Main History Is All You Left Me

History Is All You Left Me

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When Griffin's first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he's been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin's downward spiral continues. He's losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he's been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.
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Categories:
Year:
2017
Publisher:
Soho Teen
Language:
english
Pages:
320
ISBN 10:
1616956933
ISBN 13:
9781616956936
File:
EPUB, 1.84 MB
Download (epub, 1.84 MB)

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2 comments
 
melanie
I officially say Adam Silvera delivers. This book in particular I felt was leaning more towards letting go. Getting over someone’s ghost. And it has taught me there are better ways to deal with loss, and not to hoard memories.
10 May 2021 (00:44) 
fiasfasf
This book made me ugly cry in the best way possible. Whether you are dealing with grief, lost love, or the human condition you will find this book very moving. Excellent read.
07 August 2021 (00:05) 

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		 			Also by Adam Silvera

			More Happy Than Not





		 			Copyright © 2017 by Adam Silvera

			This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any

			resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events,

or locales is entirely coincidental.



			All rights reserved.



			Published in the United States by Soho Teen

an imprint of Soho Press, Inc.

			853 Broadway

			New York, NY 10003



			Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

			Silvera, Adam, 1990–

			History is all you left me / Adam Silvera.



			ISBN 978-1-61695-692-9

			eISBN 978-1-61695-693-6

			International paperback edition

			ISBN 978-1-61695-838-1



			1. Love—Fiction. 2. Grief—Fiction. 3. Obsessive-compulsive

			 disorder—Fiction. 4. Gays—Fiction.

			PZ7.1.S54 Hi 2017 [Fic]—dc23 2016020598

			Interior design by Janine Agro, Soho Press, Inc.

			Printed in the United States of America

			10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1





			For those with history stuck in their heads and hearts.



			Shout-outs to Daniel Ehrenhaft, who discovered me, and Meredith Barnes, who helps everyone find me. Best tag team ever.





TODAY


			Monday, November 20th, 2016

			You’re still alive in alternate universes, Theo, but I live in the real world, where this morning you’re having an open-casket funeral. I know you’re out there, listening. And you should know I’m really pissed because you swore you would never die and yet here we are. It hurts even more because this isn’t the first promise you’ve broken.

			I’ll break down the details of this promise again. You made it last August. Trust me when I say I’m not talking down to you as I recall this memory, and many others, in great detail. I doubt it’ll even surprise you since we always joked about how your brain worked in funny ways. You knew enough meaningless trivia to fill notebooks, but you occasionally slipped on the bigger things, like my birthday this year (May 17; th, not the 18th), and you never kept your night classes straight even though I got you a cool planner with zombies on the cover (which you-know-who probably forced you to throw out). I just want you to remember things the way I do. And if bringing up the past annoys you now—as I know it did when you left New York for California—know that I’m sorry, but please don’t be mad at me for reliving all of it. History is all you left me.

			We made promises to each other on the day I broke up with you so you could do your thing out there in Santa Monica without me holding you back. Some of those promises took bad turns but weren’t broken, like how I said I’d never hate you even though you gave me enough reasons to, or how you never stopped being my friend even when your boyfriend asked you to. But on the day we were walking to the post office with Wade to ship your boxes to California, you walked backward into the street and almost got hit by a car. I saw our endgame—to find our way back to each other when the time was right, no matter what—disappear, and I made you promise to always take care of yourself and never die.

			“Fine. I’ll never die,” you said as you hugged me.

			If there was a promise you were allowed to break, it wasn’t that one, and now I’m forced to approach your casket in one hour to say goodbye to you.

			Except it’s not going to be goodbye.

			I’ll always have you here listening. But being face-to-face with you for the first time since July and for the last time ever is going to be impossible, especially given the unwanted company of your boyfriend.

			Let’s leave his name out of my mouth as long as possible this morning, okay? If I’m going to have any chance of getting through today, tomorrow, and all the days that follow, I think I need to go back to the start, where we were two boys bonding over jigsaw puzzles and falling in love.

			It’s what comes after you fell out of love with me that it all goes wrong. It’s what comes after we broke up that’s making me so nervous. Now you can see me, wherever you are. I know you’re there, and I know you’re watching me, tuned in to my life to piece everything together yourself. It’s not just the shameful things I’ve done that are driving me crazy, Theo. It’s because I know I’m not done yet.





HISTORY


			Sunday, June 8th, 2014

			I’m making history today.

			Time is moving faster than this L train, but it’s all good since I’m sitting to the left of Theo McIntyre. I’ve known him since middle school, when he caught my eye at recess. He waved me over and said, “Help me out, Griffin. I’m rebuilding Pompeii.” A puzzle of Pompeii made up of one hundred pieces, obviously. I knew nothing of Pompeii at the time; I thought Mount Vesuvius was the hidden lair of some comic book overlord. Theo’s hands had entranced me, sorting the puzzle pieces into groups according to shades before beginning, separating the granite roads from the demolished, ash-coated structures. I helped with the sky, getting the clouds all wrong. We didn’t get very far with the puzzle that day, but we’ve been tight ever since.

			Today’s outing takes us from Manhattan to Brooklyn to see if the lost treasures in some flea market are as overpriced as everyone says they are. No matter where we are, Brooklyn or Manhattan, a schoolyard or Pompeii, I’ve planned on changing the game up on Theo on this even-numbered day. I just hope he’s down to keep playing.

			“At least we have the place to ourselves,” I say.

			It’s almost suspicious how empty the subway car is. But I’m not questioning it. I’m too busy dreaming up what it would be like to always share this space and any other space with this know-it-all who loves cartography, puzzles, video animation, and finding out what makes humans tick. On a crowded train, Theo and I usually squeeze together when we sit, our hips and arms pressed against one another’s, and it’s a lot like hugging him except I don’t have to let go as quickly. It sucks that Theo sits directly across from me now, but at least I get the very awesome view. Blue eyes that find wonder in everything (including train ads for teeth whitening), blond hair that darkens when it’s wet, the Game of Thrones T-shirt I got him for his birthday back in February.

			“It’s a lot harder to people-watch without people,” Theo says. His eyes lock on me. “There’s you, I guess.”

			“I’m sure there will be some interesting people at the flea market. Like hipsters.”

			“Hipsters are characters, not people,” Theo says.

			“Don’t hipster-shame. Some of them have real feelings underneath their beanie hats and vintage flannels.”

			Theo stands and does a bullshit pull-up on the rail; his brain gets him top marks, but his muscles can’t carry him as high. He gives up and hops back and forth between the train benches like some underground trapeze artist. I wish he would somersault to my side and stay put. He holds on to the railing and stretches his leg to the opposite bench, and his shirt rises a little so I peek at his exposed skin peripherally while keeping my focus on Theo’s grin. It might be my last day to do so.

			The train rocks to a stop and we get off, finally.

			Manhattan is home and all, so Theo never bad-mouths it, but I know he wishes more of its walls were stained with graffiti like they are here in Brooklyn, bright in the summer sun. Theo points out his favorites on the way to the flea market: a little boy in black and white walking across colorful block letters spelling out DREAM; an empty mirror demanding to find the fairest of them all in a crazy neat cursive that rivals Theo’s perfect handwriting; an airplane circling Neptune, which is just fantastical enough that it doesn’t give me flying anxiety; knights seated around Earth, like it’s their round table. Neither of us have any idea what it’s supposed to mean, but it’s pretty damn cool.

			It’s a long, hot walk to the flea market, located by the East River. Theo spots a refreshment truck, and we spend five bucks each on cups of frozen lemonade, except there isn’t enough of the sugary slush left so we’re forced to chew ice to survive the heat.

			Theo stops at a table with Star Wars goods. His face scrunches up when he turns to me. “Seventy dollars for that toy lightsaber?”

			Theo’s inside voice sucks. It’s a problem.

			The forty-something vendor looks up. “It’s a recalled saber,” she says flatly. “It’s rare and I should be charging more.” Her shirt reads princess leia is not the damsel in distress you’re looking for.

			Theo returns her glare with an easy smile. “Did someone pull an Obi-Wan and cut someone’s arm off?”

			My knowledge on all things Star Wars is pretty limited, and the same goes for Theo’s knowledge on all things Harry Potter. He’s the only sixteen-year-old human I know who isn’t caught up on everyone’s favorite boy wizard. One night we argued for a solid hour over who would win in a duel between Lord Voldemort and Darth Vader. I’m surprised we’re still friends.

			“The battery hatch snaps off easily and children can’t seem to keep them out of their damn mouths,” the woman says. She isn’t talking to Theo anymore. She’s talking to an equally unhappy dude her age who can’t figure out an R2-D2 alarm clock.

			“Okay, then.” Theo salutes her, and we walk away.

			We stroll for a few minutes. (Six, to be exact.) “Are we done here?” I ask. It’s hot, and I’m melting, and we’ve definitely seen that some of the treasures are way pricier than they legally should be.

			“Hell no, we’re not done,” Theo says. “We can’t leave empty-handed.”

			“So buy something.”

			“Why don’t you buy me something?”

			“You don’t need that lightsaber.”

			“No, stupid, buy me something else.”

			“It’s safe to assume you’re buying me something too, right?”

			“Seems fair,” Theo says. He taps his dangerous watch. It is actually for-real dangerous, as in it’s not safe to wear. I’m not even sure how or why it got made, because its sharp sundial hands have scratched unsuspecting people’s bodies—mine included—enough times that he should throw it in a fireplace and kill it dead and then sue the manufacturer. He wears it anyway because it’s different. “Let’s meet at the entrance in twenty minutes. Ready?”

			“Go.”

			Theo dashes away, nearly crashing into a bearded man with a little girl sitting on his shoulders. He is out of sight in seconds. I check the time on my phone—4:18, even minute—and I speed in the opposite direction, into an airy labyrinth full of people’s relics for sale. I run past crates of old sneakers, crooked rows of smudged mirrors like a filthy funhouse, poles with floral pashminas that billow from a hidden fan, and buckets of seashells sold in tandem with paintbrushes.

			The seashells are kind of cool, I guess, but they don’t really scream “Theo!”

			A minute or so later, I hit a grid of the market that does speak Theo’s language. A dream catcher with a willow hoop dyed his favorite shade of green. An entire table of tiny ships inside bottles. He was recently reading up on their intricacies in the hopes of making one himself, except I know he wants his bottle to have a spaceship inside because he always has to put his Theo twist on things.

			I still have all the time in the world—if the world only had twelve minutes to offer, at least. It’s too bad he’s not more of a fantasy fan, because the letter openers here are pretty boss and I’m sort of hoping he’s found this table already and will surprise me with one, preferably the one designed like a sword sheath or this one with the bone handle. It’s okay because I have all the time in the world . . . Actually, right now, no I don’t, because according to my phone, I only have nine minutes, an odd number that’s getting me really anxious, so I scratch my palm while running again. I somehow return to a world of more misses. Theo has no current use for breakfast-friendly pots and pans since he’s pretty happy eating bowls of cereal with orange juice, and he definitely doesn’t need gardening tools unless they come with instructions on how he can grow more video games and computer apps for free.

			Then I hit the jackpot.

			Puzzles.

			I glance at my phone again: six minutes left. I’m no longer anxious; I’m excited. I know from being over at Theo’s enough that he doesn’t own any of these: a steampunk barn house gliding away on wings built of scraps from a satellite; Santa’s sleigh being pulled by dolphins underwater (I don’t want to know what’s in those wrapped gifts, but I’d also love to hear Theo’s guesses); a 3-D puzzle of a soccer ball, and the 3-D part is cool, but the sports part is less cool. I’m not sure where Theo stands on 3-D puzzles, but this doesn’t seem like the one “to kick it off”—ha.

			Boom, got it. The fourth one in the row on the table: Doomed Pirate Ship. The pirates are being thrown overboard by stormy weather and a raging sea; some try to climb back up, while another hangs from the plank. I know Theo will create a kick-ass story behind this one. The vendor drops the puzzle in a brown plastic bag and even though it costs nine bucks, I just shove a ten into her hands and jet back.

			Theo is waiting by the exit, pressed against the wall to hide away in the shade, like a vampire who stayed out too late—too early? I don’t blame him. We’re both sweating. He looks at his sundial watch. “Two minutes to spare! Let’s get the hell out of here before we go up in flames, or, worse, you get sunburn.”

			On the way back to the subway, the only clue I have of his gift is a box. It’s a perfect cube. I have zero guesses as to what it is. Underground we’re hidden from the sun, but the mugginess of a crowded platform is unbearable in its own way, like we’ve set up camp at the top of a volcano and zipped our tent shut. We somehow survive the six-minute wait, and once the train opens its doors, we race to the corner bench and sit before a couple of college-age-looking guys can take the seats for themselves. The air conditioner is on full blast, and I feel more like myself.

			“Presents?” Theo asks, pointing at my bag with finger guns.

			“You finished shopping first, so you go first,” I say, inching my leg a little closer to his so our knees might accidentally touch.

			“I’m not sure what kind of logic that is, but okay,” Theo says.

			He gives me the little box and whatever is inside doesn’t weigh that much and slides back and forth as I toss it from hand to hand. I open it and pull out an ornament of none other than Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s best friend.

			“What do you think?” Theo asks. “I know he’s your favorite character, so you probably already have this, but I thought this one was cool, especially since he’s got that seen-better-days roughness going on.”

			I nod. It’s true: this Ron Weasley figurine is a little beat-up, the paint chipped on his red hair and black robe. But he’s not my favorite character. It’s an easy mistake because Ron is my favorite in the trio—sorry Harry, sorry Hermione—and it’s not as if they make ornaments for characters that were only alive and important in one book. But Cedric Diggory is my absolute favorite character in the series, in any book, really. When Cedric died at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, I cried for way longer than I’ve ever admitted to anyone. Cedric’s death is no doubt my most painful loss ever. But it’s okay, it’s not like I know for sure who Theo’s favorite Star Wars character is. I want to say Yoda, but that sounds stupid, even to me. It’s the thought that counts.

			“This is awesome,” I say. “And I don’t own it already, so thanks.” I wonder if the previous owner got over the series and pawned this little guy for fifty cents or something. One man’s loss and all that, I guess. “Okay. Your turn.” I’m missing the emptiness of the train we rode out, hyperalert that there are nameless spectators watching us exchange gifts and drawing their own conclusions about how we must be dating. It sucks that they’re wrong. It double sucks that there’s a chance Theo may be too scared to even be my friend after today.

			Theo slides the puzzle out of the bag and his eyes widen. “Hell yes. Eight hundred pieces. You have to put this together with me.”

			“What’s the story behind it?”

			Theo studies it for a moment. “It’s about the impending zombie-pirate apocalypse, obviously.”

			“Obviously. Tell me, how did the pirates get hit with the virus before anyone else?”

			“The zombie virus has always existed, but the scientists knew it was best to keep it as far away from land as possible. They knew humans by nature are stupid and bored and would do something like unleash hell on the world if it meant not having to go to their dead-end jobs on Monday morning. Scientists contained the virus on an island—I’m redacting the name because I can’t trust you with this secret, Griff—and they didn’t account for the raging storm you see here destroying the island and releasing the virus until it became airborne, hitting the traveling pirates first. Well, infecting the parrot of Captain Hoyt-Sumner first, who carried the virus onto The Pillaging Mary.”

			Only then do I lose it and smile. “How the hell are you coming up with these names?”

			“I didn’t make it up, it’s in all the textbooks. Read up on your future’s history,” Theo says.

			“What’s the parrot’s name?”

			“Fulton, but everyone calls her Rot Feathers after she makes all the pirates undead. They later renamed the ship The Bloodcurdling Crawler, which feels appropriate.”

			I really want to spend an hour inside his head, climbing all the different whirling clockwork gears.

			“These zombie pirates are smart enough to rename their ship?” I ask him. “We’re screwed.”

			“You better be my partner against the zombie pirates,” Theo says. “I know how to save us.”

			Theo launches into different strategies we can employ to survive the apocalypse. We’ll need to build a fortress somewhere up high, with cannons and other practical weapons, like military crossbows that shoot flaming arrows. Easy: I almost feel like I can already wield one from all the fantasy books I’ve read. Apparently, I’ll also have to learn how to cook because Theo will be too busy keeping watch twenty-four/seven. He’s pretty sure he’ll have figured out the key to eternal unrest while the undead are among us—and won’t have time to cook or we’ll end up dinner ourselves.

			“Sound good, Griff?”

			“I can’t promise the food I cook will even be edible, but desperate times call for desperate measures.”

			Theo holds out his hand and we shake on it, locking down our roles in the zombie-pirate apocalypse. Touching him gets my heart pounding, fast and heavy.

			I let go. “I have to tell you something.” The subway car is rattling and loud, and the curious eyes have drifted. Everyone else is lost in their own worlds.

			“There’s something I have to tell you, too,” Theo says.

			“Who goes first?”

			“Rock, paper, scissors?”

			We both play rock.

			“Same time?” Theo suggests.

			“I don’t think my thing is something to shout at the same time. You can go first.”

			“Trust me. I’m betting we’re both going to say the same thing. It’ll be easier this way,” Theo says.

			I’m not going to keep fighting him on this. Maybe what he has to say is worse than mine, and I won’t feel as bad.

			“Countdown from three?”

			“Four.”

			Theo half-smiles, then nods. “Four, three, two, one.”

			“I think I might be crazy,” I spit out while he says, “I like you.”

			Theo blushes, his half smile gone. “Wait, what?” He shifts his body around and stares out the train window, but we’re underground, so all he’ll see is darkness and his reflection. “I thought you were going to say you like me. Are you gay, Griff?”

			“Yeah,” I admit, for the first time ever, which somehow doesn’t have my heart racing or my face heating up. All I know is, I would’ve lied to anyone else.

			“Good. I mean, cool,” Theo says. It seems like he’s flirting with the idea of making eye contact again before keeping his gaze to the window. “Why were you scared to tell me? That you think you’re crazy?”

			“Right, that’s the second thing. I think I might have OCD.”

			“Your room is too messy,” Theo says.

			“It’s not about being organized. You know how lately I’m always forcing my way onto everyone’s left side? It wasn’t like that when we were kids. There’s also my counting thing, where I prefer everything to be an even number, with a couple of exceptions, like one and seven. Volume, the timer on the microwave, how many chapters I read before putting a book down, even how many examples I use in a sentence. It’s distracting, and I always feel on.”

			Theo nods. “I’ve felt like this before, too. Maybe not as intense, but I think it’s just a sign of your genius. I’m pretty sure Nikola Tesla was obsessed with the number three and would sometimes walk around a block three times before entering a building. But, Griff, for all we know these compulsions might just turn out to be little quirks.” His blue eyes find my face again, lit. “We can do some research later!”

			Maybe he’s right. Maybe I’m not just some delusional kid with a neck tic who scratches his palms whenever he’s nervous, favors everyone’s left side, tugs at his earlobe, and operates in evens. Maybe it’s like autofocusing a camera, where I’m zooming in on one thing and missing everything else.

			“It’s been freaking me out a little bit, like I don’t know who I’m going to be in the future. I’m scared something can grow from this and turn me into a Griffin who’s too complicated for you to be friends with in a few years.” I can’t believe I’m unloading all this; it feels surreal, incredible, but I can’t stop. Maybe confessing everything will jinx any illnesses.

			Theo scoots closer to me. “I have real things to be worried about, dude, like if the zombie pirates are going to know how to use grappling hooks and matchlocks or if they’re taking us down with teeth and nails. You don’t scare me, and you’ll never be too complicated for my friendship.” Theo pats my knee. His hand rests there for a solid minute. “And I’m sorry if I forced you to come out just now—wait, am I the first person you’ve told?”

			I nod, my heart pounding. “You didn’t force me. Okay, actually, you did a little, but I wanted to tell you anyway. I just didn’t have the balls or some huge speech. I was also a little scared I was wrong about my instincts for you. Delusions run on my mother’s side of the family.”

			“You’re not delusional,” Theo says. “And you’re not crazy.”

			He reaches for my hand, and it’s not for a high five. I know the world hasn’t changed, what goes up still has to come down, but the way I see the world has shifted a little to the right, moving forward, and I can now see it the way I’ve always wanted to. I hope I don’t say or do anything that will force the world to shift counterclockwise again.

			I squeeze Theo’s hand, testing whatever it is we’re doing here, and I feel like I’m answering a question I was never brave enough to ask.

			“Stick with me here, okay?” Theo says.

			“I’m not exactly about to walk off a moving train.”

			Theo lets go of my hand. I sink in a little, like I’ve failed him. “I’ve never told anyone this, but I’ve been dreaming up alternate universes for a couple of years. You know me, I’m always asking myself ‘What if?’” He turns away for a second. “Lately I’ve been asking myself that more and more. A lot of the what-ifs are fun, but a lot of them are also really personal. Every night before I go to sleep, I find all the notes I’ve written on scrap paper or on my phone and I archive them in this journal. Dozens and dozens of alternate universes.”

			The train stops suddenly; passengers leave and others get on, giving us a little more breathing space—but once the doors close, Theo has my full attention again.

			“I wrote one on the inside of my arm earlier, during the gift hunt,” he continues. “I’m not going to show you yet. No spoilers. But it just reminded me of something. Every universe I’ve created lately, your face keeps popping up in it. And I thought that if you can’t be cool with that, then I wouldn’t hate you, but I might need some time for myself until we’ve had enough distance that I can imagine made-up worlds without you automatically appearing.” Theo turns and above his left elbow is his handwriting—not the usual perfection because even he can’t write on himself neatly—and he holds it closer. The scrawl reads, Alternate Universe: I’m dating Griffin Jennings and that’s that.

			“I don’t know if that makes sense to you at all, but I want that to be real,” Theo says, still holding his arm out to me, as if to burn those messy letters into my memory. “If it can’t, I understand and I hope we can still figure out how to be best friends. I just can’t imagine never taking this shot.” He lowers his arm, finally. “You’ve got to say something now.”

			I feel like someone has dropkicked me into an alternate universe of awesomeness. I can’t believe this is a conversation I’m having, I can’t believe I’m legit flirting with Theo and he’s flirting back. This universe is clicking with me just fine. I can’t tell him all these things, not yet, at least.

			“I was going to,” I say.

			“Okay, but only say something if it’s good. If it sucks, shut up.”

			“I’ve been freaking out for a while about this same thing, dude. I don’t know when I would’ve manned up and said something, but it wouldn’t have beat your bit about the alternate universes. I would’ve just said I like you.”

			“Were you going to at least mention how handsome I am?”

			“Handsome seems like a strong word, but I would’ve talked about how you’re cool to look at, sure.”

			“Good to know.” I should tell him how much I like the sound of his writing, the words he puts down in his notebooks when he’s hunched over his desk; I want to know what they are. I should tell him about the fantasies I’ve had where the next time I sleep over at his house and we share his bed, that we wouldn’t have to use separate comforters and could maybe share one blanket one day without it being weird. I should tell him how fun it is to watch him flip an hourglass over and see if he can complete a massive puzzle by himself, and how I’m always rooting for him to succeed because I know how happy he is when he wins. I should tell him how much I appreciate the way he’s been gravitating to my right lately. But I don’t say any of this out loud right now because maybe I can admit this to him when it’s happening in real time.

			“Why today, Theo?”

			“The photo Wade took of us yesterday,” Theo says.

			It hits me that I hadn’t once thought of Wade during today’s adventure. We’re a three-dude squad, but I don’t seem to get too anxious of the oddness versus evenness battle there, maybe because we always seem to make it work: it’s the universe’s one exception. Like yesterday afternoon, at Theo’s place we played a Super Smash Bros. tournament—Theo and I versus Wade and the computer, teams forged by drawing names from Wade’s fitted cap. It was close because Wade’s really good with Bowser and the computer level was at its highest, but Theo and I won with Captain Falcon and Zelda. We stood up, victorious, and hugged each other as if we had just won a war against aliens or, even more fitting as of ten minutes ago, a war against the zombie pirates.

			Wade had us pose. Theo and I faked our best serious faces, but we failed and cracked up.

			“I saw us together and thought enough was enough. I’ve wanted to be with you for a while now. Wade’s pic made it a little more unbearable not to be with you,” Theo says.

			“I feel the same way, I guess,” I say. “What now? How do we lock this down? Probably a kiss or something, but I’m not in the mood.” I trip over the last part because, honestly, it’s a lie. I decide I’m swearing off lying because telling the truth can bring this kind of happiness, the kind that opens infinite alternate universes. I just really wish I had a piece of gum, but Wade is our squad’s gum guy. “Maybe a handshake?”

			We shake hands, and neither of us lets go.

			“This is cool, but weird,” I say.

			“Very cool, very weird,” Theo says. “But I think we fit, right?”

			“No doubt, Theo.”

			I can’t wait to see what happens next.





TODAY


			Monday, November 20th, 2016

			The alarm clock finally shuts up after ten minutes, but my parents’ threats to pop my door open keep coming. Last time they did this, I lost my privacy for two months until my dad finally replaced the lock.

			I don’t think I ever told you about that; it was after we broke up.

			“Griffin!”

			“Ten more minutes!” I shout.

			“You said that an hour ago,” Mom says.

			“Six times,” Dad adds. “Get dressed.”

			“I’ll be out in ten minutes,” I say. “I promise.”

			The last time I wore a black suit was for your cousin Allen’s wedding on Long Island. It was a couple of months after we’d finally started dating, and it was our first formal party, too, if we don’t count your sister’s baptism. To my relief, Wade—back when we were still close with him—was wrong when he said all gay weddings are like Katy Perry concerts. (I don’t think my anxiety could’ve handled dancing with you for the first time under strobe lights.) When I saw the white roses in the manor’s sunroom, I began looking ahead to the day I’d get to wear a black suit as I stood across from you, my hands in yours, ready to say, “You’re damn right I do.” I didn’t know it then, but that was the last time I’d wear a black suit, ever. I’m definitely not dressing up in one now.

			I’m going to the funeral as is—okay, not completely as is, because showing up in these thermal pants might offend your grandmother. But I’m not taking off the green hoodie you gave me the afternoon we lost our virginity. I’ve been wearing it for the past two days—more, exactly fifty hours, though time has been bleeding in places. I wish I never washed the damn hoodie now that you’re gone. It no longer smells like your grandmother’s old flower shop; it doesn’t have the dirt stains from all the times we spent at the park. It’s like you’ve been erased.

			I grab two of the four magnetic gryphons you got me two Christmases ago and fix them to the hoodie, one on my collarbone and the other on my heart. It’s like the blue one is chasing the green one through the sky.

			I stare at the clock, waiting for the next even minute—9:26—and get out of bed. I step directly onto last night’s dinner, forgetting I had abandoned the plate down on the floor while I stared up at the ceiling, thinking about all the questions I’m too scared to ask you. But hey, if there’s one bright side to your dying, it’s that you aren’t around to tell me things I don’t like hearing.

			I’m sorry. That was a dickhead thing to say. I need a condom for my mouth.

			As much as I would like to go sit in the bathtub and let the shower rain down on me, I’ve got to get out of this room. I check the clock on my open laptop and leave once it switches from 9:31 to 9:32.

			The hallway is lined with photographs in the cheap frames my aunt gave us last Christmas—the kind of present my mother dismisses as not thoughtful, but since she’s so nice, she puts them up anyway. She still drinks out of the Yoda mug you bought her two years ago, no occasion at all, just because. You’re always going to be a presence for my parents, even if now they can’t see your history on our walls.

			I’m hoarding all the photographs and their cheap frames in my room. There are blank spots as I pass: the one of us sitting in your childhood living room on Columbus Avenue, putting together a puzzle of the Empire State Building; us at sixteen/fifteen, you wrapping your arms around my waist after some joke from Wade about boys not being able to hug other boys; you smiling at me from across another park bench as I toasted to my parents’ anniversary last year; and my favorites—side-by-side in the same frame—the first was taken by Wade, a blank-faced photo of us doing our damn best to keep our smiles in but failing. The second is of us holding each other and smiling after we came out to our parents at Denise’s birthday party.

			You were always a fan of the sun glare above your head. “Like a cool, bad-ass angel of destruction,” you said. “The angel that gets a blazing sword while you get a harp.”

			In the living room my parents are already in their jackets, and my dad is holding his baked goods in his lap as they stare at the muted news on TV. Mom sees me first and pops up, which I know is bad on her back, especially on rainy days like today. She hides the pain and approaches me cautiously, unsure which Griffin she’s about to get.

			“I’m ready,” I lie. I’m hungry, I’m drained, I’m over it all, and I’m not ready. But there’s a clock on this thing. The service is today. The burial is tomorrow. I don’t know what comes after that.

			Mom reaches out to me, like I’m some toddler that’s supposed to take his first steps into her arms. It’s ridiculous. I’m a seventeen-year-old grieving his favorite person. I grab my jacket and turn for the door. “I’ll be outside.”

			When we’re all settled in the car, my dad puts on the radio to fill the silence. I stare outside the window as we stop at a red light, counting pairs for some sanity: two women in jackets, sharing a blue umbrella; two old guys pushing shopping carts out of a market; four beaten-down trees in a community garden; two trash cans piled high with garbage.

			The counting brings me some relief, but it’s not enough. I drop my right hand to the empty space beside me, imagining your hand on mine. Two hands.

			That feels better.





HISTORY


			Monday, June 9th, 2014

			It’s routine after school for Theo, Wade, and me to go to the Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side to do our homework, but classes are almost over. We browse the shelves instead. Theo was supposed to tell Wade about this new dating thing we’re trying out while he and Wade were running laps last period, but he bitched out. I’m not a fan of secrets. Secrets can turn people into liars, and my lying days are behind me.

			We wander away from graphic novels and end up in the biography aisle. It is my least favorite section, but here we are because of Wade and Theo.

			“I want my own memoir,” Theo says.

			“Only one person can make that happen,” I say.

			“I don’t have a title yet,” Theo says.

			“The horror,” Wade says, rubbing his eyes again because his new contacts are bothering him. He still looks like himself for the most part—short hair, brown skin, wrinkled shirts—but I think he looks cooler with his glasses. “I’ll probably call mine Wading Through Life.”

			Theo fake-yawns. “I can’t wait for that laborious read.”

			Wade flips off Theo. “I’m going to get an iced tea from the café. You guys want?”

			“Yeah, actually. My treat though.” I give Wade a gift card, leftover from my birthday last month.

			“You sure?” Wade asks.

			I nod.

			Once he’s gone, I give Theo the why-didn’t-you-tell-Wade-about-us glare, but he turns away, eyes back on the bookshelves.

			“How about Theo McIntyre: Zombie Pirate Slayer?” I say in the silence.

			He smiles, still avoiding my gaze. “But if the zombie-pirate apocalypse doesn’t happen, it’ll get confused as a fantasy novel. I refuse for my existence to be mistaken as fiction, damn it! Maybe I should keep it simple. How about Theo: A Memoir?”

			I shake my head. “You’re my favorite Theo and all, but you’re not the only one.”

			He turns to me. “You know more Theos? Give me their addresses so I can put an end to this madness.” He throws out his hands, like he’s ready to karate chop any passing Theos. His fighting stance reminds me of his hipster C-3PO Halloween costume last year. He dressed in a T-shirt resembling the android’s body, with gold paint on his face and arms.

			“How about C-Theo-PO ?”

			“Nah. Too insignificant. Cool chapter title, maybe.” Theo raises an eyebrow and points at me. “I have your title, though. Griffin on the Left.”

			Now I want to kiss him so badly. “It’s perfect.” I make sure Wade isn’t coming, and I pull Theo by his hand, leading him to the next aisle. But I don’t act on the kiss because I don’t want to rush it or feel like we’re doing it behind Wade’s back.

			“We have to tell Wade, dude,” I whisper. “If you want to do it by yourself, that’s cool, but if you want to tell him together, that’s also cool. But we’re not leaving this bookstore until we do so.”

			“Deal,” Theo says, squeezing my hand. “What time does the store close again? I—”

			“Whoa,” Wade says.

			He is standing at the end of the aisle, holding a tray of iced teas. I jerk my hand out of Theo’s. “Whoa,” he repeats, walking toward us. He’s Theo’s height, but he seems smaller, the way his shoulders sink. He shakes his head and manages a small smile. “This whole squad business was fun while it lasted.”

			That’s not the reaction I was expecting. “What are you talking about?”

			“How long have you two been dating? I knew this was going to happen. You guys doubt my psychic ways, but I called this last year. I just didn’t tell anyone.”

			I don’t know what I was expecting. But it wasn’t this.

			“You had a vision where Griffin and I were hooking up and the world was going to end?” Theo asks. His voice is weirdly high-pitched.

			Wade smirks, handing me an iced tea. “Pretty much.”

			“Your visions are kind of gay,” Theo jokes, attempting to get a hold of himself. “You should get that checked out.”

			I take a sip, attempting to get a hold of myself, too. “Wait. How did you know Theo and I liked each other? Don’t say because you’re psychic.”

			“You don’t have to be a psychic to have seen this coming. Your chemistry was all over my face.” He hesitates. “That came out wrong. Anyway, I’m not going to be some third wheel, guys.”

			Three is a number I’ve forgiven since yesterday, but only for our squad. It hopefully won’t bother me as much now that Theo and I are together, like our personal unit will count as “one,” though I probably shouldn’t mention that to Wade. “It’s not game over for us. Think of it as a new game, if anything, with new levels and new worlds.”

			“New obstacles for me if I want to see you guys, and new game modes exclusive to you two,” Wade counters.

			“You’re welcome to join in our exclusive activities,” Theo says with a wink.

			Wade goes on to list every example of love gone wrong, mainly from comic books: Green Lantern’s girlfriend who was killed and had her corpse stuffed in his fridge; Cyclops and Jean Grey, high school sweethearts who keep losing each other to everything the world throws at them; Ant-Man, who douses the Wasp with bug spray, and wow, I didn’t realize Ant-Man was so emotionally and physically abusive. A fourth example doesn’t follow.

			Theo turns to me. “I promise to never bug-spray you, Griff. Do you promise to never bug-spray me?”

			“I promise.”

			Lying, I mouth to Wade so that Theo sees, to make the situation normal, or to try to.

			Theo takes his iced tea from the tray. “Are we all good now?”

			“Promise me you guys won’t destroy the squad when you break up,” Wade says. I can tell by his tone he isn’t messing around. This is like seventh grade, when Theo and I kept teasing Wade for getting his name trimmed into his fade, and he laughed for a bit but eventually told us to stop.

			“Maybe show some faith in us, dude,” Theo says quietly. “But sure, I promise we’ll be adults if we do break up.”

			“You’re sixteen. You’re not an adult,” Wade says.

			“I’m counting on us being together for a while,” Theo says.

			I take a deep breath and swear I won’t let Wade kill my happy Theo vibes. “I also promise I won’t destroy the squad if we break up either. Can we please go back to looking at books?”

			Theo gestures for us to come together, and he wraps an arm around both of us. He fake-whispers to Wade, “We have to do a group hug so Griffin doesn’t feel left out.”

			“I hate you both,” Wade says.

			We all laugh, and like that it’s over and there are no more secrets, and I keep smiling longer than anyone else because Theo is betting on us being together for a while. Which is good. It’ll give me enough time to come up with the perfect title for his memoir.





TODAY


			Monday, November 20th, 2016

			I don’t want to go in, I don’t want to go in. Theo, I don’t want to go in, I don’t want to go in to say goodbye to you.

			The funeral chapel on Eighty-First and Madison looks like toy blocks stacked on one another and weirdly incomplete because it’s beige, like they forgot to paint it a real color or thought it’d be inappropriate to do so. I can’t believe this is the place your parents chose for your friends and family to say goodbye to you. I don’t have another spot in mind, but wherever it would be, it would have some color.

			Doesn’t matter for me, at least. I’m not going in there.

			“Coming in, Griffin?”

			“No,” I say. “I’m not. I can’t.”

			Mom takes the key out of the ignition and stuffs it into her purse. “We’ll sit here until you’re ready.” She stares straight ahead, where mourners with cups of coffee—no one I recognize—enter the chapel as the hourly bell chimes. I’m okay with missing the ten o’clock mass. I’m not going to be singing or praying my grief away anytime soon. Mom holds out her hand and Dad wraps his own around hers, like usual. My parents’ love is straight-up locked down. I’m too numb to feel it right now, but I really owed all my confidence in our own future to them because they’d been together since they were teenagers, too.

			Seeing those hands holding each other when I have to imagine yours in mine pisses me off.

			I get out of the car and slam the door behind me. The chilly autumn air bites through my jacket and hoodie; breathing in the cold tires out my lungs. The rain isn’t coming down hard, but I’m drenched.

			My parents abandon the warmth of their busted Toyota and keep to my right, respecting the compulsion you sometimes found fascinating. They remain silent. No fortune-cookie nonsense. I’m lucky to have parents who know when to go to war with me and when to leave me alone in the battlefield.

			You’re waiting inside. Not you, but you.

			I owe you a goodbye.

			If you were here, I’d be inside already, which . . . well, the weirdness of you talking me into your own funeral isn’t lost on me. You were always a pro at getting me to be brave—to take down the walls that could be taken down, at least. You can’t be faulted for my unbreakable compulsions.

			At the door I can sense my parents wanting to reach out. I turn and find a couple of other new faces coming toward us. If I don’t know them, then they don’t know me, and they won’t know why it’s so hard for me to put my hand on this damn knob and turn it to go inside, because they don’t know our history. They might be friends of your parents or neighbors you spoke about but I never met.

			The pressure is building, but no one says anything.

			I’m pummeling myself to the ground, and I’m drowning without trying to surface, all at once.

			I reach for the doorknob. I walk into a space of stale air and grief.

			There’s a big cutout of your face at the entrance. Your parents chose that awkward photo from your junior-year class pictures, but not the one we agreed was best, the one that was going to be your author photo on your memoir: where your smile was a little on the shy side, and your blue eyes held a hint of mischief. Maybe it wasn’t the impression they wanted others to have of you. It’s completely lost on me why your parents went ahead and chose it for your funeral. But I won’t say anything. Who knows where Russell’s and Ellen’s heads are these days.

			I approach your cutout with my parents shadowing me, offering condolences to God-knows-who. My eyes lock with yours, flat as they may be. I almost talk myself out of it, but I touch the picture, my fingerprints marking your glossy cheek. My fingers trail down to the bronzed card in the bottom center of the frame. I trace each letter:



			theodore daniel mcintyre

			february 10, 1998—november 13, 2016



			“Griffin.”

			I really don’t want to face Wade right now. I haven’t been speaking to him as much over the past couple of months, not since everything that went down between you two recently. He tried reaching out several times over the past week, of course, but I never answered the phone or the door. But I turn. Wade is wearing one of the ties you got him a couple of Christmases ago, and he’s picking at a scab on his elbow. He’s either avoiding my eyes or his contacts are throwing his attention elsewhere. I’m sure he’s feeling guilty for not talking to you when he had the chance.

			“Sorry for your loss, Griffin,” Wade says.

			Your former best friend gets that you’re my loss. That’s history right there. “You too,” I manage.

			I scan the crowd. I’m not surprised the rain didn’t affect the huge turnout. I wonder how many of these people have laughed since you died. I’m sure they’ve smiled at something stupid, like old funny photos in their phones or episodes of some comedy they maybe watched to get your death off their minds. But I want to know if they have busted out laughing so hard their rib cage hurt. I haven’t. I’m not mad at any of them if they have. It sucks because I know I’ll be alone in my grief for a while. I just want to know when it’ll be possible to laugh again. And when it’ll be okay.

			Wade’s gaze finally fixes on me. “You going to talk to Jackson?”

			Even after all this time, his name still strikes a nerve with me. “It’s not a priority,” I say. I should shut up or walk away.

			“I know it’s different, but he’s probably the only other person here who gets what you’re going through.”

			“What they had isn’t the same,” I say in spite of myself, fighting back tears and screams. I look away again so Wade won’t try to comfort me. I see your grandfather holding himself up with his cane, your aunt Clara handing out packages of tissues she probably bought in bulk like everything else, your cousin knitting what looks like a scarf from here, but no sign of your parents. I get it together and ask Wade where they are.

			“Russell went out for a smoke,” he says. “Been a while. He might be on his fourth by now. And Ellen is already sitting in the front with Denise. With Theo.”

			She’s with your body, not you.

			“I’ll go find Russell.”

			“Before you go—”

			I head for the door. My parents see me move and come for me as if I’m trying to get out of here for good. I stop when my mom asks me where I’m going, asks if I want to go with her to offer my condolences to Ellen. I don’t have it in me this second, though. I try to play dumb and focus on my surroundings instead. I find your uncle Ned in the crowd, reading from the Bible, and catch Aunt Clara busting out her own tissues as she cries with a neighbor I maybe recognize.

			But my eyes return to the door in no time.

			Your boyfriend is blocking the entrance. He’s staring directly at me.





HISTORY


			Thursday, June 12th, 2014

			Our first date, and we discover it’s raining when we get off the train.

			“Good news or bad news?” Theo asks.

			“Always get the bad news out of the way first. This is New York, remember? Where were you raised?”

			“I don’t have an umbrella,” Theo says.

			“And the good news?”

			“I’m telling you now.”

			“Your good news sucks.”

			If we had time to waste, we’d wait out the storm here at the station. But it’s Pop Culture Trivia Night at Bonus Diner, this new diner-slash-arcade, near Union Square, and it begins at six. We haul ass, hating every exposed corner we’re forced to wait on before it’s our turn to cross the street, and I’m really happy the school year is almost over because there’s no way the textbooks in our backpacks are going to be much use to us after this storm.

			Damn. The place is roaring with chatter, but there are tables still free. I feel betrayed by how cold it is in here. Indoor places should always be the opposite of the weather outside. No one has ever entered a restaurant on a scorching summer day and gotten pissed at the air-conditioning.

			But I’m not letting anything ruin my first date with Theo. I fight through my shivers and register our two-man team. We’re seated at table sixteen—good number. I run to the bathroom quickly to try and dry myself with paper towels. I return, tagging Theo out to go and do the same. I survey the room and only then do I feel warmer. We’re younger than anyone else here, but I immediately decide all my opponents here are pretty much the coolest people in the universe.

			Theo returns, rubbing his hands together. “We’re going to destroy them.”

			He checks out the menu. This is another one of those times where I want to lean in and finally kiss him. I’m not trying to get it over with, but I think not having kissed yet in the few days we’ve been dating is creating some buildup. But maybe a first kiss without a big moment will speak for itself. Maybe it says, “Hey, I like you when you’re not doing anything special.”

			Before I can even consider leaning in, a hostess whistles and silences everyone in the dining area, even some stragglers at the pool tables and pinball machines nearby. She runs through the rules. There will be twenty questions, all fill-in-the-blank. There will be a minute each to answer them. There will be volunteers walking around the room to make sure no one’s cheating. Prize for third place is a book of coupons for a gift shop online. Prize for second place is a replica of the sword and shield from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The grand prize is a boxed set of the first six Star Wars movies, director’s-cut edition.

			I suddenly, desperately want to win because maybe I’ll become just as obsessed as he is, and we can do stuff like host Star Wars themed Halloween parties for our friends.

			Okay, I need to take a step back and take this relationship one week at a time.

			Waitresses and waiters pass out papers and pens as they collect food orders. Once they’ve cleared the floor, the hostess announces we’re beginning in one minute.

			Theo turns to me and my heart is trying to headbutt itself out of my chest.

			“Question one . . .”

			It doesn’t take long to see that this evening is mostly about older people who want to get drunk. Within minutes, we’re kicking ass. The planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back was shot where? Norway. (Thanks, Theo.) The writer behind Toy Story and Firefly ? Joss Whedon. The only character on The Simpsons with ten fingers? God. The last Harry Potter book was published in . . . ? 2007, but the series actually ended in 1998. (You’re welcome, Theo.) Teamwork.

			“Final question!”

			I’m pretty sure we’re nineteen for nineteen, so we can’t mess this up.

			“Which actor couldn’t do the Vulcan salute in 2009’s Star Trek ?”

			Theo writes down Zachary Quinto’s name and hands our sheet over to the nearest volunteer. “We got this. Get ready for a marathon at my house.”

			It takes about twenty minutes for the judges to review the answers, when a bell dings. The hostess returns to the front of the room and coughs very dramatically. “I’m pleased to announce there is a tie between two teams! But since we only have one boxed set, we’re going to have a live tiebreaker! Can I get one representative from Team Stark-Kirk and one from Team Human-Pirates?”

			“Yes!” Theo gets up, and I hope he wins this for us. “You. Up.”

			“What? No. You go.”

			“I elect you!”

			I pick up the napkin and wave it. “I forfeit.”

			“Technically, you surrender when you’re waving the white flag. It’s a small but important difference.”

			“See? You’re smarter. You do it.”

			“You got this, Griff. I believe in you. Go.”

			Theo nudges me to the front of the room and retreats once I’m up there. I’m representing us in a trivia contest; this is definitely a bizarre universe. I shake hands with my competitor, a redhead girl in big glasses. It’s her against me for the Star Wars boxed set. Everyone is quiet, staring at us, excited for the showdown. But my tunnel vision reveals only a smiling Theo and his encouraging thumbs-ups.

			“First one to answer correctly wins the grand prize,” the hostess says. “Tiebreaker question.” She reaches into what looks like an empty mint bowl and retrieves a slip of paper. “From the Harry Potter series, what is Dumbledore’s full name?”

			A Harry Potter question; I got this. “Albus Percival Brian Wulfric Dumbledore!”

			Before the hostess can shake her head, I realize I’ve gotten it wrong. It’s Wulfric before Brian. I gasp with my hand over my mouth. I can’t even face Theo. My bespectacled competitor answers the question correctly and receives the roaring applause—the applause I wanted Theo to witness for me. I try to remind myself that this is all silly, and I smile and congratulate her. She is gracious enough to congratulate me too, which makes it a little better.

			I walk back to my table with the sword and shield. “I suck.”

			“Dude, you killed it! I bet you wouldn’t have confused those names if you were able to write them down on paper. It’s like trying to solve certain math problems without a calculator.”

			“Which you do all the time.”

			He shakes his head. “It’s not the same thing. You’re passionate about this. There’s also no way in hell I’d have even gotten Dumbledore’s first name.”

			“You’re forced to be nice to me because I just lost,” I say.

			Theo takes the sword from my hand. “Kneel before the king, Griff.” I look around for the king. “Me, asshole. I’m the king. Who else would be the king? Wade?”

			I laugh in spite of myself and get down on one knee, bowing my head as he knights me.

			“On this rainy Thursday, I, King Theo of New York City, praise you, Sir Griffin of New York City, for your vast knowledge of fantasy novels I’ll never take the time to read myself. And for having the kind of laugh that I like hearing so much I would punch myself over and over if you found it funny.”

			I rise, still grinning at our own stupidity. Theo twirls the sword between his fingers and swings, but I deflect him with the shield. I keep blocking his attacks. We ignore the waiters asking us to stop playing and eventually run toward the pinball machines, where I finally drop the shield.

			“I surrender!” I say. “It’s surrender, right? Not forfeit?”

			“My work here is done. I have nothing left to teach you, Sir Griffin of New York City.” Theo is brandishing his sword, victorious.

			I disarm us both as I kiss him, the plastic sword clattering at our feet as he pulls me closer to him.

			This feels right, even as our teeth clink. I laugh when we part.

			“That’s a thing we just did,” I say.

			“Let’s do it more often,” Theo says.





TODAY


			Monday, November 20th, 2016

			Jackson Wright is here, and there’s no not talking about him anymore.

			There’s no denying Jackson and I resemble each other; even Wade joked about it. His hair is a little darker and longer than mine, but still light brown at first look. We’re lanky, with bad posture, and we both looked back into your blue eyes with our hazels. You mentioned becoming fixated with the horseshoe-shaped birthmark on his collarbone, much like whenever you traced the “deflated pyramid” on my inner thigh. The big difference between us right now is I’m here at your funeral in your old hoodie and jeans, and he’s wearing a suit that’s a size too big for him. The suit makes sense, though I’m not sure what an eighteen-year-old in California would do with one.

			Here’s your history with Jackson as you told it to me: You met him last year on October 29th while walking along the highway. You were on your way to tutor that high-school junior, while Jackson was driving from his mother’s house to spend the weekend with his father. The rain surprised you, which doesn’t surprise me since you always refused to check the weather app; you prided yourself on adapting to any outside conditions.

			Lucky for you, Jackson came to the rescue.

			He’d seen you before during this same drive and thought you looked friendly. He was curious about how you existed in California without a car or bike or “some flying carpet.” You thought the flying carpet bit was funny. I thought it was uninspired. It’s possible I’m programmed to be a dick to anyone interested in you. But really, let’s not rule out Jackson’s joke sucked because—

			I’m letting it go. I’m moving on.

			Jackson pulled over and offered you a ride. He was a stranger, but from everything you told me about the impossibly perfect weather in California, it sounds like rain is the first wave of the zombie-pirate apocalypse, so I guess you can’t be faulted. Just sucks you were looking for a new partner to aid you in what was supposed to be our alternate universe.

			In the car, you and Jackson bonded over films and role-playing games. And the rest is unfortunately history.

			First: The phone call on November 7th detailing this new guy in your life. I had hoped your time with Jackson would just be a quick thing, but it stretched to a point where I couldn’t deny our own endgame was threatened. I wanted to know exactly what he looked like, what his story was, what your dates were like, what it was about him that mesmerized you.

			Jackson is blocking the door. Your dad is trying to reenter the chapel. He has definitely been smoking hard core, and the smell nauseates me instantly, reminding me of all the times he drove us around in his car that stunk of stale cigarettes and air freshener before he finally quit. (Until now.) Your dad doesn’t acknowledge Jackson beyond a hand on the shoulder, and while this is sick to admit, it makes me feel good. Jackson flew here, but he isn’t getting much from the man who taught you how to tie your shoes and ride a bike.

			My dad approaches yours. My mom remains close to me. Wade reappears by my side. I don’t know if Wade is nervous over how this is about to go down between Jackson and me or if he’s showing me support, but I don’t need him right now. I need to do this alone. But right when I’m about to go over to Jackson, your dad and mine step toward me.

			“Hey, Russell,” I say, twisting my ring finger. It’s an antistress trick you taught me, used by people who are afraid of flying—not that I’m ever getting on a plane.

			I last spoke with your dad on the phone the day you died, and again the day after, but this is the first time I’m seeing him. He’s wearing his reading glasses instead of the horn-rimmed frames he should be, and when he opens his mouth to speak, I notice his teeth have yellowed. He shuts himself up. There’s no point asking him how he’s doing. I hug him, battling through the invisible cigarette cloud.

			“You still think you have it in you to share some words?” Russell murmurs.

			I step back and nod. I can’t believe I live in a universe where I’m delivering a eulogy for you.

			He pats me on the shoulder, like he did Jackson, and walks away to check on Ellen in the service room.

			Jackson is making his way toward me, eyes lowered and hands pocketed. My parents and Wade are staring at me. I quietly ask them to give us a minute. I’m not sure if Jackson even wants to talk to me, but it’s happening. My mom tells me she’ll hold a seat for me. They all leave, and Wade looks over his shoulder as if he’s expecting something explosive. There will be no fights at your funeral, I promise.

			Suddenly, I’m standing face-to-face with your boyfriend. His left eye is stained red, and he smells like cigarette smoke, too.

			“Hey, Griffin,” Jackson says.

			He says my name like we’re friends.

			Funny, as I refused to meet him when you brought him here in February for your birthday. No way in hell was I going to go to one of our places with him. And we didn’t exactly check in with each other after you died, not that anyone thought we would. I thought of him, sure, but not so much about how he was doing as I’ve been wondering what the hell your final moments were like.

			He was there with you.

			Is it weird to envy him for that, for witnessing something I would never want to see with my own eyes? I have all this history with you, Theo, but he has pieces of your puzzle that would destroy me if I ever had to put them together, and yet I still want them.

			“Hey, Jackson,” I say. We don’t offer each other condolences. Maybe he’s waiting for me to do so; he’s going to be waiting for a while. “What’s wrong with your eye?”

			“Popped a blood vessel,” Jackson says. “Doctor doesn’t know if it’s from all the crying or screaming. It’ll go away.”

			I didn’t know someone could pop a blood vessel from crying. That’s something you would know.

			Jackson moves past me to get to your cutout. He doesn’t touch your face or trace your nameplate. He rests his forehead against yours—not an even fit, obviously—and closes his eyes.

			“I miss you, Theodore,” he says.

			Using your given name is so unexpectedly intimate, and you weren’t about being called that. You thought it made you sound too stiff and presidential. I’m not going to call him out on that. I can’t. What if you changed your mind? What if I out myself for truly not knowing who you were before you died?

			“How long are you in town for?” I ask. Seems nicer than asking him when the hell he’s going to leave.

			Jackson turns, shrugs. “I got here last night. I’m thinking about staying another week or two.”

			I know from you his mother has spent the past few years in a wheelchair, so it’s safe to bet she’s not here with him.

			“You staying with friends?”

			You’d mentioned Jackson had “theater friends” at NYU when he visited in February, though I’m not sure you two ever got around to meeting up with them—not with all the time you spent with your family, including the traditional movie-theater outing on your birthday. You must’ve shared a recliner seat with Jackson; that used to be our throne, Theo.

			“I’m staying with the McIntyres,” Jackson says.

			I’m such an idiot. He smells like cigarette smoke because he was outside with your dad, and he only got the shoulder pat because he’s been with them since last night. He must be staying in your room. Of course he is. He’s chief curator in the main exhibit of the McIntyre Museum, taking in all the archives of your life. I can see it all: our framed puzzles on your light-blue walls, a bookcase full of sketches you later animated at wicked speed, awards you didn’t mind “showing off,” your computer station decked out with robot magnets and old Tetris cartridges, the golden unicycle wheel you won at that carnival in the Bronx last summer, the plastic bat you used to beat the piñata at Denise’s seventh birthday, then saved for the zombie-pirate apocalypse . . .

			The outsider is inside the nexus of your life, and I hate it.

			“We should probably take our seats,” Jackson says. He checks his watch; it’s an old one of yours. The way he flashes it is hardly discreet. “The mass is probably starting any minute now.”

			We walk into the service room together. I switch sides when he walks to my left. He doesn’t pay it any mind, going straight for the empty seat in the front beside your mother. Ellen is in full black and silent, resting her head on Russell’s shoulder. I’m ready to rage over where Jackson found the nerve to sit next to your parents, when my eyes find your body.

			Even seeing it isn’t enough to believe it.

			You’re in a mahogany casket, dressed in a black suit I don’t remember you owning. There are tons of flowers placed around you. It reminds me of the summer afternoon you confessed your love of calla lilies, scared to admit it because “flowers aren’t manly.” When I rambled about my secret obsession with immortality irises after discovering them in some comic, it became a happily manly conversation. Afterward, we’d occasionally visit your grandmother’s flower shop before it closed last winter, losing out to all her competitors during the Valentine’s Day rush. I process the flowers in the room again, not spotting any calla lilies.

			I should’ve brought some white ones, your favorite. I’m sorry.

			I walk toward you even though I know it’s not time for that. The minister is about to lead everyone in prayer or sing a hymn, but it’s you, Theo, in a box. My vision shakes, my knees tremble. My mom calls for me, and my dad appears at my left side, pulling my arm. I shake him off and switch sides before letting him guide me to our seats on the far left of the room, away from your family and Jackson. The seat is uncomfortable. Too many eyes are on me, so I sink to the carpeted floor, crossing my legs like it’s fifth grade all over again.

			Father Jeffrey opens with a verse, Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

			I guess there is something comforting about being in a room with people who love you. But you should’ve been given more time in this universe. That way, when you were ready to die, you could pack stadiums with people who loved you, not a single room.

			There are hymns sung, but not by me. We agreed that I can do a lot of things—like keep up with a car for four blocks before losing my breath or ride a bike with no hands for long stretches of time—but I cannot sing. Jackson is singing, though. I can’t make out his voice in the chorus of others, but he’s looking at you with a tilted head, like a curious child asking you why you’re sleeping in a box.

			The eulogies begin, and they’re brutal. Your mother is the first one up, and she tries to joke about the nineteen-hour labor she went through with you, before she shuts down and quickly reboots. She tells everyone how she’ll miss nursing you back to health whenever you were sick, and how she regrets confiscating your Xbox One after you received a C+ on your earth science midterm. Denise is next. She tells everyone how you two used to have dance parties in the living room, which I never knew, and when she loses it, I snap up from the floor and race toward her because you’re in a casket unable to do so yourself, inviting her to sit back down with me.

			I’m not surprised your father tells the story about how your first word, “sock,” was the first time it clicked with him that you were a little human being that was going to grow up to use all kinds of words to get around the world. Aunt Clara will miss your “funny little movies.” Uncle Ned doesn’t know who he’ll talk to about engines anymore. Wade keeps it quick, too, saying he misses you so much already and apologizes for wronging you. Your neighbor, Simone, is still grateful for the month you went grocery shopping for her after she crushed her leg in a car accident.

			Then it’s my turn.

			Not sure what they want to hear from me.

			Maybe they’re interested in how our friendship began in middle school over Pompeii. And now I’m supposed to be delivering your eulogy.

			I rise, helping Denise up from the floor, too. I encourage her to rejoin your parents, which she does without a fight.

			I walk closer to you, your face touched up with makeup, and you don’t look like the boy I love. Your body has your features, sure, but you’re sort of chalky and very unnatural and it sends a bad chill running up my arms. The bright blue tie they chose for you would’ve gone beautifully with your open eyes. I slip into the memory of you at your graduation party, superimposing this blue tie over the green one you were wearing to see what it would look like, and then I pull myself out of this reimagining because I can’t change our history. I can’t begin remembering you wrong.

			“One moment,” I tell the room.

			I walk all the way to you, gripping the frame of your casket. I check my watch, waiting for the next even minute—10:42—and I touch your folded hands. You’re cold, I knew you’d be, but holding you after not being able to touch you in so long reminds me of last summer’s beach bonfire; the warmth of the glowing fire, our two-man huddle on the sand. But unlike that night, where we promised each other your leaving for college wouldn’t ruin us, I’m stuck having one-sided conversations with you as your boyfriend sits behind me. I squeeze your hands, crying a little.

			I’m going to tell your friends and family a story about you, okay? I’m not going far.

			I let go and turn around.

			I step to the center, staring at nothing but shoes and the podium I’m tempted to hide behind.

			“I love Theo,” I say, choking. I tug at my right earlobe, squeezing it between my thumb and middle finger. “He’s been my best friend since I was ten, my favorite person, who was supposed to exist forever. I told him everything, even the things about myself that scared me. Like the time I came out to him as a possible crazy person the same second he told me he was gay . . .” I tell them a bit about how we threw off our straight cloaks two years ago on June 8th, and how it taught me that honesty sometimes leads to happiness.

			The memory quickly comes and goes.

			I’m crying now, full on, and one hand is pulling at my ear and the other is pressed against my chest. “He made me feel safe from the world, and made me feel safe from myself.” My legs are going to give out. “I don’t know where to go from here. I don’t think any of us do. No one would’ve ever thrown down money, betting we’d be saying goodbye to Theo so soon, and it’s not fair and it’s a total nightmare. But we all have mad love for Theo, and history is how we get to keep him.”

			I make my way back to my spot on the floor, thinking of a thousand more things I want to say. My dad leans over and kisses the top of my head. He tells me I did a good job, but he doesn’t know anything. I’ve said enough to everyone here, but there’s still so much I have to tell you.

			Father Jeffrey approaches the altar when Jackson hops out of his seat. He steps to the podium.

			“Hi everyone, I’m Jackson,” he announces in a tight voice. “I was Theo’s boyfriend in California.”

			I can’t listen to this.

			Except I have to. For sanity’s sake I’m going to soldier through this eulogy. You wouldn’t want me writing you off or running away. Though it gets me wondering again if you ever told him stories of me, or if you hogged memories of our time together the way you did with him. I don’t know which of the two is winning—your eagerness to tell a story about us because not doing so was suffocating, or keeping our history close to your chest like an inside joke you couldn’t possibly let anyone else in on.

			Jackson is fidgety, tugging at your old watch. “My parents have been divorced since I was fourteen. Even as a kid I could tell they weren’t in love. When I finally got my driver’s license this year, it was awesome because we didn’t have to go through the awkward drop-off where my parents barely said hi to each other. I didn’t think I’d find someone I loved while driving between my parents’ houses on weekends. I didn’t even recognize it was the same guy until the third or fourth time. But one day it was raining, and I saw him on my way to Mom’s house, same time as usual, and he didn’t have an umbrella. So I pulled over, and he asked me if I often rescued strangers from the rain.”

			I can hear the words out of your own mouth, Theo. My face heats up.

			Jackson smiles to himself, remembering this memory I can already tell is too intimate, more than I ever thought I’d want to know. “I told him I’d seen him while driving several times and he seemed innocent, but better not turn out to be a murderer. Naturally, he found me suspicious for having an idea who he was, so he made a joke and threw his shoulder against the door, like he was trying to bust out.”

			That sounds like you.

			There’s some laughter behind me.

			“Theo was shivering. He got my SMC sweater from the backseat—I didn’t even offer it to him; he just took it—and he told me he just started classes there, too. I warned him about this creepy professor on campus, and we got to know each other over a fifteen-minute drive. I never told Theo this, but I considered getting lost to spend more time with him. I should’ve told him.”

			Jackson pauses.

			I’m at war with myself. I’m hating the sadness over you he’s owning, but I’m sympathizing with him because it’s you he’s messed up over. I also wish some of the things I have to tell you were sweet like this and not things that will change the way you see me.

			My nails dig into my palm.

			“I didn’t get a chance to tell him that, but we exchanged numbers and hung out on campus. I did tell him that I was attracted to him at the end of an awesome day we spent together. I did that much.” Jackson’s lips quiver for a second before it becomes a full-on cry. And, I don’t know, it looks more like happy crying. I almost feel compelled to bounce up and hug him or pat his back. I beat on myself as I picture you helpless in the ocean. “Even if I only got to spend that first drive to the planetarium with Theo, he broke me in a way everyone should be lucky to be cracked open at least once. I had the privilege of being destroyed by him until we found a better, real me inside of the person I was pretending to be. I hope I make him proud.”

			Jackson turns to you. “Thank you, Theodore,” he concludes.

			He returns to his seat, where he leans forward, holding his stomach and hiding his face with his other hand.

			The service comes to a close, which is good for my heart and head, but I would suffer through a thousand more stories about you if there were people here to tell them. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

			Tomorrow morning we’re burying you.





HISTORY


			Sunday, June 15th, 2014

			I’m sure I’ll sound psychotic if I ever try explaining my growing awareness with even numbers to anyone, even Theo—especially Theo—because it’s definitely verging on obsessive. When Theo and I were making out at the train station after school on Friday, I found myself counting our kisses. I don’t mean like one, two, three, four, and onward, but more like one, two, one, two, one, two to make sure we remained even. And when Theo pulled away at an odd kiss, I’d move back in for another. There are bigger problems than getting to kiss Theo again, but the counting is creeping into the rest of my life, too. Like how today’s odd-numbered date is making me a little anxious. How I’ve now sneezed three times straight and am wishing a fourth would follow.

			Oh yeah, I have a cold.

			It turns out running through the rain and playing trivia in a very cold diner is both the perfect first date and the perfect recipe to make someone sick. I’m that someone. Theo dodged this bullet, but he’s throwing himself back in the crossfire just to keep me company.

			“Are we done with the sneezing?” Theo asks.

			I’d be really grateful for one more sneeze. “You didn’t have to come over!”

			We’re on the floor of my bedroom, piecing together his zombie-pirate puzzle.

			“Yeah, well, I wasn’t having much luck with level nineteen of Tetris because I couldn’t get my brain to stop missing you,” Theo says. “I’m not worried about getting sick. I just need you to finish building the plank for The Bloodcurdling Crawler, stat.”

			“I know, I know.” I sniff. “I just feel really conflicted because if I build the plank, it means the zombie pirate hanging off of it will climb into the ship and infect the human pirates, or even straight-up kill them.” I look at him. “I sort of want to prevent the apocalypse, if that makes sense.”

			“But if the apocalypse doesn’t happen, we won’t be the last two dudes in the world charged with rebuilding the population,” Theo says.

			“You’re the dumbest genius if you think that’s how reproduction works.”

			“Oh, I get it. I’m just not going to let that stop us from trying.”

			I don’t know if Theo is smiling because he’s imagining us having sex or because he likes making me uncomfortable, but I do know that I don’t have the balls to continue this conversation. I collect all the pieces for the plank and put them together like a good little soldier. And damn, now I’m thinking about role-playing where I’m some peon soldier taking orders from Sergeant Theo McIntyre, and when he asks me to drop down and give him one hundred I . . . okay, I have to stop. I adjust the blanket around my shoulders to shield my lap from his eyes.

			“You’re still cold?” Theo gets up and grabs his green hoodie off the radiator. “Here, it’s dry now. There’s got to be some scientific study somewhere that proves your boyfriend’s sweater will keep you warmer and cure you of any illnesses a lot faster than some Pottery Barn blanket.”

			“It’s actually from Target.” I keep the blanket where it is while slipping into Theo’s sweater. It smells like his grandmother’s flower shop, and it fits me as snugly as it does Theo. “Thanks, dude.”

			“You look really good in green,” Theo says. “Keep it.”

			“Double thanks, dude.”

			The puzzle is really a work in progress: the ship has holes in it, as if uninfected humans were wise to the zombie virus and had already begun shooting cannonballs. The ocean—which Theo has charged himself with completing—also has tons of holes, like a series of really deep whirlpools threatening to swallow the ship whole. There’s a pirate onboard who’s currently headless because Theo has the necessary piece on his side. The sky is dark and broken, my fault, as always. And I only mess it up further when I lean over to give Theo a thank-you kiss, resting my knee on it and accidentally sliding some of the pieces apart. My thank-you kiss was supposed to be a two-off, but Theo pulls me into his lap and locks me in, turning it into something more.

			Theo stops, and we breathe. “Do you want to . . . ?”

			“Want to . . . what?” This could seriously mean a thousand things: Do I want to put away the puzzle and take our kissing to the bed? Do I want to get completely naked, hurling my boxers across the room and have sex with him? Do I want to keep it simple, maybe let him jerk me off and I do the same for him? Do I want to take a nap because I’m freaking sick and shouldn’t be awake, let alone getting physical?

			“Don’t make me say it,” he says.

			Theo is blushing. I’ve made him feel awkward.

			“I’m sorry, but if you don’t tell me what you want, I’m just going to go ahead and assume you mean crochet a new sweater for you.”

			“You crochet, Griff?”

			“Stop playing cute, Theo.”

			Theo bites back a smile and shakes his head. “Do you want to practice repopulating the human race?”

			“But I’m sick.”

			“I know. All I ask is that you don’t sneeze on me.”

			I roll off of him because he’s on the floor, and we both know from past sleepovers that it’s not a comfortable floor to spend the night on. It is how we fell into our system where we both slept in each other’s beds, heads facing feet, snuggled up in our own blankets. But we don’t have to do that anymore. I stand and close the door, even though my parents are both out shopping for Theo’s sister’s birthday barbeque this week.

			I nod. “Let’s practice.”

			Something I’ve never considered about my first time: it’s the middle of the day. I always thought this was an evening thing, something you do and go to bed afterward, maybe watch some TV if you’re not too wiped out. But my parents are supposed to be out for another couple of hours. My mom and dad are both very particular about what they’re looking for when they’re shopping. Theo and I have enough time to get our act together—maybe even get our act together twice if the first time goes well, or, you know, ends early.

			“Do you mind if I close the curtains?” I ask.

			“We’re on the sixth floor, Griff. I don’t think anyone is going to peek in.”

			“I know, but I think I’ll just be a little more comfortable if it’s darker.”

			“You know you’re handsome and beautiful, right?”

			“I like that you believe that, but I don’t want you rethinking it.”

			“No chance in hell, but whatever you want.”

			Theo moves over to the bed, sitting on the edge while I turn off the lights and draw the curtains shut. I stand there. Theo is good with words, but he’s better with action, he’s better with getting things done. It’s the part of him that can make it awkward for him to say the word “sex” but be totally coolheaded when the cards are actually on the table. He waves me over with two fingers and his stupid monkeylike, scrunched-up expression that always cracks me up.

			I hesitate. “Maybe we should play some music . . .”

			“Griffin, we don’t have to do this if you’d rather wait.”

			“No, I want to. I just want some music. Sorry if that’s stupid.”

			I feel weird apologizing, but admitting that I’m trying to make this moment feel special just feels silly. I can’t rewind time and take it back. It’s been one week since I’ve been dating Theo, and there’s no alternate universe where I can envision myself not feeling embarrassed about our “anniversary.” I don’t want him to think I’m some loser for paying attention to stuff like that. I used to think it was lame whenever my parents celebrated yearly anniversaries. Look at me now: caring about one week. One week with someone I really like. One week with someone I’ve been waiting years for. I hope knowing what it’s like to spend one year with Theo won’t be left to my imagination.

			“It’s not stupid, Griff.”

			Theo throws out suggestions, like “Love Shack” for its pure ridiculousness, but we settle on his playlist with scores from action movies.

			It’s epic.

			The music playing on high will hopefully drown out any thoughts that may scare me from going through with this, and the drawn curtains make me feel just invisible enough that I don’t have to be self-conscious.

			I sit down beside Theo, who immediately holds my hand and kisses me. We lie down. When our shirts finally do come off, it’s different from all the times we’ve gone to the beach, since we never held each other shirtless.

			“Should we take off our pants at a countdown from three?”

			“How about four?”

			Theo smiles. “Right.”

			“Four . . .”

			I unzip his jeans while he untangles the knots of my pajamas.

			“Three . . .”

			I’m slowly sliding out of my own pajamas, bringing my boxers down too. I wait to make sure Theo is doing the same with his jeans and Tetris briefs before I commit. But he’s committed, too.

			“Two . . . One.”

			And just like that, we’re naked in my bed, our clothes at our feet.

			It’s weird. It’s weird how everything can change in one week. It’s weird how we went from best friends figuring out how to confess our feelings for each other to boyfriends. It’s weird how Theo was the one who accidentally knocked me off the jungle gym when we were younger, which left a heart-shaped scar on my hip, and now he’s able to see and trace the wrinkly scar he’s responsible for. It’s weird how we used to go into Theo’s backpack to grab an extra Xbox controller, and now I’m watching him run across the room naked to grab condoms—which he packed just in case we lost control of ourselves. It’s weird how it hurts at first; it’s weird how Theo’s talking to me to make sure I’m okay feels way better than everything else that’s happening. It’s weird how we’re learning how to do this together, how I don’t find myself counting, how I’m able to be here for him and be here for me without distraction, how I forget I have a cold. It’s weird how it’s nothing like I thought it would be from the countless hours of porn watching I’ve clocked. It’s weird how I can feel his love for me even though that’s not a word we’re throwing around, and I hope he can feel my love for him, too. It’s weird how when we’re done it doesn’t feel weird at all, how I never want to be invisible when I’m with him, and how I can’t believe I ever thought I would doubt this moment in the first place.

			“That’s a thing that happened,” Theo says as he rests his head on my chest.

			“It’s a weird thing that happened,” I say. “Good weird. It’s the best kind of weird. The type of weird that should win a medal for how good weird it was.”

			“What’s so good weird about it?”

			“Because I got to do this with you.” I stare at the ceiling. It could be a starless night sky. “But also because of how I feel. It’s like I’m the same me, but not really. Do you feel that way?”

			“Nope. I think you said it best: I’m good-weird different.” Theo turns over and rests on his stomach. “It took a lot of balls to stop beating around the bush and be fully honest with you, and I want full credit, dammit! I’m a new man! I’m good-weird different!” He pops up, kneeling and pumping his fist into the air. I want to go grab the sword and shield we won the other night and present them to him, but I’m too wiped. I’m remembering I have a cold now. “I’m Theo McIntyre, a dude who just had sex with another dude! A dude who loves another du—” He shuts up, probably wishing he possessed the power to rewind time and undo his words. He gestures around the bed. “Screw it. I love you, Griffin. I’m not even going to pretend that’s not what this is. You’re not brand-new to me. I’ve known this for a while. I’m actually happy I outed myself here.”

			I don’t know how to process being someone worthy of being someone’s first kiss, of being someone’s first date, of being someone’s first time, of being someone’s first love.

			This afternoon wins for its good weirdness.

			I smile and it finally comes: sneeze number four. “I’m supposed to be sick. I mean, I’m sick,” I say, my throat tickling.

			“Say what?”

			“Sorry, I, uh. I’m sick. This just seems like a really strange, I mean weird, I mean good-weird day for someone who should be eating soup and sleeping. I wasn’t even expecting to see you because I’m sick, but here you are. It’s been one week since we’ve been doing this dating thing, and we just had sex and you’re saying you’re in love with me and I’m just kind of like, what.”

			I wonder at what I just said. I’m either doing something very right or very wrong.

			Theo laughs and shakes his head. “You’re so awkward, Griff. You shouldn’t ever be let outside your room. Here’s my cue to insert some flirty comment about how I’ll lock myself in here with you, but I’m better than that. I think.” He lies down next to me, holding my hand. “Please don’t go crazy over this. If we want to play dumb over this, we can. I can redo this down the line whenever you’re ready.”

			I drag a finger across his jawline. I have the most honest boyfriend staring back at me. I have no reason to lie to him, and no reason to lie to myself. “You’re playing dumb already if you don’t think I love you back. But, officially, here it is: I love you, Theo. I love you, dude who had sex with another dude. I love you, dude who is in love with another dude.” Four times. I’ve told Theo I love him four times, and it was easier with each one. I picture each word like a fearless skydiver. An assembly of brave words just dove out of the clouds and landed in my bed.

			Theo and I stay there for a little bit longer, but when my mom texts me—asking me how I’m doing and telling me she’ll be home soon with hot soup—we know it’s time for him to go. There’s nothing suspicious about Theo’s being here, but we both know things are different now. Love and sex have been added to the recipe of our friendship. We’re something new. But, man, Theo and I getting dressed together is a kind of quiet miracle, what people don’t even know to dream about until it happens in real time. I try to cling to that dream, to the certainty that everything will feel as infinite as it does now so that our story will be like the high school sweetheart love story my parents have.

			“I’ll walk you out.” I help him put his backpack on, any excuse to touch him some more.

			“You say that to all the guys you sleep with, don’t you?”

			“Only the ones who are stupid enough to love me.”

			“So, what, ten dudes?”

			“You wish it was only ten dudes.”

			Theo and I kiss for approximately the thousandth time this afternoon, and as he walks out, he says, “See you later. Don’t forget that I love you. By the way, in case you were wondering, I still love you. Hey, you rock. Don’t change. If you change I might not love you anymore, which is something I do now. I love you times ten.”

			“If you love me, you won’t ever bring math into this again,” I say back, rubbing my nose.

			Theo keeps muttering “I love you; I love you” while going down the hall, as if those are the only three words in his vocabulary—and before he can turn the corner to the elevator, he stops and holds his hand to his ear.

			I mouth the words he’s waiting for. I add a “too” to bring the word count to four.

			Once I close the door, I miss him. It feels extremely pathetic, but I shake it off because it won’t feel that way when Theo and I are together years from now. I feel confident about that. I’m no longer listening to those doubts that make me feel inferior to Theo. And I also believe I’m Theo’s first time because he wanted it that way, and not because I was some trial run for someone worthier of him down the line. I don’t just believe it; I know it.

			He said he loves me. I believe that, too. But I want more. I want to know it.

			Saturday, June 21st, 2014

			Theo’s summer cold—well, let’s keep it real and call it my summer cold since it’s pretty clear how he got sick—is gone, just in time for Denise’s sixth birthday party in Central Park. It’s a Disney princess theme. (What else?) Denise and most of her friends are dressed as Elsa, but calling it a Frozen party wouldn’t be fair to the two Belles and the Mulan in attendance.

			“We should’ve dressed up, too,” I say.

			“You can’t pull off a dress as well as Denise,” Theo says.

			“I should’ve forgotten to show up,” Wade says, back in his glasses as of this weekend, since his contacts finally became unbearable. He waves at us. “Remember me? Wade Church? The one who agreed to come to this kid’s party even though he had something better to do.”

			Theo turns to me. “Hey, do you hear something? Like a ghost pretending he has better things to do?”

			I feel a little guilty laughing, but not enough that I don’t. Besides, it’s no secret there’s tons of bullying in the Theo and Wade friendship. Everyone is used to this by now, me most of all. Sometimes I’m nervous he’s going to move on to new friends; I’m not that desperate for an even number in our squad.

			“Whatever. Just don’t have sex out here or I’m calling the cops.”

			That’s another thing: he references our sex life whenever possible.

			“There aren’t enough middle fingers in the world, Wade,” Theo says. “But for starters . . .” He flips Wade off twice, nods toward me to do the same, which I do. “Here are four.”

			Wade forces a laugh. “Tag-teaming. Fun.”

			There’s some truth to that. Now that school is out of the way, Theo and I are planning for the summer. We really, really don’t want Wade to feel like a third wheel, and it seems like we’re failing already. Still, before our summer begins, Theo and I have decided to come out to our parents. And Wade can’t roll with us for that. This belongs to the two of us alone.

			My mom and dad are sitting with Theo’s at the picnic table, eating lunch with some of the other parents. They’re laughing and bantering while a horde of Elsas chase Mulan around a tree. I’m a little nervous. More than a little. They’re completely oblivious to the missile we’re about to fire their way.

			“Now seems like a good time,” I say.

			“Yeah, why not?” Theo turns to Wade. “Okay, kiddo. We’re off to go come out to our parents. Have you received any super legit psychic visions on how this will play out?”

			Wade shakes his head. “I predict everything will remain perfect in the perfection that is your life, Theo.”

			“Perfect,” Theo says. He throws up a peace sign. “Give us ten minutes. Fifteen if they want to take pictures.”

			In my head I correct it to sixteen minutes but keep that to myself.

			“All right.” Wade sits on the ground and pulls out his phone. “Hopefully I can Instagram without those Elsas asking me if I want to build a snowman.”

			Steeling ourselves, we walk over to the picnic table. We politely interrupt, asking our moms and dads if we can bother them for a second. They follow us to the tree with the birthday balloon tied around it, and we squeeze together in the shade.

			“What’s up, guys?” Dad asks.

			“We want to update you all on something,” Theo says. The four of them stare at us, but I stop feeling outnumbered when Theo grabs my hand. “We’re dating, and we’ve decided if you’re uncool with it, we’re going to live here in the trees.” The words tumble out of his mouth in such a rush that it sounds like one long word instead of eighteen separate words.

			“No, we said we’d live on the pier,” I add.

			Theo glances at me. “I’m trying to throw them off. I don’t want them finding us if they’re not cool with it.” He turns his attention back to our parents. “We cool?”

			I don’t know how everyone else is feeling, but I don’t feel cool. I scratch at my palm with my free hand. I felt brave walking over here, and braver when Theo grabbed my hand, but my stomach is turning because we’ve reached the point of no return. I’m ready to reach for my earlobe when everyone breaks into smiles.

			Russell laughs. “That’s it? I thought you were trying to leave the party to hang out elsewhere. Poor Wade looks miserable. The answer would’ve been no, but I’m more than fine with you two dating.”

			Ellen hooks her arm inside Russell’s, patting his shoulder. “Theo, I thought you finally hacked your way into some network you have no business touching and forced Griffin to be your accomplice.”

			“A likely scenario,” Theo says. “Fair.”

			My mom does this weird shoulder bounce I’ve never seen her do before, and it might be the happiness of a mom seeing her son dating, but I’m not a fan. “I’m coming in for a hug.” She hugs both Theo and I at once. “I didn’t think this day would come for years. I’m so excited.”

			Once my mom backs away to hug Theo’s parents, my dad hugs Theo.

			“Good choice, Theo,” Dad says. Then he comes to me and, yup, another hug. “No more sleepovers, but I’m happy for you both.”

			The hugging and awkward compliments about how cute we are finally come to an end. I feel lightheaded. Theo and I return to Wade, who’s already laughing.

			“The hugging quota for sons coming out is maxed out,” Wade says.

			“Seriously,” I say.

			Wade stares at his phone. “I guess this is actually happening,” he says. “You came out to each other, made out, banged out, and now came out to your parents. You’re as out as it gets.”

			“Thanks for the recap,” Theo says.

			“I guess I accept this. Get together, guys. Picture time.” Wade stands and aims the phone at us.

			Theo and I wrap our arms around each other’s waists. “Smile or no smile?”

			“Smile this time,” I say.

			All the important people in our lives know about us. Best friend, parents. Theo and I already talked about what comes next. We’re pretty sure we’ll go public online sometime this summer, but we’re not in as big a rush to do so—not anymore. My biggest priority right now is framing the last photo Theo and I took as best friends beside the first photo we’ve taken as boyfriends.





TODAY


			Tuesday, November 21st, 2016

			You died on an odd day, and we’re burying you on one, too.

			It’s drizzling, but you’re tucked away inside your closed casket. The line to place flowers on you is moving, footprints sinking into the muddy grass of the cemetery where we’re going to be forced to leave you. I remembered to bring the white calla lilies this time.

			We gather in a circle as you’re lowered into the ground.

			I think about alternate universes as we lay you to rest in this one. There are billions, trillions, existing all at once: one where we never broke up and you stayed in New York, one out of reach from oceans that have it in for you, one where we both moved to California for school, one where you quit school and left animation and Jackson behind because you missed me so much, one where we met halfway somewhere because you wanted me not only to be your future but to help you find it, one where we’re the sole survivors of the zombie-pirate apocalypse . . . countless more where things are right, maybe with some touches of wrong. But in them all, you and I are more than history. I have to believe these universes exist; it’s the only way to manage the suffering here. Alternate versions of me are perfectly happy with alternate versions of you, because you’re alive. Alternate Theos all honor the promise you made never to die (not even at the hands of a zombie pirate).

			But you’re being lowered into a hole. Your parents and Denise are freaking out. Jackson is crying, and his shoulders shift left to right, like he’s looking for someone—you—to cry on, until reality kicks his ass, too. Wade is standing with my parents, embraced by my mom. And I’m somehow on my knees. I was standing a minute ago, rocking back and forth, crying for my favorite person to bust out of the casket and hug me. I look up, and Jackson’s eyes find mine. For a second, it almost feels like we’re about to race into the hole to join you. Being buried alive has got to be better than whatever comes next.

			This is the moment of the end. This is where we give up hope on reversing time, where we abandon finding a cure to death, where we live in this Theo-less universe, where we say goodbye.

			But I can’t. It is goodbye for most, but not for me. Never me.





HISTORY


			Thursday, July 17th, 2014

			Our Squad Day was long overdue. We chilled at the High Line, the coolest park in the city. Central Park is fine and all, but it can’t really compete against an aerial urban railroad. There was tons of foot traffic along the gravel walkway, but the three of us managed to find this great spot on the grass, overlooking the Hudson River. We put together a puzzle of a chained dragon—something we would have done before Theo and me. We decide to walk back uptown, catching the sun falling lower and lower as we pass buildings, and as we get closer to home, I remember my mission. I wanted to wait until we were alone, but why shouldn’t Wade hear this, too?

			“Still coming with me to buy condoms?” I ask Theo. It’s my first time buying them, and if Theo knows what’s good for him, he’ll go with me.

			“You would need to find me a one-way ticket to an alternate universe where you walk around naked twenty-four/seven for me to miss this,” Theo says.

			Wade struggles to find his voice and spits out, “Just say yes next time.” He shakes his head and starts walking off. “You guys have fun with that.”

			Theo runs ahead and blocks him. “No, no. You don’t want to feel like a third wheel, right? Come on, be a bro that helps his other bros buy condoms.”

			I help Theo drag Wade into the Duane Reade by my building. Wade is shaking his head, but we’re all laughing like idiots as we make our way to the family-planning aisle—straight to the wall of condoms. My family plan: don’t start a family the next time we have sex. But condoms are only 98 percent effective, so who knows?

			“You got to love the options,” Theo says, beaming at our possibilities and Wade’s discomfort. “I can’t help but think of horses and gladiator sandals with Trojan. Magnum sounds kick-ass, like it’s going to come with a bazooka. Casanova is trying too hard to be suave, I think. Suave comes before sex, not during it.” Theo picks up a small black box. “What about this one? They’re spelling skin with a y.” He picks up a blue box. “Or we can go classic. Not sure why anyone would want classic when you can have Trojan’s Fire and Ice condoms.”

			I raise my hand. “I’ll go with boring classic if it means my dick won’t simultaneously burn and freeze.”

			“Fair.”

			“How about Durex?” Wade suggests, gamely trying to get into the spirit of things. He’s never had sex before, but both Theo and I know he came close a couple of times during our freshman year. “Does that make you think about ponies or rocket launchers?”

			“It’s horses and bazookas, but no.” Theo takes the Durex condoms from Wade and pats his back. “Thanks, man.”

			We enter the line. I’m not laughing anymore. I really wish they had self-checkout here because buying condoms may be the most awkward legal transaction ever. It’s weird to be looked at as someone sexually, I don’t know why. It even felt a little weird for Theo to see me that way, and he’s not some random cashier. It’s rare I see the same cashiers here, so I really shouldn’t care; I might as well be buying these condoms on the other side of the world in a country I never plan on visiting again. But it still feels like this purchase comes with a spotlight. I grab some impulse-buy candy in the hopes of dimming the glare.

			“Just be cool,” Theo says. “You’re not buying drugs.”

			He’s right. I’m going to be cool. I’m not buying drugs. I’m not even buying alcohol, where I have to be twenty-one. Buying condoms is totally normal. It’s something enough guys are doing because there are options, which means it’s a thriving business, which means there are multiple companies trying to convince us theirs is the best, which means we have everyone—including myself, in this moment, sort of—to thank for not only helping to keep the world a safe place, but for making sure it doesn’t become too overpopulated.

			“Griffin. Hey.”

			No way.

			I freeze at the sound of my dad’s voice. He’s right behind us. I honestly think I’d rather be caught masturbating.

			Wade laughs a little to himself, probably because this is going to be painfully humiliating. He slow-claps. “Bet you’re regretting bringing me here.”

			There’s no being cool about this. The only thing that could make this worse is if I turn and see that my dad is also buying condoms. I know my parents still have sex, because I’m not an idiot, I know they’re not just watching Netflix or going to sleep early when they wish me good night around 8 p.m. I turn and he’s holding shaving razors and boxes of cereal. The cereal reminds me of being a kid and e