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Read an Exclusive Excerpt of Leah on the Offbeat!

Read an Exclusive Excerpt of Leah on the Offbeat
We’re crossing all our fingers that you’ve already heard about LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT. Because guys—this book is amazing. Leah is a super snarky, self-aware, but also realistically struggling teenager about to enter her senior year, and it’s an even better bonus to see the SIMON VS cast dynamic from her perspective. And now, we are so excited to be able to share the first excerpt of this incredible book with you!!!
And if you want an epic bonus look at something extra, how about this audiobook clip narrated by Stranger Things and Riverdale‘s Shannon Purser?!


Amazing, right?! But there’s one thing we haven’t told you, and that’s that Leah’s been keeping a huge secret. It might finally be time for it to come out. Who knows? Well, let’s see!!

Chapter 1

I don’t mean to be dramatic, but God save me from Morgan picking our set list. That girl is a suburban dad’s midlife crisis in a high school senior’s body.
Case in point: she’s kneeling on the floor, using the keyboard stool as a desk, and every title on her list is a mediocre classic rock song. I’m a very tolerant person, but as an American, a musician, and a self-respecting human being, it is both my duty and my privilege to blanket veto that shit.
I lean forward on my stool to peer over her shoulder. “No Bon Jovi. No Journey.”
“Wait, seriously?” says Morgan. “People love ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.’”
“People love meth. Should we start doing meth?”
Anna raises her eyebrows. “Leah, did you just—”
“Did I just compare ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ to meth?” I shrug. “Why, yes. Yes I did.”
Anna and Morgan exchange a capital-L Look. It’s a Look that says here we go, she’s about to dig her heels in.
“I’m just saying. The song is a mess. The lyrics are bullshit.” I give a little tap on the snare for emphasis.
“I like the lyrics,” Anna says. “They’re hopeful.”
“It’s not about whether they’re hopeful. It’s about the gross implausibility of a midnight train going, quote unquote, anywhere.”
They exchange another Look, this time with tiny shrugs. Translation: she has a point.
Translation of the translation: Leah Catherine Burke is an actual genius, and we should never ever doubt her music taste.
“I guess we shouldn’t add anything new until Taylor and Nora are back,” Morgan concedes. And she’s right. School musical rehearsals have kept Taylor and Nora out of commission since January. And even though the rest of us have been meeting a few times a week, it sucks rehearsing without your singer and lead guitarist.
“Okay,” Anna says. “Then I guess we’re done here?”
“Done with rehearsal?”
Welp. I guess I should have shut up about Journey. Like, I get it. I’m white. I’m supposed to love shitty classic rock. But I kind of thought we were all enjoying this lively debate about music and meth. Maybe it went off the rails somewhere, though, because now Morgan’s putting the keyboard away and Anna’s texting her mom to pick her up. I guess that’s game over.
My mom won’t be here for another twenty minutes, so I hang around the music room even after they leave. I don’t really mind. It’s actually nice to drum alone. I let my sticks take the lead, from the bass to the snare and again and again. Some fills on the toms. Some chhh chhh chhh on the hi-hat, and then the crash.
Crash.
Crash.
And another.
I don’t even hear my phone buzzing until it pings with a voice mail. It’s obviously my mom. She always calls, only texts as a last resort. You’d think she was fifty or a million years old, but she’s thirty-five. I’m eighteen. Go ahead and do the math. I’m basically your resident fat Slytherin Rory Gilmore.
I don’t listen to the voice mail, because Mom always texts me after—and sure enough, a moment later: So sorry to do this, sweetie. I’m swamped here—can you catch the bus today?
Sure, I write back.
You’re the best. Kissy emoji.
Mom’s boss is an unstoppable robot workaholic lawyer, so this happens a lot. It’s either that, or she’s on a date. It’s not even funny, having a mom who gets more action than I do. Right now, she’s seeing some guy named Wells. Like the plural of well. He’s bald and rich, with tiny little ears, and I think he’s almost fifty. I met him once for thirty minutes, and he made six puns and said “oh, fudge” twice.
Anyway, I used to have a car, so it didn’t matter as much—if I beat Mom home, I’d just let myself in through the garage. But Mom’s car died last summer, so my car became her car, which means I get to ride home with thirty-five freshmen. Not that I’m bitter.
We’re supposed to clear out of the music room by five, so I take apart the kit and carry it into the storage closet, drum by drum. I’m the only one who uses the school kit. Everyone else who plays has their own set in the finished basements of their personal mansions. My friend Nick has a customizable Yamaha DTX450K e-kit, and he doesn’t even drum. I could never afford that in a billion years. But that’s Shady Creek.
The late bus doesn’t leave for another half hour, so I guess I’ll be a theater groupie. No one ever cares if I wander into rehearsal, even though the show opens on Friday. Honestly, I crash rehearsal so often, I think people forget I’m not in the play. Most of my friends are—even Nick, who’d never auditioned for anything in his life until this. I’m pretty sure he only did it to spend time with his sickeningly adorable girlfriend. But since he’s a true legend, he managed to snag the lead role.
I take the side hallway that leads directly backstage, and slip through the door. Naturally, the first person I see is the peanut himself, my number one bro, demolisher of Oreos: Simon Spier.
“Leah!” He’s standing in the wings, half in costume, surrounded by dudes. No clue how Ms. Albright talked so many guys into auditioning this year. Simon shrugs away from them. “You’re just in time for my song.”
“I planned that.”
“You did?”
“No.”
“I hate you.” He elbows me, and then hugs me. “No, I love you.”
“I don’t blame you.”
“I can’t believe you’re about to hear me sing.”
I grin. “The hype is real.”
Then there’s a whispered command I can’t quite hear, and the boys line up in the wings, amped and ready. Honestly, I can’t even look at them without laughing. The play is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and all of Joseph’s brothers are wearing these fluffy fake beards. I don’t know, maybe it’s in the costume notes of the Bible or something.
“Don’t wish me luck,” Simon says. “Tell me to break a leg.”
“Simon, you should probably get out there.”
“Okay, but listen, don’t take the bus. We’re going to Waffle House after this.”
“Noted.”
The boys shuffle onstage, and I step deeper into the wings. Now that the flock has cleared, I can see Cal Price, the stage manager, stationed at a desk between the curtains. “Hey, Red.”
That’s what he calls me, even though I’m barely a redhead. It’s fine—Cal’s a cinnamon roll—but every time he does it, there’s this hiccup in my chest.
My dad used to call me Red. Back when he used to call me.
“Have you seen this one?” Cal asks, and I shake my head. He nudges his chin toward the stage, smiling, so I take a few steps forward.
The boys are lurching. I don’t know any other way to describe it. The choir teacher bangs out some French-sounding song on the piano, and Simon steps forward, hand on his heart.
“Do you remember the good years in Canaan . . .”
His voice is shaking, just a little, and his French accent’s a disaster. But he’s funny as hell up there—sinking to his knees, grasping his head, moaning—and I don’t want to oversell it or anything, but this just may be the most iconic performance of all time.
Nora sidles up to me. “Guess how many times I’ve heard him sing this in his bedroom.”
“Please tell me he has no idea you can hear him.”
“He has no idea I can hear him.”
Sorry, Simon, but you’re too precious. If you weren’t gay and taken, I’d totally marry you. And let’s be honest, marrying Simon would be amazing—and not just because I had a sad, secret crush on him for most of middle school. It’s more than that. For one thing, I’m totally up for being a Spier, because that family is literally perfect. I’d get Nora as my sister-in-law, plus an awesome older sister in college. And the Spiers live in this huge, gorgeous house that doesn’t have clothes and clutter on every surface. I even love their dog.
The song ends, and I slip out and around to the back row of the auditorium, known among the theater kids—aspirationally—as Makeout Alley. But I’m all alone back here, and only halfway participating. Surveying the action from across the room. I’ve never been in a play, even though Mom’s always trying to get me to audition. But here’s the thing. You can spend years drawing shitty fan art in sketchpads, and no one has to see it. You can drum alone in the music room until you’re decent enough for live shows. But with acting, you don’t really get to spend years stumbling along in private. You have an audience even before there’s an audience.
A swell of music. Abby Suso steps forward, wearing a giant beaded collar and an Elvis wig. And she’s singing.
She’s amazing, of course. She doesn’t have one of those limitless voices like Nick or Taylor, but she can carry a tune, and she’s funny. That’s the thing. She’s a straight-up goofball onstage. At one point, Ms. Albright actually guffaws. Which is saying something—not just because who knew guffawing was an actual thing people did, but because you know Ms. Albright has seen this thing a thousand times already. Abby’s just that good. Even I can’t take my eyes off her.
When the show ends, Ms. Albright herds the cast onstage for notes. Everyone drapes themselves all over the platforms, but Simon and Nick scoot to the end of the stage, next to Abby. Of course.
Nick slides his arm around her shoulders, and she tucks up closer to him. Also of course.
There’s no Wi-Fi in here, so I’m stuck listening to Ms. Albright’s notes, followed by an unsolicited ten-minute monologue from Taylor Metternich about losing yourself and becoming your character. I have a theory that Taylor literally gets off on the sound of her own voice. I’m pretty sure she’s having tiny secret orgasms right before our eyes.
Ms. Albright finally shuts it down, and everyone streams out of the auditorium, grabbing backpacks on the way—but Simon, Nick, and Abby wait in a cluster near the orchestra pit. I stand and stretch and head down the aisle to meet them. And a part of me wants to spew praise all over them, but something stops me. Maybe it’s just too painfully sincere, a little too fifth-grade Leah. Not to mention that the thought of fangirling over Abby Suso makes me want to vomit.
I high-five Simon. “You killed it.”
“I didn’t even know you were here,” Abby says.
Hard to know what she means by that. Maybe it’s a secret diss. Like, why are you even here, Leah? Or maybe: I didn’t even notice you, you’re so irrelevant. But maybe I’m overthinking this. I’ve been known to do that when it comes to Abby.
I nod. “I heard you guys were going to Waffle House?”
“Yeah, I think we’re just waiting for Nora.”
Martin Addison walks by. “Hey, Simeon,” he says.
“Hey, Reuben,” says Simon, looking up from his phone. Those are their characters’ names. And yes, Simon plays a guy named Simeon, because I guess Ms. Albright couldn’t resist. Reuben and Simeon are two of Joseph’s brothers, and I’m sure this would all be adorable if it didn’t involve Martin Addison.
Martin keeps walking, and Abby’s eyes flash. Honestly, it’s pretty hard to piss Abby off, but Martin does it just by existing. And by going out of his way to talk to Simon, like last year didn’t happen. It’s so fucking audacious. Simon doesn’t even talk to Martin that much, but I hate that he does at all. Not that I get to dictate who Simon talks to. But I know—I can just tell—that it bugs Abby as much as it bugs me.
Simon turns back to his phone, clearly texting Bram. They’ve been dating for a little over a year, and they’re one of those vomitously happy couples. I don’t mean that in the PDA sense. They actually barely touch each other in school, probably because people are prehistoric dickwads about gay stuff. But Simon and Bram text and eyefuck all day long, like they can’t even go five minutes without contact. To be totally honest, it’s hard not to be jealous. It’s not even just about the true-love-heart-eyes-get-a-room-dudes fairy-tale magic. It’s the fact that they went for it. They had the balls to say fuck this, fuck Georgia, fuck all of you homophobic assholes.
“Are Bram and Garrett meeting us there?” Abby asks.
“Yup. They just got out of soccer.” Simon smiles.
I end up in Simon’s passenger seat, with Nora in the back, digging through her backpack. She’s wearing rolled-up jeans, covered in paint, and her curls are tied back in a messy knot. One ear is pierced all the way to the top, and she has a tiny blue nose stud she got last summer. That girl is honestly too adorable. I love how much she looks like Simon, and I love that they both look like their older sister. They’re a total copy-paste family.
Finally, Nora’s hand emerges from her backpack, holding a giant unopened bag of M&M’s. “I’m starving.”
“We’re literally driving to Waffle House. Right now,” Simon says, but he stretches his hand back to take some. I take a handful, and they’re perfectly melted—which is to say, they’re not quite melted. Just a little soft on the inside.
“So, it wasn’t too much of a shitshow, right?” Simon asks.
“The play?”
He nods.
“Not at all. It was awesome.”
“Yeah, but people are still messing up their lines, and we open on Friday. And freaking Potiphar screwed up a whole song today. God, I need a waffle.”
I pull out my phone and check Snapchat. Abby’s posted this epically long story from rehearsal, and it’s like a montage from a rom-com. A snap of Nick and Taylor singing onstage. A mega close-up selfie of Abby and Simon. An even closer one of Simon’s face where his nostrils look so big, Abby stuck a panda graphic inside one of them. And Abby and Nick, over and over.
I stick my phone back in my pocket. Simon turns onto Mount Vernon Highway. I feel antsy and strange—like I’m bothered by something, but I can’t remember what. It’s like a tiny pinprick in the back of my mind.
“I can’t figure out what song you’re doing,” Nora says.
It takes me a moment to realize she’s talking to me, and a moment after that to realize I’ve been drumming on the glove compartment.
“Huh. I have no idea.”
“It’s like this,” Nora says, tapping a straight one-two beat on the back of my seat. Boom-tap-boom-tap. All eighth notes, quick and even. My mind fills in the rest of it immediately.
It’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” My brain is an asshole.

Chapter 2

 

There are a ton of cars I recognize from school in the Waffle House parking lot. Simon turns off the ignition and glances at his phone.

The first thing I see when I step outside the car is Taylor’s bright blond head. “Leah! I had no idea you were coming. I totally thought it was just theater people, but yay!” She presses her key, and her car beeps twice. Kind of funny—I don’t remember Taylor having a Jeep. Especially not one with testicles dangling from the bumper.
“Your car has very realistic balls, Taylor.”
“So embarrassing, right?” She falls into step beside me. “My brother’s home for spring break, and he blocked my car in. I had to take his.”
“Oh, nuts. That’s the worst.”
“Yeah, he’s really testicling my patience,” she replies. And, okay. I’ll be the first to admit: sometimes I fucking love Taylor.
She holds the door open, and I follow Simon and Nora inside. I really love the smell of Waffle House. It’s this perfect combination of butter, maple syrup, bacon, and maybe onions? Whatever it is, they should bottle it up and pour it into a scented marker, so I can draw hot manga characters who smell like WaHo. Right away, I spot a bunch of theater people sitting in the corner. Including Martin Addison.
“I’m not sitting there.” I turn to Nora.
She nods shortly. “Agreed.”
“Because of Martin?” Taylor asks.
“Let’s just sit over here,” I say, pressing my lips together. I mean, the stuff with Martin happened a long time ago, and maybe I should let it go. But I can’t. I honestly can’t. This kid literally outed Simon last year. Actually, he found out Simon was gay, blackmailed him, and then fucking outed him. I’ve barely said a word to him since, and neither has Nora. Or Bram. Or Abby.
I settle in next to Nora in a booth near the entrance, and Taylor scoots into the seat Simon was clearly saving for Bram. When the waitress shows up for a first round of orders, everyone but me orders waffles. All I want is a Coke.
“Are you on a diet?” Taylor asks.
“Excuse me?”
Seriously, who says that? First of all, I just ate twenty shit-tons of M&M’s. Second of all, shut the fuck up. I swear, people can’t wrap their minds around the concept of a fat girl who doesn’t diet. Is it that hard to believe I might actually like my body?
Nora nudges me and asks if I’m okay. Maybe I look kind of surly.
“Oh my God, are you sick?” asks Taylor.
“No.”
“I’m like super paranoid I’m going to catch something. I’ve been drinking so much tea, and I’m resting my voice whenever I’m not in rehearsal, obviously. Can you imagine if I lost my voice this week? I don’t even know what Ms. Albright would do.”
“Right.”
“Like, I’m in almost every song.” She does this weird, high-pitched laugh. I can’t tell if she’s nervous and pretending not to be, or the other way around.
“Maybe you should rest your voice,” I suggest.
I swear she’s more manageable when we’re rehearsing with the band. Also, I have really good isolation headphones.
Taylor opens her mouth to reply to me, but then Abby and the guys arrive all at once. Garrett scoots in beside me, and Bram slides next to Taylor, with Abby and Nick on the ends. And it’s funny, because Taylor’s been sitting here with her usual runway-in-Paris posture, but now she’s leaning so hard toward Nick, she’s practically sprawled over the table. “Hey, I hear you and Simon will be in Boston for spring break.”
Taylor. You’ve been mashed up against Simon’s body in a booth for twenty minutes. But, of course, you couldn’t ask that question until Nick got here.
“Yup,” Nick says. “We’re doing the last set of school visits—Tufts and BU first, and then Wesleyan, NYU, Haverford, and Swarthmore. So we’re flying into Boston, renting a car, and then flying out of Philly.”
“Road trip,” says Simon, leaning forward for a high five.
“With your moms,” says Abby.
I can’t even get my head around how much people are willing to spend on this stuff. There are the plane tickets, hotels, car rentals, everything—and they don’t even know if they’ve gotten into these schools yet. Not to mention the fact that Simon spent hundreds of dollars on application fees alone, even though he’s dead set on NYU. Which I’m sure has nothing to do with Bram’s early acceptance to Columbia.
“That is so awesome!” Taylor beams. “I’ll be in Cambridge, visiting Harvard. We should meet up!”
“Yeah, maybe,” Nick says. Simon almost chokes on his water.
“Abby, are you looking at the northeast, too?” Taylor asks.
“Nope.” Abby smiles. “I’m going to Georgia.”
“You’re not trying to be near Nick?”
“Can’t afford to be near Nick.”
Kind of weird to hear her say that out loud. Especially because I’m going to the exact same school for the exact same reason. The University of Georgia is the only place I applied. They accepted me months ago. I qualify for the Zell Miller Scholarship. It’s a done deal.
But I never know how to feel when I have a thing in common with Abby Suso. I especially don’t know how to feel about the fact that we’re going to the same school. I bet she’ll pretend she doesn’t know me.
So then Garrett gets going about Georgia Tech’s superiority to Georgia. I don’t even care, but I guess it’s good that Morgan’s not here. It’s funny—Morgan’s such a little social justice geek that you wouldn’t expect this, but she’s actually from one of those hardcore UGA families. All football, all the time. The whole house is decorated red and black, with bulldog faces on everything, and the Hirsches always tailgate before games. I’ll never understand the whole football scene. Like, no shade on football, but I’m kind of more focused on the school part of college.
I want to zone out, but Garrett keeps baiting me. “Okay, here’s one. Leah, what are the longest three years of a UGA student’s life?”
“I give up.”
“Her freshman year.”
“Haha.”
Garrett Laughlin. Every day.
Eventually, everyone starts talking about Bram and Garrett’s soccer game last weekend. Nick looks a little wistful, and I really do get it. It’s not that he’ll never play soccer again. He’ll be back on the field as soon as the play wraps up next week. But it sucks when life moves along without you. Sometimes I feel left out even when life’s moving along with me.
The waitress swings by again to take the second round of orders, and within twenty minutes, we’ve got a mountain of food. Simon’s gone off on a rant about the play, so I steal a piece of bacon from his plate when he’s distracted.
“And I just have this sinking feeling it’s all going to fall apart, now that we finally have the orchestra and the sets. Like, sorry, but the sets should have been done a week ago.”
Nora gives Simon the stink-eye. “Maybe they would be, if anyone actually worked on them other than Cal and me.”
“Burn,” says Garrett.
“But at the end of the day,” says Taylor, “the sets don’t even matter. It’s all about the acting.”
Nora sighs, smiling tightly.
We linger over our plates for a bit, and then the waitress brings us all separate checks. Pretty awesome of her. I hate combined checks, because someone always wants to split the bill evenly—and I don’t want to be a jerk, but there’s a reason I didn’t order that twenty-dollar sandwich. We take turns walking up to the cashier to pay, and then we stack our tips in a pile on the table. And of course, Garrett, who ordered scattered, smothered, and covered waffles with sausage and hash browns, leaves literally a dollar. I don’t get that. Leave a fucking real tip. I throw an extra couple of dollars down myself to make up for it.
“Pretty big tip for a Coke,” Abby says, and I bite back a smile. The others are making their way to the door, but she hangs back, buttoning her peacoat.
“My mom used to be a waitress.”
“Well, it’s just really nice of you.”
I shrug and smile, but my lips feel stretchy. I’m always weird around Abby. I guess I just have issues with her. For one thing, I can’t stand people who are that pretty. She’s got these Disney eyes and dark brown skin and wavy dark hair and actual cheekbones. And she has the opposite of a resting bitch face. Basically, Abby is human candy corn. She’s fine in small doses—but too much, and you’ll puke from the sweetness.
She gives me this half smile, and we both step outside. Taylor and her ball sack are gone, and Garrett’s already left for a piano lesson. Everyone else is just standing around. Simon and Bram are holding hands, sort of, but only the tips of their fingers are laced together. Which is about as hot as it gets for the two of them in public.
Nick, on the other hand, wraps his arms around Abby, like he has to make up for the hour spent on opposite sides of a booth. Typical. So, I guess we’re doing the whole lovesick-couples-in-front-of-Waffle-House thing. Maybe Nora and I should make out now, just to stay relevant.
But Abby disentangles from Nick and walks toward me.
“That’s really beautiful,” she says, pointing at my phone case. It’s actually one of my manga sketches—Anna surprised me with it for my birthday this year. “You drew that, right?”
“Yeah.” I swallow. “Thanks, Abby.”
Her eyes widen, just barely, like I threw her off somehow just by saying her name. I guess we don’t talk a lot. Not outside of group stuff. Not anymore.
She blinks and then nods. “So, hey. The University of Georgia.”
“Is a school.”
“Yes.” She laughs—and suddenly, she’s all doe eyes and hesitation. “I kind of wanted to ask you—”
A horn honks, and we both look up. I recognize Abby’s car—or Abby’s mom’s car, I guess, but today, the driver is a boy with the most gorgeous cheekbones I’ve ever seen—wide eyes, brown skin, maybe early twenties.
“Oh my God, my brother’s home! He wasn’t supposed to get in until tonight.” Abby grins, touching my arm briefly. “Okay, hold that thought. We’ll touch base tomorrow.”
A moment later, she’s kissing Nick good-bye. I look away quickly, squinting up at the sun.

Chapter 3

 

I text Mom, who says she’ll pick me up at Waffle House on her way home. Soon, everyone’s gone but Bram, who scoots in beside me on the curb.

I smile at him. “You don’t have to wait with me.”
“Oh, I’m not. My dad’s in town, so he’s picking me up.”
Bram’s parents are divorced, which I find weirdly comforting. I don’t mean that in a bitchy way. I don’t want Bram to have a shitty home life or anything. It’s just that most of my friends have these storybook-perfect families. Sitcom families—married parents in giant houses, with framed family portraits lining the staircases. I guess it’s nice not being the only one missing that.
“Just for a visit?”
Bram nods. “He and my stepmom came up for the week with Caleb. We’re getting ice cream after this.”
“I can’t believe Caleb’s big enough for ice cream. Wasn’t he just born?”
“I know, right? He’ll be one in June.”
“Unreal.”
Bram smiles. “Want to see him? He’s my lock screen.”
He hands me his phone, and I tap the screen on. “Okay, this is too adorable.”
It’s a selfie of Bram and Caleb, smiling with their faces smooshed together, and it’s the cutest photo ever taken. Bram’s dad is white, and I guess his stepmom must be, too, because Caleb’s the palest little white baby I’ve ever seen. Somehow, it surprises me every time I see a picture of him. He’s totally bald, too, with giant brown eyes. But it’s funny, because Bram and Caleb look weirdly alike. Even though Bram’s skin is brown and he has hair and doesn’t drool. It’s kind of wild.
Bram sticks his phone in his pocket and leans back on his hands, and I feel this wave of unexpected shyness. It occurs to me, suddenly, that this may actually be the first time Bram and I have hung out one-on-one, even though he moved here after freshman year. He was always in the background for me until he started dating Simon. To be honest, I kind of lumped him together with Garrett.
I try to beat back the awkwardness. “Want to see something?” I ask.
“Sure.” He sits up.
“Okay. Brace yourself.” I tap into my photos and scroll back through my albums. Then, I pass Bram the phone.
His hand flies to his mouth.
“Amazing, right?”
Bram nods slowly. “Oh my God.”
“So, this is seventh grade.”
“I’m just.”
“I know. Simon was too cute, right?”
Bram stares at the photo, eyes crinkling around the edges, and something about his expression makes my heart twist.
I mean, he’s so far gone. This kid is in it with his whole entire heart.
The picture is actually of all three of us—Simon, Nick, and me. I think we were at Morgan’s bat mitzvah. I’m wearing this light blue dress, kind of an Eliza Hamilton vibe. I’m holding an inflatable saxophone, smiling, and Nick’s wearing oversized sunglasses. But the star of the picture is Simon. My God.
For one thing, there’s that glow-in-the-dark tie Simon used to wear to every bar mitzvah and dance. But this time, he’s wearing it around his head like Rambo, cheesing for the camera. Also, he’s fucking tiny. I don’t know how I forgot that. He grew a few inches in eighth grade, and that’s about when he started listening to good music and not wearing those giant wolf face T-shirts. Like, I’m pretty sure he stripped off that final wolf shirt one day, and then Bram moved to Shady Creek two hours later.
“You’ve never seen his baby pictures?” I ask.
“I’ve seen the little kid ones, but he’s got middle school locked down.”
“What you’re telling me is that Simon should never have left us alone together.”
“Exactly.” He grins, tapping into his text messages.
Moments later, our phones buzz simultaneously. You showed him the tie? LEAH, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
It was a dapper tie, Bram writes.
Well I was a dapper young man, BUT STILL
Should I tell Bram about the night-light? I type.
Bram smiles. “The night-light?”
IT WAS AN ALARM CLOCK. It just happened to have a light.
“It was a night-light.” I grin at Bram. “It had a little crescent moon and a mouse on it. He probably still has it.”
“That is really cute and not at all surprising.”
“Right? He kept it by his bed until eighth grade.”
Bram laughs. Then he types something, taps send, and scoots his feet back to the curb.
Except the message never appears. So, it’s a private text to Simon. To his boyfriend. Totally allowed. And I probably shouldn’t feel like I’ve been voted off some island.

Mom pulls up to the curb a few minutes later, rolling down the window and waving.

“That’s your mom?” Bram asks. “Wow. She’s really pretty.”
“Yeah, I hear that a lot.” No joke: Simon once called her the quintessential sexy mom. “Are you sure you don’t want us to wait with you?” I ask.
“Oh no. My dad will be here any second.”
My mom leans out the window. “Hi! You’re Bram, right? The soccer player?”
Bram looks taken aback. “Oh. Yes.”
“And you’re going to Columbia.”
God. She always does this. She whips out these little snippets of random information, just to show off what an Involved Mom she is. My friends probably think I go home and quiz her about them with flash cards.
I mean, I do sort of tell my mom everything, to a degree that’s almost pathological. I keep her posted on all the Tumblr gossip, and I tell her about most of my crushes. And of course I told my mom I’m bisexual, even though none of my friends know. I came out to her when I was eleven, during a commercial break for Celebrity Rehab.
Anyway, either Bram is a saint, or he’s hardcore sucking up to Mom. He calls her Ms. Keane, which is actually pretty impressive. No one ever remembers that my mom and I have different last names.
My mom laughs. “You are so sweet. Seriously, call me Jessica.” I can already predict our conversation for the ride home. Oh God, Lee! He’s totally adorable. Simon must be head over heels. What a cutie pie. Blah blah blah.
I know I’m lucky. You always hear about parents who disapprove of their kids’ friends, and my mom’s the exact opposite. She adores every single friend I’ve ever introduced. She even loved Martin Addison the few times she met him. And, of course, my friends are totally charmed by her. Case in point: by the time I click my seat belt, Bram’s already invited Mom to opening night of the play. Because that’s not weird.
“I still think you should have auditioned, Lee,” Mom says as we pull onto the main road. “Joseph is the bomb.”
“Don’t say the bomb.”
Joseph is the blizz.”
I won’t even dignify it with a response.

 


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