even laughing about in the first place. Eventually, they got a text in the groupchat saying that everyone was meeting for lunch, so they all got up and walked back to where they were waiting for them, their arms around each other with Amber in the middle. When they joined the group, they saw Bex and started laughing again. Everyone looked at the three of them like they were crazy, but they didn’t care.
Jonah was having a good day so far. It was honestly a little overwhelming at first, but it didn’t take him too long to feel comfortable. He usually didn’t mind crowds too much, and everyone seemed so happy and nice, and he had his friends with him. He didn’t even mind that he didn’t really know what was going on half the time because, well, he was kind of used to that.
He was relieved when it was lunchtime, and all his friends came together again to eat. Once Amber, TJ, and Cyrus calmed down from their inexplicable laughing fit (which they refused to explain), everyone got food from the various food trucks and found a picnic table to sit at to eat and talk about their morning. He mostly just listened to everyone else while he enjoyed his food, but then someone asked him what he thought.
He shrugged. “It’s kind of a lot, but it’s fun.”
“What do you mean?” Cyrus asked from across the table.
He looked around the park and said the first thing he thought of. “I didn’t realize there were so many flags.” Honestly, until Marty had shown up in Cloud Ten that morning with both of his pride flags, Jonah had only known about the rainbow one.
“Well, there are a lot of different identities, and they each have a flag,” Cyrus explained.
TJ shook his head. “Except for gay men, who don’t have a separate one, and lesbians, who have like twenty.” Jonah raised his eyebrows at this new information.
Marty snorted and shook his head. “And I thought the bisexuals were supposed to be the indecisive ones. Smh.”
TJ shook his head again. “The thing is, the battleaxe one is badass and objectively one of the best flags, but everyone just kind of forgot about it? So people kept making new ones, and somehow that one became the most popular one.” TJ pointed out a flag not too far from their table. It was very… pink. “It started out as just being for lipstick lesbians, so it’s not very inclusive, and it’s also just bad flag design. And now there’s a bunch of other versions that are pretty similar and not really better. Like, I’m not gonna tell lesbians what to do or anything, but why can’t they just pick one. Preferably the battleaxe one. Because why are so many pride flags just stripes anyway? It’s boring .” Jonah was slightly taken aback by TJ’s mini-rant. And very confused.
Buffy, who was sitting in between Jonah and Marty, gave TJ a look. “Since when are you so passionate about flags, Kippen?”
TJ’s face went slightly red, but he tried to play it off with a shrug. “I may have gone down an internet rabbit hole about vexillology a few weeks ago,” he muttered. What the heck is vexillology? Jonah just assumed it had something to do with flags and decided not to ask. Cyrus smiled fondly at his boyfriend and put his arm around him.
Jonah just shook his head. He smiled and looked around for a second, pointing out a flag that he didn’t recognize: one with pink, yellow, and blue stripes. “So what is that flag?”
“That’s the pan flag,” Cyrus answered. At Jonah’s confused expression, he explained, “Like people who like all genders.”
“I thought that was bi?” Jonah looked to Marty for help.
He shook his head. “I mean if you explain it like that… but nah, bi is liking two or more genders, and pan is liking people regardless of gender. For some people, the difference between the two is more important than it is for others, but the identities are different.”
“Oh.” Jonah started pointing out more flags, asking what they were, and Cyrus, TJ, and Marty (with occasional input from Bex and Bowie) explained what they were. He was relieved whenever he wasn’t the only one at the table who didn’t know what a certain flag or identity was. There were quite a few Andi and Amber didn't know, a couple that even TJ and Cyrus didn’t know, and though she'd never admit it, Jonah was pretty sure that Buffy knew far fewer than she let on.
He pointed out a flag that was purple, white, grey, and black. Cyrus explained that it was the asexual flag and what that meant. Jonah felt kind of weird, but he didn’t know why. He had never realized that it was possible to just not feel attraction to people at all. Marty must have taken whatever look was on his face as confusion because he took over, explaining the difference between aromantic and asexual and how they were both a whole spectrum. Jonah had taken in a lot of new information that day, but this was… different somehow. He glanced briefly at Buffy and saw that she was wearing an expression that pretty closely matched what he was feeling, even though he wasn’t quite sure what that feeling was.
He decided to brush the feeling aside for now, pointing to a new flag and asking Cyrus what it was. After a few more minutes, everyone finished eating and went their separate ways once again, splitting off into smaller groups to wander around the festival.
Andi, Jonah, Buffy, and Marty were walking around the park together when Andi quite literally ran into someone. They had their back to her, so all she saw was a pride flag that she probably would not have recognized if Jonah hadn’t asked about it less than an hour before, and a head of wavy strawberry blonde hair topped with an extravagant pink, yellow, and blue flower crown that Andi could tell was handmade. She started to apologize, but as the person turned around, she recognized them and closed her mouth; it’s not like it would do any good anyway. Another person she recognized stepped up next to Libby, and if Andi hadn’t already been shocked, she would have been now. It was Walker, and he was also covered in blue, yellow, and pink. At least she wasn’t the only one who was surprised. In fact, out of the six of them, Marty was the only one who wasn’t.
He looked between the two groups in confusion. “Do you know each other?”
This broke everyone out of their shock, and they all started talking and signing at once, with Walker trying his best to translate everything for Libby. After a few seconds of chaos, Libby put her hand up, indicating for everyone to stop, and they did.
Walker held his hand out to Marty. “I’m Walker.”
“My ex,” Buffy clarified, causing Marty to raise his eyebrows.
“And mine. Kind of.” Andi added.
“And this is Libby.” Walker gestured to the girl next to him.
“Is she someone’s ex too?” Marty asked. Libby snorted, and Jonah raised his hand slightly. Marty just nodded. He pointed at Libby and Walker. “So are you two like a couple, or?”
Walker and Libby made identical horrified facial expressions and leaned away from each other. “Don’t you see the family resemblance? She’s obviously my sister.” The two of them stood there with serious expressions on their faces as the other four looked at them with varying levels of confusion. Eventually, they broke and started laughing. Andi decided she loved the sound of Libby’s laugh.
“Wait. Are you really siblings?” Jonah asked.
Walker nodded. “Nah, we’ve just known each other for a long time, and we’re close enough that we might as well be.”
They all nodded. “That’s fair,” Marty said.
Andi couldn’t help but marvel at how amazing Walker was, once again, at interacting with his ex’s current significant other. And Jonah and Libby didn’t seem awkward around each other at all either, though they also hadn’t really said anything to each other yet. And Andi still didn’t even know why they had broken up in the first place.
“So what brings you all here?” Walker looked first at Buffy, who was holding hands with Marty (who was the most decked-out in pride merch), and then at Andi and Jonah. Andi looked self-consciously down at her ‘Ally’ pin, which felt like a lie weighing her down.
Luckily, Jonah answered, shrugging and smiling. “I’m just here for Cyrus.” Marty pretended to look offended. Andi nodded in agreement. She had a few other reasons as well, but they didn’t need to know that.
“That’s cool. Where is he?”
They all shrugged. Buffy answered, “Probably off with his boyfriend somewhere.”
Walker smiled. The six of them stood there and talked for a while, catching up. Jonah told Libby that he had decided to take her advice about taking a break from dating, which, in Andi’s opinion, opened up more questions than it answered, but Libby seemed happy for him. Buffy talked about Marty a lot, which was disgustingly adorable. When Andi told them that her parents had finally gotten married and that she had gotten into SAVA, Libby and Walker were very happy for her and revealed that they were both going too. After that, the three of them started talking very excitedly about art and SAVA. Andi didn’t even realize how long they had been talking until she looked over and saw that the other three had left.
“I should probably go find them. I’ll talk to you two later?”
They both nodded. “We’ll see you at school?” Walker said.
‘Before,’ Libby signed.
Andi nodded and then walked off to find her friends. As she walked away, she turned back and saw them admiring the art at a nearby booth. She smiled softly to herself, feeling relieved that she would already have friends at her new school.
Jonah, Marty, and Buffy quickly realized that they had no idea what Andi, Libby, and Walker were talking about, and Marty wanted to go spend some time with his moms, so the three of them just walked away. Buffy was pretty sure the others hadn’t even noticed. Now, she and Jonah were walking around aimlessly, eating ice cream and talking about nothing.
“Is it just me, or does that guy look familiar?”
Buffy followed Jonah’s gaze to an older couple, who had their backs to them as they were looking at something at a nearby booth. One of them had both of his arms covered in tattoos, which did look oddly familiar, but they didn’t know anyone with tattoos, except…
Suddenly, the couple turned around, and Buffy felt an odd sense of déjà vu as the man’s face fell upon noticing them. Buffy and Jonah looked at each other in shock and then back at their former principal. They were about to run, like they had last time, but suddenly Marty walked up to them, holding a lemonade and smiling.
“Hey guys, what’s with the…” he gestured to their faces, which caused Buffy to raise an eyebrow.
“Dude, it’s Dr. Metcalf,” Jonah whispered, nodding his head, not-so-subtly, at the man in question.
Then, Marty did something that surprised Buffy even more; he smiled, turned toward the couple, and waved at them.
“What are you doing?” Buffy whispered angrily at him.
Marty just shrugged as the two men walked over to them. She forced a smile on her face as they got closer. “Sup Henry. Sup Ben.” Marty nodded at Metcalf and the other man in turn. Buffy did her best to hide her shock.
Metcalf (Henry?) just sighed, but he was smiling? “How many times have I told you to call me Dr. Metcalf, Marty?”
Marty just smiled. “Ah, but you’re not my principal anymore. Now, you’re just my moms’ friend who I’ve seen drunk too many times to take seriously.”
The other man (Ben?) chuckled as Metcalf sighed again. “It was one time.”
“Which is too many times for us to still be on a last-name basis, don’t you think? Now, are you going to introduce Benny to my friends here, or should I?”
He rolled his eyes, which should look unnatural on a middle school principal, but somehow didn’t. “Of course. Buffy, Jonah, this is Benjamin, my husband.” Buffy hadn’t thought it was possible to be any more shocked than she already was. She was wrong. “Benjamin, this is Buffy and Jonah, two of my former students.”
He shook both of their hands. “It’s nice to meet you. Marty talks about you a lot,” he said to Buffy.
“He does?” Buffy turned to Marty.
His face was pink, but he tried to play it off. “I wouldn’t say ‘a lot.’”
Benjamin smirked. “You’re basically all he talks about.” He ignored Marty glaring at him and kept going. Buffy was starting to like this guy. “Young love is nothing to be embarrassed about, Marty.” Or maybe not.
Now, Buffy felt her face heat up too. “‘Love’ might be a strong word. We’ve only been dating for a few months.”
“Haven’t TJ and Cyrus already said that they love each other?” Jonah oh-so-helpfully pointed out. She glared at him.
Marty just shrugged. “Eh, gay people always move faster.”
“Marty…” Metcalf looked like he was basically done with Marty by now.
Marty just raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m sorry? How long did you two date before you got engaged?” He took an intentionally long (and loud) sip of his lemonade.
“That’s not important.”
Marty looked smug but dropped it. “Well, we should probably get going. I’ll see you two at brunch next weekend.” They all waved goodbye to each other, and Marty took Buffy’s hand, leading her and Jonah away from the couple.
“Brunch? Since when do you go to brunch with Metcalf and his husband? How do you even know them?” Buffy asked Marty once they were out of earshot.
Marty shrugged. “All gay people know each other.” Buffy just gave him a look. “I don’t know. He and my moms go way back. I think they went to college together or something. And sometimes they come over to our house for brunch. I think it’s a gay thing.”
“How come you didn’t tell me?”
He shrugged again. “I guess it never came up?” He offered her a drink of his lemonade, and she smiled, shaking her head and trading the cup for her ice cream. The three of them continued walking.
“Oh, I almost forgot. I got you something,” Marty said after a couple of minutes, causing them to stop again. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a necklace. It had some kind of small, purple rock on it.
Buffy smiled as she looked at it. “It’s beautiful.”
“Just like you.” He was literally the only person who could get away with being that cheesy around her. He handed her the ice cream and walked behind her to put the necklace on for her.
“Y'all are cute.” Jonah smiled at them, and they both laughed.
Eventually, the three of them got tired of walking and found somewhere to sit down, their ice cream and lemonade long gone. Buffy and Marty were leaning on each other, and Jonah was facing them. There was a lull in the conversation, and they sat in a comfortable silence for a while. Buffy could tell Jonah was thinking about something. She tried waiting until he said something, but she wasn’t sure if he ever would, and patience wasn’t exactly her strong suit.
“You ok there, Jonah?”
He looked up at her, startled. “Yeah, why do you ask?”
“You look like you’re thinking, and I know how hard that is for you.” She smiled at him.
He rolled his eyes and smiled back, but his face quickly became more serious. He looked down. “How do you know if you like someone?” His voice was quiet.
Buffy and Marty shared a confused look before looking back at Jonah. “What do you mean? You’ve been in more relationships than either of us. Shouldn’t you know that by now?”
He gave her a look that she couldn’t quite describe. “Yeah well, you saw how well those worked out. And I just… How do I know if I actually liked them?”
Buffy and Marty looked at each other again, an unspoken conversation between them before Marty answered. “Well, I think it’s different for everyone, but in my experience, you just kind of know. Like there’s this feeling when you see them or think about them that I don’t know if you can really put into words. They make you really happy, and you just want to be with them all the time and hold their hand and go on dates and kiss them and stuff.” He shrugged.
“Wait. Do people actually like kissing?”
“I mean, yeah. Do you not?” Marty asked.
Jonah shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean. I don’t hate it, but it’s just kind of a thing, you know? It’s always been kind of awkward, and it’s actually kind of weird if you think about it too much, but Amber said that it’s just a thing people in relationships do, you know? I didn’t know it was something that people, like, thought about or really liked.”
“Why would people do it if they didn’t like it?” Buffy asked.
Jonah shrugged. “Do you like it?” he asked her.
“Well, I like kissing Marty. I’ve never kissed anyone else, so I guess I don’t really know if it’s just him.”
“You never kissed Walker?” She shook her head. “But you two dated for like, a while.”
She shrugged. “It just never felt right with him.”
“So how did you know you liked him, if you never wanted to kiss him?”
Buffy thought for a second. “I don’t know. I mean I don’t think wanting to kiss someone is the only way to know if you like someone, but now that I think about it, I’m not sure if I ever did like him like that. I thought I did, but I never felt with him the way I do with Marty. It was more like how I felt around you when we first met. I just really wanted to be his friend. But everyone around me had already had their first relationships or first crushes, and I guess I just thought I should have that too, and I had never really had a crush before, so all I had to go on was what Andi and Cyrus had told me about theirs, so I guess it’s not really surprising that I, like, projected those feelings onto a guy Andi liked too. I don’t know.” She was starting to think maybe she understood how Jonah could have been in relationships with people he didn’t actually like and how he did things just because he thought they were things that people in relationships do. Marty held her a little tighter for a second.
“I think that’s how I felt about Andi, Amber, and Libby, too.”
“So you never really liked any of them? Not even Andi?”
Jonah shrugged again. “I don’t know. Now that I think about, I don’t think I really felt any differently about them when we were dating than I do now that we’re friends, except I was a lot more stressed when we were dating.”
Marty asked, “Jonah, have you ever had a crush on anyone?”
Jonah shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“Do you think it’s possible you might be aromantic?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t even know that was a thing until today. And how do you even know if you don’t feel something? What if I just haven’t yet ? How do you tell if you’re aromantic?”
“Well, I’m not aro, so I don’t know if I can answer that, but I have been thinking lately that I might be ace, and those are kind of similar.” Marty was messing with the end of the flag he was wearing, which Buffy noticed were slightly frayed. She briefly wondered how long he had owned it.
Buffy looked at Marty. “You didn’t tell me that.”
“So, how do you know?” Jonah asked again.
“Well, sometimes my friends or like the guys in the locker room or whatever will say things, and I’m like, ‘we’re way too young to be thinking about that kind of stuff.’ But then I realized that we aren’t really, you know? We’re teenagers. Teenagers are literally known for thinking about that kind of stuff constantly , but I only think about it if someone else brings it up.”
“I’ve never really thought much about that stuff either, honestly,” Buffy said. Her friends didn’t usually talk about that kind of stuff though, so she’d never even thought about the fact that she hadn’t thought about it.
“Neither have I,” Jonah said.
Marty shrugged. “Well, maybe we’re all ace then. Or maybe we’re just ‘late bloomers’ or whatever.” He shook his head. “But honestly, sexuality is fluid and we can identify however we want, and if we change our minds later, that’s no one’s business but our own, and it doesn’t make how we identify now any less valid.” It sounded like he’d actually thought about this a lot more than he’d let on.
“Did you just talk yourself into identifying as ace?” Buffy asked him. She was kind of impressed, to be honest. He just shrugged. “And you dragged us both along with you?”
He smirked. “I guess I’m just that powerful. Not that I’m telling you how to identify or anything. That’s still up to you. But, you know, if you are, at least you aren’t alone. And there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind. I mean, I’m only,” he looked at his wrist as though he was wearing a watch, “fourteen, and I’ve identified as basically everything at some point.” He chuckled lightly. “Man, I’m gonna have to buy another pride flag now, aren’t I?”
“You don’t have to,” Buffy pointed out.
“No, I’m gonna. Come on, let’s go before they run out.” He stood up and held his hand out to her, pulling her up. She just rolled his eyes. They each reached out a hand to help Jonah up, and the three of them went to find the booth where they were selling pride flags.
Marty quickly spotted the ace flags and made a beeline toward them. Buffy looked at the flag next to it, which she was surprised that she didn’t recognize. She asked Marty about it.
“Oh, that’s the demisexual flag.”
“Well, you know how I said that asexuality is a spectrum?” She nodded. “Well, it’s a part of the ace spectrum. It basically means that someone is only attracted to people after they, like, know them really well and have a strong bond with them. There’s also demiromantic,” he pointed to the flag above it that was basically the same but with a green stripe instead of a purple one, “which is the same except, you know, romantic.”
Huh . She just nodded and didn’t say anything else as he paid for his flag.
Buffy went off to hang out with Amber and Andi, and not too long later, Cyrus and TJ joined Marty and Jonah. The four of them ended up in a relatively empty area near the pond, just sitting around and talking. It was getting late, and people were starting to leave the festival. Marty looked at the ace flag he was still holding, the trans flag he was still wearing, and the rainbow flag Cyrus was wearing. He could practically feel his brain working overtime to form an idea. He just needed one more flag.
He saw Bex and Bowie walking a little ways away. “Hey guys, I’m gonna be right back.” They all looked at him confused but didn’t say anything. At least, he didn’t hear them say anything as he was already gone. He ran over to Bex and Bowie and asked for his bi flag back. Bex seemed confused but handed it over without comment. He ran back to his friends, who were all watching him now.
“Who wants to help me wear four flags at once?”
TJ grinned, but Jonah and Cyrus seemed confused. Jonah pointed out, “But you only have three flags.”
Marty just looked at Cyrus, who seemed to realize what he was getting at and said, “No.”
Marty pouted at him. “Please. I promise I’ll give it back.”
Cyrus looked between the three of them, who were all giving him puppy dog eyes. He sighed. “Fine.” He untied his flag and tossed it to Marty. “But if anything happens to it, you’re buying me a new one.”
After several minutes of careful deliberation, they ended up tying the four flags together and putting them over his head, making him look like a majestic queer butterfly. He posed dramatically while the other three boys took several pictures of him. They all fell back on the ground laughing.
Jonah pulled a frisbee out of his bag. They all rolled their eyes, but TJ and Marty happily got back up to join their friend in throwing the frisbee back and forth. Cyrus decided to sit this out. They very quickly realized that neither TJ nor Marty actually knew how to throw a frisbee properly, so Jonah had to show them how it was done. They got the hang of it pretty easily, and TJ and Marty quickly became very competitive, trying to outdo each other.
Somehow, the frisbee ended up in the middle of the pond. Marty tried to deny that he was the one who threw it, but everyone had seen him, so he was forced to admit it, which meant that he had to go get it.
The frisbee didn’t seem too far away from the dock, so the three of them walked out onto it together. Marty couldn’t reach it. TJ was the tallest, so they made him try, but it was just out of his reach. TJ had the brilliant idea of having the other two hold onto him so he could reach farther without falling in…
He fell in.
Worse, he took Jonah with him. And Jonah grabbed onto one of Marty’s flags and almost pulled him in, too, but Marty managed to save himself. Once he knew they were ok, he laughed at them, which caused them both to splash water at him. He held up one of his flags like a shield and ran over to where Cyrus was standing on dry land laughing at them. The other two managed to make their way out of the water, which turned out to not be that deep, not before Jonah retrieved his frisbee, of course.
When they got out of the water, TJ tried to hug Cyrus, but he ran away, grabbing their bags and shoving them in Jonah and TJ’s direction. “You can hug me after you’re dry. Now, go change.” TJ pouted but took the bag and walked off to the nearest bathroom, closely followed by Jonah. Marty and Cyrus both shook their heads, laughing fondly at their friends.
Cyrus took out his phone, so Marty went to find his too. It was laying on the ground with the rest of his stuff. By the time he got it, he noticed that there was a message from Cyrus in the groupchat. It was a video of TJ and Jonah falling into the pond followed by a message that said, ‘I think this is a sign that it’s about time to go.’ Marty couldn’t help but agree with Cyrus. As much fun as today was, it was getting late, and he was getting tired. A few more messages appeared on his screen; Amber, Buffy, and Andi were laughing at TJ and Jonah. Then, Bex sent a message agreeing with Cyrus and telling everyone where to meet. He sent a quick text to his mom and then put his phone in his pocket. He and Cyrus gathered their stuff and went to find the others.
Everyone gathered together to say goodbye. The girls were having a sleepover at the Macks’ house, and the boys were going to Marty’s. Marty hugged Buffy goodbye and then led TJ, Jonah, and Cyrus to where his moms were waiting by their minivan. During the ride home, his moms asked him about their day. Marty let the others talk while he untied the flags from each other and gave Cyrus his back.
When he got to the trans flag, he noticed a tear in it and frowned. He held it up to Jonah and said, “Look what you did.”
Jonah looked up at him. “I did that?”
Marty nodded. “Yeah, when you were trying to drag me into the water with you.”
Marty’s mom looked back from the passenger seat. “What’d he do?” Marty showed her. “Hmm. We can fix that.”
“I’m sorry,” Jonah said.
Marty shook his head. “It’s fine.” It was becoming increasingly clear to everyone that Marty, Jonah, and TJ couldn’t do anything together without breaking something. He wasn’t really mad at Jonah, but as he looked down at the flag, he couldn’t help but be a little sad. He’d had it since he was nine years old. He’d been going to Pride with his moms as long as he could remember, and his memories of them all kind of blurred together, but that year had been different. It was the first time he’d felt like he was there for himself and not just for his moms.
When they got home, they threw all their stuff in the living room and then followed his mom into the bathroom, where she helped them remove their makeup with her industrial-sized tub of coconut oil that she used for basically everything (like, literally everything ), while his other mom made them supper.
While they ate, they talked more about their day. He told them about how meeting Buffy and Jonah’s exes had been surprisingly not awkward. They both laughed when he told them about running into Metcalf. Cyrus and TJ were both shook that he knew their former principal, but Cyrus was surprisingly not surprised that Metcalf was gay.
“What? He literally has a picture from his wedding on his desk in his office. Has no one else noticed that?”
“How often do you get sent to the principal’s office, Underdog?”
“You mean aside from when you take me on romantic dates on stolen golf carts?”
“That wasn’t a date.”
Cyrus raised an eyebrow. “Sure it wasn’t. But there was also the time Buffy, Andi, and I protested the dress code. And the time Jonah and I made that video for new students. I think that’s when I noticed the picture. That was the same day we met actually, officially anyway,” he added, looking at TJ. “Oh and of course the time I went to report Reed, only to find out you already had. So uh yeah, I’ve been to the principal’s office plenty of times. I’m basically a rebel.”
“Cyrus, I hate to break it to you, but only one of those actually involved you breaking a rule,” Marty pointed out.
“Shh… let me have this. Besides, I’ve also been to jail, so…” He shrugged.
Jonah shook his head. “Cyrus, your mom came and picked you up first. You were only there for like 20 minutes. I was there for like an hour.” Cyrus pouted, and everyone laughed before the conversation moved on to a new topic.
After supper, Marty and Cyrus changed into their pajamas and then joined the other two in the living room, where they played video games until Marty and TJ started to get too competitive, and Marty’s moms made them turn it off. They facetimed the girls for a little bit. Then, they turned on a movie, which they all fell asleep about halfway through. TJ and Cyrus were cuddling on the bigger of the two couches, Marty slept on the other couch, and Jonah ended up curled up under the coffee table with only a single pillow and Marty’s ace flag as a blanket.