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imperfect _pisces

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  1. Keisha Alston lived in a much nicer house in a way nicer neighborhood within walking distance. There was thunder rumbling in the distance as Tristan left his house. By the time he arrived on Keisha’s doorstep, he was soaked to the bone. "Oh Sweetie, I could've picked you up," she said as she closed and locked the front door. Tristan kicked off his wet Converse sneakers and placed them next to the other pairs of shoes in the tiled entryway. "I figured I could make it here before the bottom fell out." Tristan rubbed his hands up and down his arms and said, "Feels good in here." Keisha shot him a goofy grin, grabbed his arm and pulled him into the next room. The first thing Tristan noticed about the family room was the coffee table, which usually sat center stage in the large space, had been pushed into the corner. The next thing he noticed was all of the cushions and pillows had been removed from the sofas and chairs and piled in the middle of the floor. A smile slowly crept across the lower half of his face as he thought about all of the pillow forts he and his dad had made when he was much younger. "What's going on here?” "I was thinking this whole being a senior is not really all it's cracked up to be so I thought tonight we'd take it back to middle school again and just have a good old-fashioned slumber party. I've already ordered pizza and it's on the way and before you even ask I got pepperoni and pineapple on your half." Tristan threw his arms around his best friend and squeezed as hard as he could. "You know me so well." “You’re getting me all wet,” Keisha said trying to squirm her way out of his soggy embrace. “There’s so many jokes I could make right now.” "I still don't understand why anyone would be so disrespectful to pizza by adding pineapple to it but if it makes you happy." "It does make me happy," Tristan said, his eyes darting all over the room. "This is just what I needed." "I figured as much," Keisha said as she slowly pulled herself from their embrace. "Now go upstairs and get changed into your jammies." Tristan reached for his backpack which had fallen to the floor during their hug and asked, "Where is everyone?" "Dad won't be back until Monday and Granny went to stay with Aunt Penny for the weekend so we have the place to ourselves." Keisha lived with her dad, her grandmother (her mom's mom) and her little brother Kristoff who was now in the sixth grade. One of the things Tristan and Keisha had bonded over early on was their absentee mothers. At least Keisha knew where her mother was. Every Christmas and every birthday Keisha received a card with a $500 check from her mother who was now married to some retired investment banker nearly twice her age and living in DC. At first Keisha had relished receiving $1,000 checks every year but by the time high school rolled around, she stopped cashing them. "How sad is it that my mom would rather spend $1,000 than actually spend time with me?" Keisha had once asked Tristan during one of their weekly sleepovers. Tristan had often wondered the same thing himself. Some times, late at night when he couldn't sleep, he would lie in bed and wonder where his mother was. Nearly six years had gone by and unlike with Keisha's mom, there were no cards or money. No phone calls, texts or emails. It was like she'd vanished. There were times where Tristan wished she were dead because at least then he could properly mourn her. Tristan shook himself out of his thoughts and asked, "Where's Kristoff?" Upstairs in his room playing one of his ultra-violent video games. I told him not to bother us." "Aww - you didn't have to do that. He's no bother." "You're only saying that because he likes you." "Everyone likes me," Tristan said. "Well almost everyone." Keisha held up a silencing finger and said, "Nope! Tonight is about pizza and homemade brownies and scary movies. No boy talk allowed." "I like the sound of that," Tristan said with a grin. "Be right back." Tristan walked over to the door in the corner of the room leading to the basement where both Keisha and her brother's rooms were. He quickly bounded down the carpeted steps and walked past the laundry room and Kristoff's room until he reached the end of the hallway. Keisha's bedroom was perfect chaos. There were clothes and shoes and hair accessories all over the place but nothing looked out of place. Tristan tossed his backpack onto an old chaise lounge that once belonged to her great-grandmother. He tugged a pair of clean SpongeBob pajamas free from the main compartment, he noticed something at the bottom of his backpack. He reached inside and pulled out a bent notebook. There were black and white splotches across the cover. He immediately recognized it as the notebook he had taken from Nick's room some nights ago. Tristan flipped it open to the first page and noticed it was completely filled with spidery writing. Upon closer inspection, the whole notebook appeared to be filled with similar writing, front and back. Tristan lost interest in the pajamas he held in his other hand as he slowly moved towards Keisha's bed on the other side of the room. He sat on the edge of the queen-sized bed which must have had at least twenty pillows piled on top of it, each covered with a lavender pillow case. He flipped back to the first page and saw that it had been dated July 10. This was clearly more than a notebook. It was a journal. Nick's journal. Reading Nick's text messages was one thing but reading his deepest, most personal thoughts was quite another. Tristan sighed and closed the notebook. He carefully placed it back in his backpack and made a quick change into his pajamas. As he was folding the his day clothes, his phone chimed twice. After he stacked his clothes on top of his backpack, he reached for his phone and saw that he had two text messages. The first message was from Jon-Jon. at the bowling alley with my mom and my sister and nathan's here i'm guessing that's his girlfriend. i'm freaking out. The second message was from Colin. It's Friday night in your part of the country. Please tell me you're doing something fun. Tristan responded with, Keisha and I are taking it back to middle school and having a sleepover. Sleepover, eh? Did you go and switch teams on me? Tristan smirked and replied with, No. Never. This is the kind of sleepover where you lie around and eat junk food while you watch scary movies. Sounds fun. Well I must say I'm kind of disappointed. Why is that? Was hoping you'd be up for some more Golden Girls. Tristan chewed his bottom lip and his thought about his next response. I'm sorry but Keisha's my bestie and I've been sort of neglecting her lately. No worries. I get it. Bros before hos. Does that make you the ho in this scenario? Ha! I've been called worst! You go enjoy that sleepover of yours. Make sure you lock all the doors. Just in case there's an escaped convict on the loose or something. You're evil. There was a knock on Keisha's bedroom door. Tristan shoved his phone in the pocket of his pajamas bottoms and quickly hopped up from the bed. He walked over and pulled open the door. Kristoff Alston was only twelve years old and he was nearly Tristan's height. He looked just like his older sister even though Keisha absolutely refused to admit it. They both had the same dark brown, almond-shaped eyes and dimples. Tristan was pleased to see he was wearing the Miles Morales t-shirt he had bought him for his birthday a few months ago. Even though they were nearly six years apart in age, the thing they bonded over was their love of comic books. "Pizza's here," Kristoff said. His voice had deepened, considerably, since the last time Tristan had seen him. "Thanks, bud. I'm headed up now." Tristan closed the bedroom door behind him and followed Kristoff up the stairs. Keisha was in the kitchen pulling out yellow dinner plates from one of the overhead cabinets. Tristan's stomach began to growl as the smell of hot pizza wafted past his nose. His last meal had been the hastily thrown together peanut butter and jelly sandwich he had eaten for lunch. "Kris, your buffalo wings and garlic knots are right there," Keisha said pointing to two small green and white boxes sitting on the stove. "You can have one Coke and I've counted them so I'll know if you've had more than that." Kristoff rolled his eyes and grabbed the two boxes. He walked over to the refrigerator and grabbed a canned Coke from the bottom shelf. "I'm going to my room," he said. Tristan's phone chirped three times as he was piling three slices of pepperoni and pineapple pizza onto his plate. "Someone's popular," Keisha said as she plucked a mushroom off of her pizza slice. She popped it into her mouth and reached for a paper towel. Tristan sat his plate down on the closest surface and reached into his pocket to retrieve his phone. He had three new text messages - all from Jon-Jon. he keeps staring at me i think he knows dude i'm like really freakin out "Who that?" Keisha rested her chin in the crook of Tristan's next. "Jon-Jon," Tristan said as he pressed the lock button on his phone. Keisha scrunched up her face and asked, "What does he want?" Tristan grabbed his plate and followed her out of the kitchen and into the living room. "Apparently he saw Nick's brother at the bowling alley and now he's freaking out." Tristan settled onto the hardwood floor and reclined against one of the sofa cushions. Keisha took a seat next to him. She reached for the remote which was sitting on top of a pillow and used it to turn on the 60" flat-screen TV which was positioned over the wood-burning fireplace. "And why is he freaking out over that?" Tristan shrugged and took a bite of his pizza. He closed his eyes and savored the sweetness of the pineapple and saltiness of the pepperoni as the two flavors mingled over his palate. "I have no clue. I just think he's being paranoid." Tristan's phone chimed and then vibrated inside of the pocket of his pajamas. Keisha rolled her eyes and dapped at her mouth with a crumpled paper towel. "Just tell him you're busy." Tristan looked down at his phone and saw that his latest text message wasn't from Jon-Jon - rather it was from Finn. Tristan's features fell as he opened the new message. Hey - can we talk? "What's he saying?" Tristan shook his head and looked up from his phone and over at Keisha. "It's Finn," he said. Keisha's eyes widened. "Why is Finn texting you?" she asked. "I could have sworn he had a girlfriend." "He says he wants to talk." Keisha reached out her hand and said, "Give me your phone." "What? Why?" "Give me your phone so I can tell him to fuck off." Tristan placed his hand to his heart and said, "Why Keisha, your language. I do declare." "Seriously, what the hell could he possibly have to say to you? This time last week he was all over you and then he kicks you to the curb for Leah of all people?" Tristan looked down at his phone and then back over at Keisha. "Tristan, please don't tell me you're thinking about talking to him." "Maybe hearing his explanation will give me some closure." Keisha sat her plate down and said, "Oh Sweetie - you don't need closure." Tristan sighed and said, "Maybe I do." "I think it'll do more harm than good. I mean you've been dreaming about being with Finn since freshman year and let's face it - the dream turned out to be a nightmare." Tristan closed his eyes and thought about everything that had transpired since that fateful night on the dock behind Finn's house. In the brief time they'd been together, things had been nothing short of fantastic. Finn Montgomery liked him, that he knew for sure. He'd seen Finn on stage and there was no way he could've faked the things that happened between them. Something that real couldn't just go away overnight. Perhaps Finn was having a change of heart. "I know what you're thinking," Keisha said. Tristan opened his eyes and looked over at his best friend. "What am I thinking?" "You're wondering if Finn still has feelings for you." Tristan grinned and said, "Damn, you're good." "Even if he still has feelings for you, Tristan, it doesn't change the fact that what he did to you was beyond effed up." Tristan breathed in through his nose and let the air escape from between his lips. "You're right," he said. "I know. It's such a burden being right all the time." Tristan reached for the nearest pillow and tossed it in her direction. Keisha easily dodged it. "Now kindly tell Finn Montgomery he can go to hell and we can start the movie." "Fine," Tristan said. "What are we watching?" "Two classic late-90's slasher films," Keisha said. "Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Which do you wanna watch first?" "Let's watch Scream first." Keisha jumped up and ran over to a nearby shelf containing her family's entire DVD and Blu-Ray collection. Tristan looked back down at his phone. Keisha was absolutely right. What Finn did to him was pretty cruel and his feelings were still very much hurt over it. Then there was the part of him who wanted to hear what Finn had to say. Maybe, after a week of trying to play it straight with Leah, Finn was having a change of heart. Tristan chewed on his bottom lip as he stared down at the illuminated screen on his phone. His thumb hovered over the keyboard. He looked up and saw that Keisha was fiddling with the Blu-Ray player. He looked back down at his phone and pecked out a reply. Sure - where would you like to meet?
  2. "Dinner's on me." The two of them followed a sour-faced young woman with curly dark hair to a small booth in the back. Benvolio's was a popular Italian restaurant not to far from their school. Tristan had driven past the place more times than he could count but he had eaten there. "You know what's not necessary." Tristan slid in across from Jon-Jon and accepted the menu the hostess held out for him. "Your server will be right with you," she told them both before stalking off towards the front of the restaurant. "I know." Jon-Jon scratched at the stubble growing along his square jaw. "But I appreciate you coming with me." After rehearsal, Tristan had followed Jon-Jon out to the parking lot where Jon-Jon's hand-me-down Volkswagen Jetta was parked. The two then drove in silence back to Nick's house so that Jon-Jon could drop of Nick's phone. Tristan had held his breath the entire trip and even now sitting across from Jon-Jon in the back of an Italian restaurant, he still couldn't allow himself to exhale. Tristan looked over Jon-Jon's shoulder and noticed the hostess who had just sat them was glaring at him. He quickly looked away and pretended to look at the menu in front of him. A concerned look flashed over Jon-Jon's face and he asked, "You good?" Tristan shrugged his shoulders, his eyes still glued to the two-page, lamented menu in his hands. Using the menu as a partition, he slowly lifted his gaze to see if she was still staring at him. She was. "Who are you looking at?" Jon-Jon's peeked over his shoulder and then looked back over at Tristan. "She keeps staring at me," Tristan said. "No," Jon-Jon said rubbing his hands together. "She's staring at me." Tristan lowered the menu and asked, "Why is she staring at you?" "That's Jackie. I used to date her sister." Tristan nodded his head and said, "I'm guessing things didn't end well." Jon-Jon looked down at his hands and said, "Yeah - Jackie wasn't too thrilled when she found out me and Delores were dating." "Why's that?" Jon-Jon squirmed in his seat a bit and looked back over his shoulder at Jackie who was now talking to an older couple at the front of the restaurant. "I was sort of dating Jackie as well." Tristan's eyes widened as he opened his mouth to laugh. Jon-Jon flushed a deep crimson as he avoided eye contact with Tristan. "So, let me get this straight. You were dating her and her sister at the same time?" "I realize it was a dick move on my part but keep in mind this happened last summer. I feel really bad about it." Tristan shook his head and said, "Well, that certainly explains why she looks like she wants to murder someone." "Maybe it was a bad idea coming here. We could always go somewhere else." "Oh that won't be necessary," Tristan said. "Besides, this is the most fun I've had all day." Jon-Jon gave him a sheepish grin. "Well - I'm glad my pain bring you joy." The two of them settled into a comfortable conversation halted briefly by another dark-haired woman wearing a similar scowl on her face approaching their table to take their orders. Tristan noticed her name tag said Delores and tried his best not to laugh at Jon-Jon who looked beyond uncomfortable. After placing their drink and food orders, Tristan looked over at Jon-Jon and said, "Well, our food is definitely getting spit in tonight." Jon-Jon palmed his face and groaned. "It's not like I don't deserve it," he said. Tristan was about to respond with something encouraging when his phone vibrated and made a noise that sounded straight out of a Nintendo game. He picked up his phone which was sitting next to the glass of water Delores had just sat down on the table. "It's finished." He held up his phone so Jon-Jon could see the screen. "What am I looking at?" Tristan lowered and his voice and said, "I just finished cloning Nick's phone." Jon-Jon grimaced and reached for the Dr. Pepper he had ordered. "Why exactly did you clone Nick's phone?" he asked before taking a sip. "If someone were to call or text Nick, not only would it go to his hone, it would come to my phone, too." "Wow - that's pretty cool. So, where'd you learn how to clone phones?" "The dark web." "Seriously?" Tristan paused for a few beats and then started laughing. "No - I'm kidding. I only use the dark web whenever I need vital organs for my yearly ritual sacrifices. I actually watched a YouTube video." "You learned how to do that from YouTube?" Tristan nodded his head and said, "You can learn a lot from YouTube. I actually had to swap out my hard drive earlier this year so instead of paying some dude at the mall 250 bucks to do it, I just ordered the hard drive online and then watched a YouTube video. Took me like 10 minutes to replace the hard drive." "Maybe I need to start watching YouTube more." Tristan clicked on a folder on his phone which held all of Nick's test messages, call records and even pictures from his photo gallery. Though he would never admit it to Jon-Jon, Tristan felt super icky having access to all of Nick's private information and even though his friend was dead he was still entitled to his privacy. Tristan decided right then and there the only information he would view in relation to Nick was his text messages. Tristan clicked on a folder that contained all the text messages Nick had received over the last 30 days. He quickly noticed the only people Nick communicated with via text were Andy, Nathan and Nick's mom. Since the majority of the recent texts had come from Nathan, Tristan decided to read those messages first. "Well this is good," Tristan spoke out loud after several minutes had passed. "What is?" Jon-Jon asked as he dipped a piece of bread into a small bowl of olive oil. "Nathan texted Nick 13 times but a lot of them are duplicate messages like maybe something weird was going on with his phone. I've had that happen to me a few times." Jon-Jon looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was within earshot and then leaned forward across the table. "What do the texts say?" "The first one was sent on Tuesday, 12:32 PM. Sup bro. Thing I'm gonna hang out here with Hailey for the rest of the week. The house is yours. Enjoy." "Who's Hailey?" "Nathan's girlfriend," Tristan said as he scrolled on to the next message "Nick mentioned he was dating some girl at Emory. Apparent she's 23 years old." "Good for Nathan," Jon-Jon said. "What's next?" "Next text was also sent on Tuesday, this time at 5:53 PM. Have you talked to Andy? He hit me up a few days ago to ask if I'd heard from you. I told him you didn't want to talk to him. Not sure if that was the right ting to say but I was just following your lead." "Well that explains why Andy's been actin weird as of late," Jon-Jon said. "I mean before ... you know." "Next text is from Tuesday, again - 8:56 PM. Just got a text from Mom. Apparently Fad got food poisoning while they were in Budapest so they're gonna stay an additional week and a half." "Must be nice to be rich." Tristan shrugged and said, "I dunno. Something tells me having money ain't all it's cracked up to be. Wednesday 2:33 PM. Mom wants to know if you paid Victor. She says the money's in an envelope in the top drawer of her desk. She said to put it under the frog and Victor will be by on Friday to pick it up." "Well, shit. Maybe we will have to make another trip back to Nick's place." "Yeah, I think I'm gonna pass," Tristan said. Delores returned to their table with their food. She carefully sat a hot plate of vegetarian ravioli in front of Tristan and then dropped a cast iron skillet containing a Chicago-style pepperoni and mushroom pizza in front of Jon-Jon. "Enjoy," she muttered before disappearing into the nearby kitchen. "What's next?" Jon-Jon asked as he poured a liberal amount of parmesan and red pepper onto his pizza. "Wednesday - 10:53 PM. Hailey's pregnant." "Wow - didn't see that one coming." "Last text from Nathan. Thursday - 1:53 AM. Just got back from Walgreens. Hailey's about to take another test. I'll keep you posted. Hope you're good." "That was a lot to digest." "Here's the text from Nick's mom. It's from Wednesday - 8:16 AM. Don't know if you heard but your father and I have decided to stay longer. We're flying to Capri tomorrow morning. If you need money, check the blue vase on the bookcase in my office. Talk soon." Tristan exited out of the folder and sat his phone down on the table next to his plate. The smell of the ravioli flooded his senses and his stomach growled in response. "How do you think you'll respond?" Tristan watched as Jon-Jon pulled a slice of pizza from the skillet. Jon-Jon took a huge bite and then used the back of his hand to wipe away sauce and mozzarella cheese. "Actually, I don't think I'll have to say much. I get the impression Nick and his family aren't the chatty types." "I get that impression, too. Seems like Nick and Nathan do their own thing ... which is pretty cool. My mom's constantly blowing up my phone asking where I am and when I'll be home and if I'll stop by the grocery store to pick up orange juice before I come home." "My dad keeps tabs on me, too," Tristan said. "It's hella annoying." Tristan shrugged and said "I dunno. I kind of like that someone cares enough about me to want to know about my whereabouts." "Really? You don't find it suffocating?" Tristan shook his head and said, "Not really." "Ever since my parents split, my mom's been super overprotective. I can't go anywhere without her wanting to know what time I plan on getting there and what time I plan on leaving. She actually grounded me for a week because I was 15 minutes later getting in from Finn's party. It's super frustrating because she wasn't like that with my sister. I get that she loves me but sometimes I wish she'd back off a bit." "I watched my dad go through hell with my older brother," Tristan said. "I imagine being a parent has got to be one of the hardest things ever. It's like you do your best and things can still go wrong." Jon-Jon sighed and plucked several napkins from the dispenser on their table. He used the wad of napkins to wipe the lower half of his face and then slumped against his seat. Tristan noticed half of his pizza was gone. Tristan had barely touched his ravioli. Jon-Jon reached for his Dr. Pepper and held it up. "Here's to your boy not going to prison," he said in a mock toast. Tristan rolled his eyes and took a bite of his food. "You are not going to prison," Jon-Jon gulped his drink until there was nothing but ice left and sat the glass down. "You don't know that." Tristan sighed and said, "Yeah - you're right but if you keep thinking that, you're going to drive yourself crazy." "Maybe I should just confess." "And what exactly would you be confessing?" "I pushed Nick." Tristan lowered his voice and said, "You both pushed Nick. It was an accident." "All the more reason for me to just confess," Jon-Jon said. Tristan frowned and asked, "Why should you have to be the one to take the fall?" Jon-Jon smirked and said. "Don't get me wrong. It feels nice to have someone on Team Jon-Jon but are you sure you're not just on my side because you're pissed at Finn?" "No," Tristan said. "I'm on your side because I don't want to see you fall on your sword for something that's not your fault." Jon-Jon shot Tristan a knowing look. "So this has absolutely nothing to do with Finn being with Leah?" Tristan chewed on his thumbnail and looked down at his plate. "Hey - I'm pissed, too. I thought me and Leah were ... you know." Tristan thought back to being at the dock behind Finn's house. He thought about Jon-Jon naked and scrambling to put his clothes on. A warm, tingly feeling traveled the length of his spine and spread throughout his body. Tristan cleared his throat and said, "Regardless of how I feel about Finn right now it doesn't change the fact that I think you're going about this all wrong?" "I don't know what else to do," Jon-Jon said. "Every moment is like I'm holding my breath." "Is there anything I can do?" "You've done enough. Too much." "Can you do me a favor?" Tristan asked. "Sure." "Don't turn yourself in," Tristan said. "At least not right now. I'm sure if we all put our heads together, we could figure something out. Maybe something where we don't all end up wearing orange jumpsuits." "I doubt anyone wants to help me." "I'll see what I can do," Tristan said. "You just try to keep it together."
  3. "We have a problem." Tristan had been pouring a liberal amount of bleu cheese over his homemade wedge salad when he heard the heavy footsteps approaching the top section of the bleachers where he and Keisha were sitting. Keisha was too busy trying to complete the French assignment she’d neglected the night before to notice someone had crashed their intimate party of two. Jon-Jon looked sweaty and exhausted as he finally reached the row they were sitting on. An expensive-looking periwinkle V-neck, a few sizes too small, was stretched tight over his muscular upper body. His thighs, made thick and muscular from years of cross country were barely contained by the wrinkle-free khakis he was wearing. Jon-Jon ran his thick fingers through her wavy dark hair. For years, Tristan had sort of written Jon-Jon Yang off as the class clown but standing right in front of him, blocking the mid-morning sun, he looked hot and not because he was profusely perspiring. Tristan managed to pry his gaze away from the gorgeous body in front of him to finally acknowledge the face attached to it. He noted the look of distress on the other man's face and frowned. Tristan had managed to have not one, not two but three amazing days since that unfortunate occurrence on Monday and Jon-Jon was here to ruin all of it, he just knew it. Tristan sighed and sat the Tupperware container containing his salad down beside him in order to give Jon-Jon his undivided attention. "Who has a problem?" he asked "We - as in you, me, Keisha ... all of us." "I didn't do anything," Keisha said, not bothering to look up from her notebook. "I really fucked up," Jon-Jon said. "Told you I didn't do anything," Keisha said. Tristan tried and failed to suppress and eye roll before calmly asking Jon-Jon, "What did you do?" Jon-Jon let out an extremely long and heavy sigh before reaching into the pocket of his pants and removing a phone. "I keep getting text messages." "From who?" Tristan asked. "Nick's brother." These seemed to be the magical words to draw Keisha away from her work and into the conversation. "Why is Nick's brother texting you?" Keisha asked, brow furrowed and mouth twisted in genuine confusion. "Nick's brother isn't texting me," Jon-Jon said. "I'm beyond confused," Tristan says reaching for his salad. Jon-Jon holds up the phone he'd just taken from his pocket so that Tristan and Keisha could get a better look at it. It was a late-modeled iPhone contained in a black Otterbox phone case. Jon-Jon ran his thumb across the front of the phone and a picture of Nick and Andy appeared on the smudged screen. "This is Nick' phone," Jon-Jon said. "I kept it." "And why exactly did you keep Nick's phone?" Keisha asked. Jon-Jon shrugged his shoulders which was hard to do with his sweater being so tight. "I figured one of us needed to keep it, just in case anyone tried to call or text message Nick." "How many text messages are there?" Tristan asked. Jon-Jon bit his lip and lowered his eyes to the concrete he was standing on. "Fourteen," he said. "Fourteen," Tristan and Keisha blurted at the same time. "From the same person?" Tristan asked. "Thirteen from Nathan and one from someone I think is his mom." "Oh my god," Tristan says shaking his head. He paused to quickly put the lid back on salad. He no longer had an appetite. "I feel like I should text something back but I don't know what to say. Figured you two knew Nick better than I did. Maybe you could respond?" "First of all, there is absolutely no way in hell I'm touching that phone," Keisha said. "You do know they can track phones. When Nick's brother or his parents do find him - and they most certainly will find him - the first thing they're going to do is call the cops. When the cops come to investigate, the first thing they're going to look for is Nick's phone and when they don't find Nick's phone they're going to track it and next thing you know those same cops will be knocking on your door looking for it." "Not if we leave it with Nick," Jon-Jon said. "Leave it with Nick?" Keisha asked. "How do you propose you do that?" "I figured maybe once we respond to all these texts, one or both of you could ride back over to Nick's place with me so I can put it in his room or something. As long as it's in the house, they're not going to suspect any of us." "Oh my god, oh my god." Keisha gripped the side of her head like she was having the mother of all migraines. "I do believe it was me on that Monday we vowed to never talk about this ever again who said, "Hey you guys, this is not going to work". Actually I know for a fact it was me who uttered those exact words but hey, since I was outvoted, I sat back and watched a bunch of crazy people stuff an actual human inside a trunk. Look - I take full responsibility for my part in all of this but believe me when I say, I want nothing to do with anything involving this." "What about you, Tristan?" Jon-Jon asked. "I'm with Keisha," Tristan spoke up. "I, too, take full responsibility for the role I've played in all of this but the more we get involved the deeper this hole gets." Jon-Jon groaned and ran his fingers through his hair again. His face was the color of cooked beets and Tristan noticed the sweat stains developing underneath his arms. "Please," Jon-Jon said after several moments passed between the three of them. "I don't have anyone in my corner. Both Leah and Andy seem convinced I'm the one who pushed Nick." "But you did push Nick," Keisha said. "Yeah - but so did Finn," Tristan spoke. Keisha looked over at Tristan and glared at him. "You told me your eyes were closed when it happened." "Tristan's right, though," Jon-Jon said. "We both pushed Nick at the same time. We didn't mean to push him off the stage. I don't think either of us realized we were that close to the edge. It was an accident." "Which is why we should've called the police," Keisha said. "You really think it would've been that simple?" Jon-Jon asked leveling his own glare on Keisha this time. Keisha folded her arms across her chest and stared back at Jon-Jon with such an intensity, Tristan half-expected the other man to disintegrate into ashes. "Yes, I do." "You and I both know if the police came out, this whole thing would've been pinned on me. I'd be the one sitting in a cell right now." "How can you possibly know that?" Tristan asked. "Do I really have to spell it out for you?" Jon-Jon asked, throwing his hands up He looks back and forth between Tristan and Keisha. "Finn's the golden boy," he continued. "The one who everyone likes The one who can do no wrong. I'm the clown. The eternal fuck-up. If it came down to me and Finn, Finn wins every time." "Jon-Jon we wouldn't have thrown you under the bus for the sake of protecting Finn," Tristan said. "You sure about that?" "What’s that supposed to mean?" "Tristan - I'm not dumb. I know you guys may think I am but I'm not. Far from it actually. Look, I see the way you look at Finn when you think no one is watching. You're in love with him." Tristan scoffed and turned to look at Keisha who had conveniently gone back to working on her homework assignment. Instead, Tristan drew his attention back to Jon-Jon who for once in his life looked serious. "I am not in love with Finn," Tristan spoke through gritted teeth. "Hmm." Jon-Jon rested his chin on his fist and looked down at the ground again. "Perhaps I misread the situation "Yes," Tristan said. "You most definitely misread the situation." "Noted," Jon-Jon said. "So are you coming with me or not?" "To Nick's house? Most certainly not." "Tristan - please. Leah said - and I quote - Hell no, I'd rather have Satan poke me in the asshole with his pitchfork for all eternity than go back in that house again." "Yeah," Tristan said. "That definitely sounds like Leah." "Sheldon said no and of course Finn's not willing to get anymore dirt on his hands even though he's just as much to blame as I am." "What about Andy?" Tristan asked. "Does Andy know you have Nick's cell phone." "I tried to talk to him about it this morning but I just couldn't. I do not want to be the source of anymore pain in regards to that kid. He's been through enough." "I guess that leaves just me and Keisha," Tristan said. "Not involved, remember?" Keisha asked. "Fine - guess that leaves just me." "I promise all you'd be doing is just riding along with me. I'd take care of making sure the phone's back in Nick's possession." "What about the keys?" Tristan asked. "Didn't they leave Nick's keys inside the house after moving his car?" "There's a statue of a frog right next to the front door," Jon-Jon said. "Noticed it on my way out. There's a spare key in this hollowed out part underneath the frog." "So, on top of involuntary manslaughter, you're willing to add on breaking and entering?" "Either way you look at it, I'm pretty much screwed. Just spinning my wheels at this point. You game or not?" Tristan gnawed on his bottom lip. partly out of contemplation. Mostly out of hunger. While his hands weren't exactly clean in all of this, there were others in their group whose hands were much filthier. This was a supremely bad idea but what Jon-Jon had said had really tugged at something inside of him. If anyone who could walk away from this situation squeaky clean it would be Finn Montgomery and that was not fair at all. Finn was not the super nice All-American guy everyone at Shenandoah thought he was. So far the only thing he'd proven, at least to Tristan, was that he was a heartless bastard who had zero concern for how his actions affected others. At least Jon-Jon didn't go around intentionally hurting people. He could be an asshole at times but he at least meant well. "And I wouldn't have to get out of the car?" Tristan asked. Jon-Jon shook his head and said, "No. I'd take care of anything." "And I could wear a disguise?" "Sure - why not." "And most importantly, no one would ever find out I went with you?" "Not unless your friend over there decided to spill the beans." Tristan looked over at Keisha to look for some sort of indication that he was about to make the right decision but at the moment Keisha was intent on not getting involved and she could be very, very stubborn when she wanted to. Not that he blamed her. He didn't blame anyone for how they felt right about now. He usually depended on Keisha to keep him honest, so to speak, but this time he was going to have to be his own moral guide. "Okay," he said. "But I have to be home before eight."
  4. "You're home late." Tristan had noticed his dad's rusty pickup truck parked in the driveway when Keisha dropped him at home moments earlier but hearing his voice coming from the living room still made him jump. He placed his keys and wallet on the small table in the glass bowl on the table through he front door and strode into the next room like a death row inmate. He plopped down on the ancient plaid sofa opposite his dad. The television was on and tuned to one of his dad's favorite shows. Aside from football and the occasional documentary on Netflix, Jason Goolsby loved Perry Mason. Tristan wasn't a fan of most black and white TV shows but even he had to admit Perry Mason was pretty awesome. The guy never lost a case. "How was practice?" The glow coming from the TV screen was the only light in the room. Tristan noticed the older man was still wearing his light blue hospital scrubs. His dad was also looking every second of his 52 years. His hair had gotten considerably longer over the last several weeks, nearly grazing his broad shoulders and flecked with gray. The natty beard shrouding the lower half of his face certainly was not helping matters. Tristan would have normally sent the man upstairs to shave while he booked an appointment with his favorite hairstylist at the salon by the mall but tonight he simply did not have the energy. "It was okay." Jason polished off the last of the Rolling Rock sitting next to his chair and looked over at his son, his face contorted in a mask of worry. "You sure?" You're awful quiet tonight." Tristan shrugged his shoulders as he slipped further into the squishy dips and folds of the sofa. All he would need to do is kick off his shoes and he would be asleep in three minutes top. He had never been so exhausted in all his life. He wanted to sleep forever. Well, maybe not forever but for a really long time. Maybe he would fall asleep and the day would start over just like it did in that movie he watched with Keisha. He wouldn't be able to keep Finn from ending up with Leah but maybe he would be able to save Nick. "Just tired is all." It wasn't exactly a lie. But it was not the truth either. It wasn't even a fraction of the truth. Tristan wanted to tell his old man it wasn't the two and a half hours of rigorous choreography that had him feeling so weary but there was no way he could go into detail in regards to the other events of the evening. Not that his dad wouldn't understand. Tristan would like to think since coming out, there was nothing he could not tell his dad. Besides, it wasn't like he was the one who accidentally pushed his friend off stage. Thinking about Nick Ramirez's body laying at the bottom of a six-feet deep orchestra pit and then shoved inside a musty, old costume trunk made Tristan sick to his stomach. He thought about running upstairs and unburdening his gut but remembered he had not had anything to eat since lunch. "Everett called." Tristan had not talked to his brother in three, maybe four days which was strange considering they talked at least once a day. While they had exchanged a few text messages since then, their preferred communication was hearing each other's voices. "Everything okay?" He tried not to think too much about Everett being on the other side of the country. If he did, it would be an endless spiral of unnecessary worry. Soon he would have to learn how to live on his own. Sooner than he would like. "Yeah - everything's good. We was calling to let me know he'd managed to get some time off so he could come with us next week." Fall Break. Shit, Tristan thought. With everything going on in his life, he had completely forgotten about the trip to see his grandparents during fall break Prior to all hell breaking loose, he'd been looking forward to getting away from school and theater and Finn. Now that he had the whole covering up his friend's death hanging around his neck like the fattest of albatrosses, he needed that trip more than ever. "That's awesome," he lamely replied. "He'll be flying into Atlanta this Saturday so I figured we'd pick him up and maybe grab dinner at The Varsity." Not even the thought of having chili dogs at his favorite restaurant could temporarily lift him from his current funk but Tristan still managed to muster a smile that did not quite reach his eyes. He decided it was time to call it tonight. Maybe he would feel slightly better about things in the morning. "Sounds like a plan," he said to his dad. Tristan made a show of looking at the time on his phone. It was nearly eleven and he reckoned he could work on his homework during homeroom tomorrow morning. Right now, all he wanted was a quick, hot shower and to climb into bed. He feigned a yawn and said, "It's getting late. Think I'm gonna turn in." "Won't be too far behind you. Promised Delores I'd pick up her evening shift tomorrow as well." Tristan wrestled himself out of the sofa's grasp and walked over to his dad. "You work too hard," he said pressing a kiss to the older man's forehead. "I'll sleep when I'm dead." "That's what you think," Tristan said. "What if heaven is like one big factory where you work forever and you don't get time off." "Well - at least I'd be prepared," his dad chuckled. "Goodnight, Dad," he said. "Night, son. Love you." Tristan is already at the foot of the staircase when he hears his dad's pronouncement. "Love you, too, Dad." Tristan somehow managed to make it to the top of the stairs shouldering the weight of too many worlds. Once inside the bathroom he used to share with Everett, he shed his clothes and vowed to throw them in the trash bin outside the next morning. After a brief tango with the best shower head in the world, he padded, barefoot, across the hall and into his bedroom. Tristan had never been happier to see his bed made. There was nothing better than pulling back the quilt his grandmother's grandmother made and settling underneath those crisp, cool sheets. After changing into an old Spider-Man T-shirt and a pair of gray shorts that barely covered his backside, he reached for his phone which was sitting on the table next to his bed. He fired off a quick text to Keisha and waited five minutes before checking his phone for her response. Keisha not texting him back meant she was asleep. Or too depressed for conversation. Either way, he didn't blame her for not messaging him back. After settling into his bed, Tristan almost reached for his lamp. Instead he grabbed his phone again and scrolled through his list of text conversations. Hi there. He hit send and waited for the reply which came a few seconds later. How's it going? How was your Monday? Blue or manic? Despite the darkness churning inside of him like a category 5 hurricane, Tristan found himself giggling. How about both, he asked. Boyfriend problems or other assorted angsty teenage problems? How about both, he asked again. Since I suck at the whole other assorted angsty teenage problems, I'll take Boyfriend Problems for $500, Alex. The last thing Tristan wanted to talk about was Finn. Then again, maybe talking about Finn would lessen the weight of the stupid dead bird hanging around his neck. He quickly sent a text being as succinct as possible. The problem is he never was my boyfriend and now he is someone else's boyfriend. Well, shit. That sucks. I do believe that's the understatement of the decade. Maybe even the century, Tristan responded. Well - good news is we're only nineteen years into this century so we still have 81 years to turn things around. Too bad we'll be dead for at least 30 of those years. Speak for yourself, Mr. Opposite of Optimistic. I plan on taking the Olivia de Havilland route. I plan on riding my bicycle around Rodeo Drive at 104. Well, good luck with that. I'm sorry you have boyfriend problems with a guy that wasn't even your boyfriend. Thanks, Tristan says. As cliché as it sounds, it does get better. I mean guys don't change. Like ever. But how you handle them will. And eventually it gets easier. I can't believe I was stupid enough to fall in love with the straight-ish guy. Hey, don't beat yourself up over it. We've all been there. Think of it as a rite of passage. You came. You saw. You didn't quite conquer. But at least you'll be wiser the next time. How does the saying go? Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Tristan sighed and frowned and responded with, Wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have to see him every single day. Even weekends now that Sheldon wants us to start doing Saturday morning rehearsals. Well, the play will be here before you know it. Just hang in there and it'll all be over soon. Maybe the being in love with Finn Montgomery part would be over but other things wouldn't go away so easily. I'm glad you texted me. You are? Yeah - today's been one of those days for me as well. Really missing home right about now. Tristan bit his lip and asked, When's the next time you'll be home? Christmas and even then it'll only be for a few days. Hardly enough time. Well, Christmas will be here before you know it. Next week is our fall break. Then the play and then the holidays. Any special plans for your break? Me, my dad and my brother are heading to Savannah to visit my grandparents. OMG that's too adorable. Sounds fun. I'm looking forward to getting away for a bit. Ever get that feeling everything's closing in around you? All the time. Los Angeles is freakin' huge but some days it might as well be a shoebox. Note to self, never coming to LA. Not even to see me? Tristan felt something familiar flutter inside of him. Too much traffic and too many earthquakes. Plus you have all those Santa Ana winds to deal with. Yeah there's the whole California could fall off into the Pacific Ocean at any moment but that's part of the charm of living here. Maybe we could meet halfway or something. Like in Nebraska. I think I'd rather fall off into the Pacific Ocean than willingly travel to Nebraska. What's there besides corn and regret? Tristan snorted and looked over at the clock on top of his chest of drawers. It was nearing midnight and he had to be up early. I would reply back with something witty and just a tad bit shady but it's about to be a new day and someone needs their beauty rest. Well - I wouldn't want you to get any bags underneath your eyes. I heard they're really cracking down on how much luggage you can travel with these days. I'm deleting your number as soon as I wake up in the morning. I kid. I kid. Please don't delete me. Especially since we have plans to meet in Nebraska. Goodnight. Talk soon. Goodnight, sir. May you have nothing but pleasant dreams. "From your lips to God's ears," Tristan said as he connected his phone to it's charger. He leaned over and turned off the light casting his bedroom into darkness. Tristan turned on his side and pulled his covers up to his chin. Colin was absolutely right. Now that he knew what it felt like to be the jilted lover, he would be way smarter the next go round. If there was a next go round. Tomorrow was a new day and while the reality of what happened today would still be the same, the only thing he could control was his own actions. Come hell or high water, he was going to have a good night's sleep and a good day tomorrow. Even if it killed him.
  5. I press my forehead against the window. The blur of red and white against the pitch black is strangely calming as we speed down the interstate towards a part of town I don't often frequent. The silence that fills the space between us is neither comfortable nor completely unwelcome. I'm chewing my thumbnail which usually drives Keisha crazy but she's too busy white-knuckling the steeling wheel to notice. The glass is cool against my skin. I want to stick my head out the window and inhale the crisp autumn air. I want to be at home, in my room, in my bed, underneath the covers. I want this day to be over. I want this day to be erased. The car in front of us takes the next exit and Keisha follows suit. In the darkness, I can make out the silhouettes of Jon-Jon and Sheldon and Andy. Finn's Jeep is bringing up the rear. I can't help but think about Leah sitting in the passenger's seat, scrolling through the playlists on Finn's phone. The things I used to do. It doesn't take us long for us to arrive at McKenna Manor, one of the older gated communities. I don't know what Jon-Jon says to the guy manning the gate but he lets all three vehicles enter. It never occurred to me that Nick Ramirez was rich, or at least well-off, but then again there's a lot I don't know about him. What I do know is his dad's a dentist with his own practice and I sort of remember Nick mentioning that his mom had recently retired from being a psychology professor at Georgia Tech. I guess having a dentist and a professor for parents means Nick and his brother don't have a whole lot to worry about at least on the financial front. It's not Montgomery money but the Ramirez family aren't exactly broke. Jon-Jon comes to a stop outside of a two-story red brick home with white columns and a circular driveway. There's a two-car garage attached to the house but Andy's assured us no one is home. Keisha shuts off the engine and unfastens her seatbelt. "I can't believe I'm about to do this." She pushes open the driver's side door which is my cue to unfasten my own seatbelt and vacate the vehicle. The others have gathered around Finn's Jeep. Keisha and I join them and I'm forced to endure another awkward silence. If this were a movie, there would be lots of witty banter exchanged by way too good-looking 20-something actor but instead this is real life and we are a bunch of scared kids standing outside the house of our dead classmate's house plotting to cover up his murder. As I stare up at the house in front of us, I think about my role in all of this. Technically my hands are clean in all of this. So is Keisha's. Well - clean in the sense that neither of us were the ones who pushed Nick off the stage and into the orchestra pit. We weren't the ones who crammed Nick's body into the costume trunk we found in the prop closet. Technically I did help carry the trunk out to Nick's car but that's only because it was way too heavy for Keisha and Leah and Andy was certainly in no mood to put his ex-boyfriend's body in the trunk of his ex-boyfriend's car. So what does that make me? An accessory? If convicted, would I have to go to jail or would I be sentenced to a few months of probation and some roadside clean-up. "Not to sound rude or anything but can we get this over with?" Leah's voice is like shrapnel. "It's just that I told my mom I'd be home before nine." "Is Andy going to get out?" Finn asks, gesturing to Nick's car. Sheldon shakes his head. "We told him to stay put," he says. "None of this really has anything to do with him." "None of this has anything to do with me either," Leah mutters under her breath. "Then why are you here?" Keisha asks. I can hear the eye roll in her words. "Why are any of us here?" Jon-Jon asks. "This was an accident." "Try telling that to the cops," Leah says. "Sorry, Officer, we didn't mean to push him off the stage." "None of this," Sheldon says, "Is getting us anywhere. Whether it was an accident or not, we all agreed to this. I suggest we stick to our plan." “I’ve got the keys.” Jon-Jon holds up a ring of keys. Nick’s keys. I remember seeing Nick twirl them around his fingers while we were talking one day. “Leah, would you open the front door while we get the trunk?” Sheldon asked. “Um, wouldn’t my fingerprints get on the doorknob?” “Wear gloves,” Sheldon says. “I left them in my locker. At school.” Keisha lets loose a loud groan and says, “Give me the keys.” Jon-Jon tosses the keys at her and she catches them in her right hand. Without a word, Keisha starts up the stone path leading up to the huge front porch running the length of the house. Sheldon and Jon-Jon start moving towards Nick’s car. I feel a hand on the small of my back. “You okay?” Finn's scent engulfs me like a warm embrace. I look up to find him looking at me. His eyes somehow manage to penetrate the darkness and are as bright as the stars taking pity over us. Finn looks at me with such a familiarity that for the briefest of moments I forget the reality of our current situation. "Finn, Tristan - hurry up. This thing is heavy." Jon-Jon's words are the bucket of ice cold water I need. Nice try, Finn Montgomery. "No," I say. "I'm not okay." Not even bothering to wait for his reply, I turn and walk over to where Jon-Jon and Sheldon are standing. The three of us, plus Finn, wrestle the trunk out of the trunk of Nick's car. We walk fast up the path towards the house and by the time we reach the front porch Keisha's managed to get the door open. I hear a chirping noise coming from inside of the house followed by Keisha letting out a string of expletives I wish I could repeat because sometimes Keisha sounds so eloquent when she's cursing. "Does anyone know the code?" she asks, hands on hips, annoyance etched into her face. "Try 1, 2, 3, 4," Jon-Jon says as we lower the trunk to the ground. Sheldon glares at Jon-Jon and asks, "Who would use that as the code to their alarm system?" "That's the code we use at my house," Jon-Jon says. "It's easy to remember." "Please stop talking," Keisha says. "Um - you guys, if we don't put something in the cops are going to come," Finn says, running his fingers through her hair. "Then we'd really be fucked up the ass," Jon-Jon says. He then looks over at me and winces. "Um - no offense." The chirping noise is getting faster and my palms are starting to sweat. "Does anyone know Nick's birthday?" Keisha asks looking back and forth between the four of us. "Try November 13th," I suggest. "1113." Keisha walks up to the keypad which is just inside the door and enters the four numbers. The chirping continues. "That's not it," she says. "Shit." "Maybe we should get out of here," Finn says looking back at his Jeep. "Dude - in case you forgot, there's a dead-ass body in a trunk." "Dude, that's our friend in there," Finn says, gesturing to the trunk. "Have some respect. Jesus." "This is not helping," Keisha says bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet. "Try 0223." Andy appears at my side, a gray hoodie drawn tight around his thin frame. Nick's hoodie. Keisha immediately punches in the numbers and the chirping stops. "Oh thank God," she whispers leaning her head against the keypad. "You know the code to Nick's house?" a slack-jawed Jon-Jon asks. "I come -." Andy clears his throat. "I used to come over here a lot. Plus 0223 - it's my birthday. Nick changed the code right after his parents left on their trip." "Well," Jon-Jon says. "Crisis averted. We better wrap this up. My mom's blowing up my phone asking where I am." Without a word, the four of us pick the trunk up and carry it over the threshold. "Where are we putting this?" Jon-Jon asks. "I mean him." "Not to sound crass but maybe we should put him at the bottom of the stairs," Sheldon says. He points to a nearby set of stairs leading to the upstairs. "I mean technically he fell at school. Maybe they - the cops - will think he fell down the stairs." "He didn't fall," Andy says with a touch of venom in his voice. "He was pushed." "Dude - why you looking at me?" Jon-Jon asks. "Because you pushed Nick," Keisha says. "We both pushed him at the same time and he fell off the stage," Jon-Jon says gesturing at Finn. "You guys," Sheldon says. "Playing the blame game is getting us nowhere. This was an accident. A horrible, horrible accident." "Take him upstairs," Andy says. "What?" Jon-Jon asks, eyes wide in disbelief. "Why." "I don't want to think about him lying on the floor," Andy says. "We'll take him upstairs and put him in his bed." "But that doesn't make sense," Sheldon says. "I don't care if it makes sense," Andy shrieks. "Whoa," Leah says walking through the front door. "What's with all the yelling. The whole neighborhood can hear you guys." "Thought I told you to wait in the car," Keisha says, giving Leah the death stare. I reach out and place my hand on Andy's arm. "Andy - we'll take him upstairs," I say. I turn to the others. "Let's finish this." No one says anything and for the first time today I feel relief. Keisha, Leah and Andy lead the way as the rest of us lug the heavy trunk up the carpeted steps. Along the way, I noticed the framed photos lining the pistachio-colored walls. There's a photo of Nick and Nathan as babies followed by a smaller photo taken on their first day of Kindergarten. Nathan is clearly the more outgoing of the two, smiling the biggest in every photo. Nick seems more reserved, like he understands life in a way that his twin brother doesn't. The photo at the top of the stairs is the most recent. Nick looks really hot with his hair slicked back wearing a black tux standing next to an equally stunning Andy who is wearing a white tux with a pink boutonniere. Nathan is cradling his former girlfriend, Monique Castillo, from behind. The photo must have been taken at prom last year. Keisha and I didn't go. We have promised each other we will go this year. That's if we don't end up behind bars. Andy leads us to a door at the end of the hallway which I assume is Nick's bedroom. He pushes open the door and the seven of us enter a rather large space with a sloping ceiling. My bedroom is a shoebox compared to Nick's room. Several posters of Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance pepper the seafoam walls. The bed is unmade and several Mountain Dew bottles litter the hardwood floor. Now I'm not the neatest person but Nick's room looks like a bomb went off in it. I bow out of the next part which involves Finn and Jon-Jon removing Nick's body from the trunk. I look over at Andy who has an unreadable expression on my face. "Is this good?" Jon-Jon asks. I look over just as he's pulling the covers over Nick's still body. Andy doesn't say anything. Instead he starts moving towards the bedroom door. As everyone starts following him, I look over at Nick's desk and see a small notebook sitting on the edge. It's the kind with the black and white splotches across the front. I don't know why but I reach for it and quickly shove it underneath my jacket. I quickly join the others in the hallway. "Keisha, can you give me the keys," Finn says. "I'm going to put Nick's car in the garage." "Nick doesn't park in the garage," Andy says in a quiet voice. "He usually parks in the driveway." Finn nods and turns his head just in time to catch the keys. "Mind if I ride back with you?" Jon-Jon asks Keisha. "Sure," she says. "You guys mind if I have a moment?" Andy asks as he stares inside of the bedroom. "Of course," I say, patting him on the shoulder. "Take your time. We'll be downstairs." Andy gives me a weak smile before he walks back inside of Nick's room. I watch as he quietly closes the door behind him. "What's he about to do?" Jon-Jon asks. "You are not allowed to talk for the rest of the night," Keisha says through gritted teeth. Jon-Jon opens his mouth to respond but instead he turns around and starts walking down the hall. The rest of us follow. I walk down the stairs as fast as I can and I don't stop until I'm buckled into the passenger's seat of Keisha's Honda. I want to get as far away from this place as possible. "I think I'm going to be sick tomorrow," Keisha says as she slides in behind the wheel. I watch as she inserts the key into the ignition and starts the car. Jon-Jon and Sheldon climb into the backseat. "Finn's going to wait on Andy and then drive him home," Sheldon says. According to the clock on the dash, it's a quarter to nine. I should've been at home three hours ago. I pull my phone from my pocket and see that I have no missed calls from Dad. I check my texts and there's nothing new from him. I wonder if he picked up an extra shift at the hospital. Keisha turns around at the end of the cul de sac and soon we are headed out of McKenna Manor. I think about Andy alone in Nick's room. I try to imagine the pain he must be in right now but thinking about it makes my stomach churn. I turn to Keisha and say quietly, "I think I'm going to be sick tomorrow, too."
  6. "Fuck. This. Year." "Tristan, sweetie, it's way too early for fuck," Keisha says as we walk towards the front entrance of the school. It's Monday morning and this is what you've missed. Finn Montgomery and Leah Platt are Shenandoah High's new it-couple. Yes, you read that correctly. Finn and Leah are officially dating. Leah's even changed her relationship status again, this time to in a relationship with Finn Montgomery. This is a nightmare. Yeah, move over Pennywise the Clown. Finn and Leah being a couple is officially the scariest thing I've ever seen. I would've poured bleach in my eyes this morning had it not been for the French exam I have in fourth period. The hallways are pretty quiet because it's Monday and no one, not even the teachers, want to be here. Keisha and I pass by Jon-Jon as we take the stairs to the second floor. He's too busy looking pissed to even notice us. I'm sure he's heard the news by now. I always figured me and Jon-Jon had nothing in common but right now we are the two jilted lovers in this bizarre situation. If this were an early-2000s romantic teen comedy, we'd get revenge by pretending to date only to discover we are super into each other. Yeah, not going to happen. "Bitch," Keisha hisses as we pass by a group of girls. Leah is at the center of the small clique. She's straightened and darkened her hair and for once she's not dressed like a little girl in a JC Penney's catalogue. I can't hear what she's saying but the small group of girls around her appear to be hanging onto every single one of her words. Leah Platt is popular. What is Things I thought I'd never see in my lifetime, Alex? "You're surprisingly calm," Keisha says. "If I were you and she took my boyfriend, I'd be dragging her by her Fisher-Price hair extensions up and down this hallway." "Trust me. I want to be mad at her. But if you really think about it, she's really done nothing wrong. It's not like she knew about me and Finn." "You sure about that?" Keisha asks. "Jon-Jon knows. So does Andy." "I seriously doubt they would've said anything. Especially to her. Besides, Leah's a lot of things. Condescending. Annoying as hell. But she's not vindictive." "You're right," Keisha says after a few moments. "I still want to punch her in her face though." The two of us are standing outside of Keisha's homeroom. From the other end of the hallway I notice Andy heading in our direction. He makes eye contact with me and shoots me a sad smile. Next thing I know he's throwing his long arms around me and pulling me into a hug. "I'm so sorry, Tristan." He turns to Keisha and waves and then turns his attention back to me. "How you holding up." "You know the whole five stages of grief? Well, currently I'm firmly planted between denial and wanting to take a baseball bat to a certain person's Jeep." "We can borrow my little brother's," Keisha says. "Last time I checked, destroying other people's property is a felony." "I know," Keisha says. "But it would make you feel better." "Well," Andy says. "I just want you to know, I'm totally hashtag Team Tristan. I can't believe Finn did this to you. I thought he was .... different." Out of the corner of my eye I catch something green from down the hallway. A green jacket. Finn in his letterman jacket is walking in our direction. Of course - he and Keisha have the same homeroom. "I appreciate it, Andy," I say, keeping my eyes trained on Finn. "I really hate to run but the bell's about to ring." "No worries," Andy says. "I'll see you two in Theater." Shit. I've been so caught up in all of this I totally forgot we'll all have to see each other this afternoon. Keisha leans in and gives me a hug and says she will text me. As we separate, I walk as fast as I can in the opposite direction towards my own homeroom class. ~ "Since it's officially October, we really need to buckle down," Sheldon announces as we all stand around him in a small circle. Keisha's on my left and Andy's on my right. Finn's direction across from me but Sheldon's blocking our view of each other. "With next week being fall break, we really don't have a whole lot of time between now and opening night?" "Have we heard anything about Nick?" Leah asks. She's on Andy's right standing next to Finn. "No," Sheldon says. "I've tried texting and calling but he's not answering either. At this point, I think it's best I step in and take over his role. Even if he came back today, there's no way we'd be able to teach him the choreography on top of everything else we have to do." "Can't believe he bailed on us," Jon-Jon says. "He didn't bail," Andy pipes up. "He's been really sick." "I literally just saw him the other day while I was out jogging," Jon-Jon says. I look over at Andy. He opens his mouth to respond to what Jon-Jon's just but decides to bite down on his lower-lip instead. "Regardless, I'll be taking over the role of Richard Ramirez which I realize is somewhat problematic considering I'm black and Richard Ramirez is not. But, we have to make it work. Is everyone okay with that?" "I'm totally okay with it," Leah says in her obnoxiously cheerful voice. "After all, men used to take on female roles." "Good point," Sheldon says. "Well, since I won't be able to play while you guys performed, I spent the weekend recording instrumentals of each of the songs." Sheldon walks over to his backpack and pulls out his MacBook. "Give me a moment to get my laptop connected to the sound system," he says. "We're going to start with "Can You Blame Us" and then we're going to practice each of the solo performances. Everyone get into position." "Can You Blame Us" is the final song of the show and my personal favorite. Basically it's this huge dance number that ends with each of us taking center stage and taking a bow before leaving the stage. We slowly get into position while Sheldon works to get the audio connected. Finn's in the middle because he's the tallest. On either side of him is Keisha and Leah. I'm next to Leah and Andy's next to me while Jon-Jon and Nick ... well I guess Sheldon now ... is on the other side of Keisha. Piano music fills the auditorium as Sheldon quickly jumps in line next to Jon-Jon. Our moves are a bit creaky but we manage to get through the first half of the song without anyone stepping on anyone's toes. There's a part where I have to tango with Leah and I royally mess up the steps. I hear Sheldon from behind me encouraging me to keep going. He assures me we're going to practice this until we get it right. Towards the end when it comes to Andy's part where he takes a bow, he does a high kick which causes his shoe to fly off into the audience. There is laughter all around me. Sheldon tells us to stop and to focus. I take my bow without incident and quickly march off the stage. After a few beats I turn around and march back onto the stage along with all of the others. Together we take one last bow and presumably this is the part where the curtain comes down. The piano music stops and we are all panting and sweating profusely. "Good job, everyone," Sheldon says walking over to his computer. There's slow-clapping coming from off stage. Seven pairs of eyes all look to our left to see where there the clapping is coming from. I'm pretty surprised to see Nick walk out onto the stage. My first thought is that it's good to see him, in the flesh. My second thought is, where has he been? My third thought is, what the hell is he wearing? Nick looks like he hasn't showered since the Obama administration. His hair which is on the longish side is so wild I wonder if he or anyone else would be able to get a comb through it. He's wearing a black Led Zeppelin t-shirt and a pair of dark denim jeans with holes at the knees. No one speaks for literally an eternity. Andy's at my right and he looks like he's seen a ghost. "Nick," Sheldon says. "You're back." "Yeah but it looks like I've been replaced," Nick says coolly. "Not replaced," Sheldon says, his voice not as confident. "You weren't here and ... we have to keep practicing." Sheldon's voice gradually trails off the more he speaks. "Dude, you left and we moved on," Jon-Jon says rather matter-of-factly. Jon-Jon slowly folds his arms across his chest which he's puffed out for further intimidating. Instead of looking intimidated, Nick laughs and shakes his head. "Still an asshole, I see," he says staring Jon-Jon dead in the eye. Before Jon-Jon has a chance to respond, Andy pipes up. "Nick," he says. His voice is thin and hollow sounding. "Why are you here?" "Why am I here?" he asks. Nick steps towards Andy and that's when I noticed how pale he looks. Whether Nick was sick or faking it, he looks sick right now. He's also sweating but then again we're all sweaty. But Nick just didn't finish performing a seven-minute musical number. "Don't act like you haven't spent the last week calling me and standing outside my house like some weirdo," Nick hisses. "I was worried about you," Andy blurts. Andy looks terrified and I don't blame him. I have never seen Nick Ramirez like this. I've never seen him look so menacing. "You don't give a shit about me," Nick screams into Andy's face. Andy yelps and then whimpers as tears begin to fall. "If you really cared about me," Nick continues. "You would've told your parents to fuck off a long time ago." "Nick, enough." This time it's me that's speaking. My heart is beating so hard and so fast in my chest. I don't do tense situations but hearing and seeing Andy cry is clawing at my heart right about now. "Fuck you, Tristan," Nick says not even bothering to look at my direction. "How about you back off," Finn has a vice-grip on Nick's arm. Nick somehow manages to pull himself from Finn's grasp despite Finn being bigger and stronger. Nick lunges at Finn and pushes him backwards. Finn stumbles a bit but manages to return the shrug. Andy's crying. Nick is cussing. Leah wedges herself between the two angry men but Nick flings her to the ground like a ragdoll. I try to move but I cannot will my legs to move. I try looking for Keisha but my eyes are too glazed over with tears. I cannot believe any of this is happening. There's screaming and yelling and the sounds of metal folding chairs moving across the floor. I squeeze my eyes shut and fill the tears that have gathered there trail down the sides of my face. "Fuck you," Nick roars again. There's more scuffling sounds and then a cracking noise followed by a gasp. Then there's nothing. No yelling. No shoes squeaking across the wooden stage floor. I feel a hand on my shoulder and I know instantly that it's Keisha. "What did you do?" Andy screams from my right. Hearing those words turns my blood into ice. Something's broken. Something's broken and it cannot be fixed.
  7. My second lie to Finn happens on a rainy Saturday afternoon. It’s the day following homecoming and I’m on my ninth episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. I’m lying across my bed with a half-eaten bag of spicy pork rinds sitting next to me when I receive a text from him. What time should I pick you up, he asks. Pick me up? I crawl towards the top of my bed so I can lean up against my headboard. Did you forget? I tell him, yes. Leah’s birthday dinner is tonight. I vaguely remember accosting Keisha and myself and asking if we would come to her birthday party. Did we say yes? Did I say yes? I’m pretty sure if Finn is going I did say yes. No offense to Leah, but the last thing I want to do right now is leave my bedroom. You still wanna go, he asks. As if on cue, bright blue light floods my bedroom and thunder rattles my the walls. My alarm clock says that it’s a quarter after four but it feels way later. Beyond my bedroom window is nothing but gray and wet and leaves. Yup. There’s absolutely no way I’m leaving the house today. You still there, he asks. I chew on my bottom lip and consider my options. So, I’m definitely not going to Leah’s birthday thing. That’s a given. However, how is Finn going to feel about me bailing at the last minute? I’m so not the type to bail on plans, especially at the last minute. The way I see it, there’s only one option. Would you be mad if I didn’t go? You okay? Just feeling a little under the weather. I've been in bed all day. At least the second part’s true. You need anything, he asks. Actually I’m gonna have my dad make me a bowl of soup. This is actually sort of true. Dad picked up a shift at the hospital. However, there’s leftover wonton soup from when we ordered Chinese a few days ago. I feel like I should come over and take care of you. Admittedly that does sound nice but my heart hasn’t quite thawed out from last night. Finn pretty much ignored me during the game and I still don’t know how I feel about our only being a thing when we’re in private. But I did tell Leah I would come and I get the feeling she doesn’t have a lot of friends, he continues. It sounds harsh but I’ve gotten the same feeling. Leah barely knows me or Finn or Keisha. We’re not even in the same grade. You should go. It’s just a few hours and the food’s probably going to be really good. Meh. My parents have brunch at the Walton Club pretty much every Saturday. The food is pretty mediocre. Leah did mention your parents know the owners. Yeah. The Fontenots. They’ve been friends with my family for years. My brother Fabian was married to their daughter but they’re divorced now. That sounds really awkward. It was at first but things are better now. You sure you don’t want me to come over? I’m fine. I promise. Just taking it easy. Well if it weren’t for this birthday party I’d probably be taking it easy, too. Not a fan of this weather. Rather be in watching a movie or something. That sounds nice. Maybe if this thing doesn’t last too long I could come over and we could watch something on Netflix. And chill? Finn sends me a series of happy devil emojis followed by a shrugging emoji. I roll my eyes. Have fun at the party, Mister Montgomery. Finn responds with a kissy face emoji. I reach over and place my phone down on the table beside my bed. Crisis averted. Do I feel bad for lying? Of course! I absolutely hate lying. I really do. That's one of the main reasons I came out. I didn't like lying to Dad and Keisha. I crawl out of my bed and walk over to my bedroom window. The rain is really coming down. I don't mind the cold and I don't mind the rain but when those things combine, I want to stay inside and eat soup and watch Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler solve crimes of the particularly heinous variety. I make my way downstairs and I'm happy to see there's still some soup left. After microwaving me a bowl, I grab a Coke out of the fridge and then head back upstairs to my room. The light on my phone is blinking by the time I'm settled back in bed. I pick it up and see that I have a message alert. I put in my password and click on my messaging app. There's two text messages from Colin. The first one says he's made it back to LA after a two-hour layover in Denver. The second one asks if I have any Saturday night plans. No plans, I text back. Sorry about the layover. No worries. I have a few eBooks on my phone to keep me busy. So you're a reader. Yessir. Big horror guy. Love horror movies. Horror books not so much. So you like horror movies but don't like horror novels? I read Stephen King's It when I was in the 7th grade and I had nightmares for like a week. You read It when you were in the 7th grade? Wow. I'm 21 and I still refuse to read or watch it. You're really missing out. The movies are pretty decent. The one from the 90s not so much. Maybe when I'm back in town again, you can convince me to watch it. Deal. Netflix is asking me if I'm still watching SVU so I grab the remote and turn off my smart TV. Colin now has my undivided attention. So, I ask. What are your Saturday plans? I have a date with the Golden Girls. I'm also thinking about having a pizza delivered. I'm pretty hungry. Okay, don't judge me, but I've never seen an episode of the Golden Girls before. Okay why don't you just delete my number right now and we'll never speak again. I'm sorry but a show about old ladies living together didn't seem all that appealing to me. Let me guess, you watch Sex and the City. Of course. What self-respecting gay guy doesn't. Basically Golden Girls is the original Sex and the City. How so, I ask. Well, there's Dorothy. She's like Carrie Bradshaw. Basically none of the other characters would work without her. Her mother, Sophia, is the Miranda. She's razor-tongued but super loving. Then there's Rose. Rose, like Charlotte, is super sweet and caring. Then there's my favorite character of all, Blanche. Blanche is like in her fifties but is still having sex and is very unapologetic about it. Like Samantha. Yes. Like Samantha. Dorothy, Sophia, Rose and Blanche all share a house in Miami. It's super funny. Some episodes are sad but really good. I used to watch it all the time with my grandmother. Okay. You've officially twisted my arm. It's on Hulu. You can thank me later. Guess I'll add it to my ever-growing pile of things to binge-watch. I highly suggest moving the Golden Girls to the top of the list. Noted. By the way, why aren't you out with your hot man this evening? Is hanging out on Saturday night still a thing with you young people? Young people? Ha. Okay, Grandpa. To answer your question, it's rainy cats and dogs right now so I'm not going out anyway. Secondly, you remember Leah, don't you? Gee - how could I ever forget? Well tonight's her birthday dinner and she invited me and Finn and Keisha. Say no more. I've had enough of that girl to last me a lifetime. Leah's sweet. She's basically like Rachel Berry 2.0. OMG, I totally said that once. Every semester there's a girl like her that comes into the theater program and then after a few weeks either she quits or she turns that shit off. Yeah, Leah's definitely in for a rude awakening after high school. Maybe she'll magically snap out of it before then. Doubtful, I say. So, you mentioned Finn was invited, too. Yeah. We were supposed to go together but I sort of told him I was feeling under the weather. The ole lying to the boyfriend so you don't have to go to the party trick. Trust me, I feel really bad about it. Not exactly a fan of lying. Well, I won't tell anyone. Thanks. So, you have no plans. Yup. I believe that's what I have no plans. And I have no plans. What are you suggesting, Mr. McNamara? I'm thinking right now's the perfect time for you to be introduced to Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia. Think so? I know so. Go grab you a snack and I'll get us set up. Aren't we bossy? Always. And I always get what I want. ~ Nine and a half episodes later, I must've fallen asleep because now it's morning and the sun is filling the interior of my bedroom in a truly oppressive manner. I turnover and nearly roll over onto my laptop which is still open. The program Colin used so we could watch the Golden Girls is still open. In the message section, there's a message from Colin that came in at 10:53 PM. Guess you fell asleep. Goodnight, you prince of Maine, you king of New England. He's such a poet. I shut the lid on my laptop. I turn over on my other side and see that it's a little after nine according to my alarm clock. I also notice my phone is blinking on the edge of the table next to my bed. Most likely a missed called from Finn. I've got seven texts and one missed call, all from Keisha. I decide to skip the texts and go straight to the source. Keisha picks up on the second ring. "Why didn't you answer my call?" she asks a bit too loudly for a Sunday morning. "I was sleep. What's up?" "I'm guessing you haven't seen Facebook this morning." "No," I say. "Again, I was sleep. Just woke up." "Thank God," she says. "What's going on?" I ask, sitting up straight, back propped against my headboard. "Do me a favor and click on Facebook and please stay on the phone with me while you do it. PS - I'm on my way over. I hope your dad's made breakfast." I barely hear what Keisha's saying because I'm scrolling through my apps looking for Facebook. I click on the Facebook app and I refresh my timeline. I don't even have to scroll to see exactly what Keisha wants me to see. Leah Platt's latest post is at the top of my Facebook feed. It's photos of her taken at her birthday gathering paired with a declaration of her latest relationship status. According to Leah, it's complicated. I roll my eyes. I can hear Keisha breathing in my ear. "Have you seen it yet?" she asks. "Apparently Leah's current relationship status is complicated." "Not that," Keisha scoffs. "Look at the pictures." There's over forty pictures in the photo album she's named Birthday Fun. I quickly scroll through photos of a particularly attractive Leah making duck faces with people I don't know. Towards the end, there is a face I do recognize. In one photograph, Leah is perched on Finn's lap with her arms around his neck. Finn looks uncomfortable. Second photo, Leah has her forehead pressed against Finn's forehead. Finn doesn't look as uncomfortable. Next photo, Finn's neck appears to be nuzzled against Leah's neck. By the look on Leah's face, she appears to be enjoying this. Second to last photo, Leah is toying with the top button on the dark blue button down Finn is wearing. Finn has a huge grin on his face. As my thumbs scrolls over to the next photo, I feel last night's wonton soup creeping back up my esophagus. Leah is kissing Finn. On the lips. Finn is definitely kissing her back. Her arms are twisted around his thick neck. His big hands are on her waist. Both their eyes are closed. "Hang on, babe," Keisha says. "I'm almost at your house." "Too late," I say before I watch my Chinese in reverse.
  8. “Where’s your green and gold?” Keisha pulls into my driveway at a quarter to seven. Tonight’s the big homecoming game which I’d totally forgotten about until Finn reminded me this morning when he picked me up for school. Frankly the last place I want to be tonight is back at school watching a bunch of mildly-hot meatheads smash into each other over and over for a few hours. “Believe it or not I own not one piece of green or gold apparel.” Keisha waits for me to fasten my seatbelt before she backs her Honda out of my driveway. “What about your PE shirt?” Keisha has the air on at full blast despite it being a crisp September evening. Keisha will literally cut my hand off if I adjust the temperature so I turn the vent facing me towards her. “Oh please,” she says “The girls are not about to fit in itty bitty thing.” Keisha gestures to her extremely ample bosom which is contained in a Atlanta Falcons jersey. “At least I’m paying homage to football.” It’s way to soon when we are pulling into the parking lot across from the football stadium. The parking lot is packed and someone’s mom is collecting five bucks as a parking fee. She assures us 100-percent of the proceeds will be going to the athletics department. Shocker ... “As if the athletics department needs anymore money,” Keisha says as she unfastens her seatbelt. “Sheldon told me it was like pulling teeth to get money for the play. And we still don’t have enough.” “I take it you and Sheldon are back to being okay again?” Keisha shrugs her shoulders and pushes open the driver’s side door. “Eh - we’re stable at the moment. We still have a lot of issues to work through. I’m so used to being the emotional one in the relationship. Apparently his last relationship was an absolute disaster and he’s still dealing with that.” The two of us start moving towards the field. The stadium lights are so bright it feels like the middle of the day. “Is he even ready for a relationship?” “I did ask him that,” Keisha says. “He says he is but his actions say otherwise. I’m like so close to pulling the plug on this whole thing but I’m worried about how it would affect the play. I just don’t want things to be awkward.” “Keisha - you can’t keep dating Sheldon because you’re worried about how it’ll affect the play. This is our senior year. We can’t afford to waste even one second.” “Yeah, yeah - I know. I’m going to do some thinking this weekend. I’ll have my answer by next Monday.” I put my arm around her waist and pull her into quick side-hug. “No matter what happens, you know I’ll be here.” “I know - however, you need to focus on that beautiful man of yours. Speaking of, did he mention where he’s sitting?” I look down at my phone and say, “He says he’s sitting where we usually sit during lunch.” “Oh great,” Keisha groans. “Of all nights to wear six-inch heels.” The two of us have no issue locating Finn in the sea of green and gold. I’m a bit surprised to see Chase Darling and Kane Matthews with him. I can feel Keisha tense up next to me. Way back when circa junior year, Keisha and Kane dated for about four months. Kane was a senior and while he wasn’t exactly a bad guy, their relationship didn’t rank very high on his list of priorities. Kane looks a lot different since I last saw him. He’s got dreds now and he’s packed on a lot of muscle. When he sees us, or rather Keisha, he smiles and suddenly I remember why Keisha fell for the guy in the first place. Kane Matthews is hot. Finn scoots over leaving a gap between he and Kane and gestures for Keisha to have a seat. Keisha hesitates for a moment and then makes a move for the spot between Finn and Kane. I settle into the spot on Finn’s right and inhale his cologne. Of course he’s wearing his letterman jacket but I see he’s also wearing a black button down, a pair of blue jeans and some Timberlands. It’s no contest. Finn Montgomery is the best looking guy in this stadium. “Glad you made it,” he says. “Me, too. Although I hope you’re prepared to explain to me what’s going on because I don’t know anything about football except for the that the uniforms are hot.” Finn gives me an awkward smile and says, “Well, the game hasn’t started yet. Basically you wanna cheer for the guys in the green uniforms.” “Okay. I can definitely do that.” Fifteen minutes into our arrival at the game, the game officially starts. There’s so much telling and screaming around me, I feel like my ear drums are going to explode. At one point Finn jumps to his feet and roars something unintelligible to who I have no clue. I’ve never seen him so ... is passionate even the right word? When he finally lowers himself back into his seat, I reach out and place a hand on his thigh. The gesture somehow manages to have the opposite reaction I’m desiring. I feel the muscle underneath my fingers tense. I look up at Finn and the look on his face is dark. I slowly pull my hand away and feel a chill travel down my spine. Oh shit. That’s right. We’re in public. We’re in public with Finn’s friends. Placing my hand on Finn’s thigh while we’re in the middle of a crowded stadium is so not okay. I’m an idiot. I want to disappear. “So, this is where all the cool kids are hanging out.” Colin McNamara is standing next to our row, his hands shoved into the pockets of his own letterman jacket. Does that mean he’s an athlete? Like Finn he’s wearing a button down and jeans but instead of Timberlands he’s wearing loafers. Like me, I can tell he spends a lot of time on his hair because not a single strand is out of place. “Mind if I join?” he asks. Before anyone has a chance to say anything I say, “Sure.” If Finn’s gonna play hetero for his friends, I at least have someone to make this night more bearable. “What have I missed?” he asks rubbing his hands together. Again, I notice the black band on his wedding finger. “Oh, some guys ran into each other and everyone started yelling.” Colin chuckles and it’s enough to make all the awkwardness I just experienced with Finn evaporate. “I take it you’re not a football fan.” “Not really. My dad and my brother love it. I always found it pretty boring.” “You do know being in the south and not liking football is borderline blasphemous.” “Well I know of a few other things I enjoy that’s borderline blasphemous around these parts.” This time we both laugh. I feel movement on the other side of me. Finn is on his feet again. “I’m going to the concession stand,” he announces a bit too loudly. “Anyone want anything?” I shrug and Colin says no thank you. The others do as well. Finn squeezes past us without saying excuse me and charges down the stairs. Colin turns to me, his brows contorted in concern, and asks, “He okay?” Again, I shrug. Colin leans in closer so his words can stay between the two of us. “Trouble in paradise?” I’m about to ask him how he knows when he beats me to the punch. “Trust me I recognize a gay boy in love with a straight boy when I see it “ I sigh and lower my voice to a whisper. “When it’s just the two of us, he’s very open and affectionate but he’s not ready to come out yet which I’m okay with.” “Are you okay with it?” Colin asks. “He should be able to come out whenever he’s ready.” “I agree. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait until he does.” “I know but this is what I’ve wanted for the last four years of my life and now that it’s finally happened.” “You don’t want to mess it up,” Colin says. “Yes.” “Well - hate to break this to you, Tristan. If you can’t be yourself and he can’t be himself when you’re around the people you care about ... it’s already messed up.” I want to rebuttal but everything Colin McNamara is saying to me is making so much sense. “I’m not trying to get into your business,” he says. “It’s just that I did the whole romancing the straight-ish guy thing back when I was a student here and honestly it’s eight months of my life I’ll never get back.” I want to ask him about his situation but I see Finn coming up the stairs balancing a tray of nachos and a Coke. He looks like he’s calmed down a bit. “Hey, Tristan - I fly back to LA tomorrow morning but I’d really like to keep in touch. Mind if I get your email address?” “I barely check my email.” My email is pretty much Amazon purchase confirmations and spam emails about erectile dysfunction. “Can I just give you my phone number?” Colin grins and nods his head. “Sure.” By the time we exchange numbers, Finn’s tucked back into his spot between me and Keisha. I slide my phone into the pocket of the denim jacket I’m wearing and Finn pushes his tray of nachos towards me. A peace offering. My stomach grumbles as the smell of fake cheese and jalapeños wafts past my nose. I forgive you, Finn Montgomery. I pluck a cheese-covered corn chip from the center of the tray and quickly pop it into my mouth. Finn grins at me. There’s cheese caught in his light stubble but unfortunately it’s going to have to remain there. “Having fun?” he asks popping another corn chip into his mouth. I nod my head and say, “Yeah.” He grins even bigger and looks back down at the field. In a week filled with many firsts - first kiss, first unofficial date, first heart emoji in a text message - it’s only fitting we end the week with yet another first. My first lie to Finn.
  9. "I'm starving. Wanna grab something to eat?" Even while sweaty and gross, Finn Montgomery is still hot. He's wearing the Shenandoah High P.E. t-shirt every freshman's required to buy and I want to reach out and trace every vein and every muscle. He runs fingers through his damp hair and I catch a whiff of body odor and whatever's left of his cologne. I want to drag him to the prop closet and do things I've only read about in the $2.99 gay erotic books on my Kindle. I catch Andy out of the corner of my eye. "Food sounds good," I say. "But I need to talk to Andy about something." "That's cool. My clothes are in my gym locker so how about we meet at my Jeep in ten minutes." "Sounds like a plan." I watch as he walks off with Jon-Jon. I'm so relieved Jon-Jon's decided to keep his mouth shut about me and Finn. Personally I'd like to climb to the roof and announce to the entire school that Finn and I are dating but Finn's not ready for that yet. My phone buzzes in my pocket. Aside from a few text messages from Dad and Everett, I see one from Keisha saying she and Sheldon were going for a walk downtown and that she'll text me when she gets home. Things are still awkward between the two of them but I hope that over time they work out whatever's going on between them. Never thought I'd say this but I actually like Keisha and Sheldon together. Andy's busy cramming his copy of the script into his backpack so he doesn't see me walk up. "Hey," I say. Andy jumps and nearly knocks over a chair. He places his hand over his heart and closes his eyes. "Geez, Tristan - you scared the crap out of me." "I'm sorry," I say. "I just wanted to check in and see how you were doing." After his breathing returns to normal, Andy smiles and says, "I'm fine. Yourself?" "I'm okay," I say. But enough about me. "Have you talked to Nick lately?" "Yeah," he says. "Why you ask?" I shrug. "He's been out all week and I tried texting him a few times but I haven't heard anything back." "Oh," Andy says looking back down at his backpack. "Nick's been sick. Like really sick. Think it's the flu or something. You know it's that time of year." "Well that sucks." I shove my hands inside my pockets. "Being at home, alone, sick. Have you gone over to check on him?" "He's fine," Andy says as he throws his bag over his right shoulder. "I really hate to run but I told my parents I'd be home in time for dinner tonight." Andy avoids my gaze as he squeezes past me and starts walking towards the side exit. "Andy." My voice echoes throughout the auditorium. I notice the two of us are the only ones still here. I shiver, involuntarily, as the thought of us being the only ones in this huge building, at night, sinks in. Andy turns around and looks at me. He looks annoyed as he stands on the other end of the stage with his hands on his hips. I slowly walk over to him but I keep a respectable distance between us. "Andy - you know you can tell me anything," I say. As soon as the words are out of my mouth I wonder if he really knows that. The two of us are decent friends but it's not like we're calling each other every day and spilling our deepest, darkest secrets to each other. Andy opens his mouth to say something but quickly closes it. He looks down at his feet and starts shifting his weight back and forth from one left to the other. He rubs his hands together and finally looks up at me. "I don't know where Nick is," he says quietly. I open my mouth to say respond but nothing comes out. "We haven't talked since the party." "Finn's party? Last Friday?" "He won't answer my phone calls or texts ... anything. I even drove over to his house. His car was in the driveway but he wouldn't come to the door." Last time I saw Andy and Nick together was when we were sitting around Finn's pool. They looked so happy that night. "What happened?" Andy shrugs and lets out a long sigh. "We wanted you and Finn to have some alone time so we both went inside. We started taking shots which was a huge mistake because then Nick asked me when I was finally going to let my parents know we were dating again. I told him that I didn't know and he got so angry. I've never seen him that angry before, Tristan. He just walked off and that was the last time I saw him." "Andy ... I'm so sorry," I say. It's a weak response to what he's just told me but it's all I can offer. I feel bad for both of them. Being gay and out in high school is hard enough. Being in some Romeo and Juliet-esque romance can't be making things any easier. "And you wanna know the ironic part? I finally broke down and told my parents last night. I just couldn't keep lying to them. They both told me they'd been doing a lot of thinking about me and Nick and they said that breaking us two up was the worst thing they've ever done to me. They promised they wouldn't stand in the way of me being with someone ever again. "So I now have permission to date the person I love - the person who won't talk to me." "I'm sure he'll come around," I say. "Have you tried talking to his brother?" "Nick and his brother may not have a whole lot in common but right now they both agree I'm the scum of the earth." What an asshole move. Then again, if Keisha were in the same situation, I'd probably do the same thing since she's basically like my sister. I'd even do the same thing for Everett. "Andy - is there anything I can do?" He shakes his head and says, "No. I had a long conversation with my noni last night and she told me I was just going to have to be patient and wait for Nick. So, waiting is what I'll do." I reach out and place an arm on his shoulder. I can feel him tremble underneath my touch. "Why does loving someone have to be so hard?" he asks. "I don't know," I say. "But when I figure out the answer, I'll make sure to let you know." For some reason this makes Andy laugh and hearing Andy laugh makes me relieved. "There are times I wish I'd never met Nick Ramirez," he says. "Like maybe I wouldn't have to spend the whole day faking being happy and I wouldn't have to fall asleep crying every night. But then there are moments where I can't imagine ever not knowing him and thinking about him not being in my life hurts, like actually hurts. "I just want him back, Tristan. I'm so sick of being unhappy." Andy looks the saddest I've ever seen him and I feel helpless. I never imagined being in love could be so painful. It really makes me wonder what's in store for me and Finn. Will Finn and I have the kind of love Andy and Nick have, or had ... no, definitely have for each other? Will Finn be the first of many? Will I ever fall in love? I think I'm going to be sick. "I appreciate you listening," Andy says, running his shirt sleeve across his eyes. "My parents keep wanting to talk about it but I don't want to talk to them right now." "That's understandable," I say. "I imagine there's some complicated emotions as far as they're concerned." "When they made me end things with Nick over the summer, I didn't speak for them for like a solid month. My sisters and my grandparents had to intervene. Now - I know they've come around and they are okay with me being with Nick but I just keep thinking about how me and Nick wouldn't even be in this situation if they'd just been okay with us dating from the very beginning. "I'm a good son," he continues. "The perfect son. I work hard. I make good grades. I've done everything they've asked of me ... even when I didn't want to." I think about my own dad and how fortunate I am to have him as my parent. Dad has never placed any pressure on me to make good grades. He's always been super supportive. Whenever I've made a bad grade on a test or a paper, he always says that I'll do better the next time. I never realized Andy was under such pressure. Andy sniffs and clears his throat. "Well - I think I've dumped on you enough for one evening," he says. "I'm sure you have better things to do than listen to me complain about how shitty my life is right now." "You're not dumping on me. I'm glad you told me, Andy. I'm really rooting for you and Nick. If it weren't for the two of you, I don't think I would've gotten this far with Finn." Andy gives me a weak smile. "Are y'all like ... dating?" he asks. I shrug and look down at the floor. "I think we're just playing things by ear right now," I say. "Finn's not ready to come out and I'm not about to force him, too. I think I'm okay with what we're doing right now." "Enjoy it," Andy says. "I remember those first couple of weeks when me and Nick started hanging out. I remember the butterflies. Sometimes I wish we could get back to that." "I'm definitely enjoying it," I say. "Sometimes I lie in bed and read through our text messages." "I used to do that," Andy says. "Actually I have a folder on my phone that has screenshots of me and Nick's texts from when we first started dating. I made the mistake of opening that folder last night. I got so upset I deleted them. When I woke up this morning I went into my deleted folder and restored them. I decided no matter what happens between me and Nick, I want those messages." "I'm glad you didn't delete them for good." "Me, too." Andy looks down at the phone in his hand. "I do have to go. I am having dinner with my family tonight. I asked my sister Mia and her husband to come so things won't be awkward." "I have to leave, too. I'm sure Finn's waiting for me. We're gonna grab something to eat." "Enjoy your man," Andy says with a wink. "Oh, I will," I say as the two of us start walking towards the exit.
  10. “So, basically what you’re saying is that you’re abandoning me.” Keisha rolls her eyes and holds her finger like an inch away from my face. “Don’t even. Don’t act like you haven’t been ignoring me these last couple of days while you and Finn have been off galivanting around doing God knows what – not that I have a problem with that. I’m actually really happy for you. About time one of us gets some.” I look around the crowded upstairs hallway to see if anyone’s listening in on our conversation. It’s about to be our lunch period and Keisha’s just informed me she will be meeting up with Sheldon in the auditorium. It’ll be the first time since they’ve talked since Finn’s party. “First of all, I don’t gallivant – whatever that means. Second of all, I am not getting anything. Third of all, you know I hate eating alone.” Whining is so not a good look for me but I don’t care. I really do hate eating alone. There’s nothing more pathetic than sitting alone in a high school cafeteria. “I know, babe, but it’s just this once,” she says running a finger through the glossy black curls framing her face. “Besides, I just really need to know where we stand. Your girl needs some closure right about now.” I should be more supportive. Ever since the party, Keisha’s been in a funk over Sheldon which is strange because typically whenever Keisha has boy problems, she cries, eats a pack of double-stuffed Oreos, burns some sage and 24 hours later she’s good. “Fine,” I say. “You go get your man back. I expect to hear details about it later.” “Well, if I don’t show up to Theater, that probably means things did not go well and I’ve driven to the river to drown myself.” “Geez – I thought I was the dramatic one.” The two of us exchange goodbyes as the warning bell rings. As I make my way to my locker to grab my lunch, I see something red in the distance that catches my eye. Colin McNamara – aka the choreographer from Hell – stands out in a sea of students scrambling to get to their lunchtime destination. It feels so weird seeing him outside the auditorium. He locks eyes with me and starts making his way in my direction. I’m opening my locker when he sidles up next to me. He’s standing so close I can smell him. He smells clean and a bit like citrus. It’s a pleasant smell but I prefer something earthier and sweatier – like Finn. He doesn’t say anything as I nearly arrange my textbooks and notebooks before grabbing my lunch from the top shelf. “Who’s that?” he asks right as I’m about to close my locker. He points to a photo of me and my brother Everett taken at Dad’s 50th birthday party a few years ago. “That’s my brother,” I say. “His name is Everett.” “He looks familiar.” Colin furrows his brow and scratches at what little hair he has on his chin. I close my locker and start walking in the direction of the cafeteria. “Where you headed?” he asks as he walks alongside me. Something tells me I’m about to spend the next thirty minutes pretending to listen to this guy talk about how awesome California is and how great of an actor he is or how he once ran into Keanu Reeves in a café and I don’t know if I’m in the mood for that. “Cafeteria,” I say. “Ugh,” he says. “People actually eat in the cafeteria?” “Well, believe it or not, people have to eat.” I see Colin recoil out of the corner of my eye. “I mean – I didn’t mean that in a bad way,” he says in a low voice. “It’s just that back when I used to go here I got food poisoning and I was out for a week. Almost missed prom.” I look over at him and ask, “You used to go here?” He looks over at me and grins. “What – you didn’t know? I assumed Sheldon would’ve told you guys.” “No. He didn’t.” “Class of 2016,” he says. “My brother’s Class of 2015,” I say. “You said that he looks familiar. Well, you both would’ve been here at the same time.” We both push our way through the double doors leading into the cafeteria. The place is already packed which is a bit discouraging because I wanted my pick of the tables. As we pass the “jock table”, I see Finn sitting between two of his teammates whose names I do not know but faces I recognize. He sees me and gives me a slight nod. I give him a slight smile and me and Colin make our way over to one of the tables next to the window. “Nothing’s changed.” Colin takes the seat across from me. “The jocks are still king and we are the planets and stars that revolve around them.” “Please tell me college is different,” I say as I unwrap the breakfast burrito Dad made for me. Colin leans back in his seat and starts drumming his fingers against the table. I notice the silver band around his ring finger – on his left hand. “Hate to disappoint you but cliques still exist outside of high school – especially on the college campus. There’s the theater majors. Music majors. Athletes. College Republicans and College Democrats. And worst of all … fraternities and sororities. “But hey,” he continues. “Cliques aren’t all bad. I pretty much hang out with all the theater kids. We’re like this big, dysfunctional family, which is nice – especially if you don’t have family of your own.” Moving to Chicago would mean leaving my dad behind. Colin’s on the other side of the country away from his family. Maybe moving away wouldn’t be so bad if I had friends, really good friends to be with. “Reminds me of something I heard RuPaul say,” I say wiping at my mouth with a napkin. “There’s the family you’re born into and then there’s the family you get to choose.” “Exactly,” Colin says slapping the table. “By the way, kudos on the RuPaul reference. Sort of confirms my suspicions about you.” “And what suspicions are those?” “Well, Andy’s pretty obvious but I couldn’t quite figure you out a first. Nice to know we both play for the same team – as cliché as that sounds.” “Well, I don’t make it a habit going around announcing my orientation but … your suspicions are correct. P.S. – straight guys watch Drag Race, too.” “My apologies,” Colin says with a chuckle. “I didn’t mean to sound reductive. Hey – I don’t know if this is too intrusive but are you out?” “Yeah,” I say. “Came out to my dad sophomore year. Feels nice not to have that albatross hanging around my neck.” “Well – that’s a relief to hear.” Colin frowns and looks down at his lap. “At least you’re not suffering in silence for four years.” “I’m very fortunate to have a dad and a brother and a best friend who are super supportive and understanding. I try not to take anything for granted because you just hear all of these stories about kids being thrown out of their homes because one or both of their parents couldn’t handle them being anything else but straight. Breaks my heart. I know how easily things could’ve gone in the opposite direction.” Colin slowly look and seems to avoid eye contact with me. Instead he clears his throat and looks out the window. “I came out to my parents a few days after graduation. I just remember being exhausted by the weight of carrying this secret around. I remember every single detail of that day. Where I was and what I had on. We were sitting on the back porch and I was wearing this hideous tank top from Old Navy that I thought was so cool and these ugly-ass khaki shorts. My mom and dad were sitting on the porch swing like they did every night. My younger sister had just broken up with this guy she’d been seeing and she kept going on and on about it. “I’d decided that morning I was going to come out because I wanted to do it before I left for theater camp the following week. I kept waiting for a lull in the conversation and I remember my dad had just gotten back from the kitchen with a beer so I figured this would be a good chance to squeeze my way into the conversation.” Colin looks over at me and I can see that he has tears in his eyes. “I remember my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. I remember feeling like I was going to throw up all over Mom’s rose bushes but I managed to get everything out in one breath. My sister, God bless her, came over and hugged me and honestly, I remember thinking in that moment that maybe things would be okay. If my sister was okay with me being gay, maybe everyone else would be.” He chews his bottom lip and frowns a bit before continuing. “My mom started crying and then got up and went back in the house. My dad didn’t say anything. He just kept drinking his beer like I hadn’t said anything. My sister went in to check on my mom so it was just me in him. “Till this day, he still hasn’t acknowledged what I said. It’s been almost four years and my dad still hasn’t acknowledged that his son is gay.” “What about your mom?” Colin shrugs his shoulders and sighs. “Unlike my dad, she’s definitely in the acceptance phase,” he says. “We’ve talked about it a few times and from time to time she will ask if I’m dating anyone. I think she’s hoping I’ll tell her I’m dating some girl. “I can’t decide what’s worst. Having a parent who won’t even acknowledge your sexuality or having a parent who claims to be okay with it but is secretly hoping you’ll marry a woman and live happily ever after.” “I’m sorry you have to deal with that.” “You know, it is what it is and what it is ain’t all bad. I’ve come to accept that my parents, for better or worst, are who they are just as I am who I am. I can’t change them anymore than they can change me and I’m okay with that. It took some time and a shit-load of therapy to reach that point but I refuse to spend the rest of my life being depressed about my parents.” Colin reaches for the napkin dispenser and yanks out a handful. He used the wad to wipe at his eyes. Colin making peace with his parents is something I don’t know if I’d be able to do. If my dad or Everett or Keisha turned their back on me, I’d be devastated. I don’t think I’d be able to handle a rejection of that magnitude. And just like that, the icy wall I’d built between myself and Colin has officially melted. Admittedly he’s not so bad. In fact, if he were my age and not living on the other side of the country, I could see us being friends. “Hey,” he says. “I’m starving and that breakfast burrito looks super yummy. I think I’m gonna grab something.” I look down at what’s left of my lunch and say, “Hey, you’re ore than welcome to have the rest. My dad makes the best breakfast burritos but they’re huge and I can never finish it.” “I appreciate the offer but I’m vegan,” he says. “Nasty little habit I picked up on the west coast.” “Look, I can handle you being gay. I can even handle you shopping at Old Navy. But veganism is something I cannot abide.” “Well gosh darn. I thought we were gonna be friends.” We both start laughing. Colin gets up and grabs his bag. “Well, Tristan, thank for letting me sit with you. Hope I haven’t cramped your style too much.” “Well thanks for keeping me from eating alone,” I say. “Happy to oblige.” Colin looks down at his face. “I’ll see you in class,” he says. “I think I’ll stop by and see Ms. Faragher.” I make a face and ask, “Why do you want to see her?” “Because not only is she my favorite teacher,” he says, “She’s also the one who encouraged me to pursue a theater degree. I know a lot of people think she’s the devil incarnate but she’s really kind when you get to know her.” “Well, I don’t hate her,” I say. “But she did give me a C which is absolutely unforgivable.” “Well, I would sympathize but I got an A in her class.” “You know, I was about to forgive you for the whole veganism thing but you’re officially dead to me.” We both laugh again and then Colin waves me goodbye before heading for the exit. Yeah – it’d be nice to have someone like him to hang out with. No offense to Keisha or Finn but I’d like to make a few more friends before graduation. Too bad he’ll be leaving to go back to California tomorrow. Sigh.
  11. When Monday rolls around, I'm out of bed and showered before my alarm goes off. Dad looks surprised to see me when I walk into the kitchen before seven. I pour orange juice into a glass and join him at the kitchen table. “You’re in a good mood,” he remarks as he watches me from over the top of his glasses. I shrug and take a swig of juice. The weekend may have started off a complete and total disaster but things have definitely taken an upswing. Keisha now knows all the details surrounding me and Finn kissing although she was a bit miffed about being the third person to find out about it. Unfortunately things between her and Sheldon continue to be on ice since he’s still not answering her texts and phone calls. The best part of the weekend, however, was spending the afternoon with Finn. What started off as a simple lunch at one of his favorite Japanese restaurants turned into ice cream at the park followed by a double-feature in the theater in Finn’s basement. I ended up falling asleep on the second John Wick movie but when I woke up, the two of us were spooning on his sofa. If this is what Finn means by taking it slow, I think I’m going to quite enjoy this phase of our relationship. “Don’t forget, rehearsals start this week,” I tell Dad. “I won’t be getting home until late.” “Just make sure you get your homework done.” “Will do.” “By the way,” he says, folding the morning paper. “I spoke to Mom and Dad while you were out yesterday. I mentioned to them that your fall break is coming up soon and they wanted to know if we’d come visit.” Grams and Pop-Pop live in the Middle of Nowhere, North Carolina. Dad and I usually see them a few times a year, but since they are getting older Dad has been pushing for us to see them more. Not that I mind. Grams has been like a second-mom to me and Pop-Pop and I are super close. I wished they lived closer to us or vice-versa so we could all see each other more. “Sounds good to me,” I say finishing the last of my orange juice. “Great. I’ll talk to Sharon tomorrow and work and ask for that week off.” “It’ll be nice to get away for a bit. Plus it’s the perfect time of year from Gram’s chili.” I get up and take my glass over to the sink. My backpack is on a hook next to the door that leads out to the garage. “I think I’m going to walk over to Keisha’s,” I say. “She’ll probably have a heart attack me being up this early.” “Be careful. Text me when you get there.” I grab my backpack off the hook and then check to see if I have my wallet, keys and phone, which is working fine now. I kiss Dad on the cheek and tell him goodbye before I head out the front door. I don’t know why, but I feel like this is going to be a really good week. ~ “I have two papers due by the end of the week and then midterms are next week." Keisha presses her forehead against the door to her locker and lets out a groan. She then lifts her head and looks over at me. "On top of all that, we have practice until 6:30 every day until the show starts. I guess I can kiss my social life goodbye. Not that I even have a social life since someone won't pick up their phone." Keisha glances down at her phone which has been perma-glued to her hand all day. "It's only Monday and it's already been a long week," she says. "It's going to be okay," I say shutting my own locker. "We'll just have to budget our time wisely. We can work on our English papers tonight at my house and then tomorrow we can start on that research paper for Economics. We can spend all weekend studying for midterms." Keisha frowns and says, "It's Monday - how can you be in such a good mood?" "Maybe I've decided that this is our last year of high school and I want to enjoy it." "Well, I'm glad at least one of us is enjoying ourselves," Keisha says. The two of us start walking in the direction of our sixth period classes which for me is Speech and Debate. "Have you at least seen him today?" "No, which means he's definitely avoiding me." "Well he's definitely going to be in Theater so he won't be able to avoid you then. Remember, that guy he knows is coming to teach us the choreography for the show." "I totally forgot about that," Keisha says shaking her head. She looks over at me and asks, "Why did we sign up for Theater again?" "There you are," a voice screeches from behind us. Before I have a chance to turn around, there's an arm around my arm and a head on my shoulder. Leah smells like strawberries and desperation as she manages to keep the pace me and Keisha are walking at. "Tristan, I've been looking all over for you," she says. "I just saw you in AP Calculus," I say. "I know," she says. "But we were so busy with that assignment I didn't get to say hello." "Hi," I say through gritted teeth. "Is there, um, something you needed?" "Oh - well, I'm sort of having this small gathering for my birthday and I wanted you to come." "You want me to come?" Leah and I have probably spoken like a paragraph of words to each other since we've known each other and now she wants me to attend her birthday party. "Well yeah. I figured since we're like besties now, you should definitely be invited. It's Saturday at six at the Walton Club. Hope this isn't too short of notice." "Besties?" Keisha asks. "Oh and Keisha can be your plus-one," Leah says. "Plus-one," Keisha says. "You hear that, Tristan? I can be your plus-one." I roll my eyes at Keisha and say to Leah, "Um, Leah, I'd love to come ..." "I feel a but coming," Leah says. "It's not really a but," I say. "It's more of a however." "Same thing," she says. "It's just that midterms are coming up and me and Keisha plan on studying this weekend. The whole weekend." I hear Leah sigh and now I feel bad. Or at least a little bit bad. The idea of spending even an hour outside of school with Leah Platt sounds awful. "I get it," she says after several moments of silence pass between us. "It's just that when I asked Finn earlier he said yes and asked if you were coming, too..." Oh, is this the game we're playing. "So, Finn's coming," I say. "Oh yes. His parents know the owners of the Walton Club so he's going to get us a discount." "You know, Tristan, I'm sure you can spare a couple of hours to go to the party," Keisha says. "We can always pick back up with studying after it's over." "I promise not to keep you out too late," Leah says. I can hear the pout in her voice. She is not going to let this go. "What time is it again?" I ask hoping she doesn't hear the reluctance in my voice. "Six - at the Walton Club downtown." "I guess I will see you Saturday then," I say. "Tristan, you are the best," she says squeezing my arm. The warning bell rings and I have never been so relieved. "Shit, I'm going to be late," Leah says, relinquishing her hold on my arm. "See you guys in class." Before Keisha and I can respond to her, Leah takes off in the opposite direction. I look over at Keisha and shoot her my best version of a death stare completely forgetting that she is completely impervious to any and all of my most threatening looks. "So much for being my wing-woman," I mutter as we slowly climb the stairs to the second floor. "As your wing-woman I was totally looking after you," Keisha says. "I figured you want to spend as much time with your boyfriend as possible." "He's not my boyfriend." "I thought you said you two were taking things slow." "We are," I say quietly. "Well, in my book that means you're dating and if you're dating that means he's your boyfriend." "That feels so weird to hear out loud. Boyfriend." "Maybe I'll get to have one of those someday soon," Keisha says with a sigh. "Hey - it's not too late to fix things with Sheldon. Just be patient and let's see what happens." The two of us reach the top of the stairs and this is the part where we go our separate ways. We wave goodbye to each other and I turn to walk towards my class. In forty-five minutes I will get to see Finn. As if this day couldn't get any better. ~ "Good afternoon my fellows thespians. I hope you all had an amazing weekend but as I mentioned last week, today starts the real work." Sheldon's standing at the center of our somewhat misshapen circle. Today he's wearing a Morehouse sweatshirt, a pair of dark denim jeans and loafers. He really looks good and I know if I'm noticing this surely Keisha's noticed, too. "I have reached out to the art department and they have agreed to work with us on the set. I will be meeting with them on Wednesday so we can discuss my vision on how I want everything to look. "As far as costuming is concerned, since we're working with very little budget this year, I thought we would all agree on a time to meet at one of the local thrift shops to find clothes. Leah and Finn - we may have to go to the costume shop downtown since your costumes are more period-specific." "He looks good," Keisha whispers in my ear. "I gave him that sweatshirt. Got it off Amazon." "Well, that's it for announcements," Sheldon says, "so let me introduce to you all the man of the hour." Sheldon steps out of the way and gestures to the older guy sitting in Nick's seat. "Care to introduce yourself?" Sheldon asks him. "Sure," the guy says slowly rising to his feet. The first I notice is how tall he is. At five foot nine I'm not exactly short but next to this guy I would be a hobbit "I'm Colin McNamara and as Sheldon has already told you, I'll be here all this week helping you guys with the choreography for the musical." Colin tugs at a loose thread on the gray sweatshirt he is wearing as he manages to avoid eye contact with each of us. "A little background on myself," he continues. "I'm currently a junior at UCLA where I'm enrolled in the Theater program. That's actually how Sheldon and I met. This past summer I was a counselor at a theater camp in Nashville, Tennessee and Sheldon was one of my campers." I look over at Sheldon who is busy shuffling through papers in his backpack. "Sheldon has explained to me that for many of you, this is your first time acting so I promise to go easy," he says a slight grin on his face. "But not too easy." "Is it just me or is he ridiculously hot?" Keisha asks so that only I can hear. Colin's no Finn but I concur - he is quite easy on the eyes. I've never really been into redheads but Colin's mop of reddish-brown curls are actually appealing. His eyes are dark brown which are a personal preference and there's a smattering of freckles around her rather wide nose. His only attempt at facial hair is this pencil-thin mustache which sits above his full pink lips. When I look back up to his eyes I see that he is looking at me. I quickly flick my gaze down to my feet. "He looks alright," I whisper back to Keisha. "Alright - before we get into anything dance-related," Colin continues, "The first thing I want to do is teach you guys some breathing exercises. Singing is one thing. Dancing is one thing. But singing and dancing can be a monumental task without knowing the proper breathing techniques. So, I want everyone to get up and we're going to do some breathing and stretches to get our bodies ready." "He's hot, right?" This time it's Finn whispering in my ear. His breath is warm against the side of my face and smells like cinnamon. Great, so now my almost, sorta, kind of boyfriend is perving over the new guy, too. "He looks okay," I whisper back as my face flushes red-hot. I roll my eyes and try to focus on what Colin is saying. Keisha is right. This is going to be a long week.
  12. "So, how long is he going to sleep?" I'm waiting for the coffee to finish brewing. Dad's at the kitchen table. He's in his Saturday morning clothes which consists of a bathrobe, his favorite pair of Daffy Duck pajamas pants and his reading glasses. Our local newspaper is open in front of him. Andy’s still passed out. As expected, Dad was up waiting for us when the three of us got home. I'm kind of surprised how chill he's being about the drunk kid in our den. "I can go wake him up," I say. I pull mine and Dad's coffee cups down from the cabinet above the stove. "No, just let him sleep." "I appreciate you letting him crash here." "I'd want someone to do the same for you if you were in his condition." I pour coffee into both our cups and then add sugar and cream to mine. Dad likes his black. I take the chair across from him and slide his cup across the table. "Dad, do you remember when I came out a few years ago?" Dad looks up from the paper. His glasses keep sliding to the edge of his nose and ever so often he pushes them back closer to his face. "Yeah," he says. "Hands down the most memorable Thanksgiving dinner I've ever had." The two of us laugh before we take the first sips of our coffee. "What about it?" Dad asks. "I remember you saying I could come and talk to you about anything.” "I do remember that," he says. "Is there something you want to talk about?" I chew on my bottom lip and look down. The tablecloth is light blue with sunflowers and hasn't been changed since Mom. "I had a drink last night." "You had a drink?" "Actually it was a Jell-O shot," I say. "Not that that makes it any better but I just want to be honest with you." Dad doesn't say anything. The look on his face is completely unreadable. "Please don't be upset. I'm already mad enough at myself. I know better. Most importantly I broke your promise." He takes another sip of his coffee and then sits the cup down. He scratches his hair and finally makes eye contact with me. "Is there a particular reason why you did it?" Why exactly did I take the Jell-O shot? I’ve tried so hard to suppress the memories of last night but they are at the front of my mind. I can still feel Finn's breath against my face. His lips against mine. "Have you ever wanted something so badly and you actually got it?" I ask. Dad nods his head. "Well last night I finally got something I've been wanting for a really long time but then everything turned bad." "What happened?" I shrug and look down again. "There's this guy I like ..." "Finn Montgomery," he says. When Dad sees my eyes go wide he then says, "You and Keisha talk really loud." I'm speechless so Dad asks, "So ... what about Finn?" "I kissed him." "This was last night?" I nod and say, "He told me he liked me and so I kissed him." "Was this your first kiss?" Dad asks. I notice him shifting in his chair. I imagine this is new territory for him. Everett wasn't exactly the let's talk about our feelings kind of kid growing up. He was more the shut up and leave me alone kind of kid. "Yeah," I say. "It was. I'm pretty sure it was his first kiss, too. With a guy I mean." "Is that all that happened?" Dad asks, a tinge of nervousness in his voice. "No," I say. "Um, Tristan - I meant it when I said you could tell me anything but as your father I don't think I'm quite ready to talk about ... I just want you to be safe. That's all I'm saying." "Oh no," I say reaching across the table and placing my hand on top of his. "That's not what I mean. No, no we didn't do ... that." "Well thank God," Dad says a grin spreading across his scruffy face. "I'm not quite ready to have that talk yet. Maybe when you're thirty." "Same," I say. "No - what I meant is that after we kissed, this guy from our theater class caught us." "Oh. Is this guy a friend?" "I wouldn't exactly call Jon-Jon a friend," I say. "He's a pretty decent guy but he seemed really surprised when he saw us. He ran off afterwards and Finn followed him and then I dropped my phone in the lake." "You dropped your phone in the lake?" "Long story short, my first and last high school party was a total disaster," I say. "That's why I took the Jell-O shot." "Have you tried talking to Finn?" Dad asks. "Well - I would but my phone is at the bottom of a lake right about now, remember?" "Oh yeah," Dad says slapping his forehead. "I feel so cut off from the outside world. I don't even know if Keisha made it home or not." "She did," Dad says. "She texted this morning to say she was okay and to let you know she will be over this evening to talk." "You'd be happy to know Keisha was completely against me drinking last night and was very disappointed when I took that shot," I say. "Tristan - it's not just that I don't want you to drink. I'm not against it. I just want to make sure that when you are of legal drinking age when you do decide to have a drink, it's because you want to - not because someone pressured you to do it or because you had a bad day. You and I both know what I went through with Everett when he was your age." I was in middle school when my brother was in high school. I remember waking up in the middle of the night hearing him and Dad yelling at each other because Everett had been drinking or smoking. Everett's a completely different person now courtesy of two months in juvie and several anger management classes. I do not miss the guy my brother used to be. "I don't want to go through the same thing with you," Dad says. "I can't go through the same thing with you. I just can't." When I hear my Dad's voice crack, something inside of me cracks as well. The last thing I ever want to do is make my dad worry. I've spent the last few years of my life making sure my dad will never have to worry about me. "Dad - I promise I won't drink again," I say "Especially if I'm upset." "I know," he says wiping his face with the sleeve of his bathrobe. "I'm sorry you had such a crappy night." "Me, too." "You feel like getting out of the house today and doing something? Maybe you can come with me to help me pick out some flowers. Feel like getting my hands dirty today." "Sure - let me go wake up Andy," I say. "It's almost eleven. Time for him to check out of Hotel Tristan." Dad stands up and finishes off the last of his coffee. "I'm going to grab a shower and let's plan on heading out around noon," he says. "Sounds like a plan." While Dad heads upstairs, I wash both of our cups as well as the coffee pot. There's a knock at the door as I'm drying both cups. We usually don't get a lot of visitors, especially on the weekends, so I'm cautious as I walk to the front door. Finn is standing on my front porch, hands shoved in the pockets of his letterman jacket. I don't know what to say so I ask him what he's doing here. "I found your phone," he says and sure enough he pulls my phone out of his pocket. "I for sure thought this was floating at the bottom of your lake," I say as he hands it over to me. It looks like he's cleaned it. It looks like it did when I first took it out of it's box. "The creek’s not that deep," he says. "I actually read online that if you let it dry out for a bit, it should still work." "Thanks, Finn," I say. "You didn't have to make a special trip to bring it to me. You could've just waited until Monday." "Actually, I wanted to see you. Mind if we talk?" "Um," I say. I look over my shoulder and see Andy curled up on the sofa. We don't need an audience for this conversation. I step out onto my front porch and close the door behind me. "Is out here okay? Andy crashed here last night and he's still here." "Oh - yeah. Sure." The two of us stand there on my porch, hands in our pockets, our eyes refusing to meet. This is awkward. It's like we're back to being strangers who occasionally walk past each other in the hallway. "I want to apologize for running off like that last night," Finn says. "I shouldn't have left you by yourself but I freaked out." "I understand," I say. "I was pretty freaked out, too." "I want you to know that me running off had absolutely nothing to do with you and I also want you to know that I talked to Jon-Jon and he promised me who would not say anything." "Well, that's good and all but I'm afraid he broke his promise," I say. When Finn shoots me a confused look I say, "Andy knows we kissed, Finn." "Andy probably overheard us talking," Finn says. "We were standing outside the bathroom and when Jon-Jon left to take Leah home, Andy came out of the bathroom." Finn reaches out and places his hand on my arm. "I'm not ashamed of what we did, Tristan." "Good," I say rubbing my hands together. "Neither am I." "But I have to be honest with you." Finn looks down at his feet as he shifts the weight of his body from one foot to the other. "This is all new to me," he continues. "For most of my life I've been attracted to girls. I remember having a crush on this girl in the fourth grade and telling my mom and she told me I was too young to be having crushes. When I first saw Emily, I was so attracted to her. I thought she was the most beautiful person I've ever seen." Ugh - can we have a conversation without Emily Branson's name coming up? "I remember the exact moment I saw you. It was the first day of school and I was in the front office getting a copy of my schedule and you came in and you were freaked out because you left your lunch in your dad's car and you wanted to call him." I smile despite wanting to. I remember that. Dad ended up having to leave the hospital to come drop my lunch off. "I remember that," I say. "I remember Ms. Holden let you call your dad and then you left. I don't think you even noticed I was standing there." "I definitely noticed. But when you're gay and you're a freshman starting your first day of high school, you don't make eye contact. Especially with the hot guy wearing the Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirt. "I guess we both noticed each other back then," Finn says. "Well from that moment on it was like you were everywhere. In my homeroom. In the hallways between classes. In the cafeteria. I wanted to walk up and talk to you, get to know you but I was terrified." "Why were you terrified?" Finn shrugs his massive shoulders. "Dunno - maybe it's because I figured out you were gay and I was scared to go near you." "Afraid of what others would think," I say. "Yeah," he says. "So, it was just easier to talk to the most beautiful girl at school than it was to talk to the hottest guy." "Finn," I say. "I know you have a lot at stake here, your reputation and everything, so I understand if you ..." "My whole life has been about maintaining a reputation. I'm Frank Montgomery's youngest son. I'm the captain of the basketball team. Everyone looks at me like I'm perfect - like having money and a little bit of popularity makes you perfect. It doesn't make you perfect. Every single move you make is carefully orchestrated. Being with Emily only made things worse. Everything had to be perfect. Our pictures had to be perfect. I had to walk on her right side and not her left side. Every single moment was planned out. We study at this time. We go to the movies at this time. It was exhausting. "I don't want to do that anymore, Tristan. I don't want to be that person anymore." Finn looks like he is on the verge of tears and I feel like I want to hug him. I step towards him and put my arms around him. "Then don't be that person anymore," I say, my mouth close to his ear. "Just be Finn. Finn's a great guy." Finn pulls back a bit and looks at me. "Thanks," he says. "Hey," I say. "Why don't we just take things slow for now. Zero expectations. You say you're new to all of this. Well so am I. I don't know what I'm doing either so we can kind of fumble our way through this together." "You're right," he sniffs. He looks up at me and asks, "Are we good?" I nod my head and say, "Yeah." A look of relief washes over his face followed by a huge grin. "Okay, good. I was worried you wouldn't talk to me." He reaches up and scratches behind his neck. "Would you like to go grab lunch or something tomorrow ... if you're not busy." "Sure," I say. "I'd like that. Just text me. Or better yet, message me on Facebook." "I'll do that. Speaking of lunch, I'm supposed to meet my brother for lunch here soon. I guess I'll talk to you soon?" "Sure," I say. "Enjoy your lunch. And thank you for bringing me my phone." Finn is halfway down the driveway when he looks over his shoulder and winks. "Don't mention it," he says. I watch as he climbs into his Jeep. As soon as he turns the ignition, I can hear the loud bass and guitar coming from his stereo. He gives me a wave as he backs out of the driveway. When I no longer see him, I finally exhale. I feel like a ten-ton weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. Everything that was bad about last night is good now. If Finn wants to take things slowly, I can definitely do that, but does this technically mean that we’re dating? God, where’s Keisha when you need her?
  13. "Where have you been?" We’re in Finn's kitchen, It's me and Keisha and a small group of girls who are busy making Jell-O shots on the other side of the room. Keisha is leveling one of her infamous glares in my direction. Normally I’d wither under such a gaze but right now I'm over it. It's after midnight and all I want is to be in my bed forgetting everything about everything that’s happened tonight. "I've been texting you. Why haven't you been responding?" "The reason I haven’t been responding to your texts is because my phone is in a lake right now." "What?" I hold up my hand and shake my head. "Trust me it's a long story and I’m in no mood to tell it." Keisha frowns and asks, "What's with the attitude?" "I just want to go home," I whine. "So can we please just leave?" "That's why I’ve been texting you," Keisha says. "We have to get Andy home." Before I ask about Andy, one of the girls from the other side of the room walks over and wedges herself between myself and Keisha. Her boobs are basically pressing into my stomach and I think how amazing this moment would be if I were into girls. "Tristan," she practically screams in my ear. "You should have a shot." I notice the green Jell-O shot in her hand. It looks like poison. I look from the Jell-O shot up to her. She bats her Disney princess eyes at me and holds the shot up right in front of my face. "No thanks," I say. I look over her shoulder and see that Keisha looks pissed. Instead of walking away like I hoped she would, she leans in even closer. I can smell the alcohol on her breath. For some reason it reminds me of my brother. The way she is teetering back and forth I'm afraid she's about to face-plant on the floor. "C'mon, don't be such a little beeeeee-yotch," she slurs. It's clear that she has no plans in moving so I reach for the shot, down it and then hand her the little cup it was in. "Oh my god," she shrieks. She pries herself away from me and wobbles back over to her group of girlfriends. "He actually did it." I squeeze my eyes shut as the alcohol stings the back of my throat. When I open them Keisha is looking at me. She's no longer looking pissed. "Tristan," she says in a low voice. "What are you doing?" I roll my eyes and say, "It's just one shot, Keisha." "I know but we literally promised your dad we wouldn't drink tonight." "Technically I swallowed." Keisha throws both her hands up and says, "Fine - whatever. I'm going to go get Andy and then I'm leaving." "What do you mean go get?" "Andy’s currently passed out on the bathroom floor. I couldn't move him so that's why I texted you." "Wait," I say. "Where's Nick?" Keisha shrugs her shoulders. "No clue. Andy said something about him leaving and then he threw up all over my shoes." I look down at Keisha's feet. She's no longer wearing the lime green heels I bought her for Christmas. Instead she's wearing these huge black and red Nike sneakers. "Finn let me borrow a pair of his sneakers to wear home," she says. "It's gonna be interesting driving in these." "There's no way you're going to be able to move Andy in those things," I say. "Where's Sheldon?" "Andy spilled his beer on Sheldon. Sheldon got pissed and called his brother to come pick him up. He's not answering my texts either." "This really has been a shitty night," I say. "Well - I guess this wouldn't be a good time to tell you that Andy's coming home with us," Keisha says through gritted teeth. "With us?” I ask. “My house?” "You know how his parents are. They'll flip if he comes home drunk." "What about my dad? He's probably still up waiting for us to come home. How are we supposed to get a six foot two drunk guy up the stairs without him noticing?" "Look," Keisha says placing her hand on my arm. "We'll just tell him that Andy had a little bit too much to drink and that we're just making sure he's safe." "Yeah, it's the whole had a little bit too much to drink part that I'm worried about," I say. "Hey, better him than us," Keisha says. She then grabs my arm and starts pulling me towards the door. "Let's get him and let's go." When we find Andy, he's stumbling around the front hallway. When he sees up, his face lights up and he rushes over to us. He throws his arms around me and plants a wet one on my cheek. "Tristan," he yells. "There you are." "Yes," I say in a much quieter voice. "Here I am." "Andy, you're going to come with us," Keisha says in a voice mothers generally use when addressing their toddlers. "You're going to stay at Tristan's house tonight, okay?" "Awesome. I've never stayed over at Tristan's before." The three of us start moving towards the front door. "I love sleepovers," Andy says really close to my ear. His breath smells like stale beer. "Andy," I say. "How many beers have you had?" "Infinity." Andy starts laughing and snorting and I can't believe I'm about to take this guy home with me. When we're outside, Keisha and I carefully maneuver Andy down the front steps which are steeper than I recall. Keisha rushes over to her car and opens the door behind the passenger's seat. "Where are we going?" Andy asks as I lean over to buckle him in. "To my house, remember?" Andy slumps down in his seat and says, "Oh - oh yeah." Keisha is already behind the wheel when I finally climb into the passenger's seat. "Tristan kissed Finn," Andy says from the backseat. I swear at that moment my blood turns to ice. Keisha jerks her head back to look at Andy. "What?" she asks. "Tristan kissed Finn." This time Andy says it in a very sing-song way I feel like my head is about to explode at any second. "Tristan," Keisha says. "Just drive," I say. "We'll talk about it in the morning." As Keisha pulls off, I look over my shoulder to see Andy leaned over in his seat asleep. I tug at my seatbelt as I slump down in my seat. The interior of the car is hot, way too hot but Keisha will put me out on the side of the road if I roll down the window. Andy knows I kissed Finn which means Jon-Jon must have told him. Asshole. Great. I wonder who else knows. I go to reach for my phone but then I remember it's sitting at the bottom of Finn's lake. My connection to the outside world is gone. Half of Shenandoah probably knows right now and before Monday everyone will know about me and Finn. Gossip spreads like wildfire on a weekend. Note to self: I will never go to another party ... ever
  14. Jon-Jon lets loose a string of expletives as he and Leah scramble to put their clothes back on. A part of me wants to find the nearest rock and climb under it. The other part wants to laugh but if I start laughing right now I'm pretty sure I won't be able to stop. "Where's my bra?" "Who cares? Let's just get out of here." Wow - I can't believe it. Jon-Jon and Leah are hooking up? The two of them are always going back and forth with each other. I figured they hated each other. "I think it fell in the lake." Leah appears in front of me and Finn. The light from Finn's phone illuminates her face. She levels a glare at the two of us. "No one can find out about this," she says. Jon-Jon appears at her side wearing a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. Unlike Leah he looks more annoyed than pissed or nervous. "Can't find my T-shirt," he deadpans. "I think I may have thrown it in the water," Leah says. "I got that T-shirt in LA." Jon-Jon rolls his eyes and runs his fingers through his hair. "It was seventy five bucks." "You spent seventy bucks on a T-shirt?" "It was vintage." "Can you just take me home?" Before Jon-Jon can answer, Leah is walking off in the direction of Finn's house. "You can borrow one of my shirts," Finn says. "Thanks, man," Jon-Jon says. He then locks eyes with me. "Um, can we pretend this never happened." I slowly nod my head. "We won't say anything," Finn says. "Thanks," Jon-Jon says. "Guess I better go after her." Jon-Jon breaks into a sprint and starts after Leah. Finn keeps the flashlight leveled on him until he disappears into the woods. Neither of us say a word as we stand here on the dock. The crickets and cicadas are so loud it reminds me of being at my grandparents' house. My grandpa used to call it night music. Behind us I hear the water gurgle. Finn looks over at me and asks if I want to sit down. I tell him yes and the two of us walk to the end of the dock and sit down on the edge. A few moments pass and Finn sighs. "Jon-Jon and Leah," he says. "I'm still in shock," I say. "I guess it makes sense." "How does that make sense? I thought they hated each other." "Exactly," Finn says. "Apparently there's a very thin line between love and hate when it comes to those two." "I guess so. I still think I'm gonna go home and wash my eyes out with soap." Finn laughs and sits his phone between us. The screen is lit up and I notice his background is a photo of him and his ex. I recognize the photo from his Instagram. The screen finally dims before going black. I swallow back the fist-sized lump in my throat as I stare out into the darkness. Finn leans back and reclines on his elbows. "You're awfully quiet," he says. I look over in his direction. I can barely make out his face in the dark but I can see he's smiling. I shrug and start fiddling with my hands. "A penny for your thoughts," he says. "That's what my grandmother would say any time she caught either me or one of my brothers staring out into space." "Huh," I say. "My grandpa used to say the same thing." "Maybe it's a grandparent thing." "And if I didn't tell him what I was thinking about, he would come up behind me and start tickling me until I finally gave in and told him. Worked every time." "So you're telling me, all those years you walked past me in the hallway and didn't say anything, I could've just tickled you and you would've had no choice but to say 'hello'." I laugh and say, "I don't think that would've been necessary." "I sat two seats behind you in homeroom freshman year," Finn says. "And I used to throw little pieces of paper at the back of your head, hoping you'd turn around and actually talk." "What? That was you? I thought that was Robby Hunter." "Well, it was Robby's notebook paper but I was the one doing the throwing." "Wow," I say. "Now I feel bad." Finn leans forward and asks, "Why's that?" "I've spent the last four years thinking Robby was an asshole when it was you all along." I let the awkward silence that follows linger a bit before I let loose a loud laugh. A few moments later, Finn follows suit. "Why I oughta ..." Finn lunges at me to begin his tickle assault but I scoot away. "Hey," I say holding my hand out between us. "We are close to an open water source and I can't swim." "Well, I can't have anyone drowning at one of the most epic Montgomery parties ever," Finn says. "Especially someone I like." I slowly crane my neck in his direction. Finn's now laying flat on his back staring up into the darkness. "You like me?" He slowly turns his head in my direction and says, "Well yeah. Figured you already knew that." "Um - well, I didn't." Finn turns so that he's laying on his side. He stares at me with such an intensity I swear I could disintegrate underneath his gaze. "Well now you know." I'm so glad we're near this lake or creek or whatever it is because I think I'm going to be sick. "You okay?" Finn asks sitting up. His hand is on my back and my every nerve ending in my body is tingling. I nod my head up and down. "I didn't mean to freak you out." "You didn't freak me out," I say immediately. I inhale through my nostrils and let the air slowly slip from between my lips. "I-I just can't believe it." "Believe what?" Instead of answering I ask, "What about Emily?" "What about her?" he asks. "I thought - I mean, you two were ..." "What me and Emily had has absolutely nothing to do with you and me." Finn reaches out and places his huge hand on top of my much smaller one. "Tristan, I've spent the last few weeks trying to make sense and I promise we will have a really important conversation soon but right now all I want to do is kiss you and I want to know if you'd be okay with that. "Would I be okay Finn Montgomery kissing me? My head leans forward without me even thinking about it and I'm so relieved when Finn meets me halfway. His lips are so soft and like two pieces of a puzzle they fit so perfectly with mine. I'm surprised by how soft they are. This isn't a dream nor a fantasy. This isn't some story I stayed up to 3AM writing. This is real. Finn is kissing me and it is better and wetter than anything I've ever imagined. When we separate, only milliseconds past before he's crashing back into me. This time his hand reaches for the back of my head pulling me even closer. This kiss is bolder. Needier. His tongue pries open my lips and he's tasting the inside of my mouth. Even though I have nothing to compare it to, I know for a fact this is the best kiss I've ever had. We separate again and both of us are panting like two dogs on the hottest day of the year. Finn is still cradling my head in the palm of his head. The chill in the air does very little to cool my skin. My back is damp with sweat. I rub my hand along his back. So is his. "What. The. Fuck." This time it is Finn and I who are the deer caught in headlights. We both jerk around at the same time to see Jon-Jon standing a few feet away from us. The flashlight on his phone is aimed in our direction. Before either of us can speak, Jon-Jon darts off towards the woods again. "Shit," Finn says, scrambling to get to his feet. He kneels down and grabs his phone and without a word starts off after Jon-Jon. I sit there, feet dangling off the edge of the dock. This is the most alone I've ever felt. I wrestle my phone out of my pocket so I can text Keisha but somehow it manages to slip from my sweaty fingers and into the water beneath my feet. Birds scatter overhead as my resounding shiiiiiiitttt startles them out of their restful slumber.
  15. "So, how are you feeling about the play?" Finn's using the flashlight on his phone to light our way as we walk the trail behind his home. I can still hear music and laughter but I can't see the stars. The trees on either side of us are so tall and their branches are long and reaching. I miss the heat of the firepit. I rub my hands along my arms as I think about my favorite denim jacket hanging in my closet. "If you told me at the beginning of the semester I would not only be performing in a school play, but singing and playing the guy who killed Gianni Versace, I would've thought you were a crazy person." Finn lets out a laugh which echoes all around us. "Same," he says. "When Coach asked me to sign up last year, I figured I would spend the semester goofing off and painting sets and stuff but now I'm singing and I reckon next week we'll be dancing as well." I’m so not looking forward to learning choreography but Sheldon knows some guy who is in the theater program at UCLA and apparently he'll be in town next week. This poor guy is giving up his entire fall break to travel across the country to work with us. "I'm dreading that," I say. "I'm also dreading the whole mandatory four-hour rehearsals, four days a week." Finn stops and stoops down to pick up a large branch. He tosses it to the side and we continue on with our walk. "Yeah - I need to talk to Coach about that since basketball practices are about to start," he says. "Speaking of - some of the guys on the team are good friends with some of the guys on the football team. Next Friday's the Homecoming game. We're playing Roswell." Homecoming Week happens every single year, usually around the same time, however, it always manages to slip up on me. Not that I ever participate even though Keisha begs me to every single year. "I was wondering if you'd like to go." There's a million things I'd do for Finn Montgomery if he asked but do I really want to spend my Friday night sitting on cold bleachers watching our football team lose - again? Then again, there would be Finn there - and nachos. "Sure." I do not mean to drag out the word and thank God Finn doesn't notice. "Awesome," he says. "Will I be expected to attend the dance as well because that's where I draw the line," I say. "Tristan Goolsby does not do dances." Finn laughs again, this time a lot more quietly. "No - no dance. We usually come back to my place and hang out afterwards," Finn says. "Besides - she's going to be there and I'd rather not have to deal with that." She, the She-Wolf of Shenandoah, is president of the student council this year which means she's responsible for planning the Homecoming dance. Well, I definitely won’t be going now. "That bad?" I ask, hoping he'll open up at least a little bit. Several moments pass before he answers. "I know everyone thinks we were the perfect couple. I remember last year during Valentine's Day, some girl from the school newspaper wanted to interview us because we were voted the most popular couple at school. What no one knows is that week Emily and I weren't speaking to each other. We got into this huge argument at her place because she didn't like that Gina Hudson was my lab partner. "We faked our way through that entire interview and no one ever suspected we were not getting along." We keep walking as Finn continues to talk. "I tried breaking up with her over the summer but her parents got involved and my parents got along and we ended up talking to the youth minister at her church which is crazy because this guy didn't know shit about what was really going on in our relationship. We went to him for about five weeks and I told myself I would give things one more shot. "And things were pretty good for the rest of the summer. Then a few weeks ago she accused me of hooking up with Mary Beth Tucker while she was staying at her parents' house in Myrtle Beach during Labor Day weekend.” Finn and Mary Beth, I'm trying to picture it but I can't. Don't get me wrong Mary Beth looks like she could be Megan Fox's sister but there's no way Finn would've hooked up with her. First of all, Finn doesn't seem like the type to cheat. I could be wrong but my instinct on these things are pretty solid. Also, Mary Beth has a bit of a reputation at Shenandoah. Let's just say, she didn't get the nickname Mary-Go-Round because of her fondness for a certain piece of playground equipment. "I barely even know Mary Beth," Finn says. "We've maybe spoken to each other once, twice and it's usually a hello as we pass each other in the hallway. I would never cheat on anyone. "So we get into it after school in the parking lot. Usually we keep all of that shit private but I was tired of it. I told her I didn't want to be with her anymore and we haven't talked to each other since which is weird because we would text each other from the moment we woke up and sometimes I'd fall asleep with my phone in my hand." I can see a break in the trees ahead of us which means we are about to reach our destination, whatever that is. "Enough talking about her," he says. "Every time I think about her I get so angry and I want to hit things and trust me, I'm not an angry or violent person." "I know you aren't," I say. "My therapist says it's good to get all of these negative feelings out so thanks for letting me vent," he says peeking over his shoulder. We reach the end of the path and as my eyes adjust to the darkness in front of us, I realize we are standing in front of water. A lot of water. "This is my favorite part about living here," Finn says. "You have a lake behind your house?" I ask. "It's really more of a creek but in the summer me and some of the guys from the team come here and hang out and swim. I actually swim here more than I do in the pool." “So, this is what you wanted to show me?” “Yeah – this is sort of my little secret. Most people who come over are so focused on the house and the pool, they don’t even know this exists.” "Well – this is a pretty big secret. It's like your own little paradise." "Huh," Finn says. "I like that. It is my own little paradise. I come here to think. I go to that dock right over there and I sit on the edge with my feet in the water." I follow where Finn is pointing and sure enough there's a wooden structure leading out into the water. "What's that?" I ask noticing something moving on the dock. "What's what?" "Looks like something moving – on the dock. Maybe a dog or something?" "Hmm - I've seen a coyote or two around here but never any dogs. Let's go see what it is." Finn starts moving and instinctively I grab onto his arm. "You scared?" he asks. I can hear the smile in his voice. "No offense but we don't have coyotes in my neck of the woods," I whisper from behind gritted teeth. “I’m in no mood to get my throat ripped out by some wild animal.” "I'm sure it's nothing," he says. "I come out here by myself all the time and nothing’s ever ripped my throat out.” The two of us creep around to the dock. As we step out onto it, Finn pulls out his phone and turns on the flashlight. He aims the bright light towards the end of the dock. You know the expression, a deer caught in headlights? Both Jon-Jon and Leah look like two deer caught in headlights. Two very naked deer.
  16. I’m reclining in the most comfortable chair ever next to Finn’s pool. Both Andy and Nick are piled into the lounge next to mine. The sky above us is completely clear and the stars are out. I used to be ale to point out all of the constellations. During the summer, my grandpa would bring his telescope out of the attic and we’d stand out on the back porch for hours looking up at the stars. There’s a slight chill in the air but I can feel the warmth coming off the nearby fire pit. There’s a group of baseball jocks drunkenly singing along to some country song on the radio. Two girls I recognize from Speech and Debate are splashing around in the pool, fully-clothed, stopping occasionally to swap spit. “So, are we going to address the elephant in the room?” Nick asks, turning his gaze on me. Both he and Andy have the biggest grins on their faces. “What?” I ask. “Your clothes,” Andy says. “Your hair,” Nick says. “Oh,” I say. I gesture to the outfit I’m wearing. “This is all of Keisha’s doing, not mine.” “No, no, no,” Andy says. “We like it.” “We’re just curious as to why,” Nick says. “You’re usually much more reserved.” “It’s really a good look,” Andy says. “It’s very -.” “Slutty?” I suggest. “Well, I was going to say provocative.” “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with slutty,” Nick says. “I just feel so exposed.” “Well, you look hot,” Andy says. “In fact, if Nick and I weren’t together, I’d seriously consider dragging you into the pool house.” “Andy.” Nick playfully swats at his boyfriend. Andy sits up and looks down at Nick. “You said exactly the same thing not even ten minutes ago when he left to go to the bathroom.” My face feels warm despite the coolness in the air. At least Nick and Andy think I’m effable. Maybe someone else here will. Preferably someone single. “So, Tristan,” Andy says. “Can I ask you something and you promise you won’t get mad?” I bristle. What on earth could Andy want to ask me that he thinks could possibly upset me. “Um, sure. Go for it.” “Well – and this is just based off of observations so please don’t get mad at me -.” “Andy,” I say. “I’m not going to get mad.” “He wants to know if you and Finn are hooking up,” Nick blurts. I quickly look around to see if anyone in earshot heard what Nick just said. The two girls in the pool are back to making out and the rowdy baseball jocks are singing louder than ever. “No,” I say in a voice that only the three of us can hear. I run my fingers through my hair completely forgetting about all of the gel. I wipe them off on the lounge chair. “Why would you think Finn and I are hooking up?” I ask. “Let me handle this,” Nick says sitting up. He turns to face me. “It’s just that since he and Emily broke up, you two have been hanging out … a lot.” “First of all,” I say, “Finn and I are just friends and what do you mean they broke up?” “It happened like three weeks ago,” Andy says. “They had this big blow-up in the parking lot after school.” “Yeah,” Nick chimes in. “Finn was going off about how he was tired of her telling him what to do.” “Then Emily accused him of cheating which is absolutely insane. I don’t even think Finn’s smart enough to cheat – no offense.” “I’m surprised you didn’t hear about it,” Nick says. “It was like all people were talking about for a couple of days.” My head feels like someone has just filled it with water. I’m hearing everything Nick and Andy are saying but their voices sound a million miles away. I close my eyes and try to make sense of what I’ve just heard. Finn Montgomery and Emily Branson are broken up. “Tristan.” Nick’s voice is much louder now. I open my eyes and see that he is only inches away from my face. “You okay, man?” he asks placing a hand on my shoulder. I slowly nod my head. “If this is information overload, please let us know,” Andy says. “No – it’s fine,” I say. “I mean, yeah – Finn and I have been hanging but it’s not that. He was having some computer issues so he took me over to his house a few days ago and I helped him fix them. Then I helped him study for a Pre-Cal test. That’s it. I promise.” “We believe you,” Andy says tentatively. “It’s just that the timing … first the fight and the breakup and then all of sudden you two are hanging out.” “We’re just friends,” I say. “Nothing more.” “What a shame,” Andy sighs. “You two would have made a hot couple. Hotter than Nick and I.” “Forgive us for speculating,” Nick says rolling his eyes. “But a lot of straight dudes these days seem to be climbing over to our side of the fence.” “Well, not Finn,” I sigh. “Unfortunately.” “Aww, honey.” Andy leans over and places his hand on my shoulder. “I totally recognize that face. You like him don’t you?” “Since the first day I saw him,” I say looking down at the grass. Andy looks over at Nick and smiles. “Remember when I thought you were straight?” “Just think,” Nick says, “We could’ve gotten together a long time ago if you hadn’t spent all of sophomore year thinking I was hetero.” “Well we’re together now,” Andy says placing a kiss on Nick’s forehead. “And that’s all that matters.” “Sometimes I wish there were no labels,” I say looking back up at the night sky. “What do you mean?” Nick asks. I bite down on my bottom lip as I take a moment to gather my thoughts which admittedly is so unlike me. “Labels – like gay or straight or bi. Maybe if there were no labels, people who be more honest about their attractions.” “You’re right,” Nick says. “We put way too much stock in labels. Like if you’re gay, you have to like these singers and these movies and you have to dress like this and if you don’t dress like this now other gay dudes are questioning if you’re really gay or not. Fuckin’ stereotypes – I hate them.” “And then you get shamed if you embrace the stereotypes too much,” Andy chimes in. “So it’s lose-lose, in my opinion.” “I imagine it’s worst if you’re bi,” Nick says. “I came out in the eighth grade and freshman year there was this girl in my English class who I thought was the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen. I was going to ask her to some dance but before I had the chance, her friends told her I was gay. She outed me in front of the entire cafeteria.” “I vaguely remember that happening,” I say. “I’m sorry that happened to you, Nick.” “Well, a few weeks later the whole school found out she had gonorrhea so … karma’s a bitch.” The three of us laugh. “So, this must be where the real party is,” a voice calls from behind us. I recognize the voice. I sit up in the lounge and see that Finn is walking towards us. “Hey Finn,” Andy says. I take a moment to look Finn up and down. The first thing I notice is that he’s not wearing his letterman jacket. Instead he’s this black button-down shirt with the top three buttons undone and the sleeves pushed up past his forearms. I notice the watch on his arm. It looks really expensive – probably a Rolex or something equally as outrageous. Dark denim jeans and Timberland boots cap off the rest of his outfit. There’s no question about it. Finn Montgomery looks fuckable. “You guys enjoying yourselves?” At that very moment he and I lock eyes. “Yeah,” I say. My mouth is suddenly dry. I wish I’d brought a bottle of water out here with me. “I’ve been to some pretty off-the-chain parties before,” Nick says. “But this – this is on a completely different level.” “Well, as I told Tristan here the other day, we Montgomery boys have a tradition. When the parents are away, the Montgomery boys like to play. Since my older brothers have all moved out, I’m the last Montgomery boy standing so of course I had to do it big. This may be the last big party this place sees for a bit.” “Do your parents ever find out?” Nick asks. “I’m sure they know but usually the morning after the party we hire a cleaning crew to make sure the place is perfect before they return home. We also lock up all the really valuable and breakable shit just in case someone gets sloppy and bumps into something.” “Well, I think it’s really cool that you invited us,” Andy says. “This is my first ever official high school party.” “Well, hope I you’re not disappointed,” Finn says with a grin. “Not in the slightest,” Andy says. He clears his throat and turns to Nick. “Hey, I’m parched all of a sudden. I think I’m going to grab me something to drink.” “There’s a shit-ton of sodas and beer in the kitchen,” Finn says. “Well, since my parents will literally kill me and throw my body in the Everglades if I have one sip of alcohol, I think I’ll just stick to a Coke,” Andy says. Nick slowly stands up and stretches. “I’m pretty thirsty myself. Unlike my teetotaler boyfriend here, I will be partaking of beer. I doubt my parents would care anyway. I’m sure their too busy eating tiramisu in Rome right now.” “Well help yourself guys,” Finn says gesturing towards his house. I roll my eyes but can’t help but smile at my friends’ utter ridiculousness. Seriously, Andy – I thought you were a better actor than this. I watch as the two of them walk off towards the house. “I’m glad they’re back together.” Finn claims the lounge Nick and Andy just vacated moments ago. “I was seriously beginning to think Nick was an asshole.” “He’s not an asshole,” I say quietly. “He was just heartbroken.” Finn sighs and leans back. “Yeah – I get that. Now.” I look over at Finn who is looking up at the sky. Finn’s a pretty confident guy but for a moment I see the mask slip. It’s the mask every teenager in America wears as a means of survival. I see hurt written all over his face and all I want to do is wrap him in my arms. “I heard about you and -.” I clear my throat. It feels weird that I’m about to say her actual name. “Emily.” I look over at the pool which looks so inviting despite pool season being over weeks ago. Finn sighs again. “It was gonna happen sooner or later. I’m just glad it happened sooner.” I look over at Finn and the mask is firmly back on. He looks over at me and grins. “Wanna go for a walk?” he asks. “Um, sure.” “There’s something I meant to show you the other day but time got away from us.” Finn stands up and smooths out the wrinkles on his shirt. He then extends a hand in my direction. I accept it. I’m on my feet and there can’t be more than a few inches between me and Finn. His eyes lock onto mine for the second time tonight and I feel insides begin to twist. He lets go of my hand and gestures at the patch of woods right behind his pool house. “C’mon,” he says. “There’s a trail cutting through the trees just right over there. Dad keeps it pretty clear but there could be a few fallen limbs and rocks. I want you to stay close, okay?” I smile and then nod. Yes, Finn, I’ll stay close – if you promise to do the same.
  17. “What are you doing?” Keisha’s opening my closet door. At the foot of my closet is an old trunk I inherited when my grandfather – my mom’s dad – passed away. Inside is where I keep all my personal things. My very, very personal things. Keisha knows all about them and even knows the combination to the lock I keep on the trunk because she’s the one who bought me those very, very personal things. Every Christmas and birthday, instead of buying me an Amazon or iTunes gift card like a normal person, Keisha likes to borrow her dad’s credit card to buy me the most ridiculous stuff she can find online. My current collection includes handcuffs, glow-in-the-dark condoms, several sex toys of various shapes, sizes and colors, books on how to pleasure my man and several articles of the most scandalous clothing I’ve ever seen. “It’s time to take it up a notch,” she says popping the lock off the trunk. “You’ve seen the inside of Finn’s bedroom so we can’t afford to play it safe, Tristan.” “So, you want me to wear something out of there?” I ask pointing at the trunk. “I have an idea.” Keisha starts rummaging through the vast assortment of items inside until she pulls out something black. She tosses it at me. I unfold the piece of black cloth and notice that it’s a sleeveless T-shirt that could probably fit a six-year-old. On the front of the shirt in large, neon purple writing is the word BLOW and directly below it in a much smaller font is ME. “There’s no way I’m going to fit this.” “That’s the point. While you’re just standing there, go grab those black skinny jeans out of the bathroom.” I toss the shirt onto my unmade bed and dark across the hall to grab the jeans Keisha’s referring to. I return to my bedroom to find a bright red jock strap laying on top of the black T-shirt. “Oh no – no, no, no.” I reach for the jock and hold it up so she can see it. “There’s no way I’m going out in public with this.” Keisha rolls her eyes and finishes putting the lock back on my trunk. “For the last four years all I’ve heard is you talk about is Finn Montgomery. Do you wanna get his attention or not?” “I know,” I say. “But this is so unlike me.” “That’s the point, Babe. Was Sandy able to get Danny’s attention when she was wearing poodle skirts and cardigans?” “No.” “So how was she able to get his attention?” “She changed her hair, put on some makeup and some really slutty clothes so she could dance with him in the Shake Shack.” “Exactly,” Keisha says with a smile. “For the last four weeks Finn has seen the adorkable version of you. Tonight he will see the fuckable version.” I audibly gasp. Keisha rarely curses but when she does it always takes me by surprise. She picks up the pile of clothes I’m to wear tonight and hands them over to me. I slowly walk back across the hall. The T-shirt and jock strap are very tight but the jeans might as well be a second skin. When I finish dressing, Keisha takes some of my styling gel and slicks my hair back. She then goes into the bag and digs out eyeliner. “Be still,” she says. “This is going to make your eyes stand out.” I sit as still as I can on the edge of my bed as she applies the eyeliner. When she finishes, she steps back to admire her work. “You look hot. If you weren’t my best friend and a total homo I’d do you right here on this bed.” “Um, thanks? I feel like I should be standing on the corner trying to get rich businessmen to sleep with me.” “Let’s save that for college. Tonight is all about enticing. Nothing more. Nothing less. Now scoot … we need to leave so we can swing by and pick Sheldon up.” Dad’s watching TV in the den when Keisha and I make our way downstairs. I’m super grateful the lights are off because I really don’t want my dad to see his youngest son dressed like a low-rate rent boy.” “Heading out?” he asks. “Yes,” I say. “We’ll be home before one.” “Thanks again, Mr. G. for talking to my dad,” Keisha says. “Just make sure you let him know the moment you arrive and the moment you get home or else it’s me he’s coming after.” Keisha chuckles and says, “Will do. See you, Mr. G.” I nearly stumble over a pair of dad’s sneakers as I walk over to plant a kiss on the side of his head. “Goodnight, Dad. Don’t wait up.” “Ha,” he says. “Like I’m going to be able to sleep with both of you going out. I’ll just be sitting right here watching Law and Order marathon until you return.” It’s cooler than I expected as Keisha and I step outside. The air smells crisp and a shiver passes through my body. I tell Keisha I’m going to head back in and grab a jacket but she stops me. “My boobs are on full display and I’m wearing a crop top and low-rise jeans. I’m freezing but do you see me complaining? No – and why am I not complaining? The answer’s because I look hot and so do you and sometimes when you want to look hot you have to suffer a little bit.” “Fine,” I say as I open the passenger door to her car. “No jacket. But can you at least turn the heat on?” Keisha slides in behind the wheel, starts the car and turns the heat on full blast. “There – you happy now?” “Yes,” I say rubbing my hands down the lengths of my bare arms. “Now put on your seatbelt and quit complaining,” she says reaching for the radio. I fasten my seatbelt and slump a bit in my seat. I watch as Keisha attempts to pair her iPhone with the car’s Bluetooth system. She then presses play on a playlist I made for her a month ago. Pink’s “Get This Party Started” starts playing as Keisha backs out of my driveway. As we make our way to Sheldon’s, I close my eyes and let the warm air coming from the vents wash over me like a wave. I’m in my best friend’s car dressed like an underaged prostitute heading to a party in hopes of seducing, no – enticing the most popular guy in school in hopes that he falls in love with me or something? What if in some bizarre twist of fate, Finn really does fall for me? I’ve spent so many hours, days, weeks – months even – building this fantasy in my head, I’ve never considered actually happening. “You okay?” Keisha asks taking her eyes off the road momentarily to look over at me. “Yeah,” I say immediately. “I’m fine.” “Nervous?” she asks. “Quite,” I say. “This is all so ridiculous. Finn is straight. You know he’s straight. I know he’s straight. The entire school knows that Finn is straight. So what the hell am I even doing?” Keisha remains silent for a moment and then reaches for the volume knob to turn Maroon 5 down. “Tristan, Babe, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’m driving fifteen minutes out of my way to pick up the biggest nerd I’ve ever met who is in a grade lower than me and who doesn’t have a driver’s license nor permit. Sheldon is the complete opposite of everything I’ve ever wanted out of a guy.” “So why are you dating him?” I ask. “Because he’s honestly the best thing, outside of my family and you, that’s ever happened to me. He asks me what I think about certain things and then he actually listens when I talk. He brings me Skittles right before my psychology class because he knows it’s my least favorite class. He texts me to tell me goodnight before I go to bed and he messages me to say good morning while I’m getting dressed. “Not in a million years did I ever expect to be in seriously like with someone like Sheldon Lockhart – but I am. He’s totally changed my expectations on what I thought I wanted out of a guy.” “Wow – I knew you liked him,” I say. “But I didn’t know you were in serious like with him.” “Trust me – I didn’t want to be. The last thing I ever wanted to do during my senior year was tether myself to an underclassman.” “Oh my god – you’re just like that Hailey chick Nick’s brother is dating.” “Tristan Caleb Goolsby, I swear I will pull over this car and kick your ass from here all the way to Finn’s place.” “Fine,” I say. “I take it back.” “So, speaking of expectations” Keisha continues. “I want you to get rid of yours. Whatever you’re expecting this night to be, I want you to throw all of that out the window. I want you to have fun tonight. Stop worrying so much about Finn. If he likes you more than just friends then awesome – but keep in mind, there are going to be a lot hot guys at this party and you, my friend, are a total snack.” I’ve been so fixated on Finn, I’ve never really considered there might be other gay or bi-curious or open-minded straight guys at our school, someone that isn’t myself, Andy or Nick. Tristan Goolsby, you only get to do your senior year of high school once – unless you’re Ryan Milligan and you do your senior year of high school three times because Ms. Faragher keeps failing you. Before I know it, it’ll be time to walk across that stage in May. Fall semester is already a quarter of the way done. I really got to make this count. I want be kiss a guy for the first time. I want to a guy to hold my hand. I want a guy to be my boyfriend. Maybe that guy won’t be Finn Montgomery.
  18. “Are you going to eat that?” I look up and see that Nick is gesturing at my leftovers. Last night I found a recipe for tzatziki so I made some from scratch. I packed it along with some hummus and pita bread slices for my lunch today but because I’m so nervous about going to Finn’s party tonight, I haven’t been able to eat much of it. I slide the Tupperware container across the metal bleacher we are sitting on and Nick happily accepts my offering. “I’m starving,” he says. “Mom and Dad didn’t bother to grocery shop before they left on their trip.” “You could always go to the grocery store.” Keisha sits two bleachers above us. Sheldon’s sitting beside her. I notice their fingers are touching and something warm and fuzzy wells up inside of me. This is my first time seeing Keisha with someone, openly, out in public. Usually she is a bit more discreet with her romantic life. “I haven’t seen the inside of a grocery store since I was like … seven,” he says. “Nathan’s the cook. He and our mom. Usually they do the grocery shopping.” “Why don’t you just ask him?” I ask bringing my hand up to shield my eyes from the sun. “I will … when I actually see him.” Nick looks annoyed for a moment and then sighs. Andy sees the look of confusion on my face and clears his throat. “Nathan’s dating some girl who goes to Emory,” he says. “He comes here for school and when he leaves he drives immediately to Atlanta to stay with her. Apparently she lives in an apartment off-campus.” “And your parents are okay with him staying with her?” I ask. “In Atlanta?” Nick waits until he finishes chewing the huge wad of food he just put in his mouth before he answers. “As far as I know, Mom and Dad don’t know about Hailey. They’re not too invested in our social lives. As long as we’re doing well and school and not getting arrested, they’re happy.” “Speaking of getting arrested, how old is this chick?” Keisha asks. “Well,” Nick begins. “According to Nathan, Hailey’s twenty-two, twenty-three – can’t remember. She graduates this semester.” “And how old is Nathan?” I ask. “We turn 18 in November,” Nick says. “So technically at that point we’d both be adults which means technically he can date whoever he wants.” “It’ll still be icky,” Andy says. “I mean theoretically speaking, when this girl was graduating high school, Nathan would’ve been in the seventh or eighth grade.” “Of all the men to go out with,” Keisha begins, “Why pick a guy in high school. Why not date in the other direction? I mean what’s the point of even going to college if you’re not going to date one of your professors?” “I get it,” Nick says. “It’s weird. I was weirded out when he told me but Nathan has always done his own thing and he seems happy.” “I’m glad he’s happy,” Andy says. “I just wish it was with someone more … age appropriate.” “Well, after everything you and I have gone through. I’m not about to knock what anyone else is doing.” I grin. It feels so good to see Nick and Andy together again. Most high school relationships, especially the ones at Shenandoah, have the life expectancy of a gnat. Nick and Andy have seemingly beaten the odds. They’re are destined to be that couple at the beginning of Up! minus the whole Andy dying from some horrible terminal illness part. “Neither am I,” Andy says leaning forward. Nick meets him halfway and the two share a chaste, we’re in mixed company, school-appropriate kiss. “So,” Andy begins. “Tomorrow I usually do a Zumba class at the studio near my house. It helps to keep me limber.” He and Nick share a knowing look. “I can skip Zumba tomorrow morning and I can take you grocery shopping instead. I can’t have my Smooge going hungry in that big ole house.” “Smooge?” Each of us turn to look at Sheldon who is wiping crumbs off his navy blue Harvard sweatshirt. It’s the first thing he’s said since he and Keisha joined us about fifteen minutes ago. “It’s my nickname for Nick,” Andy gushes. He playfully nudges Nick in the side. “Gag me with a shovel,” Keisha says. “I’d tell you his nickname for me but it’s pretty … explicit.” “Can we guess?” Sheldon ask with a smirk. “I think I’m going to be sick,” Keisha says. “I’m feeling pretty nauseous myself,” I say. I look over at Nick and see that he’s grinning. This is the happiest I’ve seen him all semester. Perhaps it’s the sun but if I didn’t know any better, Nick Ramirez is glowing. “How about you shut that mouth of yours before I put something in it,” he says, his face inches away from Andy’s. “Oh promises, promises,” Andy says leaning in for a second kiss. “Okay,” Keisha says. “If you two are about to get it on right here on the bleachers, please give me a heads-up because I don’t think I need to be a part of that.” “I second that,” I say raising my hand. “I third it,” Sheldon says. “Relax you guys,” Andy says. “We’re just making up for lost time.” “Besides, we’ve already hooked up here,” Nick says gesturing to the seats we’re sitting on. “And we hooked up on the fifty-yard line. And in the guys’ locker room. And girls’ locker room.” I haven’t even kissed a guy yet and these two are hooking up all over the place. “Well,” Keisha says, “I’m glad you two are back together.” “Yeah. School hasn’t been the same without it’s it couple,” I say. The bell rings and the five us audibly groan. I’m so not looking forward to my next two classes but at least I get to end the day with Theater. As we head back into the building, both couples – yes, I’m officially declaring Keisha Alston and Sheldon Lockhart are a couple – head off towards their classes leaving me standing alone at my locker. I grab my notebooks for AP English and Speech and Debate and a tattered copy of The Things They Carried and I shove them inside my messenger bag. I close my locker and jump because Finn is there, again, leaning against Keisha’s locker. This time he laughs at my jumpiness and soon I join in on the laughing. “I’ve been trying to catch up with you all day,” he says. “But you walk so fast. You’re like a blur.” “This place is so big,” I remind him. “If I didn’t walk fast I’d be late to every class.” “True that.” I watch as he reaches into the pocket of his jacket. He pulled out a rolled up sheet of paper and hands it to me. “What’s this?” I straighten the piece of paper out and I see a series of questions and Finn’s answers written out underneath them. I also notes written in red ink in the margins. At the top of the paper I see an 88 percent, or in high school terms a B plus, written across the top of the paper next to Finn’s name. “Is this your Pre-Cal test?” Finn grins big and nods his head. “Oh wow. You went from a D to a B plus. That’s incredible.” “All thanks to you,” he says. “Nope,” I say holding out my hand. “I only helped you study but you were the one who walked into the classroom and slayed that test.” “I know, I know,” he says. “You’ve just helped me out so much this week. I feel like I should do something to repay you.” “Mr. Montgomery, that will not be necessary,” I say. “I’m happy to help.” “Well, thank you again, Mr. Goolsby,” he says. “Hey – by the way, are you going to be able to come tonight?” “Yup. I’m tagging along with Keisha and Sheldon.” “Awesome,” he says. “Hey – are they dating?” I shrug my shoulders. “Nothing’s been officially confirmed.” “I was just curious,” Finn says just as the warning bell sounds. “I gotta jet,” he says. “Now I get to turn in that paper for Ms. Faragher. Wish me luck.” “Good luck,” I say. “But I’m sure you don’t need it.” “I’ll catch up with you later,” he says. Then Finn Montgomery does something no other man has ever done to me. Come to think of it, no one has every done this to me. He winks at me.
  19. “Are you going to Finn’s party with Sheldon Lockhart?” My words shatter the quaint silence between me and Keisha. We are sitting at the table in my kitchen. I’m eating a bowl of Dad’s heart-healthy oatmeal and Keisha’s eating a banana while flipping through the latest issue of Vogue. Keisha looks up, confusion etched into her face. “Huh?” I clear my throat. Admittedly my tone was a wee bit … harsh. “Well, yesterday Finn and I were talking about his parents being out of town so he mentioned the party he’s throwing on Saturday. He mentioned that you may be going with Sheldon.” Keisha laughs and shakes her head. “I swear, straight guys do not listen. Finn mentioned the party to me after I told him you could maybe help him with his printing and email issue. Then he said he was going to invite everyone in the musical so then I asked him if that included Sheldon, since Sheldon is not technically in the musical. He then told me I could bring Sheldon if I wanted. “I haven’t even mentioned the party to Sheldon,” Keisha says. “Well,” I say. “I really want to go, like really, really want to go and I was sorta hoping you’d go with me.” “Babe, you know I’d be your wing woman in a heartbeat. However, you know how my dad is. He’s extremely anti-party. I think he had a bad experience back in the 80s.” Keisha shakes her head and sighs. Today she’s wearing her hair in tight curls and they frame her face perfectly. “Can’t you ask Andy?” she asks. “Something tells me it would do some good for him to get out of the house instead of watching sappy Hallmark movies all day. And night.” “Andy doesn’t know my extensive history with Finn the way you do and there’s no time for me to catch him up.” “What extensive history? You’ve been perving on him since Freshman year and he finally spoke to you this year. See – that, took like … two seconds and some change.” I shake my head in a dramatic fashion. “How can you mock what me and Finn have?” “Anyway,” Keisha says, rolling her eyes. “I’ll ask my dad just in case he’s feeling particularly benevolent. Maybe he’ll surprise us both and say yes you can go to this unsupervised party at some rich guy’s parents’ house where there most certainly will be drinking and other types of deviant activities.” “Deviant activities?” Dad calls from behind me. I look up and see that today he’s wearing the magenta scrubs I picked out for him a few weeks ago. I must say – I have good taste in scrubs. Now if only I could pick out my own clothes. “Good morning, Mr. G.,” Keisha says, Cheshire-grin appearing on her face. “Your sweet, innocent son and I were invited to a party this Saturday and we’re just trying to find a way to convince my dad to let me go.” Dad turns around and levels a serious look on the two of us. “Will there be drinking at the party?” “Most likely but I’m not planning on drinking and neither is Tristan.” “What about drugs? Marijuana or I guess you kids call it weed. Cocaine? Meth?” “Jesus, Dad,” I blurt out. “Meth? This isn’t Breaking Bad and no, I highly doubt there will be any cocaine either. Finn Montgomery’s like the most wholesome guy on the planet.” “And those are the ones you have to worry about,” Dad says as he pours himself a cup of coffee. “There’s oatmeal on the stove,” I tell him. “Thanks,” he says. “Back when I was in high school, your uncle let me tag-along with him to a party at the quarterback’s parents’ lake house. There must’ve been over a hundred people there. There was all kinds of debauchery going on, I mean I saw things I didn’t think were even possible.” “Dad – I’m digesting,” I say. “Keep it PG.” “Anyway,” he continues. “So, to get away from it all I go upstairs and I walk into a bedroom to find Herschel Becker, the high school quarterback, doing a line off of his parents’ dresser.” I bite my lip and sigh. “Well, Dad – I can assure you … there will not be anything going up either of our noses. We won’t have sex. We won’t steal a cop car. We’re going to be the same well-behaved, well-adjusted people that we always are.” The sex part I’m okay with – I just want you to be safe,” he says. “Dad – please. I’m getting nauseous.” “Well I guess what I’m trying to say is – I trust you.” Dad pours the remaining oatmeal into a large bowl. “I trust you both but there’s so much going on with kids your age. All it takes is for something to be slipped into either one of your drinks or a certain kind of photo to go viral and then your whole lives are ruined before they even have a chance to really begin.” He walks over at sits his bowl down on the table before taking the seat across from me and next to Keisha. “Keisha, I’ll talk to Hank and maybe I can convince him to let you go to this party.” “Aww, Mr. G., you don’t have to do that.” “I insist. Hank’s a lot like myself. We worry about our kids and we only want the best for them. Now, I’m not making any promises.” “Thank you, Mr. G. I really appreciate it.” “Don’t mention it. Now should’ve you two be getting to school?” I look down at my phone and see that it’s a little after seven. “Yeah, we better get going.” “Be careful,” Dad says as Keisha and I scramble to grab our things. I walk over to Dad and give him a kiss on the cheek and tell him to have a great day. I then follow Keisha out the back door into the driveway where her car is waiting. ~ I’m walking to the auditorium, alone, when I hear someone call my name. Pausing between the main building and the auditorium, I look over my shoulder and I see Andy running towards me. His face is beet-red and the gray I (HEART) New York T-shirt he is wearing is soaked with sweat. Andy stops a few feet away from me and doubles over. His breaths are shallow and for a brief moment I worry that he’s about to keel over and die right in front of me. When he finally catches his breath, he slowly stands up and runs his fingers through the sweat-slicked curls on top of his head. “Sorry – I know I look a hot mess right now but there was no time to change after gym. Some guy mouthed off at Coach so he made all of us run fifteen laps around the football field.” Andy looks down at his damp shirt and groans. “I’m so gross right now. I wish I could just go home.” “It’s fine,” I tell him. I look down at my watch. “We’ve got six minutes before class starts so how about we go grab some water.” “Water sounds so good right now.” The two of us walk into the auditorium and to the drink machine where Andy purchases a bottled water and I get a Sprite. “Can I get your advice on something?” Andy asks as we slow-walk towards the theater. “Well, I can’t promise that it will be good advice but sure, what’s on your mind?” Andy stops walking and looks over at me. “Can we just keep this between the two of us?” “Yeah – everything okay?” Andy quickly looks down at the ground and he sort of reminds me of a little kid who is too shy to say hello to an adult. Andy is usually very confident so it’s kind of strange seeing him like this. “Andy, what is it? You can tell me. I promise I won’t tell …” “Nick and I hooked up,” he blurts out, his voice echoing throughout the mostly empty hallway we’re in. “Hooked up?” “Yeah … you know … we had sex. I lied to my parents and told them I was studying with you and Keisha and then I went over to his place . His parents are on some 4-week tour of Europe for their anniversary.” Andy slowly lifts his head and makes eye contact with. “It just sort of happened. “Andy,” I say placing my hand on his back. His back is wet so my hand recoils. “There’s nothing wrong with that. You and Nick were together for how long?” “Exactly one year, one month, two weeks and three days.” “Wow – that’s, um … wow.” “We became official the day after the Fourth of July, the summer before junior year and of course I’ll never forget the day we ended things – or rather I ended things.” “So, the important question is, how do you feel about what happened?” “That’s what I need your advice on,” he says. “Being with Nick … it felt exactly like it used to. Nothing’s changed and I know more than ever that I want to be with him. I think … no, I know he is the person I’m going to be with for the rest of my life. “But lying to my parents didn’t feel good. When I got home, my dad asked me how studying went and I lied again. I ended up going up to my room and throwing up. I hate lying to my parents.” “Then don’t,” I say. “From what you’ve described, your parents sound pretty awesome. You and I both know how easily it could’ve gone the other way. So tell them how you feel. How you really feel. This isn’t some high school boyfriend you’ll dump as soon as you graduate. This is the love of your life we’re talking about.” “Tristan – Nick means the world to me and I’m so afraid of what they’ll say. I don’t think I can handle them making us break up again. It will crush Nick and I can’t do that to him. Not again.” “I get that,” I say. “I get that you don’t want to hurt Nick. But won’t you be hurting yourself if you two continue to sneak around?” Andy bites down on his bottom lip and frowns. “That’s a good point.” “You owe it to yourself to be honest with your parents and if they disapprove of you being with Nick, just tell them it’s your life.” Andy scoffs and then laughs. “You’re obviously not Italian.” The bell rings and we are officially late, not that Coach McHurk is ever around to notice. The two of us move towards the auditorium. Just as we are about to walk inside, Andy turns to me. “Thank you, Tristan. You have really given me some food for thought.” “Don’t mention it. I’m rooting for you and Nick. We all are. A love like yours can’t be denied.” “You think so?” Andy asks. “I know so.”
  20. I’m standing in the front hallway of Finn’s house and … remember the scene in Beauty and the Beast, the cartoon, not the remake, where the Beast realizes he’s in love with Belle and he shows her his library? Well, I’m Belle right now and Finn is the Beast minus the whole being kept in captivity and the subsequent Stockholm syndrome part. There’s tons of marble statues and gigantic antique vases aka expensive rich people shit lining the walls. The ceiling is high and painted a bright blue. There’s a large, framed photograph of Finn and presumably his brothers prominently featured on the main wall. They’re all tanned and handsome and wearing expensive-looking suits. Finn sidles up to me and starts pointing at the picture. He starts at the top and works his way down. “That’s Franklin III – we call him Frankie. He’s the oldest. He turns 30 this year. This is Forest and Fabian – their twins. Forest is older by ten minutes. Forest lives in Arizona with his wife and two kids. Fabian just got divorced so he moved back to town. He’s living with his girlfriend in an apartment downtown. He and his ex share custody of their daughter Cassie. And that’s Ferris – he’s at NYU. This is his last year.” Finn then looks at me and says, “And then there’s me. I’m the youngest. I’ll be the last one to fly the coup.” “Wow, all these boys,” I say. “And all F-names.” “Yeah – that was Dad’s idea. My uncles all have names beginning with the letter S but my dad’s name is Franklin. I think it pissed him off that my grandparents didn’t give him an S name so he was hell-bent on making sure we all had names that began with the same letter.” “Is Finn short for something?” I ask. “I swear if you tell anyone … well, I reckon you’ll find out at graduation anyway.” Finn sighs and rolls his eyes. “My actual name is Finnegan – Finnegan Patrick Montgomery. I’m named after my great-grandfather.” “Finnegan,” I say, trying the name out. Is the guy standing in front of me a Finnegan? Am I a Tristan? Finnegan’s a cool name but there’s something … sexy about Finn.” “I think I’ll call you Finn.” “Thanks,” he says. We both turn away from the photograph and continue our way through the front hallway. “Would you like something to drink?” Finn asks depositing his backpack and gym bag on a fancy looking marble table that looks like it weighs a metric tone. “We got Cokes, Gatorade, water of course and coffee.” “Coke will be good,” I say as I follow him across the super shiny tile lining the entire front room. “I’m gonna make a pot of coffee. I have a Pre-Cal test first thing tomorrow morning and I’m struggling. Have a feeling I’m gonna be up all night studying for it,” Finn says as we both enter the kitchen. The kitchen is top to bottom stainless steel. Fluorescent lighting bounces off every single counter top and cabinet. Everything is also very clean. My house isn’t exactly dirty but this place looks like it was cleaned by a professional. I wonder if Finn has a maid. Is maid politically-correct? “You sure you don’t want any coffee?” Finn asks reaching into an overhead cabinet. A sliver of his stomach is expose and I try so hard, really I do, not to notice. “I’ve been told I make a pretty mean cup of coffee.” I grin and shrug my shoulders. “Fine then – eighty-six the Coke and I’ll take a cup of coffee.” “Sugar and cream?” he asks walking over to the biggest coffee maker I’ve ever seen which sits on the countertop next to the massive refrigerator. I guess when you have five sons, you need a big refrigerator. “No sugar, extra cream,” I say taking a seat at one of the barstools surround the island in the middle of the room. “One cup of coffee, no sugar, extra cream coming up,” he says. As Finn fiddles with the coffee maker, I try to process my surroundings. I thought houses like this only existed in places like Beverly Hills, not a small town twenty miles outside of Atlanta. “How long have you lived here?” I ask fiddling with the zipper on my jacket which I haven’t bothered to remove. Finn turns around to face me and looks thoughtful for a moment. “Mom and Dad moved here in right after I was born so this is pretty much the only home I’ve ever known.” “My grandfather was in the Marines so my dad says they would move like every three to four years to a different town. It really took a toll on my dad. He had a hard time making friends and when he did make friends it was time to move again – and this was before social media.” “That sucks,” Finn says as he scoops coffee grounds into the machine. “Yeah – when he married my mom, he told her that if they ever had kids they would stay in one place. So, long story short, I, too, have lived in the same house my whole entire life.” “That’s cool. It’s really gonna be weird not being here next year. You know, with college and stuff.” Keisha and I have been talking about what university we’re going to attend for undergrad since sophomore year but this is the first time it’s hitting me that this time next year, I’ll be in another city – in another state – and time zone. With Everett on the other side of the country and me maybe living in Chicago or Virginia, Dad will be all by himself. “You okay?” Finn’s standing across the kitchen island from me. Concern is etched in the lines crisscrossing his forehead. I shake my head and laugh. “I was just thinking about next year. I’ve never been away from home before?” “Not even to travel?” “Does driving to Savannah to visit my grandparents every summer count?” I ask. “Well, I was thinking along the lines of leaving the country,” Finn says settling onto the stool across from me. “No,” I say. “I mean I’d love to go to Paris one day. I would love to go on one of those boats in Italy and float down the canals.” “My parents plan a big trip every year. On Christmas Eve, my parents, my brothers and their wives, we all vote on where we want to go the following summer. This year we’re going to Thailand.” “Wow,” I say. Dad and I can barely afford to go to my grandparents every summer and Finn gets to go to a different country every year. “I’m really pumped about this year. I got really bad food poisoning at Emily’s birthday party back in July so I didn’t get to go to Australia this year. I was really bummed.” “I would be, too,” I say quietly. I barely flinch at the mention of the she-devil’s name. There’s a beeping noise coming from the coffee maker which prompts Finn to hop up from his seat. “So,” he says as he walks over to the coffee maker. “I have a bit of a proposition for you.” My left brow arches involuntarily as I the word proposition echoes in my head. I sit up as straight as I can turn on my stool to face Finn. He’s pouring coffee into two bright-yellow mugs. When he finishes he brings them over to where we are sitting. “I fucking suck at Pre-Cal,” he says as he slides a pitcher of creamer across the island towards me. “Emily’s best friend, Hayden was in your Pre-Cal class last year and when I told her I was struggling she mentioned that you had the highest grade in the class.” Actually Shane Isom had the highest grade in the class but I was a lovely runner-up if I do say so myself. Math isn’t my favorite subject in the world but it’s never been a challenge for me. Math is black and white, you’re either right or wrong, and that’s why I like it. “I know I invited you over here to help me with my printer and email but would you be willing to help me study for my test tomorrow?” Finn’s eyes are big and brown and he looks like a puppy at the shelter begging to be adopted. There’s absolutely no way in hell I’m going to say no to him even though I did promise Keisha we’d hang out some tonight. I’m sure she’ll understand. There’s nobody on the planet who’d understand more than Keisha Alston. “Sure,” I say. “We wouldn’t want you to fail.” “Coach will literally kick my ass if I fail this test.” And I believe it. There’s a rumor that Coach McHurk ended up having to take court-mandated anger management a few years back for punching one of his players in the nose. Not only did the kid and his family drop the charges, the kid actually told the police that it was his fault that Coach McHurk punched him. “Don’t get me wrong, Mrs. Richards is a great teacher and she’s been super patient with me but me and math … we just don’t mix.” “Well,” I say hopping up from my stool. “With that attitude you might as well go to Coach right now and tell him you failed.” Finn looks confused. “Freshman year, I took Wellness with Coach McHurk and every single day we had to play dodgeball which is every kid who looks like me worst nightmare. Every day I would show up to class and I’d get picked last and then I ended up being the first person out of the game. “One day something snapped inside of me and one day I walked into the gym and I told myself, I may get picked last today but I am not going to be the first one out. So of course, when teams were picked, I was the last one picked – but when Coach blew that whistle and the game started, when the other team all aimed at me, I fell to the floor and everyone behind me got hit. At least five guys ended up being taken out of the game at the same time.” “So, you finally learned the dodging part of dodgeball,” Finn says smirking around the rim of his mug. “Yes – it took a month but I finally got it and by the end of the semester I became pretty decent at dodgeball … and I lost eight pounds.” “That’s cool,” Finn says. “So, if I can learn to appreciate dodgeball, there’s no reason you can’t learn to appreciate Pre-Calculus.” “Well, I hope you brought your sleeping bag,” Finn says after taking a long sip of his coffee. “Because this is definitely going to be an all-nighter.” “I’ll have to call my dad to let him know where I’m at,” I say. “Tell him I promise to make sure his son is returned home safely.” I peck out a quick text to Dad letting him know where I am and what I’m doing. Outside of Keisha, he doesn’t know about any of my other friends and the reason for that is because I don’t really have any other friends. Neither does Keisha for that matter. I also send a text to Keisha letting her know I will have to cancel our plans. She quickly texts back a series of heart emojis followed by an eggplant emoji. “Well,” Finn says, sitting down his mug, “We have our work cut out for us so we better get started. My laptop’s up in my bedroom let’s head upstairs.” As I follow Finn out of the kitchen and up an opulent spiral staircase to the second-floor, I notice how quiet and empty the house is. “When do your parents get home?” I ask as we move down a dimly-lit hallway. “Oh, my parents are out of town. My older brother is receiving some sort of an award at NYU so they flew out this morning to attend the ceremony. Then they’ll take the train to DC to meet up with one of Dad’s fraternity brothers. They won’t be back until next week … which reminds me …” Finn stops walking and turns to face me. “Are you free this Saturday … around 9ish, 10ish?” 9ish, 10ish on a Saturday I’m usually dozing on Keisha’s pull-out sofa in her den – but I’m certainly not going to tell Finn Montgomery this tidbit of info. “Yeah,” I say a little bit too enthusiastically. “I’m free.” “Awesome,” he says slapping me on the back, a little too hard – not that I’m complaining. “It’s tradition that when Mom and Dad leave town, the Montgomery boys throw a huge-ass party and since I’m the last Montgomery boy still standing, I have to carry on the tradition. So, this Saturday, I want you to come over. Feel free to bring your boyfriend, too.” “I-I don’t have a boyfriend,” I sputter. Finn looks confused again. “Really? I thought you and that Nick kid were together. I mean, I saw you two eating lunch and whatever you two were talking about … it looked real intense. I assumed … my bad.” “No,” I say placing my hand on his bicep. “It’s fine. Nick’s just a friend. He was having a really rough day that day so I was talking him through it.” “Oh,” Finn says. “Well, feel free to bring anyone you want. I already talked to Keisha about it and I think she and Sheldon are coming.” Okay, so first Keisha’s going out on a date with Sheldon and now they’re attending parties together? And why am I hearing this from Finn and not best friend? “Sounds fun,” I say. “Oh it is,” Finn says as we arrive at what I presume is his bedroom. It’s a plain brown door with a faded Keep Out sign nailed to the door. I’m trying to imagine an angsty version of Finn nailing a Keep Out sign to his bedroom door but with the current version of him standing two feet away, it’s hard. “Just a warning – my room is a mess,” he says with a grin. “Enter at your own risk.” “I’ll take my chances,” I say. “One of us needs to print off a paper, get back into their email account and study for a very important test, so march.” Finn gives an exaggerated salute and says, “Sir, yes, sir”, before placing his hand on the doorknob. I can’t believe it. In less that two weeks I’ve gone from being the guy who just so happens to be in the same theater class as Finn to becoming Facebook friends with him and now I’m about to enter his bedroom. I pray my heart holds out long enough for me to tell all of this to Keisha in the morning.
  21. After getting annihilated by Ruston Delacroix in Speech and Debate, I’m actually looking forward to Theater, even though today we’ll be rehearsing my song in the musical. I stumble out of the classroom and walk as fast as I can towards my locker. Keisha is not at her locker which is surprising since her AP Psychology class is right across the hall. I yank off my lock and throw all of the books I won’t need inside and then slam my locker shut. I jump at the sight of Finn Montgomery learning against Keisha’s locker. I reach up and touch my chest. My heart is beating fast. Then again, my heart is always beating fast whenever Finn Montgomery is in my circumference. “Sorry,” he says, dimples on full display. “Didn’t mean to scare you.” “No, it’s fine,” I say. “I’m just so used to Keisha being the one standing at her locker and you’re clearly not her.” Stop talking idiot – stop talking now. Finn is tugging at the strap of his L.L. Bean backpack. All the rich kids have L.L. Bean backpacks. My messenger bag was only twenty-three bucks on Amazon. “You’re good with computers.” It’s more of a statement than a question. My dad bought me my first computer when I was twelve. Outside of TV and talking about guys, computers are my next favorite thing. “I’m having some issues with my printer. I have this paper due by tomorrow and every time I try to print it, nothing happens. I even went out and bought a new printer cartridge.” I clear my throat because I want to sound confident and effervescent in front of this man. “Have you tried emailing it to yourself? If you email it to yourself you can then print it off here.” Finn lowers his head and looks down at his – I’m going to take a wild guess – size 15 Nikes. If what they say is true about guys with big feet, I might just have to channel my inner Andrew Cunanan and off Emily. “I got locked out of my email because I couldn’t remember my password and it only gives you five attempts before it completely locks you out.” “Sounds like you’re having some real technical difficulties,” I say giving him my best smile. I’m so glad I brushed after lunch. “Me and technology -.” Finn does this thing with his hands and fingers. “We don’t mix. My brother’s the technologically savvy one but he and his wife are in Greece for their anniversary.” Finn fiddles with a dark green lanyard hanging out of the pocket of his letterman jacket. “I was hoping you’d help me out. I really need to get that paper turned in or Ms. Faragher is going to give me a zero on the entire assignment. Ms. Faragher is notorious at Shenandoah for being a hard-ass. She gave me a C on an essay simply because I forgot to indent the first paragraph. “Well,” I say. “We wouldn’t want you to get a zero. Knowing Ms. Faragher, there’d be no coming back from that. So, how can I help?” The 5-minute warning bell rings so Finn and I start moving in the direction of the auditorium. He even holds the door open for me as we head outside. Normally I get annoyed when guys hold the door open for me but with Finn it’s different. “Are you busy this afternoon?” he asks. I shake my head. “No – I’m pretty caught up on my homework so I was going to just chill out.” Finn pauses just outside the auditorium. He’s looking down at his feet again. “Do you think you could come over to my place -.” That’s all I hear before my heart explodes, metaphorically, maybe even literally, inside my chest. For all I know the rest of that sentence is so I can murder you. Something tells me being murdered by Finn Montgomery, no matter the method, would be worth it. Keisha would be super sad but I’d be one happy ghost. “Sure,” I say. “Awesome,” he says, that mega-watt smile plastered on his gorgeous face. “I figured we could leave right after class and I’ll just drop you off at your house when we’re done. “Sounds like a plan,” I say as Finn holds the door to the auditorium open for me. We take our seats in the circle right before the tardy bell rings – not that we’re accountable to anyone. Coach McHurk has still yet to show his face and we’re four weeks into the semester. Keisha’s talking with Sheldon across from me. She sees me, waves and then turns back to talking to him. Finn stretches out in his chair which is too small for his body and throws his arm over the back of my chair. This is too much. Sensory overload. First Finn shows up at my locker. Then he wants me to come to his house to troubleshoot his computer issues. Now he’s got his arm draped over the back of my chair and is that his cologne I’m smelling. I want to run but before I can, someone’s calling my name. “Tristan,” Sheldon says. “You’re up. Remember, we’re going to run through your song. Did you have time to listen to the recording.” Sheldon gave me the recording of the song I have to sing for the musical and I must’ve listened to it three dozen times. I’m still not confident in my ability to deliver vocals but at least I’m not the only non-singer in this group. I open my messenger bag and I pull out the lyrics. I hold them up and tell Sheldon I have my them memorized. “Excellent,” he says. He gets up and moves over to the old piano at the edge of the stage. He takes a seat and looks over at me. “Whenever you’re ready, let me know and we will run through the song. In a few weeks we’ll add choreography.” I slowly rise to my feet and move over to towards where Sheldon is. I can feel the others’ eyes on me. I give Sheldon a nod and he starts playing a melody that sounds like something the Chainsmokers would write a song over. Willing all of my self-consciousness away, I open my mouth and I start to sing the lyrics Sheldon wrote for me. My name’s Cunanan Andrew Cunanan My legacy is infamous I killed five, I really made quite the fuss I’m the serial killer Andrew Cunanan From behind me I hear Andy whoop and Keisha cheering me on. I continue. I killed Versace … Gianni Versace … One day he came outside I used my gun and then he died No one knew that I killed Versace (so I thought) From behind the piano, Sheldon gives me a thumbs up. I killed Versace The designer Versace On a houseboat is where I stayed I killed myself eight days after I slayed The wonderful, talented Gianni Versace Last verse, I think to myself. And then you’re done. My name’s Cunanan Andrew Cunanan I know that things got really gory But at least Ryan Murphy told my story (On FX) Now you know why I’m Andrew Cunanan I wait until Sheldon finishes his part on the piano before I finally exhale. Once his hits the final chord, everyone erupts in applause. “Good job,” Sheldon says standing up from behind the piano. He walks over to me and slaps me hard on the back. Leah rushes up to me and throws her arms around my neck. I don’t return the hug because #MeToo. “Oh my god – you sounded amazing, Tristan,” she says taking her arms from around my neck. “I honestly thought you weren’t going to deliver and that we were gonna have to do your vocals for you and you’d have to lip-sync over them but you did deliver.” “Gee,” I say. “Thanks?” Keisha walks over to me and gives me one of her big hugs and this one I return. “Good job, Babe,” she says. “We’re gonna take five,” Leah announces. “And when we come back, Andy, you’re up next.” “Wanna go with me to grab something to drink?” Keisha asks. “Sure – my throat is dry after all of that.” The two of us leave the stage and exit through one of the side doors. This leads us into a darkened hallway full of trophy cases with photos of old students performing plays. There’s a drink machine at the end of the hall. “So, where were you after sixth period?” I ask as Keisha inserts several coins into the ancient-looking machine. “Sheldon texted me and asked if I’d come directly to the auditorium. Said he wanted to go over my song again.” “Wait a minute – he texted you?” I ask, with more incredulousness in my voice than I intend. “How’d he even get your number?” “I gave it to him in first period,” she says, pressing the button for Coca Cola. The machine makes an awful noise before spitting out her drink. I step up to the machine and insert a couple of dollars. “We’re in the same AP Biology class. He asked me if I’d go see Rent with him,” she says. “Apparently there’s a traveling production coming to town next week and it’s like his favorite musical.” “I hope you let him down gently, Keish.” I press the button for Sprite and the screen above the place where I insert my cash says the machine is out of Sprites. I groan and select Coca Cola. “I told him yes,” she says before taking a swig of her drink. I nearly choke on my own drink. “What?” She rolls her eyes and sighs. “I know. I know. He’s really starting to grow on me and I’m kind of tired of dating the same kind of guys and getting the same result. Sheldon’s a really sweet guy. He may not have that bad boy quality I like but at least I know he won’t treat me like shit.” “Well – I can honestly say I never, not in a million years, saw this coming. My little girl’s all grown up.” “It’s just a date to see a musical. A musical that I hate. Rent’s garbage … there I said it.” “You must really like him if you’re willing to suffer through a shitty musical,” I say as we start to walk back to the auditorium. “Hey – enough about me. Are you going to help Finn with his issue?” she asked. “Hey, how do you know about that?” Keisha shrugs and takes a swig of her drink. “He came up to me after homeroom and asked if I knew anyone that was good with computers. I told him you were good with computers.” “Well, the poor guy is unable to print his paper and he locked himself out of his email so guess who’s going over to Montgomery Manor to help him out this afternoon.” “So, you get to spend the afternoon with Finn,” she says. “I know. I know. He’s got a girlfriend.” “Are you sure about that?” Keisha asks. Before I can ask her what that means, we’re back in the auditorium and the others have already reassembled on the stage. As I take my seat next to Finn, he looks over at me and shoots me one of his trademark goofy grin. I return the favor with a nervous smile before looking down at the floor. Are you sure about that? Keisha’s words play over and over in my head and before I know it the bell is ringing and it’s time for us to gather our things and leave. I see Sheldon walk over to Keisha and the two of them are talking and smiling. It’s weird seeing her with someone like him – not that there’s anything wrong with Sheldon. He’s just not the kind of guy she typically goes for. “You ready?” Finn is standing in front of me, backpack draped over his shoulder. He looms over me like a giant. I nod and smile and I’m pretty sure I look dumb in the process. I shove my song lyrics inside my bag and I throw it over my shoulder. I follow Finn outside to the parking lot where students are pulling off in their vehicles. I can’t believe this. I’m following Finn Montgomery to his Jeep and then we’re going over to his place. I pause and hike up my left sleeve. I close my eyes, pinch myself, and open them. Finn is several steps ahead of me. He stops and turns around. His face is a mixture of confusion and concern. “Everything okay?” he asks. Finn is still here and we are still going to his place. I nod my head and grin. “Yeah – everything’s good.”
  22. Exactly one week after we were assigned our roles, Keisha had to get her braces off. Days where Keisha isn’t in school feel super weird because she’s sort of like my security blanket. As I enter the cafeteria during junior/senior lunch period, I feel naked … exposed. I haven’t stepped foot inside the cafeteria all semester. After getting food poisoning from some rogue strawberries circa fifth grade, Dad has been adamant about me taking my lunch every day. You know that scene in Mean Girls where Janis is explaining to Cady about all of the various cliques in the cafeteria? Well, it’s the same sort of the same thing at Shenandoah. The Varsity football, basketball and baseball players all sit together at one long table at the front of the room. The tennis, golf and other lesser sports all sit at tables orbiting the main jock table. Peppered throughout the rest of the cafeteria are the band kids, the gamers, the academically-challenged and the my daddy drives a Bentley and makes six figures crew. I’m about to go eat in the courtyard when I notice Nick sitting in the far corner. I move quickly through the room and pretend I don’t see Leah waving at me. Nick barely acknowledges me as I take the seat across from him. There’s a half-eaten cheeseburger, three tater tots and a brownie on his tray. Nick has a nice body – we had PE together last year – so I wonder how he maintains it eating the bio-waste the cafeteria passes off as food. “Is it okay that I’m sitting here?” It’s a dumb question because I’ve already pulled out my Tupperware container of carrots, celery and peanut butter. He shrugs and pokes his finger into the chocolate flesh of the brownie. A lengthy silence follows and I’m reminded why Keisha and I are besties. I hate silence. It makes me super uncomfortable … like I am now. “Um, Nick.” I pluck a napkin from the holder and dab at the corners of my mouth. “Are you okay?” For the first time since I’ve arrived at the table, Nick looks up. His eyes are usually a warm hazel but now they’re red and puffy and I want to pull him into the biggest hug because I recognize that face. It’s the same face Dad had when he came into my bedroom when I was twelve to deliver the news. He sniffs and swipes the back of his hand over his eyes. He puts his other hand up to partition himself away from the rest of the cafeteria. “I am fucking miserable,” he finally says. He raises his gaze from the table and locks eyes with me. “He’s everywhere. He’s in every single one of my classes because last year when we made our schedules, we thought it would be great to have all our classes together. Senior year was supposed to be perfect but now I’m sitting across the room from the only person that matters and I cannot …” I open my mouth to speak but for literally the first time in my life there are no words. No funny quips. Nada. Zip. Nothing. “I love him,” Nick continues. “More than anything.” I want to say something to make him okay. I can’t stand seeing Nick Ramirez not be okay. But I’ve never been a love and I’ve never known what it’s like to lose someone you can’t live without. “You know my brother?” he asks. I nod. Nick has an identical twin Nathan and they’re as different as night and day. Nathan runs with an interesting crowd. I barely see him around but I know he’s here because rumor has it he has the highest GPA in the school. “Since literally day one Nathan and I have had this bond. We think the same thing. He finishes my sentences and vice-versa. It used to trip our parents out when we were younger.” Then Nick does something I haven’t see him do all semester. He smiles. It’s the most genuine smile I’ve ever seen and I feel a rush of happiness and relief wash over me. He reaches for a tater tot which is probably cold since lunch is nearly over and dips it in the puddle of ketchup. “That’s how it is with Andy,” he says before popping the tot into his mouth. Nick chews with his mouth open which would usually bother me but somehow him doing it is very endearing. “It can still be like that.” The words are out of my mouth before I even realize I am speaking them. Nick shrugs and sags in his chair. “I used to think that. The two of us would stay up until three o’clock in the morning talking about the future. What we’d do next summer. Would we go to the same college or not. What would we do after college. Would we get married some day? Have kids? A dog and a cat … even though I’m allergic to cats.” He laughs which is another thing I haven’t seen him do since the start of the semester. “Andy used to talk about us moving to New York City after graduating. I’d become a Physics professor at NYU and he would tackle Broadway. He wants to play Danny Zuko in Grease. That’s like his dream role.” “I remember him mentioning on the first day.” I notice the smile is gone again. “Nick – high school doesn’t last forever. We just have to get through the rest of this year and after graduation and then you and Andy can do whatever you want.” Nick looks up at me and scoffs. “You obviously don’t come from a big Italian family?” I shrug my shoulders and say, “Can’t say that I do. It’s just me and my Dad. My older brother lives in Portland.” “Well, Andy comes from a huge Italian family … and I’m talking Italian Italian. Both his parents moved here from Italy in the 70s and immediately started a family. Andy has four older sisters, all married … with kids. Lots of kids. Andy has fifteen nieces and nephews.” I’m trying to imagine Everett having fifteen kids. I’m also trying to imagine buying presents for fifteen kids. “Andy was sort of an accident. He’s ten years younger than the youngest sister so his parents are super protective of him.” Dad’s very protective of me but he’s always let me do my own thing, make my own decisions. That’s probably the two of us are so close. “When they came over here,” Nick continues. “They were looking for the American Dream … you know the whole if you work hard you can do anything. I think it’s bullshit but Andy’s parents really believe in it and they think Andy is their American Dream and I was the guy who was standing in the way of it. “It’s funny. I assumed Andy being gay would be the thing they’d flip out over but when he came out to them Freshman year, they were so supportive. Especially his dad.” I watch as Nick fiddles with a salt packet. The sadness is gone leaving only bitterness. “Who would’ve thought I’d be the thing they couldn’t handle.” I let several moments before I open my mouth to speak. Being friends with Keisha is witty commentary back and forth for hours. But no one sees the other moments. I’ve nursed Keisha through several breakups and heartaches and God knows she’s been there for me in my darker moments. I want my words to Nick to be intentional because I have never seen a person so broken before and it physically hurts me to see him like this. “I wish I had the words to make all of this better for you,” I say. “But I don’t. I’ve never been in love. I hope to one day be. The way you describe it, it sounds like it’s worth all the bad stuff. “Perhaps I’ve overstepping my boundaries but I think … no, I know Andy feels the same way about you. I can see it. Every time you walk in the room I can see him light up and almost immediately the light goes away because he’s remembering you two aren’t together. “All I can say, and it’s an easy thing for me to say because I’m not in your shoes is to please, hang in there. I watch a lot of movies and read a lot of books and people spend their whole lives looking for something you found when you were fifteen years old. My dad says anything worth having is waiting for. Wait for Andy. I have a feeling he’s waiting on you.” I watch as Nick bites his bottom lip. Before he has a chance to respond the bell rings and lunch is over. Nick looks up at me with the most sincere look on his face. “Tristan, thank you.” “Don’t mention it,” I say feeling my face flush with warmth. “No, I mean it. Thanks for dragging me back from the ledge.” All around us chairs are scraping the floor and people are emptying their trays into the tall, blue trash barrels at the entrance. Nick and I slowly stand and start gathering our things. As we leave the cafeteria, Nick turns to me with a wan smile on his face. I know my words haven’t erased his pain but I hope they’ve made things a bit easier, at least for a little while. “I’ll see you in Theater,” he says, hiking his backpack over his left shoulder. I wave him goodbye and watch as he disappears into a sea of students moving towards their next class of the day.
  23. The following Monday, Keisha, Andy and I walk into the auditorium to find Leah, literally, bouncing off the walls. “I am so not in the mood,” Keisha groans as we walk towards the stage. “Please make her stop.” “I don’t think that’s possible,” Andy whispers. “Unless we kill her.” “I have a shovel,” Keisha says as we take our place in the circle. “And a huge backyard.” “Oh my god, you guys,” Leah screeches as she rushes over to the three of us. She’s wearing this pink, furry jacket and a leather skirt. I feel bad for the poor Muppet that suffered and died unnecessarily to be a part of such a heinous outfit. I’m fashionably-illiterate and even I know this is … bad. Really bad. “You’re at a ten,” Jon-Jon speaks up from the other side of the circle. “Can you be at like a minus three?” Leah looks over her shoulder and tosses him an icy look before looking back over at the three of us. “Sheldon has finished the play,” she announces. I look over at Sheldon who is sitting between Nick and Finn. My gaze drifts over to Finn who is looking down at his phone. As if he feels my eyes on him, he looks up and shoots me the dopiest grin. His dimples could actually bring world peace. Keisha elbows me in the side. She leans in close to my ear. “You’re salivating and it’s disgusting,” she says. I quickly swipe the back of my hand across my mouth and hang my head in shame. “Sheldon, why don’t you share with us your vision for the musical,” Leah says taking her seat between Andy and Finn. Sheldon reaches into his backpack and removes a stack of papers. He slowly stands up and moves towards the center of the circle. He’s wearing a dark-purple button down and a pair of gray pants which hug his thighs perfectly. Now that he’s standing, I didn’t realize he’s so tall. I mean I knew he was tall but now he seems like a giant. I lean over and whisper in Keisha’s ear. “Remember Winston Duke in Us?” I ask. “I was thinking the same thing,” she whispers back. “So – Sheldon’s pretty hot.” She shrugs her shoulder and says, “Yeah – he’s got this dorky hot thing going on for him. But you know I like a rude boy. He’s too nice.” “Maybe you need too nice.” “Babe – don’t you know me? I’m not satisfied unless a little pain and suffering is involved. After all, is it really love if you haven’t thrown a plate at them?” Leah shoots the two of us a dirty look and mouths for us to be quiet and now I’m fearing for her life because I know exactly where that shovel is in Keisha’s garage. Sheldon holds up the papers in his hands and says, “Last night I put the finishing touches on the musical we will perform in October. I have spent the last several days observing you and trying to write characters that align with who you already are since some of you have already intimated that you have limitations when it comes to acting and singing.” “Am I going to have to wear a dress?” Jon-Jon asks. “Because I’m not shaving my legs. Not again.” “Um, well – there will be no gender swapping … maybe I should just explain what the musical is about. As yet, I haven’t come up with a title but each of you will be playing a notorious killer.” I look over at Nick and we exchange bemused looks. “I have assigned each of you a serial killer so I will go over those now.” Leah’s sitting on the edge of her seat. If she was anymore excited I think she’d have a stroke – which would make a lot of us happy. “I’m going to go in alphabetical order,” Sheldon says. “Andy Fennocchio, you will be playing the infamous Jack the Ripper.” A huge grin spread across Andy’s face. “Awesomesauce,” he says. “Guess I better start working on my British accent.” Sheldon turns to Finn and says, “Finn, you’ll be playing H.H. Holmes.” Finn’s brow furrows. “Who’s that?” “He was this guy who built this huge “castle” and he used it to kill a lot of people,” I say. Keisha looks over at me and asks, “How’d you know that?” “Remember how you refused to watch the Hotel season of American Horror Story because the guy had the drill-bit for a penis and tried to rape Schmidt from New Girl? Well, I finished the season and Evan Peters played this guy named James Patrick March who is based on H.H. Holmes.” “We do watch way too much television,” Keisha says. “Jon-Jon,” Sheldon continues, “You’ll be playing the infamous Ted Bundy.” “Hell fucking yeah,” Jon-Jon says clapping his hands together. “Wasn’t he like hot and shit?” “Yes,” Leah said. “He was known for being good-looking. I guess you’ll really have to act.” “Shade,” Andy whispers under his breath. I look over at Jon-Jon who is frowning. He doesn’t say anything which is so un-Jon-Jon. “Next up is Keisha,” Sheldon says with a slight smile on his face. “You’re going to play Aileen Wuornos.” “The woman Charlize Theron played in Monster?” Keisha asks. “She was hideous … no shade.” “Yeah,” Sheldon says. “The makeup department is gonna have to work overtime because there ain’t a thing ugly on you.” Keisha smirks. “Facts are facts.” “Leah – you’re going to be Lizzie Borden,” Sheldon says. “Of course you already know that since you begged me to let you be her. Okay, and Nick you’ll be playing the “Night Stalker” himself, Richard Ramirez.” I look over at Nick and say, “If you don’t know anything about him, he was featured in two seasons of American Horror Story.” Nick nods and looks down at the ground. “Last but certainly not least,” Sheldon says. “Tristan, you’ll be playing Andrew Cunanan …” “The guy who murdered Versace?” Keisha and I say at the same time. “Oh, no,” I say. “Isn’t it too soon? Versace hasn’t even been gone that long.” “Yeah we just watched the show on FX,” Keisha says. “This play is all about presenting just the facts,” Sheldon says. “It’s not meant to disrespect any of the victims whether they be unknown or in your case, Tristan, one of the most famous fashion designers of all time.” “Well,” I say. “As long as it’s respectful.” Sheldon nods and smiles at me. “Now that we have your roles have been assigned we’re going to do a read-thru of the play. The play starts with Finn and ends with Tristan.” I feel my face go hot and I instantly look at the floor to avoid anyone’s gaze. “Okay,” Sheldon says as he begins to pass out copies of the script. “Let’s get started.”
  24. So, it’s week three of senior year and if I’m to be honest I’m very underwhelmed. Back when my older brother Everett attended Shenandoah, he was always out and about, going to parties, coming home at dawn – maybe that’s why dad’s hair is almost gray. I mean, I don’t plan on drinking until my twenty-first birthday and if I stay out past midnight, I’m going to have dark circles under my eyes. I wouldn’t mind attending the occasional party and Keisha and I are out and about plenty on the weekends, hitting up sales at the outlet mall. Speaking of Keisha, I’m over at her place tonight. On Fridays, she stays over at my house and on Saturdays I stay over at her place. Both our dads are okay with us staying over at each others’ house. Her dad once said I’m cheaper than birth control which … I’m still not sure how I feel about that. Saturdays are for catching up How to Get Away With Murder which is in it’s final season. We just finished the latest episode and my heart is still pounding in my chest. Viola Davis needs another Emmy. She needs all the Emmys. Keisha’s painting her toenails for the fifth time on her bed while I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor scrolling through Instagram. Billy Eilish’s album is playing in the background. Keisha’s still on the fence about her but I’ve been a fan since day one. “You know Colin?” Keisha asks pressing pause on the CD. “Farmer or King?” I ask, exiting out of Instagram. “Farmer,” she says. “He’s on the football team.” “Wasn’t Kane and Adam and Jeremiah all on the football team, too?” “Your point?” she asks reaching for the magenta polish again. I shrug my shoulders and tap on Facebook. “I think you have a type is all.” She rolls her eyes. “At least I have a type. You’ve been pining over the same guy since Freshman year. Finn Montgomery’s been with Emily …” “Ugh,” I groan. “Can we please not say her name? We just ate.” She sighs. “Finn’s been with that bitch since like the eighth grade. I think maybe it’s time to give up and find someone else, babe. They’re practically engaged. They’ll go to college, she’ll join a sorority, he’ll join a frat and then they’ll graduate, get married and have a whole lot of kids.” “And those kids will be half hottie, half dog. What a waste of genetics. What about Colin?” “He’s in my Psychology class and he keeps asking me to go to the movies with him.” “Keish – you and I both know, going to the movies is code for, we’ll sit on the back row and you’ll spend the next two hours with your head in my lap.” “Just because that happened twice doesn’t mean it’ll happen again,” Keisha said blowing on her right hand. “Yeah – sure. Twice is a coincidence. Three times you receive a nickname. Something like Head Doctor or Mrs. Hoover or Deepthroat or …” “I get your point. It was your idea to wait until we find someone special before we give up our goodies but a girl’s got needs.” “I know what you mean,” I say. “I’ve been feeling the itch as of late. I’m going to have to find someone soon. Otherwise I’m gonna end up cruising in the woods behind the park or trolling the Missed Connections section of Craigslist.” “Well – let’s pray it doesn’t come to that,” Keisha said sitting the bottle of nail polish down on her night table. I look down on my phone and see that I have a few friend requests. Since joining Theater, I’ve been getting friend requests almost every other day. “Oh my god,” I said as I see a familiar face listed under my friend requests. “What?” “Oh my god, oh my god.” “Seriously what?” “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.” “Babe, I’m going to slap you if you don’t spit it out.” “Finn sent me a friend request,” I whisper. “Well just accept it and then can we finish Dead to Me. We’re so behind.” I look down at the photo of Finn. It’s obviously a photo of he and what’s her face but she’s cropped out. Finn is wearing his green and white letterman jacket. His hair is slicked back and his smile makes me want to sink into the floor. It’s one thing to be in class with Finn. To be his Facebook friend is like a … gamechanger. “You okay?” Keisha asks switching to her Netflix account. “Yeah,” I say, eyes still glued to my phone screen. “Please don’t make a big deal of this, Babe – he’s in a long-term relationship. He’s not going to dump her and run into your arms … trust me, I learned the hard way.” “Well – no offense, he’s in a relationship. Your dad’s coworker was married, Keish. With three kids. And a dog.” “You didn’t see the way he looked at me at the company picnic,” Keisha said. “I know Finn is straight but can’t a guy dream?” I ask. “I think crushing on a straight guy is like a right of passage. Once I get this out of my system, then I can date a whole bunch of Mr. Wrongs and then find my first husband by the time I get to grad school.” “Well – as long as you don’t go all Single Gay Male on me then, dream on. Now can we watch Dead to Me. We have one more episode and then we can finally start The Politician.” “Do you think we watch too much TV?” I ask. “What else are we supposed to be doing?” Keisha asks. “I dunno – I was thinking. I’d like to go to a few parties before we graduate.” “My dad barely lets me date. He’s not about to let me go traipsing off to some party. I’m afraid some things will have to wait until undergrad.” “Maybe you’re right,” I say sitting my phone down on the floor next to my glass of sweet tea. “Well – I think that’s enough talk about boys for the night,” Keisha said. I watch as she presses play on the next to last episode of Dead to Me. It’s not my fave but Keisha really likes it. I reach for my phone and click on Finn’s profile. Each picture I look at makes me sadder and sadder. Maybe Keisha’s right. Maybe it’s time to stop crushing on the hot straight guy and find something more realistic. I flip to a picture of Finn standing next to a pool, maybe his pool. He’s tan and shirtless and covered in suntan lotion. His hair is damp and he’s squinting because of the sun. It’s the first picture of him without the Gila monster in it. Man is he fine. Oh and he has brothers. Lots of brothers and they all look like him. Five Greek gods all standing by the pool. Maybe I’ll stop crushing on the hot straight guy … next semester.
  25. So, turns out, my first day back at school isn’t a complete disaster. It was actually quite the opposite. Not only did I manage to keep my breakfast down, I actually had fun. Keisha and I have four out of seven of our classes together and we also have the same lunch period which means we get to hangout on the bleachers and ogle the Varsity football team. But that’s not even the best part. My last period of the day is theater. I’m not an actor. Neither is Keisha. But everyone is required to have a Fine Arts credit in order to graduate. I guess I could’ve joined show choir but I’m not that coordinated, or I could’ve take art but I can’t even draw a stick figure. So theater it is. I walk up to Keisha standing at her locker after sixth period and we take our time walking to the auditorium which is in a separate building which sits behind the main building. I’ve only been in the auditorium twice. It smells old and moldy and the lighting is terrible. There’s already a few people gathered on stage, so Keisha and I climb the stairs and take one of the seats in the formed circle. When the bell rings, a pretty, dark-haired girl in a lavender romper hops up from her seat. I look around for Coach McHurk who is listed as the theater teacher on my schedule but he’s nowhere to be found. Rumor has it, he’s only filling in until we find a proper theater teacher. Apparently the last one got a wee bit too close to one of the students and got himself fired. I wish I knew who the student was but apparently, they graduated last year. “Hi, I’m Leah Platt and I just wanted to welcome each and every one of you to the Shenandoah High Theater Club.” Keisha and I exchange a look that says, “Girl, you need to calm down.” Leah doesn’t bother to take a breath. “Or as we like to call it, the Shenan-Clan.” “Um, excuse me.” Keisha’s hand shoots up. The silver bangles on her left arm catch the overhead stage light. “Did you say Klan?” Before Leah can answer, a tall guy steps forward. He looks over at Keisha and gives her a knowing look. “Clan with a C.” He shakes his head and sighs. “Trust me. It’s better than the alternative.” “Which is?” Keisha asks twirling a lock of her hair. “The Doah-Mites.” “Have mercy, Jesus,” she says. “I know, I know.” Leah looks confused as she watches the banter. Once Keisha and mystery hot guy’s exchange is over she becomes Rachel Berry 2.0 all over again. “This is Sheldon Lockhart.” She gestures to the guy Keisha was just speaking with. “He’s like our own Rogers and Hammerstein. So, let’s introduce ourselves. We’ll start with you.” Leah gestures to Nick Ramirez. “My name is Nick. I joined because it’s my last year and I need a Fine Arts credit to graduate.” Leah frowns a bit and then points to the guy beside him. “I’m Jonathan Yang but everyone calls me Jon-Jon. I’m here because I love theater.” I look over at Keisha and smirk. The real reason Jon-Jon’s here is because he called Coach McHurk a fuckwad under his breath last year in PE. Coach heard him and threatened bodily harm. In all fairness, Jon-Jon did apologize but Coach wasn’t having it. As punishment, he made Jon-Jon take theater this semester. “Welcome, Jon-Jon,” Leah gushes. She points at Finn Montgomery. Okay, cut. Let’s talk about Finn Montgomery. Finn is the dreamiest guy at school, and I have a whole chapter devoted to him so hang tight. Okay, action. Look at me directing! Finn clears his throat and speaks in his deep southern drawl. “I joined because Coach says this club needs at least one cool person in it.” Five pairs of eyes turn in Finn’s direction. He turns beet red which only makes him sexier. The others, including Keisha, aren’t quite as amused as I am. Before a riot can ensue, Leah points at Andy. “I’m Andy Fennocchio. Rhymes with Pinocchio. I’m here because I love theater. My dad showed me Grease when I was like eight. John Travolta is like his favorite actor and it doesn’t hurt that he’s Italian. I enjoyed all the singing and dancing and I remember thinking, that’s what I wanna do.” Andy sounds both happy and sad at the same time. He and Nick split last year and truth be told, I don’t think either is over it yet. “My name is Keisha Alston and I joined because I need a Fine Arts credit.” She looks over at me. “I’m Tristan Goolsby and same.” “Well,” Leah yells, voice echoing throughout the theater, “Welcome to theater! You’re in for a treat this semester. Sheldon and I have had many conversations over the summer.” I look over at Sheldon and I’m pretty sure I saw him roll his eyes. I look over at Keisha and she intimates via our telepathic bond that she saw it, too. “Well, we both decided this year we would do a musical.” “Um,” Finn raises his hand in this really dopey but cute manner, “I don’t know how to sing. I mean I sing in the shower along to the radio but my brothers say I sound like a two goats fuh – I mean screwing in a barn.” My brow cocks. Finn Montgomery sings in the shower. I must add this detail to my fantasy. “It doesn’t matter,” Sheldon pipes up. “We’ll make sure each and every one of you, whether you’re a Beyoncé or a Taylor Swift, sounds good on that stage. I have a bit of an idea for a play but I’ll wait to later on before I share.” “Wait – Taylor Swift can blow,” Nick scoffs. “Um, sure she can,” Sheldon says avoiding eye contact with Nick. We gather in small groups and we chill out for the rest of the period. Andy sits with Keisha and I in the back of the theater and he tells us that things between he and Nick didn’t end badly – exactly. Apparently, Andy’s parents were worried about Nick distracting him from schoolwork and stuff and they pressured him to break things off. Andy, of course didn’t want to part ways with Nick and I can’t say that I blame them. Nick Ramirez and Andy Fennocchio are couple goals and I wish to God I could find someone that perfect for me. After class, I follow Keisha to her car. I’m exhausted. The first day of school usually wears me out. As I buckle myself up I look over at Keisha who is applying yet another later of lip gloss. Side note, if you’re ever kissed on the cheek by Keisha Alston, you better bring something to pry it off with because she leaves like an inch thick of gloss on my face every time she kisses me goodbye. “So,” I ask as she backs out of her parking space. “Am I Bey or Swifty?” Keisha looks over at me and smiles. “Is there anything below Taylor?” I roll my eyes exaggeratedly and I reach for the radio. I’m the only one allowed to touch Keisha’s radio. “So, do you think you can handle being in the same class as, how did you put it, the dreamiest guy at school?” “I admit it’s going to be hard,” I say. “And please note my double entendre.” “You’re disgusting but I think he’s so fine,” Keisha says turning onto my street. “However, this is the part where I remind you he is dating Emily Branson.” “The snake,” I hiss. “She’s so undeserving of him.” “Whoa – someone’s jealous,” Keisha says pulling into my driveway. “Not jealous. I just know that a man like Finn Montgomery doesn’t need a bitch like Emily – and I so mean that in a non-misogynistic way.” “Well – they’ve been together since Freshman year and they show no signs of breaking up. They’re like the Harry and Megan of Shenandoah High.” “Puh-leeze,” I blurt. “Do not insult our queen Megan like that. I just have to work my masculine wiles.” “Excuse me?” “You know, my sex appeal. My mojo. Look, it’s to my experience that every man is gay. It may be a teaspoon of gay or it may be a venti latte of gay. Either way, based on what I’ve read, you can tap into any man’s gay, you just got to know where his entry point is. Again – double–entendre I’m on a roll. Truth be told, I want Finn to find my entry point.” “Get out my car,” Keisha says. “Now before I throw you out.” “Awe you know you love me,” I say. “Regretfully so,” she says. “Call me later, Babe.” I lean over and kiss her on the cheek. “I always do. P.S., Beverly Hills is on tonight and it looks like Kyle is being a complete bitch again.” “When is Kyle ever not being a bitch?” “Touché,” I say. I push open the passenger’s side. “Text me when you get in.” “I always do,” Keisha says. I watch her back out of my driveway and I sigh. First day of senior year over – a gazillion more days to go.
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