The Hangout

Summary: From Bram's POV. What if Simon's and Bram's junior year takes place during the year 2019-2020? What if Blue and Jacques find a unique, socially-distant way to "meet" and talk?

A/N: Prompt by VioletRavenclaw: What if they met during a pandemic?

I don't know if this does your prompt justice, but I hope you like it!

I feel like I'm crawling out of my skin. I stare at my mom, hoping her words will change. I'm sitting at our kitchen table and she is standing as far away from me as our kitchen will allow.

"What?" I ask.

"I'm really sorry, baby, but I just can't risk you. The CDC is going crazy right now. I'm working at least 14-hour days; sometimes even longer than that. I'm working directly with patients that are infected. This is the only thing that makes sense," she says. She looks so tired, almost like the color is draining from her face because of her fatigue. I don't have it in me to fight with her on this. I've barely seen her over the last couple of weeks and the only reason I'm seeing her now is because she asked me to come down so she could talk to me.

"Okay. I get it," I assure her. I really don't though. I'm a good kid. I stay out of her way. We are fully capable of cohabitating this house and distancing enough to reduce my risk.

"You'll have so much fun with your father," she promises me. "And Ally."

I try not to wrinkle my nose. Does my mom have any idea how weird this is going to be? My dad, my stepmom, and me. We don't know how to carry a conversation with each other and there's been this weird tension between ever since they got married, though I know part of that's on me.

These next two weeks are going to be a nightmare. "I get to come back at the end of March, right?" I ask.

She bites her lip. "You can come back when schools open up," she promises me.

I look at her suspiciously. The way she says it makes me think that she knows something, or suspects something, that she's not telling me.

She glances at the clock. "Thanks for taking this so well. I really don't deserve how good you've been since the divorce." Oh, God. She's playing the divorce card. That's so unfair. "I have a lot of friends with teenage sons and most of them can't wait for them to grow up a little more. I count myself lucky that you haven't made this impossible. I love you so much, and I'm going to miss you."

Her eyes fill with tears and I have to look away. I remind myself that she doesn't want me to leave. She's truly doing what she thinks will keep me safe.

"I love you too. I've got to go pack."

The next morning, I'm on my way to Savannah. It's a four-hour drive, but it feels much, much shorter.

My dad has the spare bedroom all set up for me. He even bought me a new desk and some extra school supplies so that I can do my classes online. I'm grateful, truly. We may not know how to talk to each other, but I know he loves me in his own way.

The first two days are the worst because Creekwood still hasn't figured out remote learning, so I don't even have work to distract me. My dad's school is just requiring him to post work for his kids every morning, so he's essentially done with work by the time I wake up. He suggests we take a walk, so I can see more of the neighborhood, but I really don't want to. He's lived here since before he and Ally got married; I'm familiar with the neighborhood.

I don't realize until I see the disappointed look in Ally's eyes that they thought this would be a good opportunity for us to talk. "Maybe tomorrow," I hastily add. "I'm just really tired. I'm going to get some more work done." If they think it's weird that I have work to do even though I just told them nothing has been posted, they don't say anything.

I spend the better part of the next week in my bedroom. I'm mostly doing schoolwork, but I kind of wish I was given more because I would love to have something to kill more of my time. Six days after I get to Savannah, Garrett texts me a link to a game. It's called 'The Hangout'.

Initially, I don't even try. But after another week of being stuck inside, my dad and Ally finally convince me to go on a walk and it's so painfully uncomfortable. We make small talk for like ten seconds and then spend the rest of the walk avoiding eye contact.

After a painfully awkward lunch after that painfully awkward walk, all I want is an escape. So, I click the link Garrett sent me. For the first time, I get it. I get why people waste hours and hours on video games. There's something intensely satisfying about being able to design my own town. I create my own bookstore where my avatar can go to read whenever he wants – I'm even able to link my amazon account so I can read the e-books I have. I create a zoo with tiny animals that my avatar can feed every day. It's probably borderline obsessive how much time I spend on this town. I don't realize how long I've been playing until Ally is knocking on my door.

"Hey Bram. Dinner's ready," she tells me.

"Thanks," I say. I look at my clock. It's 7:00; I've been playing for over six hours.

I stand up and stretch because I feel stiff. Dinner is the same as it's been every night. We all sit at my dad's kitchen table, not talking, and eating as quickly as we can.

The next day, we find out school is going to be closed another three weeks. Within five minutes of reading the email, I get a phone call from my mom. She's on her lunch break, and conveniently (or so she says), she got the call from my school before she had to go back to work.

I'm not surprised when she says she's already talked to my dad, and I'm stuck in Savannah until further notice. I don't really think school is opening again this year, and when I ask her if I'm going to be able to come home over the summer, she doesn't have an answer. I don't blame her. If she was scared enough to send me to live with my father, she's not going to rush me coming home. Even on the phone, I can tell how exhausted she is. Being an epidemiologist, she usually works really routine hours. I guess a pandemic completely screws that up.

I need an escape. I decide I won't let myself play too long. That goes out the window when I discover the "find a town" button. It pairs you with a random town so you can explore other people's creations. After the first town, I realize I could spend hours this way. No one has been home when I visit other towns, but I get a lot of really cool ideas. It's really obvious that some towns were built to be a place where people can come and hang out. I steal one town's idea of a video game arcade. I'm not that into video games, but maybe it will make my town more enticing if Garrett ever decides to visit me.

The last town I visit is huge. Whoever's town this is must have been playing for a really long time. I follow the road and have my avatar stop when I notice I'm not alone. After visiting so many towns, I just assumed I could only go to a town if no one was home. I guess that was just a coincidence.

I'm surprised when a little message pops up on the right side of my screen. Garrett had mentioned that you could talk to people through the game. You can also apparently play different games and if you link a streaming account, you can watch movies or TV shows with your friends. It's one of the reasons people are becoming so obsessed with it.

: hi welcome to my town?

I frown. I really want to explore more, but I don't know if that's a weird request to make. I figure there's really nothing to lose.

bluegreen118: Sorry. I clicked the "find a town" button. Usually no one's home. Are you okay if I walk around?

: go for it

I walk around and try not to look like a complete creep as I look at his town… or her town. It's huge. If I didn't know better, I'd guess that they've been developing it for years. Everything about it makes me smile. From the Harry Potter themed grocery store to the musical theater building to the park that they named "Shoreo".

bluegreen118: I like your town.

: thanks

: who are you

I frown. I don't want to tell them. I mean, they're a complete stranger.

bluegreen118: I'd rather not say. I mean, you could be anyone.

: i could be anyone? youre the one that could be anyone. you just showed up at my town

He's got a point. I'm about to leave his town when another message comes through.

: :P

I don't know why, but that makes me smile. I figure I can play along for a little while. Who knows? Maybe this kid is struggling as much as I am with this pandemic.

bluegreen118: Fair enough. Well, I don't think I'm creepy. I think I'm your fairly average teenage boy slowly succumbing into my isolation-induced insanity and seeking out video games as a means of avoiding reality.

bluegreen118: Or maybe I'm a serial killer. It's one of the two.

I send it before I can think twice about it. I think I'm pretty funny, but I'm usually too afraid to share that part of me with the rest of this world. I think maybe this pandemic is really making me go crazy.

: haha. i guess we can rule out serial killer.

I laugh at the sheer silliness of our conversation.

: whats your name

No way. There is no chance that I'm going to tell him who I am. I can see he's playing in Georgia and that's enough information to know that he's way too geographically close to me to find out my name.

bluegreen118: Why don't you call me Blue?

: really? your name is Blue?

bluegreen118: No, but a nickname feels a little safer. Like you said, we really could be anyone.

: two can play at that game. im Jacques.

: so blue. i know your not a serial killer but how do I know your not some old creep that knows im a teenage boy and is trying to freaking catfish me or something

bluegreen118: *you're

Again, I send it before I think about it, and I realize just a second too late that it might seem offensive.

bluegreen118: Sorry, I can't help it. My dad's an English teacher, and I practically came out of the womb correcting grammar.

bluegreen118: That was a really weird thing to say.

bluegreen118: I'm changing the subject.

bluegreen118: You asked if I was trying to "freaking catfish" you? I don't think that's how catfishing works.

bluegreen118: How can I convince you, Jacques?

: Tell me something that proves you're a high schooler… or I just realized you never said high school. I'm just making an assumption here.

It doesn't escape my notice that he's changing how he writes to me to include punctuation. It's strangely flattering and makes me feel warm. This is ridiculous. This is a stranger on the internet. I should leave his town and never go back, but I don't do that. Maybe, while I'm stuck in this awkward living situation and avoiding my dad and stepmom, it's okay to take some risks. It's not like I'm ever going to meet this kid; I doubt I'm even going to talk to him after today.

bluegreen118: Okay… I'm a junior in high school. I'm taking several AP classes. And I'm on my school's soccer team.

: I don't think that really proves you're in high school.

: Though, if that's all true, we're in the same grade.

I frown and look up at my ceiling. Something popped into my head and I'm having a lot of trouble getting it out. And maybe I'm really going to take a risk today. And maybe, just maybe, I'm ready to tell someone. Even if that someone is some random person on the internet.

Why would anyone pretend to be a teenager? I hate being a teenager. We're treated like little kids half the time, and there's this incessant fear of being ourselves. I'm filled with this intense urge to tell Jacques. It's essentially a no consequence decision. I can leave once I tell him and part of me wants to. I've wanted to tell someone for a long, long time. I've almost come out to Garrett so many times, but the words always feel impossible to get out. It's interesting that it's been so hard to come out to Garrett because my fingers fly across my keyboard of their own accord right now.

bluegreen118: Okay, then how about this? I'm seventeen years old, living in the middle of Georgia, and I'm gay. Half the time I feel like I'm stranded on an island, just trying to find a shore worth swimming to, like that will help me find my voice and my purpose. As it is, I feel like I have neither of those things. To top it off, I feel like I'll never be more than the box that people put me in because I'm my own worst enemy and I'm too afraid to show people who I am. I promise, I wouldn't pretend to be me if I had any other choice.

My mouse is hovering over the green "leave town" button at the bottom of my screen, yet I hesitate. That had been the plan. Get it all out there to a complete stranger, and then leave. Perfect. So, why do I wait? Maybe I'm waiting for the feeling of doom that will surely come after the adrenaline wears off. Their reply comes quickly.

: Don't leave.

There's a long pause. I don't know what he's going to say and it's making me incredibly anxious. It shouldn't. I don't know him. He doesn't know me. What is there really to be afraid of?

The answer comes to me after a moment: proof. Proof that I'm not enough for this world. Proof that I'll never really be accepted. It's almost like I believe if some random kid on the internet can't understand, no one can. That may be the most illogical thing I've ever thought.

: You're freaking kidding me.

Here it comes; I'm sure. Something about how I'm destined for hell, how I'm unnatural, or how I'm too young to know and I'll surely outgrow it. Or maybe it will be worse. Maybe he'll say something so horrible that the most creative part of my brain can't even imagine his response.

It could be any of the hundreds of things I've heard before. Never directed towards me because no one knows, but they were spoken by someone that matters and spoken close enough that I could hear. It's enough to make the task of coming out exceptionally daunting.

: I'm gay too.

I'm filled with rage. How dare he? Sure, this isn't the most orthodox way to bear my soul, yet that's exactly what I did. I told him something no one knows about me. And he's making fun of it? I think I would have preferred for him to tell me I'm going to hell.

bluegreen118: Haha. Very funny. Make fun of the gay kid.

: No, I'm serious. I'm gay. I've never actually said that before. no one knows

: what are the odds?

: Seriously, I can't fucking believe this. This is like fate or destiny or some corny shit like that.

: Sorry, I don't know if you cuss.

: Can we talk about this? I don't want to scare you away, but it seems like it means something that of the millions of towns that exist, you happened upon mine. Like, maybe it's destiny that we're supposed to talk about this and be friends or something.

I stare at the words on my screen. I can't even begin to dissect all the things I'm feeling right now. All that resonates with me is that for the first time in my life, I think I have the chance to be myself with this kid.

bluegreen118: I don't mind if you cuss.

I don't know why that's what I'm able to send him. It's kind of like that was the easiest thing to address because I have absolutely no clue how to talk about this. I think I've locked this part of myself away, and I haven't even attempted to look at it in years.

bluegreen118: I don't know that I believe in destiny, but I think I would like to talk about this. I might be bad at it

: I don't think anyone's really bad at talking – you certainly weren't in your message. Some things are just hard to talk about.

: But thanks for talking about them because just reading your message made me feel about eleven times less alone.

bluegreen118: I still can't believe I sent it. I feel like I have tunnel vision and I can't remember exactly what I wrote now that the adrenaline has worn off. I'm too scared to go back and look.

bluegreen118: Eleven times less alone, Jacques? That seems oddly specific :)

: You shouldn't be scared. Your message was freaking perfect!

: Let's be real. Eleven is the best number, which is perfect because we're both in the ELEVENth grade.

: Are you out to anyone yet?

: I don't know if that's okay to ask.

bluegreen118: I think it's fine to ask. I'm not out to anyone yet. I feel like I'm constantly going back and forth about wanting to come out. I have these moments where I'm almost bursting to tell people, like right before I sent you that message. But then a second later it feels impossible to get the words out and I can never find the nerve to do the impossible. It was easier with you because I knew I could leave and never come back to your town if I needed to.

: I know exactly what you mean. For me, it's kind of like the moment I think the time is right, my brain is just like… no. Like I'm in this freaking exhausting state of JUST SAY IT and NO NEVER. And I just don't know how people are going to take it, so NO NEVER keeps winning out.

bluegreen118: YES! That's exactly it! I thought I was the only one that felt that way. I also know that once I'm out, it's not suddenly over. I'm going to have to keep reintroducing myself to the world and that's a daunting task.

: Exactly. Man, this is so great! I'm so glad we can do this.

: Another thing I worry about is that I'll come out and then all I'll be is the gay kid. I'm so much more than that. Just like I'm sure you're so much more than that. I don't want to make you feel like you're just "the gay kid" (unless you want to keep talking about this), so what do you like to do outside of school? What do you like to do in general?

bluegreen118: Huh, that's a pretty good question. You're probably going to think I'm ridiculous, but I feel like it's the first day of school. I'm always asked questions like this and I always blank; I end up giving a really generic answer. Like: I really love soccer.

: Really? Have you been playing long? What do you like about soccer? Do you like all sports or just soccer?

: That was a lot of freaking questions. I'm just curious.

I can't help but smile. It doesn't feel overwhelming. I don't know if that's because I'm talking to someone who might get me or because it's a virtual conversation and it's kind of like I'm talking to my computer screen instead of a person, but it's really not too bad.

bluegreen118: Haha, I don't mind Jacques. I've been playing soccer since I was five. It's the only sport I actually stuck with. I did t-ball for a year when my dad was going through a baseball coach phase, and I did basketball for a few years when I was little, but I only tolerated those sports. Soccer almost immediately clicked for me. How about you? Do you like sports?

: Hell no. The closest I get to sports is gym class, and I hate every second of it. They've just never interested me. My best friend plays soccer though, so I've been to my fair share of soccer matches (or games – years of watching soccer and still idk what you call them).

bluegreen118: Then the question must be asked: if not sports, what does Jacques do for fun? Is playing video games too obvious of a guess?

: You'd think, right? But this is the first video game I've ever played more than once. And, yet again, my best friends love video games, so I've spent a lot of time watching them play video games.

bluegreen118: I'm going to stop guessing before I make a bigger fool of myself. What do you like to do in your spare time?

: I like listening to music. I also act… sort of. I signed up for the play freshman year and our music teacher doesn't cut people from the play, so I've had a nonspeaking role in every play for the last three years.

: I also really like to read… Except the books we have to read in English class a.k.a. old white guy shiterature

bluegreen118: I almost hate to admit this, but I like some of that old white guy shiterature. But I read a lot of other stuff too. I've been really into graphic novels lately. What's your favorite book?

: Harry Potter, obviously. I've always thought my glasses make me look a little like Harry Potter.

I think his avatar does kind of look like the guy that plays Harry Potter; except his avatar is blonde.

bluegreen118: Huh, I've never read them, but I recognize some of your buildings from the movies.

: WHAT IS THIS TRAVESTY?

: Blue, the books are just… so much better.

: Just watching the movies without reading the books is like…

: is like…

: is like living in a world without freaking happiness. Like most of the movies are fine, but if you really want to get to know the beauty and magic of this world, you have to read the books.

bluegreen118: I think I struck a chord with you, Jacques. Okay, convince me. Why should I read the books?

: Okay, strap in, Blue. Because you're about to get my patent-pending list for why everyone should read Harry Potter. Side note, you should know that you're not going to be the first person to see this list. Me and one of my best friends made this list in middle school after our other best friend said that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was his favorite Harry Potter movie, and he did not understand why that's a freaking sin, so we needed to convince him to read the books.

: 1) Hermione. Freaking. Granger is literally the greatest fictional human being on this planet. Like, she literally saves the world in every freaking book and checks their homework and shit so they'll pass Hogwarts. She's a genius (obviously), but that's never been important to her. It's what everyone sees when they look at her, but she's so much more than that. And I think, in a way, she spends seven books proving that she's more than just her brains. She proves that she deserves to be in Gryffindor because she is every bit as brave as Harry.

: Wow, I'm having flashbacks to closeted teenage Jacques and how much I wanted to be more than how everyone saw me… I still do.

: 2) Peeves. I know what your thinking. Who is this Peeves? EXACTLY. He's a freaking gem and has been tragically left out of the movies. I promise, the books are worth it just for Peeves. He's amazing.

: 3) Ron's Pygmy Puff tattoo. You don't know what this is if you haven't read the books. Doesn't that make you curious?

: 4) The Dursleys. Aunt Petunia is so much more than she is in the movies. Okay, it's pretty par for the course (I think that's the saying) for the first few years. There is this whole beautiful moment in the last book with Dudley and you just don't get to experience it at all. Years of Dudley being an asshole culminate in this moment. I still don't understand why we didn't get to see it play out.

: 5) Ginny Weasley. Ginny is freaking fierce. And funny. And not at all as awkward as she was written in the movies. She deserves Harry and it's so much more natural in the books. And did I mention that she's hilarious? She has these one-liners that have literally made me cry because I've laughed so hard.

: There were two more, but I don't remember them. Wow, I don't think I've ever typed so much in my life. Anyway. You should read Harry Potter.

: Here's the only thing. I don't know if you're aware of this, but this amazing, magical, inclusive world was created by the worst person ever. I'm pretty sure she modeled Voldemort after herself.

: And it's really shitty. But that doesn't change that the books give you hope and make you believe that you can be more than what everyone else expects of them.

: Just needed to throw that out there.

: TL; DR: Read Harry Potter. It's freaking amazing even if the author is fucking horrible.

I can't help the laugh that escapes me. I think it's sweet that Jacques is this passionate about something. I might actually look into acquiring a set of the books. If I drop the hint to my dad, I bet he'd order them for me. I figure I can at least tell Jacques I tried to read them.

bluegreen118: That was very… thorough. I think you might have a future career as a lawyer because you have me convinced.

: I don't think anything would make my dad happier. He's a lawyer and I think he wishes I was more like him. Or, at least was interested in more of the same things. When my hearts invested in something, I can argue until I'm blue in the face, but otherwise, I have no interest in it. Do you find that your parents want you to follow in their footsteps?

bluegreen118: My dad definitely does, but I think that has more to do with the fact that I intend to follow in his footsteps. My dad's an English teacher and I think I might want to be an English professor. That or something with editing.

: That's really freaking cool. You're one of those kids that has all your shit together, aren't you?

bluegreen118: I think I've provided satisfactory evidence to prove that I do not have all my shit together. My parents are divorced, and this is something that's easy to talk about with both of them. So, I have a fairly concise future mapped out with them. Do you know what you want to do?

: Not a freaking clue. I don't think I'm talented enough to make a living out of theater. I've played around with a few different things, but nothing that I've fleshed out yet.

bluegreen118: What kind of things have you "played around with"?

Ally knocks on my door. "Hey, Bram. Dinner's ready."

It can't already be dinner time. I look at my clock shocked; we've been talking for hours.

bluegreen118: Actually, I hate to cut this short, but I have to go eat dinner. Bye, Jacques. It was really nice meeting you.

: Wait! Will we talk again?

bluegreen118: I really hope so. I like talking to you.

: Me too. Accept my friend request.

Inexplicably, I think he's somehow figure out who I am and has sent me a Facebook friend request. Then, I realize he's trying to friend me through the game. It means that we'll be able to come and go from each other's towns. I accept his request.

: Thanks! Enjoy dinner!

bluegreen118: Bye!

As I shut down my computer, I really hope this isn't the last time I'll talk to Jacques. Over dinner, I mention that I'd like to read Harry Potter. I drop the hint to my dad, but Ally's eyes get big.

"After dinner, I'll have to take you to our library," she tells me. "I own all the books."

I stare at her. In the far reach of my brain, I'm aware that my mouth is open, but I'm too distracted. I have been coming to visit them for years, and this is the first I'm hearing about a library. "Thanks."

"You'll love them," she assures me. "I grew up with Harry Potter. I was only twelve when the first book came out and I hated reading at the time. But my older sister told me I was too young to read it, which only made me determined. I fell in love with reading after that."

I look at the table. "I didn't know you had an older sister," I say surprised. I try to remember a sister from her wedding. The bridal party was pretty small. My dad had a best man – his best friend and roommate in college. Ally had a maid of honor – her cousin. I wonder why her older sister didn't make the cut. And I wonder why she wasn't in any of the family pictures.

"No, I suppose you wouldn't," Ally says softly. "My sister died her freshman year of college. She collapsed one day, and we found out she had a brain aneurysm that ruptured. There was nothing they could do. All of a sudden, she was gone."

I feel terrible and not just because she's crying. This is probably the kind of thing I would have known if I made even the slightest attempt to get to know her. I don't know that I'm really ready to make that effort right now. Weirdly, my thought is of how much I want to talk to Jacques about this. I don't really know him, so I don't understand the pull. I guess something changed in me in the last few hours we were talking. "I'm sorry." I'm practically whispering because I never know what to say in awkward situations like this.

"It's fine. It was a long, long time ago."

After that, we eat in silence. Ally still shows me the "library" after dinner. I feel better knowing it's not a whole room and is a bunch of bookshelves in the living room they built in the finished part of their basement. She tells me I can borrow whatever books I'd like. I wonder if I should say something about her sister. As it always happens when I'm not sure if I should say something, I end up staying silent. After a moment, she retreats upstairs and leaves me alone with her books.

The books are in alphabetical order, so it takes me almost no time to locate the series and I grab the first book in the series.

I'm up later than I should be reading the first book. It doesn't help that I keep getting distracted when I think of how Jacques would look reading the book. I imagine him laying on his back and holding the book above his head as he dozes off, abruptly waking up as the book hits his face. I don't know why that's the visual I have, but it seems right to me.

I get more than halfway through before I go to sleep. My plan was to finish it, but somewhere around midnight, I can't keep my eyes open, so I decide I will finish it tomorrow. It's not terrible, but I think Jacques hyped it up way more than it needed to be hyped.

That night, I dream about a boy that looks a remarkable amount like Harry Potter. We don't do anything special. We just watch a movie. I couldn't tell you what movie dream-Jacques chose, but I enjoyed it. I wanted more. I wanted to know everything about that boy.

When I wake up, I'm feeling so many things. I'm surprised when one of those things is sad. I'm pretty sure Jacques is going to end up being one of the people where we fizzle out. I mean, what are the chances that anything happens between us? We're probably never going to talk again. It's better to accept that now than to be disappointed later. At the same time, I want to talk to him again. I don't want this to be the end. I want to find out how far we can push this thing. One day and I'm already calling it a thing.

I finish reading the first book and by the time I finish, I'm starting to get it. I don't know if it's better without the haze of exhaustion or if the second half of the book is just significantly better than the first, but I don't even realize how long I've been reading until I'm done and all I want to do is start the next book. I still have schoolwork to do, but it never takes me more than an hour. I go back and forth about whether I can start reading the second book and put my work off until after lunch. I hate the idea of putting off my schoolwork. I'm usually done by now, and even though I still have time, I feel like I'm slacking off. And I really want to see if I can talk to Jacques again. I know he was on around 1:30 yesterday and I'm hoping that's a routine thing for him. I don't want homework to get in the way of that.

So, reluctantly I decide to wait. Anyway, I think Jacques will be impressed that I read the whole first book in a day, even if it is really short.

I finish my homework, practically scarf down lunch, and retreat to my bedroom to play the game. Jacques isn't there and I wonder if it's weird to wait. I don't have long to deliberate on this before he shows up. My sigh of relief is audible. I half expect Jacques to hear it, except the game doesn't work like that.

bluegreen118: Hi, Jacques.

: Hi, Blue! I'm so glad you're here.

bluegreen118: I wasn't sure if you would be here; I didn't know if you logged on the same time every day. I'm glad you are!

: I almost convinced myself I imagined you.

bluegreen118: I'm pretty sure I'm real.

: I dunno… I think I might need some proof. Tell me more about yourself.

bluegreen118: Like what?

: Favorite memory. Go.

bluegreen118: This is going to make me look like the ultimate nerd, and it's not a specific memory, but I used to be so excited for school to start every year… for the school supplies. I would spend hours in the back-to-school section picking out school supplies. I always found something so magical about the smell of fresh paper and the newness of an unused pencil.

: you're one of those kids that sniff school supplies, aren't you?

bluegreen118: I do NOT sniff school supplies… often

bluegreen118: I'm assuming shopping for school supplies is not your favorite memory, so what is?

: I think I'd have to go with the day we got our dog. We have these family friends in Alabama, and their dog had a whole litter of puppies. I was ten and we road tripped to Alabama to pick one out. We picked out this little mush that ran up to us and got so excited he fell asleep. It was the cutest thing. He was too little to come home with us, but we came back a few weeks later, and he ran right up to me. He totally remembered me. And then he slept in my lap on a towel the whole ride home. I fell asleep holding him. I guess I never shook the habit because even now that he's full grown, he sleeps in bed with me. That's the best freaking moment of my life. It was all downhill from there.

bluegreen118: Your dog story is ridiculously cute. I can totally picture it. I'm thinking a beagle, right?

bluegreen118: A TINY SLEEPING BEAGLE PUPPY?

bluegreen118: Now I just want to hold him… or pet him if he's too big to be held.

bluegreen118: I've wanted a dog my whole life. After the divorce, it just didn't pan out for us.

: Not a beagle. He's a gorgeous golden retriever. He's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he's still the cutest thing. And he's hilarious.

bluegreen118: I'm so jealous. Give him a hug for me, okay?

: He's currently sleeping on my legs, but once he wakes up, I will. Do you think you'll get a dog one day?

bluegreen118: I would love a dog. I don't know the first thing about raising a dog, so I think that's going to depend on whether I meet someone that has a dog/ has a general idea of how to properly train a dog.

: Lucky for you Blue, I think I know someone who is extremely eligible and has every intention of having a dog through his adult life.

I feel like I should be cringing or throwing up a giant stop sign. Maybe it's because it's all talk and it's going to be only talk for a long, long time, it doesn't feel too soon or overwhelming. I can actually see it. Me and the boy that looks like Harry Potter with a little puppy.

I'll play along.

bluegreen118: What are your thoughts on a little beagle puppy? I can't get that image out of my head now.

: I dunno. I love having a golden retriever. Aside from the fact that you cannot leave socks lying around or he will eat them, he's the best. But I think I can bend on that. We knew the moment we saw Bieber that he was ours.

That name sounds vaguely familiar. It takes me an embarrassingly long time to realize that it sounds familiar because he shares a name with Justin Bieber.

bluegreen118: That really does sound magical.

: It was! So, you've never had a pet?

bluegreen118: Well, not really. I had a goldfish named Spiderman for a little over three years when I was younger – like, really young. I think I was five or six when I got him. I remember how proud I was to have kept a goldfish alive for so long, a carnival goldfish no less. And then I found out that he hadn't actually lived for three years; my mom had just been replacing him so I would think that. After that, I lost my interest in fish and my window of opportunity for a puppy had closed.

: RIP Spiderman. That really freaking sucks. How did you ever forgive your mom?

bluegreen118: I knew she wasn't doing it to hurt me. It's just the kind of stuff parents pull. She told me that once I got attached to Spiderman, she didn't know what to do. She'd dug herself into a hole she couldn't pull herself out of. Have your parents ever done anything like that?

: I'm sure they have, but all that's coming to mind is normal things like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

bluegreen118: You believed in the Tooth Fairy?

: A fairy whose whole purpose is to leave money under your pillow in exchange for a few useless teeth? I freaking jumped on board so fast. Didn't you believe in him?

bluegreen118:Okay, don't laugh.

bluegreen118: The day I found out about the Tooth Fairy, I had just lost my first tooth and I went home crying. It had fallen out during lunch and I'd been sent to the nurse. She put my tooth in a baggy and told me the tooth fairy was going to come that night. I was so sure this creepy man was going to come into my house and kidnap me; I was inconsolable. My dad told me he wasn't real, he took my tooth, and we had ice cream together. That became our tradition.

: Huh. I never really thought of it like that. I guess a lot of the things that we believed as kids would actually be really scary if they were true.

: Did you think Santa Claus was going to kidnap you?

bluegreen118: No – Santa brought presents. He was cool.

: Ahahaha I can't.

: Fair enough. I know what I want to ask you next. What is the most unbelievable thing that you've ever truly believed?

I frown. I know the answer, but it's not this funny, silly, happy memory that he's fishing for. When my parents started fighting, I really believed they were going to stay together. Even after the divorce, I thought they might get back together. It wasn't until my dad met Ally that I finally let go of that possibility. But I have a feeling that Jacques isn't looking for some sad divorce story.

bluegreen118: Why don't you go first? I have to think about this one.

: You know how when you're young, you believe that there are monsters in the closet? Well, my dad told me that if I did the Hokey Pokey the monsters would be trapped in the closet until morning, so they wouldn't be able to come out and get me.

: I BELIEVED this for years. Like, I told my friends and would argue with people who said it was dumb. Because I was still around, so obviously it worked. I was so freaking embarrassed when I found out. My best friend still brings it up sometimes.

bluegreen118: That's hilarious. And adorable.

: I was a really hilarious and adorable kid, so that makes sense :)

: Actually, I was kind of a dopey kid. I went through some really weird phases.

: But you don't need to hear about that.

bluegreen118: What if I want to hear about them?

: Nah. I want you to keep thinking of me as this Harry Potter loving badass. That is how you think of me, right? ;)

: Actually, speaking of badasses, I wanted to say this when you came on today, but then I didn't want to make it weird, but I also don't want to never say it.

: Thank you.

bluegreen118: For what?

: Everything. Yesterday. I don't know how to explain it, but I felt more free last night than I've ever felt before. It's like, just knowing that there's someone out there like me helped so much.

bluegreen118: I know what you mean. I think you helped me a lot yesterday.

: I'm glad it's mutual. I couldn't get what we were talking about out of my head. Especially the coming out stuff.

: I think I always thought that once someone knew it would be so easy to be out, but that didn't happen. I really thought about telling my family over dinner last night. With my older sister home from college, all five of us are always together. It seemed like the perfect time. But I couldn't do it. It was so… easy to talk to you yesterday, you know? Straight people, they can't understand how a secret like this becomes part of you.

: This has always been my secret. I don't think it's just everyone else I have to come out to. It's me as well.

: Does that even make sense?

bluegreen118: It definitely makes sense. It's a little different for me. I had this very specific moment where I did come out to myself… in a bathroom at my dad's wedding. Long story. Other than that, I get it.

: Can you talk about what happened at your dad's wedding?

For a moment, I'm not sure if I can. I've repressed a lot of it and I've never talked about it before. At the same time, if anyone can get it, it's going to be Jacques.

It takes me a long time to type it all out and then I can't bring myself to proofread it. I half expect him to leave because I'm taking so long, but he must be the most patient kid on this planet. My message is so long, I debate deleting it. I press send before I can change my mind.

bluegreen118: My stepmom has this cousin. He's one of those really goofy guys that will do just about anything for a laugh. At the time, he was in his senior year of college. He got really drunk at the wedding and danced with me. At least, I'm choosing to blame the alcohol. It makes the whole situation so much easier to sit with. I didn't know at the time, but I was definitely crushing on him. I felt like I was floating on a cloud the entire time we danced. Then he bowed to me as if he was prince charming and for a minute, I believed it. Until one of his friends yelled at him and told him I was too young for him to be "pulling his shit with". I didn't know what they meant. Until a few dances later when he and that same friend started grinding against each other. He was swinging his jacket in a circle and was making all these jokes. Sometimes they pretended to kiss. I'll spare you the specific things he was saying, but the overall theme was let's make fun of the gays. His girlfriend was practically crying because she was laughing so hard. I started crying too and I couldn't figure out why. All I knew was that I didn't find it funny at all and there was this pressure on my chest. I ran to the bathroom and essentially had a complete breakdown. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wasn't upset about what was being said; that was really nothing new. I was upset that it was being said by him. It was this impossible moment where the thought popped into my head that maybe I liked him. I tried to push it aside, but the more I pushed it aside, the more the image entered my head. Him grinding against me instead of his friend. Him kissing me instead of pretend kissing his friend. It felt so right and so much more natural than trying to think of girls. And believe me, I tried. I was in the bathroom so long; I think people assumed my stall was out of order. When I was sure I was alone in the bathroom, I just said, "I might be gay" out loud. It's the most at peace I've ever felt with myself. If you haven't done something like that yet, I highly recommend it. It's cathartic. Of course, that peace went out the window the moment the wedding was over, and I had this whole sexual identity crisis. Sorry that this was such a long message. You asked for it.

bluegreen118: Did you have a moment like that?

"Bram, dinner," my dad calls from kitchen.

"One second," I call back. I can't stop where we are. This is too important.

: I don't know if I had a specific moment; I don't remember the specific day that I realized I was gay.

: There were some things that made it make sense to me.

: I went through a phase where I was obsessed with Passion Pit. When I started fantasizing about the lead singer, I realized it wasn't about the music.

: And then there was this middle school dance I went to on Valentine's Day. I had a girlfriend at the time, and I spent the entire night hiding from her. I was hanging out under the bleachers with my friends until one of her friends came to find me. I was supposed to go dance with her and make out with her or something. Instead, I ran to the bathroom and spent the entire night hiding in the stall with my feet up so no one could find me. That was not my best moment. If I'm being honest, I knew then.

: Really, I knew when she asked me to be her boyfriend, but I guess I thought it would be easier to say yes. And even though I knew, I've had two girlfriends since then.

bluegreen118: How did that happen?

: We were friends and I found out both of them liked me. And then we were dating. They both eventually broke up with me. It's weird because I don't know if it actually counts as dating. We mostly hung out with our friend group and kissed when no one was looking – I sometimes went out of my way to make sure that never happened. It was horrible.

: Sometimes when I see them, I still feel really guilty about that. I think about how I actually hurt them with this secret.

: Have you ever had a girlfriend?

bluegreen118: No, I haven't.

bluegreen118: But I think that has more to do with a mutual lack of interest. I don't know what I would have done if a girl had asked me out. Probably said yes and then spent all my time avoiding her until she broke up with me. I don't think you're alone in that.

: Trust me. You're not missing out on anything. I don't have a non-hetero kiss to compare it to, but it's gotta be better than that, you know?

bluegreen118: I don't have anything to compare it to, so I'm not sure.

The moment I press send, I freeze. I hadn't meant to share that. I feel a little flustered, like there's something to be embarrassed about that I haven't had my first kiss. Once I knew I was gay, it didn't feel right trying to have a kiss for the sake of having my first kiss, and it's not like I had people lining up to kiss me.

: I think that's really great! I wish I didn't. In some ways, I don't think they actually count. I think I'll always think of my first kiss as being with a guy rather than being with some girl with braces in front of her garage while my best friend's mom was waiting in the car to pick me up (I know – so romantic).

"I put your plate in the oven. You should take a break from your homework and go eat," my dad says quietly. He's awkwardly lingering in my doorway like he wants to say more but doesn't know how to.

"I'll go down now. Let me just finish this," I tell him. He waits in the doorway. I feel self-conscious as I quickly message Jacques.

bluegreen118: I can't believe I have to say this, but I have to go eat dinner – my dad is figuratively breathing down my neck about this. Can we talk more tonight? Or do you need to go eat?

: My sister brought me a plate a little while ago. She told me "life doesn't stand still while I'm sulking in isolation", so I'm eating in my room. I'll stay logged on until you get back.

"See? All done," I say. I carefully close my laptop just enough that my dad can't see the screen, but not so much that it will go to sleep and log me off of the game. I stand up. I don't realize how stiff I am until I stretch.

My dad seems appeased when I leave my room.

I pull my plate out of the oven. I expect to feel ravenous, but I think I'm too distracted to feel hungry, if that's even possible. I don't even sit down as I eat. Ally made some kind of chicken and rice. It's not bad.

bluegreen118: I'm back.

: I think you set a record.

: I'm glad you came back. What do you usually do after dinner/ school/ video game hours?

bluegreen118: Video gaming is a relatively novel activity for me. Honestly, I don't know if I'd be playing this as much if it weren't for you.

bluegreen118: Then again, I did kill a lot of time on here before we virtually met, so who knows?

bluegreen118: I mostly read at night. Can you guess what book I was reading last night?

: Tell me Harry Potter…

: Please, tell me it was Harry Potter!

: BLUE?!

: Was it Harry Potter?!

: don't leave me hanging!

I can' t keep track as message after message comes through.

bluegreen118: I wouldn't leave you hanging if you would give me time to answer.

bluegreen118: Yes, I spent most of my night and my morning reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I actually finished it. It's not bad, and I'm really excited to read the next one. My stepmom owns the whole series and she's letting me read them.

: It's… not bad? Is that the best you can do? Mr. Shore-Worth-Swimming-To can't be a little more descriptive about the magical transformation Harry Potter undoubtably caused in you?

bluegreen118: You're right. My life will forever remain intrinsically altered by this magnificent work of art. How I have gone seventeen years of my life with a gaping hole that only Harry Potter could fill is beyond me. Thank you for opening my eyes to all that the world has to offer.

bluegreen118: Though, it did cause me to have this really weird (and great) dream about you. You looked a lot like Harry Potter.

bluegreen118: Sorry if that's awkward. I'm kind of an awkward person.

: That's okay. I like awkward people ;)

: Please elaborate on this dream.

: Spare no details.

bluegreen118: I'm going to shut up now before I embarrass myself even more.

: I don't think you should be embarrassed.

: Though, now I want to know something. What's your most embarrassing memory?

bluegreen118: You first.

: Buckle in Blue because we're going for a crazy ride.

: Keep in mind, I was like six when this happened.

: And it is truly my most embarrassing moment EVER. I mean that Blue. This is the worst.

: My parents took me and my sisters to the pool one day. It was the middle of summer and I think we all needed to get out. My little sister was learning how to swim with my parents and I, at the ripe age of six, was given total access to the rest of the pool. I was swimming around, minding my own business and I felt like I had to fart.

: REMEMBER. SIX. TRULY UNABLE TO COMPREHEND THE CONSEQUENCES OF MY ACTIONS.

: It wasn't a fart…

: I just kind of shook it out of my swim trunks. I didn't think it was a big deal. But then someone saw the turd, and everyone was screaming and running to get out of the pool. They had to clear the pool to disinfect it.

: There I was, half expecting the FBI to come in to ID my turd. I was standing in my towel and the only thing I could think was fuuuuuuuuuuck.

: Well, probably not fuck. I was six so I was probably thinking heck or darn or shucks or something like that.

: Obviously, the FBI did not show up, and my parents just decided to take us all home, and I thought I got away with it. Then, in the car, my dad was singing "turd, turd, turd" over and over and over again. And he kept looking at me with this shit eating grin. HE FREAKING KNEW.

: Drops mic

I am actually crying. I can't. My stomach hurts.

bluegreen118: Hold on.

bluegreen118: I need a second.

I'm so loud my dad comes running into my room. I'm literally doubled over in my chair with tears streaming down my cheeks. I can tell the moment he realizes that I'm laughing because he stops looking like he's in attack mode.

"You alright over there?" he asks uncertainly.

I nod. I can't find my voice yet. One look at my dad and I'm hysterical all over again. I try to take deep breaths, but it's like the more I try to calm myself down, the more I laugh.

I finally squeeze my eyes shut and manage to make myself breathe through my nose. It helps. "Sorry. I'm just talking to a friend and he told a really funny story. I'll be quieter," I promise.

He lights up. "No, no. I'm glad to hear you're talking to your friends. Your mother's been worried." He looks at his wrist and seems to have a moment where he's confused why he's not wearing a watch. I half expect one of his horrible dad jokes about how he's looking at his wristwatch – I've heard that one about a thousand times, but it never comes. "If you're going to be up much later, I'd prefer for you to move downstairs. Ally is not sleeping yet, but I don't want you to keep her up."

"I'll move." I grab my computer charger and balance my laptop. I don't want it to close and somehow disconnect from Jacques.

I settle myself into the couch in our living room and plug in my laptop just to be safe.

bluegreen118: Sorry about that. Jacques. I had to move so I wouldn't bother my dad and stepmom. That is the funniest thing I've ever heard!

: It was freaking humiliating, but I'm glad you're getting pleasure out of my pain. I told you it was bad.

: I swear, I'm not nearly as disgusting now.

: Your turn.

bluegreen118: I think mine is going to sound lame now. I mean, how do you top turd-in-public-pool?

: You don't. Obviously, I peaked at six years old.

: I still can't wait to hear yours.

bluegreen118: If you insist; prepare to be disappointed. When I was starting kindergarten, I used to beg my mom to let me bring this one stuffed animal to class with me. I was obsessed with him. Barney.

bluegreen118: Yes, you guessed it – the big purple dinosaur.

bluegreen118: I've always been really shy, and I took one look at all the kids in the class and how they were all staring at me. I started sucking on his hand – it was something I always did when I got nervous. It earned me the nickname dinosucker. I didn't outgrow that nickname until I moved after my freshman year.

bluegreen118: Like I said, not nearly as good as your story.

: But that sounds adorable!

: The only reason that's embarrassing is because kids are assholes. I like to think I wouldn't have called you dinosucker, but if I'm being honest, I probably would have (sorry. Don't hate me)

bluegreen118: I know I would have done the same as well. In fact, I did. There was this one kid that we called fire tuck because he mispronounced fire truck when we were in the second or third grade. I always felt weird about that because I knew firsthand how much I hated being called dinosucker. That's what sucks about growing up with the same group of people. They've seen you at your most awkward.

: Believe me, that I understand. I always feel like that's how my friends define me. Sometimes I even have trouble separating my childhood shenanigans from who I am now.

: That's one of the great things about talking to you. You haven't seen me at my most awkward. I feel like I can be myself with you because you have no expectations based off of what I did when I was younger.

bluegreen118: I'm flattered I could be that person for you. Everyone should have someone like that.

: I hope I can be that person for you too.

bluegreen118: You really are.

: Then tell me the most outlandish thing you've ever believed.

: While you were laughing at my embarrassing moment, I reread through our conversation today and realized I never let you answer. Sorry about that. I get so in my head sometimes.

bluegreen118: Honestly? It's not like this cute thing. Right up until my dad and stepmom got married, I thought my parents might get back together. I don't really know why I wanted it. All of the memories I have from my parents being together included some kind of argument or fight, but I guess I just didn't want to be from a broken home. I hated the looks of pity my teachers gave me, the way my friends' parents would whisper about me as if I couldn't hear, and constantly going back and forth between my parents.

: That sounds really tough, Blue. I feel like things would be so much easier if we could take other people's reactions out of it and just deal with it ourselves. You said your dad remarried? Do you like your stepmom?

I'm surprised by his blunt question. No one has ever really asked me that. I mean, my dad asked me what I thought of him marrying Ally, but other than that, I've never had to think about this.

bluegreen118: I don't really know her. The three years she was dating my dad and the five years since she got married, I've always thought of her as the other woman. Now, things are just weird between us. I wish I'd made more of an effort to get to know her before.

: It's not too late. If you want to get to know her, get to know her.

: I can't pretend to know what it's like to have your dad remarry or how weird it is to have a stepmom, but this woman will probably be around for a while. I think it's better to make the effort now than to spend the next who-knows-how-many years regretting it. I know it's not the same, but I sometimes think about how many friendships I've missed out on because I never made an effort. Especially now, I think about that a lot.

: That's my unsolicited advice. Feel free to disregard. Like I said, I can't pretend to understand.

bluegreen118: You're probably right. I should make more of an effort. It's just easier said than done.

: I get that. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable.

bluegreen118: You didn't. It actually helped me think of the next question. If you could meet anyone, who would it be? Go.

: Does this have to be a real person, or can they be fictional?

bluegreen118: That depends. If I allow fictional characters, is your person going to be Harry Potter?

: I don't know. I haven't picked someone yet. I'm just trying to get an idea of my parameters.

: But yes, yes it will be.

bluegreen118: I've heard your Harry Potter spiel, so I'm going to go with no.

bluegreen118: Deceased or living. Your choice.

: Elliott Smith

The moment his message comes through, his avatar disappears, and I get a little message saying he's offline. I wait a minute before I exit out of the game. My mind is swirling. It's after midnight, so I know I should go to bed, but it's almost like this adrenaline is coursing through me.

I really think about what Jacques said. I don't remember falling asleep, but I wake up to Ally putting a blanket over me. The sun is peaking through the curtains. "Oh, sorry," she says. "I just wanted to make you a little more comfortable."

"It's okay," I say. I rub my eyes to try to wake up a little more. "What time is it?"

"Just after six," she tells me.

"That's so early."

She shrugs. "I like to do yoga. The studio I go to is still offering sessions online."

"I didn't know you did yoga. Do you like it?"

She frowns. "I like how it helps me. I always feel calmer and like I can think clearer after a round of yoga."

"I could use a little of that in my life," I agree.

"Why don't you join me?" she asks. "Maybe you'll like it."

My instinct is to say no because I don't think I'm flexible enough to do yoga, but I also can't deny that this is literally the perfect opportunity to make an effort. The possibility of being able to tell Jacques that I took his advice is too tempting to ignore. "Sure," I say. "Let me just go change real quick." I throw on sweatpants and a clean t-shirt.

When I get back downstairs, Ally has two yoga mats spread on the family room floor and there's a video of an empty studio on our TV screen. "I bought a mat for your father, but he only went with me once or twice. It's about time it gets some use."

I nod and go to stand next to her. Ally starts to stretch, and I second guess my decision. "You know, maybe this isn't such a good idea," I start to say. Then her instructor walks on screen. "On second thought, I've never done yoga, and this might be good for me." Her instructor is this gorgeous, Hercules-esque man. He's not the kind of guy I'd ever want to be with, but I can't take my eyes off of him. "Who's that?"

"James. He's one of our yoga instructors. Handsome, right?" Ally asks. James is leading everyone through some introductory stretches. They're not that different than what I would do before soccer practice.

"Uh…" I say. I don't know how to respond to that because, yes, I find him to be incredibly handsome.

"You and your dad. Seriously. Why can women objectively call each other beautiful, but you ask a guy if someone else is handsome and it's like the end of the world," she grumbles.

I'm staring at her and she doesn't notice until she finished her arm stretch. "Sorry. Yoga makes me feel like a warrior sometimes. That's nothing about you."

I chuckle. "It's okay." Another guy walks on screen. "Who's that?"

"Anthony. He's James' husband. They opened the studio together," she explains.

I freeze and look at the screen amazed. Ally completely misunderstands. "Don't tell me you have a problem with that? They're, like, the perfect couple. They have this tiny schnauzer and adopted these four siblings two years ago. You know, those kids probably wouldn't have been able to stay together if James and Anthony hadn't decided to open their hearts to them. Can you imagine suddenly having four kids? Of course, they started off as foster parents, but fell in love with those kids and recently finalized the adoption process." As she speaks, I see it. I see a whole future unrolling before me, and I still can't look away from the screen. They're living the life I want. Minus the yoga studio. But the happily ever after that they're living? I never thought it could be possible; not here. Ally apparently thinks my silence is a sign of disgust and not of awe. "They're just people."

I finally return to my senses and manage to contort into the first position. "Can you tell me more about them?" I ask.

"I actually went to high school with Anthony," she says. "I had no idea he was gay until we reconnected after college when he had just started dating James. You know, I didn't used to be that different from you. I always thought I was this liberal, social justice warrior, but once I found out they were together, I was so uncomfortable. I was living with them at the time, and I was almost overcompensating by being overly interested in their lives. After time, I realized that they were just people going about their lives like everyone else was. For a long time, I was so ashamed that I had to do the work to truly accept them for who they are, but it was so rewarding. It brought these two amazing people into my life. It's okay to be uncomfortable with them, but I encourage you to do the work to learn more about it and become more accepting. Or you're going to find that you're going to miss out of having some really great people in your life."

My mind is spinning at what she said. Other than the pure irony that she thinks I'm being homophobic and not idolizing the men on the screen, there's a sliver of truth to what she said. The idea of openly being with a guy makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I thought it was because I was scared of how other people would react, but maybe there's a part of me that needs to learn to think of that as normal and not deviating from what's expected of me. Within a few poses, I feel all of my muscles aching and I'm sweating profusely. Ally looks like this is absolutely nothing to her.

"How are you so good at this?" I ask.

"Practice," she tells me. She brings her foot up so it's on the inside of her thigh and brings her hands together in front of her. "I've been doing yoga for over a decade. When life was particularly hard and I was scared of everything, yoga became my outlet."

"What were you scared of?" I ask. It takes me a little longer than usual to get the words out because talking is hard as I'm trying to contort into this position where I have to reach backwards to touch my legs. I'm not even close, but once again, Ally is effortlessly shaped like a square.

She slowly comes out of the position and I can see she's frowning. "Did your dad ever tell you that I was engaged once before?" she asks.

"No," I say surprised. Or maybe he did, and I wasn't listening. I was only nine and was exceptionally bitter when they started dating. I could have missed it.

"Right after college, I got engaged to my high school sweetheart. We'd been dating since we were sophomores and had decided to apply to all of the same schools our senior year. He proposed to me at our college graduation, and I thought that life was perfect." She frowns. "Then, I got pregnant."

"You have another kid?" I ask. I would have thought that would have come up.

Ally turns so her back is to me. It's not until I hear the intake of her breath that I realize she's crying. "No, I miscarried."

"I'm sorry," I say quietly.

Ally takes a minute before she turns to face me again. She still looking down at the ground. Her face is a little splotchy, but she's not crying. Her hands rest on her stomach as she thinks about the baby she lost. My heart twists like a pretzel for her. "I was devastated. We hadn't been planning for a baby, but we'd gotten so excited. Sure, it was sooner than we would have liked, and it meant we'd need to rethink our big, white wedding. But we were starting our family. I've always dreamt of being a mother. We were renting an apartment in Augusta, but we had started to look at houses where we could raise our kids. When I miscarried, Corey took it the hardest. I think part of him blamed me. He started drinking and he changed. We fought all the time and it got physical a few times. That's actually when Anthony reached out to me. He was opening a yoga studio and had sent a message to all of his friends inviting them to his grand opening. I reached out to him and told him I couldn't make it to his grand opening, but that I would love to grab a cup of coffee with him. I packed up all the important stuff. Anything I couldn't leave behind, and I waited for Corey to come home. I didn't want to just leave. It was our worst fight ever… and our last fight ever." Her hand goes to her neck. "I didn't even realize I was bruised until I met Anthony for coffee. My intention had been to find some temporary housing until I could find a job, but Anthony wouldn't hear about it. He and his roommate, James, welcomed me into their home. James was working at a gym at the time and he got me free self-defense lessons. Eventually, he realized I had more than enough anger in me to hold my own during a fight. What I really needed was to learn how to let go. To let go of my anger over losing my sister, my anger over my miscarriage, my anger towards Corey, and my anger towards myself. Thus, yoga."

"I had no idea." Ally looks at me for the first time. I don't know what I look like, but I imagine I fall somewhere between shocked and horrified. I can't imagine how hard all of that was for her. I just figured that her life must have been so perfect, and I resented her for that. I guess everyone has their stuff.

"I forget sometimes that you're so young. Even when I first started dating your father, you were so mature. I couldn't believe it when he told me you were only nine. I can understand why he may have chosen not to tell you this."

I shrug that off. I think people often mistake quiet for mature. I don't think I'm all that mature. "Thank you for telling me that. How long did you live with James and Anthony?

"About four years. When they got engaged, I found an apartment to rent." Ally kneels down on her mat and leans forward as she stretches out her arms. I try to mimic her.

"When did you find out that they're… you know," I say. I don't know why it's so hard to say the word.

"Gay?" she says. She purses her lips. "They kept it from me for almost a year. At first, I thought it was ridiculous that they didn't feel like they could tell me. Remember, I thought I was a social justice warrior. In retrospect, their fears were justified." She shrugs. "They'll always hold a special place in my heart. Both because they welcomed me into their home and because they inspired me to change." She sighs. "I can't tell you that there's a right and a wrong way to feel about their lifestyle, but I wish I could. If they taught me anything, it's that telling someone there's a better way to live doesn't do anything. You have to show them."

We're silent for the rest of the session. James ends with five minutes of laying down and focusing on breathing. At the end, he addresses everyone watching. "Thank you for everyone that joined us. I hope you have a wonderful and peaceful day. Just a reminder to all of my expectant mothers, prenatal yoga with Michelle will be starting in just a few minutes." I hadn't noticed before, but a woman had come on screen and is unrolling her yoga mat.

I start to roll up my mat and I'm surprised when Ally isn't doing the same. "Do you want me to roll up your mat too?" I ask uncertainly. I'm not sure if that's part of yoga etiquette. Maybe because she set up the mats, I'm supposed to roll both of them up?

Ally looks confused and then nervous. I wonder if she's still upset from our talk earlier. "Oh, right. Sorry, I just got distracted. I can roll it up." She disconnects her computer from the TV.

"Were you thinking about what you said earlier?" I ask her quietly. I certainly am. I don't think I'll ever stop thinking about it.

"That's definitely part of it. If I made you feel bad about James and Anthony, I'm sorry," she says.

"You didn't. You just made me think about a lot of things." I think Ally had a point about yoga making her feel like a warrior because I feel like I can do anything. "If I tell you something, can you not tell my dad? I'll tell him eventually, but not yet."

"If it's not something I have to share with him for your wellbeing, it can stay between us," Ally says slowly.

I shuffle nervously. Ten seconds ago, it seemed like a great idea to tell her. She'll clearly be fine with it, but now I'm second guessing myself. Should she really be the first person I tell? Surely that should be Garrett or my mom or even my dad. At the same time, it feels right that it should be her. Plus, I don't want to tell Garrett or my mom over the phone and it seems immature to use that as an excuse. "I wasn't judging those yoga guys before," I say quietly. "I was actually thinking about how great it is that they get to live their life the way they do. It's the life I hope to live one day. Because I'm…" I look away from her. I can't get the word out if I can see her face. Why is this so hard? I feel like there's a bubble building in my chest. It's making it harder to get the words out. I take a deep breath and speak around the bubble. "Gay. I'm gay."

"Oh," she says softly. "Okay." There's this thick tension between us. "I think you're a really great kid. And you're really brave. You deserve whatever future you want. Can I give you a hug?"

I nod, and she hesitates before she pulls me in for a hug. She kisses the top of my head, and it's such a mom move that it makes my heart hurt. "I love you, Bram."

That breaks me, and I melt into her embrace. I've never felt so full of emotions in my life. I feel like I might actually explode. I think it's a mix of things. Lack of sleep, the weirdness of trying to get closer to Ally, knowing that she loves me despite how cold I've been towards her, and the emotional experience of coming out to a real person for the first time. It's creating this medley in my chest.

It's actually kind of nice. I feel like Ally was a complete stranger to me until a few weeks ago… really until about an hour ago if I'm being honest, and apparently minimal effort to get to know her is all it took for us to suddenly have a relationship with her.

"I'm sorry for the baby you lost," I tell her. "You would have been such a great mom."

She gets this weird look on her face and I worry I said the wrong thing. "Thanks. He would have been fourteen this year. In a few weeks, actually, if he came on his due date. I would have been really lucky if he was anything like you."

"You were having a boy?" I ask.

"We didn't know for sure. It was too soon. But I always thought he was a boy," she tells me. She has a far off look in her eyes.

"His birthday would be coming up," I whisper.

She nods. "April 17th."

My dad comes down at that moment. "Morning. How's it going?" He looks concerned when he sees Ally.

"Really great. Bram joined me for yoga this morning. Are you hungry?" she asks him. There's no sign in her voice that she'd been crying, but it's obvious in her face and eyes.

"Ravenous," he says with a grin.

"Come on. Your eggs aren't going to poach themselves. Do you want anything?" she asks.

"I'll have whatever you're making," I say. "Thanks."

She nods and follows my dad to the kitchen. I'm a little anxious that she might tell him, but I think I actually trust her to keep this to herself. I don't know what happened this morning or how it happened, but things are definitely different between us now. I run upstairs to shower and get dressed for the day. I feel sore in the way I used to feel after an intense soccer practice. In a weird way, I've really missed this feeling. Maybe I'll join Ally for yoga again someday.

When I get downstairs, Ally and my dad are whispering over their eggs. They stop abruptly when I walk in. Ally looks pointedly at my dad which makes me nervous. Did she tell him?

"Bram, could you sit down with us for a moment?" my dad asks.

My heart is pounding in my chest, and I'm so sure Ally told him. I feel myself preemptively filling with rage. How dare she? How dare she think so little of me? I mean, I guess it's really my fault. Why should she care about me? I've never given her a reason or an opportunity to care. Still, I really thought we had a moment this morning.

"Ally told me a little about what happened during yoga this morning." My dad is looking down at the table.

I need to get ahead of this. "I'm sorry," I start to say, but then Ally shakes her head vigorously at me, which only confuses me.

"It's not your fault. I should have told you earlier. We haven't really told people yet. She's considered high risk and we don't really know how COVID might affect the baby's development. We only told our parents a couple of days before you came to stay with us," my dad explains softly.

"She's… pregnant," I say. I think I manage to make it sound like less of a question and more of a confirmation. He clearly thought I figured it out. "Which of course, I already knew. Because yoga." Though, I have no idea what about yoga was supposed to clue me in.

"I mentioned to your father that you may have gotten suspicious when I didn't start to roll up my mat during the prenatal yoga," Ally explains. "I've been doing it every day since my yoga studio closed. My doctor recommended it."

I don't know how I'm supposed to feel right now. What's the appropriate reaction when your dad and stepmom tell you they're expecting? I have no clue.

"Oh. I'm sorry you didn't get to do it this morning," I say quietly. It's the only thing I can think to say.

"It's not your fault," Ally assures me.

"When are you due?" I ask.

"September 15th," my dad says, looking at Ally uncertainly.

She nods. "Do you have any other questions for us?"

"Not really," I say. I think new baby and due date are about all I'm capable of hearing about right now. "I actually have to get some work done, so if it's okay with you, I'll eat in my room." I stand up with my plate. I don't want to look like I'm going off to sulk, so before I go to my bedroom, I sincerely tell them, "congratulations. I really am happy for both of you." I look right at Ally. "I meant what I said before. You're gonna be a great mom.

I don't actually have work to do, but I need the chance to think without them watching me. I can't believe my dad is having a baby. I'm going to have a little brother or a sister. The idea of that just confuses me. I've been an only child for seventeen years; I think I'll probably be a pretty terrible big brother. Then, the idea upsets me because I realize that I'm probably only going to see my future sibling when I see my dad. It's easy to forget when I'm living with him during a pandemic, but I usually only see him a handful of times a year. I've put in more face time with him over the last couple of weeks than I have since the divorce.

I go to 'The Hangout' and get the notification that they've launched a new feature that will allow you to create "private buildings". The idea behind it is actually kind of cool. Only people you invite to the building will be able to enter it and look around. I have this image of maybe creating a little place for Jacques and I to hang out. Maybe we can watch a movie together or play a game or something. Not that talking isn't great, but it would also be nice to do other stuff together. even if it's virtually.

It takes almost 30 minutes for the game to update and then my computer has to restart. Of course, my computer suddenly has updates, so I essentially spend almost an hour watching my computer screen and waiting.

Finally, I can login to the game. When I get there, I only have time to create a plot of land where my hypothetical getaway might go before Jacques enters my town. It's the first time he's come to my town, and I feel a shiver go down my back that I can't explain.

bluegreen118: Hey!

His avatar disappears and reappears before I get an answer.

: Hey! Sorry about last night. Someone hit a transformer and knocked out our power. We finally got it back about an hour ago.

bluegreen118: That stinks! I'm so glad you're back! I've been having a weird day.

: I'm sorry about your weird day – especially because it's only 9am. I'm not even usually conscious by 9, much less able to have a day.

: Do you want to talk about it?

bluegreen118: I don't know where to start.

: The beginning is usually a good place.

: *deadpan stare*

bluegreen118: Okay. Do you remember how you told me it wasn't too late to get to know my stepmom?

: Let me guess. I'm a genius and it totally worked so you were able to open up to her like you've never opened up to someone before.

: Lol just kidding. What happened? Did you two have a moment?

bluegreen118: Actually, yes. And you weren't too far off with your first guess.

: No freaking way! That's so exciting! What happened?

bluegreen118: I did yoga with her.

: Huh, I didn't take you for a yoga guy.

bluegreen118: It was my first time. I fell asleep in our family room and I woke up when she came down to do her morning yoga. Her yoga instructor is gay. He has like this perfect life with his husband, puppy, and adopted children. I was kind of in shock. I just didn't expect to see someone living my perfect life so early in the morning. She thought I was disgusted with him or something and want on this whole tirade about how he's a person and I need to be more open minded. And then she opened up to me about how she was previously engaged and had a miscarriage. I feel like, in a weird way, she really became my stepmom today.

bluegreen118: And it felt like we were having this big moment and she'd opened up to me completely. And she'd been so cool with James and Anthony (her yoga instructor and his husband)

bluegreen118: I don't know why it was so easy, but when we finished yoga, I came out to her.

: OH MY FUCKING GOD!

: I'M SO FREAKING PROUD OF YOU!

: How did you feel afterwards? How do you feel now?

bluegreen118: I think I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. There was a lot of crying and hugging. It's surreal that she's the first person I came out to face to face. Part of me feels like it should have been my mom or my best friend. I don't know.

: There's no shoulds in your process. There's no rulebook for coming out. You get to do what feels right for you when it feels right for you.

bluegreen118: I guess you're right.

: I am. I'm seriously so proud of you. No wonder you had a weird morning.

bluegreen118: That's not even everything.

: THERE'S MORE? HOW CAN THERE BE MORE?

I have to laugh. I can see why he likes doing theater. Even virtually, I can tell he's dramatic.

bluegreen118: My stepmom is pregnant.

: Wow.

: That's huge!

: How do you feel about that?

bluegreen118: I don't actually know. I feel like, I've been an only child for so long. I don't know how to be anything but an only child. What if I'm bad at being a brother?

: If I've learned anything about you over the last three days, it's that that is literally impossible. Someone as kind and funny as you can't be a bad brother.

: Plus, if I can be a halfway decent brother, anyone can.

: Does she know what she's having?

bluegreen118: Not yet. She's not far enough along to find out.

: I hope it's not a girl. Sisters are a freaking handful.

bluegreen118: Can you tell me about your sisters.

I spend the next several hours listening to story after story. Jacques actually makes me look forward to the memories I might make with a little sibling.

I don't get to talk to Jacques on Sunday, but I spend a good chunk of the day reading through all of our messages. I refuse to be a teenage cliché and say that I'm falling in love after four days, but I do feel a deep sense of connection with Jacques and my stomach feels like I'm on the tilt-a-whirl every time I think about him. It's terrifying and exhilarating.

Monday, I join Ally for yoga before I do my schoolwork. I feel like Creekwood is slowly giving up on us because half of my classes haven't posted any work for the day, and I only have about twenty cumulative minutes of work to do for my other classes. I think about going downstairs to sit with my dad and Ally, but despite the moment we shared the other day, conversation doesn't come easy to us. We made a little small talk during yoga, but really haven't talked outside of that.

Instead, I continue working on the building for Jacques. I don't know if he'll like it, but I try to incorporate some of the stuff we've talked about in the décor of the place. After I eat lunch, I go to Jacques' town. I can't help the smile that spreads across my face when I see his avatar.

: Hiii!

bluegreen118: Hey! How's it going?

: It's fine, I guess.

: Except remote learning sucks.

: School sucks.

: Math suuuuuuuuucks.

I stifle my giggle.

bluegreen118: Having some trouble with math?

: You can say that again. I don't suppose you're an Algebra 2 genius, are you?

bluegreen118: Genius might be pushing it.

: OMG, really? You're good at Algebra? If I send you a picture of a problem, can you walk me through it? There's an audio option here. You can even disguise your voice if that would make you more comfortable.

: Please! I would literally owe you forever!

I hesitate before I click the little phone icon. A dropdown of different voice options comes up and I select "British male". When he answers, I can't hold back my laughter. He kind of sounds like Mickey Mouse. My heart flutters wildly when he calls me his hero.

This poor kid. It takes me almost two hours to help him get through his work. I feel lucky that my math class is in the same place as his, so at least the material is fresh in my mind.

I get roped into watching a movie with my dad and Ally that night, so I don't have the chance to talk to Jacques again and then Tuesday at breakfast, Ally brings up Harry Potter and asks me how I'm liking the series. I realize I've given it little to no thought since I finished the first book. I start reading the second book and lose track of time. By the time I finish, I'm shocked to see how much time has passed. I have to give it to Jacques. It's easy to lose myself in this wizarding world. I barely have time to finish my schoolwork before I have to go eat dinner. I feel like I'm having trouble wrapping my head around time lately.

When I finally have the chance to login to 'the Hangout', Jacques isn't there. I'm pretty sure I missed him, so after a few minutes I log off.

The next morning, we find out that school is going to be closed for the rest of the year. At first, I think it's some sick joke. When I find out it's not, I almost feel numb. I knew this was probably going to happen; a ton of other states had already made this call, but it's different to have an actual confirmation. When I look at my assignments for the day, I have no interest in completing them.

This has never been an issue before. School has always been an escape for me, but now? It's a reminder of what feels like a never-ending experience.

It takes me all morning to get through my work and its agony. I feel myself getting more and more frustrated with work. I know I'm not really mad at my History, but it's easy to feel that way.

When I finally finish, my stomach is rumbling, but I know I need to get some of these feelings out of my system. "I'm going for a run," I call before I leave the house.

I lose myself in the run. I don't pay attention to where I am or where I'm going. I just run. I run until my lungs are screaming in protest; I run until my calves feel like they're on fire; I run until all I'm aware of is the beat of my heart.

I end up at a park that's kind of close to my dad's house and sit down on a bench. I close my eyes and sit in the moment. I focus on my breathing as it slows.

I hear shouting and mute my music. When I look around, I see three women, the source of the commotion. One woman has blonde hair that's tied back in a scrunchie so bright I can see it from where I'm sitting, and she is shrieking at the other two. Her words blend together, but I make out, "disgusting" and "freaks of nature".

"Ma'am. Me and my wife are just trying to enjoy some fresh air and a nice leisurely walk. We would really like to continue our walk," this woman with black, curly hair says.

"Your wife," scrunchie woman scoffs. She shakes her head. I feel my heart drop. This can't be happening. "You're disgusting, you know that? There could be kids here. Impressionable young children that could look at you and think that what you're doing is okay."

I should interfere. I don't know what I could say, but I know that I can't just sit here and watch this go down. I feel like I'm glued to the bench.

"Ma'am. Once again. My wife and I are simply trying to take a walk," the woman with curly hair repeats.

"And I'm simply trying to live my life the way God intended," scrunchie woman retorts.

Stand up. That's all I need to do. Stand up. "I think that's what we're all doing. Now, if you don't mind." They try to pass her, but she moves so that she's in their way.

I finally get myself to stand but make no progress with walking towards them. I'd told Jacques that I regret the things I don't do far more than the things I do, and I don't want this to become one of those things.

They're in this silent showdown when I finally manage to start walking. As I near them, I get so anxious. Part of me considers just passing them and pretending that I have no idea what's going on here.

I know that if I was in their position, all I would want is someone to take a stand.

"Everything okay?" I ask quietly.

It's like I break whatever tension has been building. The scrunchie woman makes a sound of indignation and walks away. I don't fully understand it. I'd been hyping myself up for some backlash… and she just walked away.

"Are you okay?" I ask again, this time with a little more confidence.

"We're good, sweetie. Thanks."

"I didn't really do anything," I shrug.

"You did. Have a good night." She gives me this really warm smile, and they continue their walk. I go back to my bench and watch as they slowly disappear. I don't turn my music back on. I have enough noise inside my head.

I can't let go of what just happened. In retrospect, it was something very small that easily could have escalated. This is the reality of being gay in Georgia. I'd convinced myself that maybe I was wrong, but here was proof. It's not as black and white as you're safe or you're not. Some of the time, nothing will happen, and you'll be able to take a walk without incident. But not always, and that 'not always' is too often for me.

The sun is starting to set before I realize how long I've been gone.

It only takes me about ten minutes to get home. I'm still preoccupied when I get home. I feel like everything I avoided thinking about on my run hit me like a truck the moment my serenity was broken in the park.

My dad asks me if I'm hungry when I walk in, but I honestly can't tell, so I shake my head. "I'm going to go shower."

I don't know how long I'm in the shower for, but the moment I'm under the warm water, I start to shake and then the tears hit. I don't know if I can actually explain why I am crying, but I think it's a mixture of everything, the good and the bad: meeting Jacques, learning more about Ally, coming out to Ally, school, the park, a new baby, being away from my mom and Garrett. It's a lot and for a minute, I actually think it's going to tear me apart. It doesn't and bit by bit, I pull myself together.

I feel simultaneously exhausted and rejuvenated when I get out. I feel like I got everything out and mostly, I'm relieved. It's like this stuff has been building and building, and I finally knocked down all the blocks. I think my dad notices that I'm in better spirits. All he says during dinner is, "you look happy."

After dinner, I login to the game and I guess I immediately fall asleep because I wake up to three messages from Jacques.

: Hi stranger

: Are you there?

: Okay, I'm guessing you're not actually online. I hope this doesn't sound corny, but I miss you. I hope we can talk soon.

I feel stiff and foggy, so I know I overslept. I can't believe it's almost 8. I had to have gotten well over twelve hours of sleep. I pop over to Jacques' town and I'm not entirely surprised that he's not there. I wish there was a way to send him a message if he's offline. It's one of the only downsides of this game: we're limited to when we're both online.

Feeling disappointed, I log off, grab a granola bar for breakfast, and do my work. I finish quickly, so I decide to start reading the third Harry Potter book.

I read until my dad calls me down for lunch. After getting groceries, he stopped and picked up sandwiches. It's kind of nice. We haven't ordered in a ton. Ally doesn't have a sandwich because apparently there's something in lunchmeat that's not safe for a baby, but my dad got her soup that she really seems to enjoy.

Ally and my dad are kind of buzzing with this nervous excitement. Ally is finding out the gender of the baby next week. My dad's upset he can't be there in person, but she going to be able to FaceTime him in. I think it's getting real for them. They're talking about possible themes for the nursery and color schemes. Ally has her iPad open and is adding stuff to a wish list as they talk. Just as they're getting into a debate about whether they should get a mobile with safari animals or circus animals, I excuse myself. Having a baby sounds really exhausting.

I quickly call my mom. I should have called her yesterday, but I was kind of having a day. She sounds stressed, even over the phone. She does bring up the possibility of me coming to visit once the stay at home order is lifted, which makes me really hopeful.

I login to 'The Hangout' and go to Jacques' town. I am prepared to wait as long as I need to for him to show up. It's probably unhealthy and borderline obsessive how much I want to talk to him, but I don't care. He has been the best thing about my life lately and I'm not ashamed to want to keep him in my life.

Fortunately for me, in about ten minutes his avatar appears.

: Are you really here this time?

bluegreen118: Yes!

: I'm so freaking glad to see you! I know it's only been a few days, but it feels like forever.

bluegreen118: I agree. Sorry, I fell asleep yesterday before we could talk.

: It's not a problem. Has everything been okay lately?

bluegreen118: It's been… I dunno. Fine, I guess. It's better now. How have you been?

Before he has the chance to respond a new message box opens, and this avatar with bluish green hair appears. It's standing outside a building that I'm noticing for the first time.

Harukaandmichiru: Simon, what the hell? Why is there a building I can't see? What are you hiding from me?

Harukaandmichiru: Wait. There's another person here. Who is bluegreen118?

Harukaandmichiru: Do you have a secret girlfriend? Is this your love shack?

: OMG no! I'm leaving now.

It takes me a second to click the "leave town" button because I'm so distracted by the fact that I know his name. Simon.

There's a Simon that goes to my school. For a moment, I feel a pang of longing. Simon is this really sweet and goofy kid that sits at me lunch table. He is the king of awkward eye contact and is funny, but not in a mean way. Actually, I feel like Jacques and him would probably get along. I wonder where in Georgia Jacques is from.

I go back to my town and I'm not surprised when I see his avatar lounging outside my zoo.

: I am so sorry about that. My best friend doesn't have the best filter. She usually says whatever pops into her head. I came out to my other best friend when we went for a walk yesterday, but I haven't seen her yet.

: I hope that wasn't too weird for you.

bluegreen118: Not at all. You came out to your friend? That's amazing! I'm so proud of you! How do you feel?

: Honestly?

: I feel like I overhyped it.

: I told him, and he was just like: okay.

: I thought it was going to be this huge moment.

: And it wasn't.

bluegreen118: Did you want it to be a big moment?

: No.

: Yes.

: I don't know.

bluegreen118: Okay, well if this helps, pretend his reaction was: YOU'RE GAY? :O IT'S ALL COOL BRO. YOU'RE STILL MY BEST BUD (I don't know why I'm assuming your best friend talks like this)

: Hahaha this is why I love you.

: Shit

: I didn't mean that.

: I shouldn't have said that.

: Should I leave?

: I should leave.

My heart is pounding in my chest. I know he meant that jokingly, but it's making me feel warm all over. It's too soon to know if this thing is love, but the idea that he might be heading in that direction is exhilarating.

bluegreen118: No, don't go. I know you didn't mean that literally.

: Right. So you know what I did during your hiatus. What did you do?

bluegreen118: I read some more Harry Potter and went for a two-hour run yesterday.

: Don't take this the wrong way, but why?

: Not the Harry Potter part. Those are good life decisions. Keep it up.

: But why would you go running?

bluegreen118: I like running. It helps me make sense of things.

: Things like what?

bluegreen118: Yesterday, I went running to deal with the fact that we're going to be out of school for the rest of the year. I miss seeing people my own age. You're really great and the primary reason that I'm still sane, but it's not the same as seeing people in person.

: I get that. I'm really lucky in that sense. Can't you go on a walk with your friends?

bluegreen118: No. Can we talk about something else?

: Of course! How are you liking Harry Potter? Which book are you on?

Things mostly go back to normal after that. We're in a really great routine. We consistently spend almost every afternoon talking to each other and most nights. He misses a handful of nights for game nights and I miss a few for movie nights.

Ally finds out she's having a boy. She and my dad are ecstatic. I take a day off of school (which really means nothing when school is remote) and go shopping with my dad to pick up paint and some preordered things for the nursery. We spend another day painting and putting up these cute shelves with children book quotes up on the walls. The entire time, the thought of coming out to him is at the forefront of my mind, but I can't do it. I can't get the words out.

The weeks that pass are weird and they're full of missed opportunities, but they're mostly good.

Part of me is euphoric. Jacques makes me so happy. At the same time, I miss being home. I miss my mom. I miss everything about life before all this happened. Except the secrecy and loneliness. Those are the things that Jacques has eliminated. I don't know if Jacques and I will ever have the chance to meet, but because of him, I know that I'm not alone.

We're getting bolder and flirtier in our messages. My desire to meet him in person grows exponentially every day. It's this insatiable need and whenever I think about the possibility that I might never have the chance to meet him, I feel nauseated.

The day the stay at home order lifts, Jacques and I both happen to be on 'The Hangout' in the morning. That never happens. He comes over to my town and sends me a message.

: Blue, I think I'm an idiot.

bluegreen118: Why do you say that?

: Because I thought it was a good idea to take AP English this year.

bluegreen118: I would think that taking an AP class is the opposite of being an idiot.

: You'd think.

: But freaking Mr. Wise gave us this impossible project.

: Sorry. He's my AP English teacher.

: This project is literally terrible. It's so tedious. Essay after essay. I know this is an AP English class, but this is so much writing. It's almost hours of work a day. Count yourself lucky that you don't have to do this.

I'm frozen. Mr. Wise is also my AP English teacher. I had just been complaining to Ally about this project during yoga. Our AP exam was drastically restructured so we can take it online from home, so the next two weeks we're doing a massive essay writing project to prepare for the test. The project is pretty brutal, even for me.

It pales in comparison to my revelation. That somehow, the person that I have been talking to goes to my school. And if that's the case – if he goes to my school, and he's in my grade; I know who he is.

Maybe it's fate that out of the millions of kids that play this game, I ended up in the town of another closeted kid at my school. Maybe it's destiny that we clicked the way we did and that we've gotten to know each other the way we have. Maybe the universe has made a believer out of me because this should be impossible.

My mom calls me before I can think about that too much. "Hey," I say.

"Hey baby. How are you?" she asks.

"I'm good. How are you? How's work?" I ask.

"It's still busy. I miss you," she says.

"I miss you too. So much mom. I wish I could come see you," I say wistfully.

"Well…" she starts.

I sit up straighter in my desk chair. "Well?" I echo.

"I was thinking. If you wanted to come for the weekend, maybe that would be okay. I know how much you miss your friends from home."

"Really?" I half expect her to take it back.

"Really. You have to make sure your dad and Ally are comfortable with it, but if you want to, you can."

I feel like I might actually fly. If this isn't a sign from the universe, I don't know what is.

"Are you working today?" I ask.

"Yes, but they moved me to the labs. I'm not working directly with patients, so there's minimal risk now."

I almost trip in my rush to stand up. I know what I need to do. It's going through my head like a checklist, but it's not a checklist. It's not something I have to do to get through my checklist. It's all the things I've wanted to do but have been too scared to do. I've never felt so sure of anything in my life.

"I'm going to talk to dad now. I'm sure he'll be okay with it. I'll call you when I'm on my way."

I send Jacques… Simon my phone number and ask him to text me. Then I log off, close my laptop, and pack it up in my bag. I throw a few changes of clothes into my smallest suitcase and I'm ready.

I run downstairs. "Your mother already called me. The answer's yes. Of course, you can go see her," my dad says. He doesn't look up from the book he's taking notes in. "You're just going to have to isolate for two weeks when you get back. We're not taking any risks with the baby."

"That's great, but that's not what I was going to say," I tell him. "Well, it's part of it, but it's not everything."

He looks up curiously. "What's the other thing?" he asks.

I have the strangest urge to tell him to sit down, but he's already sitting and I'm grasping for something else to say. "I should sit down." I'm obviously doing really well right now.

I sit down across from him. He puts a bookmark in his book and studies me. "Are you alright?"

Ally walks in at that moment. I'm almost relieved. It's almost like having another person on my side. It's two on one now. "There's something I need to tell you." I look at Ally and I can see the exact moment that she realizes what I'm about to say. She gives me an encouraging smile. "Dad, I'm gay."

He doesn't say anything. He stares at me, his mouth slightly agape. I try to give him time, but an uncomfortably long time passes. So long that Ally puts her hand on his shoulder and says, "honey." Still nothing.

"Dad?" I ask. I don't understand what's happening. I look at Ally, but she looks as confused as I feel. "I'll let you… think about this? I'll see you when I get back from mom's."

I walk out of the kitchen. When I hear footsteps, I hope that they belong to him, but it's only Ally. "I'm sorry. I don't know what that was," she tells me.

"Me neither." I never expected silence.

"You're still leaving right now?" she asks. Her hands are resting on her small baby bump.

"I think that's probably for the best. Maybe some time will help him," I tell her. "And I can't wait to see my mom and my friends."

"And that boy you're always talking to?" she asks.

"What boy?" my voice sounds squeaky.

"I wasn't born yesterday," she points out. She gives me a hug and kisses my forehead. "Drive safe and have fun. Love you."

"Bye." I put my suitcase and backpack in the trunk of my car. I'm reversing out of the driveway when my dad comes running out of the house.

"Bram!" he shouts. I debate just driving away. If we're about to get into a fight over this, I'd rather delay that until I get back, but I also don't want to spend my weekend fixating on what could have happened here.

I put my car into park and get out. "What?" I don't mean to sound as testy as I do. Or maybe I do mean to. I don't know.

"I'm sorry," he says. He takes a huffy breath. "I want to say the perfect thing because that's what you deserve, but I don't know what the perfect to say is. I couldn't figure it out. Instead, I will say that I am so proud of you. This doesn't change anything, and you are perfect exactly the way you are. I'm sorry that I'm not better at this. And I'm sorry I got stuck in my head trying to make this perfect for you. I will do better. I love you so much."

"That was pretty perfect." I hug him before I can do something ridiculous like cry. He holds me tight for a minute. Yeah, pretty perfect.

I think I break some kind of record driving Atlanta. There is literally no traffic. It's like a dream. Plus, I think I'm highly motivated. My phone dings with a text message about five minutes after I get on the road and I'm pretty sure it's Simon. I call Garrett when I'm close to his house and he's waiting for me outside when I pull into his driveway. I text my mom to let her know I'm at Garrett's and check my text message. Sure enough, it's Simon.

"I don't care if we're in the middle of a pandemic. Bring it in." Garrett hugs me. "I hate that you're in Savannah. I have no one to talk to here," he complains.

I chuckle. He can be so dramatic. "Sure, you do," I tell him.

"Not really," he argues. "You're really the only one I talk to these days and talking on the phone once or twice a week is not enough. I'm so excited that you're here. You can come in if you want."

"Maybe later. Do you want to go for a walk? There's something I need to tell you."

"Sure. Let me just put on shoes."

"You were so excited to see me, you bypassed shoes, huh," I tease.

He laughs. "Seriously though. If this last month and a half has taught me anything, it's that I'm really lucky to have you. You made an effort to stay in touch. I can't say that about many people. I'm really glad we're friends."

I can't look at him. I hope that's not going to change. He's back outside in a minute with sneakers on. We walk in silence for a few minutes. "Am I supposed to guess what you wanted to talk about?" he asks.

"No. It's just something that's really hard to say. I don't know how you're going to take this. You might not like it," I explain. I look at the pavement as we walk. "I'm gay."

"Cool. And what's the thing you think I might not like?" he asks. "Do you hate puppies? Because that's a deal breaker for our friendship."

I can't help but smile. "Nope. I definitely don't hate puppies."

"Good," he says.

We keep walking and he fills me in on what's been happening… not a lot since we last talked. Apparently, he meant it when he said not many people have stayed in touch. It makes me feel guilty because I know I can do a better job of it.

We walk for an hour before we loop back to his house, I tell him that I have to get going. He looks genuinely upset. "Are you sure you don't want to come in and watch a movie or something?"

"I'm sure. I'll text you later tonight to plan something this weekend." I don't tell him that I have another stop to make. If I tell him, I don't think I'll be able to keep Simon's identity a secret, and I don't know how comfortable Simon would be with that.

"Okay."

My heart is pounding. My next stop is risky. I think Simon will either think it's really cute and romantic, or he'll think I'm a creepy stalker. I park on the side of the road in case I need a quick getaway – I don't want to have to back out of his driveway.

I send him a text. Do you want to go for a walk?

His response comes quickly. Did you create a park in your town? Give me a second to log on.

No. I meant in real life. Do you want to go for a walk? I really should be more direct, but I'm kind of enjoying this.

I don't understand. Poor Simon. I don't know if he has any idea that we actually go to the same school, but I'm pretty sure this is going to be a complete shock to him.

Can you come outside? I get out of my car and lean against my passenger door.

He never answers. Instead, he appears in his doorway with a comically surprised look on his face. When he sees me, his eyes are wide as saucers. I practically see him move towards me in slow motion and I'm not sure if that's the anticipation or if he's actually moving slowly.

"Bram?" he asks uncertainly. I think he's expecting me to tell him that I'm someone else.

"Yeah," I say. My nerves make me feel tingly all over and I sudden forget everything I'd planned to say. "Hi Jacques."

"But how? You? Here? How?" he doesn't seem capable of stringing together full sentences and it might be the cutest thing I've ever seen. "How is this possible?"

I look down at the ground. My nerves are turning into full blown fear. He doesn't look happy. I mean, he doesn't look upset, but he definitely doesn't look happy to know who I am. I wonder if I did this too fast. Maybe I should have talked to him about this first, but it seemed like the universe had created this perfect opportunity for us to meet. Or maybe I was just seeing that because I wanted to see it. "Do you remember what you said the first time we talked? That maybe it was destiny that I happened upon your town?"

"I thought you didn't believe in destiny," Simon points out.

"Yeah, but then you were from my school. Millions of people play that game. Millions. And I met you. That doesn't just happen," I tell him. "It should have been impossible." The only expression on Simon's face is shock. "Are you upset that it's me?"

"Oh my God, no! I'm just… I can't believe this! This is too freaking perfect. Can I hug you?"

I nod, and then I'm in his arms. I can't even explain the feeling of peace that settles over me in his embrace. It's this confirmation that I haven't been imagining this or building it up in my head.

I don't know how much time passes before we pull back, just a little, from the hug. He smells like soap, and his blonde hair sticks up all over the place. It's a combination that makes my brain disconnect from reason.

I kiss him. For me, it's like an explosion. It hits me hard and it hits me fast. I feel like I could spend the rest of my life standing here and trying to unravel everything I feel. Except, I can't quite get to the part of my brain that can make sense of this. There's no such thing as reason, there's no other people in the world; in that moment, there's just me and him in our own little bubble.

And then I regain some of my senses and I pull back. It couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds, but my heart is racing, and I feel like all the breath has been lost from my lungs. "I'm so sorry. We're in the middle of a pandemic. I shouldn't have done that."

Simon's face is flushed, and his eyes have this wild look in them. "Well, you know. You already kissed me. We might as well do that some more," he says.

I chuckle. It's a tempting offer. "Maybe we should talk a little first," I suggest.

"We've been talking for a month and a half." He's still staring at my lips. I expect it to make me feel self-conscious, but it just makes me feel flattered.

"Come on. Let's walk." I'm grateful when he follows me. "What happens now?"

"What do you mean?" he asks.

"I mean, in two days I have to go back to my dad in Savannah," I tell him.

"How much longer do you have to stay with him?"

"I don't know," I admit. "That's really up to my mom."

"Right. she's an epid… ologist," he finishes uncertainly. He scrunches up his face, and I swear, it somehow makes him cuter.

"Epidemiologist," I confirm.

He nods. "I don't think that has to change things. Look, I've never felt this way about someone else before."

"Not even your girlfriends?" I ask.

"Not even a little bit," he says. He looks me right in the eye. "I don't know what this is that I feel. I don't know if it's love or it's just a really intense crush, but it's unlike anything I've ever felt before. It makes me want more." He sighs. "Look, I'm new at this. With my girlfriends, they called the shots and I just rolled with it, but I don't just want to just roll with it with you."

"What does that mean?" I ask.

"It means that I want to do this right. Even if we're doing it through long distance at first, I want to be with you. I don't want you to be my secret. I want to be able to tell people that you're my boyfriend and introduce you to my parents," he says. "I want to be able to talk to you about all the stuff we've been talking about, and I want to do all the things other couples do."

"You want to be my boyfriend?" I ask. I didn't think it was possible to smile bigger, but I do.

"Yeah," he says like it's the most obvious thing in the world. "I just don't know where you're at with this. I'm ready to come out; I'm all in, but where are you? I know you came out to your stepmom…"

"And my dad," I cut him off. "And Garrett. All that's left is my mom and I plan on telling her tonight."

I'm starting to think that maybe Simon is going to permanently be stuck in a state of shock. "Wow."

"Wow," I agree.

I didn't notice while we were walking, but we must have gone in a circle because we're outside his house again.

"Follow me." He opens his back gate and leads me to their back patio. They have some outdoor chairs and a patio swing. He sits down and with little hesitation, I sit next to him. He looks down at his lap. "I kind of want to hold your hand."

I flip my hand, so my palm is facing up. In an impossibly slow way, he weaves his fingers through mine. It's nice. It makes this all feel real. "So, we're boyfriends?" I confirm.

He smiles. "I hope so."

"Can I kiss you again?"

"I thought you'd never ask," he tells me. He leans in, and it's impossibly perfect. Maybe he's not sure if it's love, but in that moment, I'm pretty sure of it. He brings his hand up to the side of my head and I put my hand over his. Part of me registers that I probably shouldn't be doing this. We're flagrantly violating all social-distancing standards, but I don't really care. It's not like this is going to happen again for a long, long time. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to see him again until this whole thing is over. Plus, we've both been quarantined for well over a month. I'm pretty sure our risk is pretty low.

When we break apart, he has a goofy smile on his face, almost as if he's drunk. I'm pretty sure I must look pretty similar. "Wow."

He leans his forehead against mine and closes his eyes. I find my eyes fluttering closed as well. I try to commit everything about this moment to my memory. It's one of those things that even as I'm experiencing it, I expect it to disappear.

We're pulled from our moment by the sound of sliding glass. Simon jerks back and drops my hand. I follow his gaze and see a woman standing in the door. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that this must be his mom.

For a moment, we're stuck in this awkward staring contest. "Come sit down," Simon says. He waits until his mom sits down in one of the plastic chairs before he continues. "This is Bram. Bram, this is my mom." He's looking down at the ground.

"It's nice to meet you Mrs. Spier," I say with a small, nervous smile.

She nods but doesn't say anything.

"You know how you teased me the other day for being attached to my computer? You thought I was talking to some girl." Simon is looking down at his hands as if he'll find the right thing to say in them. "I've been talking to Bram. He's… my boyfriend."

His mom nods. I can practically see the struggle on her face as she figures out what to say. "Are you happy?"

Simon looks at me. "Happier than I knew it was possible to feel," he says. It makes me smile and I have to look away.

"That's all that matters," she says. "Your father made some homemade chicken fingers for lunch. Bram, I would invite you inside, but…"

"No, I get it," I assure her. "I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable."

"Thanks. My oldest has a compromised immune system and we just can't take that risk," she explains. She stands up. "Don't wait too long to come in. I don't want your food getting cold." She gives him one last glance before she goes inside.

"I'll make you a plate and I'll be right back out." He stands up and he looks really nervous.

"Are you okay?" I ask.

"I'm going to tell them," he says. "My dad and my sisters. I'm going to tell them."

"Are you sure?" I ask.

"I'm sure of you. That's enough for me."

"Okay. I'll be right here. Good luck." I squeeze his hand before he walks away.

He's inside for almost thirty minutes and when he comes back out, his face is red and splotchy. "What's wrong?" I ask, my heart sinking.

He shakes his head. "Shit, I forgot to get you food."

"Hey, don't worry about it. Sit down." It takes him a minute to sit down. "What happened?"

He shrugs. "My dad was my dad."

"What does that mean?" I ask.

"He makes jokes when he's in situations that make him uncomfortable," he says with a shrug.

"We don't do this. We don't not talk about things or dodge questions," I tell him. "We don't let each other do that. So, what happened?"

"He asked me which girlfriend turned me," Simon says quietly. "I'm there, bearing my soul and telling him how difficult it was to come out. And he freaking asks me which girlfriend turned me. And when I told him about you, he just made another stupid joke. My older sister, of course, had to make it about something it wasn't about, which always makes things worse. Just once, I wish something could just be mine."

"This is yours," I tell him quietly. "No matter what they said when you were inside, this is yours. They can't take that away from you."

He sighs. "I know that. Maybe saying I wish it could just be mine was the wrong way to explain it. It's like everything becomes such a big deal with my family. I become the family project instead of just Simon."

"That sounds rough. I'm sorry that happened. I wish I could make it better for you."

"You do. Just by being here, you do," he tells me. "But I could really use a distraction. How's Little Fetus?"

I chuckle. He came up with the nickname, but I kind of like it. We sit on that swing and talk until my mom calls me to tell me that she's on her way home.

"I guess I have to go," I say with a sigh. I don't really want to. I know that once I leave, I have to face the reality of our situation. We may see each other again this weekend, but after that, months might pass before I can see him again. I may be sitting next to him, but my heart aches thinking of all the time we'll spend apart.

He stands up and holds out his hand. I take it, and he pulls me to my feet. "Call me later," he says.

"I will," I promise. I hesitate before I give him a quick hug.

I'm sitting in my kitchen with the lights off when my mom gets home. My elbows are on the table and my head has been resting in my hands since I got home. I'm trying to make sense of everything, trying to understand how it's possible to be this happy, sad, and scared at the same time.

"Hey, why are the lights off?" she asks. She's carrying a pizza box and she settles it on the island before she flips the lights on. I don't know what I look like, but it's strange enough that her excitement to see me transforms to worry. "Are you okay?"

"Hey mom," I say. I didn't realize how much I've missed her until I saw her. It's adding to all the things I've been feeling, and I'm getting dangerously close to crying. I stand up and hug her. I feel my composure breaking in her embrace as a few tears slip from my eyes. It's been an incredibly emotional and exhausting day. Even if Garrett and my dad took the news remarkably well, I feel drained. My mom's hold on me tightens. "I've missed you so much."

"I missed you too." My mom and I have never been particularly affectionate towards each other – it's not that we don't love each other; we just don't usually express it through hugs. I think if that's one of the things to come out of this whole pandemic, I'm very lucky.

We eat our pizza on paper plates. She asks about the baby and then we fall into silence.

It starts to become difficult to chew my pizza and eventually, I push my plate aside and try to find the strength to come out to her. She should be the easiest. I know she loves me, and I know nothing will change that. I think it feels much more high stakes now. What if she can't accept me and sends me to live with my dad full time? I love my dad and Ally and I appreciate how close I've gotten with them, but my home is here with my mom and Garrett… and Simon.

My mom notices that I'm not eating, and she stops eating herself. She sits back in her chair and waits. That almost makes this harder. "I'm…" the word gets stuck in my throat and refuses to come out. I try again. "I'm…" I shake my head. This shouldn't be so hard. I pull up a mental image of Simon. I think about how he always sees the best in me, and how he thinks I'm so brave. I think he makes me brave. I take a few deep breaths. "I'm gay, and I have a boyfriend."

I look up at her, and she has tears in her eyes. My heart clenches. I assume her tears mean that she's really upset about this until a smile breaks out across her face. "Thank you for telling me." She puts her hand over mine. "I love you so much and I'm so honored that you felt you could share this part of yourself with me."

"Why are you crying?" I ask her quietly.

"Because my little Bram Cracker is all grown up," she tells me softly. She lets out a watery chuckle. "You've never been romantically interested in someone before. At least, to my knowledge. I was able to hold on to this idea that you were still my little boy that liked alphabetizing his crayons and who used to wear superhero capes just because. But you're not that little boy anymore. It's hard for me to accept that. That's a me problem though. It doesn't change how proud I am of you." She wipes her eyes on a napkin. "Tell me about this boyfriend."

"His name is Simon," I start. At some point she starts to eat again. She asks me questions as I tell her about Simon.

When she finishes her pizza, she throws out her plate and leans against the kitchen island. "You know I have to talk about it, right?" she asks.

I look at her cluelessly. "Talk about what?" I ask.

"I recognize that we no longer live in an age of abstinence."

"Oh no," I whisper.

"You have to know the risks," she says in a slightly louder voice. "You need to use a condom. If you need condoms, I can get those for you. I'd rather have the peace of mind of knowing you're being safe than have to worry about you sneaking around and potentially doing something that could have long term repercussions."

I just want to disappear. "We're not going to have sex any time soon," I tell her quietly.

She doesn't look like she believes me. "All the same. If you've had previous sexual partners, that's very important to discuss with him and you should consider getting tested. No matter how safe you thought you were, you can never know for sure."

"Please stop," I say.

"I can't. I have an obligation as your mother to make sure you're being safe. Too many young people think it's okay to take risks or may not even know they're taking risks. Almost half of all STD cases happen in teens and young adults. You're especially susceptible."

I put my hands over my ears. "Please, please stop. I've never had sex and if it will get you to stop talking, I will never have sex."

She rolls her eyes. "Stop being dramatic. There's nothing wrong with sex if it's occurring between two people who truly love each other and have been completely honest about their sexual history."

"What will make this stop?" I ask.

"Promise me that when you become sexually active, you will be safe about it. You will use a condom every time, even during oral sex. If you can promise me that, I'll stop."

"I promise," I tell her without hesitation.

"You know I only talk about this because I love you and I want you to be safe, right?" I nod. "I'm about to head to bed. You must be tired. You had a long drive today." She takes my empty plate and throws it in the trash.

I don't realize how exhausted I am until she says it. "Yeah, I am. Thanks for taking this so well."

"There was nothing to take well," she says with a shrug. She kisses my forehead. "Goodnight."

"Night."

I sit in the kitchen for a few minutes before I head up to my bedroom. It's strange to me that it looks exactly the same. I guess I expected it to change as much as I have over the last several weeks.

I have an amazing weekend. It's not like anything spectacular happens but being able to hang out with Garrett like old times and being able to spend actual time with Simon is magical.

I feel like I blink and I'm back at my dad's house.

It's another three-and-a-half months before my mom feels comfortable enough to have me come home. I think I probably would have had to stay away longer, but school's starting up soon, so she didn't have much of a choice. During those months, I get to make two short trips. It's not enough, but at least Simon and I talk every day – thank God for FaceTime.

I don't know who is more excited for me to be back in Atlanta. I'm so excited to get back to some kind of normal. I know things won't be exactly the same, but for me, I think they'll be close enough. With one exception: Simon. Simon practically cried when I told him I was coming home. I'm not even joking. He got so excited. It was kind of cute.

Which is why it's really surprising that he hasn't answered my text or returned my call today. I texted him when I left Savannah and just called him because I'm only a few minutes away from home.

I'm really hoping that I'll be able to see him today. I pull into my driveway and try calling him one more time. Straight to voicemail.

I sigh and get out. I pull my big suitcase out of the trunk of my car and my duffel bag. I have two other bags of stuff, but they'll have to wait for a second trip.

"Let me help you with that." I turn slowly and see Simon standing next to me with a goofy smile on his face. "Do you want me to grab those."

I can only shake my head before I drop my suitcase. I hug him tightly. He's whispering in my ear about how much he missed me, but I couldn't tell you specifically what he said because I'm too overcome with euphoria.

I feel like I could hug him forever. Except, he has other plans because he brings his hands up to the side of my head and kisses me. It's different than the other kisses we've shared. There's less fear and less sadness behind the kiss. "I've missed you so freaking much. You don't even know."

"Oh, I know." He starts to pull back. I lean down to give him one more quick kiss.

He keeps his hands on the side of my head and looks at me. "I love you."

After so long apart, the words come easily. Maybe it's because I've been ready to say them for such a long time. "I love you too."

We kiss again and there's something different about this kiss. I think it's because we know there will be many, many more of them.

I don't know how long we stay like that for. Maybe a second, maybe a minute, maybe an hour. I can't conceptualize time; all I can do is appreciate that in this moment, we are in love and we are together.