"Hey, excuse me? Mr. Actor Guy? Can I talk to you for a minute?"
Barry turned around to see a girl hurrying to catch up to him in the hallway outside Mr. Hawkins' office. It was one of the kids from the PTA meeting—she sounded nervous for whatever reason, but determined all the same. He took a deep breath and braced himself for the worst.
"Yeah. What's your name again?"
"Barry Glickman," she repeated, thoughtful, as she nodded her head.
"So… what did you want to talk to me about?"
"Oh, um, yeah. The other day in the gym, I thought you sounded a little familiar. I'm pretty sure my grandma used to have an album she listened to all the time when I was a kid with you on it. I think it was a cast recording of some old Broadway show she bought on her and my grandpa's famous New York vacation they took when I was a baby. You must've been really young."
"I must've been," he said. "Is that all you wanted to say, or…?"
"I guess it was, yeah."
Barry let out a relieved breath; that went much better than he expected.
"I'm sorry, I don't think I caught your name."
"Alyssa. Alyssa Greene. You probably know my mother, she's the head—"
"The head of the PTA," he finished for her. "Believe me, she's… hard to miss."
"Yeah, I know. Look… I'm sorry about all that. She's…" She trailed off and shook her head with a shrug. "A lot. I don't know if it makes it any better, but she's kinda like that about everything."
"She sounds a little like my mother," he said. "I haven't talked to her in years."
"Because you're gay," Alyssa blurted out, and instantly looked vaguely horrified that she'd spoken aloud.
"Yes," Barry said; Alyssa flinched, the tiniest, almost imperceptible bit. If Barry had blinked, he would've missed it. His stomach began to sink when a few missing puzzle pieces started to align in his mind. He could see the conflict behind Alyssa's eyes, sympathy and fear and even a strange kind of relief.
"Is that… hard forever?" she asked. "Or does it get easier?"
"Sure," he said, simply.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean it's both. It gets easier over time, not talking to her, but it doesn't ever really hurt less. How could it?"
"Right," she said, the corners of her mouth pulling down into a frown. "You're right. How could it? She's your mom."
"You've gotta live your life, though—with or without her, you know? It's a shame, but there's nothing I can do to change anything. I try not to think about it too much."
"I—I can't imagine what that must be like. Not having your mother in your life."
"You should talk to Emma Nolan. She certainly knows. At least the beginning part."
Alyssa nodded absently, lost in thought, but then she froze, her eyes widening as if she'd been caught giving away more information that she should. "Yeah—Yeah, I guess I could do that. If she'd even want to talk to me about it."
"Well, you never know until you try, right?"
"You give good advice. I can see why Emma likes you."
"Emma… talks about me? At school?"
"Well… no. But isn't it obvious? You guys coming all this way to help her out of the blue… Maybe it made everything crazier, but at least now she's not out there in front of everyone all alone. That's gotta help, right?"
"I hope so. Sometimes I'm not so sure," he said. "You know, whatever else your mother is, she raised a good kid. Besides your principal, you're the only one other than Emma who's even tried to be civil around here."
"I, uh… That's…" Alyssa swallowed hard, and then stuck out her hand. Barry shook it, slightly confused. "Mr. Glickman. It was nice to meet you. You know, officially."
She spun on her heel and started to walk down the hallway again at a brisk pace. Once she was a respectable distance away, she broke into a run, no doubt hoping Barry had turned away and wasn't watching anymore. But he was.
When he thought about it later, Barry recognized that conversation as the first time he understood, somewhere deep down and visceral, the secret Alyssa was keeping from the world. Long before he knew for sure what it was.