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.
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.
I had my artist friend Noel Choi create a book cover for The Unfortunate Occurrence at Shenandoah High as well as draw a picture of Colin McNamara, the choreographer. She the artwork below: