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The Five Secrets_Ezra Gatley

Summary

Ezra had it all. A perfect house, perfect grades, a girlfriend who's captain of the cheer team, and he's the quarterback. 

There's just one thing - Ezra has a secret. He's gay.

Knowing he'd never be accepted by his and friends, Ezra keeps his secret hidden and doesn't let anyone in on them.

But as secrets begin to spill out, and a certain someone is transferred to Ezra's school, secrets begin coming out, and things are starting not to add up. But what happens when Ezra's family finds out about the real him?

Chapter One

   My entire life, it’s always been hard. I mean, I would’ve expected it to when you keep the biggest secret in the world from everyone else. Okay, not the biggest secret in the world-but you get what I mean. My parents aren’t cool with anything new, no new rules, no new presidents, and especially no new dating tricks. Mainly-this means coming out would ruin all that I’ve lived for. I get straight A’s and I’m quarterback at our school, but none of that would even matter if people found out about who I really am.

  Other than the large parts of me I’m keeping, my life seems to be pretty good. I’m considered popular at school, my siblings aren’t always annoying, and I have a girlfriend: Haven Bronx. Haven is one of the most popular girls in school as well, so it made sense for the two of us to be together. Being captain of the cheerleading team, she has a pretty busy schedule, so I don’t always have to see her. But when I do-it’s hard to really be myself around her. Around anyone.

  I really do like Haven. She’s a sweet girl, and she cares about other people’s feelings. But, I don’t like her in that way. And it wouldn’t even be too bad if we broke up at school, but her entire family loves me.

  So that’s where the problem comes in.

  I would always sit at the dinner table and try to keep my mind off of other things while Haven’s parents continued talking about sports, or cheer, or their older daughter (who’s in Yale, in case anyone really cared). It was just that, I never seemed to keep my mind on anything that was going on at dinner there, and I was the only one to blame.

 

  “How have you been Ezra?” Mr. Bronx asked me as I calmly sat down next to Haven. Her family was always fancy, so being skittish wouldn’t look good for me. Once I sat down, Haven smiled to me. And I smiled back without showing any teeth.

  “I’ve been great.” I said.

  Lie, but everyone else was going with it.

  “I heard there was a game on Saturday, are you ready for that?” Mrs. Bronx asked me. In all honesty, I was excited for the game and all-but I’d much rather be somewhere else on that day instead of whatever I always felt trapped.

  But, like always, I smiled and nodded. “I’m ready for it,” I said. “Coach says we’re probably gonna be amazing out there.”

  “And I get to watch all of it front and center,” Haven said, smiling to me before looking at her parents.

  Mr. and Mrs. Bronx smiled at their daughter before looking back at their food. It was seafood, which was one of the main reasons why I was trying to continue talking instead of eating something from the sea. “Haven,” Mrs. Bronx said. “Did you mention to tell Ezra about your sister?”

  I don’t know why, but my instant thought was that Mrs. Bronx was pregnant. I mean, she was only about 39 or something. I’m sure having a kid wouldn’t be that hard. But then, my mind clicked and told me this was about Angelica. Angelica is Haven’s older half sister, and she’s pretty smart for her age. I’ve only met her a few times, but her family talks about her enough for me to know basically everything I need to. The weirdest thing is, even though Haven and Angelica have different dads, they both really do look the same. Like Haven, Angelica has dark brown hair and hazel eyes, which usually change color depending on the light. And usually they both always know what to say for certain situations, but can also annoy the living ⟴ out of you sometimes.

  “Oh my gosh,” Haven exclaimed. “I’m so excited to see her!” she grabbed my hand from under the table as I did my best to keep from showing any reaction. “How long is she staying in town?”

  Mrs. Bronx was about to begin eating again, but then set down her fork and looked Haven. “A few days I think, a week at the most. She’s really busy at college, sweetheart.” Haven nodded, but then everyone at the table grew silent as I looked back down at the seafood.

  I seriously do hate everything about the thought of eating something from the ocean, but I also hated people not liking me-so I began slowly eating the shrimp. At first, I felt my body trying to bring it back up, but I swallowed it before anything else could happen. I took a long drink of the water Mr. Bronx had given me and then sighed, not even sure if I could finish the food that was set in front of me.

  Once dinner was over, I wasn’t judged for not eating all of the shrimp. But, I still felt a large guilt inside of me.

  Haven’s parents went upstairs, allowing me and her to have some alone time. I hated when people said “I’ll give you two some alone time.” It was like they just expected for two people to begin making out. And I never would do something like that while her parents were upstairs, anyways. I wouldn’t even do something like that with a girl in the first place.

  “So…” Haven said, sitting down next to me and grabbing the TV remote. “You nervous about the game?” before I could even answer her, Haven kept on talking. “We have a great cheer that is bomb.”

  I laughed. “Yes, I’m ready. How long have y’all been working on the cheer?”

  “A couple weeks. I think you’re going to love it, babe.”

  Though I hated it when she called me that, I nodded. One of the best ways to get Haven to be quiet would be talking about cheer. All of the girls on the team were really passionate about their work and loved to brag about it. Sometimes, when I was forced to hang out with Haven’s friends, the topic of football and cheer would be the main two things. Which, I was kind of okay with-because at least I was getting attention.

  Haven was leaning on me, texting someone on her phone when she suddenly laughed. I looked down at her and said; “What is it?”
  Instead of simply answering, she handed me her phone.

 

Angelica:

  Hey sis, you excited about me coming back tomorrow?

 

Haven:

  Obvi! I can’t wait to see you!!

 

Angelica:

  Me too! How’s high school treating you?

Haven:

  Amazing, actually! I’m still captain of the cheerleading team and I’m still dating Ez. On top of that, all my friends and grades are amazing. Things couldn’t be better!

  Wbu?

 

Angelica:

  (That’s great!) And I’m pretty good too. I’m just pretty happy I’m keeping up in class.

  How’s Ezra?

 

Haven:

  Great! Cuter than ever...and stronger, which is good for the football team.

 

Angelica:

  Awesome! Good thing he’s still cute, right?

 

Haven:

  Oh my gosh, lol! I would’ve still dated him if he wasn’t tho.

 

Angelica:  

  Yeah, right. I gotta go soon...is there anything else you need to tell me before I start my homework?

 

Haven:

  Just one last thing. You excited about the football game?

 

Angelica:

  Yup. Aren’t they playing against Oakwood?

 

Haven:

  Yeah, they are. But Ezra’s got this one in the bad. He always does-

 

Angelica:

  Right!

  Well, I’ve got two more things to say. One, I miss you like crazy (Mom and Dad too). And two, hope Ezra’s as cute as you say he is…

 

Haven:

  I’m not sharing him, Angelica.

 

Angelica:

  Lol, never said you had to, Hav. Everyone knows men like the smarter girls.

 

  I don’t know why, but I had this weird feeling that all I was to Haven was just something she could put on display. And it really did bother me on the inside, but there was nothing I could fix about any of it. If Haven realized I was bothered by crap like that, she’d find some way to ruin my life.

  Instead of saying what I wanted to, I faked a laugh. “That’s sweet,” I said to her, praying she wouldn’t take any of it the wrong way. I was lucky enough for her to smile and then squeeze my arm tightly.

  “She’s my sister, and I love her. But she better not come near you with any flirty approach.” she said, raising her eyebrows to me. I smiled.

  “Don’t worry,” I assured her. “Angelica and I will never have a relationship other than friends.”

  Haven smirked. “I know,” she said.

  I chuckled and then looked down at my phone. Three messages from Dad. Now that was a cue to come home. “Hey, Haven?”

  “Yeah?”

  “As much as I’d love to stay-” Lie. “I need to get home.”

  Haven made a disappointed noise, then sat back on the expensive couch they owned. “That sucks,” she said, sighing. “But...you know, parents rules.”

  Not knowing what else I could say to that, I nodded. “Yeah.” I was standing up when Haven took my wrist and in some way forced me turn back around and look at her.

  “Love you,” she said, smiling.

  My insides told me to just say it. Reveal you don’t really love her, and that you never will. At least not like that. But instead, I smiled back and then said; “Love you too.” Dreading the words as they came out of my mouth.

  I release myself from her grip and made it to the doorway. As I was about to leave, I tuned to wave goodbye to her before I closed the door behind me, breathing in the fresh air as I walked outside.

 

⟴⬉⥦⥦⥦⬈⟴

 

  When I got home, I was expecting either Mom or Dad to be waiting for me in the kitchen or living room. But instead, it was only my dad. He smirked at me when I walked in. My dad and I hardly really shared any genetics. I mean, other than the tall-⟴ gene I have from my grandfather, him and I hardly share anything that’s the same. Other than the brown hair and eyelashes, we’re not really the same. Yet, somehow, I became his golden son.

  “Ezra Gatley, where have you been?” he asked me.

  I looked at him. “At my girlfriend’s house,” I said, smiling. “I didn’t tell you?”
 My dad shook his head, his eyebrows raised. The only reason there was no fear inside of me was because I knew he was just joking around. I had to ask him if I could take Eric’s car to go to Haven’s house anyways. He knew where I was, Dad was just giving me a hard time for no reason.

  “Well, I’m surprised to see you after...what? Three messages from me?”

  This was the part when I looked down at my phone and pretended to act shocked. “Oh gosh,” I said, shrugging. “Guess I forgot to look at those.”

  Dad raised one of his eyebrows, still keeping a straight face. “To your room, young man,” he said, pointing to where the staircase was. I smiled to him before gripping my phone in my hands and walking upstairs to my room, not looking behind me to see if he was laughing or not.

  Once I walked in, my brothers were sitting on my bed, looking through the photo album I kept in my room. Typical, I thought to myself.

  I have two brothers, one who is older than me and the other whose younger than I am. Eric is my older brother, and Emmanuel is younger than me by six years. Like brothers are, we always tease each other about something, but we also support each other through the weirdest things. Though, I guess that’s kind of normal. I have another sibling, who’s a year older than me. And that’s Evelyn. She’s one of the only people that know my secret, and I want to keep it that way. It’ll basically be like that until I get accepted into college, anyways.

  “What are you doing?” I asked my brothers. Emmanuel popped his head up, some of his dirty-blonde hair falling into his face. Eric looked at me, closed the book, then stood up. Somehow, Eric is taller than me-but only by half an inch.

  Hitting me on the arm, Eric laughed. “Where were you, man?”

  I hit him in the exact same place where he hit me. And because I was stronger, he winced from the pain. “Why does it matter to you?”

  “Oh, come on, Ez Ace, where were you?” Emmanuel asked, putting the photo album on my desk. “You’re girlfriend’s house?” I knew he had been listening in on Eric’s conversations, because he completely over exaggerated those last two words.  

  I rolled my eyes. “Get out of my room.”

  “Yup,” Eric said, sounding proud of himself. “He was.” Emmanuel laughed, and then began making kissing noises as I glared at him. Eric smiled to Emmanuel before he looked at me, his eyes studying my face for some odd reason. I looked away from him as Emmanuel hugged me. Since he hadn’t hit puberty yet, he went right up to my waist.

  “Missed you,” he whispered, clutching onto me.

  I knew it was kinda mean, but I pushed him off of me. “You can’t hug after an insult,” I said, smiling to him. “That’s breaking the brother code.”

  “There’s a brother code?” Emmanuel asked, his eyes widening.

  Eric rolled his eyes, and then took Emmanuel by his arm. “Come on, E,” he said, looking down at him. “Ezra doesn’t wanna talk to us.”

  I glared at him. “Bye,”
  Leaving my room, Eric called: “Don’t forget, Ezra Ace, I’m older than you. Much older!” Rolling my eyes again, I closed the door behind me and fell onto my bed, looking up at the ceiling.

  There wasn’t exactly anything in my head, and for the first time ever I felt really relaxed. Nothing serious was on my mind, plus the only nerves I had were about football, and I wasn’t even worried about any of that happening. Just as he crossed my mind, there was a soft knock on my door.

  Sitting up quickly, I grabbed the door knob and opened it. Evelyn was standing there, her light brown hair now dark from a shower, and her dark blue eyes looking tired. But I was smart enough now not to say anything about it.

  “Hey big bro,” she said, halfly smiling.

  I let her walk in as I closed the door behind me. “What is it?” I asked her. Instead of my voice coming out calmly like I wanted it to, it came out really demanding. Evelyn raised her eyebrows before she sat down next to me on the bed.

  “Where were you?” she asked. I shrugged, looking at the wall for a few moments before I looked back to her.

  “Why do you need to know?”
  Evelyn sighed, then smiled. “You must’ve been at your secret lover’s house then,” she said, raising her eyebrows.

  I looked at her this time, wanting to hit her. “Say it louder,” I snapped. “I don’t think everyone in the entire house heard you.”

  Evelyn sucked in air, looking at me. “You worry way too much, Ez,” she said. “That’s probably why he has such an attitude all the time.”

  I felt rage bubble up inside of me, but I knew there’d be no point in fighting with her. “He is always like that,” I said, trying not to let his voice get into my head. “Even before I came into his life.”

  Evelyn ignored me, and began looking at her hair. “What do you think you’d do if Mom and Dad found out, anyways?” she asked.

  Run away, I thought to myself, feeling shameful. Run away, and never look back. Forget the entire life I lived, because I’d never get it back. There were just so many ways they could find out, if it did happen I’d lose it.

  “Tell them it was a joke,” I said. “Or just lie until they believed me.”

  Evelyn had a sad smile on her face before she shook her head. “I wish our parents weren’t such homophobes. It would’ve been nice if they were just cool with your sexuality.” she said, looking at me.

  I nodded, hating to know the truth. “Same here,” I muttered. “But some people aren’t about that stuff.”

  “And it’s stupid as ⟴,” Evelyn said. I looked at her, knowing that it was my job to get onto her if she cussed, but the emotions didn’t form in me right now. She was right, it was stupid. Noticing my face, Evelyn put her head down. “Sorry. I know I shouldn’t cuss. It just makes me angry a lot of the time, and-”

  I put my hand up, cutting her off. “It’s fine,” I said.

 Evelyn nodded, then sat back on one of my pillows. “How is he, anyways?” she asked, looking at me seriously this time.

  I shrugged, not even knowing the answer to it. I had been trying my best to stay away from him lately, but it never works out like how I want it to. He’s openly gay, while I can’t even get one foot out of the closet. Sometimes, we argue about things like that. Or, about how I go to EastLand, and he goes to Oakwood. But I really do like being around him. It makes me feel good inside, and not like I’m being judged around him, and making sure I can see his smile at least once a day.

  The warm feeling rose inside of me again, and I looked at Evelyn to try making it fade away. “Wanna call him?” I asked.

  Evelyn straightened her back then, nodding. “Yeah.”

  Evelyn handed me my phone from my bedside table and handed it to me. I took the phone and scrolled through my contacts until I found his name. Delcan. Chills went down my spine when I read his name, but I pushed the feeling down and ignored it as I pressed FaceTime.

  In a matter of seconds, Delcan answered his phone. I took a deep breath and waited until my phone connected.

  When it did, there was Delcan. His hair spiked up at the end, and his eyes squinting from the light outside. Still, I found him attractive. And I hated myself for it. He was wearing a grey shirt, and was sitting outside with his sister, Calliannah (but everyone calls her Callie).

  “Hey,” he said, making exact eye contact with me.

  “Hi,” I said. But instead of sounding as confident as I wanted to, my voice came out sounding weak, and I’m sure that if another word went out of my mouth, my voice would’ve cracked. Already, my palms began sweating.

  Evelyn rolled her eyes and took my phone. “That’s sad,” she said, looking at me. Glaring at her, she turned back to the camera to look at Delcan, who was raising his eyebrows. “Hi, Delcan. What’s up?”
  He shrugged. “Oh, nothing,” he said. I didn’t see his facial expression, instead I just got up and took some of the clothes off the floor and looked at Evelyn as she raised her eyebrows to me.

  “Okay,” Evelyn said, leaning back on my bed. I wanted to yell at her to get out or something, but she would’ve just shook her head and then would go back to talking to Delcan. “So I have a question for you.”  

  This time, I stood up, looking at Evelyn. “Yeah?” Delcan said. What was she going to say? I panicked in my mind. Would she tell him something really embarrassing about me? Like how I still have a stuffed animal in my room?

  Okay, that sounded weird. But in my defense, it’s my grandfather’s from when he was a child, and it makes me feel closer to him when I see it. I watched my sister closely as she smiled and then opened her “brilliant” mouth.

  “Are you coming to the football game?” Evelyn questioned.

  Relieved, I let all the air that was building up inside my legs out as I sat back down on my bed again just when Evelyn sat up. The second I sat down, Delcan moved his eyes (which were now brown. He was questioning me) and looked at me.

  “If it makes you comfortable,” Delcan said, shrugging.

  It took me a second to answer him. To be honest, I didn’t know if I had a problem with him going to the game or not. He was on the opposing team, number one. But I also never wanted to not allow him to go to something if he wants to.

  He could be a distraction, a voice in my mind said.

 But it’d be good to have him there.

 “Yeah,” I said, ignoring everything telling me to stop. “You can come. Will your family tag along?”

  Instead of answering me, he looked over at Callie. She looked at her brother, and then shrugged. “Who are we even cheering on?” she asked, sounding pretty annoyed. “Our school, or your boyfriend?”
  “Well, cheer for our school, and also cheer for Ezra secretly, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if one of us lost, right?” Delcan asked.

  Callie rolled her eyes. “Whatever, Delcan.” she muttered, turning her phone back on again and probably going on social media.

  “I guess that she’s coming. And even if she doesn’t, I’m sure my mom can do her best to take us there,” Delcan said, looking away from his sister. I nodded, and looked over to my sister as she began leaning into me.

  “You wouldn’t mind if I asked him to sit next to us, would you?” she taunted, whispering.

  It took everything inside of me not to hit her. “I would, actually. Please don’t.”

  Evelyn laughed, rolling her eyes. “Why don’t I have Delcan’s number?” she asked, turning her head back to the camera.

  “Because you don’t need it,” both Delcan and I said at the same time. He glanced at me for a second, and the second I saw his beautiful green eyes, I knew that my blood was already rising to my cheeks. Delcan smiled, because he knew what effect he had on me. And gosh, it was strong.

  “I’m just saying, you’re adorable when you blush,” Delcan said, winking to me.

  “Stop it,” I said laughing. But him and I both knew I wasn’t serious. I couldn’t help it, that made me feel good. It always does when Delcan flirts with me.

  Evelyn glanced between the two of us before she looked back at Delcan. “So are you sure you’ll make it to the game?” Evelyn questioned.

  Delcan simply nodded. “Yup,” he said. “So...how’s that girlfriend of yours?”

  I told Delcan about Haven probably the night after we first kissed. It might not have been the best time to have said something about it, but I told him. Even though he’s never met her before, I have a pretty clear thought that he hates Haven. “Don’t be like that,” I said, shaking my head at him. “She’s good, though. I was just over at her house.”
  “Did you two kiss?” Evelyn asked, cutting in.

  I shook my head. “No,” I said. But I did say that I loved her, which is much worse than kissing.

  “Good,” Delcan said.

  Evelyn and I both smiled, but I looked at the window in my room instead of back to the camera. It was sometimes hard to be with two different people, especially because one of them has quite an attitude.
  “Hang on,” Evelyn said, holding up her hand. “How did you two even meet if you went to different schools?”

  Delcan raised his eyebrows, looking at me. “Wanna answer that one?”

  I was about to, seriously, this time I was. But then, the thought came into my mind again. It was at a pep rally against Oakwood for our volleyball team tournament. Since it was at Oakwood anyways, we just decided it would be best to allow them there too. So, I was sitting next to Haven and her friends when I could’ve killed myself because of how boring it was. Haven had almost sprained her ankle during practice, she wasn’t able to play in the game. I finally got bored of what she was talking about and went to the bathroom, trying to chill out. I didn’t even use the bathroom, I was just done with being around Haven the entire day.

  Then, Delcan walked into the bathroom, cursing about something that happened. I was instantly awestruck by him. Delcan is one of those people who clearly look athletic, and you came basically tell from a glance that he has abs. It didn’t help that his eyes change color depending on his mood, one of the things that made me look at him even more. I was still trying to keep my eyes away when he introduced himself to me. I learned quickly that he was from Oakwood, and that he was athletic. We were talking for about three minutes before I just introduced myself as gay, which made him shocked and kind of cool at the same time because his response was: “Cool, I am too.”

  I remembered when I tried to act like it was cool by nodding, but I had a feeling my cheeks were already beginning to grow red. He must’ve known I was the quarterback, because he asked me this next: “I’m guessing you aren’t out yet?”
  “What makes you think that?” I asked him, my voice coming out like I wanted it to be a challenge.

  Delcan smiled when I said that, and I remembered my feet feeling weird as I looked at him. He asked me if I’d ever wanted to hang out, and I just responded with a quick nod before I began trying to think of ways that I could ask for his number. Instead, being the person he is, he simply asked to call his younger sister from my phone, but actually put his number in it. Smooth, a lot smoother than I would’ve been. And...it went on from there.

  “Hello…?” Evelyn said, snapping her fingers so I would go back to reality. “Earth to Ezra.”

  I shook my head and closed my eyes for a few seconds, trying not to think of moments too hard. “Sorry, what were we talking about?”

  “When you and I met. What, were you thinking about it or something?” Delcan asked, smiling to me.

  I shook my head, biting my lip so that I wouldn’t smile. “No,” I said. “I was about to have another great memory, but Miss Evelyn Taylore messed that up.” Evelyn raised her eyebrows when I said her middle name, but had no commentary.

  “Anyways,” Delcan said, looking at my sister. “My aunt just got to our house. I gotta go.”

  Though I wanted him to stay longer, I knew there’d be no working through Delcan’s parents. Both of them are really formal about dinners, especially when other people are invited to them. One time, I had to wear one of my dad’s ties because of how formal I needed to be presented at their house.

  “Dang it,” Evelyn said, pressing her nails on her hand. “I thought that I could at least get some answers from you. Ezra never talks about his love life.”

  “Lower your voice, Evelyn,” I muttered between my teeth.

  Evelyn looked at me before she rolled her eyes. I don’t care how much she finds out, Mom and Dad won’t be okay with any of it. Delcan, who clearly felt awkward, cleared his throat so that the two of us would look at him.

  “Well, I have to go,” he said. Callie looked at him before she stood up and left, probably going back to get dressed. “Bye guys. And, I’ll let you know what it’s like to be on the winning team at a football game.”

   I rolled my eyes to that. “Yeah right, Delcan. Bye,” I said, hanging up the phone. I could probably call him later, when everyone else in the house was asleep. You know what, it’d be better to text him than Dad suddenly hearing his voice in the middle of the night.

  Making herself comfortable, Evelyn sprawled out on my bed.  “So...anything you wanna talk about?” she asked, clearly wanting to hear more about Delcan. But I wasn’t giving out that information.

  “Nope,” I said.

  Evelyn raised one of her eyebrows. “Why can’t I know anything?” she asked Her voice didn’t really seem annoyed, just like she wished I would share more about my life with her, which would never even happen.

  “Why would you even want to know, Evelyn?” I asked her. “I’ve told you enough as it is.”

  Evelyn nodded. “I know,” she said. “But I feel better when you’re open to me about things, and it makes me feel closer to my older brother who always hides who he is.”

  It wasn’t that I liked hiding who I was, it was just something I’ve grown into over the years. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut about things when I didn’t need to talk, and for me never to even think about Delcan when I’m in public. Things have worked for most of my life, and I know how to hide things now. It’s just that-opening up to people about things is still really hard for me to do.

  And things didn’t help that Dad always pressured me to be his perfect son, his perfect example for everyone else to follow. He told everyone in our neighborhood about me. Everyone. People knew who I was, and they knew the expectations that I was meant to follow. Keeping quiet about things just kind of came naturally after 6th grade, I guess.

  “Evelyn,” I said. “You know I try, but some things aren’t always that easy to just say. Plus, whatever you do need to know, you’ll find out when I have to tell you. Not now.”

  Upset, Evelyn sighed. But I knew she understood. My parents had always been this way, even when they were married. “Okay,” she said, beginning to stand up from my bed, her light brown hair falling over her shoulders as she did. “Well, talk to me if you ever need to.”

  I nodded, and then waited for her to leave my room before I laid back down on my bed. Sometimes, I really did wish people knew about who I really was. Most of the time, I hardly even know if I like it, or if I’m ashamed of it all.

  Oddly, Delcan was in my mind again. It was his laugh, the one I always loved hearing. With almost everything, Delcan seemed so confident and proud at what he was doing, it was kind of hard not to smile when he talked about his life. I’d always found it weird that I was drawn to him the way I am, but hey, my heart wants what it wants.

  Just as my mind was about to shift away from Delcan and all the extra-credit homework I needed to do, my phone went off, having the ringtone that I’d set for my mom. I picked up my phone and looked at the message.

 

Mom:

  Come see me in my room.

 

  Seeing the words just made me freak out. I didn’t know why, but it all just seemed like a lot. I never get in trouble, ever. So whatever this was about, I needed to think of something I could cover myself for.

  But there was nothing that popped into my head. My body already felt hopeless, so I just responded with okay, and then walked down the hallway to my parents room. Emmanuel was sitting outside the hallway, playing with some of the toys that Mom had let him keep. I sighed, because I knew how annoyed my dad would’ve been with all of this. Unlike Eric, Evelyn, and I, Emmanuel hasn’t even started on his sports career yet, and Dad gets even more pissed off by the day that he’s still playing with toys.

   Emmanuel must’ve heard me, because he looked up and smiled. “Hi, Ez.” I made my way over to him and began picking up some of the toys. Emmanuel’s eyes got wide as he snatched back one of the toys from my hand. “What are you doing?!”

  “Picking these up,” I said. My voice sounded more tired than I’d wanted it to, but I could care less. “You can only play with these in your room, E. I told you that already.”

  Emmanuel watched me as I put most of what he was playing with in his room, pressing his lips together as I moved back and forth. When there was one toy left, a car, I handed it to him. “Here.”
  “What do you want me to do with it?” Emmanuel asked, looking at the toy like it was something Eric had cooked.

  I shrugged. “Play with it,” I said. “Just make sure Dad doesn’t see you.” I was about to walk off and leave when Emmanuel rushed up behind me and wrapped me in another hug. This time, I let him do it.

  “Yes?”
  “Why are you going in Mom and Dad’s room?” he asked, still holding onto me tightly.

  I turned back around and bended down to his height so that it’d be easier for him to make eye contact with me. “I don’t really know.”
  “Did you do something?” Emmanuel asked, raising his eyebrows.

  Again, I shrugged. “Maybe,” I said. “But it doesn’t matter, okay? Go play in your room for a little bit.” Emmanuel nodded before he pulled me into a hug again, his hands clutching onto me tightly. I wished we could get some medicine or something to make sure he won’t be so clingy all the time, but Dad believed he would grow out of it or something. But all of us knew that he wouldn’t.

  “Bye, Ez.” he said. I didn’t respond to him and waited for his arms to release around me. When they did, he ran into his room, shutting the door softly behind him.

  Now that he was out of the way, I took a deep breath before I kept on walking down the hallway. It felt like I was in a horror movie while I was walking down that hallway, checking every corner like someone would step out and murder me at any given second. But our house had high security, and I knew something like that would never really happen.

  Still, I felt my stomach do a backflip when I opened up the door to my parents room and walked in. Mom was sitting on her bed, flipping through something on the new iPad she’d boughten last week, and Dad was sitting on the other side of the bed, going through some of the fancy ties he owned.

   “Hi, mom,” I said. “You needed me for something?”
  My mom looked up and smiled at me. Unlike her first three children, my mom has dirty-blonde hair and blue eyes. Though Eric and Evelyn have the same eye color as her, Emmanuel was the only one to receive her hair color. But all of us got the innocent look from her, which I’ll be honest, helps me a lot. “Hi baby,” she said. When she said ‘baby’ to me, that gave me the hint she didn’t know anything. Maybe I was in the clear.

  “Hey,” I said. I gave her a friendly smile and then sat down next to her on her side of the bed. “What’s up?”

  Mom set down her iPad as she looked at me. “I didn’t even mean to text you to come in here, but I guess this is better, anyways. I really just wanted to know if you’ve been practicing for the game or not.” she said.

  I wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, because this meant I wasn’t actually in trouble for anything. But instead, I just smiled to her. “Of course I have, Mom,” I said. My mom wasn’t too hard to please compared to my dad, so I knew just talking to her kindly about things would get the conversation over with quickly.

   My mom nodded. “That’s good,” she said. She rubbed her temple softly before she looked back at me. “Could I have a hug, sweetheart.”

  I nodded and then wrapped my arms around her. She must have a headache or something, because she seems tired and restless compared to how she usually is at this time period. When I let go of her, I began messing with my hands-but on one side of me so that Dad wouldn’t see it. “Are you feeling sick?” I asked her.

  My mom shrugged. “A little bit,” she said. “But nothing I can’t get over in a few days, Ezra.”

  “Okay,” I said.

  It would’ve been the time for me to leave at that moment, but I knew that leaving when I wasn’t supposed to was one of the main violations to my father. I stayed in place and waited for either my mom to say something, or for my dad to begin asking me about sports. Lucky for me, Mom cleared her throat before she calmly asked me; “Do you want me to make you a plate for dinner?”

  “Yeah,” I said.

  “Didn’t you eat at your girlfriend’s house?” Dad asked me, raising his eyebrows.

  I looked at him and made sure the words I said were perfectly planned out. “I did,” I said, dragging the word a little bit. “But...seafood isn’t one of my favorite things in the world, so I try my best not to eat as much of it.”
  “You wasted their food, Ezra?” Mom asked me, giving the same expression that Dad did when I lied about already eating.

  I shook my head. “No!” I said. “I did eat it, but I could use something that actually tastes good for a change.”

  This time, both of them were silent, but I could feel my Dad’s glare on me. His eyes were staring at me cold and hard, I just knew it. But looking at him would make the glare even worse, so I kept my eyes on my mom, who was nodding slowly.

  “Okay then, baby,” she said, patting my thigh. “I’ll make sure to cook a bit more.”
  I nodded, still waiting for my signal to go. When Dad gestured towards the doorway, I said goodbye to both of them and then walked out of the room, steadying my heartbeat. It was harder than ever to be in the same room with the two of them. Mom wanted all of her boys to stay “her babies”, while Dad though all of us should’ve grown by the time we were 9. Like always, there’s no winning with my parents.

  Evelyn was back in her room, doing her homework-so I actually had some space to myself for today. Sitting down on my bed, I had a few seconds to myself before my phone went off. I recognized the ring and smirked.

  If you asked me why I set Delcan’s ringtone to what it was, I probably still wouldn’t be able to tell you.

Delcan:

  Hey, I just wanted to ask you if you were actually ok with me going to the game. I wouldn’t want to distract you.

  Btw, your sister is adorable.

 

  I shook my head, smiling. Everyone usually thinks my sister is this adorable teenager who knows nothing other than being a good daughter, but I’ve seen her other side. And believe me when I say this, it isn’t cute. Yeah, she smiles and hugs me in public all the time, but she’s only like that when people are watching. I still have a burn on my chest from a burn she gave me when the two of us were eight. All I did was joke around and steal one of her baby dolls, and she lashed out on me.

 

Me:

  I’m fine with you coming to the game, but you’re wrong about my sister. She’s a monster. I have all the scars to prove it.

 

Delcan:

  Show me then.

 

  Just as I began pulling my shirt over my head, I thought about what would’ve happened if Mom or Dad walked in. How would I even explain that to them? Or worse, Emmanuel could come in here.

  I got off my bed quickly and shut the door, locking it behind me. You never know with siblings in the house. I took a picture of the burn on my chest and then took a picture of the bruise I got from just a few weeks ago.

 

Delcan:

  Dang, I didn’t know she could hit.

 

Me:

  Yup…

 

Delcan:

  I always wondered if that burn was a birthmark or something…

 

Me:

  I’m deleting that!

 

Delcan:

  Okay, okay, I’ll stop.

  Anyways, after the game, can we talk about something?


 

Me:

  Is it something bad?

 

Delcan:

   Depends...can you make it over to my house after football?

 

  I don’t care how desperate or sound this sounds, or whatever, I was willingly saying yes. There was no pauses while I texted him back. I would always ditch anything for Delcan, and I still didn’t know why. It was just something about him that always made me feel good about myself. And whatever I can get of that needs to be as much as possible.

 

Me:

  Yeah. I’ll tell my parents I’m spending the night at my friends house or with Haven. They’ll believe me, promise.

 

Delcan:

  Do your parents even look through your phone?

 

Me:

  Not unless I’ve been acting really strange. Why?

 

Delcan:

  Well if they do, I suggest that you delete half of this entire conversation, because they’ll know where you are. Is my address in your phone?

 

  If Delcan’s address was in my phone, I should probably delete it by now. I know all of the easiest roads to get to his house, so having it on Google Maps would just be pointless now. I deleted it off my phone before I responded to him, lying anyways.

 

Me:

  I can’t remember, Delcan.

 

Delcan:

  Of course you can’t. Buy you make up for it because of how cute you are.

 

Me:

  Have you been looking at my Instagram?

 

Delcan:

  I basically have Instagram for that reason, Ezra. And don’t be weirded out by it, it’s a couple thing.

  Trust me.


 

Me:

  Whatever.    

 

Delcan:

  Don’t play hard to get when you’ve already been stolen.

  My parents told me to put up the phone and talk to my aunt. Gotta go.

 

Me:

  Oh, okay. See you later?

 

Delcan:

  As always, Ez.

 

  I knew that my cheeks were red, so I put my phone away. He’d sent that kissing face emoji, and I smiled before I sent one back, deleting the message right after that. About three minutes after I’d finally began watching Netflix, my phone went off for the third time. I growled like an animal and grabbed my phone, putting it next to me on my bed.  

  All of the messages were from Haven, and every single one of them made me pretty annoyed by her at the moment.

 

Haven Bronx:

  Hey!

  I know you’re busy, but I need to ask you something…

  Do you remember your ex-girlfriend from 7th to 9th grade? If u do, talk to me tomorrow before the game starts. Love you! Oh, and Angelica said hi.

 

  It may sound rude, but I could care less about Angelica and her “kindness”. Instead, I was more confused about her second message. First off, what could Haven possibly want to talk to me about now? And second, what was Evvie doing back in town so early.

  Evvie and I haven’t talked since she left with her dad, but I’m pretty sure I still had her number. I scrolled through my contacts until I found my “ex-girlfriend”’s name. Evvie Hamill. Her number was still there and everything, and all I had to do was text her.

 

Me:

  Hey, Evvie, it’s Ezra Gatley. I know we haven’t talked in a while but I just wanted to say hi. Well, that’s halfy true. Truth is, one of my friends told me that you were back in town (which is super cool, by the way), and I just wanted to ask you if the two of you talked about anything. The same amount of people still know, including someone else, but I won’t get into that. Anyways, if you wanna meet up somewhere, I’d be fine with that too.

  Missed you, Eve.

 

  Alright, the message might’ve been a little long, but it was enough information for her to roll with. Plus, I think it was enough considering we haven’t talked in two years. A few seconds later, she replied.

 

Evvie Hamill:

  Hi, Ezra! And yup, I’m back in town. Trust me, nobody knows about your secret right now other than who you told.

  But who is the other person??

 

Me:

  I don’t want to text about this…

  Call?
 

Evvie Hamill:

  Yeah, sure.

 

  When my phone fully showed the contact picture I’d given her, I had completely forgotten about it. It was Evvie and I in her backyard. I was holding her on my back while she had her arms wrapped around my neck. Both of us were laughing, and I think that the two of us were swimming or something-because I was in my swim trunks and she was in a bikini. Evvie’s dark brown hair was in a high ponytail, and her eyes were filled with excitement.

  I had a feeling her dad knew we were never actually dating. He probably just went with it because that’s what made sense, and he wasn’t bothered by the two of us being such close friends. I actually realized now how much I missed the two of us being friends, because the two of us were always there for each other. But after the falling out of her parents, we tried our best to stay in contact, but Haven hates that I was talking to my “ex” and so the two of us basically drifted away.

  Quickly, I picked up the phone. “Hey.”

  “Ezra, hi!” Evvie exclaimed. I missed that excitement in her voice. “How have you been?”

  I shrugged, unlocking my door so that Mom or Dad wouldn’t be suspicious about me having my door locked. “Good,” I said. “You?”
  “I’m great,” Evvie said, still sounding pretty happy.

  There was silence on the phone. Honestly, though, what do you say to your ex-best friend that you haven’t even talked to since the first day of last summer. I had no clue what to even say, which I guess would be my excuse when Evvie suddenly asked; “Who was the other person you told?”

  “Told what?”

  Evvie laughed. “Don’t be like that,” she said. “In the text you sent, your exact words-and I quote-were ‘The same amount of people still know, including someone else.’ Who?”

  Crap. I should really check what I’ve texted before I decide to send it. “Right,” I said, already knowing how awkward my voice probably sounded. “No one.”

  “No one?” Evvie laughed. “Are you sure?”

  I nodded. “Yup.”
  Evvie was silent for a few seconds before she sighed. “Can I at least get a gender…?” she begged. I wondered why, but it felt like she was smiling or something.

  “Then it’ll give away the person,” I whined, sounding just like Emmanuel did when he was forced to eat something nasty.
  Evvie laughed. “A guy then, right?” When I didn’t answer her, she laughed again. “It’s about time you found someone, Ezra Gatley.”

  I rolled my eyes, but already knew that I was blushing like crazy. “How do you even know it’s a guy I’m dating? It could be Travis, or Adam...or-”

  “Ezra,” Evvie interrupted. “By the way your voice sounds, I have a feeling it’s someone you have a crush on if not dating them. One of the two, tell me about him.”

  I shook my head, already feeling wrong. “I’m not having girl talk with you, Eve.”

  “Already sounds like it, Ez.”

  The saddest thing was, she’s right. I was hardly even acting like a teenage boy at the moment, anyways. Not l really was a normal one, anyways. “Yeah, okay,” I muttered. “His-”

  “It’s okay, Ez,” Evvie said, her voice sounding supportive. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

  No, I wanted to. It felt better when I got things off my chest, especially with people that I seriously trust. “His name is Delcan.”

  “Oh, sounds like someone who’s hot.” Evvie responded. I raised my eyebrows and she must’ve caught herself. “Sorry, that was probably way too much. Last name?”
  “Delcan Heslop.” I said. Yeah, you don’t have to tell me, it’s a weird last name. I have no idea why it’s that last name, especially because he’s Cuban, but oh well, I’m going with it.

  Evvie was hesitant for a second before she said; “Delcan Helsop?”

  I nodded, not understanding why she as acting so weird about all of this. “Yeah,” I said. “What is it?”
  “Nothing,” Evvie responded. “How about something else? How has school-”

  “Where are you right now?” I asked her.

  Evvie was silent before she cleared her throat. “At my mom’s house,” Evvie said. “Why?”

  I stood up and pulled my shirt back over my head, putting the phone on speaker so it wouldn’t be so hard. “I wanted to see you,” I said.

  “Oh,” Evvie said. It was hard to tell if her voice was shocked or not, but she then laughed. “Sure.”

  I was putting on my shoes when I began messing my hair up a little bit. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll be there in a few seconds.” Knowing exactly where Evvie’s house was, so I wasn’t worried at all about trying to find her mom’s house. Okay, that sounded creepy. But I didn’t mean it in that way.

  “Got it,” Evvie sighed. “Bye, Ezra.”

  “Peace.”

  She hung up the phone so I wouldn’t have to and let me fix my shirt before I left my room. I knew that the keys to my parent’s cars were in their room, so I just went to Eric’s room so I could take his keys. Turns out, he was making out with a girl. Don’t know when, or how she got there, but she was making out with my brother.

  I cleared my throat and waited for the both of them to look up at me. The second I saw her blonde hair, I realized it was Janice Hart. She was in my fifth period class, and was also a year younger than Eric was.

  Eric raised his eyebrows. “What do you want?”
  “A ride,” I said, making sure to keep my eyes off of Janice, who I’m pretty sure had a hickey on her neck. “I won’t tell Mom and Dad that you and Janice are making out. Deal?”

  Eric laughed without any humor in his voice. “⟴ no. Get out.”

  I nodded. “Okay, fine. Can I take your car then?”

  “Why are you even asking me, dude?” Eric asked, sitting up. Janice moved away from him, but she was looking at me now. “Just be home by ten, okay?”
  “Got it, Dad.” I said, grabbing the car keys he had on his dresser. I closed the door behind me just before I could hear what Janice was trying to say to me. Going down the stairs quickly, I found where Eric’s car was in the garage. Once I’d gotten in, I turned on the car and began driving over to Evvie’s house.

 

⟴⬉⥦⥦⥦⬈⟴

 

  When I pulled into the Hamill driveway, I got out of the car and went up the front steps. The second I rang the doorbell, Evvie’s mom was at the door.

   Ms. Hamill acted like she seemed to forget all about me. One of her dark brown eyebrows were raised as she put her hand on her hip. “Hello?”
  “Ezra Gatley,” I said, smiling to her. “I’m here to see Evvie if that’s alright.”

  She slowly nodded, eyeing me up and down. I sighed and wiped my sweating hands on my jeans, feeling the cold stare Ms. Hamill was giving me. “Okay..alright,” she said, as if she was deciding or not that it would be a good idea to say yes or no. “EVVIE!” she yelled. I had to turn away from her because of how much it hurt my ears, but she really didn’t seem to care.

  A few seconds later, Evvie came downstairs. Her hair color was the same as it was in 9th grade-dark brown and wavy-but it was longer. He smiled to me and it was clear she had lost some weight. She was wearing skinny jeans and a black tank top with a multicolor shaw. Dang, she’d changed a lot.

  “Ezra!” she cried, now wrapping me in a hug. I returned the hug and breathed in her scent, which was like a weirdly enjoyable smell of cinnamon and vanilla. I really did miss the two of us being best friends. When she pulled away from the hug, she smiled again. “How do you even continue growing?”

  I smiled. “Don’t know,” I said. Last year, I was 5’11, and I guess the summer just bumped up my height a lot. “How is Alaska?”

  She shrugged, rolling her eyes. “It’s Alaska. But...I missed my best friend and ‘ex-boyfriend.’” she said, winking to me. I laughed, even though there was this really weird feeling that Ms. Hamill was still eyeing me. Evvie looked back at her mom before she grabbed my hand and took me up the stairs, closing the door behind her.

  Nothing about Evvie’s room had changed. She still had sky blue walls, and pictures of her family members. There was even still pictures of her dad around her room, which I guess is one of the reasons why her mom might never come in here. There were also some pictures from the school danes we used to have in junior high, plus a few pretty weird ones that most of us must’ve taken just for the heck of it. Even some pictures of Mexico and the flag. Yeah, Evvie loves her photography.

  Evvie fell on her bed and looked up at the ceiling. “I’m so happy that my mom kept my room.” she said.

  I laughed and sat down on her bed next to her, remembering all the times we used to just lay on this bed and talk. Mainly, it was all about my issues. But sometimes, there’d be something else that Evvie would be going through. The last time we were in this room together is when she was moving, and she’d asked if I wanted to keep in contact. Of course, I said yes. But we all know how that ended out. She looked over to me and I smiled to her.

  “So...about Delcan Heslop,” she said, raising her eyebrows. I already could feel myself blushing. “Does he go to school with you?”

  I shook my head. “He actually goes to Oakwood.”
  Evvie sat up and looked at me. “Hang on...you’re dating someone from our opposing school? Oh my gosh, Ezra!” she said, covering her mouth like I’d said something evil. One thing you’d have to know about teenagers and high schools, there will usually be two of them, and most of the time, those two high schools are always in competition. EastLand against Oakwood, hat’s always as it has been.

  “What?” I asked.

  Evvie raised her eyebrows. “This has to be a prank, right? You’re still on the football team I’m guessing, so is Delcan?”
  I shook my head. “He’s a boxer,” I said. “And I promise, we already talked about all of that. He hates the guys on the Oakwood football team, anyways.” And I’m not blaming Delcan for it at all. The football guys at Oakwood really aren't the best, and I’m not saying that from how they play, I actually mean their personalities too.

  “Whatever. Have you two kissed?” Evvie asked, sounding eager.

  I raised my eyebrows. “You're fangirling,” I said. “Please stop.”

  “Sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “But I was just asking you a simple question. And I will make sure my tone isn’t like that, okay?”

  This is also one of the reasons why I don’t want to come out. Girls are just weird around a guy-guy couple. I feel like the person I’m dating for sure wouldn’t mind opening his mouth and saying something about it, too. “Yes, we’ve kissed before,” I said. It would’ve been rude to not answer her question, anyways.

  “Is he good at kissing?” she asked me.

  I rolled my eyes, feeling really uncomfortable. “Enough, okay? Why are you suddenly so interested in who I’m dating?” I didn’t mean for my voice to sound so cold, but it came out that way. And on top of that, I couldn’t even call Delcan my boyfriend. It just felt weird.

  She paused for a second, her face expressionless. “I just wanted to know about him. And in case you wanted to know, I’m not seeing anyone. And if I was, I’m positive you would’ve done the same thing.” she said.

  I sighed, because she really did have a point. “So are you coming to the game tomorrow?”

  Evvie shrugged. “I didn’t even know there was one,” she said. “But...is Delcan coming to the game?” she asked, teasing me by hitting my arm.

  I rolled my eyes and laughed, hitting her back. “He is,” I said. “But he’s going for his school, not ours.”

  Evvie pouted her lips. “What a waste,” she said. I looked at her again before she laughed. “Kidding, kidding.”
  I smiled to her before I checked the time. It was almost dinner, I’d be fine for another thirty minutes. “Do you know him from something?” I asked her.

  “Why?” Evvie asked curiously.

  “Because,” I said. “You sounded like you knew him on the phone or something.”

  Evvie blinked before she nodded slowly. “Yeah,” she said. How does she even know him? “Well, I don’t know him, but I do know his sister. Is her name Calliannah?”
  Delcan told me that if I even called Callie by her actual name, he wouldn’t stop Callie from kicking me in the nuts. Which, I only accepted because I needed to respect the rules their family had, including Callie’s. Because getting Callie to like me meant more of an impact for Delcan’s relationship with me. Okay, I need to stop. Focus on real life, Ezra. Focus on real life.

  “Yeah,” I said, not even trying to go into mentioning that she doesn’t like being called that.

  Evvie bit her lip. “Yup, I know him,” she said. “I’ve seen him in the police station jail before.”

 

Chapter Two

  “What?!” I exclaimed, basically jumping out of my seat. I was seriously confused about two things now. One, how could Evvie have seen him and jail? And two, what could both of them be doing there?

  Evvie raised her eyebrows and looked at me as I practically was losing my mind. “I wasn’t in jail,” Evvie said. “And I don’t think Delcan was either. But his sister was.” I was still really lost. None of this even made sense.

  “I’m confused,” I said. My mind was completely blank, and I couldn’t even think of anything. “I knew Callie gets in trouble sometimes, but jail?”

  Evvie shrugged. “I suggest that you call Delcan or something,” she said. “Or Callie. Do you have her number?”

  I shook my head. I had Delcan’s mom’s number for some odd reason, but I didn’t have Callie’s. “Nope.”

 “Then call your boyfriend or something,” Evvie said.

 I wiped around and looked at her. “He’s not my boyfriend.” I snapped. Evvie raised her eyebrows, but she said nothing back to me. Instead, she simply nodded before turning around and grabbing her phone.

  “Well,” she finally said. “Whatever the two of you are, maybe talking to him would help your confusion.”

  I shook my head. I’ve bothered him enough today. No more.

  But, the other side of my brain was telling me to go see him. Because that side knew I wanted to, even with Evvie there. Maybe having her there would make things easier. I don't know. All I knew was, my brain was torn.

  “Okay, fine,” I said. “But in person.”
  Evvie looked up from her phone, giving me one of those “are you sure?” looks. “Really?” she asked.

  I nodded, beginning to stand up. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s go over to his house.”

  “Oh, God no. I’m not going to watch the two of you kiss while Callie and I talk about the good old times,” Evvie said, raising her eyebrows.

  With furry, I glared at her.

  “Right…” Evvie said, rolling her eyes. “You don’t kiss in front of company.” I leaned down just enough so that I could hit her arm, and she laughed in response. As mad as I felt from it, her words were true.

  “Stop it,” I demanded. “Do you want to figure this out or not?”  

  Evvie shrugged, like it hardly even mattered to her. “Real question is: do you?”

  I didn’t even know how to answer her. My brain, like always, was torn between right and wrong. Haven would always be on the wrong side, though everyone thought she was right. And Delcan, he was on the wrong side, though I knew not to imagine others knowing about us. “Let’s get in my car,” I said, already leaving her room. Evvie didn’t even seem like she would try to get an actual answer out of me. Instead, she just sighed, then followed me out of her bedroom.

  Five minutes later, the two of us were driving on the road, going to the Heslop home. I seriously didn’t know why I was using the GPS. I knew where his house was, because I drive there thousands of times. My body was beginning to feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside, but I pushed the feeling down as far as I could.

  Suddenly, my phone rang. I wasn’t even looking at who it was, but I guess Evvie did that for me. “It’s Haven.” she said.

  I sighed, looking at her contact picture and the two options I had with it. Great, I thought to myself. Just great. But there would be no explaining why I didn’t answer, so I took Haven’s call through the car.

  “Hey, babe.” Haven said. I didn’t even have to look to know that Evvie was trying her best to hold back laughter, but I didn’t respond to her at all.

  Instead, I answered her. “Hi,” I said, turning left. Seven more miles. “What’s up?”

  “Guess who’s back, back again,” I heard a voice say. At first, nothing inside my mind was telling me who the voice was, but then, I realized it was Angelica. I guess she got home pretty quick.

  I smiled, remembering that song. “Hi, Angelica,” I said. “How’s college?”
  “Oh, you know. It’s college,” Angelica said. I had a feeling she was smiling, which I guess was a good thing-but also bad at the same time. “Where are you? It sounds like you’re driving.”
  I looked over to Evvie, trying to see if she would give me some assistance. “What?” she mouthed to me. I mothed back to her: “What do I do?” Like the friend she is, Evvie shrugged, then leaned back in the seat, pretending she was eating popcorn. I rolled my eyes and looked away from her.

  “Yeah, I am.”
  “Baby,” Haven whined. “I thought you had to be home. Where are you driving to?” I always felt like she had to be in my business. She had to know what I was doing, why I was doing it, and how long it would take time away from “us.” It was one of the things I hated most about Haven, but there was no fixing it anyways.

  Before I could stop myself, I felt attitude in my voice as I said; “If I was cheating, Haven, you would’ve found out about it by now.”

  Again, lie.

  “Woah,” Evvie said, catching my tone just as I did. “Calm down there.”

  I looked at her but it was already too late. Haven heard her voice. “Who’s in the car with you? Is that Evvie?” she pondered.

  Nodding, I glared at her. “Evvie Aryn-Grace Hamill,” I said. “It’s her.”
  “Oh, nice middle name. Why is she with you?” Angelica asked, sounding just as nosy as her sister did.

  Evvie sat up in her seat, looking at the screen on my car as if Haven and Angelica could see her. “We’re just catching up,” she said.

  Haven made a sound that was kind of annoyed, but also like she was about to say something really rude at the same time. “Um, Evvie?” she asked.

  “Yes?”
  “Last time I checked, you and Ezra broke up in 9th grade. So you better fess up for why you’re suddenly spending time with him. Look, I’m not exactly the jealous type, but-”

  Stopping Evvie before she could respond to her, I interrupted Haven. “Haven,” I said. “We’re not hooking up. What do you want to talk to me about?”

  Haven sighed, probably twirling her hair. “I just wanted to ask you if you’d be able to come over after the football game. I wanna hang out.”

  And this was when the debate fell into my head. Truth: No, Haven, I can’t. I’m spending the rest of my Saturday at his house. You two probably know each other from something, I’m assuming. Maybe we could work things out between the two of us now that you know, but no one else can. And then, there was the lie: “No, I can’t. I have to study for a chemistry test on Monday. I need to ace it.”

  Clearly not getting the hint, Haven laughed, sounding friendly. “I’m really good at science topics, Ez. Maybe we could study together or something. I have a writing assignment and you know how much I suck at writing.” Haven said.

  “I really just want to be alone,” I said. “Sorry.” The sorry, I didn’t mean it. I hardly ever did when I said that word. But who really meant what they said?
  Haven was silent for a few seconds before she answered me. “It’s cool. Think you could call me when you’re done with studying?” she asked.

  “You need to let the boy have some privacy, Haven,” Angelica said. “I’m positive that he’ll call you when he can.”

  Thank you, Angelica.

  I don’t know why, but Haven seemed to listen to her sister more than she did anyone else. “Okay, you’re right. I’m sorry I’m being so clingy. I just feel like sometimes you’re not yourself anymore. You know we can talk about anything, right?” I didn’t respond at first, but instead, I looked over to Evvie, who was biting her nail, something she always did when she was nervous. But I didn’t know why she felt so weird, I was the one who was basically living on trial.

  “Yeah, I do,” I said. But the words had no meaning to them, they were just coming out of my mouth. They never really did, much. “And I’ll call you when possible, but I can’t really talk right now. Gotta go.”

  Finally, she understood. “Okay,” she said. “Bye. I love you.”


  Evvie looked over to me when the two of us heard what she said. I was making eye contact with her, too. We stayed like that for some time before I finally said; “I love you too.”


  Haven hang up the phone, leaving the two of us in silence. I kept my eyes on the road, only because I knew Evvie was about to give me a lecture about our relationship. It was a good thing we were close to Delcan’s.   “You do know you’re leading her on, right?” Evvie asked me. I still didn’t look at her, making a right. “When she finds out that you’re gay, she’s going to be completely heartbroken. And I’ll just tell you this, Ezra. There are two things a girl does when they’re broken up with. One, she’ll be heartbroken for a few weeks, then let it go. Or two, most likely Haven, she’ll become a complete ⟴ and tell everyone your secret.”

  I nodded, because she was right. “I know,” I said, feeling like I’d been in this situation before. “It’s just that she’s such a good coverup, and-”

  “No,” Evvie interrupted, her voice coming out strict, like her mother’s. “As a woman, you can’t treat people like that. She deserves to know that you aren’t even into her. She’ll kill you if she finds out to hard way.”
  I rolled my eyes and looked at her. “What’s the hard way?”
  “She catches you and Delcan kissing,” Evvie said. I could feel my body freeze when she said those words. “If she sees that, there’s no telling what she’ll do to you. I’m sure that ‘I’m not the jealous type’ act was a huge lie.”

  I shook my head as we pulled up into Delcan’s driveway. “She’s never going to find out,” I said. “No one will.”

  “Ha,” Evvie laughed. “Let’s just put it like this, Ezra. If you don’t tell her sooner or later, I will. And I won’t tell her to keep it on the down low.” She got out of the car, slamming the door behind her. I sighed before getting out as well, ignoring her ‘friendly’ comment. Everything inside of me was now regretting that we were here.

  Evvie was already standing on the steps before I even got there, though she waited until I was at least on the last step before knocking on the door. I was thankful to see Delcan’s mom at the door, her dirty-blonde hair pulled back into a lazy bun (at least I think that’s what they’re called. That’s what Evelyn told me) and her green eyes instantly going to me.

  “Hello, Ezra,” Mrs. Heslop said to me, smiling. I smiled back to her. “Delcan is upstairs if you need to talk to him, but I have no idea where…” And that was when she noticed Evvie standing next to me. She was silent for a few seconds before giving Evvie a soft smile. “Well, hello, sweetheart,” she said. “I don’t believe I know you.”

  Evvie nodding, shaking her hand. “My name is Evvie Hamill,” she said. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Heslop.”

  “Why, thank you,” she said. “Oh, you’re such a beautiful girl.”


  Evvie smiled. “Much obliged, Mrs. Heslop,” she said, sounding more professional than I’d ever heard her before.  “And you don’t look a day over twenty.”


  Mrs. Heslop accepted the compliment and then opened the door fully. “You two, come inside.” she said.

  As we walked in, I grabbed Evvie’s wrist. “What was that?” I whispered.

  Evvie shrugged, taking one of the glasses of iced water Mrs. Heslop had given us. “I was just trying to make a good impression.” she said, taking a sip.

  I rolled my eyes just as Mrs. Heslop left the room. “You’re being a brat, my friend.” I warned her.

  “I know,” she said. “But guess what? It’s working.”


  Looking away from her, I took a drink of water and then set it down on one of the coasters. It only bothers me that she was better at communication than I was because I was supposed to be the star kid. The child who knows everyone, and everyone knows him. But not only that, I had to be the kid that everyone loved. And it killed me that Mrs. Heslop already liked Evvie more than she did me.

  Mrs. Heslop came back in the room, holding her phone in her hand. “You two can go upstairs if you would like. Delcan is in his room, but I have no clue where Calliannah is.”
  Evvie began walking up the stairs before she stopped and turned around. “Thanks again, Mrs. Heslop. And I promise, none of us will be at any inconvenience.”

  “How sweet. Thank you, Evvie.”

  Evvie nodded to her before the two of us began walking up the stairs. I didn’t even bother to try saying goodbye to Mrs. Heslop. It seemed pointless now, anyways. We were about halfway up the stairs when my entire body told me to stop. All of this felt wrong.

  I didn’t even ask Delcan if we could come over, I simply just invited myself. Feeling like a complete idiot, I had to lean against the wall to refrain from fainting or something. Evvie must’ve noticed me, because she turned around. I was thankful that she was back to her actual self. The one who cares about me, though has a unique way of showing it. “Are you okay?” she asked me.

  Shaking my head, I got off the wall. “We should go home,” I said. “I didn’t even text him and say we were coming.”
  “You two are dating. He shouldn’t have any problem seeing you.”
  I know she was trying to make things better, and I know she wanted to tell me that I was just being ridiculous, or that I would get over it quickly. But both of us knew that would never happen. I was going back into what Evelyn called my bubble. I always went here when things got hard, and the truth was something I couldn’t stand.

  Somehow, though, I always felt like I was in my bubble around Delcan, and around anyone who asked me about him. I wanted to be open, sometimes, but it would never work. Considering the past that Delcan has, things would never be perfect for our dating life.

  “You got this, Ez,” she said, patting my shoulder. “I would never judge you, okay?”
  I nodded, taking in deep breaths. “Got it,” I said, forcing my legs up the stairs again. Evvie waited until I passed her, then she followed me into his room. The door, which I was surprised by, was unlocked, though his room was basically a mess. There were some clothes on one side of the floor, and his bed wasn’t made yet.

  But I was paying too much attention to the room that I didn’t even notice the water running in the bathroom.

  “Crap.” I whispered. I would’ve said the better word for it, but I was trying to keep my cursing at a smaller amount for Emmanuel. Of course he just has to be taking a shower at this moment, I thought to myself.

  But what made me even more annoyed was that Evvie hardly seemed to care. She looked at me for a few seconds before walking over to the door, knocking on it three times.

  “Callie, I said I’d be out in five minutes,” Delcan yelled (well, not exactly yelled, more like a sibling communication voice). “Calm down!”

  Evvie looked at me again before she waited for him to be done. Unlike me, she clearly didn’t care about the fact that he’d basically be naked. I was flipping out in my mind, and trying to act cool about it just made everything worse.

  The water stopped, and I could feel my heart beginning to race. No, no, no, no, no.

  When Delcan opened the door, I was so thankful that had a towel wrapped around his waist. The second he saw me, he raised one of his eyebrows, then looked to Evvie. I wanted to close my eyes, and for many reasons. One, his abs were showing-and it was messing with my brain. Two, Evvie was here. And three, everything felt wrong and right at the same time, and my body was fighting with my brain about all of it.

  “You’re not Callie…” Delcan said, looking at Evvie. I could tell she was looking at his abs, though, to be honest, I was too.

  “No, I’m not,” she said. “My name is Evvie.”

  Delcan raised his eyebrows again, looking at me for a moment before he moved his eyes back to Evvie. “Good for you,” he muttered sarcastically. “What are you two even doing here?”

  “She said that she knew you,” I said, twisting my hands behind my back. I could feel the hairs on my neck beginning to stand up, and I was hating myself for feeling like this. “I just wanted to know if you did too.”
  Delcan shook his head. “Never seen her before,” he said. I had a feeling he was about to say something else, but then he sighed. “Can you two leave so I can get changed?” he asked. “Though both of you are eyeing me, I need space.”
  Again, his attitude was one of the main things that made him pretty interesting.

  “Yeah, sure,” I said, already wanting to leave the room. But Evvie stopped me before I could even leave.

  I sighed and turned back around to look at Delcan, who was soon going to grab another towel for his dripping hair. His eyes were amber as he watched me, seeing what I would do. “What now?” I asked Evvie.

  “Can we wait outside?” Evvie asked.

  Delcan nodded. “Sure. My parents remodeled the patio while I was out, and it should be pretty-” and that’s when he realized what she meant. I’m sure he actually knew all along, which made it even cuter. Evvie smiled to him as he rolled his eyes. “You meant my room, didn’t you?”

  Evvie smiled, then nodded.

  “Yeah,” Delcan said, shrugging. “I guess you can.”

  This time, Evvie nodded, allowing me to finally leave the room. I sat down on the bed, wiping sweat off my forehead. Evvie sat down on the bed, letting out air.

  “Wow,” she said.

  I looked at her, confused. “What is it?” I asked her.

  She looked at me, her eyes wide. “He. Has. Abs,” Evvie said. “Holy crap.” Clearly, he does. I’m sure it’s no surprise to him, either.

   “Yeah,” I said. I didn’t know how my voice came off so cool. I guess I was trying to believe that I was used to him, though I knew all of that was a lie. Nothing about him was anything I was used to, though something about him made me feel like I’d find out something new every once in awhile.

  A few seconds later, Delcan walked out of the bathroom, still trying to dry his hair with a towel. He looked at Evvie for a split moment before sat down next to me, still drying his hair. “So why exactly do you think you could come into my house without asking? Is that a white people thing?”

  Slightly offended, I glared at him. But it was Evvie who talked. “You aren’t white?” she asked.

  Delcan raised his eyebrows to her. “I’m Cuban,” he said. “And that offended me, a lot.”

  “You just said something racist about me,” I said to him. But to be honest, he was kind of right. I can’t count how many times Haven came into my house without asking, or when some of her friends would come over and just begin talking. But still, it didn’t mean what he said was okay.

  Delcan smiled to me. “Sorry,” he said, not really meaning it. “Anyways...how do you know me?”

  Evvie sat up, beginning her speech. “Your sister, Calliannah-”

  “Callie,” Delcan quickly interrupted.

  “Fine,” Evvie said. “Callie was in jail one night for something that I’m not so sure of. You were there as well. Maybe it was the muscles or something, but I guess you caught my eye. I knew that Callie had a brother, but she always talked you down.

  As upset as Delcan looked from it, he didn’t say anything in response. “Why would you think he would be a nerd?” I asked her.

  Evvie shrugged. “I don’t really know,” she said. “I just expected for him to be small and pretty kind. Though, now I see how wrong I am.”

  I looked over to Delcan, who was still drying some of his hair. It wasn’t spiked up at the ends anymore, but he still looked good. “I’m offended and okay with all of that at the same time,” he said, messing around with his popsocket. “Though I’m trying my best to stay nice.”

  “No offense to you, but it isn’t working out.” I said. Once the words left my mouth, I regretted them. Probably as surprised as I was, Delcan looked at me before he moved his eyes back to Evvie. I wanted to apologize or something, but Delcan already seemed more focused on Evvie than he did me.

  “Now it’s time for me to question,” he said. “How do you two even know each other?”

  I still felt embarrassed to talk, so I let Evvie handle it. “Like what Ezra said before, I knew you from Callie. But the two of us know each other because we went to the same junior high together, and we were best friends.” she said. I was thankful that our “relationship” was left out of it.

  Delcan slowly nodded, seeming to understand it. “Okay…” he said. “And more about you?”

  “She used to go to the same school as me, but after her parents divorce, she moved to Alaska with her-”

  “Hold up,” Delcan said. “Alaska.”

  Evvie rolled her eyes. “Tell me about it.”

  Delcan smiled to her (a friendly smile, which I guess is a good sign) then set down his phone between the two of us. “So, that’s it? You two were best friends in junior high, you moved, and now you’re coming over to my house to ask why I was in jail along with my sister?”

  “I wasn’t in jail,” Evvie corrected. “I was there with my mom, who used to be a police officer.” I had completely forgotten that Evvie’s mom used to be a police officer. Actually, I forgot a lot of things about Evvie’s family.

  “Oh,” Delcan said, actually seeming kind of shocked. “Did you know that?” he asked me.

  It took me a few seconds to answer him, mainly because I felt like some kid who was stagefright and was forced center stage. “No-no,” I stammered. “Well, I kind of did, but...then I-I forgot about it.”
  Delcan smirked.  “Well, if it makes your adorable self feel any better, I almost forgot you were gay considering how much of Haven is on your social media.”

  Evvie was about to crack up laughing, but she stopped herself quickly and shook her head at Delcan. To be honest, I was still deciding on if I should be offended or not. He did compliment me, though at the same time, insulted me.

  Relationships are hard.

  Delcan realized what he said and began smiling. “Sorry,” he said, smiling to me. “That was wrong.”

   “You’re okay.” I said.

  Thank God for Callie walking in the room. Her reddish-brown hair was pulled behind her and she was wearing an oversized T-shirt with sweatpants. She looked over at Delcan, then me, and lastly her eyes went to Evvie, who she gave a dirty glare. “I know you...yeah, your mom arrested me.”

  “Your mom arrested Callie?!” both Delcan and I said in unison. I didn’t know why, but this one actually did shock me. This part wasn’t actually planned, at least it wasn’t for me. All I wanted was for Delcan to get along with Evvie, which worked, but now there’s a new issue.

  Evvie nodded slowly, and I could tell she felt attacked. “Yeah, she did,” she said silently. “I was in the cop car.”

  Callie nodded slowly, reminding me so much of her brother. “I know.”

  “Okay, wait. I’m confused,” Delcan said, looking around the room at everyone. “Your mom arrested my younger sister? Is she still a cop?”
  Evvie shook her head. “No, she got fired.”
  “Why is she even here?” Callie asked, pointing to her. It was times like these when I realized how similar siblings could be. “What did I do?” Sleep with someone?”
  “Who would you be sleeping with?” Delcan snapped, looking at her. Callie rolled her eyes, not even seeming to care.

  “I don’t even have a boyfriend,” Evvie said, crossing her arms over her chest. I smiled to her before looking back at Callie, who still seemed like she could care less.

  She shrugged.”Good for you,” she said. Then, without anything else, she left the room, putting the number back to 3. Delcan looked at me for a few seconds before he moved his eyes away right before I was about to make eye contact with him. Which was good, because I would’ve turned as red as a tomato.

  “So your mom arrested Callie, and you knew about it?” Delcan asked Evvie. “Is that what you came here to tell me?”
  Evvie shook her head, her eyes widened. “No! I’m not like that. That was something an ignorant person would do, and that isn’t me.” Yeah right, I thought to myself. I loved Evvie like she was my second sister, but sometimes she could be so….weird. Like you didn’t know which one of the Evvies you were talking to.

  “Okay, well, we can leave now…” I said, beginning to stand up. But just as I was about to be free, Delcan pulled me down by grabbing my wrist. I looked at him as he beamed, one of my favorite things.

  “What?”

  “Why are you trying to leave?” he asked.

  I shrugged. “Because,” I said. “My parents probably want to know where I am, anyways. And I don’t feel like getting grounded.”

  Delcan rolled his eyes when I talked about my parents, but he then shook his head. “Maybe once you should see what happens if you don’t come home on time,” he said. “They might not even care.”

  I smiled to him, because he had no idea what my parents were like compared to his. Delcan’s mom was one of the kindest people you would ever meet, plus, she would do anything for her son. And his dad, well, he’s confused about Delcan’s sexuality, but at least he accepts him for who he is.

  “Wouldn’t count on it, Delcan,” Evvie said, shrugging. “His parents are worse than mine.”

  Delcan wasn’t exactly bothered by it. He just looked at her before his eyes fell on me. “Why haven’t you told Haven?” he asked.

  Wow. Real subject changer. Before I could even stop myself, my eyes widened and I shook my head. “I don’t wanna talk about that.”

  “Well, I do,” he answered. “You’re messing with her head, and hurting her each time you say ‘I love you’. It’s not right, plus, it hurts others that care about her, and you.”

  I looked away from him, because talking about Haven, especially with him, was hard. I’ve tried giving her small hints, but she avoids them. Almost every night, she wants to stay up and talk to me. And if we’re being honest, I don’t know what to do about it. Yeah, it kills me that I’m lying to her, but being open about my relationship with Delcan seems really hard.

  “Does her family like you?” Delcan asked me.

  I bit my lip, because I knew lying to him never worked out how I wanted it to. “Kind of…”
  “Ezra!”
  “What?!”

  Delcan rolled his eyes and sat back a little. “It’s wrong, you know.”
  “That’s exactly what I said!” Evvie exclaimed.

  I shook my head, feeling attacked by two people. “Her family doesn’t even like me that much, calm down.” I muttered.

  Evvie raised her eyebrows and smirked. “Really?” she asked. “Because in that car Angelica really seemed to like you, and so did Haven. So I don’t know why her parents wouldn’t love you either.”

  “Stop,” I said, looking at her.

  Evvie shrugged. “It’s my job to try making you go in the right path, and if this guy-” she looked at Delcan just as he looked up from his phone to her. “Is somewhere on that path, I’d like to know more about him.” she said.

  Delcan was silent for a moment before he began texting someone, and about three seconds later, I received a text.

 

Delcan:

  Can we tell her about us?

 

  Of course, I would say yes. Then again, unlike I was, Delcan didn’t mind giving details about anything. I remembered the night when I had to meet his parents, and they asked me about my life at home. I’m sure Delcan only knew about three things about my family, but he listed them with all the detail he could. But, I trusted Evvie with my life, and I knew she would never judge me for whatever crazy things Delcan would say.

  On top of that, telling her would make things a lot easier.

 

Me:

  Yes, we can tell her everything (not everything, everything)

 

  Delcan smiled at the text and then put his phone back down again. “Whaddya need to know?”

⟴⬉⥦⥦⥦⬈⟴

 

  After about thirty minutes, Evvie and I were walking out of Delcan’s house. I’d pulled Evvie away before she could even say another word to Mrs. Heslop, so the two of made it to the car at around 7:00.

  Delcan and I told her everything. Starting from the moment we met, to our last date (which wasn’t even exactly a date, it was just popcorn and Netflix). Evvie seemed chill about the entire thing, not saying much and nodding to everything. When life got into where it was, I was thankful to have a friend like Evvie. Someone who understood what pain could be like, and listened with support.

  Once I’d shut my car door, Evvie looked over to me. “So you’re keeping all of this a secret?”

  I started the car, and began pulling out of their smooth driveway. On the inside, I hated myself for keeping my feelings for Delcan a secret. But it all was easier that way, and he is beginning to understand that too. “Yes.”
  “Okay,” Evvie said. “I know that coming out, especially for you, would be really hard and everything, so I understand where you’re coming from. But, he really seems to like you. Does he want the two of you to be public?”

  I nodded, beginning to make our way back home. “Yeah,” I said. “It’s one of the main things we fight about.”
  “Oh. I’m sorry,” she said. And this time, I knew she meant it. “But even though people fight, it doesn’t mean they hate each other. We fight sometimes, but I still love you like a brother. It could maybe even be a way of showing affection.”

  She was right. Well, kind of. Delcan and I never actually fight, he’d just get angry because I was too afraid to be myself. He always said “your parents can’t define who you are forever,” which I know is true, it’s just-too much to even express. “Do you think that’s the same with our parents?” I asked her.

  Evvie hesitated for a second before she looked at me. “Your parents are fighting?” she asked me.

  I wasn’t allowed to say that they would sometimes. At night, though, so Emmanuel wouldn’t hear any of it. Something else I knew was that Dad’s hit her before, though, like Eric knew, saying anything wouldn’t help.

  “No,” I lied. “I meant your parents.”

  Evvie shrugged and sat back in her seat. “Don’t know,” she whispered.

  I didn’t have anything to say back to her, so the two of us rode to her house in silence. I wanted to ask if her relationship with Ms. Hamill, though I had a feeling that it was probably a no. I mean, if my mom did what her did, I probably would never even want to stay in the same room with her, ever again.

  When we pulled up to the driveway, Evvie looked over at me and gave a genuine smile. “Do you think you could stay the night?” she asked. “We have a lot to catch up on.”

  I shook my head, not knowing about how Dad would feel. “Your mom think we’re exes, remember?”

  She pressed her lips together, and dropped eye contact with me. “I might’ve accidentally told her. But, before you yell at me, she told me she was cool with it, and she wouldn’t tell anyone else or your parents, it would just be a secret she’d keep. Please don’t yell at me.” she said.

  I couldn’t even look at her.

  She seriously could’ve told me the minute we met, or she could have said something, give me a hint. “Get out.” I demanded. My voice sounded cold, which she really did deserve at this moment.

  “Ezra, I said that I was sorry. Ca-”

  “I said get out, Evvie.” I said, still sounding extremely cross.

  Evvie blinked, then nodded, opening the car door. She walked up to her mom’s house, not even looking back, then opened the door and disappeared.

  I put the car in drive and made my way home.

 

  The truth was, I was hardly even mad at Evvie. I was just flustered that she would do that. Usually, I’d want to be asked before she said something to anyone about me (especially dealing with that). Her mom was one of those arrogant women that would keep secrets, but bring up slight details all the time. If I was to stay the night at Evvie’s, I would constantly hear: “So what interests you more? Guys or girls?” or “If a girl said ‘I love you’, how would you react to it?”. It would’ve been the most annoying thing in the entire world.

  Once I pulled up to my house, I got out of the car and rushed inside. Though the house smelled like fresh chicken, I wasn’t even hungry anymore. Instead, I ran up to my room and shut the door behind me, locking it, and letting the world fade away.

 

Chapter Three

  When I woke up, there was loud knocking on the door. Thinking it was Dad or something, I jumped up from my bed and practically ran to the door. The main reason why I felt so worried was because today was Friday, and I’d totally forgotten I got to skip school today. I opened it up, but instantly wanted to close it once I realized it was my older brother, Eric.

  I didn’t even notice he had my phone in his hand until he held it up, his face without any expression at all.

  “Hey, Eric,” I said. “Can you give me my phone and get out? I really need some sleep, still.”

  Eric looked at me for a few seconds, but didn’t put down my phone.

  “Come on, Eric,” I said, putting out my hand, flat so that he’d just leave it there and then go back to what he’s doing. “Give it back.”

  Eric shrugged, then went into my room without asking and sat down on my bed. “I will,” he said. “But, first, I need you to tell me who this Delcan kid is.”

  The second I heard Delcan’s name, my entire body went into lockdown mode. Don’t say anything about him, I said. Tell no one. Don’t tell him anything he needs to know. Just lie and get it over with.

  “Who?”
  Eric titled his head to the side. “You know who,” he said, handing me my phone.  I took it, making sure I wouldn’t make eye contact. This probably wouldn't even be that bad. They would just be him flirting with me and me joking about that. Or I could just say that all of is a lie, because I couldn’t tell him. And I really did think it’d just be a breeze.

  But then I saw the texts.

 

Thursday; 3:57

Delcan:

  Hey, handsome.

 

Me:

  Hi. What’s up?

 

Delcan:

  Working on the rest of my homework.

  But...I could use a good distraction.

 

Me:

  Delcan…

 

Delcan:

  Think you could come over?


 

Me:

  Don’t think so. I have a lot of homework I need to finish.

 

Delcan:

  Okay. What class?

 

Me:

  English, math class, and Pre-AP science. What about you?

 

Delcan:

  Science, Math, and some improvements for boxing. I messed up on my uppercut today, which never happens…

 

Me:

  How could you mess up on anything? You’re amazing at each and everything you do.

  I should know.

 

Delcan:

  Ha. I know, it’s just that...I like to be at the top of my class. Is that weird or something?

 

Me:

  No. Just means you’re competitive.

 

Delcan:

  Okay, so is being competitive a good thing, or not?

 

Me:

  Are you kidding? Of course it is.

  Some people even think it’s hot…

 

Delcan:

  You’re cute too, Ez.

  Sometimes, I seriously think you forget you’re the quarterback. You’re as sexy as they come.

 

Me:

  Yeah…

  I have to go. Maybe we can talk when my homework is finished.

 

Delcan:

  You don’t think you’d be able to take a break for a few seconds?

 

Me:

  With you, no, Delcan. I seriously do need to get my work done, okay?

Delcan:

  Just come over.

  I can tell my parents and Callie that we’re studying.

 

Me:

  They’ll know that’s a huge lie, Delcan.

 

Delcan:

  Not really. I mean, we’re studying each other….

 

Me:

  What the heck?

  Sure, I’ll be over in a few minutes.

 

Delcan:

  Sweet.

  And bring your homework too, in case you actually do want to study.

 

  My throat was dry, but at least my phone was back in my hands. Clearly, these texts showed that we were much more than friends. I swallowed, and held my phone tightly in my hand, trying to pace my breathing.

  Why was he even going through my texts in the first place?

  I still wasn’t even breathing correctly. Possibly, I was sweating, I wasn’t sure. The morning sun shone through my room, which usually calmed me, but now made me wonder how long it would take for me to reveal the truth. Days? Nights? Years, maybe.

  This was not the way I planned to come out.

  “Wanna explain it?” Eric asked, his voice sounding questionable. I didn’t even know if he was angry or not, it just seemed weird to hear it.

  I shook my head, still looking down. I had to bite my lip down to hold back the tears that were starting to form on his face. But I guess I was biting hard enough that I began bleeding. The blood wasn’t a lot, but it was burning as if I’d put my hand in boiling water. I stood up, pushing past Eric and went into my bathroom that I shared with him.

  Grabbing a tissue, I tried my best to get all of the blood off my face while also getting back all the pain I felt right now. I didn’t know why, but I thought that going in the bathroom would have Eic take the hint, though he followed me in there, his arms crossed.

  “What do you want from me, Eric?” I asked him.

  Eric un-crossed his arms and put them down to his sides. “The truth,” he said to me. “I took a few screenshots of the conversations between the two of you, plus the pictures…” he shook his head, and I could feel the blood rush to my cheeks. “But I just need the truth, Ezra.”

  ⟴, ⟴,⟴. I’m dead.

  But Eric didn’t even wait for me to respond to him. “I won’t tell Mom, or Dad. But I just want you to tell me what’s going on between you two.”

  “Can’t you just guess?” I snapped. He raised his eyebrows to me, and I shook my head, leaving the bathroom. I could feel the tears beginning to find their way into my heart. There was no way I could tell Eric, he was basically like Dad.

  But he wasn’t backing down. Eric followed me out of our bathroom and sat down on the bed next to me. “Guess what, Ezra?”

  “Um…” I said, trying to find some way to say the words. “Delcan-Delcan and I-” I stopped myself and thought about anything that could get me out of this. “We’re just friends. I have a girlfriend, Eric.”

  Eric smiled to me, but not any normal smile, a smug one. “Try again.”

  “Why are you forcing me to tell you?” I asked, raising my hands up in the air. “Can’t you just guess?”
  Eric shook his head. “I’d rather hear it from you.”

  “Fine!” I said. Maybe if I just said it, he’d leave me the ⟴ alone. But, just as I was about to get the words out of my mouth, my stomach twisted, and I closed my mouth. I closed my eyes, and then said the words rather fast. “I’m dating him.”

  Eric blinked, and then nodded slowly. “Okay…” he slowly said, processing it like I was still trying to. “Are you...bi?”

  I shook my head. Maybe if I was bi, things would’ve been easier. I still would’ve been into girls, and avoiding Delcan by saying I had a girlfriend would’ve been easier. But, my stupid mouth had to open up and just say it. Now, here I was, being forced out of the closet. “No.”

  “Oh,” Eric said. I could tell her felt uncomfortable, but he was trying to act cool about all of it. “Then what are you?”

  The tears were already coming. I hid my face away from him and tried to pull myself together, but my body was already giving up. Might as well say it all.

   “I-I...I’m gay.” I said.

  Eric didn’t say anything to me, instead, he just nodded. Then he said something both of us knew were true. “Mom and Dad will kill you if they find out.”

  I nodded and ran my hands through my hair, feeling my breathing skip. “I know,” I said. “How are you not mad at me?”

  Eric shrugged, like it was an everyday thing that he deals with this. “Mom and Dad taught us that being gay, bisexual, trans, or anything else, is wrong. But I don’t think I could judge you over something you can never change. And if that’s who you are, I’m willing to accept that.”

  I didn’t even know that you could happy cry. I seriously just thought it was something they did in movies. Like, where the guy gets the girl, and she’s happy crying because he revealed his feelings for her. But here I was, happy crying. More than anything, I was thankful to at least have him accepting me.

  Though I didn’t even want him to see my crying, he pulled me into a half-hug. I didn’t resist it like always. Instead, I rested my head on his shoulder, still happy-crying.

  “You won’t tell Emmanuel right?” I asked him.

  Eric laughed, letting me go. “How could I? I don’t even think he completely knows what gay means. Telling him would have no point.”

  I nodded, laughing too. I remembered the night after we watched a movie which turned out to have a lesbian character, Mom and Dad sat us down for a long talk. Because I was around 10 years old, hearing the words hurt me, even though I was still too young to know why. But I do remember that the entire time, Emmanuel kept on tapping on Eric or me and would ask us what they were talking about. I told him he needed to stop after he tried getting Eric’s attention for a third time, but he was only four then.

  After he realized that neither Eric or I would give him anything, he moved onto Evelyn, who simply ignored him.

  “Yeah,” I said.

  Eric smiled without showing his teeth, shaking his head. Then, he got pretty serious. “So...does Evelyn know?”

   I nodded, halfy remembering the details from that night. Lots of tears, and lots of heartache. “Yeah,” I said. “She found out when I was in 7th grade.”

  Eric seemed shocked, and it was really hard to tell why. Maybe because he was suddenly hearing all this news about my sexuality, or possibly because I never told him about any of it. Still, I had a feeling he was about to ask me a lot more questions.

  And I was right.

  “But what about your girlfriends?” he asked me with curiosity.

  I raised my eyebrows. “Girlfriends?”

  “You know what I mean,” he said, talking with his hands. “Haven and Evvie.”

  Slightly offended by the comment, I shrugged. “Evvie knows,” I said. “But Haven doesn’t. And neither does her sister, or her family.”
  “Oh my God, Ezra!”

  “Not you too…”
  Eric ignored my comment. Instead of stopping to think about a response, he acted as if I’d never even opened my mouth. “You really need to tell Haven,” Eric said. “Does she love you?”

  I looked at him this time. The inside of me wanted to respond with; Oh, you didn’t go through those messages? But I knew that wasn’t the me everyone knew, not even the me Eric knew. But it felt as if one of the thousands of weights I felt everyday had been lifted off my shoulder, so I fessed up.

  “Yeah, she does.”

  “Bro…” Eric said, dragging out the word and falling down on my bed. I looked at him, but still was feeling a bit thankful that he was cool with all of this. Not the Haven part, the part about me. Honestly, I thought the second he would’ve heard about Delcan and I, he would’ve immediately gone to Mom or Dad and would’ve told them everything. Maybe to get me in huge trouble for the first time, I don’t know. But the fact that he was so cool about my sexuality made me feel a bit better about myself, even though I still had Haven to deal with. “You really need to tell her. I’m not really allowed to tell you what you wanna do with your life, but...you seriously need to let her know.”
  I nodded. “I know,” I said, checking my phone to make sure there were no new messages. “I’m getting to it.”

  “How long have you been trying to get to it?” Eric asked me. He was right, and I hated it when he was.

  “Good point.”

  Eric smirked. “Yup,” he said. “And when can we meet Delcan?”

  I tensed up, and looked at him quickly. “What do you mean we?” I asked, my voice sounding just as tense as the rest of my body did.

  “Evelyn and I,” Eric said, seeming completely calm about all of it. He’d turned his body to where he was still sprawled out on my bed, though he was looking at me now. “Has Evvie met him?”
  No use trying to hide ⟴ now. “Yeah. But I really don’t think you should talk to him. That sounds rude, I know, but-”

  “Do his parents know?” he interrupted. I didn’t even know if Eric cared about my answer, he was probably just asking me a series of questions now.

  I nodded, biting my lip. Both of Delcan’s parents knew he was gay. His mom was cool with it, basically let it all slide, but his dad was still trying to understand it. Though Delcan always told me never to worry about it, because him and his dad have been close since he was born. Though, as much as I’d like to trust Delcan, I’m pretty sure his dad hates me.

  But it was fine that he did, because I still had my mixed emotions about him.

  “Yes, they do,” I said. “And so does his sister. He’s really open about all of it.”

  Eric nodded, soaking in everything. “I’ve never seen you really...look at any guys at school. Where does he go?”
  I was still worried that Dad would walk in any second now, but then I remembered the large meeting he had today, and that Mom was still feeling pretty bad. Neither one of them would even make an effort to ask me about my actual life, anyways. “Oakwood,” I responded, beginning to feel distracted.

  “What?” Eric asked, pure shock on his face. “He goes to Oakwood?! Why would you even-how did you two-what-”

   “Don’t attack him, Eric.” Evelyn demanded softly, sounding a bit like Mom when she wanted all of us to stop fighting. She was standing in my doorway, her arms crossed. She was wearing the same clothes from earlier, but her hair was now dry, and pulled back out of her face. She must’ve been in the backyard practicing.

  Eric looked up at her. “Did you know that Delcan goes to Oakwood?”

  Evelyn nodded, raising her eyebrows. “It’s not even that big of a deal,” she said. I shook my head, smiling to her, because I knew that she didn’t even understand the rivalry between Oakwood and EastLand, not that she needed to know, anyways, she was only in 9th grade.

  Eric glared at her, beginning to put up a fight. “Yes, it is. You do know that since he is dating someone on the opposing team, that Delcan could just break up with him at any time. And if Ezra is heartbroken, we’re all screwed.” he said. He was still talking with his hands, something my brother did when he wanted to make a point.

  I looked at him. “Two things,” I said. “One, be quiet. And two, how would that even affect the rest of you?”

  Both of them ignored me, too caught up in which one would be right. “Delcan isn’t on the football team,” Evelyn argued. “He’s on the boxing team. Plus, I’ve already interrogated him about that, I’m positive he wouldn’t. On top of that, he basically hates everyone on the Oakwood football team.”

  “Who doesn’t?” Eric mumbled. But I was close enough to hear him, and I began laughing. “Is that true?” he asked me.

  I caught my breath and then nodding, doing my best to ignore what Evelyn said about interrogating Delcan. “Yup,” I said. “Also, he knows what the two of you look like, so don’t try talking to him after school or something.”

  Eric sat back on his arms, relaxing. Evelyn chuckled, probably thinking about how awkward of a conversation that would be. “Will he be at the game tomorrow?” Eric asked me, beginning to grab his phone.

  I felt the need to take it from him, like with what he did with mine, but I resisted. Brushing the back of my neck with my hand, I nodded slowly. “Yeah…”
  “Okay,” Eric said, sounding really odd. “Good to know.”

  Evelyn cleared her throat. “Stop it,” she said. “Come on. I need one of you to help Emmanuel get ready for this morning. Oh, and Ezra?” I looked away from Eric and at my younger sister, who was already looking tired. “Someone’s here to see you.”

  I furrowed my eyebrows. But before I could even open my mouth and ask who it was, Eric had began leaving my room, following Evelyn into the hallway to help Emmanuel get ready for today. Before he left my room, Eric looked back at me, and raised one of his eyebrows, his sign of “I love you”, then left my room.

  Did that just happen? I thought to myself.

  All of the words that were said, the huge surprise from my brother being okay with my sexuality (except for the fact that he’s from Oakwood. That would take some time to get over for him), and on top of all of that, Evvie was back in town.

  It did.

 

Chapter Four

  I finally got off my bed and began walking to the door. Who would even be here? Someone from from the football team, maybe Adam or Thomas, but that seemed highly unlikely. They never really came over that much. Or, it could be Evvie, trying to make up for what she did (not that I would listen anyways, I usually avoid people I’m “mad” at for two days). Possibly, it could be one of Haven’s friends, wanting to know some useless information.

  What if it was him?

  No. I’m sure that Delcan likes me enough to not give me a heart attack. He wouldn’t come over, especially with my parents home.

  I suddenly wondered if Eric would’ve copied Delcan’s number in his phone, but then I tried convincing myself that because I didn’t care about his girlfriends, he would probably hardly even care about my-about Delcan. He wouldn’t do that, I knew my brother, and Eric wasn’t really about talking to anyone he didn’t care about.

  But, I wound never know until I opened that door. So, I did.

  Though I wasn’t expecting Haven and Evvie to be standing there, both of them almost the same height.

   Evvie.

  Crap. I put on my best fake smile and nodded to both of them. “Hey ladies, what’s up?”

  “Babe,” Haven said, smiling. “I missed you. Have you finished all your homework?” She pulled me into a hug that I wasn’t able to react in time from it. I couldn’t help but look over to Evvie and conjecture: Did she tell her?

  “I’m happy to see you too,” I said, suddenly remembering that I still had homework that needed to be finished soon. “What is it?”

  Evvie cleared her throat just as Haven let go of me. “Haven wanted to come over, and she took me with her,” she said. “We needed to talk to you about something.” I couldn’t stop thinking about the look she was giving me. What was she planning?

  “Okay...cool.” I said.

  Haven smiled, one of her flirtatious smiles that should make me feel something. But it didn’t. “So, I know it’s weird and everything…” she said. “But I know that you would never cheat, right?” I shook my head, feeling more than guilty for lying to her.

  “I would never cheat on you, Haven.”
  Evvie’s face showed it all. Lie. That’s a lie, and you know it, Ezra Gatley. Even though I knew she was right, I looked away from her and kept my focus on Haven.

  “See?” Haven said, turning around and looking at Evvie.  “I told you.” She turned back around and in a way, pulled me down so that I’d be near where her. It put pain in my arm, but I did my best not to show it. “You’re a great boyfriend.”
  I nodded, smiling. “Thanks.”
  Haven pulled away from me and grabbed Evvie as she pulled her onto the couch. Evvie was stunned by the sudden movement and was forced onto the couch, next to Haven. I smiled, because I felt really bad for Evvie. Unlike most of the girls I knew, Evvie had always been that girl who had lots of guy-friends. And not a lot of girl-friends. Though I’m sure she was bursting with happiness once she found out I wasn’t straight. She knew I wasn’t going to be like all the other guy-friends she had (which would always end up with them liking her, then her beginning to date them, then lastly, they’d break up because things just didn’t work out). Sure, I thought she was a beautiful girl, because she was, like Haven is. Which is why it was a perfect reason for the two of us to begin “dating”.

  “So…” Haven said, messing with her hands. “Where’s your sister?” Evvie looked up at me, and she clearly knew now how stupid her choices were.

  “She’s helping my brother get up,” I said. “You have Friday off, too?”
  Haven nodded, smirking. “Yup,” she said. “4.0 G.P.A. Could I talk to Evelyn?” she asked me.

  In all honesty, my sister basically hated Haven. She wanted nothing to do with her, and became a pretty interesting person when she was around. “Might not be the best idea-” I started, but Haven had already grabbed my hand and was beginning to pull me up the stairs. We walked up the stairs together, Evvie staying behind, and went into Emmanuel’s room. He was still halfway asleep, and his dirty-blonde bangs were in his face. But the second he saw Haven, he sat up quickly and smiled.

  “Hi, Emmanuel,” Haven said, smiling to my brother. She walked over to where Evelyn was and sat down next to her. Evelyn glared at Haven before she turned and looked at me, her eyebrows raised. She didn’t even have to speak for me to know what she was thinking. What is she doing here?

  I don’t know why, but my mind thought of what Delcan said when we were at his house. Though he might not have been talking about me, I almost cracked up laughed, thinking about how Haven basically did barge into my house.

  “Hi, Haven. You look pretty,” Emmanuel said, complimenting her. He sat up just as Evelyn stood, moving away from Haven. She probably knew that those pills that helped Emmanuel wake up would be needed.

  My younger brother has issues when it comes to sleeping. He takes medicine an hour before bed, and after he wakes up. So, we usually have to do several different things to try getting him to wake up, or fall asleep. When it’s my turn to put him to sleep or wake him up, I usually talk about boring things at night, and then let him tell me all about his plans for today or how school is in the morning. He’ll usually be asleep from the boring stuff in less than an hour. On an average day, it takes Emmanuel about an hour and a half to go to sleep, which usually means each of us spend a few hours in his room before he’s fully asleep. But it’s all worth it, because the next morning he’s not cranky or annoying like he would be if not to get the correct amount of sleep.

  “Look, Haven,” Evelyn said, putting her hands on her hips. “I don’t really know why you’re here, but Emmanuel really needs to wake up. So if you could just leave, I think it’d-”

  “I’m not here to see Emmanuel,” Haven interrupted. Evelyn rolled her eyes. “I came over to see my boyfriend and talk to you as well.” Evelyn nodded slowly, pretending to be kind before she pulled out her phone. I’d be receiving a text in three...two...one.

 

Evelyn G.:

  What on earth is she doing here, Ezra? Does she know about you-know-what? And why does she have to talk to me? Why am I being punished?

 

Me:

  To all of those questions: I don’t know.

 

Evelyn G.:

  Oh my gosh. Why can’t you just tell her to leave or something?

 

Me:

  I can’t. Plus, Evvie is here, too.

 

Evelyn G.:

  SO?! What are they even doing here? Why is Haven with her in the first place?
 

Me:

  Like I said, Evelyn, I have no idea. I guess we’ll have to find out together.

 

  Both Evelyn and I put our phones away and looked at Haven, who seemed to be helping my brother get out of bed. For some reason, I felt uncomfortable with her doing that, so I cleared my throat and waited until she looked back at us.

  “Right,” she said. “Sorry.” Haven smiled to me, and I quickly smiled without showing any teeth, then crossed my arms over my chest.

  Evelyn raised her eyebrows. “Well…” she asked. “What do you need to talk to me about?”

  “Both of you,” Haven corrected her. She gestured to a corner in Emmanuel’s room where all of his toys were. Though they were hidden pretty well, I still knew where all of them were. I followed her over to the area, Evvie sitting to the left of me and Evelyn sitting to the right, clearly not wanting to be next to Haven.

  Haven clapped her hands together, basically scaring the crap out of poor Emmanuel, who popped his head up and looked at her. I smiled to him before turning back around, leaving him to play with some type of toy I couldn’t fully see. “Okay,” Haven said, taking my full attention. “One of them is just between all of us, and the second one has to do with Evvie.”

   Haven seemed like she didn’t even notice my face change. What on earth was she talking about? Usually, when Evelyn and I got in trouble, we wouldn’t be in trouble together. And since I never really get in trouble (at school or home), my body was beginning to react to it without my control. I felt my palms begin to sweat, and my heartbeat speed up.

  “Guess what’s happening at school on Monday,” Haven said, seeming to be really excited about it.

  Evelyn stopped her before she could even continue. “I don’t even go to high school yet,” she said, raising her right hand. “Why does this matter for me?”
  “Because, I want you to be, Evelyn,” Haven instructed. “Could you just listen, please?” If there was one thing I’ve learned about Haven over the years, is that she always clenches her fists together when she’s beginning to get mad. Usually, she never did this because of me, probably just because things aren’t going her way.

  Evelyn crossed her arms, sitting back in her chair. “Fine,” she muttered. “Talk.”
  Haven nodded, moving her eyes away from Evelyn. “So...apparently, the principle of of Oakwood High thinks that all of us need to be friends and that we shouldn’t have this ‘dumb rivalry’ anymore. So, him and principle Greene decided that we should all have some of our students transfer. My mom wouldn’t tell me the names of the students, but I do know that it’s three boys and two girls,” Haven said. Why would they want people to transfer from Oakwood to EastLand? They were two different schools, I thought to myself. But I still waited until Haven had finished. “I’m not cool with the idea at all, but what do you two think of it?”

  I was actually kind of shocked, rethinking all of it that I didn’t know about this transfer thing sooner. The whole reason why it was easier to be with Delcan was because he was at Oakwood, and now I was worried about this.

  “That’s pretty cool, I guess,” Evelyn said, shrugging. She could seem to care less about the whole situation, and probably because unlike me, she could care less about who showed up at EastLand.

  Haven quickly gave her an evil glare before she looked at me. “What do you think about it, baby?”

  “I mean…” I began. To be honest, I couldn’t express how I really felt in words. But then I remembered that one piece of advice Eric gave me when I began “dating” Evvie: Always agree with the girl. You’d much rather be on the right side of the tracks than the wrong one. I’ll be honest, it was really stupid advice. But, I did learn this, whoever your dating, it doesn’t matter if you two don’t share the same choices. If they’re wrong, let them figure it out on their own time. “I think the idea is pretty crazy,” I said. “It just doesn’t make sense why students from Oakwood would transfer, and students from our school would do the same.”

  Haven nodded, rolling her eyes. “Tell me about it,” she said. “And I find it stupid that it’ll only be three guys and two girls. Compared to our school doing it evenly; two boys and two girls. But guess what the worst part is? They get to come to our games, and our dances. Totally unfair if you ask me.” Haven crossed her arms over her chest, pouting like Emmanuel did when he wasn’t allowed to eat dessert.

  “Wait a minute,” Evelyn said. “How do you even know all of this?”

  Haven sat up straight, flipping her hair behind her back. “My mom is the vice-president of our P.T.A. club, and my cousin is dating our vice principal. He’s coming over for dinner tonight, too.” I had forgotten about Haven’s relationsons with everyone in the school district. But I knew that my sister would take full advantage of it.

  “Oh…” she said, dragging out the word. “That explains why you’re the captain of the cheerleading squad, and why my brother never gets in trouble for anything. Got it.” I glared at her, and she looked back at me, shrugging.

  I shook my head. “Not cool, Evelyn,” I said. “Stop it.”
  She rolled her eyes. “Why are you telling me to stop?” she asked. “When is the rest of the school finding out about this transfer thing?”

  Haven shrugged. “My cousin said that everyone should hear about it either from Instagram, or at the game tomorrow against Oakwood, so both of the schools know about the transfer. But they still aren’t saying the kids names. Something about one of the Oakwood kids wanting to keep it private.”

  Well that’s just great, I thought to myself. We won’t know the kids names until Monday. Perfect.

  “Okay, whatever. I don’t even know why I needed to know about any of this,” Evelyn said, her voice grumpy. “I don’t even go to EastLand High for full time, and I’m thankful for that.”

  Haven furrowed her eyebrows. “And why’s that?” she asked.

  Evelyn looked at her, and just by the look she was giving, I knew what she was about to say. Don’t do it, I wanted to say. Do. Not. Say. It. “Why else? Because of one, you can’t handle sharing things, and two, your entire fake-⟴ life is there. And I wouldn’t even survive if I was around you all day.”
  She said it.

  I looked at her. “Since when did you get permission to cuss?” I asked. In our house, once you got older than fifteen, you were allowed to cuss all you wanted to, if Dad gave you permission. I was given permission when I was fifteen, while Eric was allowed to start cussing in front of Mom and Dad. But Evelyn hasn’t fully been given rights yet.

  But still, Evelyn looked at me. “They don’t know that I am,” she said. “But everyone has secrets, Ezra. Even you.” I looked at her, and was about to go haywire on her, but before Haven could even ask what my secret was, Evvie walked in.

  “Everything cool?” Evvie asked, looking around the room at all of us, each and every one about to pounce on each other like we were animals.

  Haven nodded, smiling to her. “Yup,” she said. “Everything’s great. Just fantastic.” Haven was one of those girls that people usually assume as a horrible person, though truly, she isn’t. Just like I do, she has a lot of layers to her before you realize her real personality. But, she had her walls up now. And her face was showing it all.

  “That’s...nice.” Evvie said, she began avoiding eye contact, something she always did when she felt in an awkward situation. There were maybe two seconds of silence before Evvie cleared her throat. “Ez, can I talk to you?”

  It might sound rude, but I wanted to say no, and I thought that shaking my head would mean that. But Evvie didn’t get the hint. The main reason I couldn’t leave was because I had no clue what Evelyn and Haven would begin fighting about while the two of them are alone.

  “I really don’t think that I should-”
  “No, go, babe,” Haven said. “I’ll get out of here so I don’t need to worry about your sister. Be in the living room if you need me.” After glancing at my sister, Haven was about to leave the room before she turned back around and pulled me to her, kissing me on the lips. Since I was startled by her doing so, it took me half a second to kiss her back. But all that was even going through my head was Delcan, and when he would compliment me, then quickly kiss me. I liked it when we did that.

  And I hated myself for it.

  I pulled away from her then after Delcan’s name had popped into my head a second time, and she smiled to me. I smiled back, feeling the guilt run through my body, then took Evvie’s hand and went downstairs, going outside.

  My family and I were fortunate enough to have a good house, and on top of that a good backyard. We had a pool, which went from shallow to deep (like 8 feet deep), and lounge chairs. There was also an area where tanning was available, though I never really used it that much.

  Okay, I do. But only because I’m pretty pale without it.

  Evvie and I sat down on the lounge chairs, and Evvie burst out in laughed. I looked at her, angrily. “What?”
  “Nice kiss.” she said, pushing her hair out of her face, which had fallen while she was laughing at me.

  I nudged her. “Not cool,” I declared.

  Evvie rolled her eyes and then sat back, not keeping her normal posture. “I’m sorry,” she said. Oh, now she feels sorry about something. “About what I told my mom. That wasn’t even my business and I had no right to tell her any of that. But my dad already knew, and he was planning to tell my mom soon, so I thought that I’d be able to tell her before he did.” Because she was so close to tears, I felt bad being mad at her now. I couldn’t even feel rage towards her anymore.

  Though it annoyed me that she was revealing my secrets, she was just trying to help, and I was trying my best to realize that. I couldn’t stay mad at her forever, obviously. I pulled her into a hug and that’s when the tears became to come out of her. She cried on my shoulder, and for the first time in a long time, I let her.

  “Shhh,” I said, stroking her hair like she was my younger sister. “It’s gonna be okay. Calm down, I’m not mad anymore.” Evvie looked up at me and smiled, wiping her eyes. She nodded slowly, then wrapped her arms around me again. Because I was thinking of him earlier, Delcan was in my head again.

  I pulled away from Evvie quickly and turned my head the other way, trying to push away all of the thoughts. His laughter. His smile. The feeling I got everytime he confidently walked into a room. All of it, I was doing my best to push it away. But sometimes, it got really hard.

  Evvie put her hand on my shoulder. “You know it’s okay, right?”
  I didn’t look at her. I kept my head away, looking at the nicely trimmed grass and the cobblestone close to it. “What are you talking about?”
  “Look,” Evvie said, taking in a deep breath of air. “I know you might’ve heard this a thousand times, but...it’s okay if you like guys. Nothing is wrong with that. You’re human, Ez, and no human is perfect. Just because you don’t date the opposite gender as you doesn’t mean that there’s something...wrong with you, and it doesn’t mean you’re any different from Eric, or Evelyn, or me. And it surely isn’t something you should be hating yourself for.”

  I nodded, though still kept my eyes away from her. I knew that she was right, and I knew that my brother was right about everything he told me too. But, though I’ve been putting myself through literal ⟴, I couldn’t help it. I knew that others were never really happy in lives, I mean, no one’s perfect. But what’s wrong with me is something that can’t be changed by going under the knife. “I’m aware,” I muttered. “It’s just-”

  “No,” Evvie said, her voice sounding so strong that it made me close my mouth and look at her this time. “I know it might seem like the hardest things, considering your parents, but because of it, over the past few years, you’ve been different.”

  I laughed, but it came out without any meaning. “Evvie, I-”
  “Listen to me, Eza,” Evvie demanded. “You act different now. You push others away from you because you’re afraid of what your parents would think of it. And you put people like Haven and I in horrible situation to ever believe you would like us. You’re an amazing guy, Ezra. And I realize that. But you push others away because you won’t want to realize that. I know this, and so does Delcan. Why can’t you just let go?”
  Nobody ever understood what I went through. No one understood what it was really like at home. All the pressure, everything, every single rule that tells me I can’t be with someone who actually makes me feel good. And I don’t even truly know who to blame for it. When I didn’t answer for a few seconds, Evvie continued talking.

  “Your parents don’t define who you are as a person. They’ll change you all they want, but you know who you truly are. You know that inside, you have some feelings for Delcan, and you know for a fact you don’t love Haven. Your Dad can’t tell you what to do with your life. He might try, but then you’ll lose control. And, Ez, you’re one of the best people ever, but no one knows that because you’re scared.” Evvie said. I was actually shocked that she could give such good advice, though I smiled to her, because I felt the need to be nice. But, this was a huge reason why we used to be such good friends. Evvie knew how to make me feel better, even when I didn’t want to at all.

  “Thanks for the advice, Eve,” I said to her.

   She smiled to me and nodded. “I know,” she bragged.

   “What’s going on our here?” a voice said. The second she’d finished talking, I realized it was Haven, who seemed jealous and was crossing her arms. I’d almost forgotten she was here, actually. Her face was scrunched up, and I didn’t understand why until I looked down and realized that Evvie and I were holding hands. Quickly, I pulled away from her hand and then watched as Haven walked over to the two of us. She sat down next to me, then, for the second time, pulled me into a kiss. A french kiss. I tried my best not to think of the way all of it felt, then pulled away, regretting it all.

  It was too much to handle. I mean, Haven is a girl, and all I can feel when I’m kissing her is how it would feel to be kissing Delcan.

  “What are you two doing out here?” Haven asked the two of us, holding me arm like I was her property. She glared at Evvie, and I was wondering how much she’d heard. Did she hear us talking about Delcan? I thought to myself, but then I violently refused to believe any of that.

  “Talking about things,” I said, putting my much larger hand over her’s. “That’s all. Are your parents worried about you?” Haven raised her eyebrows before she shook her head, causing her dark brown hair to fall over her shoulders.

   Then, she looked down at her phone. “No,” she whined. “Angelica is here to pick up Evvie and I, though.”

  I could feel the strange tension in the room between all of us. It wasn’t a warm, fuzzy feeling, instead, like something that just killed me. It sounded weird, but I’ve been afraid of the silence since I was young. Though words weren’t used, it felt like so many things were being said in the tranquility.

  Evvie slowly began to stand up, and brushed her thighs before she took her eyes off Haven, looking at me. “Where are your parents, Ezra?” she asked.

  “My mom’s probably sleeping, and my dad’s at work right now,” I responded, more than thankful that they weren’t in the house with me. Well, Mom was. But she was nothing close to Dad. “Why? Did you need them for something?”
  Just before Evvie was able to respond to me, Haven stood up and blocked her words. “My sister’s waiting. We need to go,” she said. Because her voice sounded so stern, Evvie stayed still. But then Haven sighed, and grabbed her hand. “Come on!” Evvie sighed like she did the first time, slowly dragged herself behind Haven. But this time, after a few steps, Evvie slapped Haven’s arm to pull her away.

   “Ow!” Haven cried. But I didn’t even try to defend her, because I knew she was faking it.

   Evvie shrugged. “Just don’t grab me and pull me around like I’m a dog, okay?” she asked, her voice hardly having any enthusiasm. “Come on, let’s move.” I had to hold back the laughter I was feeling as the two of them walked away, Haven pouting her lip. It would be nice to stay outside for awhile. Maybe I could just take a quick nap or something-get away from all the pressure.

  But before I could even relax, my phone chimed.

  I groaned, and then grabbed it off the bench that I’d last set it on. Though I didn’t even feel like answering, I glanced at the message.

 

Evvie Hamill:

  If you want me to come over, I can. But after I’m done getting your clingy girlfriend off my hands.

  Oh, and I forgot to say this...but Delcan called me.

 

  Of course he called you, I though to myself. But it got me to answer her faster.

Me:

  What’d he say?

 

Evvie Hamill:

  I couldn’t answer it because I actually had to put makeup on, and was dragged here. But he did leave a voicemail. Want me 2 listen to it?

 

  It was moments like these when I realized how right my dad was. “Ezra,” he said to me one night. “You’re my best son. But that naive and curious side to you will definitely get your ⟴ in a sticky situation.” At the time, I didn’t know if he meant it as a compliment or not, which is why I simply nodded. But, now I knew how right he was.

  Sadly.

 

Me:

  Yeah.

 

Evvie Hamill:

  Okay. Gimme a sec.

 

  I set my phone down and waited, desperately. The water in the pool was clean, and more still than ever now. I watched it for about a minute, just lost in thought before my phone went off again. Straightaway, I grabbed my phone and was surprised by that she’d sent me a video instead of just saying what he said. But, I let my curiosity get the best of me, and watched the video.

  She was right, he did leave a message. Something he never does.

  “Hey,” Delcan said. His voice sounded a bit nervous, which I was really confounded by. Usually, he was always confident. “I just wanted to apologize if I came off...rude when we met. I mean, I kind of am-” he laughed, and I could feel myself smile. “But that isn’t the point. I might have sounded like a real jerk, but I didn’t mean to. It’s just that-being around Ezra, my-whatever we are. Okay, I’m getting off topic. Just wanted to say, I don’t hate you or anything. Well-” he chucked again. “Not yet.

  “Sorry. I’m really trying to be a better person. Anyways, I just-you’re a cool person. And maybe one day we can do one of those stupid conversations about Ezra. Wanna get in on some of his secrets. Bye.”

  At first, I didn’t know how to feel about the last thing he said. I mean, I was still trying to figure out things about him too, but I didn’t know if talking to Evvie would be the best approach to it. Then again, the sides that I show Delcan are nothing like the sides anyone else knows about me. So he’d have a pretty hard time finding which one of them was the real me, because sometimes I don’t even know.

  Still, I liked him trying.

 

Me:

  Interesting tbh. He never apologizes, Eve.

Evvie:

  Woah...really?
  Why do you think he wants me to like him so much?

 

Me:

  Think - we’re ex-best friends. He probably knows that you liking him means good thing for our relationship.

 

Evvie:
  True, true. Lol.

  So you’re not mad at me anymore, right?

 Even though we hardly talk that much anymore, but I don’t want me revealing your secret to my parents to break us apart again.

 

Me:

  No, Evvie, we’re cool.

  Thanks for the video, though. Interesting to see him like that.

 

Evvie:

  Welcome, Ez.

  Want me to come over, still?

 

Me:

  Yup. See you later.

 

Evvie:

 Bye.

 

 I set down my phone, before I stopped and felt the huge need to call Delcan. Though I knew I shouldn’t have, because I’ve already messed with him enough yesterday, I was truly bored out of my mind. And, I really needed to talk to him about the transfering thing going on.

  Scrolling through my contacts, I found his name, and was about to click on it before I realized something about the C section. Truthfully, I had no idea why it shocked me that I didn’t have Callie’s number. I mean, she kind of hated me in a way, but also-if I couldn’t reach Delcan, she’d be my only source.

  Shrugging it off, I pressed call and waited for him to pick up the phone. On the third ring (yes, I count how many times it takes for him to take the call), he answered.

  “What’s up?”
  But it wasn't Delcan’s voice. Instead, I was more than put off to hear Callie’s voice on the phone. Play it cool, Ezra. Play it cool. “Nothing,” I said, relaxing my arm. “Where’s Delcan?”

  Callie was silent for a second, and then she began speaking again. “He can’t come to the phone right now,” she said, though her voice sounded hesitant, and like she was lying to me about it. “You wanna wait, or take a message or something?”

  “I can wait,” I said, beginning to allow myself rest again. Also, I really needed to talk to him about this transfering school thing going on. And once all that was over with, company is never bad to have.

  Callie sighed. “Don’t expect me to condolence you,” she said.

  “What were you in jail for?” I asked. The second the words fell out of my mouth, I wanted to take them back, though I knew that wasn’t really how it worked. Great going.

  Like I’d expected, it took Callie a second to even answer. Though it might’ve been pretty rude to ask, I don’t think it’d be wrong to become curious of things. My guess, possession, or maybe robbery. But whatever the situation was, I was dying to know. Like her brother, Callie had a pretty large need for attention, though I never thought she’d end up in jail.

  “I was in this gang thing,” Callie said. Oh. “But there was more to it than that.”
  Thought it wasn’t at all what I was expecting, something felt weird about her voice. Like she was about to reveal something no one else knew. But Evelyn did the same thing. There was this mid-pause in her voice that made you wonder what they were going to say, and why it sounded like they’d never told anyone else before.

  But, because she was close to someone special, I wanted her to open up to me. “What is it?” I asked, trying to make my voice sound more concerned than curious. Callie took a breath before she slowly began talking.

  “I called the police.”

  I sat up from my chair, fully listening now. Why would Callie even have a reason to call the police? I mean, lots of things could happen in a gang, though-no, I don’t even want to think about that. But, for the time that I’ve known Calie, the independence and strong woman, and no one pushed her around.

  “Why?” I asked.

  Callie was silent on the other end, and I was expecting her to simply hang up the phone and be done with me, but then she sighed. “I can’t talk to you about this,” she said. “It’s wrong.”

  “How?” I questioned.

  “Because you’re dating my brother,” Callie said. Then she mumbled something under her breath, and because she doesn’t really like me that much, I didn’t even want to ask what she said. “It’s wrong for me to tell you, of all people, and not him.”

  I sat back, not exactly knowing what I could say about all of it. I mean, if she didn’t exactly trust/like me, nothing I could do to fix it. “I won’t tell Delcan.”
  “That’s a lie.”
  Nope, this time, it actually wasn’t.

  “Alright,” I said, sighing. “Fine. Be secretive.”

  Callie was silent for a moment, and maybe this meant I should just hang up and call Delcan back later, because this clearly was uncomfortable for the both of us now, but then she said something that surprised me.

  “Do you really wanna know?”

  I remembered once when I was five, and my mother once told me that ignorance was bliss. That was the first time I heard those words, and they came out of her mouth thousands of times after that. But if something like this would begin getting Callie to begin feeling uncomfortable, maybe it’s better for me not to know about it.

  “Not unless you want to tell me,” I said. “I understand if you’d rather tell your brother over me.”

  Callie laughed.  “You clearly don’t know enough about my brother.”
  Slightly offended by the comment, I crossed my arms. “Excuse me?”
  “He’s protective over things like this,” Callie said. “Mainly family, but sometimes other things, too. If he found out about what really happened, he’d be hunting down those men right then and there. You’ve got to know that by now.”

  I did, but also didn’t at the same time. It was hard to tell if Delcan was actually protective over me, though, I didn’t even know if I was either. We weren’t even open about our relationship, so it was hard to know or not if I actually cared about what happened in public. Though, Delcan was always easy-going, and I was always frantic. So it was hard to tell if there was any real protecting for the both of us.

  Then again, I’m sure there was. Because otherwise, our relationship would be pretty sad.

  “What is it that you wanted to tell me, Callie?” I asked, not even trying to come back with any comment to say to her.

  Because she was who she was, I had a feeling she rolled her eyes. “They were planning on forcing me into...you know.”
  Again, I sat up. “Wait, really?”
  “I mean-” Callie began. “They already had before, though I was drugged so I wouldn’t remember it. But, there was this girl there who is related to the guy doing that to me, and she warned me to get out now.

  So, I did what I had to. I convinced him that I actually wanted to be with him, and then waited until he was distracted to call the police.”

  I didn’t know what to say. I mean, that was horrible. Absolutely horrible. Callie’s fifteen, and not even in high school yet. I wanted to comfort her in some way, though I knew that wasn’t her style. Her brother was the same way. “Wow…” I managed to say. “That’s horrid.”
  Callie sighed. “Yeah,” she sighed. “I made a false report, and then made a joke, so I was arrested. But seriously, don’t feel pity for me, I’m sure you feel enough for yourself. Just, know that it’s in the past, and everything’s okay.”

  Again, offended by her small commentary. Though I let it slide and moved on. “I feel bad for what happened to you, though.”

  “You know,” Callie started, ignoring my condolence. “I’ve never told anyone that before. Not my parents, and not Delcan. And he was the one who bailed me out.”
   I nodded, feeling a bit of pride for the (hopeful) beginning friendship. “Did the gang get arrested, too?”
  “I have no clue,” Callie said. “Can you not-” she didn’t even finish her sentence before she just suddenly pressed End. I wasn’t offended, because I knew she probably had a reason. This time, I set my phone on silent and then laid back.

  As much as I tried to fall asleep, I still felt bad for Callie. I mean, she was only in 9th grade, same as my sister. I knew she loved getting attention, though I never knew she would o to that extreme. I wanted to tell Delcan about it, though I wanted to keep my promise with Callie instead of breaking it.

  Out of nowhere, a wave of tiredness hit me, and my hulking eyes fell asleep.

 

The First Week:

 

  “Hey,” I said, bumping Delcan’s shoulder to the best of my abilities. It felt really weird, and fun all at the same time to be having these feelings again. But after that kiss, which continued to go through my head, I couldn’t stop being happy all the time.

  But even after all these great emotions, he still thinks I’m straight.

  “Hi,” Delcan said. He noticed that my hand had something in it and raised his eyebrows. “What’s that?”

  I handed it to him. “Find out.”
  Delcan looked at me for a second before he sighed and began opening up the note. It was a paper that I wrote on Valentines Day, which originally was for Haven, but now was especially for Delcan. Instead of just being lazy and just fixing some of the words and stuff, I rewrote the whole letter, making sure all of it sounded detailed, and sweet.

  Haven, who became my girlfriend a few weeks before I met Delcan, made a huge scene about the note. She said it was one of the cutest things someone could do for her, and I took the compliment, like I always did, and then did my best to get away from her. I didn’t like Haven how I was supposed to, instead, Delcan brought feelings out of me I’d been pushing down for months now.

  He read the note, then looked up at me. “Ezra-” he began, but stopped when he heard a car honk. It was his mom, who I haven’t met yet. She waved at Delcan as he fully turned himself around and waved back to her. Delcan turned back around, and handed the not to me. “I gotta go. Come over later. I’ll text you the address.”

  As upset as I was to have the note back in my hands, he wanted me to come over. He wanted me to come over, I thought to myself. Suddenly, a smile was on my face, and butterflies began dancing in my stomach. I walked home today, feeling like someone in a movie who had just been kissed.

  Once I actually got home, I went up to my room quickly before any of my siblings could talk to me. Emmanuel, who was sitting at my door for his daily hug, already holding out his arms. “Hug?” he asked.

  I sighed, and quickly allowed him to hug me before I went into my room, closing my door behind me. Though Emmanuel whined, I didn’t have time for it today. Plus, I was babysitting him Sunday. He’ll be fine.

  My oldest brother, Eric, wasn’t in the bathroom, which was a first after school. Still, I took a glance in the mirror, relieved that I actually looked pretty good. As I walked back into my bedroom, I pulled out my phone and began texting Delcan.

  What time? I texted. He responded almost instantly, butterflies find their new home in my stomach. I buried my phone in my pocket as I somehow made my way out of the house without Mom or Dad talking to me.

 

  Once I arrived, I jogged to the door, maybe a bit faster than I should’ve, and then knocked. His sister, whom I have met before, and didn’t like anything about, opened up the door. Her hair, which was this red-brown color, and her nose scrunched up the second she saw me. I’ll be honest, Callie was a beautiful girl, but her personality cancels all of that out.

  “What do you want?” she asked me, putting her hands on her hips.

  I shook my head. “Nothing that you need to worry about,” I said, sounding cross. But it didn’t matter. I pushed past her and went upstairs. I heard her yell my name in response, but I wasn’t turning around now. For the past week, Delcan was all I could think about. That kiss in his backyard, it meant something to me. I’ve never kissed a guy for longer than a second, period, and I only began liking kisses from Haven because I was picturing Delcan’s lips.

  But we’ve had this conversation before. Delcan and I are just playing around with each other’s feelings. So, it’s not exactly cheating.

  I found where his room was and knocked on the door once. “Can I come in?”

  “Sure,” he called.

  Taking in deep breaths, I opened up the door and then smiled, but he didn’t see it. Delcan never caught me as the guy reading, though here he was, reading a pretty thick book. “How have you been?” I asked. Two things, that was such a dumb question. It had been five minutes since we talked. And the second thing, he didn’t even seem to look up from his book.

  Trying to get more attention, I sat down next to him. “So…” I began.

  And now, Delcan closed his book. “Look, Ezra,” Delcan said, turning his body fully towards mine. “I liked the letter and everything, trust me. You’re one ⟴ of a romantic. But, you’re not interested in me.”

  “No, I am,” I insisted. I’ve had these feelings before about someone, and I knew they were the same for Delcan. I was about to say more, but Delcan held up his hand to stop me from talking.

  “I’ve known guys like you before,” Delan said, resting his hand on the book. “You question your sexuality because of one kiss. Both of us just got caught up in the moment, you know that. It wasn’t even a kiss that mattered, anyways, because you pulled away from me....” he paused for a second, his face blank. “But that’s besides the point. You’re straight, Ezra. You have a girlfriend, remember? Haven Bronx, that’s who you’re with. And how could you possibly be with her if you’re ‘gay?’” he asked me.

  The words infuriated me, though I tried my best not to show it. Just because I was with Haven didn’t mean I liked her. There were tons of people in this world how didn’t like their husbands or wives. But he wouldn’t even understand that if I tried.

  I liked Delcan, seriously. I haven’t had feelings like this since 9th grade. I knew what they were like, and I wasn’t letting it go.

   But that kiss, that was a different story. “I only pulled away because your mom came out there,” I said, trying to reason with him.

   Delcan rolled his beautiful eyes. “My mom doesn’t care about things like that,” he muttered. “It was just a kiss.” I’d noticed his eyes go from the green color that they usually were-neutral-to a lighter blue. I was making him angry.

  “I’m sorry,” I said, meaning it. “I didn’t know how to react. Plus, I like you, not Haven.” My answer was completely honest, just like most of the stuff I said to Delcan. But still, he refused to believe the truth from me.

  “You’re just confused,” he said, sounding more like he was assuring himself than me. “Give it time. It would also help if you didn’t try communicating with me.” Okay, he was the one who put his number in my phone, and now things were changing.

  I’ve tried telling myself that I’m confused, and that the right girl will be coming soon, but it’s been way too long, and I already know what I want. If Delcan wouldn’t get it this way, I had to try something else that would work. My crushes always stayed secret, no matter how much I wanted to say or do something, I’ve kept my emotions inside. This, would be something different. Hard, but surely different.

   Not even thinking, I took his hand. “How can I make you believe me?”

  He sighed, looking down at our hands. I waited for him to say something, when I suddenly realized that his eyes were amber. His parents once told me that Delcan’s eyes changed depending on his mood, and if you watched closely, you could really see the true him with just one look.

  Amber meant that he felt loved, liked, or was trying to hide his emotions. They could also stand for lying, sometimes, though it was kind of hard to tell when he was lying to someone. I took his eyes as a good sign, and waited for him to answer.

  “If I dated a guy from Oakwood…” Delcan began, still looking down at our hands touching. I wasn’t blaming him, because I felt something, too. “Would you be angry?”

  Angry, is an understatement. I’m not saying I’d be furious with his choices, but jealousy would rage inside of me, for sure. But, I nodded, still trying to concentrate on his ravishing face. “Yes,” I said. “Are you..thinking about dating someone?”
  He smirked then. “I’m trying to make it work.” he said. The words made me feel something, but I couldn’t even describe it with actual words. “How do I know you actually like me?”
  How could I not? I thought to myself. Delcan was one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen in my life. Sure, his hair was brown, just like most of the population’s on Earth (naturally), but his eyes. They changed color depending on his mood, something I found quite fascinating about him. His body, well, it was muscular, you could tell that without him even showing it. Or maybe it was the small cut in his eyebrow that always fascinated me to look at. His humor may be one of the things I oddly am attracted to, but something I won’t ever fix. And, he-just had this odd effect on me that I haven’t felt in a long time. “Because,” I said, trying to hide my smile. “You made me forget my last name when I first saw you-”
  “But you remembered your first?”

  “Of course, it was a weird place to meet, but I’m satisfied that it happened.” I finished, ignoring his cut-in.

  Delcan was silent for a few seconds, and at first I thought he’d want me to leave or something, but his hand never moved away from mine. After awhile, he let out a breath of air and then nodded. “My parents might not be home for some time,” he said, watching my face closely as I tried not to make movements. “Want to stay a bit longer?”
  “Yes,” I immediately said, not even letting the other voice in my mind begin saying no. The voice in my head seemed to pity me, but I ignored it this time. Basically everything but my brain was saying yes to this, and I wanted to spend as much time as I could with someone who liked me back. But, as happy as I was beginning to feel with Delcan, no one could know about any of it.

  Delcan smirked again, probably already knowing what he did to me. “Alright,” he said. “What’s your favorite show on Netflix?”
 

  For the next two hours, maybe, Delcan and I spent time in his room on Netflix, watching whatever they still had on their. I was still pretty upset that ‘Mean Girls’ (yes, I know it sounds super gay, and right now, I don’t care), they still had a few good things. We went back and forth on shows, watching something that I liked, and then switching to something that he did. It was actually pretty fun, and some of the shows were pretty enthralling.

  After the third or fourth show that we had watched, Delcan was making smooth efforts to get closer to me. I didn’t exactly know what to do, so I just let all of it happen to me, and forced myself to move a bit closer, too. We weren’t facing each other, but the two of us were pretty close now.

  I was trying to think of something to do. I mean, what do you do when someone who makes you feel amazing is suddenly closer to your own phone is? But I was seriously try thinking of something that I could do. Should I just continue watching the show like he was? Or, should I be the first to look? After being mixed between doing the two of them, I decided to keep on watching the show.

  Then suddenly, Delcan asked me: “How long have you known?”
  I looked at him then, realizing how close we actually were. “What do you mean?”
  “You know what I mean,” he said, his eyes amber. I couldn’t stop looking at him. His beautiful long eyelashes, his smooth tanish skin. And the fact that he had a six pack still made me feel all bubbly on the inside. His brown hair was messed up at the ends, but he pulled it off.

  He looked hot. Really hot.

  “Hello?” he asked, waving his hand in my face and blocking my view. I was startled by the sudden movement, and had to use my hands to control myself. He smirked, but other than that, kept his face normal.

  “Sorry,” I said. “What were we talking about again?” He raised his eyebrows, when I remembered. My sexuality. Right. “I found out in 6th grade. My brother was talking about a girlfriend he had at the time when I realized that none of the girls I’ve dated...I never felt that spark that was meant to be felt. And I’ve kissed almost every girl I’ve been with.” I saw his face when I said those words, and I had to ignore it in order to continue. “When I told one of my friends, I was thankful for how supportive she was about it.”

  Delcan blinked for a second, then said: “So I was your first kiss?”

  “With a guy?” I asked.

  He simply nodded, and I shook my head.

  “No.”

  It wasn’t as clear, but I’ve kissed a guy before. Though, I can’t remember his name, and it was simply a peck.

  Delcan nodded, seeming pretty satisfied with my words. “Alright,” he said. I wanted to say more, that I’d never felt any spark at all, something I seriously hate about myself. But, when we kissed in his backyard-that was when I understood the spark people were talking about. And though the kiss was kind of forceful and unexpected from my behalf, I still can’t stop thinking about it 24/7.

  “A lot to take in,” he said. “But okay.”

  All I could do was simply smile kindly to him, and then turn my eyes back onto the TV. Why was it so hard to talk to talk to him? It’s super easy talking to Haven, because all I have to do is understand her body language and then go with it. But when it came to being with Delcan, I couldn’t even concentrate correctly.

  Then, I began to notice that Delcan had scooted closer to me, and was kind of in one of those comfortable looking positions that you’d see a couple doing in a movie. He’d taken my hand again, and rested his head on my chest, though kept his eyes on the TV. Truthfully, I was freaking out on the inside, but I did my best to focus on the show and just ignore how much of a desire I was feeling. Still, he seemed so calm about all of this, like it happens to him on a regular basis.

   We had switched to a movie, and was in the middle of it when Delcan said; “So when are you planning on coming out?” I looked at him now, not even knowing if I could give a full answer. Not that...whatever this was is happening, my coming out explanation would have a whole other part to it. I had wrote a list of ways that my parents could find out, too. But none of them ended well.

  “I don’t think I ever will.”
  Delcan smiled softly, looking up at me. “Parents can’t hate you forever,” he said. “You know that, right?”
  I shook my head, moving my eyes away from him. “Can we talk about something else, please?”

  Delcan untangled himself out of my arms and sat up straight, kind of looking like someone who was about to give a stern conversation. “No,” he said. “You’re closing yourself away from people, Ezra. And that’s why I don’t want….this to happen. I don’t want to be a secret,”

  Of course, I thought to myself. Not even understanding the tone my thoughts had. That’s why we can’t be together. “We were literally just cuddling,” I said, sitting myself up. Delcan raised his eyebrow that had a cut in it, seeming to care less about any of that. “I’m not saying I don’t want to be with you, but-”
  “No,” Delcan interrupted, sounding straightforward. “Why would I be with someone who’s ashamed of me?”
  I wasn’t ashamed of him at all. No matter how much of his past I knew, no matter how many people told me he was horrible, I didn’t care. “I never said any of this was your fault,” I said, trying to sound like he was. But my voice came out sad, and like like I hadn’t slept in a number of days.

  “So it’s yours?” Delcan asked, looking at me with brown eyes: curiosity.

  I shrugged, looking away from him. “Yeah,” I said. It wasn’t exactly my fault thought, at least, that’s what Evelyn tells me. She said I can’t be hard on myself for the family that I was born into, and that it’s harder for me to be out because of that. But, she’s wrong in some ways, because I could totally dis my family like Delcan kind of did...but that would ruin my entire reputation, and sixteen years of working my ⟴ off.

  “Why?”

  I looked at him then, knowing I had to compose myself. “I like you, a lot,” I said. I could see the side of his mouth twitch when I said that, but I still continued. “And I like guys in general. But with my parents hovering over me like crazy…” I stopped myself before the weakness in my voice could even start, and just shook my head, standing up. “I’m leaving.”
  Delcan’s eyes weren’t brown anymore, now, they were a mixture of green and blue: sympathy. He grasped my hand before I even took a step and pulled me back down. “I want you to stay,” he said, still holding onto my hand.

  I shook my head. “My-um, my parents probably expect for me to be home soon,” I said, already beginning to stutter again.

  Delcan smirked, then pulled me into a quick hug, which I guess had me thinking. I never really thought of him as the sympathetic type, but his eyes always seemed to be that color when I began talking about my parents. And...I don’t know. Something about that attracts me even more to him.

  And it was in that moment when hugging wasn’t enough. I pulled away from the hug, then leaned forward (without question) and pressed my lips against his. He seemed tense at first, but then eased into it, like I was. He slid his hands into my hair, and pressed himself against me as the kiss got deeper. And I’ll admit, I liked it. I mean, it felt...amazing.

  But in the back of my head, I was reminiscing the next time I would have to kiss Haven, and pretend that I actually liked it.

 

Chapter Five

  A hand slapped me hard, forcing me to wake up. I looked around fast, and suddenly realized how long I’d been asleep for. I was about to seriously rage out on one of my siblings, but then I saw Evvie, which still kind of made me want to vent.

  I raised my eyebrows to her, and she tilted her head to the side before saying; “I tried to get your attention by doing almost everything, but you were asleep,” she said. It was then when I realized that small doses of water had been splashed on me, and even my hair was messed with. “What were you even dreaming about?”

  Delcan. Obviously. Who else would I dream about? “Why the ⟴ would you wake me up for no reason?” I asked, but like always, my voice came out sounding softer than I meant for it to.

  Evvie shrugged, then sat down at the end of the lounge chair. “It seemed like the only way of waking you up,” she said. “Dream, or fantasy?”
  I sat up then and hit her arm. “We’re not talking about fantasies.” I snapped. When the two of us were in 8th grade, Evvie secretly slept over at my house and then woke up with her first fantasy (and it was about my friend, Adam Hunter. Which made it even more disturbing), and oddly enough, that next week, I had a fantasy about this guy I had a crush on-but I do my best not even to think about any of that.

 Evvie cracked up laughing. “Sorry,” she said. “So it was a dream, though...right?”

 I rolled my eyes and sat back. “Yeah, it was,” I muttered. My right cheek was still burning from where she’d slapped me, but I was doing my best to ignore the pain. “What are you even doing here again?”

  “Do you not remember me talking about staying the night?” Evvie asked, raising her eyebrows. I had, actually. My mind was now occupied with Delcan, instead of my “ex-girlfriend” and best friend wanting to stay over for the night. To be honest, I was leaning towards calling Delcan for a few hours despite Evvie being here now.

  “Right,” I said. I was still pretty dazed from falling asleep, too. And it was all because of that dream (which actually happened, just for reference). I never really had dreams about Delcan, but that one felt so real, it was if all of it was happening again. I could still feel the goosebumps happening on my skin.

  Evvie cleared her throat, and I looked up at her. “What is it?:
  “I, um…” Evvie paused before she tilted her head in the direction of my phone. “I think you should check your phone.”

  I sighed, annoyed that I could never have one day to myself. Three messages from my sister, Evelyn. And two from Delcan, which were kind of pointless. I was debating in my head on which one I should open before a new message from Angelica popped up, spiking my curiosity.

 

Angelica Bronx:

 Hey, Ez. Long time no see. So you’re still dating my sister, right? Well, in that case, I hope we can meet up and talk.

  I know your little secret.

 

  I looked up from my phone, and could already feel my throat tighten. My mind was already replaying on what Angelica’s text said over and over again. How could she even know? I hardly ever talk to Angelica, and actually, do my best to stay out of her way. And I didn’t even know she had my number, in all honesty.

  Evvie was looking at me, her head tilted again. I was about to say something, but nothing came out of my mouth at all. Whatever Evvie was saying, her words were basically blurred, and I couldn’t hear anything she was actually saying. And through the entire few moments, the same question was running through my head.

  Is she going to tell Haven?

 

Chapter Six

  I allowed Evvie to stay the night, but I was still freaking out. Though I should’ve been smart enough to know that trying to sneak Evvie into my room wouldn’t be easy, especially because my dad just got home.

  “Ezra Ace!” I heard my dad call, slamming the door behind him. Evvie instantly let go of my hand and shook her head. I sighed, because she was still scared of my dad. But to be honest, I couldn’t completely blame her.

  “I can’t talk to your dad,” Evvie whispered. “I’m terrified of him.”


  I glared at her. “You don’t think I am?”


  She was about to say something, but then closed her mouth again before another word got out. She slowly took a breath, and then grabbed my hand and followed me downstairs, where my dad was awaiting.

  “Hi, Dad,” I said. I let go of Evvie’s hand, since it was behind me, and looked at Evvie. “You remember Evvie Hamill, right?”
  Dad raised his eyebrows. “You’re Mexican, right?”

  That was what he wanted to say to her? Of all things? I looked over to Evvie quickly, who had crossed her arms over her chest, and was biting back a smile.

  “Yes,” she said. “I am. But that really has nothing to do-”


  “What’s she doing home?” Dad asked, raising his eyebrows to her again. He was looking at Evvie as if she was gum on his shoe, and it bothered me, a lot. I hated when he treated people like this, because it put me in such a horrible place.

  I did my best to keep from rolling my eyes, and nodded to Evvie. “She’s gonna be spending the night.”

  Spending the night?” Dad asked, but he couldn’t even get to the end of his question seriously before he burst into laughter. “That doesn’t even sound believable, Ezra.”


  I couldn’t snap back at my dad like I’ve always wanted to, so I just sighed and shook my head quickly. “I have a girlfriend, Dad.”

  “Yes…” Dad began. “But Haven’s kind of annoying. I’d only see any reason to marry her because of how much money her family has.”


  “That’s a-” Evvie started, her voice rising. But she stopped herself before anything else could’ve been said. I wanted her to say something. Because not only was my dad probably the most homophobic person I’ve ever met in my life, he puts pity on women. Something Evelyn’s learned, and does her best never to mention. She pretends to be just as helpless as I am, but outside of the house, she’s nothing like Dad thinks she is.

  Dad raised his eyebrows again, this look on his face. Though, he looked over to me. “Are you cheating?” he asked.

  I quickly shook my head. “No!” I exclaimed.

  Okay, it was a lie. I was cheating. Just….not with whom I’d be expected to cheat on Haven with.

  “Then why would a girl be staying the night?” Dad asked, raising his eyebrows to Evvie again. Evvie was still watching the conversation, her arms crossed. And though I knew she was trying to look tough, I could see the fear in her eyes.

   “Because,” I told my dad, trying to keep my eyes away from Evvie. “She’s my friend. I can have friends who are girls. Just like Evelyn can have friends that are guys.”


  Dad was about to say something, but he then closed his mouth, thinking about what I’d just said. His eyes were harder to read than Mom’s were when she was thinking about something. Usually, Mom would have this “in another world” look when her kids had stunned her. But Dad, well, it really just depended on where you were with him.

  “Ezra-” he began. His voice sounded firm, and like I was about to be given a lesson. But I had already braced myself for this, and I guess Evvie would just have to do her best and not say a word about any of it. But before my dad could even finish the rest of what he was about to say, Mom walked in.

  Thank goodness for Mom. “Hi, darling,” she said, smiling to Dad. Dad turned and looked at her, but didn’t show any affection. Sometimes I wondered if they’d ever actually loved each other. But then I think of how dumb of a question that would be, and the trouble I’d get in for saying it out loud.

  Mom didn’t even seem offended by Dad not saying anything back, so she looked at me. And then Evvie. “Hello, Evvie,” she said, a welcoming smile on her face. “What are you doing back in town?”

  Evvie smiled to her, looking pretty thankful. “Hi, Mrs. Gatley. Nice to see you again.”

  My dad mumbled something under his breath, but I wasn’t close enough to hear whatever commentary he wanted to add.

  Mom smiled and moved herself next to Dad, walking with grace, even though she was in house shoes. “How have you been, sweetie?”

  “I’ve been great,” Evvie said, using her friendly smile again. “Your home looks just as amazing as when Ezra was in 9th grade.”

  She knew the best ways to get to my mom. And one of those ways was complimenting the house. My mom works, but it allowed to take time off any time she wants - since Dad’s working with that business as well. My mom is kind of like what I guessed women would be like in the 1800’s. Loyal to their husband, caring to the children, cooking all the meals, and cleaning the house. So when Evvie complimented my mom about our house, it only made sense that Mom beamed.

  “How kind of you!” she said, smiling fully. “What would you be doing here, and with Ezra?”

  Evvie looked at me for a moment, and I shook my head fast. I wasn’t answering to my mom. Then, I’d be lying. And lying as like an unspoken rule in our house, you never, ever lie. Giving up on me, Evvie turned herself back to my parents. “I came back in town, and may be starting at EastLand next week or something. I just wanted to spend some time with Ezra, since we were friends before we started dating.”
  Good cover up.

  “Oh,” Mom said, giving one of those looks like she was trying to see if Evvie had lied or not. “Well, then why did you come from the back door, sweetie?”
  “We were hanging out outside,” I said, cutting in. My dad’s eyes went straight to me, but I didn’t dare to make eye contact. “It’s a beautiful day.”

  Mom smiled, nodding. “Indeed, Ezra,” she said. “So...what exactly is happening?”


  “Don’t worry!” Evvie assured. “I have a boyfriend back in Alaska, and I’ve heard that Ezra and Haven are an adorable couple. I would never interfere with something like that.” To be honest, I wished she would. Because me getting caught kissing Evvie - not that big of a deal. But me caught kissing Delcan, now, that’s another story.

  My mom nodded, her lips slightly parted as she tried understanding all of this. “Well, I don’t exactly see a problem with any of it, I guess.”

  “You’re not worried about a teenage girl sleeping in the same room as our son?” Dad asked, suddenly making his way into the conversation.

  I looked at him, slightly annoyed, but doing my best to hide it. “What’s so bad about any of that?”

  “Don’t, Gatley.” Dad muttered, sounding more like a warning then a threat.

  But I backed off. I backed off because fighting with my dad would get me nowhere, and I’d be put bellow first favorite.

  “Sorry, Dad,” I said. “My door will be unlocked, though. So no worries.” I was about to leave, so I could breathe normally again, but Mom called my name out before Evvie and I could even get up the first step.

  “Yes?” I asked.

  Mom was silent for a moment, but then she smiled. “Maybe Evvie could join of for the game tomorrow?” she asked.

  Evvie’s back straightened, and she shrugged. “I would have to see if my mom’s okay with it,” she said. “But I can definitely try.”

   Mom smiled to her, then left the room. Leaving it back to the awkward trio that I’m sure would end horribly. I wanted to just run up the stairs and get all of this over with, but something about Dad’s stare made me stay.

  “Evvie,” he said, not even taking his eyes off of me. “Go to Ezra’s room and wait. Watch Netflix or something.”

  Evvie hesitated, but then left without question. I sighed, but turned around quickly and looked at my dad. “What is it?” I asked, making sure my voice sounded like I actually wanted to know what he was saying.

  Dad shrugged, and then sat down on the barstool. “I never understood why you dated that girl,” he muttered, resting his chin on his head as if he actually cared. Without question, I sat down next to him on the barstool to his right.

  “She’s pretty nice once you get to know her,” I said.

  Dad raised his eyebrows. “But she’s not even the same race as you, and her parents are divorced. They hardly have any money.”
  “They live in a two story house. And her dad owns a place in Alaska. They only broke up a little while ago.” I muttered. Though they weren’t even my real parents, it bothers me when people talked about Evvie’s divorced parents-like it was something to be upset about. More kids had divorced parents than kids who had two actual parents. I was lucky to have a Mom and Dad who (I hope) love each other, and to be fortunate with the money we have.

  And even though Evvie never mentioned the real reason about her parents, I understood. I never really had to mention why I couldn’t come out. Just see my dad for thirty minutes and you’ll understand.

  “Doesn’t mean that they have money, Ezra,” he said.

  I took a few breaths, making sure I was careful with my words. Evelyn was supposed to be the one expected to marry someone rich, and I was put first in line on my father and mother’s will. I didn’t see how marrying someone with less would even affect me, especially because marriage isn’t even something I care about now. “That’s your opinion, Dad,” I said. “Plus, I’m only sixteen. It’ll be another fifteen years until I actually want to marry.”

  Dad sighed. “And when you do marry a woman-” It for sure won’t be a woman. “I expect you to marry well. And have grandchildren.”

  There are ways for that, in case you’re wondering.

  “I will, Dad.”

  My dad patted me on the back, his eyes looking down at the marble counter. “That’s why you’re my favorite, Ezra,” he said. “You always listen.”

  I hated when he called me his favorite. I always felt like he basically neglects Eric, and gives Evelyn all of the second attention. Emmanuel was never Dad’s favorite, because he could care less about sports. But it always felt….strange how much attention Evelyn and I got, compared to my other siblings.

  “Can I go to my room?” I asked. Dad nodded, and I jumped out of my seat and left, not even waiting to see if he had anything else to say to me. I rushed up the stairs quickly, and then slammed my door behind me. Evvie was sprawled out on my bed, scrolling through something on her phone. She looked up once the door slammed, her eyes seeming kind of alarmed.

  “How’d that conversation go?” she asked.

  I shrugged, and sat down at my desk, which wasn’t very far away from where my bed was. “I seriously hate him sometimes,” I whispered.

  Evvie smiled. “Understandable.”

  “I don’t understand how a person could be homophobic, racist, and unloving,” I said, thinking about how Dad basically ignored my mom when she walked into the room. “It doesn’t even seem possible.”


  Sitting up, Evvie put her phone to the side and looked at me. “Not every person in this world is good,” she said. “And not every child understands that.”


  Child. That word always irritated me. I wasn’t a child (unless somehow sixteen meant that I was the same as Emmanuel), but you didn’t seem to get any respect until eighteen years old rolls around the corner. But still, I’m guessing she didn’t really mean any harm by the words.

  Plus, it wasn’t myself I was so worried about.

  “But what about Emmanuel?” I asked. My younger brother wasn’t as strong as Eric and I grew up to be, and Evelyn soon learned how to be what image our parents wanted. But, Emmanuel wasn’t athletic at all, and he likes hanging out with people. He found fun in comfort in other people, unlike me, who hated being close. He wasn’t strong like Dad wants him to be, and I don’t know how that’ll play out for him.

  Evvie blinked, knowing how clingy my brother was. “I’m sure he’ll be fine, Ez.”


  “And what if he isn’t?”


  She hesitated again, but then relaxed a little. “You’re brother has you for another two years, and Evelyn for three. And you know that your sister will do whatever it takes to keep him safe. Plus, I don’t see why you’re so worried.”

  Because Emmanuel hasn’t been showing interest in anyone yet.

  I shrugged, because it didn’t even seem to matter anymore. “Yeah, I guess so,” I muttered. “Are you really going to EastLand?”
  Evvie nodded. “I decided on moving back. I mean, cleary, I’ve missed out on a lot, and I think that going back to school here would be a fresh start.”

  “I thought you hated your mom,” I said.

  Evvie nodded slowly, not making eye contact with me. I might’ve been in the wrong for saying that, but all I was doing was making my statement. There couldn’t be any harm in that. “I’m getting used to her now,” she said. I waited for her to continue, and she laid out on my bed again. “So….let’s talk about this text.”

 

Chapter Seven

  Sorry about how long of a read this one is...but a lot of good and bad things happen in this chapter. Hope you're enjoying so far!

 

“Here, let me see it again,” Delcan said. I slowly handed my phone to him, feeling my hand begin to shake from the pressure.

  Though Evvie and I had talked it out and probably did come up with an actual solution, I couldn’t sleep at all last night. The game was today, and right now I couldn’t even move without thinking of what Angelica knows about me. Questions were still running through my head, bad enough to where a headache was starting to form.

  And being with Delcan didn’t make the situation any better. Unlike I am, Delcan’s cool with basically anything that happens. He once told me I should just “go with the flow.” And then I laughed and called him a hippie, to which he responded with pushing my shoulder. Hard.

  I brought Evvie over to Delcan’s house, and all of us were sitting in his backyard (which, by the way, looks so much better than mine does. And every time I walk out here, I think of that kiss). Delcan was sitting next to me on one of these couches that was in a shaded area, while Evvie relaxed in a lounge chair.

  “It could mean something else, when you really think about it,” Evvie assured, trying to ease the tension. But I heard those words from her the entire night, and they were beginning to lose an effect.

  Delcan looked up from my phone. “She had a point,” he said. Then he looked at me. “Have you ever gotten drunk before?”

  I could already feel my eyes widen in shock. “What? No!” Okay, now hearing it out loud, I know how sad that is. But it was still a pretty random question. “Why?” I asked, hearing the curiosity in my voice.

  “Because,” Delcan said. “If you were to have gotten drunk, you might have started ‘dancing’ with someone. God knows who” -Evvie snickered then, and I glared at her - “And this Angelica chick could’ve heard about it. Not all the photos from a party get posted.” He was right, but I’ve never even been to that level at a party. Sure, I’ve been to tons. I’m the quarterback, it’s expected. But I’ve just never gotten dru-wasted before.

  I shrugged. “Never been drunk before.”
  “Yeah, good point,” Evvie said, sitting up. “But it’d seem impossible for Angelica to know about that. I mean, she’s in college,
anyways. Have you texted her back?”

  All eyes went to me, but I shook my head. “What do you think?”
  Delcan still had my phone, and he
relaxed

himself on the arm of the couch. “What do I say? Meet after the game, or something?”

  “How about never?” I asked. I meant for my voice to come out sweet, and pleading, but instead, it sounded kind of rude, and direct. Delcan raised one of his eyebrows, but said nothing in exchange.

  “Wow, Ezra. You’re just throwing shade at everyone today,” I heard Callie say. She’d just walked outside, I’m guessing. And she was wearing ripped jeans and a T-shirt with words I couldn’t exactly read.

  Delcan turned himself around completely. “Shouldn’t you still be asleep?”
  “Shouldn’t your bedroom door be locked?” Callie clapped back. Evvie was about to laugh out loud, but I saw her catch
he breath quickly. Delcan rolled his eyes, which were an amber color again, and turned himself back around. Callie smirked, clearly happy with her words, then hit my shoulder.

  “Can I talk to you?” she asked.

  I was about to ask what about, but then I remembered the conversation on Friday. Because of how my curiosity was, I nodded, then stood up to follow her. I felt bed in a weird way, because Callie was much shorter than I was (seriously, she was 5’3) but I did my best not to point it out or anything.

  “What do you two need to talk about?” Delcan asked. His eyes were brown now, as he looked back and forth between Callie and I.

  I shook my head. “Nothing,” I said, though my voice wasn’t loud. I took Callie’s hand, because lying to Delcan was almost as hard as lying to Dad. Rushing inside, I heard Evvie’s words behind me.

   “What’s that about?” she asked.

  And right before the door closed; I heard Delcan mutter. “Like I know.”

  Once the both of us were inside, I waited to see what she was going to say to me. She seemed pretty alarmed about whatever it was, and my eyes followed her as she continued to pace. Suddenly, she stopped, turned himself fully to me, and then she put her hands on her hips.

  “Can you sit down or something?” she asked.

   The question caught me off guard - just a little bit. “What?”

  “Sit down,” Callie said, gesturing to where one of the empty dining table seats were. “You’re tall, and you make me feel like a munchkin.”

  Without intention, I chuckled at her words, then sat down. It’s become a habit for me to have good posture, so even with me sitting, I was pretty close to her actual height. “What’s going on?” I asked her.

  “This is probably the only time you will ever see me useless,” Callie reminded me. “Remember that.”
  I nodded, guessing that this really was about whatever happened on Friday. But I’ve learned to understand what to do with people like Callie, so I hoped that I had this under control. “Tell me.”

  “Is Evvie’s mom still a cop?” Callie asked me, crossing her arms over her chest.

  Ever since I was born, I’ve been taught to be honest. And I guess the lying part of my life only started happening after 6th grade. But other than that secret, my lying habits formed because of Delcan. He’s a good liar (unless you know his eye color, like Callie does. Then, you’ll never know if he’s being honest), and I guess I caught on from it.

   But...at the same time, Callie had a relation with him. And I couldn’t ruin that. “No,” I said.

  “⟴,” Callie cursed under her breath. She was holding herself as if she was cold, though the room was mid-temperature. “Of course she isn’t.” Her eyes were beginning to water, and she turned herself herself halfly.

  “What’s going on?”

  She sighed, wrapping her arms around herself tightly. I’m guessing it was a sign of nervousness, maybe even fear. “I got a call last night.”
  I blinked, not fully understanding what she meant. But then it clicked - kind of. “Who called you?”

  “He did,” Callie said, but her voice cracked on the last word. “I’m really scared, Ezra. I need a cop, something like that to protect me from all of this.”

  Okay, I’d have to say this probably became my natural instinct, but anytime someone who’s close (or in Callie’s case, close with someone who’s close with someone I’m close to), I feel like I have this job to protect them. So, I’m blaming Eric for when I quickly stood up, then bent down to wrap my arms around Callie.

  “Hey, don’t worry,” I whispered, trying to make my voice sound like what I did when Emmanuel woke up from a nightmare. “I’ll always be here to protect you.” She probably only went up right around to my lower chest, but I felt her nod, then she began crying.

  I’ve never seen Callie cry before. I mean, she always seemed to be a lot like he brother when it came to being strong. And though I knew she could defend for herself no matter what, it was just that she seemed so helpless. Again, I’m pretty curious about most things in life, so I wanted to know more about what was going on, though I knew better to ask. And then I had to reveal the rest of my thoughts to her. “But I really think you should tell someone about this,” I said. “Maybe getting a cop into this would be smart. I could help you get a restraining order, possibly.” Callie looked up at me and nodded, pulling herself together.

  Deciding that I was now the bigger brother (though I couldn’t imagine what Delcan would say about all of this), I slightly pulled myself away from her and wiped some of the tears off her face. I didn’t know why, but Callie kind of was like another younger sister that I had, and I wanted to protect her. But, like good advice that an older brother would give, she needed someone to help her through this.

  A smile was twitching from Callie’s mouth, and she moved away from me to grab some tissues. I helped her out a little bit, holding the tissue box down a little so she could actually reach it. Sometimes, it bothered me how tall I was. Though, I never realized it until I left the house. Evelyn was almost the same height as Delcan was (though I’ll never tell him that), and Eric was about an inch and a half taller than I was. Emmanuel hasn’t grown yet, but I’m sure it’ll happen soon.

  But Callie, she was pretty short. 5’3, I’m pretty sure. Not that I’m blaming her. Evvie’s only 5’7, and Haven is 5’8 (with heels, which she’s always wearing). As I did my best to help Callie out, she sniffed then relaxed a bit.

  “I’ve never liked any of the guys Delcan’s been around before,” Callie said, crossing her arms over her chest again. “But you’re different. You actually care.” The words made me smile, though also a bit confused. It for sure wasn’t my business, though Delcan seemed pretty secretive over events from the past - especially guys. He would always say if I wanted to find out more, Google could be a nice source.

  “Thanks,” I said, meaning it.

  Callie’s brown eyes smiled back, though her face stayed normal. “How about this deal,” she began. “If you try helping me out with this whole...restraining order deal, maybe I could help you with my brother. He isn’t the easiest person to understand.” I nodded in agreement, knowing I will surely keep up her promise, though I wasn’t too sure about mine. I didn’t blame Delcan for being hard to read, because sometimes I was too. Maybe I just thought of it better that way or something, but fixing the walls the two of us have already built seems like an impractical task.

  “I should probably get back outside,” I said. Sooner or later, Evvie or Delcan would be wondering what’s going on, anyways. Callie nodded, and started to make her way into the basement (which was super cool, I might add. Their parents built it about a year after they moved there. And it’s like a gym/dance area. Really relaxing) before she stopped and turned around.

  “Remember our agreement,” Callie reminded me. “And act like you still hate me.” I smiled to her, and she waved in return before leaving into the basement.

  I walked back outside, where Delcan had sprawled out on the couch, and had his attention on his phone other than Evvie, who was resting her chin on her hand, and probably scrolling through Instagram. I guess that Delcan looked up quickly, because he sat up, and then moved away so that there was a spot for allowing me to sit.

  “What was all of that about?” Evvie asked, looking up from her phone. I shrugged, and sat down next to Delcan. It became a habit for me to slightly move away from him, but I guess he was used to it by now.

  “It was nothing,” I said, looking at Evvie. Another habit, I couldn’t look at Delcan in the eyes and lie to him, so looking at Evvie was my solution. “Just….something about EastLand.”   

  That was seriously a horrible lie.

  “Oh yeah?” Delcan asked. “I’d agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.” I would’ve been mad, but I knew that he was joking (I could see it in his eyes), and I smiled before he smirked, then looked back at Evvie, who rolled her eyes. But as happy as I wanted to be right now, guilt overpowered all of that. I feel like Delcan had a right to know, it was his sister after all. He should have every right to know the real reason over his sister’s “arrest,” because if it was the same thing with Evelyn and I, I’d probably stop talking to Delcan in general.

  But I played it off, and kept my promise with Callie.

  And that’s when I remembered: Angelica knows.

  Frantically, I grabbed my phone from Delcan (who glared at me), then started to text Angelica back.

Me:

  We can meet when, and where you want, but I want to know exactly whatever you do. I’m not cheating on Haven, if that’s what this is about.

  For a split second, she read the message, and then began responding. Now realizing what I’d just sent, that probably now gave her the idea that I was cheating. Way to go, Ezra Gatley. But as I waited for Angelica to respond, Delcan softly put his hand on my shoulder, while Evvie moved next to me, trying to see my phone.

Angelica Bronx:

  I’m waiting until after the game.

  Don’t wanna psych you out.

Me:

  Just tell me, Angelica.

Angelica Bronx:

  I’m not telling u unless we’re doing this in person, Ezra. You just better be lucky I’m not telling Haven about any of this.

  She knows. I’m dead. She’s going to tell me basically everything about who I’m seeing, probably even fill me in (as if I didn’t know) on every single social media account he has. Then, she’ll reveal all of that to Haven, even my secret. Whatever way any of this plays out, I’m definitely screwed.

  “Oh my gosh,” I muttered under my breath. I put my phone down, mainly because it was way too much to deal with right now. Delcan still had his right hand on my shoulder, though Evvie had swiftly moved back to her spot across from us. For some reason, I’d thought of those words Evvie had mentioned when we drove over to Delcan’s, how I was putting Haven and her in a horrible place by making them believe they ever had a chance with me. What did she even mean by that?

  “What’re you gonna do?” Delcan asked, snapping me out of my thoughts.

  Putting my head down, I shrugged. “I have no clue,” I said, most of my words being everything going on in my head. “If Angelica knows, and she wants to talk about this in person, then that must mean she wants to make some type of deal, right?” I looked to Delcan for any assurance, but other than his beautiful eyes, his face stayed neutral. And without any idea what he was thinking, I didn’t even know if my words sounded logical or not.

  Evvie shook her head, trying to guide attention back to herself. “That might not be it at all,” she suggested. “She wanted to tell you after the game, which kind of make sense. If I had a grudge towards you, I would’ve waited until after the game to tell you. Cleary, she doesn’t want to entire school to hate you, but she seemed pretty confident about it.” Evvie paused before she added: “Then again, we aren’t the same people.”

  True, but it didn’t help at all. What else could she even know about me? “You’ve never even met Angi-whatever her name is.” Delcan said, rolling his eyes.

  “And neither have you,” Evvie snapped at him. I didn’t want to intrude, because I’d clearly make the situation worse than it already is. But, unlike I thought he would, Delcan sat back, glaring at Evvie. He moved his eyes away from her and locked eye contact with me.

   “Isn’t Haven a cheerleader?”

  I nodded, feeling the slight guilt inside of me. “Yup,” I said.

  Delcan analized something for a second then pulled out his phone. “The cheerleaders are supposed to be performing at the game today,” he said, scrolling through something. “That’s probably why she’s waiting.” I nodded, understanding what he meant. Angelica wouldn’t even try to ruin her sister’s performance. That’s why she’s waiting to tell me until after the game.

  “Yeah, it all makes sense now,” I said, already hearing the sarcasm cutting into my voice. “She’ll tear my spirit after the game.”

  Delcan’s eyes turned a green-blue color, but he didn’t say anything at all. Evvie cleared her throat, bringing the attention back on her again.

  “Don’t you have something to tell Ezra?” Evvie pondered, glaring at Delcan.

  Almost instantly, Delcan sat up and looked at Evvie, his eyes turning ice blue. I had no clue what she was even talking about, though I didn’t even know how to speak. “And what would that be?” Delcan asked, his voice sounding cold.

  “That you’re one of the students from Oakwood that are transferring to the rivalry school,” Evvie said, raising her eyebrows. I was about to begin talking, probably out of shock, but Evvie had more to say. “I’m surprised you haven’t said anything, since you found out a month ago.”

  “A month ago?!” I cried out. Delcan crossed his arms, not even looking at me. I tried to compose myself the best I could, and looked at him. “Is that true?”
  Delcan still didn’t turn to look at me. Instead, Evvie andhim
were basically in a staring competition. “Don’t you ever get tired of putting on two faces of makeup in the morning?” he asked her. Evvie opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out. I bit the inside of my cheek to hold back laughter, though Delcan almost started to chuckle, too.

  “You’re super mean,” Evvie said, crossing her arms. “I hope you know that.”
  Delcan smiled, looking like what my mom would always call a “sly fox.” Honestly, it was kind of just like an oddly attractive smirk. “You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he said. Evvie blinked, clearly not knowing what to say and looked at me, probably for help. But, just because I felt like it, I smirked, then shrugged. Evvie rolled her eyes towards me, and Delcan continued talking. “Plus,” he mentioned, looking at me now. “I don’t even know what she’s talking about. I knew about
thetransfering schools ⟴, but I don’t know where you got the idea that I cared.”

  Another thing I quickly learned about Delcan; somehow, he was my type (seriously, I have a weird one. No one needs to remind me) and I guess you learn things about your type quickly. Delcan wasn’t really too much of a nice person, depending on who you are, and he always had something sarcastic up his sleeves. Though, if I’m being perfectly honest...it’s one of my favorite things about him.

  “Liar,” Evvie said, crossing her arms. Her Latina accent was beginning to come out at the end of her words; a sign she was starting to get angry. “Haven told me about it on the way back over to my house. And, actually, I do know who Angelica is. Though she seems to neither care or know anything about you.”

  “Oh, how dreadful,” Delcan muttered, the sarcasm fully clear in his voice.

  Evvie ignored him. “And, on top of that, Angelica read out the list of who would be transfering from Oakwood to Eastland,” she added. “Your name was on the list.”
  I was more than confused on what was happening, and it was even worse,
since my mouth was basically glued shut somehow. It was even harder now, though, because siding with Delcan would result in Evvie’s lecture (Latina accent added) on the way home, while siding with Evvie could possibly end up with a huge fight between Delcan and I. Either way, both of the choices were pretty sucky.

  “You’re a real ⟴,” Delcan said.

  Evvie sat back, smiling in satisfaction. “I try.”
  Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. “Alright,” I said. “Stop arguing, okay? Delcan, is Evvie telling the truth, or lying?”
  “I just met her, you know,” Delcan responded, crossing his arms.

  Seeing he would be no help, I looked at Evvie. “Well?”

  “You know I’d never lie to you, Ez,” Evvie said, using that voice that women always use when they want to get a point across. I’ve heard it from Evelyn all the time...though it usually only works on Dad.

  And though Evvie was kind of right, her answer seemed debatable. When the two of us were younger, and I told her about my sexuality, she didn’t really lie about her emotions. Evvie told me exactly how she felt, and told me she might be able to find some solution for people not knowing about it. She was the first person to come up with us pretending to date, and her idea was perfect at the time. But, if what she was saying is true, than that meant she would have to explain to a lot of people about our dating situation.

  “If you never lie…” I began. “Then why did you tell everyone we were dating in 7th to 9th grade. You and I both knew we weren't.” Evvie glared at me, her dark brown eyes squinting.

   “Sour,” Delcan said to me, smiling. His smile was a lot more beautiful than a smile should be for any human being. He was one of those people who had a smile that just made you want to smile back, no matter what it was about. And no matter how much I tried ignoring him, I always had to bite my lip from smiling back.

  Turning away from his beautiful face, I looked at Evvie as she began talking. “I didn’t really lie about that, since we were ‘dating,’” Evvie said, using her counterargument. “It was just fake, and I knew that.

  “Now, can we actually focus on the topic before I just text Angelica and ask her to tell Haven whatever she knows.”

  I glared at her, feeling what I guessed was anger. Though I’d learned quickly how to keep all my anger in, and letting it out on Evvie wouldn’t have any good results with it. Other than Delcan laughing….no. Still not okay.

   “Then stay on topic,” Delcan said. Though I’m guessing he’d tried playing it cool, his voice came off more like a threat than anything else. Evvie ignored him, and all us us began talking about some type of plan again (with Delcan, of course, cutting in some sarcastic comments towards Evvie), but then, my phone kept on going off.

  I’d totally forgotten that I put it on silent, and pulled it out quickly while Delcan did his best ignoring anything Evvie told him about his “attitude”. Sure enough, both of my parents had texted me, and not in the group chat.

Mom:

  I really hope you’re practicing wherever you are, baby. It’s going to be a great game, sweetie. I know you’ll do amazing.

  That was basically my mom in a summary. She loved her children, a lot, though it was almost like she depended on her children more than anything (yes, even more than my dad. He always seemed to be the last thing on her mind). I loved her, a lot, but it was just hard to understand her completely. And, I was never exactly her favorite, that was Emmanuel. But I never dared to ask my mom questions I’d been dying to ask, questions that Eric got answers to about a year ago.

  I texted her back quickly, saying the normal stuff. Thanks, Mom. Love you. Something like that. Then, with caution, I went into my dad’s contact, on edge of what he could’ve possibly texted me.

Dad:

  Ezra, hope you’re ready for this game. Definitely, beating Oakwood should be a breeze.

  Where are you?
  Get home.

  Now.

  Two bad things. One, I was supposed to be home an hour ago. And two, the that was only half of the messages he sent me. I could already feel the disappointment hiding in his eyes when I came home, and it was already seeming like way too much to even bare. My dad was kind of like anyone you’d ever meet that just made you feel goosebumps all over your skin. His death stare is almost worse than my sister’s is, and he knows just how to make his children feel guilty over the smallest reasons.

  I stood up quickly, startling Delcan slightly. “We need to go,” I said to Evvie, shoving my phone back into my pocket. But though I scared him, I couldn’t exactly give a heartfelt apology at the moment.

  “For…?” Evvie asked.

  “You seriously want to spend time with Delcan?” I asked her. Delcan looked up at me when I said that, though his mouth stayed closed. Evvie looked at him for a quick second, then stood up much faster than I thought she would.

  “Let’s go,” she said, already leaving through the back gate that Delcan’s dad installed when they first moved in.
  Rolling his eyes, Delcan laid himself on the couch, pulling his phone up to his face. “See you later?” I asked, actually feeling pretty bad for leaving.

  He nodded, keeping his eyes on the screen. “Always,” he said. “And I’ll let you know what winning feels like.”
  Because I knew it annoyed him more than anything, I messed with his hair quickly (and if he would’ve reacted quicker, he probably would’ve actually been able to slap me), then jogged out the gate. “Nice try!” I called, closing the door behind me.

  Not explaining anything I said, I dragged Evvie into Eric’s car, closing the door behind me fast and starting the engine. Once we began driving, Evvie’s curiosity began asking questions.

  “What’s going on?” she asked, sitting back in Eric’s leather seat. I don’t know how many girls have sat in that seat as well, though I knew asking would probably get me in a lot of trouble. Or not. Though, I wasn’t risking it.

  “My dad told me to be home an hour ago,” I said, making a sharp right. “And, most likely, you-know-who will be there.”

  Evvie fell back into her seat more, not saying anything for a few minutes. “Crap,” she finally managed to say. Cleary, I thought to myself. “That’s not good. Want me to tag along?”
  It wasn’t like I’d even have time to drop Evvie off, plus having her there might be a really good result. “You can drive with us there,” I suggested. “But you need to distract Angelica. Don’t say anything unless it’s small talk. Stay with my sister or something. And do not talk to Delcan.”

  Evvie shrugged. “I wasn’t planning on it,” she said, looking out the window. “No offense, but I kind of hate your boyfriend.”

  He isn’t my boyfriend, I wanted to argue. But I knew it wouldn’t do any good. “You should’ve came back in town when we started dating.” I responded. She glared at me, though didn’t say anything back to it. Throughout the rest of the ride home, the two of sat in silence. While I tried to figure out why people thought Delcan was actually my...boyfriend.

 ⟴⬉⥦⥦⥦⬈⟴

  Once I opened up the house door, I heard my father’s laughter fill the living room. And of course, all laughing with him was Mom, Haven, Evelyn (who wasn’t actually laughing, she was just pretending to), and, worst of all...Angelica.

  You’re dead, the small voice in my head told me. And I wasn’t disagreeing with it.

  After everyone stopped laughing, Haven seemed to have been the first person to know me. She was wearing her cheerleading uniform, along with the skirt that probably wasn’t allowed for all dress codes. The dress code was mainly there for girls, though I did read it once after Evelyn got suspended for wearing her gym shorts outside of class. My mom wasn’t happy with it at all, so I quickly read through the dress code so she wouldn’t have to go through something like that again. But, cheerleaders somehow can always pass dress code, even though their skirts would never cut it.

  “Baby!” Haven exclaimed, getting up to hug me. I had to bend down for that to be able to happen, and while I was closer to her height, she kissed me on the cheek. Ugh. “I thought you weren’t going to make it.”

  Quickly, I pulled away from her and gave her a kind smile. “I got stuck in traffic,” I lied, taking my seat next to Mom. Sitting next to Haven would be too weird, because I know she’d expect me to put my hand on he thigh or something (skirts), and...the only thing going through my head when I see her in that skirt is “nice color.”

  My mom’s dirty blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and the second I sat down, she hugged me, then whispered in my ear: “Your dad needs to talk to you after the game,” she whispered, making sure he wouldn’t hear her. “I wish you luck, sweetie.”

  Already thinking of the several thinks my dad could be yelling at me for, I nodded slowly and pulled away from my mom. Sometimes, I really wished that I could just get it out of me and tell her, because she always seemed to love me a lot more than Dad showed. But, my mom seemed incapable of keeping things to herself, and Dad would’ve found out quickly.

  Then again, anything new that happened in this family just has to be talked about.

  When Evelyn started going through puberty, Mom strongly advised Eric and I not to tease her about it. Of course, I kept my promise, but Eric really didn’t. So, one night, he joked about her going...shopping, and then we had to have an entire conversation at the dinner table, all about the fact that we were beginning to be teenagers, and that our bodies were beginning to grow. It was really embarrassing, but even more to Evelyn than the rest of us.

  I guess that Eric, Evelyn, and I formed this type of trust with Mom when we were younger. Nobody wanted him to know anything about our lives, since Dad was the main person I’ve ever feared.

   “So, are you ready for the game?” Angelica asked, snapping me out of my thoughts. I looked at her calmly, and nodded.

  “Yup,” I said. Angelica graduated two years ago, and she was almost as popular as Haven is momentarily, so I’m sure winning against our #1 rivalry school would excite her as well. All I had to do was keep two things off my mind, and I’d be good. “Be expecting to win.” She nodded, sitting back on the couch.

  This is something I will never understand about women. They always have these looks that they give you, and words are never even used to get the point across. I mean, I guess guys can be like that to, but to women, it’s like their second nature. But Angelica’s face was really hard to even read. Did she know? One side of my brain thought. Angelica probably did have some suspicion, but if she knows that I’m gay, it’s clear Haven is oblivious to it.

  “Where were you, Ezra?” Dad asked, his voice sounding a lot more of some type of threat than a normal question.

  I made sure to make eye contact, so he wouldn’t suspect my lying. “Like I said the first time,” I lied, making sure my voice stayed strong. “I was stuck in traffic while driving with Evvie here.”

  “Why were you at Evvie’s?” Haven asked, raising her eyebrows. I could sense the jealousy in her voice, but I’m used to ignoring all of it. Instead of just letting the question go, it seemed like everyone wanted an answer from me. All of the eyes in the room rested on me, including Angelica, who had one eyebrow raised. Worried, I looked to Evvie for help, hoping my look said help me, because I could seriously need it right now.

  Evvie seemed to get the hint, and looked at everyone else. “We were just going over some things,” she said. “You know, catching up.” Nice one, Evvie, I thought inside my head. Now you made it sound like I actually did cheat. Good going, Aryn-Grace.

  Stop it. Stop pushing people away. At least Evvie had tried to help me.

  Angelica crossed her arms over her chest. “You were catching up?” she asked, her head lifted up a bit. It was obvious that she didn’t believe a word Evvie had said. This is bad, this is really bad.

  “No! Not like that,” Evvie said, laughing. “Ezra and I broke up in 9th grade, but before we dated we were best friends. And that’s all we are now, best friends. Well, more like friends, since we haven’t seen each other in a long time. But I promise, I’m not that type of girl.”

  “I don’t even know who you are,” Haven muttered, crossing her arms. She looked just like her sister right now, but even angrier.

  Evvie shook her head. “Well, then explain how we went to the same elementary school, the same junior high, I was your best friend in 5th and 6th grade until you kicked me out, and we had all the same classes in 8th and 9th grade.” That was a score, though I’d totally forgotten that the two of them were close when we were younger. From what I remember hearing from my guy-friends, Haven basically dumped Evvie out of her life, saying that she was ‘too pretty,’ some girl drama like that.

  Haven sat back in her chair, giving Evvie her evil eye. Though as mad as she probably was, I seriously wanted to high five Evvie right now.

  “Can we get to the game?” Dad asked, already standing up. Clearly, he wasn’t staying for the girl drama. “Ezra-” Dad instructed me, pointing his finger right at me. “You’ll take Eric’s car, bringing Evelyn, Evvie, and Haven with you.”

  I didn’t argue with it, nodding as I stood up and quickly took Eric’s key in my hands. The room was starting to have a bad tension to it, so I went outside quickly, though Haven caught up to me right in time. She didn’t say anything, though I could already feel the growing pain from her pulling on my arm like that. I wanted to pull her away from me, though what could I do about it? It is what it is.

  Once all of us had walked outside to the car, I got in the driver’s seat as Evelyn followed behind, holding Emmanuel’s hand. As uncomfortable as he’d probably be in that small seat, it was his choice to come to the game. Once Haven was about to get into the front seat, Evelyn stopped her before she could even fully open the door.

  It was clear that Evvie had no effort trying to debate with my sister, because she went into the back, joining my younger brother.

  “Back off,” Evelyn said, pushing herself past Haven (Evelyn was taller than Haven, and it was even more hilarious to me now because Haven didn’t have her heels on). “You can sit in the backseat.”
  Haven crossed her arms, glaring at Evelyn. “Last time I checked, Ezra is
myboyfriend.” she said, both of their eyes turning to me for a split second before they began staring at each other again. I never understood why I’d always somehow become addressed in some type of argument. It was either me, or possibly on of my other friends from the football team. Honestly, girls-well, I should say young women, need to stop bringing others into their pointless arguments.

  Plus, I already knew my sister would win over Haven, anyways.

  Evelyn laughed without any humor in her voice. “Last time I checked, Ezra’s my brother. And since him and I are related to my dad, who pays for this car, I have every right to be in the front seat,” Evelyn said, crossing her arms just like Haven had. “Sometimes you have to ride second class, princess.”

  She won that argument. Without anything else to say in response, Haven huffed in anger and stopped to the backseat, slamming the door behind her as she did. Evelyn nodded to herself, then sat in the front seat of the car. Because I knew my sister was doing some type of small victory dance in her head right now, I turned behind me for a split second to see Haven sitting as far away as she could from Emmanuel, looking out the window.

  Her loss, I thought to myself, turning back around.

  As we drove to school, my memory suddenly went back to Delcan - and the idea if I was actually mad at him or not. I guess that I should be mad at him, because he didn’t tell me about the transfer happening at Oakwood, though at the same time, it was always hard to stay mad at Delcan. One look at his Instagram pictures, and I forget what I was even mad at him about.

  But, all at the same time, he was going to be there. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea, after all, I thought to myself as I turned a right. With Angelica being here as well, I don’t think I was even ready for any of this.

  Once I’d parked the car (with perfection, I might add) I got out of the car as Emmanuel quickly jumped out on his own, and ran to Mom. He had attachment issues, though I never really tried to feel sympathy for him. Eric said feeling sympathy for him would be like feeling sympathy for Evelyn, just because she’s a girl.

  Mom pulled away from Emmanuel and kissed him on the cheek before allowing him to hug her again. Angelica walked past me, almost hitting me on the back, before she went over to her sister, probably giving her some type of pep talk. Evelyn stood next to me, on her phone, like always, while Evvie went over to meet some girls she knew from 9th grade.

  “Are you okay?” Evelyn asked, having to slightly tilt her head up.

  I nodded, clutching my phone in my pocket. “Yup,” I lied, feeling my face already heat up once I had the thought of seeing Delcan in the crowd. “Trying to get my game face on.”

  “Well, try harder,” Evelyn said, lightly punching my arm. She went off to go talk to some girls, probably from volleyball, which left me by myself. I don’t know why, but my anxiety got the best of me, and I turned my phone on to text Delcan.

Me:

  Are you here?

Delcan:

 Almost. I’m waiting for Calliannah to get out of her room, and for my mom to finish doing her hair. Women, am I right?

  Oh, he didn’t even understand that. Haven could take up to three hours in the bathroom, and just doing her makeup. Evelyn told me once that just because women spend an eternity in the bathroom doesn’t mean they’re actually staying on task, but I find that incorrect because she’s determined on finishing whatever she starts.

  But now, I didn’t really know how I felt about him coming to the game anymore. I mean, I know I shouldn’t blame him for wanting to support his school, but I was terrified that Angelica could possibly “run into” Delcan. And the even worse part? Whatever words would fall out of his mouth….it wouldn’t be good. But then, I thought of what Evvie said.

  I need to stop pushing people away because it’s started to become a habit. I need to stop. Let him come to the game. It doesn’t matter if Angelica finds out my secret, I want Delcan to be at the game. And maybe it was just my time to come out, I mean coming out to Eric wasn’t as bad as I expected-

  No, now I’m just lying to myself. None of that is anything I want to happen. I could pretend all I wanted, though the thought of Delcan talking to anyone I had close relationships scared me. And I hated myself for it.

  But all at the same time, there was the other side of my brain. I really-no needed Delcan to be here. And he didn’t deserve to listen to what I need him to do in public, and on top of that, he shouldn’t be stopping everything just so we can maintain whatever it is that we have. Though he hardly ever listens in the first place, I always feel guilt swelling up in my stomach when he lies about things. He should be here for his team anyways, and I had no reason to stop him from having fun.

Me:

  Yeah, completely.

  Meet me in the locker room a few minutes after the game or something. We really need to talk about the transfer.

Delcan:
  Oh, seriously? It’s in a few weeks, so I still have time to drop out if I WANT TO. Plus, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

  You mad?

  Depends on which thing we’re talking about.

Me:

  A little bit, yeah.

  But I’ll get all my anger out on the field.

Delcan:

  Cool. Are you still coming over after the game?

  Leaving now.

Me:

  Sure. I’ll tell my mom I’m going to some after-party with the football guys, that would probably work, and then I could convince Evvie to drive the car home, distracting Angelica. It’s a plan.

Delcan:

  Okay...and I’m just saying this in advance: the transferring wasn’t my idea.

Me:

  Sure, Delcan.

  I gotta get suited up, see you later.

Delcan:

  Good luck out there.

Me:

  Thanks.

  May the best team win.

Delcan:

  Oh, we will.

Me:

  If that’s what helps you sleep at night, Delcan, then of course.

  I put away my phone fast, looking up to see that I was still standing next to the car and that Dad was walking over to me. ⟴, I thought to myself, trying not to show any emotion. I hadn’t prepared myself with a one-on-one conversation with him, yet.

  “You smiled that entire conversation, Ezra,” Dad called, still making his way over to me. I could feel the blood already beginning to run to my face.

   Great.

  “Yeah, it was nothing,” I responded, trying to find the quickest way I could get out of this conversation.

   Dad squinted as if he was trying to see from the sunlight or something. “Who were you texting?”

  “No one,” I said. Lie.

  He seemed to know I wasn’t telling the truth but seemed to have let it slide because I was able to walk past him and into the locker room. Taking deep breaths, I had to find some other way that I could possibly lie better than I already do. I wasn’t good at it anyway, even though Eric seemed more of a pro than Delcan did when it came to keeping secrets.

  Once I walked in, I bumped right into Thomas Wood, one of my friends since the age of early kindergarten. I wouldn’t say that Thomas was one of my closest friends or anything like that, though we’ve always hung around the same crowd, and he’s pretty easy to talk to about things. Though it was only three summers ago that we actually became good friends, and the rest is just history.

  “Dude,” Thomas said, backing away from me a bit. His ginger hair clearly hadn’t been brushed yet, since the longer parts of it were almost in his face. Thomas is around 5’10, though I’m not sure if he’ll grow past that. “I seriously thought you weren’t coming to the game, bro. Coach was about to choose who had to fill in for you, and you know how badly I suck at being the quarterback.”

  I doubt that Coach ever would’ve let Thomas take my place of all people, though I put on a fake smile, and pushed him a bit. “No need to worry, man,” I said. “I’m here.”
  “Good. Thomas is only good at one thing, and that’s kicking,” one of my other friends, Adam Hunter said. He was throwing the football uniform on over his darker-toned skin. “Pretty hard to find out how he even made the team in the first place.”

  I’d only met Adam in 7th grade when he transferred out of Oakwood district and moved into EastLand parts of town. His parents are pretty rich-much richer than mine are-though he never brags about it like half the other kids in our school does. Out of the 600 kids in EastLand, there are only about 10 black students, and Adam happens to be one of them. Though everyone just assumes he’s mixed because of how light his skin color is, though Thomas and I both know that isn’t true.

  And his little comment was pretty accurate, since Thomas’s mom was PTA’s vice president, and basically was able to let her children be in whatever they wanted. Thomas his Adam’s left bicep, laughing because he knew it was true, as well.

  Though I wouldn’t say Thomas is snuck-up, because that place either goes to his sister or my girlfriend.

  “Where is Coach anyways?” I asked, beginning to take my clothes off. You never really wanted to be the only guy not changing while everyone else is. Because I can’t risk watching others, especially with my secret.

  Adam shrugged, working on his knee pads. “Like I know,” he said, fixing them to the best of his abilities. Just when I’d gotten to my locker, and was about to change into my jersey, Coach Lomanta walked in, along with his son.

  “Team huddle!” Coach called, raising his arms up. In a rush, I had to just throw my jersey off, knowing I would probably have time to change before we went on. At everything considering the lower half of my body was on.

  Everyone in the locker room made their way to the center, and I stayed in the back, mainly because I was still looking for my shoulder pads. Coach’s son, whose name I can never remember, sat in the back of the room, looking at all of us. I hardly knew much about his son, though it didn’t seem to matter too much, because when he’d be in high school, I would be a senior. Most of the time, he always seemed tired, and like he was forced to be dragged to the games.

  It was one day at practice that I realized when Coach talks to his son, he never smiles. Much like my dad, he only seems happy with what his son is doing when he finds out it’s about sports, or girls, or grades. But when Coach Lomata talked to us, he seemed excited, and pumped about whatever we were doing in football, even if it was only a two-hour practice.

  I wonder what will happen when people find out about me.

  Would I be treated the same? Would I still even be a part of this team? Would people treat me the same, or would I just start to get bullied like every person does when they come out at this school? Only because people like Haven, I could just see how pissed they would’ve been to find out that I was cheating and with a guy. And once they found out who that guy was - what would they do to him? No, they wouldn’t do anything. Delcan is someone that no one messes with.

  “Ezra?” Coach called. I snapped out of my thoughts and noticed that all eyes were on me. Even Landrey, who’s been trying to take my role as a quarterback since the beginning of the year, seemed to have his eyes on me, too. “Are you listening?”

  I nodded, keeping my mouth closed.

  “Alright then,” he said, still eyeing me for a split second before going back to whatever his pep talk had been about. Coach’s son still stayed in the back corner, texting someone (or at least that’s what it looked like). And the worst part is, I still didn’t know his name. I realized that Coach was still talking, and kept my focus on him, again.

  “Quarterback,” he called, looking at me. “Call it up.”

  Everyone put their hands in the middle as I sighed, and put mine in next to Sam’s, a kid who recently moved here, though is a monster on the field. Taking a deep breath, I began chanting.

  “ONE, TWO THREE-”

  And then on the last words, everyone joined in saying the mascot. I’m sure people have seen movies, you should know how this works by now.

  “EAGLES.”


  Now seeming pumped, everyone ran out of the locker room, filled with energy. I tried to copy all of the energy around me, though my insides were still pretty nervous about looking out into the audience. So, as we walked out to the field, I kept my head away from where he’d most likely be, and looked on the other team.

  Of course, their quarterback at Oakwood, Grayson Williams, was there. Not a nice dude, if you’ve ever met him. I only knew it was him from the larger build he had, and the more fat on his body that the other guys. Not that I could judge. I was a gay quarterback.

  I didn’t look up to see where Dad and the rest of my family were, because it would trigger my nerves more than seeing Delcan would. I simply kept my eyes on the coaches as they talked, giving Adam a fist bump for good luck.

  Almost instantly, the referee blew the whistle, and the game was at a full start.

 ⟴⬉⥦⥦⥦⬈⟴

  The game was almost over, and I decided it’d be a good time to look in the crowd. Though I could feel the sweat dripping into my undershirt, and was in desperate need of water, it was only one more quarter. I would survive. I scanned the crowd quickly before I spotted him.

  Delcan, as usual, was looking good without trying. He was with his sister, and mom, who was laughing at something he’d said while eating a small bag of popcorn. Delcan’s mom was pretty nice, and I know she gave up a lot so that Delcan would be able to live a fair life, though every time I ask about what he means, Delcan switches up the topic quickly. They all seemed like a happy family, and I was beginning to wonder where his dad was. I knew his dad liked football, though he might’ve put off coming because they weren’t just cheering on Oakwood, it was me, too.

  I knew that Delcan’s dad didn’t completely like me, though it wasn’t for whatever you assume it’s about. He doesn’t hate me because his son is gay or anything like that, he doesn’t like me because he believes that I’m just using him. I knew he was cool with whatever Delcan wanted to do or be around, though, near me, he seemed more cautious, and a lot more parental.

  Looking away from Delcan and over to the clock, I noticed that there were only 30 seconds left. We could win this. I mean, we already were in the first place (which I should feel bad for, but at the same time, can’t wait to rub it in Delcan’s face). EastLand was seven points ahead, which was only because Grayson purposely tackled Adam, gaining us a point. But I never try picking any fights with Grayson Williams, because I’m sure he’d do something horrible back to me.

  Haven and the cheerleading squad had just finished their halftime performance, and though I was watching, I can’t even remember the song that it was. But I did know that they were amazing because they always are. Haven had waved at me, and I gave her a kind smile before waving back.

  “She loves you, bro,” Thomas said, wiping his mouth after gulping down water. “But the real question is, do you love her back?”

  I resisted my strong urge to tackle him myself, and just nodded, willingly. “Of course I do.”

  The words hurt, but like every time I say those words, one day I pray that the pain will ease, or that she’ll find interest in some other guy.

  As the game started up again, I tried to stay back, knowing that I usually take way to much pride when I score touchdowns. Plus, I’d already scored more than half the team had in this one. The ball was given to me like usual, but I then passed it to Adam, who threw it across the football field to Sam, who sped up like a cheetah and made a touchdown right when time went out.

  Everyone cheering for EastLand stood up and cheered, and Sam threw the football down as he laughed. It wasn’t his first touchdown, though it was more impressive than any of his others have been.

  Like I always do after a game, Adam and I chest-bumped, and then I high fived some of the other guys on the team. The energy was more hyped than it had been before, but this time, I let myself go as I chanted with the rest of the guys. The cheering continued, though I’m sure that the Oakwood players were already back in their locker, getting the talk of shame. Though, I didn’t feel sorry, because I seriously hate Grayson.

  A few minutes after the game, I had to give Haven a quick wave before running into the locker room, not knowing if she even saw it or not. Because of how hot it was outside, lots of the guys changed quickly and then made it out of there, probably going to celebrate with their family before school started up again. I slowly took off my clothes and slowly put them up, then slowly put on the clothes I originally had on. Finally, Sam had finished his shower and was grabbing his gym bag before he turned to me.

  “Good job man,” he said, nodding to me.

  I nodded back to him. “You too.”

  Once he left, I pulled out my phone and texted Delcan. He responded about three minutes later, simply saying: On my way. Which was fine, because the shoes I’m wearing take more than ten minutes to be correctly tied. I got them for Christmas last December, and am actually surprised that they still fit.

  A moment after I’d finally gotten on the left shoe, Delcan came in his hands behind his back. “Hey,” he said.

  I looked up and actually didn’t mean to smile. But before I could stop it, I had a grin on my face, probably making me look more than stupid. “Told you we’d win,” I said.

  He rolled his eyes, but he didn’t seem annoyed at all. “Never doubted you for a second,” he said.

  “What’s behind your back?” I asked.

  Delcan’s hands came out from behind his back, and he handed out a bar of chocolate to me. “My mom wanted you to have it,” he said, setting it down next to me. His blue sweatshirt seemed to have fit him perfectly, along with the Nike sweatpants just made him seem even more beautiful in person. I remember when his mom had told me she never understood how he turned out to be so handsome, and then Callie agreed. I’d started to blush, and I remembered seeing Delcan’s dad glare at me while Delcan laughed too, then made fun of his sister. His mom had always been so kind to me, so it was no surprise she’d given me chocolate.

  “That's kind,” I said, looking at it. Hershey’s. I’ll give it to Emmanuel when I get home tonight.

  Delcan raised his eyebrows. “If you think a chocolate bar is sweet than you clearly don’t know what my mom is capable of,” he said, sitting down next to me. I smiled to him, and then looked back down on the Hershey’s bar.

 “Did you get your kindness from your mom?”

  I looked up, and it was kind of had to tell what reaction Delcan had to my question. He seemed shocked by it, but also a little mad about the question at the same time. “Where do you see the kindness?” he asked, his voice sounding more than confused.

  I shrugged, because now if I say the wrong thing, it probably won’t end well. Okay, not that he would hurt-change of words. He wouldn’t physically hit me, though his comebacks can be a lot if you aren’t prepared.

  Something about the way he was looking at me scared me in some way, and I didn’t exactly know what the look meant. His eyes seemed to be green, though I was more than confused what it even meant because it honestly scared me more than my own dad did. It was something about being with someone that always scared me, no matter what the gender is.

  “Stop it,” I said, moving myself a bit away from him.

  Delcan furrowed his eyebrows. “What am I doing?”
  “You-” I was about to explain myself, but then I tried thinking about how that would end up. No matter what, I was still more than nervous because I had no idea what it even meant. If he was even thinking about kissing me, I’d feel even more guilt for pulling away faster than I possibly could. “Someone could walk in.”
  “Walk in on what?” Delcan asked, raising one of his eyebrows.

  “You’re trying to kiss me,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. I felt more than awkward at the moment, probably feeling how Evelyn did when I started her ex-boyfriend down. It was like this awkwardness that came with dating, though I never understood why. “And it’s not gonna happen.”

  Delcan rolled his eyes and smiled. “Whoever said anything about me kissing you?” he asked. “You just won against my school.”


  “But you were-”


  “I was what?” Delcan asked, raising his eyebrows. He seemed more confused than he did interested in me, though I still felt weird. Like I always do when I’m beginning to feel awkward, I put my hands in my lap and start twisting them around, making sure I didn’t look up.

  Delcan laughed. “You thought I was kissing you, right?” he asked. I nodded slowly, though still kept my head down. Already, the blood was rushing to my cheeks, which I’m sure made Delcan feel even better about himself. Though I’ve been a pro at staying professional when it came to being around others, Delcan was a lot harder than anyone else. I felt like some type of fool around him most of the time, though he seems to always have himself under control.

  God. I hate myself.

  “I’m being an idiot, alright?” I said, rolling my eyes. “Oakwood wasn’t that bad, either, though.” Changing the subject might help.

  Delcan rolled his eyes, which were an amber color now. “Sure,” he said sarcastically, “Grayson punching down that wimpy dude was totally worth the tickets.” I sort of wanted to mention that that wimpy kid was Thomas, though keeping my mouth shut just seemed like a better option at the moment.

  “Alright, maybe something else,” I muttered, crossing my arms over my chest. More than ever, I felt completely awkward.

  “Great touchdowns,” Delcan said, shrugging. “Though it seems like the more and more I talk...the more you’re seeming to get awkward.”

  I was about to respond, and I mean it, though something inside of me took over, and I pulled Delcan close to me and kissed him. Possibly, it could’ve been hormones or something, but whatever took over my body, I found myself making out with him. It seemed as if Delcan wasn’t even shocked by the kiss as much, because he leaned into me and brushed his hand on my arm, making me want to kiss him even more. Though Delcan sort of had this tough outer-side to him, his lips were soft. He ran his fingers through my hair as we continued to kiss, and I put my hand on his cheek. The kiss started getting deeper and deeper, though it seemed even better, the voice that I thought was inside my head-it was actually there.

  “You two are so lucky I’m so not Dad,” Evelyn said, her voice sounding annoyed. Quickly, I pulled myself away from Delcan and scooted to the other end of the bench, while he seemed like he was trying to process something. Looking at her, my cheeks were already beginning to blush. She sighed when neither one of us answered and walked over. “Come on,” she said to me. “Mom and Dad told me to come to find you.”

  “Did Haven’s parents come to the game?” I asked, trying to make it seem like I hadn’t just kissed Delcan. I tried playing cool, though the nervousness in my voice told me how much I was failing. Evelyn seemed to think about it fo a second before she nodded.

  “Haven said she loves you, the usual,” Evelyn said, rolling her eyes. Delcan made some type of angry noise next to me, though I’m not sure if Evelyn heard him.

  I nodded. “Then tell Mom and Dad that I went home with her or something,” I said, trying to play out the solution in my head. “They won’t actually know the truth.”

  Evelyn seemed to have looked at me as if I was stupid, and that’s when Emmanuel walked out from behind her, his eyebrows in a confused position. Delcan didn’t look at me, though I had a feeling he was trying to hold back laughter.

  I wanted to die in a hole.

  “Hey there...buddy,” I said, slapping a smile on my face.

  Emmanuel didn’t even seem to have heard what I said. All he responded with was: “What secret are you hiding from Mom and Dad?”

  I tried to act like I was shocked, and Delcan began to hide the lower part of his face under his arm. “What are you talking about?”

  “And who is he?” Emmanuel asked, pointing to Delcan. I was about to answer with possibly the worst lie ever, but then Delcan stood up, walked over to Emmanuel, and leaned down to his height. What is he doing?

  “I’m transferring here,” Delcan said, his voice sounding steady and calm. Just like everyone did, Emmanuel’s eyes were looking him up and down, his eyes looking larger. “Ezra was just showing me around. What’s your name?” It was a good cover, and I actually would’ve believed it if I was his age (don’t ask. I was a pretty stupid child).

  Emmanuel seemed to understand. “Oh,” he said. “That makes sense. Where are you from?”


  “I’m from Oakwood,” Delcan said, seeming to catch onto the fact that Emmanuel was looking at his arm. He moved it quickly, and Emmanuel’s eyes went back to his. “But I’ve noticed that this place is a much better school.”

  Like Dad had taught him to do, Emmanuel scrunched up his face once Delcan mentioned Oakwood. I rolled my eyes, but only because no one else really seemed to be paying attention to me at all. “I hate Oakwood,” Emmanuel said, sounding furious. But then he smiled. “My name is Emmanuel. Emmanuel Gatley. What is yours?”


  “I’m...West Young,” Delcan said, biting his lip as he seemed to keep from thinking about the name. I did everything inside of me to hold back my laughter. Who has the name West Young?

  “Cool name, West,” Emmanuel said, smiling to him. Emmanuel got basically all of Mom’s traits, which included his dimples. Sometimes, I wonder if I could’ve possibly had dimples, or how much having dimples would improve my appeal. But at the moment, I was more than happy that he was a ten-year-old who believed everything.

  “And same to you, Emmanuel,” Delcan said, smiling to him. “Now, could Ezra show me the rest of the school?”

  My brother nodded, looking up at me this time. “Sure.” He grabbed Evelyn’s hand and started to walk off before stopping, dropping his grip on Evelyn, and running over to me. Because I’d forgotten to lean down, he wrapped what he could of me in his arms.

  When he pulled away, he put his hands on his hips and made his kind face look like dads. “You better be home by ten, young man,” he said. I laughed at his little remark and nodded like I was actually scared. Only Emmanuel could be cute when it came to trying to pretend he was Dad. He thought it made him tougher.

  “I’ll be home by 9:00, E,” I said, messing up his hair. He didn’t pout like he’d thought I did. Instead, he just nodded and began walking away. But before Emmanuel left, he turned around and looked at Evelyn, who was staring down Delcan.

  “Sissy, are you coming?” Emmanuel asked. Evelyn turned back to look at him, and I found my eyes going to Delcan. He seemed kind of amused by my younger brother, maybe because he was a lot like I am sometimes, but he just had his arms crossed, and his beautiful face neutral. But besides his beauty, I was still pretty upset with Evelyn. It seemed dumb on all levels for her to bring a ten-year-old in a teenage boy’s locker room. It was also even more stupid because Emmanuel was a large blabbermouth.

  “I’ll be there in a second, E,” she said, waving him off. “Wait outside.” Emmanuel was about to reject her, but he then shrugged and walked out of the room. I waited until Emmanuel was fully gone, and then went over to Evelyn and slapped her on the arm.

  She screamed from the pain, and Delcan's eyebrows went up. But as surprised as he was by what I did, it shocked me even more. “What the ⟴ was that for?!” she cried, holding the part of her arm that I’d slapped.

  “You brought Emmanuel into the locker room,” I said, crossing my arms. “What on Earth were you thinking?”


  Evelyn rolled her eyes, putting her hands on her hips. She seemed to have been trying her best to ignore her pain. “I didn’t know you and Delcan would be in here. Plus, I didn’t even think he’d be coming to the game in the first place,” she said, still eyeing Delcan. He rolled his blue eyes and looked at me.

  “I would apologize, but that’s just not my thing,” Delcan said, looking at my sister.

  I looked at him and held back the smile I felt. “And by the way, West Young? What kind of name is that?” I asked him. Delcan glared at me, and Evelyn cracked up laughing.

   “It’s better than just saying ‘I’m Delcan, Ezra’s secret boyfriend that no one knows about.’ And then I’d have to explain that someone isn’t straight.” I ignored the boyfriend thing again because I had no idea when that happened-though felt a bit of guilt on the inside.

  “People know who you are,” I said.

  He made eye contact with me then, and this is when analyzation went into my head. I could tell that he wasn’t mad since his eyes weren’t ice blue, though it didn’t seem like he was playing either. Delcan’s eyes were green, which I’m pretty sure meant that he was calm. Possibly, he was just speaking out of mind, maybe not even meaning to say anything like that.

  “I should probably go back to Mom and Dad,” Evelyn said, some type of sympathy look in Delcan. It was a good thing Delcan wasn’t looking at her because I knew from experience that he hated getting sympathy looks from him. “But first, I have two things to say.”


  “Hurry up, woman,” Delcan muttered under his breath. I glared at him, though didn’t say anything, because either Evelyn didn’t hear it, or she could care less.

  “I don’t exactly know why,” Evelyn started, keeping her eyes on me. “But Angelica was looking for you. She seemed pretty anxious about is as well. What did you do?”

  It’s only been half a day, and I was already tired of hearing the name Angelica. But I was also more than thankful that I’d missed her. I wasn’t exactly prepared to be questioned about who I wanted to be with - it just seemed like way too much. But I did my best to play it off, made it look like I didn’t care. Because the more I pretend, the easier this is. “No clue,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest.

  “You know what? We’re getting this over with,” Delcan said, rolling his eyes. “We think Angelica knows that Ezra’s gay, and something about me, too.”

  Distressed, I looked at him. “Nice going.”


  “My bad for letting your sister know about your personal life,” he snapped, leaning against the wall. He’d put up his walls again - something he always does when he’s feeling uncomfortable, or just odd. When it’s just the two of us, he’s not exactly like that. Delcan truly is a sweet guy, though, his walls cause all of that to go away.

  Though, he wasn’t wrong. I trusted Evelyn more than I trusted my own parents, sometimes even more than I trusted Eric. But Evelyn always came first, because the two of us actually knew the real versions of each other. I know her that hardly anyone else knows, and she knows the actual me. Not the me that everyone else wants me to be - the person I secretly am.

  “Oh, that’s horrible,” Evelyn said, actually seeming to care. “Do you want me to try questioning her about it?”


  I shook my head, knowing how much damage that could cost. “You’re not going to do anything about it,” I demanded, pointing my finger to her. “Understand that? And do not say a word.”

  She nodded, putting her head down. “I’ll just distract Mom and Dad for you, like always,” she said, her voice sounding angrier than it did upset. I felt bad, though didn’t think there was anything I could do to fix that.

  “You had two things to say, right?” Delcan asked, still leaning against the wall and watching our conversation.

  Evelyn sighed, turned around, and looked at him. “Delcan Heslop,” she started. Delcan raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything. “If you even think about cheating on my brother, I will publicly shame you on any social media you have, climb into your bedroom window, and take your manhood,” - Delcan’s entire face changed then, and he looked down before his eyes moved back up to my sister, who was honestly scaring me - “And then, I will murder you while you cry for forgiveness. Is that understood?”

  Delcan nodded slowly, actually seeming a bit scared. I watched my sister in astonishment, waiting to see what Delcan would respond with. “Yes ma’am,” Delcan said, lowering his hands right to where the lower half of his body began. Though him saying ma’am almost made me laugh.

  “And, Ezra,” she said, turning around to look at me. Oh ⟴. “Don’t do anything you’ll regret in the future.” I nodded, then sighed as she did one of those I’m watching you looks to Delcan and then left the locker room.

  The second my sister was gone, Delcan cracked up laughing. I looked at him, almost in confusion, but he pulled himself together while shaking his head. “You sure she ain’t a physco?”


  “That’s my sister,” I said to him, my voice sounding cold and full of anger. I’d never admitted it out loud, though I’ve done my best never to get mad, especially in my voice. It always scared me, because I felt as if I sounded just like Dad.

  And it didn’t help that Delcan’s sly smile faded when I said that. “ Okay…” he said, his eyes watching me in some type of careful manner. “You mad at me now?”

  I wish I could be, but getting mad at somebody like Delcan seemed impossible. Sure, he gets on my nerves sometimes, but so does everyone else in life. I’d never been to the point in our...whatever it’s called - where I literally wanted to strangle him. And even though he told Evelyn what was going on, I was beginning not to mind it as much. My sister would’ve found out one way or another, this way was just a lot quicker.

  “No,” I admitted. “Come on. Your mom still has to be in the parking lot, right?”
  Delcan’s eyes moved away from the chocolate bar I’d left on the bench, and went to me. He’d tilted his head slightly, and his left hand was in the pocket of his sweatpants.

  I seriously think he’s the only person who can make sweatpants look that good.

  “You’re serious?” he asked me.

   I smiled at him and nodded. “Evelyn will distract my parents for as long as possible,” I said, hoping that she was still good at doing that. “So, why not?” Delcan smiled softly, then lead me out of the locker room. Sure enough, his mom was standing by the car, on the phone with somebody. She saw Delcan, smiled to him, and then ended the call before opening up her side of the car door.

   Callie took one look at me and rolled her eyes before she quickly took shotgun before Delcan could get there.

  “Seriously?” Delcan asked, opening the door up again.

  Callie looked at her brother, an annoyed expression on her face. “You can sit in the back with Ezra,” she said, glaring at me. “Everything will be fine.”


  “Who died and made you queen?” Delcan responded back. But instead of trying to fight more, he simply sighed and then went to the back of their pretty expensive car, slamming the door behind him.

  I didn’t like getting involved in other people’s lives too much, so I just followed Delcan to the back and closed the door behind me, relaxing on the warm leather seats.

  “Nice to see you, Ezra,” Mrs. Heslop said, looking at the rear-view mirror. I smiled to her, though didn’t exactly respond. Though Delcan had waited to see his mom’s reaction from her talking to me, it was only about two seconds before the conversation went back to him.

  “Question,” he said, looking at his sister. “Why does Callie get to sit in the front, and not me? I mean, I’m first born, should be the front seat, too.” I laughed at him, and so did Mrs. Heslop.

  “Sweetheart,” Mrs. Heslop began saying. Her voice always seemed so calm, and at a level, like she knew just how to deal with her son. “You know the rules in the car. If you have a guest, and Calliannah is with us, you sit in the back. Since Ezra’s your guest, rules apply.”

  Delcan sat back, crossing his arms over his chest. “That’s not even a fair rule!” he argued. “It wasn’t the same rule when Callie had her friends from dance class over.” There wasn’t much I knew about Callie since she hates talking to me. But I do know that she’s a dancer, and it’s her main passion. I’ve seen some of her videos on YouTube, though usually don’t mention it, because she trusts me less than Delcan’s dad does.

  “If you have a problem with the seating rules in the car,” Callie said, turning around to look at her brother. “Then you can put it up with Dad.”

  Delcan sighed, and she laid his head back on the chair. Unlike what happens when I fight with any of my siblings, issues between Delcan and Callie get resolved quickly. Usually, it stops once Delcan says something rude enough to make Calie shut up, or sometimes, the two just stop yelling at each other, laugh, then hug.

  I know, weird.

  But it was clear now that Delcan wasn’t done.

  “Whatever, California,” he muttered, still looking at his sister.

  Callie turned around in her seat quickly. “Don’t call me that.”

  “What’s happening?” I asked. But even though my voice was loud enough for both to hear, Delcan and Callie ignored what I’d said.

  “You always used to call me Del-”

  “Still do,” Callie interrupted.

  “It’s weird,” Delcan said, looking at her.”And it never made sense why you were only born with half a brain.”

  Callie’s mouth opened. “You always used to call me California,” she said, squinting her eyes. I simply sat back, because at this point, it was just like some type of show now. “Why didn’t you just call me Calliannah instead of that stupid nickname?”

 Alright, them talking about this is kind of cute, though all at the same time, It’s kind of like that sibling love that you would see at any mall. Where parents who only have one child will smile at and think of how adorable they are together (though in their head, they’re thinking of how “better” they raised their child. Trust me, I know. Evvie’s an only child.)

  “You two, please stop fighting,” Mrs. Heslop said, turning down the street. “Calliannah, turn around. And Delcan, pay attention to your guest.”

  Delcan looked at her. “Who ever said I wasn’t?” he asked. I could feel myself blush, which was the full reason why I turned my body to the window. I hated being so light-skinned sometimes, because when I blushed, everyone knew I was. And it didn’t help that I’d been “blessed” with Mom’s rosy cheeks when she blushes. Emmanuel and I are the only ones who have it, and when we blush, our faces basically become pretty red - to the point where everyone knows. It’s really embarrassing, though I’ve gotten better at hiding it over the years.

  But like always, Delcan noticed my sudden movement, and a smirk began to form on his face. I was thankful that he didn’t say anything about it, though the rest of the drive was pretty awkward - at least for me. As much as I like Mrs. Heslop, she really likes being involved in her children’s lives, which isn’t something I’m used to. When she asks about things other than school going on in her children’s lives, I always listen more than I’d expect myself to. Though, I never complained when she mentioned Delcan when he was younger, or when she talked about life before Delcan came along.

  Unlike my parents, Delcan and Callie’s parents seemed to have this real love story. You could tell the two had strong emotions for each other, and that their children were their pride and joy. My parents - they weren’t like that. Mom only cared about what happens in Evelyn’s life (since she’s a young woman, and I guess they have interesting lives), and all Dad cared about is all of his children getting good grades. But Mr. and Mrs. Heslop had this adorable love story, something I never got tired of listening to.

  I’d messed with Delcan’s ring for half of the story, though he didn’t even seem the least bit bothered by it. All I really knew about the two rings that Delcan wore is that one belonged to his grandfather, and the other his dad. He was never in the mood to explain anything about them, so I just decided it’d be best if I didn’t ask.

  When we arrived at the Heslop house, I got out of the car, though didn’t walk inside. I waited for Delcan, something I’m beginning to think is becoming a habit. But it was clear neither one of us minded it. When Delcan finally got out of the car, Callie waited until her brother was near me before she even started moving out of the car.

  “Didn’t mean to ignore you,” Delcan said, watching his sister as she walked inside behind Mrs. Heslop. That was probably the only apology I would get from him, so I took it.

  “It’s fine,” I said. “I was just listening, anyways.”


  Delcan didn’t respond. Instead, he just looked at me before he walked off, not even waiting to see if I’d follow him. Just as I’d assumed - his dad was in the living room, watching something about the news. Before he was about to grab my hand without warning, Delcan looked over to his father. “Hey, Dad,” he said. He took my hand again, and then left the room.

  But even went were upstairs, I could feel Mr. Heslop staring me down, just like Callie does.

  “What’s up with siblings annoying the crap out of you?” Delcan asked me, falling onto his bed. I laughed.

  “That’s kind of their job, Delcan,” I said to him. I remember when Evelyn was too young to go outside and play with Eric and I, and I would always tease Eric because I could get better shots than he could in the basketball goal at the park. “One time, I pushed my older brother to the limit, and he broke my arm on Thanksgiving.”

  No joke. Eric broke my arm, then he was grounded for the six weeks my arm healed.

  “But that’s how I became tough,” I said, shrugging. I wasn’t really tough, though. It just seemed a lot easier to lie about being strong than it was to actually be strong. I hadn’t even noticed that I’d moved, but I was sitting next to Delcan, watching him as he nodded, and then put rested his face on his hand.

  “How old were you?” he asked, watching me.

  The exact date wasn’t clear anymore, though lying never hurt. “Seven or eight,” I assumed, thinking I was right. “When was the first time you broke something?”

  “I never have.”

  How was I shocked by that? He was simply perfect. Nothing bad ever happened to the guy. “Oh.”

  “I mean,” he cut in. “Unless a pinkie counts. But I was three at the time, and I hardly even remember it.”

  I guess it made

since, because not everyone wanted to play tough. Though, Delcan was a boxer. It seemed impossible for him not to have broken something while in the ring. Then again, he was perfect, and it seemed like whatever he did, it always worked out perfectly for him. Even though I’ve been pretty close to breaking my leg in football, I was still a bit confused how his beautiful body seemed to avoid injuries.

  “Guess I was just more cautious than others,” Delan said, watching my facial expressions change. He seemed to do this weird thing towards me where he understood exactly what I was doing, even when I didn’t.

  I guess it makes sense.

  “So why didn’t your dad come to the game?” I asked, trying to relax a bit better.

  Delcan sighed, his green eyes gone - and now amber. “It really isn’t that important,” he said. Though, on the inside, I knew he was lying, and I knew it was my fault. Delcan seemed to have notice this, and he put his hand on mine, giving some type of reassuring look. “It had nothing to do with you, at all. He just-didn’t know who we were cheering for, and he wasn’t risking going to the game and running into yo-” he seemed to have paused, and then nodded. “Yeah, okay, it was about you.”


  I hate when people don’t like me. It makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong. And every time I feel like I’ve done something wrong, I turn into the whiny child. “What does he even have against me?” I whined, seeming just like my younger brother.

  “I don’t know,” Delcan said, rolling his eyes again. “Are you actually upset about it?”

  Nodding, I felt wrong continuing to talk about it. “Hey, your dad is a lot better than mine is, even if he hates me.”


  Delcan seemed like he wasn’t going to laugh, but then he did, smiling even when his laughter faded. “That’s straight up bull,” he said.

   “Tell me about it,” I responded, not stopping myself from saying it. Delcan smiled and sat up as he looked at me.

  “Some people don’t like change,” he said to me. “But even though my Callie and my dad hate you, I don’t think I could. Just seems like way too much effort.” I smiled, and could already feel myself beginning to blush a bit. Though before I could do my best to hide it, Delcan chuckled as he moved closer to me.

  I rubbed my arm, already knowing we were about to kiss again. “Really helpful, Delcan,” I said, my voice coming off as if it was some kind of kind compliment, other than sarcasm - which is what I’d wanted it to be. “But we should-” Though before I could even continue, he leaned in and kissed me. I didn’t stop him like my brain said to do but instead smiled as I kissed him back. The kiss was about to get deeper, and then I heard a sudden voice.

  “I feel like you’d know where my son is,” the voice said, low, and full of some type of anger. “My younger said he saw some kid hanging out with him, and EastLand doesn’t give tours to people.” The voice got closer, and Delcan moved down to kissing my neck, ignoring it. Tough, I couldn’t. “I just needed to look around.”

  “Oh my God…” I whispered, feeling my palms sweat and the inside of me wish I could run and hide. Finally, Delcan stopped kissing my neck.

  “What is it?”


  “My dad is here.”

 

 

Chapter Eight

  This time, Delcan moved off of me. His face seemed to be watching the panic that mine must’ve shown. “Huh?”

  “My dad is here,” I repeated, sitting up. “Holy-what do we do?”

  Delcan listened for any noise outside, then looked back to me. He seemed to have been thinking, and then he got it. “Hide in the closet,” he said. I nodded, and stood up to go into the closet, but then my brain clicked with what he just said - and I stopped dead in my tracks.

  “Seriously?”

  Delcan turned around slowly, giving me this angry look. I’m sure if there wasn’t this...issue going on outside, he would’ve put up a real fight. But instead, he used one of his favorite silent words, and flipped me off.

  I smiled to him for some reason, and he simply took my hand, dragging me into the closet - which was much larger than I thought it would be. I backed up against the wall fully, and ran my hands through my hair, feeling my heart begin to race again. I tried to have been calm, though I could already feel my body betraying me.

  “I swear…” I whispered, still freaking out. “What is he even doing here?” Delcan put his finger up to my mouth, and then I realized that Mr. Heslop and my dad were in the room. I was still really trying to grasp what was happening as I moved Delcan’s hand off of me. How could my dad even possibly think of me being here?

  I was about to pull out my phone and text Evelyn, feeling myself about to cuss her out through text, but Delcan stopped me. “If your dad sees the light in the closet, he’ll look in here,” he whispered, crossing his arms and making sure his voice sounded silent. “And I’m sure you don’t want to get caught.”

  Like always, he was right, and I put my phone back into my pocket. Then, I listened to the conversation between my dad, and Delcan’s.

  “My younger son told me about my son showing around this young man,” Dad said, his voice sounding stern - though off like it always does when he isn’t around the same race as him. “Said that his name was West Young-” his pause meant he was about to say something about how his name wasn’t even “Mexican”, though my dad seemed to have stopped himself before he said anything.

  “I asked the girls about it and Angelica showed a picture of somebody to my son,” my dad continued, his voice still sounding off. “He said that was him, and I had to convince Evvie to show me where West’s house was.”

  Though I knew I was more than ⟴, something inside of me felt a bit of anger towards Evvie, and some sympathy for her, too. My anger was only because she gave into what my dad had asked her to do, though the sympath came from a place I couldn’t explain. All that went through my head was the image of Dad pressuring Evvie, who wasn’t used to things like that.

  But then my mind clicked with something else. Angelica had a picture of “West” on her phone, which means she knows who Delcan is. And the only possible way Angelica could’ve gotten any photo of him would’ve been from Instagram...which means she knows more about him than I thought.

  “My son’s name isn’t West,” Mr. Heslop argued. His voice didn’t exactly seem mad, but more of in some type of annoyed way, since some random guy just popped up at his house, looking for me.

  “I don’t care what your son’s name is,” my dad said, letting all the anger in his voice come out. “But my son shouldn’t be hanging around a faggot.”

  The second the words left his mouth, I felt this type of shame go through me. It was if it was some type of burn, and I didn’t understand why it bothered my heart so much. The word wasn’t even towards me - but it still hurt all at the same time. I moved my eyes to Delcan, who still was looking at the door. I’m sure he didn’t want to show that the comment had done to him at all.

  But it didn’t matter that he wasn’t showing it, because I was more than angry. Angry that my dad could say something like that - and angry that I’m his son. My anger seemed to rise up inside of me as I resisted the huge urge to push open the closet door and start hitting my dad with all my might.

  Once the thought came into my head, I quickly regretted it. I wasn’t a violent person - not even when I was pushed to my limit. And the thought of wanting to hurt my father only scared me that I was more like him.

  “That word is highly-” Delcan’s father started, but before he could even finish, another voice overpowered his completely.

  “Excuse me?” Callie said, her voice full of more anger than I’d ever heard it before. Another thing I quickly learned about Calliannah, she was just like her brother when it came to family. Say one bad thing - and they can throw some serious words around.

  My dad wouldn’t stand a chance.

  I heard footsteps turn around, and then Callie continuing. “What did you just say?”

  “Who are you?” Dad asked, ignoring her questions.

  “Name’s Callie,” she said, sounding just like her brother did when he was beyond pissed. “And I want you to know two things. One, I don’t mind going to jail for killing you. And two, what you just called my brother is offensive, and you should probably apologize.”

  Thank you, Callie. You’re the best.

  In all honesty, if I wasn’t so scared of what my dad would’ve done to me, I would’ve been all over him. But then I remembered something. When I got angry, I didn’t even realize the person I was. It was best to just hide, hoping Callie could say everything I wished that I could towards my dad.

  “I don’t listen to little girls,” My dad said. Callie laughed without humor, and I knew that my dad was really starting to push his luck.

  “First off, I’m fifteen,” Callie said. “And it doesn’t matter how old I am, because I can beat your ⟴ in less than a minute. Again, you need to apologize for what you just called my brother.”

  It was about time Mr. Heslop said something. Clearing his throat, he began talking. “Enough with the threatening, Callie,” he demanded. “You know what are rules are.”
  “You said that Delcan and I shouldn’t do it, unless we’re protecting family. And, that we should never throw the first punch in a fight,” Callie said. Something about her tone made me have a feeling she was rolling her eyes. “But why does that matter? This man just said an extremely offensive name towards my brother. And I’m not ‘letting it slide’ like we let everything in this house.”

  There was some silence in the room for a minute, and I felt wrong for wanting to know what she meant by letting things slide in the house. It felt wrong asking, though when I looked down, Delcan had his hands to his sides, clenched in fists.

  “You don’t get to tell me what I’m allowed to do or not,” Dad said, starting up conversation again. “I’m simply looking for my son, and that word isn’t my problem, since it’s clear I can’t fix the curse given to this family.”

  Curse? Curse?

  Okay, at this point, it was debatable on if I would ever hurt my dad physically.

  “Get out of the 1800’s, man,” Callie said, her voice seeming to rise with intensity. “How would you feel if I said that having four children was a ‘curse’? Of that being Christian is such a ‘curse’ that it should be forbidden? How would you feel if I began hurting the people you love?”

  “I-”

  “Then what right to do you have to say that stuff about a person you don’t even know? The only person in this entire world who deserves to hurt him is me. That’s my job as his sister. I make him stronger by tearing him down. That’s how we love each other. And if you think it’s okay to go around calling people who are different than you offensive names because you don’t want them to be friends with your son, that’s wrong, and it clearly shows what a horrible parent you are,” Callie said. None of this was even wrong, because my dad was a lot worse than Evvie’s father, and that’s saying something.

  “I didn’t know that a grown man could have the same respect as a two year old,” Callie continued. Your son isn’t here, but Mr. baby should give an apology before he leaves this house.”

  This might have been the first time I’ve ever heard so many nice words come out of Callie’s mouth at once, especially all about her brother. And I don’t know why, but somewhere in between that conversation, I’d grabbed Delcan’s hand - and he’d smiled to me.

  My dad took a breath before he started to speak again. And the words that left his mouth surprised me. “I shouldn’t have called your brother a faggot, that was wrong. My apologies, young lady.” Dad wasn’t exactly that type of dude that would apologize after something wrong that they did, and I didn’t understand why it was so different with Callie. Sure, she was scary at times, though she never exactly means any harm. Well, not that I know of, at least.

  There was complete silence in the room for a few seconds, and everyone seemed to have been holding their breath - waiting for what would happen next.

  “Get out,” Callie instructed. There was a small crack in the door on my side, and I was able to peek through it and see my dad walking past Callie, hitting her shoulder, hard. It seemed like Callie was about to charge after him, but Mr. Heslop grabbed her before she could do anything else. It seemed like she was trying, though eventually, she gave up.

  Her father set her down, and she walked over to the closet.

  Crap.

  “You two can get out now,” Callie said, still having some type of anger in her voice. Slowly, both Delcan and I walked out of the closet, neither of us really saying anything. I sat back as Delcan wrapped one of his arms around her in some type of form of a hug. Callie rolled her eyes, though she did smile.

  Delcan was the first to pull off of her. “So you do love me?” he teased. Callie punched him in the gut, and he bent over from pain. This time, I raised my eyebrows.

  “Wow, Callie,” I said, sarcastically. “Nice one.”

  Callie turned, and had to slightly put her head up, even though she wasn’t right up to me. “I’ll return the same favor to you, quarterback,” she threatened. I never understood why she called me that, though I guess it kind of was fair. The only reason why I was letting it slide today is because EastLand won against Oakwood.

  Finally, Mr. Heslop took Callie’s arm. “Calm down, Calliannah,” he said. “Estás castigado por la noche, pero no durante toda la semana, ya que defendiste a tu hermano. Además, buen trabajo para romper en Ezra.” I have no clue what the Spanish was, though my name at the end caused Delcan to glare at his dad, and for Callie to smile.

  I thought it’d be better not to ask.

  Callie handed her phone to her dad slowly. Mr. Heslop began guiding her into her room before he turned back around and looked at the two of us. “Great job on the win, Ezra,” he said. I smiled to him and nodded, since it was probably the first compliment he’s ever given me.

 “Thanks,” I said.

  Then, he turned to Delcan. And said something else in Spanish that I didn’t understand. “No te vuelvas muy loco hijo,” he said, pointing his finger to Delcan.

  “Dad!” he responded, raising one of his eyebrows. “Get out of my room.”
  “Yo pago las facturas, usted vive aquí sin pagar el alquiler,” his dad responded, closing the door behind him. I’m sure my face has this entire look of confusion on it, because I turned to Delcan and he shrugged.

  “I’m not telling you what he said,” Delcan told me, sitting down on his bed.

  I sighed, and sat down next to him, not really sure if I should be texting my family at a time like this, or just letting it go at this point. “I feel like people who know I can’t speak Spanish just use it so that I don’t know what they’re talking about,” I said. Delcan rolled his eyes, but he was biting back a smile. “What did he say?”
  “Secrets,” Delcan said, looking at me. He wasn’t going to give me a real answer, anyways. So I have no clue why I’m trying anymore. “Can we talk about what just happened?”

  I shrugged. “Depending on which part that is,” I said. He had many choices to choose from. One, EastLand beating Oakwood. Two, a really awkward kiss in the locker room, which I didn’t exactly mean to do. Three, my brother, or my sister - just that entire conversation. Or four, my dad almost walking in on us making out. Now that was the worst one out of all of them. But of course, he had to pick the one that made me feel the most awkward.

  “Why did you kiss me in the locker room?” he asked, making exact eye contact with me. His eyes were brown - which meant that he was curious.

  I didn’t know if that was a good sign or not.

  “Can I blame it on hormones?” I asked, trying to make some humor out of it. Delcan rolled his eyes, then gave me this be serious, Ezra Gatley look. “Okay, fine. I don’t know, seriously. It just happened - and - I’m sorry.”
  “Don’t apologize,” Delcan said to me. “Though, by the way, if you’re gonna surprise me with a kiss, I’d rather it be somewhere else where others haven’t been taking off their sweaty clothes.”

  I smiled to him, and nodded. “You wanna go over how my football team beat yours?”
  His eyes seemed to have almost flashed to violet, which would’ve confused me, since violet usually means fear. Though, they stayed their normal green color - which somehow worked with his skin color. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, rolling his eyes again. “It was one game. Doesn’t mean anything, Ezra.”
  “Everything has a meaning, Delcan,” I responded. I don’t know why the words exactly fell out of my mouth, they just did. My grandfather always used to say that to me. Everything has a meaning, Ezra. I never exactly knew what he meant, but then I was introduced to the butterfly effect, and having a crush on guys (plus having to pretend to love Haven), so then my grandpa’s words made complete sense.

  Delcan took my hand, probably to get my attention or something, though it always made my brain kinda go fuzzy, and made me feel like everything was kind of weird, since I didn’t understand why my brain just suddenly stopped working. “I mean the Angelica thing,” he said. “What are we doing about that?”

  This time, my brain wasn’t completely blocked by touching him. “What do you mean?” I asked.

  “She’s probably gonna try to contact me. I can just pull out sarcasm until she’s done with me, or could slowly hint it. What do you want me to do?”
  I’d made some type of list in my head when Delcan and I started….whatever we’re doing. Dating? I guess so. Anyways, on the top of my list, it was something that people would hardly ever know about him.

 

One - He seems to have some type of need for direction. As if he can’t figure things out by himself. Even when he seems more independent than I think he is, him asking for my opinion always changes my mind.

 

  “Do whatever you want to,” I said. I knew that this answer would seriously stab me in the back later, though I had no right to tell Delcan what he could and couldn’t do in life. It felt wrong, and way out of place. Even when I did want things to go my way, I needed to learn that they couldn’t.

  But that didn’t mean I’d stop trying.

  Delcan looked at me. “I have social media,” he reminded me. I don’t know why he did, because I’m always looking at it, anyways. Well, at least when I should be doing other things. “People know me from that. She might’ve seen some video or photo of me, and taken it for herself. It really doesn’t mean she knows anything, anyways.” He was right, since I’ve seen Angelica take screenshots of people before. Though, the thing is, I never know what she’s doing with them.

  And, as if on cue, my phone started blowing up with text messages from everyone.

 

Eric G.:

  Little bro. Know it ain’t none of my business, but you need to tell Emmanuel about what’s going on.

  Speaking of secrets, where r u?

  E won’t stop annoying me. Plus, it’s your week to take care of him.

 

  Slightly annoyed that my older brother was into my business now, I texted back quickly.

 

Me:

  Can you do it today? And don’t tell him anything, alright? I’m fine, no need 2 worry.

Eric G.:

  Fine. But you better be home by the end of dinner. Evelyn and I can’t cover you forever, ya know.

 

Me:

  I know.

  Gotta go. Bye.

 

Eric G.:

  Bye little bro.

 

  I sighed as I set my phone down next to me, more than annoyed. “Apparently, my siblings are having a hard time telling my parents I’m at Haven’s,” I muttered, messing with my hair a bit. Yeah, I didn’t know what it looked like, but there was really nothing I could change about that at the moment. “How hard is that?”
  “Sorry, I didn’t get that - I don’t speak whiny teenager” Delcan said. When I glared at him, he returned it with a smile. “Kidding.”

  I looked away from him, and read the rest of the messages I had.

 

Evelyn G.:

  I’m really sorry about bringing Emmanuel in there, btw. Also, I did my best to get Angelica off your back. You’re welcome.

 

Evvie Hamill:

  Hey, Ez. Just wanted to know where you are. Call me when you get the chance (great job on the win, btw!) My mom’s asleep, so we can talk about anything you’d like.

 

Angelica Bronx:

  Question: Why are you “taking West Young on a tour?” We don’t even do that at our school. You’re secret is just getting easier as it goes.

 

Haven:

  Baby! I’m so happy that our school won! Such a big accomplishment!

  Did u like our dance?

  Baby?

  Hello….?
  Fine, ignore me.

  Babe, come on! Where are you rn?
  Family meeting??

  OKay, fine. Talk later, ig.

 

  I didn’t know who to answer first. Though, I did know that I wanted to be that douche (A.K.A. Delcan sometimes. Okay, that’s an understatement. Most of the time) who would respond to a huge text with just “k”. Just once, I wanted to try it.

  But I knew better than that. I also didn’t realize how many contacts I had on my phone until just now, too. There were also some texts from the guys on the football team, though those didn’t matter as much to me right now.

  “Who would you answer first?” I asked Delcan, turning myself to him a little bit. “Your sister, your best friend, your girlfriend’s older sister, or your girlfriend?” He sighed, then actually thought it through for a second.

  “Talk to the people who are most important,” he said, nodding like he believed it was a good answer, which it was. “So do that Haven ⟴ last.” I looked at him.

 “Not cool, but nice,” I said, smiling. I started to text back Evelyn first, to which she ignored my message (like the sister she can sometimes be) and then texted back “K.” After that, I texted Evvie, simply telling her that we could talk some other time. Then I texted Haven, mainly just to get her off my back.

  I texted Angelica lastly. Mainly because I was petrified of what she could possibly respond back with. But I needed to man up, seriously. Sure, Angelica was a 20 year old woman who had much more power over me, and could possibly ruin my entire life if she finds out that I’m gay. Then, she could tell Haven all she wanted about my secret, and then Haven and her big mouth would tell the entire school about it, and then parents would know and sooner or later - yeah, okay. I’m terrified of her.

 

Me:

  Just tell me. The game is over, and you have no reason to not to just tell me. I can’t see you any other day, really, so say it now or forever hold your peace.

 

Angelica Bronx:

  You know what, it’s not as important as I thought it was. They were probably joking.

 

  My brain instantly realized the first word in that last sentence, and it felt as if my heart had stopped for a second. They? That means more than three people. Holy crap…..I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead.

 

Me:

  I’ll ignore the ‘they’ part for now. Explain, Angelica.

 

Angelica Bronx:

  Fine.

  Are you cheating on my sister?

 

Me:

  No.

 

Angelica Bronx:

  Are you sure? What about that Evvie girl? She’s pretty, and she seems to like you, a lot.

 

Me:

  Evvie and I are just friends. Trust me, I don’t like her anymore. I’m not cheating on Haven with any girl.

 

Angelica Bronx:

  I remember this one time when u and Haven were chillin’ in the backyard. You had your arm around her, and then you got a text from someone. Your entire face lit up. So...who was that? Evvie?

 

  ⟴, she was good. I knew exactly what day she was talking about, too.

  When Delcan and I began seeing each other, we used to talk almost every moment of every day (not that we don’t anymore, because we do. But...school) So, when he would text me, I couldn’t even hide my emotions. I would glow like a freaking Jack-o’-lantern when he was the first one to text. Evelyn laughed at me when it happened too, which just made me start blushing. She said that I had a serious crush on Delcan. And she’s right, because I did then, and still really do.

  And that day when he texted me, I forgot about Haven. I texted him back the second I could move my phone away from Haven and felt myself blush for that entire conversation. I’m sure that Angelica was curious about that, though she’d never mentioned it until now. She always gave me a bit of an evil eye when she would visit over those college breaks, and though I always wondered what her problem was, I could never piece it together. I was sure no one had a clue about Delcan and I…..but maybe I was wrong.

  Well, when I was caught in a bad situation, there was only one thing left to do:

  Lie and deny.

 

Me:

  It was Evvie, and it was one of those inside jokes that best friends share.

  If you think I’m cheating on Haven, just tell her that. I’m sure she’d love to hear you don’t want her to be happy.

 

Angelica Bronx:

  I don’t trust you, Ezra Gatley. I know that you’re hiding something. And I will tell Haven once I find out how you and this Delcan Heslop guy connect. Nice try with the fake name, though.

 

  Of course she knows who Delcan is. Of course she would know that name was a cover up. Of course she would know that I’m lying, and of course she will be as nosy as possible to get to the bottom of it.

 

Me:

  I’ve never even heard of Delcan until today. He’s going to our school for this transfer program, so I thought it’d be nice to show him around. Is there a problem with that?

 

Angelica Bronx:

  You know what, that’s cool, Ezra. But I think he likes you or something…

 

Me:

  The two of us just met, and he’s straight that I know of. Nice job putting labels on people, Angelica.

 

Angelica Bronx:

  Have a good evening, Ezra.

 

Me:

  You too.

 

  I set down my phone on the bed sheets just as Delcan grabbed it. For a split second, I’d actually forgotten that he was here for a second, and then I felt the overpowering feeling to protect my phone from him. “Give it back, Delcan,” I said, holding out my hand.

  “What?” he asked. “What kind of secrets could a 16 year old guy in the closet have on his phone?”
  I rolled my eyes, and then tried to reach for my phone again, though he snatched it away just in time. Then I realized how dumb it was to be worried. It wasn’t like he knew my password, anyways. “Have fun trying to get into that,” I said, watching him as he did something that seriously shocked me.

  He typed in a few numbers, and then showed my phone to me.

  It was unlocked.

  He knows my password.

  “How did you-”
  “Evelyn told me. Ever since then, It’s kind of been lodged into my memory,” he said. Just by the look on my face, he smiled, just like a fox would. “You seriously can’t be mad about this. I’ll let you know my password if you want.”

  “You would give me permission to go through your phone?” I asked eagerly, knowing the first thing I’d do were go through his photos. Yes, I know that’s being nosy, and I know that’s rude. But hey, everyone’s nosy in their own special way.

  Delcan didn’t answer my question. Instead, he just pressed his lips in a line before he started talking again. “Did you just finish talking to Angelica?” he asked, clicking on my messages. I was happy that I wasn’t one of those people who gave everyone on their nicknames, because Delcan’s would’ve been super embarrassing. I looked over his shoulder though, since rule number two was always right.

 

Two - You can never exactly trust Delcan. Well, you probably could. Depends on your relationship with him.

 

  Though, I wouldn’t consider myself overprotective or controlling, and I was really trusting Delcan to hold my phone at the moment. He read through the texts between Angelica and I, laughing at some of them, but adding no commentary. Once he was finished, he handed my phone back to me. “So...not only does she think I’m gay, but that I like you.” Delcan said, his voice kind of hard to tell if he was angry or not.

  I shook my head, oddly feeling some type of embarrassment for him. “I’m so sorry, Delcan. I didn’t think any of this would get turned onto you.”

  “It’s fine,” Delcan said, shrugging. “I don’t mind it. Yeah, I’m gay, and yeah, I like you. But - feelings aren’t my strong suit, so...it’s hard to tell if she hates me, or if she just has this jealousy to her.”

  I looked at him, smiling. “How many people are jealous of you?”
  “Oh, the list goes on and on,” he said. I laughed as I put my arm around him. Then, just as I really did think it’d be a cute moment, Callie came in, and changed the mood completely.

Chapter Nine

  “Do people always say things like that towards you?” Callie asked, standing in the doorway with her hand on her hip. I moved my arm off of Delcan and scooted back, feeling my cheeks heat up. Delcan’s eyes moved away from me to his sister.

  Delcan shrugged. He didn’t even seem offended by the word. When the two of us were hiding, there was only a split amount of pain in his face. He didn’t even seem hurt by what my father had called him. Though to be honest, I was completely. And not just because of him, because it was from his mouth, and that was in my DNA. “It’s fine, Callie, really. You said that you can handle yourself, so I think that I can, too,” Delcan said.

  Callie rolled her eyes, clearly not wanting to let this slide. “Two things, bro. One, you may be my older brother, but I’m gonna protect you for as long as I can. And two, hearing that a grown man is saying that about someone simply is wrong to me.”

  “Cal, it’s seriously not that big of a deal,” Delcan said. He seemed full relaxed by what happened recently, though hearing my dad’s past mistakes really do make the hairs on my neck stand up. “And Callie, you know I love you. But unless your name is Google, stop pretending that you know everything. The word isn’t going to change just because one person wants it to. That’s not how it works at all. It’s just a stupid word. You take it, and turn it back on them with something better.”

  Alright, Delcan could probably be the biggest ⟴ in the world sometimes, though his words were true. It was just a shame he hated being kinder in public.

  Callie nodded, then looked down at the floor for a few seconds. At first, I thought she was going to cry, though she seemed to have pulled herself together before she looked up. “I have something to tell you because I can’t keep this a secret anymore,” Callie said. I looked at her, and instantly felt wrong being in the room.

  “I could leave if I need to,” I said. Delcan didn’t try pulling me back down or anything. Instead, he just looked at me. Maybe I should stay, and maybe I shouldn’t. But even though Callie told me about it already, it felt...odd being here to hear her say it to Delcan. Some part inside of me knew how upset he’d be about this entire thing, and I didn’t want to see his eyes change to an icy blue.

 But Callie shook her head. “Stay,” she said. I nodded, and sat back down next to Delcan, tying my hands together (because it helped stress. Plus the things that I usually do to help my stress are at home) and waited for her to begin.

  “What’s up with you?” Delcan asked, his voice sounding mainly normal - a bit annoyed, but oddly worried at the same time. Callie bit down on her lip as Delcan looked over to me. It might have been wrong, but I seriously wanted to avoid eye contact at that moment.

  “Okay,” Callie began, walking into Delcan’s room completely and sitting down at his desk. “I just want to say this before I continue. Don’t be mad at Ezra for any of this. Yes, he knew, but he doesn’t completely know. So, I don’t want you givin’ that ‘you betrayed my trust’ speech, because I told him not to tell you.”  

  Well, he did have his reasons to be mad or possibly hate me for the rest of my existence. Though, I didn’t know the full story...I just kept what I knew a secret.

 “Hang on,” Delcan said, holding up his hands. “Calliannah Heslop, if your pregnant or something-”


   I laughed, then interrupted him. “She isn’t pregnant,” I assured him. Plus, if Callie even was, I’m sure more than half of that argument would’ve been in Spanish, and I would have quickly lost translation.

   “Yeah, true,” Delcan said. “I mean who would you even get-”


  “Stop it,” Callie said, her face changing to extreme anger. Though, she was also blushing, too. “This has nothing to do with anything like that.”

  “Then what is it about?”

  “The night I got arrested.”

  At that moment, Delcan stopped. I truly did want to leave right now, because of this none of my business, and I feel wrong hearing - and knowing - how this will go down. But then, Callie looked at me, and I saw that fear on her face that was saying I can’t do this.

  But I nodded at her. Yes, you can.

  Callie seemed to appreciate it before she took a deep breath. And then, she told Delcan everything. There were some parts about the story I didn’t even know about, though I was more than shocked by all of it in the first place. But my emotions aren't the ones I was as worried about. As I watched Delcan while Callie talked (not in a creepy way), he never said a word. At the beginning of it, his eyes were their normal green color, but then they just seemed to have been going downhill from there. And by the end, his eyes were ice blue - angry.

  “Why didn’t you tell me any of this before, Calliannah?” Delcan asked, his voice already sounding cross. He wasn’t raising his voice, though you could hear how upset he sounded. “I could’ve helped you. And why did Ezra get to know over me? Last time I checked, you hated him. And you’re not related to him at all. We just talked about this.” As he continuing talking, I noticed how many times he glared at me. But I kept my mouth closed.

  As Delcan continued to talk to Callie (somehow keeping his voice at level with all the anger inside of it), I put my head down. These were one of those moments that I regretted more than anything. I should’ve told him when I found out because now I knew I’d pay for it.

  “I said this before I told you,” Callie cut in, trying to reason with him. “Don’t blame any of this on Ezra. I was scared, and I needed to tell someone.” I knew she was trying to help, but I also knew that none of what she said truly mattered at this point.

  Delcan rolled his eyes, which were still ice blue. Possibly, the ice blue should’ve looked odd on his Cuban skin color, though it was still this beautiful sense to me, and something I couldn't exactly get over. No matter what, he was still so freaking beautiful. Even when he’s more than pissed at me. “Why couldn’t you have told me? We live in the same ⟴ house.” His voice was rising now, and his fists were clenched.

  Great.

  Regret will be inside of me the entire night.

  “Because you were talking to Dad at the time. Ezra was on the phone and he wanted to talk to you, but I kind of hung up before he could get around to it,” Callie said. Delcan’s eyes moved to me, and I bit my lip I’m so hard, I thought it began bleeding. It probably did, though, because I tasted blood. “So, instead of telling him to wait, I told him a little bit. I’m sorry I never told you, Del. But you cannot blame it on Ezra. I told him not to tell you.” She took Delcan’s arm in a kind way, though Delcan quickly pulled away from him.

  “I have all my reasons to blame the both of you for this,” Delcan said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Mom and Dad are learning about this at dinner, and you” - this time, when his eyes went to me, I knew I had to look back. And that anger inside of his eyes killed me - “I think you should leave.”

  I shook my head. “Delcan-”


  He cut me off almost instantly. “Your dad’s looking for you. Go home, Ezra. And don’t call or text me. I have things to do tomorrow morning,” Delcan said. I watched as he walked out of the room, feeling my heart drop. I’d never seen him upset like that, though all at the same time, it was basically my fault. Callie looked at me just as I was about to leave.

  “I’m really sorry, Ezra. If I ruined your relationship, I could never-”


  “It’s cool,” I said, playing it off like it actually was. On the inside, I felt like dying. “You did what you had to do, anyway. He’ll come around...right?”

  Callie didn’t say anything for a second, and her mouth was turned into a thin line. She looked up from the ground and had to look up at me. “Of course he will,” she whispered.

  I nodded and then left.

  As I was driving home, all I could think about was the looks Delcan was giving me. All I could think about as I turned into the driveway was how mad he was. How angry he truly is at me for not telling him about any of it, and how upset he now is with his sister for telling me first. He was going to hold this against me forever, and I knew it. Then Callie lying to me just made the whole situation even worse.

 

Chapter Ten *Part One*

  For that week, Delcan stayed out of complete contact with me. I’d sent some type of apology to him, and he’d read the message, then post some pictures on Snapchat or Instagram. I stayed in my room for more what needed to be done, coming home right after school and then doing my homework. It was odd not talking to Delcan every night, and it was starting to put some dents into my work.

  I received a B on a math quiz yesterday, and Dad yelled at me the entire way home. His voice made me fear things, and all I could think of was the fact that I’d disappointed him again, and it was just another person to add to the list that hates me. That night, I texted Delcan about his boxing game I’d seen on YouTube and Instagram, telling him good job.

  Then, he read the message. And posted an image of him holding up his middle finger with the caption “⟴ off”. I got the signs then and finally left him alone.

  But that didn’t mean he was always on my mind.

 

Chapter Ten *Part Two*

  Three weeks later, it was time for Oakwood students to transfer to EastLand, and for EastLand students to transfer to Oakwood. For those three weeks, I made sure to stay away from Delcan, and not to look at any of his posts on social media. So far, I’d done a great job. But now, I was freaking out more than ever, and I hardly got any good sleep the day before.

  On Monday, as I was pulling my shirt over my head, Eric and Evelyn came into my room. Sighing, I looked at both of them for a few seconds before finally just asking. Callie probably told them about what had happened (somehow, my sister has decided to become friends with her. I don’t know why, but I’ve just decided to let it go), I’m sure of it. Wherever Callie’s intentions were, they sure did spike some interest in my siblings.

  “What up, bro?” Eric asked, sitting down on my bed.

  “Hi,” I responded. My voice sounded odd, but mainly because outside of school and football practice, I’d been spending my time in my room, caring about nothing else other than that. “What do you want?” On the inside, I was trying to tell myself that this might not even be about the whole Callie/Delcan situation, but then my brain told me how stupid I was being.

  “What happened last month? With Delcan and you?” Evelyn asked. When I glared at her, she raised up her hands. “I know it isn’t my business, but you’ve kind of been locked up in your room for the past month.”

  I crossed my arms, feeling like my pouting younger brother. “I’m not depressed if that’s what your asking.”

  “What we’re asking is what happened, little bro,” Eric said. I didn’t want to answer him, so I just began walking out of my door. Though, before I could even get out, Evelyn grabbed my arm tightly.

  Annoyed at this point, I turned around and looked at my sister.

  “Come on, Ezra,” Evelyn said kindly. She had that desperate look in her eyes that she always did when she was upset about me, or worried. “Why can’t you tell us?”


  I pushed her hand off of my arm. “Because this is my life. And when I told you about that, I expected you to respect my privacy. Which means that if there is even close to being a problem with means that if I’m having an issue with the Heslops, I don’t have to tell you anything,” I said. My voice sounded cross, and I hadn’t meant for it to. Honestly, I just wanted it to sound like I was making a point. But instead, I came off as rude. “We have to go.”

  This time, I left my room without either one of them stopping me and went downstairs. It aggravated me because as much as I do care about my brother and sister, they have no right questioning me about something I’m not even sure of yet. And I was sure that Callie could tell my sister whatever she wanted to over the phone tonight.

  I walked past my parents and grabbed the keys to my mom’s car. She’d told me she wouldn’t be working today, so I didn’t need to drive in the car with the rest of my siblings. Though before I could take off, I received a text from Evvie.

 

Evvie Hamill:

  Hey, Ez. Remember the transfer thing today, ok? Be ready for it. Also, I’ll be at school today, so I can have your back through all of it. Hope Delcan and you are alright.

 

  I didn’t respond to the text, and simply just put my phone in my pocket. Just as I’d started the car, Eric, Evelyn, and Emmanuel walked out of the house. Emmanuel saw me, and his large grin formed on his face. I smiled back to him, then turned away. Eric had already gotten a car when he turned 17, though Dad said that we should get better at sharing, so I won’t be getting a car until my junior year.

  “You’re taking Mom’s car?” Evelyn asked me.

  I nodded to her in response, and then drove off, not wanting to spend another moment in the driveway next to them.

 

⟴⬉⥦⥦⥦⬈⟴

 

  Once I’d stopped the car in the parking lot of our school, Eric had somehow made his way up to me, and went up the stairs with me as I bit the back of my mouth, doing my best not to say anything I’d soon regret.

  “Why did you tell Evelyn in 7th grade and not me?” he asked.

  Because all my life I saw you as the same homophobic jerk that our parents now are.

  “I don’t know.” Lie. It was another lie.

  Eric seemed silent for a few seconds as instead of going to his locker, he continued walking with me. Whatever he was doing, I felt completely on edge in the halls, knowing that somewhere, people could be listening in on our conversation.

  That had always been my one fear in school. Talking to someone about my secret, then suddenly realizing that the entire football team is behind me. I’d be full of terror - because that simply would’ve been the end.

  “I guess I would’ve been pretty surprised if I knew back then,” Eric said. Because that makes me feel better. “But you’re still my brother, no matter who you’re dating. It isn’t even that big of a deal, and you shouldn’t let it take over you.” I looked over to Eric just as we’d gotten to my locker.

  “You have no idea how many times I’ve heard that,” I said to him.

  Eric rested on the locker next to mine, which was owned by one of the guys who weren’t on the football team but played basketball. “You may just be overreacting, though. Because you know that Mom wouldn’t even seriously-”

  “Enough, Eric,” I said. He shut up, making eye contact with me. “Just shut up about it, okay?”

  Eric shrugged, and then held onto one of the straps of his backpacks. “Fine,” he said. “See you after school.” He walked off then, now making me look like I was one of the only people past 6’0 in the hallway. Once I’d opened up my locker, I turned to my side to be greeted by Evvie and Haven.

  “Baby!” Haven said, dragging out the word. I had to keep from cringing because I hate when she does that. “I was wondering where you were,” she finished, taking my left arm and hugging it. I tried to pull away so that I could grab the rest of my things, and I saw Evvie trying to hold back her laughter.

  “Yeah, Ezra, where were you?” she asked, mimicking the annoyance that Haven’s voice has.

  I looked over to her. “I woke up late. Sorry,” I muttered. It was kind of truthful, though all at the same time, huge details were left out.

  “Well, at least you showed up,” Haven said. “Did your brother already tell you about the transferring rule today? The five kids from Oakwood are coming this morning, and we have to have an assembly because of it,” Haven said, rolling her eyes. “Pretty dumb to me.”

  I nodded because it was the normal thing that I always did. But then I remembered something. Delcan. Oakwood. Transferring. It wasn’t that it hadn’t clicked in my brain before, it was just that now, I knew how awkward I’d suddenly become. “What time?” I asked.

  “Less than thirty minutes, I think,” Haven responded. “Oh! And guess what?” She dragged out those last two words, too. It’s kind of like a favorite for her.

  “What, Haven?” Evvie asked, putting her hands on her hips. I could tell she was already starting to get annoyed by Haven, who seemed to be dragging her around like she’s a Barbie doll. But I couldn’t blame her, because sometimes I get annoyed as well. Haven turned and gave Evvie an evil glare, then looked back to me.

  “I signed us up to be their guides for the semester,” she said.

  I almost dropped my English binder when she said that to me. First off, it’s rude for her to even sign me up for something that I didn’t want to do. And second, now I had to either spend time with people who knew Delcan or him himself.

  No. He won’t even talk to me. The likeliness of that happening is pretty small, I’m guessing.

  “That’s great,” I said, hoping that my fake smile seemed real enough. “But who else is doing it?”

  “Well,” Haven began, dragging out the word. “Evvie forced me to sign her up. And Fawn, along with Troy from the football team.” I nodded, because both of those people I knew, and both of them basically see me as this popular god or something.

  “Great,” I said. The sarcasm almost came across as clear, but I got away with it - somehow. Just as Haven was about to go off with the rest of her friends, she turned back around and wrapped me in a hug. I was taller than her (clearly) so I had to make sure my hands actually did move.

  “You’ll be fine, Ez,” she said. For her to be able to kiss me on the cheek, she had to basically do everything she could to get taller. But, I still leaned down. After that, she left and began talking to some of the cheerleaders. It might have been wrong, but I felt better the second she left.

  After a moment of silence, Evvie began talking. “Thank God she’s gone,” she said, rolling her eyes. “How could you even stand her?”

  I smiled at her innocently. “What do you mean?”

  “She dragged me out of my bed at my house and forced me to drive here with he parents. Sure, they’re really nice, but she hardly even gave me time to get ready,” Evvie said, pointing out that she was wearing a “lazy day” T-shirt and skinny jeans.

  “She does that,” I responded, still trying to find my red pen. I remember when Haven and I had first started dating, and how she somehow found out where I lived. She used to go over to my house every day without even asking, talking to my parents when she pleased and avoiding all of my siblings but Emmanuel. It got pretty annoying after a while, especially when she began not letting me sleep in on Saturdays since she needed a ride to cheer practice. After some time, she began coming over when I wasn’t even there, or when I’d be in the middle of homework (well, lying and saying I did my homework. In reality, I’d be texting Delcan). She even began coming by some of the days before holidays. Finally, I instructed her to stop, and she cried (fake crying, I could tell. My sister does it all the time), saying she felt horrible about what she’d done, but then she continued it.

  But, about a week after her constantly coming over, my sister marched her out of the door and began locking the gate into the backyard, plus the front door, just so she couldn’t come in.

  “Of the hundred girls that you could date,” Evvie said. “Why her?”

  I shrugged. Honestly, the truthful answer to that just makes me feel bad about what I’m doing. “She was an easy target,” I said. “Plus, Haven’s self-involved, so I only have to pay attention and response when I’m around her parents.”

  Evvie rolled her eyes. “I understand how hard it is, but that’s just wrong.”

  “We aren’t having this conversation.”

  A few minutes later, Evvie and I had moved outside to some of the seats there. I sat across from Evvie as I tried picturing all of this. Delcan would be his normal, chilled-out self, while I’m standing there, trying my best not to say the dumbest thing I could possibly say. But, knowing me and my stupid mouth, I’ll probably do the dumbest thing possible.

  Evvie had been texting someone for the past five minutes, and finally, she put up her phone, and I looked up to her. “So,” I said. “You nervous?”


  “Delcan’s coming, by the way,” Evvie said. “And not exactly. I mean, they’re just students from another school. I wouldn’t say that I’m that terrified of it or anything.”

  I would’ve answered to the second one, but she already caught my attention with her first two words. “How do you know that?” I asked.

  “I DM’d him. And he told me that he wouldn’t have come today, though 1, he wants to say something snarky to your girlfriend, and 2, his parents forced him out of his room,” Evvie said. “But he’s still a bit upset about ‘the situation,’ but wanted to tell you that he’s cooled down a bit.”

  Still, I looked at her. “You texted my-why did you text him?”

  “I’m looking out for you,” she said. Not exactly, I thought to myself. “Plus, you two need to stay on good terms. I promise, Ez. You need people who make you feel good in your life.”

  I wanted to respond, but I suddenly knew that she was right. As much as I sometimes never understood what I was doing, it was probably better for me to be around others than to be alone. I’ve been isolating myself for more than three years, and maybe I should start letting people into my life.

  But it wasn’t like Delcan was doing any better.

  When I hadn’t responded, I realized that Annalise Laurens was sitting next to us. Annalise was one of our school’s news reporters,and Adam’s ex-girlfriend. In 9th grade, Annalise basically dropped out of school for no reason (and she still won’t give it, either) and then she suddenly came back this school year. I sort of did miss her, though she made quite the name for herself while she was back. Ann had started dating other people, though Adam and her were still friends, so I sometimes saw her.

  Though Annalise was one of those girls that was so beautiful, everyone hated her. I sometimes wish that she would try out for the cheerleading team or something, because she would completely dominate Haven.

  “Hey, guys,” Ann said. Her fair skin was lighter than mine naturally wasm so I had to move my hand away from her a bit.

  “Hi,” Evvie said.

  Ann looked over to me, probably to see if I’d answer her or something, but instead, I kept my mouth closed. When she noticed I wasn’t exactly talking at the moment, she just continued. “So...about the transfer thing going on, it’ll be on our news. Just wanted to warn the two of you.”

  Annalise was always kind about those things. If there was something big going on, and she’d be recording. It was probably because she knew my name and how important it was for me to hold that popularity I have now. If I lost that by saying something stupid, my parents would be the first to know.

  “Cool,” I said. “Thanks for the heads up.”
  Ann smiled kindly to me. “No problem.”
  Evvie and Annalise began talking about some things for a bit, while I kept my eyes on the road, worried that any second, his car would pull up. And at exactly ten seconds, there he was. Delcan’s mom pulled up in the drop off lane, and he walked out of the car. Of course, today he had to be wearing that blue sweatshirt and he simply had to wear the jeans that looked perfect on him.

  After not seeing the person you like for a month, you suddenly realize how much of them you miss. And it was now, when I realized that I truly did miss seeing him.

  Out of nowhere, Haven popped up at my side, along with her friend, and I knew that it was time. As if on cue, the principal had began walking over to us, along with Delcan, and four other kids. I tried taking my eyes off of him, but it wasn’t working. Our principal waved over to us as  stood up and made sure I had some type of friendly presence to me.

   Knowing my girlfriend, she took Fawn’s hand as the two of them greeted him with a large smile. Principal Greene waved over Troy, and he excused himself from a group of ladies before walking over to us.

  “Now that all of you are here,” Principal Greene said. His voice was formal like it always is, and Ann, along with some of the other newspaper members, had began writing things down - while one guy recorded. “Grace, Jonah, Yaya, Tom, and Delcan, I would like you to meet some students from EastLand. These ladies are Evvie Hamill, Haven Bronx, and Fawn Smith. While the two young men are Troy Smith and Ezra Gatley.” Both Haven and Fawn waved to everyone else, while Troy winked at one of the girls. I still did my best to keep my eyes off Delcan, and had to look at the principal to do so.

  “Since some of you may not know each other, I’ll give all of you some time to assign who you’d like to tour around,” Principal Greene turned away from the Oakwood students and looked at all of us. “Auditorium at 9:30, sharp.” - then he moved back to the students - “And enjoy your time here!” Finally, he walked away.

  For a few seconds, no one really said anything. I mean, our schools have been rivals since the 1900’s, I don’t think that’ll change now. But then, Haven had to begin the conversation.

  “So who’s who?” she asked. Her eyes seemed to have continued going back to Delcan, along with Fawn’s eyes, and Ann’s. Evvie had already met him, and she didn’t seem to care at all what he looked like. It was clear, even wearing a sweatshirt, that he had abs. So I had to do my best from rolling my eyes at everyone else.

  A girl with white-blonde hair and pale eyes spoke up. “My name is Grace,” she sad. Her voice was sweet, and it sounded kind of like a lullaby voice.

  “I’m Tom,” the guy next to Delcan said. He had dark brown hair, and a tan that looked faker than Haven’s first spray tan. He was wearing more Nike stuff than I thought was possible, and had his eyes on Annalise.

  The other guy with red hair and freckles scattered all around his face must’ve been Jonah, and the girl with black hair and interesting green eyes must’ve been Yaya.

  “Jonah,” the redheaded boy said, holding up one hs hands.

  “I’m Yaya,” the other girls said. Her eyes were brighter than the other girls, and had an interesting showing on her skin color.

   “And I’m Delcan,” he said, giving less of any effort to seem nice like the other ones had. This time, I looked over at him, because it was the typical thing to do. His eyes were green, though: calm. He was handling the situation a lot better than I was.

  “Well, nice to meet all of you,” Haven said, using her kind voice. “I’m Haven, and the girl to my right is Fawn. Both of us are on the cheer team, which I’m sure you know from the football game” - Haven flipped her hair behind her shoulder, and Delcan rolled his eyes, along with the rest of the four students - “The other girl doesn’t exactly go here, but her name is Evvie.” She glared at Evvie then, but I kept a straight profile. Cameras were rolling, and I couldn’t look like an idiot.

  Evvie smiled back at her. “I’m enrolled, now. And I was already in the district in the first place, Haven. You should know that.” Yaya smiled to Evvie as Haven simply ignored her.

  “The boy to the farthest left is Troy, and the one next to him is my boyfriend, Ezra,” Haven said. The second she said those words, I instantly wanted to run and hide. Yeah, the entire school knew that Haven and I were together, and Delcan knew too, but I still felt a wave of guilt hitting me right in the face.

  Though my mind was telling me to look at Delcan, just to see his reaction (because humans are horrible people. And for some reason, seeing somebody else hurt emuses people) but I knew how wrong that would’ve been. Instead, I looked to Haven for a split second before moving my eyes back to one of the trees, right above the tallest person, Jonah’s head. Even if he had shown emotion on his face, I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want him to have any reaction to that stupid label, because it still makes me feel wrong.

  Clearly not realizing the damage she’d done, Haven kept on going. “Both of them are on the football team. So, basically, all of us are a pretty big deal except for Evvie.” Tom, Jonah, and Yaya laughed at her little remark, but I looked at her. I knew she wouldn’t turn my direction, because she knew my connection with Evvie, and how upset I got when people made her seem like she was less than she actually was, but Haven only cared about herself. And there was nothing I could do to fix that.

  “Now that you know something about us, why don’t we learn some things about all of you?” Fawn asked, locking her arm in Haven’s. The two of them have done cheer together since the first grade, and though I could swear last month they were in an argument, they were best friends, now. All of the students seemed to have looked at each other before Jonah spoke up.

  “I’m in the mathletes at our school, and I have a 4.0 G.P.A,” he bragged, holding himself up like that made him any better. I’ve had straight A’s since 3rd grade, but it isn’t like I brag about it every two seconds. But something in my head told me he was one of those smart people that the football jocks wouldn’t bully, considering how he dressed.

  Haven smiled kindly to him. “That’s awesome, Jonah,” she said. “Now what about the other two guys? Are either of you interested in sports?”
  Tom shook his head as Delcan moved back on his heels. Seeming to care less about anyone else. “I’m not really into much,” Tom said, pushing his red hair back. “More into video games.” Delcan rolled his eyes, and that gave me the instant assumption that Tom was annoyed. But then again, Delcan did that to everyone.

  Except for me.

  I need to stop looking in his direction. Everything will be posted on Instagram after a bit of editing, and I can’t risk comments asking why the quarterback is oddly eyeing one of the new kids.

  “I box,” Delcan said. Haven and Ann’s eyes went to him immediately, like that was the best thing to ever do. Fawn did the same thing, batting her eyelashes as Delcan ignored them and continued talking. “But other sports aren’t exactly my favorite.”

  Maybe I was a bit annoyed by how every single girl was looking at Delcan. And maybe I wish that I could just grab his hand, hold it up to everyone and say he’s mine, but no one would take that well. It’d be a happy three minutes, but then my parents would find out - and nothing in my life would ever be the same.

  “Pretty cool,” Evvie said, her eyes watching Fawn as she whispered something into Haven’s ear, who laughed in return. “Do you girls do any sports?”

  Neither one of the girls even said a word, but then the two of them both started to engage themselves. “I dance at Oakwood,” Grace said, seeming pretty perky about it. And then she gestured towards Yaya. “And Yaya is on track.” I nodded to both of them, since I hoped it seemed like the normal thing to do. Both of the girls seemed to look just like what they’d described themselves as, so I believed it.

  “Pretty cool. Anything else that needs to be established before we begin the tour?” Fawn asked, wanting to get some type of information out of someone. I didn’t understand what she was expecting, because when she came to EastLand, she was just as fragile as anyone else was that year.

  Grace cleared her throat, and hit Delcan’s arm. Immediately, he looked at her for a quick second before moving his eyes to the side of me, looking at Troy, who surprised me by how quiet he was being. After a few seconds of no one else talking, and the awkward silence that always followed between that, it was time for Annalise to ask some of her questions.

  “So how do you think things here will be different from what it’s like at Oakwood?” Ann asked, turning to the new students.

  “You act like we came for a foreign country,”  Delcan muttered, crossing his arms over his chest. Evvie looked over to him before her eyes went to the direction of the other students, who all seemed to ignore Delcan.

  Yaya cut in the silence and began talking. “I’m sure that all of us will learn that our schools truly aren’t that different from each other, and that there probably a lot of kind people that we’ll be able to meet,” she said, eyeing Delcan a bit.

  “Sounds nice,” Ann said, keeping her eyes off of something. “And do you believe that being around people with such higher status will help you recieve more friends?”

  This time, it was Grace who talked. “Absolutely!” she said. “Also, about that. Do we get to chose, or do they?”
  “Doesn’t matter,” Evvie said, shrugging.

  It was probably stupid for me not to be talking right now, but I was fearful of something dumb coming out of my mouth. Somehow, I seemed to be the only person in my family who can’t handle being around the person I like, and all my words get mixed up. I’d already made that mistake in 8th grade, and wasn’t looking to make it again. Plus, Haven loved taking attention, and so did Fawn, so I just let them do their thing.

  “So have we made decisions yet, or you think all of you should get to know each other more?” Ann asked, still sounding a bit pushy. I couldn't get mad at her, though, because it was her job to do that.

  Haven shook her head. “We should probably learn more about them,” she said, not making eye contact with Annalise.

  “And what would you need to know?” Jonah asked, his voice sounding flirtatious. I probably should have some jealous look on my face right now, but I’d already established that I don’t exactly get jealous - which is an easy lie to pull off, since Haven believes almost each and every thing I say.

  Fawn shrugged. “Maybe..who’s single,” she said, her eyes quickly going to Delcan.

  Now, that time, I had to avoid facial expressions.

  “Don’t bother,” Grace said, smiling to her. Her smiled looked suspicious, like she was going to say something snarky. “Delcan’s brain isn’t wired to like girls.”

  Fawn blinked a few times, along with Haven, and Annalise. Delcan rolled his eyes, and looked at Grace. “And Grace’s brain isn’t wired to shut up.”
  “He’s lying,” Grace argued.

  Delcan shook his head. “I don’t lie,” he said. “I give the brutal, and honest truth.”

  “And that’s why nobody likes you,” Grace snapped back, crossing her arms over her chest.

  But clearly, Delcan wasn’t done. “And that’s why you’ve been single since you were seven years old.” Then, almost everyone laughed, except for myself (because I knew better, event thought it was good) and Ann as well, who bit back a smile.

  “We’re getting off topic,” Haven said, holding her hands up. I never thought that Haven was homophobic, and I don’t think it now, either. She’s been friends with Annalise since 8th grade, even when she came out as bisexual, Haven seemed to never express anything about it. But something about talking about it just sets off some odd trigger in her.

  But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the same for me.

  “Let’s just move on to the partnering,” Haven muttered, crossing her arms over her chest, looking at Annalise. I’d wanted to say something, I don’t exactly know what, but I probably should be saying something kinder.

  Or anything at all, for that matter.

  “Hang on,” Ann said, moving past Haven. She moved her pale eyes to me then, and I felt the immediate feeling of regret going through me. “I think that maybe we should have other opinions on the whole situation.”

  I looked at her, and shook my head, quickly. It didn’t matter that the camera was on me. I wasn’t allowing myself to say anything, because I know it’d be stupid. She raised one of her eyebrows, but I simply looked at her, trying to make sure my face strayed straight. But it didn’t witch really does suck sometimes, especially when I’m trying to act cool.

  “I think that having the new kids here are pretty cool,” Troy said, clearly not giving any care in the world that it wasn’t his turn. “Plus, the ladies aren’t too bad to look at.”

  Grace smiled, and hit Delcan’s shoulder.

  But Delcan hit back harder, causing her to wince a bit.

  “And what about you, Ezra?” Ann asked, giving Troy a small glare before she went back to being kinder. “Anything you’d like to add?”
  I shook my head again, and seriously wanted nothing more than for this to be over. Haven sighed, and looked at me.

  “Baby, come on,” she said, giving me one of those forceful smiles that my mom does when I’m going into my bubble. “Being nice never hurts.”
  Except for when it does, I heard Delcan say in my head. When he told me the reason why he never apologized anymore, I said that being kind could never hurt, and he told me that. It was the first time I saw a sad look on her face, and I’d wanted to do something to help. But sometimes, there really is nothing you can do to change someone.

  Especially their past.

  “Haven’s right,” Annalise said, smiling to her kindly. “You should probably say something, especially since you’ll be seeing them around a lot.”

  “Ezra usually is quiet, though,” Fawn says, adding herself to the conversation. This time, without me being able to stop myself, I glared to her. “He’s pretty quiet about things, unless we start mentioning something he actually is into.”
  It’s like it never ends.

  Haven looked over to her, but didn’t stand up for me. “He’s just shy,” she said. Then she looked over to me, and smiled flirtatiously. “His awkwardness is actually pretty adorable.”

  And then it was time for Delcan to begin coughing.

  I shook my head to Haven, and silently uttered the words “stop” in my head, but it wasn’t like she could read what I was thinking.

  If she could, our relationship would be a lot different.

  “Seriously, Ezra?” Fawn asked, her voice sounding annoyed. “You are probably kind to everyone else at this school, and you cannot just say one nice word to somebody else? You just met these people, and you have no kind welcoming smile, plus you didn’t even get jealous when Haven looked at that super hot-”

  “It’s nice to meet all of you,” I interrupted, keeping my eyes away from Fawn. I wasn’t dealing with her, because I was aware of what Delcan looked like, and I didn’t care how ridiculous it was that I was being a calm boyfriend. “My name is Ezra, if that isn’t clear yet. And...welcome to EastLand, I guess.”

  Evvie stayed by my side, not saying a word, and I wished more than anything that sometimes my body would listen to me - because I was probably starting to go red. Haven gave me another smile - except it was one of those smiles that meant she was proud of me in some way. And it was hard to decide whether I liked the smile, or not.

 When I turned my head back to everyone else, Delcan looked as if he was about to pull his phone out of his pocket, and Yaya gave me a flirtatious smile - which I hated myself for not being attracted to.

  First words out, I thought to myself, smiling back to Yaya. No worries.

  “Okay,” Haven said. She looked over to Annalise, and broke into a kind smile. “Are we done with everything?”
  Ann looked away from her instead of answering, meaning that was a no. It was like those moments in football practice right now, where if a play wasn’t done correctly, we’d have to  run across the entire football field twice. And in my head, it was as if the more I’d tried to be patient with people when they took forever with things, I always felt super annoyed, as well, wishing all of it would just end soon. And right now, I seriously felt like this.

  “I need to ask one more thing, now that everyone’s speaking,” Ann said. Of course, everyone’s eyes went to me, but I just looked down at the ground. “I’d like to know one last thing. What is something you could say is a large expectation you are wanting to see while at EastLand?” she asked the Oakwood students.

  If any of them were going to respond, they all stayed silent for a few seconds. After a few seconds, Grace began to respond. “I just kind of want to see how these things are different from others, and maybe how different the people are.”

  Ann nodded. “And why is that?”

  “I’m not sure,” Grace said, shrugging. “I just kind of expect for the two schools to be different.”

  Annalise didn’t ask why for that question, and the reason behind it wasn’t even that big of a secret. Since the schools had been built, it cost a lot more for students to enroll into EastLand than it did Oakwood. After news like that was figured out, it was mainly because the people who built the school had decided that it seemed like they were trying to “segregate” school.

  Then, there was this entire rant over most African American people going to Oakwood, while all the rich kids went to EastLand. Though it’s true, even though I hate that it is, the rumor isn’t completely accurate. Delcan’s Cuban, for starters - and his family has just the same amount of money that mine does. Grace is fair-skinned, lighter than Annalise is, and though both Yaya and Jonah are a darker tone, they don’t seem like they even act out - or like the stereotypes I grew up hearing about black people. Though Tom was also white - a little bit tan, but still white - and I thought it was dumb how long that rumor continues to be.

  Plus, the other rumor going around that Oakwood chose all the good students is wrong, too...because Delcan is nothing close to a good student.

  Yaya cleared her throat, just to end the awkward silence that fell between everyone. “I think that they’ll be a lot more things provided at this school, sine budget isn’t exactly in their category.”

  It was hard to tell if the comment was meant to have been rude or not, but I kept my mouth shut.

  “I see…” Ann said, biting her lip as she turned herself back to them. “Is there anything - in a non-offensive way, that you find interesting about the new students?” This question was directed towards us, and I looked over to Troy almost instantly, knowing he would probably say something else about the girls. Troy was never an issue for me - but he was that annoying jock that loved to talk about women as if they’re some type of object (and he uses them like that, too).

  Though, I have more things to deal with in my life, so I stop caring.

  But what came out of my mouth next, it made me want to bury myself in a whole. “Cuban abs,” I said. Everyone looked at me when the words left my mouth, and I felt my face redden more than I thought it would. And the worst part of all of that? I said it with such confidence, it sounded like I was talking about my test scores.

  Evvie had turned her head back, and was trying to hold back laughter. The worst part, though, was the look Haven gave me when I said the words. She didn’t seem shocked, just confused as ⟴. I bit my lip so hard, it felt as if it was already beginning to bleed - and all the blood from my body is clearly on my face, and my face only.

  Everybody stayed silent, and I twisted my hands behind my back. Cuss words flew through my head, but I tried playing it cool, as if I’d never said the words - though it wasn’t working. Not only was Haven looking at me confused, Delcan had his head tilted to the side, and he was just looking down. I knew he wouldn’t rat me out - because he wasn’t like that (with me, at least) but I still felt my face just go red the more and more I realized what words came out of my mouth.

  Then, it was as if my angel from Heaven  just saved me.

  “What Ezra means to say is that EastLand accept people of all races, and of all different types of physical forms. Also, our school has its own personal gym, which stays open until 11:30 each night, and it’s always open to use throughout class,” Evelyn said, putting her arm on my shoulder as she talked with confidence. I still kept my head down to the floor - but was thankful that my sister was saving me.

  Then again, my sister was saving me. My younger sister is saving me from an issue that I caused.

  “Oh,” Grace said, looking me up and down. “That’s an...interesting way of saying that.”

  “Who are you?” Jonah asked, his voice sounding full of hunger. Evelyn’s eyes met him as he winked to her, and I felt the need to practically tackle him against the ground.

  Yes, I’m protective over my sister. Don’t judge.

  “I’m Evelyn,” she said, looking away from Jonah. She took her arm off of my shoulder, and I crossed my arms over my chest, hoping that my face wasn’t still as red as it felt. Though, judging from how hard Evvie was biting back a smile, I guessed not. “Ezra is my brother, and I’m not interested.”

  I was thankful that she wasn’t, but Jonah was still looking at her, and it bothered me. My sister was a beautiful young woman, and lots of guys hit on her - but because of what Dad is like, she never really dates too much. And when she is dating someone, her dating life is more secretive than mine is, especially with me.

  Which in the end is fine - because I never want to see a guy breaking my sister’s heart.

  “You sure about that, princess?” Jonah asked my sister again, biting his lip as he talked. Sure, when Delcan did it, he could somehow pull it off, but watching Jonah do it made me slightly want to cringe.

  My sister nodded, moving herself a bit closer to me. It wasn’t until this moment when I’d realized she was actually a bit bothered by Jonah hitting on her. The only reason why I never hung around my sister was (because her friends are annoying), and because of how many guys hit on her. I guess my sister is pretty, though it’s more than annoying how much guys would hit on her, especially talking about her walk and stuff.

  “Our school is extremely friendly, and it one of the most interesting things about our school probably is that almost all of the football players are nice, including my brother - who isn’t rude to anybody,” Evelyn said.

   Haven looked over to her, but I kept my mouth shut - unsure if I should be saying anything else, considering what happened last time. She wasn’t wrong, though. I was nice to about every single person at school (and if you’ve ever been in school before, you should know how hard that is). “When did you get here?”

  Smiling to her, Evelyn turned away from me, and flipped her off. I grabbed her arm with a swift movement and pulled it down, just when Evvie smiled to her. Not even meaning to, I’d looked over to Delcan, who was putting his head down, biting his lip. If he was trying to keep from laughing as well, I couldn’t afford to even break out a small smile.

  “Would you stop?” I whispered to my sister.

  She looked away from me instead of making eye contact, and her light brown hair hit my shoulder with an aggressive whip. “As I was saying, I really hope all of you enjoy your time here, and...choose smartly.” she said, putting a kind smile back on her face.

  With her eyes still full of anger, Haven turned back around and looked at Ann, giving her one of those end this looks.

  It surprised me that Ann actually listened. “Anyways,” Annalise cut in, using a weird hand gesture. Evelyn turned to her, hitting me again with her hair. Annoyed, I turned my head to Ann, deciding to deal with my sister later. She can be a jerk when she wants to be, something I seriously hate about her on some days. “Maybe we should continue before the principal begins to wonder why none of us are in class.”

  Though, Evelyn flipping off my girlfriend really did seem to distract everyone else from what slipped out of my mouth.

  My sister nodded, and made eye contact with me for a split second before I moved my eyes back down to the ground, where a leaf was just blown by the wind next to my right foot. “And I should probably go find my friends,” Evelyn said. She waved to all of the Oakwood students (except for Jonah) and then left, probably looking for Nataliya.

  “Dang…” Tom said. It was at this moment when I realized that he hadn’t said anything before then. He moved his hands through his hair, watching as my sister walked away. I never understood the obsession some people had with others, but I guess I had no reason to judge, either. “She’s-wow.”

  “She’s fifteen,” Evvie said, glaring to him. I looked over to him, too, but decided that I should probably keep my thoughts to myself right now.

  Haven seemed more done with the conversation than I did. “Okay,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Who wants to partner with me?” Grace raised her hand, and Haven locked arms with her, acting like the two of them had been best friends for a long time.

  The second they’d walked away, Evvie leaned into me a bit, having to get up on her toes to even come close to my shoulder. “I can take Delcan. If I do, the only thing you need to worry about is being kind to him around school,” she said. I seriously didn’t want to be around Delcan as much, considering that I’m not sure where we stand, and also, rumors at EastLand fly around quick. And as selfish as it sounds - I can’t let anyone assume.

  So, I nodded.

 But the minute I did, and she nodded back, I could tell she was plotting something. I didn’t know what, exactly, but her eyes, her body language, the way she was looking Delcan up and down like that, it made me feel..worried. What is she up to? I asked myself.

  And that’s when my stupid mouth decided to talk without permission, again.

  “I’ll take Delcan,” I said. A flash of shame burned inside of me, but I pushed it off by shoving my hands into my pockets. At least my face maybe wasn’t red.

  Delcan’s eyes moved to me, their color brown. He was confused, and I could hardly even blame him for that. But I needed to remind myself that the two of us don’t really know each other, and that I have to be as kind as possible. “Are you cool with that?” I asked.

   “I guess so,” Delcan said, his voice sounding cautious, like he was unaware of the words he was saying. Grace tried to trip him as he began walking, but Delcan seemed to have notice it beforehand - and stomped right onto her foot. She didn’t cry in pain, but she did bite her lip. Hard.

  “You’re pretty rude, you know that right?” Fawn asked, watching as Yaya and Grace glared to him.

  Once Delcan had reached me, he turned back around and looked over to me. “You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he responded. That was one of the other weird things Delcan always seemed to say around people. When I first had to go over (and I was doing my best to keep from losing it, because he told his parents and sister about us - which was a first) and his parents went upstairs for something, Callie looked over to me, watching as I helped Delcan with the dishes.

  “I cannot believe you find an interest in him,” she said to me. I knew what the words meant at that time, because I knew about his past, and I knew what he’d done - but I was trying not to remember any of that now.

  But, like the person I soon found out he was, Delcan turned to his sister and said: “You say that like its a bad thing.” His sister rolled her eyes in response, and it was then when I decided that trying to become friends with Callie would be a pretty large pain.

  And I was right.

  I did my best to keep my face and body natural, and waited until Delcan had turned back to me before I decided to walk off. Once the two of us were far enough away from everyone else, Delcan gave me one of his sly smiles.

  “What?” I asked him.

  “Cuban abs?” he asked me. When I didn’t respond (and was praying my face wasn’t red) he laughed silently to himself. “Your sister was pretty good out there.”

  I rolled my eyes, and opened up the door to EastLand, which was always seeming to get more and more of a pain, especially with Delcan following right behind me. Since his voice didn’t seem to have any rudeness added into it, I was wanting to know if he was still mad at me for something, though it wasn’t a complete truth, because he didn’t really seem to like Haven too much, either.

  “I thought we weren’t going to communicate or some ⟴ like that when I got here,” Delcan said jokingly, watching my face. I turned down the hallway where most of the students weren’t, though I had no clue what number they’d given Delcan for his locker.

  “It just came out, okay?” I said, crossing my arms over my chest as I continued walking.

  Delcan sighed, exaggerating it a bit too much. “You do know that since you decided to be my ‘tour guide’, it’ll be your job to walk me around everywhere, and to spend every single moment around me, right?” he asked. When I looked over to him, I realized that his eyes weren’t icy blue like I’d thought they’d be. Instead, they were green - though it was clear they were starting to turn to amber.

  “That’s not true,” I argued. But I knew he was right, anyways. “Plus, I’m guessing you’ll find your ways around this school, so there honestly is no point showing you around.” He looked at me, and then put one of his hands in his pockets.

  There was an odd silence for a few seconds before Delcan began talking again. “But as someone who I totally don’t know, you should probably pretend, then.”

  I looked at him, and was bothered by something he was saying. I didn’t know what, but he was being...weird. “Stop it,” I said to him, shaking my head.

  Delcan laughed. “As if you don’t like it,” he responded. And he wasn’t wrong, because I had to turn my face away from Delcan to hide the smile on my face.

  Since I was right when I said he knew his way around the school, we had stopped at where his locker was supposed to be. It was in the sophomore science bay, which is the same place where Adam’s locker was. Once he’d looked down at a sheet of paper to find what the code was, he began unlocking it. And I guess this was the time that I was supposed to ask him if he had everything he needed, and then leave, but I stayed put. I guess that Delcan noticed it, too, because he stopped what he was doing and looked at me.

  “May I help you?”
  “I’m sorry,” I said, meaning it. Those were probably the first words I should’ve said when we had gotten alone (well, as alone as you can get in a high school) but, I wasn’t sure how mad he still was - so I decided to test some things first.

  Delcan’s eyes were brown, meaning he was more than confused. “What’d you do?” he asked me.

  “What happened after the game and everything,” I added. He still wasn’t completely getting it, so I had to add in something else. “With your sister.”

  Then he got it.

  Delcan rolled his eyes, and turned back to his locker. “Do we seriously need to talk about this right now?” he asked. I had to study his voice before I could even respond with a yes or no, but the tone in his voice changed again. “It seriously isn’t-”

  “I should’ve told you about Callie, and the whole gang thing,” I interrupted. My parents had always told me it was rude to interrupt people, though sometimes it was seriously necessary. The last time I’d interrupted my Dad while he was trying to give me a lecture, his look almost made me cower down in shame. But Delcan was nothing like my dad. Plus, the only thing he would do is just snap back in Spanish.  “I should’ve mentioned that she was the one who called, and I especially should’ve told you about the whole-”
  Delcan had put his hand up in some way to stop me, and it worked. When he noticed that I was done talking, he shook his head. “Deja de mencionar el pasado, Ezra. Perdona y olvida,” he said. I raised my eyebrows.

  “Translation?”
  “Stop bringing up the past, Ezra,” he said. “Forgive and forget.”

  I paused for a minute before responding. “Wait-” I said, holding out one of my hands. “Was that what you said, or not?”
  Delcan smiled to me, and his smile was kind. “No need to apologize, alright?” he said. “I forgive you, but it doesn’t mean I’m apologizing for what I did at all.”
  “I kind of deserved it,” I said.

  He smiled again, and something on the inside made me feel better that I hadn’t ruined whatever we had yet. “Yeah, you did,” he said. Alright, I deserved that one. “But the whole point of a...relationship is for us to trust each other with things. Even secrets.”
  I nodded, smiling to him. Then I remembered the deal with Grace. “How do you and Grace know each other?”

  Delcan rolled his eyes again, and they were back to amber. “She’s on the dance team with Callie,” he explained. “In 7th grade, she had a crush on me, and I turned her down. Plus, she’s always just been mad that I’m hotter than her.”

  “God,” I said. “That has to suck.”


  Delcan had finally gotten his locker open, and he shrugged. “I love attention,” he said. “And if she gives me more attention than I need to survive, I’m perfectly okay with that. Plus, it’s fun to see her angry.”


  Before I could respond to him with something else, I heard a voice behind me. “So you’re gay?”

  I had turned around quicker than how I’d wanted to, and looked down at Haven and Fawn. Like always, Fawn was copying whatever Haven did, so both of them had their hands on their hips, and they were waiting (impatiently) for an answer.

  Please tell me they’re talking about Delcan. Please tell me they’re talking about Delcan. Please, please, please.

 

Chapter Ten *Part Three*

“Yeah. Is there a problem with that?” he asked.

  And it was as if immediately, Haven put on her sympathetic face. “No! Of course not!” she cried. Then she smiled to him. “My sisters roomate is gay.” It took everything inside of me to roll my eyes, so I simply looked down at the ground.

  Delcan smiled to her, but his smile clearly showed how annoyed he was with her already. “And?”

  “Are you sure you aren’t straight?” Fawn asked him, rubbing her arm. I stepped back a little bit, and simply leaned on the locker, watching as my thoughts were telling me to snap back at her. Though, ‘I just met Delcan,’ so I have no reason to defend him.

  Delcan nodded. “Positive,” he said.

  “But you’re really cute,” Fawn said, giving him a flirtatious smile. It grosses me out how dumb girls can be when they see a hot guy around. I mean sure, sometimes I can blush myself, but with the four years of practice that I’ve had, I’m getting better each day at not showing my emotions with things like that. Fawn was no different than my sister, or Haven was around a guy with muscle impacts, though I really do wish she would at least go and flirt with some other guy who’s actually...available.

  Delcan smiled to her. “I’m aware.”

  And he wasn’t wrong. Delcan knew how good he looked, and he wasn’t afraid of showing it. More than half of his Instagram profile was just him showing off, or doing some effort to at least show his body in some way. That was why when he’d post something new, I would always have to wait until I was out of the way of my parents, which sometimes with bothersome.

  Maybe it as weird for me to actually be...whatever we’re doing is called, but hey, when I said he was hot, I wasn’t lying.

  “Fawn, stop it,” Haven said, rolling her eyes. Clearly, she wasn’t a fan. “He’s already made the choice anyways, so you probably can’t tell him different.”

  I had to refrain from rolling my eyes, because that was one of the worst things my dad would always say about gay people. “They’ve made the dumbest choice,” Dad would say, shaking his head as a gay couple would walk across the street. The last time he’d said it, we were sitting in the car together, and I looked up and watched as one of the men had kissed the other’s hand. “It’s horrible, Ezra. Just horrible,” he said. I had to refrain from saying anything back, and I nodded as I kept my eyes away from him.

  He said that stuff all the time...and sometimes it hurt.

  But not as much as it did when he said that towards Delcan.

  “Woah,” Fawn said, snapping me out of my thoughts. “Did your eyes just change color?” Haven had noticed it, too, and they were watching Delcan with shock - like what basically everyone does - as he turned away from a split second, biting back something. I got myself off the locker and walked back over to Delcan, standing next to him now as both Haven and Fawn stared at him with their mouths open.

  After a moment of silence, Delcan nodded. “Yeah,” he muttered. “They do that.” I had to hold back the laughter I felt at the moment. Delcan had heard all of that so much by now, I’m sure he had his own script for how to answer it. But even Evvie, who hardly talks about how somebody looks, blinked a few times the first time his eyes went from green to amber around her. It’s pretty cool that his eyes can change color like that, though I’m sure he gets annoyed by it sometimes, or when people ask Callie if she has the same thing.

  “That’s cool,” Haven said.

  “How did it even happen?” Fawn asked, saying something before Delcan could even respond to him. I could already tell he’d rolled his eyes.

 “What colors do they change to?” Haven asked again. Now, she seemed interested in him, more than she had been before.

  After a second, they actually gave him some time to answer. “My parents know all the answers to why they change, and they change every color but red,” he said, sounding as if i’d been practiced in the mirror over and over again. And before Fawn or Haven could even ask another question, Delcan continued. “No, I don’t know why. And yes, it’s a genetic thing that happened to me when I was born, and no, I have no clue exactly what its called.”

 “But why don’t you know why they don’t turn red?” Fawn asked, not amused by the whole new situation and everything.

  Delcan shrugged. “Is it seriously that-” I bumped his shoulder lightly and he paused for a minute. Rethink your words, I wanted to say to him, which would sound like my mom when she would try to stop Eric and Evelyn from fighting in public. “I’m not sure,” Delcan said.

  “Does it, like, change color because of the lighting, or your mood?” Haven asked, seeming just as interested as Fawn was. Her eyes didn’t even go over to me once, which was shocking, because she always did that.

  Then again, the first time I saw Delcan’s eyes change, it took me a second, too. I didn’t want to say anything at first, either, because that felt wrong. But when they changed a second time, I actually pulled him to the side and asked him about it. He laughed then, and told me that it wasn’t a huge deal. After Delcan had explained that it was an eye change that happens with his mood. After I went home that night, my brain kept on bringing back Delcan, even after I’d erased the thought. But after learning about his eyes, and how to understand it, I just became even more oddly attracted to him.

  Delcan sighed, and I looked over to him before he could talk back. He hit his shoe into the floor, then looked back up, his smile fake. “It changes when my mood does, so if you know me well enough, you’ll be able to know exactly what thoughts I’m having,” he said. Delcan’s parents and Callie were the only person who seemed to know all of the eyes, and even sometimes, I wondered if Delcan knew all of the different shades his eyes can have.

   Both Haven and Evvie nodded, watching him with shocked eyes as Evvie began walking over. The person she was supposed to be guiding wasn’t with her anymore, so she wondered if they’d found their classes, or not.

  “Hello,” she said. Haven rolled her eyes, and then looked at her. “What’s going on here?”

 “They’re talking about my eyes,” Delcan muttered. It was clear that he’d wanted to say something rude, but he was restraining from it at the moment.

  Evvie rolled her eyes, and then looked at them. “And why is that such a big deal?” she asked Fawn and Haven. Instead of responding, Haven crossed her arms over her chest, and Fawn copied her. “Lots of people have eyes that can change color. Why are Delcan’s so fascinating?”

  “Well-” Haven began. When I knew she didn’t have any excuse to give for being interested, she closed her mouth, looking angry.

  Delcan didn’t even give a thanks to Evvie, but she’d given him one of those nods that clearly meant you’re welcome. Haven seemed to have caught it, and she instantly became interested in it.

  “Sounds like the two of you know each other,” Haven said, moving her eyes between Delcan and Evvie. Again, I rolled my eyes and waited for this entire conversation to be over. “Where from?”

  Delcan and Evvie looked at each other at the same time, and then Evvie turned back around to look at Haven and Fawn, a short smile on her face. “Our parents used to know each other in high school, and they kind of stayed friends until a little while after the two of us were born,” she said. It would be a good cover up for Haven to believe, but I couldn’t. First off, Evvie’s dad grew up in Mexico, and Delcan’s dad went to a school somewhere close to Cuba before moving to the U.S. for college. On top of that, Evvie’s parents were around 28-29 when they had her, and Delcan’s dad was 21 when Delcan was born. There would be no way that either one of their dad would’ve known each other, especially with Mr. Hamill in Alaska.

  But, Haven doesn’t exactly care about other people like that, so she believed it.

  “What she said,” Delcan said, giving Evvie a smile. I knew it was fake, but the smile was still charming in some way.

  Haven nodded slowly. “That’s...cool,” she said. “I guess.”

  Fawn gave Delcan one last look, then locked arms with Haven. “We need to get to class, Hav,” she said. Then, finally, people noticed I was standing right there. “And all of you should, too,” Fawn said, making eye contact with me.

   “Right,” I said, looking over to my girlfriend, who had just now seemed to realize that I was there. “I’ll see you later, Haven.” She smiled to me and then turned around with Fawn. The two of them left the hallway then, going into AP Science.

  When I knew that both of them were gone, I sighed. “That was horrible,” I muttered.

  “You weren’t the one getting interviewed,” Delcan said. “At least nobody stops you randomly in the middle of a conversation and asks why your eyes just changed.”

  Evvie looked over to me, but then her eyes fell on Delcan again. “One more question, though,” she said.

  “Shoot.”

  “What color are they supposed to be, naturally?”

  “Green,” Delcan said. “But they can change hundreds of different colors throughout the day.”

  I already knew as much as I’d wanted to about Delcan’s eyes, plus, being late wasn’t my favorite thing in the world. “For one, Fawn is right,” I said. “We should probably get to class.”

 

Chapter Eleven *Part One*

Delcan’s schedule had five classes with me (not including lunch) which meant I’d be stuck with him the entire day, basically. Two of the classes I didn’t have with him were with my friend, Adam, and the last one was with Thomas, Evvie, and Annalise.

  Turns out, everyone - and I mean everyone - is either interested in Delcan’s eyes or his body. Some people know him from past things, but it really is hard not to be annoyed when others are talking about the person I’m...dating, I guess. Not really sure what it’s called yet.

 

  At lunch, I was sitting away from some of the football guys, though stayed around Adam, Thomas, and Sam, along with their girlfriends (or “friends,” as they like to call it. Though it’s clear which one likes who). Because Evelyn was an athlete, she had the opportunity to switch her lunches around when she pleased to. So, she’d decided to have Thursday and Friday be her B lunches, while the rest of the days were A.

  Most of the time, I would never care what lunch she or her friends had, but the fact that she’d played the “nice card” and invited Delcan over to the table two down from mine made me angry. She knew I wanted to avoid personal talking with Delcan around the school, especially around the time of lunch, because none of the teachers cared at that time period.

  But of course, all of my friends had to talk about the issues with the new transferring kids, too. The first one to start it was Sam’s “friend” named Brooke. I hardly knew too much about Brooke, but what I do know is that she was one of the first girls who started being nice to Sam when he moved here, and even is on the dance team. Brooke and Sam have been “hanging out” for the past few weeks now, and instead of sitting next to her friends, she sits wherever Sam is.

  “Have any of you met Grace?” Brooke asked, stealing another one of Sam’s strawberries. Sam rolled his blue eyes and then watched her as she talked. “She’s a super sweet girl, and I really like her.”
 

 “And why do you like her so much?” Sam asked, leaning into her. Brooke laughed, and then pushed him away slightly.

  “She’s a dancer, too?” Adam asked, taking a sip of his water. Adam always knew how to fit in and stand out at the same time, and he hardly cared what opinions people had about him. I was automatically called racist after a time the two of us posted a video on Instagram (I was rapping to a song with him, and it was the ⟴ clean version) though Adam knew just what to do. He stood up for me, and sometimes I wonder if he’s a better friend than Thomas is sometimes.

  Brooke nodded, giving him a friendly smile. “Yeah,” she said. “Grace has the locker right next to mine, and the two of us got to talking. She’s such a cool person, and I was wondering if she’d be able to sit next to us tomorrow.”

  I almost had to think about my answer before I said anything. Delcan hated Grace, not me. Maybe she wasn’t even that bad in the first place. “Sure,” I said. My food really wasn’t appetizing right now, and it became even less enjoyable the more I heard my sister laugh about something.

  “Cool,” Brooke said. “I’ll text her.”


  “What about that Delcan guy?” Rian said, holding out her fork. I had to resist the urge I felt to roll my eyes, and looked at her.

  “What about him?”

  “Isn’t he the Delcan who...you know,” Adam said. He didn’t continue to sentence at all, and it was clear that for some reason, he didn’t want to finish it.

  Rian looked over to him. “Exactly what I was thinking,” she said. “But that confuses me.”

  “How?” Thomas asked. “I mean, yeah, I understand that the dude did some stuff, but I don’t know how he even got picked for this thing.”

  I wanted to stay out of the conversation, though everybody else seemed so into it. Usually, when there was any new kid in the school, the first people to jump on the new kids would be the cheerleaders or the drill team. The football team usually didn’t give any care about the new kids, unless they’re trying out for the team. I didn’t even think Adam, Thomas, or Sam would care about Delcan being here, but here we are, talking about him.

  “Maybe they just picked at random,” Kylie said, setting down her apple juice. Kylie and Thomas actually used to be together, but they weren’t anymore now. I think they were dating in 9th grade or something, but I never really asked him about it after Kylie started dating Greg. “I mean, that’s what our school did.”

  Adam nodded in agreement. “I agree,” he said. “Plus, if they did do it by academics, or attitude, Ezra would definitely be over at Oakwood.”

  I looked over to him and bumped his shoulder. “Not true.”

  “True,” Thomas argued. “I got a C on our last math test, man. Got grounded for the next week because of it.”

  “I got a B,” I said, trying to help the situation. And even though all of my friends could care less about that (since it was a high B) it didn’t mean anything for me. Anything below a B in my house was looked down upon, and it didn’t help that nobody was on my side at that time. Dad almost grounded me for it, but somehow, my mom talked him out of it. And it didn’t even help that Delcan wasn’t talking to me at all.

  Rian and Brooke looked at me. “Good for you, Ez,” Brooke said. I could hear the sarcasm in her voice, but I simply gave her a sly smile, then moved back to eating my food.

  “And how does Evelyn know him?” Rian asked, watching as my younger sister laughed at something Delcan had whispered to her. I had to resist the urge I felt to roll my eyes, and turned back around quickly. “I mean, I wish I knew hot people like that.”

  Adam looked over to her. “I’m not hot?”

  “You have biceps, Ad,” Kylie said, biting her lip as she said it. “But for sure, you don’t have abs like he does.”

  Brooke laughed as Adam slumped back in his chair, and then she looked over to me. “But how did you know about the abs thingy?” she asked me.

  I looked up from texting Evelyn to stop, and it was like my mind understood what she’d just told me. The video was already posted...great. I hadn’t even thought of any excuse when somebody asked me about it, and now I was faced with an issue.

  Everyone looked at me as I came up with one of the worst answers ever.

  “Doesn’t mean I know him,” I said. “Plus, I’m not allowed to hang out with people like him in the first place.”

  Brooke rolled her eyes. “I don’t care how much my parents would hate him,” she said. “I totally understand why Evelyn’s talking to him.”

  I really wanted to ask Brooke how she could've watched the video and missed the obvious note that Delcan’s gay, and he wants nothing to do with basically anyone - especially girls. But keeping my mouth shut and taking a long gulp of my water kept the words inside of my head.

 

Chapter Eleven *Part Two*

  “Same, girlfriend,” Rian said, turning back around in her chair. “I might not be able to actually date him, he’s not too bad for views.”

 Kylie looked over to her, shocked. “Why would you like someone you can’t even date?” she asked. Brooke laughed out loud, as Rian bit her lip from doing the same. “It’s seriously dumb. Plus, we’re around three hot guys right now.”

  As you can see, the conversation is always praising the women.

  “But Ezra isn’t single,” Brooke said.

  “And I’m loyal too,” I said before Rian could continue. “So don’t assume I’ll cheat on Haven.”

  But I already was cheating on her, she just didn’t know.

  Adam laughed at me. “Oh,” he laughed jokingly. But there are so many hot g-girls in this school you could be with.” When he’d paused, it seemed like all of the emotion drained from his face when he stumbled on the word ‘girls,’ and I had to look away from him because of it.

  “Anyone one else worried about practice tonight?” I asked, wanting to change the subject so badly it hurt.

  Thomas shrugged. “We won that game-”

  “And I made the touchdown,” Sam cut in, raising his hand up. Brooke laughed again as she leaned onto Sam, and it was almost like he was about to kiss her. Rian and Kylie smiled too, but they said anything.

  “But it doesn’t mean he won’t be hard on us,” Adam said. “You know how coach is. I messed up more than once against Oakwood.”

  “They were so easy to beat,” I said. And it wasn’t in a rude way at all, it was just facts. Grayson Williams was an alright player, but I was a much better quarterback than he was, and he knew it. On top of that, half of the guys tried picking fights with Adam, so they got a lot more points taken away because of that.

  Thomas nodded. “True,” he said.

  “And no one wants to mention the amazing dance we had?” Kylie asked. She was a cheerleader as well. “One of the flyers,” Haven said to me once. Whatever that means. Kylie was probably a bit thinner than Haven, but I was guessing that was nothing anybody wanted to hear. And unlike Haven, Kylie looked a lot more like a stereotypical cheerleader. Thin body, blonde hair and blue eyes, and rich parents.

  Sam laughed out loud. “All of you did amazing,” he said. Brooke was still leaning on him, but I guess all of us were just ignoring it.

  I wanted to respond, and agree by saying how amazing my girlfriend did (even though I don’t remember the performance), but my mind was more directed to Evelyn laughing about something Delcan had said again. She was smart enough to know that it would irritate the crap out of me, and I knew there’d be no way to get back at her for it.

  “Ezra?” Thomas asked, looking at me. My head snapped back around quickly, and I made direct eye contact with him.

  “What up?”

  “You cool, man?” Adam asked me. Thomas looked down quickly as I moved my eyes over to Adam. “Seem pretty distracted right now.”
  I shook my head and forced the sound of my sister’s laughter out of my head. “Thinking about things,” I said. And I was thinking, just not about anything else that is happening. I wanted to leave because getting past the seniors to my next class would take some time anyway, but I walked to my next class with Haven, anyways.

  “Where’s Haven?” Kylie asked me. I actually had to look away from her in order to find where my girlfriend was. Turns out, she was at her usual table, not wearing her cheer uniform, and was laughing with some of her cheer friends. I knew all of them, and all of them knew me, but it didn’t mean any of them annoyed me at certain times.

  I looked at Kylie again and smiled. “Cheer table,” I said.

  Kylie rolled her eyes, then rested her chin on Thomas as he scrolled through his phone. I looked down when my phone buzzed but almost started a riot after I saw the text from my younger sister.

 

Evelyn G.:

  Delcan is SUPER awesome. Kinda weird how the two of u know each other tho...

    ⟴⬉⥦⥦⥦⬈⟴

  In my last class of the day, and both Delcan and Evvie were in it. Of course, Delcan basically had to introduce himself, which you could tell he was annoyed by, and then he had to wait to be seated.

  The girl I was sitting next to, Jeannie Smith, had been my AP lab partner since 9th grade, and we always seemed to be on the same page with things. Haven had actually gotten jealous of Jeannie because I chose her over my own girlfriend for a huge project we had in science, but it was for a reason. Sure, Haven’s smart, and she gets A’s on everything, but that doesn’t mean she works well with people. Haven gets whatever she wants, and doesn’t know how to take no for an answer, but Jeannie works with people - the only reason I’m nicer to her than most of the other people in science.

  But I wasn’t expecting what came out of Mrs.Walton’s mouth.

  “Jeannie, how about you switch seats with Cameron,” she said. Jeannie gave me a sad smile before she stood up, grabbed her things, and moved away. My mind didn’t even put together what was happening until it was too late. “And Mr. Heslop, you can take a seat next to Ezra.”

  ⟴.

  Delcan sighed in annoyance, and then sat down next to me. I knew there’d be no possible way for me to protest against him, so I had to simply look at her as she walked to her desk. Why? I wanted to ask her. Why, why, why? Why do you hate me? Delcan had already built a wall between the two of us by setting his books there, and I had to rest my arm on my chin as Mrs.Walton began class.

  Evvie got the gift of sitting next to Thomas, who she remembered highly from 8th and 9th grade. My 6th period AP science partner was sitting next to Landrey now, and here I was - next to the one person who makes me blush all the time.

  At the start of the lesson, Delcan didn’t even try to make any eye contact with me. I guess he was just used to being hidden, too.

 

Chapter Eleven *Part Three*

 The rest of the class was basically a huge blur. I couldn’t concentrate on the lesson with Delcan right next to me, but he seemed fine now. Half of the guys and girls that are new this year were trying to become friends with her, while Thomas was flirting up a storm. But I knew that Evvie didn’t care, because she’s always been a fan of attention.

   When the dismissal bell rang, I jumped up from my seat (faster than I should’ve) and walked out of the room quickly. Before I’d left, Evvie walked over to Delcan and began talking to him about something. The end of the day just didn’t seem to work for me at all.

  As I was walking to my locker, a sudden realization hit me. Delcan was right. In every class I had with him, he was either next to me, or near me. Since I’d opened my mouth and had said to be his guide, karma was coming back to bite me. After I’d grabbed my homework, I was walking out of the school before someone had grabbed my arm.

  Because of the goosebumps I felt on my skin, I didn’t even have to turn around to know it was Delcan.

  “Hey…” I said. And then I’d realized the douche I’ve been. “Sorry about the avoiding thing, I just-”

  “I’ve heard that from your mouth too many times, Ezra,” he said, rolling his eyes. They were green, which made me feel better about my insecurities. “I get it. It’s cool.”

  I nodded. “Cool.”

After a short moment of silence, Delcan began talking again, and my eyes moved to the blue sweatshirt. “My parents wanted to talk to you about the...Callie thing. They need to have your input or something like that.”

  I tilted my head slightly, looking at him confused. “Everything Callie told you last month is all I know,” I said. And that was the honest truth. Callie didn’t even tell me everything that happened when I’d meant to be calling Delcan, but I only learned how much Delcan did when she mentioned all of it last month.

  Delcan shrugged. “My parents want to see you after dinner,” he said. “Just text me if you can come or not.” I nodded as he walked away from me. I hadn’t expected for Callie to be in the car, but she was sitting there in the front seat. Delcan opened the door and began talking to her, while Callie rolled her eyes, and hit his arm before getting into the back seat.

  I couldn’t help but smile and then walked off. Maybe I should’ve asked Delcan’s parents about whatever they wanted to talk about then, but I was still lost. Callie told Delcan everything, so why didn’t they just question him about all of it? Whatever the case was, I simply had to give it up now.

  After looking around outside of school for a bit, I paused and realized Eric wasn’t there. The minute I realized it was past 3:30, I texted him: where are you?

  I shoved my phone in my pocket the second I saw Haven and her “squad” coming over.

  “Hi, babe,” Haven said.

  I looked at her and smiled. “Hey.”

  Haven turned around to look at her friends. “Girls, I need to talk to Ez alone for a bit,” she said. “Wait in the gym for me, okay?” They all nodded their heads as if they were programmed robots, and one of them waved to me. Haven grabbed my arm and rested on me.

   “What’s up, beautiful?” I asked her. And no, I’ not trying to be flirty. I say that to Evvie all the time, and I couldn’t even imagine dating her again. But Haven smiled as she shook her head.

  “Think you could come over tonight? Angelica and my parents would love to have you over for dinner,” Haven said. Of course-tonight was the night her parents wanted me around. I would’ve said yes, but I had already made a promise to Delcan.

  I shook my head. “Can’t, Haven.”

  She leaned in towards me, sadness in her eyes. “Why not?” she asked, dragging out the words.

  “Because,” I said. The lie came into my mind quickly, and I just followed what my brain told me to do. “My aunts and uncles are coming over tonight, and my dad would kill me if I missed it.”

  She understood it and put her head down. “Okay,” she said softly. I felt bad for hurting her, but there was nothing I could do to even stop it. She looked up at me then and smiled. “Maybe another night then?”

  I nodded because I knew if I said no - I would regret it later. She smiled, and then kissed me on the cheek. Of course, she had to lean up in order to do it, but she still found out a way. Without another word, Haven waved to me and then ran off to cheer.

  As I watched her leave, I realized that I was failing. I mean, Haven could be selfish when she wanted to be, but sometimes, she was a pretty sweet girl. I feel like she’s kind of like Delcan in that sense - she acts a certain way around everyone else, but something inside tells me she’s nothing like that.

  The difference is, I don’t know what her other side is like.

  I sat down on the outside benches and scrolled through Instagram. It wasn’t like there was anything else to do, so I simply went through my followers' posts, hoping that there would actually be something interesting on social media.

 

Chapter Twelve

 

 When I checked the time again, it was almost four, and I was beginning to worry about my siblings. Usually, it only takes Evelyn ten minutes to walk back from EastLand’s junior high, but Eric wasn’t there, either. I knew that Mom was picking Emmanuel up from elementary school, which is why I wasn’t as worried, but it still bothered me.

  After another three minutes, I just decided to text Evelyn.

 

Me:

  Evelyn, where are you?

 

  In less than a few minutes, she responded.

 

Evelyn G.:

  Think Mom and Dad would be mad if I spent some time at a friends house?

  I’d be back before dinner ended.

 

Me:

  Depends...who is the gender of this friend, do I know them, and what’s their full name?

 

Evelyn G.:

  Jesus...when did I get a third parent?

 

Me:

  Answer the questions, then you’re off the hook.

 

Evelyn G.:

  You’re ridiculous.

  Her name is Harmoni R. Cross, and she’s fifteen. The two of us have math, science, and lunch together (plus she’s on the volleyball team). You may know her half brother, Yael Cross. Harmoni doesn’t do anything bad, though.

 

  Yael Cross? If he actually did go to EastLand, he wasn't in sports. I knew all the football, basketball, track, soccer, and baseball team, but his name didn’t ring any bells. I’d heard the name being announced during an assembly for second place (I was first, and Dad bragged about it the whole way home) but it wasn’t someone I knew.

  Then again, Evelyn was trustworthy. She’d never done anything bad before, and when she did, she never actually got caught. And last month she had gone to a party that had alcohol at it, and she came back sober. She’d never been suspended, and always did what Mom and Dad told her to do. But I did just the same thing, though half of my life is an entire lie - because I don’t even deserve the treatment I get. I’ve lied to Mom and Dad more than I should’ve, and I’m hiding who I actually like from them. My parents knew nothing about who their real son is, they just know what everybody else expects from me - perfection.

  And that's why I couldn’t let Evelyn do anything. Though I think it’s better that she asked, if Evelyn is caught doing anything bad, our parents will question the ⟴ out of us, and I can’t have that. It was selfish, sure. But nobody’s perfect.

 

Me:

  Probably not the best idea. I’m not the adult in the house, anyways.

 

Evelyn G.:

  I knew that you never trusted me.

 

  I rolled my eyes, and left my sister’s message on read. I knew that you never trusted me. That’s a lie, and she knows it. I trusted her more than I trusted Eric, which is why I came out to her first. I waited a few seconds and then checked my phone again. Eric hadn’t texted back, and he hadn’t even read the text. What was he doing?

  Pressing the call button, I put my phone against my ear and waited. It’d been a while since school ended, and he had no reason not to be driving us home right now.

  After a few rings, he finally answered.

  “Hello?” he whispered.

  “We need to get home before Mom and Dad get all of us grounded,” I said. “Just so you know, curfew is at 5:00 for you.” It was dumb how our curfews worked. Evelyn could stay out until 9:45, I could stay out until about 10:30, and Eric was only allowed out until 5:30 (unless he had a pretty good excuse. He got in some deep trouble at a party, so Dad’s going hard on him).

  Eric sighed annoyingly before he whispered into the phone again. “Kinda busy, man,” he said. “Tell Mom and Dad I’m...studying at the library.”
  “Because that’s believable,” I said sarcastically.

  “Bye, Ezra.”

  I would’ve said bye back, but he’d already hung up. I was actually thankful that things hadn’t changed ever since I told Eric. He still was annoyed with me all the time, and I was thankful that nothing has changed between the two of us.

  Evelyn showed up five or ten minutes later, her arms crossed over her chest. She looked angry, especially at me - but it wasn’t completely my fault.

  “We gotta go,” I said, pulling my keys out of my jean pocket. I was the only one who had another key to Eric’s car, and it was because of situations like this. Also because Eric doesn’t like sharing anything. “Mom and Dad will be asking where we are.”
  “Then come up with an excuse,” Evelyn said, opening the car door. “I’m sure Delcan taught you all about those.” I hesitated for a moment before getting into the car. There was no reason to argue over something that probably was true in the first place.

  The entire car ride, neither of us said a word to each other. It was only weird because Evelyn was always cheerful, and now she was acting like Emmanuel when he doesn’t get his way. I don’t get how not going over to a friend’s house bothers her that much. I’m used to Dad saying no. “Study,” he’ll say. Or, “You need to practice your throws, Ace. Try harder. No friend’s house.”

  When we finally reached our house, Emmanuel burst out the door, running to me with all of his power. As he wrapped his arms around me, Evelyn slammed the car door shut, and stormed inside, ignoring Emmanuel.

  “Where were you two?” my younger brother asked, pulling away from me. “And where is Eric?”

  I shrugged. “No worries,” I said. “We’re here now.” Emmanuel pouted his lip, but didn’t say anything to me until I was about to walk into the front door. And then, in a small whisper, he talked back like Eric does to our parents.

  “I have three siblings, not two,” Emmanuel said. But he kept his voice quiet enough to where he didn’t think I heard him. I smiled and shook my head, then walked inside. In the living room, Evelyn was sitting on the couch, scrolling through her social media accounts.

  She must’ve noticed my presence, because she turned around and looked for the TV remote. “Where’s Eric?” she asked, her voice sounding dull as she turned on the TV.

  “Detention, I think,” I said. Evelynn looked at me then, and she immediately smiled. We were both thinking the same thing. Just like Eric. After giving her a friendly “smile” back, I continued talking. “Hey, think you could cover for me after dinner? I have something important to do.”

  She raised her eyebrow, this time. “For..?”

  It wasn’t my business to explain it to her. If Callie wanted my sister to know, she would’ve told her herself. “It’s just something really important,” I said. “I just need you to cover for me for two hours. Can you do that?”

  Evelyn sat up, her smirk seeming like it was a challenge. “And if I say no?”

  “You wouldn’t.”

  “Try me,” she challenged.

  I straightened my back. “This is actually important, Evelyn,” I said. And it was, because I hated breaking promises. “This isn’t just a little hang out - it matters.”

  She rolled her eyes, obviously caring less. “Convince Mom and Dad to let you go, not me.”  She stood up then, and left the room, leaving the TV on some weird drama show. Brat, I thought to myself. Turning off the TV, I looked around the house for my parents.

  It wasn’t any shocked that they weren’t together.

  Mom was sitting in the backyard, reading a book that’s title was covered. I moved to her slowly. What could I even say? I sat down next to her as she looked over to me. Because she was that type of mom, she gave me a kind smile, and I smiled back to her. Gosh, this was so hard.

  “Hi sweetheart,” she said. “What is it?”

  I thought of a lie quicker than I expected, and the words came out of my mouth just as fast. “Haven asked me if I wanted to come over for dinner, and I already said yes. I hope that’s okay with you.” She sat up almost instantly when she heard the words Haven and dinner rolled into one sentence. But I knew she couldn’t give me permission, and her answer already came into my head before she said it.

  “Just ask your dad first, honey,” she said. I nodded, and then waited for her to tell me where dad was. She caught onto my face, and smiled. “Upstairs, in our room. Just knock, and if he isn’t opening it, then he’s asleep. Long day at work.” She patted my leg, and I nodded.

  “So if he doesn’t open the door..?” I asked.

  Mom shrugged, her dirty blonde hair bouncing off her shoulder. “Then I’ll tell him at dinner. Want me to save anything for you?”

  “Whatever I like,” I said, giving her my kindest smile. Mom laughed, and then allowed me to leave. As I walked up the stairs, I was praying that Dad would be asleep. If he was, it wouldn’t be so hard to lie to him. I knocked on the door as softly as I could, and when there was no response, I let out a breath of fresh air.

  But I had to be quiet walking out, because Dad could hear basically anything. I left the hallway quietly, and came back outside the back door. I had made some type of promise to Mom, and I hated breaking it.

  “I’m leaving,” I called out her. She didn’t turn around, but seemed like she heard me. I just needed to grab one more thing out of my room before I left, and then I’d make up some excuse to my parents for why I’m not at dinner. I still had a load of homework to complete, too, but it wasn’t as hard as last semester.

  When I entered my room, it was more than a surprise to see Emmanuel in my room. He wasn’t on my computer or anything, but he was reading an old book series that I still had from 7th grade. His dirty blonde hair stayed on one side of his face, and his eyes were drawn to the page. Emmanuel wasn’t a typical reader (he has a short attention span) but the minute he noticed my presence, he closed the book and smiled to me.

  Even though he’s only ten, and even though he hardly understands things like I do, I sometimes worry about Emmanuel treating me differently if he knew. I mean, no, he doesn’t even understand most about other communities (or rights, because Mom and Dad never want him to learn about “other cultures”) but I’m sure he knew things from school.

   There aren’t many schools that will tell you a lot about the LGBT community, but whatever he does know, it hasn’t been good news. On top of that, Emmanuel has been taught to agree with everything that Dad wants him to, and I don’t know what his reaction would be if he knew who West Young really is.

  “Whatcha doing?” I asked him.

  Emmanuel jumped up from my bed, and wrapped me in another hug. He was still clingy, but it wasn’t like I knew how to fix that. Though I knew it was time for me to get tougher on my younger brother, I hugged him back the best I could.

  “How was school today?” I asked.

  Emmanuel pulled off of me, and gave me a smile. “I met someone new today,” he said, his voice sounding full of cheer. Usually, when Emmanuel was all goofy smiles (which isn’t often) he likes someone. But Evelyn is always first to know before me.

  “Okay?” I asked him. I did care, honestly. But he needed to understand that even though I care about his life (sometimes), I can’t always sit down and have a conversation with him about everything.

  Emmanuel showed a sign of annoyance, but then he shook his head. “Her name is Sam,” he told me. “She isn’t like any girl I’ve ever met before, Zi. She’s kind, and funny, and nice, but she hates when people say her full name. But she’s cool.” I nodded to him.

  At least he wasn’t ashamed of who he liked.

  “Do you like her?” I asked him. Though I knew the answer, it was funny to see his cheeks turn red.

  “Maybe,” he muttered. Then, it was like he got an idea, and he perked up. “Imma ask her to be my girlfriend.”
  I’m, I thought to myself. But then his words actually replayed in my head, and I realized how dumb of an idea that would be.

  “Don’t think that’s the best idea, Manny. Maybe try becoming friends, see if you like her, then ask her out. You don’t wanna come on too strong.” I said.

  Emmanuel glared at me like Evelyn would when I mentioned she shouldn’t date yet. “Don’t tell me what to do,” he said. His voice wasn’t angry or anything, but it was like he was trying to act how Eric and Evelyn did when they began arguments.

  I shrugged. “Don’t blame me when you’re single.”
  Emmanuel bit back a smile, and then pushed past me as he left my room. In the process, he hit my stomach lightly, and then slammed the door behind him. I chucked to myself, because Emmanuel isn’t like that. It’s natural in my family to feel the need to fit in, and Emmanuel feels out of place because he never gets in fights with any of his older siblings. I heard Dad talking about it one night to Mom (not really talking, more like clamorous arguing) about how Emmanuel never fights like how Eric, Evelyn, and I do.

  I just never cared. Because the less siblings on my back, the better.

 

⟴⬉⥦⥦⥦⬈⟴

 

  When I arrived at Delcan’s house, I sent him a quick text, and then thought about how this would happen. I probably knew less about the entire Callie thing than their own parents did, so I don’t understand why they’d want to ask me about it. On top of that, if Delcan wasn’t a fan of the idea at all, I don’t know how it happened.

  But whatever the case was, I’m already in the driveway, so there’s no turning back.

  Once I’d knocked on the door, both Mr. and Mrs. Heslop seemed to have greeted me. Delcan’s mom looked like she’d been on the computer all day, with her hair in a messy bun and an outfit that my sister wears when she’s lazy (typically, it’s Evelyn’s Saturday outfit. Or, her outfit on days she’s not allowed to play sports) but Mr. Heslop seemed like he’d just gotten home from work moments before I came here.

  I gave both of them a kind smile, and kept my posture nice. If there were going to let me in, they were taking their time with it. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what there was to even say - but I knew that there’d be no chance for stuttering, or any “I don’t know” answers.

  “Come in, Ezra,” Mrs. Heslop said, his voice sounding dull. Delcan’s dad slightly had an accent, but I only hear it when he speaks Spanish (which is the same with Delcan). Mr. Heslop didn’t seem to like me at all, and I wondered if this would be how my Dad would treat Delcan and I being together.

  Or, it could be a lot worse.

  I sat down at the dining table, where both Delcan and Callie were sitting. Callie didn’t even look up from her phone when I got situated, but Delcan did for a second, and then his amber eyes moved back down to the screen. When Mr. and Mrs. Heslop came back to the dining table, both of them sat down, and then looked at their children.

  “Teléfonos arriba. Ahora,” he told them. And just like that, both Delcan and Callie put their phones away, sighing at the same time.

  Callie crossed her arms over her chest, and she looked nervous. I’ve never even seen the look her eyes had, but just like her brother, she was always trying to pretend that everything was okay.

  “Okay, Ezra,” Mrs. Heslop said to me. “Just tell us what you know, and then you can leave.” I knew she wasn’t trying to, but the way everybody was looking at me, it felt like some type of cop show or something. Like, where somebody is accused, and the cop is saying things that aren’t even true. It was how I felt right now. I’m sure that no matter what I said, there would still be another load of questions for me to answer.

  But all I needed to do was be truthful.

  “All I know is what Callie had told Delcan about a month ago,” I said. Callie looked over to her brother, while Delcan kept his eyes on his parents faces. “Other than that, I know nothing else.”

  Mr. Heslop nodded slowly. “Lo sé-sorry. I know, Ezra. But there’s something that neither of them will say, and we were thinking that maybe you would know. And since you spend a lot of time around here-”
  “A lot,” Callie muttered under her breath. Delcan hit her with his elbow, and she bit back a yelp. Mrs. Heslop glared at Callie, but her look was enough for no words to even be exchanged. Slouching, Callie stopped.

  Mr. Heslop seemed like he was about to laugh, but I kept a straight face, and made sure I didn’t look at Delcan. “But if the two of them have told you something,” Mr. Heslop continued. “We need you to tell us now.”

  And then I knew what this was about.

  He wanted me to sell them out.

  He wanted me to tell him some type of secret about the whole Callie situation where I would not only be ratting out Delcan, but also his sister. That was pretty cold. But Delcan didn’t talk to me for a straight month after that, and I saw no reason for why I would know any information about it. And on top of that, I couldn’t say anything, because I had no idea what Delcan and Callie had told their parents.

  “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about,” I said, trying to make it seem like I’m confused. Both Mr. and Mrs. Heslop nodded before Mrs. Heslop looked over to Delcan, who seeming a bit annoyed with what I said.

  “Go on,” Mrs. Heslop said, looking at her son. “Say what you told us this morning.”

  Delcan looked at me, and our eyes met. It wasn’t until I actually noticed that there were brown specks in his eyes that I realized he was nervous. We both looked at each other for another few seconds, and then he looked back over to his mom, while I looked down at the hand-crafted wooden table.

  “Alright,” he said. “So Callie made a false report to the police in order to get her arrested, but she did it because of the fact that she was getting drugged, and these men in a gang were-” he paused for a moment, and I knew that he suddenly did care about what happened. Clearly, he didn’t want to say what happened to Callie, but his parents seemed to understand as he skipped hat word, and kept talking. “Another person in the group told her how she could possibly get out if she made a fake call to the police, which got her arrested for her actions. She was arrested, and let out a few weeks later.”

  Now I understood what the lie was. Mr. and Mrs. Heslop wanted me to tell them how Callie would’ve gotten out of jail so fast. But I wouldn’t tell the truth, because it wasn’t fair for me to say any of that.

  “What we want to know is how Callie really got out,” Mrs. Heslop said. She patted her Delcan’s shoulder as he sighed. “I love you, Delcan, but I don’t believe that remark for a second. A false report would’ve been a lot longer than that.” Once Mrs. Heslop had finished, I looked over to Callie, who had her head down.

  “I don’t know anything about that,” I lied. It’s odd that lying becomes easier the more and more you do it. “The only thing I knew was about the gang, and the drugs, and Callie calling for a false report.” Delcan looked at me the entire time I talked, which Callie would look up sometimes, but never made actual eye contact.

  For a moment, there was silence. And then, Mr. Heslop cleared his throat.

  “Are you sure, Ezra?” he asked me, his eyebrows raised. He was intimidating, of course, but I’d faced people so much worse than Mr. Heslop. And he never seemed to get mad at Delcan, no matter what he did.

  “Yes,” I said. And that kind of was the truth, because I hadn’t learned about any bailing out until Delan told me about it during passing period today. “And I don’t know the name of the people in the group either.”

  Mr. Heslop simply nodded, and stood up from the dining table. He left the room, and went up the stairs. The three of us that were left all looked at each other, but there seemed to be no words between any of us. After some time, Mrs. Heslop stood up to come after her husband.

  But she stopped, and turned to me. “Don’t take this personally, Erra,” she said, giving me a kind smile. “I’m sure your father would be the same if it was a situation with Evelyn.” And with that, she left the room.

   Though, what she told me in the end wasn’t true, at all. There were these guys in 8th grade that harassed my sister when she was in 7th, and my dad did nothing to stop any of it. He actually told Evelyn that she was a beautiful girl, and she honestly had no reason to even do good in school, because in a matter of time, she’ll have a husband who will buy her whatever she wants.

  Yeah.

  My dad doesn’t give a crap.

  “Well,” Callie said, standing up. “That was horrible.”

  “Your face is worse,” Delcan said.

  Callie looked over to her brother, and then messed up his hair. He instantly went from chill to angry really quick, and almost turned around fast enough to slap his sister. But she pulled away just in time, laughing. “Too slow, Delcan. That’s why you’re second place.”
  “Says the girl who’s never even had a boyfriend!” Delcan called out as Callie walked up the stairs. But as she was walking back up, she turned around and looked at her brother.

  “Él no cuenta como un verdadero novio,” she said in Spanish.

  And this is when I realized the pattern between their arguments. It was always in Spanish, so I never knew what they were saying.

  “Could you-”
  “Why didn’t you just tell them?” Delcan asked, making sure I wouldn’t have a clue about what they said. I hesitated for a moment before I understood what he meant.

  “I didn’t think y-you actually wanted me to,” I stuttered. “I thought you didn’t want them to know. Plus, you told me you took money out of your dad’s wallet.”

  Delcan rolled his eyes. “He hates me enough as it is right now,” Delcan said. He didn’t collaborate on that, instead, he just halfly continued. “And until somebody else tells him the truth, I’m under house arrest.”

  I raised my eyebrows. “House arrest? Dang, next level.”

  He nodded. “Yeah,” he said, rolling his eyes.

  “I should probably go,” I said. The entire conversation between Delcan, Callie, and his parents was just odd enough as it is, and being around Delcan alone just made me feel so much more awkward. As I stood up, I felt Delcan’s hand wrap around my arm.

  “Wait,” he said. I turned around, and looked at him. “I need your...help with something.”

  “And what would that be?”
  Delcan pulled out a binder, which had papers shoved in it. Clearly, he was a bit behind on work. He looked up at me, his eyes sort of desperate. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he said, giving me one of the worksheets. It was from normal science, which I didn’t take, but I still knew it wasn’t hard at all.

  To show that I was smart, I laughed. “It’s the same at Oakwood, right?”

  Delcan shrugged. “Yeah...but I need help,” he said. “And someone who actually understands it, not my sister.”

  “Your sister is pretty smart,” I guessed.

  “Oh come on, Ezra,” Delcan said. “I want you to stay, please.” I smiled, and finally gave in. Sitting down next to Delcan, I moved closer to help him understand molecules.

 

Me:

  Hey Dad. I got caught up at the library studying, and might not be home until 9:30. I’ll work hard when I get home, though. Won’t be past curfew.

 
 

Chapter Thirteen

  Over the next week, things started to get easier with Delcan being around at school. Everyone at school now thinks that we’re just friends, which I guess is sort of true. But at least I could finally breathe when Delcan and Haven were around me at the same time. Though, the more I got comfortable with Delcan, the more my girlfriend became suspicious.

  “So..” Haven said, leaning onto the locker next to mine. 5th period had just ended, and I watched as she had a strange smile on her face. “Delcan and you are pretty close, right?”

  I nodded slowly, dragging out my history binder. “Yeah…”

  “Then do you know who he’s dating? I have a feeling that he goes here, and I really want to meet him.” I stopped what I was doing, and looked at her for a few seconds. There was really nothing I could say to her. Why was everybody so obsessed with who Delcan is with?

  Now I know another reason why to never come out.

  “Why do you care?” I asked her, making sure my voice sounded at level. There were probably better words that I could use, but that was all I could come up with.

  Haven looked at me with her head tilted to the side, and her hands on her hips. Of course, she wanted answers. “Everyone kinda is, Ez,” she told me. “Well, except for the guys, obvi. But there aren’t a lot of gay people at this school in the first place, and Delcan is kinda like fresh meat.” I didn’t answer for a few seconds, because she was kind of wrong. Yeah, there weren’t a lot of gay kids at our school, but there were a ton of people who were bisexual. Annalise is, Thomas is, and so are a few people that I used to know in 8th grade. They just weren’t fully open to the idea of talking about it like Delcan is.

  But before I could even open my mouth to reply to her, I heard a voice behind me who’s emotion wasn’t trying to be hidden. “You, Haven, are living proof that evolution can go in reverse,” the voice said. It didn’t take me longer than a second to realize it was Delcan. I turned around to face him, and he had his arms crossed over his chest, wearing the “I don’t give a ⟴ look.”

  Haven immediately put on her sympathetic face, looking like she was actually hurt by what she’d said. “Oh my gosh, Delcan. I cannot believe I just said that! I’m so sorry, and you have every right to hate me.”

  “K, cool,” Delcan said. I relaxed on my locker, and waited for the two of them to stop arguing. Delcan had made it very clear that he didn’t want anything to do with Haven, while she was still trying to be his friend. I had gotten used to people fighting around me, so I just waited for it all to be over.

  “And just for reminder,” Delcan said to Haven. “It’s my life. I can do whatever I want with it, and if I were to share information like that to somebody, it wouldn’t be with you, Haven. And on top of that, I’m not anyone’s boyfriend, and I don’t plan to be.”
  It was hard to tell if those words were just to get Haven off of him, or if they were actually true, but my heart was telling me not to ask.

  Delcan didn’t wait for Haven to say anything back, and he walked off, giving Haven one more quick glare before doing so. When he was gone, I didn’t feel like following him, because something told me to leave it alone. Though, Haven was still there, and she was pretty upset with me.

  “Why didn’t you defend me?” she asked, actually looking a bit hurt.

  “Because, Haven,” I said. “What you said is wrong, and you know that.” I walked off before she could say anything back to me, and I caught up with Adam before he went into normal science class. I’d been taking advanced science since I was in 6th grade, though that subject was probably his worst one.

  “Hey, man,” I said.

  Adam turned, and gave me a nod. “Yo,” he said. “I don’t even understand what everybody’s obsession is lately. Yesterday, it was Kim and her butt, and now it’s some dude who’s gay. I mean, it’s not a big deal, I just don’t get it.” It seemed like he felt bad about what he’d said after mentioning Delcan like that, but I really didn’t care. I was pretty upset with him.

  “I know,” I said. “Haven brought it up earlier, too.”

  “Yeah, so did-” he paused for a moment, then gave me a smile. “Never mind. I’m just saying, what’s so amusing about all of that?”

  I shrugged. “Not sure,” I muttered. “Guess people just like new things.”
  “Then why was no one all over us when we got on the football team?” Adam asked. I smiled, because it wouldn’t be too bad to get the attention. Sure, I don’t really like girls in that way, but it didn’t mean I had an issue with it. I could always pretend, even though I knew that Adam wouldn’t be. “Like, come on. I’d like some attention.”

  “I feel the same,” I said. “I mean, I have no problem being around him or anything, but the last time we got attention was on our first big win.”
  Adam nodded. “I agree,” he said. “Plus, everybody thinks that I have an issue with his sexuality and stuff. Which-I don’t by the way. Neither Thomas and I are homophobic.”
  I looked at the floor, but nodded. There was an odd silence between the two of us before Adam punched me lightly on my shoulder. “See you at practice.”

  “You too,” I said.

  And with that, both of us walked off.

  Though I was never the type to try getting to class the second the bell rang, I did today. Maybe it was because of Delcan’s words, or my own thoughts, but they weren’t sounding good in my head. He never mentioned anything about...being more than “dating,” so it was weird to hear that word out his mouth. Even though he probably was just trying to get Haven off his back, the words stuck to my head.

  But only because I don’t think I wanted what he did.

 

Chapter Fourteen

After school, I walked home with Evelyn and Eric. Mom had picked up Emmanuel, which basically meant all the enthusiasm in us were gone. Though the weirdest thing was that none of us were talking, which was weird. So, I began a conversation with my sister.

  “So..” Both Evelyn and Eric looked at me at the same time, their faces blank. “Why is nobody talking?” It wasn’t what I exactly meant to say, but it was the words that came out of my mouth.

  Eric shrugged and began taking his phone out of his jacket. “Guess there’s nothing to say, man,” he said.

  What did he mean by that?

  My mind was starting to drift back to Delcan, and I didn’t want that. There needed to be a conversation going, because I needed to put him behind me right now.

  “We might have things to say, but I guess it just isn’t happening, Ez,” Evelyn said. “Siblings don’t talk all the time like we do.” She actually sounded pretty weird, and it wasn’t until I looked down when I noticed the small bruise on her arm.

  “What happened at school today?”

She looked at me for a few seconds and then put her head down, messing with her hair. My sister hardly gets in trouble, and when she does, it’s always something to do with somebody else. But the last time that happened, she was thirteen, and I don’t even remember what she actually did. “I got suspended for something,” Evelyn whispered.

  Both Eric and I looked at her at the same time.

  “What?!”

  Evelyn stuck her head up. “It doesn’t matter to you two. Mom and Dad already know about it, so I have no reason to tell either of you anything,” she said. I wanted to ask her to simply tell me because we basically showed each other everything, but I didn’t exactly know what to say. It wasn’t like any of us really did talk about anything more than my issues, but I still did my best to show that I cared.

  “What happened?” I asked her.

  “None of your business, Ezra. God. You’re always on my back about the dumbest things,” she said. And with that, she clutched her binder closer to her chest, and walked home faster than us, making sure she wouldn’t talk to us.

  I looked over to Eric, who simply shrugged to me, and then looked back down to his phone, probably texting one of his friends about something more important.

 

  When Eric and I got home, Evelyn was in our parents' room with Dad, probably getting yelled at. I had sudden urges at some time to just go up there and see what they were talking about because I wanted to know why Evelyn got suspended for. How long would she even be suspended for? A week? The rest of this month?

  But it wasn’t my fault I was always on Evelyn’s back. It’s this unique thing called feelings, and I don’t feel bad for expressing them to her.

  After thirty minutes or so, Mom walked into my room. She looked pretty tired, but I would only assume because she spends more than half of her day on the computer. I looked at her for a few seconds, waiting to see what she would say to me. She sat down in the chair next to me and sighed, and then picked her head up slowly, and gave me a smile.

  “Will you be joining us for dinner tonight?” she asked me. I nodded, because I really did need to stay for dinner at least once a week, or it was extra practice at the gym with Dad. So, I nodded as my mom patted my head as if I was a dog.

  “Is Evelyn in trouble?” I asked her.

  She sighed, and then nodded slowly, biting her lip. “She is,” my mom said, some type of dread in her voice. “But it’s none of your business, Ezra. Everything has been handled. You have no need to worry about him at the time.” Mom put her hand on my cheek, giving me one of her kindest smiles. She hesitated for a short moment before she continued talking. “And you’ve been an amazing big brother to Emmanuel and her. You’re everything we could’ve hoped for.”

  If only she knew that her real son, the one everybody favored over the firstborn, was the son that she didn’t even know at all. If only she knew that her “perfect son” is gay. If only she knew that her “perfect son” was with somebody that Dad would never accept - regardless of his gender.

  I’m nothing like you think I am, I thought to myself. Each and every time somebody told me I was amazing, or that I was perfect….a wall of shame hit me, harder than the toughest football player could hit me on the field. The wind gets knocked out of me, and it’s ten times worse when Delcan comes into the picture. It’s like I’m always breathless, and more awkward than I usually am. But I don’t know why - or how - he has that effect on me.

  Putting on my fake smile, my mom kissed me on the cheek before sitting up. “Don’t forget, baby. Dinner in ten minutes.” I nodded as she left, and went back outside to the afternoon sunshine.

  When I walked up to my room, I could hear Evelyn and Eric talking to each other. No - they were arguing. It was like a hushed argument, the ones that our parents have when they think all of us are asleep, but it wasn’t loud enough for anybody else to exactly hear. I moved close to the door and listened to their conversation.

  “Why can’t you just tell me, Taylore?” Eric whisper-yelled. He never really used Evelyn’s middle name like that, but it was just so out of place - I didn’t know how to feel about it. “I have a right to know more than our parents do.”

  “In what way?” Evelyn said back. “It’s my life. I can do what I want with it.”
  There was a long pause for a few seconds. And then I realized this was about her suspension. I leaned in closer to hear what they were talking about.

  “Cool. Don’t tell me,” Eric said. I thought I heard the door open, but then Evelyn said something else.

  “You won’t tell Ezra?” Evelyn asked. I straightened my back when I heard my name. How could Evelyn getting suspended conflict with me?

Eric seemed to pause for a moment, then he started talking again. “Do you think I tell him everything?” he asked. Offended. But whatever. “What is it?” There was a pause for a few seconds before Evelyn let out a breath of air.

  “There were these...kids at school whose brothers or sisters go to EastLand, and they were talking about Ezra. But not about his um, plays. His...sexuality. They knew. And I don’t know how, but they did. And so when I asked them what they were talking about, they started to call him names and everything like “that’s why he won’t sleep with Haven!” And when I finally had enough, they kinda fought back. I punched one of the guys in the crotch whenever the teachers caught us. When Mom and Dad asked me what happened, I knew that I had to lie to them,” Evelyn sighed, as I stood by the door, motionless. “I didn’t want to rat out Ezra, so I just came up with whatever I could. He doesn’t deserve to be pushed out of the closet yet.”

  It was in this moment when I wished I’d just minded my own business. It was harder to breathe than it had ever been before. Who knew? Who are they? How long have they known? Do they know about Delcan? So many questions were racing through my head, making me dizzy. I felt as if I was falling through the universe, hearing the white noise in my ears. I couldn’t even hear what Evelyn and Eric were saying anymore.

  As I tried my best to stand up, I almost fell down completely. I rushed down the stairs, stumbling on the last few steps. But my legs almost entirely gave out whenever I found my dad standing at the end of the stairs.

  “Sarah says you’re joining us for dinner,” Dad said to me. He never really calls her what everybody else in the house does, and he always uses her name. Mom hardly ever says Dad’s name around us - even though we all know it. “Which means you gotta stay.” I nodded, plastering a fake smile onto my face.

  Mom was standing in the kitchen, dusting her hands on her apron. I was guessing she was cooking something because there was meat sauce on her apron as well. “Sweetheart, go get your brothers and sister,” she told me. I nodded without argument and dreaded walking back up the stairs. I couldn’t even comprehend what was happening. If people knew, then that meant people would start asking questions….and I couldn’t handle questions.

  I walked past Eric’s room, and into Emmanuel’s. Maybe he could cheer me up - or at least try to.

  “Ezra!” Emmanuel cried, running into my arms. I actually smiled when he hugged me. His skin was warm and his hair smelt like shampoo, meaning he’s been home longer than Eric, Evelyn, and I have.

  “Hey, E,” Ezra said. “Come on. Mom and Dad want us to come to dinner right now. Could you get Eric and Evelyn for me?” Emmanuel nodded without question and ran out of his bedroom past me. I slowly walked down the stairs, pretending I was actually looking at something on my phone.

  Dinner was going to be more than intriguing today.

 

  While all of us were eating at the dining table, I couldn’t stop looking at Evelyn. She didn’t have her eyes on me, but sometimes she would look up from her dinner plate. She didn’t know, and I could tell because she would give me a smile before returning to her food. As I continued chewing on my food, it was hard to know if I should actually be mad at my sister or not. I mean, I understood that she was trying to protect me, but I didn’t need for her to in order for her to get in trouble.

  And on top of all of that, she doesn’t even feel the need to tell me the real reason, yet she told Eric. But if Eric’s the better brother than me, I haven’t seen it yet.

  Dad finally said something after what felt like hours of silence. “Ezra,” he announced. “How was school?” I paused for a minute before responding.

  “Fine,” I said. My voice cracked when I said that, and I saw Eric bite back a smile. But I assume that Dad wouldn’t ask about it, because I was apparently “still growing.” But he gave me a slow nod and then started talking to Eric.

  It felt as if my throat was tightening up, and I tried my best to focus on something that could possibly relax me. But nothing even came to my mind. Without a word, I stood up and walked out of the room, closing (and locking) the door behind me as I walked into the backyard.

  “Leave him alone, sweetie,” Mom said, stopping my dad from going after me.

  Ignoring my parents, I sat on a bench and ran my hands through my hair. I needed to talk to someone about this, call somebody. But who? If I called Evvie, all she would do is tell me that I’m born to be the way I’m supposed to be - and I shouldn’t let it bother me. But if I called Delcan...it would be hard to even say anything to him. And on top of that, all he would tell me is to let it go. There was no way out of this.

  I live in ⟴.

  Somehow, I found myself calling my aunt, who I rarely talk to. After the first few rings, she answered. “Ezra? You alright?” she asked me. I understood her concern because I never call her too much. I don’t really talk to my aunt - or anyone for that matter - when she comes over on the holidays, but I guess she was trustworthy enough.

  “Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, trying to make it sound like I was fine.

  “Okay…” My aunt, Rayne’s voice sounded confused. “Is there something going on?”

  Yes, there is. But there was so much going on in my life that I didn’t even know how to express it. Going past Haven, Evvie, and that fact that I’m not straight, there’s Delcan. His words always say lodged in the front of my mind, and no matter what, I cannot ever get it out of there. And the entire boyfriends part of our relationship...he never brings it up. I thought he was actually fine with just being whatever we are, but I guess not. But it was really hard not to think about it - because I’ve never even had a boyfriend before.

  And the idea of having one makes me scared.

  “Kind of,” I said, pushing Delcan off of my mind. “But it’s about Evelyn.”

  Rayne paused for a few seconds, then she began talking. “What about her? Are you guys making fun of her again or something? You have to understand-”

  “It’s not that,” I interrupted. “She got suspended today, for violence at school.”

 My aunt laughed. “You’re serious?”

  “Yeah,” I said. Quickly, I made up a lie on the spot. “I tried to hear what else Dad told her, but it was hard to hear through closed doors.” My parents did have a conversation with Evelyn, but Eric and I were forced to stay downstairs, while neither one of them worried about Emmanuel.

  “I never thought she’d do something like that,” Rayne said. “Is there a reason?”

  Yeah, I thought to myself. She did it to protect me, even though I hate her for it, and even though I don’t understand why. She was protecting a secret I worked so hard on for a long time to keep, and people knew about it. And I don’t even know where it began spreading from. That was what I wanted to say, but I understood that she would want to know what rumor, and I can’t tell her that.

  “No. I mean-there probably is, but I don’t know it. You could probably get the answer from Dad or something,” I said.

  “I’ll ask him later tonight,” Rayne said. She seemed so calm about the subject that I didn’t know how to feel, but there was really no way of expressing my emotions right now. “Anything else you need to tell me?”
  I couldn’t do it. “Nope. That’s all,” I said.

  “Okay..” she said, her voice not even sounding actually convinced. “Hey, could I ask you about your-”
  “Bye, Rayne,” I said, hanging up the phone on her. It wasn’t like I was trying to be rude, but the way people get when they went to talk about something upsetting - all slow and kind - it scares me more than anything else. I didn’t understand why it was so hard for me, though.

  Delcan had told me about his first crush on a guy (he was nine) and he understood the feelings quickly, then just came out when he felt like it. He told me he just understood the feelings and who he liked, basically letting it go. But if he could understand it so easily, why is it so much harder for me?

  As I was getting trapped in my thoughts, my phone chimed. I checked the ID and realized it was from Angelica.

 

Angelica Bronx:

  If you want to know what I do, come see me at our house. Haven isn’t home, but you only have two more hours before she is.

  And Ezra, if this rumor is true, you better hope Haven doesn’t know.

 

Chapter Fifteen

  When I arrived at the Bronx house, it had been past 30 minutes she’d sent the text. I had to make up one of the most ridiculous lies to my mom, telling her that there was a late practice made and that I would drive myself. Truth is, we did have a late practice tonight, but I’d made up an excuse that I wasn’t feeling well - which is how I got away with my coach not telling my parents about it.

  Before I could even knock on the door, Angelica had already opened it. “Come in.” Her dark brown hair was in a high ponytail and her green eyes looked up at me with anger. She was wearing gray skinny jeans and an expensive blouse Evvie used to own. I nodded slowly as I walked into the door.

  I went over to the couch and sat down next to a pillow that had always been my favorite. Its colors were a bit more comforting and helped a lot more when I didn’t like making eye contact with Haven. Angelica took her time but made it to the couch, sitting right next to me. I looked over to her, praying this wasn’t about what I think it is.

  “What is it?” I asked.

  She shook her head, giving me this look of sorrow. Then, she held out her phone and showed it to me. For a few seconds, I had no clue what I was really looking at, but then I realized that the Instagram page wasn’t Haven’s or Evvie’s (like I’d expected it to be), it was actually Callie’s. I felt relief on the inside but knew this meant I was still a suspect. “Okay?”

 “You know who she is, right?” Angelica asked, setting down her phone.

  I shrugged. “What does that have to do with anything?” Angelica nodded, and then pulled out her phone again, showing me another account. This time, it was exactly the person I was expecting. Delcan’s account was pulled up to the photos right before he was put into rehab when his parents (in an interview that Callie continues to remind me about, and Delcan always ignores) said he was at his worst. Of course, they were mostly pictures of him doing things 15-year-olds shouldn’t do, but I tried not to show any emotion on my face about it.

  Deny everything.

  When I didn’t say anything, Angelica began talking. “Are you and Delcan friends?” Angelica asked. I could hear the hint of curiosity in her voice, and a part of me knew that she had a feeling she was right.

  “Yes,” I lied. “But I really don’t get how it ties with you. Or Haven, for that matter.”

  Angelica rolled her eyes. “This has nothing to do with me or Haven,” she explained. I sat back on the couch and watched her body language with caution. “It doesn’t even have to do with that Evvie girl. It’s just between you, and Delcan Heslop.”

  She butchered his last name, which almost made me laugh.

  “You should probably hear this,” she told me. This time, she actually handed me her phone. It was a voice recording from a few days ago, a call between her and...Eric.

  I sat down the phone and looked at her, angry. “You hacked my phone?”

  “No!” Angelica cried. “God, why would I even do that? I have your brother’s number from Haven, and I called him to see what he knew since I had a feeling you wouldn’t have an answer.” I slowly took her phone back from the side of me and listened to the conversation between them.

Angelica: Hey Eric. This is Angelica, Haven’s sister.

Eric: I know who you are. How’d you get my number, and what do you want?

Angelica: Haven gave it to me. I just wanted to ask you something.

Eric: Okay...what is it?

Angelica: It’s about the new transfer kids. Do you know their names?

Eric: Not all of them. Some of the names I’ve heard from a friend of mine in gym, but I’ve hardly seen them around.

Angelica: What about Delcan? Does that name sound familiar?

Eric: No it doesn’t. Look, I gotta go. So if this is really that important, I’m gonna need you to hurry up, Angelica.

Angelica: Delcan Heslop. Sixteen years old. Student at Oakwood High School, one sibling; Calliannah Heslop. Active on social media - Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and a few others. He’s gay, and he’s one of the kids who are in the transfer program the schools are doing.

Eric: Jeez. Are you seriously spending your break stalking a sixteen-year-old boy? That’s creepy.

Angelica: I’m not stalking him, my sister is.

Eric: Well ⟴. Do you know his height, too?

Angelica: Five-eleven. But that’s beside the point. The point is that Haven thinks that Ezra and Delcan have known each other before that day.

Eric: Okay, so where is this going?

Angelica: Depends. What do you know?
Eric: I don’t even know much about all of that. They’re friends, and that’s all I know.

Angelica: But he’s gay.

Eric: Oh, okay, because that changes everything.

Angelica: Haven believes that he likes Ezra.

Eric: Just because a straight and gay guy hang out together, it doesn’t mean that the gay guy is attracted to the other.

Angelica: I get that, Eric. I just think there might be something between them.

  And then Eric hung up the call. I exited out of her videos and shut off her phone. Angelica and I didn’t move at all before I finally looked down at the pillow next to me. Why would Eric hang up a call like that? And how could Haven even get Eric’s number in the first place? Eric hardly gives his number to just anyone, and I’m sure Haven isn’t one of his options.

  “Why did I have to hear that?” I asked, surprised that my voice was actually at level. She picked it up and unlocked it while I continued questioning her. “And why are you stalking Delcan?”

  Angelica looked up. “I’m not stalking him, Ezra. Haven is.”

  “Why?”

  “She’s...worried. I’m not sure why, but she just is. All I know is that she doesn’t really like Delcan too much. She won’t tell me why.” Angelica pulled her hair behind her and raised her eyebrows towards me.

  “Haven is my girlfriend,” I said to Angelica, feeling more and more annoyed by the minute. “That’s the only label she can put on me. I’m allowed to be friends with whoever I want to be with.”

  Angelica nodded, biting her lip. “So do friends kiss?” I stopped and looked at her.

  “Huh?”

  She put her phone in front of my face again. This freaking phone, I thought to myself. It was like this device that could turn my life from normal to chaotic in a matter of seconds. I sighed in vexation and took her phone again. She was in photos again, and it was another video. Reminding myself that she probably knew nothing, I pressed play and watched it. The video showed me talking to Delcan in the locker room after the game, which was really no big deal. But that’s when it clicked.

  I kissed him. I kissed him in the locker room.

  Trying my best not to show any emotion on my face, I watched as I leaned into Delcan and pressed my lips on his. The video practically showed most of us kissing, and then there was the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway. When the video ended, I could feel my hands shaking without control, and the dry feeling in my throat coming on. Without a word, I handed Angelica her phone and sat back, trying to steady my breathing.

  Why did you kiss him? Why would you even get involved in this entire thing? All of this is your fault, Ezra, my mind was telling me. I was the one who kissed him in the first place, and here I was, paying for it.

  Angelica shut her phone off and gave me a look.

  “I-” there was nothing I could really say, but I was trying to cover up how obvious things were. There were so many different things that I wanted to do. Yell, scream, cry. But if I did any of that, she wouldn’t even take less than two minutes to find out.

  “It explains a lot, Ezra,” Angelica said. She shook her head, and I pressed down on my hands. “Just tell me why the two of you were kissing, and if you’re...cheating on Haven, and I won’t be mad.”

“It isn’t your place to be mad,” I told her, feeling myself slightly blush. “This video means nothing, and I don’t have to tell you a single thing.”

Angelica sighed, then she looked at me. I hated that her eyes looked the same as her sister’s because it made me feel so much worse. “You’re right,” she whispered. “It’s not my place to be upset at all. But this video puts a strong label on you, one I know your parents aren’t a fan of.”

  I ran my hands through my hair.

  “All I need is the answer to one thing,” Angelica addressed. “Are you-”

  “No!” I said. “I’m not.” They were the only things I could even manage to say because I didn’t know how to feel about anything else right now. The flor was beginning to look crazy, and the anxiety was getting to me.

  She didn’t believe me. I knew that she didn’t, because her look was unsure. “Do you really love Haven? Or is your mind set on somebody else?” I couldn’t even answer her. No, I don’t love Haven. But I don’t love Delcan either, at least, I don’t think so. Finally, I rested my head on my hands and looked at her.

  “Do you want me to say I don’t love her?” I asked Angelica. “To her face? Would you like for me to tell her that I don’t even-and never will-feel anything? Is that what you want?” My voice was sounding as if it was more of a challenge than anything else, but I didn’t care anymore. It wasn’t her place to decide when I came out, and that video would ruin me if people knew.

  “Why are dating her?” Angelica asked, her voice sounding tired. “Is it just to cover up for who you actually go for?” I bit back the answer I actually felt like saying, and stood up. But of course, Angelica took my hand with a firm grip.

  “You can’t hide forever, you know,” she said. “Regardless of if you’re dating somebody or not, there are still your parents. Is that why you’re dating her? Because you’re afraid if they knew you were dating somebody like...Delcan?”

   I wasn’t giving her the answer she wanted. Pulling away from her grip, she didn’t stop me. I’d already said so many stupid things in the past month, and I couldn’t ruin anything else again. “I have to go,” I muttered. Before I even left the house, I turned around and looked at Angelica, who was actually giving me a sad look.

  “You can’t tell anybody,” I said. “It isn’t your secret to hold onto.”

Angelica looked like she was about to say something else, but then she just nodded, looking down at the ground. The door closed behind me and I got into my car, almost letting myself cry before I started the engine, and drove home.

  As I was driving back, I had to think about what was happening. Angelica knew, and she was aware that there was more to just me being into guys - there was a guy. She could tell anybody she wanted, including Haven. And if she decided to tell Haven, everything would end.

  What tipped her off? I thought that I had gotten good enough at hiding it over the years. And who does Haven seem so worried about my relationship with Delcan? He acts like he could give less of a ⟴ towards me at school (and sometimes out of school), which wouldn’t make sense for how he likes me. But I couldn’t find out what was worse: the fact that Angelica knows, or the fact that Haven is catching on, and fast.

  I wasn’t ready to go home yet, so I pulled over into my school driveway and walked into the football field. I had to show my student ID in order to get in, but I felt a lot safer when I was there. Football practice was over, but I didn’t actually feel like playing. Instead, I walked up the front steps and sat down at one of the benches. Although the game was less than two months ago, it felt like it’d been a decade since the benches were full.

  Around 30 minutes after having a minute of silence, I put in headphones and listened to a song that I hadn’t heard for a long time. But the lyrics were familiar, and it calmed me down a lot better than a conversation with someone else is. I looked at my phone and debated on calling Delcan.

  He was a part of this, whether he wanted to be or not, and he was the only one who understood me when I got like this. He was basically the only one who understood me in general, and it matters a lot that he does. But then again, I don’t know how much trouble I’ll be into for being any later than I already am now.

  But Angelica was right about something. I couldn’t hide the secret forever. Although, she doesn’t know how long forever could be.

⟴⬉⥦⥦⥦⬈⟴

  When I arrived home, I did my best not to make any noise walking into the house. I slowly closed the door behind me as I began to make my way up the stairs. Before I could even take the first step, the lights turned on in the living room, and my mom was sitting in a rocking chair.

  “Holy-” I bit back the cuss word, because I knew how much Mom hated it when I cursed in front of her. I was allowed to, but she didn’t want to hear it. “You scared me, Mom. God.”

  She stood up, putting her hands on her hips. “Where have you been, Ace?”

  Looking down at the time, I gave her a kind smile. “I’m home before ten,” I said, putting my hands up in defense. But she shook her head, not letting it go.

  “Where. Were. You?” she asked me, her voice full of anger. I wanted to think of something to say, but there were no lies that came to me fast enough.

  “I’m sorry, Mom,” I managed to say.

  My mom raised her eyebrows, the small scar visible. “⟴ right you are, Eza.” I looked at her when she cussed, not thinking that she actually did. She ignored the shocked look on my face and kept talking. “Your father and I will talk about your punishment tomorrow morning.”

  That was so much worse than getting caught. Anytime Dad was involved in what I did, it meant an extra few hours at the gym for me, and a high chance of throwing up. It was harder to handle than Mom’s punishments, which were usually just devices taken away for a week. But I knew there was no protest I could make in order to get her to back out. “Okay,” I whispered.

  “Go up to your room,” Mom said. I realized how hard it was for her to say baby, and I understood why. “And get some rest.” I nodded, shoving my hands into my pocket. I walked up the steps and shut my door behind me.

  Dad would hate me for this. I’d never been the one to be home late, it was usually Eric. But I wasn’t starting to become their bad child. Something told me that they’d be going through my phone while I’m grounded. Again, I’d probably have to delete Delcan’s number off my phone and beg for him not to text me, but then they’d never know. I was better at keeping secrets than Eric was, and he knew it too.

  But I suddenly moved my finger to see Rayne’s text.

Aunt Rayne:

  What’s going on?

 

Me:

  It was just a joke, Rayne. I swear you have no reason to worry about me.

 

  I set my phone down and began changing when it went off again. She’s still awake? I thought to myself. Setting my phone on the charger, I got into bed and looked at the message.

 

Aunt Rayne:

  Stop trying to lie to me, Ezra Gatley. I know you better than your own parents do.

  Tell me what’s going on.

 

Me:

  I can’t, because I honestly don’t know.

  Need to get some rest. Night.

 

Aunt Rayne:

  Alright.

  I love you, Ezra, no matter who you’re with,

 

Me:

  Love you, too.

 

  I put my phone down and turned over to my side. My brain and body were telling me to go to sleep, but my eyes were focused on the furniture in my room. The desk in my corner, my bookshelf, and then my dresser. My eyes went back and forth around the room, and then I was finally able to go to sleep.

  Well, not until I was done with an important phone call.

 

Delcan's Chapter (new)

I didn’t mean for it to happen…

Delcan’s P.O.V.

  After my shower, I was trying to think of something to wear before I could get into bed, and then my phone rang. It wasn’t like I expected phone calls during this time, and it wasn’t like I ever actually answered them, either. I sat down on the bed for a few seconds before finally deciding to answer Ezra’s call.

  “What?” I asked, my voice sounding like I could give less of a ⟴.

  “Hey,” Ezra whispered, his voice sounding hot and scared at the same time. Ezra’s voice was lower than mine by an octave, but it got about ten times lower whenever he whispered. It was weird that I found it hot, but his voice also had a sense of worry in it. “I’m sorry for calling you so late-it’s just that-”

  “Why are you whispering?” I asked him.

  Ezra’s voice paused for a minute before he answered me. As much as I hate that Haven girlfriend of his, she’s not wrong about something: his awkwardness is cute, and he’s not even aware of it. “I’ve got news,” he whispered.

  “Let me guess,” I sarcastically exclaimed. “Haven’s pregnant.”

“No!” Ezra whisper-yelled. “I-no, she isn’t. Seriously, Delcan, could you please not joke around with me right now?”

Standing up from my bed, I took my precious time responding to him. Looking at my abs in the mirror, I said something back. “I thought you liked me when I was like this.”

 “I do,” Ezra whispered. “But only at certain times. And I also like you when you decide to listen to me, and understand what I’m telling you. Please, can you listen?”

  His pleas were only weird to me because he never really did it. I only hear stuff like that from my sister, and not that often, either. “Fine,” I said. “Name your issue, Gatley.”

  “Angelica knows,” Ezra whispered. I moved past how hot it was that his voice sounded the way it did, and raised my eyebrows. I didn’t even know who Angelica was, but whoever he is, it seemed to have a bad effect on Ezra. He was saying her name like he did when he mentioned his dad, who I wouldn’t mind slapping one day. “And...she knows about us. She-oh god. She this video...where I kissed you.”

  I hesitated for a minute, and then remembered that he actually did kiss me in the locker room. I don’t know how, but Ezra was better at what I liked to call “surprise kisses” than I was.

  And that’s saying something.

  But with everything he gave me, it was hard to respond. I didn’t care too much about people knowing that we were dating, because it’s not exactly like I’m his boyfriend or anything. “Okay, chill,” I told him. “Who is Angelica?”

  “Haven’s sister. I thought that I told you that,” he said.

  You probably did, I thought myself. But Haven doesn’t mean ⟴ to me, so her family is probably the same. “I forgot,” I lied. There was no need to make him seem more frazzled than he already was. “But I still don’t get it.”

“She knows that we-you and-you know what I mean. Angelica agreed to keep my secret, but she understands that there’s something going on between us,” Ezra whispered. I turned away from the mirror, and put on a shirt, leaving Ezra on speaker.

  “If she promised not to say anything, why are you worrying?” I asked him.

  I could feel Ezra wanting to roll his eyes. “That’s beside the point,” he said. “I just-I thought you might wanna know.”

 Because it matters so much to my life. “Is that all?” I asked him. The truth was that I did care about him, and what he thought, but anything to do with Haven just puts me in a bad mood. She knows. And I know that she knows because there’s no way she wouldn’t suspect the comment Ezra made about me in front of everyone else. I wouldn’t tell him, though, because I know how worried he gets about things like that.

  Then again, I don’t know if Haven exactly knows yet, I just think she knows that Ezra likes me. But, she may think he’s bi or something. No matter what - I know how bothered Ezra would’ve been. And as much as I try not to show it, I hate when he’s upset.

  “Um…” Ezra paused for a second before he seemed to have shly laughed. It was weird that even though I could only hear his voice, it was like I knew he was messing with his hands or blushing. And I don’t know why, but he was so freakin’ adorable. “No. No, I’m okay. What are you up to?”

  I shrugged. My parents spend about ten minutes each night reminding me about therapy (which I refuse to take) and then they start blaming my issues now on Ezra, which isn’t the case at all. If they really wanted to know, it all has to do with Grayson Williams, who I have a feeling knows more than what he says. “Not much,” I said. “Is there anything else?”

  “How’s Callie holding up?” Ezra asked.

  I hesitated before responding because I knew my sister when I mentioned things she didn’t like. Though I could care less of her opinion, I would get in trouble from her telling our parents. But Ezra was the first guy that I’d ever seen care. Not just about him and “me,” somebody else that I associated with. It made me feel great that he cared, but sometimes I was confused how somebody like him could be with someone like me.

  “She’s fine,” I muttered. “It’s not your place to care, though?”

  Ezra paused. “I didn’t-I didn’t mean to-to pry,” he stuttered. “I’m sorry.”

 “Stop apologizing, Ezra,” I told him.

  “I’m-” Ezra stopped himself before he could say it again, and I felt sympathy for him. My mom had told me about Ezra’s parents (her older sister used to be friends with Sarah, Ezra’s mom before she basically abandoned all of her friends for her husband) and it was hard to understand what he must deal with at home. I didn’t get what type of man would do such things to their wife, but it wasn’t like I could change anything. “You know that Evelyn and Callie have started to become friends. I didn’t want to be that douche who could care less about other people.”
  But that’s me, I thought to myself. “Understandable,” I answered. I checked the time and knew that one of my parents would be walking into my room in less than a few seconds, and would pretend to care about my life while checking around my room for drugs. They did it every night, and usually at 10:30. “Hey, sleep well. See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Ezra whispered. I was about to hand up the phone when Ezra said something else. “Wait!”

  “What now?” I asked, actually sounding annoyed. I didn’t mean to, but it just happened.

  “I’ll probably be grounded for staying out too late,” Ezra whispered a hint of fear in his voice. “So if you need to talk to me over the phone...just take Callie’s phone and text me or something. Or, just wait.”

I don’t think Ezra understood what a Cuban teenager does when you steal her phone in the middle of the afternoon.

  “Alright,” I muttered.

  “Goodnight, Delcan.”

 “Night.”

 

  Just like I’d expected, the second that I’d ended the call, my mom walked into my room and began asking me about my school life (which, I’m hardly even passing, in case anybody wanted to know. I’m street smart, but school isn’t my best thing) and then she looked around my room for drugs.

  My parents love me, regardless of the hell I put them through. Though they didn’t completely trust me yet. Either my mom or dad comes into my room when I should be going to bed and looks around, searching for anything that I could get high from, or that could cause an overdose. And they always worry that I’ll try again.

  Which-I won’t.

  I can’t, actually. I’ve already made a promise to more than two people, which means I kinda have to keep it.

  “Goodnight, sweetie,” my mom said, kissing me on the cheek.

  I brushed it away and looked at her. “Please call me by my name, Mom. It’s really annoying.”

Now if you’d wanted to know, I’m not just a jerk for the fun of it. It’s actually - literally - in my blood. My mom isn’t as sarcastic as her sisters are, but her parents...oh. Oh, they're ten times worse than me when I’m around Haven Bronx. But my mom was a lot nicer than what her parents had expected, which is why I wasn’t as shocked by the response she gave me.

  “Sass your mother again,” My mom playfully threatened. “And you’ll have to remember something. I put you into this world, and I can take you right back out.”

 I smiled. “K.”

My mom really didn’t look anything like me, but Dad says we both have the same smiles. My mom smiled to me and then hit my shoulder. “Don’t be such an imbécil,” she whispered, her Spanish accent on point.

  “Bye, Mom.”

  And then she actually did leave my room, and my thoughts stayed behind.

  I have a hard time when it comes to understanding my ideas, but everything helps when I run. It’s stupid - but it’s the one thing that calms my mind. And though I’ve got tons of homework to do, I could always seduce Ezra into helping me.

  Kidding, kidding.

  Not really.

 

  My pace was beginning to slow, and I had to sit down on a bench in order to make sure I wouldn’t throw up. Running my hands through my beautiful hair, I felt myself suddenly think of Ezra. I didn’t know why, but as much as he annoyed the living hell out of me, he was a really great guy - and something felt off about our relationship.

  Our first kiss was the first time I’d ever actually gone slow with a guy before, and I still don’t get why his awkwardness is attractive to me. Honestly, I’ve never even dated anyone who’s been even the slightest percent awkward, but I really do like Ezra, and how he makes me feel.

  “Ever dated a guy before?” I’d asked Ezra that night, not even caring about his answer too much. I was laying back on the chair my parents had bought a few months ago and seemed to be interested in dirt lodged into my nails.

  “No,” Ezra had said. “You?”

I shrugged. “Depends on what you consider dating,” I told him. I’d never had a boyfriend before, or anything like that - because it didn’t seem interesting to me. But I had been with other people, and I for sure wasn’t a virgin. “How many girls, then?”

“Technically, I’ve only had one girlfriend,” Ezra muttered, his voice sounding shy. “But I pretended to date my best friend in 7th grade.”

  I looked at him. His dark brown eyes catch me by surprise every time I look at them, and I know how attractive he finds my changing eye color. “So you’re bi?” I asked. I’ve been in “relationships” with bisexuals, pansexuals, trans, didn’t really matter too much to me. As long as they were a guy, I was cool. But Ezra’s look made me understand he was strictly into guys.

  “That’s fine,” I reminded him. “I’m gay, too.”

 “But you already know I’m gay,” Ezra said. “And I know you are.” He shifted in his seat and looked at me. Clearly, the idea of my mom and dad being in the living room was getting to him. “Are you sure your dad won’t walk back here?”

I nodded. My parents know better to interrupt when I’m on a date (never actually been on a date, but it’s better than saying the truth) or whenever I say “leave us alone.” They know how to listen pretty well, which I appreciate. “No.” I flashed him a charming smile.

  He blushed, just like I’d expected. But it was kinda cute.

  What is happening to me, I thought to myself.

  “Ever been kissed?” I asked randomly. I wasn’t really planning on having a make-out session or anything, I just wanted to make sure he wasn’t a full virgin.

  Ezra slowly nodded. “You?”

 “Duh.”

  Ezra bit his lip, and put his head down, which my brain was trying to find out if it was attractive enough.

  I stopped everything I was doing and looked at him. “What about guys?”

Ezra’s eyes widened. “O-Once,” he stuttered. “But it was basically a peck. So...I don’t think it counts too much.”

  It was still a kiss, but I decided to agree with him. “Yeah,” I muttered. “Am I bothering you with these questions?”

   Slowly, Ezra nodded, pressing his lips together. “I’m really uncomfortable.”

   It was kind of cute.

  Smiling, I pulled myself closer to him and watched his face get red. “You know what?” I asked him. I wasn’t even trying to be seductive, or even cute in a way, but his cheeks and nose were burning red, showing how clearly embarrassed he was. I didn’t know I could have this effect on somebody. “We should kiss.”

 Ezra’s eyebrows shot up so far, I thought they’d fly off his face. “Wh-wh-why would y-you think….I-I don’t,” he paused and buried his hands into his hair, his face bright red. I had to hold back my smile as he looked back up to me with his dark brown eyes. “Delcan, I have a girlfriend.”

 “And you’re gay,” I said. “Basically, you’re already lying to her. It’s just one kiss, Ezra. That won’t be the end of you.”

Ezra stopped and then nodded. “Fine,” he said. “Fine.” His eyes closed, and I looked at him for a few seconds. Did he expect me to just lean in and kiss him? If that was the case, it was newer than any other kisses I’ve ever done before. But if he wanted it to be this way, I guess it wouldn’t be too hard to try.

  I leaned into Ezra and pressed my lips onto his. I didn’t even expect for him to react the way he did, but Ezra breathed a sigh of relief before he put his body closer to mine. His lips were soft, and they sort of tasted like mac and cheese, which I hated and loved at the same time.

  We both pulled away at the same time, and without a single word, we both kissed again, his lips brushing against mine with the softest touches on my face. His hand ended up being on my lower back and left cheek (upper, not lower. Don’t be gross.) I made the decision to simply slide my tongue into his mouth, annd it worked out better than I thought.

  The kiss was about to get a lot better before my mom walked in, and she cleared her throat. In less than a second, Ezra pulled away from me and fixed his shirt, pretending nothing happened.

  And then he left.

  It wasn’t until before that kiss that I thought that Ezra would just be a guy-crush I’d shortly have, but the kiss changed everything. After it, no matter what, I wanted to help Ezra feel safe. I cared about him, and seeing him smile or laugh at one of my jokes was one of the most satisfying things I’d ever feel. It was like every time he even would brush my shoulder, I would feel all silly inside, and my words would get mixed up when I talked about him.

  Even now, I smile when I think of him. But this was one of the weirdest feelings I’ve ever experienced, and I don’t understand what it is.

  And that’s when it hit me.

  “Oh ⟴!” I yelled out to nobody. “⟴,⟴,⟴,⟴,⟴. NO!”

  There’s no way.

  No way...