My entire life, it’s always been hard. I mean, I would’ve expected it to when you keep the biggest secret in the world from everyone else. Okay, not the biggest secret in the world-but you get what I mean. My parents aren’t cool with anything new, no new rules, no new presidents, and especially no new dating tricks. Mainly-this means coming out would ruin all that I’ve lived for. I get straight A’s and I’m quarterback at our school, but none of that would even matter if people found out about who I really am.
Other than the large parts of me I’m keeping, my life seems to be pretty good. I’m considered popular at school, my siblings aren’t always annoying, and I have a girlfriend: Haven Bronx. Haven is one of the most popular girls in school as well, so it made sense for the two of us to be together. Being captain of the cheerleading team, she has a pretty busy schedule, so I don’t always have to see her. But when I do-it’s hard to really be myself around her. Around anyone.
I really do like Haven. She’s a sweet girl, and she cares about other people’s feelings. But, I don’t like her in that way. And it wouldn’t even be too bad if we broke up at school, but her entire family loves me.
So that’s where the problem comes in.
I would always sit at the dinner table and try to keep my mind off of other things while Haven’s parents continued talking about sports, or cheer, or their older daughter (who’s in Yale, in case anyone really cared). It was just that, I never seemed to keep my mind on anything that was going on at dinner there, and I was the only one to blame.
“How have you been Ezra?” Mr. Bronx asked me as I calmly sat down next to Haven. Her family was always fancy, so being skittish wouldn’t look good for me. Once I sat down, Haven smiled to me. And I smiled back without showing any teeth.
“I’ve been great.” I said.
Lie, but everyone else was going with it.
“I heard there was a game on Saturday, are you ready for that?” Mrs. Bronx asked me. In all honesty, I was excited for the game and all-but I’d much rather be somewhere else on that day instead of whatever I always felt trapped.
But, like always, I smiled and nodded. “I’m ready for it,” I said. “Coach says we’re probably gonna be amazing out there.”
“And I get to watch all of it front and center,” Haven said, smiling to me before looking at her parents.
Mr. and Mrs. Bronx smiled at their daughter before looking back at their food. It was seafood, which was one of the main reasons why I was trying to continue talking instead of eating something from the sea. “Haven,” Mrs. Bronx said. “Did you mention to tell Ezra about your sister?”
I don’t know why, but my instant thought was that Mrs. Bronx was pregnant. I mean, she was only about 39 or something. I’m sure having a kid wouldn’t be that hard. But then, my mind clicked and told me this was about Angelica. Angelica is Haven’s older half sister, and she’s pretty smart for her age. I’ve only met her a few times, but her family talks about her enough for me to know basically everything I need to. The weirdest thing is, even though Haven and Angelica have different dads, they both really do look the same. Like Haven, Angelica has dark brown hair and hazel eyes, which usually change color depending on the light. And usually they both always know what to say for certain situations, but can also annoy the living ⟴ out of you sometimes.
“Oh my gosh,” Haven exclaimed. “I’m so excited to see her!” she grabbed my hand from under the table as I did my best to keep from showing any reaction. “How long is she staying in town?”
Mrs. Bronx was about to begin eating again, but then set down her fork and looked Haven. “A few days I think, a week at the most. She’s really busy at college, sweetheart.” Haven nodded, but then everyone at the table grew silent as I looked back down at the seafood.
I seriously do hate everything about the thought of eating something from the ocean, but I also hated people not liking me-so I began slowly eating the shrimp. At first, I felt my body trying to bring it back up, but I swallowed it before anything else could happen. I took a long drink of the water Mr. Bronx had given me and then sighed, not even sure if I could finish the food that was set in front of me.
Once dinner was over, I wasn’t judged for not eating all of the shrimp. But, I still felt a large guilt inside of me.
Haven’s parents went upstairs, allowing me and her to have some alone time. I hated when people said “I’ll give you two some alone time.” It was like they just expected for two people to begin making out. And I never would do something like that while her parents were upstairs, anyways. I wouldn’t even do something like that with a girl in the first place.
“So…” Haven said, sitting down next to me and grabbing the TV remote. “You nervous about the game?” before I could even answer her, Haven kept on talking. “We have a great cheer that is bomb.”
I laughed. “Yes, I’m ready. How long have y’all been working on the cheer?”
“A couple weeks. I think you’re going to love it, babe.”
Though I hated it when she called me that, I nodded. One of the best ways to get Haven to be quiet would be talking about cheer. All of the girls on the team were really passionate about their work and loved to brag about it. Sometimes, when I was forced to hang out with Haven’s friends, the topic of football and cheer would be the main two things. Which, I was kind of okay with-because at least I was getting attention.
Haven was leaning on me, texting someone on her phone when she suddenly laughed. I looked down at her and said; “What is it?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡWcEREya003
Instead of simply answering, she handed me her phone.
Hey sis, you excited about me coming back tomorrow?
Obvi! I can’t wait to see you!!
Me too! How’s high school treating you?
Amazing, actually! I’m still captain of the cheerleading team and I’m still dating Ez. On top of that, all my friends and grades are amazing. Things couldn’t be better!
(That’s great!) And I’m pretty good too. I’m just pretty happy I’m keeping up in class.
Great! Cuter than ever...and stronger, which is good for the football team.
Awesome! Good thing he’s still cute, right?
Oh my gosh, lol! I would’ve still dated him if he wasn’t tho.
Yeah, right. I gotta go soon...is there anything else you need to tell me before I start my homework?
Just one last thing. You excited about the football game?
Yup. Aren’t they playing against Oakwood?
Yeah, they are. But Ezra’s got this one in the bad. He always does-
Well, I’ve got two more things to say. One, I miss you like crazy (Mom and Dad too). And two, hope Ezra’s as cute as you say he is…
I’m not sharing him, Angelica.
Lol, never said you had to, Hav. Everyone knows men like the smarter girls.
I don’t know why, but I had this weird feeling that all I was to Haven was just something she could put on display. And it really did bother me on the inside, but there was nothing I could fix about any of it. If Haven realized I was bothered by crap like that, she’d find some way to ruin my life.
Instead of saying what I wanted to, I faked a laugh. “That’s sweet,” I said to her, praying she wouldn’t take any of it the wrong way. I was lucky enough for her to smile and then squeeze my arm tightly.
“She’s my sister, and I love her. But she better not come near you with any flirty approach.” she said, raising her eyebrows to me. I smiled.
“Don’t worry,” I assured her. “Angelica and I will never have a relationship other than friends.”
Haven smirked. “I know,” she said.
I chuckled and then looked down at my phone. Three messages from Dad. Now that was a cue to come home. “Hey, Haven?”
“As much as I’d love to stay-” Lie. “I need to get home.”
Haven made a disappointed noise, then sat back on the expensive couch they owned. “That sucks,” she said, sighing. “But...you know, parents rules.”
Not knowing what else I could say to that, I nodded. “Yeah.” I was standing up when Haven took my wrist and in some way forced me turn back around and look at her.
“Love you,” she said, smiling.
My insides told me to just say it. Reveal you don’t really love her, and that you never will. At least not like that. But instead, I smiled back and then said; “Love you too.” Dreading the words as they came out of my mouth.
I release myself from her grip and made it to the doorway. As I was about to leave, I tuned to wave goodbye to her before I closed the door behind me, breathing in the fresh air as I walked outside.
When I got home, I was expecting either Mom or Dad to be waiting for me in the kitchen or living room. But instead, it was only my dad. He smirked at me when I walked in. My dad and I hardly really shared any genetics. I mean, other than the tall-⟴ gene I have from my grandfather, him and I hardly share anything that’s the same. Other than the brown hair and eyelashes, we’re not really the same. Yet, somehow, I became his golden son.
“Ezra Gatley, where have you been?” he asked me.
I looked at him. “At my girlfriend’s house,” I said, smiling. “I didn’t tell you?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡmKpsgOwXiN
My dad shook his head, his eyebrows raised. The only reason there was no fear inside of me was because I knew he was just joking around. I had to ask him if I could take Eric’s car to go to Haven’s house anyways. He knew where I was, Dad was just giving me a hard time for no reason.
“Well, I’m surprised to see you after...what? Three messages from me?”
This was the part when I looked down at my phone and pretended to act shocked. “Oh gosh,” I said, shrugging. “Guess I forgot to look at those.”
Dad raised one of his eyebrows, still keeping a straight face. “To your room, young man,” he said, pointing to where the staircase was. I smiled to him before gripping my phone in my hands and walking upstairs to my room, not looking behind me to see if he was laughing or not.
Once I walked in, my brothers were sitting on my bed, looking through the photo album I kept in my room. Typical, I thought to myself.
I have two brothers, one who is older than me and the other whose younger than I am. Eric is my older brother, and Emmanuel is younger than me by six years. Like brothers are, we always tease each other about something, but we also support each other through the weirdest things. Though, I guess that’s kind of normal. I have another sibling, who’s a year older than me. And that’s Evelyn. She’s one of the only people that know my secret, and I want to keep it that way. It’ll basically be like that until I get accepted into college, anyways.
“What are you doing?” I asked my brothers. Emmanuel popped his head up, some of his dirty-blonde hair falling into his face. Eric looked at me, closed the book, then stood up. Somehow, Eric is taller than me-but only by half an inch.
Hitting me on the arm, Eric laughed. “Where were you, man?”
I hit him in the exact same place where he hit me. And because I was stronger, he winced from the pain. “Why does it matter to you?”
“Oh, come on, Ez Ace, where were you?” Emmanuel asked, putting the photo album on my desk. “You’re girlfriend’s house?” I knew he had been listening in on Eric’s conversations, because he completely over exaggerated those last two words.
I rolled my eyes. “Get out of my room.”
“Yup,” Eric said, sounding proud of himself. “He was.” Emmanuel laughed, and then began making kissing noises as I glared at him. Eric smiled to Emmanuel before he looked at me, his eyes studying my face for some odd reason. I looked away from him as Emmanuel hugged me. Since he hadn’t hit puberty yet, he went right up to my waist.
“Missed you,” he whispered, clutching onto me.
I knew it was kinda mean, but I pushed him off of me. “You can’t hug after an insult,” I said, smiling to him. “That’s breaking the brother code.”
“There’s a brother code?” Emmanuel asked, his eyes widening.
Eric rolled his eyes, and then took Emmanuel by his arm. “Come on, E,” he said, looking down at him. “Ezra doesn’t wanna talk to us.”
I glared at him. “Bye,”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡYUKNO4t6qC
Leaving my room, Eric called: “Don’t forget, Ezra Ace, I’m older than you. Much older!” Rolling my eyes again, I closed the door behind me and fell onto my bed, looking up at the ceiling.
There wasn’t exactly anything in my head, and for the first time ever I felt really relaxed. Nothing serious was on my mind, plus the only nerves I had were about football, and I wasn’t even worried about any of that happening. Just as he crossed my mind, there was a soft knock on my door.
Sitting up quickly, I grabbed the door knob and opened it. Evelyn was standing there, her light brown hair now dark from a shower, and her dark blue eyes looking tired. But I was smart enough now not to say anything about it.
“Hey big bro,” she said, halfly smiling.
I let her walk in as I closed the door behind me. “What is it?” I asked her. Instead of my voice coming out calmly like I wanted it to, it came out really demanding. Evelyn raised her eyebrows before she sat down next to me on the bed.
“Where were you?” she asked. I shrugged, looking at the wall for a few moments before I looked back to her.
“Why do you need to know?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡgaZ3b1YDTj
Evelyn sighed, then smiled. “You must’ve been at your secret lover’s house then,” she said, raising her eyebrows.
I looked at her this time, wanting to hit her. “Say it louder,” I snapped. “I don’t think everyone in the entire house heard you.”
Evelyn sucked in air, looking at me. “You worry way too much, Ez,” she said. “That’s probably why he has such an attitude all the time.”
I felt rage bubble up inside of me, but I knew there’d be no point in fighting with her. “He is always like that,” I said, trying not to let his voice get into my head. “Even before I came into his life.”
Evelyn ignored me, and began looking at her hair. “What do you think you’d do if Mom and Dad found out, anyways?” she asked.
Run away, I thought to myself, feeling shameful. Run away, and never look back. Forget the entire life I lived, because I’d never get it back. There were just so many ways they could find out, if it did happen I’d lose it.
“Tell them it was a joke,” I said. “Or just lie until they believed me.”
Evelyn had a sad smile on her face before she shook her head. “I wish our parents weren’t such homophobes. It would’ve been nice if they were just cool with your sexuality.” she said, looking at me.
I nodded, hating to know the truth. “Same here,” I muttered. “But some people aren’t about that stuff.”
“And it’s stupid as ⟴,” Evelyn said. I looked at her, knowing that it was my job to get onto her if she cussed, but the emotions didn’t form in me right now. She was right, it was stupid. Noticing my face, Evelyn put her head down. “Sorry. I know I shouldn’t cuss. It just makes me angry a lot of the time, and-”
I put my hand up, cutting her off. “It’s fine,” I said.
Evelyn nodded, then sat back on one of my pillows. “How is he, anyways?” she asked, looking at me seriously this time.
I shrugged, not even knowing the answer to it. I had been trying my best to stay away from him lately, but it never works out like how I want it to. He’s openly gay, while I can’t even get one foot out of the closet. Sometimes, we argue about things like that. Or, about how I go to EastLand, and he goes to Oakwood. But I really do like being around him. It makes me feel good inside, and not like I’m being judged around him, and making sure I can see his smile at least once a day.
The warm feeling rose inside of me again, and I looked at Evelyn to try making it fade away. “Wanna call him?” I asked.
Evelyn straightened her back then, nodding. “Yeah.”
Evelyn handed me my phone from my bedside table and handed it to me. I took the phone and scrolled through my contacts until I found his name. Delcan. Chills went down my spine when I read his name, but I pushed the feeling down and ignored it as I pressed FaceTime.
In a matter of seconds, Delcan answered his phone. I took a deep breath and waited until my phone connected.
When it did, there was Delcan. His hair spiked up at the end, and his eyes squinting from the light outside. Still, I found him attractive. And I hated myself for it. He was wearing a grey shirt, and was sitting outside with his sister, Calliannah (but everyone calls her Callie).
“Hey,” he said, making exact eye contact with me.
“Hi,” I said. But instead of sounding as confident as I wanted to, my voice came out sounding weak, and I’m sure that if another word went out of my mouth, my voice would’ve cracked. Already, my palms began sweating.
Evelyn rolled her eyes and took my phone. “That’s sad,” she said, looking at me. Glaring at her, she turned back to the camera to look at Delcan, who was raising his eyebrows. “Hi, Delcan. What’s up?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡRWiGpxWIpS
He shrugged. “Oh, nothing,” he said. I didn’t see his facial expression, instead I just got up and took some of the clothes off the floor and looked at Evelyn as she raised her eyebrows to me.
“Okay,” Evelyn said, leaning back on my bed. I wanted to yell at her to get out or something, but she would’ve just shook her head and then would go back to talking to Delcan. “So I have a question for you.”
This time, I stood up, looking at Evelyn. “Yeah?” Delcan said. What was she going to say? I panicked in my mind. Would she tell him something really embarrassing about me? Like how I still have a stuffed animal in my room?
Okay, that sounded weird. But in my defense, it’s my grandfather’s from when he was a child, and it makes me feel closer to him when I see it. I watched my sister closely as she smiled and then opened her “brilliant” mouth.
“Are you coming to the football game?” Evelyn questioned.
Relieved, I let all the air that was building up inside my legs out as I sat back down on my bed again just when Evelyn sat up. The second I sat down, Delcan moved his eyes (which were now brown. He was questioning me) and looked at me.
“If it makes you comfortable,” Delcan said, shrugging.
It took me a second to answer him. To be honest, I didn’t know if I had a problem with him going to the game or not. He was on the opposing team, number one. But I also never wanted to not allow him to go to something if he wants to.
He could be a distraction, a voice in my mind said.
But it’d be good to have him there.
“Yeah,” I said, ignoring everything telling me to stop. “You can come. Will your family tag along?”
Instead of answering me, he looked over at Callie. She looked at her brother, and then shrugged. “Who are we even cheering on?” she asked, sounding pretty annoyed. “Our school, or your boyfriend?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡw3sGi9EsHK
“Well, cheer for our school, and also cheer for Ezra secretly, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if one of us lost, right?” Delcan asked.
Callie rolled her eyes. “Whatever, Delcan.” she muttered, turning her phone back on again and probably going on social media.
“I guess that she’s coming. And even if she doesn’t, I’m sure my mom can do her best to take us there,” Delcan said, looking away from his sister. I nodded, and looked over to my sister as she began leaning into me.
“You wouldn’t mind if I asked him to sit next to us, would you?” she taunted, whispering.
It took everything inside of me not to hit her. “I would, actually. Please don’t.”
Evelyn laughed, rolling her eyes. “Why don’t I have Delcan’s number?” she asked, turning her head back to the camera.
“Because you don’t need it,” both Delcan and I said at the same time. He glanced at me for a second, and the second I saw his beautiful green eyes, I knew that my blood was already rising to my cheeks. Delcan smiled, because he knew what effect he had on me. And gosh, it was strong.
“I’m just saying, you’re adorable when you blush,” Delcan said, winking to me.
“Stop it,” I said laughing. But him and I both knew I wasn’t serious. I couldn’t help it, that made me feel good. It always does when Delcan flirts with me.
Evelyn glanced between the two of us before she looked back at Delcan. “So are you sure you’ll make it to the game?” Evelyn questioned.
Delcan simply nodded. “Yup,” he said. “So...how’s that girlfriend of yours?”
I told Delcan about Haven probably the night after we first kissed. It might not have been the best time to have said something about it, but I told him. Even though he’s never met her before, I have a pretty clear thought that he hates Haven. “Don’t be like that,” I said, shaking my head at him. “She’s good, though. I was just over at her house.”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡDcWafB9Aau
“Did you two kiss?” Evelyn asked, cutting in.
I shook my head. “No,” I said. But I did say that I loved her, which is much worse than kissing.
“Good,” Delcan said.
Evelyn and I both smiled, but I looked at the window in my room instead of back to the camera. It was sometimes hard to be with two different people, especially because one of them has quite an attitude.893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡEEGWtrhPKJ
“Hang on,” Evelyn said, holding up her hand. “How did you two even meet if you went to different schools?”
Delcan raised his eyebrows, looking at me. “Wanna answer that one?”
I was about to, seriously, this time I was. But then, the thought came into my mind again. It was at a pep rally against Oakwood for our volleyball team tournament. Since it was at Oakwood anyways, we just decided it would be best to allow them there too. So, I was sitting next to Haven and her friends when I could’ve killed myself because of how boring it was. Haven had almost sprained her ankle during practice, she wasn’t able to play in the game. I finally got bored of what she was talking about and went to the bathroom, trying to chill out. I didn’t even use the bathroom, I was just done with being around Haven the entire day.
Then, Delcan walked into the bathroom, cursing about something that happened. I was instantly awestruck by him. Delcan is one of those people who clearly look athletic, and you came basically tell from a glance that he has abs. It didn’t help that his eyes change color depending on his mood, one of the things that made me look at him even more. I was still trying to keep my eyes away when he introduced himself to me. I learned quickly that he was from Oakwood, and that he was athletic. We were talking for about three minutes before I just introduced myself as gay, which made him shocked and kind of cool at the same time because his response was: “Cool, I am too.”
I remembered when I tried to act like it was cool by nodding, but I had a feeling my cheeks were already beginning to grow red. He must’ve known I was the quarterback, because he asked me this next: “I’m guessing you aren’t out yet?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡz1zcFsuyaf
“What makes you think that?” I asked him, my voice coming out like I wanted it to be a challenge.
Delcan smiled when I said that, and I remembered my feet feeling weird as I looked at him. He asked me if I’d ever wanted to hang out, and I just responded with a quick nod before I began trying to think of ways that I could ask for his number. Instead, being the person he is, he simply asked to call his younger sister from my phone, but actually put his number in it. Smooth, a lot smoother than I would’ve been. And...it went on from there.
“Hello…?” Evelyn said, snapping her fingers so I would go back to reality. “Earth to Ezra.”
I shook my head and closed my eyes for a few seconds, trying not to think of moments too hard. “Sorry, what were we talking about?”
“When you and I met. What, were you thinking about it or something?” Delcan asked, smiling to me.
I shook my head, biting my lip so that I wouldn’t smile. “No,” I said. “I was about to have another great memory, but Miss Evelyn Taylore messed that up.” Evelyn raised her eyebrows when I said her middle name, but had no commentary.
“Anyways,” Delcan said, looking at my sister. “My aunt just got to our house. I gotta go.”
Though I wanted him to stay longer, I knew there’d be no working through Delcan’s parents. Both of them are really formal about dinners, especially when other people are invited to them. One time, I had to wear one of my dad’s ties because of how formal I needed to be presented at their house.
“Dang it,” Evelyn said, pressing her nails on her hand. “I thought that I could at least get some answers from you. Ezra never talks about his love life.”
“Lower your voice, Evelyn,” I muttered between my teeth.
Evelyn looked at me before she rolled her eyes. I don’t care how much she finds out, Mom and Dad won’t be okay with any of it. Delcan, who clearly felt awkward, cleared his throat so that the two of us would look at him.
“Well, I have to go,” he said. Callie looked at him before she stood up and left, probably going back to get dressed. “Bye guys. And, I’ll let you know what it’s like to be on the winning team at a football game.”
I rolled my eyes to that. “Yeah right, Delcan. Bye,” I said, hanging up the phone. I could probably call him later, when everyone else in the house was asleep. You know what, it’d be better to text him than Dad suddenly hearing his voice in the middle of the night.
Making herself comfortable, Evelyn sprawled out on my bed. “So...anything you wanna talk about?” she asked, clearly wanting to hear more about Delcan. But I wasn’t giving out that information.
“Nope,” I said.
Evelyn raised one of her eyebrows. “Why can’t I know anything?” she asked Her voice didn’t really seem annoyed, just like she wished I would share more about my life with her, which would never even happen.
“Why would you even want to know, Evelyn?” I asked her. “I’ve told you enough as it is.”
Evelyn nodded. “I know,” she said. “But I feel better when you’re open to me about things, and it makes me feel closer to my older brother who always hides who he is.”
It wasn’t that I liked hiding who I was, it was just something I’ve grown into over the years. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut about things when I didn’t need to talk, and for me never to even think about Delcan when I’m in public. Things have worked for most of my life, and I know how to hide things now. It’s just that-opening up to people about things is still really hard for me to do.
And things didn’t help that Dad always pressured me to be his perfect son, his perfect example for everyone else to follow. He told everyone in our neighborhood about me. Everyone. People knew who I was, and they knew the expectations that I was meant to follow. Keeping quiet about things just kind of came naturally after 6th grade, I guess.
“Evelyn,” I said. “You know I try, but some things aren’t always that easy to just say. Plus, whatever you do need to know, you’ll find out when I have to tell you. Not now.”
Upset, Evelyn sighed. But I knew she understood. My parents had always been this way, even when they were married. “Okay,” she said, beginning to stand up from my bed, her light brown hair falling over her shoulders as she did. “Well, talk to me if you ever need to.”
I nodded, and then waited for her to leave my room before I laid back down on my bed. Sometimes, I really did wish people knew about who I really was. Most of the time, I hardly even know if I like it, or if I’m ashamed of it all.
Oddly, Delcan was in my mind again. It was his laugh, the one I always loved hearing. With almost everything, Delcan seemed so confident and proud at what he was doing, it was kind of hard not to smile when he talked about his life. I’d always found it weird that I was drawn to him the way I am, but hey, my heart wants what it wants.
Just as my mind was about to shift away from Delcan and all the extra-credit homework I needed to do, my phone went off, having the ringtone that I’d set for my mom. I picked up my phone and looked at the message.
Come see me in my room.
Seeing the words just made me freak out. I didn’t know why, but it all just seemed like a lot. I never get in trouble, ever. So whatever this was about, I needed to think of something I could cover myself for.
But there was nothing that popped into my head. My body already felt hopeless, so I just responded with okay, and then walked down the hallway to my parents room. Emmanuel was sitting outside the hallway, playing with some of the toys that Mom had let him keep. I sighed, because I knew how annoyed my dad would’ve been with all of this. Unlike Eric, Evelyn, and I, Emmanuel hasn’t even started on his sports career yet, and Dad gets even more pissed off by the day that he’s still playing with toys.
Emmanuel must’ve heard me, because he looked up and smiled. “Hi, Ez.” I made my way over to him and began picking up some of the toys. Emmanuel’s eyes got wide as he snatched back one of the toys from my hand. “What are you doing?!”
“Picking these up,” I said. My voice sounded more tired than I’d wanted it to, but I could care less. “You can only play with these in your room, E. I told you that already.”
Emmanuel watched me as I put most of what he was playing with in his room, pressing his lips together as I moved back and forth. When there was one toy left, a car, I handed it to him. “Here.”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡaIKakYh8ur
“What do you want me to do with it?” Emmanuel asked, looking at the toy like it was something Eric had cooked.
I shrugged. “Play with it,” I said. “Just make sure Dad doesn’t see you.” I was about to walk off and leave when Emmanuel rushed up behind me and wrapped me in another hug. This time, I let him do it.
“Yes?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡvhUTjtIVfE
“Why are you going in Mom and Dad’s room?” he asked, still holding onto me tightly.
I turned back around and bended down to his height so that it’d be easier for him to make eye contact with me. “I don’t really know.”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡgl45q8dKTH
“Did you do something?” Emmanuel asked, raising his eyebrows.
Again, I shrugged. “Maybe,” I said. “But it doesn’t matter, okay? Go play in your room for a little bit.” Emmanuel nodded before he pulled me into a hug again, his hands clutching onto me tightly. I wished we could get some medicine or something to make sure he won’t be so clingy all the time, but Dad believed he would grow out of it or something. But all of us knew that he wouldn’t.
“Bye, Ez.” he said. I didn’t respond to him and waited for his arms to release around me. When they did, he ran into his room, shutting the door softly behind him.
Now that he was out of the way, I took a deep breath before I kept on walking down the hallway. It felt like I was in a horror movie while I was walking down that hallway, checking every corner like someone would step out and murder me at any given second. But our house had high security, and I knew something like that would never really happen.
Still, I felt my stomach do a backflip when I opened up the door to my parents room and walked in. Mom was sitting on her bed, flipping through something on the new iPad she’d boughten last week, and Dad was sitting on the other side of the bed, going through some of the fancy ties he owned.
“Hi, mom,” I said. “You needed me for something?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡwnaAR0j2UB
My mom looked up and smiled at me. Unlike her first three children, my mom has dirty-blonde hair and blue eyes. Though Eric and Evelyn have the same eye color as her, Emmanuel was the only one to receive her hair color. But all of us got the innocent look from her, which I’ll be honest, helps me a lot. “Hi baby,” she said. When she said ‘baby’ to me, that gave me the hint she didn’t know anything. Maybe I was in the clear.
“Hey,” I said. I gave her a friendly smile and then sat down next to her on her side of the bed. “What’s up?”
Mom set down her iPad as she looked at me. “I didn’t even mean to text you to come in here, but I guess this is better, anyways. I really just wanted to know if you’ve been practicing for the game or not.” she said.
I wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, because this meant I wasn’t actually in trouble for anything. But instead, I just smiled to her. “Of course I have, Mom,” I said. My mom wasn’t too hard to please compared to my dad, so I knew just talking to her kindly about things would get the conversation over with quickly.
My mom nodded. “That’s good,” she said. She rubbed her temple softly before she looked back at me. “Could I have a hug, sweetheart.”
I nodded and then wrapped my arms around her. She must have a headache or something, because she seems tired and restless compared to how she usually is at this time period. When I let go of her, I began messing with my hands-but on one side of me so that Dad wouldn’t see it. “Are you feeling sick?” I asked her.
My mom shrugged. “A little bit,” she said. “But nothing I can’t get over in a few days, Ezra.”
“Okay,” I said.
It would’ve been the time for me to leave at that moment, but I knew that leaving when I wasn’t supposed to was one of the main violations to my father. I stayed in place and waited for either my mom to say something, or for my dad to begin asking me about sports. Lucky for me, Mom cleared her throat before she calmly asked me; “Do you want me to make you a plate for dinner?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Didn’t you eat at your girlfriend’s house?” Dad asked me, raising his eyebrows.
I looked at him and made sure the words I said were perfectly planned out. “I did,” I said, dragging the word a little bit. “But...seafood isn’t one of my favorite things in the world, so I try my best not to eat as much of it.”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡKwDM8O0EXb
“You wasted their food, Ezra?” Mom asked me, giving the same expression that Dad did when I lied about already eating.
I shook my head. “No!” I said. “I did eat it, but I could use something that actually tastes good for a change.”
This time, both of them were silent, but I could feel my Dad’s glare on me. His eyes were staring at me cold and hard, I just knew it. But looking at him would make the glare even worse, so I kept my eyes on my mom, who was nodding slowly.
“Okay then, baby,” she said, patting my thigh. “I’ll make sure to cook a bit more.”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡpoeEQSOiV7
I nodded, still waiting for my signal to go. When Dad gestured towards the doorway, I said goodbye to both of them and then walked out of the room, steadying my heartbeat. It was harder than ever to be in the same room with the two of them. Mom wanted all of her boys to stay “her babies”, while Dad though all of us should’ve grown by the time we were 9. Like always, there’s no winning with my parents.
Evelyn was back in her room, doing her homework-so I actually had some space to myself for today. Sitting down on my bed, I had a few seconds to myself before my phone went off. I recognized the ring and smirked.
If you asked me why I set Delcan’s ringtone to what it was, I probably still wouldn’t be able to tell you.
Hey, I just wanted to ask you if you were actually ok with me going to the game. I wouldn’t want to distract you.
Btw, your sister is adorable.
I shook my head, smiling. Everyone usually thinks my sister is this adorable teenager who knows nothing other than being a good daughter, but I’ve seen her other side. And believe me when I say this, it isn’t cute. Yeah, she smiles and hugs me in public all the time, but she’s only like that when people are watching. I still have a burn on my chest from a burn she gave me when the two of us were eight. All I did was joke around and steal one of her baby dolls, and she lashed out on me.
I’m fine with you coming to the game, but you’re wrong about my sister. She’s a monster. I have all the scars to prove it.
Show me then.
Just as I began pulling my shirt over my head, I thought about what would’ve happened if Mom or Dad walked in. How would I even explain that to them? Or worse, Emmanuel could come in here.
I got off my bed quickly and shut the door, locking it behind me. You never know with siblings in the house. I took a picture of the burn on my chest and then took a picture of the bruise I got from just a few weeks ago.
Dang, I didn’t know she could hit.
I always wondered if that burn was a birthmark or something…
I’m deleting that!
Okay, okay, I’ll stop.
Anyways, after the game, can we talk about something?
Is it something bad?
Depends...can you make it over to my house after football?
I don’t care how desperate or sound this sounds, or whatever, I was willingly saying yes. There was no pauses while I texted him back. I would always ditch anything for Delcan, and I still didn’t know why. It was just something about him that always made me feel good about myself. And whatever I can get of that needs to be as much as possible.
Yeah. I’ll tell my parents I’m spending the night at my friends house or with Haven. They’ll believe me, promise.
Do your parents even look through your phone?
Not unless I’ve been acting really strange. Why?
Well if they do, I suggest that you delete half of this entire conversation, because they’ll know where you are. Is my address in your phone?
If Delcan’s address was in my phone, I should probably delete it by now. I know all of the easiest roads to get to his house, so having it on Google Maps would just be pointless now. I deleted it off my phone before I responded to him, lying anyways.
I can’t remember, Delcan.
Of course you can’t. Buy you make up for it because of how cute you are.
Have you been looking at my Instagram?
I basically have Instagram for that reason, Ezra. And don’t be weirded out by it, it’s a couple thing.
Don’t play hard to get when you’ve already been stolen.
My parents told me to put up the phone and talk to my aunt. Gotta go.
Oh, okay. See you later?
As always, Ez.
I knew that my cheeks were red, so I put my phone away. He’d sent that kissing face emoji, and I smiled before I sent one back, deleting the message right after that. About three minutes after I’d finally began watching Netflix, my phone went off for the third time. I growled like an animal and grabbed my phone, putting it next to me on my bed.
All of the messages were from Haven, and every single one of them made me pretty annoyed by her at the moment.
I know you’re busy, but I need to ask you something…
Do you remember your ex-girlfriend from 7th to 9th grade? If u do, talk to me tomorrow before the game starts. Love you! Oh, and Angelica said hi.
It may sound rude, but I could care less about Angelica and her “kindness”. Instead, I was more confused about her second message. First off, what could Haven possibly want to talk to me about now? And second, what was Evvie doing back in town so early.
Evvie and I haven’t talked since she left with her dad, but I’m pretty sure I still had her number. I scrolled through my contacts until I found my “ex-girlfriend”’s name. Evvie Hamill. Her number was still there and everything, and all I had to do was text her.
Hey, Evvie, it’s Ezra Gatley. I know we haven’t talked in a while but I just wanted to say hi. Well, that’s halfy true. Truth is, one of my friends told me that you were back in town (which is super cool, by the way), and I just wanted to ask you if the two of you talked about anything. The same amount of people still know, including someone else, but I won’t get into that. Anyways, if you wanna meet up somewhere, I’d be fine with that too.
Missed you, Eve.
Alright, the message might’ve been a little long, but it was enough information for her to roll with. Plus, I think it was enough considering we haven’t talked in two years. A few seconds later, she replied.
Hi, Ezra! And yup, I’m back in town. Trust me, nobody knows about your secret right now other than who you told.
But who is the other person??
I don’t want to text about this…
Call?893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡpXJe8cJDOw
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When my phone fully showed the contact picture I’d given her, I had completely forgotten about it. It was Evvie and I in her backyard. I was holding her on my back while she had her arms wrapped around my neck. Both of us were laughing, and I think that the two of us were swimming or something-because I was in my swim trunks and she was in a bikini. Evvie’s dark brown hair was in a high ponytail, and her eyes were filled with excitement.
I had a feeling her dad knew we were never actually dating. He probably just went with it because that’s what made sense, and he wasn’t bothered by the two of us being such close friends. I actually realized now how much I missed the two of us being friends, because the two of us were always there for each other. But after the falling out of her parents, we tried our best to stay in contact, but Haven hates that I was talking to my “ex” and so the two of us basically drifted away.
Quickly, I picked up the phone. “Hey.”
“Ezra, hi!” Evvie exclaimed. I missed that excitement in her voice. “How have you been?”
I shrugged, unlocking my door so that Mom or Dad wouldn’t be suspicious about me having my door locked. “Good,” I said. “You?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡYgiOlLN3Wd
“I’m great,” Evvie said, still sounding pretty happy.
There was silence on the phone. Honestly, though, what do you say to your ex-best friend that you haven’t even talked to since the first day of last summer. I had no clue what to even say, which I guess would be my excuse when Evvie suddenly asked; “Who was the other person you told?”
Evvie laughed. “Don’t be like that,” she said. “In the text you sent, your exact words-and I quote-were ‘The same amount of people still know, including someone else.’ Who?”
Crap. I should really check what I’ve texted before I decide to send it. “Right,” I said, already knowing how awkward my voice probably sounded. “No one.”
“No one?” Evvie laughed. “Are you sure?”
I nodded. “Yup.”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1ui2zt5pOL
Evvie was silent for a few seconds before she sighed. “Can I at least get a gender…?” she begged. I wondered why, but it felt like she was smiling or something.
“Then it’ll give away the person,” I whined, sounding just like Emmanuel did when he was forced to eat something nasty.893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡC2FE5I8vLn
Evvie laughed. “A guy then, right?” When I didn’t answer her, she laughed again. “It’s about time you found someone, Ezra Gatley.”
I rolled my eyes, but already knew that I was blushing like crazy. “How do you even know it’s a guy I’m dating? It could be Travis, or Adam...or-”
“Ezra,” Evvie interrupted. “By the way your voice sounds, I have a feeling it’s someone you have a crush on if not dating them. One of the two, tell me about him.”
I shook my head, already feeling wrong. “I’m not having girl talk with you, Eve.”
“Already sounds like it, Ez.”
The saddest thing was, she’s right. I was hardly even acting like a teenage boy at the moment, anyways. Not l really was a normal one, anyways. “Yeah, okay,” I muttered. “His-”
“It’s okay, Ez,” Evvie said, her voice sounding supportive. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
No, I wanted to. It felt better when I got things off my chest, especially with people that I seriously trust. “His name is Delcan.”
“Oh, sounds like someone who’s hot.” Evvie responded. I raised my eyebrows and she must’ve caught herself. “Sorry, that was probably way too much. Last name?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡpebv2HkBSt
“Delcan Heslop.” I said. Yeah, you don’t have to tell me, it’s a weird last name. I have no idea why it’s that last name, especially because he’s Cuban, but oh well, I’m going with it.
Evvie was hesitant for a second before she said; “Delcan Helsop?”
I nodded, not understanding why she as acting so weird about all of this. “Yeah,” I said. “What is it?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡKZSa9gM0NS
“Nothing,” Evvie responded. “How about something else? How has school-”
“Where are you right now?” I asked her.
Evvie was silent before she cleared her throat. “At my mom’s house,” Evvie said. “Why?”
I stood up and pulled my shirt back over my head, putting the phone on speaker so it wouldn’t be so hard. “I wanted to see you,” I said.
“Oh,” Evvie said. It was hard to tell if her voice was shocked or not, but she then laughed. “Sure.”
I was putting on my shoes when I began messing my hair up a little bit. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll be there in a few seconds.” Knowing exactly where Evvie’s house was, so I wasn’t worried at all about trying to find her mom’s house. Okay, that sounded creepy. But I didn’t mean it in that way.
“Got it,” Evvie sighed. “Bye, Ezra.”
She hung up the phone so I wouldn’t have to and let me fix my shirt before I left my room. I knew that the keys to my parent’s cars were in their room, so I just went to Eric’s room so I could take his keys. Turns out, he was making out with a girl. Don’t know when, or how she got there, but she was making out with my brother.
I cleared my throat and waited for the both of them to look up at me. The second I saw her blonde hair, I realized it was Janice Hart. She was in my fifth period class, and was also a year younger than Eric was.
Eric raised his eyebrows. “What do you want?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡwlccLq9YKW
“A ride,” I said, making sure to keep my eyes off of Janice, who I’m pretty sure had a hickey on her neck. “I won’t tell Mom and Dad that you and Janice are making out. Deal?”
Eric laughed without any humor in his voice. “⟴ no. Get out.”
I nodded. “Okay, fine. Can I take your car then?”
“Why are you even asking me, dude?” Eric asked, sitting up. Janice moved away from him, but she was looking at me now. “Just be home by ten, okay?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ6OgDDmcTkO
“Got it, Dad.” I said, grabbing the car keys he had on his dresser. I closed the door behind me just before I could hear what Janice was trying to say to me. Going down the stairs quickly, I found where Eric’s car was in the garage. Once I’d gotten in, I turned on the car and began driving over to Evvie’s house.
When I pulled into the Hamill driveway, I got out of the car and went up the front steps. The second I rang the doorbell, Evvie’s mom was at the door.
Ms. Hamill acted like she seemed to forget all about me. One of her dark brown eyebrows were raised as she put her hand on her hip. “Hello?”893Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡmwxkrokAlS
“Ezra Gatley,” I said, smiling to her. “I’m here to see Evvie if that’s alright.”
She slowly nodded, eyeing me up and down. I sighed and wiped my sweating hands on my jeans, feeling the cold stare Ms. Hamill was giving me. “Okay..alright,” she said, as if she was deciding or not that it would be a good idea to say yes or no. “EVVIE!” she yelled. I had to turn away from her because of how much it hurt my ears, but she really didn’t seem to care.
A few seconds later, Evvie came downstairs. Her hair color was the same as it was in 9th grade-dark brown and wavy-but it was longer. He smiled to me and it was clear she had lost some weight. She was wearing skinny jeans and a black tank top with a multicolor shaw. Dang, she’d changed a lot.
“Ezra!” she cried, now wrapping me in a hug. I returned the hug and breathed in her scent, which was like a weirdly enjoyable smell of cinnamon and vanilla. I really did miss the two of us being best friends. When she pulled away from the hug, she smiled again. “How do you even continue growing?”
I smiled. “Don’t know,” I said. Last year, I was 5’11, and I guess the summer just bumped up my height a lot. “How is Alaska?”
She shrugged, rolling her eyes. “It’s Alaska. But...I missed my best friend and ‘ex-boyfriend.’” she said, winking to me. I laughed, even though there was this really weird feeling that Ms. Hamill was still eyeing me. Evvie looked back at her mom before she grabbed my hand and took me up the stairs, closing the door behind her.
Nothing about Evvie’s room had changed. She still had sky blue walls, and pictures of her family members. There was even still pictures of her dad around her room, which I guess is one of the reasons why her mom might never come in here. There were also some pictures from the school danes we used to have in junior high, plus a few pretty weird ones that most of us must’ve taken just for the heck of it. Even some pictures of Mexico and the flag. Yeah, Evvie loves her photography.
Evvie fell on her bed and looked up at the ceiling. “I’m so happy that my mom kept my room.” she said.
I laughed and sat down on her bed next to her, remembering all the times we used to just lay on this bed and talk. Mainly, it was all about my issues. But sometimes, there’d be something else that Evvie would be going through. The last time we were in this room together is when she was moving, and she’d asked if I wanted to keep in contact. Of course, I said yes. But we all know how that ended out. She looked over to me and I smiled to her.
“So...about Delcan Heslop,” she said, raising her eyebrows. I already could feel myself blushing. “Does he go to school with you?”
I shook my head. “He actually goes to Oakwood.”
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Evvie sat up and looked at me. “Hang on...you’re dating someone from our opposing school? Oh my gosh, Ezra!” she said, covering her mouth like I’d said something evil. One thing you’d have to know about teenagers and high schools, there will usually be two of them, and most of the time, those two high schools are always in competition. EastLand against Oakwood, hat’s always as it has been.
“What?” I asked.
Evvie raised her eyebrows. “This has to be a prank, right? You’re still on the football team I’m guessing, so is Delcan?”
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I shook my head. “He’s a boxer,” I said. “And I promise, we already talked about all of that. He hates the guys on the Oakwood football team, anyways.” And I’m not blaming Delcan for it at all. The football guys at Oakwood really aren't the best, and I’m not saying that from how they play, I actually mean their personalities too.
“Whatever. Have you two kissed?” Evvie asked, sounding eager.
I raised my eyebrows. “You're fangirling,” I said. “Please stop.”
“Sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “But I was just asking you a simple question. And I will make sure my tone isn’t like that, okay?”
This is also one of the reasons why I don’t want to come out. Girls are just weird around a guy-guy couple. I feel like the person I’m dating for sure wouldn’t mind opening his mouth and saying something about it, too. “Yes, we’ve kissed before,” I said. It would’ve been rude to not answer her question, anyways.
“Is he good at kissing?” she asked me.
I rolled my eyes, feeling really uncomfortable. “Enough, okay? Why are you suddenly so interested in who I’m dating?” I didn’t mean for my voice to sound so cold, but it came out that way. And on top of that, I couldn’t even call Delcan my boyfriend. It just felt weird.
She paused for a second, her face expressionless. “I just wanted to know about him. And in case you wanted to know, I’m not seeing anyone. And if I was, I’m positive you would’ve done the same thing.” she said.
I sighed, because she really did have a point. “So are you coming to the game tomorrow?”
Evvie shrugged. “I didn’t even know there was one,” she said. “But...is Delcan coming to the game?” she asked, teasing me by hitting my arm.
I rolled my eyes and laughed, hitting her back. “He is,” I said. “But he’s going for his school, not ours.”
Evvie pouted her lips. “What a waste,” she said. I looked at her again before she laughed. “Kidding, kidding.”
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I smiled to her before I checked the time. It was almost dinner, I’d be fine for another thirty minutes. “Do you know him from something?” I asked her.
“Why?” Evvie asked curiously.
“Because,” I said. “You sounded like you knew him on the phone or something.”
Evvie blinked before she nodded slowly. “Yeah,” she said. How does she even know him? “Well, I don’t know him, but I do know his sister. Is her name Calliannah?”
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Delcan told me that if I even called Callie by her actual name, he wouldn’t stop Callie from kicking me in the nuts. Which, I only accepted because I needed to respect the rules their family had, including Callie’s. Because getting Callie to like me meant more of an impact for Delcan’s relationship with me. Okay, I need to stop. Focus on real life, Ezra. Focus on real life.
“Yeah,” I said, not even trying to go into mentioning that she doesn’t like being called that.
Evvie bit her lip. “Yup, I know him,” she said. “I’ve seen him in the police station jail before.” ns 220.127.116.11da2