Written By: Jen Klein
“You know how I feel about the Banana.”
I groan at the double entendre, but before I can throw a witty comeback, Shaun pulls me to the side of the stairway and crowds me against the wall in the shadows. It’s what a straight guy would do if he wanted a fast make-out session before homeroom.
“No, seriously,” Shaun says in a super-earnest tone. “How are you and I adore you and all that, but first listen to this.” He pauses dramatically before telling me. “I met someone.”
“At business camp?”
“Don’t mock. Behold.” Shaun pulls out his phone and starts scrolling around. He tilts the screen at me and I stare at the photo of an extremely buff dude posing by a pool. He’s wearing rolled-up khaki shorts and nothing else. He looks like he could be—
“He’s not actually a Banana Republic model, is he?”
Shaun shakes his head, satisfied. “No, but I know. His name is Kirk. Isn’t he amazing?”
I whap him on the arm. “What’s amazing is that I’m just now hearing about him!”
Shaun gives me a look of mock offense. “Important news should not be shared in a text.”
I try to remember what Shaun told me about the Rutgers summer business program he went to. “Weren’t you only there for like a week?”
“Six days, but get this: afterward, I told my parents I was visiting my cousin Wajidali at Syracuse, and Kirk said he was visiting his sister in Queens.”
I feel my eyebrows shoot up and disappear under my thick bangs. “Where did you really go?”
“A gay youth hostel in Manhattan.” Shaun lowers his voice. “Technically speaking, in Chelsea. And technically speaking, not gay so much as gay-friendly, but…” He draws in a deep breath. “It was life-altering, June. I am in love.”
I reach for his phone to assess the photo again. There are no two ways about it: Shaun’s guy is so hot as to be almost painful. “I might even be in love.”
“I know, right?” We grin at each other and then Shaun asks what I knew he would ask. “Have you seen Itch yet?”
I shake my head.
“Did you ever tell him about…?” Shaun makes a conspiratorial face, which is code for the twenty minutes I spent behind the 7-Eleven with Ethan Erickson’s tongue in my mouth. I shake my head again and Shaun nods approvingly. “Good. That news was never important enough to be shared.”
“I hope you’re right.”
The early bell rings and Shaun links his arm through mine. “Time to get our senior on.”
I allow Shaun to guide me up the stairs and onto the second floor, where we part ways to find our lockers. Mine is halfway down the hall and—like the rest of the twelfth-grade lockers—shellacked in blue. We’ve been told it’s the exact same color as a robin’s egg, but I suspect the real thing features more cute little speckles and less chipping paint. I shove my backpack inside, slam the door, spin the dial, turn…
And there’s Itch.
He’s weaving through the crowd toward me, like in a scene at the end of a romantic movie. His flop of almost-curly hair is longer than it was the last time I saw him, and his skin is sun-roasted. He keeps his hazel eyes locked on mine as he comes closer, and for just a second, I have that fainty-heart feeling that I used to get when we first started dating last year. Then he’s right here, and before I can even consider, he’s got his arms around me and I’m tilting my head back. His mouth is soft and waxy and familiar. When we part, he smiles his lopsided, lazy smile down at me. “I missed you,” he says.
I choose to believe him.
? ? ?
Lily and Darbs are already unpacked and eating lunch when I arrive at the west end of the bleachers where we sit, halfway between the top and the bottom. Not in the center, because that would imply social dominance, and not on the first row, because that would imply citizenship of LoserVille. We sit off to the side, but far enough up to make it clear that we belong.
At least, we belong to each other.
Lily only says hello when I plop down beside her—we already saw each other in homeroom and AP English—but Darbs squeals and surges across the bleacher to hug me. “June! Holy crap, I’ve been looking for you all day!” We compare schedules for the trimester and discover we have Spanish III together right after lunch. This sends Darbs into a joyful delirium, during which she hugs me again. I am unable to resist touching her shoulder-length ponytail, which is currently a deep violet with bright pink underneath. I would never dye my own hair, but I love it on Darbs.
When we break apart, Darbs tells us about the new girl in her English class. Her name is Yana Pace, she wears a tiny golden confirmation cross, and she was no-question-about-it, absolutely vibing Darbs. Lily and I exchange glances over our sandwiches. This is how it always goes with Darbs. Big crushes, big heartbreaks. It’s tough being a bisexual Christian. The gays don’t want her, and neither does our school’s God Squad.
Lily and Darbs are amused by my new carpool arrangement. “What’s the inside of his car like?” Darbs asks. “Is it filled with cheerleaders and beer cans?”
“Totally,” I tell her. “The cheerleaders are stacked in the backseat and I have to rest my feet on a keg.”
Darbs nods like she believes me. “At least he’s reasonable to look at.”