If You're Out There(10)

“No one died, if you were wondering.”

I laugh, a little startled. “You’re very direct, aren’t you?”

“Oh, that’s nothing,” he says, staring at his paper again. “Direct would be pointing out how absolutely adorable you find me.”

I jolt upright. “Uh, correction. You are not direct. You are delusional.”

“Says the girl who watched me from a trash can.”

My mouth falls open in mock outrage. “Um, excuse you. I was only watching because you were getting owned by a woman half your size! Let’s be clear about this. I was spying for personal amusement.”

“Keep telling yourself that.” He’s grinning, and it strikes me that I am too.

I hear a grumble and look over to see Eddy Hays perking up from a nap on my other side. “Hey, keep it down over there,” he says grouchily.

“Eduardo,” calls la Se?ora from the front of the room. “So nice to see you conscious. Perhaps you can join Zan and Logan’s group. Get yourself something other than a zero for the day.”

“Sure, why not?” he says, turning to me. He wiggles his eyebrows. “What are we working on, hot stuff?”

“Pluperfect,” I say. “Like, for example, You had been asleep. And I had preferred it that way.”

The comment doesn’t seem to register. “You know,” he says, “I’m thinking of switching to your gym class. I hear we’re doing ballroom dancing. Let me take you for a spin?”

“Not unless it’s my lifeless corpse,” I tell him.

“You can’t walk away from history, Zan.”

I turn to Logan. “Since he’s obviously intent on bringing this up in front of you, I might as well get ahead of it. Eddy and I played a round of spin the bottle at a bar mitzvah party once. We were children and I puked after.”

“You did not,” says Eddy, a bit wounded.

Without warning, a wave of ache comes over me, but I try not to show it. I can still picture Priya so vividly—the horror rippling across her face as I winced and bravely accepted the kiss from Eddy, cross-legged in the circle among the discarded yarmulkes and shimmering disco lights.

Like the tweens we were, we’d spent a lot of time pondering what kissing would be like. Priya, especially. The girl was always ready to fall in love. But Eddy was not what either of us had in mind.

I can still see us at my house that night as I ferociously gargled mouthwash, Priya watching worriedly from the lip of the tub.

“We need a system moving forward,” she said. “Like a code word for Get me the heck out of this!”

I spat the blue liquid into the sink. “That could work.”

“I propose blueberry,” she said. “I like blueberries.”

“Well, isn’t that kind of a problem?” I started to leave, then doubled back. “What if you really want to bring up blueberries? What if it’s not a blueberry situation?”

“Good point,” said Priya. “We need a neutralizing word.” She thought a moment, to the sounds of my vigorous, second-round brushing. “Rhinoceros,” she said. “If you’re actually talking about blueberries, say rhinoceros.”

“So if I say blueberry by mistake, you want me to casually drop the word rhinoceros into a sentence.”

“Yes,” said Priya, her grin broad and unapologetic. “Yes, I do.”


I jump back to the moment.

To the classroom.

To stupid Eddy, puckering by my ear. “You know you miss these lips,” he says.

I palm his face and shove.

“All right, all right.” Eddy swats me away. “I’m joining Skye and Ying’s group. You’re no fun.”

“Class act, that man,” I say wistfully when he switches seats. “With time you could be fast friends.” Logan laughs, his green eyes crinkling in the corners. It feels like you’ve done something right when eyes like that begin to crinkle.

“So what about you?” asks Logan. “Who are your fast friends at Prewitt High?”

My stomach drops a step. Maybe I shouldn’t care, but I don’t want him knowing I’m a hermit. “Just people. I’m kind of a grazer.”

“O . . . kay,” he says, like I’m oh-so-mysterious. “Any big weekend plans? Parties I should crash?”

I don’t have it in me to make something up, but I try to play it cool. “I’ll probably chill. Keep it low-key. My mom’s girlfriend and my little brother have been getting into home decorating, so maybe I’ll help with some of that.”

For a flickering moment, I can tell he’s stuck on the word girlfriend. It wouldn’t be the first time. But then he says, “That’s cool,” like a code for Hey, so you know, I’m not a wacko bigot. “One of my best friends back home has two moms.”

“Oh,” I say. I appreciate the sentiment, but that’s not quite right. “Actually, Whit’s not one of my parents. Not yet, anyway. I mean I have a dad. He and my mom got divorced when I was a kid. Since, you know, she wasn’t really living her truth or whatever.”

“Huh,” says Logan. “That sounds . . . complicated.”

I shrug. “My mom says life is messier than we want it to be. And that sexuality is a spectrum.”

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