If there is one thing that Brandon knows about Olive Penderghast, it is that she's extraordinarily opinionated. While they talk as they carry out various and sundry forms of school-sanctioned torture, Brandon learns that Olive prefers black ink over blue, cannot fathom why any other brand but Crayola would bother to make crayons, and finds Red Vines to be the far more superior red licorice stick, which makes Brandon ask her if she's on crack.
As they go from the tennis courts to the girls' restroom closest to the gym, she tells the story of how she went from invisible girl to Ojai North's resident superfreak, and somewhere in there she mentions Rhiannon saying something about there being no such thing as a sexy George. "But come on, she's wrong about that," Olive states as she sprays down the mirror. "I mean--George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life. When he says that whole thing about giving Mary the moon. And, come on, he's Jimmy Stewart. He is tres dreamy."
"Dreamy, but not sexy." Brandon aims his bottle of generic glass cleaner at the mirror next to Olive and pulls the trigger. The scent of the spray is so strong that it makes his eyes water. For a moment, he wonders if this is part of the reason why Gibbons forces students in detention to do janitorial work: maybe the cleaning staff is getting high on the fumes from the cleaning solvents. It's either that or chronic illness. "I think I'm with Big Tits on this one."
Olive laughs, and the sound echoes. "You really think they're big? Oh, Brandon. Such is the power of a Wonderbra." She shakes her head and studies her reflection in her smudge-free mirror. "And I'm sorry, but both of you are wrong."
Fast forward to a week later. It's post-Melanie Bostic's party, and he's at CVS with a fake ID made for him by Adam Thayer--the very Adam Thayer who had, just the week before, been the one who started the fight that had gotten Brandon in detention with Olive, resulting in him pretending to (loudly) have sex with her in Melanie Bostic's bedroom. Right before sixth period Adam had pressed the ID into Brandon's palm and commanded him to "get some Heineken for Friday, bro."
Brandon is not stupid. He knows that he is the recipient of a gift that is rarely given in high school: the chance to start anew without resorting to joining the Witness Protection Program. On one hand, he wants to shred the ID and tell Adam Thayer to go fuck himself; on the other, he wants to go ahead and play the game. He's got six months to go until graduation, and there are worse things that he can do besides playing straight for the Future Dudebros of America.
So he's in line at CVS, two cases of Heineken in one of those tiny shopping carts that drug stores have simply for the benefit of elderly women who do half their grocery shopping while waiting for their prescriptions to be filled. Ahead of him is a woman who has two unruly school-aged children who keep begging for candy. Brandon's eyes drift over to the racks of sweets, and he's thinking about picking up a bag of Reese's Pieces when he hears the cashier say, "Looks like you're going to be having a good time tonight."
Brandon turns and suddenly forgets how to speak.
It isn't even fair that the cashier looks hot even while wearing the dopey store-issued vest. He's tall and broad-shouldered, has warm brown skin and a beautiful mouth, and he's looking at Brandon like--
No! Brandon thinks, even though there is no sight of Adam Thayer, or any of his other tormentors. He laughs nervously and reaches for his wallet. He is not looking at you like anything. This is nothing. This is a transaction. He does this every single day, for God's sake.
"Can I see your ID?" The Cashier says. Now he's looking at Brandon like he can see right through him.
"Um," Brandon says as he tries to keep his hands steady as he goes through his wallet, fingers fumbling over dollar bills and business cards and a condom meant just for show. Where is it? "I… I… it…"
The Cashier doesn't take his eyes off of Brandon. "Weren't you in here last week with some of those Ojai North kids?" he says in a low voice.
A thousand lies are swarming in Brandon's head: They're my brother's friends. I don't know who the hell those people are. They're my friends who happen to be younger and not-legal… "Eh…" he says, and proceeds to drop his wallet to the floor.
The Cashier looks around and then looks at Brandon as he stands back up, wallet in hand. For the first time Brandon sees the name tag attached to his dorky CVS vest: CARVER, in block letters. "ID?" he asks again.
Brandon laughs nervously and slides the fake license across the counter; Carver picks it up and studies it. His eyebrows furrow, and he places the card on the counter before looking back up at Brandon again. "So," he says in a low voice, "where's the party?"
This is how Brandon ends up at Adam Thayer's with three cases of beer and Carver from CVS.
Because he is the bringer of the beer, Brandon arrives first. Adam slaps him on the back and wanders off in search of the rest of his friends. Brandon deposits the cases in the kitchen and proceeds to check his phone at least five times for a message from Carver. He's still amazed that he gave both his cell number and the directions to Adam's house up so easily to a perfect stranger. But it made sense at the time. He was panicking because Carver could have easily busted him, and it's not like he's really going to show up, right?
Just like that, he's being given the handshake-shoulder press combo that some guys use as a greeting. Carver's there and he's smiling. "So this is it?"
Brandon nods. "Yeah. The usual, I guess."
"I--" And Brandon remembers that he's supposed to be cool now, and quickly recovers with, "You know, you've been to one of these, you've been to all of them."
"BRANDON!" shouts Anson, who for reasons unknown is wearing Ray-Bans and sliding around on the hardwood floors in his socks. He awkwardly hugs Brandon and rambles on about how Brandon is the man, how bangin' this party is, and by the way, do Olive's curtains match her drapes?
"I'm sorry about earlier," Brandon says later, when he and Carver end up on the patio. After having at least a dozen people greet him like he's their new best friend, all he wants is to be away from the maddening crowd. Lucky for him, Carver seems to have had his fill of obnoxious seniors and he's outside too, idly flicking the tab on his beer can while Brandon apologizes.
"'S all right," he says, and with a final flick, the tab snaps off. "By the way, who's Olive? Your girlfriend?"
This is the moment of truth. Brandon sits on the wood railing behind him and stares up. "She's a friend who is ostensibly a girl. She did me a favor."
"Fucking you so you could fit in?"
It's the way that Carver says it--there's an undercurrent of venom to his tone, an I can't believe you could be so pathetic to it--that pushes Brandon over the edge. "Not really. It's more complicated than that."
He gives Carver the Spark Notes version of the story. "And that is why I'm at this party with people who I can barely stand," he finishes. "I know it's stupid, but it's what I've got to do until I can get the fuck out of here."
"It's not stupid," Carver says softly. "I kind of did the same thing." He pauses as if to let the gravity of this statement sink in. "Minus the staged hook up with a girl."
"Oh," is all Brandon can say in response. "So."
Their eyes meet, and Carver smiles at him.
Three weeks and two days later, Brandon turns eighteen, and Carver insists on making a big deal out of it. "You can buy cigarettes and porn now," he says with a smile as they climb back into his car after watching La Dolce Vita at that tiny theater that only shows movies with subtitles. "Still have to wait for the beer, though."
He's been giving Brandon shit about the beer thing on and off since the party. Since they started dating, or whatever it is that they're doing. Somewhere around the end of the first week they kissed for the first time, and Carver shook his head and said, Damn, I'm a cradle robber. Even though Brandon points out that three years is not a massive gap in ages, Carver still insists on pointing out the fact that he's not entirely a legal adult yet.
"Not if you keep providing it," Brandon responds. Today he feels impossibly giddy; after all, he's eighteen, possibly falling in love, and he's spent the whole day with his boyfriend and not actively worrying about what anyone would think of him. It's not until they're halfway back to his house that he thinks, I can't do this anymore.
"Hey," Brandon says as Carver pulls into his driveway. "Remember how you said you went down to Baja the week you turned twenty-one?"
Carver cocks an eyebrow. "Yeah, and it was awesome. Why?"
"Didn't you say that you wanted to do something besides take classes at the community college and work at CVS for the rest of the year?" The bare bones of a plan are forming in his head, and at the same time he keeps repeating I'm eighteen and legally an adult, so I can do what I want. "Give me five minutes, and we can do that."
Carver paces and worries while Brandon packs and rationalizes.
"You just turned eighteen!"
"I was going to leave town anyway once I graduated."
"You can't not finish high school!"
Carver crosses his arms and leans back on Brandon's bed, which is currently covered in all manner of debris from Brandon's closet, desk, and shelves. "As much as I really am starting to warm up to this idea of a cross-country trip, I'd like to point out that it's kind of stupid."
Brandon shoves aside a stack of books and sits next to him. "We're young. When else in our lives will we be able to do something as stupid as this?" He watches as Carver's mouth twitches in amusement. "See?"
"You don't even know my real name."
"Carver's not your real name?"
He shakes his head.
"So tell me," Brandon says.
"It's part of my name." He grimaces. "It's a middle name. I'm really George Washington Carver Williams. Like the guy with the peanuts. My mom was on this whole black history trip when she named me…"
When Brandon stops laughing, he kisses Carver and says, "Okay, fine, I know your real name. Now can we go, please?"
Brandon supposes that there's a better way to come out to your parents besides leaving them a note reading "I'm gay, bitches!" and skipping town, but hey, it's what worked for him. Within hours of his departure, he's text bombed not only by his parents but by nearly everyone in his contact list and people he doesn't even know.
He loses his phone in San Diego, and that's that.
After two days in Baja, he and Carver decide to head east. Between the two of them, they have a couple thousand dollars and Carver's credit cards, and no back-up plan about what to do, but they figure that it'll work out. Brandon is especially certain of this, because so far, everything has worked out for him, and maybe some of that good luck will keep following him.
They stop at a McDonald's in Arizona with Wi-Fi, and that's when Brandon gets the email about Olive's webcast. He shows it to Carver, insisting that they have to stop the next day so that they can watch the whole thing. Carver shrugs, says, "Why the hell not?" and goes to the counter to get their food. Brandon shifts his laptop on the table and quickly shoots a message off to Olive, thanking her for unknowingly giving him a way out. PS: he adds, I've been converted to the side of Sexy Georges. And Red Vines are still disgusting.
"Ready?" Carver asks as Brandon shuts down the computer and shoves it into his backpack. He's got the bag of food stacked on top of the drink holder. It's not perfect, nothing like the romantic comedy endings that have couples kissing in slow motion to a song selected just to tug on the heartstrings of the viewers. In fact, this feels nothing like an ending to Brandon. It's more like the second act, when all the action really begins.
"Yeah," he says, and he slings his bag over one shoulder to join Carver at the door.